dear diary ~ always the unexpected

Well it is in my life!

I thought things were going too well but after the last few days I am resigned to thinkng that my life is never going to be simple or straightforward.

Last Sunday night we made an unexpected trip up to North Yorkshire to stay with my younger daughter and our two granddaughters, Little L and Sweetie, as she was in a fix. Her car had broken down the week before and it was still waiting inspection at the garage it had been recovered to. It wasn’t evident if it was the battery or the alternator or something else and the garage were fully booked with work for a fortnight. Last week she managed to borrow a car from a friend but that was not possible for this week so it fell to us to help out as she had the children to get to school and nursery and herself to work.

We stayed until Wednesday night when she managed to hire a car to get her through Thursday and today until the car is fixed, hopefully by clse of play tonight. Before we came back down home we drove up to see mum with flowers for her birthday which was yesterday – it was a nice surprise for her as she wasn’t expecting us even though we could only stay an hour. I never make firm plans for visiting her now as she gets confused over dates and times so I tend to tell her the night before a visit but in this case I didn’t even mention we might call just in case we couldn’t. My sister took her out for a meal yesterday to celebrate her 97th birthday.

I was telling Sweetie who is only four that great granny has now had the pleasure of 97 birthdays and very soon in 3 years time, fingers crossed, she might be celebrating one hundred – she was impressed and keeps asking her mum now when she will be 100 (Sweetie that is not great granny).

So back home again and we found it had been snowing whilst we were away and it is mighty cold – not good for the heating bills. On totting up the receipts for the four days away we had spent the grand sum of £110, mostly on bits and pieces and buying snacks and drinks out to keep us going as well as bits of shopping for evening meals and lunches. DH also did a few jobs around the house for my daughter – one of them was replacing the sealant around the kitchen worktop and along the bath – the price of a tube of sealant now is £9.80. As he has only used half the tube I suggested he replaced some of the sealant in our shower with what is left before it goes dry in the tube.

I was amazed at how the money adds up so quickly. We didn’t have time to fill a flask on the way up and I need a stop to give my back a break from sitting in the car so our first spend was the motorway Costa – £9.20 for two drinks and a packet of oat biscuits which we shared. On Monday our daughter was working around Northallerton all day so after dropping her off we had a look around the town and then went to Strikes garden centre cafe just outside the town centre for lunch but what a rip off. DH had the cheese and chutney sandwich which was served with coleslaw and side salad but his double espresso was charged as 2 @ £2.25 making it £4.50 (most places charge about 70p to £1 for the extra shot of coffee in a double).

I am not a sandwich fan and prefer baked potato with cheese. Their menu only had baked potato with Chicken Tikka or a Butternut Squash Curry filling and they were both £8.95 and more of a main meal. I had wanted something a bit lighter so enquired if they did a plain baked potato with just a little cheese and coleslaw. Yes, the lady said that was fine but when it came to paying they charged me for a Chicken Tikka and I pointed out I was having cheese and coleslaw but she said it would be the same price as the Chicken Tikka as they had no other price point to press on the till. So our light lunch cost a staggering £22.55 – needless to say we will not be going again.

I bought mum a lovely bunch of mixed colour tulips and stopped to get her a take out cappuccino and a lemon tart (her favourite) from a local Costa. Unfortunately, although I asked for a lemon tart and they had plenty and it said lemon tart on the receipt, when I took it out of the bag to give to mum it was a cherry bakewell! Still she enjoyed them.

Today it is little Freddie’s 4th birthday – so we will be going to see him with his card and present. He is super excited to be having a Paw Patrol party with a few friends on Sunday and now my younger daughter is mobile again she will bring Little L and Sweetie down to join in the party.

So I had better get my skates on to prepare for their arrival tomorrow – I have beds to make up and food to prepare. We are on rations now until next week as part of the £110 we just spent on our travels was really this week’s housekeeping, so I will have to be very creative to conjour up some satisfying meals from very little.

I am a little disappointed that all my plans for January have already gone off course and the money I had saved from being very careful and not spending money unless necessary has had to go on eating out. Let’s hope February proves to be a bit better.

Welcome to new readers – you will notice a lack of photos until normal life resumes, and apologies for not being able to join in with the Scraphappy Challenge for January.

treasury >> financial times part 1

There is always a lot of sorting out and straightening out to do after the Christmas festivities are over and one of those is going through last year’s spending and planning this year’s budget. I expect most people are feeling the pinch now and tightening their belts and here in our little abode we are doing just that. For those that don’t know both myself and DH are living on getting by on the state pension and a modest private pension. Like many bloggers we find our income stretched to the limit at times and are always looking to put cost saving measures in place – some more successfully than others.

I haven’t done a financial tally post for ages – in fact looking at my spending over the year I think Mr Frugal has occasionally sneaked out the back door here. That is not to say I haven’t been careful with the spending.

Almost everything I buy now I wait until it is on offer unless I am desperate for something. This collection is a few of the items I found reduced this week.

All last year I collected Nectar points which then went towards my big Christmas shop which came to £100 and I still have £60 in value left to spend – I will use this on groceries towards the end of January as the monthly allowance runs down. I used any money off coupons that came my way and continually searched out discounts and reductions from any shop on products that I normally bought. I used the Sainsbury’s Scanshop on both our Nectar cards for the offers which are more tailored to what we usually buy and have big reductions (even though I hate the scanshopping, DH does that bit for me) – but for all that we have still had some large food bills due to the extreme rise in prices.

Ever since I married in 1976 I have documented our spending and made plans for the year ahead – I used to have a good old paper accounts book but in 2002 switched to using the online Microsoft Money program that I installed on my laptop. Every receipt each week is entered and categorised and then I can run off any number of reports which then help me to plan and budget for the coming year.

These reports give a frighteningly accurate picture, that require nerves of steel to read but are so enlightening and help me to see in what areas I need to reduce my spending. Of course some of our bills are fixed like the council tax and TV license and we always look at our suppliers prices for insurances, telephone and broadband to get a good deal on renewal but some things like water, gas and electricity we just need to use less of. I find it is the other day to day spending that we buy in dribs and drabs and the impulse buys that so often run away with the pennies. This is just a few of my observations:-

I dabble in crafty items as time allows but it is often the case that in my mind I think I have spent very little on some things like craft items – but my report says differently and although I had limited visits to places like Hobbycraft or fabric and wool shops because I have concentrated on using up a lot of old craft items I have amassed over the years it was a shock when the total figure for this category came to a staggering £240 Ouch!!

Analysing further I found I had managed to spend, without realising, a whopping £51 just on card blanks to make my own cards. I did pick a lot up in a garden centre in Northallerton when they had a closing down sale in their craft department – they were the lovely coloured and pearlised ones I like to use…and I have bought quite a few of the more expensive trifold aperture ones which are good for dried flowers. In my defence, given that many birthday cards are £2 and £3 each to buy I will soon recover the outlay by making my own.

I was pleased to see I had managed to curtail my spending on magazines which came to £56.14 for the year, although this does not include the subscription to Country Living magazine that DH renews for my Christmas present each year. For the £56 I bought the special edition of Country Life with Kate’s lovely photograph on the cover of the new Queen Consort Camilla, the May edition of Gardener’s World to get the 2 for 1 entry ticket to certain gardens and free seeds, two Christmas magazines, three Country Homes to read at the cottage and the Good Housekeeping Garden Collection (one of their specials) for a little inspiration.

I didn’t do as well with the stationery though as the total was much higher than expected ….often these are bits and pieces that I pick up whilst in Sainsbury’s or passing Rymans – a pen refill here and a roll of sellotape there but they add up alarmingly over the year and in my case the alarm was £77. The most expensive items were the sheets of blank address labels for the printer @ £9.99 and some plastic CD disc envelopes that I find useful to store all sorts of things in other than CD discs. It used to be that The Works sold a lot of basic stationery but like WH Smiths they seem to have switched more towards the novelty stationery and children’s crafts.

The garden was another high total, mainly because we had to have the large, unsafe cherry tree taken down and the stump removed and then improve the remaining hole in the ground with a few bags of manure and top soil.

We bought more bags of compost than I remember doing for sowing seeds and refilling planters – they are not cheap. We do make our own but still need to buy some in. I do intend to reduce the number of planters and pots in the garden next year; they don’t do well when it is hot and need far too much water than our two rain butts can supply in those heatwaves.

An area I will have to think carefully about is the increasing costs of sending Christmas cards – I usually make the cards but the postage this year for mainly 2nd class stamps and one parcel of £3.35 came to the hefty total of £49 and this allows for the fact I bought most of the stamps before the price increase. I do like to keep in touch with a Christmas card to family and friends that we do not get to see but maybe I will have to think again. I no longer send cards out to family in Australia but use email to send a newsletter instead so maybe this would be an option next year.

I make a lot of things for Christmas – my own cake, the cards, the crackers (with a bit of help from the children of course) and little gifts for each of my closest friends but my Christmas bill is slowly on the rise. Our family take part in a Not so Secret Santa where each adult spends £25 on the person they are buying for, and who provides a wish list of ideas and saves much tramping around crowded shops trying to think of things to buy for people that have a lot of stuff anyway. We buy for all the children in the wider family as normal and also make up a little stocking of bits and pieces for our two daughters and give them a substantial cheque to put towards something they need or even save it if they wish. With deaths, divorce, relocation and births our family has undergone changes over the last few years so that the balance is definitely weighted on the younger end with many more children now than we had a few years ago so our Christmas bill is definitely increasing.

There are many areas of my life where I can cut down on buying things and in turn spending less on unnecessary things I don’t need (easier said than done in my case) as well as trying to be sustainably responsible. Clothing is one of these.

I decided last year that I definitely did not need any more clothes, in fact, like my well edited linen cupboard, I embraced the idea of having a capsule wardrobe of fewer pieces that had a timeless quality, but I was a long way off this and of course there seemed little point in getting rid of a whole lot of my clothes if instead I could be wearing them. So this past year I have ‘worn my wardrobe’ and only bought three new tops, one for my holidays in the Sainsbury’s sale section for £7 which I lived in most of the summer as it was so comfy, one evening style top for a party also from Sainsbury’s for £12.00 and the other for the New Year’s Eve get together with the same friends and the dearest item at £30.

This year I will continue to wear out my wardrobe and only buy real necessities like some new boots (mine have sprung a leak) and underwear.

Having thought a lot about money since we both stopped earning a few years ago I have come to the conclusion that the best way to be frugal is not to buy anything in the first place. This has a double advantage as it means there is no decluttering to do a few years down the line either. As one of the great minimalists said in his book ‘not buying something is your future self letting go of something’. Perfect sustainability.

So taking note of where the money went last year I will set about creating a budget and challenging myself to spend less on those problem areas that could save me a few pounds that I could be putting into the savings pot. I will come back to this in another post with some of the ideas I want to put in place to have a year of spending less….much less.

Today my little car is booked in for the annual service and MOT and whilst over that side of town we will go and have our last two free drinks at Dobbies garden centre and pick up a pack of seed potatoes.

dear diary ~ happy ‘blog’ birthday to me

I was spurred on to write this anniversary post after reading one yesterday by an all time favourite blog of mine ‘Johnny jumps up’ which I have been following for a number of years. She has given a lovely account of the changes she has noticed about herself and her life since she started the blog which made me think about any changes that have happened in my own life.

I began the first blog ‘Where the journey takes me’ on January 4th 2012 after much deliberation – but it turns out that it is one of the better choices I have made in my life and I love reading my favourite blogs as much as I love writing for my own. Sadly many bloggers have dropped off along the way but I intend to keep going as long as possible and would like to think I might even be blogging when I get to 90 like Pat on her blog ‘The Weaver of Grass’.

So what changes have happened if any?

This has taken some very careful consideration – delving into my past is always a little scary – I think I can say that the simple life that attracts me comes and goes – just when it is within my grasp and life is feeling ordered and calm – I hit a crisis or a drama which can turn my world upside down. In August 2014 we experienced an horrific flood to our little cottage by the sea in Scotland. It was intended as our retirement home and we had been renovating it at weekends and holidays for exactly 10 years, in fact we had just had the place reroofed so that water did not get in from above! It wasn’t the sea that caused the flood but just the sheer volume of water rolling down the hills a bit like what happened in Boscastle.

Only two weeks previously we had been overjoyed at the arrival of our first grandchild Little L and this was to be quite a life changer for us.

In 2015 my colleague became terminally ill with secondary lung cancer and I had to increase my hours to cope with the volume of work which was quite specialised so there was no-one available to help without some serious training. I remember being dog tired all the time and even had to log on to my computer during any holidays I had to deal with work.

In the January 2016 my daughter announced that she was booking her wedding in Scotland for the July, so only 6 months to prepare and only about 2 weeks to get a dress on order. I spent the next few months organising and booking things for her and then designed the invites and made what seemed like miles of bunting for the marquee. Although stressful it was a nicer stress than dealing with the insurance company for the flood (which was still going on at this point) or the grief from the loss of my colleague.

In 2017 I was able to throw myself into domesticity once again…still hoping for that simple life. DH and I started hosting a Burns night at home in Yorkshire with our closest friends which we do every year now. Work became a bit manic whilst I trained two new people to replace my colleague – one either side of me asking questions all day until my head was buzzing. Eventually work settled down and I was able to reduce my hours once again. We bought a small static caravan to put in the garden at the cottage with a view to renovating the cottage once again as the insurance company had paid us out at last. Things were looking up.

In July 2018 I had my last day at work on my wedding anniversary I welcomed the end of my busy working life and felt at last that I could now concentrate on doing all the things I had not had time for…more crafting, baking, housekeeping and going out for day trips with DH. Sadly, our retirement to Scotland was not going to plan as work on the cottage had still not begun but we were able to go up there for longer periods now that we were both retired.

After running out of photo space I started this new blog ‘Where the journey takes me 2’ and also paid to have the adverts removed as they seemed to be creating a problem for readers. Whenever I go onto my old blog now I am glad that I made this decision as the amount of adverts that WordPress put on is very distracting.

By the end of 2018 we welcomed our second grandchild into the family – Sweetie- and in January 2019 Freddie came on the scene. We spent as much time as possible with them and they have certainly given us so much joy. Everything bumped along as normal with some small ups and downs along the way until July 2019 when our little world was shattered once again as one of my daughters suddenly overnight found herself alone and coping with two young children after a tragic event no-one could have forseen and which has changed all our plans for the future.

More than three years on it is now looking like there will be no retirement to Scotland and our plans for the cottage are yet to be finalised after having many changes of mind over its’ future. The garden at the cottage is still my little paradise but I have thrown myself into the garden here at home and grow what I can in the space we have. My investment in the little greenhouse was another of my better choices. I love it.

Of course last year was almost a write off being stricken with a bad back and limited mobility for many months. It did tell me how important gardening was to me when I could barely bend down and I do hope I will be able to do more in the furture. My ageing mum is also a constant worry as she has limited mobility too but hers will never be any better and her memory is none too good either making communication difficult. Having to give my sister (who lives close to her and does 3 days of care) some respite from her more frequently, together with being required to cover parts of the school holidays with child care leaves us with much less time to go to Scotland for any decent length of time.

So what have I learned about myself along the way – I realise just how resilient as a family we are – we have had some very stressful times and yet managed to keep going and mostly keep smiling. Maybe because of enduring some hard times we sailed through the pandemic and I loved being in lockdown with no demands on us – it was as close to the simple life as I fear I may ever get. But I am not complaining, nor disappointed as I know that family and their happiness is everything to me even though it takes up much of my time and leaves me busier than ever and far removed from the simple life I long for. I also know that I am not alone with many of my problems and readers often comment on their own similar troubles or often give good advice.

Looking over my blog it appears from all the posts and photos that I do like organising events and making things for them – weddings, parties, get togethers, family picnics and celebrations and this probably stems from my past life in fashion when I organised fashion shows and photo shoots – if I had my time again perhaps I would have taken an events manager’s course at University – such a course didn’t exist when I applied for Art College.

I also know that sustainability is important to me – recycling, reusing and cutting down on waste and stuff. I want to feel I will leave this world knowing that it is on a better course than it is at present so that my grandchildren have a future and that the destruction we are causing is turned around.

I do like to be organised and although I think I like the idea of routines in my life I can honestly say that I don’t really have any – going to work each day was as close to a routine as I got and now I am retired an hour or two of pottering before breakfast and an evening meal at about 6.45pm, followed by a nightly call to my mum are my only daily routines but in between anything might happen and usually not what I had planned but more what I impulsively feel like doing. I think my blog and my random posting is testimony to this.

I am not just impulsive, often to my detriment, I know there are certain things I leave to the last minute – I am one of those people who work better under pressure but afterwards always wonder why I didn’t begin earlier and I admire all those bloggers who are able to plan and execute a task well ahead of time. I am hopeless at challenges too or keeping up with some of the monthly ‘join in’ posts with other bloggers – I know there is another Scrap Happy Challenge post on the horizon and I haven’t even thought about it yet.

However, blogging at my own speed and taking photos has been an absolute joy over the past eleven years – my camera skills have certainly improved, my spelling may have too…I hope. It can be helpful to look back over both my blogs from time to time as they are a useful record of all my crafting achievements and I am sometimes surprised at the amount I actually get done even though I would like it to be more. When I see the wealth of creativity on many of the blogs I visit I do often feel that I don’t apply myself enough to do more but I will be working on this with my new Focus word ‘contentment’ and allow myself to be content with what I do achieve.

So I think I can say that although I have not by any means reached that wonderful life of simplicity I continue to work on it and see small improvements – as my blog title suggests it is a journey and one day I will arrive.

I promise that this will be the longest post of 2023 and if you have got this far through my ramblings you deserve a cup of tea. x

dear diary ~ back to busy

Yesterday was a long hard day. DH was unwell with a very bad sore throat and swollen glands – whether it is a strep throat or not we will have to wait and see, but it is quite bad and swallowing very painful and I don’t think he is just being a wimp. As usual he didn’t really jump on it soon enough and it has taken hold. If it had been me I would have dosed myself up with Vitamin C and zinc, hot orange and honey and been gargling away with salt water at the mere suggestion of a sore throat but DH tends to wait until it is far worse before finally jumping into action.

So I was doing all the ‘action’ yesterday whilst he laid prone. I sent him to bed for a while mainly so that I don’t have to follow him around the house continually wiping doorknobs and banister rails with dettol wipes as strep throat is highly contagious and I certainly don’t want it; I feel I have had more than my quota of illness last year.

When there was a lull in my nursemaid duties I took down all the Christmas decorations around the house and the baubles from the tree – but left the lights on the tree, mainly because it is too big and heavy for me to move and I didn’t want to look at a bare tree for a few days until DH is recovered enough to remove it. I haven’t packed the baubles away yet as I usually give them a good clean with a cloth or soft brush and do any repairs before putting them back in their boxes – so that is today’s job.

I had to pop down to our local co-op for a few necessities, plain yoghurt and milk and picked up a packet of toasted tea cakes to have with a hot cuppa on my return. Luckily, I had two offers on my co-op card – one for milk and one for the yoghurt so it reduced the bill from £5.30 to £4.60 (which is still an extortionate price for 3 items in my mind). I enjoyed the walk – we are not far from the village centre – it was pleasantly warm in the sun but there was still a bite in the air and I was glad of a hot drink and a toasted teacake when I got back home. Once I had thawed out a bit I hung the two throws I had washed outside in the sunshine – it is the first day since Christmas that I have put in any washing and hung anything outside.

We just had a tin of Heinz mushroom soup for lunch as it was easier on DH’s throat being quite creamy and for tea I put a meal together from bits and pieces we had in the pantry and fridge – some baked potatoes which we had with a little butter and grated cheese and I roasted the last two parsnips, some leftover cherry tomatoes, a few chestnut mushrooms and half a red pepper in a tin whilst the potatoes cooked. I made a nice creamy rice pudding too whilst the oven was on – I always use brown pudding rice, rather than white and a tin of evaporated milk, rather than ordinary milk for extra creaminess.

No matter how poorly DH is he never fails to eat, unlike myself as I usually can’t face food if I am ill. Eating always makes him feel better and there was a glimmer of hope that he might have improved a bit and be on the turn by bedtime last night. Maybe the rice pudding clinched it!

I have eggs to use up so I will make some plain sponges for the freezer today in preparation for the upcoming birthdays. I am not sure how to make a Paw Patrol cake for little Freddie though and will need to approach my friend Google for some ideas. If Sainsbury’s or any other supermarket do one already then my daughter might buy one instead; the sponges won’t be wasted, they will always come in for another birthday another day.

After a difficult conversation with mum last night (complaining the carer had refused to take the recycling down to the bins – however, when questioned further it turns out the refusal was merely the carer saying it didn’t really need doing – mum can always be relied upon to make a crisis out of a drama) I sorted through my collection of wool and found a pattern for a little baby jacket. Our fourth grandchild is expected in May so I am starting early and making the 6 months size in the hope I can finish it before baby grows out of it! As the sex is unknown (both my daughters have always wanted surprises – which is fine by me) I will have to make the fronts when baby arrives as the buttonholes are on different sides depending on gender.

I found a lovely knitted bag pattern going for 10p in a shop that was closing down last year and I am hoping it will use up some of the leftover DK wool I have, I also fancy making myself a bobble hat if I can find a pattern.

So on with the day today – there is a lot more clearing and cleaning to do around the house before it will look anything like tidy and if I am lucky I might get the decorations back into the loft or at least back into the boxes.

Better get on with it then….

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