Frugal living & shrewd shopping

These days most people are tightening their belts, money has to stretch further than ever before. For us when I left my old well paid job due to ill health and became self-employed, that marked a drastic change in our finances. Gone are the pre-child days where if I fancied an expensive pair of shoes I’d just buy them, nowadays I do endless research, lots of saving up and then hunt around for a bargain. I’m not alone in this, most people I know are careful, buying Christmas presents in the January sales for example or hunting round the many charity shops in the village for bargains.

We’re very into make do and mend, patching and darning to get an extra few months out of a garment. There is (for me at least) a certain joy in the simplicity of it all; hearty meals made from cheap, often reduced ingredients bubbling away gently in the slow cooker. The central heating off on all but the coldest days, the log fire providing most of the heat we need. Growing our own fruit, vegetables and herbs in the garden and always searching out yellow stickered items, bargains, discounts. I enjoy the challenge of trying to make a little go a long way.

All winter I’ve been wearing boots which leak, I’d bought a cheap pair from a supermarket back in September, but by the time winter came along they were letting water in and my feet were freezing. Going everywhere with a spare pair of socks in my bag was getting tiresome, so I decided to treat myself to a proper pair of good quality boots which should hopefully last a couple of winters at least, but quality boots are expensive.

True to form I thoroughly researched online for what I wanted, I knew the style, the brand and how much I wanted to pay. I opted for these lovely Blowfish boots, I need flat boots because of my back, they need to be easy to put on and take off (there’s a zip), they needed to be comfortable and practical for pottering about mum-style.

VouchaCodes

Full price these boots were £60 but I could neither afford nor justify that, even on an essential item like boots which would keep my feet dry. I knew I’d have to try and knock the price down a bit. I managed to find them in a large department store in the sale, but using VouchaCodes.co.uk I was able to find a voucher code which would reduce that cost even further. I ended up paying just £25 for my £60 boots. Result! At least I’ll have dry feet now.

How do you make your money stretch a bit further?

Brightening up the house with LED branch lights

After Christmas my house always looks extra dark, no twinkling lights on the tree to brighten the place, no beautiful strings of pretty lights illuminating the dark corners of the house. The dark evenings and the sudden change from light and festive to just normal and slightly drab do not help this, and somehow this adds to the gloom.

Unwilling to let the seeping melancholy overtake me, I got some LED branch lights from LED Hut with the intention of perking up a drab corner and perking me up too.

They arrived really well packaged. I opened the box and they were just ready to be used. They come with a small battery pack which uses 3x AA batteries (which were included), there is a small on/off switch, so you just switch them on and put them in a suitable vase or container. To switch off, just take the lights out and switch the battery pack off. Easy.

LED branch lights

I chose these really pretty  lights; ten LED branch lights which are inside decorative white mesh pods. They are on white branches which are made of metal so you can move and position them however you think best.

These work really well in my home which was (hastily) painted white when we moved in and has both modern Scandinavian (mainly Ikea) and traditional furniture. They suit the crisp contemporary whiteness and the cosy traditional look we also have going.

I’m quite in love with these lights and haven’t as yet decided where they will finally end up. At the moment they are in a vase on a bureau in the lounge, but I think they’d be lovely on the landing windowsill, in my office to pretty it up a little bit, or maybe even in the downstairs loo. I can see me getting a few more sets of these pretty LED branch lights.

These lovely LED branch lights give off a pleasing warm light, not bright enough to read by or do fine needlework under, but enough to brighten a gloomy corner. I like how the light shines out from the mesh, casting attractive patterns against the wall. There’s nothing I don’t like about them, even the price is reasonable, they’re just £11.99 from LED Hut, and much safer than the candles I normally burn to cheer the place up on a dark winters evening.

Note: I was sent these LED branch lights free of charge for review purposes, all images and opinions are my own.

An Ode to Bath Time

Bath time is a special part of our family day, the three of us usually gather in the bathroom, the small boy in the bath playing with his toys, we sing songs and play really imaginative games (usually involving pirates, octonauts, submarines and a range of aquatic animals). Sometimes one of us joins him in the bath, mostly these days we don’t. It’s a special time, we’re all winding down from our day, relaxed or relaxing and because we’ve always made sure it was special family time, he loves it too, even having his hair washed.

H&A and Tots100 are putting together a Bathtime Fun Squad and have asked a whole bunch of lovely parent bloggers if they’d like to join. They sent us the Bathtime Buddies Alphabet Set to try out, with the instruction that we were to “get creative”. So first off, I wrote a little ode to our family bath time…

Bath times are never drab times
Always fun times
Father and son times
Wash mummy’s hair times
Please don’t wee in the bath times.

Stop splashing, don’t splash, how many times?
Special times, funny times
Play times
Imaginative times
Ahoy there shipmates times

Wash your face times
Learn your ABCs times
Bathtime buddies, rubber duckies
Shampoo and bubbly bath times
Family times, full of love times

Tell me about your day times
Did you really wash your face times
Nearly time for bed times
Rest your weary head times
Bath times are the best times

My poetry never ever rhymes.

Then I ran a big bubbly bath and we played with our alphabet letters. The Alphabet set contains 65 letters with duplicates, sadly my tub didn’t have any A’s so we improvised with an upside down V, he did manage to make lots of words and had lots of fun trying the find the right letters and talking about the colours and sticking them on the tiles.

Bath time

The letters stick very easily to tiled walls and surfaces. Just wet them and press them gently against the surface. The letters are a lot of fun and really useful for us as we’re at the learning and identifying letters stage. He is starting to be able to spell simple words by himself now, so I think he will use these over and over at bath time.

bath time

When you’ve finished playing with them, the lid of the tub has holes in it, so when you’re done you can just scoop them up, put the lid on and turn the tub upside down to drain.

The Bathtime Buddies Alphabet Set is only £3.30 and it’s available from Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Wilko. I think the set is really good value for money, a fun thing to play with in the bath and importantly, they’re educational. I’m all for learning through play these days, education by stealth is the future.

bath time

Note: I was sent the H&A Bathtime Buddies Alphabet Set free of charge for review purposes. All images and opinions are my own.

A woodland adventure in Lyme Park

In Manchester we’re a bit spoilt for National Trust properties. Our favourites are Dunham Massey, Lyme Park and Quarry Bank Mill (where the TV series The Mill is set). They’re all within a 30 minute drive of our home, so on Saturday we hopped in the car for an afternoon at Lyme Park (famous for featuring in the film Pride and Prejudice).

We went for two reasons, the first was to run off a bit of steam and get a dose of fresh air and exercise, the second was to give my camera a bit of a workout. I’m still getting to grips with photography, but I enjoyed myself which I think is the main thing.

Lyme Park

It was bitterly cold, but he headed towards the Timber Yard which is just past the large duck pond and it is home to a cafe and the shop. However we got distracted by a half melted snowman and went galloping up a nearby hill in search of adventure. Whilst we didn’t find actual adventure up the hill, it did bring us to the gate leading to Crow Wood, an “unsupervised play area” tucked away behind the Timber Yard.

Despite visiting Lyme Park on a regular basis for the past five years, this is the first time we’d discovered Crow Wood. It’s a lovely area with a variety of trees, a babbling stream, lots of fallen logs and half collapsed walls. It was beautiful in winter, I expect every season brings its own beauty. There were so many lovely shadows, shapes and textures, I had to try and capture some of it.

Lyme Park

We scrabbled around the woods, exploring, hiding, searching for bear caves and bears as well as keeping our eye out for the Gruffalo. We didn’t find him, but the search did allow us to work up an appetite, so off to the cafe we went for a pot of tea and a massive slice of cake.

The temperature was dropping fast, so we decided it was time to head home. We stopped by the duck pond on the way past, the sun was just starting to dip behind the trees. It’s not a great picture but you can see the ice on the pond and maybe get a sense of how cold it was.

Lyme Park

We had a lovely afternoon out. We loved exploring the woods, wrapped up against the elements, searching for bears, using our imaginations, playing hide and seek. It’s always lovely going out with the boy and seeing what he’s remembered from last time and the new things he’s learnt (like ice melts and becomes water).

He’s growing so fast. We were reminiscing as we were walking along that we visited Lyme Park the day I found out I was pregnant. That day I was walking around like I’d break if I bumped into anything, I’d never been pregnant before, I didn’t know how to be. I was pregnant with the baby I never thought we’d have and I was so happy and terrified for the little life inside me. I guess that day is one of the reasons why Lyme Park is so special to me, and to us.

I’ve digressed there, I’m sorry *wipes away tear*. Anyway, Lyme Park is lovely and well worth a visit, it’s a huge (really huge) estate so you could spend a whole day exploring the house, gardens and woodland etc. We’ll be back again in the spring to explore Crow Wood and see what springtime delights are hidden in the woods. Don’t forget your wellies!

The Co-operative Disposable Nappies Review & Giveaway

At the age of 4 my son has (thankfully) been potty trained for just over a year now. He’s dry during the day, but, although we’ve tried a few times to get him out of them, he still needs to wear nappies at night. Every child moves at a different pace, so we’re not overly concerned, he’ll get it when he’s ready. We were sent some Co-op nappies and baby wipes to try out and to see how they coped with the bigger bottom of a pre-schooler.

We were sent size 5+ which is what he normally has, they’re for children weighing 13-27kg which seems about right. We usually use Pampers and have tried nappies from most of the supermarkets over the years, so we feel we’re pretty acquainted with what’s out there. There are 20 nappies in the pack (the size we were sent) and these cost £4, or 20p each per nappy.

co-op nappies

They are of standard nappy design with stretchy sides and those sticky fasteners and stretchy leg cuffs. There wasn’t much to distinguish it in looks from the big brands, it doesn’t have a cartoony picture on it, but I never really saw much of a point to that anyway. They have a slight purple tint which is due to the plastic and I think it makes them quite attractive. They are ultra absorbent and are not bulky, they seem like an active fit style nappy, but more absorbent.

My very vocal and quick to complain about almost anything 4 year old, didn’t utter a word about them during the week or so that he’s worn them for bed each night. With other nappy brands we have experienced significant, almost nightly leaks, especially now he’s bigger, and we’ve had to strip both him and his bed. We tested the Co-op nappies thoroughly and surprisingly we didn’t have any leaks. We were very impressed by this, they obviously have a large capacity, though they’re not bulky and don’t look big under his pjs.

We liked the Co-op nappies a lot, we’re a bit sad we’d not tried them sooner, they’re very absorbent and appear to be comfortable and they’re pretty easy on the pocket too.

Next up were the baby wipes. All parents know these aren’t just for bottoms, but for a vast array of baby related spillages and unmentionable things that need wiping up; as well as cleaning virtually everything in the house and a quick make-up removing wipe. I have very sensitive skin so I always test wipes out on me first, if it brings my face out in a rash then there’s no way I’m using it on the tender parts of my child. I won’t use the leading brand for that reason. I tried the Co-op ultra soft (and fragrance free) baby wipes and they were good. Very gentle on my skin, not drying and quite cleansing. I’m happy to use these for all spillages and unmentionables now.

co-op nappies

You can find out more about the Co-op baby range on their website.

I’m delighted to be able to offer a month’s supply of Co-op nappies to one lucky winner. To enter, simply complete the Rafflecopter widget below and don’t forget to read the terms and conditions..

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms & Conditions:

  1. This competition is open to residents of the UK only.
  2. There is no cash alternative offered.
  3. To enter, please use the rafflecopter widget above. Please ensure you leave some contact details or I will not be able to contact you if you win.
  4. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualifying entries. The winner will receive a month’s supply of Co-op disposable nappies.
  5. The competition will close on 9th February 2015.
  6. HodgePodgeDays decision is final in all matters relating to this competition.

Note: I was sent Co-op nappies and baby wipes free of charge for review purposes. All images and opinions are my own.

My Sunday Photo 25.1.15

Lyme Park

 

OneDad3Girls

 

Affordable Luxury – Cashmere & Merino Wool Jumper

This last week has been cold, very, very cold. It was only when I did the school run earlier, bundled up in a couple of jumpers, a scarf and a big coat that I realised I missed my old, sadly now too shabby for respectable company cashmere coat. It was a coat that had kept me warm for about 8 winters, not only did it reach to below my knees, but it was made from cashmere and it was incredibly cosy, it was flattering too. I miss that coat.

That got me thinking, if my incredible cashmere coat was so warm and snugly, perhaps it would be sensible to buy myself a cashmere jumper to wear for warmth. I had a bit of a search of the internet, did a bit of research and and found that a cashmere and merino wool blend is just as warm, but a lot less expensive than 100% cashmere. I checked and as it appeared I’d not married Donald Trump, I decided the cashmere/merino blend was the future.

I found this merino wool top online which I was quite taken with. This long V neck sweater is very me, it can easily be layered and is both stylish and practical. I’ve chosen the dark olive colour, I think this will look great with jeans, perfect for keeping me cosy on the school run and for popping for coffee with friends afterwards.

merino wool

The jumper is from Woolover, who at the time of writing have a sale on. This jumper should’ve been £37 which I thought was a good price anyway, but in the sale they are £32, or two for £60.  Which seems a good price for a cashmere and merino wool blend. A little bit of affordable luxury if you will, not only because I’m worth it, but also because I’d ideally like to avoid getting frostbite during the daily battle to get to school on time.

I think the secret to school run warmth is lots of layers made from natural fibres, a big bobble hat and gloves, a fairly brisk walk because we’re (usually) running late and then a hot bucket of coffee afterwards in a warm cafe with steamy windows. What’s your secret to school run warmth?

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Having an MRI Scan

I had an MRI scan this week. It was my third time in an MRI scanner and if I’m honest, it’s not the most fun thing in the world. As part of what is turning into an occasional series of ‘medical things which have happened to me, explained in non medical speak’ here is my MRI story.

Most people will be sent for a scan by their GP or hospital consultant. My first scan was a private one which I paid for myself because no one would believe that I was in as much pain as I was, as a result I was rushed in for urgent surgery to prevent paralysis, but that’s a fun story for another day.

If you’re having a scan on a small area, like an ankle or elbow, your scan shouldn’t take long, maybe 15 minutes tops. I’ve previously had two scans of my lumbar spine which took around 20 minutes each. This week I had my lumbar, thoracic and sacral bits of spine scanned, it’s a large area to cover, so I was in the scanner for nearly an hour, although scans can go on for as long as 90 minutes if you’re getting everything scanned. Around 15 minutes is the average though.

My advice would be eat and drink normally before your scan, maybe tone down the amount of liquid you consume, you don’t want to be dying for the loo while you’re in there. My other piece of advice would be take off all unnecessary jewellery before you leave the house. I removed earrings, nose stud, necklace, bracelet, wedding ring and my watch, not only does this save time, but it stops you worrying about them being pinched. You can’t wear anything metal while you’re in the scanner. This includes your bra, but you can take that off in the changing room.

You’ll be allowed to keep your normal clothes on. As jeans are out (metal studs, rivets and zip or buttons) leggings or jogging bottoms are a good and comfortable option. The temperature in the scanner can be all over the place, my head and feet were freezing, but my body found it almost intolerably hot, so dress lightly but with good thick socks.

You’ll be asked to complete a short safety questionnaire and they’ll double check that you don’t have any medical conditions or metal in your body before you start.

They will then take you into the scanner. You lie down on a table, they can provide a pillow for your knees if like me you’d find that more comfortable. They gave me a panic button to be used if I got into any difficulties and they put some headphones on me. This was to protect my ears from some of the banging, and for the first 15 minutes I was played some awful local radio station. I actually preferred the horrible banging.

The scanner is a fairly tight metal tube and you are encased in it. The table will slide up or down every few minutes so they can scan a different section. It is tight and claustrophobic, but you can cope with it. I promise.

When the radiologist leaves you and you feel the table start to slide into the tube, it is best to close your eyes and not open them until you are out of the scanner at the very end. This stops you seeing just how claustrophobic it is, so you shouldn’t panic as much. It is tight and you have to remain perfectly still throughout the scan.

There is a camera above you, so the radiologist can see your face throughout and you have the panic button. They can talk to you through the headphones if they need to and usually they let you know when it’s over too.

While you’re in there it’s best to try and distract yourself, your nose will itch and you can’t scratch it, if you’re familiar with meditation now is a really great time to practice. Lie still, breathe calmly, eyes closed, thinking happy thoughts. What might interrupt this will be the banging. This is very loud and alternates between quite pleasantly rhythmic to “borrower trapped in an alarm box”, it can be a bit frightening but it is perfectly normal.

Do distract yourself with happy or amusing thoughts. I planned some holiday activities, thought about some boots I’m going to buy and during desperate moments imagined a large glass of red wine gradually filling as each minute passed. It helped. One thought which kept coming back was “how bonkers is this? I’m stuffed in a mental tube, I can’t move and I’m listening to an inept steel band warming up”. That helped too.

My scan went on for much longer than I’d anticipated, so I was very near the end of my tether when I got out. I did survive it, and although I don’t know the results of my scan just yet, I know that having a scan has saved me in the past, it’s not something I look forward to but if you plan a mental strategy for dealing with it you will be ok. Close your eyes, think happy thoughts, buy new boots, find out what is wrong with you so they can fix you.

If you’re going for a scan, read the information sheets they give you carefully, take out that piercing you got on holiday in Thailand, lie back and think of England and for gods sake keep your eyes closed. It’ll be over before you know it and it will make a real difference to your treatment. Good luck, you’ll be fine.

MRI Scan

My Sunday Photo 18/1/15

police museum

Just Drink Aloe – Juice Review

I’ve never been one for New Year resolutions, or falling for that ‘New Year – New You’ nonsense. But I think after the heavy duty gorging over Christmas, it’s natural to want to eat things which may contain traces of salad. I was feeling a bit run down and cream filled after the festivities, so a few healthy changes were required. Fortuitously I was sent some Aloe Vera juice from Just Drink Aloe to review. So what did I think?

Just Drink Aloe sent me the mango, strawberry and lychee flavours, though they also make pomegranate, passion-fruit and original flavoured juices. Each bottle contains 500ml and a serving is 100ml. I decided to drink one serving of Just Drink Aloe a day to see how I’d get on.

Just Drink Aloe

To the uninitiated Aloe Vera juice can seem a bit alien, it’s a clear-ish juice with bits of Aloe pulp in it, it’s hard to describe, but my best advice would be try it a few times before making your mind up, because it might take a bit of getting used to.

I started with the mango flavour, it didn’t have a strong smell and it tasted nicely of mango but was not overpowering. It was a refreshing way to wake up in the morning. I wondered if the Just Drink Aloe mango flavour would make a nice ice lolly, but I never got round to trying that, though I’m sure it would.

The strawberry flavour was the one I was least looking forward to, I don’t like strawberries (yes I know I’m weird). This had a stronger smell than the mango and unsurprisingly it tasted like strawberry juice, it was quite delicate. I could drink it for the five days but it wasn’t for me, I just can’t get along with strawberries. If you love strawberries though you’ll probably like this.

My favourite flavour was the lychee. I wasn’t sure what to expect really, but what I got was a lovely delicate, almost rose flavoured drink. I literally couldn’t keep my hands off it, every time I went near the fridge I’d be sloshing a bit in a glass. Sweet but not too sweet, the lychee did not last the five days it was supposed to which was entirely my fault. Oops.

Just Drink Aloe

Just Drink Aloe drinks have no artificial preservatives, no artificial colours or flavours and are made from fresh juice and pulp, not powder. They contain just 27 calories per 100ml serving and are apparently an excellent source of vitamin C. Aloe Vera juice has long been associated with a range of health benefits including balancing the immune system, encouraging a healthy (and regular) gut and digestive system, improving the condition of skin and hair, healthy joints and lots more.

It’s difficult to gauge in just two weeks the effect of drinking Just Drink Aloe juice on me. But my digestive system wasn’t as sluggish as usual and my skin looked a bit brighter too. I felt that if I carried on drinking 100mls a day over a period of time then I’d see a bigger difference. It’s packed with vitamins and minerals, so I’d much rather have a slug of aloe juice every morning than a handful of vitamin tablets, especially with the other benefits which aloe gives you in terms of digestion etc.

You can find out more about Just Drink Aloe on their website. I’ll be keeping an eye out for their lychee flavour (I’m addicted now) so if you spot any, do let me know!

Note: I was sent three Just Drink Aloe drinks free of charge for review. All images and opinions are my own.