Monday, 30 September 2013

September Round Up/Stoptober Intentions

Spend Less September is now over and although I fared reasonably well in the early part of the month, as it got towards the end the lapses began.  It started with a £40 spend on some new gym gear, which to be honest was long long overdue.  I got 4 tops and some harems for this and paid cash for these.

Next was a 40% off voucher to use at the Body Shop, which I decided to take advantage of to buy a few Christmas presents.  This expenditure went on the credit card as they were bought online.  It was also a chance to try out my new Quidco account which I hadn't yet used and 18% cash back was offered, although I'm not sure if this went through properly.

Anyway, regardless, a bit more Christmas shopping was done early and items were bought at a good price and delivered very quickly so overall I was quite happy.  I also remembered this month to send off a box of confectionery to my sister and her family in Australia, before the last recommended surface mail posting day before Christmas, which is good for me as I often miss it and end up paying a lot more to send it airmail later.  The last recommended day is TODAY by the way, if it applies to anyone out there.

The final and major lapse was an order I placed for a winter coat for me, boots and shoes for Little Bird, a swimming costume and sandals for next summer for me, and a gift for a relative when I received a good offer in my mailbox.  It was a really good offer of £50 off a £100 spend, sale items included.   I did spend a bit more than this, but the items came in at really good prices and have now been delivered.  I'm posting an update later in the week about how I got on with them when they arrived.  Anyway, I spent £95 including the postage and again this went on the credit card and I intend to pay both of these items off when I get my statement in a week or so.  This will, of course, mean that my other credit card might take a little longer to pay off, but I'm still intending that it will be taken care of by the end of the year.

Talking of the credit card, I did manage to pay well over £200 off it this month, which was almost half the balance, so I was quite relieved to get the balance down by so much.   I didn't spend any money on this particular credit card either, so I won't be paying any more in the way of interest charges as a consequence.

The Beauty Challenge went quite well this month and I managed to curb panic spending, but I'm hoping to do better in Stoptober where I'm hoping to stop any extra curricular spending altogether yet again.  The Household challenge didn't fare quite so well, but it's early days and I need to relax into it a bit more and not try to grab any offer that comes along and over stock due to panic spending.

I didn't have too much that I needed to spend money on this month, apart from food and a few last bits of school uniform for Little Bird so from a spending point of view it wasn't too challenging, except in terms of applying restraint.  I was helped in my food spending by devising a monthly meal plan and I more or less stuck to it and used up most of what was in the fridge, freezer and cupboards this month.  Until today, there wasn't a great deal left in them and I'd been getting lots of complaints from Little Bird that there was nothing nice to eat in the house, but I am today awaiting delivery of my monthly Approved Food order which should solve that problem, and I have also shopped for food today so the cupboards and fridge have now been replenished.  I am sticking to a menu plan again this month and have already worked it out, (I may create a post regarding meal planning this month for anyone interested) so I just need to tailor my food shopping to the plan each week, which shouldn't be too difficult.  Also included in my AF order this month are a couple of small Christmas items and presents, so I am slowly gathering the bits and pieces I need for the forthcoming festive season.

No spend days currently stand at 65 for the year and I am aiming for 75 currently, but may extend this to 100 if I manage to surpass this figure this coming month.  I've also been saving a few pounds by rounding up my spending at ASDA and putting it on a savings card.  It's not been huge amounts, but it all goes towards Christmas spending money.  This idea was suggested by Frugal Mummy on her blog My Beautiful Life and I've adopted it as I think it is a great idea.  I might not be spending so often at ASDA this month, however, as I've got a couple of vouchers to use for Tesco so will be heading there if I remember and topping up my club card points into the bargain.  This will enable me to use them to re-subscribe to some magazines next year.

So October, and as I've mentioned I'm joining in with other bloggers who are having a Stoptober and stopping any unnecessary spending.  I'm not sure quite how I will fare on the back of Spend (not so) Less September, but I will give it a go and hopefully as a result will get as much paid off my last credit card debt as possible. 

I will still be buying my normal Food Bank donation and I may buy a few small treats to keep me motivated when I visit the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace in a couple of weeks.  I may also buy a few bits and pieces in my weekly shop towards Christmas, if I see anything we will need at a good price, as this will spread the cost and I may do a little more Christmas gift shopping if I can afford to.  Finally, as my birthday is coming up this month, if I'm a good girl I might get a few nice gifts, so this should also go someway to help me curb any extra spending.  We'll see.

Apologies for this long winded post but I'm trying to combine the previous month's summary with my intentions for the coming month in one post.  Have you had a good September and are you aiming for anything out of the ordinary this October?  Does getting ready for Christmas start in earnest for you now?  I'd love to hear of any plans you might have for the month.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Making a Fabric Wall Display

One evening a couple of months ago now, I ventured into the sewing room and felt a sudden urge to do some making, as I felt like I'd not really made anything of late.  After seeing quite a few images of this being done in magazines and on Pinterest, I finally decided to have a go myself and make a display of fabrics for my sewing room wall. 
I used some of the same fabrics I had used for a patchwork cushion I made earlier in the year, which included some fabric from a skirt worn by Little Bird when she was a toddler, some vintage Laura Ashley fabric I really like, plus a few others that I love, such as an old lace doily bought from a jumble sale and which had a stain on part of it, and a lovely furnishing fabric that I've wanted to do something with for a while.  As per usual there is a grey theme running through it and also a bird theme, but you can make this as colourful as you want and you don't need to have any particular theme.  I already had a few embroidery hoops I'd picked up from charity shops and managed to find some others quite cheaply to form a group. 
Well, a couple of months passed and I kept meaning to put a few nails in the wall, hang them up and take some photos, but never seemed to feel motivated.   This Saturday afternoon, however, it was quiet and I was at a loose end so I decided to venture up to the sewing room and actually get the deed done.  I took one of OH's hammers whilst he was out and some small nails and off I went.  Well, when I put up the five that I had already made, they didn't quite look right and I decided to make a few more to add to them.  I also decided to try adding a few appliques to some of the fabric to add a bit of texture and interest.  So I can now finally do a reveal of my display and here it is.

Odd numbers of frames work better, unlike the even number I've got here, and different sizes do give a bit of  variety to the display too. 

You can't really see from the photo, but the top frame has the lace doily in it.  It would show up a lot better if it were on a coloured wall.

I also used a piece of this to make the owl.
The bird I hand appliqued on to the fabric in the frame.
And the birdhouse I machine appliqued.
I was quite pleased with the overall effect and so was Little Bird who asked me to make her an owl too.  This was hers.  It goes with the d├ęcor of her bedroom.

This is so simple and inexpensive and if you have some favourite small pieces of fabric that you don't know what to do with, what better than to display them in a creative way and look at them every day.  You just cut out a circle of fabric a few centimetres larger than the inner frame and stretch it over the inside ring of the hoop and then add the outer ring and tighten and they are ready to hang once you have cut away any excess fabric.  I have read that you should sew the fabric onto the ring but I didn't think it necessary for my own display as they seemed secure enough caught in the frame.  If you wanted to hang them as part of a mobile or from the ceiling, you might need to do this to make them look tidy both sides, but when hanging them on the wall the back cannot be seen. 
I may add to the display if I find any more frames in the charity shop, but for now I'm quite happy with it.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Holiday Post Part 6 - Leaving Los Angeles and A Town Called Chloride

We left Santa Monica Beach at about 3.30-4pm on Friday afternoon.  We should have known this wasn't a good time to travel across Los Angeles, but had no choice.  We soon found out how bad our timing was when after about 5 minutes driving we were confronted with this much traffic.

About 6 or 7 lanes of it to be more precise.  It made London seem free flowing.  We crawled along for what seemed like hours but was in fact about an hour and a half.  We amused ourselves by watching the odd crazy driver cutting in and out of the queues to try to get on faster,  they rarely succeeded though.  It was gridlock.
Note to self - don't drive out of Los Angeles on a Friday night again.  Most people did tell us that it was bad most of the time though.
Anyway,  eventually we snaked our way across the northern part of Los Angeles back towards the border with Nevada.  It was six hours driving before we stopped for the night.
We did have a slight reprieve by stopping off for a burger at one of the many US burger chains.  The one we ate in was called  Carl's Jr.  There were so many options it was quite overwhelming.
Here's the price list.
Only joking.  This was a vintage sign on the wall.  The burgers were nice, but it was scary when you checked out the amount of calories.  Never mind, you only live once.
This burger bar was on the old Route 66 which we followed for a while, but it was starting to get dark so we weren't able to actually see much.  All we knew is that we had to drive through some mountains and then think about where we were going to stop that night.  OH was all for parking up somewhere on a quiet street, but I wasn't particularly happy about this as I was concerned it might be against state laws and there was the security element to consider.  In the end we stumbled across this campsite at about 9.30 pm and I was so relieved.
It was right by the freeway, but it didn't matter.  We hooked up and got a good night's sleep.  The next morning we had chance to explore a bit more.  It had a great little shop where you could swap books, which I did, a laundry that was even cheaper than the last one I'd used, a swimming pool and games room with table tennis.  It even had a little children's play area with a wagon pulled by little horses and a little log cabin.  I had to take a photo or two.
You could camp here, park your van or even stay in a log cabin yourself, like this one.  We saw these in a couple of other places too.  It was a great little site.
Unfortunately, we didn't have time to go for a dip in the pool on this occasion, as we still had a long drive ahead of us to get close enough to the Grand Canyon to visit the next day, our last full day in the van, so we left and continued on our journey.
By 4pm that day we had reached Kingman, where we were spending the night at another site.  As it had a pool we headed straight there when we arrived.  After about half an hour in the pool a storm started with thunder and lightening.  Needless to say we didn't stay in the pool for long and headed back to the van where OH got the BBQ working for us to cook our dinner.
The following day and the weather seemed to have cleared, but because of an emergency the pool was opening later and we couldn't have another swim which was disappointing.  It was Sunday, our last full day in the van, we were back in the desert and we were going to visit the Grand Canyon, but not before stopping off in a little place called Chloride, a ghost town.  With a name like that you just had to take a look.
We got to Chloride at 10am and there wasn't a lot open to be honest.  Just a bar and a store.  It was a great little place.  Here's a picture of some of the stores in the town, namely the Post Office and an antiques store.  Apparently, about 200 people lived in the area surrounding the town (a much reduced population from when it had been a busy mining area many years before) and everyone had a post office box at the Post Office and came in to collect mail, so it was the hub of the area.
It was so quaint.  A bit of a tourist spot.  They even had gunfights for the tourists, we were in the Wild West of course, but we'd just missed out by a day.
Whilst I explored the Cactus garden/museum which told you about all the native cacti that could be found in the desert
OH and Little Bird headed into Digger Dave's bar for an ice cream and homemade lemonade.
I joined them a little while later.  The lemonade was lovely and the bar was just jam packed full of all kinds of American ephemera and memorabilia, plus it had a great Juke box with albums on it and I had fun sifting through and playing some personal favourites such as Journey and the Eagles.
  I particularly liked these Elvis sideburns hung on the wall.  Classic.
Dave himself was a character.  We chatted to him for a while and it turned out he was originally a New Yorker.  He'd come to the area to work, had bought the bar and been there for the last 3-4 years.  He liked the desert climate.  We did too.
After our interesting refreshment stop, the bill was only $8 for 3 lemonades plus two refills, two ice creams, and a numerous songs on the juke box .  Plus we took some silly photos using the saddle and stetsons in the bar.  An absolute bargain.
In my next post we finally reach the Grand Canyon and it gets a whole post to itself.

Friday, 27 September 2013

£100 Expenditure Per Year Beauty Challenge - Month 3

Another month gone in the £100 per year beauty challenge, where I aim to spend less than £100 per year on toiletries and beauty products and instead try to use up all of the items I have in my stash, instead of buying more products.  This challenge was set by El at A Thrifty Mrs blog and I have been joining in.

I've been a little more careful this month in terms of spending on beauty products and have actually come under budget (just) for a change.  I should be spending less than £8.30 per month to keep on budget and for the first two months I have overspent due to hoarding a few more items when I saw them on offer.  This month, however, I've managed to avoid doing this and have spent only £8.20.  Some of this expenditure was, however, unusual and unavoidable as you will understand as you read on.

Spending included:

New Toothbrushes x 3 £2.50  - This was due to a stand off with a rat in our bathroom, which scrambled around the shelves.  I had to replace our new (as it happens) toothbrushes as I couldn't bear the thought that the rat might have touched them.

Shampoo 250ml x 2 £3.50 - I bought 2 bottles of my favourite Pantene shampoo whilst they were still on offer.  In fairness I was coming close to running out of shampoo so included these in my Approved Food order and they should keep me in shampoo for a month or two.

Nail Varnish Remover Pads x 2 £1 - I bought these from Primark as my nail varnish was so worn off that it needed removing and I thought I had run out.  I then realised I still had some left when I got home.  Silly me.

Nail Varnish x 1 £1 - A slight indulgence in Claire's Accessories.  Bought in the sale to make up five things for £5.

Tesco Firm Hold Hair Spray x 1 70p - I can't manage without my hairspray and it ran out on the last day of the month.

Total Spent - £8.20

Total spent so far this year (3 months) -  £28.75 - Still overspent but hoping to get fully back on track next month.  As you can see from this month's expenditure list, I haven't pared it back as much as I could have, but I'm getting better on this score and hope that as the challenge progresses I get better and better at this.   It takes a while sometimes to properly kick a habit you've had for a while.

I have, however, this month decided to try to stop buying shower gel for the moment, as I have so many soaps to use up.  As a consequence, we are going back to showering and bathing with soap for a while, to get the stash down.  (I've currently got at least 15 or so soaps to use up.  I'm also trying not to replace things as soon as I use the last one from my stash, but wait until I've nearly run out altogether.  It's great to see the places I normally store all the products very slowly getting a little emptier as I'm using things up and not buying more.

I did also get a free 30ml tube of  hand cream from the Body Shop this month, using a voucher I downloaded from a Miss Thrifty's blog, so my stash did grow a little as a consequence, but it didn't cost me anything which is good.  Although small, the hand cream smells divine and a little goes a long way too.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Sale Shopping with La Redoute

I had a major lapse from my Spend Less September last week when I got an email offering me £50 off a £100 spend, sale items included, at La Redoute.

For anyone who has never heard of La Redoute, they are a French Mail Order/Online Fashion company.  I used to buy quite a few things from them for Little Bird when she was small and when they have a sale they fantastically reduce things so that you can get some very good bargains.

Although I wasn't supposed to be spending much money this month there were a few things in the back of my mind that I needed to buy before the winter sets in.  One was a winter coat for me, one that is quite smart and that I will enjoy wearing.  I managed last year wearing mostly jackets and layering up, but I wanted something warmer this year in a longer length, but that was also smart for wearing about town.

Another item on my list of things I needed to get was a pair of winter boots for Little Bird.  I had bought her a nice pair of leather shoes for school but when the really cold weather comes, nothing beats a nice pair of boots and the ones she'd been wearing for the last couple of years had finally given up the ghost.

In addition, I wanted to get myself a new swimming costume, as the one I used to wear a lot had somehow perished in places, during our visit to the US and I had to throw it away.  I do have another one, but it is rather plunging (excuse the pun), not the sort of thing you'd wear to the local pool.

With all of these things in mind, and bearing in mind my self-imposed financial constraints whilst trying to pay off my credit card, I thought I would take a look on La Redoute's website and see if anything fitted the bill.

I struck pretty lucky all things considered.  I ordered this coat in Navy.  It is 60% wool and I paid around £33 for it.  I'm just hoping I like it when it arrives now.  I read the reviews which were generally good.  There were some sizing issues and mixed reviews of the fabric itself.  In addition the buttons were found by a few people to have a tendency to come off, so I might have to re-sew them on if I find this a problem.  Nothing too off putting though.

I also ordered these boots for Little Bird.  They needed to be black for school.  These are suede and cost approximately £25.  I'm hoping she will like them.

This swimming costume was also ordered for me, although I know I will NOT look as nice as this in it.   This cost approximately £13 and is a body sculpting one.

These leather and suede ballet flats were also ordered for Little Bird, which I think cost in the region of £10.  These can be worn for both school and more special occasions such as parties, discos, going out, etc.

I also bought a couple of other items, one which is going to be a birthday present for someone in the family if it arrives in time and the other something for next summer for me which wasn't essential but was very nice and a great price.

The full total including £4 postage came to £95 or thereabouts which is a bit of a big lapse, but hopefully will be well worth it if it sorts out most of mine and Little Bird's winter wardrobe shopping in one hit.  Fingers crossed.  I did add it to one of my credit cards of course, but intend to pay it off in full when the bill arrives.

If you are in the market for some new clothes this winter or you want to get some things for next summer in the sales, do check out their website and take a look for yourself.  The reviews on there can also be very useful when deciding which size to order, as you can get a good idea whether things come up large or small.  I found them really helpful when I ordered quite a few things for the summer for both myself and Little Bird earlier this year, and as a consequence of reading them, I didn't need to send a single thing back.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Last Surface Mail Posting in UK for Australia Looming

This post is just a gentle nudge for anyone who has relatives abroad in  Australia and sends presents to them at Christmas. Having a sister who now lives with her family in Australia, I usually send a box of confectionery over to them every Christmas and Easter.  The Cadbury's chocolate there is not quite as yummy as ours here, due to the anti-melting ingredients added because of the heat. 

As a consequence, I fill a box with Cadbury's chocolate bars and treats of various types and send it off as a taste of home.  I'm doing the same this year and didn't want to have to send it Airmail as it can work out quite expensive, so I checked out the last recommended surface mail posting day on the Royal Mail's website the other day and it is 30TH SEPTEMBER. 

Here's the link for anyone interested. 

I've missed it several times and there is nothing more annoying. If anyone out there needs to post any presents long haul, you need to get yourself organised this week and get them sent off to save some money.  In addition, the last Airmail recommended posting date is 5th December if you need to send any cards. 

It can be a little precarious sending confectionary through the post, as one year I found out to my cost when a box got infiltrated by mice, which was a bit disappointing.  I've made sure I've sealed all around the box well with packaging tape and it is addressed and ready to go.  I've just got to make the effort to go to the post office now.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Getting Ready for Christmas - Part 1 - Presents


Yes I know, it is pretty early to be talking about Christmas, and I'm not going to harp on about it for the next three months, don't worry.   But with less than 100 days to go, this series of  3 posts over the next few weeks is a gentle reminder of what is coming and is just to prompt me into action and share ideas on how I prepare for Christmas and the festive season.

For me, Christmas is all about the lead up.  I enjoy buying presents for people, wrapping them, decorating the tree, going to Christmas Fairs and events.  It all adds to the enjoyment of the festive season.  I don't enjoy tramping round the shops in a last minute rush, fretting over what to buy everyone, so as a consequence I try to get most of my shopping done well before.  By Christmas Day itself, I'm happy to enjoy a simple and unpretentious Christmas meal and spend time with family members.  I'm not particularly a party animal, so a quiet family Christmas is just great by me.

We're not particularly extravagant at Christmas, but we do like to celebrate the festive season and exchange gifts, mainly for the children in the family, but for some of the adults too.  As a consequence it can work out quite expensive and I try to spread the cost throughout the year, rather than face buying everything in the two months preceding and racking up my credit card balance.  I have done this in the past and don't recommend it to others if you can avoid it, as it can mean paying off Christmas credit card purchases throughout the year and obviously paying interest on the money owed, making presents even more expensive.

This year, I have tried to spread the cost by buying some presents, cards, wrapping paper, etc. in January during the sales and throughout the rest of the year.  I do this by utilising online sales and any good offers I see when out and about shopping.  So far this year I have managed to purchase all Christmas cards needed including individual ones for close family members, wrapping paper, and quite a few small gifts for some of the children and adults we buy for.  Many were bought in the January sales when they were heavily discounted or there were 2 for 1 offers on some of the gift sets left over from Christmas.  None are things that will go off or out of date/fashion, so should be perfectly good to give this Christmas.  By doing this I can often afford to buy everyone better quality gifts rather than buying less with my budget by paying full price nearer the time, when they are sold at a premium specifically for the Christmas market.

This year, I have also managed to buy quite a few stocking fillers for Little Bird too.  As she is an only child, I guess she might seem to get a lot at Christmas, as she has no siblings that need to be bought for, but the main reason she seems to get a lot is that I manage to buy things at good prices and so she actually does get quite a bit for the money I spend.  I tend to set a budget for smallish gifts such as books, cd's, makeup, jewellery, clothes and other small gifts that I think she might like.  Her main present comes from Santa of course and will usually be worth a similar amount.

As Little Bird's birthday is not long after Christmas, I tend to buy gifts with both events in mind and then divide the things I have bought up, some for Christmas, some for her birthday.  This works quite well as few people, me especially, have much money in January and thinking ahead like this saves expense and stress.  I also often buy things for her birthday party ahead of the time if I see anything suitable and then store them away until the date itself even though I'm not actually sure what we are doing for her party.  They usually come in useful at some point.  Fortunately, Little Bird is pretty easy to please and is usually happy with any gifts she receives. 

OH and I do buy presents for each other, and again we tend to stick to a fixed budget, which we spend on smallish items that are mostly practical and useful.  No novelty gifts.  This may sound a bit like pointless extravagance to some, but we do enjoy opening gifts on the day and why not.  We do find that if we stick to what we know the other will like or has specifically asked for, then things do not languish unused in the back of the cupboard.  We tend to buy one another things like books, cds, dvds, inexpensive jewellery (for me), perfume, toiletries, chocolates, alcohol, good coffee (for OH), etc.  Quite predictable and ordinary things really that we each like, but don't always get around to buying for ourselves for whatever reason.  To be honest, both our needs and wants are quite simple, but we do like to throw the odd surprise into the mix sometimes.  Everyone likes small surprises don't they?  Talking of which, I have just managed to pre-order something for OH that I have been trying to get for him for a few years now, which is a great result.  I just hope it turns up now.  As for me, I am just as happy getting a couple of books on sewing, a few packets of seeds or a pair of nice, but inexpensive earrings, than some expensive grand gesture that isn't really to my taste, although I do realise that it is the thought that counts.  Similarly, give me a box of Maltesers over a big box of chocolates any day, it's better for my waistline.

How do you prepare for Christmas with regard to present giving?  I'd love to hear your thoughts and feelings about it.

Monday, 23 September 2013

An Afternoon Out to WatchThe Tour of Britain

This Sunday afternoon we headed into Central London for a change to watch the Tour of Britain Cycle Race.  OH is a bit of a fan of cycling and is always watching one race or other on the TV be it the Giro D'Italia, Tour de France, or the Vuelta.  So it was lovely to be able to head out and actually watch a race live and actually see the cyclists in action.

We parked the car near St Paul's and wandered down to watch part of the race as it passed nearby. It was great to see the cyclists come past at speed, followed by the support cars with their spare bikes on top.  They did numerous circuits of the same course, so you could see them coming round and round.  I took a couple of photos at this point, but they were cycling so fast and my camera is so slow, most of them turned out to be just a blur.  Here were the leaders of the Pelaton passing.

From there, we decided to catch a bus further towards Whitehall where the race ended, to see if we could get there for the finish.  We got on a bus, but the traffic was gridlocked.  The poor bus driver didn't seem to have been informed that there was a cycle race in Central London and when we told him it at least explained why his journey had taken over an hour longer than usual.  He wasn't a happy bunny.

We decided to get off the bus, as we were going nowhere slowly, and went on foot the rest of the way along the embankment where the race was taking place.  We saw all the cyclists come past a couple more times.  There were thousands of people there to watch, many more than OH had seen when he'd come to watch the race a couple of years before, which just goes to show how much the sport has increased in popularity in recent years.

I managed to get this photo of the leaders, as they set out on the last circuit.  You can see Bradley Wiggins in third place behind his Sky teammates.

We carried on towards the finish, but unfortunately didn't make fast enough progress and missed the finish itself, although I doubt we would have got right to the line anyway.  

We did get to the finish in time for the presentations though, whereby we finally found out who'd won the stage and were really pleased that it was Mark Cavendish.  We couldn't get near enough to the stage to take any pictures as all access was blocked as soon as the area was full, but could just about see the proceedings on the big screen.

The atmosphere generally on the day was great.  Very friendly and relaxed.  Not too crowded along the embankment that you couldn't see the racers too,  so well worth going to see.  We're hoping to see the start of the Tour De France next year when it comes to Yorkshire as OH has a sister who lives near to where the race is taking place.  I imagine it will be a very popular event, we might have to be a bit more strategic when it comes to watching that race.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Allotment Corner

Saturday morning, and I took myself off to the allotment.  I'd not been for a few weeks on account of it having been so rainy lately.  With a warm weekend forecast I thought I'd get over there and get a few jobs done.  I'd bought a couple of bulbs of garlic the day before and wanted to plant the cloves, do a bit of transplanting, sow a few seeds and tidy around a bit.

It didn't look too bad on the surface when I got there but on closer inspection all the tomato plants had caught blight so had to be removed.  I took off all of the fruit that didn't look affected, green or red, but I know from previous experience the blight can show in the fruit later.  We'll see.

I harvested the remaining 3 cucumbers and cleared out those plants too as I doubt very much whether any new fruit will grow now.  I also pulled up the aubergines which hadn't got as far as fruiting and aren't likely to now.  I harvested a couple of small cobs of sweet corn.  A couple of others had been half eaten either by foxes or squirrels.  Not sure which.  I left some small cobs on the plants, but am not certain they'll grow anymore now.

The green lettuces had nearly all gone to seed and tasted so bitter I had to compost them.  A few small green lettuce plants seemed to taste fine so I harvested them for use in salads.  The red lettuce looked okay though so I transplanted them into other gaps to give them plenty of room to grow.  I also transplanted the kale.  They all look a bit droopy in the photo, but will hopefully perk up once they settle in.  I then dug over the main bed to leave it tidy and ready to sow some garlic into when I get the chance.  I didn't this visit.  There never seems enough time as I usually only have a couple of hours to get things done when I visit and it just goes so fast.

I also began to tackle the far bed which was a bit overgrown, as I had to remove tomato plants from here too.  I cut down the hollyhocks which were all going to seed.  If I don't, they just self seed everywhere.  I harvested some seed so if anyone out there wants any mixed pink hollyhock seeds let me know and I'll post some out to you.  I continued by cutting back all the comfrey and nettles coming through the fence, removed the infected tomato plants and any weeds and dug over this part of the bed.  There was one solitary raspberry cane, which had self seeded from the plants on the next door plot, and it  proffered me a couple of berries which I ate for sustenance.

By the time I left, it was looking reasonably tidy, although there is still quite a lot of work to do.  Before leaving I harvested a bit more rhubarb, a few tiny spring onions and some spinach and then headed home with a small bunch of sweet peas as a treat.  They're not the best specimens, but smelt divine and were enough to put a smile on my face.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Autumn Favourites - Conkers

Perhaps my absolute favourite thing about Autumn is finding conkers lying on the ground.  The beautiful shiny patina on them always fascinates me.  I can't help myself and have to pick a few up and put them in my pocket.  Not that I do anything with them anymore.  Long gone are the days of piercing them with the roasting fork and threading string through ready for a conker game at school.

There used to be a particular street in the village where I was brought up, that was lined with Horse Chestnut trees from one end to the other and I used to love going there in the autumn to find as many as I could.  I used to pick up a carrier bag full.  Talk about greedy.  I don't know what I did with them all.  I especially loved them fresh from the shell like the one pictured, as they just seemed so perfect and unblemished.  Some children would resort to throwing sticks up at the trees to get them down a bit earlier.  It didn't always pay though as this would often produce white unripe fruit.  Mother nature knows best and needs no interference from us thank you.

I found these walking the puppy yesterday morning and couldn't help but squeal with delight as they remind me of being a girl.  I don't think the puppy has ever seen any before.  She's not yet a year old.  She wasn't much interested to be honest, unless there was a squirrel attached!

Friday, 20 September 2013

Holiday Post Part 5 - Los Angeles

After our stay in San Diego, CA, we headed north along the Pacific Coast Highway towards Los Angeles.  We stopped off at La Jolla (pronounced La Hoya), a town along the coast, for a rest and a drink and watched the seals frolicking on the rocks and in the water.

The Pacific Coast Highway was lovely to follow.  It took us through lots of scenic little spots all the way to Los Angeles.  It would have been great to stop off in more of them and explore a little more, but we were very conscious of time restraints.
We reached Los Angeles late afternoon and traffic started to get progressively worse the closer we got.  We tried to find a hook up at a campsite on Huntington Beach where they had recently had the US Surf Open competition, but unfortunately they were all booked up.  We then called a campsite near Long Beach and managed to book a spot without hook up for the night and so made our way there.  The site itself was quite near where the Queen Mary Cruise Liner was berthed and you could pay to go on and take a look.  There was an exhibition about Princess Diana on at the time. (We didn't actually go on board though).
Our campsite had a swimming pool, laundry, lovely clean showers and they were very helpful.  To be honest, the area was a little industrial as it was near the docks, but wewere just glad to have found somewhere, as we didn't seem to have as many options here. 
We bedded down for the night and then the next morning spent an hour in the pool before showering packing up.  We had managed to book a site for the evening in Malibu, and then headed off towards Hollywood .
We took the freeway across town. 
The traffic was busy, but  we got to Hollywood at about lunchtime.  We found somewhere to park the van which gave us a couple of hours to explore the Walk of Fame which was plenty really.  I photographed a couple of stars for actors that I admired.
It was a bit like Oxford Street with lots of tourist type shops, but we couldn't go to Hollywood without seeing it.
We stopped and had lunch in an Italian restaurant and then drove down Sunset Boulevard, through Beverley Hills (my budget didn't stretch to shopping on Rodeo Drive though, unfortunately)
and on to Santa Monica.  My sister had visited here last year and had recommended it to me.
The beach here was fantastic.  We tried to stop off for a couple of hours to go on the beach, but  parking for the van cost $20 which we found shocking.  With hindsight we should have bitten their hand off, as the next day when we returned to spend the day on the beach there, the cost had gone up to $35 to park the van!
We continued on to Malibu up the coast, got caught up in rush hour traffic and were completely exhausted when we got there.  The site was located on one side of the Pacific Coast Highway, a very busy route and the beach was located on the other side.  We did cross the highway and go to the beach for an hour, but by then the beach was in shade and it was a little chilly which was a bit disappointing.   Here's the view from the campsite in Malibu.
The next day we decided to head back into Santa Monica and spend the day at the beach there.  Santa Monica beach was fabulous, exactly what I imagined Californian beaches to be like.  I would definitely recommend visiting here to anyone.
After almost having to pry the $35 from OH's wallet for the car park (it did seem pretty steep for a day at the beach), we started to explore.  It was pretty cloudy/misty most of the morning, the sun breaking through at about 2pm which was the latest we'd experienced so far.  In the meantime, we visited the pier where OH and Little Bird went on the Rollercoaster which they said was really good fun.  I chickened out.
We enjoyed playing on the outdoor gymnasium which Little Bird particularly enjoyed and she made up little routines for the beam which we took video's and photos of her carrying out.
There were rings, high bars, asymmetric bars, parallel bars, beams, a grass floor area.  It was fabulous.  I wish we had something like this in the UK.
Our last few hours here were spent sat on the beach and in the ocean.  We had an encounter with a life guard who kindly came up and warned us not to use an inflatable in the water.  He was very polite and professional.  I didn't think to take a photo. 
There was a great cycle path that cut through the beach and you could cycle the three miles or so up to Venice Beach.  It got incredibly busy as the day wore on and it was pretty hard to cross at times.   This photo was taken earlier on in the morning so there wasn't much traffic at the time.
I really loved Santa Monica and would love to return and spend a few days there mooching around the shops and cafes, cycling along to Venice beach and generally spending more time on this lovely beach.  If we are ever fortunate enough to return to California and continue our journey up to San Francisco and beyond, I would love to start off from here.  It was a great place with a very relaxed feel and lots of interesting things to do.
In my next post, we head out of LA in some very busy traffic and return to the desert and visit a town called Chloride on our way to the Grand Canyon.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Paying Off My Credit Card

I'm trying to be extra frugal at the moment.  Reason being, I am trying to pay off a credit card balance as soon as I can.  I set myself the task of clearing my credit cards this year in my January plan and I've managed to clear one so far, but still have one more to go.

This one is costing me money each month in interest charges and I really don't like wasting money, so I'm all out to rid myself of this debt within the next few months if I can.  Trouble is, Christmas is on its way and I need to allow myself some money to spend on presents, food, etc., although I have bought some presents already and I am rounding my spending at ASDA up every visit, to put money on a savings card.

I'm currently half way through Spend Less September and it's going reasonably well so far.  I have had a couple of small splurges at a jumble sale and a charity shop and more recently this week I spent £40 on new gym gear.  My old gym clothes were getting very old and faded with constant washing.  I attend 4-5 classes per week and it does take its toll.  As a consequence I decided to replace some of the tops and pick up another pair of harem pants.  I did my best to spend as little money as I could and managed to get 4 tops and the pants for the £40 which isn't too bad in terms of value and all of the items were reduced in the sale, some by 70%.

As a consequence of this recent splurge, where I was hoping to halve my credit card bill by the end of the month, it is  now more likely that I will only be able to pay off  a third of the balance,  but even so this is pretty good in one month.  For the remainder of this month I'm being ultra careful about spending any money at all on anything other than food, if possible, and I am also sticking pretty closely to my meal plan so that I don't overbuy on food and try to use up all that is in the freezer and cupboards. 

I do find it makes life a lot easier to have a meal plan, as I don't have to spend time everyday thinking 'what are we going to have for dinner tonight?'.  I just have to remember to take the meat out of the freezer, (which I must admit I've forgotten to do on several occasions and have had to rearrange the plan a little) and then cook it with any vegetables we have in the fridge or freezer.  Tonight it's a lamb tagine with cous cous, which is one of my favourites and reminds me of a holiday we took in Morocco at NewYear a few years ago.   I digress.  Daydreaming doesn't cost anything though.

Anyway, back to reality and the subject of this post, the credit card bill in question arrived yesterday.  No nasty surprises thankfully, as I haven't spent on it this month so I knew what the balance would be.  I tried to set up payment via internet banking, which I have already done for my other credit card, but my account was having none of it.  It is so much easier and it reduces the chances of late payment fees, as well as saving on postage of course, but it was not to be.   Back to posting it off for the time being then. 

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Catch Up Tuesday

Tuesday, I stayed home all day and caught up on jobs.  I don't mind so much when the weather isn't so great.  As I spent some money yesterday on some new gym gear, I thought I'd better keep as far away from any shops as possible.

My kitchen table/desk looked like a rubbish tip.  It was covered in mounds of 'stuff' and needed a good sort out.  I spend a lot of time working at the kitchen table.  It is my main hub, but as a consequence it sometimes serves as a dumping ground for all sorts of things I need to find time to do or find a place for.  It was less than a week's worth that had built up, but by Tuesday I decided I could stand it no more and had a good clear up.
The rest of the kitchen looked like a bomb had hit it too.  There was washing up on the side to be done, a dishwasher full of clean dishes to be put away, fruit and vegetables to wash and store away, a huge pile of ironing to do and other detritus on the worktops that needed either moving or chucking out.  Wet washing in the machine, dry washing on the clothes horse, more washing to go into the machine.  There was a pile of canvas shoes I'd washed, which were waiting to be re-laced and a decision made about whether to keep and pack away for next spring or give to the charity shop and a pile of dry washing to put away.
I have to admit that I'm struggling to get into the routine of getting Little Bird's school uniform all ready for the beginning of the week.  I know this may sound lame, but after six years of no uniform, it comes as a bit of a shock to the system.  Part of today's clear up was to help me get organised so I can get into a proper routine with it all.
By the end of the day, I'd more or less got it back under control and the ironing pile was down to a manageable height.  I'd tidied around in Little Bird's room and reviewed my finances to boot, a bit of work and cooked us all a chilli for tea.  I even managed to read the Sunday newspaper, watch the Bake Off and clean out two under sink cupboards too, so I had a pretty productive day really.  I feel back in control now and it frees me to get more work done and go out and about for the rest of the week. 
The house still needs a thorough clean after the summer holidays.  I've not really had the chance since Little Bird went back to school as I've been busy catching up with other jobs.  Now the weather has turned and we are spending more time in the living room on an evening, I've noticed that it could do with a good dust, hoover and mop.  It's on my list.  I can feel a big cleaning day coming on next. 

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Sew and Stitch - A Review

I bought the first issue of this new magazine the other day when I saw it in ASDA for 99p.  It's one of those magazines that comes in weekly parts and which you can collate together into a binder and collect every week until you have the full set.  There have been lots of others published in recent years on baking, dolls houses, crochet, etc.

I can remember my mum collecting a couple of similar series back in the 80's one of which was a sewing one.   I must admit I bought this one for the small pieces of lovely fabric that came free with it.  There were two pieces of spotted fabric and a seaside fabric.  Very pretty colours.  They came with 3 co-ordinating embroidery threads and a dozen or so needles and a small piece of Bondaweb.  Good value for 99p if you ask me.  The fabric was to make a postcard block for a seaside themed quilt that you can learn to make by collecting successive issues, but I'm not intending using it for that, although it is a very pretty quilt.  I may use it instead for some other applique project.  It would also be nice as a picture if put in a frame.

As I'd bought it I thought I would review it for anybody that might be interested.  So here goes.

This first issue contains 20 pages of instructions on how to make several projects, develop different sewing skills and do various different stitches.  The instructions seem quite clear and the pictures useful to help people who aren't particularly experienced sewers.

The pages, which you collate into a binder (free with a later issue), are themselves divided into different categories.  I assume that other categories may appear as you go along in later issues.  Categories include:

The Quilt - a seaside themed quilt which it teaches you to make over 90 issues.  I believe the magazine provides the fabric for this.
Recycle and Remake - Festive bunting
Gifts and Goodies - A small slimline clutchbag.
Homestyle - A LOVE Cushion Cover
Sewing Skills - Seams
Stitch School - Backstitch
Templates - LOVE letter and bunting templates.

Also with this issue is a useful little booklet of Top Ten Tips to sewing, sewing equipment and how to build a sewing kit which beginners might find very useful.  There do look to be some lovely projects coming up in future issues too.

There is also a blog you can follow here which but you have to join up to follow and which I haven't actually done, so I couldn't tell you much about it at this point.

For the special offer price this first issue of the magazine is a steal. It will normally have a price of £3.99 which is reasonable, but bear in mind this is a weekly magazine so it will cost £16 per month to collect every issue.  I might collect a few if the projects inside appeal or I particularly like the fabrics or materials attached, but to be honest I'm not actually wanting to make this particular quilt myself as I have one I am already making at the moment and I have so many sewing books that I could probably find patterns and instructions for most things in them, so for me it would not be financially worthwhile for me to collect  them all, but who knows.

For anyone who is just starting out sewing, however, or really wants to make the quilt and feels they need the week by week guidance to motivate them or help them, they may consider buying it every week.  There are many less useful magazines out there you could be spending your money on, so if  at the end of the day you could have made a beautiful quilt and have a useful resource to help you make presents for people and things for your home, it could actually be argued to be a worthwhile choice.  It's definitely another magazine to look out for on the newsagent's shelves.  You can order it and pay by direct debit and receive various free gifts such as fabric scissors, embroidery hoops, sewing box, and others or you can give a slip to your newsagent to order it in for you each week.

Next week's issue will cost £2.50 which is slightly more money and then I assume that after that it will cost the full price from then on.  I must say from a frugal living point of view that buying a book on sewing is probably a much cheaper option, but if you like to treat yourself to a magazine each week and you have an interest in sewing then you may find this suitable for you.

Please note that I have not in any way been sponsored or paid to write this review.  It is just my personal and honest opinion of an item I have bought.  I hope it is useful.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Mini Rhubarb Crumbles

Having had some rhubarb from my last allotment visit languishing in the fridge for the past week, which desperately needed using up, on Sunday evening, in need of a desert and having absolutely nothing suitable in the cupboards, I finally decided to do something with it.

A creature of habit, my favourite thing to do with rhubarb other than making jam, which I've already got half a dozen jars of, is to make small individual rhubarb crumbles.  I make small ones as I'm the main eater in our house of these, although Little Bird does like them too.  If I made a large crumble some of it might get wasted, so small ones are ideal as rhubarb doesn't appeal to everyone.  They are so simple to make. 

Chop the rhubarb into 1" pieces, add a little water and a couple of desert spoons of sugar (or less if you don't have a sweet tooth) and heat it up in a saucepan until it softens, but does not become totally mushy. 

Decant the rhubarb into small dishes (I use small foil dishes saved from egg custards bought from Lidl).  Three quarters fill the dish with rhubarb and then add the crumble mixture on top. 

In this instance I used ready made crumble mix, Jane Asher, bought from Approved Foods.  Alternatively you can make your own with flour, butter and sugar or sometimes I just crush up digestive or rich tea biscuits with a rolling pin which are just as good and very simple to do (but I would advise putting them into a sandwich/plastic bag first if you want to avoid lots of mess).

Bake the individual crumbles on a tray in the oven at 200 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until the crumble mix is browned slightly, remove and leave to cool. 

The rhubarb I had (probably 2kg) made 13 ( a nice baker's dozen), half of which I will probably freeze for another week and the rest will disappear from the fridge in the course of this coming week.


I had one the same evening with some custard, ready made again I'm afraid, but still very nice indeed.