Monday, 21 January 2013

Idris at 18 months

My lovely boy is 18 months old today and he brings us so much joy and laughter. With the knowledge and experience that I have gained over the last 7 1/2 years I feel that I am a much better parent now and am more relaxed and confident with him than I was with my girls. Here is a quick round up of where he is at now:

  • He has suddenly found a handful of new words that he uses lots - coa(t), (h)at, boo(ts), ban(ana), booj (orange), Duh (daddy), E(v)e, aich (Faith), (s)poo(n), s(w)eetees, cho(colate) - the joys of a third child exploding in words just after a Christmas time peppered with sweet treats! - note no word for Mummy yet but as he's with me pretty much all the time ha has no need for a word for me!
  • He recognises loved ones in photograph and will point to them in the room and to the picture.
  • He points out when people and pictures have the same as him such as a hat/coat/boots on.
  • He is beginning to explore body parts and will touch hands, feet, nose, eyes and sometimes mouth on himself, others and pictures in books.
  • He is beginning to enjoy books now just this last week or so, we sit with a book or two first thing in the morning when he has a piece of fruit and talk about the pictures. I appreciate the abundance of picture books with real photographs in which are much nicer than drawings and weren't easily available when Eve was his age.
  • He loves to sit up at the table in his high wooden chair, he doesn't need the straps now and gets up and down (and on and off the table!) as he pleases but is very good at sitting with us during meals.
  • He's very possessive of his own things such as his chair and gets very cross if the girls sit on it!
  • He likes order - everyone has to put their soup spoon in the bowl rather than down next to it for example or he nags that person until they comply - or walks across the table to do it for them!! He loves his routines of what we do in the morning, how we get ready to go out, what happens at bed time and so on.
  • He has begun to play with toys a little - this week he has twice got down when he was full and fetched a truck back to the table and sat playing whilst we finished.
  • He loves to help do jobs and tidy up - the dish washer, laundry, sweeping. He likes to sit on the counter next to me when I cook and has a pallet knife to pretend chop vegetables. He will put them in the pan for me once chopped! He will shut and open the door when we ask and sends the dog on her mat!
  • He likes to play teasing games of 'where has it gone?' where he hides something and grins at us as we make a big pantomime of looking for the object up our sleeves, under the table, in a book etc. It absolutely delights him and he even plays along looking in the place and then shaking his head before producing the object with a huge grin on his face!!
  • Oh, and he can be a real scamp too!

Saturday, 19 January 2013

More toddler maths

With this activity Idris explored one to one correspondence and capacity as well as some patterning and a touch of probability! This activity was created to build on an interest that Idris showed in this egg box from the recycling pile. I watched him take it out and experiment with putting other objects inside and trying to close the lid. Initially I gave him a box of coloured cotton spools to put in and out of the box, but they didn't seem to interest him too much. Later on in the day I found a tube of Christmas tree decorative bells and they appealed to him much more! There is no picture of this set of equipment all pretty and ready to go as Idris was far too eager to explore it!
 He spent quite a bit of time putting them one at a time into the sections of the egg box. He always built a square of nine, even when he filled them up in a different order!
 He added some of the cotton spools in after a while. The metal tubs that you can see are 3 sets of differently sized sauce and dipping pots that I picked up in the pound shop. They fitted pretty well into the sections on the egg box and Idris experimented with how many bells would fit into each pot and whether he could stack the pots on top of each other.
 If he was really careful he could balance all ten bells in the largest of the pots. His fine motor control, hand strength and finger dexterity got a great workout with these as he was holding two or three at a time in one hand and rolling them through his fingers to place them in a cup.
 He started an impromptu game of hide the bell and was delighted when we hid one under a cup and moved them all around and he had to guess which one the bell was under! He was very good natured about this age old magician's trick and loved the pantomime of looking under each one and shaking his head no when there was nothing there!
After losing interest in hide the bell he concentrated on stacking different combinations of pots on top of each other. This is an enduring interest of his. He likes to try and stack all sorts of things of all shapes and sizes.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Feeding a family on a small budget!

Lentil Bolognaise, still steaming from the pan!
There comes a time when most of us have to tighten our belts and cut spending to meet a reduced income or to make increased food costs fit an existing budget. I have practised frugal shopping to one extent or another for the whole of my marriage but for the last 16 months we have had extra money due to the shifts that Dewi has been on. Without even realising it, my shopping habits have subtly shifted and our food bills crept up by about a third. From April we are losing a considerable amount per month as Dewi's shifts return to normal and that means cutbacks! This month I am focusing on our food shopping, menus and eating habits and trying some new things as well as some old tricks to bring our food costs back in line with what our income will be! I have a target in my mind of £80 a week for the shopping (both food and other essentials such as toilet paper) but I haven't set it in stone as I don't want to make us miserable sticking rigidly to it if it simply isn't enough. I will review it as I go!

The first thing I did was to think about the meals that we eat and I noticed that were eating a lot more meat than this time last year which is expensive, and we are eating some 'cheat meals' as I call them such as frozen pizzas and jars of curry sauce. After agreeing with my meat loving husband that he was happy to eat meat just twice a week, the next job was a list of meals that might fit with our plans. I got out my favourite cook books and journal of magazine clipping recipes and listed all of the meals that we have enjoyed in the past that are less expensive to make but just as yummy to eat! I was reminded as I went through them of some of the money saving tricks I have used before, such as bulking out shepherd's pie, lasagne and chilli with lentils, reducing portion sizes of meaty meals and increasing the portion of vegetables served with it.

Another expensive habit we have is unlimited fruit consumption. I love it that my children snack on fruit. We don't buy biscuits, crisps and chocolate so they have no choice really and they never waste fruit....... however it is a sad fact here in the UK that a packet of biscuits costs 30p whilst a bag of apples costs £1.19 at a minimum (I like to buy British apples with the best flavour rather than the cheapest available). I have some misgivings about limiting the fruit that they eat but I realised that often they will eat one or two pieces in the run up to a meal because they are hungry and there is no need for that. I have decided to allow them three pieces a day spread out as they choose but each piece must be different. I calculated the number of bananas, apples, clementines and 'other fruit' we needed for the shopping list and will see how it goes! I buy soft fruits for Idris such as grapes, blueberries and raspberries. I can't afford for all of us to eat them but each of the children has had this luxury as a toddler to boost the variety of fruit they eat and I won't compromise on that!

Armed with this list (and I was impressed with the variety and number of dishes on it!), I wrote a meal plan for the week and from that, a shopping list. It didn't go completely to plan as Dewi offered to shop and I gratefully accepted but inevitable his choices aren't always that same as mine and I had also neglected to add a few staples onto the list such as squash, washing up liquid and vegetable oil! I will nip back this week for those items and perhaps put together a standard shopping list for future weeks that I can tick off as I notice them. I am keeping the receipts and over a month will work out how much of each basic item we get through with a view to making a monthly shop at a cash and carry for tinned tomatoes, pasta and rice etc. The web is great for being able to compare prices to find the best deals and although I don't buy into running around to list of places for individual items as the petrol you burn negates the cost savings anyway, heading to one place for a few deals just might be.

The one thing I can say is that shopping this way is more time consuming as it requires more thought, time and effort to even put a menu plan together. I am planning to work through the receipts and cost up each meal as well so that I have a reference point for the future. I think after a month or so of poring through the receipts, doing sums, researching bulk buy options and tweaking things to work well for us, that it will be less time consuming to do! I'm hoping so anyway. All new habits take time to get used to and it is necessary that we adjust to this one. Starting early has the added bonus of freeing up some cash to stash for a rainy day (my Mum will say that I am always squirrelling money away for this and that but I like to have separate 'pots' for separate things!).

I started this post the day Dewi went shopping and we have been eating this way for five days now. The fruit plan is going well, the children are being very good about it, although Idris isn't always sticking to his options! I calculated that 16% of our shopping this week was spent on fruit, I'll keep an eye and see how this goes. Usually I return half way through the week for more fruit but won't be this week!  I have been surprised that having worked out what meals fitted to which days, it has been pleasant to look at my plan and simply cook what is on it! I have been calculating the costs of each meal and have so far worked out that:
  • broccoli and bacon pasta is £3.30 for the meal,
  • mini toads in the hole with potato and carrot mash and onion gravy is £3.80,
  • lentil bolognaise with spaghetti is 90p for the meal!
It is interesting to see the costs and I'm thinking that keeping a list will mean that I can plan meals from a range of costs rather than unknowingly picking seven high cost meals. My next step is to start making double lots and freeze one batch to ease the pressure on another week. I didn't work it out per person as each family member eats a different amount and I usually save some for Idris's lunch the next day as well.

There is a whole lot that could be said about how your food choices impact upon the cost of your food. I know a family that will only eat organic, fair trade foods and their food bill is around £250/week, and they make other financial choices to allow this. The only staunch rule that I have is that I will only buy British meat as I know the welfare standards differ in the UK to other countries and can be more easily traced to source than 'EU meats' (note recent revelations of horse meat in value beef burgers). I take note of where vegetables come from and try to limit food miles and make the most of seasonal veg but it doesn't always happen. I have toyed with the idea of a veg box delivery but they are quite costly and might be something to consider once I have trimmed down other expenses!

I made a courgette loaf today with oil instead of butter (again, butter is really expensive and I go through two to three blocks a week with baking and cooking). It turned out rather tasty, if a little drier than I like, so I'm going to continue to experiment with oil as an alternative and add those recipes to my planner! The recipe is here if you are interested, I substituted the orange juice for lemons as I had two going begging and reduced the sugar by a third to suit our tastes.

This post has turned out much longer than I planned, I didn't realise how much there was to say about it! I'll update on our progress and hopefully settle on a figure in the next month or so. I shall create a separate page on the blog to list meals, costs and brief recipes or links to recipes for you to use!

This post is linked to Welcome Home Wednesdays on Raising Arrows.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Starting 2013 with a bang......

Well..... the bang of my rib cracking as I fell off the fence helping to lift wooden veg planters over the top. It was the first day that all of us had been well since Boxing day and with a burst of welcome energy I dived out into the garden, then retreated to A&E several hours later for a check up and have spent the last week in considerable discomfort. It isn't as bad as I thought it would be, unless I feel better and then do too much, but I am heartily sick of sleeping sitting up!

Sitting in state on the sofa has given me plenty of time to quietly (or not so quietly depending on what is happening around me!) observe the finer details of our family mechanics. There are areas that could do with some tweaking and the time to think has allowed me to come up with some solutions that may work for us.

Some of the tweaks are around when to do activities with the girls with a very active and inquisitive toddler who will climb ON the table and stomp all over things, and WILL NOT be distracted by something different, as he wants to see what THEY have. I am wondering about putting a little table in the kitchen for crafting when they want to make things (those that have seen the size of my kitchen will laugh at that - it will have to be put in and out as the kitchen is tiny!!!). And possibly putting boards on our bed for the girls to play with their small world toys so that they can set up scenes without having to defend them. Neither solution ideal but in a little house I'm thinking I need to be creative about these things!!

Other tweaks are about helping out with chores. I am getting huffs and puffs, eye rolling and accusations of making them do EVERYTHING when I ask them to carry out fairly minor tasks so need to address this too! Possible solutions are a pictorial chart for each child for morning tasks such as making bed, teeth, inhalers, opening curtains, putting books away etc. Another is to ingrain habits of everyone spending ten minutes after mealtimes doing chores together such as the dishes, laundry, having a tidy up etc.

Bedtimes are also sliding out of hand again. Faith does gymnastics late two evenings a week and Eve once a week and I find these really throw out other evenings and tired children into bed isn't great. Eve is beginning to express her wish to bathe alone rather than in company, so I'm thinking about shorter but separate baths with the other sister getting some one-one time with Mummy or Daddy whilst not in the bath. Some bedtime rules need reinforcing as well. We let then self-regulate when they turn their light off as Faith needs much less sleep than Eve and after years of fighting with her to get her to go to sleep at a certain time, we realised it works better to let her sleep when ready....... BUT the permitted bedtime activities list has been strayed from and it is working to keep them awake longer rather than help them wind down and sleep so that needs nipping in the bud!

I find that these kind of issues pop up now and again and we need an analysis of each family member's needs and a re-jig to meet those needs. Part of it is the children growing up and the stages of their development. Part of it is the natural fall out of several weeks of illness and injuries leaving me parenting at less than 100% I learned long ago that when I'm ill I have to let a few balls drop or I prolong the illness and get run down and miserable. Picking those balls up again afterwards can be hard work but is much easier than battling through an illness. As long as there are clean clothes, hot meals (albeit not quite as healthy as normal) and the house is vaguely clean then I let it go and blitz when I am better!

I must be nearly better as I'm writing lists of things that need doing. They are scary long lists, of the annoying variety where the thing you really fancy doing can't be done until the job you are procrastinating about has been done first. Ah well, we'll get there in the end!