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Dollar Diet: 2016

If you’ve been a long-time follower of mine, you’ll know that last year we embarked on a rigid Dollar Diet in an attempt to save towards some goals and curb our (and by ‘our’ I mean mostly ‘my’) spendthrift ways.  I love a challenge, and wanted to see if I could shave cafe visits off our budget, curb my clothes shopping habit, and learn some new skills like preserving, and dust off old skills like sewing and gardening (you can find my summary of how our 2015 Dollar diet went here).

One of the key things I learnt was I need a line in our budget for FUN.  Scrimping and saving without small things to look forward to turns a challenge into a drudge.  I do realise that for many people, this is their way of life.  There is no money at all for extras.  No money for a meal out, a movie, takeaway coffee, birthday presents and parties.  So I don’t mean to be shallow, I do get it.  This blog isn’t about changing the evil systemic inequalities of society.  It’s just the brain dump of my attempts to be a better steward of my resources.

Okay, enough heavyness.  Back to fun.  Nothing hugely frivolous is on my mind, just the odd day trip (see my day trip bucket list here), a date night out or the occasional restaurant meal with friends.  We’ve ticked a few items off our bucket list already – most have been free or only a dollar or two, like Sausage taking her first pony ride (she’s a natural!).

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Chip making the most of the free things on offer in Whanganui

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Bouncy castles are a blast

We’ve done a few more expensive things – which I must admit did feel strange after a year of restraint.  D took me on a terrific date night – we went to see a local production of Macbeth, which was performed outside.  D also paid a bit extra for a catered picnic (which for $20 a person was one of the best value meals I’ve ever had), and we had a ball.  The play was great by the way – very well staged and performed.  Kudos to all involved.

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Waiting for Macbeth to begin

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We’re also taking our ‘word of the year’ seriously – MOVE.  Sausage started ballet lessons -which she absolutely loves.  She asks me almost every day if today is a ‘ballet day’.  The classes are a luxury, but a) she has been dancing since she could sit upright, and b) she was born with a club foot, so dancing is terrific for strengthening it.

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I have signed up to one of our roller derby leagues.  Having read Gretchen Rubin’s book, Better than Before, I know that as an obliger, I am better off doing a team sport so I am accountable to others.  I did artistic roller skating as a kid so I have been amazed at what I am able to still do!  Anyway, derby is ridiculously fun, but as a sport, it is expensive.  My gear has been costly, but is roughly what you’d pay for a mountain bike.

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These boots are made for…kicking butt on the rink

I also bought some NEW clothes for the first time in forever – only because I couldn’t find what I needed second-hand – because I have started a wee part-time job and needed appropriate threads (due to losing weight I didn’t have much left in my wardrobe).  I am facilitating a parenting class and get to put my own stamp on the programme, so I am finding it to be a wonderful boon to my little grey cells.  I’ll be lucky to make $50 a week, but I get to do something I love and that’s priceless.

But we haven’t abandoned our frugal ways at all.  We still need to watch our pennies.  D’s business is doing incredibly well, but we need to ensure we have a reasonable cushion of savings in case there are dry spells in his work.

So we are continuing to garden (I have a large glut of tomatoes right now), preserve, and generally try not to waste food, or spend unnecessarily.

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Plum jam on the boil

We’re still going to opt for free fun when possible, shared meals with friends and family over restaurants, making gifts instead of buying them, and thinking very carefully before we bring more ‘stuff’ into our home.

Bring it on, 2016!

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Parenting as a Highly Sensitive Person

I can’t remember how I first came across the concept of the Highly Sensitive Person a  year ago, but it has been a game-changer.

I couldn’t figure out why since becoming a parent, I wanted to spend most of my free time ALONE.  I’m an extrovert so this desire for solitude was something I seldom craved in the past.  Before children, I loved to spend my free time with others, but now all I want is to sit in a cafe by myself and read a book.  Ok, that and maybe eat a savoury muffin unharmed by chubby little fingers.

So stumbling across the work of Drs Elaine and Arthur Aron, who coined the term Highly Sensitive Person (or HSP) in the 1990s, was such an a-ha moment.  It didn’t just explain my new need for alone-time, but explained a LOT of things about myself that I’d never articulated (or even thought about) before.

The Highly Sensitive Person is someone with a high level of sensory processing sensitivity.  It is an innate trait which means the HSP processes sensory data more deeply than most people due to the biological nature of their nervous system (more explanations and links to the research can be found here).  In a nutshell, HSPs are people with high levels of social, emotional and physical sensitivity.  We make up about 20% of the general population, and around 30% of HSPs are extroverts like me.

Firstly, I just want to say that HSPs are a real thing.  There is solid science behind this, and if you are intrigued by this topic I encourage you to check it out for yourself  (you can start here).  Secondly, being an HSP does not mean you have a sensory disorder.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  It is not ‘shyness’, neurosis or introversion (although 70% of HSPs are also introverted).

So, how does someone know if they are an HSP or not?

You can take a quick self-assessment here.  Developed by Dr Aron, the test covers the common characteristics of HSPs, and a score of 14 or more generally indicates that you are an HSP.  I scored 26/27.

Some HSP characteristics are:

  • getting very rattled if you have too much to do in a short time
  • startling easily
  • disliking loud noises or chaotic scenes
  • being deeply moved by art or music
  • being affected by other people’s moods
  • a low tolerance for pain
  • trying hard to avoid making mistakes
  • needing to retreat to a quiet or dark room on busy days
  • being overwhelmed by strong smells, coarse fabrics, bright lights or sirens.

If this sounds like you, head on over to take the test!

 

What is it like to be an HSP?

Mostly, I find being an HSP very advantageous.  Because I notice a lot of things that others don’t, I find I’m generally able to get on well with notoriously ‘difficult’ people.  I can walk into a party and tell you which couple just had a fight before the party, or who is hiding some sort of sadness, who is feeling shy and uncomfortable, and who fancies who.  It’s been really beneficial in previous jobs or voluntary work I’ve done with offenders, because I know when I’m being lied to.  My empathetic nature means that people readily open up to me, which is a huge privilege.

But there are downsides.

I am very light-sensitive and have to wear sunglasses when I’m outside.  I hate summer because the bright sunshine is so overwhelming (those who have lived in both northern and southern hemispheres can testify to the harshness of the light down under), and I can get headaches on ‘glarey’ days.  I’m very sensitive to strong smells; smells like paint or carpet cleaner make me violently ill.  (My skin is also very sensitive, so I only use the gentlest, nature-based products.)  I hate loud noises and jump through the roof if surprised.  D often catches me unawares and has gotten used to my scream of shock.  I need to eat in peace and quiet most of the time, and I get overwhelmed by visual clutter.  I literally cannot relax if my house is too shambolic.

I don’t like to read the paper or watch the news on TV much because I get upset and agitated by the doom and gloom that they peddle.  I can feel someone else’s pain as if it were my own.  If someone is experiencing deep grief, it can be quite overwhelming for me.  If I am in the middle of a particularly chaotic party, I need to nip to the loo or somewhere quiet for a minute or two, just to get my equilibrium back.  And it takes me ages to get to sleep after a great party!

 

Parenting as an HSP

The most helpful thing I came across was not to compare yourself to non-HSP parents.  HSPs generally make good parents, due to our sensitivity to the emotions of others.  But we find many aspects of parenting much harder than non-HSP parents.  Noise, mess, and being touched all day by children are difficult for HSPs to tolerate.  For me, this knowledge liberated me from a lot of guilt at my inability to cope on particularly chaotic days.  I used to feel inadequate or like I was a bad mother as I saw other parents coping with far worse scenes than I could.

Children are noisy, messy and generally leave chaos in their wake.  Young children can leave HSPs feeling touched out, and wishing we could retreat into a sensory deprivation tank.  I occasionally get to breaking point when all the noise, clinging and mess is just too overwhelming, and retreat to my bedroom for a few minutes of peace and quiet.

If you are an HSP it is crucial to practice good self-care, or you will burn out, especially if you are caring for very young children.  Our nervous systems are already running at higher levels than most, so the demands of parenting can easily tip us over the edge.  Through my growing knowledge of HSP life, I have learnt to do several things that have made a big impact on my well-being and my ability to stay a calm and loving parent.  If you are an HSP to young tots, I hope these strategies help you.

  • I guard my sleep.  Sleep is a precious commodity to any parent, but I guard mine like Smaug guarded his treasure in The Hobbit.  I try to be in bed and on my way to sleep by 9:30pm because I need at least 8 hours sleep to function well.  9 hours is even better.  Yep, I am living the Nana-life, but I cannot cope when I am very sleep-deprived.  I turn into a weepy, bitchy shrew who isn’t much fun to be around, so guarding my sleep helps keep me – and my husband – sane.
  • I guard my quiet time.  After much trial and error, I realised that one of the reasons I like exercising early in the morning is because it’s quiet.  I LOVE being up before my family, and before most people on my street are up and about for the day.  On days when I’ve slept in, I notice that I get quickly frazzled by the demands of my children, and can be in a grump within 30 minutes!  My early morning starts are hard some mornings, but I go into the day on a more even keel.
  • I eat my lunch in peace.  I need to eat my lunch in peace.  Again, it’s carving out a little quiet time, before I head back into the crazy afternoon with my two darlings.  My son sleeps, my daughter watches a TV show to chill out after kindy, and I get 20 minutes of solitude.  Before discovering HSP, I couldn’t understand my disproportionate rage at getting disturbed by a phone call or a child waking up early while I was eating my lunch.  Now I know why.
  • I get lots of help.  I am so blessed to have loving grandparents for my tots who regularly take one or both off my hands for a morning or an afternoon.  I know many people don’t have this support.  If I didn’t have my Mum and my mother-in-law around, I think I would have cracked by now.  If you don’t have any family or good friends to give you a break – get help.  A morning or two of daycare will make all the difference to your ability to parent well.  HSPs need more help than non-HSPs simply because our nervous systems get overstimulated more easily.  You are not a bad parent.  You physically need more breaks than your non-HSP friends.
  • I try not to get overstimulated.  This is crucial.  If I am overloaded, I lose my cool easily with my kids.  Not getting overstimulated is hard for me, as I am a extrovert who is always on the lookout for fun and exciting things to do.  But I limit what I do during the week, and try to keep my weekends more on the chilled-out side when possible.  I try to pay attention to what things overstimulate me.  As I said above, great parties are hugely stimulating for me, so I have learnt to choose between the party or how bad my sleep debt is at the time.  I love going to Playcentre with my tots, but I can only face it once a week as the busyness of a session means sensory-overload for me.
  • I connect with other HSPs.  It’s not a coincidence that a lot of my friends are fellow HSPs.  My Mum and Dad are HSPs.  I belong to an HSP Facebook group.  Nobody gets it like an HSP.  Nobody.  If you have felt all your life that you are a bit different, that no one is as considerate towards you as you are to them, that your sensitivity is a weakness, then connecting with other HSPs could change your life.  No joke.  My HSP Facebook peeps are a mine of information about how to take of myself better, and a lovely reminder that I am not alone in some of my quirks.

 

Are you an HSP?  What strategies help you cope with the demands of parenting?

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Happy Trimaversary

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One year of Trim Healthy Mama

Yesterday was my one year ‘Trimaversary’.  One year of doing Trim Healthy Mama.  One year!

I’m really proud of getting to this point.  As you can see from the photos above, THM works.  It’s been very slow (I am what we call a turtle in the THM world), but I’ve lost 3 dress sizes and have enough energy (most days) to run after my kids and exercise daily.

THM is different to any ‘diet’ I’ve been on before.  I stopped weighing myself months ago because the scale would stay the same but my clothes would be noticeably looser.  On THM I’ve lost weight in places I never have before and have discovered my collarbones.

It took until December until I really started to get lots of comments on my weight loss – people are generally too polite!  But since then, more and more people have had the courage to say something.

I wanted to end my year on a high note, but I want to be real and say that since Christmas I have struggled to stick to the THM plan.  I have good days when each meal is on plan, but I have bad days when I get to lunch, make bad choices (carbs), and carry on making bad choices for the rest of the day.  I think it has something to do with having been on holidays and being out of routine.

Since playgroups and kindy started back I have been better, but am still easily steered off course by special events.  I feel as if I have put on some weight because of this and it’s been hard not to let my nasty inner voice have free rein.  But I look at the photos above and see how far I’ve come and it keeps me going forward.  Anyway, I will be doing some serious thinking about what I can do to keep myself on plan more.  And keep you posted.

I have been terrific at exercising, and rarely have a day off.  I run, skate (I’ve taken up roller derby, wahoo!), do a HIIT workout or some gentle yoga.  I have noticeably more energy eating the THM way, and my moods are more stable.

So, here’s to making my second trimaversary.  I’m going back to basics, by making sure I fill up before special events so I don’t go overboard, no sweet THM treats (I think they affect my appetite, such is the sugar-free life) and giving myself plenty of grace for not being perfect.  🙂

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How to find your style

January seemed like the best month for ‘Possessions’, one of the twelve areas of my life I will be looking to improve this year.  A new year brings with it the ‘out with the old, in with the new’ ethos that is perfect for having a good purge of all the stuff we surround ourselves with.

Nowhere is more satisfying to de-clutter for me than my wardrobe.  I immediately set to it, culling anything that wasn’t ‘me’.  I had recently read a free online series about determining your style (more on this below), and finally reckon I’ve got mine nailed for once in my adult life.

You might be thinking ‘why would I want to know what my style is?’  Knowing what clothing suits you and makes you feel good, saves you precious time and money when shopping.  If you’ve been a long-time follower of this blog, you will know I do my best to be frugal.  Knowing what my style is helps me to stay frugal.  I can quickly scan clothing racks for pieces that are me-clothes, and disregard the others.  I no longer have a wardrobe filled with things that aren’t right or don’t go together.  Knowing your style is also helpful if you find shopping torturous, as you soon learn which shops sell ‘you’ clothes and which don’t.

Some people already have a distinctive style.  I have a friend who loves to wear bright colours and patterns that on others would look ridiculous.  But they are very her, and she looks terrific.  Sometimes when I’m shopping I will come across a garment and think ‘Oh that’s such a J top’, so defined is her style.

But many of us try on different hats at times – excuse the clothing pun.  We put on various outfits which sometimes work for us, and at other times make us feel uncomfortable, self-conscious or like we are wearing a costume.  Some of us have many items that are so mismatched in style that it is tricky to pull an outfit together.

Bear in mind that style isn’t necessarily a fixed thing.  Heaven forbid clothing should become like a uniform (hello, Star Trek), or we wear our teenage fashion crimes well into our dotage.  But so much time is saved in the mornings by having a wardrobe of clothes that make you feel good, that go together, and are suitable for all occasions and weather.

If you are feeling stuck in a style rut, or have a wardrobe full of clothes but think you still have nothing to wear, this is the post for you.

How to find your style:

  • Before you start biffing things in the bin, head on over to Wardrobe Architect, or Paris to Go for advice that will get you thinking about your clothing style.  Wardrobe Architect has an excellent series of tutorials that will help you distill your core style and create a wardrobe that actually works for you.  One of the most helpful things in the WA series is figuring out what silhouettes you like and which ones suit you (they are sometimes not the same thing).  This can take some detective work and pinteresting, but eventually you can discern what you do and don’t like.  My BFF and I have a silhouette board on Pinterest here if you are wondering what the heck a silhouette is.
  • Dig deeper into yourself and learn how to ‘dress your truth’.  The Dressing Your Truth system was invented by Carol Tuttle, famous for her ‘energy profiling’.  It may come across as a little strange at times, but trust me – this system is spot-on.  You can sign up here for a free workshop to find out what really suits YOU.     Are you bright and animated?  Calm and subdued? A force to be reckoned with?  Still and deep?  Do you have a wardrobe full of clothes that aren’t really you?  Do certain outfits make you feel like you are wearing a costume?  Find out how to dress true to yourself.
  • Choose five items from your wardrobe that you absolutely LOVE.  Five things that make you feel great when you wear them.  Then analyse these pieces, as they are your biggest clues as to what your personal style is.  Do they have anything in common?  Are they similar shapes? Colours? Are they modern or vintage?  Bold or subdued?

 

For example, here are my five favourite pieces of clothing:  two print dresses, a skirt, a cardigan and an embroidered velvet jacket.

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The black dress with the pink and red heart/leaf print is my most favourite thing to wear.  I normally steer clear of black, but the print is quirky, colourful and fun.  The fit of this dress is incredibly flattering; I wish I could order 10 dresses in this style.  In this dress I feel tall and slim.

The lipstick dress is navy blue, and I love it.  Again,the print is fun and the cut is flattering.

The floral skirt gets comments every time I wear it.  I love the bright blue within the print, the floral print itself, and the vintage look of the material (it’s not).  The cut is classic.  I definitely have a thing about flowers.

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I adore the colour of the cardigan in the top picture.  It’s a warm duck egg blue, and it ties together with ribbon.  I love little touches of embellishment like that (too much and I’m in a costume).  I love bright colours, although I usually pair them with something dark lest I be mistaken for someone off to a rave in the 90s.

I love the feel of the red velvet jacket.  I literally stroke my arms all night when I wear it (and so does everyone else!).  The velvet is lush and it is a very dressy item in my wardrobe.

 

So, from this exercise, you can deduce that I like clothes that are fun, quirky, colourful, flowery and have a novelty print.

 

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Oh yeah, so I also have a thing for stripes!

 

Using other favourite items in my wardrobe, I can dig even deeper.

I definitely like little touches of fun.  I am the person who wears fox socks, or a Hello Kitty watch, or a badge saying ‘I love Vegemite’.  I like to dress appropriately, but life is too short to be boring.  Here’s another example of my ‘fun’ style – a printed skirt I own (that could clearly do with an iron…).

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I like my clothes to be interesting.  I own very few items of clothing that are completely plain (usually to be teamed with patterned items); most of my tops have some sort of embellishment or an unusual design or pattern.  For example:

I like clothes that are well cut and form-fitting.  I also like clothes that are ‘dressy’.  I have never been a t-shirt-and-track-pants sort of person, jeans are about as casual as I get.  As I am running around with my kids most of the time, I have had to make some concessions to my wardrobe, but I wear dresses and skirts at every opportunity.  This outfit below is what you typically find me in any day of the week: a print dress (flowers!) with a cardi and boots.

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Dress scored in a clothing swap

I hate shirts as they almost never fit me correctly and make me feel like a kid wearing dress-up.  I only have one shirt, and that is because the fit is impeccable, the colour a bright jewel blue, and it has a cool ruffle detail.  All my other tops are scoop-neck or wrap tops in jersey cotton.  Body skimming and comfy.

Armed with this knowledge, I can be in and out of a shop within minutes, sometimes seconds.  I can look at something on a hanger and say yes or no with certainty, and don’t waste time trying on 100 different things to see how they look on me.

 

So that’s it.  If you feel like your style is all over the place, or it got up and left you back in 1977, do a little detective work to see what makes you feel good now.  Your style is bound to be very different from mine, but wouldn’t it be helpful to know what it is?

 

Do you have your own distinct style?  Would you give the five-piece challenge a go?