04 December 2018

Teaching Children the Meaning of Christmas


I'll preface this with a warning: you may not agree with what I'm writing, and that's OK. This was how Wayne and I raised our children, I'm not suggesting for one second that anyone else should copy us.

We are a practising Christian family, and money was tight when our children were small. I was brought up in a conservative faith, and we have raised our children in that faith.

As a result, Christmas in our house was, and is, a little different to Christmas in other homes in Australia.

We have always celebrated Christmas. I love this time of year. I love the decorating and the baking and the gift making, shopping, wrapping, hiding and giving. I love the meals with family and friends. I love the wreath on the door and the trees throughout the house. I get joy from the lights strung around the verandah.

But in our home they are embellishments. They are not the purpose or the meaning of Christmas.

Don't get me wrong. We give gifts to each other and to our family and friends, and take great joy in doing so. And we receive gifts from family and friends and take great joy in doing so.

It's nice to receive a gift, however small, from those we love and care for. It brings us closer together and shows that we're not forgotten and keeps us close.

We recognise December 25th as the anniversary of Jesus' birth. No one knows for certain just when he was born in that manger to Mary and Joseph, and so we celebrate the occasion on December 25.

As a family we recognise that Jesus lived a life of serving and giving and helping others. And so, through the year but especially at Christmas (we are celebrating Christ after all), we try to focus on serving and giving and sharing and helping, rather than on trees and decorations and and the presents we might receive.

Part of this was helping our children to choose gifts to make or buy to put under the Kmart wishing tree. When they were small we'd do this as a family. As they grew older, and were able to decide for themselves, we'd guide and advise and make suggestions for ways they could serve and share during the Advent season.

We've always encouraged them to give 10%, save 10% and use the remaining 80% of whatever money they have to live on. This meant that even as youngsters they had their own money to use for presents; they didn't hold out their hands for us to pay.

The other thing we did was actively discourage the belief in Santa Claus bringing any and all toys and books and games that they asked for. We also made sure that our children never told other children the truth about Santa Clause. We explained that some families had different beliefs to ours wehn it came to Santa Clause, and that was OK, but it wasn't our place to change that belief.

This came about mainly because we couldn't afford the latest and greatests toys or games, no matter how often the TV said Santa Clause would leave them under the Christmas tree.

Our children knew the money in my purse was limited and for milk or petrol or Playgroup fees. They understood that I didn't have money in my purse to pay for a new toy or book or ice-cream and accepted that and were OK with it.

So, when AJ asked for a toy - it was a Thunderbirds toy spaceship - and I showed him my purse and what the money was for, his trusting little 3 year old self told me that Santa Clause would bring it for him.

I'll be honest and say it broke my heart. We had already bought the Christmas presents and there was no more money, not even the $7 for that Thunderbirds toy. I knew he'd remember and be disappointed on Christmas morning when he didn't get it.

I prayed for wisdom to answer him without destroying his childhood.

Right there in the Kmart toy aisle I knelt down next to my little boy and explained that Santa Claus wouldn't be bringing that toy, because mummy and daddy didn't have the money to pay for it. I explained that after Christmas, mummys and daddys would get a bill for the presents under the Christmas tree, and that they had to pay it.

I told him that there would be presents under the tree, that we were able to pay for.

I was terrified that he wouldn't understand, that I'd shatter his childlike faith and illusions and ruin Christmas for him forever.

Instead he was OK with what I told him. No questions. No tantrums. No tears. No ruined Christmas.

He already understood that we had to have money to pay for what we wanted, and that if we didn't have the money then we had to save up for it. He also understood the concept of paying bills for what we had, and that if we couldn't pay the bill, we couldn't have whatever.

Come Christmas morning, the smiles and laughter were plentiful, and joyous. The presents were unwrapped and oohhed and ahhed over, and played with and shared and thoroughly enjoyed. Our little boys were thrilled with their ride-on tractor and trailer, and there wasn't a hint of disapointment.

That was 25 years ago (doesn't seem that long!) and Christmas is still joyful and fun, but the focus is more on the people and the reason, rather than the worldly trappings, now everyone is grown up.

This year we'll be celebrating at home, as usual. We'll have our tree, with presents under it. We'll have family and friends to share meals with. And all the while, we'll be remembering the reason we celebrate the way we do.

01 December 2018

24 Movies for Christmas

We've made it a family tradition to watch a Christmas movie every day (or evening) during December since we had littlies in the house.

This is the list for this year, in no order. The choice is random, the movie that comes out of the box on the night is the movie we watch. Sometimes we all sit down to watch, sometimes it's just Wayne and me.

Over the years the theme of the movies has changed to reflect how the kids have grown up. Now we're all adults, most of the movies are more suited to adults, but some of our favourites will always be suitable for even young children. I guess Christmas brings out the child in all of us, even if it's just for a movie.

Here's a list of the movies in the box for this year (if we don't have the DVD, I've made a card with the movie name on it and where to find it on Netflix). They're not all necessarilyactual  Christmas movies, but they are favourites that we enjoy watching at this time of year.

1. Miracle on 34th Street - remake
2. Christmas with the Kranks
3. The Santa Clause
4. The Santa Clause 2
5. The Santa Clause 3
6. Dear Santa
7. Holiday Inn - watched
8. How Sarah got Her Wings
9. Love Actually - watched
10. The Holiday
11. Angels in the Snow - watched
12. Miracle on 34th Street - 1947 version, and a favourite of mine
13. Home Alone
14. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
15. Elf
16. Christmas in Connecticut -1945 version with Barbara Stanwyk, another Christmas favourite of mine
17. A Christmas Prince (the Royal Wedding) - this is a new addition for 2018
18. One Magic Christmas
19. High Society - not srictly a Christmas movie, just a favourite
20. Bridget Jones Diary - watched
21. Little Women - it's not Christmas if we don't watch Little Women
22. 7 Brides for 7 Brothers - this is one of my mother's favourite movies, it's a sentimental inclusion
23. A Holiday Engagement
24. It's a Wonderful Life - this is always reserved for Christmas Eve, before we watch the Carols by Candlelight

29 November 2018

How to Make Melt and Pour Soaps

As a follow-on from this afternoon's blog post, Corinna asked if I could share exactly what I used, and what you would need and where to get whatever, to make these soaps.

I'm no expert, but I have made soap since the children were little, and made lots and lots of melt and pour soaps when they were at primary school for stalls and fetes, so here goes. 

The soaps I made are all what is known as melt and pour soaps and are perfect for beginners and those who would like to make their own soap but are nervous about using lye and don't want to wait six weeks to use it.
They are made from a glycerine soap base. Glycerine is very gentle, and moisturising - perfect for dry skin, and as an anti-ageing ingredient in soap.

Melt and pour soap bases come in a number of different varieties, the most common being clear. This is the base I used to make the rose soaps. I tinted it pink and added fragrance oil to scent it.


The snowflake soaps were made from a goats milk and glycerine base, and tinted pink.


And the Christmas trees were made from a coconut oil and glycerine base and I tinted them green.


To make any of the soaps I made you will need:
Melt and pour soap base - I used 700g clear base, 500g Goats milk base, 500g coconut base
Double boiler OR a large saucepan and a heatproof dish that fits in the top
Thermometer
Skewer for stirring
Moulds
Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alchohol)
Soap colour - optional
Soap fragrance - optional

Step 1.  Prepare your moulds. You can use whatever you like, I use silicone cake moulds because they're cheap, readily available in a lot of different shapes and most importantly, the finished soap is easy to pop out. If you are using silicone moulds, put them on a baking sheet to keep them stable.  Spritz the inside of the moulds with the isopropyl alcohol.

Step 2. Cut the soap base into 2cm squares. This ensures it melts evenly and quickly, and doesn't turn into a giant, unmanageable glob.

Step 3. Bring the double boiler to the boil. Put the soap base into the double boiler, turn the heat down so the pot is simmering and stir. Keep stirring until all the base has completely melted. Depending on how much base you have in the double boiler it can take a few minutes. Watch the temperature of the base, and keep it under 50 degrees F. If it goes over 50 degrees, it will still be good to use, but the finished soap won't be glossy and bright.

I use a skewer to stir so it gets between all the little cubes and keeps them moving.

Step 4. Once the base has completely melted, you can add the colour if you are using it. Remember, less is more. It is easier to add a drop to increase the intensity of the colour rather than over-colour and end up with something you don't like. Add the colour by the drop, and make sure to stir it in completely. Again, this can take a minute or two to get an even colour distribution. Just keep the double boiler or bowl over the hot water.

Step 5. Add the scent, again remembering that less is more and you can always increase the intensity of the fragrance. Stir well.

Step 6. I use a clean, dry soup ladle to fill the moulds. As soon as they are full, spritz with the rubbing alcohol. This eliminates the little bubbles that are sitting on top of the soap, giving it a nice, flat surface when it dries.  Set the baking sheet aside until the soap is set. This won't take too long - about 2 hours, but you can leave it up to 24 hours if necessary.

Step 7. Once the soap has hardened or set, turn it out of the moulds. Trim off any excess drips with a sharp paring knife. Wrap the soap immediately. This prevents the "sweating" that is a common feature of glycerine based soaps. They can be used straight away, there is no need to wait to use these soaps.

Seven steps sound a lot and complicated, but they are all very quick and simple. It takes about half an hour from start to final spritz.

Cost: Depending on the cost of your base, making 1kg of melt and pour soap can cost as little as $15. Adding colour and fragrance will increase the cost by about $1.50 per kilo. Other bases are a $1 - $2 per kilo more expensive. How many soaps you'll get will depend on the size of your moulds. The snowflakes are large, I get 12 from 1kg if I fill them to the top. The roses are smaller and I get about 15 if I watch how I fill them. The Christmas trees make 12 bars from 1kg of soap base.

Tips:

Bases come in either .500g or 1kg blocks. They do come in bigger blocks, up to 20kg, but 1kg is a good size to manage at home for soap making.

Cut the base into 1cm squares, but no larger than 2cm. This is a manageable size to stir and melt before it gets too hot.

Use only soap colours. Don't be tempted to use food colour - it stains! It stains you, the bath, the shower base, the face washer - it's meant for icing, not soap. I use liquid soap colours. About 5ml per kilo of soap base gives a nice colour density, but you can use more or less to get the density you want.

When it comes to fragrance, you can use essential oils, as long as they are skin-safe (not all are suitable, check the bottle label). Essential oils don't last long, that's fine if you don't want the fragrance to last. And you will need to use more. Fragrance oils work very well in soaps. They last longer due to the formulation and you don’t need to use as much.

A thermometer that clips to the side of your dish is ideal. It keeps it out of the way, and you can easily keep an eye on the temperature of the base as it melts.

I have bought most of my moulds from op shops for $1 or $2 each. The most I've paid for a mould was $3 for the Christmas tree mould. Look at stores like The Reject Shop too, they often have cute shapes in silicone cake moulds for just a couple of dollars.  But you can use anything as long as you can get the hardened soap out. For the Gardener's Soap bars I use an old aluminium bar cake tin, lined with clingwrap. Cardboard cartons, paper boxes, acetate shapes can all be used as moulds for your melt and pour soaps.

Where I buy melt and pour base:

Little Green Workshops

This is a local (almost!) to me company. They are Victorian based, and a family owned and run business.

Little Green Workshops has a large range of all soap making supplies but they also have an excellent range of kits, aimed at the beginner to the more experienced soap maker. The kits are ideal, coming with everything you need to make your soap, including the moulds, colours and fragrances and a detailed instruction booklet and a wonderful chart showing how to mix the primary colours to create secondary and tertiary colours.

Aussie Soap Supplies

Based in Western Australia, this company also sells the melt and pour base, and a limited range of kits. The kits are aimed more at the experienced melt and pour soap maker. They also come with detailed instructions on how to create the soaps.

Isopropyl alcohol
Most chemists/pharmacies stock it. It's not expensive and a bottle will last for ages, but I found Chemist Warehouse was the cheapest stockist near me. It can also be used in the laundry as a stain lifter and for cleaning and sanitising around the house.

You may have an outlet near you that sells soap making supplies. If you search on "soap making" and your area, I'm sure you'll find plenty. Do your research and compare prices, not just on the base and other ingredients, but on the delivery fee too.

If you have any questions, just ask them in the comments below and I'll do my best to answer them for you.

(Finally) Making the Christmas Soaps


I've been a tad busy lately, and so the Christmas soaps have just been made, but not from my usual recipe, that takes six weeks to cure.

On Tuesday I had a couple of hours almost free and Thomas was home to help, so we brought out the pans and bowls, and the Christmas moulds, and made a couple of batches of melt-n-pour soap. They look so cute and smell so nice. Best of all they're ready to use immediately, no need to wait for curing time.

Along with the Christmas soaps, we made another double batch of Gardener's Soap, and a batch of Stain Removing Soap.

I was down to the last bar of Stain Removing Soap, and it is brilliant on the sports clothes and Wayne's work clothes (better than Sard, as good as Exit Soap). I also use it to clean the tea towels and dishcloths. I just wet them, give them a general rub over with the Stain Removing Soap and put them in the wash. They come out stain free and clean, and then only need to be soaked once a month or so.

The Gardener's Soap is on my yearly to-do list. I just love it because it's so gentle on my hands after gardening. I don't know about you, but even with gloves, and running my nails over a cake of soap before I put the gloves on, I still get my hands filthy! The Gardener's Soap is so gentle and soft to use, but it really gets the dirt off - and quickly too. Of course being coffee scented helps, you all know how much I love my coffee.

For years I've made fancy soaps just for Christmas. When the children were small, I'd put out Christmas soaps when we decorated the house, and then they'd each get a special Christmas soap, just for them, in their stocking. I don't do the soap in the stockings anymore, but I still love to put out fancy Christmas themed soaps in the bathroom.

A couple of years ago, when the card ladies did a soap making lesson with me, some of them made Christmas tree shapes, and that's what I've made for our Christmas soaps this year. I picked the mould up from an op shop for just a couple of dollars. It's a silicone cake mould, and works perfectly for individual soaps. Don't they look pretty?

Christmas tree soaps for our bathrooms
This batch is made from a coconut and glycerine base and I tinted it green by mixing blue and yellow soap colouring (don't be tempted to use food colours - they stain! you and the basin and the face washer and the hand towel) to give the green colour. Then I added some peppermint essential oil to scent it. Essential oils don't last long in soap, the fragrance evaporates quite quickly, but because these just have to last until 12th night, it will be fine.

And while the soap making was happening, I made a batch of goats milk and glycerine soap, coloured it pink and use my rose and snowflake moulds to make gift soaps. These are scented with crab apple rose fragrance and smell divine. There was a little base left, and I had a new mould to use, so it didn't go to waste.

Pink rose scented glycerine rose soaps

Goats milk pink, crab apple rose scented snowflake soaps
Lastly, these pretty little unicorns are gorgeous. I've packed them into sets of four as they are for gifts. 

The mould came from Kmart, grand cost of $1.50 and I just couldn't resist!

Where I buy my soap bases:

Little Green Workshops

Aussie Soap Supplies

*I have no affiliation with either of these companies, other than being a very happy customer. 

22 November 2018

Gorgeous Gift Bags and Tags


My Christmas gift shopping is done!

Everything I had on my list to buy, has been bought - and all within my gift budget too. It took a bit of researching and shopping around, and a teeny, tiny bit of haggling for a couple of them, but they have all been paid for and are now happily waiting in the present box in my wardrobe.

As soon as I have the house to myself for an hour, I'll finish off the wrapping and labelling, and they'll be ready to put under the tree when it goes up at the weekend.

Last year in the Boxing Day sales, Hannah bought the loveliest wrapping papers, but some of the gifts need bags. The lovely Maureen brought lots of gift bags to card day a couple of months ago, and we all had our pick.

Why am I telling you this? Because they're gorgeous bags, they just need a little prettying up to make them usable.

Here is just one of the bags I've done already, just using papers and ribbons and lace I had in my stash. I'm thrilled with the way they've turned out, and even happier with the saving. Pretty gift bags are quite pricey, so revamping and reusing them just makes sense, financially and ecologically.

 Brown paper gift bag, redecorated using crepe paper, scrapbooking paper, 
stickers and a cut out sentiment

If you don't have any gift bags to redecorate, you can turn any paper bag into a fabulous designer gift bag in just a few minutes and with just a few embellishments, most of which you will probably already have on hand.

Idea No. 1.

Turn the top of your paper bag over 5cm. With a ruler and sharp pencil evenly mark 1cm lines 1cm apart along the middle of the flap. Using a Stanley Knife or similar and the ruler cut along the pencil lines through all the thicknesses of the paper bag.

Take a length of narrow ribbon and thread through the slits. Tie a large knot in each end to stop it from pulling out.

Idea No. 2

Measure your paper bag from the top edge of one side, down, across the bottom and up the other side. Add 15cm to this measurement and double it. Cut a length of ribbon to the final measurement and then cut that in half to give you two lengths of ribbon. Measure in 5cm from the side of the bag and leaving a 7.5cm tail, carefully glue the ribbon down the bag, across the bottom and up the other side again leaving a 7.5cm tag. Repeat the process with the other length of ribbon. Tie each length into a granny knot at the top of the bag to secure.

Idea No. 3

Turn the top of your bag down 5cm. Measure in 3cm from each side and cut a 1cm slit through all thicknesses of the bag. Take a stem of holly and push through the slits, folding the stem out at the back to secure.

And to go on all those gifts,w rapped or in bags, you need gift tags. There are some lovely tags in the shops, but you can make your own so they co-ordinate with your wrapping, and you'll have a lovely matching set, for just a few cents.

Gift Tag No. 1

Using a cookie cutter, trace around the outside edge onto coloured card and cut out. Then trace around the inside of the cutter so you have the same design, only smaller, onto a contrasting colour and cut out. Centre the smaller shape on the large shape and glue in place. Punch a hole at the top and thread with a piece of raffia to tie to your parcel or glue onto your gift. This looks great as gingerbread men and Christmas trees. If you have plain round cookie cutters they make lovely bauble style gift tags.

Gift Tag No. 2

Dress up some bought gift tags. Use a glitter pen to outline features on the tag. Once it is dry thread some thin red or green ribbon through the hole and tie into a large bow. Use a glue stick or sticky tape to attach the tag to the parcel. Lightly coat a plain, bought tag with pva glue and sprinkle with glitter and let it dry. You can never have too much bling and glitter, especially at Christmastime.

Gift Tag No. 3.

Find some large gum leaves. Using a texta pen write your message on the gum leaf. Laminate between two layers of clear contact. Cut around the outline of the leaf leaving a small border. Punch a hole to thread raffia through.

18 November 2018

Crafty Mums Chrismtas Craft Sale


I'm thrilled to be a part of the Crafty Mums Co-op, and I'm bursting this morning because today is the first ever Crafty Mum's craft garage sale.

Time: 11am  - 3pm

What's for sale? So many gorgeous, handmade items, and nothing priced over $15!

We have:
Decorated handtowels
Mini pamper packs
Large luxurious pamper packs
Hand knitted dishcloths
Hanging kitchen towels
Handmade soaps
Soap sacks
Christmas cards
General greeting cards
Knitting Nancys
Mini post it note holders (with very cute little pens)
Pot holders
Fridge magnets
Fridge calendars
Desk Calendars
Baby bootees (so cute!)
Decorated rulers
Stocking stuffer bon bons - (nail polishes and lip balms)
Mini memory books
Mini journals
Homemade jams
and the list goes on and on and on.....

If you're in the area, it would be the perfect place to get that Christmas shopping done!

14 November 2018

Don't Stress about Christmas Dinner

It's just one meal, on one day of the year.
Christmas Dinner is just one meal during the year and yet if we let it, this one meal can cost
us the equivalent of a week's grocery budget.

Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas and I love Christmas Day and having the whole family together, and I love Christmas dinner. I just don't think it has to be hideously expensive and that includes Christmas Dinner.

Having strong English and Scottish roots, we enjoy a traditional hot roast for Christmas dinner – despite the fact that it can be a blazing 40 degrees!

I've done the sums and walked the supermarkets to check the prices and this year our Christmas dinner will come in at under $50 again, including some treats and nibblies.

We'll be having Golden Roast Chicken with gravy, glazed ham, Potato Bake, honey carrots and peas and corn. I bought the chickens last month when they were on sale for $2.99/kg and put them in the freezer.

For dessert we'll have Ice Cream Christmas Pudding (my own easy version), steamed Christmas pudding (my mother's recipe), custard and cream. My Aunty Hazel always brings the pav. She makes the most amazing pavlovas, and decorates them so beautifully, it's almost a shame to cut into them. I can almost hear our arteries hardening.
We'll have bowls of lollies and of course our traditional scorched almonds (bought a couple of months ago on half-price sale at Coles) on the table. And I'll make a couple of dips to have with carrot and celery sticks and Shapes – Barbecue, Cheese and Savoury. Shapes are a Christmas tradition for us, so when they're on half-price close to Christmas, I buy them and put them away.

Of course for afternoon tea, which we include as a part of our Christmas Dinner, we'll have cake and Royal Puddings. It's just not Christmas without Royal Puddings. I've already begun searching for spearmint leaves. Since Allens's stopped making them, they've been hard to find. Last year I found then in a $2 shop, here's hoping I find them there again.
If you're thinking that our Christmas Dinner is just a standard roast and dessert – you're right! It is. 

What makes it special is the way we set the table and the way we serve it, and of course by sharing it with family and friends.

I use my best dishes and linen, including my favourite tablecloth and real linen napkins, to set the table, decorating it with a small musical Christmas tree centrepiece, bonbons and candles. Everyone gets a crystal wine glass, including the littlies. They love it, and not one glass has been broken in all the years we've hosted Christmas dinner. 

We're eating with people we like, the table looks lovely, we have food we all like and best of all we've spent less than Christmas dinner for one at a restaurant. 

With the menu being so simple, and familiar, there's no stress. All the ingredients are regulars on the shopping list, and things that I make often. 

This one meal, on this one day of the year, will be special. It will be extravagant. It will be delicious. And it will be stress free.

If Christmas dinner is already stressing you out, remember it's just one meal, on one day of the year. And plan accordingly.

Yes, you want it to be nice. 

You want it to be special.

But this one meal, on this one day of the year, shouldn't put you into a nervous collapse. And it shouldn't break your grocery budget either. 

Think about where you're going to be eating that meal. Will you be at home? Will you be at another home? Will you be travelling or camping or going for a picnic at the beach? 

Then think about who'll be eating that meal. Just your immediate family? Extended family and friends? Older folk or lots of children and babies?

Next, what would you like to have for Christmas dinner? Turkey and roast veggies may be traditonal, but you can make your own tradition and have something else. We always have a roast for Christmas dinner, but we don't like turkey, so it's chicken, potaotes, sweet potato, onion, cauliflower in cheese sauce, beans and peas. And gravy (you've gotta have lots of gravy). For dessert we have Christmas pudding, custard, ice-cream and pavlova. 

Think about these things, because they are the things that will decide your Christmas dinner for you.



12 November 2018

It's Time for a Pantry Challenge

November may seem like a strange time for a pantry challenge, but I think it's the perfect time.

For most of us, we need to make room in the pantry, fridge and freezer for the Christmas and New Year grocery shopping. I need to make sure there's room for the yearly stockpile shopping, as well as the extra Christmas goodies.

I've already started the stockpile shopping, trying to get a head start, and I have a few non-perishable Christmas goodies stashed in my wardrobe. I still need to make room though.

The meal plan for November is done and on the fridge, so I'll do my best to stick to it. If there's something we don't have, I'll hunt around for a substitute.

This week is baking and cooking week - or the planning thereof - if you're following the Own Your Christmas Countdown.

 I still need to make the puddings. This is something I always did with Mum, but she's no longer able to help with this family tradition, so Hannah has taken my place and I've become the teacher of the cake and pudding making for the family.

The baking list is long, it always is at this time of year:
Christmas cakes - large
Christmas cakes - small
Christmas puddings - two
Shortbread
Fruit mince pies
Fudge
Christmas Snickerdoodles
Cranberry Hootycreeks
Lemon Cheesecake - two
With all the baking and cooking to be done, we need room in the pantry for the ingredients and the fridge and freezer for the finished products.

And that's why I've given myself a pantry challenge.

Are you going to join me? Do you need room for all the Christmas food? Have you thought about the money you'll save by using up what you have (I have - it's going straight to the holiday fund for our trip next year!)? Have you started your Christmas baking? Have you finished your Christmas baking?

05 November 2018

Getting Ready for Christmas

It's not too early to start thinking about Christmas, especially decorating for Christmas, I've been thinking about it since I packed up last Christmas!

My decorating changes from year to year, but we always have the big Christmas tree in the loungeroom. This one is always traditional red, green and gold colour scheme, but the decorations change from year to year.

The Christmas tree in December 2016 - can't wait to see what it's like this year!
In the family room we have a smaller tree. This is the modern tree, the one we have lots of fun with. I'm not sure what colour theme we'll go with this year. I'm tending towards the pale pink, green and silver. These colours are so pretty. Or pale pink, burgundy and gold took my eye too, and I really, really like them together.

In the entrance, on top of the tall boy, Hannah is going to do a retro vignette. She has the cutest vintage metal caravan, from Kmart, that will be the centrepiece. We have an Advent calendar in block form that will go with it, and lots of small Christmas trees. It just needs a new runner, in coordinating colours, to be finished. I have some fabric in my stash that I think will be perfect, and I've put it on my sewing list for this week.

One of the arrangements on the tall boy in the entrance - from 2015, it changes every year
The front door always has a wreath on it. I picked up some solar lights in the Boxing Day sales last year that will look lovely in and around the pots. And lastly the doormat. We have a Christmas doormat that's bright and cheery as you come through the door.

I have aprons, tea towels and pot holders that only come out for Christmas, and while I was sewing for the Crafty Mum's sale, I made some new pot holders and hand towels for us. The blue and white plates get put away and the Christmas plates we've collected over the years go up instead. The Christmas cookie jars come out to sit on the bench and the top of the fridge, and they always look cheery. And from the 1st December, out comes the Christmas table linen.

My collection of nativity sets come out and get put wherever there's a space - the arrangements change from year to year, depending on how we're decorating.

One of the bigger nativity sets - oops, wrong photo, this is one of my Christmas villages!
Even the bathrooms get a Christmas makeover, with Christmas coloured towels, hand towels and face washers. Out comes the Christmas soap (I make a fresh batch each year) and the hand wash goes into the Christmas pump bottle.

And lastly the back verandah. There are little lanterns that hang from the roof. They hold tea lights and look so pretty when they're lit. Along the railing we string solar lights, they are just gorgeous. We hang a wreath in the window of the sliding door and string solar fairy lights through the hanging baskets and pots. I bring out some plastic Christmas table linen for the little table on the verandah and swap out the pillows on the chairs for Christmas pillows.

Now you can understand why I start in November!

Right photo, at last!
All this takes planning and plotting and note takings. I use OneNote on my laptop, but I am a tad inclined to be a technology luddite, so I have a notebook I copy everything into, so I don't lose track. I write down ideas, where I find new decorations and their price, new layouts to try, to-do lists and everything else connected to Christmas. It all goes into my Christmas planner, on the sheets from the Own Your Christmas Challenge.

Tomorrow is Cup Day, and a holiday here. The plan is for everything to come out of storage to be checked over. Anything that is broken and can't be repaired will be discarded. I'll make lists of what we need (I know I'd like more greenery this year for swags) and a rough plan of what is going where will go into my planner to save time later in the month.

01 November 2018

Shopping Ahead - Gifts


So I was quickly scrolling through Facebook  a few days ago. and a post popped up that Wendy had commented on. I assume I saw it because Wendy had commented. So I read Wendy's comment, and then the reply, then thought I'd better go and read the actual post, so I knew what I was about to add my 2 cents worth too (because sometimes I just can't help myself!).

The OP was about Christmas gift shopping, and the options were:
1. haven't started yet
2. will start soon
3. have started and almost finished
4. Christmas? It's not even been Halloween yet!

I'll quote Wendy "There's no emoji for almost finishing this years, 2019 and 2020 Christmas presents."

She had a reply that suggested that shopping ahead for gifts was not only risky but foolish because styles/tastes/sizes change, relationships change, people buy things for themselves etc. and was told that there was no way the poster would ever shop that far ahead.

Criminy! Don't these people have budgets to stick too?

Like Wendy, I have always shopped ahead, for everything (you've seen photos of my grocery stockpile!).

Even before we had children I was shopping ahead. I shopped toy sales and bought Duplo and Lego, and Thomas the Tank Engine toys and books on sale. I bought dolls and doll clothes during toy sales, especially the Baby Born range, and put it all away because I knew that one day we'd have children and they'd need and want toys.

I also shopped ahead for baby and toddler clothes, and I kept that up until the kids were in their teens and took over buying their own clothes. If I saw basics on sale, I'd buy multiple colours and multiple sizes.

I remember getting a great deal on Old Navy jumpers and buying one in every size from a 4 through to a 14 and packing them away in the boxes in the attic. They were on clearance for $4 each - there was no way I'd pass that bargain up! I couldn't even get them that cheap in the USA (we have family who are very good at buying and shipping things for me).

So I've always shopped ahead for clothes and presents, or the material and ingredients to make presents..

We raised our children to be happy and grateful for whatever they received as gifts, and they've never let us down by turning their noses up at anything. Of course I'd listen as they'd chat to each other and to me, and if there was something they especially wanted, I'd do my best to get if for them if I could. But if it wasn't possible, and there were some lean years for a while, then what they were given was it, and honestly they just loved getting the present, regardless.

We did have a funny moment one year. AJ had asked early in the year for a telescope. Now telescopes are not cheap (well the good ones aren't) and I researched and hunted around until I finally found one within budget. Boy was I excited! I wrapped that huge box and put it under the Christmas tree and could hardly wait until Christmas morning.

Come Christmas morning, AJ unwrapped the biggest parcel under the tree and just looked at it. Then all he said was "Oh, a telescope!"

I was shattered. I thought he'd changed his mind! Nope, he simply didn't think he'd get a telescope because he knew it would be expensive and he was sure it would be out of our budget.

Best gift for him ever! Best Mother ever! Best bargain hunter ever! And so on.

He still uses it, and gets it out often, setting it up in the front yard, often in the early hours of the morning, to gaze at the Milky Way.

Shopping ahead is essential if I want to give gifts I'm happy to give. I have a notebook that keeps a record of what I buy, how much it cost, who it is for and what box it is in.

All year long I'm looking at things and imagining whatever it is as a gift. It could be a tea cup in an op shop (I have a "tea for two" set put away for a special someone for Christmas this year) or a book or a puzzle. It could be a pretty basket that I can use to make up one of the many hampers for Christmas. I'm always on the look-out, and always conscious of our gift budget.

Just quickly on that note: we have a set gift budget, but often I find amazing gifts well under budget, that are worth more than what we've budgeted (hope that makes sense). For example the tea for two set was $10, and the budgeted amount was $25, but I checked online and it would cost $80 to buy new (great bargain!). I'm happy with that, and I've shifted $15 from the gift budget (what was left of the budgeted amount) to our savings.

If you find a gift under budget, great! You don't need to buy or make anything else to "bring it up to budget". Just move the excess to your savings or emergency fund and pat yourself on the back for beng such a savvy shopper.

So for me, Christmas 2018 is done and dusted, except for a couple of stocking stuffers for Wayne and the boys. All the other gifts have been bought or made and put in the present boxes.

Christmas 2019 is almost complete, and birthdays for 2019 and most of 2020 are done too.

My plan is, as always, to finish off the 2019 and 2020 gifts during the Boxing Day sales, and start on the 2021 gift list.

As a side note, I really want to put photos of the present box full of goodies up to show you, but most of the lovelies who will receive these gifts are blog readers, including my handsome husband and beautiful children, and I don't want to give away the surprises. If I can think of a way to get some up, without giving too much away, I'll do it, but it won't be until over the weekend now. Oh, the frustration!


27 October 2018

We're Doing OK, No Need to Panic

The nightly news preview flashed across the TV screen, and within minutes my inbox and Facebook had started to fill up with doom and gloom.

The Australian stock market had suffered the biggest losses in twelve months. Wall Street was going backwards faster than ever. Fortunes were being lost in the blink of an eye.

And I sat and watched and thought "we're doing OK, no need to panic".

I was grateful on Thursday afternoon that we are debt free. I was grateful that our savings are in Australian banks (not all in one bank, even I'm not that trusting!). I was grateful that the losses felt by stockmarkets around the world didn't have a direct, personal impact on our lifestyle.

I was grateful that we have a very comfortable roof over our heads.

I was grateful that we had food to eat for dinner.

I was grateful for a mother who kept a fully stocked pantry, and taught me to do the same, and to stockpile for times of trouble.


I was grateful for a backyard big enough to handle our veggie garden, and for the seeds and seedlings that will feed us through the summer.


I was grateful that we had learned long ago that there is no such thing as good debt, and that when you have debt, you own nothing; that we worked and scrimped and scraped and saved and went without luxuries (we never, ever went without necessities) to pay down our debt so we would own everything we have.

I was grateful that Wayne would come in from work, relaxed and happy; that we would be able to sleep that night, secure in the knowledge that those huge losses wouldn't hurt us.

But most of all I was grateful that, whatever the storm, we would face it together. And together we would come through it, we would be OK.

26 October 2018

Friday!

It's Friday already. This week has flown by, and yet every morning when I've woken up, I've wished it was the weekend.

Not sleeping well really throws my energy levels out, and then I feel like I work all day and get nothing done, and that's disheartening.

So this morning, while I was drinking my coffee (yes, I've given in and am having one cup of coffee a day) I thought I'd make a list to see just what I've accomplished this week. Looking back, I'm stunned, because it sure doesn't feel like I've done all these things.

  • Daily routines have been completed every day.
  • All our meals have been cooked from scratch.
  • Made a triple batch of Miracle Spray (it's red again).
  • Refilled the vinegar decanter.
  • Topped up all the canisters in the pantry. While I was doing this, I emptied each shelf and wiped it over. I did this a couple of weeks ago, but it doesn't take long for it to get messy if I'm not vigilant in making sure everything is put back properly.
  • Took a bundle of text books to the op shop.
  • Knitted four dishcloths for the Crafy Mums Christmas Garage Sale.
  • Completed calendars for the Crafty Mums Christmas Garage Sale.
  • Made a batch of yoghurt.
  • Made a quadruple batch of MOO Condensed Milk and froze it, ready for Christmas baking.
  • Made a batch of fruit cup cakes.
  • Spent half a day with Wendy, packing pamper packs for the charity hampers and making cards.
  • Visited Mum twice.
  • Researched natural pain relief and made a tincture that will hopefully help with the pain in my feet, which in turn should help with my sleeping issues.
  • Watched Pine Gap on iview while I was knitting - much better than I thought it would be, it has held my interest this week.
  • Pottered around in the garden, picking strawberries and getting another two beds ready for planting.
  • Sprinkled herb seeds around the potted fruit trees. If they grow the plants will fill the gaps and make mowing easier. And I'll have sweet basil and dill to pick fresh from the garden.
  • Sowed more lettuce seeds and the first lot of radish seeds. I'm the only one who likes radishes, but I use them in coleslaw so I succession plant a row every couple of weeks.
  • Picked oranges for the fruit bowl.
  • And of course worked on the Cheapskates Club, especially the Own Your Christmas Challenge and the newsletters for the next few weeks.
I think where I went astray was in thinking I hadn't done anything major this week. I haven't, or at least not one big job.

Looking back, it was lots of little things that made up the week, so when I told Wayne I was just puddling around, I was. But I was puddling around getting things done!

Do you ever have days or weeks when you feel like you've accomplished nothing? Do you make a list of what you've done, just so you'll know?

24 October 2018

Stretching the Food You have 'til it Fits Your Budget

Last week I challenged Cheapskaters, in the weekly newsletter, to trim 10 per cent from their grocery budget.


This week's challenge is to trim another 10 per cent from your grocery budget, but you're probably thinking there's no way you can do that without causing a riot.

Well there is, and it's simple: stretch food the food you have; and I don't mean by pulling!

Think about the food you have on your shopping list, and the food you have on hand. Now think about how you can stretch those foods, and still eat well, and enough.

I always start wiht meat. Meat is the most expensive component of most meals, so to me it's the obvious place to start with the stretching.

Then think about vegetables and fruit. Do you use all the fruit and veg you have? Or do you find, come garbage day, that you're dumping fuzzy or slimy or stinky or hairy fruit and veg? Because if you're buying it, and then dumping it, you may as well just put the money straight into the bin!


 Some simple ways to stretch food to produce more serves are:

1. Add an equal quantity of TVP, rolled oats or cooked rice to mince when making rissoles and meatballs. You'll get double the quantity, giving you and extra meal for less than half the price.

2. Stretch mince based pasta sauces and taco fillings by whizzing a tin of baked beans per 500g mince in the food processor until the crumbs are the same size as the mince crumbs, and add to the dish. You're adding bulk, and fibre, and doubling the recipe for a fraction of the cost of the same quantity of mince . When the baked beans are whizzed, they can't be detected in the pasta sauce or taco filling. Mince is $7/kg (the cheapest around here right now), while baked beans are around $2/kg. The saving is obvious isn't it?

3. Add a tablespoon (or two) of milk to mayonnaise jars and bottles when they are getting low. Shake well to combine and no one will know the difference.

4. Add a little water or stock to pasta sauce jars, swish and pour into pasta sauces. You'll get every drop of sauce from the bottle and stretch it at the same time.

5. Use a silicone spatula to scrape out margarine containers, peanut butter, jam, honey, cream and Vegemite jars. You'll be shocked at just how much is left in the jar if you use just a knife to scrape it - easily two or three sandwiches worth, and that's money you'd be putting in the bin if you don't scrape. I bought a set of 3 silicone spatulas from Big W for uder $5 about 10 years ago and they're still going strong and have saved many times their cost.

6. Instead of serving whole chicken fillets, dice them into 2cm cubes. Two medium chicken breast fillets will then easily serve four (or five in our case!). The diced chicken can be used in casseroles, enchiladas, apricot chicken, sweet'n'sour etc. 


7. Don't pound meat to make it thin. Slice chicken fillets and steaks in half through the middle, creating two full fillets or steaks from each one. Cut larger steaks down so they're about the size of the palm of your hand - that's all that's required for a serve, anymore and you're just overeating and over-spending.

8. Always take the tenderloins off chicken breast fillets and use them for a separate meal. Save them in the freezer until you have enough to make crumbed chicken wraps or dice them use them in curries and stews.

9. When mashing potato use some of the water it was steamed or boiled in instead of milk. The potato will be lovely and fluffy, no added fat and no extra cost.

10. Always make stock from roast bones. Chicken carcasses and lamb bones make lovely stock which can then be used to make soup, gravies and risottos and cook rice or pasta.

These are just some ways I've managed to keep our food bill down over the years. It was a learniing curve, and  I'm still on it.  I'lm always looking for ways to trim the grocery budget, without compromising nutrition and taste.

If I can do it, you can too!