Friday, 7 June 2013

Craft: Crochet Ice Cream Cones

I haven't had a lot of time for crafts and blogging lately as uni has been taking up some of my time in the evenings. My shawl (that I wrote about last week) hasn't grown very much and I needed a small crochet project to get me motivated to keep working on it. That's how these crochet ice creams came to be!  

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Craft: Work-in-Progress Hilo Shawl

I have a wedding to go to in mid July and it's presented a bit of challenge in terms of what to wear. The ceremony will be outside if all goes according to plan and it's likely to be cold (I'm in Australia so it will be the middle of winter). I've found it really difficult to find a nice dress with long enough sleeves to keep me warm. In the end I gave up and bought this cute dress from ModCloth. It has no sleeves at all, I'm going to be freezing!

Friday, 24 May 2013

Craft: Crochet Bunny and Invisible Decreases

I've been crocheting amigurumi for several years now and it's taken me this long to learn that there is such a thing as an invisible single crochet decrease! 

Made with invisible decreases!

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Craft: Mother's Day Granny Stitch Scarf

I hope everyone had a great Mother's Day! 

My Mum has admired the granny stitch scarf I have been working on several times now and I thought a similar scarf would make a perfect Mother's Day present. I couldn't give Mum the one I was working on of course, which only left me with ten days to make another one. I have been crocheting it at every spare moment to get it done in time. Luckily granny stitch is relaxing and easy to do while reading or watching TV and I managed to get the scarf finished with one day to spare! 

Friday, 3 May 2013

Personal Finance: Breaking Up With My Insurance Provider

I’ve known for a while now that my car insurance fees were some kind of rort. My small, reliable, low cost car is worth somewhere between $10,000 and $12,000, and I was paying $143 a month for comprehensive car insurance. $143 a month is $1,716 a year. That means I’ve been paying almost 20% of the car’s value every year to insure it, despite my little household’s perfect driving histories, low annual kilometres and a locked garage. I’m the proverbial little old lady who only drives her car once a week to the supermarket, and instead I was being charged like I’m the stereotype of an 18 year old p-plater who’s quite keen on street racing and drink driving.

My dream car! I will own one someday.
Luckily for me, my crappy car insurance company gave me a push to change policies by increasing my fees yet again. To $157 a month, which is $1,884 a year. I repeat: $1884 a year to insure a car worth $12,000 at most. Take a moment to consider how ridiculous that is. I would have to total my car every six years to make that policy worthwhile!
I’d already created a “car replacement fund” able to well and truly cover the cost of replacing the car if I was to total it, as it seems to me that any frugal girl should be preparing for the future. So what was the obvious solution? To take out a third party fire and theft policy so that I wouldn’t be screwed if I hit a Ferrari, and cancel the comprehensive car insurance.
When I called the insurance provider I’d picked as a good bet for a new policy, the very helpful customer service rep explained an amazing phenomenon to me: if your car is worth over $10,000, you can’t get covered for anything less than comprehensive car insurance because it would give you the right to sue the insurance company for under-insuring you. I asked if this was standard across the insurance industry and he told me that for some insurers the limit is only $5,000. Basically, insurance agencies and our legal system assume that you are unable to make decisions for yourself and that you don’t understand what the policy you’re taking out actually means. Otherwise how can you have the ability to successfully sue for your choice to buy a policy that doesn’t cover your car’s value in its entirety?
I was not impressed that my plan to only have a third party policy wouldn’t work. I don’t want to go without insurance at all in case I hit that Ferrari.
However, this story has a happy ending. The customer service rep was able to sell me a policy for $1,074 a year, or just under $90 a month. That’s cheaper than any of the quotes I received from other insurance providers for comprehensive car insurance. It’s not as cheap and cheerful as that third party policy would have been, but it’s an annual saving of $810. It turned out to be very good timing as I had to pay close to $800 for dental work this week. 
My actual car! Which is clearly a Beetle copycat. I love you, Micra.
Just because a service provider was the cheapest option when you last looked, doesn’t mean that’s still the case. When I first had to purchase car insurance three years ago, the provider I picked was by far the cheapest for my circumstances. Now they appear to be very overpriced compared to market standards. My circumstances have changed in that time, and maybe the insurance market has too. This doesn’t just apply for insurance: when was the last time you shopped around for an internet provider, or ran a price comparison on different mobile phone contracts?
Look at whether you really need insurance. I’m still planning to drop down to a third party policy when my car’s value is lower. A different policy may be a better fit than your current one, and if you have a very large savings fund and the value of your vehicle is low, think about what you’re gaining from having insurance coverage. Some people wouldn’t be comfortable with the thought of paying for a new car out of pocket and would rather have insurance just for peace of mind, and that’s okay too.
If you’re friendly and you ask questions, you will receive a wealth of information. The customer service rep was willing to chat to me about all kinds of insurance issues. For example, do you know that if you live in a suburb with lots of car parks (e.g. close to the central business district or a shopping centre) your insurance premiums will be higher? That’s because people are causing accidents by reversing into each other’s cars in car parks and your premium is partly based on the statistics for your suburb.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Bought versus Homemade: Falafel Wrap

The café downstairs from my office sells super tasty falafel wraps. I love them! The falafel is spicy, the wrap is full of salad and tabouleh... I'm hungry just thinking about it.

But I'm really more of a "make it at home" kind of girl, so I decided to put together my own version and compare it to the café wrap.

Why yes, my chopping board IS bright green.
I used a shop bought wrap, baby spinach leaves, mayonnaise with minced garlic and herbs stirred through it, and the very awesome falafel recipe from Poor Girl Eats Well. I drop out the fresh coriander because it's too much effort, and add minced garlic because that's what I do with all savoury cooking.

Homemade falafel is not just tasty, it's nutritious (chickpeas are full of protein!) and it's also budget friendly. The recipe makes enough falafel for four lunches, and at $1 a can, that's four serves of falafel for $3 at the very most once you include the cost of the spices. I estimate the total cost of these falafel and spinach wraps at about $2 - $2.50 each. I want to make my own tortillas Sandra Reynolds style, which would a) reduce the cost quite a bit, b) make me feel like I'm the badass 1950s housewife I aspire to be.

Which is tastier? The honest answer is... both. They taste different, but they both taste great. So for me it comes down to not wanting to spend $7.50 on a café wrap when I can make one myself for $2.50 at the most, and the bragging rights of being able to casually say in the lunch room "yes, you really must make your own falafel if you want authentic flavour" in a snooty voice.

Winner: homemade!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Craft: Work-in-Progress - Granny Stripe Scarf

It seems like I've been waiting all summer for the weather to cool down so that I can start wearing scarves again. Now that it finally has I've begun crocheting my first scarf!

I was inspired to make the scarf after finding the yarn. I don't normally like novelty yarn, but this one was hard to resist with its tiny sequins and rich colour. In certain lights the yarn looks deep red and in others its almost a bright pink.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Craft: Experimenting with Craft Photography

For a while now I've been wanting to improve the pictures of my craft projects. I really admire some of the craft photography on blogs like Monsters Toy Box and Fresh Stitches. I came across this post from Caught on a Whim which details Erica's process for taking pictures for her blog. She makes it look so simple and uses very basic equipment - a low table, two pieces of foam board and a camera (she also recommends a furry assistant!). I found some foam board in a craft shop last weekend and set up a trial photo shoot. Unfortunately it was too late for natural light but I gave it a go anyway.

For subjects I used these cute tiny chickens that I have been knitting up for the Mochi Mochi photo competition. The pattern is from the Teeny Tiny Mochi Mochi book which I have previously raved about.

I decided to try experimenting with some bigger toys....

And then this happened... the background somehow disappeared...

I almost managed to take a picture with no visible background, replicating the pictures I like from other craft blogs. I have no idea what caused this to happen, but it was easier to get the effect if I took the picture from an angle where the vertical board couldn't be seen at all. These photos may be far from perfect but they have definitely inspired me to keep trying :-)

Monday, 15 April 2013

Craft: More Card Making

A few weeks ago I posted about a Stampin' Up card making class I went to and I liked it so much I went back for another class. In this class we made three cards which were slightly more involved than the cards and labels I made in the first class.

Here is a Mother's Day card that I made first. 

I really love the bright colours in this one. It was the simplest of the three cards to make. The only techniques involved were stamping and gluing! 

This next one is also a Mother's Day card. For this one I had to emboss the paper after it had been stamped using Stampin' Up's "Big Shot" machine. I actually got this completely wrong and got the embossed pattern on the wrong side of the card. I did the embossing on the right side and you can hardly tell... in the photo at least :-P

The third and final card is definitely my favourite. I think it's too somber for a Mother's Day card so I decided not to put a sentiment on it. The stamp in the middle is done with an interesting mirroring technique. Basically you stamp onto a piece of acetate or something similar that the ink isn't going to be absorbed by, and quickly transfer the mirror image from the acetate to the paper below. 

Another cool effect used in the card is the "paper stretching" technique, which is a way to create a border with shapes that are the same size - like the main image in this card and the black outline behind it. This is a lot simpler than it sounds (I was disappointed that there wasn't any stretching involved). The black outline started out the same size as the white piece in front of it. To "stretch" it you cut the paper in half down the middle, from point to point, and position the two halves out the sides of the main piece. In this case the black pointy tips stuck up at the top of the white piece and had to be cut off. 

Like the last class I didn't design any of these cards. I'm not sure if they were designed by Stampin' Up or the class instructor. Whoever designed them, they are pretty cute and I'm glad I'm now prepared with cards for Mother's Day!

Monday, 8 April 2013

Craft: Fresh Stitches Scrap Along

Do you have lots of balls of yarn that are too small to make anything with, but are too large to justify throwing away? If you do, the FreshStitches website has the answer! 


This month FreshStitches is hosting a scrap-along; a crochet-along using all your leftover bits of yarn. The idea is to create a "magic ball" using yarn scraps to create a colourful skein. FreshStitches has a post explaining how to join the different scraps together to create the magic ball. Here's the one I made. 

(The paper clip is my stitch marker!) 

It was fun crocheting with the "magic ball" and seeing all the different yarns come together in the finished piece. It was also nice crocheting with different types of yarn again. Lately I've been buying fairly cheap wool for making amigurumi, but some of my scrap yarn was from my days of knitting clothes for myself using fancy wool/cotton blends. 

I chose to make this cute monster for my scrap-along project. The pattern is called Lark. It's a FreshStitches pattern that is published on the KnittingFever website (this might disqualify it from the FreshStitches competition...oops!).  It was really fast to crochet and the pattern was nice and easy to follow. I like the funny oversized eyes! 

If you're not familiar with FreshStitches patterns you'll notice the texture of her patterns are different to most amigurumi. This really confused me the first time I saw it - I actually wondered if I had been crocheting wrong all this time! Now that I've made one of FreshStitches patterns I realise it's because the whole piece has been crocheted in the back loops. It does give a nice texture.

Here are some more pics of my scrappy monster.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Baking: Easter Treats

This year I decided not to buy Easter eggs for my family (with the exception of my twelve year old brother, I couldn't resist giving him some Angry Birds eggs). Instead I made my family this Easter banoffee pie!

I used the same recipe from my previous mini banoffee pie post, but used chocolate biscuits for the base and grated dark chocolate on the top.

The family were impressed with it, although we all had very small slices because it was very rich and sweet.

I also made some fudge (which I blogged about last year) and some chocolate hazelnut truffles. I neglected to take nice photos of either, but here's a shot of the pretty packaging I put them in. I found some cute icecream tubs in the shops as well as some Easter ribbon. I used this truffle recipe which turned out really well. Next time I make them I will write a proper post about them!

Hope you had a happy Easter! :-)

P.S. "We Can Have Everything" is now on Bloglovin if you would like to follow us there!
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Thursday, 21 March 2013

Baking: Mini Banoffee Pie

Every year my office puts on a lunch to celebrate Harmony Day. The idea is that everyone brings in a dish and we celebrate cultural diversity by eating way too much delicious and varied food. There was a huge range of dishes on offer including green curry, lamb biriyani, fried rice, pies and sausage rolls, pumpkin and fetta salad, roast lamb, and butter chicken curry. I brought mini banoffee pies for dessert. If you haven't heard of banoffee pie before the name come from banana and toffee. It's my mum's specialty so I've eaten a lot of really tasty banoffee pie. This was my first time making it however.

I used this recipe but I decided to make mini versions as it would be easier to share. I used a mini muffin tin to form the base of the pies. It ended up being very messy and time consuming but the end result was exactly like a large banoffee pie base only miniature.  

I was very worried that they would be difficult to get out once they'd set so I put a strip of baking paper under each pie. It definitely helped a lot when it was time to get them out!

Here's the finished product. They tasted very similar to my mum's banoffee pie and they were just so cute. I'm quite proud of them! They seemed to go down well at the work lunch because there wasn't a single one left to take home (luckily I saved a couple!). 

This is a very simple recipe and it's very hard to get it wrong. If you've never had it before it's definitely worth a try!

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Craft: Crochet Crab + A Tiny Hat Pattern!

Meet my latest crochet project, Mr Crochet Crab!

The pattern is from the blog Awkward Soul, but if you look at her website you will see that I have made a few slight modifications... Namely the moustache and top hat! Also I turned his front claws into pincers because a crab's not a crab if he can't pinch :-P

The pattern is nice and easy to follow. The only word of advice I can offer is to be aware of how tight your stitches are. I tend to crochet very tight stitches and this did not work well with the body of the crab as it made the edges of the first round stick up awkwardly. The problem was remedied by making sure my stitches had some stretch. It took a few attempts, but thankfully the project is small and can be completed very quickly.

I don't have an explanation for why my crab is moustachioed and top hatted, yet I'm rather pleased that I decided to add them. I think he looks like the monopoly man... If the monopoly man was a crab. If you want to add a small top hat to one of your crochet projects, here's how I made it.

Round 1: Sc six stitches into a magic circle (6 stitches)
Round 2: Sc twice in each stitch (12 stitches)
Round 3-6: Sc in each stitch (12 stitches)
Round 7: *Sc in the first stitch, Sc twice in the next stitch*, repeat until the round is complete (18 stitches)
Round 8: Sc in each stitch (18 stitches)

Unfortunately these photos of Mr Crab are not the best as I only just remembered to take pictures before giving him away as a birthday present and took them in a rush. I didn't notice all the shadows until I uploaded the pictures. Hopefully you can still appreciate some of Mr Crab's cuteness :-)

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Craft: Card Making

Since starting this blog I've wanted to expand my crafting horizons and last week I had a chance to try card making. I was invited to a Stampin' Up party by a friend and it turned out to be a lot of fun. I was expecting something like a Tupperware party where I'd be pressured into spending lots of money on pretty things I don't really need. Happily it was more of a craft workshop and I didn't feel obliged to buy anything (although I did of course :-P). 

At the class the participants were given supplies and guidance to make five projects. Here's what we got to make:

A "celebrate" card using embossed card and stamps. 

An Easter card. The stamp is coloured in with a water colour pen.

A butterfly tag using a butterfly hole punch and stamps.

And a cute dressed up Easter egg using stamps and a cut up flower punch for wings.

I also made a birthday tag but I gave it away before I had a chance to take photos!

I was really impressed with the class and all the pretty things that we got to make. None of the designs are my own, but I can see how it would be easy to make lots of lovely cards and tags with the right equipment. Unfortunately a lot of the equipment is fairly pricey; the machine used for embossing card costs over $100! Card making probably won't become the primary craft in my life, but it was nice to try something new. And who knows, I might give it a try once in a while now that I know how :-)

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Finance: Want To Stay Home With Your Babies? That'll be $300,000, Thanks!

Just the other day I asked my sister "are you sure you want to go back to work? It might be cheaper to stay home given the cost of childcare..."

Childcare is expensive, true. Most parents I know are paying $100 a day (no, I'm not joking) for junior to be looked after while they're at work.

But it looks like staying home has some serious financial downsides other than the loss of your salary.
MUMS taking time out from work to care for children until they start school face losing $160,000 in superannuation.
The savings hole has prompted calls for teenagers to be taught about the financial perils of being a stay-at-home mother.
The superannuation sacrifice blows out to almost $290,000 when women stay at home for a decade from the age of 30, calculations by financial research firm Canstar reveal.
One year out of the workforce costs $34,000, while three years out amounts to a $95,000 loss, it says.
I knew that being a stay at home mum for a year or two could impact on your super, but seeing the figures makes it real all of a sudden. $34,000 to take off a year?

Of course, my retirement plans don't really take my super into account. I feel like super is too hard to predict - you can't control the investments made past picking what kind of account you want, you can't control changing laws around super, you can't withdraw any money until you're 60. I want to be retired well before 60, and given that I'm committed to living within my means and deliberately building wealth, my super should just be gravy. (Let's keep those fingers crossed).

But there are a lot of parents out there who will be relying on their super in retirement, and it scares me that they could make decisions about whether to continue working or stay at home based on a less than complete understanding of the financial issues.

So is it worth it to stay home with your kids? Of course it is, if that's what you think is best for your family. But you need to know what that means for your financial situation, so that you can make an informed choice.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Baking: Dutch Spice Cookies

Mmm... these cookies are super spicy! Not for the faint hearted.

300g self raising flour
220g brown sugar
2 tbsp cocoa (preferably Dutch style cocoa)
2 tbsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
220g butter, softened.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius.
Sift together all dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Rub in butter.
Using a teaspoonful of dough at a time, roll into small balls and then flatten with a fork, on baking paper on good quality baking trays.
Alternatively, if you have a cookie forcer, use this to create fun shapes.
Bake for about ten minutes, or until just starting to darken at the edges.

I often sandwich my dutch spice cookies with a little vanilla icing (icing sugar combined with a very small amount of butter, and a little milk). This helps to offset the spiciness of the cookies.

I've given these cookies as presents a few times and I've been told that they're great when warding off morning sickness - maybe it's all the ginger??

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Finance: Would More Expensive Petrol Change Your Driving Habits?

This news article caused me to stop and think this week:
It is a hard sell, but economists from the Australian National University say Australians would be better off with a higher tax on petrol.
They have compared petrol prices around the world and say if consumers had to pay more at the pump here we would use less fuel and buy more efficient cars.
I've often thought, while reading personal finance blogs or news articles from America, you think your petrol is expensive? We pay way more! But apparently, we're not paying enough for people to switch to fuel efficient cars and drive less.

Australia (and particularly Perth) is extremely car dependent. Thing is, the excessive drivers of the world already have significant disincentives to drive. Getting stuck in traffic for hours, paying for petrol, paying for parking - which is $20 a day and up in the Perth central business district - and yet they still drive. I believe that petrol could cost $5 a litre and some people would still drive.

And the people who don't drive excessively? I'm not sure we're in it for the savings. Personally, I don't enjoy driving as much as I enjoy walking or taking public transport. There are times when I am happy that I can drive and own a car - it was particularly hard to get home from parties at night before I drove. But I didn't get my license until I was almost 23, and I coped just fine. I worked and studied, I lived out of home (alone!) and I didn't need a car.

These days, I live within a few kilometres of the city so I catch free central area transit buses, pay a very small amount to catch buses and trains further out into the 'burbs, and I walk a lot. I even walk home from work on a regular basis.

My point? I bought the smallest, most fuel efficient car I could find. But I bought a tiny car because it's a reliable brand, it's easy to park smaller cars, and I didn't see the point of a bigger car. Not because it was cheaper to run. And my household uses so little petrol that I sometimes forget that cars even need petrol. That's not a joke, though I am blonde so you can blame it on that if you like. To me, walking and taking public transport is just a part of who I am. I do it because it's convenient, it's less stressful than driving, I get more exercise by walking, it's good for the environment... But never once have I based my transportation decisions on saving money.

And that's why I think the people paying $20 a day to park next to the train station in the city centre won't change their ways.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Craft: Crochet Cats

In my post last week I mentioned that I wanted to make my Mum a crocheted cat for her birthday. I only started it a week beforehand, but I'm happy to say that I finished it in time! It wasn't easy however. Last week was a busy one for me as I've been preparing for a housemate to move in. This didn't leave a lot of time for crocheting cats! In addition to that I decided that the first pattern I made wasn't really right for Mum....

I made the Amineko cat pattern first. There's nothing wrong with the pattern. In fact it's a great pattern - I smile every time I see the kitty snoozing amongst the pillows on my sofa.

Or on top of the sofa.

Or on the bookshelf.

Even up a tree!

I thought he might be a bit too cartoonish for Mum. He's more cheeky than cute. Perhaps I just didn't want to let him go :-P

I decided to quickly crochet an alternative cat for Mum. I made this kitty.

The pattern is my own modification of the Spring Bunnies pattern from All About Ami. I'll post the modifications to the pattern soon. I'm glad I decided to make the second crochet kitty for Mum because not only do I get to keep the Amineko kitty for myself, the white kitty looks likes like my Mum's ragdoll William who has recently been shaved for the summer!