2

Trim Healthy Thursday: 10 Months in

 

I can explain my lack of Trim Healthy Mama posts two ways.  One, I have been busy.  Two, I have not been a stellar example of the THM lifestyle this month.

This is not to say I have been spending my time like this:

cheesy dibbles.jpg

Oh man, I LOVE these guys!  Hilarious. (image credit)

Ok, so maybe a little bit of the time.

I’ve had too many treat meals recently.  December is a treaty time of year unfortunately, and I think I went too far with the whole ‘being kind’ to myself while I have not been feeling 100%.

I went on a retreat with my BFF, and basically ate two entire wheels of cheese with two packets of crackers, quaffed lots of red wine, and discovered a new brand of sugar-free chocolate, which I then proceeded to eat with great gusto.  My friend R and I were definitely in the ‘girl’s weekend’ mindset and just did whatever we wanted.  To be perfectly honest, I am only a teensy bit regretful about it all.  R lives overseas now and we only see each other once a year, so being together feels like it should be a rip-snorting, let-your-hair-down sort of time.

R and I had to abandon the idea of the Tongariro Crossing once it became clear that my calf muscle wasn’t going to be healed in time, and embarked on the Waihora Trail instead.  I’m glad we did, because my calf began to hurt a couple of hours into our hike, and R’s back was giving her a lot of pain (she has since discovered it was a slipped disc).  Despite gnashing our teeth at our geriatric bodies, we had a lovely walk and enjoyed some magnificent views of Lake Taupo.

We wisely stayed close to the Tokaanu hot pools and took a dip after our hike, which I’m quite sure helped us to feel rather sprightly the next day.

So I may not be perfect at sticking to Trim Healthy Mama, but I keep trying.  I am shrinking.  My double chin has gone and I have collarbones.  Collarbones!  I don’t think they’ve been sighted in years.  As you can see in the photos below, I have come a long way this year.  I plan to keep chugging along next year and look forward to shrinking some more.

sidebysideFeb-Dec2015

3

Dollar Diet: What I have learnt

It’s hard to fathom how swiftly this year has gone by.  For our Tawhero household it’s been an interesting year – one of change, growth, sickness, adventures and yet more sickness.  But on the whole, it’s been a positive year.

I embarked on the Dollar Diet simply to see if I could.  I wanted to plug up the holes in our budget, save money for two overseas trips, be more mindful of my spending, do more with less, and challenge my little grey cells.

Has my year of penny pinching been a raging success?

Yes, and no.

Yes we saved money.  That’s for sure!  I cannot give you an exact figure as lots of our Dollar Diet savings got gobbled up after D quit his job to start his own business (which is doing rather well).  We had several months of no income as we waited for the business to get up and running.  Suddenly the Dollar Diet wasn’t just to challenge myself – it was a necessity.

Our savings gave us enough of a cushion to withstand those months with no income, and as we were already practising frugal habits there was little adjustment to be made to our lifestyle.  The Dollar Diet protected us from some of the pressure and stress that happens when you suddenly experience a drop in income.

Using the Goodbudget app, which tracks all of your spending, we quickly discovered the myriad of holes that were in our ‘carefully constructed’ budget.

Yes, I am much more mindful of my spending.  More often than not if I see something I like in the shops, I merely appreciate it and move on.  I still love nothing more than perusing an op-shop, but usually come away empty-handed because there is nothing I need.  This year I have gone to a restaurant exactly four times, we stopped frequenting our favourite lunch bar (now I think ‘Gadzooks! Why spend crazy money on sandwiches!’), and we have rarely darkened the door of a cafe.  Little things to ‘treat myself’ like magazines, nice stationery, or a new scarf went unpurchased and unmissed.

I think the gamechanger for me has been to calculate total expenditure on something over a year.  There really is no better perspective than going ‘Umm, we spend $1000 a year on wine/coffee/takeaway lunch/chocolate/[insert your vice of choice here]’.  All those little purchases each week can add up to a frightening sum.

Yes, I can do more with less.  One very surprising thing is thing is how much I have enjoyed playing around with my wardrobe now that I no longer go out and buy what I want.  Despite giving away about three-quarters of it thanks to Trim Healthy Mama, my wardrobe is still in reasonable shape, and it’s been fun to play around with different combinations of outfits.

I’ve enjoyed making cards and wrapping paper, and busting out my markers.  I’ve enjoyed making crafts with Sausage using things nabbed from our recycling bin, even if it means we make thirty collages.  That kid loves collage.

Fewer activities and events has meant more downtime, more time at home.  Which has been SUCH A GOOD THING.  D and I have never experienced so much sickness in one year before.  The kids, me, him, all of us at the same time (such fun!) – none of us made it through this year unscathed.  I try to limit the amount of things we do as a family but sometimes there’s just a whole bunch of crazy on the ol’ social calendar.  Saying no to things – especially those things that cost money – certainly helped us to get some much-needed rest.  Although, being parents of two toddlers, D and I would still like to swim in an ocean of rest, thank you very much.

Yes, it has been brain food.  I have learned new skills like making sandwich gardens, chutney and marmalade; and dusted off old skills like sewing, colouring, and hosting frugal shindigs.  I’ve enjoyed upcycling things like old tablecloths into Christmas sacks, or curtains into play costumes.

DSCN8572.JPG

Christmas sacks made from an old tablecloth adorn our mantelpiece

I look forward to that mythical creature – having more time when my children get a bit older – so I can do more upcycling.  It’s incredibly satisfying.  D has discovered his inner-DIYer, and has made fences, gates, paths, shelves, irrigation systems, and all manner of things which has saved us a considerable sum of money.  Great stuff, D.

No, being frugal ALL the time is hard.  I learned that I simply cannot be frugal all.of.the.time.  It’s hard work.  Being super-frugal means thinking and planning ahead.  For everything.  Meals, bring-a-plates, gifts, clothing, unexpected bills.  As the parent of two tots, my life is simply not that predictable.  I had good intentions of making every gift by hand this year.  Nope.  Didn’t happen.  I made some, but many gifts ended up being purchased from a store because I was too tired, or sick, or unprepared.

I guess I was hoping that all that frugality would force me into being some sort of budget Martha Stewart, making incredible creations from Weetbix boxes and loo roll.  Nope.  Didn’t happen.  Not to say that I didn’t get a few flashes of personal inspiration, but flipping heck, thank goodness for Pinterest.

No, I need a fun budget.  This did not really come as a surprise.  I am someone who needs something to look forward to.  I often get more of a buzz more from anticipating a good thing than from the thing itself.  I like taking my children on adventures.  Most of them have been free, but every now and then something really cool will come up that costs money, and I have gone ‘Stuff you, Dollar Diet!  Let’s go to the zoo’.

I also need a change of scene every now and then.  I have been somewhat of a nomad most of my adult life, so putting down roots in Tawhero is something of an experiment.  (It’s working, as I never want to move.)  But I still need to dust off my suitcase every once in a while.  If you are the sort of person who doesn’t really like travel this can be hard to understand.  I need to travel every now and then just so I can be settled in my ‘real life’, if this makes sense.

So next year, while we will continue in most of our frugal ways, we’re going to put in a little wiggle room for a few fun outings, or a date-night meal at a restaurant.

The Dollar Diet has been absolutely worthwhile, and I see no reason to ever stop.  I like throwing off the shackles of the consumerist system that we in the Western world are born into.  I like thumbing my nose at all the trappings my society says I should have in order to be considered ‘successful’.  I like being a good steward of the resources I have – and believe me, we are very blessed to live where we do in Tawhero.  I like spending time pottering around my house or garden, or visiting friends rather than a cafe.

It’s a good life.

2

Toddler Advent (so far)

I’ve been rather quiet on here as I have been unwell (every now and then my thyroid likes to throw a wobbly), and I’ve also been spending my evenings making Christmas presents.  I’ve enjoyed doing some crafting, but the photo books for my children are doing my head in – I swear the site I am using got a sadist to design its photo upload system…

Anyway, Advent and all things Christmassy are in full swing in our Tawhero household.  Sausage is absolutely loving it, and Chip is irresistibly attracted to the shiny bauble on our Christmas tree.  I’m grateful that my efforts to explain what Christmas is really about to my almost-three-year old have paid off.  This year she knows who everyone in the Nativity story is and can sing most carols off my heart (although she may have got some of ‘The Virgin Mary had a Baby Boy’ a tad wrong…I caught her singing “Oh YES! Beavers.  Oh YES! Beavers..”  She means ‘believers’.  I laughed waaaaaay too hard at that).

Sausage chose a gift for a less fortunate child (who is bound to love the Frozen doll Sausage picked out), which she happily handed over to a local charity.  It must have stuck in her mind, because the other day she said to me ‘Mummy, let’s give my small clothes to a baby that needs them.  Some children don’t get any’.  Heart-melting.

We’ve been making crafts related to Bible readings about Jesus.  Simple but great fun.

 

Getting the hang of advent calendars took a little while, especially as she shares one with her brother.  I was gobsmacked to see these in one of our local Warehouse stores (sort of like Target for my overseas readers):

DSCN8423.JPGYou almost never see any Nativity-related things in the shops here – it’s nothing but snow, reindeer and Santa.

And I was even more surprised to discover the shop sold these:

nativity

This cardboard cut-out Nativity set was absolutely perfect for Sausage to put together, and she was most particular about who was grouped with who.

My tots are inundated with advent calendars this year as my mother discovered my Aunt was going to get rid of a lovely felt one, so she rescued it and put some fun gifts in it for the children.  Sausage has grasped the concept that one day is ‘her day’, and the next day her brother gets to take the gift.  They get so excited about this calendar.

DSCN8418.JPG

Sausage taking out one of the gifts

DSCN8483

Chip enjoying one of his gifts (a whistle)

 

St Nicholas day was a big hit.  We read books about him in the weeks leading up to it, and then on the day the children got chocolate coins in their shoes in memory of this remarkable man.  Of course, chocolate for breakfast is pretty much their best day ever!DSCN8464

DSCN8432

A traditional Dutch Taai Taai (aniseed bread) in the shape of St Nicholas

We’ve been lighting candles on our Advent wreath during dinner, and that has been HUGELY fun for the children.  Sausage loves to blow them out, and waits rather impatiently for us all to finish eating.  ‘Are you finished yet?’, she will cry as you take your first bite of food…

DSCN8470

It doesn’t get much more exciting that this when you are 16 months old

We have a plethora of Christmas books telling the story of Jesus’ birth.  Each one is delightful in its own way, but my favourite is our copy of  The Christmas Book by Dick Bruna (Dutch author of the Miffy books) as it has a wonderful inscription from their Oma and Opa to my husband and his little brother.  A real family taonga (treasure).

There is more fun to come in the next two weeks – a couple of parties, making presents and going caroling around the streets with our church.

 

0

Dollar Diet: Christmas presents

When you are on a Dollar Diet, the most helpful thing you can do is to prepare for events that are coming up well in advance.

I say this not as smug Miss Organised, but as someone who has learnt the hard way.  This year has seen me resort to hitting the shops several times for presents instead of making something myself – all because I was not prepared properly.  I’ve learnt I need to allow myself much more time to create my own gifts, because things like sick kids, exhaustion-from-having-sick-kids, and too many other commitments get in my way.  And last minute gift-buying can be really expensive.

It is with this in mind that I have already started making a dress for Sausage as one of her Christmas presents (from material I purchased ages ago), and I will gather all the materials I need to make gifts for my friends over the coming week.

D (with the help of his faithful sidekick J) has already completed an awesome busy board for Chip.

I have completed my Christmas shopping for the rest of my tot’s presents.  We try to keep things simple – a few useful things in their stockings and some chocolate, and three gifts under the tree (like the Wise Men gave Jesus).

For me, ‘keeping things simple’ thing is so important because most western households are drowning in ‘stuff’.  And at Christmas we get inundated with stuff – a lot of which is unwanted.  Our NZ version of EBay, Trade Me stated that they get over 20,000 new listings by lunchtime on Christmas Day due to people selling their unwanted gifts.  So it is with this in mind that I want to rage against the stuff.

In her stocking Sausage is getting a pair of sunglasses, an ‘Alfie’ book that used to belong to D, socks, a skipping rope, dress up shoes, and some chocolate.  Her three main presents are a scooter (which I got for $25 on special), the dress I’m making (only costs my time), and a photo story book about her recent trip to the Netherlands.

Chip is also getting sunglasses; plus a hat, some stickers, a book, his own box of tissues and some chocolate.  He relishes pulling tissues out of a box, so I reckon this will be his favourite present.  Along with his busy board, Chip is getting a water wheel for our sandpit, and a photo story book of his first year as his three main gifts.

We’ve spent a little more than I would have liked (the busy board would have been cheaper if more of the parts were recycled, and if I’d opted for el cheapo sunnies), but I certainly don’t think we’ve gone overboard either.

 

 

0

Rest

That has got to be one of my favourite four-letter words.

To me rest looks like this:

bookcase.jpg

This the lounge of the holiday house we occasionally stay in (it belongs to old friends of D’s family).  The house is in a quiet beachside settlement where I have no cellphone coverage.  The house is a WWII prefab, cobbled together over the intervening years with quirk, charm and a little bootpolish.  In this bookcase there are treasures to behold.  I never fail to find something great to read – anything from Buchan to Guareschi.  On this particular weekend I had nothing on my agenda other than to rest, so I read a doorstop-of-a-book, interrupted only by walks along the beach.  I got lost for hours in a complex detective story with a clever and satisfying conclusion.  Bliss.

Rest also looks like this:

beach.JPG

and this:

flowers.jpg

The weather was perfect.  Warm, with a gentle breeze, hardly a cloud in the sky.  I scrambled up and down sand dunes, strolled through forest, and watched the waves lazily lapping on the shore.

As I mentioned last week, I have suffered from rather severe burnout in the past, and after a stressful couple of weeks wrangling two sick toddlers some burn-out symptoms were rearing their ugly heads.  Burnout is a b*tch like that.  One of the first things to go for me is sleep.  My body overreacts to stress and I end up unable to fall asleep for hours as my mind races from one thought to the next.  I could tolerate this (albeit barely) when I was single and childfree, but now I have children who wake me up at 6:30am I cannot survive on 3-4 hours sleep.

I slept badly on my retreat, but I was at least able to sleep in, so I returned home with my batteries showing signs of life.

While there I noticed that my primary emotion was…sadness.

I missed my family.  I knew I would enjoy myself more if they were with me, and yet I desperately needed some respite from my demanding toddlers so I could get on an even keel again.

On the first day I had fun, and it felt like my single days when I could do whatever I wanted.  I stopped at a small town along the way and looked in every single op-shop.  I bought what I wanted for dinner (steak and salad, followed by Greek yoghurt and fresh blackberries, yum!).  I watched two movies that I wanted to watch (‘Inside Out’ and ‘Pitch Perfect 2’).

But the next day, the gloss had worn off.  Because I am not the same person that I was when I was single and childfree.  I have three ginormous (and exceptionally cute) blessings in the forms of D, Chip and Sausage, and life really is more fun when they are with me.  It’s certainly louder, gigglier and messier.  I sat with Sadness and Guilt (very ‘Inside Out’ of me), knowing that even though I loved and missed my family I was doing the very best thing for them and for me.  Taking a break.

My little sojourn has hopefully shored me up for the next wee while (please tell me no one gets sick over summer okay?  Lying is fine.).  Bring on Christmas!