28 August 2008

It must be spring, the garden is growing and I'm cleaning!

My little veggie garden is thriving and I have really enjoyed getting out and digging around in the soil this week. It's still quite cold and we've had a little rain so the plants are looking nice and healthy. I've been faithfully putting the plastic over them each night in case of frosts and trotting out first thing each morning to take it off. I read somewhere (and I can't remember where) that watering from a jug using a cup or your hand and warm water helps the soil to warm up and plants just love it so I have been tipping the dregs from the kettle into a bucket and topping it off with cold water each morning. If it was sunny I could just sit the bucket in the sun for a while before watering. The neighbours must think I'm a fully certified nut, out there in dressing gown and fluffy slippers, saying good morning to those dear little plants. I'm planning on bumper crops this summer, of everything, so I'm prepared to do whatever it takes, even warming the water and chatting to the plants. Next door will just have to put up with their nutty neighbour.

This time of year always puts me in a cleaning mood, it must be the longer days and blue skies, so slowly, slowly I have been working my way through the house doing a thorough spring clean, following much the same as my usual daily routines, just a little more thoroughly. I like knowing that our home is clean, sometimes it gets a little untidy, but it is clean, something I am really grateful for these days when I can get a phone call and 45 minutes later have a TV crew in the loungeroom! I read a great tip this week and it was a real DOH! moment for me. Everyone knows that I just love microfibre cloths, use them to clean everything from the bathroom tiles to the windows, even spots on the carpet. Well they can be expensive and some of the mits are quite bulky and awkward to use. There's a tip in the Tip Store, Slip on Dusters, for using microfibre socks! Now you can understand the doh! can't you? Socks have been a mainstay for dusters and rags in our house since forever! I can tell you that wiping over skirting boards and window sills is so easy when you have microfibre sock on your hand. If you have the cleaning bug and some old microfibre socks try it

25 August 2008

The Olympics may be over, but Cheapskaters just keep on championing on

The 2008 Olympic Games are over and with them the 2008 Cheapskating Olympics are over too. It's sad in a way, I've had a lovely time watching the competitors as they competed in their events, they are all so proud of their accomplishments and rightly so.

We had 135 competitors and 5 events. Some Cheapskaters entered every single event! They must be thrilled with their efforts, I am so proud of each and every one of them.

The games may be over, but that doesn't mean that you have to stop challenging yourself. Four years will fly by, so keep up the training and imagine the records you'll be breaking at the 2012 Olympics! And if you weren't able to enter these games, start training now for the next lot, it's never to early to start living the Cheapskates way.

All the competitors are champions and all are gold medal winners (we only have gold medals in these games).

Congratulations to you all and if you didn't quite finish your event, don't give up. Keep going; remember it's not who wins the race but how you run it, and you are going to run right to gold.

24 August 2008

Christmas is coming! I can tell because the toy sales have been on and Aldi has started to put out little bits and pieces, ready for the holiday rush. I have been buying gifts all year and have finished the extended family and friend presents. Some of them are even wrapped and ready to post or deliver or give to someone else to carry which is a huge weight off my mind. I'm feeling pretty good because I have even done the birthday presents for extended family for next year. And the parcels to go to America are ready to send too. The one thing I haven't done this year is collect any stocking stuffers so I will be looking for those between now and the end of school for the kids.

Hannah has asked for a sewing machine for Christmas, something I am thrilled about. When I was 13 the last thing on my mind was a sewing machine! I am hoping that between Mrs. Allan (her Home Ec teacher) and I we can keep her enthusiasm going and teach her to sew properly. Its one thing I really wish I had paid more attention to when I was at school. It took the Disaster to really get me sewing and quite a long time after to get me to really enjoy it. These days I wish I had more time to sit at the machines. I love being able to make a garment that fits me properly. Clothes that fit well look great and they are worn more often, making them a really good investment for a Cheapskate like myself . Anyway I digress. I am now shopping for a good basic model that is easy to use and not too expensive and I am having a ball. Going into sewing shops and looking at everything, planning what I would do if I had this machine or that machine is a fun way to waste an hour or two.

Of course if she gets a sewing machine she will need her own sewing box, full of nick nacks and neat tools for her craft so I am picking up odds and ends when I see them on sale to stock the box. And the box won't really be a box. It will be a tackle box, with cantilever divided trays, so she has plenty of room for everything. They are sure to come on sale before Christmas so I will be keeping an eye open for one.

It has been so jolly cold here the last couple of days the heater has had a workout and a half. Wayne has been getting up in the middle night and putting more wood on the fire so the house would be warm for me when I climbed out of bed and I have really appreciated it. A bonus is that I can sit a pan of water on top of the heater in the morning and by lunchtime it is simmering away nicely, just right for a cup of soup or a hot drink. By tea time it's warm enough to wash the pots with, using less hot water from the tank and having enough for showers without someone (usually me) waiting.

Last winter Wayne put hooks in the ceiling, about 45cm from the heater flue, and they are great for hanging shirts and jumpers on to dry (I do put them on hangers first). We all know hot air rises and the washing dries in no time on hangers hung on hooks. Boy that's hard to say fast! That part of the family room may look like a laundry but at least the washing is drying and it's not taking any extra energy to do it.

Wayne and AJ have been at a train exhibition all weekend, leaving home at 7am and getting back around 9pm, full of anecdotes about layouts and models and who's done the best weathering and who has the best photos and so on, it's really quite cute. Can you tell I don't have much interest in model trains? I overheard one conversation about hot drinks and costing $2.80 each! Yikes, with such cold, wet weather and long, long days they are bound to have had at least two each! Lucky this exhibition is a once a year thing. They did tell me that they weren't paying for parking, the street parking at Caulfield Racecourse is free on weekends so that's a saving of around $20, perhaps it can balance out the cost of the hot drinks.

Hannah has been after a checked shirt ever since I delegated her original one to the rag bag. That shirt was a present for her 8th birthday, was so faded that it was hard to tell it had ever been checked and she could barely get her arms into the sleeves let alone do it up so it really did have to go. I saved the pearly buttons off it for her just in case. We have been looking at the checked shirts in the shops for a few weeks but they have been so expensive, anything from $29.95 up to on we saw in Myer for $59.99! Well on Thursday I found some pink, checked cotton, almost identical to the original fabric, for $4.99/metre. A shirt only takes 1.2 metres for her so I bought it for her. We went through the pattern box this morning and she picked a pattern she likes so I'll get it cut out tonight and hopefully sewn up tomorrow, just in time for her to wear it to a birthday dinner. She is one happy little girl at the moment and I'm a happy mum, this shirt has cost just $5.98 to make! I had thread and interfacing in the sewing cupboard and we will use the buttons off her original shirt so no cost there either.

With spring only a week away, my thoughts have turned to summer and veggie gardens and lots of lovely, fresh salad vegetables. If the weather is dry this week (and I'm praying for dry days and rainy nights) then my plan is to get out in the garden and get started for spring planting. There is a lovely collection of pots in the garage, waiting to be cleaned and filled and planted and I found some scraps of timber that will be ideal for a square foot garden bed. I can't wait to get my hands back into the soil and plant out the seedlings I've been nursing along. There are cabbages, zucchinis, tomatoes, snow peas, eggplant, cauliflowers, squash, lettuces, cucumbers and capsicums. I also want some strawberry plants to put in the bed nearest the fence too so I just might have to sacrifice some time on Tuesday and visit the nursery. The hardest part of that sacrifice will be not spending up big on all those lovely seeds and seedlings.

13 August 2008

The carbon tracking is going quite well. Everyone is enthusiastically recording everything, including the amount of rubbish we are generating. That is one area we can definitely improve in, starting with the packaging we get on just about everything. I'm thinking I'll have to make a stack more veggie bags and I think I'll make a couple of fold-up shopping bags to keep in my handbag. The green bags are great but they don't exactly fold down small enough to keep on me all the time.

I helped Hannah with her science homework last night and it was great fun. She had to make an edible model of a cell. We used biscuits and icing and some lollies left over from her party and if I do say so it turned out quite well. She has to present it to the class and then they get to eat it so it was a little tricky making sure it was going to be big enough for 22 kids and a teacher to share! Thank goodness Tupperware make such big cake containers because we covered the entire base of the giant square one with our cell. This teacher sounds like a lot of fun, she is giving each child a different topic to be made into an edible model - no wonder the whole school loves her.

No. 2 son has to find somewhere to do his work experience assignment, which means lots of phone calls and dropping off of forms and permission slips. If only he had any idea of what he might like to do when he finishes school. I did offer to let him work in the office with me but he muttered something about slave labour and child abuse and possibly getting paid if he works somewhere else and ran away. I thought three square meals, a warm bed and a happy, smiling mother would have been more than enough pay for him.

Early Monday morning I could hear a strange grunting coming from our bedroom and I was almost too scared to take a look. Turns out it was Wayne, sitting on the end of the bed, putting his socks and work boots on. When I asked him if he was Ok he grumbled that he was having trouble getting his hands to reach his feet. Ooops! Winter has obviously been to much comfort food and not enough exercise so on that note we are on a written out healthy eating plan. I wrote it out, just like my usual menu plan, so everyone will know what they can eat and drink. Now that means that this month's menu plan has gone out the window so to speak but with Spring only a few weeks away and summer clothes already in the shops, I need a little push to trim down a little too.

Out came my favourite cookbooks - the Symply Too Good To Be True cookbooks. I have all five of them and most of the recipes have become firm family favourites. They are so good because they are real food for real people, good looking and tasty meals that don't cost a fortune to make and that don't require exotic and expensive ingredients. And they are perfect for time poor mums and anyone else who is busy.

My fondness for these books (and Annette, their delightful author and her husband Bill) started way back in 2001 when books 1 and 2 were part of a prize package when I won the MBN Victorian Homebased Business of the Year award. Since then I think I've cooked something out of at least one of the books every week. I was so inspired that I called Annette for a chat and she has very graciously offered to supply a fantastic recipe for the September Journal so that's very exciting, I'm sure you must be getting tired of my recipes - or concoctions as the boys politely refer to them.

Today has been cold, no rain sadly, but absolutely freezing and blowing a gale. August is supposed to be our windy month so I can't expect anything less. And windy days are good blanket drying days. Oooh, and they are great for drying jeans too.

It's almost time to start dinner. Tonight we are having Swiss Pitti Panna, from Symply Too Good To Be True book 5. Yum, a warm, delicious and low fat comfort food, perfect for a cold, windy night.

11 August 2008

Finding it hard to breath

After watching the preliminaries to the Beijing Olympics this week I am more determined than ever to do everything possible to reduce our carbon footprints. My heart just aches for the people who have to live, day after day, in that incredibly dank looking smog.

I started thinking about the long term ramifications breathing in that poisonous air will have for the citizens of Beijing (and any other city that is even remotely that polluted). They will not only have immediate health issues such as asthma, skin and eye irritations and so on, but the long term effects on this and future generations could be devastating for this country.

I already use mostly plain water and microfibre cloths for cleaning, with vinegar and bi-carb for an extra boost if needed. The washing powder is pure soap, washing soda and borax. We have switched all the light globes over to compact fluorescents and turn things off at the wall when they aren't being used. Showers are limited to 5 minutes and no longer; I have the routine down now, when the water has been running for two minutes I start knocking on the door. Just before the five minutes is up I actually open the bathroom door. Works like a charm, before the door is even a quarter open the water is off and the kids are howling at me to go away. I'm such a mean mother :)

For the next week we (I have deputised the kids for this job) are going to track our carbon footprint and then work on reducing it. I don't ever want to live in such a rank atmosphere as that in Beijing and I certainly don't want to inflict such an environment on my children or any future grandchildren that might be coming my way.

I found a carbon calculator that is really quite easy to use online. You just need to have your electricity and gas bills handy and know some basic info about your car, just to let you know, because it's much easier to have them handy before you sit down to play with this carbon calculator. One area we can improve in is the amount of travelling we do. I drive 68kms a day just getting the kids to and from school without any other trips so if I can combine trips and do errands at the same time that will help. And I can keep on lobbying for real public transport in our area instead of the bus route to nowhere that we have.

Ok. I'm off to find a notebook to use for tracking, I think there's a small one in one of the desk drawers.

06 August 2008

Going cherry picking

I am really torn with the grocery price debate that is raging at the moment. I am excited that finally something official is being done about the cost of food in this country, but I am not convinced that the website that has been set up, grocerychoice.gov.au, will actually save me any money. It's great to see which supermarket was cheapest in the survey, but I can't see exactly what was included in the various baskets or how much each item cost so I have no idea if I would save money shopping there and the prices are a month old anyway; very frustrating for a nosey parker like me. The data is a little airy fairy for my taste too, I much prefer the information in my grocery spreadsheet and my trusty pricebook. I know the information in these two priceless documents is accurate for my needs.

These days, thanks to shopping the Cheapskates way, I buy fresh milk and the rest of the trolley is for cherry picking. Isn't that a gorgeous name for shopping? I have no idea who came up with it but I love it. Cherry picking is when your grocery stockpile is at the stage where you only need to top up, which you do when things are on sale. Saying "I'm just going cherry picking" sounds much more fun than "I'm going to do the groceries". Last week I cherry picked 24 cans of tomato soup for 89 cents each, enough for our needs for at least 6 months.

I get some strange looks when I go through the checkout. Who in their right mind would by 24 cans tomato soup, 12 bottles of orange juice, another 12 of apple juice, four kilos of cocktail franks (they were really cheap, they freeze beautifully and they are a favourite snack with the boys and their friends), and 12 litres of milk? The days I get a good deal on toilet paper are better, if I can get it for under 45 cents a roll I stock up, and I mean stock up. I'll buy enough to last us for at least three months, more if I can fit it in the trolley. I'm sure people must think I have 15 kids with the quantities I buy. At least I know we won't run out and I have spent less too. It's a nice feeling to win against the supermarkets :)

I had a chat with Susannah Wilson from Fox News about this earlier today and you can hear the interview on Fox news this evening. I think that lots of people are going to be lulled into thinking that they will save money if they shop at the cheapest supermarket for their area on this Grocery Choice. I hope they are not to disappointed when they realise they may not be.

01 August 2008

I'm such a jar snob

I spent yesterday with Mum making cumquat marmalade. It's so easy and quick to make with this recipe, it has to be my favourite marmalade recipe. There are now nine lovely jars in the cupboard just waiting to be spread on hot toast or muffins. Or used in a bread and butter pudding. Or a dollop dropped into muffin batter for a surprise in the middle. So many ways to use marmalade but my favourite is on toast. With tea. Just like in the song.

We were remembering while we were cooking and I can't quite remember where I found these instructions. From the way they are written in my recipe book I think they may have come from a CWA meeting years ago. I didn't put down who gave them to me, but the recipe looks like one passed from cook to cook, no great detail, a little vague but always reliable.
I put the recipe for Quick Citrus Marmalade in the Recipe File in case you're interested.

I also discovered that I have become a jar snob! Who would have thought that you could become class conscious over jam jars. While we were sorting out the jars and lids, ready to wash and sterilise them, I decided I only want to use the 'pretty' jars, not the plain pasta sauce type jars. Two boxes of jars and lids later I had found enough that looked pretty enough to use. If you like pretty jars the nicest ones I have are Woolworths Select stir-fry sauce and You'll Love Coles jam jars. They both have lovely shapes to them and the labels were really easy to get off. My reasoning is that if the jam is already in a pretty jar I won't need to put it in a jam dish to serve at the table. See, I'm saving on water with less washing up. Well that's my story anyway.

Other nice jars I've seen have been Aldi and BiLo jam jars. If you're making jam or preserves for a gift hamper putting them in a nice jar and making a fabric or paper cover for the lid creates an illusion of luxury.

I was so excited when I finally made it to Coles today. I really wanted to get some of the tomato soup that was advertised as an in store special for 89c a can but I couldn’t get to the store earlier in the week and I was sure it would all be gone. I only use tomato and cream of chicken canned soups and in winter especially I seem to go through at least a can a week. I was able to buy 24 cans of tomato soup at 89 cents a can, the cheapest for a brand name in this current pricebook, so in at least twelve months. Now I have a nice supply on the shelf I can cross it off next month's shopping list.

It's time to tally up last month's spending too and see how we are travelling. Grocery wise I *think* I've done well this month. We had Hannah's birthday and a couple of extra unplanned parties and Thomas has a 16th birthday party to go to on Sunday, Pirates or Ninjas. He's opted for the pirate outfit, I had a quick look at the Pirate Party page for some ideas and found some really easy costume ideas to use that won't cost a cent. Gotta love free party costumes.