Friday, 30 March 2012

Frugal Friday (30th March)

Today marks the end of a beautiful spell of sunny weather here. It's much cooler now, and looks as if it is going to stay that way over Easter, with a return to wintry weather, and even the possiblity of some snow showers! We are use to this here in England - we may have 4 seasons, but sometimes the weather isn't quite sure which season it is in! There is a saying in our part of the world which we think is very wise, though it seems as if many of the younger generation don't share our opinion - "nee'r cast a clout till May is out" - a motto we take very seriously, where we live!

When the cubs were younger, I was always so grateful for the sunny weather. It made it so easy to keep them busy, and learning - for free! We could go to the park, visit the lake, take a trip to the seaside or go for a walk in the woods, and it would cost us almost nothing to do this. Finding inexpensive ways to keep the family amused was always easy for me, living where we do, although in winter, it was sometimes a little harder if we could not get outside. Now that the cubs are older, they are able to make their own amusement more often, but we still enjoy sharing outdoor activities as a family, and we still like to try to keep the cost of these to a minimum if we can!

Here are a few of the outdoor activities we enjoy doing as a family now, that don't cost much to do ...

Fishing - OK, this one really applies to the men in my life only! But Little Bear and I will gratefully enjoy any opportunity to come fishing with Papa Bear and Cubby, as long as they don't actually expect us to catch anything! It may look easy, but casting a line and then watching it and reeling it in when there's a bite, requires quite a bit of skill, and Little Bear and I aren't all that keen on the idea of having a slippery, live, wriggling fish to deal with at the end of it! Of course, fishing is a timeless occupation that has brought pleasure as well as sustenance to generations since Bible times, and once you've got the basic kit, all it costs is the price of a year's rod license, which is about £30. If you intend to eat your catch, of course, you can recoup some of this cost back, but Papa Bear and Cubby (and their friends who fish with them) don't do this - they throw all the fish they catch back into the water, still alive, after they've had a chance to record what their catch is and admire it with their friends. The pleasure for them is in the whole activity, and the lovely calming experience of sitting peacefully by the water. They've been doing it for a long time now, and both really enjoy this time spent together (with or without us girls!). In the winter they go sea-fishing, which is a lot more challenging, as the weather can be very harsh indeed, but they find this very exhilarating (they don't go out in a boat, but fish from the pier, where they can watch the waves roaring and crashing and sometimes rising as high as the level of their faces!).

Sports - most sports do incur a cost, of course, but as a family we are not keen on organised sporting activities, so we don't tend to spend money on these (Papa Bear and Cubby do like to watch the football, but this they do from home, on the TV, as the team we support is not local). From a modesty point of view Little Bear and I choose not to engage in activities that would require us to wear sports clothes that would be too revealing, so we don't swim or go to the gym (in any case we believe it is much cheaper simply to get your exercise by keeping physically active throughout the day, and leaving the car at home and walking instead whenever you can). But we do enjoy playing frisbee, rounders, swingball or badminton outdoors though, as a family. When we had a home with a garden it was easy to do this sort of thing whenever we wanted to. Now we go to the park, or to Grandmama Bear's house, where there is a large enough garden for all the family to join in the fun!

Riding bicycles is also fun and a cheap way to get fit, and to get you from one place to another. Where we live in England it can be quite hair-raising riding along busy main roads on a bicycle, so we tend to only stick to journeys that take us on quieter roads. Obvously it is essential to be sure that everyone understands the rules of the road, and wears sensible safety equipment, including a bicycle helmet. That means everyone - even small children on bicycles with stabilisers, or in child seats (which I personally don't like as they seem so flimsy). We had a bicycling holiday a few years ago, which was wonderful - but oh my goodness how we ached at the end of every day! Nowadays we don't seem to do this so often, but I am sure there will be many opportunities again in the future.

Picnics - of course, everyone loves a picnic in the summer! Being lucky enough to live so close to a large park, we have lots of opportunities to enjoy doing this, and it has meant many lovely occasions spent celebrating anniversaries, birthdays, graduations and other special days, outside as a family. We've even taken disposable barbecues with us so that we can have cooked food, and we have such a cute picnic basket - it's shaped like a heart! I really enjoy planning for and preparing picnics, and I know there will be lots of these in the coming months. You don't need to buy special food for a picnic - just be inventive with what you have. I use cookie cutters to cut novetly shapes for sandwiches and scones (biscuits), and I'll make pitta bread or tortilla wraps as well as sandwiches. I make sure to pack plenty of dressings and condiments (I usually decant these into miniature plastic bottles, that you can buy at the chemist or drugstore, meant for putting shampoo and such in for travelling) for salads, and I sometimes bring a flask of soup as well. Cupcakes are great for dessert as they come in their own packaging, and if it's someone's birthday, I bring LED candles instead of real ones, so the flames don't go out! Paper plates and napkins add to the sense of occasion, and no picnic would be complete without a blanket to sit on and a parasol to give you some shade. Oh, and don't forget a package of wet wipes to clean up with afterwards!

Nature trails and rambles - there are so many opportunities to do this right on our doorstep. We can see the park from our kitchen window, and in the opposite direction, just a few steps further is the lake where Papa Bear likes to fish, and where we can enjoy seeing many different species of birds, plants and flowers throughout the year. It is a wonderful environment to enjoy without having to travel very far at all, and we love being able to watch the turning of the seasons reflected in the changing scenery at the lake. Whatever the time of year, it is beautiful. We make sure to visit the lake for a walk at least twice a month - more if Papa Bear takes Cubby fishing as well.

City walks are fun too - in quite a different way. The best time to go for a city walk is when the stores are all closed! These days that's harder to achieve than it use to be (when Papa Bear and I were cubs, no shops were allowed to open on Sundays or in the evenings. It was quite different to the have-it-now culture that is all around us today. Sundays felt quite different from the rest of the week, and if you wanted to buy a loaf of bread or a pint of milk, you had to wait until Monday when the shops opened again. Some shops even closed at lunchtime during the week!) - we try to do this on a bank holiday, when at least the shops do close earlier than usual, and in the summer, it is very pleasant to walk around the town where we live and see it as it should be seen, without crowds of shoppers everywhere. It's interesting to see all the architecture on the buildings around where we live, some of which is many centuries old. Somehow you notice it more, when there are fewer people about. We have a beautiful ancient cathedral in the centre of our town and it is really very lovely to visit here and walk around the very gracious and peaceful grounds - like stepping back in time to an era before cars or computers or televisions. You can leave all the hustle and bustle of the town behind, and enjoy the lovely surroundings without any distractions. It is quite another world, and we have spent some very pleasurable occasions there. It has a very special significance for us as a couple too - it's where Papa Bear proposed to me, one evening down by the river right at the edge of the grounds - soooo romantic!

Finally, one of the things we often do as a family, is go for a walk just in the streets around where we live - after it has got dark. On a clear night you can see many different constellations of stars (Little Bear and Cubby know what all of these are, but I can never remember them!), and they look so beautiful sparkling in the navy blue night sky. Somehow in the night, the air outside smells quite different - in winter it can be cindery with the scent of frost, and in summer, sweet from the lime and apple blossoms in the park and gardens we walk past. The darkness makes the streets look quite different, and sometimes a bit creepy, but that's all part of the fun! Of course, we only ever do this when we all 4 can go together!

We like to experience nature in as many different ways as we can - but it isn't necessary to spend lots of money doing this. Of course we could spend thousands going on holidays to far flung parts of the world in order to see and experience things we can only dream of, but for now, this isn't possible, and I think even if it was, Papa Bear would have much better things to spend our money on! We are very content to be able to step right outside our front door, and find nature in all its glory and wonder just there on the doorstep, waiting for us - and we are very thankful to God that He has made it possible for us to enjoy it together as a family in so many different ways.