Saturday, 28 November 2015

Face Like A Wet Weekend

When Dan started his current job we put our old house on the market and had very little interest, it was 2009 so a really bad time and our house was one of thousands of similar properties in the area. So we decided to replace the kitchen, in part to help it sell, but in part to have a decent kitchen for if it didn't sell. 

Fast forward to today. That house is a distant memory and here we are, about to start the getting a new kitchen process again - only this time without borrowing any money. Last night we talked about various ways, big and small, to squeeze extra savings from the money we have, and everything was very positive.

This afternoon we got back from a very wet trip to Clitheroe, we had two very serious looking letters when we got home. One was something to do with the County Council, the other was from the bank. It turns out that they had not complied with the Consumer Credit Act (1974) and had not provided the correct information regarding our loan. As such we received back the amount we'd paid in interest for this period! 

It was over £400! 

I love wet weekends!

Friday, 27 November 2015


another dark, grainy picture from the bathroom 
I've done my annual toiletries check up. Have we managed to reduce the amount of products we use? Have I learned anything at all? You can see last year's post here.

The first thing to notice is that Dan and I have at least the same amount of products, we still share quite a lot. There are also a fair few things hanging around from last year - tea tree oil, spray gel, hair wax, shaving foam, big bottle of Lush shampoo, they will be the things we don't replace. 

The bottle of Paul Mitchell hair stuff is virtually empty and won't be replaced. The face wipes won't be replaced either, we bought them for use on the train when we went away, the bottle of face serum was an emergency purchase when I was at the shop and my skin was so dry it was painful so I ran out to buy something from the town. There are two virtually empty shower gels there too, one of which will be replaced by one we bought from Preston last week, I will use that too until we visit somewhere to get my favourite, Sea Buckthorn. 

I have a couple of extra products as I've got a new hairstyle this year and my hair is so fine I need something to tame it. Dan will probably use whatever I buy when the wax is gone, he's taken to have his hair much shorter now so doesn't use as much as before. So the amount of stuff is getting smaller. I'd like it to be smaller still by this time next year. We shall see. 

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Shop Update and December Menu Plan

As I mentioned the big boss was coming to the shop yesterday and we were going to offer our views about the tea situation. I read the volunteers handbook and ran my arguments past the managers to check I was right, they said I was. Then the boss turned up. She walked through the shop and into the back room, the door closed and that was that. My colleague took a donation through so the manager introduced her - 

Manager : I'd like you to meet our longest standing volunteer.
Boss : Oh, and for how long exactly have you been standing?

Then the boss took the manager and deputy out for coffee, as they were leaving she said "come on girls, this one is coming out of my pocket". 

They came back after about 90 minutes, a bit more chat in the back room, then she left. She didn't say hello, goodbye, kiss my whatever or anything. I was again furious. To not even introduce yourself just tells me what little respect she has for volunteers. Then the manager said to me "I thought you were going to tell her what's what" to which I explained that I'm not rude (well, I am a bit) there's no way I'm going to burst into a meeting ranting and raving. My opinions were not sought so I would have been shouting into the wind anyway. At least now we know where we stand and I will spend no more time or emotion on the shop side of the organisation. I'll raise money in the shop to the best of my ability, but that's it. 

Onto the more fun part of the post, food. The plan goes right though New Year into the very start of January

1. jambalaya
2. out
3. stirfry
4. lasagne
5. out
6. soup and sandwich

7. orzotto
8. smoky chickpea stew
9. pasta bake
10 l/o
11 curry of some kind
12 bean burgers
13 out

14 lentil stuffed something (peppers/squash/mushrooms)
15 out
16 vegetable and lentil pie
17 sweet and sour tofu
18 l/o
19 nasi goreng
20 chilli

21 shepherdess pie
22 l/o
23 spaghetti
24 orzotto w. v-pud
25 all of the things
26 out
27 gado gado

28 leek and butterbean crumble
29 stirfry
30 lentil and rice pilaf
31 out
1. clear the fridge one pot
2. soup and sandwich
3. dhal

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Snakes and Ladders

Has anyone played Snakes and Ladders recently? Dan and I played last night, wow, it was hard, those snakes were unforgiving. Dan's mum asked me to look at the charity shop for Monopoly and Scrabble for her to try to play with her mum. She thought maybe she would recognise the pieces and even if they couldn't play it might stimulate some conversation about something or other. I thought we had both in the drawer under the small bed, and indeed we do, there was also a compendium of games, I assume that must have been part of the pile of stuff MIL had given to me to take to the shop. 

So we decided to have a game, and it was lots of fun. We're keeping it handy as it looks like the weather is taking a turn for the wet and windy, we don't want to get stuck in a routine o just looking at various screens. Luckily we're both fairly good losers so it doesn't cause any marital discord. 

Today is the day the area manager, she of no more free tea fame visits the shop. We shall see what happens. 

I have also done the menu plan for December. I found it quite hard. We have our Christmas lunch in the pantry now. We went to Preston on Saturday for one final look at Art From Elsewhere and decided to look for any health food shops or other interesting places. We found one really good shop - I bought no healthy food I can assure you, but I was happy to buy a bottle of my usual shampoo in the bargain bin (due to it being the old packaging) for almost half price, Dan picked up a body wash. Good timing. Anyway we bought a cranberry and nut roast, we're have other things from this brand before so I'm hopefully it will be just as nice. Even if it's not there will be mashed potatoes so that will make up for any disappointment!

I'm also trying a couple of new recipes, one is a lentil and rice pilaf with onions we had when we were in London the other week. A couple of other things are from my two newest books, Keep It Vegan came from The Book People, the other, Vegan Street Food, was gift from Dan. Apparently the street food book was written by a Masterchef contestant, I don't watch it so I wouldn't know, the food is up our street though. I'm hoping to slightly lower the grocery budget in December as we have a lot of our festive food already and we'll be out quite a bit, plus we won't be shopping between Christmas and around 3rd January so everything needs to stretch. It should be fun.   

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

But Where Do You Get Your Pasta?

It's strange what we get into our heads and what we think is a thing but it turns out not to necessarily or always be the case, for us yesterday it was about pasta. Dan told his parents he is vegan. 

It was... interesting. Dan's dad spoke to us about nutrition, which even his wife found funny as he hasn't cooked anything for as long as anyone can remember and doesn't have the greatest diet in the world, he takes his own tins of tuna with him when they go on holiday because, you know, food from other places. We went back and forth about the milk thing for their cup of tea and in the end Dan said they could have soy milk or do without (no-one has any allergies). So he just made tea and didn't mention it, he was greeted with "that's a champion cup of tea, you've done that before". Success! I think the Booja-Booja truffles may have helped (we bought them with a voucher we had from Holland and Barrett). 

Dan's mum was concerned about calcium, so we went through that and she seemed sceptical but accepting. Again she has a very restricted diet and doesn't really bother herself with nutrition so we decided between us that no lectures were in order. We did have to have the protein, what if your neighbours had hens and offered you the eggs, and what about cake discussions (she had a slight vested interest in this one) but it went fairly smoothly. She now wants proof that the cake mix + fizzy pop = cake thing works! 

The one thing that she couldn't get out of her head was that we wouldn't be able to eat pasta. I assured her many times that I am too stingy to buy fresh pasta anyway but that dried pasta is egg free so we can still eat as much pasta as we like (which isn't all that much). She was then fascinated to know the nutritional value of pearl barley, because she really likes it but had never thought about it before. Isn't is funny what we focus on given a free choice. 

Monday, 23 November 2015

Fun With Fleece

I'm really not feeling in the mood for making things, I can't ever imagine picking up my quilts ever again. It's a weird thing but I suppose I can't be the only one. Anyway, the manager was describing our festive window and it's a Victorian theme, so I offered to make a Christmas stocking to decorate the fireplace. 

In the end we negotiated eight stockings, two "proper" ones and six "just for show". I don't know what her thoughts are so it will be an interesting surprise when I see it for the first time. 

 I couldn't bring myself to make them identical. They're a bit rough and ready, but the manager said she just wanted something basic, they didn't need to be too neat or anything. It's so hard to do that!

These were supposed to be plain, but I couldn't resist adding the ribbon. These were harder than the others, I had to be neat from the start - not my usual style. 

Friday, 20 November 2015

Giveaway Winner

Two people showed an interest in the stripy scarf, so I picked a name out of a dish (I wrote each name twice so I could confuse myself).

And the winner is Simple Living

If you can send me your contact details to my new email address - I will shove it in the post, it probably won't be until the middle or end of next week but it will happen soon! Thank you. Sorry I couldn't send something to you Sara but you never know what I'll come across next. 

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Little Things

Or how to win friends and influence people. 

There is trouble brewing at the charity shop. 

The manager received an email from the person in charge of the shops informing her that it costs the charity however much per year to pay for cups of tea and coffee for the volunteers, so this money can't come from petty cash any longer as the charity won't pay for it. 

The manager broke the news to us and as you can probably guess it didn't go down too well. She did speak up for us and sent an email back saying that we weren't happy about this to which the reply came that she, and the charity must not be "held to ransom" by volunteers (their words, not mine). 

Held to ransom. Seriously?

Surely a cup of tea is literally the least they can do for volunteers. I understand that if we want biscuits maybe we should take it in turns to buy them, or the manager should pay for them, the manager has always paid for biscuits out of pocket everywhere else I've been, including when I was a manager myself. But a cuppa I think is different, am I wrong? I know that many workplaces have a tea and coffee fund, but they're also paid positions, we don't get paid, we all have our reasons for volunteering but obviously we care at least a little bit about the charity without being paid to take an interest.

The manager is coming to the shop next week to discuss all matters financial and here's my problem, because if course it's when I'm going to be there. The manager has said we can defend our position should we so choose, but I see a problem, the area manager is going to tell my manager that emails are confidential and she is to implement new policies, not have a consultation period with volunteers, so anything volunteers say will come back to my manager as her speaking out of turn, if you see what I mean. 

I have always had a lot of time for this particular charity and while it doesn't really impact me personally as I take my own milk or fruit tea with me, what does irk me is the attitude. Using the phrase "held to ransom" doesn't exactly sound as though this person sees volunteers as valuable or people whose views should be respected. There are ways of saying things and had the reply said "these are tough times and we are asking everyone to do their bit to help us through" or similar that would have been a very different matter. I think it's very telling, the way someone speaks about people when they don't think they're going to hear says a lot about what they think in my opinion. 

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

More Mess

Thank you to everyone for your replies yesterday, they cheered me up no end. As there was more than one taker for the scarf I'll pick a name out of a hat, I'll do that on Friday so if anyone else wants to throw their name in you have today and tomorrow to do so. 

I have not been out into the garden, other than to hand out washing, for a very long time indeed. Yesterday the wind died down, there was no rain, there was no sun either but it wasn't cold, so I went out in my pyjamas and planted some bulbs. I don't know if it's too late to plant bulbs now but they can just sit in the ground and either grow or wait. 

I ignored the rest of the mess, the massive weeds, the things that need to go into the compost, the rotting sunflower, the tomato plant that's still hanging about, the leaves and everything else that makes me leave the blinds down at the moment. I went out and shoved things in holes for half an hour or so then I came back in and tried not to think about the rest of it. 

Hopefully at some point in the future something lovely will appear. I both enjoy and don't enjoy bulb planting, on the one hand my calves always end up hurting with all the crouching but on the other hand it's the best way to spend not all that much energy, time or cash in order to get a lot of nice things to look at. 

Then the rain came back and I was very glad I'd got out while the getting was good. 

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Sling It and A Giveaway

I spoke recently about my mini meltdown last December, I think it arrived early this year. I was starting to think about the nice things about the festive period, then the other side of it started and I felt like pulling my hair our - literally, I had to sit on my hands. 

"Do it your way" people helpfully suggest. I can only assume these people don't have a family. I know that advice is meant with kindness, but for our family it just makes things worse so I have to try to make the best of a very bad forced jollity laden job. Yesterday I overheard part of a conversation between Dan and his Mum about gifts. It went along the lines of "I don't really want to buy any presents, but if I don't buy you anything then you won't buy me anything and I won't have anything to open". What can you do with that?

Everyone has their own coping strategy when stress arrives, some people hit the bottle, some go out jogging, some bake, I have a sort out. The house seemed stuffed to bursting and all I could think about was the stream of junk that's about to flow into the house. So I grabbed a bin bag and got to it. We started with the easy stuff, some bedding that we never use, most of our wool items and some other bits and bobs that I have been thinking of donating for a while. I have managed to fit everything into the porch cupboard so I don't have to risk the door falling off when I go in for the ironing board or Henry *phew*

The weird cupboard on the landing is no longer a stash and dash site. It was mostly stuff to be donated or things that needed to be returned to the garage. Now there's nothing. 

In the kitchen I have one empty drawer, I have no intention of finding something to go in it. It's nice to have a bit of space. 

Which brings me to the giveaway. When I was working through my wool items I came across this scarf. It's a Gap lambswool scarf that I bought for 50p many many years ago from the charity shop I volunteered at before this one.

I don't know if anyone would like it, but if you would then let me know. It's in good condition and that's all there is to say about it. 

Monday, 16 November 2015

Sealed Pot Opening!

I know I said we'd agreed to open the pot at the start of December, but it was burning a hole in Dan's pocket just a bit too much, so as we were at home all day yesterday watching the wet, blustery day we went for it. 

I was allowed control of the tin opener, this is what we found

All in all there was £231.73, not too bad at all, especially as we didn't really concentrate on it this year, we'll make it more of a focus from now on. We'll also keep the sealed pot for 50p and larger so we can keep putting the smaller amounts into the bank throughout the year. 

In terms of bankable cash there was £221 which Dan took with him this morning. Our small change bags are well on their way to being filled so hopefully there will be something else to go into savings before the end of the year. 

I'm going to keep more of a running total this time, so I'll make a note of it here whenever something goes into the bank. 

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Saving and Not Spending

The sealed pot is burning a hole in our mental pocket. It's not that we want to spend the money, we just want to know how much is in there! I think we've settled on December 1st to open it, although I'm not convinced.

It seems like a very long time since we saved any substantial amount. We did reach our basic savings goal of filling the emergency fund, so that's a very positive thing. Having multiple changes jars seems to be working well. The sealed pot is for larger amounts, the open tin is for 20p and smaller. we've both got into the swing of emptying our change into it at the end of the week. We have dipped into it occasionally, mainly for parking, but it's been very useful and great for painfree savings. 

"Proper" saving will start again at the end of this month. I know December is not traditionally a good month for saving but I think it will be a good one for us. Even more than last year we're stripping back celebrations. We spend quite a bit of time out and about meeting up with people we don't see the rest of the year (quite a few of our friends live overseas). But we don't need to spend tons on this like we have in the past. I've also spoken to people about not exchanging gifts this year, which has reduced the shopping list considerably. Dan's mum has suggested we have a £20 budget again this year as she enjoyed it so much last time round, so we're down to only a couple of more extravagant gifts now, phew. 

This month (I know it's only early) other than buying some hay online I have gone back to cash for everything. It's easier for me. I withdrew some cash at the start of the month and I don't want to have to use any more. If this works I'll have a nice buffer in my account which I'll use as an overdraft should I ever have an expensive month, or if there's some kind of deal that's too good to miss. As it is, we don't need to buy anything other than bunny greens, milk and mushrooms this week, less than a fiver isn't bad going. 

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The Spirit of Optimism

Dan surprised me with this book when we got onto the train on Sunday, I was made up with it and had a good nosey through it on the way home. One of the things I like most about Modernism is that it was an experiment in optimism. Things were built for people to share and to work together. OK, much of the time we didn't go with that idea and the experiment failed but there you go. 

"nothing is too good for ordinary people"
As I mentioned the other day, we stumbled across the Finsbury Health Centre by Berthold Lubetkin. This building was completed in 1938 and offered healthcare free at the point of use for local residents, something we take for granted now, but this idea predates the NHS. It is not necessarily a thing of great beauty to most now, but it's a beautiful and important thing to me. (You may also have seen this poster from WWII featuring the centre, created by Abram Games).

We spent a long time at the Eames exhibition and we both took something away from it, for me it was that I really like Ernest Race and for Dan he is more in love with Kenneth Grange than ever before. Neither of them featured in the exhibition, but our minds naturally turned to their output after seeing the industrial, commercial and domestic output of Charles and Ray Eames. I was also in love with the Barbican complex itself, especially the covered walkways which offered some protection from the rain!

We ended up in Poplar on Sunday after seeing something exciting from the train on our way to Greenwich, Balfron Tower (1967). The smaller, older, less glamorous sister of Trellick Tower by Erno Goldfinger (yes, feel free to sing). A dull, grey, silent Sunday morning in November was the perfect time to visit this lovely piece of Brutalism.

To bring us right back to the spirit of optimism we finished our trip at the Southbank Centre where everything seemed possible.

Something for everybody, for food, a walk, sightseeing, togetherness, families, couples, individuals, skateboarders, cyclists, residents, visitors, silence, noise, water, concrete and rain. 

power to the people

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Bits And Bobs

We were so busy the weekend that we decided not to go out for a meal, we'd just pick something up as and when we wanted something. It worked out well as there was a food market outside the Royal Festival Hall and there was plenty to choose from.

On Saturday night before we went to La Soiree we tried some Indian food, on Sunday we ended up back there, mainly to take photographs, and had some Lebanese food. This was a particular hit and now I have a new recipe to try, mdardara lentils and rice with onions. It was so nice and it looks like a great pantry meal, nice and cheap to make, I'll put it on the menu plan next month. 

We did make time for a detour or two, after wandering off to look at a ghost sign on Saturday we stumbled upon Finsbury Health Centre. After spotting something from the train we went on another detour on Sunday to have a look at Balfron Tower which made us very happy indeed. 

We also made time to go on a boat. Dan and I have never been on a boat together, and considering we live near lots of water it seemed a bit daft. It was probably the highlight of the weekend. It was either that or the little girl on the train who sang Agadoo for a good 10 minutes!

Monday, 9 November 2015

Weekend Away Part One

There may or may not be part two. 

I seem to remember when we came home from Berwick that I said going away was more trouble than it was worth. I still believe that to be true for me. 

We went to London at the weekend to see The World of Charles and Ray Eames at the Barbican Centre. We were only planning on going for the day but when my mum said she was looking after my nieces that weekend she suggested they come to stay and we could stay overnight in London. So we said "Yes, thank you very much".

Dan did some good work with train tickets and managed to snap them up for £30 return each, we booked the same hotel we stayed at last time, got an early bird booking for the show we wanted to see, and used our Art Pass for the exhibition itself.

The day before we went away we had the boiler serviced. At 4am on Saturday there was no hot water. On Sunday there was no heating either.

My parents couldn't switch the tv on. For more than three hours. There were many many many many many texts about it.

And a phonecall.

And something else I can't remember.

I almost threw my phone in the river.

When we got home there was a bin bag on the drive. Thankfully it was a bag of rubbish, it was in front of the bin shed.

I don't know why.

We had an amazing time, but I really don't think it was amazing enough to deal with the small stones in my mental shoe. The boiler guy is currently here fixing the boiler - of course the fact that it didn't work after he serviced it is nothing to do with him and must be something that we've done.

I'm having a nice cup of tea and a sit down. It is, after all, great to be home. 

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Freebie Of The Week

It was monthly market time again today so I nipped down for some Vpud. My mum tried some last time she visited and asked me to buy one for her to take home this weekend. The man on the stall gave me a freebie as it was his temperature sample one. He'd stuck the thermometer probe into it so couldn't sell it as there was a hole in the package, as I'd bought three he asked me if I would like to take it home and eat it in the next few days. I, of course, said thank you very much!

I had a lovely time in the town, I'm getting to know a few of the stallholders and shop owners so shopping takes a bit longer now as I'm chatting away to people about cooking, quilting and other good stuff. I also bumped into a few other shop volunteers so had a chat with them too.  

A far better day than yesterday. We had to call the police to a flat near the shop as it sounded like a serious assault was taking place. It was awful, we all felt so helpless until the police arrived. The lady was taken to hospital and the man arrested, the police thanked us for notifying them as many people are too afraid to get involved. It really was a distressing experience and made me more grateful than ever to have wonderful people around me. 

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Cosy Under Foot

After having it in the garage for a few weeks we finally laid the new lino under the bunny pen at the weekend, the buns are very pleased with it. It's a lot lighter than the last stuff so it makes a bit of a difference to the light in the room. We haven't had time to take the old piece to the tip yet, so I'm keeping out of the garage for now as it's just full of stuff we need to get rid of. 

My old boots gave up the ghost at the end of last winter so I have been after replacements, it has not been easy. Everything was either just not me, or the cost made me dizzy. I decided to have another search last week and found these little shiny Chelsea Boots. They're cute, waterproof and (as far as people have been able to advise me) animal free. Surprisingly they are Crocs!

They arrived yesterday, just before I went to the shop so I was able to break them in when I was at work. I was impressed, they're a very good fit, I did buy some squidgy insoles on my way home, but that's because I just like them, ot because they were uncomfortable otherwise. Pricewise I was happy too, as it was my first order I received a 20% off voucher and when I got to checkout there was free delivery too, saving another £4, so I was well under my £40 budget. I can now kick up fallen leaves and splash in puddles as much as I like. 

I have talked myself out of buying a winter coat (I have got rid of my wool ones). Instead what I'll try is wearing my mac with my walking jacket underneath. The walking jacket is waterproof and windproof but not very attractive when I'm wearing nice clothes so with the mac over the top I should have the best of all worlds. 

Monday, 2 November 2015

November Menu Plan

I finally got round to using some of the smoked freekeh, it had been hanging around in the pantry for ages and I kept overlooking it for some reason. I did take photos of what I made but we were very much in a tastes better than it looks situation - imagine a deconstructed haggis. It was onion, chestnuts, mushrooms, pearl barley and smoked freekeh cooked in stock flavoured with sage, paprika, dulce and so sauce. It was amazing and is certainly on the list with our other favourite one pots. 

It was good to have something so comforting after wrestling with my pink quilt. I bought some new binding, far better for me than the other stuff, but I am just not having fun with it. I don't know why I'm having such difficulty with it but it's just not coming together. It is no longer enjoyable and I just want it to be done even if it looks terrible, just so I don't have to think about it anymore. 

Here is the menu plan for November, it involves a lot of leftovers.

1. freekeh w. chestnuts
2. chilli w. sweet potato fries
3. chilli w. rice
4. leek and mushroom pie
5. l/o
6. chickpea curry
7. out

8. soup and sandwich
9. stuffed squash
10 jambalaya
11 hot pot
12 lentil bol
13 some kind of curry
14 pulled jackfruit (still haven't tried it!)

15 pasta bake
16 plaki
17 tacos
18 l/o
19 pearl barley broth
20 stuffed mushrooms w. bombay potatoes
21 soup and sandwich

22 roast
23 shepherdess pie
24 l/o
25 roast tofu
26 winter stirfry
27 curry
28 bean burger

29 chestnut cobbler
30 out