Sunday 29 January 2017

The Next Step...

The next stage of our refurbishment of our flat is now getting underway. It always amazes people that we've lived here for 13 years and had not done anything major to it until the bathroom was ripped out and replaced last year. I guess that to an extent, we felt that we ought to "really" own the place before we started sorting out the inside to any great extent. Although we were still a few months away from paying off the mortgage altogether when we had the bathroom done, that really had reached the point where getting it sorted out was a need rather than a want, and as we had the money to do it saved, we chose to go ahead at that stage.

While "liveable" - we'd be the first to agree that it's not necessarily been the easiest of choices to actually live with some of it. The kitchen is now starting to tip across to becoming a "need" rather than a "want" to have done. It's sometimes colder than it might be in the place because we've got a number of blown double-glazing units.  The carpets - particularly the hallway - are showing serious signs of wear. We're heartily fed up with the rather 1980's feel to the hallway - think artex and a pine dado rail...  BUT - having waited to get all these things done now means we'll be able to do them as we want, and hopefully buy a quality that will last for a good long while. We will also not be taking on any debt to get the works done now, as a result of having waited.

So - the first part of the plan was to get the kitchen window and door replaced - the double glazing was blown in the door, and the window was single glazed meaning that that the room was freezing and the window was running with water pretty much permanently. So on Friday they were ripped out and replaced with a brand new super-insulated door and window. we've chosen a window with 2 openers on one pane for the simple reason that this brings opening windows into my reach - the old unit was a devil to reach to open for a shorty like me! The door opens outward making it easier to access the balcony to read the gas meter, water plants etc.  At the same time we have had our old wooden framed aluminium front door replaced as well - really the only change we are able to make to the direct "kerb appeal" of the place. That is already making the place warmer, and more secure.

Plans for the kitchen are also going forwards - we've had a measuring & planning meeting, and are now waiting for a plan and a drawing to come through. We've found a paint colour we like for the walls - a soft fresh green. We've chosen our units - slab style cream gloss - and the handles that will go on them. We've decided to go with the same tiles on the floor that we used in the bathroom - not only will it give continuity through the flat but we really like them! The splashback behind the worktop is going to be done in cream subway-style tiles. We think we've found the oven and dishwasher we want. We've learned that integrated fridge/freezers only seem to come as a 55cm wide option. Which is somewhat annoying. I have to admit though we're finding the process quite difficult - and until last night I couldn't quite work out why. The bathroom was easy by comparison - we felt confident about both the design and working out what would fit. The layout for that was prescribed - it's a small room, the bath will only fit one way, and the rest kind of followed on from there - the layout we had previously worked, and so we stuck with it. The kitchen has left us feeling baffled though - seemingly whatever we tried to make work, wouldn't. We're tremendously limited for worktop space currently - so doing anything that would reduce this further is not an option. The sink can only go in one place. We want to stick with gas for cooking. And suddenly last night the blindingly obvious hit us. The layout we have in the kitchen at the moment works superbly - cooking is a pleasure as everything flows from my worktop position - the tap is just to my right, my knives are in the block right in front of me, the hob and oven just to my left, and the fridge just a couple of steps away behind me. So why do we feel we "have" to change it? If it ain't broke, why try to fix it? And, at the end of the day, in a small space you do have to work with what you have. I'd LOVE a fabby range style cooker - in fact I'd possibly love it slightly more than I do MrEH, so it may be a good thing that we don't have room for one. ;-) Now all that has sunk in, it all feels slightly less daunting and scary, slightly more manageable. The one small tweak to layout will be to switch the positions of the dishwasher and a base unit so that the dishwasher is slightly closer to the plumbing, giving less of a run on the drainage.

Now it's all about the small stuff - thinking about any ways we can increase storage, checking everything is accurate on the plan, seeing if there is any way at all of increasing the space available. A good friend is also going to look over the plans for us - to see if he can think of anything that we've missed, or that might work better. An extremely keen cook, not only has he fitted kitchens for himself in the past he's done a fair few for other people too so he's a great person to have on-side. Our builder (you may remember him from the bathroom exploits) Dave is also ace - not a lot phases him and we're leaving things like suggestions for clever lighting to him to come up with as he's great on stuff like that. Rather as with the bathroom we'll be learning as we go along to a degree - but also learning from mistakes we made there. The next few weeks will be focusing on using up as much in the way of food items as can from fridge, freezer, cupboards and larder - in fact look out for a Frugal friday post on that subject soon. The additional freezer space created will then be filled with home made "ready meals" which can quickly and easily be heated up using just the microwave - we don't intend to spend the time the kitchen takes to do living off takeaways and meals out!

Watch this space for updates on how we get on!


Tuesday 10 January 2017

2017...some thoughts.

Notwithstanding the "not making resolutions" thing, I do like to start the New Year with a bit of planning in mind - some rough goals I'd like to achieve really. With that in mind (and triggered in part by reading something online earlier on in which someone stated that for them, this year was going to be all about "connection and contentment" - I mean how perfect is that?) I thought I'd make a bit of a list...

My goals tend not to be "set in stone" types - I've done this so often before, saying that I want to do X, Y or Z, and then I set my bar too high, don't quite reach it, and end up feeling like I've failed completely. I admire those who are able to set tremendously ambitious goals and reach them each and every time - sadly that's not me. Step counting is a great example - I would love to be able to reach the ideal of 10k steps per day, but realistically most days of the week this just isn't achievable for me. I have no options to walk to or from work, my walking is generally pretty limited to what I can jam in before work, at lunchtime, or after I finish. So with that in mind, my first "personal" goal is set at a rather more sustainable level...

- I will aim to reach a minimum of 5,000 steps per day. There will be days when for whatever reason I won't manage this, but the average across a week is the important thing.
- I want to concentrate on eating well - with a focus on learning more about foodstuffs that will potentially assist with a health issue I'm trying to work to overcome.
- Continue with a general plan to Eat Less, Move More - again in a bid to assist with the health issue.
- Continue using my Bullet-ish journal to help with planning and general organisation
- Look into yoga classes locally or if there is anything good I can do online - again this is related to the health issue

We want to continue with the works on the flat, initially to make it a lovely place for us to live, but also to add value.
- New door and window to be fitted to the kitchen
- New front door to be fitted
- Complete kitchen redesign/refit. This will include some building works.
- Hallway to be refloored/redecorated.
- Decluttering on a minor scale - focus on seeing items within the house that we don't use
- Work consciously on using the things we have - whether that's foodstuffs, or useful items.

- Joint savings to continue as they are
- I will keep a good eye on interest rates and make the most of any access we have to higher interest savings
- I would like to have paid off at least £700 from the 0% card by the end of 2017.
- The paying down of the 0% card is to happen as much as possible without dipping into savings.
- Aim to make £30 extra per month minimum via surveys, cashback etc to pay against the 0% card

- Keep doing it!
- Look to upgrade my long lens next winter
- Really work on concentrating and being present in my photography
- Stop. Think. Shoot.

- Continue to work on gaining confidence in friendships
- "Let it go" and "This too shall pass"
- Stop and think before acting
- Try not to feel hurt or upset when other people behave unpleasantly or unkindly - I can't control their behaviour, I can control my reaction to it.
- Be conscious and mindful. Think about the choices I have, and those I make
- Tidy up both laptop and desktop in readiness for the new Airshow Season.
- Continue with volunteering stuff
- Have fun - make the most of situations that offer themselves to me, and be brave enough to take them up.
- Try to tick a couple more items off our big "We want to..." list.

Of course there are two points as a result of all of this. The first is that *technically speaking* you might say that there's little difference between my goals, and the next person's "New Year's Resolutions" - I'd dispute that though - my goals will get reviewed at various stages, and may even get added to as I think of various things. The second is that for the first year in....well, years, I'm not setting ANY goals along the lines of "blog regularly" - ironic, eh?!


Sunday 8 January 2017

New Toy...

So as I mentioned in my Frugal Friday post, I've recently become the owner of a new Canon 80D DSLR. This becomes my second camera body, alongside the 7DMk2 and replacing the 40D I've had in my kit since 2009. The 40D has been brilliant - I've used it for speedway, rugby and aviation stuff, and even a few weddings! It's been to the Hebrides about 7 times, and lots of other places besides. It's been drenched numerous times, and been "round the clock" in terms of shutter clicks, having to have its shutter mechanism replaced back in about 2012 I think it was. To be honest I'm quite sad to see it go, BUT it had just reached the point where its age was starting to show - in digital camera terms the 40D was positively ancient, and switching mid Reds display from the 7MK2 to the 40 I was really noticing its limitations.

By way of comparison - I've swapped out a 10.1mp sensor for a 24.2mp one. 9 autofocus points for 45. Strangely the shooting speed is pretty much the same - maximum 6.5fps on the 40D, and just half a frame quicker pm the 80D. The new one feels a LOT closer to the 7Mk2 - but it's still taking some getting used to. I took it to the Hebrides at christmas, thinking that I'd have lots of time to get to grips with it, but the weather was such that it barely left the bag! So far the only flying things it's been pointed at are birds, but so far I've been pretty impressed with the results.

The autofocus is fast and the tracking in servo mode nice and smooth, and the detail it captures is exceptional. Another feature that was a real selling point for me was the built in wifi - meaning that I can upload photos from the card in the camera to my phone. Might be nice come airshow season to be able to fill quiet moments between displays with a quick bit of processing and social media posting - and as I have apps on my phone for both processing RAW files and copyright marking the processed shots, that's very achievable.

It handles colour well too - as these sunset shots show

Those colours are accurate to what I could see at the time of shooting. All the shots on this post have minimal processing - quite simply they've needed almost nothing. Sharpening only on the two Robin shots, and a bit of levels and highlights, plus sharpening on the sunsets. I used a little noise reduction on one of the Robin ones.

It's no slouch when the daylight fades away entirely either. Remember that supermoon last month...?

That was with the camera mounted on a monopod. It had no issue getting or maintaining focus, and happily gave me a shutter speed of 1/1000th at ISO 400. (If I'd had my tripod handy I would happily have dropped both ISO and shutter speed further.) Again I'm pleased with the detail, and once again relatively little processing was needed.

So - the verdict so far? Impressed. Hoping to get the chance to shoot some Little Red Jets with it  next week - I'll be interested to do a straight comparison with the 7MK2 and really get to grips with how they perform against one another. Fingers crossed for some nice blue skies!


Friday 6 January 2017

Frugal Friday...

Predictably, I'm not making resolutions - yes, again! I am however planning for the year ahead, it feels a bit like the start of term when you were at school, the New year. While I'm not a great fan of all the hoo ha that goes with New Year's eve, I do in some ways quite like the feeling of starting afresh. I'll try and update on some of the other things we're thinking about and planning in the next little while, but for now, it IS a Friday, after all...

As always at this time of year we're turning our attentions to things financial - although more with a mindset of a "reset" than anything else. Just looking over what we're doing, Where we're spending, and reminding ourselves to be conscious about the money going out. I've got myself a little bit of a money challenge going on once again - which actually feels quite good, it's nice to have that focus again. In the tail end of 2016 I made two reasoned big purchases - a new camera and an upgrade to  my phone. Once cashback etc was taken into account the camera was purchased for the best price I could possibly have bought it for - and I was pleased to be able to buy from the UK rather than going the Hong Kong route, this time. The phone was dealt with in two phases - with just under 3 months to go on my EE contract I gave them a call as I'd spotted a SIM only deal that I hoped they might consider matching - to my delight they did - saving me around £12 per month on my bill, and increasing my data allowance to a level where I may not run out on several months of the year, too! Having done that, I then purchased the new phone paying upfront from a third party seller - fully unlocked and ready to go when it arrived. I did a lot of research on this - friends left, right and centre were urging me to go for the iPhone 6s - but with my previous one being a 5s, I was wary of the increase in size, so was also looking at the iPhone SE. I read a lot of articles comparing the two, and made a pros and cons list of the advantages of one over the other - there were few features that the 6S boasted over the SE that I really felt I wanted to be honest, and the massive win from the perspective of the SE was the extra battery life over it's bigger sibling. I also analysed how I used my phone and was surprised to realise quite how much of the time I use it one-handed - I estimated that at least 75% of my use was in that way. With that in mind the final deciding test was to handle my Mum's 6s - and that proved to be the decision-maker as each and every time I tried to use her phone one handed, I promptly flipped out of my hand and had I not been ready for it would have landed on the floor. With the decision made to opt for the SE I was even more pleasantly surprised to discover a £100+ difference in price - I eventually paid £409 for mine.

Although I had the money sitting in savings ready to pay for both items, I paid on the Credit Card both for the financial protection it gives, and also thanks to the cashback it pays. It was then that a thought occurred to me...a quick look on the Money Saving Expert site revealed a fee-free balance transfer card which I was likely to qualify to get. (Sainsbury's Bank - 0% for 22 months in case you were wondering.) Applied, and got - result! This means I have a space of time where the money can stay in my account earning at least a little interest - well anything is better than nothing, right? My plan is as follows: I've got back into doing surveys again - and anything I earn via that route will get paid against the 0% card. I'm also setting the Direct Debit for the initial minimum payment, rounded up to the next £. whereas normally if you just set it for the straight minimum payment, it will fall over time, mine will stay the same, meaning that as the balance drops each payment will effectively have more of an impact on the balance remaining. Assuming the TopCashBack payments on the two purchases some through OK, those will also go back against the card. My aim is to pay off both items within the interest free period, (obviously!) but using as little money from my savings as possible. So far I've chipped £35 off the balance - £11 survey money plus the £24 I would usually have paid on my phone bill (it came in at zero this month due to the change onto the new SIM only deal).

I'll keep you informed of how things go - it feels slightly odd to be thinking in terms of being "in debt" again, but currently the very fact that I don't like that much is serving as a good incentive to get it gone! Oh - and the new camera - well see for yourself, I'm happy...!