Thursday, 28 February 2008

Looking forward to paying tax

Yes, you did hear correctly. I am looking forward to paying tax. Not for myself, I already pay more than enough, but for my husband. This year he is finally bringing in enough money to cover costs in his swim school. Surely the next step after covering costs should be a little profit? and that leads to tax. So I really am looking forward to paying tax.

I have a days annual leave tomorrow as we plan to lay the flooring in the conservatory and re-arrange the furniture. We have planned this so many times before but this time I dont think there is anything to stop us. However, I dont count my chickens until tomorrow, because there is always some crisis that comes along, usually plumbing problems. This should mean hat I can move the extra furniture out from the sitting room as well so that it doesnt feel quite so much like sitting in a second hand furniture store in the evenings.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Wednesday already!

Goodness me, the week is flashing by this week. Already it is Wednesday.
We had leftover Thai Red Curry for dinner but there wasnt quite enough so now we are are all mooching about looking for something extra. I think it might have been a bit of a false ecomoony to stretch the chicken quite so far as we have ended up with cheese on toast for supper. Oh,well. I must learn from this. More padding when I am stretching food.

My youngest son and I walked over to my sisters house for a couple of hours this evening. Its about a half an hour walk and all country lanes, as long as you can block out the sound of the motorway which goes through the middle. We will try to do this each week because the little walk is good for us but also its nice to have 1/2 an hour with my son just to chat and hear his awful stories about school. We walked past the allotment field, which is equal distamce from both of our houses when walking but considerable further, especially for my sister, if you need to take the care along.

It reminded me that in a couple of weeks time we will be starting our regular trips to the allotment as well. There is a lot of clay there so we dont go too early as it is very boggy and sticky until the soil dries out a bit. A nicely looked after allotment is definitely a thing of beauty but ours has yet to reach such giddy heights. I have a good feeling about this year though. We need to get some recycled timber for the raised bed and some wood chip to keep the weeds down in between. My sister is looking out for wood chip from the council, where they are shredding fallen trees. We like to use mostly recycles itmes for the allotment (and anywhere else come to that) so thats suits us fine.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Back to life

Nothing from me yesterday as a migraine got in my way. However pretty much back to normal today after a bit of a shaky start.

My son didn't have a brilliant day today either. He was late home from college because he got picked up by the police. He was walking at the side of the road and someone he recognised from college drove past. The other kid slowed to a stop and my son hopped in for a ride. The police pulled them over and took them back to the police station. They searched my son and made a cursory search of the car, but didn't search the driver or the glove compartment of the car. How strange? Was it just designed to scare teenage kids? He didn't seem worried but isn't it odd in itself that kids half expect to be picked up for doing nothing? He came home once before having been searched when working for a double glazing company.

So anyway, by the time we were all together we were ready for a really nice dinner. I made Red Thai Curry & basmati rice. Here is the recipe. ALso another good recipe, that I dont think you find on the internet anywhere. Delicious cornflake cake.
Try these, they are both excellent.


RED THAI CURRY


INGREDIENTS

200ml/8fl oz coconut cream
2 cloves garlic peeled and finely chopped
2 tbls red Thai curry paste
2 tbls fish sauce
2 tsp sugar
250g/10 oz chicken breast finely chopped
450ml/3/4 pt chicken stock
2 kaffir or lime leaves finely shredded
1 chopped red chilli to garnish

METHOD

1. Pour the coconut cream into a saucepan and gently heat
2. Meanwhile heat a wok with 2 tbls oil, when this is hot add the garlic and cook for 10-20 seconds, then add the curry paste for a further few seconds.
3. Pour in the warmed coconut cream and cook for 5 mins until thickened
4. Stir in the fish sauce and sugar then add the chicken and cook for 5 mins.
5. Pour in the stock and simmer for a few mins until the chicken is cooked.
6. Stir in the lime leaves and place in serving dish garnish with the chilli

Cornflake Cake

Parchment paper to line tray
Tray is sized 12.5" x 9"

8 oz marg melted in large saucepan

Add (all at once)

10 oz self raising flour
10 oz sugar (can be granulated, doesn't need to be caster) - today's is granulated
2 oz cornflakes crushed by hand

Stir all in together
Put on tin, and even out by wet hand
Bake for 15 minutes on 180 degrees c
When you take tray out of oven, cut immediately

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Car Boot Sale Success

We had a really nice day again. It is so nice when we have a weekend together and no work. We really appreciate it because it only happens about every 12 weeks. So today we started with a visit to the local car boot sale. I was looking out for baskets, for storage, and baby wool. I didn't get either! However I did get a lovely rug for the bedroom. All new and still wrapped. It was marked up at £35 but the guy let me have it for £10. We also saw a dresser which was marked up at £75. It is prefect for the kitchen project. We made an offer of £60 and asked the guy if he could deliver it. A bit cheeky I guess but seemed happy with the deal. As he was packing it though he apparently let the glass door of the top bang close and break, the wood but not the glass. When he turned up with it in the afternoon he gave us the option of our money back but we decided to keep it anyway and just pay him £40. Beloved’s father was a carpenter and they worked together a lot when he was a boy. So beloved spent a happy hour putting the door back together with clamps and wood glue and in a few days it will be as good as gold.


On the way home for the car boot sale we visited friends for coffee and a chat. This is my friend Markets patio. If it was just a bit warm then we would have been sitting here with our coffee. Then off home to potter about the place. The rest of the day was pleasant and restful.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Sausages & knitting

We had our day at the seaside today. We were lucky with the weather in as much as it was quite warm (for February) and it managed not to rain.

I didn't find the little wool shop that I was looking for to buy the wool for making my friends babies jumper. So thats something for tomorrow. We didn't buy any sausages from the award winning sausage shop because they didn't look very appealing. So we decided that this week we will try to make some sausages ourselves. Beloved likes lamb but always when we see lamb sausages they have mint in them. He also likes mint but not in lamb sausages! So we will try to make lamb sausages without the mint.

Tomorrow is our visit to the car boot sale, unless there is rain, and I will look for baby wool, baskets for storage & a food mixer for making soap. Later we plan to do the drawings for our new front porch & also to plan the layout for the kitchen.

I love weekends like this.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Still learning

After writing some 70 blogs I have just realised that I didn't have the comment facility switched on! doh. From now on anyone can comment, sorry about that to anyone who wanted to comment previously. I love hearing from others and would never knowingly shut anyone out.

I am also, apparently & despite spending 8 hours most days on it, still learning with Excel. I cleaned up the spreadsheet that I use for myself (to make them a little more robust) and corrupted them instead. I am just trying to sort them out and then will make them available on here (with Stephens advice). I am also working on a snowball spreadsheet, to help anyone trying to work out what debts to repay first. There are quite a few online but I find them a little complicated so I thought I would try to make something more simple.



On a different subject, this flower is from my friend Margrets beautiful garden. For her Christmas present this year I made her a calendar featuring 12 pictures of her garden. I think she liked it and it was fun to do. Not expensive in money terms but took quite a long time and a lot of thought. I love receiving such presents and hopefully she did too.

I used to love to knit and embroider but for the last few years I have had problems with the joints in my fingers. Even a good sized row of knitting causes me pain and i must rest between rows. However my lovely friends from Sardinia, the ones who are building their own house....from scratch.....including the bricks, have a new baby daughter. For this event I must knit. I can't buy baby clothes for a family who is this at one with the planet. It just wouldn't be right.

So tomorrow, when hopefully we are at the seaside unless the weather is really awful, I will visit a wool shop for a few little balls of wool in white and a light minty green. Strangely my youngest son suggested that I ask my mum how to knit. I am sure he thinks I am teasing when I explain that I made almost of of his baby clothes just 15 years ago (and less).

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Looking forward


I am looking forward this evneing but not too far.
Beloved has cancelled all his work at the weekend because it is the last weekend of half term (and since I booked him a three month break with his family next summer he feels he has to be extra nice to me...and quite right too.)

On Saturday we are having a day together in Weymouth. We will have a nice walk around the MArina and the docks and then up along the beach, We can rummage around int he shops. There are some nice little shops there but history would seem to suggest that we wont buy anything apart from maybe a lb of butchers sausages. On the way back we pass a few farm shops and I sometimes buy vegetables or honey at the side of the road. There are lots of signs for free range eggs as well but my neighbour keeps chickens so we don't need.

On Sunday we plan to get up fairly early and take a little trip to our local car boot sale. I might make us a nice cooked breakfast before we go. It will stop us from getting hungry later on but also makes the day feel special. I am looking for baskets because I like them for storage. Also an old electric whisk than I can use for soap making, If we have time later in the day then we might make some labna, assuming I have time tomorrow to make yogurt. It is strained yogurt which is sometimes called Quark. It is nice for a light lunch with some flat bread and a little salad. I hope we also have time to try soap making. We plan to make plan olive oil soap. I do already have around 20 bars of soap in the bathroom becasuse I am a astock piler anyway but I want to try and I dont think it goes off, so we will use it in its time.

But before all that another busy day at work. It is so busy lately that the days pass in a flash.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Covetting my neighbours ox and ass


I had an email this morning from a friend who lives on the Island near by. They bought a lovely bungalow a year or so ago. It has a large garden which gives onto some woodland and then onto the beach. When they put up the kids trampoline it isn't even noticeable in the garden. In my garden it means you can only walk around it single file. They have spent a year having the house renovated and enlarged. It was already pretty magnificent, I have to say. There is a semi-external Jacuzzi room, the kids rooms are virtually separate apartments and the garage is around the same size as my house.

My friend work very hard and investigate their projects properly for home and work. They are lovely people who deserve their house but for a fleeting moment I did have a twinge of the green eyed monster. To live in such a house would make you happy to get up every morning, wouldn't it? Just to see the view over your own garden and down to the sea.

But after that little millisecond I thought about it a bit more. I aspire to a house with a bigger garden to keep my chickens and grow my veg but I don’t need luxury. I would like a house with a view but my house is on the edge of the country and really in a beautiful area itself.

Whilst I was still musing on this point I opened another email. This time from a friend who lives in Sardinia. He had a new daughter and was building a house on some land he bought years back but hadn't been able to afford to develop. In the photos he isn’t just building the house for his lovely family, he is actually making the bricks. His house will be his home & our house is our home. I dont need luxury but its not bad to aspire to something you dont have as long as its no obsessional.

The phpt shows my lovely friend moulding some of the bricks for the house.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Cook Books


I love a really naughty sweet called Tablet. I only buy it once a year, on holiday, because it is so so naughty but today I stumbled across a recipe on the net. The receipe is for Scottish tablet but I buy Cornish tablet on holiday and its seems to be about the same to me.
Tablet Ingredients:


1 teacup of milk
Large tin of condensed milk
900g of sugar
100g of butter

Maw Boron fee the Sunday Post has published a cookbook full of her favourite Scottish and family recipes.

Tablet Cooking Directions:
1. Melt the butter and sugar. Add the condensed milk and the teacup of milk.
2. Stir and turn up the heat and keep stirring until it reaches boiling point.
3. Turn the heat down low and stir for 45 minutes (chair and book optional!)
4. Remove from the heat and beat 60 times with a wooden spoon. Put a wee bit on a plate and if it sets then it's ready to be put onto the shallow trays.
5. Score the tablet surface marking into squares and allow to set and get cold.

I cant work out how to link to the cookbook which is mentioned because a)I am not very good at it and b) the link just doesnt seem to be there. However I think that if you search Amazon for Maw Boron then it would get you there.

Because this happens to me a lot I am going to set up a list of good books on Amazon and link to it, then I can just add the new goodies.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Net Worth


I have been thinking financial thoughts today.

I notice a fashion for showing 'Net Worth'lately rather than earnings v outgoings. WHilst this makes a lot of sense to me as an accountant. After all net worth is your personal balance sheet showing the state of your financial play at a given time. Whereas just looking at your income and your expenditure does not anything other that what you managed to bring in and to spend in any period. Net worth makes more sense if you are worried about or concentrating on your future security. Income v expenditure is useful as a shortterm monitoring tool to ensure you are not over spending.

I keep two sorts of spreadsheet to help us monitor where we are & how we are doing towards our financial independence.

I keep a spreadsheet with a budget column and a column for each month. I then have a row for each type of income and a sub total. Next a Set of rows for fixed expenditure, such as council tax and mortgage repayments. A sub total row and then a row which shows me monthly income less fixed costs. Next some rows showing variable costs, holiday payments, credit card repayments etc, another sub total and then another income less costs row. Lastly rows showing transfers to saving account and a final balance of income less all the months expenditure.

The second spreadshhet shows all of our assets on one side, proeprty we own, pensioin investments, savings etc. On the other side any outstanding debts, mortage owed, any credit card and other debt. All of the good news less all of the bad news is our net worth.

At the moment our balance sheet is looking pretty good but our Profit and loss account is a bit tight. This is because we choose to repay more quickly on our mortgage than we needed to and also because we made some additional purchases at a price as an investment for the fmaily in future.

I would be happy to set up a spreadsheet which can be downloaded from the site if anyone would find this useful. Um, I dont know how to do it (the download I mean, the spreadsheet bit is easy.)but I will try to work it out if I can. I think it is really important that we all understand how our money works for us to help us to be secure in future. Its really just the flip side of being frugal.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Sunday night and all is well

Today I finished my cleaning, in as much as any cleaning is ever really finished.
I drove to the car boot sale and then found it was cancelled as the ground was too wet. Which was okay because I really wanted to finish my washing and some other bits and bobs? So all of the washing is done, floors washed and bathroom scrubbed. I have made enough coronation chicken pasta and egg mayonnaise to keep the men folk happy for lunches for a few days. Also a nice cake (tart?) with a sponge case filled with cherries and then covered in meringue and baked until the meringue just starts to crisp. Baby says its yum and he should know as he has had two slices already. I told him I have a few days off coming up and he is requesting all sorts of dishes that I don’t always have time for on a work day. This week is half term so my men don’t have school, college or teaching classes, just work at the house. This means I get extra time in bed in the morning because breakfasts and lunches are not required before I leave for work at 8.00am.

Anyway, now its time for a nice bath and an early night.

Nighty night.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Update on my to do list.

I slept later than I meant this morning because we started to watch a DVD of a series called 24. I was sceptical and didn't really want to watch it but I was hooked and we ended up watching FOUR programmes in a row and being very late to sleep.

That meant that by the time I awoke this morning the sun was out and the frost was already starting to disappear. We had breakfast of cereal and coffee in bed and then off on our list for the day.

We filled up the car with LPG (it is in the same direction) and then off to the Chinese supermarket. We bumped into my sister and brother in-law in the shop, stocking up with all the same things as us. That’s the influence of our cookery class. I found that they also sold 3kg bags of bicard and corn flour which were pretty economical.
The shop looks pretty big in this picture but that’s because there is a little place upstairs which sells woks, steamers and so on and that is where they stood to take the picture. The shop is really good & the staff very helpful. They also have a warehouse out back where the restaurants and take always in the area stock up.



After leaving there we made out way back to the International Store in the St Marys area of town. We didn't buy too much in there, just some Arabic bread and some mango juice.


This is a really unusual Saturday for us, we hardly ever go the shops but needed to replenish our stocks so a shopping session was due.

Afterwards beloved went of to work, Saturday is a busy day for lessons, whilst I got on with my cleaning. The bathroom looks good and the most of the floors but I still need to mop the downstairs floors & clean up a little more in the kitchen.

This evening was spent at my parents house with my family. A nice evening of chat with plenty of laughs, as usual. Now I am sitting on my bed with my lap top and my oldest cat on my lap (my cat cant stand for anything other than her to be the centre of attention)and my husband watching 24 (again, there are 24 parts I assume.)One of my sons is with my parents and the other at a party (he has just turned 18, where else would you be on a Saturday night).

Tomorrow I will finish off & then I might go to the car boot sale tomorrow. I would find a couple more baskets useful and the car boot sale is the place to find old baskets.

I am feeling quite blessed. I love my job but I also really enjoy my home & family (I love them too obviously, I just thought it went without saying until I read it back) when I can be away from my job. I am almost afraid of feeling such contentment though for surely something will go wrong when I am so pleased with everything??

Friday, 15 February 2008

Yay, its Friday

It was a really busy day today (again) at the end of a really busy week, in a really busy month. I am really looking forward to my weekend.
Tomorrow I will sleep in until 8am. That means I can wake up in daylight, which I love and the weather is also supposed to be frosty and sunny, so hopefully it is a lovely bright morning. A bright sunny start to the day gives me so much more energy than a wet or overcast day.

I need to
1)clean the kitchen
2)clean the bathroom
3)finish the last of the clothes washing
4)dry all the washing and then fold and return to its owner or put it away.
5)vacuum right through
6)dust every thing else with a damp microfibre cloth
7)a little bit of shopping
8)Put away the rest of the stuff in my new office (which I might start calling my study as I get it mixed up with my office at work in my head).
9)Hang my accountancy certificates over my desk ( I know it’s a bit silly but they represent a lot of hard work, honest).
10)Chinese and/or Asian supermarket with my sister if I have time.
11) Fix mums printer and show her how to access her phone bill etc online.
12) Set up a direct debit on my Egg account (they have sent me a ratty email)
13) Pay some cheques into the bank.
14) Advertise some of the old computer games on Amazon.
15) Update the registers for next term & sort out any cheques which have arrived this week.
16)Dye my hair ( I look like a badger from the top and as I am only 5'4'' most people look down on my head)

Before I started to sort out the house and get my self organised it took me all weekend, and half the week as well, to do my 'bog standard' housework without even starting on the various sort outs which I now do every weekend.

Back in the bad old days, when chaos reigned, I also never got all the washing finished and everyone ran out of socks on a regular basis. Now most of the essentials are completed on a Saturday and Sunday is my day for my more favourite tasks. I will cook Sunday dinner but also a couple of puddings, such as fruit crumbles, which will last a few days in the fridge for hungry teenagers. I also make something like pasta with tuna salad or coronation chicken for self service lunches during the week. Finally I will make a casserole or something similar which will last us for Monday and Tuesday.

Okay, I am getting ahead of myself, Saturday to do list seems to have turned into Sundays to do list as well and that’s no good. I don’t know what will happen on Sunday until I have made it through Saturday.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

St Valentines Day

So how did we celebrate St Valentines day in our house? Well ofocurse we didn't but I did get a little kiss and a Happy Valentines day in between work and the cookery class.

Tonight was the last lesson. The weeks have gone really quickly and I have enjoyed trying new ideas and new dishes. I havn't learnt anything new about cooking but I have been inspired to try a few differnt things. The chicken with basil was popular with everyone as we all the various Thai curries. I really like the style of cooking because it is tasty but also healthy and full of vegetables (which are cooked in the pan so keep their vitamins)and really speedy. I may go to the Chinese supermarkets in Southampton at the weekend to stock up with a few specialist ingredients and a few which are just a good bargain.



Something else new to try. It is nearly light enough to go to the allotment in the evnings so we will soon start our summer job down on our 'farm'. I have bought 4 little seeds to grow some luffas. Everyone I tell seems to the I have lost the plot and that Luffas actually come from the sea but really they are vegetables, or actually fruit, and they grow on a vine. I am hoping for a few days off shortly so perhaps I can get around to making my soap as well.



Work at the house is still progressing but the sunnier days make me want to be out in the garden or the allotment. Its all too easy to ignor the house but when the bulk of the work is finished I have to go through the entire attic for another sort out. Ofcourse loads of things will come in useful for the other house but all the same it needs a sorting.

I seem to have been spring cleaning for months but as spring actually gets here I am actually making some progress.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

The best laid plans of mice and men

A few days ago I posted a photo of the dresser which I bought on ebay as a opart of the kitchen refurbishment. Well it certainly doesnt look like that now! A we put it onto the roofrack of the Frontera it looked a bit more flexible in the middle than it should We tightened the ropes to tie it in place and it fell completely in half! In two parts it was impossible to tie to the roof rack and so we had to get it into the car itself. That would have been okay if there were only two of us, not three and if we had also removed all of the bag of swimming gear from the boot before we left. We got everything in the car but by the time we had driving home with the bits of furniture we were all rather ratty and bad tempered. As we unloaded it at our house more bits fell off! I had an email a few hours ago from the chap that sold it to me to ask if we wanted the door handle posted to us. I will draw up a plan of the new kitchen at the weekend but I tihnk we have just about everything that we need, except some more wall tiles. Just as well as I really cant face collecting another piece of furniture which drops into bits when we pick it up. I have taken all other furniture of my watch list on ebay. No more!

However the work progresses. Next week is half term and my lovely men are planning their work for the week. The boys are doing three days each and the old man is doing four. They all have a days work on the Monday as well so they aren't having much time off. By the end of the week the outside of the building work should be finished & the main room should also be finished. That means the guest bathroom is next on the list but I get ahead of myself and there is plenty to do before that.


The photo above is the old man standing in the early stages of the guest bathroom, when the wall was just a few inches high. Oddly it seems a lot larger area now that it is built.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Money Saving Expert


One of my favourite websites.
MSE is a fountain of information for anyone who doesnt like to waste their money.

This week I have used Martins articles to set me on the right road, as it were, for my husband car insurance this week. The renewal came through from Direct Line, which used to be one of the cheapest but apparently no more. It was for £28 per month. The car is a 4x4 but it is converted to LPG. Unfortunately you don’t get any extra discounts for trying to be a bit greener, although apparently car tax can be cheaper for some conversion, but not of course for us. I searched using Martins advice and found a comparable cover for £20 per month, and a lesser cover but still fully comprehensive, for £14 per month. I decided to go for the £20 per month but the bought it through Quidco (another favourite, more later) and got £70 cash back on the deal. So I have now insured the Frontera for the whole year for £170. I am very pleased with this.

I was put onto Quidco by reading the DFW forum on MSE. Its an amazing chat forum and the only one I ever take part in. There is a broad range of people and they are friendly and helpful in the areas that I frequent (DFW & OS) & between them seem to always have an answer, no matter how daft the question.

From the OS Forum on MSE I have gathered recipes, read up on meal planning and other organisational tips and found numerous blog recommendations.

I have also used Martins call checker this week on a couple of occasions. I am looking at the most reasonable call costs for our particular needs. We need to be able to phone overseas quite often, without breaking the bank and the kids need to be able to phone friends on their mobiles on occasion.

Dumplings and blogs


Yesterday I took the opportunity to get a bit of head start with cooking for the week. We had Thai Curry for lunch and then in the afternoon I made two fruit crumbles for puddings, a bowl of egg mayonaisse for sandwiches and a casserole for todays dinner. When i got home from work this evening I discovered that the peice of beef in the casserole had shrunk to a fraction of its former size so I made a dozen dumplings to fil everyone us a bit. This was a real success. I made too much dough so we have enough for another day because I find it really difficult to judge and ofcourse I never weigh anything. Anyway I formed about a dozen little balls of dough and then dropped them into a metal roasting pan which contain a half nch of gravy from teh casserole. I then put them under the grill for 15 minutes. I know this is odd but they are really nice when the top goes a bit crunchy instead of soggy. If i had made them earlier I would haveadded them to the casserole an hour from the end and then not replaced the lid, so they browned off a bit. Anyway, they were really lovely and no-one complained about the lack of meat, so I will make an effort to make them more often in future.

On the subject of casseroles I read on the website http://www.livingonadime.com/ that a casserole means any meal made in a single pot in America, as opposed to an casserole in the British sense, which is more like a stew but cooked in the oven. This explains why I have always imagined Tuna Casserole (which I have read about as an economical meal on US websites for years) as tuna fish chunks in gravy with potatoes and onions. No wonder I didnt like the sound of it. Now I know it means something completley different I am quite interested again. I read a lot of websites and blog from other English speaking nations and I love that the same words mean different things in different countries. I also like that there are such different ways of describing the same thing. Makes it all a lot more interesting! Another good thing about reading all these blogs is having a little window on someone elses life and their corner of the world. You can watch movies and documentaries but it really isnt the same as reading a blog, which is pretty much a daily diary with photos. I will write about some of my favourite in future & hopefully this will guide me towards some new blogs to read.

So now I know what I need in my life, more dumplings and more blogs.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Sunday - day of rest



But before that we still have a few things that need to be completed.

Beloved is at work already and wont be back until 6.30 this evening. He has more lessons at the weekend that any other time so he is only around here at half term & school holidays but thats okay with us as it makes those times a bit special and we can go somewhere together.

I almost finished my task list yesterday but stopped mid afternoon to look at tiles and counter tops for the re-furbished kitchen. Because we are using old pine furniture for the kitchen we need a counter top which will pull it all together visually and which is pretty hard wearing. The phot above is one of the second hand bits I have bought to pull the kitchen togther. Once it is done it will stay that way, I dont like change for the sake of it, so we need to have it how we like it. I am thinking of buying the counter top from a big chain like B&Q becuase all their wood is farmed and from sustainable resources, whereas its hard to find if that is true from some other suppliers.

Before we can start work on the kitchen we must finish the guest bathroom. We have everything except wall tiles and the water resistant gyproc board that goes under the tiles. As soon as the exterior, shed and electrics in the main rooms are finished the bathroom is next on the list.

Anyway, back to today. I have sorted everyones clean washing to go back to the them but slowed myself up a bit by marking their initials in each article. When the children were small and the clothes all differnt sizes I could sort the clothes quite quickly no problem. However now husband and both children as pretty much the same size and where similar clothes. I am always giving the wrong items to the wrong people. So now every time I give them back their clean basket of clothes each I label them up with their initials using a laundry pen. Within a few weeks I should have most items labelled and the task will be a little less frought.

I need to vacuum the stairs and bedrooms but otherwise cleaning is pretty much finished. I will also prepare a pot roast for tomorrow. My dad bought me a 56lb back of potatoes so at the moment we are having potatoes with nearly every meal. I will also be making a fruit crumble or maybe two depending on how much fruit I can find about the place to use up.

After work we are visiting a friend for coffee and cake. Then at bed time the old man and I will update the registers for next weeks classes before we drop off for the night. I busy day but it sounds rather nice to me.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Feeling powerless

I woke up this to find we had no electricity. Mentally working through my to do list for the day I realised how completely my life at home revolves around having power.
My task list for the day included-

Taking a shower - not actually on this but I was going to start the day with my shower as usual - shower is electric as this is supposed to be the least wasteful of power and water.
Vaccuming right through the house - Obviously not possible and half the house is carpeted so not so good when brushed.
Mopping floors - okay except boiler doesn't work without power but I can warm water on the cooker.
Clothes washing - there is too much to do by hand plus I have problems with my joints in my hand, so this is out. Then again no hot water because the boiler doesnt work.
Clothes drying - hung out on the line but not possible if I havn't washed anything.
Dish washing - dishwasher is fulling stacked and as a Grade A efficiency machine actually uses less power and water than washing by hand.
Sort out my clothes etc for charity - no excuses, I can get on with this.
Clear the last of the building junk from the garden into the skip at the front of the house- no excuses again but it is very cold outside first hng and I was hoping to do this later.
Check ebay to see how my ebook sales are going and check any furniture I am bidding on- We are collecting old pine kitchen furniture to refit our new kitchen. Beloved was a carpenter in a previous existence so I am hopeful this will work out well but some far we havn't found too much that we like.
Write blog - I can write it but not load it as the laptop can run on its battery but the router wouldn't work.

However as you can see the blog is now loaded, so the power my be up and running again. So no excuses, time to get on with my work for the day.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Aquaponics and direct debits


I did my little bit of de-cluttering world in the virtual world instead of in the physical world. I spent a half an hour cancelling all of my old direct debits and also a couple which I kept meaning to cancel and never got around to. This prompted me to check a few accounts as well and I found that various bills which I pay by direct debit have credit balances, so I have requested a few refunds. I don’t know why I haven’t done this before as it was really easy, all completed on line and if I accidently cancel a payment to someone that I should be paying, for example there were four payments set up for my life assurance, then I assume that they will contact me pretty quickly.

There was a scandal of sorts mentioned in the paper this week where Egg cancelled the credit cards of their 'high risk' customers. There was a small public outcry in which it came to light that the credit card accounts which had been cancelled were actually those that they made no profit on. I have an Egg card and was beginning to be quite offended that I hadn't had my card cancelled. Did this mean I managed my account badly and they made a lot of money from me?? I hope not. Anyway, today I got home from work and opened the mail. I had a terse little note from Egg saying my card was cancelled blah, blah, blah... In reality, I am not a suitable customer for them because they don’t make a profit from me as I manage my account too well. Well that suits me fine, so today I will be shredding my card, as I don’t think Egg is bank that is suitable for my business.

Last thing, I have been reading my favourite blog today (and every other day of course) down-to-earth and found Rhonda Jean talking about Aquaponics. It is just such a brilliant system. I know if I suggest it then the old man will think I have lost the plot, so I am thinking of printing of a few leaflets and leaving them about the place. Might get his interest as he loves both fish and veg! I mean, he has always sort of agreed that at some indefinite date in the future I can keep chickens. It’s going to be like a wildlife park around here soon.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Frugal Fright

I have been talking all week about my various frugal ways and inclinations but today I gave myself a bit of a fright. I checked my bank account on-line, first time for about three months. Its doesnt look good. Every bill seems to have increased.

I couldnt beleive it. I have spent this evening using www.moneysavingexpert.com to try to work out the best way of organising landline phone calls. I am thinking of buying something called a Orchid Dialler which will direct our phone calls via the most cost efficient service provider depending on whether they are landline, mobile, overseas etc. If this turns out to be as good as it sounds than I will be happy. MSE customers also get extra discount.

I was also trying to check out the price per call of various mobile packages. It seems to be almost impossible and I am no further forward now than I was three hours ago but I wont give up, although I might just for today.

I also checked my broadband bill online and they had taken too much however I checked the previous few months as well and found they had undercharged so overall I seem to be about even.

Tomorrow I will email the council and see if we are due a refund of council tax. We pay by direct debit so we should never under or overpay but they seem to me to take too much every year.

Anyway, must go, more frugal surfing to do!

I forgot to update my Freecycle diary. A young couple came today to collect our old sofa. It is cream leather (or maybe not) and I dont know what I was thinking when I got talked into buying it but anyway I am not sad to see the back of it & all the current furniture and hard wearing and can be recoverd so hopefully it will be many yers befpre we need any more chairs or sofas.

Monday, 4 February 2008

This simple life - in praise of families


Last evening I went out with my family to celebrate my brother in laws 60th Birthday (dont tell him but he looks 10 years younger and has the fitness level of a man half his age) and my sons 18th Birthday. We had a lovely time. It was simple pub food but made with good ingredients, all organic and local. We didn't have a starter or dessert (we never do but the kids sometimes have a pud.)as after the main meal we went back to my parents house for a chorus of Happy Birthday & a slice of cake (2 cakes actually!). I really enjoy family time with everyone.

We have all known each other for a lifetime so everything is really relaxed and we have enough shared history that the laughter and funny stories rarely stop. Same old stories ofcourse and every year or so a new one gets added when someone else falls over or does something silly.

I cant imagine life without my family around me. For a short time okay but not for too long. We have never had an argument although we all have our opinions and we very often dont agree, we just realise we dont need to fight about it.

A friend that my mums swims with heard that we were going on holiday together for a week last summer, all together in a large caravan (and it rained throughout so we actually in the caravan quite a bit.) She asked my mum 'wont you fall out?'. It was so far from our mind that we would fight that we thought she meant fall out of the caravan.

My sister and I have a allotment on which we try to grow our fruit and vegetable needs during the year. We dig and plant & weed instead of going to the gym. When the evenings are light and dry we try to get over to our little garden a couple of times a week. Sometimes mum and dad come too. So does my sisters dog, he likes to dig if we let him. Sometimes one of my kids joins in too. My youngest planted a couple of trees last summer. When we have a harvest we divide it up between us all so we all get to try things that we didn't plant ourselves, although Mum & Dad dont seem too keen on the chillies we grow.

In this spring my brother in law is building us a shed over there. Somewhere that we can keep our tools but also a place to escape and relax. We will keep our little kettle and picnic gas ring there so that we can stop for a nice cup of tea from time to time. Perhaps even a glass of wine sometimes. If I make wine from the fruit of the allotment then surely that would be okay? Maybe not.

The strange thing is since i started my journey towards a more simple and deliberate life I dont find that I need to escape but I still enjoy the time with my family and the idea of producing food for us all.

The lady in the photo is Loveday Weekes formerly Loveday Vanstone, from my fathers side of the family.

Frugality (Everyone is doing it!)


Frugality (also known as thrift or thriftiness) is the practice of restraint or creativity in the acquisition of goods and services at minimum cost, as well as the conservative use thereof.

Common strategies of frugality include the reduction of waste, curbing costly habits, suppressing instant gratification by means of fiscal self-restraint, seeking efficiency, avoiding traps, defying expensive social norms, embracing free (as in gratis) options, using barter, and staying well-informed about local circumstances and both market and product/service realities

Well I think us thrifties have always been used to being thought a bit strange but the times are a changing & the world seems to be coming around to our way of thinking at last. Even governments are talking about sustainability and green issues & encouraging financial literacy and planning and we all know goverments are always the last to jump aboard.

I saw this superb article today. One more person who has started to realise that previous generations did know a thing or two.

Thou shalt not waste
Thrift is fashionable again. But what is it like to grow up in a home where nothing is thrown away - and even toilet paper is strictly rationed? Mary Horsley remembers ...

Mary Horsley
The Guardian,
Monday February 4 2008
This article appeared in the Guardian on Monday February 04 2008 on p16 of the G2 features section.
It lay coiled like a small pink tapeworm, slightly frilly along the edges, in the dust at the bottom of the box. A homemade elastic band. I pulled it taut, and was amazed to find that it stretched and snapped back into place. And there my mother was again, sitting at the Formica-topped kitchen table, carefully cutting up pink Marigolds, fingers first and then the palms and wrist. Fifty years on, I could again hear the sound the scissors made as they crunched through the rubber; see her satisfied smile as each little pile of bands was completed.

No matter that the little finger bands were useful for practically zilch and would congeal into a sticky mess that stuck to the packets of powdered egg in the dresser drawer. Nothing was wasted. Long after the end of the war and rationing, we children teased her that she was stuck in a time warp, laughed at her austerity and flicked the bands around the room or used them to launch spitballs at each other. Undaunted, she stuck religiously to her thrifty ways.

Summer nights in the 1950s and 60s would find her in her trademark dungarees digging for Britain, by the light of a lamp hung in the apple tree. Her "compost-grown" vegetables kept all seven of us in rude good health. Our Morris Traveller often stank of manure she had gleefully scored from somewhere. And she wasn't the only one in dungarees. Uncle Fred, MD of Jesco Clean Overalls in Newcastle, had the firm run up a pair for all of us. Dungarees are still my garment of choice.

She was anything but mean: when my children were young, I had to teach them to discreetly return to her purse the £10 notes she pressed on them. But she was the most frugal person I ever knew. When I was a child, she would stand outside the lavatory door, listening to how many sheets I pulled from the Izal box (the soft variety was not yet invented). "Only two pieces now - that's quite enough," she'd whisper through the keyhole. "Scrunch them up - they work better."

Food was almost never thrown away. Mould was scraped off jars of jam, sliced off the edges of a loaf. Her version of a use-by date was: "Smells all right to me." Leftovers were ingeniously recycled. As members of a "Christian fellowship" called the Order of the Cross, we were vegetarians; my brothers and I became used to playing "spot the macaroni" in our nut roasts, and kept an eye out for the remains of the previous week's "meatless steaks". Potato peelings were boiled up and mashed for the hens, filling the kitchen with a strong, yeasty smell not unlike that of a brewery. Crusts were baked hard in the warming oven of our old coal-fired stove, then ground up to top the next macaroni cheese.

My father had almost no involvement in domestic arrangements, apart from polishing our shoes. A busy GP in Gloucester, his time was taken up with his patients, his golf, and his presidency of the Vegetarian Society. All the economising passed over his head. The only impact it had on him was that he sometimes had to search for his Elastoplast when my mother borrowed it to label the bottled plums that she stored in the larder alongside dangling tights filled with onions, and crocks of salted runner beans.

To waste was to sin in her mind - a lifetime guilt trip for me. No sooner had we finished peeling an orange than its skin was whisked away to join the others drying on a baking tray in the bottom of the stove. They made excellent firelighters - much more pleasant with their spicy Christmas fragrance than the plastic yoghurt pots she used in latter years, which nearly poisoned us all. But her fires always started first time. And woe betide the chimney sweep who failed to give her the contents of his suction machine to put on the compost heap. Meanwhile, coils of hair from my brush were carefully laid on the window ledge for the birds - which got fat on the leftovers she couldn't disguise - to use in their nests.

When we scagged our toenails through soft white cotton sheets, thinned almost to muslin in the middle, they went on to the mending pile to be cut in half and rejoined "sides to middles". When these wore out, they were set aside for making patches on subsequent holes, or to be cut into pillowcases and then cleaning cloths. I swear she would have saved our toenail clippings, if only she could have thought of a use.

Open the landing cupboard, and an enormous silk parachute would spill out - a favourite for building camps in our bedrooms, but intended for petticoats one day. Coats, shoes, jumpers and vests were bought for us to grow into. That's pretty normal - but we also clumped to school in overlarge shoes with cotton wool stuffed in the toes. For a brief, glorious time, clothes fitted, and we could face the world without shame, and then they were handed down. Being a girl after four boys I was spared most of this, but my brothers didn't have to wear the padded undergarment known as a liberty bodice (which saved on heating) but which was anything but liberating. I hated this with a passion, even though I had ice feathers on the inside of my bedroom windows in the mornings.

The most cringe-making moment, which I still blush to recall, was when she was "clearing out" (read "stashing away") her neighbour Violet's possessions after she died. She was often asked to do this task, and her bungalow was crammed full of old ladies' possessions that "might come in useful one day". This time she found a whole pile of nametapes embroidered V Cameron. For half a day she grumbled around the house about the waste. Then the light bulb went on. Licking her thumb, she started her search in the phone book. "Ha!" we heard as she stabbed her finger triumphantly at an entry "Thought so. V Cameron, Gloucester." I watched, excruciated, as she picked up the phone and dialled.

"I wonder," she said. "Would you be interested in a job lot of name tapes? V Cameron, italics, royal blue?"

I tried to imagine the reaction of the V Cameron at the other end. This was long before the days of cold calling. Many people didn't even have a phone. I'll bet V Cameron wished she (or he) didn't.

"No, no, of course there won't be a charge. It's just that they're very nicely done, and it's a pity to waste them, so I thought ..."

What a pity she died before Freecycle, whose members use the internet to give their unwanted possessions away rather than dumping them in the bin. Had she mastered a computer, which I find very unlikely, she would have been in her element - though I have a horrible feeling she would have used it to fill her cupboards rather than empty them. She died in 2004, at the age of 90, and left such a mass of belongings that I am still sorting through the remnants.

But here's the rub. When petrol reaches £5 a litre and goods no longer move around so freely, when we put our foot through the last Egyptian cotton sheets, or shortages remind us that plastic too is made from petrochemicals, we're all going to have to be a lot more like my mother. Those lessons in thrift and ingenuity, once so embarrassing to me, will stand not only me, but my children and theirs in good stead. Only last week I watched Nina, my five-year-old granddaughter, carefully smooth and refold the tinfoil her school lunch was wrapped in, to reuse. As it is, I think of my mother every time I open the Aga and smell the waft of dried orange peel. And you know what? My fires start first time as well.


It was the brthday today of the facilities manager at my work. It is office tradition to buy cakes for everyone in your team and various friends around the organisation but because he is in charge of the buildings everyone but everyone knows him. So did we have to manage with two frozen gateau from the supermarket in the intersts of being frugal? No, we had home made cakes for all 200 of us! He admitted to making abit of a mess in teh kitchen at home but all the same I am impressed.

This is one of the recipes, scrummy.

Parchment paper to line tray
Tray is sized 12.5" x 9"

8 oz marg melted in large saucepan

Add (all at once)

10 oz self raising flour
10 oz sugar (can be granulated, doesn't need to be caster) - today's is granulated
2 oz cornflakes crushed by hand

Option for 5oz coconut (but we don't like it)

Stir all in together

Put on tin, and even out by wet hand

Bake for 15 minutes on 180 degrees c

When you take tray out of oven, cut immediately

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Emphasis on Frugal


I have thinking (again!)that although I often mention simplify life I havn't necesarily talked about being more frugal. I am trying to maximise our income (within reason - I am not working any more hours than the too many I already do, also avoiding the illegal and immoral)and reamain as frugal as possible. This is not to accumulate wealth for its own sake or because we want some made spending spreee or gold taps. What we want is to pay off the mortgage as soon as we reasonable can. Then we can decide if we continue to work full time or spend more time at home. We want some security for our old age and dont beleive we can rely on our pensions.

My Frugal Current Account
I have an extra current account into which any extra earnings are depositted. If I want to buy something then this is the money which I use.
I have started using Quidco. I change my power supplier or open a bank account or apply for a credit card and magically get credited £££. When they get to a certain level they deposit £100 into my frugal current account. Nice!
I am currently selling some ebooks on ebay. Actually I am currently not selling some ebooks on ebay but hopefully at least some will sell. They have in the past but ofcourse fashions change.
We also do Mystery Dining. We eat out at a nice restaurant a few times a month and then write a report about it. We then get re-paid the maount we paid for the meal. We dont get paid to do this but I do have the repayment made in my frugal bank account.
I am registered for Mystery Shopping but I havn't yet taken on a shop becuase I am not sure of the tax ramifications & also because any that are advertised disappear in minutes and they are always gone by the time I get to them.
My mileage and expenses are also paid into my frugal account.
I have sold some books on Amazon but I dont have any more books that I feel I can comfortasbly sell now.
I am looking for new ways to brings in a few extra £££s to get us a little closer to our goal.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

So how is it going?


It has been a little over a month since I started thinking about simplifying life & decided to keep this diary of the changes. So today I decided to stop and think about how things have changed in that time & what is next to change or to change back.

This morning after I had showered and dressed I took 5 bags and boxes to the charity shop. It was mostly things that the children have outgrown either physically ro emotionally. The clothes are still full of possible use but too small for my boys now so I thought they were better going to a new owner than being used within the house.

On the way back I bought 4 new china bowls for £1 each from Matalan. Since we have been having home cooking all the time and I have have to cook under time pressure there is often food which cooks really quick, like stir frys or Thai curry, or really slowly but without my supervision like stews or casseroles. These foods are quite wet & so we often run out of bowls. Rather than run the dishwasher several times a day I thought I would invest in 4 new bowls. I also bought 2 new pillow cases for £3 to cover a large cushion in the sitting room.

After this I stripped the beds and took all the clothes and bedding down stairs to the laundry area to get started. I then wiped around the bathroom & vacuumed the bathroom floor. From there I vacumed the rest of the upstairs, the stairs themselves and then the sitting room and kitchen (not the new bit of the house, that is still a building site). The sitting has a block wood floor so it needs to be mopped as well. I had a mop with disposable 'scrubbers' on the end but I have made a new mop end from microfibre and this cleans far better. I mopped the sitting room and kitchen.After that I cooked a Thai Curry for lunch. I cleared out a couple of baskets of clutter & then wiped around the kitchen and downstairs. Everything looks spik and span. It is very satisfying. A while ago, quite a long while actually, my Saturday would not have been complete without a major shopping session and lunch out. Then a feeling of guilt in the afternoon as I realise how much cash I have wasted and how the house still looks a dump (ofcourse, as I was always avoiding doing anything to it.)

I am feeling better, not sure that I am looking any better yet but maybe. The house is certainly looking a lot better & is a nicer and more relaxing place to be. The old man is not quite as grumpy when the house is neat and welcoming and the meals are tasty & healthy (and never forgotten or overlooked, oops),the children are better at keeping their rooms nice and when the family areas are less cluttered and kept clean then the kids dont make so much mess. I had already heard this was true but couldnt quite beleive it but I think it is true. They are also very pleased with their meals, especially the new dishes I have been trying since my cookery course started. They are also pleased that there clothes are clean and available when they need them. Only the cats and bird dont seem to be too interested but I bet even they are glad when they get fed, all the same.

Summer Rain

The middle of summer on the sunny south coast of England, and the rain is falling heavily enough to keep us indoors again. We were hoping to...