Monday, April 30, 2012

Barclays Accused of "Reckless Disregard"

An independent report prepared for Guardian Care Homes (GCH), which operates 30 care homes, by derivatives experts at JC Rathbone Associates accuses Barclays of "reckless disregard" over its sale of a set of complex derivatives to GCH.

GCH are suing Barclays for £36M, and the report will be used in its case against the bank.

The Telegraph notes that the report alleges that the terms of the loan posed "a risk of breach of covenant", while also claiming that the hedges sold to GCH were never likely to have protected it against rising interest rates.

Barclays in a statement last week said:
"This action is completely without merit and we will contest it vigorously. Barclays is satisfied that it provides sufficient information to enable a client to make an informed, commercial decision about the products it offers."
On Friday, Bob Diamond, CEO of Barclays, said the number of complaints was "very small", but admitted "mistakes" were likely to have been made.

The banks marketed these products as protection against potential higher future costs, the products do not do this. It would have been in the hapless purchasers' interests to take out a simple to understand fixed rate loan. Unfortunately, for the hapless customer, the commission earned by the banks on these complex financial products were higher.

I will leave you with the thoughts of Bob Diamond, 3rd November 2011:
"The only way that banks will win back the public's trust is to become better citizens. That starts with how we behave, and in demonstrating we act with trust and integrity. 

At banks this means the interests of customers and clients must be at the very heart of every decision made."
How very true!  

Our Spring Mantle (Two Ways)

Hi all!  If you've been reading along for awhile, you know we don't have a fireplace or a mantle in our house, but the console table in our entryway has functioned as a little display area over the years.  Right now, we're showcasing some lime green in honor of Spring!  I've styled our table two ways, I'm curious if you prefer one over the other.

Our first vignette features family photos and things in our home which have a way of playing musical decor (like the Target runner and jar from Home Goods, which were previously on our breakfast table).  

I've got some faux blossoming branches in the jar next to my favorite, inexpensive green apples ($1 each) from WalMart.  We typically have fresh fruit on hand in the kitchen which always adds a nice splash of color to the room, but here in the entry, I like the pop of color the faux apples add. 

My favorite recent find is the ampersand I got at Target.  It's hollow and adds a cute bit of character.  I'm sure at a later date it will look great in one of our bookcases or in my office. 

Then, because I'm actually not crazy about all the dark wood (mirror and console), because I think it looks and feels too heavy, I traded out the framed photos for a propped up Made By Girl "LOVE" print, which obscures the chunky wood mirror some.  

I like the simplicity of the second table, but the family photos are a nice personal touch to come home to.  What do you think? 

The area is constantly in flux, so there's no right or wrong answer:) 

You might remember last Spring, we had a simple arrangement of huge sunflowers in our entryway. 

Our Nativity Scene stayed here at Christmas.

Our you styling your mantle for Spring? 

Friday, April 27, 2012

baby james is too cool

This time last year I couldn't get the guy to wear a hat for more than two seconds, let alone shades.  

Look at him now!

(The hat is from Old Navy and the sunglasses are from Target).  He wants to wear the hat all.the.time!

We were headed to a block party in our neighborhood.  I had no idea how many young couples and little kids lived in our neighborhood.  We really had a good time meeting everyone, a great group of people.  Now, we just need to stay in touch!


Our house guests are here:) and thankfully, their new room is much improved!  Go HERE to see where we left off.  I'll have to share some photos next week!

Have a great weekend!

Spanish Youth Unemployment Soars

As our EU overlords seek to impose further austerity measures on their subjects, whilst at the same time seeking an increase in their own budget for 2013 of 6.8%, it is worthwhile remembering that the EU financial straitjacket is having real consequences for real people.

Spanish unemployment figures have hit a record level of 5,639,500 at the end of March (24.4%), with youth unemployment at a shocking level of 52%.

The EU may care to pause and reflect on those figures for a moment, before it continues with its self destructive quest to fill its bloated coffers with a 6.8% increase in budget.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Britain Back in Recession?

According to figures released by the ONS, the UK is back in recession.

However, as with all figures produced by the ONS, the data needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. ONS figures are notoriously unreliable and as with all previous figures they will be revised upwards in the coming weeks, thus taking Britain out of recession.

Decorating Under the Staircase

Thanks to my friend Stephanie (Cre8tive Designs, Inc.) and her Pinterest board, I found a lovely velvety grey-blue Target settee with nailhead detailing for under $300.  Although I originally thought it would be perfect in our entryway, for now it's made a home under the stairs, an area of our home that was previously barren.

Today, I wanted to show you the progression in this little area of our home with the Target settee.  I originally started with some pillows I already had on hand and the silver side table I got at Home Goods.

It was an improvement, but still lacking.  The colors were drab and weren't really showing off the settee like I'd hoped, so I made envelope pillows using the two fabrics from our dining room and living room drapes.  I think the two patterns mix nicely together. 

I also changed out the blue flowers for these two faux leaf branches from Hobby Lobby.  The woven basket is from West Elm (y'all know I love my baskets and trays!)  I'd been wanting to get an area rug for that space, but hadn't gotten around to it until now.  I found a 6-foot round rug at Pottery Barn and it was "free" because I had a gift certificate and rewards points:)  (I can feel my husband rolling his eyes at my use of the word "free" here!)  The rug is nice- very thick and soft.

I liked how it was looking, but wanted to add another layer, so I brought in this lime ombre throw from West Elm.  I like the contrasting color so much- it's fresh!  They also sell it in coral. 

I'm liking how this area is coming along, but wonder if I should put something on the wall?  Perhaps a round mirror?  Or is the blank space nice?  I get anxious if there's too much going on visually in one area and we do have a large framed family photo on the adjacent wall.  

* * * * * 

It finally hit me this weekend that our home is really coming along, feeling like home.  More spaces and rooms have been given the love and decorative touches.  When we moved in nearly two years ago (it will be two years in July 2012!), we literally started from scratch.  It's nice to finally look at all the progress we've made and feel a sense of satisfaction with all the little touches that make it ours.  I love being home.  

Have you taken the time to step back and admire the progress you've made in your home?  I hope so.  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Useless Gobshites - The EC

Here are threes sets of figures:

- Total cuts in public spending in Greece: -20% (as share of GDP)
- Total cuts in government spending in Latvia: -22%
- Proposed increase in the EC’s 2013 budget: 6.8%

Notice something odd?

Yes, that's right, the body that is imposing austerity packages on EU countries is asking for an increase in the budget of the European Commission of 6.8%!

The EC has lost touch with reality, and is quite clearly a threat to stability and well being of Europe itself.

I Heart Organizing

Today I'm thrilled to be sharing with Jen over at her wonderful blog, 

I'm sure you know her, and her amazing organizational and design skills, but if you've lost touch or haven't been over in a while, please come say hi!  

See ya there!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Our Breakfast Bar

With two working parents and a baby to get to school, we need to be ready to roll in the morning.  For me, that means coffee STAT!  I like to have it already brewing while I'm still waking up and getting out of bed:)  (Our machine has a setting where we can set it to brew before bed- love that!)  I've been making an effort to get up earlier, and always start my day with a big cup of coffee.  We are Starbuck's espresso roast folks over here, and I add glug of Coffeemate caramel vanilla to it.

Our breakfast bar is set up so that everything we need is at our fingertips.  Our ground coffee, coffee scoop, and packets of Splenda are at the ready since my husband likes to sweeten his coffee pretty well.  

And we both usually eat oatmeal in the morning, so our glass canisters are stocked with rolled oats, raisins, and sliced almonds.  I add cinnamon too, so I keep it nearby also. 

Shelli from House of Smiths was sweet enough to send me the vinyl decals for our glass jars.  I got my jars at Pier One, but I've also seen them at Hobby Lobby.  I like them because they have rubber inside the lid to keep them air tight. 

I don't normally keep flowers near the coffee maker, but moved them from the breakfast table for this shot:)  Also, our Cuisinart coffee maker has survived about 5 years, but we just bought a new one this weekend, the same model, just the newer version, because our plastic lid got burned and started leaking coffee when pouring.   I took these pics before we replaced it.  The new one looks a little nicer, as far as coffee makers go. 

You may remember my post about keeping things corralled on trays, and the tray below I especially like because it's got a great woven texture and is really large.  I found it at West Elm.  

Making our coffee ahead of time and having the oatmeal jars out on the counter help make our morning routine run smoother.  The weekday mornings can be hectic if we both have to get out the door early, but I so enjoy the weekend mornings when I get a chance to linger a little longer with my coffee and some magazines I've been waiting to read!

How's your morning routine?  I'm always curious if you drink coffee in the morning like me, or prefer tea or some other caffeinated beverage, or nothing at all??  It's those little things that make me feel like I know you better:)  

Shackled To Debt

Britain (like every other significant national economy) is shackled to debt.

The UK public sector net debt has risen to £1.022 Trillion, that is the equivalent to 66% of GDP and the highest since records began.

Some are questioning how this can happen, given that the politicians have launched an austerity programme designed to cut back on on debt.

The answer is simple.

The "planned" cuts and austerity drive will never cut the actual level of debt, at best the cuts will reduce the rate of increase of debt.

We are destined to be shackled to debt for the rest of our lives!

Monday, April 23, 2012

"Free" Money - The Great PPI Giveaway

Courtesy of the greed and lack of ethics of our tainted financial services industry, there are billions of pounds to be "given away" by the recalcitrant banks and lending institutions that conned people into buying the now widely derided Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) policies.

Simon Gompertz has published the headline figures:
"The extraordinary scale of the PPI compensation grab:

£5bn compensation still to be paid out

12 million policies may have been mis-sold

800 claims management companies  trying to get a slice of the money

£2m a month being spent on advertising by these claims companies

They charge 25% or more in fees, plus VAT

Banks are making 50,000 compensation payments a week

That's around £400m a month being paid out

The payments average £2,750, some are £16,000 or more

Some say this massive cash payout could give a boost to the economy

How to claim compensation? Contact your bank, or the 
Financial Ombudsman Service"
Given that the banks showed no ethics in selling these now widely derided products onto their naive customers, there is no shame in asking for them to pay the money back (but don't waste money on using a claims company).

Bringing in Freshness with House Plants

Hello!  I hope you had a great weekend!  Since I spent the better part of Sunday morning in our yard pulling weeds (and ruining my fingernails) and trimming bushes, I thought a post about the new greenery in our house was rather appropriate:)

I've been loving the fresh impact that our Fiddle Leaf Fig tree has given the living room, and wanted to bring that same lively energy into another room in our home.  One day after work last week, I detoured into Lowe's and picked up two bright green houseplants.  They've since made their home in our master sitting room.  I'm digging the way they freshen up the space.

Since there's a lot of brown happening in this area, the bright green is a refreshing addition.  The plants are called Dieffenbachia, although they must be different varieties because they have different care guides- or they may just be from different sellers.  According to my instructions, the plant on the left is supposed to get high light, specifically, 3-4 hours of indirect light per day, while the plant on the right requires indirect medium light, but it didn't say how many hours per day.  

This particular spot in our home gets quite a bit of afternoon light, and I can easily adjust the blinds to allow more or less light into the room.  Hopefully, I don't kill them!  So far so good, but it's only been a week.  Do any of you have tips you'd like to share? 

Aren't these big leaves gorgeous?  I like the difference between the two.  

I was pleasantly surprised by look of the Allen & Roth line of accessories sold at Lowes.  Both white vases are from that brand.  It's a crisp, clean look that I like for now, even though the shelves are also white (Sherwin Williams Divine White).  

Here's an older wide shot of the room so you can see the difference.  (You may also notice that I changed out the black framed photo of James for a softer canvas print.  You can see the picture better in the first shot in this post.  I still die over all that black hair.  He was 2 weeks old in that photo:)  That $35 starburst mirror is from Home Depot!

I'd really like to get a nice, big houseplant for our entryway, but that area is poorly lit naturally.  I've had my eye out for something that may work in size and maintenance, but haven't found it yet.  Any suggestions? 

Hope you have a great Monday!

Dutch Government Resigns

In a display of irony, probably lost on them, the Dutch government (which in the past has berated other nations for failing to implement austerity measures) has resigned this morning.

For why?

Talks about implementing austerity measures broke down.

Not so easy is it, when you have to implement cuts in your own country?

The Netherlands now faces a general election, which of course will further destabilise the EU's attempts to pull itself out of its self created financial crisis.

Unfortunately, for the citizens of the EU, the financial structure of the EU (ie the Eurozone) is not "democracy friendly". One or the other has to give way, either financial dictatorship is imposed in order to try to resolve the crisis or the current structure (ie the Eurozone) will fail as democracy once again reasserts itself.

The latter option is infinitely preferable, as the former will lead to civil and social chaos.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Greece Oil Shock

In January I warned that the EU embargo on Iranian oil would cause Greece problems:
"There has been much hype and sanctimonious puffing of chests from the EU about its agreement "in principle" to ban imports of oil from Iran.

However, as
Paul Stevens economist and emeritus professor at Dundee University in Scotland notes, Greece currently imports 30% of its domestic oil from Iran on favourable terms.

Were Iranian oil imports to be banned, where would Greece get its oil from?

Saudi Arabia?

Maybe, but at an economy busting $150+ per barrel.

As with all EU "plans" this one has not been thought through
In February I noted that:
"They are currently negotiating for supplies of oil from elsewhere, any admission that their supplies have been cut will negatively impact those negotiations and cause panic buying in Greece."
As predicted, things are not going well; as reported by News.AZ:
"The EU has postponed an April deadline to review the impacts of the bloc’s embargo on oil imports from Iran due to Greece's concerns on finding new oil suppliers."
As ever with all EU "plans", no one has bothered to think through the consequences of them.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Oh The Irony - Panic Buying Saved Britain

In a twist of irony, it seems that the panic buying of petrol caused by the government mishandling of the tanker drivers' dispute may have helped pull Britain out of recession.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed a 1.8% month-on-month increase in retail sales volumes and a 3.3% year-on-year rise. The increase was above economist forecasts, and were partly helped by a 4.9% increase in petrol purchases.

Open Kitchen Shelving

Open shelving in the kitchen can be a little controversial.  People have a tendency to think, "I don't want everyone seeing all my mismatched dishes." or "I don't want the pressure of having to keep everything neat and organized all the time."  

But if you choose a few specific, key items to keep on "display" and have a certain spot for each of those things, open shelving can be really pretty and open up the room.  

In our kitchen, our glass cabinet shelving holds our everyday plates and bowls, as well as a few decorative wooden bowls and my favorite Mikasa chevron plates and cups. 

The light olive plates are from my single days and are made by Calvin Klein.  The off-white place setting is from our wedding registry at Crate & Barrel.  The wooden bowls are from Pottery Barn.  

Jimmy's bachelor white Ikea plates and bowls are still with us.  

It's easy to keep things organized when you don't have more things than you have room for.  Every dish has a specific place where it goes. Whoever puts the dishes away knows exactly where to put them.

Lately, I've been considering doing something with the back of the cabinets (paint, wallpaper, fabric??).  

I still love these Calvin Klein plates and bowls.  I remember they were my first "set" of dishes as an adult and I searched all over before finally deciding on them.  They have a great weight to them.  (p.s. I found them at Macy's).

The black plates with the gold rim are from Z Gallerie.  

Do you like open shelving in the kitchen or prefer to keep your things behind closed doors?  

Thursday, April 19, 2012

French Downgrade Rumours

The Twittersphere is awash with rumours that France is to be downgraded.


HomeServe Fined £750K For Cold Calling

HomeServe have been fined £750K by Ofcom for cold calling during the period 1 February 2011 and 21 March 2011:
"HomeServe confirms that it has been notified that Ofcom has imposed a fine of £750,000 pursuant to section 130 of the Communications Act 2003 in relation to Ofcom's finding, that between 1 February 2011 and 21 March 2011 ('the Relevant Period') a number of outbound marketing calls made on behalf of HomeServe by one outsourced supplier, did not meet Ofcom's rules regarding silent, abandoned or repeat calls. HomeServe is reviewing the detailed determination.

HomeServe identified the issue and promptly reported it to Ofcom, following an internal audit of all of HomeServe's telemarketing operations. The problem was identified as having resulted from the incorrect use of Answering Machine Detection (AMD) technology via an outsourcer. HomeServe can confirm that it no longer works with outsourcers on its outbound marketing and that AMD is no longer used in any calls made by the company.

HomeServe can also confirm that all of its dialler systems have been fully compliant with Ofcom regulations since 22 March 2011, following the rectification of the errors identified during HomeServe's audit.

HomeServe is providing goodwill gestures of £10 to customers who received a silent, abandoned or repeat call from the referenced outsourcer over the Relevant Period. Anyone who believes they were subject to these over the Relevant Period should contact the company before 31 May 2012 on 0800 389 5280 and the claim will be investigated.

The above details will not have a material impact on HomeServe's financial results and the Company’s financial guidance remains consistent with the pre-close trading update of 29 March."
That's all very well, maybe.

However, why did Ofcom only fine HomeServe for that period and what about the people (such as myself) who were bombarded with cold calls in 2010?


To HomeServe's credit I have just received a call from them, and have been promised £10 for my poor experience of their cold calls.

Guest Room- The Fabric Plan

The guest room is coming along, and as you saw yesterday, I even cleaned out the closet!  But the room needs drapes!  I originally bought plain, white cotton panels, but they looked too boring, especially against our very pale gray walls (and I'm not in the mood to paint right now).  I couldn't find ready-made drapes that I was in love with, so I figured I'd make my own- or have my seamstress sew them!  We'll see, I've done both before.  (I made the curtains in my office and it was such a chore working with all that fabric for a beginning sewer, but I had my seamstress sew our living room and dining room drapes).

I was browsing Spoonflower for fabric online and found several in the aqua color I was looking for.  It's hard when you're looking at fabric online because obviously, if you haven't seen it in person before, you don't know how true the color is, how the repeat will look etc.

My duvet cover is an orange and white geometric pattern from WalMart, but I also have an orange and white Greek Key duvet cover from Z Gallerie that would work in the room.

Originally, I planned to use the Z Gallerie duvet and make drapes from the WM duvet (the orange side), but changed my mind when I decided to add aqua to the room.  

I just placed my order for the fabrics below, so I hope they work out. 

The first one is what I'm thinking of for drapes.  I like that it's aqua with a bit of a pattern that looks like texture.  I won't really know until I see it in person if it looks like how I picture it.

I'm thinking of using the fabrics below to make throw pillows.  I'm not very good at mixing fabrics and patterns, so I appreciate your feedback.  I'm hoping the coral in the fabrics goes with the orange in the room.  

Thanks to The Handmade Home for posting about great fabric sources.