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 guest 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. Just take these JCPenney coupons as an example. All I did to find them was writing down the store’s name and add word “coupons” to it! That's it!

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.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

November things

November is always a busy month for us. Not only do both of my girls have birthdays this month, but they are only one day apart on the 12th and 13th.

When they were little they used to share a party, but not anymore, so the celebrations seem to last over an entire week with their various birthday meals, parties or sleepovers taking place before everything's all over for another year.

This year we celebrated The Teenager's 19th birthday, and Tall Daughter's 16th. I still struggle to believe that they're both so grown up now, and that this is the last year The Teenager will actually be a teenager. How can she be 20 next year? Surely she was only watching the Teletubbies a couple of years ago? 

And as Tall Daughter reliably informs me, now she's turned the magic 16, she's old enough to join the army, drive a tractor and buy a lottery ticket.  There is also the matter of her being old enough to do ...erm...other stuff but we'll gloss over that for now.

We went into Manchester on their birthday weekend for a meal, and then onto the Christmas market next to the Lowry centre.  This chocolate brownie stall was very popular - your choice of brownie with hot chocolate sauce and cream poured over, very naughty but totally irresistible!

Lowry centre Christmas market

Lowry centre Christmas market

Tall Daughter and I went into town last week to see the Weeping Window poppy installation at St. George's Hall.  We didn't get the chance to see the installation at the Tower of London last year, so we were keen to see this smaller but no less moving display. It was pouring with rain when we got there, and fenced off (open during the daytime though) so we viewed it from several feet away but it was still beautiful and probably easier to see because of the lack of crowds.  Each poppy represents a life lost from one of the Liverpool regiments during the first world war.

Weeping Window poppy installation

Weeping Window poppy installation

Weeping Window poppy installation

I love Liverpool at night time, it's such a beautiful city and very European looking. If you get the train into Lime Street station the first thing you see on exiting the front entrance is the huge neo-classical St. George's Hall building.

It forms part of the cultural quarter with the adjacent (and equally impressive) buildings in William Brown Street which include the Central Library, Walker Art Gallery and World Museum. I love walking around this part of the city, and at night with the old fashioned street lights, illuminated buildings and cobbled streets, it's just gorgeous.

Liverpool at night

Since subscribing to an unlimited cinema ticket at the beginning of the year I've been trying to go to the cinema at least once a week. Some months the choices have been dire, so I haven't always managed it but at this time of year there's usually a lot to choose from.

This month I've seen The Lady in the Van (loved it, Maggie Smith is an absolute joy), The Dressmaker (a quirky black comedy) and Black Mass (Johnny Depp is brilliant in it). I also wanted to see Brooklyn and Carol, but neither of them were showing in the local area, which is a shame.

And now we're already on the countdown to Christmas. At the risk of sounding like Scrooge - bah Humbug! - I think the whole festive period starts way too early each year. By the time the big day comes everything seems to have run out of steam, we're fed up of seeing the same ads on telly and the real meaning of Christmas seems to get lost in a commercialised haze.  I'm sure I'm not the only one thinking that, am I?

And finally, this month I started working full-time for the first time in 12 years! I'm still getting used to it, but it seems okay so far. Actually, tell the truth, I did try full-time a couple of years ago when I started working for a charity but combined with a very long commute it all added up to a very tiring working week so after a few months I cut back to four days a week. Now I work close to home which means I can get back quickly at the end of the day, and with one daughter at uni and the other old enough to drive her own tractor, I'm not needed as much at home anymore. I think we'll be okay.

What have you been up to this month?

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Making some changes in the bedroom and getting a better night's sleep

Getting a better night's sleep

As mentioned in my previous post, I've been making some changes as recommended by a sleep expert in an effort to improve the quality of my sleep.

It's taken me a little longer than I expected, mainly because I've been having awful lower back problems which have been going on for weeks now (inflammation of the facet joints, very painful).

One of the recommendations was to clear the bedroom of clutter, technology and anything that doesn't belong in there.  I hate having an untidy bedroom, but I'd noticed a gradual build of of clutter which had been driving me mad! So, a couple of weekends ago, I decided to bite the bullet and sort it all out.

Decluttering the bedroom

I'd been wanting to paint the bedside cabinets for a while, so they were the first things to be emptied. I've had them for years, and they're in good nick but were looking a

Then I cleared everything from under the bed.  For some reason there were several of those large 'under bed storage' bags full of things we either didn't use, need or want anymore. I also went through all my shoes and clothes, and along with the stuff from under the bed it was either donated to a charity shop or taken to the tip.  I was pretty ruthless, you would have been proud.

Painting the bedside cabinets

Then I painted the bedside cabinets (using this Apartment Therapy guide) which took longer than I expected due to my dodgy back. But, eventually they were done and ready to go back into the bedroom, which by now was looking a lot less cluttered.

Next on the list was replacing the mattress, which was at least 8 years old - possibly even older. Silentnight very kindly offered me one of their prize-winning Classic 1200 Pocket Deluxe mattresses to try, and their Just Like Down pillows and duvet.  Seriously, the duvet is so soft it's like sleeping under a cloud.

Silentnight mattress

Silentnight mattress

Then it was time to make the bed, and add some finishing touches.

Tidy bedroom

Tidy bedroom

Tidy bedroom
I think my bed needs more cushions!

It's a much more pleasant room to be in, it feels much more inviting and it's lovely to be able to walk in without seeing mounds of laundry or having to think about tidying up.

It's no coincidence that I've been spending more time in there, pottering around in the evenings (I love a good old potter) and going to bed early so I can read in bed before turning off the light.

I'm already noticing a difference. I feel more rested in the mornings, my back pain has reduced significantly and the quality of sleep is improving, although it's still something I'm working on.

Do you get a decent night's sleep?

Disclosure:  this is a collaboration with Silentnight, but the words, opinions and bedroom are my own.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Making it my way: Giovanni Rana butter and sage sauce

Simply Italian Butter and Sage sauce

Well, it definitely feels like proper autumn now that our Indian summer is over and the chill has set in.  This is the time of year when we want comfort food, and I'm always on the look out for tasty filling meals that require minimum amount of faffing, so I was happy to take up the challenge from Giovanni Rana to make three different dishes with their new Butter and Sage sauce.

As you might expect, it's perfect as a pasta sauce, but the creamy sauce has a lovely sage flavour which goes particularly well with mushrooms, and as we are still not eating meat I thought we would see how versatile it could be.

Mushroom risotto

The first thing I tried was mushroom risotto. I love a risotto, it's probably my favourite TV dinner, and it's so easy to make.   I know some people are put off by the amount of stirring required, but I don't mind if the result is so tasty.  I'm afraid that in my haste to eat it this is the only photo I took of the risotto, and it looks a bit anaemic because it's before the pepper and cheese were added.  Sorry!

I added two big spoonfuls of the Butter and Sage sauce towards the end of cooking, around the time I would normally add butter to the pan to finish off the dish. It added a lovely creamy, subtle flavour to the risotto. 

Butter and sage sauce

Next day I decided to have an old favourite for lunch: mushrooms on toast. A variety of mushrooms gently fried for a few minutes then the butter and sage sauce added to make a creamy sauce, and poured over a big slice of toasted crusty bread.  SO good, and could it be any easier?

Mushrooms on toast with Giovanni Rana Butter and Sage sauce

We're eating a lot of fish at the moment, and the sauce was perfect with some smoked haddock we had the following night, I just warmed in the microwave for 30 seconds and poured it over the fish and veg. Sometimes fish dishes can be a bit dry, so this was a lovely way to enjoy it. I'd definitely have this again.

Smoked haddock with butter and sage sauce

So, three different ways to use the sauce and none of them using pasta.  We enjoyed all three meals, but the sauce lends itself very well to a variety of dishes, we'll definitely have it again.