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 >> 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 :: replenishing

Every so often when I am feeling quite domesticated I have a replenish day….. not for myself – though goodness knows at times I really need one, but to fill up jars, restock cupboards and get everything around the house back to a ‘user ready’ state. It has a two fold advantage in that I can make a list of anything running a bit low so I can restock and I also have a little straighten up on shelves and in cupboards as I go. I do find it very therapeutic. Bliss.

Well yesterday was that replenish day…..totally unscheduled, as so often they are, and it began, as it usually does, with the toilet roll. I always seem to be the one that has to replace a toilet roll – it seems to wait especially for me.  If you live alone then you will be used to replacing the empty roll yourself every single time – but when there are two of you I am of the mind that the odds should be more 50:50 or even better 75:25 in my favour!

I keep 6 hidden away on a shelf in the shower room cupboard so no one is ever caught short and an extra one or two in a basket in the family bathroom as there is no handy cupboard in there.  When the spares run low I top them up from the main stock I keep in my airing cupboard on the top shelf – a place big enough to accommodate the larger money saving packs I buy.

After replacing the roll on the holder and putting a few extra in the cupboard I thought it a good idea to refill the travel bottles in my toiletry bag with shampoo and shower gel and then the little travel jars of face cream ready for our next trip.  We are away such a lot at the moment that I find it really convenient to be able to pick up my travel bag and go rather than having to mess about refilling bottles and jars at a time when I am frantically packing and concentrating more on getting the clothes washed and dried.

After refilling bits and pieces upstairs I worked my way through the downstairs starting in the pantry – this takes a little more time to organise.  It is a while since I had a good sort out in here.

Mostly it keeps in good order thank goodness, unless of course DH has unpacked the groceries, and then secretly I may just have to rearrange a few items afterwards, like you often do with the Christmas tree decorations. With the threat of shortages recently I have been inclined to pick up two replacements rather than one and certainly if there is an offer on then it is not unusual for me to buy three or more at once so it can end up a bit of a squeeze to fit everything in. Packets of the precooked brown lentils were on my Sainsbury’s smartscan offer this week for a much reduced price so I bought four.

Earlier in the week I cut down the outdoor tomato plants and pulled off the remaining tomatoes – they won’t ripen outdoors now far too cold in our climate below the moors.

They may have a chance in the pantry next to some riper ones and a banana for the ethylene gas.

I had a few dry goods waiting to be decanted into the storage jars I had washed and dried and not forgetting the biscuit jar to refill – it often lies empty – I think we must live with the ‘Borrowers’ as we never remember eating them.

I did a quick date check on all the stock of packets and cans so we can eat up anything getting too close to that dreaded use by date.

So now I have a little collection of use up foods that I need to incorporate into my next menu plan, one of which is Passata….so this will either become a lasagne, ratatouille or a celery and broccoli bake or maybe all three.

And how did I overlook this bottle of raspberry coulis?

I felt quite pleased that the only thing that landed in the bin was an opened packet of crispy Taco shells I found had been pushed to the back of a shelf out of sight.  They were way over their date and certainly had no crisp left in them.  Anything else I found out of date I am prepared to take a risk on.

Whilst rummaging around in the pantry I was able to make a note of bits and pieces I needed to buy in readiness for Bonfire Night and Christmas; soft brown sugar, treacle and crystallised ginger pieces – all those warming, gooey foods with that wonderful hint of autumn.  I have a few recipe clippings waiting in the wings that I would like to try – I am thinking pear and ginger puddings or plum and apple crumble or even tarte tatin. 

The little wall cupboard in the pantry houses a mixture of medicines and supplements on the top shelves and cake décor lower down.  I seem to use far more cake decorations than medicine!  The medicine shelf is minimal – we don’t seem to need very much thank goodness and apart from my prescribed thyroxine, I only keep a box of paracetamol, a bottle of Buttercup Syrup and glycerine and some vitamin C lozenges in case of sore throats – none of which needed topping up but maybe I will apply for a repeat prescription so I don’t forget nearer Christmas. 

My regular supplements of Vitamin D and selenium I keep handy in the kitchen cupboard so I don’t forget to take my daily dose at breakfast time.  After checking through the abundance of chocolate sprinkles and mini fudgy pieces it was no surprise that with three grandchildren to make birthday cakes for now nothing came even close to being out of date there!

After the pantry was sorted I moved on to the worst spot….. the laundry room and the cleaning products and washing powders; I refilled jars, dispensers and canisters and small spray bottles from my main stocks that I keep either in the garage cupboard, under the sink or in the pull out drawer in the laundry room.  Somehow I have managed to overstock on cleaners. Some are inherited from clearing out my mum’s and mum in law’s houses years ago and I don’t really use them as I tend to use eco products that are better for the environment but I cannot bring myself to just put them in the bin it seems such a waste.

I do have a number of cleaners that are only useful for a certain purpose….carpet cleaner for that odd spill, washing soda for freshening the drains, vanish for tough stains, borax to freshen up the washer drum, Duraglit for the silver and Brillo pads when I need a bit of extra help to remove burnt on food – they all seem quite valid to keep in but for something so infrequently used they all take up valuable cupboard space.

Finally, I went around the house replacing tea lights and batteries in the decorative string lights.

So that was my day – a nice satisfying job completed with a long list of items to restock, which I will do in the next couple of weeks, and in a funny way I did feel a little replenished myself and I could relax after tea with some pretty flickering lights and watch the third episode of The Long Call.

And while I am on a roll I might tackle the linen cupboard tomorrow.

dear diary :: homecoming

Well that was a long journey down home, but then we did stop for a break in Castle Douglas, which is one of my favourite places on the way to the border, and of course I was tempted into all the lovely little shops there.

The lady in the craft shop kindly exchanged the packet containing a circular crotchet hook (never knew there was such a thing) that I had bought on our way to the cottage for a circular knitting needle that I had intended to buy! They don’t normally do exchanges (she must have taken pity on me) but there was a price difference to rectify , the knitting needle being £2 less than the crotchet hook, so the attempt to do an exchange on the till didn’t work…no matter I said I will have a look around and buy something else so you don’t have to do a refund. It wasn’t hard to find things, in fact I spent another £10 so she did quite well out of the exchange! I bought some of those moulded cardboard pumpkins for painting or decoupage, some coloured raffia skeins for present wrapping and a sheet of the decoupage tissue paper.

Moving on to the Artists and Craftmakers Cooperative shop I found a lovely little card for my friend. He is 81 today and has need of nothing, but he does like wood – he taught woodwork at school and used to make wooden things himself. The card has a tiny piece of decorated driftwood on it which I then put into this natural wood frame from Dunelm to make a picture.

In the Designs Gallery Bookshop I discovered these pretty little packs of decorated letter wring papers that fold up to post (I forgot to take a picture before I wrapped them but you can see them here-https://cardsandgiftwrap.co.uk/product-category/stationery/cards-and-letterwriting/pigeon-folded-letters) perfect for another friend whose birthday is tomorrow.

This morning I had to make four very quick birthday cards for 3 friends and my niece. I wanted them to reflect the change of season so I used a recent water colour sketch I did at the cottage of the hawthorn berries and overlaid part of a poem by Samuel Butler which is very suitable for the season. It is wonderful what you can do on the computer these days!

With all the crafty bits out of the way and the cards written and presents wrapped ready to deliver or post we took a walk down to the village and dropped off the card and present to today’s recipient. I am spending what is left of the day making Lentil Shepherds pie to go with some fresh sweetheart cabbage, then I will do a few Somatic exercises to loosen up my tight hips from the long journey home and afterwards probably collapse for the evening in front of the TV for a couple of hours of catch up. We missed the Manhunt series with Martin Clunes so that will be first on the list.

Yesterday we unpacked all the bags, sorted the heap of washing into piles (I am praying for good weather to get all the washing done and outside on the line) and then went food shopping. We don’t normally go on a Friday and as expected it was busy. We had to weave around the shelf stackers and their cage trollies who were out in force down each of the aisles nd one or two items I had to pick out of their stock cages or off the top of the fitments where they keep boxes of extra stock before it is put out onto the shelves. The pasta shelves looked like they had been raided but thankfully no-one was interested in the organic wholewheat spaghetti and I could have taken a box full. Not being greedy I only took 2 packets.

Generally for my pantry stocks of jars, cans, dried foods etc I replace items only when they come on offer with the red shelf tickets unless I am desparate enough or have run out of something and am forced to buy it at full price. I also find myself rejigging the menu plan a bit in the fruit and veg aisles to accomodate any offers. This week the mushrooms were on offer so we bought extra to make a large batch of mushroom soup. Other fresh foods I buy weekly like milk and yoghurt from the chiller aisles I have to rely on striking lucky with any offers.

In the past we have tried the Sainsbury’s SmartShop self scan using their handsets – four times to be exact – Scan, bag and go they advertise, it couldn’t be simpler – but each time there was a problem for us and it wasn’t simple far from it so we gave up went back to the normal checkout method. However, Sainsbury’s are now offering extra reductions on certain items when you do a Smart Shop which is also linked to the Nectar card. Now I have no intentions of going back to doing a full shop using their Smart Shop method but I was attracted by the hefty reductions offered on the Nectar card of items we do normally buy (about 10 in all and they change weekly) so I sent DH round with the Smart Shop handset and a basket to gather up all the offer items and take them through the self scan whilst I did the bulk of the shopping in the normal way.

I am not sure this is exactly what Sainsbury’s have in mind! They are trying to steer everyone over to their Smart Shop way of shopping and have already started reducing the number of tills. I am presuming that tempting people with these extra offers is their new line of attack. So I just thought I would play them at their own game – it worked quite well and gave DH something to do whilst I concentrated on doing the bulk of the shopping from the menu plan…oh and having a casual look around the magazines, the clothes and the homewares without him hovering over me (I was good though and no purchases made from these departments). We will try doing this again next week – it seems a fairly easy way to save a bit more money to me.

So busy days ahead I feel. The garden here needs sorting out, tidying up and putting to bed. I have ripe tomatoes in the greenhouse and outdoors to pick and what seems like a final courgette. I have a fancy to sow some winter salad under the cloches (just an idea at the moment) and I have packets of bulbs waiting in the wings to plant.

Then there is the laundry, some cleaning and a bit of reordering in the house to attend to. I had already switched over the contents of my wardrobe for the new season before we went to the cottage and I have adventurous plans whirling around in my head for putting in some drawers and shelving inside the wardrobe so it is better fitted out……. when we can carve out some time.

Have a relaxing Sunday everyone x

dear diary :: Sunday snooze before the Monday madness

Do you have days when you feel more on top of your game only to find yourself a bit lethargic the next day? Sunday (yesterday) was my day of very little achievement and after lunch I found myself curled up on the sofa watching Pauline Collins in Mrs Caldicot’s Cabbage War and trying hard not to fall asleep.

DH was under the floor most of the day yesterday, literally, trying to sort out the leak we had discovered when he had taken some of the floorboards up beneath where the old washer had stood. It smelled damp and further investigation uncovered a pipe with wet lagging. It was the hot feed pipe to a previous washer and although the valve was off it had obviously been leaking a tiny amount of water over 16 years (as that is how old the washer is now). So then more floorboards had to come up in the pantry to trace the hot water feed back to where it diverts off to the kitchen hot water tap. As most washers are cold feed only now and my new one is (we checked) DH was able to cut off and cap the hot feed so there should not be any more problems.

I had to spring back into life and leave the comfort of the sofa when I suddenly realised that it was the last day of February and the 1st March is the birthday of a very good friend and a milestone one too. During this lockdown I have tended not to bother with the date very much – as long as I know when it is Tuesday and I am ready for Master Freddie’s arrival (Mary called him that in her comment and I like it so much that is his new name!) then all is well in my world.

I had to set to and make a card quickly – I copied one I had done before for another male friend’s 60th birthday a few years ago and luckily he likes gardening and has an allotment so I should be able to pick up a gift for him from the garden centre. I wish I had realised before though as we were only up there on Friday getting the seed potatoes. Still any outing no matter how brief is welcome at the moment.

Ideally, as it was a sunny day (though still bitterly cold here) I should have been busying myself in the garden, as all my neighbours have been, but I didn’t want DH to think I had left him with all the rotten jobs whilst I had fun gardening. Not that I can do much to help him at the moment until he gets the pipes sorted and the floorboards back down – I am only the tea maker and plumber’s mate……….so during the morning I had turned my attentions to making a batch of soup for lunch with the bowl of very ripe tomatoes in the pantry – I have stopped keeping them in the fridge now and they do gain a lot more flavour. The pantry is cool and perfect for keeping the fruit and ripening avocados – it always looks quite colourful and healthy in there at a glance. Whilst the soup simmered I finished the last of the ironing pile. I ironed all the bedding on Saturday and changed the bed so apart from a shed load of washing I am at a straight edge with the laundry.

So today is going to be spent whizzing round to B&Q (for paint and sundries), Screwfix (for more screws – never the right ones in the garage) and possibly a garden centre to pick up a gift. I will pack a flask of hot chocolate in case it takes longer than we think. Then I need to gather pace at home to try and make some order of the chaos – we have the big larder fridge from the utility standing in a corner in the dining room and a table full of the utility cupboard’s contents covering the table. Master Freddie is going to have a whale of a time getting into all sorts if it can’t be moved.

DH will also have to gather pace putting down the new flooring – he has lost a good two days now because of the leak and the clock is ticking.

In and amongst all this I have decided that it is time I reorganise all our financial paperwork – I have been using the same system for many years now and it has been fairly good and reliable but I need a change and one that reflects the fact that we have many bills and receipts come in by email and all my banking is done online.

But that is another post.

Have a good day x

dear diary :: a bit of this and a bit of that

At last on Monday we managed to buy a leek – well three actually, the very last three in fact and to get those DH had to pop round to the smaller town centre Sainsbury’s whilst I continued shopping at the larger branch on the ring road which had a row of empty boxes again where the leeks should be.

Well after all, what is life during the bleak winter months without any leeks? The Homity pies, hearty leek and lentil stew and leek and potato soup on my menu plan can now go ahead after two weeks of being without. Maybe it is just our area that has been ‘leek’less – has anyone else struggled to buy them?

Despite the leek shortage January felt like a very rewarding month in many ways. We managed two celebrations under Covid lockdown rules – have survived the first month of childcare for little Freddie (or should I say he survived us) – our finances, although not as healthy as I would wish, are not as bad as I thought and I have completed two of my craft projects. So not a bad start to the year and on top of it all I have really been enjoying all the snow which we have had to varying degrees; sometimes a little and sometimes a lot.

We have had some lovely little walks with Freddie to see the sheep and cows nearby. Occasionally, we have ventured out in the drizzle but Freddie is well wrapped up in his dinosaur cosy toes and these modern pushchairs have see through rain covers which help – it is just granny and grandad that get wet!

We had our Covid test last week which was negative and always good to know that we are not asymptomatic and therefore not unknowingly spreading the virus – not that we have seen anyone or go anywhere other than for the food shopping.

So I am now looking forward to February – a shorter month but hopefully slightly longer days in terms of daylight. My calendar tells me the highlights of this month will be Valentine’s day and Shrove Tuesday and I am looking for some ideas to mark the occasion – not that we would normally go out to a restaurant for Valentine’s day but I feel I should perhaps make the effort to produce a nice meal or bake a cake, (I know any excuse for a cake)…….and I am thinking it has to be chocolate cake as I haven’t had any for ages.

As usual I have plans. I intend completing a few more craft projects whilst I have a little momentum going here, at the same time I do need to attempt a bit more decluttering and cleaning (I am motivated here by everyone else in blogland doing a declutter and don’t want to feel left out!)……….and if there is time a trip to a garden centre to buy some seed potatoes.

As things are slowly beginning to stir in the garden I am slowly beginning to think about what I might grow this year and picked up a couple of packets of seeds in Sainsbury’s this week, dwarf sunflowers and mixed petunias – most of the annuals did well last year apart from the zinnias – I am not sure where I went wrong with those but as I have more packets of free seeds I will try again.

The bulbs inside the greenhouse and outside in pots are just beginning to make themselves known. I can even see a tiny bud on the outdoor Narcissus peeking through the snow.

I made the final January birthday card for one of my oldest friends and other than a Valentine’s day card I have no birthdays to make for in February. I have been using the last of the pressed flowers and the stock of concertina cards I once bought for a different project that never really materialised (I expect we have all been there!).

For the gift I found a delightful little china bowl and handleless mug in Sainsbury’s from the Habitat range with a simple bright orange circle pattern and contrasting navy blue. This particular friend likes bright colours so I hope she likes it. I never worry if people pass my gifts on if they are not to their taste – you cannot get it right every time. Before wrapping the gift in cellophane I filled the mug with some Lily O’Brien creamy caramel and sea salt chocolate discs – which I can say are very moreish.

I am rather tempted to buy a dish and mug for myself as the colours would go well in my new kitchen (which is pale grey but has accent colours of burnt orange) – so I may even treat myself…….. though goodness knows I don’t really need any more china.

This week I treated myself to some tulips – usually I dither over the colour – I love them all but this time I knew I would pick the orange to go with bowl full of oranges and nectarines on the widow sill – it is my colour of the moment and an inexpensive vibrant splash of colour that is so cheerful on these drab winter days.

And at last I have found the time to sew mum’s cushion cover that she knitted for me a long time ago. Mum has knitted all her life, not so much in her later years, but she is still a very neat knitter – when I told her I had finished the cushion she remembered that she had started one for herself and it has given her the motivation to search it out and finish it. I told her I would sew it up for her if she does finish the knitting, but I won’t be able to leave it as long as the one she made for me as she is 95 afterall and time for her is quite precious.

When I get down to it there are two rooms that need a good going over – our main bedroom and the office come craft room – they also need decorating but that will have to wait a while – for now I will be happy to just declutter, thoroughly clean them and maybe rearrange, though where I will put all the ‘decluttered’ stuff I have no idea.

The office is always my headache place, too much paper, too much craft, too much filing and generally too much stuff. I keep trying to whittle it down but somehow it all bounces back. I look at the two large magazine holders of instruction leaflets and think do I need to keep these then DH will come along and say ‘do we have the leaflet that came with so and so’? as he needs to check something. Is it on the internet I say – the answer is usually our item is so old and discontinued there is nothing he can find that is relevant……lucky I keep them then.

I did manage to sell one of the baby cribs – a beautiful white wooden traditional one we bought from John Lewis for our grandchildren. They have now moved on to cots and beds and the cribs are redundant but somehow they have made their way to our house for me to dispose of them! It has taken me ages to get around to taking photos and writing the descriptions for Ebay but I couldn’t pass on the offer they sent me for the £1 maximum selling fees and having sold one of them so quickly I am happy to have a little extra space now in the spare room.

I have also listed some shoes and clothes on Ebay and a retro telephone we took off the wall in the kitchen and didn’t want to replace – not sure if many of the items will sell or not but so far I have made £70 with just two of them.

So that is about all my current news for now I feel I have rambled on far too long. As I write this the heavy snow that prevented us from having little Freddie on Tuesday has completely gone but I am sure this might not be the last of it.

Hope you are all coping well – at times I am almost forgetting this new life we have carved out for ourselves is not normal but it is all we have for now so I am making the best of it and I must say although exhausting it is lovely to spend so much time with our grandson. Stay safe everyone. x

seasons :: in the depth of winter

There can be no doubt that we are well into the middle of winter now; dark nights, even darker mornings, icy cold fingers, heavy falls of pristine white snow, roaring fires, woollen blankets, hot water bottles, piping hot mugs of cocoa or ginger tea laced with honey and the remains of the Christmas cake – I love it all.

Well maybe not the dark mornings.

Even though I always think of January and February as hibernation time this year I do feel we have had weeks of hibernation already with the restrictions we have been under in our area since………………..well I can’t even remember now but it has been a long time.

So walking has become the new norm for us each day for our allotted hour of exercise; a brisk walk down to the village and back if the weather is very cold, sometimes with little Freddie wrapped up snuggly in his pushchair and sometimes on our own. This week we woke up to even more snow and it was truly a walk in a winter wonderland with a wealth of delightful sights to capture…… and even our sprawling village with rows of soot blackened terraced houses looks rather pretty in the snow.

And of course our back garden has just as many interesting corners here and there. The sunlight sweeping across the snow on Friday was so beautiful……….and beneath this snowy carpet are little signs that the snowdrops are emerging…….

…and I know I am a little crazy but who doesn’t want to hang out the sheets and pillowcases in the sunshine, even with all the snow around. I love the way the sheets freeze into stiff boards but thaw out again as soon as I bring them inside to iron and I just adore that fresh outdoor smell – nothing beats it.

The snow was so deep on Thursday childcare had to be abandoned and little Freddie had to stay home with mum and dad. We missed him. Instead we spent a leisurely day keeping warm and just pottering; a little light pottering after a few energetic days with a two year old was very welcome.

I had managed to clear the Christmas decorations away last weekend and they are all back in their boxes in the loft (nothing much was decluttered so I had to find a little more space for the one or two new bits I had bought) – the Christmas tree is back in the greenhouse for a while until the worst of this cold spell is over and we can repot it in some decent compost.

On my January task list I wrote ‘ make bird feeders’.

I had saved an article from my mum’s Woman’s Weekly magazine with a recipe to make your own using half coconut shells and a pack of lard. I had bought the lard before Christmas as it is not something I normally use being vegetarian and during last year I saved the coconut shells from the ready made feeders I bought in Sainsbury’s to feed the birds during the winter months and they were far too nice to throw away. So I had a go – the recipe was easy – just melt the fat and pour onto a mix of different bird foods – grated cheese, raisins, chopped peanuts and wild bird seeds. Then leave to set……

….hang out and wait.

In and amongst the childcare I have been busy making little thank you cards with the last of the pressed flowers to deliver or post to my friends on our walks – I like to write a personal thank you for any Christmas presents I receive and I did have some rather nice ones this year from my friends – a little bird must have mentioned to them that I have a new greenhouse.

This handmade seed tray and tamper was one of my favourites together with this tin of string by Emma Bridgewater. My friends know me so well.

There has been a great deal of tea drinking going on this week – I always start the day with a cup of ginger tea and Manuka honey with a slice of orange or lemon – whatever is to hand – and my afternoon cup of tea is not quite the same without a slice of cake.

Soon the Christmas cake will be finished – which is really no bad thing as I intend to restore our more healthy diet soon but that will have to wait until after the birthday cake I am making is eaten up too.

I have quite a few birthdays this month none more important than my mum’s (she is 95 this year) and little Freddie who will be two. I made and froze the sponges yesterday afternoon and bought some cute dinosaur cutters on the internet and a pack of multi coloured neon roll out icing to make a cake for Freddie, (maybe mum would like a dinosaur cake too but she is getting a posy of flowers delivered….I hope).

Looking after Freddie has meant early mornings – he arrives at 8am – so that has meant earlier bedtimes for us the night before but this has given me a chance to begin reading one or two of the new books I received for Christmas as well as one or two old favourites – and the new issue of Country Living magazine dropped onto the mat the other day – that always makes it a good day.

Presently, I am struggling with sewing up the jumper I knitted way back for Little Freddie for his birthday (in fact I should be doing it now and not get distracted blogging). It was going to be a Christmas present but guess what – I ran out of time to finish it. Thank goodness for You Tube is all I can say and although my efforts are not brilliant it has been a satisfying project and I will probably attempt to knit something else especially as there is very little else we can do during lockdown. But I do enjoy making things and I have a few balls of wool waiting for me in my craft drawer and a piece of pretty soft corduroy fabric to make something for the girls, Little L and Sweetie.

I have so many plans to finish a lot of the half started projects and I need to overhaul our finances and soon it will be time for the big spring clean – the house is beginning to feel a little grubby and jaded in places but maybe that is because of the contrast to the spanking new kitchen…………….but before that can happen I need to do a little decluttering and this might even extend to throwing out more old papers in the files. I don’t know about you but I find maintaining a balance of keeping what we need and what we might need is pretty hard. Once or twice I have regretted giving something away or shredding a document.

I strive to make everything we keep in our house useful and used. The clutter always builds up again quickly if you take your eye off the ball for any length of time – I am positive it breeds – it certainly does in dark corners or hidden away at the back of drawers and any flat surface. I have this idea that I need to go through the house and make every area organised, sparkling clean and well presented.

Once the birthdays are out of the way this week I will endeavour to blog about the new kitchen and show you some before and after photos. We have Eddie the kitchen fitter coming on Tuesday to replace a cupboard door that hides the fridge as a tiny piece of the coating had chipped off during the first few days of use and the manufacturer though it might have been a defective one.

DH has got a bad back at the moment so that lets him off starting to prepare the laundry room beyond the kitchen for painting and the new flooring. It won’t however get him out of the Zoom call we are having with the family and my mum to wish her a happy 95th birthday.

Well I think that is all for this week – I do hope everyone is well and managing to overcome this doom and gloom. Everything is now hinging on the vaccine – I hope nothing goes wrong.

Have a good week everyone. xx

dear diary :: a new dawn, a new day…

As the title above I am reminded of the song lyrics this morning, ‘it’s a new dawn, a new day’…….the bin men are coming so I know the world is slowly returning to normality. A little sad to see everyone’s wheelie bins are out stuffed to the gills and some overflowing – maybe this will change over time as, like many bloggers, we begin to consume less and hopefully packaging becomes more recyclable. With the perils of climate change upon us surely this has to come soon.

There are fewer cars on the drives this morning as neighbours return to work and I feel quite grateful that I have the time to sort out my mess of a house and with the help of my trusty checklist entitled ‘getting back to tidy’ I can bring order back into my life once more, or at least come close to it….. probably the latter.

To help me along I bought one or two cleaning products and as it is very blustery here today I can throw open the windows to bring in some fresh air. I have taken note Sadie of your tip for using Grapefruit essential oil and that is on my list when I next visit our wholefood shop in town – until then I will make do by diffusing some lemon. I can’t wait to get the house smelling clean and fresh and the decorations put away. I have also been able to get the brushed cotton duvet cover and large white bath towels out on the line for a good blow.

My two daughters and the grandchildren will be travelling back from their short holiday in Norfolk today. I shall be glad to see them home safe and sound, like any mum I worry when they are driving about on the roads, everyone is in such a rush these days you take your life in your hands getting from A to B safely. The number of accidents we see now on the A1M when we drive up to North Yorkshire increased dramatically last year and hold ups were a common occurrence.

I thought I would take a few pictures of the lovely Christmas presents I received this year – my friends and family know me so well so everything I received I really love. Sorry for the blue picture quality the light inside is not so good at this time of year.

We are pretty light on presents at our house – as some readers may already know our family take part in a ‘Not so Secret Santa’ so only one gift is bought for each member and this year we reduced the amount down to £25 each rather than the previous £50 to take into account everyone’s changed circumstances. This skin cream by Liz Earle and the handmade glass star was my gift from Santa.

One of my daughters bought an unexpected present for us as a thank you for all the help we gave them to move house just before Christmas – theatre tickets to see the Alan Ayckbourn play Absurd Person Singular. We tried to get to see this before Christmas at the Bingley Little Theatre but could not spare the time, so we are delighted to be going.

DH bought me another subscription year to Country Living and the first issue came with a free china mug designed by Sophie Allport. He also bought me another of the ‘good as gold’ journals from WH Smiths – I use them as my year books filling them with all sorts of notes and cuttings for things I want to save.

I have already started writing and pasting in ideas and notes for January and have found a nice marmalade recipe to do in a few days time.

I had some lovely litle gifts from my friends – a set of white dishes just the right shape to hold an avocado, a handmade glass ornament lovingly wrapped in a piece of stripey cotton fabric and a very large bag of mixed pine cones, fir branches and cinnamon sticks. Wonderful.

One of my other friends always gives us one of those charity donation cards where a donation is made in place of a present. This is also very welcome by me – there must be many people who need the donation more than I need a present.

One or two bloggers have mentioned slow January….I can only hope this is the case. It is rather a hefty month for birthdays here…. six in all at the last count, four family members and two good friends. On the 20th it will be little Freddie’s 1st birthday so that will warrant something a little special, and mum will be 94 the day before. As well as the birthdays we will be hosting our Burns Supper event with our closest friends so we will be going up to Scotland for a few days and bringing back the haggis with us.

I have a cot duvet cover to make and we also need to finish the pantry shelving and do some DIY jobs in my daughter’s new house – coat hooks, curtain poles and renew the shower curtain and bath sealant.

Not looking quite so slow for us then!!

I would however like to think I can snuggle down in January, a little hibernating sounds good to me. Relaxed days by the fire reading or knitting, sketching out plans for shaping the year ahead, browsing through gardening books and maybe, dare I hope, planning that new kitchen or cottage.

And now to other matters – for anyone following along with my health challenge I will be adding this to the bottom of each post.

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Creating health and wellbeing

So what of my health challenge – my first day today – after much reading it is evident that to restore your body to good health it has to start with the mind….the brain is in control of everything, I am told, and to calm the brain so healing can begin the brain waves need to be at certain frequency.

We have 5 different types of brain wave: Delta, Theta, Alpha, Beta, Gamma, each one has a normal frequency range in which they operate. It is the Theta waves that are most beneficial due to the deep levels of relaxation they facilitate so the body and mind can easily restore itself during and after illness, as well as after mental burnout and physical exertion.

Sounds like I need lots of these then.

With this in mind then meditation is first on my list to practice each day during January. Attaining deep relaxation without going to sleep is not easy. There are so many books and information on the subject though and it is not difficult to find something that will work for you. It might just be sitting and switching off for a few minutes, for me I am choosing to use a guided meditation tape, which is about 30 minutes long and I will block out some time every day, probably during the afternoon.

Alongside of course we are going to be eating healthier food. We are still in the process of eating through the ‘junk’ foods left from Christmas. I shall give away some Christmas cake to my daughter, hide the chocolate biscuits and limit the cream crackers to a couple a day.

We are starting the healthier meals today with a green soup for lunch made yesterday. Dark greens like spinach have plenty of health benefits – helps bone maintenance, lowers blood pressure, protects against eye disease and reduces cancer risk; cooking them in a soup preserves many of the vitamins and minerals too. You can pack a lot of spinach into a soup – more than you can easily manage on a salad.

We will have the soup with bread today but as we go along this will reduce in favour of adding extra chopped vegetables to the soup and some kind of beans for the protein.

My breakfast is low fat organic yoghurt and blueberries followed by a little no sugar museli with fruit and seeds. The blueberries are particularly good for those antioxidants we need.

I am drinking green tea in the mornings, besides reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease, green tea benefits the whole body, contains catechins, antioxidants and can help reduce abdominal fat. It increases the metabolism so if you sip green tea before a workout, the compounds in it increase fat burn during aerobic exercise.

During the afternoon I will switch to ginger tea for the anti-inflamatory properties and will only drink one cup of ordinary decaffeinated tea with milk after our evening meal.

Tonight’s evening meal will be a broccoli and cauliflower bake with potatoes cut lengthways into thick slices, covered in a little olive oil and rosemary and baked in the oven. We are feeding both daughters and partners and the grandchildren so it is something we can all enjoy.

It goes without saying that I will be reducing any cakes, biscuits, pastries, crackers and crisps as I work through January – this is not meant to be a change in eating habits that becomes far too difficult to maintain rather a slow and gradual transformation that is sustainable for the long term. Failing at the first post by restricting myself too much is not a good idea….phasing out (the bad) and phasing in (the healthier) in a more considered way is my plan and I am sticking to it!

I had intended to take body measurements and weigh myself this morning but in the rush to get my day started I forgot. Will do better tomorrow.

It may be a very short post tomorrow as my daughter and grandchildren will be staying until the car is fixed so my attentions will be elsewhere. xx

PS: this post is completely unedited today so apologies for any spelling, grammar and improper apostrophes! Must get my skates on now and get going.