Sunday, 17 July 2016

A week in Devon

Bantham Beach

Bantham Beach

Hope Cove

Hope Cove

Hope Cove

Salcombe Harbour

Salcombe Harbour

Buckfast Abbey



Ness Cove, Shaldon

 Ness Cove



Salcombe harbour

We've just arrived home after a week in Devon. After our holiday there last year it was inevitable that we'd go back, and this time we stayed further south near Totnes and within driving distance of so many beautiful towns and beaches.  It really is a stunningly beautiful part of the country, I can't believe we'd never been there before last year.

We stayed in a farm cottage with fabulous sports facilities - swimming pool, badminton court, tennis court, full-sized snooker table, table-tennis, boules, golf. Just brilliant, especially if you've got teenagers in your group and they need something to keep them entertained.  I really enjoyed our morning dips in the pool, and trying my hand at badminton again, although I don't have the energy for the game these days.

The weather was pretty mixed for the first few days - as you can probably tell from the dramatic skies in some of the pictures above - but the second half of the week was much better and we managed plenty of beach time.

We managed to visit a few towns: Salcombe, Totnes, and Dartmouth, as well as the fabulous beaches at Shaldon, Blackpool Sands, Hope Cove, Thurlestone and, our favourite, Bantham Beach (top two photos).  I haven't edited any of the photos, just thought I'd publish them as they came, although I'm yearning for a new camera.

It was just the three of us this year: me and my two girls, and I wonder every year whether this will be the last time we all go away together as a family.  They're getting to the age where they may prefer a holiday with their friends, or boyfriends, and No.1 daughter has already said that she doesn't know what she'll be doing next year, so it could just be two of us, but whatever we do I really want to take our greyhound Alice with us. We didn't take her this year, and as my brother was away at sea, she had to go into kennels, and by all accounts didn't cope very well.  She became quite stressed and refused to eat, and has been quite subdued since she came back home. Poor girl.

Now that we're back I'm daydreaming once again about living there. One day maybe.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Saturday mornings with Miriam, and reasons to volunteer

Not so long ago I wrote about loneliness, and how it's currently an epidemic for our elderly population.

A couple of months later I took my own advice and contacted the Royal Voluntary Service who run a befriending service in my area. A couple of weeks later, and following the required safety checks,  I was on my way to my first befriending visit with Miriam, an 87 year old lady who lives less than a mile away from me.

I was nervous and so, it turned out, was she.  It's one thing saying you'd like to visit an older person in their own home, but it's quite nerve wracking when you finally get to do it.  What if we didn't like each other? What if we ran out of conversation? What if...?

As it turned out we needn't have worried because within a few minutes of meeting, the kettle was on and we were having a cuppa, a choccy biscuit, and a good old natter.

It's been six months since I started visiting Miriam, and it's become part of my weekend routine. Every Saturday morning I call round to see her for an hour or so, and we watch Saturday Kitchen together, talk about all sorts of things - nothing is off limits - and more often than not we have some real belly laughs.  We've spent time looking for her childhood home town on my iPad, we even found a photo of the school she attended in the 1930s,  and I've introduced her to the joys of social media. She's picked it up really fast too.  These days if we need to check something, she'll say "Can you ask twitter?"

She has a wicked sense of humour - when she asked me if I could pick something up from the pharmacy for her I said yes, of course, what do you need? "Condoms," she said, "I've got my eye on the 83 year old fella down the road".

I know Miriam looks forward to my visits because she tells me.  She enjoys the company and knowing that she will see someone every week. She recently told me that she used to stay in bed on Saturdays because there was nothing to get up for. Now, she looks forward to my visit and gets up and dressed, does her hair and 'makes an effort'. It's quite humbling to know that our visits mean so much to her, but it also shows how vital this type of service is.

It's not all one-way though, because I get a lot out of it too, it's very rewarding and let's be honest, if feels good to know you're making a difference to someone. But more than that, she's become a good friend, she's had an interesting life and I love asking her about it, plus she's given me some cracking advice over the past few months.   Visiting her is a pleasure, not a chore, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who's thought about volunteering.

This week is #VolunteersWeek.  There are so many ways you can make a difference, and if you can make that weekly commitment of an hour or so it really is worth doing, I promise.  It doesn't have to be befriending, there are plenty of other ways to volunteer that might suit you better.

I can honestly say it's one of the best decisions I've made recently, just wish I'd done it sooner.

Are you a volunteer, or have you considered doing it?

Monday, 30 May 2016

Success happens one pound at a time

eat less, move more

One of the unexpected repercussions of my daughter's illness, is that it's prompted me to take stock of my own health.

When you're a single parent and your child becomes ill it hammers home the message, more than ever before, that you are it. The buck stops with you kiddo, so look after yourself.  I've always know this, of course I have, but when you're faced with an uncertain future it really does concentrate the mind on what's important.

So I took a long overdue look at my health and more importantly decided to do something about it.

To cut a long story short I've lost 2 stone (28lbs) since January.  I could have probably lost a lot more than that, but I didn't want to do a diet plan or go to a weekly weigh-in class - just not my cup of tea - so I decided to try the 'eat less and move more' approach.

Nothing fancy required, no weighing out of portions, or counting points or calories, just quite simply eating less than I normally did and getting more exercise.   I take the dog for longer walks, and have recently started going to Zumba classes, which I love! (now there's a sentence I didn't expect to be writing this year!)

First of all I cut out unhealthy snacks between meals - all the cheeky biscuits, cakes, crisps and chocolate bars that I was in the habit of eating regularly had to go.

In their place came fruit, yoghurts and nuts.  I allow myself two snacks a day nowadays - one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and they're usually a banana or apple, and a handful of nuts.

For breakfast I eat the same as I always did - cereal, usually a bran flake type cereal, muesli or porridge - but I use semi-skimmed milk and I watch my portion size.

For lunch, I might have a sandwich, soup, or sometimes a jacket potato with a healthy filling, or my current favourite, poached eggs on granary toast.

For dinner, it'll be fish with plenty of veggies, pasta or a big colourful salad with salmon or tuna.

I still have treats at the weekend though - maybe a takeaway or a meal out, and a couple of glasses of wine - because it makes it easier to maintain the good behaviour for the rest of the week.  But here's the difference: I don't overdo it, and when the weekend is over I go back to my sensible eating plan.

eat less, move more

I still have a long way to go to get to my ideal weight (I want to lose 6 stone altogether, no biggie...)  but the difference is that I know I can do it. It's such a change in outlook to think that I have control over my eating, and that even if I have a bad day it's not the end of the world. I just start afresh the next day and keep going.  I'm taking control of my weight one pound at a time.

Eat less, move more. It's not groundbreaking stuff, but it works.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

When life throws you a curveball

Well, this is a bit of a surprise isn't it?

I wasn't expecting to blog for a while, if ever, after taking a prolonged break but here I am again. After an unexpected start to the year, I've had little time to blog, but recently as life as started to settle down again I've began to miss my little corner of the internet.

This year didn't get off to a good start for us.  In January my 16 year old daughter, aka Tall Daughter, became seriously ill.  It was all very sudden, completely out of the blue, and was a bit of a shock to us to say the least.

Out of respect for my daughter's wishes I'm not going to discuss her medical condition on here, so please bear with me for sounding cryptic, but all I can say is that thankfully it's not a life-threatening illness, but it is a life-changing one.

She was diagnosed and treated very quickly courtesy of our wonderful NHS, and continues to get excellent care and treatment. At the moment, she is at home and settled and we can see a way forward, but it's had some pretty devastating repercussions for her.

Her illness has resulted in her missing huge amounts of school at the beginning of the year and has only been able to return to a part-time timetable, which has meant missing some critical parts of the GCSE curriculum and most of the revision classes, yet despite this she has soldiered on and, so far, has sat all of her exams. She has a few more to go, so fingers crossed.

The last few months have been very difficult for her, and she's worried about the impact it'll have on her GCSE results.  We've had many long conversations about what she'll do and what will happen if she doesn't get her predicted grades, but her health has to come first and we'll just have to figure out the rest later. I'm incredibly proud of her.

You know that saying "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans"? That seems particularly apt this year.  We were just getting to the stage where I had lots of free time, with one daughter at uni and the other one due to start college, and both of them developing into very independent young women,   But this year isn't turning out the way we expected it to and, hand on heart, I can tell you that this is the hardest thing I've had to deal with as a parent.

But, we have a lot to be thankful for, and as I keep saying to Tall Daughter, everything is going to be okay.

Anyway, how are you? How has your year been so far?

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas wishes and a thank you

Christmas mantel decorations

The Christmas greyhound

Christmas mantel decorations

Christmas stick tree

It's Christmas Eve although it doesn't feel like it - it's 10 degrees outside, the sun is shining and it feels more like spring.

Our Christmas decorations have been up for a few days, the food shopping was done yesterday, and the dog is wearing her Christmas collar, but even though I always intend to be more organised and wrap the presents early on I always end up doing it on Christmas Eve.  So in a few minutes I'm going to make a cup of tea, decamp to my bedroom, put the radio on, and get on with the wrapping.

In the meantime I'd like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy new year. I hope 2016 brings you everything you wish for yourself.

Thank you for visiting my blog this year, and in previous years if you're a long-time reader. I really have appreciated each visit and the time you've taken to leave comments.

Thanks again,

Jean x

P.s. If you're spending Christmas Day on your own and you're a Twitter user there's the #joinin hashtag to help you feel a little less alone. You can read more about it here.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

5 things you can do to save money without even noticing it

We're heading towards the most expensive time of year, so I'm pleased to share this post with you about saving money without even noticing.  I hope you find it useful!

5 ways to save money without even noticing

Since Christmas is coming and all the huge spendings are coming as well, we should sit down and discuss a few ways how you can prepare yourself for that. We all need to relax a little bit and just try to slow down our spendings. Therefore, today I am going to share five super great and almost invisible things you can do before Christmas to save some money for a perfect gift! So – here they are! Have fun!

Sleep well
Believe it or not, but if you sleep well, you will feel well and so you will keep yourself away from overspending. To be fair, getting a good night’s sleep might improve your decision making. And what depends on everything you do during your day – shopping included. Furthermore, if you sleep enough, you will improve your impulse control as well. So just by sleeping around seven hours per night might drastically improve not only your health but finances too.

Use coupons
This requires a little bit of your time and energy, but the results of couponing will be amazing. I bet that you get many coupons with your newspapers or magazines, so all you need to do is to cut them out and bring to a store. Moreover, searching for discounts online is not that hard either.

Eat breakfast
Another thing you can do and save money without noticing is eating breakfast! Many people skip this essential meal of the day for some reason, and they are making a huge mistake. Eating in the morning is not only good for your health (because the body absorbs all the nutrition better in the morning) but directly affects your mood and so – shopping habits as well. Hungry people are angrier and more impulsive, so by having good and big breakfast every morning you will do more good than harm for yourself. Furthermore, if you eat more in the morning, you will eat less during lunch or dinner. And so – won’t spend tons of money on groceries as well.

Drink water
Drinking water works on a few levels as well. First of all, by drinking a glass of room temperature still water in the morning help your body hydrate and also makes less space for food. So you won’t overeat and won’t overspend on grocery bills. So do that then you eat at home! While eating out, also remember this tip. In fact, alcohol and other beverages cost a few times more than table water. Also, these drinks make you feel even hungrier as well. By ordering water, you won’t only spend less in a restaurant, but also live healthier and eat less too.

Hang out with frugal friends

And finally, if you wish to save money for Christmas and just on an everyday basis, you should take a better look at people you hang out with. If your friends love to party and go out every weekend, you might naturally spend more money with them. While if you spend time with a group of people who prefer cheaper entertainment, you will save money. Your friends can be a huge influence on you, and we naturally take some habits from them as well. So if you want to save money, choose to hang out with people who have the same goals, and you won’t even notice that you are living frugally.

Small space living

Mantel arrangement

This time next year we could be moving house.

Our five-year house share arrangement with my brother will have come to an end, and because I'm reluctant to get tied into another fixed term mortgage deal I'm probably going to downsize to a (much) smaller house, taking my daughters, the dog and my squashy sofas with me.

Or maybe not the squashy sofas, because no matter what I do they never look tidy. Washing the covers makes them shrink slightly and then after wrestling with them to get them back onto the sofa, it looks great for about a day.  Then we're back to a messy looking seating area.

Here's the evidence. Before washing, and after.  What a difference.

Before and after sofa covers

I should add that they're now back to the 'before' version.

Next time I buy a sofa I'll buy one that will look much tidier and not require constant washing and plumping of cushions.

One of the things I've been doing to prepare for the move, apart from decluttering, is to talk to the girls about the benefits of living in a smaller house.  They've always been lucky enough to have their own bedrooms, and while that won't change they'll probably be much smaller, and of course there'll be less living space.

So I'm trying to sell downsizing to them as having cosier rooms, being easier to keep clean and cheaper to run (and therefore more money for other, more fun, stuff)  but they're not sold on it at the moment. I clearly have more work to do in that area, but give me time.

By coincidence, the first house I ever owned has come back on the market and I pass it on my daily walks with Alice, our greyhound. It's a tiny little cottage on a quiet lane and opposite the village green  and I lived there very happily for over 12 years, and even though it was the tiniest two-up, two-down terrace everyone who visited loved it and I was very reluctant to leave.

Alice the greyhound

Maybe it's a subconscious desire to recreate those happy days in my little house, who knows, but this time next year I'll be on the lookout for something similar.

For me, the beauty of living in a smaller house is eliminating superfluous items and finding creative and more efficient ways to furnish rooms and store belongings.  I'm currently obsessed with Apartment Therapy and their features about small space living. So many gorgeous homes with small footprints that use ingenious ways to use the limited space.

And what about this tiny house, which I absolutely love, which is home to two adults and two children? Could you live in such a small place? I think I could, not sure about my daughters though.