Archive | March 2012

Morning Surf

Photograph by David Fitzpatrick

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Diary of the $120 Food Challenge

Well we’ve got through the week trying to live on the one grocery shop, how did we do? Probably not a raging success.  I was attempting the $120 Food Challenge.

Saturday

Pantry clean out. Inventory of supplies. Plan the menu. Do the shop. Go over budget by $50 by adding in way too much expensive fruit and other breakfast/lunch treats. Not a sterling start.

Go to cook the spaghetti with roasted tomato and garlic. Really need to read these recipes better, it takes an hour to roast the tomatoes. It’s already 6.00pm. Ooops. Luckily my oven is super-sonic fast so bung it on high and get it done in 40 minutes.  Unfortunately I have to go and pick up Hippie Child from a party before I’ve finished cooking. Leave Mr Shambles to boil the spaghetti -he puts in way too much which results in a dish heavy on spaghetti and little light on sauce. However, it is very nice, and I get to eat it for dinner tomorrow and lunch for the next two days as well.

Sunday

Baked Fish with Ginger and Soy big hit with Mr Shambles, “as good as a restaurant, you’ve got to cook this when my brother comes for a visit”. Actually did look really good, I’m not big on fish and usually have something else when I cook it for the family but reckon I could have had this one.

Unfortunately, leave house to get Sunday Papers and Princess Child and I fall for a box of six lamingtons ($2.99).

Monday

I make the fruit salad for breakfast. Children impressed. I spend too much time chopping fruit and I’m almost late for work. Ham and salad wraps fresh and nice.  Chorizo, fennel and potato tortilla for dinner was relatively quick and easy and family enjoyed it. Hippie Child off sick from school, eats half an avacado – she’s messing with my menu plan.

Tuesday

Can’t remember what happened for breakfast. Ham and salad wraps still looking good for lunch. Get home tired from work and discover meatloaf takes an hour to cook, decide to do chicken parmigana, however Hippie Child still off sick from school has eaten all the ham and drunk all the orange juice. Head to supermarket (ham $3.98, juice $4.99). Get home now can’t be bothered crumbing chicken so end up doing the chicken, feta, tomato bake, which is very nice.

Wednesday

Get distracted blogging before work.  Children get themselves yoghurt for breakfast. Running late throw a bit of ham on a couple of slices of bread (we’ve run out butter) children look at sad looking sandwiches in horror.

We’ve got parent/teacher interviews at highschool this evening have to call in Nana Shambles to do soccer training pick up/drop off. We run late for the meetings. When we get home Nana Shambles has done dinner (thank you thank you). She turned the chicken into a tomato hotpot dish – she bought a can to tomatoes (probably a couple of bucks).

Thursday

Vegemite on dry toast for breakfast. Still got no butter, rest of ham falls off bench and dog eats it, children convinced dog is going to die, he, however looks relatively happy at his achievement. Discover the fridge has turned off – new fridge probably just out of warranty – Princess Child and I try to move it to see if it’s still plugged into the wall – nearly give ourselves hernias but fridge doesn’t budge. Give up. The kids get money for canteen lunch ($10) and I go to work.

Busy trying to finish a report at work, get home late to discover I’ve forgotten to pick up Mr Shambles from work (he’s car is off the road now). Back in car find him wandering the streets in an attempt to walk home.

Get home still trying to sort out what is wrong with fridge. Princess Child needs to “take a plate” for morning tea at school tomorrow, she also demands butter for her toast tomorrow. Head to the supermarket, cave  in and buy butter chicken and rice meals for all of us for dinner ($5.99 each that’s – gulp – $24). Buy a packet of biscuits for the morning tea ($5). Forget to buy butter. Princess Child can’t believe she’s been born into such a disorganised family, firmly convinced she’s adopted.

We heat and serve the butter chicken, Mr Shambles turns the fridge off/on and it magically starts to work – if only we could have MOVED THE DARN THING this morning. I cook the meatloaf with the now defrosted lamb mince for dinner tomorrow – was going to do the lamb curry in the slow cooker as well but discover I’m now out of onions. Give up.

Friday

Another disastrous morning. At the parent/interviews Mr Shambles had asked textiles teacher for help with Hippie Child’s new sewing machine – we can’t get it to work. Teacher suggests she brings it in to class. Hippie Child completely embarrassed by the idea of lugging sewing machine to school, Mr Shambles insists. Of course he then goes to work and I’m left trying to find a box for her to take it in. Takes about four boxes/plastic containers before we find one that it will fit. I carefully explain to Hippie Child that it’s a parent’s role in life to give their children something to talk about in therapy when they are 30 – she just needs to note this down it should fill a couple of sessions.

No time to sort out lunch. Money for canteen again ($10)

Mr Shambles knocks off early on Fridays (and it’s my day off) so we end up having lunch out ($30).

We are out of tomatoes and onions so it’s another trip to the supermarket ($5). But I get the sweet tomato and onion chutney made to go with the already-made meatloaf. Mr Shambles loves the chutney, Princess Child thinks it’s too spicey but I may have been a bit heavy handed with the chilli powder. Meatloaf is very nice.

I make the lamb curry in the slow cooker for dinner tomorrow (it’s without the fresh herbs – bought them last Saturday so they’ve long since fermented).

The result

We did spend less on food this week. But it’s obvious I need to be MUCH MORE ORGANISED. Sandra at the $120 Food Challenge does recommend doing the shop fortnightly and I’m sure that would be better given that with $240 you can buy bags of onions, potatoes etc so you are less likely to run out like I did.

I also need to devote some serious time on the weekends to baking – it’s hard to fill the kids lunchboxes when you don’t allow the usual museli bars, cheese snacks etc.

Time seems to be the big killer for me in this challenge I really need to try and find some really quick and easy recipes or some that can be prepared in advance. I also need to try to keep away from the shops completely. I’m a marketers dream, constantly falling for the impulse purchases. I’m in denial about how much I spend that way.

However, I don’t like to be beaten, so I’m gonna give this another shot. Starting Tuesday I’m doing a $240 shop for the fortnight. Will let you know how that one goes.

Take The Kids To Work Day

Meeting Kate.

Once upon a time my children and I lived a completely intertwined life. I worked from home and they saw first hand exactly what “mummy’s job” involved. As they grew older and went off to school we still kept close, I was at the school doing maths groups and reading time. Our lives were glued together.

Then they got older. I went back to a mainstream job. There wasn’t any time to put in appearances at the school. Their sense of the work I did faded. They were busy with finding friends at lunchtime, surviving the battlefield of the school playground, keeping teachers happy and trying to understand the latest lesson.

When I worked from home they saw me interact with customers and team-members, they attended meetings and training sessions I ran, (in their PJ’s hiding in a cubby under a table because their Dad was a shiftworker and couldn’t always be home to look after them), they learnt how to put up and pull down promotional stands or set up a room for a workshop because the whole family had to come along to help me do those things.

When I went back to work they had no idea what I did for a living, “it’s some radio thing” I heard them tell friends once but details were sketchy. They didn’t meet the people I worked with for a very long time. Work and home were separate lives. Never the twain should meet.

I left “the radio thing” and went to an office job which was even less of a concept they could understand “she helps kids do work experience”.

Recently, I was helping organising an event for local students. A Building Aspirations – Get the Life You Love forum where guest speakers were brought in to help the 800 students attending find motivation and inspiration in planning their future goals.

I took the girls out of school for the day because I felt they would benefit from hearing what the speakers had to say. It was the first time in several years they had seen me at work. They were called in to help with blowing up the balloons, putting up posters and anything else that needed doing. They saw me handle a couple of challenges, they watched me silently freaking out when our two keynote speakers were still grounded in Sydney due to bad weather and the event had started, they overhead conversations with a variety of people, reassuring nervous local speakers, meeting and greeting politicians and chatting to the young musicians about to perform.

They were particularly thrilled to meet  an actress from Home and Away, Kate Ritchie. I was particularly relieved that Kate was a gracious, kind woman who gave each student she spoke to her undivided attention and respect.

I’m not sure what the girls took away from the day, but I know I felt good letting them have a glimpse into my working world (maybe not a typical day in the office but a day that utilised a lot of work skills nonetheless). I hope they see that when we are apart there’s a lot going in my life and I hope it allows them to understand a little bit more about the working world and how you function in it.

Do you think it’s important our children understand what we do? Can it help them gain skills for their own working life to spend some time witnessing yours?

The Hunger Games

Decision making is a constant feature of parenting. From conception onwards you are asked to make decisions that could impact on child.

Sad to say that doesn’t taper off as they become older. Up until three weeks ago I had never heard of The Hunger Games then a friend lent Hippie Child a copy of the book by Suzanne Collins. The pair tried to describe the storyline to me and began with something like “and 24 kids get sent to a forest and have to kill each, until only one is left alive, they are the winner”.

Deep breath, don’t overreact, ripping the book out of her hands and tearing it to shreds goes against all your views on censorship. Remind myself that I believe kids should be allowed to read what they choose as they become older and, as a parent, you should be prepared to discuss controversial topics they have been exposed to. Gotta love my theories.

Anyway, Hippie Child loved the book and returned it to her friend before I had a chance to read it.

Then I learn there’s a movie, and Hippie Child has a arranged to go with a group of friends. Now Princess Child is getting interested too. It’s rated M. That can’t be too bad can it? MA means it’s restricted to 15 and over but M still allows entry to younger kids.

More deep breathing, in fact a touch of hyper-ventilating as the storyline starts to get discussed, kids killing kids, it’s a hideous concept.

Hippie Child gives me a “talking to”. She does this on a regular basis. It began when she was 7 and in another one of my great “it seemed like a good idea at the time” decisions I placed her at a school which was troubled to say the least. Facing me down over breakfast one morning she informed me that I had to let her watch new TV shows. Why? I query. “Because I can’t talk to these kids, they watch shows I’ve never heard of and then spend half the morning talking about them I CAN’T JOIN IN”. We negotiated, I ended up agreeing to The Simpsons and Home and Away. Although she lost interest in the cartoon pretty quickly we would go on to spend many years of watching Home and Away together, and discussing death, homosexuality, teenage pregnancies, sex and every other soapie crisis the program makers could throw at us.

This time she tells me the book was great, the lead female character is brilliant and the killing is just one part of a very interesting storyline, she then goes on to remind me she is 15. So we agree she’s going. Then Princess Child wages the “if you let her go you have to let me go too” argument.  Now I decide it’s up to Hippie Child to determine if the movie is too graphic for her sister. Suddenly Princess Child becomes very nice toward her elder sister, “can I feed the dog for you?”.

Time.com presents the arguments for taking your kids, when psychology professor, Christopher Ferguson announces he will be taking his eight year old to the film, and against when film reviewer, Mary Pols declares she won’t be taking her young child.

On Saturday Hippie Child declares her sister should be OK, reckons the movie isn’t as good as the book, and experiences her first “it looked different in my head” book/movie disconnect.

So on Sunday I rock up to the movies with my 12 year old and Nana Shambles (who has loudly objected to the whole concept of the movie, particularly taking children too it, but is there because “she wants to be able to talk about it”).

Princess Child dislikes a few moments of the film but overall declares it was “great”. Me? Well I still find the concept abhorrent but I think the film is visually magnificent, I love the strong female lead, great to see the girl rescuing the bloke in this one, while the story raised discussion on issues such as dictatorships, the culture of reality TV, manipulation, stylization, morals and ethics.

I agree with Ferguson that a well adjusted, well loved child will not be turned into a violent killer by watching this work of fiction. But I would argue that eight is too young to be exposed to this concept particularly given the most disturbing part of the film was seeing the youngest combatants die.

Hippie Child tells me that although it’s a fantasy she could see it happening in real life, no I declare, people would never allow it, there would be uprisings, violence in the streets as parents fought to protect their children. But Mum, she patiently explains, the reason The Hunger Games were created by the Capitol was to control the people, it’s a punishment for having tried to fight once before. Then I suppose in the real world we had the Holocaust didn’t we?

Have you seen the Hunger Games? How do you go about deciding what is suitable viewing/reading for your children?

$120 Food Challenge

An expedition into my pantry this weekend turned into a Hitchcock thriller. Attack of the Moths. We seem to be harbouring a colony of flying creatures. I know that is bad. I know it makes a statement about my housekeeping skills – but hey I’ve never put my hand up for Homemaker of the Year.

So we proceeded to remove every item and do a clean out. This proved a good thing. Over at the $120 Food Challenge Sandra Reynolds has produced a blog that shows people how to feed a family of four on just $120 a week. I’m a little sceptical but given the state of our bank account it can’t hurt to try.

The first step in the process is to do an inventory of all the food you are currently hoarding. The exercise highlighted that we probably don’t need eight boxes of opened but only half used boxes of cereal. While one particular item, out-of-date in 2009, seems to have moved house with us three times – even my clutter-bug tendencies are willing to let that one go.

After the tossing finished I sat down to do a menu plan for the next seven days. Here’s what I came up with:

Saturday

Spaghetti with roasted tomato & garlic

Sunday

Vegemite on toast.

Leftovers.

Baked fish with ginger and soy

Monday

Fruit salad & yoghurt.

Ham & salad wraps.

Chorizo, fennel and potato tortilla

Tuesday

Avacado and cheese on toast.

Ham & salad wraps.

Lamb & bacon meatloaf with Sweet tomato & onion chutney

Wednesday

Museli and yoghurt.

Meatloaf & chutney sandwiches.

Chicken parmigiana

Thursday

Scrambled eggs on toast.

Chicken schnitzel sandwich.

Slow cooked mild beef curry.

Friday

Vegemite on toast.

Tuna salad.

Chicken, tomato, feta bake.

Then I hit the shops, armed with my list. Which is where my plan fell down a little. I spent $175.57. Sandra’s estimate for the seven dinners was $84.90 which I think was pretty spot-on. However, I went a little overboard in supplementing for the breakfast/lunches/fruit side of things. My family eats a lot of fruit so spent too much there,  I also bought a few things I had run out of, and I had to get a few spices for the dinner dishes which added a bit to the total.

If we take off some of the “pantry” items I brought – anchovies, baking paper, dog food, frozen peas, frozen beans, capers, dishwashing detergent, tuna, plus some of the extravagant fruit, strawberries, blueberries, then the orange juice, yoghurt, and a mystery item I can’t remember what it was but it cost $5.90 so I’m deleting it too we get the bill down to $136.42.

This still leaves in one orange juice, bread, wraps, milk, heaps of fruit, bananas, pears, oranges, apples, plums and lots of spices cardamon pods, nutmeg, oregano, garam masala, cloves, cinnamon stick (which I won’t have to buy again if I use the same recipes next week).

So essentially, I went closer than I thought possible. I’m banning myself from visiting the supermarket during the week so we will see how we go in just eating what I’ve bought. I’ll let you know the result.