the end of another day…

What a lovely day today after all the rain we have had recently.  My peonies are blooming at last and the garden is looking more colourful again now with the summer flowers appearing – there has been a bit of a gap lately between the spring flowers fading and the summer ones coming out.

I decided not to work tomorrow – Thursday is a bit of a flexi day at the moment until I can cut it out all together and leave my new team to get on with it by themselves, but presently they still need my input to keep on top of the workload with year-end now only 2 weeks away and the promise of reaching a higher target than last year and therefore a higher bonus is well in reach.

So I have opted to go in on Saturday instead – mainly because I want to make the best of the good weather and perhaps have a couple of hours in the garden tomorrow and to be honest I feel like I have exhausted myself this week and that I would be dragging myself in to work if I went in.  I will get twice as much work done with no one about on Saturday – there will be no interruptions and my brain will concentrate more in the quiet.

On the home front what can I say but the new fascia boards and soffits look very new  – but also quite streamlined – we have a fairly modern house only 30 years old – so it has improved the appearance to get rid of the rotting wooden barge boards.  We have had the ridge tiles re-pointed and an outlet put in the roof for the fan that removes the steam from the newly refurbished bathroom so now I can have a bath at long last – I am looking forward to that.

Next week it is the turn of the window people who will come and renew the double glazing units in the older of the windows we have – then the builder will return to do the re-pointing.  Meanwhile the indoor decorating continues alongside with hubby putting primer on the staircase in the bedroom – no going back now!

After work I did the weekly shop at Sainsbury’s.  Even I was shocked at the amount at the checkout – prices are certainly rising and unfortunately I have been so short of time to sit and write menus or look for bargains.

I bought a can of Brasso to clean up some copper rings I found in the shed and the little brass mister spray.  I should have known better and perhaps have waited to look in Wilkos or even a pound shop for a cheaper can but I have not really had a lunch hour this week to pop to the shops and I didn’t want an extra trip into town on my days off or to pay for parking –  that would defeat the object of getting a bargain!

When I finally got home and was fed and watered I rang my mum who lives up in North Yorkshire.  Unusually she was not in and I could not think where she might be – so how handy is Facebook – I put out a message ‘Has anyone seen Grandma?’ and within minutes I had a message back from my niece to say she was out shopping with them!

Tonight I have had a little catch up in blogland, relaxing with my cup of cocoa and pondering on the world.  Waking up today to the news of the latest tragedy of the London fire was shocking and has been uppermost in most people’s thoughts and conversations, another sad loss of life but even more stories emerging of people of all race, colour and creed pulling together and helping one another with offers of accomodation and donations of food, clothes and money  – such a staggering amount collected in such a short time.

Well enough of my witterings…bedtime beckons.

‘it is the season now to go…

about the country high and low, among the lilacs hand in hand, and two by two in fairy land.’ 

          Robert Louis Stevenson

The Open Garden season is in full swing and our first of the year was a garden at Hognaston in Derbyshire a couple of weekends ago.  I chose this because the leaflet said the garden owners have a woodland garden complete with a pond.  Intrigued to know how they managed their pond in a woodland setting (as we have similar in our Scottish garden) I just had to have a visit so that I could quiz the owner.

Picnic Lunch

We set off with a picnic lunch (cheese and beetroot rolls, a mixed salad with chopped up left over veggie sausage and a Higgidy Feta and Red Pepper veggie roll) – it was a gloriously warm, sunny day – just nice for eating outside.

When we arrived at the garden it was really busy and many of the visitors seemed to be regulars and knew to head straight for the tea tent to get the best of the cakes on offer!

The garden did not disappoint – although on a much smaller scale than the Himalayan Garden we visited last weekend I felt it had more interesting aspects for me and a particular ‘casual wandering through a wood’  feel about it  – not too overpowered by planting if you get my drift.

Hognaston Open Gardens

As with the Himalayan Garden the Primula were out in force but a beautiful sight set against the tapestry of greens.

Primulas

Like our garden in Scotland they have a natural stream running beside their garden – only a bit wider than ours – you can just see a glimpse of it in this photo below.

They also have a pond that fills with water only when the water table is high – there is no membrane, the pond is purely a part of the garden that has heavy clay that acts as a liner – at times there is no water in there at all.

Woodland Pond

It was so natural and delightful surrounded by bog loving plants and a network of crunchy gravel paths with one of the paths forming a modest bridge over the two ponds (unfortunately I don’t have a photo of the bridge).

Being under a canopy of trees like my little pond in Scotland I was curious to know how the gardener maintained the pond after the leaf fall.

He told me there is no magic answer to keeping the pond clear  – you can try covering them over before the leaves begin to fall – but mainly it is down to emptying the pool every year and scraping out the sludge that collects. 

This was not what I wanted to hear but at least it confirms that it can be done and I couldn’t bear to part with our pond in the wood even if it is going to be an absolute pain to manage.  Anyone following this blog will know that I completely cleaned it out a couple of years ago – (see here) then covered it with netting over the Autumn / winter period.  I have pulled some sludge out this year and will aim to give it a good clear out next Spring.

The cover we made was a flat frame and the weight of the leaves made the netting sink into the water and the leaves rot.  Then recently I came across a handy universal cover for odd-shaped ponds on the internet from Agriframes which is raised in the middle to throw off the leaves – so I am madly saving up my overtime to buy one – sometimes all the overtime does come in handy!

Rubra

We spent a glorious 2 hours wandering in the garden – taking notes of course and collecting names of plants we had not come across before as well as taking time to leisurely sit in the warmth of the sun with a cup of tea and home-made cake…perfect!

It is a delightful secluded garden, peaceful and relaxing with the distant sound of running water and so much birdsong.  If ever you get chance to go I don’t think you would be disappointed.

We are headed up to Scotland now so there will be a break in transmission for a few days, no communication up there for us, but I will pick up any comments, should you care to leave one, on my return.

Have a lovely Bank Holiday weekend.  back soon x

economising update…

I haven’t done a post for ages on our economising so thought a bit of an update in order.

It is slow progress but at least there is progress.  I have now moved our savings into higher interest rate accounts, although the rates are still comparatively low, but any interest is better than nothing.  These savings will help to make our pension go further in the future when we stop working so it is important for us to make the most of what we have.

One of the best rates for us at the moment is actually the Flexclusive saver from Nationwide  paying 5% gross over the year.  It is one of those regular savings account where you save up to £500 a month and this accumulates over the year – you cannot put in a lump sum at the start.  At the end of the year you have to close the account and start again.

On the spending side I have managed to balance the books so to speak and deal with the outstanding paperwork.  I think it took me longer than the two hours I am trying to set aside each week and last week I did not do anything at all deciding instead to go in the garden.

I have sorted out all our new outgoing payments such as the increased Council tax and my yearly parking contract and have fixed the utility bills for a while though these need constant watching for better deals.  I find it tiring to have to search around on the internet and compare all the time – thank goodness we don’t have to do this for the mortgage.

Since the New Year I am still planning a menu for the week although it is often a bit of a rushed flexible list; however, it is having the required effect and cutting down on any waste food.  I have also started planning and taking a packed lunch to work – mostly I have a mixed salad, a cabbage and carrot slaw with walnuts (homemade by OH) and then some protein – a piece Nut Loaf or Quiche or just a boiled egg – sometimes it is leftovers.   This saves me about £3.50 a day.

I  have two months overtime to claim this payday a total of about 50 hours so quite a nice boost to the savings pot although I have a few items I want to buy and I might even treat myself  – perhaps a relaxing massage or reflexology treatment.

When we go out we have been making the effort to pack a picnic – actually I am enjoying these and have a few recipes to try that I can freeze in individual portions.  Tomorrow we are going up to North Yorkshire with a picnic to see my granddaughter and visit the Himalayan Garden and Sculpture Park at Grewelthorpe.  I have a feeling the plant nursery is going to be far too tempting perhaps this will be my treat rather than a massage!

Sainsbury’s have been very good recently and keep giving me a triple points coupon and the reward points are already building up again – I have now got £64.24p.  Morrisons have also given me a £5 coupon to spend (we tend to get our petrol here).  It will come in useful when we go to Scotland as the two supermarkets in Stranraer are Tesco and Morrisons.

And the not so economical

I had a bit of a spending spree last week on items that I had run out of or worn out and a few that had not been planned for but caught my eye  – this is the list;-

  • I needed some face cream and I use Neal’s yard which is not the cheapest but it suits my sensitive skin
  •  one or two gorgeous little outfits for my granddaughter from Sainsbury’s £18
  • a white top for work from Sainsbury’s £10
  • some new Tayberry Mucker gardening boots £35  from the internet as my old ones are wearing out.  They are a bit like moon boots but very flexible with comfy fur-lined soles – I wouldn’t be without them so much better than my old wellies.

Tayberry Mucker Boots

  • a bird house from Sainsbury’s £8 and OH has put this in the garden, attached to the top of a pole. I think the pole cost more than the bird house!

 

We also bought a few items for the garden last weekend from the Garden Centre with my birthday tokens (some National Garden vouchers) which covered the cost and although I could have been thrifty and grown my own herbs I felt it was just nice to treat myself and the large bottles of feed / bug spray will hopefully last a very long time – here is the not very thrifty list:-

  • A Gazebo to go in the shady border £35
  • some organic seaweed feed £7.49
  • an organic greenfly spray £6.99
  • a courgette plant, some mint and fennel £5.49
  • a posh garden fork by Burgon and Ball £9.99
  • a paving knife also by Burgon and Ball £9.99I love my new shiny stainless steel hand tools – my old fork has hardly any wooden handle left it is so worn – but must be well over 20 years old.

Hope everyone is enjoying the weekend x

a busy week so far…

It has been a mad week with so little time for myself that today I have hardly done anything but a little light cleaning and a bit of clearing up and putting away.  Still it felt good not to have to go work and to get my house back in some semblance of order.

Yesterday evening was our fund-raising event in memory of my dearest friend and colleague.  I haven’t been told a figure for how much money we raised for the hospice (where Helen spent her last few days) but I am sure it must have been quite e bit given the amount of people there.  Her mum, step dad and younger daughter all attended which was lovely and they won a raffle prize too – how lucky was that.

Tomorrow we are venturing further north to go and collect my granddaughter who is coming to stay overnight.  She is 2½ now and loves baking, animals and trains so we are (weather permitting) going on a train ride a few miles away from here at Clayton West on the Kirklees light Railway.  I like trains too so we will both be excited.  Perhaps we might even bake a few buns to take home for mummy and daddy – I bought a tub of chocolate drops and sprinkles from Sainsbury’s the other night just in case.

Meal Planning

We couldn’t make pancakes on pancake day due to time pressures so we had Mushroom and Leek pancakes tonight.  I make them with buckwheat flour rather than ordinary but I have only found it available to buy in 3lb bags so I need to find some other recipes that use buckwheat so it is not wasted. The menu planning is still going well though when I am short of time the plan ends up as a quick scribbled list in my notebook.  Unfortunately I haven’t had the time to search out and try new recipes in the last few weeks so we have been relying on old favourites.

Housekeeping

Airing CupboardThe airing cupboard is now up and running and I love having a cupboard where I open the door and inside the contents are only items we need and use – there is nothing in here that you might call clutter or surplus to requirements and it has an equal amount of space : stuff which is quite pleasing to me.

Airing Cupboard

It is fresh, white and bright with the new strip of LED lights that comes on automatically when we open the door.  At the very bottom of the cupboard just out of the picture we installed a heater  – a 40W tube equivalent to a light bulb and will just keep the cupboard warm enough to air the ironed clothes and linens which can be stored on the lowest empty slatted shelf.

Airing Cupboard

 

 

I have cream towels and white towels  (the white ones are from the cottage – I thought we may as well be using them here at home) this makes washing them easy as they all go in the wash together.  The white ones I bought in 2004 from Primark Home and they have been really good and stay soft when washed and dried inside (I don’t have a drier so cannot ‘fluff’ them up).  To keep my linens and towels smelling nice I place bars of scented soap and satchets on top of the piles.

I am eager now to get started on our next project in the house.

Finances

I saw an article in a magazine recently that suggested it is a good idea to spend one to two hours a week on your finances, keeping yourself up to date with changing interest rates and checking for good deals.  I would include in this time checking those online bills for utilities.  It is so easy to get the email saying your bill is ready for viewing and then ignoring it.  We found quite a few mistakes on our BT bills and Npower.

So I am going to set aside two hours this weekend to deal with the following financial tasks

  • car insurance to accept
  • cancel the separate breakdown cover (it is covered in the car insurance)
  • pay the credit card bill
  • check the bank accounts
  • open a savings account for Mr I that has a 5% return

Thrifting

This week Saintsbury’s gave me a coupon for 8p off petrol if I spent £15 on clothes.  It seemed like a good deal to me as I had seen a jumper for work for £18.  I also had a few rewards points coupons and one triple points so these are mounting up nicely.  Other than that I have not spent any money other than the groceries this week and a couple of birthday presents.

Have a good weekend x

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.

 

dsc08065

 

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.