Monday, July 31, 2017

DIY & Budgeting...What it means to me to be a Homemaker...

I had a really good week this week. I love a week where I really feel like I've contributed to the home in a big way, don't you? It really vindicates our traditional family position, and silences the critics.
The conundrum of being a Stay At Home Mum
I've found that being a stay-at-home Mum draws criticism from a few fronts. Just occasionally, not often. I've been called a Kept Woman (not my capitals!), a Stepford Wife (not really a flattering term either), and accused of not living in the real world. Ahem. What about the 20+ years I spent living in the 'real world' as a single parent with three sons, one with a severe disability, working and studying at the same time? That's pretty darned real, folks.
What about those times when I had to negotiate payment plans for our utilities bill because having two teenaged sons, a tweenaged niece and an out of work brother in the house meant our telephone and electricity useage was off the scale, and I was the only income earning person in the household? Or the times when I only had $25 a week for a number of weeks, to feed us all? Even going back thirty years, that wasn't a lot of money to feed six people. Then there was that time when my 15 year old car blew a head gasket, and I couldn't afford to have it fixed, and had to be up at 4am to get to work by 8am, and didn't arrive home till 8pm? I did that for several months before I'd saved enough for the repairs. Character building stuff ;-)
I've had my tough financial times. I learned from them. They did not kill me. As the saying goes, they made me stronger....or at least fearless. I know, even to this day, that tough financial times pass. You get through them. You keep body and soul together, you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you keep on keeping on. You name a platitude. I've lived!
That said, things have changed for me in the last 20 something years. I met a lovely man. He adopted my disabled son. My older boys were teens by then, and didn't need 'adopting', but they think of him fondly, and refer to us as 'The Parents', thus making my husband 'The Dad' by osmosis.
My Man and I agreed from the outset that he would indeed be The Man, and I would keep the home fires burning. We both knew where our strengths lay. He was a whiz at earning the money, and I was a Homemaker raised by two generations of Homemakers.
After two decades of doing it tough on my own, this was a huge burden lifted from my shoulders. It's worked for us. If it's not your cup of tea, that's fine too. I've done the whole Career Girl thing, and frankly, it wasn't what it was cracked up to be either. I loved it at the time, but I had to. I was on my own. There was only me to earn the money to keep a roof over our heads, and food in our bellies. It was hard splitting myself in half to be Money Earner, and Mum, when there was no Dad.
If you however, find it enormously rewarding and fulfilling, then I respect that too. I liked being a Career Girl for a while. I learned enormously from the experience of those years. I learned too, from working in the Events, Health Care, Media, Retail, and Food Service industries. Many of those lessons, are things that I have successfully carried over into my home life. No experience or education, is ever wasted :)
Finding your passion
I thought I was doing well as a Career Girl, but funnily enough, through being the best Homemaker that I can be, I've really found my passion. Blogging, running menu planning and grocery shopping workshops, and writing for a money saving website, have been just some of the great pleasures born of being a Career Homemaker. Sometimes it's worth trusting that there's a world out there beyond 'paid work'.
I love the challenge of baking a cake to rival a bought one, of creating candles to gift that smell as glorious as the ones with a $65 price tag, of having my family sit down to a restaurant worthy meal. These things bring me joy. I've always loved cooking and crafts of all kinds, and finding a way to craft a beautiful gift without the sensational price tag, has always been a special pleasure.

The Best of Both Worlds
The lessons of two different lifestyles, one the Working Mum, the other the Stay At Home version, have led to a surprising revelation.

I can generate greater financial value by treating Homemaking as a career choice, than by working in an outside paid role.


And not because I didn't have a successful career life. I did. In fact, there are many lessons I learned in my corporate life, that have translated well to my home life. Skills like time management, controlling budgets and rosters, menu planning and costing, and even dealing with the difficult people, are all skills I learned as a Career girl, that have been invaluable in my home life. These skills have enhanced my homemaking potential beyond what I ever believed possible.

What skills do you have, or have you had, in your Corporate existence, that serve you well in your home life?

Practice makes Perfect-ish 
Of course, I value the heirloom skills I learned at my Nannas and Mothers knee, as much as any of my tertiary or corporate skills, now that I have time to utilise them.
I remember the first celebration cake I made without my Mums help. Mum and Nanna were fabulous cake bakers and decorators, and contributed a cake to many a wedding, 21st and Christening. The first few cakes I made without their input, well...let's just say, there was room for improvement *wink*. I didn't let that defeat me though. I kept trying. I read. I bought magazines and borrowed books from the library. I practised. I failed. I tried again. I got better at Cake-ing.
Over time, I improved my skills in many DIY areas. But it took time. Years in some cases. I've tried my hand at embroidery, sewing, knitting, crochet, card making, candle making, scrapbooking, tie-dyeing, watercolour painting, and dozens of other gift creation or life enhancement skills. I got better at some things like cake decorating, embroidery, sewing and candle making, and never really got the hang of others. But this too, showed me where my strengths lay, and gave me the skills and confidence to create beautiful items that people might pay big money for. You can do it too. 
You. Just. Keep. Practising.
In just the last year, I've perfected my Bullion Rose embroidery. These are also known as Grub Roses, and I have Annabel at The Bluebirds are Nesting to thank for the simple tip of using a Straw Needle for these. Perfection had escaped me for many years for the simple reason that I was using the wrong type of needle!
Obsessed with roses as I am, I only recently found the time to teach myself how to paint Swoosh Roses. I'd admired these for a long, long time, and had no idea how simple they are to replicate until now...

Find the things you love. Learn how to replicate them. You too, may be pleasantly surprised at how simple they are to craft.
My Insourcing Efforts for the Week
This week, my Homemaking, or rather Insourcing efforts, as I prefer to call them these days, led me to stocking my cupboard plentifully, embellishing my home beautifully, and feeding my family abundantly.
I said yes to an offer of home grown oranges and mandarins.
I said yes to baking a historically correct (lol!) Dolly Varden cake. Just because I rather fancied it's pretty pastel colours. A true Dolly Varden cake is nothing to do with dolls. It's fashioned on a character in a Charles Dickens novel, and has to do with the colours and embellishments on the cake, being similar to the frothy dresses worn by that character :)
I said yes to attempting to paint some of the little roses I'd admired for many years, and discovered that they were so easy, it's ridiculous!

I added lace to some manilla tags I'd painted with those same roses, and added them to my gift wrapping stash.

I shopped at a local thrift store that I haunt from time to time. While there, I found this table lamp, similar to one I'd been admiring online for $265. I had found the shantung shade weeks ago for just $15 (brand new and still in the packaging), and knew that if I were patient, the lamp base would find it's way to me. And it did. For just $35. Patience rewarded.

My efforts to find linen in the colour I wanted had been thwarted by the current trend towards minimalism. Likewise Mattress Ticking for cushion covers in tones I admired, had been scarce on the ground. I was specifically looking for the fine striped mattress ticking, not the more trendy variegated stripes in differing widths. But here I found it. Brand new, still in the packaging, in the form of a duvet cover. Fabric is fabric is fabric. Smoky blues and lemon tones, roses one side, traditional looking mattress ticking the other. And more than enough in a duvet cover for cushions and napery. $10 for what ends up being several generous metres. Thankyou Universe.

A vintage colander (strainer), was to be had for around the $20 mark, to add to my French style pot hanger in my new kitchen, and how could I say no to a pretty vintage, blue and white mixing bowl, embellished with roses AND mattress ticking style stripes, to add to my pantry for just $4?

A picture in a magazine of a sliding kitchen pantry drawer like my own, holding a wicker basket piled high with green apples, fired my imagination...
...leading to this purchase for just $2...

...scrubbed clean, it's going to be a feast for the eyes piled high with green apples. I love the feeling of sheer abundance that these elements lend to my home, and green apples and a thrifted wicker basket cost me less than $5...
I've  always thought that fruit piled into baskets and bowls makes the home feel plentiful :)

Finally, I snipped a whole roll of white lace trim, left over from costume making a few years ago, into shorter lengths for gift tags. Being a craft junkie sometimes means having just the right bits and pieces ready to go, to entice you to get going on a productive crafting session!
Being a Homemaker generated a retail value this week, of...
5 kgs oranges gifted....value $15
4 kgs mandarins gifted....value $12
Dolly Varden cake...$10 spent...value $55
Gifts (dolls and cushions) and tags generated...$6 spent...value $165
Lamp base purchase...$50 spent....value $265
Fabric for napery and cushions sourced at $10...value $100
Kitchenware sourced at $24...value $90
Basket paid $2...value $65
Lace trimmed for use $0 spent....value $10
Total value generated by me this week $747
Less Total spent $102
My value in the home this week $645.
And that's conservative, not taking into consideration all that I do each and every day in making meals, acting as counsellor, beauty therapist, shoulder to cry on, and motivator. Of course there's keeping my family well presented and well nourished, cleaning, gardening, washing the dog, gardening, and meal preparation. All of that is worth something too!
I'm worth my weight in gold. Honestly.
What did you do this week that added to your families' enjoyment of life?

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Swoosh Roses...DIY painted roses and buds..

These are so easy, that once you've done a few, you'll be embellishing everything in sight with roses!

You need pink or red plus white and green paints. I just used discount store acrylics.
You'll also need some small artist brushes. You can buy these inexpensively at discount stores too. One about the size of the pointy end of a pair of scissors. The smaller you want your roses to be, the smaller your brush should be.
Plop a  few dots of paint onto a palette or saucer, and get a sheet of paper ready to practice.

 Wet the brush in a glass of water, and squeeze out the excess moisture.
Put a bit of dark pink or red on the tip of the brush and mark the centre of your rose.
Load your brush with a good dab of pink or red on one side and white on the other.
Now, make a C shape, or a swoosh (so named because of the Nike Swoosh, I think), going top to bottom on the left hand side of your dot.
Then go from top to bottom of the dot AND the swoosh, on the right hand side.

At this stage, it just looks like a pink and white blob.

But keep going, adding another swoosh left and right, each time enclosing the previous swoosh.
After 3-6 swooshes (whatever you're happy with), you have your rose....

You can then add leaves if you like.
Rinse the brush, and squeeze out the excess moisture again, then dip the tip only, into the green paint.

Choose a point where you'd like your leaves. It's usually pretty to have them form a sort of V shape beneath or above your rose.

Just make a simple sweeping shape, vaguely following the curve of your rose. Add a smaller one on the other side. Make it a bit wiggly if you like. You really just want the hint of a leaf. The same as this is really just a hint of a rose.
Load the brush with a tiny bit of white, and add small accents to your leaves.

That's it!
You've just painted a Swoosh Rose!
Practice a few more. Each one will be different, and you'll improve as you go along. Don't aim for perfection. As my daughter pointed out to me on the ones I had admired, they are really just little blobs that are representational of a rose.
But oh so pretty!

Play with them, and be assured, that there is no such thing as a bad Swoosh Rose.
Add leaves, add buds. My rosebuds are just one stroke of pink, enclosed in a stroke of green on each side with a slip of white to accent.

I love them on any colour tag or card...

And when I look at my old fashioned rose from a friends garden, I think they're a pretty fair facsimile.
Paint some and have fun with them. They're gorgeous on cards, boxes, canisters, and d├ęcor items of all kinds. The more you paint them, the more you're going to love them. I promise!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Budget & Insourcing for the week...

Insourcing is my way of tallying my value in the home. Do you ever do that? It gives me and my family a great way of putting a dollar value on all that we do.
This week, determined to stick to my Life Manifesto...
...I generated roses from several materials, and worked on the continuing renovation of our kitchen, which truly is the hub of life around here.
I created some rolled crepe paper roses, using hand dyed and stamped crepe paper streamers...

You start by making one of those accordion style streamers where you fold and fold to get this effect above.
You then secure the ends, and roll it around your fingers to get this very pretty rose effect. See here for a slideshow of instructions that I created last year. It will make more sense.

You can use fabric to make these as well. I made a few from a remnant of navy blue raw silk that surfaced in my fabric collection last week. I was supposed to be ....ahem...decluttering, but what's a girl to do when faced with lustrous silk and faux pearls?
I think I'll stitch these to cushions for the living room...
These efforts save me enormously in seeking satisfaction by shopping or spending. These days I am very content, fluffing around in my craft room, finding new fabrics and trims with which to adorn my home. And if I can't grow roses (although goodness knows I'll keep trying!), then I am determined to have roses around me in other ways.
 My son replanted his garden pod. He's an avid courtyard gardener, and this is worth mentioning as insourcing here, because not only does this give him free vegetables, but he gifts the excess to me! My son has Cerebral Palsy and grows his own food in his tiny enclosed courtyard attached to his apartment. If he can do it, anyone can. I'm great with herbs and fruit. He's great with herbs and veges. Between the two of us, we do okay. I'll call that a saving of about $15 on herbs this week.
I menu planned and shopped accordingly. This process is vital for effective time and money management, and for reducing waste and frustration! I start by looking at the week ahead, and what sort of timetable we have, then plan accordingly. Menu planning is not just about planning what you want to eat, and buying the ingredients. You can see more on this here.

I plan for the nights we are all home, and the ones we are not. I plan my prep schedule as well, to make the meal creating process as smooth as possible. I plan for breakfasts, lunches and snacks, not just for the evening meal. This makes a huge difference to how well we eat, how healthy we are, and how much I spend.

This week while shopping, I got some great bargains on blocks of cheese. I found these at a market that sells fresh meat and produce at prices far below the supermarket prices. I don't go there often, but when I do, I always wonder why I don't make it part of my monthly shopping routine. I feel some changes afoot! I've been inspired on this topic by Annabels posts at The Bluebirds are Nesting, on shopping further afield, and making the most of our budgets.
I grated some of the cheese using my rotary grater. I love how it spirals out from the base of the grater, and yields these lovely fine strands of cheese to pile abundantly upon anything from pizzas, to lasagna and sandwiches. This method of grating makes a small amount of cheese look really generous, so those little rotary parmesan graters are well worth the investment.

I sliced and cubed the rest of my bargain cheese, and popped it into the freezer. I think we have about 4 months supply of cheese for under $20. And we eat a lot of cheese! That's a saving of around $100.
I also found small knobs of Virginia ham which we like for it's lower fat content, and sliced those up for sandwiches and cooking. They too, were about one third of the price of a similar purchase, even at Aldi, the supermarket of choice around here. I purchased 3 knobs of ham for $12. These would normally be $12 each. $24 saved.

I taught my daughter how to make a baked cheesecake. She'd seen one in Coles for $38. $38!!! For a cheesecake? Has the world gone mad? We baked this one for under $5. A cheesecake after all, is just cream cheese beaten with eggs and flavouring, and baked till firm. We added passionfruit pulp to ours as we have a glut of passionfruit gifted by my Mother-in-Law.
Baked cheesecake is not the most beautiful thing as seen above, still cooling in it's springform tin. But frankly the one in Coles was far less attractive, and at nearly 8 times the price, pretty measly looking too! I can assure you, that my baked cheesecake is melt-in-the-mouth delicious!
Here's the only photograph I managed of a slice of our cheesecake. It disappeared too quickly! But you can see from this photo, that ours had a light, mousse-like texture, that I'm fairly certain was an improvement on the Coles bakery version! At $5 vs $38, that's a saving of $33.
Here's my recipe in four sentences:
Beat 500gms of cream cheese with 3 eggs, the pulp of 3-6 passionfruit, and 1/2 cup of caster (superfine) sugar. Pour into a springform pan, lined with a mixture of 250gms of crushed biscuits mixed with 120gms of melted butter, pressed firmly into the base. Bake at 160C fan forced, until just firm in the middle, around 35-55 minutes depending upon your oven and the size of your pan. Allow to cool in the pan, then remove the outer ring of the springform, and chill before serving.

I sourced the makings of some gifts on eBay some weeks ago, and these all arrived. I formed small sewing kits with Eiffel Tower scissors and hand made needle threaders to gift to Mums who had helped with costume making for the school. At around $6 for each kit, as opposed to $35 each for the ones I had admired, it was a significant saving. 10 kits for $60 over 10 kits for $350! A saving of $290!

I found this lovely photograph and quote in a Notebook magazine I leafed through, saving clippings and recipes as I went. I then discarded the magazine. I'm a bit of a bower bird for magazines, and have to force myself to cull them regularly. They take up so much space! I'll call that a sanity!
I posted this pic and quote on Instagram, and interestingly Marie-Anne Lecouer, (author and owner of The French Chic Academy), who follows me on Instagram, commented thus..

"I like that. Many people would say it is a poverty mindset and you have to spend what you can't afford to be in alignment etc. But I say thrift is about character and looking for value. Seek value in everything that you do and then you find value everywhere. Moreover you will find it within you - that is the most valuable thing you have".
So I guess this fits with the French philosophy of not spending indiscriminately, and saving for those things you truly value, thus appreciating them more. It's that idea of quality, not quantity. Don't be thinking that being 'thrifty', equates to being 'cheap'. There is nothing wrong with feeling you have generated VALUE in making your purchases, be it a new car, a new coat, or the weekly grocery spend. This is an important mindset, and one that I only appreciate more and more as I grow older.
Your efforts at making the family budget stretch, should never been seen as mean or stingy. You are simply seeking the best value for your dollar, and for your family. That is a skill of which to be proud.
While culling my magazine collection, I also found these cute cheese graters. I just thought I'd share them here because they're pretty. Why shouldn't a cheese grater be useful and pretty?

I found time to admire the inspiration for my oven alcove too...

...soon, soon.
Meanwhile the kitchen renovation progresses ever slowly, as things do when you're a DIY-er  Insourcing. I have to say I am quite thrilled with my new Husband-built cabinetry, with cute Faux window. That was an afterthought, and one that I loved immediately.

That window was going to be blocked in, but when the cabinetry inadvertently sort of grew around the window, we decided to leave it like that. I feel like I could run over any time, fling the window open, and call 'Dinners Ready', just like my Mum used to. Husband made the cute faux window frame, and attached the brass fittings. Clever Husband also cut, stained and coated that bench top in 2-pac. I think it looks lovely. I cannot even guess at how much we saved by building all of that ourselves. Probably thousands. Let's say $1,000 for arguments sake. That will do.
The next step in the kitchen renovation will be to remove the current oven and ceramic hotplate. That's going to leave a hole in the benchtop, and I was a bit lost for how to disguise it. We've decided the solution will be an insert of marble into the bench, allowing it sit above the bench with a lambs tongue edge, as seen in this picture. My benchtops are almost identical to those seen here below, but with the high gloss finish of my nook, seen above. I already have an inset marble chopping and kneading block at the other end of my bench, so we will replace that with the same lambs ear edged marble, and they'll both look like they were meant to be there. I hope. Gulp. We'll source the marble directly from the factory here, as we did previously. I estimate the cost will be around $200-$300 as opposed to $1500 quoted by a kitchen specialist. That's a $1200 saving. Husband will install them.

So that gives me a DIY  Insourcing tally of $1662, plus whatever I saved by crafting rather than shopping and spending. I'm happy to call it a $1700 week, knowing that the kitchen renovation DIY efforts have saved us enormously.
How was your week? I know you're good at this insourcing thing too. I'm dying to hear!