What I don’t like about Christmas presents

I love Christmas but there are bits of it that I am about to complain about. I don’t imagine I’m the only one with these thoughts, but not many people blog about it. I appreciate a blog about baking the perfect gingerbread man or finding the perfect Christmas jumper… but I also love a different angle. I loved a blog I read about how to ruin Halloween for your children, a mother left it too late to purchase a pumpkin, managed to find a half decayed one which did not carve quite how all the Pinterest ones did and so it went on. Let’s be real.

Buying presents for people is quite fun in my opinion. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I feel like I’m a good present giver. I put a lot of thought into it. What frustrates me is that different bits of my family have a different budget in mind. In the past, I have avoided speaking up about a gift budget. But we used to receive enormously expensive gifts from my sister-in-law. That left me feeling like I had to reciprocate and spend large amounts on her, but then I have three sisters myself and I don’t like the idea of spending less on them. So it’s easy right? Buy everyone an expensive gift. Aside from the fact that that makes it all unaffordable, it leaves some people feeling embarrassed because they didn’t spend the same on their gift to you, neither could they afford to. Sigh. So in the run up to Christmas, the spirit of gift giving is squashed a bit by trying to agree a uniform spend. 

With regard to how much to spend on a present, I feel rather strongly that the emphasis should not be so great on monetary value, but thought and time. I listen to people, I think about what they enjoy. Then I look for something that will be a lovely surprise for them, or make something that is a bit more special than a spice rack from the Boots 3 for 2 gift aisle. Likewise, I would rather someone noticed that I like chocolate peppermints and make me a beautifully wrapped box of home made aforementioned treats than spend a packet on a Ted Baker hot water bottle gift set. I don’t want to give the impression that I am an ungrateful cow, but I have a hot water bottle and I do worry about the planet and the ethics, (or lack thereof) that go into some of this mass produced stuff.

The gift sets and snowman ornaments that are placed in attractive packaging under bright lights in irresistible shop windows that are absolutely everywhere, every year. None of us needs any of that stuff. People say Christmas is about buying presents for people that they don’t need and it’s about treating your loved ones to pretty things, things that they wouldn’t normally buy for themselves. But that is not quite true is it. Christmas is about a religious celebration of the birth of a child and whether we believe the story or not, millions of people get on board with the celebration. I would like to add, that I love pretty things and things that I don’t need, but getting a pile of beautiful presents is not what makes Christmas special. 

My son is two and a half, and he has got the spirit of Christmas perfectly. He is uncontrollably excited when he sees a Christmas tree. He has consumed a sleigh full of mince pies with great enthusiasm, not all in one day I might add. Yesterday we had a bit of a pretend Christmas day with family that will be away on 25 December, and my son was so excited to take a present from under the tree and take it to who it was labelled for. He was so excited to watch them open it and he enjoyed collecting up all the paper after everyone had opened their gifts. One of his favourite gifts was a puzzle that he loved and everyone had the time to help him piece it together. 

Some people feel like they have to buy toys and cars and clothes and everything that their child ever wanted to make Christmas special for their children. But children just love spending time with you. Yes they might scream with excitement as each parcel is passed to them, but we should have some thought for their future on this planet of limited resources. Look at all the stuff in the shops and take away the bright lights, the sheen on each item and picture it in six month’s time. I got a pair of wellies last year and I have worn them every single day and been on 330ish different walks. They are Hunters, a cool, British brand made in Scotland. I’ve seen the sun rise, the sun set, the seasons change, the waves on the beach, my dog catch a ball over and over… all wearing my boots. 

A couple of years a go I went to the tip on Boxing day, to recycle some boxes and things. There was a pile of Le Creuset cooking pots, with bits of Brussel sprout, boiled potato and gravy remnants inside. Someone had chucked them away! They must have got an all new set for Christmas. Why hadn’t they taken these to a charity shop? Go ahead an judge me, but I took them home. Washed them within an inch of their life, boxed up my cooking pots of far less quality and took them to a charity shop. I love my Le Creuset set, far more than a Fajita making set that I got for Christmas one year.

People need to stop spending all their money on mass produced gifts, Christmas cards, expensive ribbons, wrapping etc etc. What percentage of this all goes in the bin? Why does it seem like no one cares that they spent £30 on Christmas cards and £15 on wrapping, when that money could be donated to someone in crisis. Why does it seem ok to send a £20 M&S voucher to an ancient aunt who lives a 40 minute drive away and forgo going to see her. It’s obvious that an elderly relative would probably rather have a friendly visit and a potted poinsettia or a box of choccies. I could go on and on, I have already. It’s been a rant. I hope that even one person that did not previously consider any of this, will take on board something that I’ve written. 

Taking a young child to a museum

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Taking a young child to a museum could be a disaster. But if you time it right, be prepared and choose one that is family friendly, it can be a great way to spend time with your child. Most museums in the UK are free to enter (my favourite price). I’m not one to shy away from rainy days, I just stick a rain coat and some wellies on me and my son and we go out splashing in puddles, but when the weather is wet, windy, cold, miserable (refer to November-March) museums are a great way to get out of the house. On Saturday, I planned a visit to the Horniman museum in South East London. I gave my little Herbert a big breakfast, packed lots of snacks, spare clothes (potty training necessity) and we left the house by nine thirty. 

We got to Forest Hill by ten and found a free parking space on the road that runs down the side of the museum. There is a big park next to the Horniman and we walked through it to get to the entrance to the impressive building. I didn’t know too much about the place and I was surprised to learn at the ticket desk that there is a small aquarium in the basement. It was free for my little boy, a pound for my 4 year old nephew and £3 for an adult ticket. My son just loves looking at fish, any normal person could be in and out of the little aquarium in less than five minutes, but my boy spent about half an hour marvelling at the star fish, sea horses, jelly fish, salt water tank and froggies. 

Upstairs, there was a very large collection of taxidermy and at first I was a bit weirded out. After a few minutes of looking inquisitively at a stuffed fox, my son gave it a stroke. I decided, this is a great way to learn about animals, get up close to them and study the beautiful diversity of nature. Most of the animals are behind glass, aside from the cute little fox and a gigantic walrus. But you can’t get close enough to touch the 100 year preserved walrus as it is lollopped on a faux iceberg. It is quite fascinating to see an elephant’s skull, an ostrich egg and a cute as pie koala bear. Upstairs, there are sea life specimens and Jurassic fossils. My son didn’t really appreciate the display upstairs but he loved doing sprints around the gallery style mezzanine floor. 

After a number two accident, (my little boy not me), we went to change his clothes and I found a cloak room. There were lockers, you get a free token from the front desk and buggy parks. I offloaded our bags and coats and it was a breath of fresh air to walk around without being weighed down by a handbag full of toot. We ventured to the centenary exhibition and marvelled at the masks which led us through to an awesome African display of more masks and cultural trinkets. The grown ups were ready for a coffee and the kids were ready for some fresh air.

It was a beautiful sunny day and we got a coffee in the canteen in take-out cups. Outside, we sat on one of the many benches and stuffed our faces with chocolate croissants that I brought from home. We took a walk up towards the farmer’s market where there is a play park that boasts a giant set of bongoes, an enormous xylophone and an incredible view over to Battersea Power Station. We let the boys continue running up the hill where we found a little farmyard with the most adorable long haired little goat, fluffy bunnies, suspicious looking Alpaca and a colourful rooster. 

If you haven’t surmised from the blog so far, we had an amazing day. There weren’t that many people there and that really added to the enjoyment of the place, no crowds is rare when you go somewhere good. We spent a total of seven pounds! My son fell asleep on the way home at around 2pm with pastry crumbs on his face and rosy cheeks from running through the park. 

Teaching a toddler to dress themselves

On a recent dinner date with some girlfriends, I had everyone at the table in stitches by telling them my latest parenting struggle. I usually hold back on talking about my son because it’s only myself and one other girl in the group who has any children and frankly, it’s nice to talk about other things! However, I had to ask the other mum in the group if her daughter could dress herself. Yes was the answer. Apparently teaching a toddler to dress themselves is not an issue for all parents.

Another friend asked if my little boy could dress himself. He can just about take his coat off! He is two years and nine months old. I don’t feel like I have encouraged him to rely on me for dressing, undressing and the putting on and taking off of shoes. He either wears wellies or plimsoles with a velcro strap fastening. Still, when I try to get him to put his wellies on by himself, he tries to step into them, he falls over. He says ‘I can’t do it’. He tries to pull them on from a sitting position but is not strong enough, he stands up with the boot half on to tries to push his foot down into them. They flop to the side, he twists his ankle. He’s now over it.

I do help him, but sometimes I wonder if I will be dressing him when he is going off to work. When it comes to clothes, he is very uninterested. He can climb. he can do puzzles, he can count to ten, he enjoys all of the above. When I broach the subject of getting dressed in the morning, he runs away. I really do have to make a song and dance of it. Pants he ends up with both legs in one whole. (And I can tell he’s thinking ‘that’ll do fine’). T-shirt, the furthest he’s got is his head through the top along with an arm until he’s is stuck. Even I can’t get him out of that without a struggle. Socks, it’s as if he has no bones or muscle in his fingers. Jeans, where do I start, they’re back to front, he’s trying to put his foot up through the foot hole, *sighs.

With potty training, bed time routine, eating habits, and the like, I expected to need some strategy. With dressing, I am so surprised that he hasn’t just sort of picked it up along the way. I just found this article http://bit.ly/1aVmIAZ – it looks like helpful advice. I will try it out, maybe in conjunction with a good old sticker chart. Or maybe buy him a wardrobe full of Thomas the Tank engine clothes?

Life without a debit card

When I first began working, I opened a bank account and got my first debit card. I was used to not having any money, having been a student. So for a long time, I was a very good saver. I never drew out cash unless I needed it and in those days, most places had a £5-10 minimum spend for card payments. No matter how peckish I was at the train station, I didn’t buy a sandwich or a coffee. When I moved in with my boyfriend, we were very careful with money because we were saving for a deposit on our first house – that meant when I was at the supermarket I only bought what we needed. Luckily we both knew how to cook so we didn’t need to waste money on lots of prepared food.

Last week I left my bank card at my sister’s house and I have had to use what little cash I had to get by. I could have gone to the bank, I could have driven the two hour round trip to get my card and I could have gotten my husband to withdraw some cash but I was curious to see how I would get on. The most obvious result is that I have saved quite a lot of money! I do usually get my groceries from Ocado and that was no different so that was already paid for. But throughout the week I often pop to the shops for some milk or whatever and I find myself with a basket over flowing with bits and bobs. Over the week without my card, I’ve had to only get what I needed. No cheeky DVD or mascara. No toy for the little one. No Pizza Express pizza for an easy dinner.

I could easily get by with half a tank of petrol a week, maybe even less. But sometimes when I get cabin fever I set out with my son on a distant adventure without really thinking of the fuel cost. It’s only when the light comes on 50 miles from home that I fill up, pay on the card and try not to pay attention to the frightening cost of driving. This past week, I’ve lived local. Local playdates, walks to the post office, staying indoors, baking colouring in and the like. It has been enjoyable. And when I have been out, I’ve packed a bottle of water and a few snacks so that I haven’t needed to pay the inflated prices of sustenance on the go. There is an organic bakery near where I live and normally if I’m walking past, it’s impossible not to go in and buy a coffee, a sausage roll and something for the kid. That’s a fiver almost every day!

As I’ve been typing I’ve totted up the money that I’ve saved and realised that when I use my card, I’m not thinking about the expenditure. Having the tangible money in my purse has made me appreciate the actual value of it. It’s been good for me and though I’m not going to forgo using the debit card now it is back in my possession, I will be more conscious of  my spending and with the rising cost of living, that can only be a good thing. Could you live without your debit card?

Extreme sports for toddlers

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At the weekend we made a family trip to an indoor skate park. My two and a half year old has never been to one before, but his dad spent half of his childhood on a bmx. I love the idea of letting our little boy try new activities and once he was wearing his protective head gear I was keen to see what he made of skate boarding. We put him on the skate board and held onto his hands. He laughed as the skateboard rolled quickly out from underneath him and he landed on his tushi. We pulled him back up and showed him where to put his feet for his second try. Granted, it was ambitious of us to put him on a skateboard, but while he was having fun – we encouraged him. We are also looking forward to our first winter holiday together where we would like him to try snow boarding!

The place we went to had a separate area for under sixes and after G had had enough of skateboarding, he rode up and down the tiny ramps on his scooter. There were a few other little ones doing the same, all with a huge smile on their face. Over on the other side of the skate park was for the older kids and it was amazing to watch them perfect their tricks. Loud hip hop music boomed out of speakers dotted around and after a while I was looking forward to some peace and quiet, but it set the rhythm for the Tony Hawk wannabes.

When we were ready to leave, we sat on the side for our little skater boy to catch his breath and have a drink. He watched the big kids with wide eyes, he was captivated and I think that he is now hooked. He likes to watch people doing extreme sports on Youtube, he likes to ride his scooter when we’re out walking the dog and his dad is looking at getting a little ramp for the garden. I don’t know about that!