dEAr diary ~ home again, home again

…but not for long….

Back at home now – it was quite a long day yesterday; there are always little bits to take care of in the garden before leaving, watering in the plants I have moved and putting chicken wire around the emerging ones to ‘bunny’ proof them.  Then I pack and clean the caravan.  By the time we are on the road I am feeling rather shattered sometimes, but it was a good journey, not too much traffic and no motorway closures.

Today I was up and showered, finished the unpacking and then took time to catch up with the post, the messages and life at home in general. I always clean the house before we go so it is nice to walk into when we arrive home so no housework needed today.  Once everything was unpacked I then had to repack for our trip up to North Yorkshire tomorrow to stay with my younger daughter, Libbie and Sweetie for a couple of days.

In the afternoon we had to collect a parcel, return some library books and go to Sainsbury’s to buy some fresh vegetables, milk and yoghurt.  I have a Quiche to make to take with us tomorrow for our evening meal at our daughters.  Whilst in Sainsbury’s I bought my mum, who we will visit on Saturday, a lovely indoor basket of plants for Mother’s Day.  So once the car is repacked we will be all set to go again.

I am not sure if I will manage a post in the next few days but I will as soon as possible.  I am looking forward to looking after Sweetie for the day on Friday;  Libbie (Little L) will be at school and their mum will be having her dental work done.  Ouch!

A day of unpacking and unwinding, repacking and rewinding. x

 

 

dEAr diary ~ signs of new growth

Signs of new growth everywhere – Spring is well underway now.

Today at last was bonfire day, calm and sunny.  We couldn’t light it yesterday because as soon as the caravaners had gone home and it was safe to start the fire the weather turned and the wind was far too strong.

Once lit we burned the box full of old file papers from home to save having to shred it all and then I had to run round pruning everything in sight, that can be pruned at this time of year, to get it all on the bonfire before the fire went out.  I do like to wait until I can see some nice new buds appearing so I have something to cut down to – I am always nervous about pruning too hard lest I kill the plant altogether but most of the shrubs had plenty of strong healthy buds.  As usual I did not manage to get all the pruning done – we have far too many shrubs and so the rest will have to wait for another visit if it is not too late in the season.

I did give our new loppers a good testing though and my arms a serious workout.  I now have serious aches and pains too and extreme muscle fatigue and can hardly lift them to drink my cocoa tonight – but it did get me out of doing the washing up.

Hope they recover for the morning we have packing and cleaning to do.

After the mammoth pruning session I attempted to weed the stream bank border that is full of …you guessed it campion.  Such lovely wild flowers but a border full of campion is a campion too far.  Hidden amongst the campion I came across some more of those annoying wild garlic plants posing as bluebells, the leaves are similar, but their days are numbered as I have now become an expert at differentiating between them.

I managed to uncover the two Hydrangeas and Geraniums that I knew were somewhere in there and barrowed away 4 bags of weeds which will go to the landfill site on our next visit.  So by the end of today I have part cleared all of our borders but actually finished none…oh well tomorrow is another day and the weeds will still be there on our next visit.

DH has done better and has completed the ditch clearing and the water has drained away so quickly that in an instant the muddy puddle where the pond had overflowed is now completely dry again.  I can’t say the Primula are happy about that though as they were enjoying being waterlogged.

Tomorrow before we go home we need to cut some chicken wire to put around some of the more attractive plants (attractive to bunnies that is).  They seem to love nibbling the young new shoots of my Delphinium and Dicentra and chicken wire is the only way to stop them.

I didn’t even stop today to take photos – hopefully I will tomorrow when I try to get some pictures of the inside of the cottage to do my long overdue update.

A day painstakingly pruning – producing positive results. x

Thank you for all the lovely comments about my cards – there really was not much effort to it but I enjoyed making them and using up some of the craft mountain I have accumulated –  and will enjoy the savings I make too.

Welcome to my new followers – I hope you enjoy the journey.

crEAting ~ turning scraps and off cuts into cards

I must be on a bit of a roll creating things.  On Sunday afternoon I sat down with a box of card blanks and a pile of decorative papers of one sort or another to make some cards.

Normally, I would make cards from some of my own paintings and sketches. This is one I often make for friends and family celebrating a special milestone birthday.  It is a concertina card with a verse running through it and folds up into a little keepsake book.  You could easily make something similar using some of those ready printed pictures on sale in craft shops. …but I wanted to use up the some of lovely scraps of papers I have collected over time and do something rather different.

I especially like the fact that I am saving money at the same time as saving the planet by recycling pieces of old wrapping paper (you know those little bits that are too small to wrap a present) and cards that are given to me, and even nice pieces of printed cardboard from packaging items.

Anyone can make these cards it only takes some card blanks and a roll of the double-sided tape, a Pritt stick and scissors (though I would strongly recommend a ruler and a scalpel for a sharper clean-cut).  You do not need any specialist equipment or any expensive craft papers.

The cards below are made from some lovely wrapping paper I had with delightful paintings of china teacups.  These off cuts were too nice to throw away so I made each of the cups into a card.  The two smaller cards are firstly covered in a piece of decorative backing paper that come in packs or pads from craft shops as it is a good weight to stick thinner wrapping paper onto; then the teacup picture is stuck on top of this in the centre and finally I cut some striped paper into thin strips and made a simple border to complete.  The larger one is made by using one of those blank cards with a pre-cut window – so you mount the picture behind the window – very useful for cross stitched panels –  in this case it nicely frames the teacup. The two below are actually made from some lightweight card packaging – I can’t even remember now what the packaging came with but again I saved it thinking it would come in handy for something.  I was able to make matching tags too and I will add a greeting or other embellishment when I find something suitable.The next two are made by recycling cards that were given to me.  I cut the front off the card on the left and placed some pearl pink paper behind before sticking it down on a card blank.  The one on the right is a card front stuck onto one of those accordion card blanks and I will decorate the inside of this too by adding some suitable prose.   For these and the ones above I used the double-sided tape here rather than Pritt stick to stick one onto the other as the old cards and packaging I am sticking down are a heavier weight than the papers I used on some of the smaller cards.Once I began there was no stopping me and it was one of those afternoons when you really feel you are ‘in the flow’ if you are familiar with the expression.

Whilst in The Range I bought a packet of those ready printed messages that say – Happy Birthday or Thank you just to embellish them a little.

So I added a little greeting to some of them – but some I will leave blank and then when I need a card I can add the most appropriate greeting at the time.  Others I will make into Easter cards if I can find some Easter greetings in town. Most of these are just the tiny Papermania cards – just less than 4″ square – and although very simple I think they are quite effective and a good way of using up old papers.  So far I have made about twenty-five but I have card blanks and papers to do many more.

A day of creating canny crafty cards. x

Sooze at Her in Him out 2 – I hope you might find this post useful.

 

dEAr diary ~ a simple life for me

If you want to live more simply then try living in a caravan and you will undoubtedly satisfy that desire.

There is no room for any extras on board – only the basics.

Clutter is not a word that I would recognise living here as there is none – everything in the caravan is a considered item and has to have a home otherwise you would soon find yourself falling over things.  The cupboards are few and none too generous in size so sometimes you have to be very creative with the space.

We have just enough dishes to make and eat a meal, nothing to bake with but then that must be healthier, although I did bring an apple cake with us, we just eat fruit or nuts, oat cakes, crackers.  No puddings either but we have the occasional ice cream treat.

We have only a minimum of bedding and towels – one of each in use and one spare, just enough clothes for gardening and trips to town and a few necessities like toiletries and cleaners. We do have a small Dyson, a small bucket and a tiny hand brush and pan…that just about sums up the cleaning aids.

We eat very simple food as we have no electrical equipment like a blender or food processor.  Our pans consist of a large 3 tier steamer, a milk pan, a medium pan with a lid and a frying pan with a lid.  We also have a colander and I might consider buying a lettuce spinner for the summer as my one luxury.

Above the fire-place there are three shelves for decoration and display.  I display only a few decorative items on here – a glass vase with a collection of tiny seashells inside, an empty vase for when I pick a few flowers, a little bowl full of dried rose petals from the garden, a lino cut picture of some geese by a local artist (our only picture) and a tiny set of wooden houses.  The other items come under the useful rather than decorative category – a small china mug, a water jug, some heavy stemmed wine glasses that we use for most cold drinks and a clock with a lovely soothing tick.

We keep a small selection of books mostly gardening books for information and ideas and a novel or two.   I also keep a box with a few stationary items – stapler, sellotape, scissors and the like, some coloured pencils and a notepad.  We have a folder for instruction manuals and another for the few bills we have, water, electricity, council tax and that is our filing system.  At home we have a large filing drawer with the archived papers in the loft.

Of course there is no loft here – instead there is a little storage space under the beds but they are empty – we have no need of anything to store – we use everything we have here.   I don’t even keep any spare bedding for the 2nd bedroom – I am not expecting anyone to stay.   I can look at something and think – yes I have used that in the last couple of days and it is a good feeling.  If I were a nomad and had to pack all this stuff up to move on I daresay we would have even less.

For entertainment we play cards, read, write blog posts, of course, or listen to the radio.  We have no television nor want one and at one time we had no internet connection so only brought the lap top with us if we just needed to access our documents and didn’t need to access the internet – now I can attend to my blog while I am here but that is all I do.

The mobile signal is quite pathetic at times so no-one tries to contact us and we rarely phone anyone other than my mum to check on her and my daughters just to let them know we are still alive.

Being so disconnected from the world might not suit everyone but I love our little retreat here – I could easily live here full-time but on the other hand I do not want to miss our new grandchildren growing up.

It is a dilemma not easily solved.

Today was another sunny day in the garden, slightly cooler but pleasant.  I have been on weed patrol again digging over boarders and filling in the rabbit holes where they have scratched the surface to get at the plant roots.  I will have to get more chicken wire to protect my young plants.  Funny they don’t like the campion – there is plenty of it.

DH did a bit more of the ditch – here he is with his shovel and barrow (he is a bit blog shy – so only half of him).Hopefully it will stop the pond overflowing onto the path, though the primulas quite like the water.……. And then he shimmied up the old apple tree to lop the top off. All our best apples grow at the top.  It is a half standard tree that was planted by the previous owners and was left to grow unchecked so it is a bit of a beanstalk and we have to wait for the apples to drop off rather than pick them.  Now it has been checked I have no doubt it will retaliate by not producing as many apples this year.

A day of pleasant pottering and pondering.

Total spend at the village shop for 6 yoghurts, a bag of peas and a  2 x Magnum £6.60

 

 

 

dEAr diary ~ mud, mud, glorious mud

We woke up to the sound of rain today and the power was off until Scottish Power could get their temporary generator going.  So with the weather and the power we had no need to rush as there was very little we could do and opted for an unusually leisurely breakfast.  The SP team worked all day renewing the transformer in the farmer’s field and the power went back on at 3.30 just as they had said in their letter.

I spent the morning updating my garden plants list – removing those that have not survived the winter or the rabbits and checking on the best pruning times for the different clematis and shrubs we have.  Most of them I can remember but I find that is beneficial to the plants if I refresh my memory occasionally.

After lunch we listened to the Archers followed by a play and Gardeners Question time (someone had the same problem as us with the over abundant wild garlic – there is no easy way to eradicate it apparently and eating it was their best suggestion – eating a few tons of garlic sounds like a killer to me!), by which time it had stopped raining and was dry enough to go outside.  As I went down the garden towards the Woodland Walk a rather large bunny scampered away up the banking quite shocked at my presence, I was more shocked at all the little holes he had left behind in the borders.

I decided to tackle the border that runs below the banking on the left side of the garden by the lane – it is a side of the garden that never comes together no matter what I do.

To one end of this border is the large conifer tree with spreading branches – nothing wants to grow under it save the Montbretia.  At the other end we have a Viburnum Tinus which is blooming well at the moment and a self-seeded Fuschia now the size of a small tree – but I like it so I let it stay.  The little group of Mahonia Charity are becoming a little leggy and I have threatened them with the chop – this seems to spur them on to producing some new side shoots – I will still sneak up on them and chop them down a bit though.A while ago we dug this patch over…and lay some grass seed… but it only partly helped for a while and now it is just another spot for the buttercups to take over if the campions don’t get there first.

It is heavily shaded for most of the day in summer and the water from the lane above filters down through the banking and ends up at the bottom making a very soggy patch with quite sticky heavy loam and it is really hard work getting anything to grow other than buttercups.  The banking itself is much more peaty.  Ferns of any type are attracted to take root here – but as I have said before you can have too many.

I am still not sure what possessed me to dig in this part of the garden today as the soil is usually squidgy here on a good day but with the rain it was even worse; the soil clung for dear life onto the roots of the weeds I lifted.

Meanwhile DH was on ditch clearing duty – the ditch separates the lower wood from the upper wood and runs at the back of the pond.  If the ditch gets blocked over winter with all the leaf fall and does not drain down to the burn it overflows through a pipe into the pond and then eventually the pond overflows.   He dislikes this job as intensely as his ‘waste management’ duties (the bins) at home.  The process of ditch clearing is to jump in and sink in with a large shovel and heave the mud up to shoulder height and over in one streamlined manoeuvre like a Golf swing and deposit said mud onto the bank of the ditch.  Quite a demanding job and one that can only be done in small doses before exhaustion takes over.  Of course he chose the light grey sweatshirt over the navy one and came out of the ditch splattered with specks of wet mud resembling a spotted dick pudding.

The bonfire is on hold at the moment as two of the caravans nearest to us have the owners in residence – Mr E who is about our age and has bad knees and prefers to drive the short distance up the lane in his car to the pub for his meals – (he lost his wife to a heart attack a few years ago she hadn’t made 60; she was  a heavy smoker), and Mr and Mrs Fixit who appear quite regularly and are always fixing something on the caravan – this time it was their satellite dish that had been spun round in the strong wind during the winter.  We politely asked each of them in passing how long they had planned to stay – Sunday seemed to be the favourite day to go back home – we dare not ask the exact time – so the bonfire will just have to wait until we see them pack up and leave!

After a couple of hours we ran out of light and good weather so made our way back indoors.  We had a no spend day too.

As you can tell we have such exciting times here!

A day of splodging around in icky sticky mounds of mud…

 

dEAr diary ~ times they are a changing

Yesterday was such a gorgeous day – too nice to be travelling – but that is the British weather for you– when I needed a nice warm day to dry the washing…..it rained.

There seemed to be more packing than usual.  We had to fit the old water-butt into the car – we have bought a smaller one for home and will use the larger one at the cottage – good job we hung on to the estate car as it is most useful for ferrying things up and down.

I also had a box of old papers to take for the bonfire and a bag of items to drop off at one of the charity shops in Stranraer.  The two Christmas trees will have to wait until our next visit.

As there is less room in the caravan and less storage space I am not able to keep as much stuff like gardening clothes, towels and bedding and I forget what we have up at the caravan when we are down at home.  We keep a few extras but nothing like we had in the cottage.  So I really need to work out a better packing plan – one that takes me less time to get it all together.  When we were both working and set off for Scotland on Friday tea time I could get the car packed inside an hour – now I seem to take well over two hours and I cannot put my finger on why.

As it was such a lovely day we pulled off the motorway for lunch at the South Lancaster junction.  We had packed a flask of homemade tomato soup which is far nicer than anything you can get at the services.  The area to the right of the M6 is one of outstanding national beauty within the boundaries of the Forest of Bowland and has a wealth of delightful little villages with pretty cottages and those quaint country village churches.  But it is an area we have never explored before.  We drove through Hornby and stopped for lunch on a quiet country lane just outside Gressingham (famous for its ducks) to admire the view.  The flatter plains of farmland are enclosed by the surrounding hills  – not hills like the Pennines at home but a gentle rolling landscape and so green.  We felt like we had driven into another world – no busy roads – just a few sheep grazing and an occasional tractor.  It was so peaceful you could have heard a pin drop.   We will be back on another visit to have a better look around but yesterday we had to press on and reluctantly head back to the motorway.  We made it to the cottage by nightfall but as is often the case it was too dark to see the garden – that is usually a surprise for the morning.

We awoke to more sunshine streaming through the caravan windows today and the temperature was warm too, so after a meeting with a lovely man from highways this morning over a wee problem that affects our woodland we set to in the garden.

A day working in our cottage garden is far more punishing than any Yoga class and we have to be very careful on the first day not to overdo things.  So after lunch we had a walk along the beach and into the village, bought an ice cream (a rather lavish £3.80 for 2 Magnums) and sauntered back. On our first walk to the village after the winter it is surprising how much has changed.  When we first bought our cottage in 2004 it seemed like life down here on the Mull never changed; but increasingly year on year brings more.

This flight of steps that take you from the beach up onto Shore Street at the bottom end of the village by the little harbour used to be fully hidden  by willow bushes that have now been chopped down.  It is actually someones garden but they do not mind you using them – I preferred it when it was a secret entrance hidden by the bushes.At the far end of Shore street you can just about see the Ship Inn – once a thriving little pub but has suddenly closed and up for sale again.  It has been sold on two or three times in recent years and each of the new owners just cannot make a go of it.

The Queens Hotel in the middle of the village is looking so very run down now this could be next.  The notice in their window is supposed to be a joke – but might well be true – either way I am not sure it is helping them draw in more custom!The pub at the top of our lane might end up being the only watering hole in the village soon.

We also noticed that the door of the old corn store down by the harbour that used to be locked with the aid of an old shovel and has been like that for all the time we can remember… has now had the broken windows  boarded up properly, a proper padlock put in place and a notice pinned to the door. …but I thought the little wicker heart a very cute touch.Wards garage in the village now looks very forlorn; the forecourt has been stripped of the petrol pumps as under new laws the owner is no longer allowed to have petrol pumps within 2 metres of the road (he is allowed a Palm tree however!) and without the sale of petrol has been forced to close – such a shame this business had served this man and the community for years and now we all have to drive over 15 miles to the nearest petrol station in Stranraer.  This is a picture we took before the recent closure – such a sad end. On the way back to our cottage we passed the community garden – the person who looked after it is not able to carry on and the local community council are appealing for another volunteer.  Sadly it cannot be us as we are not here permanently.  This might end up being yet another casualty.

So many changes each year – they may only be little but sometimes are quite significant and are just another example of our ever-changing world even in backwaters like this.  I am sure that even in the Forest of Bowland that looks as if it never changes those who live there will see plenty.

A day of contemplating change and munching mouthwatering Magnums. x

dEAr diary ~ busy making life calmer

I finally took the plunge and started a Yoga class today.  It is the same lovely teacher Anita that I had a few years ago and she now does a class in my own village – so within walking distance if I choose to walk.  I went in the car today as it was quite drizzly and I don’t have anything large enough to carry my Yoga mat in to keep it dry (well that is my excuse).

Spending time to listen to and notice how my body feels and moves felt rather strange at first – it takes practice to be still and calm and breathe.   It all went quite well but there is a limit to the amount of arm lifting I can do on my left side – which is partly the reason I am going to try to retain flexibility.  Doing Yoga certainly highlights any problem areas – I never knew that anyone could bend and twist that far!!!  I came away a little more creaky but things had loosened up here and there and I felt all the better for it and I must make an effort to practice at home between sessions.

Yesterday was spent dodging around the house doing a bit of this and that interspersed with phone calls – why does everyone call on a Monday?…I shouldn’t complain, and I am not really, it is always lovely to hear from people.  Both my daughters can chat away easily for a couple of hours – even when I am about to see them in person and I would never cut them short unless I had some good reason like an appointment to attend – after all what are mums for but to hear the ups and downs of their lives and either rejoice or commiserate with them and offer advice if it is wanted, though I am pleased to say they are both very good problem solvers which makes me quite redundant.

I was a bit frustrated yesterday that I could only put the washing out on the line for brief periods between the almost constant drizzle – didn’t the weather man know it was Monday either and I needed to get my washing dry!  The reason for the rush is we are heading up to the cottage in a day or two for a few days and I realised that when we came back from Scotland a couple of weeks ago I never quite finished washing all our gardening clothes – they get so grubby I always pre-soak them in a bucket but I had mum visiting at the time so pushed the washing basket in the ‘soon to be Pantry’, old cloakroom out-of-the-way and then promptly forgot about them.

I managed to fit in some baking too – an apple cake to take to Scotland made with the last 2 eggs and the leftover portion of cooked apple we took from the freezer to accompany our Nut loaf on Sunday so by the time we went shopping yesterday afternoon the cupboard really was bare as we had worked our way through the very last of the food.  I spent £58 on groceries for this week taking advantage of the offer on Oatabix and Lurpak butter.  We will be making some meals to take with us to Scotland – Tomato soup and Shepherd’s pie.  I also bought some Higgedy Cheese and Onion rolls for the journey – unfortunately they were not on offer but still cheaper than buying food on or off the motorway.  We will get a free drink at Booths cafe if we take our own cups.  I do take a bit of food up with us as it is almost impossible to buy Cheshire or Wensleydale cheese up there and I like a crumbly cheese.  I do like to buy from the local shops in Stranraer to support them where I can.

Whilst we were out shopping yesterday afternoon we had other bits and pieces to attend to……the bits being an urgent need to look for decent loppers for the garden yet again.  We need extra strong Anvil loppers, preferably geared and preferably telescopic and definitely light to handle.  We had recently bought what we thought were the perfect pair made by Spear and Jackson but when we used them in the cottage garden on our last visit, although they cut through old branches brilliantly, by the 2nd day we noticed the handle on one side had bent inwards preventing the telescopic handle from working.  So back to Argos they went for a full refund but we are now on the search for some that cut just as well but won’t bend out of shape.

I made a quick visit to The Range to check out those ready printed messages for some cards I made (this will be another post).  I was not impressed by the price but reluctantly bought a couple of sheets and a packet of assorted messages as I intend to do more of these basic cards using up my stock of decorated papers – cost £3.  The silver and gold typeface and borders on these pre-printed labels does make a difference and I cannot print these metallic colours on my printer or I would have made my own.  A silvery grey is the best I can do.

I also returned my four pillows to Sainsbury’s for the full refund – so I am now on the hunt to replace these.  Whilst in Sainsbury’s I decided to buy two more long-sleeved T-shirts, they had a black one and a white one – so now I have four all together with the previous two grey ones I have. I am thinking that might be my total spend on clothes for the year this year and then I remembered I would need a ‘posher’ outfit for the Christening(s).  I noticed in passing that Roman have some nice inexpensive spring dresses in at the moment.  The drawback with this shop is you cannot return for a refund – they only give a gift card so you are then committed to buying something from them.  Trying on in the changing room is not the same as doing it at home with all the right accessories to hand.

Well I have chattered on enough it is time to do some more packing.  Hopefully we will have internet connection at the cottage so there will be no long intermission here.

A day of sorting out contortions – me after the Yoga class and the loppers.

……Oh and before I go welcome to my new followers – enjoy the journey – not sure where we might end up!  For those who have their own blogs I will be over to your place for a read soon.

 

 

crEAting ~ a knit in time

After twenty some years I have started knitting again – sometimes I frighten myself – I first began knitting one day back in 1980 with a little help from my mum, who was an avid knitter both by hand and machine.  I was expecting my first daughter at the time and continued when my second daughter came along and beyond until they reached secondary school and then I just stopped.  Knitting two garments each time took some doing.  At first my knitting was knit one drop one but after a while I was mastering cables and yokes and without the advantage of You Tube.

Now it all feels a long time ago but I am starting to remember quite a bit as I go along and with the help of You Tube –  although I have had to pull out a few rows when I dropped two stitches accidentally on a decrease row and didn’t notice.I chose this pattern by Sirdar as it said easy knit (I might question that!) and I like the fact the yarn called Baby Crofter, although random, looks a bit like Fair Isle as you knit.

I took the time to wind off some of the wool so I could begin the second sleeve at the same point in the yarn as the first so they match and also match up with the pattern of the front and back.I have finished the main body of the jumper and need to press and stitch it together so I can pick up around the neck to continue and knit the hood – that will be fun!

I need to practice the start and end of my rows and make a better job – there are it appears many ways to make it neater including adding an extra stitch at each end – does this really work?

This attempt is for Sweetie to grow into – I deliberately chose a 6-12 months size (she is presently 5 months old) in case it took me a long time to make but the knitting part has been surprisingly quick.  It might take me longer to do the sewing part.

I have already chosen the yarn for my next project – this time a plain colour, a lovely soft cotton in pale grey and ecru called Cottonsoft by King Cole to make a summer cardigan or jumper.  I found it in Boyes which is a wonderful northern store full of cut price goodies like an old Woolworths.  Finding patterns seems harder than finding the wool.  I am hoping I will find a pattern for little Freddie but if not it will be another one for Sweetie.I am not sure if Sweetie will want to wear granny’s knitted effort when I have finished it but she is still young enough not to bother too much whereas Libbie (Little L) will be much more fussy I think so I need more practice before I make something for her.  I am thinking of one of those summer dresses with a little knitted bodice and fabric skirt.

A few days of painstaking persistence but a very pleasing pastime. x

fEAsting ~ and the cupboard was bare

At first glance on Friday our cupboards and fridge seemed a bit bare…panic…

My menu planning had become a bit out of sync with having mum to stay recently and we only did a part shop last Monday in Sainsbury’s to cover a few days, expecting to have to go again at the end of the week to top up.   But I didn’t really want to go down to town to Sainsbury’s again just for the weekend and I am watching the pennies so I decided to make what we had stretch over to next Monday when I would usually shop.  We had run out of milk completely but we can get this from the local village Co-op and once I had assessed the meagre offerings laying in the fridge and devised a menu plan to get us through the weekend I asked DH to bring back a carrot too. The sum total of the veggies leftover from last Monday’s shopping trip were a few large old potatoes and a handful of small new potatoes, a number of tiny tomatoes, a little gem lettuce, 2 leeks, 2 onions, 2 courgettes, a few bits of celery, most of a swede and 3 pointed red peppers plus 2 very small avocados.

We also had a block of mild cheddar, a piece of Jarlsberg, 5 eggs;  and in the freezer I keep peas, broadbeans and nutloaf.  In the store cupboard I had a packet of chickpeas and plenty of brown rice.

So I worked out a menu plan to incorporate all these bits and bobs and tide us over

  • Friday evening meal – *chickpea and rice with 1 onion, 1 courgette, the leftover mushrooms (not at their best but salvageable), and the 2 small stalks of some celery,
  • Saturday lunch – a ploughman’s lunch of bread, cheese, tomatoes, pickle and the avocado
  • Saturday evening meal – omelette with tomato, red pepper, courgette and herbs, small roasted potatoes and peas.  Also a small cherry crumble each from the freezer.

Leek and Potato Soup

  • Sunday lunchtime – Leek and potato soup (I can add a carrot to this and the remaining lettuce), bread with avocado and cheese.
  • Sunday evening meal – Nutloaf, mashed potatoes with swede, carrot and broad beans and we have a pack of small Yorkshire puddings in the freezer if we want to turn it into more of a Sunday dinner.  I also serve the Nutloaf with apple sauce (also in the freezer).
  • Monday lunchtime – rest of the Leek and potato soup and bread

* The chickpea and rice concoction – I kind of invented it myself one day and it has been a winner here ever since.  Quick and easy and you can throw most things in it.

Cook a chopped onion and celery in a little oil to soften, then add chopped courgettes and finally add a packet of pre cooked Chickpeas and some chopped mushrooms.  It works with most vegetables so a good way to use up those little bits and pieces.  Once the mushrooms are softened I add some stock – about 200ml and leave to simmer so the flavours infuse.  I add some parsley at this point too.  Meanwhile cook some brown rice about 3-4oz (usually takes 30mins). Once cooked add to the chickpea mix and combine.  Cook for another 3-5 minutes and serve.

It is always amazing how far you can stretch the leftover veg when you need to and it is a good way of saving a few pounds.  We have a few standby things in the freezer like Nut cutlets, Pizza and some dried pasta in the cupboard but it was the veg I was interested to use up completely so there is no waste.  The frozen Pizza will save for another day or another emergency.

With the 2 remaining eggs I might just be able to make some chocolate buns or brownies.

A day of purposeful prudence and penny-pinching…with a positively perfect outcome for the cost of a carrot.

Spend £0.45p (DH actually bought a bag of carrots rather than just one…but hey you can’t win them all!)

trEAsury ~ pension overwhelm

Yesterday saw us in Leeds attending 3 seminars delivered by the financial advisors Hargreaves Lansdown – you may have heard of them they are a pretty big national company.  The seminars were free – so seemed a waste not to go – after all any advice is better than none.

I must admit I am so glad we attended – we came away with much food for thought.

We decided on using the Park and Ride as the seminars covered most of the day and parking in Leeds is not only difficult but expensive with a capital E.  It worked well and I would use it again – the buses were clean, quiet and driven by a lovely helpful man and we did not have to wait long coming or going.  Cost £6

The snacks and drinks we had to buy during the day to keep us going were not very cheap – we took sandwiches which we ate at 11am in the car as the first seminar was 12 noon to 2pm,  after that it was places like Costa for a toastie.  The event finished at 8.30 so we had to cover food for all day although they did lay on tea and coffee and some chocolate chip cookies.  Cost for drinks and eats out a hefty £17.

I know some of my readers are in the same place as me or coming up to retirement – some of you will be lucky enough to have final salary or public sector pensions – every ones means are different and that is the message that came out of the seminars.  I am in no way promoting or recommending Hargreaves  Lansdown – I am certainly not being sponsored by them nor am I advising anyone in any way.

The three seminars were entitled –

  • Planning for retirement,
  • Looking to make the most of your money in retirement
  • Passing your wealth onto your loved ones (presuming you have some money left).

We thought we did not have enough wealth to warrant advice but the truth is when you add up your assets – your house, car(s), caravan, any valuables, savings, shares etc (especially if you live down south where property prices are higher) you may find that they exceed the £325,000 inheritance tax allowance and so when you (or both of you) pass away the tax man will claim his 40% first on the excess and this can work out more than any individual beneficiary receives. Thinking ahead can help to preserve more of your estate for your children’s / grandchildren’s benefit.

There are it seems many legitimate ways to protect some of the money that you might pass on to loved ones by means of a trust.  I did not know anything about trusts and they may not be applicable to us but it was interesting to learn more about them.

One of the main points I came away with was I do wish we had been more attentive when we were younger and thought seriously about putting more of our surplus money into a private pension pot.  Anyone younger reading this I would say get to know more about pensions now and act on it – you will not easily sustain the standard of living you have got used to, when you leave paid work and retire on just the state pension – so don’t rely on it.  That is not to say you cannot live fairly comfortably on a state pension – my grandparents did well enough but there are no frills attached.

Obviously for us this cannot be reversed now and I remember when we were younger we did not have a lot of spare cash – we had mortgages with hefty interest rates in the 80’s and two growing girls – pensions were not on our mind but should have been and I am sure we could have squeezed a little more out of the monthly budget to put away.

But we are where we are and part of the seminar was to think about how much money we really need to live on now and during the rest of our life (of course not knowing how long this might be is a bit of a key factor in this game) and are we going to meet that income with the pension we have or is there likely to be a major shortfall.  For instance if you want to travel to exotic places or keep a high standard of living going or remain in a big house this may cause a large shortfall.

I just need to know I can enjoy my retirement and be comfortable, have a few good holidays and follow one or two hobbies and if anything unexpected happens we have the means to deal with it – I am not expecting to live it up exactly but if there is a shortfall or we need expensive care costs how can we generate more income to bridge the gap.  There are only a few ways to receive more income during retirement – for most of us this would be through savings generating interest, investments generating dividends, or  rental income (if you are lucky enough to have another property or inherited one), you might be lucky at gambling or bingo but at worst you might need to go back to work.

Another fact I had not considered is that different governments will have a future effect on our money – some will want more than others in tax.  That will not alter the choice of party i vote for but is something to be aware of.

Since 2015 the flexibility of accessing our private pension pots has greatly increased but with it a lot of complexities and the goal posts change yearly with the budgets so you need to be mindful of these changes.

The speaker, who was extremely knowledgeable, took the time to explain about the merits of the relatively new drawdown pension scheme in contrast to taking the traditional annuities.  The advantage of drawdown is that it passes on to your beneficiaries which annuities do not.  This pension pot is there to draw on if and when you need to but if most of it is left invested it can generate more capital growth to create an income stream (something I had not considered as I had been under the impression that capital was something that just ran down steadily in retirement).

The downside of a drawdown pension is that the money continues to be invested and so needs managing and if not by yourself by someone else at a cost.  If not managed well you could run out of funds unlike an annuity which gives you a set guaranteed amount monthly for life – it is a secure amount but you need a decent sized pension pot to receive a decent monthly payment in the current climate.

On the risk side I learnt that you cannot assume that having your money in cash just gaining interest is low risk – this is actually very high risk as that money although safe will undoubtedly not keep pace with inflation and if you live another thirty years will be worth very little and might only buy you a cup of tea in the future.

The best way we were told to minimise risk is not to put all your eggs in one basket – invest your money in a whole range of ways.  Sadly, this is not a simpler option and as you know I am looking for simplicity in all areas of my life but we live in a complex world so it feels pretty unavoidable.

We came out feeling much more informed if not a little overwhelmed – but like everything else we need a plan – so during this next week we are going to seriously plan our strategy and have a go at a lifetime cashflow chart as they suggest.

We arrived home to find two letters – a bank statement for our bill account, all as expected, and one from DWP notifying us of a rise in our state pension from April of £4.25 a week, about £18 month – when I budget I will work on the old amount not the new – this rise of £18 will go straight to savings.

A day of potential doom and gloom – (but made better by the free freshly baked cookies and an unexpected rise in income). x