Dollar Diet: Labour Weekend

'helping' Mum and Dad

‘Helping’ Mum and Dad

This past weekend we celebrated Labour Day here in New Zealand.  This day of rest commemorates the hard-won victory of those who battled for an eight-hour working day.

Unfortunately Labour Day coincides with pretty much the best time of the year to plant veg for the summer, so many Kiwis will be found doing all manner of gardening work and DIY over the long weekend.

My family was no exception.

In true Dollar Diet style we spent most of it at home beavering away at our oft-neglected garden, tackling projects we hadn’t gotten around to yet.  I enjoy pottering around in my garden a great deal, but it is something I’ve only been able to do in fits and starts due to having to watch Chip like a hawk while he goes through the I-simply-MUST-put-EVERYTHING-in-my-mouth phase that all children do.  At 14 months, he has matured to the point where he can occupy himself without getting into too much trouble for up to 20 minutes at a time, which means that some gardening is actually possible.

I put in two small sandwich gardens in our front yard (I have plans for several more), and re-used bricks that I discovered lurking under the garden along the side of our house.  Like most houses, our front yard is such an underutilised space (excusing our current pile of mulch in residence).  As much of our yard gets full sun, I figured I should put it to good use.  I have a particular shape in mind which will be evident when the other gardens get constructed, so excuse the odd shape of these two for now.

The first layer

The first layer

All ready for veg

All ready for veg

These gardens have been planted with lettuce, carrots, cucumber and watermelon.  Our neighbour swapped us some seedlings for some of our mulch, and we were both very happy with the trade.

The entrance to our front door has always been rather…strange.  There is a concrete path that goes along to the side of the house to a door that no one ever uses, while the main door/porch area was grassed over.  This meant that people would feel a little confused as to whether this was the main entrance.  My parents kindly gave us some surplus pavers from their new house, and D got to work putting them down next to our porch.

Sausage helping D get the ground flat and ready for the pavers

Sausage helping D get the ground flat and ready for the pavers

Not quite the finished product

Not quite the finished product

This project is not quite finished as D plans to put gravel around the pavers once they have settled down into position.  I think they’re looking good, and my parents saved us a bunch of money as those pavers are not cheap to buy!  Cheers, Mum and Dad.

While we were mucking around the front yard, I figured it would be a good time to give our cars a wash (especially as one of them is for sale).  I had two willing helpers.

Get 'em while they're young

Get ’em while they’re young

Chip discovered the joys of drinking straight from the hose…

That tot deserves a drink after all that hard work

That tot deserves a drink after all that hard work

D and I have drawn up a rather lengthy list of all the things we need to do around the house and garden.  Maintenance takes oh, five times longer to do with children in tow, but at least we crossed a few things off that list this weekend.  We managed to squeak in a bit of rest, and enjoyed a picnic under our cherry trees.

Love this place

Love this place


Trim Healthy Thursday: Hitting the wall

After blogging about how well I was doing with my food and exercise last week, I well and truly ran head-first into a great, big brick wall.

Pride cometh before a fall is such a true saying.

Too many late nights, interrupted sleeps and early starts left me in quite a funk.  I did a few half-hearted runs and workouts, and basically ate all the carbs for about three days straight.  Whenever I ‘slip up’ I revert immediately to all-or-nothing thinking: ‘Oh well, I’ve stuffed that meal up – may as well carry on today, it won’t hurt’.  Except it does hurt.  I felt so exhausted after those three days, partly because I hadn’t been fuelling my body properly.

And the self-talk.  I am brutal to myself.  I was fat, lazy, you name it.  If I was talking to my best friend, you can bet I wouldn’t be such a mean girl.  ‘Angela’, I would say to myself, ‘Everyone slips up.  It’s normal, to be expected.  It’s not the end of the world.  It’s a blip.  Make better choices at your next meal.’

But I eventually took stock, let myself have a day off exercising, and got back on the Trim Healthy Mama wagon.  This week I am doing another fuel cycle, as I think my frustration at not getting down another dress size is partially to blame for last week’s funk.  The fuel cycle may just help to kick-start things again.  I got in a decent run this morning and feel much better for it.

Journeys – especially health journeys – are not always in a straight line.  Often they look like this:

And that’s okay.


Dollar Diet: Less is More

At the ready! (image credit)

At the ready!
(image credit)

I kicked off this term with a vow to do less.  Fewer playgroups where we are stuck inside, in favour of unstructured time outside.

I was relieved I’d made this decision as last week ended up being very busy, with non-kid related activities taking up several evenings and all day Saturday.  Come Sunday, I was knackered.  Having had burnout in the past I am quite careful not to overload my schedule, but sometimes interesting things just happen all at once, don’t they.

I went to a free presentation on the impact of our early years on child development, which was put on by the excellent Brainwave Trust.  The Brainwave Trust is a charitable organisation founded to raise public awareness of the most recent discoveries in brain research, and to educate parents, caregivers, schools etc on the ramifications of this research.  I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know (simply because I have degrees in Psychology and Education, and specialised in human development, not because the presentation isn’t good – because it is!), but it is always great to be reminded of just how crucial the first three years of life are in shaping the people we become.  If you are interested in parenting advice based on solid, scientific research, I highly recommend signing up for their newsletter to keep updated on the latest happenings.

In tot-related stuff, instead of going to a music playgroup I decided to go for a walk along the Whanganui river with the kiddos.  I armed myself with a rubbish bag, thinking I could sneak in a little lesson about the importance of caring for creation as we picked up any rubbish we found along the way.  Things always seem so lovely and perfect in my head!  In reality, Chip fell asleep within five minutes and missed the rest of the walk entirely, while Sausage refused to get out of the stroller as her ‘legs were tired’.  She whinged and moaned most of the way.  I did manage to get in a decent workout, as power walking with a heavy stroller and 20+kg of kid gets the heart racing.

I dropped our Monday morning playgroup, which I am quite pleased about as it makes the start to the week less frantic.  This morning I did two loads of washing, changed all the sheets on the beds, gave the kids morning tea and wrangled them into the car to go grocery shopping without having to say ‘please hurry’.  I dropped this group because I must confess to picking up a new activity!  I know, I know,  I said I was doing less, but this isn’t a playgroup, per se.  On Fridays I am going to an exercise class.  It is beyond awesome.  St Luke’s Church in Castlecliff approached Plunket offering their space for a class and their volunteers to watch the children while their caregivers exercise.  I don’t know anywhere else where you can work out for $2 while some beautiful people mind your children!  It was fan-flipping-tastic to take time out for myself, and my kids enjoyed it (morning tea, singing and parachutes – what’s not to like?).  The class is over by 10:30am, so it leaves us with plenty of time to play afterwards at the Castlecliff Beach Playground.

We did spend ‘unnecessary’ money on going to a school gala.  It is difficult to put into words why I love galas so much.  I just do.  As a kid, my school gala was one of the highlights of the year, second only to the A&P show day and Guy Fawkes.  There’s just something so damn nice about seeing everyone having fun, the baking and white elephant stalls,  the sideshows, and teachers who are bravely prepared to be ‘dunked’ by gleeful students.

Once Sausage had filled up on real fruit ice cream she had a ball, and Chip was ecstatic to examine the machine blowing air into the bouncy castle (seriously, that kept him occupied for most of the time!).  Thanks to our pantry audit we underspent our grocery budget for the last few weeks, meaning we had plenty of cash to eat dinner out at the gala.  We’ve all been rather tired and cranky (Chip has just had five teeth cut through at once) so we needed a little fun injected into our week.


Trim Healthy Thursday: Stair Master

This week I finally got around to making paleo beetroot brownies.  I tweaked the recipe a bit so it was THM-compliant, and I must say they were pretty good but not ah-mazing.

We enjoyed a couple of meals of egg roll in a bowl, which is very budget-friendly and quick to prepare.  D liked it so much it’s on the menu again this week!  I feel a bit stuck in a rut with my go-to Trim Healthy Mama recipes, so I plan to set aside an hour or two over the weekend to peruse Pinterest for inspiration, and THMify some of our old pre-plan favourites until I get the new THM cookbook that everyone is raving about.

I am feeling ridiculously smug about how well I am doing with exercise.  Feel free to tell me to shut up!  I decided I was a bit fed up with the slow regime of couch-to-5k (it totally works though, just had itchy feet) and ran around our block to see if I could do it.  I did.  The block is about 4.4ks so I am really happy with my progress!  I have no ambition to run marathons, but I would like to be able to run 5k comfortably.  With the Tongariro Alpine Crossing looming up soon I have added stair-climbing into the mix.  And woah mama, is that a good workout!

I headed for the stairs on one of Whanganui’s biggest hills, Durie Hill.  I left home at the crack of dawn, eager to get stuck in.  Only, a bootcamp had got there ahead of me.  There were about 30 people going up and down these fairly steep and narrow steps.  I am someone who prefers to exercise solo and was miffed to be jostling with a crowd, to say the least.  I despaired of what to do next, because there aren’t exactly lots of suitable locations for stair-climbing in my town.

D to the rescue!  His office is in a three-storey building, and it’s perfect.  I get the place all to myself, work up one heck of a sweat, AND I can still work out when it’s raining.  Tongariro, here I come.


Dollar Diet: Look for the holes

We’ve had a reasonable week in our Tawhero household.  Chip is totally weaned onto soy milk which helps our grocery budget a tad, and we have broccoli coming out of our ears thanks to my garden.

We ended the school holidays with more frugal fun at home or at the beach.  I am sticking to my resolve of doing fewer structured inside activities with my children, and will be dropping two playgroups a week (which means we have two play dates a week) when the weather is fine.  I NEED to be outside, and fortunately Chip is of the same ilk.  Sausage is more of a books-and-being-inside girl so I think it will be good for her to get comfortable with the great outdoors.

In other frugal things, D managed to get his phone rather wet and fried the screen.  In true Dollar Diet style, he has opted to fix his phone instead of buying a new one.  He has mad skills, it’s true.

Not so frugally, I finally broke and bought a new pair of shoes and a new-to-me-swimsuit (my old ones were falling off, making them rather risque.  Scored the new pair for $10, hurray!).

Filling a hole

Filling a hole

I have been thinking about my clothes a great deal and wondering how to cure myself of my shopping habit.  So I go out and buy more stuff, you say?  I am following a great blogger Jen from My Make do and Mend Life who has given herself the challenge of no new clothes for a year.  I can’t fully commit to this challenge simply because I keep losing weight and am running out of clothes that actually fit me, but it is a great community to get involved with.  If you have a shopping habit you’d like to break, or simply want to get more creative with what you have, I highly recommend joining the Facebook group for all kinds of inspiration.  Anyway, on the FB page, someone shared about capsule wardrobes – which are all about carefully choosing just a few pieces of clothing that will give you the maximum number of outfits.

My BFF and I are clothing-mad, always have been, always will.  But we try to make the best of what we have, and neither of us have ever been of the ‘more is more’ variety when it comes to the size of our wardrobes.  Back in our poor student days we were obsessed with capsule wardrobes, and would write lists of items we needed in order to have perfect outfits at our fingertips.  You can find examples of capsule wardrobes here and here.

I stopped that sort of thing years ago, but actually there is a LOT of sense in having a capsule wardrobe.  I don’t mean the ‘choose one or two neutrals only’ sort of thing.  What I think is helpful is assessing your wardrobe to see what can be paired together, and where you might have some holes.  For instance, in order to make several outfits look ‘right’ I have needed a pair of black flat shoes for oh, months and months.  My Mum gave me some awesome flats at the start of the year, and come summer I will wear them a lot.  But they are open-toed shoes, and so aren’t suitable for wet or wintry weather.  My new black flats can be paired with pretty much anything which makes them a valuable addition to my wardrobe.

So think about it; what works in your wardrobe and what doesn’t?  Is there an item of clothing you don’t currently have that could suddenly turn one outfit into three or four?  Do you need a plain t-shirt to pair with your collection of print cardis?  Do you need a singlet to go under that shirt you never wear because it’s a bit see-through?  Do you need to invest in some thermals so you’re not freezing all the time?  Has your job changed so you find you need more or fewer professional clothes?

While I can’t commit to buying nothing new for a year, I can commit to only filling the gaps.


Trim Healthy Thursday: Changing my mind

First up, here is a photo update.

I've shrunk a bit

I’ve shrunk a bit

Mostly I took these for my own motivation because I’ve been feeling like nothing much is happening.  I’ve been particularly frustrated at not losing much around my middle where I carry most of my weight.  My top half is getting rather slim and is probably a size smaller by now, while my bottom half isn’t.  But when I compare the photos I can see that things are happening.  I’m definitely a bit smaller, and my double chin is almost gone.  I haven’t dropped any more dress sizes, nor have the scales gone down, but the pictures speak for themselves.  If you are doing Trim Healthy Mama, take photos!  It’s the only sure way to measure your progress.

An interesting effect of THM has been on the way I view my body.  I have always been rather up and down of figure, but THM is revealing curves where they’ve never been before.  For some reason, this has made me pay more attention to clothing sizes.  In the past I have just been used to clothes not fitting me.  I would try them on, they wouldn’t fit, and I would think ‘Oh, I’m so fat etc’.  Now if I try something on in ‘my’ size and it doesn’t fit, I immediately think ‘Oh, this label runs small.’  Because some do.  In some shops you will fit your size, and in others you might need one or even two sizes bigger.  And that’s not because you are a fatty-lard-ass, it’s because the stupid fashion industry doesn’t have regulation sizes (not in NZ anyway).  So here’s my advice: try and find a high street chain that seems to have a ‘true’ size for you.  Use their clothes as your weight-loss gauge, and don’t get discouraged if you can’t squeeze into clothes at a certain store, because the perfect fit might be waiting for you at the next store.


Dollar Diet: Week 49, free fun and slowing down

The second week of the school holidays has whizzed by.  My tots and I have enjoyed several playdates with friends, and have either mooched about at home, visited playgrounds and headed for the beach.  I’ve managed to get through this week without spending a cent on kid-related activity (other than a bit of petrol).

Ah, home sweet home

Ah, home sweet home

The glorious weather (seriously, I’ve been swanning around in a t-shirt in October) has made it easier for us to stay at home, because our backyard is so wonderful.  At the moment Chip is greatly entertained by the garden hose, eating grapefruit that’s fallen from the tree, playing in a dirt pile left by D when he put the gate in, and trying to put everything he can in his mouth.  Sausage loves to help me put out the washing, which is quite a fun, educational experience for her.  I ask her for certain numbers of pegs – which she methodically counts out for me – or I ask her for pegs of a particular colour, or to give me a certain item of clothing.  She has even created her own washing line by clipping pegs to a nearby flax bush.

I have certainly been more productive this week.  My house is a bit cleaner, the laundry under control, and our mornings less frantic as we don’t have to rush out the door to our various play groups.  It has got me wondering if I need to scale back our play group involvement, at least until next winter.  It’s actually a tricky decision for me because I have good friends at each group, and as an extrovert I need quite a bit of face-time with people who don’t pepper me with a zillion questions before my brain has had a chance to wake up in the morning, or smear the remnants of morning tea into my cardi.  On the other hand, one of the things I adore about being a stay-at-home parent is that I can say ‘by heck it’s a sunny day…BEACH!’ and just go. [Edit: of course, when I say ‘just go’ this means conduct military-like operation to pack a bag with snacks, hats, sunscreen, towels and the kitchen sink, wrestle children into the car, and THEN go.]

It’s amazing how much my tots have made me slow down.  I used to live life at a break-neck pace until I burnt-out badly.  Even after I recovered, I was still fairly busy going out to events and seeing my friends.  Now if I have more than one event on during a weekend, that feels a bit much for me!  But when you have kids who see magic and wonder in light fittings and dirt, you realise it doesn’t take much to make them happy.  Play groups are wonderful, but so is being at home or getting out into nature.

Here’s to summer!


September: Health Month

As I posted last month, September was the month for trying to my health back on an even keel.  We had a dreadful winter with the kids and I being sick with various complaints all July and August.

After reading Gretchen Rubin’s book Happier at Home, I fell in love with her idea of taking a month to focus on a particular area of my life.  You can read about my year-long challenge here.  What I appreciate about Gretchen is that she doesn’t attempt to completely overhaul her life.  She picks two or three things to tweak or experiment with.  And it’s only for a month, so if anything turns out not to be ‘you’, that’s something to simply note and move on.

For September my goals were to eat a piece of fruit each day, be in bed by 9:30pm, exercise daily, and monitor my eating closely.

So how did I do?

It was a bit hit and miss.

It didn’t help that for a big chunk of September I was either away from home, or out of my routine as my husband and daughter were visiting family in the Netherlands.  I think embarking on a monthly challenge like this is probably best left when there’s not so much on my social calendar.  I certainly wasn’t able to give this monthly challenge the focus it deserves, but I always believe a bit of effort is better than no effort at all.

I did reasonably well at exercising – barring the week I was in Auckland – and at ensuring to eat more fruit (I eat plenty of veg).  Most nights I am in bed by 9:30pm, but D and I have had a few late nights here and there.  On the whole, I think we are getting much better at getting to 9pm and going ‘hey, time to get ready for bed’ and actually doing it.  I am a person who needs lots of sleep so I don’t turn into a weeping, whining shrew, which makes this a great habit to cultivate.

I have been totally lazy at using my food monitoring sheet.  Like to the point that I know I need to put the sheet somewhere better so I see it and use it (it’s on my fridge).  But have I done this?  No.  I have been good at sticking to Trim Healthy Mama most of the time – even when I’ve been tempted not to – and have only strayed when eating out at someone’s house.  UPDATE: I have tweaked my monitoring sheet and have put it on a clipboard that will be in my face whenever I’m in the kitchen.  Hoping that it will do the trick!

So, all in all, it wasn’t a perfect month.  But still, I feel as if I am making progress.  I think if I can move every day, eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and get plenty of sleep that will go a long way to restoring my immune system.


Sandwich Garden update

Way back in May I shared that I made a sandwich garden, which is a technique you can use to make an excellent garden anywhere, no matter what the soil is like where you live.  You can read about how to make it here.  I came across this technique in a book by Janet Luke called Green Urban Living (buy this book, she’s a genius) but watching this movie called Back to Eden really clinched the deal.  I highly recommend watching the documentary, which follows Paul, who grew up in a market gardening household.  After years of back-breaking work he thought, ‘Surely there must be an easier way?’  By observing nature he creates a low-maintenance and bountiful garden.  The film is very Christian, but even if that’s not your thing, you will still learn a LOT from this inspiring documentary.

I made this garden really frugally – it cost me $13 at the time.  When we purchased our house, it came with a veggie garden already, but the garden was put in a really dumb spot.  The original garden was put right in a corner that sits in shadow for most of the day.  I put my new sandwich-technique garden in a much sunnier spot, planted some seedlings, and waited.

I am delighted to say that the technique is a winner!

All ready to go

All ready to go

With very little effort, my garden has produced some great-looking veg.  As the technique produces a very light and spongey soil, weeding it is a dream.  The weeds usually come out cleanly with their roots still attached.  We use arborist mulch to keep the weeds down, and that is working well.  Weeds are unavoidable (unless your neighbours decide to keep their places weed-free), but I’ve definitely noticed that the mulch has greatly decreased the amount of weeding I need to do.

Just for kicks, I planted some leeks in the original garden at the same time as I planted leeks in the new garden.

Leeks, going strong in the new garden

Leeks, going strong in the new garden

And here are the leeks in the old garden…

And the runner up is...

And the runner up is…

No comparison eh.  Sandwich garden for the win!

If you’ve never had much success growing veggies, or you live some where the soil is problematic, or you are interested in permaculture give this technique a go.  It really works.


Dollar Diet: Week 48, off with a roar!

Last week I wrote about all the things we are doing, or intend to do to tighten our belts while our income is a bit lower than usual (due to D starting a new business).

D and I set to that belt-tightening with great gusto, so here’s an update on how we are going.

  • Become a one-car family.  We’ve put our People Mover up for sale and are hoping we get a decent price for it.
  • Buy a bike trailer.  We’re waiting for the car to sell before we do this.
  • Wean our son off soy formula and onto soy milk.  This is going really well.  Chip is happily taking bottles of half-formula, half soy milk.  We’ll up the milk over the next few days.
  • Be more diligent about using cloth nappies and wipes.  This is going REALLY well.  I cut up cloths and put them in a jar with a couple of squirts of cetaphil and some water.  It works like a charm.  The dirty cloths go into another glass jar.  I chose glass jars as they are easily cleaned and sterilised in our dishwasher.  We’ve been really diligent with using cloth nappies, although I wish I could find some that my son doesn’t wet through immediately when he does a wee.  One day I changed his clothes four times!
  • Shop our pantry.  Done.  You can see it here.  I absolutely recommend doing this.  For me, there was something about seeing what I had as a list, that got me thinking ‘Oh, I can make x, and combine y and z together…’
  • Use up all the fruit and veg from our garden.  This is going well, and if we get some decent weather I will be putting in another big veggie garden soon.  We are incredibly fortunate to own a place with many established fruit trees, and my sandwich garden has a good crop of broccoli, onions, lettuce and leeks that are ready for munching.

    om nom nom nom

    om nom nom nom

  • Say no to any unnecessary entertainment.  This is the only category that we have not done well in this week.  My wonderful cousin is visiting from Oamaru (and a shout out to the ones left at home, we miss you soooo much!), so I have had such a good time hanging out with her this week.  We’ve had  few treats as a result, but quite frankly this is why we are on a Dollar Diet – so we can have some treats when special people come to town.
  • Make our own cleaning products.  See cloth wipes above.
  • Sell off our unwanted items.  I haven’t listed my things yet, but plan to this coming week.  But I have sorted through everything and have made sure clothes are ironed etc for photos.
  • Do our own DIY as much as possible.  D and his side-kick J finished off putting a gate to close off our backyard from the front.  It looks great.

    Woohoo!  All done.

    Woohoo! All done.

Not a bad effort.  Next week our entertainment budget will go back to zero.  It is school holidays here, so we don’t have our usual playgroups to go to, but I do have several things lined up for my tots to do, and plenty of time spent playing and mooching around doing nothing.