Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sunday night chit-chat

When at the market yesterday I caught sight of these coconut macaroons.  I usually try to just block out the fact that the people who sell dairy also run a bakery at their farm but this week I saw these and couldn't resist.  I didn't look properly though because look at the size of it!  It could easily have been shared by four, it was nearly the size of my fist (and I don't have dainty hands!).  Not having three people around to share it with I gamefully managed it on my own.  It took me nearly four hours, two cups of tea and a glass of water to do it, though.

So anyway, on to some Sunday night chit-chat.  If you care to join in, just head over to Half-Dozen Daily to link up.

What are you:
Mostly blogs.  Have been catching up on the archives of two fairly new-to-me blogs, Absolutely Sweet Chaos and Head over Heels in Debt.  I did finish The Master and Margarita though and next up is finishing Die grosse Liebe for German book club and reading Atonement for English book club.

I watched the pilot for Beauty and the Beast yesterday which had me searching for and watching the pilot for the 80's series it is loosely based on.  I used to enjoy that but had never seen the beginning of it.  Am going to watch another couple of episodes of the new one shortly.

Listening to
Not much at the moment, just the clock ticking, the sound of the keyboard and the occasional car outside.  While I was reading blogs today I had a couple of albums running on my MP3 player, including the newest on from the Battenkill Ramblers, which I somehow missed the release of in January.  I've actually had one of their songs as my resident earworm this week but have consistently been too lazy to get up and dig out the CD it's on to listen to (thereby guaranteeing driving myself mad because of not being able to remember all the lyrics) so it was nice to just have this album a click away.  How sad is that!

Nothing much.  I heated up the second last portion of turkey and orange hotpot from the freezer, topped with cubes of bread, also from the freezer, earlier but apart from that, my ginourmous coconut macaroon meant absolutely no need to bake anything at all.

Happy you accomplished this week
I ordered and received a new SIM card for my phone.  For some inexplicable reason, I got a text message a few months ago saying that my SIM card would be invalid after 1 April.  I had been putting off getting a smartphone because I didn't want the bother of switching numbers so thought I should use this as an opportunity to finally make the move to a smartphone.  If you sign up for a two-year contract, you can usually just pay a small fee (about 20 euro) and then the rest of the cost of the phone is built into your monthly plan.  I actually did do some research, trying to figure out web use on a phone and all that kind of thing.  And in the end I bought a pre-pay card to put into my existing basic phone.  But, I did make sure before buying it that I can simply add on a data-plan at any stage and therefore switch it into a smartphone without having to switch numbers again.  It cost me 9.95 to get the card which give me 10 euro of credit to start with.  Except that it came with 20.  Not sure how that happened and am happy to pay another 10 if they come looking for it.  I also got an additional 5 euro credit as an online acquaintance uses the same provider and had an offer to "win" new customers, getting 5 euro for each of us.  So far I am very happy.  I had a response to my email questions within a couple of hours and the card was delivered within two days of my ordering it.  It's a card from one of the local supermarkets (Edeka) and runs on one of the better networks and the data plan that I can add for a flatrate 10 euro per month offers 500MB of data, which is more than most of the others I looked at.  And, even better, I don't even have to go to the supermarket to top-up, I can do it online.

Oh, and I added fancy percentage bars to my blog to track my savings.

Looking forward to next week
The weekend!  I know that seems like wishing my life away but it's quarter-end billing next week and because of tomorrow being a holiday, we'll be on another cycle that's a day shorter than normal.  I expect mega-stress this week.  Actually, because I've been out sick and then trying to catch up so much over the last few months, I still have a small amount of filing to do from last quarter end so I'm going to get up early tomorrow and go in (despite the bank holiday) and do that so that Tuesday is at least not spent trying to explain to the manager why she doesn't have last quarter's information on file.

Thankful for today
That the cold which started on Thursday seems to not be getting worse.  I have done almost nothing for the past three days and although that means I'm sitting looking at a filthy and messy house, I really couldn't handle getting badly sick again.  And who knows, getting up early to go to work for a couple of hours tomorrow might be just the spur I need to have a slightly active afternoon.  I may even get the ironing done.

Bonus question: Do you wear slippers around the house?
Yes.  In summer I have very light ones which have micro-fibre soles that dust your floors as you go.  They're quite fun but just not warm enough to wear in winter so I switch to nice wooly ones then.  My current ones are not going to last another winter but I have my eye on some nice felt ones for next winter.


I have seen reports recently about Barack Obama signing the Monsanto Protection Bill into law. To be completely honest, I haven't done any in-depth reading on this because just reading the headlines was enough to make me feel like there's no hope left for the world.

And now I've just seen this link on twitter and it's so incredibly disturbing I don't even know what to think - even though I know full well that head in the sand is not at all the appropriate response!

Stop the Mass Death of Bees!

"Monsanto's Mon810 corn, genetically engineered to produce a synthetic version of the insecticide Bt, has been banned in Polandfollowing protests by beekeepers who showed the corn was killing honeybees. Meanwhile, commercial beekeepers in the U.S. have filed an emergency legal petition with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to suspend use of a pesticide that is linked to massive honey bee deaths. The legal petition, which specifies Bayer's neonicotinoid pesticide clothianidin, is backed by over one million citizen petition signatures."
If you're in the USA, perhaps you'll consider (at least) signing that petition.

Financial plans

Although I have several more months before I finish clearing my debt, I'm getting restless and decided it was time to set out some concrete plans.  Once I have made my last debt payment I am going to take two months to just spend whatever I like on whatever I like.  The only requirement is that I don't spend on credit, obviously!

I do want to build up some savings though so I will be adding 10% of my salary to savings.  Enough to make me feel like I'm doing something but not so much that I can't relax and enjoy the post-debt feeling.  Of course, it's possible that once I don't have to allocate so much of my money (to debt), that I'll no longer feel any need whatsoever to spend every penny.  I'm planning for a 'worst case', in which I have a couple of spendthrifty months and don't make much progress on savings at all.  Like that old customer service mantra we were taught in my first call centre job: Underpromise, overachieve!

I've added some of those fancy percentage bar things to the side.  Thanks to Tanner from Working for a Goal for providing the code and help in getting that set up.

Here's what I have decided on for now:
Emergency fund of 5,000 - made up of:
  • 2,000 positive balance on my German Mastercard - no interest charges are incurred if I use it when it is already in credit and I'll actually earn a small amount of interest on any positive balance.  
  • 3,000 balance on my Irish current account - no transactions fees if I maintain a minimum 3,000 balance at all time so I will aim for a 3,500 balance, which gives me a bit of leeway to use this account without dipping below the minimum balance.

  • Annual expenses (German savings account/Sparkonto) - I would like to get this account to a 1,000 plus balance so that I maintain a minimum of 1,000 as well as whatever money is needed for actual expenses.  To that end, I have set my goal at 2,000.
  • Travel (German savings account/Topzinskonto) - Initially, I'll aim to always have 1,000 in this account.  That's enough to get me home at short notice in an emergency with money for hotels or car hire if necessary. Once I have that, I'll need to start seriously thinking about what kind of travel I want to do every year and how much I need to save to finance it all.  Going to Halle for Happy Birthday Handel every year, for example, will cost around 300 for the event and hotel, 100 for train and 100 spending, at least.  Visiting my sister in France is around 200 for the train and bus, plus a small amount for spending while there.  Flying back to Ireland once a year would set me back at least 300 as well (cheapest flight deals around 100-130 with no luggage, then bus/train or car hire while there and spending money).  So there's more than 1,000 a year, just for three basic trips, not even particularly big travel plans.  There's usually a choir weekend or tour every year or two as well, which is another couple of hundred, as well as shorter weekends travelling to Frankfurt or Brussels, for example, to visit friends (or other expenses if they come to visit me).  This one will need careful consideration because with family and friends spread out the way mine are, not to mention the fact that I haven't yet quite found the place I want to put roots down in, travel will be a part of my life for quite a while yet, it seems.
It's going to be a whole other way of living - actually having the choice of what to do with every cent I earn!

Friday, March 29, 2013

The value of a blog

I have, over the six or seven years since I discovered the blogging world, read quite a few blog posts wherein bloggers are questioning their motives for blogging, worrying that what they were posting didn't match the type of blog they were writing, switching to a new blog because the old one doesn't reflect what's happening in their lives and so on and so forth.  When I first came across the term blog I had no idea what it was and looked it up to find that is was short for weblog, a type of online diary.  I've always wanted to keep a diary and never kept it up for more than a few days or weeks at a time but being able to type far better than I can write, I was taken with the idea.  And that's how I've always thought of my blog.  When I first started it, I was setting off on a journey to try and embrace a simple or gentle life and I wanted somewhere to document that.  And to make lists.  As I discovered personal finance blogs, I realised that I could use this space to try and document some of that aspect of my life as well.  And during my worst periods of depression as well as just 'ordinary' difficult times, I have used my blog to just generally unload some of what's floating around in my head.  Better out than in, after all. :)  While this has meant quite a lot of emotional drivel and repetitiveness (in my more generous to myself moments I just cal it stream of consciousness), there really are also some genuinely useful posts to be found in my archives. I resisted adding any blog statistics tools to my blog when I first started it but a few years ago blogger added them as standard and since then I have found it very interesting to see what the top posts are, what the top search terms are that will lead people to my blog, etc.  And every once in a while someone has looked at a post and I cannot remember what it was about based on the title so I click through and am reminded of something interesting.

That's what happened today when I clicked through to a post someone read today entitled River Cottage, from back in the first months of Living the simple life I want.  And that post contained a tip that I am very glad I copied into a blog post all those years ago and even more glad to have found again now.  Because if all goes according to plan, I will be debt free in a few months and, in addition, my sealed pot savings challenge will keep me saving enough during the year that when we open our pots in December, I will have about enough to buy a freezer.  I did originally think that I'd use the money to buy myself something fabulous from etsy but then I realised that a freezer is something that has been on my list of wants for a long time so that I can finally make contact with a good farmer and start buying bulk meat once a year or so.  And given how much I struggle and undoubtedly always will struggle with managing money, this tip is a good one to remember for whenever I get to that point.

From my River Cottage post, originally from the River Cottage forums (typos and all):

"The butcher that we use will sell quarters or halves of any animal and a deepfreez is a life saver. Comming up with 600 for a side of beef isnt easy but it lasts the year and as its from his own herd its great. We have a jar in the freezer that we put in whatever the shop price would be for whatever meat we take out for dinner that day. When the freezer is ready for restocking the money is there."

And to me, that is the greatest value I can get from my blog.  Not only having somewhere to write out anything that bubbling up (or festering) inside me, but a place to collect ideas without having to rely on my memory.  And a place to remind myself of some of the stuff that's important to me, even when I feel like I've gotten too far from the point of it all sometimes.  Hooray for blogging!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Here we go again

I am coming down with another cold.  Unbelievable.  I tried very hard this morning to convince myself that it was having a few beers when out for dinner last night that were causing a slightly heavy head feeling but the runny nose just kept getting worse all day and in the last hour or two has switched to full-on now you can breathe, now you can't mode.  I'm so glad we have a four-day weekend here because getting up for work tomorrow would be horrible.  I'm going to rub Vicks all over the bottom of my feet before putting on some socks and heading to bed (a tip my sister was given recently - no idea if it works but it has to be worth a try).

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sunday night chit-chat

Haven't done one of these for a while and nearly forgot about it this evening but it's still Sunday at least.  Here's a poem which I found posted on a blog not long after I first found blogland and have had printed out and on my fridge door ever since (one day, I'll make a fancy embroidered version or something but for now it's plain white paper and black ink and the beauty of the words has to speak for itself).

To Live Simply ~ William Henry Channing {1810-1884}

To live content with small means, to seek elegance rather than luxury, 

and refinement rather than fashion; 
to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich;
to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly; 
to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart; 
to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never;
to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common.
This is to be my symphony.

And now for some chit-chat.

What are you:
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov - what a wonderful book.  It has taken me a while to read it but I was no sooner a couple of chapters into it than I was longing for the end of it just so that I could go back to the beginning and start reading it again.  Such a wonderful use of language and imagination, it seems like I could read this book a dozen times and find different things in it each time.

The Carrie Diaries - someone mentioned this series on a discussion forum today and it seemed like exactly the kind of mindless program I'm in the mood for at the moment.  Just watched the first episode and while it might not be the best series for authentic 80s (any other Freaks and Geeks fans out there?), it had enough of the music of my youth in it to make it very enjoyable.

Listening to
Some rowdiness outside - sounds like there might have been a football match or something on today but that'll be the last of them going home, hopefully.

I made some rice pudding earlier and had that for my dinner.  Another thing I haven't made for years and years and it didn't turn out perfectly but was more than good enough.  Especially with a large dollop of homemade strawberry jam mixed in.

Happy you accomplished this week
Made it to choir practice and was mostly able to sing.  Went to an Irish Business Network event that was very interesting.  And went to see Four Victorian Farces - very amusing and a lovely way to spend a Friday evening.  That was three days in a row that I got out of work more or less on time and made it to events on time.

Looking forward to next week
No choir practice but a group of us are organising to go out for Schnitzel on Wednesday instead of that.  Also, a short week at work because of easter - woohoo.

Thankful for today
Fresh bedclothes on the bed, waiting for me to go and have a good night's sleep.

Bonus question: what is your absolute favourite dessert?
Tough one this.  If I'm really pushed I'd have to say apple tart with cream.  Warm but not too hot tart (made with apples, shortcrust pastry, small amount of sugar and NO cinnamon), cool cream nicely whipped.  Hmmm, guess what I'll be making next weekend.

If you want to join in with Sunday night chit-chat, head over to Half-Dozen Daily to post your link.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Bread and books

I can't even remember the last time I baked bread although I know that last year I bought buttermilk once or twice and then ended up throwing it out months later so I'm fairly willing to bet it has been at least a couple of years.  When I was in the supermarket last week, I noticed that they had buttermilk on special offer so I grabbed two containers.  And somehow this morning remembered and, after having talked myself out of getting up, stripping the bedclothes off the bed for a much overdue wash, baking bread and instead deciding to stay where I was to finish my book, I ended up getting up, stripping the bedclothes of the bed for a much overdue wash and baking bread.  Actually, the reason I got up properly was because the postman rang the doorbell and had a package for me.  Having a very lazy pyjama Saturday morning in bed isn't necessarily the way you want your postman to find you and it's one of those situations where I am reminded that living on the fourth floor with no lift has its advantages.  In this case, enough time to throw on some clothes (over my pyjamas but how's he to know that) before he arrives at the door.  It was the box of books and magazines that I got in Australian (some purchased, mostly presents) but couldn't fit in my luggage and which my lovely sister forwarded to me.  They've been on a boat somewhere for a couple of months and now it feels like christmas all over again.

That brief flurry of activity seems to have been enough to get me going because once I was moving I realised how hungry I was getting and it was the work of a couple of minutes to throw together the dough for the bread.  I used wholemeal and plain flour in a ratio of about 4:1, two teaspoons of bread soda, a bit more than half  a teaspoon of salt and nearly two teaspoons of raw cane sugar along with most of a 500g container of buttermilk (will never understand why yoghurt and buttermilk is listed as weight and not as volume).  I sprinkled some porridge oats on top and baked for 35 minutes.  When I took it out, the top was nicely browned but it didn't quite have the right hollow sound on the bottom so I put it back in, turned upside down, for five more minutes.  I took it out of the oven a few minutes ago so by now it should be cooled down enough to eat without burning my mouth too badly.  Here's hoping it tastes as nice as it looks.  Bread and butter is a treat not to be missed!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


I resisted joining pinterest for a long time because I figured I just didn't need yet another internet-based timesuck in my life.  However I did join a couple of months ago and have found it to be a really useful tool.  I like that I can link to specific items on a website, including with a picture - no more scrolling through dozens of bookmarks to try and remember what it was I liked on which particular website.  And I like that I can access it from wherever I am and am not restricted to just having the information available on my own computer.  I don't follow many people and I haven't spent much time browsing through it but I dearly love my "Pin It" button.

And I enjoyed this post today on Noho'ana hau'ole about another way to view and use pinterest: True Confessions: I Am a Hoarder.
...instead of shelves clogged with tchotkes needing to be dusted, or closets filled with items rarely seen or used, I have boards filled with pictures I can look at and swoon over again and again without having to deal with the clutter of actual items.
What a great way to look at it!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Global companies everywhere

I just found out that abebooks, a website marketplace selling second-hand books that I have recommended to lots of people in the three years since I discovered it, is actually owned by Amazon (as is The Book Depository).  They bought it in 2008.  How disappointing.  I have always enjoyed the fact that abebooks provided me with access to independent booksellers selling second-hand books.  It honestly never occurred to me that one of the biggest tech companies in the world (according to the headline of a somewhat fluffy Forbes article from a few months ago) might be behind it.

I don't think I've been this disappointed with the relentless march of large companies since I found out that Cadbury (which is now part of Kraft) was going to take over Green & Blacks.  I think it was on a blog called Pocket Farm (since disabled because Liz moved to flickr instead), one of the first blogs I ever followed, that a link was posted to a illustration of what companies are controlled by which.  Must try and find that link again, it was eye-opening and I thought I was relatively well-informed before that.  It really does seem impossible sometimes to not support those huge conglomerates.  For now, I may continue to use the abebooks website but mostly just to search for books.  Given what the wiki article about them says in relation to charges however, if I find a bookseller with the book I want to buy, I'll be checking out the possibility of buying directly from that bookseller via their own website.  And continuing to make use of the local libraries.  Now, to just find some more information about getting e-books without having to go through Amazon (because of learning recently that somewhere in the small print of the kindle is the interesting point that you're not buying the books you download, you're licensing them and although no time-frame has yet been put in place, it's possible that it could be done at some stage and that you then 'lose' all your books).

Saturday, March 02, 2013

What I preserved in 2009

Another old draft.  I thought I had published this list, which was originally just something I had on my sidebar.  Can't find it now though so here, for posterity, is the list of things I preserved in 2009.

Apple (dried) - all gone
Apple (stewed) - all gone
Broad beans (frozen)
Chutney - 6 batches
Currants (red, blue + black - dried - all gone)
Fruit leathers - all gone
Piccalilli - 2 batches - have given loads away but still not tried it myself!
Pickled garlic - dumped, stank badly when opened
Plum jam
Raspberry jam - all gone
Salsa - 2 batches, 1 dumped
Strawberries (dried) - all gone, need to do lots more this year
Strawberry and apple jam
Strawberry and raspberry jam
Strawberry jam
Tomato ketchup - 3 batches
Tomato sauce for pizza - 2 batches frozen - all gone
Tomatoes (dried) - all gone
Tomatoes canned - all gone
Tomatoes frozen - all gone

Devil's drink

I recently realised that I have a whole load of draft posts.  Some are where I've had an idea for a post and made a note of it to remind myself of it.  Some seem to be random sentences and I have no idea what I intended.  A couple seem to be posts that I wrote and then had difficulties posting and thought had disappeared - with those ones I'm checking posts written around the same time and adding them where it seems relevant.  And some are like this one.  More or less complete thoughts but never published.  Why not?  No idea if I was interrupted, decided I didn't want to post after all or what but I'm just going to plug through them and delete or publish as seems appropriate.  Trying to keep draft posts just for posts I genuinely want to spend a bit more time working on and actually posting everything from the drafts folder.  At any rate, this seems to have been what was happening on November 30th 2007.  A reminder that I will never be able to drink tea will never go amiss.

It has to be Jack Daniels and coke. Good god, but I feel bad today. Turns out that red martini in a glass with some ice looks remarkably like a whiskey and coke with ice in the dark lighting of a pub during a work night out. And so I picked up the wrong glass and had started to swallow a mouthful before I realised it wasn't martini. I'm not sure if it was the taste of the whiskey or the coke (which I'm not supposed to drink since caffeine drinks give me migraines) but today I feel much like I imagine it feels when a truck runs over your head. No migraine yet at least but if I feel this bad after one mouthful, leaving early and being in bed before 11 plus sleeping later than usual this morning then staying well away from tea, coffee and coke seems to be still something I need to do. Never drank coffee and since I'm now more aware of the type of company Coca-Cola is and also don't reall drink any fizzy sugary drinks any more, that's not really much of a loss either. But recently, following a post at down-to-earth about how to make real tea, I've had a longing for a nice cuppa. Not a cup made from a tea-bag of decaffeinated tea but the real thing. I'd nearly convinced myself that it's been so long since I did drink any (about six years now) maybe one cup wouldn't do any harm and/or that I didn't care if I got a migraine, it'd be worth it for a cup of tea.

Friday, March 01, 2013

February spending and hoping for no spending in March

I don't really have the staying power to read lots of blogs at the moment and after having missed a few days last week as well, I'm going to fall very behind.  I have noticed a few February round-ups and March plans/budget posts though and remembered that I did a spending recap at the end of January and planned to do another every month this year.  Unfortunately, I have to disappoint, as I had no sooner arrived in Halle last week than I got caught up in the whirlwind and completely dropped the ball on tracking spending.  I didn't spend much more than I intended, some budgeted from last month's money and some taken out of my annual expenses savings account (which includes an amount for choir stuff) but between other people buying me dinner and me returning the favour by buying rounds of drinks, shared taxis where sometimes I paid and got money back in dribs and drabs or someone else paid and you were looking for a coin to hand them over quickly before running into rehearsal, not to mention tips, it all got very confusing very fast.  For the next time I have an event like that I think I will clear out my purse beforehand, put a set amount of money in it and then just count what's left when it's over.  That way, although I might not have a breakdown of exactly what I spent on hand, I will know the amount at least.

I did have one other big expense last month that was only semi-planned.  New shoes.  The good boots that I bought less than a year and a half ago needed to be re-soled (again!) and are otherwise looking very beaten up and generally wrecked.  Disappointing, as I spent so much money on them but that's just the way it goes sometimes and I have to admit that, apart from the summertime, when it was just too hot, I did wear them every day.  As the cost of re-soling them is over 40 euro these days and the weather should hopefully be changing to slightly warmer shortly, it seemed like a sensible idea to put that money towards a decent pair of shoes.  I was going to get new orthotics anyway.  The saleswoman spent a lot of time searching shoes out for me (seems like my feet are becoming even less of a normal shape every year - one day when I'm rich I'm going to get shoes handmade just for me.  Actually, that's something I want on my list!) and when we had finally found two suitable pairs she actually pushed me a little towards the pair I wasn't thinking off (although they were 5 euro cheaper) as they have more reinforced seaming and, having seen the state of the boots I was wearing, she gave it as her opinion that the softer leather ones wouldn't hold up as well.  If I'm hard on shoes, I may as well buy with that in mind.  I've been very happy with my purchase so far though and am planning on taking money from my June budget to buy another pair.  I do have a bad habit of wearing the same shoes all the time and it would be good to get a couple of pairs and start switching around more often.  I'm due to go back in June anyway for a second pair of orthotics, so that's what has decided the timing.

And a planned expense was to get a new white blouse for the performance, which I did.  And I lucked out by finding a pair of black trousers that fit as well.  That doesn't often happen here and at 39 euro, I just went for it.  The funny thing is that I have found trousers to fit me in C&A before but they were just randomly hung among other things.  And that's what happened this time too.  If I actually go looking for trousers there, there are never any to be had.  The new trousers are a standard black pair in a very light fabric so they'll be great for work in the warmer months.  Along with a second new blouse, I am more than sorted for summer work clothes now.  Those clothes will actually show up in my recap for March though, as I used my credit card to pay for them after the 'credit card month' had already passed (note that I didn't buy them on credit as the bill will be paid in full as soon as it is due this month).

I've already transferred the bulk of my money for March to my Irish account to make debt repayments.  Those clothes have essentially already eaten up my optional spending money for March so I'll be trying to keep to as close to a no-spending at all month as possible.  I have plenty of food in the house and it's time to make sure I'm using it all up so that I have empty jars to use again when the summer starts.