22 April 2008

Tips - Zip Lock bags

I love zip lock bags. My house has boxes of them spread all over the place. I save all the ones that things come packaged in - wee little ones and great big ones. They're great for keeping cotton wool balls and buds dry in the toiletries bag when you're travelling; storing buttons or bits you want to take shopping to match against things. I have two favourite uses for them though, and generally use the biggest ones I can buy.

Use #1 in the sewing room - I store all the bits and pieces of a work in progress in a zip lock bag. If I buy fabric for a particular project I store it with the pattern in a bag so I don't accidently use the fabric for something else. Once I start cutting up zip locks come into their own. So handy.

Use #2 (so different!) in the kitchen - zip lock bags are brilliant for marinading and coating food.

To marinade: make the marinade in the bag (no washing up!), squish it around, add the meat (or whatever), squish around, fold, put in the fridge. Every so often, squish it around again. If you're wary of the seal of the bag - put it on a tray.

To coat: add all the ingredients to your bag, add meat, squish around. I usually blow a little air into the bag, seal, and then toss it about. A lovely coating for chicken - garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and equal quantities of breadcrumbs (or cornmeal or crushed cornflakes) and flour.

18 April 2008

Tips - Storage

My study area is surrounded by windows. There's not a lot of space for storage. I solved some of the problem by using bathroom accessories, designed to suction onto tiles or glass. The top photo is a soap rack, that nicely holds my PDA and phone while they're recharging. The stick-on hook helps keep my cords where I need them, instead of all over the floor. The bottom picture is a basket, I guess it's really designed for toothbrushes or razors or so forth. But it makes a jim dandy pen holder.

You do have to be careful, particularly with things with cords, that you can still easily open and shut the window. Make sure to stick your bits and pieces on the sliding half of the window!

And an extra tip - if the suction caps don't work very well (you have no idea how often my phone and PDA ended up on the floor!) put a little bit of vaseline around the outside edge of cap (leave the centre clear). Works a charm.

17 April 2008

Tips - Chooks

Oh my goodness - I've lost two days. How does that happen? It can't just be to me that it happens. Other people must lose days, weeks or even months. They do, don't they?

This tip is very simple - own a couple of chooks (chickens to those who might be from parts other than Australia). Couple of good reasons for chooks:
  • Our chooks lay one egg each every day. We have four chooks, we have three people. I never buy eggs. Good quality (ie free range) eggs are over $5 a dozen. We do buy laying mash for our chooks, but I get a dozen eggs every three days, and my laying mash costs about $20 every month. You do the maths.
  • Chooks eat ANYTHING. The down side of that is you have to protect some areas of your garden. The up side is that, other than chicken and egg scraps, all food scraps go to the chooks.
  • Food scraps that go through chickens turn into lovely rich growing material. I'm guessing it's not strictly "soil", but its great in the garden.
  • Chooks do not take up a lot of room. We have a 'hutch' with an enclosure around it. The whole area would be three metres square. The chooks are often let out to roam our (fully fenced) yard. We let them out in the afternoon as they tend to lay in the morning, and while Easter egg hunts are fun I don't want to do it every day.
The only real down side is that I haven't worked out what to do with chooks that no longer laying but refuse to conveniently die. Hubby keeps suggesting the cook pot, but I'm too much of a city girl to pluck and gut a chook. Ewwww.

14 April 2008

Tips - Caffeine

If you're trying to give up or reduce your caffeine intake try drinking green tea.

Black tea has about 1/2 the caffeine of coffee; and green tea has about 1/3. You can further reduce the caffeine in green tea very easily. Make your tea in a pot or cup, let it sit for about 30 seconds, then pour the water off. Refill and this time drink it.

The only difference between green tea and black tea is that black is fermented and green isn't. Apparently (and I can't remember where I read this) this means that green tea releases its caffeine very quickly, so you end up pouring most of it down the sink. (Or pour it into a container, let it cool, and water your pot plants.)

I add sugar to my green tea (gasp, shock, horror) and depending on the brand of tea I can't tell the difference to black tea.

13 April 2008

Tips - Unique Clothes

I love to sew. I actually love to quilt, but I do also do some clothes making. I actually prefer to "embellish" than make however.

Embellishing takes in a range of skills - embroidery, applique, painting, beading. If you've got some sewing skills you can turn a $4 t-shirt into a one-off masterpiece.

Some ideas I've used:

  • a spray of beads down from one shoulder on a dark shirt (beads are time consuming);
  • beads in blue and silver on a very plain black dress, with matching beads on a blue over jacket
  • flowers around the collar, cuffs and pocket top of a man's dress shirt;
  • a wave of flowers down the front of a bottle green, button up vest - the vine was plain green stem stitch, the flowers were variegated pastel thread
  • if you have an embroidery machine you could do all sorts of marvelous things
  • These days everything seems to come with shell buttons; add some colour - contrasting or complimentary or silver/gold buttons or even fun buttons.
Applique: I've used:
  • a spray of green and brown gum leaves on one shoulder of a pink shirt
  • a swirl of boxes all in (different) blue fabrics on a blue shirt, and various other abstract ideas
  • a lovely mask from a piece of fabric
  • The options for applique are really endless. You can choose complimentary colours or contrasting colours, or an array of colours. Decide how you want to wear the item first. If its a black shirt you want to wear with anything you probably don't want a bright red pattern on it.
  • I've also used applique to coordinate an outfit. I had a pair of pants that were too short. I added a hem to them, and used the same fabric to applique an abstract image on a shirt. When I wear them together they look like a 'suit'.
If you're going to buy cheap t-shirts it sometimes pay to run a line of ribbon around the inside of the hem and along the shoulders. This helps prevent the shirt from stretching out of shape so quickly. One shirt I actually used bias binding in a darker shade than the shirt, ran it around the hem, the neckline and the sleeve ends as a contrast.

12 April 2008

Tips - organising chargers

I haven't used this tip, but I think I might! I think I saw it in a copy of Handyman somewhere, but I couldn't find it on their website.

You will need
  • A fishing tackle box - one with a large space in the bottom and a removable tray at the top
  • A power board - the bigger the better, 'cause (as I'm sure you've noticed) a lot of rechargers take up two slots :-((
  • A label maker of some sort - you can buy little tags from Officeworks (?) for tagging cords (very handy around the 'puter)
  • A drill and a small, fine saw
The idea is:
  • The power board goes in the bottom of the tackle box
  • The cord goes through a slot along one edge (which is why you need a drill and saw)
  • The power cords for the appliances come up through the tray (another drill job)
  • The appliances (phones, PDAs and who knows what else) sit on the tray
  • All the extra cords sit inside the bottom of the tackle box.
  • The labels a) help you know what plugs in where and b) stop the cords falling back through the holes into the bottom of the box
The main reason I haven't used this yet is that hubby's PDA sits at the main 'puter; his phone is in the bedroom ('cause he used to work shift work and get calls at all hours); my phone and PDA sit in the study near my laptop. I love the nice, neat, tidy concept though.

11 April 2008

Tips - Kids' Art Work

If you've got kids you'll know that they bring home a heap of art work - particularly when they first start school. It's precious, it's special, it's blinking nuisance. We have a clean out of art work every so often.

I have a big scrap book - the sort you get for a dollar at the el-cheapo shop - not the sort you pay big money for at some fancy scrap booking shop. Anything that is super precious goes in the scrap book.

Anything that doesn't warrant a place in the scrap book is photographed. Particularly costumes. My girl has several fancy dress opportunities every year. I love designing the costumes, but the reality is - by the time she needs another "survivor of a cyclone" costume she's probably going to be 10 sizes bigger. So, I photograph them. I do allow her to keep one small article to represent the costume. Her room is decorated with Charlotte's web (the "some pig" one); a couple of magic chair wings and other bits and pieces.

I figure the photos will last a longer than the original piece, and take far less room (stored electronically) than boxes of drawings and egg carton dragons.

10 April 2008

Tips - Ice

I like my drinking water at room temperature but I like all my soft drinks (soda, pop, etc) icy cold. We have a separate freezer and have room to store a bag of ice from the supermarket. BF (before freezer) we were limited to the little space above our fridge.
I found that the door shelves of the freezer were pretty darn useless for just about anything. I bought a long, narrow plastic container that squeezed into one shelf. We would empty the ice cube trays into the container, and then refill them. As we used the cubes from the container the water in the trays had a chance to freeze.
We also invested in some Tupperware icecube trays. These trays have lids. The Tupperware sales person went on about putting fruit in them and so forth; but really the biggest advantage is that they stack easily. Now that we have a full freezer the ice cube container sits on top of the trays.

09 April 2008

Tips - Family Favourites

Buy a nice note book with a solid, hard cover. Mine is a bit smaller than A4. Write down all your family favourite recipes. (If you're not married - write in it all the favourites from your childhood.)

It saves hunting through recipes books for that recipe each time, enables others to find the recipes easily (makes getting someone else to cook a little easier), and makes a great leaving home present. Well, I'm guessing at that last one. The Girl hasn't quite left home yet ;-)

A recipe journal also makes a lovely gift - engagement, housewarming, etc. I gave one to my sister-in-law for Christmas one year, and explained how I used mine. She loves it.

08 April 2008

Tips - Budgetting (2)

When you're making up a budget always round outgoing amounts UP to the nearest $10 and incoming amounts DOWN. Unless you have a lot of self discipline (and are in a really bad spot) budgetting to the exact cent will be impossible to maintain. As soon as a bill is 5cents more than expected your whole budget falls over. Rounding outgoings up and incomings down gives you a little bit of lee way.

07 April 2008

Tips - Budgetting

Budgetting is not one of my strong points. Lots of good intentions. Bit of a "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" situation. But, this tip has worked for us in the past.

Add up all your regular bills for 12 months - registration, rates, phone, electricity, school fees. Leave out the day to day stuff - groceries, petrol etc. Divide the amount you come up with by the number of your pay periods (if you get paid weekly divide by 52; monthly divide by 12; etc).

Transfer that amount (automatically is best) to a separate account every pay period. Don't touch the account unless it is to pay one of the bills you included in your calculations. An ING account, or other on-line bank, is probably good 'cause they have high interest and you can't just take money out at an ATM.

06 April 2008

Tips - Bills

A quick tip. For bills that come around less frequently than say monthly (registration, rates, etc) - add them to your PDA or computer calendar with a repeat function. Make sure you set them to start reminding you a week or two before the due date. Although the amount might change from bill to bill you won't be caught out by them being quite so unexpected.

05 April 2008

Tips - Menu Planning

One of the things I gained from Flylady (http://www.flylady.net/) was an introduction to Leanne Ely. Leanne runs a website called Saving Dinner (http://www.savingdinner.com/).

Leanne writes and sells menus. Not restraurant menus, but every day cooking menus for busy families. The basic deal is: you sign up for a particular menu; every week you receive an email with 6 recipes and a shopping list. The recipes are all very easy, very quick, and mostly wonderful. In 12 months we had maybe 2 or 3 we won't be eating again. Probably about half a dozen dishes are repeated in a 12 month period. Although Leanne is Amercia based she has available menus for the southern hemisphere so produce is fresh and the dishes are suited to the weather (no hot soups in summer).

I saved all my menus, and we're about start our third year using them. Because there are so few repeats we never get bored; and as we've gone through them again I've removed dishes and vegetables we haven't enjoyed and substituted some old favourites.

It is possible to do this at home and not pay someone else to do it. I tried, but being who I am it would take me a whole day every week to plan a menu and shopping list. I even tried using various bits of software. In the end I decided it just wasn't for me, and paid Leanne for her menus. One thing that worked for longer than the others was to write all our favourite dishes on index cards. At the beginning of each week I'd close my eyes and pull out 6 cards - and that's what I'd shop for and cook during the week.

Here's the advantages of having a menu for the week:
  • No more looking in the fridge and thinking "what's for dinner"?
  • No more going to cook something only find you're missing the vital ingredient
  • No more spending too much at the grocery store 'cause you're buying stuff "just in case"
  • If the main cook is running late everyone knows what's for dinner and they can start on it
Basically, having a menu planned eliminates the stress of dinner - particularly if all the cooks are also busy people (and who isn't)!

04 April 2008

Tips - More on Routines

I intensely dislike housework. You do it, turn around, and it needs doing again. I'm not sure which happens faster - dishes piling up on the counter or nuclear fission. The sad reality of life is, however, that housework has to be done by someone; and really it's not fair to expect hubby to do it after he's worked 15 hours and I've sat around blogging and watching movies for 15 hours. Here's a few things I've learnt:
  1. Time those hated activities. Most of them don't take anywhere near as much time as we think they do. Do you know that it takes less than 15 minutes to wash up more dishes than my drying rack and the counter next to it will hold?
  2. Drop the perfection mentality. When I wash floors I don't move furniture out of my way unless its furniture that often gets moved. If it normally doesn't get moved who's going to know if I mopped under it or not? I won't ;-)
  3. Remember - housework blesses others. If you live by yourself the 'other' might actually be yourself; but if you share a house you will bless those you share with.
  4. Routines :-) That's right. Having a routine makes it so much easier to talk yourself into things. Friday mornings is my day for Home Blessing (a Flylady term). Friday I don't shower in the morning; I clean my house and then I shower - 'cause I try to go as fast as possible and I get really hot and sweaty. Here's my routine; takes about an hour (tops).
  • Pick up everything that's not where it belongs. I dump it in a big basket and everyone is responsible for retrieving their own stuff.
  • Strip and remake the beds every 2nd week; the towels every week; put a load of washing on.
  • Spray the shower (see previous post about spray)
  • Race (literally) around with the vaccy. See above about moving furniture - it don't happen.
  • Then race (literally) around with the mop (see post about vinegar and floors). We have all hardwood floors through the house, so I vaccy and mop the entire house.
Routines - that's just what I do on Friday mornings. I decided not to complain or whinge about it; I just suck it up and do it 'cause its got to be done. And, yes, it does bless my family.

03 April 2008

Tips - Routines

Just about everything I've learnt about routines I learnt from Marla Cilley, better known to the internet community as "The Flylady" (http://www.flylady.net/). I haven't followed the Flylady system completely, but I am grateful to Marla for some really important life lessons. Lesson number one - routines are not a strait jacket. In fact, routines create freedom. Actually, no, lesson number one is that most of us have routines - they're just not very effective.

I've always had a morning routine. In my last job it was a well known fact that I didn't start until 8:15, even though the official starting time was 8:00am. Every single day I ran 15 minutes late. And even then I often ate breakfast at my desk. Now why is that? Because my routine was ineffective and inefficient.

My morning routine has been "tweaked" to be effective and efficient. It took some work. Habits aren't formed overnight, but they are formed day by day. Given that I can step into the shower, and 30 seconds later wonder if I've washed my hair or my face or both (when in fact I've done neither) and stepping out of the shower with conditioner still in my hair is a common occurence - these changes definitely didn't happen overnight.

But in that routine there is freedom. The old morning routine (which I never admitted was a routine) used to cause anxiety and grumpiness (for me and family, and probably my boss). My new routine (which I happy to admit IS a routine) gives me freedom. I no longer rush around like a headless chook in the morning; the Girl goes to school with lunch in her bag and breakfast in her tummy; I arrive at work exactly when I say I will (showered, dressed decently, teeth brushed, hair brushed, and breakfasted).

To those that insist that routines create bondage - I'll take that bondage, 'cause strangely enough I'm freer with it than without it.

And my morning routine, if you're interested:
  • get up (kinda obvious)
  • make the bed (I'm not a hospital corners person; just straighten the sheets and quilt - when you make 'em you want 'em on display)
  • loo (of course)
  • take my iron, brush my teeth (these go together 'cause liquid iron tastes revolting)
  • have a shower
  • do my hair, get dressed (always nice for others you're going to meet during the day)
  • organise lunches
  • have breakfast while reading my emails (see - time for me, even in the mornings)

02 April 2008

Tips - Vinegar and the Wash (Laundry)

Another tip for vinegar (told you I liked the stuff). I think I picked this one up from Shannon Lush. Shannon does a segment on ABC Local Radio helping people with their cleaning problems. She's got a couple of books published. I don't own any, although I did buy one for my defacto dad as a joke (he's a perfectionist cleaner - something I'm not).
Anyway, the tip. Towels should never be washed with fabric softener 'cause it stops them being effective water soaker-up-ers. But, most of us hate scratchy, hard towels. The answer is to use vinegar instead of softener. I just pour it in the softener holder in the machine.
As mentioned before vinegar helps kill mould, so it helps clean the insides of your machine at the same time.
A word of caution, however, I read somewhere that some machines don't like vinegar. It apparently attacks some of the soft fittings. I haven't noticed any problems with our machine though.

01 April 2008

Tips - Vinegar and Floors

Tip #2 (don't worry I'll stop numbering them soon ;-) This one is also from a Mary Hunt newsletter. I guess I should have mentioned in the first post - obviously a lot of my tips haven't come from me direct; I've picked them up all over the place. Where I can remember the origins I'll give the credit. Even though they may not be "originals" they will all be tips I've used myself.

Vinegar (my favourite cleaning product) - for hard floors use a bucket of HOT water (I use one kettle of boiling water and about the same amount of hot tap water); add one to two cups of vinegar (good ol' plain white vinegar). Apply mop to water and then to floor.

This does take a while to dry. Not sure why that is the case; but detergent does seem to dry faster. I am always amazed, however, at how dirty the water is by the time I'm finished. Amazed might not be the right word. Horrified might be better ;-)

Its also true that the house smells like a salad factory for an hour or so afterwards, but the smell does disapate.