Monday, October 16, 2017

Launching into homeschooling

L and J at Arataki Visitors Centre today.

So this will be totally out of the blue for a lot of you, but we've decided to homeschool our eldest daughter, L. Her official school exemption letter from the Ministry of Education came through on the weekend, just in time for us to launch into term four of 2017 at home.

Why are we doing this? Well, in a nutshell, because L wasn't happy at school.

She had to change schools partway through last year when we bought our house, but never really settled into her new school, despite having loved her old one.

Unfortunately for L, her younger sister, S, started school shortly after we made the move, so I was busy trying to get S settled into school for the first time and left L to handle things on her own for too long. I really wish I'd been there for her more last year. I guess I just didn't expect things to go as badly as they did. She had taken to her old school like a fish to the sea and I just kept on expecting her to adjust.

But she didn't.

Over the last year and a half I've watched my happy, outgoing, vivacious girl become increasingly tearful, withdrawn, needy, unsure of herself and unsure how to behave around others.

I had meeting after meeting with her school about it, and they were amazing and wonderful at trying to support L. But the fact is, she's one kid in a big school, so despite the school's awareness of the situation, she still got lost in the system. Which is completely understandable. Teachers are asked to do SOOO much in their jobs. How was L's teacher supposed to deal with L melting down multiple times a day when he had twenty-five other students to help and teach?

Because of all the meltdowns, I started considering the idea of homeschooling. L was begging me every day to let her stay home, so it was natural to start thinking about whether homeschooling could work for us.

I mulled over it for a looooong time. Really long.

But I doubted my ability to educate L in any successful, meaningful way. There's a reason I didn't go to teachers' college, after all.

I wondered about all the things she would miss out on that she gets in the school environment, like daily P.E. with lots of kids, or like the chance to perform in assembly in front of a large crowd.

I also doubted whether I'd have the energy to give her what she would need from me, day after day.

But I decided to put all my fears and doubts aside when L's violin teacher told me she needed to cancel lessons because L was melting down every week and it was too stressful teaching her. In that moment I realised something drastic had to change. L needed major support and one-on-one time with someone who loved her unconditionally, so she could get her confidence back. She needed someone to take the time to walk with her through her dark moments, giving her avenues to take other than to just sit down and be quiet.

Already with homeschooling I've had the chance to see how this one-on-one time with L works in action. I put together a spelling test for L using words I noticed she had misspelt in a story. She got to copy the correct words once, and then I took away the master list and tested her on them. She sat the test and when I marked it, I found that she had only got one word wrong. Her total score was 17/18, for words that half an hour before she had misspelt completely. But instead of seeing the success she'd just had in learning 17 new words, L lasered in on that one misspelt word and burst into tears.

The words coming out of her mouth were just awful to hear.

"I'm so stupid!" was her most commonly repeated phrase. I couldn't believe she'd say that about herself and I said as much, but there was no consoling her.

I told her to go outside and lie on the trampoline and look up at the sky for a bit while I made us hot chocolates (I always feel calmer looking at the sky, so I hoped it would help calm her down too). Then I came outside and we sat on the deck together and drank our hot chocolates while we talked through what had just happened.

I asked her what she would have said to her brother or sister if they had got 17/18 on a spelling test. Would she have called them stupid? No, of course not.

From there we discussed the idea that the way we speak about ourselves shapes ourselves. That we have to be just as kind in the way we speak about ourselves, as we are when speaking about others. The conversation got deep. It got spiritual. And by the end, I could see L was feeling a lot better.

I was so glad to have been there with her for that. If she had been at school when it happened, I don't know how they would have dealt with it, but I'm sure it wouldn't have got to issues of core identity. More likely she would have been sent to the classroom next door while she calmed herself down.

And that's why we've decided to homeschool L. So I can be there with her to walk through the hard stuff that seems to be cropping up for her at the moment.

I don't know how long it will be for - we're taking that term by term - but it will be at least until I'm convinced she's developed the skills to go out into the world and deal with disappointments without being completely debilitated by them.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Hello. I'm ba-ack!

It's been a month since I last posted because my darling, precious, beautiful laptop frizzed out on me. No warning.

It was a hard time of discovery for me. Discovery that all the files I thought I'd backed up so nicely on an external hard drive, were in fact, not there. I don't know what I was remembering backing up, but it wasn't the stuff I needed.

In the interim, we bought a second-hand laptop to replace my old one - a PC so the kids can play minecraft on it as well as do any online schoolwork they might need to do. But when it came time for me to use it, I just didn't like it. It was a little bulkier, a little heavier than my previous laptop and the keys didn't light up for when I was using it in dim light.

Also, I had lost months' worth of work, which made me keep eyeing my old laptop longingly.

I decided to take my old laptop to a computer repair person and pay the $80 fee for a diagnostic test to see whether it was saveable. Based on the symptoms my laptop was displaying, the repairman thought that either my hard drive had died (in which case all those un-backed-up files were lost for good) or the connection between my screen and hard drive had broken. I left the laptop with him so he could work out which it was. And I prayed.

4.30pm that day he called me.

His news was good. It was the connection, not the hard drive that was busted. He could fix it. Should he go ahead?

"Heck yes," I said, along with a few too many, "Thank you!"'s

So another couple of hundred dollars later, I was able to pick up my precious, oh-so-loved (never leave me again) laptop and immediately back up all my files onto both the cloud and an external hard drive.

And it is on that beautiful laptop I say, "Hello," to you today.

Hello.

Monday, September 11, 2017

A birthday party at the ice skating rink


If you follow Craving Fresh on Facebook, you might have heard my interview on Radio Rhema a couple of weeks ago where I talked about frugal gift ideas. If you missed it, you can listen to the interview here. September is a busy month for our family, with three birthdays and Fathers' Day all within a couple of weeks of each other, so I'm always looking for ways to celebrate without breaking the bank.

Yesterday we celebrated my eldest daughter's birthday at the ice skating rink. She loves skating and is pretty good at it since she's been roller blading for a couple of years now, so this was a perfect party location for her.

I actually looked into hosting a birthday party there for her last year, but decided against it because of the cost of hiring a party room. Earlier this year, however, my daughter's best friend hosted a party at the ice skating rink and didn't hire a room, just set up on one of the bleachers. It worked really well and kept the cost down, so I decided to copy her party idea.

One of the downsides of having the cake on the bleachers instead of in a party room is that it's cold, but we decided to work with that and have an ice cream cake, since my daughter doesn't really like cake cake. Into a chilly bin I packed a square tub of vanilla ice cream and a round tub of peppermint chocolate chip ice cream. My amazing cake-maker sister-in-law, Mandy, assembled the cake and decorated it with mini Flakes and MnMs I had also brought, just before it was time to eat.

I wasn't sure how well the ice cream would come out of its cartons, so I brought a thermos of boiling water and a bread knife in case the ice cream needed to be reshaped. Mandy put them to good use and somehow sculpted the cake look like a real, iced cake.

I knew from the previous party that about halfway through the ice skating session, everyone would get called off the ice so that it could be smoothed out. I tried to time our cake and present-giving time for then. Because it was cold on the bleachers, I brought blankets and cushions for everyone to sit on and that helped take some of the chill off. The blankets were easy to throw in the wash when I got home.

Party favours.

I wanted the food to be simple, since I needed to bring it all in from the car and we were just serving it on the bleachers, so I pre-made little food parcels for everyone in ziploc bags with a few treats - popcorn, skittles and a chocolate Freddo. My daughter made a card for all her guests, telling them what she appreciated about them, and popped them into each bag of treats. I'll tell you where we got the beautiful hand-painted cards from in a minute.

I also served plain bottled water and red sausages. I cooked the sausages just before we drove to the party and put them in a Thermoserver to keep warm.

Although I remember packing spoons to eat our ice cream cake with, somehow they didn't make it to the party. I still have no idea where they went. When I realised they were missing, I rushed over to the cafe to buy some of their plastic spoons, but they didn't have any. They offered to lend me their silverware, but they only had four spoons and I needed to serve cake to nine children. In desperation I looked around the cafe and spotted lollipops for sale. "We'll use those," I pointed.

So we did. And they were great. The kids managed to make the lollipops work as spoons and thought it was so much fun. I also borrowed the four silver spoons from the cafe so the adults at the party could have some cake too.

Mandy served the cake into bowls I had bought from Kmart. We already had a few of these bowls at home and my kids use them all the time, so I bought ten more to use for the party and at home afterwards. Wherever possible, I like using reusable items rather than disposable, to try and slow the flow of waste going to landfill.

It was a wonderful party and my daughter was delighted with the entire thing.

We had already celebrated her birthday as a family earlier in the week by opening her birthday presents first thing in the morning. I spent a lot of time planning her gifts, so I could get a mix of homemade, second-hand and new.

The gifts I made were a photo book of the last few years and some dolls furniture and bedding. She LOVED it all.

The second hand gifts I got her were books from the library's for sale rack. These only cost 3 for $1 dollar and I found some great reads in there for her.

Just two days before my daughter's birthday I popped into my church op shop and there I spotted the birthday gift to end all birthday gifts. Choruses of angels sang above my head when I realised exactly what I was looking at.
It was a Groovy Girls horse. The very one my daughter had previously asked me to buy, but which I hadn't got because of cost. It was in all the colours she loves - pink purple and aqua - it still made a neighing sound when you squeezed its belly, and I knew she would love it. She does! My daughter has been collecting Groovy Girls dolls since she was a toddler. She sleeps with them at night and loves them like they're real friends. So to be able to give her a horse for her precious dolls to ride and play with was so satisfying.

Oh, and it only cost a couple of dollars. Winning!

For brand-new gifts, my husband bought a Lego Elves set, and I bought an LOL doll (my kids all love them for some reason I can't quite work out). I also bought Annual - a fun collection of New Zealand stories for kids (gotta support our New Zealand authors!) and some socks and a swimming top.

I was hoping to wrap all her presents in my son's Kindy artwork, but he didn't have enough and wasn't keen to use it for wrapping paper anyway.
Then I remembered that unnamed artwork gets thrown out, so I checked the recycling bin on my way out of Kindy and, sure enough, found a stack load of beautiful paintings in there. There were just enough to wrap all the presents, and they looked gorgeous and unique.

In the midst of all the larger paintings, I found a stack of smaller paintings, and that's what my daughter used to make the party favour notes I told you about earlier. We glued a plain piece of paper to the back of each little painting card and my daughter wrote her note on it. They looked amazing and I was glad to be able to use something so delightful that was just getting thrown out. Zero waste and frugal too.

So that's how we celebrated my eldest daughter's birthday this year. She was definitely feeling the love, which is good, because we love her so.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

My winter garden - before and after

Spring is only a couple of days away and I haven't done a gardening post in ages, so I'm sneaking one in before winter sighs its last breath.

I've even included before and after shots of the garden to show you what it looked like when we moved in compared to now. I probably should have chosen a more exciting season than winter to do the befores and afters because most everything is dormant and soggy, but... shrugs shoulders. If I get really organised, I could do before and after posts for spring, summer and autumn too.

The next photos show the empty yard that we filled with five raised beds and three fruit trees (two apples and a double-grafted nashi). People often ask why I didn't espalier the fruit trees against the fence. Good question. It's because there's a wickedly fat hedge on the other side of that fence and I need to be able to get a ladder up as close as possible to prune it.

Here's a bigger photos of those raised beds so you can see what I've got growing in them this winter - carrots down the bottom of the slope, spinach in the bed one up from them, kale in the bed one up from that, and you can't really see the top gardens, which face the other direction from the three you can see, but there are beautiful coriander and strawberry plants growing in the left-hand bed and garlic growing in the right. I took this photo in the morning. By afternoon the sun will have moved around to shine fully on the top beds. They get the most sun by far.

To the left of these raised beds is our deck, which has a wraparound garden that we built (and by we, I mean my brother-in-law, Ben). The garden is chocka blocka with spinach and kale. I throw spinach into most of our meals. It's been our staple green vegetable this winter. And of course kale makes the best chips.

The next photo takes a step back to show the deck and other half of the wraparound garden, which is where I planted four dwarf citrus trees (mandarin, lime, orange and lemon), interspersed with lavender, asparagus and strawberries. The lavender isn't looking too healthy. I recently added lots of store-bought vege garden soil mix to this garden so I'm hoping that will help bring my lavender back to life. I've never had much luck with lavender so if you know the secret to not killing it, please share.

Here's that same spot when we first moved in, before we'd built any of the gardens and before I'd stained the deck. Quite a difference, no? I love how the wraparound garden hides all those ugly deck posts and makes the deck actually look good from this angle.

The next corner of our yard looks out from our deck and is where I planted four feijoa trees after first digging out a mess of ivy roots. I love the camellia tree on the right. It adds a much-needed burst of colour this time of year.

Here's a side-by-side of our backyard just after we had the dying fir tree cut down last year compared to now. I really need to water-blast my fences. They're positively green. And I actually can now because we've put in an outdoor tap around this side of the house. Just gotta find me a water-blaster.
The cobbled area on the right has a wisteria vine growing on a trellis but it's dormant at the moment and I CANNOT wait until it blossoms because the display when it does is out of this world. The tall green tree you can see at the rear of both photos is a star magnolia. It's almost finished flowering now and the leaves have taken over, but a couple of weeks ago it was a glorious mass of white blossoms.

Here's a photo I took of it a couple of weeks back.

Walking around the corner towards the back wall of our house, you can see the herb garden I put in to replace the weedy rock garden that was originally here. I spent weeks shifting rocks out of this garden and putting them under our deck (and gave myself tennis elbow in the process.)

The herb garden is now home to rosemary, lobelia, borage, calendula, oregano, thyme, strawberries and a red raspberry cane. I took this photo in the morning, which is the least sunny time of day out here because of a very large fir tree a couple of houses over that shades this spot. The rest of the day it's a sun-pit - hence the enormous rosemary plants.

Here's a closeup of those calendula flowers popping out from under larger borage leaves.

And here's a borage plant getting ready to blossom. The flowers are edible and I'm going to try to remember to throw some in salads this year, but mostly I just grow them for the bees.

Around the corner from my herb garden is the spot where I planted two blueberry trees and a rhubarb. The straggly mint you see is coming through from the neighbour's yard and I want it to flourish, but the slugs and snails keep eating it right back to stalks. The mulch in all my gardens needs refreshing, so I'm thinking of contacting a tree-felling company and asking them to dump a load directly on my driveway.

I've got a NZ cranberry and a row of stone fruit all along the same fence as the blueberries, but the stone fruit is mostly dormant so completely uninteresting to look at right now, especially against a backdrop of sludgy green fence. One of my dwarf peach trees has just started to blossom though, so here's a photo of its gorgeous face to leave you with.

I purposely haven't shown you a photo of the shady corner under the star magnolia tree where I recently planted helleborus and potted colour. It desperately needs fresh mulch and for the fences to get water-blasted clean. I can't bear to show you a photo of it yet because it won't do justice to my vision for that corner. I also forgot to show you another wee pocket of garden where I've planted a lemon tree, a couple of swan plants and an ivory raspberry cane, but that will have to wait for another day because I'm out.

Em xx

Monday, August 28, 2017

Frugal Fun No. 8 - Why shopping is dangerous


It is so much easier to be frugal when I don't go to shops, because as soon as I do, I see all these things I want and need and suddenly I can't live without them. If I don't go shopping, my focus stays on the things I already do have, and so I'm satisfied.

I went to the mall last week to buy a birthday present for my niece. I got the exact thing I had planned to buy for the amount I was planning to spend, but then while I was at the mall I also bought a few other things - a hoodie for Paul, and some presents for L's upcoming birthday - a toy, a rash vest (for swimming) and some ankle socks.

J and I went to Pita Pit for lunch to use a voucher for a free kid's pita that L got when she won player of the day at netball. The voucher was a frugal win because J and I shared the pita so our lunch was free. (L won player of the day three times this season, so she's got two more vouchers to use.)

On our way home from the mall, J and I stopped at Bunnings to buy something I needed to repair the wall where the pipe burst behind our toilet a few weeks back. Unfortunately Bunnings doesn't supply the particular item I need any longer so I'm going to try one of the other hardware stores. I thought I may as well look in the garden centre while I was at Bunnings, and that's where I came unstuck. So many beautiful flowers!

I bought lots of potted colour, which weren't expensive (although it starts to add up when you buy in quantity), and I also bought three gorgeous Helleborus for a shady spot of my garden. They were a lot more expensive than the potted colour. I'm hoping they'll do well and eventually spread and cover more of that corner, to make the initial expense worth it. I spent most of last year investing in food producing plants, so this year my plan is to invest in flowers to attract bees and make my garden beautiful.

I guess my point is that when I go shopping, I find it hard to restrain myself from buying. It's easier to restrain myself from going shopping at all. I need to put blinkers on when I go to the mall so I can just walk in, get the thing I need and walk out again.

It's not all bad news though. Here are my frugal successes from last week.

I took a meal to a friend who has just had surgery. The friend is vegetarian so I took pumpkin soup. I made a big batch, using pumpkin I had peeled and frozen in chunks the last time we had pumpkin. We ate half the soup for our dinner too, with toast for a simple meal.

I dehydrated more apple slices and used the peels and cores to attempt another batch of apple cider vinegar. It didn't work. One of the peels floated above the water line and made the top go mouldy so I had to throw it all out.

I stewed apples and used the peels and cores to attempt another batch of apple cider vinegar. This time I put the peels down the bottom and the cores on top, then locked the cores under the water line with bamboo skewers. Fingers crossed this batch works, because I'm low on apple cider vinegar in the cupboard and would love to be able to replace it for free. I poured the liquid off the stewed apples and drank it as an apple tea to try and cure my cold.

I made Singing Canary drinks (using the sole lemon from our tree plus some juice I had previously frozen in cubes) and vitamin C packed fruit smoothies for me and L to try and shake our colds.

I squeezed the remainder of the grapefruits I got free from J's kindy into juice for me and L (you guessed it) to try and shake our colds. I used the grapefruit peels to start a new batch of citrus cleaner by putting them in a jar with a few stalks of rosemary from my garden and covering the whole lot with vinegar. I'll let it sit for a few weeks to infuse and then strain it and pour the liquid into my spray bottles.

I watched a couple of episodes of Poldark with Paul for an at-home date night.

I finished an assignment for the horticulture course I'm doing free through the Open Polytechnic and posted it off.

I went to my parents group, which is a free group that is helping me SO much with my parenting.

I accepted a ticket from my mother-in-law to the evening session of a Christian conference.

I collected three tubs of free garden mulch and spread it around in various places in my garden.

I bought several books from the library's three for a dollar pile - two for me and four for J's upcoming birthday. I read one of the books for me and it was pretty good - at least I think it was. I seem to remember enjoying it, although I've already forgotten what it was about.

I managed to keep my grocery bill under $200, which is my goal each week but which I'm not always successful at. It helped that I didn't buy any meat, fruit or vegetables as we have plenty of meat in the freezer, we have some veges in the garden and freezer and we are still working through the huge box of apples I purchased from an orchard two weeks ago. You're probably wondering what I did buy. I think the biggest expenses were nappies, washing powder, LOTS of boxes of tissues (most of us have colds that we can't shake) and Natvia (stevia-based sweetener). I also got the basics - milk, butter, bread and eggs.

I made chicken stock using vege scraps and bones leftover from previous meals. I then turned the used bones and scraps into garden fertiliser and poured it around my fruit trees that are going to start blossoming soon. L and I both drank a cupful of the chicken stock to try and cure our colds.

I baked sugar-free brownies because I've been eating way too much sugar-filled baking lately.

I did lots of washing while the weather was good so I could line dry it. I managed to wash all our bedding, all our towels and all the cushion covers in the lounge, on top of my regular daily clothes' wash.

I trained S and L in cleaning the toilets. That's their job now and they have one toilet each to take care of. I also trained them in how I like the towels to be folded so they fit nicely in the linen cupboard.

I started spring cleaning and S and L joined in by cleaning the insides of all the windows.

I hosted my church ladies group and served vanilla cupcakes with raspberry icing, along with a variety of teas, coffee and hot chocolate. One of the other ladies brought delicious Appley dappley scrolls and gifted us the leftovers, which made Paul's day. I'm going to have to get the recipe.

I couldn't get to sleep on Friday night because of my cold, so I finished sewing all the doll's furniture and bedding that I'm making L for her upcoming birthday. I've shown you the couch previously, but now I've also made two beds out of sytrofoam covered in scrap fabric.

We went to the zoo as a family on Saturday. We have Friends of the Zoo passes we bought at a 25% discount because we've been Friends of the Zoo before. The passes meant it cost us nothing extra to go on Saturday. We had an amazing time. The monkeys put on a dazzling acrobatic performance and the tigers came up right to the glass. It was wonderful.

I made spinach tart, apple crumble and ginger crunch to take to a shared lunch at church yesterday.

My cold was really taking it out of me by the time I got home from church, so I had a nap and then read a library book that I had reserved for free - Strange the Dreamer (affiliate link) by Laini Taylor. It was out of this world good.

And that was my week. What have you been doing to save money lately?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Frugal Fun No. 7 - A weekend away

Frugal Fun is a day late this week as we got back from a weekend away on Sunday night and I spent all of yesterday catching up on the weekend's chores.

Here's what I did to save money last week.

I mowed our lawns using the electric lawn mower my brother gave us when we moved into this house. It's great because I can start it every time, unlike petrol mowers which have always been hit and miss for me. I also like that I don't have to buy petrol to make it run. The downside of an electric mower is that the cord gets in the way, so I have to keep moving it, but I guess I've got used to that because I don't really notice it anymore.

I pruned our hedge on the roadside to make it easier to see the footpath when I'm reversing out of our driveway. I hired a company to prune it last time, and they did a great job and were able to prune the top, which is hard for me to reach as the hedge is very high and wide across the middle. (I have pruned the top myself once, and it was precarious at times.) If I had electric hedge trimmers, I might be able to do the top myself again more easily, so I'll look into purchasing some of those.

I bought 16kg of apple seconds from an orchard in Oratia. I love these apples because they have never been in cold storage, so they are crisp and flavoursome. They also come sticker-free and I was able to cart them home in a box - so no plastic packaging. I'll dehydrate some of these apples in slices, stew some for apple crumble and we are already eating lots fresh as all the kids love them. L says they're the most delicious thing ever.

I made a photo book for L as a birthday present for her upcoming birthday and bought it with a Father's Day deal that saved me about $20.

I bought several books from the library's 3 for $1 stack for L and J for their upcoming birthdays. One of the books was Princess Academy Palace of Stone (affiliate link), the second book in a wonderful series I was planning to buy for L anyway, so I was stoked to find it for 33c.

We went to Te Puke for the weekend to visit family and remember my father-in-law, who died nine years ago. The kids had a lovely time with their cousins and got to go rock-climbing with them, which my mother-in-law kindly paid for. Everyone had a blast at Rocktopia. J even cried when our session came to an end.

We turned our hot water off at home before we left for the weekend, to save money on our power bill.

I kept my eyes open for good petrol prices as we travelled, and only topped up where we could get the best price.

I had been planning to buy L a bigger bike for her upcoming birthday, but the Te Puke cousins had one in the right size they no longer needed, so they gave that to L and she was stoked. It needs servicing to get a brake fixed and a more comfortable seat put on. I'll take it into the bike store before her birthday to get those things attended to.

I made a doll's bed for L's dolls house for her upcoming birthday, using some styrofoam packaging as the mould, a piece of towel as the soft filler and a pair of S's old stretchy pink and gold pants as the fabric to cover it. I'm planning to sew a pillow and blanket to go with the bed, so will take a photo of it when it's all finished to share with you.

I mended a dress and a cardigan of S's while I had the sewing kit out.

I did lots of baking last week - all with some variation of chocolate in it - chocolate brownies, double chocolate chip muffins and chocolate afghans.

A few weeks ago I bought six bottles of milk at a good price and froze several bottles to pull out when we run out of milk at inconvenient times. We've been using that up and it's saved us some expensive mid-week dashes to the dairy.

I read a library book - Joyride by Anna Banks (affiliate link) - and really enjoyed it.

I think that's everything. Now please share your frugal successes so we can all be inspired. I've been told that the comments feature on Craving Fresh is not working very well. I'm sorry about that. I've had a look behind the scenes and can't figure out why it's not working, so please share your money saving tips on Craving Fresh's Facebook page instead.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Frugal Fun No. 6

Last week wasn't all that frugal. It started off okay, but then I got busy so we ended up ordering Thai for one dinner and pizza for another. In the end, I think it was worth it though. I managed to finish a writing project I've been working on, which is a huge weight off my mind and will free up my time for other things in the coming weeks.

As much as I'm trying to be more frugal, I also need to balance that against the realities of life. There are only so many hours in the day. That said, here are some of the things I did to save money last week.

I sewed two doll's dresses out of the top my friend gave us a couple of week's back. I was able to make one doll's dress for each of my daughters.

I made a doll's couch and blanket for L's upcoming birthday. The couch took absolutely forever to make, but at least it cost me nothing. I used some of the styrofoam packaging that my new printer came in for the shape, hot glued cardboard packaging from a cracker packet to the places that needed smoothing out and then sewed on some scraps of fabric that were leftover from sewing sheets for premature babies in NICU a couple of weeks back. I also sewed cushions for the couch and a doll's blanket. I've got plans to make more blankets and pillows, which I'll share with you when they're done.

I finished drying the bay leaves I collected from a friend's house many weeks ago. I put them in the dehydrator on a low heat overnight. The leaves had been hanging from our clothes horse in the garage/Paul's office and were pretty dry already, but I decided to use the dehydrator to finish them off because I wanted to ensure they were thoroughly dry. I'm always nervous about mould sporing on food that hasn't been dried properly.

There were enough leaves to fill my bay leaf container, plus make ten packages of the nicest looking bay leaves to give away as gifts. I used cellophane bags I already had and tied them off with the twine I had used to hang the bay leaf branches from the clothes horse.

I also filled a container of slightly damaged bay leaves for my own use if I ever get through the initial container, and sprinkled lots of bay leaves in my pantry to deter bugs. I think I'm set for bay leaves for a while.

We ate one meatless meal - Quesadillas filled with homemade refried beans and grated cheese.

I baked another batch of ginger crunch for school lunch boxes. It got gobbled up, so I'll need to think of something else to bake for this week. Maybe muffins.

I gave our upstairs toilet a thorough clean underneath and behind using the spray cleaner I made out of vinegar, orange peels and thyme.

I bought a kettle and two bedside lamps from the Salvation Army store when I went in to drop off some clothes J has outgrown. The kettle replaced one that kept sparking out. The bedside lamps were for the master bedroom, since Paul's one broke several months ago. I moved my old one into J's room, as he didn't have a bedside lamp. Now we've all got reading lamps.

I watched the rest of Poldark series one with Paul for some at-home date nights. We ate blue cheese, crackers and my homemade chutney as we watched.

I babysat for some friends who regularly babysit for us too. We don't charge each other, just swap services and it works great.

I bought a new pair of shoes for J on sale. The toes of his old pair had worn through and his socks kept getting wet, so I decided to buy a more expensive brand with a leather toe cap this time. Hopefully they'll last until he outgrows them.

I mended a squirrel costume for S to wear to an animal dress-up day at school. I also face-painted L like a cat for the same dress-up day, using the black World Organics liquid eyeliner.

I read a library book - Holding up the Universe by Jennifer Niven (affiliate link).

I printed a large document on my new printer and was so glad to be able to do it from home because I noticed a mistake that I was able to fix and easily re-print. If I had printed through Warehouse Stationary like I'd originally planned (before I discovered how expensive it would be) I would have had to come home to fix the mistake and then drive back to Warehouse Stationary to re-print. What a waste of time and petrol that would have been.

I think that's all my frugal doings from last week. Now I'd love to hear what you've been doing to save money.