Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Going gluten free

To see how this journey started, read my previous post on going gluten free here.

Yesterday we went gluten free!

Yes we have finally reached the moment. Mr PTC has been religiously eating lots of gluten every day for 4 weeks, and I have to say, he was not very happy about it. He had to include a larger proportion of wheat in his diet than he is used to in the run-up to being tested for Coeliac disease. Before all this we frequently had days where we didn't eat any wheat or gluten and I think this may be why he was not showing even more extreme symptoms before. To eat the equivalent of two slices of bread a day for the last four weeks was quite hard for him. He got sick. By Sunday evening he was exhausted and had had three weeks of constant stomach cramps. Poor guy!

So yesterday morning (Monday) he had is blood test at 8.45am and he didn't even have wheat for breakfast. It has now been nearly 48 hours since his last wheat containing meal, and so far not a lot has changed. However, this is what happened during our dietary test at the beginning of the year that made us think we needed to cut wheat/gluten out of his diet. I think it takes him a long time to get stuff out of his system (doctors are always astonished that it takes him 4 hours to react to eating dairy, because apparently it should only take 1 hour). So we will wait and see.

However, there has been one surprising development in this four weeks of eating wheat for me. Mr PTC was away last week on business, and while he was away I went super-healthy, eating lots of fruit, veg, fish and meat, but not a lot else. Basically carbs went to zero. I find this easier without Mr PTC around because he loves starch! Mr PTC arrived back home on Friday and to ensure he got his gluten quota over the weekend we treated ourselves to a few things he thinks he will miss (though I'm sure I can figure out a gluten-free recipe given time). So we had pancakes, yorkshire puddings and scones. All fresh, all delicious, and all full of starch, wheat and gluten. This was more wheat than I normally eat by a loooong way, and infinitely more than I had eaten for previous last 7 days.

Yesterday I felt terrible.

Really terrible. I had stomach cramps all day, and not the type I am used to. I don't know if it was the change in diet, wheat or just bad timing. However, because of it I am also strictly following the gluten free diet for the first month, even though before yesterday I was wavering (I'm sorry, but I love bread, biscuits, pastries and all those terrible bad wheaty delicacies). However, I would prefer to know if I am causing myself damage and change my diet.

So we are both gluten-free, for now at least. After a month, I will allow myself a treat. If I get sick, I will go to the GP too and ask to be diagnosed. That will mean a month of eating gluten followed by a blood test, but I would prefer to know, have it on my doctors notes now, rather than collapse in 20 years time.

We now wait. Mr PTC for his blood test results, me for my body to sort itself out before trying gluten again, and us for the house move in two weeks time. Whatever happens we will remain gluten/wheat free. The contrast in Mr PTC's health was so extreme after being wheat and gluten free for three weeks that I can't see us going back to it permanently. I'm also fairly convinced that too much wheat will exacerbate any hereditary pre-disposition to gluten-intolerance that I may have from my mother, so even if I'm 'fine' I will remain gluten-free most of the time and have the odd treat when out and about. I would prefer to be able to keep on eating wheat every now and then than keep eating it all the time and end up developing Coeliac disease in 10 years.

So watch this space for gluten free recipes winging there way through the internet to you! Oh and did I mention we are moving house in two weeks, and I'll own my first ever home in 9 days? I did? Oh. Well, I'm still excited!

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Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Moving house guide: 1 month to go

So it is one month until moving day. I am definitely behind on my packing schedule, but in all honesty, it isn't the end of the world yet, because I am ahead in other areas.

Things to do with one month to go are:

1. Design, print and address moving house notification cards for family and friends. 
This is simple and easy and it is a great task to get done now. I've even left you a template for three different versions:

Modify, print and address those envelopes now. All three are designed on an A4 template, so you get four per page for the A6 versions and three per page for the DL versions.

Don't post them yet, but keep them in reserve. That is one chore ticked off the list, ready for the post box a week or so before your moving day!

2. Start notifying authorities/companies about the house move.
Remember that mail-tracking sheet that we've all been filling in for the last few weeks, now is the time to start tackling it. You may not want to notify all companies right now, but certain things such as utility companies need a while to get everything sorted. You will also appreciate having as much done as possible well before moving day. The last few weeks are always busy busy, so get stuff done now. In particular contact the following:

  • Gas/electricity companies. They won't be able to take over the supply at your new address until you move in, but letting them know in advance that you are moving means that they are ready for your final meter reading at your old address, and that they will be ready to take over the account at the new address the moment you get those keys.
  • Phone/broadband/TV. Telephone and broadband can usually be organised to be taken over on the day you get keys. The only issue (in the UK), is if the line has been disconnected, in which case an engineer needs to be called out. Unfortunately, unless you have cable and therefore can get your telephone line through a company such as Virgin Media, you will be relying on a BT engineer. Don't worry, your phone company will organise this for you, but BT charge a fee, which some companies pass on to you. Ask your company for details.
  • Council/Local authority. Now is the time to tell your council you are moving. Even if you are staying within the same authority, there will be a change to your status, so get them  notified now. Council's are notorious for taking ages to sort these things out, but be careful about cancelling direct debits without the councils agreement because otherwise they may charge you a fee. If you are moving outside your current council, hold off notifying the new council until you move in as nothing can be done until that point anyway.

Unfortunately most of these companies still rely on telephone conversations to get this sorted, which is a real pain, because who has time to be on hold for 30 minutes over a precious lunch break? Most councils now provide an email address thankfully, though it is all a bit hit and miss whether they get read.

3. Organise your mail re-direction.
This can be done anywhere up to 6 weeks before moving, but should be done at least a week before. In the UK the Royal Mail offers a service to redirect mail, charged per surname, for anywhere from 1 month to 12 months.

4. Organise home/contents insurance for your new property.
You may choose to stick with your current provider, but don't assume this is the cheapest option. Check out price comparison sites to figure out what is a sensible price, and don't forget to include plenty of contents cover as most people underestimate how much their belongings are worth. Once you are armed with information, call your current provider and find out what they will do for your new property. The benefit of staying with your current provider is that everything is seamless, the transfer will be painless, and they should waive the cancellation fee on your current policy (yes you will be taking out a NEW policy). However, remember that they might not be the cheapest. When they provide the quote, if you are not happy tell them the price you could get it for and see what they will do. If not, while on the phone cancel the old policy for the day you move out, then organise a new policy from a price comparison site.
Some useful comparison sites:

5. Buy birthday cards and presents and any other gifts/greetings needed in the next 6 weeks. 
You will be far far too busy to do this around moving day, so get it done now. Write, wrap, address and stamp and put in your moving box (see below), with a note in the calendar of when to send the item. If you are ordering online for delivery to the recipient, bookmark the item you intend to order and write yourself a note in your calendar. Doing the legwork now will make everything a lot smoother later.

6. Contact your solicitor/estate agent/letting agent on progress.
OK, so you are probably on top of this, because this is the exciting bit - the people that actually make sure you get that lovely new house! But make sure you have arranged a date/time that suits you for signing documents, rather than leaving it until a week before and the agent choosing the time because of their limited appointments. Also figure out where you will collect keys from and organise a time for this.

7. Create a moving day box.
This box will stay with you at all times during the move. Right now it should contain your moving-house folder, a calendar with key dates in it (such as when to post those cards you've organised) and any important documents for the new house such as the contact information for your solicitor/agent in case their are problems on the day, your lease (if you have one), the inventory of your old property for comparing at move-out (if you have one). In the run-up to the move you will add other items, such as the kettle and food for moving day, ID (don't trust that to a removal company!) and similar items.

This list should keep you (and me) busy for the next week, but continue filling in your mail redirection check list and eating all your food up!

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Saturday, 2 March 2013

Why I need a financial safety net, and why you should have one too

Wow. Well the beginning of 2013 has been a rollercoaster and a half. Life has, in general been good. I am happy, excited about moving house, and despite being properly ill for the first time in years for half of January, feel like things have been quite good here.

But. Oh you knew there was a but didn't you? 2013 has been expensive. Mr PTC and I both kept on saying that our good luck just could not continue (I don't really believe in such things, but well, we seemed to be riding high at the end of 2012). We were aiming to be frugal and cheap and mean for the first three months of 2013 to make sure we were in the best financial shape possible at the beginning of our new life as home-owners. Most of our savings are going straight into the house as a deposit, so we wanted to make sure we had a financial security belt, and the bigger the better.

Then 2013 came along. I broke my glasses and ended up buying two new really quite expensive pairs (its an investment). I needed some new work clothes, Mr PTC needed new shoes. Small items, but they add up. I also broke my laptop - thankfully it is my work laptop and therefore that was paid by work. I need a new phone - did I mention the camera stopped working (again this is on hold). Then when I didn't think I could break anything else (I'm now officially a bad penny round here), the car went in for a service. 

Oh yes. The car…. its always cars that break the bank isn't it?

Today was our dear little car's third birthday, which means by UK law it needs it first MOT. It also happens to be the end of the warranty period and because of that we decided to take it to a Volvo dealer to make sure that anything that could be done under warranty is done under warranty. Dealers are never the cheap option, but sometimes a short-term sacrifice is worth a big gain. Well the service came back as a fairly expensive one. Totally justifiable £480 - ouch! We thought we did well out of it thought because sure enough the crank shaft (what the?) and something else had oil leaks. 

So back to the garage the car went, under warranty to fix oil leaks. It was awkward (we only have one car and live in the middle of nowhere so can't go anywhere without a car), but we survived. Until that is the garage f'd-up (excuse my language, but really they did!). I won't tell you details because we are still fighting for money  back, but amongst other things they broke the windscreen (they at least are paying for that), but we ended up paying another £1300 on top of the service.

I should point out we were sort of held to ransom. If we didn't cough up the car would remain in pieces and we needed our car back. Yes, we probably shouldn't have paid, but what can you do when you need your car urgently?

We bought the car last summer, and were so excited, despite the cost, to buy a car that should last us 8 years or so. We are therefore in this for the long-haul. We love having an estate, and in general it drives perfectly. It is an eco-car which isn't just good for the environment (and makes me feel less guilty about being car-dependent), but good for our wallets too. To then be faced with nearly £2000 in service bills only 8 months later is far from what we expected. We also had to pay for our AA renewal and car insurance this month - so in total the car cost us a whole lot of money this month.

To say I'm annoyed is an under-statement. But now I come to the reason I wrote this post. Understandably (at least I hope) I was (maybe am still a little) angry about this situation. However, what is done is done. We are able to cope though because we keep a financial security belt. We never have 'zero money'. The amount we decided to put down as a deposit for our house was our savings minus our security belt. A while back we decided we should keep 3 months worth of income in a savings account for bad situations. In general we save each month, so if the worst came to the worst and we both were out of work we would be able to live for 4 months, possibly 6 at a stretch off our savings. We would ideally have 6 months worth of income, but because we wanted to get into the 75% LTV bracket for our mortgage we won't have that come March 28th.

Many people do not understand why our 'zero-point' when we say 'we are broke and can't go on holiday' still allows us money in the bank. We work hard to get to that safety net - it isn't always easy to get to that level of saving, and I can see why many people feel that they can't do it. But by putting away a little each month, we can deal with these bad times where everything goes wrong without feeling like we will loose something very important to us or fall behind on our rent/mortgage payments. Even as a student with no income I set aside money for emergencies. It wasn't much, but whenever I had some money come in, be it from parents, a loan or whatever, a small percentage was set aside. Now we set aside a larger percentage because our expenses are larger. We never touch this money, except in bad months like February this year. Now we will focus on putting that safety net back to where it was asap to give us financial security once again.

If I have one piece of advice out of this whole affair, it isn't about garages, or being careful, or not spending more than you think you should on an item like new glasses, it is to put a safety net in place. I spent money on new glasses, thinking it was an investment, and at the time we did it, we were financially doing quite well. If I knew we were going to have to spend so much on the car, I would have been more restrained on the glasses. However, you don't know what might happen tomorrow. So put a financial safety net in place.

If you feel that you have nothing left in your budget to put way, start small, heck, start tiny. Take the tiniest bit of money and put it in a savings pot. Do that each month, and soon you'll forget you had that money to spend in the first place. It may be tough if you had to sacrifice something else to do that, but I can promise you, in the event of needing emergency cash you will be grateful. I realise this approach will not work for everything. I have friends who just don't understand our approach to finances and spend every penny each month and are happy. They deal with financial emergencies by using credit cards and loans. I just can't do that. I was brought up to spend only what I have, not on credit. I don't even like taking out interest free credit, knowing that if I leave the money in the bank earning interest I will be better off. It just seems wrong to me to take out a loan (I say this but I am taking out a mortgage!). 

N.B. I am not a financial adviser, so if in doubt, talk to a professional when making big financial decisions. This is just my approach to money and my attempt at a frugal lifestyle.

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Friday, 1 March 2013

Clutter and wellbeing: owning up to the situation

I had a bit of an ah-ha moment last night, on something that for some reason makes me a bit ashamed. I realised that I feel better, like really, properly healthier better, when I am not surrounded by clutter.

Let me explain... This week has been one crazy week so far. Thankfully Friday is calmer. However, Thursday being month-end meant big deadlines at work for both Mr PTC and I. We've been doing loooong hours, on top of trying to pack up the house, have lengthy phone conversations with family who are ill (nothing serious, but enough that we wanted to catch up and let we know we were thinking of them). Fine. We can take this in our stride, especially because we have each other to lean on.

On Wednesday our one non-running-about-crazy item was to watch 'Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners'. Now we don't watch much TV, indeed I'm not quite sure why we watched this, but really it was quite fascinating. Mr PTC and I both saw some of the two extremes in ourselves. Certain things bring out a tiny bit of OCD in us, and other things we can stop looking at and allow the hoarding to take over.  I particularly liked the phrase of one lady who realised that her hoarding made her 'anxious', and yet she didn't do anything about it, except put a blanket over things. I watched the programme with a growing fascination on the interaction between the two extremes, but the lesson two days later is actually about clutter in my life.

Anyway, moving on from my obsession with watching different people interact (maybe I should have been a psychologist after all!), yesterday was crunch point. I had a phone call from my landlord asking to bring round someone to view the house this morning. I knew we had deadlines at work and I knew the house was in a state, but oh heck, we'll manage, so I said 'that's fine'. 9pm comes round and we are still at work, rapidly running out of steam. We finally got home at 10pm with chicken and chips (not the healthiest option, but there are only a few options that late at night) and we had to clean the house. Oh no.

Well we did clean. Not amazingly - how glad am I that I did a deep clean of the kitchen last weekend! It was more of a pick-up that went on for an hour. When we finally got into bed I mentioned to Mr PTC that although I was exhausted I actually felt really great. This wasn't just because we had both met our deadlines at work, because I felt better when we finished cleaning. I felt better because we had put everything away and the house smelt and looked clean.  Mr PTC quickly piped up 'well that's quite an admission'. I was initially upset. I know I am not a natural neat freak, but neither is he! The difference in our behaviour is that Mr PTC notices mess more, but ignores it - I don't notice it. However, I must be noticing it on some subconscious level because I felt so much better, despite the exhaustion after cleaning at midnight!

So there we are. I feel substantially better in a clean and un-cluttered house. Even to the point that when I am exhausted it is still worth doing a quick pick-up to improve my wellbeing. Mr PTC, despite being an openly lazy person (aww but I love him that way!), feels the same way. So we have promised ourselves to try to de-clutter and put-away more.

How does this fit in with Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners? Maybe the OCD cleaners have a point - you get ill and anxious if you live in a messy cluttered environment. Not to mention it makes cleaning a lot harder. I think being OCD just means it is more extreme, but like most 'disorders', it is a sliding spectrum and most people sit in the middle somewhere (that is a personal theory on many mental health issues - not a clinically understood theory you should note!).

Some funny cartoons on clangnuts.com

So the PTC household has agreed to 'attempting' to more regular de-clutters, put-aways and pick-ups. We are aware that with less than 5 weeks until move day life is likely to get more cluttered as we pack up, but in the new house we are hoping to start some new routines and pick ups are going to be one of them. We will finally start giving everything a proper home so we know where things should go, and if I get my way less stuff will be out and on surfaces to make cleaning easier. Maybe we will be making a move towards minimalism - hah I don't think so, we have way to much 'stuff' we can't part with.

Righto, random Friday musings are now over. Normal service can resume.

Happy weekend to you all!

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Monday, 25 February 2013

Targets for the weekend - update

So how did my weekend go? A little crazy! Nothing new there.

On Friday I shared with you my targets for the weekend. Well, as always, lots of things came up, and I did less than I planned. Here is how my list looks now.

1. Pack away pet stuff, including disinfecting first where appropriate. Started, but not yet completed. Everything is now clean and ready to be packed away, but the packing has not yet been finished.

2. Pack all non-essential books (we have lots of them!). Completed!

3. Pack overflow kitchen cupboard (this mainly contains bakeware for special occasions and should not be needed before the move). Started, but not yet completed. There is more in there than I thought!

4. Find out if we are keeping/leaving the dishwasher (we need to negotiate with our landlords!). Pathetic excuse, but I never went to see my landlord!

5. Check all plants that are being moved. Done!

6. Clean car (inside and out!). Ah, now this is one of the reasons my weekend didn't go to plan - the car is being taken apart by the garage and we haven't seen it since Wednesday last week. So no progress here!

7. Clean windows (inside and out). No progress here either!

So that looks pretty pathetic right? I will however let you know what else I achieved (apparently I'm good at doing stuff, just not what I really need to do!):

8.   Check heating oil level.
9.   Clear leaves from garden.
10. Quick tidy up of garden.
11. Sort out recycling (this was a big job!).
12. Take meter readings.

OK, so that still looks pathetic. Oh well, lots to do this week then!

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Saturday, 23 February 2013

Farewell my Brambly Apple

I mentioned on Friday that our lives had been a bit crazy recently. Well one bit of news, which I have decided I should share with you dear readers, is the loss of my wonderful little Bramble. Readers first met Bramble last September when I introduced the 'cat kit'. Unfortunately last Friday evening (15th) we came home to find out that Bramble had been hit on the road while we were at work, dying instantly.

Wee Bramble, when he was just a few weeks old.

On the Saturday we made the decision to take our other cat, Lavender, to my parents until after we have moved. We also took along our dearest Bramble and buried him in my parents garden. We planted a tree on top of him which provides berries in the winter for the birds (oddly appropriate because we know how Bramble liked to be near the birds). Unfortunately, Lavender did not seem to be coping very well. When we first got home on the Friday and heard the awful news, we took Bramble into our kitchen and put him on the floor. Lavender came over to see what was going on, and then tried to clean him up. When we stopped her she ran off and refused to go into the kitchen again, even after Bramble had been moved. When she saw us burying him on Saturday, she came over and wailed  at us, almost as if she wanted us to stop. She sniffed the box he had been in and wailed some more. I know she understands he is dead now and it is heartbreaking. Thankfully I heard from my parents today that she is now playing with one of their cats, so fingers crossed she will be OK.

My favourite: Lavender finally accepts that Bramble is staying and is prepared to sleep next to him.

This probably sounds like I am overly worrying about Lavender but we have good reason. The worst thing about this whole situation is that one of the reasons for our move and the location we are moving to is the dangers of the road we currently live hear. 12 months ago we lost our other cat, Smudge (Lavender's brother), to the same road. Afterwards she went into a three month period of what I can only describe as mourning. She stopped talking to us (she meows and chirrups and purrs all the time normally), and wailed whenever we left her alone. We finally got a kitten, Bramble, in May last year, and she instantly perked up. It was very clear to us that she needed cat company, even though at times Bramble drove her mad because he was so boisterous. Thankfully it looks like being with my parents cats is helping this time, even though I miss her like crazy.

Our new house will be 3 miles down a single track, very quiet road, so hopefully a lot lot safer. At Christmas we questioned whether to leave Lavender and Bramble at my parents for the rest of the time in our old house, keeping them safe. We were planning that they would go there for the actual move anyway as it reduces their stress. However, we decided it was kinder to keep them with us until mid-March. Now I am regretting this. I keep telling myself we would do that again. They are our cats, not my parents'. But my heart now aches.

So the house is oh so very quiet now. No Bramble and no Lavender. And I will never again be able to call another cat 'Brambly Apple' .

He was so much bigger than this in the end. Nearly double the weight of Lavender (who is a very petite cat when not in the same picture as a kitten). Unfortunately he was four weeks away from his 1st birthday when he died.

One day we will have more cats again... and hopefully not too far in the future. But first, we shall move home and Lavender will come home and I will hold my kitty once again. Better still, Lavender will get her very first cat flap in her own home, rather than only getting one while on holiday with her grandparents.

To our dearest wee Bramble, we will always love you and you will always have a place in our hearts. Lots of love Mum & Dad x

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Friday, 22 February 2013

Targets for the weekend

So what have you got planned for the weekend?

After a few weekends being written off by various events in our lives, the PTC household needs to get its act together this weekend to get back on track with the big upcoming move.

So here is my task (or should that be target?) list for the weekend. I'm not going to kill myself getting everything done (along with the usual weekend rush), but I'm going to see what can be done.

1. Pack away pet stuff, including disinfecting first where appropriate.

2. Pack all non-essential books (we have lots of them!).

3. Pack overflow kitchen cupboard (this mainly contains bakeware for special occasions and should not be needed before the move).

4. Find out if we are keeping/leaving the dishwasher (we need to negotiate with our landlords!).

5. Check all plants that are being moved.

6. Clean car (inside and out!).

7. Clean windows (inside and out).

So that's us for this weekend. Hopefully we will do most of this list, but I am already behind on my usual tasks, having been away unexpectedly last weekend. I have a stack of laundry and ironing to do (oh how I hate that iron) and meal planning and such. Nothing like a challenge to get you raring to go though hey?

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