Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Windy Day

We've been extremely fortunate with the weather down here in the south-east and my heart goes out to all those that are suffering as a result of the dreadful floods in other parts of the UK. It has been very blustery today, though, and I found it hard to walk against the wind sometimes, but at least it's been dry.  

DH and I decided to leave our next day trip until the wind was less fierce; it seemed a waste of money to buy a bus ticket to Deal and not be able to take a leisurely walk along by the sea. We still managed to achieve our 10,000 steps by taking a walk around River village, stopping off at Aldi on the way back, depositing our shopping at home and then walking into town for a coffee. 

We had a lazy afternoon after all that walking and an easy dinner tonight of barbecue beans with smoked sausage, jacket potatoes and little gem lettuce. I used 2 cans of Aldi baked beans (4 can pack for £1.15, approx 58p for 2), 2 cans Aldi red kidney beans, drained (23p a can, so 46p for 2), 1/2 a Mattesons smoked sausage (£1 from FarmFoods, 50p for 1/2), a sliced onion (aprox 10p), some sliced frozen peppers (25p) and a glug of barbecue sauce I got from Approved Foods (approx 20p). Left to bubble in the slow cooker all day, and served with jacket potatoes also done in a slow cooker for 4 hours on low (2.5kg bag baking potatoes from Aldi at £1.89, approx 20p per potato, 80p for 4) and 2 little gem lettuces for 39p as part of Aldi special offer veg. Total cost £3.29, 4 servings at approx 82p per serving. There was also some lettuce left over for tomorrow.

I expect we'll be up until the early hours tomorrow night as the neighbours nearly always have a New Years party. DS2 is playing a gig with his band in Sheppey and then going on to a club in Canterbury that's open all night. We don't usually celebrate New Year so we'll probably spend the night in (ignoring the thud of next door's music blasting through the walls), watch a dvd and hope the party doesn't go on all night. I enjoyed Christmas but now I'm ready for the holiday period to be well and truly over and to get back to some sort of normality. 

Goodnight everyone, I'm off to bed early tonight in case I don't get much sleep tomorrow. 

Love, Helen xx

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Not Too Bad

As promised, an update on my weigh-in. I gained 2 lbs. Not too bad so no tears required.  It takes me to 1lb over my upper target weight so I had to pay for the meeting today, but I was relieved that it wasn't more. A couple of ladies gained 4 lbs. Hopefully I can lose it if I'm careful this week. I'd like to lose another 2-3 lbs by the end of January to get right back on my target weight or just under. 

We had a lovely afternoon wandering around Canterbury, a bit crowded and I didn't buy anything except coffee in Starbucks, so I still need slippers, but it was nice to get out of Dover for a bit. The weather here is supposed to be okay tomorrow, a bit overcast but dry, so we might go for another bus ride. A bonus is that all the walking means I've reached my 10,000 steps today and have covered over 4 miles. My one New Year's resolution is to walk 10,000 steps at least 3 times a week. I know I should be doing it every day but I need to make achievable goals.

I'm sitting down now with a cup of tea, watching Bargain Hunt recorded on Tivo. Dinner is a vegetarian bolognese which has been bubbling away nicely in the slow cooker while we were out, so only the pasta to boil later. 

I used half a pack of Quorn mince (Aldi £1.49, so 75p for half), a jar of pasta sauce (Approved Foods 3 for £1 so 33p for one), 1/2 bag of Tesco frozen veg for bolognese (bought on offer for 50p, so 25p for half), 1/4 bag of frozen mushrooms (approx 25p), some frozen sliced mixed peppers (approx 40p), a glug of red wine (approx 25p) and 3/4 bag of value dried pasta (approx 22p). 3 of us will have a little grated cheddar sprinkled on top, say total of 50g cheddar (Aldi, 250g grated mature cheddar at £1.49, so 50g adds 30p). The Tesco veg and the sauce had all the flavourings so I didn't need to add extra herbs, garlic etc. Total cost for 4 large portions is £2.75 or approx 69p per portion. It smells delicious.

Hope you've all had a good day. Hugs, Helen xx


Damage Control

Off to my slimming club in a bit. Expecting at least 2-3 lbs on and to be over my upper target weight. Less will be a miracle, more and I'll probably shed a few tears. My own fault though; I lost the plot completely over Christmas and ate every yummy fattening thing in sight. I've already started back on eating more healthily and hope to shed it within a couple of weeks. Having lost and kept off nearly 5 stone for more than 15 months, I'm not about to go back on that slippery track I've trodden before and regain it all. It's a constant struggle between my piggy former self and my slimmer, wanting to be healthy self. Mostly the new me wins, sometimes after a week or two of piggy me having a tantrum and getting her own way. I'm always worried piggy me will take over for good and I'll end up back where I started at over 15 1/2 stone, struggling to get off the sofa or up the stairs. It's not being slim as such, or wearing smaller clothes or any of those vanity things that gets me back on track, it's the thought of being immobile that does it. I'll update later on just how bad the damage is.

After the club, DH and I are off on the bus to Canterbury for a couple of hours. We hope to get in a bit of a walk and I need a new pair of slippers, since mine have holes in, and a purse, as the clasp has gone on my current one. Despite dropping hints (like, 'If you want ideas for my Xmas pressie, I really need new slippers and my purse is broken') nobody bought me either of those things for Christmas.

See you later. Have a good day. Love Helen x


Monday, 28 December 2015

Leftovers - Pea and Ham Soup

Tonight's dinner used up all the Xmas leftovers. Leftovers of food I actually cooked, that is. With no idea until the last minute exactly how many I was catering for I bought far too much and have enough uncooked food in my freezer to make another full Xmas dinner. It will either stay there until Easter or will surface if we have visitors.

My pea and ham soup used the scraps remaining from the Xmas breakfast gammon, 200g of dried green split peas, a chopped onion, 3 diced medium potatoes, 2 chicken stock cubes and ground black pepper. I poured in hot water to cover it all, not sure exactly how much, and topped it up whenever it seemed to be getting too thick. It was cooked on high in my slowcooker for about 5 hours  To serve with it I baked the last few part-baked rolls that we'd also had for Xmas breakfast, and in the rolls we had the remaining sausagemeat stuffing, some vege roast and a couple of quorn sausages. I must say it was cheap, delicious and filling. And I'll be looking to make more meals like it over the next few weeks.

Despite having been offered a fulltime, permanent position at the school where he's been working since September, wrangles with them paying the agency to release him means DH is still on a supply teacher's contract and doesn't receive holiday pay. As he gets paid weekly in arrears his last week's pay, received on Xmas Eve, needs to last until he gets paid again on 15th January, after he's actually been back at work for 2 weeks. I've been careful to put money by from previous weeks for the monthly bills, but need to be extra frugal with housekeeping. So, my goal for the last few days of December and for most of January is to eat from the freezer, fridge and cupboards. I have so much in stock I really shouldn't need to buy any more, except for some fresh veg and dairy. 

Tomorrow is my post-Xmas weigh-in at my slimming club. I've been a right piggy during this festive season and expect a few lbs gain. I've tried really hard today not to eat too much and what I have had has been healthy (I didn't eat a roll, just had the soup and a couple of crispbreads for dinner) but I suspect it will take a couple of weeks being careful to remedy the damage done over the past few days. At least by facing the music tomorrow I'll know what I'm dealing with. This is my second Xmas since reaching my target weight and in the 15 months since getting there I have only once gone over my target allowance by just one pound.Tomorrow will probably make it twice, and by more than a pound, so I must get back on track. I refuse to let the weight start creeping on again...I enjoy my mobility too much.

To finish with here's some pics of Shadow finally working out how to use the toy DD2 and SIL bought our cats for Xmas. We had to put it up on the table for him before he'd touch it. And when he was finished batting the ball around he sat in the middle of it.

Have a good evening everyone, love Helen xx

Saturday, 26 December 2015

That was Christmas

I had a lovely Xmas day with DH, my two boys, my eldest daughter and my daughter-in-law who arrived at lunchtime. 

Me and my boys

Santa (aka DH) and the boys

DD1 and my lovely daughter-in-law
We had a quiet day, starting with our usual Xmas breakfast of cold gammon, pickles and crusty bread.

After breakfast DH and I went for a walk along the very windy seafront, dodging the spray flying above the top of the sea wall. Following that bracing walk we were home in time for DD1 and DIL's arrival and to start the dinner preparations. I was so thankful that I had pre-prepared so much and just had to reheat a lot of it.

We indulged in our usual Xmas roast lunch with far too much food, and then after the washing up was done we exchanged pressies.We spent the remainder of the afternoon and evening watching TV, playing some of the kids' old board games and tucking into too many Celebrations chocs. We also spoke to DD2 in Gloucester and DD3 way down in the Loire valley in France.

I received some great pressies including 2 interesting books about my long term interest, the second world war homefront, one a diary and the other an account of the children who weren't evacuated. 

DD1 and DIL stayed overnight and drove back to Basingstoke mid morning today. DH and I then took a walk into town for coffee. I avoided the sales except to pop in to the Card Centre to buy 6 rolls of Xmas wrap for £1. 

 Gift wrap, 6 for £1

If I can get some cheap gift tags I'm all set for wrapping supplies for next Christmas.

We also popped in to Smiths but didn't think much of their half price cards and gift wrap since the original prices were so expensive to start with. I felt really sad that it was only Boxing Day morning and yet they already had a display of Valentine's cards and were getting out the mini eggs and creme eggs for their Easter display. 

I thought it was Xmas, not Valentine's day or Easter!

So, that's it all over for another year. DD3 and her fiance are back from France on Monday so we might get together for another meal, maybe a takeaway or I might do another Xmas dinner since I still have quite a stash of stuff in the freezer. 

I hope you all had the kind of Christmas you wanted. Now the madness is over I can get back to budgeting and planning ahead for another debt free year in 2016.

Love and hugs, Helen xx

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Last Minute Christmas Preparations

Thank you to everyone who left such lovely understanding comments on my last post.

Today we're getting a few last minute cleaning jobs done, making sure there's no dirty washing in the basket, cleaning the bathroom, kitchen etc. before our visitors arrive tomorrow. They know we're a messy bunch so we're not busting a gut trying to wrangle this old house into a show home, but we're making a bit of an effort. 

I've the gammon to slow cook later so we can have it cold with crusty rolls and pickles for Christmas breakfast. Xmas dinner is turkey roast, hog roast, quorn roast in puff pastry, and all the trimmings. I've already precooked the stuffings, pigs in blankets etc. so they just need defrosting overnight and reheating tomorrow while the roasts are in the oven.  I'm cheating with frozen roast potatoes and parsnips which will be cooked in my halogens. Desserts are also all shop bought this year. 

Seems I've cheated a lot with ready made food, but I started preparations late this year and haven't had the time (or inclination) to spend hours cooking. Plus, it's only been in the last few days I've known for sure who would be here on the day. In my defence I did hand knit 3 cat blankets for DD2 and DD3's kitties. Next year I definitely want to make more gifts well in advance of the event.

DH, bless him, is vacuuming the stairs as I write this, and then we're off in to town...not, I hasten to add, to run crazily around the shops buying last minute food to add to the vast amount we already have. No, we're going to have a leisurely walk and hopefully find a couple of seats in Wetherspoons so I can indulge in a gingerbread latte and DH can have a regular coffee. 

Tonight's dinner is nice and easy, Aldi frozen cauliflower cheese with slow-cooked jacket spuds.

Here's hoping your Xmas eve is slow-paced and peaceful and not a huge last minute rush. 

Have a good day. Love, Helen xx

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Quick Update

Hi all.

Quick update on the madness here.

Well, we finally made the heartbreaking decision to return the puppies to the breeder. She's a lovely lady and would have kept them all if she could have anyway, so I know she'll take good care of them and find them loving homes. 

It wasn't just us not coping well, although having 2 together was definitely a mistake, but last week we got the news that DD2 will need a heart operation sometime in the new year. As she and her husband have only just moved to the other side of the country and don't have a support network over there yet, I will most likely go and stay with her while  she recovers. 

As DD3 is also having an op to remove a cyst that's actually growing inside her thigh bone in a couple of months time, it was all too much stress and gave us the final nudge to phone the breeder who was happy to have them back and even offered to hold them for us, but as we don't have definite dates or anything for the operations we know its best if she rehomes them. We've had a horrible few days since they went back last Friday. We were riddled with guilt but also missed them so much it was almost like mourning. Lots of tears from both DH and I. Funny how we got so attached to them in just a few weeks. 

The one consolation is that our cats are almost back to normal. I am enjoying cuddle time with Shadow who was always so affectionate but scared silly of the pups and hid in the bedrooms for almost 4 weeks.

So, now things are a lot quieter and less hectic and I can look forward to DD1 and her wife visiting over Xmas. They're at her parents in Cornwall for a few days and will drive up to us on Xmas morning, staying overnight and going back home to Basingstoke on Boxing Day. Apart from the actual food preparation on the day, as far as I can tell I have everything ready with all pressies wrapped and the house bulging with naughty things to eat. We've already had one family get together when DDs 2 and 3 and their other halves visited at the end of last week. I made 2 massive chillis in my slow cookers (one meat, one vegetarian), pulled pork, barbecue beans, salad, bread rolls, wraps etc. etc. plus 3 desserts (shop bought as we still had the pups and I couldn't find time to bake). Far too much food and we've been eating chilli nearly every day since.

In case I don't post again before Friday, I would like to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and hope that all your hard work and planning makes for a wonderful day.

Love you, Helen xx

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Better Day

Thank you to everyone who commented on my last post. Sorry I sounded so pathetic.

I do know we've taken on a lot and I was expecting it to be hard work but Sunday was just a bad day. I was tired and overwrought and I even had a cry in bed; it almost felt like the post natal depression I had after DD2 was born. I think it was also a bad time to get pups with all the stress of Xmas preparations too. 

Yesterday was a lot better. I got up early by myself and managed to get both pups to do their business outside before DH even came downstairs. Also during the day, whenever their fighting got out of hand, I separated them and distracted each with a chew or toy. I was also vigilant about poos and pees and I would say over 50% made it out into the yard.

Things have definitely improved, but this morning wasn't so smooth as DH got up the same time as me. I've come to the conclusion that, even though its more tiring, its easier when I'm here alone with them as other people are distracting and tend not to be as firm and sure in handling them as I am and I'm sure the pups sense that. 

We're also buying a second crate to separate them at night since Charlie settles down straight away but Ollie scrabbles about and digs and disturbs him, and DH is starting to take them out separately for a few minutes first thing in the morning and in the evening to get them used to their leads and street noises. 

Today I'm taking a break from the pups and in an hour I'm off to my slimming club's Xmas lunch. I popped into the club to get weighed already and then came home in the pouring rain. My weight is staying approximately the same within about a 2-3lb range (despite me eating a whole box of 6 mince pies last week). My sons are both here today so they can puppy sit between them.

Thanks again for all the comments and advice and I do know things will improve as they get older. 

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Not Coping

Feeling such a failure tonight, but we're not coping at all well with the pups. My stress levels are through the roof, I feel so depressed. DH and I have been constantly hovering over them all weekend and we're tired and strung out. Because the weather's been bad they won't do a thing out in the yard but will do it the moment they get back in the house even though we might have been out there in the wind and rain for 20 minutes waiting for them to 'go'. Not that they were getting it right all that often anyway. They're chewing everything in sight despite us providing plenty of puppy toys and chews for them, which they do use but the moment our backs are turned they're tearing up the carpet, or ripping the paper off the walls etc. etc.

I know its only been 2 weeks but I was hoping there might have been some improvements. Their play-fighting is also incredibly vicious and noisy and Ollie barks so much I'm worried the neighbours will complain. I'm practically confined to the house unless one of the boys is available to puppy sit for an hour, and then I'm rushing to the shops and back as fast as possible. It's not as if we didn't think long and hard before getting them (well, we thought long and hard about getting one) but it's so much harder than I ever imagined or remembered from our previous dog who we had at an even younger age, and I also had 5 children under 12 at that time.

We were idiots to think we could manage with 2. We're seriously considering returning them both to the breeder. I just want my quiet life back with my 2 cats (who I never see now because they're always hiding out in the bedrooms). Not sure how to tell the kids, although most of them don't live home I'm so ashamed that I've taken on these 2 little creatures and can't cope with them.

Sorry for the long, selfish rant. Just needed to get it off my chest.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Dec 2nd? Must Be Time To Cook The Xmas Dinner

I was awake until 2 am last night and then up to the pups at 6. My brain just wouldn't shut down enough for me to drop off to sleep. I kept going over all the things I still had to do for Xmas, the food I had to buy, who I would be cooking for, what I would feed my vegetarian daughter-in-law (should be easy as I catered for my veggie daughter for years, but I'm not so sure what DIL likes), what order I would cook everything in, the pressies I still have to buy, when to write and send cards, wrapping the pressies I still haven't bought yet...and so on, and so on. I even crept out of bed and in to the bathroom with a pen and paper to make notes since I didn't want to come downstairs and chance disturbing the pups who've been mostly sleeping through the night. 

I get like this every year in the last couple of weeks before Xmas, my brain gets all muddled between normal routine and Xmas, trying to still shop for everyday stuff but making sure I get everything I need for the holiday. Not knowing exactly how many I'll be catering for this year doesn't help, and who we'll be seeing the week before Xmas so that their pressies need to be ready a week early. It's also DH's birthday next Weds and on the 17th most of us are getting together for a big take away when DD2 and hubby visit. Having 2 puppies of course adds to the fun (?) with vets appointments for both them and the cats to fit in and a dentist appointment for me. 

In light of my manic desire to be as prepared as possible, I started cooking my Xmas dinner today. In between cleaning out the cats litter trays, washing the pups blankets, taking the pups outside for pees and poos and cleaning up the ones that didn't make it into the yard, vaccuming throughout, making macaroni cheese for dinner, doing more laundry, scrubbing out the oven and cooker top etc. etc., I have cooked both the sausagemeat and the vegetarian stuffings in loaf tins, the chipolatas wrapped in bacon, the Quorn sausages, and the Quorn roast that I will split in half lengthwise, sandwich back together with vege stuffing, refreeze and then on the day it will be wrapped in puff pastry and recooked. All went in the oven at the same  time as the mac and cheese to save on fuel. Everything will be returned to the freezer now its been cooked and then I will just need to defrost and reheat it on the day when I cook the turkey breast roasts and the rolled, stuffed pork along with the accompaniments. 

I've also had an Iceland and a Tesco delivery, and I've spent time online ordering the last few pressies. I have nearly everything now and although I can't exactly relax at least I know I'm mostly prepared.  Actually, I've probably overdone it with the food as usual and even if everyone turns up there should be more than enough to eat; if nobody extra turns up we'll be eating Xmas food for a month after the holiday. 

I know it's silly for me to get so uptight about everything, especially as my family won't really notice or mind if everything doesn't go to plan, but I do get kind of panicky if I don't feel I've got all under control. I try to have a 'so what' attitude if all isn't as it should be, but it doesn't really work for me.

So, how are the Xmas preparations going with you? Anyone else started their dinner preparations yet?

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Sealed Pot Xmas Shopping

I've finally gotten my backside in gear and started my Christmas preparations prompted by the thought of visitors we weren't expecting over the Xmas period. From just the 4 of us (myself, DH and 2 adult sons) there will now be at least an extra 2 and possibly 4 here for the holiday, with 2 of them staying over for a couple of nights. With our 2 puppies currently needing so much attention, I really can't be bothered making everything from scratch so today I've emptied my sealed savings tins and have done an online Iceland shop to be delivered later this week. 

I've also done most of my gift shopping online, and I'm sending shop-bought cards this year, purchased for a few pence in sales throughout the year, instead of making them all myself which I did last year. 

I was surprised that there was £130 in my tins since I don't seem to have put anything much in them for the past few months. That will certainly pay for all the food and the 2 hampers of Kentish produce I've ordered for my daughters and their spouses who now live in other parts of the country.

Apart from buying the pups, who were paid for from DH's redundancy money, we've had a lot of unexpected expenses over the past few weeks. £400 spent on repairs to the car, a waste of money as it's still causing issues that can't seem to be solved so we're probably getting rid of it now. £120 on tickets, hire of robes and photos for DS2's graduation ceremony at the end of January, and £200 on Friday for new bath and sink taps and other plumbing work resulting from a leak that dripped through the kitchen ceiling right around the light fitting. I had to dip into some of my special occasions and holiday savings that I was going to use for Xmas and so the remainder of my Xmas spending will now be funded by the money I usually use to overpay on the mortgage each month. It won't hurt to have a month or two where I only make the basic payment. I'm so thankful that I had savings to draw on and won't start the new year with a credit card bill I can't clear completely. As soon as it's all paid off I'll be cutting back again to replace those savings.

Speaking of the pups, they've settled in extremely well, house training is hit and miss at the moment, but they are peeing and pooing in the right place more frequently now. The cats are still staying very distant, and they are the ones keeping us awake at night now they're allowed to wander the upstairs while the pups are shut in the living room. 

How are your preparations going? Are you all done or leaving everything until the last minute? 

Sunday, 22 November 2015

A Tale of 2 Puppies

Yesterday I went out intending to collect one little girl how come I'm sitting here watching 2 little boy puppies gnawing on their chews on the rug?

It's DH's fault. There was only one girl left from the litter and I was all set to take her home when DH about we have 2 so they keep each other company, like our 2 cats do? I didn't jump at the suggestion straight away, quickly mulling over the pros and cons (and dismissing all the cons, of course), especially double the purchase price and vets bills, and insurance. When I'd more or less decided 'yes', I had to choose between the 3 boys? And then I considered what having a girl and a boy would mean before they were old enough to be neutered and the faint possibility we wouldn't catch them soon enough and end up with an unwanted pregnancy. In the end we decided to play it safe and take the one tan-coloured boy which left me to decide between 2 black and white boys. Choosing between them was so hard but I really, really, really couldn't take all 3 boys so I let DH make the final decision.

And that's how we've ended up with Ollie (tan) and Charlie (black and white) who are 10 weeks old Shih Tzu cross Toy Poodles.

Helping Dad with The Hoovering

Our two cats have had their world turned upside down and have been making themselves scarce upstairs for most of the time. I'm feeling guilty about that as my Shadow was particuarly affectionate and is currently keeping his distance. I'm really hoping both he and Halo will soon accept the pups and get back to their usual selves. 
Apologies if the gaps between pictures aren't equal; they look okay when composing the post but are out in the preview.
Really, really cold here today. The first day this year I've needed hat, scarf and gloves when going out. I've just splashed out and bought a couple of cheap room heaters for the boys bedrooms so I don't have to have the central heating on too much. This is a cold house and despite plenty of insulation in the roof, the top bedrooms are particularly chilly. I don't like spending money on electricity and gas but we need to keep warm and extra layers of clothing aren't doing it completely right now. I hope you're all managing to keep warm.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

War on Waste and Cats and Boxes

Having watched my Tivo recording of Hugh's War on Waste last night I resolved this morning to use up some of the veg I have in the fridge and vegetable basket. And it's not only my fridge but also the freezer and cupboards that have all kinds of odds and ends lurking and forgotten. 

So this morning I have made curried parsnip and carrot soup, cheddar and wholegrain mustard bread, a vegetable curry and crumble-topped raspberry muffins. 

The carrots and parsnips for the soup were just starting to go wrinkly in the veg basket. The veg curry contains more of the carrots and parsnips, some celery and cherry tomatoes from the bottom of the fridge and a part-packet of curry spice mix that had been hiding at the back of my cupboard for ages. I also tossed in a tin of Pinto beans I'd had on the shelf for a couple of months.

The bread used wholemeal flour that had also been around for a while, white bread flour, wholegrain mustard from a huge tub I bought from Approved Foods ages ago, a sachet of dried yeast that was due to go out of date this month and half a pack of Aldi grated cheddar. 

The muffins used Lurpack butter I bought reduced in M & S of all places and had in the freezer for a few months, and frozen raspberries from FarmFoods that I'd also had for a while and forgotten about. They will be served with custard for dessert tonight and tomorrow. 

The soup and bread are for tonight's dinner, and the curry will be served tomorrow with long grain rice. Two day's worth of dinners and desserts made entirely from foods I already had in the house, some that other people might have thrown away for not looking nice or being out of date. 

I do love my kitchen gadgets though. The curry is currently being cooked in my slow cooker, the soup made in my new soupmaker and I used my breadmaker for the loaf but browned the cheesy top in the oven while the muffins were baking. I could have saved money on fuel by mixing and kneading the bread by hand and baking it in with the muffins but my wrists aren't as strong as they used to be... No, that's just an excuse, truthfully, I hate kneading dough and I'm lazy so I stuck it all my ancient breadmaker but the top wasn't brown enough so it went in the oven for that final browning. 

Here are the pics of my hard work -

 Before Browning

After Browning

And here's some pics of my cats Shadow (the grey) and Halo (the colourpoint) both wanting the same shoebox -

I think Halo won that time.
Despite the forecast it's dry here today so I'm just off into town for a coffee with DS1. Hope it's not too wet and wondy where you are. Love Helen x

Friday, 30 October 2015

That Damned Car!

We had a lovely couple  of days staying with DD2 in Gloucestershire. Their flat is in quite a posh area, lots of huge Georgian mansions around about that have been transformed into flats. It was all very clean and bright...both the flat and the area. Their new kitten is so sweet and tiny, and when we arrived home yesterday our 2 cats looked gigantic in comparison. 

DD's kitten, Pumpkin, helping with the laundry

My big boy, Shadow, helping find the car's paperwork

While we were away we managed to get DH a new pair of Doc Marten shoes for £72 (originally £90) in Cheltenham after being handed a 20% discount voucher outside the shop. As a pair lasts DH for at least 2 years and he finds them so comfortable we were both pleased with the purchase. I got a cordouroy pinafore dress for £29 (half price) from White Stuff, and a proper white and blue enamelled pie dish from a great cookware shop (I could have spent hours - and lots of money - in there) so we'll be having pie some day soon.

Neptune's Fountain in Cheltenham
DD and SIL treated us to a meal out on one night, and we bought take away the night before we came home. We also found a couple of lovely tea rooms and indulged in cake and coffee.

Our trip home was memorable to say the least. You've guessed, the car broke down again. It conked out on the dual carriageway just outside Bracknall. It could have been really dangerous but luckily for us one lane was cordoned off while the council did work on the central reservation and DH just managed to coast the car behind the cones so we were safe and out of the way of traffic. But, we had to wait over an hour and a half in the rain for a mechanic and once he'd pronounced it too dangerous to drive all the way back to Kent (another 100 miles) it was another hour until the recovery vehicle turned up. The recovery driver's shift was due to end so he had to take us back to the yard in Slough to change drivers (which was lucky for us as we were both dying to use the loo). It then took hours to get through London traffic before we were finally on the road home. We left DD's place around 9.30am and arrived home about 7.30pm...a ten hour journey that should only have taken about 4-5 hours. Everyone who helped was wonderful, including the council guys who kept checking up on us and left the cones there until we'd been picked up. The car is at the garage now and quite honestly we were tempted to scrap her as we've lost all confidence in her, but our mechanic says he'll see what he can do and if we still want rid then he'll help us find a buyer.

So, for now we're back to public transport and honestly wondering whether we really need a car since DH can now get to work on the bus for less than he'd pay out in petrol and, as I don't drive, the car sits outside for most of the week and only gets used occasionally at weekends and holidays. DH only passed his test 4 years ago and before that we'd managed quite well with 5 kids and no car. We're certainly not prepared to spend much more on repairs as our poor little car isn't worth much now.

Now we're safely home and have had a good night's sleep we can look back on yesterday as an adventure. After all, we got to ride home in the back of the recovery truck! Mind you, it was a bit of a boneshaker and I ached rather this morning. Also, standing around in the rain on the central reservation of the dual  carriageway for hours was unnerving to say the least...thank goodness for those traffic cones that made it safer for us.

Taking advantage of the fine weather here today, we've been for a nice long walk via Kearsney Abbey grounds, a reminder that Dover isn't all litter and dog poo strewn streets and boarded up shops. We do have some beautiful areas around here; it's such a pity the town centre lets the residents down so badly.

The grounds of Kearsney Abbey, River Village, Nr. Dover

I was right back into  my usual routine this morning, doing laundry etc. but dinner will be quick and easy oven-baked fish and chips with peas (mushy peas for me, frozen for the others).

DH doesn't go back to work until Tuesday and as the weather is supposed to be fairly fine for the next few days we're planning on buying a bus Explorer ticket tomorrow and heading off for the day...not sure where yet.

That's all for now folks. I hope the weather is keeping fine where you are.  

Love, Helen xx

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Clocks, ComiCon and Sunday Breakfast

Did you remember to put your clocks back last night? I think it's a stupid practice, and used to play havoc with the kids' sleep patterns when they were little, but hey ho, it's something unavoidable unless I want to be out of sync with the rest of the country. Actually, I feel out of sync with much of humankind anyway for most of the time, so I suppose it wouldn't make that much difference! LOL!

Thankfully we remembered the clocks as we had to be up early to drive DS1 to Canterbury for 8.30am to pick up his coach for a trip to a ComiCon in London with the Anime club he belongs to. In case you haven't heard of it, Anime is a form of Japanese animation. Some of the films/series/graphic novels are quite adult in nature so there are fans of all ages who dress up in costumes and get together from time to time with other comic book and animated media fans for conventions. 

After dropping him off at the university campus where the coach was picking up, we drove to the Toby Carvery at Westwood Cross near Margate and had their all-you-can-eat breakfast for £3.99, plus refillable hot drinks for £1.99. That's the second breakfast I've had there this week (the first with DD3 when we went for her MRI at Margate Hospital on Monday), but thankfully I've managed to be fairly restrained on both occasions, making healthier choices and not pigging out too much. 

We then drove back via Whitfield, parked up in the Tesco car park and spent an hour wandering around the village walking off some of the breakfast calories, swooning over some of the pretty houses and criticising the new builds on the outskirts of the village. Ugly or not, they're all well beyond our limited means, but we joked that we wouldn't say 'no' to any of them if offered one for free. When we'd filled up with petrol at the Tesco station we finally headed for home.

We were out for nearly 5 hours all told, so when we got in about 1.30pm I had to catch up a bit. I put a load of washing on, chopped up chicken breasts to cook in the slow cooker with a jar of chicken supreme sauce and some button mushrooms to serve with rice for dinner, and I also made some mini banana loaf cakes to take with us to Gloucestershire tomorrow. My SIL (son-in-law), loves banana bread and the bananas in my fruit bowl would be too squishy for my taste by the time we return at the end of the week. 

It's still not 100% certain we're going tomorrow. I'm feeling much better but DH has had a tickly throat and was a bit sniffy yesterday, but isn't too bad to day. As long as he's no worse tomorrow morning we'll leave about 9.30 hoping to arrive around 2-3pm depending on how many stops we make on the way, traffic and whether we get lost etc. Hopefully our new sat nav will help us find the way safely. Fingers crossed we'll get away, otherwise it will be more difficult to visit once DD2 starts her new job and both her and SIL are working full time.

Forgot to say that we have lovely weather here today, just right for walking.  Hope it's dry where you are and you've been having a lovely weekend.

Love and hugs, Helen xx

Friday, 23 October 2015

New Soup Maker

Here is my lovely new red and silver soup maker. 

The blender function on my beloved jug soup maker packed up last week. It still cooks but won't blend to make the smooth soup I prefer. I have tried transferring the cooked soup to my smoothie maker and it does blend it nicely, but it's messy and inconvenient, and harder to clean than a soup maker. I eat soup most days and make 2-3 lots a week so I've been on the look out for an affordable replacement. Full price they can be anything from £50 -£80 and DD2 bought me my original one for Mother's Day, a refurbished model from Ebay. I could have bought another refurb for about £40 on Ebay but I preferred to have a new one with a full guarentee. Fortunately for me, I popped into the Co-Op yesterday and they had a lovely red one for £39.99. It was the last red one on the shelf and next to it was the more common black one at £20 more expensive. I am extremely pleased with my brand new soup maker, the blender function works perfectly and I have already made a veg and lentil soup for today's lunch. In addition, by registering it on the Morphy Richards website the 1 year guarentee has been extended to 2 years. 

More good news. DD2 went for an interview at a hospital yesterday and has been given a job in the patient experience department. It's a similar post to the one she held at Canterbury hospital but is full time and on a higher pay scale. Not bad going since they've only been in the area for 2 weeks and this was her very first interview. DD3 also has a new job closer to home, saving her money on travel and away from the strained atmosphere at her previous post. Now if DS2 could just find work...He's been awarded his degree in Commercial Music but so far can't even find retail work. 

My cold is still making me feel grotty but I'm hoping it will have cleared up by Monday so we can go and visit DD2. I don't want to take my germs down to them when they're both new to their jobs.

Right, I'm off to sample some of that soup before taking it easy this afternoon catching up on recorded episodes of A Place  in the Sun and dreaming of warmer climates.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

First Cold of The Winter

Apologies, as always, for my absence. I know I'm an extremely bad blogger but, if anyone's still reading, here's a catch up on what's been happening in my neck of the woods.

DD2 and her new hubby moved across the country to Gloucestershire a couple of weeks ago. As she lived around the corner and was my regular coffee shop companion I am missing her tons, but probably saving money as we took it in turns to pay when we went out. Before she moved we celebrated her 30th birthday with a family meal at a country pub and then back here for cake.

Hopefully we'll be driving across to visit them next week as it's half term and DH has the whole week off. The trip is dependent on 2 things, one is me being free of the rotten cold I currently have, and the second is our little car actually making it there and back. The car was fine going from Dover to South Wales and back around this time last year when MIL was in hospital before she passed away, but it's been extremely temperamental lately and we've lost faith in its reliability somewhat.

But, in the hope that all goes smoothly, we have invested in a brand new sat nav which cost us virtually nothing as we had £40 in 'Love to Shop' vouchers left over from our abortive swap to Sky about 18 months ago, and DH had a £35 giftcard presented to him when he left his last school. I added £14.99 in cash and we got a half price Gamin sat nav from Argos at  the weekend.

In other news, DD3 has finally had a proper contrast MRI scan done on her hip and thigh. Previously her doctor had ignored the physio's recommendations and sent her for an ordinary MRI which showed no damage to the joint and, without the contrast of the injected dye, it didn't show any damage to the muscles which has been her issue all along. This mistake has cost 3 months of delays and pain for DD, and goodness knows how much wasted money for the NHS. The contrast MRI was on Monday and we are now waiting for the results with the hope that something is found that can be repaired. She's putting off planning for the wedding until she knows whether she will need an operation, when it will be done and how long the recovery period should be. She really doesn't want to be limping down the aisle relying on a crutch as she has to at the moment.

Talking of hips/thighs and limping...I have seen a local chiropractor a couple of times lately and her pulling and pushing and massaging has made a big difference to the pain in my hip. According to her, not only did I have that slight curvature of the spine diagnosed by my doctor, but my pelvis was all misaligned which was causing the muscles to compensate, which in turn was trapping the sciatic nerve, which is why the pain was in my thigh and hip when the damage was in my lower back. Of course, I have had to pay for this treatment when the doc only offered physio at some magical future date when things got too painful for me to cope with. But it has been well worth finding the money as I have very little pain now and can walk a lot more easily. I only have to see her about 3 more times and then leave it to determine if the results are permanent or will at least last for some time with maybe the occasional top up appointment.

DH had an interview yesterday for a permanent post at the school where he's been supply teaching for the past few weeks, and this afternoon he heard that he'd got the job. He'll still be employed as a supply teracher for a few more months until his contract with the agency expires but after than he'll become a permanent staff member which means he'll get paid during the holidays and for sick days, and will also pay into a pension fund again. It will be nice to have a guarenteed income again and not to have to worry whether he'll have work at the start of each term.

Dinner tonight was a lovely pasta dish cooked by DS2. Both the boys have started showing an interest in cooking lately and I am happy to encourage them. For dessert I made some lemon loaf cakes topped with a crunchy lemon syrup. Instead of making one large cake I baked the mix in a set of 4 small tins I bought for £2 in a charity shop.

Baking the mixture in smaller tins means they cooked faster saving on gas, and as I also baked a meat pie at the same time I made the most of having the oven on.

After running the freezer right down over the past month and a half I did a big stock up of frozen foods last week. I had a £12 off a £60 shop code for Tesco and £2.50 off £25 shop for Farm Foods. The freezer is now overflowing, and I've also started storing stuff for Christmas. I'm also well stocked up on cat litter, loo rolls, toothpaste and deodorant amongst other things so should only need to buy odd bits and pieces for the next couple of months. 

That's all I can think of for now and, as my head is pounding and my sore throat killing me, I'm off to bed for an early night in the hope I'll be feeling better in the morning.

Good night everyone and thanks for reading, love Helen xx

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Easy Slow Cooker Macaroni Cheese

This is another really easy recipe. I adapted it from an American 'crockpot' recipe and made it lower in fat. It doesn't look exactly like ordinary mac and cheese, and it isn't quite the same texture as one made with a traditional flour and fat cheese sauce, but it tastes delicious. 

This is the original recipe - 

Easy Crockpot Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

This Easy Crockpot Macaroni and Cheese Recipe is actually SUPER easy like the picture says. It’s basically just dump everything in the crockpot and end up with oozy, cheesy goodness! I recommend stirring it a couple of times while cooking if possible (but not necessary) and start checking it every 15 minutes or so starting at the two hour mark so you can stop cooking when it is to the consistency that you like.

3 cups milk 12 oz can of evaporated milk
3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
8 oz brick of cream cheese
16 oz box of elbow macaroni
Place all in crockpot and set heat to low. Cook for 2-3 hours or until noodles are soft and sauce is the consistency you like.

And this is how I adapted it - 

1.5  pints of semi-skimmed milk (30p, from a 4 pint bottle at 2 x 4 pints for £1.50 in FarmFoods)
300ml tub Reduced Fat Creme Fraiche (Aldi 59p)
200ml tub Lighter Soft Cheese (Aldi 49p)
250 g grated Mature Cheddar  (Aldi -250g ready grated cheese for £1.49, I use the full fat as I don't find the reduced fat melts properly)
1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard (approx 5p)
Black pepper
500g pack macaroni (not sure of price as I bought mine ages ago from Approved Foods)

Instructions as per the original recipe, just dump everything in and set on low, except I kept back 50g of the cheddar to sprinkle on top. 

I found the pint and a half of milk had been absorbed after about an hour so I added extra milk every 15 minutes. Not sure exactly how much more milk as I just splashed some more in, but probably about another 1/2 to 3/4 pint.  It was done after 2 hours when the pasta was nice and soft and the milk mostly absorbed.

Once cooked I tipped the mac and cheese into a casserole dish, topped it with the remaining cheddar and browned it in my halogen oven, although it could be done in a regular oven or under the grill. 

As you can see I substituted creme fraiche for the evap milk and I also added some chopped cooked bacon and finely diced onion. 

It made a great big pot full and would easily serve 6 people. Four of us had it for dinner with spinach leaves, cucumber and cherry tomatoes and there's enough remaining for a couple of lunches tomorrow.

Slimming World Friendly Apple Dessert

Rachel requested I post the Apple Dessert recipe I mentioned yesterday.

It's really easy to make and I'll also say where I buy my ingredients.

So, you need:-

2 medium to large cooking apples (Aldi - 99p for 4 so 50p for 2)
250g tub of Quark (Asda - 90p in the soft cheese section)
250g Fat Free Fromage Frais (Asda - £1 for a 500g tub in the cream section, so only 50p's worth used in the recipe)
Sachet of orange/tangerine/mandarin sugar free jelly (Aldi - 23p)
2 Tablespoons sweetner (optional)

Simply peel, core and chop the apples into a heat proof bowl. Add 2 Tablespoons water and then microwave, stirring a couple of times, until reduced to mush (takes about 3 - 4 minutes depending on your microwave, or you could simmer them in a saucepan). They need to be as smooth as you can make them. Mix the jelly crystals into the hot apple just as they come from the packet, and stir well until dissolved. Add the sweetner if using (either sugar, honey or artificial). I don't always add sweetner as I prefer a tart flavour. Then stir in the Quark and Fromage Frais and mix well until the mixture is smooth. A few small lumps of apple is okay but the idea is to make a sort of cheesecakey/firm mousse texture. Pour into your desired container, either a large bowl or individual pots (I save yogurt pots for the purpose), and leave to set in the fridge.

This dessert is lovely and creamy without the fat and calories. If doing Slimming World then you'd need to count the cooked apple as a B choice healthy extra and 2 syns for the sugar-free jelly (that's for the whole recipe, so only 1/2 syn per quarter of the dessert). Cost wise, this generally makes 6 individual yogurt-pot sized portions at around 34p per portion.