30 April 2015

Organise Bills by Date Due; Pay Bills Early and Get a Holiday

Getting organised with paying bills pays off in two ways - it saves money by avoiding late payment fees, and it helps you feel relaxed.

1. Getting organised - when a bill arrives, I write the due date in highlighter pen at the top of the bill, hole-punch, place in arch-file in the order of the due date, with the earliest date at the top. Once a week I pay as many bills as I can, in the due date order. This means that bills do not get overdue (or lost) and incur late payment fees. It takes stress out as I can clearly see future bills, this helps budgeting.

2. Pay bills early. I pay bills on time or early so that if a period of low income occurs at least bill payment is up to date. Occasionally I have the pleasant experience of opening the arch-file and finding no bills there at all!

My goal is to pay all bills as soon as they arrive, in which case they are then filed as receipts, and do not even need to go in the arch-file. This saves time as well as building a financial buffer. If you then had a time of lower than usual income, (being self-employed, our income is erratic), then not having any bills due would at least give you a breather. You could change back to paying bills on time instead of early and get a holiday from bill-paying, freeing up money for other necessities.
Contributed by Frances Gall

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29 April 2015

MOO Bisquick and the Convenience of MOO Packet Mixes

MOO Bisquick Banana Bread - the nicest and easiest banana bread ever!

I love the convenience of mixes ready to go. At the moment I have chocolate cupcakes, tea cake, sultana muffins, cranberry muffins, cream of chicken soup, taco seasoning, spaghetti seasoning, pizza dough, doughnuts, instant custard, white sauce mixes all in jars (I love them too) or ziplock bags. I print the ingredients and method either onto a label or straight onto the jar or bag with a Sharpie so anyone can take a mix and make it. Means Wayne or the children can help me with baking or meal prep without my supervision or even input.

Annabel, over at The Bluebirds are Nesting (Blue Wren in the forum) is doing a series on pantry preparedness. She posts a new topic each week and this week it was mixes.

I love mixes. They are a vital component of my pantry, my stockpile and go a long way towards helping to keep our grocery bill to $320 a month.

I can't remember the last time I bought a cake mix. Hannah bought a couple last year and made them, red velvet cupcakes if I remember correctly. We HATED them - they tasted so fake, had a horrible after-taste and left a greasy, thick feeling in our mouths. And they were expensive.

During MOO Month I shared my go-to chocolate cake mix recipe.

A few years ago I put together a small ebook of mixes, called Make Our Own….Mixes. It's one of the more popular downloads in the member's centre, having been downloaded almost 32,000 times since it was first published! That's a lot of people MOOing mixes, or with the knowledge to MOO them.
Annabel was asking for a Bisquick recipe. Bisquick isn't a common ingredient in Australian recipes, but as the Internet makes it so easy for us to find and try recipes from other countries, and as it is a popular product in the USA and Canada, knowing how to MOO it means we can try these recipes, save money on the packets and keep the nasty ingredients out.

This is my Bisquick recipe. I use it to make biscuits, scones (if we are camping, otherwise I make Lemonade Scones), crumble topping, shortcakes, pancakes, pastry, as the base in impossible pies and quiches - it's very versatile.

MOO Bisquick Mix

6 cups plain flour, sifted
3 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup cold, unsalted butter

Step 1.    Measure the sifted flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Use a wire whisk to blend thoroughly.

Step 2.    Cut in cold butter using a pastry cutter until thoroughly incorporated. Store refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 months.

This makes 6 cups of mixture. I pack it in 2 cup portions in ziplock bags in the freezer because I don't have room in the fridge.

I keep most of my mixes in the freezer. Why? Well firstly because I don't have the shelf space for them. Secondly, some of them contain butter or oil and need to at least be refrigerated.

They can be used straight from the freezer, if there are any clumps just break them up before you add the wet ingredients.

Here are two of the ways I use it.
MOO Bisquick scones, hot and ready to enjoy

MOO Bisquick Scones

2 cups MOO Bisquick mix
2/3 cup milk.

Mix to a dough. Gently press out to about 2cm thick. Use a glass or scone cutter dipped in flour to cut into rounds. Place on a baking paper lined scone tray. Bake at 210 degrees Celsius for 12 - 15 minutes or until risen and golden.

MOO Bisquick Banana Nut Bread

This delicious banana bread uses MOO Bisquick as a shortcut. With the addition of cream cheese and walnuts you have one of the easiest and nicest banana breads you've ever tasted.

2 cups MOO Bisquick mix
1 cup sugar
250g cream cheese, softened
3 medium bananas, mashed
2 eggs
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Pre-heat oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Grease and line the base of a loaf pan. Beat sugar and cream cheese together until smooth (it's easier if you use the mixer for this step). Add in the mashed bananas and eggs, and beat until well combined. Gently stir in Bisquick and walnuts, until just moist. Spread evenly into the loaf pan and bake for one hour. Cool completely before serving.

This is a very moist banana bread, it doesn't rise to a high loaf, and it's just great for using up brown or black bananas. It also makes a great Gift in a Jar - just pack the dry ingredients in layers in a jar, add a label with the ingredients needed and the method. Add a pretty jar topper and a ribbon and it's ready to go.

Mixes are great. MOO mixes are even greater. If you haven't tried to save money, time and energy with MOO mixes, give them a go. I'm sure you'll love the convenience and the cost.

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Spend Time Planning and Organizing

Using time to think and plan is time well-spent. In fact, if you fail to take time for planning, you are, in effect, planning to fail. Organize in a way that makes sense to you. If you need colour and pictures, use a lot on your calendar or planning book. Some people need to have papers filed away; others get their creative energy from their piles. So forget the "shoulds" and organize your way.

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28 April 2015

Apple Shortcake

This is another one of those simple desserts with a huge impact. Delicious shortcake, filled with tasty apple. Served with a dollop of thick cream and you'll have them lining up for seconds. If apple isn't to your taste try using stewed apricots or peaches as a filling and for something a little different stewed plums or rhubarb.

Apple Shortcake

125g butter
½ cup castor sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup self-raising flour
3/4 cup plain flour
400g stewed apple (or 410g can pie apple)
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind
extra castor sugar

Line base and sides of 20cm cake tin with baking paper. Cream butter and sugar lightly, add egg, beat well. Beat in sifted flours. Turn out on to lightly floured surface; knead lightly until smooth, divide dough in half. This is a very soft pastry so roll each piece into a 20cm round between 2 sheets of plastic food wrap or greaseproof paper to prevent sticking. Place one round into tin, press edges to fit tin well. Mix lemon rind into stewed apple. Spread over shortcake base leaving a small border around edge. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of extra sugar. Place second round of pastry over fruit mixture, press edges together around side of tin. Brush top with water, sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake in moderate oven 35 to 40 minutes. Allow to stand 15 minutes before removing from tin.

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27 April 2015

Picture Frame Noticeboard

This is a great idea from Cheapskater Leanne for a perpetual noticeboard for your pantry, kitchen, dining room, bathroom, the kids' rooms, near the front door, next to the phone - anywhere you need to be able to jot down messages.

Haunt op shops and garage sales for a stunning vintage picture frame to make your noticeboard stand out. They'll cost you a fraction of the price of a new frame and add character and charm to your home too.

"Get an old large picture frame with glass in it and place white paper or card behind the glass. Use a white board marker to write notes on the glass for family instead of wasting paper and the messages won't get lost. Attach to the wall using a hook and or double sided Velcro tape for a firm writing surface and no accidents. You can even draw on the white paper making sections for each family member, draw up a calendar or regular weekly tasks that just need ticks when they are done. You could even buy the frame at a garage sale to save more money if you don't have one already. Just wipe with a cloth or tissue to clean off and start again."

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24 April 2015

Shopping by Price Book Pays for Family Holiday

I recently read Debt Free, Cashed Up and Laughing and started my own list of particular specials, what dates they come on sale and for how much. Being coffee drinkers, we started purchasing our Nescafe in the 500g tin instead of little containers and based on $14.99 per can every 5 - 6 weeks, as opposed to $25 when not on special, we worked out we would be saving $80 over the year on coffee alone. Not only that, shampoo is another fantastic bargain when on special. Be prepared to buy and stock up when Pears and Wella get down to $1.99 per 400ml instead of $4.29 per 400ml. .49c per 100ml or $1.24 per 100ml (and very occasionally you can get it for .39c per 100ml but I've only seen this price once so far this year). And if you are paying 45c or more per toilet roll for a decent brand you need to do a price check too. Purex and Wondersoft are regular brands that you can pick up for .31 and .33 cents per roll instead of .50 to .55c per roll. You'll be surprised at how much you can save over the year. We are putting our extra money saved in to a holiday fund for us and our three children. Queensland, here we come!
Contributed by Maureen

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23 April 2015

If It’s Broken, Fix It

The annoying thing that clothes, backpacks, towels, shoes, handbags and other such articles have in common is that they are not made to last forever. Sooner or later, you'll need to replace them, because constant wear and tear will have rendered them either unusable or unpresentable. While renewing your wardrobe and accessories might give you the pleasant feeling of a fresh start, the costs involved in the process can be enough to overshadow the bliss. How do we fix the problem? The answer is... fix the clothes.

As with most problems, wear and tear tend to become worse if you ignore them. If, however, you take a few minutes to repair damaged items as soon as you notice the first sign of degradation, you might be able to save quite a bit of money in the long run. Not to mention postponing the painful moment of saying goodbye to your favourite jacket or backpack.

Is it easier said than done? Not necessarily. It doesn't even require outstanding organisational skills or advanced craftsmanship. Fixing the problem as soon as you notice it will help to keep everything in tip top shape as long as possible.

That includes treating stains as soon as they happen or notice them. The longer you leave something with a stain the harder it is to shift. Check our Stain Removal chart if you're not sure how to clean a stain up.

Stitching loose buttons back on or replacing missing buttons immediately keeps the garment in circulation. To keep the button in place use dental floss to sew it on and then dab the front and back with clear nail polish. That's a button that will stay where it's meant to be.

Taking up loose hems isn't hard. All you need is a needle and matching thread. Not sure how to do a hemming stitch? No problem, buy some iron on hemming tape from a the haberdashery aisle of a supermarket, Spotlight or Lincraft and you won't need to sew.

You can buy iron on patches to match all types of fabric too. Never again throw out those school pants because Junior has gone through the knee. Just buy a patch in a matching fabric, trim to size and iron on. You can also use iron on patches to reinforce the knees of track pants, especially useful if they are part of a school or sports uniform.

Fix sticky zippers by running a candle up and down the teeth and then zipping up and down a couple of times. It works like a charm to stop the sticking and could save you having to replace a broken zipper.

None of these repairs takes a lot of skill or requires complicated tools. All you need is a basic repair kit and a small cantilever tool box keeps everything together and neat, with all your bits and bobs stored neatly in individual compartments. Two dollar shops carry them for around $5, well worth the investment.

Some things to put in your repair kit:

  • Reels of cotton in basic colours (black, white, navy, cream, dark green are good to start) 
  • A reel of strong cotton in a neutral colour
  • A packet of sewing needles
  • A packet of upholstery needles (these are handy for fixing straps on luggage, stitching the seams in runners etc)
  • A tin of dressmakers pins
  • Good fabric scissors
  • Hemming tape
  • Buttons in a variety of colours and sizes (choose them to match the most shirts i.e. Clear or white for school shirts etc.)
  • A variety of iron on patches
  • A candle

When you are fixing something, do it in such a way as to ensure that it will last long enough. Otherwise, you're just wasting time. For instance, stapling the straps of your backpack might solve the problem for two days, but that's not the kind of solution you should be aiming for.

Naturally, you won't be able to fix everything yourself. For broken shoe heels and other similar problems, you will need to go to a cobbler or shoe repair booth. It won't be free, but it will definitely cost you less than buying a new pair.

Prepare your all-purpose repair kit now, and you can stop worrying about having to replace things too often.

22 April 2015

Using Shallow Boxes As Dividers to Organise Drawers

If you have a long, shallow desk drawer, chances are it's filled with an assortment of paper clips, pens, tacks, loose change, etc. Pick up a desk organizing tray for around $5 - $8 from office supply stores. But, if you'd rather save some money, there is a very cheap solution. Gather small shallow boxes - the type that jewellery or dinner mints often come in. Most people have these floating around the house. Empty out the desk drawer and line up these boxes inside, arranging them so that there are no open spaces. Voila! You now have the perfect sorting system for all of those loose desk items. By the way, before you put anything back into that drawer, toss out anything you no longer need or can no longer identify!

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20 April 2015

Reuse Worn Out Clothes and Have FREE Rugs!

I love the look of rag rugs. My grandma and great-grandma had them in their kitchens when I was a very little girl and I loved the pretty colours. My mother had rag rugs in the kitchen too, one under the sink and one just inside the door, as I was growing up.

They appeal to me for two reasons:
1. They are a great way of using old clothes, sheets, blankets etc, saving them from landfill. This really appeals to my waste-not side.
2. They add character and charm to a room.

Cheapskater Wendy Boyd has shared her instructions for making a crocheted rag rug using old clothing and sheets that won't cost you anything but a few nights in front of the TV.

I dislike throwing away any worn out sheets and/or clothing, and there does come a time when these items just can't be passed on, or used to make new clothes. I have discovered that it is easy to cut or tear old clothes into strips and crochet them into lovely rag rugs."

Step 1. Cut off collars and cuffs and any thick seams.

Step 2. Rip or cut material into long strips, about 1-2cm wide.

Step 3. Tie or sew strips together at short ends, and roll into balls for use.

Step 4. Choose the order in which you want your colours to appear as a pattern.

Step 5. Choose a large crochet hook. Here are the instructions to crochet an oval rug:

  • Chain about 15. 
  • Double crochet in each chain, 3 doubles in end chain, and double in each chain back down the other side. You should have an oval shape at this stage. 
  • Keep going around and around, adding two or three double stitches at each end. 

This needs to be juggled a bit as you go, to keep the rug fairly flat.

I have made several of these great FREE rugs. They are great for traffic areas, as they can be picked up and shaken clean (outside). They catch dirt and grime easily, and it flies out when shaken, reducing the need for cleaning both the floors and the rugs. I prefer to use material tied together at the short ends, and keep the loose bits on the top of the rug, as this is a great shaggy look, and catches more dirt.

It's very easy to crochet the ends in as you go, if you prefer a neater look, or to sew the ends with a sewing machine before beginning to crochet. I'm sure the same sort of technique could be used to knit rugs, if you prefer."

Contributed by Wendy Boyd

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17 April 2015

Shopping Aussie Made on a Budget

Today's Tip of the Day was contributed by Petrina and if you are conscious of buying Australian made when you shop, but still like to get the lowest price, it is for you. This variation of a price book will help you buy Aussie made (and owned - don't forget Aussie owned is good too - the profits then stay in Australia!) for the lowest possible price.

"Most people keep shopping lists. I have a permanent list that I add to each time I shop. My list contains all the products that I buy on a recurring cycle. My list details Australian made items as preferred items. Australian made items are generally more expensive as they cost more to produce than imported items. I buy almost all items when they are on special only, this way I am supporting Australian companies and saving money as well. For example Sorbent is Australian made. 12 rolls cost approximately $10-$12 normal RRP, however on special you can save $3 per package, so I bought 2 packets. The thing to have in mind is you must buy in bulk so that you won't need to buy the products when they are at full price, or if you do need to purchase an item when it is not on special make sure on your list you have an alternative product. I plan my menus before shopping so that I can purchase only what I need (some items already purchased when on special). By not purchasing items not on special you start to learn what you can actually go without. It doesn't matter where you shop as all retailers have a variety of different items on special every week."

16 April 2015

Coping with Paper Clutter

The rumour we live in a paperless society isn't true. We have more paper than ever in our homes. Bills come with at least two sheets of paper, junk mail, school newsletters, quotes, statements and the list goes on.

Control clutter by asking the following questions about each piece of paper in your house:
Does it require action?
Can I identify a specific use for it?
Is it difficult to obtain again?
Is it recent enough to be useful?
Are there tax or legal implications if I toss it?

If the answer is "No," ask:
What is the worst possible thing that will happen if I throw this away?

If you can live with your answer, toss it or, even better, recycle it.

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15 April 2015

Fruit Trays Make Great Office Storage

I am a real 'storage buff' I love everything to be organised and I used to buy containers/trays which are expensive for organising my things in the office, garage, pantry and even in the fridge. I've stopped buying containers and now use the trays our fruit and veg come on, which are various sizes and depths depending on what we are buying. They store my sauces and spices in the pantry, items in my home office draws and I even use them in the fridge. All my friends comment on how 'neat' my fridge is! And they are great for us scrapbookers to store stamps etc. in. I've even taken them to work to organise the stationery in my drawers (the strawberry containers are the best for this as they are a bit smaller and you can fits heaps in them like post it notes, bulldogs clips and rubber bands - the list is endless. I've even started using them to organise our big stationery cupboard at work. So now instead of throwing them in the rubbish I have endless uses for them.
Contributed by Belinda

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14 April 2015

Pasta with Creamy Pumpkin Sauce

With the cooler nights slowly creeping in, it's time to think of hearty, warm dishes to keep the chills at bay.  This pasta dish is just the thing.  You'll need to cook around 500g peeled pumpkin to make two cups of puree. Use a pumpkin with flavour and substance like a Queensland Blue or Kent, for a sweet, flavourful sauce that will have everyone lining up for seconds.

Pasta with Creamy Pumpkin Sauce

2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp butter
2 cup pumpkin purée
2 cup chicken stock*
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp chilli powder
Pinch cayenne pepper
Freshly cracked black pepper
4 tbsp cream
500g pasta

Cook pasta until al dente. Drain.

While the pasta is cooking, prepare the sauce. Crush two cloves of garlic and add them to a large frying pan with the butter. Sauté over medium-low heat for 1-2 minutes, or just until the garlic is soft and fragrant.

Add the pumpkin purée and chicken broth to the frying pan and stir to combine. Add the nutmeg, chilli powder, cayenne pepper, and some freshly cracked black pepper. Stir in the spices and let the sauce simmer over medium-low heat while the pasta cooks (about 10 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Once the pasta is finished cooking and is draining in a colander, add the cream to the frying pan and stir it into the pumpkin sauce. Taste the sauce and add salt if needed (this will depend on the type of stock you use). Finally, stir the drained pasta in to the sauce and serve.

*To make the dish vegetarian, use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock. Homemade chicken stock is virtually free, and will bring the cost down to around $2.70 for four serves.

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13 April 2015

What we ate last week

I post my meal plan for the month on the Cheapskates website, in the Member's Centre. I was asked a few years ago if I could share what we ate - I was a little bemused because we don’t eat anything terribly fancy and I'm not really sure why anyone would find it interesting. My lot are definitely old school "meat and three veg" types, although they do like their food to have flavour.

Since the ACA segment I've been inundated with requests for information on my meal plan, and how it fits within our grocery budget of $320 a month (there are five of us, so as per the $300 a Month Food Challenge it should be $375, but I don't have that much to spare - $320 does us well with plenty to eat and some to spare).

This is what we've eaten for the last week:

Sunday: Greek style roast lamb, baked potato, pumpkin & onion, broccoli & cauliflower, glazed carrots, beans, gravy & mint sauce
Monday: Rissoles, pumpkin mash, beans, corn, broccoli, onion gravy
Tuesday: Pasta bake, garden salad, garlic bread (should have been Spag Bol but I felt like pasta bake - sauce the same, different pasta)
Wednesday: Crumbed fish pieces, MOO wedges, coleslaw
Thursday: MOO pizzas
Friday: Vegetable curry over steamed rice
Saturday: Savoury mince on toast

How did this fit into my grocery budget? Very well.

The lamb was bought a couple of months ago when Tasman Meats had a great sale. As we had visitors for the weekend, I used all the meat and put the bone in the freezer for stock. Normally I'd get at least another one, often two, meals of meat from the leg.

I did buy the fish pieces a few weeks ago when Coles had them on sale - bigger pack and the same price as Aldi so I picked up 5 packets - enough for 6 meals for the five of us.

Most of the vegetables have come from our garden. Looking over the list the only veg I have bought has been potatoes, onions, carrots and frozen corn.  Everything else has been home grown right here in our backyard. When I have a glut of fresh produce from the garden I either freeze, dry or bottle it, depending on what it is.

This week we have enjoyed broccoli, cauliflower and beans from the freezer and pumpkin, lettuce, capsicum, spring onion, tomatoes, garlic and basil from the garden, saving me around $30 at the greengrocer.

I make the pizza bases using the Penny Pinching Pizza base recipe, usually a triple recipe. This makes enough pizza bases for three weeks, and they freeze really well. I can make six family sized pizza bases for under $2.00, less than the price of one fresh pizza base from the supermarket, and much nicer than the frozen bases you can buy.

The sauce for the pizzas is homemade using tomatoes and herbs from the garden and onions I buy in 10 kilo bags for between 30c - 40c per kilo. The toppings are whatever are leftover in the fridge - sometimes there is meat or chicken, sometimes they are just vegetarian. They are always good.

Making pizza on a Thursday night instead of buying it saves another $22 a week off the food bill and everyone gets their fill of "junk" food.

Pretty much everything we eat is made from scratch, using ingredients. There are exceptions: spaghetti and the noodles for pasta bake, I always by those two items from Aldi the occasional box of crumbed fish, bread and breakfast cereal: wheat biscuits, ricies and bran cereal.

In the tinned department I use baked beans, tomato soup, tuna, salmon, beetroot and pineapple. Oh, and apricot nectar.  All of these items either come from Aldi or the SPC outlet.

Once a week I buy fresh milk and top-up the fresh fruit and veg we need and I allow $15 a week for these top-ups.

Would I be able to stick to our grocery budget if I didn't cook so much from scratch? Definitely not. Would we eat as well if I didn't cook so much from scratch? Definitely not.

I realised a long, long time ago that I could spend my time at home, in the kitchen, with my family, preparing our meals or I could spend my time waiting in line at the supermarket or the fish'n'chip shop or the local Indian restaurant or waiting 30 minutes for pizza or Chinese takeaway to be delivered.

I'd rather be at home with my family and keep the money we're not spending for "convenience" food on things we really want and love.

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Tidy the Medicine Cabinet with Magnetic Tape

Keeping knives organised in the kitchen by hanging them on magnetic strips is a great idea, but did you know you can use the same principle to keep your medicine cabinet tidy too?

A simple, really easy DIY to tidy up the medicine cabinet is to stick a strip of magnetic tape (available from any craft store and some $2 shops) to the inside of the cupboard door.

Measure the width of the door and cut your magnetic tape to size. Use the tape with adhesive on one side to save having to glue the tape in place. Press the tape into place on the inside of the door and the job is finished! Under five minutes and around $2 (you'll have tape left over for other projects) and you have a place to keep tweezers, nail files, small scissors, nail clippers, needles, clips and so on.

The magnetic tape I used cost $2 a roll and I bought it at a local $2 shop.

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10 April 2015

Catching Up

The last three weeks have been so very busy I thought I'd better finally take a few minutes to catch you all up with what has been going on.

Life became even more hectic than usual on 23rd March when A Current Affair screened a part of the story they filmed with me (there was a lot that didn't make this particular segment). Oh boy did that segment generate some emails! I've finally managed to get the number waiting for a  response down to 276, but it has taken a long, long time. And still the questions are coming in.

Someone suggested I get someone else to answer them, but that didn't sit well with me. I promised to answer, and answer I will, it is just taking a little while. If you're waiting to hear from me, you will - I can't say when, but you will.

Of course that has meant I've been tied to my desk just about all day every day because of course I still have all the usual tasks associated with Cheapskates to do - newsletters, the Journal, researching stories and articles, editing tips for the Tip Store and Tip of the Day, monitoring website, blog and forum traffic and keeping things on an even keel. Add to that the work on the new website and of course my family and household chores and I have been busy :)

I was glad when Easter finally arrived for a break. We have visitors over Easter so I did take the opportunity to take some time off and relax a little.

Wendy reignited my card making bug, and on Saturday night I dragged out my craft stuff and sat down to make some cards. I was a little stuck for ideas, it has been a while, so it was Google to the rescue. It only took a few minutes to get those creative ideas flowing again and here's what I made - I'm very happy with how they've turned out.

 Dishcloths were also on the agenda. I needed a quick thank you gift and I know that hand-knitted dishcloths are a favourite for this particular lady, so out came the needles and the cotton and over two nights I knitted three square dishcloths, just in my favourite diagonal pattern. It's so quick and easy, I can do a 50 stitch dishcloth in around 2 hours.

Not much baking has been done so those rolls of biscuit dough stashed in the freezer came in very handy for morning and afternoon teas. I'm sure I earned some brownie points with a certain gentleman when he was able to enjoy freshly baked biscuits every afternoon - and a variety too! I had rolls of choc chip, Cranberry Hootycreek and Raspberry and White Choc dough in the freezer so it was a case of thaw, slice and bake, very easy and apparently very impressive.

My poor garden is suffering terribly. I need some time to get into it and get it ready for winter. The winter veg still need to go into the ground. As we're away for six weeks I've been waiting to get the cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, parsnips, turnips and beetroot into the garden. If they had been planted any earlier they'd be ready while I'm away and that would be a waste. If I get them in the ground now they'll be ready or almost ready when we get home, no waste.

That jolly pumpkin vine is still growing. It's taken over the backyard, climbed the fence, into the neighbour's tree and produced some nice, plump pumpkins in it!  There are around 27 pumpkins on it - some of them are almost ready to pick. We've already cut two, and they are delicious. One was made into soup, one was cut into pieces for baking. Did you know you can freeze pumpkin if you're going to use it for soup or baking? I just put the number of pieces I need into ziplock bags or vacuum seal them and pop them into the freezer.  If you just want to store it in the fridge, take the seeds and pith out (I use a soup spoon to scrape them out) and then dust the cut side of the pumpkin with cornflour. It will keep in the fridge for weeks like this. Every time you cut a piece off dust the fresh cut with cornflour.

I'm still picking capsicums and eggplants, and freezing them for winter casseroles and stews. The basil is still going strong and I've been able to dry a bunch every couple of days; it smells amazing as it is drying and I can't wait to use it in my cooking.

The catnip has finally gone to seed. That means pulling the flower heads off and gently shaking them into a paper bag to collect the seed for next year. I use catnip to make a safe personal insect repellent, and it really works. It keeps mosquitoes and sand flies away, two summer pests that seem to love my arms and legs. Real catnip is hard to find, so growing it solves the problem for me. Next year though it is going into pots - it took over the garden bed and I'd rather use the space for food.

Well that's the condensed version of what I've been up to.

And now daylight saving has finished, I need to remember to get the washing off the line early! So, before it gets damp, I'd better go and bring it in. It will still be warm from the sun and fresh, ready to put straight away.

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