Tempted to try Sugar-free?

Well, we hear a lot about the evils of sugar and there was sure to be a book (if not many) informing us how we can live without it. Really, I think, it is more about substituting refined sugars for ingredients in their natural state such as honey as some foods would be unpalatable without some form of sweetness.

Not sure how I acquired the book ‘Davina’s Sugar-free In a Hurry’ by Davina McCall but thought I would use it during one of our healthy eating weeks and did enjoy the recipes we tried.

Although mainly focusing on the main meal dishes I did try a few of the cake recipes. The Malt loaf was wonderful – you do need to make it a day in advance to enjoy true stickiness although I am sure those impatient souls will still have a good cake if eaten as soon as it has cooled. It is now a family regular.

I started off with something simple – a Tomato Risotto. This was very tasty. I substituted finely sliced cabbage for the Spinach (to which I am allergic – yes, really) and just added it in approx. 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time.



Provencal Beef Casserole was next – I used the Slow Cooker, throw all ingredients in together and came back 4 hours later. Wonderful. Davina listed it as something to cook at a weekend, with a slow cooker and pre-planning it easily became a mid-week meal. The orange peel added a fresh taste, I added 2/3rds initially then the remaining 1/3 towards the end of the cooking period (showing against the white plate , not sloppy serving – is that what you were thinking?).


Chicken Cacciatore was easy to prepare and does look rustic and wholesome cooking away on the stove.



Salmon is a fish that can be overcooked easily so this dish needs attention. That said, it was quick and easy so no effort and with attentive serving onto the plate looked restaurant standard (well, I thought so)



The Lamb and Apricot Pilaf was so tasty that I have made it a few times now. The Lamb Neck Fillet is not always available so have substituted other lamb cuts and all work well – just need to alter the cooking time accordingly.


Then back to chicken – this time to make a Crunchy Buttermilk chicken with roasted ratatouille.

The recipes I tried have all been easy to prepare with good servings. The soups all freeze well, so handy to make double batches. For the Bean and Chorizo Soup I used a jar of roasted peppers instead of fresh ones (none in the pantry and it was raining) – worked well.

After using the book for a few weeks, I did not miss the sugar – then realised that the dishes I used were mainly savoury so would not have had sugar as a main ingredient anyway. The cakes I tried were good (judged by the fact all were eaten) and it was easy enough to obtain the sugar substitutes.

I would recommend the book if you are keen to gain information about how to reduce your refined sugar intake and I certainly will use the recipes for the Malt Loaf and the Pecan/Banana Bread again and again. As I bake using unrefined sugars I am more likely to continue using recipes I am used to, especially as I rarely eat cake so it’s a treat (so deserves the sugar, fat etc etc).

The instructions are clear and easy to follow so I would also recommend this book if you are just starting to be creative in the kitchen.




Enhancing Income and Utilising your Skills

Either due to a low pension provision vs outgoings or a need for ‘getting out of the house’ you may be considering re-employment/part time work.

The easiest way, at least initially, of doing this is to review your current job and discuss your options with your employer. A role with reduced responsibility, part time or job share of current post may be possible. Employers are often open to these discussions as they know that this retains expertise and organisational history within the company, alongside possible opportunities to utilise your skills in a mentorship role.

So, if you know that you will need something else to do once you formally retire and wish to stay in your current work environment – start that conversation.

Other options are available, and more varied than I had realised. The ‘clean break’ route is to look/review just what it is that you want to do. List your skills and how transferable they can be – you will be surprised. Companies such as B&Q employ retired tradesmen to work on the shop floors – as a customer I find it very useful to speak to someone who really does know about the product and it has saved me from DIY disasters in the past. I have also received sound advice on how to ‘do what I plan to do’ from a retired tailor in a fabric shop.

Would you be happy to re-train – not a 3-year degree course but something that only requires a short ‘in-service’ style undertaking? 

Government organisations such as Works and Pensions and the Office of the Public Guardian regularly look for people with life experiences to work for them in liaison roles. The salary is not high although expenses are covered, and you have control over your caseloads and hours worked. https://publicappointments.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/about-appointments/


The two links above are examples of government sites offering opportunities, for specific information you could ‘click’ to the Contact page.

Non-executive roles offer exciting opportunities for you to contribute to organisational development using your expertise and knowledge. There is often a small retainer and expenses in exchange for 2 – 3 days a month.


The above link has information relating to the role of Non-Executive Directors which may answer some of your queries if this is of interest to you.

If fortunate enough to receive a ‘Lump Sum’ when retiring you may consider investing some (or all) of this in property which you then rent to Tenants is another possibility for supplementing your income and offering an activity. Although becoming a property developer may not be your aim, buying property to let as Long Term residential or short-term holiday lets could be profitable.

Setting up a small business is also another route by which you retain control over the level of activity – if, for example, you worked in the trades such as Joinery or Plumbing you could offer those skills locally for the ‘small domestic’ jobs that the career tradesman often turns down as, understandably, it is more useful for them to do the big jobs such as replacing a bathroom suite than to repair a dripping tap. Locally, we have access to a retired Joiner who works with a Carpet and Flooring firm re-fitting room doors following the laying of new carpets etc. This keeps him active and engaging with people whilst supplementing his income – and the customer does not have to arrange the task then wait for a busy Joiner to arrive.

Consultancy is another opportunity to share your skills – Reviewing a Strategic plan, facilitating a Team Day Out, contributing to a company turnaround and re-structure are just a few activities that such roles can be used for and many organisations prefer to obtain the unbiased objective view for such tasks.

If travelling is an interest, then there are ways that this could also generate an income or reduce your costs whilst you experience new environments. It is most likely that you will need to undertake an instructional course – the following link offers an insight and advice into the training required to be a Tour Guide  https://www.itg.org.uk/

Being a Tour Guide is a varied role and can be local, national, international and/or topic specific. So, if Ghost tours are your thing then perhaps leading small groups of like-minded people through the dark alleys of York and/or Edinburgh could be something you aim for. Perhaps food is both your interest and area of expertise so perhaps look to be a Food Tour Guide (not sure of correct title for that job role). I recently experienced a guided tour of Brixton and Borough Markets in London – learning about the markets from both an historical and food perspective, on our tour we also had a ‘Learner’ guide who was planning to work part time once qualified.

Volunteering in the national parks (National and/or International)– I don’t mean managing the forests or rounding up the badgers, although perhaps it is a possibility. Rather, assisting in the Gift Shop, general guide or as an interpreter may be of interest. These roles rarely offer a salary and are usually seasonal although some offer low cost housing in exchange for your input.

Teaching English as a second language, especially if you already hold the TESOL qualification, is another opportunity to generate income either in Britain or abroad.

House-sitting is an alternative way to reduce the cost of travel whilst seeing new areas either in Britain or abroad. The following link is to an interesting article written by an experience house-sitter  https://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/house-sitting/ – although USA based it does contain some useful advice that applies worldwide The Following link is a UK based site that may also be useful if house sitting appeals to you (not having investigated this previously I am thinking it may be something I look into further) .  https://www.housesittersuk.co.uk/

Turning your hobbies – quilting, knitting, wooden toys, baking – into income is now possible using such websites as Etsy, Pinterest, Ebay (sites easily accessed via Search Engines) which enable you to sell your products. Or, you could approach local community colleges to investigate vocational teaching opportunities.

The opportunities and pathways are so varied I could not possibly list them all although have some website examples below. If this sounds as if it could be of interest, then follow through with that thought. Then the next 3 web addresses are links to USA sites so some of the legal information is not correct for the UK although they are interesting sites with useful insights so worth a read. The final web link is to a site offering guidance relating to managing your finances and budgeting in ways that ensure you do not need to re-join the workforce at all.

https://www.saga.co.uk/magazine/money/work/careers/working-after-retirement  sound general information with case studies and scenarios.

https://www.gov.uk/working-retirement-pension-age looking at any legalities re state pension and working.

https://www.newretirement.com/retirement/jobs-for-seniors-best-jobs-after-retirement/ An American site but still very useful hints and tips about returning to work and identifying what is best for you.

https://www.freshminds.co.uk/whats-fresh/post/2017/07/21/what-is-a-non-executive-director-and-how-do-you-get-there Information relating to non-executive roles.

https://www.theguardian.com/small-business-network/2014/jan/24/become-home-freelance-consultant how to set up a Consultancy with some useful insights from the experience of others.

USA Based sites:




Site for those who would first like to review financial planning:


Photo accreditation:

Featured Image Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Student – Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Tools –  Photo by Dominik Scythe on Unsplash

Travellers – Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

Forest –  Photo by Tommy Lisbin on Unsplash

House – Photo by Matthew Harwood on Unsplash

End Photo – Photo by Jamie Templeton on Unsplash


Last of the Summer


The weather forecast for today – so I heard – is sunny and unusually warm for October so thought I would wander into the garden and take photographs of any remaining flowers.








The Sunflower was late to bloom (a seed dropped by a passing bird we think) and so requires propping up with sticks. Hopefully it will once again become bird food, natural recycling. 

We live at the edge of a village and until recently looked out over fields towards a non-intrusive dual carriageway. Like many in Britain we now live next to an enormous building site and watch whilst the 4 fields become a housing estate. Whilst I understand the need for increased housing I wonder when we will decide to build upwards rather than outwards. I know that builders prefer to build on unused land – so much easier – rather than ‘brown sites’ but, really, would it not be environmentally friendlier to use land already devoid of its natural inhabitants rather than evicting the grasses and animals that inhabit the green sites.

Alongside these fields there is a narrow long piece of land that is fortunately a public right of way and has a small beck running through it – so has been saved from the digger. Until the building started the fields were used for dog-walking and children playing so there was regular foot traffic passing us – the entrance to the main fields being via the narrow right of way. I have noticed that fewer people walk past as dogs are now exercised elsewhere.

Thought I would take a walk along the beck path expecting to see the trees in their autumnal splendour – we must have had a wet spring as the majority are only now losing the green foliage and turning brown and gold – very little red to be seen.

What I did notice was how quickly the saplings, that appear every year, have grown. The path is now crowded and it is difficult to follow the usual route. So, all changes are not negative. I am guessing that the reduced number of people using the path has reduced the number of plants and trees being ‘crushed underfoot’.

Looking through a clump of trees the roof of a completed house is just visible – hopefully the new owners do not complain of lack of light and insist on the removal of the hedge and trees.

Looking at my photographs I also notice the steel fence erected along a field to prevent entry – understand the safety concerns etc although I also hear that this particular field will not be built on for approx. 2 years so why not leave it open to the public a little longer.

Whilst on my little stroll I noticed a pheasant, again a positive, and waited quietly hoping to take his photo although both of us were startled by a sudden noise overhead. From the sound I am guessing they are migrating ducks – so I achieved a bird photo, just not the one I was expecting.

Looking back towards the field – I wonder what it will look like this time next year.

Hopefully it will still be recognisable.

Las Vegas to San Francisco 2018 (Part 2)

Heading north after 3 days activities at Lake Tahoe our next destination was San Francisco airport to collect the final member of our party and to swap our vehicle for two others. To the eldest daughter’s delight, one was a Soft Top Ford Mustang, which was a pleasure to travel in and much suited the ‘ladies’ in the party rather than the men – or so we argued, commended the vehicle and headed to Napa Valley/Sonoma County looking for Kenwood town.

Once at Kenwood and following the directions the first thing that we all noticed was the number of building sites, the number of mobile homes and tents on those sites – our first view of the devastation left by the fires in 2017. It was quite amazing how quickly the land had been cleared and the re-building commenced. The house we had rented was one of very few in that locality to survive. We heard of the efforts of the community to save the property’s – how people, when realising their own house was doomed immediately moved to assist elsewhere, truly the neighbours we would all wish for.

We stayed in a beautiful house on the outskirts of the town. The house was well equipped with games and activities for both indoor and outdoors. The swimming pool, hot tub and BBQ area were well used, as was the indoor Pool table. There were also seating areas along the creek which ran through the large garden. These were peaceful areas to sit although the creek itself was dry. Outdoor games were evident – especially the Baseball practice area although these had been damaged during the fires of 2017 and repair work was in progress during our stay. The house and grounds were a joy and we all agreed that we had not utilised the facilities due to the sightseeing we undertook – should we ever return I will table in some ‘stay at home days’ to have fun. https://www.homeaway.com/ There was a small group of deer that appeared to live in the garden, as well as a flock of turkeys that appeared every morning – both of which added to the ‘countryside’ feel of our surroundings.

As we hear from news bulletins, such fires are not uncommon, and we quickly became aware of the preventive measures taken by the residents. For example, each building has numerous external taps with hoses attached and each house is spaced well apart from the neighbours. Jason, the caretaker of our house, had used the hoses to soak the nearby trees as well as the house itself for many hours, although he gave the credit to the neighbours coming to assist and that the wind direction did not change.

The focus of this section of the holiday was, of course, wine tasting. I am not a connoisseur, nor an experienced drinker of wines so a lot of what I heard went over my head, although it was all interesting and good to see. I had not appreciated the passion of wine producers, nor the skills required to produce a high-end product. My real surprise was the Chardonnay. A wine I avoid in Britain – I think it has a ‘tinny’ taste with a bitter aftertaste. In Napa it is a smooth buttery liquid that lingers pleasantly on the tongue. It was explained to me that this is due to the soil and production methods. Just – if you are there, tasting wines, do try the Chardonnays. (Now that is a sentence I never thought I would write). The biggest shame is that these wines are not exported.







There are plenty of other activities in the area and we also managed a morning hike in the Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. Must admit I did not make it to the top although I did return back down to the car park on my own through Mountain Lion country!! It is said that you should do something everyday that scares you – think I had enough scariness to last the rest of the year. 

Our final change of scenery was Sans Francisco, driving over the Golden Gate Bridge is a well documented spectacle and we were lucky with the weather, so we had a good view on the day we arrived. Unfortunately, after that it was always foggy so no photographs.                                                     



There is plenty to see in the city – using one of the ‘Hop on, Hop off’ tourist buses is a good way of getting about. Cycling is another although do you need a good set of legs to climb the hilly streets – I left the biking to the boys.

The waterfront (Fisherman’s Wharf & The Piers) is a must – if only for the ‘street food’ huts offering plenty of fish dishes.

Alcatraz is another tourist attraction not to be missed, although its gruesome history may put some people off visiting, the boat trip offers a different view of the Bay area and there is more to the island than just the prison. It was a surprise to discover that the families of the prison staff lived there too. The children travelling to the mainland each day for school. The island itself has a lengthy history of its various uses, a shame we only think of it as a prison. www.nps.gov/alcatraz

The Golden Gate Park deserved more than the 60 minutes we allocated – a day with a picnic would be better https://goldengatepark.com/

And, whilst we are mentioning food – we found the best ever Dim Sum restaurant in Chinatown (another place to visit – busy, busy but fun) We had hopped off the tourist bus as lunch time was approaching, I opened the Tourist book looking for guidance/recommendations and ‘City View’ was rated highly and nearby so thought we would try it. What a find – It was everything we had read, the best choice of tasty Dim Sum ever. The advice in our book was to arrive early to ensure a table and I would repeat that (we were there towards the end of the lunch period so there were a few tables although could have been risky if you are in larger groups). Also, useful to note it has short opening hours.   http://cityviewdimsum.com/

Despite following the ‘tourist trail’ in San Francisco a lasting memory for me is the number of young beggars and ‘spaced out’ addicts in the streets of the Tenderloin and Waterfront areas. Perhaps legalising marijuana was not such a good idea.

Walking the streets around Union Square there are plenty of opportunities to call in at the small art galleries – my favourite was the gallery on Greary Street displaying the work of Dr Seuss http://www.dennisraefineart.com/artists/dr-seuss/. The curator was fun and informative – just like one of his characters.

I felt that there was a lot of the city that we didn’t see, perhaps it needs more than the 4 days I was there. I had not visited California before although had researched the areas we were visiting and formed an ‘uninformed opinion’ (as you do) from the websites and books I had read. Needless to say, having experienced it, my thoughts are different. Las Vegas surprised me and I would re-visit it again. San Francisco did not live up to my expectations. Perhaps because we were there on the Labour Day weekend and it was so crowded. Lake Tahoe and Napa Valley deserved more time than we had – and again I would re-visit, just stay longer.

The purpose of the holiday had been to gather the family together for major birthday celebrations – but mainly just to ‘gather the family together’ and that I think was a success.





North East Ladies Day 2018

I have long heard tales of ‘Ladies who Lunch’ so when invited by a friend to ‘lunch out’ a Yes was the only response, obviously.

The lunch was an annual event called the ‘North East Ladies Day’ (NELD) – organised both to support local charities and to bring the ladies of the north east closer together. https://www.northeastladiesday.co.uk/   Established in 1983 it has raised over £300,000 for small local charities based in the north east – it is often such charities that miss out on opportunities available to the larger charities such as Cancer Research UK, BLISS etc. All deserving of support although due to their national visibility, and often a Patron with a household name, the larger charities are more recognisable when we are looking for a cause to promote.

Each year the Lunch has increased its attendance and this year was the largest to date. There was a mix of attendees, many were there to socialise whilst supporting local charities whilst others were  women in business taking the opportunity to raise their visibility and to network.

Aside from the charitable objective the day also provides a vibrant social occasion to catch up with friends old and new. I talked to a group of ladies who only meet once a year, at this lunch. They were all seated together at a lunch 12 years ago and had such a good time that they have met annually ever since.

There were 645 ladies at this, the 36th lunch, and all were greeted at the door by the Master of Ceremonies – Elissa Baker – a very cheery host who employed humour and wit to ensure the programme ran smoothly. A glass of Champagne whilst wandering through the marquee listening to vocalist Val Bilton and visiting the 40 stalls is a good way to spend an hour before lunch, I must say.

The Stalls were a variety of goods and services and very tempting with Christmas not too far away. These ranged from Leather goods, Specialist Gins, Make-your-own curry spice kits, Photographers and cosmetics. I did try on a coat that was an excellent match for the dress I was wearing although unfortunately not in my size.

Following lunch (3 courses and well cooked and presented – for 645, how do they do it?) we were treated to a demonstration of dance by some of the children benefiting from one of the supported charities (see below) and two soloists from nearby Yarm School.

This year Anne Diamond had accepted the invitation, as the Guest Speaker, to address the NELD Ladies. Now, I did know of her, especially through the ‘Back to Sleep’ campaign. I doubt there is anyone in Britain who has not heard of her, but I am not a morning TV viewer, nor have I ever watched ‘Loose Women’ so had no expectations.

Anne Diamond 
Credit: Rocky/WENN.com

Starting her talk bright and energetic she suddenly stopped ‘I can’t do this – speaking behind a lectern with all these mikes, I must come forward’. So she did, setting the tone for the remainder of her time – open, friendly, honest whilst being informative and interesting. Her topic was her career, it’s ups and downs. Yet, it wasn’t about her but about those she had met, who had supported her whilst she developed skills and gained experience. The generosity of people she met, even those who were initially strangers before becoming friends.

Oh – the name dropping! Each anecdote demonstrating the humanity of those she interviewed. Who know that Mrs Thatcher was interested in fashion and happy to offer style advice?

Too many tales to repeat although I did note that each was told with an abundance of fun and an absence of malice. A very entertaining 50 minutes, no one minded that she over-ran, even MC Elissa ignored the time keeping.

The topic I remember most was the reference to the #metoo campaign. Anne Diamond recognised its importance and agreed that those found guilty of harassment should be justly punished. She then reminded us that during her career she had met many men in positions of power who had not abused their positions, that they had in fact been supportive and generous with advice, promoting the development of female colleagues. It was important, she reminded the audience, that this is recognised, that women have some understanding of the impact the recent revelations have had on the confidence of men in general.

The charities selected for 2018 and offered the chance to raise awareness of their aims and activity are listed below, photographed receiving an interim cheque from Anne Diamond, on behalf of NELD:

We Can Dance ( https://www.wecandance.co.uk/ ) a small charity which provides dance lessons for children with special needs, we were treated to demonstration of dance by some of the children – Strictly contestants of the future I wondered. As well as learning to dance, the hidden benefits include the increase of self-confidence, improvement of movement and the opportunity to develop friendships.

JPC Community Farm ( https://jpccommunityfarm.co.uk/ ) set in approx. 23 acres the community sole purpose is to provide supported independent living for adults with special complex needs in a safe and caring environment. It offers many activities encouraging everyone to reach their full potential.

Neoangels ( http://www.neoangels.org.uk/ ) supporting the families and staff on the Neonatal Units of North tees Hospital in Stockton and James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough. This charity is particularly dear to me as my youngest daughter arrived in the world too soon and spent her first two weeks in the North Tees Neonatal unit – amongst minor concerns she also kept forgetting to breathe, which was very frightening for those around her. Being a midwife who had specialised in Neonatal care did not help me at all! The staff in the unit were fantastic and so, obviously, I am always happy to support the charity’s aims to provide a comfortable environment for families whilst their child is in the unit.    The North East Ladies day 2019 is on Tuesday 24th September, the guest speaker is Ian Waite. A Professional dancer, previously on Strictly Come Dancing, as well as his professional dancing career he is currently supporting Zoe Ball on ‘It Takes Two’.

The date is already in my diary.