Sunday, January 3, 2016

Why I will not be doing any more decluttering

Photo: My recent decluttering trick: Dump Everything On the Bed Then Spend Two Weeks Moving It Around. 

I realise there is an obvious gap here. Like, 2.5 years worth. And the short answer is life got in the way for a bit. I might get a chance to explain some of that if I keep this up. 



It's the current internet obsession. My newsfeed, instafeed, blog roll are full of New Year's challenges for decluttering your house in a week, a month, a year, forever. I've read the KonMarie book. I've read the Minimalist websites. I've joined the facebook groups, I've sold my stuff, I've thrown out bags and bags.

And here's the thing: I do not find decluttering fulfilling. 

I don't find it fulfilling because it's not what I'm made for. 

While I understand the concept of 'sparking joy' in your life, and keeping only things around you that make you happy, I have found decluttering to be stressful, upsetting and the number one cause of gigantic piles of mess in my otherwise neat-and-tidy-but-not-magazine-worthy house.

And after four or five weeks of trying to figure out the best way to sell my old stuff, who might want it or where else it could be stored, I have realised one thing, God made me for a bigger purpose than having a neat house. 

As the New Year rolls around, I'm focusing on what I learnt in 2015. Here is some of what I have figured out so far:

- I have some God-given gifts that are more useful to God, when they are employed outside my home. 
- I have the capacity to make new friends easily, and to help people talk through the things that separate them from God. 
- I can, when I ask God for the courage, be bold enough to ask them how they are going and if they want to come to church, or how I can pray for them. 
- I am in a new stage of life with a baby (whom we call Giraffe) and being a Mum is something that has helped me understand the concept of eternity more clearly. The time we have here is short and needs to be used to pursue God's glory for the people he places in our lives. 
- Having a giraffe opens a lot of conversational avenues for talking about God's work in my life and how His Story has shaped my own. This needs to be my starting point for writing my weekly To Do list, not which cupboards I want to get clean. 

See how none of that really had anything to do with decluttering? 

You know what else? The times I have had my house ridiculously spotless when people have come over, have been some of the most uncomfortable social visits I've ever had. Its like the more I try to impress, the more uptight and less friendly I actually am. I thought I was doing the opposite, but my friends seem to relax more when they don't feel like they are sitting in a show room. 

So my plan for this year? Priorities. 

1. Prayer
2. Play
3. Give
4. Grow

Prayer; I'm not worried about a specific system or a book or a way of praying like I've started the past few years. I just want to rekindle that prayer relationship I have had in the past by actually praying! 

Play: Instead of reading countless FB posts about other people's declutter or decorating missions, or giving my two cents on how to feed your Giraffe or get them to sleep better, I am going to spend more of my free time playing with my Giraffe. I have a lot to teach them and they have a lot to teach me, and I'm going to keep missing it if my head is buried in my iphone or my decluttering piles. 

Give: Aside from giving money, which is a joint discussion and decision my husband and I make together, I realised this past year that the biggest thing I can give many people in my life is time. Time to listen, support, laugh with, help. The opportunities are endless, and sometimes uncomfortable. But they are important. 

Grow: I've had a year of stunted spiritual growth. I've filled the void that I've felt with things that have distracted me from God. No more. Now, more Bible. More God. 

[Some might argue that priorities 2 and 3 should be the other way around. In the season of life that I am in, I need to focus on my roles as a wife and mum before giving of myself to others. I risk burnout when I do these the other way around - Believe me, I've tested that out.]

I'm interested to see where God takes me this year. I am bracing myself because I feel it will be a year of pruning. But God, in His infinite wisdom, knows exactly what he is doing. And I get the feeling its got nothing to do with the state of my cupboards. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Another Easy Slow Cooker Soup

Another quick and easy soup in the slow cooker - with hardly any chopping!

Corn and Leek Soup

Add to slow cooker;

  • 2 leeks chopped very fine (pale part only)
  • 1 can of corn kernels (or two corn on the cob's worth of corn kernels)
  • Chicken stock (3 cups+)
Cover and cook for 6-8 hours on LOW or 3+ hours on HIGH. 

In the last hour, add 1-2 cans of creamed corn (depending on how thick you like your soup). 
When cooked through, blitz with a stick blender or put batches through a food processor for a smooth finish. This stores well in the freezer - simply heat up in microwave or stove top. 

GF with GF stock and vegetarian/vegan with vegetable stock. 

Nom.nom.nom. Have I mentioned I love my Slow Cooker?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

How I Made 3 litres of Winter Soup for under $5

My Mini Kitchen Garden
Colds. They are annoying.

Home sick today and thought I had better get some cooking done to get ahead in case its one of 'those' winters. I thought I would get my appliances working for me and make some soups for the freezer.

I think this one is my favourite - it was super cheap!

While shopping at Aldi last night I noticed Soup Packs of veggies for just $1.99. The pack contained two carrots, one swede, one parsnip, one potato, and two sticks of celery. bargain.

I chopped all this up and added;
- 1/2 cup of red lentils
- 3 teaspoons of crushed garlic
- A sprinkle of sea salt
- 1.5L of chicken stock (you might need more to cover the veggies)
- Some leftover BBQ chicken I had in the fridge
- A handful of chopped basil and oregano from my mini kitchen garden.

5-6 hours on LOW or 2-3 on HIGH in the slow cooker. Way. too. easy.

Use GF stock and its a GF soup. Vege stock and minus the chicken and you have a vegetarian/vegan option. Everyone wins! The principle for the slow cooker is the same. If you have one and are scared to use it, give this a go. You will not regret it.

Someone who is much much better at cooking than I am, and whose recipes are somewhat more accurate, check out my beautiful friend Jessica's blog home.

Friday, May 3, 2013

My Other Favourite Preschooler Apps List

iPhone Screenshot 4
Where's My Water?
So at the end of the week, I wanted to give you a list of all the great, fun apps that are out there that I just couldn't put down. Some are paid, some are free. I've listed and linked where appropriate.

Disney’s Where’s My Water? by Disney (Free for lite version. Full version 99c) Problem solving involving moving objects out of the way to connect water to Swampy’s bath tub. Great for children to start problem solving techniques on their own. A nice throw back to the Lemmings concept (for those old enough to remember it!).

Puzzle Farm;by Eggroll Games (Lite Version free, Full version $1.99) Farm themed puzzles which change as you complete them. Somewhat confusing but children would quickly get the hang of them. Unlock the extra levels from the main menu when you start as there doesn't seem to be a way to get back to the main menu once you have started the
puzzles. There might be, but I missed it.

Puzzles N’ Coloring Sea Adventures; by Better World (Lite Version Free, Full Version $1.99) Sea-themed drag and drop puzzles and touch-to-colour pictures.
The full version unlocks more of the same. Helpful music kill button..! Good for car trips.

Play School Art Maker by ABC Corporation (Free); Gorgeous app with fantastic content. Make art works that turn into movies. Record your own sound effects (watch out for this as you are likely to record yourself saying "How does this work?" etc the first time you use it). Save creations for later. Suitable for younger children and Play School loving adults. 
iPad Screenshot 1
Play School Art Maker
The Wiggles Big Aussie Road Adventure Presented by Volkswagen by The Wiggles (Free) When you think of the wiggles, you naturally think of Volkswagen. Travel around a map of Australia
solving drag and drop puzzles of the wiggles in various Australian landmarks and watch some wiggles videos on the way. Road safety messages are included in each puzzle and the volkswagens in each cartoon puzzle completely make sense when you remember the app was sponsored. Das Auto!

Awesome Eats; by Whole Kids Foundation (Free) Save carrots, lettuce and eggplants from their fate of ending up in the wrong box. This game gets very fast very quickly and will be frustrating to younger children but older, more experienced children (and adults) will find it challenging and entertaining. I liked the healthy eating message and graphics.

LEGO4+; by the LEGO Group (Free) Build your LEGO transport and move through Mario-style levels collecting LEGO pieces. A great app which is ridiculously popular with children who are into LEGO!

So there you have the results of my 7 hours of painstaking research! I would love to hear of your favourite apps in the comments or any successes and failures you have had with these ones.  Share the love!

* This is not a paid review. I have not received any compensation from the makers of ipad or the apps listed. All graphics are sourced from itunes. All opinions are entirely my own. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Tips for Using Ipads With Preschoolers

Using apps with Preschoolers can be tricky. Here are my (tried and tested) tips for making it easier.

iPhone Screenshot 1
Sandtimer App
Use a Timer
Nothing worse than a tantrum when the ipad has to go away or it is time for another child has a turn. I downloaded the Sandtimer app which you can set for different lengths of time to alert children when their time is up. Our kids simply hand the ipad over when the time is up and reset the timer themselves. Magic!

Make a List
In the classroom setting, an educator will help the children to write a list of the names of children who would like a turn. We usually put a child in charge of the list, explaining to them who is coming next and they can hold the list while people take turns on the ipad. This has to be monitored of course, but we found that a massive queue of children around the ipad for an hour was really eating into their play time. Now they know they will definitely get a turn at some point, they are happy to go and play elsewhere while they are waiting. 

Limit Screen Time
Current Australian Regulations recommend no screen time of any kind for children under 2 years. This is difficult and I know in home settings this is not always the case. Some great ideas for limiting screen time can be found here. For your interest, our centre has a TV that gets used between 5-10 times a year and only for 20 minutes at a time. The ipads are only available in the morning play session and children have 5-10 minute turns depending on the apps they are using. 

Pay for Quality Apps - and Check the Content!
If you are going to use an ipad for your child or in the classroom, make it worthwhile and only download quality apps that are actually going to benefit your child. I deleted some apps that looked cute but were useless once opened.

Turn Off the Wifi
Most free apps are lite versions of a game, meaning that you have to pay for the full version. If your itunes accesses your credit card, this can be a costly exercise as children will click on ads indiscriminately and charge your card ofr full versions and other apps. Turn off the wifi connection in your device's menu before you give it to your child. Most games do not need a connection to provide content, and those that do probably want your money anyway!

Don't Be Pressured
If you don't have a tablet device or smart phone that your child can use, don't fall into the trap that your child is somehow missing out on the techonology that they will grow up with. Most of us grew up without computers in our home as young children and coped just fine when they were introduced later in our lives in educational settings. Your kids will pick up the technology they need along the way without needing hours of screen time. Instead, teach yourself to feel smug that your kids are probably healthier than the 'ipad kids' anyway!

Just Say No
The devices in your life (and your children) shouldn't rule you. Set limits and stick to them. Take the device away and ignore the tantrum that follows. If it happens every time, then put the device away for a while until your child is older and more emotionally ready to handle the boundaries around it. Give your child time to run around after playing and burn off some of that pent up energy from the time spent in concentration.

The technology in our lives is there to help us, not to rule over us. If you feel enslaved by the devices - let the batteries run flat and "loose" the charger for a while. Take a walk together, have a picnic, read an actual book (don't have any? Visit the library together - they still exist, amazingly enough!). Enjoy life for what it is, and never think that an app - no matter how good it is - is a quality substitute for learning new concepts together. At best, it is a helpful addition. Your kids need time with  you too! 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Free Apps for Literacy and Numeracy that are Worth Your Time

Time to get to the free stuff!

These apps were listed free at the time of publishing. Each app focuses on literacy or numeracy concepts and met the criteria I set for myself. If you have other great apps in your collection, why not share them in the comments?

There are lots of these apps, so I did not do an indepth review of each, instead I have given you an overall idea and a link to check out the features of each app on itunes. Where apps require payment for more options I have said so.

Literacy Apps

ABC Alphabet Play by Grasshopper Apps (Free) – can set for phonics lower case. Choose the correct letter from four random options. US vocals and phonics.

Crabby Writer Phonics Read and Write by Mrs. Judd's Games (Free) – seaside themed letter tracing app. Choose 3 or 4 letter words, tracing based on phonetic sounds. US vocals and phonics

Ice Land! ABC Ilearnwithboing; By Tribal Nova (Free). 'Words' is free in light version, you have to buy phonics and letters levels. US vocals and phonics, lower and upper case. Parent tracking option available for tracking children's progress. Part of a series that includes apps for numeracy, shapes, colours, etc. The graphics are a little over-stimulating but children seem to love them.

iPhone Screenshot 1
Sound Touch
Sound touch by Sound Touch (Free). A great app for children learning vocabulary or 2-3 year olds. Click the cartoon animal and
see a photo of a real animal whilst hearing the sound that animal makes. Great for independent play or part of a group time. Categories include domestic and wild animals, birds, musical instruments, household items and transport. A great and easy app for bubs.

Giraffe’s Matching Deluxe by Tomato Interactive (Free). Standard memory match game with varying levels of challenge. Straight
forward and easy to pick up.

Photo touch Farm Animals; by Grasshopper Apps (Free) A basic photo match game. Easy to use and suitable for toddlers through to early preschool.

Also check out; I Like Books - 37 photo books in one. Great for early literacy. This is a paid app but one I thought worthwhile given the amount of content you get and quality of the photos. Mostly US terminology. 

What Does Not Belong by Brain Go LLC (Lite version Free): Pick from 5 photos the item that does not belong in the category and throw it in the trash bin. Some are a little hard to figure out! Lite version is free - if your children like it, you can fork out the $1.99 for the full version.

Numeracy Apps
iPad Screenshot 1
Springbird Maths
Monkey Preschool Lunchbox by THUP Games. (Lite Version Free. Full version 99c). One of a series, this cute and easy app reinforces colour, shape and object identification and has varying levels for children to progress through. Also check out the rest of the range. Worth the upgrade to full version. Some US terminology.

Springbird Maths Becomes very hard very quickly for preschoolers but would be great for those who are already familiar with math concepts and can identify numbers on their own. More suited to early primary. Pay for more levels and packs to unlock further gameplay.

Kids Patterns  by Laura Bangerter. Sequencing and number recognition suitable for 5-6 year olds who can identify numbers on their own. This is a paid app but there is also a lite version available to trial.

Feel Clock by Codsworks (Free): Great for teaching the time in a group setting. Would also be suitable for home use but it is not a game as such, rather a tool for teaching the time. I love that it teaches analouge primarily.

Tangrams; There are 100's of tangram apps for children and adults on the net. Unfortunately they are all call "tangrams" so I naturally can't find the link to the one I tested. But I've linked to a better one at the end of the paragraph anyway. Basic tangrams game. Way too many written instructions for pre-schoolers but click them through to the puzzle page and they will take off. One puzzle on the lite version. Unlock the full version at cost for 110 puzzles. Alternatively spend 99c and get this app instead for a higher quality graphic.

My Top Pick for Free Apps for Numeracy
Play Lab Series. By CJ Educations (Free) Play Lab and Play Lab 1 2 3 are awesome free apps that are fantastic for younger children from as early as 2 years (should you choose to use an ipad for children this young, be sure to limit screen time).

iPad Screenshot 2
Play Lab 
* This is not a paid review. I have not received any compensation from the makers of ipad or the apps listed. All graphics are sourced from itunes. All opinions are entirely my own.