28 October 2008

Success at last

If you heard rumbling this morning it wasn't thunder or an earthquake, it was me doing a happy dance around the house! I finally managed to get the newsletter to do what it is supposed to do (or at least what I want it to do) and get it sent out. I really miss sending the newsletter, it has become a part of my weekly routine. It's amazing how something so simple as getting an email to actually go can change your whole outlook.

It's amazing just how satisfying getting what you want can be. I can tell you I have not been happy these last few days while we were trying to fix the newsletter. I don't mind having to do something a couple of times to get it right but over and over and over becomes tedious and frustrating. And then, out of the blue, everything just falls into place and all's right with the world.

It's a bit like saving. Getting that first thousand dollars tucked away seems to take forever, the deposits are slow to add up, you are tempted to give up it's taking so long and then one day you've reached your first thousand. The trick is to keep plugging on. Don't give up. Everyone experiences set backs now and then. The winners pick themselves up and keep on going because I can tell you from experience that before you really know it you'll have two, three, four even five thousand dollars safely saved. And that is satisfying.

17 October 2008

The week that was...

Today is usually newsletter day for me. For whatever reason the wretched thing just won't do what I want it to at the moment and I am beyond frustrated! To paraphrase: when technology is good it is very, very good, but when it's bad it's rotten! Of course not being a techy type person I just expect that what I want is as simple as striking a few keys and Julie tells me that it's not quite the way things work. Ho hum, but I want it too so badly.

Perhaps being up extra early two days in a row could have something to do with it. Hannah left for her first ever high school camp this morning and she made sure she wasn't going to be late for the bus. The alarm went off 45 minutes earlier than it needed to! But she was on time. I was a little teary which is strange because she is always off somewhere or other for sleepovers or on camps with youth club so I totally did not expect to be sad waving her off this morning. Not that I was allowed to stay and wave her off. The only thing I was allowed to do was help her carry her things to the bus and then leave! I was told in no uncertain terms to go, she could manage just fine. So go I did - straight home to a 99.9% fat free hot chocolate. Doesn't quite have the same oomph as my coffee but I am being good and trying to cut right down to just one cup a day.

I'm getting there slowly but it's hard to find a hot drink replacement that I like. And I really like my hot drinks. So far I've tried tea. Not a huge success, I'm just not a tea fancier. I've tried hot lemon drinks and while I love the lemon zing they remind me so much of head colds and winter flu that I don't think they will be the replacement I need. So far the 99.9% fat free hot chocolate is winning but another few weeks and my head will be telling me it's way too warm for hot chocolates. If you have any suggestions for a replacement let me know. I'm getting desperate.

A busy day. Of course. The day I have planned to play catch up turns into a busier than ever day. Ran the boys to school and while I was over that way zipped up to my Auntie's to try and get their car started. They've been away for six months and get back tomorrow night and I thought it would be nice to have the car at least running for them. No luck. Jolly thing was as dead as a dodo so I rang Wayne. Upshot is we went back over on Wednesday night with the battery charger and ended up calling the RACV. The lovely RACV man was able to get it started and Wayne put it on the charger overnight.

Raced home and put the washing out, it was a lovely windy day and I wanted to get it in before I had to head out again. Managed to get some office work done, not much as I was sidetracked by emails, but the basics were covered at least.

Left again for a meeting at noon, had to turn around and race back home because I had left a folder on the desk. Finally managed to get there on time but only because I found a parking spot right outside the door. What a blessing that was. It was just a parking spot, but it was where I needed to be and available right when I wanted and needed it. It made me think about all the single, little things that happen that are blessings just as much as the big things. In fact when I thought about it I realised just how blessed I was each day. So many things just "go right" that I have been taking them for granted and I shouldn't. It's time to start a thankful list I think. A reminder of just how blessed we are.

So today I am thankful for:
Wayne and the kids
Our home
Safe travelling to and from school and meetings
An oven that works so I can prepare food for my family
A fully automatic washing machine for saving me time and energy
A lovely warm, windy day for drying washing
The Internet so I can work from home
Incredible teachers who are prepared to give up their time to go on camp with 40 odd 12 and 13 year olds
My bed - it's a running family joke that if I could just get a fridge and microwave in the bedroom I'd never leave it. I love my bed, it is so comfortable and cosy.

I've given up on trying to get the newsletter to do what I want. It will be a very boring looking newsletter this week, but it will still have all the news. Just not look as nice as I want it to. Working on getting it back to normal next week. Actually working flat out on getting it back to normal next week.

I picked my first sugar snap pea this morning. It was very nice and I felt a little tingle of excitement as I pulled it off the trellis. The crunch as I bit into it was so loud, that one little pea was the nicest I've ever had I think.

There are so many flowers on the tomato bushes and if all the baby zucchini actually mature then we'll have zucchini coming out our ears. I can foresee lots of quiche and zucchini pies and hopefully enough for more pickles. We are almost out of the lot I made last summer. The cabbages and cauliflowers have set and little tiny heads are developing. And I have started to pull the leaves off the lettuce and add them to our salads too. With plain old iceberg lettuce being $2.96 each this week that alone will save us about $10 a week!

I sprayed them with dish detergent and water this morning. I noticed something has been eating the eggplant and the capsicum so I gave them a squirt in the hope that whatever it is will disappear and leave my garden alone.

While I was outside I made a mistake. I saw a weed and pulled it out. Then I noticed another one and pulled it. And then there were more. Before I knew it there were so many I had to go and get the garden bin. And then sweep the pavers and the path. That's when I noticed that the bushes in the end garden were getting a little out of control and so I quickly grabbed the secateurs and trimmed them back. It did make it easier to sweep the path. With all the dust whipped up by the sweeping the table and chairs had to be wiped over. And before I knew it I had been outside for an hour and all I really intended was five quick minutes to look at the veggies. But the pergola is looking very nice and tidy and the garden is in tip top shape.

Today I am thankful for:
The RACV being able to get the car started last night
Mum being allowed to go back to swimming, it means her health has improved
Sons who are happy to help out at home without being asked, especially when they know I am feeling swamped
A nice clean car, it's amazing what 15 minutes, a vacuum and a duster can do
Good freeways so I can get from home to the airport easily and relatively quickly
The Internet so I could look up flight information and know that the plane was half an hour early
Meals in the freezer so everyone can help themselves for dinner tonight

NQR has opened a new shop at Forest Hill so I called in on my way home from the morning school run. It's a lovely shop, a much better lay out than the one I normally go to. And lots of lovely bargains to be had. Valencia fruit juices (2 litre bottles) for $1.89 each, cheese slices $2.79/500g (this equates to $5.68/kg, not a bad price for sliced cheese) and frozen stir fry veggies $1.99/kg, again a good price and they are good to keep in the freezer for quick dinners.

As I was already in the area, actually in the same street, I popped into the Lions Den, one of my favourite op shops. I splurged on a 50c tea cup for a craft project I want to try out. I was tempted by a very cute cut glass savoury dish but bravely put it back. What I did buy was another curtain to make some more veggie bags. Mum wants some made so I've been looking for a cheap curtain. This one was only $3.50 and I'll think I'll be able to get at least 15 bags from it. The girls at the fruit shop just smile at me now when I hand them my "green" veggie bags but they were a little bemused for the first few times. It would be so nice if they caught on. Imagine how many plastic bags wouldn't end up in landfill if everyone used fabric veggie bags?

Hannah is back today and I can't wait. I have missed her so much this week. I've only had to answer one question all week. The boys just don't seem to say "Mum, can I ask you a question?" the way she does. One thing I did notice, apart from the quiet (it's amazing how much extra noise one child can make, you don't miss it until it's not there), is that the house stayed so much tidier. It's amazing just how much stuff one girl thinks she needs to be using at the same time. All week the family room has been tidy, nothing on the floor, no piles of paper or books or craft on the table or stacked on a chair. The boys are planning on giving her a good teasing about it. They emphatically announced that it is Hannah and only Hannah that makes the mess. That's not quite true, they do help, they just don't have as many things on the go at once as she does.

Well it's 2.45 and I don't want to be late for pick-up today. I want to be on time to get my girl and see how much she's grown and changed in four days at camp.

Today I am thankful for:
Discount grocers to help me stay on grocery budget
My girl getting home safe and sound and very, very tired, but full of exciting news
Teachers who cared enough to make sure she put the ointment in her eye each night before bed
Op shops so I can use our money wisely on things we need and on things we just want
Friends who make me laugh and smile with their tales and antics
Daylight saving so Wayne can see what he's cooking on the bbq without using the lights

13 October 2008

This morning I had to be in the city, at Docklands, by 7.45am for this mornings Sunrise segment. This meant an extra early start for me and the kids, who very kindly woke and dressed without a grumble so we could leave home by 6.30am. Yes, it takes at least an hour, oftentimes longer, to get from home to Docklands in the morning peak hour , and me being me, I like to have a little spare time up my sleeve in case of hold-ups. We had such a good run in this morning I was signing in at Channel 7 by 7.25am. I was grateful, the few extra minutes gave me time to catch my breath before the segment started.

Another reason I wanted to leave a little earlier is that AJ was driving. He's only a few weeks off getting his licence and it suddenly hit me that he has had lots of driving on residential streets and main roads and plenty of highway driving time but he had never actually driven in the city during peak hour. I apologise to anyone who was behind us this morning but he did a great job and wasn't at all concerned about the huge amount of traffic around him or all the stop/start driving, even the trams didn't seem to bother him. He also managed a couple of square turns without blinking an eye too, I am very proud of him.

We have been drumming into him the 'drive to conserve fuel' routine - you know the smooth take offs and braking, keeping the revs under2,000, watching the traffic ahead and anticipating, driving at a consistent speed because I noticed the petrol bill creeping up once he started driving. It seems to have made a difference. He drives to and from school and trains and anywhere else he can and I haven't increased the petrol money and we haven't run out so I'm hoping the habits will stick once he's in his own car (and paying for his own fuel will help with that I'm sure).

There are a couple of apples going wrinkly in the fruit bowl that need using up. Because the kids had to get up so early I am going to make them apple fritters for afternoon tea, as a thank you for being so tolerant of their mother and her work and just because they are great kids and I really love them to bits and like to spoil them. They are really easy to make but if you want to have the best apple fritters you need to make the batter a couple of hours beforehand to give it time to rest.

~Apple Fritters~

2 cups self rising flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs, well beaten
1 cup milk
2 cups tart apples, chopped (I use whatever apples are in the fruit bowl but Granny Smiths are the best if you are a purist)

Whisk flour and sugar together. Beat eggs and milk together until light and fluffy, gradually add to the dry ingredients, mixing well to avoid lumps. Refrigerate batter for about 2 hours. Stir in the apples. Drop tablespoonfuls into hot oil and fry until golden brown. Roll in icing sugar or a sugar/cinnamon combination. Yum!

It's an odd day here today. Quite warm but looking out the window it could be the middle of winter. It's so grey, not a patch of blue sky to be seen and no sunshine at all. It's also very window, I had to go through the house and close the windows when I came home, the blinds and curtains were blowing all over. I've put the washing out, Hannah decided last night that she wanted to take the jeans she was wearing on her camp tomorrow so I put the washing through last night and hung it out early this morning. Now I am just watching the weather, they'll be dry soon and I don't want it to rain on them, although the rain would be a blessing.

12 October 2008

Sunday happenings

This morning was such a lovely sunny Sunday morning I couldn't stay inside. I crept out of bed at 6.30 and with coffee in hand slipped out the back. It was so warm, the warmest morning we've had in ages. Sunday is our day to water so I gave the ferns a good drink and sprinkled the veggies and pots while I had the hose out. Now the weather is warming up the ferns are going to need more regular drinks or I fear I'll lose them and I would hate that. The ferns and the veggies are really the only things in the garden that I look after. Thank goodness natives are used to drought conditions and can look after themselves but I look out the kitchen window straight into a tropical forest of tree ferns and even on the hottest of days it looks so cool and green that I feel better straight away so I will have to make sure I'm up and out watering by 6am on Wednesdays and Sundays for the rest of the summer.

While I had some quiet time this morning I was able to update the Tip Sheet for the week and it kind of made me feel a little guilty. Getting Fit on a Budget is something I really need to pay more attention too. Actually getting fit at all. I ride my bike almost everyday and I enjoy it so now daylight saving has started I should push myself to go a little bit farther each day and get a little more exercise. It's free after all and I really do feel great when I get back home so I'll think on it and see what I decide.

I managed to get the school uniforms washed on Friday afternoon, but I didn't do the boy's shirts. When I first realised their uniform shirts were white I almost had a fit but really they are much easier to look after than the blue ones they wore in primary school. I can soak white shirts in a little nappy soak or give any marks a rub with a bar of soap and they come up beautifully white and clean. This morning I filled the laundry tub with hot water and soaked the shirts and a few pairs of white sports socks that looked a little dingy for an hour before I put them into the wash. They are on the line right now and boy are they white! I'll be able to get them in and ironed in a little while too, the wind is blowing nicely so they will be dry in no time.

I've swapped the menu around today. I found a leg of lamb languishing at the bottom of the freezer so it can go on the bbq for dinner tonight and then lunches for the week. I've already pushed cloves of garlic into the skin and sprinkled it with rosemary. Before it goes onto the rotisserie I'll pour lemon juice over it and then it can cook slowly until it's done. I must remind Wayne to keep basting it with the lemon juice too, it gives it such lovely subtle tang. The chicken we were going to have can do for another night.

The coming week is going to be a busy one. Already everyday has something out of the ordinary booked in. Tomorrow morning I am on Sunrise at 8.15am so that means an extra early start to be in at Docklands by 7.45, then back out to get the kids to school by 9:00am. They'll come with me into the city so it will be an early start for them too. I must remember to get the breakfast things out tonight so they can just get up and eat in the morning. There are a couple of bananas in the freezer so I'll make them some banana pancakes to have instead of toast and that should save a little time too.

Tuesday Hannah is off on school camp, so another early start. Then Wednesday the car is going in to get some work done (thank goodness for a mechanic we can trust). Thursday is a trip out to the airport to pick up my aunty and uncle who are returning from visiting family in the US. I can't wait to catch up with what everyone is up to, I miss my cousins and their families terribly. Thank goodness for email, Picassa and Skype. We chat via one or the other almost everyday and share photos back and forth regularly so it's almost as good as being face to face, although I'm just getting up when they are going to bed. Friday is shopping day and my girl will be home from camp too. And that's the coming week. Throw in the usual chores and it will be busy, busy, busy.

11 October 2008

Reading on a sunny spring Saturday

Why is it that on the mornings I don't need to be up and at 'em at first light I can't sleep and yet on the mornings I do I can't wake up? Murphy must have permanent residence at our house I think. I could have slept until 7.30 this morning and still have plenty of time to get up and organized for the day but would you believe I was awake, wide awake at 5.45am? By 6 o'clock I couldn't stay still so out of bed I climbed.

I'm so glad I did. It was a beautiful dawn, the light was just magical. And as a bonus I looked out the lounge room window and the apple tree that has been bare for so long has come into blossom and it is so pretty. I'm sure it didn't have blossom on it yesterday but it certainly has today. Oh, and the tomatoes have loads of flowers on them and the sugar snap peas are starting to flower too and I can hardly wait to start picking. There's something so satisfying about picking and eating food you've grown yourself and it always tastes better too.

I lashed out a couple of weeks ago and bought a mushroom kit from Aldi. We love mushrooms and I use them a lot in salads and quiche but at around $9/kg they can be an expensive addition to the grocery bill so I am going to try my hand at growing them again. I think that under the back verandah will be the ideal spot for the box. It's dark, cool and damp and I can get to it easily enough. Here's hoping it will give me at least two kilos of fungi, then I will have recouped the initial cost. Any over that and I'll be in front and very happy.

We had a simple lunch today - homemade pies with chicken casserole from the freezer as the filling. I changed the pastry this time and it was a big hit with everyone. I cut the bases from shortcrust and used puff for the tops - yum! Hannah made some little jam popovers from the scraps and they were a treat with cream for dessert. No waste from this meal at all.

Hannah has gone off to youth group early today. They are doing their community service badge and collecting for charity for a couple of hours this afternoon and then they'll have their usual get together this evening so it will only be four for dinner tonight. We are having tacos and I'm planning on the leftovers for lunch tomorrow. If I add an extra can of beans to the mix there will be plenty left for nachos tomorrow and they'll taste even better after being in the fridge overnight.

Well I have a new book I am itching to get into so I think I'll go get it and settle down for an hour (or two) or peaceful reading. I can't think of anything I'd rather do on this gorgeous spring afternoon.

10 October 2008

Friday is my at home day. It's the one day of the week where I deliberately don't make plans to go out, meet anyone, do any interviews or make any other appointments. Friday is cleaning day. It was cleaning day when I was growing up and I'm not sure what would happen if I changed it but I sure as heck am not going to risk it.

Every Friday I clean our home from top to bottom and it positively sparkles by lunchtime, in my eyes anyway. Today was an especially nice day for cleaning, bright sunshine, stunning blue sky and just a light breeze to dry the washing. The gorgeous day prompted me to start washing the winter blankets off our beds ready to put away until next April. Two down, two to go. They may get done on Sunday.

I'll let you in on a secret: cleaning has become easier for me as I've eliminated products. Nowadays I have white vinegar, bi-carb, laundry soap and lots and lots of microfibre cloths. Put those together with a bucket of cool water and there isn't much that can't be cleaned, and cleaned quickly. There's not a lot of residue to clean off anything when you use simple cleaning solutions. There are some recipes for simple but really effective homemade cleaning solutions in the October Journal if you are not sure what to use to clean things.

I've even changed the way I polish the furniture. Mum found some gorgeous orange scented beeswax furniture polish when she was a way and bought a tin for me. It is so nice to use and gives the furniture a lovely glow - patina I think the antique dealers call it. It's the glow built up over time by repeated polishing. Whatever it's called the timber has never looked lovelier.

One thing I noticed as I was cleaning out the fridge is that there weren't any leftovers lurking anywhere this week. I usually find at least a couple of odd things hiding at the back and use them to make a mufti soup or stew or pie or something but not this week. It was a little off-putting until I realised that I have been extra careful with portions and recipes to try and keep the grocery bill down. Don't get me wrong, no one has been hungry and there is still plenty to eat if they are, but I have been making sure that absolutely nothing is being wasted. Hopefully it will show when I go shopping next.

Another thing I've gone back to doing faithfully is tracking our spending. The kids have even been telling me what they've been spending their money on so it's been going into the notebook too. So far this week we have had three days with no spending by any of us, so that was neat.

I picked up a jar of Tandoori powder at the greengrocer last week, it was only $2.25, must less than the jar of paste I usually buy (I haven't tried making my own yet). By my estimate it is the equivalent of 20 jars of the paste so that's a considerable saving. If you're interested it is GFresh Tandoori Seasoning, Spicy. The company is SA Spice, 64 Wood Ave, Ridleyton. Ph. 08 8346 0688.

There were some bbq lamb chops languishing in the freezer so I mixed 1/2 teaspoon with 1/2 cup plain yoghurt (homemade of course) and it was just lovely. I brushed them with the tandoori and put them in the fridge for a couple of hours. Then Wayne cooked them on the bbq while I made a salad like the one we get at our favourite Indian restaurant. It's a simple salad - torn lettuce, diced cucumber, diced tomato and thinly sliced onion tossed together and seasoned with sea salt and ground black pepper. Hannah made some naan and we had a really nice "Indian" dinner and for about a quarter the price of eating out.

Our kids have had lots of questions this week about money and banking and how a bank in another country can cause such trouble all over the world. Hopefully we have been able to reassure them that as a family we will be fine. They understand that we don't have any debt, I think I've told them often enough that credit cards are not for spending so they know we don't have any cc debt and they know we bank regularly into a savings account that is just for saving. They also know that when the gas bill came in this week I was a little unhappy, it was slightly over what I had budgeted for this bill and I wasn't happy until I worked out that the price has actually gone up, we haven't used more than usual, so we are all working on ways to cut back on using gas. We are trying to get the next bill down to the minimum charge.

07 October 2008

If it is to be it is up to me

Well what a week the past seven days have been. If you have been watching the news, reading papers or listening to the radio you'll know that our world is in an absolute financial mess and that mess is going to have a huge negative impact on each of us if we are not aware of what is going on and take action to protect ourselves and our families.

The events of the past few weeks have been enough to have a lot of Cheapskaters asking "what does this mean for me?" Now that I have stopped stomping and grumbling and getting upset and muttering about greed and stupidity and incompetence and over inflated egos I can tell you that as Cheapskates we are in a great position.

There are ten little words that will make you strong: if it is to be it is up to me.

I believe that there are four things we can all be doing that will cement our financial future regardless of what happens. Firstly we need to keep on building our savings. Pay yourself first isn't just something I talk about, it is something I do and I want you to do it too. I know it might seem wrong to be building savings when you have debt (and I'll get to that in a minute) but it's not. You need to build an emergency savings account of at least three months (preferably six, even better twelve) total living expenses. To do this you need to be saving regularly. Even a small amount banked regularly and left will grow quickly and considerably. Remember in Mary Poppins when they were at the bank? Compounding interest really is magical.

Secondly, as Cheapskates we know how to live below our means and we know how to pay down debt, and pay it down quickly. My advice to you is that right now, if you have any debt at all, you should be paying it off as fast as you can. Now is not the time to be paying minimums on anything. Get your Payment Push going and put every spare cent you have onto paying down your debt. You'll be saving yourself a heap of interest and you'll be gaining security that can't be taken away from you. If you owe no one you can't lose.

Thirdly, think before you spend. Stop spending if you can. This is where the $100/24 Hour Rule can be applied. Think long and hard before you buy things that aren't strictly necessary. And look at cheaper alternatives to the things that are necessary. Now is a good time to be cutting expenses.

And lastly, get rid of those awful credit cards. Take a pair of scissors and cut them in half. And don't try to tell me you might need it in an emergency. That's what your emergency fund is for. You do not want to have your credit cards paid off and no money saved, only to have to resort to using them again if the car breaks down or the washing machine stops spinning. If you have built up an emergency fund then you will have the cash to cover the emergency and you won't be paying it off forever.

01 October 2008

Kids in the kitchen

Here's a fun recipe the kids can try during the holidays (or you can just make it for yourself). It was sent to me by Jeanette Tomlinson, and I can tell you that even the boys had a go at making it.

Three Minute Chocolate Cake

1 large coffee mug
4 tbsp plain flour
4 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp cooking cocoa
1 egg
3 tbsp milk
3 tbsp oil
Small splash of vanilla

Add dry ingredients to mu, and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Pour in the milk and oil and mix well. Add the vanilla and mix again. Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts. The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don't be alarmed! Allow to cool 2 minutes and then eat or gently run a knife around the edge, tip out onto a plate to eat if desired. You can get two serves from the one cake if you cut it in half vertically. Put it onto a plate, add a scoop of ice-cream and enjoy.