Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tuesday Tidbits 14

DD (heard from her bedroom): Can--we--make--a--sandwich--Dad? (shouting to me) Mummy! I'm doing my reading practice!
Me: Great! What book are you reading?
DD: I'm not using a book, I know it!

Me: Put down your tablet and come and get dressed.
DD: No! I already started a new game!
Me: Well turn it off.
DD: No, you can't stop in the middle of a game. We already learnt that.

Me: (trying to read a story about a girl going to her ballet class): Once upon a time...
DD: Who do you want to be? I want to be her.
Me: I don't want to be any of them, I want to read the story.
DD: But who do you want to be?
Me: Ok, I'll be her.
DD: Ahhh we're next to each other.
Next page
DD: Who do you want to be. I want to be her. No, I want to be her with the other dress from the other page.
Me: I'll be her,  now can I read the story.
Next page
DD: Who do you want to be?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tuesday Tidbits 13: And Merry Christmas

After the 5-day snow siege during which I had to negotiate with a 5 year old every time I needed my phone, DD got a tablet for her birthday... 

Me: Turn the tablet off now, it's bedtime.
DD: Haven't you got any work to do on your computer?
Me: No, I've finished my work.
DD: I'm not finished on my tablet.
Me: OK, shall I do the dishes first and then you'll come to bed?
(I do the dishes)
Me: I've finished washing up. Time to go to bed.
DD: Why don't you sit down and have a cup of coffee for a while?

DD (Giving me a big hug): Oooooh how much I love you!
Me: How much do you love me?
DD: I love you as much as playing on my tablet.
Me: Oooh that's a lot.
DD: Yes it's a very lot.
ME: Who do you love more, me or your tablet?
DD: My tablet.

Taking this opportunity to wish everyone who's celebrating, a Very Merry and Meaningful Christmas. Love and Best Wishes from Jerusalem. xxx

And here's a song...

Monday, December 16, 2013

Snow Days 3, 4, and 5

It snowed again on day 3. Today (Sunday) was day 4. No school as the roads were still icy but the sky was blue and we watched (from the window of course) the snow melt from this...

to this...

Whilst others were out building yet more snowmen and even some igloos (all seen on facebook), much of  our day looked like this...

We got some invitations to join friends in various local parks and homes but I had loads of grading to do and I couldn't work and take take DD out. Luckily she wasn't too keen to go out in the cold anyway. Single parenting is like that sometimes.

And just when we thought it was all over. Due to freezing weather tonight turning the roads into ice-rinks, areas slightly further out and higher up than us being still covered in snow, trees still down and blocking, damaged schools, still no electricity in some neighbourhoods, and teachers not being able to get in from The Gush Etzion area south of Jerusalem which is still under a metre of snow and cut off... NO SCHOOL AGAIN TOMORROW! Day 5 - maybe we will venture out for a bit.

One other thing. With all the power cuts I was struck by the realization that in this era of smart phones, internet, instant communication, Skype, etc... you still need a torch and a battery operated radio in your house. And if I was thinking about doing away with gas in favour of an all electric cooking arrangement - this weekend changed my mind.

Friday, December 13, 2013

My 2nd Snow Day (With Photos)

Shabbat candles with stormy backdrop
No school again today but we, DD and I, had a grand old time exploring the great indoors. I made that soup, did 2 1/2 hours of grading, DD did her reading practice, I put laundry away and generally tidied up. Altogether a much more productive day than yesterday.

Challah recipes abounded on facebook as there were few challot to be had in the shops. We made do with two slices of bread.

Then, at 1pm, the electricity cut out.
We lit candles everywhere

For us, no electricity wasn't a such a big deal but you have to know what it means if you're doing Shabbat the orthodox way. You don't switch on or off any electrical, gas or battery operated appliances for the 25 hour duration - sundown Friday till darkness falls on Saturday evening. You have a hot platter to keep pre-cooked food hot, you fill a water urn for hot drinks, set the lights and heating on time switches, and often host guests or walk to friends for the big meals of the day (Friday night dinner and Saturday lunch).

Many friends packed up their food and duvets and went to spend Shabbat with friends in more 'enlightened' neighbourhoods. Of course you couldn't leave as Jerusalem was and is entirely closed on all roads leading out of the city.

Stormy weather
On the radio we heard that great stretches of the country were without power for hours today. They said up to 40,000 people were without but they managed to connect 20,000 of those by Friday evening. Many roads around the country are closed and many towns completely cut off. We have now had over 30% of our average annual rainfall this week. The storm was much heavier than expected (it always is) and they didn't close the roads early enough (they never do). Over 700 people have been trapped in their cars for up to 12 hours.

Some of the motorists and their passengers were snow tourists coming from the centre of the country to take a few photos and make a snowman or two. Shelters have been opened in Jerusalem to accommodate them until Sunday. I bet that's the last time they go out of their way to see snow. *snorts quietly to herself*

Damka by candlelight
Here at wimp headquarters we lit candles and put dressing gowns over our sweatsuits over our pyjamas. We played damka (drafts), Taki (like Uno), Junior Scrabble and solitaire on the computer until the battery ran out. DD got a bit longer playing Jelly Splash and Free Flow on my phone until that went dead as well. I heated up the soup on the gas and we dunked our bread.

Reader, I loved it.
The storm is still raging as I type.
And so to bed.

Your move...

P.S. They say it will all be over by Christmas.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

My Snow Day (sNo Pictures)

All week they've been talking about snow in Jerusalem and specifically on Thursday. All schools are closed when it snows even when the snow is 2mm thick and melts by 0830 hrs.

Wednesday 0000: It's freezing outside. I go to bed praying there won't be snow until Friday. I have a ton of grading to do and I need a whole day to do it.

Thursday 0530: DD woke up complaining of a tummy ache and promptly threw up all over the bed. My bed.

Thursday 0535-0630: Clean DD up, put her into her own (clean) bed, change the sheets on my bed, put on a wash, get back into bed. Still no sign of snow.

Thursday 0630-0700: Lie awake convincing myself that she's not ill but rather that she ate too much junk yesterday. Therefore there is no reason why she cannot go to kindergarten.

Thursday 0700: Still no sign of snow and I fall asleep.

Thursday 0800: I wake up and realize that DD is still sound asleep. I decide to let her sleep and keep her at home today. I get up to make the relevant phone-calls and see heavy snow falling outside my window. Get straight back into bed and go back to sleep.

Thursday 0930: DD wakes up, she still has a tummy ache and is sick again - this time in a bucket not in the bed. Lucky she's not at K. I'm sorry she's sick but it does cross my mind that we have the perfect excuse not to go out today.

Thursday 0945: Take out the washing, put in another load. Realize that we will need the heating on today (first time this winter), pull two heaters out of storage and plug them in. DD looks out the window and exclaims: Oh Mummy, it looks like Christmas!

Thursday 1000: I have coffee with oat milk, cheese and tomato on toast, and a banana for breakfast. DD has dry rice crackers and water. (Not everyone gets the Christmas they dreamed of.)

Thursday 1030: People are already posting pictures of their kids playing in the snow and building snowmen. I am now officially a SMOSK (smug mother of sick kid) as well as a SMOG (smug mother of girls).

Thursday 1030-1800: I spend the day discussing the weather on facebook, playing computer games with DD, watching videos and eating. At some point after it gets dark I light a couple of candles as the lights are flickering and others (on fb) have had intermittent power cuts throughout the day.

Thursday 1800: They announce no school in Jerusalem tomorrow. Hooray! They record the worst snow storm ever in Jerusalem in December. They announce that Israel has had 25% of our annual average precipitation this week alone - and it ain't over yet. Jerusalem is officially cut off from the outside world - all routes in and out are closed until 0600 on Friday. News report here (with pictures).

Thursday 1830 approximately: Have a huge and terribly mature revelation. I don't need to defend not going out to play in the snow. I love the snow to look at but I hate the cold wetness of being out in it. We will not be leaving the house for the duration. We're Jewish, we don't play out in the snow, we stay in and drink hot soup.

Thursday 2000: Put DD to bed. Read her three stories and come out to start my grading.

Thursday 2005: Realize that there's no way I'm doing any grading tonight. Mess around on the computer for another couple of hours.

Thursday 2200: Write this blog post. Go to bed promising to grade all day tomorrow. Oh, and to make the hot soup of course.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tuesday Tidbits 12

The day after DD's 5th birthday...
DD: I'm almost 6, wow! When I'm 6 can I have a another princess cake?

5 days after her 5th birthday, at Storytime in the library with a group  of little girls...
DD: Is everybody 5 here?
The Girls: Yes we're all 5.
DD: I'm five and a half.

On wearing her wellies to kindergarten with slippers in her bag...
Me: Did you wear your slippers today?
DD: No I didn't hafted to, I just only kept my boots on all day.

On explaining why we don't have meat at home...
DD: Oh, so you don't mind it if the animals die on a farm... or in the zoo... you just only don't like it when they die in the fridge. You're right?

DD playing Jelly Splash on my phone...
DD: Mummy I'm cold, can you get me my cardigan?
Me: You get it, I'm busy washing up.
DD: Mummy I need a tissue, can you give me one.
Me: You know where they are, I'm busy.
DD: Mummy I don't know what to do with this game, can you finish it for me?
Me (ripping my washing up gloves off): Yes, just coming...

Thursday, December 5, 2013

5th Birthday & Hanukkah 2013

Hanukkah party at kindergarten

We had one quiet night at home, just the two of us

Cake 1 for the birthday party at home

DD lit the candles herself

Cake 2 for the birthday party at kindergarten tomorrow morning
And rest.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Listography: Top 5 Christmas Songs

We don't actually do Christmas but doesn't mean I don't love the music. Linking up to Listography hosted at Plus 2.4 this week.

1. Calypso Carol. We used to sing this one at primary school. One of the ultimate feel good sing-along carols. Love it. Unfortunately the ultimate sing-along version cannot be embedded but this school choir is quite sweet.

2. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. The Christmas holidays watching Meet Me In St Louis in the early afternoon, still in our pyjamas.

3. Do They Know It's Christmas? Not so jolly but what a great night that was back in 1984 and still an urgent message.

4. Celtic Woman singing Silent Night. Sung in Irish - Just Beautiful. (You can read my alternative lyrics here.)

5. Six13 fight for Hanukka Rights. Here's the full story.

I know, I know it's only supposed to be 5 but I'd forgotten all about this until I saw it on Looking For Blue Sky. I've always loved it so you'll have to forgive a number 6 this time. Well it is almost Christmas so be charitable? Stop The Cavalry.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Arik Einstein - The Soundtrack Of A Nation

Arik Einstein died yesterday evening. Israel is in mourning. President Shimon Peres called him 'The soundtrack of the nation.' 

My friend Jessica Steinberg wrote in The Times Of Israel, "Einstein’s music was and is the soundtrack of road trips, army bases and American Jewish summer camps. His are the songs heard in the car, at the beach, during Independence Day events, after terrorist attacks; his were the songs heard throughout the dark days following the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin."

The radio and television has been wall-to-wall Einstein all day. I've been singing 'Uf Gozal' (fly little bird) continuously. And when DD went to bed I put on my Arik Einstein CD. It was the least I could do. 

Fly Little Bird

My little birds have left the nest 
Spread their wings and flown away 
And me, the old bird, I stayed in the nest
I really hope that everything will be ok 

I always knew this day would come 
The time when we would have to part 
But now it's come upon me suddenly 
No wonder I worry a bit 

Fly, little bird 
Cut through the heavens
Fly wherever your fancy takes you 
Just don't forget 
There are eagles in the sky 
Be careful... 

And now the two of us are alone in the nest 
But we are together 
Hold me tight and tell me, 'Yes - 
Don't worry, it's fun to grow old together' 

Fly, little bird
Cut through the heavens 
Fly wherever your fancy takes you 
Just don't forget 
There's are eagles in the sky 
Be careful...

I know this is how it is in nature 
I also left the nest 
But now when the moment has come 
It catches in my throat
It catches in my throat 

Fly, little bird
Cut through the heavens 
Fly wherever your fancy takes you 
Just don't forget 
There are eagles in the sky 
Be careful...

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Listography: 5 guilty pleasures

Only 5!? Oh ok then.

1. Crisps. I sometimes stop on my way home and buy a big packet all for me. Then I have to take the rubbish out before collecting DD from Kindergarten - she'd want to know who had eaten all those crisps without giving her any, for sure.

2. Candy Crush, Papa Pear, and Farm Heroes. I've limited myself to three computer game sagas as I can see it being about as dangerous as taking drugs. The fact that I can limit myself to just the three suggests I still have some control, no? You need more than one on the go as, if you play via facebook, they make you take rests when you run out of lives. It takes 2 1/2 hours to get a full quota of 5 lives back and I do try not to bother my friends with requests too much - only if I'm desperate. (Tip - if you change the date on your computer to a day ahead, your lives replenish and then you can change it back. Clever eh?)

3. Going to bed at 7pm. I do it about once a week. DD gets into my bed with me. She reads to me from her reading books and then I read to her. Then she snuggles up to me while I read my book. DD's better than a hot water bottle or an electric blanket. She falls asleep fairly quickly and I read until I feel sleepy myself. I'm usually asleep by 9pm.

4. A bottle of wine. All by myself. All for me. Ok, it does take me four days to drink it as I'll only have one glass of an evening. I may not have a car to drive but you have to be sober when you're the responsible adult in the house. And actually, one glass is enough. Gone are the days when I could drink 2 or 3 glasses of wine and still stink thraight.

5. Escape To The Country. My mum tapes them and saves them up for me. We usually only go to England once a year so that's 52 episodes over a two week holiday. No problem! What are the nights for when Grandma gets up to make breakfast for your 5 year old? I seriously need to re-examine my lifestyle, maybe I need to be looking for a cottage to renovate in Warwickshire or Herefordshire (both cheaper than Gloustershire don't you know). But how do you choose your shire? So much countryside and only one life.

So there you have it, my 5 guilty pleasures. The linky is with Anya this week (Older Single Mum). Go and have a nosy at everyone else's secret indulgences.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tuesday Tidbits 11

DD: Can we go to that place in London again?
Me: Yes we can go to London again.
DD: No! That place in London.
ME: What place?
DD: Where they had the princess dresses.
ME: (Kvelling) The Victoria and Albert Museum? You liked the museum?
DD: Not so much.
ME: So why do you want to go there again?
DD: I want to buy another one of those orange drinks.

(We bought her orange juice in the cafe when we stopped for a coffee.)

ME: Why are your dirty clothes on the floor?
DD: It wasn't me, I didn't didded that.
ME: You're supposed to put them in the dirty washing basket.
DD: I yes put them in.
ME: You didn't.
DD: I yes!

ME: It's your Hebrew birthday today.
DD: Am I 5?
ME: No, not for another three weeks.
DD: So what am I if it's my Hebrew birthday?
ME: You're bat hamesh.
DD: I'm bat hamesh but I'm not 5? Bat hamesh is 5!
ME: I know, but you're only 5 in Hebrew.

(The Hebrew calendar is lunar and is 11 days shorter than the English solar calendar. The adjustment is made by adding an extra month 7 times every 19 years. Thus we all have two birthdays which can be up to 3 weeks apart.)

Monday, November 11, 2013

NOT-vember 11th: Reduce Your Food Bills Now!

In response to requests for help from friends who need to reduce their supermarket bills, here are my suggestions for starting a store-cupboard and shopping from your pantry.

1. Take stock of what food you have. You don't actually have to make a list but you do have to know what you have available in the house. Sometimes tins or packets of dried foods get 'lost' behind new items continuously being shoved in front of them. It's worth clearing out your food cupboards to see what's at the back that you might have forgotten. Ditto for your freezer.

2. Make a list of all the dishes you could make using what you have and adding a minimal amount of protein or dairy to turn it into a nutritious meal. I have polenta, for example, that will sit in the cupboard for years if I don't make a conscious decision to use some of it each week. If you don't enjoy cooking with the e.g. polenta (or whatever it is that you bought once but don't seem to get to) you don't need to buy it again. You do need to use up your stock though.

3. If you have uncooked chicken or fish in your freezer, eggs and cheese in your fridge, make them go further in dishes where they are combined with food from your store cupboard. Remember that you don't need a portion of chicken as big as your foot for each person. Chicken risotto would use one of those portions and feed four people. (see the Rubber Chicken and The Rubber Turkey on Mortgage Free in Three). Instead of making omelets, make egg-fried rice. A fish pie (fish in a white sauce with chopped hard boiled eggs, and topped with mashed potato and a sprinkling of grated cheese) makes the fish go further than giving everyone a whole fish.

4. Freeze food in one-meal size portions so you only have to take out sufficient for one dish at a time.

5. "Use everything you have paid for." Elaine Colliar (Mortgage Free in Three). If you make a chicken soup, take the cooked meat and vegetables from the consomme and make a chicken pie, risotto, or pasta dish. If your child won't eat the crusts, cut them off and freeze them to make breadcrumbs.

6. Utilize your leftovers. When you have leftovers don't just leave them in the fridge to be returned to later that evening and polished off as a late night snack. Portion it out and decide when it will become your lunch, part of a packed lunch for someone, or part of another supper. You may have a smorgesbord supper once in a while, consisting of all your leftover portions from the freezer.

7. Soup. This is your secret weapon in the winter. Once a week make a big pot of vegetable soup with all your leftover vegetables from the previous week. You can supplement it with barley or potatoes for a satisfying broth. You can have soup and toast for lunch every day. Or, in the evening, a meal served with a soup starter will fill everyone up nicely for very little expense.

8. Make a meal plan for the week. Make it a personal challenge to use what you have and only buy the essential fresh items to round it out into proper meals. Part of the challenge is to see how little you actually need to buy each week.

9. Make a shopping list from your meal plan and only buy what is on the list.

10. Don't forget to add what you need for breakfasts, lunches, snacks and treats. You need to know what you will give the kids when they're hungry between meals or to keep them going until supper. One of our favourites in the summer is the cheapest children's yogurts frozen with a plastic spoon in each one for an 'ice-lolly' that is in fact a yogurt. In the winter I buy the cheapest bags of pretzels and whatever fruit is cheapest.

11. Take advantage of cheap offers to 1. replenish your store cupboard. Spend 10nis a week on e.g 3 packets of pasta for 10nis, or 1+1 on rice, or a pack of 6 tins of tuna for less, or a sale on chickens. Don't fill your whole store cupboard for the year in one week. Do it slowly as the offers appear. And 2. to make batches of e.g. apple sauce from cheap apples, vegetable soups from past-its-best produce, jams and fruit pies from any cheap fruit.

12. Cook from scratch as much as you can. One cake, and a batch of muffins or cookies each week should see you through. Some people make their own bread, crackers, mayonnaise, jam, etc... I don't although I do buy cheap apples when I find them (or help to harvest someone's tree) in order to stew them for apple sauce, and cheap fruit for pies. I also make my own pancake type fritters and vegetable burgers rather than buying the processed vegetarian shnitzels. We are currently working on perfecting our home made pizza.

13. Cook multiple batches and fill the freezer. Don't forget to eat from the freezer as well.

14. When Shabbat/dinner guests offer to bring something, don't refuse the offer and end up with another box of chocolates you don't need. Wine is always helpful but you can also ask for a salad or a dessert to contribute to the meal. Obviously find something the guest is comfortable bringing.

Let's make it a challenge to see how little we can spend. And please add in the comments any tips you have that I've not thought of.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Real Carrot And Apple Mini-Muffins

After my stressful baking experience last week, this week I made real carrot and apple mini-muffins with real butter. I also upped the sugar and apples as last week they weren't quite sweet enough. I've removed last week's recipe as we don't need to know how to make muffins that were only ok. These are good and DD will have one in her snack box each day for school.

Real Carrot and Apple Mini-Muffins

A . Cook all the following ingredients together until the carrots are soft and the water is reduced to a slightly thicker syrup. You'll include the syrup in the cake batter. 
4 carrots peeled and sliced
2 apples peeled and sliced
water to cover
4 tbs brown sugar
1 tsp lemon juice

B. Put all of A (including the syruppy water) into the food processor and add the following ingredients. Whizh until you have something that looks and tastes like cake batter.
2 cups of wholewheat flour
1 sachet of baking powder (12g)
100g butter
2 medium eggs
4 tbs brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
pinch of salt (Not sure why but I remember we always had to add a pinch of salt in school cookery lessons, so I did.)

C. Resisting the urge to skip straight to the bit where you get to lick the bowl, put about 2 tbs of batter into about 22 medium fairy cake (cupcake) holders and bake in a hot oven until they're done.

By the way, when we got to lunch last week my host had made dessert herself. Turns out she loves making desserts and couldn't resist. Grrrr.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Listography: Top 5 Life Lessons

Listography has reappeared on Kate Takes 5 (hooray!) with the Top 5 Life Lessons. Follow the link to read some of the other entries.

What are the top 5 lessons I've learned that you may not see on a fridge magnet? The fridge magnet lessons are good but we all know them and even though we know them, we don't always live by them. Here are my Top 5 Life Lessons that have actually changed my life.

1. Some things change with time anyway.
I was always a night person and if I made it to bed before 2am I'd be reading till the small hours. Consequently, I could lie in bed in the morning till lunchtime (and beyond). On the other hand, I firmly agreed with the old rhyme: Early to bed, early to rise, makes a (wo)man healthy, wealthy and wise. So I spent years of my life fighting my natural bio-rhythms and trying to be a morning person. One day I realized that I'd become a morning person without even noticing.

I used to procrastinate over homework to the extent of not doing it at all. I believe it was more than just laziness, such was the effort it took to sit and get started, although I'm not sure what it was exactly. This affliction continued into adulthood with preparing lessons and housework. Until the day I realized that I now eagerly rush through jobs so that I can  tick them off my list. (It's not the list, I always made lists.) I don't know when or how I changed but it happened. Maybe it's a matter of maturity or maybe hormonal changes calming ADD tendencies - who knows?

2. A parent's greatest resource is parents with older children.
We had a three-day activity camp over half term and you could pay by the day. I needed to send DD on the first day as I had to work but after that it was her choice. When I took her on the first day I found out that they were going swimming on the second day. DD can't swim, she can't dry or dress herself alone, she's never been to that pool, the camp was for K, 1st grade and 2nd grade together and DD was the youngest kid from Kindergarten. There was no way she was going swimming with them even though the leader promised me she would help her dress. Then I spoke to mothers from the camp who had older children who had been there before. I trusted their judgement, DD went swimming and had the time of her life.

One of the parents from  my after school 'Learning to Read English Group' almost cancelled as her daughter was worrying about being picked up from Kindergarten by another parent and brought to my place when she doesn't even know me. The other, more experienced, parent advised her that it was worth her while to take an hour off work to bring her daughter herself the first time. She did that and the little girl now comes to English happily with her friend's mum. Not rocket science I know, but sometimes it takes a parent who's already been there to see the obvious solution.

3. Homework is for life but you want this.
It was a grey day when I realized that all jobs that are worth doing and bring the most rewards, come with some kind of homework (preparation, accounts, paperwork...) However, unless you want to work for someone else on minimum pay, you will actually look for a job with homework. Not for the homework, obviously, but because the alternative is likely to be less rewarding, either financially or emotionally, or both.

4. Facebook, twitter and blogs don't necessarily tell you about a person's real life.
Sometimes, usually at the end of a busy work day when DD won't go to bed and I've not prepared my lessons for tomorrow, it's hard to see yet another status from a friend who seems to spend her life jet-setting around the world on business. What she never mentions is that she never sees her family, her teenage daughters hate her, her husband is threatening to divorce her, she lives in dread of the nanny letting her down, and she suffers from chronic back pain which is getting worse. (I made all that up but you know what I mean.)

I do have a friend who I keep up with via facebook statuses and I assumed I knew basically what was happening in her life. It wasn't until we met up after not seeing each other in the flesh for almost two years, that she told me her husband had been out of a job for almost a year and they were not in good shape. As she pointed out to me, there are some things you don't put on facebook.

5. Your desires change with the circumstances of your life.
When a friend of mine who had been an ambitious businessman, became ill with an auto-immune disease, suddenly all he wanted was to be able to walk a bit, wash and dress himself, and make himself a cup of tea - and to live of course. Had he been given even that limited life, he would have been very grateful.

As a single mother, all I want now is for us both to be healthy, and to be able to cover my bills comfortably, and save money for emergencies and some nice treats. A big difference from the days when I wanted to be a famous actress or, failing that, to be Princess Diana. Given the choice now, I wouldn't want to be famous or even an actress. If you'd told the teenage me that I'd be happy to be a single mother living in my own apartment and working as a teacher, I'd have doubted that could be me. But it is.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

NOT-vember 2nd: Meal Planning

As I wrote here, a store cupboard full of food requires a mega amount of will power not to eat it all in the first week. However my NOT-vember Challenge is to build on lessons learned in Elaine's STOP-tober (Mortgage Free in Three) and keep those bills down to a minimum.

I did a big shop, stocking up the store cupboard and including our weekly shop. Remember that this also includes all household and toiletry items bought in the supermarket. I've already over-spent on biscuits because they were on offer. I'm safe from these as I don't like this sugary stuff. However, instead of buying a stock of biscuits, I should be baking a cake and a batch of homemade cookies each week for desserts and treats for DD. On the other hand, if I bake I'll bake what I like and it won't be so safe. (The chocolates are for gifts - I wish I'd rearranged the cupboard before I took the photo).

The only sure way to manage this is menu planning. Not only does it make you use the fresh produce before it goes off but it also stops the tendency towards a week's worth of something on toast for supper. So here's mine for the week...

Breakfast at the moment is cheerios for DD who has to be at kindergarten between 7.30 and 8.15am. I have coffee and toast with something on it during the day when it's convenient. Every day is different so it's sometimes breakfast and sometimes nearer to lunch. DD takes boxed meal to kindergarten (e.g. sandwich, some cut up vegetables, a mini-muffin) for 10 o'clock snack and she gets a meaty hot lunch at 2pm.

Friday: Lunch, Baked potatoes and cottage cheese. Dinner, tomato soup, challah with egg salad and homemade hummus, tom/cuc salad. Carrot and apple mini-muffins for dessert. (Yes there is a course missing here but we are a woman and a 4yo - it's enough).

Shabbat: Out to lunch. Supper, tomato soup with leftover rice from the fridge and croutons. Toast and butter if necessary, a yogurt for DD for dessert and a cut up apple.

Sunday: Homemade pizza (trying a proper yeast base for the first time.)

Monday, library day so something quick: Tomato soup (from the big pot made on Friday), Rice, corn and peas, fish cakes, tom/cuc salad, cabbage salad.

Tuesday, DD has a birthday party at 4.30 where I expect they will serve pizza and cake which is the usual party supper. I'll have some Tomato soup and leftovers.

Wednesday: Fish and chips, tom/cuc salad.

Thursday, English lesson after Kindergarten so something quick: stovies but with mushrooms, cabbage and fried onions instead of mince meat, tom/cuc salad.
I'm joining in with Meal Planning Monday (At Home with Mrs M). Everyone else has much more exciting menus planned for the week so why don't you go over and take a look.

Friday, November 1, 2013

NOT-vember 1st: Baking Stress

Having driven all my friends mad this morning on facebook, here's the story...

I have taken on the NOT-vember challenge from Elaine (Mortgage Free in Three) to continue her STOP-tober challenge - a money diet and store cupboard amnesty - which I posted about all last month. The most important thing I learned from last month is that it's a learning curve and you won't get the best results by doing it for only one month.

One aspect I failed to internalize sufficiently is that the store cupboard has the basic ingredients so that when your friend asks you to bring dessert to contribute to Shabbat Lunch, you can make a dessert for free out of your store cupboard rather than trotting off to the shops to buy something. That's the whole point, to keep your spending down to a bare minimum.

As well as the NOT-vember challenge, there are four other factors that had to be considered...

1. My friend is serving meat tomorrow and she keeps kosher. This means milk and meat are kept totally separate and she can only serve/eat something with dairy in it, three hours after eating meat or chicken.

2. I don't really like cakes, biscuits or chocolate. I don't like dry and sweet. To me a cake is simply something on which to serve the cream and icing. The sort of desserts I like are creme caramel, cheese cake, real ice-cream, and fruit salad. On the other hand, a moist cake or pastry made with real butter can be delicious. I'm more than happy to fill up on the main course and skip dessert after a meat meal.

3. My friend has a medical reason that she can't eat fruit. So my fallback of always offering to bring a fruit salad wasn't appropriate here.

4. I hate using stuff that isn't real food. Examples of this are: margarine, non-dairy creams and ice-creams, and too much sugar in anything.

So we had this impossible situation where all my friend was asking of me was to go to the shop and by a non-dairy cake that the children would enjoy for dessert. And all I was thinking was that I couldn't do that because I had to 'shop' from my store cupboard.

I then had to find something I'm prepared to bake without butter. The vast amount of oil in some of the vegan recipes didn't appeal. I put it on facebook and got some fabulous suggestions including, meringues with lemon curd, and carrot cake made with oil and apple sauce. These were really the only two that covered all the bases. (I'll say it again - I know you can bake without using butter but I don't like it and I will not use non-dairy creams.)

So I adapted the carrot cake recipe as I wanted to make muffins rather than a cake, I wanted to use less oil and sugar, and I didn't have enough apples to make apple sauce. (I was that close to buying apple sauce in the supermarket when I remembered that I should make it.)

Verdict: we got 21 mini-muffins and they're..... ok. But what do I know, they're sweet so I'm not that interested. Next time if they don't want a fruit salad I can bring a vegetable salad or a bottle of wine. This whole episode was far too stressful. And the funny thing is, it's happened before - although of course I only remembered afterwards.

I'm still planning to make cakes and biscuits for us at home but as we don't have meat in our house at all, I can happily bake with butter.

One week later: I removed the recipe I had here as the muffins were only ok. The next week I made Carrot and Apple Mini-Muffins with real butter and they were great. You can see the recipe here.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

STOP-tober 31st: Totting Up

The end of the STOP-tober challenge from Elaine at Mortgage Free In Three and I there's good news and bad news.

Good news: I spent 600nis (over 100GBP) less on food and household goods than I've been spending for the last few months. On the other hand, we were away for a week eating out of my mother's fridge so it should have been less anyway. I also lost the plot a little bit on our return and with the general frenzy of  catching up and getting back into the daily routines.

Bad news: I Spent 300nis more on travel because we had to get to and from the airport with lugguage, and this month was 300nis more expensive as my building dues went out as they do quarterly. So that's my 600nis accounted for.

Good news: I kept incidental spending to under the 1000nis (about 178GBP) I'd budgeted - 954nis to be exact.

Bad news: I haven't accounted for the travel insurance, 172nis that will be added to my health care bill next month or the emergency mobile phone usage in London, 231nis, that will also be billed next month. That's 406nis (73GBP) extra already going out next month.

Good news: I lost 3kg (6 1/2 lbs) in weight by eating from the store cupboard rather than processed or ready-made food. The challenge of making the food I had in the house last longer and stretch to more meals also helped with this.

Bad news: I've not internalized the basic lessons of store cupboard economics yet. Today I did a big shop (with a delivery) to stock up for November during which I intend to continue and improve on STOP-tober. I bought all the basics but also found lots of crackers, biscuits, and chocolates (for gifts of course) on special offers at very good prices. It would have been cheaper to use my basics to make a cake and a batch of biscuits once a week to last for the duration. It's a learning curve.

This afternoon we were invited to friends for lunch on Shabbat. I asked what I can contribute to the meal and my host said, "dessert, something for the kids." My first thought was that as I don't bake so I'll have to go back to the shops and buy a cake. I didn't even consider that I have flour, sugar, eggs and butter in the house with which to shop for a cake out of my own pantry (it'd have to be a lemon cake as I've no other flavours in the house except coffee - not good for kids). I also have oats which could go to make biscuits, pasta for a lokshen kugel (noodle pudding), bread and butter for one of those puddings, and apples for an apple pie or apple crumble. Why did I even consider going back to buy a cake?

Verdict: I didn't save any money this month but it could have been much worse. In a month with a week's holiday I managed not to spend any more than usual and lose 3kg in weight. I'll definitely be continuing in November and let you know how we do next month. Big thank you to Elaine Colliar for setting the challenge and being my mentor (even if she didn't know that she was mentoring me via her blog).

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

STOP-tober 29th: Gifts

There's no getting away from the fact that there are places you cannot go empty handed. I bet you were expecting a post about giving homemade jam and knitting hat/scarf/glove sets. If so, you were wrong. I know I'm still on the STOP-tober Challenge but in our society when you need to buy a gift you need to buy a gift and this month required a few more gifts than is usually the case.

a. A birthday party. The same five children celebrate their birthdays together because the mummies are good friends. For each birthday the other four mums chip in to buy something the birthday child really wants. So no foraging around for a toy or game that we've not opened, nor picking up something cheap (but substantial) from the market. I paid my 50nis along with the best of them but saved 10nis as I'd actually budgeted 60nis for this.

b. Various invitations to Shabbat meals. I said here that I had enough leftover gifts of wine and chocolate from the Jewish Holidays in September to see us through Shabbat meal gifts. However, we were blessed with more invitations than anticipated so a few boxes of jellybeans were required to make up the numbers.

30 of these babies took five months and lots of television.
Six years ago the colour scheme was blue.

c. My nephew's Bar Mitzvah. As for his two older brothers Theo got a religious item from Israel which I have no idea if you can even get it in England or how much it costs if you can. It's not expensive here. However, as for his older brothers, I made a set of skullcaps for the men to wear to the ceremony and the party. Small outlay for cotton and hours of crocheting. (Btw, I knew this invitation was coming so the gifts were sorted months ago).

Middle nephew chose red, yellow, orange, and black for his Bar Mitzvah.
d. A wedding. It's usual these days to give the couple a cheque. I hate this. Not only does it mean you have to announce the monetary value of your gift but you also don't have the pleasure of choosing something you think they'll like. Ok, and you don't have the pleasure of finding it at a bargain price. I gave up on the present giving when I finally went to a wedding where my gift was the only wrapped parcel. All the others were envelopes posted into a box. However, on this occasion I found I had a gift voucher for a chain of shops. By adding to it I was able to buy a more expensive gift than my cheque would have been and the couple can exchange the gift for the full amount. They got more and I spent less. Win-win.

e. A dinner party. Again, I could have foraged around for something suitable from my stock of gifts but my host didn't need anything like that. It's not dinner with the in-laws or my partner's boss, it's a knees up with close friends and all she wanted from me was a bottle of plonk to help lubricate the evening. Done, and I added a great book that I've just finished and she will appreciate.

Very nice, not too expensive and I feel exceptionally blessed to have been invited to so many celebrations. But this post isn't just a brag about how popular I am. I wouldn't leave you without a list of money saving gift ideas....

1. If you are Women's Institute material by all means go ahead and make your own jam, bake batches of biscuits, knit sets of warm things, and/or sew pretty kitchen accessories. You could also re-pot cuttings from your own plants and herbs. Remember, it's not just for Christmas - always keep a stock of these things for unexpected invitations. I'm just saying as I don't do any of these things myself.

2. Want not waste not. There are things we don't need anymore that we can pass on. I'm not talking about old stuff that's past its best. I mean good quality clothes that DD has grown out of, some of it hardly worn. A few select items that will be greatly appreciated by someone with a younger girl is a fine gift.

3. Books I've read. People don't mind getting second-hand books. It's almost reverse snobbery. It's an especially nice gift if you say, "I loved this and thought you'd enjoy it too." Of course you must have loved it and think they'll enjoy it. Rubbish books go to the second-hand book shop.

4. Embellishing. A small glass vase that someone gave me was the wrong shape and the wrong colour. I filled it with jellybeans and gave it as gift to friends with lots of children. As a vase it was a naff gift but as a bounty of jellybeans it was inspired.

5. Gift cupboards. Like craft cupboards that you can draw from when you feel creative (I imagine as I'm not a crafter), a gift cupboard is full of gifts that you have received, are perfectly nice gifts, but you don't need them. This is also called re-gifting. I have a drawer full of baby clothes that we never wore, some still with labels on. However a gift cupboard can also be stocked when you see a 1+1 offer or bogof of something giftful. As a teacher, I often get toiletries and candles at the end of the year. I try to use as many as possible but even I don't shower in the dark that often.

6. Less is more. Don't cobble together a job lot of different items because you think your gift isn't enough. It's the thought that counts. If you give an adorable little jotter, don't fret about the fact that they came in a packet of 12 for a pound (I'm exaggerating to make my point), hold your head up and give the jotter, beautifully wrapped, with enthusiasm. The recipient will think, what an exquisite little notebook, so handy for my purse. If you panic and add a bar of chocolate and a key ring to the jotter, the recipient will see three cheap shmonskies thrown together and wonder why you bothered.

7. Think ahead. You know Christmas is coming obviously, but you also know that your child will be invited to x number of birthday parties this year, there will always be a colleague having a baby, and last minute invitations to dinner. Buy in bulk or at least whenever you see a good deal, and keep it in your gift cupboard.

8. Something personal. When many of my friends were getting married many years ago, I used to take photos at the wedding and compile a Not The Wedding album with candid shots and funny captions. Like the skullcaps for my nephews' Bar Mitzvahs, they were labours of love, loads of fun to do, and greatly appreciated.

So there you have my gift philosophy in a nutshell. What are your best gift ideas that don't break the bank?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tuesday Tidbits - The Travel Edition

1. At the airport
DD: I know why they have to check us before we can go in.
Me: Why?
DD: They have to check if we're wearing proper winter clothes for London. If you haven't got proper winter clothes for London then they don't let you go.

2. Boarding the plane
Me: Here are our seats. You're in 21A  by the window and I'm in 21B.
DD: What's this one?
Me: That's 21C
(Later, leaning over me to look at the man sitting next to me)
DD: 21C's asleep.

3. On the plane
DD: We're flying over a pond.
Me: It's the sea.
DD: Has it got bread in it?
Me: What?
DD: I can see bread in it for feeding the ducks.

4. Doing a sticker book together
DD: Can you get that one out for me?
Me: OK. Woops, sorry, I tore it a bit on the side.
DD: Doesn't matter, I'll always love you.

5. At the Bar Mitzva of the youngest of my three nephews
DD: Did you know I've got a girl cousin?
Me: Have you? Who is she?
DD: She's my girl cousin. I'll show you.
(Runs off and comes back pulling a 12yo girl behind her)
DD: This is my girl cousin.
Me: Hello, who are you?
Turns out, one of my second cousins who was at the Bar Mitzva as she's friends with my sister, came with her daughter who is with my nephew in school. DD had found her third cousin and she was thrilled.

6. At the Bar Mitzva Party
Me: Do you want to sit with me and have something to eat?
DD: No I'm sitting with my girl cousin!

7. Back home
Me: What are you going to tell your friends and your teacher about your holiday?
DD: I'm going to tell them I was sick in the car coming back from the airport.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

STOP-tober 12th: Food Bill Update

Half way through food shopping for the STOP-tober Challenge from Mortgage Free in Three. Here's the food bill lowdown so far.

The first week we spent 173nis (new Israeli shekels, about 31GBP). It was only the 3rd of the month so we were still eating food on last month's bill as well as planning to use the store cupboard to full effect. The second week only came to 137nis (about 24.50GBP).

However, this was not a typical shop.
1. I spent a bit more by going to the smaller supermarket around the corner rather than walking down to the cheaper Mega where I have a loyalty card. Sometimes lack of time wins out.
2. We bought some snacks for the journey when we go away and these are more expensive than what I would usually buy or eat.
3. This is only for half a week as we are going away for a week, eating mostly at my parents and sister.

On the other hand, I added three 500g packets of dried pasta to the store cupboard - 3 for 10nis on sale instead of over 5nis each. And I made four coffee jars of tomato soup to freeze using the leftover vegetables in the fridge, tomato puree and seasonings from the store cupboard - no cost.

I've only spent 310nis (55.50GBP) so far this month out of the 500 (just under 90GBP) goal I set myself. It's only for 3 weeks' worth of food remember. Even if we eat out or buy snacks when we're away I'll include it in the holiday spending money which was already saved up and put aside.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

STOP-tober 8th: Store Cupboard Tips

There's no getting around the fact that if you have a house filled with enough food to last you a few months, you will need more willpower in order to not to just overeat for a shorter length of time. This affects anyone who even does a big monthly shop. How do you make those economy bags of crisps, nuts and biscuits last the whole month? How do you stop yourself eating all the cheese in the first week? And what about that chocolate that was on sale and good for cooking or allowing yourself the occasional square for a treat?

Much of the store cupboard is dried goods that need soaking and cooking. Even pasta or rice which is relatively quick to cook, isn't going to tempt you for a quick snack in its dried state. Other stuff is more problematic. Tins of tuna and olives become delicious on toast (bread taken from 3 loaves of bread in the freezer because they were on offer) in about two minutes.

My store cupboard - yes I know you've seen it before. 

The big problem starts when you cook it up into ready meals. A big part of the store cupboard philosophy is cooking in batches and filling your freezer. Whilst I'm not going to defrost a whole cottage pie because I feel like a nibble, one or two (or more) pastries, a slice of pizza, a muffin, can all be zapped in the microwave in the blink of an eyelid.

Most of my store cupboard know-how comes from my store cupboard guru Elaine Colliar from Mortgage Free in Three. As I wrote two days ago, Elaine's store cupboard is far superior to any other I've seen. Here are a few tips I've picked up from Elaine and other bloggers who are trying to budget and eat well at the same time.

1. Store large quantities of food in portions according to what you need for one meal or recipe. For example, a cake can be sliced and bagged separately for one slice to be taken out for tea, a dessert, or for a packed lunch. Cheese can be divided into portions suitable for various planned recipes and meals before freezing it in baggies. If something is assigned it is less likely to disappear in a peckish moment.

2. Plan your weekly menus including breakfast and afternoon tea so that each of your portions in the freezer are accounted for. If you take three slices of pizza  or three muffins from the freezer one night in an uncontrollable binge, that's three suppers for your child or three packed lunches that you will have to replace.

3. Don't cook too much. Make double or even treble portions to stock the freezer certainly, but don't feed the freezer with no end in sight. If you have enough cooked and frozen food for a half-year menu plan, stop cooking and eat out of your freezer for a while. Freshly cooked is much nicer and it's about having all the ingredients in the house, not about saving time in the kitchen. This does not apply when you can get a load of fresh produce very cheaply and it will go off. In this case cook it all up and fill the freezer.

4. Don't buy too much 1. Even if food is on offer, you don't have to buy enough for the year. This doesn't fit in with the store cupboard philosophy anyway. The directive is to buy one item each time you shop that you can put in the store cupboard and to buy that one item at a reduced price. That way you are constantly re-stocking at very little extra expense. 3 for 2 or bogofs are excellent for this.

The weekly shop at 173nis (about 31GBP)

5. Don't buy too much 2. Even though the 10 small packets of crisps packaged together are better value than individual packets, you only need to buy one package of 10 at a time. These are not on special offer they are economy packed. You can buy them at this price whenever you run out. 50 packets of crisps under the stairs is just asking for trouble. (My weakness is crisps, you can substitute biscuits or chocolate or whatever your poison.)

6. Get into the spirit (the zone?) of the frugal living challenge. I'm much more excited about the thought of decimating my food bills than I am by a slice of  re-heated pizza at 11pm.  It also helps to have some coping strategies in place like a good book on the go to entice me into bed early. Another trick I have is to sip soda water all evening. I have 1.5 litre bottles in the fridge and I can get through a whole bottle in an evening with twists of lemon or fresh mint added. It feels like a cocktail (of sorts) and a bit of a treat.

7. Health. Nothing tastes as good as losing weight (if you need to) and having your meals planned and your food budget accounted for is a sure way to do this. And even if you don't need/want to lose weight, you eat better and more healthily by cooking from scratch.

8. Other benefits. 1. There is nothing so satisfying as a store cupboard you know will feed you and your family through strikes, shortages, illness, temporary unemployment, etc... 2. I lied, there is one thing even more satisfying... a weekly food bill no one will believe. Not only for the smugness of it but also the increased spending power in other areas.

9. Gifts. You may have enough jars of home made jam and chutneys to cover all your Christmas presents. Well your children will probably want something else but you know what I mean.

Do you have an amazing store cupboard? Leave a comment below or blog about it and tweet me @midlifesinglem .