Trim Healthy Thursday: Monitoring the situation

So last week I talked about needing to take my application of Trim Healthy Mama eating principles up a notch, as I’d been freestyling a bit too much (oh bread, what am I going to do with you?).

After reading Gretchen Rubin’s book ‘Better than Before’ on habit formation I decided to put some of her strategies into action.

I won’t go into the ‘why’ details (read her book), but a strategy that can work for people with my personality is to closely monitor yourself.

I devised a daily planner where I tick off whether I exercised, ate a THM breakfast, lunch or dinner, and did several other daily tasks.  I know, I know, it all sounds rather tedious and extreme but…


I have been surprised how something so simple has a powerful effect on me.  I seriously feel guilty if I put a cross next to THM lunch or whatever.  I think it helps that I am also a visual person, so seeing ticks and crosses laid out in front of me helps me to see the scale of any ‘cheating’ and where I’m doing well.  I’ve also found it has been a terrific prompt to do things around the house when my sleep-deprived brain isn’t firing on all cylinders first thing in the morning.  Hopefully I will get to a point where my tick sheets are no longer required as these new, better habits become ingrained.

Another useful strategy for me is rewards.  I wrote down some goals that I want to reach, and allocated rewards that I will be given when I hit those goals.  I got a whole bunch of gift cards and cash for my birthday which I have handed over to D.  When I reach a specific goal he will release a card or some cash to me.  The more difficult the goal, the bigger the reward.  I’ve only just started this so I haven’t hit any goals yet, but I am looking forward to doing so.

If you are someone who is only doing so-so with any kind of habit change, such as sticking to a diet, exercising regularly, or sticking to a spiritual discipline, try really thinking about what strategies have worked for you in the past, and what haven’t.  Think about what suits your personality.  It’s no good telling yourself you will get up at 5am in the morning to go to the gym six days a week when you are not a morning person, and would be much better off exercising after work.

Have you tried different strategies to create a new habit?  What works for you?


Dollar Diet: Week 30, all bets are off!

This week we saved no money at all.

But that’s because it was my birthday!  Not just any birthday.  My fortieth birthday.  It’s kind of a big deal.

A friend and her children made me this fantastic birthday cake!

A friend and her children made me this fantastic birthday cake!

As I have small children – and so do all my local friends – a big knees up at the pub was out of the question.  I just couldn’t be bothered.

I did however, demand to be taken somewhere swanky for dinner by D, because, you know, I was turning 40.  I couldn’t let it slide by unnoticed.

We decided to check out a restaurant we hadn’t been to before called La Strada.  I cannot rave about this place enough.  Everything we ate was amazing – some of the best food we’ve had, ever – and felt like the perfect place to celebrate my birthday.  Our meal wasn’t cheap, but we indulged ourselves because it’s not like I turn 40 everyday.

I also noticed in the paper that morning that one of our local theatres was hosting a ‘Who’s Line is it Anyway’ improv night.  $15 for a ticket and a glass of wine.  It took zero arm twisting to persuade D we should tack this onto our night as D and I loved to attend improv comedy nights in those heady days before we were parents.

The show was brilliant.  Whanganui has some tremendous comedic talent, and there’s nothing like spending a night in stitches of laughter to make you feel great.

I also wanted to celebrate somehow with my children, so we took them that morning to our local pool.  It was officially the best day ever in Chip’s life who spent most of the time climbing into the toddler pool, turning around, climbing out of the toddler pool, turning around, climbing into the toddler pool ad infinitum.  In case you can’t tell, he’s really into climbing right now…  Sausage and I had loads of fun zipping down the hydroslide several times, and pretending to be rockets launching out of the pool.

A perfect birthday.  Not so great for our bank balance, but almost covered by the week’s Dollar Diet savings.


A week in the life of…

When you become a parent – particularly a stay-at-home parent – one of the things you become initiated into is the ‘playgroup’.  It’s a bewildering, hazing sort of initiation as you figure out which ones suit your baby and you (see here for my tips on how to choose one).  

I get asked a lot by new mums: ‘How often should I go to a play group? How much is too much?’  Again, the answer to that is whatever suits you and your baby.  Some people love to go to one everyday, while for others once a week is enough.

Currently we go to three to four playgroups a week (depending on how busy the rest of the week is) and that seems about right for now.  I like for my children to have a day or two pottering about at home or getting out into nature on sunny days.  Over-scheduling of children is a big problem, which is why I think lots of time at home is important.  They both get bored at times, but I find my two play together well when there is nothing else to distract them.  Having said this, both my kids are extroverts so they love being around other children.  Chip is a high energy baby, so I suspect in a few months time when he is running around, we will need to go to some kind of group every day just to keep him happy.

Here are some photos of last week:
Play group 1

Playgroup 1

We go to a low-key playgroup once, twice or even three times a week depending on how the mood takes us.  It is a pay-as-you-go group so it doesn’t matter if we skip a session or two.  This playgroup has loads of great toys which keep my tots occupied nicely.  It is a very low-involvement-from-parents sort of group (which is great when you just need a break) but we typically help put toys out/away, prepare morning tea, and lead craft activities.

This toy we christened the ‘Wibble-Wobble’ although I am reliably informed it is called a Spring Bug.  I think Wibble-Wobble is much better.

Chip enjoying the Wibble-Wobble

Chip enjoying the Wibble-Wobble

Sausage in action

Sausage in action

We go to Playcentre once a week, and the kids and I really enjoy it.  The toys and selection of activities there are tremendous.  Playcentre is parent-run so it requires a high level of care-giver involvement, but it’s not onerous.  Playcentre has a very holistic philosophy, letting children lead and direct their play.  It is unique to New Zealand and provides training to all caregivers to help them get the most out of their child’s time at Playcentre.

Making cheese puff at Playcentre

Making cheese puffs at Playcentre

Climbing toys are very popular at Playcentre

Climbing toys are very popular at Playcentre

We go to a music and dance group once a week, although I forgot to take pictures of this.  Sausage loves, loves, loves music and dancing but isn’t into this group so much.  Chip, on the other hand, thinks it is the bees-knees.

During the week we also went swimming, went to a botanic garden and hung out with family.

Sausage at Bason Botanic Gardens

Sausage at Bason Botanic Gardens

Chip getting Uncle Cuddles

Chip getting Uncle Cuddles

How often do you take you kids to playgroups?  What’s your happy medium?


Trim Healthy Thursday: Taking it up a notch

6 months in.

My thinking spot

My thinking spot

Woah.  That’s a lifetime in diet years.  Am I happy with my progress?  Yes and no. Yes, I have dropped two dress sizes, and have discovered I have a waist after all.  But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to wanting more dramatic results like some people share on Facebook.  I know, I know, slow and steady wins the race and all that.

If I am being totally honest with myself, my ability to stay on plan waivers from day to day.  Some days are fine and other days are derailed by various off-plan things that slip in here and there.  I’m not a purist sort of person, I think some ‘cheating’ (I really hate that term by the way!) is okay.  In fact, you must expect to cheat.  There are people out there who can stick to an eating plan and never waiver, but they are few and far between.  Some people allow themselves a cheat meal a week or a cheat day, which I think is a more realistic way to live.

I haven’t been allowing myself a cheat meal here and there, but I have been doing it all the same, so it’s time to take Trim Healthy Mama up a notch.  So I think I might officially give myself one per week (especially as my birthday is this week!), and try something new to curb bad habits and encourage the good.  I took myself off to my best thinking spot and thought.  And thought some more.

I have been reading books by Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, and have been particularly taken with her work on habits.  You can check out some of her work here.  The psychologist in me loves this sort of stuff, and Gretchen’s take on habit formation makes a lot of sense to me.  In her book, Better than Before, Gretchen spells out the need to understand your personality before you attempt to change a habit.

A strategy that works for my personality is ‘monitoring’ i.e. keeping a close eye on how things are going.  In the spirit of trying something new, I have devised a weekly sheet where I will tick off all the meals where I stuck to THM, when I exercised and when I got to bed before 10pm (I need lots of sleep).  I have also devised some rewards for when I hit a goal.  It all sounds a bit simple and rather schoolish, but I’m pretty sure it will work for me.  If that all sounds rather boring, read the book to discover what might work for you.


Dollar Diet: Week 29, false economies

D had to shell out money for a new pair of glasses this week.  I am always soooo glad I have good eyesight because glasses are ridiculously expensive here in New Zealand – at least several hundred dollars a pair.  D bought a pair locally a few months ago and got the cheapest pair he possibly could, as locally sourced pairs are much more expensive than on the net.  They promptly broke a few days later, thanks to some rough-housing with Sausage.  A little glue fixed them, but when Chip re-broke them last week it was time for  a new pair.

D has learnt the hard way to always go for quality when it comes to high-use items like glasses.  If he’d opted for a more expensive pair they might have withstood some rough-housing, and saved us paying over the odds for a replacement pair.

On a bright note I took part in a ‘Mamabake’ session, which was so much fun.  The premise is that a bunch of friends get together to swap baking or prepare a meal that can be chucked in the slow cooker.  You prepare enough to cover a family of four times the number of people taking part.  Vegetable prep goes by swiftly with a cuppa and a good chat!  We had a great time and went home with several meals that we can whip out when we’re having ‘one of those days’ and that we didn’t have to cook!  Win-win, that’s for sure.

Some of the spoils

Some of the spoils

Looking forward to eating this!

Looking forward to eating this!

Other frugal things have been harvesting some tangelos and the last of our apples, and getting a huge box of clothes for the children from a friend.  My tots are pretty sorted for the year ahead, I doubt I will need to buy them much at all for quite some time.

I had a big clean out of clothes and donated some, while others are (still) waiting for me to sell them online.  I baked up a storm, although my banana-cake-that-took-three-times-as-long-as-it-should-to-bake had me stopping for a packet of cookies as the cake was intended for sharing at a friend’s house.  Entertainment-wise we have kept close to home or visited friends, although Sausage has started a gym class this week.  However, we have plenty of money in the ‘kids’ line of our budget thanks to not having to buy them clothes and other kid-related items so the new class is not a problem.

So the usual wins and losses that life brings this week.


Trim Healthy Thursday: It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

Despite a few ‘off-plan’ meals while I was sick, I managed to mostly stick to being a Trim Healthy Mama.  And it’s paid off.

I went through my stash of ‘smaller me’ clothes, and several items now fit.  Hooray!  Many others are only a few weeks away from fitting.  I have officially retired a pair of skinny jeans as they are too baggy and can now get into a pair of skinny jeans that I could barely zip up a few weeks ago.

Reclaiming some of my old clothes I was keeping ‘just in case I lose weight’ felt great, and my bedroom looked at lot like the aftermath of Christmas morning with my new-old clothes strewn about.

The funny thing is I am heavier than I was the last time I fit these clothes.  LIke 5 or 6kgs heavier.  That’s pretty significant.  The last time I fit these clothes I was sugar-free and running several times a week.  This time around I have done little exercise (although I was just getting back into it when I got sick).

I know I am not the only Trim Healthy Mama who has discovered this.  On Facebook I see several Mamas a week posting about they have dropped dress sizes without the scales budging much.  I can visibly see how much weight I have lost in my top half.  I carry most of my weight around my midriff and at times it has felt like absolutely NOTHING was changing down there.  But it is.  The weight might not becoming off there as dramatically as I would like, but my new-old clothes don’t lie.  It’s shrinking.

The other day D asked me ‘How long have you been doing Trim Healthy Mama for now?’

‘Just over five months,’ I said.

‘Wow.  That’s pretty great,’ he said.  ‘My understanding is that most people go off a diet within a few weeks.’

He’s right.

Five months on a ‘diet’ is terrific.  This recent UK found that most women last a mere five weeks on a diet.  Five weeks!  And most of these women put it down to lack of ‘willpower’.

The simple truth is that willpower only gets you so far.

It’s not you, it’s the diet.

‘Diets’ must be sustainable.  The reason I have chalked up almost six months of being a Trim Healthy Mama is that it is NOT a huge departure from how I was eating previously.  I do not count calories, or suffer through kelp-and-kale smoothies.  I do not sit there and feel deprived eating lettuce and salad while others are tucking into heartier fare, because I can mostly eat what they eat.

I know I am fortunate to have been sugar free already when I started THM, as this made the transition much easier.  But what keeps me going is that it is just easy to keep on going.  I eat what I would normally eat, just in slightly different combinations.

As I looked at a favourite summery skirt that zips up but is still too tight, I thought ‘I should fit this by summer’.  And you what?  I bet that I will.

Place your bets now.


Dollar Diet: Week 28 – a leap of faith

I missed last week’s update due to illness, but I thought it was high time I spilled the beans on some changes around here in Tawhero.

A Tawhero tree (image credit)

A Tawhero tree
(image credit)

D quit his job.

And is currently unemployed.  He does have some new work lined up, although nothing is set in stone which feels a teensy bit scary.

But mostly I am okay with this turn of events, and have been D’s biggest encourager to quit his job.

During his time at this job, D’s company went from being a small business to a rather large business.  D went from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond, and he felt it was time to move on.

But we owe a great deal to this business – its success enabled us to buy a house without a mortgage, and allowed D to work remotely from Whanganui, so quitting was not an easy decision for D.

Leaving big-city living for a slower pace of life was an easy decision for us.  Most people thought we were nuts to give up our ‘successful’ lives in New Zealand’s capital to go live in a small place like Whanganui.  But nothing makes you assess your priorities more than having kids.  House prices in New Zealand’s main centres have gone through the roof (Auckland house prices are beyond insane).  We knew we would need a bigger house if we had any more kids after Sausage (hello Chip!) as our rental genuinely could not have accommodated another baby.  We would have had to have bought a house in the outer suburbs, meaning long commutes to work; and I would have needed to return to work as soon as possible.

We just didn’t want that life.  Massive mortgage, tedious commute.  Putting our kids in childcare.  The stress.

D and I were in the incredibly fortunate position of being able to say no to that life.  We know many people would kill to be in our shoes.

Like many provincial towns and cities, jobs are scarce in Whanganui.  Despite the ease in which remote working can be done, most IT jobs still want you to come in to an office where the boss can keep an eye on you.  People still cling to old ways of working, of doing business.  We knew that getting a remote IT job that allowed D to live anywhere would be tricky.  So when D’s manager said yes to the idea of him working remotely, we were gobsmacked.  Delighted and grateful, but gobsmacked.

D knew his chances of finding a remote IT job that let him work reduced hours (D was studying at the time) was slim, so being able to stay with his company was brilliant.  It did however, mean that when he felt it was time to move on from the company, he felt somewhat painted into a corner.  As I said, those remote jobs in his field don’t grow on trees.

But life has a way of working out just fine, doesn’t it?

By happy coincidence, as we decided to move to Whanganui D discovered that a friend from University he’d lost touch with was living here.  Who also works in IT.  Long story short, with their friendship rekindled, the two of them have decided to go into business together as a software development consultants.

They have several clients in the pipeline, and will probably start work in a month’s time.  It’s a bit scary to be forgoing regular employment for the uncertain world of self-employment, but I have faith that everything will be just fine.  D and his friend R are both excellent at what they do (they were voted Whanganui’s biggest geeks at a recent event…), and their reputations alone have already garnered them clients.

We had savings prior to the Dollar Diet, but after successfully dollar dieting for over six months now, our savings are in much better shape that they would otherwise have been.  

We are easily able to weather a month with no income, and should be able to survive the ebbs and flows of consulting work in the future.  I no longer feel like we are haemorrhaging money, nor do I feel powerless to stop it.  We know exactly what we spend our money on and have saved thousands of dollars simply by cutting out unnecessary excess.  While we wait for D’s new work to begin we will tighten our belts by spending less on food and non-essential activities.

I have faith that everything will turn out just fine.


Having one of THOSE days? How to keep calm and carry on, and keep your kids happy

Tots in Tawhero has been rather quiet of late.

Not for lack of inspiration, but due to sickness.  After blogging about each one of us getting a virus, mine came back with a vengeance and turned into pneumonia.  Oh, and D was away for work.  Fun times.

I made it through several bad days thanks to family, play dates and the electronic babysitter.  It’s so hard to entertain your kids when they are getting over an illness (even when you’re well) because you can’t go to all your normal playgroups lest they infect others.  And when YOU are the one who is sick, keeping your tots occupied feels like a Herculean task.

It got me thinking that there must be a way I can help myself the next time I am in this position – because let’s face it, toddlers are some of the most diseased creatures on the planet, so there will be a next time.

I am a very organised person by nature, so I like the idea of Present Me helping out Future Me by doing a little graft now.

Busy bags have been on my radar for a while, but I’d never gotten off my chuff to actually make one.  If you haven’t come across them before, basically they are bags with things in them to keep your tot occupied when you need them to play independently for a bit, like while you are waiting at the doctor’s.  With the struggle of the past few weeks fresh in my mind, I decided to make some for Sausage (2 1/2) and Chip (11 months).

There are loads and loads of busy bag ideas on Pinterest (what on earth did we do before Pinterest?), but many of them are aimed at 3-5 year olds, with things like matching games, puzzles and threading crafts that are too difficult for my tots.  They usually have one activity in them and can be reused over and over.

I was able to make up some suitable bags after putting in a bit of thought.  Being sick, I had zero energy to make anything.  These bags do contain store-bought stuff (quite inexpensive), but there are plenty of ideas out there in Pinterest land that could be made with materials to hand, or bought for next-to-nothing at a thrift store.  As these bags were intended to be used at home in times of illness or sheer desperation for something to do, I was not constrained by needing to keep things portable.

Instead of ‘busy’ bags, I am calling them ‘Save Our Sanity’ (or SOS) bags, as they really can make tough times a little better.
SOS bags for 2 year olds and under

SOS bags for 2 year olds and under

D is back home and ‘on’ the kids while I rest and recover, but he needed to go out for a couple of hours sans kids.  Out popped a couple of SOS bags, and the time passed pretty quickly as a result.

Some of the things in Sausage’s bag included a new colouring book, a ‘paint with water’ book, and a new-to-her story book.  I’d like to shake the hand of kiss whomever invented paint-with-water books, they are a genius.  I remember using them when I was little so they’ve been around a while, but they are perfect for toddlers, who love seeing the water transform the pictures.

This one kept Sausage busy for two 20 minute sessions:

Paint with water books are your friend

Paint with water books are your friend

She also coloured for about 15 minutes and I read the story book to her three times. 🙂

We’ve all been wearing tiaras wrong for years…

saus reading

Chip’s bag was much trickier as I didn’t have the energy to make anything, but I did have a few things stashed away that were appropriate, like stacking cubes and finger paint.

dan stacking

We didn’t get around to finger painting, as he needed a sleep, but the stacking cubes kept him occupied for quite a while.  Building them into a tower is naturally far beyond his capabilities, but Chip had a great time knocking them down and trying to eat them, because that’s his thing.

So there you go.  Simple but effective.  You don’t need to be a crafty person to cobble bags like this together.  You don’t even need new stuff – you could use ‘forgotten’ toys and books, make your own colouring books by printing out a few pages from your computer, throw in some string and some beads for threading, snacks, and even a new-to-them DVD if you are really sick.  Anything new to your kid is going to buy you a little ‘me’ time and it just might save your sanity on a really bad day.  Or save theirs, after four straight days of rain.

While I will be making SOS bags like this or this,  I will also be looking for books, puzzles and games at second hand stores to stash away to help out future Angela.  For the SOS bags I want to use when I am at a loose end for things to do, I plan to put in materials so we can make a craft together; and when my kids are much bigger, maybe even some tickets to a movie or skating rink.

A little work now will save your sanity later, so go ahead.  Help out future you.


Sick toddler? Five TV shows that won’t make YOU scream

I’ve been thinking I should erect a sign outside our house in Tawhero saying: WARNING!  PLAGUE HOUSE!  ENTER AT OWN RISK.

Enter at your own risk (image credit)

Enter at your own risk
(image credit)

I thought I’d caught my virus from Sausage as she was a bit off colour after we came back from Wellington.  It turns out deciding not to become a virologist as a kid was a great idea because I’d have sucked at it.  Chip caught my virus and spent last week feeling rather miserable, but I was thrown for a loop when Sausage came down with the virus at the weekend.  To round it all off, D came down with laryngitis.

So yeah, you might not want to visit us anytime soon.

D spent pretty much all weekend getting his geek on at GovHack 2015, where he and others came up with an app using government-provided data.  (You can see the fruit of their labours here.)  Unfortunately it meant leaving a still-recovering-me with a sick toddler and a baby who just wanted to play.

We survived (just), partly in thanks to TV for Sausage.  She had no energy for anything else.  She didn’t even want to read her beloved books.

I normally limit Sausage’s TV viewing, but when you have a sick kid, I think it’s fine to let them zone out in front of the TV if it keeps them happy and rested.  Normally Sausage doesn’t watch TV every day, and never watches anything that is not Mum-approved, because there are so many rubbishy, violent and just plain weird shows out there aimed at kids.  And then there are the shows that are preachy, and so gosh-darned-saccharin that they are a visual version of nails raked down a chalkboard (The Care Bears, I’m looking at you.  Actually I’m not, as your show makes me want to vomit…)  I try to watch TV with Sausage whenever possible, as I can sportscast what’s happening; so I can say that the shows below should pass the ‘scream’ test – especially if you watch several episodes in a row.

Peppa Pig

I have to start off with the obvious.  Peppa is Sausage’s favourite show.  She talks about Peppa and her friends all the time.  ‘Dr Brown Bear is sick Mummy!  I must look after him.  I will go get a plaster,’ and other such gems randomly pepper her conversation (pun intended), and Sausage certainly appears to have a soft spot for Peppa’s inept pal, Pedro Pony.

I like Peppa Pig.  I think it’s a great show and here’s why: Although some episodes are a rather far-fetched, many episodes centre around normal, everyday toddler stuff, like going to play group, going to the library or the museum, going on holiday, having fun jumping in muddy puddles or accidentally turning Daddy’s white shirt pink in the wash.  The show is British, and without meaning to offend any other nation, I don’t think anyone does TV better than the British. There are a wide range of accents on the show, including Welsh and Mancunian, which adds to its appeal.

Peppa and her little brother George are surrounded by loving and enthusiastic adults, who often defy stereotypes.  Daddy Pig is a hands-on, modern father, and Mummy Pig is a sassy, smart, working-from-home Mama.  Peppa lives in a fairly typical English house (if everyone living on top of a hill is typical) and shares a room with her brother.  The many grandparents in the show are often very involved in their grandchildren’s lives and do cool stuff like sail boats, own garages, and run dinosaur theme parks.  Peppa’s elderly play group teacher, Madame Gazelle used to be in a rock band.  Peppa has a wide group of friends, who – talking animals aside – are wonderfully devoid of super powers, princesses, sporting prowess, heartwarming-pluck or any other special talent that many children’s tv shows and books like to advocate.  These, err…kids… are normal.  They squabble, fight and make up, have best friends, boss each other around, burst into tears, have secrets, and mess up like your tots and mine do.

Adults can enjoy Peppa too.  The running gag of Miss Rabbit working absolutely everywhere in Peppa’s town is funny, and there are often moral lessons aimed at us, not the kids.  One of my favourite episodes involves Peppa and her friends dressing up as different countries for the day.  Squabbling over which countries can use the sandpit ensues, and Madame Gazelle admonishes the children with ‘Is this how you think the leaders of the world behave?’  Touche Madame Gazelle, touche.

Lily’s Driftwood Bay

I found this wee gem of a show simply because I loved its description of a girl who finds treasure in what other people cast away.  And it comes from Northern Ireland, so there are more delicious accents for your tots to get exposed to.  Lily lives with her Dad in a bijou hut on the beach.  Each episode centres around Lily finding a piece of ‘sea treasure’ (i.e. junk that people have thrown away).  As she ponders on what the treasure is, she and her friend Gull are taken to ‘Driftwood Bay’ which exists only in Lily’s imagination.  Driftwood Bay is inhabited by a lovely group of friends, like Salty, a Scottish dog who takes Lily to Driftwood Bay in his boat; Nonna, who owns the Cockle Cafe, and Lord Stag (voiced by the wonderful Stephen Fry) who lives in Stag Castle.  It is a bit same-samey at times, so you might not want to watch too many back-to-back episodes. There is some good stuff in this show – the episode that deals with the death of a character is a sensitive portrayal of loss and grief, and alludes to Lily’s own mother having died.

Topsy and Tim

From the home of the BBC (you can find it on CBeebies), comes the live-action show Topsy and Tim.  Based on the books by Jean and Gareth Adamson, the show follows twins Topsy and Tim navigating life.  It’s a little bit like Seinfeld – if you were to ask me what happens in Topsy and Tim, I would say ‘nothing’.  But this show is lovely, and I don’t know who likes it more – D or Sausage.

The twins live in a house which I swear must be a real house, given the level of detail like slightly battered furniture and touches of grime.  It’s brilliant.  The twins are perfectly ordinary, and live with Mum and Dad in a semi-detached house in an unspecified English village.  They grapple with problems no bigger than first-day-of-school-nerves, or the fact that they have to sleep in the lounge because their bedroom has been painted.  The show did court controversy with ‘thousands of parents labelling it sexist’ according to the Daily Mail (not exactly a reliable source of information).  I think these complaints centre around one particular episode – which I have not seen, and certainly the episodes that I have seen are not sexist at all.  I say give it a whirl.  It’s a fun, gentle show that should keep your toddler occupied for ten minutes.  It is extremely wholesome, and quite frankly, that is exactly what I want for my toddler.

Grandpa in My Pocket

BAFTA nominated Grandpa in My Pocket, is another great show courtesy of CBeebies.  Jason lives with his Dad, Grandpa, and eccentric Great Aunt Loretta who dresses in Doc Martin boots and what looks like my family’s brown-and-orange couch from the 70s.  In subsequent series we meet Jason’s cousins, Josh and Elsie, who live with Jason’s family in a windmill which the family run as a hotel.  The kids know Grandpa’s crazy secret: when he puts his cap on, he shrinks until he is only a few inches tall, whereupon he can do magic and bring objects to life.

Narrated either by Jason or his cousins, general mayhem ensues once Grandpa puts on his ‘shrinking cap’, and the children and Grandpa must work together to get themselves out of various silly predicaments.  There’s usually a song and dance or two, a few wacky characters (not including Great Aunt Loretta), and a good time is had by all.

Again what I love about this show is the defiance of stereotypes.  On the surface, Grandpa (played by the wonderful actor, James Bolam) seems like your average Grandpa – getting a bit old and doddery.  But he’s really a cheeky daredevil, who when shrunk, flies planes, climbs up trees, and challenges the children to ‘catch me if you can!’  Great Aunt Loretta (played by James Bolam’s wife, Susan Jameson) is wonderfully mad-cap, and makes ‘treats’ like sardine and strawberry tarts.  No crocheting knee rugs for this old lady!

It’s also a lovely show about the important part that grandparents can play in children’s lives.  Grandparents don’t have the same responsibility as parents, and can therefore be more indulgent, light-hearted, and cherished confederates in play.

Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom

I know quite a few parents who just don’t ‘get’ Ben and Holly.  But as I watch it with Sausage, I know and love this show well.  Made by the same people who do Peppa Pig, Ben and Holly is a delightfully subversive show with plenty of humour for adults and children.

Ben and Holly are best friends.  Ben is an elf and Holly is a fairy princess.  The Little Kingdom is presided over by Holly’s parents, King and Queen Thistle. King Thistle is hilariously slow-witted and rather inept.  Holly and her sisters – the demonic Poppy and Daisy – are looked after the extremely silly Nanny Plum, who has a knack for getting herself (and everyone nearby) into trouble.  The elves do all the work in the kingdom, and LOVE it.  The elves are presided over by The Wise Old Elf who generally has to fix whatever mess the other characters have gotten themselves into.

Reusing several actors from Peppa, it is the supporting characters that will entertain the adults.  Ben and Holly is full of running gags, deadpan humour, liberal use of Loren ipsum, and jelly floods.  Stereotypes are once again turned on their heads.  Kings and Queens are no match for elf-smarts; princesses mess up and turn their best friends into frogs by accident and when angry; smelly, warty old witches end up being rather nice; grandparents are mischevious and naughty; and children are often the ones who point out to the adults where they’ve gone wrong.

I dare anyone not to find the episodes ‘Big Bad Barry’ or ‘The Royal Golf Course’ (where you find out what gnomes are really like) funny.  Go on, I double dare you.

Sausage of course, does not get the humour.  She thinks fairies are great, fairy princesses even better, and turning people into frogs is the best.  But I hope one day I can sit her down as a jaded teenager and give her a new appreciation for this childhood show.

So if you find yourself stuck to a sick toddler who only wants Mummy or Daddy cuddles, may this list get you through it.

What shows do you enjoy watching with your kids?  Also, why are there so many TV shows and books where Mum or Dad is dead?  What’s up with that?


Dollar Diet: Week 26, back on track

After last week’s bender, this week has been rather uneventful.

My mum gave me a pair of sneakers that didn’t fit her properly, which I was delighted about.  I have a lovely pair but they aren’t watertight, which is not the best thing ever when it’s raining.  The rubber seal had come away from the fabric a bit and I tried to repair it with shoe glue, which sort of worked.  They are otherwise perfectly presentable so I won’t be getting rid of them, but it is nice to not have soggy patches of sock when it pours down with rain.

New shoes!  See how boldly I defy fashion convention by mixing spots and stripes.

New shoes! See how boldly I defy fashion convention by mixing spots and stripes.

Our tangelos have come into season, and our grapefruit won’t be far behind.  I will make marmalade from the surplus, although finding people who eat it these days is tricky!  Poor old marmalade just isn’t cool anymore.  If I could make a sugar free version I would be happy, but alas, sugar is rather an important component.

I under-shopped our groceries this week, so much so that D bought $70 worth of fish and ground beef as it was on special.  It will do us for several weeks.

I ran out of steam on a very busy Sunday and couldn’t be bothered doing any baking for a neighbourhood support meeting I hosted, and bought a packet of biscuits – but I made up for it by doing some baking for my church home group.  I have two small tot birthday parties coming up where I have not been organised enough to craft something in advance, but after giving myself a stern talking to about taking this Dollar Diet seriously, I have plans afoot.

We had a massive power bill this month (over $300!) but we do have two tots whose rooms we heat at night via thermostat as they are still too small to think ‘I’m cold, I should turn on the heater/put on another blanket etc’.  Plus D works from home, and I am at home a lot with the kids.  Thanks to careful budgeting, this massive bill has meant we are only $10 in the red for that particular line of our budget (which of course we can pay for thanks to our Dollar Diet savings).

Our Dollar Diet savings mean that we can give more when we need to. 

We can be more generous.  We donated to Whanganui’s Mayoral Relief fund to help those affected by the recent flood.  There are so many people without insurance who have lost everything, and my heart goes out to them.  Having worked at a Soup Kitchen I know just how far a benefit can stretch, and insurance premiums just don’t factor in when it means the difference between feeding your kids or not.  I encourage you to give a little to this fund too and help get people back on their feet.