Thursday, January 18, 2018

Frugal Fun - Free stuff for kids

It's generally known I love to read. I usually read several books a week, but lately I just haven't been able to stick with a book. I don't know what's going on, but everything's boring me.

Instead of reading at night, I've started watching YouTube videos in my downtime. Videos about organising and homeschooling are my main-stay and this one by Jordan Page recently inspired me to take action. Jordan and her husband plan out their whole year in advance - putting dates into their calendars for everything they know in advance.

I'm usually caught by surprise when public holidays arrive and wish I had organised something special for the long weekend, so this week I took a leaf out of Jordan's book and put as many dates into my phone calendar as possible. Birthdays, anniversaries, public holidays, school terms, kids' activities... they're all in there and I've set the annual dates to repeat so I won't ever have to set them again. I'm sure some of you already do this, and I usually do diary some dates, but this is the first time I've tried to put EVERYTHING in.

I even went one step further and scouted out free activities for families around Auckland using the Auckland For Kids website a friend recently told me about, putting those into my calendar too. Theoretically, we should always have something fun and free to do on the weekend now, if we want to.

Some weekends we just want to blob, and that's okay. Our kids are only allowed screen time on the weekend, so they are more than happy to stay home playing Minecraft, but I'm keen to have cool excursions available for them so they don't spend their entire weekends fixed to a screen.

As well as listing events, the Auckland For Kids website also has a list of top ten playgrounds in Auckland, so yesterday I took the kids to Tui Glen, which is the top rated playground. It was beautiful and loads of fun, with enormous climbing structures, slides and a double flying fox which meant the kids could race against each other.  It was a blustery day, so we mostly had the park to ourselves, which I've heard is rare.

I'm going to check out the other playgrounds on the list over time, until we've visited them all. Of the playgrounds we've already visited around Auckland, these are our favourites so far...

Cornwall Park - Set at the base of One Tree Hill under lots of old growth trees so there's plenty of shade, this playground has a miniature train, things to climb, a slide, a flying fox, swings and more.

Mt Eden / Maungawhau on Normanby Road - This playground has a little train you can push the kids around on, a flying fox, a massive climbing structure, swings, slides and a see-saw, mostly all built with natural materials and situated at the base of the mountain so there are also mountain rocks to climb or build huts on.

Onepoto Domain - Something for all ages with a toddler playground, a big kids' playground, bike/skooter tracks with ramps and roundabouts, a flying fox, climbing frames, slides, swings. All set in a beautiful, natural setting and easy to get to just off the motorway.

Western Springs - We love biking around the lake, going up and down over bridges and cycling past the swans, geese and ducks. We always stop for a play on the massive playground too, and if the kids can twist my arm, buy an ice cream from the Zoo ice cream shop that backs onto the park.

What are your favourite free activities to do with kids?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Frugal Fun - Pretty little wilderness

It's all about butterflies and ducklings at our place lately. Our very own slice of paradise.
We're desperately trying to catch sight of a butterfly hatching out of its chrysalis, but keep missing it. One minute the chrysalis is a dark black sack, the next time we look there's a lovely butterfly hanging beneath it. The hatching must happen very quickly.
Since the kids are fascinated by the butterflies, I've ordered a stack of books about Monarchs from the library and the kids have started making lapbooks about Monarchs. Lapbooks are a new concept to me, something I'm trying out for L's homeschooling this year. I like that she can get super creative with them. Basically you just fold a manilla folder into a trifold and then fill it with as many pockets, pop-ups, pictures, maps and spinning things as you want to make an interesting display of information about a particular topic.
So far the kids have only worked on their lapbook shells and started thinking about what they want to put inside them. I'm not really sure how we'll tackle the topic, since I've never done this before, but I guess we'll read the library books, ask some questions and take it from there.

Ducklings are the other exciting feature of our garden at the moment. About three different duck mums and their babies rotate through our yard over the course of the day, drinking the water we put out for them in ice cream containers. It's super cute when the ducklings jump into the water and have a little swim.

I've been fascinated to see what they eat - lots of weed seeds and bugs, which make them incredibly welcome in my yard. They take the stuff I don't want and turn it into garden fertiliser, all while looking super cute. Good trade.

The kids have also enjoyed figuring out which kitchen scraps the ducks like and are always keen to feed them. S dug up worms from the garden today for a mama duck and her baby and was delighted when they accepted them.

We are hanging around home for most of January, so the kids and I have taken a couple of trips to the local school pool for a swim in the hot afternoons. We've also been having sleepovers with cousins, which is equal parts fun and exhausting.

We did a walk to Kitekite Falls on New Years day with friends, which was so beautiful, but will probably be our last walk in the Waitakere Ranges for many years/ever. That's because on our drive back from the walk, I noticed a sign saying that a rahui has been called by the local iwi, asking people to stay out of the Waitakere Ranges. This is to give kauri trees a chance to fight the kauri dieback disease that's killing them, and which is spread by soil movement, particularly from walking tracks. It's so incredibly sad to me that my children won't get to experience all the beautiful walks and scenery the Waitakere Ranges have to offer, but I hope that the rahui will help the kauri trees regenerate for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

I also think it would be amazing if the council built proper boardwalk type tracks, so people didn't have to walk on the soil at all. That could help keep the Waitakere Ranges open to people and still prevent disease spread.

While our kids were happily playing at their cousins' on the weekend, Paul and I went to Dressmart and bought Paul a couple of pairs of Levis at the outlet store there for his new job. Everything in the store was 50% off, so Paul got a great price for the jeans. We also went to the Bonds shop and got Paul socks and got me a couple of singlets that I love and wear all the time.
While we were at Dressmart, we also popped into Typo, where I found these gorgeous file folders that I knew L would drool over since they fade from aqua to blue to purple to pink. I've set them up in my new office space to give us better book storage for her homeschooling.

Paul started his new job this week and is loving it. Hurray! However, on his first day he found out he gets paid monthly and his first payment isn't until February so we probably shouldn't have gone to Dressmart after all. Whoops. We will have to be extra, extra frugal this month to ensure we keep paying all our non-negotiable bills. Paul is also doing a side job that will at least pay the mortgage each week, so don't worry, we're not about to be thrown out of our home.

To help keep costs down this month, I've been avoiding the supermarket and seeing how long we can last on what food we already have. Today, however, I pulled our last roll of toilet paper out of the cupboard, which means I'll need to go for a small shop tomorrow.

My lovely sister-in-law, Mandy, surprised me with groceries today. We had her four kids here last night so she and her husband could celebrate their wedding anniversary. When Mandy came to pick up her kids today, she brought lunch for us all, plus extra goodies for my kitchen - a block of mild cheese, a block of mozzarella, a block of butter, a packet of bacon, pomegranates, cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce. It was so kind and so generous.

This same sister-in-law is also working towards going zero-waste and doing a much better job of it than I am. For Christmas she gave all the sisters-in-law a Dirty Hippie shampoo bar and a glass spray-bottle filled with apple cider vinegar to use as a conditioner with it. I used them both for the first time this week and really loved them. Mandy also made us all beeswax wraps (to use instead of clingwrap) and has ordered me stainless steel reusable drinking straws. Such a blessing.

The new office space in my bedroom has been getting a lot of action these holidays. It has become the go-to crafting table and there always seems to be somebody creating something in here. I was lucky just to get a seat at the desk to write this post for you guys.

Paul and I spent a couple of days organising his office downstairs last week. I donated quite a few things to the op shop and we took several containers of things up to the attic, where we have put them in easily accessible places so we can get them whenever we need to.

There's so much space up there and the attic stairs make it super easy to get up and down, so it seems silly not to use that space to its fullest. I'm keen to get attic lights installed, along with a whole lot more power points around the house, so I've added that to my ever growing list of house improvements I'd like us to save for in the next year or two.

At least the sorted office downstairs makes that room feel so much more inviting and functional. I like it when you can improve a space through labour, rather than buying stuff. A tidy, organised room will always feel welcoming, in my opinion.

Today I mowed the lawns before the day got too hot. I also collected water from my washing machine and watered all my gardens with it.

For dinner tonight we are having chicken barley soup, using leftover chicken from today's lunch (which Mandy provided). It's still simmering away downstairs and I see it's gone 7.30pm, so I should really dish that up. These long days keep tricking me into thinking it's earlier than it is. Chicken barley soup is one of my go-to frugal meals. Sometimes I make it without chicken - just throw into a pot chopped veges, barley and pre-made chicken stock and simmer for ages.

I think that's all my frugal news for now. This has been more of a general life update than frugal fun, but hey, that's kind of how I roll. I have been thinking about the difference between being frugal and being stingy lately. I don't want to be stingy, but can see how it would be an easy trap to fall into.

What are your thoughts on stinginess versus frugality?

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Wander around my January garden

Come and wander around my January garden with me.

Everything is growing so well at the moment. We've had lots of sunshine this summer, but not much rain, so I've been watering the garden by hand. I really like doing that as it gives me an excuse to get outside and see how my plants are growing.
My five raised bed vegetable gardens.

The raised bed down the bottom of my garden gets several hours of shade during the hottest part of the day, so I've planted it with leafy greens like kale, spinach, lettuce, beetroot and coriander, which would bolt if they got too much sun. Actually, the coriander has bolted anyway, so it was obviously still too hot for it. I previously had carrots in here, but they didn't get enough sun and went to seed before growing decent roots, so I pulled them out.

In the next garden up, I'm growing kale, spring onions, two zucchini plants, several snow peas and some beans.

My zucchinis have just started to fruit and I'm so excited about it. None of my previous zucchini plants survived the slugs and snails in my garden, so I recently put out slug bait to knock back the slug population and it really worked. I had been avoiding using slug bait because I wanted a completely natural garden, but it got to the point where I was losing so much produce, I couldn't even seen the point of having a garden any more.

The next garden up previously had massive kale plants that went to seed. I've collected lots of seeds from the plants and pulled out a few, but also left in a few to provide shade to the new seedlings I have coming up underneath - spinach, lettuce and more kale. I really like kale because it lasts for ever and a day in the garden and I can keep picking leaves off it to make kale chips as it grows.
The last two gardens are butted up against a trellis fence, which I use to grow tomatoes up. The garden pictured above has large tomatoes, sage, a couple of strawberries and some coriander plants I left to go to seed. The seeds are ready to be collected, so that's next on my garden to-do list. Looking at this garden, I realise I want to plant some basil in here too. Somehow I missed doing that this summer.

The other garden butting up against the trellis fence features garlic, which is nearly ready to harvest, spring onions, cherry tomatoes, a couple of strawberry plants and a sprinkling of carrot seeds in the gaps.

My other vegetable garden is my wraparound deck garden. I'm using one half of this garden to make compost, just by mixing mulch, grass clippings and compost from my rotating compost bin in here. I also plan to add seaweed once I've gone to the beach to collect some. If I can find a good manure source, I'll throw that in too. I'm letting it all rot down until autumn, when I'll plant it out with my autumn crops.

The other half of my wraparound deck garden features four dwarf citrus trees, lots of strawberries, asparagus plants and lavender plants. Today I emptied half of my rotating compost bin, and spread some of the rich compost around the base of all four citrus trees. The mixture was almost a vermicast mixture, because I found lots of worms in the bin when I emptied it, so it will be highly nourishing for my trees.

Ducks and ducklings are a common sight in our garden at the moment. I've been putting out water in containers for them, as it's been so dry. The little ducklings like to hop into the water, which dirties it up, so then I pour the mucky water around my trees for fertiliser. Win/Win. The ducks also like to eat the seed heads around the lawn, which I'm happy for them to do as it stops weeds spreading. It's been so dry, the grass hasn't grown much, but somehow the weeds have.

The blueberries on my two trees are swelling up so I'm looking forward to eating them when they're ready. Blueberry plants like lots of water and fortunately my trees are located right by my backdoor where my laundry is, so I empty my laundry water onto them whenever I can. They love it and it's helping them survive this hot, dry summer we've been having.

Last night for dinner we had black bean wraps which featured tomatoes from my garden. It could have featured lettuce too, but we already had an iceberg lettuce in the fridge from our holiday, so I used some of that instead. The black beans were ones I had previously cooked and frozen in individual 1 and 2-cup portions. I refried the black beans with finely diced onion in homemade chicken stock to spread on our wraps. I added salt, pepper, ground cumin, coriander, paprika and oregano to the mixture and it turned out so flavoursome and delicious.

Today for lunch I whipped up a spinach pie to make use of some of the spinach I froze over spring, as well as to use some of the fresh spinach coming up in my garden now. The pie recipe was one that my friend, Angela, gave me and it was really simple. I just whizzed up the spinach with a block of feta cheese and cooked it in store-bought puff pastry. Next time I make it, I'll probably throw in some herbs from the garden for added flavour.

That reminds me, I didn't photograph my herb garden for you, but it's pretty similar to the last time I shot it; It's still growing rosemary, thyme, oregano, borage and parsley. I'm not sure what happened to the calendula, but that's disappeared.

Are you growing anything at home? What are your bumper crops this month?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

My new office / homeschooling space

Until now I've done all my blogging either sitting up in bed or at our dining table. Today you're reading my first ever blog post from my own dedicated office space. Well, it's half my own, half L's, because I'm sharing it with her for homeschooling.

The beauty of homeschooling is that you can do it anywhere, but L was usually doing her bookwork at the dining room table. The problem then was that everything needed to be cleared off for mealtimes and there wasn't really anywhere in our small dining room to clear things off to. We do have an office in our garage, which Paul uses, but it's really too dark for doing bookwork in as it doesn't get any natural light. My one-day plan is to replace the garage door with a ranch slider so we do get natural light entering the room, but that involves leveling the floor first so it's not an easy switcheroo.

Enter: my new office.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to buy a desk, filing cabinet and file tray second hand, so I did. The desk was the perfect size to fit into the corner of my bedroom where I used to have a chair and sewing basket. The basket is now tucked under my new desk and the chair is what I'm using to sit at the table on. It's like it was meant to be.

If L is working at the desk, she sits in the chair and I can sit on the end of my bed to help her.

I've brought the printer up from the downstairs office so I can do all my homeschool planning right here and see exactly what's coming out of the printer. I used to have to trot up and down the stairs to the garage office when I needed to print something, and it was a pain if anything went wrong.

The filing cabinet I bought has two small drawers and one large drawer in it. It's white, so it goes perfectly with my bedroom colour scheme.

I'm using the top drawer for stationary items - pens, pencils, scissors, etc.

The middle drawer is where I've put photocopy paper for drawing on or for restocking the printer.

The bottom drawer is where I'm keeping L's homeschool books when they're not in use.

I bought the file tray so I could put L's tasks for the day in it on the desk. Once she's finished a task, she can put the books associated with that task in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet. I like this system because it means she can physically see her workload decreasing as she gets through it. An empty file tray means she's finished her set work for the day. I watched a few YouTube videos of other homeschool set ups to get ideas for how to organise our school space.

I'm also planning to get a bookshelf to keep homeschool books in so that I can rotate them in and out of our filing cabinet drawer as needed. I think it will be easier to keep track of what books we have if I can see the spines.

We actually had our last official day of homeschooling for the year today, so it's a bit of a shame that I only just got the office set up yesterday, but at least we'll be all ready to go in the New Year.
And now the kids know this space is here and can use it for other crafty activities too. L spent a lot of today drawing Manga characters. I bought the above How to Draw Manga book from the library's 3 for $1 sale shelf yesterday and L found it. Every time I didn't set her with a specific homeschool task today, she gravitated to this book. You can see some of the characters she drew in the above photo. It's a good example of why homeschooling is working for L - she gets a lot more space to follow her own interests.

I'll leave you with this shot of my laptop (the one that recently came back from the dead), since that's the main item I'll be using in my office, although I did wrap a Christmas present here this afternoon so, now that I think of it, this really is quite a multi-purpose space.

Okay, I didn't actually leave you with that laptop photo because I've got one more of the office space as seen from the other angle...

I'm in love.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Frugal Fun No. 15 - Friends, books and the garden

This has been a cool week for me. My dear friend, Angela, came up for a last minute trip to Auckland and spent a night at our house. Angela and I talk a lot but rarely get to hang out in person because she lives in the South Island and I live in the North. It was very special getting to spend time with her. She read bed-time stories to my kids and they were all enraptured.

I bought a stack of amazing books from the library's three-for-a-dollar pile this week. The highlight of the stack was this Atlas, which has already found its way into several of L's homeschooling lessons.

For read-aloud time with L this week, I've been working through Ballet Shoes, which is a very sweet book that was first published in 1936. I had never heard of it, but bought it from the Library earlier in the year and gave it to L for her birthday. We're both enjoying it immensely.

When the weather cools down in the evenings, I've been heading out into my garden to see how everything's growing, to pick strawberries and to water the new seedlings that are popping up. There's not a whole lot to do in there at the moment except wait, but I'm enjoying this time of anticipation all the same.

Today J picked our first ripe tomato and ate it. He said it tasted exactly like a tomato. I was surprised.

J is often out in the garden with me when I wander about, and one of the things we love to do is look for monarch butterfly caterpillars on our swan plants. Can you spot the fat one in the photo above?

When I was planning my garden last year, I dreamed of seeing butterflies fluttering about and deliberately planted several swan plants to make that happen. This year the swan plants have grown into large shrubs and now our garden is never without a butterfly. It makes my heart sing every time they flutter by and hasn't cost me anything beyond my initial seed purchase.

Bees also love my garden, especially the purple flowers like wisteria...

...and sage. I'm thankful for every bee I see.

Our garden also seems popular with this sweet little duck family, but I think that's more because they like the scraps of rice I throw out of my kitchen window.

I spent this evening collecting kale seeds from my garden. The paper bag above is full of seed pods that will hopefully dry out and split open, depositing their seeds at the bottom of the bag. This was my first time collecting kale seeds and I felt very connected to my garden as I went about harvesting the pods. I deliberately went barefoot as I worked, to ground myself on my land.

This garden used to be full of spinach, but that all went to seed in the hot weather so I pulled it out. The soil level in the garden had dropped right down, so I've been filling it with grass clippings and free mulch to make compost. I'm planning to dig in all the contents from my rotating compost bin this week and let the whole lot break down for a few months so that this garden is ready to plant out in autumn. It's a lot cheaper than buying store bought compost, but has the downside of putting this garden out of action for a few months.

I did a little bit more water blasting around the front of my house this week, cleaning the concrete path and driveway and water blasting the front fences. It looks so much nicer now, especially the concrete, but I haven't got any photos of it to share with you.

Yesterday my children all got to enjoy a bouncy castle at our neighbour's house, which my neighbour had hired for her son's birthday party. The party had finished so my kids bounced till they could bounce no more.

Our road is closed off to cars at the moment because of roadworks, so this evening the whole street filled up with kids on bikes and scooters, enjoying the freedom of biking on a road without fear of getting hit by a car. It was pretty magical seeing a street filled with children having fun, and I started picturing what society would be like if we didn't have cars. I think there would be a lot more community stuff going on, as people would actually see each other as they walked and biked about, instead of shutting themselves inside metal-walled cars.

Speaking of cars, I crashed mine this week. Another driver and I were both reversing out of 45 degree angle car-parks at the same time and his car must have been in my blind spot because I didn't see it until my corner hit his corner. That was unfortunate. Thank goodness for car insurance. I still have to pay excess on the repairs, but those aren't happening until sometime in January. I was pretty shaken up after the crash and have been feeling a lot less confident in my driving ever since. I think that's making me a worse driver too, because I'm over-thinking everything. Hopefully I'll get my confidence back soon.

What's your frugal fun news? I love getting inspired by other people's creativity and cleverness, so please do share your successes in the comments below.