Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Income Tax...results!!

I just spent about half an hour on the horn with the folks at the Canada Revenue Agency (thanks for continuing to pay your taxes everyone - they help pay for my collect calls to our Nation's capital...ahem...) trying to clarify a couple of things.

I needed a new security code to sign in to my online account as I have no idea where the last one they sent me has gone to. On the way: check! One department.

The next department (which I was kindly transferred to) was the General Inquiries line to ask about my LLP. After a little misunderstanding on her end and a little miscommunication on my part, I'm thrilled that I can now reduce my overall debt owing by about $8,000. It seems that my LLP has been taken care at that end and is cleared up.

I'm not entirely clear on how, exactly, other than it was added into my income for 2013 and I was assured I don't owe anything on it anymore. My understanding was that if it wasn't paid off right away, then I had to roll over the remaining into my income until it was paid off. I didn't realise it was a 'one time' thing, so I have been consistently adding to my RRSP to pay it back annually, as originally organised.

Anyhoo, I'm still going to continue to add to my RRSP, but concentrate on the other two outstanding debts first (LOC & CC). It makes much more sense to take care of that if the LLP debt doesn't need to be taken into consideration at this point. The payments will be very slow, but steady, until after I've had my holiday at the end of the year and can focus more on the debt repayment. Once that's down substantially, I'll have money to start a retirement fund and emergency fund here, as well as hopefully saving for more (nearby) travelling.

I'm really happy right now!!!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Spring and into Week 8 - the final leg! :D

Happy Easter everyone! Hope you rest, relax and enjoy some family time, good food and lots of choclate this long weekend.

Nothing says spring quite like a bouquet of daffodils. They were everywhere at Jane Austen's house in Chawton, Hampshire, which we visited three weeks ago. It was a perfect day - we even sat outside for lunch at a cafe afterwards!

The front of the house. The door isn't actually the main entrance into the house. That's around the side, and the original entrance is thought to have been where the window to the left of the door now is.

The open door takes you into the kitchen. The door next to it is the entrance to the museum.

The well, outside the bakehouse.

The little bakehouse.

The garden. The slabs would not have originally been there and it would likely have been more of a kitchen garden. Plenty of plants and flowers there now, but they have replaced the vegetables - and possibly fruit trees - that would have grown in Jane's time.

This will look glorious in the summer covered in roses.

The study, where Jane was thought to have written. The costumes scattered throughout are reprductions from various movie adapatations of her books.

The table at which Jane is believed to have written her last three novels: Emma, Mansfield Park and Persuasion. She is also thought to have revised Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Predjudice and Northanger Abbey here.

This chair was in Mrs Austen's bedroom.

A recreation of Jane's bedroom. It is not her bed, but is a reproduction of the kind she would (likely) have used at the time.

Single glazed leaded pane windows. The house would have been VERY cold in the winter.

The view of the house from the rear of the garden,

Hundreds of daffodils were in bloom around this very pretty, very old English village. I can't imagine it's changed altogether that much since Jane lived here.

Chawton House. This houses The Centre for Early Women's Writing 1600-1830. It was closed when we were there, but is generally open to public from the end of March to September. 

An original shepherd's hut, restored from the early 20thC. It sits just outside Chawton House farm (off to the left, down that road immediately behind it).

St Nicholas Church. Jane's mother and sister are buried here. Jane herself is buried in Winchester Cathedral.

A pastoral setting. Too bad the sun was in the wrong place!

Happy Easter! 
One of several chickens ranging free at the farm. I thought she had lovely colouring.

I'm heading into the 8th and final week of my no sugar programme and I have to admit I've been a bit slack the past couple of weeks. I haven't really been using the recipes, but have been trying to at least make sure my meals are sugar free and, for the most part, have succeeded. Having fruit back on the menu has made me very happy - I have strawberries in my morning oats every day, but haven't branched out much from there. Just not feeling the urge and I'm not sure that's necessarily a bad thing.

I am, however, feeling a bit lazy as we near the end. The joy of cooking continues to elude me, but I've got two weeks holiday at the moment, so I hope that having more time during the day to prepare food will help alleviate some of that. My biggest frustration is getting home late and then having to put something together for a meal.

My sister says my skin looks much better (big win!) and when I was down in Devon last weekend, we did a bit of shopping and I noticed that too, as well as the fact I seem to be down a size in clothing (big win!), so despite my frustration with the fact that nothing seems to have changed, things actually have. I'd still like to amend the programme a bit and see if I can shave off some costs. I'll work on it on my own for now and if I feel I want a reset, I'll do another round in the fall or something.

My cousin has started with Weight Watchers and the fridge & freezer are now jam packed. Some items overlap (veggies, etc.) but we're now basically out of storage containers so are going to have to pick up some more of those. Just means very careful shopping each week and using up what's in the freezer first. Not a bad practice by any means, but one that I'm not very good at... :P

I went to my naturopath two weeks ago and had a good visit. When I went for my first visit before Christmas and had a food intolerance test, nothing unusual came up. This time soy, corn, tuna, cod & plaice popped up as sensitivities, so I found that quite interesting that that has changed in a short period of time. She also suggsted I take a potassium supplement for my bloating (oedema) and see if that helps.

My cousin and I are meeting our first cousin once removed (my Mum's first cousin) tomorrow. He's English, although lives in France, and is the product of a bit of a scandalous familial relationship back in the day. He's only recently figured out that his dad is his mother's uncle by marriage, so not directly related at least. He's pretty confident about this, but there's no proof, obviously, but he's asked questions, talked to people, done a little detecting, and this is the answer he's come up with. He's a nice guy, if a bit intense, so as he's in the UK for a week or so, we're having lunch with him and his friend tomorrow, then have plans for a tea or early supper on Saturday, when my Mum is here, so that she can meet him.

My Mum arrives on Thursday and my sister and I are heading down to the bungalow on Wednesday to get a look at it, get some groceries in, etc. We have plans for a tea on 7 April, when the family is coming. My sister and I are going to do some baking (cakes & scones), buy some quiches and canapes, and get a platter or two of sandwiches. We don't want too much mess or fuss and this way people can just help themselves and the only thing we have to worry about is refreshing drinks. We're hoping there will be enough space in the garden for 16 or so people and will have to consider a Plan B if not. 

Outside of that, there are no plans in place. My Mum is 84 and doesn't want to go on excursions, so I image at this point it'll be a day to day decision making progress. This does limit us somewhat, but Lymington is a very pretty town and we can at least take walks along the seafront. Hopefully the weather will hold, as there's not much worse than the seaside in the rain...

Hope you all have a great, relaxing long weekend¬

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Review of Week 4 - one week to go until strawberries!

Heading into Week 5...

I admit it. 

I've lost a bit of my motivation and my concentration for this. Don't get me wrong, I'm really proud of myself for doing as well as I have and pretty much following the programme to the letter), I just feel I should have noticed more obvious changes. You know? Last week I noticed a bit more room in my trousers (win!) and while the focus/purpose of the programme is NOT weight-loss, it is going to be a natural side effect of not eating sugar for so long. It can't not be, really.

I think I've said I've not had any detox symptoms and that hasn't changed. However, I've also not had any hunger pangs and have drastically cut down on my snacking between meals. I'm finding the portions a smidge on the large side, but find I take longer to eat them, so perhaps that's the pay off. I feel full properly, rather than feeling I need to fill the space after I've already eaten. Still, no weight loss, back to feeling bloated and therefore a bit sluggish and part of me just wants it to be over (I think this could be considered a withdrawal symptom, actually - my brain is 'sugar sad'). I'm a bit fed up with the cooking, spending great amounts of money on food, eating late(ish), and the huge amount of prep and dishes that get done every week. 

I've not had any harsh or specific cravings, though. At least not the kind where I push old people out of the way to get a chocolate bar or anything like that, so I suppose that's positive (at least for the oldies). It's a bit hard to explain, but it's almost like the cravings have simply gone dormant. They're there, I can 'feel' them, but they're being very quiet and that's part of the reason I'm very consciously NOT putting sugar in my tea (drinking it without, but really not enjoying it) or cheating in other ways. I'm worried that once I start, I simply won't be able to stop again. One lady on the FB forums had a little bit of fudge she'd made for her grandson's birthday and threw it up! :( Not good, but good in the sense that she won't likely try sugar again in a hurry, that's for sure! 

There are three weeks left - Week 5 (this week) is our last NO sugar week - and next Sunday we can start adding tiny amounts back in, but only in the form of berries and Rice Malt Syrup. I am REALLY keen to put strawberries back onto my morning oats, I have to say!

Otherwise, I'm sure the iron supplements I've been taking have been helping, too. I'm no longer gasping for breath for ages at the top of the 'hill' on my way to work. I still breathe a bit heavily, but nowhere near what I was just a month ago. I've gone from 400mg per day down to 200mg (still a lot!), but am definitely feeling more with it. I've not done any exercise, but am planning to start running again once the hour changes at the end of the month (can get up nice and early) and will try that trampolining thing I wanted to start back in Feb. Hopefully, combined with the new eating regime, I will see some weight loss then. 

I told the MD at work yesterday that I had a proposition for him, so we had a chat. The company has only been in the current offices a few years, but no one's ever really gone through it to organise and sort the paperwork, which is something that's desperately needed. The MD certainly doesn't have time to do it, although his office is one of the worst offenders. I told him I wanted to start sorting/organising the stuff as plenty of it can probably be sent to archive at this point, or thrown away or at the very least put into boxes and hidden away again. I'm going to go in a couple of Sundays a month for a few hours at a time to get it done because there won't be any time during the week, there's simply too much going on. I'm taking time off in lieu (or perhaps half time, half cash) so it's worked out well. Parking is free on Sundays and if I go in early enough, then I can spend a few hours focussed on work and then be home with plenty of time left in the day to relax. I'm going to start after my mum leaves in April. It's crummy work and not particularly something I'm looking forward to, but it needs to be done and I'm happy to have extra time off in lieu.

I've booked my falconry experience for May 3 and bought one for my sister as well, so that'll be fun. So excited - raptors are such brilliant creatures (and heavier than you think), so I'm really looking forward to it.

Then I've got cupcake decorating to look forward to as well, likely once my Mum has gone as we'll be busy while she's here. 

I've been buying books like crazy (they're my Achilles heel) despite my promise to myself to use the library more. I have over 200 'want to reads' on my Goodreads list, but if I have cosy mysteries at hand, everything else gets pushed aside, although I love non-fiction as well.

My February finished pile. All bought since end of December and will be donated to the library.

My 'to read' pile. All bought since end of December - all the books at the bottom are books about writing (instead of actually writing, I tend to read a lot about it instead...). The top of my dresser also has about 2 dozen books I have yet to read as well, but these are the newest. "Death in Devon" and "The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra" were bought on a visit downtown on my lunch break on Wednesday. The lady at the bookstore was very excited that I was buying them - she had her eye on the first one (he wrote the Bookmobile mystery series, which was terrific) and had read the latter and LOVED it. So, good choices, apparently. :)

My smaller 'to read' pile. The Andy McNab titles are borrowed from a work colleague and I'm currently reading the top one. I find I can't really read more than one book at a time these days, although I used to be able to do it. I'm ensuring I now have a book with me at all times, as with the waiting and commuting I do every day I can easily get an extra hour of reading in.

I've got the house to myself this weekend as my cousin is visiting her mum for Mother's Day (it's tomorrow here). I had semi-grand plans, but basically have just unpacked my grocery delivery and done a laundry so far. :P Tomorrow I need to be more productive: tidying my room, doing some food prep for the week, etc.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

End of Week 3 - heading into the halfway mark!

Here we are already - halfway through the programme and halfway through our 4 week block of - literally - no sugar. 

Not so motivated with this week's recipes, but will do most of them. I've made another veggie loaf, which I love, so will be sticking to that for breakfast with mashed avocado and feta. Being able to pick & choose a bit more at this stage is great, as we have more options. As long as it doesn't have any sugar in it, you can eat it.

I've curbed my mid-afternoon cravings this week with cheese (mature cheddar) and a treat from Starbucks mid-week: they now have coconut milk, so I had a steamed, cinnamon & nutmeg topped, medium cup. I'm not confident that the sugar content of it fell into the accepted range (0-4g/100g), but it wasn't dairy and it was darn tasty! And, as I said last week, my sugar intake has dropped massively, almost 100%, so I'm content enough to be 'naughty' on the rare occasion.

In two weeks time we will be reintroducing sweetners into our diets in the form of berries and rice malt syrup (in very limited amounts). The intent is that our tastebuds will have calibrated to the point that even minimal amounts of the sweet stuff (whatever it is) will feel like more than enough and we'll be able to limit our intake. Right now, all I can think of is strawberries...not chocolate, not cake (I know...), not bananas or kiwis or apples or cookies or pie. Strawberries. Can't wait to put them back into my breakfast oats!

I'm feeling much better this week too. What have I noticed this week?

1) Much more 'regular' (it was 'gut week' this week, so a lot of the food was for bringing back good gut culture...and stuff), although I used a natural product to help that along a bit initially
2) Because of the above, lighter, 'cleaner', less bloated (the end of last week was wretched), even though I'm only down about 3lbs overall
3) Sticking to programme (98.5%) and not feeling the urge to have sweet stuff (win!)
4) Have some definite keeper recipes: detox broccoli soup, the veggie loaf mentioned above, a biryani, halloumi everything, and kedgeree amongst others
5) Enjoying some new foods, flavours and tastes
6) Staying positive and focused
7) Heightened sense of smell. I was on the station platform after work the other day and I smelled chocolate brownies. You know that sweet, sugary smell they have when they're baking? It smelled wonderful and awful at the same time, but three weeks ago I may well have gone in to buy a cookie or whatever it was that was baking. But there was  no salivating, there was no urge, there were no tingling tastebuds - there was nothing! Not even 'OMG that smells so good!'

Apart from a slight metallic taste in my mouth on occasion, there haven't really been any negatives apart from my boss saying he thought the programme sounded awful (but I haven't regaled him with details - yet!). One of my work colleagues has even borrowed the cookbooks because she's that curious about it!

Cravings still hit mid-afternoon, but a piece of cheese generally takes care of them.

I'm going to collate all the recipes and menu plans into a binder so I can keep them to refer to. It's not that I can't make menu plans, it's that I don't want to. Having someone make a list of exactly what I need and how much of it is terrific. I'm finding there are a few things I'm not using (the salad bits) so will not bother with those from now on as I've just thrown another package away today. 

I'm food shopping to the tune of about £60 per week - just for me! To be fair, I have done a couple of 'over shops' the past couple of weeks so that in case I'm unorganised or not motivated to make a meal from the plan, I can at least have sugar-free options on hand or make more than the recipe calls for. Anyway, it's a lot of money, so if I'm going to be continuing this I'll have to find ways to shave the costs, although I've upped my grocery budget again to accommodate, starting next week.

In other news, my Working Tax Credit continues, which I'm thrilled about (I get a bit of money from the gov't every month as I make under a certain amount). I had some paperwork at the beginning of the month querying the legitimacy of my claim, so I had to send a letter explaining my living situation (I can't claim if I co-habit with someone in a more official capacity than I currently do), send along some bank statements and my mobile phone bills, and wait. I hadn't heard a peep, but when I checked my bank account yesterday, there it was - a very nice surprise! I'm not sure if I have to re-apply after April 5 (tax deadline), but I imagine a quick phone call will answer any questions I may have. I should still qualify, as I had a long break last year and don't think I earned the minimum qualifying amount (just shy of £16k).

This continuing amount will ensure that I a) get to Ireland and, b) decrease my debt at home. Ideally I'd like that below $10k by the end of the year, but I'll be throwing half of any monthly snowflakes at it. I'm already thinking about what I may be able to do if it gets low enough by the end of the year.

I've already bought my March treat - more books - and added funds to both my travel and my debt accounts (thanks, tax credit!), but payday is Monday and I'll add a bit more. I've got everything down to pretty much the last penny this month, so I hope to stick to it. It helps that I'm not going to the coffee shop at the moment, but the car still needs the doors fixed, so I'll arrange that for the end of March, before my mum arrives.

Anyway, it's dinner time here and I'm going to make some pasta with a little pesto and some green veg (I've got broccoli & asparagus hanging around).

Have a great weekend!!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Treats!...and their cost...

No, not like that, although it does look quite delish.

I just checked my bank account and had a bit of a shock as I'm down to £2.20 from almost £100 at the weekend. Where's it gone?!

£61.77 for groceries (free delivery!). I got almost £100 of food for that price: I had a £20 off coupon for a first-time purchase discount, plus I saved £15.21 by getting specials or deals on some of the items. I'm okay with that!

Winchester on Saturday. £8.40 for return train fare, £7.20 for lunch. The rest of my spends were in cash (which I've made note of).

Today? I bought two Groupon experiences: the first one is a cupcake decorating class! I'll have to arrange for a weekend for that, probably some time after my mum goes home in April. Very fun at £14 for 2 hours.

The second one is a half-day falconry experience! I love raptors and this gives you an opportunity to actually work with them for a few hours: hawks, owls, etc. Fab! I got a £10 coupon from Groupon so I bought this for £16 instead of £26. I have to use this up by April 11, so will have to take some time during my holidays in Mar/April to do this because it's only available Mon-Fri.

But the lack of funds (apart from some £32 I have at home) means I'll have a very tiny shop on the weekend and won't be able to go to Chichester to meet up with a few of the ladies doing this programme with me. I'm annoyed by this, but it's entirely my own fault. I do have some money in savings, but I don't really want to start shuffling it about for non-essentials, particularly, as I say, because I wasn't paying attention. I get paid next Monday, but that's too late for the meet-up, sadly.

It's because I'm bored at work today. Have also searched for bread making courses and cooking classes among other things.

But at least I haven't had (much) sugar! Had some nut butter on rice cakes for a snack. 5.6g/100 of sugar, but as that's this WEEK, and as I've said before, I'm not particularly concerned. :)