Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Should I stay or should I go?

Today's post has been a long time coming.  I'm writing it for various reasons; because I need to let it out, because I need to try and make sense of all the thoughts that are going round in my head and because I'm hoping that perhaps you, dear reader can help point me in the direction of the path I need to follow.  I apologise if my ramble is long; whilst I can't divulge everything I would like to out of respect for the privacy of others, I think I can impart enough to enable you to understand my predicament.  In a nutshell, I am currently teetering on the edge of making the biggest decision of my life.

Exactly three years and two months ago I became the proud and very nervous owner of Nawtypoo Cottage.  I fell in love with our new home instantly and vowed I would never leave.  Unfortunately this honeymoon period was shortlived and much as I still love my little house, these last three years have been pretty much a constant hell.  There you go, I've said it now.  I think my boys would agree too, that on the whole it's been bloody awful.  I don't know whether I'm jinxed or something, sometimes I think I must just be a really bad person - but everything that can possibly go wrong these past three years has done so.  Even so, I've hung in there, clinging on to my house month after month in the hope and belief that things will get better.  The problem is, they haven't and I think after 38 months of taking two small steps forward and three giant ones back, I have finally come to the end of the road.

First I guess I should bring you up with the play on my current situation but I want to make one thing clear.  I'm not doing this to look all 'woe is me' or because I want sympathy.  Some things have been my fault but a lot of them, the biggest ones haven't.  I'm doing it because I don't want people to think that living a frugal lifestyle doesn't work.  I don't want people reading all the things I've been doing to save money and thinking 'hmph, well it's not done her any good, has it?' because it has.  Without the knowledge and skills I have to get through each day, I would have lost Nawtypoo in the first six months.  To put it bluntly, I've just had an absolute shitload of rotten luck.

To quote the Queen herself, this past year in particular has been a 'annus horriblis' - make that 18 months actually.  I have lost three jobs since last October alone, none of which have been my fault. I have been on a medical benefit since January - not because I am sick but because I have been caring for someone who has been.  Going out to work has not been possible during this time and I have been granted a benefit on the grounds of acute stress.  Incidentally I have to say that WINZ have been nothing but incredibly helpful and supportive during this time and indeed ever since I became a solo mother.  I know not everyone is so fortunate but my local branch totally rocks, I dread to think where I would be without them.

Losing my job at the local newspaper at the start of the year was a bit of a bummer but was understandable given the circumstances.  Things were going to be harder financially for sure - but as long as I still had my That's Life! magazine column we would be OK.  I had been writing it for nine years and that was what paid for the roof over our heads.  Of course, no sooner had I said that than a couple of weeks later I received a phone call from Australia, advising me with regret that all their freelance columnists were being let go and from now on everything was going to be done in house.  So while their weekly money saving column still says 'with Penny Wise', it's not me and hasn't been for a long while.  Still, nine years is one heck of a good run for a magazine column, you don't come across those too often!  And it was always going to come to an end one day; it was just unfortunate that for me the timing couldn't be worse.  In addition, poor Gareth became ill shortly after.  Despite numerous tests doctors never really got to the bottom of it but it was so debilitating that he had to give up work in April.

When I think about it now, if I say so myself I've done bloody well.  I've kept up with my mortgage, kept the bills paid and kept us all fed, on $500 a week.  Wherever I can I sell stuff on Facebook; more often than not this pays for our groceries and then I can put more money towards bills.  I don't have an Eftpos card so I am never tempted into spending more than necessary and I don't even have a car any more.  When we ran out of firewood we went to the beach every day and collected driftwood because there wasn't room in the budget to buy any more.  I'm not saying that to be 'oh look at me, my life is so hard', I'm saying it to show how frugal I've been.  I've literally tried everything to hang on to my home.  And most of the time, I don't mind.

But you know what?  I really feel like I'm done.  I can't do this any more.  This morning I have 69c in my bank account and that's all we have for the next two days unless I sell some more stuff.  I can't keep supporting us all this way.  I'm so sick of being stressed out and exhausted from spending every minute of every day thinking about how I can make things better and coming up with no answers. Gareth just started a new job today and I'm now at the stage where I can pick up more work (although that's a bit more difficult these days with no car) but it's too late.  I don't think we can bounce back from this.  Not even a small bounce.

So this is my dilemma.  I have just paid my mortgage for August and I don't know where the hell September's is going to come from.  I'm pretty confident things are going to hit the fan.  There is just one thing I can do which will make all of this go away - sell my house.  The housing market is going crazy where we live and I already have people queuing up wanting to buy it - and I haven't even had it valued yet!  I guess what is stopping me most is pride.  Pride and not wanting to give up.  When my marriage ended I was told I would never own my own home.  I did.  I was told I wouldn't ever live in anything but a tumbledown rental in a shitty part of town.  I ended up achieving the opposite.  And I love Nawtypoo, it tears at my heart so much to let her go.  But as Gareth said, I bought Nawtypoo because I wanted to give my children a secure roof over their heads.  I didn't want us to be in a rental that we could get kicked out, as happens to so many lovely families here.  Once the boys left school and were old enough to leave home, I didn't care what happened to me, but I wanted to at least be able to do that.

And I have done that. As Gareth also pointed out, I've done what I set out to do.  Maybe now it's time for a new chapter.  I know in my heart he's right, I'm still just having trouble letting go.  I can hardly blame the poor bloke for wanting me to get a wriggle on, being with me right now must be a bloody nightmare!  Seriously, he deserves a medal; much more than a medal.  Right now I can't even buy him a bar of chocolate to show him how much I love him.  It's been tough on all of us for too long.

Well would you look at that.  I seem to have written myself out of my dilemma.  Which was to ask, do I hang on?  Do I stay and keep fighting, keep trying to make things work at the expense of my health, my sanity and my loved ones' happiness and well being?  Or do I sell my house, be debt free and start again with a clean slate and hopefully a nice little profit to boot?  It's a no brainer isn't it.  Even if we don't know right now where we'll end up it's got to be better than this.  Ladies and gentlemen, you heard it first here.  Nawtypoo Cottage is officially up for sale.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

The School of Life

If there's one thing I've always told my two boys it's that 'I don't mind what you do when you leave school, as long as you're happy'.  Which as we all know is the important thing.  However what I didn't realise until recently was that what I really thought was 'I don't mind what you do when you leave school, as long as you're happy.  But ideally it would be great if you went to university because it sounds nice and everyone will know how clever my children are'.  Fortunately for me, obliging young chaps that they are, that was the plan for both of them.  Until recently, that is.  And as it turns out, I don't mind at all.

Years ago I remember seeing a plaque on a lady's wall which said 'For things to change, first I must change'.  As I mentioned in a recent post, we have been undergoing some major changes around here and there are still bigger ones in the pipeline.  I try not to write too much about my boys these days; as far as I'm concerned they are both adults with their own lives and they don't really need Mumsie broadcasting their every move to all and sundry.  But I am going to write about them today because I am proud of them both for making brave changes and jumping into the unknown.  

Liam you may remember, went away to uni half way down the country at the start of 2015.  He quickly settled in to uni and whilst I gave up all hope of being able to teach him to cook, he still managed to survive.  He loved Wellington, loved his friends and as his second year commenced he loved his new flat too.  There was just one major thing he didn't love any more - his degree.  Whilst the first year was really interesting and enjoyable, the second year was far from what he expected. Every time he came home for a visit he confessed to feeling more and more disillusioned with his course and he wasn't the only one.  Being the first bunch of under graduates in a brand new degree, Liam and his fellow students were, for want of a better expression, guinea pigs and as the second year progressed, more and more of them were becoming frustrated at the lack of direction.

Despite various meetings, complaints from parents and several students already dropping out, by the time they reached half way through the year, they were actually learning more teaching themselves on YouTube than they were in class.  With just one more year to go, Liam was far from confident about the likelihood of being able to find work in his chosen field once he had graduated.  'How on earth will we be able to get a job in such an advanced field?  We haven't learned anything all year!' Each term was the same and he would try and hang on through the next, hoping that things would improve but to no avail.  The only thing that was keeping him there was his love of Wellington and the people around him and the fact that, already now half way through, he didn't want to drop out.

A couple of months ago he came back for a visit and we had a day out together in Hamilton.  Over a huge plate of wedges with all the works, he once again started to tell me how he just didn't know what to do. He didn't want to give up but the fact of the matter was, he just wasn't happy.  The second year of his course was still proving to be a huge letdown and once again he was feeling far from confident about his job prospects if he did see it through.  Being the first bunch of graduates in a new degree, it wasn't as though they had the reassurance of seeing where previous students before them had ended up in life and where their qualifications had taken them.

I could see his dilemma and didn't envy the poor lad at all but was struggling to know what to say for fear of steering him in the wrong direction.  Then out of the blue a middle aged man, possibly older, approached our table, along with his wife.  I had seen them sitting over the other side of the cafe.  'Hi, I hope you don't think this is too weird!  I'm a pastor and I have received a message for the young fella here.  I didn't want to leave without giving it to you.  Do you mind if I share it?'  'Umm, no?' Liam and I looked at each other nervously.  'Here we go', I thought.  'We're about to get a sermon in the middle of the bloody cafe!'  But what he said next surprised the heck of us both.  'You are struggling with some big decisions', he said to Liam.  'You have had a disappointment and you don't know what to do or which path to take.  Don't be scared to go after what you want.  Do what you need to do to be happy.  Everything will be OK, in fact everything will be great!'

Liam and I were absolutely gobsmacked.  How on earth could this guy possibly know what was on his mind?  We had barely even started our conversation?  'Um, OK, thank you!' we said, still lost for words.  No sooner had the couple left the cafe than we wanted to run out and find them to ask him more, but by the time his words had sunk in they had already driven off.  A few days after that, Liam called me to say he had made the decision to leave uni.  'No way am I forking out another $4,000 for another term of teaching myself on YouTube, I can do that for free!' he said.  I couldn't argue with that logic; in fact I was proud of him for seeing it that way and saving himself such a large amount on his student loan.  Besides, now I got to have my eldest boy back and closer to home!  Maybe I could finally give him some cooking lessons!

Liam wasn't the only one struggling with big decisions.  For a long time now Ali had his future planned out.  He was going to leave school at the end of the year and then go to uni to do a Psychology degree.  His heart was so set on it he had already made the decision to commit to six years of study in order to get his Masters.  The only decision he really had to make was which university to go to.  There was just one thing standing in his way - Ali detested school.  Academic he most certainly was, to the extent he could be anything he wanted - but a conformist he definitely wasn't.  Every day his tolerance as a young man still confined in a child's environment grew less and less and he realised he couldn't wait to achieve his independence.  He wanted to join the adult world and earn his own money now.  Seeing my boy as miserable as he was, no way was I going to talk him out of it.  He left school at the end of last term and hasn't looked back.

So now both my boys are out there in the big wide world!  Liam (the most un-morning person I have ever met, if there is such a word) is getting up at 4am every morning and driving to the city, where he works from 6am until 6pm and then drives home again.  He's been so busy I don't even exactly know what he's doing yet!  In typical Liam fashion he just says 'Oh, some labour thing'.  He doesn't really care what he does, he's just saving up to go travelling.  Ali, keen to learn a trade has been doing all sorts from plastering to building before settling on being a painter.  It always makes me smile to see him come home covered in plaster and goodness knows what.  I'm really proud of them for being strong enough to make changes and doing what they needed to in order to be happy.  I think a lot of adults could learn from that - me included - and I have,  But that's a whole other blog!

Thursday, 18 August 2016

$21 Challenge Day 7 - Out with a bang

'Last day of our $21 Challenge today!' I told Ali this morning.  'Thank God', he said.  'What?  Pah, we've eaten really well this week!' I protested.  'I know, just kidding', he grinned.  Indeed I couldn't help but chuckle to myself as I served up dinner last night; chicken pie with roast potatoes, kumara and green beans followed by plum and apple crumble.  Ali just polished off the last of the chicken pie for lunch and I still have a ton of chicken left for tonight's dinner - last night's dinner was made just from the wings and legs alone!  There isn't much left at all in the freezer but what did jump out at me was the bottle of cream, which meant just one thing - we could finish our challenge week with Ali's favourite dinner, 'Pasta with Chicken, White Wine and Cream' from the $21 Challenge book!  Talk about going out in style!

I still have to work out the final tally but either way we've done bloody well.  Even before the challenge our weekly food bill was low.  We usually get a $20 vegie box from the local greengrocer each week, as well as a $25 meat pack from the butcher, who does a different range each week.  Not only does this give us plenty of variety and makes us try new dishes and cook new things, it also means we get all our meat and vegetables for just $45 a week and half the time we can stretch our vegie box to last two weeks.  I think that's pretty good value already so the fact that we went without BOTH these things this week AND spent less than the price of just one of them is not a bad effort at all!

It's nice to know I haven't lost the knack, in fact quite the opposite.  It was interesting to note too, how many of our week's meals came from the $21 Challenge book and the fact that these were by no means just dragged out for the Challenge but even after all these years all of them still feature regularly at our family table.  I also made it through the week without laundry powder, dishwashing liquid, pet food and even electricity!  Yes, I am still cooking in the dark every night.  I hope the inconvenience of having no kitchen lights makes itself apparent in the next power bill!  I also learned that when you think you only have enough toothpaste to last one day, there's actually another whole week left in there!

Most of all however I learned how kind people are.  As soon as I announced on Facebook last Friday that I was doing a $21 Challenge out of necessity, I immediately received a lovely message from a friend I haven't seen in years, which said 'I have some spare cash this week, let me help you out.  Doing something good makes the soul feel nice'.  Of course I declined her offer but was truly touched, especially as we haven't seen each other in such a very long time.  That night I also received a message from a local chap who I had ordered a load of firewood from for $50.  'I've decided to give you that firewood for free.  After all, you've helped me out in the past', it read.  'Nooo, I can't do that!  I'm more than happy to pay, I budgeted for it!' I said.  'Tell you what, do you have any fruit in that garden of yours?  How about we do a swap?' came the reply.  Now I can't swear to it, but I'm pretty sure he must have read my post in our local 'Pay It Forward' page on Facebook, offering free oranges, lemons and mandarins!  'Yes, I do!  you can have as much as you like!'  I typed back.  'Sounds like a fair trade to me!' he said.  Then Sunday morning my phone beeped with a message from another friend.  'I see you're living on $20 this week.  You can double that at least if you come round to my place this morning and do some cleaning - today only, mind!'  That was one offer I did accept!

All in all, I ended up making another $130 through that cleaning job and selling stuff on our Buy and Sell Facebook page.  But I still stuck to my $21 Challenge principles and didn't use that money.  For one thing, I had already announced I was doing a $21 Challenge and I was committed to seeing it through - but it made me feel even better knowing that I did have money there I COULD fall back on but still didn't need to resort to using it.  The only rule we did bend was on the very first night of the Challenge.  Gareth and I had already planned a movie night that night, with a DVD and treats.  That was, until I realised we only had $20 for the whole week.  Taking it out of our food budget was not an option and not being big spenders or extravagant romantics we had been looking forward to it.  There was only one thing we could do - raid the coin jar!  Not that there was much in it anyway but we managed to scrape together enough for a $3.50 DVD rental, a bar of chocolate and a bag of popcorn. Doesn't cost much to make us happy!

One very sorry looking freezer!

It's almost time to cook my final Challenge dinner and one of the best things about it is that it is so quick and easy.  As a rule I don't miss eating meat but I will tonight, as I watch the others while tucking into my Pumpkin and Chickpea Casserole!  I must say, I'm not looking forward to tomorrow though, when we have to do one heck of a grocery shop.  I could really do with that $30 transaction fee the bank took off me!  We don't even have flour any more and we're almost out of butter and cheese, both of which will get used up tonight.  But still, we've used up a whole lot of things this week which wouldn't have got used otherwise and I'm really proud of both our efforts and our resolve.  You can bet I won't be celebrating with a glass of wine though, the only glass of bubbles I'm looking forward to is Diet Coke!

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

$21 Challenge Day 6 - Now the fun REALLY begins!

Day Six of the Challenge and whilst it is apparent that we will indeed survive it, it is also becoming increasingly obvious that by the end of it we will have just about nothing.  We are fast running out of EVERYTHING and much to everyone else's annoyance, the realisation of this keeps making me laugh hysterically in my attempts to stretch everything as much as possible and waste nothing.  As mentioned, last night's dinner was an enormous kick-ass roast, being the first meal from our giant chicken.  Even though I don't eat chicken I was looking forward to it immensely, as was Gareth - until I broke the news to him.  'We won't be able to have Yorkshire Puddings though, we don't have any eggs left and we should probably save the last of the milk', I told him.  'Really?  OK, guess we can go without Yorkshire Pudding', he said, a tad crestfallen.

Later on in the day however, as we walked to town he appeared to have changed his tune.  Having already agreed that we really did need to get another bottle of milk, I suggested that perhaps we could spare $1.20 from the budget to purchase two eggs from the Corner Store.  'Look, I have my card on me and it's got a bit in it, just get some eggs!' he insisted.  'Noooo, that would be too much, I only need two!' I wailed.  Needless to say, he won and we got a dozen eggs.

With the exception of eggs and milk we're low on pretty much everything now.  Oil, sugar, you name it.  I giggled to myself yesterday as I 'treated' myself to a bowl of leftover cabbage and carrots for lunch with a dollop of gravy.  Waste not, want not!  Tonight we'll use up the last of the potatoes too.  I didn't realise how low we had got until Gareth was peeling them last night for dinner.  'Do you want me to do any more?' he asked.  'We've only got three left'.  'Hmm, maybe we should leave them then. Oh hang on, there's a nice big kumara in the fridge, use that instead!'  I said, passing it to him. However seeing the three potatoes sitting in the bottom of the bag I swiftly changed my mind.  'Actually no, don't worry, I'm making chicken pie tomorrow and the recipe has a kumara in it.  We'll have enough, just put it in there', I nodded towards the bag of potatoes.  'OK', he said and proceeded to peel a strip off the kumara.  'Nooooo, what are you doing!  We need to save that for tomorrow!' I said, aghast.  'What the?  But you said put it in there!' Gareth said in exasperation, gesturing towards the pan.  'No, I said put it in THERE', I laughed, nodding once again towards the bag.  Poor bloke.  Not only do I expect him to live on $21, I'm also expecting him to be psychic now!

Kumara duly shaved and saved, tonight's dinner as mentioned is Sophie Gray's Chicken Pie with Herby Cobbler Topping.  I make this a lot when I don't have any pastry because a) you can get away with using a ridiculously small amount of chicken and b) it uses scone dough for the topping which is delicious and turns out much better than my home made pastry which is crap.  Gareth got his beloved Yorkshire Puddings for dinner last night and whilst my back was turned this morning he whipped it from the fridge and ate the last leftover one for breakfast before I could do anything else with it.  As if I would dare after last time, bless him!  Ali, whilst he knows it is a $21 Challenge week seems to have breezed through it, happily fed and without a word of complaint.  Minnie the dog thinks every day this week is her birthday, having finally polished off the last of the cats' home made chicken dinners and is now sitting on the deck in the sunshine with a huge bone from the freezer.  As for me, I only have to wait ONE MORE DAY until I can go and splash out on a jar of Marmite.  Everybody's happy!

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

$21 Challenge Day 5 - Fowl play

Well this morning has got off to a bit of a crap start (see Facebook post 'OVER THE COUNTER BANKING RIPPED ME OFF!')  Thanks to some hefty bank fees I wasn't informed of and indeed would never have agreed to,  I got up this morning to find I now have the princely sum of $1.93 in my bank account.  Pissed off doesn't begin to describe how I'm feeling right now!  The only blessing is that I don't actually NEED to spend any money for the rest of my $21 Challenge.  Just as well isn't it?  For the hundredth time this week I am thanking my mum for thinking of us when she saw that giant whole chicken on special as I have everything I need for a huge roast dinner tonight and tomorrow's dinner is sorted too, that will be Sophie Gray's Chicken Pie with Herby Cobbler Topping. I thought I had enough bacon to make a bacon and egg pie tonight but as it turns out I don't, it will be fine to go in the chicken pie though!

Last night's potato cakes went down well and made a dozen good size ones so plenty left over for lunch.  The only thing was, I forgot to save some of the cooked mashed potato for me and chucked corned beef through the whole lot.  Fortunately I had something else up my sleeve in the pantry - lentil curry!  Seriously, this range of microwave Indian foods looks so tacky and revolting but you would not believe how good they are!  You find them in the supermarket aisle, they're not frozen or refrigerated or anything.  I first got discovered them when I used to work evenings in a bar and we didn't have long to scoff our dinner. One of my workmates used to bring these in and told me how you could get them in the supermarket on special for $2.99.  No kidding, for just a couple of bucks these meals are brilliant value and they are so tasty I could eat them every night if I had to!  I think there are three or four in the range and they are all vegetarian and vacuum packed for freshness. The lentil curry I had last night was as good as you would get in an Indian restaurant, I was one happy bunny!  Whilst I normally never touch processed or microwave meals with a bargepole, they are a very good emergency standby for me and I was very glad of it last night.

Yesterday I caught up with Liam, which was lovely.  He's 20 now, can you believe it?  We met up for a coffee but he wouldn't let me buy him anything.  'I see you're doing a $21 Challenge.  Jeez Mum, I thought I was broke but it's nothing compared to you!'  he grinned.  'Ah yes, but the $21 Challenge is always something positive you can do', I smiled back.  As it turned out, it was the perfect opportunity to broach the subject of saving money with him.  'I really want to talk to you to share some tips I wish I had known at your age', I said.  'That's good because I've been wanting to know the same!' he replied.  I told him about the Simple Savings Hint of the Week I recently read about a lady who noticed her young daughter (who had recently started her first full time job) was already spending more than she earned.  She sat her daughter down, told her a few home truths about the perils of living payday to payday and how important it is to have a nest egg or emergency fund, as you never know what life has waiting around the corner.  She encouraged the girl to put $500 of her wages into a savings account every fortnight, and at the end of 12 months, her mother would match whatever interest the bank had added on to her savings.

After just a few months, the daughter had already saved $5,000 and was so excited she started putting even more of her wages aside for savings.  'Well that would be really cool because I want to save as much money as I can to go travelling', said Liam.  I also told him about the friend of ours who, as soon as he started earning while still at uni and working nights, religiously put 10% of everything he earned into savings. It didn't matter if it was only $10 a week, if it was 10% it would still be put away.  Before he knew it there was $400 in his account and it just continued to grow and grow.  'That way, even if you can't afford $500 like that lady's daughter, you're still always saving something', I said.  Liam nodded approvingly.  'I think several of my friends do that kind of thing, like they're always saying they're broke but they're not really, they just keep most of their money in another account and only leave themselves a little bit', he said.  'Yes, that's the way to do it!' I said.  'The best way to hang on to your money is to limit the amount you can access.  Just allow yourself a set amount, then you can't waste it all on rubbish',  'Hmm yeah,  I only have one account and that's got everything in it!' he laughed.  I really enjoyed our afternoon together and with a bit of luck he won't go on to make the same mistakes I did.  If I have my way I'll make sure of it!

Monday, 15 August 2016

$21 Challenge Day 4 - Going 'without' and working around

Tahini on toast for breakfast again.  I ran out of Marmite on the first day of the Challenge, which was very bad timing seeing as I live on the stuff.  Mind you, being me I only eat the English version, which they call 'Our Mate' over here and it costs something ridiculous for a tiny pot.  'Are you SURE you don't want any Marmite?' Gareth always asks when we walk past the supermarket aisle.  'No, I have my tahini, that will do me for the week', I reply in a saintly fashion.  I console myself with the fact that it's healthy but I don't really mind.  A jar of 'Our Mate' would have taken around a quarter of my $21 Challenge budget!  And it's not that hard to go without, as it turns out.  Diet Coke, however, or anything fizzy for that matter is different.  The lack of delicious bubbliness in my present existence is causing me great distress.  And why not?  I don't smoke or drink, I don't even eat meat and I don't drink tea or coffee.  Fizzy is my thing and right now squeezing a lemon into a glass of water is just not cutting it.  But when you guzzle the amount I do, even $2.29 for a cheapo brand bottle is too much of a dent in the budget, so I can't justify the expense.  Still, only a few days to go and I keep telling myself how gorgeously clean and detoxified my body will be with all the bloody lemon water!

Today's mission is to find a recipe for corned beef that doesn't involve cabbage.  I never realised it was such a St Patrick's Day thing but an in-depth recipe last night brought up pretty much nothing else!  Corned beef and cabbage soup, corned beef and cabbage rolls, corned beef and cabbage tacos (really?) - you name it, it had cabbage in it.  Which in theory is very helpful as I have no less than nine cabbages in my vegie garden right now.  There is a reason for that though.  None of us are really too fond of it!  In case you're thinking 'what the hell did you plant them for then, you daft moo?'  I didn't mean too.  I bought a couple of those punnets of mixed brassica seedlings, which are technically supposed to be a mixture of cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage.  No prizes for guessing what most of them turned out to be.

Needless to say, I will use one of them in tonight's dinner, but not in corned beef and cabbage soup!  I think I'll stick with the original plan of turning them into potato cakes.  Ali absolutely loves these and will happily have them for lunch as well, which is good because there is a LOT of beef to use up. They are sooo delicious with chutney or pickle!  Plus I can make a vegetarian version for me too.  With cabbage in.  The recipe for these is on page 151 of the $21 Challenge book and you can put pretty much anything in them, another favourite is to use smoked fish in place of the corned beef.  And thanks to the sackfuls of green beans in the freezer from Mum, we'll be having beans, carrots and cabbage with them.  Normally I would make a cheese sauce to go with it but the cheese is running a little low so might have to see what else I can come up with to dress it up.

When it comes to food the three of us are definitely not fussy.  There are very few foods in the world Ali doesn't like, namely avocado, meatloaf and kidney beans.  Even at 18 he still picks them out one by one if he comes across them in his minestrone soup.  As a result we are rarely allowed to cook anything Mexican, which is a shame because Gareth and I love Mexican food.  I'm a huge fan of Indian and Asian food though, which Gareth hates, along with seafood, which Ali and I adore.  And we all hate brussels sprouts, despite trying every way imaginable to make them appealing.  Still, most of the time finding something for everyone is not a problem.  The biggest problem is the food we like that unfortunately doesn't like us.  Gareth loves tomatoes and mushrooms, but the price he pays for eating them has meant they are now off the food list.  He also seems to be pretty intolerant to dairy, which is very sad for him as he loves cheese and ice cream in particular!  Sometimes it can make cooking challenging, as we can no longer resort to speedy favourites such as macaroni cheese, spag bol and other tomato based dishes but we manage.  I remember Liam being gluten free for several years and we managed to get through $21 Challenges no problem when he was growing up.  I can't believe how many more GF products there are available now, even gluten free Weetbix!  If only they had been around back when we needed them!

From tomorrow my challenge is going to get a little harder.  I know I have that flipping great chicken in the freezer that will last us no problem, but I really want to save it if I can.  I could use the bacon bits I found in my freezer inventory to make bacon and egg pie but I only have two eggs.  This means I either have to pay 60c each for the extra eggs I need from the Corner Store - or I can barter.  I'm actually pretty keen to do this.  I still have eight cabbages in the garden after today, I have oranges, lemons, mandarins, tangelos, sorrel (delicious in salads!), rosemary and coriander off the top of my head I can barter with.  Hopefully someone will be lacking in some of these and would like to swap me for some eggs!

Sunday, 14 August 2016

$21 Challenge Day 3 - An Old Friend

In the three and a half years since my marriage ended I've learned a hell of a lot.  I've learned a heap of what NOT to do and were I given this time again there are some things I would do very differently. It took me a while to realise the impact of some of my decisions (that's a whole other blog, let me get this Challenge week out the way first!) and I'm still kicking myself for them; maybe I always will. I'm sure I'm not alone in being one of those who make rash, silly and very expensive decisions when first branching out on their own in a quest to prove ourselves as STRONG INDEPENDENT WIMMIN!

Still, if there is one thing I've learned a lot more about it's survival and this has become even more apparent during my $21 Challenge week.  As mentioned, it's been a very long time since I last did one, I can't even remember when but even though I have less this time than any other time, I'm finding it easier than ever before.  I think this is because I've become so accustomed to surviving on so little that it has sharpened my skills far more than I realised.  Whilst I was always pretty adept at making something out of nothing, now I consider myself a professional.  My mum has often talked about how my late grandmother was a whiz at making the plainest of foods taste delicious during the war.  I wonder how I would compare to her, I wish she was still around to share some of her secrets and recipes!

These days I no longer have to think to myself 'what can I use this for?'  as I'm usually thinking ahead and can spot a meal idea a mile off.  This sometimes results in great distress for poor Gareth, who has unknowingly had his eye on some precious leftover or another only to find when he goes to eat it I've already turned it into something else!  Such as just the other day when he found that the leftover roast beef had disappeared, along with a leftover Yorkshire pudding that I thought he no longer wanted.  'I turned it into another meal for tomorrow's lunch', I justified myself, secretly racked with guilt at the sight of his horror stricken face.  'What is it?' he said dubiously, still far from impressed.  It's kind of hard to explain what I call 'recycled roast', I think I described it to Gareth as a 'layer bake thing' in order to try and make it sound remotely appealing but I really need to come up with a better name for it as it's so good!  Not that I can take credit for it mind, I learned it from a Simple Savings member called Squirrel years ago and it's the bestest, tastiest way I know to use up leftover meat and vegies, not to mention the best bit, gravy!

All you need is leftover roast meat (whatever you have – beef, chicken, anything works well). First, put your oven on to 180ÂșC to warm up. Slice your meat thinly and place in a casserole dish. If you have some leftover gravy, even better but if not, make some more on the stove top and pour over the meat. Top with either leftover roast potatoes (or parboil some and slice). Brush the top of the potatoes with a little butter and bake in the oven for around 20-30 minutes until golden and cooked. You can also use leftover pumpkin, kumara or parsnip and pop slices of these under the potato slices. This can even be turned into a main meal by serving it with steamed vegetables for a super yummy and filling dinner!

Unappealing name or not, once Gareth could finally bring himself to try it, he was very pleasantly surprised, not least at the fact that the Yorkshire pudding I had sliced and added to the dish had become deliciously infused with gravy, making it even better!  All things considered I think I was forgiven.

Anyway, like I was saying, this time around the $21 Challenge feels like an old friend.  I've been a bit naughty and broken some of my own rules by not doing a pantry inventory yet - the simple reason being that there is really bugger all in there except icing sugar and tinned fruit.  There is so little that I don't need to really do a stock take as I can see everything at a glance, gone are the days of having enough food in there to get lost or hidden!  Still, whatever is in there can be put to good use.  Same with the fridge too really but I know that should I run out of ideas I will find plenty in there to make a meal out of.  At least I did the most important one (for me, anyway) which was the freezer and was extremely worthwhile as I had absolutely no idea what I had in there and was very pleasantly surprised.  I don't think the cats were though, they won't touch the food I made.  Fortunately the dog likes it!  And at least it got used which is the important thing.

I've ended up with a bit of a bonus in that we have tons left from last night's corned beef.  I haven't decided what I'll do with it yet but I've got plenty of ideas on how I can use it for tomorrow's dinner. Last night's spinach quiche was a hit, which it always is, even with people who insist they don't like quiche.  'What's for dinner?' asked Ali.  'Quiche.  The one you like', I told him.  'Oh cool', came the reply.  'I'm not usually too fond of quiche but I like that one!' said Gareth, bringing up his empty plate.  Check out the Facebook page for the recipe!

We have heaps of leftovers for lunches today and I'll definitely be in the good books tonight as I'm using the pack of sausages I found in the freezer to make 'Toad in the Hole', which for the unitiated is sausages baked in Yorkshire Pudding.  I think I may have mentioned before that Gareth is rather fond of Yorkshire Pudding!  So am I though, it's so cheap and easy and when you don't cook it with a bunch of sausages it's vegetarian.  It's another favourite from my sadly no longer Winnie the Pooh Cookbook.  Fortunately by a stroke of luck I included it in the $21 Challenge book so I still have it for posterity, woohoo!  If you have a copy of the book you can find it on page 166.  I've been having a bit of a chuckle at all the different Kiwi/Aussie/British terms for things, such as yesterday when several people saw the flapjack recipe and said they had always thought flapjacks were pancakes.  When we were writing the $21 Challenge book, Fiona said 'We need to include Toad in the Hole'.  'Yes, absolutely!' I agreed.  Turned out her 'Toad in the Hole' was my 'Eggs in a Nest' and she had never heard of my version - so we put them both in the book!

Today is (or at least should be) another no spend day, I can't think of anything we need.  I got up this morning to find all the flapjacks have gone so will most likely have to make a batch of those before the week is out, or maybe I can use one of the tins of fruit to make a batch of muffins.  I did end up buying a loaf of bread yesterday but that was only $1 which takes me up to $13.57.  The only thing I need to get is cat food for our kitten but that's free because we are volunteer foster carers for our local cat rescue charity.  This is Moppet, is she cute or what!

Saturday, 13 August 2016

$21 Challenge Day 2 - Flapjacks and Freezer Mysteries

Day 2 successfully done and dusted yesterday.  Am not going along too bad at the moment!  I have dinner already planned for today and tomorrow, that's Days 3 and 4 and am not stressing too much about the rest of the week YET.  After doing my freezer inventory yesterday I know that we have plenty of meat and vegetables to get us through the week, even if I have no idea what that meat actually is!  At the risk of boring you to death, here are the current contents of my freezer:

1 loaf bread (just had to take that out to use now)
1 x No.30 chicken.  Generously gifted to us by my mum last week when she spotted it on special. Even more grateful for it now!  To be honest, this will probably get us through the remaining days I have yet to plan alone but am trying to save it for a real emergency and so that I have to more creative using up the other stuff.
1 x corned beef.  Again thanks to Mum.  Tonight's dinner.
4 x bags of green beans
1 x bag of rhubarb
5 x bags of leeks.  Woohoo, so glad to have these, now I don't have to buy any onions this week!
Enough frozen chips for one
2 x bags silverbeet
2 x bags cauliflower
500ml bottle cream
2 x bags capsicum
1 shop-bought falafel burger (which quite frankly tastes like a Tux dog biscuit but nonetheless is a quick dinner for me in an emergency)
2 x portions spag bol
2 tubs of plums
1 x bag parsnip
2 x individual chicken and vege pies
1 beef curry pasty
1 loaf garlic bread
3 x chilli peppers
1 bag carrots
6 sausages
Bacon bits, will do for a bacon and egg pie or something
1 whole salami
4 x venison patties
4 bags of mystery meat (could be venison most likely but have no idea!)
1 leg of - ummm - might be a ham hock?  I'm really not quite sure!

Doing my freezer inventory made me realise just how long it has been since I did a $21 Challenge. Gone are the days of having an enormous chest freezer; I now have a small single upright freezer and the whole process took less than half an hour compared to the mission it used to be.  To be honest I have my mum to thank for a lot of these, she and her partner are keen gardeners and gave us heaps of their surplus, particularly before I had a vegie garden of my own. Also Ali the hunter for providing us with venison.  I also unearthed a bag of dog meat and four bones for Minnie the spaniel and half a dozen chicken frames which I made into food for the cats so we don't have to buy cat food for a few more days at least.  I have to admit, I really enjoyed pottering yesterday and being so productive!  Made me feel like I was really doing something, making a difference.

Last night's dinner was simple, venison patties (these things are huge!) with mashed potato, roast pumpkin, beans, carrots and gravy and I had lentil bolognaise again seeing as I still had a truckload left.  It made me chuckle thinking about all the $21 Challenge nay-sayers who always used to harp on about not getting a balanced diet and living on two-minute noodles.  If you eat right in the first place, you're still going to eat right in a challenge week!  If you normally exist on expensive processed and pre-made crap, well then yes, you are more likely to struggle and run out of food.  That's one of the brilliant things about the challenge though, it makes people totally rethink their eating and cooking habits.

With dinner nice and easy and under control I was feeling a bit redundant until I remembered Fiona and I saying in the Challenge book how important it is to make sure there is food on hand, especially if you have hungry males or teenagers in the house.  So I needed to do some baking!  But what? Most of my baking supplies such as eggs and milk were too precious to use and I had run out of a lot of things already such as cocoa, coconut and chocolate chips.  None of us eat cereal so I couldn't fall back on that - until I spotted half a bag of rolled oats in the pantry.  Ooh, could I make flapjacks I wonder?  I hadn't eaten these since I was at primary school and use to make them from my Winnie the Pooh cookbook - but much to my distress I accidentally sent both my beloved Pooh Cookbook and another childhood favourite The Blue Peter Book of Gorgeous Grub to the op shop over a year ago and it was a long time before I realised.  I'm still heartbroken - and where was I going to find the 'right' recipe for the flapjacks of my youth now?

I figured seeing as I grew up in England I should go with an English recipe, so went online and put my hopes and trust in BBC Good Food.  They reckoned all I needed was oats, butter, brown sugar and golden syrup.  Well that sounded about right and I had all those so I set to work.  The result? They smelled right, they tasted right, they even felt right, not too crunchy, not too soft.  I was dying to try them all afternoon but I wasn't hungry and kept telling myself I had to save them to get us through the week.  At 11pm that night however I could stand no more and helped myself to the first little golden bar.  Ohh, I can't tell you how happy I was, they were perfect!  Whilst I do feel more than a little guilty that I no longer need Winnie the Pooh, I will definitely make these again and with no eggs, butter or any other fandangley bits required, they are perfect for a $21 Challenge.  You can find the recipe on my Facebook page.  Just tilt your head to the side when looking at this photo, I have no idea why it won't upload the picture horizontally!  But you get the idea...

As mentioned, tonight's dinner is corned beef, which will be accompanied by spinach quiche. Actually I think it's more of a frittata really, but back when I first learned to make it at 19 I don't think frittatas were a thing, not in NZ anyway.  Either way it's yummy and a perfect vegetarian dish for me too.  Am particularly happy because I don't have to spend anything today.  So far my $21 Challenge spend amounts to $12.57 and I'm conscious we still have four days to go.  That's gone on a tin of tomatoes, a bag of rice, salt (was gutted I had to buy that!), butter, milk and margarine.  Exciting stuff.  Will post the recipe for the spinach quiche later.  Gareth as we speak has just sampled his first flapjack and has pronounced them as perfect, which if I say so myself they are.  It ain't half bad this $21 Challenge lark!

Friday, 12 August 2016

$21 Challenge Day 1 - Thanks for the Mammaries

Oh goodness gracious me, was it really June 1st I last wrote a blog?  To be fair there's been a lot going on.  A lot has changed - and I mean a LOT - I'll get around to sharing all that I promise!  But for now am dealing with the immediate present.  As you may have seen on my 'Riches Have Wings' Facebook page, this week I have no choice but to do a $21 Challenge. Actually it's a $20 challenge as I don't even have the extra dollar, thanks to all manner of horrible expenses on things such as Mildred the car and Graham the cat.  Seeing as I only got paid the day previously, I was feeling pretty down about getting through the week on such a small amount.  That was until I remembered the $21 Challenge and no word of a lie my mindset changed in an instant.  I was no longer a whinger, I was a warrior!

I can't remember the last time I did a $21 Challenge, it was a very long time ago.  I mean my budget isn't exactly huge anyway.  Last time I worked out a budget a couple of months ago I came out with the princely sum of $52 leftover each week for food, petrol, medical expenses and so on.  I supplement this wherever I can by selling everything except the kitchen sink on my local Facebook Buy, Sell and Swap page. Growing my $52 a week is an ongoing mission of mine but it will take me a couple of months to get there as I have to spend money first to save money, if you get what I mean. Anyways, I digress...

A lot of confusion has always surrounded the $21 Challenge.  It was only ever intended to cover food only, not toilet paper, cleaning products and all manner of other things.  Even after all these years many people think that this sum has to cover EVERYTHING and do their challenge accordingly, which is absolutely fine.  I've never had to do one this way before but this week I do, as my $20 is quite literally all there is.

Having decided to do my $21 Challenge yesterday afternoon, my first choice of dinner was relatively easy.  I had taken two chicken breasts out of the freezer yesterday morning and planned to make Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken, which everyone loves.  This recipe is the shizzle, it's so delicious, yet uses only the most basic of pantry ingredients.  Sorted!  Until I went to make it, that was and discovered I didn't have enough sugar, cornflour or cider vinegar, all three of which were essential to the recipe.  On top of that, Ali asked if his girlfriend could stay for dinner and I only had two chicken breasts.  Going to the supermarket for more chicken and the missing ingredients wasn't an option; the chicken alone would have taken a big chunk of our $20!  A rethink was necessary - and fortunately it didn't take long for me to find.

In an old, well-thumbed playgroup fundraiser recipe book, I came across the rarely made but very delicious 'Chicken Potato Slice'.  Don't be fooled by the boring title, this recipe is delicious and the total opposite of boring!  I had pretty much everything I needed on hand and could substitute what I didn't have, such as regular onion for spring onion.  As an extra bonus, it would also use up the half a cup of cream that was in the fridge.  The thing was, I only had two chicken breasts and the recipe called for four.  What to do, what to do? In desperation I opened the freezer - and saw a bag of cooked, shredded roast chicken I had saved from a couple of weeks before after reading a Simple Savings tip from a lady who buys cooked chickens when they're on crazy special and portions them all out and freezes them in bags.  As it turned out, the couple of breasts I already had turned out to be a lot bigger than I thought once defrosted and once poached and added to the other cooked chicken, I had the perfect amount, woohoo!

I was already feeling pretty pleased with myself for thinking outside the square and reducing the cost of dinner by so much.  The only thing I didn't have now for my recipe was white wine, and having eaten this dish before I knew that even the measly third of a cup required did make a big difference to the flavour.  What could I substitute for wine in the recipe, could you even DO that?  Hang on, didn't we include an alternative for wine in the substitutes section of the $21 Challenge book?  A quick flick to the back of the book and I grinned to myself - there it was!  To make one cup of 'wine, all I needed was a cup of water, three tablespoons of lemon juice (I have masses of lemons in the garden) and three teaspoons of water.  In inwardly thanked Fiona for insisting we write the substitutes section in the first place and divided the quanties by three to get my third of the cup.  You wouldn't believe how well it worked!  Seriously, I never need to buy wine for cooking again!

Before I knew it, my dish was done, it looked and smelled just like it was supposed to and thanks to the huge bag of carrots I bought last week and an abundance of frozen vegies from my mum's garden, there was dinner.  Being vegetarian myself, I made Sophie Gray's Red Lentil Bolognaise (which you can also find in the $21 Challenge book) and made enough rice to go with it so that I have at least two more meals at my disposal for lunches or dinners during the week.

'What's for dinner?', Ali's girlfriend Hayley asked, tentatively peering into the oven.  'Ohh, it's some chickeny bake thing', I waved towards it vaguely.  'We're doing a $21 Challenge this week!'  'I know, my dad told me, he saw it on Facebook!' she replied somewhat nervously.  'Oh don't worry, most of the time you eat even better than normal on a $21 Challenge because you have to plan everything so well and use everything up!' I assured her.  As it was, the chickeny bake thing was a hit.  'That was good!  I need more!' she grinned, bringing her empty plate back to the table.  Even though I had made the dish before I was much relieved to see everyone happily tucking in!

So Day One is done and dusted and I was pretty proud of myself, not least to have come up with not one, but two main meals.  In case you're thinking 'oh she's obviously got heaps of food on hand, she's stocked up', you are very much mistaken!  I may have a few vegies on hand and some fruit but I am already really lacking on a lot of basics such as milk, butter, onions and all those little essentials which are in most recipes to make them work or taste good.  I've run out of dog food so today I'll be foraging through the freezer to see what I can make for Minnie the spaniel and today I also need to do my inventory (better late than never) to plan the rest of the week's meals.  Breakfast for me is toast spread with tahini as I need to save the butter!  Now if I can just find a $21 Challenge substitute to help me avoid buying toothpaste until Thursday.  Wonder if I can get the rest of the family to clean their teeth with baking soda?  I don't like my chances!

If you would like the recipe for the very not boring 'Chicken Potato Bake' and 'Sophie's Red Lentil Bolognaise', you can find them on my Facebook page here.