Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Starting the vegie garden

Yesterday I bit the bullet and bought some vegetable seedlings - the birth of our vegetable garden. This is despite the fact that we don't have a proper vegetable garden plot (a la Peter Cundall) and I haven't researched everything to the nth degree. Instead I decided on only two types of vegetables (peas and spring onions) and searched around the back yard for suitable planting containers. Containers and two vegies are not what I would previously had described as a vegie garden, but I'm finally realising that you can't begin at the end. The start has to come somewhere and it doesn't have to be perfect - otherwise I would never have started (which is why we haven't had a vegie garden before). I also decided to try some thyme seeds on the window sill. Despite our water restrictions I should be able to keep our little garden watered from the “waiting for the water to get hot” bucket.

The kids helped plant out the seedlings and are very excited about the whole process. I have to say that I'm excited to. I feel like this is the start of really simplifying the way we live and that we are truly getting off the consumerism bandwagon. I know that we've already made a start, but there's something about a vegie garden that seems like the real thing.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Reducing the grocery bill - week 2

I have been feeling disheartened with my grocery bill reduction progress. Last week we spent $215. It's a bit odd, because I thought with being away for the weekend we would spend less. Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh, as we did cater for an improptu family picnic on Saturday. The fact it wasn't planned meant that we bought premade goodies, rather than cooking/making them from scratch.

I've been through my receipts to see where it all went. Here's what I found happened at the supermarket and what I plan to do to keep things in check in future:

  • The improptu picnic cost $25
    Fix: Perhaps suggest an afternoon trip, rather than a lunchtime outing. It's nice to do this sort of thing every now and then though, so I'm not going to be hard on myself about this one.
  • $6 on muffin mixes
    Fix: Muffins are soooo easy to make - why use a mix. No more cake or muffin mixes!
  • $6.30 on juice
    Fix: Oranges are quite cheap at the moment. I'm going to make our own juice instead. I'm sure if I search hard enough in the back of the cupboard I'll even be able to find a juicer attachment to the food processor.
  • $24 on batteries!!
    Fix: The Engineer will no longer have free access to batteries for his toys. They will be kept in a safe place and will be rationed out by The Thinker or myself.
  • $1.89 on sultana snack packs
    Fix: This works out to more than twice the cost per kg of a large bag of sultanas. No more dinky sultana boxes - we'll package our own.
  • $13 on yoghurt
    Fix: Have a go at making at least some of our weekly yoghurt supply myself.

So there I have at least $50 saved. Of course, I don't buy all of these things each week. Typically, though, something else would be substituted for one of the above items. I haven't had a serious look at the fruit & veg or butcher's receipts at this stage. Slow & steady!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Productivity for mums - The importance of a routine, Part 1

Today I'm blogging about my routine. I touched briefly on the importance of a routine in Productivity for mums - the first part and went into some more detail in The importance of a routine for children. Today I was reminded of the importance of my routine. We went away for the weekend, leaving on Friday, so I had to push my usual Friday activities to Thursday. This wasn't such a big deal.

The problems began when I wasn't able to do my Saturday routine, and were then exacerbated when The Engineer (who had the day off school) and I decided to spend some quality time in town this morning. I have arrived at Monday evening having to raid the “emergency supplies” in the pantry rather than coming home from swimming lessons to the lovely smell of my planned dinner bubbling away in the crock pot. Tomorrow I'll need to catch up on what I should have done on Saturday and some of today. I don't feel as in control as I would had I been chugging along doing my routine, and that makes me stressed (ever so slightly).

I find that it is important to have daily and weekly routines. Sometimes they need to be shuffled around, but as you can see, if I don't stick broadly to my plans I get into a bit of a kerfuffle. I don't however, have everything planned down to the last detail. That too would send me around the twist. Instead I set a day for particular activities, largely dependent on what taxi-ing of children I need to do. Besides the children, the major cornerstone of my week is grocery shopping. I visit two grocery stores, a fruit and veg shop and a butcher, so to avoid multiple trips I need to be organised. This gives me the skeleton of my routine.

For instance, on Mondays my kids are at school, kinder (am) and childcare (am). I generally help out at school for about 90 minutes in the morning and then tend to my kinder committee duties until lunch time. Then after school we have swimming lessons. This means a couple of things: I don't have time for errands on Mondays and dinner can be a rush. So Monday's routine, apart from what I've already listed, is to clean my floors and a prepare crock pot meal for dinner. I will also do at least one load of washing, as there tends to be a bit of a build up from the weekend :-)

The great thing about routines is after you've been doing them for a little while, they start to become second nature - an automatic part of your day. And we could all do with a few less things on our minds! Next time in Productivity for mums, I'll share some other tips that helped when I was setting up my routines and show you what my week looks like.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Simple living

I have been inspired by a number of blogs I have recently found (I love blog world - who knew there was so much to discover). They have inspired me to think about living a simpler life.

Although we by no means live at full bore, rat race speed, we had recently decided to make a few small cutbacks. But blogs such as Down to Earth have shown me that there are so many things we can do to improve our life.

We have already done things like stop using credit cards, reduce our mortgage, cut back TV time, very little junk food and make a lot of things from scratch. I've discovered there is an almost endless list of changes - some small, some large - that we can make.

Here are some of the easier things I think we can do to get the ball rolling:

  • Plant a vegie garden
  • Make some of the kids clothes
  • Stop using plastic bags
  • Walk where we can instead of using the car
I also read this post about changing habits. So I'm going to take it slow and not be too hard on ourselves when we take two steps forwards and one backwards.

I'm really excited about this. Simple living is something that I've thought about in the past, but being a bit of a perfectionist (so I'm told), I always thought I never had enough information to start. A new journey begins...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The importance of a routine for kids

The differences in the nature of children in the same family never ceases to amaze me. Cinderella (4) is very organised - down to putting her clothes for the next day out on the end of her bed before she goes to sleep. It's not something we've taught her do do, it's just part of who she is. As Cinderella and Little Mermaid (2) share a bedroom, I think some organisation skills are rubbing off onto Little Mermaid, although it's a bit hard to see where she falls at the moment.

The Engineer (6), on the other hand, while not disorganised, is very easily distracted from a task he has no interest in. No matter how early we got up in the morning, no matter how much nagging, escalating to yelling I did, we would still have a mad rush to get him ready for school. Except of course, if there was something exciting on at school that day, in which case he'd be ready to go at 7:00am!

We've tried a number of approaches to improving The Engineer's focus - threatening to take him to school in his pyjamas (he'd get dressed but leave his shoes and socks off), reward chart, telly off and so on. None of them made much of a difference. I was still yelling at 8:45 to get him out the door. I'm sure the neighbours think I am some kind of crazy woman :-)

After a chat with his teacher, we decided to give him a small, written routine that he has to follow each morning. This is something I learnt was useful for myself, but for some reason it never occurred to me to do a written one for the kids. I went one step further and did one for after school as well (yes, we were also squeezing in the homework at 8:30am). Here's what they consist of:

Morning Routine

Get up and have a cuddle with Mum and Dad
Eat my breakfast
Make my bed
Get dressed to the shoes
Brush my teeth
Brush my hair
Make sure my reader and lunchbox are in my bag
Have a play

After School Routine

Unpack my bag
Have a snack
Practice my spelling
Read my reader
Have a play

As you can see, they are simple and there is a major drawcard at the end of each one - PLAY.

Now all The Engineer needs to think of in the morning is to look at his routine. He doesn't have to try to maintain the list in his head, where it would inevitably be competing with a bunch of other much more interesting things. If he forgets where he's up to, he just needs to go back to the piece of paper and he's off on the right track again. So far it's working wonders. He's taking a maximum of 20 minutes to get ready (after cuddle time). And you can tell when he's up to the last item on the routine because a huge grin crosses his face. Sooo much better than having me yell at him all morning!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Reducing the grocery bill

I'm searching for inventive and interesting ways to reduce our grocery bills. Not particularly the "101 ways to cook beans" type, but something that will keep me and the hungry hoards inspired.

I've re-subscribed to Simple Savings which is helping. I saved the subscription fee in the first week (yay me!). There are so many hints in their "Savings Vault" - some new and some that I just needed to be reminded of - and lots of saving tools, too.

So what is my goal? For our family of five, I was spending around $230 - $250 per week. That includes everything: meat, fruit and veg, groceries item and household items (like cleaning products). On top of that, we have takeaway every Friday night ($20) and at least one meal from the bakery on the weekend ($25+). I'm trying to get it all for no more than $150, but I can see I'm going to struggle.

Last week I spent $170 and didn't buy any meat (just used what was in the freezer). This week I have already spent $180. Hopefully I won't run out of anything!

I'm doing a menu plan each week (on Macgourmet) and keeping a running shopping list on the pantry, so I can get everything in one go (in theory). The oven has also been getting a work out with homebaked goodies making a return to the kitchen. So I am making some inroads, but I want more.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

How we're reducing our credit card debt

Like thousands of other families, we are trying to reduce our credit card debt. In An introduction to credit card woes I mentioned that we have tried this before, but this time I feel like we're actually going to do it. Here's why.

The first thing we did was sit down together and decide that we would not use credit any more. This was hard. It took a bit to convince The Thinker. He is the risk management guy - what if the fridge dies or something. But we have money in savings for this sort of thing now, so there is no need to have a credit card. I think one of the reasons our attempts have fallen over in the past is that we never made a firm commitment to stop. It was always something like: put the bills and essentials on credit and cash/EFT for everything else. Before we knew it the credit card was being whipped out for everything again and no inroads into the balance reduction were being made.

So the credit card is no longer an option. We researched transaction accounts with debit card access (most banks have one) and opened an account that suits our needs. We now use a debit card for most of our requirements. This means that when we purchase something, we can still hit the “credit” button, but the money is actually coming from the cash in our account - no more credit. We can still do online and telephone purchases, all the things that we did with a Visa card, but we are not going into credit for the convenience.

We have also transferred our existing credit card balance to a 0% credit card account. Note that when you do a balance transfer like this, the 0% has a limited life span and then the interest rate shoots way up again. It is important to make sure you have as much of the balance paid down as you can before that happens. Ours will go up in 6 months, so I've divided the balance by 6 and have budgeted to pay that amount each month.

In order for this to work, we HAVE to follow a budget. I think this is another area where we have fallen down previously. We have set up a realistic budget, that includes plenty of sanity money and of course, the credit card payment. I track it religiously. Everything's on the computer, so it only takes a few minutes to download transaction details from the bank each week and reconcile it with our details. We've had to review the budget a couple of times, because life happens and things come up. But we always manage to shuffle things around and keep paying the credit card down.

This time I feel really positive about our progress. This in turn is helping to keep me focussed on the end goal and stopping me from making the unbudgeted purchases that always send things awry.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The plastic bag debate

State Environment Ministers met in Melbourne earlier this week to discuss, among other things, the phasing out of plastic shopping bags. This is a discussion that has apparently been happening for six years. It was a major topic at the meeting.

I would have thought it would be a two minute discussion.

“All those in favour of phasing out plastic bags by the end of the year? That's everyone? OK, next item of business.”
Why is this is such a difficult decision? In the world of politics there are often many shades of grey between the black and white solutions. Not this one though. Why are some Ministers considering levies and such? Retailers have enough demands on their time without having to keep track of plastic bag levies.

Sure there'd be a few cranky people for a few weeks. Change always creates a bit of angst. But no-one is going to suffer unnecessarily because they don't get a plastic bag at the supermarket any more. With an implementation period of 8 months as proposed by the Federal Environment Minister there is plenty of time for people to stock up on canvas bags or similar. At one a month (about $2 each) until the end of the year, no-one should be caught short.

I would be one of those that needs to change their habits. I try to use my green and red shopping bags, but regularly forget them. I'm sure it would only take having to carry an armload of things back to the car bagless a couple of times to establish the new habit.

It's not that hard Ministers. Ban plastic bags outright.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Productivity for mums - Using a calendar and diary

Earlier this week in Productivity for mums I listed some of the tools I use to help me keep organised. Today's post provides more information on the first item in my list Use and rely on a calendar and diary.

My guess is that every household has at least one calendar floating around. However, just having a calendar is not going to help :-) This was one of the harder things for me to get my head around. Sure I would put birthdays, public holidays and the odd appointment on the calendar or in my diary (sometimes both, if I was being especially on the ball), thinking to myself that I would remember the other things. It didn't work. I was forgetting appointments, double booking myself and generally ending up in a disorganised mess.

In order to get organised, the calendar needs to be used. For everything.

  1. Find a calendar with nice big squares for each so you can actually decipher what you've written. The ones with the whole year on one page, or a lovely picture but dinky little squares won't cut it.

  2. Put your calendar somewhere you will see it every day and use it every day. Mine is on the fridge.

  3. Write all your appointments and your family's appointments (if you need to keep track of them) and reminders on the calendar. Try to get everything on there as soon as you commit to it. Write it on there as soon as you get off the phone, when the notice comes home from school, when you open the invitation, and so on.

  4. Before you make a commitment to anything, check your calendar. That way you can avoid double bookings - “Oh, I can't go to the dentist next Thursday morning, I'm having coffee with ...” 
Hopefully you aren't a housebound busy mum. So the second tool will help with organising your time when you're not at home. It's a diary. You could use a paper based diary, or a PDA. It doesn't really matter. The important thing is your diary needs to be kept in synch with your calendar. I sit down every couple of days to do this. You should do it at least once a week. The rules for using a diary are the same as a calendar.

Some people are able to get by with just a diary. I have found the advantage of having a calendar as well, is that the whole family can keep up with what's going on.

A happy side effect of having both has been my kids have learnt to use the calendar. The Engineer (6) writes his birthday invitations, school sports and other important dates straight on the there himself. He also enjoys crossing the days off as they pass by. Cinderella (4) and Little Mermaid (2) can't read yet, so together we decide on a sticker for their activities and then pop them on. When they get up in the morning, they check the calendar (they know what day it is because The Engineer has crossed them off) and can see straight away whether they have swimming or dancing or kinder or if it's the weekend.

Next week I'll look in more detail at the importance of routines.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Organising kids' artwork

Earlier this week on Unclutterer there was a great idea about how to get rid of your adult childs' clutter. The idea revolved around taking photos of your childs' things, posting it on Flickr and getting them to sort it online.

I have a similar method to keep my young kids' things under control (before they ends up as out of control adult things). You know that once they start kinder or daycare there is going to be truckloads of the stuff. What do you do with it all? I couldn't bear the heartbroken looks on their faces when I had to throw out their precious work. So I kept it. We soon had a wall full of paintings, piles on the end of the bench (that frequently blew all over the room when a door was left open), a stash in their bedrooms, some in the magazine rack - you get the picture.

Not wanting to feeling guilty tossing the mountains of stuff and instead trying to live around it, my solution was to keep only the really precious things (first Mothers’ Day gift, etc). For the rest, I take a photo and then into the recycle pile it goes (albeit rather discreetly). The kids are happy because they can look through their artwork on the computer any time they like. You could even make a screen saver or wallpaper from the photos - major kiddie kudos. I'm happy because we don't have stuff everywhere. I can look through the photos whenever I'm feeling sentimental. I no longer feel guilty. It's win-win.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

An introduction to credit card woes

Back in the good old days when interest rates were going down instead of up, we made the decision to switch to a home equity loan.  You know the ones where your salary goes straight into the loan account and sits there earning interest?  You use your credit card for all your bills, then pay off the credit card balance from the loan account each month.  Good in theory.  However, we found (along with many, many other people) that it's a little harder to put into practice.

Somehow each month we ended up spending more that we were earning.  Not much more.  But enough that we were no longer reducing our home loan.  Over a period of about three years, it became obvious that home equity was not the loan for us.  We didn't have the systems or self control to make it work the way it should.

So we returned to the standard, no-frills loan.  Fortunately the home loan balance was reasonable (by today's standards) so we didn't get into trouble with our monthly repayment.  But we didn't change our credit card habits.  This led to the circular situation where, each payday the credit cards would be paid (sometimes in total, sometimes in part), but we would have no cash left, so everything went back on the credit card for the next month.

Fortunately (I keep using that word!), our credit card debt never got totally out of hand.  We have tried a few times to get out of our "dog chasing its tail" situation, but have never got very far.

Our latest attempt has been different.  Although we're only a month in, I'm seeing an attitude change in both The Thinker and myself.  I think this time, we're going to do it :-)

Next time I'll go through the process we're following now and why I think it is working for us.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Productivity for mums - The First Part

When I was diagnosed with CML, it seems I also caught chronic disorganisedness and forgetfulness.  To be fair, it was mostly due to a side-effect of the drug I was taking.  But to someone that had been extremely well organised - never forgot an appointment, was always early, always had everything (and everyone else) in order - this was one of the harder things for me to deal with.  Previously, I had never had to use any tools to keep myself organised.  I just did it.  Then, suddenly, I didn't know if I was coming or going.

These are some of the things I learnt after a lot of fumbling around.  I will expand each of the "lessons" in the next couple of weeks.
  • To use and rely on a calendar and diary
  • The importance of a routine.
  • Doing things in stages can be easier than trying to finish everything in one go.
  • Make a menu and grocery list before going to the shops.
  • Say "yes" less often.
  • The kids, even little ones, are capable of a lot more that I gave them credit for.
  • Ask people for help when you need it.  They'll probably say yes!
  • Stop being such a control freak.  Life will continue on it's merry way, even if it's not organised to the hilt.
I have followed, off and on, the Flylady for a while.  When I'm doing it, it works a treat.  Unfortunately, it hasn't all become habit for me yet and I tend to have periods where I forget it all together.  None the less, many of the above lessons have come from there.  My ultimate aim is for it all to become second nature.  When that will happen, who knows :-)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Photo of the Week

Here's a shot of the wetlands at the end of the street.  I love how it changes from season to season.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Four uses for a rubber glove

Over the last couple of years, I've gotten into the habit of letting the kids watch a fair bit of TV during the day.  Too much, I'm starting to think.  I think that I relied on it to "babysit" a little when I wasn't feeling well, and that has become normal practice.  So one of my goals for the next few weeks is to reduce TV time (with the end result being the cancelling of the kids channels on Foxtel - eeekkk).

I should have given the kids more credit.  Without the TV on, they are quite happy to amuse themselves playing, colouring and using their imaginations.  Which brings me to rubber gloves.  In our blissful, TV free afternoon Mermaid came up with the following, unconventional uses for a rubber glove:

  1. Blow it up and make a balloon (this is The Thinker's territory, as I don't have enough puff).
  2. Stick it under your chin and be a chicken.
  3. Stick it between your legs and be a cow
  4. Stick it on your feet and be a duck
Who needs TV...

Where the journey starts

Where to start?  I guess the easiest place is right where I am.  But perhaps firstly, a bit about my fellow Journeyers and my intentions for Journeyer's Chronicals.

We are a family of five (seven if you count the cat & dog):  me, "The Thinker" (DH), "Cinderella" (Miss 4), "Mermaid" (Miss 2) and "The Engineer" (Master 6).  Regional Victoria, Australia is our home.  We do the normal young family stuff.  School, kinder, family outings, holidays, stress about finances, celebrate milestones, commiserate setbacks.

I get to stay at home looking after the kids and the house, which is both a joy and a challenge.  Life is never boring as any SAHM will testify. The Thinker gets the stress of being the breadwinner and the privilege of leaving for work in the morning when the kids are screaming.

Our journey took a sharp left from the black top to a bumpy, unmade road a couple of years ago when I was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML).  That's a story for another day.  However I will say now that I was lucky it was CML and not one of the other types.  Thanks to some amazing drugs I am leading a quite normal life and will most likely continue to do so for very many years.  It has changed the way we view our life though, for the better I think.  I read this quote from Maya Angelou recently which seems appropriate:

"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude."
What I experience day to day will be mostly what my writings are about - our journey as a family, the children's journeys as they grow, The Thinker's journey, and of course, my journey as an individual.  Hope you can join us.