Friday, 30 December 2011

A time of reflection

Did you have a merry Christmas?  Or was it just so-so?  Mine was excellent, thank you, although it felt strange working right up to Christmas Eve.  For the last four years, I've managed to take the last few days of before Christmas, but not this year.  Still, I have had the time off between Christmas and New Year - a much needed break.

For me, the time between Christmas and New Year is always a time for reflection and goal setting.  What did I achieve last year?  What do I want to achieve in 2012? Etc, etc.  It's that whole "New Year, new me" thing.

In 2011, I set 8 goals:-

  • No stash enhancement (I've gone cold sheep)
  • To conquer the garden
  • To do the Lincoln 10k
  • To finish the year with no UFOs
  • To get pregnant (yes, this cancels out other goals)
  • To knit 1 pair of socks every 2 months
  • To knit 6 sweaters
  • To lose 25lb in weight
So how did I do?  On the whole, not badly.  To summarise:  cold sheeping failed spectacularly.   We did manage to remove the non-hedge trees from the back garden so it no longer needs to be napalmed, but it is still far too wild and unruly.   I walked the Lincoln 10k dressed as a French Maid and we raised about £1,000 for charity in the end.  2011 is going to finish with the same two UFO's it began with (a shrug from Verena that just needs to be sewn together and my Hibiscus for Hope socks, which had to be suspended while I knitted the Sunray Ribbing top from A Stitch in Time because I wasn't sure whether I'd need to frog them for the yarn).  No, I didn't get pregnant.  And I lost 15lb in weight. I actually managed to knit six sweaters in 2011, as well as the second half of a seventh, so that goal was well and truly met (I'll put up photos eventually).  As was the one to knit a pair of socks every two months - I completed 6 pairs, almost finished a seventh and re-knitted one of the Hibiscus for Hope socks.

For 2012, I have a whole new batch of New Year's Resolutions goals:-
  1. To really work at having a decent veggie garden this year.  I'd like to be able to feed us from it for days/weeks at a time.
  2. To use things up.  I have a stockpile of "stuff":  make-up, fabric, cross stitch stuff, yarn, even cooking ingredients.  As Gigi Knitmore once said, "There's no point in saving things just in case the Queen drops in. Use it and enjoy it".
  3. To only buy yarn from a) charity shops or b) if it is less than £3/ball.  Oh, and the yarn budget for 2012 will be £60 for the year, no more. I've tried going "cold sheep" and not buying yarn and all that happens is that I'll be good for months and then go mad.
  4. To be tidy.  I have the messy gene - I can put a pen on an empty table and it'll look like a bomb hit it in 2 minutes flat.  I can't do neat but I can do tidy.
  5. To be more organised.  No more forgetting things or procrastinating and putting off things that need to be done.
  6. To buy less than 12 items of clothing in 2012 (underwear, socks and stockings exempted).  Ideally, I'd like to buy them from charity shops - I've had really good luck recently and scored 3 brand new suits for less than £10 each.  (I have far too many clothes anyway, so need to wear some stuff until it wears out.)
  7. To lose at least another stone (14lb) in weight.  I want to lose the spare tyre that has settled on my midriff.
  8. The nebulous fitness goal:  to strengthen my body by working out/lifting weights three times a week.
  9. The not-so-nebulous fitness goal:  to be able to run 5k/3 miles without stopping, and to achieve this before my birthday in August.
  10. To knit another 6 pairs of socks and 6 sweaters in 2012.  And to make them from stash yarns.
  11. To blog more.  I didn't post nearly enough this year.


What about you? How did your 2011 New Year's Resolutions do?  Did any last beyond January?  Are you planning on doing any for 2012? 

I'd like to wish you all a very happy New Year.  May your resolutions be achieved and all your dreams and wishes in 2012 come true. Here's hoping 2012 will be a kinder year for all of us.

- Pam

Friday, 16 December 2011

Other things to think about

I have other things to worry about besides the impending Great Depression...

The kitchen roof failed on Tuesday. I heard a slow drip when I wandered down to make breakfast. Dashed into the kitchen and found a small puddle forming on top of the recycling. Shoved the "laundry basket" under that (a large trug). It collected maybe a pint of water before the rain stopped. Phoned the builder - he can't get to us until the week between Christmas and New Year. Hopefully he can patch it up enough to take us through to the summer, when he is scheduled to replace it with a pitched, tiled roof. (I hate flat roofs.) It's rained since then but no more drips.

Worry number 2 is that DH'a job finished abruptly yesterday. In a way, I am not surprised. They'd already informed him that they were halving his hours and splitting his job into 2 in a misguided bid to save money (it won't). I think they picked an excuse and ran with it because the other guy was cheaper. They've shot themselves in the foot though because the other guy can only work part time and won't work Saturdays.

As they say, bad things come in threes... Eldest Sis phoned me yesterday - Dad's baby brother died at 2am. He'd just faded away since Uncle Ron died. So now there is nobody left of that generation.

This has turned into a depressing post! I'm not normally like that. I'm one of life's optimists - keep trying and something good will happen is my philosophy. Ok, so what good things have happened? Well my boss told me I will get a raise in January's pay reviews. No idea what yet - I didn't put him on the spot and ask how much (anyway until it is approved by corporate, he won't know for sure how much anyone will get but it will be something). How's that?

- Pam

Monday, 12 December 2011

Life's unanswerable question #24: the Euro crisis

Over the past few months, I have been bemused, puzzled and worried by the situation in Europe - the near default and bailout of Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Spain.  Italy is the latest rabbit in the headlights and France is being lined up to follow (French banks have had their credit status downgraded). 

These are all countries that have been throttled by the straight-jacket that is their membership of the Euro.  They cannot devalue their currency in order to give themselves a competitive advantage over their neighbours.  They also cannot print currency to inflate their way out of the current crisis, as Britain and America have attempted to do ("fiscal stimulus" by another name). 

Since joining the Euro, Ireland, Spain and Portugal have experienced property booms, funded by interest rates that were far lower than they would have been if they'd kept their original currencies.  Money was cheap, borrowing it became easier and easier as banks funded themselves on the wholesale market.  Prudence was forgotten.  Then along came 2008 and the collapse of Lehman Brothers.  The supply of easy money dried up overnight and many banks turned to their national governments for bailouts, effectively nationalising themselves.  That's what did for Ireland, Spain and Portugal.  Spain, in particular, wasn't a highly indebted nation until it had to bail out its banks.

Greece has a different set of problems.  If you listen to the stereotypes, the Greek's are a profligate nation: they retire earlier than anyone else in Europe, have a huge and inefficient public sector and get well paid for the privilege. The average salary in Greece is €20,000 higher than the average salary in Germany.  I was therefore surprised to read on the BBC website that the Greeks pay more tax than pretty much any other Europeans and have higher levels of personal savings too.  They also have lower personal borrowings. 

As a nation, Italy is suffering from the hangover of debt that was incurred in the decades leading up to the last recession, the one at the beginning of the 1990's.  Since then, Italy has balanced its budget and does not borrow to fund its day to day operations (unlike, say, the UK and the USA).  Until the current Great Recession, they were slowly paying back the old debt.

The big question is:  will the Euro survive?  I both like and dislike the Euro:  on the one hand, having a single European currency is really useful when travelling or when dealing with invoices for my big work project (it made life so much easier).  On the other hand, the current situation was foreseeable 20 years ago during the last recession when Britain exited the ERM (Exchange Rate Mechanism), the Euro's predecessor which tied currency exchange rates together.  Ditto 40-odd years ago, when the Bretton-Woods Agreement collapsed. 

Monetary union cannot work unless the countries involved give up the rights to control their borrowings, their taxation policies and their budgets to central control.  Whether the Eurozone will get to that point is anyone's guess - right now, they're still trying to stick plasters (band-aids) over the wounds instead of biting the bullet.  Will we have another credit crunch and a world-wide Depression?  Or will the Euro collapse instead?

- Pam  (I have no answers)





PS:  Most of my background knowledge re Italy, Spain and Greece, I owe to the BBC.  Naturally, I can't find the articles on their website when I need them for attribution.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

RIP Gary Speed

Today, the British football world was shaken with the news of the suicide of the Welsh manager, Gary Speed, who was found hanged at his home this morning.  On the surface, he was a man with the world at his feet:  happily married with the footballer's dream job of successfully managing his national side.  He was a regular pundit on Football Focus and Match of the Day.  I didn't know him and yet I was moved to tears while listening to his close friend, Robbie Savage, fielding calls on a football phone-in that rapidly became a tribute program.  (Robbie, it was obvious you were crying.)

My heart goes out to his family:  his father, his wife and his children.  I am truly sorry for your loss.  (I have heard no mention of his mother so assume she has predeceased him.  If that assumption is wrong, I am very sorry.)  

The big question is "Why?".  Was it planned?  Was it spontaneous?  Were you living a double life for years, Gary, hiding depression from absolutely everyone?  Maybe we'll never know.  Hopefully his wife and children won't be left haunted for years, blaming themselves. The one thing I know about suicide is that, for the person involved, they want what-ever-it-is-tormenting-them to stop and to be at peace.  They often don't want to die but they can't see another way to make it stop. 

Gary, I hope you are at peace now.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

New Scam in Progress

I've just had a phone call from someone claiming to be the "Windows Help Desk" and saying that they're getting loads of error messages from my computer and that if I didn't do what they told me immediately, my computer would break down!   The background noise sounded like they were calling from a large call centre and the accent was Asian.

Err.... I don't think so.  We aren't stupid enough to sign up for a service like that for domestic computers (waste of money) and the people who run those services commercially don't make calls out of the blue on a Saturday.  You have to register a problem first with the help-desk - they can't monitor you remotely (companies can, but that's because you log into the company network before you do anything else).

Also, I'm geek enough to know there is nothing wrong with either PC.  If there was, I know a reputable business in Uxbridge that'll fix it for a flat fee.

However, someone who didn't have much technical knowledge might get caught out, follow their instructions and download the spy-bot as instructed or pay over the money for the service these scammers are selling. 

For heavens sake, if you get a call like this, engage your common sense first and then hang up!

- Pam 

Friday, 11 November 2011

The Game

I swear I didn't pop into the Barnardo's Charity Shop with buying a suit in mind.  I was looking for something - or rather, some things - but my list didn't specifically involve clothing for me.  Instead, it covered the "usual":  a double boiler for melting wax for candles (always top of the list but unlikely); an un-engraved pewter tankard to be polished up and engraved as one of the numerous 40th birthday presents (so far, I've found 2 in two years); a plain black fleece for DH for work;  yarn (maybe); and possibly some clothing for me if something catches my eye.  Oh, and to amuse myself, I was playing The Game.

The Game?  What game?  The "you only have £50 and you need to buy a full wardrobe" game.  The rules are simple:  you have £50 and the clothes you are currently wearing (including hand bag). You must buy sufficient clothing to get you through a working week and a weekend (including underwear and shoes), plus make-up, toiletries and a bag to carry it all in.  Since this is a game, you don't have to buy them in real life.

I think I first invented The Game, when I had to do something similar for real.  It was February 1999 and I was spending every weekend and most evenings with DH (DB as he was then).  Fridays, I'd normally schlep a bag of clothes in with me to work and then go directly to DH's. One particular Thursday, I stupidly drank wine after giving blood, nearly passed out, and ended up spending the night at DH's rather than drive the 20 miles home.  This Friday, I was dreading driving home to get my stuff - it'd take me 4 hours in the Friday evening traffic to get there and back. At about 4.30 in the afternoon, I cooked up a plan and decided I'd go shopping instead.  I didn't have a huge amount of money so I set the budget at £50.  After an hour's dash through the shops, I had a Head gym bag, a pair of jeans, three tee-shirts, some underwear, socks and a cardigan.   I'd already had to buy make-up that morning and I could use DH's toiletries, so they were off the list.   I was wearing a trouser suit, loafers, coat and had a handbag.   Thus was borne the basic elements of The Game.

Anyway, last Friday, I was wandering through the shops playing The Game.  I decided I could keep the clothes and shoes I was wearing (jeans, coat, cardigan, t-shirt, trainers, etc), together with my handbag and its contents (including lipstick, lip balm, sock knitting kit, and a comb).  Here's what I "spent":-
  • £4.47 - Make-up:   powder, blusher and mascara (£1.49 each) from Tesco's All About Face range which I reviewed last year. (I decided the powder would stand in as a make-up base and that I could keep the lipstick in my handbag.)
  • 85p cotton wool pads to apply the above makeup.
  • £2.80 - Toiletries and skin care:  value shampoo (64p/litre), value hair conditioner (24p), value cream handwash (37p) which can double as body wash and facial cleanser, value toothbrush (10p), value toothpaste (17p),  value twin blade disposable razors for shaving my legs (30p for 10).  The cheapest moisturiser is actually quite a good one:  Nivea Soft Intensive Moisturising Creme (99p).
  • £4.50 - Suitcase:  second hand from a charity shop.   Not the nicest case, but better than a plastic bag.
  • £18.00 - two work suits (£9.50 and £8.50) - the ones I found in Bernardos.
  • £6.50 - work shoes:  in Oxfam, I found a pair of black shoes suitable for work.
  • £8 - 4 t-shirts from charity shops.
  • £1.75 - tights/pantihose: value brand pack of 6.
  • 62p - socks:  value brand pack of 3 black socks. (This is the price I paid last time - couldn't find them today.)
  • £2.50 - panties:  value brand pack of 4. (Again, this is the price I paid last time - couldn't find them today.)
Grand total:  £49.99.   I've priced it up for you, to prove that it is possible.  You'll note that there is no nightwear.  I decided that I could always sleep in my dirty t-shirt from that day and use my coat as a dressing gown, if I was desperate.

So, anyway, this is the long way around  to explain how I purchased two almost-new Marks & Spencer suits in Barnardo's a week or so ago. 

- Pam

    Wednesday, 26 October 2011

    It pays to shop around

    I should be fuming.

    The Toy turns 11 next month.  With his insurance due for renewal, I went on line to compare quotes.  His current insurer is quoting me £50/month or a one off payment of £560 for fully comprehensive insurance including business cover - £20/month more than I was paying the same company a year ago.  In fact, it's more than I was paying when he was brand new!

    Lured by their advertising, I logged onto Comparethemeerkat.com comparethemarket.com and typed in my details. Everything exactly the same.  Half-way down the list of insurance quotes was my current insurer, quoting exactly half what they quoted to me.  So I phoned my insurer.  "Sorry, madam, we can't match that quote....You're an existing customer and that makes you ineligible."

    Huh?  So you don't want to keep my business then?   Good-bye.

    Frustrated, I turned back to the quotes on the internet.  Directly above my current insurer and £2 cheaper was a subsidiary of the same company.  Five minutes later, I've bought identical car insurance through them.  And scored a free Meerkat toy, with my own Meerkova Village Parade.  Enjoy!



    - Pam

    Monday, 17 October 2011

    Score!

    Saturday was one of "those" days - a rushing, busy day. DH had to work, then there was football (5.30 kick off) and a party in the evening. Somehow, I got behind in my plans and never caught up, so 8pm saw us dashing into Tesco to buy a gift bag to cover the birthday present. Naturally, being us, we sprinted around the "Condemned Food" sections in order to snaffle up any useful bargains.

    Sitting lonely and ignored in the produce aisle were 4 bags of perfectly good mushrooms marked down to 35p! There were plenty of people pawing over the rest of the reduced veg but nobody was paying any attention to the mushrooms. Quickly, I liberated them and walked away. Their combined weight was 3.25kg. Total cost £1.22 (one was a half bag).

    Yesterday, we processed the majority for the freezer. Since we didn't have that many onions, we made 3 boxes of "Base", with one of the bags of mushies. The rest were sliced and fried in the remains of the oil/liquid/pot scrapings from the Base, then boxed up in double quantities for the freezer. That filled 4 boxes.

    The freezer is full again with 3 meals-worth of base and 8 meals-worth of mushrooms stashed away in take-away food boxes. Not bad for £1.22.

    -Pam

    Friday, 30 September 2011

    The Toy's Trip Report

    (Or what a little red car did on his holidays.)

    Two Monday's ago, I got loaded up with people and stuff and drove to Normandy, France.  I had my "passport" (GB sticker).

     

     My ticket (attached to my rear vision mirror).

    An awful lot of luggage.


    Yet more luggage.  (How much do three people need for one week?)


    And "the crew" (that's the Boy, the Girl and Howard, our host).


    We travelled via the Channel Tunnel, on Le Shuttle.  It's quicker than the ferry and much more comfortable if you're a car - no need to worry about some idiot belonging to the vehicle next to you flinging his door open and damaging your paintwork.  And, no possibility of sea-sickness.   Also, the humans have to stay with their vehicles on Le Shuttle, whereas on a ferry they're forceably removed and made to walk through shops stinking of foul smelling perfumes (which always clings to their clothes.  Yuck!).

    If you've ever wondered what the inside of the Channel Tunnel looks like, here's a "car's eye view" of the interior of the train:

    When we got to the far side, the Boy drove me into Cite Europe for a rest, while the crew went to the bank, bought lunch in Carrefour, stretched their legs and swapped drivers (the Girl did the next stretch).  Cite Europe is a shopping mall right beside the Eurotunnel terminal.  Must remember for next time that the quickest way to get there is to drive into the Total garage forecourt, then back onto the side road, left at the roundabout and into the car park 200 metres beyond.  Otherwise, you have to go the long way round via the motorway and that means adjusting very quickly to French roads. 

    French roads are a bit strange for us right-hand-drivers.  Firstly, we have to remember to drive on their side of the road, not ours, and that means going around roundabouts the wrong way. 


    See, the Boy is sitting in my driver's seat.  It's on the other side  to all those left-hand-drive cars.  He had to drive sitting almost in the gutter on some roads.  Also, it means we have to wear "blinkers" so that our lights don't blind the on-coming foreign cars.

    (Do you see that THING stuck on my light?  That's a blinker!  Like horses wear!  As if I'd ever deliberately blind someone.  How insulting!)

    Driving in France means different speed limits and having to remember to pay attention to the kilometres on my speedo, not the miles.  On their motorways, cars drive up to 130km/h (that's over 80 mph), while in  towns the speed is usually 50km/h (around 30mph).  On the whole, their roads are good:  well signposted, smooth surfaces with not many potholes.

    Although some cars got a little too close to my rear bumper for my liking, most were very well behaved - only staying in the left lane for long enough to overtake a vehicle before pulling in.  And they indicated (unlike London drivers who think that using their indicators costs extra).  I soon got over my nerves and was whizzing along pretending that I'm really a Porsche in disguise.  Then we got to the Pont Du Normandie.

    No photos can do it justice.  That bridge is steep.  Since it has a peage (toll booth station) at the bottom, you can't even get a good run-up.  It even has pedestrians.

    We drove from there to Pegasus Bridge, near Caen.   The British captured the Bridge on the night before the D-Day landings.   I drove over the replica/replacement.  It looks the same but it's larger and stronger than the original.






    It was named for the emblem of the Paratroopers who liberated it.  Their story is told in the film, The Longest Day, starring Richard Todd.  In real life, Todd was one of the reinforcements on the mission.




    The original bridge is now in the museum beside the canal.  The first allied soldier to be killed by the enemy during the D-Day landings,  Lt Brotheridge, died on that bridge.  There is a plaque to mark the spot.  Someone had left fresh flowers there on the day we visited.



    The humans tell me that, if you get the chance, the museum is well worth a visit.  As well as the original bridge, it also has a replica of the Horsa gliders the men flew in to capture the Bridge.  (The originals didn't survive the conflict.)


    The replica was built by engineering enthusiasts to the original plans.  It's mainly made of plywood.  Must have been a scary flight, not much in the way of brakes or steering and no engine.

    From Pegasus Bridge, we continued on our way into the heart of the Normandy peninsula, to the farm house where we stayed.  We visited shops and markets, etc, but  I think I'll leave the rest story to another day.  Time to park up my wheels and rest.

    Good night.

    - Toy

    Saturday, 24 September 2011

    For Amy

    We're on holiday in Normandy for the week.  On Tuesday,  we visited the American Cemetery Normandy, high on the bluffs over Omaha Beach.






    It is a peaceful but windswept place.  The edge of the cemetery looks down over the dunes and cliffs onto the beach.  While there couldn't be a more fitting place for the American cemetery than the bluffs over Omaha Beach, it is amazing that anyone survived. Looking down, you wonder how anyone could have made it off the beach alive.

    Standing on the beach, you marvel at the peace and the lack of ghosts, after the horrors that were the D-Day landings.





    We weren't alone at the Cemetery.  Everywhere were small groups of people come to pay their own respects.  One was a small party of veterans and their wives doing a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial.  Their shoulders had that certain stiffness people have when they're trying not to show they're crying.  (We didn't photograph them - that would have been intrusive, but you can see their wreath in the photo below.)
     

     


     We were there to pay respects of our own. The great-uncle of a friend, Amy, is buried there.  He died on D-Day, 6th June 1944, a young man who gave his life and his future so that Europe would be free of the tyranny that was the Nazis.
     

    Putting flowers on his grave is the least that I could do, Amy.


    - Pam
     

    Tuesday, 13 September 2011

    Happy Anniversary Darling



    Eight years today.  And every day is wonderful.

    - Pam

    Monday, 5 September 2011

    Dodged a bullet. Possibly.

    On Friday, I finished my latest pair of Prom Socks and decided, reluctantly, to give them to a friend for her birthday.


    They're in Regia Marrakesh, colourway Sylt 5497.  I really like it.  In fact, I liked it so much that I decided to buy another ball, to make a pair for myself instead of just making a pair of Use-Em-Up socks with the leftovers from this pair. 

    About 10 minutes after I finished the socks, I was on-line searching for a replacement skein.  Google to the rescue. There weren't many options listed, so I felt really lucky when I found a skein at the very yarn shop who owned the stand at Ally Pally where I'd purchased the ball in the first place!  Web of Wool.

    An alarm bell chimed softly in the back of my mind when I saw the website address.  It wasn't the store name, but the website looked legitimate so I rationalised that maybe they were using a hosting service.  Everything went well, including the "thank you for registering at our website" email, until I tried to pay for my purchase.  Then I got an error message from WorldPay:

    Sorry, there was an error in processing this transaction: The information sent from the merchant's site is invalid or incomplete. Please send the following information to the merchant:
    The transaction cannot be processed due to one or more of the following:
    • the merchant account is suspended
    • the order currency you selected is not supported
    • the authorisation mode is incorrect
    • test mode is unavailable
    • the installation is not live


    Since it was after 10pm, I thought that maybe the site was down for maintenance.  Just to be sure, I emailed Web of Wool to report the error message by replying to the "thank you for your order" email I received from them.  I also emailed the Hotmail address quoted on the website.  When both of those bounced, I tried the "Contact us" page.  That didn't bounce. I hadn't paid anything - I hadn't entered my payment details anywhere - but I didn't want that ball of yarn sold out from under me.

    I was a bit concerned that I didn't hear anything from them on Saturday or Sunday, so this morning I tried to phone them.  The number was disconnected.  Huh?

    Back to Google.  This time, my Google-fu turned up a discussion on a knitting club's board.  It was nearly two years old but talked about poor customer service, non-delivery of orders after the money had been taken, unanswered emails and non-returned phone messages.  The writers talked about reporting Web of Wool to Trading Standards. I posted on the Midlands UK Crafter's Board on Ravelry:  has Web of Wool closed?  A kind Raveler responded and said yes.  She linked to the forums on the Laughing Hen website.  And there I got a definitive answer:  Trading Standards had taken Web of Wool to court and got a judgement against them; effectively, they closed them down.

    It looks like I dodged a bullet, since I hadn't paid any money or given any payment details, I'm not out of pocket.  Beware, though, if your search for a yarn shop turns up this website for Web of Wool, it's an archive and not functioning.

    - Pam

    Wednesday, 31 August 2011

    Tightening My Belt

    For most of my working life, the last working day of the month has been Pay Day.  This morning, as usual, I did my accounts.  Using the cash book pages in my Filofax, I listed my income and my outgoings.  While I do this every month, today I had a bigger incentive - having watched the numbers closely in June and July, I made the decision in August to save and invest more money.  And now, I wanted to see what the effect would be on my bank account.  (Yes, that's right, while I can run scenarios in Excel until the cows come home for work, I never seem to get around to doing it for myself.  Wishful thinking numbers, yes [e.g. daydream scenarios of lottery wins].  Real numbers, no.)

    So, this morning, I added my salary payment to the balance in my bank account, deducted money for the joint account, my savings accounts, Weight Watchers, Audible, the Housekeeping money, my share ISA, £180 to the Petrol/Diesel Accrual, and £180 to my Money to Live Off.  I went to write down the next line:, "credit card repay", and stopped. Staring me in the face was a brutal truth:  I'd been too cocky with my calculations when I changed the savings and investment numbers.  No matter how many times I added up the numbers - and most of them are the same each month - there was no way I could avoid what I was seeing.  If I was to maintain my debt pay down levels something would have to give.  I had a shortfall of £35.

    £35.  Not a huge some of money.  There have been times when I've spent that much on a meal out.  But it was £35 more than I earn.  £35 I don't have.

    I stared at the numbers. I started arguing with myself. I baulked at cutting the debt pay-down money.  It made me nauseous to think about it.  I also rebelled at cutting my savings and investments.  Just couldn't do it - that money is needed for future things, important things, for which I have plans.  That left little else to choose from:  my Sanity Fund? No! Everyone needs a Sanity Fund and mine is only £60/month (earmarked for a pressure canner, clothes and craft supplies).  Cut out Weight Watchers?  No, even though I don't go to meetings any more, I need access to their website to track my points.

    ARRRGGHHH!!!!!

    In the end, I decided it'd have to be split equally between my Money To Live Off and the Petrol/Diesel Accrual, which is money I allocate to pay for fuel for the car during the month.  £17.50 off each.  It's not going to be easy.  I'd already cut my Money to Live Off back so that I could save more money.  Now it's £162.50 a month to pay for everything I might need and/or want:  birthday presents, social events, music for choir, hair cuts, clothes, software, books, DVDs, dental visits, etc, etc.  Seems like a lot of money until you realise that a round of four drinks at the pub quiz can cost over £12.

    The effects on the Petrol/Diesel Accrual will be even harsher. At current prices, it's down to little more than 4 tanks-worth of diesel a month.  I usually go through one tank a week in a normal-commute-to-work-week.  As long as a tank of diesel stays below £40, then I should have a little time to save up for the next 5-week month.  That will be March; September won't qualify because we're taking a holiday and December includes work's Christmas shut down.

    Fingers crossed I get a salary increase when the pay reviews are done in December.  I'd like my £35 spending money back, please.

    - Pam

    Saturday, 27 August 2011

    The Fruits of my Labours

    Two weekends ago, DH's best friend sent me a text message:  would I like some sloes for sloe gin?  "Yes, please," I replied.  Monday night, he arrived at our door with 2kg of sloes and a further 3.5kg of crab apples.  Unfortunately, he picked one of my busier weeks.  I would only have Saturday with which to make anything.

    On Saturday, I started the process of making crab apple jelly: washed, chopped and boiled the fruit, then drained it through a jelly bag.   (Note:  copying an idea from the Cottage Small Holder, I added dried chillies to the fruit before I boiled it, in order to add a bit of zing.)

    Saturday night while the apple juice dripped, we made sloe gin, pricking the sloes while sitting on the couch watching the football highlights from Match of the Day.  The recipe is from a wonderful website, Sloe.biz. (In case you've never encountered them, sloes are small, very sour members of the plum family, native to Britain.)  The sloes will macerate in the gin for another three months before I attempt to decant them and make sloe gin chocolates .



    Sunday, I only had time to put the drained juice into the fridge, dump the pulp into a bowl and refrigerate that too.   Fast forward to this morning, when I finally had time to make jelly.


    The above was two hours hard work, plus several hours tracking down jars.  Hopefully the condensation won't be a problem in the clip-lid jars.  The others are sealed with wax circles and cellophane.

    Tonight, I'll rub the pulp through a sieve and make Crab Apple Chilli Cheese, another Cottage Small Holder recipe.  Hopefully, I can rustle up enough jars.

    - Pam

    Friday, 26 August 2011

    How this Child of the Sun keeps warm in the cold

    (Thanks to sheep, basically.)

    A couple of weeks ago, my darling older sister sent me a white woollen cowl for my birthday.  It's lovely and snuggly and came with an unspoken message, "This is to keep you warm in that cold country where you live".  (That's OK.  We both feel the cold. I knit her socks. She moved to Queensland to keep warm; inexplicably to her, I moved to Britain and revel when it snows.)

    The week before my birthday, it was warm - really warm, the sort of summer days we don't see very often in Britain, when your limbs are bathed in warm air and the sun shines.  It reminded me that I am a child of the Sun; I was born at the beginning of spring in a land where spring last a month and summer goes on and on and on.  (Melbourne's spring is August, remember.)  My favourite Greek god is Apollo.  When I feel sunshine on my face, it makes me smile.  Sunshine always lifts my mood. 

    Thursday of last week, London was colder than Melbourne.  Today, it rained again.  Our summer has deteriorated into a stereotypical British one.

    My love affair with wool began when I was a child.  Although winter is short in Oz, it is relatively cold in the southern states and it does snow on high ground. We have excellent ski fields.  Growing up, it was very rare for houses to have central heating.  Schools did.  Offices and public buildings did.  But most homes relied on a single heater in the lounge.  If temperature was considered at all when they were built, it was with a view to keeping the house cool in summer.  Winter wasn't usually a consideration.

    My grade 2 teacher, Mrs Cooper, taught all our class to knit, both girls and boys.  It enchanted me.  Begging yarn from my mum, I created something that, in theory, was meant to become a scarf but turned into some weird trapezoid shape instead.  Two years later, I knitted my first jumper, something mustard coloured in acrylic.  It was probably Red Heart.   Three or four projects later, I graduated to pure wool.  I've knitted dozens of projects since and wool is always my first choice fibre.

    During my first 10 years in the UK, I mainly lived in properties that didn't have central heating.  In winter, I had a recurring dream.  I'd dream of merino sheep about to be sheared.  The shearer would turn the sheep onto its back and, instead of being sheared, the sheep would wriggle out of a sheepskin coat.  Once free of the coat, it looked the same as if it had been sheared. I wanted that coat.  I craved that coat.  But there was nowhere to buy one in Britain and I probably couldn't afford it anyway if I did find one.  In Oz, I could buy sheepskin moccasins at the market but I was told "Skinny's" had gone bankrupt and with that went the only source of sheepskin coats I knew.  (On every visit to Melbourne, I go to the Queen Victoria Market and buy another pair of moccasins;  it is almost a ritual.)

     I'd acquired my first sheepskin mittens a.k.a. ugg gloves, when I was 10.   It was the mid-1970's and sheepskin gloves, mittens, coats and boots were all the rage.  (There were ugg boots and gloves long before Brian Smith trade marked the name in the USA.).    We always had sheepskin moccasin slippers

    Throughout my early British winters, I wished for those mittens.  When I went home for my mum's funeral in 1994, they were one of the things I brought back in my hand luggage.  In winter, my hands were always cold.  The mittens were fine, but you had to take them off to do anything dexterous, such as turn the pages of a book or dig out your train pass. Inevitably, I spent a fortune on gloves, trying to find the magical pair that would keep my hands warm.  Finally, in about 1997, I scored a pair of sheepskin gloves.  They were (and are) wonderful.  I wore them until the stitching around the thumb gave out, then put them away until I could fix them, which I did last winter.

    I also worked my way through multiple coats; always trying to find one warmer than the last.  It's really hard finding a cloth coat that the wind can't penetrate.  That took forever to achieve; eventually, I found a cashmere and wool blend, Cossack-style coat in a shop in Ealing.  Sadly, after 13 winters of being worn to work, it's beginning to die.  At the very least, the pure silk lining needs to be replaced.

    The advent of the internet was a godsend for my cold feet.  I found a British company that made sheepskin products, Celtic Sheepskin.  I can't speak more highly of this company.  DH gave me a pair of their "Celt boots" for Christmas 4 or 5 years ago.  Another present was a pair of sheepskin slippers, which he gave me when my last pair of Aussie moccasins gave out.  Last year, I treated myself to a pair of their sheepskin lined walking boots; perfect for going to the football on cold winters days.  These are all my "sheep feet"; a wardrobe of sheepskin footwear, wonderful on cold winter's days when I need to go out or indoors when I don't want to turn up the central heating.

    While I lust after their coats, in particular their toscana ones, I'd need to win the lottery to afford one.  Instead, I've had lucky charity shop finds.  Seven years ago, I found a cream, hooded, sheepskin car-coat.  Asking price, £12. The zip was broken and the pockets were full of rubbish. I pointed out the broken zip; they sold it to me for half price.  A replacement zip cost £5 and several hours of swearing.  Dry-cleaning was £35 (and I got complements for my zip replacement job from the drycleaner).  This is "the sheep", which I wear to football and for other freezing-cold-but-casual occasions.


    Winter 2009, I scored another sheepskin coat in another charity shop!  This time, it was a slim-fitting, 3/4 length chocolate brown toscana coat. My hands shook as I paid them the £15 asking price, since I knew it'd retail for closer to £800 (I didn't tell them that).  It's shorter than I'd like (my legs get cold), but the only major downside is no pockets.   It's my other "wear to work" coat.


    I've always had a daydream that, one day, I'd keep my own sheep.  Looking at the list of sheepskin products I have above, I think I've already got 2 or 3.  And these ones don't need feeding.  Or shearing.   :o)

    - Pam (got 10 or 20 more sheep in the stash, but we won't go there today)


    Thursday, 18 August 2011

    Proms were attended

    Thursday night, DH and I went to the Proms, where we saw the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra perform together with Dejan Lazic play Brahms' 'Piano Concerto No. 3' in D major (reworked from the violin concerto), and Julian Lloyd-Webber play Holst's Invocation.  The music was beautiful but, seriously, Julian, you're 62 - get a decent haircut!

    The highlight was Elgar's Enigma Variations, glorious as always. Nimrod was over far too fast. My other favourite movement is the one describing Dan the dog falling into the river and barking when he got out (see the program notes available on the above link).  It is very evocative.

    Friday night was another Prom, the Film Music Prom performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra.  It started life as part of a celebration of ten years of Wittertainment a.k.a. Mark Kermode's and Simon Mayo's film reviews (available on BBC Radio 5 and as podcasts on i-Tunes. Well worth a listen).  A couple of weeks ago, I caught up with the podcast episode where Mark, Simon, Keith Lockhart (the conductor) and some guests debated what music to include.  It was a pleasure to finally hear it all performed live.

    Highlights?  Star Wars, of course.  And the theme music from Murder on the Orient Express has been playing in my head for the last few days.  Also, having not seen the film, I didn't realise that the shower scene in Psycho went on for so long or that the knife was wielded quite so many times.  

    Finally, on Saturday, we went to the Comedy Prom which was lead by Tim Minchin.  Lots of comic songs and very funny guests (Kit and the Widow are brilliant.  So are the Mongrels, I'd like to catch their BBC TV series now).  It'll be broadcast on BBC2 on August 27th and I'll be taping it to watch again.

      - Pam

    PS:  Prom Socks were knitted throughout these events.  When you sit in the gods (a.k.a. the Circle) the performers can't see you, so knitting quietly on wooden needles (no clack-clack) is fine.

    Wednesday, 27 July 2011

    True confessions of a yarn addict

    I really should stay away from yarn shops.


    At lunchtime today, I went to Hobbycraft to buy a couple of row counters.  All the ones I've got are in use and I'll need one for my next project. Naturally, I browsed the yarn aisles, while I was there.  I had to - the knitting notions were buried in the middle.  I wasn't looking for anything - normally, I can resist the yarns at Hobbycraft because many have that cheap-and-nasty plastic acrylic feel.  Not today.

    On an end-cap, I found a shelf of something that intrigued me:  Palette's Vintage, a worsted weight 70% wool, 30% soy blend.  The label knocked me for six - you never see a yarn labeled "worsted" in this country, it just doesn't exist.   If you didn't like brown, there wasn't a huge number of other skeins: 9 white ("Macadamia"), 6 blue ("Enamel"), 9 red ("Red Bud") and 20-odd brown ("Otter").  But there was no price.  I nabbed a shop assistant, who checked - it was 99p a ball and the stuff on the shelf was all they had. 

    The yarn-lust took hold of me.  Worsted weight?  Less than a Pound a ball?  And it's 70% wool?  I stared at it for a few minutes.  Was there enough to make a sweater?  I did a swift calculation in my head, 9 balls at 125m/ball is 1125 metres of yarn.  Not quite enough for, say, a Must Have Cardigan.  I scrabbled on my phone to access Ravelry;  was there anything suitable in my favourites that didn't use much yarn?  Amy Christoffers' Acer Cardigan fitted the bill.  As did Bonne Marie Burns' Basic Chick V-Neck Cardigan and her Twist.  I could knit an entire garment for £8.91!  That's my sort of price.

    In the end, I couldn't decide between the red and the white.  At 99p a ball, I decided I didn't have to.






    - Pam (It's not stash enhancement if you have a pattern for it; it's project acquisition)

    Monday, 25 July 2011

    Taking frugality to extremes


    Louisa at the Really Good Life raised an interesting point on her most recent blog: when you take frugality to extremes, how far is too far?  Although I replied over there, I thought I'd spend a minute or two here working out my thoughts on the subject.

    To me, extreme frugality is akin to being miserly it’s forgetting about the “living” part of “living below your means”. If it makes your quality of life suffer, then it’s too extreme. Frugality for me is about making choices that enhance my life but keep me within my budget.  Back in March 2009, Channel 4 ran a program, The Hunt for Britain's Tightest Person  where a woman demonstrated how to bathe in a bucket in the kitchen - something she had to do because her boiler had been broken for months and she hadn't bothered to get it fixed. She had the money to fix it but she preferred to boil the kettle and wear extra layers in winter rather than spend money on her boiler.  Winter 2009 was very cold - we had two weeks where the temperature didn't get to zero - and I remember thinking she'd flipped over the edge from frugal to miser.

    For me, frugality is making the best use of your resources.  It may be about getting the best price for something, or buying the best quality item you can afford or ensuring you have cash set aside for car repairs, etc.  However, it is also about living the best life you can on the budget you've got.  It's living a champagne lifestyle but only spending beer money to obtain it.  It isn't about depriving yourself for the sake of it or being a martyr to the cause.  Yes, you have to make choices because nobody can afford everything, but it's about making the choice to spend money in ways that reflect your goals and dreams.

    - Pam

    Saturday, 23 July 2011

    Entering the Lion's Den AKA Purl City Yarns

    On a back street, five minutes walk from Manchester's Piccadilly Gardens, is a knitterly haven: Purl City Yarns.  I staggered in there yesterday afternoon laden with laptop, trolley case, etc, and, within seconds, wished it was my LYS.   The staff were incredibly friendly and encouraged me to dump my bags by the couch and take a good look round.

     When I planned my work trip to Manchester this week, one of the things on my wish-list was this visit to Purl City Yarns.  I'd seen their ads in the knitting press as had the other customer who came in while I was there - she'd heard me say as much to the owner and chimed in "me, too!" producing a battered knitting magazine from her bag, open at the page showing their advertisement.

    Purl City Yarns stands on a street corner, with windows on both exposed sides.  In a former life, I think it was a typical British "corner shop" (think Open All Hours meets an Aussie milk bar).  Certainly, it sold ice-creams - the shop's threshold carries an advertisement for them.  The walls are covered in shelving, while two welcoming couches occupy the foreground of the shop.  The counter is at the back, tucked against the stairs, with their needle and hook displays beyond that.  I think, upstairs is a classroom.

    The shop is small but very well organised, with yarns displayed by weight and then by brand.  They even had a section labeled "Worsted Weight", which is almost impossible to find in this country (we have to substitute Aran, which is fractionally thicker).  It was full of yarns I'd only heard about before:  Zealana, Noro, Austerman, Drops;  as well as ones I know/already own:  Blacker Designs yarns, Fiberspates, The Natural Dye Studio and Debbie Bliss.  What they don't carry are the standard yarns you can buy at Hobbycraft, i.e. Sirdar and Rowan.  Also, I didn't spot any 100% acrylics.  (That alone earns them a big gold star in my book - no plastic masquerading as wool.  Blech!)

    Luckily for my no-stash-enhancement-goal, no yarns leaped out and screamed "buy me".  That isn't to say I left the shop empty handed.  I didn't.  I just wasn't inspired to buy yarn.  Instead, I bought the three sizes of crochet hooks I'll need to make the Moth Wing Shrug from last summer's Interweave Crochet and a large bottle of eucalyptus scented Eucalan wool wash.

    They've been open since last November and are filling a much-needed void.  Knit-Night is Wednesdays, from 5 to 8.  Next time I travel to visit my Manchester project team, I plan to be there.

    - Pam  (giving them 5 out of 5)

    Wednesday, 20 July 2011

    I broke it!

    My beloved Contigo travel mug that is. -(

    It is 7am. I'm on the train to Manchester. Going there for 3 day's work. Being frugal, and a coffee snob, I thought it was a good idea to pack my own coffee so I loaded up the Contigo. I rested my mug on my case while I retrieved my ticket from the machine and promptly forgot about it. I was too busy panicking because i'd just realised my train was at 10 to 7 rather than 10 past and I only had a minute to get to the platform! My mug rolled off my case, hit the concrete floor with a heavy "Thunk!", landed on the side of its lid and now leaks.

    Thank God I'm wearing a coat because I'm now wearing half my coffee on it!

    If I tilt the mug, coffee pours from the self-seal mechanism. If I push the button to drink, it pours out from below the drinking spot, from around the lid. Damn! Damn!! Damn!!!

    - Pam

    Friday, 15 July 2011

    Frugal Friday: Sweating Your Assets

    There was a thread on Ravelry recently about saving money for the down-payment on a house.  It got me thinking about how buying a house is more than just buying the roof over your head. There's a business concept called "sweating your assets", which is where you maximise the usage of your assets to get the most value out of them. The classic business example is where a manufacturing plant introduces a second or third shift in order to make as much product as possible without having to purchase another factory.

    How this applies to owning a home is all about making the most of that house and the land it sits on while doing the things that cost nary a penny.   Our house is tiny by American/Australian standards, coming in at less than 900 square feet (that's less than 9 "squares" in Australian terminology).  Our back garden is approximately 70 feet long by 22 feet wide, including the patio and a concrete pad at the far end.  Thanks to the shared drive, our front garden is even narrower and about 15 feet deep.

    Sweating our assets means maximising our living space and our storage space while still living within the footprint of our house, so that our home is a welcoming, happy and efficient place to be.  Consider the layout of your home, would the lounge work better if you moved the door six feet to the left?  Ours does.  And it makes the room look much bigger as a result.
     
    It's about having a productive but pretty garden, growing vegetables and fruit trees alongside the flowering shrubs, a la Alys Fowler or Mother Chaos or The Cottage Smallholder, so that we can lower ourfood bill, do our bit for the environment, acquire a hobby and improve our quality of living all in one stroke. One thing I have to do this weekend is phone the garden designer whose services I won in a charity auction and book my alotted hour of her time.  Hopefully, she'll give me a managable plan for the wilderness we own.  (If I could borrow anyone for a week, it would be Alys Fowler.  I always loved her segments on Gardeners World, I love her writing (see these posts for the BBC) and I wish she was back on our TV screens.) 

    And, finally, it's about using things that are free or that I've already paid for instead of forking out my hard earned cash for something new. It's asking myself: "Do I need a new dress/shoes/whatever?" when there are four perfectly good ones in the wardrobe that only need an iron to become presentable and usable again.  Oh, and using one of these to dry our wash efficiently in the garden instead of running the drier (we don't even own one).


    - Pam

    Wednesday, 22 June 2011

    Cut off

    I left my mobile phone at home this morning.  It's amazing how bereft I feel without it, considering that I can count on one hand the number of phone calls I make on it during the average working week.  But it's my main way of communicating with DH during the day.

    I realise it's the ability to communicate easily with him that I miss.  Sure he can call my work number and I've got his mobile number if I need to call him, but I can't dash off a quick text about something unimportant but informative (e.g. "Went to butcher, bought x, y & z for freezer" or "dinner tonight, will cook Y.  If you get home before me, please chop onions, mushrooms & garlic"). I use texts for things that aren't time sensitive but keep him informed about what I'm up to or to make him smile; the sort of things you'd use an email for but he doesn't regularly access his email during the day. 

    Today, I'd like to wish DH luck when he gives blood this afternoon.  And to tell him that I'll try packing "Junior", my carry-on suitcase when I get home so that he doesn't have to dig the next largest one out of storage. 

    [ sigh ]

    I'll just have to remember to tell him when I get home.

    - Pam

    Friday, 17 June 2011

    Hello Stranger

    I can't believe it's been 3 weeks since I blogged!  Where did the time go?

    So, what have I been up to?  In chronological order, I've: sung in a concert; helped run a games convention; found some RPG-playing knitters and co-foundered The Order of the Pointy Sticks ("greetings fellow Minions!"); driven to/from Scotland to attend DH's best friend's father's funeral; rehearsed for a concert in France; watched England play Switzerland at Wembley; gardened a bit; spent the day with a friend from the Motley Fool who was en-route to Portugal; visited the BBC; and knitted a lot.  I'll give you some potted highlights.

    The Concert

    On Saturday 21st May, my choir performed Purcell's Funeral Music for Queen Mary; Holst's Choral Fantasia, Rutter's Psalm 150 and the Rutter Gloria.  Although the Rutter was lovely ("Utterly Rutterly" according to our conductor), a lot of the concert was music to slit your wrists by: sorrowful, heartfelt and full of pain.  Perfect music for Goths.  This is particularly true of the Choral Fantasia, which I keep referring to as "A hymn for the damned".

    Given that I was mourning one death and expecting another, I found the drum and brass intro to the Purcell to be especially painful.  If you need a choir and brass ensemble for a funeral, let me know.... In the meantime, we leave on concert tour on Thursday.  We're off to Nancy to sing Faure's Requiem with the Choeur Nancy Ducale on Saturday night.

    The Games Convention and the Order of the Pointy Sticks

    Shadow-Con is two days of RPG's, mayhem and dice which drives DH to distraction DH organises every Spring Bank Holiday Weekend, aided and abetted by a group of press-ganged willing volunteers.  This year was more fraught than normal because BF was already in Scotland, having dashed up when his dad took a turn for the worse, and thus could not do his usual share of the workload (printing tickets, manning the front desk, buying some of the stuff for the Tuck Shop, setting up on the Friday night and operating the heart of the sun a.k.a. the coal-fired barbecue we use on the Saturday night of the Con).  DH shouldered most of it.

    My usual chores are manning the Tuck Shop, ordering and fetching the meat for the barbecue and doing the Saturday morning bacon butty run.  This year, I spent several hours re-creating the tickets (unobtainable because the file/template is on BF's computer), shopped for Tuck Shop and barbecue (I was comparison shopping for the barbecue when I found the Arnott's BBQ Shapes)  helped set up on the Friday night, ordered outdoor lighting for the barbecue.  My reward:  I got to listen to the cricket when I was in the Tuck Shop and I got to play in a couple of games for free.

    I was on duty in the Tuck Shop on the Saturday, and knitting on my latest sock, when I discovered TWO MORE crafters:  a knitter and a crochetter.  I'd already outed a third in a Cthulhu game about 9 months ago, and before Saturday was over the four of us girls were talking patterns, comparing projects and swapping Ravelry IDs.  By close of play on Sunday, we'd formed The Order of the Pointy Sticks and started trying to arrange meet ups.  After ten years of wishing, Ladies and Gentlemen, I've found a knitting group.

    Lots and lots of knitting

    The body and sleeves of the Willow sweater are done.

    After weeks of easy motoring, I'm now working on the yoke.   It's a complex, cabled pattern, knitted sideways, that isn't charted. I don't think it can be because of the numerous short rows. This is the first time in ages, I've had to work cables from the written pattern and it's hard. I'm sure it requires far more concentration than working from a chart.  If anyone knows how to chart short rows, please let me know, I've got 8 repeats of 45 rows of this. 


    In the meantime, I needed something more mindless to knit while playing RPG's on Sundays, so I cast on the Three Hour Sweater  in Rowan's RYC Cotton Jeans from my stash.  The colourway is Blue Wash.  This pattern is famous/infamous on Ravelry:  it's a vintage, 1930's sweater knitted on big needles to fit a vintage size 16 (supposedly a modern US size 8).  The gauge is 4 stitches to the inch.  The needle sizes given in the pattern are obviously modern add-ons - 1930's Americans didn't use the metric system. 



     (I'm knitting it in the round instead of flat.)  Most knitters have had to modify it to fit their size, including me - my modifications can be found here.   So far, it's taken me about 8 hours.

    And, finally, here are my latest socks for DH in Lang's Jawoll Magic


    Simple, plain vanilla, mindless socks. Yay!
     - Pam

    Wednesday, 25 May 2011

    News flash!

    Asda sell Arnott's BBQ Shapes! Yay!

    Sadly did not spot Tim Tams. Boo!

    Still better than nothing for this expat Aussie.

    - Pam (the great Tim Tam quest continues)

    Sunday, 22 May 2011

    It's the end of the world as we know it, and I'm feeling fine....

    Except, it hasn't ended.  If you were a follower of Harold Camping, how foolish would you feel now?

    It's people like Camping that make me hate fundamentalists, people who ask you to believe without question, without providing evidence.  More to the point, how many fundamentalist preachers ask their followers to bankroll them?  (And make themselves rich off their labours of their much poorer followers.)  A lot, particularly in the States.    Remember Jim and Tammy Bakker?  Their followers paid for solid gold taps in their bathroom.   And they aren't the only ones - Wikipedia has a long list of scandals, some financial, some sexual, where preachers have used and abused their positions of power.

    - Pam (wondering how Camping will wriggle out of it this time.)

    Saturday, 21 May 2011

    Knitting photos

    A new use for garden furniture:

     This is DH's new sweater drying in the shade in garden.  I don't have a sweater dryer but our garden furniture is made our of a coated mesh, which works beautifully. 

    The body of the Willow jumper, knitted in the round:


    The sleeves at 39cm/15.5 inches, knitted in the round, two at at time, using magic loop:


    (No idea why these two photos are such different colours - they were taken seconds apart in exactly the same place without the use of the flash.)

    Only once before have I ever tried to knit sleeves two at a time and that was just a couple of inches on a jumper my sister had started but fallen out of love with.  I hated it.  The stitches were crammed on the needle (she was using 14 inch straights) and the two balls of yarn kept tangling.  It put me off for at least 30 years.  However, I was listening to the Knitmore Girls and Jasmin kept singing the praises of knitting sleeves in the round, two at a time using magic loop, so I thought I'd give it a go.  After all, what could be better than a) sleeves that are identical in both length and increases, and b) no seams to sew? 

    Apart from a bit of pfaffing around setting it all up on the needle, I'm a convert.  Without any effort, the yarn isn't tangling.  Even my annoyance has worn off at having to regularly slide things around the needle.  I'm particularly proud of the sleeve "seams".


    Thanks to a class I took with Annie Modesit, I knew how to do left leaning and right leaning increases in the knit stitch, but it took a minute or two to work out how to do them purlwise. 

    - Pam

    Friday, 20 May 2011

    Just a quickie

    I'd like to thank everyone for their kind words.  I do appreciate them.

    I'm on leave for the next week, so I'm hoping to get some blogging mojo back, plus post pictures of my more recent FO's.  The only concrete plans I have are rehearsals tonight/tomorrow afternoon for a concert tomorrow night, and a visit to the butcher on Monday.  (Why Monday?  There's a 10% discount on Mondays.)   Oh, and since I seem to be zooming through the sleeves for the Willow jumper, I'm planning to swatch for the next project in my Ravelry queue.

    Have a good weekend everyone.

    - Pam

    Thursday, 19 May 2011

    Score!

    Look what I scored in a charity shop near work, when I popped out to go to Waitrose for a quick grocery shop:



    a lovely, handmade aran sweater in DH's size. It cost all of £4.99.   (That's the price-tag you can see).  Someone went to a lot of trouble to make this. I think it's in DK weight yarn, so it must have taken months.  Just take a close look at this seam:

    No idea why it ended up in a charity shop, but I'm glad I found a home for it.

    - Pam

    Monday, 16 May 2011

    In search of tea and sympathy

    There are some days you don't want to repeat. Mine started with a telephone call - Eldest, my sister, rang me at 7am to tell me that my dad's second youngest brother died overnight. (Dad was oldest of four.) He was 89 or so and was widowed 2 years ago. He didn't have children. The funeral is on Thursday and I won't be flying home.

    I'm left mourning the might-have-beens. We weren't close. I barely knew him and can count on one hand the number of times I met his wife. Thanks to things I don't really understand, my mother took against my aunt and blamed her for all sorts of horrible things. (To excuse my mum, her military service ended with a major head injury and we don't really know what damage was done. Mum blamed Aunty for her head injury amongst other things, even though they didn't meet for another 4 or 5 years.)

    The net effect is that we were excluded from all sorts of family functions over the years. It saddens me that we didn't know relatives who lived just a couple of miles away.  You know how many families pass down stories from one generation to the next, say, of great-uncle Tommy who used to liven up parties with a standup routine and was decorated at the Somme but was too modest to say why?  Well, I don't have any of that.  There are stories out there, but I've never heard them.

    All I can do now is reach out to my cousins and hope, when they think of me, they think kindly thoughts. I've spoken to my cousin, who's taken on the next-of-kin duties with some moral support from Eldest. I think I'll phone her again soon.  She's a lovely person, who I always go to visit when I go back to Australia.  I'd like to know her better.

    - Pam

    Saturday, 14 May 2011

    Talking about money - the Housekeeping

    (Yay!  Blogger is working agan.  For a while there, I was worried that Google had completely screwed it up.)

    Yesterday was the first Friday afternoon in months where I had the house to myself.  DH has started a full time job with regular hours, 9 to 6.  It's not in his field - it's in retail, whereas he's a design engineer who's always worked in manufacturing - and the pay is just above minimum wage, but knowing that he'll have regular money coming in and receive his statutory benefits (sick pay, holiday pay, etc) is a great relief.  It also means we can start looking forward instead of staying in fire-fighting mode.

    As a result, last weekend, we spent an hour or so going over our finances.  One of the hot topics was what to do with our housekeeping kitty.  Until now, we've been drawing cash each month and stashing it in various pots:

    Groceries:  £120 (farm shop, wine and all supermarket shopping)
    Meat fund: £ 40 (includes fish from Costco.)
    Christmas: £ 10 (also used for Easter Eggs)
    Bulk fund:  £ 10  (for Costco visits, WingYip visits, special deals at the supermarket, etc)
    Total        £180 (£90 each) 

    The Meat, Christmas and Bulk funds are left to accumulate until there is a reason to spend them, whereas the Grocery kitty rarely has anything left at the end of the month.  If there are bargains to stock up on, we raid the Bulk Fund.  I've thought for a while that £10/month isn't suffiicent and that's one of the things we agreed about on Sunday, upping it by £5 each to £20/month. 

    One of my permanent niggles is that we don't put money aside for the garden.  At the moment, either we pay for it individually and suck up the cost or then go through the drawn out process of getting it back from our joint savings account (an internet account that doesn't allow you to transfer money anywhere - you have to go to an ATM or request a cheque).   I don't know exactly how much we spent last year on the garden but it was under £100. 

    One of DH's permanent niggles is that we have these "funds" sitting around in cash for months at a time, not earning interest.  It was also one of the reasons that he's previously vetoed a garden fund - he didn't like the idea of leaving that cash lying around for 9 months of the year. 

    On Sunday, we reached a compromise:  we'd start a garden fund but it'd be saved in ING instead of in cash.  Ditto the bulk fund and ditto the Christmas fund.  The garden fund would be £10/month.  Bulk is to go up and Christmas is to remain the same as before.  In ING, they'll have their own accounts and it's easy to get reimbursed since we can transfer the money bank-to-bank.

    So, our new housekeeping budget is as follows:-

    Groceries:    £120
    Meat Fund:   £ 40
    Christmas:    £ 10
    Garden         £ 10
    Bulk fund:     £ 20
    Total:          £200   or £100 each a month.

    - Pam

    Saturday, 30 April 2011

    There's an App for That

    A month ago, I finally succumbed and bought an iPhone4.  It's only taken me 3 (or is it 4?) years.  I think I started my "iPhone fund" when they were first released.  I've wanted a smart phone forever - I like the concept of the multi-purpose device: phone, camera, pocket computer, portable internet access - but the iPhone was something better.  It may not have the best camera or the best battery life, but one big thing makes it market leader.   And the thing that makes it better?  The Apps.

    The Apps are Apple's genius.  Anyone can develop an App and sell it through the App store.  And that immediately gave Apple competitive advantage over their rivals.  Want to keep notes on your future projects?  KnitMinder does that.  Need to convert currency?  There's an App for that.   Want to catalogue your novels?  My Library does that by reading the bar-codes on the back of your books.  There are Apps for budgeting, for counting calories, for mapping the route of your morning run.

    It was (what?) another year before the competition caught up?  And that involved them adopting a third-party operating system, Android, so that they could offer a large enough customer base to make it worthwhile for developers to create Apps for their phones too.

    All this is a long preamble to explaining why I forked out £429 on an iPhone.  I did look at the competition but, in the end, it was one App that swung it in favour of the iPhone, the Weight Watchers' App.  I have been a member of Weight Watchers since 2003, when I lost 28lb for my wedding and kept most of it off for two years.  My weight ballooned upwards when my thyroid started acting up and I feel like I've been fighting a losing battle ever since.  Some of the problems were always having to lug the books around or needing to go on-line to point up foods and recipes or the constant necessity to update the restaurant and shopping guides.  Oh, and Weight Watchers have changed the entire basis of their programs three times since I first bought one of their recipe books back in the 1980's.

    As far as I'm concerned, all of those problems have been solved by their iPhone App, which not only replaces all the books but allows you to track your points and your weight both on your phone and on-line.  Unlike the Android App, it fully replicates the functionality of the Weight Watchers website.  (The Android App is only a points calculator.)  Even better, the App syncs with it, so I can point up recipes on the website then find them on my phone to add to my tracker later on (e.g. when I grab a container of mystery lunch from the freezer, defrost it at work and then discover it was beef chilli instead of the curry I was expecting).   Also, I can point up items while I'm walking around the supermarket, which makes it less of a guessing game and easier to choose a sandwich, if I need to buy one.

    Why not just rely on their website?  Well, I've been a subscriber for eight years, but this makes it so much easier.  I don't have the hassle of switching on my home PC or logging in.  It's all there on my phone and I can sync whenever I have WiFi access or via 3G.  I didn't need to go to a meeting to pick up the new books or update the restaurant guide, either.


    I've been using the Weight Watchers App for two weeks now and lost 5lb in the process.   I haven't eaten typical diet food either during that time, just a normal diet (including burgers, pavlova and wine at an Anzac Day BBQ).  This is great tool and I can thoroughly recommend it.

    - Pam

    Royal Wedding

    Did you watch it?  What did you think of the dress, etc?  And what about the guests' dresses?

    DH and I watched it from the comfort of our sofa.  I didn't really consider trekking into London to try a be there in person - after all, if you didn't have an invitation, how much would you really see?  There'd be crowds and crushes and queuing and standing for hours (and England's unpredictable but usually cold weather), and that just isn't me. So I watched it all on the BBC.

    Most of the dresses were beautiful.  Kate looked stunning and her gown was an absolute classic with it's sweetheart neckline and lace over-top.  Her sister's dress was also beautiful - I loved the line and the fit - 1930's curvy.

    On a negative note, Beatrice and Eugene need someone to take them in hand and dress them.  They're in their early '20's and yet they looked like mutton dressed up as lamb.  One (the redhead) wore an OK outfit but the colour completely wiped out her complexion;  the other wore a good colour, but the cut just made her look dumpy and fat.  Both of them need to be given make-up lessons, since their eye make-up just looked tarty.  

    Personally, I thought it was a lovely wedding.  With the exception of the crowds outside and the world's media watching, it could have been anyone-else's wedding, albeit one where a lot of money was spent.  William and Kate are such nice, normal people. Outside their Royal duties and visits to his family, they live a normal life - grocery shopping, cooking each other meals, making tea for their friends/colleagues.  They've both held down jobs and earned their own income.  I just hope the press will give them the benefit of a private life and leave them alone when they're not "on duty".


    They are very much in love and obviously very good friends.  I wish them a long and happy life together.  If they're as happy as DH and I, they will be very lucky indeed.

    - Pam

    Wednesday, 27 April 2011

    Sheer frustration

    I have been trying since yesterday to buy my sister's birthday present.  So far, neither major Australian department store website is willing to play ball.  One keeps crashing on checkout.  The other, won't let me even get that far. 

    Her birthday is Friday.  And it's a big one.  I want to get her something she'd really like instead of another bunch of flowers.

    - Pam

    Saturday, 16 April 2011

    Dear Sirdar / Sublime

    Dear Sirdar

    Please reconsider the decision to discontinue Sublime Organic Merino DK.  It is a luscious yarn to knit with, buttery soft to the touch and warm and cuddly too.  I was lucky enough to purchase some from Black Sheep Yarns and I'm currently knitting your Willow jumper out of it.  My only regret is that I didn't purchase more for my stash.

    This is a lovely woollen yarn, why did you stop making it?  Please reconsider.

    Kind regards

    Pam  (emailed today)

    Thursday, 14 April 2011

    Daydreams

    Today had one of those frustrating afternoons.  I had a report to produce that I'd forgotten how to do, followed by the finance system going on a go slow.  By 6pm, it had ground to a complete holt, twice, but  I had an invoice to get out, so had to persist.  Lots of time spent waiting for the system to respond to even the simplest commands.   With my computer seizing up,  I daydreamed, wistfully deciding what I'd do if I won certain amounts of money in the lottery.

    £100,000?  I'd clear our debts (say, £10,000), buy a new car (another £10,000), finish the house (£20,000), get the garden sorted out professionally (£2,000), fully fund an emergency fund (say £20,000), spend £10,000 on IVF, throw away a bit on gifts, travel and toys (say £8,000), and invest the leftovers in shares (£20,000).

    With £500,000, I'd do all of the above, pay off the mortgage (£200,000) and split the remaining £200,000 into deposits for between 3 and 6 flats to have as rental properties.  (Each property would cost between £120,000 and £200,0000, with the balance coming from a mortgage.)  £500,000 would produce enough income that only one of us needs to work, so DH could retrain to become whatever he wanted.   And, having paid off the mortgage, we could invest each month's "mortgage money" in shares.

    A win of £1 million, would mean we'd both be able to retire.   I'd do the above, and then spend another £300,000 on rental flats - maybe buying a couple outright for the income, as well as using some of the money to fund deposits for others.  The remaining £200,000 would go on shares.

    If it was a £10 million win, we'd be able to do all of the above and give some sizeable cash gifts to family.  With £10 million, none of the properties would need mortgages, so would give us a sizeable income every month, to live off and reinvest.

    I didn't get any further - a colleague interrupted my reverie and I didn't feel like sharing my thoughts with him.  Instead, I had to turn my mind back to work.

    - Pam (if it was you, what would you do?)