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A week off in July

Sunday, 23 July 2017

After a very busy period at work, and my last week off being for my honeymoon back in April, I was very relieved to have a week off this month. Well, technically it was four and a half days, but it was still time off work and I was grateful for it as my brain was starting to get a bit bogged down!

Monday
This was the half day part of my leave. Popped in to the office in the morning, which might have been a bit daft as I have a long commute (live near Colchester and work in Cambridge) but I had things to sort out around the office. Once I'd done everything on my list I then started my holiday by driving over to Cambridge's Grafton Centre, had a little lunch in Bella Italia (I had two starters, pork and beef meatballs in tomato sauce, and carbonara croquettes, delicious!) and then strolled around the charity shops outside the centre. I managed to get some DVDs and a nice top, so my next charity shop haul post will have some good bits in it! Keep an eye out next month.
Started the week with a good book!

Once I'd worn my little legs out with all the walking I drove home and had the rest of the afternoon with a nice cup of tea and a good book, heaven!

Tuesday
Sadly my car needed work done so I dropped it off at the garage Tuesday morning and spent the day confined to my town. But that's not too bad as the town isn't huge and the walk down the high street to the river is quite pleasant. There have been some changes in bin collections recently, which mean that we can now get free sacks for garden waste! Excellent news as they were £3.50 before. But you can only get them if you fill out a form online and get an emailed voucher. Unfortunately having jumped through the respective hoops, I got to the Town Council offices to find that they had run out of garden sacks.

Quite frustrating but there you go. I was asked to phone on Friday to check if sacks had arrived before walking down, and I walked back home to spend the rest of the day reading my book, playing online, and planning what to do with the rest of my week. I intended to go for a drive up to a village called Coggeshall, but when I went to pick up my car they showed me where my suspension coil had snapped! Not good, so I had to book the car in for Friday for more work and be careful with my driving for the rest of the week.

Wednesday
Mirror for £4? Yes please!

Despite the car trouble I used Wednesday to drive in to Colchester and have a long walk around. I popped in to numerous charity shops but sadly couldn't find anything I particularly wanted to buy, not even a book or two! However I did manage to get some nice hanging baskets from Wilko, for our garden, and a bathroom mirror for only £4! We've been really struggling to find a bathroom mirror we both like, so at only £4 I figured this will be a handy placeholder to use, and then we won't rush in to buying something we don't like just because we need to fill the space.

I also managed to get some nice birthday presents for one of my sisters. Her birthday isn't until September, but I think I might have all her gifts sorted now, getting that done early is a big bonus!

Thursday
I decided to call off my trip to Coggeshall due to the car problem, and instead went up to Marks Tey. I drive by Poplar Nurseries here every day, and it looks like such a big garden centre that I've wanted to go inside for months. Now I had my hanging baskets I decided it was time to get some plants and get gardening!

I wasn't disappointed, it was a lovely big shop. I spent quite a lot of time mooching around the "grow your own fruit and veg" section before coming to my senses and realising it was far too late to be planting tomatoes and strawberries (but I'll try to find a budget for them next year) and instead wandered over to the outdoor section to see what flowers I wanted. I knew I wanted some lavender plants, and then something nice for the hanging baskets. 
Tiny lavender and little petunias!

But there were so many other beautiful plants that in the end I had to go eat some lunch as I was just wandering around in circles trying to work out what I wanted to buy. After filling up with a lovely cheese scone and a nice cup of tea, I had my head on straight and went back out with a trolley. Three small lavender plants for £1.50 each, a box of six dark pink petunias for £4.50, two small trough pots, and two bags of compost, and I was ready to come home! Buy not before I popped back in to their farm shops to get two enormous slices of cake for me and my husband (chocolate loaf for me, carrot and walnut for my husband). I really liked the nursery so I think a second visit is on the cards so I can write a proper review of it!

Once I got home I got everything potted up and placed, ready to surprise my husband when we came home. I ended up putting two petunias each in the hanging basket, and the other two in the smaller trough. The three lavender plants fitted nicely in the larger trough, despite being quite small and spindly. I've been told in the past that lavender can get quite larger so hopefully they'll grow a bit and won't stay quite so small.

Friday
Car went back in the garage in the morning, and then a quick call to the Town Council meant that I could hurry down and pick up some newly arrived garden waste bags! Then all I had to do for the day was wait for the call to say my car was done. I decided to use the time to sort out my clothes, we out our wardrobe from IKEA back in June and my clothes were still in bags in the spare room. I sorted through them I realised there was a lot there that I hadn't even missed despite not seeing them for a few months. I ended up filling a few bags to donate to a charity shop and then hung up the rest, so now all my clothes are sorted out and the spare room looks a lot clearer!

So that was my somewhat productive week off! I didn't get as much done as I'd intended (sending off more forms to change my surname for example) but I'm especially happy about getting the plants sorted. Gardening doesn't come naturally to me so getting plants potted is an achievement to me!

My next week off is at the end of August, and since this week off really wasn't long enough I'm really looking forward to it XD

Preparing for winter

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Yes, I know, preparing for winter in the summer sounds a bit daft, at the very least I should probably wait until September. But we all know how quickly a month can go by, and since I've had a few days off work in July, and have another week off at the end of August, now seems like a good time to get a few things ticked off to get ready for the colder months!
Even if it doesn't snow we should get frost!

Car prep
It's not just getting the car through the MOT (mine is due in November so I have to get any problems sorted in the summer anyway), it's making sure that if you get caught out by the snow then you have things in the car that will help. Along with my wellies (which live in the boot of my car from autumn onwards) I also have a little bag with some extra thick socks, gloves, a scarf, a woolly hat, an energy bar, and a torch. Should I find that I have to abandon my car at the bottom of a hill and walk the rest of the way home, I'll be a lot more comfortable doing that walk with multiple layers and some food in my stomach!

My Dad had to walk home from the nearest town several times over the years, and every time it happened he wasn't prepared for it and had to do the walk in smart work shoes! Even if you don't drive, get your other half to prepare a little kit to go in their boot, just in case!

Food prep
I'd love to make some jam but it sounds difficult XD

I doubt we'd get snowed in to the point where we can't get any food, if only because there's a One Stop 5 minutes walk away. But I find that the winter calls for more homecooked food, in the summer I can throw together a cold Tesco quiche with a salad and some oven chips for dinner after a long day, but when you've just got through the front door in January a cold quiche isn't going to cut it.

Since we've moved in I haven't got round to doing as much batch cooking as I would like, so my plan is to top up our stocks of bolognese, and add some more chili and a lasagne or two. We went to IKEA last Saturday and restocked on meatballs, and I've already done a batch of half a packet with some tomato sauce (we had a taste test for dinner and they were lovely!) so that's safely tucked away in the bottom drawer of the freezer. I'm also going to keep an eye out for some more yellow sticker food in the supermarkets so they can be put straight in the freezer after purchase and will make a nice quick hot dinner in a pinch.

One of our wedding presents was a slow cooker, so I'd also like to do a few casseroles as well. But that may have to wait until autumn as I don't think a nice beef casserole will be a great thing to eat in the middle of August XD

Stocking up the medicine cabinet
With winter comes colds and sneezles. One of the worst feelings is to get up with a bad headache, head to the medicine cabinet, and find that there's no Neurofen left. So I've started to stock up with headache pills, Lemsip Cold and Flu capsules for me, and the Lemsip drink for my husband. I'm not a fan of the drink as it always makes me feel a bit sick, so I'm happy to take the pills instead.

I've also now signed us up to our local GP, several months after we moved to the area XD But it now means that if one of us falls ill with a chest infection or the like then at least our local surgery will have our medical records and we won't have to fill out extra paperwork to get an appointment.
Need some more blankets too!

Around the house
Because we've only been living here for four months, there's still quite a lot of things we need to get done around the house. Recently we've been focusing on things like decorating and furniture. But we know that our central heating needs some work (a lot of the radiators don't heat up properly), and the gutters at the back of the house are partly blocked. Since winter brings with it cold weather and rain, these are things we really need to get sorted out before it gets too cold, so booking some companies for quotes for the work is definitely on the table. Oh, and I also need to stock up on some nice warm blankets!

Hopefully this has given you some ideas on how to prepare for winter. What do you want to do for the season?

Mortgage Overpayment - June 2017

Sunday, 9 July 2017

If you haven't seen my mortgage overpayment series, you can check out the other posts here.

This month's mortgage overpayment is once again a little small, I've struggled to sell things I've listed on eBay (to be fair they're in a saturated market) and I haven't had much time to dedicate to finding other things to list. My initial optimism didn't pan out unfortunately, but I'm still happy with the overpayment we made this month.

My expenses payment for this month was £22.29, which is fairly average at the moment. I also cashed out £10.28 from Quidco, which was left over from some more house things (including getting our washing machine from Currys and our fridge freezer from AO!).

But in between those two sources, and the standard £30 we have built in to our budget, this month was very slim-pickings. My work had a very big event at the end of the month, and much of my June was mentally occupied with "I need to email some more details to the venue, ask about the choices for the lunch, send out the invoices for the tickets, did I remember to tell my manager about this problem that came up? I don't think I did, I must remember to do that tomorrow", and all around my regular work tasks as well! The day after the event was great as my brain suddenly felt clear!

I was so caught up that I didn't even round down the final mortgage total at the end of the month. Now the final column of my spreadsheet looks uneven XD In total we overpaid £62.57 in June!

But the good thing about the work event is that it was held in London and I'm allowed to claim my (horribly expensive) train ticket back on expenses. This means that next month's expenses form has been very large, and will lead to a very generous overpayment! I also have next week off work, so I'll have a scrabble around for some more things to eBay during the week.

Charity Shop Haul - June 2017

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Last month I did a post on a new blog post series that I'm doing, highlighting my finds from charity shops. I got a bit addicted to them after using them to source the china for my wedding, and now that we've had the wedding I'm new enjoying using them for cheap books, DVDs and clothes!

This month my buys are a little thin on the ground. The really hot weather at the start of the month kept me in the office a lot as I really don't like heatwaves and prefer to lurk indoors, and towards the end of the month my time was taken up by a large work event and so running out to charity shops was the last thing on my mind. But I still managed to get a few bargains during my few trips out!

Clothes
The first buy this month was a gorgeous purple top from Phase Eight, found in the local hospice charity shop. I saw it originally and wasn't certain if I liked it, as I thought the detail around the neck was a bit fussy (it has a pattern neckline). But it was still there when I went back two days later, and since it will make a nice smart work top I decided to buy it. The material is lovely and soft, and I really like the shade of purple it's in, it'll look very nice with my black work trousers when autumn comes around.

Books
As always, I went straight for the history books. I'm particularly happy with the biography of Josephine Butler, she's been one of my favourite women in history ever since I wrote my eBook series, so getting hold of a proper biography of her is a great find. I'm currently working my way through the "Unnatural Murder" one, which is a little heavy going due to the necessary explanations around English law at the time, but once I've got through it I'll be able to move on to "The Unruly Queen", which is about Caroline of Brunswick, the wife of King George IV.

DVDs
Yes this month I managed to get a DVD! I popped in to Colchester one weekend for a little stroll and found the DVD of Despicable Me for a mere 99p! I really like the film but normally have to wait until it's playing on Channel 5 over bank holiday weekends, so for a bargain price like that I'm more than happy to have a copy on my bookcase that I can watch whenever I want.

Did you know I have an eBook series?

Sunday, 25 June 2017

You might have seen from my Instagram recently that I've been slowly starting work on a new eBook. What you may not have realised is that it's actually my third one in a series that I started a few years ago, and which has been on pause during the past few years due to me moving to my parent's place and then buying and moving in to a house with my husband.
SOE agent Nancy Wake

I started writing this eBook series during a point in my life where I REALLY missed university. Specifically I really missed the various research projects I'd juggled for my courses during both my BA and my MA (I hold both in Ancient History). Both my dissertations were on aspects of the lives of women in the ancient world, so I was already interested in women in history.

One Christmas I received a copy of Lisa Hilton's "Queen Consorts", which is about Queens of England from Matilda of Flanders (wife of William the Conqueror) through to Elizabeth of York (wife of Henry VII). After I read it my Mum asked a question about one particular Queen - Catherine of Valois. Catherine was the wife of Henry V, the hero of Agincourt, but she had made a second marriage after Henry's death, to Owen Tudor. Through her, and a timely marriage between the Tudors and the Beaufort family, Henry Tudor rose to prominence and eventually was able to claim the English throne.

My Mum had always wondered how Catherine, a Queen by marriage and a French princess by birth, had come to marry a minor Welsh nobleman. She didn't have the time to read a biography of Catherine of Valois, and even if she had, such biographies have been rare (until recently) and difficult to find. I was able to answer her question and it got me thinking - how many other women wanted to know the same thing? How many women wanted to find out more about other women in history, but just didn't have the time? How often was our own history so inaccessible to us, that our questions were going unanswered?
30 Women in History Volume 1

In the end I settled on doing a series of small eBooks that featured multiple interesting women. Each biography is short, only 600 to 800 words, because they're meant to be easy to read. You can pick up and put down the book as and when you want. You can read it on the commute in to work, or look at a chapter or two before you go to bed. Most importantly they're simply to raise awareness of just how many awesome and amazing women there have been in history, and in the future you can then do your own further reading on the ones that interest you! I wrote biographies on thirty different women, so that for people interested but short of time, they could easily read the book in a month by doing just one small chapter a day!

I always try to make it as diverse as possible, so it's not all just boring English women. I've covered the ancient world and more modern, and countries including Japan, Egypt and Korea, as well as a selection of European women, and African-American women who fought slavery or faced significant discrimination while trying to just make people's lives a little better or a little easier. Through my research I've found even more women to write about, what's started out as a list of a mere 100 or so women has increased significantly over the past 18 months, so I now have a massive alphabetised notebook with women across continents and centuries to write about.

So now that I have a house and got my wedding done and dusted, it's time to start dedicating time to my eBook series. Another thirty women will bring me up to a total of ninety biographies, only ten away from one hundred! And after that, the first two hundred won't seem quite so daunting :)

My eBooks are available on Amazon for just 99 pence (because I need to earn a tiny bit of money to fund more books, but I want to try and make the books as affordable as possible!), you can find 30 Women in History Volume 1 and Volume 2, and keep an eye on my history Twitter account for more information on the progress of Volume 3!

Aims for the rest of 2017!

Sunday, 18 June 2017

We're now at June, halfway through the year, and if I'd made New Years Resolutions then now would be the time that I'd be reviewing them and wondering how the wheels managed to fall off so quickly.

I had no energy or thoughts of resolutions on 1 January as we had only bought our house a few weeks earlier, and my brain was filled with plans for bathroom refurbishment, furniture buying, and general decorating. So now seems like a good time to look back at the past six months, and look forward to the next six, and work out what I'd like to do between now and December.

Continue mortgage overpayments
Yes with the year halfway through we’re creeping ever closer to my aim to drop under £155k owed on our house before January. Last month's overpayment was a little on the small side, a week off work at the end of April meant that I didn’t has as many work expenses to claim back in the first week of May. But June’s overpayment is already looking quite healthy, so we might be on target without too much difficulty!
Next time I'm in Rome I might know Italian!

Improve my abysmal Italian
You might have seen from my Twitter feed recently that I’ve become a little bit addicted to radio.garden, a website that lets you tune in to radio stations around the world. I love it because all the green dots scattered across the world are radio stations, with small dots for single radio channels, and larger ones for a cluster of stations that you can tune in to. 

When I started using it I had fun bouncing around the world, listening to stations in France, Denmark, Russia, China, Japan and Malaysia, before finishing up with half an hour of Israeli music. But since then I’ve settled in to listening to Italian radio. I tend to bounce around a few stations based in Rome, but there’s also Radio Day, which is a station based in Frosinone, the province my great-grandfather is from. However my Italian (despite my ancestry) is extremely poor. I can count to ten, ask for a table at a restaurant, and say please and thank you (the absolutely basics when you’re on holiday). I keep finding myself listening to adverts and news sections without knowing what’s going on (although that doesn’t bother me with the adverts quite so much). 

So I’ve decided to try and improve my Italian for the next six months. I’ve signed up to DuoLingo with the aim to practise for ten minutes a day, every day. If I actually manage to maintain this for the next six months then I’ll be shocked but pleased XD

Plan for Christmas better
I know I’m not the only one who thinks about this. My birthday is exactly six weeks before Christmas, so I normally don’t worry about it until my birthday has been and gone. Last year that really didn’t work as we completed our house purchase in early December, so I had to buy a lot of last-minute gifts for family and friends as I just hadn’t had the time or energy to think about it.

This year I’m planning on being at least slightly more organised. I’d like to have a list of what I’m buying people by the end of October, and then I can buy bits and pieces in the following weeks. This is also the first year we’ve been in the house for Christmas and our first year as a married couple, so me and my husband need to work out what we want to do for the day (difficult as he doesn’t celebrate Christmas and doesn’t really see the point of it). 

Walk more
Getting in to the swing of a much longer commute, and all the problems that go with it, has taken me longer than I thought it would. After a week of lots of driving, coupled with my husband having train problems, and the need to dedicate time to the wedding and decorating the house, overall my weekends tend to involve only leaving the house to buy food. A day out over the bank holiday weekend reminded me that it's good to get out of the house for something other than essentials (work and food). I have a book of walks around Essex that I dug out and had a look, and I've now identified a few walks in the area that are three miles or more and will be good to do in the future. Now I just need to get the energy for them, and encourage husband to come with me!

Mortgage Overpayment - May 2017

Saturday, 10 June 2017

The end of the month means overpayment time for our mortgage! After April's bumper overpayment I knew that May was going to look measly in comparison, but I've really taken my eye off the ball this month, and haven't found other sources to replace the large Quidco payments that won't be coming in any more.

May's overpayment is £66.97, which although it's not as good as I would like, is still just over my target of overpaying £60 a month. I didn't have a great deal of success with eBay this month, but I did count up my 20p and copper penny jars, which gave me £12 in total.

I also got a tiny payment from Amazon for eBook sales back in March. I published two eBooks on women in history back in 2014, and every so often I get a few sales that give me a little trickle of pennies from Amazon. May's payout was £0.76, which I think mostly came from March as it was Women's History Month and there's always a little spike in activity then.

The rest of the money was made up of our basic overpayment (£30) and my expenses from April, which were paid in the middle of May.

So although it wasn't well over the odds, I'm still pleased that we're just over target, and hopefully in June I'll get back in to my money saving mojo and get a bit closer to the magical £100!
 
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