Monday, 31 August 2015

And that was August.

Oh my, August has been busy and oh my am I tired!  Very aware that this was our last summer as a family of three and very aware that my energy levels will decrease in the Autumn, as I enter my third trimester of pregnancy, I crammed a lot in.  Everywhere I looked on social media people were enjoying slow summers, and whilst I was slightly envious, I was also very aware that, come December, when I have two little ones to look after I will probably enter a mini stage of hibernation. 

We have spent a lot of time outside, in our garden, at the beach, in the park. Friends have been visited, family have been visited, bar b ques have been enjoyed, seas have been swam in, picnics have been taken, the garden has been weeded and weeded again, and D.I.Y has been attempted  I don't feel cheated by the weather one bit because the warm weather from the south seemed to follow us up North for a couple of weeks leaving my friends in the South digging out their umbrellas. I realise I sound smug; we were incredibly lucky and take it from me we are not always that lucky.

My daughter always seems to take on a huge developmental leap over the summer.  I'm not sure if this is because I take the time to slow down a bit and I notice more, or if it's the benefit of both parents being around a whole lot more. 

As I said, we spent time doing a bit of D.I.Y and we are well on our way to having a bathroom that I don't feel slightly embarrassed by. We have touched up a few things in the lounge.  I hope to share some pictures soon.

How did August treat you?

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Thrifty holidays with children in tow

I have been a budget holiday aficionado since I first started travelling on my own.  At times it was a necessity and at other points in my life it was simply a way to get double the fun for my money.  My logic was always 'if I don't spend much on this trip I can take another one.' Now that I have my own family budget holidays are back to being a necessity, if we want to take a family break away from the home. I thought I would share some tips on taking a thrifty family holiday.

For our recent holiday, in Whitby, we sort of gate crashed my parents holiday and joined them in the holiday house they had rented.  I realise that gatecrashing someone else's holiday is not always possible!

We are also lucky that we have family who live in nice places up in Scotland, so a lot of our holidays involve staying with family.  Staying with family and friends is ideal for short breaks away, provided they don't mind children.  Another good option is staying at friends houses when they go on holiday.  It's only polite to offer your house back in return.

Camping - This is obviously a thrifty holiday staple.  After last years, week long, rainy, camping trip in Wales, with a 1.5 year old in tow, and a cheap tent that leaked, my position on camping has changed somewhat.  I see my self as a camper (much like I see myself as a gardener) but the reality is actually a little different.  Pre children, I would have taken refuge in the nearest pub and then passed out drunk in the tent but the reality of a wet tent was very different with a baby in tow. This year I decided that, until we get the money together to buy a decent tent and a few extra pieces of equipment, my camping trips will only be taken when I can guarantee good weather.  This means taking mini nights away, on the spare of the moment, close to home.   

Youth Hostels - I could and should do a whole other post on an ode to youth hostels......I love them and think that they are a great choice for families.  Depending on where you are staying, a family room can take you back a bit if you are on a tight budget. I think we have paid between £40 and £60 for a family room in the past.  This can sound a lot but some of the rooms sleep 6 so it works out as a reasonable option if you are a large family.  The kitchen facilities are great so you don't have to eat out or pay for breakfast, it's these things that all add to the price of a holiday.  The rooms are generally a lot bigger than budget hotels and BnB's so it's much better for entertaining little ones.  The vibe is so relaxed, meaning your little ones can tear round the place, jump of the sofas, swing from the curtains and no one bats an eyelid! Some YHA's have toys and outside space and you are pretty much guaranteed to meet other families.

Air BnB - Can be a really great option.  Air BnB accommodation outside the city centre is so much cheaper than that closer to town.  Obviously you will need to weigh this up against your travel costs each day.

House Swaps - I have never done this because, since we moved into our house, 2. 5 years ago, I have never really felt our house to be in a state fit for house swapping.  There are a couple of sites I have looked at and I am very curios to try this in the future. Try UK Holiday house swap.

Ask about - This can feel a bit uncomfortable but if you don't ask you don't find out.  It may be that someone you know owns a caravan or a flat that they don't use very often and wouldn't mind renting it out cheaply.  We totally lucked out with this when Frieda was born. A very kind friends mum let us stay in her caravan that she hardly used, for free, down in Kent for a couple of nights; we were incredibly grateful as we would never have been able to get away otherwise.  If you do benefit from such generosity remember this in the future and try to do what you can for someone else..... a bit of sharing and caring goes a very long way!

(Images from our 2014 Air BnB hobbit hut in Bristol complete with compost toilet)

Food and drink
This is where we make some of our biggest savings. We always take pack lunches out.  I admit this can leave you feeling like you have turned into a food preparation machine; for you will have only just finished making breakfast and before you know it you are buttering rolls. We cook meals at the campsite or at the YHA or house we are staying at.  We try to buy some local, special ingredients to make the meals feel like a bit more of a treat.  We usually manage to save enough on food to treat ourselves to one meal out and plenty of beach ice creams.  My advice is take food containers to put left overs and bits and pieces in for picnics.  Also, if you are a tea guzzler, like me, don't forget your Thermos; I did this year and I really regretted it.

Getting out and about
Check out free activities near where you are staying.  We have just been up in Edinburgh where we visited the amazing, FREE (give a donation), Gorgie City Farm.  We also got to see some free children's performances as part of the Edinburgh festival.  Ceilidh dancing with the piggies anyone? oh yes, I don't mind if I do.  

Rainy days
I can not stress how much easier it is to have a budget holiday when the weather is on your side. Sometimes, when your tent is leaking, and the rain is torrential; huddling in a cafe with a stack of crayons and a constant supply of cake is really the only option.  This year we were in a house and were a little bit more prepared.  I packed some craft materials in a rainy day box, which I didn't bring out until the heavy rain, we also had a T.V and bought a stack of, new to us, books at the charity shop and some special treat chocolate biscuits; This meant that we were able to amuse ourselves very well when it rained heavily.  We also got out and about in waterproofs during the light rain showers to wear little legs out; meaning that not once did we have to consider the nearby soft play. 

We fail on this every year but my advice ( which I don't take myself) is BOOK EARLY!! This year we drove up to Scotland with many stop offs along the way. We have, in the past, managed to get really cheap tickets on the overnight train to Edinburgh and Leuchars by travelling mid week and booking in advance.  I can whole heartedly recommend the over night train. It's so nice to be woken up with a cuppa and a pack of shortbread biscuits. 

My last piece of advice is: if you really don't have the money don't go; take a staycation and enjoy a few day trips, picnics and bar b ques.  It is pretty awful being on holiday worrying about going into your overdraft (I speak from experience).  It can also be pretty awesome being a tourist close to home and ending the day with a take away curry that you would not have been able to afford had you been paying for accommodation for the week.

Did you get away this year?

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

I'm in love with the British seaside, I just adore seaside towns.  I love them all, the shabby ones, the chic ones, the brash ones, the quiet ones, the quirky ones, the remote ones, I could go on. This summer we visited Whitby for the first time and St Andrews for the, i've lost count of how many times.  

As much as I love the seaside, I do avoid it if it's stiflingly hot as I can not bare the feeling of being on the beach, with no shade, feeling like my skin is turning crisp; So a Northern seaside holiday suits my delicate white skin just fine.  I'm actually most content when the sun is shining but a slight nip can be felt in the air, so that it feels warm when wearing a cardigan. 

The National Trust recently conducted a survey which found that seaside day trips had fallen by 20% in the last ten years.  The survey claims that 58% of the people surveyed had not had a day on the British coast in the past 12 months.  I read this, whilst in Whitby, and must confess that this was hard to believe as I looked around at all the families packed onto the beach.

My little wild child daughter just loves the beach; the sand castle building, the swimming, the foraging for treasure, and the wildlife.....not to mention the ice cream.....oh the ice cream.  It keeps her entertained for a whole day and she will remain high on seaside vibes for days after, talking about heart shaped sand castles and dead crabs.

The seaside treated us well this year; ice creams were consumed in abundance, hag stones and shells were collected and treasured, picnics of cheese rolls and strawberries were continuously eaten, sand castle were built and moats were carefully constructed and we felt carefree for a couple of weeks. 

I have a slight touch of the holiday blues, the torrential rain and the fact that I suddenly feel very pregnant and very tired and the sudden jolt back to work has not helped. We are lucky that our nearest beach is a 15 minute drive away.  All the beaches round our way are pebbly so visiting a sandy bay is a real summer time treat.  We are however fortunate enough to be able to day trip throughout the year and oh how we take advantage of this simple pleasure even in the Winter.  So here I am planning my next day trip, dreaming of hag stones.

Just in case you need any persuading to take a seaside day trip check out this beautiful poem by John Cooper Clarke, 'Our coastal poem'. 


Thursday, 6 August 2015

How to dry rose petals.

Our rose bush blooms are fading fast.  This week I have been drying the petals as I intend to put them to good use in bathroom potions. 

Here's how I did it.  

Air drying rose petals

I washed my rose petals, with soapy water, because the bush has been attacked by black fly.  I would only recommend  washing them if you need to because rose petals with moisture could potentially turn brown when they are dried because they may rot.  I washed mine outside on a sunny day and didn't have such a problem.

I placed my rose petals on a piece of brown paper and put them in a cool dark place.  I turned the petals over each day.  My rose petals were ready in about three days.  

Air drying them this way will cause the petals to curl and loose their rose petal shape, this is absolutely fine for what I want them for but if you want them for decorative crafts or a baking garnish you could press them in a heavy book.  I pressed a few this way too.

Pressing rose petals

Make sure your rose petals are dry and then place them between two pieces of baking paper or old newspaper place inside a heavy book, add a weight on top, and leave for a week.  This way allows the petals to retain their petal shape.  


Monday, 3 August 2015

And that was July

July has felt like a very long month. Days rolled out, long and full of sun light, with very little in the way of plans (asides from my part time work).  Since becoming pregnant I seem to have lost the art of making plans; some days this is wonderful,  there is nothing quite like that feeling of waking up, looking out of the window, and thinking 'oh it looks like it will be sunny today what should we do?'. There have been 'those' days though, days that other parents will recognise when it's pouring with rain, and the realisation kicks in that 'ahhhh we havn't arranged to do anything today......what are we going to do? where can we go?' Luckily those days have not been many and I have generally been enjoying a fairly carefree July.

We have slowly been trying to tackle our poor neglected garden.  And for the third year I find my self saying 'oh well next year will be the year of the garden!'  We have a terrible bind weed problem, it has been like that ever since we moved in.  It has chocked many of our flowers, for 2 years we have spent hour upon back braking hour trying to dig the stuff out. This year i'm afraid we resorted to chemicals and it's really starting to feel that we have more of a hold on the stuff, so I am feeling a little more optimistic about next year.  Next year will be the summer of the garden....I can feel it!  I therefore have no proud picture moments from our garden.

We have been getting out and about enjoying Sussex.  Our real highlight has been river swimming in Barcombe Mills.  Middle farm delighted as always and really is still a firm family favourite. We also ventured over to West Sussex for a lovely wedding at Pulborough.

As we enter August i'm becoming very aware of how little time we have before the new arrival.  I'm starting to notice all the things that need doing in our house, being very aware of the fact that we were totally out of action for a year with Frieda! I guess this is probably just the nesting instinct kicking in.   

This month I have been enjoying reading about The Inelegant Horse Riders plastic free July challenge. I would like to try this next year. 


Saturday, 1 August 2015

World of make believe

We have been thrust, full throttle,  into the world of make believe.  My partner recently turned round to me and said ' when was the last time you had a conversation with Frieda about something that actually happened?'. Rugs are boats, chairs are castles, meal times are trips out to cafes, the trampoline is her nursery (where she works as a teacher) the laundry airer is a climbing frame or her car or a train.  On any given day she may be 'Queen of the moon' a doctor, a mummy, she may have changed her name, often to Katy, and she is often very busy travelling to work or to holiday. Indeed as I am writing this I am listening to Frieda in the bath, she is making cakes and putting them into the oven to sell to her daddy at in her bath shop. 

Walks in the woods have become truly surreal; trees turn into dragons and dinosaurs and we spend time feeding them grass or riding on their backs. It's a pleasure to watch.

A recent visit to a play hay bale barn provided much fodder for her imagination.  The hay bale turned into a medicine cabinet, which provided an unlimited source of plasters for my cut arms.  Indeed a good hour passed as Frieda stuck individual pieces of straw to my many cuts on my body.

As a kid I absolutely adored imaginary play and as I became to old for such play I simply channelled my energy in amateur dramatics.  So even as a teenager I still loved to pretend and explore the world through different characters.  

Frieda is constantly coaxing me in to her world 'you be the big bad wolf mummy' 'you pretend to be my baby' 'come into my boat mummy and i'll be the captain'. And I have to admit to struggling with this sometimes, yes I play along but, after the fifth round of' blowing her house down', I often find myself trying to suggest other activities....'why don't we make a cake or paint a picture.  I have come to realise that I prefer tasks that have an end result, that demonstrates 'time well spent'. I struggle when Frieda asks me to make up a story I always retreat to the comfort of the well thumbed books we already know.  I fear the closest my imaginary world stretches to is my pintrest account. So here I am trying to regain my imagination, after years of neglect, I know it's hiding in my little brain somewhere.  
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