Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Tips for cutting the cost of "back-to-school"

We went to hell today, otherwise known as a shopping expedition with all of the children in tow. The sun shone much brighter than it had promised to do resulting in hot cranky kids and even hotter crankier parents.  The adults traipsed from shop to shop, without any semblance of enthusiasm, whilst the children resisted and complained, and complained and resisted every step of the way.

It’s not that we’re martyrs to the cause, or complete gluttons for punishment either – but taking all of the kids was a necessity as there were feet to be measured and school shoes and runners to be bought. With the summer holidays half over, it’s time to consider the return to school.

It’s a hugely expensive and pressurised time for parents. With five in school here, including two in secondary and a sixth in Montessori, the costs are scary and the need to make serious savings is real. So with that in mind, I thought I’d share a few tips for cutting the costs involved with very expensive, free education.

1.       Book Swap
This is a great and easy thing to do amongst two or, even better, a group of parents who have children of different ages. Get out the booklist, set up a Whatsapp group and send out the searching texts. In a time of every changing editions and book requirements, hoarding books for younger children coming up the line is not necessarily the best course of action as frequently the required books change. Some years you’ll manage to do better than others in a book swap but even one book acquired this way is a saving to your pocket

2.       Sell ‘em
No not the kids, the books. Many educational book stores buy your old school books if they’re in good condition and either pay you or offer store credit, which leads nicely on to tip 3  …..

3.       Second-hand books
It’s always worth checking a second hand book store for the school books you need and the earlier in the summer that you do this, the more chance there is of you managing to get several. Just be very mindful of editions and always double check that you have the correct one.

4.       Watch out for special offers.
Around this time of year, may outlets such as Easons and schoolbooks.ie offer online discounts towards the cost of new school books or the option of free delivery or free book covering. Heatons are another place worth checking for back to school stationery as they often run a 3 for 2 offer, providing the potential for great savings if your numbers are up!

5.       Discount outlets.
School shoes and runners are a very expensive part of back to school. If there’s a discount outlet near you (such as the Kildare Outlet) it’s worth considering a trip. There’s significant savings to be made on shoes in Clark’s, which for me is a lot more than the cost of the petrol involved! The many sports shops on site meanwhile can see you make savings on runners and possibly even school bags.

6.       Schoolbags
And speaking of schoolbags. Before purchasing new ones, double check if a quick wash in the machine with lots of fabric softener is enough to make the bag look good as new and obliterate the pungent yoghurt smell from last year! If you are buying a new one however, – shop around and don’t forget to check stores online to compare value. Sports Direct can offer great value too, but always double check the measurements. Pictures can be deceiving

7.       Crested uniforms
When it comes to uniforms, crested pieces are usually the most expensive parts. Don’t be embarrassed to ask around. If you have friends who cannot pass their child’s outgrown school uniform to a younger sibling, ask them to pass it along to you instead. Sometimes people are afraid to offer for fear of causing offence. Personally, I’m eternally grateful for the amount of outgrown crested uniform pieces that are passed to this house. And remember to share the love. There’s always someone who will happily receive you own children’s uniform hand me downs.

8.       School sales
Check on the school website just in case a uniform or book sale due to be held ahead of the return to school.

9.       Veer from the obvious
Don’t assume that certain things can only be bought in a certain type of shop and keep your eyes peeled - always. Book Station for example, usually renowned for selling good value books, also sell lunch boxes and good beakers for very good prices. The “smash” beakers have stood the very testing, test of time, here.

10.   Buy in bulk
Sounds obvious but list your copy needs and stationery needs and buy together. If you’re trying to spread the cost over a few weeks, spread by purchase type rather than by child. Copies bought in 10 packs work out cheaper and getting all stationery together lets you make the best of special offers and avail of 3 for 2’s.   


Friday, 7 July 2017

Lessons learned on the parenting frontline

The first week of the school hols is over and high-fives all around, we survived it – relatively unscathed, well kinda. And we’ve learned a few lessons that I thought I’d share. The sort of things that it’s handy to know as we navigate our way through the remaining, approximately thirty five weeks, or thereabouts, of the school holidays.

1.       Never leave the house without babywipes. It’s just asking for trouble and without them, your child’s first port of call with their snotty nose, carrot stick orange-coloured mouth and chocolatey hands will be your cream jeans – if you’re daft enough to wear them on an outing with the children.

2.       Never wear your cream jeans on an outing with the children

3.       “Live food” for reptiles in the pet shop is actually live. This will bring about two types of reaction in your children. Those who think it’s really cool will want to touch it. Those of a more sensitive disposition will continue their emotional meltdown well after you’ve arrived home. Steer clear of the live food for reptiles section in your pet shop

4.       Always ask your four year old what’s in his pocket before checking for yourself. Sometimes it’s a spider.

5.       Small children cannot be distracted from asking relatives about their boobs. It’s best just to answer.

6.       If you are trying to gauge the weather and the likelihood of rain – hang out a load of washing. Expect imminent downpour

7.       You will never have enough food in the house and they will always be hungry- always.

8.       Small children don’t do "appropriate" very well. If they know they correct name for genitals they are quite likely to shout it very, VERY loudly and only mildly mispronounced, in the park with maximum audience attention. For example “Mammy I can see your dagina through my binoculars”

9.       The row over who pushes the lift button can potentially see your 4 year old escape in a lift alone if you don’t wedge yourself between the door very quickly. Your four year old will not be as traumatised as you.

Have a great second week!




Sunday, 25 June 2017

20 things to do with the kids this summer

School’s almost out for summer, and while the break from routine is welcomed here and the prospect of owning our evenings again very much appeals, there is a real need to find something to occupy the troops at least some of the time.

The biggest challenge for me personally is not actually the numbers, but more the age span. Finding something to keep everyone occupied isn’t easy. So with “compromise” as our word for the summer, here’s a few suggestions of things that might help to keep your own troops busy and mean that “I’m bored” doesn’t become the soundtrack of the next nine weeks!

1.       Picnics

Make hay while the sun shines! The recent spell of good weather is enough to put anyone in the form for taking lunch off site. The reality unfortunately is that the weather in Ireland is never guaranteed, so when the sun comes out, you need to take full advantage. The picnic needn’t even involve huge preparation - Some croissants, fruit and maybe a couple treats picked up in the nearest supermarket for the last minute dot com parents amongst us, means that taking advantage of the weather can be decided on the day. If you’re lucky enough to live near a park with a playground, there’s a double attraction, but if not, there’s sure to be a green area somewhere that you can take advantage of. Food and an outing on one go – a double win

2.       Beach fun

This one needn’t be dependent on the weather, though of course it’s always nicer when the sun shines. Sea and sandcastles on a fabulous day are great fun, regardless of age but if grey skies come to play instead, then wrap up, bring old shoes or flip flops, skim stones through the waves and run to the edge and away again, playing the “don’t let the water touch my toes” game. Just as much fun, if you join in too!

3.       Childhood games.

It’s definitely worth teaching the kids to play some of the games that you enjoyed as a child yourself. If they manage to rope in some of the neighbourhood kids – there’s near guaranteed longer hours of fun. Rounders, bulldog, kick the can, “crocodile, crocodile”, What time is it Mister Wolf, skipping, hopscotch.  The possibilities are endless - and free!

4.       Cinema clubs

      Many cinemas run kids clubs in the morning time, offering the opportunity to see relatively new releases, at a cheaper price. A good option for the very rainy days.

5.       Visiting time

      The summer hols can be the perfect time to visit relatives and cousins who live a little further away. My kids love visiting and while some recipients aren’t as good as others at hiding their horror at the prospect of our invasion , family ties mean they have to get over it, or at the very least have a lot of believable excuses ready. Persistence is the key here!

6.       Have visitors

And the counter side of that, is invite people over. Playdates, cousins, family friends. Invite people to yours. The troops here love having visitors and different playmates too.


7.       Go out for a treat.

      Another one that can be a good option for days when the weather is not so great. Take the kids for a bun, ice-cream, hot chocolate etc. It’s great “motivation” too and downright bribery to get them to behave ahead of the event. To make everything run smoothly, particularly if your numbers are up like mine or depending on the age of your kids, speak to them before you go. Lay down the rules about not running around, fighting etc. Take their orders, ahead of time where possible, so that no time is lost once you arrive and opportunities for “energetic” displays are limited. And remind them, that if they’re really good while they’re there, you might be able to do it again in the future.

8.       Swimming pool.
      
      Not dependent on the weather, but definitely one for consideration on those less sunny days, a trip to the pool has the advantage of exercise, excitement and tiring them out!

9.       Rookie Lifeguard training and Lifeguard courses.
      
      And speaking of swimming – one for the older children are the training and lifeguard courses that are run in many swimming pools, including throughout the summer. Something to do and a fantastic life skill to have. Another upside is the future summer job opportunities that will become an option.

10.   Visit to the pet farm.

      They’re everywhere, and some are cheap as chips for entry. Kids love animals and at pet farms they can often get that little bit closer.

11.   Build a fort

      Indoors or outdoors depending on the weather. The time taken to create the masterpiece is great. The time spent in it – even better. Cushions, blankets, basically whatever you used as a kid yourself. The same still applies!

12.   Home Baking

      My domestic goddess skills are sorely lacking but even I can stretch to fairy buns and rice krispie cakes – and the kids love doing it. What’s even better is, if you have older kids like me, you can defer responsibility for the creations to them. My eldest three love baking too, and are very happy to lead the charge with their younger siblings. Everyone gets to break an egg, or stir the mixture, or add the flour. Each child gets to add the most important icing at the end. A messy one, but an engaging one and dessert of all colours is the end result!

13.   The Zoo

A slightly more expensive one potentially, but who doesn’t love the zoo?


14.   Get creative

      Another rainy day activity. Get all the kids to draw a picture of themselves or each other and make a collage.

15.   Home cinema,

      Rent a movie. Draw the curtains. Get some microwave popcorn and snuggle up on the couch together. Bliss

16.    Trip to the library

      I’ve a few bookworms here and few who are not quite as enthusiastic but everyone loves to go to the library to choose a new book. A cheaper alternative for the ones who practically devour books in rapid succession and a great way to encourage those who need a little more persuasion. Even those who can’t yet read, like to choose one for their bedtime story. It’s also worth checking out the local library for events that take place there over the summer hols.

17.   Give everyone a choice.

      Let everyone suggest a “reasonable” idea of something they’d like to do over the summer. As long as it doesn’t break bank and is practical and manageable, have an individual child’s suggestion day. If everyone has their turn, there’s less risk of complaints and resistance from the other children.

18.   Bring a friend along.

      The same activity on a different day, with a friend this time – effectively means it’s a different activity in your child’s eyes and everything is so much cooler and more fun with a friend. That goes for adults too. Consider teaming up with a kindred spirit and hit the park, playground or beach.

19.   A water fight.

      Fill the water guns. Stock up on water balloons, and take your position. Everyone loves water fights and even more if they have the opportunity to soak their parents too. So join in the fun, not because you’re an overgrown child of course –but because you’re trying to keep then kids happy ;-)

20.   Board game marathon

      Another rainy day activity – though they can be taken outside if the sun shines too. Get out the board games and set up the teams and let the battle commence!


Monday, 19 June 2017

A lovely surprise

The good weather continues and the form is good with most of the children. We're winging our way towards the end of yet another school year and the end of an era for one child, as the remaining days left in primary school can now be counted on one hand. He's not as emotional about it as I am.

Homework has eased up and so have the resulting arguments. Today it was straight into shorts and t-shirts at hometime and outside to bounce on the trampoline, play football and soak each other, and my washing, with water guns. My daughter meanwhile, in sophisticated teenager style, spent the day at Costa del Irish Beach, no doubt wearing nowhere as much suncream as I would like.

And there was no homework, which I know I have said already, but which made my heart feel so light, that I feel it deserves another mention.

Life of course is all about balance and with the yin of the sunshine, no homework and obligatory ice-cream, came the yang of the contents of today's post. School reports and secondary school booklists. One appears, in between the positives, to highlight your inadequacies as a parent, while the other blatantly highlights the inadequacies of your bank account. Yang momentarily, held the balance of power.

Until a former colleague came bearing gifts.

I recently retired from the Greystone's Irish Coast Guard Unit. Child number seven proved to be the straw that finally broke the, already seriously compromised, camel's back. It was a really difficult decision, in spite of the realities of my situation,. As my numbers grew, attendance became more of a challenge, but I was lucky to have had some of the most supportive, kind, inclusive, caring friends and colleagues within the Unit. It takes a special sort of person to be a Volunteer and the Coast Guard is filled with these special and selfless people.

And so I bid adieu to a very important part of my life. It was an honour and a privilege to have been part of such a terrific unit and such a special service. Today, Ciaran arrived and presented me with my ten year service certificate and a beautiful commemorative 1916 medal, and the tears started - again.



I handed over my pager, still tearful, but in my head I was Arnie, whispering "I'll be back" (One day, I hope.)






Sunday, 11 June 2017

I never expected to hear myself say......

I had great ideas about the sort of parent that I would be.  I had plenty of notions and preconceptions about motherhood and what, when the time came, it might be like. Most of those preconceived ideas involved dressing the children up in beautiful outfits and going for walks with a fabulously trendy pram. None of them involved the car boot battles endured to fit this fabulously trendy pram or the constant beautiful outfit changes, necessitated by outpourings of poo and puke.

There’s nothing quite like parenthood for providing a reality check. At this stage, I have more of an idea what to expect – this is generally, the unexpected. “Unexpected” applies to pretty much every aspect of the equation, including some of the conversations that I never imagined myself having or some of the things I never imagined myself saying. Out of the mouths of babes as they say, except when it’s out of the mouths of mums.…….


1.       Yes that is an enormous poo. Yes it is probably bigger than Batman’s.
2.       Put some underpants on, the neighbours don’t want to see your willy flapping about on the trampoline.
3.       Why are your ears green?
4.       Why are you tangerine?!!
5.       No your Gran doesn’t have a willy. Stop asking people if they have willies.
6.       That man is not cutting the grass naked. (while apologising profusely to the perplexed man in question after my son announced it very loudly at the top of his voice to everyone on the road and rounded up his school friends to come see.) He’s just trimming the hedge without his shirt on.
7.       Why are you orange??!
8.       Why are there dirty boxers on the kitchen door handle?
9.       What’s that mark on the mat - chocolate or poo? Can someone sniff it for me please, I have the baby in my arms.
10.   Did you think I wouldn’t notice that you’re wearing that dress backwards? (complete with - you’re not going out like that.)
11.   No I don’t think this is just a story that someone is reading and that it will start raining when they turn the page. We’re just walking home from school.
12.   I’ll never let your dad kill another cockroach
13.   Put some underpants on, the neighbours don’t need to see you standing on the playroom table bare bottomed.
14.   We do not eat crayons.
15.   No we don’t keep head lice as pets.
16.   Do not use Daddy’s toothbrush to clean the dog’s teeth.
17.   Do not use Daddy’s toothbrush to fish breakfast waffles out of the toilet.
18.   Why is there a banana in the toilet?
19.   Do not fart on your brother.
20. Why does the dog smell of suncream?