Category Archives: Activities

new year’s resolutions

STOP PRESS. I’ve been doing my tax return. I knew you’d all want to know because, really, if there’s anything more exciting than your own tax return, it’s someone else’s.

Anyway, in the midst of this scintillating exercise, and half way through a year’s worth of bank statements, I suddenly had a horrible realisation: a good third of my transactions, across the year, were either connected to Tesco or petrol.

What kind of a global citizen am I?! I thought I was a good traveller. I thought I took the bus as much as I could, and only used the car sparingly, but clearly I am deluded. I am as much of a petrol head as the next gas guzzler. I can’t afford all this petrol and it’s not good for the planet. But how else to transport two small children? I’ll take the bus when I can, obviously. But for those trips that require two or three changes on the bus, when you’re dragging two, tired and tantruming kids along with you? Not fun. I’d take the bike, but with two children? I don’t trust myself to balance two bike seats on my crappy old machine, and while I’d LOVE one of these, I can’t afford one. The idea of pulling them behind me in a trailer makes me shudder, especially on our traffic-laden roads… Thoughts?

The same goes for shopping. I do most of my vegetable shopping at the local market, and we get our meat delivered monthly from a brilliant farm (this one, as it goes, check it out… it doesn’t look cheap on the face of it, but having a single monthly delivery means we actually limit the amount of meat we eat and ensures its really good quality) But clearly, my assumptions that I was a relatively ethical shopper are just as much of a fantasy.

All those quick nips into the supermarket for pick up a last minute this, or a last minute that… they all add up. Not to a fortune, but to a significant amount. An amount I could really use trimming down on, spent in a place I’d rather not support. I’m no food zealot, but if I can shop elsewhere, support smaller businesses and do my bit for standing up to the Tescopolisation of the British high street, I’d really quite like to.

So what to do? I’ve been digging out and borrowing some thrifty cookbooks, like this one, and this, and I’m also embarking on a new year’s resolution to get a good store cupboard together: all the essential basics so that I have them to hand and don’t end up nipping to the Tesco Metro at short notice to pick things up. Dried goods, like lentils, rice, essential spices, olive oil…. Some friends of mine even have their own ‘buying group’ organised – a group of local friends who put in bulk orders collectively from this ethical supplier, making it cheaper for them all and better for the planet too…

Any ideas for me? What would be in your store cupboard of essentials?

The kids are going to wreck my house. HELP.


Green fingerprints on my lovely yellow wall…

Oh God. Have I made a terrible mistake? It’s only a week, now, till 15, unruly, overexcited, sugar fueled, adrenaline pumped four year olds descend on my house for J’s birthday party. WHY DID I HAVE TO DO A DIY PARTY AT HOME?! WHY DIDN’T I JUST HIRE A VENUE LIKE EVERYONE ELSE?!!!! WHY????!!!!!!!

Anyway, while I go away and breathe into a paper bag, it seems like a good time to share this guest post on how to prevent kids from wrecking your home. Notice, they don’t list ‘invite a tribe of them in and feed them cake’ among their suggestions…

Preventing expensive (child-induced) home damage repairs

No matter how much you limit the unnecessary expenses of bringing up a child, avoiding trendy trainers and costly days out, accidents happen. Repairs to the home, from re-painting scribbled walls to replacing a smashed window, are an inevitable drain on funds.

A recent study in the Daily Mail revealed the average amount of money a child costs their parents over £2,000 in domestic repairs by the age of 10. The shocking statistics regarding the most common causes of damage and the reality of the financial burden destructive activity can become really give parents plenty to think about.

Almost 30% of the parents questioned claim to put money aside in case a surprise accident or destructive behaviour resulted in a sudden payout – demonstrating just how prevalent this issue is.

Here are some tips for avoiding expensive damage:

Get covered

If you have a young family and can relate to these new figures, it’s worth looking into More Than home insurance accidental damage cover to protect you against those accidents that can really add up. Accidental damage cover will help cover the cost of any repairs or replacements you need around the home and can be added as part of your home insurance policy.

Keep them occupied

The threat of clumsy breakages, spillages and general destruction is so severe that 22% of parents feel the need to never leave their child alone in a room. Making sure the kids are entertained is the simplest way to ensure you don’t have to resort to such extreme measures and allow yourself to relax when your back is turned.

Set them up with some (washable) pens and paper to get creative, teach them how to make paper planes or dig out the board games.  You’ll be amazed at the simple toys and games which can keep kids entertained.

Put breakables out of reach

It may seem obvious, but with 25% of parents saying they simply can’t buy anything breakable in anticipation of finding them broken within months of purchase, taking extra measures to protect anything fragile is worth the effort.

Vases in cupboards, scissors in drawers and sofas covered in spill-proof blankets could end up saving you a significant sum. Valuable electricals like tablets and phones are common calamities, and so easily left around the house by us adults – just in grabbing distance of small hands.

Try keeping a secured and lidded box somewhere up high to store your gadgets in so that little fingers can’t reach.

A comprehensive (ish) list of 15 foods we all eat

1) Baked potatoes. But sweet ones, not white ones. Unless one particular member of the family is feeling unusually benevolent/tired/distracted (for which read: ‘the TV is on’)

2) Mashed potato. But the white kind, not the sweet kind (even though it is EXACTLY the same in colour, shape, form, consistency, texture, taste and smell as the inside of baked sweet potatoes – see above). Also, prepare for every 30 seconds to be punctuated with the question, “But is there LOTS of butter in it?” and to suffer the consequences if you dare to deviate from the response, “YES.”

3) Risotto. As long as you call it rice not risotto and you serve one family member’s peas on the side, not mixed in.

4) Roasted butternut squash. As long as you call them ‘chips’.

5) Sausages and chicken. But not the ones with bits in/on/near them.

6) Fish pie. See above and wipe thoughts of sneaking small quantities of spinach past the palace taste tester.

7) Beetroot. Relished in juice form, or chocolate cake form. LOATHED in anything remotely resembling its natural form.

8) Porridge. With or without honey, as long as the question “but is there LOTS of honey?” is answered in the affirmative.

10) Greek/natural yoghurt. Doesn’t need to be fruity, or sugary, as long as you follow the rule above.

11) Carrots, peas, avocados. As long as you have previously offered spinach and then backed down into accepting either of these three instead.

12) Omelettes. But not scrambled eggs. And always accompanied by body weight in grated cheese.

13) Pasta and red sauce. On good days, you can grate other vegetables into this, but if you fail to whizz them into total and utter obliteration, on your own head be it.

14) Pancakes. Sweet and savoury. The latter can have cauliflower mixed into the batter but OHMYGODWHATEVERYOUDO remember the rule above.

15) Chocolate and cheese. In all forms. We are extremely flexible and relaxed when it comes to chocolate and cheese.

Any other ideas for foods to simultaneously satisfy adults, a four year old and a one year old?!

Carbon monoxide awareness week (and other catchy blog post titles…)


(The Cupboard of Domestic Disgrace, aka: where we hide our boiler and shame)

Given the Scrooge-like nature of this blog, you would not believe the number of emails I get from companies who “just wanted to say, hiya! Hope the weather isn’t getting u down! Wondered if you’d be interested in our new line of toys/range of designer handbags/trendy kids clothes/handy microwave meals/educational books/revamped hotel rooms…”

Honestly, their number is only equalled by the amount of time I spend secretly wishing I’d started the kind of blog that would allow me to freeload all this stuff shamelessly, and then feeling dirty about wishing it. So when I got an email from , the UK’s leading online supplier of heating oil, my finger was hovering over the delete button. And then I saw what it was about. And I remembered what happened to us this time last year. And I stopped. So here it is, a rare interruption from normal services, for a subject that’s, well, how do I put it, not the sexiest. Nor the most glamorous. Nor the most fun. But nonetheless…

It’s . I know, I know. I’m celebrating quietly at home too. But the thing is, while my ‘cynicism override’ button may be so overused it’s practically glued down to the keyboard, if you haven’t checked your boiler in a while, you really, probably should. When we moved house, three years ago, there was so much to do to the house, so much money to be spent, that we just boxed in the old boiler, painted the doors an optimistic blue and forgot about it.

Every so often the hot water would fail and we’d open the cupboard, give it a thump, shudder and then shut it away again. And then, finally, the hot water stopped altogether and since our addiction to scalding hot baths is the only thing more powerful than our denial, we got someone in to look at the boiler. Not only was it so old that we couldn’t buy replacement parts for it anymore, but it had been leaking carbon monoxide. You can’t see it, or smell it, or taste it, so we’d had no idea. It was only a small amount, the guy said, but even low exposure can cause lasting damage and at high levels they call it ‘the silent killer’. Which made it pretty unambiguous, even to a total DIY dunce like me, that it wasn’t the sort of guest I wanted to invite into my children’s home.

So, yes. Check your boiler, please. Normal, cynical services will resume forthwith.


In case of emergency…


I realised in the bath this morning that it might, possibly, say something quite revealing about my character that I used the very first post on this blog to give myself a ‘get out of jail free card’, for use in emergencies. Moments later, of course, I realised that whatever it is, however revealing it might be, it’s unlikely to be flattering, so I launched into my fall-back diversionary tactic of making a shopping list in my head instead.

Recently, though, I have been wondering… what counts as an emergency? Some friends recently applied for schools, only to get a letter explaining that they hadn’t been allocated a single one in their borough. The place they were given was so far away that one of them would have had to ditch their job in order to do the marathon school run each day. Which would mean halving their income, skipping mortgage payments and eventual destitution. So, clearly, a full blown emergency. Black and white. Nothing doing but to sign up for a nearby private school for a year, stick it on a credit card and prey fervantly for a local school place to materialise before the bailiffs do.

But it’s not always so clear. Life as a parent is full of micro-emergencies and it’s these that I’m most frequently tempted to break The Rules for. Standing in a station at the end of a long day, with a murderously overtired toddler who is about to turn the one hour and eight minutes from Euston to Reading into a tortuous, endless Groundhog day for you and the entire commuting community… Is that an emergency? It feels that way, when the entire nightmare could be averted by taking just a few steps into the WHSmiths concession where a whole row of Octonaut magazines await.

Then there’s the trip to meet friends that involves so much  packing (beaker, nappies, change of clothes and other things the boy deems ‘essential’ like swimming goggles, a spanner and length of rope because YOU NEVER CAN TELL what disaster might befall you in the park)… So much bumph that the addition of a homemade lunch – and the resulting extra weight of jam sarnies, flask, mush for the baby – could (almost) literally be the straw that broke the camel’s back. How much easier just to grab an Ella’s pouch and a packet of Organix rice cakes from the nearest Tesco?

Worst of all are the educational micro-emergencies. These are the most toxic kind by far. Because I can give myself a stern talking to when my micro-emergency is about the mere frippery. But when it comes to education….

Should J be taking swimming lessons like his little friends? Might it literally end in an emergency if I try to teach him just by splashing around with him myself in an amateur fashion? Or, if not an actually dramatic lifeguard moment, might it lead to a micro-emergency – falling behind his peers, losing confidence, hating sport and ending up bunking off PE and lurking behind the drama centre smoking menthols and dousing himself in impulse to mask the smell (can you see I’m projecting here?)

The same goes for: word games; learning-to-tell-the-time games; numbers and counting games; games involving the months and the days of the week; books about the world and geography; pencils that help you develop a proper grip; very occasional theatre experiences and musical concerts; football clubs; drama club; pasta in funny shapes (not explicitly educational in themselves but might possibly be a vehicle for coaxing brain food into him?)…

The list goes on. Each of these, individually, I can find creative ways of doing myself. But somehow, now he’s approaching four and school, it’s all hit at once. These things didn’t matter last year. He was definitely just as happy and just as stimulated without them. But now… does he need a little nudge? In all these areas? I’m not talking pushy parenting, just the smallest bit of help along the way to liven up his learning… it all suddenly looks a bit critical. And ALL of it, at once, I cannot DIY. Not while also working and looking after the baby and managing four people who all (myself very much included) suffer from acute cases of chronic untidyitis, oh and a house that has no dish washer or dryer and is constantly, CONSTANTLY falling apart.

None of these things are essentials. I know. None of them are emergencies. But are they micro ones? Is he missing out by missing them? Tanith Carey sent me a copy of her new book , which she promises will make me feel better about dumping J in the garden with a twig instead of enrolling him in Mandarin classes. It’s a really good read, so far, but since I’m currently tackling it in the bath, while simultaneously making mental shopping lists and brainstorming free maths activities, it might take me some time to finish it. So in the meantime… answers on a postcard please!