Friday, 1 January 2016

Today is the first day of the rest of your life

Every day is a new start.  The past is prologue - you can't change it but you can change what happens now.  I think that is why we imbue this day, 1st January, with so much importance.  Why else do we make New Year's Resolutions?

Sometimes, I think that is part of the problem.  We give the New Year so much baggage:  "this year, I will be thin"; "this year, I will get straight A's in all my subjects"; "this year, I will get out of debt/earn a fabulous salary/save £100,000" (all while netting £2.50/hour or something similar); "this year, I will meet the man of my dreams", etc.  Frankly the expectation for virtually all New Year's Resolutions is  "this year, I will turn my life around and it will be wonderful from New Year's Day onwards...",  Of course, change can't happen that quickly but, when we get to the second or third week of January and wonderful things haven't happened, we feel like a failure.  Failure is built into the equation from the beginning.
One of my friends posted on Facebook earlier today "Best part of 2016 so far??  Reminding everyone that we have 366 days to make a difference instead of 365.  Make a difference!!!"   This is what I've been pondering all day:  how can I make a difference in 2016, both to my life and to others?  I have decided to set some very specific goals, rather than woolly resolutions, in order to make a difference.

16 Challenges for 2016
1). Run the Sports Relief Mile in Osterley on 20th March.  I've already signed up and Howard has agreed to run it with me.  We've set a modest fund raising target and hope to exceed it.  (I'll post a link closer to the time.). Since I can barely run 100m, this will involve training every workday morning - getting up at 5am - except when I'm travelling.  I will use the www.mapmyrun.com app to track my progress, as well as my Fitbit.
2).  £50 February.  Yes, I've decided to try again.  Will you join me?
3).  The weight challenge.  I want my UK size 12 clothes fit me, comfortably.  Right now, some do, some don't. I reckon ending the year weighing 9st10lb or less will do the trick
4).  The strength challenge.  Every workday morning I will do the 7 Minute Workout, which is a free app available for iPhone and iPad (not sure about Android).  I should be able to fit this into my routine after my new daily run.
5). The language challenge.  Resume my daily sessions on Duolingo to learn French.  (I took a break over Christmas.)  It takes about 10 minutes to work my way through the requisite 2 modules a day.
6).  Knit From Stash 2016.  This year, I will not go totally "cold sheep", instead I will limit my purchases to 10 balls of yarn for a sweater and 4 balls of yarn for socks/other presents.
7).  The other knitting challenge: to knit - and finish - four sweaters in 2016.  (This is theoretically possible.  In my most productive year, I knit six.). This will be on top of my regular production of six pairs of socks per annum.
8).  Fashion on the Ration.  Yes, once again, I will try to stick to 66 coupons as dictated by the 1941 clothing regulations.  This covers yarn purchases, too, but not items bought for household use.
9). To get my sewing machine serviced and to use it to make an outfit from my fabric stash.  (Yes, of course, I have a fabric stash.  What were you thinking?)
10).  To read 16 books in 2016.  Should be doable.
11).  The vegetable garden challenge.  I hereby commit to planting seeds in February, for planting out at the end of March.  If that doesn't happen, then I will call this challenge a failure then and be done with it.
12).  To move into the back bedroom and sort out the wardrobe issue.  
13).  To audition for a solo in the ECS 2016 carol concert.   I am a lazy musician.  This will help me be a better one.
14).  The friendship challenge.  I have lots of friends, some of whom I do not see or communicate with very often.  The challenge is to write a personal email to a different friend each month
15).  The entertaining challenge.  In conjunction with challenge 14 above, I want to have friends over for a meal 12 times in 2016.  I am not going to aim for once a month because some months this won't be possible, whereas in others it will be possible to entertain twice.
16).  To blog 16 times in 2016.
What will you do to make a difference in 2016?
- Pam

Thursday, 31 December 2015

SitRep2015: How did I do?

At the end of 2014, in this post, I set myself 15 goals for 2015.  Here is a quick summary of how I did.  (Challenge first then result):-


  1. £50 February.  We nearly made it.  As detailed here, we spent £58.83.  I will definitely try this challenge again.
  2. January is for finishing Projects/WIPS.  This is more difficult to measure because I didn't list the unfinished projects in the original post.  I think they included my Deco cardigan - still needs buttons - and the Woolly Nanette Tee - finished but the ends still need weaving in.   Let's just call this goal a fail and be done with it.
  3. Lose 15lb in 2015.  As detailed here, I succeeded in losing 7lb almost permanently, but I reckon I lost at least 5 of those pounds on 3 separate occasions.  Partial win.
  4. The 2015 Fitness Challenge.  Fail.  I'm still a slug.
  5. The Feed Me Gardening Challenge.  Almost total fail.  Gardening got away from me this year.  The only thing I managed to grow were courgettes and they were from two plants donated by DH's boss.  Maybe next year will be better.
  6. The 2015 Knit from Stash Challenge.  Almost a complete success.  I say almost because I had to buy two extra balls of 4-ply Blue Faced Leicester in order to complete my latest project, It Cannot Fail to Please from A Stitch In Time.  I was really good until October, when  I slipped at the Knit & Stitch Show and purchased two balls of Toft Alpaca Sock, 8 balls of Drops Alpaca and two balls of Jamieson's Soft Shetland.  Only the last has been knitted to date; I used it to make a hat for Dark for Christmas.
  7. The Fashion on the Ration Challenge.  To be honest, while I know I blew this one out in July when I bought a load of lingerie, I stopped tracking before then and don't know how many points I really spent.
  8. Learn French.  I have worked my way through 2 lessons of Duolingo every morning this year and, according to to the app, am now 7% fluent in French.  While I am far from being able to sustain a conversation, I know more French now than I did after four years of classes in high school.  I'll continue with Duolingo in the new year.
  9. To Throw a Fabulous 50th Birthday Party.  Big win.  I had a great party.
  10. To Read and Finish 15 Books in 2015.  Not quite a win.  I read 13 books, not 15.  Virtually every book I've read this year was on the Kindle app on my phone or iPad and a lot of them were free or cheap, thanks to joining the BookBub mailing list.  (I now have hundreds of books thanks to BookBub.)  Please, Amazon, update the app so that we can tag the books we've read and easily find them.   
  11. To move into the back bedroom.  Fail.
  12. The wardrobe challenge.  Fail.  I'm still waiting to make the big trip to IKEA to buy new wardrobes so that we can outfit the back bedroom and move.
  13. To make something of my new job.  Success.  I'm not quite back to the same point as I was with the previous role, but I'm close.  I've made friends with two of the business's senior people and, as of tomorrow, I will have a team of project accountants reporting to me again.
  14. To blog 26 times in 2015.  Fail.  Somehow, though, I remembered the target as 15 times not 26.  Once I post this, it'll be 15 times.
  15. To write that book.  Fail.  Although I have started.  Twice.
So that's a quick review of my 2015.  How did you do with your 2015 resolutions/challenges?  Do tell!

Wishing you a fantastic 2016.

- Pam

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

A lesson learned from a sewing machine

(As you may be aware, I am the proud owner of a Brother sewing machine.  It may be 24 years old now, but it does exactly what I always wanted; among its 21 stitches are a one-step button hole, a special stitch for sewing jersey fabric, takes a double needle, a sort of overlock stitch, etc. While it is in desperate need of a service - one of my 2016 challenges is to get it serviced and then to use it more often - this story isn't about it.  This story is about another sewing machine, not mine...)

I mentioned on Facebook yesterday, one of the few pieces of advice I ever dish out to people, when it comes to possessions, is to buy the one you really want.  If you can't afford it, then wait and keep saving up until you can buy the one that you really want, because if you don't, if you buy something cheaper that "will do", it never does.  You will replace the latter two or three times with another that "will do", because you'll always find a fault with it; and eventually it will cost you double what the original would have cost in the first place.  And you still won't be satisfied because what "will do" is never good enough.

This is a lesson I learned from my mother over a sewing machine.  My mum always wanted a super-duper machine that did amazing embroidery automatically, at the touch of a button.  Embroidery was one of her things, although she seldom did it by the time I was born.  It was too hard on the hands and the eyes.  Looking back I think that what she really wanted to do was make and embellish baby clothes - that was her great love - but it was never something that she pursued once I grew beyond 6 or 7 (I'm the youngest).  Her style for children's clothes was classic mid-20th century:  embroidered and smocked dresses, or velvet with a lace collar (she made lace, too).  It was a look that was well out of fashion by the early 1970's, by the time I was old enough to start to notice fashion.  Anyway, I digress...

The sewing machine was always part of our lives when we were little.  If we needed new clothes, they were home made.  A trip to the shops "for clothes" always ended up in the fabric department, selecting a pattern and some cloth, after we'd made a circuit of women's wear and children's wear.  Like knowing how to crochet, I do not remember learning to use the sewing machine or getting lessons on laying out a pattern on fabric, etc.  These are things I have always known, things I learned almost by osmosis.

The other place we would always visit would be the sewing machine department.  Mum would chat to the demonstrators, always checking out the latest models, occasionally giving them a test ride.  In the late 1970's, there were a couple of big home exhibitions at the Exhibition Buildings in Melbourne.  I remember wandering around them for hours with mum, always stopping at the stands run by the sewing machine manufacturers: Singer, Janome, Huskvana, Bernina, Pfaff.  (Oddly enough, I don't remember ever seeing a Brother machine.). We always looked at the high-end embroidery models:  some were confined to built in programs that were selected from a dial; others took an infinite number of cams that you dropped into a slot, which were expensive optional extras.  I remember Singer making the latter.  The machine mum lusted after, though, was the Pfaff:  it had multiple push-button programs and she was convinced that you could combine designs by pushing two-or-more buttons together at once.  

(Remember, this was before computers took over the world. Everything was mechanical or manual. (As an aside, one of the first conversations I ever had about computing was to discuss whether you could program a computer to drive a sewing machine to embroider a picture.  She'd got to me, too.))

Anyway, as I said, mum really wanted a Pfaff sewing machine.  Even if she didn't get one that did all the whizz-bang, you-beaut embroidery, she still wanted a Pfaff.  As far as she was concerned, they were the BMW of the sewing machine world:  German precision engineering, heavy duty but elegant and a dream to use.  They were also expensive, probably the most expensive sewing machines on the market at that time.  I don't remember the exact costs now, however I'd guess a top-of-the-range model was more than my dad's take-home wages for a month.

Somewhere along the line, mum convinced herself that her old, 1960-edition sewing machine just wasn't good enough.  If it wasn't the stitches, then it was too light weight for the type of sewing she wanted to do.   (Built into its own sewing table/case, it would literally bounce about if you went too fast.). That was her argument, anyway.  During my teenage years, she talked herself into replacing that machine. Twice.  Neither replacement was good enough.  Since she kept the original, I remember doing a direct comparison: beyond having a free arm (the original had a flat bed), there was virtually nothing the new machines offered that the original couldn't do; maybe a one-step button hole, but that was it.  (Frankly, though, as long as your machine can do zig-zag and change the length and width of its stitches, it can do a button hole.  I learned how to do that on the old machine.). If they had fancy embroidery stitches, I never saw them being used.  

I have absolutely no recollection of what was wrong with the second machine, that convinced her to purchase the third.  All I can tell you is that she continued to lust after a Pfaff.  Here's the heart of the matter:  mum couldn't bring herself to spend that bit extra on the Pfaff she always wanted and the substitutes never matched up.    

They weren't cheap machines, but individually each wasn't as costly as a Pfaff.  Collectively, however, she spent more on them than she would have done on the Pfaff she really wanted.  I remember discussing it with my dad, who found the whole thing as frustrating as I did.  Yes, Pfaffs were expensive.  No, they didn't have a lot of spare money to throw around.  However, if it doesn't match up to your expectations, why bother buying it?  Dad was prepared to spend the money, but mum would not.  In his mind and mine, mum already had an "it will do" machine, so if you weren't going to buy the one you really wanted, with all the bells and whistles on it, why bother?  Why not just continue to save until she could get the Pfaff?

This is when I learned an important life lesson:  if there is something you really, really want, don't try to make do with an "almost as good as but cheaper" substitute.  It will never do.  You will always find fault with the substitute.  Keep saving your cash until you can get the one you really want*.  I have no problem with you buying a cheap-as-chips "temporary" substitute/second-hand model if you absolutely need that piece of equipment**, but don't fork out two-thirds of the price of the one you really want on something that doesn't add up and then moan about it for years afterwards.  

Certainly, expensive isn't always better.  However, don't settle for something on the "it will do" basis when clearly it won't.  Just don't do it.  

- Pam




* Why do you think I waited and saved for years for a top-of-the-range-at-the-time iPhone?   It did exactly what I wanted, had a good camera and came with the most data storage.  (When it comes to computing, always buy the biggest storage.)   At that point, it's predecessor was 8 years old BUT 8 years earlier, pre-iPhone-invention, the predecessor was the exact phone I wanted so I was happy to wait.


** Of course, after using your "temporary" model for a while, you may decide that it is perfect for your needs and you don't actually want the other one after all.  At least you'll have found out without spending a fortune.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Excuses, excuses... No excuses.

The other day at work, while I was zapping my lunch, I plugged my meal into the www.myfitnesspal.com app, and  I found myself musing on the various times I'd counted calories or kept food diaries of one version or another.  While large portions of my life have been completely diet free, every so often in the last 10 years, I've gritted my teeth and tried (again) to lose the 15lb of fat that settled around my waist after my thyroid packed in.  Virtually every attempt involved some sort of tracker.

I was an overweight kid, probably carrying 2 stone more than I should have been by the time I was 11 or 12. (One stone = 14lb = 6kg.) I think the very first time I tried to diet was when I was 13 and my mum had bought a Weight Watchers' cookbook, which amazingly included details of the entire original Plan.  On that occasion, I ruled up a few pages in an exercise book, to act as my menu/meal tracker.  It was filled in on the first morning then abandoned.  Keeping track of Weight Watchers portions was too much like hard work, particularly since I had to keep referring back to the cookbook, which was too big to carry with me.

A couple of months later, I found a "model" diet in Dolly magazine and tried that.  A modelling school and agency - I forget which - gave it to the magazine; it was the diet they dished out to all their potential models. The selling point was "lose a stone in two weeks".  All I can remember is that most meals consisted of two eggs, half a grapefruit and spinach.  Not being much of a cook at the age of 14, I mainly hard boiled the eggs and boiled the spinach, which was disgusting.  Making a frittata never occurred to me. 

Then there was some terrible yoghurt and bran diet, which I devised myself.  (Don't ask.)  I must has been 15 by then and working on the theory that yoghurt was low in calories, full of calcium and protein, while the bran would fill me up. That lasted a couple of days.  Not only did it taste horrible, but I was hungry the entire time,  No wonder the word diet became associated in my mind with suffering through terrible tasting meals.

By the time I was 19, I'd given up on diets completely.  They were far too much like self-imposed torture for no reward.  The only thing that I tried to do, food wise, was to eat healthily:  more of the dreaded vegetables (I hated vegetables), high in fibre and low fat (anyway, greasy food gave me horrible irritable bowel syndrome cramps).  Gradually, I learned to like vegetables.  I did lose weight but it was almost by accident, and my weight stabilised at about 10st (140lb).  For a long time, I didn't even own a set of scales.

Fast forward to 1991, when I was working for a certain cosmetic surgery company, as a cross between office admin and operating theatre nurse. They decided that there was money to be made in diets, so sent me as a spy to a rival clinic.  The diet I was given that day was all about quantities and choices.  It was not prescriptive - as long as I didn't exceed the stated amounts, I could eat anything I chose. No menu plan. No "it's Tuesday, therefore you can only have 5 eggs and a head of lettuce". It was easy, straightforward and, after a day or so, I decided "I can stick with this".  Religiously, I tracked everything I ate, wrote it all down so that I could reproduce the diet meals later on.  While the company paid for the first visit, I paid for the rest.  I went back every week for 13 weeks and lost 2 stone in the process.  For the only time in my life, I achieved the magic goal weight of 8st 4lb.  

It didn't last, but my weight stabilised at a perfectly acceptable 9st 2lb and UK size 12 for the following 6 years.  It was only when I started living on Chinese takeaway, after we'd moved house and my first marriage was falling apart that I began putting the pounds back on.  By the turn of the millennium, I was 12 stone and the heaviest I have ever been.  

I managed to shed some pounds, once DH and I started living together but I was still over 11st when we started planning our wedding in 2003.  At the advice of some friends, I resorted to Weight Watchers.  While I counted points, based on the then Plan and pointed up most of my recipes, I basically followed the same program as I had in 1991.  The need to be accountable was the main reason I attended meetings.  I wrote everything up and pointed it all in the weekly food diary sheets we were given. I carried the program handbook in my handbag and referred to it often for points values.  I even joined the website. It worked, too.  I was slim at the wedding and became a gold member weighing 9st 2lb.

Less than a year later, I had shingles and the resultant autoimmune response wiped out my thyroid.  The inevitable result of hypothyroidism was weight gain.  I ballooned up to 10st 10lb, but this time the weight primarily went around my waist   I returned to Weight Watchers in 2007, stuck it out for the best part of 9 months and got back to 9st 10lb.  When I lapsed, the lesson I learned very quickly was that it took very little over-eating to put on weight.  Living for a week, once a month, in a hotel at site did it.  By the time the Project left site in 2011, I was back at 11st.  

When I returned to Weight Watchers, the program had changed.  Everything needed to be pointed up again.  I downloaded the app to my phone but it was frustratingly clumsy.  I tried logging into the website every day - at one point, whenever I opened Internet Explorer, it would automatically log straight into the tracker pages on the Weight Watchers website.  Again I found it very frustrating. I'd track for a week or so and then lapse.  Heaven help you if you ate out - although Weight Watchers continued to publish their Eating Out guide in paper format, it was impossible to find the same information out digitally.  For several years, I kept trying to make the new Weight Watchers program work for me and kept failing.  Eventually, in 2014, I gave up completely and resigned my membership of the website, cancelling my monthly subscription.

I don't remember when I downloaded the www.myfitnesspal.com app to my iPhone.  I do know that in September 2014, I had a play with it, thinking that so long as I counted calories, I might achieve something.  As weight loss tools go, it has been a revelation: it is a calorie counter:  not only can you plug in your recipes and count their calories, it has a database that stores details of millions of preprepared foods and thousands of restaurant dishes.  It is an exercise tracker, interacting with dozens of fitness apps and tools, like my Fitbit.  It can even be turned into a pedometer, if I forget to put the Fitbit on.  It was everything that the Weightwatchers app, etc, wasn't.  It is easy.  It is non-judgemental and every day starts with a clean slate.

You may remember that, as part of my 15-goals-in-2015, I challenged myself to lose 15lb this year.  Most days, I have tracked my food and my footsteps in www.myfitnesspal.com and it hasn't been a hassle.  I didn't make goal, but I didn't fail too badly,  On 5 January, when I weighed myself upon our return from Miami, I weighed 10st 10lb.  A month ago, I weighed 10st 3lb.  At my lowest point this year, I was 10st 2lb.  I haven't weighed myself in December so a 7lb weight loss for the year will have to do. It has had a visible effect on my body.  People have noticed and commented.  I'm back wearing most of my size 12 clothing.  Next year, I will try to lose the final 8lb.

- Pam

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Thoughts on friendship

I had lunch yesterday with a very dear friend, someone I absolutely adore but don't see these days on a regular basis.  It brought home to me a few things:-

1). Good friends can pick up their conversations where they left off, even if it's been weeks apart.

2). Friendship is about sharing your lives, your hopes and your dreams.   You need never worry about sharing the latter with a true friend. They will help you clarify your dreams, not laugh at them.

3). There is no such thing as TMI in a conversation with someone you are really close to.

4). When you really  love your friends, tell them. Life is fragile.  They deserve to know.  There is nothing nicer than the feeling you get when you know you are loved by someone - it is like being wrapped in a hug.

- Pam

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?

AARRRGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!



(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,

Pam