Saturday, 30 November 2013

Church and School Christmas Fetes

Today heralded one of my yearly traditions at Christmas, namely, visiting a local church Christmas fete.  I've been going since Little Bird was small taking her with me.  We don't actually attend this church, but at Christmas time I've always made a point of supporting them by attending the fete.  It has remained very much unchanged in the past 7 or 8 years that we have been going. which is somewhat reassuring in a constantly gentrifying East London.   

This year was slightly different as I went alone.   Little Bird didn't really want to go so instead she went to the park with OH to walk the dog.  One of my main reasons for attending this fete, apart from supporting a good cause, is that the vicar's wife makes a mean Quince Jelly and I like to stock up for the year as I never see it for sale anywhere else.  I bought 3 small jars this year at £1.50 per jar, but these will probably last me the year as we have only just started using the last jar that I bought last year.  It's the most scrumptious stuff.  I tend to eat it on a scone or hot cross bun, but you can eat it with cheese and biscuits too.

Having purchased the Quince jelly I was then free to wander around and check out the other stalls.  I bought a couple of pots of succulents as I want to get a collection of these together.  At £1 per pot with 3 plants in each they were good value.  There were a couple of small Aloe Vera plants in with them which I was pleased about.  A very useful plant.
I bought a couple more paperbacks to add to the ever growing pile,
and a set of four new Gisela Graham dark green linen/cotton napkins for £1.50 which will come in very handy for Xmas lunch and a few inexpensive stocking fillers, which I won't show here in case anyone who is going to receive them is reading this.
I stayed for a cup of tea and a mince pie (my first of the season), went on the tombola and the bottle stall and then came away.
Next stop was a local school fete.  It wasn't my daughter's school, but as it was close by, I thought I would pop in and support them too.  Here there were lots of lovely craft, jewellery and vintage stalls selling lots of lovely things.  I bought a couple of bits that were for me really, namely some vintage plastic holly for 10p (not to everyone's taste, but I love it), a lovely little brand new bamboo business card holder for 50p,
 and finally a little treat, to add to my collection of Scottie dog brooches, this little vintage lapel pin.  He's such a cutie.  (Sorry, it's not a great photo)
My final purchase was this lovely vintage cotton Christmas handkerchief.
Having spent what was in my purse we all came home.  Tomorrow, we're visiting a Christmas market where Little Bird is singing with the school choir.  I might have to restrain myself from buying anything else. 

Friday, 29 November 2013

The Great Household and Cleaning Product Challenge - Month 3

As you might have guessed I am still struggling with this challenge and finding it hard to keep within a sensible budget.  For anyone not familiar, a few months ago I set myself the challenge of trying to spend no more than £125 in a year on household and cleaning products.  It's turning out to be quite a difficult challenge to do.  This month I succumbed to a very good offer on the Approved Food website that I couldn't ignore, and although I hadn't run out of the items concerned, it does mean that I have a good supply of the same for a large part of the coming year.

In total I spent £18.73 this month, which was £8.31 over my monthly budget, on top of being over budget for the previous two months of the challenge, so I'm not doing too well.  I have now spent  £59.75/£125 in just 3 months on this challenge so I have a long way to go to get back on budget.

Spending this month consisted of the following purchases:

Branded Dishwasher Tablets x 110 £9.99 - This was the offer I succumbed to from Approved Foods which makes the tablets less than 10p each and should last for approximately one third of the remainder of the year, so after my last disaster purchasing dishwasher tabs from Lidl and being overcharged, it was difficult to ignore.

Toilet Rolls x 36 £5 - I bought these from Poundstretcher.  Two packs of 18 for £5.  These are the cheapest I have found anywhere.  They almost lasted the entire month but not quite.  I'm not sure if this was because we stayed home the whole month and a couple of us had upset stomachs this month (sorry I know that is too much information) or whether there was slightly less on each roll but either way they still turned out to be more cost effective so I will be returning to purchase them again next month.

Value Disinfectant 30p - I bought this thinking I had almost run out only to find another full bottle in the cupboard when I got home.  Luckily it wasn't a very expensive duplication.

Black Bin Bags x 15 £1.49 - I went through the 10 pack I bought last month quite quickly due to using a few for garden waste that needed to go to the tip when I did some pruning and tidying up.  In addition, I sometimes have to double bag the rubbish if the foxes rip the bags open or they split.

Toilet Bleach 69p - Ran out of this in one of our toilets so bought another for the convenience of having one in each bathroom for ease of use.

Washing Up Liquid 59p -  Completely ran out after also using mini bottle brought home from hotel stay in US.

Smart Price Toilet Rolls x 4 67p - Well it was either a mercy dash to Asda or sharing one toilet roll between two bathrooms for the last day of this month's challenge, so the mercy dash it was.

As you can see if I hadn't bought the dishwasher tablets and duplicated the disinfectant I would have been well within budget, so hopefully if I'm not distracted by another bargain offer or make any more duplications next month I should be able to keep within budget for a change.  This is bearing in mind Christmas, whereby a few extra bags of rubbish will materialise, extra guests means extra toilet paper usage and some turkey foil will be required.  If I do manage a relatively inexpensive month however, I can start to get back on track I hope.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

A New Patchwork Project

As you might have guessed by now, I tend to have lots of different sewing projects on the go at any one time.  I'm currently in the process of making several things; a hand stitched patchwork throw for the sofa, a machine stitched padded Christmas table runner  (almost finished), a Christmas rag wreath and now I've started work on yet another Christmas project, but one which will not be finished for months.  It might not even be ready for a couple more Christmases, but is a great way to use up lots of small scraps of Christmas fabric that I have left over.

The project is to make a large hand stitched Christmas throw, probably for our bed or maybe for TV watching.  It could actually even become a table cloth I guess.  I'm using small diamond shapes, and when I first started on this I intended making them into stars, but have since changed my mind and am going to make them into larger diamond shapes which all fit together nicely to make a sort of harlequin effect. 

It really is going to be a long haul project, mainly because of the small size of all the individual pieces, but I don't mind that as it is nice to have something that I can work on whenever I feel like it and that will travel pretty easily when we go on holiday or away for a weekend.  Here's a picture of the pieces for the first two diamond blocks I've hand basted.  I think it might turn out quite nice by the time it's finished.  What do you think?

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

£100 Per Year Beauty Challenge - Month 5

Five months gone and I can't quite believe that I'm almost half way through this challenge already.  It's a great challenge and I'm really enjoying it.  Thanks El, from A Thrifty Mrs blog for inventing it and inspiring me.  It wouldn't suit everybody to spend less than £100 in a year on all beauty products and toiletries, but as I'm not a great wearer of make up, save for lipstick and nail varnish, and thanks to the fact that I had a whole stash of toiletries and other beauty products that needed using up before I started, it is suiting me well.  The stash is going down very slowly but just to give you some idea of how much I still need to use I've gathered it all together again and taken a few more photos.

In this photo it is mainly soap, dental care and hair conditioner plus lots of hotel room travel sized toiletries or samples from magazines I've picked up.

This photo includes a virtual mountain of hand, foot, blemish, eye and face creams, hand sanitisers, a couple of facial washes and deodourants and some pocket wipes.  So as you can see I've a long way to go to use these up and hence why this challenge hasn't been too bad thus far.

This month has been another one where I've come in under budget.  I have spent exactly £6.48 out of  a possible £8.33.  So, in total over the 5 months I have spent £40.79/£100.

This month's expenditure was on the following:

1 - 750ml Dettol Hand Wash Refill £1.49 - For use in the kitchen mainly, as I use bars of soap in the bathroom.  I hadn't run out completely, but saw this on sale on Approved Foods site and added it on to my order.

2 - 4 x 100ml Crest Toothpaste £3 - I had just about completely run out of my stash of toothpaste so when this came up on Approved Food I bought a few tubes to keep us going for a while.

3 - Very Berry Nail Varnish £1.99 - This was a treat I bought myself from Lidl to match the lipstick I bought last month and wear regularly.

So a pretty good month, but I have a feeling that next month might be a bit more expensive as I have noticed that the shampoo is going down fast, I'm using up handbag hairsprays before buying another full sized one, I'm almost out of  cotton pads and need small handbag packs of tissues and may need more blemish sticks, so a bit of restocking in a few areas is required. Having said that, I've just found another almost unused blemish stick and handbag hairspray in my spare makeup bag, so I may be able to eek those out which may help keep expenditure down.  I'll let you know how I get on.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

A Great Little Winter Project

Sunday afternoon and I was sat at the kitchen table leisurely reading my way through the weekend broadsheet and it's Sunday supplements and came across an article by Joanna Gosling on the subject of simple home-crafted decorations and gifts taken from her book 'Home Made Simple' published by Kyle Books.   On perusing the article, there were some lovely ideas and also there was a great knitting pattern for some fingerless wrist warmers.  It was just the sort of pattern I've been looking for for a while now. 

The same day I decided to give it a go and found the pattern to be incredibly simple.  It was my kind of knitting pattern.  It was supposed to be done in moss stitch, i.e. knit one purl one, but I forgot how to purl and didn't want to go upstairs and get my book to remind myself, so I just knitted it.  It seemed to work quite well though.   The only trouble was I didn't have enough wool to make a second one so had to unravel the first and start again on a pair for Little Bird using some chunky pale purple wool I had.  I altered the pattern slightly by casting on less stitches, as she has smaller hands.   This pair worked out pretty well though, fitted okay and luckily I did have enough wool this time.  Here's a picture of the finished wrist warmers modelled by Little Bird. 

  To be honest, they could do with being a little longer, but I can bear that in mind for the next time I make some, but they are roomy enough so that she can wear a pair of fingered gloves underneath on really cold days.  They took a couple of hours to make whilst watching TV which wasn't a hardship, so they are a great little winter project.  If you are a better knitter than I and could use cable stitch or moss stitch, you could probably get a much better result too.

I'm pretty pleased with them though and can't wait to find some lovely chunky grey wool to make some for myself.  I might even be tempted to make a few for kid's Christmas stocking fillers if I get the time.  I may put this book on my Christmas list too as I like the simplicity of the ideas in it.

Monday, 25 November 2013

A Bit of Bookish Inspiration

Whilst out and about on Friday I decided to pop into our local Central Library as I was in the vicinity.  I haven't been to the library for a good few months, probably since before our holiday in August so it felt good to go back in there.  I was looking for some crafting books to give me a bit of inspiration; knitting, sewing, the usual things.  I picked up a few good crafting books.  This one by Liberty, in which there was the odd project that appealed.  It's a nice book  with some lovely fabrics in it.

I also got another one by Lisa Stickley, which would be absolutely great for a beginner or anyone like me who likes straightforward, no nonsense ideas without too many complicated features.   It is one of the best simple sewing books I have read to date and I would really like this book in my collection.  I may even put it on my Christmas list.  I really like quite a few of the projects in here and am thinking of attempting some of them. 

The final craft book was this delicious Knitting for Dogs book.  I took it out as I was looking for a reasonably simple knitting book as my knitting skills are very limited and I have lots of wool to use up.  I thought I might have a go at making something for our puppy.  Luckily she's quite small so it shouldn't be too difficult and this book had a basic shape for a knitted dog sweater I could follow.  It also had lots of other ideas for doggy saddle bags, leg warmers, capes, doggy toys, etc.  I couldn't resist it.  When I got it home and took a closer look I realised that it had been written by a writer who lives in La Jolla, California,  a place we visited on our US road trip this summer.  This only served to endear me to this book even more.  

Anyway, the same night I started on a little sweater for our dog.  It's going to be a stripey affair in browns so that it isn't too conspicuous as OH doesn't really like the idea of dog coats and sweaters.  Maybe I'll just use it on my walks with her, if she'll wear it that is.  I'll post when I get a bit further on, but please don't expect anything grand or accomplished, as when I say my knitting skills are limited I do mean it.

I did also borrow a couple of other books.  This one is a modern version of Dicken's Christmas Carol, set in Chicago in the US and about a miserly futures trader who has visitations on Christmas Eve.  It's not a particularly long book, so you could probably read it in an evening.  The writer is a best selling author of several novels which have all been made into Hollywood movies and co-authored a book which inspired the movie The Day After Tomorrow.  I started reading it on Saturday evening and once I got going I could barely put it down, finishing it the next morning.  There's something so dark, yet compelling about this morality tale that touches a nerve.  It has a way of making you examine your own life and consider if there's anything you can do to make life a little better for others.  It's a good short seasonal read and I would definitely recommend it. 

On a bit of a lighter note the final book I borrowed is this book by Harry Wallop, who I've seen presenting programmes on TV before and whose journalistic style I enjoy.  It looked like an interesting read. 

I think I will probably have to renew it a few times before I finish it, but we'll see.  I do love going to the library, there's something so satisfying about having access to so many interesting and lovely books.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Boot Renovation

I have a pair of black leather knee high Clark's boots that were bought for me for my birthday a few years ago by OH.  I've worn them quite a lot over the last few years, but recently have been thinking about getting another pair and they have been relegated to being worn for dog walking.  As a consequence, they're a bit muddy, covered in grass from walking over the marshes and to be honest haven't had a good polish in I don't know how long.  Here's a rather embarrassing photo, no holds barred.

I'd been keeping an eye out for a new pair, but so far hadn't really seen any I particularly liked.  Whilst stopped at some traffic lights the other day, I was watching a number of women walk across the crossing in front of me wearing black leather boots, when it occurred to me that one pair of black knee high boots looks very much like another and although mine aren't 'current' season, there's nothing particularly wrong with them, apart from being a bit grubby.  They're a lovely snug fit and with calves like mine it can be difficult to find a pair to fit well, plus they have plenty of wear left in them yet, so it seemed a shame not to take better care of them.   I can remember as a child polishing my shoes for school every Sunday night.  I don't know when I got out of the habit of looking after my shoes, but I did.

With this in mind, I decided to give them a good clean and polish.  Out came the rags, brushes, dusters and polish and I set to with a bit of elbow grease.  Firstly I gave them a wash down with soapy water and then rinsed them gently under a warm tap.  Once they'd dried, I slathered on some good old black Dales Dubbin boot polish I'd bought from Approved Foods.   I think I got 5 or 6 tins for 99p or something ridiculous.  I even gave a few tins away to the Food Bank a few months ago as I had so many and thought they might be useful to someone.  (They do take non food items, just in case you were wondering).   It said on the tin that it softened and waterproofed leather which was perfect.  I then brushed them with a hard shoe brush, followed up by brushing with a soft brush and this is how they turned out. 

I was pretty pleased with the result.  They look much more presentable and if I make them last this winter or maybe even a couple more winters, that's at least £100 saved that I might otherwise have spent on a new pair. I may still wear them to walk the dog, but I think I might start taking a bit more care of them from now on.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

That Friday Feeling

It was a strange and somewhat freaky day on Friday and not in a particularly good way.  It started well enough, in that the milk was on the doorstep when I opened the front door, but as this was the day that I had decided to cancel my order I almost hoped that it wasn't all present and correct, so that I might feel justified in my decision.  I had to ring the dairy and tell them and I didn't enjoy it as they have provided a good service over the years I have had my milk delivered.  As I explained to them, when two more bottles disappeared from the doorstep on Monday morning, it just seemed like there was no convenience to having it delivered anymore.  I left it until the end of the week, until I'd paid the bill up to date.  I felt sad making the call, but expressed my thanks for their hard work and that it was absolutely no reflection on them that I was cancelling. 

Later, on the walk up to school I was talking to Little Bird and her friend and was asking said friend what she was going to ask for from Santa this year.  A look was exchanged between Little Bird and her friend and I knew in that instant that she had swallowed the worm of doubt over Santa's existence.  I advised her not to listen to malicious gossip about the poor man, but I'm afraid the damage has probably been done and my little girl no longer believes.  It is a sad day in some respects, but I guess it demonstrates that she is growing up and fast.  It felt like a watershed moment and it left me singing Don't Stop Believing at the school gates, much to her acute embarrassment.

Whilst walking the dog this morning I saw a sandwich board for a local newspaper, headlining a shoddy shop blog that had gone viral.  I couldn't resist looking around on the web for it when I got home.   Turns out it was a tumblr post about an Express supermarket in our borough, which had infuriated one guy so much that he had written a post about it and it had gone viral, causing the big supermarket chain to very quickly jump in and rectify many of the faults highlighted.  It reminded me of the power of the blogosphere and social media to reach an incredibly wide audience, sometimes when you'd least expect it.  

Ironically, when I ventured out into town to do a few errands later that day,  I parked in the car park of another branch of said supermarket, which normally allows 1.5 hours free parking for people using the store (and town centre).  Luckily for me I wasn't long on my errands because when I returned to the car I noticed that the free parking had suddenly been reduced to 1 hour only, with no extra warning signage to draw attention to the fact.  Whilst I'm sure this is perfectly legal it made me a bit grumpy, as these privately run car parks with camera control are quite happy to send out parking 'fines' for overstaying your welcome, as I found out to my cost on one occasion, but don't have the decency to adequately advertise changes in their conditions of use.   No wonder city centres are losing business and shops are closing down.   It is sharp practice such as this which contributes to it. 

Rant over.  I could go on a little more about the woes of ,Friday but I've probably depressed you enough.  I guess we all have 'bad' days.  Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day!  At least it's the weekend.

Friday, 22 November 2013

A Spot of Making Do and Mending

I have a lovely woven basket that I bought for 3 or 4 euros when we went on holiday to France 3 or 4 years ago now.  I really like it and it is so very useful.  I often take it with me when I do the weekly shopping and put all my reusable bags inside it.  It sits nicely in the child seat of the shopping trolley as I go around, or hooks onto the hook you get under the handle of many shopping trolleys.  It is really strong and when we go away for a weekend I always take it and throw lots of things in it such as my laptop, camera, book, toiletry bag, hot water bottle, etc. etc.  It never lets me down and is as sturdy as the day I bought it.............except for one part of it that seems to take the brunt of any wear and tear.

As you can see from this photo it is the handles that take the strain.  A year or so ago they started to fray and in an attempt to repair them I sewed some vintage fabric around where they had frayed.  This worked brilliantly and I even got some positive comments occasionally about the handles, from people who thought that I'd bought it like that.

It was starting to look a bit worse for wear again, one handle cover remained loosely in place, but the fabric had worn through and the other handle cover had dropped off.  I had had it on my mental to do list for ages now, I can't even remember how long, but last night I decided to just get on and do it as I do really like this basket.  The bottom of it is still sound I want to make it last as long as I possibly can.  Here's a picture of the bottom which I think is miraculously intact considering how much wear it has had.  It is obviously very well made.

Anyway, I taped the frayed handles with selotape to stop them continuing to fray and I found another bit of vintage fabric, not quite as good a match as previously used, but one I like nevertheless and was glad to find a use for.  It only took a small square which I cut in half and then folded in the ends and edges before wrapping it around the handles and pinning it in place on the handles.

A bit of stitching with a strong thread and hey presto!
My favourite basket was almost as good as new and ready to go again.  I was very happy with it.  I do love to eek out as much use as I can from my favourite things, don't you?

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Tuesday Out and About

Tuesday, as I was more or less up to date on household chores and work, I decided to take myself out and buy some necessary stock for my business, so I headed up to a local high street a few miles away to visit the many fabric shops there.

There's always a market down this particular street on a Tuesday and I like to have a good mooch around.  One favourite stall sells new books at £1 for paperbacks and £2 for hard backs, so I couldn't help having a look and found this book, which I bought for OH to give me for Christmas as it sounded quite an interesting read and a little more serious than my usual chick lit. 

I also bought a book for OH for Christmas, which  I think he might find interesting, again just £1 and brand new.

Not wanting to abandon chick lit, as I do enjoy it, I also found these two books in the charity shop which I can never resist having a look in.  One is by the same author as the book I have just finished reading and really enjoyed, which is why I couldn't ignore it.  I've now got two by this author waiting to be read, both on a wintry or Christmassy theme.  I think I need to start a new challenge,  not to buy any more books for as long as possible, as my to read piles are ridiculously high.  It can't go on, they're going to start toppling over soon.  I guess there are worse habits to have than reading.

Anyway, later today, I had to take Little Bird for her swimming lesson and decided to pop down to Primark in the town centre.  I was looking for yet another pair of supersoft skinnies, in purple this time.  Last pair I promise.  At £8 per pair they are exceptional for the money and are super on and wash well.  I can't help myself if I find an item of clothing that works for me, I often have to buy it in different colours.  In the end they didn't have the colour I wanted in that branch.  I'd had a pair in my hand on Saturday at the big mall, but the queue was so horrendous I left them, so I'll have to head back there sometime.

Instead, I did treat myself to some new socks after reading a post on Just a Little Less the other day, about having enough of the basics in your wardrobe.  I've been throwing quite a few socks out lately as they had holes in them and I wanted some warmer pairs for the cold weather we're now having, a few pairs to coordinate with my skinnies and more trainer socks for the gym. Don't you just love new socks?  I do.  I especially love the colour of the ones in this pack.

Of course I couldn't resist throwing in a couple of small pressies for Little Bird (birthday and Christmas), one of which I've been intending to get for a while and a couple of other bits for me, which I'm going to get OH to give me for Xmas too.

I also bought myself a new, very inexpensive shopping bag, because I really liked the autumnal colour (it's dark maroon).  My more summery red one that I bought earlier in the year is looking a bit worse for wear now, although I still do use it.  

It would, of course, have been much cheaper to just go and watch Little Bird swim.  I think I'll just do that in future.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Bargain Christmas Paper (Washi) Tape

I just thought I'd do a quick post for anyone who like me has a bit of a penchant for washi tape, to let you know where you can find some seasonal designs at a really reasonable price this Christmas.  Out and about on Saturday afternoon I popped into Paperchase in our local mall and found some lovely tapes, which they call paper tapes, but which are virtually indistinguishable from washi tape, in lots of lovely Christmassy designs.

In each pack you got a 15 meter roll of each of two designs of tape, which is quite a good sized roll as many out there only contain 5 or 10 m.   All for the bargain price of £2.50.  So if you're in the market for some to use in Christmas crafting or wrapping you could do a lot worse than to head there, if there's one near you that is.  Here's a picture of the designs I bought....

.... and yes, I know I got a bit carried away, but I find them very hard to resist, especially if they're a good price.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

A Big Pre-Christmas Clean Up

Following on from last week's post about getting the chimney swept, I got down to work and gave the living room and dining room a jolly good old clean.  I hadn't moved the sofa for a number of months and was quite ashamed at the dirt and dust that had gathered under there.

I was pleased with myself because this time I did the job properly, with a bowl of soapy/disinfected water and a cloth, as opposed to my usual lazy housekeeping ways of using multi-surface wipes. This method was also a lot cheaper too and much more eco friendly.  The cloth did get pretty black by the time I'd finished, especially after cleaning around the fireplace, but was soon remedied by soaking it in bleach and at least I felt I'd done a thorough job and got rid of any lurking dust and dust balls.  It feels so nice now to have done it.

At the same time as I was pulling out furniture and cleaning behind and underneath it, I decided to have a bit of a change around, moving some furniture into the back room and other pieces into the front room in readiness for our guests coming at Christmas, to give us a bit more room to accommodate them and the Christmas tree, so another job was done in readiness for the festive season

I do still need to do a few bits and pieces such as clean the inside of the windows and get the glass globe light shades down and wash them, but as we don't have a stepladder at the moment I thought I would leave these jobs until another day.   I will also need to give the rooms another quick once over before the decorations finally go up, but deep clean done, a big tick off the to do list and I'm a happy bunny.

Monday, 18 November 2013

This Sunday I ....

....didn't get to my usual aerobics class as I didn't book it early enough and it was full - Sob!

....took the dog for a walk in the morning and came across several drunken revellers from the night before.

....emptied the ironing basket.

.....caught up on some work.

.....put all the washing and ironing away.

......put a woolly blanket on our bed now the weather has turned colder.

.....wrote my shopping list for tomorrow and my to do list for the week.

.....cooked a roast for supper.

.....wrote almost all of my Christmas cards. (Yippee, not my favourite job)

.....sat in front of a lovely open fire, watched the Strictly dance off and started a new project, a Christmas Rag Wreath, from scraps of Christmas fabric and a coat hanger.

.....didn't spend a penny.  (Hooray!)

.....felt ready to start a new week. (This is rare!)

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Christmas is a coming...2

Well, the lead up to Christmas has begun in ernest here, kicked off by my attendance on Saturday(although only just) at one of my favourite pre-Christmas events, the local Hospice Christmas Bazaar.  I say only just, as I completely got the times wrong this year for the first time ever and found myself arriving half an hour before it was due to end, which was disappointing. 

Anyway, I had a good wander around and still managed to find a few things to bring home with me including these lovely Christmas cards.  Although I have enough already for this year, they will come in useful for next year.  Goodness my Christmas shopping gets earlier and earlier.

The Christmas tree cards are last years design from the Hospice itself and cost £1.50 for 10 but they are lovely quality and the mittens are M&S and cost 20p for 10, so I think I did okay and of course it all goes to a very good cause.

I also bought these lovely glass baubles for £1,

and lots of plastic ones for 50p, which are going to go around the bottom of our tree where the dog can potentially reach.

I also bought a stocking filler of three little baking books for Little Bird, as now I've got rid of lots of her children's baking books, she needs something a bit more grown up to guide her in her baking attempts.  These are brand new and cost just £4 for the three.

On my way home I still had a bit of money left over from the amount I'd allowed myself to spend at the Bazaar, £16 in this instance, which was what I had in my purse, so I dropped into a local charity shop on the way home, ostensibly looking for something completely different to what I came home with, which was this lovely vintage pure wool blanket for £3,

and lots of lovely Rowan DK Handknit Cotton in a beautiful range of colours, plus a few brightly coloured new zips for £3. 

I'm pretty sure this cotton is a lot more expensive to buy new and I've never tried knitting with it so I feel a bit of a knitting session coming on.  I'll keep you posted.

There are a few other favourite events that I always enjoy attending in the lead up to Christmas, such as local craft fairs and church fetes, that are coming up in the next few weeks, so I am looking forward to going along to these and hoping I get to them on time.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

All Guns Blazing

This Friday I passed an enjoyable day at home, not spending money and more importantly catching up on jobs, work and various craft projects I'd been meaning to finish for a while. 

I decided to get out my new hot glue gun (only six months after buying it!) and actually use it. Technology is not by biggest strength and I had bought this with a couple of projects in mind, but since it's arrival I had been a little bit scared to use it.  I don't know if it was the combination of heat and glue, but I needed to be in the right frame of mind to get to grips with it.  Well, Friday I was, and I'm very pleased that I did.

My hot glue gun and I are now good friends and I was very pleasantly surprised how easy it can make some jobs and how quickly and effectively it sticks things together.

I used it to complete the transformation I'd done on a couple ottomans that I had reupholstered and recovered with fabric.  All I had left to do was to just glue on some braid around the edge.  I started by pinning the braid in place and then went around with the glue gun squirting the glue underneath the braid removing the pins as I went.  It worked a treat, so I now have two completed ottomans, which I am very pleased with and have crossed another item off my to do list that has been on it for months now, which makes me feel very happy and that I am making progress, if somewhat slowly.


I will say, however, that for some jobs, namely where you have to apply the glue all around or over a surface before adding whatever it is you want to stick to it, I didn't find the hot glue gun worked so well as it had started to cool and solidify before I'd even put the two surfaces together, but for ribbons and braiding and small additions I found it to be perfect.

Meet my new BFF (Best friend forever), I'm hoping to use it a lot more in the future.

Friday, 15 November 2013

No Nonsense November - The Half Way Mark

Well, I'm half way through No Nonsense November where I'm trying to minimise non-essential spending to help me pay off my credit cards by the end of the year, and thus far it's not going too badly.  (I hope I haven't tempted fate here).

To be honest, I wasn't exactly thrilled at the idea of a third month of minimising spending, but needs must sometimes and it is essential if I really do want to pay off my credit cards in full in what is left of this year.  The thought of not being able to treat myself to anything was a bit depressing.  In reality, however, although last week was a bit slow and there wasn't much happening (hence all the posts about quilting and other projects), I've managed to get to the half way mark relatively unscathed.  In fact, I'm probably having my best non-spending month yet.

I did treat myself to a nail varnish to match my lipstick which at £1.99 from Lidl was a very inexpensive treat.  I also made a couple of purchases of storage items for the house which were on my to do list, plus I did buy a few books from the charity shop, but other than this I've hardly spent anything. 

Oh, I tell a lie.  I did treat myself to a pair of Joules wellies online which at £25 were a good price as they normally retail at more like £40.  They are great for walking the dog in the very wet weather we've been having, as I found that most of my boots seemed to allow my feet to get soaked through, when walking in the grass in the park and on the marshes.  Almost all other spending has been on food and other essential household and beauty products, Christmas presents and paying off debts.

I had a pleasant surprise last night when doing some banking online.  I realised that I had £100 more in my account than I thought, as I had made an error in calculating my balance, so that was a real bonus and means I can pay more off one of my credit cards at the end of the month than I thought I'd be able to.  Hopefully I will be able to keep this up for he rest of the month and be in a much better position next month.  Fingers crossed.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Sweeping Away the Soot and the Cobwebs

Yesterday, whilst I was out enjoying myself at the Ideal Home Show, OH had arranged for the chimney sweep to come and clean out both of our chimneys as we are hoping to get a stove heater fitted in the dining room before Christmas, that is if we can find someone certified to fit it that isn't fully booked up until the New Year!

This matter was long overdue.  I'm not proud to admit that we don't get it done religiously every year.  I think we may though after this visit as the sweep commented that he was surprised we hadn't had a chimney fire as there was so much soot up there.  A bit worrying.

Anyway, thankfully it has now been done and we can now safely have a lovely roaring open fire of an evening.

In preparing for the chimney sweep's visit I had removed everything from the mantle piece and from the chimney alcove in the dining room to make life easier for him.  Today when I went into the rooms, it looked wonderfully restful on the eye not to see lots of things on the mantle piece cluttering it up, so I'm thinking of having a bit of a sort out and only putting the bare minimum back.  Not only is it more restful on the eye it also means less dusting too, which is all good in my book.

Now the chimneys have been swept, it seemed a good opportunity to give both rooms a good clean up so that they will be ready to start decorating for Christmas in a few weeks time.   I might even make some new cushion covers and a table runner in the next few weeks if I can get my act together, and have a bit of a change as I have some fabric that would be perfect.  I'll keep you posted if I do get around to making them.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Ideal Home Show at Christmas

Today, I had a rare and lovely day out at the Ideal Home Show at Christmas at Earls Court in London.  I'd acquired some free tickets though and took advantage of the opportunity to have a pre-Christmas day out with a friend.

My friend and I met up and travelled to the show and on coming out of the tube station there was a flurry of fake snow,

lots of twinkling snowy Christmas trees

and even Santa in his sleigh with reindeers, ready to greet us.  It was quite magical.  I felt like a child again for a few minutes anyway.

We proceeded into the show and spent the next 4-5 hours wandering around the many, many stalls and exhibitors demonstrating their various wares.  It was quite an exhausting day I must say, but was made better by lots of food and drink tastings and a lovely roast pork, stuffing and cranberry sauce sandwich for lunch, followed by a cup of tea and a low fat muffin before embarking on a second round of exploring the show.  Here's a picture taken at the halfway point.  We still had all this ground floor, complete with ice rink, to explore at this point.


We stopped off and watched an upholstery demonstration which was interesting, and there were lots of cookery demonstrations too by Phil Vickery and Gino DiCampo, although we didn't stop and watch any as it got a bit crowded around the stage.

I bought a couple of Christmas presents, one was for me from OH, some headphones that I've wanted for a while.  The other was a small present from me to OH, a lovely truckle of Welsh cheese which I bought with 2 others at £10 for the three.

They were very tasty, especially the ginger spice one made of medium mature cheddar and stemmed ginger.  I can't wait to put this on the cheese board at Christmas.

On this occasion there were goody bags distributed for free, which was a distinct improvement on my last visit earlier in the year.  Inside were lots of marketing brochures, a sample of cat food, some Yorkshire tea bags and a bar of Bailey's truffle chocolate. 

All good by me.  The stray neighbourhood cat will get the cat food, I will use the teabags and the chocolate bar can be used as a gift for someone at Christmas.  Waste not want not.

I also picked up some very reasonably priced items from a culinary herb stall.  I've never seen such an array of herbs, spices, chutneys, sauces, dried mushrooms, mulled wine mignonettes, etc.  I bought a bag of culinary lavender flowers for £2.75 (Little Bird likes to make lavender biscuits) and a quite large bag of cinnamon sticks for £2.10 for Christmas decorations, which I thought was very inexpensive as I have paid far more for them in the past.

The company concerned do a mail order catalogue.  I couldn't see a web address anywhere in the catalogue, but for anyone who uses herbs and spices a lot in cooking, they might be worth checking out.

All in all we had a really good day.  We much preferred the Christmas show to the previous Ideal Home Show we attended earlier in the year, although there were less rooms to look around.   This show there were a couple of rooms designed by Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen which were interesting.

If you like Christmas and you like shows of this nature, I would recommend a visit, but wear flat shoes as there's a lot of walking involved, eat early to avoid the crowds and pace yourself as there is lots to see, is my only advice.  Oh and take lots of money as there's lots of lovely stuff to tempt you to part with it.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Preparing the Advent Calendar

Yes, I know it's incredibly early to be thinking of Christmassy things, but some things do need a bit of planning and preparing an advent calendar for Little Bird is one of them I'm afraid.

Over the years we've had various types of advent calendar.  In her younger years, I used to use a reusable hanging felt one, with lots of little pockets that I'd fill with bits and pieces.  Some years we might just go for a normal chocolate one and very occasionally she got really lucky and we bought a Playmobil one for her and she'd get a little toy every day in the lead up to Christmas to add to her collection.  To be honest this was a bit much and the whole of December seemed like a present fest and now she's older, she doesn't play with it so much anymore, so last year I made individual little paper envelopes out of wrapping paper and hung them up using red and green plastic pegs and filled them with stickers, moshis, etc., that she collected at the time.

This year, I've taken a slightly different tack.  Whilst rummaging in the January sales earlier in the year I came across this lovely little advent set in M&S for just £2.50, reduced from £9.50.  It's a set of 24 little cracker boxes that you can fill with sweets or whatever, and seal with the number stickers so that one can be pulled every day revealing a little surprise.  I thought they'd make a fun change and for the price I thought they were good value and very pretty.  In addition, I can use them to decorate the tree and save on buying some cheap crackers this year, although I still might indulge for our guests.

In addition to the number stickers, they come with 24 little activity ideas in place of a joke which suggest things that children can do in the lead up to the big day.  Examples include write a letter to Santa,  send out your Christmas cards, make a paper chain, bakes some Christmas treats, etc.  I thought this was a nice touch.  It will be pretty useful to me to remind me of what needs doing too.

I dug it out last night, from where I'd stashed it and decided that as we are almost half way through November I would start to collect a few things together to go inside it.  I'd already picked up a couple of things such as some cute Rudolph nail stickers, obligatory chocolate coins and I have a few bits and pieces of inexpensive makeup and jewellery that I might add for the odd day.  I'm afraid I usually do get a bit carried away.  I think I probably enjoy it more than she does.

Anyway, I'm heading out today, so I will be keeping my eyes peeled for some very small little treats to go inside.  I'm determined to try not to overdo it this year and as it's No Nonsense November budgetary restriction definitely do apply so that will hopefully keep me in check.

Monday, 11 November 2013

A Household Catchup

This weekend I've been catching up with some household chores and as it was filthy wet outside for most of Saturday, I didn't mind one bit.  Our bathroom was in dire need of a thorough clean so that was the first job of the day on Saturday morning, after emptying the dishwasher, sorting a bit of washing and putting a machine load of towels on to wash.

I decided that as I was nearly completely out of clean towels, I would take them all up to the launderette on the corner of the next street to dry them, as there just wasn't the space at home to hang them all out.  It was very busy in the launderette with lots of people needing the dryers.   The staff in there seemed to have a whole mound of service washes to do too. 

It is a very rare occurrence for me to go in, but sometimes needs must, as we don't own a tumble dryer and it is very conveniently located for us, although I did take the car as it was raining.  I popped the towels in the spinner first to reduce drying time and then they had a couple of pounds worth of time in the dryer and they were all done within an hour.  It cost £2.40 in total, which I know could be argued to be an unnecessary expense, but sometimes it is worth paying, simply for the convenience and to help empty the laundry basket.  In the meantime, I sat and read my book which I'm thoroughly enjoying. 

Visiting the launderette in Winter, especially on a Saturday, brings to mind how many a rainy Saturday afternoon was whiled away in one when I was young, as I used to go there every week in the autumn/winter with my mum to dry the washing. (In summer it would all be line dried).   As she worked full time and had three children, a top loading machine with attached mangle, plus a separate spin dryer, for much of our childhood, she didn't have time the to do the washing during the week.  Initially she used to spend Saturdays at home with piles of washing all over the kitchen floor until they'd all been done and then eventually, when we got the front loading machine she would wash it in that and then take it to the launderette to dry.  We'd then go and visit my Nana afterwards who lived nearby.  It was a lot less expensive in those days, although probably comparable to today's prices.

Anyhow, I digress, I now have lots of lovely soft, fluffy, clean towels in my ironing basket which is a rare treat.  The launderette treatment has really fluffed them up nicely and they feel like new.

When I got home I treated myself to a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea and read the weekend papers.  What's the saying, all work and no play.

The rest of Saturday was spent reading a few blog posts, doing a bit of sewing, taking the dog for a walk and then cooking a pasta bake for tea before my usual of settling in front of the TV to watch Strictly.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Quilt Number 2 Reveal and a Sewing Room Sort Out

It's been quite a quiet week here this week.  I've been staying home most days avoiding going out and spending any money as part of No Nonsense November, where I'm trying to spend as little on unnecessary stuff as possible.
As a consequence, I've spent quite a bit of time in my sewing room making a quilt for Little Bird.  I've managed to finish it this week and I am really pleased with it.  I know from the experience of having another quilt I made on my bed for the past few weeks, that it is going to keep her nice and roasty this winter and that makes me feel very happy with it, aside from the aesthetics of it.
Here's a picture of the finished quilt.  I think it is quite pretty.

This quilt has mostly been made from new fabrics, although not particularly expensive ones.  Save for the heart-like print which was recycled from an old duvet cover I bought for a couple of pounds from a vintage shop around the corner.  The backing fabric is a lovely quilting cotton from my stash, that I bought on eBay a few years ago, and has now finally found a use.  It's covered in little purple asters and is quite sweet.
It is actually going to be an extra little Christmas present, but if it gets really cold I may give it to her before Christmas to use, how can I not.
As I've been spending quite a bit of time in my sewing room, I noticed how cluttered it seems to have got in recent months.  There were various piles of fabrics and unfinished projects all around the room, where I'd left them instead of putting them away properly or just getting on with them, causing it to become quite messy and making working in there more difficult. 
In between working on the quilt, I've been slowly having a good sort out up there this week.  I can't say I've got rid of much clutter, but I have tidied lots of drawers of fabric, put away a few new fabrics I acquired over the summer and made the decision not to proceed with some projects which no longer appealed.  I have also been having a flick through my many sewing books and have found some new project ideas that I might attempt in the next few months.
It felt good to get things back in some semblance of order and find some new inspiration.  My next project is going to be the Christmas quilted table runner.  I've made a start but there's still quite a bit of work to do on it.  I'll post when I've finished it.