Thursday, 18 December 2014

Party Season

It's that time of year again, which means that not only is town full of people madly shopping for last minute gifts, but party season (for the children at least) is upon us.  It's nearly Christmas.  We managed to have two parties just this last weekend, which is probably slightly bad timing, it might have been slightly better to spread them over two weekends, but at least they weren't on the same day, which is what nearly happened.

Christmas party season

First up was the fire brigade family party, I'm not sure if I've mentioned before or not, by my husband is a local volunteer fire fighter, so we get to go to the Christmas party with all of the other families who are involved.  This year it was an evening do with a barbecue and I may (or may not) have had quite a bit of wine to drink, seeing as I wasn't driving. It was lots of fun, and the children loved it, especially as there was face painting involved, the three who decided to get their face painted went all out festive and chose a butterfly (for both of the girls) and a zombie (obviously).

butterfly facepaintbutterflyZombie boy
Second up was a Saturday afternoon party at playcentre; another barbecue and visit from Santa, and fun was had by all.  This time there was a little letter box to write a letter to Santa in.  All of the parents were discreetly checking out what their children were asking for, just to make sure that there weren't any unexpected requests.

Meeting Santa at the Christmas party

The chance to meet Santa (twice) and all get together is fantastic, but it also always seems to remind me how the children's expectations are so often much lower than we expect.  It's so easy to spend a fortune at Christmas and go overboard. This year though, Lena was a little upset.  I asked her what was wrong and she told me that she'd asked for some earrings, and was given a jigsaw instead.  She soon cheered up when I explained that this was just a little present from Santa, and she'd be getting something else when it was actually Christmas.  I think that she thought that this was it; Christmas, and had she got her earrings (clip on, by the way, we've not had that battle yet) she'd have probably been completely content with that.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Cheap and cheerful Christmas gifts

Christmas is such an expensive time of year, and it's easy to get carried away with the amount that you spend on Christmas gifts.  Although it's lovely to give people something for Christmas, it needn't cost the earth, and with a bit of thought you can get some great gifts really cheaply.  Here are five ideas for cheap and cheerful Christmas gifts for children:

1. Dressing up clothes

My children love to dress up, but there's no need to spend a fortune on lots of proper outfits.  A few years ago I got a big box and filled it with old hats, bags, shoes and head squares that I found at a local second hand shop.  The children loved playing with them and dressing up, and I only spent about $25 on a huge box of things that gets played with lots.

Dressing up clothes make a great cheap and cheerful Christmas gifts

2.Dollar shop fun

There's a lot of tat and rubbish to be found in dollar shops, but there are also bargains to be had.  Have a look at what's on offer next time you pass, the cheaper building blocks that are lego compatible are often great value for money, and you can get some fantastic sets for very little money. Smaller items like footballs, kites and skipping ropes are often cheaper from dollar shops and still great quality.

3.Books, books, books

My kids love to have stories, but new books can be really expensive.  You can pick up pre-loved children's books from second hand book shops, as well as op-shops and charity stores, sometimes for as little as 50 cents.  A book doesn't have to be brand new to make a great gift.

Books always make good gifts

4. Days out

Days out with the family don't have to cost the earth, lots of trips are free or very reasonably priced. Think about giving the children a voucher for a trip to the beach, or to the local museum.  A picnic can be fairly reasonable and lots of fun.

5.Pre-loved toys

Christmas gifts don't have to come in their original packaging, and there's no reason why you cant give pre-loved toys as cheap and cheerful Christmas gifts.  One of the best Christmas gifts we gave our boys when they were younger was a whole tub filled with second hand duplo that we got for $15 off trademe.  They still play with it today.

Pre-loved toys can be a Christmas hit

So there you have it, a few ideas for cheap and cheerful Christmas gifts, what do you do to avoid spending a fortune at this time of year.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

When do you put your Christmas tree up?

It's December, which means one thing, Christmas is getting closer. Shops have had Christmas items and decorations up for weeks now, but when do you put your Christmas tree up? For some people, the moment that December arrives, (and in some cases even before) up goes the tree. I'm in the later is better camp though, and our tree doesn't tend to go up until just before Christmas.  I suppose that some people may think that makes me a bit of a Scrooge, but I think it makes it a bit more special when you do put it up.  Not sure what my friend Vlad (in the photo) would think, he's clearly in the Christmas spirit.

December already!

Traditionally, trees were put up later in the month, even as late as Christmas eve. Actually we got close to that date ourselves last year, but most because coordinating collecting a Christmas tree with four small children proved to be a bit of a challenge.  One of the main reasons that I like to put the tree up late, is that I keep ours up for the full twelve days of Christmas.  It's unlucky to keep it up beyond the 12th night, but many people pull there's down the second that Christmas day, or possibly Boxing day has passed.  I think part of the reason for this, is that people think of Christmas day being the end of the Christmas period, possibly because of the huge amount of build up in the lead up to the 25th of December. I can see how you might be sick of the tree by the 12th night, if you've had it up all December though.

When do you put your Christmas tree up?

As it's now December, we've also got the advent calendars out. I don't get the Children the chocolate ones that are common in the shops these days. They haven't cottoned onto the fact that there are calendars out there with chocolates in as yet, and as the chocolates aren't usually that nice, I've got them a cardboard calendar with a little picture behind each window instead. We've also got a really cool playmobile calendar, as you open each window you find a small playmobile figure that make up a winter scene. Who needs chocolate? (and I can promise that this is probably the only time that you'll hear me say that).

Christmas is on the way, but so far in house we're a bit bah-humbug, for another week or so anyway.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Think pink?

A few weeks ago I went into a local shop, looking for Christmas ideas for the children.  I immediately noticed how there were shelves and shelves of 'girls' toys that were pink in colour.  I have to admit that it's not the first time that I've noticed this, and there's certainly been plenty of talk about it on-line, but it did depress me.

Think pink?
Pink as far as the eye can see
It's not that I have a problem with pink as such, although it's not my favourite colour, (I do have a daughter that loves it though), but it's more to do with the lack of choice, and what this colour coding, for want of a better phrase, is teaching our children.

Gender colour coded boys toys
Blue is for boys
You see, here's the thing, children have no idea what colours are for boys and what colours are for girls. At least they don't to begin with, until society starts to tell them that pink is for girls and blue for boys. They also don't see certain toys as being boys toys and other toys being for girls, but for some reason society seems to feel the need to define these things in this way.

Pink is for girls
Dolls must be pink
If you spend time with small children, you soon discover that while some will gravitate towards dolls and 'family' play, others will go for train sets and cars.  Little boys have no problems with pushing a pink pushchair and little girls will play with blue building blocks.  Surely then, if that's the case there's no problem really? They can just play with what they want to play with, and parents like me that cringe every time they see these toy shops filled with pink and blue toys are just making a mountain out of a molehill?

Cars can be girls toys
Girls can play with cars too
Well, no, not really. You see the thing is, while children may not start out seeing these toys as being for girls or boys specifically, the fact that everything is so colour coded and designed to be for a specific sex means that before long children start to take on board this gender separation.  The colour coding starts to mean that the toys are seen as being just for girls or just for boys.  Why should construction toys just be for boys? Do girls not build things? Why should dolls just be for girls? Surely little boys should be playing at being Daddy?  Why is it that certain licensed items, from programmes and films that are loved equally by all my children are marketed for a specific gender?

Lego for girls
Lego for girls; because they couldn't possibly play with the 'normal' sets
There is no reason why a boy can't play with a pink toy, but even with the best of intentions we start to influence their behaviour when these colours come into play. I remember my oldest son being around at a family members house, and they commented on the fact that he'd picked a pink plate, "He's always been a bit like that though hasn't he?"
What? Not bothered by gender stereotypes, that he's too young to understand?

Not coloured for gender
At last! Some toys that don't have a gender specific colour.
Toys are toys and children are children, there should be no boys toys or girls toys, just toys for children.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The hole in the internet

The internet is a great thing, having all of that information at your fingertips.  Just the other day I was talking to my Mum about the days when you had to go to the library, and look in a book if you wanted to find anything out.  These days, a few swift taps on a keyboard, and the information is all there for you.  Every so often though, I fall down the hole in the internet.

You see, even though the internet is a great time saver in so many ways, it's also a huge time waster. I try not to spend time looking at pointless things while I'm on line, but every so often I find myself getting sucked in, and before I know it, hours have passed.  (By the way, I realise that there's a certain irony in this, based on my last blog post.) 

Pinterest a hole in the internet

Sometimes this time wasting on an epic scale is solely down to Google; you look something up on Google, it reminds you of something else, you google that and so on and so on.  There are some websites that are really bad for making a hole that I fall into. Top of the list would have to be pinterest, pinning photo and photo and idea after idea as you stumble across them on other people's boards.  I love pinterest, it's great for gathering ideas and getting inspiration, but all too often I just pin things and never get any further.  There's a tutorial for a top that I've had pinned for over a year, even have fabric for, but will still probably never make.I can easily waste hours there.

Ravelry; another hole in the internet I've been known to fall down

Then, there's Ravelry. It falls into the same camp as pinterest, except it just has knitting and crochet patterns. Hundreds and hundreds of them, that if I'm honest, I'm never going to make. Although it is handy for all kinds of things that I might want to make.

My most recent decent into the internet hole, was on youtube.  It started because I'd got a Beatles song stuck in my head, and after I'd listened to that one, it suggested some others....Soon it wasn't just the Beatles that I was listening to, but all kinds of music, and somewhere along the lines I remembered the Bonzo Dog Band (aka Bonzo Dog Do Da band). As a child I loved my Dads Bonzo Dog albums, not only was the art work on them, well, weird (Tadpoles even had a sliding bit that made their eyes move) but the music itself was just a bit crazy. I found my all time favourite childhood track, I'm not sure what it was that I particularly loved about it, but here it is:

Before I knew it, I'd not only spent time listening to all kinds of oddness, but I'd also looked up the band and various members on Wikipedia, (another prime internet hole site) and my planned early night had turned into a late one.  Of course I suppose the answer is that I should have a little more self control and not find myself wandering off down every alley and track that I come across when on-line, but I don't do it often, and sometimes falling down the hole in the internet is a lot of fun, if a little strange....

Sunday, 16 November 2014

If I only had time....

I told my husband that other day that I'd decided what I wanted for Christmas; two extra hours each day. One I planned on using to get a bit more sleep, and the other to fit a few more things in.  Of course the whole thing was ridiculous; not only is manipulating time not one of my husbands many talents, but even if I could have a couple of extra hours, I probably wouldn't get anything extra done.

if I only had time

I often get asked how I fit it all in; four children, running a business and day to day living.  The honest answer? I have no idea, I generally muddle on from day to day, fitting in what I can, where I can, and doing the bare minimum of housework.  The thing is though, what ever it is you do, it will eat up your time, particularly where there are children involved.  It makes me laugh when people assume that you must have lots of time on your hands because you don't work, or work from home, because honestly, even if the 'only' thing you do is look after your children all day, I can guarantee that you won't have enough hours in the day for it all.

making the most of life

People will tell you that the key to having children is organisation, you need to be highly organised to get through day to day life.  It's true, to an extent, but it's just that the organisation that I used at work, or even at University or School has no place in family life.  I was once highly organised, at school I had a system in place in my homework diary where I noted down the days when things were due in, rather than when homework was set, so that I could plan when to do it.  I once lost my homework diary, and when the headmaster found it, he was so impressed with my system, that he copied a similar version of it for the whole school. (It does amuse me that he was impressed with my organisation after I'd lost the diary, but I never claimed to be good at remembering where things are.)

being organised is key

At work I had similar systems in place, knowing what work I had to do when and how long to spend on it. With children though, that's never going to work. Organisation becomes flexibility, it's simply not enough to know what you should be doing and when, you need to know how to get round not being ready for somewhere on time because someone hid your car keys in the toy box, or fitting in a younger child's nap with an older child's activity.  Regimented organisation and routine works quite well with one child, possibly even two but more than that? Forget it.

No time for housework

These days I can get effective work done in ten minutes between one child going to sleep and another needing to be picked up, I can change my plans at a seconds notice, I often need to forget work entirely for a day or two and just go with what the family needs, and yes, as I said, housework, forget about it.
Where does all the time go?

It won't be like this forever though, all too soon I'll have days to myself at home where I can plan my working day, and not have to worry about what the kids are doing until the end of school is here. That will happen all too soon, and I won't lie, it will make life easier.  In the mean time though I'll live my life second to second and fit around these crazy little people, enjoying every second of it, I'll miss it when they're older.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

A meal by any other name.......

If we have a Sunday roast, we usually have it late afternoon/early evening.  Usually just because by the time I've got the kids up, dressed, breakfasted and ready to face the day, the last thing that I feel like cooking is a full Sunday roast.  When I was growing up though, we always had Sunday dinner at, well, dinner time.  When 'dinner time' actually is though, is one of those things that really depends on where you're from.  For me it was the meal in the middle of the day, we had breakfast, dinner and tea. Last week, I cooked a roast in the middle of the day, and ended up confusing my kids.

A meal by any other name......

The conversations went a bit like this:
Child "Is this tea?"
Me "No, it's Sunday dinner."
Child "So are we going to bed soon?"
Me "No, it's the middle of the day"
Child "So is this lunch"
Me "Yes, sort of, but you can call it dinner too"
Child "But isn't dinner time at night?"

When is tea time?

It was another of those times where I was reminded that although I grew up in an English speaking country, and New Zealand is an English speaking country, we're all actually talking a different language.  As I said before, I grew up with breakfast, which seems to be pretty universal, dinner (at school after all we had school dinners and dinner ladies) and then tea.  Tea was usually in our house a cooked meal, rather than high tea with cucumber sandwiches as I suspect the upper classes might have.  I believe that in some areas of the UK, the evening meal is called supper, which is even odder, surely that's a snack before bed.

Supper a snack before bed

When we first came to New Zealand, I started to notice quite a few differences in language.  The first time someone mentioned 'morning tea' to me, I must have spent at least a week asking my husband how you could possibly have MORNING tea, when tea was quite clearly an afternoon meal.  What kind of crazy was that?!  There of course, were many other instances where language had a different meaning over here.  The time someone mentioned to my son that he might want to take his pants of when he was paddling, and he stripped his whole bottom half off, undies and all, as that's what he knew pants to be.  My deep amusement every time I see HOT chips advertised, I mean really, what other type is there?

Is it dinner time yet?

What all of this really shows though, is just how diverse the English language is.  This isn't just a difference between New Zealand and England though, it's really about the difference between the little bit of the world I grew up in (aka round our way) and the little bit of the world I'm now living in.  There are many phrases and words that I grew up with on a day to day basis that would have most of the rest of England, let alone the rest of the English speaking world, scratching their head over.  Even here in NZ, a relatively new country, there are variations in language between different parts.  My mother in law for example, had certainly never luxed her carpet when she lived in Auckland, although it's the common word for vaccuming down here.

I love all of this variation in language, long may it continue.  The only downside is of course, that should you invite me around for dinner, who know's what time I'll turn up.....