Half-term stress no more

We’ve only just had the Christmas holidays with the kids off school but next week they’re at it again, being at home and not in the hands of their teachers for a week. A whole week.

I think I’m a bit of a stressy person and being a wheelchair user I find there are a lot of things I can’t do with the kids that I wish I could, and would certainly do if I was more able. Our kids don’t go without exciting adventurous activities, but when it comes to half-term I try and think of simple things that we can do at home, or cheaply out and about which will keep them entertained and my sanity intact.

1. Cook things. Cakes, biscuits, the evening meal, anything really. Get the kids involved in chopping food, measuring and pouring. Cooking with kids can indeed be very stress inducing but if you resign yourself to the fact that it may all go wrong, you’ll get very messy and they will undoubtedly lick their fingers and then touch the food again, anything good that comes from it is a bonus! You are not obligated to eat the food that they have helped make.

2. Go out for a colour walk. Get outside either to a park or the woods or even just into town and get the kids to collect things of every colour. A green leaf. A brown stick. A pink shell. A read leaflet. You get the idea. Make a collage at home. Channel your inner Blue Peter goddess.

3. Write a story. Each day of the week write a paragraph to a story. Have a character each that you can name and draw. Even do one story each but don’t read anything aloud until the end of the week. I think my almost 7 year old will love this. You could even type them up or scan them in if you can work a piece of technology. Scanners never work though do they.

4. Have a charity toy sort out. This is really decluttering sugar-coated as a fun activity. But your kids will probably know better which toys they still play with and which they don’t. You can even explain to them that some children don’t have money to buy toys and so we can give up some of the things we no longer need so that they can be loved by someone else. Take the children with you to the charity shop, or a local hospital to donate the toys. They’re more likely to want to help people if they can understand why it’s needed, by seeing for themselves how it is appreciated by others.

5. Make mosaics. Cut up bits of magazine, newspapers or junk mail and make beautiful coloured pictures. You could even buy some blank cards that they can make into birthday or greetings cards for their family, friends and teachers.

6. Make sock puppets. There are ALWAYS odd socks at the back of the drawer that you’ve put there in the hope that one day they will be reunited with their twins but let’s face it. It’s not happened for 6 months. It’s not going to happen. Get out the sharpie pens, glue, scissors and coloured paper and make sock monsters.

7. Make smoothies. Grab the fruit that’s going a bit brown, chuck it in the blender with some milk or yoghurt and get the kids to press the button (they always want to press the bloody button). Snack sorted.

8. Go to the beach. If you live by the coast, that is. Throw pebbles into the sea. Build rock towers. Bury your feet. By a box of 4 supermarket own-brand Cornettos for £1 and act like you’re the best parent ever for getting the kids ice cream at the beach even though it’s February. (And not been robbed of over £10 on 4 ice creams from the counter). Discreetly steal some pebbles and take them home to draw on or paint. They have now made a paperweight for Nanny’s birthday.

9. Get the kids dusting and polishing. Seriously they love it. My kids squeal with excitement if they get to ‘do the spray’. Of course, this needs to be supervised so they don’t end up spraying Mr Muscle in their eyes or drinking Dettol, but kids enjoying cleaning can only be a good thing. Just remember to keep the products out of reach of very little ones, but they can certainly use a cloth to do some questionable wiping. My parents used to let me and my brother tie dusters to our feet and slide around the French parquet flooring in our hallway. Great fun.

10. Read books! It’s the simplest thing ever but I remember being at my Gran’s for half term as my mum had to work still, and we’d walk to the local library and pick up a few books and I’d lay back fully reclined in my Granddad’s La-Z-Boy arm chair and reading entire Babysitters Club books in one day (I was very proud of myself). But there was no Sky TV or Netflix or apps to play on. There were real books and my brother and I loved it, despite trying to claim we were bored. Having said that…

“But Mummy I’m booored”

11. Let them be bored. Like I’ve just said, I remember being bored as a child. But in hindsight this was definitely not a bad thing. I think kids need to be bored from time to time. They don’t need constant entertainment and amusement all day every day. I do most of my best thinking and mental planning when I’m bored in the car on long journeys (if Rafe is asleep and the girls aren’t arguing). But I think a bit of ‘boredom time’ is good for their brains. It gets them thinking. It gets them inspiring and motivating themselves to do something else and use their imagination. Kids have fabulous ideas of their own. If you let them get a little bored every now and then, they’ll access those little sparks of ingenuity.

12. Put a movie on. There is absolutely nothing wrong with putting trashy TV or a cheesy film on for the kids whilst you get the proper housework done or if you need to sit and chill for a bit or feed the little one. Children won’t turn into vegetables just because they’ve had a bit more screen time than in their usual week. If they are really into a funny game on the ipad then let them indulge themselves. There are also loads of apps available that look like games but are actually teaching little ones basic maths, phonics and music skills. My daughter uses Times Tables Rock Stars at school and also at home on the iPad and it is very game-like whilst also getting her maths up to speed, and more.

13. Open a home beauty salon. This is where you cover the house in newspapers and allow the children to paint your nails. Or let them loose with the hair-stuff box and attack you with 3000 hair clips, which you’ll still be pulling out of your own hair at 9pm. Look how pretty…

I think those are most of the things I’ll be doing with the kids in half term. Of course there will also be the inevitable food shop with children that I can’t avoid, and because of the stress that might cause, we will probably also go for brunch in Wetherspoons on one of the days. Who would’ve thought pancakes and maple syrup in a gastro-pub would be such a good bribe for good behaviour.

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How to shop wisely as a family

I’m a 31 year old mum of 3, who also happens to be a wheelchair user. So as a household of 5 (although my partner pretty much eats for about 3 people, whilst remaining lean and a healthy weight. Grr) we need to think carefully about how we spend our money.

I would like to think I’m quite savvy when it comes to the weekly food shop. For the 5 of us, we probably spend about £50 a week on food. Maybe a little more at the weekends if we have lunch out somewhere.

Here are my ‘mum’/’parent’ tips on how to shop well for a family.

1. Shop in smaller supermarkets..I don’t mean the ‘local’ smaller versions of big supermarkets like Sainsburys Local or Tesco Express, because they tend to increase the prices in those conveniently located stores and don’t stock as many cheaper ranges as the bigger versions of their shops. I mean ‘discount’ supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl. Anyone who knows me will know that I find it hard to go a day or two without mentioning something I’ve bought at Aldi. I’m a self-confessed superfan.

I like the lack of choice. You want mature cheddar? There are probably 3 options at most. Including one brand name. It’s not going to take you long to work out which one is best value for money.

For your general weekly food shop you don’t need to spend over an hour in a mahoosive superstore where you’ll end up walking about 3 miles, and if you forget something from the back of the shop it’s going to take you several wasted minutes to get back there. To the wine. You forgot wine didn’t you? See, if you shopped at Aldi you’d know it is right by the till. Genius.

2. Try cheaper alternatives. I’m a big fan of buying mostly ‘basics’ items, ie, the cheapest option. They’re not always the most luxury item, and if that’s a problem for you, try the next one up, usually still a store’s own line. Seriously, I find it hard to understand why anyone would need to spend extra buying the leading brand of baked beans. I have tried them, and I’ve also tried all the cheaper ones and I honestly wouldn’t buy branded baked beans if I won the lottery tomorrow. I am a big fan of the budget bean, and if you live with someone who will only eat their trusted brand of canned baked beans, get them to do a blind taste test, or just trick them into eating cheaper ones and see if they notice. Even if they do notice or still swear that branded is better, consider if it’s worth the extra money? Or if you should live together.

I’m not saying you must by the cheaper options of every item on your list, but you should definitely try other alternatives.

3. Plan your meals. I sometimes get stuck in a bit of a meal rut and end up cooking the same things week after week. But it’s a good idea to get some other ideas, the BBC Good Food page is handy, as is the Change 4 Life website, for lunches, snacks and evening meals. Write a list of what you want to cook, say on a Monday morning and then you know what you need to buy to make those meals.

My favourite weekday meals for our family are pretty simple and don’t take too long to make. By planning in advance you can then do…

4. Bulk/batch cooking or cooking several meals in one session. It’s really easy once you’ve chopped up a load of vegetables to make several different meals in one go. If you’re chopping an onion for a bolognese, chop up a couple more or use a food chopper to make it quicker. Do the same with peppers and garlic for example, and then portion the piles of veg out into their intended meal-deployment roles and you’ve got the tedious part of cooking each meal out of the way in one go.

Meal suggestions I use regularly are bolognese (serve with spaghetti/pasta/potatoes/salad), chilli (pork mince is a bit of a different option and I kind of prefer it as a mince), lasagne, stuffed chicken breasts with cream cheese and pesto, carbonara, stir-fry, egg fried rice, curry, chicken and bacon salad.

5. Stock up on cupboard essentials like chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, stock and herbs/spices. Try not to buy packet mixes of spices or sauces. They are usually very high in sugar and salt and are extremely expensive for the amount you get, which is normally only one meal’s worth.

6. Raid the freezer sections! Frozen veg is amazing and can be really good value for money. It can also make cooking healthy meals a lot quicker and simpler as you can get a really good range of frozen ready-chopped veg in many supermarkets. Even things like chopped garlic, chilli and coriander are available which is a great time saver! If you have any sort of disability that means you find chopping food difficult this can be a really good life hack! I have just ordered my first Iceland frozen food shop and I shall be receiving it on Friday, at which point I’ll review how good it is!

7. Use leftovers. If you’ve cooked a few meals in one go at the beginning of the week there will probably be some left when it gets toward the end of the week. You might have a ‘kitchen tapas’ array of different meals on your plate such as a bit of lasagne and a bit of curry but who really cares? It’s food and it’s all going down the same way! Everyone knows chilli tastes so much better the next day, right?! If the leftovers don’t amount to enough for one or two adult portions, use them for the kids’ dinner. You can make small amounts go a long way for kids by adding a bit of pasta, beans, peas or a baked potato.

8. Write lists and stick to them. This doesn’t mean you can’t buy any sneaky little treats for the evenings after the kids have had monumental meltdowns and you need some chocolate, but plan it. Go to the sweet stuff aisle and choose something for when you have those cravings. Other than that, if you’ve planned your meals and written down what you need to get for each meal, shopping should be quite straightforward. A good idea is to go through the cupboards and fridge/freezer before shopping to see what you already have lurking in the depths of the kitchen, which means you might need to buy as much as you thought.

9. Don’t shop hungry! I honestly do this way too often. I tend to shop about late morning before my 4 year old goes to gymnastics and by that point I’m usually very hungry. I end up putting tasty treats in the trolley when I’ve actually already got stuff at home that I could’ve had before. It’s probably more sensible to eat some toast or something before shopping or you’ll end up being led by your ravenous thoughts when shopping rather than your more sensible ones.

10. Whose kids are really helpful in the supermarket? Anyone? No? No, because kids are annoying and they’re even more annoying when they can see My Little Pony magazines and luminous jelly sweets and novelty socks in the middle aisles (of joy) in Aldi. It’s very repetitive and frustrating to have to keep saying ‘no’ to their requests and you’ll either get cross or feel bad and buy them the things they pick up. Neither of which you really want to do. So unless you’re a very organised parent and have hand-drawn an illustrated shopping list, with clipboard and pencil so they can tick things off, it’s probably best for all parties if you try and get the shopping done when they’re at school or nursery. I don’t always have the option and believe me, it’s not always fun to shop with toddlers and young children!

I think those are most of my favourite tips and tricks for savvy supermarket shopping. Don’t forget to leave me a comment if you have anything else that you’ve found helpful as a parent trying to their best with the weekly food shop.

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Is it because he’s a boy?

I have 3 kids. The youngest of whom is nearly 17 months. He is a ‘he’. The other two are girls and despite my best efforts to not classify some of his behaviour as just ‘being a boy’ (which I really hate hearing. They’re children, they’re all different and I don’t want to be told that boys or girls will necessarily behave a certain way because of their being born a girl or a boy), he definitely seems to have a very specific difference in his personality in that he won’t stop climbing. On everything. Everything. The dining table. The coffee table. The bedside table. The TV stand. The bookshelf. My desk. Me. The shoe box. The other shoe box. The stairs. The toilet. His sister’s bed. Our sanity.

Call the Health and Safety brigade!

Some of it, is fine. It doesn’t bother me that he constantly wants to climb on his sister’s bed. In fact it’s quite cute. He climbs up, gets under the covers and lays his head down. It will be lovely when he’s big enough for his own bed. For now, he still sleeps in his cot (Haha! I say ‘sleep’, and then I laugh to myself and say ‘don’t lie to the readers of your blog. He doesn’t sleep!’) but bizarrely his cot is pretty much the only piece of furniture he hasn’t tried to scale. Yet. He probably will have by the time I publish this.

We thought, stupidly I guess, that getting out the little slide for him to climb up, and slide down gleefully would suppress his desire to climb everything else. But we were wrong.

We thought, stupidly I guess, that being away in a different environment for the holidays at Christmas would mean that once we got back, he might be over this phase and not be bothered by walking along the dining table every 3 minutes. But nope.

We thought, stupidly I guess, that removing him and saying firmly ‘No. We don’t climb on there/get down/we sit on chairs’ for about 4 months now, would mean that he may have gotten the memo by now. He did not get the memo. The memo was quite bloody obvious but was ignored.

He is pretty much disinterested in anything which doesn’t involve physical exertion. Play with other, actual toys is short-lived.

He played with the calculator for about 27 seconds.

One day, he had better be some sort of sporting hero, or an explorer famed for his courageous ascent of Everest in just his pyjamas or something. Then when he’s rich he can pay for our psychological therapy for these times when he drove us completely fucking mental because he just will not give it a rest.

Currently all 8 of our dining chairs are laying on their backs on the floor. The room looks untidy and like it’s got squatters living in it (we’ll blame his sisters for that bit), but despite not having any chairs to clamber on, he’ll find something else.

I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t be driving me quite so mad if I was able to easily grab him off of each thing he climbs up in a split-second. But being in a wheelchair makes grabbing a toddler from the middle of the dining table pretty difficult. Even more so because I don’t have much use of my hands either. Maybe I should explain to him about discrimination and mummy not being able to pluck him off of the bookshelf and how unfair this kind of behaviour is to me as a disabled parent he might rethink his decisions. Yeah right.

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