Friday, 10 July 2015

My Favourite Toy

There's something I have been meaning to rave about it on the Blog for ages.   Do you remember back in the 1980's/1990's, when you'd read science fiction books and the hero/heroine would reach for their "communicator" or "link" to look up something on the computer?  Or to make a video call/read a document/watch TV?  Or to record something?  I remember wistfully thinking "I wish I had one of those!".  Well, four years ago, I got one - I purchased my first iPhone - and, as far as I am concerned, my iPhone is the Best. Toy. Ever!   I use it for everything.

Really, I do. I currently have a 64GB iPhone 5, bought a year ago, and there's less than 10GB free.  As well as making calls or sending text messages via my phone network, I access my bank from it; quickly surf the internet to find out or confirm something; read my latest book via Kindle at lunchtime; chat to Our Man in the Middle East via WhatsApp;  chat to my sister in Australia for free on Viber.  It's my primary camera and stores most of my music.  I've written blogs on it (although the Blogger App is a bit clumsy).  I talk to friends and family on Facebook; visit Ravelry for knitting inspiration; download and listen to podcasts, as well as audio books while I drive.  Every morning, you'll find me doing my daily French lesson on Duolingo (which is free).   There are exercise programs I attempt follow (look out for the free 7-Minute Workout and RunKeeper).  For calorie counting, I use My Fitness Pal.   I use the BBC apps all the time, including iPlayer and iPlayer radio.

So much of what I use on the iPhone is free.  As well as podcasts, most of the 100+ Kindle books I have were free via BookBub (or discounted to 99p).  All the BBC content is free.  As is Duolingo and the Learn French videos on youtube.

The only thing that detracts from my iPhone is the network.  A year ago,  when I upgraded to the iPhone 5, I switched to Vodafone and I'm not impressed. Can't get a consistent signal anywhere.  Can't get a signal at all for large tranches of the day in my office - never had a problem with my old network - and even in the centre of London I've had problems.   I am counting the days until I can break the contract.

Excuse me.  I'm off to play with my Toy.

- Pam

Saturday, 13 June 2015

The myth of multitasking

I was on the phone to Our Man in the Middle East earlier in the week, discussing something in a spreadsheet, when the cheeky sod sent me a text message, conveying the sort of gossip you can't say out loud in the office then following it up with a question as to why I didn't reply.  "You know I can't multi-task!" I told him crossly.  He just laughed.  

(Our Man in the Middle East is the colleague I talk to the most from the new business I look after.  I'd already told him that when I read something, my ears shut off.  I don't think he quite believes me.  Anyway....)

As far as I'm concerned, multitasking is a myth.  I can only concentrate on one thing at a time; most people can't concentrate on two.  Oh, I can mimic multitasking with certain amount of planning, but it isn't real.  Take yesterday afternoon when I did two loads of washing, baked bread (in the bread maker), and listened to the cricket while cleaning up the kitchen.  That sounds like multitasking, but it's not.  It's just doing things in an efficient sequence.

Any project manager will tell you, the secret is in how you program the work.  I reckon that this is what women have always done, which is why the myth of multitasking came about.  For thousands of years, we watched the kids while growing the veg, feeding the chooks, tending the fire and cleaning the house, probably while figuring out how to make the end of a loaf of bread and 2oz of bacon feed a family of 6.   

It's not that we're concentrating on two (or three or four) separate things at once, rather we're working through activities from a mental list.  This is what women have always done and continue to do.  Fast-forward to the 21st Century and we are still doing it, only now we're planning dinner while waiting for the MFD to spit out our printing.  Nothing's changed really.

Multitasking?  Not me.

- Pam

Sunday, 24 May 2015

£50 February redux

First things first, I haven't blogged in ages and you deserve an explanation why.  The main reason is that my old laptop is virtually moribund and I couldn't take it any more; purchased over the Christmas break in 2008, with Vista as its operating system, it took forever to open any file, forever to access any website (including Blogger) and it became impossible to sync my iPhone (my main camera).  Believe me, I tried.  For the last six months, I've mainly blogged on my phone or my secondhand iPad2 - that's what I took to Miami - but there are some things that can't be done on the Blogger app, that need access to the full functionality of the Blogger website (limited as that is).

Eventually, I bit the bullet and, last month, raided my Netbook Fund and purchased an 8GB, 11-inch MacBook Air.  It is lighter than the iPad and not much larger!  It has taken me a few weeks to get everything up and running, and to get used to the Mac quirks, but "Hello World!, I'm back!".

Anyway, back to the question at hand:  how did we do on the £50 February Challenge?  Well...  The bad news is that we didn't quite make it.  We spent £58.53, so broke the limit by £8.83.  The details of what we spent are in the photos below.

and the second sheet:

Hope you can read my hand writing.  In a moment of inattention, I binned the receipt from the Tesco shop on 14th February.  (DAMN!!!)  That was mainly to replenish things we'd already eaten, since the fridge wasn't empty on the first day.

I can hear you asking:  "so how did you really do?  Was it difficult or easy to stick to?  What did you eat?"  It took a bit more organisation than usual, since I don't usually menu plan more than a day ahead, but this time I had to figure out what we could eat that fitted into the budget without spending everything in the first fortnight.  Also, we ate out a couple of times, spent a weekend at my MIL's and had a takeaway for Valentine's Day (with associated leftovers for lunch), things which don't get counted in the challenge but affect the result. 

What did we eat?  I regret that I didn't keep a written meal log - next year I will - but I can tell from the list and by memory that we had the following meals:-
  • White fish curry.
  • Toad in the Hole - made with the chorizo purchased from Lidl.
  • Pork stir fry - the biggest food bargain of the lot was scoring two tubs of "stir fry pork" on the condemned shelf for 22p each.  We ate one and froze the other.
  • Spicy Lentil & Sausage Casserole.  The recipe is from Louisa's blog, here.
  • Spaghetti bolognese - based on the recipe given here.
  • Bacon and Cream Cheese Pasta, using half the bacon (recipe here).  
  • Cuban Black Bean Stew using the other half of the bacon.  I'm still perfecting this recipe, but it's based on the Black Bean Stews the Lost American cooked for us in Miami.  
  • Chole Paneer.  That's chick pea and paneer curry.  (Note to self - write up the recipe.)
  • Smoked Mackerel, grilled and served with veggies.
Unless it included pasta, we ate rice with most meals (nothing new there).   also baked one loaf of bread, drank lots of squash, took leftovers for lunch to work most days (included in the budget) and packed a picnic of bagels, sliced pork (from the condemned food aisle), and salad.

We will definitely be doing this challenge again, next year, and I promise to be much more organised about it.

- Pam

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Anzac Day 2015

One hundred years ago today, Australia first went into battle as a nation.  Since I can't be at Gallipoli, I find myself wishing I was 15 again and singing at the service at the Shrine in Melbourne.  I always felt that it was an honour and a privilege that my school choir was invited to sing there.

Last year, I obtained tickets to the services at the Cenotaph in Whitehall  and in Westminster Abbey; along with many of the mainly Antipodian attendees, I found myself with tears in my eyes for the loss of those valiant boys.

Today, I am in the Netherlands so no services for me.

Lest we forget...

Saturday, 24 January 2015

£50 February Grocery Challenge

With February looming, I have been thinking a lot about my "£50 February" grocery challenge.  When I first discussed it with DH in December, he thought it'd be easy.  "We only spent that at Tesco last month," was his response.  While strictly true, however, shopping at Tesco is only one part of our grocery shopping:  we buy most of our veggies at the farm shop in Osterley Park; dried beans, rice and spices from Wing-Yip; coffee, salmon, cheddar, cans of chopped tomatoes and tuna from Costco; meat from the butcher during 4-6 monthly visits; and a few odd bits-n-pieces from Asda (mushrooms/cooking bacon) and Lidl (whatever is on offer).   

Here's the nub of the problem: we shop to restock the larder/freezer/fridge; we don't shop to fulfil a week's menu.  We buy in bulk and have a well stocked larder and freezer.  How do we account for that? Since most British households don't shop that way, how do you level the playing field?

After a lot of thought, I've come up with the following rules:-

1) Whatever is already in the fridge on 1st February is "free".  After all, very few people start a month with a completely empty fridge.

2) Ditto the spices, tea, coffee, sugar and hot chocolate already "in the jar" in the larder.  Top ups, however, do count.

3) I know the price of the meat, fish and cheese in the freezer - they will come off the tally as-and-when they are used.  

4) Leftovers in the freezer are free.  That means I don't have to work out how much a six-month old tub of Base or Sophie Dahl's Dhal costed when I made it months ago.  The same goes for the lunch boxes stored in the freezer.

5) How to account for the dried beans, lentils and chickpeas we use, has occupied some considerable thought.  We don't use everything all the time and I usually cook up dried pulses in batches, storing them in the freezer. I can't imagine going through more than 2kg dried weight of pulses in a month and, chances are, if I hadn't stocked up at Wing-Yip, we would buy a 2kg bag in rotation every month. We are almost out of Chana Dhal (split chickpeas) so a 2kg bag has been added to the shopping list and will represent the cost of all dried pulses used in February.

6) For rice, rather than buy some more (we have 12kg in stock), I will deduct the cost of 2kg of the cheapest rice from the tally.

7) Ditto flour but, in this case, it'll be the cost of either one or two of the standard sized bags of flour, depending on how large they are.  (We use a couple of kilos a month baking our own bread, etc.)

8) In the pre-Costco days, we'd buy 6-8 cans of tomatoes each month.  There are 7 in the cupboard right now, so I'll deduct the cost of 7 cans from the tally and limit us to 7 cans for the month.

9) What about other store cupboard items?  Based on nothing more than the assumption that few people won't have something in stock, I'll tag 3 cans of tuna and two of pilchards/salmon as "free", together with one jar of sauce (either pasta bake or potato bake).  Ditto a box of breakfast cereal and a tin of baked beans.

10) This is a grocery spend challenge, so it includes items such as cleaning products, washing powder, toiletries and tampons - anything that would normally be purchased at the supermarket.

Having set the rules, right now I'm contemplating how to spend the money.  £50 isn't a lot of money - it's £12.50 a week or £1.78 a day which is a scary figure when you consider that's groceries for two people.  The only way to make it work is to break it up into "shops":  £20 for the main supermarket shop; £10 for two trips to the farm shop for vegetables and eggs (£5 a trip); £15 for meat and/or fish from the freezer; £5 for a second, top up supermarket visit.

Will we starve? No.  Will we have a stand-up row in the middle of Tesco at some point?  Probably.  Will we get through February without breaking the £50 budget?  I really don't know.  Wish us luck.

- Pam

(is anyone else up for the challenge?)

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Five hours

That was the total delay by the time we landed back at Heathrow this morning: 4.5 hours in Raleigh Durham and half an hour circling over London due to the fog.

(The initial delay was due to a faulty wing light.  They shipped the part from Dallas.)

- Pam. (Now to stay up after having had 3 hours sleep last night.)

Saturday, 3 January 2015

So much for panic

After all that, our connecting flight is delayed by at least 3 hours.  It needs a part which is being shipped from Dallas and won't get here until 9pm.   

(We got off the last plane at 6pm.)

Frustration, worry and fear

We're on our way home after a wonderful holiday in Miami.  However, it could all turn to disaster on the last leg home.  We have a 45 minute stopover in Raleigh Durham Airport, during which we have to collect our luggage, drop it off at the transit desk, go back through security and get on our connecting flight to London.

Problem:  our flight in Miami boarded 10 minutes late, waited another 15 minutes for a baggage issue to be sorted then taxied around for 20 minutes before takeoff.  And we are sitting in the second last row of the plane.  Will we make our connection?


(Oh and they just told us we will land 10 minutes late.)

Friday, 2 January 2015

Frugal Friday - use up what you have

For the trip to Miami, I bought with me 100g  yarn for a pair of Monkey socks - started just before we left London - and sufficient aran weight yarn to make a Five Hour Baby Sweater for a colleague's baby shower.  The sock were finished last weekend, while the sweater was completed this time yesterday afternoon. Disaster!  I ran out of scheduled knitting!

My initial plan when we visited Michaels earlier this week was to buy some Lionbrand Sockease.  While I know it's not the poshest yarn in the world, I listened to all 100+ episodes of their podcast, Yarncraft, and wanted to give them some custom as a thank you.  Anyway, Michaels didn't have any Sockease; they didn't have any sock yarn whatsoever and precious little fingering weight (4-ply).  This meant that my other plan - to knit a second pair of socks from souvenir sock yarn has been totally stymied.  (There is little chance I'll get to either of the other two major craft stores, Jo-Ann's or Hobby Lobby before we fly home tomorrow.)

So there I was, yesterday afternoon wondering what on earth I could knit now.  I had leftover Toft Alpaca sock yarn, 75g of baby blue acrylic, a set of 2.5mm DPNs and a 7mm circular needle.  Using the acrylic didn't appeal  - I need to save it for future baby sweaters - which left the sock yarn.  I dismissed starting another pair of socks; without weighing it, I know there just isn't enough yarn for a full pair and I don't have access to any other suitable yarn to make a pair of half-n-half socks.  That left me with fingerless mitts/wristers. The only worry being, will I have enough yarn?  

Last night, I started to work out a pattern, knitting as I go.  Following a session with scales this morning, I now know that I have 38g of yarn to play with.  Ravelry tells me that I have 174.8 metres left of the sock yarn.  The scales tell me that the 24.5 rounds I've knitted so far weigh 6g, so 1g = 4 rounds.  That means I can knit 76 rounds per wrister, a reasonable length, and still have a metre or two left over for repairs.  

A bit of thought, some mathematics and a touch of creativity means that I can continue to practice my hobby without spending a dime.  And I'm using up something that would normally get buried in stash for a few years.  One last brownie point - I've started my 2015 Knit from Stash challenge early!  Yay, me!!

(Here I am working on my new project, soaking up the sun and listening to a podcast in my favourite spot at TLA's house in Miami.)

Tracking books

Can anyone recommend an iPhone app for tracking the books that you read and reporting the statistics, say by month and year?  I want something with start and finish dates.

While I'm sure I will report the books I finish in 2015 on my blog, anything that makes tracking them easier will help.  The ongoing theme to my reading last year was selecting a new book for each trip because I couldn't find the previous (unfinished) book in the 30 seconds before I ran out the front door to catch my flight/train.

Many thanks,


Thursday, 1 January 2015

Addendum to Fifteen Challenges in 2015

The New Year for my resolutions doesn't start until Sunday, 4th January, when we land back at Heathrow.  Therefore, "2015" for these purposes runs to 3rd January 2016.  

Happy New Year, everyone.

- Pam. (this is the only way some of my resolutions will be workable)

Wednesday, 31 December 2014


You may have noticed that I mentioned being in Miami.  We're spending Christmas and New Year with a very old friend (a.k.a. The Lost  American or "TLA").  "We" in this instance being me, DH, and DH's best friend (a.k.a. his Brother From Another Mother or "BFAM").  If you remember my wedding photos, TLA is the lone male in the girlfriends of the bride picture.  The last time we were here was September 2006.

TLA is a wonderful host, driving us everywhere, cooking like a chef every night and putting up with his home being invaded by us all.  We've been on multiple shopping trips:  Dolphin Mall, the Eden Plaza, even Michaels yesterday so that I could buy a little something by Lionbrand Yarns (2 balls of yarn in Tardis blue so that I can make a present).

The first Sunday we were here, TLA took us to the farmers market at Pinecrest.  My first ever, official farmers market.  It reminded me of the markets we go to in Normandy, except that everyone was speaking in a mixture of Spanish and English instead of 90% French.

We had a lovely Christmas, put on the Santa hats and played with TLA's two dogs:

TLA, DH, BFAM and I.

 The big meal was Christmas Eve: Cuban style pork, marinated in Mojo marinade (sour orange juice, onion purée, garlic purée and coriander leaves, recipe here:  Say hello to piggy...

And cooked:

The marinade made the best crackling ever!

Saturday, we drove down to the Florida Keys and spent the day at Key Largo.  The Keys aren't as I'd imagined them. I was expecting something along the lines of Australian seaside villages, where you have a strip of shops/restaurants, etc, on one side of the main road and parking/the beach/the harbour on the other.  Instead, the main road runs through the middle of the island and there is little/no public access to the waterfront.  The properties all have private moorings and/or beaches so if you are staying in a hotel, you're fine, but if you are a day-tripper, there are only a couple of places to go.  We went to the Key Largo National Park, which has a lovely couple of beaches. 

And went paddling, since I was too disorganised to remember to pack my bathers.

I spotted the perfect private landing across the bay

Beautiful, isn't it?  There are mangroves too

But sadly no fishing from this beach.

Sunday, we went to the Sun Life Stadium to watch Miami Dolphins versus the New York Jets.  Beforehand, we joined in the tailgate party in the car park.

(TLA's brother, BFAM, DH and TLA.)

Only my husband would wear a New York Patriots shirt to an unrelated match.

(Love the mad boy.)

Of course I took my knitting to the match, but I only knitted during the first half - it was far too hot and sticky to continue.

No, I have not renounced the Pats - I didn't bring a hat to Miami and was desperate to keep the sun out of my eyes.  Anyway, we were supporting the Fish. 

 I managed to photograh the record breaking touchdown (a 97 yard dash).

Sadly, the Dolphins lost.

Today, we went to the beach as the Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park on Key Biscayne.  It was a beautiful place to spend the day. We were not far from the Cape Florida Lighthouse.

Unlike Miami Beach, this beach was beautiful and unspoiled. It was not crowded in the slightest. You can see Miami in the distance.

From the sand dunes it looked like ghost city, floating above the horizon.

 I swam, sunbathed and lazed in the sun; a very relaxing day out.

 Key Biscayne is beautiful, wild AND civilised at the same time.  (Maybe 20 minutes walk from the village).  You could certainly fish from the beach we were on, in fact I saw fish while I was swimming.  I would love to go back.

- Pam

Friday, 26 December 2014

Frugal Friday - Free language courses

With one eye firmly on my 2015 goals, I thought I'd share how I plan to achieve one of them: learning French.  My plan is to follow a three-pronged approach: podcasts (starting with Learn French By Podcast, available free on iTunes), the Earworm French books I bought on Audible a while ago (i had credits to use up) and (originally) the BBC's free "learn French" site which, although it says it has been archived, still appears to work (  However, I can't figure out how to make the videos work on my iPad - the BBC is insisting they need Java and Flash - so I took a look at YouTube, where I found dozens of free videos, from Learn French With Alexa to something presented by Eddie Izzard.  

The BBC site, I remembered from a campaign they ran a decade ago.  Their PDF's still download, so you can read those, and the links still work to the foreign language websites they reference. Besides the Beeb, what is surprising is how many free resources there are out there, entire series of learning materials that someone has kindly made available for free (although you may have to watch an advertisement from a sponsor).  Podcasts are an incredible free resource - many are produced by individuals as a hobby, for example, one of my friends learned Dutch from a podcast series started by a Dutchman trying to teach his girlfriend the language.  

I guess that is the point of my post tonight:  if you have the equipment/resources to access them, then before spending money on a course or a DIY book, check out the free materials on iTunes and YouTube.  You will be amazed at what you find.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

What to do in 2015?

Although it was an incredibly busy year,  I don't feel like I achieved a lot in 2014.  I didn't set a lot of goals, but even the ones I did set didn't get followed through.    What do I do in 2015?  Set goals I may not meet or not bother?

I am contemplating setting myself 15 challenges for 2015.  What I've come up with so far is as follows:-

1). £50 February.  Set the grocery budget for February at £50 and stick to it.  Since we have a well stocked fridge and freezer, I've decided leftovers don't count in the reckoning of the £50 but anything else taken from the larder or freezer does count towards the total spend. 
2). January is for finishing UFO's/WIPs.  Excluding the current pair of socks that I'm knitting, I have five unfinished knitting/crochet projects.  Two just need sewing up.  Time to get them completed. 
3). Lose 15lb in 2015.  I am short-ish and have a small frame (at my thinnest, my under bust measurement was 32 inches).  Any extra weight makes me look far fatter than my dress size since it all goes on my bust and waist. I'll use the free app on my phone to track my progress and my calories.  My starting point will be whatever I weigh on Monday 5th January, the day after we get back from Miami.   
4). The 2015 fitness challenge:  I need to exercise both to build muscles and raise my fitness level from slug to something better than couch potato.  I'm contemplating something big, like a half marathon, but right now my challenge will be to work my way through the Couch to 5K app on my phone and run 5k by Easter.  I turn 50 in 2015 - I do not want to be fat, flabby and unfit when I enter the next decade of my life.
5). The Feed Me challenge.  Can we feed ourselves out of the garden?  Probably not.  Can we grow enough veg to have at least one forming part of dinner per meal from June to October?  Probably.  I am certainly going to try.
6)  The 2015 Knit From Stash challenge.  I have enough yarn in my stash to survive the entire six years of World War 2 without buying any more (except, possibly for sock yarn).  I won't commit to that but I should be able to get through one year without buying yarn.  Two provisos:  if one of my friends/colleagues has a baby and I've run out of suitable yarn, I will buy some. And, if you give me yarn, I will happily accept it. 
7). Another Fashion on the Ration challenge.  Well, why not? I survived the one I did in 2013.   66 coupons here I come.  
8)  Learn French to the point where I can sustain a conversation in the market at Port Bais next time we go there.  I want to buy fish and shellfish from the fishmonger but, right now, I can't ask questions about his catch.  We'll be in Normandy at the start of December 2015.  That gives me 11 months. 
9)  To throw a fabulous 50th birthday party.  The date is set for Saturday 1st August and the venue is booked.  
10)  To read and finish 15 books in 2015. I managed less than 10 in 2014, so this will be a challenge.  And, yes, that is "read" not "listen to".   Some of you will be spluttering with shock right now (yes, Sis), but since I started commuting by car, I rarely get the chance to read anything.  I've gone from 3 novels a week to virtually nothing.   My reading time is limited to the odd trip into London for work, flights and nights in hotels for work when I'm not traveling with colleagues.  
11) To move into the back bedroom.  This gets on the challenge list because I've been talking about it for at least a year.  The move involves flooring the loft (so that the items stored in the back room get moved up there), building a set of built-in wardrobes and general decorating. 
12) The wardrobe challenge.  This is dependent on challenge 11.  I have to sort out my clothes, get rid of worn out items and work out what I want to keep.  It isn't that I have too many clothes, but I currently have almost no storage - 3 drawers and a 1 foot wide functioning hanging space - so a lot of things get dumped in the corner, while my work clothes get hung over the door. 
13)  To either make something of my new role at work or get a new job.  As you know, I am not happy with what has happened.  If I am still unhappy in April, I will be job hunting. 
14)  To blog 26 times in 2015.  This year, my blog entries have been few and far between.  Next year, I will do better. 

15). To write that book.  I've dabbled with writing for years, starting with the novel I began writing in high school.  This is more likely to be a cookbook than fiction, however.

What will you challenge yourself to in 2015?
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

- Pam

Sunday, 16 November 2014

How long does a lipstick last?

Those of you who have known me for a long time might remember that, a few years ago, I dated my toiletries to see how long they lasted.  Out of curiosity, I extended that to my cosmetics after I wondered how long it took to get a lipstick from this:

To this:

Take a closer look from the top:

Can't get much emptier, can you?

How long do you reckon?  This is the lipstick I use virtually every working day.  I apply it in the morning, cover it with Lipcoat sealant and forget about it.  I probably only reapply it one afternoon in three. long do you think?

A clue:

Yes, that's right, three and a half years!

- Pam