Thursday, 31 October 2013

Flood-Proof Friday - Pet Emergency Plan

Some of the biggest adventures (some would say dramas) we have had at our farm involve animals and flooding, so it was not surprising to see that the Get Ready Queensland site has a fact sheet dedicated to planning for your pets in an emergency. Last week I mentioned that my neighbours waited on their rooftop with their dogs in last years flood. The water was almost up to the eaves and when the helicopter hovered to airlift them, one of their dogs blew into the water. This is their flood story. Because the flood water rose so quickly and without warning, no amount of flood planning could have foreseen this circumstance.

We have also been caught out with various pets and animals over the years. The funniest adventure, and our favourite campfire story, happened during our first flood when we had no idea what to expect. Before the water reaches the house our bottom sheds flood. Just to the left of the Mulberry tree is where we had five turkeys that Grandad had kindly given to us when we moved in a few weeks beforehand.

This particular flood was pretty freaky because I was home with the three kids, and Paul was in hospital with a broken leg (now that's another story). When we realised the water was going to go past the shed we waded out into the flood water to rescue those damn turkeys. Now if you have ever had turkeys you would know they are not the friendliest of pets and the eight year old boys were a little freaked out by them. The hero of this story is Lauren, a very girly twelve year old who just marched straight in and wrapped her arms around each turkey and walked them up to dry land. By the time we got the last turkey out the water was above our waists and there were spiders and who knows what else swimming past us. It was a triumphant moment though - together we rescued all five of those turkeys, and the boys have never lived it down since.

Our little mate Poopsie came with us when we were evacuated from that flood by our neighbours, who luckily had a boat. We stayed with a wonderful family we had never met before for a few days while the water went down, and even though they did not have pets they welcomed Poopsie into their home too.

Needless to say, we have arrangements in place now to ensure our dogs (and us) get to safety, and we don't keep turkeys or chickens anymore. I am planning on having chickens again and will house them where it doesn't flood or move them before a big rain. I just remembered another flood where Paul put the chickens on the roof of the shed and they happily laid eggs for a couple of days before they were rescued. It was funny to watch them from the house with the eggs rolling down into the eaves. It's good to remember the fun times, because there are moments of light relief during a disaster.

So, you can see the need for keeping your pets in mind when planning for a disaster. If you saw this photo last week you would notice that we have also evacuated with our dog Chewy. This was last year, before we were airlifted from our neighbours property by helicopter.

We couldn't take Chewy on the helicopter so he stayed at our neighbours place where he was secured inside with their dogs and plenty of food and water. It was very unlikely their house would flood, which it didn't, so we were relieved to have him back.

Get Ready Queensland suggest that you should make the following preparations regarding your pets:

1. Secure animals inside before an event so they do not take flight and run away

2. Use a secure pet carrier or leash to transport animals to safety

3. Ensure all vaccinations remain current

4. It may be possible for your pet to be boarded in a safe environment away from the emergency zone

5. If your pet is fostered out ensure their medical, feeding information, food, medicine and other supplies go with them

6. Ensure all pets are properly identified

7. Have a current photograph to identify you as the legal owner (I am guessing in case you get separated?)

There is also a pet emergency plan sheet to fill in.

This is all common sense but worthwhile thinking about for any situation regarding your pets, not necessarily a natural disaster. I am going to print a plan for each of our dogs and keep it in my emergency kit. Next week I should receive my first weekly task from the Get Ready Queensland initiative which I will share with you.

Have you ever had an emergency situation with your pets or farm animals? Lauren is betting you have not had to rescue a turkey before...and I am hoping you never have to, they are crazy creatures!

How to Save Money on Groceries

A couple of weeks ago I sat down and decided that I wanted to reduce my grocery bill in order to save for a holiday. My personal finances were an area of my life that I identified as a problem when I looked at achieving total balance in my life. This week I was asked to go into more detail about how I have been reducing my grocery bill and to pass on any tips that may be useful.

It is early days yet but last week I finally managed to spend only $150 instead of my usual $200. We have not run out of anything and there is still food in the fridge, freezer and cupboards. Five of us live here, but my daughter eats out quite a bit and buys her own toiletries, so I guess you could say we have four and a half residents. Some of this information I have mentioned in other posts but putting it all together will make it easier to refer to later. Every Monday when I post my menu plan I will include my weekly grocery spend and a savings tally.

So, where do you start? Here are my top 20 tips to reduce your grocery spending. They will not work for everyone and some you already know, but that's the thing with lists.

1. Keep your receipts and track your spending
Tally them up for a few weeks to see what you are spending money on. I did this and the results were surprising with approx $40 per week being spent on fruit and vegies, despite some supplementing with home grown produce. I also identified the kids lunchboxes as an area I could save on...and provide healthier snacks at the same time. Make sure you include any milk, bread etc bought at the corner store as well so that you can add them to your grocery spend if you are regularly running to the shop.

2. Menu Plan your dinners
Work out what you are going to cook every week, checking what ingredients you have at home to utilise first. You want to reduce the risk of popping out for extra ingredients and hence avoid the temptation to overspend.

3. Write a Shopping list
Every post about saving money on groceries will tell you to do this. It works, but only if you are strong and stick to the list. Take a pen and cross off each item as you go or download a grocery shopping app onto your phone to do the same.

4. Research Grocery Prices
I get the Coles, Woolworths and IGA catalogues delivered to my email inbox and check the prices every week so I know where to do my 'extras' shop and get the best prices, particularly on meat.

5. If you have an ALDI, shop there
I save at least $30 a week by shopping at ALDI and what I can't get there (my 'extras') I get at one of the major supermarkets. For example 1kg of grated cheese at ALDI is $5. I would pay double that at any other supermarket. A dozen rolls of good quality toilet paper are $3.99. If you don't have an ALDI supermarket in your area buy generic brand staples to keep the cost down eg. things like flour and sugar.

6. Shop Weekly
This may sound different as most people say to shop fortnightly. I always find if I shop fortnightly I run out and have to do a second shop anyway. It is easier to budget if you spend weekly and your shopping list is smaller and easier to manage. Your vegies are also fresh every week instead of having to last a fortnight or rely on frozen ones - speaking of which, always have a supply in the freezer just in case.

7. Pay Cash
I have found that withdrawing my $150 each week and placing it into a separate compartment of my wallet, forces me to work within that budget rather than using my debit card. If I can see that I only have $20 left after the Aldi shop then that is what I will spend at Coles.

8. Set Limits
I never spend more than $10/kilo on meat and will shop around until I find good quality meat for that price. I sometimes shop at a butcher who supplies local meat, but only buy their bulk specials. Our IGA stocks local meat and their weekly specials are great. I use mainly mince (premium grade), chicken breasts, rump steak and fresh fish. We rarely buy lamb as it is too fattening and expensive. If you buy your meat at Coles or Woolworths you could be paying too much...and it is not local.

Less than $60 worth of meat creates nine meals
9. Cook with pasta and grains
Design filling and nutritious meals that use less meat by utlising pasta, rice or couscous. Lentils and beans added to mince dishes also create more bulk. I am also a fan of grated zucchini and carrot to bulk out rissoles or patties, and to provide extra goodness, of course. 500g mince should feed 4 -5 people as your meat portion should only be 1/3 and vegetables 2/3.

10. Buy Tinned Tuna
We have a tuna meal once a week, either patties, mornay, casserole or pasta . $5-6 will feed 4-5 people and my kids love it. If you don't eat tuna try a vegetarian meal or omelette to reduce your meat consumption.

11. Go to your local market
Buy your vegetables at your local market or farm fresh grocer if you can. I have been saving $15-$20 a week doing this. We also get local growers doing home or work deliveries and this way you can order the amount you want to spend and not be tempted to buy more.

12. Reduce Wastage
Plan meals that use fresh vegetables or ingredients early in the week to avoid wastage. Use old bread to make breadcrumbs or make a dahl in the crockpot with leftover vegies. Don't let anything in the fridge not be utlised. Everything you throw away is wasting money.

13. Add up as you go along
I do a rough calculation in my head as I go around the supermarket to make sure I will not go over my budget. I just round up each item to the nearest dollar and tally. You could also use the calculator function on your phone or a small calculator. If the boys are with me, it keeps them amused to add up for me.

14. Make your own cleaners
My initial expense on cleaner ingredients was about $15 and for the last three months I have not bought a single cleaning product. They work well and are environmentally friendly. Check out my roadtest.

15. Be Environmentally Friendly
Reduce your expenditure on paper towels (by using washable cloths), plastic bags and packaging to save money and the environment.

16. Make extra portions
Cook an extra portion or two each night to take for lunch the next day to work. It can work out cheaper than sandwiches and snacks.

17. Bake your own bread
This can save money depending on the bread you usually buy. A loaf of bread in our breadmaker costs around $1. It is smaller than a normal loaf but there is less wastage for us as we do not eat a lot of bread. This bread is so yummy it always gets eaten!

18. Bake lunch box treats
I have only just started doing this and am saving about $15/week on the boys lunches. The Pizza Muffins I made the other day yielded 16 for a total cost of $2.50. Good value for very little effort.

19. Grow your own vegies and herbs if you can
This is not a new concept and may not be practical for everyone. It does cost a little money initially but the rewards are worth it and every year you will get better at it and grow more...that's what I am hoping.

21. Buy a water filter
We used to spend $9/week on water or around $468/year. This water filter unit cost $68 and replacement filters are less than that per year. If you have town water and don't need a filter, look at how much you are spending on other drinks. The results may surprise you.

This is just a short list of some ideas to help you save money that have worked for me. I have also found fantastic information at the following links: I have not yet fully investigated this website but there is some great advice just on the first page. Stacey has some awesome tips to save money and did a 3-post series on reducing your food bill. She counts every penny and budgets every day. This single mother of 3 kids saves money by using her crockpot. Check out some of her money saving recipes. Rhonda's site is full of tips for saving money, has great recipes and information on how to make homemade cleaners.

If you decide to try and save money on your groceries let me know how you are going with it and offer your suggestions. Keeping this list down to 20 was for the purpose of this post but there are many more ways to save. This is just how I started...we will see how I go over the next few weeks.

Melting Moments

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Motivation vs Procrastination

Welcome to... Writing on Wednesdays. Sounds weird reading that aloud, a little like a cheesy radio announcer introducing the next talkback segment.

Over the past few weeks I have written a few wellbeing posts on Balance, Mindfulness, and Personal Accountability. The discussions following the post on personal accountability basically came to the conclusion that willpower or motivation is essential if you want to talk yourself out of doing things that are detrimental. No amount of personal accountability alone will stop you being led astray by that naughty Sylvester sitting on your shoulder (if you have never watched the tweety bird cartoons then you will have absolutely no idea what I am talking about here.)

I have been meaning to get back to and expand upon this concept for a while because motivation is a fascinating thing. Some people have loads of it, and others struggle to find it buried beneath the excuses. Me, well I just seem to give the impression that I am motivated all the time because of my positive attitude...and the huge rose-coloured glasses perched on my nose...most of the time, anyway.

I have a big confession to make though....I am the world's biggest procrastinator! Seriously I am. There are some things that I put off doing out of fear of getting too involved or, um, that novel for example. There are other things that I just don't want to do because they are yucky or boring, or I don't know how. It may take me longer to get around to those things like cleaning the bathroom or doing a written assignment, but I never, ever quit or give up or leave something unfinished that has to be completed. I guess I put pressure on myself to find the motivation to complete things, and the common sense to discard my crazy ideas that will just never work.

So, where and how do you find motivation? It's not something you pick up by chance on the side of the road. It's something that only you can find for yourself. No-one else can decide what motivates you and what doesn't. Your loved ones will know what most of those things are, but sometimes they will get it wrong. You know why? Because it changes from day to day and from task to task. What motivates you to go to work on pay day will obviously be completely different than the motivation to clean the toilet.

This year marks the longest time I have stayed motivated for many years. Looking after my health, setting personal goals, changing my way of life in living more simply, and I guess, actually thinking about what I am doing with my life every day, has kept me motivated. I can see results from the efforts I have put in, and for me this is the key. I can see a positive future if I keep on this procrastination-reducing path. I still leave the ugly tasks till last but it is my mission to tackle these head on eventually...more procrastination? Hey, I am a work in progress.

I read somewhere that motivation vs procrastination is like a double edged sword - waiting for motivation can lead to procrastination, and feeling unmotivated can cause you to struggle with procrastination. It's when procrastination leaves you feeling burdened or discouraged that you obviously need to take action. Very true. So, if you feel this way at times like I do, why not break the cycle and stop sitting around waiting for motivation to fall into your lap. Look for and identify the things that motivate you. For example the pleasure of a clean bathroom or a beautiful meal on the table. Being a mother can motivate you in so many ways, and even those who have been through stressful situations like bushfires, family deaths and floods can find that motivation...but only if they choose to (and ready to) look for it. I guess that's the point where willpower steps in.

I chose to find what motivates me and makes me happy, and am rewarded every day for that choice. If you are in a rut never give up. Squash that ratbag procrastination beneath your feet, shrug off that naughty little Sylvester on your shoulder, and move forward, one step at a time.

Are you feeling motivated now? I would love to hear how you maintain your motivation when times get tough.

Next week I will keep you updated on my progress with Nano Wrimo. Haven't yet decided what I am going to write about. Other people have plans drawn up and everything....think I will just wing it. Any suggestions for a novel greatly appreciated!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Fundraising for Cancer

October has been a busy month for cancer fundraising at our local Curves gym. Last week our trainers hosted a Girls Night In which raised over $300 towards breast cancer research. Approximately fifty ladies attended, bringing plates of food and drink to share. There was a fashion parade modelling Curves workout clothing and featuring members who had lost weight. I never strive to be the centre of attention so when I was asked to model some clothing I freaked out a little but it was all for a good cause and we generated a lot of laughs. We raised money by raffling donated items and by paying $5 each for a neck and shoulder or foot massage. Bargain. My daughter Lauren came with me (purely for the giggles) and thankfully did not take any photos. If you have not already done so, I would urge you to organise a Girls Night In. It does not have to be in October and is a good excuse to get together and raise money for an important cause.

One thing I discovered at this get together is that there is a kit to assist women with their breast self examination. It is called a Liv Aid and was designed with the assistance of cancer survivor, Olivia Newton John, hence its name. These have been around for a few years now and I wonder why I had never heard of nor seen them before. So, just in case you have not come across one, this is what it looks like:

At the Girls Night In the Liv Aid was placed over a few grains of sugar on a plate to demonstrate how you can detect the smallest lump. Amazing that you can detect a lump that small under your skin.

I purchased mine for $10 at Curves and you can buy them from the Liv Aid website. The best thing is...the money goes to breast cancer research.

The second cancer fundraiser event I attended this month was Relay for Life. If you ever get an opportunity to put together or join a team of 10-15 people for this event, I guarantee it will change your life. Basically it is an 18 hour relay where teams walk or jog from 3pm in the afternoon until 9am. We had various shifts based on when people could attend, and three teams participating. I am not sure yet how much we raised (close to $3000) through our raffles and sponsors but whatever the amount is, we have contributed towards the $15million raised for cancer research through this event since its inception.

I was really impressed with the thousands of people attending. Our venue was the One Mile sports ground and our task was to complete laps of the oval continuously for the 18 hours. The event started off with a lap reserved for cancer survivors and their carers, with everyone gathering around to cheer them on. Right from the start I had tears in my eyes. This event was not just a fundraiser, it was also a ceremony or tribute to those who were fighting or who had lost their battles with cancer.

It was a great opportunity to get to know the Curves girls better. The capes were our batons and all three had to be out on the oval at all times. One of the members made them for the occasion.

We all bought a length of Ribbon for $3 each and every time you did a lap you added a bead. In four hours I walked 27 laps of roughly 400m each. That's 10,800 metres or 10.8km! Wow, now wonder my legs are sore.

The highlight of the night for me was the lantern ceremony. We all gathered to light paper lanterns which were a paper bag with some soil in the bottom and a tea light candle. The bags had HOPE printed on them and you could write the name of a loved one you had lost.

It was the most moving experience, a beautiful ceremony with a choir singing and slide show of cancer victims in the background.

We then did a lap holding our candles and placed them around the oval. The end result was spectacular and many people were in tears, including me who chose to honour my beautiful step-mother Robyn who died of bowel cancer.

I am so glad that my journey is leading me out into the community. This event has been going on for several years and I have been missing out on something truly magical and very special. Thank you Gympie for being such a beautiful community and not only raising money for a worthy cause, but stopping to take the time to appreciate the battles being fought, survived and lost.

I feel truly blessed to have been a part of it and will for many years to come.

Have you ever attended an event like this?

Monday, 28 October 2013

Menu Planning Monday 5

Well, another week has passed so quickly. I decided to peruse my cookbooks for this weeks menu plan, and I shopped for it on Friday. I only spent $130 which is well below my goal of $150 so will see if I can last out the week without having to spend any more. I am back to work today (groan) but did achieve one of my goals which was to experiment with some lunchbox friendly recipes to reduce the cost of store-bought items. I will feature two of the recipes this week - Spinach and Carrot Slice (using my home grown spinach of course!) and Pizza Flavoured muffins.

Menu Plan

Monday - Meat Loaf with Mashed Potato and Vegies
Tuesday - Lemon Chicken with Quinoa
Wednesday - Creamy Avocado Chicken with Pasta
Thursday - Tuna and Tomato Patties with salad
Friday - Thai Beef Curry with Rice
Saturday - Chilli Prawns with Salad
Sunday - Baked Tropical Chicken with Roast Potatoes & Vegies

I am already set for tonight with the meatloaf prepared and in the fridge, ready to pop in the oven when I get home from gym tonight.

Spinach and Carrot Slice

You will need:

I bunch of Silverbeet or Spinach (approx 3 loose cupfuls, when chopped)
4 Eggs
1/2 x packet french onion soup mix
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated low fat cheese
3 cups grated carrot
1/2 onion finely chopped
3/4 cup self-raising flour
Cooking Spray
Extra 1/3 cup grated cheese

Remove stalks and chop spinach. Then place into bowl with a little water and microwave for 2-3 minutes. Drain and squeeze to remove all water.

In a large mixing bowl beat eggs then add french onion soup mix, garlic, parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup grated cheese and combine well.

Add in grated carrots, spinach, onions and flour. Stir well until combined, then place into a greased ovenproof dish.

Sprinkle cheese on top and bake for approx 40 mins a moderate oven or until browned on top and cooked through. Serve hot or cold.

Pizza Flavoured Muffins

You will need:

3 cups self raising flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups of grated cheddar cheese
150g ham chopped
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste or pasta sauce
2 eggs
1 cup milk

Place the flour, baking powder, 1 cup of cheese and ham into a bowl. Mix to combine.

Place the oil, tomato paste, egg and milk in another bowl and whisk to combine.

Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just combined.

Spoon the mixture into muffin pans. Mine are medium sized and I used cases. This mixture made 16 medium sized muffins. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top.

Bake in 180 degree oven for 30 minutes or until browned on top and they spring back when touched lightly in the centre.

It was a pleasure packing the boys lunches with some home-made and home grown produce. The boys want me to make meatlovers pizza muffins next time - with salami and bacon, so will experiment some more.

Hope you have a great Monday!

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Simple Living Sunday

Sundays are the day I have chosen to summarise my simple living efforts for the week. This may be my gardening successes or failures, or my experimentation with home made cleaning products, or ways to save money. As I have been home this week, I have dabbled in quite a few different areas and have some progress to report on various projects I started when I commenced this blog a little over a month ago.

It may not look beautiful but my soap is adequate and certainly lathers and smells like soap. The white layer
(Homemade Soap) I ended up with seems to be a problem with my saponification, according to a few people I spoke to at Simple Living Forums and a lovely lady I met for coffee from there. It could have been caused from the heat of the oils and caustic not being the same or perhaps in cooling down too quickly. Basically the caustic has separated a little from the rest. Easy fixed, I just cut it off and still have plenty of soap.

I put together a sour dough yeast starter. I used half a cup of my bread floor and one cup of spring water, then covered it with thin cotton fabric from an old shirt. I will report back on its progress, and then I will investigate how I actually use it to make sourdough bread. It's all a learning curve.

Homemade Pesticide

To control my pest situation I made a batch of pesticide from Going Grey and Slightly Green. I made a half mixture of the All Round Insecticide. You just chop two onions, one clove of garlic and two chillies (I used minced chilli from a jar). Place them in a bowl with one teaspoon of dishwashing liquid and cover with warm water. Leave overnight.

Strain it and then add to 2 1/2 litres of water. I will report back on its effectiveness as my Broccoli and Spinach have now been sprayed.

Homemade Shower Gel

I prefer to use shower gel in our upstairs glass shower as it leaves less residue to be cleaned. I adapted a few recipes and came up with this one which worked really well.

You will need 1 1/2 cups spring water, 1 x bar of soap, a desertspoon of glycerin and any fragrance you prefer. My husband loves Palmolive Gold soap so I ended up leaving out the fragrance for this one.

Grate the soap with a cheese grater - it is very easy to clean afterwards.

Combine all ingredients and heat in a saucepan on medium heat until all the soap is melted.

Leave for approx 12 hours (overnight) and you will have a jelly type surface with a creamy, soapy mixture underneath. Beat with a stick mixer until smooth.

Then pour into bottles. I have a dispenser for the shower and an extra litre for storage. I tried it this morning and gave the boys a sample to use. Thumbs up all round! Can only imagine it will be even better with more natural soap but at least I utilised something I already had.

This was my first attempt at making breadrolls. The kids loved them but they were more like a large scone. I let the breadmaker mix a normal bread dough on the dough setting and when I removed it, it had risen beautifully. I really was not sure what to do next so I just broke it apart and rolled into rough balls before placing them straight in the oven. Advice I have been given is to re-knead each roll and let them rise before baking. Also to place a tray of water in the oven to keep them soft, instead of crunchy. Will definitely keep you updated on my next batch! Any suggestions are welcome.

Weekend Gardening Update

I turned the compost today and finally have something which is starting to resemble soil. Still a while to go yet. I am now not adding to this pile and have a separate pile for new scraps, following advice from a seasoned gardener.

The toilet roll seedling trays have not yet been a huge success. I have a few small Thai basil seedlings. I have now bought some seed raising mix (I used potting mix initially) and will try some carrot seeds.

I potted this hot climate variety of blueberry for the verandah. Not a very attractive pot covered in flood mud. It will do until I find another.

This Zucchini has gone crazy and has several large flowers which I will pick and experiment with. There are five small Zucchini growing on it.

Finally have a few small beans. Some of the plants died and I am not sure why. Beans are usually so easy to grow.

This is one of the Bok Choi I cut off which has new sprouts so hopefully will get another one for nothing.

The Roma tomato finally has fruit but the plant is very small so not sure how big the tomatoes will grow.

The strawberries are going well again. These are from the Lemon Tree garden, near the Zucchini.

More cherry tomatoes popping up everywhere. At least we will have some tomatoes if my others don't grow.

More progress with the cucumber. It has flowered but no fruit yet. Needs a good weeding.

These are Rockmelons. Paul threw some seeds under the lemon tree and they have gone crazy. Will need to thin them out soon. There would be 20-30 plants and these are the more mature.

Paul planted a few watermelon seedlings on the grass and they are doing well, to my surprise.

Another beautiful salad for lunch and a Spinach slice to be baked this afternoon.

So, there you have it. A round up of my simple living endeavours for the week, and some new ideas for you to try yourself. Any feedback on what you may have tried or any processes I have used above, is greatly appreciated as always.

How has your week been?

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