Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Your list

One of the guys I met at the weekend commented at breakfast one day that he'd done everything on his list* except skydiving (but that the desire to go skydiving disappeared somewhere along the way anyway).  It's so fantastic that there are people in life who are able to say that and yet are also still enjoying their lives immensely and continuing to do a myriad of things.

A short time after that conversation the subject of lists came up again and he asked me what was on mine.  And I had no idea what to say.  Now, part of that was because although I first met him twenty years ago, I don't actually know him very well and the first couple of things that popped into my mind were fairly personal (fall in love again, have way more sex than I have had to date, that kind of thing).  On the other hand, I am fairly open about talking about what I want with all kinds of people and it is actually often easier to explain some of the things I'd like to do to people I don't know well because there are no preconceptions and no assumptions about things in my life that might hold me back.  After first shrugging my shoulders in an embarrassingly juvenile way, I could only come up with a somewhat half-hearted, "Well, I would like to learn to dance."  Which is possibly the one thing that I definitely have had on my list for many, many years, as I remember writing it during a time management workshop that I did during my first job and already then had the feeling that I'd been wanting to do it for years (that exercise, by the way, was the beginning of the workshop we all had to write down what the thing was that we would do if we only had the time and then at the end of the workshop the trainer read out all the replies to the sounds of some kind of mellow music playing in the background).

I'm sure I've written before that I don't deal well with making lots of goals and prefer just vague outlines, which goes some way to explaining why I didn't have a list to recite off the top of my head.  On the other hand, how great would it be to get to the later stages of your life and be able to say that you'd done everything you set out to do.  If you haven't really known what you were setting out to do, that's a bit difficult.  I'm sure there must be a happy medium between not restricting yourself too much to a black and white list and having ideas that are so wishy-washy you have difficulty articulating them.

I'd be curious to know what others do in relation to this.  Do you have a concrete list of things you want to do during your life?  Do you re-visit it often to add or subtract things?  Are you happier to just drift where your life takes you?

*He did say just 'list' and not 'bucket list' and since I find the term bucket list intensely annoying for some reason (I did quite like the film though), I'm going to stick to what was actually said.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Fever...but oh, what a weekend!

Oh dear.  After an amazing weekend I've been finding it hard to get warm all day.  It's not that cold (about 3 degrees outside) so I thought it was just because the house was cold after being empty for four days.  I've been adding layers since I got home this evening and still feel cold, even though the heat is on, too (I actually left it on while I was out for the afternoon).  I remembered a while ago that I hadn't taken my temperature this morning as the thermometer was still in my bag.  I started taking my temp every morning last year and found it so interesting that I've kept it up.  One day I'll plug it all in to a spreadsheet and do nice charts and things but for now I just make a note of it in my diary.

I've been consistent about taking it in the morning first thing as I read a bit on the internet when looking up what 'normal' is about how something like drinking or eating something can vary the temperature in your mouth quite a bit, which is obviously something to watch out for if that's where you're shoving your thermometer (and the mouth is indeed my orifice of choice for this daily morning task).  But every once in a while I have also taken it during the day or in the evening, just to get a feel for it.  There's never a huge variation.  From taking my temp regularly I have discovered that I generally have a lowish body temperature first thing in the morning - when I got a new thermometer I also noticed that it tended to measure a degree or so lower than my older one (I used both for a couple of days to check), so I realise that great though digital thermometers are, there can be variations.  Still, from what I read, the really important thing is not the actual temperature, it's the variations.  Normal temperature swings apparently happen throughout the day and up to point five degrees is nothing to worry about.  Feeling as cold as I do at the moment and knowing that my temperature is normally between 35.9 and 36.2 (rising to about 36.6 or 36.8 during ovulation and can I just say how much I love that I now know that!), I'm not too happy to have just taken a reading of 37.1.  And if I didn't take my temperature regularly I'd look at 37.1 and think nothing of it.  But I'm a bit concerned that I might be developing a proper fever.  On top of the cough I've had all day and attributed to too much singing over the last few days, it's a bit worrying.  I'm heading to bed now though and hopefully a good night's sleep is all that I need.

But just a quick word on my weekend, which was so fantastic I can barely find words for it.  It was nearly perfect in its blend of singing, chatting, laughing, catching up with old friends and getting to know them better, meeting new friends and just general all-round fun!!!  I'm nearly glad that the hotel's ironing station was not at all set up to be used by left-handers as such a perfect weekend would have made me nervous it could never be repeated and a small flaw or two can make all the difference.

We rehearsed on Thursday evening, followed by various choirs from around the world singing a song or two at the memorial statue of Handel in the town centre.  It was oh so cold but I had already met some people I knew from two years ago and from my trip to Bad Reichenhall in November and the evening was off to a great start.  Standing in the gently falling snow for half an hour when I was well wrapped-up and in such good company didn't seem like such a bad place to be.  And I was reminded that one of the things that I do sometimes miss about Ireland is the repartee - fast as lightning and sometimes called the less kinder 'slagging', I felt like I was walking on air to be trading insults with someone I first met in college.  And I normally try to think of myself as a nice girl!  I walked to the hotel to check-in after that and then had an early night and a great night's sleep.

The following day the fun started at the breakfast table.  I went down armed, as usual, with my book to have a quiet one alone but as soon as I walked in the door someone called me over to their table and it was over an hour before the group finally broke up, with some of us heading to a room to continue chatting. Then rehearsal in the afternoon followed by a quick lie-down and heading out for dinner at a lovely Vietmanese place, which four lovely gentlemen from Bray treated me to, a treat as unexpected as it was lovely.  Then attending a concert put on by the visiting choirs followed by a get-together in the Diebels brewery pub, but not until I got waylaid by the same four gentlemen and dragged into a cocktail bar for a drink first.  These four guys have known each other for years and I don't think I stopped laughing for more than a few minutes at the stories and jokes.  When things started to get a bit philosophical, we moved on to the crowd at Diebels.  After a short while we got a singsong going and were all belting out the tunes with people moving around and groups forming and reforming in endless patterns.   I have to admit to drinking rather too much wine and getting really not enough sleep that night and that is something I am really not in the habit of doing the night before a performance.  Easily led, I am.

I did manage to make it to breakfast the next day, after a short detour that involved me going down the wrong stairs and ending up in an emergency exit stairs that didn't let me back into the hotel and led only to locked gates.  That was a fun twenty minutes waiting for someone to pass by to get them to go into the hotel and get help!  Even more embarrassing that to go into the hotel from where I was involved walking through a load of storerooms and then into the restaurant where everyone was having breakfast.  No escape from that!   Luckily I did manage to make it through our rehearsal with orchestra and the few hours of singing, followed by a lovely rest in the afternoon left me fit enough to perform what was a really fun concert in front of a nearly full house (over thirteen hundred people listening to a choir of about four hundred).  The atmosphere was electric.  And then back to Diebels for the afterparty, stopping off for dinner along the way (treated again by one of the Bray lads - I'm so glad they adopted me for the weekend).   And  a short night, as they call it in Germany, was had by all.  I stuck to drinking just one or two beers though so the couple of hours sleep I did manage to get were enough to get by and then I had to head off to get the train home in time for rehearsal here at 5:30 and an a-capella concert at 8.  I can't remember the last time I sang so much, with so much gusto (pub sing-songs are great for that - I take a "dance like nobody's watching" approach and forget about making any attempt at finesse.  It's kind of like screaming therapy but with good lyrics and slightly more tuneful).  And the rest of the weekend was just like a dream - I didn't have one awkward feeling social moment and was at ease the whole time, something I don't always manage in a crowd of people.  I've already sent off an email to register for next year.  Can't wait.  Everyone else says it gets better every year and while I can't really imagine that, well, everyone always says you need goals in life.  Happy Birthday Handel 2014 is firmly on my list!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A few random links

I'm heading off to Halle tomorrow and most likely won't be back in the land of t'internet until next week.  So I thought I'd leave ye with a few random links I've come across recently:

Cello music that I used to never be able to remember the name of (and finally got around to finding properly)

Google search results for 75% of honey contains no honey - I saw this reported somewhere and decided to google it but I'm really not sure how reliable any of these websites are.  Still, it's a worrying thought.  I know a few years ago when I was trying to find local honey and assuming that all of the honey in the supermarket was Irish at least, I was dismayed on reading the labels to find out how little of it was.  Here in Germany it is easier (although not always very easy) to buy locally produced or at least German honey, but you certainly notice the price difference between that and the mass produced stuff.

Dragon baby

Food in jars mentioned bee's wraps recently and I am intrigued and think I'll definitely be saving up to get some.  (She's running a giveaway until midnight on Friday, by the way, so if you're in the US and want to try and win some, head over there and leave a comment.)

Monday, February 18, 2013

Decluttering question - what about random flyers, catalogues, etc.?

A quick question for anyone who cares to offer any suggestions.  While clearing the Table of Doom is progressing nicely, I do have a small amount of stuff that so far I have been sort of moving around on the table and reaching underneath to get at more easily dealable with stuff.  I'd be interested to hear how people manage dealing with flyers, catalogues, business cards and that kind of thing.  For example, I went to a talk by one of the last remaining survivors of Hiroshima a couple of years ago - it was very interesting and I came away with a sheaf of information.  Now, some of that has been ruthlessly culled but there are one or two bits that I would like to hold on to.  I have a flyer for a DJ that I met at a friend's a couple of years ago as well - he doesn't have a website but he was really interesting and plays old-time music - I don't have much call for a  DJ but I'd like to hold on to it, because you never know (I find myself wondering if I fancied him at the time but I think I probably would have remembered that).  I have a catalogue from Manufactum, one of my favourite shops, even if I can rarely afford to shop there.  I love to browse through that catalogue though, planning my future house etc., etc.  I have been strong and dumped all the old Ikea catalogues but there will still be one or two that I prefer to hold on to.  Or there are flyers I've picked up for potential day trips or interesting exhibitions.

But these things are a bit messy and don't fit in any one area of filing.  I'm not sure about just shoving them into a box because that seems to be a recipe for collecting a load of stuff you never look at again.  So I'm curious to know how others deal with this kind of thing.

I also wanted to mention a blog that I came across yesterday, Our Freaking Budget.  I did have to laugh about the post on Inbox Zero: How to whip your emails into shape, though.  Johnny starts off explaining the Zero Inbox concept with this:
"Think about your real mailbox. You know, the one you where you get your real-life mail delivered. Do you just leave stuff in there? Do you look at junk mail from Publisher’s Clearinghouse and then just leave it there? Do you open bills, read them, put them back in their envelope, draw a yellow star on it, and then put it back in the mailbox? No."

Now, the reason this was funny to me is because I sometimes do leave stuff in my postbox.  If I open it up and the only thing in it is, for example, the weekly local paper, I know I don't have time to read it and don't want to add to the pile of stuff in my apartment, I have to admit that I've left it there for up to a week at a time.  And then, of course, even if I do take stuff upstairs, after a long time of not dealing with anything beyond the very urgent, what you end up with is a Table of Doom. Yes, this is my real-life equivalent of the virtual mess that is my email inbox.  I can laugh about  it now because I very nearly have the backlog cleared and have been dealing properly with stuff as it arrives pretty consistently this year so far.  Long may it continue.  But I'm kind of glad I hadn't read this post while still in the throes of depression and not coping with anything, I think. It's nice when things come into your life at the time you need them/are able to deal with them.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday night chit-chat

As always, your host for this evening's Sunday Night Chit-Chat is the lovely Carla of Half-Dozen Daily.  And for the second time I'm up late enough to have the full thing straightaway so no need to check back in later for the bonus question.  I have a week off work next week but was planning on going in this evening for an hour to do some filing that it would be really great to get out of the way (when I'm out sick, someone covers the basics but things like filing are left sitting and catching up is always difficult).  It's just after midnight now though so I don't think I'll bother, although I am still tempted (there's a security guard 24-hours and I have a swipe card to get into the building at any time).  So, to get us started, here's a photo of a koala bear in Taronga Zoo, Sydney.  I really, really need to get all my photographs from Oz sorted and stored properly, a fact brought home to me this week when my computer went all funny - very glad I'd set up a guest profile because I was able to log in using that and change the access rights so that at least I was able to back-up all of my data!

What are you
I find it hard to believe that we're half-way through February and I still haven't finished one single book, despite having started five.  Just can't seem to get the necessary concentration going.  I'm going to try and dedicate an hour or so each day next week to just sitting down in an armchair and reading.  Have to get to the international library tomorrow to get a copy of The Master and Margarita, which is book club's first book of the year, meeting the week after next.

I watched some more Mentalist today.  Am into series three now and still enjoying it.

Listening to
Kenny Rogers (swoooon)

Not a thing

Happy you accomplished this week
I made good progress at choir practice and will most likely sing in the concert next week, despite having missed lots of rehearsals due to holidays and then being sick.  Happy that my conductor feels confident enough to let me perform (and that he trusts me that I will in fact keep any noise from coming out for the few bits I don't have right. LOL).

Looking forward to next week
A week off work, getting a few appointments out of the way that have been on my mental to-do list for a long time and lots and lots of singing.  Happy Birthday Handel performance of the Messiah in Halle on Saturday and then up early to travel back here on Sunday to sing in my normal choir's a capella concert.  One of the pieces we're singing is Samuel Barber's Agnus Dei (which is his Adagio for Strings transcribed for  a choir - I didn't even know there was a voice version) and I am really, really looking forward to that.  It's such a fabulous piece of music.

Thankful for today
A particularly nice friend who I shared a meal with yesterday evening, who reminded me that I should be proud of the things I am capable of and not belittle the things I do.  Also, making progress on the Table of Doom, which is doing wonders for me.

Bonus question: Have you ever received a gift you were less than thrilled with?  Did you feel like you had to keep/use it in order to spare feelings from getting hurt?
Absolutely.  Although none so difficult as what Carla's been through this week.  One of my best friends, despite being so great to me otherwise, remains pretty consistently off the mark with her gifts.  I still have a silver serving tray she bought me about eight years ago that I have never used.  It's not that it's not nice - it's gorgeous - I just have no idea what I would ever use it for.  That's nothing to how bad my granny was at choosing gifts though.  Although she did have a lot of grandchildren and didn't really know most of us that well and I do, as an adult, realise what a huge expense and effort it must have been for her to buy each of us a gift each year (she did stop at some stage when I was a teenager - I think she switched to just buying for the great-grandchildren or something).  It was great when she would give us all book tokens but some years she would buy actual books instead.  So, when I was eight or nine, because (I think) she'd heard I liked mysteries (as in the Famous Five, the Secret Seven and so on), she bought me an Agatha Christie double.  The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side and Murder at the Vicarage.  And then a couple of years later, at a time when I was starting to read lots of romance (Sweet Valley High and Barbara Cartland both, moving swiftly on to Mills & Boon, you know, books that had kissing and sex in them), she got me Dark Quartet, a biography of the Brontes.  Still haven't read either of those books.  But they are both still on my to-read shelf.  And my granny has been dead for over ten years now.  Definitely seems like I tend towards the keeping side of things, even if it's something I don't really want.

The table of doom - progress

Slow and steady wins the race so they say.  I'm happy to report that thus far, it's also helping me to make good progress on the Table of Doom.  Here's how it's looking today:

Not quite there yet but definitely getting there.  I have a massive amount of paper to bring down to the recycling bins and nearly as much to put through the shredder before dumping it.  I'm noticing when I come to piles which obviously built up during my semi-organised phases and have started making notes for a decent post on how to not let the paperwork get on top of you.  Those of you who are eagle-eyed might notice that there's also one box missing from the pile on top of the drawers.  I was fed up of the table (and fed up of looking at those boxes) one evening and decided that instead of something from the table, I'd tackle one of the boxes.  Opened the first one up to see...nothing.  I had forgotten that I went through these boxes last year something because I was sick of looking at them gathering dust on top of the cupboard I had them stored on.  Hadn't finished though when the repair guys had to come in to fix the heating last year so I just put them back up on top of the cupboard.  When I got the sitting room painted last year, I took them down and swore I was not putting anything else back up on that cupboard.

These three boxes are the very first set of storage boxes I ever bought (from Argos, if I recall correctly) and I also had three large shopping bags of kids toys and books up there too, which are currently sitting on the floor waiting for attention.  When I lived it Ireland I often had visitors with kids and it was great to have a few bits and pieces to occupy them with.  Since I've moved here I haven't had any kids old enough and not too old to play with any of it.  A lot of my friends have had kids in the last couple of years though so I might get some use out of them again.  We'll see.

At any rate, one of the boxes is empty and is now being converted into storage for Karneval supplies.  Since I went and bought the funny yellow wig and the silly make-up I figured it was a good idea to keep them.  Yes, it's more stuff, but I now have somewhere to keep bits and pieces for making costumes and it's a small enough box to not encourage me to start buying elaborate costumes every year.  I even have a space planned for it but that won't be free until a few other things happen first.  Getting this place in order is like a giant game of dominoes sometimes.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Just when I've convinced myself to do the sensible thing...

I was considering going home for a few days in April.  I'd like to spend some time with my brother, who I have been missing a lot recently.  It was fun when we lived close to one another and could just call in at short notice to say hello.  The annual street performance of excerpts from the Messiah on the anniversary of the first performance is on a Saturday this year and some people I met at the performance last November are going over, too so I could have a bit of fun singing and catching up with them as well as with the choir I used to sing with in Ireland.  And I'm trying to space out my holidays a bit this year with a few days or a long weekend every couple of months.

However last week I looked at flight prices and would have had to take nearly a full week to get the cheapest available (still nearly 150 euro) and had finally decided yesterday that staying here would be the sensible thing to do.  If I spend almost nothing for the next five months I will be debt-free and I just really want that time to arrive already!

Then this morning I got a newsletter from a theatre in Ireland (that doesn't send many newsletters and I keep forgetting I'm still signed up for it) that exactly on the few days I had been thinking of going, Billy Connolly will be performing.  Total legend and not outrageously outrageous prices either.

And this afternoon, I got an email from Aer Lingus that they are having a short sale and I checked the same dates as before.  Not only could I now get cheaper flights (100 euro), I could get them travelling on otherwise expensive days, not needing to take an entire week's holiday.

I'm torn.  I would stay with friends so wouldn't have any accommodation costs except for maybe a nice bottle of wine to go with dinner but I am also aware that once I was in Ireland, I would spend money on things I might not normally buy.  There's bus fares (expensive), lunches out (even sandwiches are still fairly expensive in Dublin), sweets and crisps that I can't get in Germany, stocking up on bread soda and buying rashers and sausages in the airport on the way back.  I can try all I want to convince myself that this time I wouldn't do it but I know I would so I would be setting myself back by at least half a month.

The Billy Connolly tickets go on sale on Friday morning and will sell out very quickly so I have to make a decision by then at the very latest.  Stay sensible or go spendthrift again, that is the question.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Where's the money going to come from?

Trying to look ahead a bit and come up with some goals for my soon-to-be post-debt life is a bit difficult.  I'm trying to accept that through all the twists and turns life has taken (or that I've taken myself along) one thing that really doesn't work well for me is to have concrete goals with definite timelines.  The more concrete something is, the less likely, it seems, I am to achieve it.  I understand where part of this comes from at least (therapy was good for a lot of this kind of stuff) but it's still difficult to accept it and plan my life accordingly.  Particularly when reading other people's blog and seeing how they make setting goals and keeping to strict schedules to achieve them work for them.  I've been reading through the archives of JD Debt-Free for a good part of today, for example - now that is one seriously goal-oriented and focused young woman.

We all have to deal with what we've got though and another thing I've learned is that trying to do the things that the kind of person I'd like to be would do doesn't usually help me.  So, for now, I have to stick to vague plans that I may or may not actually end up following through with.  At least getting my thoughts down on paper helps to move on from one particular thought.

Money first then.  As I've been clearing off the Table of Doom I've been filing bank and credit card statement after statement.  As it's all fairly mindless work at this stage, I've also had lots of thoughts running through my head.

At the moment, I have an Irish bank account which has a 3,000 euro overdraft facility/limit on it.  I have an Irish visa card with a 4,000 euro limit on it.  Last year, I got a German mastercard which has a 2,000 euro limit on it.  I have no official overdraft facility/limit on my German current account - as far as I know there is one automatically built-in but I've never asked because I don't ever want to start all that nonsense over here.

Once my debt is cleared I have to decide whether to keep my Irish credit card and overdraft facility.  I'm leaning towards getting rid of the card and this was part of the reason I went ahead and got the German one. My card is an MBNA one and used to give me points for a rewards website.  I could then use those points to 'buy' various things from that website, phone credit, restaurant or cinema vouchers and that kind of thing.  However, about a year ago they discontinued this program and it was switched to just an ordinary credit card.  A few months ago they announced their expected withdrawal from the Irish market and the credit card business is being taken over by a Spanish bank.  So I also have no idea if interest rates will start going up following the handover (which is happening in phases), whether the new bank will be difficult to deal with or anything.  However, that credit card limit and overdraft facility will still be the only access to emergency funds I have until I can build up a proper emergency fund.

At the same time, the free banking I used to have with my Irish bank was discontinued.  You used to have to do nine online or phone transactions a quarter plus lodge at least 3,000 to your account every quarter (so I spent many silly minutes transferring money to the Irish account and then bank to my normal German account after getting paid, just to satisfy the minimum lodgement amounts and avoid charges).  Now, however, you have to do the nine transactions and maintain a minimum balance of 3,000 at all times.  There has been a lot of discussion online about whether or not it's better to maintain this balance and not pay fees or to have that 3,000 in a savings account and use the interest to pay the fees.  In monetary terms, there isn't a whole lot of difference really though, unless you have a really, really good interest rate on a savings account.

So I think what I will try to do is to build up to a 3,500 euro balance in my Irish account.  Then I will cancel the Irish credit card.  Although it will cost me a small amount in charges to maintain the card even though I'm not using it, the peace of mind of having the credit available for emergencies would probably be worth it to me. Once the card is cancelled the current account balance will become my mini-emergency fund.  Enough to get the 'free' banking and a bit extra to cover using the Irish ATM card to take money out here (which sometimes saves costs that my German ATM card would incur).

Following that I'd like to work on building up an emergency fund in my German savings account.  5,000 seems like a nice round figure to aim for, even if it's not the six months worth of expenses people recommend as a minimum.   Once that's done I could cancel the overdraft facility (which costs 25 euro a year plus interest if I actually use it).  Or I could cancel the overdraft facility first and then the credit card when I've built up the same amount of money in available cash as I now have access to as credit.  I'll see.  

Another important aspect of life post-debt is how I actually want to live my life and where I want to be.  At the moment, I'm giving myself a time-frame of a bit less than two years to make decisions in.  That's enough time to get rid of the last of the debt, save a bit, is about how long I think I can stand to stay in my current job and will bring me up nicely to my fortieth birthday, which is just as good an arbitrary future date as any other.  More on the non-financial aspects of post-debt life to follow in a separate post.

The cake that took over a week to bake and other randomness

The orange and olive oil cake that I started making last week is finally in the oven and starting to smell really good.  I even got to use my home-made vanilla extract for the first time (still smells a bit alcoholy to me but the vanilla smelled good too).

I got a text message a couple of weeks ago warning me that my SIM card is due to expire in April.  Huh?  I bought it a few years ago and had no idea that it came with an expiry date.  It's just a cheap rate ready-to-go card and I do have to make sure to top up every six months at least in order to not lose credit but an expiring SIM card?  However, like many people I'm sure, I've wondered from time to time over the last couple of years whether it would be worth getting an iPhone or smartphone of some kind.  Apart from the cost, one of the things that has put me off is the fact that I wouldn't be able to port my existing number to a smartphone and that is a pain in the neck.  But if I'm going to lose that number anyway, it looks like the best thing to do is to just bite the bullet and find the best option for one of those by April.  Seems like a better use of my time than trying to track down the cheapie provider I'm currently using and argue the point with them.  If anyone has any suggestions or recommendations for phones that do more than the basic phone calls and texting I mostly do (I don't even have a camera on my current phone), please let me know.

I've also decided that I need to generally start trying to keep up with the world a bit better and am going to give listening to podcasts a try.  Anyone care to share what their favourites are to subscribe to?  So long as it's free, of course.

Must go and rescue my cake.  Really wish the box of decaf tea my brother is sending me was here already.  I nice cup of tea with a slice of cake sounds perfect and herbal tea just isn't quite the same.

Sunday night chit-chat

Or really, Monday morning chit-chat I suppose, since it's after one now.  Oops.  No photo this week but just a quote, one which I really like and printed out and hung up near my desk in work the first time I saw it.

"Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes." (attributed to William Gibson, but he apparently says it's from Steven Winterburn - personally I don't care who said it, it's got too much of a ring of truth about it to worry about that.)

If you'd like to, please head over to Half-Dozen Daily to join in with Sunday night chit-chat.

What are you...
Lots and lots of blog - I spent a few hours today clicking through to places I haven't been before.  Also looked up wikipedia because I saw sriracha sauce mentioned in a recipe and didn't know what it was.  During the course of the next few hours I came across it on no less that three other different websites (and in very different contexts and recipes) - that was strange enough but then when I went to a friend's for dinner this evening, one of the other guests had brought a bottle of it with him (which he generously donated to me).  

More Mentalist - have made it as far as series 2 now.

Listening to
We listened to good music at my friend's house - her husband put on some internet radio that was playing an oldies/easy listening mix, so all the music I like, Kenny Rogers and everything.  

I didn't really cook anything today but the dinner I was invited to was similar to a raclette or fondue in that there was a central grill/machine on the table and each person had a miniature wok and we each could just chose whatever meat, veg and sauce combination we wanted and then 'cook' it on the grill part.  Good fun.

Happy you accomplished this week
I left my comfort zone and attended a party thrown by my upstairs neighbour, even though she was likely to be the only person there.  It was, if I'm honest, pretty boring and I felt kind of out of place, but I'm glad I did it.

Looking forward to next week
Bank holiday tomorrow and given how late I am up, I think I'll be sleeping in.  

Thankful for today
Nice friends

Bonus question: are you musically gifted/talented?  Do you play any instruments? Sing?
I'm not particularly talented but I do sing.  For the past four years I've sung with the Bach association choir in the town I live in and have participated in a couple of project choirs as well.  That's fun, especially if you know the standard is going to be good.  I'm heading off to Halle in east Germany the week after next for the Happy Birthday Handel performance of the Messiah, which I did two years ago as well and is a lot of fun.  I'll see some people as well as the director from the choir I used to sing with in Ireland there, too.  I'm definitely more suited to choir singing than solo though - my voice isn't all that strong and I need the support of the thirty (or three hundred) people around me.  I'm also very partial to a sing-song though and will belt out the old tunes with the best of them then and not much care what it sounds like.  I'm a bit of the opinion that there is nobody who cannot sing - because even people who cannot hold much of a tune can still sound wonderful if they are enjoying it.

I can always tell when I'm coming out of a bad bout of depression, too, because I'll find myself starting to sing randomly again.  Luckily I share an office with someone who doesn't mind too much and will even hum herself a little bit from time to time.  I grew up listening to my dad singing all around the house (he had a wonderful voice and was always the first one sought out to sing at parties) and it was only much later in life that I realised not everyone has that.  

I also had piano lessons for years when I was a kid but I was never very good at that.  I could thump out the notes in the order they were written on the page but I really had no feel for it.  Still plan on having a piano in my house one day, though.  And one Saturday afternoon when I was about 14, I taught myself to play "do, a deer" on the tin whistle.  Now that is a fascinating instrument that I would really like to be able to play properly.  Such a simple thing but people who are good at it can wring the most incredible tunes from one.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

We all know I'm a fan of buying local...

...and when you read quotes like this from the BBC, is it any wonder?

From an article about the current horsemeat scandal.

"The BBC's Paris correspondent Hugh Schofield said the scandal had cast light on the bewildering complexity of the food business in the EU.

He said: "A Swedish brand - Findus - supplying British supermarkets employed a French company, Comigel, to make its ready meals.
"To get meat for its factory in Luxembourg, Comigel called on the services of another French firm Spanghero. It used an agent in Cyprus, who in turn used an agent in the Netherlands, who placed the order at an abattoir in Romania.""
This whole scandal, by the way, is something that is causing a lot of worry for Irish farmers, particularly the smaller ones, who spend a lot of time and money on fairly stringent traceability schemes (which I believe the manufacturers of processed foods are not subject to to the same degree).

Chopping firewood

I really, really liked this.  Have never chopped a thing with a proper axe in my life but this is something amazing to aim for one day, methinks.

Post on coldantlerfarm: no messing around

Spending recap and Sunday sealed pot challenge

Well, it's been a disastrously spendthrifty week and I've already spent most of next week's money as well as a good portion of the amount I had allocated for travelling this month.  I did find out that I won't need to go to Frankfurt next week so at least that's something.  At any rate, I didn't go shopping yesterday at all and will be doing my best to just eat from stores and the freezer this week, which shouldn't be any more strenuous than getting a bit organised.  I'm glad it's a three-day weekend though because I felt pretty rubbish all day yesterday and am only a bit better now (thanks to getting nearly twelve hours sleep).  I am invited to a friend's for dinner this evening so I can have leftover red cabbage for lunch, Asia-wok* for dinner and can think about preparing for next week during tomorrow's bank holiday.

For my sealed pot this week I threw in the handful of small change I had in my purse (1, 2 and 5 cent pieces) as well as ten euro.  That's 6 for the 6th week plus 1 for the 1st week and 3 for the 3rd week (since I missed January I decided to just add a bit of the money each week until I've caught up).

Here's what I spent last week.  Because I ended up being invited to be neighbour's Karneval party on Friday I ended up spending some money of stuff to make a costume and some bright make-up.  I also spent money on buying Berliner and Sekt etc. for work as we decided on short-notice to celebrate Karneval there on Altweiber, too before everyone went off for their half-day.  I even followed the crowd into town but as I had to stop off and buy something along the way and the mobile networks were completely overloaded it took me nearly 45 minutes to find them, by which time I'd just about had enough of crowds.  So I only spent on one small beer and a Bratwurst at the street party and then went home.

8.00 transport
31.30 food necessities
18.60 food luxuries
13.64 food out/takeaway (Bratwurst on Thursday, lunch out on Friday and kebab on Friday evening)
11.85 toiletries (make-up for Karneval)
15.95 gifts (sister's birthday present)
0.00 clothes
41.95 house/garden (safety pins, small radio for kitchen, rechargeable batteries, toilet rolls, washing soda, salt for dye as well as pot to seal and some folders)
0.00 medical
83.70 other (mostly stuff to make a costume with but also food and drink for work party.  Only one of the people who said they would has actually given me money as a contribution so far and I've deducted that.  Should get a bit more back next week.)
Total 232.99 (in a week!!!)

*She calls it Asia-wok anyway.  It's basically a similar idea to a raclette or fondue except in the shape of mini woks.  So you all sit around the machine, each of you has your own mini-wok and you cook your own choice of whatever has been left out to use.  I'm looking forward to it.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Spicy carrot and lentil soup

I held off on writing this post because I wanted to take a photo of the recipe in the book (the Ultimate Low-Fat one I've mentioned in previous posts).  I finally did that on Wednesday morning but then had a very hectic couple of days.  Today I managed to load the photo on to my computer only to realise that I'd actually take a photo a couple of weeks ago when I first decided to make this soup.  Typical of the kind of thing I'm doing at the moment, just typical.

So anyway, this is one of the soups I made last week and really, really enjoyed.  It was delicious just as it was and also worked with a sausage added to bulk it up into an even more substantial winter meal.

Someone asked in comments last week if I used a recipe for the soups I made.  For the past couple of years, whenever I have made soup I have more or less thrown whatever veg I had on hand into a pot with some stock and let it cook until I remembered to take it off the heat, sometimes using the stick blender to puree it, sometimes leaving it as "with bits in".  I've decided however, that in the interests of not having basically the same soup all the time ('cos no matter what I put in it, the above method tended to produce surprisingly little variety of taste).   The leek and potato soup I made last week was a very basic recipe I have in my head, roughly equal amounts of leek and potato, cleaned/peeled as necessary, chopped small, sauteed in a small amount of butter (lid on) and then enough stock to cover added, brought to a boil, then heat turned down to let it simmer for half-an-hour or so/until the potatoes are cooked through.  I eat some as it is and puree some.

For the spicy carrot soup however, I followed the recipe above.  I even did that thing I always intend to do but don't always get around to and I gathered all the ingredients before starting to cook.  I purposely bought some small dishes to allow me to do this a couple of years ago and if you can at all, I highly recommend it.  You know that way cooking shows make everything look so effortless?  It's because they have everything measured out beforehand.  I find that if I do the same, I am far more likely to be able to follow a recipe accurately and I can devote more attention to actually getting the cooking right.  So here's what I started with:

Starting in the top left-hand corner: vegetable stock, milk (I used a mixture of whole fat milk and water, the recipe calls for skimmed milk, which I don't buy), olive oil, lemon juice, lentils (recipes calls for split red but I had a mix of different ones in a Tupperware container and just used that), tin of tomatoes, carrots, onions, tumeric, coriander, cumin and one red chilli (semi-dried, as they tend to be at this time of year around here).  The recipe calls for garlic as well but I didn't have any.

I put the lentils on to cook with some of the stock, the carrots, onions and tomatoes.  Then I busied myself cleaning and chopping the leeks and potatoes for the other soup and washing what dishes had already been dirtied.  I cooked the lentils and veg in a large deep pan rather than a saucepan and kept the lid on the whole time.  You bring the whole lot to the boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes.  If I hadn't had the lid on the whole time I definitely would have had issues with it drying out so do keep an eye on it.  Once that was cooked I started with the second step of the recipe, preparing the spices.

To do this you heat the oil (you can also use ghee/clarified butter instead of oil), add the spices and chilli and fry gently for one minute.  Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice.  Now, I used a bit more lemon juice than called for in the recipe since I basically just used all the juice that came out of half a small lemon.  But I didn't wait for long after removing the pan from the heat so it was probably a good thing I had extra juice - most of the first half I added evaporate in a hiss of steam as soon as it hit the hot pot.  I added the rest of it and stirred vigourously.

Rather than dirtying yet more stuff by blending the cooked lentil mix in batches, I used my stick blender to puree the whole lot in the pan it was in.  Since there wasn't a huge amount of liquid left in the mix it was a fairly coarse mix.  It's such a hearty, rustic kind of soup though that I felt it suited it.  Once that was done I  added the remaining stock and returned it to the heat for ten minutes.  Fair warning that this is a very spattery type of soup so keep the lid on when possible at this stage too.  I ended up having to wipe down a few things nearby that got caught in the crossfire and no-one needs more cleaning up to do than necessary, now do they.  Once that was done I stirred in the milk and it was done.

I really enjoyed this soup, the texture was nice and the flavour deep and satisfying.  I was worried that using a semi-dried red chilli, including seeds, would make it too hot in comparison to the fresh green, de-seeded chilli that the recipe calls for but if anything it was too mild.  The flavour of the spices was much improved the next day, as is often the case with soups and stews, but the heat still wasn't really there.  Of course the garlic was missing too so next time I'll have to make sure I have garlic around and maybe use a bit more/bit spicier chilli.  This soup was also very filling and is a really excellent winter dish.  I'll be making it again often I think.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Sunday night chit-chat

Another week has flown by.  I didn't take to my bed as planned yesterday afternoon for a rest - instead I decided to just try and hold out until the evening.  Glad I did as I got the washing down and hung up to dry as well as remembering to tackle a bit of the Table of Doom.  And then I slept through last night for ten and a half hours.  I do so love sleeping until I wake naturally.  Especially when I can follow it up with a couple of hours lazing in bed and reading.

The fixings for making spicy lentil and carrot soup - it turned out well.  Very more-ish but too filling to actually have a second bowl.  Will definitely make this again although I think I'll up the spices considerably as it was very mild.  But I'll wait until I've finished it later in the week as spicy things do often get spicier the longer they're left.

What are you...
The Vegetarian Myth (have I mentioned that this book is kind of blowing my mind?  I keep going back and re-reading bits, am accumulating a long list of books she references that I want to read as well - and I'm only on the fourth chapter).  I've also started The Princess Bride by William Goldman - love the film, which we watched over and over again when I was younger and have always intended to read the book so I'm happy I'm finally getting around to it.

I think there will be another episode or two of the Mentalist this evening.  One of the things I love the most about this show?  People smile a lot!

Listening to
The usual sounds of traffic outside and quiet inside.

I made the spicy lentil and carrot soup earlier as well as some leek and potato soup.  That's most of my meals for next week sorted.  And I have batter for ham and cheese pancakes ready and waiting.  I was going to try out this orange and olive oil cake as well but had no sooner measured out the flour and the sugar than I realised I have no baking powder.  So I've left the bowl waiting and will get some tomorrow on the way home from work and make it then.

Happy you accomplished this week
I posted two items that I should have sent to people in November but didn't get to before going away.  While I got nothing much done while I was home sick, sitting looking at that book and that calendar for ten days was more than enough push to get me to the post office on Monday.  Also happy to have started on the  Sealed Pot Challenge as well as having made some progress on clearing the Table of Doom.

Looking forward to next week
Half-day on Thursday because of Altweiber (the start of the Karneval weekend here).  I'm not much of a Karneval fan but my upstairs neighbour dropped by yesterday with an invitation to her annual party next Friday and I think I will go and am sort of looking forward to it (rather than dreading being kept awake until all hours).

Thankful for today
Managing to make two different soups without burning or ruining anything.  It sounds silly but I felt like I had completely lost the ability to cook well and am very grateful that it seems to be coming back.

Bonus question: What made you laugh today?
Talking to my nephew this morning when I called to wish him happy birthday (he's 12 today) - his English is coming along very well so that he doesn't drop the phone and run for his mum the minute I get past 'how are you?' and he was able to tell me how happy he was that it was his birthday.  The excitement in his voice (he was waiting for present opening time, which his mum and sisters were preparing in the kitchen) was just infectious.  Hearing someone say "I'm so happy" several times like that is definitely enough to make anyone laugh!  I also just got sent a link to some outtakes from Mrs. Brown's Boys and although I'm not much of a fan of it, I have to admit I had tears in my eyes watching these.

That's it from me.  If you fancy joining in on Sunday night chit-chat, post away and head over to Half-Dozen Daily to link up.

The Table of Doom

We'll pretend that this isn't something that I have struggled with for my entire adult life and just say that it started in April of 2011.  As you can see from this post, at the end of April last two years ago, I got lots of tidying up done and was left with what should have been two fairly manageable piles of sorting and filing left to do.  And then stuff starting piling up again, various things happened, I fell into a serious black hole of depression, which I am only properly emerging from in the last few months and, although I have made a few efforts and tackled quite a bit of stuff, I never seem to quite manage to get it all done.  I've done some rearranging of furniture in the meantime as well so that now I have a table where the yellow couch was (the yellow couch is now where the red one was, the red couch in now my bed and the day bed I mentioned using as my bed then is in four pieces, waiting to be brought down to the cellar, with the mattress stored behind the yellow couch and covered with a nice throw. Just in case you were wondering.)  So the piles of stuff are now on the table and, even if they're not exactly the same piles of stuff as there were two years ago, some of the stuff is definitely the same and enough is enough.

Knowing that I don't have the energy or sheer willpower to just sit down and get all of this done in one go, I decided instead to tackle it a little bit at a time.  So far this week, this has been working well and I'm going to keep it up until it's all done.  I don't care if it takes me four weeks to get this done.  It has essentially been waiting for two years for me to get around to it so four weeks really isn't such a big deal.  Since it's the start of a four-week month it feels like a good timeframe to aim for as well.

So I'm doing a variation of the five-a-day that is so important.  Normally that refers to the minimum number of servings of fruit or veg you should eat to stay healthy.  For now though, five-a-day is the minimum number of things that I am clearing from my Table of Doom each day.  I am also, however, limiting it to a maximum of one handful.  If I start to get stuck into it for a couple of hours there is a danger that I won't be able to hold out till it's finished and will end up just leaving it reduced but still unfinished.  Again.

I've gotten through a fair bit already and so far the small amounts do seem to be helping me to keep it up.  It's just what I needed, I think.  I need to think of it as long-distance rather than a sprint and just slowly keep plodding through it.  It's stamina, not so much as speed that I need to get it done. 

This is by no means the only disaster area in my house but it's one that will make the biggest difference.  Just having the space to lay the table properly and sit down to eat, being able to feel free to invite people over, not always using my laptop set up on a chair in front of the couch...these are things that will greatly improve my quality of life.  This is as far as this slow and steady pace has gotten me this week:

Moving most of the non-paper larger bits and pieces at the front made a big difference but I've left the plastic bag there as a visual clue to remind me that the piles of paper, although still intimidating, are definitely going down.  A small pile of stuff has moved onto the windowsill but that's some envelopes and other plastic covers and things that can be re-used.  The drawers they go into are behind the table so until it's cleared, I can't put them away.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Sealed pot challenge begins

Last week I was browsing some new blogs and came across one who mentioned a sealed pot challenge.  Interested, I poked around a bit more on that blog until I found the link to the originator of the challenge.  It's a simple enough xmas/end-of-year savings concept - you get a pot or container of some kind, put a hole in the lid, seal it up well and then over the year put in whatever amount of money it is you have decided on.  At the beginning of December everyone opens their pots and posts about how they got on and what they're going to do with the money.  Kudos to the original sealed pot challenger I found, Sue, as she is planning on using the money she saved last year as her entire housekeeping budget for 2013 - that's a challenge for herself and her husband to live on 1.31 (GBP) per day.  It's an excellent way to make sure that you're using up your stores properly as well, rather than just buying whatever catches your eye, but I don't think I could do it!

On to my pot.  I spent the week thinking about it but not really putting any effort into going looking for something.  Then last night, on the way home from work I passed by a shop on my road that had some 50% reduced items on a stand outside with more inside.  I took a look and got myself a nice tin for 3 euro.  Yes, the frugal way to do it would have been to use something I already had but after the week I'd had, I was tired enough to know in my heart of hearts that I wouldn't get around to it and would have ended up just dropping the idea entirely.  And, while I was in that shop I found the perfect gift to complement what I had already gotten for my sister's birthday - something I've been half-heartedly looking for anywhere I've been and wouldn't have thought of finding in that particular shop.  So, leaving work punctually yesterday was, overall, a very good idea.

There's been nothing fancy about how I prepared my nice tin to receive money.  I basically stabbed a knife into the lid a few times until it made a hole and then worked the knife backwards and forwards and side to side until the hole was big enough to fit coins through.  I didn't have any double-sided sellotape but thought Sue's method of using that in order to be able to put a nice ribbon around the top was a good one.  I do have some packing tape though, so I stuck that around the edge of the tin, sealing the lid to it.  Then I cut vertical slits in the tape at intervals and finally folded each section down, rolling it in to stick to the tape lower down.
It's difficult to see in this picture but the frontmost section of tape is already turned  down and then I just repeated that the whole way round.  Since it was topped with a piece of ribbon, the bits that weren't quite straight or flat don't really matter, now do they?
So that's it.  I stuck a length of gold ribbon around the tape - re-purposed ribbon from a fancy box of chocolates someone in work received once (she was just going to throw the packaging away and we can't have that, now can we?), which earns me some frugal brownie points at least.  The pot is now sitting on the top shelf in the hallway, waiting to receive more money.

What am I going to save?
I started by throwing in the small chain which has been slowly collecting in an un-used oil burner whenever my purse was too full to close.  Not much of it, it has to be said, as I'm usually good about handing over exact amounts of change when shopping.  I will be emptying my purse of coins at the end of each month and putting that in, too.  For January, that meant 3.74.

I am also going to try and follow the 52-week cumulative savings plan that someone mentioned in the comments on last week's sealed pot Sunday post.  The idea is that you start at the beginning of the year by saving 1 euro (or pound or dollar or whatever you have) the first week, 2 the second week, 3 the third week and so on until the end of the year.  Now, that would mean that by December you're saving in and around 50 a week and to be honest, if I have that much to save, it's going straight into my savings account at the beginning of the month to earn me some interest.  But I do like the general idea and am going to try it out at least until halfway through the year.  I think that once I hit the 26 week mark I will then just restart but this time with 2 euro instead of 1 euro coins.  We'll see how it goes.  At any rate, my sealed pot should only receive money over and above that which is planned savings, because they will be transferred straight into an interest-bearing account.

In summary then, my sealed pot will be getting the loose change from my purse at the end of the month, and each week, from my housekeeping money, the number of euro that is equal to the number of that week.  I may throw in other bits and pieces of coins from time to time if I come across them.  And I'll be opening it with everyone else at the beginning of December, just in time for my birthday, which seems like an excellent time to be doing it.

Anyone else want to join in?

Saturday shopping - 2nd February 2013

Like many places, the temperatures soared here last week.  After three or so weeks of mostly minus temperatures so that the snow that fell at the beginning of the month still hadn't melted away, last week we were around or even above 10 degrees for a few days.  Accompanied by the kind of depressing and totally disheartening rain that made me leave Ireland in the first place.  Horrible.  Today we're back down to about 3 degrees and just as I was about to leave to head to the market, it started to snow.  It's not sticking at all, of course, because everything is so wet from the last week, it's just melting as soon as it touches anything.  Still, watching snow come down is better than watching rain fall, even if it is impossible to get a nice photo of it.  Here's a quick one I snapped of the market, taken from where I come around the corner and see it for the first time.  It all looks a bit grey and gloomy but with the snow falling, it really brightened it up actually.  Didn't last long though and now the clouds are even dispersing enough to be able to see hints of blue.

I didn't buy a huge amount at the market today as I still have plenty of veg left from last week.  I did get some ham, to use in the pancakes I have planned for tomorrow - I'm sure I've said it before but I'll say it again.  Ham has gotten really expensive.  It has really moved firmly into the occasional treat segment of shopping.

Price list for today's shopping
Straetmans (at market)
Refund of deposit on milk bottle -1.50
Milk - 2 litres - 2.40 (1.20/lt) plus 3.00 deposit
Butter 262g - 2.49 (9.50/kg)

Vennbachhof (at market)
Cooked ham 212g - 4.18 (19.70/kg)
Mettwurst (x2) 200g - 2.08 (10.40/kg)

Flassrath (at market)
Apples 3 euro (annoyed at this because I put them down to rest on the scales when I was putting stuff away and I had only gotten just over 150g but was charged for a 250g bag - I think she assumed I had picked up one of their pre-packed bags and didn't weigh it)

Etzold (at market)
Celeriac 808g - 2.02 (2.50/kg) - these might be the smallest celeriac I've ever seen
Onions 1.034g - 2.59 (2.50/kg)

Graaf (at market)
Cake in a jar (red wine cake) - 2.60 (no deposit as I returned an empty jar)

Vollkornschrot (groats) - 1kg - 2.25
Vollkornmehl (wholegrain flour) - 1kg - 1.99

el martin (fair trade shop)
Dark chocolate - 100g - 2.00

Behmer (bakery)
2 wholegrain rolls - 1.20
1 loaf wholegrain bread - 2.90

And that's that.  I've having a quick lunch now, will post about the Sealed Pot Challenge I've decided to start participating in and then I am heading to bed because my cold seems to have not gone away entirely, a full week of work was too much for it apparently and I feel physically rotten.  Although in the time I've been writing this the sun has come out, which is lovely to see.  I'm trying to only look in one direction out the window so that I don't notice the ginourmous black cloud on the other side of the horizon.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Spending recap

Here's the breakdown of what I've spent this week, from Saturday until today.  I did buy a couple of things today and yesterday that I used my debit card to pay for but I will include them in next week's breakdown as the money is coming out of my February money, i.e. will be debited from the bank next week.  I got paid on Wednesday so basically the last few days of the January budget were just what was left in my purse and the things I have paid directly from my bank account go into February's budget.

8.00 transport (taxi x 2)
50.61 food necessities (market last weekend plus bakery during the week)
4.59 food luxuries (some chocolate and crisps during the week)
40.35 food out/takeaway (didn't bring lunch to work any day this week)
0.00 toiletries
9.69 gifts (incl. postage)
0.00 clothes
1.99 house/garden (some clip yokes for envelopes - just looked at the box, they're called sample bag clips. Who knew.)
0.00 medical
2.00 other (scratch card)

Total: 125.23

Since it's the end of the month, here's the full recap for the month (less the first few days of the year when I hadn't yet remembered that I wanted to start tracking my spending properly again):
58.30 transport
179.01 food necessities
93.55 food luxuries
54.25 food out/takeaway
2.25 toiletries
9.69 gifts (incl. postage)
0.00 clothes
11.34 house/garden
33.86 medical
26.80 other
Total: 488.99 - I had wanted to keep to around 100 per week (a very generous amount of cash to get me through a January that I was expecting to be miserable) and, given it was a five week month, I made it.  There is less cash per week budgeted for February so things like taxis and lunches out will hopefully not come into play at all.  I'm starting with a  meal plan for next week that involves me making two batches of soup this weekend - I already have everything I need so just need to do it.  Meal plan will go up on the other blog shortly.