too many tasks, not enough day…

Friday comes around quickly  but it is nice to have a day off work to get my house in order not to mention myself.

Yesterday during my lunchtime I visited the lending library for a browse.  It is a grand building built in 1937 with local stone and has a very central position in the town – but inside now it is quite a sad place.   Three self-service machines have taken over and the staff drastically reduced and are set to be reduced even more shortly.  I don’t like being ‘served’ by a machine and so rarely go now.

Over the last few years I became very friendly with one of the ladies who worked on the desk at the library – when there was a desk – we chatted quite often when I popped in every week but now we are limited to when we bump into each other in Sainsbury’s.  We are arranging to meet for lunch one day for a good natter – you can’t do that with a machine!

On the way to the library I took a short cut through Poundland and had to smile when I saw the bottles of thick bleach £1 each – I paid 50p in Sainsbury’s for the same size!  Not everything in the cheap shops is a bargain.

After the Library visit I went in to my bank only to find that the 5 counters have been reduced to two – I was told it is the effect of online banking and the hole in the wall machines – I even asked if they were closing down but was assured they were not but maybe they will start to install machines to do the counter jobs like HSBC did across the road.

Just having this stroll around town made me realise how quickly things are changing these days and how this upsets me as it does not feel like positive change.    With all the reductions in staff and increase in automation perhaps we will have to learn to converse solely with machines!

Anyway back to today and the task list.  This morning I took my car to the garage it had been washed and cleaned inside and out by my better half ready for the MOT and service.  All day I was keeping my fingers crossed that they didn’t find anything major wrong.  Already this year I have had a new exhaust so my car budget is a bit tight now.

After depositing the car I went on to the dentist to be patched up again – but this bill was less than £20 on the NHS for the repair of a filling – quite good value I think.

Meanwhile back at home the paperwork pile has certainly been in competition with the ironing pile and both have grown considerably during the week despite my best efforts to deal with some of it.  I keep trying to make the paperwork simpler but when the post arrives it seems to come with yet another problem to deal with.  This week we had a letter from our local council to say our Council Tax payment for December (which is sent by standing order) had not been received.  We have never missed a payment and it had clearly gone out of our bank account so where was this payment?  A few phone calls later and we are told someone will look into it.

After a flurry of cleaning downstairs and a cup of tea round at my neighbours at last the phone call came from the garage to collect my car before 6pm – we were given the news that it is probably terminal and might only have another year left as the underside is not in good shape.  Not the news we wanted to hear!

On top of all this I ended the day knowing that I had tried to fit in too many tasks and one or two of them had gone badly wrong.

The colour run wash I did on some stained sheets failed – the powder stayed in the dispensing drawer and formed a big solid lump whilst the sheets had a 133 minute @ 50 degree wash for nothing!  I only discovered this when the wash had finished.

cheesey-leek-ramekins

 

The new recipe of Spicy Chickpea bakes that I was going to try for our tea tonight did not happen either – there seems to be a sudden shortage of courgettes around here and I forgot to check again in Sainsbury’s last night to see if they had restocked.  I tried the local Co-op and Morrisons down the road but they had none either (is everyone making Spicy Chickpea bakes for tea?).  I didn’t think it very economical to drive all the way to town for one so at the last minute  I had to improvise with the ingredients I did have and make Cheesey Leek ramekins – an old well-tested recipe – just as tasty, but it was a bit disappointing as I had spent time carefully choosing the menu this week and was looking forward to something new.

On the back of today’s disasters it made me think that I need to limit myself to doing a few tasks well and not take on too much – perhaps three new recipes in one week was a tall order.  As well I should have postponed the colour run wash for a time when I can give more attention to it and I will certainly remember to check that the water has washed the powder through the drawer next time.  When I make my list for next week I am going to try and single out only two tasks to do each day and make every effort to complete them.

Well here’s to a good weekend everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

a relatively good start…

With menu in hand I completed my Sainsbury’s shop last night after work and felt quite pleased with myself, especially as I limited myself to a hot chocolate without a little snack (I would usually have a scone to keep me going).  Even though I was aiming to buy seasonal British grown produce I noticed the  cabbage was actually grown in Spain!  My trolley was mainly vegetables with a couple of loaves of bread and a few groceries – the ones we were running out of and one or two on offer.  My total bill came to £32.21 for the week – so I am quite pleased with that especially as we are eating better than when I spend a lot more!

shopping

This was all the fresh veg that I needed to add to the bits and pieces in the fridge to make my selected weeks menus.  The cheapest item was the Kiwi fruit at 30p and the dearest the dozen mixed sizes free range organic eggs at £3.70.  I need five for the Spiced Chickpea bakes and the remainder will carry over for next week.  The herbs were on offer and I will be able to freeze what I don’t use.  In the end I decided to buy a ready pack of Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato for £1.

Fresh Veg

Last night we had the Mushroom Stroganoff unfortunately when hubby made it he forgot he was making Stroganoff not risotto and mixed the rice into the mushroom mixture – but in the end it tasted the same!  Tonight we had the veggie stew with roasted chickpeas and butter beans a good warming winter dish – we both enjoyed the new recipe but perhaps the sweet potato and butternut squash made it a little too sweet for me so I would need to make slight adjustments next time.  The other draw back is it does not make enough for 2 meals – the leftover portion will however do for my lunch.  I will have to think of something to fill the empty slot for our tea tomorrow or move everything forward a meal.

Whilst in Sainsbury’s last night I had some returns – I had bought a snuggly throw for the bed at the caravan to keep us warm overnight.  It was a knitted cream blanket with an acrylic sheepskin style underside.  I never thought to check the washing instructions when I purchased it and was rather shocked to find it was not washable.  When I found the receipt to take it back I noticed I had been charged twice for this item.   As it was part of my weekly shop at the time I had not thought too much about my bill seeming a bit dearer than normal and had not checked the receipt afterwards.

So when I asked for a refund of the throw I had bought  I mentioned to the lady at Customer Services about being charged twice and confirmed that I had only bought one – after a bit of a quiet moment and a few umm’s and argh’s she agreed to refund me the money for both.  I thought this was very good of them as I had no way to prove I had not bought two at the time.  So well done Sainsburys for the goodwill gesture – but I will be checking my receipts more throughly in future.

We are certainly getting back into a routine again, all though we are well into January now, and a few of those stubborn little tasks are being crossed off the list.  I booked the car in for the MOT and service on Friday  and made a dentist appointment for the same morning. 

 I am not sure if the car or my teeth will require any major repairs – I hope not as I need to make economies in all areas of my spending.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

menu plan monday…

It is definitely that time of year when every magazine you look at has eye-catching headlines such as ‘Best Year ever’,  ‘Your time to shine’,  Make 2017 your year of change’  – I can never decide whether this is motivating or suggests that we are lacking a certain amount of satisfaction with our lives and are left wanting more or different.

The start of the New Year does seem to bring with it a desire to change many aspects of our life that we are disappointed with and of course we all begin with such good intentions but often by the time we are midway through February we have slipped back into our old habits and the resolutions we made become a distant memory.

If I were to make a list of all the things I would like to change it would be so long I wouldn’t have a hope of fulfilling them all this or any other year.  So then I start wondering why I want to change and I can only say to try to make my life feel better – less stressful – more as I imagine it could be – certainly happier, healthier, perhaps a little wealthier – plenty of me time, family time – a well run house, a glorious garden and even some room for creativity.  Of course I then have to wonder why on earth I am not already living this perfect life!

However, in my Economy mode I am whizzing straight past all the magazines with such appealing headlines – I already have a subscription to Country Living magazine (Xmas present) so for as long as I can hold out that is my lot.

This month I am concentrating on compiling Menu plans – mainly for our evening meal at present and then I will deal with my lunches later so I don’t make things too difficult for myself all at once.  I am aiming for low-cost, no waste, nutritional meals using seasonal fruit and veg as much as possible and also using up items from my store cupboard, fridge and freezer.  See the list here.

I have laminated my Good Food – Get 5-a-day every day chart of seasonal winter fruit and veg – this tells me all the British grown fruit and veg and also those items from further afield that are in season and therefore should not be too expensive.  Blueberries and Strawberries are not on the list so I will use up any frozen berries to go with my natural yoghurt for breakfast.

 

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My menu plan this week uses up a few items already in my stock cupboard but most of the veg I will have to buy fresh as I only have celery, carrots and onions left over together with some rather soft radish and a bit of dubious broccoli.

The sprouts, parsnip, leeks, cabbage and beetroot are all in season and British, the Sweet potato is also in season although not grown here.

The items not listed as seasonal are broccoli, green beans and mushrooms.

I am introducing 3 new recipes this week –

  • Vegetable Stew (substituting Sweet potato for the Butternut squash – this will also use up the remaining leek from the Stroganoff on Tuesday).
  • Spiced Chickpea bakes
  • Herby Brown Rice Salad

From my choice of fruit and veg I am told that I will be enhancing my Beta – carotene intake effective against viruses and bacteria, Vitamin C  for my immune system and phytochemical that help the digestive system.

I am looking forward to making the new recipes – if they pass the taste test then I will put them into my recipe binder – if not they will go straight in the bin so I am not keeping recipes that I will never make again.  Any modifications I will add notes to the recipe for next time.

I will be going shopping tomorrow night so will then know just how economical my shop is (or not!) in financial terms – bearing in mind the cold weather a warming Vegetable Stew sounds just right this week.

Have a good week.

 

 

 

 

highlights from the week…

During last week I was on holiday from work so we decided to head up to the caravan in Scotland for a few days whilst also arranging to meet the engineer who came to get our water and gas connected.

I was sitting in the caravan looking out over a calm, silvery winter sea during the time just before dusk sets in.  The wood-pigeon was gently cooing outside and inside a very peaceful quiet. Just like in the cottage we have no means of communicating with the outside world – it feels almost like being on a desert island – all we can do is just sit and be.  A very odd experience – 250 miles away from our usual existence at home where there is always some pressing ‘To Do’ to be done and I would normally, like a lot of the population, be at work.  I quite enjoyed this break – so did hubby who was often found gently dozing in the corner!

The highlight of the trip was at last we have running water, central heating, a flushing toilet, fully operational shower and gas cooking facilities.  Thank goodness for all these modern inventions – being without such comforts is good for the soul once in a while as it reminds us of how grateful we should be for these services we take for granted and how they free up our lives.  For the last few weeks we have managed with containers of water, a bucket under the van to catch the sink waste and a chemical camping toilet to catch the other waste!  I won’t go into detail here!!  We had to have a wash with one bowl of water each and clean our teeth with a glassful.  All hot water had to be boiled on our little gas camping stove and our meals consisted of soup, soup and more soup – the easiest thing to heat up when you only have one gas ring.

The caravan is now a real home from home and is actually warmer, cleaner and more comfortable than our cottage was whilst we attended to the renovations.  But it does not have the character or the space.

Now the caravan is fully up and running we can turn our attention to the garden maintenance.  It suffered a lot last year due to shortage of time and the cottage being out of action still.  We had to limit our visits and stay at a nearby B&B or hire another cottage.

Many parts of the garden were badly affected by the flood and all though most of it has sprung back there are still some strange effects to overcome even now. The lawn and borders on the wood side of the cottage are covered in wild garlic leaves, the bulbs being washed through the garden and scattered by the flood water.  The only way is to dig them out by hand one at a time.  So far I have done a patch about one metre square – the amount of garden affected by this is probably 20 metres square – some of it appears in clumps and others more scatterd – funnily enough the ones in clumps are easier to pull out than the numerous single bulbs dotted around.  Any good ideas anyone?

The stream bank is looking so much better and as soon as we hit a drier patch the contractor will be back to spread the top soil and re-seed the area.  The black protective mesh will eventually allow the vegetation to grow through it and it will look like a natural grassy stream bank.  Of course the stream bed is much wider now but will probably, hopefully, look narrower again as the vegetation takes hold.

 

Stream Bank

 

Back at home now we celebrated Burns night here in England with a few friends – it was a great night and always reminds us how good it is to have a get together.  I have never cooked Haggis before but it was quite easy – not so easy is mashing a huge pot of potatoes and turnip.

For eight of us (5 meat eaters and 3 vegetarians) I spent

2 x Haggis  £5.00

1 x Haggis veggie £2.50

1 large bag Potatoes £1.29

2 x Swede £0.80

1 pot beef gravy £2.00 (already had some veggie gravy)

8 mini Scotch pies  £2.70

2 macaroni pies £1.15

Add in some Scottish delicacies

1 box Tunnocks chocolate teacakes £1.60

1pkt Tunnocks Caramel wafers £1.60

1pkt mini Scottie shortbread  £1.00

 

A total of £19.64 or £2.46 a head – one friend brought fruit kebabs for a starter and another friend a Rhubarb crumble for afters.  So quite an economy meal.

 

 

 

 

a new word for a new year…

My Focus Word for 2017

After much thought and deliberation I have decided on my focus word for the year and it is

economise

Taken from the Greek oikos meaning house and nemein meaning manage –  economise is the careful management of resources, careful use of something

I like the sound of carefully managing resources as I feel our throw away society is something I prefer not to be part of and I want to see just how resourceful I can be this year.

As well, due to impending changes in our household income  I need to cut down on unnecessary spending.  Becoming resourceful with our resources in order to ‘minimalise’ our purchases will also feed my desire to simplify and ‘minimalise’ our possessions.  Now we have the caravan whilst waiting for the cottage to be sorted we only have room for what is absolutely necessary and I love living with such a drastic reduction of ‘things’.  At the moment we only have 2 cups – so we have to keep on washing them up to reuse – it is quite challenging to see what we can get by with but also quite liberating.

The plan

Already this year I have been writing a Menu plan for the week – this seems to be the most effective way to save money,  reduce food waste and eat healthily.

At present I am shopping in my cupboards and only buying fresh vegetables and other necessities to add to what I already have to be able to make 7 healthier home-made meals each week.

I find it hard to admit that I am not sure what my food bill was each week over the last year – it was so manic that just getting through the week was a challenge on its own.  I ended up in Sainsbury’s with no plan and often duplicating items I already had in my cupboards.  We have probably eaten far more ready-made meals than ever before – pizza, vegetable samosas and quiche are the pre-prepared foods we normally fall back on together with those pots of chilled sauces for pasta.

I believe almost all of my lunches at work last year will have been bought and I dread to think the number of baked potatoes with cheese and coleslaw I got through but it will be quite a few – luckily it is my favourite lunchtime meal.

When I run my end of year spending report on my computer program all will be revealed and I don’t think it will be a pretty sight.  I know I will be upset at the amount of money I will have spent and wasted.

I find that at this time of year it is so easy to start off on the right foot but then as life takes over our good intentions fall away.  I have yet to resolve this recurring situation and I am thinking hard of a way to keep on track even through busy periods.

Below are some of my ideas to get me into Economy mode and at the same time increasing the number of nutritional  meals we have to improve our health.  I buy as much organic produce as possible – I like to think my food is free from any contaminants or artificial flavourings etc. –  this already makes my shopping dearer than the average, however, on the plus side we are both vegetarian so no expensive fish or meat in my trolley.  Having said that some vegetables can be quite expensive bought at the wrong time.

  • Having a menu plan is the number one priority – it only takes 20 minutes to write a simple plan for the week.  For me it is best done on a Sunday so that my new plan begins on a Monday – on a busy week even this amount of time can be difficult to find so my plan is to have some pre-written menus for these weeks to tide me over.
  • Keeping up with what is in the store cupboards, fridge and freezer is the second priority and including these foods in the menu plan helps to keep everything rotating and avoid food going past it’s sell by date.
  • Only buying store cupboard items with long dates on them when they are on offer such as cereal, packets of Passata, tea bags rice etc.  Some foods that I buy are rarely on offer but others come round fairly frequently.  Having a quick look as I go along the aisles to check the offers is worthwhile and saves money on those staple items.
  • Trying out new recipes to add variety to the weekly meal plan.  Test these on a weekend and time how long they take.  Having lots of very quick meals can become quite boring to the point where we often go off a certain meal.
  • Planning the menus around seasonal produce – this saves money as fruit and veg in season is usually cheaper.
  • Look out for coupons and vouchers.  As I shop at Sainsbury’s I automatically get Nectar points but I also get coupons at the till with either money off or additional Nectar points.  Make a point of buying the item on the coupon if it is something I would use or normally buy.
  • Remember to freeze left over bits of foods that have been opened but only a small amount used – such as tomato paste, coconut milk etc.  Also grate and freeze cheese and breadcrumbs and mix up and freeze crumble topping.

 

In addition to the planned meals I have a one or two quick standby meals in the freezer just in case.  Last week it was a ready-made pasta sauce to add to whole wheat pasta and this week a pizza. If I don’t need to use them then I will save money by not having to replace them.

My lunch at work is the area I need to get to grips with – I am more likely to eat a sandwich at home and prefer baked potatoes at work rather than too much bread. My current idea is to buy a ready done baked potato but take my own fillings and salad. This should cut the cost down and I can also organise myself to make soup for the week and freeze in smaller portions.

 

So far this year we have really enjoyed getting back to proper home cooked meals and saved money at the same time.  I actually prefer the winter salads I make of shredded cabbage, carrot and beetroot and raw cauliflower florets – I like the crunchy texture.  I find the bagged lettuce quite limp and wasteful.  Any remaining salad items have made delicious sandwiches served with home-made soup for lunch at the weekend. The meal plan for this week was a little different as we were on holiday from work and stayed at the caravan for 4 days and had to rely more on easy to make meals.  On Saturday night we are hosting a Burns Night Supper with some friends – we brought the haggis back from Scotland (vegetarian for us) together with some mini steak pies and macaroni pies, not sure of the nutritional quality of these!

 

I will put the menus in the tabs above – here is the quick link

Weekly Menu Plan January 2017

 

Just to update on the caravan we now have running water and central heating and a fully operational shower.  The Swift engineer who was coming to replace the fridge socket however did not arrive – or rather he did come but thought we were on the caravan site next door – as this is all closed up for the winter he went away again.  So fridge socket still not sorted…watch this space!

starting with a fresh page…

I have hesitated and pondered about writing this blog post – it is not easy to begin again after my long ‘gap year’ last year, to say nothing of finding some time to sit and think of what to write.  I worry in case this is the only post I produce again this year and another unforseen crisis will suddenly strike and prevent me from having any time for blogging.   As you may well have guessed last year was not an easy one as we continued to try to sort out our flood damaged cottage with the insurers, keep up with the extra demands of work since the death of my colleague and progress the probate to a conclusion.

But…it was not all doom and gloom and the highlight of the year was my eldest daughters decision to get married in the July.  The wedding on 30th July was followed on the 31st with our Ruby Wedding anniversary and my granddaughters 2nd birthday on the 1st August – what a weekend of celebrations and cake spent with friends and family.

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I spent every spare minute between January and July planning and organising the wedding, sewing miles and miles of bunting, making confetti, favours, invitations and doing alterations.  Believe me, 6 months is not very long to do everything you have to do to for a wedding especially as it took place in Scotland 250 miles away in my husband’s home town.  Having our cottage out of action did not help but my daughter felt she could not hang on any longer for it to be fixed so we went ahead and hired a farmhouse nearby for the week.

Wedding Flowers

We had the most wonderful day – glorious weather which was just as well as the reception was very much an outdoor wedding held at Castle Kennedy Gardens on the Castle Kennedy estate owned by Lord Stair.  It was here that my daughter’s Great granddad lived and worked as head gardener from the twenties to about 1960.  The wedding ceremony took place in the nearby Inch Church where her dad was baptised and her grandparents worshipped.  So a very special place for our family and what better place for a wedding.

The style of the wedding was a mix of formal and informal but very much home made with lots of summery flowers, peonies and roses in peaches and creams.  The bridesmaids wore floaty long coral dresses and the little one ivory.  The formal ceremony took place in church and a white Morris Minor took them on to the reception.  We had an old fahsioned Afternoon Tea on picnic tables before the sit down buffet of salads and cold meats for the evening meal in the marquee, then lots of dancing.

We made plenty of these signs to get people from their hotels to the church and reception…

wedding-signs

and we made all the notices from free pieces of wood from the recycle bin outside the Ikea store in Leeds and painted them with blackboard paint…

the-running-order

We also made some of the flower arrangements ourselves…these hanging cones on the stone pillars at the entrance to the Church were made of chicken wire lined with Sphagnum moss

with a hidden jam jar of water inside to hold the flowers…

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The bride and groom left the church to the sound of Scottish pipes…

outside-the-church

We held a drinks reception in the beautiful walled garden by the old ruin castle.

castle kennedy

With plenty of bubbles being blown

Wedding Bubbles

We also made large cut out photo frames and dotted these around the grounds for guests to take selfies…

selfies

Then it was afternoon tea on the lawns by the old painted tea room…a casual affair on the picnic tables

Afternoon Tea

 

castle-kennedy

then the afternoon interlude when our guests could wander the grounds or sit and take in the view or play games…putting up the little princess castle proved more difficult than putting up the marquee…

little-castle

but it proved to be a big hit with the kids…

Playtime

and everyone amused themselves in the sunshine whilst the bridal party had all their pictures taken…

bridal-party

Then all too soon it was time for the sit down buffet in the marquee – we decorated this ourselves with bunting and paper lampshades and large vases of hydrangeas from our cottage garden…

marquee

We designed and made the table plans that complemented the invitations and mounted these on long sticks stuck into herb pots…

seating-plans

the favours we made were tiny biodegradable seed pots (10p for 30) with a packet of wild flower seeds in printed envelopes placed inside

and a packet of Scottish shortbread made by a friends mum…

on each table was a different poem or verse about love and marriage and flowers…

table-numbers

 

Marquee

after the meal we had a lot of fun with the speeches…

the-speeches

and finally the ceilidh with music provided by the brilliant band the Veritable Ceilidh Club…

marquee-at-night

then everyone joined in the dancing and on such a warm evening we were able to spill outside  – it all looked very magical by night lit up with fairy lights and candles around the castle and large lanterns in the trees –  and not a midge in sight…how lucky were we?

marquee-outside

Once the wedding day and celebrations were over it was straight back to dealing with the insurers over the flood damage and the probate project. In October we bought a caravan to put on site at the cottage – it is wonderful to have a base at last.  No more B&B’s and hotels… a place to call  home at last until we get our cottage sorted.l1040676

Just to leave you with a recent picture of my granddaughter – she has grown quite a bit over the past year and she is just a joy to us all.

xmas-selfie

So a very apprehensive blogger is looking forward to the coming year and hoping it will be a year where we actually see some results for all our hard work during the last few difficult years.

A belated Happy New Year to you all – I have a lot of catching up to do and I hope some of my old blogging friends are still out there.

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday…

I received a message from WordPress today to say I have been blogging now for 4 years – I can hardly believe it has been so long and I have enjoyed every minute, especially getting to know such a wonderful and supportive community, many of whom have become firm friends over the years.  So thank you to all my followers and readers – I am continually amazed that anyone is interested to read about my daily life and its ups and downs!

Have a good week everyone.