My week in Norway.

As I finished for the summer at one of my jobs early this year, I took the chance to travel home for a week to see my family.

I wanted to get the chance to see them now, as I am unsure I will be able to see them for some time with Husband needing me to support him through the changes in his medication.

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Sister’s farm. They are dairy farmers. Home, sweet home.

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Three of the heifers on the farm. Southern Norway has much like a lot of Europe not had any rain for weeks now and farmers are pulling their hair out as they desperately need rain for their animal feed to grow. Sister and brother in-law are currently at a third of the food they need for the winter and have had to cut all the grain they planted to use for animal food. If they don’t have a significant amount of rain this or next week, they will have to start sending animals to the abattoir as they can’t have livestock and not be able to feed them.

One tip I would like to share: If you’re on summer vacation in Vestfold County, the bus company there sells the Vestfold Card. You can buy it onboard or at their bus offices and gives you limitless travel for one week within Vestfold County for 110 NOK. Travelling one way to see my mother cost 60 NOK alone so it’s a great way to get around and save money.

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My Vestfold Card – great value for money ^_^

Spending time with family and friends was lovely – I got to see two ladies I hadn’t seen since leaving high school and spent two mornings with my best friend.
I also ate and drunk far too much, so it’s back in the saddle with sensible eating now that I am home.
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A very Norwegian thing to do in the summer and something I miss over here: Eating prawns. You defrost them (if frozen),and sit and peel enough to put on a slice of bread you have buttered. Add some mayo and dill (and lemon juice if you like), just heavenly.

There has been a lot of talk in the UK about reintroducing the bottle deposit for plastic bottles to ensure they get recycled. I think this a great idea – it’s something we do in Norway and it means 97 per cent of plastic and metal drinks containers get recycled.

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The large majority of bottles and cans produced in Norway will have the Pant icon on it and the value which means it can be returned and you get the deposit back. For smaller bottles and cans it’s 1 NOK you get back, for larger ones it is 2.50 NOK for each.
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Return them at the deposit machine, found in the very large majority of grocery stores. Just put them in the hole and press the green button when done to get your voucher.
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Take your voucher to the checkout and they will pay out the amount on the receipt.
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Result! So 13 bottles got me 13 NOK, about £1.

Hopefully it won’t be too long before we have a chance to visit again.

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Good riddance, January.

Thank goodness we’ve gotten past January – it seemed to just go on forever.

This last month has been really hard for both of us. It’s just so dark and miserable all the time, coupled with being in limbo, it really doesn’t help. Husband has stuck to his counselling which I am pleased about. We do have an employee support hotline you can ring for free through work so might do that on Tuesday. I am genuinely not quite sure how they can help though, but have promised Husband I will do it.

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The Cat, accurately describing how this month has been.

Good things about January were:

  • We managed to stay under on the grocery budget again which is great. We are continuing to eat the food my sister’s family sent with us when we left at Christmas which is helping a lot. Foodprint and getting reduced bargains have also helped us keep costs down.
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    Managed to get two packs of wraps at 24p each and a cauliflower at 24p from the Sainsbury’s Local in town. Score!

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    Food from Foodprint last week. This cost us £5.95 and it weighed 10 kilos – that’s 10 kilos of food that has not gone in the bin!
  • Husband has stuck with the counselling and says he is feeling better in himself. I am so pleased he was brave enough to go.
  • Husband’s mother went to get some advice about our PIP tribunal at her church as they do a free advice service there and the adviser will see Husband and her next week and go through our application with them. They have also agreed to represent us at the tribunal which will help as they have experience dealing with tribunals.
  • We’ve made some sales on eBay and I got two focus group/food tasting gigs last week, so that £50 in the Travel Fund and £30 in Tesco vouchers I have squirreled away. I also got a train fare refunded due to delay and went and cashed that cheque on Friday.
  • Our mortgage was up for renewal. We wanted to go with Halifax as they give you £500 cashback when you switch your mortgage to them. Buuuut they would only agree to lend us half the sum we needed, so we decided to stay with NatWest. When we got our mortgage the interest rate was 3.19, fixed until March 2018. Our new rate is 2.79, fixed until April 2020. Oh and no product fee either, score!

At the same time, January hasn’t been great either.

  • Had a weird thick envelope from the DWP with all the paperwork they have on Husband and his assessment. Surprised and cross in equal measure that I wasn’t mentioned in their report at all even though I do the most of the support stuff. And that they felt that an indication of Husband’s ability is that he has a pet cat. Note the he. I  was again not mentioned at all.
  • While helping Husband look for work I discovered that his workplace (who told us they didn’t have any hours for him in the summer, because there was no money due to parents not paying their fees) were hiring for two positions. I emailed the UNISON rep and waited over two weeks for a response. I then decided to email the other address we have for the rep and got a response – ‘oh year that email address closed in December’. Really? You have been emailing us regularly from this address, why didn’t you set up a forward on it, or at the very least got messages to bounce back so we’d know they weren’t being read? Anyway what the union has said is that this is the end of the line now. We have exhausted the internal grievance process the employer has, and the UNISON solicitors say we are out of time to take the employer to court.
  • My mother’s health is continuing to decline. My sister has said we need to meet up as a family when I go back in February to discuss what we do now. It may be that we need to take power of attorney now to ensure she gets the care she needs.
  • At my one job we have had an email to say that because they have not enrolled as many students as they had forecast, they are accepting applications from anyone in any department to either reduce their hours or take voluntary redundancy to save money. At my other job HR has informed me I have been overpaid ever since I started my job there and so I now have to choose between staying at my current annual wage but work to make up for it, or work my current hours and lose £336 a year. I contacted my UNISON rep to ask if they had any advice for me but they have not replied and it has been over two weeks. What is even the point of paying our union dues if you aren’t going to respond?
  • Had to refund two eBay purchases as the buyers have stated the items never arrived. 😡

All of this stuff has caused my mood to really dive this month.
I know it takes a while but we started the PIP process in May last year and we are still waiting. I am also very indignant at how, frankly, they lie about Husband and what support he needs. One thing I have done though is read several pages of this web forum done by the UK government on PIP and ESA assessments. Just pages and pages and pages of people who are going to tribunal or who have been incorrectly assessed/had their statements ignored. It is reassuring to know that it’s not us. That it is in fact the DWP who do this to seemingly anyone who dares try to claim PIP. I was also interested to read that Capita, the firm who did Husband’s assessment and processed his PIP claim, have issued a profit warning this week.
We got the union involved with Husband’s workplace in February and after a year of chasing them for this behaviour it just fizzles out. They’ll get away with discriminating against him and bullying him at work.

It makes me wonder why anything is worth it. What’s the point of filling in forms, documenting, giving examples, writing things properly and spending time editing it so it makes sense, and sticking to deadlines, and challenging things, if the answer is just going to be no?

What’s the point in doing anything, ever?

I have got to try and stay positive for Husband’s sake as I can tell that he gets upset when I feel this way and show it. Trying to keep it together and to be calm but it is becoming harder and harder to do every day.

This is the loneliest I have felt in a long time.

 

Our frugal quest continues: How did we do this Christmas?

I worked hard on stashing away vouchers, loyalty points and Paypal payments in 2017, as it is the chief way for us to put away something for Christmas. Last year we did well but I was endeavouring to get even more presents paid for with points etc. this year. I have been keeping a log of things and this is what how we did this year:

  • Husband. We did not buy ourselves anything this year, as we feel we have enough ‘stuff’. What we will do is go out for dinner and treat ourselves sometime. Experiences, rather than things, are definitely the way forward.
  • Mother: Part share in a set of advent candle sticks set she wanted, £25, paid in cash.
  • Father: Another Game of Thrones book plus postage, £10, paid in cash.
  • Sister: Two books she wanted, £7.79 and £4.93, paid for with Amazon gift card.
  • Nephew: Robot Wars book, £7.43, paid for with Amazon gift card.
  • Best friend: Catering sized bag of PG Tips Tea with 1150 tea bags in it, £18.98, paid for by Amazon gift card.
  • Father in-law: Wireless weather station, £17.89, paid for with Amazon gift card.
  • Niece: Now 98 CD, £12.60, paid for with Amazon gift card, So…? body spray, £1.99, paid in cash.
  • Friend: Tea pot and cup set, £15.94, paid for with Amazon gift card.
  • Friend’s fiance: Irn-Bru cufflinks, £7.95, paid for with Amazon gift card, Irn-Bru sweets, £4.99, paid for with Paypal.
  • Brother in-law: Four cans of Lacerated Sky beer, £24, paid for in cash.
  • Nephew: Deadpool Munchkin set and Munchkin expansion pack, £13.25 and £15.50, paid for with Amazon gift card.
  • Nephew: Cowboy Bebop season 1, £22.99, paid for with Amazon gift card.
  • Nephew (yes, we have a lot of those!): Pathfinder core rulebook, £22.99, paid for with Amazon gift card.
  • Neighbour who cat sits for us: Hotel Chocolat Dark Selection box, £12.50. £10 paid with Compliments voucher, £2.50 in cash.
  • Sister in-laws boyfriend: Harvester voucher for 2 through Groupon, £20, paid for in cash.
  • Friend, £5 note, paid in cash.

Looking at the list we had fewer people to buy for this year as we did Secret Santa with Husband’s family. Everyone drew two names and those were the people we bought for – that way everyone got a present, but you did not have to buy for everyone. So that helped a lot with the Christmas budget. I am very pleased I managed to get the great majority of our presents using our vouchers and will continue to earn these in 2018!

I also tidied away Christmas yesterday and made the greeting cards I could into gift tags for next year before recycling the rest.

The survey earns and everything I do to squirrel away is a chapter in itself, something I will write about later this year. I keep a tally of everything I get, and it does add up over the whole year.

To finish, here is my Catch of the Day. I went by a Tesco Express yesterday after work as I know they reduce stuff there after 7pm, and got these lovely babies:

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My reduced babies! 4 packs of black pudding (Husband LOVES this but we can’t afford it often so this is a treat for him) 31p each, a head of lettuce, 16p, dip, 39p, two packs of puff pastry, 49p, a pack of potatoes, 41p, three packs of baby mushrooms, 33p each and a load of bread, 33p. Score!

 

Catch of the Day: Food from Foodprint.

While I was doing my Living Below the Line challenge for charity, I saw on Facebook that a shop I’d been eagerly waiting for, was now open for business.

Foodprint is part of the Enactus society at University of Nottingham. In a bid to reduce food waste, they have opened their social supermarket where they sell food that would otherwise have been binned due to it being short dated or out of date, at very reduced rates. All income is then ploughed into the business to keep it open and to fund projects in the community.

When doing my challenge, Foodprint were heaven sent and provided a lot of food for very little money on day 10 of my challenge. Those naan breads I managed to buy just added some desperately needed flavor and variety to my diet.
And if the shop hadn’t snapped the food up it could very well have gone in the bin. I got two lovely bags of sweet, juicy pears for example, 7 in each bag, for 10p each at Foodprint. Looking at the label it said these were from Portugal. So a farmer had grown these pears in Portugal and they had been shipped to England – and all that labor and resources would have just gone in the bin if Foodprint hasn’t rescued them.

I decided then that I would make an effort when I had time to visit again.

This was my catch today. The gent staffing the shop bless him apologized for the lack of fruit and veg but explained it is hard to collect and distribute during Christmas.

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Lovely food, all rescued from the bin. Two cartons of diet cranberry drink, 30p each, two tins of tuna, 50p and 70p each (where were you when I was doing my challenge?), two jars of salsa, 10p each, two tins of baked beans, 20p each. six bags of sun-dried tomatoes, 5p each (!), two loads of onions, 20p each.

I couldn’t believe the bags of sun-dried tomatoes! I can see a lot of pasta dishes with these stirred in, in our future. I can also see myself having jacket potatoes with natural yogurt and salsa for dinner. I was so chuffed with this and it only cost us £3.10 so a great help to the food budget.

Foodprint is on the other side of town so getting there is a bit of a trek, but I will endeavor to go again when we need to shop again. It’s a bit of a treasure hunt really, you don’t know what you’ll find there, and you just have to work around what you can buy there.

I’m so pleased this is a thing – great for the environment and great for people who can shop there.

 

Living Below the Line 2017 – Day 13, Day 14 and closing thoughts.

Wednesday, Day 13 of my challenge.

The finish line is getting closer. I’m finding that the closer I get to the finish line, the more tempting food seems to be.

Christmas food adverts especially just speak to me now, and the food they advertise suddenly seem that much more tempting and delectable.

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Breakfast: Two poached eggs, two pieces of toast, half a tin of beans, 27.5p.
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Lunch: Two pears, a free banana, 1/5 of the vegetable soup and a naan bread, 23p.
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Dinner: Jacket potato, half a blob of mozzarelly, a third of my cucumber, 18p.
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Snack to keep me going: Two pieces of toast and lemon curd, 8p.

I had my last potato and the last of the mozzarella today for my dinner. We were going to Husband’s appeal meeting for his workplace and I wanted to be as full and switched on as possible.

It is still very cold and to not have any hot drinks in the morning when I get up and when I am sitting doing my self-employed work at night is really tough. When I was doing my self-employed work on Wednesday I had to give up and go to bed at 11pm as I was struggling to stay awake.

Thursday the 14th, final day of my challenge!

One of the students brought me and my colleague these that she had made:

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I had two of these. They were like scones, with shredded coconut as the beard and icing for the face details.

Not quite sure way but Thursday afternoon was quite hard for me. I felt full so that was ok, but towards the end of my shift I started feeling weak and dizzy, just felt very ‘off’. Struggled through the afternoon sitting mostly very quietly at my desk with my eyes closed and walked very slowly to the bus.

Husband and I went to see the new Star Wars film today so needed to have something quick before we went to the cinema.

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Breakfast: Two poached eggs, half a tin of beans, two pieces of toast, 31p.
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Lunch. Gettin’ REAL tired of vegetable soup, but don’t want to throw it out. Must ruddy well finish it. 22p.
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Snack before cinema: Two pieces of toast with lemon curd, 7p
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A snack to take to the cinema so I didn’t feel so deprived while being there. Three pears, 4p. So naturally the guy sitting next us had a jumbo drink and the mother of all popcorn bags with him. ARRRRRRGH.

I still had money leftover on Thursday when my challenge ended. I had £3.57 left, which I will also donate to the Trussell Trust.

Bang on at midnight, we went and fetched this Christmas miracle from the pizza place around the corner:

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12″ pizza, thin base with mozzarella, tandoori chicken, prawns and garlic, £7.

I realized as we ordered it that this pizza cost me £7. This one meal alone would have covered a week’s worth of food for me when I was on my challenge.

Husband had also gone out bless him and bought me chocolates. I had one, just savoring the taste of it.

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Ferrero Rocher. Just heavenly.

This challenge has given me a lot of food for thought, and it has also made others think about food and living in poverty.

In the 14 days I have been doing this challenge, I have lost four and a half kilograms, that’s over half a stone in 14 days. While I have been trying to keep my weight down anyway, I can imagine that if I had to live like this rather than having it as a challenge, I would eventually become malnourished. It’s called the Living Below the Line challenge, but on a budget like this, I think you would just be existing. I can’t even begin to imagine what a challenge it would be to raise children on this kind of budget.

The best day of my challenge was on the second Monday, day 11 – the day I felt the fullest. I had a dinner which made me feel satisfied and full and gave me energy to do my chores around the house. It’s amazing how just some wholesome food, and the right kind of food, can make all the difference to your energy levels and your mood.

I tried to get protein, carbohydrates and fiber in me, but if I had to do this long term I would have had to have had a very long hard think about how to get some more fats and calcium in me. I did have my natural yogurt which was lovely, and my mozzarella piece, but I do feel I should have had more, especially calcium as I’m female and need it to support my bone density. The sardines in oil were delicious and really added to my diet, so I can imagine I would have eaten more tinned food and more fish to get some different kinds of protein in me.

I also had to ensure that I ate properly for the two Mondays in my challenge and for my meeting with Husband’s employer – it does highlight how access to food affects your emotional resilience and mood, and that you need good food and enough food to be able to cope with stuff in your life.

The worst day was probably the first day and a half of the challenge. On the evening of Day 1 I fell asleep while watching videos with Husband as I was just so exhausted. On the morning of day 2 I felt really sluggish and had to walk to my bus for work as I did not have the strength to run. The last day of my challenge towards the end of the afternoon at work I felt dizzy and weak, so that wasn’t great either.

It has taught me that on a limited budget like mine, you can’t just go to the shop and buy everything you need. You have to really be eagle-eyed and keep your eyes out for where food is cheap and be aware of where you just can’t go as it’s out of your price range. I ended up buying some food from Sainsbury’s, some food from Tesco, some food from Aldi, some food from Lidl and some food from Foodprint. I also got some food at Sharing Sherwood.

I also learnt that on this challenge, your freedom to choose what you eat is greatly reduced. And you can’t have whatever you want, whenever you want. Or as much as you want. Everything you eat has to be planned and weighed carefully so you stay within your means. So I stood there with my calculator every time I wanted to eat something or had to prepare something, working out how much my food was in pence for each meal. If I wanted a snack after dinner just to keep me going, I would then have to tally up how much I had eaten for that day, to then work out if having a snack was within my budget.

People have been asking me if I intend to do this again, to which Husband very firmly said ‘No!’ so we will see about that.

I will keep the campaign open until I have paid in the money I have been given as cash on Friday the 22nd of December, as some of my colleagues have said they will sponsor me in cash when we all meet up for a training day next week. If you want to sponsor me you can do so here. All proceeds, plus my leftover money from the challenge and what I would have spent on food for myself normally these two weeks will be donated to the Trussell Trust.

You can read about how I prepared for my Living Below the Line challenge here, and about days 1 to 3 here, days 4 to 6 here, days 7 to 9 here and days 10 to 12 here.

 

Catch of the Day: Delicious reduced food.

Went by the Co-Op yesterday as I had a parcel to collect and found these little babies.

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Got all of this for £1.46! I love the reduced section! Some we had with our soup for dinner and some has gone in the freezer. Bottom Left: The Cat inspects the Catch of the day.
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The Cat enjoyed the Sun yesterday ❤

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The unknown of trying new things. And the delight of finding you can manage.

Husband did something that’s not quite like him this week, and managed it as well.

He made dinner for me! And, he made something that he hadn’t made before, and he managed to do it.

For the uninitiated: Some people who have Asperger’s Syndrome struggle with things that are new and different, and encountering these things make them anxious. Some may also need very clear instructions and support with doing tasks.

For Husband, saying ‘just cook it until it’s golden all over’ for example is not helpful as he won’t understand what that would mean. How long is that for? And what shade of golden? Instead, you say ‘preheat the oven for 5 minutes. After the oven has preheated for 5 minutes, put the food in at 180 degrees for 45 minutes. Set a timer on your phone for it.’

Husband does cook but it has to be things he knows and has made before. Even then he will ask me to come and check the food and check it’s going ok.

I asked Husband if he could cook dinner on Wednesday as it is normally the hardest day at work for me, as it is so busy. He said he would and then said he would cook something new, try something different. I said that was ok and to think about what to buy and to check the cupboards as well, and I said if it didn’t work that we could have a takeout, that that would also be fine.

He said he would try making what he had in mind, and asked me to buy some crusty bread on my way home.

Well! I came home from work and we had this!

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Husband made dinner! Potato, carrot and onion soup with mixed herbs, garlic and bacon.

He was so pleased with himself that me managed to do the recipe first time around with no support. It was delicious and he has said he will make it again for us. He explained to me in great detail how he’d researched recipes, gone up to the Co-Op to buy the ingredients and then peeled and chopped everything.

It might seem odd for some to celebrate it. But I am so proud of him for giving it a go and I can tell he was pleased with it, and that it’s given his confidence a boost. It is a big deal for him and I will continue to encourage him to try new things in future.