Wednesday, 30 April 2014

A Working Mum's Guide to Getting Housework Done

Over the past three and a half, very busy, years I have wrestled with how to get housework dealt with.  It's never on my 'urgent' list so it's something that doesn't hit my radar til the dust bunnies are angling to grab my ankles, or those of other innocent passersby, and tangle me up.  I've toyed with getting a cleaner in, but realistically we're all quite able and capable so I never really felt like that was a reasonable response.

When my kids were tiny and I was a SAHM I found FlyLady and successfully used that to get my house under control again. When Mr Busy was about two we moved house and life became more chaotic and I struggled to maintain that system.  I'm a list/routine kinda gal so this was just a little bit devastating.  Seriously, I had lists for my lists when the children were small.  I was the List Queen!  And then I couldn't follow a list anymore.  Then I started working and studying and all bets were off.  I could not find anything that worked with my current situation.  When I'm working on assignments I do not even think about anything else for a few weeks.  I am here to tell you no one has created a housework system or routine that works around that.  No one is going to put "ignore housework and work on assignments" on a list for three weeks straight!

Enter 'The Blessing List'.  I have devised a way to get my able, capable children involved without arguing with them or justifying my reasons for asking them to do what's needed.  I made up an A3 chart with each of the kid's names and space for four jobs to be allocated.  Then I put together job cards for the things needing attention around here to get the house (and their bedrooms!) cleaned.  Each card has the name of the job, an image and a description of what is required to complete the task.  Velcro dots are used to stick the cards onto the base chart.

Jobs are allocated.  Jobs are completed.  Cards are removed and returned to their container.  There is no arguing or complaining.  There isn't even discussion.  Miss Sunshine's best friend saw it and said "can you please email that to my Mum?"  So I did.  Her Mum loved it and then asked if she could give me some other jobs to add to my list.  So far so good!

Are the tasks done they way I would do them?  Not necessarily.  But brooms, vacuums and toilet brushes are being pointed in the right direction more often so that's a huge improvement.  It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be done.

Incidentally, gel bleach is just like the most awesome magical stuff for cleaning showers.  All of a sudden my shower is white again.  A week later I'm still in awe.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

The Frugal Files: A cheap week for meals

I've had a very cheap grocery week this week - thankfully.  It comes on the heels of some very expensive weeks with a fast, Easter and generally not much left in stock from our Costco trips.  How did I manage this cheap week?  I stretched a chicken a very, very long way.

Three of our seven meals have come from one very generous chicken.  My 2kg bird started off feeding us on Thursday night with a roast.  I've changed the way I divvy up my bird so there is more meat left for other things rather than a few scraps for lunch meat.  Dh and I used to both have a whole maryland piece each.  I now share mine with Mr Busy and somehow that small change means there is more breast meat left than there used to be.  I spirited the bird away after dinner before destructive little fingers could pick off the meat just because they like to do that!

Last night the meat left on the bird was transformed into a chicken and vegetable casserole, as pictured above.  It's a really simple recipe but one my children always seem to love.  This time it had onion, garlic, celery, carrot and corn mixed in with the chicken and white sauce base.  Last time I had a leek left so I used that instead of onion..  That was really yummy!

After I'd picked off all the meat from the carcass I threw it into the crockpot with two other carcasses I'd thrown into the freezer (again, after a roast) for just such a purpose.  I find using roasted carcasses yields a rich, clear stock without any scum to deal with.  An onion, carrot and celery went in there two and it did it's thing for about 24 hours.

Tonight I used that stock to make cauliflower soup - the first recipe from my new soup recipe book.  This soup, along with cheesy rolls made from rolls Dh got marked down that were skulking about in the freezer taking up space made for a very cheap meal indeed - but very yummy!

There you have it - three meals from a $9 chook:  roast, casserole, soup.  And there's plenty of soup leftover for lunches this week.  Awesome!

Saturday, 26 April 2014

And Then It Was Finished....Unveiling the Quilt

My 'Tail Feathers' quilt is done!  Well, the top is, anyway.  One day for birthday's and mother's day's I'll have it professionally quilted.

For now I'm just going to enjoy the satisfied feeling of looking at a completed project.

And then I'll begin thinking about what to do with all those 1 1/2 inch strips...

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Wierdest Morning Ever - Teaching Teachers!

I have just had the weirdest morning ever, in my professional life.  I, the student teacher, presented to experienced teachers in our school a framework for creating authentic assessment tasks for students.  That feels completely ironic to me!  I pondered for a little while about what right I could possibly have in teaching these things to teachers who have been doing this job far longer than I.

I learnt this morning that not all teaching degrees are created equal.  In the midst affirmation and encouragement one recently graduated secondary teacher informed me the topic I presented this morning was never offered in her degree program.  She was thrilled that her employer would offer internal Professional Development that could fill in the gaps and give her the tools she needs to be the best teacher she can be.

And that is, I suppose, where the right to teach experienced professional is conceived.  When we work as a team we share what we know for the benefit of developing our colleagues.  In schools that flows through to students receiving the best education we can offer.  In essence though, it is operating as the body of Christ - each of us fulfilling our role.  None of us thinking ourselves better or more important than the other even if others may ascribe importance to one part more than another.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

An Easter of Stitching

I managed to organise myself well enough to have not one but two weeks of mid-semester break for Uni at the same time as the school holidays.  It took a lot of work, but it has been so nice to enjoy Easter with no assignments looming over me for the first time in four years!

What does a girl do with all that freedom?  She stitches, of course!  Well, she read books too but this was definitely the Easter of Stitching.  On the day we left to go away for five days I madly cut out material, fused fabric and traced stitching lines  I have managed to complete the embroidery for one block and have nearly completed the embroidery for the next one.  The FINAL one!  I may well finish the stitching in front of the telly this week, before Uni demands my attention again.

The pieces of each block will probably then be put aside to languish sullenly until the mid-year school holidays to be put together.  It is rather exciting to see the quilt top nearly done though.  I began this quilt before I began my degree, and at the rate I'm going the degree will be completed first.  Funny thing about deadlines I suppose.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Embarking on a Souper Journey

I have been given the perfect partner for the beginning of a 5:2 diet:  The Soup Bible.  With over three hundred recipes I'm thinking Sunday's can definitely be soup night for dinner for like, the next hundred years.  If I plan very well I can have leftovers for a fast-day menu as well.  And the bonus?  An end chapter on breads: damper, soda bread, yeast breads.  This book is just whistling my tune all the way.

We decided we could handle the 'bible' part of the title - it's all in lower case.  An authority more than a gospel, if you will.

Now, to choose the first recipe.  Choices, choices.  No doubt you'll hear all about it over coming weeks.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Book Review: The Painted Table

My book review for The Painted Table has been posted here at Relz Reviewz.  Yet another brilliantly authored book with plenty of food thought woven into an eloquently told story.  If you like your fiction with weight an substance you'll love this one.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

My School Holiday Kitchen - Beginning the 5:2 Approach to Food

If you've been reading here for a while you may have noticed that my kitchen gets an extra workout over the school holidays.  Usually it's because I have more time, although that hasn't been the case this past week.  This past week it's simply been that I've been in the same building as my kitchen and I've been able to spend a few minutes here and there at a time of the day I wouldn't normally be able to if I was at work.

After our massive 3-week fast in February I began a new relationship with legumes.  I discovered my aversion to them is largely about the  affects we suffer when using the tinned version of any type of legume.  It's just nasty and not terribly comfortable either.  I figured if we were going to be fasting animal products we needed to get acquainted with legumes to keep our protein up so I dragged my copy of Nourishing Traditions out from under a layer of dust and found the section of legumes.  Did you know when you soak and cook them for long enough none of those nasty side-effects accompany consumption of legumes.  Ha.

This week I made a recipe I found in an AWW Vegie Cookbook which uses French-style lentils.  What a find!  This is meant to go with wholemeal pasta, but I like it perfectly well just as it is, maybe with a piece of buttered toast on the side.

It only took a few moments to put the lentils in a bowl to soak.
French-style lentils soaking

It only takes about 20 minutes to boil these after they've soaked for a day...something that can be done while you're making breakfast or doing some other kitchen task you need to do anyway.
Cooked French-style lentils

I ended up cooking my lentils at breaky time and then stored them in the fridge til I was ready to saute the mushrooms, garlic and spring onions and put it all together at lunch time.  With the 1 cup of dried lentils I've managed to have three lunches.  Brilliant!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

You might remember at the end of our fast I mentioned hearing about Intermittent Fasting (IF).  I finally got around to buying the book The Fast Diet by Dr Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer.  Often also called the 5:2 Diet, the authors offer up a very convincing argument to practice calorie restriction on two non-consecutive days a week.  They outline more than just weight loss as a good reason to practice IF.  Things like lowering your risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and delaying the onset of Alzheimer's.  It's worth thinking about. I've spent some time thinking about how it would suit me best to distribute my calories over a day - the recommendation is 500 on a fast day for women.  I've made some lists and figured out the calories for some family-favourite vegan meals and I gave it a go yesterday.  It wasn't that hard.  Whenever I thought I wanted to snack on something 'just because' I had a cup of tea or a drink of water instead.  Honestly that was the most difficult thing...the non-hungry snacking.

Vegies ready for making pasta sauce

Yesterday I had a poached egg on toast for breakfast, which began a quest for how to make a poached egg look like a restaurant one.  More on that another day perhaps!  I had some Premium crackers (like salada crackers) for lunch and we had pasta with a vegetable sauce for dinner.  It came to just a couple of calories under 500.  I think, for me, it will work best if I can have three meals in the day.  That means some careful and judicious planning but I think it's do-able.  Particularly as winter ushers in comfort in the form of thick, hearty vegetable soups.

If you're an Intermittent Faster I'd love to hear about your experiences.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Book Review: 'Pulling Back the Shades' by Dannah Gresh & Dr Juli Slattery

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Christian women don't have to choose between being sexual and spiritual. They have legitimate longings that the Church has been afraid to talk about, and books like Fifty Shades of Grey exploit. Whether you are single or married, sexually dead or just looking to revive your sex life, Pulling Back the Shades will address your desire to be both sexual AND spiritual. With solid Biblical teaching and transparent stories, trusted authors Dannah Gresh  and Dr. Juli Slattery, offer an unflinching look at the most personal questions women ask. The book offers practical advice for women to address five core longings:

  • to be cherished by a man
  • to be protected by a strong man
  • to rescue a man
  • to be sexually alive
  • to escape reality
God designed women with these longings and has a plan to satisfy them. It's time for women to identify their intimate longings and God-honoring ways to fulfill them.

What I thought:

I begin this review with the preface that I have not read the Fifty Shades of Grey books.  I prefer my fiction clean; without gutter language and explicit bedroom scenes.  Therefore Pulling Back the Shades is a book I never thought I would be reading!  The reason I agreed to review a non-fiction book addressing such a controversial issue was my deep respect, both personally and professionally, for Dr Juli Slattery.  Despite this it was not without a small amount of unease that I delved in to see how these two well-respected, Godly women would approach the topic of erotica and intimacy from a Biblical perspective.  From the very first pages I was put at ease and I knew this book would indeed be the ‘game changer’ both authors desired it to be.

Throughout Pulling Back the Shades, the authors share with authenticity and sincerity their burden for women, particularly Christian women, pulled into the lure of erotica and the deception that it is harmless.  Infused with stories from real women Gresh and Slattery reveal the very real damage to women’s lives and marriages caused by dabbling in erotica.  They describe the inbuilt longings of women and how erotica feeds into them so completely.  They openly discuss the deception and spiritual battle involved and the way Satan uses erotica to “kill and destroy” people of faith.

The book begins by acknowledging and describing the emotional and sexual needs of women and how the Fifty Shades style of erotica appears to fulfil those needs.  What I found refreshing in the early chapters of this book is that these authors do not shy away from God’s Truth and dare to risk ‘political incorrectness’ to name that which God defines as sin.  Gresh and Slattery do not leave the reader in that confronting, perhaps condemning place, but move forward to share a Godly, Biblically-centred view on women’s sexuality and practical suggestions for being both spiritually and sexually satisfied.

What comes through the pages of this book very clearly is the burden and deep concern these two authors carry for the hearts of women who are being deceived and destroyed by the world of erotica deemed harmless, perhaps even helpful, by health care professionals across our nations.  These two women, who dare to speak God’s truth in love, bring words that not only identify damaging sin, but words of healing and restoration.

If you are someone who wonders why the Fifty Shades books should be left in the bookstore, or if you experience difficulty with intimacy as a result of erotica I would urge you to entrust yourself into the loving, wise care of these two authors.  Their advice will give you hope that restoration is possible and remind you of the God whose knows you intimately and who wants you to appreciate the woman He created you to be.  Even if these are things you're not questioning or struggling with, even if you enjoy a positive, intimate marriage Pulling Back the Shades will offer you insight and wisdom into the beauty of married intimacy.

With thanks to Moody Publishers for my review copy.

'Pulling back the Shades' is available from Amazon and The Book Depository.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

I Don't Know How You Do It!

This is a statement that has been cast in my direction many a time.  The first time came when things were particularly difficult.  I won't go into the details.  Suffice to say co-owning a business is not good for a friendship.  Starting a new business at the same time was was not good financially nor emotionally.  I was brought to the bottom of the well and it was a dark place for me.  And I had people saying to me "I don't know how you do it".  The truth was, I wasn't doing it terribly well at all.  I was a mess.

When "I don't know how you do it" was again laid before me on Friday my flippant response was "nor do I".  After the morning I had yesterday I don't think I'm doing 'it' terribly well.  And truth be told I don't do 'it' terribly well pretty much most of the time.  Don't get me wrong, if I commit to doing something I get it done even if it kills me because I am a 100% kind of person.  Because of that I keep up with my study load, hand in assignments well and truly on time, I'm able to do my job at work with some kind of authenticity and competence and my family gets fed every day...more than once a day.  It looks like I'm doing OK to everyone else.

But don't let that fool you into thinking that I'm doing "it" well.  I've been home on school holidays for four days and my children have barely seen me.  I've got one final mid-semester assignment to complete this week and that has consumed my time.  Miss Sunshine is trying to organise her 18th birthday party and I keep saying "yes I want to, I didn't mean right now".  When I was vacuuming on Saturday (read first time this year - just kill me now) I had a little 'moment' with some tears because I'm not doing this bit of my life well either.  House cleaning?  You've got to be kidding me.  When competing against being at work on time, submitting assignments on time, getting dinner on the table somewhere close to on time and getting kids to be where they need to be on time housework doesn't even rate a mention on the 'urgent' scale I run by.  It simply doesn't exist until some 'urgent' reason presents people coming for dinner.  Which hasn't been in our experience for quite some time thanks to aforementioned assignments.  My extroverts are dying the slow withering death of starvation from people time.  I have three of them shrivelling up alongside the dust bunnies keeping them company.  Since having someone for dinner (which I'm going to cook anyway) means cleaning as well we're just skipping the whole people-over-for-dinner scenario.

On Saturday it all got to me.  My grief over the loss of close community has been accentuated by the stuff I'm not doing well, and the fact that there is just nowhere to go with it.  I have a friend who had a conversation about house paint colours with her Dad and two days later the man was in her house painting her walls!  That's what I'm talking about - love with feet on.  And I ached a little more because you just can't develop that kind of community in the space of a couple of years.  That's lifetime stuff. 

So here's a suggestion for those of you who know someone that you "just don't know how they do it".  Because she's not doing it.  I'm here to tell you there's a whole bunch of stuff in her life that just isn't happening.  There's stuff you can see that looks pretty good but that's not the whole story.  So....ask what you can do so she can get on with "it".  Better yet, don't ask, just do something to bless her.  Get that woman's house key off her husband and go clean her house.  Make her and her family a delicious, healthy meal.  Paint her walls.  Clean her windows.  Weed her garden.  These are the things that will bless the woman that "you don't know how she does it". 

These are the things that will help her feel like she might just make it. 

Love with feet on.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Recipe: Roasted Tomato and Red Capsicum Soup

This soup began as a bag of tomatoes and red capsicums that were beyond their salable best.  I snapped up the $2 bag last week whilst grocery shopping, and they have been skulking about in my fridge ever since.

Well...Sunday night happens to be soup night quite often so armed with a recipe from Julie Goodwin's Our Family Table I decided to deal with these less-than-impressive vegies.  As it turns out Julie's recipe was not what ended up in our bowls, apart from the fact that my tomatoes were indeed roasted! 

Roasted Tomato and Red Capsicum Soup

1kg tomatoes, quartered
4 red capsicums, seed and stem discarded
1 red onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
a slurp of red wine
800g tin diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock (water and stock powder is fine)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C.  Place the tomatoes, cut side up, on a lined baking tray.  Spray with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Bake for 45 minutes.
  2. Preheat the griller and lay the capsicums skin side up on the tray.  Grill until the skins are completely blackened.  Remove from griller and cover so the skins sweat and are easier to remove.  When cool, remove skins.
  3. Saute the onion and garlic in a large soup pot until softened; add the tomato paste and cook for a minute or two while stirring.
  4. Add the wine (maybe about 1/4 cup?) and stir to release the tomato paste from the bottom of the pan.
  5. Place the roasted tomatoes, capsicums, tinned tomatoes and chicken stock in the pot.
  6. Using a stab blender, blend the soup until it is completely smooth.  
  7. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Serve with a nice crusty bread.
A loaf of red capsicum ciabata bread went very well indeed with this soup.  We even had leftovers soup, which I've just had for lunch today.  Ooohhhh so good.  Rich, robust, smooth.

This was the perfect lunch to counter my most-incredibly-frustrating-morning-ever, which included tears, tantrums and a great deal of growling.  Loudly.  The kids wisely avoided me and stayed at the other end of the house.  Those people are smart when they need to be.  However, as a kindred spirit with Jen I overcame the technology and I won "like a boss".  Yeah, maybe not so much bossing, but more whimpering and relief as I fell across the line when the goal was reached.  Don't ever tell me I have to set up an online learning module using my University's platform to do so.  I don't even know how those people live a sane life.

But the soup - not so hard.  You can do that "like a boss" without even blinking an eye.