Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Toys, games and fun...

...without spending a penny.

 You might remember some of these activities from your own childhood, I know I do.

Make musical instruments.
Take a shoe box, or any other reasonably sturdy cardboard box, cup a hole in the top if needs be, and wrap a few elastic bands around it to be the strings. A cardboard tube from some kitchen roll can be stuck on the end of the box to complete the guitar look.
Make a simple shaker out of an empty plastic bottle filled with pasta or rice.
Put together a drum kit from pots, pans and wooden spoons for drum sticks.
Fold a piece of paper over a comb.
Fill glasses with varying amounts of water, and 'play' them by running a damp finger around the edge of each glass.
Make a microphone out of a loo roll tube and some scrunched up paper.

Now the weather is beginning to warm up, playing with water is starting to look like fun again. Empty margarine tubs and yogurt pots, and a washing up bowl half filled with water can entertain small children for ages. These is no need to spend money on water pistols, save rinsed out plastic squeeze bottles instead. As well as squirting water at each other (which is always fun!), you could use chalks to sketch out a target range on an outside wall.

Make dolls out of old fashioned wooden pegs, or a wooden spoon. A few felt tips to draw on the face, and a few scraps of fabric, tissue paper, or even kitchen roll are all you really need.

Homemade jigsaw puzzles. If you have an old calendar, or a picture book that you are throwing out, you could cut out a picture, and cut it out into as many shapes as you think your child can manage. If you want it to last longer, then you could stick the picture down onto thin card (maybe from a cereal box) before you cut it up.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Free ways to have fun...

...with your family.

 First, step away from the TV! There are much more exciting things to do. Also, you won't have to watch adverts that make you want more and more STUFF.

 Do some colouring together. I don't know about you, but when I was a child I used to love colouring in pictures. You can print some lovely colouring pages from the Internet, from children's characters to beautiful, intricate designs. Sitting and colouring together can be a lovely time to have a chat, relax together and bond with your child.

 Build a fort/castle/den. Remember when you were a child how much fun it was to construct a hiding place out of furniture, blankets and boxes? Join in with your children and build one now! It can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. Add a torch and a snack, and you have doubled the fun!

  Fly a kite. If you have one already, then use that. If not, google instructions and you will find lots of simple tutorials showing you how to make a simple kite out of stuff you probably already have around the house.

 Make some nature wall art. Go for a walk together and gather leaves, sticks, grasses...whatever catches your eye. Take them home and use them to put together some art. Perhaps you could make a decorative wreath, or a collage of some kind.

Monday, 11 March 2013

"There is no dignity...

...quite so impressive, and no independence quite so important, as living within your means."

Calvin Coolidge

What I will be eating this week...

This month I decided to split my £200 monthly grocery budget into four, and shop in different ways each week. I thought it would be fun (maybe I need to get out more!). So last week, I did all my shopping at the local shops within walking distance of my home. It was a huge success. I stayed within budget, and was able to buy a good variety of good quality, reasonably priced food.
 This weekend, though, I was insanely busy, and had to leave the shopping in the hands of my husband. He was a bit nervous about it, actually. He's a capable man, but just doesn't have any experience of shopping for a whole week, because that is usually my responsibility. I put the £50 into an envelop, and on it gave him a rough outline of the things we would need. He dropped me and our daughter at the train station at 6.30am, and went straight from there to the nearest 24hour supermarket. He did a great job, and only exceeded the budget by 12p. He bought a good deal more meat than I usually would, and a bit less fruit and veg, but there's enough for us to get by on.

So, this week, I am planning our meals around what he bought.

This evening my daughter and I will be having dinner with my mum. My husband won't be in until later, and can have pasta and pesto, with some nice olives and capers. I will have some ladies around for a bible study and prayer group, so if I have time I will whip up a few quick, simple muffins to serve as snacks.

I shall put a small chicken into the slow cooker before I leave for work, and I will serve this with new potatoes and vegetables.

The chicken will provide enough for two meals. I might chop up leftover chicken and vegetables and mix it with a white sauce. I can top this with sliced, leftover potatoes, and reheat it in the oven.

I won't be home from work until about 8-30pm, so I shall make use of the slow cooker again to provide a quick and easy meal for my husband and daughter. I will put a piece of gammon into the slow cooker in the morning before I leave for work, and it will be delicious by dinner time. That can be served with salad and crusty bread. The remaining ham can be used for sandwiches.

I haven't planned a particular meal. Friday is usually when we use up and odds and ends from the freezer, or have beans or egg on toast.

This plans means that the minced beef and the pack of stewing steak that my husband bought have not yet been used. They can used next week instead :-)

Friday, 8 March 2013

Multiplying a meal...

...to accommodate unexpected guests.

From time to time we have unexpected guests to join us for a meal. Perhaps friends or relatives drop in, or my husband quite often invites friends and colleagues over at short notice. I have found it really useful to develop a few 'tricks' for stretching a meal to feed an unexpected guest or two (or even more!).

I don't usually serve a starter, but this can help to stretch a meal. This might be as simple as cutting some carrot sticks, opening a packet of crisps or breadsticks, and mixing up a simple dip. Alternatively, I often have batches of homemade soup in the freezer, that can be defrosted quickly in the microwave. A cheap, simple vegetable soup can be made 'fancy' by topping with some grated cheese, or a big crouton made from a slice of French bread.

Providing extra side dishes can bulk out a meal simply and cheaply. I often stock up of vacuum packs of  part-baked loaves, and these are lovely to serve warm along side many main meals. Extra rice or pasta can easily stretch a meal like chilli or bolognese. Rice or pasta can also form the basis of a nice salad, and with the addition of just a few bits of finely chopped salad veg (eg cucumber, tomato, grated carrot, beetroot etc), mixed up with a bit of dressing will make a substantial, last minute side dish.

If I am serving something like a sausage casserole, I will cut the sausages up into smaller pieces. One sausage each would look pretty meal, but lots of smaller slices looks much more generous!

If I'm trying to stretch a roast dinner, I might not have any more meat to offer, but I can usually find more veg, like maybe a packet of frozen peas. If I need to serve lots of potatoes to bulk out the meal, I might try and serve them in two different ways, like mash and roast.

A substantial pudding can really help too. I don't often serve pudding, but I might do if I have guests. Pancakes are a really useful idea to have up your sleeve. I almost always have the basic ingredients to make pancakes, and I can usually find something to fill them with. Chocolate spread, golden syrup, lemons and sugar are all saples in my home, most of the time. Or I might slice up a couple of apples, fry the slices, and top them with some cinnamon and brown sugar. These make a lovely pancake filling, and just a couple of apples go a long way sliced up like this. The pancakes could be served with cream, or ice cream if you have it, or just a sprinkle of icing sugar to pretty it up.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

You can never...

...get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough for me.

Said C S Lewis, a man after my own heart.

Happy World Book Day! X

"Why do I read?...

I just can't help myself.

I read to learn and to grow, to laugh and to be motivated.

I read to understand things I've never been exposed to.

I read when I'm crabby, when I've just said monumentally dumb things to the people I love.

I read for strength to help me when I feel broken, discouraged, and afraid.

I read when I'm angry at the whole world.

I read when everything is going right.

I read to find hope.

I read because I'm made up not just of skin and bones, of sights, feelings, and a deep need for chocolate, but I'm also made up of words.

Words describe my thoughts and what's hidden in my heart.

Words are alive - when I've found a story that I love, I read it again and again, like playing a favourite song over and over.

Reading isn't passive - I enter the story with the characters, breathe their air, feel their frustrations, scream at them to stop when they're about to do something stupid, cry with them, laugh with them.

Reading for me, is spending time with a friend.

A book is a friend.

You can never have too many."

                             - Gary Paulsen, 'Shelf Life : Stories by the Book'