Monday, 31 August 2015

So much has happened...

...since I last posted. Sorry for the absence but I really haven't felt like posting and I'm also trying to spend less time online in general.

I thought I'd let you all know I am still here, though, and quite a lot has happened in the last month and a half.

Firstly, as you may recall  DH returned to working at the college at Easter, well, he's now been made redundant. They closed down the whole department. He was offered the chance of redeployment in another department or redundancy. They did offer him another job but it really wasn't suitable and as the redundancy package was good considering he'd only been back there for 3 months he opted for that. As a maths and IT teacher he's already had a lot of interest from supply teaching agencies and will do that until he can find something more permanent. If he finds work quickly we plan of using the redundancy towards paying off the last of our mortgage. We may live in a dump but at least if will finally be our dump.

Secondly, having married off DD2 at the end of May, my youngest daughter got enagaged 3 weeks ago to BF who she's been with for 9 years. She was 15 and he was 16 when they first met and BF ended up living with us for nearly 6 years until they finally moved into their own place 18 months ago. He was so romantic proposing to her at the top of Mount Vesuvius while they were on holiday in Italy for a friend's wedding. They are hoping to marry in a year's time at his grandmother's house in France. Unfortunately DD3 has torn a muscle in her thigh and may need an operation to repair it which will mean weeks off work on statutory sick pay so they may need to put the wedding back further if they haven't enough saved, although of course we will help them out some.

Thirdly, we had a wonderful week's holiday in Whitby at the end of July, celebrating our 31st wedding anniversary with a cream tea in a lovely little village called Thornton-le-Dale. Whitby is lovely with lots of little side streets full of quaint shops, and not so many of the chain stores you find in most high streets these days. We managed to climb the 100 and so steps up to the abbey ruins but didn't bother paying the £7.50 to go in as it was mostly quite visible from the road. We also had trips out to the rural life museum at Hutton-le-Hole and to Helmsley, and a whole day in Durham. We loved Durham Cathedral (free to get in unlike Canterbury which costs a bomb and which I haven't visited for years) but the shops were disappointing, all the same as anywhere else and we could just as well have been in Canterbury. We did enjoy a walk along by the river and discovered a wonderful tea shop where we had massive lemon scones, homemade lemon curd and clotted cream. I gained 3lbs while on holiday thanks to 2 visits to the pie and mash shop in Whitby, 3 cream teas, wonderful beef sandwiches and a caramel shortbread sundae in Helmsley and 2 meals a day at the hotel (catering wasn't brilliant but I had a cooked breakfast most days which I wouldn't do at home). Unfortunately I broke my mobile phone the day after we arrived and DH's phone isn't good for taking photos so I don't really have any pics.

Fourthly, DD2 and her new husband are moving across the country to Cheltenham in about 6 weeks time. He works for customs and it's a one year placement which has been quite hush, hush up until now. They are getting a great relocation package with their rent paid on a house/flat for the whole year. I'll really miss her as we see a lot of each other and have gotten exta close since DD1 moved away a couple of years ago.

I think that's the main news. Funnily enough, despite the ups and downs, I'm generally feeling a lot more positive than I was a few months ago. I've started reading again, and crafting, although only knitting blanket squares, but at least its something. I do feel a bit more positive on a day to day basis although I still have days when I wonder if its worth getting out of bed. My weight is a bit of an issue. I've managed to just keep it within the SW limits but nearer the top end and my eating is very much binge or starve. 2 or 3 days a week I tend to eat everything under the sun and the rest of the week eat as little as possible to compensate. It is kind of working though, although I've so far only lost 2lbs of that holiday gain. Mind you, the middle of Sept will mark a whole year since I reached my SW target and that's a record in itself. Never before have a I managed to maintain a weight loss for longer than 3-4 months.

I'm still considering the fors and againsts of getting a dog. For is the companionship (especially now with DD2 moving), the exercise and having someone to look after. (Mid-life crisis - missing having my kids to care for and no grandchildren as yet). Against...well, the main one is how will a dog integrate with our 2 house cats who think they own the place and have only ever seen a dog on a couple of occasions (and reacted by either hiding or fur on end, hissing etc.)? Also we're just starting to enjoy a bit of freedom to go where we want when we want now the kids are all grown. There's also the cost of insurance, food etc. especially at the moment when we don't know whether Dave will get another permanent teaching position. But then again the idea has been bugging me for months so its not exactly spur of the moment. I keep checking ads and nearly phoning up and then chickening out. We have had a dog before, our Yorkie was 13 when we had to have him put to sleep, and when I lived with my parents we had 2 cats and 2 dogs but then the cats went out of the house so could escape. Does anyone else have experience of integrating dogs into a home with cats?

Right, I think I've wittered on quite enough and won't bore you any more. Horrible bank holiday weather here (rain, thunderstorms, power cut), but we had a lovely couple of days over the weekend so can't complain too much.

Hope you all have an enjoyable day despite the rain. Love, Helen xx

Friday, 10 July 2015

So much for good intentions

I know I said I was going to make do with the food I had in the freezer, fridge and cupboards but...

It's Tesco's fault. 

Now, I don't often shop at Tesco since I find them quite expensive and our store is outside the town so needs a special trip to get there. But...they sent me an email with a code for £12 off a £60 online shop. I also had a £1.50 clubcard voucher. A £13.50 saving was too much of a temptation, especially as I did need to stock up on toilet paper, disinfectant and cat food. To make up the £60 I also bought frozen meat (pork chops, minced beef and pork, and white fish fillets) and various vegetables, plus some other store cupboard bits, and I took advantage of some multi buy offers. By booking a 4 hour time slot I got free delivery.  The value of my total shop after offers was £61.92 and with the coupon codes I paid £47.82.

Secondly, as I had already fallen down on my good intentions, I decided to complete stocking the freezer and use a £2.50 off a £25 shop voucher for Farm Foods. There I bought Princes corned beef (2 tins for £3), John West tuna chunks in brine (12 tins for £7 ie. 3 packs x 4 tins), 4 frozen beef products for £10 (2 x diced beef, 1 x minced steak and 1 x 6 large beef burgers), 2 x 500g frozen mixed peppers for 89p each, 2 x 500g frozen sliced mushrooms for 89p each, 1 x 500g frozen sliced onions and 1 x frozen mixed stew vegetables at 69p each.

Yes, my good intentions did go by the wayside, but in the long run I will have saved money instead of wasting that £12 voucher and I now have a pretty well-stocked freezer again, enough loo rolls, disinfectant, loo cleaner etc. for the next 3 months and enough food for my 2 cats for a month. 

And today I bagged some more bargains; yellow-stickered items in Asda and Morrisons. I bought 2 bags of diced onions for 24p each, 2 bags of mixed diced swede and carrot for 25p each, 2 bags of sliced carrots for 25p each and some lovely juicy fresh raspberries for 99p. 
The diced veg gets chucked in the freezer and is perfect for use in my soup maker, taking out all that work of finely chopping mountains of veg. 

As well as food stuff I snapped up theses gorgeous roses reduced to £1.49. 

Not having a garden I've started to enjoy having a few flowers in the house and often manage to get reduced priced bunches really cheaply. I only paid 9p for a previous bunch of chrysanths and carnations. 

DD2 is coming to dinner tonight as her new husband has a late shift at work and she's bringing the wedding pics round for her dad to view (I've already seen them once). I've made veggie sausage 'meatballs' done in some of the tomato sauce from the freezer that I made in my slow cooker a couple of weeks ago. The 2 packs of dried sausage mix I used are from Approved Foods and 2 years out of date but still fine and cost only 20p a sachet. I bought mountains of it at the time but only have 4 packs left and will be sorry when it's all gone. Served with 20p Everyday Value spaghetti from Tesco this will make a cheap, tasty dinner for 5 of us. Dessert is chocolate Cornettos, £1 for a 4 pack from Farm Foods.

The weather should be lovely over the weekend so DH and I are planning on having a day out tomorrow, leaving the car at home. Using his weekly bus pass and buying a £6.20 explorer ticket for me we can go all the way down to Hastings if we want, but think we might settle for Rye. On Sunday there's a summer fayre in the village of River just outside Dover and since there's a dog show as part of it that's where we'll probably be on Sunday afternoon.

Well, that's about all from me. Hope you're having a good day and enjoy your weekend whatever your plans.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Today's Bargains/Christmas in July

I hadn't done my usual charity shop search for over a week so decided today I'd do the rounds and I came up trumps.

I got this pair of three-quarter length cotton trousers in the Barnados shop for £1.99.

 They're C&A, a great fit and will go on holiday with me at the end of the month (in the hope of some nice weather). Barnados are one of the cheaper charity shops in town with most of their clothes and nik naks priced at £1.99 and their books at 4 for £1.99. There is a Scope £1 shop but there's not usually much worthwhile in there.

In the YMCA shop I got this Slimming World recipe book for £1.49. 

Although I don't follow the Slimming World plan to the letter any more I do still use it as the basis for my everyday eating and the book has some good ideas for fast, healthy meals.

By far my best bargain wasn't even from a charity shop but from W H Smith. They were selling off the remains of last year's Christmas cards (no doubt clearing the shelves to stock this year's cards which seem to be in the shops in August nowadays). I bagged this lot for 10p a pack, normal price £3.99, paying 40p for 40 good quality card. 

I generally make my own cards for family and friends but there's always a need for a few shop bought ones, and DH and the boys also like to send a few to friends and work colleagues each year so these will not go to waste. 

And to finish with, and just because the picture was in the same file as my bargain purchases, here's one of Halo chilling out in the hallway, the coolest place in the house. 

Monday, 29 June 2015

Birthday Cake Extermination

It was DS1's birthday today. I was up at 6.30 making his cake before doing 3 loads of laundry and hanging it out on the line. It's been a lovely hot, sunny day so it was all bone dry when I bought it in about 5pm. 

With the cake baked and cooling, I nipped round to Aldi for a couple of bits and then to the post office, before going into town with DS1, DS2 and DD2 to have birthday drinks (tea for me and DD and and J2Os for the boys) and the boys also had a slice of cake each. 

Back home the cake was iced and decorated using chocolate buttons and some of the daleks that I'd used on the cupcakes. The cake was a choc chip marble traybake recipe from an old Mary Berry book that I adapted to make a ring cake, the middle of the cake filled with milk and white chocolate buttons. I didn't have a cake frill so made one using folded tin foil.

I buy my choc buttons from Aldi at 33p for a 70g packet. It's delicious chocolate and a fraction of the price of Cadbury's.

Dinner tonight at the birthday boy's request was burgers, chips and salad...and very nice too.And then we cut into the cake and here you can see the end result after we'd all had a big certainly looks like the daleks exterminated part of it. 

I also sorted through the lovely bouquet DH bought me for my birthday. Most of the flowers were past saving but I did manage to make up this little bunch from those that weren't falling apart. 
The jug looks like it was made to hold my pretty pink roses and peonies. It was my grandmother's, part of a graduated set of 3. They are all chipped like crazy and one has the handle off, but then they are nearly 100 years old, and they still look lovely with a few flowers in.

Tomorrow is my slimming club and I'm quite prepared for a gain this week with all the cake and stuff I've eaten. It was totally worth it though.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Update on the State of My Freezer

My freezer is a little less empty today thanks to DD3's BF who went to the cash and carry in Folkestone this morning, saw a great deal on fresh chicken drumsticks and bought some for me. The original price for 2kg of drumsticks was £5.99 but they were on BOGOF giving me 4kg of lovely, meaty drumsticks for under £6, or approx £1.50 per kg. So I now have 4 bags each containing 8 drumsticks (2 drummers per person) and 1 bag of 6. The 6 will probably be cooked and stripped of the meat to be used in a pie or stew.

In other news, we had a lovely meal out at the local Brewer's Fayre. It was a bit more expensive than Wetherspoons but we've yet to have a bad meal there. It served as joint celebration for DS1's birthday tomorrow and for DS2 finishing university. I'm still doing burgers and chips and making a birthday cake tomorrow, and as DS1 has the day off work we'll probably meet up with DD2 (who has Mondays off work) and DS2 and go into town for coffee during the day. I'd already made him cupcakes to share with his friends last week (and had to sample a couple myself of course). I bought some Dalek cupcake wraps reduced to 50p in Lakeland in Canterbury a few weeks ago, and as comic book/sci fi freaks they were perfect for him and his friends.

With all the eating out, birthday cake tomorrow and cupcakes, I'm sure to have gained weight this week but luckily I was below my target last week so hopefully it won't be too bad. It's now 9 months since I reached my target and so far I haven't exceeded the 3lb above/3lb below target range in either direction. This is the longest I have ever maintained my weight, but the potential for pigginess is always there and requires constant vigilance. The better mobility alone is worth it though, I would hate to gain it all back again so I always eat extra-healthily for a few days after a small gain. 

I hope you've all had a lovely weekend and are ready for the week ahead. Love, Helen x

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Not Wasting A Scrap

My freezer is just about empty of raw meat at the moment. In fact right now, apart from some veg, fruit, bread and milk, it only contains 3 packs (each containing 16 rashers) of smoked back bacon that's on offer at £2 a pack in Morrisons, and a pack of 20 beef meatballs I bought yellow stickered in Asda. I have deliberatly run it down with the intention of stocking up at Farm Foods and using one of their discount vouchers that come through the door about once a month. The vouchers are usually for £2.50 off a £25 shop, £5 off £50 and £10 off £100. I usually only spend about £25 but think I might need to stretch it to £50 this time to really fill my meat bag in the freezer. 

I might not have much actual meat in the freezer but I do have several pre-prepared meals that I made while using up the contents. 

There are 2 small and 1 large meatloaves that I made using 2 x 450g packs of minced beef and 2 x 525g packs of minced pork all mixed together with 2 packs of prepared sage and onion stuffing mix, a couple of chopped onions, seasoning and 2 beaten eggs. The small meatloaves will serve myself, DH and my 2 grown sons for 2 meals, and the large one will be saved for when we have the other kids over for dinner.

I also made a huge pot of Hoppin' John in the slow cooker (blackeye peas that I had already cooked and frozen, tinned tomatoes, smoked sausage from the fridge and rice). We had some for dinner the night I made it and the remainder has been frozen to make 2 more dinners. As an accompaniement I made 2 big trays of chilli cheese cornbread, and again froze enough for at least 2 more meals.  

At the same time I also made 2 cheese and lentil bakes, one eaten, the other frozen, and in my second slow cooker a huge pot of tomato pasta sauce (enough to make at least 3 meals for 4 people).

This week there was cream galore yellow-stickered in Morrisons. I resisted temptation until it was reduced right down to 9p a pot then bought 2 pots. I also bought a pack of grated Low Low Cheese (reduced fat cheese that actually melts properly) for 75p. Pastry making is not one of my strengths so using a pack of Aldi chilled shortcrust pastry (99p), 4 rashers from a bacon pack (50p), a couple of chopped onions (20p), and 4 Aldi large Free range eggs (89p for 6, so about 60p for 4) plus salt and black pepper, I made one large and one smaller quiches. We've had the large one tonight between 4, there's a slice left for someone's lunch tomorrow, and the smaller quiche is frozen for another time. 

And this is where the Not Wasting A Scrap comes in, because there was a tiny ball of pastry trimmings left over after making the quiches. I thought of making a jam turnover with it but then remembered there was a small bowl containing leftover lamb mince and lentils in the fridge. Tipped into an individual pie dish, topped with the thinly rolled out pastry and baked at the same time as the quiches it made a lovely little pie. DS1 had the pie for dinner when he got in from work last night and said it was delicious.There was also a little of the cream/eggs/cheese mix left from filling the pastry cases so I baked it in a muffin tin and ate the crustless mini quiches with salad for my lunch.

With the weather lovely and sunny at the moment we're getting out more, sometimes taking an evening walk too, and with the ready made dishes in the freezer it means I don't have to stress about what to have for dinner or cook during the hot afternoons. 

In fact, after a heavy spending month with the wedding, several birthdays and other expenses, I'm considering trying to eke out what I do have for as long as possible. We're going for a week's holiday with Shearing Coaches to Whitby at the end of July (last minute deal £259 each for 8 days/7 nights half board including all coach travel from Dover and several outings), and I would like to spend as little as possible until then. I think we'll be eating a lot of that bacon in things like macaroni cheese, bacon roly poly etc. And I also have some packets of lentil curry (courtesy of Approved Foods), dried vegetarian sausage mix, tinned beans, tuna etc. It will be interesting to see just how far I can make all that stretch. 

The exception to this frugality is lunch out at Wetherspoons tomorrow to celebrate DS1's birthday which is on Monday. This is the card I've made him.

The figure of Batman is layered to make it stand out which you can see better in the second picture. I hope he likes it.

I think that's it for now. Anyone else using up what they have in and/or cooking for the freezer. I'd be interested to hear ideas for freezer meals. Enjoy your weekend everyone. Love, Helen xx


Sunday, 21 June 2015

Happy Father's Day...and Happy Birthday To Me!

We're having the quiet, relaxed weekend we wanted, and have received some lovely pressies from the kids. 

We came downstairs this morning to find our youngest son had put up decorations and printed off amusing posters for us.

We had cards and pressies sent from our oldest daughter in Basingstoke. Love my bag and DH got money.

We met up with DD2 and her new husband and DS2 for coffee, and were given more pressies (Amazon vouchers and a Dorothy Perkins voucher for me) and now we're chilling out watching TV before our pizza and chips dinner, followed by raspberry and chocolate slice (bought, not made...I wasn't going to cook today).

It's been a lovely laid back weekend with thanks to all my lovely kids for our cards and pressies. 

And a very Happy Fathers' Day to all dads out there.