31 – in – 31

One of my favourite ways to de-stress lately is to spend half an hour browsing the internet and reading different blogs. I start by browsing through the members list of the 20-something blog community and clicking on a random blog, reading a bit of their blogging and if I don’t like it/get bored, I click on one of their links and see where that takes me.

Let me tell you, the internet is a scarily large place (with some real weirdos) but on some level it’s comforting to know there are so many other random people out there!

Anyway. Whilst on my bloggy travels, I came across a girl who is going to do a blog challenge throughout March, posting one post a day, each one with its’ own prompt to start of. It’s called “31 days of me” which is a bit pretentious and uppity…but at the same time I thought it sounded like a fun idea.

So I’m doing it.

31 days, 1 blog a day. Here we go!

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My ‘stay-cation’

This past week I have had the most blissfully peaceful ‘stay-cation’.

Stay-cation (also spelled stay-cation, stacation, or staykation) is a neologism for a period in which an individual or family stays and relaxes at home, possibly taking day trips to area attractions.    (thanks Wikipedia!)

I went to my Mum’s, in Devon, and had seven glorious days there. Possibly the best thing about it was that I was using up my TOIL, (“time off in lieu” of additional hours worked) so I feel like I really did earn the time off, and consequently it was justified to do absolutely nothing if that was how I felt.

Of course, most days I was up by eight and walking the dogs with Mum…but there was such a distinct lack of pressure or “must-do” attitude that I completely relaxed and now really don’t want to go back to work tomorrow!

Things I did:
– read four books, in completion, and started two more (including Stephen Fry’s “In America” which I love)
– made fabric flowers with Mum
– did lots of cooking with Mum (roast dinner, chicken pie, blueberry lemon drizzle cake and flapjack…for example)
– listened to the radio, and watched TV and movies
– took my two younger sisters (17 and 2 1/2) to the zoo for the day!   (photos to follow!)

Along with many dog walks (and cuddles) and probably close to a hundred cups of tea. I love tea at home.

It was just too lovely for words.

I definitely needed this time off. It’s not like I’m overworking myself…that much…but it has been pretty full-on since Christmas and as such I feel a little like life is just happening to me, passing me by, and that I’m not really involved in any significant way.

I think I needed a little perspective, and even though I didn’t consciously spend time praying (or reading my Bible…I have catch-up to do) I do feel closer to God as a result of taking work out of the equation, even for just a week.

It’s been nice, is what I’m trying to say!

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p.s. I also spent a LOT of time on Pinterest, and found far too many gorgeous things. But one of my favourites was this absolutely amazing treehouse, which I have decided is possibly my dream holiday home. For when I’m rich and therefore am able to spend lots of time making it as pretty on the inside as on the outside:

 

A little rant about loan companies

ARGH

Today I’ve spent over 4 hours working through the finances of a very close family friend, who has racked up thousands of pounds in debt through taking out ill-advised, super-high interest “payday” loans. Thousands of pounds.

Is this her fault? Well, yes, and no.

Yes – because she was the one who signed up for these accounts and borrowed money

No – because the amount she initially borrowed only tallies up to about 1/4 of the amount that she now owes, as the interest payments are between 150 and 1000%.

This makes me so angry! Yes, I’m angry with her for being so stupid as to take out the loans in the first place, but more than that I’m absolutely fuming that it’s legal for these companies to even operate!

These companies aren’t even the worst there are. A quick Google search provides literally hundreds of payday loan companies, promising “up to £800”, “£500 NOW”, “payday in 15 minutes, up to £1000” … but what they don’t tell you (until you’re practically confirming the agreement) is that you will then pay astronomical interest rates, meaning that – for example: if you borrow £200, you have to pay up to £750 total.

Interest starts accumulating the day that you take out the loan, so even if you pay back exactly what you borrow on the payment date, you will ALWAYS need to pay an additional amount.

Essentially this is a complete rip off; not designed to help people if/when they are in genuine financial trouble but to make huge amounts of money.

These companies will offer you more money than you ask for, because then they can charge you a higher rate of interest. They convince you this is ok by telling you that they’ve “run a credit check and you have a good rating” … these people are trained to convince you that you need more than you thought. They suck you in!

Once you’re in, you get emails telling you that you can rollover your loan; put off paying it for a week, two weeks. Each day you have the loan, you’re accruing interest…until you finally realise the severity of the situation and that you simply cannot pay it back.

So what do you do then? A quick Google search and you can find hundreds more companies, willing to loan you the amount to cover your first loan with their own interest rate.

This just leaves you shifting your debt around from one company to another – thinking that you’re being proactive in paying it off, but you’re not. You’re kidding yourself.

Essentially, if you take out a pay day loan, you lose. Always. There is just no way to win, no matter what the company tells you.

Argh I am just so frustrated.

Living debt-free, and understanding money management, are very important to me. Growing up we frequently had very little money – not through mismanagement, but other circumstances. While my mum did amazingly in managing what we did have, so we never went without the genuine essentials (a home, electricity, heating etc) we often had to go without what lots of people would count as necessities: haircuts, new school shoes, birthday parties.

Oftentimes my mum would walk round the supermarket with a calculator, choosing only the absolute essentials and stopping when she’d spent her budget.

Nowadays we are on a much better setting, and I have my own income with more than provides for all my needs (and allows me to pay back my student debts and build up my savings account) but the lessons I learned as a child will never leave me.

I don’t ever want to be in a situation where I have to turn to others to rescue me from my financial catastrophes. As soon as I was old enough, I got a part-time job and worked throughout my A-levels so that I could pay for my own things. I got a second job when my exams were over, and saved this money for Uni expenses.

Basically, from the age of 16 I had my own income, my own budget and if I didn’t physically have the money for something, I didn’t buy it.

This isn’t bragging, but at 18 I had: paid for all my own driving lessons, bought my first car (including tax, and insurance!) and bought a laptop for Uni. I bought all my own clothes, shoes, make-up, craft stuff and also gave mum some money each month towards my living expenses.

I learned these lessons the hard way, and it really worries/upsets me when I see kids today with literally no clue about the value of anything. The kids that I work with have absolutely no idea how to manage their income or create a budget.

These are the kids that in a few years time will be those who take out the payday loans and get into horrific amounts of debt, that they may never get out of by themselves.

It makes me angry and really, really sad.

*Note: fortunately, for our family friend, she asked for help and we are able to give it. We’ve called her creditors to adjust payment schedules and have worked out a plan to pay them off in more a manageable way. She should have cleared her debts by the summer.

One final thing (and then I’m heading to bed!) … if you are in a situation like this, there absolutely is help available.

http://www.helpwithdebt.org.uk/

http://www.debtadvisorycentre.co.uk/debt-advice/?gclid=CN7_89nHt64CFYgmtAodvXDsng

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On the quest for physical fitness…!

I have been in actual physical pain since my first induction at the gym on Monday. I really think my trainer nearly killed me!

It was quite fun whilst I was there, but stupidly I didn’t do a cool-down as I had to leave to get on the motorway before lunchtime. I’ve paid for that error MANY times over…I feel like I’ve had a hot water bottle permanently attached to me for the past few days to ease my muscle aches.

Today isn’t too bad though, I can actually lift my cup of tea without aching.

My trainer did my measurements and fitness tests, and I managed 10 press-ups in 2 minutes (impressive considering I have zero upper arm strength) and 15 sit-ups in 2 minutes. My target for my first review (4-6 weeks time) is 15 press-ups and 20 sit-ups.

I was pretty chuffed though as my lung capacity is 99%. I was pretty wheezy that day so that’s quite impressive. My lung ‘age’ is 24, which my trainer was pleased about.

She gave me a routine to follow each time I go to the gym, which hopefully will be twice a week – once on Mondays and one evening. None of the classes are ‘grabbing me’ yet, but we’ll see.

I was quite surprised that I really enjoyed my workout on Monday, it was fun to push myself and have a little challenge. I don’t remember enjoying it as much when I was younger, though I must have because I went regularly.

I even like the staff, because they don’t seem like the stereotypical, primped and perfect, super-enthusiastic gym bunnies. The three I’ve met so far are all pretty ordinary! Of course, they are probably super-fit and could run circles round me, but that’s ok.

My workout consists of:

1500m on the rower, working on beating my own timings (8m5s on Monday),

10 minutes on the X-trainer,

5 minutes on the stepper (I’ve done steppers before, but this one is the weirdest contraption I’ve ever seen!)

5 minutes on another weird contraption whose name I don’t know (you kind of sit like you’re on a bike, and pump your legs to keep the weights between certain markers?!)

then 10 minutes on the treadmill, alternating between walking and jogging as my “cool-down”.

My trainer put down time on the treadmill and the rower, even though I hate them, because they are good for cardio and all-round fitness…but she did leave off the main weights for me, since she don’t think someone whose upper arms measure 23cm would cope. Maybe when I’m a little stronger…

Not quite like this, though!

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Yummy Chicken Pie

I really like chicken pie. I don’t know whether it’s the pastry or the chicken or the extra bits like ham and vegetables, or the sauce…but either way, I really like it. This Wednesday I made a pie, and it was so yummy. Here’s how I did it…

Ingredients

Brown some chopped onion in hot oil. Chop the chicken into bitesize pieces, and add to the onions to cook. Chop the leeks into discs, and add these to the chicken to cook.

Add the ham or other cooked meat to the pan just to warm through. (I got 300g of offcuts from the counter at the supermarket, for just over £1. Such a good deal)

While the chicken, ham and leeks are cooking together, make a white sauce:

Melt a generous amount of butter in a pan, then add a few spoonfuls of flour. Mix them together to make a kind of paste. Then add milk and whisk them together. Keep this on the heat until the sauce thickens, and add salt & pepper to taste.

Divide the chicken/ham/leek mix into your chosen dishes. I made two dinky ones and one ‘family sized’ one. I put a couple of handfuls of frozen peas in the bottom of the dishes – they didn’t need to go in the pan because they would cook in the oven, and double-cooked peas are nasty (in my opinion!).

Top with pastry – I cheated and used shop-bought, which tasted almost as nice as home-made but made significantly less washing up!

Bake in the oven for approx 30 minutes at 180C, and serve. I served with mix-mash (sweet potato and regular white potatoes, mashed up)

Ta da!

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Let’s just say it clearly. I hate confrontation.

I don’t like yelling, nasty comments, or being in trouble. I don’t like dealing with trouble, or awkward situations where “things need to be said”. Wherever possible I completely avoid confrontation. There’s nothing worse than getting caught up in a shouting match. The thought of getting into confrontation over things is enough to seriously freak me out. I’ll do pretty much anything to avoid a conflict.

It wasn’t always like this, don’t get me wrong. I had my fair share of shouting matches with my siblings when I was growing up, and could really yell at my mum when I wanted to. I probably had several people’s share of arguments, actually!

But since being at Uni and “becoming an adult” I’ve developed an actual phobia of confrontation! Even when it’s nothing to do with me, I feel responsible and involved, and it makes me really anxious. Let’s not even go into how horrible I feel when I actually am involved – it’s the worst.

The thing is, avoiding confrontation is difficult when a large part of my job is working with teenagers, who do stupid or nasty things and need to be told off.

I diskike telling people off almost as much as I dislike being told off.

It makes me feel like a horrible person! I have discovered that, while I don’t yell, my “social worker” voice is just as effective at getting the point across. Believe me, if it gets so bad that I use *that* voice, you are in trouble.

What the kids don’t see, is that while I’m being stern Ms Social Worker I’m actually trying very hard not to let my voice shake, or my hands shake. Because I really really hate confrontation!

I’m learning, because dealing with confrontation is a skill that I have to develop. Not only in my professional life, although that is really important, but in my “real life” too – for years I’ve run and hid from controntation, trying to do anything and everything to avoid it but all this does is make the underlying situation worse and then *that conversation* is that much harder.

This also goes for confronting issues in my relationship with God. God is always consistent, and whatever happens in my life is in His control. Sometimes He wants to challenge me, and confronts me with things in myself that He wants to change or deal with. How many times have I hidden my head in the sand? Lots.

The answer must be down here somewhere

I’m trying not to do it anymore, because God knows my heart and only works for my good. It’s a hard learning curve, but it will be worth it in the end. Ostriches never prosper, and have to pull their heads out of the sand eventually.

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(yes, the other day I was an tree and today I’m an ostrich…I like metaphors, they work for me!)