Friday, April 6, 2018

Clean and Delicious

Hey friends. I wanted to stop in and tell you about this amazing YouTube channel I've been watching lately, called Clean and Delicious, by Dani Spies.

Dani has been inspiring me to listen to my body to figure out when to eat, what to eat and when to exercise. I love how empowering this approach is and for the first time in a long time, am feeling excited about the health journey I'm on.

One thing Dani said that really stuck with me is that there is no race, there is no finish line, there are no gold medals handed out when you achieve your goals, so have grace with yourself. She's really big on listening to your body, because everyone has different dietary requirements and patterns of eating that suit them, so you're the only person who is going to be able to work out what those are.

I highly recommend Clean and Delicious, if you're wanting a little inspiration and encouragement in your life. Dani has a lot of really sensible tips and explanations for improving your health, so I've been having lightbulb moment after lightbulb moment watching her channel.

I hope you get as much out of it as I have.

Emma xx

Saturday, March 24, 2018

More changes in the girls' room

Hi friends! Last week I told you about how I gave a corner of my girls' bedroom a mini transformation to create a writing nook for S. It kinda got me on a re-organising roll, and I decided to tackle the opposite corner of the girls' bedroom by doing something a little crazy.

The girls' wardrobe doors have bugged me for absolutely ages. They take up so much floor space to open, and since we keep the girls' dresser in the wardrobe, we were always having to open both doors to get into the drawers.

If the girls ever set up a game of dolls on the bedroom floor, we'd have to move everything again just to get into the wardrobe. And we couldn't place any furniture near the doors, or it would get bumped.

Since my two girls share such a small room, it didn't seem practical to dedicate such a large part of that room just to doors.

Yesterday S was rearranging things and she moved her little side table next to the wardrobe, under the mirror. It looked really sweet there, like a mini dressing table. I wanted to keep it, but told S it would get in the way of the wardrobe doors.

"Let's just take the doors off," S said.

"Why not?" I agreed. It's something I had wanted to do for a long time anyway.

With a long screw and a hammer, I tapped the hinge screws out and then pulled the doors off. I carted the doors up to the attic, where they can stay until we decide to attach them again one day.

It took all of five minutes to remove the doors and meant the little side table could stay where S had placed it under the mirror. Instantly, the room felt bigger too, since the carpet continues into the wardrobe and makes that space feel like a natural extension of the bedroom. I didn't take any photos with the wardrobe doors in place, because it was a spontaneous project, but you'll just have to trust me on that.

The problem with taking the wardrobe doors off was that we now needed to do something about the mess on the top shelf, since it was no longer hidden behind closed doors.

We already had a couple of cute baskets up there, where I kept the girls' spare shoes. I thought it could work to get three more baskets and make a line of them across the top shelf.

Today after gymnastics, S and I went shopping in search of baskets. We tried Kmart first, since that's where I got the original two baskets from, but it didn't have anything I liked. I did, however, find a cute stool there that I bought to place in front of the girl's new dressing table area.

On our way out of the mall, I happened to glance into another shop and see a rack of gorgeous plastic baskets in exactly the colours I was looking for. I forget the name of the shop, but I snagged three of the baskets.

The pink one was the last of its kind.

The baskets squeezed onto the top shelf, with a bit of alternating lid action going on, and I think they look really sweet up there.

Now the wardrobe area is so much more organised and I feel better about leaving the doors off all the time.
Here's the whole area as it is now, with the new stool in place too. This mini renovation cost just over $40, and has made the girls' small bedroom so much more functional for them.

I really need to move the artwork around on their walls too, because it's kind of haphazardly arranged, but I'll leave that for another day. It's time for this mama to rest.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Girl's writing nook

Recently I realised I had let myself wander into the Land of Want, the place were I lose myself thinking about all the ways I could improve my house, and forget about everything it already has going for it.

When we were house hunting two years ago, I looked at a lot of terrible houses, because we were trying to afford a house in Auckland and it seemed like the only way we could do that was by buying a complete fixer upper. One house I was tempted to purchase didn't even have a laundry, and someone had built an illegal carport off the side of the house, which completely blocked the third bedroom window. But it was in our price range, so I seriously considered it.

Another house I looked at only had two bedrooms, and one of those bedrooms had holes in the wall going all the way through to the outside. But again, the price was right, so I considered it.

And then I found this house, in an area I loved, with room outside for the kids to play and for me to plant a garden in. The house was already liveable just as it was, and somehow we were the only bidders at auction, so we were able to purchase it for less than its reserve price. We wouldn't have been able to afford it otherwise.

It felt like a miracle and it probably was.

But time went by and I forgot to appreciate that miracle. I got fixated on the too-small kitchen, and the wearing-out bathroom, and the door in the living room that would really be better placed two metres to the right. Those thoughts stole my gratitude.

Now I'm stealing it back.

Watching YouTube videos about tiny homes has helped me to feel grateful, especially seeing how the clever use of space in those homes makes them feel liveable and beautiful exactly as they are. My house is much bigger than a tiny home, even though it feels small to me, so I'm trying to find affordable ways to make the most of the space we already have, instead of dreaming of more room.

This week I've been sorting and reorganising kids' toys and clothes with my children, since S has been home sick from school. I took several bags of offerings to the local Hospice Shop this morning and it felt so good to empty those things out of my house. More space already.

While I was at the Hospice Shop, I also happened to find the perfect piece of furniture for a wasted space in my girls' bedroom.
The girls have a Windmill Kids bunk-bed that really makes the most of their small bedroom, since it has several built in drawers and cupboards.

The bunk-bed also came with a wardrobe that we didn't need, since there's already a wardrobe in the girls' bedroom, so we took the doors off it a long time ago and have used the space to store cradles and toys for my youngest daughter, S, who sleeps next to it.

Unfortunately, S also got into the habit of chucking her clobber into the open wardrobe space whenever I asked her to tidy her bedroom. It had become a huge, unusable mess - difficult to find things in.

I kept thinking the unused wardrobe would be the perfect area to build a desk for her, and was trying to think up design ideas in my mind that I might be able to build. Then this morning I saw a desk for sale in the Hospice Shop, which I thought might fit into the wardrobe nook. At $15, I couldn't even have bought the materials to build a desk for that price, so I thought it was worth the risk.
I bought the second-hand desk, carted it home and moved it into the old wardrobe space next to S's bed. It fit perfectly.


It even has a flip-top lid with added storage underneath for S's knickknacks, (which all seem to be incredibly colourful).

Everything that had been in the closet space, I chucked onto S's bed, and together we spent an hour sorting through it all, finding proper homes for everything.

S used to keep all her felts and pencils in the drawer of her side table, but now that she has a desk, we wanted them to live there. Together we sorted through the stationary items, sharpening all the pencils, throwing out any dud felt pens and placing them all by type in glass jars, where they fit at the back of her desk. This is the part of the desk that doesn't move when the lid comes up, so it's a great place for those items to have a permanent home.

With the stationary moved out of her side table drawer, now she's able to use that space for other things.
Here is a photo of S writing in her new desk nook. She's sitting on a stool we already had that fits under the desk when it's not in use.

The desk, stool, side table and bookcase next to S's bed are all made with different materials and don't really go together, so I'll buy S paint for her upcoming seventh birthday and let her paint them how she wants. They're all second-hand/free furniture items anyway, so I'm not precious about them. Painting them will help her personalise her area of the bedroom too, which will be nice for her, since she'll be sharing a room with her big sister for a while yet.

My eldest daughter, L, is now asking us to build her a desk for her top bunk. Paul is talking hinged fold-out desk designs, which would be an absolutely brilliant use of the space up there.

Does anyone have suggestions for how we could go about building something like that?

Monday, March 5, 2018

Thermos for the lunchbox

I happened to post a photo of my kids eating out of their Thermos Funtainers at the Zoo the other day and had a few friends asking questions about them, so I thought I'd share all the deets here. (I'm not getting paid to talk about these, I just really like them.)

I bought three of the Thermos Funtainers (one for each of my kids) because their short, squat shape makes them ideal for little (and big) hands to scoop all the way to the bottom. 

They're so well insulated that we're even able to use them to take ice cream on picnics. I just open up the Thermoses and put them in the freezer for a few minutes to get really cold before I scoop in the ice cream. Our ice cream has always remained solid until we're ready to eat it, even a couple of hours after packing it. A label on the Thermos says it will keep food chilled for up to seven hours, but I haven't tested our ice cream for that long. 

My daughter also loves taking stuffed Cheese and Spinach Tortellini to school in her Funtainer for a hot lunch.

This is the fresh pasta I get, which you can find in the refrigerated section of the supermarket. I like that it's a vegetable and protein source for her. 

One pasta packet lasts for a week of lunches for my daughter, costing less than a dollar a day for a hot lunch. The pasta is so filling, she doesn't need much else in her lunchbox. I've been steadily reducing the add-ons since I started packing the pasta, and now she just takes a yoghurt for brain food and one other item for morning tea - either fruit, or a piece of baking or a few crackers.  

To prepare the pasta, I peel open the corner of the pasta packet and scoop out 1/5th of the pasta, cooking it in a small saucepan of boiling water in the morning. I run a glue-stick over the edge of the pasta packet to re-seal it. This glue un-peels and re-sticks easily, so one glue application lasts the whole week. 

Once the pasta has finished cooking, I pour the boiling cooking water into the Thermos Funtainer to warm it up, and then tip the water out and pour the pasta into the now-warmed container. 

With the lid on the Thermos Funtainer, the pasta stays hot until my daughter is ready to eat it at lunchtime. I also pack a small fork for her to scoop the pasta out with. It only takes a few minutes to prepare the pasta in the morning, and most of that time I'm able to do other things while I wait for the pasta to cook.  

I haven't used the Thermos Funtainer for hot food for my other kids yet, but I imagine that as the weather turns colder, we'll be looking to bring soups or leftover curries to our various homeschool activities. 

My friend bought a similar type of Thermos from Mitre 10, and was using it for all sorts of hot meals while we were camping over the summer holidays. 

The Thermoses are really sturdy, but surprisingly light. So if you're kids are getting sick of the same ol' sandwiches for lunch, you might want to try getting them a Thermos Funtainer or similar short, squat shaped Thermos to pack hot or cold food into.

I've seen them for sale on Amazon, and also in Spotlight stores (and the Spotlight webstore) here in New Zealand. I'm sure there are other places you can find them too, so hunt around for the best deal.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Low-carb Ginger Crunch (THM S recipe)


Ginger crunch is one of those foods I always make a bee-line for. There's just something about the sharp, sweet tang of the ginger that calls to me. Yet I know I need to make better choices for my body, because my sugar addiction has been rearing its ugly head a lot lately... and I've been caving far too often.

Honestly, I don't feel great, healthwise. And I've started to worry, what if I'm not around for my kids as they grow up?

I need an arsenal of food I can turn to that will satisfy my sugar cravings, without actually feeding sugar to my body.

Enter: Low-carb Ginger Crunch.

I warn you now, this is not one of those recipes you can whip up with ingredients you already have in your pantry - our old staples of flour and sugar are exactly what this recipe is trying to avoid.

You're going to need to invest in specialty ingredients if, like me, you want to enjoy baking that's not going to spike your blood sugar levels and wreck your waist-line.

I bought a 3 pound bag of the Trim Healthy Mama Baking Blend earlier this year, and that's what I've used in place of flour in this recipe. You can buy the Baking Blend from the Trim Healthy Mama webstore, or, if you're in New Zealand, from Lenabosa Farms (although I just checked and they're out of stock at the moment). You can also have a go at making your own baking blend, potentially sourcing the individual ingredients at lower prices to keep costs down. This baking blend recipe looks good. However, I haven't tested my Low-carb Ginger Crunch recipe on homemade baking mix, so I can't tell you how it will turn out. If you do try it, please let me know.

The good thing about the Trim Healthy Mama Baking Blend is that it's not full of empty calories. It's actually highly nourishing for your body, with ingredients like flaxseed and collagen, so you can enjoy sweet treats that will also reward you with better health.

However, it doesn't have quite the same texture as regular ol' flour, so this ginger crunch won't be as crunchy as you're used to. It's still satisfying and tasty though. The kids and I got through the whole pan in a couple of days. Just be aware that it's not exactly like the original.

Ingredients

Base
  • 1c Trim Healthy Mama Baking Blend
  • 75g cold butter
  • 1/4c Natvia or other stevia/erythritol sugar blend
  • 1t baking powder
  • 1t ground ginger
  • 2 eggs
  • 1T cold water

Icing (Note: If you don't have as much of a sweet tooth as me, halve the icing quantity.)
  • 150g butter
  • 1c Natvia (or other stevia/erythritol blend)
  • 3t ground ginger
  • 4T cream
  • Pinch of salt

Method
  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC / 350ºF.
  2. Line a 20cm square baking pan with baking paper.
  3. Process together 1c Baking Blend, 75g cold butter, 1/4c Natvia, 1t baking powder and 1t ground ginger until a coarse meal is formed.
  4. Add two eggs and pulse to mix. 
  5. Add 1T cold water and pulse again.
  6. Press mixture into baking pan. It will be wet, so you might like to use wet hands to smooth it out to the corners. Try and get the mixture as flat and even as you can in the pan.
  7. Bake at 180ºC / 350ºF for 15-20 minutes, until slightly toasted.
  8. Allow base to cool completely before icing. 
  9. In a small saucepan, melt together 150g butter, 1c Natvia, 3t ground ginger, 4T cream and a pinch of salt over a medium heat. As soon as mixture starts to bubble, take it off the heat and continue to stir it until it starts to thicken. 
  10. Pour mixture over baked, cooled base and allow to set. 
  11. Cut Ginger Crunch into squares once cool and store in an airtight container. This recipe can be frozen and actually has a good crunch on it when eaten straight from the freezer. (Don't ask me how I know.)

Friday, February 16, 2018

What homeschooling looks like this term

Dancefit
Our new year of homeschooling just started up and we're getting a bit more down to business than we did in term 4 of 2017, when we took time to de-school / shake loose of the expectations and routines of school for a while. I'm glad we did that because it gave us a chance to experiment with different curriculums we borrowed from people and figure out what we like.

I thought I'd share what we're doing this term so my friends who aren't homeschooling can get a taste of what it's like, and my friends who are homeschooling can get ideas or nod/shake their heads knowingly, depending on whether they agree with what we're doing or not.

This term L is doing a mixture of activities run by other people, as well as working through various curriculums with me at home.

Kiwisports
Outside of the house, L is doing swimming lessons twice a week, an art class, Suzuki violin lessons, a dancefit class, a science astronomy class, a creative journaling class and Kiwisports. We ended up with two swimming lessons because I signed L and S up for afterschool lessons before discovering a homeschool option that runs during the day. I figure that doing a term of two lessons a week will boost L's swimming ability really quickly, and the homeschool lessons give her a chance to meet other homeschoolers and hang out with them in the pool before and after her lesson, so it's win/win.

In the home, we are using The Good and the Beautiful for L's Language Arts and Literature curriculum. I printed this for free, but would have gladly paid for it. It's SO good. Everything in the curriculum has been designed to be good/edifying and beautiful. The curriculum itself is incredibly rigorous and has been set out in a way that is easy to follow, and builds on itself beautifully. I'm really enjoying it.

These challenging words flash cards are part of The Good and the Beautiful curriculum. I've put them into a divided container with one half for mastered words and one half for words that are to be mastered. L really enjoys challenging herself with these words, and it's a quick activity we can pull out at anytime, or even bring with us places. L worked through reading some of the challenging words to me this week while we were watching J do a swimming lesson.

The Good and the Beautiful curriculum incorporates artwork into some of its lessons and I've started sticking that art work up in our homeschool space after we've done the lesson on it, so we can enjoy it for longer. The two paintings you see above are by Arnold Lyongrun.

For history, we're working through The Story of the World volume one. I bought the activity book from a Facebook buy/sell group and purchased the main book from the Book Depository. I'm learning so much from this curriculum, and find it completely fascinating. I hope L does too.

For science, this term we are focused on astronomy, since that's what L is also doing in her group science class and I managed to buy an Apologia astronomy curriculum from a Facebook buy/sell group. We hope to visit the star dome this term as part of the course, and have been watching YouTube videos of the recent Falcon Heavy test flight, which was amazing. Check it out if you haven't already. When we finish working through this Apologia curriculum, I'll be getting some of The Good and the Beautiful science courses, which look so good.

Last term for maths, L worked through Life of Fred Apples, as a fun / light maths curriculum, and this term she's working through Life of Fred Butterflies. This is a story-based curriculum that teaches maths concepts in a really fun and unique way.

This week L has started working through a Step Ahead maths book that a teaching friend of mine gave us. When I want to give L serious maths time, she has a Primary Mathematics curriculum to work on that we have borrowed from a friend, but she doesn't like it as much so I'm taking a break from it while we work through the Step Ahead book. It uses games and puzzles to make the maths more fun, which suits L's personality down to a tee.

Every day L also does a bit of Quick Maths on the iPad or my phone. This is an app I downloaded and she likes it because she competes against herself to get faster at answering the questions and earn a new personal best. Quick Maths has levels ranging from Beginner to Advanced, and you can choose to answer addition, subtraction, multiplication or division questions.

For spelling, I try to take note of words that L gets wrong in her various activities and when I have a list of about ten of them, I'll get her to copy them out three times each and then test her on them. There's also this fun activity my friend, Angela, told me about, where you can type words into a programme and print them out in game-form. We've used that a few times too.

Each day L also studies French using the free online programme, Duolingo. It and Quick Maths are good activities L can do by herself while I'm packing S's lunchbox and getting her ready for school.

We go to the library at least once a week, and L checks out lots of books to read in her downtime. I also read to her most nights from a chapter book that's a little bit ahead of her reading level. This morning we took an hour out of our homeschool time to finish The Princess Acadamy by Shannon Hale, which we've been working through over the past few weeks. It's one of my favourites, and now L's too.

If L does good work or shows a positive attitude, I let her choose a sticker from the above Kiwiana sticker book that I bought from a $2 shop. It's amazing how a little sticker can boost morale. I also have a packet of certificates I got from another $2 shop, and I awarded one to L this week for excellent progress in swimming.

So how do I keep track of it all? I don't have an overall plan as such. I'm just aiming to have L work through all the various subject curriculums so get her to chip away at them whenever we are having homeschool time. Each day I write L a to-do list in a little notebook, and once she's got through everything on the list, she's free to play. The above list shows what we did on Wednesday this week.

I'm really enjoying having my own dedicated office/homeschool space to organise everything, because I'm able to sit down after all the kids are in bed and plan out the next day's activities. Plus I have somewhere to put everything when it's not in use.

So that's what we're doing this term. Now I want to hear from you. If you're a homeschooler - what are your favourite activities/books/resources?

Monday, February 5, 2018

Frugal Fun - So many extracurriculars!

The past week hasn't felt that frugal. I've basically been throwing money into the endless pool of kids' extracurricular activities.

With L homeschooling again this year, I've signed her up for several homeschool classes and more extracurricular activities than normal to give her social time and do the activities that I'm not so confident teaching her at home. She's doing swimming lessons, dance-fit, Kiwi sports, science, creative journaling, an art class and, hopefully, violin lessons.

L had her first swimming lesson last week and I was distressed to see that she was in a way-too-easy level. I suggested to her teacher that L be moved up a level, but her teacher elected to keep her where she was, without even properly assessing her abilities. I was annoyed because it felt like a waste of time and money to have her in a class beneath her abilities, so I emailed the swim school manager and she got L to come in for a special one-on-one assessment on the weekend. Thankfully, after that assessment everyone agreed L needed to go up a level. I felt like a pushy-Mum while it was all going on, but am very glad it all worked out for the best.

Since J will be with us on the day L is doing her homeschool group classes, I've booked him in for a couple of homeschool classes that day too. He will be doing gymnastics and Kiwi sports. Last week we went to check out the facilities where these classes are going to be held, so we'll have an idea where we need to go on the first day. I'm usually the disorganised person who shows up at the last minute, wandering around lost, but I'm trying to make more of an effort to be organised this year and have all the information I need with me in my phone calendar.

This term S is doing swimming lessons at the same time as L, and I've also signed her up for a gymnastics class, which she's been begging to do. I've also just purchased her school stationary for the year and paid all her school fees, so it really has been an expensive week.

On the positive side, I just did my second online grocery order and managed to come in under budget. I bought the 6-month delivery service last week so that I won't have to pay a delivery fee each week. I could pay for delivery as I go but you get a delivery fee discount for spending over $200, which would probably tempt me, and the whole point of this online ordering is for me to spend less than $200 a week on groceries.

The extra money I have left over from this week's groceries will probably go towards buying fruit from an orchard shop later in the week. We can stock up there at lower prices than at the supermarket.

I was looking at purchasing a printed homeschool curriculum for L this past week, but the delivery fee alone was going to be $170, since the curriculum is coming from the United States, and I think that might have been in US dollars too. I hit pause on that, since Paul has just purchased a second-hand colour printer/photocopier for his business, which I can use to print PDFs of the curriculum instead. I'm just waiting for him to set up the photocopier and then I can get to printing.

In my own news, I've been working on a horticulture assignment which requires me to take 40 different plant cuttings, press them and identify them by leaf shape/flowers. It's taking a long time, but I keep chipping away at it by taking cuttings wherever I go. Eventually I'll get it all done. After that assignment, I think I'll only have three more to go and then I'll have finished my certificate in horticulture.

For entertainment last week, I read several library books - the standouts were The Cruel Prince by Holly Black and The Gathering Dark by Leigh Bardugo, but I'm also re-reading My Lady Jayne, which is a favourite of mine. I watched a few episodes of The Good Wife on Netflix, as well as the movie Silver Lining Playbook, which is one I own and love.

I mowed the lawns last night in a break from the rain. They had shot up with the combination of sun and rain we've had lately, so I was emptying my catcher every pass. I emptied the clippings into my large compost bin and the garden I'm trying to fill with homemade compost.

We ate several meals last week furnished with home-grown garden produce: Cannelloni made with my spinach, tomatoes and garlic; Spaghetti Bolognese that used my tomatoes, spinach and zucchini; and Butter Chicken, which I made with my own tomatoes and zucchini. I always point it out to the kids, when we're eating homegrown food, even though I'm way more excited about it than they are.

Paul and I spent way-too-many hours over the weekend sorting our vast Lego collection. A couple of months ago we bought a second-hand cube bookshelf so the kids could set up their Lego creations in the various cubbies. Previously we had a train table set up for their creations, but it had become more of a dumping ground than a creative space and it was kind of rickety, so we dismantled it. The bookshelf has given us more floor space in front of it, which is good because the kids tend to build directly on the floor. It's also the perfect size to fit our plastic lego drawers on top of, which makes a much more efficient use of space in J's small bedroom (where the Lego lives).

We used to sort our Lego by colour, but someone suggested we sort it by type instead, so that's what we spent the weekend doing. Paul started building sets with the newly-sorted Lego and said it was so much easier and faster to do it this way. Win.

We didn't have quite enough plastic drawers to properly sort everything, so Paul bought two more sets as well as several plastic dividers to split out the small items. Now it's almost done. Well, as almost done as it can be when you have kids continuing to play with Lego. I'm tempted to go Lord Business on them and get my Kragle out.

Now I'll leave you with this picture of my ridiculously cute cat, who still thinks he's a kitten...
I don't even know how he got in there.

What's your frugal news? Or are you in the same start-of-school spending frenzy as I am?