Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Escaping the daily grind

We're just back from our hols - part family-fest (Zurich), part stay-cation (north Wales).

Extraordinary things about visiting Switzerland:

• the 20min cab ride from airport to brother-in-laws place cost over £90. I nearly wept.
• the hills are alive with the sound of... cowbells. Real ones, not just in the movies. Must drive the poor things mad but the kids loved it.
• we paid £20 for a plate of sausage (just the one) and chips. More weeping - you get the idea. Serves us right for eating in mountain-top cafe. Jaw-dropping views though.
• wonderful kid-in-a-candy-store moment courtesy of my sister-in-law. An invitation to rummage through crates and crates of beautiful hardly-worn girls clothes and help myself for Little Sis. She'd even suggested we bring an empty case to fill (no brainer). Thrifty Mum heaven!
• the freshest air and cleanest water imaginable.

Wonderful things about visiting Wales:

• you can drive there and back for less than the cost of a 20min Swiss cab fare and they're practically giving away the pork&leek sausages (see above)
• reliving my childhood holidays through the eyes of our children (priceless)
• castles and
• my welsh rellies and their beautiful welsh language
• it only poured with rain on the day we were leaving

Shame about having to return to the real world and the day job but without the daily grind we wouldn't appreciate the breaks would we...

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Affordable nursery decor and other titbits

Things I saw and liked today on a successful 'look but don't touch/spend' stroll through the Flower & Gardening Festival at Oxford Castle:

Beads wrapped in vintage fabric and strung into necklaces and bracelets by Annabelle Lou Jewellery.

Animal Alphabet wrapping paper by Phoenix Trading which, for a quid, doubles as a barginous nursery poster. Ok, I admit to bending my no spending rule at this point. It matched Little Sis's bunting and charity shop wall hanging so well I couldn't resist.

Pygmy goats, ginger pigs and an Eglu full of ducklings. Aaaah.

Oh, and lots of beautiful garden plants. We are renting at the mo and I crave an outside space of our very own to work a little green magic on.

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Sunday, June 5, 2011

I grew up in a TV-just-once-a-week household and although I thought it pretty mean at the time I seem to be taking the same approach with our kids - for fear of turning their brains to blamange with hours and hours of the stuff. More on this neurosis of mine another time perhaps... I am aware there's a happy medium out there somewhere - let me know if you find it.

Anyway, Ginger (now almost 5) is currently obsessed with all things Animal so his TV ration is currently used on endless David Attenborough. Hooray for DVD box sets: Blue Planet and Planet Earth are faves. I picked these up on eBay and they've been worth their weight in gold. Us growups were totally hooked on the beeb's latest epic - Human Planet. This proved too 'exciting' (scary) for Ginger but the accompanying kids series 'Little Human Planet' is great if frustratingly short (5 min episodes). Check it out on iPlayer before its too late or read more in this 'Little Human Planet' blog posting by series producer Dale Templar.

Here are a few of our favourite web adventures on the animal theme:

Bembo's zoo has fabulous animal animations built from letters of the alphabet (above); google image or youtube searches for 'snow leapard' or whatever his heart desires; exploring slideshows and videos on ARKIVE - 'the ultimate multimedia guide to the world's endangered animals' (amazing quality); another goodie is DK's online animal encyclopedia; and for the most beautiful images check out the Wildlife Photographer of the Year online gallery, or even better see the exhibition in person - it is currently touring the UK. Be warned, the talent in the kids section is enough to make you weep.

You may not be surprised to hear that this latest phase includes a declaration from Ginger that he will be a wildlife photographer (complete with helicopter) when he grows up. Nice work if you can get it.

Our latest battle of wills is whether we will take Ginger to Africa on safari (we will not!). He's quite keen to go (understatement) and currently thinks pester power and the 'please, please, purleeeease' approach will work the way I can sometimes be persuaded to allow an extra episode of Planet Earth. Oh dear...

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bunting bonanza

Can a girl have too much bunting? I've tried, but have not yet found my limit.

When we traded up our bursting-at-the-seams 1 bed London flat for this home counties house with 3 nano bedrooms my first urge was to decorate the kids' rooms (when Ginger slept in our London living room we weren't so keen on kiddy decor). Little Sis bore the brunt of my new found nest-feathering which - you guessed it - took the form of bunting. I have very little natural talent in the craft department but it turns out any fool can bunt(?):

1) Take one pair of crimping scissors, a triangular paper template, several metres of ribbon and a collection of rags from your local charity store (chosen for their patterns and complimentary colours, not wearability).
2) Trace triangles onto fabric with a soft pencil and cut out.
3) Repeat until you can stand it no more.
4) Attach to ribbon
5) (optional, for extra Proud Mummy Points) Iron your bunting
6) Drape artfully across child's bedroom, but be prepared for them not to notice the transformation (now consider blogging about it to ensure someone appreciates your efforts)

Great fun. And fairly thrifty... It turns out eBay is rife with home business bunting makers who don't charge much more than I spent on materials but money can't buy that 'I made this myself' feeling and rooting round selvedge bins for great fabric was dangerously addictive.

And now Britain's gone bunting mad for the Royal Wedding and the early whiff of summer. We spent Will&Kate's big day at a friend's garden party complete with flags, union jack jelly and life size cardboard cutouts of the happy couple. Best of Blighty heaven.

To top it all I came across world-record quantities of bunting bedecking the Royal Festival Hall today, plus cute-as-you-like beach huts/ artists' studios along the South Bank waterfront. I think it might be summer :)

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Baby steps

Little sis has reached a first-stumbly-steps milestone (gait ranging from John Wayne to Zombie) and I have enjoyed the excuse to hit the shops. Although spending proper money in proper shops is often out of my comfort zone (when you know you could pay a smidgen of the price in a charity shop/ at a jumble sale/on ebay) children's shoes fall into a different category. Some kind of deep seated fear that I will damage her feet forever if they are not encased in Properly Fitted new shoes from a sensible source...

Thank goodness for Clarks Outlet stores. Ginger's feet have been clad, since he hit Zombie stage, in shoes from their Seven Sisters Rd store in London. Now we've gone all home counties Bicester Village is the nearest - dangerous since 'outlet shopping' at least implies money saving but the brands here are mainly pretty high end and their slashed priced goods are still beyond reach. Anyway, Clarks is Clarks... complete with sensible shoe fitters and fairly sensible prices (especially with the 25%+ discounts). Little Sis is now proudly stomping around in her First Proper Shoes :)

Before these we had quite a collection of beautiful baby girl shoes we'd been given, the vast majority of which would not stay on. What is the point? The only variety that reliably do are those soft leather ones with elasticated ankles. The big brands like Bobux cost almost £20 a pair but I discovered a wonderful company called Twinkle Toes Shoes who sell similar for £3.99. I love Ruby Red, but Spotty Dotty are great for matching pretty much anything.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A new era and a baby sister

Is March too late for a New Year's resolution? Let's see... A new baby, a new toy (iPhone) and a renewed enthusiasm for sharing thrifty thoughts, but less time than ever. This will be an experiment in (much) shorter but (much) more frequent footnotes on Raising Ginger - and now his little sister - on a shoe string budget, brought to you with the help of my little mobile friend.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Book swaps

My recent library posting got me in a very bookish frame of mind... so I've embarked on an experiment I've been meaning to try for a while: book swapping. I've plucked a name from the google soup and signed up to ReaditSwapit.com but there are many many options out there. Groups of wannabe swappers range from local to international networks, some meeting in person to discuss and handover their wares, others setting up swaps electronically and leaving the rest to the postman. I've gone for the appealingly anonymous and less time consuming online option. The Guardian compiled a list of bookswap sites last year and received some interesting feedback from both fans and phobes.

The books in my life that I couldn't bear to part with were safely boxed up in our cellar three years ago, to make way for Ginger's invasion of our home - Eric Carle and Mr Bump now jostle for space where Jeffrey Eugenides, Vikram Seth and Louis De Bernieres once announced my literary leanings. My modest collection of grown up books acquired (rather than borrowed) since then have now been split into Keep and Swap piles and the Swaps offered up to all at ReaditSwapit. The best bit is compiling a Wishlist of books you'd like to trade for, then using the search function to request swaps with users who have one of these on offer.

I'm a convert! I've recovered from the knockbacks my rash of initial swap requests generated and learned to check out people's profiles and reading tastes before suggesting a trade. By having some bestsellers on my list I've even had people competing for my books, leaving me in the great position of perusing all of their book lists to see who I'd rather swap with. If nothing takes your fancy you can always say no thanks and hang on until a better offer comes along. I've only been a member for a fortnight but already I've bagged myself four books I can't wait to read - each for the price of posting a paperback - and there is something so nice about receiving parcels through the good old snail mail. If you have a ReaditSwapit account or feel inspired to sign up, check out my ReaditSwapit Profile and perhaps we can do thrify business :)

So far I've seen little online action on the children's book swap front, but here's an inspiring tale from Slate.com... This thrifty mum (or 'Spartan Mom' in this case) has replaced the dreaded gift and goody-bag culture at her son's birthday parties with a book swap scheme. We haven't yet reached the stage where we're expected to invite all of Ginger's classmates over on his birthday - and presumably reciprocate, bearing gifts, for each of these 25 close friends - but I'm warned it can't be put off forever. Since we had to buy a cupboard taller than me to house the trappings of his 2nd birthday this scheme sounds very appealing. Now we just have to convert each of those classmates' parents to our frugle, oh-so-practical ways...