Monday, 31 December 2012

Looking forward

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2012 is dying away now and 2013 will bounce on to the scene in just a few hours, bright, and fresh and new.  I sometimes think of Anne Shirley [Anne of Green Gables] with her thoughts of tomorrow being "a fresh day, with no mistakes" and I think we can move on into 2013 with the same sentiment.

2012 has been an amazing year nationally, with the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic successes.

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We have also heard the good news of the Duchess of Cambridge's pregnancy.

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But it has been a hard year with the appalling weather including the repeated floods which we have had in various parts of the country.

It wasn't great in the garden for the veg growing.

We didn't see a lot of that yellow orb previously known as the SUN!

And a lot of people are finding life tough going financially, which must be having an impact on other areas of life as well.

Here in the Fens we have had exam success for the EFG, gymnastics competition wins and piano exams passed for the YFG and progress made in my Local Preacher's studies this year.  The FH counts it as a success that he has made it through the year!  I have lost weight and feel fitter than I have done for a long time, and the girls are growing in their independence and confidence.  I have knitted a scarf  competently!  I have already blogged my savings success today, too.  Talking of blogging, I am delighted that more of you are actually "following" now and the daily visitor count seems to be rising month on month - so I am humbled and touched by your interest in my wafflings.

Happy New Year to you and yours, from all the Fen Family xx

End of the month financial round-up

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This has been an expensive month, which isn't unexpected, given that it has been Christmas, but the expenses have reflected other things beyond the festive celebrations.

  • The chicken food bill was nearly doubled as I had to order enough to see them through to the middle of January.  
  • The grocery figure is quite high as we have had guests for the holidays on quite a few days and have had some different foods which we have enjoyed over the season, but which we don't have all the time.
  • My particular/special food budget has been stretched whilst I made the most of a special offer on some seed bars, which were on offer for a limited time.  
  • The household pot has been stretched by buying a four year supply of washing machine cleaner in an attempt to minimise damage to the machinery by our hard water in this area.  
  • The "other" bit of my budget has also had a dent in it, due to me finally getting round to acquiring some photo frames for some photos of the YFG at her recent gym competitions [she is now up on the wall and looking splendid, so money well spent], posting parcels to friends and relatives at Christmas, paying for the ROSSPA delivery, and having a bulb replaced in my car by Halfords.
  • We invested in the logs from my friend's son...
On a more positive note, though:
  • I used less than one third of the fuel [diesel/petrol] budget.
  • The "activities" pot was hardly dented as there were no payments to make, and piano finished early.
  • We are doing well health-wise and little has been spent on medications.
  • I have discovered that Tesco's ink is OK in the printer, and so I can buy their cartridges at £9 instead of full-price HP versions.
  • Most significantly, I have been entering our electricity meter readings every Monday for a couple of months, and when I went to the website today to enter today's reading, I was delighted to find a message from Scottish Power, saying that our DD will be reduced to £56 a month, leaving an extra £20 a month in our pockets.  Given that at the beginning of the year, we were paying £114 a month to Utility Warehouse, I am thrilled to have halved our electricity bill this year!  We don't seem to be using significantly less, but I think Scottish Power have more reasonable rates.
My 2013 household management folder is all ready for the year to begin tomorrow, and I am hoping to do as well as I have done this year, and maybe even better!  I know that there are areas of spending on which I could improve, but there are things we all do which are peculiar to us and make life worth living.  We each need to decide on our own priorities.  

Savings Success in 2012

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The last day of the year is upon us, and it falls as a Monday, which fits in perfectly with my taking stock and recording day.

I have checked all the bank accounts this morning, the savings and the current account, and moved some money around to make the best of it.

I haven't ventured outside to read the electricity meter yet as it is still dark, but I am guessing that our usage will be down this week without having had a washing machine...still waiting for the drum to be replaced - thank goodness for friends in the village!  As that is the only difference, it will be interesting to see roughly how much the washing costs us each week.

Anyway, there is no money coming in today, and it is the last day of the year, so I can reveal that I HAVE achieved my savings target of £5000 for the year!  I have saved £5001.70.  To say that I am pleased would be an understatement - I am totally thrilled that this has happened.  It has come through hard work, thrift, decent money management, and household management, and some good interest payments too!  

I am still finalising the plans for 2013, but I guess that it would be safe to say that I plan to do it all again in 2013.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

A wee hiccup

Not long after Friday's post, I was fooling around in the kitchen with the girls [I know - I am 40 - too old to be mucking about] and I slipped and fell - whoops! - with a heck of a bang onto the floor.  My back and head got quite a jarring and I have a spectacular bruise in my armpit where I caught it on the edge of the worktop as I fell.  Consequently yesterday I spent much of the day on the sofa, reading, knitting and watching tv or DVDs with the girls.  Today I feel slightly less fragile, but I didn't go to chapel this morning.

This afternoon we had a load of firewood delivered from a friend's son who has set himself up as a woodman - he has won a junior lumberjacking award in Belarus [or somewhere foreign!] and knows what he is doing.  I am full of admiration for him as he is a successful product of home education, and I think he has grown up into a lovely young man - I am sure his mum is very proud.  The wood he brought us is really good, and so we have ordered another load to be delivered in a week or two, whilst he still has seasoned wood in stock.

After that, the FH's cousin and his family arrived for a visit.  We had a good catch up with them, and the lady of the family spent some time helping the FH with his Christmas puzzle.

Tonight I have watched the last ever Wild At Heart on ITV, and been saddened by the end, but also uplifted by the overall storylines, so I was glad I watched it!  Now I am off to have a hot bath and see if it helps my back a little!

Friday, 28 December 2012

Getting back to normal

Just hopping on here quickly to say that things are getting back to normal a little - some of us are up at a more regular hour this morning as I have to take the EFG to an appointment at 9am, and then I will be heading to the chapel to join the Knitting and Nattering for the rest of the morning.

My aunt, cousin and cousin-in-law [is that what one calls one's cousin's husband, do you think?] came yesterday afternoon, and UJ came to meet with them as well, but the other uncle, the one married to the visiting aunt, was not well enough to come, so we wished him well.  He is visiting Papworth hospital this morning to be monitored for 48 hours with his heart problems, so we are thinking about him.  We had a good afternoon but they didn't stay for tea, so I have some food going spare - I will rejig the menu plan for the weekend to accommodate it.

All this rain is getting to be a nuisance - the puddles in the garden are joining forces and becoming lakes, and it is really beginning to look seriously like a paddy field out the back.  I am hoping for some dry weather soon, or at least some freezing weather so that the blooming mud freezes over for a day or two's respite.

It is raining again this morning.

So, I am off to wake up the rest of the gang, and I will hope to be back later to catch up on all your news on your blogs.  A very warm welcome to my two new followers this week.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Family times

I hope you have all had a lovely Christmas Day and Boxing Day with those you love.

Yesterday, we started off with presents in bed at about 8am, and progressed through chapel at 10am, with visitors coming for lunch.  We shared our meal with some lovely friends, although one little lady of 3 nearly fell asleep in her dinner as she had been awake since 5.45am, so she was out like a light and had a 2 hour nap on the sofa!  She had opened her presents first, though, and we had fun with her mum and her baby brother whilst she slept.

All the company left about 5pm, and we settled down for a relaxing evening.  The FH retired to bed to watch his Andre Rieu and Bond DVDs, and the rest of us watched Dr Who.  I also enjoyed the Christmas Strictly Come Dancing, Call the Midwife, and then Downton Abbey.  I felt so sad at the end of Downton!  

Having spent the evening with my knitting in front of the fire, I then went and had an extremely good night's sleep and slept in until nearly 9.30am this morning!  Late breakfast for the chooks, but it was so dull and overcast here this morning that I doubt they knew it was morning.....

Today we have had a similarly relaxing day with just UJ joining us late morning.  He and the FH went out to see someone for a while this afternoon, and the girls and I watched a film.  Tonight I made a pie with the left overs from yesterday's dinner, and so there has been no wasted food here this holiday.

Tomorrow my cousin and her family will join us in the afternoon and stay for some tea, and then that will be the end of the stream of visitors!  It will have been lovely to have seen them all, but I will be glad to close the door and just BE after all the company!  Sometimes you need peace and quiet and just to think of oneself for a change, I realise.

Over the weekend, I will be thinking about the plans and budget for 2013, and setting some this space!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Almost there!

My first Christmas cakes with fondant icing - I usually choose royal icing whipped into a snowstorm of little peaks, but this year we thought we would try snowflakes instead of a snowstorm!  It looks quite good.

And there is one for UJ to take home with him as well, with a slightly different pattern of snowflakes.

And this is the gorgeous bouquet of flowers I received today from a lady at chapel who was grateful for all the help I have given her since she broke her arm, she said - there was no need, but it was a lovely surprise for me!

I've had another nice but busy day, and the washing machine repair man came along, too.  Unfortunately, the drum needs to be replaced, so he couldn't fix it today and has had to order a new drum.  Someone will ring me next week [NEXT week!?!] to arrange a date for it to be fitted, so we are to be without a machine for some time.......I'll panic about that after Christmas!

Tomorrow's service is prepared, the veg are done, the sitting room is hoovered, and the sausages in bacon are defrosting.  I think we are all ready, and I can go and have a shower and a rest.

A Very Merry Christmas to you all - wherever you are!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

A family day

Today has been lovely!  

My Dad and his companion came to lunch, along with my UJ, and we all enjoyed some time together as our Christmas get-together.  I cooked a couple of small chickens, lots of veg, roast potatoes, stuffing and Yorkshire pudding and gravy, followed by a chocolate self-saucing pudding.  We all sat and had a cup of tea and a chat afterwards, before my Dad and MB set off to see another of my sisters later in the afternoon.  UJ stayed a while longer before he also had to go because he had plans to be bell-ringing for a Carol Service tonight.  

We gave them their gifts: the scarf for my Dad, which he and MB both loved; a cyclamen for MB which was also well received; and the "socks and chocs" combination for UJ - what to buy the man who needs nothing!?  I couldn't make him a scarf as I know that he received one last year from the ladies at the Dinner club.

Tonight we all watched "Mr Stink" on tv, and thought that Hugh Bonneville was great in the lead character.  The Duchess, the dog, was excellent - Britain's Got Talent winner Pudsey was the star of the show.

The girls are now doing some "Just Dance" on the Wii, the FH retired to bed some time ago to rest his foot, and I have just done a clean up in the utility room as I have a washing machine engineer coming some time tomorrow to repair that.  The washing is piling up, but there will be none done until Boxing Day now as I do not want wet washing draped around on the big day!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Top title for Louis

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Louis Smith has pulled it off tonight and won the Strictly Come Dancing final with his dance partner, Flavia Cacace.

They performed three dances, starting off with their lovely Dirty Dancing salsa, then a show dance which paid tribute to Louis' Olympic strength, and rounding off the night with their cheeky Charleston.  They were excellent entertainers all night, and we loved Louis and Flavia's fun attitude.

We can't help but be proud of a local hero, so well done, Louis and Flavia!

Friday, 21 December 2012

Letting go

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It is now Friday night, there are four "sleeps" to go, and it is time to be realistic! 

Some things just aren't going to get done this year - I bought some lovely festive material to make a "Merry Christmas" bunting banner like the one I had seen in the Lakeland catalogue, and many of you offered me wonderful advice about how best to make one.  I haven't had time....but the material is still there for another year.

There are people I wanted to visit, places I wanted to go, and there just isn't enough time to do it all.

There are the "must do" things which have to come first - a sermon for Sunday and another talk for Tuesday are pretty sure to be at the top of the list....

Then there are the "would be good if I did" things like icing the cakes, and some cleaning up.

And then there are the "well, if you get round to it" sort of things, which will probably include washing the car sometime over the holiday, and making some phone calls.  Let's face it, if those people were that keen on speaking to me, they'd be on the phone to me anyway.

Tonight, I am going to make one more batch of the truffles, and some mince pies, because I need to give them as gifts tomorrow.  The truffles made last night were well received this morning at school, even if I did oversleep and had to get to Assembly with no breakfast!

Please join with me in remembering that this is a HOLIDAY time of year, and we all need to take a break.

Much love to you all xx

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Present preps

I have had one of those pre-Christmas days when you have to do things that can't be done any earlier and then all have to be done at once!

The FH is back in bed with a bad foot, so he has been out of action.  Consequently I had to take his friend to the shop and Post Office this morning to get his pension and do his tiny bit of shopping - a sparrow would have trouble living on what he bought!  He seems to manage, though, and eats out several times a week.

After giving the FH some lunch, and doing some preparation work for Sunday's service, I went to town with one of the older ladies from chapel to see a very old [96years] lady who has been taken in to a home there since she collapsed at home in October.  We only saw her for about 15 minutes, but she seems very pleased to be in the home, and thinks it is like a holiday, although she is aware, and told us, that this will be her home for the rest of her life.  Bless her.  "They" [the hospital, the ambulance staff....?]have lost her teeth, so she has been seen by someone to take impressions to get some new ones, but at present hasn't any, so she looks quite different, and she didn't recognise us, but when we told her who we were, she remembered things about us, and when I told her who I was, she mentioned the YFG's name too.

Whilst in town, I went to the Co-op to spend some vouchers they had sent me from dividends, which expire at the end of the month.  I failed to use last year's so I wasn't going to let that happen again!  £16odd of treats and I paid just 45p - some bacon-wrapped sausages and stuffing balls for Christmas Day, some chicken thighs, some chocolate, meringue nests, etc - a few treats indeed.  We also picked up the girls from school and brought them home.

Tonight I have made 18 little trays to put the chocolate Rocher-esque truffles in which I have also made for all the teachers, TAs and office staff at the school.  They will get 4 each in a little tray, with a handmade gift tag - it's all home made!  The chocs are in the fridge, with the chocolate coating fresh on them - hoping that they will set overnight and can be packaged early in the morning, as I have to go to school at 8.30am to give out certificates in assembly.

Busy day, and I am off to do a few rows of knitting in bed with a cup of tea.  Night, all xx

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Christmas Knitting

My scarf is finally finished, and I feel sufficiently well pleased with it that I dare to give it to my dad for his Christmas present.  He doesn't know about blogland, so I can show you all!

This is a beautiful yarn, and reasonably priced at £2.20 a ball.  You can knit this scarf until you think it is long enough, so I just knitted it for a ball and a half.  He won't wrap it around his neck, but probably just cross it over his chest and tuck into his jacket.

The best bit about the yarn is that it is self-striping and makes the pattern all on its own!  All I have to do is knit and purl.

The pattern was shared by a lady at the Craft group at the chapel, and it is so easy.

I cast on 51 stitches onto size 4mm needles, and then the first row is K3, P1 to the end.
The second row is K1,P1,K3 and then P1, K3 to the end.  Continuous repetition of those two rows is all it takes!

When the knitting is hanging on your left needle ready to go and the tail from casting on is on the left, you are starting with K3, and when it is on the right, you need to start with K1.  That little tip saved me hours of trying to work out which row I was on!

It comes out in a delightful rib all of its own accord.  You think it isn't working in the first few rows and then it all starts to gather in, and it looks great.  It knits up into quite a thick scarf.

Having finished this one, I am now doing another in the same yarn but in shades of green with pink in it.  I love it. 

Monday, 17 December 2012

Halfway through the month financials

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Monday is that day again, when I get the calculator out, read the meters, see how we are getting along.

It was going OK, until the postwoman came with the letters, and then it went a lot better!

I claimed a small amount of PPI back from a credit card company.  I hadn't heard anything for a while, but this morning there was a letter to say that I am entitled to £238 back - what a result.

I only paid small amounts of PPI on a card for about 18 months, a long time ago, before I was as financially aware as I am now.  I was doing a lot of bookselling, and using the card to buy the books [because it is connected to a major supermarket and it was getting me points if I used it] but I paid it off each month.  Well, the months I bought a lot of books, I could be paying £8 or £9 in PPI, and I didn't realise to start with that this wasn't compulsory.  As soon as I did, I cancelled it.  When I was having a clear out a few months ago, I found all the old statements with the PPI amounts on them, and thought that it would be worth trying to get it back.  I totted it up and it came to just over £100.  They are paying me back with interest, though.

And I did this all on my own, with no help from any PPI claims company.  It was very easy!

The last invoice has been submitted for the gymnastics after-school club, and I am waiting for that cheque to arrive, and I am fairly confident that I will make the target for the year now.  If the PPI money comes in before the end of the year, that will be a bonus.

As to the electricity meter, we are settling at about £12 a week, give or take pence.  I would like to get it down a little further, but I have to be realistic.  I am running a sewage treatment plant in the garden, 3 freezers, 2 fridges, the FH's CPAP machine overnight, one desktop PC most of the day, as well as all the other stuff, so that perhaps isn't too high a rate.

Spending wise, we are up in some categories, like groceries and chicken food, because I hope to spend less over the Christmas period because I don't intend to go out much!   The activities budget is down because the YFG has only had two piano lessons this month, and is done now until January.  I hadn't spent anything on cat food for ages because we had stocked up using the Tesco double up vouchers last time they had cat food on it, but this month I have bought some dry cat food from Lidl's, which is still the cheapest I can find which the cat likes.

Christmas preparations are going well.  The cards are written, and when I unearth the book of stamps, I will be posting them off at 2010 prices!  I bought 2 books of 100 stamps back then, and I still have half a book left, so I am pleased to be able to be posting my cards off at a reduced rate to me.  Shame I'll have to buy more soon though.  [Edit - I have had to buy some as I ran out!  Not as many left as I had hoped.] I don't do First Class any more for anything - it just isn't worth it, and we find that in many cases, things posted second class still get there the next day.  I have three wee parcels ready to send out, and there will be one more to go when the final component for the present arrives soon [hoping for it to be here tomorrow] and then all the posting will be done.

This morning I have ordered the replacement part for my glasses at the optician, and I hope it will be there tomorrow - I am managing with the contacts, but I am finding it hard to do "close" work like reading and writing and knitting - I am managing on the computer now because I have shifted the monitor back a little, but I still have to squint at the keyboard sometimes!

This afternoon, I am going to do some meal planning and shopping lists.  I have the delivery coming from Rosspa on Friday, and I know what is in the parcel, but there are a few speciality items [like my FreeFrom pitta breads] that I have just got to go to the shops for.  We will be diving in and out on Saturday afternoon, so at least then if there is anything missing from the delivery, I can get it then.  I will be going well armed with patience and stamina.

I took in two chickens yesterday from a friend who says he hasn't time to look after them any longer.  They are basic brown hens, and I hope that they are settling in with my flock OK today; I keep going out there to make sure that they are all right and eating and drinking.  I would worry if they were being hassled or standing alone, but they have been happy each time I have been out.  Hoping that they are in lay, as we could do with a few more eggs each day.

Hope you all have a great week x