dear diary :: rainy days and Sundays

Yes, I know it is really rainy days and Mondays in the lyrics of the song but today suits the song very well. What else do you do on such a wet weekend but grab your camera and go outside and take photos. Such an abundance of raindrops, dripping from every leaf and berry and glistening like tiny jewels.

Inside, is a different story – dry and cosy but oh so dismal. I spent an hour or so switching over beach pebbles and shells for a few discreet pieces of autumn decor. One or two pine cones, a few little dried pumpkins, my favourite seasonal cushions and pictures and before I finished I replenished all the tea lights and candles in the holders. I have some lovely wooden candle holders which add a nice warmth to the room this time of year.

Whilst taking these pictures I smile to myself …. just out of shot is absolute chaos in our house – we may be doing the pantry conversion from the smallest room in the house, the downstairs cloakroom, but every room in the house is now upset. To get more lighting and sockets fitted DH had to pull back the carpet in the bedroom above….I could have guessed…have been here before – so all the furniture had to be taken out and temporarily put where we can.

Despite all the mess – I made more, and have been crafting over the weekend – remember this knitting….

With the help of this book I found called Simple Knitting by Erika Knight I finally manage to finish the knitting part of this little hooded jumper and have only to sew the seams together now. Whether it will fit little Sweetie is another matter – I rather think it might be passed straight on to little Freddie – do you think the colours too girly? I can’t decide.

The four teatowels below came in a pack from Sainsbury’s in the sale. They are a good weight of cotton with a slight linen slub or waffle and my idea is to turn them into place mats. Two tea towels will cut down to make 2 place mats. So the striped grey will be backed with the plain grey and the dashed white backed with the plain white. We only need two mats most of the time being on our own now, so they will do us fine. I will need to buy some heavier vilene interfacing to sandwich between the two layers so they keep a good shape – but it is shopping day tomorrow so I can get some in town. Next time you see these I hope they will be made and on my table.

I have also been having a bit of a play around with ideas for Christmas presents and cards. So out came the sketch pad and pencil – had to dust it off a bit! In April I bought 5 of these calendars on stands for around £2 each, from Sainsbury’s clearance sale, with the intention of designing and printing my own calendar pages for 2020 and switching them over.

The original calendars had some quite nice little line drawings so I had thought about doing a simple lino cut print reflecting each of the months but time might be short now and twelve is a lot of designs to work on and print.

Calendar

– so I decided to look through my sketch book for drawings that could be adapted.

This is still an idea in the making and I will have to do a few mock ups first to see what might work. I am no artist but some of the sketches will pass….I think. Whilst I had the sketch book handy I scanned in a few pages of drawings – these were mostly done in the days when we had more time and well before the grandchildren arrived on the scene!!

I keep intending to try to get in the habit of doing a sketch each day so that I might improve, but am not sure how I would fit it in.

And what better to occupy my time on a cold and miserable day than trying out a new recipe. I have been wanting to try this recipe for a long time – I think it is from Good Housekeeping magazine. I didn’t quite have all the right ingredients so had to improvise.

I just happened to have chestnut and ordinary mushrooms but no dried ones and I used a vegetable stock cube rather than the yeast extract, but it still tasted fine – in fact it was really delicious – but be warned I made two strudels from the mixture – the second one was much smaller but there is ample filling.

Mine doesn’t look quite as good as their picture – the cooking time seemed rather long and the crumpled filo pastry that you lay on top caught a bit whilst in the oven…. and the sesame seeds didn’t seem to want to stay on top. I might do this bit slightly differently next time or even use a different pastry, puff pastry perhaps.

I will add the recipe to the list in a day or two. For now I will have to close – it is my brother’s birthday today and I need to go and surprise him with a card – then I have a big mess to clean up.

Hope you all had a brilliant weekend despite the rain. x

feasting :: from the apple tree

Before we left Scotland we gave the apple tree a good shake but still couldn’t dislodge the ones at the very top of the tree; so we had to make-do with all the windfalls we had collected.

This year wasn’t quite the bumper crop of last year (but then we had reduced the size of the tree during the previous winter) and I noticed a lot more blemishes and rotten bits to cut around where insects and the like had got there first.

Despite the blemishes and scars on the outside the flesh on the inside was still good; so we have been peeling and slicing, cooking and freezing apples all week and yesterday I used two of them to make one of my all time favourite recipes for this time of year – Apple and sultana cake. The original recipe from Good Housekeeping Basic Cookery uses raisins but I much prefer the juicier sultanas.

It is the perfect cake for early autumn – still quite a light texture, a hint of cinnamon and uses those just picked apples and windfalls straight from the tree. Try it sliced and buttered at teatime.

For anyone wanting to make this you will find the recipe in the drop down recipe section in the tabs above the header photo. Enjoy x

dear diary :: sing to me, Autumn

Home once more and we are truly into Autumn now; but hasn’t it been a glorious month – apart from bouts of heavy rain (my sympathies go out to anyone that has been hit by a flood).

The words of the poem ‘Sing to me, Autumn’ are a perfect reflection of this moment and encapsulate the beauty of the season – the sunlight streaming onto the garden this morning was so beautiful – casting deep shadows whilst highlighting the crimson red berries of the cotoneaster… I reached for my camera but it is so hard to get a good photo. There is an abundance of berries down by the seat – we have left it out a little longer as it is such a nice sheltered place to sit and admire the last of the season’s flowers.

Our blinds are being drawn earlier each evening and some of the solar lights left out in the garden are struggling to stay on for very long. I am looking forward to all that the dark evenings and cooler weather brings – after the ‘gathering in’ time it is beginning to feel like the ‘snuggling down’ time.

As usual, after the wonderful slow life at the cottage, we hit the ground running once we are home. I have a long list of lunch dates to fulfill and phone calls to make – there are finances to catch up on and the garden still needs a bit of TLC. I won’t even mention the housework and cleaning that is obviously needed.

Oh and have you thought about Christmas yet?

…….No, ….. very sensible…..I would normally shriek at the very mention in September….but I feel this year that I want to get ahead as I am finding, in the more recent of past years, that everything gets so hectic and stressful the closer we get to December and I try to pack in far too much in those last 3 weeks.  So rather than rush through it I would prefer to savour each moment and enjoy the concerts and Christmas events (that I often miss through lack of time) having completed all the necessary preparations in good time.

I have made a start and though I said I wouldn’t, I relented a few days later when in Tesco… right in front of my nose the new Country Living Christmas magazine appeared – (of course I blame Sadie at Notes from an ordinary life for persuading me as I noticed she had also bought a Christmas magazine and that made me feel so much better!). I kept last years too so hopefully they will spark off some new ideas.

I am mainly thinking about the gifts (we don’t have many to buy or make) – our family takes part in a ‘Not so Secret Santa’ – though I have a feeling this may change again this year – my daughters, who say they have everything they need, have expressed a preference for having a family gathering or event that gives us memories rather than any gifts, so this may be our step towards a no gifts Christmas within the family other than the young children. I will await the whole family vote on this but I personally would find it a lovely idea and support it.   

So it is mainly just a few friends who like to receive my homemade offerings -though I could be wrong and be like Ella of Thrush Green in the Miss Read books,  giving horrendous handmade gifts that people then give away as fast as they can – I haven’t as yet knitted any ties… wonky or otherwise!! 

I also enjoy making the décor, keeping it as natural as I can and of course the Christmas cards (I am thinking another lino cut this year as I enjoy doing those) and perhaps now is the time to start looking at sketching out a few design ideas rather than sitting down on the first day of December and saying today I will make the Christmas cards and then not having a clue as to what I might do.

And what a stroke of luck to find Sainsbury’s are celebrating Organic September (never understand why it is not Organic October – has a better ring to it) and those who know me well will also know I eat organic food most of the time so our Christmas cake is naturally an organic one.   Anyway, Sainsbury’s have reductions across their organic range so I filled my trolley with the fruit for my cake and the nuts for the nut roast.  I am well pleased though it bumped my shopping bill up quite a bit.

Whilst in Sainsbury’s I bought this snuggly top. I have bought very little throughout the year – it has not been quite ‘a no shop’ year but close – this little top will be ideal for those chilly days at home or when visiting my friend for coffee, who has minimal heating on and I do find it a bit cool at times so tend to go in a few discreet layers.

Remember I collected a few flower heads and petals to press at the caravan – well they are now quite flat and ready to go. The only means of pressing them at the caravan was to use some kitchen roll between the pages of a notebook so the textured pattern of small dots on the kitchen roll has imprinted onto the petals but I quite like it! I have bundled them into some cellophane bags to protect them. My favourites must be the delicate blue campanula, the white daisy heads of the chamomile and the vintage hues of the hydrangea petals. I just have to find a little time to turn them into some cards and tags.

For the rest of today I will be attending to the last of our cooking apples from the cottage garden. I am thinking an apple loaf would be just right and maybe a crumble using the blackberries for tea.

Have a lovely day x

seasons :: all is safely gathered in

Come, ye thankful people, come;

Raise the song of harvest home.

All is safely gathered in

Ere the winter storms begin.

God, our Maker, doth provide

For our wants to be supplied.

Come to God’s own temple, come;

Raise the song of harvest home.

There is something very comforting and reassuring about the words of harvest home – gathering in for the winter ahead, reaping the rich rewards of our earlier efforts of sowing and growing – picking fruits and berries from the hedgerows – and then making, baking and preserving – what could feel better and feed the soul at the same time. It is as nature intended.

I have spent the week here ‘gathering in’; apples for cooking, blackberries for pies, ripening tomatoes in the sun and stacking logs for the wood store – and thinking ahead, I have been foraging for useful Christmas decorations – pine cones, hydrangea heads and a few lengths of willow for a wreath.

I feel now that I am well gathered!

We have lived very simply here over the last two weeks at the cottage – only buying enough food for a few days ahead and mainly fresh food – vegetables, dairy and bread. We don’t keep stocks of anything very much in the caravan just a little salt and pepper, a jar of dried pasta, some rice, a carton of lentils and tomato passata and a few teabags. You might even find a tin of baked beans, if you are lucky.

But with Brexit upon us I have been thinking long and hard about what action, if any, I should take to stock my larder at home. There will be panic buying – I have no doubt – judging by the food shopping frenzy at Christmas – it seems it is a very British thing – but I hate to be a part of that. On the other hand the words in the hymn ‘all is safely gathered in‘ suggests to me that it is a wise move to gather in before the winter storms and what could be more of a storm in the making than Brexit.

At the beginning of this year I decided not to keep large stocks of food in my cupboards at home so that it would never end up as out of date waste and I have loved the emptiness and the fact that we have not needed huge amounts of food in hand or added to the ‘waste’ mountain; but now I feel I must heed the words of the hymn and gather in for my family. So when I return home I will be buying a few extra tins and long dated dry products, ready for the long winter months, ready for Brexit whatever shape that takes.

It has been the most wonderful few days here in Scotland, dry sunny days, not too hot, just perfect for gardening; it has been oh so quiet, just us and a few birds, who have also been busy gathering in – so before we return home, and I am sad to be leaving, here are a few pictures from around the garden…..

back soon – have a lovely weekend and welcome new followers. x

beaching :: getting used to this slower life

We started in the garden early today, well early for us; the sun was shining and we didn’t want to miss the opportunity so we had breakfast then I did a few floor exercises, as I have done every day, to loosen up the tight lower back muscles; not easy to do squeezed in between the table legs and the seating (space is hard to come by in a caravan),

It was back to weeding around the pond today, what you can see of the pond, as over the summer we had a bit of a primula explosion amongst other things. DH took off the leggy branches of the Fuschia that overhung the pond – shame – but it had grown into a tree and really got far too high but it will grow quickly again next year. In fact we are feeling a little exposed in places now as we have pruned many a tree and bush over the course of the week – some of our plants must be suffering from shock after being plunged suddenly into the sunlight.

After lunch we read, I actually dozed off for a while – unintentionally of course. We decide a brisk walk to the village would waken us up; as the tide was in we had to go by the road rather than along the beach. For a change we took the main high road past all the houses – I like to have a nosy now and again to see what everyone is up to. There are always plenty of new delights to spot.

We walked up to the village store and bought an ice cream and fresh rolls – I resisted the temptation to buy one of the Christmas magazines on display – each one had a few free goodies enclosed in the plastic wrapper and I could have chosen between chocolate moulds (might be handy) or coasters and any number of those rubber stamps and dies; but it still felt a little early so I put them back and just bought cake – Eccles cakes – my favourite.

We then strolled on down to the harbour and along the shore road cutting through the little garden of the end cottage (they don’t seem to mind) that takes you down through the sand dunes and onto the beach. By now the tide had receded enough for us to get back round the bay to our cottage.

I love hunting for little treasures amongst the pebbles, bits of sea glass, unusual stones and shells – it is amazing what you find. Today I collected a few small pearl shells and an empty crab shell.

As the tide had only just gone out the sand was all rippled and I managed to capture the photo above where the wind was blowing the shallow water in ripples across the sand.

Once home and a cup of tea later I went foraging around the garden collecting flower heads and berries. Even though I forgot to pack my flower press I didn’t want to miss out on some of the colourful flowers that are in bloom at the moment. The fiery oranges of the monbretia appears everywhere in our garden and certainly cheers up the dark corners – it makes wonderful confetti too when the petals are dried. The pretty blue campanula is still scrambling around and flowering – brilliant ground cover and so dainty.

In the absence of my press I had to improvise by using the pages of my moleskin gardening notebooks to sandwich the petals between. I will transfer them into my press when we get home.

These pretty hydrangea petals are even lovelier when they start to get the speckled vintage look. I had the idea that I might make some cards and gift tags with them, it is a long time since I made pressed flower cards so I am looking forward to having a go again. Time willing!

Tomorrow will be a final rush around the garden to finish off what we can before we go home. As always we could just do with another week here.

Hope everyone is having a good week – and welcome new followers.

beaching :: sheer enjoyment

I have been enjoying myself far too much to stop and blog the last few days. Despite a few lot of aches and pains (self inflicted from gardening) I do feel quite revived. I even spent a lazy afternoon with a book – Miss Read of course – I like to be transported into the idyllic village of Thrush Green and the lives of her characters. And why not read Thrush Green at Christmas in September?

In the garden we have spent a lot of time pruning some very straggly shrubs – it is amazing how they grow to monsterous heights behind your back. We have had to be ruthless and now have a wood pile the size of the caravan. I have no photos – it would be far too dangerous to take my camera outside when we are hurling branches around.

In and amongst we have been making some simple but quite healthy meals to offset the chocolate biscuits and Danish pastries we have been devouring for elevenses with our daily cuppa. Gardening certainly gives you an appetite. Tonight we rustled up an easy egg salad for tea rather than the fuss of making an omelette and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I have continued to make tomato soup and our healthy green soup and each batch lasts two or three days which frees up more time to be relaxing and not cooking. We took some with us in our flask when we went further up north near Glasgow to visit the Scottish relatives on Thursday and that’s when we discovered our flask no longer works – the soup was luke warm – almost a vichyssoise. I didn’t think there was very much to go wrong with these modern flasks but obviously I was wrong. I don’t suppose it can be repaired so that will be another expense to add to the list.

On the way back down the coast we stopped for tea in Ayr at the little Italian restaurant we have been to before. We ordered the usual marguerita pizza with mushrooms that we have had many times only to find that they have increased the size to 12″ (way too big for me) and dropped the other choice of sizes they used to do.

Disappointed about the size I then found the tomato sauce so laced with garlic I couldn’t eat mine. I have an allergy to garlic (breathing and cramping problems) – I can just about tolerate it on a pizza – I am still not well afterwards, but not as ill as some meals would make me and I have not as yet needed a trip to A&E after a pizza.

On Saturday we set down our gardening tools and went to Castle Kennedy gardens for the afternoon just around the bay. Long time followers will know this is the place where DH’s grandfather was once head gardener and lived on the estate in the Head Gardeners cottage until his retirement in the early sixties, we also held our elder daughter’s wedding here back in 2016 with a marquee on the lawns by the old castle ruins and of course the guest of honour our favourite tea room of all time.

It is only a little wooden hut and resembles an old cricket pavillion and a bit of old England…well Scotland….but it has been there as long as I can remember and had one or two face lifts in its time – the most recent being removing the painted wooden benches along the walls and levelling the floor inside so they did not have to prop the tables up with pieces of wood nailed to the legs so that the tea cups didn’t slide off. Now they have a set of new bistro tables and chairs. I must say I do miss sitting on a slope and still find myself trying to compensate by leaning over to one side. I hear that next year may be the year they build a new tea room and when they do I for one will be distraught but things have to progress. I suppose.

Inside the walled garden we were met with a lavish display of colour – vivid hot pinks and vibrant yellows, a corner of beautiful and fashionable dahlias and many of the flowers attracting so many butterflies it resembled butterfly world – every flower seemed to have one perched upon it or bees buzzing round. They were none too keen on having their picture taken but I did get one or two by creeping up on them.

Tomorrow, if the weather holds, I will be catching up with the weeding – the pond and surrounding borders are a mess and need a good tidy up; the walkway of the woodland walk is covered in bittercress and the wild geraniums are spilling out and have spread so much I will have to cut them back into the confines of the border.

The issue with the pizza has not managed to overshadow our time here at the cottage and as usual I will be sad to leave but normality is calling and we have daughter’s, grandchildren and a mum in need of our help as well as a pantry that needs finishing. So only one or two days more before we have to leave.

Back to my book now or maybe a game of patience, having no television here is no real hardship at all. Back soon x

beaching :: simple pleasures

The low road to the village – once a road and now only a footpath.

We are at the cottage at last – it has been a long time since we were here.  It was a turbulent summer, but for now the dust has settled and daily life resumes.  Things have not resolved though – and won’t for a while – the outcome is a long way off and like Brexit we will have to live with uncertainty, until certainty gains some ground.  But I firmly believe in the fact that good always comes out of bad.  Just not quick enough sometimes!

I had forgotten how some very simple pleasures can ignite a feeling of well-being and here at the cottage simple is one of the great attractions.  Snuggling down at night under a heavier duvet than we are used to – I like the weight of it – it would feel too stifling at home where the bedrooms retain the heat longer with better insulated walls – but here I need the extra warmth to keep away the chill in the caravan once the heating is turned off.   I am reminded of my childhood long before we had central heating in the bedrooms and a sense of being wrapped up tightly against the cold night air – at the same time bringing feelings of security too.

Lying, warm and cosy in bed in the caravan I listen to the beat of the rain on the roof.  Steady at first, then a sudden torrential burst, but like the roar of the sea at night, soothing in its rhythm.  At other times there is absolute silence here and always, once the lights are out, an inky black darkness which is only lit on the nights we have a full moon.  We have street lights at home, security lights too and any chink in the curtain throws light into the bedroom no matter how hard I try to keep it out; there is never a moment when the world is completely black to us. 

Here there are no street lights – only nature lights a path.  There was talk of putting solar lighting along the low road, which is a path leading into the village that runs alongside the beach – I hope not as the nesting birds and wildlife in the surrounding bushes need darkness…..we need darkness.

There are other pleasures here too – cooking by gas, the whistling of the kettle on the hob, cupboards that hold ‘just enough’ to get by and no more.  There is a sparseness of decoration that brings quietness to this little temporary home – a vase of tiny sea shells, a jam jar of coloured sea glass and a display of beach pebbles or pine cones collected on our walks.

We have time here too – time to eat breakfast and read, time to ponder and collect our thoughts even managing to put them into some kind of order.  We watch the rabbits scampering around and the birds foraging in the undergrowth for food – they have all day – we have all day.  And I ask myself how it is once we are back at home life takes over again, demands surface and problems begin to mount up.

The Rosa rugose hedge running alongside the lane is dripping with rosehips.  The abundance of nature here is wonderful – the hedgerows and woodland – the call of the cuckoo and wood pigeon mingled with the cry of the gulls – the expanse of deserted seashore.

One of my first tasks will be to pick a few herbs and flowers from the garden to bring inside, whatever is still in bloom. I am annoyed with myself that I forgot my flower press; I will have to assemble a makeshift one from a stack of heavy books and some kitchen paper.  I have ideas to make some gift tags and cards from the pressed petals.

There was a huge amount of windfall apples lying on the ground – I salvaged a few and left the rest for the wild life to devour. Hopefully, the ones remaining on the tree will fall before the weeks out.

The rain continued to lunchtime so after our initial walk around to inspect the garden we decided to go for a walk to the village whilst it stayed dry.  The garden will have to wait for another day – it has waited our return all summer and many of the plants have grown unchecked to dizzy heights, whilst others have been and gone leaving only a skeleton behind to suggest they had once been there at all.

For the benefit of new readers we are camping out in a caravan pending the reinstatement of our cottage after the flood – you can read our tale should you be interested in the tab Beach Cottage above.

homestead :: domestic bliss

There is no denying that it has turned much cooler since the unexpected mini heatwave over the recent Bank Holiday weekend, but like most people I feel that we have said goodbye to summer now….ready or not.

My first reaction has been to swap the cooler cotton duvet cover for the extra warmth of my cosy flannelette. This seems a little early compared to other years and I may even throw on a blanket tonight or just grab a hot water bottle. The heating has started to come on in the mornings too now so the temperature must have dropped low enough to trigger the thermostat. Are we possibly looking at a long cold winter? I may need a new warm coat.

The kitchen is a blissfully warm place to be right now. After months of salads I am ready for a change to warmer, more satisfying meals using root vegetables and pulses and looking forward to roasted veggies with a good handful of herbs scattered on top and our favourite nutloaves. I am also being mindful of minimising our food waste and using up all the vegetables from the weekly shop in whatever creative ways come to mind.

We ended the week with a few oddments – a couple of leeks, one carrot, a courgette and two baking potatoes – once chopped I added some celery and onions together with a packet of brown lentils and made a good old warming Lentil Stew – enough for two days. Eaten with a chunk of bread and butter it was everything that I love about autumn food.

Whilst browsing my recipe books looking for some new ideas I noticed a recipe for Carrot and Walnut Loaf that I haven’t made for a very long time – a bit different from our usual nut loaf – vibrant warm colours with the mix of carrot and tomato paste – so thought I would make some to freeze ready to take with us to the cottage – when we eventually get to go. We have only just got the car back from the garage after 3 days…..I was expecting a very large bill…..one that you have to sit down for……however, due to one thing and another (won’t bore you with the details) the lovely garage man only charged us for the parts and no labour costs.

It has become almost a daily ritual for one of us to make a batch of soup – this week I made tomato and red pepper and a healthy green soup using a bag of the ready washed watercress, spinach and lettuce – throwing in celery, leeks and frozen peas – plenty of iron and no doubt calcium. I had a recipe for parmesan crisps that I have wanted to try for ages – I can tell you they are simply more than moreish and keep crisp in the fridge for days. I will add the instructions to my recipe tab.

The blackberries we gathered are now partly cooked and in the freezer. This little fellow below crawled out of them, luckily before they went into the pot.

He is so cute and so tiny – I have never seen a snail so small – he is on some kitchen paper here and magnified in the photo – measuring only about 0.5 cms in reality, smaller than my little finger nail. After surviving the ride home and then being rinsed in salt water I decided he should now have the freedom to live in the garden. I might regret that!

This is the longest few days we have had at home for the last two months so there has been a lot of ‘jobbing’ going on here. Plenty of domestic chores – stripping beds (as well as walls) , scrubbing floors and generally all those day to day normal household tasks. And lots of tea – mostly ginger, sometimes green or even just ordinary black.

But in and amongst and during some of the rainy days I have been sorting through my kitchenware – this is a category I both love to collect (mmm…. just how many blue patterned bowls do I really need) and find hard to part with. The one in one out rule does not work here so the new drinking glasses (only £4 for six from IKEA) – although they are a replacement still needed a home. The paper cocktail umberellas are used when Little L comes to stay – she always takes her glass of milk with one and a stripey paper straw of course – it has become a bit of a tradition now, granny’s little treat. I always loved them when I was a child and my granny used to save them for me when she had been out drinkng cocktails. I can’t say I go out for cocktails in the same way – mine just come courtesy of Sainsbury’s!

Progress on the pantry is steady – DH has stripped the walls of both paper and the old magnolia paint beneath and has started filling in holes. The back window wall needs a skim of plaster as does the ceiling – so now we wait to have someone come to do that.

The garden has been an absolute picture of colour this year and there are still plenty of bright spots here and there – but the colder wet weather is certainly bringing them to an end sooner than usual. It has been touch and go with the outdoor tomatoes but at last I think they are on the turn – just a little more sunshine should do it. Little L helped me sow a few more lettuce seeds – I may have to make some kind of cloche to help them on their way.

We have been busy cleaning and putting tools away in my new shed, which is now painted a lovely shade of grey and ready to take the harsh wet winter weather here. The festoon lighting has been taken down – drying off in the airing cupboard to prevent any rust. I decided they seemed a bit too delicate to be out over winter. I felt a bit sad to see them go and the garden feels a bit empty at night without the little trail of lights streaking across the darkness.

My dad’s old stool will have to go away too and the garden seats covered if this rain ever stops long enough for us to get all the outside jobs done. With such a turn in the weather there seems to be more of an urgency this year to get everything under wraps.

And surprise, surprise in my inbox…..I only mentioned that I needed this the other day as I was running out of face cream – a 20% discount voucher from Neal’s Yard. I decided to stick with the intense serum but drop to the cheaper Hydrating Frankincense cream to save a little money. I also had £12.90 in reward points to use so the two items were a lot less than expected.

The Liz Earle shampoo was covered using my Boots advantage points so I was well pleased with my savings this week. In fact the whole week has been quite a low spend week which is a good start to the month.

I decided I need to ease myself back into some craft work and hesitantly took the baby jumper I had been knitting out of the basket – I abandoned it sometime in May whilst making the Christening dress and never got back to it. I really couldn’t remember where I had left off but had a faint recollection that it involved some hand sewing of the seams before I can knit the last little bit of rib around the hood. I am pretty sure it will be far too small now for Sweetie so I only hope that Freddie might like it despite the bit of pink.

I have almost finished the first of the library book stack The Life of Stuff – an interesting read though I am glad to be at the end as hoarding is quite a depressing subject. I am dithering now between Christmas at Thrush Green and Not in your Genes for my next read. Do I want to be entertained or educated….

Have a lovely weekend everyone and welcome to new readers.

meandering :: down country lanes

We decided at the weekend that we would take a day off in the week to go out somewhere – just the two of us – no grandchildren, no daughters and no mother – just us.

An opportunity came on Monday as the rain appeared to have stopped. I was up early and got the washing out on the line, then made a fresh batch of green soup. At 10 o’clock we decided that the weather was holding and good enough to go out; so we hastily filled a flask with hot soup and buttered some bread, brought the washing in again in case of rain, jumped in the car and headed south with a vague idea of going to Buxton. One of my forever favourite places.

We had passed through Glossop and Hayfield but feeling rather hungry by now we pulled off the road at a tiny place called Slackhall just outside Chapel en le Frith and followed a rather narrow winding country lane into what seemed like a hidden valley. Glorious.

We pulled into an opening to admire the view whilst eating our picnic lunch. Afterwards, I couldn’t resist picking a few of the ripe blackberries from the hedgerow down the lane. Just enough for a blackberry and apple pie to herald the start of the coming season.

Mingled with the blackberries were plenty of fat rosy hips of the wild dog roses and along the grassy verge many of the wild flowers have now died back to a delicate skeleton of seedheads in every shade of corn yellow and brown, dancing around here and there as the cooler breeze swept in waves across the valley.

The corkscrew spirals of rose bay willow herb with the fluffy white seed heads so intricate and pretty and these tiny pearl like seeds of the plant below looking like little raindrops – can anyone recognise this flower, it doesn’t seem quite like cow parsley?

Being immersed in these beautiful surroundings amongst nature and undisturbed by traffic certainly does your soul good – it was so peaceful here I really didn’t want to leave. We will be back one day with our sketchbooks.

But sadly, once lunch was over and I had filled my bag with a few choice blackberries, we had to move on in order to leave us with plenty of ‘afternoon’ to look around Buxton.

For those of you that have never been, Buxton is the heighest town in England, has more than its fair share of snow every winter and rain too and is split into two parts – the lower and higher town – divided by the slopes, a tree lined park connecting the two parts – the upper housing the Town Hall and market place and the lower the magnificent Crescent and drinking fountain – the latter a memorial to Samuael Taylor.

We parked at the higher part first and headed for the famous secondhand book shop Scrivener’s. Every corner of the five floors is piled high with books and every tight little space has a seat for browsing. I could get lost in here for hours.

Scriveners, Buxton

Then we walked down to the local museum / gallery but found it closed. Monday is not a good day. Along the snicket by the side of the museum we discovered The Green Man gallery has a new home in this adjoining building.

I had seen the building many times before because it has a distinctive turret formed by a stack of wooden bays on one corner and looks like it needs some repair and attention but has a quaint shabby chic feel to it. I have always wanted to see inside and now, it seemed, was my chance. So we followed the little green footprints to the doorway and went inside for a browse. Every surface, including some of the windows, has been ‘artistically’ painted both inside and out and the gallery spans about four floors with rooms for workshops and dedicated artists.

This was looking out of one of the green bay windows in the turret onto the slopes below through a decorated pane.

My favourite artwork had to be this unusual mosaic set into rocks…..

….and this old fireplace set in a stark, almost empty room in one of the bays and which felt like a piece of art in its own right – a ghost of the past paying homage to the fine building it might once have been.

Once outdoors again we just went for a wander around the town. I can never visit Buxton without taking pictures of the shop fronts. From the simple….

…to the more elaborate. This is by far my favourite – the old chemist on Cavendish Circus – representing a piece of old England – of days gone by – an independant shop displaying goods in the window like a treasure trove for passers buy to browse and admire.

The tiny tobacconist come toy shop on Grove Parade
Potters – the local drapers on Terrace Road – now selling Joules and Sea Salt labels, keeping up with the times whilst still holding onto everything that is endearing about this magnificent old shop.

These shops are just a joy to me – the beautiful architecture and canopied buildings – I am instantly transported back to the Victorian era when this growing Spa town was a desired destination of the genteel ladies flocking here to ‘Take the Waters’.

And then there are the buildings – to attract more visitors to this developing Spa town the Pavillion, built to replace the old Edwardian bandstand in the gardens, opened in 1871 – a glorious glass and steel structure echoing a seaside resort. This was followed by the Octagon Concert Hall – (distant left in the picture below) in 1875 and then at the turn of the century the distinctive Opera House was built.

Buxton and domes it seems go hand in hand – they are everywhere against the skyline, looming up through trees and proudly displaying its long heritage, a stately tribute to past and prosperous times. Buxton is home to the world’s largest unsupported dome (the Devonshire Dome) until more recent times – quite a structural achievement back then. But that is another day, another post.

The gardens around the Pavillion are beautifully kept since being handed over to a management company. Within these iron gates is everything for a good family day out – including a minature train and boating lake.

After a good stroll around it is always worthwhile to visit No6 The Square just opposite the entrance for one of their afternoon cream teas. Indulgent…yes, delicious…absolutely.

No 6 The Square Buxton

treasury :: June, July and August tally

As my usual readers will know my blog is more or less about my daily life and homekeeping and a desire to live a simpler life. For me keeping a home running well involves keeping the finances running well too so I include them on my blog as they are part of my story and presently a large part of our new journey into retirement.

I have, for as long as I have been married, kept a weekly tally where I record all our spending – I used to do this in a cash book but now keep a record on the computer. It is something that has become second nature but stood us in good stead throughout our married life and when money has been tight (many times) I am able to see where cut backs can be made.

So as it is the end of the month here is a quick round up of the past few months.  For any new readers I will just mention that I am not exactly a frugal blog ( though I do like to learn from these); I prefer to be mindful of our spending and am on a mission to live simply – cutting down on any frivolous and unnecessary purchases that might lead to future waste. Since I left paid work last year we are trying to live more economically within our present meagre means of one state pension plus a small private pension of DH and so finances are a little tight at the moment.

I fall into the WASPI group of women who through being born at just the wrong time have to wait until I am 65 and 10 months to draw the state pension which until the recent changes took place I always thought I would be claiming at 60 – like the majority of my slightly older friends. I have only 9 more months to go now before I can draw it. Phew.

Not only am I curious to see how possible it is to live on a small pension but one of our aims is to survive without breaking into any of our savings each month to top us up. This is proving to be an almost impossible task as unexpected expenses crop up each month and it might only be something like having our Aussie cousin to stay (and entertain) that tips us over.

As one day we will be downsizing and maybe moving to live at the cottage (when it is sorted – see the Beach Cottage tab above for the flood story) we are committed to living a simpler and ‘stuff’ free life – we are both trying hard not to buy things we don’t need and my daily motto has become use up, use up, use up so we are not storing unloved and neglected toiletries or cleaners or finding out of date foodstuffs lurking in the cupboards.

As I continue to declutter our lives I am loving the clear spaces I am creating throughout our home but I cannot throw things away recklessly instead I am looking to recycle, reuse or repurpose them in some way or pass them on to good homes. We have also been able to sell some things on ebay which have helped us financially and I am looking to do a car boot sale soon.

Of course the best way to save money and keep the house contents to a minimum is not to buy it in the first place. At times this can be easier said than done and it is so easy to justify any purchase if you really want it. As one of the famous Minimalists said ‘ not buying something is your future self letting go of something’

For those following along you might have noticed the June and July tallies did not happen due to all the other pressures we faced at the time and if I remember clearly it was also the period I spent researching and going ad free on my blog.  As you might say ‘one cannot do everything’.

This year will have seen us relying entirely on our pension income as I left paid work a year ago now.  As I do not have an income I can give £1,250 of my personal tax allowance to DH so he can keep more of his pension before it is taxed – for anyone in the same boat check it out on the government website. I find that you really have to work hard at limiting your spending and keeping yourself buoyant each month when you have no paid work and no possibility of overtime as a backstop.  If you run out of the money from the pension income then it is capital and savings that you have to delve into to cover your costs.  Eating into next month’s pension is not a good idea.

So how did we do in the last three months?

Transport and fuel costs

June was the lowest spend on fuel of the past three months but July and August much higher due to the extra costs of going to Scotland and many trips up and down to North Yorkshire as well as driving around the countryside taking my mum and the Aussie cousin out and about.  We made good use of the Sainsbury’s petrol vouchers with 10p off a litre and the lower petrol prices at some garages but I am not sure September is going to be any less expensive.

In addition we had to have two new front tyres in June.  DH checked them every week for tread until they were worn down as far as they were still legal.  We took out the extra £20 tyre guarantee (which we did use last time when we got the puncture earlier this year and it was a big saving).

Health, wellbeing and beauty

I limit myself now to the number of skincare and toiletry products I buy. Where I can I buy in multiples when there is money off and they generally last a long time. In June I bought more Neal’s yard face cream because I had another 20% off voucher – they don’t always land in my inbox at the most favourable time but if I don’t use them when they do I would not be able to indulge in this one luxury at full price.  Together with the yoga costs and a few supplements I bought for both me and DH it was an expensive month.

I didn’t attend any regular Yoga in July as the teacher had to go into hospital but DH had some NHS dental work done to renew an old filling at the standard cost of £62.10.  We both had hair appointments to pay for and more supplements – mainly those probiotic ones for DH because the antibiotics he was given earlier this year for his dental abscess really made his stomach bad.

August was much better – I bought a mascara and a pot of basic day cream to be able to use the £10 off a £20 No7 spend  voucher – so the cream in effect came free.  DH had another course of the pro-biotics.  It can take up to 3 months to repopulate the gut once antibiotics have destroyed the good bacteria.  So although the antibiotic prescription was free it has ended up costing us a fortune to make him better! 

Utilities   

The reduction in our landline and broadband costs has been significant in the last few months.  The BT charges were heading towards £50 a month for our anytime calls with unlimited broadband and a discount for paying the rental upfront once a year.  They could not quite match the cheaper price quoted by Zen – not even close, though they tried a few times with their many best and final offers!

We are pleased with the switch to Zen – they have good customer service and our monthly bill for unlimited calls, faster broadband and line rental is £36.49 – the other advantage is we do not have the bother timing any calls to get the free hour as Zen calls are just free as long as they are not to those expensive numbers we all avoid.

The gas and electricity is now combined with SO Energy – we are well in credit due to the summer months – this may be needed to cover the winter months but if not we will get a refund.  I like their very clear monthly bills so you can see exactly what you are paying for.

Grocery and housekeeping costs

Over the last three months the grocery costs have remained higher than they probably need to be but then we have been feeding a lot of visitors from time to time.  It is quite right that when you get busy you don’t have as much time to shop around, plan meals and take advantage of the best offers. I know I could cut this down a lot if I shopped elsewhere and didn’t buy organic veg and groceries but organic food is important to us and I will continue to buy it for as long as I can because I like to support organic farmers – I strongly believe it is the way forward for sustainability and health.

The remaining housekeeping costs for things like cleaning products, basic toiletries, car parking, stationery and magazines are all quite low expenses now since I have made big changes to what and how much I buy in this area and have been flexing my will power with magazines!

Home and Garden purchases

Over the three months we have spent little bits here and there on small items for the home like a new chopping board, new drinking glasses and a picture frame to house a new photo of the latest grandchild. Each item has been no more than £5 but of course over time all these little bits add up and I now question whether we did really need them.  I also had to renew the pillows that were recalled from Sainsbury’s so that the double bed in the guest room was usable by our guests.  I ended up in Dunelm where we bought a pair of cheaper polyester pillows (though I feel this was a bad choice sustainability wise) but also two new duck down ones for our bed – which are heaven to sleep on. I think spending money on things like a good night’s sleep is vital and cost effective.

I also bought (after much deliberation) a quilted double mattress protector from IKEA as a spare because not having a dryer it has been hard work getting the one on our bed washed, dried and aired to put back on the bed in the same day especially in the winter.  I gave the spare one I used to have to my daughter when she moved house thinking I could manage without it but have regretted this ever since. It will however double up for the bed at the caravan if any of the family go to stay there and use the spare bedroom.

The new single bed mattress we have just bought (for our other spare room with the bed on the mezzanine and which will be used by the grandchildren when they stay) together with the unit bases for the pantry are not included in this months figures because we bought these using the interest free credit offer at IKEA and will be paying monthly for these from September. We don’t really need the credit but I prefer to keep my money where it is earning interest for as long as possible. The monthly payment will just be absorbed into our monthly bills so shouldn’t be noticed quite as much as taking a large sum from savings.

I admit to overspending on the garden this year. Being at home now I have spent a lot more time in the garden and started growing our own salad produce.  I need to use more of my time to take cuttings and grow annuals next year for the planters.

The bargain of the year though must be the two large wooden planters above that we bought in August from our local Wyevale garden centre originally priced at £39.99 each but had a sticker on saying 70% off – plus we got the 5% member discount and a £5 voucher making them £8.90 each – how could I walk away from them – not sure yet where we will put them but we will be growing more food in them next year.

Cards and Gifts

I really had no idea how much I might have spent on this category.  I remember birthdays coming and going during the three months but had little time to make cards or shop around for bargain presents.  However, the total spend for 3 rolls of gift wrap from IKEA and the cards was quite minimal considering the majority of these have been anniversaries and special birthdays. The only gifts were for my granddaughter’s birthday and a 60th present. Making more cards and gifts would help – I certainly have enough craft supplies and really need to use them up.

Crafts and Hobbies and Books

The biggest expense was my blog upgrade to get rid of those pesky adverts.  I did get a discount and no I don’t regret it. We also bought some foam core for various uses and a cunning sheet of black card to put against the Velux window in the sunny spare room as a kind of blackout for when Little L slept in there to keep her asleep longer in the mornings. Bliss it worked!

Leisure and Entertainment

We paid entrance fees at the four different Open Garden events we attended @ £5 each –  £45 and worth every pleasurable penny especially as it doubles up as a donation to charity. We also paid for the little train and cliff lift rides at Saltburn…but it did make for an enjoyable day out.

Eating Out

I always have difficulty with this category – I ponder too much on what I could have bought with the money as often the majority of this spending is for café lunches and snacks and not altogether good ones – it is not as though we have gone out for a special restaurant meal.

Some of these costs are incurred because there is no other way to avoid them when you are out and hungry, but the larger expense is when we take my mum out and about for a few consecutive days; and of course in July we paid for food and drinks for our Aussie cousin whilst we entertained him and also bought drinks when we had a bit of a reunion with old friends in the local pub.

We are still quite good at packing up picnics and usually if mum comes to stay with us we can take a picnic for one of the meals but when we visit her we can’t and have to rely on café meals.

Clothing and Footwear

August was a good month with a zero spend on clothes and shoes. June and July saw us replacing worn shoes and slippers and I bought some harem joggers from Next and a couple of cheap t-shirts.

I will be doing an update of my wardrobe declutter soon in another post.

So that is the extent of our spending and my rambling – not all doom and gloom.  I made use of vouchers where I could and have cut down quite drastically on clothes, magazines and books. As always the eating out and fuel continue to cost us dearly and even though our spending on the home is higher than I would like there is at least something to show for it and they are more considered purchases rather than on the spot impulse buys.

I thought at the beginning of the year that I might be able to reduce our costs more and even be able to put some money into savings but that is probably not realistic. We have attended to all the utility bills and managed to reduce them, but there is little you can do with the council tax other than pay it or move.

We have so much stuff in the house but each month our tally shows we are still gathering more. I am trying hard to avoid those scenarios where you have a cupboard full of food yet there is nothing to eat, or a wardrobe full of clothes and nothing to wear.

I want my purchases to count….to use it or love it. I love the space and freedom from having less stuff….and at all costs I do not want to find myself constantly decluttering….. throwing out or selling on purchases I make today at some time in the future.

I will be doing more posts on my decluttering and money saving activities but for now the garden calls as the cooler weather gets underway and we are facing autumn once again. x