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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

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Where life and home organisation ideas go to die. My collection of articles, research and attempts at self-improvement through reorganisation and renewal.

Honey soy chicken with garlic butter pasta

It can be hard to motivate a toddler to eat dinner some nights, so here’s something I tried recently.

Honey soy chicken collage
Home-marinated grilled honey soy chicken, served on a bed of mini fusilli tossed with garlic butter and baby spinach leaves.

Ingredients

Marinade

  • 200g chicken breast
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • ½ tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • ½ tsp grated ginger
  • 1 tsp minced garlic

Cooking

  • knob of butter
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • mini fusilli (small spiral) pasta (I used half cup)
  • baby spinach leaves (half handful)
  • black pepper for seasoning
  • 1 tbsp honey for glazing

Instructions

  • First, you need to marinate the chicken. Overnight marination is great but for the example above, I’d marinated the chicken in the morning at 10am and was grilling the chicken at 6pm.
    • For more even cooking later on, use the flat part of your meat tenderiser to pound your chicken for a more even thickness throughout.
    • Mix all the marinade ingredients together and coat the chicken. Leave the marinade and the chicken in a small bowl with a lid on and refrigerate until ready to cook.
  • When ready to start cooking, get small saucepan of hot water going on stove. Cook mini fusilli.
  • While fusilli is cooking, heat grill pan on high. If your grill pan is not non-stick, lightly spray the pan with cooking oil.
  • When pan is ready, lay the chicken piece flat and cook on each side for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on thickness of meat. Glaze with honey as you go.
  • When chicken has got 2 minutes to go, drain fusilli.
  • Take out a small fry pan, melt butter with garlic
  • Pan fry drained fusilli with black pepper and spinach leaves.
  • When chicken is ready, remove from fire and slice into finger-length pieces
  • Arrange chicken on the bed of pan-fried fusilli and serve. Bon appetit!

Addressing my consumerism with distracting fun

I’ve spent way more than I meant to this month.

A couple of reasons…

  • I’ve discovered what glorious fun it is to find great online retail prices, and then slink into brick-and-mortar shops to coyly ask if they’d price-match my finds. (And they all did. All four retailers.)
  • This modern version of bargaining with shopkeepers coincided very neatly with the recent purchase of my DSLR camera, and with it all the accessories. New lens! Camera bag! Nappy Bag to fit New Camera Bag!
  • In a very inspired week, I went about decluttering my personal and business emails and ended up stumbling upon all the Pumpkin Patch sales I had previously assiduously avoided in the Promotions tab. Catastrophe, but the Boy Blob can now consider modeling as a career next Winter.
  • Andrea and Ben came for a week and when three Singaporeans are gathered, there will be good food if not shopping.

I’ve been trying to get back into the habit of tracking my superfluous spending through Toshl – so anything outside bills and groceries qualify. My coffee and babycinnos with Arddun, for instance. Entrance fees for indoor playgrounds, lunch out, takeaway dinner when I’m on my way to a Tupperware sales meeting, clothes and homeware shopping, that sort of thing. It started out as a way to track where the money primarily goes, but along the way I’ve tried to give myself a limited budget per month so I’d be pushed to weigh up my options more deliberately.

And then I came across an article on The Buy Nothing Year.

Okay – I am privately not a fan of the hippie lifestyle. I’ve seen and smelled human beings who have used homemade soaps and shampoos, and have decided I wouldn’t like a bar of it. (Geddit? Bar? Of soap? Boom boom.) I also kill plants remarkably well, so starting my own self-sufficient veggie garden is not going to sail. And I’m not going to walk or bus everywhere. Not with a toddler and a nappy bag and an already achy pregnant body. My time is already precious.

Also, I’m not altogether comfortable about stingeing on others. I get that splurging on myself is indulgent, but generosity and hospitality are values I esteem quite highly too.

Still, there is something to be said about how much those roommates saved, and the behavioural changes that came about from that project. Consumerism is, unfortunately, a large part of city living and I am a city girl at heart. (Actually, consumerism is a large part of First Worlds, period.) This past week, I feel like I’ve been reacquainted with that original spirit which inspired me to start using Toshl way back when.

And so, to add to the tracking of my daily spend, and the monthly budget I’ve set for myself, I’d like to start setting goals for what NOT to spend on.

Which means running out and downloading a bunch of free apps to try! Wheeee!

I’ve looked at habit tracking apps before, but this time I was looking for apps that had to do with goal setting and getting inspired by others. It also had to look heaps pretty but cost me nothing. And so after hunting around, I’ve come up with my shortlist.

New free apps I’ll be experimenting with these next few months

Some budgeting goals I’m refining at the moment

  • Limiting the number of indoor playground visits as the weather gets warmer for Arddun
  • No clothes, bags, cosmetics, bling, shoe-shopping for a month (this includes buying for Arddun as well, which is even harder to curb)
  • Limiting the number of café outings with Arddun (will make exception when we are with friends)

More about The Buy Nothing Project

The Middle

I have two posts jostling to be written today. One is supposed to be a snapshot of Arddun, aged 3 years and xx days. It’s a burst of adoration, a love letter, a scrapbook of scrappy descriptions that can only hope to sketch the lovely creature she was and is and is becoming.

The other is this post. It’s all about the distractions, and the art of decluttering the mind and heart to prepare for goodlier things.

I haven’t been very organised.

Part of it started from the sheer exhaustion one feels in the first trimester of baby-growing, when all you want to do at day’s end is crawl under the doona and fall into a deep sleep. Except I couldn’t bear to indulge myself this way, because I needed to do lots of other things. So we started packing and sorting for the eventual, inevitable house sale. Even before the papers (the stacks of papers!) got signed, Tony and I went and rented ourselves some storage space, and put away about 20-odd boxes before the bitter winter chills set in.

And then it felt too much like I hadn’t had enough Me time, so I started watching The Good Wife from the pilot. And because no one I know in Canberra watches TGW religiously, I wasn’t prepared for how utterly well-written and addictive the series is. Oh my word, it’s addictive.

I’ve finally caught up with the series, so now that there’s nothing left to fill my very late nights, I’ve turned back to decluttering my life. Also, I’ve stumbled upon The Fabulous – a rather pretty Android app that can be summarised as a Life Coach wearing lace. Or something.

I’m realising that my life pendulums from 20,000 boxes of discrete tasks that reek of chlorinated discipline, to wild, unstructured periods of floating and exploring and meh. Except ironically, my unstructured walks in la la land seldom provide inspiration to write or read. There is a mid point, before either extremes take over, where I feel free and disciplined enough to blog regularly.

Welcome once more to my middle.

Now that my energy levels are back to normal, I’ve awakened to a few new truths.

  1. My time with Just Arddun now has a rough end point.
  2. I need to work out a new weekly routine that involves fewer errands and that maximises whatever little free time I’m going to have with a new bub.
  3. I’ve been mentally run down, which usually results in some form of disengagement from social things – bad juju for extroverts like me. I need to lock in time to recharge batteries, find the discipline to follow through, and keep irrational guilt at bay. This includes sleeping before midnight, for a change.

So with that, I bid you a good evening. Sorry this is such a boring post for you, but writing literally helps me think better. Also, I haven’t blogged in ages – so I’m out of practice. So thanks for listening.

Quick hello

Just to let you know that

  • I’m still here
  • We’re down with a myriad of viral something-or-others because childcare is a cesspit of immunity-boosting germs, and toddlers who cough it in each others’ faces
  • I’ll blog as soon as I get enough energy between humouring a teething and sick 20-month-old while coughing up my own lung, and struggling through a deadline.

xx

Velle

12 Christmas traditions to try out

I’d spoken before about how having a child has totally changed how I see tradition. Suddenly, I want lots. Where there was just me and Tony previously and we were happy to play it by ear for each major holiday, I’ve now gone all “Let Fairy Lights Drip from our Rooftop!!!” when it comes to Christmas and Chinese New Year.

Well, 2 Christmases ago I tried to put together a gingerbread Tardis for Tony – and failed. It seemed a great idea at the time – you know, I get the practice now, I get better over the years and when Arddun is finally old enough to help out, we can Do It Together for Daddy. Gingerbread Tardis – it’d be our thang. Traditional, yet geeky. Perfect.

Completely overlooked the fact that I’ve never baked gingerbread ANYTHING before.

Bought lights for the tree in 2011. They overheated and popped. No lights last year.

Forgot to buy stocking fillers for anyone.

I am still unthwarted. Along with New Year Resolutions, I’m guessing that new Christmas and CNY traditions are also going to be my thing. Inventing them, carrying them out, refining them along the years. Throwing out the ones that make Tony sigh with resignation and long-suffering, keeping the ones that bring genuine joy and require very little cleaning up after.

We went to Melbourne after Christmas last year, which was the centrepiece of our Christmas-New Year holiday. But we also had a combined Christmas lunch with another family which was something we really enjoyed. This year, as Arddun starts to understand even more about the world she’s a part of, I’m compiling a list of traditions that we may or may not try out.

Googled and found the following great suggestions

  1. New pajamas on Christmas Eve
    It’s summer for us during Christmas time, so I’m not sure how this might pan out. Will probably NOT get flannel PJs, but maybe something cool and cotton might work.
  2. Christmas Lights drive by in pajamas. Ice chocolate after
    I have a thing about children (and adults) wearing their home clothes or their sleep clothes out of the house. Never liked it, absolutely will forbid Arddun from doing it, think it’s slightly indecent somehow. BUT along with the new jammies perhaps, we might enjoy a collectively silly session on Christmas Eve of trawling the neighbourhood Christmas lights displays while wearing spanking-new rubber ducky pajama pants. And Monty Python Killer Rabbit Slippers. Of which we already own TWO pairs.
  3. Nativity scene
    I used to be quite weirded out about celebrating Christmas as Jesus’s birthday, because I’ve always been conscious about how Christmas – as we know it – was basically a pagan holiday rebranded around the 4th century. That said, in the spirit of building our own family traditions, I think we can make Christmas anything we want it to be. And if that includes thanking God for sending his Son to us and celebrating such humble yet powerful beginnings, then why not. Some parents buy a nativity set and have their young children reenact the historical event. Others place the nativity scene under the Christmas tree and have the baby Jesus figurine come just a little closer to the manger every day. We haven’t decided what we’d do for Arddun yet, but teaching her about the birth of Christ (and that He wasn’t Anglo-Saxon, contrary to all the nativity scenes in shopping malls!) could be a part of what we do. All the hoopla about it not being the actual date that Jesus was born can come much later.
  4. Christmas tree up on 1 December
    Yeah, that one bombed last year. Better luck this year.
  5. Gingerbread house baking together
    See above regarding Tardis. Down, but perhaps not out yet.
  6. A Christmas Book a night for advent
    I like this one, as it turns a regular part of Arddun’s bedtime routine into something a little more special. I can’t remember where I first saw this suggestion, but Kate did one better and individually wrapped her 12 Christmas books so her children could enjoy the simple pleasure of ripping into a mini-gift each night before Christmas. Will be doing this one with Arddun when she gets older, methinks.
  7. Loose change for charity at the end of the year
    There are a few ideas buzzing around my head regarding our little family and the charities we support. One idea I’ve read recently was to keep a large jar somewhere central in the house where family members could empty loose change over the course of the year, and then have a family conference at the end to use the loose change to support a charity or an individual we know in need.
  8. Christmas Eve board games
    I looooove board games. I hope Arddun does too. Better yet, if we can have another child, then we’ll finally have the numbers for Mahjong. I’m just thinking aloud here.
  9. Christmas Eve movie
    Someone window-shopping at JB Hifi recently asked me if I could recommend a good Christmas movie. Apparently, it was tradition in her family to pick out a movie about Christmas and watch it on Christmas Eve. I suggested Joyeux Noel but they had already done that one.
  10. Christmas family photo
    Cheesy. But necessary. Especially if you’re going to dress up the kid.
  11. Service
    I’d like service for another to become an important part of our Christmas holidays, so apart from flinging money in the general direction of the needy (see No.7 above), I like the idea of bestowing the gift of time. Perhaps something like volunteering our skills to wrap Christmas presents at a shopping mall where proceeds go to a charity. (Because soup kitchens, as we found out, are actually getting difficult to volunteer for.) Still refining this one, but the basic idea is that Christmas should always be about giving, and it’s something we want to teach Arddun through practice.
  12. Scavenger Hunt
    I used to create GREAT scavenger hunts when I was in my teens and had waaay more energy to think up abstract clues in rhyme. Time to dust out this life skill in a few years’ time and get the scavenger hunt going on Christmas Day! This will, of course, involve quite a bit of plotting beforehand, and on-the-spot guidance on the day.

What Christmas traditions do you have? What did you do last year? Can I steal some more ideas?

New address, same house

Very subtle change here, and I’m not sure you’d have even noticed – or cared – but I’ve registered a proper domain address for this blog!

Yes, you can now reach this blog through http://www.yummymummytrain.com OR the old domain name https://updaduff.wordpress.com. Either one works fine. But after being well and truly NOT pregnant for over 18 months, I thought it was about time I got a name that suited this blog a little better.

Okay! Housekeeping over. Go forth and prepare your dinners.

Prayer Project! *squeal*

Mannequin in prayerSo I’ve been trying to reboot my prayer and meditation life, without

  • getting distracted by housework
  • falling asleep in mid-sentence while talking to God. (Happens more often than I’d care to admit.)

Somewhere along the way, I’ve lost the habit of meditating on God’s word daily. And when I do, I find it hurried and broken. This is something I want to fix, and it’s especially something I want to get into the habit of doing before I return to work c. February 2013.

I’ve therefore been using a couple of phone apps for short devotional snippets (works quite well because of built-in reminders!), but ultimately I want to get back into the habit of praying long and deep, alone. Tony and I do pray together, but I’m really itching to sit down once a week and do a solid.

(In the context of potty-training Arddun, that last sentence was rather unfortunate. But I digress.)

To help me along, I’m soliciting prayer requests. It’s like a gym class – always better to plan on going, knowing someone else is counting on you to show up. :)

Check out my new prayer page.

Household cleaning tips to try

Just stumbled upon a few household cleaning tips, and thought I’d pick a few to try out. Here’s a list of things I never knew and haven’t tried. If you’ve tried out any of them, could you let me know how effective it is?

Those marked in red are some I really want to try soon.

  1. Eucalyptus oil removes the gummy residue left by shop stickers.
  2. To remove furniture indentations from pure wool carpet place a tea towel over the area and then press with a warm iron. The heat will lift the fibres. Do not attempt this with synthetic or a wool/synthetic mix carpet.
  3. Light a match and let it burn a few seconds to remove toilet smells.
  4. To stop bathroom mirrors steaming up, regularly rub a dry bar of soap over the surface and rub in with a clean cloth.
  5. Stop clothes with thin straps falling off hangers by sticking small felt furniture pads onto the hanger just beyond where the straps sit.
  6. To keep your car windows ice and frost free when left outside overnight in the wintertime, mix three parts vinegar to one part water, put it in a spray bottle and spray on the windows as needed.
  7. To prevent buttons from becoming loose or undone, dab a little clear nail varnish on the top thread or onto the stem of the thread and leave to dry.
  8. To stop ants entering your house, draw a chalk line on the ground where you want them to stop. If you live in a rainy area where ants are a problem, you must re-draw the chalk lines each time it rains.
  9. To deter silverfish, place whole cloves in wardrobes and drawers.
  10. To remove body oil stains from collars and cuffs of coloured shirts and blouses, rub hair shampoo directly on the stains. Rinse out the shampoo, then wash the clothes as usual.
  11. To revive a vase of wilted flowers, add a teaspoon of mild detergent.
  12. To keep pinking shears or scissors sharp, cut through a sheet of folded aluminium foil or coarse sandpaper.
  13. To leave a room smelling fresh after you have vacuumed, place a few drops of your favourite essential oil (such as lavender or peppermint) near the vent where the hot air is released. The air warms the oil and blows it into the room.
  14. To mask unpleasant odors, put some coffee beans in a saucepan and burn them. The smell of coffee will overpower the other nasty odors.
  15. To clean a microwave oven, add four tablespoons of lemon juice to one cup of water in a microwave-safe bowl. Boil for five minutes in the microwave, allowing the steam to condense on the inside walls of the oven. Then wipe them with a soft cloth.
  16. To clean a stainless-steel sink, put the stopper in the sink with two denture-cleaning tablets and half fill with water; leave for several hours or overnight and the next day it should be sparkling. Then use the water to clean the draining board, too.
  17. To remove fingerprints from stainless-steel appliances, place a small amount of baby oil on a napkin and wipe the affected areas. The fingerprints will just wipe away.
  18. To remove marker pen off hard surfaces, spray on hair spray and then wipe it off.
  19. To restore toilet bowls back to their shiny best, clean with old, flat Coke or Pepsi. To dissolve limescale, leave the soda overnight to soak.
  20. Vacuuming a mattress, particularly along piping and crevices, removes dead skin cells that attract dust mites.
  21. Clove oil (sold in chemists for toothaches) kills mould spores. Mix three drops in one litre of water and then use to wipe down areas susceptible to mould.
  22. To get rid of the smell of garlic from your hands, rub against stainless steel – your sink is ideal. Then wash hands with soap or detergent.

 

Recipe: All things white and beautiful

It’s official: Arddun has an intolerance to salicylates, of all things. And salicylates are in EVERYTHING veggie and good. Actually, they’re even in skincare products and anything that uses plant extracts.

And my girl has a low-to-medium threshold for especially brightly-coloured veggies. Eat too much, and her skin gets ravaged by extra-itchy eczema. The kind she scratches till she bleeds because she cannot stop. So tomatoes are baaaaad. And broccoli can get baaaad. As well as pumpkin, and sweet potato, and carrots, and even corn.

Anyway – long story short, here’s a medley of veggies that don’t give my baby girl the itchy-itchy. And even if your baby doesn’t suffer from such a pesky intolerance, this recipe makes a yummy meal and uses two veggies I’d never bothered eating in my life till now: parsnip, and swede.

Garnished with chopped chives, parmesan cheese and a dash of pepper, this easy dish is surprisingly tasty and uber nutritious for baby.

Ingredients

  • ½ swede the size of your fist, peeled and roughly diced
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and roughly diced
  • ¼ small brown onion, peeled and roughly diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • ½ large parsnip, peeled and roughly diced
  • 100g pork or chicken mince (optional)
To garnish
  • Cracked black pepper
  • Chopped chives
  • Finely grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Chuck everything except mince into a small saucepan.
  2. Bring water to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
  3. Add pork mince and mix with vegetables. Simmer for another 5 minutes.
  4. Process mixture to consistency you’re after.
  5. Serve.

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