Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Month end number crunching

(image from

It is hard to see where July has gone as it seems to have disappeared in the blink of an eye and already we are heading into the second half of the year, and beginning the road towards Christmas.  Yes - that "C" word already - but it shouldn't come upon us as a surprise as it happens every year, and the sooner we start our preparations, the better, I think.

With so much happening this month, it has been a challenge in itself to keep track of all the comings and goings in the finances.  We have renewed our tax credits claim, and lost £20 a month in the process but I have also sent in my tax return and have hopes of a small refund - I live in hope!  

The night that the FH had in hospital this month cost me little this time, apart from sleep!  There were two journeys back and forth to Peterborough, and one car park charge, but that is little compared with the expenses associated with the extended stays earlier in the year.  

The lightning strike has cost me at least £80 so far for a mobile internet dongle and a new telephone system.  There will be a new tv and dvd combo to buy at some point but I am in no rush for that upstairs as I am relishing the peace and quiet.  I do recognise that with the FH's ill health, a tv in the bedroom for him is almost a necessity, so I will buy one, just not quite yet...

We have had our cesspit emptied as well this month, at a cost of £70.

We have continued to make purchases for the girls' holiday, scouring the charity shops and the more affordable shops in town, as well as the sale rails when we went to Peterborough last week.  The girls both have birthdays in August so purchases have also had to be made for those.  My credit card has offered me a 0% interest period from 1st July for six months, so I have taken advantage of that to spread the cost of the YFG's Acer tablet over several months, rather than taking the hit all in one month, or raiding the savings account to pay for it.  I also used £50 of my Shop and Scan vouchers towards it, so that means that the scanning of our shopping has been profitable, and isn't really too much hassle.

The savings figure for the month is higher than I had anticipated.  I was beginning to think that we weren't going to manage to save much at all as all the costs started to escalate, but we have managed to come out £562 better off than we were last month.  Not quite what we needed to stay on target, but so much better than I had thought!  When life is challenging, the best you can do is good enough indeed.

And that other number?  No, I haven't managed to lose anywhere near what I had wanted to lose - I think I can claim one whole pound lost off my backside this month.  Must try harder...

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

A prince or three

I haven't mentioned much about the recent birth of Prince George of Cambridge
but I am have always been interested in royalty - the whole title and hereditary thing fascinates me.  I read somewhere weeks ago that Prince Andrew was reported to have said that his daughters were the only two "blood" princesses, which is clearly wrong [Anne and Alexandra, at least, with perhaps Louise] so I thought I'd have a look around at the princes, because there are a few more than the ones we see making the headlines, as I am sure you know.

All these photos from Wikipedia:

I'm sure you recognise that trio above - Charles, William and Harry.

Even these two suave looking gentlemen are well known - Andrew and Edward.

But what about these?

Although better known as the Dukes of Gloucester and Kent, these are the Princes Richard and Edward, cousins of the queen and descended from her father's brothers.  As is this chap:

but he is actually known as a Prince, so no prizes for guessing that one right!
Prince Michael of Kent.

And then there is what is called the "Wessex debate" on various websites!  Is Prince Edward's son, James, a prince, or not?  As a male-line grandson of a sovereign, he would have been, but the Queen issued a press release altering things when his parents got married.  He isn't using the title at the moment, but it seems possible that he would be able to in the future if he so chose, so then he would be Prince James of Wessex, perhaps.  Prince number ten!

James with his mother, Sophie, Countess of Wessex and his sister, known as Lady Louise.

(Image from

A getting-stuff-done day

The day started off bright and early with the chap coming to empty our cesspit at 7.25am, which we had prepared for last night by digging out the lid of the pit, clearing the driveway, and getting the rubber gloves and hose pipe at the ready.  The cheque was even written last night too, so I was ready!

Whilst I was waiting for him to come, I pottered about and hung out a load of washing, bunged another load in, got the chooks food and water all ready to go, and then did a little more weeding of the gravel driveway.  I watered my plants in the greenhouse as well - I felt like I had done a day's work by 8am this morning.

I have potted up my pepper plants as some of them were still in tiny plant pots and they badly needed moving up to larger ones.  We have a good array of peppers coming through now, and I know that there will be chillies later in the season.

The girls wanted to think about the holiday and what we are going to do together, so we decided on a cinema visit, probably later this week - going to the Tesco site to exchange some vouchers for cinema tickets, I was pleased to find that all Cineworld tickets are currently just £2.50 in vouchers, whether for adults or children, so I changed enough for two visits, and the vouchers are now printed at home, so we don't even have to wait for the postman to bring them - they are here already.

Talking about printing, we have also found, printed and filled in the form for the next academic year's 16-19 Bursary for the EFG, ready for enrolment day in September.  She had it this past academic year as well, and it has been helpful to her. She will save this year's bursary up and have a little nest egg for when she is off to university next year and needs a new laptop, perhaps.

A trip to Oxburgh Hall or Wimpole Hall is probably also on the cards, which will be "free" with my National Trust membership, and both girls are going shopping independently with their groups of friends - one lot on the train to Peterborough and the others on the bus to Cambridge. Neither of them has much money, so they will be doing some window-shopping, although the YFG is going the day after her birthday so she may have a little spare cash, and the EFG earned some money babysitting at the weekend, so she also has a little spare.

The weather here today is very showery so I was lucky that I did just manage to get the washing dry before the first major shower.  The FH is feeling sorry for himself with a jippy tummy, probably from eating quite a few fresh cherries yesterday, and a sore ankle, still. He has been pottering around this morning but he is watching a film now about Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday - an old black and white, I think.

Monday, 29 July 2013

My kedgeree adaptation

Having the internet back, I browsed through some websites and found a recipe for kedgeree.  It wasn't what I was expecting, adding cream and butter to rice and fish to make a very rich dish.  Not quite what I wanted for the family, with the FH's needs and the EFG's weightloss goals to consider.

So I adapted it a little!  My ingredients:

Young's frozen smoked kippers [herring] which yield 2 kippers for £1.00
An onion, finely chopped
Vegetable stock, made from a stock cube with boiling water
A home-grown green pepper from the greenhouse
1 tsp Tesco Value mild curry powder
Three hard boiled eggs.

I gently fried the onion and the pepper in 2 teaspoons of oil, then added the rice and the curry powder and mixed it all together thoroughly, before adding the stock, and letting it all cook through.  In a separate pan, I hard boiled the eggs while cooking the kippers - they are a boil-in-the-bag arrangement when bought like this, and I thought sharing the pan worked well.

The eggs were quickly cooled and peeled, and the fish was extracted from the bag, roughly pulled apart and added to the rice mixture.

This was all served on a bed of home-grown lettuce, with the halved eggs on the side.  At a rough guess, I'd say that I fed the three of them for less than £2, I think.  They all enjoyed it; I explained to the girls the need to move away from too many meaty meals, as the YFG was asking why I have been trying out new recipes lately, and she noted that she is not that fond of chicken so she is glad not to have it as often. 

She's getting it tomorrow....

We're back!

Having spent another half an hour on the phone to another earnest Indian chap who was being very solicitous, I had my doubts about getting back in touch with the world properly this week.  I was being passed from one department from another, and then I got an incoming call on the mobile whilst I was in yet another queue.  Not answering it, I waited and waited in the queue and then lost the signal so I checked the message that the caller had left and do you know what?!?

It was an engineer in the next village, telling me that I was his next call and he would be here shortly!

He has been, replaced the socket, done what he needed to do - lovely chap from south Lincolnshire - and we are all connected up again.  I just have to go and buy a new phone this afternoon now.  So pleased to be back in touch properly - I don't appreciate the usefulness of the internet until I don't have it!

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Relaxing on Sunday

We have had a lovely day today!  I took a service in the north of the area which went well, although I stood in the pulpit, looked across the congregation and realised I was preaching to three preachers and a probationer minister on the organ, and wondered what I was doing up there! They were all very kind afterwards, so I hope it was OK.  My tutor is retiring from ministry this summer, and he very kindly popped in to the church after the service to bring me some Bible commentaries which he is passing on, and I took the opportunity to say my farewells to him.  Rather sad and he will be much missed as he has been a huge support to me.

On the way home, I called in to the Morrison's in Wisbech where I very rarely go, but I do like Morrison's. It might actually be my favourite of those pesky supermarkets!  I snaffled some lovely wholemeal rolls and wholemeal loaves on the reduced to clear stand, as well as some onions, which were what I went in for.  I wound my way home across the fens and called in at two roadside stalls, where I bought some fruit and veg - oranges, cherries, grapefruit, a cauliflower for just 79p, some beautiful tomatoes and then at the second stall, a fresh bunch of new carrots.

Tonight's menu got altered slightly so that the gang had their sausages in the wholemeal rolls, with fried onions, and the tomatoes on the side with some lettuce from the garden.  They thought that they were delicious, and I was pleased as the YFG is usually reluctant to eat wholemeal bread but she said that the rolls were lovely.

The girls went for rather a mini-marathon of a bike ride this afternoon - I reckon they rode for about 8 miles, and were gone nearly 90 minutes.  There was a message on my phone talking about getting a little lost, but they made it home safely for their tea.  The EFG said she enjoyed the ride, but t'other one was heard to be declaring, "Never again!"  We'll see...

The FH and I sat in the garden this afternoon and chatted for some time - the breeze was quite refreshing and it was such a relief from the heat we have had lately.  There was a shower of rain but nothing much here today.

This evening we have enjoyed watching Countryfile and then The White Queen.  I am so glad that the monarchy is more civilised these days!  It is quite interesting to hear "Elizabeth" speak as she is doing a very good English accent and there are only a few expressions and words when one can hear that she is not in fact English.  I have the books out, but whilst the EFG has been slightly tempted, I know that they are not really her cup of tea, and the thought of reading all four of the books has been too much for her - I have read them all, and the girls know that, so they keep asking me what happens, and sometimes I have to admit that I have forgotten some of the more intricate details of it all.  It is very interesting to me though, and I do want to get it all clear in my head again, so I may have to re-read them all.

Let's see what tomorrow will bring - a phone call to BT is on the cards for sure...

Yesterday's ups and downs

The dongle was having a hissy fit and wouldn't connect last night, so all I could do was try to get on the internet through my phone, and as you will see from the last post, that wasn't all that successful!  The "keyboard" wouldn't appear when I wanted to type the main post...

Anyway, apart from that, yesterday was a largely good day in many ways.  With not having gym this week, I was able to work on today's service earlier and got it finished by 2pm yesterday, about 10 hours ahead of the usual schedule, which was brilliant, and meant that I was relaxed enough to have a nap yesterday afternoon after we had been watching some athletics.  The girls amused themselves all day with one thing and another, including going for a bike ride, and making themselves an approximation of a Monopoly board as they couldn't find ours.  I left them watching a film last night when I went to bed to read.

Last night's dinner was interesting - it was the creamy salmon pasta which I was inspired to try from Sue's post, and the recipe itself came from Jack's blog.  The family's take on it was that I didn't put enough chilli flakes in it and that the fish paste made the taste a little chalky but that the lemon flavours came through well and that the girls would eat it again.  The FH's tastebuds appear to be on holiday and he found it very bland and wouldn't want it again, so that's a 66% success rate, I suppose.

There was a lot of rain here last night, but no thunder or lightning that I am aware of, and it does look as if it is blowing up to rain again this morning, although the forecast is only for heavy showers to move through the area, not for any prolonged rain.

I will hope to get back here later on to read your blogs and catch up on your news xx

Friday, 26 July 2013

Good news and some less encouraging

The insurance assessor was here bright and earlier than anticipated, a very nice chap who sorted it all out and made us a settlement offer for the work to the fireplace straight away.  Thank goodness some things are straightforward.

The BT engineer who was coming between 8am and 1pm didn't.  I waited until 4.30pm and then hung onto the mobile phone for about 12 minutes, mindlessly listening to the ringtones and a recorded message before a very earnest chap in India told me that there is a general fault in the area which the engineers are working on and it will all be sorted out "very shortly".  In the meantime, he has diverted the landline calls to my mobile, and assures me that the engineer doesn't need to come to the house.  Oh, but he does, I assured him, as the socket is in about four pieces and I need a new one!  Some team will ring me on Monday, he promises me...we'll see.

Thank goodness for dongles and mobiles.

The sun has shone and the FH's warfarin is doing well today, and the house is a little tidier.  The EFG is babysitting over the road tonight, and it has been lovely to watch some athletics from the Olympic stadium tonight too.

There are some good things happening, you see!

I've also been thinking about the princes in this country and how we have more of them than we'd think, but perhaps more on that tomorrow.  God bless baby George, anyway xx

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Menu to month end

A rummage around and some ideas from the internet have brought me some inspiration for a bit of a use-it-up menu for the rest of the month with minimal spending.

Today we have had leftover chicken from yesterday's roast, with a vegetable risotto where I was able to hide some past-their-best veg from the fridge as well as leftover greens from yesterday!  Nothing wasted if I can help it.

Friday - I am going to stick a can of corned beef in the fridge to chill for a few hours, and then serve it with hot new potatoes and veg - we have beans in the garden as well as peas from the garden and courgettes.

Saturday - inspired by this post at Sue's blog, we are going to try this Creamy Salmon pasta recipe.  I just bought a small pot of natural yogurt and some fish paste as per the instructions.

Sunday - we have some sausages lurking in the freezer, so they are coming out to be enjoyed with more new potatoes and some salad - lettuce and cucumber from the garden and tomatoes from Lidl.

Monday - I know we have some smoked fish in the freezer so I will be looking for some recipes for Kedgeree on the internet and putting together something that resembles one of them with what I have available!

Tuesday - my favourite - sticky chicken with new potatoes and veg.

Wednesday - we are going to try FQ's recipe for Sweet and Sour veggies but with plain rice.

I know I mention new potatoes quite a lot, and they are expensive to buy but I have been really lucky and have received quite a lot of them recently free from UJ and from the Head Coach at gym.  We also have some grown in our own garden so we have plenty!  We also eat them cold with a dab of salad cream and a sprinkle of chives as a potato salad at lunchtime - they are gorgeous and I do know how lucky we are.

We are eating a little more meat this week, as there were murmurs next week so I think that I cut back too quickly - I shall have to be more gradual as the meat-free meals become more normal.  I am looking forward to trying more and more vegetarian meals, but I think I would have a rebellion on my hands if it went too quickly.  We are finding a better variation of meals which are enjoyed by the family and I am trying to increase my repertoire somewhat - albeit quite slowly!

At this time of year, we are also pleased to be almost self-sufficient in salad and veg, although I have bought carrots today, as well as apples, tomatoes, bananas, cherries and grapes.  I haven't had to buy lettuce, peppers, cucumbers, new potatoes, green beans, courgettes, or salad onions though.

The damage

Just for the record, here is some of our damage from the lightning in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

This is one of the Nintendo DS chargers that was in a plug behind the sofa.  It was just in the socket, not turned on.  Both sides of the charger have been blown out, and they were some distance from the socket on the floor.

This is the BT main socket where the line comes in to the house.  Scorch marks and the plastic blown apart again.

And this is the fireplace.  You can see a smashed tile in there, and the woodwork damaged here.  Must have been some force!

The Claims company and the loss adjuster have both been on the phone tonight and the chap is coming tomorrow as he has had a cancellation so he can fit us in earlier; he'll be here about 11.30am and BT anytime between 8am and 1pm.  Hopefully we will be on the up tomorrow!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Past spring but...

I have got to unearth all the telephone sockets for them to be I am having to do some major spring cleaning, de-cluttering and tidying.  Looking on the bright side of this lightning strike, the house will be cleaner than it has been for a while, and the girls are re-discovering things to do away from screens.  The EFG has done a huge heap of ironing and the YFG has made a cake and cut the front lawn for us.  Excuse me whilst I go and carry on......I may be some time!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Challenge number 2 for the week

Just when we were recovering from the hospital episode, another drama hit us early this morning, quite literally.

Thunderstorms had been forecast for the area, and they arrived in the night, passing over quite close to us, and waking us all up in the early hours of the morning.  We were all sitting on our bed at about 4.30am when there was a horrendously loud bang, and we all jumped!

A power cut accompanied the sound, and the girls and I came downstairs to check that all was well, and to silence the alarm, which had gone off in symphony with several of the neighbours’.  Looking around the sitting room with torches, we could see smoke in the beams of light, and we could smell a scorched aroma, and all of us thought it was the tv.  We went back upstairs and told the FH that we thought a new tv was probably on the cards.

Getting up this morning, I noticed that the FH’s copper kettle was on its side by the fireplace, and that several of the tiles in the fireplace had broken as well as one having come off the wall. I then wondered if the lightning had struck the metal chimney outside….

Having sorted out the electricity supply and got that going again by getting the trip switches all back in the right positions, I tried to make the telephone work, and that was when we discovered what we now believe to be the reason for the enormous bang in the night!

The main socket where the phone line enters the house had been blown apart, and the phone power supply had also been blown off from the main part of its plug.  As well as the damage to the tiles, the wooden fireplace surround has also been damaged and there was some wood from the wood boxes for the fire which had rearranged itself.

It all seems consistent with a big electric shock [lightning?] coming in via the phone socket and travelling across the room from the socket across the fireplace.  The shock also seems to have damaged my BT router so I am now on a 3 dongle as a temporary measure, and our upstairs tv/dvd combo machine is as dead as a dodo.

I have had a couple of hours {I kid you not} being passed from one BT department to another and we have an engineer coming Friday morning to look at the socket, and a new Home Hub on its way as well, for free, having re-contracted for another year at a slightly better rate.  I have also been on to the insurers about the other damage and a claims company will be in touch tomorrow – replacing the tiles around the fire will be a big job because the stove will have to come out, and it is more than the FH can do with all his problems at the moment, so this could be where having insurance is worthwhile.

There is a glimmer of good news today, though, in that the EFG had her interview at the passport office and it seems to have gone well, so we are hopeful that her passport will indeed be here within the promised ten working days.  Fingers crossed!

Monday, 22 July 2013


Been catching up on some sleep today.......

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Thank you, my friend

Wannabe Sybil left me a comment yesterday about the FH and her own Dear Uncle's condition.  I am so glad she did.

Last night, the FH started to look decidedly dodgy, and rather like an infection might have set in, but I wouldn't have thought of that without WS's comment yesterday since we were convinced it was just the gout.

When I was trying to get him settled for bed last night, he had beads of sweat on his forehead, he still hadn't eaten much at all, and worst of all, he was confused and not answering my questions properly.  I phoned the doctor's number, spoke with the local locum service, and was advised to get an ambulance.

Two lovely chaps turned up just before 1am, and did a really thorough check, and found several symptoms indicative of infection, so they carted him off.  The YFG was awake, so she came with me in the car behind the ambulance - they started off in front of us, but we caught them up on the way.

In the ED, the admitting nurse also thought there were signs of infection, and took blood tests and did all the usual admitting checks, and inserted a canula in his hand.  At that point, sometime just before 4am, I had to bring the YFG home and get some sleep.

We rang up this morning to be told that he could come home.  The blood tests didn't show any signs of infection but he had an IV of antibiotic anyway, and he is feeling much better in that respect.  His foot is still painful, but he is walking on it more easily.

Having been awake yesterday and this morning for 22 hours straight, it is no wonder that I had a nap this evening, and the YFG and the FH pottered about and prepared the supper.  Fingers crossed that things continue to improve.  And thank you, Sybil, you are a great friend xxx

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Kitchen time tonight

Having found Jack's recipe for Pasta All Genovese tonight, and being in need of inspiration for supper today, it was a happy coincidence that I could pull together most of the ingredients for it!

I used home grown freshly picked green beans [free], home grown cooked-yesterday new potatoes [free], value spaghetti, a clove of garlic, a couple of ounces of very strong cheddar cheese and 2 teaspoons of mint sauce.  I didn't have the basil and fresh mint that Jack's recipe calls for, so I improvised a little, and mixed the mint sauce with the crushed garlic, and loosened it off with some of the water from the pasta before stirring it through the cooked spaghetti/beans/potatoes and topping each bowl with a sprinkle of cheese.  Minimal cost, maximum taste and the fussiest of the three I fed it to declared it "rather good" [YFG].  Thanks, Jack!

The FH's gout is still very sore and he is resting in bed.  I am keeping him dosed up on the codeine and the paracetamol, with topical applications of soothing menthol cream to the affected area.  I am also making him walk, with his crutches, through to the back bedroom and back at least every 90 minutes so that it doesn't stiffen up too much. He has totally lost his appetite though, which yesterday I put down to the heat.  Today it has been much fresher here, but he has probably eaten even less.  We are making sure to keep him hydrated though.

Feeling very fed up of bought carrots going rotten too quickly, I have a new idea, which I have used these past three weeks and thought it was time I shared!  On purchase, I peel and chop the bag of carrots, usually about a kilogram, and store them in water in a lidded plastic container in the fridge.  They keep beautifully and the up side of this is that they are ready to cook each day as soon as I want them.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Long day

It started with a dash downstairs to fetch the FH's crutches at 5.45am when he woke to go to the loo and found that his ankle had been attacked by the gout in the night.  He has rested on the bed all day, with codeine, cold packs, paracetamol and various other remedies to hand.  Tonight, he says that it feels easier, but I fear that we are in for a couple of days of this.

In between all the things I have had to do today, and the places I have had to be, I have popped home each time I was able, in order to check on him and make sure he hadn't fallen.  The EFG didn't come to gym tonight so that someone was here with him as 5 hours is too long to be left in his condition.

The girls' school has finished today - and I think we have all sighed a big sigh of relief as they are both exhausted.  The EFG slept on the sofa yesterday evening for nearly three hours after supper, and we are all feeling that "end of term-itis".  I just have another visit to the village school on Monday for the leavers' assembly which I love to attend and I am looking forward to it.

Hope you all have a fantastic weekend, and manage to put your feet up at least once......

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Ups and downs

I sent an email to my Headteacher yesterday saying how glad I was that we are so close to the end of term now because I didn't think I could cope with any more challenges this year.  I should have kept my mouth closed - quite firmly....

Having spent most of the day in school, I came home and took the YFG for her piano lesson and sent her in with the class fee - only to get a lovely surprise when I picked her up - the money was returned by the teacher, with her saying that all lessons were free today because we have all paid plenty this term!  I am certainly not objecting to a free lesson, and that £10.50 has gone straight into the savings pot for the month.

The YFG's bus pass arrived this morning, which jolted me into action as I had not ordered the EFG's!  The YFG's is a free one which is automatically generated, but I have to pay for the EFG's pass at £450, so I save into a "Travel Fund" account for this.  I have downloaded the form and written the cheque so we are all set to post that off in the morning.  I will close that account down as a Travel Fund and have to consider whether to keep it on but use it for some other purpose or whether to actually close it at the bank.  The YFG has Y10 and Y11 to do with free passes before I will need to have the money ready in July 2015 for her Sixth Form bus pass - but they will probably have put the cost up by then.

The meals for the week are working well - tonight's soup and then cheesecake has been appreciated and the frittata on Monday was gobbled up most enthusiastically so that will go on the menu again. We don't seem to be eating as much in this heat, and I am eating FreeFrom pitta breads with tuna or tongue, and then filling up with lettuce, beetroot and tomatoes - one of those fills me up quite well!  I did have a chicken salad one evening when I used up a lonely half a chicken breast from the freezer.

We went to Sainsbury's this evening whilst the YFG was in the piano lesson, but we bought more drink than food - the FH is unable to take much liquid in a day because of all the diuretics he is taking, so he is restricted to about 1.5 litres in a day - for any and all liquid intake.  He hates plain water, so we bought him some lemonade, ginger beer and lime cordial to keep him going in this heat.  All as cheaply as we could, looking for the bargains!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

A successful few days

Sorry I missed you all yesterday - it was one heck of a day!  Interviewing for three TA positions at school in the morning and early afternoon, and then home for a quick snack and off to gymnastics until 8pm, when I had to return some mouldy pitta breads to that supermarket where "Every little helps".  We eventually got home just after 9 and I was just about done in for the day!

We had three positions available and seven candidates shortlisted from over 35 applications, and it was a difficult job to shortlist them.  The interviewing made life a lot easier as we asked them to do a task with some children, and that helped to clarify who the better candidates were.  We all agreed on three and when I left, the Head had phone calls to make to offer them the jobs.

Tomorrow, we are doing it all again to interview six candidates for an admin position - and we had 48 apply for that!  Having spent so much time on this side of the interviewing table, I feel that I have a good understanding of what the interviewers are looking for, which will be useful should I be in the position of looking for a job one day.

This evening I have been sweltering in a jam-packed sports hall with hundreds of other parents celebrating the achievements of our children at the local school.  Both of the girls won awards in various subjects, and collected WHSmith vouchers which they are looking forward to spending on some new books to stash in their suitcases for the cruise in August.  It was a lovely evening, apart from the heat - it was a delight to get outside and into the fresh air - perhaps they should have had the evening outside!

Passport update - the EFG had a letter today asking her to go to an interview.  The appointment has been made for next Tuesday, and the man on the phone said, "If she is successful in her application..." which made me slightly mad in my thoughts - how can she not be successful?!  She was born and raised here in a family which has been traced back up to nine generations on these shores - she is as English as they come!  We are all from good East Anglian stock recently although we have found Lincolnshire bakers and Welsh miners way way back in the tree.  If she is not successful in her application, I don't quite know what would happen!

Monday, 15 July 2013

Five family meals from the stores and garden

Just had a rummage in the storecupboard, and a wander round the garden, and a quick flick round the interwebs, and come up with five meals for the week ahead.

Monday - tonight we are heading over here to try out our version of this frittata.  We have cold potatoes left over from yesterday, courgette and peppers available, as well as eggs and onions, so I think we can get this one on the plate although perhaps without the ham - I can use a slice or two of bacon.

Tuesday - a quick meal when I get back from gym - cooked pasta and veg with a tin of tuna, bound together with a tin of celery soup from the cupboard.  A make-it-up-as-you-go tuna pasta dish.

Wedensday - temperatures will still be high, so some salad is on the menu.  Lettuce and cucumber from the garden, tomatoes from Lidl are in the fridge, hard boiled eggs, pickles, some boiled potatoes or savoury rice [AF] and we'll be all set.

Thursday - a busy day as I am interviewing and then the YFG has her piano lesson, so a very simple meal of vegetable soup and bread if they want it, and then a mandarin cheesecake to follow [tin and packet from AF].  

Friday - the family can have a third of a Fray Bentos pie each, served with lots of vegetables [from the garden or the freezer] and some new potatoes from the garden.

There isn't a meal amongst that lot that I can actually eat as it is written, with my wheat and dairy limitations, but I will eat something along the same lines most nights - variations on a theme.  I have FreeFrom pitta breads and I eat rice when they have pasta.  I'll let you know how it goes!

Cooking the books!

My Monday monitoring has been done this morning, and there are swings and roundabouts to the findings, as usual.

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Our electricity consumption for the week has dropped to 105 units for the week, where we had been in the 110-119 range the past few weeks, so we are doing something right.  However, the tariff has changed, and we are now paying slightly more for the electricity than we were.  This week's charges will amount to £15.12 for my 105 units....the last time I paid an amount close to that, £15.19, on the old tariff, it bought me 139 units of electricity.  Having popped back to Martin's Cheap Energy Club on MSE, I can see that there are cheaper tariffs available, but none of them are fixed until Feb 2016 the way this one is.  Comparable long term fixes are more expensive with other companies.  Just like other people, we will have to look for more ways to cut our consumption if we want to keep our bill stable.

Financially, June was a hard month with lots of expenses all coming at once, and the savings account suffered badly with no savings made at all.  That situation is very rare here, and I am determined to make up the difference over the course of the year.  Calculations this morning show that if I want to hit my target for the year, the average monthly saving for the next six months has to be higher - quite a bit higher - at nearly £900 a month - £890 if we want to be precise.  Because we saved nothing at all in June, the average for the first six months was only £611 a month.

Strategies to help us to achieve this are going to be focussed around the house and the food budget - I will be taking more recipes from "A girl called Jack" and we will be eating more from the garden over the summer too, which should help somewhat.  Remembering that we have peppers, cucumber, courgette, beans, lettuce, strawberries, raspberries, beetroot and spring onion all in production, we should be able to think of several meals we can make with those, especially with the eggs that the girls are producing!  I am also going to make sure that the ground where crops finish producing is used again this growing season if at all possible, so I am going to be looking through the seed packets this morning for some inspiration there.

We also have a stocked cupboard and freezers, so we need to be eating more from those before we buy more food.  Sounds like I need to sort out a menu plan for this week today as well.

See you later!

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Special days

Today's been good.

The service went very well this morning, even with an impromptu children's address having to be added in off the top of my head.  It was an assessed service, and the assessor seemed pleased.  It was with one of my favourite congregations, and a very welcoming church family.  A very nice way to spend the morning.

The FH spent the latter part of the morning judging the honey entries in a local village horticulture show, and came home having caught up with some friends and had a good natter!

This afternoon, the girls watched a DVD in the sitting room where it was cool, and I pottered a little in the garden, and then my Dad came over for a visit and we all sat in the shade and had a chat over a cuppa.

The girls went for a bike ride whilst I sorted the tea.

This evening's meal was made up largely of leftovers from yesterday, so not too much cooking, but we did enjoy some home-grown potatoes, dug this afternoon, and freshly picked dwarf beans.  

The garden has been watered, the uniform ironed and The White Queen watched [still haven't quite got my head around that family tree - and I have had all the books for some time!] so we are ready for the week ahead.  

I wonder what that will bring?!

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Turning cooler tonight

Well, that is outside at least, but inside the house, it is still HOT!  The temperatures today have been around 29.5C here, and the YFG spent most of the afternoon [about 4 hours] asleep after she came home from gym.  The girls have been for a bike ride tonight, but got caught in a shower of rain as they were halfway around the circuit....oh well, I just think of it as "soft" and "refreshing" as it says in All Things Bright and Beautiful, and it didn't do them any harm!

Sainsbury's was closed when we wanted to get some veg this afternoon, because a power failure meant that they couldn't operate the tills.  We had to go to Lidl instead, as did quite a few other people, so they got a boost in trade this afternoon.  I was talking with the FH tonight about Lidl and Aldi and we both agreed that the quality of their products is rather good, as I am sure most of you already know.

Short post tonight as I still have to type the sermon that I have just written.  Hope everyone is having a lovely weekend, but do keep safe and healthy in the sun xx

Early morning sunshine

I thought I would show you how the garden is growing this fine and sunny morning!
It also helps me to be able to look back from one year to another and see how things were doing at a particular time of year.

This is the largest courgette on any of the six plants - perhaps we'll harvest from these early next week.  Must get the ones I bought eaten up soon!

The first cucumbers [Telegraph] are doing well - there is the one you can see clearly, and there is a larger one a little further back - cucumber sandwiches for tea on Sunday, perhaps?

My lovely dwarf beans in the troughs get the sun all day and I do give them plenty of water.  They are a variety called Ferrari and do seem to grow quickly.

Peppers - these are the ones I bought fairly cheaply from Tesco, and they are producing well already.  I think we will be eating some of these next week.

Raspberries - our first decent crop, and I had to pick and freeze some yesterday morning before they were all eaten by people grabbing a couple on the way past for a snack...

Runner beans up the wigwam - doing well and beginning to flower.

The next crop of dwarf beans just put out this week.

Shadow had accompanied me all around the garden to take the photos so she must have thought she needed a lie-down after all that exertion!

Friday, 12 July 2013

Tired, too tired!

Busy day - too tired so off to bed!

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Moving on in the garden

I was out in the garden early this morning, before the FH was up, and I removed all the staging from the greenhouse so that I could get the tomatoes planted - I know - rather late!  Sixteen plants are ranged along one side, and the four cucumber plants are facing them, with two of them already producing cucumbers.  They are Telegraph, and we had them last year - they produced some lovely fresh-tasting cucumbers and we loved them.  I also have another variety in pots, nowhere near as advanced, which I think produce a gherkin-like cucumber which I hope to be able to use to make bread-and-butter-pickles which I have seen on Rhonda's blog at Down to Earth [in the blogroll].  With the planting out of more tomatoes in an outdoor bed and the planting of another batch of dwarf beans in a trough, I was working up quite a perspiration and had to hit the shower.

The piano tuner has been in this morning, and he is a lovely chap, but decided not to tune it after all as it sounded great - so he stayed all morning for a chat!  I just had to get on around him, as I didn't have the time to sit and listen to him and the FH chatting about the people they both knew in various local brass bands, and the steam train trips they have been on!  When he left, we decided to have lunch.

This afternoon, I popped in to the chapel group for an hour but ended up just chatting as the crochet wouldn't work for me today, despite help with a new magic circle technique from one of the other ladies.  Needs more practising, I think!  When I got home, the EFG had opened a letter from the Passport people to say that they needed our marriage certificate as further evidence....cue a dash to the Post Office to get that off to them quick smart.  I understand it now, but I wish they had indicated in the first instance that it would be necessary - as the EFG was born shortly before we got married, they needed evidence that the name on the birth certificate was my maiden name, I suppose!

I have had a look at various websites today for some water butts - I would really love some of those big tanks which the Suffolksmallholder has got in her pictures, but we can't find a supply of those locally.....

Tonight the YFG has had her piano lesson, and we came home to carry on with the gardening and other things - I am preparing a service for Sunday, reading applications ready for a shortlisting meeting at school tomorrow for new TAs, and the ironing keeps winking at me, as if to say, "I'm still here!"

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Bone dry

This weather is wreaking havoc on my garden, and I read Frantic's recent post about mulching with interest. I do water my veggies, but not all of them all of the time.  I prioritise the ones in troughs and in pots, and then the beans.  Beans seem to be very thirsty, so they get a watering can full each day on each section of beans.  Unfortunately, I have emptied the water butt, and I am having to use mains water now.  I am not very happy about that but I am resisting the temptation to moan at the FH about it - he is "waiting" for a friend of a friend to source him some barrels of some kind......we've been waiting over a year, and well, they aren't here.  I am sure that if this dry spell goes on, and there will be others, the money I will spend on mains water would easily have bought a couple of new water butts.  I should have just bought them myself and got on with it!  The potatoes are pathetic and the beetroot are very small.

We had the first picking off the dwarf beans today and I shall cook them tomorrow.  Picking little and often seems to be the way to go with them.  We love beans and I have plenty of them growing this year.  There are courgettes forming on the plants now, and the raspberries are fruiting too.  The gooseberry plants have failed to produce anything beyond a few leaves, though, which is a shame.  UJ's garden is producing very well - we have been brought more strawberries today, as well as peas in the pod.  The FH and UJ sat in the sitting room this afternoon, one shelling peas and the other taking the green bits out of the top of the berries.  That was after they had had a snooze to help to digest their lunch from going to the Lunch Club!

We have had a very long Governors' meeting tonight - nearly three hours, as there was so much to get through with it being the end of the year, and the last meeting.  It has been another challenging year, but we continue to move forward slowly.  We had a presentation tonight about the pros and cons of becoming an academy - hardly an easy topic and one with lots of pitfalls, it seems.  Decisions, decisions!

I am tentatively asking the girls what they would like for their birthdays, as they are both coming up in August - the YFG first, turning 14, and then the EFG making it to driving-lesson age at 17.  Oh, boy!  17 - how did that happen so quickly?  One thing is for certain - she won't be getting a car!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Do you coupon?

I don't really think that I do, in the mad keen sense of the word.  The use of coupons is going a little crazy in some quarters, and I signed up to "like" someone's page on Facebook in the mistaken thought that I might learn something.  I did learn something - that this lady's idea of a day out is to trek around the city on a series of buses with a toddler, picking up bargains at the various shops.  

Hello!!!! Let's get real...

Some of us have better things to do with our time, and I am not going to get excited about a coupon for cheap kitchen roll - the frugal thing to do is to use kitchen cloths and old rags for mucky jobs and then throw them in the washing machine, or in the bin if they are too bad.  That's just one example!

Many coupons seem to be for branded items, where the shop-brand is usually cheaper that the branded item is even using a coupon.  I am really not convinced.  Don't get me entirely wrong - if I see a coupon for something that we use, then I will make the most of the opportunity, but I don't think that there are serious savings to be made for the frugal family by using coupons.  

When I review items for BzzAgent, I am given a coupon in order to get the item free, but then I also receive more coupons to share with friends or use myself - often for 50p or £1 off the item - but I don't use them if we are already using a cheaper alternative which we like; we just have the free one and leave it at that.

I do like the till-spits at Sainsbury's and Tesco where you are rewarded with the difference if your shopping would have been cheaper elsewhere but I have had less of these lately as they compete with each other and the other supermarkets to keep prices competitive.  

The pantry principle, stockpiling and watching prices will remain my key strategies for keeping our budget under control, as well as controlling portion sizes and comparing price-per-portion so that we remember that a vegetarian bean meal is going to be cheaper per portion than a steak dinner!

Monday, 8 July 2013

Up and at it

Such was the heat yesterday that I resolved to get up early today to get things done before it got too hot today, so I was up at 6am this morning, which is early for me.  I had washing on the line by 7am and had watered the garden and sorted the chickens out by 7.30am and the girls were off to school at 8am, so then I cut the front lawn.  Pottering about in the breeze was quite pleasant, and outside was a very civilised temperature.  The sun finally burned through the clouds at about 10am, and boy, it got hot!!  So that was my cue to retreat indoors......but actually, the house had retained a lot of heat from yesterday, so it felt quite stuffy in here.

Paperwork and more paperwork for school, trying to start my tax return, looking at stuff for this week's service [an assessed one, which always makes me nervous!], and receiving a couple of phone calls took up most of the day until I had to fetch the girls from school, in order to take the YFG to have her MMR second jab.  She was very good and didn't even flinch, although I know she wasn't looking forward to it.

Weight-wise, I can record that I am one pound lighter - must try harder!

Exciting news, though - the YFG's passport has arrived - one down and one to go.  We haven't heard that they want to interview the EFG yet, so we are keeping our fingers crossed that we will hear something very soon.

Sunday, 7 July 2013


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What a scorching day we have had here in the Fens today!  That yellow orb which has been rather reluctant to show itself has been in its full glory today and sent the temperatures soaring.  Whilst it is a joy to feel the warmth on one's back, if the truth be told, it has been a little bit too warm for us here, but the garden is loving it and the veggies are growing like mad.

The YFG has been too occupied today to share any photos with me of her trip.  I went to chapel to take the service before she was properly up, and then she and the FH and UJ went off to Ely Cathedral for her concert before I was home.  Just after she got home from that, she disappeared off with her friend and the EFG for a bike ride, and then she went round the corner to the friend's house for a wallow in the paddling pool there!  She was fetched home in time for supper at 8pm, and then it was time to watch "The White Queen" at 9pm and then off to bed.  

The EFG and I have had a quieter day, and she has been doing some homework too.  I was getting some things ready which I offered on FB to anyone wanting them.  I have a chest of drawers and a desk to de-clutter, and when a friend replied that she would like the drawers for her son and his girlfriend who were moving in to their first flat, I also found some double duvet covers we no longer use [we use a king-size duvet nowadays] and some casserole dishes.  The duvet covers have been out of use for some time so I washed them this afternoon so that they were freshened for them.  I was expecting them this evening, but they haven't turned up so I admit that I am a bit disappointed.

I sat and watched the second half of "The Karen Carpenter Story" when I got back from chapel, as I love her music and think she had an amazing voice - but rather a sad story.  It always gets me.

Tonight we have shared a meal with UJ and he has gone home with part of a Victoria sponge and a lettuce from the garden in return for the gorgeous basket of strawberries he blessed us with!  We had some for tea with crushed meringue and cream in a sort of Eton mess concoction. 

I hope that you are enjoying the weather, and I will be in the garden for some of the time tomorrow, but perhaps I will be doing that later on when it is cooler.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Safely home

I've got all my chicks back in the nest today after their trips, and it feels good to know where they are!!

Another busy day today and I have just finished preparing the service for tomorrow, so I am off to bed.  I will try to get some photos to share from the YFG's trip, and post those tomorrow.  They had a great time!

Friday, 5 July 2013

Rather late

We usually expect strawberries in June, but I want to record that we picked our first one from the garden last night - and the three of us here each had a tiny taste!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Too busy to spend a penny!

In more ways than one!

My purse has remained closed since 7.45am when I had to put some diesel in my car, but I was taking the YFG to school early for the bus to the Battlefields, and I was passing the cheapest garage around this area, so I couldn't miss the chance.

I waved her off as she pulled her suitcase into the school with all the others arriving there this morning.  She went off without a backward glance, and I came home again.  Time to water the greenhouse, let the chooks out and hang the washing, before going to school to a budget meeting.  That took nearly all morning....
On the way home, I popped in to the chapel to get it all set up for the Knit & Natter group in the morning.

Home for some lunch and then I did some baking.  I have another Herman batter which has been proving for quite long enough, so I set some aside to grow again, turning the remainder into a batch of chocolate and banana muffins, and a batch of lemon muffins.  Then I made a couple of Victoria sandwich cakes, one for the group in the morning and one for the household here.  The YFG will enjoy some of that for her supper tomorrow night!  I have "heard" from her in a way as I received an email from the Flanders Field museum this afternoon, which was entitled, "The people you connected with" so I can only imagine she has been there this afternoon, and sent home details of the famous people she has read about there.  We haven't made her phone suitable for use abroad, so she has no way of getting in touch until she is back on English soil tomorrow evening, so it seems a novel way of waving and saying, "This is where I've been, Mum!"  Hopefully she is fast asleep tucked up in her hotel bed now!

This evening, after supper, we sat together and watched a DVD of The Young Victoria, which was interesting, and then I have been watering the garden and the greenhouse again.  UJ noticed some weeds in the untended area of the garden to the side of the house when he was here yesterday and recommended that they be cut down before the flowers went to seed, so I have chopped them with the secateurs tonight.  Thirsty work, so I have come in for a cuppa.  It is very warm and muggy here tonight, and the garden is cooler than the house, so I shall be flinging windows wide when I go upstairs.

Tomorrow, the EFG is going on a trip to Cambridge to the Botanical Gardens, which she is looking forward to immensely - this is her third trip there and she loves it!  The FH will take her to catch the train in the morning.

I am looking forward to getting another square or two made at the group in the morning as I haven't had a chance to do anything this week at home...

And she's off...

Tonight the YFG will be staying in a room like this...

Hotel -
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so that tomorrow she can visit this museum 

foto van tentoonstelling
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and she has been told she will have a little spare time to visit a chocolate shop in Ypres!

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but one of the highlights of the trip will be tonight, when she will walk to the Menin Gate to watch the Last Post ceremony.

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The excitement over this trip has been building all week, and her case lays open on the sofa this morning ready for the last minute things to be packed.  I will be waking her up in 10 minutes, and we will be off to school at 7.20am, ready for the off!  

Not only is this her first overnight trip away with the school, but it is her first time abroad ever, so she is hoping for a good time, to learn lots and have some new experiences!  

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Plans change

You will remember that we were planning to go to York on the train tomorrow for an Open Day at the university - and the train fare was going to be £192.  Now you will notice that that is all in the past tense!

We have established that the train fare would be much cheaper on a Saturday [£133] and perhaps even cheaper if we can buy Advance tickets.  Consequently, we are going to go to the September Open day which is on a Saturday.  That will be a relief for the budget, and for me!

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York - above - Aberystwyth - below.

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Aberystwyth is the other Open Day the EFG wants to attend and there is one in October, also on a Saturday, which means that I will drive over there on the Friday and stay the night before.  Since it is Sunday the next day, I have to say that I am tempted to stay two nights and then come home on Sunday!  If anyone can recommend any reasonably priced accommodation in the area, I would be interested.

The YFG has been busy packing her case for her trip to France and the battlefields on Thursday - I have some euros for her from my dad, and she has got just about everything she needs now, bar the packed lunch!  The end of term is always a busy time, with trips and performances and events - she has a concert in Ely Cathedral on Sunday afternoon, a concert at school next week, and one more local trip.  The EFG also has a trip on Friday, but they are just going to the Botanic Gardens in Cambridge for Biology: fingers crossed for good weather.  I will be quite glad to get to the end of term and know that our time is our own for six weeks!