Sunday, 30 November 2014

A Satisfying Saturday and Sunday

Well, after  a jinxed Friday with the cooker breaking down, things did get a little better as the weekend progressed and it ended up being quite a satisfying one in more ways than one.

I started the weekend off with a lie in on Saturday morning and finished reading another book I got from the library the other week, called The Power of Doing Less by Fergus O'Connell.  Once again, it's a book about tackling the important things and letting go of all the other non-important tasks that we think we must do, thus freeing us to live a more enjoyable, fulfilling and productive life.  It's a small book, so it didn't take me long to read it, which is useful when you've got lots of other things to do, but it was an interesting read.  He's also written many other books on the subject of prioritising aspects of your life that I'm interested to get my hands on.  I've already earmarked a few on eBay.

After getting up and having a leisurely breakfast, I did a bit of work and posted out some parcels before getting down to the nitty gritty of what I wanted to do this weekend.  I'd set aside this weekend as one in which I would try to tackle the filth pit that was my house and get it cleaned up a bit ready to get some Christmas cheer going on. It's great that things have finally become a little quieter, which gave me the opportunity to focus on my home a bit more.

First job was the bathroom, which was looking pretty messy and completely overdue a clean.  It was so good to get it all cleaned up and new fresh towels put in.  At least I can now watch the last episode of Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners without feeling pangs of sympathy and guilt about the state of my bathroom and having a shower should be a relaxing experience as opposed to being stressful, in that it reminded me of a job that desperately needed doing. 

Next, I hoovered the stairs, upstairs landing and hallway with a bit of help from the dog who loves to have a tussle with the hoover hose, before mopping the latter, which was in desperate need as we'd been tramping in after dog walks with muddy boots for weeks now.

I didn't over exert myself and kept stopping for breaks and dog walking duties to keep me motivated.  Later, I tackled the shoe basket, which still had some summer shoes in it that needed putting away for the winter, as well as accumulating a mass of dirt and dust underneath as always.  Once I'd sorted this out, put a heap of shoes in the washing machine and cleaned underneath and around it, I finished up by cleaning and mopping the downstairs toilet.

One piece of good news from Saturday was that OH managed to fix the cooker after a bit of tinkering, so I was finally able to cook the second batch of minced pies (here's a picture)

and some jam tarts to boot, as I'd kept the pastry overnight on the off chance he'd get it going again.  (He's exceptionally handy like that! - Thankfully).  So no Black Friday weekend shopping for us thank goodness and I was able to fully join in with the spirit of International Buy Nothing Day.

On Sunday I didn't follow my normal routine of going to my usual aerobics class in the morning, due to an ankle injury, which caused me to cancel.  Instead I did a bit of work and then once I had the house to myself I decided to clean the living room, ready for getting the tree up.  I've still got to clean the second reception room, which is actually where the tree will go, but I ran out of steam, so I'll have to do it one day next week.  I was pleased to get started anyway and on Sunday night I took pleasure in sitting in my newly cleaned and fabric freshened living room to watch the Strictly results show.  Very sad I know, but very satisfying.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Black Friday Jinx

In spite of my good intentions of keeping out of the shops on Black Friday Weekend as it now seems to be called, (Amazing how they can stretch one day into three. Is it just me or is this getting a touch silly?) I have a feeling that we might actually have to venture to the shops after all this weekend, on account of the fact that our fan oven gave up the ghost on Friday, between batches of minced pies. 

This was most annoying, not to mention inconvenient, especially as the second batch had to be thrown away which seemed very wasteful.  Fortunately, I'd earlier put our chicken casserole in the slow cooker, so at least we had a good meal that evening.    I suppose it could have been worse.  It could have broken on Christmas Day or Eve when replacing it would have been virtually impossible.  Assuming that is, that we will be able to take delivery of another one before then.

The menu plan has, needless to say, gone out of the window and will need rejigging over the next few days to account for our predicament.  I can see lots of slow cooked food and stove top cooked food being dished up this coming week.  I'm hoping this is the third and last electrical failure this year.  First was OH's laptop a few months ago, which started smoking and incidentally hasn't yet been returned or replaced.  Second, was my all singing and dancing new iron which still needs sending back to the manufacturer and now the oven.  We're having a bad run.  They say things come in threes.

I'm trying to look on the positive side.  At least I won't have to clean the oven in the run up to Christmas!

Friday, 28 November 2014

Christmas Prep Catch Up

I've not posted much this week, mainly because I've been a bit busy with my small business, which has been nice for a change, so I haven't really had much to blog about.

We eventually made a little trip to the mall last night, after having promised Little Bird since last weekend that we'd go and do a bit of Christmas shopping.  We ended up having tea out which made a nice change from cooking.  It wasn't too busy at the mall, which we were all grateful for.  Two hours of shopping, however, was more than enough, as by the time we left we were feeling incredibly drained and frazzled.

On a positive note, I managed to finish the major part of my Christmas shopping.  As both Little Bird and OH wanted new trainers, they had to be chosen and tried on, but both were happy with the outcome, which in turn made me very happy, despite having to part with the cash for them.  A few other small bits and pieces were bought too, mainly from Boots with their three for two gift offers and a special promotion on one of the cosmetic brands, which meant Little Bird was able to get 4 items as gifts, for the price of two.  Result.

I also had a voucher to get £8 off a £40 Waitrose shop, through my My Waitrose membership, so a few bottles of spirits as Christmas gifts and a few boxes of chocolates and we were able to make use of it, which also made me very happy.

I still have a couple of small presents to buy, which will probably necessitate one more short trip, (after a few phone calls have been made to fish for ideas), and then it will be all done for this year.  I'm waiting until next month when I will have the cash to finish off.

Today, being Black Friday, I'm keeping well away from the shops.  I have been inundated with online deals, so even doing that I can't get away from it and made a small purchase on line of a gift requested by OH.  Judging by the news stories already circulating of fights in supermarkets, I think I made the right decision.

Tomorrow, I believe is International Buy Nothing Day and I will happily be joining in with it, as in the first instance, I have no money left to spend this month and in the second, I will be turning my efforts to towards cleaning the house in readiness for putting up the decorations and our tree at some point in the near future.

How are your Christmas preparations going?

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Winter Cometh

Last night, we lit the wood burner for the first time this autumn/winter. I have to admit that I was surprised that we'd held back so long, but in any case I didn't really pay too much attention, as I was out at the gym for part of the evening and then feeling warmed by exercise when I returned,  I took myself off upstairs to do some work that needed doing to meet some orders, so I never did feel the benefit.

Tonight, however, is a totally different affair.  Today I have felt a little cold, well my feet have to be more accurate.  I spent most of the morning and afternoon outside in my wellies.  First and foremost for a dog walk and secondly an impromptu visit to the allotment.

I'd needed to go for a couple of weeks, ever since I'd received an email warning everyone that inspections were due at the end of the month and any plots still covered in weeds would be receiving a warning letter.  Pretty motivating stuff, but the weather has been so wet I've just not got there.  Until today that is. 

After being further encouraged by OH telling me that three days of rain was forecast this week, and buoyed by the fact that that although the ground was still wet it was essentially a dry day, I headed off as soon as I got back from our morning walk, to make the most of this window of opportunity.

Clearing my plot took longer than I thought.  It was heavy going as the ground was pretty wet and muddy.  I wouldn't normally disturb it in such circumstances, but on this occasion I didn't have much choice.  Three and a half hours later, covered in mud and aching all over, I had done as much as I could.  Most of the plot was cleared and dug over and although there was still a bit more to do around the edges, I had hopefully done enough.
Just in time really, as the rain started coming down on the way home.  I was relieved to get home and back to the jobs I still had waiting for me, namely sending out orders, a sink full of washing up and a basket full of ironing, not to mention dinner to cook for both ourselves and the dog.

Once everything was under control, I was finally able to sit down with a glass of wine and appreciate the fire.

You can't beat cosy evenings in front of a real fire in the winter, especially at the end of a busy day.  Bliss.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Giving Away Something Every Day in December.

Having bleated on for several months now about my current interest in minimalism and decluttering, (sorry if I've been boring you) and after having read Frugal Queen's post on Saturday, I have been inspired to join with the @street_bank's challenge on Twitter to give something away every day in December.  What a great way to put my money where my mouth is so to speak.

Although I don't tweet myself and have never actually been on Twitter, my understanding is that they are encouraging people to rally against the rampant consumerism of Christmas and give something away every day this advent. 

As I am always trying to declutter and constantly trying to find things to give away, I am totally game for this challenge.  I already have a huge bag of clothes and towels all ready to take to the charity shop, some of which might find their way elsewhere, in an attempt to vary the recipients of each giveaway, as much as is possible.

I think that the majority of things might still find their way to the charity shop.  I don't want to foist my leftovers on unsuspecting or unwilling recipients, nor be guilty of littering.  If, however, the things I no longer want to give house room to, can be of use to someone else, then this is definitely as good a place to donate as any other.

Donations may also include handing down a few items to Little Bird now her feet are almost the same size as my own or passing outgrown things or books I've read onto other family members.  Whilst I do realise that this may not always involve removing them from my house, I don't actually think there will be many such items and I do so hate waste, so if anything in our house can be used or reused by anyone else who lives here then so be it.  

In addition, a few finished books may find their way into the Little Free Library down the road and a few other items may get put outside the house for people to help themselves to.  I'll see what I can do.

I will be posting weekly to document the things I have found to give away and ways I have found to do this.  Anyone else fancy joining in?

Sunday, 23 November 2014

A Weekend of Pick Ups and Drop Offs

Today, it has rained and rained and rained some more.  From the minute I woke up this morning, it has been constantly raining.  It's becoming a bit of a bore now.

The dog walk this morning was a wet one, cut short as the dog wasn't bothered and neither were we really.

The drive to the gym was a wet one.  The roads in London can never cope with constant rainfall and huge deep puddles arise in places.  I like to go carefully and try not splash unsuspecting pedestrians, as we are sat in relative warmth and comfort in the car and they are already getting wet enough.  A few more people should do the same in my experience.

OH was away this weekend, visiting a client in Germany.  So, it was just Little Bird, me and the dog and double dog walking duty for me, as well as being a taxi service to and from the airport and for Little Bird to go to her friend's.  Much like many other peoples' weekend I imagine.   I don't really mind, as I did get a bit of time to do my own thing in between and Saturday night supper was bought in from the posh chippy.  A very occasional treat, a portion shared between Little Bird and I, might I add.

Today, we were going to brave it and go to the local mall for a girly shopping afternoon, but as it was raining cats and dogs, we decided not to bother.  On our last visit on a rainy day a few weeks ago, the mall was rammed like it was Christmas, and it nearly is now, so it was sure to be worse.

Instead we stayed home, had soup and crusty bread for lunch, another wet walk with the dog and then in the evening headed out for the airport pick up.  Not a particularly exciting nor productive weekend, but sometimes it's nice to just kick back and do very little.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Party On - Mum's Virtual Blog Party

Hi Mum,

Thanks for the invite to your Blog Party.  Who doesn't love a good party?

Here's my party outfit.

It's a vintage black crepe number with a sexy side split.  I always feel a bit slinky when I wear this.


And as OH is away this weekend, my date for the party is the handsome Bradley Cooper.  (While the cat's away and all that). Yes, I am a very sad middle aged woman lusting after the latest Hollywood Hottie.  Wasn't he just gorgeous in Silver Linings Playbook? 

I loved that crazy dance he did with Jennifer Lawrence towards the end of the movie.  I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't watched this film yet, but if you want to see it search dance scene Silver Linings Playbook on YouTube and you'll get my drift.  Perhaps we could renenact it together of sorts as our party piece.  Should be a laugh and vaguely entertaining.

My music choice would have to be Cold December Night by Michael Buble which I heard for the first time on Courtney Carver's virtual advent calendar playlist from last year, which I was checking out this week.  Nothing too fast, so we can have a good old romantic smooch.  I know it's a bit early for Christmassy songs, but I thought this song was very beautiful.  Here's a clip of it from YouTube.


Don't worry, I'll be over my midlife crisis by the time the party ends.

I'm bringing some snacks to nibble, just olives and some low fat crisp type snacks, as I haven't had time to prepare much due to practising my dancing skills.  I don't want to embarrass myself in front of you guys, nor a Hollywood hunk for that matter, now do I?  Probably guaranteed if you ask me!

My suggested virtual present for guests would be to sign them up for Courtney Carver's 31 Days of Presents that you Deserve.  A virtual advent calendar for minimalist or non-minimalist readers of her blog.  I've signed myself up to receive it this December and I'm looking forward to receiving her daily wisdom in the hectic lead up to Christmas.

Party game?  Mmm, let me think....    Musical chairs or musical statues might be fun to  Fuse ODG's new single TINA.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Another Visit to the Ideal Home Show at Christmas

Today, I had a lovely day out with my friend at the Ideal Home Show at Christmas at Earl's Court in London.

This was the second time I'd visited this show, once again courtesy of some free tickets I managed to get from  It makes for a good day out at very little cost with a good friend, giving us time to chat and catch up with each other's news.

The show itself is packed with stalls selling all number of things from Christmas decorations, home wares, gifts, clothes, jewellery, food, drink, to mention just a few.  We always get slightly overwhelmed by the number of stalls when we first walk in and are often pleased to arrive at one of the stages where entertainment is provided.  We stopped off for a while and had a drink and watched a dance group, then wandered off again intending to return for a fashion catwalk show, but sadly never quite managed to catch it at the right time.  We did watch an interview with Amy Childs of TOWIE fame who had a stall at the show selling her perfumes and fashion designs and caught the end of a few demonstrations on the handmade stage, but other than that most of our time was spent wandering around the show, taking in the various sights.

I do prefer the Christmas show, as opposed to the show in March, as I like the festive feel of it and I can always look out for a few stocking fillers.  On this occasion I did buy a couple of gifts, one being some doggy popcorn for our pooch, which I'm hoping she will like in her Christmas stocking.

There were quite a few photo opportunities at the show. 

You could have your photo taken with Santa. 
Why should children get all the fun?

Or you could become a human snow
globe like these ladies, which I thought was great fun.
There were several rooms designed by Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen that were interesting to look at.  I think Little Bird would have liked this room complete with it's own unicorn head.  Very fairy-tale.

I personally liked the room below, because I loved the use of colour.  It looked so bohemian and colourful with dark walls and feathers on the table.
I also liked the knitted throw in this room.  This is exactly what I'd like to knit with my new big needles.

There was also an ice rink at the show that you could skate on if you wanted to, it was bang in the centre of the exhibition hall.  This photo was taken from the floor above with a flash, hence why so dark.  It wasn't this dark in actuality.

As neither of us spent a lot of money, we had a lovely frugal festive day out.

Monday, 17 November 2014

A Quiet Weekend

After a busy few days last week, the weekend was lovely and quiet.  We didn't have a lot planned, save that Little Bird was heading out to a birthday party on the Saturday evening and I was planning to attend a Christmas Bazaar at the local hospice on Saturday morning, which I did.

The bazaar was one I attend every year.  It is the same organisation that hold regular jumble sales throughout the year.  I didn't spend a huge amount of money on this occasion, probably £10 only, and didn't actually bring much stuff home with me this time, but I did manage to buy a couple of packs of Christmas cards, knowing that all of the money will go to the charity concerned, which was good.  I also bought quite a few more second hand books to keep my supply from dwindling.  (This is a definite understatement).  One of which was an old favourite of mine, that I can remember getting out of the library and reading whilst studying the history of health and social welfare, namely, Walter Greenwood's 'Love on the Dole'.  It will be good to revisit it.  The only other things I bought were a couple of unused gift bags for Christmas wrapping.

The rest of the weekend was spent parceling up orders and preparing stock to sell and getting up to scratch on household tasks.   No rest from my small business for me on a weekend in the lead up to Christmas, but I don't mind a bit, as I am just pleased to be making lots of sales.  I also managed to do a bit of Christmas shopping on line for various people's presents, so my list of gifts left to buy is going down quite nicely.  I also got the presents I need to send to Australia all boxed up and ready to go.  I just need to buy some parcel tape now to secure the boxes before taking them to the Post Office.

A quietly productive weekend.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Busy Days - Part 2

After an eventful Wednesday, Thursday turned out to be a busy day too.  Most of the morning was spent preparing and sending out orders and in the afternoon I decided I needed to get out of the house.  I ended up heading off to IKEA, which is always a bit dangerous spending wise, but I needed something for my business and there were a couple of small household items I had been wanting to invest in for a while.

The store was lovely and quiet which is always a plus if you go during the day on a week day.  I tend only to visit the Market Place and Bargain Corner as I don't have the time or patience to get lost in the furniture display areas. 

I did spend a little bit of money on this occasion, but under £30 and if I'm honest I  got quite a few bargains in there too.  I picked up some jars to store my dried foods in, i.e. rice, pasta, couscous, spaghetti, which I'd wanted to get for a while.  When I got home, I decanted everything into them.


I also bought a lovely lidded glass jar for the bathroom, to house all those hotel/guest soaps and products picked up on our travels.  It came in a set of two and as a Family Card member was reduced from £12 to £7.  I've filled the larger one with soaps and other products and it sits nicely on the bathroom windowsill, ready for use by ourselves or any guests.  The second smaller jar I'm going to fill with Christmas baubles as a Christmas decoration in the first instance and will find another use for it after Christmas.  Cookie jar perhaps?


In Bargain Corner, I managed to pick up four ex-display black pillow cases for 50p each, which once washed will always come in handy and some card boxes for wrapping presents for birthdays and Christmas.  These cost 50p each too and I find them really useful for wrapping clothes I might have bought people and making them look extra special.


I was pleased with my small haul, as I felt I'd got good value for money on everything I bought and it will all get used and reused.

When I got home it was the evening of Little Bird's school Talent Show.  I started to feel a bit nervous for her, as it is only the second time she has done anything like this.  We made our way to the school and I was reacquainted with a mum I'd first met when she was small.  We sat and enjoyed the show, which was really entertaining.  There was some serious talent in it, and some quite thought provoking and powerful spoken word entries.  I may be a bit biased, but I was very impressed with the standard of all the performances.  As well as the spoken word entries, there was dance fusion, hip hop, flamenco, solo singers, instrumentalists and groups singers.  A great selection of acts which made a very interesting evening.

Little Bird's turn eventually came around, and although there was a little mix up over her introduction onto the stage, she didn't get phased by it and did a really good job.  I was very proud, but also very relieved once it was over.  Talk about an emotional roller coaster.  She didn't win a prize, but that didn't matter to us, we were just happy that she'd done her best and had the courage to perform.  It was also great to witness the encouragement that every one of the performers received from their peers too.  A super evening. 

Friday, 14 November 2014

Busy Days - Part 1

It's been a busy few days here, mainly on account of Little Bird preparing for her performance at the school talent show, plus a few other things going on at the same time. 

Wednesday night and she was due to stay at school for a dress rehearsal, after which I was to pick her up so we could all go on to our local John Lewis store for a pre-Christmas shopping event I'd signed up for as a My John Lewis member.  Who am I to say no to a free glass of Prosecco, huge minced pies and canapes, whilst perusing the store and possibly ticking a few things off the Christmas list.  As it turned out things didn't run quite so smoothly.

Just as I was about to go and get changed to go out, I got a phone call from OH who was out with the dog.  The little monster had gone AWOL again, in the dark, in the grounds of the local horse riding stables.  As OH had the car with him, I had to walk down there (a good 10/15 minute walk) and together we unsuccessfully tried to get the dog back on the lead for half an hour, before she was finally caught and rounded up by approximately 10 of the staff from the stables in the stable yard itself.  This was a very embarrassing incident which thankfully they found quite funny.  They all thought she was cute.  We thought she was a pain in the proverbial.  Needless to say, the dog was definitely in the dog house after such shenanigans.  We're having real problems with her lately.  She's becoming a real terrierist.  It's always on a night when you have something planned too.

After all the stress of recapturing the dog, I had 10 minutes to get changed and out to pick up Little Bird and eventually we all headed off to JL.  The evening got slightly better from here on in, helped by a nice little glass of bubbly and a few nibbles.  Whilst OH and Little Bird went off to get something to eat, I had a bit of an amble around the store.  Checked out a couple of things I was interested in buying, watched a gift wrapping demonstration and tried to find some Fitflop shoes to try on to get an idea of the sizing, as I'd like to buy some on eBay.  Unfortunately, they didn't stock them in the winter, so I may have to take a trip to Oxford Street in the hope that they have them there.

I was also out of luck with buying the one Christmas present I decided on, some Barbour welly socks for an outdoor loving relative.  Not available in the size I wanted, so I was spared actually spending much money on this occasion.  I did spend a little, as I had to buy a birthday present for one of Little Bird's friends (she'd been invited to a disco party on Saturday night).  I also managed to acquire this cute free Monty tote using a token I had from my My John Lewis membership. 

If you've seen JL's new Christmas ad you will know who Monty is.  He is quite a lovely little guy. They were out of stock of the real thing as it had apparently been their best selling item resulting from a TV ad campaign ever.  Little Bird was thrilled with the bag as she loved the ad, it brought a tear to her eye.  Bless.

Anyway, before I knew it the store was closing and we were on our way home, but the evening had been pleasant and civilised enough.  A little pre-Christmas indulgence and no real crowds to contend with.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Getting Back My Knitting Mojo

Since visiting the Knitting and Stitching Show last month, I've been seriously getting my knitting mojo back.  I've tried a bit of macro fabric yarn knitting, finished a scarf I started last winter to use up some odd balls of wool and started a brand new project to knit a long burgundy/maroon scarf using several balls of velour yarn that I found in a charity shop for a few pounds.

A week or so ago I managed to find a pair of macro knitting needles on eBay that were half the cost of the ones I'd seen at the show, but not as big either.  They are 25mm in diameter though which is much bigger than anything I already had.  Here's a picture. 

I haven't actually started knitting with them yet, as I just haven't had chance to sort out some fabric yarn, but it is near the top of my list when I get a window of opportunity.  I'll let you know how I get on.

I'm quite liking how the new maroon scarf is turning out, it's actually virtually finished now, just a few rows to go.  I need to leave enough wool to sew the ends together as  I'm not sure whether to keep it a scarf or make it into a snood.  I'll see what it is like both ways, when I do finish it.

The needles I used were probably a little large for this yarn, so it has a loose feel to it, but I don't mind that as it's probably going to be wrapped around my neck a good few times.  It is very soft to the touch, so I'm quite looking forward to finishing it and wearing it now the weather has turned colder. 

As you've probably noticed, my knitting is very basic and tends to be just garter stitch.  I've been thinking for a while now of taking a course to develop my knitting skills further, but I haven't found one that suits yet.  It might make life a bit more interesting in more ways than one.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

A Year in Books - November

This month the pace of my reading has picked up a little and I did manage to get through the three books that I set myself the task of reading at the beginning of the month. 


The first of the three I read was by Barbara Pym and called A Quartet in Autumn.  The title refers to the subject of the book, namely a quartet of people who worked alongside one another in the autumn of their lives, as they neared and reached retirement age.  It was a well written read, but quite a slow read for me and took a while to finish, as it wasn't a book I found particularly difficult to put down or wanted to dive into at any given opportunity.

The second book was altogether different.  It was Sophie Kinsella's 'Remember Me?'.  It had taken me three months to finally get around to reading this book and when I did I really enjoyed it.  With her usual wit she tells they story of a girl who wakes up in hospital, to find that she is married to a gorgeous looking guy, has lovely straight teeth where previously hers were crooked, a high powered job and a fantastic penthouse apartment.  Trouble is, she can't remember a thing about how she actually managed to acquire all these things.  Although her new life sounds perfect, she soon discovers that all is not what it at first seems and she is determined to get to the bottom of it, which she eventually does.  This was a really good read.  I  whizzed through it as I couldn't wait to pick it up in a morning before getting out of bed.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Finally, I also managed to read 'Up All Night' by Carmen Reid this month.  I've read one of her books before, so was expecting this to be similar.   I enjoyed this book more than the previous one.  I did find myself a bit ambivalent towards the main character at several points whilst reading this book, but eventually I did warm to her and enjoyed the book better for it.

For November I'm going to try to read another 3 books.  I was going to start reading books with a Christmas theme, but have since decided that it's too early.  I'll save them for December instead.  These are the three books I'll be reading this month. As we're nearly halfway through this month and I'm late posting, I've already read the first of the three, namely, Part of the Spell by Rachel Heath.  I really enjoyed this book.  It is set in the town of Saffron Walden and centres around the life of several of it's residents.  Some who have lived there all their lives, and some incomers from London or other places.  One of the main plot lines concerns itself with the sudden disappearance of a woman(a mother and grandmother) and explores the ramifications of this for her family.  It's an intriguing read.  Very well written and enjoyable to read.  I believe it is the second by this author so I'll be looking out for her first novel which was nominated for an award and see if I like that too.

My current read is a return to another favourite author, India Knight as I am reading her book 'My Life on a Plate'.  I've now started this book and some of the characters are familiar from a previous book of hers I read last Christmas.  I've not got very far so far, but am enjoying it to date.

Finally, I'm hoping to read 'The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie' by Alan Bradley, which from the book cover sounds interesting.  I'll let you know if it is, to me anyway.

Joining in with Laura at A Circle of Pine Trees, in trying to read at least a book a month for a year.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Use It or Lose It

Since the disaster that was Stoptober, I've found that when I'm not under any pressure not to spend money, I have been spending significantly less.  There's nothing like imposed frugality to make one want to spend money wrecklessly.  It must be the rebel in me.

Anyway, pressure off, the urge to spend has receded somewhat.  It has helped that I have been busy preparing and selling stock in my small business in the run up to Christmas.  I just haven't had the time to go shopping, unless it has been food shopping or online shopping for business purposes or the odd small Christmas present.

An example of my recent overspending is expenditure on food.  Throughout Stoptober, because I was unable to spend on anything other than food and household essentials, I found myself buying more food than was really necessary, including placing a large order from Approved Foods, convincing myself that it would all get used and I couldn't pass up such good offers.  Much of it, however, was left in the cupboard, whilst I utilized the items I was buying on my weekly food shops.  I decided that this sort of behaviour needs to stop.  So no more non-spending challenges for me, if I can help it, as it just tends to exacerbate my desire to shop and I'm going to seriously curb my food stockpiling tendencies too if I can.

Yesterday, I made a concerted effort to try to start using the items I had stockpiled in the cupboards.  Small individual apple crumbles were made from crumble mix from AF and cooking apples bought and not used over the summer.  Ashamedly, several had started to go off, as I'd left them in a cupboard and forgotten about them.  Such a waste, and I hate waste.  Pannacottas were made with yellow ticketed (but in well in date) double cream from ASDA and a mix bought in bulk from AF.  Plenty of desserts to keep us going for the rest of the week.

For dinner, I made OH and myself a Rustic Beef stew with dumplings utilising a packet mix and dumpling mix from AF.  I used the last few rubbery carrots from the fridge and some home grown runner beans from the freezer.  After being cooked for several hours you can't tell how old they were.  It felt good to start to utilise things that I'd previously left languishing unused.  I'm hoping to carry on in the same vein for the rest of the month and buy as little food as possible every week and instead use up what is overstocked in the cupboards.  A cupboard clear out before Christmas isn't a bad idea anyway.

Spreading Wealth Around

Last night, I watched a programme on Channel 4 called How Rich Are You?  It was quite an interesting show, with a studio audience, guests and expert guests whose area of expertise was the distribution of wealth in the UK.  Not only was it interesting, but it was a proper eye opener.

Firstly, it plotted a graph of the distribution of wealth in the UK, and you could work out your place on the graph according to your salary.  Whilst this graph didn't seem to take into account whether you were a property owner or not, which must have an important bearing,  I found the results, which I won't go into here, as I can't quite remember them in detail, quite shocking.  It transpires that the top 1% of earners earn more together than 3/4 of the rest of the population. 

Whilst in itself, this figure wasn't a total shock, as I do recall hearing of similar statistics when studying social sciences twenty years ago, I assumed that 10 years of a Labour government might have altered this ratio and created more equality in the UK.  How wrong I was.

The programme went on to consider how wealth begets more wealth, and how the majority of money earned by the population of the UK is then predominantly handed over to the major corporations such as energy providers, telecommunications providers, supermarkets, and other large companies creating huge profits for these organisations.  It was this aspect of the programme that got me thinking the most. 

What if we all stopped spending quite so much of our hard earned money with these huge corporations?  What if we spread it around a little bit more, as many people already do?  I realise that not everybody is in a position to ignore the bargains available at the supermarkets, but I would like to take some steps to change my spending habits which I have posted about previously.  I must admit, however, that I always tend to fall back into my old supermarket habits, born of convenience and give little thought to where my money is going.

Now, I know that the supermarkets and other corporations are important employers in this country and provide lots of jobs, but do I really want the majority of any money that I spend to go to the same few huge multinational companies.  I'm not sure that I do.

I live in an area that has lots of local independent shops, artisan food shops, well stocked green grocers, small corner supermarkets open all hours selling a multitude of foods to cater for everyone's needs and preferences.  Not to mention the availability of  items that can be bought on websites such as Etsy and Folksy.  I'm not saying that I'm going to change overnight and do all my shopping in these actual and online small shops, but perhaps I could make an effort to spend more money this way, if I could just get into the habit of doing it regularly and keep it going.  Even it if is just buying bread from our local bakery or fruit and vegetables from the local green grocers, it would be a start at least and my expenditure could be dispersed around a wider range of businesses.

Check out the programme on iPlayer if you can and let me know what you thought.

Friday, 7 November 2014

A Spot of Digital Housekeeping

This week after struggling to upload some photos to add to blog posts, I decided it was probably time to do a bit of digital housekeeping.  My netbook, which I haven't been using of late, due to the keys sticking, had approximately seven thousand photos on it, many of which are no longer relevant or necessary for me to keep and a good clear out was definitely needed.  OH had been nagging me for ages to do it, but I constantly put it off. 

Many of the photos were business related, items I've sold in the past and therefore I no longer need to keep them, and many others were blog related photos that I doubt I'll ever need to use again.  I did keep all of the family photos and most of the photos of house and garden, as it is often very interesting to look back and see how your home has changed over a period of time.  I found it interesting to look through these, as it did show just how much progress I've made as a result of decluttering attempts in the last couple of years, which was encouraging.  You often lose sight of how far you've come, especially when there's a long way still to go.

As already mentioned, many of the photos stored were from blogging; photos of things I might have bought on my travels, cooked or made.  Most of these have now been deleted, much to my pleasure and satisfaction, as I no longer have need of them.  Even if my blog suddenly disappears overnight, as has happened to some people over the couple of years I've been blogging, I don't think any of the deleted photos will be required again.  I did keep some photos of various makes, just for my own personal record and in case I want to pin any on Pinterest.

After a few days of doing what I could, when I could, I managed to work my way through clearing the bulk of my photo hoard and got it down to around 2000.  Having done this, I then began to create new folders to organise them in a way that makes them easily accessible.  I'm pleased to say that I have just about finished, so I can now continue to keep things organised as I go along, which is a very satisfying prospect.   I just need to create a couple more folders when my keyboard is working properly again, as certain of the letters that weren't working were essential for naming purposes.  I'll get there eventually.

Whilst on my digital decluttering crusade, I also decided to delete any old photos from my digital camera too, as I found when clearing the computer, many photos have been uploaded more than once because they were still on the memory card, which made the whole process even more lengthy and laborious.  In addition, I have cleared my memory stick of all but essential items and am currently sorting through and clearing recently added photos from Little Bird's tablet.  This is the final hurdle and I am doing it bit by bit each day.  It may take another couple of days to get everything in order, but I know it will be worth it. 

How do you keep your digital life organised?  Do you regularly clear out blog photos and other data after you have used them or like me do you let a whole hoard build up over time and then set about purging your machines?

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Kitchen Declutter and Revamp

A good few months ago now, I posted about how my kitchen was feeling cluttered and lacklustre and how it needed a bit of a clear out and spruce up.  I started the process off more or less straight away, by clearing a few things from the top of the cupboards, sorting through them and finding a new home for them out of sight.



Around the same time, I seriously thinned out the worktops, putting away anything that didn't need to be out, in an attempt to minimise visual clutter.  I think this can often make a big difference in making a room feel bigger, cleaner and fresher looking.



(As you can imagine I'm now trying incredibly hard to keep it this clutter free!)

OH treated us to a new kitchen clock from John Lewis, something I've wanted to get for a while.  It wasn't a hugely expensive one, but it is nice and large with a simple, modern, clear clock face. 

As previously blogged about, I bought a new kitchen bin too, using the remains of a voucher I was sent to replace an iron.



I also removed a picture from one of the walls and replaced it with a large blackboard that we could use to note down any appointments, shopping required, menu plans, etc.  I used some of the blackboard paint I'd bought a while back for another project and painted it onto a piece of MDF we already had in the basement.  OH then screwed it to the wall for me.  This didn't actually cost anything at all to do, save a bit of time and effort.  I think it adds a modern touch to the room and is very practical.

Whilst he was putting it up, I also got him to hang this handmade sign, which was given to me by a friend over the summer and which injected a bit more colour into the room.

The next thing to tackle was the patio door curtain.  I deliberated for a while about what to do with it.  The current curtain, a charity shop purchase for £5, was lined and fitted almost perfectly, but it was beginning to look a bit shabby and I really wanted a curtain that was brighter and more modern.  I managed to source a lovely roll of cotton fabric on eBay and took the plunge and bought it for approximately £30.



I'd never actually made a proper lined curtain before, complete with curtain tape and all, but I decided to give it a go.  It took a while to get around to making the curtain, but once I did, I didn't regret it for a moment.

One last thing that I needed to do, was to resolve a couple of storage issues.  One was to find a storage solution for the dog's blankets and towels that sat on a small standing shelving unit in the kitchen.  There was a tendency for the pile to collapse everytime we took one out, so I wanted some way of storing them where they looked tidy and were contained.  Whilst out replacing my broken iron with the voucher supplied under the warranty, I got such a good deal on a new one that I had some spare money left on the voucher, so as well as the kitchen bin, I treated myself to a set of wooden storage boxes, the largest of which I used for the dog blankets and the smaller ones I used to house my seeds and some craft materials I keep on top of the fridge.  They made the kitchen look a lot tidier and a lot less cluttered, so I was pretty pleased with them.



With the new curtain made and hung, the kitchen thinned out, the dog blankets neatly tidied away and the new clock, bin, sign and blackboard in place, I think I've achieved the fresher and less cluttered look I hoped for.  Needless to say, I was very happy with the results and even happier that they didn't cost too much. We still need to do some work on the floor, we're currently thinking of painting it, but I'll post about that, if and when it happens.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Tuesday Catch Up

I had a good day yesterday, Tuesday being my day for catching up with domestic and administrative chores.  To begin with, I decided to declutter the linen cupboard, particularly with regard to towels.  I've decided that I no longer want any white or pale coloured towels.  They dirty too easily and I never have been particularly partial to the belief that towels should be white and fluffy.  I leave that myth to the hotels to uphold.  Besides, a bit of colour never goes amiss and at least I can match towels to bath mats, as I don't own a white bath mat.   The darkest I'm prepared to go from now on is a mid grey. 

The white towels, which are still in pretty good condition are going to the charity shop.  They don't often get used anyway.  They reside at the bottom of the cupboard and tend to get left until the ironing and washing piles are so high that there are no coloured ones available, so we can probably manage without them very well.  I'm adopting the same approach to my kitchen linen and my bed linen, very little will be left that is light in colour, especially after Little Bird managed to stain my lovely white/aqua printed duvet cover with her Hello Kitty lip wand and it wouldn't wash out.  It was the final straw.  I feel a lot better having made the decision.  I just have to implement it fully now.

Later, I managed to get out and about and carry out a few vital errands.  My library books needed taking back, a prescription needed dropping into the doctors, a visit to the Post Office and a small amount of vital shopping at a couple of shops on the high street.

Whilst at the library, I picked up a few business orientated books and as I had to wait in the car before continuing on to the doctor's (they were closed for lunch), I started reading one of them which proved very interesting.  It's called the Lazy Person's Guide to Success.  I found myself enjoying it from the very first page.  It's not about telling you how to be lazy and do nothing, but it does advocate the idea of smart working, i.e. working less and thinking more, thereby working in a more thoughtful and significant way, as opposed to being constantly busy doing mainly insignificant things.  I love this type of book and whilst I realise that reading it is giving myself one more thing to do, I'm hoping I might be able to glean some wisdom from it.  If nothing else, it is armed with some wonderful philosophical quotes such as this.

'It is not enough to be busy.... The question is: what are we busy about?'   -  Henry David Thoreau.

Anyway, less of the philosophy, I had stuff to do.  The afternoon was spent posting out orders, catching up on my banking, paying bills, domestic chores and cleaning out cupboards after another mouse infestation.  Said mouse has now sadly departed to another life courtesy of OH.  I'm hoping there was just the one.

In the evening, whilst OH was out at the Velodrome,  I passed a relatively pleasant evening watching Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners, which I do love.  There was a classic moment this week when two dog owning ladies who obsessively clean their houses to the point where they score less than 20 when their kitchen cabinets were swabbed for bacteria, had their dogs paws swabbed which showed they carried 5000+.  I know dogs aren't squeaky clean animals, but this was a bit of a surprise.  Even so,  I won't be swapping our dog for a clean house any day soon.  A bit of dirt never hurt anyone, it's a good job too in our house.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

October Round Up

November seems to have come around very quickly this year.  I thought October might have dragged, especially as I didn't have much spare money, but it literally whizzed past and here we are, a brand new month ahead of us.

October was the month of my birthday and I had a lovely day and evening out to watch some Cuban dance.  I also was given some lovely presents, one of which, my brogues, signalled the start of my wardrobe regeneration project. 

Stoptober, which I also participated in during October, where I was trying to stop any unnecessary spending, wasn't altogether successful.  I had a serious lapse in the last week and bought a new winter coat and a couple of other things, but it's behind me now and I'm still up to date with paying off my overdraft and credit cards, so not too much damage done.  I'm pleased I bought the coat though, as today the weather has suddenly turned much colder and I have a feeling I will be wearing it very soon.

We had a lovely short break in Bruges at the end of the month, courtesy of OH, so I didn't actually spend much of my own money whilst we were away, which I realise is a bit of cheat, especially as we did a mammoth French hypermarket shop in time for Christmas.

I'm grateful that this coming month I am not participating in any no/low spending challenge.  Having said this the amount of available cash I have to spend isn't huge, but with what I do have I'm focussing on starting to purchase the remaining outstanding Christmas presents on my list.  I'm studying the list as I write this and contemplating what I have left to get.  The largest presents left to buy are those for Little Bird and OH, but I know what it is they want, so it is just a question of going out and buying them.  I'm going to hang on until a little later in the month before I do this though, as there is no particular hurry.

Other plans for this month include a visit to the Ideal Home Show at Christmas, for which I managed to get a couple of free tickets.  This will be another day out for my friend and I, which is something to look forward to.  In addition, my local John Lewis store are having a pre-Christmas shopping event for My John Lewis members, which I have put my name down for, so I will probably wait and do a bit of Christmas shopping at this event.  The local Hospice will be having it's Christmas Fair too this month that I always like to attend and Little Bird is participating in a Talent Show at school this month, so there's lots going on.

On a totally different subject, I, along with other plot holders, received an email from the allotment committee this week and I need to get my plot tidied up this month, as they are coming round to check and issuing neglected plot notices if any haven't been tidied, so this will be something else I will have to make sure I find time for.

I am also currently in the midst of some digital housekeeping, trying to edit the photos I have stored on my computer. (More in another post).  It's turning out to be quite time consuming, deleting all those photos I no longer need or wish to keep but I know it will be satisfying when it is finally done.

Finally, I want to do a bit of a spring clean of the reception rooms this month before we put up the tree and other Christmas decorations in December.  I think it's going to be a busy month, especially as I seem to be getting busy business wise too, in the lead up to Christmas.  I'm looking forward to it though and am hoping I can get everything done that I need to.

What have you got planned for November?  Have you started planning for the festive season?

Monday, 3 November 2014

A Quick Trip to Bruges

This half term we managed to slip in a quick trip to Bruges and a supermarket shop in France (more in another post).  We'd been hoping to go away for longer, somewhere in this country, but OH was very busy and couldn't get away, so we decided to hop over the channel and combine a pre-Christmas hypermarket shop with a bit of sightseeing in Belgium.

We caught the ferry from Dover to Dunkirk on Wednesday afternoon, reaching Bruges about an hour's drive away at about 7pm.  We had a bit of struggle to actually find our way into the historic centre by car due to the traffic system, but once in it didn't take us long to find our small apartment, where we were staying for just one night.  The apartment itself was lovely, very compact and bijou, but more than adequate for our very short stay and very well equipped.

Here's a few pictures.

As you can see, it had a bit of a Moroccan theme going on with the lighting and the lovely courtyard just outside the door reminded me of the rhiads we stayed in in Morocco a few years ago.  This was our small but perfect kitchen

and OH and I had a bed up in this mezzanine, which was a bit hairy when you needed to descend the stairs in the middle of the night to go to the toilet.

Little Bird's bed was a sofa bed in the living area.

We headed out in the evening to eat and do a bit of sightseeing.  The town looked lovely all lit up at night and some of the shops were still open. 

I had never visited Bruges before and was very pleasantly surprised at how much there was to do and see.  I knew that they were quite famous for their Christmas markets, but unfortunately, the Christmas markets had not yet started, so we didn't get a chance to see them.  There was, however, this Christmas shop, although we didn't go in.

After breakfast the following morning at the hotel that owned the apartments, we headed into the centre of town for a morning of sightseeing.  There were lots of lovely lace shops

and chocolate shops

in the town and many of the buildings were beautiful with very distinctive Flemish architecture. 


Whilst OH headed up the belfry (all 366 steps of it!),

Little Bird and I checked out the Chocolate Museum here.

It was an interesting little museum charting the history of chocolate and it's uses throughout the ages.  We also got to see a chocolate making demonstration and taste the chocolates which was definitely worth waiting for.

We had a lovely morning sightseeing, but as the day wore on it became a very busy place, probably because it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  We really enjoyed our stay here and it was definitely worth a visit.

Here are a few more photos from our visit to give you more of a taste of the city.

I loved this statue which made me smile, as it looked like it was doing a plank.  (An exercise I do regularly in aerobics classes).

We also watched herons fishing in the canal here and swallowing whole fish in one go.

Has anyone else ever visited Bruges?