5

Taking it one month at a time

A few weeks ago I mentioned taking a morning off by myself to do some thinking.

As I was turning 40 I wanted to reflect on my life so far, and ponder what the next forty years might bring.  I also needed that uninterrupted, creative time to prepare for my next project.

My current guru is Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project.  She’s basically an introverted, more pedantic version of myself, and her entertaining books have given me much food for thought.  Her book Happier at Home charts her year of experimenting with making changes around her ‘home’ in her pursuit of happiness.  She picks a certain area to focus on for a month, and then drills down into three or four specific activities that she will do to enhance that area of her life.  For example, one month she focuses on her children, and they agree to give each other warm greetings and farewells each day.  She also takes her oldest daughter out on an afternoon adventure once a week.  In another month she goes through all her possessions to see if they are ‘her’ or not, and in another month she focuses on connection with her wider family, so they experiment with how best to regularly communicate with each other.

The idea is for the month not to be an onerous list of tasks, but rather a handful of opportunities to enhance what you already have.  Choosing two or three specific tasks to focus on seems achievable to me, and certainly none of the things Gretchen does are out of the realm of regular people.  She does not have a month devoted to buying a whole new wardrobe of clothes that are ‘her’, nor does she have a month travelling to exotic locales in order to appreciate what she has at home more.

Happier at Home is a very interesting read, as even though Gretchen has a strong sense of ‘self’, it takes her some considerable experimentation and detective work to figure out what ‘being Gretchen is’, and what truly makes her happy.  As a people-pleasing chameleon, I do not have this strong sense of self (which may sound crazy to those of you who do, and will resonate with others who are like me), and so embarking on this sort of project myself seems like a fun and hopefully edifying experience.

As I sat under a shady tree overlooking a lake, I scribbled down my ideas and came up with the twelve areas that I will focus on over the next year.  I’ll be blogging about it retrospectively each month so you can follow along.  The areas I’ve chosen are:

August: Marriage.  What little things can I do to enhance our marriage?  Our marriage is pretty solid, but I thought of several nice things I could do for D over this month.

September: My health.  I put this area early as I am currently so rundown that I keep getting sick.  I’m going to up my fruit and vegetable intake so I’m getting the full whack of vitamins, get outside as much as possible, exercise daily, and guard my sleep to see if it makes any difference after a month.

October: Family.  This month I intend to focus on doing some fun things with my immediate family, and also with my wider family who have been quite neglected during all the sickness in our house.

November: Spirituality.  I’m a Christian and sometimes God gets a little lost in the busyness of my daily life.  This month I plan to memorise a scripture each week, and throw in a couple more things to prepare myself for Advent.

December: Traditions.  This is the perfect month to create new family traditions around Christmas, and I will be setting aside some time to brainstorm with D about some other traditions we might create throughout 2016 (and scheduling them in!).

January: Possessions.  January is the perfect month to have a good clean-out.  I will be going through all my possessions and getting rid of anything that no longer serves me.  I will also be creating a playroom for my children, and an office for me out of spaces that are currently used for other things.

February: Exercise.  This month I will try out some new forms of exercise to see if anything grabs me e.g. crossfit.  I will also be trying out things that I used to love as a kid, like roller-skating, dancing and horse riding.

March: Children.  This month I will be focusing on saying ‘yes’ more to my children and forgetting about the housework, and spending more one-on-one time with them.

April: Purpose. This is a big one.  Why am I here?  What am I supposed to be doing?  There is a particular area that I have been intending to study, but is this the best use of my talents?  During this month I will be seeking guidance from others and doing a lot of praying about it.

May: Household.  How can I make my life easier?  Are there any ‘hacks’ I could try to streamline my long list of chores to be done?

June: Hobbies.  I am not a hugely crafty person, so apart from writing, and loving movies, I don’t really have any hobbies.  This month I will try out a couple of potential hobbies to see if they are for me.

July: Community. This month I will focus on making the area I live in just a smidge better and more connected.  I plan do things like to hold a midwinter Christmas party with my neighbours, and introduce myself to neighbours down the street that I haven’t met yet.

So how did I do with my marriage challenge for August?

It went spectacularly badly.

I thought I’d start off with an easy challenge.  I could happily think of a dozen things I could do to enhance my marriage.  Our marriage is not in trouble – far from it – but almost everything I had planned didn’t happen because of sickness!!!

I had a list of things I wanted to do for or with my husband, and instead spent August either caring for sick children or being sick myself.

My husband is soooooo tired and worn out, I knew he’d appreciate a weekend away on his own (he’s an introvert).  I picked a weekend and encouraged him to go for it.  D was incredibly grateful and appreciative of the chance to get away.  The afternoon D was meant to leave, Chip started projectile-vomiting everywhere.  D kindly decided he couldn’t possibly leave me alone with the kids if it was a contagious gastro-bug (it was).  ‘How about you go next Thursday?’ I offered. ‘That will give the kids plenty of time to get better’.  So D changed the dates.  Just as he was about to walk out the door on Thursday, Chip started vomiting again.  D sighed and said ‘How about we just forget this weekend away of mine until the Winter from Hell has passed?’  He’s a good man, that D.

I had a few nice surprises planned that never eventuated because I was ill, but D and I did manage to get a weekend away before I came down with yet another illness(!).  We had a lovely time, and it was a good reminder to schedule in breaks for just the two of us as much as practically possible.

August was a total dud.  So much so that I am going to repeat marriage month again in October (along with family) to give it a fair go.  I won’t go into any more detail yet as I want D to be surprised, but I do have some pretty cool things up my sleeve.  Fingers crossed that D gets his weekend away in October!  D had no idea that I was focusing on our marriage over August, but now he has a little heads-up.  🙂

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2

Trim Healthy Thursday: Going down?

Despite getting the flu I managed to mostly stick to Trim Healthy Mama food this week.  After jumping on the scales today I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had lost 3.5 kilos.  This brings my weight loss total to 12 kilos since starting THM.

The scale is finally going down again

The scale is finally going down again (image credit)

It had been a couple of weeks since the last time I’d checked my weight, and at my last weight-in I was left a bit flat due to stalling for several weeks.

The THM fuel cycle works.  It really does.

Since completing the fuel cycle, people are starting to notice my weight loss.  I get a lot of ‘up and down’ body glances accompanied with ‘you’re looking well’, which is polite-speak for ‘have you lost weight?’  A Wellington friend felt compelled to email me to ask after seeing a picture of me on Facebook.  ‘Your face looks different,’ she said.

Today I put on one of my favourite tops that I haven’t been able to fit since having children.  It has quite a fitted bodice, and my husband took one look and said ‘Woah, you really are shrinking!  There’s much less of you than there used to be’.

Now this is why THM is different to anything else I’ve tried – and believe me when I say I’ve tried ’em all – I am 10 kilos heavier than I was the last time I fitted that top.  10 kilos heavier.  That’s not insignificant!  And yet, here I am, perfectly able to get into my old ‘skinnier me’ clothes.

Weird.  But hey, I’ll take that win.

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Dollar Diet: Week 44, a frugal getaway

As I mentioned last week, D and I were given the gift of two child-free nights.

It was bliss.  I’d forgotten what uninterrupted sleep was like!  D and I had a great time just being D and A again.  We stayed at a friend’s holiday home, who only asks for koha (a gift from the heart).  The home is a couple of streets away from the beach at a tiny coastal settlement.  Nothing beats going to sleep to hearing waves crash upon the shore.

D and I saved money by taking food with us, and enjoyed a picnic lunch by a lake.  We spent the morning sleeping in as long as possible, and did a bit of op-shopping (simply because the nearest big town has some amazing charity shops, it seemed silly to pass up the chance).  I’m so glad we did – I picked up a pair of waterproof bib trousers that normally retail for $40-50 for $3.50!  They are perfect for Sausage to wear when mucking around in sand, water or mud to her heart’s content.  And by the time she’s outgrown them, Chip will be big enough for them.

We spent the afternoon walking through a forest and reading books.

And then…I started to feel sick.  For what feels like the millionth time this year.

The kids were supposed to join us on Saturday, but come Saturday morning it was pretty clear I had the ‘flu.  Fortunately it wasn’t as if we had pre-booked a hotel or anything.  We got in the car and went home.  Even though it was disappointing not to get away as a family, D and I are grateful to have gotten in two nights sleep and one perfect, relaxing day spent in each other’s company.

So the rest of the week was much more frugal that anticipated, due to being bed-ridden for several days.  I guess the pneumonia I contracted last month has wiped out my immune system good and proper so I am catching everything that is going around.  It’s very frustrating – especially as I eat well and exercise!  All I can do is take good care of myself, and pray for an early summer that is hot enough to get rid of all these nasty germs.

If anyone has any tips on boosting your immune system, let me know!

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How to amuse a 2-year-old on an international flight

Hands up who loves flying?

I know I do.

With kids?

Hmm, not so many hands up…

Long-haul flights are the pits.  When you live in New Zealand getting almost anywhere requires hours and hours of flying.  I have flown between NZ and Europe many times and it never got any better – even the one time I got to fly first-class due to my job.

So the idea of doing a long-haul flight with my kids makes me want to run and hide under my bed.  But fortunately for me, I don’t have to grin and bear it this time.  Sausage is off to the Netherlands with D and my mother-in-law, and their journey encompasses around 25 hours of flying time.  That’s just flying, not sitting around waiting for the next leg.  Chip and I are staying at home this time because a) we couldn’t afford for us all to go, b) expecting relatives to put up five of us would be a bit much, c) who wants to fly with my super-active 1 year old?  Not this lady!

Anyway, while I am expecting Sausage to be a champion flier (she is generally a great traveller), I decided to gather a few things together for to amuse her during the flights, just in case.  I also want my husband to remain sane.  I needed things that were inexpensive, light, fun and time-consuming for Sausage to play with.

I scoured our op-shops and our best local bookstore and got this haul:

Sausage's loot

Sausage’s loot

My favourite bookstore in Whanganui is Paiges Book Gallery, not the least because the owner is so knowledgeable and helpful.  She suggested this little gem:

Letters home to Mum are important

Letters home to Mum are important

In case you were wondering, Sausage is not a child prodigy who can read and write at the tender age of 2.5.  But she loves to scribble, she loves stickers, and she loves tiny envelopes.  This letter writing set is filled to the brim with beautiful stickers, teeny-tiny envelopes to make, and decorative pages to write scribble on.  She will of course need help, but this little set should keep her occupied for a while – plus I might just get some mail while she’s away (hint, hint D).

I picked these up at a local children’s store:

Hape make great toys

Hape make great toys

I am always on the lookout for dolls that aren’t blond Barbies or chubby-faced babies because I think it’s important that kids play with dolls of any age and ethnicity.  I snapped up these posable Hape grandparent dolls which have the added bonus of being light.

As you can see in the picture above, I also picked up a duck-topped pencil and a dinosaur sticker book.

At Paige’s I found these magic ink books:

magiciknkbooksotsintawhero

I adored these sort of books as a kid myself, and while she won’t be able to fill them out properly, Sausage will still have fun running the pen over the paper and seeing things magically appear.  Plus the Frozen sisters and Dora are some of Sausage’s homegirls, so they are bound to be a big hit.

At the same mighty bookstore, I picked up a small two-sided puzzle.  To be honest, Sausage isn’t hugely into puzzles, but hey, it might buy a few minutes peace.

I hit the jackpot at a local op-shop, finding several excellent books for the journey.  One exquisitely illustrated book is called ‘Tiger’, about a little boy who doesn’t like parties at all, but finds courage when his face is painted like a Tiger.  I also picked up two ‘Little Miss’ books.  We have ‘Little Miss Splendid‘ already, which is a favourite with Sausage, so I know the two stories will go down well.  I was very pleased to find these books:

favstotsintawhero

The Meg and Mog books are much beloved by everyone in our family and it was great to find one we didn’t already have.  Like most kids (myself included…), Sausage adores anything by Richard Scarry.  They are satisfyingly detailed books, so ‘Miss Honey’s Busy Day’ should keep her occupied for ages.

I was thrilled to find a pop-up book in mint condition.  I had recently remarked to D that we didn’t have a book on Goldilocks and the Three Bears, so I picked this one up straight away.  This pop-up book is great, I mean just look at this:

Ugh oh.  Don't sit on that chair Goldie!

Uh oh. Don’t sit on that chair Goldie!

Told you so

Told you so

Brilliant.

So that’s the haul.  I have bagged it up so Sausage gets something new for each leg of her trip to the Netherlands (D and my MIL will look for things for the flight home).  D is also loading up a tablet with some of her favourite shows to watch, and may include a game or two.  We don’t let our kids use any of our digital devices (despite D being an IT nerd), but I figure situations like being stuck in a tin can for hours and hours are emergencies, right?

baggeduptotsintawhero

Here are some tips for surviving an international flight with your two-year-old:
  • Anything new-to-them will buy you precious time.  You don’t have to buy brand-new as many great books, toys and games can be picked up at thrift stores.  This also means if things get lost or broken it doesn’t matter.  If they don’t like what you got them it isn’t a huge waste of money.  And an added bonus – you can simply leave it all behind if you need to when it’s time to go home.
  • Know what your child is into.  My kid is a huge bookworm, so lots of books will keep her happy.  If you have a particularly active kid, make some ‘busy bags’ filled with activities that keep their hands occupied  (you will find lots of ideas on PInterest).
  • Hang out at an airport a week or two before your journey.  Watch the planes and people come and go.  Show them the check-in counter, luggage trolleys, baggage carousels and other delights to your tot.  Our local airport is rather rinky-dinky, but even so it is a fun place for Sausage to visit.
  • Use books to prepare them for the journey.  We managed to find a couple of great books on taking plane journeys for toddlers.  One book, the excellent Knuffle Bunny Free is even about a little girl who goes to Holland to visit her Opa!  Knuffle Bunny, and Maisy Goes by Plane spell out all the steps that are involved with international travel.  Check in, customs , lovely flight attendants, and waiting.  Lots and lots of waiting and sitting and being bored.  Most tots are okay if they know what to expect.
  • Use role-play to prepare them for the journey.  Sausage and I have been playing ‘waiting’ – made lots more fun if chocolate is involved…  We’ve also played ‘suitcases’, and made tickets for our journey.  You could use your kitchen chairs to set up a pretend airplane and serve your tot food.  You could practice putting on seatbelts, flying, sleeping in the most uncomfortable position you can get into, you name it.  Again, a prepared child is a happy child.
  • Take some ‘loveys’.  Don’t forget to take a few of your tots favourite things in your cabin luggage.  LIfe would not be worth living if Sausage went without her beloved toy dog who seldom leaves her side.

Well that’s it.  Good luck to us all.  I’ll let you know what worked and what didn’t.  Fingers crossed she will sleep for a lot of the journey!

8

Trim Healthy Thursday: Photo Update

Getting smaller

Getting smaller

Quite some difference between now and February isn’t it?  Thanks Trim Healthy Mama!

Not so much between June and August obviously, but what you don’t see in this picture is that I am wearing that jean skirt for the last time because it is three sizes too small now, and I pulled the shirt in at the back because it is very baggy and therefore hard to see the shape underneath. I can see in my latest picture my waist is more defined and my tummy is smaller.

Last week I embarked on a one week fuel cycle and a personal challenge of completing an entire week of THM with zero cheats.  I’m proud to say I did it!  In hindsight I won’t set myself a personal challenge in the same week as doing a fuel cycle again, because Oh my Lord was it hard when I did two days of Fuel Pull food (gibberish to non-THM people, sorry).  But having said that, being so close to getting a reward did spur me on to stick with it, so maybe I will.

My reward was $20 to spend at my favourite second hand store.  I spent an hour and a half perusing their racks today (the store is huge) and was delighted to find I fit into clothing from more high street retailers.  I fitted a gorgeous knit dress from Max (haven’t been able to get into their clothes for three or four years now).  I was tempted to buy it and then I thought ‘Winter is almost over, and this time next year it will be too big’, so it went back on the rack.

Emboldened by my success I decided to try a high street chain store whose sizes tend to run a bit small.  Fitting into their largest size was another goal of mine, and then the next size down.

The largest size fit perfectly.  Hand over my reward, D!

The next size down was snug, but is probably only a few weeks away from fitting.

I am so encouraged by my results, and will keep chugging along the THM way.  It works.

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Dollar Diet: Week 33, ka-ching!

As usual, we had some good wins and some not-so-great losses during this week’s Dollar Diet.

We had several frugal family outings to the beach, lake and botanic gardens as we had some amazingly sunny and warm weather.  One of the best things about being a stay-at-home-mum is that I am beholden to no one but my family.  If the weather is stunning, I can get out and enjoy it with my tots.

Something tells me spring is on its way...

Something tells me spring is on its way…

We came out under budget with our groceries, and were given a meal by a friend who knew we’d had a tough time when the kids were sick the other week.  We felt very loved.

D and I had a stay-at-home date night, spent binge-watching The 100 (it’s getting very gripping!).  We are looking forward to a rare weekend away, childfree, staying at a friend’s holiday home.  We don’t get a lot of D & A time, having a one-year old and a two-and-a-half year old.  It’s a very demanding season for us, and we can’t wait to have some space to recharge our worn-out batteries.  The kids will join us a couple of days later so we can have a little seaside holiday as a family.

One thing that has put a serious dent in our budget is a gate.  Yep, a gate.  Our property is fully fenced, but I want the backyard to be fenced off so my kids can be confined there while they are small.  Our kitchen looks out onto our backyard (which is huge) so I can be doing housework while they play outside.  At the moment this is still a dream, as Chip still tries to eat everything in sight.  But once he is out of that phase, knowing that they are safe in the backyard, away from cars coming and going I will be one happy Mama.

D has finished a fence and gate on one side of the house (sorry, I would have taken a photo but it poured with rain today).  I’m so proud of him for tackling this on his own, as he hadn’t done anything like it before.  The fence and gate look fantastic, and D doing the work himself has saved us a ton of money.  The other side of the house is quite wide, and requires a ‘farm’ gate, which cost us just over $400.  Ouch!  But it’s money well spent.

I went on a little shopping spree this morning, while D went on an adventure with the kids.  I achieved one of my Trim Healthy Mama goals, which netted me $20 to spend at my favourite second hand store – taken from my birthday money/gift voucher stash which I am using as rewards.  I spent $16 on an evening cardi/jacket type thingee, and a top and was thrilled to see that I had actually hit another of my THM targets which has netted me even more money.

The old me would rush out to spend that reward money as soon as possible.  But I’m hanging on to it.  My black boots have finally given up the ghost despite numerous repair attempts, so I will be putting this money towards a new, high-quality pair that will hopefully last me much longer than this pair did (2 seasons).  I have my eye on a pair that cost $200, and will be selling the huge pile of clothes that are now too big for me to help make up the difference.

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Trim Healthy Thursday: Just Desserts

It’s been a challenging week for Trim Healthy Mama and I.  I succumbed to the stomach bug my tots had, and therefore had a day of eating nothing (always makes me think of that scene in the Devil Wears Prada – “I’m one stomach flu away from being a size zero!”), and several days of eating white bread with vegemite.

Once I was well enough, I began a one week fuel cycle, which I realise is meaningless to those of you who haven’t read the book.  Anyway, I am using this week to get my first reward – some of my birthday money.  The other week I set myself several goals.  The more challenging they are, the higher the reward.  My first goal was really simple: one week of zero ‘cheating’ (no off-plan meals or snacks) = $20 to spend at my favourite op-shop.  Will I make it?  Stay tuned folks.

Exercise-wise I had several days off due to being sick, but got back in the saddle as soon as I could.  I enjoy my morning runs immensely.  As we move into Spring, it is now almost light when I head off (it was pitch black only a couple of weeks ago), and spring blossoms are starting to appear…can you tell I’m hanging out for Spring?

And – big news – I have found a THM dessert I actually like.  Hooray!!!!  Not to be unfair to the authors, I have barely made any of the desserts, but the few I have made I haven’t liked at all.  So I was delighted to discover THM meringues are delicious.  Yes, I eat meringues and cream and am still loosing weight.