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.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Parenting - that nebulous task

My eldest when she was wee. 

I became a parent almost eight years ago, and boy did I not know what I was getting myself into.

When I got pregnant, all I really imagined was getting to cuddle a cute baby at the other end. But that cute baby steadily grew up, presenting a whole host of challenges along the way. Then we added two more children to the mix, each with their own unique strengths and challenges. That stretched me even further. Especially since I had to make parenting decisions from a position of sleep deprivation and exhaustion.

I was not prepared.

Sure, I did parenting courses and read parenting books, all of which claimed to have the absolute truth of parenting nailed down, but still I failed a lot. In fact, I still do.

Sometimes I parent out of a reaction to my own childhood. Sometimes I parent out of absolute frustration at having to explain the same thing again, or having to ask the same thing again. Sometimes I parent out of laziness. Sometimes I parent out of tiredness. Sometimes I parent out of distraction. Sometimes I parent out of love. Sometimes I parent out of enjoyment. Sometimes I parent out of hope.

Sometimes, I parent because I choose to be better than this. I choose to give my children a secure foundation to grow and learn from.

Lately, that's the choice I've been making more and more often. To try harder.

We're finally through the crazy toddler years and it's like we've emerged into the light at the end of a long tunnel. Our youngest is nearly four and our eldest two are at school, so I have a bit of space in my day to think, process and unwind.

A year ago Paul and I joined a parents' group that meets once a month for five years. The leaders are so wise and they've given me a parenting framework that's so much more powerful than anything else I've ever been given. And yet, I came home from the very first parenting group and cried. It hit me that night, all the ways I've been failing my children.

A year later, I feel so much more equipped for this parenting gig. Decisions and choices we made over the past year have had such a huge impact that parenting is actually getting easier. Unbelievable, I know.

One of the things I've learned is to not rest on our laurels now that we're through the crazy toddler years. These middle years are the time to feed into our children and grow a close relationship with them that will see us through the teenage years when our authority is removed and our influence will only be accepted if it comes from a relationship already built on trust.

That's what I'm working on now. Making the most of these middle years.

Here are three recent examples:

1. A couple of weeks ago I made the decision to ban screen-time during the week. I had previously tried cutting it down to 45 minutes a day, but that became difficult to monitor because children would ask to pause their screen time to go to the toilet or get a drink or whatever, and then we'd lose track of where they were up to and they'd inevitably go over time.

Now we have a blanket rule. Screen-time is only on the 'S' days, Saturday and Sunday. We may have a family movie night on Friday night, if we all agree to the movie and watch it together, but apart from that, no screen-time during the week.

I've noticed such a difference in the kids with this simple rule. I thought it would make my life harder, because they would call on me to play with them more, but the opposite is true. They have become so much more creative and willing to play with each other. They come home from school and play all afternoon until bedtime, in between the other things we need to get done. It's wonderful. They don't even ask for screen-time during the week now, because they know it's not going to happen. We're getting more time to read, do music practice and do chores. Just be. Life feels less rushed.

2. Another change we recently implemented was to buy a Star plate from the Parenting Place and use it to honour a child if he or she does something admirable. If I see a child do something I want to encourage, they get to eat dinner off the Star plate that night. We make a big deal out of it, congratulating the child, clapping for them and telling them why they've been honoured.

Already I've noticed my children copying the exemplary behaviour their siblings have been rewarded for at dinner time. It means that positive behaviour is actually flourishing. Since I rewarded L for getting up, getting dressed all the way to shoes and brushing her hair right off the bat one morning before school, S has done the same thing every morning since. Because of that, we've been getting to school a few minutes early, instead of rushing in right on bell-time.

3. I've never been very organised about getting my kids to do chores, apart from the occasional tidying of rooms. Usually it feels like more trouble than it's worth. But I've realised I need to train them or they'll expect to be waited on their whole lives. I've started by introducing a simple chore that is their responsibility. Every afternoon the children carry the clean washing up to my bed, where they sort it and put it away. They usually fold their own clothes themselves, since they know what belongs to them and where it goes. Then they divvy up the tea towels and parents' clothes and put them away if they're able to reach.

It's such a big help to me. No more baskets of washing for me to fold at night. The children seem to get a sense of satisfaction from doing the job and working together too.

I'll slowly add more chores into the mix as I find a way that works for us. I'm thinking toilets would be a good one to hand over to them.

I guess the point of this post was to say that if you're in the darkest of dark tunnels right now, please know that the light is approaching. Stay steadfast. Have hope. Do the hard yards now and you'll soon see the reward.

Also, please have grace with yourself. It's not an easy thing to be a parent. It's really not. But that doesn't stop us trying anyway.


Monday, August 7, 2017

Frugal Fun No. 5 - An unexpected blessing

If you read my last post, Not so frugal fun, you'll know we had a bunch of stuff break on us recently. One of those things was our dehumidifier. I went to check out replacement ones and was stunned by how expensive they were. Needless to say, I didn't buy one.

Fast forward a week and one of my lovely friends from church asked how the search for a dehumidifier was going. Another woman overheard her question and asked me if I needed a dehumidifier. She had one she no longer needed. I said I would gladly buy it off her, but she said I would be doing her a favour if I took it because it was just taking up room in her house. Such a blessing! I popped around to her place that afternoon and picked it up. It is perfect!
Our new dehumidifier. Totally free!
Other frugal things that happened last week...
I brought in branches from a tree that needed pruning and we've been enjoying watching them blossom on our dining room table ever since. They smell beautiful too, which is an added bonus.

I refilled all my spray cleaners with the orange, thyme and vinegar mixture that's been brewing for the past few weeks. I tested it out on the inside of my oven door and it cut through that grease like a boss.

I made an apple crumble using some of the frozen apples I prepared a few weeks back. This was to share with friends who invited us over for dinner. I also made fresh custard in the Thermomix to go with the crumble and a spinach salad using fresh spinach from my garden.

I accepted a bag of gold kiwifruit and a bag of grapefruit from J's Kindy. We are eating the kiwifruit fresh and I squeezed the grapefruit to make juice.

I dehydrated 2 kilograms of potatoes and double-bagged them in ziploc bags to go in our emergency kit. I've been working on restocking our bug-out bag this week, because I realised I hadn't looked in it since we moved to Auckland (four years ago!). I also bought a new can opener, five new water bottles and five toothbrushes for the emergency kit.

I dehydrated 2 kilograms of onions, since I have a 10 kilogram bag of them that will go bad unless I find ways to preserve them. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with these onions yet, but at least I have them there for when we get through our fresh ones. Dehydrating the onions made everyone cry. I had to shut the dehydrator away in the laundry while it worked and leave the laundry window open all night to fumigate the house.

I made popcorn to share with L's class for her 100 days at school celebration. I made the some thing the week before for S's celebration and it was a big hit. It's also super easy to make and really inexpensive.

I planted all my strawberry runners out in different gardens around our yard.

I also planted tulip bulbs I bought a few weeks back that have been sitting in my fridge. I don't know how well they'll do, as some of the bulbs looked to have shriveled up. I may have left them too long in the fridge. Whoops!

I baked orange chocolate chip muffins for school lunch boxes and froze half so that they would last for the whole week of lunches.

I found a good deal on free range chicken drumsticks and bought 8 bags of them. I also found a good deal on whole free range chickens and bought two of them. I'll use the bones to make chicken stock and then whiz them up to make garden fertiliser, so nothing is wasted.

I made a spinach tart and ginger crunch for morning tea for my church ladies group. I didn't have basil pesto, which is a key ingredient of the spinach tart, so I used fresh coriander from the garden instead and was very nervous about how it would turn out. It was delicious! The ladies and I got together to pray and sew sheets for the premature babies in NICU. It was at this group that one of the ladies overheard my need for a new dehumidifier.

I took home some of the leftover fabric scraps from sewing the NICU sheets and am planning to use them to make dolls house furniture and bedding for L for her upcoming birthday.

There was a little bit of leftover ginger crunch from the ladies group, so I gave a piece each to L, S and J for afternoon tea. They LOVED it. I had never made it before, but immediately made another batch to use for school lunchboxes and afternoon tea treats the rest of the week.

I washed all our bedding and towels when we had fine weather, so I could line dry everything.

I thought my apple cider vinegar mixture was done because I could see a mother forming on top. I strained it, but when I tasted it I realised it wasn't vinegary enough so I drank it as apple juice and will have another go making some the next time I dehydrate some apples. Does anyone know how you can tell whether it's done, without disturbing the mother?

The children and I had a family movie night on Friday and watched Shrek on Netflix. Next family night we're going to watch Shrek 2, which is also on Netflix.

I caught up with my good friend, Becky, on Saturday. We went for a walk along the beach front of Mangere Bridge, which cost us nothing except the petrol to get there.

On Saturday night I sorted through J's drawers to take out all the clothes he's outgrown. There wasn't a lot left in his pants drawer by the time I was done. He's really shot up lately.

I baked chocolate brownies to take to J's Sunday school. There was a little bit leftover for the girls too. We had am impromptu Sunday lunch of waffles at our friends' Anna and Andy's house and while we were there, Anna gave us some hand-me-down clothes for all my children.

One of the hand-me-downs is a beautiful top that I'm planning to turn into two dolls' dresses for my girls.

I went shopping with Anna on Sunday afternoon and bought three pairs of track pants for J from Kmart, plus a hairbrush to replace one we recently lost. I also bought an electric haircutting kit for $30 in a 50% off sale at Briscoes and am hoping Paul will let me try it on him. If he does, it will save us a lot of money in haircuts over the years. I could use it on J, but he has decided to grow his hair long.

Paul and I watched the first two episodes of Poldark on Sunday night. It's hard to find a show that we both like to watch, but we thought we'd give Poldark a go. I liked it more than he did.

In between everything else over the weekend, I also managed to read A Court of Wings and Ruin (affiliate link) by Sarah J Maas. It's the finale in a trilogy I have absolutely adored. I reserved the book from the library and waited for it to become available.

What have you done to save money lately?