DIY Chalkboard Menu

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This was one of the easiest DIY projects I’ve ever done that I feel ridiculous for not doing it sooner. I bought a small tin of chalkboard paint years ago with the intention of making myself a kitchen menu. I’ve always liked writing down a list of all the meals planned for the week (mainly so I don’t forget about them and waste food) I also like lists – they help me think. Now that I have a toddler it’s even more important to meal plan. So for years I’ve been thinking about the perfect ‘something’ to make into a menuboard. I thought about new frames, thought about hunting down secondhand frames, thought about finding some scrap wood and painting that up – which just meant this little project has sat off to the side for too long. So the other day on an absolute whim I went down the road to the local Op Shop, saw the perfect frame (The Op Shop Gods were looking out for me that day!) and bought it for a grand total of $5. The frame had an ugly 80’s ‘painting’ in it (by painting I mean a print of a painting but then clear lacquer is messily brushed over the image to give the appearance of a real painting). I lightly sanded it, cleaned it, put masking tape around the frame edges and then gave it two coats of the blackboard paint. It honestly took about 15 minutes (not including the dry time). I think it’s turned out so well! What do you think?

 

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Why every parent should join a toy library

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Want to save hundreds if not thousands of dollars? Want to save space in your home? Want to save the environment? Want to have less stress and happy children? Want to teach your children awesome values? Joining a toy library will do all these things and more!

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I don’t want this big chunk of plastic permanently at my house, but it’s a perfect toy to borrow from the toy library!

Children get bored. It’s as simple as that. Until now I’ve cycled through what few toys Everett had so he wouldn’t get sick of them (in other words, only having a few of his toys out at a time and then replacing them every week or two with his other toys). But lately I’ve been watching him get sick of his current toys and searching for more stimulating things and then once he’s figured out what he can do with the toy (or random object) he moves on. I’ve also watched him steer towards certain toys at playgroup and I could see that it was time to upgrade some of his toys. But we didn’t want to buy a big pile of toys that he could get sick of or grow out of in only a few months, even though I already tend to buy most things secondhand (Plus I’m on a challenge to limit (or cut) my child spending, you can read about that here). We also don’t have the space to store so many toys and the idea of buying all that plastic sent my environmentally conscious mind into a spin. This is when the toy library came into our lives. Kids will generally always have a few of their own toys (whether it be presents or hand-me-downs) but a toy library is a great way to supplement your existing collection.

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What is a toy library?

A toy library, generally supported by the local council or shire, is similar to a book library – you borrow toys and return them but for a small annual fee. They usually cost between $50 to $100 per year which is extremely affordable when you think of all the toys you won’t have to purchase. They are generally aimed at pre-school children (6 months to 6 years old) but may differ between libraries. The toy range available will also vary from each library, but most have baby toys, puzzles, games, musical instruments, electronic games, CD’s and DVD’s, puppets, costumes, water and sand toys, ride on toys, bikes, imaginative play (toy kitchens, prams, doll cots etc), trucks, blocks, electronic games, big outdoor toys like slides and see-saws and much more.  There is usually no restriction on what particular toys you can borrow either – you can borrow four bikes if you wanted to which is great for young interstate visitors and the like! Each library is different but most offer extra toy hire for a minimal fee which is great for parties and mothers groups. As most libraries are not-for-profit volunteer run organisations, as a member it is likely you will be expected to go on a roster to work at the toy library – though spending a few hours with your child at a toy library where they can roam free and play with all the visiting children is by no means a hard morning’s work!

So if I haven’t convinced you already, let me tell you some specific benefits of joining a toy library.

Save money

Well I think this one is obvious right? This isn’t about being cheap (though a toy library is an especially brilliant way to entertain kids on a tight budget) it’s about unnecessary spending. You just have to browse around a toy store to see how many toys are aimed at different age levels, skills, and even specific likes (i.e. dinosaurs vs trucks). You could go broke trying to satisfy each interest or skill! My toy library membership costs $60 a year, which equates to $1.15 a week. This membership allows me to borrow four toys every three weeks. You don’t have to be a genius to understand the value in that.

This could be your loungeroom!
Ok, a tad dramatic, but I seriously wonder how big your ‘pile’ could be if you never threw away a kids toy. This image is from an interesting art installation in Tokyo using unwanted toys. You can read more about it here.

Save the environment

I don’t have the exact statistics, but it’s easy to comprehend how many toys are being saved from landfill by simply sharing them. I’ve noticed lots of large plastic toys sitting on the verge for the council garbage collection lately, toys that were likely left outside to deteriorate and fade because their children only used them intermittently. Whilst I try to buy mainly wooden toys for Everett so they last (forever?) there is sometimes no avoiding plastic toys.

I had a chat with Luana, the President of the Carlisle/Victoria Park Toy Library in Perth (my new library), and she told me that there are some plastic toys that they have had for a long time and have really lasted the distance. They also try to only buy new toys that will last and will try to fix broken toys if possible. Even when a toy is broken (for example the musical sounds of an otherwise perfectly good toy) if the toy still has educational or imaginative play qualities they will keep it. Faults and missing pieces are simply registered on the specialised toy library catalogue system (thankfully computerised!).

Each toy has its own catalogue number for the library and is written on the toy.

Each toy has its own catalogue number for the library and is written on the toy.

Teach your children awesome values

By using a toy library we can teach our children (and ourselves) some amazing lifelong values. Firstly, how to consume less which in turn may make them less influenced by the marketing tactics of toy companies. They can learn the value of sharing and less possessive ownership behaviour. They can also learn how to appreciate things that are pre-loved or secondhand. I’m a firm believer that children are overwhelmed with too many toys, so using a toy library is a great way to limit their access. Aren’t these all great qualities to impart on our children from the beginning!

There is also a real sense of community, with as many as 100 families registered at our library (with multiple children). Mums and children will get to know each other on regular visits and when they work on the roster. Isn’t it great that children will learn how to socialise and volunteer at such a young age?

Better yet, a toy library means no-one is disadvantaged by financial or social constraints. Your child can have access to appropriate toys for their age and skill level. Most toys are aimed to cultivate developmental milestones and no child should be disadvantaged when it comes to learning!

Less Stress

The best thing about a toy library is you can let your child browse around and choose whatever they want! No scary price tags or tantrums, the children are free to choose without our influences (too expensive, not value for money, beyond their age group, afraid they might get sick of it quickly etc). And by the time your children get bored with it you can swap it for something new. Blissful!

Everett checking out the baby toys

Everett checking out the baby toys

Another selection of toys in our library.

Another selection of toys in our library.

Above are some pictures from my toy library, the Carlisle Victoria Park Toy Library. Considering there are up to 100 parents who have toys out on loan, it’s amazing to consider how many toys they have when you look at this packed storage space!

I would suggest joining the library as soon as your child is six months old (so long as your library caters to babies) it’s a great way to focus on different stages of their development without breaking the bank. The membership fees would also be an awesome gift from a friend or family member for the child, as it is literally the gift that keeps on giving!

I’ve only been to the library once so far but I can already see that we’ll be regular members for years to come. I honestly can’t think of a reason why any parent wouldn’t join a toy library. Can you?

I'm so glad I don't have to permanently store this big piece of plastic!

I’m so glad I don’t have to permanently store this big piece of plastic!

If you would like to read some facinating articles on toy libraries and their benefits and social impact you should check out these articles:

  • An article relating regarding Marketing Professor, Julie Ozanne’s, study on the impact on children of parents’ support and use of toy libraries. A report on the study can be read here.
  • An article in The Age about a reliance on toys to reward children could be damaging to their development.
  • An article on why fewer toys will benefit your child

Free our kids (less spending, more fun)

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I love how I’ve ‘met’ likeminded people through blogging. There are some amazing people out there who inspire me to do better. It’s from this network that I was asked to join the ‘Free our kids‘ revolution. The gist: don’t spend a cent on your kid all year to free yourself from the misguided dependancy on unnecessary spending when it comes to kids. Is it possible? Well I have my doubts, but giving myself the challenge is really the only way to stop and think before I spend, and imagine if I did it? That I had a happy healthy kid and I haven’t had to spend a cent to achieve it? CHALLENGE ACCEPTED I say!

So you may ask how the heck I’m going to get through this, well I’m already half way there. Here’s a few examples:

  • My baby, Everett, is 9 months old. I put him on his toy mat with his toys and you know what he’d rather play with? The dog, bowls and spoons, a cupboard, or right as we speak he’s playing with my apron.
  • I often buy secondhand toys from the Op Shop or Gumtree.
  • We recently joined The Playgroup Association of WA which means for two hours a week Everett has access to a bunch of toys and play equipment which is shared amongst other groups of kids, whilst socialising with other children his age (and not to mention socialising for me!)
  • We plan on joining the local toy library soon which means for a yearly membership, you can borrow toys for a few weeks before exchanging them for other toys.
  • I recently asked my friends on Facebook whether anyone had size 0 baby boy clothes that they were getting rid of (for a price, or for free) and I already got offered boxes of clothes for nothing.
  • We visit the local libraries (we have four in close distance) for Rhyme Time, which is an initiative run by the State Library of WA where a librarian will sing nursery rhymes to children from 0 – 2 years old.

Some of these things do still involve a cost, so I’ll have to justify each item. I think, for example, Playgroup is well worth the cost for socialisation and access to shared toys. This evolved from Mothers Group but as the children get older, Mothers Group becomes too difficult to host and therefore Playgroup is the next best thing.

Look out for future posts on some of my experiences with Free our Kids. I’m going to document every cent I spend (or don’t spend) over the next year!

So fellow Mummies, do you think you could join this challenge?

 

 

 

An eco Easter

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Although Baby E won’t be old enough to understand Easter, I really wanted to start some family traditions that he could enjoy for years to come. I’m not religious, so for me Easter was always about spending time with family, a few chocolates and some new pajamas (that was our “thing” growing up).

So for Everett I wanted to give him the same sense of family and fun but with less sugar and unnecessary spending. Here are some ideas so far:

Good Friday: Good Friday we plan to enjoy a family breakfast with our close relatives, particularly enjoying homemade gluten free hot cross buns, something I haven’t yet tried but figure I have years to master. I LOVE hot cross buns but haven’t enjoyed them for years because of my gluten intolerance and laziness in the kitchen. But no more excuses as there are plenty of recipes out there and a great excuse to make the effort! Do you know of a good recipe? Please tell me!!

Easter Saturday: We will spend the day making our own healthy chocolate Easter eggs. In fact the week or so leading up to Easter can be spent on Easter related crafts. I’ve never tried it, but I’ve heard painting real egg shells can be a fun craft and what a great excuse to make quiche or even a pavlova!

I also thought this might be a great day to clean out the toy box and donate some toys (and clothes) to charity. We have a pretty strong rule on not overdoing it with toys (many of his toys are already secondhand) but I’d like to do something charitable over the Easter weekend and this would be a good place to start.

Easter Sunday: Otherwise known to kids as “Easter egg day”, I would really like to steer clear of tons of bad chocolate and foil wrap and do something different. I’ve noticed on some American blogs these little plastic eggs that can be screwed open and hold all sorts of treats – a great way to give healthy treats, coins, or whatever takes your fancy. Even better, these eggs can be placed in the garden for a good old fashioned Easter egg hunt. And even better yet, the plastic eggs can be reused every year.

blank wood eggs painted

image and eggs from http://www.blankgoods.com.au

I also found these gorgeous wooden eggs, but they are expensive compared to the plastic version. Though it would be something to consider buying only a few each year and working up to a collection.

I’m still not sure where the Easter Bunny fits into this tradition or whether we’ll go along with the farce at all! I have so many questions – Will “he” leave the plastic eggs? Does he do it all stealth like in the night like Santa? Why the heck is a bunny leaving eggs in a garden anyway? I honestly can’t remember the purpose for a chocolate giving bunny anyway, or whether I truly believed in it (unlike Santa who I truly believed was real!).

When I googled the history of the Bunny, and other Easter traditions, I found most of them were conceived as a pagan Spring tradition, with eggs and bunnies being symbolic of new life in Spring. Seeing we’re in the Southern Hemisphere it makes no sense! We’re still wilting with the relentless summer heat and, if anything, I’ve watched my garden die, not spring to life! Either way, I think we have a bit of time on our hands to decide on the Bunny situation and an Easter egg hunt is fun regardless! And seeing it’s Sunday, why not a traditional Sunday roast dinner.

Easter Monday: I haven’t decided what to do on this day but I’m thinking something along the lines of spending it out and about with friends. Go on a local adventure and make the most of the public holiday and the (typically) good weather.

What are your traditions? I’d love to hear them!

Upcycled hallway organiser

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As much as I hate to admit it I am a serial dumper – and before you conjure up your own definition of ‘dumper’ I’ll let you know right now I mean that bad habit of dumping odd bits and pieces around your house until the whole thing looks like a mess. It’s a hard habit I am trying to break and also happens to be one of PJ’s pet peeves, well more specifically my coming in the house and dumping my handbag, keys, sunnies and other junk on the kitchen table. Worse than that, losing my keys (or handbag, or sunglasses) which would drive PJ to insanity just watching me look for them.

Our first solution was to get a basket and put it on the kitchen table which would act as the bowl to put keys, wallets, chewing gum etc. inside. My handbag would go beside it. We also started another bowl system (though this was an enormous salad bowl of mine) which held random things people left behind when visiting, or things we would typically leave out because we wanted to remember to give them to someone or whatever the story was. The only problem? Both bowls started overflowing and once again our kitchen table looked like a mess. We kept trying to find a home for all our things but nothing was quite right, until we decided to install something in the hallway that would take care of everything in an attractive and organised way.

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Introducing our upcycled pallet hallway organiser. We also used upcycled food cans as storage devices (mainly for sunglasses at this stage!). I made little interior covers out of scrap fabric so the sharp edges of the cans wouldn’t scratch anything. To make hooks we just grabbed a bunch of leftover nails. It’s so ridiculously easy I feel like I’m not really contributing an innovative idea here – just showing you what we threw together!

I won’t lie, the design was mostly PJ’s idea, but I’d like to think it wouldn’t be upcycled if it wasn’t for me!! We had so many pallets left over from our renovations that we weren’t short of supplies. It doesn’t  really require instructions as it is such a simple design. It is screwed into the wall with plugs, but that’s about the only thing you can’t see.

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It took a week or two to get used to walking into the hallway and hanging everything where it belonged, but now that the habit has formed it’s awesome to know that all that important stuff is exactly where you know you left it!

When it came to the ‘random bowl of other people’s stuff’ we created a ‘lost and found’ bag instead which doesn’t look so out of place on the organiser.

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We feel like it’s a nice homely welcome to our house. Far less offensive than a bunch of random bowls on the kitchen table at least. We keep wondering whether we’ll get sick of it, or whether “shabby chic/upcycled” style will become hideously unfasionable, but then we remind ourselves that it didn’t cost a cent to make so replacing it with something else won’t be heartbreaking. Heck I could even see myself painting it random colours in the future when I get sick of the sight of wood (though anyone who knows us knows we looooooooove the look of wood and our house is evident of that!).

May upcycling and shabby chic stay in fashion forever!!!

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Life Lately + Thrifty Valentines

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I feel like I’m cheating putting up a bunch of instagram photos as a blog post, but I feel like it’s the only way to keep in touch right now as I am so busy trying to be a good Mum (it was my new years resolution!) AND cram a lot of study in on the side before my course ends in April.

But before I go on, what are you doing for Valentines? I almost forgot it was coming until Lucy from Lulastic & The Hippyshake reminded me with her Valentines Day post on last minute DIY gifts! I hope you’re not a sucker and fall for all the marketing hype because, like most other “gift giving occasions”, Valentines should be more about the thought than the price tag (should there even be a price tag?). As I’ve used up all my DIY gift ideas on PJ lately he’s going to get a nice home cooked meal and a big jar full of sentimental (I’m copying Lucy’s idea, check it out here!). I think everyone deserves to hear what makes them special, which is far more romantic than a box of chocolates or a piece of jewellery (or whatever the marketing people are convincing us to buy these days).

But back to my pathetic blog post – here’s what I’ve been up to lately…

eco empire raw carrot cake

1. Raw carrot cake by my friend Tracey (who in my world is the best cook ever and spoils me with MANY amazing home cooked meals). She has a blog Tracey Bakes which I wish she’d blog on more often!eco empire organic fruit and vege delivery perth

2. We’re trialling a new organic fruit & vege company that delivers. It’s been pretty good so far. It’s also the first time we’ve had zero food waste. I’m teaching myself how to meal plan based on what gets delivered (which is only ‘in season’ fruit & vege). It’s how it should be.

eco empire eco baby trees outdoors

3. I’m trying to spend more time outdoors, which is actually quite hard as Perth is experiencing some very hot weather lately (and let’s not forget that lovely ozone layer hole that sits above us). So with that in mind my son and I have started spending at least half an hour in our backyard first thing every morning when it’s nice and cool, which is such a lovely way to start the day.eco empire eco baby

4. This kid. He makes my day with that smile (and you can’t even see his dimple in this photo!). eco empire family history australian generation

5. After mentioning that Baby E is seventh generation Australian, my grandmother then pulled all the photos out of each generation to show me. My grandmother Elsie is on the very right in her wedding dress. It’s actually quite amazing to see the family resemblance in some of the older photographs. eco empire young coconut drink

6. I’m currently obsessed with young coconuts after trying them at a local Thai restaurant. I assumed their deliciously sweet flavour was from sugar syrup and coconut water, but was amazed to discover the flavour is straight from a young coconut. You almost won’t believe it until you crack open your own young coconut, drink the water and eat the soft and fleshy coconut. Delicious!!

12 dates : January

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January was the first month PJ got to see some action out of his Christmas gift. As I discussed in more detail here I made him a box of 12 dates, one a month for a year, and each month is a surprise.

So what was January? Being the middle of summer in Australia it was a simple icecream date. I have made sure our gifts start simple (while Baby E is still little) and get increasingly more ‘exciting’ as he gets older.

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We visited our local favourite icecream place Cafe Gelato (also a photo lab!) and indulged in two scoops. Indulgent because I’m meant to be on a bit of a sugar free diet (more on that later).

And in case you’re wondering I had Butterscotch and Ferrero flavours. It was sooooooo good. Now I just need to print some photos so I have an excuse to go back there and ‘eat gelato while I wait’!

 

 

 

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12 dates : the gift that lasts all year

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With the success of my origami fortune teller gift to my partner, letting him ‘choose’ where and how a special birthday date would take place, I decided to give it another go, but in a way that would last all year round!

This is the perfect gift for someone who doesn’t need anything. It is especially perfect for your husband or partner if you have kids, or simply don’t get to spend enough time with each other. As my partner and I have a 7 month old baby, we don’t get to spend a lot of time alone anymore. So for Christmas, especially as we don’t typically give gifts, I decided to give him something special – a year’s worth of dates!

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Inside are 12 individual packages with a planned date inside. They could be things you always talk about doing but never get around to it, or just use them as excuses to do your favourite things! Plus your partner will get a surprise each month – and who doesn’t like surprises?

I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you what  I have in store for my 12 dates but I’ll keep you updated as each month goes!

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Origami Fortune Teller Gift Idea

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I thought I’d share with you a gift I got my partner PJ for his birthday just prior to Christmas. It’s the perfect present for someone who doesn’t like gifts, as a last minute gift, or even just a nice surprise for someone!

So you might remember making origami fortune tellers in school? You could write fortunes or even dares. Well it’s the same idea, only this time instead of choosing a fortune, it plans your date night! You can come up with various ideas that can easily mix and match – for example I chose restaurants all in the same area and activities that were nearby so that no matter what was ‘chosen’ they would all work together easily. There’s the opportunity to have either four or eight choices. Do what works best for you!

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I hope you find a way of making your own origami fortune teller. It’s even a great idea for the kid’s school holidays – let them think destiny is deciding for them! origami fortune teller date night