Thursday 31 March 2022

March Spending


They're tiny but oh my goodness these wee asparagus spears did make me smile this morning! 😋 There was a hard frost last night, my road was even gritted by the gritter.  But they look so good in the stunning sunshine we have this morning.

This is a non work day on my phased return plan.  I've done 2 mornings this week and will be in school all day tomorrow.  So far it's been a smooth transition back.  I'm just very tired afterwards.  I slept 10 hours last night which is very unusual for me.  My body obviously needs it.  One more day then it's the school Easter break.

As it's the last day of the month, it's time to look at my spending in March.  Ooft!!  It's been a spendy month 😲  Biggest outgoing was my quarterly energy bills. £591.22 for gas and £276.93 for electricity.  This was for Dec/Jan/Feb so the coldest months of the year.  I've been off work for a large part of that time.  Plus my son's GF works from home 3 to 4 days a week.  I can't ask her sit in the freezing cold while she works for the NHS!  So the heating has been on all day.  They have given me a contribution towards it.  Luckily I had planned and budgeted for it so not (too big) a shock.  I usually switch the heating off in April and try not to turn it back on until September.  I remembered to take and submit my meter readings this morning.  If you're in the UK remember to do this as the energy prices go up from tomorrow.

I also had to pay my annual insurance on the flat my eldest son lives in.  Again planned and budgeted for so not a surprise .  It had gone up by about £40.  I can't really shop around as it's a specialist policy for a family landlord.

I found yet another subscription that slipped through my December clear out.  This one was a quarterly one.  I thought I'd cancelled it but apparently I hadn't checked the 'cancel auto renew' button on my account.  Very sneaky!!  It should be done now.

There were a few unplanned items like replacing my wee garden greenhouse that was damaged beyond repair in the storms, plus a takeaway meal to celebrate my son and his GF finally buying a house (just round the corner from me!)  I treated myself to a counter top compost caddy to remind me to put raw food in my own compost bin and not the council recycling bin.

I'm sticking to one big supermarket delivery at the start of the month and one other top up shop.  That seems to be working for me.  Food waste is minimal although my son and his GF (who do all their own food buying and cooking) aren't quite as good!  I regularly see stuff they've put in the bin that frankly I'd still eat or would feed to the chicken!!  I've gently hinted they check with me before throwing out stuff but it's taken me years to get to this point so I'm definitely not criticising.  I hope I've been showing them a good example while they've been living here.  They do meal plan and batch cook at weekends now.

Total spend for March (excluding known and budgeted for house and car costs) was £576.31 😲

Savings account total: £2071.96 but...

I realised that I didn't explain (or did I??) when I set up my challenge to save £10k in a year, that I'm paying for my new kitchen and bathroom in monthly repayments out of my salary account.  I already have the full amount for both sitting in another account (my inheritance from my uncle) so I'm going to move that monthly amount of £509 into my savings account as well.  That will give me a fuller picture of trying to save half of my actual take home salary and the inheritance money won't just get used up in other things.  So I'm adding £1527 (Jan/Feb/Mar payments 3 x £509) into my savings account.

Well done if you're still keeping up!!!  The actual numbers are boring for anyone else but I like to work out them out so I stay motivated!

So, savings account at 31st March now has £3598.96 😊  On target so far but it takes a lot of effort and planning to stay on track!!

Three months down, 45 to go! 👍

Tuesday 29 March 2022

The day after


After a deliberately quiet weekend pottering around my garden in brilliant sunshine, I returned to work yesterday morning.  After just 3 hours with my wee kiddos I came home and collapsed!!!  Then slept 11 hours last night 😴 It's going to take the full phased return to get back up to full speed.  I'm trying to be patient as it will be worth it in the long term but oh it's hard!!!!

At the weekend I had to put up the old Omlet fencing round my raised beds as Tuppence has trashed them.  The small one has my 5 asparagus crowns.  I noticed the first spears popping up so weeded it and topped it up with fresh compost.  I noticed this morning that I have 3 spears that are now a few inches high.  This is year 3 for them so I can harvest lightly 😋  I read that asparagus and strawberry plants grow well together so my lovely mum has planted up some of her runners for me to put in there this Summer.

This longer bed still had a few red kale plants that were nearly finished so I pulled them out and gave them to Tuppence.  I had put cardboard and compost on it for the Winter but she has completely scratched up the decomposing cardboard and it's a mess.  I'll need to work on this bed over the Easter break as this is usually my Summer salad veg bed.

Look at that innocent face!!!

I had planned to potter in the garden today but yesterday has really wiped me out.  So it's a quiet day here, doing a few work things for tomorrow.  I did wander round and do a mental stocktake of what has survived.

Black pots are echinacea (bargain from Sarah Raven last year). It's starting to re grow already.  It'll probably be another year or two before I can harvest it and use it to make tinctures. I do have 2 larger plants in pots in my front garden.  Brown pots have the 3 blackcurrant prunings I literally just stuck in pots and they've rooted!  So that's 3 more bushes to plant at the allotment for my fruit forest bed, for free.  Blackcurrants are high in vitamin C so they're another source of healthy goodness I can preserve for Winter remedies.

This is last year's rescued rosemary plant from B&Q.  It's really doing well!

This is a mature gooseberry bush from my lovely mum's garden as she was clearing out some of her plants.  It's very prickly so will need extra careful handling when I take it to the plot!  More free plants for the fruit forest!

And finally my blueberry bushes.  All 4 have survived the Winter and are in bud.  I gave them a light prune and topped the pots up with ericaceous compost so here's hoping for an even bigger crop this year!  The fig tree has also survived and is doing well in the paler coloured pot on the right.

It's slowly coming together.  It'll take a few more years to get my perennial fruit and veg production levels up but I'm working hard on it.  I doubt I'll ever be on the same level as someone like Vivi but I really want to grow as much as I can.  We're living in scary times so the more self sufficient we can be the better!

Friday 25 March 2022

Returning to 'normal'


The weather has been lovely this week.  I've been able to get out into the garden and gently potter.  Today I was brave and went to my plot.  And I was so happy I did.  I just had a good look at everything and sat in the sun, taking it all in.  It always brings me instant calm.

I went into school yesterday to meet with my Headteacher and discuss my phased return (well I drew up a timetable and gave her it!)  I went to visit my class and I was overwhelmed with the response.  My wee kiddos have missed me 😍 And my colleagues said they'd missed me too!  I was really tired afterwards.

I go back on Monday.  I'm working 3 mornings and an afternoon.  Then it's the 2 week Easter break.  I think that should be doable.  It feels like the beginning of things returning to normal, whatever normal is these days.

Wednesday 16 March 2022

Quinoa, polenta and tofu


I've been going through my storecupboard with the intention of using up all the stuff that's been lingering in there for ages!!  I'm not a regular eater of quinoa and polenta so I've no idea how long they've been there.  At least I had the foresight to write the date on the quinoa!  Can't remember when or why I bought the polenta.  I don't think I've ever made anything with it so why did I buy it?? 😕

I made some quinoa last night and had it with fried halloumi.  I over salted it (forgetting that you don't drain the water out, you let it absorb) so the whole meal was just too salty.  I woke up this morning with a dry mouth!!  But I'll have it again to use it up, just less salt next time!

If anyone has any suggestions for the polenta, let me know!  The tofu is sadly well out of date!!!  I'm annoyed I've missed that.  Once the quinoa and polenta are used up I won't be buying them again.  With food prices going crazy I'm going to simplify my menu and ingredients.

I made some more bean bags for school.  That's all the cannellini beans used up and some soya beans.  These will be more useful than eating them!!

And my seeds are starting to sprout!  I didn't sow as many as I did last year.  I ended up giving away and composting more than half.  So I'm being more economical this time.  They're a bit leggy but I can transplant them deeper when the time comes.  Only ones that haven't done anything yet are the aubergines/eggplant on the far left.  It was older seed but maybe they take longer to germinate.  It always feels hopeful once seeds start growing 🌱

Speaking of hopeful, I've been offered a phased return to work.  Maybe next week or the week after.  I'm feeling a lot better, the cough has improved although I still cough and wheeze on exertion.  I've formally raised concerns with my union and HR about the pressure to return to work too soon.  And they're both taking it very seriously!!  At a time when we're seeing Covid cases dramatically increasing in Scotland atm I'm glad I'm being acknowledged.  

During my assessment for returning to work I was told that my chest infection probably wasn't from another virus as I thought.  It's more likely to have come from the original Covid virus in January. My  returning to work too quickly has had a direct impact on my illness now.

I'll not be making that mistake again!!

Wednesday 9 March 2022

Loo rolls and those dried beans


I made some loo roll planters to get my peas started.

I filled them with compost and sat them to warm up at the window on the stair half landing.

I counted out the exact number of peas (33) and soaked them in water ready to sow tomorrow.

I found a use for those pesky dried beans (plus a spoonful of dried lavender.)

And made a prototype bean bag (pyramid shaped) that I can use at school.

It's been an odd sort of day where I didn't feel like doing very much.

Tuesday 8 March 2022

Starting seeds

I started sorting out my seeds ready to sow.  Thanks to my Covid isolation seed sorting notes (HERE) I knew what needed to be started first.

I plugged in my propagator and warmed it up overnight.  This morning I planted my tomatoes, chillies, sweet peppers, aubergines and tomatillos.  These will all end up in the polytunnel on the plot as they need more protection and heat than our Scottish Summer can provide!

Looking at my notes from last year I can see I'm starting 2 weeks earlier.  I'm trying to be more efficient this year and grow more produce. Finding that wee box of soft fruits in the freezer yesterday has definitely inspired me to get this season started 🍅🍆🌶

Monday 7 March 2022

Week 4


It's the start of my 4th week off work.  I'd love to say I'm feeling much better but actually I'm only a bit better.  I decided to strip my bed this morning, thinking it's a lovely sunny day and I love the smell of sheets dried outside.  I was breathless just removing my duvet cover!!  I'm trying not to be discouraged at how slow this recovery seems to be taking.  Is it age?  Is it my current lack of fitness?  Is it just bad luck?  Who knows!

I got a supermarket delivery yesterday and stocked up on a few storecupboard items.  I did a freezer check and was thrilled to find a wee tub of home grown mixed soft fruit I'd frozen last summer.  I had some in my porridge this morning.  There were strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackcurrants and red currants, all from my back garden.  I remember each day I would eat some fresh and added the rest to the freezer.  It's spurred me on to think about how much I could grow and freeze/preserve if I really put the work in.  I also found a tub of blackcurrants, 2 tubs of chopped rhubarb and 1 last bag of plums.  Not bad going for March!

My lovely mum brought me some compost to get my seeds started so that's this week's task.  Just doing a wee bit at a time then resting.

In my storecupboard check I found some dried cannellini beans, still well within date.  I genuinely like beans and pulses and eat a lot of them, although I tend to use the tinned variety.  Last year I stocked up up on dried beans (soya, cannellini and pinto) because everything I read said they were a) cheaper and b) tasted better.  I have tried several times to cook dried beans and I've yet to make something that actually tastes good!  On Saturday I made soup in my crockpot.  Carrots, onions, rice and pre soaked and cooked cannellini beans.  It was horrible.  In fact it was so inedible I threw it in my brown bin.  I've no idea why it tasted so bad but it's put me right off using dried beans.

Every frugal website and vlog I see always says don't stock up on stuff if you won't eat it.  I'd amend that to find a way of prepping/cooking it that you like before you stock up.  I have 2kg of dried organic soya beans so I need to find a way I can use them up!!

Wednesday 2 March 2022

Always read the small print!

I was double checking my Fit Note (the certification from a doctor so you get your Sick Pay) before handing it in to work and discovered that my GP has actually signed me off work until the end of this month.  On my way out she did say make another appointment to see her again in 4 weeks.  But I didn't put the 2 things together 🙄

I don't think I'll need to be off that long but it's a relief to know that I have that time available to me to fully recover!

Tuesday 1 March 2022

How much????!


These are my Winter energy costs as of this morning 😲😲😲 From 1st December to 1st March.  The actual bill is due later this week.  I pay my gas and electricity bills quarterly.  I don't do direct debit or monthly payments in advance.  In the past (about 20 years ago to be fair) we did this and ended up with a huge amount of credit that was a lot of hassle to get back.  I think the regulations are different now and energy companies can't hold above a certain amount of credit.  Anyway, I like to just use it and then pay for it.

I switch my gas heating completely off between the start of May until September ish.  So I know I have a high bill in Winter and a very low one in Summer due to just cooking and heating water with gas.  I also buy wood in bulk during the Summer for the woodburner (technically a multi fuel burner.)  And I've just realised I've not factored that cost into my annual house costs.  Another benefit of tracking every single purchase!

Normally I switch off or turn down the radiators in unused rooms but as my son and his GF are currently living with me (and she works from home 3 or 4 days a week) I haven't done that this Winter.  But that is still one big bill!!!!  Luckily they will contribute towards it but I'm on a mission to cut my energy use before the energy increase starting on 1st April.  Martin Lewis (the Money Saving Expert) said it could be as much as a 54% increase 😨

So, it's a new month to keep on saving money starting with good intentions to make use of every scrap of food before getting a supermarket delivery.  Over the last few days I've been using up stuff in the fridge and freezer.

I had a large bag of potatoes that were beginning to sprout a wee bit!  So I did a huge pot of mash! 😋 I made tattie (potato) scones from the leftovers.  4 parts warm buttery mash to 1 part flour.  Mix to a soft dough and dry fry in a pan.  I used my son's electric griddle.  I ended up with 12 decent sized ones.  They freeze easily (if they last that long!) and can be reheated in the toaster or fried.

I made a vegetable gratin with the ends of frozen vegetable bags in the garage freezer.  I'm trying to run it down to defrost it.  I topped it with a mixture of GF breadcrumbs, crushed rice cakes and grated Violife 'cheddar.'  The cheddar didn't melt but it still tasted lovely 😋  I also poached some frozen plums with maple syrup and tossed in some homegrown frozen blueberries when I turned the pan off.  It's a lovely combination.

And then I made some sheet pancakes with the rest of the blueberries.  I only had 3 eggs left (recipe needs 4) as Tuppence is moulting at the moment and not laying.  It's a bit flat but still tastes good warm with maple syrup and a bit of Alpro cream.  Most of them are in the freezer, good for breakfasts and snacks.

I'm out of fresh fruit but I do still have home grown rhubarb from the allotment, plums (from my lovely mum's garden) and some mixed berries from my garden in the freezer.  I've surprised myself at how long they lasted.  Plus I found a tub of tomatoes last week when rummaging.  I thought I'd used them all.  That's the downside of a chest freezer, you don't know what's at the bottom!!

I'm going to try and wait until at least Sunday before getting a supermarket delivery.  Really challenge myself to cook healthy meals using what I've got in the freezer and storecupboard.  In fact, I have a renewed enthusiasm to keep a closer eye on my spending if I'm going to have to pay a small fortune for my energy bills!!!!