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Sunday, 28 December 2014

Last Post - 2014

So, since my last post, we've celebrated the birth of Mithras, Odin brought gifts, we've celebrated Yuletide and carried out belated Saturnalia traditions... yes, Christmas has happened!

It snowed, not actually on Christmas Day, but Boxing Day, it was close enough and very pretty on our tree...

It is not yet Hogmanay, but we're off out for our second annual Hogmanay meal at the pub with our friends for a five course feast (beloved is on call and can't drink this year, so he is driving which means that I can! Mwahaha. - Sorry, anyway).

Yes, 2015 beckons, and unlike last year when I did not set any resolutions because I never stick to them anyway, I am setting well, maybe not resolutions, but targets?

Firstly, I shall read 52 books.
Secondly, I shall stitch at least once per week. This shall include my Queen of Hearts project which was shelved for over a year, and although I won't get that finished, I have four other projects that I want to finish before next Christmas.
Thirdly, I shall sew at least one project each month. Starting with small projects (like bags), and working up to large projects like a silk dress for girl child (I have a lovely piece of silk).
Fourth, I shall do a free online course. I'd quite like to do a maths course that the OU offer to people thinking about an OU course, I'll see how the free one goes before deciding if I want to do any paid-for ones.
Fifth, I shall do more excercise (walking, pilates, Nordic Walking) and eat less, or at least more healthily. Obviously, weight loss would be the ultimate goal. I am aiming for at least one dress size smaller. (Hey, little targets).
Finally, I am absolutely going to save money and spend less in 2015... Beloved will be pleased!

Anyway, looking forward to a creative and productive 2015 when I will do my best to blog weekly!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Winter Solstice

Last weekend, we went to see Andre Rieu perform live, with his Johann Sebastian Bach orchestra. It was lovely, although we got absolutely drenched on the way into the venue, by a sudden hailstorm! Fun! The concert made up for it though, and the events organiser at the venue was fantastic. She dried our coats, she even offered LittleBit a new pair of her own tights, after LittleBit's got soaked through, and gave her a t-shirt to go over her dress and keep her warm as her coat, shrug, dress and tights, were all absolutely wringing wet. LittleBit is now a Status Quo fan (because that's who was on the t-shirt that came down to her knees) because it kept her warm!

Midweek, was trophy night at football, and LittleBit is rather pleased with her trophy and certificate.

Then this Friday, I took Nanna to a live concert at the BBC Studios in Manchester for Radio 3. It was very good. We weren't allowed to photograph or record the concert itself, but I got a few photos in and around Media City, including one inside the studio before the orchestra arrived.






Today, on the Winter Solstice, I took LittleBit and two of her friends to the ballet (live streamed to the cinema) and saw the Bolshoi performing the Nutcracker. They have changed the story a bit, for example, the central character was called Marie, rather than Clara, and there was no Sugar Plum Fairy... it was very good though, the orchestra especially, were fabulous, and the girls seemed to enjoy it.

We're now just days away from Christmas. The tree is decorated, the presents wrapped, and the food ordered (to be collected on Tuesday, I should imagine the traffic will be bedlam, but it can't be helped).

We're having a party on Christmas Eve, which we hope will be enjoyed by all, and a quiet Christmas Day with relatives visiting on Boxing Day!

I've hardly had time to read or stitch, although I've managed some limited cooking (no baking since the shortbread though) and I have hardly written a word (one poem, this blog post, an imperial tonne of Christmas Cards, and a few letters, but no more work on any of my numerous wips), so I am rather looking forward to a few consecutive days off, when I hope to be able to read, stitch, write, bake, and curl up and catch up on television and radio shows that have been recorded! Although I'm not sure if I will ever have time to listen to the R4 10 hour spectacular that is War and Peace on New Years day, and I am not convinced that the tivo box would take the hit of it, so I shall have to decide later whether or not to listen to it on the i-player!

My festive highlights will include the radio dramatisation of Good Omens (starting tomorrow at 11pm) and the last episode of Cabin Pressure (a two parter starting on Christmas Eve), which along with Christmas Specials of Doctor Who, Downton Abbey and Strictly Come Dancing, will hopefully keep us entertained after the board games have gone away, and the Queen's speech is a distant memory.

I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas, Nadolig Llawen, God Jul, Buon Natale, Joyeux Nöel, Frohe Weihnachten, Feliz Navidad and Nollaig Cridheil.

I know that the solstice was today, so a happy solstice and I think I've missed Hannukah/Channukah by a few days, but I hope that any of you who celebrated, enjoyed it enormously!

I shall endeavour to post once more before 2015, but just in case I don't, Happy Hogmanay, and I hope that the bank holiday lasts longer than the hangover!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Ebaying things

I occasionally sell things at car boot sales. In the summer, I can cope with the odd early morning on a Sunday to stand in the cold while strangers tell me my belongings are worthless, but the promise of enough cash to pay for the entry fee and Sunday dinner and taking home less than we took in the morning, is usually enough to keep us going, while we stomp our feet and breathe into cupped hands to stave off the cold. We take cup-a-soups, water and sandwiches, and usually it’s not so bad.

However, ladies clothes, in my experience at least, don’t fare too well at car boots, and it is December. I am not going to a car boot sale this side of the Easter weekend in 2015, thank you very much! So, I decided to list a few things on ebay, and then blog about it, like a writing exercise and cathartic rant, all rolled into one… there’s a picture of some shortbread and a link to the recipe if you want to skim to that and then move on, I’ll never know, fill your boots!

I do buy things from ebay fairly regularly, and it’s not my first time selling, but I dislike selling on ebay, and do it as rarely as possible.

So, I had already sorted through the clothes between those to be recycled (cut up, re-styled, or just hoiked) and those I thought I could sell for a few pounds. So I photographed the clothes. Nothing fancy, just on my phone while they were hanging (on a normal clothes hanger) over the living room door. Then I weighed them, and went onto the royal mail website to guess the postage. Checked the labels (where I hadn’t snipped them out) and bought some packaging materials. For most of the items, I’ve gone for “padded envelope” (£1.59 each from WH Smiths) and for the one item which is too big, I have had to buy brown paper, bubble wrap (just to protect it) and parcel tape (can’t buy just enough to wrap one parcel, had to spend £5.67 on that little lot, but hey, I’ve got it there in case I need it again!), armed with my notes, and the items in front of me, I logged onto ebay and started to list them.

First, it asks you what you want to sell, the listing title. It then guesses which category your item is in and it got it right every time for me, although you can change the category if you’re not happy with whatever it chose.
Then you say whether the item is new or used (all used) and depending on the category chosen, it has drop box of extra information, which you can ignore, but I answered as many as I could, before the description.

I noted any flaws, where the flash made the colour look slightly different and tried to give an accurate idea of fit and length for each item.

Then the postage charges, ebay guesses for you based on your category and description and matched what the Royal Mail website has guessed for each item, so I went with that, set them for 5 days each and on they went.

And then there was nothing to do but wait… only I didn’t, I checked each listing at least twice (as you do), they had no bids and no watchers (not massively surprising, but ebay does tell you). So, I went to make shortbread to go with the lemon possets that darling daughter had made earlier in the evening (and which were chilling in the fridge) – the recipe is here. Sadly, I was most of the way through making the shortbread when I realised I had run out of almond, so I used desiccated coconut instead. The coconut itself burned before the shortbread was cooked, but it tasted lovely! Although, I will get almonds in before I make it for Christmas eve. I also baked mine in a silicone chocolate mould that I have, shaped like roses, and I quite like the effect of that!


As I was going to bed, later on, the ebay app on my tablet made a rather loud noise like a cash register opening and when I checked, not only did every single item I had listed have at least 2 watchers, but one of them had a bid!

I was actually rather pleased, and strangely excited. I had spent £18.48 on packaging materials so far, it was going to cost another £3.20 just to send that one item out, and I would receive (after ebay fees and paypal fees) £4.40 for it, if no one else made a bid, so I was currently running a theoretical loss of £17.28, but still, it was a start, and I was happy.

Day 2:
Only checked ebay twice in the morning (luckily work kept me occupied), no obvious change, the number of watchers may have changed, but not into double figures! At lunchtime it stood at items listed: 8, No of bids: 1. But it was a workday, people are busy, can’t all be browsing ebay at lunchtime.

I managed to only check back once in the evening, and there had been no changes. I want to tell you that my willpower was strong. It wasn’t, I wasn’t feeling very well, and the medicine I took made me very sleepy.

Day 3:
Quick check before work, there had been another bid! On a different item, no less! And one of the items which had had no bids then, had 15 watchers!

So, potential profit and loss update on day three. So far money spent itself hasn’t changed, but I will have to spend more to post the second item out, and monies in will change. So;

Expenditure so far:     £18.48
Projected Postage:     £06.40
Total Expected Out:   £24.88

Expected receipts:      £08.80
Total Profit/Loss:        £16.08

The projected losses were lessening. I promised myself that I would not check in on ebay again until the following day, but then, a magazine that I had ordered arrived, and I had to bob on at lunchtime in order to leave feedback for the seller…
The only change was that an item which had previously had 2 watchers, now had 4… lowest number of watchers on a single item was now 3, with 15 still the highest and the items with the fewest and highest were different than they had been the day before!

Luckily, I had a series of meetings that afternoon, and the school Christmas Prize Bingo kept me occupied for most of the evening.

Day 4:
I was incredibly busy and only checked after I received an email telling me that I had received a new bid on a new item! Woo! Did not have time to check my sums, because it was about 1am and I was in a hotel room (above a Christmas Party), listening to the dying notes of the Pogues as the DJ wrapped it up, and I went to sleep, at very long last, as I had had a long day at work, including my works Christmas Lunch and then off out to see Andre Rieu in concert with my Nan, Mum and Daughter – it was a fantastic evening, but ebay was tragically (or gladly?) forgotten.

Day 5:
A full day of Christmas shopping, I did briefly check, only to discover that the auctions did not end until the following day (Sunday) so I ignored them, in favour of a birthday party,

It’s all over: Day 6:
I wrapped all of our Christmas Presents to other people (not LittleBit’s, or beloved’s though) wrote out most of the Christmas Cards, did the weekly shop, some housework and finally sat down and checked my emails fairly late on, and another item had sold!
One of the winners has not yet paid, and another had messaged me asking if I could please send the item first class as she’d like it by Wednesday? I confirmed that the cost was for first class, and I would send it the following day.

I wrapped the items which had been paid for, I printed off packing slips and I labelled them up ready to be taken to the post office by beloved the following day.

So; My overall expenditure (including predicted postage charges for all items won (not all items sold) was as follows;

Packaging Materials:              £18.48
Projected Postage:                 £17.25
                                                £35.73

Total Paid so far:                     £25.87
Plus due:                                 £05.90
                                                £31.77

Less paypal fees so far:          £01.48
Less expected paypal fees:    £00.40
Less expected ebay fees:       £02.86
                                                £04.74


All Incomings:                         £31.77
All Outgoings:                         £40.47
                                              -£8.70

So, overall, I haven’t sold everything, so some of my packaging costs were wasted, but I have relisted one item, which may not sell, but that can be added to my shiny new ebaying spreadsheet if it does sell.

I didn’t want to have to wait until items had sold to buy packaging materials as this would increase the length of time it takes to post things out, but I think next time, I may only buy a few packaging items (or just use existing supplies – as I now have some left over) until I know how many I need.

The things that haven’t sold, and haven’t been relisted are off to the clothes shop in town in the week, who recycle them and pay 60p per kilo… may have another sort out and see if I can bulk that bag up a bit with things I would never have ebayed anyway…


In the meantime, I’m off to list a few more things on ebay (magazines, and ornaments this time) to see if they are any more profitable… and to update my spreadsheet!

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Inspiration

What do you find inspirational?

By it's very definition it should be anything which inspires you, but that could be anything. Last week, for example, I read this story, which inspired me to write an exciting Christmas adventure story for my daughter. we're going to read it on Christmas day and she's rather excited, I may share the short children's story at Christmas... we'll see if Itsy thinks it's any good first!

It did make me think though, other people may have found that an amusing, or even slightly silly, news story, so inspiration must be different for each of us. It would explain how geniuses (or should that be genii?) of old were able to imagine some of the fantastic things that we now take for granted! Who first made the letters of our modern alphabets? What made them shape the letters the way they are? What about the symbols they use to express pronunciation in dictionaries? Who thought those symbols up and assigned them a meaning? I can see how watching a bird in flight would push someone to try and find a way to power human flight, but what provided the leap to the internal combustion engine?

And then I think further, does it depend on what the affected person is inspired to do, whether the thing that inspires them is actually considered inspirational?


This morning's Pause for Thought on the radio mentioned a booklet (Love Life, Live Advent) which contains little ideas to inspire people, each day of advent, into thinking about what Christmas really means, obviously in a church context, and tries to suggest a few things that people can do to make life a little better for other people. This is clearly an inspirational leaflet, it's existence, it's whole purpose is to inspire good deeds and kind (and hopefully happy) thoughts in people. Having taken the liberty of purchasing an electronic copy of the booklet, I have decided that it is probably aimed, primarily, at people with children, but the ideas can equally apply to adults, and obviously, it is heavily intent on inspiring prayer and religious meditation, but there is no reason why the vast majority of the daily ideas couldn't be applied to an atheist equally as easily. I don't want to do spoilers, but some of the ideas are as simple as helping someone who you know is very busy this month? Or donating food to a food bank? Or, my personal favourite, spend time looking closely and thinking about the form and shape of something as simple as a pine cone. Almost like saying, you know what - modern life is hectic, especially in December, take a minute, take a time out, have a break and think about something that is just a thought. I like that. I found that inspirational.

So, apart from writing an exciting Christmas Adventure story, what have I been inspired to do? Well, I'm going to do some of the things suggested in the booklet, and I am going to try to remember this month, that it isn't all about the presents and the pre-apocalyptic Christmas Eve milk and bread buying scrum

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Advent

It can't be December already? Surely?

There were times when this year dragged, but, here we are, the advent house has been stocked and the first few windows have been opened, and the end of 2014 is nigh... they have even played Slade on Radio 2 today. And if Noddy Holder yells "It's Chriiissttmmmaaaassss!" at me, well, who am I to argue? So the trees are up and we have received our first card (and a handmade one at that)!
Little Bit's Advent House
Another NaNoWriMo has ended, and although I made 71k (my highest score yet), I still have not finished the actual story. I am going to write, at least once a week, throughout the whole of 2015 (not just November), and as well as working on my current story (I shan't call it a novel, until it truly is one), I am working on some short stories, so I'll have plenty of variety to keep me interested, and hopefully, I get to start typing "The End", because I definitely need the practice at that!

Life is starting to get back to normal after NaNo, and I've been reviewing my reading list. I only need another two books to clear off my bingo card, but I am terribly behind (with three weeks left) for the 52 book challenge, and the alphabet challenge has been failed for this year. I have, however, set my goals for 2015. Starting with the Alphabet Challenge (from scratch). I have decided to allow one book to count for only one category in each challenge, but it can count in multiple challenges... so, my 26 alphabet challenge books can count towards my 52 book challenge for 2015 too. I also want to include the 20 World Book Night books for 2015. Ideally, I want to read them before World Book Night (23rd April), but they can count (where applicable) to both the alphabet and 52 book challenges. I have a new reading bingo card, and I am challenging myself to read not the usual 12, but fifteen books from "The List" next year!
I am also setting my self stitching goals. I want to get back to working on my mammoth project, The Queen of Hearts, from Heaven and Earth Designs, which has been languishing for over a year since it went into storage before we moved house. I shall start again before the new year, but I aim to stitch, on just this one project, for at least one hour each week (exceptions will be while we are away on holibobs as I shan't be taking it away with us!)

Another goal for 2015 is to take at least one photograph each week on my camera (rather than my phone). No theme, or particular subject matter, but I want to improve, and have a nice collection of pictures by the end of the year. And I shall state now, so I can't back out... I don't want to cheat and just take arty photos of things around the house! The odd one of a particularly impressive home-grown bloom, or vegetable I may allow myself, and I will take photos of my stitching as I go along, but no "arty" shots of quill pens. Hopefully this will be the year I get an adaptor to connect my camera to my telescope and there may be some funky space shots, but don't hold your breath!

There's the usual weight loss and exercise goals, I have some exciting things planned for book club (if I can organise them). I will try harder to learn enough Norwegian to hold a proper conversation, rather than asking directions to Parliament Street, and I'd like to be able to order more food than a sandwich and perhaps order something other than beer or wine to drink (not that that's a problem, but it might be nice to be able to have a glass of water!). Also, now that we've moved house and everything is out of storage, I want to unpack the remaining boxes (yes, still) in my office. I want to sew again (I think a new baguette bag for me, and I have some gorgeous silk I picked up to make a skirt for Little Bit) and I want to play music. Oh, I'm dreadful at it, but I do enjoy it, and the more I practice, apparently the better I will get! And so, I shall practice, at least once a week... or at least, that is the plan.

I hope to blog again before the end of December, and next year I shall aim for a more regular weekly blog, but just in case, I shall take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hogmanay and all the best for 2015 x