What we’ve been up to this September

I thought it might be nice to do a bit of a monthly round up from now on. Like all the other months since we had Eli, this one has sped by ridiculously fast. Here’s a little snapshot of what we got up to:

Ten things we did this month – photo round-up

Lots of time in the garden – playing, digging for worms (don’t ask), collecting eggs, watering plants. I also left the lid off the sandpit and it turned into a swamp (ooops).

A couple of walks along the canal – one with a lovely friend who taught us a bit about foraging.

Lunch out with the family for tapas (frugal because it was a birthday treat from my parents!)

Dining table forts are a new discovery this month and Eli likes them so much I’ve made a box filled with sheets and stuffed toys so we can pull it out and make a fort at a moment’s notice. It was a lovely thing to entertain a friend we had over for a playdate so I’ll definitely be doing that again.

Setting the table – a new practical life activity we’ve added to our days – Eli puts the cutlery out for us each mealtime.

The fruit and veg shop – I was missing shopping locally and seasonally so I’ve added in a weekly shop to a greengrocer’s into a routine, rather than doing the whole shop at the supermarket. Eli loves sampling the raw veg as we shop and we make a game of pointing out all the different kinds we need.

Briarsland Farm – not frugal but a really fun day out with some friends and their toddlers.

I’ve vowed to start taking Eli swimming again after hardly taking him since his birthday, so we went last week and both had fun. Hopefully to be repeated at least once or twice a month as I want to build his confidence in the water.

I finished up work at the end of this month – so exciting! More sadly, Eli finished up with his amazing childminder as he’ll be at home with me now until he goes to nursery/preschool. She said goodbye with this bowling set, which was an instant hit!

A bumped head – after suffering a bit with two teeth this month AND a cold/cough/sore throat, poor Eli couldn’t catch a break as he actually knocked himself out falling headfirst into a wall! Thankfully he was alright in the end but it was a very scary moment for me as a mum.

What I’ve been reading

Haven’t quite finished it yet, but I’m currently reading Today I just finished reading Unfinished Business by Anne Marie Slaughter (a library book). A fascinating look at why, despite decades of feminist progress, mothers still aren’t “having it all” and reaching equal numbers in leadership positions.

A Game of Thrones (George R R Martin)- a re-read for me, as I’m gutted the last TV series cut us short on only seven episodes!

ToddlerCalm (Sarah Ockwell-Smith) – another library book. If I keep posting these you’ll soon learn I have an obsession with parenting books by the way 🙂 I don’t agree with every single thing Sarah Ockwell-Smith says but a lot of her points do make sense.

Your Money or Your Life (Joe Dominguez, Monique Tilford and Vicki Robin). This was a re-read as well, on the Kindle app on my phone. A personal finance classic I decided to re-read for a bit of inspiration as we move into the “officially skint” phase of life.

Choosing Simplicity (LInda Breen Pierce). Another re-read of a book I have on Kindle. Well TBH I only read 3/4 and have abandoned it for now. It’s interesting but quite long and a bit same-y in some respects. It’s basically a whole load of personal stories of various people who’ve chosen a simplicity lifestyle (the meaning of which varies a lot from individual to individual). A little bit smug/self-congratulatory but inspirational too, if you like this kind of thing.

Looking at the above, I’m reasonably impressed at the amount of reading I’ve done this month, especially as I have actually re-read bits and bobs of other books on my Kindle app whenever I’ve been sitting in Eli’s room waiting for him to fall asleep. However I need to read more fiction, especially as I’ve got about six books waiting leftover from my birthday. I keep getting parenting books out the library and feeling I need to read them before the due date, but I should probably be less obsessive about that and make time for fiction too 🙂

What I’ve been making

  • I knitted Eli a hat but unfortunately it’s too small for his head – so I’ve put that one away with his outgrown clothes and started knitting the same one but bigger.
  • I’ve done plenty of cooking/baking and sowed some seeds in the garden (carrots, kale, winter salad leaves, spinach and coriander).

My goal for next month is to make this section a bit more exciting and start making more things!

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Free and cheap outings with your toddler in Glasgow

When I was on mat leave, particularly the first six months (when I got full pay), we spent a lot of time going for lunches and coffees with my new mum friends and doing expensive baby classes. I don’t regret any of it (though I’m not sure, looking back, that the more hectic days were great for my mental health) because it made lots of lovely memories and helped solidify budding friendships with fellow mums.

But as a stay at home mum, rather than someone on mat leave, I’m much more aware of how we spend our money and it’s simply not an option to do lots of expensive days out. That said – toddlers and mums alike go a bit stir crazy stuck in the house all day.

With that in mind, I’ve been road-testing some free and cheap outings to add to our weekly routine. This list is based around north/west Glasgow to keep petrol costs low, but you could use it as inspiration to see what similar activities are based in your own local area.

Some of this stuff Eli and I will tend to do together; others we’ll go along to with friends; and sometimes we’ll do family trips at the weekend. All of it has been picked for being reasonably inexpensive and I’m also prioritising unstructured play rather than structured activities at the moment. You can also do toddler swimming, gymnastics and football fairly cheaply through the local council (and worth a mention in case it’s of any interest to any readers), but I’ve decided to avoid any weekly commitments like these for the time being.

Outdoors

  • Local parks/playparks – Glasgow has just tons of parks (I believe the most green space per head of population in a European city?) so we’re spoiled for choice. Within walking distance or a few minutes’ drive, we have Ruchill Park (just across the road from our estate so our go-to), Maryhill Park and a great playpark on Kelbourne St.
  • Children’s Wood/North Kelvin Meadow on Kelbourne St is an amazing community-run greenspace with a lovely wooded children’s play area including a mud kitchen, fire pits for barbecuing, a community garden and orchard and plenty of green space to run around in.
  • The Botanic Gardens (the glasshouses are good on a rainy day) and Kelvingrove Park are both favourites, not to mention that part of the lovely Kelvin Walkway runs between these two parks.
  • The Forth & Clyde canal – again walking distance from our house and a favourite for us.
  • Further afield – we’ve been to Victoria Park, Rouken Glen, Queens Park, Cuningar Loop, Pollok Country Park and Glasgow Green and there are many more lovely greenspaces in Glasgow. If you have any recommendations do leave them in the comments as I’d love to branch out a bit 🙂

Free indoor entertainment

  • Riverside Museum. As Eli is obsessed with vehicles of all descriptions, this transport-themed museum is just perfect. It’s actually quite interesting as an adult too!
  • Kelvingrove Museum – it’s got a special place in my heart because it was also one of my favourite places as a child. Eli’s favourite bit is the natural history section, with all the stuffed animals. Kelvingrove also runs a couple of free baby and toddler groups.
  • Libraries – Maryhill and Hillhead libraries are our closest but wherever you are in the city there will be a library nearby. Eli loves books so it’s great to get some new ones, plus you can sit and do some colouring in the kids’ section too. Many of the libraries also run free 30-minute Bounce & Rhyme baby classes which were great when he was younger (the local ones don’t fit in well around his naps anymore).
  • In Possil on Thursdays there’s a free messy play/art class for babies and toddlers called Sculpture Babies, with a different theme each week. I’ve only taken him once but I’m hoping to go weekly now I’m off. I think if you look around, there are other free or low priced baby classes across the city – they are hard to find though and most baby classes are about £6 each.

Low cost outings

  • Playgroups – there are loads of playgroups run in churches and community centres across the city – you could go to one every day if you wanted. The going rate is about £2 for a two hour play session, and there’s usually a snack for the toddlers and coffee/biscuits for the parents. We go the one at Kelbourne St scout hall almost every Friday morning, as we have a few friends who go now.
  • Swimming – it’s around £3 to take your toddler swimming in a council-run pool. Our closest is Maryhill, but I want to take him to North Woodside soon – I used to swim there after work and it’s lovely.
  • Playgym – It’s £4 I think at Kelvin Hall and (although at the pricier end of activties in this list) it’s really good fun. There’s no structure – they basically set out all the gymnastics equipment and soft play stuff out in a big hall and let the kids go wild on it. It’s on almost every day and usually with multiple sessions on.

Everyday stuff

  • Food shopping – Eli loves going round the supermarket in the trolley, especially in Tesco, where he gets a free bit of fruit 🙂 it’s actually a great way of teaching them lots about everyday life and playing games like pointing out different veg. Or if you’re in Glasgow, why not go to an ethnic foodshop or fruit and veg shop instead? I’ve started taking him on weekly trips to Roots & Fruits on Great Western Road to teach him more about shopping locally and seasonally.
  • Other errands – whether you need to go to the post office or the pharmacy, you can make any little trips exciting for your toddler by chatting to them and pointing out interesting sights on the way. If you don’t have far to go, let them walk, or why not get on a bus instead of driving? Something I’ve not done for ages, but I plan to soon, as again Eli’s obsessed with buses.
  • Playdates at a friend’s house – sometimes there’s nothing better than gettiing to play with a friend’s toys!
  • Just go for a walk… get your toddler in wellies and waterproofs and go out to splash in some puddles as you go round your block. Or else collect little treasures like fallen leaves and flowers for use in art when you get home. We can overthink toddler entertainment a little sometimes as this is probably all you really need to do 🙂 this works even better if you have to post a letter as I find Eli loves doing this.

So here’s my list of how I’m planning on getting out with Eli on the cheap. Obviously there are millions more fun things to do in and around Glasgow that cost a bit more (ranging from music classes to the Science Centre or trips to a farm) but if you know of any hidden frugal gems I’ve missed, let me know in the comments. Next up – ways to keep your toddler busy when you’re at home 🙂

Mealplan and shopping 29/07

Been a while since I’ve done one of these 🙂

Mealplan runs from Thursday (when I usually do my shopping) to Tuesday (as I’m going to change my shopping day now I’m off work). Shopping was done at Lidl.

A note on what we bought –

  • I bought a few extra packs of meat for the freezer, as they were reduced, so they’ll be used later on.
  • Not much veg on the list as we have some left in the fridge from last week, frozen peas/sweetcorn and we’ve got some kale, rocket and apples in the garden.

Mealplan

Thursday – smoked mackerel, rice, veg

Friday – burgers, chips, coleslaw

Saturday – I’m out as a belated birthday celebration with my mum and sister; not sure what Dave and Eli will have yet, maybe soup or pasta

Sunday – meatballs, mash, braised red cabbage, other veg

Monday – goats cheese spaghetti

Shopping (after household stuff and alcohol taken off) – £25.34

  • Sirloin steak (reduced)
  • Chicken mini fillets (reduced) x2
  • Smoked mackerel fillets (reduced)
  • Whole milk 4 pints
  • Peeled plum tomatoes
  • Cola x3
  • Greek style yoghurt
  • Bacon
  • Beef mince 800g
  • Asparagus
  • Funsize satsumas
  • Goats cheese
  • Granulated sugar
  • Butter
  • Carrots
  • Tinned tuna
  • Crisps 6pk
  • Tinned mackerel
  • Spaghetti
  • Sliced bread
  • Cucumber
  • Bananas

A perfect day

I haven’t finished work yet (very soon though!), but I only work three days a week so I was off on Thursday.

I woke up to Eli chattering and climbing on me (he often ends up in our bed at some point in the night at the moment).

The house and kitchen were a bit messy after my three work days (which are always a bit manic) but it was OK as I had lots of time to deal with it, and a little helper who likes to get involved.

I hadn’t planned in or scheduled too much – I’m trying to avoid overscheduling and make a conscious effort to slow down our pace of life at the moment. So instead, we pottered about tidying upstairs and then having breakfast. I had a shower and got Eli dressed. I wasn’t in a rush so I didn’t feel impatient when he dawdled and wanted to do things himself, and it showed – there wasn’t a single tantrum, not even during nappy changing, when I took my time and made him giggle by blowing raspberries on his belly.

Just before 10, we left the house and drove to the library (it is walking distance, but I wanted to shop in the fruit and veg shop after instead of Tesco, and they are too far from one another to walk with a toddler and get back for toddler lunchtime). I parked up the street and let Eli walk down beside me – he’s getting so good at walking holding my hand now and we went at his pace, stopping to point at the roadworks and buses.

After we changed our books, we headed over to do our shopping. My favourite new routine is to park in Lidl then walk down to Roots and Fruits on Great Western Road before going back to get the rest of the shopping in Lidl. It was a sunny day and I was really conscious of how peaceful and calm I felt as we walked – something that doesn’t always happen as a busy working mum (or indeed as a busy stay at home mum). The girl working in Roots and Fruits was charmed by Eli happily taking a munch out of raw broccoli. carrot and peppers as I paid.

While Eli napped after our shared lunch, I cleaned the kitchen, cleaned out the chicken coop, hung out washing, generally tidied up, and sat and read my library book for a while – bliss.

Eli and I played together lots that afternoon, reading all his new library books, playing tickle-chase and he helped me set the table for dinner.

Dave was home a little earlier than normal and we all hung out in garden in the sun for a good bit before dinner. I even got to read a bit more of my book while Dave played with Eli (Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter, if you’re interested).

I had plenty of time to make a healthy dinner, which we ate together (salmon, veg and new potatoes – went down well with all three of us). We could then chill out in the evening after I quickly did the dinner dishes and Dave put Eli to bed.

It was pretty much a perfect day 🙂

Another version of this day

In a parallel universe somewhere, I worked that day. I was on a phased return to full-time hours when I handed in my notice, and would have been up to at least four days a week by now if I hadn’t left.

What would that alternative day have looked like?

I would have been woken by my alarm about 40 minutes before we actually got up (less sleep = grumpy mum!).

One of us would have been rushing about getting Eli ready while the other then drove him to the childminder’s. He would have eaten breakfast and lunch there, while I’d have eaten them at work.

I wouldn’t have gotten home til nearly 6.

One of us would have had to pick Eli up while the other threw together some kind of dinner in a messy kitchen.

After Eli was in bed, one of us would have had to go to Tesco to pick up the shopping, or else we’d have had to make time to do it over the weekend (instead of the family stuff we might otherwise do).

We’d have had to use the rest of the evening to clean the house, clean the chicken run, and the washing would have been hung indoors instead of being dried on the line during the sunny afternoon. Afterwards we’d have crashed out in front of the TV exhausted no doubt.

I don’t think I’d have had time to read any of my book (actually I wouldn’t have had the book at all as I wouldn’t have gone to the library)… and I’m sure we wouldn’t have played in the garden in the sunshine before dinner.

Thursday really drove home to me how lucky I am to be taking some time out of work. To spend time with my son, and to slow down and simplify our lives. And not just me – Dave agreed his evening would have looked very different if I’d been at work.

I’m mindful that not everyone who wants to stay at home has the choice due to finances or other situations. I feel so lucky and grateful that I do, and angry too at the way caring is undervalued in our society (both parenting and other forms of caring).

And of course, not everyone would choose to go down this path, and lots of parents love their jobs and can structure their lives so their weekdays aren’t too hectic. Just because this is right for us doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.

But for us, right now – I’m thankful for the reminder that I’ve made the right decision. Not just for Eli, but for all of us.

Hello again :)

Um…wow! What a long time it’s been since I’ve been here! I did the odd Facebook post last summer, but I’ve really missed writing here for the last few years

What’s been going on?

There have been LOTS of changes in our lives since January 2015 (when I last posted, eeek!). Most importantly – we have a son 🙂 Eli William Dunlop was born in December 2015 and is now only a couple of months off his second birthday. Being a mum is the hardest, but most rewarding thing I’ve ever done (which is such a cliche but really there is no other way to say it).

When I was pregnant we bought our first house and left our tiny kitchen which had featured here so many times. Our (not so new anymore) house has a much bigger kitchen, room for an actual dining table and, you guys, we have a GARDEN. With a greenhouse, vegetable patch, mature fruit tress and bushes, and CHICKENS. Three lovely ladies called Agnes, Martha and Betty.

Dave has also changed his career. Having been a manager in the care field for a few years, he’s decided to retrain and is now a smart meter fitter, which he loves and is much better for his mental health.

Another big change

So we have another big change coming our way, and it’s that I’m currently working out my notice period at my job, having been back from maternity leave part-time for about nine months.  My last day is next Wednesday and then I’ll officially be a stay at home mum 🙂 

I can’t wait to spend every day with this gorgeous wee face, but of course making this decision has some financial ramifications which mean that budgeting/frugality is definitely forefront in our minds at the moment – a big part of the reason I’m looking at this blog again. 

Since Eli started eating solid food last spring, I’ve enjoyed cooking for him so much I started up a new blog, www.babyledbites.co.uk, which I write at on and off. I hope to keep writing here on cooking for babies and toddlers much more regularly, but life’s changed a lot for me of late and I’ve been craving somewhere I can write more widely on all the things going through my head. 

Rather than start a third blog, I’ve decided to revive this one and (fingers crossed) run it alongside Baby Led Bites, since I should have a bit more free time once I finish up at work at the end of this month.  

Now I know that Chilli Sage and Lemon was pretty much focused on frugal cooking before, but as I said, I’d like to widen the focus a bit. I’ll still be writing about frugality but won’t limit this to just cooking (although this will remain a big focus – but a lot of cooking content may go on Baby Led Bites instead). I’ll also be writing a bit about gardening, knitting, eco-friendly/green living and minimalism, simplicity and motherhood in general – basically anything that catches my interest! 

 

 

Mealplan 11/01

It’s been a good week but a busy one – so tough getting used work again after nearly two weeks off! We mostly stuck to the mealplan but ended up making a fry up for dinner last night when I burned the bottom of the planned curry (luckily just at the beginning of the sauce making stage so not TOO much wastage). Just to show that even people who cook all the time have kitchen disasters. Moral of the story: don’t cook while trying to make phone calls and return messages in the other room.

We bought a couple more things last week and did a ‘big shop’ today so I’ll get the spending page updated tomorrow. No time tonight, I’ve been rushing about making lunches for the next few days (noodle soup for me to use up leftover beansprouts, and sausage rolls for Dave for tomorrow to use up leftover sausagemeat).

As usual, FF on the mealplan means I’ve already made it and it’s from the freezer.

Mealplan

mealplan 1101

Sun 11 – homemade hotdogs (yes I made my own sausages, post to follow on this!)

Mon 12 – Singapore-style noodles with pork mince and prawns

Tues 13 – baked potatoes and veg chilli (FF)

Wed 14 – spaghetti with walnuts, pumpkin seeds and spinach

Thurs 15 – soup and bread

Fri 16 – beef tacos (meat filling FF)

Sat 17 – hummous and salad and pittas

For breakfasts:

For me – porridge with apple or a banana chocolate milkshake

For Dave – cereal (Alpen at the moment) or sausage egg frittatas (if I get round to making them tomorrow night)

At the weekend – I didn’t make pancakes or beans last week so might this week. Bacon roll for Dave usually

For lunches:

For me – noodle soup x3, I have lentil soup in the freezer and have made cheese pastry rolls too for the other days

For Dave – homemade sausage rolls tomorrow, then tuna salad and tuna or ham sandwiches, with tinned fruit

Ham joint and meal prep

I know lots of people struggle with cooking after work, which is why it’s always a great idea to do some batch cooking and prep work when you have the time to spend a couple of hours in the kitchen. Tonight, I cooked the gammon joint I bought at the weekend for dinner tonight and prepped it for the next few meals.

ham-dinner-050114

First I boiled the gammon joint – well, I actually cooked it in the pressure cooker for around 25 minutes, then smothered in mustard and a little maple syrup (no honey left) and roasted in the oven for around 45 minutes. Meanwhile, I roasted some carrots, parsnips and swede, and made some creamy mash to go with it.

For the sauce, I reduced down the ham stock made by boiling the ham (with the peelings from the veg chucked in while it bubbled away) for a bit. Once it had cooked away, I melted some butter in a small saucepan, added a spoonful of flour to make a paste and thinned with a couple of ladlefuls of the ham stock. I cooked it, whisking regularly, until thickened, then added wholegrain mustard and cream. Delicious 🙂

After dinner I had the following leftovers to work with:

  • About half the cream & mustard sauce
  • A small portion of mash and a tiny handful of roasted veg from dinner
  • Just short of 500g potatoes cooked in their skins (I’d cooked extra on purpose and put them aside before making the mash for dinner)
  • Most of the joint of ham
  • The leftover stock from cooking the ham

Here’s what I did with it:

  • I made gnocchi using a double batch of this recipe but with added defrosted and chopped spinach. My one fear is the gnocchi will fall apart because I added too much spinach, but I’m sure it’ll be nice anyway 😉 I froze half of it and left half in the fridge for later on in the week.
  • I sliced half the ham thinly. The sliced ham was individually bagged into 11 sandwich-sized portions, which will do Dave for the rest of the month (he had ham sandwiches 2-3x a week).
  • The rest of the ham I cut into small cubes. I used some of this with cooked pasta and cooked frozen sweetcorn, spring onion, mayo, a little of the leftover sauce for the ham and mustard to make two days worth of pasta salad for Dave’s lunches. The rest of the ham has been frozen to be added to pie fillings, fried rice or whatever else might come up.
  • Withe stock, I just boiled right down til really concentrated, then poured into an ice-cube tray to freeze as homemade stock cubes
  • Finally, there was a little bit of mash and veg left from dinner, so I mashed it all together with some of the ham cubes to make a potato cake and fried, to have as my own lunch with the rest of the leftover sauce and some salad tomorrow.

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So that’s what I’ve been up to this evening. Bit tired now after spending half the evening in the kitchen but it was definitely worth it to be organised 🙂

Does anyone else prep food for the freezer, or make their lunches in advance? I hate not having lunch ready the night before because otherwise it’s a total rush to make them in the morning.