Saturday, 31 December 2011

Making your New Years resolutions easier...

I'm a big list maker. I don't have the greatest memory and as a result have developed my book of lists! Its just a A5 sized note book with coloured dividers so I can divide up my cooking lists, my gardening lists and craft lists from my to do lists!! In a fire - I'd be grabbing the book of lists before anything else!

But at the end of each year, I like to plan the year to come...

This is what I do...

First, I use my diary. I only have one and it has the whole families commitments in it. In our house its a case of if its not in the diary - its not happening! The diary sits on the kitchen bench and everyone is encouraged to write in it - especially the kids. (Need this stuff for cooking, need a new ruler, free dress day today, sports trip today- that sort of thing!)

Second, I track all the birthdays in here - so at the beginning of December, I buy my next years diary (I know, not the cheapest time to buy it, more the most practical) and I transfer all the birthdays and celebrations that are cast in stone from one to the other.

Then I mark out all the public holidays in a flouro pen so they are obvious.

Then I have a conversation with the family and we decide on the things we want to do the next year - Trip to Fiji? Pencil it in... Nieces wedding in NZ? Pen it in with a reminder 2 months before to find and check passports are valid. Camping birthday weekend? Mark it in. Fertilise the lawn, write in what week. Spray for stink bugs - BIG BOLD PEN so you don't miss it 12 month later when you have forgotten the previous battle. Vet check ups for the pets? Pencil it in (but don't tell the cat!) Fix the fence - pop it the house maintenance week list! Romantic Valentines weekend? - dream on, but pencil in a dinner and find babysitter anyway!

I also mark in pay days, sporting commitments and school holidays. This gives me the framework to see if we can a) afford to go where we want to go and that b) it doesn't clash with other plans that cant be changed.

We have discovered that if we take a week off in Winter - usually Queen's Birthday we use up only 4 days of leave but have 9 days to get stuck into the house maintenance. We paint a side of the house each year (2-3 days) and the roof (5-6 days) on the 5th year. In that week we also take out a few branches (or trees), fix fences, re mulch the gardens and do any of the bigger, time consuming jobs that need doing. We have a special house maintenance list. In May we have a look at it and decide what we will do for that week and buy, order or procure the bits we will need like paint, scaffold and pruning shears. We do it in Winter cause otherwise its too hot to paint or work hard all day. We also eat a lot of crockpot meals or bludge dinner off the relatives that week too!

We also put aside weekends, once every two months, to visit people from out of town. We don't decide who we will see right at this moment but about a fortnight before - if its still appropriate to go - we ring a friend and make arrangements to catch up. Some times its a meal 1/2 way between the two families and sometimes its a weekend visit to the wilds of Toowoomba or to deepest Warwick - both a couple of hours away with good friends who live there. This ensures that we get away occasionally and we catch up with nearst and dearest.

I also mark in the diary as the year goes on, when I noticed things like the Bindi growing in the grass and also stuck in my foot. When I am writing up next years diary, I put "Spray for Bindi" a few weeks earlier than I noticed it and of course when I see it in the diary the following year - I have the opportunity to spray and relive myself of Bindi pain or to endure it knowing I should have sprayed for earlier. The reminder means I have less Bindi every year!!! This works for what ever bug/weed/pest you never seem to catch before they become a plague.

I also mark in my diary approximately when bills are due and about how much  they were last time. That made a massive difference to budgeting as I always forget the power bill - and its always bigger cause it comes every three months not monthly! Car rego, iinsurances, rates and all the other once a year bills go in there too. I may not pay them on time but I wont be going out for dinner 3 times the week before they are due this way!!!

Some people think I go too far with my diary - but I find they are the same people who go, "Wow, how do you fit it all in?" I don't have the greatest memory but find the diary the best place to put the reminders of the things that we "need to do" along with the "want to do". And of course writing something down seems to make it actually happen... The power of positive affirmations!

Happy New Year!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Recovering an old couch cushion, cheaply!

We have a lovely area under our pergola that we like to sit in and relax away from the hot Queensland sun and over time the hubby has made it very comfortable with box seats, planters, tables and even a native bee hive!

But the seats were a bit hard on the old backside to relax for too long on and so I bought some second hand couch cushions from my favourite op shop for $15 - well not small cushions but they're not really  mattress's either - Squabs? a friend said when I tried to describe them - you can just look at the picture to see what I mean.

Whilst they were cheap enough and certainly cheerful enough - they were not quite the colours and patterns I had hope to use under our pergola and so I decided to cover them - cheaply!

Here's what I did...

See - now what would you call that??

They even came with a back sitting up against part too - I assume they came off a cane couch of some sort.

I bought a second hand queen sized sheet in the colour that I wanted (and for 1/2 price!) and I'm going to make a sleeping bag type shaped cover for it. One Queen size sheet will usually cover most single mattresses - as will a single doona cover if you can find the one with a pattern you can live with! This time, sadly, I couldn't. which would have been a lot less work in the log run.

Allowing enough to be able to close it up when its made, I pinned the sheet to one end of the mattress all the way along one end. I didn't know if this mattress was a standard size or not and this saves me having to do maths which I really suck at!

Then I rolled the mattress up in the sheet. The pins I put along that first edge make it stay there so i can see how much sheet I will need and how much to chop off. Some times I'm lucky and can just sew it in half - this time I wasn't so lucky!

So now I can see how much to cut off. I want to make a loose cover that will allow for my mistakes and be easy enough to get off when I want to wash it.

Ripping the material from a cut is more accurate for me than cutting with a pair of scissors - although it makes for messy edges that then have to be hemmed more!

Next, hem all those messy edges! This is where I simply turn the whole thing into a giant bag by folding it in half along the longest side(right sides together - don't forget) and sewing up the other two sides leaving one end open.

Sewing the two sides together to make a giant pouch or bag...

Now to make the corners fit better I do this tricky little corner. Its hard to explain so bear with me. We are going to square off the corners so that the mattress fits better. Take one corner and fold it so that the seam that you just sewed is in the middle not on the side of the triangle - Its a bit of an origami fold if that helps.

If you have done it right you will have the seam in the middle of the triangle corner on one side and...

And the back should be seamless...

Then you sew across the corner. To know where to sew, measure the thickness of the mattress. If it is 4 inches thick then sew 4 inches from the pointed end  in a straight line across.
Sounds complicated, but once you get it - you'll be away. Here is a link to the best instructions I have found on the net - this is where I learnt how to do this. Also the hobo bags are great for lunches! squareish-bottomed-hobo-lunchbag

Once you have got the corners sorted (remeber to do both ends of the sleeping bag shape you can turn it right side out and slide it onto  the mattress.

I am yet to put the buttons on to close the end of the cover but this gives you the idea of how it ends up.

If you have done the corner right - it will fit like this. if you've done it wrong - it simply wont fit...

The whole cover should slide on a bit like a sleeping bag with squared corners.

Ready to sit on - well I still need to put the buttons on the end - but knowing me, that might take a while!

Score card:
Green-ness5/5 for re-using second hand bits and pieces!
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for recovering 2 mattress's for $7
Time cost: This can take a while - probably about an hour to do both of them if you have done it before. Maybe a bit longer if you are a new sewer...
Skill level: If you can sew a straight line then you can do this - the corners are a bit tricky but once you get how to do them - you'll be away!
Fun -ness: Always fun to make something look good for just about nothing!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Removing stains from a cotton T-Shirt

I bought a sky blue T-shirt from a car boot sale for a whole $2 and the first time I wore it it got covered in BBQ splatter. I was really annoyed as it went so well with a skirt that I have, that really only a black or white T-shirt had previously matched. My husband said - send it to a dry cleaners, they'll be able to get it out - but I didn't want to spend $15 on a $2 shirt. In reality I probably wouldn't want to have turned a $20 shirt into a $35 shirt either... But that's beside the point. But I liked the shirt and wanted to see if I could get the stains out - I know I can put them in!!! So I googled stain removing and decided to have a go!

Here's what I did...

First - I forgot to take a photo of just the plain stains... but you might be able to see the blacky greasy stains that I haven't painted detergent on yet in this photo...

Then I got some detergent and dabbed it directly onto the stain with a paintbrush and left it for 1/2 an hour and then soaked the whole thing in warm water. This seems the best way to lift light grease stains like fat or cooking oil as far as I could tell from my research on the net.

It did get rid of a lot of the stain - the sort of greasy patch but not the blacky burnt bits from the BBQ splatter. So I got some prewash stain remover and squirted it on for the second and third go. I left it on for about 10 minutes each time (didn't want to end up with white spots instead of brown!) and soaked it on warm water again.

After 3 goes - the stains were pretty diminished but not entirely gone. I wore it to work, I work with kids and come home pretty covered in grot anyway, but wouldn't wear it out to lunch for example now. Apparently there are lots of cans of goop at the supermarket that will help get stains out. They are all solvents of one kind or another. At this point I'm going to dab it again next time it goes into the wash and wear an apron if I go near the BBQ in nice clothes again!!!

I have got a book called "how to clean practically everything" and have consulted it - It says to try white vinegar or lemon juice for greasy stains, again dabbed on with a paintbrush - so next time its due for the wash - I'll give it a go and let you know what happened!


Green-ness:  3/5 Green detergent is ok but I suspect my prewash spray is pretty toxic. I comfort myself with the fact that we've had that bottle for about 2 years... Maybe that's why it didn't work...
Frugal-ness: 5/5 Didn't spend an extra cent and can still wear it
Time cost: Most of the morning - but I was making bread and pottering around in the kitchen anyway or maybe that's why it took so long?!
Skill level: Easy-Peasy! Just do it!!!
Fun -ness: Not so much fun this time - mainly because it didn't work as well as I had hoped!

Friday, 16 December 2011

Making your own Christmas decorations - with a tropical theme

This year we are having relatives from both sides of the family and the world for Christmas Lunch. My Mother in Law suggested that I do something as far from a traditional Christmas I I could for our English relatives. Since they had left a cold and snowing England and were going on a pre-Christmas Cruise on one of those humongous floating city type liners, I decided to do a Tropical Christmas. but I still wanted to keep it Christmas-y and not just do a Hawaiian themed lunch type thing. So, I decided on a snowflake and hibiscus theme in pink, green and silver. The colours chosen has more to with the fact that I only have one table cloth big enough for our table that seats 12 and its a mint green type colour!

Here's what I did!

I cut out a million six sided snowflakes from standard A4 photocopy paper - these will go on the windows and hang from the ceiling.

I decorated the tree in pink hibiscus, green and silver baubles, green and silver snowflakes and a single 10m strand of silver tinsel - there are lights as well somewhere!

These candles were plain when I got them and will go on the table on Christmas day. Again, white wire, white beads to match the wine glasses with a few snowflake stickers and left over leaves from the hibiscus sitting on a doily. I put cardboard under the doiley as I wanted to make sure the wax didnt get onto my table cloth...

 I made a tropical type wreath for the front door - with pink hibiscus and a single green snowflake (are you seeing a bit of a pattern forming here?)

We have a hangy thing above our dining room table that we use to hang decorations for special events on - this is the Christmas version for 2011!

I used some white wire, threaded it with snowflake charms (from e-bay) and white beads with a single pink or green bead to decorate and individualise the wine glasses.

The Christmas crackers have the same snowflake that you have seen on the tree and wreath - I paid $7 for a set of these decorations at Aldi and have used the whole lot on this project.

These leis are made from serviettes cut into strips, folded like a fan and cut into petal shapes. then I scrunched each one into a flower  and taped it before threading each one with a needle on the the lei. Each lei has 150 flowers. It took a while, cost $2 and looks great!

And I made some napkin holders out of cardboard rolls, white raffia and white hibiscus flowers - super easy!

Score card:
Green-ness:  3/5 Reasonalbly green in that I am reusing most of the decorations or making them from stuff I already have
Frugal-ness: 4/5 I have only spent money on the flowers and the snowflakes - about $30 all up. Pink Hibiscus wernt cheap - even on e-bay!
Time cost: Some things were quick, some took a bit of time. But like anything worth doing, its worth spending the time if you need to. Just have a plan to make sure its not all a last minute rush to have all the things you want on the day. Some of this stuff was made about 6 weeks before Christmas! 
Skill level: Most of its pretty basic! Im sure you can do it!
Fun-ness: If you love putting on a show - then this is the most fun you can have - its Christmas! Go all out. If you dont do it at Christmas, when will you do it???

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Recyling Christmas cards, adding meaning but not really saving anything!

I came across this concept in 2007 and have been doing it every year since. A few of my friends have caught on and it has become a fabulous part of our Christmas! Each year I keep the cards we get sent and send them BACK to the person who sent it to us in the first place... "What," I hear you say, "how silly is that???" What I do is add a new sheet of paper to the inside and write a new message on it and over the years you get layers of Christmas messages which is kinda fun to read each year!

Its partly recycling but since cards are soooooo cheap (how do they do that?), you can buy 20 cards with envelopes for about $2, so this is less about being frugal and more about doing more than " Dear Bob and Sue, Hope you have a Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year, Best wished Jane and John Doe" each year.

The innocent looking card from the outside...
One of my friends gets so into doing this that she even recycles the envelope - she opens the card, puts in a new sheet, writes on it, puts it back in the envelope, seals it - and then puts return to sender on it, and I get it back!!! It certainly makes for great conversation when people look through our cards when they come to visit as some of them are looking a bit tatty after a few years of travelling around the countryside!

And on the inside are notes back and forth since 2007!

This one is several cards and layers stuck together - its great fun!

I stick this generic message on the back or inside of each card to let the recipient know what I'm doing by sending them back their very own used card; Feel free to use it yourself!

Lets start a tradition!
It can become a fun tradition to reuse Christmas cards from year to year. If you still have last year's cards, you might want to consider sending each card back to its original sender, with a personal note taped inside the card.

Encourage your friends and family to do the same for you next year. Not only can this be an environmentally responsible approach to sending holiday greeting cards, it can also be a much more meaningful activity than sending generic cards out to everyone on your list.

Have fun and enjoy sending cards this year!!
Score card:
Green-ness3/5 Still have to replace the envelope (in most cases!) and not every one plays the game so you still have to buy some new cards each year.
Frugal-ness3/5 Its not that much cheaper as I still have to buy about 20 cards each year and pay for stamps
Time cost: A lot longer than usual - each card has to have its paper cut to size, maybe an extra minute to cut and glue a new piece of paper in and find an envelope the right size for each card. However - your card list is pretty much sitting there in front of you! You'll know exactly who sent you a card last year!
Skill level: You can do this!!!
Fun -ness: When you actually get last years card back its such a fun feeling!!! There is a difference between getting a standard card and one that has crisscrossed the country several times over several years! And its wonderful to compare each year and reminisce as its added to the card!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Making Pumpkin Bread

I had a big pumpkin left over from Halloween and even though I had used plenty for dinners, I still had a fair bit left over. So I decided to pop some into a basic bread recipe and make pumpkin bread - just for something different.

Here's what I did...

Chop up about 500g of pumpkin - any kind!

Pop it in a pot and cook it until its soft.

In the meantime, put 250mls of filtered water, an egg, 2 table spoons of sugar, 2 teaspoons of salt and 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a bowl.

Add 4 cups of flour (you can put up to a cup of wholemeal if you want to but too much and you will get a very "heavy" bread) 

Add 2 teaspoons of dried yeast - I use Lowans, found in the bakery section of my local Woolies.

Mix it up in the bowl with a knife or spoon and when its mixed as much as you can get it - up end the contents of the bowl onto the bench. I added some sunflower seeds and a bit of dukka for added flavor and texture to this batch - probably about 2 table spoons in total.

Once your pumpkin is cooked and cooled (other wise you will burn your fingers!) incorparate the pumpkin into the dough.

If the dough is too sticky - add more flour a little at a time. If its too dry, add water at about a tablespoon at a time. If you end up with too much flour in proportion to the other ingredients, your dough will turn into bread. The yeast will only be able to work under certain conditions and if you go too far away from them you will simply bake a flour brick!!!

Mush that pumpkin into the dough! Great fun but very messy!

When you have a reasonable dough - pop it back into the bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise.

Like this!

Punch it down (just like it sounds) and start kneading it into a dough ball again and then leave it to rest for 5 minutes or so.

In the meantime, grease your bread tins with a bit of olive oil.

Cut the dough ball in half

Shape into a loaf shape and pop each one into its tin.

And leave them to rise again.

And then pop them in the oven!

By the time my oven got hot enough, my loaves had risen too far and were trying to escape. So I just pulled the tops up off the edges and piled them on top for this "rustic" look!!!

It didn't make much difference as you can see - they rise again!

The tops brown too quickly in my wee oven and so I have a piece of al/tin foil that i use to allow the rest of the bread to cook before the tops turn black and catch on fire!

Once they sound hollow rather than solid when you tap them with your fingernail - pull them out of the oven and leave to cool in he tins for about 5 minutes.

Then once they have shrunk slightly - tip 'em out onto the bench and let the steam escape from the bottom of the loaf so it doesn't go soggy. I have discovered that if you eat the bread too hot it will feel like it hasn't been cooked properly - a bit like its hot dough not bread. If you wait till its warm rather than hot you will have a much better eating experience - although trying to tell the kids that is impossible!!!

Score card:
  5/5 Making your own food is very green! (and fun!)
Frugal-ness: 5/5 Very frugal. Using up food that might otherwise go to waste.
Time cost: Part of the afternoon maybe 15minutes of actual mixing and kneading but about 2 hours of rising and waiting.
Skill level: Pretty easy - give it a go!
Fun -ness: Great Fun! making bread is great to do with kids too - this recipe is pretty forgiving!
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