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Charity shop haul - October 2017

Sunday, 19 November 2017

October ended up being a bumper month for my charity shop purchases. I've made it a little easier on myself to remember what I bought, but leaving my new books on a specific shelf in the living room until the time comes to write this post! My biggest problem was remembering what books I'd bought, since they tend to be the most common purchase. Having a shelf spot has definitely helped, but it does mean they remain disorganised for a few weeks.

This month I managed to secure a triple hit, with clothes, books and a DVD all purchased from charity shops in October!

Clothes

I'm super pleased about my October clothing hunt, as I managed to get two lovely tops. The first is a Seasalt one in green and cream hoops, with lovely long sleeves. Seasalt clothing is lovely quality, with good thick cotton that keeps you nice and toasty. This was only £5, not quite as cheap as my last Seasalt charity buy, but still a good bargain.


The second top was a Gap one in navy blue, again with long sleeves. It was only £3 and fits perfectly, so it's quickly becoming my new favourite top. The problem I have now is that I can replace some of my older, worn out shirts that are starting to develop holes. However I still love them so parting from them is proving difficult. I need to have a bit of a clear out anyway, so one Saturday I'll just have to go through the wardrobe and be ruthless!

Books

It was also a good month for books. The first one I picked up was a Dorling Kindersley publication on preserving food, mainly jams and pickles. I've never made jam in my life before, but at some point I'll want to give it a try. At only £3 for this lovely thick book I feel happy knowing I can have a guide sitting on my shelf, for when I'm ready to give it a go.


I also purchased another women in history book - Alison Weir's biography on Isabella of France. Isabella was Queen of England as the wife of King Edward II, and led the rebellion against him and Hugh Le Despenser. I really like Alison Weir's work, I also have her books on Elizabeth of York, Katherine Swynford, and Margaret Douglas, and this is proving to be a really good read. I've been struggling through my non-fiction books a bit recently, but I'm getting through this one with no problems.

DVDs

Finally my other top bargain for October was getting hold of the new Star Trek movie, Star Trek Beyond. We'd only just watched it the week before after I borrowed the DVD from my work library, so imagine my surprise when I found a copy for sale in the charity shop's bargain box for a mere fifty pence! This charity shop has a DVD shelf hidden towards the back of the shop, right in front of the door to the staff area. There's no where particularly prominent that they can put them, but it does mean they have to have regular clear outs and put lots of stuff in a box at the front. I'm really pleased with getting it so cheaply, I enjoyed the film but preferred Into Darkness, so getting it cheaply was really good.

A reverse advent calendar

Sunday, 5 November 2017

After taking a break from this blog in October I'm now raring to go again! So since my Christmas shoebox post was so well received I thought I would highlight another little charity thing I've received to do this winter - a reverse advent calendar.

"A what?" I hear you ask yourselves. This amazing post from Sara Williams at Moneywise explains it all very well! Basically every day you buy one item of food for a food bank, collect it all in a box, and at the end of the 25 days of Advent you take the box to your local food bank as a donation.

Like many other people I'm planning on doing mine for the next twenty five days (starting yesterday on 4 November), as it means the food bank will have time to get the food out to people. However if you don't think you can manage to arrange it that quickly then don't panic! The food you need to get should have a long shelf life. If you decide to start it on 1 December then you can always donate the box in the first week of January. Donations tend to drop in the New Year as people tighten their financial belts after all the Christmas spending, but they're also the point when the numbers that need a hand increase. A box of supplies will be just as welcome in January as it is in December.
Using one of our old moving boxes to store things!

You might be trying to rattle your brain and think about what specifics you should give to a food bank. First of all you should Google for your local food bank, many are set up or assisted by the Trussell Trust so they're a good place to start. They'll list specific days and times when they're open for donations. Each food bank will have an "urgent needs" list, things that they are running very short on. They'll also have a list of suggested donations. They need to make up enough food to feed people for several days, and it needs to be long-life. Dry goods like teabags, pasta and tinned items, plus things like jam, long life milk (may not have a fridge for fresh milk), and a treat such as a packet of biscuits. Many food banks will also have a box of toiletries for people who may be in need of shampoo and deodorant. The phrase "period poverty" has become quite well known in recent months, so donating a pack of sanitary towels or a box of tampons can be a real help.

Now you're looking at the list on your local food bank's website and wondering how much this will all cost. It sounds really expensive, after all prices are going up everywhere. It's going to be £50 at least, right? But I did a little run around Tesco with a pen and notepad the other day and managed to get to grips with the bulk of the prices. Everything on the list below comes to a total of £31.67. BUT - you don't need to get everything on the list. I found Heinz soup on an offer of 5 tins for £3, and individual pots of porridge at 5 for £4. So that would be 10 items right there. I also picked some large sizes (the pasta sauce for example was a large jar) but you can choose smaller ones. Food banks help families, couples and individuals, so there's always someone who could need what you buy.

So here's a list of 25 things (and their cost) you can buy for a reverse advent calendar;

1. Small pack of rice - £1.00
2. Potatoes (tinned) - £0.60
3. Carrots (tinned) - £0.30
4. Long life milk - £0.55
5. Fruit squash - £1.20
6. Cereal - £1.50
7. Porridge - £0.90 for a small pot (my Tesco has a 5 for £4 offer)
8. Tea bags - £1.30
9. Coffee - £2.00
10. Jam - £0.75
11. Marmalade - 60p
12. Meat (tinned) - £2.50 (you can get tinned curry and bolognese as well as stewing beef etc)
13. Tuna (tinned) - £1.50
14. Pie (tinned) - £2.70-ish (there were quite a few types)
15. Soup - £0.95 (also has a 5 for £3 offer for Heinz soups)
16. Pasta - £1.00
17. Pasta sauce - £2.00 (big jar)
18. Tinned beans - £1.00 (three pack of Branstons from Iceland)
19. Heinz ravioli - £1.07
20. Heinz beans with sausages - £1.05
21. Pudding (tinned) - £1.70
22. Biscuit snack pack - £1.00
23. Shampoo - £1.00 (Wilko)
24. Toothpaste - £1.00
25. Towels/tampons - £2.50 (depends on the pack you buy, I think this was the larger pack of Always towels)

I should also qualify that some of the stuff is Tesco brand (jam, potatoes and carrots for example) and some is branded (teabags, porridge, biscuits), so you may find better prices in Sainsburys, Asda or Morrisons.

I already have mine started. On Saturday I popped in to Wilko for some cleaning supplies, and got a bottle of Alberto Balsam shampoo for £1, and then in Iceland I found a pack of 3 tins of Branston's baked beans for £1. So that's Saturday and Sunday sorted out. I'm trying to use multipack offers to bump up the numbers of things in my box, and buy one type of item each day. But as I said above, you can take advantage of such offers to help you reach your 25 goal if that's what works for you!

Thank you to everyone who Tweeted about the Moneywise article, I hope you all enjoy your reverse advent calendars!

Mortgage Overpayment - August and September 2017

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Anyone with an eagle eye would have spotted that I missed my regular post on my mortgage overpayment for August. That was because August became a very expensive month after I needed to get some work on my car, so my overpaying was on the small side. So small in fact that the blog post would have been about 100 words XD

I decided to combine it in with September, which had fewer emergency expenses and therefore let me sweep up some extra pennies when I reviewed my accounts. I also had a bigger expenses claim in September, which helped bump up the payment.

So without further ado - in August I managed to overpay £45.41, which was a lot less than my target of £60 a month :( As I mentioned my car needed some work, and I was loathed to move too much money out of my savings to cover it as I'm trying my best to keep money in my savings account than constantly move more out of it.

But on the plus side in September I overpaid £70.96! I ended up with a £25 expenses claim due to a bunch of things we needed for the office at work, and I was so careful with my money during the month that I was able to do a large sweep at the end of September which added an extra £12 on to my payment.

I haven't been very good about listing things on eBay and Facebook selling pages the past two months as work has been getting very busy. I'm hoping I'll be able to find some time in October and November to get back to listing things and go for some bigger payments towards the end of the year!

Christmas shoeboxes

Sunday, 24 September 2017

I hope you can forgive the Christmas-themed post. It's less than 100 days away, which to some people means hitting all the panic buttons and freaking out about whether there's enough chairs in the house to have everyone round on Christmas day. But for me I have to think about Christmas things a bit early as I make Christmas shoeboxes for a charity called Link to Hope, and they ask for the shoeboxes to arrive at their warehouse by early November!

I first came across Link to Hope a few years ago. I wanted to do a charity shoebox but didn't want to go through the Operation Christmas Child programme, due to some of the more problematic things I've read about them (I won't go in to it here, but if Google it then you'll find plenty of other websites discussing it). I found someone else on a forum asking the same question, and Link to Hope was mentioned in the replies. They state on their website that they will give a shoebox to anyone, regardless of religion, belief or creed, and they do not hand out any literature with their shoeboxes. They do use churches as community spaces in some areas, but they also use schools, village halls and any other large building that can accommodate the people that arrive to collect a box.

This year is especially exciting for me as I've finally been able to volunteer as an Area Collector! These are people who act as a drop off point for shoeboxes in their local area, and I haven't seen one this far out in Essex before! I've already had one person phone me to check I'm happy to accept them, and I'm hoping more will want to join in as we get closer to the November deadline!
Just need some winter woolies

What do you include in a shoebox?
Link to Hope, who I do shoeboxes for, have two types - family and elderly. Nothing is divided by age or gender, so you can't pick "nine year old girl" or "two year old boy", but it does mean that you can fit a big variety of things in. The people that receive the shoeboxes are from areas that have few work opportunities, and winter is a struggle between earning enough money for food and get some heating, so simple things like toiletries and school supplies become a luxury rather than a need.

There's basics that you put in every shoebox; toiletries such as shampoo, soap and showergel, sweets and chocolate, plasters, tissues, and winter woolies including hats and gloves and warm socks. Then you have extra items depending on which group your box is going to. Additions to family shoeboxes include school supplies such as a notebook, pens, pencils and rulers, a small cuddly toy, and some little toys or games. For elderly ones you can include a nice mug, a cloth shopping bag, reading glasses, and a small pack of dominoes or some playing cards.

Can you include freebie items you've got?
As long as they're unopened (in the case of toiletries) then of course you can collect freebies throughout the year to include in your shoeboxes! I recently got a free tote bag from TK Maxx for signing up with their "Treasures" programme, I already have more tote bags than you can shake a stick at, so I've folded this one up for one of my elderly boxes.

Next year I'm planning on keeping a better eye out for things I can collect for free that will go in the shoeboxes. Having a few extra little things to include is nice, but only as long as they're useful and in good condition. Don't just chuck in a load of sample facemasks that you don't want to use. But if you travel frequently and pick up the little packets of wrapped soaps in hotels then you can include those. If you have a subscription box for things like stationery that you know will just sit in a drawer for years, then you can build up a nice little collection of pencils and notepads that can be added to bulk out empty space.

My best buys
Since I try to collect things throughout the year I generally manage to put my shoeboxes together a bit cheaper than buying everything in one go in October. I also like to bulk buy things that I can then split across several years of shoeboxes, I recently bought 15 small bouncy balls off a party supply shop on eBay. These normally go in giftbags for kids parties, but I've put two each in my family shoeboxes and that still leaves me with 11 to be split across the next few years!

I managed to buy two really nice tin pencil cases for £1.50 each from The Works, along with colouring pencils from Tiger for £1 a pack, and I got some lovely Crayola felt tip pens from Wilko for £2 during their "Back to School" sales. I picked up two mugs from Waitrose at £1.50 each when they were having a sale, one for each elderly shoebox. They're a lovely bright blue and really thick, my husband used to have one (that was eventually dropped on the kitchen floor) that survived several house moves so they're really good quality.

Things you can't send
Obviously there are also things that, for customs and safety purposes, can't be included in shoeboxes. Medicines is the obvious one, no cough syrup or paracetemol or anything like that (but first aid items such as plasters are very useful and can be included). You also can't send any seeds, which is a real shame as it would be helpful to give people help in growing their own food where possible. You also can't include any books or literature, so no children's books or guide books or pamphlets.

If you want to create your own shoebox for the charity then you can find more information on their website, and a list of Area Collectors can be found here!

100 days of DuoLingo

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Back in June I wrote a blog post about my aims for the next six months of 2017. At the time I had just started using DuoLingo to learn Italian, and was slowly starting to get to grips with going back to a language I've repeatedly tried and failed to learn over the years.

One of the great things about DuoLingo is that is tracks how long you've been learning for. You get quite competitive with yourself, and as I write this it's telling me that I've been learning for 115 days! This isn't entirely true, as you can use "Lingots" earned from reaching milestones to hold over a day or two if you don't have the time or energy to do your daily task. However I haven't definitely not used enough Lingots to cover 15 days, so I've certainly broken the 100 days mark of learning Italian!

How to use easy is DuoLingo?
All you really need for DuoLingo is a computer/laptop/tablet and the ability to turn on sound, that's it! There is an option to use a microphone but as I don't have one I've switched it off. You can use your settings to do things like set your daily goal, ranging from "basic" at learning enough for 1 xp a day (which equates to just one translation or listening exercise), up to "Insane" at 50 xp a day. I started off with 20 xp a day, which was two lots of 20 exercises a day. But in the end I was finding that it was difficult to get the enthusiasm to do that much, especially if my journey home proved difficult, so I've now set it to 10 xp a day. This is one session of 20 exercises, a mixture of listening and writing in Italian, translating sentences from English in to Italian, and occasionally picking the right answer (or answers) out of a list. Oh, and it's completely free to use, although you can use it to buy things like flashcards that will help you learn offline.

Personally I'm finding it very easy to use, especially now that I have it set in a way that makes it easy to get it done and dusted in the evenings. I think it really helps that I studied Latin at GCSE and AS Level and then again at university, and did a lot of French in school too. Unlike English, Italian grammar is very gender-based, and the endings of words change depending on the context of the sentence. For example "I eat" is "mangio", while "we eat" is "mangiamo". If you're not used to this kind of grammar style then it can be difficult to wrap your head around it, and even though I know how it works I still struggled at certain points, and at one point came close to giving up entirely.

A breakthrough
My biggest problem came when I was trying to learn possession words (yours, mine, theirs etc). As I mentioned above, Italian grammar is similar to Latin in that the endings of nouns and verbs change depending on a host of different things. For a while I was really struggling to get my head around possessives, as I assumed they were static. Instead, I eventually realised that they follow the ending of the noun that is being possessed. So for example "i mie mele" is my apples, but "il mio cappotto" means "my coat", you can see that the word "my" is "mie" to go with "mele", and "mio" to go with cappotto, as one is plural and the other is singular.

Once I realised that then I found it a lot easier to progress. I am still going back frequently and testing myself on old things, but I spent weeks grappling with possessives, whereas now I'm trying new levels and only working on them for a week before I move on to the next stage.

Is there an app?
There is indeed an app for DuoLingo, but for the time being I haven't installed it. I'm quite enjoying using it on my laptop as I can jut sit in bed and concentrate on what I'm doing. Although using the app would no doubt help if I wanted to work on it while waiting for the bus, for example, I'd be spending too much time looking up the road to really focus on what I'm learning.

Next steps
Overall I'm really happy with my progress, although I seriously doubt DuoLingo's claim that I'm now 20% fluent in Italian! My next biggest step will be remembering all my vocabulary, as after grammar problems it's always learning a huge range of new words that's a problem for me. Once I've hit the 200 mark I think I'll start leaving little labels around the house to help me remember the Italian translation of various words, or I might draw up a little "10 words a week" list that I can sellotape to my work PC and glance it to help me remember.

I'll do a second review when I hit 200 days (if I manage to keep my streak going that long without interruption). Maybe I'll have come across another grammar problem, or maybe I'll be genuinely fluent in Italian! I'd eventually like to use it to learn Dutch as one of my best friends lives in the Netherlands, but I really do need to make more progress in Italian first.

Charity shop haul: August 2017

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Originally it looked like this was going to be a miniscule post. The charity shops in Cambridge, my usual haunt, have been very thin on the ground for good items recently. The students have all left by July and by August the place is swamped with tourists, so donations are thin on the ground (from what I can tell anyway). 

But as I had another week off it meant that I could take some time to stroll around Colchester, and me and my husband had a day out in Maldon with the in-laws so I had a little look around the charity shops there too.

Sadly there were no clothes this month, one or two things caught my eye but I just couldn't picture myself wearing them. There's no point buying clothes you like if you don't wear them, so I put both things back and moved on.

Books
My collection of works about women in history has expanded again this month! My main purchase was a biography on Cecily Neville, the mother of King Edward IV and King Richard III. She's one of those medieval women that used to only exist on the periphery of history, but recent works have really helped make people more aware of her. In fact I've already sat down and read the whole thing and really enjoyed it, I liked the way Amy Licence really tried to focus on Cecily. I find that with many books about women there's a greater emphasis on the men in their lives, in order to bulk out the text as there's often very few resources about the women themselves. This book is a little short, but only because Licence doesn't fall in to that trap, and what information she does have on Cecily is really interesting!

DVDs
My aim to refill my DVD collection with stuff I'm missing from home continues apace! This month I bulked out my collection with the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie (I mistakenly thought I already had the second one, so now I need to keep an eye out for that too), Sense and Sensibility (which I always enjoy watching on a lazy afternoon). I also bought one of the Family Guy "Star Wars" specials. I've never seen the Star Wars movies, to my husband's everlasting horror, but I'll happily watch this parody of them, even if a lot of the jokes go over my head.

I then went in to Colchester for a during in my week off, and what else did I find in a charity shop? The second Family Guy Star Wars parody DVD! So now I own both of them for the princely sum of £2, I wouldn't buy them at full price but I'll happily have them in the animation drawer to watch when the fancy takes me.

Simple pleasures

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Now that we're in to September and autumn is on the way, I thought I'd take a little look back at some of the simple pleasures I've enjoyed over the summer. It's not my favourite season by any means, but there have been aspects of it that I've enjoyed, especially now that we're becoming settled in our house and have got more furniture set up around the place.

Baking

After a hiatus of nearly two years, I've finally started baking again! I used to bake nearly every weekend when I lived in London, my housemates were generally out of the flat on Sundays so I could use the kitchen to my heart's content in the afternoon. When I moved back with my parents I didn't really have the inclination to bake, especially as it's my Mum's kitchen and there's always something going on there. I made one batch of cookies while the rest of the family was on holiday, but that was it.

Now that we're settled in the house and there's less decorating to do at weekends I've started to pick it back up again. A new colleague started in our office recently so as a welcome I baked some chocolate chunk cookies, which turned out very nice. Then this weekend I had three quarters of a lemon left and decided to make lemon fairy cakes, which have also come out nicely. Once I've got back in to the swing of baking I'd like to try some new things, I've got recipes for shortbread and a chocolate loaf cake which I'd love to test, and I've never made a lemon drizzle cake or a Victoria sponge, so getting to grips with them would be nice.

When it's warm enough to have the windows open
I'm not a fan of hot weather. I've probably said that on this blog before, but it makes me feel sweaty and gross, and I hate walking around when the humidity makes it feel like a sauna. It's the main reason why I'll probably never visit Florida.

But that doesn't mean that I can't enjoy good weather. I like it when it's sunny but not excessively hot. I particularly love being able to have the garden door and all the windows open, allowing a lovely breeze to circulate around our house. We're really lucky, when you open the garden door and the window in our bedroom you get a lovely current of air. Plus our living room has a large window overlooking the back garden, so I love to sit indoors in the cool, looking out across the grass, with the door wide open so I still get some fresh air!

Keeping plants alive
It's the miracle of miracles! You may remember from my post about my week off back in July that my attention has slowly been turning to our garden. There was so much to do back in March that there wasn't really a chance to do much with the garden, apart from cut the grass and see what was growing. But in July I set up two hanging baskets and some plastic troughs with petunias and lavender. The petunias went a bit mad and grew quite large, they're now starting to die back a bit (helped by me forgetting to water them, it's rained so much I wasn't sure if they were too damp or too dry, turns out they were a bit too dry). But the lavender is coming along nicely, it's taking a while to grow but I'm hoping that it'll survive the winter and grow back in the spring. My mother-in-law is a keen gardener and has loads of lavender so I'll be asking her what I need to do with it to keep it alive in the cold weather.

I'm just generally impressed with how well they've survived. It's amazing the difference the petunias make in the hanging baskets, they light up the whole of the front of the house. I really hope they grow back next year, but if not then I'll be happy to plant new ones, maybe in purple rather than magenta, or maybe a mix of both!

Visiting new places 

If there's one thing summer is good for, it's visiting new places. As we're still new to the area we've moved to it's been a real pleasure to occasionally get out for a little drive and then stop somewhere for a walk. Along with visiting some of the local villages around our way we've also been up to Hedingham Castle and down to Maldon, and I've had a little visit to the lovely old town of Coggeshall. I also had a nice walk along the river near where we live and found a load of blackberry bushes, but sadly didn't have a walking stick to hook down the really good berries at the top!

Obviously with autumn all we need to do to go out is wrap up a bit more, so I'm hoping that we'll be able to visit a few more places before it gets too cold for my warmth-loving husband to want to venture outdoors. I've got a book of walks around Essex that I keep intending to use more, so we might see about going for a nice stroll somewhere soon.

I hope you all managed to enjoy some simple pleasures in the summer, and that you have some lovely ones in autumn too :)

Changing your name after your wedding

Sunday, 27 August 2017

One of the more common questions you get asked when people find out you’re getting married is “So will you be changing your name then?” Generally it’s directed at women, but more men are hearing it too, and if you’re in a same-sex relationship then double-barrelling is flagged up as an option.

I'm only changing my surname!
But one of the problems is just how much stuff you end up needing to change, and how many different ways there are for doing so. After getting married in April I’m now in the process of getting things updated with my new surname, and frankly I’ve had some mixed results with it!

Work
I’m quite lucky to work for a large employer with lots of HR staff dotted around the place, and they have plenty of experience in updating your details. All I needed to do was show up at the HR office with my marriage certificate, wait for a colour copy to be sorted on the photocopier, and that was it. My colleague in HR sorted out my payroll, HR record and pensions information so it was all swapped over in less than a week! I count myself very lucky to have found it this easy, obviously your work place may be slower or require you to fill out extra forms.

Verdict: 5/5

Banks
My main bank since my student days is Barclays, and through Google I managed to find the page on their website that said I just needed to take my marriage certificate in to a branch and they would sort it from there. So I did exactly that, and spent just over five minutes with a staff member going through the process. Originally it came across as very easy, again they took a colour copy of my marriage certificate, and I was told that a new debit card and chequebook would be in the post shortly.

However when things arrived it became very clear that something had gone wrong. Although they had updated my title, so I was now “Mrs”, they’d left my maiden name as my surname. Cue a certain amount of frustration, especially when I went to a second branch to sort it out (I didn’t want to go back to the first for obvious reasons). They could see that something had gone wrong with the changeover, although they didn’t tell me what, but they couldn’t fix it until I handed over my marriage certificate again. I therefore had to make a third trip, certificate in tow. I ended up with yet another new card and another new chequebook, but thankfully in the correct name.

I also have a mortgage with my husband through Halifax. This time it was closer to ten minutes as the staff member had to fill out what seemed to be an extremely long online form. Not only did they need my previous name, new name, my address and my mortgage account number, but I was also asked about my current wage! I even had to check that they weren’t going to change my mortgage in anyway as some of the questions seemed too personal for what was a change of surname. Once more the marriage certificate was copied, and the online form had to be printed off and the whole thing sent to a head office through Halifax’s postal system.

The disappointing thing with Halifax, apart from the questions, was that I was told it would only take three days to sort out and I would receive a text message to confirm it had gone through. Despite them having my mobile number (I’ve had texts from them in the past) I never received anything to confirm the name change had gone through. We only realised it had been processed a week later when we checked our mortgage account online, and found it was now titled “Mr & Mrs” with one surname.

Verdicts;
Barclays – 3/5
Halifax – 4/5

Electoral register
This got done this week as we received a letter about updating details online. No need to photocopy or send off the marriage certificate, we just logged in with the code we were sent on the letter, and there was an option for me to change my surname on one of the pages. Obviously until I next get a polling card I won’t be certain that it’s gone through fine, but it seemed to be a smooth process.

Being on the electoral register is important for your credit rating, so keeping it up to date with your name and current address should be standard. When you get one of these letters, double check they’ve spelled your details correctly, and amend them online if not.

Verdict: 5/5

Driving licence
I’ve only just sent this off (very naughty I know), so hopefully this will go through fine! I’ve deliberately left this late as it’s the first time I’ve needed to send off my marriage certificate and I’m worried it’ll get lost in the post, or damaged by the DVLA (a friend of mine had a bad experience with hers). I collected a form from the Post Office, filled it in with all the details, and have now posted it off with my driving licence and the marriage certificate. It should take three weeks for the new to make its way back to me, and hopefully my marriage certificate will come back in one piece too!

Verdict: 5/5 for getting the form from the post office, ?/5 for getting it back!

HMRC
I expected them to be the biggest nuisance with this kind of thing, but it appears not! All I had to do was fill in an online form, including the date that we married and some information about my husband, and that was that! But again, I’ve only done it recently so any problems won’t have arisen yet. But for ease of use I’ve found them one of the better ones to deal with, even if it was a little time consuming.

Verdict: 5/5, so far!

I haven’t got around to sorting out our utility bills (energy and broadband are in my name), and I haven’t done my passport as I’ll need to pay £95 for a new one to change my name! But so far I feel I’m making progress, and this doesn’t even include all my shop loyalty cards that have also been swapped over!

Charity Shop Haul: July 2017

Sunday, 13 August 2017

July started off slow for charity shop visits, but then I had a week off work and spent the first afternoon of it wandering around the huge number of charity shops outside the Grafton Centre in Cambridge! This was then followed by a morning strolling around Colchester, so in one week I managed to visit a lot of shops, and get some lovely bargains!


Clothes
I love White Stuff, but I find some of their collections a bit hit-and-miss, so I haven't bought anything from their shops recently. I did however find this gorgeous blue top in one charity shop, and quickly snapped it up as it was only £5! I've actually got quite a few of their tops, but some of them were bought three years ago and are starting to get holes (I wear them every week as they're suitable for work), so my plan is to use charity shops to replace the four most damaged tops!


Books
This month was quite poor for book purchases, possibly because I have quite a few from the past couple of months that I need to catch up on, so I was quite discerning this month. I also just didn't find a huge amount that I needed or wanted to buy, it was a better month for DVDs (as you'll see below). That said I did find two decent books to add to my shelf. The first is "Nella Last's War", which I've actually read in the past and really enjoyed. This book is an edited version of a set of diaries which were kept during the Second World War by Mrs Nella Last. She lived in Lancashire in Barrow-in-Furness and spent the war actively helping charities, running her house, and worrying about her sons.

The other book was "The Times Obituaries of Notable Women", which is a collection of obituaries about various women who died in the 20th century. It should be good source material for some upcoming ebooks so I'm looking forward to sitting down properly with it at some point and making a few notes.

DVDs
Now that I've moved out of my parents place I'm finding that I need to buy DVDs that I've had easy access to for years. So imagine how chuffed I was to get the first two Bridget Jones movies for £1 each. They're nice easy watching that you can have on as noise in the background without dedicating lots of time to watching, so having my own copies at last is great. I also got "Made in Dagenham", which I've wanted to watch for years and never got round to!

Mortgage Overpayment - July 2017

Sunday, 6 August 2017

If you'd like to find out more about why we're overpaying our mortgage, the post is here!

July turned out to be a fantastic month for overpaying. It wasn't a record breaking month, that's still held by April. But it was still very good and it's all thanks to my expenses claim, my train ticket to a work conference gave an enormous boost to the payment pot!

So without further ado our overpayment for July was £129.27!!

That was made up of our standard £30, which we budget every month. I received £5.39 from Quidco, which was cashback from buying some house items a few months ago, and then £78.66 was my work expenses claim. I also did a couple of account sweeps, rounding my bank balance down to end in a 5 or a 0, and that netted me an extra £5.56, and then I finally rounded down the mortgage balance at the end of the month to pay off an extra £7.66. 

Since we're now just over halfway through the year, I thought I'd take a little look at the impact our mortgage payments, and the overpayments, have had on some of the numbers!

When we started the mortgage we were having £12.01 added in interest per day! It's now down to £11.82 a day. We were due to go under £11 a day in August 2020, but we've now brought that up to June 2020, and of course that will go down as we continue to overpay. We were due to drop under £155k owed in May 2018, that's now fallen to March 2018. I really want to do it before January, but playing with numbers suggests that that might be a little tricky. I'm really happy with how close we're getting though, it's good motivation for the future.

I have a terramundi pot, which I started to save in when I was living in London. I only add £2 and 50 pence coins to it, and it's starting to get a little heavy. But it's certainly nowhere near full ,so I'm now debating if I want to crack it open in December and use whatever's in it to make one last huge overpayment for the New Year. But on the other hand I'd like to know how much it can hold when it's full, so I should hold out.

We'll see what the coming months bring, and see how many more £2 coins I can stuff in to it in the meantime XD

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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