One of the best things about living in a small town like Pleasant Point, is that it’s so easy to get together with friends. Everywhere is a 5 -10 minute walk away, and the roads are safe enough for older children to bike or walk on their own.
After school and at weekends our house is usually overflowing with children, as our kids play with their friends from school or church.
I love it.
When we had children, I said to Mr G that I wanted an open house when our children’s friends felt welcome – just like my family house was when I was growing up.
Well, we’ve definitely got that sort of house!
All those children (it’s not unusual for us to have five or more) mean there’s extra bellies to fill, and that can really take a chunk out of your budget if you’re not careful. I do a lot of baking, and that helps to cut costs down considerably.
Here are my go-to snacks for feeding a tribe of ravenous children on a budget:
Some genius came up with the 100 biscuit recipe (cookies, for my American readers) which you can find here. It makes a large bowl of biscuit dough to which you can then add whatever you like. I use chocolate chips, sprinkles (aka hundreds and thousands/nonpareils), cocoa and cornflakes, raisins, lemon zest, m&m’s etc. It tends to be whatever I have lying around! The dough freezes well, so you can make a huge batch of basic dough, divide it into whatever flavours you want to add, and pop some in the freezer for another day. Biscuits obviously aren’t the healthiest choice, but for an active child, one or two with their afternoon tea won’t hurt them. This recipe really does make 100. Because the mixture spreads out a lot while cooking, a teaspoon of mixture is all that’s needed per biscuit.
Popcorn. We have one of those air popper machine thingees, and a little goes a long, long way. I can get a big bowl of popcorn for about 25 cents. I’ve never met a child who doesn’t go crazy for popcorn.
Tiny cheese muffins. I use a recipe from New Zealand’s famous Edmond’s Cookbook, but there is a similar recipe over at Just A Mum. I use tasty cheese because a little goes a long way when it comes to flavour. I use the same when I make…
Cheese scones. My kids go nuts for scones. I have made scones so many times I have the recipe committed to memory, and I can churn out a batch in 15 minutes.
Seasonal fruit. My daughter eats a lot of fruit. My son is picky about which kind of fruit he likes, but even he will chow down on anything when he’s got to fight four of his friends for the last slice of apple. Peer pressure can be a good thing! I’ve also found that children will eat pretty much anything if it’s put into a cool shape or design.
Real fruit or juice popsicles. If you have some juice leftover from a party, you can put into straight into popsicle moulds or blend berries with banana for a creamy, frozen treat. Popsicle moulds cost about $2 at stores here in New Zealand, and are worth this very modest outlay, as one single popsicle can cost upwards from $2 at the shops. Plus you can make yummy treats that are actually healthy too.
Carrot and cheese sticks (I go easy on the cheese, it’s so expensive these days). My children turn up their nose at hummus, but I live for the day when they’ll embrace it like some of their friends do.
Pikelets. If you don’t know what a pikelet is, it’s basically a small, sweet, fluffy pancake. I don’t make these often, but pikelets are great if you have a big crowd of children. A little jam on top of the pikelet = happy children. Generally I put out a plate of pikelets, things quickly resembles a school of piranhas in a feeding frenzy.
Crackers. I stash away boxes of ‘company’ crackers when they’re on special at the supermarket.
Lastly, I find the key to feeding a gaggle of children is portion control. If I leave them with a box of crackers it will be gone in 1 minute. If I plate up a snack for each child, then I’m rarely eaten out of house and home, and the children still seem satisfied.
It’s been a whirlwind of activity here in the Pleasant Point Manse: birthdays, visitors, fashion parades and more.
First it was my birthday, which I celebrated a little early by having three nights away at Lake Hawea, BY MYSELF. It was a very restorative break, both in terms of getting rest and in doing things-that-make-Angela-happy. “Oh, there’s a museum!’ ‘Oh, there’s some historic buildings!’ ‘Oh, there’s a Mexican restaurant!’ ‘Oh, there’s some gobsmackingly beautiful scenery!’.
I read two books, pottered around Wanaka, and explored Cromwell.
I almost cried when I came home to this lovely gift that friends had made for our house/my birthday…
Before I could blink it was my beautiful boy’s fourth birthday! He had a simple, frugal, and fun Star Wars party. We borrowed my brother’s precious Star Wars figures to use as cake toppers, and had an obstacle course and a pinata.
For the first time in my life I am a bit lost as to what to do with myself for work in the distant future, and exploring options is taking a lot of time and headspace. But I find myself regularly loving on the children at our church. It’s not hard, as they are a nice bunch of kids, and I genuinely enjoy their friendship and look forward to catching up with them each week. The beauty of living somewhere small like Pleasant Point is that everywhere is walkable. We find our house overrun with children most Sundays after church as our kids and the church kids continue their play. I have quite a ministry in providing copious amounts of baking to the hungry hoards, and judging various magic tricks and fashion parades that unfold. I grew up doing the same stuff, so I love, love, love seeing the kids playing like this.
Life is not all sunshine and roses (and lakes). Mr G is really feeling the pressure of his internship now. Balancing study with the demands of the parish is stressful and the study often takes a back seat, only to loom large when assignments are due. All four of us have been sick a lot with little bugs that don’t last long but are annoying to deal with all the same. I’ve been missing my friends, family and ‘life’ we had in Whanganui. I’m not usually a person who looks back, but this move has been difficult to process – I suspect simply because it was not my own choice to come here. It’s not that I don’t like it here! I do, and I am grateful for the friendships I’ve made here; I think it’s more that I feel at a bit of a loose end here as this move was for Mr G to learn the ropes of ministry which has meant putting my own plans on the back burner. My aunt passed away, which has naturally been extremely hard for my cousins, and the only silver lining in that dark cloud is that while I am here in Pleasant Point, I am only an hour away from them and therefore am close enough to provide support.
Once I committed myself to Jesus, and decided that if I was going to be serious about this Christianity stuff, I’d better get serious at going to church. I didn’t grow up going to church – at least not regularly. But to me, the Bible is pretty clear that you can’t live out your faith on your own – you need the fellowship of other believers to encourage, stretch and even enrage you. God knows that by getting alongside a bunch of imperfect people you can’t help but to grow and mature in your faith.
I can be a bit of a boots-and-all kind of girl, and I’ve long been quite involved in the life of the various churches I’ve gone to. I’ve sung in the band, read scripture and led prayers during the service, helped with the kid’s ministry, led bible studies, prepared devotionals, been part of the church leadership team, and preached; as well as welcomed strangers, poured copious cups of tea, cleaned the toilets and vacuumed up the morning tea crumbs. So I was not completely unprepared for the life of a ‘not-quite-Minister’s wife’, and for how busy it can be.
As in the rest of life, sexism abounds in the church. I’ve had expectations of my new role – both said and unsaid – that are simply not aimed at the male spouses of female ministers. The minister of my last church was a woman, and while her husband is a wonderful, wonderful guy, I’m pretty sure no one expects him to make meals for the sick, go visiting, go on the morning tea roster or be on the kid’s ministry team (he actually is, by the way). Men who do these things are applauded. Women who don’t do these things can find themselves the target of bitter resentment – usually by the women who do.
I’m a card-carrying feminist, and whilst I’m certainly not above scrubbing toilets or pouring cups of tea or anything like that(!), I am trying to forge my own Angela-shaped role, and not do things out of a sense of obligation or because ‘that’s what minister’s wives do’. What has surprised me is the depth of my own feelings of responsibility for the church as the ‘minister’s spouse’. When Mr G worked for an emerging IT company, I didn’t lie awake at night pondering the future of his company. I didn’t ask after the welfare of his colleagues in any more than a desultory way. I didn’t even pray for the success of his company! But now I am enmeshed in my husband’s workplace. His employers/clients are my friends. I want this church to thrive and grow. I want to see lives transformed in this community. I pray for this church all the time.
I’ve always had an overblown sense of responsibility for others, which means I have to enforce good boundaries in my life as they don’t come naturally to me. “Oh, you have a problem? Let me help you with that,” is generally my first reaction until Wise-Angela kicks in. When we got to Pleasant Point, both volunteer children’s workers needed to step down for personal reasons. I stepped up because no one else would (there’s that boots-and-all thing), and I felt responsible for the continuing success of the church because kid’s ministry matters. I really felt that mantle of responsibility. Like I’m the minister. Like I’m God.
I found myself spending hours on the children’s ministry in the lead up to Easter: so many hours that I had no time to reflect on the most important event in the church calendar myself. I had no time to just be with Jesus.
It was only after I managed to get a team on board with the children’s ministry, and got some breathing space that was I able to see the ridiculousness of my situation. Which was of my own making. Wise-Angela had lots to say to boots-and-all-Angela. I’ve learnt my lesson.
Church can be a wonderous thing. A refuge, a sanctuary. A family, a safe place to land. But it’s not going to fall over if you’re not there. Even if you’re the minister.
Frantically ‘doing’, even if it’s for the church, can stop you from ‘being’.
I can’t lead or mentor others in Christ if I’m not spending time in prayer or reading scripture myself. I’m not giving glory to God if I’m doing His work with a resentful heart. I’m certainly not doing His work if I haven’t even taken the time to discern if He wants me to do it in the first place!
When church gets in the way
If you’re a churchgoer, there will most likely be the odd season where church takes over your life due to an event you’re helping with, or perhaps there’s a crisis with a church member. Sometimes stuff just needs to be done. Bills need to be paid, rosters need to be drawn up, someone needs to write a sermon. But if it’s more than a season, then it’s time to make a change.
1. Take responsibility for your actions. If you are so busy that your personal devotion time is non-existent, or your church family sees your more than your own family, it’s time to take stock and figure out how you got yourself in this mess. Was it because you can’t say no? Were you pressured into it? Guilt tripped into it? Do you think that your ministry will fail if you step back? Is it time to ask for help from others? Is it time to let that role go? Ask God to reveal the truth of your particular situation.
2. Ask yourself – is this MY responsibility? When we don’t have good boundaries, sometimes we take on things that aren’t our responsibility in the first place. This is especially true of roles that are inherited from others, and where there is a culture of ‘that’s the way it’s always been done’. For example, some ministers find they are expected to do all sorts of things unrelated to their actual calling because ‘the last minister did it’. If some of your tasks aren’t actually yours to do, it’s time to either hand them back to the person who should be doing it, or discuss it with the church leadership to find a less busy way forward.
3. Am I doing this solo because I need control? If you find yourself swamped with an event or ministry and you’re the one doing all the leg work – why haven’t you asked for help? Do you find working with others too irritating? Are you able to take suggestions or advice if others want to run things in a slightly different way? Or is it your way or the highway? I’ve seen this many times in churches, where someone has a very definite vision of how an event or outreach ‘should’ run. They don’t listen to others – instead they take offence or think these people are just trying to rain on their parade, so they soldier on by themselves. Most folks don’t want to rain on your parade, they just might see pitfalls that you don’t, and we all need to be humble about stuff like that. Other people can be micro-managers, unable to fully let others take on responsibility in case something goes wrong/it’s not done properly/I don’t trust them. Do you need to let go of your need to control others?
4. Is this event necessary? Just because your church has ALWAYS had three services over Easter, plus a stations of the cross installation, a prayer vigil and a hot cross bun outreach, doesn’t mean you have to do all those things this year. Or indeed, ever again. Each congregation should approach the year afresh, acknowledging changes in its makeup and capacity. If it all just seems too much, then let some things go.
5. Does this event have to be done to this standard? Sure, last year’s women’s night was epic; with a guest speaker, home made nibbles, and fancy handouts and worksheets. But if this year seems too stretched, there’s nothing wrong with simply watching a DVD and discussing it over some store-bought crackers and cheese.
6. Am I in a hard season of life? Have you had a baby? An illness? A chronic illness or disability? Your personal life has imploded? You’ve switched to a more demanding job? Old age has caught up with you? IT”S OKAY TO GIVE UP YOUR MINISTRIES. IT’S OKAY IF ALL YOU CAN DO IS PRAY. PRAYING IS PLENTY! There’s not a single person alive who hasn’t endured a busy season of life. Most of the time it’s not forever. And you know what, if it is forever, God’s got other things in store for you. It’s okay.
7. Is this life-giving? Do you enjoy this ministry or this role? Do you look forward to it, or is it something you grit your teeth and suffer through? Have you lost your passion for it? If it’s not giving you joy, or you feel obligated, resentful or angry about doing it, then make like Elsa and LET.IT.GO.
8. Am I self-soothing with unhelpful things like TV, food because I’m so stressed and busy? Again, examine your motives for doing what you are doing. If it’s because you feel obligated, or guilty, or resentful because no one else is helping you, then start over at question 1 and dig deep. What changes can you make to your schedule? What can be let go? Who can I bring on board to help?
9. Have I discerned if I’m called to do this? Have you prayed about how you should use your time? Or asked for God’s direction? I love listening to Joyce Meyers on the radio. A few weeks ago, I caught a talk where she said she was called to be a teacher, but is often asked to do other things that take her away from her purpose. So she says NO to those things. What would life be like if you were fulfilling your purpose?
10. Let things fall over. I know several beautiful people who hung on and on and on with a particular ministry because no one else was willing to take it over. Sometimes you just need to let it fall over. To end. Yes, it’s going to be really sad. But if it’s time for you to step down, then step down. If I’ve noticed anything about church life, it’s that they have seasons. Perhaps in your church people reminisce about the once-thriving youth group you had, or that really awesome home group that petered out, or the Friday night dances that bought many couples together. Your church might simply be in slower season, or have no young and energetic folks to run things anymore. GOD IS DOING A NEW THING. Let Him. It’s not up to you.
11. If you are a churchgoer, contribute! In just about every church the bulk of the work is done by a few. If you have the capacity to help out in some way – big or small – don’t just be a consumer. Bless your church with your gifts and maybe help lighten the load of the few.
There are many reasons to embrace a frugal lifestyle: necessity, to get out of debt and build savings, to be a better steward of your resources, to minimise your impact on the environment, to reduce the stress that living outside your means can bring, or because you love the challenge of finding ways to live well on less.
All of these reasons and more led me to start my Dollar Dietback in 2015. Apart from the odd times where life got crazy and some frugal habits were temporarily ditched, frugality is a way of life for our family.
The biggest factor in why I choose to live frugally is so that I have the money to spend on the things that are important to me.
For me it’s travel and experiences. I would rather see a Broadway-type show than buy a latte every day. I’d rather explore a new place than have a designer wardrobe, and I’d rather introduce my children to different cultures than give them an expensive device.
Frugal living allows my family to have some money in the bank for fun stuff. It gives me peace to know that money is there when we need it, even if that need is just to save my sanity.
Mr G went away for a week recently, as part of his learning-to-be-a-minister requirements, leaving me home alone for seven days with my 3 year-old and 5 year-old. Apart from one day where I’m pretty sure I tore out a clump of hair, the kids were fine and things went smoothly. What was hard for me is that I sleep very, very, very badly when Mr G isn’t around. It’s ridiculous because rationally I know the kids and I are perfectly safe, but the reptilian part of my brain goes on high alert when he’s away because now I’m the one who is responsible for the safety of my kids if an intruder breaks in. Again, this is totally silly because anyone who knows Mr G and I, knows that I’m the one who’d be up for a fight, whereas Mr G would probably offer to make them a nice cup of tea and talk to them about making better life choices.
In short, I was extremely tired by the time Mr G got back home.
When Mr G goes away I run the house with military-like precision. But I made sure I went into self-care mode too and made myself sit down and relax as soon as all the jobs were done. I watched something mindless on Netflix most nights (House Doctor, love it), and took every opportunity to rest. I sat in a cafe a couple of times, people-watching and enjoying food I didn’t have to cook, plus I took the kids out for dinner one night. There was definitely nothing frugal about the week.
Mr G was also exhausted by the time he got home from all that learning and socialising. While the kids were in kindy and school, we shot off to Tekapo and soaked for hours in the Tekapo Springs hot pools. It was AMAZING. We both found the hot pools worked wonders – so much so that we are already plotting our return.
I undoubtedly would have survived without all of those little extras that week, but oh my word, they helped. I was grateful that our past frugality meant we had the money to splurge a little.
I know for many people there is zero room in their budget for the tiniest of splurges. If you know someone in this situation and are able – give them a treat. It helps so much mentally. If there is wiggle room in your budget, set a little aside for the times when you need to indulge in some self-care. You may not have a million bucks, but a wee sprinkle of indulgence can certainly make you feel like a million bucks.
Mr G and I often take it turns to plan a weekly date night. Occasionally we’ve had times where it falls by the wayside for a period, sometimes due to life just getting a bit busy, or when we were in a baby-induced fog.
We’ve always managed to get back on track as we take date night seriously. Even if what we do for date night isn’t the slightest bit serious! Marriages fail all the time, and we see date nights as an investment in our relationship, and as an important tool to help keep us connected.
When we lived in Whanganui, Mr G’s mum was always volunteering to babysit so we could go out on a date – I think because her marriage to Mr G’s dad didn’t make it – and we found it hard to get her to understand that we didn’t always need to go out and spend money to have a great date. We’ve had loads of great dates that didn’t require us to spend a cent, or even leave the house. You can read about some of our ideas here.
When you take turns to plan dates, something rather magical happens. Especially if you’re trying to save money, or it’s just difficult for you to get a babysitter, you are forced to be creative. My husband has gone to extraordinary lengths to wow me or put a smile on my face. We’ve stargazed, he’s made up songs for me, found a hard-to-get movie I’d really wanted to watch, reminisced with me over our wedding photos and we’ve sung karaoke for hours. I’ve made him his favourite treats, filmed him telling his life history, and we’ve danced the night away in the lounge. We’ve made cakes together for our children’s birthdays as a date night activity. It’s more fun than it sounds, I swear.
My husband would absolutely not describe himself as romantic or even overly creative, but he often surprises me with the thought and care and love that’s he put into our evening together.
Don’t get me wrong, many times our date nights involve watching Netflix because we’re so darned tired after a busy week! (We totally recommend Fallet, it’s hilarious.)
My point is, you don’t have to spend megabucks to have a meaningful date – our date this week (below) was no exception. A few minutes time spent on google looking for ideas is time well spent.
On to this week’s frugal happenings:
We sold our bike trailer. I had big plans for this bike trailer, but thanks to a back injury a few months after we bought it, the trailer ended up seldom being used, and gathering dust in the garage. Our children can ride their own bikes now, so we have zero need for it. We sold it to a someone who doesn’t drive, who is stoked to be able to transport their kiddos around. We wasted money on the darn thing, but we weren’t to know it at the time we purchased it, and at least we were able to sell it for a fair price.
The kids had friends over again, so free fun!
I had a very frugal outing with D, where we took a packed lunch with us while we played in the great outdoors, and I spent .20c on a toy from an op-shop. Contrast this with the mummy-daughter date I took E on. She had a definite idea of what she wanted to do, which involved going to a cafe, and then a (free) playground. I spent $25 on lunch for the two of us at the cafe, but it was a planned expense. E doesn’t get treats like that too often, and it was good for this mama’s soul to spend one-on-one time with her. Now she’s at school, I have to be very intentional about this. Still, not all our mummy-daughter dates will require any money changing hands, but that’s a post for another time.
It was my turn to organise date night, so I made a quick dinner for the kids, sent the kids off with Mr G for their bath and bedtime routine, while I made a special dinner for Mr G and I. On the menu was chicken tikka masala, rice, naan, and veggies, with flutes of champagne. The dinner cost maybe $10 to make, and the champagne was a gift from a friend. I lit candles, put on some music, and laid out a fancy dinner setting. And by fancy, I mean our totally mismatched set of crockery. We had a lovely night – it was just as good as a swanky restaurant, and we solved the problems of the world as we ate our dinner in peace. For parents, you can reclaim the bliss of a peaceful dinner!
I made another batch of bean and cheese burritos. Inspired by this post, I’ve tweaked the recipe to my liking, and can make these burritos for about .75c each. They freeze beautifully, and make for a quick and easy lunch.
D was sick, whiny and rather belligerent due to a cold. E was run down and in need of a day off school to recharge her five-year old batteries. D had woken up with a coughing fit in the wee hours of the morning. He was wiiiiiiide awake, so I dragged my bleary-eyed carcass out of bed to look after him. The three of us had a duvet day and watched lots of TV – I now know the entire backstory to Transformers: Robots in Disguise, so if you lie awake at night wondering what the heck happened to Russell’s mum* and why he never seems to go to school, just ask me.
D had gotten over the worst of his cold the next day, which happened to be a warm and sunshiny day, so I took him to play at the nearby Temuka Domain. I pushed him on a swing for 30 minutes while he kept up a monologue of how aliens were trying to take over the earth and get into our brains, but fortunately he, D, had special weapons and was big and strong and would defeat the aliens single-handedly. We had a ferocious debate over whether aliens have birthdays (answer: yes, but they don’t play games like ours), and then looked for Decepticons (bad Transformers) in the native forest at the domain. I basked in the sun, and chuckled at D’s marvellous imagination.
There’s a fabulous op-shop in Temuka called Paws and Claws (all proceeds go to the SPCA). It’s a treasure trove, and my kids love visiting the shop because the lovely manager always gives them a wee lolly. If you are in the area, do pay them a visit – it’s especially well stocked with secondhand clothes, books and household goods. D wanted to visit the shop, and was so filled with extroverted joy he announced it to the nice old lady passing by, “We’re going to Paws and Claws! Mummy might let me get a toy!”. I did, for the princely sum of 20c.
Little things. Snuggling on the couch with my children, warm sun, the joy of a secondhand toy.
Like many stay-at-home parents, this time of having under little ones has been an opportunity for me to take stock and decide what’s next for my career. In a little over a year, both my kids will be at school and the world is my oyster.
Yet, as I get older I am increasingly called to live small.
Since moving to Pleasant Point I’ve kept an eye on the part-time jobs on offer in the area. Each time I mentioned them to D he wisely said “But what about the school holidays? What about when I’m away?” He has a demanding job that encompasses our entire family, in a way that most jobs don’t. I’ve also been toying with the idea of going back to further study to upskill, but have felt daunted by the stress it would put upon me, along with the need to find someone who doesn’t mind doing rather bitsy childcare. Most caregivers want regular gigs, and I can’t say I blame them! I got very frustrated, and felt like I’d never be able to work without putting our children in after school care and holiday programmes (for my overseas readers, NZ schools have around 12 weeks break spread throughout the year).
I don’t want that for my kids. I’m not judging working parents. Honestly, I’m not. If my children had different personalities, I’d definitely be considering full time work. But I have two very sensitive souls, and I know that they would not thrive in a schedule that full-time work would have them locked into. Especially D. For all his bravado and confidence, he finds change hard and often needs handling with kid gloves.
And so it wasn’t because of a lightening-bolt moment of clarity, but a gentle conversation with Mr G (plus lots of prayer) that helped me to decide to continue as a stay at home mum, so I can be present for the kids. I also feel called to be present for church, and certainly once both kids are in school I’ll be available to lend more of a hand with the various things churches run. I’m also quite fortunate that most of the things I have a passion for doing in the church are quite often things that you get paid for. I love preaching, and running workshops and retreats, and there’s definitely some scope to learn a little income doing these. So stay tuned folks. I’m not ruling out further study or full time work in the future, but for the next few years at any rate, I’ll be living the quiet(er) life.
This decision requires some sacrifice, certainly in terms of income, and it limits my bigger dreams – which mostly involve my favourite thing ever, travel. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t matter to me. It does, and I’m sure in times to come I’ll find myself wishing I was at Abu Simbel or St Petersburg or even Bonnie Doon.
The song ‘Dream Small’, by Josh Wilson is one that I play on repeat, because it is just so apt for where I’m at. I’ve dreamed big dreams and even achieved many of those goals, and had a lot of fun and learning in the process. In the song, Josh talks about little moments changing the world; being used by God just as and where you are. More and more I am more content with these little moments shaping my life. I notice them, am thankful for them, and they give me direction and purpose in the same way my big dreams once did.
Dream Small – Josh Wilson
It’s a momma singing songs about the Lord
It’s a daddy spending family time
That the world said he cannot afford
These simple moments change the world
It’s a pastor at a tiny little Church
Forty years of loving on the broken and the hurt
These simple moments change the world
Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all
Just let Jesus use you where you are
One day at a time
Loving God and others as yourself
Find little ways where only you can help
With His great love
A tiny rock can make a giant fall
It’s visiting the widow down the street
Or dancing on a Friday with your friend with special needs
These simple moments change the world
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with bigger dreams
Just don’t miss the minutes on your way, your bigger things, no
‘Cause these simple moments change the world
So dream small
Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all
Just let Jesus use you where you are
One day at a time
Loving God and others as yourself
Find little ways where only you can help
With His great love
A tiny rock can make a giant fall
So dream small
Keep loving, keep serving
Keep listening, keep learning
Keep praying, keep hoping
Keep seeking, keep searching
Out of these small things and watch them grow bigger
The God who does all things makes oceans from river
So dream small
Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all
Just let Jesus use you where you are
One day at a time
Loving God and others as yourself
Find little ways where only you can help
With His great love
A tiny rock can make a giant fall
Yeah, five loaves and two fishes could feed them all
So dream small
* She’s working in Copenhagen. Now you can get some sleep.
This week we chugged on pretty nicely with our frugal fortnightly meal plan – although we had two takeaways, which is unusual for us on our Dollar Diet.
The first takeaway was due to our Wednesday night church home group deciding to include a meal as part of the evening’s activities. I pushed for this as 1) I think something magical happens when people share a meal together, and 2) one of our group has a long commute and often turns up without having eaten dinner – now that’s faithfulness! I figured we could make Wednesday night easier for her by providing dinner. We kicked off with Fish and Chips, but we’ll definitely have some home cooked fare in there too in the future.
The second meal was due to having a bad day, as I referenced in my previous post Parenting with Hashimoto’s. For some reason my Hashimoto’s is bad at the moment, and I’m having a LOT of bad days. I got to early afternoon and was all-in. Mr G was knackered too. Our cupboards and freezer were bare thanks to last week’s pantry audit. It was annoying, yet funny. I’m gratified to know I had done a great job at using up all our food!
Anyway, I aim to restock our freezer this week with delectable leftovers to avoid takeaway temptation.
This week’s frugal doings:
I made vegan muffins using last week’s applesauce. Applesauce makes beautifully moist muffins. They didn’t last long! We still have lots of applesauce left which will go in more baking or as a breakfast topping.
I hung out our washing on the line as the weather permitted.
I baked, and baked and baked some more. Biscuits, scones, those muffins. It all makes filling lunchboxes, filling tummies, and hosting guests that much easier. And you can make much healthier alternatives to store-bought baking.
The kids had play dates with friends at the weekend – free entertainment. The mother of my son’s friend stayed to chat and she brought brownie. She’s a keeper…
A friend of mine came over with a DVD and wine. She’s most definitely a keeper!
We scored a secondhand Pippins uniform for E. She adores Pippins (which is baby Girl Guides/Girl Scouts if you don’t know what it is) and asks nearly every day if it’s a Pippins day. Getting the uniform cheaply is a big help as their activity fee is high. I’ll elaborate more on why we chose Pippins as an extracurricular activity at a later date.
I decluttered the kid’s clothes, toys and books for approximately the 1,237th time. Seriously. I seem to be constantly biffing out things the kids have outgrown or broken or had no idea they owned in the first place. Decluttering gives many people a headache, I know, but I LOVE it. I give away what I can to friends, and donate to op-shops; only relegating broken stuff or things that I wouldn’t wear or use myself to recycling. Why is it a frugal thing to do? 1) You can sell your unwanted goods for profit. 2) The less stuff you (or your kids) own, the less time and money you have to spend cleaning it, caring for it, storing it and stressing about it. Your time, energy and money are better spent elsewhere. 3) It’s freeing to get rid of things that are otherwise collecting dust, plus I love giving back to the frugal chain of charity shops, where I get most of our clothing and household goods from. My trash is someone else’s treasure. Donating your goods to charity shops helps them stay open and usually funds all manner of good works.
Our church has a budget for children’s ministry, but I like to save them a buck or two whenever possible. On Sunday the church kids entered an art competition, and used paint, brushes and palettes I had leftover from a rock painting event I ran; and they used some high quality paper we’d had lying around for ages after it was gifted to us by a neighbour. We even used Mr G’s old t-shirts as painting aprons. $0 expenditure for the kid’s ministry this week!
Quicksand probably doesn’t feature as a hazard in your life, but I fall into it on a regular basis. It’s simply life with Hashimoto’sdisease.
The body-walking-through-quicksand feeling is a common symptom of Hashimoto’s autoimmune disease (also calledHashimoto’s thyroiditis). It’s no exaggeration. Some days my entire body feels like lead. Walking to the corner of the street is like an marathon, and the stairs in my house take on Mt Everest proportions.
Imagine you’ve just climbed Mt Everest – and now your kids are clambering over you, begging you to play with them.
This is my reality as a Hashimoto’s parent.
Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease, where the thyroid gland is gradually destroyed. There is no cure. Your thyroid gland is part of your endocrine system, and regulates many of your body’s functions. It stores and produces hormones that effect almost every organ in your body. This one little gland can cause big trouble when it doesn’t work properly. Your thyroid hormones regulate your metabolism, your heart and digestive function, muscle control, brain development and even your mood. Millions of people around the world suffer from Hashimoto’s; many of whom are misdiagnosed, as Hashimoto’s symptoms are often mistaken for mental illness. Medication helps, but it’s estimated that up to 90% of people who take thyroid replacement medication remain symptomatic. In other words, despite the medication, they feel rubbish. Here’s a list of the most common symptoms, there are many more:
Some days I am totally fine. I can walk for miles, do 10 impossible things before breakfast, and have a very productive day. There’s usually no way of telling whether it’s going to be a great day or a quicksand day. Hashimoto’s is a mostly invisible disease, so you can’t tell by looking at me if it’s a good day or a bad day.
On good days I have to take care not to do too much because I’ll pay for it the next day. And probably the next. I have to leave my weekends mostly free of plans so I don’t burn out – and that’s tough for an extrovert like me. I have to cancel plans a lot, because when I made those plans I felt great but when the day arrives I feel like a slug. It also means I can’t volunteer or help out like I want to, because I don’t want to be a flake and let people down. I also have the super power of sleeping for 10 hours and waking up tired, and getting insomnia.
I can put on weight just by looking at a doughnut. My hair is thin and fine. I have trouble regulating my body temperature. I can feel cold while everyone is fine, and I also struggle to cope with hot weather. My joints ache almost every day. I often feel like I’m 90 instead of 42. I occasionally have the brain of a 90 year old, where I can’t think clearly or find the right word.
I have periods where I am totally fine for months and months, and periods where I can barely function for months and months. I lose heaps of weight during the fine times, and then put it all back on during the not-so-fine times.
My thyroid function is always on a knife edge. It takes very little for it to get all quicksandy, and my medication can require a great deal of fine-tuning. I have to take Mr G to my doctor’s appointments, because I am not taken seriously otherwise. Just having him there to back me up, has hugely improved my treatment. If unaccompanied, when I complain about being tired and sore I am immediately screened for depression by doctors. This is despite being a Hashimoto’s patient with Hashimoto’s symptoms. Which include tiredness and aching muscles and joints.
As you can imagine, Hashimoto’s can make parenting really, really hard. Some days my kids watch way too much TV because I have zero energy to do anything else. My kids are used to me telling them to ‘get off me!’ because their clambering on me is excruciatingly painful. It’s especially hard for my son, who likes to show love with body slams. It’s difficult to be a kind and patient parent when you are so, so tired or in pain. It’s heartbreaking to have to cancel a fun trip because you’re just not up to it, or watch from the sidelines as the rest of your family plays because your oomph is used up for the day.
It’s also hard to be the partner of a Hashimoto’s sufferer. Many marriages fail, especially if Hashimoto’s has developed after the marriage. You are quite literally not married to the same person anymore. Your partner (mostly) looks fine, yet lazes around all day. They’re grumpy, tired and not pulling their weight. Which has almost certainly gone up, by the way.
Pretty grim huh? It doesn’t have to be.
How to cope as a parent when you have Hashimoto’s
Accept that you have it, and that you may never function as you used to. This was key for me. I spent years trying to carry as normal, berating myself for being lazy or stupid. My poor body couldn’t cope with the frenetic pace I expected to keep, and I ended up with a bad case of burnout, on top of the Haashimoto’s. Once I accepted that I had this disease and therefore needed to change how I lived, it became sooooo much easier to manage my condition.
Accept that you won’t be a perfect parent. Hashimoto’s can rob you of being the parent you want to be. You can bet that on those tv-watching days, or times when I have to watch the fun from the sidelines, I have a massive attack of the guilts. But I try to…
…Make up for it on the good days! If I’m having a great day, then chances are I’ve taken my kids out or done something really fun with them. These are the days for spontaneous picnics or parties, for nature walks, jumping on the trampoline, and letting the kids stay up past their bedtime to play spotlight. Keep a list or a Pinterest board of things you could do the next time the stars align and you’ve got both a good day and time on your hands. I may be Slug Mum at times, but I’m also Fun Mum too.
Rest whenever possible. Even when I have had a week of feeling great, I avoid the temptation to rush around like a headless chicken doing all the jobs I had to put off on bad days. Before Hashimoto’s I could function solidly all day. Now I do my most physical jobs in the morning, so I have the afternoon to chill out. And by chill out, I mean you’ll usually find me writing on the computer/picking my kids up/pottering around in the kitchen. I’m a stay-at-home parent, but many Hashi’s folks hold down full time jobs and don’t have this luxury. If you are working, think about how you structure your day to maximise your productivity during the hours you have the most energy. For me, it’s the morning. Also, if you have very small children I understand how rest is virtually impossible. If your Hashimoto’s is giving you grief and you are the main caregiver of an infant or toddler, I strongly suggest you get some kind of care for your child. A morning or two of childcare a week could help you function better.
Don’t compare yourself to non-Hashimoto’s parents. Just don’t. Sure, they’re tired and bleary eyed too, but they probably aren’t feeling like an octogenarian either.
Find your tribe. There are loads of Hashimoto’s support groups on Facebook and elsewhere. It’s really important to be selective, because Hashimoto’s can vary greatly from person to person. One person can be on the same dose of medication for 30 years and function reasonably well, while the next person can barely make it to the letterbox. If I had a dollar for every person who told me their cousin/grandma/tennis partner/twelfth-cousin-twice-removed had Hashimoto’s and drank chamomile tea/only ate lemongrass/used organic leeches/imported pure oxygen from the Arctic circle and felt terrific, I’d have, well… a chunk of money. Sure, give things a try, but hold them lightly. What works for cousin Ethel might not work for you. These groups are also a godsend when you wonder if [insert weird symptom here] could be because of your Hashimoto’s. Chances are if you ask online you’ll soon have hundreds of people saying ‘Yep, me too’. Let me give you an example: A lesser known symptom is a blank facial expression (I have no idea of the science behind why that might be). I am frequently described as ‘calm’ by others – despite being nothing of the kind, and people who don’t know me well often stop to explain “That was a joke” if they’ve just said something witty, despite me being well aware and responsive to their joke!
Eat well. Many Hashimoto’s sufferers find relief by making dietary changes, like giving up gluten and nightshades. The AIP diet is popular and has helped some people go into remission.
Plan for bad days. Help yourself and your family out by having meals at the ready in the freezer for the days you have no energy to cook. Stash some DVDs or download some movies your kids haven’t seen to keep them entertained. Have understanding friends and relatives on speed dial.
Educate your kids. As your children get older, share what it’s like for you to have Hashimoto’s. Kids are great observers but very poor interpreters. Your failure to show up to their dance recital might be taken to mean you don’t love them. Once they understand, they’re more likely to cut you some slack and not take it personally. You can then hate the disease together and have a victory ice cream on your good days. Hashimoto’s also has a genetic component to it, so it’s important they know what to look out for.
Be your biggest supporter. Because Hashimoto’s is a (mostly) invisible illness, some people will think you are lazy or a bad parent. Screw them. They don’t know what it’s like to walk a mile in your quicksand-filled shoes. You are NOT lazy. You are fighting a disease that affects pretty much every cell in your body. Box on, friend.
Keep perspective. On my bad days, I tell myself there are so many people out there who have far worse things than Hashimoto’s. And I’m grateful for the things my body CAN do. It’s a bit Pollyanna, I know, but it helps.
Since my last post about the Dollar Diet and how to do it, I’ve been on fire this week, doing whatever it takes to save money and spend less.
We’ve returned from a much-needed long weekend in Dunedin. Although we had a few days ‘holiday’ in January on our way from our previous town to Pleasant Point, we were moving house, which isn’t a terribly relaxing thing to do. I get cabin fever if I’m stuck in one place too long, so a change of scene was definitely in order. A couple of days away does wonders for recharging my batteries.
We kept the costs down by choosing cheap, self-catering accommodation away from the CBD, and mostly stuck to doing free stuff – like playgrounds, bike parks and visiting Mr G’s aunt and uncle who live in the area. I cannot stress enough how much self-catering will keep your holiday spending at a minimum. I would much rather spend $40 on a fun outing with my family than on lunch at a cafe! Mr G and I read several books over the weekend – now that’s luxury!
Because we’re museum junkies, we did fork out money for the extra activities at Otago Museum. Most of the museum can be seen for free – and it’s well worth the visit alone – but you do need to buy tickets to enter Tuhura (apologies, I can’t figure out how to do a macron on here!), which incorporates the very interactive science centre, butterfly rain forest, and planetarium. I wouldn’t do the planetarium again, but the science centre and butterfly rain forest were totally worth the money.
Anyway, on to the frugal stuff!
Mr G’s relatives gave us a huge bagful of golden delicious apples and feijoas from their trees. Paying for feijoas hurts, especially when we used to get tonnes from a tree at our old house. The free fruit means we don’t need to buy any for a couple of weeks. My daughter E is a fruit fiend and munches her way through an awful lot, so it’s a significant saving.
I made applesauce from the apples. Unsweetened applesauce is a great substitute for oil or butter in recipes, and is a yummy porridge topping.
They also gave us a stack of towels in good nick. It’s not often I regret getting rid of something, but I definitely regretted giving away some of our towels last year before we moved. I didn’t factor in the amount of visitors we’d receive in Pleasant Point (some of our friends have large families), and I should have hung on to them. As you can imagine, I was chuffed to get the towels from Auntie R.
I baked a LOT this week. We had some mozzarella cheese that needed to be used up, so I made a margarita pizza, which is E’s favourite dish in the whole, wide world. I made cheese scones and a banana cake for my family (using up bananas that seem to have been in my freezer forever), plus several batches of biscuits (cookies) to feed a hoard of children during an impromptu playdate.
I did a pantry audit – making a list of everything in my cupboards/fridge/freezer – and made a two week meal plan. (I shop fortnightly to save on petrol as we live 20 minutes away from the nearest big supermarket.) I won’t bore you with all the minute details, but I ended up with things like: a pack of sausages, a whole frozen chicken, leftover chickpea curry, two meals worth of home made soup, half a pack of brown rice, lasagne sheets, a pack of arborio rice and 10 pumpkins. Yes, 10 pumpkins. With a modicum of effort, it didn’t take long to work out a meal plan e.g. the sausages went into a very frugal hotpot (let me know if you’d like me to post this recipe, it’s really fast, easy and delicious), and the chicken went into a risotto one night and a curry the next. The combination of items in my pantry meant I only spent $123 on food this fortnight. $61.50 for a week’s worth of meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner – is pretty awesome! Doing a pantry audit a few times a year means you no longer get packets of couscous/leftovers languishing at the back of the cupboard/freezer. You save money buy using up everything and waste waaaay less food, plus it’s also a good way to free up extra cash that you’d otherwise be spending on food that week. Give it a try the next time you’ve got an unexpected bill.
I tried out a new recipe to use up some of those pumpkins (from our own garden), and made a pumpkin, spinach and lentil lasagne. Oh my word, divine! You can find the recipe here. It’s very time-consuming so best left to a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, but worth the effort. We eat several vegetarian or vegan meals a week, which helps to keep our grocery budget low – plus they’re healthy and delicious.
Mr G sealed up two open fireplaces and a meat safe (our lovely house is from the 1930s) to reduce heat loss, using a masterful application of bubble wrap, tape and corflute. Open fireplaces are ridiculously inefficient at heating a room; it’s actually more cost-effective for us to run a heater in these rooms.
We had a very quiet Queen’s birthday weekend. We had little on our social calendar – which was just as well because my son and I are a bit under the weather – so most of the weekend was spent mooching around the house. Just what the doctor ordered.
It wasn’t all frugal around here though. I had to admit defeat and recognise that I really, really do need more warm clothes, and that a woolly hat is a necessary item in E’s school uniform. I baulked at paying $10 for a plain blue,school-issued beanie, and I got one for $5 elsewhere. (FYI, I despise knitting, in case you wondered why I didn’t whip one up myself. Seriously, I’d rather stab myself with the needles…) I’m not a wuss when it comes to the cold; I’ve lived in much colder climates than Pleasant Point, but they were in countries that have embraced central heating and double glazing. Get with the programme, New Zealand.
Despite stocking up in merinos from op-shops last year and layering like the Michelin man, I needed some thick tops to wear around our icebox house. Having come from mild Whanganui, I didn’t already own that sort of thing. I couldn’t find what I wanted secondhand and had to resort to buying two brand new tops. Still, I figure the money I spent on them is offset by spending less on heating the house! With Mr G and I at home most of the time during the day – Mr G’s church office is in our house – our power bill gets quite high, so it all helps. Mr G is usually the type of guy to be found in shorts and t-shirt during a blizzard, but even he has succumbed to thermal underwear. Ergo, it actually is quite chilly in Pleasant Point.
Long-term readers of my previous blog Tots in Tawhero will know that a few years ago my family and I embarked on what I call the Dollar Diet. A reader asked if I was still doing the Dollar Diet, and I’m happy to report that yes, yes I am.
The Dollar Diet is very simple: only spend money on necessities. Easy, right?
I had already significantly reigned in my former spendthrift ways when we first attempted a Dollar Diet. In the past I was careless with managing my money and got into debt at various times. It was shameful and stressful and my strategy of burying my head in the sand had to go. It wasn’t an overnight transformation, but slowly and surely I got better at saving more and spending less.
I got married to Mr G, and we both earned reasonable money. Mr G is pretty good at money management but we found we weren’t saving as much as we could. We then had kids. I decided to stay at home with the kids – at least until they were at school – so we went down to one income. It was still perfectly liveable, as Mr G got decent money as a software developer. However, not long after we married, Mr G felt called to become a minister for the Presbyterian church.
Even though the minister thing has been years in the making, learning to thrive on one, low income drove me to try the Dollar Diet. I knew we could do better with less, and salt some savings away. I knew we could track our spending better and plug the holes on our budget. I had some specific savings goals that year (like a trip to Australia), but the idea of getting into a mindful spending groove over the course of a whole year really appealed.
In the first year of the Dollar Diet I had lofty goals – there would be NO extras. No cafe visits, no store-bought gifts, no paid subscriptions of any kind, no new clothes. You get the picture. I didn’t quite get there, but I had a lot of fun along the way.
It’s true in a 1984-esque way: There is freedom in restriction.
With restrictions on how I spent my time and money, my creativity was given free reign. I cooked up a storm. I sewed (very badly). I learned how to make jam and chutney. We threw frugal parties. I grew a veggie garden. Mr G learned how to DIY gates and fences. I even upcycled some curtains a la Maria Von Trapp. For real.
But I also learned that it’s hard to find time to make gifts from scratch when you have little ones who catch all.the.illnesses. Unexpected events and invitations happened. I learned to make gifts waaay ahead of when they were needed because of this. Most importantly, I learned how important it was to have a fun line in our budget, because I have a deep-seated need to have things to look forward to in my life, and scrimping and saving can get a bit grim at times.
Today my family needs the Dollar Diet more than ever, because there’s very little room for extras in our new, reduced-income budget. The Dollar Diet helps us to define our priorities, and takes away some of the stress of making ends meet. I’ve long since shed many of the trappings that first-world society tells us we need to be happy and successful – no, I don’t need a fancy car, or an iPhone, or to attend a yoga retreat on Bora Bora. I actually find it fun to see how much I can shave off my grocery budget for the week, and finding ways to do what I want for free or cheaply.
Before I show you what this year’s Dollar Diet looks like for me, let me caveat this by saying that even though my family and I are now living on that much-reduced minister’s income, I’m still coming from a place of privilege. We own a home in our previous town and have no mortgage. Money from renting this out pays for much of our rent here in Pleasant Point. We have savings. We don’t have debt. Despite Mr G’s salary halving this year, we’re still not on the poverty line.
Okay? Onto this year’s Dollar Diet!
The Dollar Diet is simple. Buy what you NEED. Think long and hard before buying what you WANT. Is it necessary? Can you do without it? Can you borrow it instead? Can you wait while you save up for it? Even NEEDS can be slimmed down by growing your own fruit and veg, or bartering and borrowing when possible.
My ‘needs’ will be different to yours, no doubt, but that’s the beauty of the Dollar Diet. What are your non-negotiables?
My 2018 list
Rent (For the first time in a few years we have to pay rent. We pay $250 a week for the massive manse we get to live in during Mr G’s internship. This rent is offset a bit from income from our rental home, but we still have to pay rates and maintenance from the rent income.)
Groceries (I typically spend around $150 for our family of four, which is well below the national average of $230 a week, but I know I can get this much lower at times when necessary).
Electricity, firewood(Our current house is like most NZ homes – poorly insulated and freezing, so our power bill is rather frightening. We were so grateful for a generous gift of firewood!)
Netflix(Hi, my name is Angela and I like to binge watch Occupied and Zoo. There, I said it.)
Insurances (life, home contents, vehicle, house)
Petrol, vehicle maintenance
Rates (for our house in Whanganui)
School fees($100 a year, plus 4 term activity fees)
Extracurricular activities for the kids (E does dancing – paid for by a grandparent- and Pippins; D does soccer. E currently hates putting her head under the water, so swim lessons next term are probably in order so she can keep up with her class.)
Sponsor children (2)
Doctor’s visits & prescriptions, dentist visits
Gifts(making what I possibly can myself)
Haircuts(I only get my hair cut 2 or 3 times a year)
Moisturizer, foundation, bug spray(mozzies LOVE me), undies, watertight shoes (why oh why is it so hard to get decent shoes anymore! Mine always fall apart after a couple of years wear), a few items of warm clothing (secondhand) – A
A few invention gizmos, a few items of warm clothing – Mr G
Clothing (secondhand or free whenever possible), shoes, underwear for the children
2 short holidaysaway (free or low-cost accommodation where possible). Holidays are a luxury, but Mr G and I both recognise the value of making memories with our kids. We aim to give them experiences instead of toys.
A small fun budget: to fund the odd takeaway/outing/school holiday activities
Big Goal: family trip to Australia for BFF’s wedding next January. (We’re keeping this as low-cost as possible by avoiding pricey tourist activities, and staying in cheap and free accommodation. Travel insurance is free under Mr G’s credit card programme.)
It’s the things that aren’t on the list that save you money. No buying lunch everyday. No takeaway coffees each morning. No splurging $300 on a pair of shoes that are almost the same as the pair you already own. No mindless following of ‘fashion’. No buying a new outfit for a special occasion when you have plenty of options in your wardrobe. No buying takeaways just because you don’t feel like cooking. Getting rid of magazine subscriptions, gym subscriptions, any subscription that you don’t honestly use. No buying books (that’s why libraries were invented) or pretty tchotchkes for your home. No greeting cards and wrapping paper. No lavish gifts. No recipes requiring pricey ingredients. No expensive holidays. No meeting up with friends for brunch at an expensive cafe. No costly plays, concerts, exhibitions. No extravagant hobbies (unless it makes you money or saves your sanity).
The fun and the challenge comes from trying to find free or frugal alternatives to keep living the good life. Instead of going out for brunch, host a pancake breakfast for your friends. Take up running or workout to YouTube clips instead of going to a gym. Pack your own lunch and your coffee for work. Have a meal or two in the freezer for the nights when you are too tired to cook.
I’ll be getting back to my weekly frugal report. It’s a powerful tool which keeps me on the straight and narrow. Speaking of tools, two other important items in my frugal toolbelt are Goodbudget *(we use the free version) which is an envelope budgeting app that updates in real time; and a weekly family meeting where we discuss how we’ve been tracking for the week. Sometimes this is a tad painful, but it certainly reigns me in.
So stay tuned, I hope that some of my adventures in frugality will help my readers out there.