Tuesday, 31 May 2016

May Budget Roundup

May has been a pretty normal, straightforward month.  I didn't have a lot of extra expenditure, save for OH's birthday, which okay is a pretty major one, but I had planned for it so didn't overspend and leave myself short.

In the end, I bought him at a new pair of cycling club shorts which he needed and was very happy with, a boxed set of the first two seasons of Game of Thrones (which I spotted new and unopened at the CS) for only £6, lots of consumables, i.e. coffee, biscuits, dark chocolate, wine, etc, which he loves, bamboo socks (you can never get too many pairs of socks and he wears them out pretty quickly!) and a book.  He is I might add, very easily pleased and was more than happy with these gifts.

On the food budget front, I came in a little over budget on food this month.  We did eat out a couple of times which OH paid for, but saving over £30 by using some Tesco £7 and £10 off £70 spend vouchers did help minimize any overspend too.  I've got a couple more left to use in June and then it will be back to using nectar points, if I've accumulated enough.

I brought some leftover bits and pieces of food away with us to Yorkshire, so when we stocked up the camper van today, I only spent about £30 on groceries such as fruit, salad, milk, bread, pasta etc., which should last us a few days, as there was no point getting more food when there isn't the room to store it.

On the household/petcare/toiletries front this month, once again I went over budget, due to multiple reasons.  OH had a cycling accident and needed lots of dressings buying for some serious grazes. They are almost completely healed by the time of writing this though.  I bought some plants and seeds for the new vegetable beds, some essential oils on offer Buy One Get One For One Penny at Holland and Barrett and the purchase of the new supplements and vitamins were quite costly too.  I also had small household/toiletry product splurges in Poundland and Home Bargains this month, which added to the costs.  In total I was £30 or so over on this budget.

I've also started a new budget category, which is for my wish list. I've set it at £100 per month, so that I limit my needs and wants on a monthly basis.  This category includes clothes, stationery and other items from my own personal wishlist. (Although these can and do include household items such as linen, crockery, etc.).  I went over slightly on this budget by about £20, partly because of buying the new shoe bench, but I don't regret it, as it means that I am getting to the point where there isn't very much left on the wish list, which is a great feeling.

I was pretty happy with how things went this month, despite going over my budgeted amounts.  I find that although I don't always stick strictly within the budget, having a figure does help to curtail unnecessary spending. I am looking forward to a new month, in which hopefully even less money needs to be spent.  I might even be able to start saving some money in the very near future.

Wouldn't that be something!

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Deep Cleaning Our Living Rooms - Part Two

In a final push before we pack and head off to Yorkshire today, yesterday I continued with the deep clean of the living rooms.  I'd started on the front room on Thursday after completing the back room and by 7pm when I finally gave up for the day, I had got about two thirds of the way around the room, so it was just a case of finishing off.

I'd pulled out every bit of furniture and given it a good dust, clean or hoover, and then hoovered and mopped the floor where it had stood and wiped down the skirtings, before moving each piece back to it's original place. I'd also washed all of the throws and cushion covers and just needed to iron them and put them all back on.

OH and LB were out all day at an event, so I had the house to myself, save for the dog and so I gradually made my way around the remainder of the room.

I'm very pleased with the results. These rooms should now stay clean until our guests arrive a day or so after we get back form our break.  I may need to do a quick straighten up when we get back, but nothing more.

After completing the living rooms, I decided to brush away some cobwebs from the outside of the windows.  Armed with a soft sweeping brush, I managed to remove most of them, making the front of the house look a lot tidier.  I then de-cobwebbed, hoovered and mopped the hallway too.

When we get back next weekend, I just need to clean LB's room, (where our guests will be staying) the bathroom and the do a quick clean and tidy of the kitchen before their arrival on Monday.

At least I can now sit back, relax and enjoy our week away, safe in the knowledge that the house is virtually guest ready, the bulk of the necessary housework and preparations having been done.

Have a great Bank Holiday Weekend, everyone in the UK.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

A Half Term Break

Today, marks the start of the school half term here in London, and tomorrow we are heading up to Yorkshire for a week's break.  We're borrowing OH's parents' camper van/mobile home for a few days, for the first time, and we're heading off on a road trip over the North Yorkshire Moors and coast.

We're quite excited to be doing another camper van trip, our last one was in California/Nevada a few years ago. There's nothing like taking off, knowing that you have everything you need in your vehicle and you are completely self sufficient for a few days.  No having to stay over at other people's houses or in hotels and B&B's, we'll be like snails with our home on our backs. (You know what I mean!)

The absolute best thing about this, is that we can also stop off where we please and go for a walk or cook lunch in the van.  They're the best bits for me, that feeling of being itinerant and going where our whims and fancies take us and not being answerable to anyone or anything.

It should also be quite a frugal break this week, as we will stock up on food before we set off and cook/eat as we go.  We may have to pay a few site fees and parking fees and there will, of course, be the petrol to pay for, but otherwise, we shouldn't have too many expenses.

The dog will be coming too, so there will be no doggy care to pay for, like when we go abroad.  We miss her when we go away and she doesn't come, so we vowed to take more holidays in the UK, so that she could come with us.  It will be her first time in a camper van.  I'm sure she'll love it, because she just likes being with us and being out in the countryside.

One of the main reasons why we are economising and taking holidays like this, is because we're hoping to have some building work done on our kitchen in the next year, extending it into the side return to widen it. As a consequence, we are being as careful as possible, in an attempt to save up to pay for the work.

We will be visiting some relatives on route for the odd night, which will be good too, especially for LB, as she will get to hang out with her cousins for a while.

In the meantime, I'd better break from the day dreaming and get on with some more cleaning, so that the house is ready for our forthcoming guests when we get back next weekend.

I will try to blog whilst we're away, and do a photo tour of the van and our travels if I can, once we get settled into it. I will also be able to continue to read blog posts this week, as OH has bought us a new dongle to enable us to connect to the internet whilst on our travels.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Deep Cleaning the Living Rooms - Part One

On Wednesday evening this week, in readiness for our visitors from New Zealand, who are arriving in just over a week's time, I decided to start deep cleaning our living rooms.

We have two adjoining reception rooms. The one at the front of the house is the main living area, where we sit to watch TV.  There's a lot of furniture in this room, compared to the back room, but it does help to make it feel cosy.

The room at the back is where we have the wood burning stove and where I tend to dry my washing indoors.

We don't often sit in this room, it tends to mainly be used for bike storage and laundry on a day to day basis.

I began the deep cleaning process on Tuesday night by doing a bit of a declutter in both rooms.  I've been meaning to do this for a while. First to go was the video recorder/player, as we just don't use it and all the videos we have are pretty old and never get watched.  I untangled all of the cables and removed the player from the cabinet, rearranging what was left as I did so.

I then went to the entertainment/games cupboard and took out all of the old videos and any DVD's we no longer wanted to keep. I amassed quite a pile, which were removed to a box for the next Give and Take.

The next day I began the deep clean in the back room, by getting out the ladders and starting to clean the bookshelves from top to bottom on my side, taking off all of the books that were on them.  There were only a few to declutter because I regularly look through them and pull out ones that I no longer want to keep.

I removed any cobwebs that might be lurking on the ceiling and washed down the shelves before putting all of the books back.  I honestly can't remember when I last deep cleaned these shelves, possibly a good few years ago, so it felt good to do it.

Here's the before:

One side of the chimney houses mainly my books and the other side are OH's books and our vinyl. OH's side is a bit chaotic.  He doesn't like to order his books by size or category or anything, so they were crammed in any which way, making it a bit of a mess.

On Thursday afternoon I took everything off the shelves on OH's side and tried to create some order. I even got him to part with quite a few books, which was a bonus. Here's a picture of what he decided to part with.

I was very proud of him, as he hates letting go of books. They were duly added to the new and rapidly growing G&T pile.  Here's the end result of cleaning both sets of shelves.

The chest of drawers on my side also got pulled out and polished and I hoovered and mopped the alcove before putting it back.

I then stripped and washed the covers on our old and very large IKEA sofa (pictured above).  I'd love new covers for this, but it is a model that has been discontinued for many years. Although very large, it is very comfortable for lying on, which is why we've kept it. I pulled it out and cleaned underneath and behind it, before finishing off by hoovering and mopping the rest of the floor in this room.

It was very satisfying to finish deep cleaning this room and to know that all of the dust and cobwebs have been banished for the time being. In my next post in this short series, I will document progress in the front living room.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Getting On The Right Track

In April last year, I decided that I was going to eat much more healthily and eat organic foods if possible, where the budget allowed. I've been doing this as much as possible and the store cupboard is now full of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit, which I snack on quite regularly and which I use to make our own granola and granola bars.

However, I haven't been cutting back particularly, as just the thought of being on a diet makes me want to eat, so needless to say, I haven't miraculously lost any weight.  I have in fact, put a little weight on, especially since our holiday in Tenerife, when we ate out quite a bit, and shifting it again is hard work.

Despite attending numerous exercise classes every week, walking the dog daily and now getting out to the CS twice a week, where I'm not able to graze from the kitchen cupboards, the pounds are not shifting and I'm starting to get a bit despondent.

I think a lot of the problem is metabolism and the fact that mine has slowed down considerably as I've got older, so that despite exercising regularly, weight just doesn't come off very easily.  I also know that it's definitely not going to get any easier as I get older still and have decided this month that I am going to do something about it.

It was recommended to me a few months ago, by someone at the gym, that what worked for her when she lost weight was drinking hot water and lemon first thing in the morning.  As a starting point, I've decided that I'm going to give this a go, (when I remember!) as I've read that it gives the metabolism a kick start into burning calories.

I tried it for the first time the other week, before supper (as opposed to first thing in the morning), and I must admit that it did seem to help me avoid wanting a dessert or to snack after my evening meal, which was progress.  I'm hoping this is a good sign and have bought some lemons in the weekly shop this week, in order to continue the practice.

In addition, I'm going to invest in some dietary supplements that I've also read good things about. I've been dabbling with one or two for a while now, but not really taking them all that regularly, so I obviously haven't seen any obvious results.

I did start to see some results from one in particular, but then decided that it was just too difficult to take, as the tablet was huge and impossible to swallow without a struggle. After researching on the internet, I've come up with a liquid replacement for the huge tablets and I've ordered a bottle and find it so much easier to take, so it is working well from that point of view.  It's very early  days to say whether it is having any desired effect, but I'll keep you posted.

I've also found another supplement that is supposed to help support normal thyroid function and in addition encourage more efficient metabolism.  As I've mentioned here before, I have a hypoactive thyroid and take thyroxine to boost my thyroid function. This supplement I think can be taken alongside in small doses, to provide extra support and I've read rave reviews about it's effects from people who've taken it and who also take thyroxine, so I'm quite looking forward to seeing if I get any positive results.

More so, as I've had some other particular problems lately, that I think are connected to my thyroid and I'm hoping this will help rectify them too. I will, of course, also be seeking my doctor's opinion on these problems, as I will need to get my thyroxine levels checked very soon and I will probably take the opportunity to ask his advice on the supplements at the same time.

I realise that nothing beats a balanced diet, which I believe I eat, and that there's a whole industry out there whose raison d'etre is to convince you that you need to take this and that.

Having said this, I have genuinely come to believe that I've just got to a stage in life where my body just needs the bit of extra help that some of these products can offer me, and although it means spending a bit of cash, I'm happy to give it a try and see if I get any results.

The products themselves have mostly very natural ingredients, so I'm happy from that point of view, and I don't think they have any serious side effects, so if I can benefit from them I am happy to proceed.

Does anyone else take any dietary supplements?  If so, how effective do you find them to be? I'd be interested to hear your experiences.

Monday, 23 May 2016

A Few Favourites

It's been a while since I've posted any favourites, mainly due to not really purchasing too much of interest, but this past month I've made a few small purchases that are proving very useful on a day to day basis.

The first is this ecoffee cup that I purchased for use when I go to the CS.  I suffer from cold sores from time to time, and don't like to share cups, mugs, etc., as I don't want to pass on the virus. 

Although I don't have a cold sore at present, I'm mindful that one could strike at any time, so I decided to buy my own cup for making drinks at the shop and for use on the way if I don't have time to make breakfast.  

This one cost £6.99, which although sounds a lot, using it for home made cups of tea or coffee, can very easily save you money if you regularly buy drinks on the go, which I don't incidentally.  

What I like about it is that it is light to carry in my bag, made from bamboo and some sort of rubber or silicone, so is eco friendly, washes easily and is really easy to use. It also seems to keep your drink warm for a good length of time.  I like the look of it too, which I know is a little fickle, but aesthetics are important to me. I've used it for the past week and it's working well for me.

Along similar lines, I also bought this reusable sandwich pouch from Ethical Superstore with my last order.  It is washable, although I haven't needed to wash it yet.  It fits a sandwich perfectly, although it can be used for other foods, such as loose nuts, crisps, rice cakes, etc.  Again, very handy for taking a sandwich with me to the shop, light, non bulky and saves waste.  It cost £5.06, which again might sound quite expensive, but I intend to use it for quite a long time to come and I like the design.

On the beauty front, I've recently been using a new shower gel.  I found this natural brand at TK Maxx a few weeks ago and bought a couple of bottles.  It was £3.99 for 300ml, contains only  natural ingredients, has lovely packaging and is working well for me.  I'm currently using the Rosehip,Ylang Ylang and Chamomile scent, but I also have one in Peppermint, Rosemary and Green Tea to use next. The only down side of this brand is that it is a New Zealand brand, so the air miles involved will be ridiculous, but you can't always have everything I guess.

On the food front, I picked up a bag of these Kale Chips in TK Maxx the other day, whilst looking for a birthday present for OH.  They were reduced by half to £1, which although expensive for crisps, I was curious to try them.  I was very pleasantly surprised by the taste, which was Indian Spice flavour and they were lovely and crispy.  They are dehydrated as opposed to baked, so contain much less fat. I'm not sure if I'd buy them again, save as a very expensive occasional treat, but they are very tasty.

I've also invested in a few vitamin and mineral supplements this month, by way of attempting to speed up an excruciatingly slow metabolism caused by my thyroid problems.  I may do a separate post on these at some point, if I have any positive results as a consequence of taking them.

On the viewing front, I've got a new Netflix favourite for anyone interested, a French series called 'Marseille' starring Gerard Depardieu. It's a political drama centred on the city of the title. It is subtitled, but very good.  I'm also waiting for the second series of 'Bloodline' to start on Netflix later this month. This is a family saga set in the Florida Keys, which inspired our trip last summer.  I'm hoping it will be available on British Netflix this month and not just in the US.

On British TV I'm enjoying the new series entitled 'Obsessive Compulsive Country House Cleaners', because I'm nosy and like to see how the other half live, (not always spotlessly cleanly) and because it does help to motivate me to do a bit of cleaning in my own house.

That's it for this month, that I can think of.  I'll post again when I can think of any other favourites.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

A Few Teething Problems

As with anything new, quite often a few teething problems are experienced.  In the case of our garden vegetable beds, we've had our share.

The beds themselves are fine, very solid and sturdy, but initially we did get plagued by cats using them as litter trays and by foxes living in a nearby den, who play in them at night.

The first bed was messed up by foxes as soon as I'd planted my salad seeds, which caused them to be spread a little from their straight lines.  Quite a lot of cat faeces also had to be removed in the first few days, at which point I bought the chicken wire from Poundland to stretch across, stretch being the operative word as it almost didn't fit.

In the case of the second bed, once we'd filled it with soil, I immediately rushed out and bought some sweetcorn plants, as I wanted to get them in as soon as I could, so they had as long a growing season as possible. Lo and behold, the same night, due to the fact I didn't cover the bed, the foxes were in there and churned almost half of them up, breaking the stems and roots.  I was really disappointed and the very next day bought this piece of trellis from another pound shop (for £2) to deter them.

A week later and it seems to have worked.  The remaining plants are settling in, although some of them still look a little knarled and probably won't make it.  I do have some replacements left over.

The paths have also had their own problems. The dog running up and down being a major one, which constantly redistributes the mulch. This is easily remedied by a bit of raking, so it's not really a serious problem.

The fabric underneath the paths, however, was also causing a problem, as where it overlaps, we didn't pin it down and the mulch finds it's way under the overlap.  We have  rectified this problem this weekend, by using these pins I bought on eBay.  They're intended for laying artificial grass, but should work for this project without causing large holes in the fabric.

It did get me thinking that perhaps artificial grass might have been a better option for the paths, but we'll see how things go. We can always replace the mulch at a later date if need be. OH has now secured the overlapping fabric for me and it now looks a lot better and the problem hopefully shouldn't recur.

On a brighter, more positive note, my salad seedlings are coming on a treat as you can see from the picture of the first bed above, still very small, but lots of them. The foxgloves that I left to flower are also now delivering some colour and look very pretty. Worth waiting for I think. I'll almost be sorry to dig them out when we finally finish this corner of the garden.  I may sow some in a pot that I can place here, by the bench, when I get it.

Thus far, the total budget has come in at £375, which although a lot of money, we feel is a good investment in making the garden more practical and productive for our needs.  If we'd employed landscape gardeners to do the work, I'm sure it would have cost at least 3 times this amount, if not more, so to us it feels like a saving of several hundred pounds.

Talking of landscape gardeners, the fences built by them a few years ago when we did get them in, were starting to deteriorate and needed a few repairs, especially the one from which the gate hangs. OH took care of these repairs yesterday.  In all fairness, the gate has been used very heavily, being opened and shut many times to let the dog into and keep her out of the different halves of the garden, so some wear and tear is to be expected.

Ironing out these teething problems has been our job for this weekend.  Nothing too strenuous, but it will hopefully improve things on a day to day basis.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

A Long Awaited Resolution to a Storage Problem

For a couple of years now, I've wanted to resolve an issue of storage in the hallway just outside of the kitchen. It is here that we hang our coats, kick off our shoes (well OH does, I keep most of mine upstairs in the wardrobe) and leave our umbrellas, in addition to being where I keep my ironing board.

Here's the current scenario.  I've been using this basket for shoe storage for 4 or 5 years now, and at first I liked it, but more recently I've begun to think it looks very messy.  Shoes and boots get thrown in and then more get thrown on top of them and they get squashed, dirty and gather dust.

In addition, the basket, which I bought from a charity shop, is a little large for the space and obstructs access to the basement office and has been chewed by the dog on numerous occasions, so is starting to look scruffy.

I decided, probably two years ago, that I wanted a shoe bench of some kind to store shoes in and had earmarked one that was not too expensive in the Tesco Direct catalogue. It cost around £80, which was affordable, but I never prioritised buying it and two years later they seem to have stopped selling it altogether.

I saw another option in a Sunday Newspaper, but it was £200-£300, which was far more than I wanted to pay at this present time, so I'd more or less put the idea on hold, just as it was becoming one of the last things on my wish list.

On Saturdays, on my way to the gym, I pass a second hand furniture shop, and this Saturday, I saw that they were selling a slatted wooden bench.

On my way home after the class, I decided to take a closer look at it. It was in pretty good condition, about the right size for the space where it needs to go and wasn't offensive to my sensibilities and when I  found out it was just £35, I decided on the spot to buy it.  I put it in the car and brought it home.

Later after lunch, I set to cleaning out the shoe basket to enable me to put the bench in it's new spot.  I threw out a few pairs of shoes that don't get worn any more and transferred the remainder into the new bench, which I'd given a wipe down and cleaned with beeswax polish.  It came up quite well and everything that I needed to, fitted in. After thinning out the coats too, the area looks a lot more tidy.

Here it is in it's new home.  It's not exactly what I wanted, but I like the fact that it has a lid, so we can sit on it to fasten shoes, etc., it's a little smaller than the basket, so allows easier access to OH's office, and better still I can hoover and mop underneath it more easily than the basket.  It will be interesting to see how easily we get used to it, but I like the new look it has given my hallway and I can finally cross this item off my wishlist.

All that I now need to do here, is find an alternative home for the ironing board (more in another post) and find an alternative umbrella storage solution as I'm not keen on this 50's style one.  I'm thinking in terms of something large and ceramic, but that doesn't take up any more space than the present one.

The basket that has been removed, is now going to be re-purposed in the garden, as I am going to fill it with compost and plant into it, possibly herbs. It will probably eventually rot away and come to the natural end of it's life, but will create a pretty planter until then.

I'm very happy with my 'spur of the moment' purchase, which has saved me some money that can now be spent on the other storage solutions for this area.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Getting Back to Some Cleaning

Lately, I've been neglecting my house.  What with starting  to volunteer at the CS two days per week and then doing work on the garden beds, the house got very little attention.

I've carried on doing the daily and weekly necessary things such as washing up, emptying the dishwasher, washing, ironing and putting away clothes, etc., but not much else.

This week, inspired by the new series Obsessive, Compulsive Country House Cleaners on Channel 4 on Tuesday night, I thought I'd get back to getting my house in order. We've also got visitors coming from New Zealand in a few weeks, so I thought I'd better make a start, as their arrival will come around all too soon.

I've done an extra shift at the CS this week, because the manager was going away and needed some extra help to get everything done before she went, so this left only Thursday afternoon to get anything done at home, as I go to a class at the gym in the morning, so as soon as I'd had some lunch I got started.

After watching a YouTube video of someone cleaning their kitchen, I was inspired to start with a thorough clean of the oven, which was in  a pretty bad state. I did clean it with a chemical cleaner when I did the kitchen deep clean earlier in the year, but to be honest it didn't really get rid of a lot of the baked on food on the oven bottom and this time I wanted to tackle it using natural products, as the smell of the chemical ones last time was horrible and put me off.

This was the oven before, pretty disgusting really.  (Not a great picture I'm afraid!)

I did as I'd seen in the video and filled a roasting tray with baking soda, water and vinegar and a squirt of lemon juice, put the oven on high and left it for an hour to try to loosen the grime.  I also put the same natural ingredients directly onto the oven bottom.

In the intervening time, I took all the parts off  the stove top and cleaned them, filters included, and then I set to scrubbing one of the oven's wire shelves with a brillo pad.  I know this isn't exactly natural, but as near as I could get for this job.

Once the oven was switched off, I scrubbed the other wire tray and the oven bottom as best I could. Several brillo pads and a lot of elbow grease later, I'd done what I could to bring the oven up to scratch. I was pretty pleased with the results though.

It's not perfect, but is much, much better and I'm going to try to keep on top of it more in the future, so it doesn't get quite so bad.

Next job for the afternoon, was hoovering and dusting the bedroom. I'd spied quite a few large dust bunnies lurking this morning and they needed to be banished and the surfaces dusted.

Once I got going, I decided to expand the hoovering to cover all of the upstairs rooms and the stairs, as they hadn't been done for a few weeks.  It's amazing what a difference just doing a few jobs made.

It felt good to get back to spending some time looking after my home and I'll no doubt be doing a lot more cleaning of it over the next couple of weeks, to get it ship shape and ready to receive our visitors.  I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Sowing Sunday

Sunday, I decided not to head to the gym for my class and stayed home instead.  OH had the car to go to a cycling event and neither LB or myself fancied the bus trip across town to the gym, so I cancelled.

As we'd picked up some compost from the garden centre the night before, on our way out for something to eat, I decided to spend the morning in the garden sowing seeds.  OH had tipped a couple of bales of compost into the second bed, so that is now full enough and ready for planting up. I just don't have any plants to put in at the moment, hence the seed sowing, as I don't want to buy all of the plants.

I am intending to buy some sweetcorn plants, as I've seen some in a local shop priced at £4 for a tray of 12. I sowed courgettes, cucumbers, fennel, peppers, a few sunflowers and sweet peas into small pots in the greenhouse.

I also filled the recycling bin with compost and sowed some turnips, beetroot and broccolli into this. This should give me enough plants to keep me going both at the allotment for the remains of this season and for the garden at home. I just need to buy some climbing french or runner bean seeds to sew into the second bed and the sweet corn plants and I'm done.

I'm hoping to make the second bed into a kind of three sisters bed, with beans, sweetcorn and courgettes/cucumbers growing up and around each other. I'm not sure if this will work, but I've always wanted to give it a try.

We also bought some tomato plants at the garden centre, which I rarely do, as I usually get them from a local shop.  What sold me was that they were selling trays of six small plants, all of which were a different variety.

I've now potted them up in the greenhouse and I've got one each of Gardener's Delight (baby red), Valencia (regular red), Roma (small plum red), Marmande (beef tomatoes), Sun Gold (small yellow) and Alicante (also regular red), so this should give me a good selection of different fruit if they all survive, and help make my salads a little more interesting.

I remembered yesterday, that I'd bought a block of coir compost from Oxfam back before Christmas, so I decided to hydrate it, to make a large bucketful and this is what I used to sew most of the seeds into. It's the first time I've used it and it seemed to work quite well. As seeds don't tend to need an overly nutritious blend of compost, because they hold all the nutrients they need to start growing, it should be perfect for germination.  Let's hope so anyway.

A productive weekend in the garden that's got me up to date with regard to the vegetable growing side of things.  Now I can sit back and just watch things grow for a couple of weeks.

By the way, if anyone wants a packet each of Leek (Musselburgh), Aubergine (Black Beauty) and Pointed Green Cabbage (Greyhound) seeds with a sow before date of Nov/Dec 16, please leave an email address and I'll contact you for an address to send them to.  I won't be sowing these as we don't eat them, so they are free to a good home. UK only though I'm afraid.

Almost There

This weekend, as the weather was fine, our time was spent in the garden again.  OH bought 12 bags of lovely chunky bark mulch on Saturday morning, which cost about £60 in total and after a bit more fox proofing under the shed where they had dug their way into the garden, we were ready to lay most of the mulch on the paths that I'd previously covered.

Here are the beds with the mulch laid.

There's still the final  patch to cover and mulch, but we'll need to get a few more bags of mulch for that.

Whilst OH laid the mulch, I took the opportunity to sort through my little greenhouse and get it ready to plant some tomato plants into and sow some pots of seeds.  I sorted through every little thing in there and got rid of quite a bit, either to donate to the next Give and Take or take to the tip.  It looks a whole lot better and is now completely set up for the growing season.

I also decided to use some succulents I bought at a car boot sale last summer, to top up my pots, which were dying off. A couple of them still look a bit sorry, but I'm hoping they'll rally with a bit of sunshine. I made a new succulent/cacti pot from an old collander too.

We also recommissioned an old watering can with a split rose for use, by strapping the rose on with a cable tie.  It leaks a little, but I don't mind that, as at least the rose now doesn't fall off when you use it. 

Finally, I found an old disused recycling box with a net lid, that I've decided I'm going to use as another growing container.  I'm  not sure what I'm going to put in it yet, but I'll think of something.

Things are looking a lot tidier, but the final aerial reveal from LB's bedroom might be a couple more weeks away, when we finally landscape the last patch and make a seating area.  I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

A Better Day and a Trip to the Give and Take

Following my terrible day yesterday, today was much better.  I would just like to apologise for sounding off on my blog about it, but thank you so much for your kind and constructive words of support.  I feel much better today and am getting back on with things at home.

Today, incidentally, was the day of the Give and Take and the pile of items in the spare room that I needed to take was calling my name as soon as I'd got out of bed and got dressed.

OH had headed out with the dog in the car to go for a walk and to get some mulch for the garden, so in readiness for his return, I stacked everything in the hallway, ready to put into the car and go.  Here it all is.

Quite an obscene amount of stuff. If this is what I managed to find to donate in just a few months of sorting, it scares me to think how much more stuff is still left to uncover.

In addition, there was this IKEA table top and legs that we removed from LB's bedroom back in February and has sat in the living room ever since.

The spare room now looks much better and I can actually pretty easily walk between the bed and the fireplace now, for the first time in two months.

There's still the one box to take to a local CS, but I'm planning on doing that as soon as I get the chance.  At least now the next round of decluttering can begin, starting in this room and the living room. Bring it on.

All of the above items were taken to the Give and Take, and although I did promise to take some photos at this one, I was well on my way before I realised I'd forgotten the camera.  I will definitely do so at the next one, which should be in the summer, as I'm sure I'll have more items to take by then. I  was just a bit too stressed this time around too, as I was on a tight schedule to drop everything off and then get to the gym for my Saturday morning class.

Friday, 13 May 2016

A Bad Day at the Office

Friday, wasn't a good day for me.  I was running late and due to having to top up my travel card, I narrowly missed my usual train, making me a few minutes late to the CS (for the first time ever).

Normally, this wouldn't be a problem, but another member of staff was running even later and so the shop was a little late opening (only a few minutes) with people knocking on the door.

Then there was a small rush of people who came in and two members of staff rang in, one of whom was the Manager with some instructions for the day, as she was unwell and wasn't coming in until later.

I have to admit, I felt a bit flustered with everything going on at once, although I tried to keep calm and be polite to everyone. Once off the phone, things calmed down somewhat, although the shop did remain busy all day.

The problem was that immediately after this busy time, someone spoke to me quite rudely and in a manner that I didn't like too much.  Now I'm quite easy going and don't jump to my own defence very quickly.  I often tend to suck it up and find that it's only later that I feel upset about it, when I've got time to think about it more and today was one of those days.  I know this isn't a healthy way to deal with things and to stand up for yourself at the time is much better, but I'm not very good at it, if I'm honest.

Consequently, by the time I got home, I was feeling very upset about the whole days events and how they unfolded. I don't think I'm being overly sensitive, but if I get the impression that someone is unnecessarily putting me down or trying to put me 'in my place', I find it hard to shake it off.

I wasn't trying to take charge or any such thing, I was just passing on some information and I didn't feel I deserved the treatment that was dished out to me (and from a much younger person, although this isn't really the issue, it was the manner in which it was said).

I didn't mention that I was upset by what was said and I'm not sure whether the person responsible, or the other person present realised, but it has definitely made me a lot more cautious around certain people in the shop.  I am happy to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I won't be talked down to and treated like an imbecile or a naughty child, when I'm only trying to do my best to be helpful.

As it happened, the message that I tried to relay, despite being belittled, was subsequently misunderstood and incorrectly acted upon and when the manager arrived, I was made to look like I was incapable of communicating her wishes.  I wouldn't mind so much, but she specifically asked to speak to me, so I wasn't trying to muscle in or anything.  Perhaps that was the problem.

I've decided to try to keep right out of it from now on and just go in and do as I'm told, (although that is what I was doing today). Obviously, I inadvertently trod on someone's toes and got a bit of a kicking in return.

Politics, who needs it!

Thursday, 12 May 2016

More Garden Prep

Today, has been a pretty productive day for me, for a change.  I think I'm finally getting into some sort of routine now I've been at the CS a month or so and on the days I'm not there, I try hard to get on with as many jobs as I can in the house or garden, so that at least it feels like I'm progressing from one week to the next. 

After walking the dog and then heading off to the gym, I stopped off at my favourite local grocery store on the way home and picked up this 567g bag of Organic Cacao Powder on special offer for £7.49. 

I'd wanted to treat myself for a while and had bought a similar sized bag of Chia seeds the week before for even less, so I decided this week to take advantage of this being on offer.  It should take me years to get through this amount, but it was good value, as a 100g pack costs over £3 in a health food store.  

I also bought some almond milk, lemons (I've taken to drinking lemon juice in hot water to try to kick start my metabolism) and my favourite avocado and houmous dip. When I got home I whisked some of the cacao powder into some of the almond milk and chia seeds, ready to have for breakfast tomorrow before I go to the CS.  I need something decent for breakfast to try to help sustain me whilst I'm there. 

As it was still lovely sunny, after having some lunch I decided that I could no longer put off going for the manure, so I gathered some bags together and headed off to the horse riding stables.  It was nice to walk through the stables and see all of the horses.  The farrier was there giving some of them new shoes.  It amazes me that living so close to the centre of London, I still get to do things like this.  

It didn't take long to bag up the manure and when I got home, it went straight into the second bed and was mixed in with the bale of compost I bought yesterday.  We just need a couple more bales of compost now to finish off this bed and then it can be planted into.  I'm going to put beans, peas, courgettes and cucumbers in here, if I can fit them all in.  I've got to grow the plants from seed yet though.

A parcel had arrived for me while I was out and it was the weed suppressant fabric I'd bought on eBay, so I laid a bit more of it on the path in front of the bed. It wasn't quite as heavy duty as the roll I'd bought from B&Q, but it was plenty good enough for our project and was half the price.

There's just this small area where all these flowers are growing to do, but I'm going  to wait until they have all flowered before I dig them out and level it all off, as the white foxgloves will look very pretty when they flower.  

This is where I'm hoping to put a bench, but as I don't have one yet, there's no hurry and a few flowers will look nice in the mean time.  I may, of course, change my mind yet and decide to keep all or some of it as a flower bed.

Next, I decided to do another garden job, namely wash out all of my dirty plant pots from last season. I know that I'm very slack on this front, but I always leave them until a warm spring day, as it gets me outside and into the sunshine.  There was this box full, plus some others scattered around the greenhouse and garden.  

I got my washing station ready, which is LB's old baby bath filled with warm soapy water. and a bucket of cold water for rinsing.  This system works brilliantly for me, as the baby bath sits securely between the arms of this garden  chair.  I have to change the water a couple of times, but used it to wash out other boxes and bins, before pouring it down the drain.  The whole job took a good few hours to complete though, as I had to wash virtually every pot I owned.

Once washed, I stack all of the plastic pots by size and colour (I'm a bit of neat freak about this) and then they stack neatly into my old kitchen swing bin.  

Once I put the lid on, although it doesn't completely protect them from rain, it stops leaves and other debris getting inside, so they stay clean until I'm ready to use them. As you can tell, I'm all for re-purposing things in the garden.

It felt really good to get these jobs done today and once I've bought some potting compost, I will be ready to start sowing seeds and growing some of my own vegetable plants to go into the new beds. I'll post again when there's been more progress.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Another Wednesday Catchup

As mentioned last week, Wednesday has become my day to catch up with chores at home and in the garden. This morning, after doing some laundry and getting my kitchen in order, I headed off in the car with the dog, to go for a walk and then go on to B&Q to return a few items I'd bought last week, that we didn't actually need.

I stopped off at Poundland first, as I needed a few household bits and pieces.  It's amazing how needing a few bits and pieces can lead to you spending £20 in there.  Having said this, it did lead to a solution to a problem I've been having with the vegetable beds.

Since building them, we've had a few nocturnal visits from cats in the neighbourhood, who have been using one of them as a litter tray.  Now no offence meant here to cat owners, but the thought of their excrement being in the same place as our vegetables is a bit off putting, so I needed to find a solution to keep the cats off.

I'd thought about netting, but had heard stories of birds getting caught in it, which I certainly didn't want.  Anyway, I found some rolls of chicken wire in Poundland, that were (just) long enough to cover the beds, so bought a couple and when I got home I stapled them across the top of the beds. I'm hoping it works, at least until things really start growing. It's not the neatest solution and OH hates it, but at a cost of just £2, it's worth a try.

Here's a picture of the wire stretched across the beds, it was tight to get them to fit, so they are secured a little precariously to say the least. You can see that some of the seedlings are now showing through the soil.

Anyway, when I finally got to B&Q, I managed to return the fabric pegs that weren't suitable for our needs and a watering can hose that didn't fit our watering can, and used the refund to buy another bale of compost to fill the remaining bed. I also bought two grow bags for £2 each, to house this year's tomato plants in the greenhouse.  I just need the tomato plants themselves now, as I didn't grow any this year, and I'm set.

Later this afternoon, I was all set to venture out to the horse stables and fill four bags with manure, to also add to the second bed, when there was a torrential down pour, so the job was put off until tomorrow. It was interesting to witness that the chicken wire survived the onslaught of the rain, which was very heavy, which is a big plus.

I'm currently waiting for the extra weed suppressant fabric to arrive. I ordered it from eBay yesterday, so I'm hoping it will be here by the weekend and then I can complete that part of the project ready for when OH goes to buy the bark mulch.

I've decided that if I can remember, I'm going to keep a strict record of costs in building the beds and try to record harvests, so that I have some idea of when the beds will actually have paid for themselves in vegetables harvested.  It will be interesting to find out how quickly we are able to recover the cost of the construction in produce.  When you add in petrol to get to the allotment and yearly allotment fees once I give up my plot, I'm sure that this will happen much sooner than we think.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

The Garden Vegetable Beds Project Resumes

This weekend, we spent some more time landscaping the ground around our new vegetable beds.  I'd bought some heavy duty weed suppressing fabric during the week at B&Q and on Saturday afternoon, I set about laying it, whilst OH levelled the paths and filled in any holes or uneven parts.

I managed to get most of the way round.  I'd bought a cheap value staple gun (also from B&Q) and this does a great job of attaching the fabric to the bed edges and border edges in super  quick time, ensuring that no weeds grow up the sides of the fabric.  I used the same method on my allotment beds and it worked well.

I got almost all of the way round, but ran out of fabric for the last small stretch in front of the gate and under the cherry tree.  I'm going to order a short roll on eBay early next week and use it to complete the task next week.

I'm thinking of putting a bench under the cherry tree, where I can sit with a cup of tea and look over my vegetable beds or take a rest between planting and tending to them.  I've always wanted a bench in the garden and it seems as good a place as any to put one.  I'll have to look out for an inexpensive one on eBay.

I did sow some salad seeds into one of the beds on Thursday this week, the one we partially filled from the compost bin. I'd bought one bale of compost whilst I was at B&Q and this just about filled it, not right to the top, but high enough to start sowing into it.  We will probably add more organic matter over the course of the year.

We still need to fill the other bed, but I've discovered that you can fill your own bags with manure at the local riding centre for 50p per bag, so a few bags of that should go a long way, plus a couple of bales of compost on top, and we should be just about there.

The total budget  to date has been £220  for the wood, £20 for the weed suppressant fabric, £7 for compost and £5 for the staple gun, which comes to £252 in total.

I need to spent £9 for some more fabric, £14 for more compost and maybe £3 for manure, bringing the total to £278 and it should be finished save for the bark chips, which we're hoping to get either tomorrow or next weekend.

Here's a picture of the garden as it now looks and I'll hopefully be back with a full reveal next week.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Living With Less Stuff 2016

Once again, it's been a couple of months since I posted on the subject of this project, again mainly due to being away towards the end of March, so my regular end of month postings didn't happen.

In the last post of this kind I had reached 306 items donated this year, in my attempt at shedding at least another 500 items in 2016.  In March, I put aside another 89 items and in April I found a further 15, which now brings the total to 410.

Unfortunately, they are all still sat in the spare bedroom awaiting the next Give and Take date to be announced.  I've been scouring the local free newspaper waiting for an announcement, as I really can't wait to take them all.  In fact, I got so impatient, I actually went to the council website this month and found the date that way.  It's in two weeks time.  I just want the space back that all this stuff is taking up. As you can see from the photograph, the poor dressmakers dummy looks like she's just drowning in stuff.

In addition, we have some visitors coming to stay for a week in June, so I definitely need to get the spare room cleared by then and I still have a few sorting jobs to do in there, that are being hampered by this huge pile of donations.

It's proving an illuminating experience working in the charity shop, as it does alter your view of what you actually send as a donation to a charity shop. If things aren't in good condition, do people really want to buy them? I'm pleased that I am able to give things to these local events, and although they don't raise money for charity, they do help people in need and avoid things going into landfill, especially things that could still be used, but couldn't really be sold in a shop.

There is still a box of items in the pile, that I am intending to take to a local charity shop and I am definitely going to take it this month and not leave it sat there any longer.  Procrastination seems to be my middle name at the moment.

The pace of finding things to donate has definitely slowed down.  I am finding it increasingly difficult to find more items, which is a good thing, as it means I've more or less got our stuff down to an acceptable level. There are, however,  a few corners left that need to be purged, when I get the chance and a few more things sent on their way.  I just need to get back into decluttering mode.  I think it will help once this pile has gone, as I am currently loathe to seek out more things to add to it and then have to inch past them when I go into the room.  Roll on May 14th.

If I can, I will try to take some photos at the next Give and Take event and give you a taste of what they are like and the kind of things that get donated.  It all really depends on whether I can park nearby and go in for any length of time.  At least the next event is only 5 or 10 minutes up the road so it should be easy to find, unlike some I've attended.

I'll post again next month on progress with this project.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Enjoying the Bank Holiday Weekend

I really enjoyed this Bank Holiday weekend.  It's not that common for us to spend the weekend at home in London, as we often take advantage of the extra day to travel north and visit family, but for a change we decided to stay put.

It was also enjoyable to have a definite project to work on, as sometimes Bank Holidays can drag if you haven't got any plans or any visitors, so building the garden veg beds definitely helped to give the weekend a bit of structure and purpose.  It felt really good to get them built and really didn't take that long once the wood had been purchased and treated.

In addition to working on this project, we had a meal out on Sunday evening for a treat, I managed to empty the ironing basket of four loads of washing and get it all put away, OH managed a long cycle ride with his club, LB did some revision and I did a mammoth supermarket shop.  We hardly had anything in the house to eat, so on Monday I was forced to venture out and do my weekly shop.

I have to admit that it wasn't ideal doing it on a Bank Holiday Monday, but I was pleased to find lots of yellow stickered bargains, such as some free range chicken, my favourite brand of chicken sausages, some pizzas, strawberries and some breakfast items such as potato cakes, pancakes and crumpets, which I eat daily.

As a consequence, I fully stocked up the freezer and it should see us through a good part of the month.  I did of course spend more money than I anticipated, but this blow was softened by being able to use a £10 off voucher that I'd been sent from Tesco.  So it was a good start to the month on the grocery front.

I also collected an order I'd made on line for some whole foods from Holland and Barrett, which were on offer in their sale.  I added a few essential oils onto the order, as they were in the Penny sale, so I now have all of the fragrances I could ever need for making natural beauty products. It also enabled me to use my £1 voucher and I got free collection from a shop just around the corner too.

I didn't manage to do any exercise this weekend, other than gardening and walking the dog, mainly because of my neck, but also because I couldn't book some of the classes as they were full.  I'm making sure I book early this week though, as I need to get back to it.

All in all, we had a good weekend and feel relaxed and ready for the week ahead. I hope you had a good Bank Holiday weekend too.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Garden Project Progress

Well, since posting yesterday, some progress has been made on the vegetable beds, which have now been built and are in place in the garden.

Here's a picture of the garden after their construction.

As you can see, the garden project isn't completely finished. We're a bit undecided as to whether or not to add another plank to the top of each bed and make them even higher, as this would mean not having to bend down to sow into them, so we've left the posts slightly higher than the sides of the beds, to allow us to add on if we feel we want to at some point.

For now, we're going to see how we go with them at the current height, as building them higher means finding or buying more soil to fill them.

OH did a great job assembling the planks into two 1.5 m square beds, which was all that the garden could realistically accommodate. The wood he bought was very thick and substantial, and quite expensive, but should last for a good number of years.

He was going to dig the posts into the ground to hold it all in place, but once built the beds were very heavy, and there is no way that they are going anywhere any time soon, especially once filled, so he decided to just let them sit on the ground.

He managed to set the border edges into the ground too, which makes the beds much tidier and will prevent the spread of wood bark or gravel. We still need to buy this and lay some good quality weed suppressing fabric on the surrounding paths, to give it all a more finished look, but this will probably have to wait until another weekend.

We did start to fill the beds with growing matter this weekend, as our compost bin was full to the top and could be emptied straight into one of the beds.

Added to this were the contents of some old grow bags in the greenhouse from last year, and this has helped to minimise the amount of growing matter that we now need to buy, as well as help clear up the garden and greenhouse, ready for a new growing season. I can now use the compost bin again for my kitchen waste, as I haven't done this for a few months due to it being full.

A trip to the garden centre to get some bales of compost and a visit to the horse stables up the road for some well rotted manure is now on the cards in the next couple of weeks, as this would be a good way to fill and fertilise the beds ready for use.

So far, the project has cost about £220 for the wood alone, which although quite a lot, is worth it to have well built, sturdy beds to grow things in.  I'm sure it would have cost much more had we got landscape gardeners in to do the job, so I'm more than happy with the results.  I think the finished work in total might be in the region of £300 to £350, but this is still good value for such a transformation of the space, so that we can use it in a more productive way.

Although we could probably have finished it completely this weekend if we'd really pulled our fingers out, we took our time, didn't rush the job, and used some of the weekend for other pursuits as well. There's no particular hurry to get it finished, and now the bulk of the heavy work has been done, a lot of the rest I can do myself, as and when I have the time and the inclination.

I'll keep you posted with regard to further progress and once finished I'll take a photo from LB's bedroom upstairs, to give you a view from above of the new layout of the garden.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Bank Holiday Garden Project

This Bank Holiday, we decided that we would stay home in London and do some work on the garden. As I've mentioned in a previous post, we wanted to alter the garden, so that I can eventually give up my allotment and be able to grow the vegetables we need here at home.

The main reason for this is that after 10 years of allotmenteering I've begun to find traipsing to the allotment quite burdensome.  Don't get me wrong, I've loved having an allotment and realise that I've been very priviledged to rent one in London, but for the amount that I grow there, I could be growing it at home and not have to go far.  It's just time to move on and let someone else have a chance at a plot.

As LB is now a teenager, she rarely goes into the garden, so keeping it grassed seems pointless and is getting more difficult as the dog is now the main user of this space. She runs up and down wearing out the grass in the winter, leaving it looking like this as spring rolls around.

OH is fed up of re-turfing and re-seeding it, so we decided we would just get rid of it. Instead of the grassed area, I decided that I would like one or two large raised beds, into which I can plant salad crops or potatoes and other veg.  We want to make them quite deep so that the dog won't keep jumping into them or running across them and we intend to put chippings down over the rest of the ground, so that she can run around the beds.

I did originally want to get rid of the flower borders, but on one side I have some mature bushes that I like and that take very little maintenance, and on the other  a cherry tree and a couple of other plants that I want to keep and hence we need to just create a very slim border here.  Both borders, however, need an edge creating to stop the spread of the chippings.

As the Bank Holiday weekend was forecast to be a good one, and LB was busy revising for some exams at school, we decided to dedicate it to the garden and set about researching timber prices.  The best place by far was Selco, the trade builders merchants, to which OH has a card. So, on Saturday afternoon, (slow start I know, but it is the Bank Holiday!) he headed up there to buy the timber and posts needed to get started on the project.

In the meantime, I got down to pruning some of the bushes in the wider border to make more room for the beds to be installed. Unfortunately, I had woken up with a sore crick in my neck, which rendered me virtually useless for most of the day, but this job at least did get done, which was a start.

Here's a picture of the garden, before we got started.

I hadn't done any work in this part of the garden since last summer, so it was looking pretty unkempt, but hopefully we'll be able to knock it into some sort of shape by the time Tuesday rolls around.

Today, my neck is feeling much better, the wood has been cut to size and treated and we are ready to start building the beds. I'll keep you posted with progress.