Monday, 31 October 2011

Scary Pumpkin!

I can claim no glory - all Mr Thrifty's handiwork (and then he totally disproved his thrifty credentials when I couldn't find the leftovers for Pumpkin Pie baking this morning - he'd chucked them out!!!!!)


Last week, my laptop decided that, after 3 plus years of use, it had had enough and simply wasn't going to connect to the Internet anymore.  After much cajoling, coaxing, shouting and ignoring, I finally had to admit that it wasn't going to work (not without mouth to mouth from an IT expert to sort out that fatal disc error anyway).

So, considering the fact that I'd been fairly determined to get myself a new computer anyway, I took myself off to Edinburgh and came back a few hours later the proud (although very, very skint) owner of a shiny new iMac.  Now, you'll assume that this blog post has absolutely NOTHING to do with being thrifty - and you'd be right.

Macs are beautiful and effective - in fact, as I'm discovering, fantastic compared to my chuntering laptop - but one thing they definitely are not is cheap.  I am, however, hoping that they're value for money (especially as I still hyperventilate when I remember how much it cost).

No, the point of this post is to wonder at the incredible natural ability kids seem to have for IT.  We've never owned a Mac before.  My husband uses them in his work, at his work but not in our house.  And, as far as I'm aware, the kid's schools don't have Macs either.  So how come, the kids knew how it worked the minute it was out the box and set up (which unbelievably took all of 5 minutes - I took it out of the box, I plugged it into the wall, switched it on and it was up and running, connected to the Internet AND my WiFi printer all without me having to install anything!  No, this isn't a sponsored post - I wish).

Anyway, here are Cheeky Boy's efforts - I know it's all Mac tricks, I'm just impressed that he figured them out in minutes (if not seconds!).  I hadn't even realised there was a camera on the flippin' computer!!!

Is it just me being slow or are kids really just whizzes on computers (Gawd, I sound like someone's Nan!!).  (And yes, my kids are posers!)

Monday, 24 October 2011

Thrifty Day Out!

OK, today's thriftiness is not because I managed to engineer a cheap day out using only my imagination and creativity.  It was entirely down to the fact that my extremely kind and helpful neighbour won family tickets to Blair Drummond Safari Park and gave them to us to enjoy.  And enjoy we did.

Blair Drummond is just outside Stirling and we really did have a fab day out.  There are animal shows (the birds of prey swooping over the kids heads being a particular high point) and of course, you can drive through the safari park itself.  My kids were squealing with delight/terror when two female lions decided to 'have it out' with each other about 3 feet from our car!

It's about to close for the year on 30th October but if you're still on half term - or looking for something to do at the weekend that doesn't involve dressing up in Hallowe'en outfits - I'd recommend a visit.  It isn't normally all that cheap to get in (I think adult tickets are around £12.50) but you can print off free entry for kids from their own website - and you can also use your Tesco Clubcard points.

The park opens again in March 2012 if you're not going to be in the area this week and, if you do manage a trip, the kids (and our) highlights were:

The Birds of Prey Demonstration - complete with swooping vulture, speedy falcon and huge owl.
The Lion Enclosure - all roaring and ripping of meat (not for the faint hearted)
The Fort - which is a large play area next to the restaurant with a large fort for the older ones and a smaller fort for little kids.  There's also a large sand play area complete with 'buried treasure' which if you find, you can swap for a prize!
The Sea Lion Display - learn about these amazing creatures while watching them show off their abilities and strength.
The Bumpy Slide - (I loved it too!).

HUGE White Rhino - slightly nervous Toots

Time to go home (with the swiftly named Lemie the Lemur and Scratchy the Siberian Tiger)

I do have to admit that I safari parks and particularly zoos don't always sit all that well with me but the animals all looked healthy.  The keepers knew their stuff and really care about the animals, being more than happy to impart their knowledge about them to inquisitive 8 year old boys (is there another kind, I hear you ask?).  So, Blair Drummond Safari Park got the big thumbs up from the Thrifties - made all the better by our 'free entry tickets'.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

My Top 5 Kids Christmas Toys

Looking through my favourite blogs today, I just had to link up to Kate Takes 5's Listography of top 5 Christmas toys for kids - as my little angels decided to write their Christmas lists for Santa yesterday!  Yep, 22nd October and the lists are already 1 side of A4 long and apparently, about to be added to!  Jeez. (How to break it to them that Santa is a busted flush due to 'necessary' purchase of iMac yesterday afternoon...).

Anyway, inspired by both the kids and Kate here are my top 5 all time best kids toys (not necessarily cheap but definitely value for money):

1. Lego - this is a time honoured favourite.  I had loads of it when I was a kid, as did my sisters, as do my own kids.  Whether it's a specific type of Lego (son is partial to the Atlantis range) or the more generic sets, Lego just doesn't go wrong.  It keeps them entertained for hours (although it is partial to getting sucked up by the hoover).  The kids can add to it either with an expensive set or with cheaper smaller sets.  And, of course, we all get involved (it's addictive! - and our trip to Legoland this summer just made the addiction in our house even stronger...)

2. Monopoly - I love this game.  It reminds me of Christmas's gone by and the kids really love it too (they think the money is real - bless!).  My main complaint about Monopoly used to be the length of time it took to play it but I notice that there are new sets available with choices of games that take 30, 60 and 90 minutes so, as my son has added Monopoly to his Christmas list, I may have to investigate one of those.

3. Hama Beads - these are a recent discovery for me but Toots was completely engrossed by them at a friend's house the other week.  I have to admit that my initial thoughts were that it looked fiddly and slightly dull but both Toots and her wee friend were engrossed (for which read: quiet) for well over an hour.  AND you get to make something that you can keep at the end of it.  Don't know how long she will remain enamoured of the beads but Santa may well be persuaded to get some for her.

4. Nintendo Wii - I am not a fan of computer games and I don't like the kids spending any time on them but my little sis rather generously gave Cheeky Boy and Toots a Wii for Christmas a couple of years ago and I've had to review my opinion of them.  I do like the fact that they at least jump around and I encourage them to play the games where they challenge each other (rather than games like Pokemon where they play them on their own).  I have even been known to become completely engrossed in a bijou game of Mario Kart of an evening myself - so the Wii has well and truly won over this particular sceptic.

5. Chess - nope, I'm not kidding.  It's a classic and Cheeky Boy can't get enough of it.  He loves playing either the wooden version with board or the computer version equally.  It's improved his concentration and encourages him to think about strategy, planning and seeing through his actions rather than simply reacting.  Personally, I've forgotten more about chess than I remember (which is my way of saying that he always beats me) but I've got to include this old favourite on the list as my son loves it - and I seem to remember that I did too.

I am, of course, going to be doing lots of research to see where I can get the cheapest possible versions of these items - ebay, Amazon and Gumtree being obviously starting places - so any suggestions are much appreciated.  I'm also going to be checking out Kate's ultimate Top 10 Kids Toys once the listography linky is up for some Santa style inspiration!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Saving Money: 5 Easy Ideas To Adopt

All the news of inflation (sitting at 5.2% as of yesterday) climbing, utilities companies earning huge profits through increased prices, and fuel costs spiralling, does make it seem as though the economy is conspiring against us as we try to cut costs. 

Now, I don't want anyone to be under any impression that I can whittle up a meal from thin air or sew an entire outfit from curtains.  Thrifty Mummy I may be - or at least aspire to be - but I need to work at it and one of my ways is by planning (incidentally, in my business planning is something that I constantly 'bleat on about' to clients so maybe it's genetic!).

There are 5 really easy ways to help reduce your shopping bills.  I follow them myself and they work.  They're not the only ways that I try to reduce my bills but they're a good place to start...

1. Always Plan your Weekly Menus  That way, you know what you're going to eat and when and you can plan for it - only buying what you need and not chucking out so much at the end of the week either.

2. Write a Shopping List - this follows on from the point above, as you should draw up a list from your weekly menu, but I find if I don't have a list, I flit about from aisle to aisle buying what I fancy and spending a fortune as a result.

3. Don't Shop when You're Hungry - if I ever go for a run and then follow it up with a trip to Tesco's I spend much more than I need to (usually on chocolate).

4. Try Not to Shop with the Kids - now I know this isn't always easy, particularly if you've got little ones but it was the bigger/school age ones that I was thinking of excluding anyway.  If I take Cheeky Boy (age 8) on a shopping expedition, he pesters the living daylights out of me to buy things that aren't on the list.  I'm not saying that I always give in but even if I cave in on just a few of his 'special requests' to change items on the list for a brand that he's seen on TV instead and my bill has already gone up. 

5. Play to Your Strengths & Be Realistic - if you like to cook everything from scratch every night that's grand but if you know you don't have the time or inclination then don't feel that you have to become a domestic goddess to save money.  Of course, it makes sense to cook as much from scratch as you can as it will save you money (and be better for you) but if you know that's unrealistic or won't fit with your week, plan to have a few 'easy meals' in there or do a big cook at the weekend and freeze some of it for mid-week meals.  Easy meals could be beans on toast, baked potato with tuna & cheese or French toast.  Our busy day is a Tuesday and I try to make sure the kids have a cooked school lunch and plenty of snacks before swimming and badminton so a smaller tea is fine for them.

None of these are particularly difficult to implement and you don't need to be a fabulous cook either.  Tuesday's are often fish finger days and I don't feel remotely guilty as I make sure the kids get loads of veg with them and fruit for pudding too.  It also means that Tuesday's we have a grown up tea together later on (we try to eat with the kids every other night) so Thai curry or Mussels are on the menu for us on Tuesdays which the kids hate but we love!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Feeling Autumnal - anyone?

After the balmy weather a few weeks ago it's definitely now autumn.  Grey, cold, grey, wet, grey... you get the picture.  So, feeling a tad depressed the other day as the sun refused to shine and it didn't seem to get light all day - welcome to Scotland - I decided to bake some scones to cheer myself up and found this recipe which is decidedly autumnal (I think).  

Hope you enjoy these as much as we all did!

Makes 8 scones

225g self raising flour, plus extra for dusting
50g butter
4 tbsp golden caster sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 apple, peeled, cored and diced
125ml milk, plus extra for brushing
clotted cream and raspberry compote (sort of - will explain below)

1. Heat oven to 220C/200 fan/gas 7.  Tip flour into a bowl with butter then rub with fingers until the mix looks like fine breadcrumbs.  Stir in sugar and cinnamon then add apple and give everything a mix.

2. Pour in milk and stir quickly, then fold dough over 2 - 3 times until smoother.  Tip onto a lightly floured surface; pat into a round about 3cm deep - I'd be tempted to make these slightly deeper if you want bigger scones, although it means you might get less than 8.

3. Using a 5cm cutter, cut out the scones until all the dough is used up.  Brush tops with milk then place onto a lightly floured baking sheet and bake for 18 - 20 minutes until risen and golden.  Allow to cool on the tray.

I served these warm with butter (yum) and a cheats raspberry compote that I made with some squished raspberries sprinkled with 2 tablespoons of caster sugar (icing would work too) to sweeten them up.  Or, if you've been foraging for autumn blackberries (or been to the supermarket) you could make some of my super easy microwave jam. Delicious! 

I got this recipe from Good Food and I'd be tempted to use a cooking apple rather than a dessert apple next time to give them more of an apple-y taste.  I'd also bump up the cinnamon to 1/2 teaspoon too but really depends on your taste.

Monday, 10 October 2011

'Best Day Ever!!!'

The title of today's post is, for the eagle eyed among you, a quote from Tangled - quite possibly my daughter's favourite film AND coincidentally (and rather fortunately for this blog post) the film that was played most on the long drive to our holiday this year.  I say fortunately because this post is about the best day spent with my family which has to be the fantastic, fabulous, exhausting, entertaining, thrilling, funny and down right brilliant day spent at Legoland Windsor.

After a week on a farm in Devon, we decided to take a detour on the long trip 500 miles north - but didn't tell the kids what we had planned.  On the last morning of our holidays, the sun shone, the temperature was already hitting 20 degrees as we left the hotel at 9am and it was all looking perfect.  Then we got lost in Eton (which doesn't have a direct driving route through it to Windsor even though it looks as though it does on the map!!!).  The kids still had no idea where we were going although we were getting rather hot under the collar especially as my sister 'Auntie Carole' was already at Legoland and phoning with updates on how busy the car park was getting.  To keep the kids off the scent, we told them we were going to Windsor Castle.  Massive huffs and harrumphs from the back seat - sneaky grins shared between us in the front :-)

As we got nearer, Cheeky spotted a road sign and, voice shaking with excitement, whispered 'Are we going to Legoland?'  Shrieks of joy from the back when we confirmed that indeed we were.  And what a day!  Roller Coasters, Viking Rides, Pirate Training Camps, Fire Engines, Hot Air Balloons and, of course, the ubiquitous Lego itself!  Not to mention, the miniature land which they used to show on Blue Peter when I was a kid.  We hired a Q-Bot to avoid standing for too long in queues which was our only expense (£15 each, incidentally, so not cheap).  However, Thrifty Mummy isn't my name for nothing - our tickets had been purchased via Tesco Clubcard vouchers which saved us a small fortune.

Top recommendations have to be the Water Park (if you get a hot day that is); the Driving School (where they get a 'driving licence' afterwards) and Pirate Falls (bring a change of clothes!).  Three months later and we're all still raving about Legoland and planning our next trip back there - I think the photos say it all...

In the Viking Maze (pre-soaking)

Scary Driver

Careful Driver

Mini Scotland

Kids Rollercoaster - still scared me!

Splash!  (We are actually in a boat under all that water)


Check out other Best Days at Brit Mums...

Friday, 7 October 2011

Flashback Friday

My flashback Friday moment is a tribute to my mum and her thriftiness - because she really is the queen of thrift from whom I (should) have learned lots!

This is a photo of me and my two sisters taken in 1979 in Campbeltown, Mull of Kintyre.  Dad has dragged us to a harbour - we always toured the top spots on holiday.  Harbours being a particular favourite of my Dad (he's a harbour master so talk about a bus man's holiday!).

I love the fact that you can tell it's the 1970's by the oh so stylish clothes and haircuts.  Not to mention the Ford Cortina - Gene Hunt (Life on Mars) eat your heart out!  Incidentally, I'm the one second from the right in the super '70's tracksuit combo!  What was my mother thinking?

And I feel sure - in fact, I know - that my baby sister (she was about 2 months old here) sat in the back on my Mum's knee.  None of your fancy car seat nonsense in 1979, you know!

My mum was and still is far better at the whole thrifty saving money stuff than I could ever claim to be.  I lived my life in hand-me-downs from my older sister (although strangely, my little sister always managed to get stuff bought new - spoiled rotten!).  Mum had what we referred to as her 'nuclear war cupboard' which contained tins and tins of food 'just in case'.  There were even Fray Bentos pies in there - a pie in a tin!  I don't think any of us ever had one of them - but they were in that old cupboard 'just in case'  because 'you never know'.  What exactly we never knew remains a mystery but we were well stocked for any eventuality.

For me, this photo sums up our family holidays.  Five of us, crammed in a car, off visiting harbours.  Bizarre way to spend a fortnight in August but each to their own!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Run(ning) Bean & Courgette Soup

After turning half my bumper crop of runner beans into relish (as yet untested - still a month to go!) I decided to turn the rest, plus my courgettes, into a soup.  .  The results were rather good - although I did have to really blitz it as I didn't bother de-stringing the beans beforehand.  Give it a try with a swirl of either fresh pesto - which was delicious - or half fat creme fraiche depending on your preference.

500g runner beans, sliced (and destringed)
500g courgettes, chopped
1 large white onion
1.5 pints of vegetable stock (I used Antony Worrall Thomson's Gluten free stock cubes as my mum is celiac)
1 tablespoon of oil - I used Black & Gold's Rapeseed Oil

1. Heat the oil before adding finely chopped onion and fry until soft (but not brown) in the oil.

2. Add the runner beans and sweat for 5 minutes before adding courgettes and sweating for another 5 - 10 minutes.

3. Add the stock, then bring to the boil before turning down and simmering for 25 - 30 minutes.   Season to taste.

4. Either serve chunky with a swirl of pesto or creme fraiche or, if your kids are like mine, blitz to within an inch of its life then serve!

Admittedly, it is a slightly odd shade of green but it tasted good!

The running reference is because, having been out for a run that morning (our weekend was rubbish on the weather front unlike the south of England who were experiencing sub-tropical conditions for October!) I was glad of a wee bowl of soup and a roll when I got back.  Felt very wholesome and healthy!

Runner Bean(tastic)!
Get Picking

Monday, 3 October 2011

My Pet Peeve...

This week's Brit Mums Blogging Prompt got me thinking - for all of 5 seconds!  Because my pet peeve is such an obvious one...


Not so much for Toots - she's just started P1 so it's all reading books (Biff and Chip anyone?) and key words and lovely learning to read stuff.  No, it's Cheeky Boy's homework that really gets me- and he's only in P4 (all of 8 years old!).

Ever since P2, we've been bombarded with homework.  And this year is the worst yet!  Spelling or writing on a Monday (he'd rather stick pins in himself than write a story - especially after a day at school) .  Reading on a Wednesday and Friday.  Maths on a Thursday.  And the occasional piece of project work thrown in for good measure too.  Correct me if I'm wrong but if they need to do this amount of work at home, what on earth are they doing at school?!

Now that they're in P4, they're also expected to write tdown what their homework tasks are and when it's due in their school diaries (CB's makes it home about twice a week if I'm lucky even though it should come home daily!) and the teacher doesn't check that they've done it.  Because they're supposed to be responsible enough to do it themselves.  Right.  Last week, I made the mistake of asking the teacher why they hadn't had homework (as it was so unusual I was starting to suspect something was up).  And I was right.  He'd missed not 1 but 4 pieces of homework - all due the following day!!!

And, perhaps it's just my son (but I don't think so) but he's neither mature enough or focused enough to take himself merrily off to do his homework as soon as he gets in from school - unless it's maths (but sadly, it very rarely is).  More often than not it's spelling - which requires input from me; project work - which requires digging around the recycling for craft materials, researching the internet or generally helping to hunt down either raw materials or information.  And frequently, we fall out over it.  I haven't seen him all day - it would be nice to spend some fun time with him.

There seems to be no recognition that a) they should be doing the work in school b) most parents work so don't have the luxury of long afternoons to get homework done and c) kids have other things going on besides school - like playing, going to the park, going for walks, sports, visiting their relatives - that kind of thing.  All part of life's rich experience and all that - or is that just me?!

I'm 40. I've got O'Grades, Highers, a Degree and a Postgrad (this isn't me boasting just illustrating a point). Point being?


Thrifty Ways to Get My Groove Back