Wednesday 31 December 2014

A Few Aims for 2015

I do love this time of year when I find myself  looking forward to the year ahead and thinking about what I want to achieve therein.  I like to have various projects on the go, be they financial, personal or domestic.  Following on from my progress post regarding my aims for 2014, here are some of the things I've decided that I'm aiming to achieve in 2015. 

1 - Live Within My Means - Having almost paid off my overdraft in 2014, I aim to live overdraft free in 2015 if I can.  I may need to dip into it occasionally on very expensive months, but hopefully I will largely keep my account in the black this year.

2 - Continue to Pay Off My Credit Cards Fully Each Month - Again with the aim of living within my means, I want to pay any debt off before incurring any interest.  Ideally, I want to try to minimize spending on credit cards, although they are handy for internet purchases or unexpected expenses.

3 - Minimize Waste - I started to try to do this last year, but I can't say that I had much impact on the whole.  I did try to reuse or recycle items where possible and will continue to do so, but this year I'm going to focus on not purchasing as much, so that this will lead to less waste in all areas of life.

4 - Save More - This year, having virtually achieved my aim of being debt free, I aim to save more in 2015.  I'd like to start putting spare money aside whenever I can, so that I build up a reserve for emergencies and contingencies.  I will continue with the sealed box, trying harder to put more of my change in there and will continue to save in my building society by depositing any cheques in there, but I also would like to transfer money to a savings account each month or most months if I can too.

5 - Build a Capsule Wardrobe  - To contain only things I really enjoy wearing. By buying one quality item per month I'm hoping to complete this challenge and feel a lot happier with my wardrobe by the end of the year.  I will be posting about this particular aim in a separate post at some point.  As you can imagine, I am looking forward to meeting this aim in 2015.

6 - Read Two Books Per Month.  - (There's an even bigger pile of books to get through this year so I need to be a bit more ambitious in order to clear them!)

7 - Declutter, Declutter, Declutter  - Aiming to pare back and live more minimally in 2015.

8 - Finish Outstanding Projects - I've got a number of outstanding sewing and DIY projects that I've been aiming to do or working slowly on over the last year.  Aim to finish them by 2016.

I think I'll leave it at that so as not to get overambitious.  Wish me luck and a Happy New Year to everyone reading.  I hope 2015 brings you lots of good times. good health and good fortune.

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Streetbank's Give A Thing Away Each Day of Advent - Days 21 to 24

This is my final post of this Reverse Advent Challenge organised by where the aim is to give something away each day this Advent, to counter the consumerism of Christmas and at a push, I managed to keep donating throughout Advent.  Here are my give aways for days 21 to 24.

Day 21 - Today, I finished reading a book that I know another member of the family might enjoy, so I'm going to pass it on to them when I see them after Christmas.

Day 22 - I did a little bit of grocery shopping in Tesco today, and decided to pop a yule log in the Food Bank box on the way out.  Hopefully someone will get a nice treat this Christmas.

Day 23 -  I had a good look through my fabrics in the sewing room today and managed to sort out a bag full of fabrics and sewing patterns to take to the charity shop.  I had a ridiculous amount and I am simply just not going to use many of them, so hopefully, as well as making a bit more room for the fabrics and patterns I will use, they might be of use and help to raise some money for others too.

Day 24 - We decided today to take Little Bird's bike with us up North and give it to her cousin when we visit. It's rather small for her, she rarely uses it and we're going to buy a new bike that we can all hopefully use next year.

It's been a busy Advent this year, decluttering and giving things away.  The house is feeling pleasantly lighter and less cluttered.  It really is shameful how much 'stuff' I've held on to for so long and not even looked at, let alone used.  I'm hoping it will find a use elsewhere and it will bring at least a small amount money, pleasure or relief to others.

This challenge was a great idea, I've enjoyed taking part and giving things away and I hope you've enjoyed reading about it.  I'm hoping that in 2015 I can continue to pare back unnecessary belongings and generally be more generous towards others, especially those in need.  Rather than acquiring lots more things all the time,  I'm definitely aiming to buy less in 2015 and buy better quality where I do buy anything.  It would be nice to get to a point where I feel happy with my lot and give more time or money to others in the coming year.

Wishing everyone a wonderful Christmas and New Year.


Monday 22 December 2014

Enjoying the Christmas Lead In

This year I've been enjoying the final lead in to Christmas.  Not because we've had lots of parties or social gatherings planned, but because now most of our commitments have been met, and present shopping done, we can simply please ourselves in the lead up to Christmas day.

In fact, this Christmas hasn't actually felt particularly Christmassy as yet, and I'm not entirely disappointed by this.  Saturday, was a prime example, we just hung out at home in the morning and I checked out some minimalist blog posts by Joshua Becker on his new to me blog.  We then nipped to ASDA to do a bit of grocery shopping to tide us over until we do our Christmas food shop on Tuesday night.  It was a rather annoying and stressful trip and I couldn't wait to get home.  I won't be going to a supermarket again on a weekend, for as long as I can possibly get away with it.

In the afternoon, I spent a pleasant afternoon reading the newspaper and listening to Tom Odell songs on YouTube, plus watching a few of the interviews on there, that he has done in the past couple of years.  I was reminded of his music whilst watching him perform on Chatty Man Alan Carr's show on Friday night, and remembered reading about him and listening to his music on a couple of blogs in the past year.  I was curious to check out a little more of his work and found myself really enjoying his music and hoping to find his latest CD Long Way Down in my Christmas stocking.  I don't often ask to be given CD's as gifts, but this one sounds exceptional and it would be good to be able to listen to it in the car.  Here's a video of one of my favourite tracks on his album.

Sunday was another lazy day spent at home pottering, after I'd been to the gym that is.  I managed to find a couple of hours to pop up to the sewing room and pack away some of the Christmas fabrics I've been selling over the last few months and start thinking about what I want to sell in the New Year.  I also did a smidgeon of mini hexagon patchworking and sewed a few little hexies together.  I love the effect of these small hexies when you put them together.  This project is going to be a long one I can tell, but I don't mind that because I think the end result will be lovely and I'll have used up lots of scraps into the bargain.

We haven't really got a lot planned for the next few days.  I have one last class to attend at the gym, a bit of house cleaning, ironing, washing, etc. to do and a few more donations to make for the Reverse Advent Challenge, whilst OH has some work to finish in the next couple of days. 

On Christmas Eve we're planning to take ourselves off into town for the day and take in the Christmas lights, shop window displays, the tree in Trafalgar Square,  the Christmas Market on the Softbank and just generally soak up the Christmas atmosphere without any pressure to seek out any last minute gifts.  We like to do these things when we stay in London for Christmas and haven't done them so far this year.  Maybe once we have, it will begin to feel a lot like Christmas.

We aren't expecting any visitors for Christmas this year, it's just going to be a quiet one, with just the three of us (plus doggy, of course), which suits us just fine, until we head out of London on Boxing day to visit family and friends.

I hope that all you guys enjoy a very merry and peace filled Christmas and find exactly what you want in your Christmas stocking.  I will still be reading over the Christmas period and publishing the odd pre-written post, but will probably not be creating any new posts while we're away, as internet connections can be a problem.  Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog this year and leave comments.  I've really enjoyed your company here in the blogosphere.  If I don't get chance to post again before the New Year.  All the best for you and your nearest and dearest in 2015.

Sunday 21 December 2014

Making Me Smile This Week

This little fella dropped through the letter box last week, courtesy of my sister in Australia.  It was an extra little gift for Little Bird and he's super sweet. 

He's taken up his spot on the tree. 

Yesterday, a friend sent me some of lovely handmade items through the post, some of which have also been added to the tree.  Just as well I didn't put lots of things on it this year.  Here's a few pictures of what she sent me.


This super cute little string of owl bunting came in this lovely burlap bag.  I can see these coming out every year from now on.


Also making me smile is my favourite Christmas mug. 

It comes out every December and I enjoy using it to drink my tea from in the lead up to Christmas.  It just helps make me feel a bit special.  Sad, but true.

Finally, I don't know what it is about these guys, but they always manage to make me smile and are at their absolute best when they are not taking themselves too seriously.  Loving their current single and glad to see that they are still having chart success.  It somehow makes the world seem a better place.

Saturday 20 December 2014

Streetbank's Give a Thing Away Each Day of Advent - Days 16 - 20

I'm still continuing with this Reverse Advent challenge, suggested by, to give something away each day of Advent, in an attempt to counter the excessive consumerism of Christmas.  

I managed to find time to distribute all the items put aside in my last post, that I wasn't able to drop off immediately, namely the Age UK bag which was taken to their drop off evening this week.  I also took the toiletries to Crisis at Christmas, who were happy to accept them, along with a cheque from OH to facilitate another person to have lunch with them on Christmas day.  It felt good to catch up with my donations this week.  However, I'm now finding it a little more difficult to think up new and original ways of donating.  I started off well enough, but am starting to run out of steam.  I'll keep persevering though.  Here are my advent give aways for days 16 to 20.

Day 16 - Whilst sorting through the linen cupboard at the weekend, I found a couple of blankets and a few duvet covers with pillow cases that I no longer wanted as I'm trying to move towards darker coloured bed and bathroom linens.  These were bagged up and put in the TRAID container on the high street which recycles textiles.

Day 17 - I took a magazine with me today to my destination and once I'd read it I left it in the waiting area for other people to read.

Day 18 - One more book to the Little Free Library.

Day 19 - Another bag of clothing and shoes was accumulated by another purge of my wardrobe and taken to the charity shop.  I'm now having to get a bit more ruthless to find things to donate, which is all good.

Day 20 -  Whilst going through my wardrobe once again for the above donation, I also came across a couple of pairs of shoes that I decided to pass on to Little Bird, as they are not far from her size.  I'm not sure how often she'll wear them, as I'm not sure they're her 'style', but hope she will.   I'll give it a few months and if they haven't been worn, I'll just pass them on to the charity shop.  At least if they're still in the house, if I change my mind and want to wear them again I can!

Friday 19 December 2014

Taking Stock of Spending Habits

Participating in Streetbank's Reverse Advent Challenge this year has really forced me to take stock of my spending habits and made me realise how in previous years I have spent lots of money acquiring numerous things, which I have subsequently found myself giving away for the past month. 

I've deliberately tried not to think about how much I've paid for the things I've given away, as it would be just too depressing and anyway it is irrelevant as I no longer wanted these things and I don't begrudge giving them away, so it would be pointless and inappropriate.  Thankfully, much of it has been bought in charity shops or sales, and then has been well used by me or others over a number of years, so it could have been a lot worse. 

Obviously, some things have been bought and never used or used very little, and it is the purchase of these items that it is harder to justify.  Anyway, I'm not going to give myself a hard time over it, as it has been done and I can't change that, but what I can do is change the way I choose to spend my money in the future.

Whilst also trying to pay off my overdraft this year, obviously run up over a number of years by spending money on things that I didn't actually have the cash to pay for, I have come to realise that my spending habits in the past really did need to be curbed, and they have been to a large extent this year.  I have spent much less time mooching around the shops and charity shops, instead finding other things to do with my time, and the urge to shop, although not having disappeared altogether, as I do enjoy it, has become much less overwhelming over the last couple of years.  I think I've surprised myself.

All of this is good news of course, but it is something that I have to be conscious of and sometimes I do find myself 'going shopping', for recreation when there is no real need.  I will obviously continue to try to work on resisting this urge in the coming year, and can't make any promises, as I do enjoy shopping as a pastime, like many people in the UK today.  However, gratuitous purchasing of unnecessary items is not the answer I now realise and doesn't provide any solutions in the long term.  In actual fact, it largely just creates more problems; storage problems, finding what you need in a house that has too much stuff, and paying for the things you've bought, especially if bought on credit.

Even buying fabric and craft materials to be creative with and make clothes or other things for the home can become problematic, especially when you don't actually get around to the making, because you can't actually see the wood for the trees.  I've definitely curbed my fabric buying on a personal level, as I already have too much and no more room to store any.  I've done it on a business level too and tried to sell stock I already have before buying more.

I'm also trying to stop stockpiling food, toiletries and other items.  I have just about already achieved this aim in the last 6 months of this year.  After successfully completing the beauty challenge, failing the household challenge and trying to empty cupboards of excess food,  I made a promise to myself to stop and I have, although the urge to place the odd Approved Foods order does sometimes get the better of me. 

I am looking forward in the New Year to spending slightly more money on much better products in food, household and beauty terms and enjoy indulging us in nicer products, rather than buying the cheapest options and not enjoying the experience of using/eating them so much.  What I guess I'm saying here is, that it's going to be a buy less, buy better year for me in 2015.   It's been a long time coming, but I'm pleased to have got to this point.

What are you aiming to do in 2015?

Thursday 18 December 2014

Christmas Starts Here

It's been a busy week and I've been out every day due to a prior commitment, that I'm not at liberty to discuss on my blog.  Anyway, thankfully today that commitment was met in full and I am now free to enjoy the festive season.  So Christmas starts here.

My new found freedom was celebrated with a little trip out to bank my sealed box money, to minimise my now very small overdraft, do a final tiny bit of Christmas shopping and pick up a few groceries in the process.  This was followed by my first dog walk for the week.  OH has been on double dog walking duty this week, due to my early starts, so the least I could do was get straight back to it.  Besides, it is important bonding time between myself and the dog too, which I had missed this week. 

Later, I managed a quick charity drop off, that I hadn't had the time to do earlier in the week, before cooking some supper and then sorting all the rubbish and recycling in time for the last collection before Christmas tomorrow.

Tonight, for the first time I can finally put my feet up and start to relax and enjoy the lead in to Christmas.  My time out of the house every day has made me really appreciate the sanity and normality of our everyday life and I don't intend to go anywhere much tomorrow.  I think a day at home catching up on chores is called for, before we head into Christmas week.  How's your lead in to Christmas going?

Tuesday 16 December 2014

2014 Round Up

As the year is drawing to a close, I've been reflecting on the past year and whether or not I've managed to achieve some of the aims I set myself back in January.  My list wasn't a list of resolutions or any such thing, just goals I was loosely or not so loosely aiming to reach by the end of the year, if I could.  Here's the list:

1 - Pay Off My £1250 Overdraft - For the last 10 years or so, I have been living with and utilising to the max, an overdraft kindly provided to me by my bank, ever since I was a student.  It was at a very low rate, which is probably why I happily used it, but this year I decided it was time to pay it off and start living within my means. I did just about manage to achieve this aim, save for approximately £100.   In all honesty, I didn't budget well enough, nor put any money aside for Christmas this year and this is where I went wrong.  It always turns out to be more expensive than I anticipate, often due to unforeseen expenses at the last minute, so I wasn't able to totally meet this aim.  Hopefully, by the end of January (or February at the latest, as it's Little Bird's birthday in January) it will be completely paid off.

2 - Continue to Pay Off My Credit Cards in Full Every Month - After striving all last year to pay off my credit card balances, which once again I'd carried for quite a while incurring interest charges on a regular basis, this year I was determined not to slip back into old habits of letting them build up and have to pay interest.  I think I succeeded in this aim this year, as far as I can remember.  There may have been one month where I didn't completely clear them and incurred a little interest, but for the most part I stuck to my guns and cleared them every month.  My next challenge will be to use them less!

3 - Pay Back the £500 Loan I Made to My Small Business - When I originally started my small business, I needed a small amount of cash to buy some initial stock, stationery, etc.  As well as initially using my business credit card for this purpose, I loaned the business £500 out of my savings, always with the intention of paying myself back at some point in the future.  Last year, I paid off my business credit card and this year I decided to try to pay back this loan, so that the business was debt free.   I almost achieved it.  I managed to pay myself back approximately £400.  I did leave it a little late and only really started paying the money back from November onwards, but considering this, I think I did pretty well here.  At least once the final £100 or so is paid back next year, I can start to properly generate profit, which will be a positive.  This was the a main reason why I was working so hard in the build up to Christmas on my business, with this aim in mind.   It did pay off in the end.

4 - Read at Least a Book a Month - I decided on this aim before hearing of the Year in Books challenge devised by Laura at a Circle of Pine Trees.  When I subsequently heard of Laura's challenge, it was a no brainer for me to join in to help to motivate me in achieving this aim.  As well as having the benefit of encouraging me to read more, this challenge also helped me declutter the huge pile of books I had waiting to be read, as most of them were sent to the charity shop or Little Free Library once read.  I have replaced them, however, with another huge pile to be read next year once I've finished reading the original pile.

5 - Re-organise My Wardrobe and Create a Capsule Wardrobe - I only started work on this challenge properly towards the end of the year, so I didn't finish creating a capsule wardrobe, as finances didn't allow in the lead up to Christmas.  I will be concentrating on this more in the coming year.  I have donated a large amount of clothes to the charity shop this year, that just weren't getting worn because they didn't fit well or I didn't enjoy wearing them or they were getting quite old and tired.  I'm looking forward to enjoying a pared back wardrobe in 2015 and adding one quality item a month to it throughout the year. (More about this in another post).

6 -  Declutter (Be Ruthless) - Which is exactly how this aim was worded.  Although I'm not sure if I was exactly ruthless, if you've been reading my blog you will know that I've regularly been purging my possessions throughout the year and sending bags and bags of things to the charity shop.  It does make me realise how much stuff I had when I think of all the bags I've taken out of the house.  Scary thought indeed.  I'll be continuing with this challenge in 2015, as there's still plenty of room for improvement in the clutter stakes.

7 - Continue to Save in My Building Society Account - I did continue to do this this year.  This account is one I use to bank dividend cheques from some shares I own.  For a couple of years now any cheques that drop through the letter box get put in this account and remain untouched.  It's a small move towards saving regularly, but it's something as opposed to nothing.  I would like to expand this and to save more money in the coming year, now that I am almost debt free (save for the mortgage).

8 - Save Loose Change in a Sealed Jar/Box -  I also did manage to save some money in my sealed box this year.  I had started this challenge back in October 2013, so I rolled over the £14 I put in up until January this year.  By last week when I opened the box I had £45 in there which has been put towards the expense of Christmas.  I must admit that I didn't religiously empty my change in there and if I continue with this next year I should really try a little harder.

The above are the aims that I did manage to achieve.  There were several others that I didn't manage to meet, some of which I subsequently decided weren't really important and some which I will carry over into next year.  I'm pretty happy with my progress this year and will continue to try to improve things, both financially and otherwise in the coming year if I can. 

Did you have any aims for 2014?   Did you meet them?

A Bit Of A Move Around

In the last few weeks, I haven't really had time to do much making or sewing,  in part because I've been busy with my small business, but also because I haven't really had proper access to my sewing room for a couple of months.

For some reason Little Bird had become what seemed like a permanent fixture in there, as she had taken to sleeping in the spare double bed on a nightly basis.  She still used her own bedroom occasionally, but her belongings have gradually spread all over the top floor of the house causing quite a bit of untidiness (She's not the tidiest child, bless her).

This recent turn of events also meant that I have found it hard to create a space for myself in the house, that I could retreat to and relax when I needed to.  As a consequence, I've been getting a little stressed lately and so we made an agreement the other week, that if we moved the double bed from the sewing room into her bedroom, she would move back into her own room and free up my sewing space once again.  This weekend, we finally got around to making this happen.

It took a couple of hours to switch the beds around and put fresh linen on them.  In the process of doing this,  I also took the opportunity to once again sort through the linen cupboard and found several more things that I no longer wanted to hang on to, which subsequently went in the charity shop bag.  One side of  this cupboard is now half empty and I'm hoping that OH will build some shelves into it for me, to help keep it tidy in the future.

Whilst switching the beds over, we also made the decision to let go of a couple of pieces of surplus furniture.  One was a table top and legs from IKEA stored under one of the beds, and the other a mobile clothes rail which had been cluttering up my sewing room.  Both were duly put outside for anyone passing to help themselves to, as part of my advent give away.  There's still another table being stored under Little Bird's new bed, just in case I might need it at some point in my sewing room, but I can't see me needing two, as there's just nowhere to put them up.

Slowly, but surely I feel that I am getting to grips with some of the clutter, most of it created by myself, I have to admit.  I've got quite a few plans for further clutter clearing and reorganising in the New Year, in both Little Bird's bedroom and our own, and I am looking forward to streamlining even more next year.  It feels good to be in a place where I finally feel able to do this.

The outcome of our efforts this weekend is that there is now just  a single bed in my sewing room, so the room feels a lot more spacious and I have been able to rearrange a few small pieces of furniture, which were previously preventing me from opening drawers easily. 

Even small changes like these can make life so much easier.  It seemed silly to have a large bed in there, taking up so much room and which very rarely got slept in by guests, so it makes sense for Little Bird to enjoy the space to spread out.  (She's quite an active sleeper).

There's still a lot of tidying to do in my sewing room, as it's got into rather a mess since I've been busy in the lead up to Christmas, but there's no hurry.  I will probably get around to it in the few days before Christmas or even over the festive period.  I'm hoping that now I've reclaimed the space, I might even get sewing or making again some time in the New Year.  I'll keep you posted.

Monday 15 December 2014

Streetbank's Give a Thing Away Each Day this Advent - Days 11-15

I'm joining in with's challenge to give something away every day this advent, to make a stand against the consumerism of the festive season and am posting every 5 days about the different giveaways I have managed to carry out.

Day 11 - For day 11, I started to gather together another bag of unwanted items to this time take to Age UK in Dalston, Hackney.  They are hoping to generate 500 donated bags of clothes and bric a brac to raise funds to help older people living in Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Newham.  I can't actually drop this bag off until later this week, when they have a late night drop off event, but it will be put aside until then ready to take.

Day 12 - After completing my gift wrapping today, I had a few tubes of men's Bench Shower Gel that I bought as gifts, but which were surplus to requirements, so I've decided that these can be donated to a local homeless hostel or possibly even Crisis at Christmas if they are willing into to accept them.  I've also found a couple of other new and unused toiletry items which I'm hoping they'll also accept.  I'll let you know where I eventually take them.

Day 13 - As it was the weekend, I put a couple of items outside the house for other people to take if they wanted to.  The items I put out were a hanging rail that I bought on eBay a few years ago, with the express purpose of using for car boot sales.  As I don't intend to do any more and it was clogging up my sewing room, I decided to donate it to whomever wants it.  In addition, after a move around at home there were two IKEA table tops with legs stored under the spare bed and I decided to let go of one.  I doubt I'll ever need two tables.  This too, complete with legs, was put outside for anyone to take away with them.  I kept one just in case I ever need a bigger desk in my sewing room.

Day 14 - Yesterday, I put a few more items into the TRAID container on our high street.  They included a couple of inexpensive summer dresses I bought on-line for Little Bird, which she hardly ever wore.  Hopefully, some little girl somewhere in the world will be happy to wear them.

Day 15 -  Over the weekend, I gathered together a few more books I no longer want and which have been sat unread on the bookshelf in my bedroom for at least 3 years.  I doubt if I'll ever read them and they no longer appeal to me.   I dropped them into the Little Free Library once again on my way out this morning.  I know I'm donating this way quite a lot in the course of this challenge, but it is very convenient, as I can put books in there at any time of the day and am not restricted by opening times, which this week is really important for me as I'm out all day every day.

Saturday 13 December 2014

All Set for Christmas

After a mad few days, I had a marathon wrapping session on Friday, managing to get virtually every present I had bought, wrapped and ready to give this Christmas.  It was a great feeling.  I do still have to write the tags on OH and Little Bird's gifts, but I will do this as I put them under the tree on Christmas Eve.

All the gifts are bagged according to where they need to go, as we tend to visit various members of the family in different places over Christmas and New Year.  I've found over the years that organising them like this makes life so much easier and also saves presents getting bashed around as you look for others whilst on your travels.  There are a couple of labels I need Little Bird to write and the odd present that I can't quite wrap yet for whatever reason, but apart from these the job is done and I am thankful that it is.  I even managed to post some presents off to some family members that we probably won't get to see over the festive period, as they are going away on holiday.

After buying some new wrapping paper this year, I found I didn't even open a couple of rolls of it, as I made sure I used up existing rolls in my stash.  I'm sure many people just give their old rolls to charity each year, which I may start doing, but I do tend to keep it and use it the following year.  I'd be surprised if anyone could remember if they're getting the same paper two years running, but I might be proved wrong.

The same went for the cards.  I managed to get them all written on Saturday.  Like with the wrapping paper, I did buy a few new packs this year, but found I didn't need a couple of them just yet, so they'll be left unopened until I use them next Christmas.  As they are charity cards from a local charity here in London, I doubt whether anyone will know they are from a previous year's issue.  Most of the individual cards I send to my nearest and dearest I buy in the sales in January, mostly from M & S as they do some very good reductions and their cards are always very good quality.

OH and Little Bird still have some cards to write and presents to wrap, but I am chivvying them along so that we all can get the cards at least, sent out this week.  I just need the stamps now. 

I even collected my new glasses from the opticians today as they were ready after just two days.  Very quick indeed.  It feels good to be able to see a little better too.

The rest of this weekend is all about catching up with ironing, washing, putting laundry away and making sure the house is tidy.  Sales for the business have almost ground to a halt and there are very few Gym classes left to attend before the festive period begins proper, which I don't actually mind too much, as now I can slow down a little and spend some time getting myself and our home organised for the big day.   What a difference a couple of days make.  How are your preparations coming along?

Friday 12 December 2014

Friday Freedom

After two incredibly busy days out and about for lunch with friends and then at the hairdresser's and opticians, today I am looking forward to staying home and just pottering about.  Not only has it been busy, but expensive too.  I've had to purchase a new pair of glasses, as my prescription changed, but as mine are getting a little shabby, it's probably not such a bad thing, just the timing, coming just before Christmas.

Today, I'm going to take a nice long walk with the dog (in spite of the rain) and then I'm going to start some gift wrapping, especially of Little Bird's presents, as I'm out all next week.   I like to get it all finished before she finishes school for Christmas if I can, so I don't have to do it in hiding later.

I made a start on some wrapping the other day, as I had a few things in the bottom of the wardrobe which were too easy to peek at if Little Bird gets curious.  She may not, but I can remember doing this as a child, so I just want to keep things as much of a surprise as possible.

I do have to go to the school later today for an assembly and out to a class tonight, but the rest of the time is my own and I'm going to enjoy it.

Thursday 11 December 2014

Streetbank's Give A Thing Away Each Day of Advent Challenge - Days 6-10

For Day 6 of this challenge organised by, where I aim to give something away every day of Advent in an attempt to counter the consumerism of Christmas, I decided to send off some postage stamps I'd collected for recycling by the RNIB.  I always cut postage stamps off envelopes for this purpose and have been doing so for some years now, although I did used to send them to the Guide Dogs for the Blind, until I heard that they had stopped recycling them.  More recently, it does seem to take longer to collect enough to send off, as very little of the mail we receive is stamped these days, but when I do have an envelope full or thereabouts, I pop them in the post.

The RNIB recycle British or overseas stamps and as we regularly get post from my sister in Australia, plus sometimes other countries if we've bought something from abroad, there are usually quite a few reasonably interesting stamps in each envelope.  I think I must have collected these for a full year, as there were quite a few Christmas stamps in this envelope.  I cut around the stamps as neatly as I could without damaging them and sent them off to this address

RNIB Stamp Recycling
PO Box 185
SS7 9BH.

If you decide to start sending in stamps, please don't forget to put a stamp on the envelope as this is NOT a Freepost address.

Day 7 - For this day of the challenge I decided to sort through some of Little Bird's outgrown clothes and make a pile of items to give to a relative with a younger child, who might be able to make good use of them.  We won't actually see them until after Christmas to hand them over, but they will be kept to one side and taken with us when we go up to Yorkshire.  Charity begins at home and if they can be reused within the family and help save other family members some money in the long run, then that is a positive outcome.  Hopefully, Little Bird's cousin will like at least some of them and get some use out of them.

Day 8 - As it was Monday, my busiest day of the week and also the day of my Monday morning dog walk, I decided to once again donate a few books I no longer wanted to my local Little Free Library and dutifully dropped them in on my walk.  It was interesting to see that all the books I left in there last week had gone.  A good sign.

Day 9 - Tuesday, and  I donated a couple of magazines to my doctor's surgery for patients to read whilst they are waiting.  They were Christmas magazines that I had read and didn't want to keep.  They will probably disappear pretty quickly (call me cynical), as most magazines seem to do from waiting areas in my experience, but if they bring a bit of pleasure or distraction to someone who maybe can't afford to buy a magazine, or is nervously waiting to see the doctor, where's the harm?

Day 10 -  Yesterday, I took a few bags of clothes and Christmas items to the Salvation Army charity shop, where I often drop off, in an attempt to clear space on the landing, which was looking a little cluttered.

Just to let you know I finally found my way to the Dog Warden's office, which had moved.  I found this out from a fellow dog walker over the weekend.  Anyway, I was able to drop off the towels at last, so hopefully they can be put to good use.

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Catch Up Tuesday

As usual, Tuesday this week was my catch up day.  It always comes on the back of a manic Monday, so I'm always relieved to be able to catch up with myself a little on a Tuesday and start writing and reducing the week's to do list.

I always start the day with a good dog walk and it was a nice bright, but cold winter morning, which always makes for an enjoyable walk.  When I get back, it's time for a lovely cup of tea to warm me up, before starting work on whatever needs doing.

This Tuesday, I had to get some more stock ready and a couple of parcels ready to send.  Business is slowing off, but I still get the odd busy day, particularly at weekends.  I'm winding it all down now and looking forward to Christmas for a bit of a break, as it has been pretty hectic.

Once I'd done the main jobs for my business, I had a spot of lunch and then got ready to go out and do a few errands around and about, i.e. buying stamps, posting items, taking some books back to the library, plus a couple of other drop offs for the advent giveaways.  It felt good to get these jobs done and then catch up with a bit of blog reading and posting.  I've not been posting so much lately, as I just haven't felt particularly inspired, due to being busy with other things. I'm sure it's the same for many bloggers at this time of year.

Tuesday, was also the day I decided to open up my sealed box.  I've been saving 10p's, 20p's an 50p's when I remember, which hasn't been that often this year.  When I counted up I'd saved £45, which didn't seem much for a whole year's savings, especially when £14 of that was in the box on 1st January carried over from the last few months of the year before.  I was a bit disappointed with myself, but to be honest I never have much money in my purse, as I tend to use my debit card most of the time these days and if I'm honest, I just forgot most of the rest of the time to put any change in the box. 

Regardless of the relatively small sum, it will come in pretty handy as today I went out for a meal with some friends from the gym after our aerobics class, by way of a kind of Christmas celebration.  It's not something we've done before, so I was looking forward to it.  We had lunch at Wagamama;s which I've never been to before.  I had a chicken and mandarin salad, which was huge.

Later this week I've got an optician's appointment, hopefully a hair cut and colour and a school assembly, so it's quite a busy one.

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Getting the Tree Up

Last weekend I set myself the task of cleaning the house, but I didn't get around to doing everything on my list, notably the second reception room, which is where we put the Christmas tree.  I was hoping to get around to doing it during the week, but that didn't happen either, so this weekend I set myself the task of  thoroughly cleaning this room so that the Christmas decorating could commence.

We haven't had a real Christmas tree for a couple of years, since I invested in an artificial one, and after a brief discussion with OH, we decided to go with that again.  Due to the fact that we head out of London for a week at Christmas and New Year to visit family, it doesn't seem worth buying a real one and to be honest the mess does play its part and the waste of a once lovely living thing, when it comes to throwing it out after Christmas.  (You can't beat the look and smell of a real tree though, I must admit).

Anyway, I have a real tree in the garden in a pot, that I bought in Wales quite a few years ago now and though it is getting bigger it isn't really big enough to use inside just yet.  I usually do put it out on the patio at Christmas and decorate it with a few waterproof decorations, so an artificial one doesn't seem so bad when I can see that one from the kitchen window every day.

Anyway, this weekend I was determined to finally get the tree up and I had managed to find some lovely crackers at a local independent pound/discount shop on our local high street the other day for only £5.50 (not everything costs £1), which I thought was really reasonable as they are pretty big and the gifts inside looked quite nice and at least useful, which helps.

Once the room was cleaned, it was up with the tree and out with the favoured old artificial Christmas wreath for the front door.  I love this wreath and it comes out every year and has done for about 10 years now. 

Once up, I didn't decorate the tree at this point, as we had to head out to take Little Bird to a birthday party.  There was also a Winter fair taking place in the area so I had a wander around a few stalls.  I bought a few pieces of real holly for decorating the house and some lovely quince jelly that I usually get from the Church Christmas Bazaar, but didn't this year as I never made it there.

I always think that a bit of real holly looks great at Christmas.  I do like this vintage artificial holly too though.  The ribbon came off a bag of pine cone pot pourri that I bought in the sales after Christmas last year.  I almost forgot that I'd bought it.  It does look nice in they lidded glass jar I bought from IKEA. 
I added a few cinnamon stick bundles to some more and filled this glass bowl too.
It was Saturday evening before I finally got the lights and crackers on the tree.  I don't do tinsel any more I'm afraid.  I tend to keep the tree fairly simple with lights and ornaments.  I left it bare, so that Little Bird could help me finish decorating it on Sunday.

Sunday came and went and the tree stayed bare, as I just didn't have the time to dress it, so it wasn't until Monday night when I got around to putting some baubles on it.  During this time, however, I came to actually like seeing it quite bare.  It does have pine cones, berries and cinnamon sticks attached to it, so it isn't strictly bare, but I decided to keep the decorations pretty minimal this year and just added a box of red glass baubles and 3 or 4 Liberty ornaments I've bought over the years.  I can't  quite bring myself to get rid of all the rest of the decorations, but I might have a good sort out in the New Year before they go back in the loft and have a good declutter of the Christmas boxes.   It would be good to get everything in one box instead of two.

The final touches were some chocolates and a few candy canes that got added today.  I still have some gingerbread to hang, but I didn't want to put too many edible things on there for the moment.  I think I might be getting better at this minimalism thing.  Here's the finished result, with the added advantage that there's not too much to tidy away on 12th night either.   Very traditional, but I quite like it that way. Christmas starts here.

Saturday 6 December 2014

Streetbank's Give A Thing Away Each Day of Advent Challenge - Day's 1 to 5

For the next few weeks I'm joining several other bloggers in taking part in's Advent challenge to give something away every day of this advent, in an attempt to rally against the out and out consumerism of this time of year and also to encourage people to think of others in their neighbourhood who are perhaps not so fortunate.

Day One of this challenge  and I decided to give some books that I had read or have decided that I don't want to read to our local Little Free Library.  I posted about this a few months ago.  It's a great idea for encouraging community participation and sharing.  Our local Little Free Library was set up by a family in our neighbourhood and is located on their garden wall.  If you are interested, you can find out more about this worldwide scheme on and find out where your nearest Little Free Library is. 

I noticed on my last visit to the library a few weeks ago that there were hardly any books in it, so I promised myself I would take some along as I pass it regularly on my Monday morning dog walk.  I didn't take a picture of the books I left in the library, but there were three of them.  Hopefully someone will enjoy reading them.  I was encouraged to see that there were quite a few books in there  by the time I returned, I was even tempted to borrow another one, but resisted the urge as I've already got a huge pile of books waiting to be read.  I'm sure I'll be donating more before very long.

Day Two -  I popped over to Little Bird's old Primary School up the road today and donated a new children's Moshi toy storage bag for their forthcoming Christmas Fair.  I bought it for Little Bird for very little (50p) in a sale, but if I'm honest with myself, she had probably outgrown it by the time I bought it, so it never got used.  I thought the school might be the best place to donate it as they could perhaps put it in the Tombola or on the toy stall at the fair.  Hopefully it will go to a home where it gets put to it's originally intended use.

Day Three - I put some grown out of and no longer wanted shoes and clothes in the local collection point for which is on our high street.  It said on the side that shoes needed to be tied securely together and any donations placed in a sealed plastic bag, which I made sure I did to aide sorting.  I rarely use these facilities, so thought I would donate some things using this method for a change.

Day Four - I contacted our local Dog Warden Team after hearing in our local newspaper that their premises had just been refurbished and now had 10 kennels in which to temporarily look after stray or abandoned dogs found in our borough.  They happen to be just down the road from where we live, so I offered them half a dozen white towels that I decided a few weeks ago that I didn't want any more, as I'm sticking to dark coloured towels from now on.  They seemed very keen to accept them for use in bathing or as bedding for the dogs they take in.  I must admit that I'm still trying to drop them off as it is a gated premises and I can't seem to get access.  If I have no luck next week, they may have to go to the charity shop instead. Hopefully, if I can finally deliver them, they'll be put to a very good use to help those poor dogs feel more comfortable during their stay.

Day Five - Yesterday it was time for my November/December Food Bank donation.  I'd collected together a box of food over the past few weeks and needed to deliver it to the Food Bank so that it could be distributed to people who need it.  I put a few seasonal treats in this time on account of Christmas being so close.  I've been making these donations for quite a while now, since reading about Food Banks on Jack Monroe's blog A Girl Called Jack.  I try to donate at least £10 per month and have recently started taking my donation in every two months, as opposed to every month, as it is a 12 mile round trip.

So that is the first five days of the challenge completed. I'm posting every five days about my advent give aways.  I am trying to vary the recipients and be as creative as I possibly can, to make it a bit more interesting and spread the love a little more.

Friday 5 December 2014

A Few Things Making Me Smile This Week

I thought I would start a new series of posts containing things that have made me smile in the past week.  It's nice to look on the bright side of life sometimes and remember the positives.

This week my Christmas cactus has been making me smile every time I look at it on the kitchen windowsill.  It is covered in lovely flower buds and some of them are just starting to open up fully, displaying their beautiful and exotic looking flowers. 

Another thing that made me smile this week was when Little Bird came home from a Laser Cutting class at school the other night and showed me this super sweet Christmas tree decoration she had made.  I was so impressed (not with my photography though I'm afraid).  It is a little fragile, so I don't know if she will let me put it on the tree, but I secretly hope she does. 

The third thing that is making me smile this week and hopefully for the rest of the month, is my subscription to Courtney Carver's 31 Days of Presents You Deserve Virtual Advent calendar which is landing in my inbox and dispensing nuggets of minimalist wisdom and joy on a daily basis. (Slightly ironic considering my shopping day yesterday!)  A little treat just for me.  Check out Courtney's blog Be More With Less if you're interested in subscribing or giving a subscription as a gift to someone else.  The other day I spent part of the afternoon listening to the Festive Jazz Classics playlist that she included, which got me feeling very festive indeed.

Thursday 4 December 2014

A Day to Myself

Lately, I seem to have been crazy busy working on my small business, posting orders out, getting stock ready for sale, etc. etc., and then suddenly I hit a day yesterday when everything went very quiet.  I still made a couple of sales, but it was much quieter than it has been for weeks.  I was a bit unsure what to do with myself, so intense had it been for the past month. Initially, I felt a bit deflated and disappointed, as although I'd had a record month last month in terms of sales, I'd set myself a target this month, for a very good reason and I began to panic about whether I'd meet it.

Anyway, fast forward a day and I decided I needed to have a break and separate myself a little to get things back into perspective and take my mind of things, as nothing ever happens when you are waiting for it.   I decided to take myself off for the day to our local mall to finish off a few bits of Christmas shopping.  I very rarely do this for a whole day or afternoon, maybe once every six months, usually when I go to have my hair done, so I figured I deserved it.  Although I've been a couple of times recently en famille, I wasn't able to get a few stocking fillers that I needed, as it would have been too obvious to the intended recipient.  In addition, I've tended to be restricted by time constraints due to the expensive parking or having to please everybody rather than just go where I pleased.  This visit, however, was going to be different, as I was going on the bus and going alone, and I could visit whichever shops I felt inclined to visit without worrying too much about time.   I really enjoyed it, save for it taking an hour instead of 15 minutes to get there on the bus, due to it not turning up for 35 minutes and then having some technical problem which further delayed the journey.

When I finally got there, I headed off into the mall and had a mooch around a few shops.  OH had asked me to look out for something he could give me for Christmas, so I had some money to spend on myself which was nice.

I did a few bits of Christmas shopping and bought myself a few bits of inexpensive gym gear in Primark.  Although the sports wear in Primark is very inexpensive, I have bought several pieces in the past and I find it very functional and wears incredibly well after washing.  I would definitely recommend it.  I also managed to find myself another great sports bra in M&S, which I've been looking for for ages, so I was really pleased with that.  I've already got a very similar one which I really enjoy wearing and which is so comfortable and supportive, so I am really pleased to get hold of another, as they seemed to discontinue it for a while.  It's amazing how things such as these make a very big difference in my life.   As most readers probably know, I spend a fair amount of my time working out each week, so I need to replace my workout gear quite regularly as it really takes a pounding.  To me this is essential and unavoidable expenditure, as I spend half my week in it. 

I then decided to head to Waitrose on my way out to catch my bus.  It was on the way that I stumbled across a 50% off sale in Jones the Bootmakers, so I just couldn't resist going in for a look.  I'm really glad I did too, as I found a lovely pair of black leather biker boots in the sale, which look great and feel really comfortable.  So that was my Christmas present sorted.  They are going to be added to my new capsule wardrobe and will hopefully be worn very regularly this winter.  I can't wait to be given them now and be able to wear them. 

I ended my shopping trip with the visit to Waitrose.  I rarely shop here as I do find they are quite a bit more expensive than my usual supermarket Lidl, but I had a  voucher to get £8 off a £40 shop with my My Waitrose membership, which was going to expire next week, so I thought I'd use it and get some things in for Christmas.  I bought us a lovely half leg of organic lamb (we're not having turkey this year), some sausages in bacon, some chorizo, mixed nuts in shells and Wensleydale cheese with cranberries, in addition to a few bits of grocery shopping that I needed.  I was limited to what could be frozen or would keep well until Christmas, but I was pretty pleased with my shop and everything is now in the fridge or freezer set aside for Christmas.  This does of course mean that my Christmas food shopping bill will be quite a bit smaller, which is good news.  We often do treat ourselves by shopping at Waitrose at Christmas, so the voucher couldn't come at a more perfect time.

It was good to get out and about for a day.  I do sometimes miss the hustle and bustle of Christmas a little bit when I've done most of my shopping so early.   Sometimes it is nice to get out in the throng of Christmas shoppers, especially if you haven't got to frantically seek out too many presents for people.