Tuesday, 31 March 2020

More Garden Progress and a Few Financials

I did a bit more work in the garden the other day. Our raised beds were full of foxglove and forget me not plants that had self seeded and were preventing us from sowing some salad seeds.

As a consequence, and not wanting to waste good garden plants, I dug them out and put them into one of the borders to make a kind of woodland corner and used some to add a bit of colour to other areas. Notice I left the track the dog has made in the border unplanted. No point wasting my time, just for her to trample anything I put there to death.

Once cleared, OH could then add some compost from our hot bin and start sowing lots of lettuce seeds. He also made a few adjustments to the raised bed covers to prevent squirrels getting in and disturbing the seeds. We've had this problem for a few years now and last year they ruined all our seedlings, so we didn't actually manage to grow any lettuce in the garden. Hopefully, this year we'll have more luck.

As well as sowing lettuce seeds, OH also sowed lots of other seeds into trays and pots. They are currently residing on window sills in the kitchen now the weather has turned colder, but at least we've made a start to the growing season.

I also did a bit of re-potting of one indoor plant and a mulberry tree that we bought last year.  It desperately needed potting on, but now looks a lot happier.

I tackled the front path too.  It had layers of fallen leaves trodden into it.  I'll admit that I had to get a hoe to scrape the leaves off the concrete path, before I could sweep them up. It looked a lot better once done though and is much less slippery under foot as a consequence.

I now just need to tackle the end of the garden. As I've mentioned before, it is a bit of a dumping ground at the moment. I just want to clear it and maybe rearrange the paving stones to make it look a bit tidier. With DIY stores closed, there's not a lot else we can do for the moment.

I read today that £200 million worth of plants grown by nurseries will have to be destroyed this year, causing them to suffer from severe financial hardship. It breaks my heart to think of all those wonderful plants going to waste. So sad for the people who've grown them too.

Our financial situation isn't great at the moment, but we are relatively lucky.  I am being furloughed on 80% of my part-time salary for the next two months, or however long this lockdown lasts. I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones, who should hopefully still have a job at the end of this, although there is no guarantee of there not being redundancies and shop closures in the future.

OH on the other hand, who works for himself from home, is finding that the work is very much drying up. We are considering a mortgage break, which our mortgage allows anyway, to take the pressure off. Hence, my reduced salary will be much needed to see us through.

Fortunately, we are not spending much money being at home and having plenty of food already.  We just top up mostly fresh items each week. I think I am going to brave the supermarket this afternoon. OH went this time last week and said it wasn't too busy, so I'm hoping it will be the same this week.  I'm slightly nervous at the prospect, as I haven't been out anywhere, save to walk the dog locally, for over two weeks now. You very soon become very cosseted in your own home and become almost anxious about going out.

I've been trying to keep in touch with friends, some volunteers and work colleagues on a fairly regular basis. I finally joined Facebook recently, something I've resisted for years. It was mainly to view dance videos from some of the classes I used to do, but should prove useful whilst on furlough. I've just been notified that a new personal Facebook group for Shop Managers in our area has been set up, which is great, as we will all now be able to keep in touch during the furlough and know if everyone is ok, or support them if they are not.

I hope you are all keeping well and busy and managing during this challenging time.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

My Vintage Wardrobe - Part 1

It's been six months now, since I decided to revert back to wearing vintage clothing and I don't have any regrets so far. I'm just not tempted by modern clothing, unless it has a vintage feel, and many items do in the cyclical world of fashion, which is a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

I now feel that I've got a good selection of vintage clothes at my disposal.  There's a couple of things I don't have and am still hunting out, namely a flattering A line midi skirt and a vintage jacket, but to be honest a couple of coats I own have worked pretty well this winter. I'd also like to find a flattering pair of vintage trousers too, but it can take time to find something I like and enjoy wearing.

Just before Christmas, I paid a visit to a Charity shop on our local high street.  It was a small charity, set up by a local lady, who unfortunately died recently and as a consequence, the shop has now closed. I wasn't intending to go in, as I was just on my way to the opticians, but I saw that there was a 50% off sale advertised, so I couldn't resist a peek.

All told, I spent about £10 on 4 items of clothing including this amazing dress, which will be perfect for going dancing. 

It has a 1940's feel about it and is quite tight fitting, but is very stretchy and with the right underwear should look okay. It cost £3. I was so happy to buy this and add a bit of glamour to my wardrobe. 

I also bought this sweater from this shop. It's a modern sweater, but I felt had a kind of 40's feel to it.  I like to wear it over long sleeved blouses, such as this one I bought new from M&S in their sale for £8. It has a horseshoe print on it. The sweater also cost £3, which was a steal.

Talking of shirts/blouses, they have definitely become staple items in my new wardrobe.  I never used to wear shirts, but I really enjoy wearing them these days, especially in the winter with a sweater over the top. I have several short sleeved sweaters that look nice over the top of a blouse or collared shirt.

Another much worn recent purchase has been these lace up brogue ankle boots that I bought on eBay. They are so comfortable and I can painlessly wear them all day at work.  They are great to dance in too, as they allow a bit of swivel. I paid £8 for them and they look great with skirts and trousers alike.  They've needed re-heeling a couple of times, but recently I've found a local small shoe repair shop and they have put much more hard wearing heels on them that should last a lot longer, which is great, as I wear these daily and just love them.

I got a few Xmas presents from OH and LB this year that were vintage or vintage style.  My absolute favourite was a navy blue tweed wool Miss Marple scarf. Here's the same scarf but in a different colour. I liked it so much and wore it so much, that I decided to invest in two more. One teal, one black.

I've worn one almost every day since Christmas. They are handmade and were all bought from the same seller on Etsy.  I just love them.

I  also bought this lovely crepe pleated vintage clutch bag on Etsy.  I love it. It's so small and beautifully made and will fit nicely in my coat pocket when I go dancing.

A couple more acquisitions include this lovely royal blue pussy bow blouse that I bought from a charity shop a few weeks ago for £2.99. It's a lovely bright colour.

On the same shopping excursion, I also bought this beautiful repro dress for £3.99. When I checked the brand out on line, it's called Stop Staring, dresses cost over £100 new, so I was very happy to add this one to my wardrobe.  It is a little snug, shall we say, but I'm hoping to fit into it better at some point in the near future and was worth buying just to give me some incentive to lose a bit of weight.

This grey sweater from Mango, which was bought from the CS where I work, also works well in my new wardrobe.  I like the tie at the neck and slightly puffed shoulders.  It's really sweet.

I think you can sense the themes. Tie neck/collared blouses, sweaters, skirts, dresses, co-ordinating accessories. It's not too difficult to put a vintage style look together and it's great fun too.

I hope you've enjoyed part one of my new vintage wardrobe. There's much more to share in part two coming soon.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Getting into a New Routine.

I'm still trying to get into a lockdown routine, now that I'm at home.  To some extent I have one, i.e. get up get ready, have breakfast, walk the dog, but once these things have been done, it is very easy to waste the day away, doing very little at all.

On Tuesday, I made a little bit of progress by downloading a Swing Train video from the company who organise the dance classes I attended. I wanted to try this Swing Dance based exercise class before the virus took hold, but didn't get the chance, so I jumped at the chance to try it out at home. The video cost £5 to download on Vimeo, but I can use it as many or as few times as I like and it provides some income to the dance teachers who must be struggling financially at the moment.

I tried it out straight away and actually really enjoyed it. It was quite energetic too, so I felt like I'd had a bit of a workout, despite it being only 30 minutes long. I did it again on Wednesday.

Unlike myself, OH was pretty productive onTuesday afternoon.  He went down to the allotment and put the potato seeds and shallots into the plot, which gets us off to a good start. Then, he and LB went out and did some shopping at the supermarket, as we needed some more fresh fruit, salad and a few other things. I'm happy to report that from what they told me, things seemed to have calmed down on the panic buying front for the time being, which is good.

I did very little that was productive that afternoon, save for catching up with a colleague over the phone. Later on in the evening, I did find a new limited series to watch on NETFLIX called Self-Made, which is the story of a Madam CJ Walker's struggle to start a cosmetics company in early 20th Century America.  I really enjoyed it and watched a couple of episodes back to back. I also indulged in watching the first episode of the new series of Made in Chelsea.  It's my guilty pleasure.  Don't tell anyone!

Yesterday, I was a bit more productive. Before even getting ready, I decided to do a very short arm workout with some weights, that had been sat neglected at the bottom of the wardrobe for years. I just did 10 reps of four different exercises, but anything's better than nothing. I'm going to try to do this daily to help get rid of my bingo wings.

After taking the dog out, I decided to spend some more time in the garden, as the weather was so beautiful. The main job that needed doing was to wash all the dirty plant pots, some of which might even have been dirty for two years now, as I can't remember doing this task last year, when I was super busy at work.

I filled up a couple of buckets, one with soapy water and one with plain water for rinsing and I was away. An hour or so later and they were all neatly put away in our new mini greenhouse, ready to have seeds sown into them in the very near future. 

There's still a bit of tidying to do at the end of the garden. It has become a bit of a dumping ground since we took down our old mini greenhouse and took it to the tip. The metal posts had rusted, which caused it to collapse. I'll work on that area another day and take before and after photos.

Having now put up a new mini greenhouse on the decking outside the back door, this will make it a lot easier to get out there and do potting on and sowing jobs. Schlepping all the way down to the bottom of the garden sometimes just feels like way too much effort.

Here's a picture of our new set up:

The greenhouse was a bargain that I couldn't ignore, as it cost just £4.99 from the Charity shop I work in and our old kitchen bin contains the newly washed pots stacked ready for use. I'll keep you posted with our gardening and food growing efforts as the season progresses. Have you been enjoying spending time in the garden during this lovely weather we're having?

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Time to Think and Help

Today, I thought I'd write a post about how taking a step back from work and doing certain other things has had a positive effect on me mentally. For one thing, I feel much more rested and relaxed and in addition, I have felt less compelled to spend money. Life has definitely simplified in the last few weeks.  Lots of dog walks, looking after what we have and appreciating it.

It's interesting how living though this kind of crisis can make you reassess your priorities. I've been spending way too much money in the last six of months, on inessential thrifted clothes and other such stuff and the current situation seems to have curbed this behaviour.  I don't feel inclined to spend money on anything at the moment, other than real necessities.  I think I needed the wake up call.

I've been reading a lot over the past few weeks, and one book was the very interesting Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. I've had it sat on my book shelf for a long time, but whilst I was eating meat, I couldn't bring myself to read it, for fear it would upset me. I didn't feel ready to change.  Since we've stopped eating meat, I've been able to pick it up and read it. I was right, it is very upsetting and it makes me more determined to carry on not eating meat. I've got another book on the subject waiting to be read called the Omnivore's Dilemna, which is mentioned quite a lot in Foer's book. I'll probably be reading that soon too. Currently, however, we're not finding the change in our eating habits too challenging, but I do need to get more experimental in the kitchen. That's for sure.

I hope you are all coping with the current lockdown situation and having to curb some personal pleasures for the sake of individual and community safety. I'm sure it will be worth it to ease the load that our first responders are facing at the moment. It is in times like this that you really appreciate what they do for our country. They must already be exhausted.

In addition, those working in supermarkets and food distribution are also so very important at the moment and it makes you appreciate what we normally take for granted on a daily basis. They must see the very worst of human nature in some situations. I've heard stories of people being robbed of their shopping having just left the supermarket, old people being tricked out of money to buy groceries and people even raiding the food bank baskets at supermarkets.

In contrast, there are also very heart warming stories of people giving away free food and accommodation to first responders and vulnerable people, which is more reassuring. We are currently considering ways we might be able to help others, even if it just involves donating to local food banks who are desperately short of food. Our street What's app group is keeping us in touch with what help is needed and by whom, not just in our street, but also in our wider local community. There may be opportunities that we can take through that.

Any surplus food we grow at the allotment, I'm particularly thinking of the rhubarb, which we don't use at all, can be left outside the gate of the allotment for people to take. It's already growing like crazy.  We were going to dig it up, but it is so productive that it might be best to keep it and donate it to others in need of fresh food. I may also have a declutter and see if there are items I can put outside the house for people to take, that might be useful to them over the next few months.

There are probably plenty of ways we can help others if we put our minds to it. There is a lot of poverty even on our own doorstep and lots of people probably haven't had the money to prepare for what is happening now. Are there any ways that you are helping those in your community to get by in this difficult time?

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Getting Used to a New Way of Life

It's been a strange old week and to be perfectly honest, I've been so concerned with the news that I haven't really done much that was productive. I've caught up on washing and ironing, but that's about it.

It was faintly reassuring to watch Monty Don on Gardener's World on Friday night. Some things do stay the same in a time of great change and flux. On the subject of gardening, OH has now dug over the allotment and will soon be sowing shallots, seed potatoes, and various other seeds.  We figure that the quicker we get them in, the quicker we will be able to eat our home grown food and be less reliant on the supermarkets and the madness going on there at the moment.

I really feel for the emergency responders who are finding the shelves empty when they go to shop. It's heart breaking, as they work so hard and we are all so reliant on their skills and expertise at a time like this. I really hope things calm down in this direction soon. I'm completely avoiding the supermarkets at the moment and we're buying the fresh bits we need from local shops.

After watching Monty on Friday evening, I decided that it was time to get my act together and do more. I immediately went up into my sewing room and started to get a bit more organised, mainly so that I can get sewing some tote bags for the shop. I pulled out lots of fabrics that I'm happy to use for this purpose and some webbing for handles. I figure I can make about 20 to 40 bags while I'm off work, that we can probably charge a pound or two for in the shop when we reopen. It's not much, but at least I feel like I'm contributing something while the shop is closed.

A colleague and I may decide to drive into London to the shop in the next few weeks and do some online listing to try to earn money for our charity.  This lock down is devastating for the organisation and anything we can do to bring in revenue will help.  Obviously, we are not going to take any risks and we might be able to do it all from home, which would be better, but we would need to gather some stock from the shop in order for us to do it, if we get permission from the powers that be, that is. Of course, the lockdown may get stricter and this might not be possible, we'll just have to see how things progress.

On Saturday, we finally put the Xmas decorations back in the loft. They'd been hanging around on the bed in my sewing room for months, so it was good to finally get them out of the way. The space was quickly filled with other things, but at least the floor is now clear to access the room and I intend to start sewing in there very soon.

My gym closed on Friday night, so no more classes, even though I wasn't intending to attend anymore anyway. I really do need to start thinking about exercising though at some point, or I will put on weight spending all this time at home.

I finally got out into the garden on Sunday. It was such a lovely day, if a bit cold.I swept up the decking, which was a bit mossy, and we put up a new mini greenhouse that I bought from our Charity Shop a few months ago. It wasn't perfect and had some writing on the plastic cover at the back, but you can't see it too well, and it was very cheap so I can't really complain. It's so good to have outside space to potter about in. It must be so frustrating for people living in London who don't have such a luxury. We are very fortunate indeed.

Swing Patrol, the company who run the dance classes that I attended, have already got their act together and are creating online courses for people to do whilst at home.  Unfortunately, I probably won't be subscribing, as work is quickly drying up for OH whilst people concentrate on just getting through the next few months. As a consequence, I have to be very careful with money and can't justify spending it on things that aren't absolute necessities. I admire their spirit of enterprise though and I'm sure they'll be a lifeline to lots of dancers out there.

Thank you for all of your lovely comments recently on my posts.  I really appreciate them. We will get through this. We just have to stick together, listen to and abide by the government's advice and think about others and not just ourselves, whilst helping others where we can.

One of our neighbours did a very nice thing this week. A potter, she offered clay to everyone down the street to occupy them during our time at home. This offer was quickly taken up by many parents with children and was much appreciated. She also offered to fire the resulting work for everyone, which was very generous of her.

I have also noticed that there is a group of local residents offering to help people who are self isolating in our community.  I think I saw one of them delivering some much needed items to a house down the road, whilst I was out walking the dog. The people receiving the help were very grateful for it.  It was good to see people being so selfless and helping others in need, without wanting anything in return. That really is the kind of spirit we need to foster to get us through this difficult time.

I'm sure as we settle down into routines, it won't seem so bad and we'll start to get creative and find ways to tolerate the isolation. I've already signed up to a Facebook page set up to connect people facing lockdown.  It's based in Australia, but it's interesting to see what gets posted on the site. Some of it is amusing, like the little boy who's decide to call the virus by the name Cod Fish and the Aussie slang that people have created to describe the virus (Rona), hand sanitiser (hanny), self isolation (iso) and panic buyers (magpies).  It's interesting that the same themes occur even on the other side of the world.

Talking of which, I was very relieved for my friend this week whose daughter has been over in Indonesia for some months now and managed to get a flight back to Europe this week. With so many people stranded, it was a relief that she made it back before travel restrictions become more widespread.

I also received an email from my sister in Brisbane this weekend.  It was good to hear from her. I think they are a few weeks behind us here, and from a picture I saw of a crowded Bondi Beach in Sydney, they must be. I warned her that it is fast getting worse here and to expect it where she is.

Anyway, that's enough talk of depressing events, I promised I would steer clear of the subject.  I hope you are all keeping busy and finding things to occupy you.  I know this Sunday has probably been difficult for many who can't be together for Mother's day. I hope you all still managed to spend time communicating in other ways instead.

Take care, stay safe and if you've got any good ideas for keeping occupied, let me know.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

All Locked Down

Apologies for not posting lately, but with everything that's been happening in London with regard to you know what, it's been a little stressful and I haven't really wanted to post and cause any anxiety to anyone.

As of yesterday, our charity shop finally closed, which was a really big relief.  I was due back to work today and would have had to commute into Central London at a time when the virus is rife here. I was so relieved when my Manager told me, as you can imagine.

Everyone else in the household is staying home.  LB is doing lessons over the internet, OH works from home, of course, it was just me that might have to head out of the house.

The last two weeks have been incredibly strange. Dancing classes closed quite early and refunds were issued, which I have to say was a good move on behalf of the company who run them. They are now producing short videos on Facebook to keep us dancing at home, which is good. OH's cycling activities have also ended, so we have little reason to go out, save for topping up on fresh food weekly, walking the dog or going around the corner to the allotment plot to get some fresh air.  I consider us lucky to have that option, as most people don't and must feel like caged animals.

Now I know that I'm not going to work, I can start to get into some sort of routine.  Already my routine has changed, as OH seems to do the morning dog walk and I do the afternoon one, so mornings are more relaxed and I can fully catch up with news, blogs, etc. before getting dressed and ready for the day. Also I dress much more casually, knowing that I'm staying home.  Tracksuit bottoms and a t-shirt most days, which is appropriate for exercising at home too.

I'm intending to get into the routine of doing some exercise very soon, possible stretching, sit ups, planks, hand weight work on a daily basis, combined with occasional cycle rides around the marshes where we live, which is a wide open space.  I've noticed a lot of people without dogs getting out for a walk on there in recent days, probably to blow away the cobwebs I imagine. 

I think that London will start to empty more now with the announcement that schools are closing tomorrow.  I think some families will head out to stay with relatives outside of London, or go to second homes, as they do during the Easter holidays and Christmas.  I might be wrong, many may stay put because of the virus and risk to vulnerable parents.

Our street has started a What's App group to help out those who might be self isolating, by dropping off much needed groceries.  There was already one family who were self isolating due to someone in the household being quite unwell and the others having to self isolate, so much needed help was given to them.  It's nice to live on a street where there is a sense of community like that.

With regard to shopping, the supermarkets are a bit mad and have been for the last few weeks. It doesn't surprise me, hence why I made sure to get ahead of the curve and do some shopping very early almost a month ago now. It's worked though, as although I've been going to get fresh groceries on a weekly basis, it hasn't bothered me that some items just can't be found on the shelves, as I have some at home already.

I was watching a video this morning of the push and shove to get into a supermarket in North West London this morning at 6am, where people were screaming with the fear of being trampled in the crush to get in.  A stark contrast to another video of people queueing one or two meters apart in another similar video from another part of the world.

Even our local small supermarket has been extremely busy lately. I had to go in to get a few items I couldn't find in the big supermarkets, i.e. toilet rolls and managed to get a pack from them which was good. I may just shop locally from now on for fruit and veg, bread and milk etc. as going into busy supermarkets doesn't really appeal too much.

I'm hoping that we can use the time at home productively.  OH has talked about doing some decorating (if the DIY stores stay open), which would be great as our house desperately needs some work. I did a big clean whilst on annual leave, so I'm just keeping surfaces and floors clean at the moment and changing towels and bedding more frequently.

We might get out and get the garden up to scratch too, which is also overdue. A bit more pruning is needed and I've got some bulbs to plant if I can get hold of some compost. I've also got lots of books to read, a host of movies to watch, a jigsaw to do and then there's always sewing to get on with if I feel like it.

I actually did sew myself a face mask the other day, but haven't actually worn it outside of the house.  I used a similar video to this for reference.

and put bits of LB's old brushed cotton baby blankets inside as a kind of filter. I don't know if this would work by the way, I'm no expert, but I figure that any layers over your mouth and nose might be more protective than nothing.  I haven't worn it yet, but would consider using it for supermarket trips from now on and of course, it's completely washable and reusable.  Here's a picture:

I'd recommend using thinner elastic at the sides though, as this wide stuff makes your ears stick out, which although a bit vain to say, can make you feel self conscious wearing it.

I've also made some hand sanitiser from rubbing alcohol that I managed to buy from our local chemist combined with aloe vera gel. It's not particularly thick and gel like, but it does the job if we are or have  been out and about. I also managed to buy a motion sensor dispenser from Lidl for £5.99, so you don't even have to touch it to dispense the gel which is great.

The rubbing alcohol was pretty cheap - £3.50 for 500mls, which is reassuring that local pharmacies aren't ripping everyone off with inflated prices. There might not be any left now though, as I bought it last week. I just mixed a cup of alcohol (200mls?)with maybe 50-100 mls of gel.  You can add essential oils too, but I didn't. I've heard it recommended that you use as pure aloe vera gel as possible. Mine was from Holland and Barrett.

For normal daily hand washing, I'm using plain old bar soap or hand wash.  I read that the lipids in it is what breaks down the virus's ability to attach to your hands, which makes absolute sense.

We are not planning on going anywhere in the next 3-4 months.  OH's parents are in the vulnerable category, so we are staying well away to avoid any risk to them. We'll keep in touch by telephone though. I'm not sure the enormity of the situation has reached some areas of the country in quite the same way, but just be prepared for when it does.

I'll try blogging a bit more over the next few weeks, but I'm going to try to stay away from the subject of the virus, as we get bombarded enough in the news and elsewhere.  I'll stick to vintage fashion, gardening and other subjects if I do. This was just by way of a catch up to where I'm at at the moment. I hope I haven't caused anyone any alarm by posting it.

Stay safe and keep blogging, especially now as we get more isolated in our homes, it will help to pass the time and give a feeling of connectedness.