Saturday, 31 August 2013

Saturday 'to do' list. It's what i do.

As I know I am far more likely to get stuff done if I make a list, especially on the blog, then here we go.

Jamal leaves tomorrow morning so today is his last full day. Once he gets home from last nights party we will spend the day all together. The main thing will be checking to make sure we haven't forgotten anything (can you tell we are not used to this whole uni thing) then we settle down to watch some good movies together. This evening we go to my parents house to meet up with the rest of the family for a few hours and a goodbye.

Other things that need doing:

  • Bead basket away. Huge picnic basket of beads has been in the sitting room all summer waiting for a us to have a flash of inspiration. Today I am sticking it under Jamals bed as we have missed that boat .
  • Massive suitcase to attic (Jamals bag turned up from ebay on time)
  • Laundry - only the whites left and a massive sort out and put away of clean clothes.
  • Vacuuming downstairs- did it yesterday!!
  • Clean and tidy our bedroom - this morning
  • Grocery shopping - Well as it is no/low spend September (nearly) I thought we could manage without this week. Pretty sure groceries will be our biggest economy with Jamal not here.
  • Download camera shots to computer - can't find the cable but have to do it as I need to get selling on ebay.
  • Charity drop
Thats it. More than enough to keep me busy.

Friday, 30 August 2013

September No/Low Spend

I am joining Carla for the September No Spend/Low SPend Challenge. My months run from 24th to 23rd. This month I had to send $800 to my brother in law and spend around £400 on getting everything my son needed for uni. That depleted my budget a little (severely). I have £300 left in my budget but I could access other funds in an emergency. My challenge though is to manage on those £300 for the next three weeks. I expect fuel to be my largest expense. We have plenty of food.
Bring it on!

Thursday, 29 August 2013

1000th post - flashback

A thousand posts ago I wasx sorting my head out. I thought it might be nice today to re-visit the inside of that head.

Like so many others I am beginning to notice that I want to make changes in my life.

Everything is happening too quickly and in such confusion. Its always Monday, always Christmas, always washing day, its always ages until pay day. I moan about people wasting food when I read a newspaper article, and then I throw away something from the back of my fridge which has somehow got overlooked as my week rushed past me.  I slowed down. I really did it. The problem was always worrying about what else needed doing instead of enjoying the moment. I suspect that thinking things through as a prelude to blogging made this come right. Thank you bloggyworld.

It is time to slow down. Simplify and de-clutter are the buzz words but I visualise something more like a pruning. My cherry tree benefits from this when we remember to do it, so why shouldn't we too. Pruning can bring clarity and definition as it cut away the old dead wood.

My home needs to be the centre of my world. At the moment I expect a lot from it without giving it time and attention. The house itself is quite a small traditional semi built in 1908. It is packed to the eaves with far too much junk but it is a happy house and always full of visitors. I have got recycled, gifted and binned literally thousands of items, and missed them not once. We now fit quite well in a house which was once much too small.

I work full time and that isn't likely to change for a few years. I need to pay the mortgage but also I am lucky enough to that my job is important and the sort of work I would volunteer for even if I didn't need a salary. This is a good thing but work must also be kept in perspective. It cant be the centre of my universe.

So, we are content with ;-
the family, two lovely & occasionally troublesome teen aged boys and one grumpy old bloke (who is slightly younger than me but dont remind him as he gloats). Boys are now men, grown up and adorable. Certainly not troublesome. The old fella will be 50 this year and is not grumpy at all, turns out he was just ill.
the animals - two naughty and adorable cats and a chatty cockatiel. Sadly I lost both my cats in 2009. They were elderly but nonetheless too traumatic for me to consider replacing them.
the job I have been promoted since then :)
the car - ancient Astra estate Sadly Sally the Astra went to the scrap yard in the sky. I now have an almost as ancient VW Golf with only 40,000 on the clock.
the house - small but perfectly formed, however the extension is nearly finished. It is finished and we live in it. House fits us well now.
the extension - home built by us, except for some of the electrics, and mostly from recycled and scrounged building materials. Yaay, all good.
the garden - still suffering from the building work but it was rather cute before and will be again. And it is again.
the allotment - the sister and I spend a few happy hours each week in the 'green gym' which is just 10 minutes walk down the lane. We couldnt manage this too, long, long gone.

and we are slightly less content with;-
the overcrowded house - No longer overcrowded
the 'lost' things which are often re-purchased because I cant find the originals. Not any more!
the food which get thrown out because i forgot it needed producing at meal times. Not any more!
the birthdays & anniversaries which get forgotten and the associated guilt buying. Aha, no, not now. Thank you Facebook and Outlook!
the 'cant find anything to wear to work' about 4 times every week. Nope, all sort when the house was de-cluttered
The grumpy old blokes blokes business, which is taking a long time to build up and which is suppose to support me in old age! Sadly this failed as the world economy dipped. We will finish paying debts relating to it within the next 3 years.

Something else to add to my list of things which I am already quite content with, although this does need some extra work.

Cooking. I like to cook, beloved likes to cook sometimes, if reminded and we all like to eat so this should be an easy area for an overhaul. We already avoid convenience food on the whole but there are definitely areas i need to address. I need to get more organised with regard to leaving things to decompose at the back of the fridge and not making so much that we are sick of it before its gone. I also notice that as the week goes on then I get worse at meal prep and Friday night is quite likely to end as takeaway night. Takeaways don't feel like a treat then, just a re-fuelling exercise and this also needs attention.
There are some convenience foods which I do use, tinned tomatoes,baked beans,corned beef all spring to mind.
There are two possible ways forward here that I am considering. The larder method, whereby I keep up a constant supply of everything decide on a daily basis what we will eat. This is a more organised version of my current method. Another option is to meal plan for a week or so at a time. I can see advantages to this but what if something happens unexpectedly, will everything go to the dogs in my plans. Things most likely to happen in our family are kids eat a grandparents house and aren't hungry when they get home, beloved has to work late or extra and doesn't feel like eating by the time he gets home, a good price for chickens etc mean I stock up and we get lots of chicken meals for a while, more important what if i just don't feel like cooking what is on the master plan for today. I went with the larder method. Still working

I am astonished, looking back, at the power of small changes. Life is good and wasn't always so.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Ramping up the frugal

My baby is off to university on Sunday. Its a big change and I cant say I am looking forward to it but he wont know it from looking at me, I shall stay all smiles. I am hoping we see him at Christmas but because of the nature of his course he has to go to sea for a lot of the time so we cant be sure when we see him. Thank goodness for mobiles and SKYPE.

To distract myself and because this month has been madly expensive already, I am using the opportunity of my baby not being here to ramp up the frugal. I do tend to spoil him and he can easily talk me into things (come on mum, everyone likes a surprise steak dinner) because I am a total softy with my babies.

So we are planning to super economize (through necessity) through September. Hopefully we can then get in some good habits to keep us on the straight and narrow up to Christmas, replenishing my sadly depleted savings and emergency funds,

To start myself off I have read through my favourite celebrity chefs pages with a note book. First I went to Froogs to learn how to squeeze a penny until it squeaks. Next i Plan to go through FM's recipes with the same enthusiasm..

My eldest son will eat pretty much anything as long as it is not convenience food (bless him. My fault for spoiling him by always cooking apparently). So the old chap and I will go through the ideas in my notebooks, check out the larder, fridge and freezer, see what is growing in the garden (cooking apples!) and come up with a months worth of options. We wont start until baby has gone as I don't want to make him feel like we are chasing him out of the door but we will be prepared by Sunday.

So maybe it is Super Economy September!

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Pinching someone else's idea

Isabel Losada, the writer, posted something on Facebook which appealed to me. A friend of hers is starting on a three year plan (and I do love a plan).

Her friend Bill Murphy says:

I've decided to begin a three-year project that will introduce me to some of the world's greatest creative achievements. A couple of years ago, I did something similar. I listened to everything Mozart composed (180 days), watched all 81 Oscar-winning movies (81 days), read all of Hemingway's novels (70 days), and spent 30 days with Aristotle's Poetics. It was grueling. But I had fun, and earned a priceless education.

This time, I'm going to mix it up even more on a schedule that looks like this:

Hadyn (complete works)...............................................150 days
Woody Allen films (complete directorial filmography)....46 days
Brahms (complete works)..............................................60 days
The Great Gatsby (both novel versions + 2 movies).......21 days
Beethoven (complete works)..........................................87 days

YEAR TWO (12 classic works of literature, one per month)
1847 - Jane Eyre
1850 - David Copperfield
1865 - Alice in Wonderland
1866 - Crime and Punishment
1870 - Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
1884 - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
1887 - A Study in Scarlet
1921 - The Age of Innocence
1931 - Brave New World
1932 - Tender is the Night
1951 - The Catcher in the Rye
1958 - The Dharma Bums

Bach (complete works)...................................................172 days
Marilyn Monroe (complete filmography).........................33 days
Verdi (complete works)...................................................75 days
Jane Austin (all six novels + one short story)..................68 days
The Beatles (complete stereo + mono albums)...............16 days

I'll commence as soon as I get a web site up and running to chronicle my explorations and observations."

Its a bit much for me, plus I am not good with rules but I am going to try a slightly more 'me' way of doing something similar. I am comfortable with the classic a month theory and am loading my phone up with the musical classics. I might also work through a filmography or two. Not sure whose yet, but I am thinking.

Saturday, 24 August 2013


Its working. I invited my friend to a day off soap followed by a gig but she couldn't make it as she is going to Bestival. Not sure how I forgot that as she did invite me but I didn't go as I wasn't sure when Jamal was off to Uni. But I think it was a good sign that we had so much fun programmed in that we had to turn something down.

And last night we went out to a birthday party.  The first hour or so was a bit dull but after cake cutting we ended up sitting outside with about 20 kids, our sons and some of their friends including the ones that often come on holiday with us. They were very entertaining and I had a job to drag myself out of my bed this morning (the price of fun is apparently being knackered all day Saturday).

Today, once I had three coffees inside me and the energy to move, Jamal and I shopped until we dropped buying everything he needs for uni. He has to wear something approaching a uniform whilst at uni and actual uniform on board ship, so not the usual student shopping. Matalan kindly sent us through a 20% discount voucher which saved us about £40. Because they move about a lot between uni and ship they dont actually have a firm base at all for 3.5 years (minimum) so everything has to fit in one bag. Luckily Jamal seems to inherited the travelling light gene so all is, so far, well. I really dont want my baby to go but I am doing a goo job of keeping it hidden.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The New Normal

I have heard this so many times this week. We are living the new normal. I do hope things are going to perk up a bit (on a purely selfish level, I would quite like the kids to be working for a start).

On Radio 4 this week they said that we previously lived in the age of consumption but we were approaching the age of creation ( I am sure that is what he said, although it does sound rather biblical). They were talking about 3d printers initially but then about all things material and how we really don't need it and it is dawning upon us gradually. I have noticed that a lot of people I know are downsizing their house too, and I don't think it is because they are poorly off, just because they realised they have a load of rooms full of things they don't need, been there, done that.

Us frugal, de-cluttering, simple living original thinkers (weirdos, as if!!) are suddenly ground breakers. Howzat????

Monday, 19 August 2013

Benefits of second hand

We are working on the garden. It was postponed whilst we built the extension to the house but now we are back on it.

The raised beds are approx 40cm and are wood. They have been in position for over ten years and wood is starting to fail. We are not going to pull it down, just encase it in a nice new (ish) brick wall. I bought 250 bricks on Gumtree for this task.

Advantage: Cost - 18p per brick as against 55p per brick new.  
                  Colour/Texture - they are a gorgeous brindle and match the house. I love them lots!
Disadvantage 0 Had to collect them, load and unload them ourselves. Car is strong but it was messy and back breaking but that leads onto a further advantage: the sense of achievement as you build a nice big pile og bricks ready to start work on the wall.

The patio is nice flat concrete but its not a pretty finish. It has been there in position for over ten years and its fine. But it would be even more fine if it looked as good as the pathways and the lovely block paving which got covered up by the extension. I bought 660 paving blocks on Gumtree for this task.

Advantage: Cost - pp per block as against 60p per block new.  
                  Colour/Texture - Just like the bricks they are a gorgeous brindle and match the house. And they match the original block paving of the pathway.
Disadvantage : Had to collect them, load and unload them ourselves. Three car trips over 2 days. Also messy and back breaking but again the big sense of achievement that you did something for yourself

Even better there are so many bricks and blocks (work out how many we need scientifically? Nah!) that I think we have enough to replace the small and pointless lawn completely. There may be enough to build the barbecue too. In my head the barbie is turning into a big old outdoor kitchen that I can use for soap making in summer, as well as cooking, maybe even a brick oven.

Amazing stuff, all on a shoe string. Big old fan of freecycle and ebay here but also now warming to gumtree.

My pile of bricks is a thing of beauty and far better than the pile of bricks in the Tate Modern!

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Importance of planning

Plans have their place.  In the real world and if you want to achieve something they are essential. Reading Lena's blog about budgeting this morning made me think about this. I like to be spontaneous. I hate having events coming up which hang over me like the sword of Damacles. Last minute surprises are far more appreciated but I know this is fine for my social life but not for 'real life'. And it took me ages to learn this, which is why I was still getting bank charges for going overdrawn well into my thirties. Thank goodness for online banking, especially as a phone app, it has made me so much more aware.

Anyway getting back to Lena. Two major things lept out at me from her writings:

According to a poll from Gallup, only 32 percent of Americans have a monthly budget, and just 30 percent have long-term financial goals. Even more surprising is a statement that "those with at least some college education, conservatives... and those making $75,000 a year or more are slightly more likely to prepare a detailed household budget than are their counterparts".  Is this correlation or causal? Are they earning more etc because they make plans. I don't know but its a bit of a coincidence. Even amongst my friends and family I am astounded how many don't have budgets. Maybe they can manage without one but I just end up with too much money at the end of my month without a budget plan.

And I honestly believe, the more money you make, the more "needs" you have. I've seen it in our family with every single raise :) On the other hand, when you lose a source of income, you surprise yourself at how creative you become with what you have (again, true story!). So true, even with budgeting  lifestyle inflation gets n the way.

Pop over to Frugal and Thankful to pick up a few other gems from Lena.

So today I am planning (see what I did there??) to collect 900 bricks which I have bought off Gumtree (saving about £400). I am also planning to not have time for much else except cooking some dinner for all. There are times you need to plan and times you dont :)


Monday, 12 August 2013

Brilliant change to retirement plans

Fahed and I always always planned to be fairly nomadic in our retirement. Its the only choice you can really make when you come from two different places, you met in a third place & have loads of friends there. We did our best to plan ahead, overpaying on the mortgage to make sure this house is ours, the Crete house is there for us and we had land and an apartment in Syria.  Its possible the Syria land may one day have a value but pretty sure the flat is long gone. We planned our other months of the year to travel around other places. But as time has gone on Fahed's aspbergers has got worse and worse. He can travel but it gets worse as he gets older. For five days before the holiday and the first few days we are away. We are now to the extent that its not really worth going anywhere for less than 2 or 2.5 weeks. We had always planned to travel more after retirement but lately we have talked about me having to find another crazy old lady to travel with.

So my brilliant idea. Doh, so obvious. Why not just spend 2, 3 or six months in the chosen destination? So obvious now I have had the idea. I can still travel with another crazy old for short breaks but we can just up roots and move somewhere for a shortish time.

He also enjoys his time more if he has work to do. I have never seen him happier then when we go to the Crete house and he works until 4pm & then joins in the holiday stuff with the rest of us. I don't know what he does when the house is finished but i think he has enough to last him for some years anyway. Not sure how we are going to cope with this when we go elsewhere but one step at a time.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Weekend did's

Always the to do list. Thought I should follow it up with the 'did' .

I pretty much did it all :) but here is the beat bit, cake for sis!

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Saturday to do's

I am all 'homesy' this week. A few things 'need' doing but most things are 'likes'.

Household - Laundry, vacuuming, general cleaning - not hugely interesting but very satisfying when complete

Outside world - Pop to Asian Supermarket to pick up a kilo of green chillies & some coconut oil (soap thoughts again). To DIY shop to get a present for my sisters birthday (from the garden center), some new secateurs for the garden and a hippo bag! Mums house for a glass of wine and chat tonight and again for my sisters birthday cake tomorrow evening after swimming. Oh, and swimming

Creating - At least one batch of soap. Birthday cake for my sister, currently in the oven. Dec orating it later when it cools.

Doing - Take my book and my husband to each room in the house and decide what still needs to be done until the house is finished. Tomorrow I plan to potter in the garden for most of the day, which is both doing and creative, and technically out of doors. To the attic to get three things out and rid of.

And tonight at mums we also have to go through Jamal's paperwork from Uni/Cadetship and make sure everything is complete and we know what we are doing.

Busy but productive, productive but fun.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The most simple Cold Process Soap instructions ever

So we did it, and it worked. It took me three years of worrying about it and it turned out to be easy.  Or possibly we turned out to be natural 'soapers'.

This is our lovely vanilla scented soap, perfectly made in a Pringles tin.

How to make soap:

Gather your oils and weigh each type individually. Enter quantities into soap calculator

Superfatted to 10%

Add all oils to a pan ready for heating

Pour the suggested amount of water (from the calculator) into a large pyrex jug. If using coconut milk then reduce by ⅓ and add the same quantity of coconut milk once soap mix has emulsified.

Add the lye to the water and mix thoroughly with wooden or plastic spoon. Leave to cool for approx 10 minutes. Heat oil until any solid oils have melted.

Mix lye mix and oils when the are approx same temperature.  Mix thoroughly using a hand mixer or stick blender. Add coconut milk as required.

Pour into molds and insulate with towels to ensure soap stays warm for as long as possible.

After approx 48 hours remove from molds and slice. Leave on racks to dry, turning if required, for several weeks to mature.

Caustic soda/Lye is horrid stuff prior to saponification. Wear rubber gloves, goggles and anything else you need to feel safe. Don't let kids or animals within a mile of you and your deadly chemicals. Other than that, its all easy peasy!

Saturday, 3 August 2013


We are off for another day of our project tomorrow. Soap and lipsalve. This time I am travelling to the island.  It is Cowes Week so the boats and other transport will be all over the place. But anyway it will be fun.

We are planning some lavender and coconut milk soap and a few other things. It's also my friends birthday so I made her cake, complete with fat ginger cat which looks like the fondant version of the cat she has as her facebook photo. I hope i get it there in one piece.

I will be back later afternoon for my swim with all the family. Fahed has also decided that my exercise session will be a swimming lesson so at 51 I am working on my leg movement for breast stroke. I now swim at half the speed that I didn't previously. Sigh!

Step Change

I am usually really positive about change but this one is a little bittersweet. My son finally got his joining papers for the merchant navy/uni course. He is leaving 1st September. I am going to miss him so much that I cant even think about it. However, brave faces must be put on as this is his life and he needs to do it (and all that!)

And so. we makes plans. It is what we do.

Jamal and I normally shop once a week together. It is fun and always entertaining with him. I don't really feel that I want to keep doing the same thing on my own so we are going to try something else. I have been looking at the various cash and carry type places and we have decided, having done the maths obviously, that we will probably join the local Costco. It is newly opened and we checked it out yesterday. Rather randomly I had to show a photo of my accountancy qualification to gain entry. Odd indeed. I wont be able to face a visit more than once a month. Very nice, clean, well laid out and affordable but huuuuuge. So to start with we will keep the same grocery budget and as we use it to stock up the freezer, then we will adapt accordingly.

Without my baby at home I am sure gas and electric costs will also reduce. I might take the opportunity to also get rid of Sky Movies. I suspect no-one else will watch them as he does.

Eldest son has his induction at the local swim school on Monday. He will have a zero hours contract (don't they all) but hopefully will pick up enough lessons to be self financing soon. I currently pay for a course he is part way through and his car insurance so will be £250 a month to the good if he can takes these back. Perhaps there is even a chance of housekeeping contribution at some point...........

So its change which is financially better but it does feel like the end of an era. I still have my eldest at home but first time we are not all together.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

My Larder

I was reading Cathy's post today about stockpiling and it made me have a think about my own food shopping and storage.

Years ago, when Fahed was made redundant half way through my surprise pregnancy, we had nothing going spare to build up stocks. We had dinner once a week at my parents house, loads of free veg from dad (we had no outside space), free apples and plums from various people or wild. I did a lot of cooking, still do, but back then making jams, wines and all sorts to make sure we didnt waste anything we were given. We coped but damn, it was tight. I cant imagine how we would have managed if we didn't know how to cook.

After that, as we both got job and later a house with a garden (and a bloody great mortgage) I did buy and store too much food. It was a knee jerk reaction to having nothing for so long. Earlier this year I had a proper turn out in the larder and since then I have been more balanced in my approach.

Tin are replenished every couple of months,, freezer is kept full. There is usually plenty of baking ingredients but less since we are all eating healthily and we identified the old fellas gluten intolerance. We dont run out and I still make a bit of jam and marmalade but no I can see what I have in stock (unlike this time last year) which means I dont keep buying what I already have. Or worse, finding it after it has gone off!

I believe the 'middle way' is the right way for us.

My life

My wonderful husband has died. He was in hospital for some weeks but this was very unexpected. I won’t be reading or writing for the foresee...