Am back in the land of the living again, hooray! Which is more than can be said for poor Liam and Ali but at least I'm able to help look after them now. Nurse Noel has been truly fantastic, taking care of all the cooking, cleaning, washing and catering to our every whim. Looking at him rushing around doing all the things I usually do, I can see why I never usually get time to sit down - and that was without trying to fit in a normal day's work too! Needless to say, I'm afraid the last week of the $21 Challenge month went completely out the window, I have absolutely no idea what we spent but nothing was going to stop us buying lemonade by the gallon if that was what we needed to feel better! On the positive side, in some aspects it was a very cheap week as I only took my car out once and we couldn't really eat anything at all for most of the week, so had we not been spending what seemed like a fortune on fizzy drinks and ice blocks, we probably would have survived on about $5 worth of actual food for the week. On the downside though, this stupid flu cost $35 at the doctor's and $55 at the chemist, not to mention four days' lost wages for me and the same for Noel as he had to take most of the week off work to look after us. Blooming typical when here we all are trying to save like mad for a few precious days away. Groan, grumble...
One thing that did impress me about my husband more than anything while observing him during the week however, was his resourcefulness. Whenever he did have to go shopping, he would always show me the docket upon his return, proudly declaring how he managed to buy EVERYTHING on special. Apart from being sent out to buy yet more lemonade and ice blocks on a daily basis, Noel quickly showed himself to be a $21 Challenge champion. The first day alone he cooked a three course meal, comprising of creamy vegetable soup, followed by home made fish cakes and apple pancakes for dessert, without spending a cent! In fact, over the course of the week he went on to make us all kinds of soup as that was all we felt like eating. Only this week I read soup described in a magazine as 'a hug in a bowl' - how perfectly true! Just as well too, as it was the only hug any of us were going to get as Noel was keeping well clear. Tui however lavished more than enough affection on us all to make up for it - often more than I was really able to handle. Not for one second did the dear little flop-eared spaniel leave my side, although she did find the constant coughing and sneezing quite disturbing and insisted on trying to stick her icy cold nose in my mouth following each sneeze to try and determine what on earth was going on in there!
Apart from the obvious joy that any mother would take in not actually being asked to do ANYTHING for several days, and apart from the small inconvenience of feeling like death warmed up, there were actually a few advantages of the boys and I being stuck together in our makeshift sickbay (the lounge) for a week. We embraced daytime TV with a vengeance and I discovered the boys were remarkably good at answering questions on 'The Weakest Link'. However, the big favourites turned out to be Wife Swap, Supernanny and How Clean is Your House? Let's face it, they're all cheap programmes but what we love most about them is they make us feel so incredibly lucky. As I watched an episode of Wife Swap where a father of three shut himself away on his Playstation night after night, having never even bathed his kids or read them a story, I watched Noel dragging in basket after basket of washing and arranging it to dry in front of the fire, before folding it all into neat piles and carting upstairs to put away. He was so proud to have got all the washing clean and dry in one day, even though it was pouring with rain outside. For the first time in months, the laundry basket was empty! The programme was about two families (obviously), one of which had very little money but spent all the time they could with their children; the other family wanted for nothing financially - all they wanted was their father to spend time with them. Supernanny continued on in much the same vein, with three little monsters running riot while their father sat glued to his computer all day, oblivious to the havoc they were causing while he looked at racing cars on the Internet. Wife Swap made us all feel very lucky to have such a hands-on dad and husband and Supernanny as always, made me feel very fortunate to have two sweet-natured, easy peasy kids! My favourite though was How Clean is Your House? As the boys and I sat with our jaws dropped to the floor at the state of some of these places, it really made me wonder what on earth I worry about most days - our place looks immaculate in comparison! Above all though, the best thing about being stuck together in the same room all week was that it was a great chance to catch up - to really talk and enjoy each other's company - well, as best as we could enjoy anything!
The most upsetting thing about being ill this past week is that I missed seeing Sophie Gray give a demonstration at our local golf club on Friday night. I had been looking forward to it for weeks and was gutted that I just couldn't drag myself out of bed to go along. Of course heaps of my friends went along and rang me the next day to tell me all about their brilliant evening with Sophie. WAHHHHHHHH! Just my blooming luck. So instead I threw myself into reading my new book from the library called Not Buying It by Judith Levine. It's about a couple in their fifties who become so disillusioned with all the Christmas consumer hype that they decide not to buy a single non-essential item for a whole year. I haven't got very far through it yet but already I'm having trouble putting it down. For those who have enjoyed reading Linda Cockburn's 'Living the Good Life', you might like to have a look at this one too. Already I can feel myself getting all inspired again to make my eco-footprint even smaller! Talking of which, have just had an interesting conversation with the chairman of an organisation called HEET in our local community. My mum tipped me off about this brilliant government funded scheme. In an effort to keep families warm and healthy during winter, they can apply through HEET for free (or at the very least subsidised) ceiling and underfloor insulation throughout the home. The reason that the government are funding this initiative is because insulated homes are better for the environment than cranking up heaters and power bills. Good on ya guys! To be eligible, the criteria you need to meet must be that your home is built prior to 1977, that you have medical proof of a respiratory condition (e.g. asthma) and be on a modest income. They are coming to measure up our place this week - hooray, no more typing with my gloves on!
At least that's one thing we don't have to save for. When we moved in here, we gave ourself a target of five years to get everything done that needed doing. We've just had our four-year 'anniversary' and while we have achieved more than we ever hoped for, there is still a way to go. I admit, sometimes I get tired of waiting and say to Noel 'Tut, can't we just stick everything on the mortgage and do the whole lot?' Very savvy Penny, I don't think. Luckily Noel is there to keep me on the straight and narrow, to remind me how much more rewarding it is to do it ourselves, step by step. He's right of course and has been doing a great job of recycling again lately. Some of our cows are due to have calves soon and he wanted to make a special 'mother and baby' area for them - a little yard and shelter which will also prove useful for all sorts of other things. So he recycled some old, unwanted timber to make railings and a gate and welded a broken steel gate back together. It looks perfect and all it cost him was a couple of gate hinges and a latch! However the project he is most proud of this weekend is building his own trailer crate. This is a steel cage which fits on the back of our car trailer and now enables us to safely transport calves, sheep or whatever. This didn't cost him a cent to build as he was able to modify a large galavanised puppy pen (leftover from our dog breeding days) and simply resize and weld it to fit the trailer exactly. My favourite part about it though is that this wee crate will save us heaps of money at the dump, as we won't have to go there so often and when we do, we'll still only get charged the same amount as a regular trailer, even if the cage is filled to the brim!
Just as well Noel is finding plenty to keep him busy at the moment, as he keeps complaining that his beloved vegetable garden is boring in winter. I have to admit, there's not much going on in there at the moment. There is a wonderful crop of spring onions but everything else is still at the baby stage. It's a beautiful day today (sunny, even though it's freezing) so I've let the chickens out into the orchard for the day for a change of scenery in the hope they won't find their way into the vege garden. With all the rain we've had lately their wee patch of paradise resembles a skating rink at the moment, I have to hang on to the fence for dear life every time I go and fill up their water! I've only been stuck inside for a few days but it was lovely to pop my head out for the first time yesterday and see the first fruit appearing on our baby trees - oranges, mandarins and cherry guavas. Not that I have any idea what one is supposed to do with a cherry guava but we've been waiting two years for it to do something so I hope it's worth it!
So, my month of $21 Challenges is over and while the final week did not go anywhere near according to plan, by and large it was a great success. One huge bonus of doing a month of Challenges is that I have finally given up alcohol. YES! I HAVE FINALLY DONE IT!!! It's taken me a heck of a long time I don't mind admitting and the funny thing is, most people ask me 'Why? It's not like you've got a problem is it? Surely you're not giving it up totally?' Well I am, and I have. Just like the brave Sandy in this thread entitled 'Giving up alcohol,' it was my personal decision - something which bothered me and just had to go. Just because I wasn't rolling around on the floor drunk every night didn't mean I still didn't have reason to feel I was drinking too much. Just like Sandy says, it's bad for the budget and the waistline. Cutting down wasn't an option for me; I had tried and failed so many times that cutting it out was the only way. I guess I must just have one of those 'all or nothing' personalities - when I was a smoker I smoked up to 40 a day too! The difference is, I have finally found a substitute that works - a special drink I can enjoy in the evenings which feels like a treat for a fraction of the price. Instead of spending around $8.99 every day on a bottle of wine (for both of us I must stress, not just me!), I now spend $1.69 on a nice cold bottle of Bundaberg Lemon Lime and Bitters. I love the stuff! Unfortunately so does Ali, so I have to hide it from him... Funnily enough though, the best thing I have found about cutting out alcohol is that I am actually sleeping better. Far from a few wines putting me to sleep, I found that I was sleeping very badly, waking up at least once in the night and unable to get back to sleep. Since I have been tee-total I have slept like a baby every night! Or is that due to having a clear conscience at last, do you think?!
Master Ali for one is most relieved we have finished the $21 Challenge. His birthday is coming up next month and he is getting worried because he knows we don't have much money right now. The other day he asked if we could go to The Warehouse and I said no, we weren't going shopping for the sake of it. 'Ugh, that's right - we're broke', he winced. 'That's right - and if we spend money on stuff for you now, there won't be any left for your birthday presents!' I told him. 'Hmm... we could ask Santa!' he suggested brightly. 'Nah - Santa doesn't do birthdays - besides, if he did yours, then he would have to do everyone's and then there would be nothing for Christmas!' I reasoned. Upon which he looked up hopefully and said in a very small voice - 'but what if I didn't tell anyone?' I just love the power of kids' reasoning! The other day he was peering over my shoulder as I read a magazine. 'Is that Christina Aguilera, Mum?' I told him indeed it was. 'Why does she always wear such awful clothes?' he asked. 'Because she's rich and lots of rich people think they have to wear all this outrageous stuff to impress everyone', I replied. 'Hmm - well I think she would look much nicer if she saved her money and bought her clothes from Kmart like us instead!' he said seriously. Well said son, I'll make a Simple Saver out of you yet!