Friday, November 30, 2007

Goodbye November

Phew! November is finally drawing to a close. And what a month it has been!!!!!

I succumbed to my internal desire (with some prodding from a few internet buddies) to join National Novel Writing Month, completely unsure of whether I could possibly write a 50,000 word novel in the space of 30 days AND still do justice to my blog! If you haven't noticed my quiet sidebar announcement yet, I am officially a Nanowrimo WINNAH!!!!! Yes, you may bow down to my brilliant ability to say a lot of nothing in plenty of words. :-)

In an effort to balance the scales and pledge my commitment to maintaining this blog, I also decided to join National Blog Posting Month. That sure was a LOT of fun and a great way to find new bloggers and make new friends.

I am curious though as to whether I picked up any NEW regular readers from participating in Nablopomo. I know I had many visitors from the website and the randomiser but I also know I have visited MANY blogs and have only returned to a few. So if you found me via Nablopomo in some way and have decided to become a regular reader - can you let me know? (curious minds and all that....)

I am feeling very proud of the fact that not once did I make a post along the lines of "I got nothing but have to post because of nablopomo". :-) Not that I'm criticizing anyone who did. I just thought I may have to resort to that myself so I'm pleased that the ideas kept flowing despite the pressure to post EVERY DAY.

It is interesting how it can change the dynamic within your own mind when you have an OBLIGATION to post every day. But I did get used to it after a while and settled back to my normal routine of posting whatever seemed to pop into my head.

Now, being the sensible person that I am, I figured writing a novel AND maintaining this blog was enough to do for the month of November. Yeah right? Instead, I thought it would be nice to start a
new blog. Something rather different from this blog and also an opportunity for me to explore wordpress just a little. I had no idea how familiar I'd actually become with blogger until I attempted to use and understand wordpress. LOL. But it's been fun and as much as I find it difficult learning technical stuff, I do enjoy learning and stretching myself. So it's been a worthwhile exercise.

Now, apparently as long as I THINK I am going insane, I'm not. So as long as I'm *aware* that starting BLOG NUMBER 3 , also during the very busy NOVEMBER, is kind of a crazy idea....I'm safe from the men in white coats (are there really men in white coats?????? I've always wondered that......) Now I will admit I'm fairly passionate about blogging and all that but I NEVER imagined I'd be someone to ever have more than 1 blog, let alone 3.

I'm sure by now you're all in awe of my brilliance!!!! After all, she's written a novel AND maintained not 1 blog, not 2 blogs but 3 BLOGS!!!! (yeah okay, only 1 of those blogs was posted on every day - this one is still my first priority). All the while still reading and commenting on other blogs, attempting to learn more about blogging, trying to attract new readers to her blog because her whole self esteem now revolves around whether people read and comment and LOVE her. LOL.

Not to mention cooking nutritious meals for her family (ummm...... shhhh.... don't tell anyone that her DH is quite handy in the kitchen), her children to bits (yes dear, I love can please go away....can't you see that mummy is BUSY), .......wrap Christmas presents (yes, wrapping 1 present qualifies me as having STARTED my Christmas wrapping!!!!!!), prepare for a birthday party, wrap birthday some Christmas craft with her kids.....

It's a bird, it's a plane, no it's.......... "supermom" (note the Amercian accent there!) .......... LOL. As IF!!!!!!!

Wondering how all this could possibly be happening?????? You should see my poor neglected house!!!!! *sob*

Well, this is what my desk looks like. Actually that's not too bad a shot really, it can get a lot worse than that. Sadly, I don't work well in a cluttered environment and yet I continue to do so . Ooh, you can see my laptop in this photo so now you can kind of picture me typing away, talking to you! :-)

No, I didn't cheat and get Rufus to write my novel for me! He just looks a lot neater sitting on the chair than sprawled on the floor.......

Usually I have a mug and a cup and at least 1 plate there somewhere along with a packet of lollies, some dried apricots and almonds. I like to eat while I'm "thinking". Just like "umm...." in a conversation gives you time to think about what you want to say next, stopping to stick something in your mouth gives you time to think about what you want to type next.

I don't even want to THINK about what my weight is doing right now. If you ever make it to the bottom of my blog page - you may have noticed my weight loss ticker doesn't get updated much. That's because my weight is heading in the WRONG direction!!!!! I blame it on November really - too much sitting and EATING while typing copious amounts of........words (I was going to say crap but it hasn't really ALL been crap - at least I hope not!!!).

Here's another shot and to be perfectly honest, it was at least twice as bad as this yesterday. I'm cheating. These shots I took a couple of weeks ago with the intention of posting them in an effort to challenge myself into cleaning them up. Instead, I just kept adding to the clutter while ignoring the fact that my writing was keeping me from other more "domesticated" tasks. I should have taken another shot yesterday before I began to sort things out a little - that would have told more of the REAL story here. :-)

If I wanted to REALLY embarrass myself, I could go and take a photo of my laundry! LOL. But a girl has to have some pride!!!! I think there are currently 3 washing baskets with ironing in them and 1 with folding to be done.

What I'm trying to point out here is that yes, I did achieve a LOT during November and I'm quite pleased with that. But it did come at some COST. No-one can do everything!!!! (Well, maybe someone can....let me know if you find them). I'm kind of pleased to see the end of November and plan to spend the next few days trying to get my house back in order before it gets descended upon by 4 year olds on Monday!!!!!

Oh, and I've started a new feature on Lightening's Blogworld which mentions a few posts from this week that I really enjoyed. Hope you have time to stop by and take a look. :-)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Glass Deco

Over the weekend as part of our "gradual" Christmas decorating, the kids and I made some Christmas stained glass window pictures with a Glass Deco kit I ordered through one of our preschools fundraising toy catalogues. On Saturday the kids had a great time making these and then on Sunday they were most excited as I peeled each one off and stuck them on our cupboard doors in the kitchen.

This first picture is the one done by my not quite 10-year old son. Each of them chose their own picture from those I had found and printed off.

DD chose an angel. No surprises there! :-) (She gets to dress up as an angel twice in Christmas performances this year. Once for school and once for Sunday School. She is very excited about that.)

The black outlines are done first. I did them throughout the week in preparation as they're quite fiddly to do. This meant that on Saturday the kids were able to fill in the sections with whatever colours they liked. The sparkly sections are done using a Glass Deco confetti kit (so the glitter is already in the paint). I think you can get glitter ones in some stores too but this catalogue only had the plain colours and the confetti.

This tree is my "turning 4 this Saturday" little mans efforts. How cute is it? :-) I had to stop myself from encouraging him to use colours that I thought would be best. He needs to be able to express himself in whatever way he likes. He is so proud of this and points it out every day.

These are really designed to go onto glass - windows, doors, jars etc but they stick to any surface that is reasonably smooth. Stuck to my kitchen cupboard doors (the floor to ceiling ones) they sure do make my kitchen look festive.

I love things that the kids can do instead of using only store bought decorations. At the moment I am making some different pictures to add to jars for some of my homemade Christmas gifts. I'm hoping to have enough paint left that the children can make another one each for us to add to our glass back door.

There are some great Christmas colouring pages available all over the internet. I found these particular pictures here . I'm planning to print off some more colouring pages for them to colour in when school lets out for the year. Only two weeks to go now!! (my children have tommorow off so today is the end of week 7 here). They have a little over a week between school breaking up and Christmas Day so it'll be helpful to have a few fun "Christmassy" type activities for them to do. :-)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Self Worth and Encouraging Others

I was thinking some more about the issue of helping others that we were discussing yesterday. One thing I wondered was whether there is another factor at play here besides our busy lives that prevents us from offering a word of encouragement or some help to others. Our own self worth.

If we perceive another person as "having it all together" or at least doing better than us, does that make us reluctant to encourage them? Do we assume that they don't need any encouragement? Or do we assume that encouragement from little óle us wouldn't be worth anything to them?

One thing I have been learning recently is that how I perceive things is not always how they are. I guess this should be rather obvious to me given that not everyone views me the same way that I view myself.

Which makes me pause for a moment and consider the fact that other people may be the same. Perhaps I perceive them as "having it all together" when in reality they're just as unsure about themselves as I am. If I would really appreciate some encouragement, the occasional helping hand or note just to say "hey, just wanted to make you smile today", perhaps others would as well.

Then of course there is the fear of rejection or humiliation. If the other person laughs at me or rejects my offer in some way, is that only going to confirm my initial assessment of myself? Can my fragile self esteem handle an adverse reaction of any kind?

I wonder then if I have done that to others. In my striving to appear to "have it all together", have I pushed other people away (unintentionally of course)? There is a large amount of humility required to admit you need help and then accept help.

Do we sometimes deny people the opportunity to give? There is a great blessing in giving. Whether it be the gift of time, goods, services, a smile, encouragement.....and the list goes on. When we refuse to accept those tentative offers, are we denying that person the blessing that comes through giving?

I think I have a lot more questions than I have answers right now but this topic is certainly challenging me to think.

Does anyone else have anything else to add to the discussion on giving and receiving? It does seem appropriate at this time of year. :-) What kinds of fears or other obstacles stand in the way of you either giving OR receiving?

There were some wonderful comments made in response to my post yesterday and I plan on answering them once this post is completed. I would however, like to highlight one particular comment for those of you who perhaps missed it.

Beth said:

We have had some similar struggles and have taken a long time to recover. Life as we knew it to be became scary and unpredictable. For us it was about 2 years for life to reflect 'normal'. We have grown from this experience and look for joy consciously each day (we list 4 things each that were a source of pleasure for us). We also list 4 things each that we did to bring joy to someone else (a concept from 'Eat Mangoes Naked' by SARK). Our kids love this and it helps us to actively look for them. I actually make a practice to write mine down (they make me smile again later when I re-read my list).

You can read her 4 things in each category at the time of her comment by visiting the comments section of HELP. What greater gift can we really offer to one another than to make another person smile? I think by far it's my favourite because it doesn't cost anything, doesn't *have* to take a lot of time and is VERY contagious. :-)

What a wonderful thing they are teaching their children. To actively seek joy in each day AND actively promote joy in other peoples lives. I LOVE this suggestion. Thank you so much for sharing it Beth. I'm going to start this with my own children.

What are you going to do today to bring a smile to another persons face? Perhaps you'd like to add your suggestions to the comments section so we can all share our ideas. :-)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


I am REALLY bad at asking for help. It's a pride thing, I know. But I wonder if it's also a cultural thing. Once upon a time neighbours were more aware of people's situations and therefore their struggles and would automatically lend a hand at times. These days it would seem that a combination of our busy lifestyles and our desire not to "interfere" has made that sense of community gradually disappear.

Isn't it sad that our lives are so busy that we find it hard to fit in reaching out to another? Isn't it sad that our desire for privacy and "individuality" has caused us to shut others out of our lives?

What about help within a family? DH and I have been talking about this lately. We've been trying to work out why his parents seem to want to help his sister and her family and yet seem reluctant to help us out - even when it seems really obvious to us that we're in need of some help. At first I thought perhaps it was the son/daughter issue. BUT, he has 2 sisters and only one of them gets the attention and the help.

Is it that they're not interested in helping us? Do they love her more than they love my DH and the other siblings? Does she appear more "needy" than the rest of us?

Sadly, DH and I have come to the conclusion that the only way to get help from his mother is to basically "tell her" this is what's happening. Occasionally I have gotten to the point of actually asking her for help, only to have her turn me down. This was very perplexing to me as it takes me quite a lot to actually ask for help and when I ask, I'm really DESPERATE. Not that she would know that I guess.

DH has taken over the "asking" now and he basically says "we need you to have the kids.....". And 99% of the time that works out well. I struggle a little because I feel like we're being "demanding" and that we shouldn't expect anything from her. We should wait until it's offered. I guess we've waited for over a decade now...... It's not that she doesn't really want to help. It's sort of a case of "the squeaky wheel gets the oil".

I guess on reflecting on all of this I feel a great sadness. A sadness that we've all let our lives get so busy that we just don't have the time to reach out to others when they're in need. I know that before my breakdown I was as guilty of this as anyone. I also feel sad that many people feel they need to put on an act of "having it all together" and not opening up to others about how they're really feeling. Again, I'm really bad at this myself.

So many people have commented at how shocked they were when I had my breakdown. Nobody could even imagine that I'd be struck by something like depression. Even my poor DH was rather shocked by the whole event. Me, well.....I knew something wasn't right and that if things kept going the way they were I felt like I was going to collapse in a heap. To be honest, I did try to tell my DH about it. He thought he could "fix it". :-) He's Mr "fixit" himself. He and I make for a bad mix when it comes to getting help because neither of us is very good at admitting when we need it.

I wanted to tell someone. For months I had it in my head that if an opportunity would come up, I would say something to one of my closest friends. Sadly, the opportunity never came up. Maybe I was supposed to *make* the opportunity. Maybe I was so used to putting on a "front" that I didn't know how to let down my guard enough to show people the tank underneath had run completely dry.

When I saw a Psychiatrist for the first time in January of this year, he diagnosed me with having zero self esteem. Not "low" self esteem but "NO" self esteem. I remember sitting and talking with a friend about this (finally getting to the point of opening up and being more honest) and she was rather shocked. Her comment went something along the lines of thinking that no-one would EVER have picked that about me. Do people really see me so much differently to the way I see myself? Sometimes, I'd really like the opportunity to just sneak a peek at the way others see me. Curious minds want to know and all that.

It's ironic that now I sit behind a keyboard and spill my guts in such a very public way. Not that the whole world reads my blog or anything. But they could if they wanted to..... :-)

In 2006 I was out of circulation for many months. In that time I was sent 1 card. Just the one. If I had been in hospital, do you think I might have received more cards than that? Don't get me wrong. We weren't abandoned by our friends or anything like that. Many people from our church cooked meals and cakes for us. I did receive a few emails. And people were constantly asking my DH how I was going and sending their regards and love via him.

But just 1 person of all the people in my life took the time to actually sit down, write a card and send it. To be perfectly honest, that hurt me a little bit. I know my friends care. I know how busy they are. And it's challenged me to consider how often in my life I've stopped and taken the time to write someone a card. Just a note to let them know I'm thinking of them. Nowhere near often enough.

I have been as guilty as anyone else of filling my life up to capacity and then some. Running from one thing to another. Constantly on the go. Constantly running so close to empty that there's nothing left to give another person. The hearts desire might be there. But if I don't act on it, how can that person ever know I was thinking of them?

I think we all need to take a step back and really examine our lives. Are we too busy to help someone in need? Are we too busy to bake a cake for our own family, let alone find the time to bake a cake for a neighbour or friend? Are we so busy trying to tread water ourselves that we don't even notice those drowning around us? And if we do notice - are we in a position to help them without drowning ourselves?

This is a challenge I want to take on myself and I encourage any of you reading this to do so also. As we move into the busy, festive season and then in to a New Year. Do we really want to keep living this fast paced life where people don't matter enough to us? Can we pause a moment and take a step back long enough to look around us and see how others are doing? Can we pop a little note or card in the post telling someone how much they mean to us?

What can we do today to make someone smile? What can we do to make their day just that little bit brighter?

Some of you may have noticed I've changed the title of this blog. I felt the old title was rather long and cumbersome. The definitions I've posted underneath are my own. They're not who I AM but who I desire to be.

What can you do today to spread a little "lightening" in the world. :-)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Time For a Smile

Blond Father

A blond guy and a brunette girl were happily married and about to have a baby. One day, the wife started having contractions, so the husband rushed her to the hospital. He held her hand as she went through a trying birth. In the end, there were two little baby boys.
The blond guy turned to his wife and angrily said, "All right, who's the other father!?!"

joke courtesty of

WHAT was I Thinking?

My internal stress barometer is pointing at "in danger of explosion" this morning. Usually I work "better" if I have a little bit of stress in my life. I remember when I was at school and tertiary study, the essays that wouldn't flow would suddenly start to on the night before they were due. I think I only ever once pulled an all-nighter though and that was the night before one of my year 12 Maths CATS was due (they were each worth 25% of my final mark). Problem was, staring at the page at 3am in the morning didn't actually make the answer magically appear. LOL.

Aaaaahhhhhhh....... why does my typing like to self delete part-way through a paragraph??????? That wasn't what I needed this morning.

Anyway, what I WAS saying was that since my breakdown I have been overly sensitive to even the smallest amounts of stress so we've worked hard to reduce any stress in my life to enable my recovery.

BUT, at some point I need to rejoin the "real world" and that has been slowly happening.

What's going on this week that's making my stress levels rise?

* Nablopomo final week. I've made it this far. I am NOT going to give up now. It's been interesting though. I tend to pretty much blog daily anyway BUT the pressure of *having* to do a blog post has changed the freedom dynamic just a little. I love the exposure (I have had a number of *hits* from the nablopomo randomiser) and the sense of community it brings. I've enjoyed meeting new bloggers and making some new friends. It's only a tiny amount of stress adding the "have to" factor BUT those tiny amounts can add up. Oh and can someone please tell me WHY I had this desire to start up 2 NEW blogs during November??????? At least I didn't register them for the Nablopomo challenge.

* Nanowrimo. I've hit another brick wall. Thankfully the email I received this morning tells me that this is quite normal. Only 9,000 words to go which *should* be a piece of cake. I just need some discipline to get the next couple of thousand words written and then I think the rest will flow. However, I feel acutely aware that I cannot simply procrastinate on this because it's the LAST week. There'll be no more racing to catch up next week like I've been doing the rest of the month. LOL. I'm aiming to get as close to finished as possible by the end of tomorrow to alleviate the pressure on the rest of the week.

* My baby turns 4 on Saturday. Waaaaahhhhhh!!!!! I am SO not ready for him to grow up. Once they start kindy it feels like the beginning of the end (of their "little" years anyway). I still need to finalise his presents, buy him something yummy to eat (like a bag of freddo frogs) and wrap the presents. Oh, and find the card I made for him back in around February. LOL.

* "Baby" is having a Lightning McQueen birthday party on Monday. At some stage I need to finish off all the preparations for that. Fill the party bags etc etc. It also means I need to make 2 birthday cakes. One for Saturday and one for the party on Monday. AND remember to shop for the party food. AND remember to buy something fun to eat Saturday night. Last night I had a dream that everyone turned up TODAY instead of next Monday and I hadn't baked the birthday cake yet! It's was a NIGHTMARE. LOL. There isn't heaps to do - just the awareness of it coming up is causing my stress levels to rise.

* Today is my cleaning day and Saturday I was busy helping the kids do some fun stuff so I didn't get anything done then (I usually split the cleaning between Saturday and Monday) so I have MORE than the usual amount of cleaning to do. Actually, that could be a *good* thing as the physical exertion of cleaning will help with the stress. :-) Planning to alternate a cleaning task with writing 500 words on my novel.

* This week of all week's I really NEED to have a menu plan. But I have a sad case of the "don't wannas" (yeah, there's resident 2 year old inside of me lol).

* DS has decided to make today a whingy-whiny kind of day. So kind of him. Kids have great timing with these kinds of things don't they? LOL. All he's wanted to do so far this morning is EAT, EAT, EAT. Who am I kidding? That's what he does most mornings. It's just that I'm finding it hard to disuade him from the things he wants to eat that mumma don't want him to eat. *sigh* I wonder if he's absorbing some of my stress and that's upsetting him a little.

*DEEP SIGH* Apparently they are great for releasing stress. Whenever I sigh during a counselling session my counsellor tells me I should have another one. Oh yeah, have a counselling session tonight too and so far this week I have written just 1 journal entry. Ooops.

Gotta stop whinging now and go and start cleaning. LOL. It does help to get it all out on "paper" though. Well, virtual paper anyway. At least then it's not all rolling around in my head driving me crazy and making novel writing all but impossible!!!!

Hope you're all having a great Monday and that your week is a little more relaxing than mine feels. :-)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Christmas Countdown

Well, whether you like it or not, the Christmas Countdown is ON. :-) We're now exactly one month away from Christmas. I hope that makes you smile and not freak out. LOL.

It certainly makes me smile. :-) Did you notice my Christmas Tree widget with the countdown to christmas on it? That makes me smile too. No idea if it's in Australian days or US days but oh well, close enough will have to be good enough for now. :-)

I was thinking this morning about the fact that the US Christmas Season begins in earnest the day after Thanksgiving. What an awesome way to get into the "Christmas Spirit" than having a festival with the emphasis on being thankful. :-)

So today, I'm having my own little Blog Thanksgiving. That is, I'm wanting to be mindful of some of the things in my life that I am thankful for.

I am Thankful for:

* The birth of Jesus which ultimately led to me being able to have a relationship with my creator God.

* My husband who is the light of my life and I love him more and more each day.

* My beautiful children who make me smile more often than they make me tear my hair out. :-)

* My church family whom I adore. We go to the most awesome church that sits in the middle of nowhere all on it's own and is bursting at the seem with children. I was walking around in church this morning, no shoes on, rocking someone else's baby to sleep and I could honestly say there was no place I would have rather been right then.

* My extended family and friends.

* The fact that the sun rises each morning and sets each night.

* My blog where I get to have my say and through which I have made some wonderful new friends.

* My bed which is sooooo comfy and my pillow which I love! :-)

* Having a roof over my head. Not only a roof but a roof over a house I was able to design and choose colours for. A home that is also paid for. I am so blessed.

* A reliable car which enables us to move about and not be confined to a small area.

* My garden which makes me smile and gives me peace as well as giving us nutritious food to eat.

* Never having to go hungry or wonder where my next meal will come from. An abundantly stocked cupboard, fridge and freezer.

* The internet through which I have made friends and learnt so many new things.

* Chocolate. LOL.

* More clothes than I really need. Shoes to protect my feet and hats to protect me from the sun.

* The beach. We were able to take our children to the beach yesterday (about half an hours drive but we already had to go half the way for voting anyway) and they had such a GREAT time. It was an excellent reminder to me how much children really NEED in order to have fun!

* My knitting needles and loom which has brought me much pleasure, relaxation and created some useful items.

* That I have time to do things that I enjoy doing.

* That I live in a democratic country, even if I have my doubts about the outcome of that democratic process. :-)

* Freedom. I am free to have an opinion. I am free to believe what I like. I am free from fear of being harmed or persecuted in any way. I am free to be who I am.

* My books which are a font of information and a source of relaxation and escape.

I feel like I could go on and on and on here. My life is so blessed and I am surrounded by wonderful people and a LOT more things than I really have need for. It truly is amazing how content it makes me feel when I begin to list some of the things I have to be thankful for.

Do I really need anything more for Christmas? No, I don't. I really don't.

What are you thankful for? Perhaps you'd like to add it to the comments here or write your own blog post about it (for those who haven't already done so). :-)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Triple Chocolate Muffins

I made this recipe the other day. It never fails to be a hit in this house or anywhere we go. Personally, I'm not that big a muffin fan. Unfortunately I quite like these (unfortunately because then I eat more than I should). I had planned to take a photo to post but got lazy I'm afraid.

Anyway, here is the recipe. It's a Tupperware one and I think being given a magnet with the recipe on it is once of the most useful freebies Tupperware have ever given me!!!! I always know where to find the recipe - stuck to the side of the filing cabinet. LOL. It certainly looks well used these days (the magnet that is, not the filing cabinet - you can't tell how well used that looks as it's covered in all kinds of crap).

Now, where was I? Oh yeah, the recipe:


3 cups plain flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 1/4 cups milk
3 Tbsp cocoa
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2/3 cup dark choc bits
2/3 cup white choc bits
120g butter, melted
2 x 60g eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 160C. Grease 5cm muffin pan. Sift flour, cocoa and baking powder into bowl (they suggest "mix-n-pour" as all tupperware recipes are designed for making in their products - as you would expect). Add brown sugar & choc chips. Mix. Add butter, milk and eggs. Mix. 3/4 fill each of the muffin moulds, bake 20 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in the tin before turning out.

Some notes from me:

* This is a rather large mix. Yesterday I made up a double mix and it was too much for my largest mixing bowl (which is a largish stainless steel one). Well, it just fitted but I spilt a bit as I was trying to mix it.

* One of the benefits of using the mix-n-pour if you have one is that you can see if all the flour is mixed in. Muffins should only be mixed until just mixed (not continually stirred or beaten) but it's no fun to get half way through scooping the mix into muffin tins to find that the bottom half hasn't mixed properly.

* The Tupperware "mix-n-pour" is a jug that has a lid with a hole in the middle (it has a separate lid). This recipe fits just nicely into that jug - unless you double it like I did then you'll have no hope. LOL. It's okay, I didn't try to fit a double mix in the jug.

* If you're feeling lazy you can substitute plain flour for SR flour and skip the baking powder. No idea on the exact difference it makes as mine are never the same twice regardless. But I do know it works fine (that's what I did yesterday).

* I very RARELY bother sifting flours and I don't think I EVER have for this recipe. I'm a lazy cook.

* They taste good without the while choc chips (okay, maybe not JUST as good, but still pretty good). I just add a whole packet of generic choc chips instead. Having said that, when I made them yesterday I made them "according to the recipe" as I happened to have white choc chips in the cupboard.

* If you leave out the cocoa and choc chips and add cinnamon and cut up apple - they taste really yummy!!!! I've also made them with jam but the jam does make them a little heavier - would be better I think to add a dob of jam to the top of each muffin before cooking, rather than mix it through. Some jams would work okay with cocoa in the mix and some better leaving the cocoa out.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Reducing the Grocery Budget - Meat

This post is part of a series I'm writing on how we reduced our grocery budget by approximately $3000 a year. If you haven't already read them, you might like to review the earlier posts:

Reducing the Grocery Budget - Part One
Reducing the Grocery Budget - Part Two
Reducing the Grocery Budget - Part Three
Reducing the Grocery Budget - Part Four

My DH is a man who likes his meat. I'm sure that's a scenario many of you are familiar with. If truth be told, I quite like my meat too. Although, as a teenager I *hated* meat. If my parents had let me eat vegetarian, I would have. The problem was (and still is) that I NEED to eat a reasonably high protein and high iron diet. For a long time, these were the excuses I used to not even contemplate changing the amount I was spending on meat.

If you're faced with family members who are not 100% behind your efforts to reduce the grocery budget, please move SLOWLY with this. I know I've said it before but it's really important to have a long term view when it comes to reducing your grocery spending. Those tiny baby steps, if you keep at it, will start to yield results.

Now the first thing I did when I wanted to reduce our meat consumption was to very gradually increase the number of vegetables we were consuming with our evening meal. Again, I had to do this carefully and slowly to avoid being faced with a revolt (led my DH of course lol) at the dinner table.

I've always been someone who enjoys eating vegetables but when I met my DH his repertoire of vegetables he would eat willingly included potato, carrot, peas and corn. Full stop! He is a LOT better now and I think it helps that I don't boil the bejeebiz out of anything I cook. :-)

I'm telling you all of this simply to say that I know change isn't easy to achieve - which is why it's important to make any changes you want to make very slowly. Over time I gradually increased the portions of vegetables on the plate and reduced the portion of meat. This was as much to benefit our health as our bank balance but it was nice that the two things went hand in hand.

One thing DH and I noticed over time was that as we ate less meat (and consequently ate more vegetables) we weren't looking to eat as much meat. It was like the more we ate, the more we wanted but as our bodies adjusted to a slightly healthier diet, it no longer was looking for the larger portions of meat.

I now work on 2 green and 2 orange/yellow vegetables per meal and we're slowly getting around to adding a purple/red variety (which will usually replace one of the other coloured vegetables). Including potato, the "norm" in our house is a variety of 5 different vegetables per meal.

Another thing I did during this stage of attempting to reduce our grocery budget was to set myself a "limit" for our meat. I started with $5 per meal. This was supposed to be an average figure and therefore allowed me to spend around $35 per week or around $150 per month on meat. The good thing about having a figure like this is that it gives you a guage. So for instance, if you buy a roast that costs you $10 then you *know* you need to get 2 meals out of that roast in order to make it fit within your budget.

Initially, as I said, I was working on an "average" figure of $5 so spending slightly more than $5 on a meal of meat sometimes wasn't really a problem. I did however, challenge myself to spend under that $5 limit as often as possible. Once I began to do that, any meals which cost me under the $5 started to actually save us money.

Once I had a handle on that (remember, still taking one small step at a time here), the challenge became to see if I could get us the occasional "free" meal. For instance, could I make $10 worth of chicken breasts do us 3 meals instead of 2? Every time I managed to get us 3 meals for $10, we were essentially eating "free" for 1 meal. I found these kinds of challenges quite fun. If you can tackle the grocery budget from a "fun" angle, you're much more likely to be successful over the long term.

I think it comes back a bit to the "game" mentality. Setting small challenges and seeing what you're actually capable of. You might start off by only knocking $1 per week off your meat spending but if you play that game 10 times, you've suddenly knocked $10 per week off your budget/spending.

Another thing I did was start to buy 2.5 times the amount of meat I would usually use for a meal and make that stretch for 3 meals. This is one of the ways where buying meat in bulk amounts can really help. Say chicken breasts are on special, you buy up a number of packs and then sort them all at once. By shaving just a small amount from what you'd usually use per meal, you can end up with a couple of free meals without hardly noticing it. You've taken advantage of a good price but you've also taken advantage of being able to take lots of small "bits" and turn them into enough for an extra meal. When you buy only one meals worth at a time, it's harder to do this (doable but harder).


When I first began menu planning I found it hard to get my head around WHY it seemed to reduce my grocery spending. I couldn't deny the fact that it did but I didn't understand HOW it did. Spending on meat is one category that can really benefit from menu planning. You do need to be a little bit deliberate about what you're doing when you menu plan though.

If your family has a favourite meal that is rather expensive, you don't have to strike it from the menu. But what about spreading out how often you have it. If you tend to have 1 expensive meat meal per week, can you stretch it so that you're only having 1 a fortnight. OR, if you really want to have that more expensive meal once a week, what can you do on another night to compensate for the extra cost? By having a plan you can really see what you're doing and look to change the patterns a little.

I'll give you an example here. We decided that for the sake of our health we really needed to make eating more fish a higher priority. This is a real challenge for the budget conscious as fish is one of the most expensive meats to buy. How I compensate for this is to alternate our fresh fish with canned tuna and also generic brand "cardboard" frozen fish. I get 3 meals of fish for under $3 and I know then I'm able to spend the extra few $$ on a meal of fresh fish once every 4 weeks. By looking at the overall picture, you can balance the scales a little.

Another thing I do with our menu plan is to plan at LEAST 1 frugal meal per week. We actually tend to have 2 frugal meals per week because Sunday nights is a fairly easy meal and tends to naturally fall under the "frugal" category (toasted sandwhiches, pancakes etc). Thursdays I try to plan a "low meat" meal. To begin with, I was trying several vegetarian recipes in an effort to reduce our meat consumption. One of the things I tried was vegetable lentil loaf . In the end DH decided that it would be much better if it had meat in it. LOL.

So I don't even attempt to make vegetarian meals anymore. I perservered for quite some time with various recipes but it just wasn't working out well for us. I decided that it was more important that we enjoy eating than achieve "vegetarian meal" status. Instead, I worked on having more "low meat" meals. If we eat 2 "low meat" meals instead of 1 regular meat serve and 1 "no meat" serve, the overall effect is the same really.

BACON is one of my best friends. I can add $1 or less of bacon pieces to a meal and that qualifies it as "having meat". LOL. Approximately every 6-8 weeks I purchase 1kg of bacon pieces and that will usually do us 6 or more meals. It's really a great stretcher in that you can get quite a reasonable amount of flavour from a very small amount. Sure, it's not the healthiest of meats, but I think I balance that out okay by not using very much.


This is a tricky one. Healthier cuts of meat do tend to cost more. Eating less meat per meal is definitely a healthy alternative so that's one solution.

Healthier mince (I think that's ground beef in the US?) is one product that many people will insist on paying more for. I hate buying mince because it is so hard to really tell what you're paying for. How do you really know that they "heart smart" mince is really any better than the "budget" mince? I prefer to make my own. If you have a food processor, it really is quite easy. I purchase budget roast beef when it's on sale for $5.99 per kg then dice it up and throw it into the food processor. That way I know exactly what is in what we're eating and it's reasonably low fat (I trim the small amount of fat from the outside of the roast first). Even with having to trim off a bit of fat, it's still costing me quite a lot LESS than the $12+ per kg charged for the "leaner" types of meat.

I also prefer to add my own additives to meat rather than buying things where they've been already added. Make up your own chicken or beef patties. It does take a little bit of trial and error to work out how your family like them but it's so worth it. Unfortunately I'm a "fly by the seat of my pants" type cook so it's hard for me to share with you what I do. One thing I do know is that over time I've been adding more and more vegetables to my meat patties and I think we like them more that way than when they were mostly meat.

Get aquainted (if you're not already) with beans and lentils. It's amazing what these can be added to. They're a fantastic source of protein and soooo cheap. I have sourced a place where they are almost half the price of what supermarkets charge so keep your eyes open (or do a search) for wholesalers, health food shops etc that might sell these types of things in larger quantities for a similar price to what supermarkets charge for a small bag. Dried is HEAPS cheaper than the tinned varieties. I simply soak a whole lot at once and then freeze them. All I need to do then is throw them in the slow cooker when I'm ready to use (don't forget though that kidney beans MUST be boiled to destroy something in them that our bodies react to). I do, however, keep some tins on hand as I figure it's still cheaper to use the tinned variety when necessary than to not use them at all.

I use beans and lentils in soups, casseroles, pie fillings, spaghetti bolognese, meat loaf/lentil loaf, patties, salads, on pizza.....they're pretty versatile really and it's just a matter of experimenting with the many ways they can be used. You're only limited by your own imagination! Just try not to get too carried away and add HEAPS the first time. I've found it's better to go slowly, slowly, adding more each time so the family gets used to the texture and their presence.


I hope you've gotten the message by now that I think the best way to tackle any aspect of your grocery budget is to make the changes very gradual. :-) If not, I'll repeat myself. Take it very slowly. What's the saying "Rome wasn't built in a day?" LOL.

I'm going to use my spaghetti bolognese "recipe" (sorry, don't get excited cos there is no recipe) to show you what I mean here.

How did I used to make spaghetti bolognese? 500g of mince (let's use an average figure of $4) and a bottle of pasta sauce ($3). Total cost per meal for the sauce part of $7 per meal.

Let's assume I buy the mince on sale ($3) and the pasta sauce either generic brand or on sale ($2). My sauce has now cost me $5 and I have an extra $2 in my pocket.

Now I learnt from my friend that spaghetti bolognese tastes nicer with a "fresher" taste of tomato so instead of using the sauce I now use a large tin of tomatoes (85c) plus add a grated carrot and a few onion flakes (15c). Sauce has now cost me $4 and I have $3 in my pocket.

Playing around and experimenting, I figure out that if I add a few red lentils (20c), plus a few extra vegetables (50c) I can actually stretch my 500g of mince over 2 meals. So I spend $4 (from last figures) and add 70c to that so $4.70 for 2 meals or $2.35 per meal. I now have $4.65 per meal in my pocket.

Gradually going through the process of adding bits and pieces like lentils, beans, more vegies and so on and I eventually stretched that 500g of mince to 3 meals. Because of the beans and lentils, the protein value is still there, the fat level is lower, the nutritional level is higher and the cost is lower. It's a win-win situation all round.

Last night I made up a batch of bolognese sauce in the slow cooker. I'm guestimating that I ended up with at least 4 litres by the time I had finished. That will do us 4-5 meals. I use it for spaghetti bolognese, lasagne and tacos mainly.

500g premium homemade mince ($3)
soaked beans from freezer (30c)
red lentils (20c)
800g generic tomatoes (85c)
bottle passatta (90c)
few blobs tomato paste (20c)
couple handfuls oats to thicken (10c)
minced garlic (10c)
chopped shallots (garden - negligable cost)
parsley (garden - negligable cost)
bag frozen spinach (garden - negligable cost)
bag grated carrot (would have gone to waste if I hadn't grated and frozen from a bulk lot so really negligable cost but let's say 10c)
bag grated zucchini (given to me during summer - free)
diced frozen capsicum (10c)

I think I've remembered everything. Total cost $5.85 divided over 5 meals $1.17 per meal. I now have in my pocket $5.83 per meal for the sauce portion. Even if I only manage to get 4 meals from it, the cost per meal works out to $1.46 - a great improvement on $7.00!

Had I gone directly from the meat plus bottled sauce version - I don't think anybody would have liked it and I suspect the dog would have had a feast. By making the changes slowly, we've had much more success. Admittedly my DS made a comment last night about how ours is different from everyone else's because we don't have big lumps of meat. I was able to point out to him several pieces of meat at least. LOL. It didn't stop him eating it. In fact, there wasn't a scrap wasted and the kids ate in record time. DH commented how that it was the best I'd made so far. :-)


I could list off a heap of tips here about bulk buying, buying marked down meat etc but it's hard because everyone's situation is different and the resources you have around you will be different. I very rarely get to purchase marked down meat because we don't live near large supermarkets and our local supermarket doesn't do a lot of mark downs. Also, I'd need to do an extra trip into town on a Saturday to have any chance of finding any so the petrol costs would outweigh the benefits. Some of you may be able to take advantage of that as a way of saving costs.

Bulk buying can be a good way to purchase meat cheaper but it is important that you're clear on what you're getting for your money. For instance, when I purchase a 1/2 cow direct from the butcher, his quoted price per kilo is for before the beast is cut up. So I pay for around 90kg at that rate but only end up with 60kg. My $4.50 per kg is really the equivalent of $6.75 from the supermarket shelf. So it's important to be clear on what the quoted price is for.

I have purchased a 1/2 cow a couple of times and split it with a friend so we take 1/4 each. Just be aware that even 1/4 of a cow is a LOT of meat. One of the temptations when you have a large amount of meat like that on hand is to eat MORE meat and discount any savings. I guess it's a matter of coming up with a method that's going to work for you.

If you use a butcher, it might be worth asking what they can do for you. They might do up bulk packs with a variety of items in them as a deal for you. It certainly doesn't cost anything to ask. It is important though to know your figures as a lot of those packs use a combination of cheaper items like sausages and rissoles with fillers in them to make the pack look more attractive.


One of the great ways to reduce the actual serving size of meat is to consider how it appears on the plate. Fill the plate with a variety of different coloured vegetables and smaller meat portions don't look quite so obvious.

You might have guessed that we tend to be a "meat and veg" type family. We do eat a few "all in together" type meals but they are a smaller proportion of what we have. Those of you who do a lot of stir frys and casseroles or curries and that type of thing will possibly already consume much smaller amounts of meat. They are a great way to stretch the meat portion of a meal without it looking too obvious.

The hardest thing I think I find about all the tips and ideas out there is wading through to find the ones that will work for my family.

But regardless of what you eat, considering how a plate or bowl looks can go a long way toward how satisfied everyone will feel with what you're serving.

There are many other ways that make meat look like more than it is. My favourite is to add sauces. This is particularly good for leftover roasts and corned beef. My kids love to have leftovers cut up and served in a sauce or gravy and I find we need less meat for a meal of this style. Sauces can make a small amout of meat look like quite a generous serving.

Sometimes meat on the bone can work out cheaper than meat without bones if you're looking at a "per meal" basis. From what I can work out, the value for money in terms of actual meat you get may not actually be there. But by serving the meat still on the bone, it takes up more room on the plate and therefore can give the "appearance" of more meat.

Like I said before, the list of ideas can be endless and it really does depend greatly on your own personal situation as to what will and won't work well for you. I hope this has given you at least a bit of a glimpse into what I've done. I know these few ideas have made quite a substantial difference to our grocery bill over time.

What sort of things do you do to reduce the amount you spend on meat? Perhaps you'd like to share them with everyone in the comments section.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Free Blog Reviews

I have decided to make my blogroll an active blog. Yeah, getting myself a collection of blogs - I know! So "Lightening's Blogroll" is now Lightening's Blogworld (same URL though) where I plan to blog about other blogs (hence the reviews) and also the bits and pieces I learn about blogging. I suspect the emphasis with be on "bits" since I know very little - but at least the types of things I blog about *should* be doable by the average person (on the premise that "if I can do them, anyone can").

If you would like to have your blog reviewed - pop on over there and say so in the comments section. It is going to be "first in, first served" to begin with. Over time I intend to review blogs "unauthorised" (meaning I'll review other blogs without being asked).

Other than that, I have no idea what might pop up on that blog! :-) Of course, the blogroll is still there and I do intend to add some more blogs to it soon - well, after my novel is done anyway. :-). It seems to be consuming more hours in my day than I can really spare right now (which is why I totally decided to add another blog to my list of things to keep up with! Doh!)

P.S. While you're checking out Lightening's Blogworld - be sure to stop and vote in my poll on blog advertising! ;-)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Electricity Challenge - Keeping Cool

Well, as expected, the recent heat wave has seen our electricity usage jump up somewhat to an average of 22.6kWh's per day this past week. That's almost as high as our highest week a while back when we were using heaters in both kids bedrooms. So, I'm a little bit disappointed about that.

BUT, as they say "what goes up, must come down". LOL. So we've got some work to do on that. I would be extremely happy if I could manage to keep it down to around 20kWh's per day over the hotter months.

In contrast, our hot water usage is now back down to zero thanks to the long days of sun we've been getting (solar hot water). I can't ask for any more than 100% from it can I? :-)

So, how are we going to go about reducing our electricity usage over summer? We have a few plans. Some of them require capital investment so will take some time to achieve.

Recently done:

  • I finally got around to cleaner the filter on the reverse cycle air conditioner on Monday. It was FILTHY. We noticed a difference in the cool air coming out of it almost immediately. I *should* have gotten to it months ago. Never mind, it's done now.
  • We're noticing an improvement in how hot our floor gets now that DH has installed the base infill around the bottom of the house. Before that, hot air blew under the house and heated it through the floor. This will be our first summer since it was installed so I'm hoping it will make a difference.
  • Installed window coverings in office ($40 silver venetians from Spotlight) - I'm really happy with the way they look and they're definitely helping with the temperatures in that room.

Short Term Plans:

  • Purchase another blind from Spotlight for front lounge window to give a second line of defense from the hot afternoon sun (has curtains but they're not brilliant at keeping the sun out)
  • Add a door sealer to laundry door to help keep draughts out of main living area (have ordered - should arrive soon I hope).
  • Work on keeping air conditioner at 25C (77F). DH currently has it set for 23C (73F) so we'll see how we go. He feels the heat more than I tend to.
  • Turn dishwasher off before it goes through the air dry cycle. This is adding heat to the kitchen. Will also save on electricity being used for that cycle. I can't figure out how to do that other than manually so this will only work on days when it's run during the day and not while we're in bed.
  • Use crockpot (and solar oven when we get one made) for cooking to avoid heating up kitchen/living area.
  • Make use of fans as much as possible. Currently have a ceiling fan in lounge and our room plus 1 pedestal fan.

Medium Term Plans:

  • Install a ceiling fan in family room where we watch TV so that we're not as tempted to turn the air con on unecessarily.
  • Replace curtains in lounge with ones that are better block out and cover the window better (what we have are seconds curtains and they're not really the right size). Our lounge room is on the North West side of the house so bears the brunt of the summer sun.

Longer Term Plans:

  • Build pergola with laserlight to block some of the summer sun.
  • Install blinds to front verandah to keep the afternoon sun off of the house.
  • Install solar panels for electricity usage (or at least partial electricity usage).

I just did some research and an air conditioner of our size (around 2HP - think ours might even be 2.5HP) uses on average about 2kWh's of electricity per hour of usage. My goal to keep our electricity usage under 20kWh's per day average would only allow us around 2 hours of air conditioner usage per day. Which means I'm not sure if it's a realistic goal. Of course, it's rare that the air conditioner would be operating flat out so that may allow us a little longer. I guess I'll do some playing around and see how we go.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Big 8 Meme

Thank you Erin for tagging me for this meme. I thought it was going to be a nice easy way to fill in a post for the day. I was WRONG! It's hard to think of 8 things for each category! But it's fun and I enjoy reading other people's responses, so all is not lost. LOL.

8 Things I Am Passionate About

  1. God (see my other blog.)
  2. My husband (nearly 12 years and the passion is still growing!)
  3. My children (*most* of the time lol)
  4. Making people smile :-)
  5. Music (it has the ability to move in a way nothing else seems to)
  6. Reading (especially when I *should* be doing housework)
  7. My Garden (when it's alive)
  8. Food (and yes, chocolate IS one of the 5 major FOOD groups)

8 Things I Want to Do Before I Die

  1. Get old!
  2. Spend time with my grandchildren (assuming I have some)
  3. See more of Australia (travel grey nomad style - only I aint waiting til I go grey - 18 months until our "big trip")
  4. Learn piano (in the process of - but would like to get a LOT better)
  5. Get back to 60kg (*sigh*)
  6. Become more self sufficient - especially with the garden
  7. Buy a sensational pair of shoes (preferably in pink)
  8. Have something published (even if it's only a short article in a magazine)

8 Things I Say Often

  1. Whatever
  2. No worries
  3. Yes (I say this TOO OFTEN)
  4. No (according to my kids I probably say this too often too!)
  5. I Love You
  6. I need a coffee (followed by "I wish I drank coffee")
  7. Are we out of chocolate AGAIN
  8. I'm tired (and "I'm sick of being tired")

8 Books I've Read Recently

  1. Life is Not a Dress Rehearsal by Sheri Rose Shepherd
  2. Leave a Candle Burning by Lori Wick
  3. Affluenza by Clive Hamilton
  4. Once I was a Princess by Jacqueline Gillespie
  5. Living in Dependency and Wonder by Graham Cooke
  6. Finding Liberty by Blaine Staat (still reading)
  7. Hope in the Midst of Depression (still reading)
  8. White Chocolate Moments by Lori Wick (just started)

I have a tendency to have lots of books on the go at once. :-) There are about 3 others I'm part way through that aren't on this list either!

8 Songs I Could Listen to Over and Over

  1. I'm Gonna Fly by Amy Grant (my current theme song AND I now have it on CD!!!)
  2. Here I am to Worship
  3. That's What Friends are For
  4. Wind Beneath my Wings
  5. Butterfly Kisses
  6. Have Faith in God
  7. Because You Loved Me
  8. Over the Rainbow

Hmmmmm......I think they're all rather "soppy" songs aren't they?????? I used to like Bon Jovi until a guy in year 8 personally sang "You Give Love a Bad Name" to me. *sob* I'm a nice person really....!

8 Things that Attract Me to My Best Friends

  1. Gentle honesty (as opposed to brutal honesty)
  2. Caring
  3. Fun to spend time with
  4. Thought provoking
  5. They like me
  6. They bring me chocolate
  7. They like me
  8. They bring me chocolate (hint! HINT!)

8 People Who Should Totally Do This Meme

  1. Lis at Altered Cutlery
  2. Kez at Kez's Blog
  3. Kin at Home of Slightly Cracked Dreams
  4. Snoskred at Life in the Country
  5. Kate at Our Red House
  6. Ali at Our Patch
  7. Lisa at The Tin House
  8. Cellobella at Sultana Blog

Well, I'd best be away to give these people the good news, or maybe they'll just read it here???? Nah, better go tell them. Wouldn't want them to think I was rude or something (or that I assume they read my blog lolol). Hopefully I've chosen people who haven't already had a go. If you're not on the list and you'd like to have a're it. ;-)

Monday, November 19, 2007

This Week's Menu

I'm going solo this week. That is, not participating in the "Menu plan Monday" as such. I'm finding it too hard to get into the hosts website and I know some of you have had trouble too.

However, we still need to eat and at this time of year (with DH so busy) a plan is more important than ever!!! So, let's get to it......

Monday - Portions of fish lightly coated in herbed flour and shallow fried to a crisp golden brown served with coleslaw and a fresh garden salad.

Fresh garden salad meaning a combination of whatever I can find in the bottom of the fridge plus can scrounge out of the garden. LOL.

Tuesday - Slices of corned beef smothered in a rich creamy white sauce and accompanied by creamy mashed potato and lightly steamed vegetables.

Fingers crossed the white sauce *is* creamy and not lumpy. :-) I wonder if I can come up with a way of describing lumpy white sauce so that it becomes edible and maybe even...desirable????

Wednesday - Leftover corned beef diced and warmed in a cheese sauce, served with creamy mashed potato and lightly steamed vegetables.

Well, only if I cut the corned beef and not DH will there be leftovers for this night! He is getting better...... ;-)

Thursday - Mince, lentils, beans and vegetables combined together with a rich tomato based sauce and served over spiral noodles with a garnish of grated cheese.

Even I might be tempted to enjoy spag bol described like this. LOL. I don't really mind it the way I make it and the kids tend to gobble it up without complaints, despite all the *healthy* stuff hidden within! Mwaaahaaahaaa.....

Friday - Rounds of unleavened bread coated in a smooth tomato paste and topped with bacon, cheese and a variety of vegetables.

Well, DH and I will add vegetables, the kids prefer just bacon and cheese.....

Note to self: remember to plan dessert because the ice cream is all gone so you can't use that as a fall back plan (unless you actually remember to buy some this week!!!).

Note to everyone else: we don't have dessert every night (it's usually on an ad hoc basis really - if DH feels like dessert, everyone gets dessert) but Friday night's being "family night" AND "fake take away" night it's kind of become expected!

Saturday - Lamb chops slow cooked with a variety of herbs and served with roast potaotes and lightly steamed vegetables.

Yeah, we did have this last Saturday but the kids weren't here so they won't notice and DH used to eat lamb chops nearly EVERY night (blah) so he won't mind. And well, I gotta fit half a COW in the freezer soon so those bulky items just have to go!

Sunday - Homemade pastry encasing a warm mix of mince in a rich brown gravy.

This is of course based on the assumption that I'll be able to be bothered making the pies (mix is already in the freezer from last time). Back up plan - box of party pies left over from shearing. :-) Hmmmm.....wonder if I could get the kids to do all the pastry rolling and stuff.......

Okay, your turn now. Anyone else want to try writing up their menu plan ala restaurant menu? Go on, it's not as hard as you think. And if you want to give me some "linky love" (ie, link back to here) well that's always appreciated. :-) Don't have a blog? No prob! Just pop your menu plan in the comments section here. Go on, you know you want to!!!!! LOL.

Oh yeah, you might wanna miss the bits in red. I'm just in a silly kind of mood today and well..... there are only so many weeks in a row that you can pretend you're Martha Stewart before the *real* person tries to break on through the facade. LOL.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Christmas Decorating

I have decided to do my Christmas decorating in stages this year. Sunday afternoons tend to be family time. DH is busy at the moment trying to get our crops reapt but takes Sundays off so this time of year it's often only Sunday afternoons that we're all home together. So I thought that each Sunday afternoon we could do a small amount of decorating as part of our family time.

I like the idea of spreading out our Christmas decorating. It makes it only a small task to do each week so it's not overwhelming. It also spreads out the fun of Christmas. Plus it will help mark the coming of Christmas. The closer Christmas gets, the more "festive" the house will hopefully look. :-) I'm planning on a similar approach to the blog. Adding something each week to signal the gradual approach of Christmas (yeah, I know I added 2 things this week but I did miss last week lol).

Last week we put out our Santa. This week we've put out the nativity scene. It's a nice reminder to us of *why* we celebrate Christmas and not *too* dazzling when we're still a number of weeks away from the big event. :-)

I looked for years for a Nativity Scene that I liked and ended up finding this one in a fundraising toy catalogue from the kindy. We've had it for a couple of years now. The youngest 2 kids have already had fun playing with it before it was put on top of my china cabinet. No doubt it will get moved and played with a lot more yet. :-) I like the idea of having a nativity scene that doubles as both decoration and a toy.

While we're on the topic of Christmas. Yesterday, I actually began my Christmas gift wrapping. Every year I plan to start early and get as many gifts wrapped as possible before December. But usually it arrives before I've even started and I have to cram all the wrapping into those last few weeks when we're busy with end of year and Christmas celebrations as well as school holidays. We also have 3 family birthdays in December (DS plus both of DH's parents). Which reminds me, I have no idea what I'm going to get them for their birthdays. Eeek!

I think I have nearly all my Christmas shopping sorted now. Not that everything is actually bought yet but I at least have a plan in my head of what I'm going to do. That always makes me feel much better (to have an idea of what I'm giving people).

I finally put my Identity Direct order in. Not sure why I kept procrastinating on that but it's done now. My nephew is getting a personalised Cars book from us with our kids names in them as well. I'm pretty sure he'll love it - he LOVES his cousins and he's a big Lightning McQueen fan. He's also getting a set of dinosaur stompers ordered from a fundraising catalogue. I also found a cute musical set in their catalogue for my niece to go with the musical DVD I have for her. I was stoked to find they had quite a range of items on clearance as well so I've ordered a few stocking fillers from their clearance section. Oooh, I can't wait until it arrives. LOL. I'm particularly happy to have my nieces and nephews presents sorted as I'm the kind of auntie who really likes to get the "perfect" gift so I have a bit of a tendency to stress until I've found something I'm happy with.

Here's a link* if you want to have a look at what they have on sale:

Identity Direct - Personalised Gifts For Children.

Just scroll down their categories list (usually to the top left hand side of the page) to find the clearance stuff. They're offering free freight on orders over $65 until November 20th (which is only 2 days away so get in fast if you want to take advantage of that). Since I needed to order more name labels for the kids as well as my Christmas gifts it wasn't hard to spend over the $65 and it saved me $8.50 in freight so I was a happy camper (or should I say shopper?). :-)

How is everyone else going with their pre-Christmas preparations? You might notice I've added a "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" decoration in my sidebar. If you visit A Juggling Mum (link is under the picture) you can find links to other peoples posts about Christmas and can add your own links too if you like. I think she's posting the "Mr Linky" on a Thursday each week.

* This is an affiliate link which means if you click through it and buy something, the company give me a small percentage of the sale. I'm using affiliate links *when* I want to talk about a company (if they're available) NOT mentioning this company because they offer an affiliate link. Does that make sense? LOL. Like I said, I have just ordered through them myself. :-) If you prefer not to use the link that's fine too.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Happy Bloggity Birthday to Us!!!!

Today it is 1 year since I began this venture into blogworld! :-) *

Not including todays post I have written 232 posts in that time. Who'd have thought I'd find 232 things to talk about? LOL. Those posts are divided up in 52 different labels which I think indicates I'm not so great at sticking to 1 particular topic very often. LOL. By far my most written about topic has been frugality, followed by simple living. Given those 2 things are listed first in my description, I guess I'm kind of on track. :-)

Last November I wrote a grand total of 9 posts!!! So far this November I've written 19 and expect to write a minimum of 30 (if I'm to succeed in Nablopomo).

My lowest month EVER was February this year when I wrote only 1 post!!!! That's a pretty ordinary effort isn't it? LOL. But sometime in June I must have decided to commit to bloggging more seriously as I wrote 24 posts in June, 28 in July and have written over 30 each month since. :-)

If my calculations are correct there have been 1080 comments in the past year! Which is why I've titled this post "Happy Bloggity Birthday to Us" - because without readers and those who take the time to comment, blogging would be rather boring and lonely! So thank you very much for each and every one of those comments. I truly treasure each one!

My first comment ever came from Wendy (who has been very quiet of late - give us a wave Wendy :-) ). Followed closely by Kez (who is still a regular commenter - thanks Kez). The 3rd comment on my first post was by madmal74 (not sure if she's still reading or not).

If you've never read my first post you can find it here . It explains the "Lightening" title (and yes, Lightening is not spelt "Lightning" :-) There's an explanation for that at the bottom of the page if you've not already read it.)

The post with the most comments is On Getting Older which I posted on my birthday this year. It has 24 comments listed. All the kind birthday wishes are part of why I like this post but it also signifies for me the beginning of the emergence of the "real me". Here's an excerpt from that post that sums up why I really enjoyed it:

So, I'm 33 years young and for the first time in my life I feel like I'm truly celebrating the fact that I was born. So in some ways it's really my first true "birthday celebration". Does that make it my *first* birthday? Or perhaps my first *happy* birthday. :-)

Other favourite posts I've written would have to include my series on my journey into simple living:

Post 1: A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step
Post 2: Joe Dominguez
Post 3: Tracking Spending
Post 4: You Cannot Steer a Stationary Ship
Post 5: Living the Dream
Post 6: How Did This Happen?
Post 7: Words of Wisdom
Post 8: Fast Tracking Our Dreams

And also my series on reducing the grocery challenge (I think perhaps I like writing "series" type posts. LOL):

Reducing the Grocery Budget - Part One

Reducing the Grocery Budget - Part Two

Reducing the Grocery Budget - Part Three

Reducing the Grocery Budget - Part Four

And my fairly recent post on The Spirit of Christmas . One of the most fascinating things I have discovered since the start of my blogging journey is how much I learn and grow myself through what I'm writing. If I sound like I "have it all together" then I'm not doing a good job of conveying the "real" me. I'm learning just like everyone else as I journey along the pathway of life.

Well, now I'm going to hand it over to you. Do you have a favourite post that I've written? If so, give it a mention in the comments section. If you've never gotten around to leaving a comment - now would be a great time to say hello. :-) Can we beat my previous highest comment number of 24?

* Photo used above was found at

Friday, November 16, 2007

Reducing the Grocery Budget - Part Four

I actually feel like a bit of a fraud posting on reducing the grocery budget at this time of year. I tend to find myself a little tempted and waylaid by all the fancy goodies the stores have out. LOL. I get a bit *too* festive and out the window go all my good intentions. :-)

Anyway, I will plow on with what we did in order to reduce our grocery budget and more than likely it'll be a good reminder to myself of what needs to happen. :-)

If you haven't yet read the first 3 posts in this series or would like to refresh your memory, you can find them here:

Reducing the Grocery Budget - Part One
Reducing the Grocery Budget - Part Two
Reducing the Grocery Budget - Part Three

Now last week I think I promised to start giving you some actual suggestions on ways to reduce the grocery budget. What I want to write about today may not seem like a proper tip but in a way it's a really BIG tip that covers many categories. I want to talk about needs vs wants and my experience has been that acknowledging the difference between the 2 can make quite a big difference to the bottom line at the checkout.

This can actually be quite a confronting topic. Partly because the definition of a "need" vs a "want" can be quite a subjective and controversial subject. But mostly because I believe in western societies we have lost touch with reality when it comes to what we really NEED. (My apologies to anyone reading that isn't residing in a western society - I can't comment on your situation so you'll need to make up your own minds here).

Now don't panic on me here. I am not suggesting here that you *SHOULD* reduce your grocery spending to bare bones physical needs. What I am suggesting though is that we all need to take a good hard look at WHAT we buy and WHY and begin to recognise more just how blessed we are.

As human beings, we really hate to think of ourselves as being deprived. If we're feeling deprived, the temptation is to go out and spend more money in an effort to prove to ourselves that we're not "deprived". Then of course, we no longer have that money, something has to give somewhere else and in the end we become more "deprived" than when we first started. It's one of those vicious cycles that we really want to avoid if at all possible.

So I found that I needed to reduce our grocery spending without us feeling deprived (to avoid an unecessary spending circle). And let's face it, how many of us have really EVER been truly deprived? The great thing about understanding how blessed we truly are is that it can help with reducing spending across all of the budget categories (not simply food).

Understanding the difference between needs and wants was one major way that we accomplished reducing our grocery spending without feeling deprived. My current spending of $100 a week is not even close to being a "bare bones, only what we need" budget. I purchase PLENTY of wants as well. Like I said, I'm not necessarily asking you to not purchase ANY wants. Just identify them and be realistic about what you're choosing to do. Be real about calling a want, a want.

Another way in which our family worked on this was to put up pictures of our sponsored children and some other projects we have supported on our family room wall. Every time we come in our back door, we have a visual reminder to us of how much we really do have. It has been a very effective strategy for us in increasing our thankfulness and awareness of how many things in our life are wants rather than needs. And how many people in our world struggle on a daily basis just to meet their basic needs.

Please don't think this is about guilt. I don't believe in giving out of guilt. To me that is the same as obligation (see my post yesterday for my feelings on giving out of obligation ;-) ). It's about awareness. And it's a great way to encourage contentment. Contentment is a hard emotion to grab hold of, but when you're there - it truly is one of the most worthwhile feelings you could ever experience. I'm sure if you could bottle it, you'd make a small fortune. LOL.

So that's my suggestion for the next stage in reducing your grocery budget. Go through your shopping trolley (or supermarket docket) and identify how much of what you are spending is on needs and how much is on wants. Start to identify how blessed you really are and see if it makes a difference in how you view your shopping trolley and what kinds of things you put in it.

Now on occasion I have mentioned in my posts a website called Simple Savings. You can join their free newsletter at their website. They also offer a paid section to their website. I mostly tend to avoid websites where you need to pay in order to get information. It seems almost counter productive to frugality to me. And there are plenty of websites that will offer great ideas for free. For some reason I decided to pay the membership fees for this particular one. I think because they have a money back guarantee with their membership. I'm actually really glad I did. It gives you access to a vault but the most valuable part of it I have discovered in recent years is the forum where members get to discuss ideas on how to save money and support one another in all kinds of ways. Membership fees are $47 for the first year and then $17 to renew each year after that. The reason I am mentioning them now is that they have a sale on until 11pm Sunday 18th (Australian time - I'm assuming EDST but not sure) for $35. So if you've been contemplating taking out a membership, now is a great time to do so. My apologies to those non-Australian readers. This is an Australian website and may not be of as much interest to you (I'm sure you'd be welcome to join though if you wanted to).

If you don't wish to purchase a membership, I'd still recommend you sign yourself up for their free newsletters with great tips. After all, you can't go wrong with free. :-) Here is a link to the website:

(Disclaimer: This is an affiliate link. There is an explanation of how affiliate links work in my sidebar. My comments however, have no bearing on the fact that it is an affiliate link. If you are concerned about this, go directly to their website rather than via the link above.)

Over the coming weeks I want to work my way through the categories I listed in my original post on this topic. Non Food, Fruit & Veg, Meat, General Groceries and Treats (have I covered them all?) Does anyone have a preference for which category you'd like me to start with?

A list of other Frugal Friday participants can be found at
Biblical Womanhood.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Spirit of Christmas


With an emphasis on gifts, the spirit of giving is an obvious one at Christmas time. Unfortunately it's also the one that commercialism has exploited the most. But there are so many great ideas out there that involve giving without adding to peoples clutter and that still fit well within the ideals of simple living.

One of my favourites at the moment is the wide range of charity gifts that are now available and becoming more well known as each year passes. Last year I used Oxfam Unwrapped and World Vision Smiles Catalogue. This year I've used TEAR useful gifts. For those of you not in Australia, I'm sure there are similar projects available overseas.

These make great gifts for those "hard to buy for" type people. I also enjoy using them to go with a smallish handmade gift. I love the way the charities have set them up so that there is a great range in prices (and they don't usually include how much you've paid on the gift card they send so it's more like a "regular" type gift and there's not the pressure to spend "more" in order to impress/not feel cheap). I enjoy choosing things that I think the recipient will appreciate and writing a note to go with them as to why I've chosen that particular gift for that particular recipient (therefore making them more personal).

For example, last year my grandparents moved into a retirement village. They had always enjoyed a large garden and giving away lots of produce from that garden. So I bought them a vegetable garden for a family living in poverty and expressed how much I appreciated their giving spirit and that I thought they'd enjoy knowing they still had a garden somewhere and it was feeding people who really needed it.

This year I have bought $5 student packs for each of my child's teachers and will include that with some homemade goodies. I'm hoping that given their passion for education, they will enjoy the thought that a child somewhere in the world is being given an opportunity to learn. It doesn't need to be a lot of money to make a big difference and with LOTS of people making small contributions, BIG changes can be made in our world. :-)

Extended family are getting train a farmer packs (since DH is a farmer). We really LOVE the programs that give people skills and resources to go on and "help themselves". We also have started a tradition of purchasing something for our own family - to help our children maintain an awareness of others that don't have all that they do. This year I've purchased a vegetable garden pack because our children are so interested in our own vegetable garden at the moment.

I have had so much fun browsing online and selecting these gifts. It's such a "simple" way of Christmas shopping and truly embraces the spirit of giving.

I'm venturing a little more into homemade gifts this year. I've done some things in the past and at times have struggled with the concern that people would feel this is me being "cheap". At that point in my life, I didn't really place a high enough value on my time. Now that I understand a bit more about the value of time, I feel more comfortable in myself about giving homemade gifts.

One thing I am learning as I make this journey toward a simpler lifestyle is the fact that all time isn't created "equally". Many people would argue that the time it takes to make something really isn't worthwhile. That it would be better to go out to work, earn the money and purchase the item. I've been thinking about this one lately as I'm in the process of knitting a dress for DD's barbie doll. My intention was to knit a couple of items to use as a gift for her at Christmas time. I think I've lost count of the number of hours it has taken me so far. Yes, I will save a few $$ over buying something. But that isn't really the point is it? There are many, many hours of love poured into that tiny little garment. And while I've been knitting it, not only has love been poured into it, but the love in my heart has grown. It's been an interesting experience really and not at all like I expected it to be. There is also the factor of how much more I'm enjoying it than I could ever imagine enjoying working to earn the money saved, then having to go out shopping to buy a product that might be cheap but also wouldn't be as nice (I hope). But the way the love interaction has worked - that I didn't expect. It's not something that money can buy.

There are an almost endless number of ideas out there for homemade gifts. You only have to do a search on the internet to find many more than you'd ever have time to use. LOL. I will mention one of my favourite websites though (no doubt many of you have already seen and/or used it).

Organized Christmas

I particularly like the printable labels they offer - it's a way to make your gift look that little bit more "finished" (unless you're incredibly creative and can do your own - which I'm not really).

Giving doesn't stop at gifts though does it. You can give the gift of time. There are plenty of charities and community organisations out there desperate for an extra pair of hands at this time of year. Sadly time is something that we all seem to be short of these days, especially at this time of year.

You can give the gift of a smile. How many people do you see rushing about the stores wearing a smile. I wonder what would happen if you were to wander through a crowded shopping centre just giving people the gift of a smile? I remember when I was in year 12 and having a particularly stressed out day. I went down to the library to "study" (or attempt to lol). We had a section of the library set aside for the year 12's to use during their free lessons. I walked into the library and the librarian gave me the most wonderful smile. He didn't have to say anything. I very much doubt he would even have known my name to say hello to. But he gave me something very special that day. So much so that I wrote a poem in my English journal (yes, it was study - lol - we were supposed to write in our journals every day). I won't frighten you with my version of poetry (lol) but here we are more than 15 years later and that experience was so profound for me that I've never forgotten just how powerful a simple smile can be. It certainly turned my day around that particular day.

I'm sure we could come up with quite a list of ideas for giving. Feel free to share your own ideas in the comments section (or feel free to blog about it yourself and link back to here if you like). Interestingly enough, as I was reading my regular blogs yesterday I came across this post on A Bootyful Life . There are some wonderful ideas listed for ways in which we can give. Perhaps some that you haven't thought of. I know there were some that I hadn't really considered as ways of giving.


This one isn't an easy one and is such a complex subject that we could probably fill a novel on the ins and outs of forgiveness. There seems to be something about Christmas that can make us that little bit more open to the idea of forgiving one another. I guess perhaps it has something to do with the love that abounds at that time of year (sometimes ;-) ).

I won't go into great depth about this but just wanted to share a couple of quotes with you.

"When I chose to forgive, I realised a prisoner was set free...and that prisoner was me!" (Debbie Morris: Author of Forgiving Dead Man Walking - at 16 she was kidnapped by 2 men and raped repeatedly over the course of 36 hours)

"Forgiveness does not remove the fact or event of wrongdoing but instead relies upon the recognition of the wrong having been committed, in order for the process of forgiveness to be made possible." (Joanna North, "Exploring Forgiveness" p17)

"Forgiveness is another way of saying, 'I'm human. I make mistakes. I want to be granted that privilege, and so I grant you that privilege'." (Philip Yancey)

"What is annulled in the act of forgiveness is not the crime itself, but the distorting effect that this wrong has upon one's relations with the wrongdoer and perhaps with others". (Joanna North, "Exploring Forgiveness" p17)

Is there someone you could extend the "spirit of forgiveness" to this season?


Sadly, Christmas seems to have become for some the "season of obligation". The feeling of dread over family get togethers and all the family politics and conflict that may arise (or just be an undercurrent of tension the whole day). The "I HAVE to buy a present for so and so" type issues. And of course, the dreaded Christmas card list. :-)

I'm not condemning anyone for having those feelings. Most of them have come about for a very good reason. Families do often have tensions - add some alcohol into the mix and some very hurtful things can be said. Present buying out of obligation really isn't much fun at all. And there is some validity to the whole "Christmas cards just add to landfill" argument.

I see a couple of issues that seem to get in the way of the Christmas spirit here. One of them is the spirit of "me". We look to Christmas for what we get OUT of it rather than what we could GIVE. The other is the spirit of obligation. If you give because you feel like you HAVE to rather than because you WANT to, the spirit of giving becomes overwhelmed by the spirit of obligation.

This year I want to challenge you (and I'm challenging myself in this one as well) to take the time to tell someone how much they mean to you (or have meant to you at some time in the past). How often do people touch our lives and we never tell them? I know there are plenty of people in my life that I've failed to tell them how special they are and/or were to me. It's easy to assume that people don't want to hear how much they mean to us. Perhaps that's too mushy or too personal. Perhaps we think that it wouldn't mean much to someone that appears to have it all together. Let me tell you, it matters. It makes a difference.

Are Christmas cards simply landfill? If they're written with a sense of obligation, yes. If they're written with the intention of reaching out to others, then I say no. I have to admit that I'm often not all that great with sending out Christmas cards. It gets put off until it's too late. But just sending 1 card with heartfelt meaning will mean more than sending out 50 hurriedly written "out of obligation" cards.

So there you have it - just a few thoughts from me on the "spirit of Christmas" :-)