Hugging him a little tighter.

We had plans for tonight. Sure they were nothing big; cuddle on the couch eating mince pies, drinking eggnog and watching a DVD, but they were plans. Instead our son pulled one his rare screaming fits which lasted from 7pm through to 10pm and just refused to sleep. Goodbye lovely evening, hello frustration and feelings of incompetence.

I had to duck out to get things in order and pump milk for tomorrow. While pumping I read a few blogs, saw a few news articles… and my frustration melted away.

 

I can think of twenty sets of parents that would give anything for a bad evening with their child, who would give up far, far more than a nice supper and tv show with their partner if it meant they could comfort their fussy, screaming offspring, read them one more story, sing one more lullaby, and tuck them in one last time.

We are so lucky to have him, I will be thinking about just how lucky a lot over the next few weeks.

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A Little Help From My Friends

So many plans to write post after post, and here I am a month after my last one, oops!

In fairness to me, Hector and I (but mainly Hector) took turns getting disgustingly ill for most of the month. There were trips to the hospital, trips to the chemist and at one point I felt like we may as well just pitch a tent in the local GP’s waiting room.

I’ll be honest, it really really sucked.

I think for the first time I realised just how hard it is to be this far away from close friends and family. I was immensely grateful to my mother, cousin and friend who towards the end of the time of epic yuck came up to spend a day with me and help me with Hector, and the friends who gave me support and love via the phone and internet. Still, I was so incredibly lonely. Seamus was working long hours which got longer towards the end of the school term and I couldn’t take Hector out anywhere in case he infected the other babies (or parents) that we know in Castlemaine. So it was just Hector and I, both tired and sick, both housebound, on our own for about 10 hours a day. Bleugh.

So I wasn’t really in the mood to write nice, upbeat posts about how awesome country life is.

Now we have reached the end of the school holidays, Hector has recovered and so have I. I am much more aware than I was before of the mental dangers of isolation, and I’m determined to make some changes so it’s never that bad again. The big change I want to make is to really reach out to people here. I’m always a little awkward and shy when I’m new to a place, and after meetups and get togethers I often get quite anxious, over analysing everything I said, wondering if I said too much, not enough or just the wrong thing. I have plenty of new companions here, who are more than acquaintances but up until recently I probably would have thought them less than friends simply because of my own awkwardness. It has now occured to be, and is in fact fairly self evident, that if I want to feel really comfortable with these new people who, lets be honest, are all totally awesome and in some cases quite awe-inspiring and admirable it’s kind of up to me to make that happen.

The idea of the work involved in finding myself some friends does make me cringe as I think back 10 years to my first year of uni, I was at Melbourne and of my friends from before uni none of them were coming to Melbourne with me, only 5 people from my year 12 group of 250 were accepted and only one of those was doing the same degree as me, and as it was Arts unsurprisingly we picked completely different subjects and saw each other once in the whole time we were there. I joined every group with any interests that matched my own and embarked upon a six month long small-talk-a-thon that was actually more exhausting than my classes. BUT, some of those people I made small talk with? Still some of my best friends today, people I had amazing fun with when we all had less responsibility and money and more time, two of them were my bridesmaids, one of them I married 🙂 I sincerely hope that THAT doesn’t happen again, but I think that six months hard yakka (or longer since the people I am meeting now are busy with careers and families and are not laid back Arts/Science students with endless time to sit on South Lawn or in a beer garden) for a decade or more’s friendship is an excellent deal. Now I just have to remember how to do it.

Mostly this involves a mindshift for me. I need to stop with the negative, overly critical self talk and relax more around people. I know I can do this, because I’ve done it before. I need to make sure that I get out and attend events for ME, not just for Hector. This is why I’ve started going to yoga at the Forge. Not only does it give me an hour to just be me, not Hector’s mum (although all I seem to talk about is him anyway!) it also gives me a chance to relax and get my thoughts really clear, to practice the mindfullness excercises that I learned while pregnant, and to meet other people who share my love of yoga. It’s also a great physical reminder that these things take time. I cannot yet put my heels to the floor in down dog, I cannot fully straighten my legs in utanasana (forward bend, spelling may be a bit off) and most standing balance poses more than likely finish with me falling on my arse, but I do notice most days that I have got closer than I did the last time I tried, and if I keep going I’ll either get there eventually, or I won’t but I’ll find acceptance with that too. So it will take time to make close friends, and take effort, but I’ll get there, especially as I’m surrounded by so many clever, creative, and amazing people in this lovely town.

In the practical sense, I need to let my guard down and reach out. I am making my first “tiny baby steps” towards doing this. I did manage brunch with a new friend and her partner over the holidays, and I invited another and her son over for a play date. I have a feeling this is one of those things other people learned how to do in primary school, but I didn’t have the best primary school social experiences so I’m playing a bit of catch up. I’m going to try to do more social things locally too, instead of high-tailing it back to Melbourne every second weekend (though if I haven’t made it clear to all my Melbourne friends I love you all lots and lots and will still come back often, and invite you all here every chance I get!) One of the reasons we haven’t done much entertaining is that our rental house is not terribly suited to it, in fact it’s not suited to much at all! I think now though I’ve decided I’m not willing to wait until we have our new house, we can start entertaining now.

So, how has your Spring been so far? Any new goals or intentions? Any new classes or activities? Anyone else struggle with isolation and need a shout out?

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Happy Fathers’ Day

Yes, I know it’s a completley artificial day made up by greeting card companies, but I’ve come around to Fathers’ Day (and Mothers’ Day) as an opportunity to spend time with my parents and grandparents and appreciate their being in my life. The more people I meet and the older I get I realise more and more what a fantastic family I have and what a great job they all did raising me and loving me.

Having said that- both my father and my remaining grandfather are out of the country this year. Dad is somewhere between Ireland and Spain and Grandad is on a Pacific cruise. They are both probably having a lovely time and it makes me happy to think of them.

Today is Seamus’s first Fathers’ Day as a father, so we decided to do something special. We went to the Castlemaine Farmer’s Market this morning and bought supplies for a wonderful picnic up at Kalimna Point, a local beauty spot in the National Park.

We had a multi-course picnic, bread and dip to start, then we had my first ever home made fried chicken with salad:

It worked quite well, I got the recipe from here. I wouldn’t do it every day, or even every week, but it was a lovely treat.

We then moved on to fruit,cheese and truffles for dessert, all provided from the farmer’s market:

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Frugal Laundry

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This is what happens when it rains for 5 days straight…

Laundry is probably the area in which we use the most energy and water. I think washing machines are the second most draining of all household appliances, after the fridge. Here is how we cut down on our usage and spending, despite have a baby who, as demonstrated in the above picture, generates a LOT of washing.

THE MACHINE

Our washing machine is a front loader which takes 9kgs of clothes at a time. It has 4.5 stars for both water and electricity. At $1200 it is the second most expensive household appliance we have ever bought (most expensive would be our 2k Thermomix in the kitchen, which I will probably talk about in a later, but I will just say now that its been worth every cent) but I believe we are making that money back in time and energy. My favourite feature is the time delay. This means that in the evening we can load the washing machine while it is still relatively warm and light (our laundry is external) but have it start at 4am, well into the off-peak time for energy use. I don’t advocate buying a new machine just to get this feature, but if you are looking for a new washer anyway it’s definitely something to take into account.

DETERGENT

We don’t use much. Frankly we don’t seem to need much! When first we started looking into more eco-friendly and frugal ways of doing our washing we bought massive containers of Earth brand detergent which lasted us about 6 months. After that I heard somewhere about Soapnuts, which are these totally brilliant berries that grow in the Himalayas and have a high level of saponins which is something that works like soap to remove dirt and so forth from clothes. We bought 2kgs of them from Wild Soap Nuts almost two years ago and we are still using them. Each week or so we put half a dozen soapnuts into an old handkerchief and tie it up with a rubber band. Each rubber band last about a month, by which time we’ve usually procured at least one more from our fruit and veggie box or the market. Then the handkerchief is placed in the drum along with the clothes and we wash as normal, except without any detergent. After the wash is over we hang the handkerchief up in the laundry and let it dry, then reuse it for any other washes during that week. If we are washing really heavily soiled clothes or Hector’s nappies we also use a tablespoon of Rockin Green, which we buy in bulk once a year. RnG comes from America, which is totally not carbon friendly. If anyone can recommend an Australian product that is just as good I’d be very interested. I could buy RnG from the Australian site, but they import it anyway and even taking shipping into account it’s more expensive to buy it here than buy it from the USA, which explains why Australian retail is going down the toilet :-/

We have found that with soapnuts and Rockin Green we have no need for fabric softener or special wool wash. I would roughly estimate that these products end up costing us $150 a year, which for a family of three with a baby in cloth nappies is really quite impressive.

TIME

While we can now use the time delay function on our new machine, it is still a good idea to do as much as possible of your wash during off-peak energy time, which where we are is 11pm-7am. I used to load up the washer last thing before bed, about 10pm and set it going. While it still ran for an hour during peak this meant the spin cycle, which uses the most energy, usually happened after 11. This also meant that the load was washed and ready to go in the morning, giving it the maximum amount of time to dry, bringing me to…

DRYING

To get the obvious out of the way, it is always better to line dry than tumble dry if possible. If it is unlikely to rain I proudly hand our washing on the Hills Hoist clothes line in the back yard. If it is likely to rain I overload our clothes horse 🙂 We do not own a dryer, they are expensive, loud and cost a mint to run. During winter Seamus and I collect all our $1 and $2 coins in a bowl on the mantlepiece and if there is a very long run of days in which drying is impossible we visit the Castlemaine Laundrette. So far this winter we’ve only had to resort to this twice, which is a blessing. If you also require a laundrette I find the best time to go is around 11am, and if you possibly can scope out a dryer which has just been emptied. This means it will spend less time warming up and you’ll get more bang for your buck. To dry two loads of nappies (two of my washing machine’s loads that is) I find about 90 minutes in a big dryer sufficient, at my laundrette this is about $20. Expensive I know, but still cheaper than buying and running my own dryer!

Once we move to our own house we plan to install an Internal Drying Rack right over the wood heater. Can’t wait.

There you have it, that is how we manage the laundry. Any advice? Anyone see something we’re doing totally wrong? Anyone else have a drying rack and want to rave about it? Chime in!

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Keeps me sane while driving me crazy

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Practising what I preach

The last week here has been incredibly tumultuous. In brief, it turns out that when we were approved for our home loan we oughtn’t to have been. Our bank can’t exactly back out, particularly as they wasted the whole fortnight we had between applying and signing contracts before telling us the day AFTER our contract with the vendors was finalised, but they have reduced our loan size by 25%. Yes, we are looking for another loan with a mortgage broker and yes, we plan to complain, but I am now terrified of doing anything more until we’ve got the documents from the bank in our hands and they absolutely can’t back out. Once we’ve signed a home loan contract either with them or someone else if the broker can get us a better deal, then we complain about gross incompetence.

From what I can work out, here is what happened; we contacted our bank and asked for some advice, based upon that advice we started househunting in a certain price range. We found a house, applied for a home loan, were approved in principle (by the person from whom we’d received the initial advice) and so put in an offer which was accepted. We then put in the final paperwork with the bank and paid over a 10%deposit to the real estate agent. At this point someone higher up that the person we had been dealing with at the bank looked over our application and found our contact person had stuffed up and we should never have been approved in the first place, but as we’d signed contracts and paid over money they couldn’t very well back out now. For the initial application our contact person had run a finance check and so knew we were borrowing more than we strictly needed to buy the house, so our loan was cut back to what they deemed we could afford. The reason we were borrowing more was that there are certain expenses associated with moving we were hoping to cover with our savings, mainly buying a second car and paying out our lease here as it doesn’t finish until the end of March 2013. We also hoped to buy solar panels and install ceiling fans, and if there was any change after that we were going to make a start on the garden. Now if our new mortgage broker can’t find us a better deal we will have enough money to buy the house and get another small, cheap car (as opposed to the family sized station wagon we wanted) and that is it, and even then we will have absolutely no savings to speak of, which frankly scares the hell out of me.

So it’s a huge blow. We knew getting a loan was tough for graduate teachers, but we thought our pretty darn hefty deposit would pull us through, now we find we may still have problems.

My instinct is nearly always to look at the positives, starting big and getting smaller, so here they are:

-We live in Australia, a developed nation, one of the few that has come through the GFC without taking any major hits. We are moreover educated middle class white folks with strong family connections; we will never be homeless or hungry.

-I have a great partner who loves me and a beautiful son, the former has a good steady job and the latter is by and large a very contented baby in the pink of health, and if any of that were not true I’d be so preoccupied a small home loan would not even be a blip on the radar.

-Even in the worst case scenario, we still get the house, we are not going to lose it.

-I have to admit, part of me looooves the belt tightening, at least in the initial stages; new budget to plan! Getting easy virtous points by not buying coffee/chocolate! Thinking laterely about recipes and cleaning products so we buy less! That bit is fun (The bit where the novelty has worn off, it’s pouring rain, the baby is clingy and Seamus is working late, the freezer meals are all used up and I can’t phone for pizza? Less fun.)

-Borrowing less means paying less back

-We can still do everything we wanted to do, but we just have to do it slower, and after all,that is what this move and this blog are all about! (Hence the title of the post)

So really, it’s not so bad. It’s really brought home to me how hard it is for contract workers to get a loan, or anyone really. I know we are not rich, but we are most definitely not poor. In usual circumstances we only need to budget if we want to buy a luxury item or go on a short holiday, while we don’t live off salmon and steak every night we have no difficulty making ends meet. How hard must it be for those that do have trouble making ends meet to find safe and stable housing? Especially when jobs, schools and transport restrict your access to rental homes in an already crowded rental market? The mind boggles (and boggles further at the cutbacks being made in the community sector, but that is another post.) For us all this means is no big ticket items for the next 6 months, no unnecessary car trips, no buying books/DVDs/CDs (thank goodness Castlemaine has an excellent library)  no takeaway or eating out except for birthdays and no big bash for Hector’s 1st birthday (which he won’t care about anyway), all this is doable. For other people out there a house of their own is an unachievable dream, so definitely counting my blessings as I restrict my spending.

In a nutshell, it’s a setback, but not one that in 10 years time will have made a big difference to our lives, so I can live with it.

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A Windfall, and Is Costco Worth It?

Last week I wrote about compromises, in particular I was perturbed about spending money on a new laptop as ours broke, and possibly on an e-reader so we could save space. After I wrote the post two things happened. My mother rang to let me know that she and Dad are planning to get me a Kindle for my birthday in November, and I checked my bank balance and found that my unpaid leave from my pre-baby job had been deposited. My boss and I had thought it would be a couple of hundred if I was lucky; it was $2000. Two grand that was not earmarked for anything, was not factored in anywhere. Seamus and I thought about all the sensible options, and indeed did pay some bills and fill the car up, but then we decided to have some fun with the rest of it and took it to Costco.

Costco, is it worth it? My answer is that it depends. It depends where you live, how you shop, how much space you have at home and what you are planning to buy. We bought a membership two years ago after I went in as a guest with a friend and saw they had my favourite summer shoes for $60 less than anywhere else, since membership cost $60 and they were Seamus’s favourite shoes too I figured we’d come out ahead. We renewed our membership this year before we found out we were moving as we found it a convenient place to shop since we lived 15 minutes away and it meant we did one grocery shop a month and then topped it up with weekly trips to the Footscray market for fresh food and with milk from our local IGA. We don’t plan to renew it again now we live so far away, but our membership doesn’t expire until October, so we still pop in sometimes when we’re nearby.

Costco are great for some things; they stock high end electrical goods for much less than most other physical shops, but they only stock the high end stuff. If you wanted a very cheap tv or washing machine you’d be better off going somewhere else, but if you want to pay middle-range for higher end products it’s a good place to go.

As for food, we get nearly the same thing whenever we go there: oats, flour, cocoa, rice, canned tomatoes. Sometimes we get a big jar of olives or sundried tomatoes and a block of cheese. While we were living in Melbourne we’d also get some free range chicken and organic beef, but the butcher in Castlemaine is excellent, so we don’t bother anymore. Costco don’t stock dried pulses and they aren’t very good for plain nuts or dried fruit (though we do occasionally buy cranberries there.) In general we found their fresh food was pretty ordinary. I know people save a lot of money getting their baby products, but since we use cloth nappies, cloth wipes and very few lotions and shampoos we haven’t needed to purchase anything baby related there. We also use bathroom products sparingly on ourselves and tend to buy what we do use locally, so that’s another area in which Costco is no use to us.

What they do stock a lot of is convenience food. Jars of pasta sauce, pre spiced cous cous, dips, frozen food and big packets of cereal. While they stock these items at a lower price, and in bigger quantities than the supermarket we still find it cheaper to make our own, and more enjoyable. However, when I was pregnant I had very bad nausea, and while I would (occasionally) get hungry I wasn’t able to stand the smell of food cooking, whether I was preparing it or not. At this time Costco was a godsend. A jar of sauce and some pasta and Seamus had a dinner ready that didn’t completely gross me out and that one time in three I could actually eat, and for evening shifts at work we bought half a dozen frozen meals at a time, then if I was too sick to eat it I’d leave it in the freezer at work for my next shift. Next pregnancy I’ll try to be prepared and have made lots of food in advance, but since I’d had no idea how awful I’d feel and hadn’t prepared anything last time I was very very glad we lived so close to a place where we could get this stuff in bulk and not have to worry too much about it.

On this trip to Costco we got three big ticket items, a new television, a tablet computer for me and a robotic vacuum cleaner. We had been discussing getting a new tv for a while, and had decided to leave it until we’d figured out what to do with the old one (still works, but it’s a CRT) however in this last week Hector has really mastered the art of standing and had been heading straight for the dvd player, the set top box and the big, heavy tv whenever he could. We managed to justify the new tv to ourselves as it gets rid of the set top box and dvd player which were his main reasons for trying to get to the tv in the first place. Also we had unexpected money and we’ve never owned a nice tv and darn it, we wanted one. I always thought I didn’t care about televisions but I have to admit the picture quality on this one is impressive, since we went with a 32″ screen it’s not dominating the room the way I feared, and it’s energy rating knocks our old tele right out of the park. The tablet replaces the broken laptop, is SO much fun to play with, and means I can keep up with my blogging. The robot vacuum cleaner was a bit of an impulse buy (a $360 impulse buy, that is the danger of Costco and why I rarely go shopping!) but I think it’s going to work out great for us. Instead of Seamus missing out on an hour of his weekend while I distract the baby and placate the cats we’ll just pick everything up off the floor and let the Roomba do it’s thing.

So we bought three things, things that in the usual run of things we would never buy on impulse or in one big go. I’m not sure how frugal it was, but we didn’t dip into money that was meant to go elsewhere and we didn’t buy them on credit. I’m so good usually at thinking things through and saving up slowly, sometimes it’s fun to just say “Stuff it, lets buy it!”

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