dear diary >> busy doing nothing

Well I know I was busy all day but it felt like I had achieved very little. But….the pastry did get mixed and we now have some lentil pies and a quiche base in the freezer – I could have made more but silly me had not noticed the plain flour jar was running low. To compensate for the shortfall I added in some spelt flour and it has made a nice pastry. I used to prefer wholemeal pastry but it is quite heavy on our digestion these days so I switched to Doves Farm organic white which is unbleached. We don’t have pastry very often these days as too much of it does seem to take longer to digest.

I should have titled this post a ‘Tale of two candles‘ as I spent a good two hours in the broom cupboard trying to accomodate my excessive amount of assorted candles (many of them I inherited from my daughters) and make a ‘pleasing arrangement‘ as DH would say.

As always when organising storage there is always the odd thing that just doesn’t quite fit and in this case it was the very annoying two tall pillar candles. Too tall to stand upright on the shelf and just a smidgen too long to be contained in any receptacle that I have. In the end all I could do was lay them on their side -but this is not ideal as they roll about a bit.

The short stubby ones and the tea lights all fitted quite nicely into the 3 storage boxes and I found the best way of storing the long thin ones is upright in glass jars. To make room for the candles I had to adjust the three shelves in the broom cupboard so the top shelf had a larger gap to fit two stacked storage boxes and the bottom two shelves had a narrower gap. But whilst solving this problem I unknowingly created another and when I came to close the cupboard door the contents of the storage container fastened to the door were now too tall for the narrower gap between the bottom and second shelf and the handles of the cleaning and bottle brushes no longer fitted comfortably between the shelves when the door is closed but hit the shelf and stopped the door closing.

So now I have removed some of the taller cleaning brushes and will have to find a new home for them….argh!

I am quite pleased with the result though and all my candles are now in one easily accessible place. The two infuriating pillar candles will be lit as soon as the evenings draw in a bit more. I don’t really want it to feel like autumn yet as I think it is going to be a long, cold winter – what a shame we cannot bottle this summer heat.

My next task is to re-house the coolbags as I would like to get rid of the old kitchen cabinet in the garage where they currently reside. It is a base cabinet and sticks out a long way but does a good job of storing the cool bags and keeps them dust free. They would fit in the cupboard that has all our cleaning products like car shampoo and oven cleaner but I think the smell might spread into the coolbag over time. I am not sure I would want my picnic sandwiches to taste of metal polish or patio cleaner!! Another storage problem to mull over.

DH was busy ironing again – his reward was spending time at the computer (his favourite pastime). He also mounted the second water butt on some bricks with a slab on top which is much more stable than the plastic feet that come with it. This butt is not connected to a drain pipe but we pour in the ‘run off’ water we collect whilst the hot water is coming through in the kitchen. It is surprising how much you can lose down the drain. We are also keeping a bucket in the shower to collect any clean water there when showering. It rained…only a little yesterday early evening – I am hoping just enough to top up the water butt (as we have a hose pipe ban here now) and freshen up the borders and planters and save me having to water today.

Today we /me/or he is making Leek and Potato soup to use up the plentiful supply of potatoes I have and the remains of the leeks. If I have chance I will prepare the tomato soup ingredients at the same time.

This afternoon we are downing tools and going up the road to see two friends of ours K&R. R has recently come out of hospital after an operation and at the moment cannot drive so they are both stuck at home as K had to give up driving because of a macular problem. We have been taking K with us when we go shopping to help out as she is well in her 80’s now but today we are just visiting and having a cup of tea and a catch up chat.

dear diary >> a matter of opinion

DH and I agree on most things, but it is of no surprise that we have a difference of opinion when it comes to what constitutes ‘pottering’ and how long it should continue for. He thinks two hours of minimal activity is all I should be doing at present and of course he is right but I am an all or nothing person and once I begin a job I can’t bear not to see it through.

And I get sidetracked easily.

I am a great supporter of the Lean method where continuous improvement is part of the approach. I am always looking for better ways of organising and storing things and often have a move around much to DH’s dismay! Sometimes, even I have to acknowledge a task will take far longer than I have time for in a day, but if I stop what I am doing then I know it is going to end up as another project on the unfinished task list as other urgent housekeeping chores call for my attention.

Yesterday, I maybe overdid it a bit. I only intended to sort out the collection of small plastic plant pots in the greenhouse, that I had washed before our holidays, and keep only the useful ones. Dobbies, one of our local garden centres, have a recycling point for old plant pots so I have put aside the ones I don’t want to drop off on our next visit.

We have quite a useful space at the side of our house behind the shed where we can keep our wheelie bins and bags of potting compost tucked away from view. I also put the old mini greenhouse here as it is a sunny positon but much cooler away from any direct sun which is great for potted cuttings and hardening off. I keep the larger empty plant pots here too and anything a bit unsightly but the whole area was a bit of a mess because DH had not been able to get to his ladder easily and after he put it back in position the objects he had to move did not quite make it back in their place (need I say more…). So I started tidying up this area and as I went along I found a few problems that required a little DIY from DH whilst he was doing other bits and pieces in the greenhouse and now the area is looking much cleaner and quite tidy.

Before our holidays DH put in some ‘Christmas potatoes’ – I am not sure if they will actually be ready for Christmas day but they are growing well and needed earthing up. My few outdoor tomatoes are at last turning red – it has been a long wait. I haven’t grown this variety before, a dwarf stocky bush tomato that does not require the removal of side shoots called Totem. They are very sturdy plants that stood up well to the strong winds we had a month or so ago. The Zinnias in the top photo have been battered by wind and then scorched by the sun… but are holding on, they are such beautiful rich colours and one of my favourite annuals. I have more in the front borders and they are mixed with a rather lovely colour called ‘Green Envy’. I was quite pleased to see that Carol Klein recommended this variety on her Summer Gardening program (I just love her enthusiasm for plants it is contagious) it is such an unusual colour but looks good beside the vibrant reds and purples. The plants that have done the best this year on the patio are the geraniums – they seem to thrive in hot dry weather but then they do grow an enormous amount of them in France and Italy.

Today I must, must, must make the mushroom and lentil pies to freeze and the quiche bases (I know I have been saying this all week!). I will rub up the pastry mix this morning and then do the filling in the afternoon. If I get chance I have had an idea for storing those candles I mentioned. I need to gather them all together in Marie Kondo style to see what I am dealing with in terms of space required. I do have quite an assortment of candle holders too and maybe I don’t really need all of them. We shall see.

I am hoping that DH will be doing a bit more fixing and mending. When we got home from holiday I found my watering can broken. It is a Hall’s plastic red one with a long bar attached to the spout that you hold to carry it and it had snapped clean in two as you can see in the photo…..rendering it unuseable and there was no way it could be glued back together. It seemed such a shame that it would be of no further use and would end up in landfill at the tip. However DH to the rescue – he came up with a solution…..

…… a bit of a Heath Robinson fix (just like his dad) using this strong metal strip of rust proof aluminium and some screws or maybe they are rivets. I am delighted though and so pleased it could be repaired – in fact it should be stronger than before even if it does look a bit strange.

Have a lovely restful Sunday everyone. x

dear diary >> an act of kindness

Before I forget I thought I would just mention a marvellous act of kindness I came across whilst on holiday in Scarborough. It was on our last day and I desperately wanted to visit a fabric shop near to our holiday rental called the Sewing Centre before we left. This is their website www.sewingcentrescarborough.com They have a brilliant stock, friendly staff and sell online too and I spent a wonderful half hour browsing the aladins cave of fabrics especially the Liberty range. If I lived in Scarborough I would no doubt be in here every week.

I was particularly looking for this fabric above called Seaside Squares which comes in a panel to make into a strip of bunting for my daughter as a present for her Christmas stocking, as we both love homemade gifts…….(but shhh you had better keep that as a secret for now). They have a large amount of fabric in all colours and designs but sadly they didn’t have this one. However, to my delight, I managed to track it down last night on the internet and ordered a panel for £4.95 which I thought was good value especially as I could choose 2nd class Royal Mail postage for free as I am not in any hurry for it.

Anyway back to my story……DH and I were the only two people in the shop when a lady came in with her visiting friend. Her friend had asked to see a fabric shop and so she had brought her to this one. In the course of conversation with the owner it turned out the friend was a Ukrainian refugee who loved sewing but of course had not been able to bring her machine with her. The owner of the shop suddenly disappeared into the back and returned with a large box….opened it and presented the Ukrainian lady with a brand new sewing machine as a gift. I must say I left the shop with a tear in my eye at such kindness.

I decided against anymore clearing out yesterday – my right shoulder that has been taking quite a lot of strain since my back has been out of action was not very good. I have a feeling I might have a tear in my rotator cuff from doing the cat /cradle exercise and having to heave myself up out of chairs and beds by weighing heavily on my arm. I cannot lift it very high now and washing my hair is becoming increasingly difficult. After my shower yesterday it was aching…. a lot.

DH made some celery soup and then did a little ironing for me (well having a bad arm does have some compensations). I made a couple of phone calls, rearranged our hair appointments and had a look on you tube for some exercises that might help my shoulder – of course you end up down a rabbit hole don’t you and before I knew it DH was calling me for lunch. After lunch my shoulder was a little easier so I managed to write my letter – though with the strikes I am not sure when it will get to its destination so I only put a second class stamp on it.

Later we went to B&Q to get a length of dowel for the greenhouse to attach the shading material to – or at least that is the plan. It will be easier to photograph what we have in mind when it is done rather than explain it here. B&Q was so quiet and so was Sainsbury’s when we called for a few oddments – washing up liquid and cheese and picked up four reduced Organic wholemeal loaves for the freezer for 50p each.

The roads however were quite busy with people zooming around, (the start of the Bank Holiday busyness). There seems to be a real surge in people going through red lights and yesterday we saw someone do just that at each set of lights we had to stop at. Then there was the mad driver who thought it was a good idea to overtake us whilst going through the narrow railway viaduct where the road kinks and crossing the double white lines to do so….. then speeding off in a thirty area and crossing over to the other side of the road and going around the central reservation bollards to overtake the cars in front of us. It was a car driven by and full of young teenagers. The driver was no doubt showing off but at what cost potentially to someones life.

Today I am definitely going in the greenhouse for a potter. DH fixed my little birdhouse and I hope he is going to attend to the dripping basin tap in the shower room and maybe have a look at the greenhouse shading. My focus word for this year is improvement and each little improvement we both accomplish around the place is helping to make it feel a little better, a little less cluttered and a little more ordered. The enormous mountain of tasks are slowly, one by one, getting done. Somehow doing the smallest of jobs can lighten the weight of stress that builds up when faced with so many jobs to do.

I don’t think we will be going anywhere this Bank Holiday the roads are often busy and the cafes crowded. We will go out next week when everyone is back to work. Have a good weekend everyone.

dear diary >> more pottering

I was so delighted to find that these cuttings I had taken earlier in the year have taken along with a few tiny self sown seedlings that I noticed when weeding in the borders and potted up. They are out in my mini greenhouse in a shadier corner of the garden so they don’t dry out.

Yesterday turned into a bit of a mammoth sorting out day. Another one where I ventured into the garage and ended up sorting through the bank of Ikea wooden drawers that contain all our bits and pieces, well mainly DH’s bits and pieces – spare hinges, hooks, car bulbs, flat pack funriture parts and a million and one other things, often unidentifiable….all stuff that might one day be useful and to be fair to DH it often is. He has a maddening habit though of putting things he wants to keep into the right drawer (they are all labelled) but I have no idea what it is for and often he forgets. My method is to bag and label – his method is sometimes to bag but hardly ever to label. So yesterday we played the game of guess what this is for and do we still need it.

Eventually, he knew he would have to stop what he was doing (uploading holiday photos) to help me and give me a clue for some of the items so that now they are all bagged and labelled, including the ones labelled unknown like the charger – but what is it a charger for? I know if I throw it out it will be for something important. There is still a long way to go in the garage and I hate throwing things away but I am not sure we will ever need the spare castors that came off an old file drawer, or the digital timer that came from my mum…….but you never know. As always when you embark on these tasks things you had forgotten about resurface like the gym ball pump and who knew that we had three keys for the ladder lock – all hanging on separate hooks.

I am now trying to find a good way of storing all my numerous candles of various shapes and sizes – long thin, short stubby and large pillar. Presently, they are scattered between numerous boxes – they are all quite plain unscented candles and many of them were left over from my daughter’s wedding but I have not as yet found the ideal storage container or place to store them. It would be much simpler to use them all so I don’t have to store them at all. Maybe come the autumn / winter time and possible power cuts I will be glad of my little hoard. Until then this little problem is a pending one.

DH had his screw driver out again today doing little jobs around the house and I now have the little holdall (once fixed to the inside of my old kitchen cupboard door to take tupperware lids) fixed to the inside of the broom cupboard where I keep my cleaning cloths and caddy. The holdall is just perfect for holding my spare rubber gloves.

I managed to make the nut loaf for our evening meal and the rest will be frozen for next week. I made it with brown rice rather than breadcrumbs as one of my daughter’s has a gluten intolerance and I will be taking it up to her house for tea next week. But I must confess the pastry still didn’t get done again, however whilst I had the oven on anyway I decided to roast some teeny weeny potatoes I had left over (those very tiny ones that you always get when you grow your own) and parsnips at the same time – oh and I slipped a small frozen yorkshire pudding in at the end….they are a weakness of mine.

So today…it is another I can’t believe it is Friday day – I have washed towels to hang out and more washing to put in. I have a letter to write and a couple of friends to ring. Then who knows…. it could be more paperwork or another spell in the garage. I daresay DH would prefer it if I do the paperwork and keep well away from the garage which he sees as his domain. Maybe I will spend an hour in my domain (the greenhouse) I never got to organise it properly once DH had finished painting the inside.

Welcome to all the new followers of my blog – I do find it strange that I manage to acquire more followers when I am having a bit of a break from blogging than when I am writing!!!

dear diary >> a productive day

I love those days when a few insignificant jobs are ticked off the list that provide some quite significant improvements. Yesterday was one of those days.

I spent an hour in the pantry putting things straight and filling up containers. I only found the bread flour and a pot of Thai curry paste to be near to its best before date so I will search out one or two recipes to use these up. I haven’t made Thai curry before and when I bought the paste pot it seemed easier than buying all the special ingredients that make it Thai.

The breakdown truck came mid morning and recovered the car to the garage whilst we followed on behind. The initial report from the nice garage man was that the escaping fluid is a leak from something that has worn through (I am so impressed Mary by your knowledge of cars) and the part required to fix it is relatively cheap, thank goodness, but we will have to wait a few days for him to get one (as they are imported) before the car can be made better, but at least it is now being dealt with.

Once back home DH pruned the berberis in the front garden, a bit of a spikey job, mended my little green birdhouse (which is only decorative) and put up the two pottery holders, grow and fresh, in the greenhouse that I found sorting out the garage. They are just the right size to keep bits and bobs in them.

Our afternoon walk took us round by the village so we could drop off the soft plastic bags for recycling at the Co-op. We have just gained a lovely little gift shop in the village called Nest. They have some delightful inexpensive gifts and cards and today I noticed the empty shop by the old post office has now opened as a hardware shop – I do wish them both luck – our village could do with a few shops that are not just charity shops, beauty parlours or dog grooming. We once had the most wonderful green grocers (in fact there were two) but they were forced to close when Safeways (now Morrisons) built a supermarket on the old railway station.

I did manage to put away more bits and pieces from the holiday and sorted the washing after which I needed a bit of time lying flat to ease my back so I watched the final episode of Downton. I do love to have a potter around the house once in a while especially after we have been away and there is no real urgency to get anything done, though I am on a bit of a mission to give it more attention than it has received in the last few months so it feels more loved and cared for.

I made the Courgette bake, but didn’t quite get round to mixing up a batch of pastry – that will have to be another day or maybe even today. I have to wait for the remaining courgettes in the garden to grow a little bigger before I can make the Veg lasagne (our Co-op doesn’t have anything quite as exotic as courgettes yet!), so nut roast is the next meal on the menu plan and maybe this time I will get those pastry cases made.

Today it will be a toss up between going in the garden or looking through the paperwork pile – I know which I would rather do, but maybe sorting out the finances is more important. Scottish Power have sent me an email to tell me about the £400 fuel rebate and we have just applied to the council for our £150. We will need to put this aside to pay for our fuel bills during the colder months – maybe I will buy a couple of very thick jumpers with some of it. DH is looking to add to the insulation in the loft – I always think it is so full of ‘stuff’ up there that more insulation is probably not required!

On a different note did anyone see the program about Woodstock the Festival on Sky Arts on Tuesday night? It took place in America in the summer of 1969 – I was a mere 15 year old teenager with long flowing skirts to match my long flowing hair and I had just bought my first Leonard Cohen album , Songs of Leonard Cohen and becoming very much a part of the flower power generation. We once knew someone who had actually been to the festival and like a lot of our friends we have the Woodstock album – it was an historic moment back then. A few things struck me watching the video movies that had been collated to make this documentary, firstly, the majority of the young people were so noticeably slim and the lads wandering around without t-shirts were very well toned despite the fact that there were no fitness gyms in those days, and secondly, the girls seemed so naturally pretty without any make up, false eyelashes, fake tans or lip and boob enhancements and such a marked lack of tattoos and piercings. Whatever happened to those carefree days of a generation that believed in people and preserving the environment – how did all that love and peace give way to the years that followed of Thatcher’s greed and capitalism?

We are certainly paying the price now as big business giants rake in excessive profits and council leaders are paid huge salaries whilst care for the elderly in their boroughs are cut to the bone and they have growing numbers of homeless people on our littered streets. Kate Josephs, leader of Sheffield council, has recently been reinstated in her job after being under investigation – she has a salary of around £200,000 and was paid more than £60,000 to stay at home until it was concluded. Just what does she do for this amount of money I wonder?

Meanwhile, I spend most of my days trying to think of ways to save a few pennies to eek out the meagre pension pot I spent a lifetime working for.

dear diary >> a change of plan

Things were going well yesterday morning until I came to get something out of the garage. To say it was a struggle is not an exaggeration as the whole place is in a mess and a train of unplanned activity ensued. We have a series of recycle bins for the items that cannot go into our council recycling bin but all of them were overflowing and needed emptying. Soft plastic bags go to the local Co-op collection point, bottles to the bottle bank, batteries and water filter cartridges to Sainsbury’s etc and all these are now waiting by the front door to be taken to their relevant resting places together with a few items for the village charity shop and the local tip.

After spending a further two hours sorting through some of the mess it was lunch time and afterwards I had my osteopath appointment so the planned pastry making didn’t actually take place. DH made the Tuscan bean casserole when we got back home using up an out of date packet of butter beans, which were fine when opened and rather than put the oven on he cooked it all on the hob – it was just as good and he served it with sliced Halloumi cheese on top, browned in our non-stick pancake pan, and a piece of Pannini bread to mop up the juices. I couldn’t actually find the recipe so he just made it up…..and it was delicious.

So the plan today, after having my morning walk and doing a few back exercises, is probably to do what I should have done yesterday and finish that unpacking and putting away. I also need to straighten up the pantry and refill some jars then check the stock is arranged in date order as DH often puts away the groceries but sometimes forgets to move the older tins and packets to the front. At the same time I can make a note of anything with a close best before date and will accomodate these in next weeks menu plan – I have a system of marking these items with a red sticker (which I keep handy in the pantry drawer) so that even DH is aware that they need eating up very soon. If I have any energy left after our lunch break I also have in mind to tidy another storage box or two in the garage to keep the momentum going and more importantly, make the pastry cases so that they can bake in the oven with tonight’s tea which is Courgette Bake using, I might add, courgettes grown by my own fair hands.

DH will be busy doing a few odd jobs as I found one or two items in the garage that I had forgotten about and need DH’s help to hang them up. This will require screws and such things that I am no good at. The breakdown truck is coming this morning to take DH’s car to the garage for them to locate the problem – it is leaking a rather red looking fluid and looks like it is bleeding. I have no doubt it will be another expensive problem to fix. As fast as I am trying to save money it manages to escape once more into someone elses pocket!

Such is life in these scary times!

dear diary >> homekeeping

We had rain yesterday, quite a heavy down pour…..it was so welcome as our garden is like dust and it meant I didn’t have to water the planters for once, though I must remember to give the tomatoes and courgettes a liquid feed. Today it feels cool, but fresh, with a hint of Autumn, though I am not ready yet to relinquish the summer. My greenhouse is almost complete, the paint went on a dream – DH did two coats on the inside and three on the outside for good measure – we used Crown Superdec, the same as we painted the shed a few years ago, and it has worn well and best of all we bought it on offer at our local Crown store. I love the transformation and the contrast against the rougher pallet wood of the staging boards.

It is so good to be back home now and I have a great deal of homekeeping to catch up on…my bad back over the last 5 months has left my house in a sad and sorry state but at last I feel ready to begin to tackle it again…. in small quantities of course and bring back some order. I have been severely short of any routine recently and even the basics were not being done. Now our holiday is over I have time to gather my thoughts and start planning.

We did the supermarket shop yesterday so the larder is well stocked and it is a pleasure to walk into the pantry with a wonderful display of fruit and veg. I always tend to heed the words from Dominique Loreau’s book L’art de la Simplicite – how to live more with less when she says “seek only the best”….source the finest untreated produce, tasty fruit and really good bread.…and even better when you manage to find them at a reduced price. I can now turn yesterday’s little haul into some nutritious meals and fill the freezer with homemade fare over the next few days. If my menu for the week goes to plan then we are having Tuscan Bean casserole tonight with halloumi. Whilst the oven is on I intend to cook some pastry case bases for a quiche or two to freeze at the same time. If I mix up extra pastry I will make some lentil and mushroom pies to freeze tomorrow. I bought a punnet of mushrooms to make mushroom soup and two lots of celery to make celery soup and gained extra nectar points on both.

I had to buy new electric toothbrush heads….ouch – I used the last two before we went away and I like to keep some in stock. A pack of four Oral B heads are on offer in Sainsbury’s at the moment for £11, a saving of £5. These high priced items really bump up the shopping bill total so I tend to spread them out over the year and only buy them on offer. Water filter cartridges, soap powder and dishwasher tablets all fall into this category.

We have developed a good routine in the supermarket and whilst I scan the supermarket shelves for all the red sticker offers and items we use that have extra Nectar points DH does the smartscan shop for both our Nectar cards (as each card has different offers and I don’t scan shop as well as he does). We often buy multiples of the best offers to stock up. We bought four boxes of Alara muesli – normal price £2.70 – scan shop offer £1.60 saving us £4.40 on 4 boxes. I am hoping to stretch this weeks shopping to ten days if possible just topping up with some extra milk and the odd bit of veg.

My intentions today are to complete the unpacking and putting away. I always refill the toiletries ready for our next trip before I put the bag away – it saves time when we next have to pack. I invested in two of those handy picnic blankets for the beach last year – £5 each from B&M. They fold up into a neat little package with a carry handle and are ultra light and yesterday I gave them a good blow on the line to shake off any residual sand before they are put away. I don’t really have anywhere to keep them at the moment that is easily accessible but I am working on it. I do like to have a place for everything and they are definitely keepers so something else less useful or unused may have to go to make room. I am gradually selling bits and pieces on ebay again to free up space in my cupboards and the garage.

I have an osteopath appointment this afternoon….another ouch cost wise but the benefits are worth it, he has done wonders for my back and I am hoping that today he can straighten out a few of my stiffer body parts. I fell whilst at a country fete in Thirsk with my two granddaughter’s last Saturday. There was a small hidden hole in the grass on the field and my foot went down it as I walked along and my ankle twisted over. I went down with a bump jarring my poor back and already bad shoulder and I have ended up with a slight limp, a stiff back and quite sore wrists where I tried to save myself…..and I hadn’t even been drinking…..well only decaff tea!!!

Well I had better get going – there is a lot to do.

dear diary >> improving

The weather is certainly improving as I write this post but it is not the topic I am about to talk about. Regular readers might remember my chosen focus word for this year is improvement. I have really taken the word on board and somehow it seems much more manageable than words that I have chosen in the past and then, like a New Year’s resolution, sadly neglected., I am quite excited and committed to this word already.

My idea is to consistently make the tiniest and simplest of improvements across all the different areas of my life and each one, no matter how small or how insignificant, will be an improvement on what I had before.

So here are a few improvements that I have been working on this week:-

The treasury – I am sure that, like many readers and bloggers, costcutting is at the top of everyone’s agenda. With prices rising sharply and the £1 in our pockets buying so much less it is becomming a matter of urgency that I both curb our spending and look where I can to make savings. Big savings.

Smartshop (Sainsbury’s scanner shopping), offers good discounts for nectar card holders using the hand held scanner (this is not the same as the individual self scan checkouts). DH collects up these offers (whilst I do the main shopping that we take to the normal checkout); first he goes and finds the items that are reduced on my card and goes around again to find the ones on his card – although it is the same nectar account the card numbers end in a different number and we are sent different offers. Here is the receipt from last week – we took advantage of 8 offers on my nectar card, the actual price an ordinary shopper would pay by going through the manned checkout would have been £18.70.

We paid £13.28 by using the scanner – a huge saving of £5.42 for items we would be buying anyway, plus we collect the nectar points on top some of which have extra points. The muesli alone had a saving of £1.05 per box so we bought three boxes to stock up.

I have had a flurry of coupons recently too – some more useful than others. The M&S coupons for £7 being the most worthwhile and their offer of a free bar of chocolate a bonus.

In the post on Saturday arrived a letter from Dobbies to say they have given me a free upgrade to their Dobbies Plus card for one year. This entitles me to a free cup of tea and coffee each month, 10% off all plants, bulbs and seeds, a special birthday treat and 2 points for every £1 spent. Normally you pay £12 for the year to have this card – I wouldn’t pay to have it but I have no objection to it being free for the moment. Every little helps if it avoids paying full price for anything.

Of course the biggest challenge is to avoid temptation and not buy anything we don’t really need. Going to the shops less is a good way of avoiding tempatation!

Meal planning – one improvement I am making in the kitchen is to adjust my winter menus so that I make more meals that can be cooked on the hob such as lentil stew, curry, chickpea and rice – this way I don’t have the oven on as often which will hopefully reduce the electricity bills. I do like baked potatoes in the winter (well anytime really) so at the weekend with some potatoes baking in the oven I made a batch of pastry and baked a selection of quiche bases for the freezer whilst the oven was on. Today we had ratatouille and baked potatoes and again whilst the potatoes were baking I made a batch of chocolate sponge mixture and filled four sandwich tins. They are all in the freezer now and I feel quite pleased with myself for making the effort.

Health – such an important area of my life now as I am heading towards another major birthday (still a couple of years to go yet).

It often feels like an uphill struggle to keep relatively healthy as creaks and groans appear daily and the inevitable sagging has set in – so I need all the help I can get. Adding a little more nutritional value to my diet without resorting to buying expensive supplements is hopefully going to improve my health – so I was delighted to find these packets of milled mixed seeds and nuts in Sainsbury’s containing ground Flaxseeds, Sunflower Seeds, Walnuts (13%), Pumpkin Seeds, Sesame Seeds, Almonds (10%), Chia Seeds providing Vitamin E, Fibre and Omega 3. I sprinkle a good two dessertspoonfuls of the mix over my bowl of spelt flakes each morning, but you can use it on pasta or crumbles to make a crunchy topping. An instant easy healthy improvement.

Housekeeping – I have a few spots around the house that need just a little bit of love and attention. Nothing major, just a tiny adjustment – a task that may only take me minutes to complete. I am searching them out and one by one will be addressing each issue. It might be a messy drawer or a plant that needs reviving or an item that needs to be kept in a better place.

Today it was this hand sanitiser in the bathroom. Since the pandemic this bottle of Carex handgel has stood on our bathroom shelf for use both by us and visitors alike. It has always bothered me since the day it took up residence – a rather unattractive plastic bottle and not one I really want on show. I noticed in Tesco they were still selling these little soap dispensers at £4, I bought a couple when we first got the caravan for handsoap. So now I have poured the hand sanitiser into the new container and voila such an immediate improvement.

In the garden – the outside is another area that often needs a bit of attention. The long trough at the front of our house was looking a bit dull since the pansies all keeled over and lost the will to live. So for a few pounds in the sale at the local garden centre I bought 3 lovely cyclamen in pots for a splash of winter colour (I have left them in the pots and sunk them into the compost) so they will lift out easily when I want to replace them with some spring bulbs.

A large tray of lemon polyanthus was on sale too and I have dotted these about the garden and put a few in the tub beside the front door. Another of my little improvements.

Tomorrow we are looking to collect the new dining table from Leeds, weather permitting. The new table will be a big improvement to the kitchen.

Have a good day everyone x

dear diary : November already

“How silently they tumble down
And come to rest upon the ground
To lay a carpet, rich and rare,
Beneath the trees without a care,
Content to sleep, their work well done,
Colors gleaming in the sun.

At other times, they wildly fly
Until they nearly reach the sky.
Twisting, turning through the air
Till all the trees stand stark and bare.
Exhausted, drop to earth below
To wait, like children, for the snow.”

–   Elsie N. Brady, Leaves

Can you believe it is November already? As I look outside the very last of the leaves are clinging to my Amelanchier, the rest having been brought down quickly with the wind and rainfall over the past few days. The bare trees everywhere are a sure sign that I need to get a move on now and start on the Christmas plans.

I seem to have spent last week and the weekend pottering, but slowly getting a few jobs done around the house. Maybe not what I had intended to do but nevertheless there has been a satisfying tick made at the end of the day on one or two tasks, many of which have possibly rolled over from last month.

I have more or less caught up with the washing and ironing. I know it is always an ongoing household chore but when we return from the cottage there is quite a heap of bedding and dirty gardening clothes to wade through on top of the general clothes. Presently, I have a large bucket with our socks soaking in it ready to wash in the washer tomorrow. I know the washer does a pre-wash but it takes so much more water and time when an overnight soak will do the same and in less water. Then I have the remaining gardening clothes and I might wash the cushion covers from the living room and I am done.

I have also been sorting as I tidied. I don’t know about you but I often end up with ‘things’ upstairs that belong downstairs and vice versa, or have items waiting to be put away – so I stop and have a bit of a putting away session, getting everything back to its rightful place. Whilst I was in a drawer or cupboard putting away I had a quick check to see if I could spot anything that I do not use or was in the wrong place or could be slimmed down to make more space. And I did.

They were mostly just little things like some very old blank cassette tapes that we would no longer use and some TV recordings on DVD’s that we can no longer watch. Every little adjustment lightens the load in my quest to minimise our stuff and what a difference it makes to the space once they have been removed.

I had been keeping six empty 2lb glass jam jars that once had mincemeat in and I reused them as storage containers for rice and couscous (I now use the larger kilner style clip jars in the pantry and I am happy with them). They took up quite a bit of valuable shelf space in the utility cupboard and as I could not think of a use for them I decided to let them go or maybe I will use them in the garage. So now I can get all my small empty jam jars that I do use and are waiting for the lemon curd at Christmas and maybe marmalade in January on the one top shelf.

As I have been pottering about I have been noticing just how many of the things we have are either used a lot, used infrequently or sometimes not at all. As far as I can see the ‘not at all group‘ fall into three categories

  • not used and probably never will be,
  • not used but would if time allowed
  • not used but are of some sentimental value still.

Of the ‘not used and probably never will be’ group are a number of items that were gifts from friends….unfortunately gifts not quite to my taste, but I keep them because someone took the time to buy them for me. After a while I will take them off view and put them away in a drawer. Some of the toiletries, smellies and things I just don’t use I will sometimes pass onto other people but it seems an ongoing exercise and makes me feel quite ungrateful. I try to address this when I buy gifts for other people by buying flowers, book tokens or something like food that will not add to their decluttering.

Of the ‘not used but would if time allowed’ I really must make the effort to address this. I have knitting patterns in the waiting, sewing projects on the go, music CD’s that I haven’t listened to in ages and audio books ditto….I could go on but you get the gist – I am sure you have the same.

Of the ‘not used but I am setimentally attached to’ I sometimes feel there is no hope – I know I am a sentimental person and once in a while when we are together with my daughters we will get out the old projector and have a good laugh at the old slides going back to my younger days in the 50’s or I will get out one of the memory boxes (yes I have more than one) that hold such delights as an old mobile phone and my grandad’s first driving license that provide us with hours of entertainment. I do love to hang onto such treasures and they could never be replaced.

But then there is the stuff that I buy myself… you know the everyday temptations in the cheaper shops, especially around Christmas time – another Christmas jumper, the odd book from The Works, a few crafty bits from Hobbycraft, things I think I need from Home Bargains (but don’t really) and not to mention IKEA, and within a couple of years what was a must have becomes yet another thing to declutter and hit the charity pile…the cheap Christmas jumper full of bobbles, the book on the shelf unread, the crafty bits still in bits and a load of things that were just not that needed after all.

So next year it is going to be my year of limited and mindful spending. I can’t say it will be no spending, as currently we are decorating through the house, but I aim to make anything I buy and anything that comes into the house much more considered- I no longer want heaps of stuff around me and I certainly don’t want to spend the rest of my life decluttering.

A while ago I received a 20% online discount for Neal’s Yard and ordered my usual face cream and serum – probably my one and only indulgence – and as a birthday present from DH I took up the offer of the Heritage Beauty Box (worth £125) for only £25. I must say it was worth it just to receive such a beautifully packaged gift – with all those individually wrapped goodies inside – and every bit is recyclable.

I will use all these products and the mass of gorgeous tissue paper has been ironed out and stored in my tissue paper box for future use.

At the moment I am reading two books. The one on the left Cut and Dry, borrowed from the local library (and I will be very sorry to lose it when I have to take it back), is full of ideas for dried flower arrangements around the house. I do love having dried hydrangea and seed heads at this time of year and a scattering of leaves.

I bought the other book The Winter Children at a charity coffee morning pre-pandemic and couldn’t get into it the first time round and after a few pages I lost interest and read something else. On my ‘sort out and sort through’ days last week I noticed it in the little stack of books on the bedside table in the guest room. I decided as part of my reading through what I already have challenge to either read it or pass it on.

So I will give it another go as I have just finished The View from the Corner Shop by Kathleen Hey. She was one of the diarists taking part in the Mass Observation project during the second world war and her daily diary from a shopkeeper’s perspective gave a really good insight into how the local people in nearby Dewsbury lived during the war, where attacks were so infrequent that at times they wondered if there was a war going on. An interesting contrast to the daily life not that far away in Sheffield where I grew up (Sheffield being very much under attack because of the steel works) and where many of my own family were left homeless after being bombed out.

Amongst all the tidying and sorting I am managing to squeeze in a little knitting time and the part knitted part fabric dress for little Sweetie is coming along – the front, left back and one sleeve all completed. The sleeve head is not right though (too small for the armhole despite following the pattern to the letter and checking it a number of times) and I will have to adjust this when I knit the other sleeve.

Being a novice knitter the only way forward I can see would be to do a decrease for the sleeve head shaping on every other row rather than every row as the pattern says which I think whould increase the depth. Unless of course any of you brilliant knitters out there can advise me differently.

I found this lovely lightweight soft printed corduroy for the skirt part in Boyes and it was discounted too. Sweetie’s birthday is on the 10th so I need to get my skates on a bit. Alternatively I could give it to her for Christmas and hope she doesn’t grow too much.

It is always a constant aim of mine to try a new recipe at least once a week where time allows. This week I chose this recipe Spiced Pear and Stilton tarts with Watercress. I had to adapt it slightly as DH is not over keen on Stilton so I used some rather lovely Shropshire Red that I had bought on one of the Sainsbury’s Smartshop scan offers. I love using pears in cooking and so I bought one of the bags of small mixed pears and intend to use what is left for a pear and ginger pudding.

Then this morning surprise, surprise… my rather soggy December issue of Country Living dropped through the letterbox and being so eager to see what was inside I stopped immediately to take a tea break.

dear diary :: here and there…

Hello everyone….I know I have been a little quiet in the last few days, but life here is as hectic as ever. 

We had one of those crazy weekends (two weekends ago now) starting on the Friday taking our grandson little Freddie to the park for a few hours.

He knows the routine well now – buy a 25p bag of duck food from the little cafe and go straight round to feed the ducks, then on to the fountain taking the short cut down the very steep grassy bank with grandad holding on to him for dear life, whilst I follow with the pushchair on the sensible windy path. We then walk round to the lovely revamped conservatory at the bottom of the park that has a cafe with an outdoor courtyard space – perfect to avoid Covid. We order tea (or coffee and Freddie has milk) and a couple of slices each of thick brown toast with butter and marmalade. Of course he always wants to spread the marmalade on himself even though it is tricky to handle the large knife ….ugh the stickiness.

We then saunter back through the park playing football until we reach the swings. This particular visit we saw a tight rope walker practising between two of the large park trees. Then it was back home to mum for Freddie and back home for us to start repacking ready for our next trip.

On Saturday we set off for North Yorkshire to meet my daughter and the two girls in Northallerton – one of my favourite market towns. We browsed all the shops on both sides of the main street plus the market stalls. The girls are always well behaved in shops and love to look at all that is on offer but never natter to be bought anything. I did in fact buy Sweetie some new shoes for her birthday in November but she is going to start wearing them now so her feet don’t grow out of them before she is three in a few weeks time; at this age, like little seedlings, they seem to grow overnight. She was delighted – they are a muted shade of pink with sparkly bits.

We stayed overnight with my daughter and had an early start on the Sunday morning to drive up to my sister’s village above Northallerton to see the Scarecrow trail which began at 10am. My sister was on her respite holiday so couldn’t be with us but she had baked some chocolate squares for the cake stall so we bought a piece each.

We had great fun spotting the scarecrows and eating the homemade cakes, though the chocolate topping fell clean off Little L’s piece onto the pavement. Here are just a few of our favourites.

Of course we had to stop Sweetie from helping herself to a banana!
The mole hunter made us smile!
Go compare
Paddington Bear – you can tell Sweetie is just eyeing up the marmalade sandwiches in the suitcase!
I just had to add this into the photos – I have never seen such a crop of mushrooms before on someone’s front lawn!

At 12 0’clock we said goodbye to Little L, Sweetie and my daughter and drove on another 10 miles to visit my mum (who is in an apartment near Yarm). For our lunch I had made a batch of leek and potato soup which we ate with some fresh rolls followed by a pizza and some pots of deli salads – coleslaw, beetroot and potato salad. I had not had time to make a pudding at home so I bought some fresh cream chocolate eclairs courtesy of Sainsbury’s. After lunch we had a long chat, did a few jobs, prepared some tea for her to have later and put her hair in rollers (she sleeps in them – always has) then said our goodbyes and drove home.

We arrived back quite late having been delayed on the M62 with the heavy traffic and felt quite worn out – I just put a few bits away and then went to bed.

On Monday morning we had to make the difficult and disappointing decision not to travel up to Scotland the next day to go and see Freda’s exhibition in Dunoon – given our comings and goings over the past few weeks it would have been a journey too far and I know my limitations.

So after a brief rest on Monday we spent most of the week table hunting…. which was long overdue.  We have a kitchen diner and when we had our new kitchen installed this time last year we enlarged the kitchen area by a few inches but this left the dining room side slightly smaller and our old and much loved pine farmhouse table no longer fits comfortably into the space. We knew this would be the case but gaining more circulation space in the kitchen has been well worth it and our farmhouse table is going to a good home.

After plodding around a few shops and searching on the internet we finally chose one we both liked and it is on order now with a 12 week lead time.   Our old table has quite a history as we bought it in 1979 just after we married and the children grew up painting and crafting on it, I have sewn and baked on it and I think it has even had hot pans on it.  We never really worried about having to protect it and just scrub it clean with soapy water – the many marks it has gained over time have just added to the well-used look.  It is essentially a kitchen table rather than a posh dining table so we ruled out glass tops or veneered wood for the new one as it would be impossible for us to have anything that isn’t robust enough to take whatever we or the grandchildren throw at it.  

The one we have chosen should fit the bill – it will be quite a change as the new table is quite modern looking (and won’t be to everyone’s taste) but will fit in better with the sleek simple lines of the new kitchen; it is also extendable so when the extra leaf is used it will come to the same size as our old one and when it is just the two of us there will be much more space to walk around it.   So now we just have to find a reasonable price for the chairs we have chosen and get them on order too.

Now that major task is a tick on the list and the weather not so suitable for gardening I have turned my attentions to the house and decided it needs a jolly good sort out….a major home edit and a good clean. 

Can’t wait to get stuck in.