Monday, 30 June 2014

June Round Up

June has been a much more favourable month financially than the one that preceeded it.  For some reason, I didn't feel compelled to rush out and spend money as soon as I had it in my account.  In fact, I took it steady this month, didn't go on many shopping sprees (save at the charity shop and one towards the end of the month) and just kept myself occupied doing other things instead.

There were a couple of indulgences such as the aforementioned buying of a few items of clothing from a charity shop and treating myself and Little Bird to new swimming costumes.  Mine was to wear at Center Parcs, as the ones I had didn't seem appropriate (a little too revealing - more suitable for the beach in very hot weather), but it will also be useful year round.  Little Bird's was purchased because she has been accepted by the local swimming club and now goes training with them at least twice a week.   I don't feel too guilty for this purchase, as it means she always has a clean costume available.

The non-charity shop shopping spree was at TK Maxx where I managed to get a school bag and trainers for Little Bird for secondary school, plus a few bargains for Christmas presents, that will be stashed away until the time.

I paid off my usual £100 from my overdraft and even managed to put aside an extra £30 in savings, which was a first for me.  I didn't, however, do so well on the no spend days.  I was aiming to reach 50 and be at the half way point of what I wanted to achieve for the year, by the half way point in the year, but only managed 46, so I need to do a bit of catching up in the next few months.

I completed the £100 Per Year Beauty challenge this month and managed to keep within the £100 budget, which was very satisfying, especially after my dismal failure on the Household challenge.  I also donated two month's worth of food to the local food bank as I hadn't managed to make a donation last month.

Some free workshops in my local borough helped to keep me on track this month, as they diverted my attention from shopping and spending money unnecessarily, by keeping me occupied on a couple of days.  I did spend a few pounds on some candle wicks, some leather pieces and a few other bits for some future craft projects, but the sums involved were pretty small. 

The majority of my budget has gone on food and household items, and paying off my credit cards.  It's been a good month.  I am very much looking forward to July, as it will include our annual holiday, but it is by no means going to be an inexpensive one.  We're heading to Southern Italy all being well and there may be a few small necessary purchases required before we go, although these are unlikely to be clothes for me, as I have far too many already.  I may treat Little Bird to a few new items of clothing for the holiday, as she grows out of her clothes quite quickly and they need replacing, but I won't be able to tell until I start the packing, so it may be a last minute affair.

In addition,  July signals the start of the summer holidays from school and I will need to put aside some money for Little Bird's new secondary school uniform.  If I can spread the cost over the next two months this will make life a lot easier, as there will also be additional things to buy in August before the new school term starts (although not many now).  I also need to get my hair coloured and cut which is more expense, so I don't expect July to be a frugal month.  How's your budget looking for July?

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Allotment Tales

Saturday morning, OH and Little Bird had taken the dog to the park with some of Little Bird's friends, so I was left home alone.  It was quite nice for a change actually.  I had a bit of a lie in reading and then got up and pottered around doing a few jobs for an hour or so, before heading off to the allotment on my bike.

I particularly wanted to harvest some lettuce. I knew some would be ready, as they was very close on my last visit.  When I got there the lettuce patch looked like this.

I was really happy with it's progress.  I set to doing a bit of work.  There were no more strawberries.  I'd picked the lot on my last visit, so I decided to cut back all the plants, so that I might get another crop if the season is long enough.  They needed a good crop and the patch looked a lot better for it.  Where there were still a few strawberries growing, I didn't crop right back, hence a few left with a bit of growth. 

I was really pleased to see that the rhubarb, which didn't get off to a good start this year, was feeling a bit more productive, so I harvested a good few stalks to make some more crumbles. 

I had to freeze some of the strawberries  harvested on my last visit, so I'm going to include them in the crumbles too.  I used some this week, alongside some blackcurrants from the back garden, and even OH ate the resulting crumbles, which he never normally does as he's not keen on rhubarb.

In addition to the rhubarb improving, the climbing beans I planted out a month or so ago had now started to get a bit more established.  I was relieved as I wasn't sure they were going to survive.  They're still a bit spindly, but will hopefully fill out a bit more and produce plenty of beans. 

No such worries with the artichokes.  These monsters must be over 7ft tall now.  I can hardly reach them to cut off the globes.  I'll probably leave them on to flower as the bees love them.

After sorting out the strawberry patch, I decided to do a bit of weeding and cutting back of the comfrey and nettles that encroach from the other side of the perimeter fence and then I took some bags of pernicious weeds to the communal compost bins, which cleared some clutter from my plot.  I figure if I do a bit each visit, I'll get on top of what needs doing eventually.

I harvested a few spring onions, they weren't huge, but it helped to thin them out and there were just enough to put in a few salads this week.  I'm the only one who eats them.

There was a bit of floral interest at the allotment too.  A poppy that had seeded itself onto the plot was now flowering. 

The hollyhocks were starting to flower

and the nasturtiums in all their different colours were putting on a good display.

Just before leaving I harvested some lettuces.  I took quite a few because some were at the point of almost bolting.  When I got home and washed them I had two huge bowls.


They should last a week or two and will keep better in the fridge at home than at the allotment in the hot weather.  As I'm back eating to salads every day, it should get used up pretty quickly anyway. 

No need to guess what I had for lunch when I got back.  Yes, salad.  Here it is. (Please excuse the bad photograph, I didn't realise it was blurry until after I'd eaten it).

This one had home grown lettuce and spring onions, pitted green olives, cooked beetroot, mozzarella, tomatoes, tinned sweetcorn, parmesan gratings and a splash of balsamic vinegar.  Delish.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

£100 Per Year Beauty Challenge - The End

Well, I'm very pleased to say that I made it to the end of this challenge and I DID keep within the budget, which was fabulous news.  June was a very quiet month.  I was pretty well stocked with most things.  I only had to buy a couple of regularly used items that ran out, to see me through this final month of the challenge.

I had just £2.83 to spend in this month and managed to spend only £2.20, so in fact I came in just below budget at £99.37/£100 for the year.

The money was spent on the following:

Toothpaste x 2 - £1.20 - Added to my Approved Food order this month.
Witch hazel toner x 2 - £1 - This was a bargain spotted by Little Bird at a carboot sale in Yorkshire the other week.  I bought two bottles for 50p each.  I should probably have bought more, but would have gone over my budget, so I reined myself in and just got the two.  This was a timely stroke of luck, as my distilled witch hazel was running out and I would have been without it for a couple of days, as I wouldn't have been able to afford any more on what was left in the budget.  This toner works just as well (despite being out of date!) and was less than a third of the price.

As promised I have taken a few photos of what is left in my stash.  There have been a few additions over the year, such as the free toiletries from holiday accomodation, gifts I've received for my birthday, Christmas and Mother's Day, magazine or other freebies, as well as the soaps I made in the workshop the other day, which I will endeavour to use.  A few other things have been bought along the way when on offer and kept for future use too.

Here's a couple of photos of the stash at the beginning of the challenge.  It was quite considerable, which is the main reason why I was able to stick to the budget.


I must admit that some of the above items didn't actually get used by me and were sent to the charity shop, mainly because they didn't agree with my skin or I didn't like the feel of them on my skin, but only a few and these tended to have been bought very inexpensively from Approved Food when on offer, so I don't feel too bad about this.  Hopefully, someone will have been able to benefit from them too.  A few bits have also been used by Little Bird and OH, rather than myself.

Here's a photo of the stash as it stands now, much depleted, but still with quite a lot left to use up.  It does all fit into one photo now though.  (Please note that I have changed and washed the bedding since the original photos were taken!!!)

I will continue to try and use up these items before buying any more of the same.  It could take a while.

I have really enjoyed this challenge, and with a bit of thought I haven't found it too difficult.  I'm not really a user of expensive beauty products as you've probably gathered if you've read the posts, but being on a tight budget for a year has given me a bit of a yearning to treat myself a little more in the coming months.

Although I've enjoyed the challenge, I am quite relieved to have got to the end.  I'm definitely pleased to have used up quite a bit of my stockpile and cut down on the clutter it created and the challenge has made me think more carefully about my habit of stockpiling things unnecessarily.  It has also made me realise that it is not unreasonable to treat myself to the odd luxury beauty product from time to time, especially as I get older and perhaps need a bit of extra help in certain areas.  I hope you've enjoyed reading about the challenge and thank you for your support and helpful comments along the way.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Mixing It Up

This week, partly spurred on by attending different exercise classes at Center Parcs, and partly due to the fact that one of my regular aerobics teachers is away for a couple of weeks, I've been attempting to mix up my regular exercise routine.  Three of the classes I attend each week are taught by this teacher and as the cover staff arranged don't necessarily teach the sort of class I enjoy, I've been seeking out and attending a few different and new to me classes at different leisure centres where my gym membership is also valid.

Yesterday, I attended a Brazilian dance class which was new to me.  I cycled to the leisure centre, which is a bit closer than the one I usually use, but I still managed to get lost and go in the wrong direction completely.  Eventually, after much huffing, puffing, sweating and cursing I did get there just 5 minutes late and did the class.  It was a kind of Soca dance class, not like the usual Brazilian dance classes I attend, but was nevertheless quite interesting.  I've attended this class before, but it was then taken by a different teacher who had a completely different style, so it was a completely new class to me in the end.  The cycle journey back was a lot easier and less stressful as there was no time pressure.  At least I'll know the route if I ever go back.

This morning, I attended a class at another centre, even closer to home this time, so at least I didn't get lost.  Again it was a Brazilian dance class, and once more I had attended this slot before, when a different teacher took the class.   I was interested to see the teaching style of this new teacher, as she also takes another class at this leisure centre plus a couple at the one I attended yesterday, which I could use as additional classes if I want to up my exercise quota.  I cycled to the class again, which only takes 5-10 minutes from my house.  A very short journey, but a bit more exercise and a few more calories burned. The class itself was really enjoyable, I was very pleasantly surprised. 

It's been great to try some new classes, as it's very easy to get stuck in a rut when you attend classes regularly.  Although I've enjoyed the change, I will be returning to my normal classes in another week's time, but I may add some of the new classes into my week if I can get booked onto them.  Next week, I think I will continue to book some more new to me classes, as it is interesting to compare teaching styles and choreography.  For me, it is all about the choreography, the more challenging the better, as my mind also gets a bit of a workout.  Besides, it's always good to have a few options available, in case you can't attend or get a space in your usual classes one week.

Part of the reason for this sudden increase and interest in exercise, is that whilst we were away at the weekend, I made the dubious decision to step onto one of those body fat measuring machines.  Now I know that they are probably not 100% accurate, but the results have served to give me a bit of a surprise and a kick up the proverbial you know what.  I've kept the print out and when I next get the chance to use one, I'm going to compare the results and see if there's been any improvement.  Sometimes a shock can be useful to spur me into action.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Blogger Back to Normal at Last

Yippee!!  At last my blogger feed is back to normal.  I don't know if anyone else has had the same problem, but for a week now, Blogger has only fed me one blog to read at a time and as a consequence, I have been unable to access my full blogger reading list feed.  This has been a bit irritating, not to mention time consuming, as I have had to manually click on each of the 50 or so blogs I read regularly, to keep up to date with my blog reading. 

This morning it finally went back to normal.  It's amazing how quickly you get used to the convenience of such a service and how much you miss it when it isn't working properly.  I could have switched to Bloglovin and used their daily feed, but I couldn't remember my password, so I persevered on Blogger.

Anyway, if I haven't been commenting much lately, sincere apologies from me, as this was the reason.  Normal blog reading and commenting now resumes.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

A Sporty Weekend Away

This weekend, we had a very special treat and spent the weekend at Center Parcs in Thetford, Norfolk.  For anyone who hasn't heard of this company, they run holiday villages that are located within forests in various parts of the UK.  We'd previously stayed at three of the five villages, over 8 years ago when Little Bird was very small, but we hadn't visited since and we hadn't been to this particular park before.  Little Bird had no recollection of these holidays, having been so small, so we decided to take her again now she was older, as we thought she would really enjoy it.  She did.

When we arrived, we were very pleasantly surprised by our very modern villa and also the facilities on the site.  There were, of course, the odd niggles, but the overall experience was a very positive one, so I don't want to dwell on any negatives.  The site had a great tropical swimming pool with slides and rides, whirl pools, lazy rivers, cafe's.  This to us, is the main attraction of these holidays, as the pool use is free and you can spend as long as you want in there, every day of your stay. 

In addition, there are a plethora of other outdoor and indoor activities including cycling, archery, boules, bowls, tennis, badminton, bowling, rollerskating, exercise classes, gym, spa, watersports, etc. etc.  Virtually all of these activities do, however, incur further charges, so this is by no means a cheap or frugal holiday, but with careful thought it can work out good value for money.  We took our own food and ate in our villa each lunchtime and evening and we were careful not to spend too much money in the shops, so it wasn't too wallet busting.  We did treat ourselves to the odd drink in a café or restaurant and we did book some extra activities, but most of them weren't too expensive.  You can make your stay even better value by taking your own bicycles, as they are useful to get around the site due to it being very large and very easy to cycle around as it is quite flat.  Other savings can be made by taking your own sports equipment i.e. racquets, footballs, pool inflatables, etc.  We didn't take our bikes as we took our dog and walked everywhere.  We foolishly forgot the racquets and inflatables, but if we went again I would definitely take them, although they aren't exorbitantly expensive to hire.

It does cost extra to take a dog, and there are a limited number of villas that accommodate them, so you do have to book well in advance.  As there are lots of wildlife, i.e. ducks, geese, rabbits, deer, squirrels in the forest and around the lakes, dogs have to be kept on a lead at all times too, so it is not an ideal dog friendly holiday, as they also cannot go into the indoor areas although they can go in the outdoor areas of some cafes and restaurants.  Our dog couldn't cope with the abundance of wildlife and just got far too excited.  We probably wouldn't take her again as a consequence.  She did enjoy this visit though, as deer and squirrels would come right up to the large windows of the villa.   We didn't particularly enjoy being woken by her barking at them so much though, bless her.

Anyway, during our stay I took in a couple of exercise classes, as I was missing my usual classes whilst we were away.  I did a Zumba class which was very good and well taught and a Legs, Bums and Tums class which was incredibly tough.  I'm still suffering now.  Little Bird and I really enjoyed taking part in a Cheerleading class, in which we were taught to use the pom poms and were taught a routine which we then performed to a performance track.  We took part in this with a group of ladies on a hen night who were good fun, so this was really enjoyable.  I was really pleased we did it and would do it again if I got the chance.  It's always good to try something new.  We used the pool quite a bit and Little Bird and OH did some outdoor adventure activities which were quite expensive, but were not something they would get to do everyday and so they were good experiences for them.

We also hired a badminton court too, which was really good fun and I treated Little Bird to a Cupcake Decorating session whereby she learned to decorate 6 cupcakes in a very professional way.  She was able to do this workshop on her own and it lasted an hour and a half, so was actually quite good value all told.  She completely loved it and wants to use her new skills to make some cakes for the school fair in a few weeks.  I didn't take any photos of her cakes, but they were very good.  If she makes some more I will definitely post about them.  We enjoyed eating the fruits of her labour too I might add.  The cost of the workshop was little more than the cost of the cupcakes if you bought them from a shop.

Although our break was only for a weekend, we really enjoyed it.  We had great weather and did enough activities to make it feel like it was longer yet felt really rested by the time we left. Well, exhausted if we're honest, we were definitely ready to go home after three days of activity.  I was happy that I didn't put on any weight and we all got lots of exercise, which made it very worthwhile for all of us.  There are, of course, many much cheaper ways of doing this, but everything here was made very easy and stress free for you.

I must add that this post is definitely not sponsored, and my opinions are most definitely my own.  I would recommend this type of holiday, but it definitely won't be for everyone.  Check out the website if it sounds interesting and see what you think, but be warned, it can be very expensive at peak times, unless the cost is shared with other family members or friends.  Having said this, judging by the large numbers of families there during our stay, it is obviously considered to be good value by many families, from all walks of life and across all age and ability groups.  What they do, they do very well, what ever you think of the cost.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Project 52 - Week 25 - Soap Making

Thursday this week and I was booked on a Soap Making Workshop as part of Adult Learner's week.  I was really looking forward to this workshop, as I've always wanted to try to make soap, more especially since I've started using bars of soap again in the last year, as part of the £100 per year Beauty challenge.

The workshop itself was being held at a location that was only about 10 minutes walk away from where I live, which was very handy as I could nip there very quickly on my bike after taking the dog for a walk.

It was a really enjoyable workshop.  We were basically shown how to melt a glycerine based soap base, that can be bought from soap making/craft websites or even eBay.  You need to use a bain marie type system to melt the soap base, which came in a big block.  Once melted you take it off the heat and add soap making scent/essence and colourings and then pour the mix into silicone ice cube trays and leave them to set in the refridgerator.  By the time we left to come home, we all had a tray of small handmade glycerine soaps to take home with us.

Whilst we were waiting for the soap block to melt and the soaps to harden, we all got stuck into making some pretty boxes and bags to hold the soaps.  There was a great template for a small paper bag which fitted nicely onto an A4 sheep and which I really liked, so I stuck with this.  It was so simple to make using the template.  I copied the template whilst I was there, so I could use it again at home for gift wrapping.  We used various printed papers to make the bags and then filled them with the soaps and shredded tissue.  A very simple process, but with a lovely end product.

My soaps turned out a little dark, as I overdid the colouring (it was supposed to be purple). I'd definitely make them a lighter colour if I did this again.  They smell very nice though, as I used a fern essence, which had quite a nice and fresh smelling scent.  There was a bit of a seaside theme to them as I made crabs, shells and starfish.  Here's a picture of the finished product.

We all had a great time and there were about 15 of us in total, all chatting and crafting away and swapping crafting tips.  It was great fun.  I definitely might order some soap base myself and try this at home at some point, maybe making a cake of soap that can be cut into slices, then wrapped in pretty paper.

Joining in with Dreamer at Living a Slow and Simple Life trying to complete a task a week for a year.

Friday, 20 June 2014

F is for......... Flowers

Last weekend, whilst up in Yorkshire, I treated myself to a lovely bunch of flowers.   

Having popped into Morrisons to buy a newspaper, I saw bunches of 5 lovely pink peonies for sale for just £3, which I thought was incredibly good value.  They were in tight buds at the time and have since slowly unfurled. 


I love these big blousy flowers, but rarely buy them for myself, as they can be quite expensive.   I've even tried growing them, but without much success.

They were also selling some lovely greenery that you could buy by the bunch, so I bought some of this too, for just £1.50.  It is so rare that I buy flowers that it feels totally self indulgent, but I don't mind when they are such a reasonable price.  We all need a little luxury from time to time.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Crafty Thursday and a Zero Waste Candle

Today, was a definitely a day for learning new craft skills.  It started with a Soap Making workshop as part of Adult Learner's week, where I made some small soaps and some pretty gift bags for them.   It was good fun.  (More in another post).

When I got home, I took delivery in the post of some candle wicks that I'd ordered from eBay at the beginning of the week.  They weren't too expensive £2 for 25.  I'd been meaning to buy some for a while, to make teacup candles or something similar.  Here's a picture of the ones I received with the wick stand.

Needless to say, I wanted to try them out straight away.  I decided to experiment by using some old used birthday cake candles I had in the baking drawer.  I never re-use them, as it seems wrong to put old candles on a new cake, so I thought I'd make use of them by trying to make a candle from them in a small glass yoghurt jar bought in France last year.

I separated out the candles according to colour, pulled the wax off the wick and then melted them in batches in a bowl over a pan of boiling water.

It worked pretty well.  Once melted and taken off the heat I added lavender essential oil for fragrance and then poured the wax into the jar, having first of all put the wick in and keeping it in place using a kebab stick.  The candle gradually built up as I melted each colour of wax and poured it on.  It's not perfectly neat and precise, but I was quite pleased with the finished result.  I thought the striped effect was quite pretty.

A great zero waste project and it should give off a nice aroma too, when I use it in the winter.
I now can't wait  to make some more or possibly a teacup candle, if I can find a nice cup and saucer.  I'll post again when I get around to it.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Library Loafing

Yesterday, I dropped Little Bird off at swimming training and decided to spend the next hour in our local library, until it was time to pick her up again.  It was nice to have a mooch along the shelves and leaf through as many books as I wanted.  I tend to stick to the aisles of the craft/decoration/design books, but sometimes a book in the New Books display will catch my eye.  Although I looked at quite a few, I only borrowed a couple on this occasion. 

One was this book about life as the proprietors of the highest and one of the most remote pubs in England.  If you live in Yorkshire, or are a regular visitor to the Yorkshire Dales, you'll probably know the pub in question.  I couldn't resist this book, as it reminded me of the time we walked across the moors to it on one Dales holiday, hoping to get a meal when we got there, only to have to make do with peanuts and a drink.  Funny now, but not so then.  Typical townies!  We loved it though, as it had a roaring fire and a sheep roaming around the bar.

The second book I borrowed was this book by stylist Selina Lake.  I've read lots of blog posts on various blogs singing the praises of this book and it's author.  Having taken a look at it, I can now see why.  It's a beautiful book focusing on decorating using pastel shades.  I'm not a great fan of pastel shades myself,  but leafing through this book, I could definitely be won over.  What I like about it is that it shows you how to use just touches of pastel colour or big swathes of it with everything in between.  It is full of beautifully styled interiors with flowers definitely featuring in a big way in most of them.  I shall enjoy perusing this book at my leisure with wine glass in hand (a full one hopefully)!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Project 52 - Week 24 - Creating Some Mosaic Work

A belated Project 52 post this week, deliberately so, as I was due to attend a mosaic workshop as part of Adult Learners Week on Monday, and creating some mosaic work just happened to be one of the things on my Project 52 list.  I duly attended the workshop which was great fun.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I've done a little mosaic work before, at some family art classes I took with Little Bird a few years ago.  I made this number plate for our plot at the allotment.  (Never got around to taking it there might I add).

Anyway, I remember enjoying it quite a lot and subsequently bought myself some tools, so that I could do some at home.  They have to this day been sat in a box on top of the kitchen cabinets awaiting use.  Here's the specialist tools I bought.  

These pliers are great for breaking up tiles into smaller pieces and the glasses are to wear as safety goggles, as this can of course be quite dangerous if a chip flies up into your eye.

I also managed to find these lovely frosted glass jewels for a few pounds in a charity shop. 

I have a bag full of each size and they may come in useful at some point, along with this frame,

which I would like to make a mosaic plaque for.  I wasn't able to manage this in the couple of hours duration of the workshop, but I did manage to make this.

This is a picture of it before it was grouted.  Can you tell what it is?

I didn't post yesterday for a few different reasons, one, the day was pretty mad from start to finish, two, for some reason Blogger doesn't seem to be working as it (I'm not getting my usual blog reading feed and assume others might be having the same problem), and three, I wanted to wait until I could finish the plaque, as it couldn't be grouted for 12 hours or so.  So here is the finished, grouted but still drying result.   It's a dragonfly, of course.  There were a couple of pieces of tile that I would like to have replaced for alternatives, as they didn't quite work when it was grouted, but overall I was quite pleased with it.

I've been saving up various bits of chipped or cracked pottery for a while now, in order to use them in a mosaic project.  Here's a picture of what I've collected so far.

The problem is, I can't bring myself to break them up and use them. Some of them would be quite collectable if they were perfect.  Seems criminal, especially when they are Hornsea Pottery or Poole Pottery items.  It would, however, be a very good way to continue to make use of them.

Other items needed for mosaic making are simply a few old tiles or crockery, PVA glue, MDF to stick the tiles to with the PVA,  a tiling grout in whatever colour you wish to use and a grout spreader to apply the grout, the excess of which is later wiped off whilst still wet with a damp sponge.  Very simple process, but can produce very colourful and individual pieces of work.

The workshop was a very useful reminder of how to do this and will hopefully spur me on to make a few more pieces at home for the garden.  The lovely ladies that ran the  workshop, also run a weekly drop in class on a Monday evening, for adults and children, which is free to attend.  Unfortunately, Monday isn't a good night for us, as Little Bird has her trampolining class, so I won't be able to attend which is a great pity.  Still, I enjoyed this workshop a lot.

Joining in with Dreamer at Living a Slow and Simple Life in trying to complete a task a week for a year.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Charity Shop Tales 17

It's been over a month since I'd had a good look in a charity shop, so the other day I ventured into one of my favourite local charity shops and had a good mooch around.  It wasn't long before I found a few things I liked.   Despite my post about a wardrobe stocktake and despite the fact that I already have too many clothes, I'm afraid I just couldn't resist these.  First was this navy Boden fitted jersey dress. 

It was a size smaller than I usually wear, but I thought I'd try it on anyway and to my surprise it fitted really well.  It was reduced from £5.50 to £3.50, so needless to say it was in my basket pretty sharpish.  The only problem I have with it is, that it is very low cut, so I will have to wear it with a vest or long sleeved t-shirt underneath, which shouldn't be too much of a problem.  I tried it with this vest and liked this look as it adds a bit of colour and a touch of the nautical to an otherwise very plain dress.

The second item of clothing I saw and liked was this skirt from Tu at Sainsbury's.

It was brand new with tags still attached and cost just £4.  It's not the usual style that I wear, but sometimes a change is good and the print was so striking I thought it might brighten up my wardrobe a little this summer.

The final item of clothing I found was this black jacket from Next.  This isn't a great photo, but it does actually look better on.

I needed a smart/casual looking black jacket for everyday wear in autumn/winter so this fitted the bill perfectly.  I liked the short sleeves and tie belt on this jacket.  A bit different and quite flattering.  This too cost £4 and is in very good condition.  I don't think it has been washed as the button, still in it's plastic bag was still attached.

I also bought a few other items including this book, Born-Again Vintage by Bridgett Artise and Jen Karetnick, which is all about reconstructing vintage clothes to make very individual outfits.  It cost £2.50.

It has some very interesting ideas in it.  I particularly liked this T-shirt Dress idea.  (Although I did like the checked dress before it was altered!) 

This Sweater Slipdress was a chic idea too.  Looks very French. (On the model anyway!)

I also bought a couple more pieces of leather, similar to some I'd bought previously from the same shop. 

They were £2 each and will be great for clutch bags or purses.  I must get making something with my leather pieces soon.  I've got no excuse now I've got some needles for my machine.

Finally, I bought a couple of things for Little Bird, a large piece of fabric for £1, a sewing pattern and a couple of zips.  It was a bit of a splurge, but I've spent very little so far this month.  I just haven't really felt like shopping for some reason.  It's all going to a good cause anyway and I'm really happy with my purchases.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Saturday Afternoon Making Another Simple Skirt

Last weekend, after a lazy Saturday morning lie in reading my current book, a morning spent catching up on laundry chores, lunch out at a local café with OH (whilst Little Bird was off swimming with her friends at the local lido), potting on all of my cucumber and tomato seedlings and then a catch up with this week's episode of Nashville on TV, which I'd recorded earlier in the week, I decided on a spot of sewing on Saturday afternoon.

I had some fabric laid out upstairs in the sewing room and I had already started to pin pattern pieces to it the night before.  I cut out the pattern pieces and made up another very simple A-line skirt, a pattern I've used many times before, using a fabric I'd found in my stash whilst reorganising it the other day.  It's a stretch denim type of fabric with large red shiny stars all over it.  Probably sounds positively awful, and not perhaps to everyone's taste, but I'd had in mind to make a skirt with it since I bought about 4 or 5 metres of it from a stall at our local market a couple of years ago.  I don't know why, but I just liked it instantly.  I didn't have a clue what I'd make with it, but just couldn't resist it.  I probably should have been a bit more adventurous and made something a bit more challenging, but I just had a feeling it would lend itself well to being made into an A-line skirt.

After sewing it all together, minus a few mistakes and minor disasters along the way, I finished off hand sewing the hem whilst watching TV that same evening.  I was quite pleased with the result.  It's heavy enough to feel substantial when I'm wearing it, but not too heavy that I can't wear it in the summer months with Converse trainers and a t-shirt.  It's a bit quirky to boot, which I definitely like about it and I can also imagine wearing it in the autumn/winter with a sweater and boots. Here's a picture of the finished item.

The only downside I've found to this fabric, is that the stars melt under the heat of an iron, so I will have to remember to iron it inside out or using a cloth over the top.

On the subject of making your own clothes, I came across an excellent blogging challenge on a blog I was reading the other day, to wear at least one hand made or reconstructed item daily for the month of May.  I was, unfortunately, too late to join in this year, but hopefully if it runs next year I might give it a go.  I might need to add a few more hand made items to the wardrobe or alter some of the clothes in there though, to get through the month.  Still, plenty of time for that.

Friday, 13 June 2014

G is for ..........Getting Away for the Weekend

This weekend we're getting away from it all and heading out of London and up north to visit family for Father's Day weekend.  I'm looking forward to a break from the hustle and bustle, my usual visit to the local car boot sale and I might even get to catch a Zumba class, if I'm lucky.

All Father's Day gifts and cards are written and wrapped in readiness, and packed carefully into a bag ready to take with us.  (Must remember NOT to forget it.)  I just need to pack our clothing and the dog's food, do a few last minute jobs and we're ready to go.

Talking of the dog, we had to pay a last minute visit to the vet this morning.  The dog had an operation on Monday and needed a post op check before we headed out.  She seems very well, although she hasn't liked wearing the special neck collar all week, to stop her chewing at her stitches. Here's a picture of her with it on. 


Bless her.  She's coped well with everything, all things considered.  We're just pleased it was all so straightforward with no complications.  With the agreement of the vet we've taken the collar off today and she doesn't seem to be taking any interest in her stitches which will be coming out next week. I think she'll probably enjoy the change of scenery this weekend, but most of all, I think she'll enjoy a change of neckwear!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Moving On Up

This Wednesday was an interesting day.  I had to skip my class at the gym in the morning, as Little Bird and I had an appointment at her new secondary school, to meet a member of staff, attend to a few formalities  and most importantly, to try on her soon to be new school uniform.

The new school is within a 10-15 minute walk of our house, which is good, with no overly busy roads to cross, which is even better.  It's an all girls' school, with a very good reputation, so we are pretty happy that she got a place there.  The appointments were running a few minutes late, but we were soon seen and all went well.

Next, was the trying on of the uniform.  It was great for Little Bird to be able to try on her new uniform in an informal setting, where the various sizes and styles were all hung out for her to see and try on to find which style suited her best.  It took about 20 minutes, but by the end of our slot, I had ordered her blazer, shirts, skirts, sweater and PE top.  She looked lovely in her new uniform.  So grown up, bless her.  I know that on her first day at this school she will be very nervous, but I will be immensely proud to see her off to school looking so smart.

I now just have to buy her socks, trainers, shorts and jogging bottoms, which I should be able to get easily from most stores during the summer holidays.  It's a bit of a weight lifted I can tell you and was made so easy, which I'm very grateful for.  I now just have to put some money aside to pay for the uniform, when I collect it in August.  At least we have a couple of months to spread the cost.

All that will then be left to do, will be to buy Little Bird's school bag and stationery, which I know she is really looking forward to shopping for.  It will make a fun shopping trip during the summer holidays I hope.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Wardrobe Stocktake

I decided to do a stocktake of my wardrobe yesterday.  Don't ask me why.  I was just curious to see how many items I had in there, what they were, and how many were hand made.  Here's the results:

Skirts  -  19  (I know  - a ridiculous amount) (7 Hand made)
Skinny Jeans - 6 pairs
Jeans - 1 pair
Trousers - 10 pairs
Shorts - 5 pairs
Tops - 6
Blouses - 3
Dresses - 9
Jackets -  6 (1 Hand made)
Coats - 1
Scarves - 24  (10 Hand made) - Another ridiculous amount.
Shoes - 10 pairs
Sandals/flipflops - 8 pairs
Trainers/Pumps - 6 pairs
Handbags - 5 plus one in daily use.

Total Items - 120

This list doesn't include 3 drawers full of t-shirts, vests, gym gear, nightwear.  Probably nearer 200 all told.

Items worn in last 6 months - 75% at a guess.

Quite a lot then.  I don't think I need to buy anything new for a good while.  Having said this, many of these items are pretty old, but I just can't bear to throw them out.  At least I'm wearing most of them.  Couldn't really call me a minimalist though.  Not sure I'd ever be able to pare things back enough.  I live in hope.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Giving Something Back - Part 1

Since starting to read Jack Monroe's blog a year or so ago and hearing how she struggled to feed herself and her young son on benefits and was grateful for the help she received from the food bank, I decided to start making regular donations to my local food bank.  Now I know that to many people this might be a controversial thing to do.  I hear people say that they don't believe in giving to food banks and that is their choice, but I do.  Being hungry must be one of the hardest things to endure.  As a consequence, I try to donate at least £10 per month in food and try to shop wisely for it.  Initially, I began by buying lots of low cost unbranded items, so that I could squeeze as much out of the £10 as I possibly could, with a view to helping as many people as possible.

More recently, however, I've changed tack slightly and now try to get as much value as I can, buying slightly less basic items.  My rationale for this is that if you have very little money, you are probably already shopping in the discount supermarkets, buying basic brands, to eek out the little money you have and there is nothing at all wrong with this.  I shop in Lidl every week and also sometimes buy basic brands from other supermarkets, but for me this is a choice, not an absolute necessity.  As a consequence, I thought it must be nice for people who have no choice in their everyday lives, but to do this week in week out, to be able to choose or receive slightly more interesting or expensive items from the food bank.  I'm not talking caviar and champagne, but some of the slightly more expensive brands than supermarket basics.

I  try to donate food that is both nutritious and a little bit of a treat where I can.  I still put some basics in the box such as pasta or rice or tins of tomatoes or chick peas, but also try to include meat or fish products where I can, as I imagine these are the things that families on a low income struggle most to afford.

Last month, I didn't get around to shopping for the food bank as my mind was taken up with doing a financial challenge myself and I forgot to put any extra bits in my shopping trolley as I normally do, so this month I promised myself I would donate double my normal amount and look to try to include more interesting items in the box.

I've had a bit more success this month at finding good value items to donate.  In recent weeks I have been shopping at Lidl on a Sunday, after I finish a class at the gym, and as a consequence I've been able to take advantage of some of their half price weekend offers.  The other weekend there was a half price offer on their jars of sweet and sour sauce, which were priced at 37p, so I popped a couple of extra ones into the trolley with the food bank in mind.  I use this sauce myself on a regular basis and find it to be just as good as a particularly famous brand that makes the same product.

The next day, whilst doing my top up shop at ASDA, I saw some Ragu pasta sauces priced to clear at 50p per jar.  They were Bolognese sauce with Meatballs and Italian Sausage and Spinach sauce.  At that price I thought they were great value and bought a couple of each for the foodbank.  The fact that they had some meat content in them was a bonus too.

Later the same week,  I was picking up a few bits and pieces in Tescos and they were having a promotion in conjunction with a forthcoming religious festival.  Tinned chickpeas were 4 for £1, so I bought 4 of these, two for us and two for the food bank, plus a couple of tins of sardines.  The box was beginning to fill up at last.

Monday this week, and my Approved Food order arrived.  I'd added a few extras onto the order with the food bank in mind.  There were jars of olives, sponge mixes, pasta, custard mixes, tinned peach halves and tinned chilli con carne.  I made sure that all these items were well in date, which does limit your choices when shopping on this site, as many products are past their best before date.  I also popped a couple of bottles of coconut shampoo on there too, as toiletries are also welcomed.  Here's a picture of the donation thus far.

I've now filled one box with food and so far my total comes to just £10.04, so I still need to spend another £10.  Rice is definitely on the list of things I still need to buy and I may add some breakfast cereals and some more toiletries or even household products.   Hopefully I will soon have another full box and can take my donation to the local office.  I'm finding that with a bit of thought and watching out for offers in the supermarkets, it is possible to make the donation a bit more interesting and varied for the recipients.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Quilting Catch Up 2

It's been a few months since I posted about my two current quilting projects.  These projects are long term ones, that I don't expect to finish quickly, as they require quite a lot of (wo)man hours to complete.  I started both of them at the beginning of the year and have given myself  a full year for the Christmas lap quilt and until this autumn, when the weather turns colder, for the double eiderdown/quilt for our bed.

For anyone who hasn't seen my previous quilting posts, the hand sewn Christmas lap quilt, is being made with lots of small scraps of Christmas fabric I had, which have subsequently been cut paper pieced into small diamond shapes and then sewn together to make into bigger diamonds.  I've been completing this project slowly whilst watching TV on an evening.  I've had months where I've hardly picked it up and weeks where I've almost done some every night.  Fortunately, it's that kind of project and in addition the pieces can easily be taken away with us on holiday and paper pieced and sewn into the bigger diamonds, ready to be attached to the whole when we get back.  I've just recently picked it up again after a spell of doing nothing on it for a while and it is really starting to come together now.  The last photo I posted of this quilt was this one back in April.

This is the quilt now.


And here's a close up so you can see how the pieces are pieced together.

I'm quite pleased with progress.  It's almost double the size now and I'm getting close to finishing the front.  As it's a lap quilt, it doesn't need to be huge.  I'm going to put a plain border around it and bind it by hand.  I need to decide on binding/backing fabrics and buy some wadding, but it is coming along nicely.  The stash of small fabric pieces has truly been busted and I will hopefully be able to snuggle under this whilst watching Christmas movies in the run up to next Christmas.

The second project I'm working on, is a double eiderdown/quilt for our bed.  It is also coming along well.  In my last post it looked like this, with just two hand quilted sections completed.

 I am now just over half way through hand quilting it.  By way of explanation, it is made using an old quilt as wadding, which is incredibly thick and made it impossible to machine quilt, so I have been hand quilting along the joins of the strips of fabric on the front.  It has been taking over an hour to do each line of hand quilting and there are 20 to do, so it is quite a time consuming process.  I'm trying to do at least one per week, but some weeks I've done none and some I've managed more than one, if I'm in the mood to get on with it. 

Here's a picture of it at the halfway stage. 

Plus a slightly closer look as the previous photo wasn't the best.

It really feels like it is coming together and it is quite exciting.  I even slept under it the other night, as I was unable to get to sleep in our bed, so moved into the spare room to sleep, where it is currently on the bed as I work on it there.  It felt so lovely and heavy and substantial and I just know that it is going to keep us very warm next winter.
Another interim progress report.  I may do one more before the final reveal.  Are you working on any long term projects?