dEAr diary ~ in preparation for the party

Yesterday we had a trip up to North Yorkshire to see my mum.  We took her out for lunch at a large garden centre near Northallerton, mainly to be undercover and avoid the biting cold weather.  The queue in the restaurant was long because of the school holidays and the staff had been taken unawares so there was a 30 minute delay for food orders.  Luckily we were not in any rush and didn’t mind the wait – it gave us a chance for a good chat.  Mum and DH had cheese and chutney sandwiches which were rather like doorstops and I chose a jacket potato – all came with coleslaw and salad but like many places these days the portions are very large – too large in my mind and not helping the obesity problem and we end up paying for a proportion of the food we cannot eat – I do wish these places would offer a smaller sized portion.

Afterwards we had a wander around the ‘shop’ part, they sell decorative homewares, gifts, clothes and crafts as well as gardening products – a bit of a mini shopping centre.  It was too cold to take mum outside and look at the plants so we  moved on to Northallerton town centre.  I love this market town – it has a good balance of independents and chains and you can find most things here.  We ended up as we always do in Boyes for a mooch around while mum stocked up on a few heavy items like washing powder.  We had to go and warm up again in a nearby Costa before taking her back home.  She was so grateful that we had taken the trouble to drive up and take her out for an hour or two as my sister is away at the moment – it is a costly hour or two though when you add both the fuel and eating out costs but well worth it to see the smile on her face.

Today I felt quite drained from the car journey and a little stiff so I decided to take it easy and sit and make a list of what I need to do this week for the 40th birthday party preparations.  There is a bit of cleaning to do, a bit more tidying in the garden and a bit of this and that to decorate the place.

Did I mention I am also going to attempt to make the celebration cake – if my oven doesn’t work then I will have to put the cake mixture in the car and drive round to my daughter’s house to use hers.   DH thinks the problem with the oven might be a faulty element that surrounds the fan at the back of the oven.  If we could fix this it would make meal planning and baking the birthday cake so much easier.  He managed to buy an element and tomorrow he will have a go at replacing it.

Fingers crossed.

After all the listing and planning we went to town this afternoon to do our weekly shop and had a go at the self scanning system, new to Sainsbury’s – it was slow especially as I kept forgetting to pass the items over to DH to scan before putting them into the trolley.  I think it will get quicker as we train ourselves to the new process.

On the way to town we had a detour down a country lane to some nearby woodland so I could get a small branch for my Easter display that will hold the eggs I have decorated.  I will post a picture once I have something assembled.

I thought some outdoor Festoon lighting might be nice for the party – a bit of an investment perhaps as it is not very cheap – we cannot decide between some from IKEA that we saw on display or the cheaper ones in Dunelm which are in a sealed package so I cannot see the quality but they are a little bit longer.

Decisions, decisions.

Tomorrow is Yoga again – maybe it will iron out some of my tight muscles.  If the oven is fixed I will bake the cakes – if not it will be the garden tasks as my daughter is out for the day.

A day of plentiful planning and skillful scanning. x

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dEAr diary ~ a day of ideas

Hello there – it seems a while since I was here in my little space and I can’t even remember now where I have got to so apologies if what I say here has already been said once.

You might have guessed I have been busy – what’s new!

We had a weekend at home and to ourselves – if I remember we were both in the garden and I also did a few more cards – but more about that later.

This week began with our usual shopping trip on Monday, first into town for a few bits and pieces and then round to the big Sainsbury’s on the ring road for the weekly food shopping.  I say bits and pieces which they were individually but the cost collectively was surprisingly a bit much for one day.

I went to Primark first to look at jackets.  I have a brilliant hooded jacket I bought from Primark for £6 in 2004 when we bought the cottage.  It is so useful in the garden in Scotland – an all-weather coat – it has a light waterproof nylon fabric on the outside, so no bits of vegetation or the like sticks to me, with a warm fleece lining and the hood is small so doesn’t blow off with the first puff of wind – absolutely necessary when you live by the sea.  It is still going strong after many washes.

The reason I want to find a similar jacket is because I have recently taken to bringing it back down home with me to wear in the garden here but I know the day will come when I will forget to pack it when we go up to the cottage and so I thought it would be a good item to duplicate.  I looked in the ladies section of Primark but their lightweight duvet style jackets have no hoods and are very fitted; then just as we were leaving I noticed the men’s display ah ha …idea….I went to the men’s section and they had a perfect one with a hood and just a little bit more roomy which is much better for gardening.  I came away with the extra small but I will need to go back and change it for the small size for a little bit more ease so I can wear a thick jumper underneath should I need to!   Cost – a cosy £15

Then across to Wilkos to look in the gardening section for Tomato food to feed both the bulbs and the tomatoes (when I get them sown) – it was much cheaper here than anywhere else at £3.25. White DicentraOn the way I noticed (as you do) a white Dicentra for £2 hung in the packaged bulbs display – I was tempted as I have wanted one for the garden at home for a long time but in the garden centre the plants are £10 which I thought a bit steep.  I bought one and have planted it in the garden but I am doubtful about it growing as it just looked like a bag full of dry peat but I thought for the price I would give it a go – I also treated myself to a white indoor plant pot for £2.Before leaving the store I had a rummage in the crafts section as they have a lovely range of inexpensive Easter crafts to keep the kids busy. I came across these garden signs for £2 which will be useful for the Easter egg hunt we intend to do for the children at the party on Easter Sunday, weather permitting of course and, for Libbie, a sew your own felt chicken Easter basket £1.50.

I then popped into the Works as I had a £0.50p voucher and wanted to buy some polystyrene eggs  – ten for £0.50p with the voucher – I have an idea to cover them in printed tissue papers for Easter decorations for the party.  It goes against the grain to buy polystyrene but I will be keeping them for a long time to reuse – had I got more time I would have done some hand painted real eggs – but that will be another year.  I also bought a pack of stronger dowels to attach the garden signs to for £1.  The bamboo basket in the photo above was a great find in Sainsbury’s for £2.50.

The final stop was one of our local independent whole food / health shops – I often alternate between the two as I like them both and would hate to see either of them close down.  I prefer them to Holland and Barret as they sell more organic foods and are often cheaper.  Here I bought Almond oil which I use as a face cleanser and for massage, my high dose Solgar Vitamin D capsules, some Omega 3 oils and two packs of Kalo tomato stock cubes for the soup and to add flavour to rice – a grand ‘sit down’ total of £39.03.

The food shopping was pretty normal and came in a bit cheaper than usual at £52.38 this included a few extra salad bits and some nice breads for the lunch I prepared today for my sister and brother-in-law when they called in on their way up north.

I made sure to carefully whiz past the clothes and magazines – but I did buy these.I bought myself one for my desk at the beginning of the year and I love it (see here).  Now you might be wondering what I would want with five more calendars that are all for this year especially now we are in April…..well I had another idea ( I think they must have put something in the water recently!!)…. Sainsbury’s had reduced them down to £2.10 and the metal stands which are gold or black are very sturdy and allow you to remove each calendar page by unscrewing the little nuts – my idea is to keep the stands and attach my own version of next years calendars using photos DH and I take throughout the year and give them as presents to my friends at Christmas.

It could well be a gift that keeps on giving because you can use the stands over and over again so in following years I could keep giving a new set of calendar pages to  my friends to fix onto their stands.  Each year I might choose photos of a different theme such as seaside, towns, gardens etc.

Did I mention last week I bought this cardboard Peter Rabbit egg from an old-fashioned sweet shop in Saltburn.  I then bought a £1 Cadbury’s chocolate Easter egg and my idea is to remove the wrapper and decorate with little iced flowers and Libbies name to put inside.  If the chocolate egg is in two halves then I will put some of those tiny shell coated eggs inside.Easter EggSo as you can see I am full of ideas – oh and they don’t stop there  – oh no – nothing that simple – somehow I am now doing the 40th birthday cake for my SIL’s (son in-law) party on Easter Sunday …..mmmm…how did that happen…..retirement – exactly what is that??

A day of dazzling ideas and bargain buys. x

Before I go welcome to my new followers.  I will be back with more on my craft cards, the March Tally, the cottage update and a host of other things.

 

trEAsury ~ the February tally

Once again I am facing the moment of truth.  Sometimes we can think we are doing well and spending less but the figures at the end of the month never lie.

Overall for February the total outgoing money was much the same as January but the amounts in each category had shifted around – a bit like the sand and pebbles on our beach at the cottage.

To summarise; the housekeeping, household bills, cards and gifts were lower than last month but fuel costs, eating out, health and wellbeing were higher.

The housekeeping money (which for me includes groceries, whole foods and supplements, magazines, cleaning supplies, toiletries, face creams, make-up, postage, stationery and flowers for the house when I buy any) came in at £367.00, but of course it was the shortest month so maybe this wasn’t a great achievement and remember I am not an all out frugal blog by any means (stop reading now if you were expecting severe thrift or you will be disappointed) – I like a bargain and I like to live within my means – I also like hanging on to my savings for dear life but I don’t particularly buy cheap in all cases in fact I like quality and value for money so I assess everything I buy with that in mind whether it be food, clothes or a garden tool.

I know there are many of you out there who would do much better than me but this is my way of cutting the spending down and buying less without making myself totally miserable or obsessed and I am pleased with myself if I find I have spent less than last month.  I haven’t even set category budgets for myself – I suppose I should really but I know I have to stay within the bounds of our one state pension for most of our day-to-day living costs and save a bit if we can.  When we have lived on the pension for a while and have definite figures to work on then I can adjust and budget.

So how did I do…

Transport and fuel costs

February was heavy on fuel costs not just for the car but during the warm spell we had recently we had to buy petrol for the mower in order to cut the grass!  The trip up to Scotland and 2 round trips up to North Yorkshire increased this category to £180 ouch!  In compensation there were no other transport or car related costs but we do have an MOT coming up next month.

Total costs of seeing the world and shaving the grass: £186.87

Health and wellbeing costs

February saw us both at the hairdressers for a cut and blow dry.  We go to the same local hairdressers  – not together I might add, that might be a little strange!….and whilst mine is £26, DH only has to pay £11 but then his hair is much shorter and he has less of it.  For me it is worth the expense, I always feel much better afterwards.

Total cost of a brand new me and him:  £37

Utilities

Our central heating and hot water runs on gas and we have a coal effect gas fire in the living room.  The heating is on from 5 pm to 8pm – after that we will just put the gas fire on if it is really cold whilst watching the TV or sometimes for a bit of glow on the lowest setting.   The gas bill for February came in at £69 plus VAT.  I didn’t think that was too bad – helped of course by the milder weather and watching TV during the evenings wrapped snuggly in a throw rather than putting the fire or heating on.

Total costs for the joy of warm toes:  £72.63

Grocery and housekeeping costs

Surprisingly I spent less this month than last (but then it was only 4 weeks long) however the average per week on groceries alone worked out at a little more than last month @ £77, (£309 for the month) but we did take advantage of a lot of items on offer so are pretty well stocked in the grocery department.  Some weeks I do better than others and have more time to plan – sometimes it is all a bit rushed and that is when I do spend more but we have been having some nice meals recently and I have been trying new recipes.Yellow Sticker foodWe had a surprise freebie in Tesco in Castle Douglas in Scotland when they were handing out free rolls one evening.  You couldn’t beat this yellow sticker price!Daffodils I didn’t buy any toiletries or face creams during February but did treat myself to some flowers for the house.

Total cost to eat and be merry £361.87 and a bunch or two of cheerfulness £5.

Home and garden purchases

Once again just bits and pieces bought in this category but it still added up to an alarming £106 – I had to look twice at this in disbelief – but it is there in black and white and needless to mention this cost will be taken from savings not the pension – the pension does not allow for frivolous purchases that consist of:-

  • 2 large storage boxes with lids for in the loft to replace some old cardboard bankers boxes
  • 3 lidded craft storage boxes to hold our old slides
  • 1 small 4 litre Maslin pan to make jam and marmalade reduced by £10 to £19.99Maslin Pan
  • 2 glass lidded containers from Muji for cotton wool and cotton wool buds (this was a definite treat); I love Muji products for their simplicity and have wanted these for ages and couldn’t resist when DH gave me the OK nod.muji
  • Portable Muji diffuser – on offer at the Muji store – gives out 2 hours of real essential oil fragrance
  • 2 Pillow protectors on sale in Sainsbury’s for £3.60 – decided against the dearer John Lewis ones and will return them.

This is certainly a category to watch – those little bits here and there add up to quite a lot.

Total cost for unavoidable household needs wants: £106

Gifts and card costs 

Gifts and cards came in lower than last month – only a couple of birthdays and mum’s belated birthday book token.  I already had a Valentine’s card and a stock of birthday cards and luckily none of the birthdays required a gift, so much cheaper month than last.

Total cost to gift away: £22.50

Crafts and hobbies

Confession – I bought two books (I include books in my Craft and Hobbies category).  Simple Sewing posted here, and The Stress Solution by Dr Rangan Chatterjee.  I bought his book The Four Pillar Plan a while ago and it is one of the best general health books I have read and continue to reread and am trying to put into practice. The Stress Solution I couldn’t wait for his new book to appear cheaper in The Works so splashed out the £8.49 in Sainsbury’s.

Having tried a bit of crotchet with the hooks and wool I bought last month it became apparent I would not be making any baby clothes any time soon – I couldn’t even crotchet a square and will need more time to practice so I decided to try my hand at knitting again. Sidar Baby Crofter I bought a baby pattern £3.10 and 3 balls of Sirdar Baby Crofter from Hobbycraft @ £4 ball to make a jumper for Sweetie and now realise knitting your own is not a cheap option.  DH just smiles!

Total cost to keep me busy: £27.78

Leisure and Entertainment

I spent a worthwhile £15 on the pantomime tickets (no discounts even though I am related to the stars of the show!), however I do still have to pay my sister for these when I see her.  Of course the petrol costs to get there would have been about £30 – but she is my sister and of course Libbie (Little L) was so thrilled.

Other than that our other entertainment this month was visiting Ikea – totally free!

Total costs of a good belly laugh: £15 (not including the fuel a definite boo!)

Eating out

This continues to be much reduced now we take picnics everywhere or get free drinks in Ikea – but is higher than last month as we had our trip to Scotland and bought a chip butty tea each on the way up and back £7.70.  Mainly though our only regular expense is the pre shop drinks in Sainsbury’s café every week £4.10, DH always comes along with me now since I am no longer at work (probably to keep an eye on the spending!) so it doubles this little indulgence – if we gave this up we would be down to zero pounds unless we elect to treat ourselves for lunch out, which we did at Costa en route to the Pantomime.

Total costs to satisfy our healthy appetites:  £52.25

Clothing and footwear

I bought a grey long-sleeved t-shirt from Sainsbury’s – it was, I am pleased to say, a considered purchase.   I bought one last Autumn and love it so much I invested in another before they disappear, they are great to wear under a jumper and keep me snug and warm in the cold weather – so a small price to pay.  I also needed to replace some old wornout black socks that I wear with my jeans and leggins.  One pack of five from Tesco for £5 – they have the same patterned rib as the previous ones I bought two years ago which is great as I won’t need to spend time matching socks after washing them.

Total cost to looking totally glamorous presentable: £9.75

As you might expect the spending in the different categories has ‘see-sawed’ a bit this month.  What was a low figure last month was higher this month and vice versa.  I am enjoying the books, enjoying the knitting (more on this another day) and will no doubt enjoy making some jam and marmalade.

So a few new items have entered my home but what has gone out…I will reveal later.

As usual hoping to do better next month and any advice is always welcome….xx

If you want to read January’s tally click here

trEAsury ~ the January tally

For anyone following along with my state pension adventures – the objective this month, as with most months, was to spend less but some things just cannot be avoided – like the inevitable bills and fuel… and the most unavoidable but disastrous… taking my purse out with me!

I managed to roll over £84 of the last pension payment to this month but as the pension is paid 4 weekly (I promise I won’t gripe about this again) I won’t know if I have any spare funds until my next pension income on the 15th February.  My intention is to take out a percentage to save before I spend.

Transport costs

We did well on the fuel – just one fill up needed approx £75 for a full tank – we have not been very far this month and no trips up North and it has made such a difference – but we will be going on Friday (though this will come into February’s budget) – after all I cannot miss seeing my sister in a pantomime and Little L is going with us too this year and as she tells me “I am ‘super’ excited granny”, I only hope it doesn’t snow too much.

It was a heavy month for the cars – multi-insurance cover was due, road tax and a yearly service.

Health costs

Like the car I also had a maintenance check up at the dentist which is now £21.60 on the NHS and much cheaper than the car maintenance – maybe the NHS will do my car service next year.

Utilities

The general household utility bills are on a monthly standing order for the gas, electricity, telephone / internet and council tax.  Our council tax is paid in 10 monthly instalments so we don’t pay in February and March so this will help boost the float in the bill account.

Grocery and household costs

The groceries and household (toothpaste, toilet rolls etc) are working out at about £70 a week.  It has been a 5 week month for us and if you count it to the time we will be shopping again on the 5th February it will be almost 6 weeks so the average drops to £60 a week.  This is still disappointing and there are a few reasons that it has not dropped more –

  • Price rises – the supermarkets will insist on adding an extra 50p here and there as if we don’t notice.
  • I have been taking advantage of any items on offer that we normally use, but are not actually on my shopping list, and buying in multiples – it seems more cost-effective over the year to do this.
  • We are now spending a lot less on buying food and drink in Cafés when out and about – but of course the food has to come from somewhere so we are buying in extra bread and veg to make soup and sandwiches to take with us and this then comes within our grocery budget but obviously homemade food is far cheaper than buying out.  I also buy the wrapped chocolate biscuits or Cadbury’s mini rolls – whatever is on offer – to take with us if we do stop to have a drink anywhere – then we don’t have to buy expensive cakes and traybakes.
  • Although I am making a weekly menu plan I have not, as yet, been thinking in terms of how to make an individual meal cheaper or mix in some very cheap meals with some dearer ones over the week.   This will be my next step to reducing the food bill.  For instance a packet of brown lentils cost about 65p but mixed nuts for nut roast are £4 a packet, so a shepherd’s pie is far cheaper than a nut roast for us.  I am not a pasta fan but I could probably manage one pasta meal a week and pasta is very economical.  We perhaps have more cheese than we should too, so I could maybe cut down on our cheesy meals and use more pulses.
  • Fruit is just not cheap in this country out of season (and sometimes in season).  I have a small amount of mixed fruits each morning with my plain yoghurt to get my Vitamin C quota for the day, usually blueberries, oranges and grapefruit.  It is the blueberries that are the most expensive.  I have tried the frozen ones but for me they seem to have little taste and a watery texture.  To blend them to a puree means missing out on the fibre.

When I think about making savings in the food budget I always have to balance up the health costs too.  We are pretty healthy but I would not like to skimp on fruit and vegetables and as you know I always buy organically grown, even though it is dearer, as I feel passionately about supporting sustainable good husbandry practice that protects our countryside and wildlife.  I know this is not possible for a lot of people as price has to be the overriding factor but for as long as I can I will – there are many more economies I can make in other areas.

Home and garden purchases

Nothing major bought in this category so I was quite shocked to find I had spent £90 on bits and pieces for the house – inexpensive in themselves but collectively I spent far too much.

  • I bought 3 white wicker baskets reduced at Sainsbury’s to £5.33.  They have proved very useful though.
  • I took advantage of the Sainsbury’s after Christmas sale and bought 2 feather and down pillows £13.33 each to replace some worn out ones on our bed.
  • I also bought a natural cotton zipped pillow protector from John Lewis to protect the new feather pillows.  I thought there were two in the pack but it turns out there is only one so at £14 each that is expensive – more than the pillows.  I went for the natural cotton ones because the cheaper polyester have some kind of protective treatment on them and that put me off buying them.  I am dithering on this one – might return them.
  • My hot water bottle had also perished so I replaced that @ £2.99 from the Range (good value) but whilst I was there I bought 2 large plastic storage boxes for the loft to replace the old cardboard bankers boxes and they were £4.99 each which I think are much cheaper at Ikea. Oh well you win some you lose some.  I don’t like buying plastic but I think the items I am storing are much better protected in storage bins with lids than in cardboard.
  • My other two impulse buys are a wire magazine rack from Sainsbury’s reduced to £2.70 – hardly a bank breaker and I got one of the proper wire stands for my large Kilner drinks dispenser with tap, at £5.99 so I don’t have to balance it on an up turned bowl at parties and it should be much safer and easier to use.
  • And lastly I purchased 2 cushion covers in the sale at Dunelm – a pink fluffy one (I blame Sadie for this – the pink thing again!) and a lovely dark grey felt fabric with embroidered leaves that has a nice Scandinavian feel to it.  Total cost for both £16.  This was a bit of an impulse buy too – I should really have made some covers myself for my spare cushion pads.So although I didn’t think I was buying anything very much over the month obviously the spreadsheet tells a different story.

Gifts and card costs 

Gifts and cards came in at £54.99 this includes the gifts for the new baby and a 60th birthday present.  I failed to make cards this month again but it is on the agenda and would have saved me £6.50.

I also bought a few packs of Christmas cards in the sales for £4.22.  I now have 37 cards (11p a card) ready for next Christmas.

Crafts and hobbies

I was passing the craft shop in Holmfirth yesterday and decided to buy 4 different sized crotchet hooks and a ball of light grey DK wool to get me started.  I had just bought a Crotchet magazine in Sainsbury’s whilst doing the weekly shop on Tuesday it came with 8 small balls of wool included in the pack and I intend to sit in the evenings and have a go.  I can always resort to knitting if it doesn’t work out and goodness knows I have plenty of grandchildren now to knit for.

I also, in passing, saw one or two gardening magazines with free seeds – I weighed up the pros and cons of buying them this way.  I decided I had no use for carrots, turnips, parsnips and cabbage seeds and will only grow tomatoes, courgettes and salad leaves this year so would be better to buy individual packets of exactly what I need.

Eating out

A much reduced spend now – most of the £30 spent was from having a drink in Sainsbury’s – of course if I shopped without DH and left him at home it would be half this amount.  We can easily reduce this to zero by not having our pre-shop hot chocolate – it is just habit carrying on from when I used to go after a long day at work.  But then we all deserve a treat once in a while.

Clothing and footwear

Nothing purchased this month…nothing at all – big tick.

So that is the months analysis of our spending. As usual plenty of ups and downs in the budget – on the whole we survived and there was little hardship but my thinking is that for 2 people to live on one state pension you have to eat less and eat very cheap food, not go out anywhere unless on foot – maybe to a soup kitchen – and certainly not buy anything for the house or anyone else oh and nothing that requires too much heating to preserve the gas and electric – then you have cracked it.

Hoping to do better next month and any advice is welcome….

sEAsons ~ winter is the time for home

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
– Edith Sitwell

Ivy

RaindropsWe have had the icy cold days with a frosting of snow recently and then we had the rain… but it brought slightly milder weather with it, which has been quite welcome…today it is cold once again but very sunny.    Although I like the winter months the cold has got to my bones a bit – I must be getting older. The full force of the winter weather can be seen further afield out on the moors above us where there are wonderful and ever-changing vistas to capture – I love the bleak atmosphere that surrounds this expanse of wilderness  – there are no trees, no buildings and no people.  Even the sky can seem quite dark and foreboding at times.  Only days ago this road was closed to a heavy snowfall and ice and we had to find alternative routes on lower ground – yesterday as you see it is quite passable with only a light dusting over the hills.  The beauty of this untouched landscape is breathtaking no matter when you pass through.

Around the garden there are plenty of delightful things happening at the moment despite the weather.  I haven’t ventured outside very much but I have noticed little pockets of colour and a show of buds here and there.  Sometimes everything looks deceptively still and quiet beneath the carpet of leaves but on closer inspection there are shoots appearing and the bulbs I planted only a couple of months ago and these Snowdrops are beginning to push through the earth – a sign that spring will be here soon. Snowdrops To prevent the local cats doing their business and scratching around in the bare patches of earth where the bulbs lie beneath  I pushed a few twigs, from the hydrangea prunings,  into the ground as a deterent and to protect them and I noticed they are starting to bud and have actually taken root.  Anyone want an hydrangea there will be far to many to keep!Spring bulbsWhilst it is so cold I find the best thing to do is stay warm indoors in the kitchen making those nourishing winter comfort dishes.  Cauliflower and Broccoli Cheese bake is always a favourite here and plenty of nut roasts with root vegetables.Cauliflower Cheese bake Mushroom soupMaking plenty of soup is still on the menu too – I have found a pack each of white and chestnut mushrooms mixed together make a very quick soup for lunch – add a  leek and a stick or two of celery and a generous handful of fresh parsley for flavour…

…and use up any leftover large ripe tomatoes to make a very warming Tomato Soup with red pepper and a little carrot and a touch of paprika, run through the blender and sprinkle with a good spoonful of parmesan cheese….Tomato soupOn those days when we only have enough soup left for one we share it and I serve a mini bowl of soup with a ploughman’s lunch to use up the thick crusts of bread.For some reason I always feel January is a good month for home life and a little housekeeping – not a deep spring clean and certainly nothing too strenuous but just enough to freshen the place up once all the Christmas decorations have been taken down and packed away.

I have spent time in each room adding decorative bits and pieces and moving pictures around;  just using what I already have and switching things about.  Remember the dried oranges and limes I made at Christmas;  they have mellowed now but still add a touch of colour to these grey winter days and continue to fragrance the air. dried oranges My daughter bought me this lovely glass showcase perfect to display little bits and bobs.  I chose this lino-cut print with the red fox and the little red bird to go with my hand carved wooden robins – the bold black and white with a splash of colourful red seems quite appropriate for now.In the corner of the dining room the yellow tulips from Aldi for £1.89 are so wonderfully vibrant and cheerful – and very reasonably priced – I will certainly be visiting the store for more flowers in future as they have lasted so well.Tulips TulipsAnother small but new pleasure in my life is this desk calendar on a gold metal stand – Sadie over at Notes from an Ordinary Life introduced me to pink and I must say I am hooked – I saw this in Sainsbury’s and somehow it found its way into my trolley last week – it cost me £7 but it can be used again and again if I make and print my own calendar sheets next year when this one is finished.  I am looking forward to making my own too – I might try out some decorative stamps or lino-cuts.CalendarWe have done very little shopping so far this year as there is not very much that we need other than a new kitchen.   During the sales I got a great deal on the Neal’s Yard items – the face cream and serum I use was being offered at a discount in a gift box so not only did I get it cheaper but there is a free eye cream with it.  I also love their sturdy boxes and reuse these for all kinds of things.Mum must be getting more forgetful as for the first time in years (and I mean years) she didn’t buy me my usual slim handbag diary for Christmas so I looked for a cheap one in Poundland  – I should be able to spot this colourful one easily in my handbag – I carry one about to jot down appointment times, phone numbers or anything I need to make a note of whilst I am out (most people would probably use their phones but I am not a phone user – I still like paper – you don’t have to remember to charge it!).  Whilst out shopping I also took advantage of the reductions on Christmas cards and bought a couple of packs with 50% off to put away for next Christmas.

Staying snug and warm by the fire, watching old movies in the afternoon on the Talking Pictures channel, laughing at ‘For the Love of Ada’ – a comedy from the 70’s ,  a little reorganising and cleaning around the house, a few bright spots of colour placed here and there in each room, writing thank you notes to friends, flicking through my magazines for ideas and lots of planning for the year ahead – a pleasurable way to get through the long grey days of winter.

As Edith Sitwell says – winter is a time for home.

Baby X is now doing well – I think we are on the turn and mum and dad are easing into a routine – one with little sleep – but starting to find their feet now and feel more confident – they dealt with the problems that arose very well and deserved a medal for their perseverance – having a tiny baby relying on you for everything is especially hard when mum herself has post delivery problems that needs attention too.  Thank you for all your good wishes – it is very much appreciated.

I will be putting a tab at the top of my blog just for recipes of anything I mention here – do bear with me this may take a little time to do.

Hope you are enjoying your winter days x

trEAsury ~ the weekly shop and meal plan

We woke up this morning to snow – just a sprinkling, and so very pretty – like icing sugar had been sifted onto our lawn, but just enough for me to change my plans and go for our weekly shop at the supermarket in town sooner rather than later.  I had my menus already planned for the week and the shopping list written so we decided to get dressed and go.  We had a few errands to do whilst in and around the town centre and this helps to conserve the petrol.

Firstly, we stopped at the African Relief Charity to offload an old mobile, that needs unlocking, and my old camera.  Both items still had all their charging leads and instruction books and they have a guy who works there who puts everything back to working order and can unlock the phone.

Then on to the Welcome Centre at the Methodist Mission Church in town.  They do a good job looking after the homeless people – providing  warm drinks and food for those on the streets and today they were particularly busy as you might expect with this cold weather.   We dropped off two sleeping bags and a quilt.  We have no need of either now we have two spare bedrooms available (complete with bedding) for any guests that might stay but I will be very pleased if someone can make use of them and it helps me to reduce our ‘stuff’ a little bit more.

After buying a large pack of toilet rolls (we were down to the very last one) and kitchen roll from Aldi (just to try them for a while as they are much cheaper than Sainsbury’s) …and a small bunch of yellow tulips to brighten my kitchen for £1.89…we headed for the town centre to buy a few bits and pieces from the whole food store; organic brown Basmati rice, a box of Spelt flakes to mix with my muesli and a bottle of Almond oil.  I use pure Almond oil as a cleanser at night – you massage a little into your face and then wipe off with a damp cotton wool pad.  It really gets rid of any grime that collects on your skin over the course of the day and make up too.  Olive oil works just as well.

Then a walk round to Boots to take advantage of the 3 for 2 offer on the cotton wool face pads I use – a saving of £1.99.  Both the Kleenex man-sized handy packs of 4 and Ecover washing up liquid on my list were also on offer in Sainsbury’s so that completed my restocking of toiletries /cleaners and paper products for a while.

We found plenty of offers at Sainsbury’s this week so we generally take advantage of them and buy more than one to last a while – hopefully until they are on offer again and if buying multipes takes us over the weekly budget then I am quite relaxed about it as I am sure it is beneficial in the long run.  This week I found Hillfarm cold pressed rapeseed oil (comes in a glass bottle which is a big plus point), red lentils, milled Flaxseeds,  Lurpack butter and the Alara brand of organic muesli that I like all on offer.  The oil for instance was £1.50 cheaper which is a huge reduction – I bought two bottles but may even go back for another.   I also found two yellow sticker foods – a double pack of Cibatta bread for £0.49p (usually £1.80) and a pack of blueberries with 50% extra for £1.34.

Buying our shopping when on offer is a real money saver for us.  I was expecting a larger bill at Sainsbury’s today as it was a larger shop than usual this week mainly because we received our monthly pension payment last Friday and our cupboards and fridge had run very low on food.

I do enjoy making meals in the winter months.  It is the season for plenty of nut roasts, pies, lentils and root vegetables.  This week’s meal plan is to use up some cashew and walnuts from Christmas in a nut roast.  It isn’t exactly a new recipe but one I haven’t made for ages and believe me I have a lot.  I will be trying out a Mushroom roast too from a recipe I have had for a long time but not yet tried.  I might switch the breadcrumbs for brown rice to cut down on the wheat.  I do like to avoid having too many wheat based products in a day and often opt for other grains like spelt or quinoa.  I will also be making ‘green’ soup and vegetable soup, carrot and leek pasties and a shepherds pie served with fresh cabbage and roast parsnips.

I am going to add a drop down on my menu bar for some of the recipes I make – this may take me a while to get it all sorted so bear with me.  I am so sorry Dar that you have waited so long for the Stroganoff!

Yesterday was a mixture of cheap and dear as far as expenses are concerned.  It is a year since I bought ‘Hetty’ my new car – so it was the annual service which keeps it in warranty and cost us £119 but this comes out of our bill account where we save a twelfth of our yearly bill costs each month so there is plenty of money in the account to cover this.

As the garage was close to the M1 we dropped off my car for the day and went on to visit Ikea in Sheffield to look further at cabinets for our new pantry.  We took our usual picnic of sandwiches and some mushroom soup and a flask of hot chocolate.   We used our Family card in Ikea to claim a further free hot drink each so all we spent was £1.25 on a portion of chips to keep us going until we could eat our picnic.  So a cheap day in other respects.

After much measuring and debating I think we now know exactly how we will fit out the pantry using a mix of Ikea’s basic kitchen cabinets and some shelving.  However, there is always a catch… before we can do the pantry we really need to rearrange the garage so that we can put a cupboard in there to house both the vacuum cleaner and the coats we use for working outdoors.  Of course before we can rearrange we need to have a sort out and I expect we will find a lot of items that can go to charity, or give away to new homes but hopefully not to landfill.

Tonight I watched the documentary program with Kate Humble on BBC 4 about the Raute people who are the very last of the nomadic community in Nepal.  They have so few possessions that they can move on to a new site miles away at a moments notice carrying them on their backs wrapped in cloths or in baskets.

As I look around at our possessions – so many fill this house we would never carry ours anywhere and it has given me that overwhelming feeling of discomfort.

 

 

 

 

 

 

dEAr diary ~ has Elton saved John Lewis?

Their sales increased over the Christmas period according to the latest news.

Although I do like to shop at John Lewis if I can afford to sadly it wasn’t down to me;  but I am pleased this might mean they will not go under – not yet anyway.

Meanwhile Debenhams and M&S are still struggling with decreased sales.

If in fact Elton has been instrumental in helping John Lewis through a bad patch perhaps someone might persuade him to take over the Brexit talks after all we don’t seem to be getting anywhere with them at the moment.

A lady interviewed on the lunchtime news (from Barclaycard I think) said that they were looking at how they can get customer confidence back to spend more on the high street by introducing memorable ‘instagram’ moments through experiences whilst shopping.  As an example she said such things as free coffees and Yoga mornings.  I smiled thinking of my aging mum doing Yoga whilst shopping and then perhaps taking a selfie – not that she isn’t active still but I think when she needs a new dress she might just want to go and choose one without having to contort herself in the process!

I wonder too at the necessity to make the whole of life an instagram moment.

I don’t often mention the news but I am feeling more and more concerned over the things that I am hearing and the messages we are receiving through the media.   Maybe the reason sales are down is just that people don’t want to buy so much stuff any longer or perhaps don’t have the means to keep on spending with prices rising on food and the basic essentials.

We seem to have got into a catch 22 situation now where we have to keep spending to keep everyone in a job. That is quite a burden for me as I don’t actually want to keep buying stuff any more – nor do I want to buy into these ‘experiences’ either – I can find my own by just having a walk along the seashore or a picnic in the country.

It has seemed quite strange not going back to work after Christmas but it is nice to have more time now to plan out the year ahead and set new goals. I will get back to chatting about my progress tomorrow. x

crEAting Christmas ~ days 3 & 4

As we left for home yesterday we drove past the sad little bay just round the corner from our cottage where the recent tragedy happened, all was completely calm and peaceful now as if nothing had happened and at that moment a rainbow appeared.It is a community in mourning, feeling the loss of a friend and neighbour – many of the locals are calling for a road barrier to be put in place now so this loss of life does not happen again in the future when the sea is at high tide.  The sea that I love so much has suddenly become quite a fearful place but even so now I am back in landlocked Yorkshire I miss going to sleep with the roar of the waves in the background.

As we were on the road yesterday I had a really simple Advent activity – something only available to ‘us northerners’ and something I look forward to getting each year…

…the Booths Christmas Book and for you southerners (and any readers from other parts of the world) Booths is a family run grocers business founded in 1847 and now a chain of supermarkets across the North of England and often refered to as the Waitrose of the North.  It trades on quality, local produce and great customer service.   Their release each Christmas of their hardback, bound book is always eagerly awaited by all their shoppers and followers.Our nearest store is – a bit too far away for a our weekly shopping but we always call in on our way to or back from Scotland at the Penrith or Kendal branch.  It is packed with photographs of deliciously tempting Christmas fayre to order or buy in store interspersed with a few recipes to make.

So I collected mine yesterday and spent my elevenses this morning pouring over all the Christmas food on offer and a quick look at the recipes in the back.  I find it remarkable that Booths can produce such a lovely little book and give it away free – I was a truly happy bunny.

Todays activity…As you may remember from last year I decided to do something different to the usual wreath on our front door so I hung my chicken wire cone see post here (a left over from my daughter’s wedding that hung on the Church gateposts full of flowers) and this time filled it Christmas foliage.  I quite liked it so have done it again this year.  If you don’t find wreaths easy to make this is a simple alternative…

…first bend some chicken wire to form a cone shape – making a hanging loop at the point on the back.  Pack the front and sides with moss (I had collected a small heap in the summer in readiness).  Find an empty jam jar and push down into the cone as far as it will fit and so it is not visible. Remove the jar again and push some chicken wire into the jar to hold the stems steady when filling with foliage.  Fill the jar with cold water and start arranging pieces of foliage. Hold the cone steady in a small bucket then lower the jar into the cone making sure it is a snug fit. At the moment I am using some dried red hydrangea heads and a dried white one, some ivy and a few holly stems.  As we get closer to Christmas I will swap these for eucalyptus, holly and Hypericum like last years.

I have hung mine to the side of our main door but they are quite light and will hang on a door.As you can see I am no florist but it is not too difficult to get a pleasing arrangement.  You could add sprayed leaves, ribbon or pretty much anything.  Just remember to keep topping up the jar of water.

We have placed a small rooted Christmas tree by the front door (only £10 at Wilko) and put a few lights on it.  DH has still to do the rest of the lights in the front garden and paint the front door – I will take a few photos when it is all finished.

Whilst in Scotland we went over to Portpatrick for a stroll by the harbour and found they were having their annual Christmas craft fair in the village hall so went for a look around.  There was some lovely things to buy – after much deliberation and bearing in mind I had to limit my spending I chose these……a pack of watercolour notelets (right) painted by a local artist to support the Aldouran Wetland Garden and these two pretty little felted Christmas tree cards for each of my daughters – made by a local crafter.

I also bought a few other bits and pieces whilst we were out and about – goodies that I never see down here in Yorkshire.The frilly cake band takes me back to my childhood and reminds me of Christmases past – they would appear each Christmas round our Christmas cake – at 99p I just had to have one.  The packet contains an iced ginger cake – we always buy one when we are at the cottage but usually we get the un-iced version – these too are only £1 from Tesco or Morrisons but I have never seen them south of the border.  I thought the iced one would be a nice treat for Christmas. And on the way home a few small inexpensive things for Christmas from Tebay services of all places – each of these little tissue parcels were a £1 – you will have to wait a while until I unwrap them to find out what is in them.

Welcome to my new followers too.  Christmas is a lovely time in Blogland – everyone is so busy making and baking.

Back tomorrow for Day 5 of Advent. x

 

 

dEAr diary ~ shopping, crafting and more preparing

We set off for our planned date with John Lewis yesterday with a packed lunch and flask, a bit later than intended – not even sure why, I think I had a lot to get ready – vouchers, list of requirements, carrier bags, some bits to drop off at my brothers on the way home – so it took us longer than I thought to get out of the door.   What a surprise when we drove up the road  and onto the moor that takes us over the tops of Saddleworth to Greenfield, Mossley, Ashton, Stockport and finally Cheadle Royal our destination – there was a covering of snow. On the way home it was thick fog too and a bit hairy coming over the winding moor road but at least it was still open as often when there is any snowfall it is soon closed off and we have been stuck getting home a few times, you really have to watch the weather here if you venture far when it snows.

We had a lovely day looking at all the gorgeous things in the John Lewis store – these were my favourite (apologies for the mobile photo) – 4 champagne glasses by Waterford Crystal Mixology a mere £255 for the four!  Obviously they will be on my Christmas list and obviously I won’t be getting them!  But I can admire them.

We bought  a gift for Little L (reduced by 20% in the Black Friday deals), a Magic set for my nephew (which wasn’t reduced but still in budget) and a couple of small gifts for Little L to put in the Christmas Eve box I am filling with her mum.  We won’t see her at Christmas and I have decided to buy a short 3 monthly subscription from Toucan boxes for children starting after Christmas, to see how it goes, rather than a ‘main’ present so the Christmas Eve box will just be a little extra and I quite like the idea that not everything has to be opened on one day.

Her mum has some new flamingo pyjamas which will go in the box, I have bought a 99p pack of plasticine, a small pack of Christmas joke cards (for some reason she loves telling jokes but so far only remembers two), I found a lovely Emma Bridgewater spoon with coloured spots on the handle for her too.  I will add a book and some felt tips etc which I will get from the Works or Sainsbury’s and one or two other inexpensive bits.

With my gift card from leaving work I bought a cosy brushed cotton duvet cover for the colder winter months in large grey check so now I have to decide between this and the Dorma one I bought from Dunelm.  I won’t be keeping both but needed to see them in our bedroom to decide.

Sainsbury’s is attached to the John Lewis in Cheadle and we had a drink in the afternoon in their cafe (really to save a bit of money) – the difference in service between the two shops is notable!  We waited 15 minutes to be served at Sainsburys and we were only second in the queue, we had arrived when they were changing shifts – the person leaving just down tools and left and I can honestly say in no way does it resembles the very precise hand over at the changing of the guard.  We had a look around the small Habitat section on the way out – I loved the old Habitat stores and really miss them now.  This small stand they have in the corner of Sainsburys looks quite pitiful to what Habitat was in its heyday.

The selection bags were all ready to be delivered today  – I had quite a production line going so in the end they didn’t take very long to finish.

I intended to get back to making my cards this morning but I ran out of time so it will be tomorrow; I saw some lovely cards yesterday on display but homemade are fun to do and so much cheaper as I already have a stack of blanks and all the printing gear.

Because I ran out of time to soak my fruit for the cake yesterday it was the first task on the list this morning.  I just love that smell of brandy mixed in the dried fruit with the peel from the citrus fruit.  I wil bake it on Sunday and make Lemon Curd at the same time to use up the lemons.

Saturday morning is the Crisis coffee morning at church – I am going with a friend for a coffee, a chat and a look at the Xmas goodies to buy on the stalls.

Back soon x

 

fEAsible ~ plotting, planning and preparing for Christmas

Another dark dreary day today and cold with it – light is in short supply at the moment but I did manage to get my selection bags finished and ready to go.  The only cost to me was for the fun size chocolate bars inside which I bought reduced at Halloween, the gift wrap was some left over from a previous year and the tags from old Christmas cards.  I will take pictures tomorrow as the light has gone altogether now.

I made Mushroom soup today and extra for the freezer.  It has become my favourite lunch at the moment – perhaps you can tell!  We had freshly baked rolls too from Sainsbury’s – a kind of Ciabatta bread with cheese and shaped like a boat – should have taken a picture.  They were reduced to 4 for 60p – so a bargain as well.

I have started my initial preparations for Christmas, I use the same checklists each year so I don’t forget to do things.  This is the first of a series of lists that I have developed over time and serve me well:-

Getting prepared and organised – step 1 – initial preparations

  • Begin a Xmas inspiration notebook or wallet –  a definite must – I collect all those usually annoying leaflets, adverts about events, recipes, decoration ideas or anything Christmassy that catches my eye.
  • Look at what didn’t work last year (see my notes HERE from last year of things to avoid or do better)
  • Do something different this yearI like to plan something new each year and this often ends up as a new tradition the following years.
  • Decide on any entertaining we might do and set a date – prepare invitations knowing if and when we might be holding a party or get together is crucial to knowing just how busy I am going to be.
  • Find the decorative Xmas box to hold incoming Xmas cards as they arrivebelieve it or not we have received our first Xmas card but it is far too early to put it up so I usually hold them all in a pretty box.
  • Review finances for last Xmas and set a new budgetI keep a note of our past Christmas spending and plan a new budget based on this.
  • Arrange the family Not so Secret Santa draw
  • Prepare the Christmas Calendar for December – I like to put everything down in one place so I have a calendar that I can see at a glance what is planned for each day in December. 

I start by putting down any dates that are fixed like birthdays, then schedule appointments, and then decide on any events we might like to attend if we can fit them in.

  • Add birthday dates first and any anniversaries (we have quite a few in December)
  • Reschedule any unnecessary appointments for after Christmas (this might be a dental check up or the like if it is non urgent I will move it to after Christmas)
  • Establish everyone’s movements (otherwise known as who is going where with whom)
  • Schedule / book appointments for hairdressers, massage etc (a little ‘me’ time)
  • Make a note of any discount nights or late night shopping
  • Schedule time with the familythis might be a night out at a restaurant or a night in with a Xmas film – something we can all do together.
  • Schedule any religious activitiesCarol singing, Crib service etc
  • Schedule a theatre night or Christmas event (this year we are going to see the Winter Wonderland lights at Dunham Massey and probably go to the Living Advent event in Saltaire)
  • Add dates for making Christmas food gifts (I usually make a few food gifts for my friends and these have to be made closer to Christmas so I need to leave a clear day or two)
  • Add last posting dates for Christmas (I have already picked up the leaflet for this year whilst I was at the post office)

This is very much the planning and plotting stage – deciding on what to do and where to go and when.  I have already done some of these things on this list – but have I missed anything?

There is a lot to fit in now into four weeks.  My next task will be the cake on Sunday and getting back to doing my lino cut Christmas card.

I was chatting with my daughter about a present for Little L for Christmas and I mentioned the subscription boxes you can order for children that come by post once a month with activities.  I signed up for something similar years ago that was run by the Early Learning Centre before they had shops and my two girls loved it when the parcel arrived each month, a box full of surprises.  I am not sure they are such good value these days but the idea is still good and we are looking into it.  She has so many presents on Christmas day that it would be nice to spread it out a bit.  Has anyone any experience of any on the market?

Tomorrow we are going back to John Lewis  – it is one of my Christmas treats in itself – I love to look at all the lovely things and get ideas.  What a shame I don’t have another free hot drink and cake voucher unless one arrives in the post in the morning!

How are your plans coming along?