Birthday weekending

weekending What can I say, this has been a weekend of celebrating  cake eating, family, friends  fun,  scoring his first two goals and lots of love.  I live for weekends like these.  
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Should you prepare for isa season?

As a parent we all want to try and save for out children's futures and even in today's climate it is worth trying to save for a rainy day.  MadDad works in the financial industry so he is my go too guy when it comes to asking about money etc, but I would always suggest that you find an Independent Financial Adviser to help you out with financial planning. maximad So firstly what is isa season? In very basic terms it is a six week period in the lead up to when you have to subscribe to your Is, the 5 April 2012 (if you don't use it, you lose it). This often means that you can be bombarded with information telling you to  open a cash isa on the lead up to this date and if can be very confusing. So what is an isa? A Cash isa is a  savings accounts where the interest isn't taxed. A stocks and share isa  is a managed collective investment again where the interest isnt taxed. Should I prepare for isa season? I decided to ask MadDad this and he said he would advise anyone to make an appointment with a Independent Financial adviser to discuss this.   My first response was that IFA's are for people with money, to which he told me this isn't at all true.   Many IFA's get their payment from any investment you make through them or charge a nominal fee and they are perfect for people who are going through major life changes such as parents.  They can often take an overview of a situation and help you put your new priorities in perspective. People often think that isa's are only for people with money and that they are not something that they can utilise to manage their finances, but again it is often about working smarter not harder and in today's climate we need to know the best way of making our money work for us. But don't take my word for it, go and see a professional! Lloyds Watermark  
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Eight

Eight things I love about you! maxi bath
  1. You adore being tickled and trying to pretend that you are not ticklish.  You challenge me to make you laugh.
  2. Oh and what a laugh.  it is infectious, it fills my heart with such joy.
  3. You are fearless.  You are a mini thrill seeker, adrenalin junkie and embrace new things.
  4. You are an early riser, but as soon as your head hits the pillow you are off in the land of nod.
  5. You are a team player.  You love football and being part of a team.
  6. You do not mind being different.  You embrace your curly hair, wear checked trousers and love being you.
  7. You are kind and considerate. You help other people when you can.
  8. You love with a passion.
How can you be eight already?  We never really believed that we would have you.  You  were a challenge form the moment you came in to being  and kept us on our toes.  You are a joy, my eldest child, an integral part of our family and I love you more each passing day.  
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Where’s Wally?

wally CollageComic Relief day today at school and it was dress up as Where's Wally (or Waldo, for any American chums) or a character from the books and pay a pound for the privilege  which they decided to take from their pocket money.  My boys never sit still so this is the best you will get picture wise.  They decided that we needed to have a family nerf fight this morning! They also packed MadDad off to work with red nose day cakes to sell. What are you doing for Comic Relief?  
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The best things in life are free

or why I love handmade mothers day cards.mothersday There is nothing better than collecting the boys from school and them being really animated   "I have something in my bag for you Mum", "So do I".  As we get near home the boys get even more excited about it "I can not show you, it has to be a surprise" and the two of them whisper conspiratorially to themselves. I am smiling big beaming smiles, as I know that Mothers Day is nearly upon us and this means they have both been busy creating their own special card for me. Come Sunday morning and the boys loudly come running in to the bedroom with a cup of tea for me and their cards and jump on the bed and tell me all about their cards.  Maxi explains he drew round his left hand, but turned it over once he cut it out, so it looks like his left hand and how I have beautiful brown eyes and love heart lips for kissing.  Mini excitedly tells me he did all the cutting out himself and used a punch to make the tree.  He used zigzag scissors to cut out his label. What more could a mother ask for on Mothers Day?
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Win tickets to see The Harlem Globetrotters live

If you are of my generation then you will remember the amazing ticks that the Harlem Globetrotters did.  In fact they were all I knew about basketball at one point in my life! Harlem globetrotters Both of my boys are sports mad and after checking our their you tube video I knew that this would be something that they would adore.   The UK tour starts on 25 March, so in order to be in with the chance  to win a family ticket (2 adults and 2 children) to the UK venue of your choice then please complete the rafflecopter entry below.  The draw will close at noon on Friday 15th March. Wondering if there is a venue near you?  You can find the Harlem Globetrotters tour dates and venues online.   a Rafflecopter giveaway livenation  
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Motherless on Mothers Day

mum and tori  

My mum and my niece on her christening

This week I have been acutely aware of missing my mum. There has been a mum shaped hole in my days. This is my third Mothers Day without her and although she was not one for the soppy sentiments in Mothers Day cards, it still makes me aware of her absence. But more than my pain and the pain of my children, I hate the fact that my wonderful sister in law now has to go though Mothers Day without her mum. Her wonderful mum died on Friday night. I hate that I am welcoming her in to a club that I do not want to be part of. That I can not take away her pain and also that I know how much heartache she is going through. I read this post by Becky and so want to echo the sentiment. Family is not something, family is everything. To all the motherless on Mothers day  
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Family essentials for an Easter holiday

Warmer weather is just around the corner and that means family holidays are just around the corner too! Packing the bags for everyone in a family can be a stressful process but for this reason it can be made easier by writing a list. If you start it well in advance of your holiday, you can add things as and when you think of them, rather than having to remember everything on the day you pack. The good thing about a checklist is that you can check the contents of your bags against it when you unpack too. Let’s start with some of the items you’ll need in your handbag or hand luggage. You must have all of your passports if you’re going abroad, European Health Insurance Cards (which replaced the old E111s) and any other details of travel, flights and accommodation. You’ll also need payment methods (either debit/credit cards and/or travellers cheques and cash in pounds and your destination’s currency), medication, water and snacks. Any sharp items such as scissors or tweezers will need to go in your hold (checked-in) luggage if you’re flying. on the plane As kids get fed up very quickly when travelling, save them (and yourself) from the pain of boredom by packing them games, toys and books to keep them well entertained. If budget allows, it is worth considering buying them something new for the holiday so that it’s still a novelty to play with. When it comes to beauty products, it’s unlikely you’ll want to spend ages doing your hair and cosmetics. So the best holiday makeup tips include keeping it simple and fuss-free. Pack waterproof mascara if you’ll be spending time in the water, and maybe save the other basics for evenings out. Skin care is important on holiday – take day and night moisturiser and be sure to remove any foundation you wear at the end of the day to avoid breakouts. Look after your feet too if they’ll be in sandals all day – Cosmopolitan has a great article about getting your feet ready for the summer. You’ll also need high factor sun cream for yourself and the children, sun block and after sun. Remember that your toiletries and beauty products need to meet airport regulations. Although you don’t want to end up being like a walking chemist, it’s important you have some basic medicines and first aid items to hand in an emergency. Adult- and child-friendly painkillers are essential, as are travel sickness tablets, diarrhoea medicines, antiseptic cream, antihistamine and plasters. In terms of clothing, check out the local weather report online before you go and pack accordingly. As a general rule, if you’re going somewhere hot, although you’ll want thin, light fabrics and you won’t be wearing so much, you do need to cover up between 12 and 3 when the sun is at its hottest as well as when the temperature drops in the evening. So pack a variety of clothes that will allow you to cover up. Don’t forget your sunglasses, hats, swimming costumes and beach towels. If you’re heading to a colder destination, of course pack lots of thick clothing as well as items that will keep you dry if it snows or rains. Take hats, gloves, scarves and waterproof jackets as well as garments that can be layered up. 18.
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Mini’s London Quilt

Mini's favorite place in the whole wide world is London.  He loves visiting it, loves reading about it and sleeps in a London themed room.  So when it came to making him a quilt (my first one ever) it had to be London themed.  I have had this fabric and the deciding for this quilt for over six months thanks to Kelly, but have discovered that cutting fabric is my kryptonite   I just can not bring myself to cut it at all.  Knowing that I had to get past my fear, I booked in for a sewing class.  I go two hours a week on a Tuesday and the quilt was my first project. minis quilt So finally Mini has his quilt and he loves it.  I made it over 5 weeks mostly at class and with the support of some fab online buddies too (yes you Katy and Justine, who listen to and answer all my insane questions). quilt   I am really pleased with how it turned out.  It is the perfect fit for his cabin bed and he loves it, which is all that matters. Oh and I have already started another one and me and Maxi are on the lookout for the perfect fabric for his quilt.
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Disney World Orlando

Any visit to Orlando would not be complete without a visit to Disney.  We only had a day to cram in as much of it as we could and boy did we cram it in. fireworks 1 We were lucky enough to experience two of the parks (Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios) with a VIP tour guide, who walked us miles around the park in just 10 hours (one of our tour guides, Fred, had a pedometer which showed 13,000 steps around that day).  A VIP tour experience costs around $300 an hour for a group of up to 12 people. Our guides  were amazing, real pied pipers, who connected so well with the children.  They really were invaluable when it came to making the most of the parks in such a sort period of time.  They knew all the best routes, where all the toilets were and also which rides to go to when. As a VIP guest, you’ll also have unlimited Fastpass access, which means you can join the express lines at the most popular rides and attractions. parade Our highlight of the whole day was the parade and fireworks.  Just look at this image of Maxi's open mouthed as he watched.  It was amazing and the perfect end to a wonderful experience. watching fireworks Maxi's favorite ride was Toy Story Midway Mania and being the competitive family we are the game was on to see who would score the highest and whoop I kicked ass that day! mania You can find places to meet your favorite characters and get them to sign an autograph book if that is your thing, but Maxi at nearly eight decided he was too old for all that, however, he did have his picture taken with a toy soldier that was hanging around outside the Toy Story Mania ride. toy soldier We visited the newest part of Disney World Magic Kingdom, Fantasyland and had a delicious Le Fou's Brew at Gaston’s Tavern, which is a mixture of frozen apple cider (which is non alcoholic apple juice)  and marshmallow with a mango foam topping, which Maxi loved.  Lunch was taken in the Be Our Guest restaurant.  One of the guides stood in the rather large queue whilst we went on another ride (which was another amazing perk of the VIP tour).  The food was amazing. Le fou's Brew Our Top hints and Tips for Visiting Disney WorldOrlando
        • Make sure you book a table for Dinner as the restaurants get busy
        • Always buy your tickets online. They're usually cheaper and save you the headache you'll get waiting to purchase at the gate
        • Download the free Disney Magic app, you can plan rides and check show times and once you’re inside the park it will let you check how long the lines are on different rides
        • Bring your own water bottles. It will save you time and money!  If you don't want to carry a water bottle, just ask for a cup of water at any food or drink vendor
        •  Have your children look for Hidden Mickeys is a great way to keep them occupied especially when queuing
        • When the park opens at 9am, go first to Toy Story Midway Mania, which has the longest lines in the park, and FastPasses are usually gone for the day by noon.
        • Plan a show for the hottest part of the day, but be aware that the air conditioning can be fierce!
        • If it’s your first visit, get one of the first time badges from Guest Services
For more pictures take a look at Mum in the madhouse Facebook Page . Thank you to Walt Disney World for making our visit so memorable on our trip to Orlando hosted by Visit Orlando.
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Top tips for getting the most out of Universal Orlando

I think that after LEGOLAND Florida, Maxi's favorite time in Orlando was the day we spent at Universal Orlando. Universal Orlando is actually two separate theme parks – Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. universal Universal Studies is where you step  beyond the screen, and jump right into the action of your favorite movies and TV shows, with attractions based on Shrek, The Mummy, Men in Black and lots of other Universal movies. It includes Marvel Superhero Island, featuring rides based on Marvel characters like Hulk and Spiderman.  The Spiderman ride was our favorite ride of the whole trip.   In Island of Adventure you will find Seuss Landing, which is a brilliant area for younger children and Dr Seuss fans (Mini will love this part of the park when we visit in November as he is a HUGE Dr Seuss fan).  You will also find the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Islands of Adventure    seuss Thrills and technology make for amazing rides in Universal and this really blew me away.  I wasn't prepared for just how technological the park would be, however, with hindsight the use of CGI in movies should have given us a clue!  For big thrill seekers there are traditional coaster style rides such as The Hulk (Island of Adventures) and the and the Rock It Rollercoaster (Universal Studios) with its 17-storey vertical incline and 65mph drop on the other side was the only ride that left me terrified and really did scare me.  You can also buy a video clip of yourself on the Rock it Rollercoaster.  This really is the future of parks for me.  I can see being able to download the clip and send it to your friends and family via social media as something you can do in the future. hogsmeade The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Our biggest tip would be to head for the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter later in the day.  The queues in the evening are much smaller than at any other time of the day.  Plus most people tell you to get there early and our guide said that as everyone heads there first it is really busy early on, so go later   It was the busiest area in the park by far.  There are three rides or experiences in this area.  We both were really wowed by Forbidden Journey.  This is an amazing ride where you make your way through the familiar classrooms and corridors of Hogwarts™ School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Then soar above the castle grounds as you join Harry Potter™ and his friends on an unforgettably thrilling adventure, coming face-to-face with an array of malevolent creatures! We loved how Universal had made the queue an experience too. minion Our top tips for getting the most out of Universal
      • Take some american stamps and postcards to use the owl post in  The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This is where you can send a letter with a Hogsmeade postmark.  You can buy usable Harry Potter stamps but they were rather overprices at $15 a pack especially when we only wanted to send three postcards.
      • Frozen Butterbeer is much nicer than regular Butterbear (which tasted like cream soda).  If you want to get a souvenir cup with your butterbeer you can ask for the butterbeer to be put in a regular cup so you do not have to wash out your tankard for putting in your bag.  Also you can bypass the cart and buy it straight from The Three Broomsticks which is a lot faster.
      • The mixtures of movies and rides is fantastic.  The Despicable me experience is fantastic, we loved being turned in to Minions.  Oh and the fart gun does smell of bananas!
      • The temperature gets really hot around lunch time, so make a beeline for the indoor rides like Despicable Me, The Mummy or Spiderman during this time.  Alternately why not take a trip to Jurassic Park and be prepared to get VERY WET!
      • Take a refillable water bottle with you.  You need to keep drinking as you can dehydrate really fast.  Alternatively you can ask for a cup of water at any of the street vendors.
      • Check what rides your children can and can not go on before you visit to avoid disappointment.
      • Consider a Universal a Express Pass which costs around £30-40 per person, and allows you to go to the front of the line once on each ride, although you get this sort of ticket for free if you’re staying at a Universal hotel.
police - Copy   For more pictures take a look at Mum in the madhouse Facebook Page . Thank you to Universal Florida for making our visit so memorable on our trip to Orlando hosted by Visit Orlando.  
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LEGOLAND Florida – perfect for mini thrill seekers

We are already fans of LEGOLAND Windsor, so had an idea of what to expect of Orlando's newest theme park LEGOLAND Florida.  However, I have to say that it blew away all of our expectations and was a fantastic day out.  It is pitched at children aged 2 to twelve and have over 50 rides and attractions.  This meant that Maxi who is nearly 8 could go on every ride accompanied by me and most rides on his own. welcome We experienced a VIP tour at LEGOLAND, which meant that we bypassed all the queue and had an out of this world experience.  Regular tickets start at $64 for an adult and $54 for a child (3 - 12).  As part of the VIP Package we got to jump all the queues and to visit the master model builders workshop.  Oh to have a LEGO collection like this at home! lego behind the scenes However, the park was not too crowded on the day we visited.  At certain times during the year the park is closed on a Tuesday and Wednesday and had only just reopened on the Tuesday we visited, so was quieter than usual. city The park is set out in lands very much like the UK Park.  I would advise that you start at Lego City which has the Driving School, Junior Driving School, Boating School and Flying School rides, which are the most popular in the park (just as Driving School is in the UK).   You just need to remember to drive on the right side of the road! driving Maxi's favorite ride in the park was the LEGO Technic coaster which is located in the Technic area of the park.  This is the perfect area for mini thrill seekers and has the three most high thrill rides on the park (although Flying school ranks with them too). trill seekers Hints and tips for getting the most out of LEGOLAND Florida
  • Make sure you arrive early for the park opening at 9 am.  Rides open at 9.30 am
  • The park is 45 minutes from Downtown Tampa and the other Orlando Parks
  • You can exchange your own LEGO Mini Figure with any of the Model Citizen's (LEGO Employees).  They have theirs on their name badge.  Also keep an eye out for the Mini Figure Ambassador as they have a shirt covered in Mini Figures.
  • Go to the back of the park either LEGO City or Technic first
  • If it your birthday, then collect a badge from a Model Citizen  (A LEGO Employee) at Guest services at The Beginning
  • If you want to visit a show, try and turn up 30 minutes before the start time
  • Make sure you take plenty of sun cream and hats as it is much hotter and sunnier in Orlando that the UK. We actually purchased Maxi a pair of sunglasses and shorts strap in LEGOLAND
  • The park also has many attractions for children and adults that prefer  gentle pace including Safari Trek and Duploland
  • Download a Park Map before visiting, it shows you all the height restrictions, so you can set expectations before visiting
  • There is a large selection of places to eat all catering for children,  but you need to try the parks signature dish of Granny Smiths Apple Fries
  • It gets very hot in the middle of the day, so eat inside if possible as the restaurants are air conditioned
  • The LEGOLAND Florida water park reopens in March and you can upgrade your tickets for $12 each and this would be the perfect place to cool down
  • The park closes earlier than other parks around 5.30 each day
  • The Big Shop is the largest LEGO shop in the world
giraff   For more pictures take a look at Mum in the madhouse Facebook Page or Google + page Thank you to LEGOLAND Florida for making our visit so memorable on our trip to Orlando hosted by Visit Orlando.
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Seaworld Orlando

I have to admit that I was really skeptical about Seaworld.  I was unsure about using animals in shows, however, I have to say that I was completely won over and we had an amazing day.  First things first, there is no way you can see everything in a day (unless you opt for one of the excellent VIP tours, which cost from £172 per adult and child in addition to park admission and includes a freshly prepared lunch) . I would advise you to plan your must see's before you get to the park. rays Seaworld Orlando offers the perfect mix of action rides, educational exhibits, hands on interaction and amazing shows.  It is a great place for all ages and would be a super place to visit for children and grandparents, although there are some rides which are for 54 inches and above, but you can find this information on the park website. Shows dol We managed to see the Dolphin show (Blue Horizons), which was epic (in Maxi's words),  So make sure you check the times for the shows.  The shows are designed to showcase the animals natural behaviors and  Blue Horizons was a really spectacular combination of dolphin, human and avian entertainment.  Maxi was transfixed for most of the show and he thought the divers were amazing.    It is advisable to turn up to the show 30 minutes before it starts and do keep an eye out where you choose to sit as you will get wet in the splash zones! Food and Drink shamu There is a good range of dining experiances at Seaworld, including an all day dining option. We were lucky enough to experience the Dine with Shamu experience which starts at $28 per adult and $19 per child.  This meant that we got to see the Killer Whales behind the scenes in training for their One World show at reserved tables.  The food was a buffet style and it was a great way to get up close to the Whales and watch them with their trainers.  The trainers do not go in the water with the whales at any time.  If you are looking for a unique experience then this would be on my list of must do's.   Maxi has been raving about this. Rides Manta and Kraken are the big thrill rides and you need to be over 54 inches tall to be able to ride.   Maxi was too small to ride, but I did go on Kraken and loved it.  It was exhilarating, but smooth and was so much fun.  Oh yes I screamed like a girl.  Maxi is a mini thrill seeker and loved the Shamu Express.   He also loved the Wild Arctic simulator ride, but being someone who suffers from motion sickness I gave this one a miss!   There really is a ride for everyone at Seaworld. Exhibits  One thing that really stood out for both Maxi and I at Seaworld was the exhibits including the fantastic 3D turtle trek.  This showcases the manatee and the plight of the vulnerable sea turtles.  The animals that are used in the exhibit are all rescue animals and this makes it even more interesting and amazing.  You get to experience what it is like to be a turtle in an amazing 3D dome, which gives you a 360 degree experience  so there is no shouts of "I cant see" from smaller children.  The park guides and staff are amazingly well informed and more than happy to answer any questions you might have. Why not time your visit to the ray pool so that it coincides with feeding time, you can even search the bottom of the pool for teeth to bring home as souvenirs. Once exhibit that we didn't get to experience, but hope to when we go back in November is Antarctica, Empire of the penguin, which opens on 24 May this year.   At this amazing new attraction, you’ll be surrounded by the sights, sounds and awesome encounters found in this frozen place, embarking on a one-of-a-kind ride and an incredible, first-of-its-kind family ride. Maxi and Cecelia We did however, get to "pet a penguin" named Cecilia and she didn't feel anything like I expected. You can see more photos of our trip on The Mad House facebook page  Thanks to Seaworld Orlando for looking after us as part of our trip to Orlando hosted by Visit Orlando   
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Number games for Children

Both my boys love numbers and math.  We have been working with Maxi and the school to show his workings out, as he has always said that he just sees the answers to math questions in his head.  As he gets older points are often given for using the correct method and for showing the workings in exams. number games One of the ways we do this is by playing games.  I recently picked up a great little bingo set at the charity shop, which both the boys love top play.  They use it for making up their own number games.  They add the numbers, add up the lines when they score to work out who is the winner and just generally have fun with the numbers and the counters.  When I was growing up I loved bingo too, I used to tag along with my cousins when they visited and go to the arcades to play bingo. There are lots of other number games you can play with children including:
    • Domino's - great for number recognition, counting and strategy
    • Cards - you can play lots of card games with children, from basic snap, which is great for number recognition to something more difficult such as two's and eights.  Cards are so portable and are great to have in your handbag.
    • Dice - a pair of dice is great to carry in your bag.  You can use them for very basic sums by getting your child to throw the dice and add, subtract, divide or times the two numbers.
    • Monoploly is great for introducing children to the concept of money and they often do not realise   they are using maths skills whilst playing.
    • Battleships is a fantastic game for introducing children to co-ordinates.  Perfect for playing before they have to use graphs.
    • Skittles or ten pin bowling.  You can make your own skittles from bottles and give them numbers.  This can help number recognition and addition skills for scoring.
What are your favorite games to play that reinforce maths skills?  
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Black and Decker Steam Mop Review

We have laminate floors everywhere downstairs and one of my pet hates is cleaning them.  Well it has become a pet hate since I slipped on a just mopped floor and broke my shoulder! So I was delighted when I was offered the opportunity to review a steam mop by Black and Decker.  We have had hard floors for the last 10 years and I have grown to love them.  They are practical, especially as I have two very active boys.  But I just wasn't sure that a steam mop with no cleaner could keep up with them and actually ensure that my floor was clean. Black and Decker So we have put the Black and Decker Delta Head Steam Mop to the test.  The version that we have reviewed costs £120 and comes with four washable pads.  Two large ones and two delta ones for getting int o the corners. What I liked:
    1. The floor is dry within 15 seconds.  No slipping on wet floors and fearing broken bones ever again.  This also means that I can use it when the boys are around without shouting at them not to step on the wet floor
    2. No chemicals are needed.  I love the fact that the floors are clean and that bacteria is killed without bringing chemicals in to the house
    3. There is no additional costs.  No paying for replaceable heads or chemicals, which means that although you have a large initial outlay, the cost per use is really reasonable
    4. It heats up ready for use in just 15 seconds
    5. It is easy to store and I do not have to lug a bucket of water round the house, even less worry about spillages
    6. The additional steam burst function works really well and is very effective on stubborn marks
    7. I can use this on both my laminate floors and lino floors as I can select the right flooring type with the Autoselect® digital handle
    8. It is so easy to use that even the boys can use it!
    9. The unique and innovative design of the delta lift off head means that with a quick push of the foot peddle I can use the triangular cleaning head to get in to all the corners, this is especially effective in the kitchen
    10. It leaves the floors clean and streak free with minimal effort on my part
I have to say that other than having to plug in the mop, I haven't found anything that we do not like.   I am kicking myself for not getting on the steam mop bandwagon earlier.  It is a great addition to The Mad House and I no longer live in fear of anyone slipping on a just mopped floor! The official blurb: The Black & Decker® steam-mop™ with Autoselect® digital handle commands and steam burst technology easily gets rid of tough to move marks and germs with minimal effort, ensuring that your floors are sparkling clean. Ready to use in 15 seconds and it will run for 25 minutes on a single tank. With Autoselect® digital handle command technology, simply push the button to select the specific floor type -hardwood/laminate, tile/ vinyl, or stone/marble - and the mop automatically releases the right amount of steam. Autoselect® helps to assure thorough yet delicate cleaning on all sealed hard floors and is even safe on sealed hardwoods. The addition of steam burst mode removes even the most stubborn dirt - it releases 50% more for steam in a concentrated 5 second burst when you need that extra cleaning power, you don't get from ordinary steam mops. With the unique and innovative design of the delta lift off head you can, with a quick push of the foot peddle, use the triangular cleaning head to get in to all the corners of your home.
  • Kills 99% of bacteria and germs - no chemicals required.
  • Quick dry and streak free, it takes less time and work than a mop and bucket.
  • Swivel head for ease of use around furniture and awkward areas.
  • Self standing for convenience with auto shut off when locked in the upright position.
  • 1600 watts.
  • 6m power cord.
  • 0.5 litre water tank capacity.
  • Ready to use in 15 seconds.
  • Steam ready indicator.
  • Steaming time 25 mins per tank.
  • Machine washable pads.
  • Suitable for all floor types.
  • Accessories included.
  • Weight 3.07kg.
I am a member of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network, a group of parent bloggers picked by Mumsnet to review products, services, events and brands. I have not paid for the product or to attend an event. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity.
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Half Term in Orlando

Maxi and I are spending the half term holiday in Orlando, Florida thanks to Visit Orlando.  This is perfect timing for us to explore it all prior to our family holiday there in November with my brother and his family. We will be exploring the major attractions including including Walt Disney WorldSea World Parks and Universal Orlando Resort. I have taken a look at the Orlando Holiday Planning tool, so I know that the weather is going to be great and have packed our swimming things and the sun cream and for the first time I will not be taking prescription sunglasses on holiday and I am looking forward to being able to see things from the top of any rides we go on and not worry about my specs falling off. UK Homepage Header But I need your help, as we are only going for a week and spending a short time in each of the parks.  We need to know which rides and attractions are a must see for a very nearly eight year old and a super excited Mummy.  What food should we try and where should we try it. So can you help me:
  1. What do I need to take?
  2. What MUST we see?
  3. What rides to we need to make a beeline for?
  4. Your top tips for the parks and attractions?
  5. What should I bring back for Mini?
I am so looking forward to some one to one time with Maxi.  I am excited about going on the rides together and just generally having fun with each other.  However, in order to placate Mini, we need to make sure that we have a super itinerary for our trip ion November and have told him we are scouting it all out, so that he gets the best holiday ever in November! There is no way I am going to sleep for the next two nights!
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Al Fresco Holidays Young Story Writers competition

Do you have a budding novelist in your house? Thompson Al Fresco Holidays have a fantastic  Young Story Writers competition at the moment.  The competition is for budding young story writers aged 6-12 years old and open until the 31st March 2013.  Your child has to write a short story no longer than 500 words with the theme My Fantastic Journey.  You never know they could win a family holiday for up to six people. You might want to get your young story writer some inspiration and  Jeremy Strong' has created his very own story created exclusively for Al Fresco Holidays. mini writing Here is Mini's (aged six) Story
I was playing football in the playground and scored a goal.  I went to get the ball from the back of the net when someone shouted my name.  I turned round to see the scout from Middlesbrough Football club.  He asked me to go and have trials to play for their junior team. I went home and told my mum and dad and we all went in the car to Riverside Park and I got to go in the changing rooms and change in to my football kit. I walked on to the pitch and my family all cheered as a played football with other children. They really liked my tricks and skills.  So they asked me to become part of the team.
He told me the story was about his journey to becoming a football player! holiday Further information of the competition can be found on the Al Fresco Kidz blog. 18    
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Team Skylanders

For over a year I had managed to dissuade the boys from Skylanders.  I feared they were just an expensive fad that they would get in to and as we were unable to afford the characters the game would not be able to be fully played with. The thing is Skylanders didn't go away and then Skylanders Giants came on the scene and I had two boys who both desperately wanted Skylanders.  So they entered the Tots100 competition to become part of Team Skylanders and were lucky enough to be chosen as one of the ambassadors.
Tots100 Index
We were sent a Skylanders Giants starter pack, this came with a console specific game, a portal of power and 1 Giant Skylander ( Tree Rex), two standard figures (Cynder and Jet Vac), 3 trading cards, sticker sheet and a poster.
The premise of Skylkanders is each toy figure, sold separately, is placed on the portal of power to access the character in the game.  You can use the figures across the different 360/Wii/PS3 versions to bring your progress with you when visiting friend. Skylanders Giants introduces new characters, a new adventure and a host of improvements and upgrades.
 skylanders The good points:
  • The boys do not fight when playing Skylanders together.  Although there is a lot of "battling" in the game, this does not creep out in to real life like it can in some games with the boys.
  • It is a pretty social game.  They can share their figures with friends that also have Skylanders, even if they use a different games platform as the figures are universal.
  • Maxi loves the Mini games.
  • Even if you do not have extra figures you can still play a lot of the game.
  • No more worries about what birthday present to buy as it seems all the children play Skylanders, so a character is a great present.
  • Even I can play it!
The not so good points:
  • It can be hard for an adult to get their head around.  I initially thought that we had to but the other 48 figures to be able to play all the game.
  • It is complicated getting to know which element each figure belongs too (for adults)
  • It could get expensive if you gave in to pester power
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Valentines Wreath

My first wreath blew away off the front door (Sad face), but it meant that I had an excuse to get messy and make a heart wreath and get it up early! February wreath No how to on this post, as it was very straight forward, although I do wish I had been able to get red bells, instead of painting them and spraying them with matt clear sealer. This wreath was inspired by a Christmas decoration I had seen at Salisbury's and took a photo of. I used two thicknesses of florists wire, a think one to form the hear and then a thinner one to connect all the bells.  The ribbon is red gingham from my stash.  I have popped in on the front door, but instead of just hooking over the hanger, I have wrapped it round it. MadDad was concerned that it would jingle in the wind and bother us, but the only time it makes a noise is when the door is opened and closed. When I take this one down I will be replacing it with an Easter one. If you have made a wreath I would love to see it.
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Lenten resolutions

The last two years I have resolved to give up shouting for lent.  I did  not succeed and some days I am still a total fishwife, but I guess it is the trying that matters.  The living intentionally. mini car wash This year lent starts early today in fact.  We have been discussing the reasons behind lent, the fact that it lasts for six weeks, 40 days and nights excluding Sundays.  A couple of years ago The Coffee Lady kindly sent me a list of things that children can do over Lent (they came from the Live Life, Love Lent book published by the Church of England) and this year the boys have decided to use this list. Give your pocket money to a charity Clean up your room and give something to a charity shop Share a smile Say sorry to someone Do a chore or errand for a family member Water some plants or a green space with recycled water Help prepare a meal and find out where the food was grown Write a thank you letter Share a treat with someone at school Thank of three good things and say thank you to God Have a TV and computer free day and do something with your family instead Say please and thank you all day Find out about the countries where your clothes are made Read a story to a younger child Save trees by using both sides of the paper Spend five minutes quietly by yourself Turn off the tap when brushing your teeth Hold doors open for others Give a home-made gift to a loved one Offer to help your teacher with a task Recycle your rubbish Go for a walk in your area with an adult and pray about what you see Show an adult how to do something they can’t do Plant some seeds where the flowers will be seen Have a conversation with someone older than you Lend a friend a good book/cd/dvd Find out about children in a developing country Say a prayer for someone who is unwell or in need Find out about life as a refugee and spend the night in a tent (we are very much giving this one a miss – too cold!) Help a parent or carer with shopping Give a lollipop to your lollipop person Feed the birds Pick up some litter Getting towards Easter Make a palm cross and give it away Give someone a Fair Trade Easter Egg Make hot cross buns and share them Polish some one’s shoes for them Make or draw an Easter garden in a place that will be seen Celebrate Easter maxi car wash The Fab Coffee Lady also sent me the adult version of the Lenten tasks. Make someone laugh Spend some time in silence Have a meat-free day Give up your place in a queue Write to someone and thank them Light a candle and pray for someone Give someone an apple Have a TV free day and do something you have meant to do for ages Turn off the tap when you clean your teeth Go for a walk in your neighbourhood with a friend Say something nice about someone behind their back Feed the birds Talk to someone new at church Phone or text someone to say goodnight Use local shops rather than supermarkets Put a jumper on and turn down the heating Buy a low energy light bulb Leave a £1 coin in a trolley or where someone will find it Find out about a litter clean up Watch the news and pray about what you see Help a bug out of the house rather than squash it Buy something at a charity shop and reverse haggle Buy Fairtrade Have a conversation with someone from a different generation Ring a loved one Plant seeds where the flowers will be seen Hug someone who needs it Give a friend a good book or CD Find out about blood donation Don't leave appliances on standby Talk to someone about why you go to church Buy something for someone anonymously Bake something to share Miss a meal and pray instead Find out about a church community project Make a drink for a neighbour or colleague Have a conversation with someone from a different culture Make an Easter card for a neighbour Use a buy-one-get-one-free and give the free one away Only fill the kettle with the water you need Do a chore for someone (Good Friday) Read St John's Gospel Chapter 19 Invite a friend to church Share an Easter egg So we are taking up, rather than giving up this lent.  What are you doing?
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Concentrating on the positives……….

We have been making strides in improving Mini's behaviour with help and advice from Franki.  It is really hard to see clearly when you are in the midst of horrible behaviour.  But she has really given us the ability to clarify what we need to do and support when things are not on track. So what are we doing?
  • Firstly we have set realistic expectations with Mini.  He has a reward chart with what is expected of him on and we also included Maxi on it so he didn't feel singled out.
  • We are making the actions achievable
  • We are working together as a team.  If he gets out of bed, we just tell him it is sleep time.  We do not engage him at all.  If we have to physically put him back in to bed we do, but tell him it is sleep time and then close the door.
  • If she goes to bed well then he gets his star first thing in the morning for his cart.
  • He gets a daily star if he completes a certain amount of his daily tasks.
  • We are reinforcing positive behaviour
letter   This are not perfect, but anything is an improvement on what we had.  At the moment we are concentrating on getting Mini in to a good bed and sleep routine and then we will look at the other behaviour .  I want to thank everyone for the comments, suggestions and support when I posted that we needed some help.  I have spoke to the school and Mini is really well behaved whilst at school.  The only time he is disruptive is when he isn't challenged.  So it appears that he holds himself together at school.  I have also spoke to our Health Visitor and have the option of taking things further with her if the current situation worsens.  However, we are really licky in that Franki and her colleague have offered us their support immediately, so we have no waiting times.
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The joy of learning something new

2013, the year of "Choosing Joy", but also the year of learning.  This is the year that I start to take time out for me and put these grey cells in my brain in to some use.  Where I try to see if an old dog can learn new tricks!

minimad

I am doing this in a couple of ways, firstly I am trying to improve my photography by taking a Capturing Childhood course.  I have started on the Collect the Moments e-course.  It is challenging me to think differently and I am learning lots of new things about my six year old camera.  I have even ordered a remote control so I can "be in the picture" more often.  The Kats' are helpful, insightful and full of useful information and I am really enjoying the community feel of the course, plus the ability to take things at my own pace.  Plus I got a positive comment on the photo's I take on the blog last week for the first time ever and I was beaming.

I am also looking forward to a day course on learning to use my camera better that I am going on with Cass from The Dairy of a Frugal Family.

maximad

Secondly I am taking regular lessons in handicrafts.  I have book on to a two hourly weekly lesson on a Tuesday morning and over the last four weeks I have nearly completed a quilt for Mini.  I have cut the fabric (cutting I have discovered is my kryptonite), sewed the quilt top, basted it, quilted it and made the binding for it and today I am learning how to put that binding on it.  It is wonderful to see something I have made come together and to have the support of a tutor that is there to support me when I need it.

I have also taken a couple of day courses, one on making a stacked coin quilt and one on making a zipped bag.  Neither projects are finished yet, but they are well on the way to getting completed.  There is such joy in learning a new skill and being able to do so with like minded people is even better.  Yes I am the youngest in all the lessons by a generation (two in some cases), bit boy do these ladies have tales to tell and it is great to see them making the most of their free time.

bag fabric image

I have also set two on making 2013 the year that I keep up with the cleaning and clutter within the house, as a tidyish house means that for some reason my brain is much less cluttered or that it at least has more room to concentrate on the things that matter and not stress or fret over the state of the house.  This month on A Thrifty Mum I am getting in to the habit of a cleaning routine and continuing on my declutter, which I started in January.

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Laser Surgery – The Small Stuff

It is now more than two months since I have had my laser eye surgery, thanks to Optical Express.  I am finally at the point that I am not pushing up imaginary specs on the bridge of my nose every four minutes and I am really thankful that I was given this wonderful opportunity.  So I have decided to do a small things so you can see the joy too. no specs  
  • Waking up and being able to see the small face snuggled next to me clearly.
  • Being able to look at the alarm clock and read the time without putting on my glasses.
  • Being able to see in the shower.
  • BEING ABLE TO SEE MY BOYS WHEN WE GO SWIMMING,
  • No glasses to steam up when I come out of the cold in to the warm.
  • Not wishing that my glasses had windscreen wipers in the rain
  • Being able to see my eyes more clearly and therefore, the bags underneath them.
  • The joy of trying to find sunglasses in the winter and those sunglasses not having to be special prescription ones.
  • Knowing that I will not have to wear bifocals or varifocals
  • My glasses not steaming up when I open the oven door
  • Not having to remove my glasses at the hairdressers, which means I can see my hair being cut
  • Being able to straighten my hair without having to remove my specs and being able to see myself in the mirror and therefore, not burning my ear all the time.
  • Being able to go on roller coasters without worrying I will lose my glasses.
  • Not falling asleep in specs and waking up with them bent as I have been laid on them.
  • No more costs associated with new glasses each year and the horror of finding frames that suit me.
  • Did I say that swimming is fun again......
So would I do it again?  Yes I would.  I am still having a few issues with dry eyes and night time halos round lights when driving, but that is getting better and better each week.  
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Pinterest Ice Marbles #EpicFail

I bet you have all seen those beautiful pictures of ice marbles on Pinterest.  Well during the recent cold snap and snow in the UK I decided it was the perfect time to give them a try. ice So I filled up my balloons with food coloring and water and let them out to freeze and guess what........................... ice marbles #EPICFAIL epicfail
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What we are reading ……………..

I think that a reading list is a perfect snapshot of where we all are in life, so have decided to do a regular (ish) post on what books are gracing our bedside tables, coffee table, hands and kindles.  We are pretty avid readers, well all apart from Maxi, who is still a reluctant although very capable reader. what we are reading  

Maxi's floor by his bed

Mini - Six
  • The Guinness Book of Records 2013
  • The Phoenix Comic
  • Mr Stink - David Walliams
  • Gorgeous George and The Giant Geriatric Generator - Stuart Reid
  • The Wimpy Kid Do it yourself book
  • Q & A a day for Kids
Maxi - Seven
  • Q & A  a day for Kids
  • Anorak magazine 
  • Horrid Henry and the Mummy's Curse - Francesa Simon
  • Gorgeous Gorge and the Zigzag Zit-faced Zombies - Stuart Reid
  • Brain builder books - Charles Phillips
  • Junior Brain Bending Workout - Top That Books
  • Bin Weevils The Official Guide
Me - A Lady never discusses her age! 
  • Little Stitches - Aneela Hoey
  • Quilting step by step - Maggi Gordon
  • Happier at Home - Gretchen Rubin
  • The Gentle art of stitching - Jane Brocket
  • Good Food Editor's Choice Book Set (great value at £9.99 for 10)
  • Code - Kathy Reichs
  • The kitchen Diaries II - Nigel Slater
I would love to know what you  and yours are reading currently
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Eureka Children’s Museum

This weekend we went to visit Eureka.  It’s the National Children’s Museum in Halifax, West Yorkshire. We were given the tickets by Money Supermarket Vouchers in conjunction with the Tots100 before Christmas and had intended to visit over the festive period, but flu and colds put paid to that and then the snow cam and today was the first day we could venture further than our village school! Eureaka Firstly you have to pay to park your car, there is a pay and display car park just outside and it is £3 for 4 hours, £6 for 12 hours or £10 for 24 hours.  I would much prefer that the cost of parking be including in the ticket price. The cost to enter is £9.95 entrance price for adults and children over three and £3.45 price for under threes, however, this is an annual pass cost.  So once you have paid you can return as often as you wish for the next year. The museum is split in to the following galleries (or spaces) Living and working together, Me and My Body (currently closed for a £2.9 million refurbishment and opening Sprig this year), SoundSpace, Sound Garden, Desert Discovery, Our Global Garden, Wonder Walk and Outside at Eureka! Mini the postman The Museum is pitched at children aged to 11 and has some superb spaces specifically designed for under fives.  It is an idea place to take younger children to explore, play and basically have a ball.  It was opened in 1982 and is starting to show it's age, but my boys who are six and seven had a blast. Mini adored Sound Space and Sound Garden, whilst Maxi really loved the Living and Working Together gallery. We had lunch in the cafe and were really impressed with the quality of the food, which went a long way to explain why it was a busy as it was.  The food is locally sourced and the vegetation option I had of butternut and haloumi pie was delicious and not your standard vegetarian fare.  Prices were pretty standard for a cafe at a children's meal costs £5.50 for three courses. Maxi with water We all really enjoyed Eureka for very different reasons.  Firstly I have boys who love to run, be loud and have fun.  Eureka prides itself on being accessible for all, running is not frowned upon, noise is not frowned upon.  It is not a silent and whispery type of place.  Secondly, it is all about play.  I love play and think that it is often not encouraged enough in children.  Eureka always them to play, it gives them the freedom to pretend, to explore and to play.  Thirdly, it is a museum for children, so any adults that are there know this and understand this.  We are all in the same boat.  Finally, we all had so much fun that the boys didn't want to leave and want to go back again next week.
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Admitting we need some help

Gosh this parenting lark is hard work.  Every time we think we have got it cracked something comes along to start us wondering what on earth we are doing wrong. mini1 I have mentioned before that Mini's emotions bubble very close to the surface.  The bad ones and the good.  This means that he is quick to express his happiness and cuddles are never far away, however, conversely it means that he could blow at anytime.  It is horrible.  I have been feeling as though I am walking on egg shell for the last month or so.  Him not sleeping makes things a hundred times worse. Over the weekend things came to a real head and I just lost it.  I can not keep on parenting like this.  Wondering what is going to set him off.  There is no rhyme or reason to what sets him off, often it can be something as silly as he forgot what we were having for dinner or that he is losing a game. The thing if when Mini is angry, it is a horrible thing to see.  He lashes out, physically and verbally.  It is never his fault, always someone else's and trying to get him to calm down is beyond us at this time.  He keeps himself together most of the time at school, but can be disruptive when he is bored.  it is at home we seem to get the brunt of it and as I am the primary care giver, I see the most of it.  From the minute he wakes up, we are often at loggerheads.  He doesn't want to go to school.  He doesn't want to have breakfast, the list goes on and on. The scariest thing is I am becoming scared of my six year old.  When he hits it hurts, he scratches, he bites and he destroys things.  He has lifted and thrown the kitchen table before.   We have talked about rules.  That it is OK to be angry, but not OK to hurt people or things and that it is good to talk, but once he is on fire we really struggle. Gosh this post is so hard to write.  I do not want to label him and we take great care not to call him a naughty boy and just say that what he is doing is wrong. We are at the end of our tether and do not know where to look for help or advice. I am so conflicted, I adore him and he is a joy to be with most of the time, but there is always that nagging worry at the back of my mind.  MadDad is not excluded and Mini has shown his dark side at football practice too.  Maxi gets it if he is winning in a game or he is playing with something that Mini wants. I can not go on living as we have for the last month.  Last year was much better, which is why I think it is linked to his need for sleep.  
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Blogging etiquette – Is there such a thing?

Head in book (I did ask if it was OK to use this here) posted on twitter that it felt a bit naff, so I asked her why, as I often leave a comment on a blog letting people know how much I enjoyed a lost or that they had a fab blog. naff It got me thinking, is there such a thing as blogging etiquette? For me the first rule of blogging is there are no rules to blogging.  It is not often that I put on my blogging police uniform (I have been known to in the past), but I try not to let my favorite pastime have rules and regulations.  So I tried to think back to all those years ago when I started blogging and realised that I wasn't on twitter or had a network of people to ask if things were naff or not.  There wasn't such a defined community back then, it was pretty much in it's infancy. I commented on any blog that I enjoyed and I kept commenting.  I still often do, even if it is just a loved that post or I have nothing to add, but love your blog.  But...... there is so much less commenting going on than when I started blogging.  People seem to engage in different ways. So my top tip for anyone blogging today, would be not to worry about what others think.  The brilliance of internet land is that no one is going to find you and laugh you in to a corner for doing the wrong thing because there is no wrong thing and there are no corners! Other tips would be:
  •  Always link to any post that has inspired you to write one - I often read something in the beginning and it spurred me on to a blog post.
  • Comment, comment and comment some more
  • Make it easy for people to contact you - have an email address on your blog
  • You tweet - have your twitter address in an easy to see location
  • Comment some more, find the persons twitter id, blog facebook page or even instagram account and comment on those.  Having a blog for me is all about engagement.   You can find my facebook page at www.facebook.com/muminthemadhouse and I am also on instagram at www.instragram,com/muminthemadhouse
  • Find your community - I adore reading the Fresh Five for new to me blogs to read on the Tots 100.
  • I also loved this great post by Tips for a blogging Novice from Jolly Jilly
  • When I blog I also remind myself that what I write is around forever and my boys might read it one day!
  • Do not blog or comment in anger (even I need to be reminded of this) and love the poster below.

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What would be your top tip or do you think there is such a thing as blogging etiquette in 2013.  
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Things to do with children in York whilst shopping

I love York.  I want to live there.  I take every and any opportunity to visit York and this find us choosing York as a shopping venue over lots of more local towns.  The boys love York too, however, shoppping not so much!  So we have developed ways to break up the day without spending all day shopping or all day playing!  However if you want a city break in York, why not take a look at hotels in York .  It is a great place to spend a long weekend. Our favorite places for a short visit whilst in York are: The Jorvic Viking Centre  You get an annual pass for The Jorvic Viking  Centre for just £27 for a family of four and the centre is really central so perfect to spend an hour inside.  The boys adore it.  It isn't large, but it is packed full of viking life, including a ride and the smell! We find something new every time we visit and it is a firm family favorite to break up the day. york Yorkshire Museum Gardens - Free We always park in the long stay car park at Mary Gate, so take a trip though the Museum Gardens to get too and from the car.  We also often take sandwiches and enjoy a picnic lunch in the gardens.  The ten-acre botanical Museum Gardens, stretch from the River Ouse up to the back of York Art Galley.  The gardens were planted in the 1830s and you can download a guide if you are visiting to find your way round.  The boys love squirrel spotting and it also gives them some space to run off some energy. York Observatory - Free The observatory is open Thursdays and Saturdays, 11.30am - 2.30pm and is the oldest working observatory in Yorkshire.  It was built in 1832 and 1833 and its 4in refractor telescope was built by York man Thomas Cooke in 1850. The National Railway Museum - Free I have blogged many times about our love the the NRM and it is a great place to spend an hour with the children and unwind. 18
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How to ‘Downscale’ Your Groceries Bill

British families have been hit hard by the rising cost of groceries, with food prices reported to have risen by 32 per cent since 2007 (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). Households are understandably struggling to find the extra on their grocery bill, with the average coming to over £4000 per year. shopping However, there are ways to easily slash your groceries bill, bring down the total at the till and struggle no more. See if you can apply any of the following suggestions to your weekly shop, and ‘downscale’ you’re shopping bill. Price Promise Some supermarkets offer a price promise, which means that your shopping basket is guaranteed to cost less than at any other supermarket. When you buy your groceries online at http://groceries.asda.com you can take advantage of the ASDA Price Guarantee, which means that you’ll save at least ten per cent on your shopping bill, compared to Tesco, Morrison’s, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s. If this isn’t the case then ASDA will give you the difference, meaning that you just can’t lose. It’s easy to use the ASDA Price Guarantee online – all you need is a receipt. And as the calculator is powered by independent website MySupermarket.com, you’ll have peace of mind. ‘Downscaling’ One way of instantly making savings in the supermarket is to ‘downscale’ your brand choices. For example, if you usually buy the most popular branded products ie Heinz Baked Beans, you would simple ‘drop down’ a level and try the Premium supermarket brand instead. Likewise, if you usually buy premium supermarket brands, you can downscale to regular supermarket brands, and then to the basics range. Downscaling your shopping basket has to include an element of trial and error, while you discover which items you are happy to downscale on and which you simply can’t compromise on. However, simply downscaling on some items can save a considerable amount on your groceries bill. Meal Planning Planning your meals is one way to ensure that you don’t overspend on food that will end up getting wasted. With the average family estimated to waste around £500 of food per year, simply ensuring that you buy only what you need could save you around £50 a month! Buying your groceries online makes it easier to stick to a shopping list, as it eliminates the temptations presented when walking around the supermarket. It’s also easy to search for the specific items on your list, making your shopping experience quick and easy. If you usually cook the same meals each week, the ‘Favourites’ function means that you could have your shopping checked out online in mere minutes – saving that other precious family commodity – time.   With a little thought there are ways to easily trim the grocery bill, making increases in food prices far less painful. Choose a supermarket such as ASDA that prides itself in offering great value across all of its ranges – and puts its money where its mouth is with the ASDA Price Guarantee!   18.  
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Win an ‘I Love Chocolate Hamper’ from Thorntons!

thjorntons

  We’ve teamed up with the friendly people at Thorntons to giveaway a delicious ‘I Love Chocolate Hamper’! Thorntons sell yummy personalised chocolates, toffees, fudges and also some delicious looking hampers like this one we’re about to giveaway.  Everyday there is a reason to make someone smile, whether it's to say 'I Love you' or just to say 'thinking of you', why not lift and brighten up someone's day by buying them a box of chocolates from Thorntons to create those smiles thorntons To enter answer the question below via the rafflecopter mechanism: Who opened Thorntons’ very first shop 100 years ago? a) Harry Steven Thornton b) Joseph William Thornton c) Andrew Thomas Thornton a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Joy, it is a conscious choice

Many people are posting about New Years resolutions and I keep seeing updates on facebook and G+ about dry January and diets.  So I wanted to do a quick update on my Winter Manifesto and also my word of the year Joy.  I posted last year about the fact that I was choosing Joy.  I was making a conscious decision to focus on the good stuff and make the bad stuff less relevant in my life. 68468856804351899_ctbhzYm8_c It is all about choice and it is my choice.  Way back when a very wise person taught me that we always have a choice.  Yes there are things in life that we can not change, these are the things that it is not worth expending energy on.  It is like worrying about a plane crashing, no matter how much you flap your arms you will not be able to effect it.  However, you can change the way you think about it.  You can make the choice not to worry about it.  It doesn't take the worry away, but it does give you power over it.  So this year I am actively choosing Joy. However, I am also making this year more joyous by choosing to learn more.  I have started a craft course and am making Mini a quilt.  I have had the fabric for over six months, but had a mental block on cutting it.  I booked the lessons (2 hours every Tuesday) and asked for some help and in two weeks I have cut the fabric, stitched the top and sandwiched it all together ready to quilt.  I made this happen. I have also enrolled on a Collect the Moments e course from Capturing Childhood, which was recommended to me by my friend Kelly. Whilst talking about resolutions, goals and aims for 2013, I’d like to point out the Hillarys Facebook competition, yes Hillarys are the people who have a vast vertical blinds range available.  I’d like to point out the Hillarys Facebook competition, yes that is the people who have a vast vertical blinds range available.  They are currently running a New Year, New You competition on Facebook.  The competition offers a chance to win a different prize every week for the next four weeks, and began with a Wii with Wii Fit Plus to get fit this new year.  This week is a chance to win a £100 spa voucher, Week 3 is a chance to try something new with Zorbing, and in Week 4 the prize is a Merlin annual pass for a family of four.
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The Crap Crafter Challenge #crapcrafter

There are lots of people out there that think they can not craft.  That want to make and create, both on their own and with their children and Ella at PurpleMum has asked for help, as she feels that she can not craft with her children.  So I was more than happy and between us we have decided to start the Crap Crafter Challenge #crapcrafter. Each month I am going to send a little package of things to Ella and do a post of activities that she can do on her own and with her children.  Ella will then do a post letting us see how she got on.  We will have a linky on each of the posts for anyone that wants to join in and will be using the hast tag crapcrafter crap crafter copy This month we are focusing on Valentines and heart crafts.  Nice and easy things that can be done when you are short of time. Top Tips
  • Buy a cheap plastic table cloth to make clean up easier.
  • If you have a fear of glitter then get to Poundland and get some glitter glue, they do them in pots so you can plain them on rather than just shake the glitter over glue.
  • Remember when you are crafting with children do not have a need for perfection, let them do there own thing and have their own outcome.
  • Paper plates are great for using as paint palate
  • Have a bowl of soapy water near or the sink full and doors open to it to make clean up easier.
Heart lolly flowers   IMG_4235 Heart Book Marks   hearts Button Hearts   2011-02-02_9708   Jam Jar Valentine candle holders   DSC_5434 I have lots of other simple and easy valentine crafts pinned on my Valentine Pinterest Board So whether you are a good crafter or someone who is a reluctant crafter, we would love for you to join in and see your valentine crafts. If you are going to join in then please grab the #crapcrafter button
#Crapcrafter
<div align="center"><a href="http://www.muminthemadhouse.com/2013/01/14/the-crap-crafter-challenge-crapcrafter/" title="#Crapcrafter"><img src="http://www.muminthemadhouse.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/crap-crafter-copy.jpg" alt="#Crapcrafter" style="border:none;" /></a></div>
 
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Bikes and BBQ’s – our family Manifesto for 2013

I have mentioned before that I am not a New Year resolutions person, however that doesn't mean that I do not love to plan, set goals and have aims, as I do.  I am just not sure that the dark, dank and dismal January is always the best time for them. But I do want to encourage my children to set goals and learn how to plan to achieve them.  The safest way for us to do this is to set a family manifesto for the year.  We have sat down and discussed what we would like to do and get out of 2013 as a family.  A family holiday was on our list and we have that booked for November with my wonderful brother and his family. However, I wanted to do something that brought me closer together with the boys and they both love exercise and sports. Now I am not the fittest person (that is something of an understatement) and although I do watch them play Junior Football.  It is not something that I really enjoy.  But one thing we all do have is cycles.  So we decided the time has come to  dust off my Bike.  My bike that has been hanging in the garage since Maxi was born.  It is over eight years since I got on my bike!  That cycling is something that we can all do and have fun doing.  Something that brings us together as a family. post cycle drink

Post cycle drink

So the boys got new bikes for Christmas.  Mountain bikes with gears and mud guards and MadDad got a bike carrier for the car. We live in a beautiful part of the world, but with hills each side of the house, there is no way that I am capable (yet) of riding very far from the house, so the bike carrier was essential. Our plan is to use our family discovery pass for Dalby Forrest and get cycling followed by a BBQ.  Our discovery pass was gifted to us by the Forestry Commission and would be an annual cost of £42, which is super value as Dalby is peppered with bike paths suitable for all levels. dalby Plus Dalby is a fantastic place to explore, play and just relax.  It is somewhere that we love to visit as a family, as you can BBQ in designated areas and is just a wonderful relaxing place. By taking the boys to Dalby I can ride as far as I can and then return and cook us all a treat.  I am hoping that by doing something together, it keeps is all together and helps me get fitter.  I plan to update you on our progress each quarter and hopefiully we will all see some benefit from getting out and about together as a family. Forestry Commission Badge
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The Sleep Issue – Does it ever stop?

I feel like crying, not that is not quite right, crying would be an improvement right now, as I am so tightly wound up I could burst.  I am filled with frustration, anger, disappointment and sheer exhaustion. Mini used to be terrible at going to bed and then this time last year we put our foot down and cracked the sleep issue and our evenings were transformed.  We have had a whole year of blissful bedtimes. This week we have taken a massive step backward.  Again we have had tantrums and tears and Mini has refused to go to bed.  He has taken to throwing his books and also banging on his door.  I have no idea why we have taken this large step backward, but I can tell you it is stressing us all out.  Mini NEEDS his sleep.  He handles his emotions better when he has had a good nights sleep.  I NEED some grown up time with MadDad, we need to catch up and reconnect with each other and Maxi needs to stay asleep (He is a head on the pillow and out like a light sort of boy). mini sleep Nothing has changed apart from the Christmas period.  We have no idea why he doesn't want to go to bed.  He is shattered by it, we are shattered by it and last night it was 9.45 before he went to sleep.  Safe to say this morning wasn't pretty, he was tired, didn't want to get up and go to school. So I have taken a look at what worked for us last year and am implementing an action  plan. We are going to back to a reward chart again and link it to Skylander Characters, as he is currently obsessed with this.  Also I am going to get a new Relax Kids CD.   With regards to books I think that we are going to move his bedtime story to the chair in his room (he has a cabin bed, so in bed isn't great for the adult). I would love some ideas and help in how we can crack this.  Mini is six (seven in June).
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Seasonal Wreaths – A craft challenge

My front door was looking very sorry for itself after I took down and packed away the Christmas Wreath. SO I decided that I would challenge myself to make a wreath for each of the seasons this year. My inspiration for January was a wreath I saw on Instagram by Snugglefeet.  I decided on this one as it used up things that I already had on my stash and all I needed to buy was the polystyrene ring. It only took me an hour to make and was really fun to do too. Spring wreath It was very simple to make, I wrapped the ring with some fluffy wool that I had been given, It wasn't even a full ball of wool. Then I set too making felt flowers using a rolled felt flower tutorial. I then glued on some leave shaped with my glue gun and added a piece of florist wire across the wreath and added felt bunting.  I finally glued on the flowers and a ribbon to hang it. I really like it and am so pleased.  Next up one for valentines day and then Easter!  I would love for you to join in.
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Fingerprint thank you cards

Inspired by Heather at Young and Younger our thank you cards are of the fingerprint variety   My boys are of the age now where they love making their own cards and expanding on their fingerprints to make animals, fish and flowers.  They had a great hour making their cards to send out to say thank you for any gifts they received at Christmas.  I have a Pinterest board filled with fingerprint art ideas and inspiration. fingerprint cards In fact it took less time and effort to make the cards than it did to hassle them to filling them in.  I really do want the boys to have good manners and thank you cards are part and parcel of receiving gifts in The Mad House, but at six and seven I feel that the responsibility for writing them should come down to the boys and that I no longer should have to send them in their behalf, but what a palaver.  I ended up nagging and nagging them to get them done. Do you make your children write thank you cards?  If so how do you encourage them to complete them?
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Parental control with Video Games

My boys are growing up fast and this year we gifted them an XBox 360 thanks to lovely folks over at the Ask About Games website.  They as if we'd be interested in becoming Family Gaming Ambassadors for them and after discussing it with MadDad we decided it would be a great opportunity. conservatory Our first challenge was  all to do with parental control and included a series of questions around how well we knew the PEGI video game age ratings.  PEGI stands for Pan European Game Information,and I had to look up the answers the questions on Ask About Games! 1) How many PEGI ratings are there? A) There are five age ratings; 3, 7, 12, 16, 18 2) Which 3 PEGI age ratings are legally enforceable? A) The 12, 16 and 18 ratings are legally enforceable for retailers - 3 and 7 are advisory only. 3) How many PEGI Content Descriptor icons are there? A) Content Descriptors explain a little bit more about why something has been given a particular rating. There are 8 in total 4) What does the Spider icon mean?
A) It means "Fear" - i.e. it might be frightening for younger children. 5) What does the Fist icon mean? A) It means that the game in question will include depictions of violence. 6) Parental Controls are available on Smart Phones; True or False? A) True. 7) Parental Control features on a video games console can be used to control the amount of time that your child plays on the device per day? True/False? A) True. Setting parental controls pegi The second part of the challenge was for us to set up Parental Controls on our Xbox.  We already have rules in the house on no screen time after 6pm, so this was a no brainier for us.  We did this on Christmas Eve as we set it up and it was really easy to do.  Not only have we set time limits, so that there is a limit on screen time, but we have also set a code so that the boys can not play on certain games. I didn't video up setting up the controls, as my boys are far too clever and would probably find it on the blog. but one of my fellow Family Gaming Ambassadors Julie at The Sardine Tin did.  It took us all of 4 minutes to set up the controls and it really does give me peace of mind when the boys are playing.
  • We have a game rating of 12 set on the XBox.
  • We have a movie rating of 12, so that the boys can watch movies on the Xbox.
  • We also have explicit content blocked.
  • We have a daily limit of 1 hour set on the family timer.  I only wish we could have different times for different days, so we could increase it automatically on a weekend or have set times when they could use it.
We have really enjoyed playing on the XBox over the festive season especially as we have all had flu and our favorite family game has been a scrabble style one we downloaded called quarrel.  
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Winter Manifesto

We have had a fantastic, but flu ridden Christmas in The Mad House.  Many of you that follow me on Instragram will already know this.  It started with Maxi on 23rd and then went through the house.  I was taking lots of precautions, but eventually it caught up with me big style and I am the one suffering now and typically MadDad has just returned to work. Maxi I am not a fan of New Years resolutions, but I do a seasonal manifesto and have done for over a year now and I realised that I had missed my winter one out.  I guess I was far too busy enjoying the build up to Christmas.  I have really enjoyed all the crafting, making and baking that took place and I feel that it might have kick started my creative side again.
  • Make a seasonal Wreath.  I have ideas already for the January and February (valentines) ones.
  • Get back to using my SAD lamp.  I had to take a break due to the eye surgery.
  • Speaking of eye surgery, it went really well.  I have a slight issue with a lose fiber in my right eye, but I am kicking myself as to why I didn't have it done sooner.  so I am going to endeavor to make more of my eyes and try to wear a little bit of eye make up.
  • I WILL make a start on Mini's quilt.
  • I am also going to join a weekly craft group locally and have looked in to joining a local WI, so am going to pluck up the courage to attend.
  • I am also going to turn the camera off auto more and will be attending a lesson with Cass from Frugal Family.
I will also be making a big effort to live as frugally as possible and will be chronicling this and tips on A Thrifty Mum and would love you to follow and help me in any way you can. mini My main focus this year will be to continue choosing joy and focusing on doing one thing everyday and doing it right. I am delighted to say that my Choose Joy post has been featured at the Tots100 as one of their posts of 2012 and having read through the others, there are some great posts, so if you want to be inspired by some of the fantastic blog posts and bloggers out there, then grab a coffee and what is left of the quality street and take a read though the others.
Tots100 Top UK Parent Blogs
   
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Homemade Christmas

homemade christmas TMH
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What does christmas mean to me?

Santa snacks Christmas, it is a bit of a bittersweet time for me.  It is filled with the joy and excitement of two innocent boys, but also the memory of my mum's unexpected and sudden death two years ago.  Christmas Day will forever be associated with seeing my Mum dead in her kitchen on Christmas morning, but I can not let the past shape the future. So my Memories are split in two.  There is the memory of Christmas past, of tissue thin sheets of wrapping paper, eye shut tight of christmas eve listening for the sleigh bells, pillowcases instead of stockings, coming down on Christmas Eve to find my Dad standing at the door with a longed for Petite Typewriter.  It is Christmas days long ago of a Sindy House rapped in a candy coloured stripped sheet. It is delicious family filled Christmas dinners after Dad and Granddad returned from a swift one at the Pub.  Boxing days spent with cousins, parkin and corned beef pie. Board games and cocktails.  Sisters living and loving each other. Of carefree and joyfilled Christmas spent with family.  Once the boys graced us with our presence we experienced the excitement though their eyes and Christmas became about crafting, cooking, making and creating memories.  We made advent a time of activities. We cemented memories with our traditions.  We went to my Mum's to help wrap her presents.  She helped me to cook Christmas dinner. And then she was no more.................. So now I try to make Christmas a time of making, creating, cooking and crafting.  I think of my Mum and the time we spend doing the same as I was growing up and in my actions I honor her memory.  I allow the pain and grief to be there, but do not make it mark my days and nights.  More than ever Christmas is about making memories, so that when my children grow they look back at this time with both wonder and joy and they come to realise that Christmas is all about family. I was tagged by Becky At Family Budgeting  and Baby Budgeting  
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Christmas Eve Traditions

Christmas is not about how much money you spend, but how much time you spend with the people you love.  I love Christmas and I love spending time with my family.  I like Christmas Eve to be a day of joy.  Since the boys were small we introduced Christmas Eve Elves.  Basically they delivered each year a bag for each of the boys with things to keep them busy and entertained on this exciting day. Christmas Eve gift bags This year the bags include:
  • New Pyjamas (so they look their best on Christmas Morning in pictures)
  • A How to draw book each
  • New Gel Pens
  • A new family Movie - Brave
  • A family Game for the XBox
  • Reindeer food
  • Snowman Soup
  • A new book for bedtime
On Christmas Eve I will visit Mum's grave and take a basket of flowers.  We then spend the rest of the day at home.  MadDad prepared all the veg etc for the next day, then we settle down to family time.  We make cranberry and popcorn chains for our tree outside for the birds whilst we watch a movie.  We make our snowman soup, play board games and generally have quality family time together.  We try to keep the day as relaxed as possible. As the daylight fades we wrap up warm and go for a walk round the neigbourhood to take a peek at everyone's christmas decorations and lights and to try and tire the boys out so they sleep. Santa snacks We end the evening with a bath to carols, then we sprinkle our reindeer food and leave a special key outside so Father Christmas can open our door.  The last thing the boys do before bed is to leave Father Christmas a mince pie and a drink on the plate that I made them
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With this chocolate (and wine) you are really spoiling me!

When I was asked by Ferraeo if I would like to try some of their chocolates and some wine that had been matched to it and I didn't have to think long.  I responded with a great big YES please.  Now it might come as a big surprise to you that I am not really a wine drinker or a massive chocolate eater, but do indulge at Christmas.

ferraro

 

Raffaello

Matched with Martini Asti NV from the Piedmont region of Italy.I had never had Raffaello before, but they are now my favorite Ferraro chocolate.  They are like little christmas snow morsels wrapped in a coconut waver and are very moreish.  In fact me and Cass struggled to put these away and loved this combination.  Martini Asti is my MIL's favorite tipple and is perfectly matched to these delicate and delicious chocolates.

Ferrero Rond Noir

Matched with Dows Finest Reserve Port.  I really wanted to love this combination, but couldn't.  Normally I am a dark chocolate person, but for some reason I wasn't as keen.  Now this may have been due to the fact that I really loved the Raffaello and nothing would match that perfect combination.  However, MadDad loved the richness of both the chocolate and port and said if was the perfect indulgence for an evening in front of the fire (If we had a fire)!

Classic Gold Ferrero Rocher

Matched with Croix Milhas Rivesaltes Ambre‘ (Languedoc-Roussillon, France).  Christmas isn't Christmas without these delicious balls of heavenly crisp and soft chocolates.  No one in my tasting team liked the wine on it's own, but when paired with the chocolates it made a real difference.  They really brought out the best in each other.    This  combination really testing me and I found that once I had a couple it really was appealing.  MadDad did not like the wine at all. I was firstly amazed at just how big the Ferrero range was and secondly just how delicious chocolate can be when paired with the right wine.  It takes the whole chocolate experience up a notch and also makes it a really enjoyable experience.  
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How to film Nativity plays

Does your school let you film the Nativity?  Ours does, but this year neither of the boys have done a nativity, however, this morning there is a service at the local church and Maxi has a solo singing part of we three kings.

Panasonic sent me this fab guide to filming a nativity, so I decided to share it with you.  I will be enjoying the singing in the church and coming back to a warm mince pie.  I do hope this helps you.

IMG_0365

As the Christmas season draws upon us, many parents will be gearing up to take on their annual role as ‘Movie Director’ to film their little one’s starring moment in school productions and carol services. Whether they’ve got a leading role as Mary or Joseph, or will be taking a star turn as one of the farm animals around the manger, parents want to do the best job of capturing the precious moment on film. But you don’t have to be the next Scorsese to film a great video, here are some top tips to help you film a video even the Three Kings would be proud of. Top tips for filming a Nativity play 1)      Get in position early - The single most important thing to consider when filming a school play, nativity or anything on stage is position. Try to get in-situ early and claim a spot close to the stage. Ask someone who has been involved with the play where the best spot would be, that way you will hopefully get them on side and they will tell you if there are any special stage entrances or exits to look out for. 2)      Pay attention to the light - You will be filming indoors so it’s likely to be in low lighting. Many school halls will have large windows so try to get the sun behind you if it is during the day. As a rule of thumb, the better the lens, the more light it will capture – look out for camcorders with large wide-aperture lenses to get clear, natural lighting indoors. 3)      Choose the right mode on your camcorder - Lots of camcorders have settings to help you. For example, Panasonic camcorders have a dedicated spotlight mode which is specially designed to film indoors with theatrical lighting. You will probably need to use the zoom so keep this in mind. Zooming indoors requires a very high quality lens so look out for the “f” number (usually printed in small letters on the edge of the lens). A small f number – such as f1.8 on a Panasonic V700 camcorder – means a wide aperture and more light. 4)      Get the sound right - Trying to record little voices from across a large echoing hall may well be your toughest challenge. If they are using a speaker system, position yourself near enough the speakers so the camera can record the sound. Alternatively, look out for camcorders with a “zoom mic” function – this feature focuses the sound recording in the direction you are facing, so you hear more of the play, and less of the chatting in the audience around you. 5)      Keep it steady - Finally, whatever you film, remember to keep movements smooth, and the zooms slow. It will be much easier on the eye when you watch it back. Consider using a tripod – even just a cheap mini tripod – so you can leave the camcorder to do its thing and enjoy the play rather than spending the entire time staring at a small screen!
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A Frugal Christmas and a Debt Free New Year

Are you cutting back this Christmas?  Research by the Co-Operative Bank shows that a third of us are spending less this year than last year and nearly two thirds of us keeping our budget the same. I am a great believer that in order to have a good christmas, you need to take a step back and realise that it isn't about what you get it is about spending time with the ones you love and really enjoying spending time together.  We have had a fantastic advent, making, baking and just generally having fun together and I am so looking forward to spending some time with all my family over the next couple of weeks. Looking at the infographic below as was shocked to find that I live in the region spending the most and just how much less we have spent.  This just goes to reinforce with me that you do not have to spend to find happiness. 2012 Christmas Infographic A Frugal Christmas and a Debt Free New Year - An infographic by the team at The Co-operative Bank 18
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Some last minute christmas Gift ideas

If you are still wondering about what gifts to give people, then why not take a look at my last minute gift guide. All Terrain KartATK All Terrain Kart - £175 Now I do not have a review for you on this as the weather has not been kind to us and we haven't had time to really put it though it's paces, so will be coming back to you in Spring with a full review   What I will say is it is a great size for older children when they outgrow their other ride ons.  It is aimed at 7 to 12 year olds and it is a perfect pitch.  My boys are beside themselves to go on it for more than 5 minutes! IMG_7896 Sound Asleep Pillow - From £12 My boys love listening to music in bed and often go to sleep with either music on or listening to a story and with these fab pillows they can listen to MP3 players without having to use speakers or headphones.  Mini's has come in very handy to play his Relax Kids MP3's which I swear by.   You can see Miss Frugal using hers.  The boys are younger, so I make sure that I put the music on for them. 81DXYHywaRL._AA1500_LEGO Creationary - £20 We love LEGO.  In a BIG way.  We bought he boys this for last christmas and it has been one of our most played family games.  We ALL love to play this together, even I can win at this.  You choose a card and have to build what is on it and your team member has to guess what it is.  The wonder of LEGO games is that you can change the rules to suit you, so we have timed races, who can built the best, build offs and lots of other games all from the one box.  It is brill and I do not say that lightly. Tea-Set-MOOD4-1-300x300 Brabantia Tea41     I am a tea monster and I love this set from Brabantia as it is perfect for me during the day when I want a cup of tea, but do not want to make a pot as I am a tea leave user.  It is also perfect for herbal teas and infusions such as mint tea.  It contains everything you need to enjoy the perfect cup of  tea.  The tea buddy is so handy it attaches to the side of the cup and can be used to  carry your biscuit, cake, chocolate or even put your used tea bag in (Yes I know not everyone uses leaves). A967P Pirate Shrinkies - £5.99 We are lovers of shrinkies and these pirate ones are a super gift.  Easy to make nad fun to do.  A great way to get boys crafting. A949PMicro Football table - £8.99 We have a large football table in Maxi's room, but love this Micro one as it is easy to-assemble  and portable table. It has a dual scoring system and non-slip handles. Size 34cm x 22cm x 6.5cm. JDDP wii 3D packshot.png.png   Just Dance Disney Party - £19 Perfect for all the family and Disney lovers, Just Dance Disney has over 25 songs from Disney Channel’s hottest shows and songs from beloved Disney Movie Classics including  Shake It Up, Hannah Montana, A.N.T. Farm, Jessie, Wizards of Waverly Place, Camp Rock, Phineas and Ferb, High School Musical and Good Luck Charlie.  The movies tunes include:  Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, Peter Pan, Tangled, Aristocats, Mary Poppins, Lilo & Stitch, Tinker Bell, Enchanted, The Muppets and Bolt. Now let me warn you, this will get your dancing too not just the children, it is great fun.  I however, have no coordination and the boys just laughed at me.  I can not wait to do this with my niece and the rest of the family over christmas
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Join me on Wednesday for a #StorkBaking chat!

Are you like me and get in to a baking frenzy at this time of year.  I have already made mince pies and peppermint bark and a gingerbread house along with spiced cookies instead of cards for the boys to take to school  Or are you lacking in inspiration? mince pies Whichever is you, please come and  join me over on twitter at 1pm tomorrow (Wednesday 19th Dec) as I will be co-hosting a twitter chat with @amylane in conjunction with along with Tots100 and Stork. We are really looking forward to hearing all your favorite baking recipes, handy hints and top tips for baking with children. I am excited to be chatting alongside the team from Stork, who have more than 90 years of baking expertise and fill me with lots of memories of Christmas pasts. And as if sharing your knowledge and learning new recipes wasn't enough to tempt you to join in, there’s even going to be prizes  You could win vouchers for Lakeland! All you need to do is pop over to twitter Wednesday 19 December from 1pm to 2pm and use the hashtag #StorkBaking to join in. Make sure you are also following me @mum_themadhouse @Tots100@bakewithstork and @amylane. You can find out more details on the Tots100. 18
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Three Layer Peppermint Bark

I first came across peppermint bark three years ago on SouleMama blog and was intrigued   I love the look of candy canes, but we never eat them, so decided to give Peppermint bark a try and guess what we all love it.  The boys included. pappermint bark   The secret in making this a grow up and delicious peppermint bark is buying the best quality chocolate you can afford.  The dark chocolate needs to be 70% plus and the white chocolate needs to have cocoa butter in (so no milky bars!). Ingredients
  • 500 grams white chocolate,  chopped
  • 30 candy canes,  coarsely crushed (I did this by popping in two two plastic bags covering with a tea towel and then bashinf with a rolling pin)
  • 200 gramsof dark chocolate, chopped
  • 6 Tbsp of double cream
  • half ts. peppermint extract
Method
  1. Turn a large baking sheet upside down, and cover it securely with tin foil. Mark a 9- by 12-inch rectangle on the foil.  I use my glass worktop saver for this.
  2. Put the white chocolate in a heatprool bowl, and place it over a saucepan of barely simmering water.
  3. Stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted and smooth
  4. Turn the pan off
  5. Remove the chocolate from the heat. Pour half of it onto the rectangle on the foil. Using a spatula, spread the chocolate to fill the rectangle.
  6. Sprinkle with half of the crushed candy canes.
  7. Chill until set (I pop mine outside for 15 minutes)
  8. Meanwhile, combine the dark chocolate, cream, and peppermint extract in a saucepan. Warm over -low heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture is just melted and smooth.
  9. Cool to barely lukewarm, about 5 minutes and pour the dark chocolate mixture over the white chocolate rectangle.
  10. Using a spatula chocolate in an even layer.
  11. Chill until very cold , which is about 25 minutes.
  12. Rewarm the remaining white chocolate over barely simmering water  and then pour the white chocolate over the firm dark chocolate layer, using your spatula to spread it to cover.
  13. Sprinkle with remaining crushed candy canes.
  14. Chill just until firm, about 20 minutes.
peppermint bark At this point you should be able to remove the bark from the foil on to a chopping board and you can trim the edges  Carefully lift the foil from the baking sheet onto a large cutting board. Trim away any ragged edges of the rectangle. Cut the bark in to bite sized pieces. Pack into an airtight container, Store in the refrigerator. When serving let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes to emphasise the softer middle layer.
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Home made Christmas wreaths

There is something about Christmas that just inspires me and I think I have said before we do not buy the adults in our family Christmas gifts, so this year I decided to make use of my dried orange slices and make some home made christmas wreaths for my mother in law and sister in law.  make your own wreath   Materials:
  • Artificial wreath (I wanted it to last year to year)
  • Dried orange slices
  • Florists wire
  • Cinnamon sticks (from the florist as they are much cheaper)
  • Florists wire
  • Ribbon
  • Glue gun
  • Decorations (I used both wooden ones and also felt one too)
wreath collage I got my smaller wreaths from Tesco for 97p and the larger ones from Hobby Craft on a three for two for £3.49 Method:
  • Firstly I dried my oranges slices  and allowed them to dry.
  • For each wreath I made five orange, ribbon and cinnamon decorations by tying a bow in the ribbon and threading some florist wire through the back, then thread the wire through the orange slice.  Using the glue gun apply a blob of glue to the rear of the orange and attach the cinnamon stick and wrap with the wire and allow to dry.
  • Then position your orange decorations on the wreath and using the wire tie them in.
  • Attach any other decorations or embellishments either with florists wire or a hot glue gun.
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Swagbucks Update

As you know I have been taking part in the Tots100 Swagbucks competition along with 12 other fantastic bloggers and I wanted to tell you about my experience before the winner is announced next week.  I am not sure yet that Swagbucks is for me, I haven't been very stressful with it, but I do think there are a number of reasons.  Firstly the toolbar doesn't work in Chrome and that is my preferred browser and secondly the major one for me is that I think it is possible to get many more points if you are willing to use Swagbucks to register with gambling sites, but I don't gamble, so it didn't really work for me.  Another issue was that often people post hints and tips to the Swagbucks facebook page and with the changes on facebook I often didn't realise they were there until to late.   swagbuckssearch I am not sure that this time of year was the best time for me to focus on Swagbucks, as I am short of time and I think that if you have time to use it to do the daily poll, survey and searches via them you can make a lot of cash.  Wendy made £100 in just three weeks, where I made less than £10!  Pippa also made an amazing number of points too, which highlighted to me that it is more than possible and it was me that wasn't using the site right! Also I think it is really important that you get other people registered and using swagbucks as you get a proportion of their bucks too and neither of my referrals used the search function. So my top tips would be:
  • Get in to a routine (I will try again after Christmas)
  • Use the search toolbar
  • get your referrals to use swagbucks
So I am going to try again in the new year when I have more time and if you want to have a go with me, http://www.swagbucks.com/refer/MuminTheMadHouse
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Let me introduce you to decay the next skylander!

  jinglejolly   Skylanders, I am sure that if you have children then they have not escaped you. The thing is I am a bit of a sticker when it comes to toys and I refused to let the boys have Skylanders when they first came out.  I had concerns.  I was worried that they would want all of them and it would be out of my price range, especially as we are early adopters.  So I said no. And I have kept saying no.  But the boys love them and want them.  They have played on Skylanders with Master Frugal and I am coming to realise that they will not need them all as they can share and swap with friends.  Plus all their friends have them and they love to talk about them. However, we have a rule at christmas, they are only allowed to ask for four things and as they both really want bikes, Skylanders are out of our price range   But thankfully the Tots100 might be able t come to our rescue with their great Skylanders competition. So this is Decay.  He is a magic Skylander with his candy cane light saber which shoots sweets at you and tricks you in to getting bad teeth!
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Keeping hypersensitive heads warm with Zaini hats

Maxi hates hats.  He is one of those children that has sensitivity issues.  There was a time when it used to take an hour to put on a pair of socks  but thankfully those days are over, however  we are left with the fact that hats itch and make his head uncomfortable. Believe me when I say I have drawers full of hats, I have tried every possible combination for him and at nearly eight I was losing hope.  He would ware one for 3 minutes and then off his head it would come. So when we were offered a set of Zaini hats, I didn't hold out much hope.  In fact I measured my head to make sure the one he picked could double up as one for me! Zani Hats The boys chose their hats from the Zaini Kids range. All Zaini Kids hats are fully fleeced lined for the utmost comfort and quality and are made from 100% acrylic which is extremely durable towards rain, snow and wind. It is not waterproof , but it will resist rain without altering the hat. They can be hand washed only at 40 degrees. The idea of Zaini started in 2010 in a ski resort in Northern France, when Scottish ski instructor Miranda Harper started hand knitting hats for friends because she couldn't find the kind she liked. Since then Zaini, and  Zaini Kids, has become an established brand which sells and distributes hand made products throughout the world. So back to the hat, how did it fair.  Well he has been wearing it for a week, as it is fleece lines it doesn't itch per say and he is doing much better than he has with any other hat.  He loves the pom pom on the top and it has withstood both hail and rain.  At £14.99 it is much more than I have ever paid for a hat for him, but as a cost per wear it is the best value hat I have ever had for him too!  So it has got a big thumbs up from all of us.
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Family hand print Christmas tree canvass

My friend Cass at Frugal Family made a hand print Christmas Tree a couple of years ago, which I have admired each year, but the thought of cutting out all those hand prints really put me off because I am far too lazy.  So I put my thinking cap on and when I was in the bargain store the other day I saw an A2 sized canvass for less that £3 and had an epiphany and the above is what was made. I used things that I had in, so tempura paint in green and then added a little blue to darken it.  Paper plates to hold the paint and decided that we would all get involved, even MadDad.

We had a great time making it and started with the largest hands at the bottom and then did each line with smaller ones.  Even the star at the top is the boys fingers.  Once the tree was dry we added a fingerprint garland and I used brown paint to add the date as the trunk of the tree.

Tots100 Experience Days Competition
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Rainy Day Mum ~ The Boy and Me ~ The Madhouse ~ Here Comes the Girls

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#SavvySpender twitter Party Round up

Just over a week ago me and the amazing Penny Golightly,held a twitter party all about shopping habits and family treats. savvyspender We found out how about how you stick to a budget, choose appropriate family rewards, spend your money wisely and that your shopping habits have changed recently compared to previous years. it was amazing, there were so many tips and ideas and I wanted to share them all with you.   The party was sponsored by Barclaycard and their Freedom Rewards credit card. This new reward card is potentially very useful for organised spenders who pay their balance off every month, as you earn points on everything you spend, that you can then redeem in a range of high street stores (check outwww.barclaycard.co.uk/freedomrewards)!
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Must have Christmas Gifts for Scooter Lovers

I have made no secret that as a family we love Micro Scooters.  Both the boys have a Maxi Micro, we also have a Macro Sprite and one of their stunt scooters.  We are also loving the accosories that they have and the boys have been testing some more out. Scoot Beamz (£6.99) These have been a huge hit and I have had four of the local mums ask me about them.  They are lights that for on to any scooter.  You can have them on fast flash, slow flash or constant and they come in four colours.  They make the boys stand out on dark and dismal days. Rucksack (£25) One of my bugbears when the boys scoot to school is that I end up carrying their book bags, well no more as they have a Micro scooter rucksack.  This can go on your back like a standard rucksack or it can hook over the handle bars and you can let the scooter take the strain.  Perfect.  They also do one with a luck box too. Scooter Sleeve (£9.99) I do not know about your children, but mine love personalising things and with Micro scooters been so popular Maxi is loving his scooter sleeve, which means his scooter doesn't get mixed up with anyone elses  
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Christmas decorating with dried orange slices

So you have dried your oranges, what do you do with them? Well I wanted to make wreaths for my nearest and dearest, so I bought some decorative cinnamon from the florists and set to making and creating.

It was very simple.  I picked up the wreath for less than a pound at Tesco.  I also used cinnamon, florists wire, ribbon and some wooden cuts pouts I purchased from Paper and String.  They look great and smell delicious too. I also made a selection of ornaments too: Other uses for dried orange slices
  • Make seasonal potpori
  • Fill a jar with them for a table center peice
  • use them to decoprate wrapped presents
  • Make bunting by adding to popcorn and cranberry strings (great for outdoor trees)
  • Thread through florists wire to make a wreath
  • Use to decorate napkin rings
 
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How to dry orange slices

I have always loved the look of dried orange slices and there were plenty of them used in decorations at York Christmas Market when we visited, so I wanted to try making some myself   They are very easy to make and really effective too.   Materials
  • Oranges
  • Knife
  • Oven
  • Wire tray (I used one of my cooling trays)
Method
  • The hardest part of this is having the patience to wait for them to be dry!
  • Slice your oranges in to 1 cm strips.  Make sure that you cut the oranges cross ways so you get the pretty segmented look.  Discard the ends.
  • Blot any excess juice on to a paper towel or tea towel.
  • Place the slices on to a wire rack.
  • Place in your oven at 90 degrees centigrade for 3 hours, turning once.
  • Allow to dry overnight.
I made a second batch and dipped them in lemon juice which is supposed to preserve the colour, but there was no difference at all!  The house smelt delicious when I was drying them and you could also use a dehydrator if you have one, but it is days like today that have been dreaming about owning an Aga.    
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Stocking fillers for six and seven year old boys

Both the boys have stockings that I made for them when they were first born and each year I fill them with an assortment of items. So my top tips for stocking fillers this year are: Playmobil Fi?ures (£1.97) What can I say you can never have too much Playmobil! Magic Spring £1.49 - Yellow Moon

Perfect for children of any age.  My boys love watching it spring itsr way down the stairs!  Size 75mm

Notebooks by Jennie Maizels £3.99

                    We are huge fans of Jennie in the Mad House.  Mini is a big fan of her London range and her notebooks are fab.  Great quality and super designs, plus free postage in the UK. Speed Racer Sets - !1.49 Yellow Moon

Fab mini construction sets from Yellow Moon, which are easy to assemble and really great value for money. Stabilo Pens

We particularly love the EASY Original pen (£6.99) which is designed to aid children learn to write with easy to grip areas and specifically for left handers or right handers.  We have loved these pens so much that I went out and bought the boys an EASYergo pencil (£6.99) each.  The boys have found them very easy to grip and use. Lush Fun £5

 

Fun is a dough/soup that is moldable, you can play with it, wash with it, shower with it or  use it to wash your hair.  It smells divine and is super fun.  My only issue is that it has SLS in, so is not ideal for any children with eczema   Maxi has used it in moderation. Hexbug Warriors £7.99

I have never really understood Hexbugs.  The boys have some but only played with them occasionally, however, they adore these new Hexbug Warriors.  I think it is something to do with the competitive nature of boys!  Yes they are more expansive than the standard bugs, but you get a little mini arena and parts that can be added or removed from the bugs and these are interchangeable.  We have one each (yes I have one too) and we play with them a lot. Horrible Histories Vile Villains £7.99

Now the box says age 8+ however, Mini is six an d love this game.  It is based on the bestselling Horrible Histories books study the facts on a card for ten seconds, then answer a question correctly to keep the card! Contains 54 picture/question cards, timer and dice.  Even better you can play it on your own. Other items that go in every year are: Chocolate coins, a toothbrush, a mandarin, marbles, torches, top trumps, gloves, socks, temporary tattoos (Oh how I wish I could get Jennie Maizels to make some) and lip chap.
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York Christmas Market

As a family we love York.  It is only an hours drive for us and somewhere that we enjoy visiting and browsing.  This past weekend was St Nicholas Fayre in York, which is billed as one of the most popular Christmas markets in the UK, with thousands of visitors coming to York over the four-day event. We hadn't been to York for a while, so thought that we would try and do some Christmas shopping at the Fayre and gave both the boys their pocket money and we set off with a challenge to try and buy presents for my mother in law and farther in law. We decided to park at Mary Gate, which is a long stay car park, but we could have chosen one of the many park and rides, but know from experience that the one on our side of York sometimes gets very busy and can mean queuing for a bus and with two impatient boys we would rather park.  It cost £11 for a full days parking.  The joy of parking at Mary Gate is that we get to stroll through the Museum Gardens and feed the squirrels and look a the abbey ruins and the observatory.  It also is a wonderful green space nad gives the boys a chance to run around after an hours car journey. We should have realised that York would be busy from the fact the car park was full, but my of my I do not think I have ever seen it this full before.  The outdoor market stalls, which are housed in huts were heaving.  Both the boys got basked badly by peoples rucksacks and it was very difficult to get in to any of the stalls to see what was being sold.  In the end we had to put the boys on our shoulders and at six and seven that was hard work. We managed to get to a couple of the stalls that we really wanted to and bought a fab selection of local cheese and also locally produced oils and vinaigrette, in addition to an oil pouring bottle made my a local potter.  The boys wanted to get this years christmas ornament from the market, but we couldn't get a look in at any of the decoration stalls, so we sat them down and bought them a hot chocolate pot instead!  I would say that the decoration stalls that we got to see where not that impressive.  We ideally were looking for artisan items, but there were all pretty mass produced stuff. We didn't waste our day in York.  We made sure that we had a stroll round all of the local shops in the streets, had lunch at Pizza Express and a pot of tea in a cafe.  We would have liked to visit Betty's but the normally long queue was massive, so we gave it a miss this time. York is a wonderfully compact city with plenty to see and do and we also visited the Yorvic Viking Center (review to follow)  and had a walk round York Minster.  If you have more time you can always visit the National Railway Museum which is free or one of the other many museums So my suggestion would be to make sure you turn up early for the fayre and make sure you are aware that it will be very busy.   If York isn't your local Christmas Market, then why not take a look at Travel Supermarkets Christmas Market Wrap up and find one closer to home.  Also keep an eye out for posts from other bloggers about their local Christmas markets.
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Homemade Christmas – Decorate a pillar candle

There is something about the festive season and the darker evenings and nights that cries out for a burning candle and these decorated pillar candles are so simple to make and look amazing and the secret is tissue paper.   Materials:
  1. Pillar candles - Mine are from Aldi, but ones with a flat top would look great
  2. Tissue paper - I used pre decorated but plan to get the boys to draw on some white tissue paper for their teachers candles
  3. Heatgun or hairdryer
  4. Wax paper (from the baking section) or baking parchment
Method:
  1. I measured my candle both height and circumference (I used a piece of wool for the circumference!) and cut my tissue paper to size.
  2. Then I cut a larger piece of waxed paper
  3. Wrap the tissue paper around the candle and then cover with the wax paper, pulling it tight.  The wax paper makes this easier to do and stops you burning your hands especially with thinner candles.
  4. Then I used the heat gun ( or you can use a hair dryer to melt the surface wax of the candle and the tissue paper will adhere to the candle.
I have been burning the candle and the tissue does remain and not burn, but this paper is rather thicker than standard tissue paper.  I remember making these with my mum and we used the old fashioned sheets of wrapping paper (it was very thin) and rather than cover the whole candle we would cut an image out and just apply that.  We would then cover with glitter that was iridescent and OK to burn.  You can add glitter to your candles, but I would suggest using a water based glue and cosmetic grade glitters. If you like this then take a look at our soy wax teacup candles 
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Hyperemesis Gravidarum – Been there twice!

I was delighted to hear the news that Princess Catherine and Price William are expecting there first child this afternoon, but after reading that she had actually been admitting to hospital with Hyperemesis gravidarum brought back so many memories for me. Hyperemesis gravidarum or HG is a horrible affliction, but thankfully not a common pregnancy condition. It affects up to three per cent of mums-to-be. But if you're unlucky enough to suffer from HG, it is miserable and can be just hell.  HG usually begins at between four weeks and seven weeks, easing off at between 14 weeks and 16 weeks of your pregnancy.  In most cases, HG will end by the time you're about 20 weeks pregnant. Unfortunately, for me and up to another  20 per cent of sufferers, HG goes on to last for the whole pregnancy. The hardest part for me was people kept offering me advise on ways to stop the sickness, including ginger, acupuncture  eating little and often and every other morning sickness remedy out there and I just wanted to scream at them.  I wasn't suffering for morning sickness, i was suffering for every minute, every second sickness.  I didn't even get respite from being asleep as I would vomit in my sleep.  I was being sick as much as 100 times a day and dry heaving in between. Before I fell pregnant with Maxi I had suffered from a Molar pregnancy and so when I started vomiting excessively we were really concerned that I was having another one.  I was admitted to hospital and given an urgent scan, put on fluids via a drip and my fluid outtake was monitored.  Various medications were discussed, but both MadDad and myself were very anti medication as we had never managed to get full term with a pregnancy.  My first admittance lasted three days and I was discharged once I could tolerate oral fluids. Things went downhill pretty fast and I was readmitted within the week.  This time is was clear that I needed to accept that some medication was essential.  So we started on what was to be a week of trial and error to find one that actually stopped the sickness.  I was very lucky and my obstetrician had been with us through the Molar pregnancy and didn't skimp on trying all the meds.  Some doctors are reluctant to try the more expensive medication such as ondansetron.  Mine tried it, but it just didn't work for me.  In the end I needed cyclizine, but couldn't keep it in orally, so here started the three times daily injection in my bottom that MadDad did for the remainder of my pregnancy and even then it didn't stop all the sickness, it just made it more manageable. I suffered terribly and find it really hard to put in to words the utter awfulness that both my pregnancies were.  The only way I got through them was with the support of my wonderful husband and supportive GP and consultant.  I thought I was dying, I felt dizzy all the time.  It was as though I was suffering from permanent sea sickness.  I was emotionally unstable and depressed.  Being sick all the time does nothing for your hormonal balance. I was lacking in B vitamins. It got to a point where I couldn't even sleep in the same bed as MadDad as I couldn't bear the bed moving or the smell of him.  I couldn't cook food and lived off rice and reheated mash and peas for months.  The only relief I got was the hour of acupuncture I had twice a week and as soon as they took the needles out I felt terrible.  I lived for these hours. For one I am glad that I didn't blog when I was expecting the boys as I was in a very dark place and the only thing that got me though was knowing that at the end I would have a baby.  I can not, no will not write some of the things that went though my mind, as I would never want the boys to know just how utterly exhausting and terrifying being pregnancy was.  I didn't glow, people asked me if I was seriously ill. My HG actually got a lot worse again at the end of the pregnancy and I needed to go back in to hospital to have combination therapy  which included steroids and some other medications, but they didn't work for me and Maxi was born by a crash section at 38 weeks exactly weighing a respectable 7lb 2oz. So my hope is that Kate doesn't suffer to badly and that her treatment is good, but I am thankful that she will have raised awareness of this terrible condition.
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Amateur astronomy from your loft

You are one of 7 billion humans on earth – the densest planet in a 4.6 billion year old solar system. You are in a galaxy spanning around 110,000 light years, in a universe containing an estimated 9 sextillion stars. With the right technology you could see over 142,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilometres into space. Humans have been practicing forms of astronomy for centuries, but the developments we have made from the 19th Century onwards have been particularly illuminating, and we now know more than ever before about the universe. It's no wonder that people are so fascinated with what lies beyond our humble planet. The most exciting part is that star gazing is now a pastime that is available to everybody with a desire to learn more about our solar system. Not only is amateur astronomy a fascinating hobby, it’s also a great way to spend time with your kids and bring what they learn in school to life. To make stargazing a truly rewarding experience, you'll need a telescope and a good place to spot the stars. While there are plenty of stargazing spots in the great outdoors, having your very own indoor observatory is even more convenient. If you have a loft , this can be the perfect place to set up. Not only is it convenient to star gaze in the comfort of your own home, but it is also a good way to make the most of your loft and save it from becoming a dumping ground and a wasted space. It's common for lofts to go unused, and this is one way to ensure you're getting value out of every room in your house. However, you might need to do some renovating to ensure it's the perfect stargazing space you're after. If you have a sky light, or are thinking about adding one for star gazing, it may help you to get more use out of your loft as an additional room during the day too. You might want to consider making it a bit more comfortable with some seats, a carpet and maybe even a lick of paint. Budgeting for this project may take a bit of planning. Whether you save up to pay for your loft-turned-observatory, or look into whether a loan may help you cover the costs, it's best to sort out the budget ahead of time. In addition to stargazing among the comforts of your own home, you’ll probably have an Internet connection handy and can  easily find out what you’re looking at. This will also allow you to check if there is anything particular to look out for that night. Sites like astronomy.co.uk are great for finding out what’s happening each night in theUK, and you get the satisfaction of understanding what you’re looking at and learning how to find different planets, stars and other phenomenon. Some exciting sights to see from your loft over the rest of 2012 include a lunar eclipse in late November, Jupiter reaching its closest point to the Earth in early December and the Geminids Meteor Shower in mid-December. So, get your telescope at the ready and head up to the loft for some magical views of the night sky. This guest post was written by Andy Moore on behalf of Money Matters, the Sainsbury's Bank blog.
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Top toys for 6 and 7 year old boys

I have two boys aged six and seven who are hard task masters when in comes to toys.  So we have put our heads together and products our list together.  Some of these items I have received to review, some we have bought for the boys and others they have played with and lusted after at friends houses (yes you know who you are)! Wappy Dog (£25)

Wappy Dog is a game for the Nintendo DS and it has been a huge hit with Mini.  Our Wappy Dog is called Ninja, which is a much better name, as I keep calling it yappy dog!  So what is it.  Well it is an interactive game with its own character dog.  You feed it, pet, it, look after it, but you also play games with it.  For a family without a dog it is great as it doesn't cost anything once bought and it doesn't need feeding with real food or taking for walks in the dark weather!  Mini specifically loves playing rock, paper, scissors and fruit catch with his Wappy Dog.

Angry Birds Trilogy for Nintendo DS (£37)

Angry birds are taking over the world or so it seems.  This is the perfect game for maxi, who has loved it.  It is such a simple concept  but captures his imagination and he just loves it as will many children of his age.  Oh and Maddad has been know to play on it when he is in bed!   It has Angry Birds, Angry Birds Seasons and Angry Birds Rio, it didn't take long for Maxi and MadDad to be hooked on the straightforward yet satisfying game lay that defines Angry Birds.  There are 19 episodes, each with an exclusive new level that will keep you interested and ready for more.

LEGO Darth Vader and Stormtrooper Torches (£15 each)

What is it about boys and torches?  These have been a MASSIVE hit in The Mad House.  They are ingenious and for two Star Wars and LEGO mad boys these are great presents.  They have been left on a lot and we are still on our original set of batteries after 4 weeks, but you do have to buy your own as they do not come with them.  Darth Vader's light saber is removable and also lights up perfect for role play with evil Jedi teddies!

Microscooter MX Trixx Stunt Scooter (£119.99) This has been a HUGE hit in The Mad House.  Both the boys have started to want to go to the skate park with Master Frugal and any mum will know that you have to have a skate scooter for that (I didn't)! This scooter is awesome (Some of the other children where overheard chatting about it my Cass from A Frugal Family).  We are lovers of all things Microscooter in the Mad House.  As far as prices go for stunt scooters this is a real bargain and is "mint" according to the boys and all of their friends. LeapPad 2 (around £70) We reviewed the LeapPad 1 back in 2011 and were really impressed with it and Leapfrog have really listened to customers with the new version.  At seven Maxi is a little advanced for it, but Mini loved it.  He adored the camera function and was pleased that it had both a front and rear camera.  As a parent I have to say that we love Leapfrog for the educational aspect and the fact that you can track your children's progress online.  You can also get education apps online for the LeapPad2.  It also has video recorders, 4GB of memory, a faster processor and a library of 150+ game cartridges and downloadable apps. Sports Stars Pitch and Play set  (£20) Maxi and Mini have both loved this play set and we have had hours of fun challenging each other with our own cup competitions.  It is great as it packs up relatively small and is easy to play.  Mini has had hours of fun just role playing with the characters and I have proven that I can beat both the boys at football!  This is a great gift for any football made boy or girl and a really great value gift.

On the Wish List

This year the boys have also asked for the following for Christmas:

Guinness book of Records 2013

Skylander Giants for Wii

New Bikes (20 inch as both of them has grown so much)

Jaffa Cakes - Mini!

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Win With The Mad House and Barratts

If your children are anything like my boys, then I am always grateful for any help I can get with the cost of shoes.  I love shoes and have to say that the boys do not share my enthusiasm for shoes other than for football boots and trainers, which are something that I can not get excited about. I find girls boots and shoes much more interesting and before I had my boys and my feet grew in pregnancy (no one tells you that your old shoes will no longer fit) I could fit in to girls shoes and save a fortune! www.barratts.co.uk and The Mad House have teamed up to offer you the chance to win £50 voucher for Barratts. All you have to do is take a look at their site and tell me which shoes or boots your would buy for your child if you had the chance and leave me a comment and enter via the refflecopter mechanism.  I love these leather riding boots and think they are a great price at £45.  If only I had smaller feet! a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Our Advent and Christmas Books

The time has come to bring the advent box out of the loft and with it all of our Christmas and Advent books. What a selection we have, books from when the boys were small, to one that I read to them and I thought I would share them with you.  I love each and everyone of them for different reasons and would love for you to share your Christmas books with me, so that we can expand our library.  
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Free cash for doing what you would normally do online

I am all for passive income!  So the thought of getting paid for doing what I do online anyway was a no brainer for me.  So when the Tots100 were looking for people to take part in their Christmas Swagbucks challenge I jumped at the chance to be part of it.

What is Swagbucks?

Swagbucks is a site that basically rewards users for spending time online. With this site you accrue a virtual currency for doing the things that you might normally do online – using search, watching videos, chatting, playing games, doing polls and surveys etc etc – and you earn from doing it. Swagbucks has been running in the US since 2007 and is one of the country’s top 100 trafficked websites. Since 2007, the company has paid out more than $26m in rewards to its members – and now Swagbucks is available in the UK!

What is the challenge?

The competition is simple, whichever blogger earns the most Swagbucks by 5pm on December 14, 2012 will win a fabulous £250 gift card. So I can earn these virtual pennies in a couple of ways, by searching the internet, spending time online, doing little quizzes and playing games and I can appeal to my friends, family, loved ones, blog readers etc to sign up and have a go themselves. getbox! Not seeing a widget? (More info) All you need to do is click this code: http://www.swagbucks.com/refer/MuminTheMadHouse and follow the easy instructions - Please Come on something for nothing, must be a great idea!
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A candle for Kerry #Healing4Kerry

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KTwo Busy Life Diary Review and Giveaway

I am a stationery addict.  I make no bones about it, but one thing that has always evaded me was the perfect diary.   When I was at work I had an electronic one that linked in to work, but never felt conforable with an electronic one at home.  Since being a mum it is even harder for me to keep up on what we are all doing. KTwo sent me one of their Busy Life Diaries to review and I am really impressed.  It costs £9.99, which I think is a reasonable price for it and it is designed easily keep track of two schedules, side by side.  You can use the two schedules for 'home and work', 'parents and kids' or 'partner and you' to view all your weekly appointments and activities at a glance.  I will be using it for "me and them". It is a great size at  13.5x 185 cmm and every 3 months you have a pocket in the diary so you can keep receipts etc.

2013 Diary Contents:

  • Year-to-view 2013
  • Double page week-to-view
  • 4 storage pockets
  • Elastic closure strap
  • Pen loop (new feature for 2013)
  • Notes pages
Now the fab people at KTwo have offered a free diary to one of the readers of The Mad House.  So please follow the rafflecopter instructions. a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Perfect Christmas Gifts for people who have it all!

We are a pretty small family and do not but a lot of presents, but sometimes it can be really hard to know what to by for people.   So I thought I would let you know some of my ideas of things for people that are really hard to buy for.  Some of these things I have been asked to review, others I have purchased myself and really loved. UGG Slippers                     Yes these are expensive at £100, but....... they are perfect for the woman who has everything and would love to have warm toasty feet.  My MIL would love these, but I am not for giving up the pair I got for review and I am not a slipper person.  These are the most substantial slippers I have ever tried and are very warm and cosy.  I am all about value and would hope that the cost per wear on these slippers was similar to others on the market nad that I would get years worth of wear from them. Personalised Heart Bracelet                 Personalised jewelry is a great gift for a woman, especially when it is as stylish and easy to wear as this personalised heart bracelet from Treat Her.  It is £89.99 and will fit any size of wrist as it is elasticated and made of silver.  You can have both sides of the heart personalised, so makes a great present for any mum or grandparent, without being twee. Handcrafted Christmas Stocking                             I am a big advocate of hand crafted British made products and when Kelly decided to open Petit Fromage, I knew her products would be exceptional.  She is currently producing the most wonderful handmade Christmas products including bunting, table runners and the most beautiful, stylish and unique Christmas Stockings from £20.00 The Tweetie Tag Necklace                     Oh how I adore this unique and made to order necklace from Victoria Wallop, which you can buy though We Shop.  Victoria's jewelry is handcrafted and totally unique to you.  It can be customised to include a hashtag  and perfect for any social media addicts.  A must have #justsaying Bunny and Toad Stool Night Light                     I love a bit of kitsch and I adore Dotcomgiftshop and when I saw the Toad Stool nightlight (£3.95) and Bunny Nightlight (£4.95) then I just had to have them.  So I treated myself to them to brighten up my desk and they really do.  Both the boys love them and now want there own! Orla Keirly Bag from Zalando                     I am a big OK fan and was asked to try Zalando and what can I say apart from they are the perfect match.  The bag is divine and the service from Zalando is second to none.  Not only do they have free delivery, they also have free returns too, which I tried out. Their customer service team were helpful, courteous and timely, which is what you need when you are buying online.  I love the amount of choice that you have with Zalando and I even purchased my fab yellow converse from them. Yankee Candles                     Oh what can I say about Yankee Candles.  They smell divine, last for hours and are just wonderful.  I have been delighted with the ones that I was sent and have purchased them in the past as gifts.  You really can not go wrong with a Yankee Candle as there is a scent for everyone. Neals Yard                     I am really funny about what I put on my skin and when my good friend Louise from Panacea Health and Beauty suggested I give Neals Yard a try, I know that she would know what she is talking about and I have been loving this brand ever since.   So what can I say other than I am a convert to Neals Yard. Teal and Mustard Crochet 
                Emily is another of my talented friends who is amazing with a hook and yarn   She made me and the boys fab poppies for remembrance day and she has just opened a shop selling all sorts of hooky goodness.  She also made me some jar covers over the summer, which I adore and I am currently hankering after her yarn mistletoe as we love kisses in the Mad House! I would love your suggestions for people this Christmas.
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#savvyspender Twitter Party 28 November 7.30pm to 8.30pm

 I would like to invite you to a great Twitter Party being hosted by me and the amazing Penny Golightly, on 28th November between 7.30pm and 8.30pm, all about shopping habits and family treats. We would love to hear about how you stick to a budget, choose appropriate family rewards, spend your money wisely and if your shopping habits have changed recently compared to previous years. I know how hard it can be to budget well in the current financial climate and talk a lot about saving money on my other blog A Thrifty Mum.  But we really want to hear from you and I hope that together we can share some brilliant top tips that will help us all.  Even though I often write about family money saving I still have a lot to learn and I love getting new tips and ideas. And as if sharing your knowledge and learning new ways of saving money wasn't enough to tempt you to join in, there’s even going to be prizes! The party’s being sponsored by Barclaycard and their Freedom Rewards credit card. This new reward card is potentially very useful for organised spenders who pay their balance off every month, as you earn points on everything you spend, that you can then redeem in a range of high street stores (check out www.barclaycard.co.uk/freedomrewards)! I’d love you to spread the word for us a little – more people joining in with #savvyspender means more money saving tips for us all. See you there
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Second Chance Saturday

Let me set you the scene.  You have made plans for a family day out, booked the tickets etc and then KAPOW one of the children is struck down.  Usually with some mystery ailment.  Well I have been there many a time, the most recent a couple of weeks back, when Mini developed a high temp, sore throat and chest infection, so there was no going anywhere for us.  So he curled up in his PJ's with a bow tie, as you do and spent the weekend talking with his teddies! As with all things children, he got unwell very fast, but he also got better just a s quickly, so this weekend we were able to go to the Hollywood Bowl (review to follow) and have our family bowling day. Calpol have a competition running on their facebook page - www.facebook.com/calpol and to help explain it they challenged me to tell you our Second Chance Saturday Story in a collage of just five pictures.

So if you have ever been through what we have, then Calpol want to hear from you.  Whatever event your little one missed out on - it could've been a family trip to the zoo, their best friend's swimming party or their 6th birthday party - CALPOL® want to hear about it.  So ‘enter’ to enter their story into their Second Chance Saturday competition.

Disclosure: I have been paid to tell you about this competition

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I am having Eye Surgery

Guess what I am having Laser Eye surgery as part of Optical Express' Team 21. A couple of weeks ago I made my way to our nearest (well over an hour away, as yes I live in the middle of nowhere) store to have my initial consultation with the Optical Express Team.  Before I tell you more about my consultation, let me tell you I am short sighted and have worn either glasses or contact lenses since I was 20 years old.  I had considered Laser surgery in the past and often do every time I take the boys swimming.  Especially when I lose one in the fog that is my vision! I was given an appointment at Optical Express and advised that my consultation would take anything from an hour to two hours and that I would have to have drops put in my eyes, which meant that I would be unable to drive for the rest of the day and might find it harder to focus too.  MadDad came with me, but rather than come in to the consultation he took the boys away to keep them occupied. Initially I had a chat with one of the team and we talked through what happened during surgery and I watched a short (7 minute) video about Optical Express and the surgery types they offered.  I then had a couple of tests including the "pressure test" were a puff of air is blown into each pupil and also a focus test just like I get when I go to the opticians. I was then transferred to another room to have an optical technician go through an eye test with me.  If you have had a test at an opticians then it is very similar and very though. It was during this point that I had the drops put in my eyes.  Now Mini had already told me that this was a little like having vinegar put in your eyes and will sting and boy he was right.  I also had a yellow dye popped in my eyes.  This was the most uncomfortable part, but the sting was very short and it didn't last at all.  I then discussed if I was eligible for surgery what type I would need and asked if I had any questions. To be honest I had lots of questions and the technician answered them all as fully as he could. And that was my consultation over.  I was not pressured into making a decision there and them and told them that I would go home and make my decision. Once I was at home, I decided to ring my friend and optician and ask her advice.  After talking to her, I had more questions, but the team at Optical Express were excellent and rang me back with the answers and put my mind at rest. So I am going to have Lasik Wavefront surgery to correct my vision and yes I am a little anxious, but more than that I am very excited.
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Noise with Muck on…coping with cleaning boys clothes and eczema

I have commented that Mini is known in this house as "noise with muck on".  He stays clean for all of 5 minutes and his clothes take the brunt of his lifestyle.  I expected this as a mum of boys, however, I also have to contend with Eczema which for me rules out using harsh chemicals when cleaning the boys clothes. Maxi is my main suffer  but both boys have periods of really sore and itchy skin, so I was delighted to be able to try out the new Ecover Zero products. Ecover Zero Non-Bio Washing Powder contains an Oxygen-based bleaching agent.  It is fragrance free and uses plant-based ingredients.  It is approved by Allergy UK it is gentle to your skin.
  • For Sensitive Skin
  • Tough on stains, even at 30°C
  • New formulation for brilliant results on whites and colourfast laundry
  • GHI Approved
  • Dermatologically tested
  • Approved by Allergy UK
  • Suitable for septic tanks
We have been using this for the last month and I am delighted with the results.  Both the washing powder and the softer are brilliant.  Yes, there have been some stains which have been hard to remove, but I use Ecover Stain remover (which I have had for the last six months and only just run out of) and can say that I am more than happy with my laundry regime. The Ecover Zero Fabric Conditioner leave your clothes fragrance free and luxuriously soft again is approved by Allergy UK and dermatologically for sensitive skin.
  • For Sensitive Skin
  • For Luxuriously Soft Clothes
  • Dermatologically tested
  • Approved by Allergy UK
  • Suitable for septic tanks
I have to admit that I missed a gentle scent and took to adding a could of drops of lavender oil to the wash. I am so impressed with the Ecover products that I have placed an order for bulk products from Ecover Direct, as I can not buy them locally.
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Kids get Arty – Kadinsky

We have a large print of Kandinsky concentric circles in squares in our dining room and Mini has faced it as he eats for the last six plus years of his life.   I am a great lover of bright colours in art for children and we have never really discussed the artist.

So when Mini asked if he could have the watercolours out to paint and started painting concentric circles in squares, I decided to sit down and we had a fab discussion. Wassily Kandinsky (1866 – 1944) was a Russian-French painter. His style of painting originally belonged to expressionism, and is sometimes included in symbolism. Kandinsky was one of the artists who gave shape to the abstract art in the early twentieth century. Kandinsky was inspired by music.  So whilst mini was painting I popped on Vivaldi's four seasons.   We talked about the fact Kandinsky thought that each colour has its own language and expression.  Kandinsky tried to convert musical compositions into paintings.  He heard colours in music and he saw music in colours.   Mini told me that black must be sad music. We also talked about the fact that paintings do not have to be of things or people and can be looked at in lots of different ways.  I loved the fact that it is something that MIni could easily mimic and didn't feel that there was a right or wrong. What really surprised MIni was that he thought it was really modern and current and couldn't believe that it was done cica 1930's!
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The Mothers Union wants to ban letters to Father Christmas

I have just been on BBC Radio Tees to discuss The Mothers Union's call to ban letters to Father Christmas.  They feel that the letter to father Christmas has become a long list of "wants" and that parents feel pressured to buy them all and get into debt. Grrrrrrrr.....  This makes me really angry.  Letter writing is a fabulous skill for children and a letter to Father Christmas does not have to be all about the presents children want, they can also ask Father Christmas any questions they might have.  There is a incomparable joy to posting a letter and then receiving one back from Father Christmas. As parents it is our job to set realistic expectations with our children of what they can expect from Father Christmas.  A list is not a list of demands, it is a wish list.  The boys are under the understanding that Father Christmas gets money off mummy and daddy to buy your presents, so they can not expect to get lots and lots of expensive presents as we just do not have the money.

 Tips for making it cheaper:
  1. Think of things are preloved rather than second hand
  2. Do not give gifts in boxes and then children have no idea if they are new or not
  3. Talk about giving to children less lucky as themselves and sort though toys before Christmas
  4. Make gifts, rather than buying them
  5. Set realistic expectations
  6. Father Christmas is always listening, just because you do not get all on your list doesn’t mean he hasn’t seen it, it just means he said no to some of them!
 
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Encouraging remembrance in Children

My boys are six and seven and today they went to the annual remembrance day service and parade in the village.  They take part due to being in the Beavers, but MadDad also is there as a representative of the local Junior Football Club. Remembrance and how we teach it to our children is always a hard subject.  Both my boys are aware that we are taking time out of our days to give thanks and mark the day for people who have sacrificed something for us all.  We have talked about the fact that MadDad's Great Uncle was killed during the second world war and that is why the Farm passed down the female line.  We have discussed the fact that my Grandparents didn't fight in the war, but they worked in the ship yard and made part of the harbor for D Day and also how MadDads GrandDad was not allowed to fight as he was needed to farm the land. We also discussed with them that there are still people fighting wars and they also know that Karen from The White Approach was in the Amy, as she discussed this with them.  I have also explained to them that one of the reasons Mummy doesn't agree with computer games with war etc in them, it that there is too much war and violence in the real world and I do not want them to minimise the horror that is war in that way.  Yes they play war games with their toys, but I don't want them to see it as an active game, rather than a role play game.

Mini is obsessed with planes and tanks and was very respectful when we went to The Imperial War Museum at Duxford, especially when chatting to a retired serviceman about things on his birthday. How do you talk to your children about Remembrance Day?  It is hard to balance the memories without scaring them.
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Autumn Days

We love sunshine and getting out and about and unfortunately this Autumn has not been as crisp and bright as we had hoped, but we haven't let this stop us making the most of our weekends together as a family.  Both boys play Junior football, so sunday mornings are usually taken up with a match, but the rest of the weekend we make sure that we have something planned that we can do as a family. Our recent weekends have included:
  1. A trip to a local Rugby match
  2. Family Bowling
  3. A trip to The National Railway Museum
  4. A trip to Dalby Forest
  5. Car washing
We were sent some great items from Bonprix to test out and the image above shows the boys in their new favorite cardigans.  They are fleece lined and so soft and they have a zip in addition to the lovely paddington bear style fastening and are £14.99 each.  MadDad and I both a jumper and an outdoor cardigan, which we have washed and worn a lot (but sadly it is always dark and the pictures are not great)!
Autumn Jumpers from Bon Prix
What are your favorite Autumn pastimes?  
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Our pigs might fly!

Natwest are relaunching their iconic piggy banks of the 1980s.  I always looked at those piggy banks and wanted them, but I was forced to bank at the local bank!  We were asked by Natwest to design our own piggy's to help publicise the competition #pigsbykids

                                                  So let me present to you the MiniMads entries.  We have the joint boys effort of the flying pig based on my very often used phrase "pigs might fly first"!  Maxi's pig is based on the Autumn and he is windy rainbow pig.  Whist Mini's pig is Angry Pig,  based on the red angry bird.  He is all about getting his own back! Please note:
  • The competition is open to children up to 13 years old
  • The winning design will become the new NatWest pig
  • Closing date for entries is 12pm on 11th November 2012
  • Terms and Conditions apply – see  pigs by kids website for details
  • This is an advertising promotion for NatWest. We received crafty goodies to make our pigs
 
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How to clean a house – A mum knows best

Cleaning the house is a basic skill. Everybody throws out the trash, sweeps the floor, and washes the laundry. But great mums know that cleaning the house is an art and a science! Cleanliness is akin to orderliness; if you want to clean your house, it makes sense to have a plan. Clean the dirtiest room first. Although it seems sensible to prioritize the cleanest room before the dirtier ones, think twice. The dust from the dirtiest areas of your home will float in the air, making the clean rooms dirty once again! Clean from the dirtiest to the cleanest rooms and you won’t have to worry about cleaning rooms a second time. Clean your house from top to bottom. Many women prefer to clean the floors before they dust the cupboards. That’s a rookie mistake as the dust often falls to the floor after dusting. Go from top to bottom and save yourself the trouble. Don’t hesitate to delegate small errands to the rest of the family. Hey, you’re a mother, not a slave! Besides, great moms are also great managers. Get the rest of your family to pitch in; reward them with a fun day outdoors or a homemade snack. Make a list of things to do before you start cleaning the house. You may have that list in your head already, but it helps to write it down. You get a sense of accomplishment whenever you tick off an item. Learning how to clean the house means realizing how fun it can be. With your kids and husband pitching in, you don’t have to break your back while cleaning the house! But if you’re looking for a little help from a professional equipment, hire and rent on erento. Good luck!
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Craft-A-Day and a giveaway

I love crafting, but have to say that my mojo has been amiss lately.  However I was sent Craft-a-day to review by Sarah Goldschadt which includes 365 simple handmade projects. This is a delightful book which gives you a simple craft for every day of the year themed by weeks.  The crafts are all achievable  fun and many can be made with things that will already be in your stash.  With weeks such as star week, Bear week and mittens week, I was hooked and so were the boys.  The book is fantastic for novice crafters or perfect for a teen looking to craft.  Yes some of the crafts are simple, but I am a big fan of simple crafts.   Most weeks induce a cake topper and garland. There is even a Mustache week, although it is in May, which features a cake topper, Mustache print for a baby grow or t shirt, A mustache magnet, mini mustache ring and a mustache photostick. For an avid crafter this might not be the book for you as it becomes very repetitive  but as I said it is perfect for inspirational crafting with children or even giving to an older child for them to do on their own.  It is a solid book with good weight pages and lovely images.  The templates are superb and the instructions are easy to follow. Giveaway I have three copies of Craft a day to giveaway.  So just follow the rules on the rafflecopter entry mechanism to be in with a chance. a Rafflecopter giveaway  
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Good things come to those who wait

Take a look at these photo's.  They make me smile.  Ever since Maxi was small he hated dressing up.  It has never been his thing.  He doesn't do it at school and even though we have a huge dressing up box at home he has never dressed up. Today we were sent some Snazaroo face paints by the wonderful chaps and chapesses at Panasonic and Mini decided he wanted to have his face painted as Dracula.  So me and Maxi sat him down and I did the best of a bad job.  When I was finished Maxi asked if he could put a pumpkin on my face using a stencil we had been sent, so I said of course and then he asked for a couple of stencils on his face.  I bit down hard on my lip and tried not to squeal a th shock and stenciled on a bat and a spider web as requested. I then went in the kitchen to tidy up the mess and light the pumpkins and left the boys to play a board game.  You can then imagine my shock when I walked in to find Maxi had been in the dressing up box and put on Mini's skeleton costume from last year.  Yes it was short, but he had put on his black thermal pants under, so you couldn't tell. I decided not to say anything and you should have seen MadDads face when he got home.  He was delighted and for the first time ever he took both boys trick or treating.  So good things come to those who wait, either that or the lure of all that Halloween candy got too much for him!
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Please don’t blog every day on November – NaBloPoMo

NaBloPoMo, an acronym that sends a shiver of fear though my heart.

NaBloPoMo - what do those innocent looking letters mean?

 NaBloPoMo - National Blog Posting Month. National Blog Posting Month, or NaBloPoMo, is a month long writing exercise intended to occur annually in November. The first NaBloPoMo occurred in November of 2006, and was the brainchild of an American blogger. It was inspired by National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which also happens every November.  Now I have no issue with NaNoWriMo which was founded in 1999 by authors in the San Francisco Bay Area who wanted to motivate themselves into producing more written work.  This challenge requires authors to produce a 50,000 word novel within one month. But writing a blog, is not writing a novel. I have to say for me blogging is about quality not quantity and I often find myself just bypassing blogs that I normally enjoy on a regular basis during the month of November.  A large part of me feels that if you do not have something to say on every other day of the year what makes November special?   It is a dark, dank and often dismal month in the UK and I look forward to reading blogs filled with all sorts of inspirational writing, making, baking and tales of everyday life. Please don't get me started on writing prompts.  Who need a daily prompt of what to write about? Get a journal people and spare the readers. Oh and yes, before anyone says it is a free world and I don;t have to read if I don't want to, well I know that and I won't be.  
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Dracula’s Strange Addiction

We are learning to love Halloween in The Madhouse.  It is a great opportunity to dress up, craft, bake and just generally create new traditions and I am one for new traditions.  Maxi has never been one for dressing up, but MIni, well any excuse.  He has a dressing up box which is huge!   This particular three piece outfit was gifted to him from Asda and comes in at £10, which is really reasonable.  After Halloween it is a great time to fill up any dressing up boxes! Mini is also joining in with the Spooky Scribe team and below is his story, which the team at Asda are going to to add to a book for him to keep.  So without further ado, I present you Mini's story, which he typed up himself and added the clip art too (he is six and I am in awe of his computer skills)!  I guess you can make out from this story, that Mini has a sweet tooth.
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Get outside this half term

It is our half term next week and we are big fans of the great outdoors and very lucky to have some wonderful diverse countryside on our doorstep.  We are less than a minute from a fab woodland area  5 minutes from the beach and 15 minutes from the North Yorkshire moors. One of the things that stop people getting outdoors is that they are not appropriately dressed.  We have been trying out some splats and have to say they are the perfect footwear for our damp autumn and are easy for the boys to put on themselves, warmer than wellies and are great for Mini, who can not get into wellies with his wide feet and large instep.  So make sure you are all wrapped up warm and that you can keep dry.  The boys also have waterproof overtrousers, so that rain doesn't stop play! I often find that this half term is one of the most exhilarating to be out in.  We need to make the most of the daylight before the darker days and nights creep in.  So here are some hints, tips and ideas for making the most of this half term.
  • The woodland trust have a great spooky activities for over Halloween, including making a twig skeleton or looking for witches faces in the cark in the trees.
  • Collect leaves for autumn crafts
  • Go puddle jumping.  Yes even the adults!
  • Find local places you haven't been and pack a flask of hot chocolate and visit.  We went to the Angel of the North and had a great time.
  • Visit your local RSBP Centre and talk about the birds migration habits
  • Go climb a tree
  • Visit the seaside.  There is nothing more wonderful than a brisk walk on the beach collecting shells than fish and chips.
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Now is the perfect time

Photo credit Dairylea

 Stop the clocks, for now is the perfect time. A time I want to capture and put in a bottle. There is nothing out of the ordinary about now. The boys are not being perfectly behaved. The sun isn't shining. The rain isn't falling. The house isnt particularly clean. There is a pile of clothes than need ironing that is two weeks high. There are books and magazines unread. I am many a stone heavier than I wish to be. However, there is fresh bedding on the beds. The sound of boys playing outside, they are playing football against the garage door. "GOAL" There is food in the slow cooker. A husband on his way home. Veg growing in the riased beds and seedlings sprouting in the plastic greenhouse. Cut flowers in vases. Radio 2 is playing Roy Orbison in the background. Stop the clocks, for now is the perfect time.  
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International Day of the girl – Education

As a mum of two boys, I feel very strongly that they have respect, understanding and think of girls as their equals. Does this make me a feminist? I feel that it is my job as a woman, mother and feminist to instill in them that women and girls are their equals.   All children, boys and girls, have a better chance in life when their mothers have benefitted from gender equality.   Educated mothers are more able to support their families both economically and emotionally. Men and boys are part of the solution. Today is the first ever International Day of the girl.  As a woman this is not something that I can ignore.  Worldwide, girls carry the burden of poverty more than anyone and 75 million girls are currently denied an education. What is one of these girls is the woman who was destined to discover the cure for cancer?  75 Million girls are NOT in school, which is about one in three girls worldwide.  This is a HUGE waste of potential.    They do not have a choice in this, but you have a choice in standing against this discrimination. What can you do to make a difference? Sign Plan International's petition to ask that education be made a priority for girls "speak out against gender bias and advocate for girls’ rights everywhere" as International Day of the Girl asks you too.
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Our Dream Garden

We love our home.  We moved here six years ago from Berkshire and this house was totally supposed to be a temporary stop gap until we built our own home on the farm.  But......... we really love the house we bought and are very happy in it  and have parked our other plans for sometime in the future.  The only thing we would really love to change is our garden.  As a family it really doesn't suit our lifestyle. So before I tell you what we would love to have from a garden let me show you our current garden.  Please bear in mind it was a mud pit when we moved in!   So we sat down as a family and brainstormed what we wanted from a garden and then I made a wordle showing it! We all have very different requirements for the garden, we want to expand our raised beds so we can grow more of our vegetables, we would love a relaxing area and the boys want a trampoline  however, the challenge is our garden is small and on a large slant.  We also made a Garden Pinterest board full of inspiration.  We are really looking for a fun functional family garden. As we live in the Frozen North of England, I would love a covered cosy area, where we can curl up and relax.  I want to extend the usage of the garden and would love an area like above filled with cushions, blankets and warmth, so we could all spend more time outdoors. I am really impressed with the progress the garden has made over the six years we have lived here, MadDad has put his heart and soul in to making it the best he can, but now we really need some professional help. Ratedpeople.com
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Polarn O. Pyret in action

We received some items of clothing from Polarn O.Pyret's Autumn/Winter range for the boys to try, so try them we did.  They have been put through the The Mad House, even Mini who is know as "noise with muck on" loves them and they have come up clean in a 30 degree wash.

As you can see from above, they have worn them on numerous occasions and they are brilliant.  We received some colourful denims in blue, which both the boys have worn.  They have an adjustable waist and look great rolled up on Mini or full length on Maxi.  Mini is seen wearing a block stripe top , what I like about this is it washes and dries really well without pulling out of shape and it made from the softest cotton.     Maxi is seen in the PO.P stripe top, which is currently in the sale at £11.  This is made from organic cotton and Maxi loves it.  It has become his go to top.  He has issues with sensitivity and this top does not itch, scratch or rub in any way. We were so impressed with the clothes that I have even ordered some more in the mid season sale, which just shows that the boys love them.

 
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Imperfect Parenting in an Imperfect World

I used to think I was a crap mum.  I used to feel that my family would be better off without me. I do not say these things for people to counter with "no you aren't" or "no you weren't".   The fact is that I really did feel this way and I truly thought that MadDad and the boys would be better off without me. I suffered with Post Natal Depression, I bullied myself, catastrophised everything and was filled with terrible anxiety.  I couldn't separate rational and irrational thoughts.  I received fantastic treatment including cognitive behavioral therapy over five years ago now and it changed the person that I was and helped make me the mum and person I am now. I was reading Kate's post earlier in the week about how scared parenting made her feel and it brought all those feelings back to me, but rather than let them take over me, I remembered that I am parenting in an imperfect world and my imperfect parenting skills are just preparing y boys for the road which they will travel.  This is one of the biggest things that CBT gave me, it helped be put things into perspective and process them.  I am not a perfect mum, but I am the best mum the boys could hope for, I am their mum and I love them with all my heart and every fibre of my being. I have two quotes that help me navigate the waters of perfection, for as soon as I realised that I didn't need to be the perfect mother, that it was OK to give shop bought food and not beat myself up about formula feeding and ensured that if I was happy so would the boys be, things started to come together for us all.
"There is no one way to be the perfect Mother, but there are millions of ways to be a good one!" - Jill Churchill "Being Happy doesn't mean everything's perfect,  It means that you have decided to look beyond the imperfections" - Gerard Way
So on those days when I am screaming like a fishwife at my boys or wondering how to find the words to tell them about challenges that life may throw at them, I hope that I can remember that it is OK to be an imperfect parent in an imperfect world and give myself a break, for this parenting lark is the hardest, unceasing, but most rewarding job I have ever done or will ever do. I have also vowed to be in the picture more, this was something that I did a lot more after my mastectomy.  So I will be passing the camera to other people more often and instead of being the one behind it taking the pictures, I will be the one in THAT picture with my family.  
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Everyday Echo’s

They all tell you the same cliches:
You won't know that you did with yourself before they came along There is nothing quite like being a mother You will have so much respect for your mother once you are one They grow up so fast

We heard them all and so many more, but we didn't listen.  We had waiting many a long year to have a child.  We both longed for children, but had convinced ourselves and each other that we were fine as a couple and that we couldn't keep on trying and failing at being parents.  Then one day we had a little boy and then 15 months later another new born.  Those first years past by in a blur of nappies, exhaustion, feeding and joy, inescapable joy.  I can not put into words how lucky we are to have two amazing, unique and challenging children.

Those children, that each night before bed we both go and watch sleep, just as we did from the first day we brought each of them home.  It is part of our nighttime routine.  MadDad goes to one door and I the other, then we pass on the landing as we swap.  Then we move on to our room safe that we have breathed in a special piece of our family to infuse our sleep with.  I like to use the excuse that I want to make sure they are tucked in and their lights are off and books off the bed, but in truth I want to just watch them and breathe in their smell.

“This blog post has been written as an entry into the Tots100 competition in association with Boots Mother and Baby
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It is the abductors fault, not the parents

Like a lot of parent's, these last few days have been filled with the kind of horror that we do not want to imagine.  The fact that April Jones has been abducted is horrible. I have seen the conversations, both offline and online regarding blaming the parents for her being taken, but you know what.  It is not their fault.  It is her Abductors fault.  This is not negotiable and is THE fact. My boys live a pretty free range lifestyle, they are often out and about on their own or with their friends.  They have boundaries and rules, which I hope that they stick too.  The school has discussed stranger danger with them and in light of April's abduction we have also discussed not going with someone that you know unless Mummy or Daddy say it is OK and if we are not there and have not agreed it then unless they child is with them, then they are not to go with them, with the exclusions of family. I do not live in constant fear of them being taken.  I am well aware that some people might think I am being naive, but they are my children and this is my parenting choice.  I feel that they gain so much from being allowed the freedom they are.  We live in a village where lots of children play out.  I let them get on their scooters and scoot to their friends house.  I know where they are most of the time.  They also take a walkie talkie out with them too. I remember growing up with similar ground rules and I also firmly believe that we are more aware of the dangers these days, but they are not necessarily more people like this around, it is just we are aware of them more.
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English Summer Cupcakes for the Great British Bake Off

I'm loving this series of The Great British Bake Off, as are most of you guys judging by the #GBBO chat on Twitter every Tuesday night.  Did you know that you can now also get the Great British Bake Off App which features lots of easy to find, easy to follow recipes from Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood.   You can browse by baker, occasion, ingredient or difficulty. Once you have chosen what you want to bake you get an overview with a skill level, the ingredients you will need and the steps you will need to take to bake it.  
5.0 from 1 reviews
English Summer Cupcakes for the Great British Bake Off
Cakes
12 cakes
 
Ingredients
  • For the Cakes
  • 125g of softened unsalted butter
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 2 large free range eggs
  • ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 175g self raising flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons of milk
  • 100g of strawberries
  • 1-2 tablespoons of strawberry jam
  • For the Frosting
  • 15g softened unsalted butter
  • 250 full fat cream cheese
  • ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 275 sifted icing sugar
  • strawberries to decorate
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C.
  2. Cream butter and sugar together for 5 minutes until light and fluffy.
  3. Beat the eggs with the vanilla and add to the creamed mixture a little at a time.
  4. Sift in the flour and salt
  5. add milk and gently fold in the strawberries
  6. Spoon mixture into paper cases
  7. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown and firm
  8. transfer to a wire rack to cool completely
  9. Once cool, use a small knife to remove a plug of sponge from each cake and add ¼ teaspoon of jam then replace the sponge
  10. To make the frosting beat together the cream cheese, butter and vanilla, then add the icing sugar
  11. Pipe onto the top of the cakes and decorate with a strawberry
I along with 9 other bloggers are taking part in The Great Blogger Bake Off challenge.  Each of the bloggers involved has been allocated a letter to put on top of their cakes, you can see Cass’s  and her Cherry Bakewell Cupcakes. There will be a letter a week over the ten weeks of the series, at the end you can unjumble them to find a word. These cupcakes were pretty easy to bake and went down a treat at home.  They look much more impressive than they are to make and I will be baking them again with different fillings and toppings. We received most of the ingredients to make the cupcakes, a complimentary copy of the Great British Bake Off Book and the app.  
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Autumn cleaning naturally

There is something about Autumn that sets me off on a mad cleaning frenzy.  I know I should do it in spring, but for both me and MadDad it is an Autumn thing.  We have just decorated the lounge, sitting room and hall, well painted them and I have the kitchen next on the list. Cleaning is not my favorite past time, but since having the boys it is something that I get them to help me with.  As I want them to help it is important to me that we use natural products, so that I feel safe having them use them too.  My cleaning kit at the moment consists of white vinegar, bicarbonate of soda, a gentle soap, borax substitute, tea tree oil and cloths. All purpose spray cleaner
  • 1/2 cup of white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons of borax substitute
  • A dab of liquid soap
  • 5 drops of tea trea oil
  • 2 cups hot tap water
Combine the ingredients in a spray bottle and shake until the washing soda has dissolved.  Apply and wipe off with a sponge or rag.  I have a bag full of old tea towels  t shirts etc that we use in the kitchen, in addition to some microfibre cloths that we use for cleaning.  I also have a post about 15 uses for white vinegar over on A Thrifty Mum. The only time that I really use kitchen roll is when I am cleaning the bin or the toilets, as I can use the sheet and then pop it in the compost bin for hygiene reasons.  But have to say that I like the fact that I would love to know what you use to clean and if you make your own cleaning products, what do you use?
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How to encourage teeth brushing in children

Both my boys have just been for their regular six monthly check up's at the dentists and I was devastated to discover that MIni is showing some signs of decay on one of his milk teeth.  This means that we have been moved to three monthly check ups and also that I need to be more vigilant with their brushing.

Thankfully this has coincided with Aquafresh introducing the Aquafresh Club  and producing a video about making brush time more pleasurable and easier.

 

They also have twenty top tips for encouraging brushing:

  1. Get a 2 minute egg timer – you can get these at the dentist – so your kids know how long to brush for!
  2. Let kids pick their own toothbrush – they will get really excited when it comes to brushing their teeth with the toothbrush they have picked!
  3. Get your kids a (robust) mirror – they can make silly faces in it and watch themselves brushing
  4. Play their favourite song while they brush to the beat – as most songs last two – three minutes it’s the perfect length
  5. Brush your teeth at the same time – kids love to copy mum and dad!
  6. Get an older family member to surprise your kids with their false teeth and a story about how theirs fell out – always a good incentive to get kids brushing!
  7. If you have more than one child, turn brush time into a competition – the one who brushes the best gets to pick the bedtime story!  Don’t forget to alternate the ‘winner’ though!
  8. Tell your kids that the Tooth Fairy pays out less for decayed teeth – this will get them brushing better!
  9. If you have an older child, get them to teach their younger sibling how to brush – this makes it fun and also reinforces good brushing tips for the elder one.
  10. Let your child brush their favourite toy’s teeth – they will soon pick up how to do their own!
  11. Sing "Brush, brush, brush your teeth, gently to and fro, up, down, side to side, teeth so clean they glow" to the tune of “Row row row your boat” – it’s a great brushing rhythm!
  12. Give your kids a gentle scare by showing them pictures of people with bad teeth – or even your own – so that they know why they need to brush!
  13. Make three animal faces for brushing: tiger teeth (together), hippo mouth (mouth open) and snake tongue (to brush tongue). It makes it more fun and gets their teeth in the right position.
  14. With older kids, establish the link between bad brushing and bad breath – they will soon cotton on to this!
  15. Get your kids to brush with disclosing tablets once a week – they will love the surprising effect and it can become a challenge to see who can get their teeth white the quickest!
  16. Play ‘dentist’ with your kids – put them in a chair, inspect their teeth while they brush and provide a running commentary while they are doing so!
  17. Reward charts with stickers work very well – once they have reached a certain number they can get a treat which is a great incentive!
  18. Let your child ‘brush’ your teeth too – they are more likely to let you brush theirs if you can take it in turns!
  19. Give your kids 1p in a piggy bank every time they brush properly – 2p per day adds up to £7.30 a year!
  20. Let your kids be independent!  You will need to brush their teeth at the end but letting them do it first makes them feel very grown up and it’s good practice!

The video comes on the back of research that Aquafresh conducted of 1,500 mums of children aged 2-12 that reveals that more than one million under-fives in the UK have at least two fillings, as mums struggle to get kids to brush their teeth. Other findings from the research are:

• One in six (17 per cent) mums say their child has at least 3 fillings

• 13 per cent of mums have children who have at least one filling by the time they start school (aged 3)

• Almost one in four (24 per cent) mums say their children only brush their teeth once a day and one in fifty say they don’t brush at all

• The research showed that almost half (47 per cent) of kids under 12 have been told they have dental decay, one of the most preventable diseases in the UK

• Over half of mothers (53 per cent) admit to finding getting their kids to brush their teeth stressful – potentially leading to arguments in over 2.5 million families

• One in fifty mums even admitted that their kids never brush their teeth.

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Getting Glamorous at The Mad Blog Awards

One of the wonderful parts of the Mad Blog Awards for me was seeing all the amazing bloggers dressed up in wonderful glamorous outfits. Not only did they look amazing, hopefully they all felt fantastic too. I helped organise the sponsored outfits for a lot of the attendee's and it was fantastic seeing what outfits they had chosen.

With Christmas and the party season soon upon us, it was great to see all sorts of affordable and achievable outfits and it is great to see good old Marks and Spencer have got together with Twiggy to bring out her own range of clothing.  I particularly love the coat above and the uneven hems on the dresses.   On the day we also were lucky enough to have a fantastic team of Hairstylists from Regis and Make-up Artists from Arbonne to help the finalists make any finishing touches before the ceremony kicked off.

Picture Credit The Mad Blog Awards

Merry, pictured in the centre of the above picture was dressed by M&S and looked amazing, so when I was asked to blog about M&S dresses I was more than happy too, knowing just how wonderful the perfect dress could make someone feel.

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Capturing Family Moments with Panasonic

I take thousands of pictures.  I make sure that they surround us in our home, on the walls, in digital photo frames and on mobile phones, but I do not take much video at all.  I always worry that it will look pants and that the quality will be poor, so when Panasonic offered to loan me a full HD video recorder (model HC-V500), I wasn't sure that I would use it.  But once we did use it and see the quality I am a convert.  I have a flip camera, but the quality is not a patch on the Panasonic HC-V500. The camera has a 50 times zoom and records in full HD.  It is lightweight, compact and very easy to use.  It is child's play.  So much so that both the boys could use it.  The thing that really sold me on it was the fact that it has image stabilisation, so no picture shake, even when you are running after children on the underground. We went to London a couple of weekends back with Frugal Family and I decided to capture our day trip using the Panasonic and I am in love! Take a look at the very short edited video and let me know what you think of the quality.  I was really impressed at the footage taken in the reading room at The British Museum as the light was really poor and photographs without flash did not turn out, whereas the video camera took perfect pictures.  The camera retails at £240 on Amazon and I really wish that Panasonic had given me one rather than just loaned it to me!  So if you are reading this Clara, it got lost in the post, OK!  
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Autumn Clothing Inspiration and Care

I adore Autumn.  I love bringing out my thick tights to wear under my skirts and dresses and long sleeved t-shirts to add as an extra layer under them.
Just because the weather has changed doesn't mean that you need to put your childrens summer clothes away either, especially as most children will have grown out of them by the time the weather changes for them to be able to wear them again.  It is all about layers.  So I thought I would supply you with some hints and tips for making those clothes last over the colder seasons.
  • Layer shorts and short skits over leggings and tights
  • Ads a long sleeved T-, vest or thermal top shirt and tights under dresses
  • Encourage children to wear vests, either long, short or capped sleeves
  • Add a plain long sleeved t shirt under a short sleeved one
  • Zalando is the fresh style retailer and they have some great long sleeved vests that you can use under t-shirts to give that duel layer look
  • Wear leggings under trousers when the weather gets cold
  • Make sure any roll up trousers are warn unrolled
  • When my boys were small I used to add long sleeved all in ones (the ones with poppers) under their tops
  • Buy your children thermals to wear under the PJ's or clothes.  You can get some really pretty girls ones and my boys are happy to wear sports underwear like footballers do!
  • Buy thermal or boot socks, wellies can be very cold
Whilst we are talking about helping clothes last longer, there was a great post by Design Mom on the secrets of a well mended wardrobe, which is great and after reading Miss Thrifty this week ordered Sew and Save and can not wait to read it more and teach the boys the art of looking after their clothes and making them last longer.  I will be back with a full review once I have had time to look through it a little more.  
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Fridge Bottom Curry with Heinz Five Beans

We are great lovers of Curry in The Mad House and even the boys love it too.  Mostly I make one from scratch and you can find my Nice Easy Basic Curry recipe over at Frugalicious Food, butI am not adverse to using curry powder  especially when I have less time and we have what has fondly become know as Fridge bottom curry.  I have to admit that the inspiration for this curry comes from Chris at Thinly Spread and is based on her Baked Bean Curry.
Fridge Bottom Curry with Heinz Five Beans
Main
4
 
Ingredients
  • 1 inch of ginger, grated
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed or chopped
  • 1 tin of Heinz Five Beans
  • ⅔ carrots, chopped
  • 500g of waxy potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 pint of veg stock, which I now make with marmite thanks to Chris
  • Curry powder to taste
  • Optional ingredients (and this is why it is called fridge bottom curry)
  • Any greens you have chopped
  • handful of frozen peas or soya beans
  • florets of cauliflower or broccoli
  • Any root veg, peeled and cubed
Instructions
  1. Fry the onion in a tablespoon of oil ( do not allow to brown)
  2. Add the curry powder and gently heat until it releases its delicious smell
  3. Add the garlic, ginger, carrots and potato and any other root veg you are using and give it a good stir.
  4. Cover the vegetables with stock then cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. Add any other veg you have either fresh or frozen.
  6. Cook for a further 10 mins with the lid on until the vegetables are tender.
  7. Add the Heinz five beans and cook for a further 5 mins at a low temperature, until the beans are heated through.
Notes
As we add potatoes to the curry, we often serve this without rice and with home made naan bread in bowls (http://www.muminthemadhouse.com/2009/11/19/cooking-with-children-tarka-dal-and-naan-bread/)
The one addition that I make to this for the children is that I serve it up with either natural yogurt of soured cream, so that they can make it milder if they need too.
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Autumn Manifesto 2012

Each season I make a manifesto, rather than setting New Years resolutions and there is something about Autumn and September that calls out to me to make a new start.  I think it is something to do with all those years of September.  I still lust after new stationery and new beginnings at this time of year.  I miss my children after they return to school and try to fill my days and keep my mind poccupolied and my body busy, so as not to get cold. I love making my home cosy during Autum in preparation for the cold of winter
  • Take a walk in the woods with the boys at least once a week
  • Get out my SAD Lamp, the nights drawing in means I need to make sure I get sufficient sun
  • Pop blankets on the ends of each bed
  • Make up a bottle of room spray(water and essential oils) I use this to dampen the air as central heating dries it out
  • Make Mini's quilt.  I have the fabric, but I still can not bring myself to actually cut the fabric!
  • Buy some new socks
  • Start baking again (I am getting an oven to review), which means this can start again!
  • draw the curtains at dusk to keep the heat in and the cold out.
  • Try and make a Christmas gift a week
  • Find a course I want to go on for me
  • Learn to crochet
  • Go to the Park after school
  • Make the most of the weekends and try and do something family oriented on a Saturday, as Sundays are taken over with football
  • Put hot water bottles in the beds before we get in to them
  • Buy new slipper
  • Plant some spring bulbs and some bulbs in cups for Christmas presents
I would love to know what your plans are for Autumn.  I am going to open up a linky below and would love for you to join in.
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When lines cross

MadDad is the trainer/coach/manager of the local Under 7's football team.  He wasn't going to do this, but there were too many children interested for just one team and so that Mini didn't lose out he volunteered to help.   This turned in to a weeks intensive FA coaching training, a full CRB check  and training one a week and two games on a Sunday and all the paperwork and other stuff that comes with it. Now Mini has a temper, I have blogged about it before, but he has been working on his emotions for the last seven months or so with amazing results.  It is not often he has a flare, but at  the teams first friendly he lost it and by this I mean he had the most spectacular melt down.  He was kicking, screaming and throwing his football boots.  All because he couldn't have his number 4 shirt back (he had been in goal) as another child was wearing it. Any other time, I MadDad or I would have picked him up and carried him stright back to the car, but a) I couldnt lift him after breaking my shoulder earlier in the summer and b) MadDad was the only CRB checked aldult with the team and therefore couldnt leave. You would hope that the other parents were sympathetic of our plight, but unfortunately this wasn't the case and one particular parent made his opinion known quite delightfully.  As you can imagine, both MadDad and I were mortified  not only by Mini's behavior, but also by the lack of understanding of this parent and also the manner in which he displayed it for all to hear (including Mini). MadDad sent a text after the match apologising for Mini's behaviour and asking that anyone who had issues to contact him.  But two parents decided to bypass him and take this issue to the chairman of the team.  We made sure that Mini was punished for his behaviour, one by being grounded and then by missing Saturday club.  We also made the decision that he wouldn't play in the games on Sunday unless someone needed to be substituted (it is 7 aside) and MadDad only has 8 boys registered at this time. Sunday came and Mini apologised to all the parents for his behavior but this wasn't enough for this parent who has stated that he is pulling his son from the team.  This has been such a terrible experience for all of us.  We have come very close to pulling both boys from their teams and moving them to another club.  MadDad's enthusiasm for the game has been shattered and we have all felt emotionally bruised by this judgement in to our parenting. It was the first week back at school and Mini was tired.  He is six years old, he had a tantrum. I am not trying to make excuses for Mini, but these things happen and nobody should be making judgement on our life without walking a mile in our shoes.  The fact that this parent is so offended by his behaviour now makes me wonder just who has the issue here.  I do hope that his son still plays as all the children seem to have a fab time and love playing.
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Summer 2012

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TV, computer games, internet, mobiles: are kids being exposed to too much technology?

This is a guest post, but I have blogged before about screen time and would love your opinions on this. In today’s world of smartphones and tablets, it is becoming a rare sight to meet a child who does not have immediate access to a piece of technology that would have been unimaginable just 15 years ago. In fact, around 20% of children under the age of 16 now own a smartphone, with the vast majority having access to 3D TVs, computer games and the Internet either at home or at school. With such a large amount of technology available to the youth of today, a number of concerned parents and child protection groups are asking if kids are now exposed to too much, too soon. One of the main arguments put forward by the “anti-technology” camp is that exposure to such an array of high-tech devices is disrupting our children’s development by limiting their access to other activities that would otherwise encourage creativity and boost the curiosity in young minds. One children’s expert even went so far as to suggest that choosing to play with an iPad over a jigsaw can “discourage social interaction and genuine child-like play”. There are also growing concerns over the type of content that children now have access to, with violent video games and inappropriate websites just a few clicks away, and the softening of television and film age ratings. Horror stories in the news have only heightened these concerns in recent years, leading some to believe that children should have their access to technology limited to just a few hours a day, giving them more time to spend outdoors or interacting with other children. Whilst these concerns are all valid, it is important not to lose sight of the innate value of technology to today’s youth. The recent Olympic games are a prime example of the benefit of television to children, with 90% of the entire UK population having tuned in to watch at least 15 minutes of live coverage over its two week duration. The ability for children to find out more about and interact with positive role models such as the Olympic summer heroes is made possible by access to technology. It has also been suggested that technology has revolutionised the way in which children learn, giving them access to innovative educational resources by way of newly developed apps, or by making revision fun with programs such as the BBC’s GCSE Bitesize series. The benefits of technology can also be seen in the development of children with educational difficulties, with websites and other resources available to help children with conditions from mild dyslexia to extreme autism. Overall, the question of whether children are being exposed to too much technology remains extremely difficult to answer in a general sense. With parents able to limit the time spent in front of the television and monitor or restrict online activity, it is arguable that technology has become an invaluable educational and developmental resource for our young, allowing them to witness global events and take part in new experiences from their own homes. Feel strongly about this topic or have an experience to share? Then please leave your comments below.
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Back to School 2012

My boys are gowning up at a rate of knots, in a blink and you will miss it kind of speed.  Maxi is in Juniors this year! Mini has gone in to year Two. They look so grown up compare to last years back to school post!
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Realising that two will be all I have

The boys went back to school this morning.  Part of me feels as though you have ripped off a body part and that I am walking round with some part of me missing.  I feel like this after every holiday.  I always have so much fun with my children when they are off school.  They are good company and we enjoy being a family and hope that long may it last and that they choose to spend time with me and their dad.

I often wish that we had more children.  I know that my family doesn't feel as though it is complete, but I also know that these two amazing boys are the only children I am going to be blessed with.  However, things could have been so different.

I am not one for dwelling on the past and the might have, could have or would have been, but times like this make me all melancholy and I remember the possibilities that never were and the children that were never born.  It sweeps over me unexpectedly.  Then to top it all off, I have just read a moving post by Muddling along mummy and it resonated within my soul.

You see, long before Maxi was born we experienced the horror of losing twins at 20 weeks pregnancy, a molar pregnancy and also the loss of a child at 16 weeks.  We decided that we could cope with the fear, uncertainty and pain that came with children and just lived our lives to the full and then to our surprise many years later Maxi came along, followed fifteen months later by Mini.  We were overjoyed and then I fell pregnant again when Mini was 3 months old, but this time we were not successful and at 13 weeks lost another possible child.  This loss was devastating, I had been touched by the joy that was my children, I understood the potential in the life I had lost.

Then our life took a massive turn and we made the hard decision to have my ovaries removed, so that I could reduce the risk of contracting cancer.  I signed the death warrant on any future children.

But I have learned over the years, that it is better to be here to look after and be with the two wonderful children I have than take a risk.  I do not think I would be strong enough to go through the pain and heartache again.

So today I am thinking about the children that are not destined to be with me, but I am going to pick myself up, brush myself off and collect the two I have from school with a smile on my face, drinks in my pocket and then take them to the park to celebrate the end of the first day back at school.

Tots100 Heart Prints Blog Carnival
I have wrote this post as part of the Tots100  Saying Goodbye heart prints carnival
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Show off your cooking skills and win Jamie Oliver’s best-selling cookbook

There are some genuinely super mums out there, and as many food lovers would surely agree, one way to measure their greatness is to look at what they serve up at the dinner table. These wonderful mothers can juggle the day's trials and tribulations and still deliver a strength-building array of beautifully-presented sustenance.  They can seemingly balance the kids in one hand and the ingredients to a scrumptious dish in another, and leave everyone smiling. These awe-inspiring women can even pull off their delicious recipes in no time at all, and that's something to be applauded by busy people - mums or not. If this all sounds familiar, and you think you could well have a big 'S' for Supermum hidden under that T-shirt, you need to know about a competition Waterstones is running. In-keeping with your flair for quick, healthy dinners, you could win a copy of Jamie Oliver's 30-Minute Meals to guide you on to even more fantastic dishes to please the whole family in no time at all. All you have to do is leave a comment with your best recipe to feed a family of four in 30 minutes or under, and you could be the proud owner of Britain's most popular cookbook ever. It's as simple as that! Waterstones is running this competition in celebration of Jamie's new book in which he serves up delicious, healthy meals in an astounding 15 minutes or less!    
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Pain free school shoe shopping with Clarks – an oxymoron?

I hate shopping for school shoes with the boys.  This is made much worse by the fact that Mini has very wide feet with a high instep.  We have tried every shoe shop going and I have never been over the moon at any shoe shop until now.

Today we went to Clarks in a neirbouring market town, which doesn't actually have many shops at all, so much so that MadDad didn't even know that it had a Clarks. So what made this shop pain free (apart from in the pocket)?
  • We booked our appointment online.  No getting a ticket and waiting inline.  Not for us, we jumped any queue with our pre-booked appointment - Whoop.
  • We had an experienced fitting lady (she was the manager) and all the other staff were more mature and handled the boys perfectly.
  • The plimsolls Mini needed were out of stock, but will be delivered FREE to my home address on Friday.
  • Plimsolls in a range of width fittings and in half sizes, which is perfect for us as both boys are half sizes.
We have found in the past that the larger and more trendy Clarks often employ people who have not got children of their own, so although they are qualified fitters, we have had to return on a number of times, especially with Mini and his wide, high feet. Both boys have come away with different style shoes, but with a protective rubber bumper at the front. My only gripe would be please stop making Jack Nano shoes.  I do not want to purchase these for my children and I do not want to have to experience pester power over them.  Thankfully the Manager understood this and they were not the best fit for my children, so they were not in the running. So thank you to Karen who fitted the boys, you made this the most pain free shoe shopping experience yet and thanks to Clarks for a £40 voucher towards the cost of the boys shoes.
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Tots 100 Garden Challenge – The reveil

My Tots100 Home Club garden challenge was always going to be a tough one.  What with it being used as a football pitch for my boys, the grass had given up and left town, just look at the sorry state of it before.  So I asked the experts at Homebase how to deal with my bare patches of lawn on their Facebook App and they came back and said that the only way to get it looking tip top again was to either patch it with turf or reseed it and try and keep the boys off it. We decided to reseed it, as September is the ideal time for this and purchased Some Patch Magic and have told the boys that it is off limits.  The fact that it is due to rain for a couple of days will help too, as will the hopefull warm patch at the end of the week. One of our other big issues is the fact that the boys balls foil our attempts to introduce solar lighting in to the garden.  They have broken every lamp we have introduced.  So when I saw that Homebase had solar lanterns you could fence mount, we decided to give it a try. I have to say they were a doddle to install and we have placed them around the fence  and one at a lower level above the boys picnic table.  They came complete with the screws.  They are a soft light, so create a lovely glow in the garden and are above ball height so will hopefully stay the course! Now there was supposed to be a lot more going on in the garden, including relocating the swings and wirglygigg, but the following happened when I slipped on a ball!  I am hoping that it is just a bad sprain, but I think I am developing a name for myself and becoming a liability to myself. But I am sure you can see that there has been vast improvements made and we managed to get 8 lanterns up, some balk chipping laid where we had removed the  playhouse and also topped up the soil in all the raised beds.
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Hunting for Wenlock and Mandeville in London

We love London and sightseeing is so much fun in London, but even more so at the moment with the Olympics and Paralypmics on as there is a number of trails where you can look for decorated Wenlocks and Madevilles, the London 2012 Mascots. There are six unique walking routes across the city centre that will take you on a journey of discovery to the greatest sights and sounds of London.  Keep an eye out for official Games mascots Mandeville and Wenlock, who’ll be bringing the trails to life and highlighting some great photo opportunities. Each is individually designed, animating the routes in a unique way that captures the spirit of London. You can send photos of you and your favourite London 2012 Games mascot and you can win a fantastic set of London 2012 Mascot Figurines, courtesy of Corgi and Hornby Hobbies. Enter via Twitter @molpresents, @corgi, mentioning #mymascot. Find out more. We had real difficulty finding the trials online, but did in the end.  You can download the strolls  and there is also the London Official Guide app that you can download, which works brilliantly well.
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Back to school with Tesco

We have been part of Tesco's back to school blogger program for the last three years and we were delighted to be involved again this year.  Both of my boys have put Tesco's unform to the test over these last three years and we please to see an improvement year on year on both the quality and value of Tesco's back to school offering. All of Tesco's back to school trousers now have adjustable waists, which is a godsend as Maxi is a skinny mini and Mini tends to grow in spurts, so needs his waists adjusting. We also are great fans of Tesco's lightweight waterproof coats, which are fleece lined.  They wash well and are really easy to waterproof again.  They are perfect for my boys who are not keen on heavy coats, but need something to keep them dry. My other top tip for this weekend is, if you have clubcard vouchers you can exchange them for twice the amount of school uniform until 4 September. Also new this year is the ability to buy your uniform with the schools details embroidered on to it, which is something I am going to arrange to get the school involved in as soon as possible.
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Home made spa treatments

I was invited to London this week by Smart Shoppers to a workshop all about making your own spa treatments.  Not only are these treatments free of all nasty's, they are much less expensive that buying them.  Plus it is so much fun to make them and they are perfect to gift. We made Homemade ginger and lime sugar scrub (I have blogged this on A Thrifty Mum), lavender and oat bath soaks and also face masks. These bath soaks or sachets have excellent relaxing properties due to the lavender.  Lavender is one of the most powerful remedies in the plant world, offering both physical and emotional relief for problems as varied as burns, migraines, insomnia, insect bites, skin problems, infections, stress and nervous tension. It is a remedy for aching muscles, acne, bugs and  bacteria, burns, cuts and wounds, earache, eczema, fatigue, fevers, giddy spells,  headache, insomnia, moths and mosquitoes, stress  and anxiety and sunburn. Oats are a well known an anti-inflammatory ingredient and have good moisturising and humectant properties.  They are a natural antioxidant.  Oats are helpful in relieving irritation and redness caused by exposure to harsh weather or certain skin conditions  and skin itching, particularly psoriasis and eczema.   Oat are perfect for people with sensitive skin. Ingredients
  • Dried lavender
  • rolled oats
  • Small organza  bags or fabric and ribbon
Method Take equal amounts of rolled oats and lavender and place them in to the organza bag. Alternatively, you could take some fabric and cut in to a circle with pinking scissors and add the lavender and oats to the center of the bag and gather together and secure with a piece of ribbon. Variations Try adding powdered goats milk (available from health food stores) goats milk absorbs easily into the skin, bringing with it moisture, restorative proteins and minerals. Goats milk also contains pH-reducing caprylic acid. A low pH helps maintain the slightly acidic mantle that healthy skin generates to prevent bacterial invasion.   Excellent for sensitive skin. It can be used successfully by people with psoriasis, eczema and other skin disorders. Milk is one of nature's oldest and best-known skin softeners.  Goats milk differs from cows milk in the molecular structure of the naturally occurring proteins and triglycerides. These shorter strands are easily absorbed by the skin, resulting in a natural moisturizing effect. You could also try grinding up the rolled oats to make a powder.   Rather than actually give a ready made face mask I would give people a pot of the special clay's that we came away with along with an ingredient card, so they could make up a variety of masks themselves from store cupboard ingredients. Red Clay - A natural source of minerals, red clay contains the natural resources that will make your skin softer and help reveal all its radiance and glow. The secret? Its high content in iron oxides that brighten the skin and illuminate it with a deliciously velvet smooth and natural glow. White Clay or Bentonite - Totally neutral, white clay respects all skin types, even the most sensitive, while ensuring their beauty and softness. And thanks to its incredible brightening and decongestioning power, it helps instantly reveal the skin’s radiance while providing deep-down replenishment. Rhassoul or green clay - naurally rich in minerals, green clay is wonderful for all skin types, and particularly for oily skin. Used regularly, it delivers a powerful rebalancing effect, absorbing excess sebum, gently cleansing, stimulating the skin’s natural defense mechanism and restoring new tone in the face. We have a small jar filled with equal quantities of the clay ready to make a mask as and when  needed. Ingredient Properties: Banana - Nousring and contain magnesiuim, potasium, iron and zinc.  They help soon and rehydrate the skin Honey - Skin softening and anticeptic properties. Cream - Norishing, softening and soothing to the skin.  It contains Lecitin, which attracts water and acts as a mousturiser. Strawberries and other fruit - Gentle fruit acids which have a peeling action. Yogurt - Clarifying and exfoliating due to lactic acid, especially cooling for inflamed or irritated skin.
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Back to school – value for money, uniform

My boys put there school clothes though the wringer!  They are not gental with anything they wear and their uniform is no exception.  I was delighted when Matalan offered me £100 to spend on their uniform, espeically as I have purchased it from them previously and it has stood up to the boys day to day use. One of the things I love about Matalan's back to school range is the number of options you can have.  When the boys were smaller it was very hard for them to tell their unifrom from the other childrens, so this year we have opted for school cargo trousers.  I love that there are durable, but the boys love the side pocket. We have also had Matalan's sweaters before and I take them to the embroidery shop in our village so that she can add the school logo on them.  They wash well and do not seem to bobble like some of the others we have tried.  I tend to wash school uniform on a daily basis, as the boys are just noise with muck on and The uniform we got from Matalan last year is still in great condition. My top tips on saving on Uniform are:
  • Buy generic sweaters and find a local embroiderer who will put the school badge on them.  Our village one charges £4 for a badge.
  • Buy earlier as you can as lots of the shops have offers on.
  • Don't buy shorts.  Turn any trouser which are too small or have damaged knees in to shorts by cutting them and wonderwebing hems.
  • Buy an elastic belt to help keep trousers up.
  • Clothes Plasters are a great way of making trousers last longer.
  • Buy short sleeved shirts.  Schools are warm places and there is no need for long sleeves
  • Do not shy away from buying online as you can always return to the local store if they are not the right size.
  • Name the clothes not just on the label as sometimes people will just cut them out.
Up until this year I have always just used a laundry pen to put our surname (It is unusual) on the boys clothes, as Maxi hates the feel of labels.  However, we were sent some iron on labels from My Nametags and I can say that they are wonderful.  They do not itch or aggravate my very sensitive son.
For our £100 we got the following: 8 pairs of trousers (including 2 pairs of girls trousers with belts for my niece), 6 red sweaters, 3 red polo shirts and 6 white short sleeved shirts.  
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Summer Holidays so far in Instagram

We are busy making the most of the summer holidays, so I thought I would do a collage in Instagram showing what we have been filling our days with:

Left to right
  1. Visiting A&E for bumps on the head
  2. Wearing yellow sandals
  3. Rock climbing (Maxi)
  4. Enjoying fish finger wraps with Clarence
  5. Temporary tatoos
  6. Water beads
  7. Scooter Races with Frugal Family
  8. Rock climbing (Mini)
  9. Street cricket
  10. Preparing for the Tots100 Home challenge Garden Edition
  11. Taking refreshments
  12. Having blood taken (yep I am anemic again)
  13. Cleaning car seats
  14. Zip wiring
  15. Beach days
  16. Football Mom!
 
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Emotions

The Gallery this week is all about emotion and as a mum I have to say that i am a pretty emotional person and wear my heart on my sleeve.

I often look at my children with awe and wonder.  I made them.  They were born from love, where hard come by.  They fascinate me and fill me with joy and despair, sometimes within minutes of each other.  Parenting is the hardest job I have ever done.  It is very rarely one you are congratulated on and one that lots of other people are keen to tell you when you are not doing it right in their opinion.

This summer holidays it has often just been the boys and me, as MadDad has been very busy at work and also on an intensive FA coaching course.  So we have made the most of our time together visiting blogging friends, going on adventures, including Chester Zoo and The Deep (review to follow - it is amazing).

There has also been firsts too.  Our first visit to the Skate park with Frugal Family and the boys first visit to the high street on their own.  It has been a veritable feast of emotions for all of us.  I love my time with them.  I love that they are fun to be with and that they enjoy spending time with me as much as I do with them.  Long may it continue.

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Tots 100 Home Club: Garden Challenge

I am back this month after a break on the bedroom challenge with the Tots 100 Home Club a garden challenge. My garden was a mud pit 6 years ago.  What do I mean by that, well we live in a new build, so it has been a hard slog to get the garden in to any shape to be actually called a garden rather than just mud.  However, our needs have changed over the last year or so and we have had to get rid of the play house after the boys started using it as an obsticle course.  I was the words "jump of the roof and try to get on the middle of the whirlygigg" that finished it for me.  I had visions of my boys hanging themselves and they were actually using the house to climb on top of the six foot fence and try to walk across the top of it!

The garden is no longer a place for sandpits and flowers, it has become a large football pitch and this year all my solar lights have been destroyed by balls, my flowers beheaded and the hanging baskets swung from! So I am going to try and focus on providing the boys the lawn are they need for ball games, relocate the whhirlygigg, look at indestructible garden lighting and finally look at toy storage. I have asked the experts at Homebase how to deal with my bare patches of lawn on their Facebook App

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Sport, the Olympics and a giveaway

 

My boys love sport, they love watching, they adore competition and they like exhilaration of winning.  There is nothing wrong with that in my eyes.  Both of the boys have been brought up to understand that if you give 100% and then lose, then that is great.  Winning is fantastic, but it is all about the effort you put in and about having fun.

Both of the boys are so inspired by the Olympics.  I am swept up on the wave with them.  We have medal charts and memory stones.  We are busy making a scrap book.  They play out with the other children and instead of being a famous footballer, they are Mo Farrar or Sir Chris Hoy.  They are inspired and the Olympics have introduced them to some bloody fantastic role models.  I know that the Paraolympics will do more of the same in spades.

Mini is currently sleeping with his Guinness Book of Records and wants one for the Olympics, so when I was offered a set of 3 Multimedia iBooks (books for iPads) from The Amazing People Club  about The Olympics and London, Amazing Olympians Volume 1,  Amazing Olympians Volume 2  and Amazing People of London I was delighted.

I also have a set of three books to give away to a reader of Mum in the Mad House.

To enter this fantastic competition and continue that Olympic magic with your children, please complete the Rafflecopter form below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Win a HP Deskjet Printer to Celebrate the Release of The Lorax

“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.”

A Universal Picture © 2012 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.

To celebrate the release of The Lorax, in cinemas now,  Mum in the Madhouse is giving one lucky person the chance to win a HP Deskjet printer!

HP has partnered up with Universal to celebrate the launch of the feature film Dr. Seuss' The Lorax. HP encourages eco-conscious choices when printing, such as choosing ENERGY-star qualified printers, using responsibly-sourced paper and recycling HP print cartridges through the Planet Partners programme. Every Inkling makes a difference.  The 3D-CGI feature Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is an adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ classic tale of a forest creature who shares the enduring power of hope.  The animated adventure follows the journey of a boy as he searches for the one thing that will enable him to win the affection of the girl of his dreams.  To find it he must discover the story of the Lorax, the grumpy yet charming creature who fights to protect his world. Danny DeVito will lend his vocal talents to the iconic title character of the Lorax, while Ed Helms will voice the enigmatic Once-ler.  Also bringing their talents to the film are global superstars Zac Efron as Ted, the idealistic young boy who searches for the Lorax, and Taylor Swift as Ashley, the girl of Ted’s dreams.  Rob Riggle will play financial king O’Hare, and beloved actress Betty White will portray Ted’s wise Grammy Norma. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is the third feature created by Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment (Despicable Me, Hop). THE LORAX is in UK cinemas now Fill in the Rafflecopter Entry Form to be in with a chance of winning this great prize. a Rafflecopter giveaway For more information on The Lorax visit: http://www.facebook.com/theloraxuk For more information on HP visit: www.hp.com/uk/recycle/supplies
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Chester Zoo – #Dinosbiteback

We are great lovers of Dinosaurs and this year Chester Zoo have a new exhibition featuring 19 amazing life-like robotic replicas of the creatures that roamed the earth 200 million years ago, including the giant Brachiosaurus, the iconic Stegosaurus and the infamous Tyrannosaurus Rex.  

Dinosaurs bite back allows yout to roam round the fantastic exhibition at your own pace and there are superb Presenter-saurus (staff) who make the experience even better.  Even better is that entry is included in your zoo admission price  (£53 for a family ticket).  We attended with Cara from Freckles Family, who's youngest son Hugo is obsessed with all things dinosaur and it was so much fun and he kept us all informed as to what dinosaur we were looking at and weather it was a herbivore or not.

Helen from Have a Lovely Time was also there with her two daughters and it goes to show how life like the dinosaurs were as her youngest daughter did scream at them on occasion.

We spent the whole day at Chester Zoo this week and had a brilliant time, even a bit of rain didn't spoil the day.  Having not been before, I was really surprised at just how much we all enjoyed our zoo experience.  I know that zoos are not always everyone's cup of tea, but they do play an important part in conservation nowadays and this was something we discussed as a family.

Both the boys would go back tomorrow if they could and loved every minute of it.

The dinosaurs are included in the price of your normal zoo ticket. You can win a year’s pass to the zoo by entering the competition here. I advise getting their early as no matter how much time you have, you never get round to seeing it all.

Disclosure: We were provided with our day out courtesy of the zoo and also received a junior animal adoption kit too.

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Olympic Learning – Logo

The Olympic Logo is one of the four major symbols of the Olympic games, along with the medals, touch and mascots. The word “logo” means an emblem or a symbol that defines the identity of an Olympic Games host city and Organising Committee. It is used as the visual identifier of the event.  The London 2012 Logo is all part of the branding package.

 

I printed out all of the previous Olympic logos and we made a timeline of the previous Olympic games from them, adding the year and the venue.  Using our atlas we looked up where each of the countries were and  with our flags of the world sticker book. We looked at the London 202 Logo and discussed what we thought of the design and then had a go at designing our own logo's.   Olympic Logo Facts For the first time, the Olympic and Paralympic logo are part of the same design.
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Olympic Football – Our Olympics

We didn't think that we were going to be able to get to any of the Olympic Events, but we managed to have a fantastic afternoon and evening at St James Park in Newcastle watching Japan versus Morocco and Spain versus Honduras with my Brother and Niece.

It was amazing,  The atmosphere was electric and the games were suburb.  We had just a wonderful time.
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Olympic Writing and an Olympic Medal Chart

My whole family are so excited about the Olympics, so this week we are going to use that excitement to encourage and nurture writing in our children. To start with we made an Olympic medals table and discussed how during the Olympic Ceremony some counties names were spelled differently to how we spell them.  We have a couple of sticker books that we have been using Flags of the World (Spotters Sticker Books) and also Usborne Sticker Atlas of the World (Usborne Sticker Atlases), which have been great, fun and easy to use,  they have also really encouraged discussion.

Other prompts for this week include:

  • Be a reporter at your favorite event at the Olympic games.  Try to encourage descriptive words and ask lots of questions, which should encourage this.  Including What is the sport about?  How is it played?  What is the weather like? What is the atmosphere like? What is the score? Who wins and how do they do it?
  • Pretend you have won a gold medal at the Olympics.  How would you feel?  Try writing a speech that you would give after winning a medal.
  • Write a biography of your favorite Olympian.  Use the internet to find out information and write about your favorite Olympian.  How old are they?  What sport do they do? You could even draw a picture of them.
  • Design a poster for your favorite Olympic sport.
I hope you have as much fun as we are over the course of the Olympics and would love to know what activities you are doing.  
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Simply Swimwear Review – Boys wetsuits

 

I am something of a pushy mum when it comes to sun cream and therefore love these wet suits from Simply Swim.  We have had full neoprene shorty wet suits for the boys in the past and they are hard to put on and the boys would whinge at wearing them, but they are great for staying warmer and more covers in the north sea and sun.

These wet suits are different in that they have the neoprene, but also have Lycra inserts, making them really easy for the boys to put on themselves and they both love them.

I was starting to despair that we would have no sun this summer to be able to review these for you. but finally the sun has come out and so have our supersoakers!

These shorty wet suits are £18.50 each and will see them throughout the summer.  The service we received was suburb as the first ones they sent were the wrong ones, so we received a paid return label and the replacements by return.  They are much less restrictive that the full neoprene ones, so your children will be more comfortable in them and I like how they cover more of them up than just trunks or swim shorts.  Yes they will keep them warm in the sea (not as warm as traditional wet suits), but they are also easy to rinse out.

They certainly didn't slow them down with the supersoakers.  Now I must get a water pistol for myself!

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Let’s Make Dairylea

I have an admission to make.  Maxi was my PFB (Perfect First Born) when it came to food.  Nothing processed or shop bought passed his lips until he went in to hospital at 6 months and even then we were soon back on to the mummy made stuff.  When Mini was born it was more of the same.  I used to beat myself up to produce a family meal that would feed us all.  I had sleepless nights over the amount of salt in food and would get all paniccy at the thought of someone giving either of the boys something processed. However, I am pleased to say I got over it!  I am also pleased to see that food companies like Dairylea are taking notice of parents and have changed their ingredients so that they are all natural. I want to share with you a video (featuring the Minimads of course, from our day with Dairylea at at Surrey Docks City Farm, with JoPippa,  Sally,Chrissie and Alex. Dairylea are  also running a promotion on its Facebook page where you can reclaim the cost of a packet of new Dairylea, giving you the chance to try it for free (the boys still do not like it), but I love it!
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Memory Stones

You do not have to just write in books.  When I saw this idea of Memory Stones on Pinterest, I knew that I could adjust it so that it worked for the boys for their writing and it has been a brilliant way to record what we have done so far over the summer.

 

 As part of the summer of writing, we are going to use the stones we collect to record fab times and memories we make over the summer holidays and the boys started this weekend.  Making a stone each for Sunderland Airshow.

We wote the event and date on one side and then they boys drew an image to represent the time on the other.  This is Maxi's airplane.  We used  Glotto Metallic Pens, which we received from YellowMoon.  They are brilliant on the stones and really stand out.  We are keeping our stones in a kilner jar, one for each of the boys and I hope to have two full jars at the end of the holidays, so I can varnish them and place them in the garden.

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Summer Holidays – The write way! Bookmaking with Children

This week we are going to make our own book.  There are lots of ways to do this and it can be very simple such as a number of pages just folded and staples or you can use padding compound and make your own notebook. Daffodil Lane uses office binder rings to make a nature journal.  I love this idea for a book of the holidays as you can add to it and punch important souvenirs like ticket stubs to keep. A really simple but effectve way to make a book is to make an accordian book.  Bird and Little Bird has a fantastic tutorial an accordion book. Planning on taking your books out with you, then I love these mini clipboards from Let's Explore, which are so simple to make and can be make to suit little hands too. A adore these very professional looking paper books from Plum Pudding.  You could make these any size or even make a mixture of sizes.  Perfect for scribblers, spellers and storytellers alike. These homemade childrens books by Lovely design look shop bought and are so simple to make. If you are not up to making a book, then why not customise a book you already have.  iHanna shows you how to make patchwork book covers.  All you need is paper, glue and notebooks and scissors. Perfect for small hands, these mini books by glittergoods can be customised to fit every sized hand. What a fab way to use a map of an are you are planning travelling too.  This Mini travel journal would go down well here.  Take a look at the tutorial by Zen Crafting. OK so what are we going to do once we have our books?  We are going to fill them with interesting things from our days.  What did you do this weekend? Scribblers Print out some photo's of things you have done this past week and let your child lose making there marks on them.  Stick them in your book.  Why not draw a picture of where you have been or your favorite food from a place you have visited. Spellers Again print our photo's, keep ticket stubs and other things from your days out and get your little speller to pop them in their book along.  Get them to make a note of the date and the places you have been.  Encourage them to draw pictures of their favorite thing to do on a specific day. Story Tellers For children with more advanced skills ask them to write about the things they have been doing.  Give them prompts in their books.  The coolest thing I did today was: My favorite meal of the day was:  What was in my bag today:  
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Summer Holidays – The write way!

This summer is going to be the summer of writing at The Mad House and we would like you to join us.  I have blogged about encouraging and nurturing writing in boys and why writing is so important.  Good writers make good readers and vice versa, but good writers also make great students.  The speed and ease or children’s writing has been found to gave an impact on children’s success.  Efficient writing (legible, almost effortless and quick flowing) helps ensure that children’s pencils can keep up with their thoughts.

So the plan is to have weekly tasks and to make time to do them in our days.  They are going to be both fun and enjoyable and something that we can do as a family and I would love for you to join in with us. Create a writing Center  Our goal is to encourage independent and unprompted writing and by creating a well stocked and inspiring space for our children we are helping them be spontaneous: Recommended materials
  • A variety of writing papers, including note books, lined paper, their own letterhead and comic strips
  • Post cards
  • Envelopes
  • Address labels
  • Pens and pencils
  • stamps
  • An alphabet chart for younger learners
On the Sunday of each week, I will give you a list of things that we are planning to do that week and some ideas of ways to encourage your young writers.  I want to try and inspire you to get started and to find the emerging writers and story tellers in your family.
I would love for you to get involved and if you have any ideas, then please do leave me a comment below with your hints and tips. [gallery columns="2"]
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Raising Olympians #RaisinganOlympian

With the Olympics coming, we are very exciting in The Mad House.  Both my boys love sport and we are going to be glue to the TV.  We are also using it to learn lots about other counties that are taking part.  P&G asked me to share how I am helping my boys achieve their dreams.  This really got me thinking.  When you ask my boys what there dreams are, at six and seven, they are very short term.  Neither of them knows what they want to be when they grow up and I am keen not to impose my thoughts and dreams on to them.  The one thing I want for my children is to be happy and healthy.

But then it came to me.  Both my boys are very academic and sporty and  excel in these areas.  However, Maxi is a pretty sensitive young man and although he is more than happy to get up and speak in front of an audience, he finds dressing up and expressing himself challenging.  This year he was asked if he would like to be part of a drama group(for shy children and children who would benefit from being pushed a little)  and even though it was way out of his comfort zone, he accepted and did an hour after school every week leading up to a show this week.

Both MadDad and My sister in law took the time off to come and see the show we me.  We didn't know a lot about it as Maxi had kept us in the dark, all we knew was it was Joseph and His Technicolor Dream-coat and that he had a solo in it.  What can I say, my boy astounded me and left his Daddy speechless.  He was amazing.,  He stepped out of his comfort zone and put his whole heart in to his performance.  He smiled through the play.  He sang with gusto and his solo brought a tear to my eye.  But the best thing about it was that he enjoyed the whole experiance.

I also realised that both MadDad and I want our children to enjoy life without too many pressures and when MadDad found out that the Under 7's football team was oversubscribed which meant that Mini might not get to play, he volunteered to manage and coach another team.  This means a lot of sacrifice for my husband.  He has to go on an intensive coaching course and also leave work early every week and commit to games on a weekend.  However, this means an additional eight 6 and 7 year olds get to play football each week.  Now he  just has to find sponsorship for the football kits!  But we both believe that having a father that is present in the boys life is very important.

Finally the one thing I hope that I am and will instill in my children is that no matter what they do, weather it comes easy or hard to them, that they always give 100% effort.

I watched this video of Chris Hoy's Mum, Carol and you know what, I so understand how she feels.  My son might not have won a gold medal with his performance, but it was a personal challenge for him and he overcame his own hurdles to do it and I was and am so proud.

Disclosure: I was send a goody bag by P&G which included a video camera (which I used to record Maxi)

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The I’m Bored Jar

Do the summer holidays fill you with dread?  Do you worry about keeping your children occupied without spending a fortune? Do you dread the words "I am bored"? Or worry about the very English summer we are having?  If so I can help you!

Firstly let me introduce you to my summer savior, the I'm Bored Jar.  I did a similar jar last summer and it wored a treat.  I jabve filled a jar with simple ideas for when either of the boys are bored.  It includes ideas such as:
  • Go for a bike ride
  • read a book for 30 minutes
  • Vacuum the stairs
  • Make fairy cakes
You can print off the  bored jar list of over 80 activities and use them yourself.  Some of the activities might not be possible due to the weather, but we have a summer planner so it is OK for them to pick a day and add tape it to it so that we do it on that specific day. This is a small glimps in to  Frugal and Fun, surviving the school holidays the thrifty way.  The e book, which I have produced with Cass from Frugal Family and Becky from Baby Budgeting is filled with ideas for frugal and fun ideas to make sure you get the most out of this year’s Summer Holidays without having to spend a fortune. The book contains over 150 pages of ideas and activities to help you make sure that this year’s Summer Holidays are frugal and fun.  There’s a planning week filled with things for you to do in advance of the holidays to get yourself prepared and the rest of the ideas are split into different themed weeks, with each week having five indoor activities, five outdoor activities and five recipes for you to cook with you children.
Themes include:
  • The Olympics
  • The Great Outdoors
  • Around the World
  • Heroes and Heroines
  • Home Sweet Home
  • Colours
So that is one indoor activity, one outdoor activity and one recipe for every single weekday of the holidays.  There is no way you can possibly run out of ideas with this at your fingertips and you need never hear ‘I’m Bored’ again as these are guaranteed boredom busting (but not budget busting) ideas!
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Weekending

We have behaved like tourists in our own backyard this weekend.  We have released the feel of sun on our faces.

  • Early morning fun with cushions and pillows
  • Going up the cliff on the funicular
  • Jack Daniels and Flat Frank (helping with the toothache)
  • A fab buy from the Love of Vintage fair
  • Fish, chips and tartar sauce on the seafront.
  • A day by the shore
  • Ice creams (not for me, see earlier note about toothache)
  • Tea and cake
  • A jumping praying mantis
What did you do this weekend?

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Crafting with Boys

I love crafting.  More than crafting myself I love crafting with my boys.  I love watching them get all excited about the things they make and the way that they glow with pride when they present people with their finished makes.    Being creative isn't something that should be left just to girls and I have and do encourage my boys to be as creative as possible.  for me this means not only with art work, but with cooking, making music and just life in general. Sometimes though I find that other things take over and we need something that we can fit in with Beavers, reading and being outside, this is where Yellow Moon comes in to its own.  More often that not they have perfect craft activities which are quick and the boys can do with minimal or no supervision. I have to say that these design a day key rings really caught the boys imagination and they made their own footballers, but they would be perfect for chirtmas or birthdays as you could pop a photo of someones head in and they could draw their body and even better they are only £3.99 for a 8 keyrings. We also spent some time making our own bunting, half of which has been hung in our conservatory (the other half is in Frugal Family's kitchen).  Everyone had so much fun with this activity.  You get 16 flags with the Yellow Moon design your own bunting kit for £6.99 and we also used these Glotto Fabric Pens, which had a felt pen style and are the easiest fabric pens I have ever used.  perfect for children and are £8.99 for 12     Disclosure: We were sent a free samples of the above products from Yellow Moon
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Give Girls Power #givegirlspower

As a woman, I am a true believer in empowering other women to be able to make the right decisions for themselves.  I was fortunate enough to visit a township in South Africa with a friend of mine who works for a charity supplying information about family planning and sexual education and it was a real eye opener for me. As a mother, I can not imagine a child being force to have a child.  Children should not be having children. As a blogger, I do all I can and that is blog. As a reader, I ask that you take ten minutes out of your busy life to read and take action. The family planning summit, backed by the Gates Foundation, UNFPA, charities, campaigners and attended by governments from across the globe, is a chance to make a real change in the lives of millions of women which would have knock on effects in whole communities and nations. David Cameron is hosting a family planning summit on Wednesday 11 July (yes, tomorrow).  This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help girls and women make decisions over when and whether to have babies. Save the Children we want him to lead the summit to take action on empowerment, sex education and health care as well as providing more contraceptives.

How family planning saves children's lives

When adolescent girls have the power to delay pregnancy until their bodies are ready, fewer children die. When women can choose to leave a healthy space between their pregnancies, their babies are better nourished, and fewer children die. And when more children survive, women have fewer children and families become smaller. Children get to grow up in a world where there’s more to go around. Contraception and the expert advice and care provided by health workers are crucial to creating this virtuous circle. But above all, what’s needed is a profound shift that sees women educated and empowered to make the right decisions for themselves and their children.

If you agree then, please take the following action:

  • Tweet David Cameron and Number 10 directly with this: All women should have power to decide when & how many children they have. @number10gov pls #givegirlspower at #fpsummit Lives depend on it.
  • We are hoping to whip up a twitter storm at 11 o’clock tomorrow morning for ten minutes because, as Save the Children found with the #passiton campaign last year, government ministers sit up and take notice when lots of people shout at the same time. So if you could make sure you tweet then it would be fab, you could always schedule one if you are not around.
  • Retweet any blog posts you see with the #givegirlspower hashtag.
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An Apple for the Teacher – Print your own fabric bags

Firstly, I  need to say this is not my idea, although we have made printed bags before.  The apple idea is pinched from Domestic Goddesque.

Materials:

  • Plain bags (Mine we 99p from Hobbycraft)
  • Fabric paints (mine were from a set from Yellow Moon, which I have had for seven years)
  • Paper plates
  • paint brush
  • Apple
  • Fabric pain pens (again from Yellow Moon)
  • A3 paper or card

Method:

  • Cut the apple in half and dry with kitchen roll.
  • Place a piece of paper or card in the bag to prevent the print going through.
  • Pop a blob of paint on to a paper plate (one for each color of paint) and squish the apple in to it and then press on to the bag
  • Allow to dry
  • Take a fabric pen and add a stalk and leave if required to your apples.
  • Allow to dry
  • Once dry iron the bags which sets the fabric paint allowing the bag to be washed.
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My Midsummer Baby turned six

Mini was born six years ago on 24 June.  He is and always will be my midsummer baby.  This year I have not had the urge to blog about his birthday, for some reason I have wanted to keep it close to me for a little longer.  I felt irrationally that by not blogging about it I was  keeping him five for a little longer. We gave him some options of what he wanted to do for his birthday.  Did he want a party, a day out or a quiet birthday tea?  Not one for a party, he said that we would rather have a family day out and then we were invited down to London by Dairylea and it was just perfect as London is his favorite place in the whole world.  He didn't even have a birthday list, when asked what he wanted for a present, he wasn't sure!

We had an amazing weekend., which included a day with friends at a farm in London courtesy of Dairylea, a fab meal with the lovely Jo and her girls, a visit to the Tower of London and then a day at Duxford on Sunday.

Six things about my six year old:

  • Mini is football mad.  He is a proud player in the local Under 7's team and also loves going to see The Boro with his Uncle!
  • We still find Mini in bed with us every night, not that we are complaining (we have a superkingsize bed). He is a real snuggler and a pleasure to cuddle
  • Mini loves books.  He is a great reader and can often be found engrossed in a book.
  • Dressing up is Mini's thing, he is happy when he is in an outfit and pretending to be someone else
  • He loves cooking and will often be found by my side in the kitchen
  • He has worked really hard on improving his temper, but we still have a long way to go!

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Monthly Mentions – June 2012

I am introducing a new feature on The Mad House.  Each month we are lucky enough to get sent things to review or just use things that really float our boat.  So I am introducing a monthly round up.  Some things will have links to larger posts, somethings might not.  I will always disclose if an item has been received as a free sample or we have attended an event.

Mr Men Sports Day - We love, love , love this book.  Go buy it now, it is only £2.99 - Review based on a free sample

Huntfun - Looking to turn a walk in to an adventure, then look no further. Huntfun produce treasure hunts, including the one we reviewed on A Thrifty Mum - Review based on a free sample

London Globee - We were sent the London Globee from Find me a gift.com.  We were sent the larger one, which retails at £30 and as you can see from Mini's face above, he loved it.   It has pride of place in his London themed Bedroom and he was delighted to see it had the Olympic stadium on it.  I have to say I was really impressed with Find me a gift.  They have a great selection of gifts at very reasonable prices and there delivery was prompt too - review based on free sample

Whilst we are on bedrooms, Then please take a look at Maxi's patriotic bedroom, which is courtesy of Dunelm Mill.  What I can say is we have had these products for a couple of months now and the duvets wash really well and the rug is wonderful, bright and spills clean off really well - review from free samples

Look What We Found - Normally I do not approve of ready meals, but these are wonderful, no additives, no preservatives and they taste great too.  They got us though my no cooking time with the broken arm - review based on a free sample

Ribena Plus - Like Ribena, but with added goodies.  The boys seemed to enjoy it and have asked for more - review based on a free sample

Kitchen Canny - I do not have a lot of kitchen waste, but this is a brill product for those looking to steamline their food bill.  Plan B has a great couple of post on it - free sample received

Return my Ted - A perfect gift for a new baby, full review is on the Great Toy Guide - We were sent a sample, but sent it on to the NSPCC

Journey 2 - What with all this rain, this movie has not been off the TV.  Guess that speaks pretty much for itself! My full review can be found on The Great Toy Guide - review based on a free sample

I have always said that I am not keen on a lot of the boys clothes out there, but we loved out selection from Verbaudet this month.   Fantastic three in one trousers, which have washed well and the boys love.  We also reviewed swimming trunks and they have adjustable waists making them perfect for skinny minnies like Maxi - review from free sample

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Summer Manifesto 2012

Apparently it is summer.  Well I know it is as Mini is a mid-summers baby, born on the 24 June.    However, it really doesn't feel like summer to me.  Normally we would be packing our bags to go to the beach after school, whilst all we seem to do is dodge the rain, floods and puddles. First of all I should review my Spring Manifesto.  I did OK, managing the cross stitch and park, even with a broken arm.  The bike rides didn't happen, but I think I will carry that forward to the summer one.  Family meal did happen and was wonderful, reminded me we should do it more often.  I didn't pluck up the courage to invite the mums over for tea, might move that to the Autumn one.  We will be having potatoes for dinner next week! So onward and upward, as they say
  • Get my bike out of storage and go on a family bike ride
  • Take the boys camping
  • Book a adult learning course for September, probably something creative
  • Sow seeds for autumn planting
  • Make Mini's quilt
  • Make a start on the Hexy MF quilt
  • Declutter the boys toys with them
  • Take all the clutter to a boot sale
  • Book some family days out
  • Have a picnic with the boys at least once a week, come rain or shine
  • Find a new park to play in each week over the holidays
  • Join the library reading program with the boys over the holidays
  • Find out all the free holidays events on in the region to visit with the boys.
I would love to know your plans for the summer and remember if you are short of ideas, I have a new e-book Frugal and Fun:Enjoying the holidays the thrifty way.    
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Win a free day of football coaching for a child and a friend

  Summer is supposed to be on it's way and regardless of the weather, the children will be off for their summer break! So today I have a super competition for you to win a free day of football coaching for a child and a friend from Powerleague , who run football and sport centres across the UK.  Both my boys adore football and are in U7 and U8 teams.  I guess there must be something in their gene's as MadDad played five a side football with his work until recently. I know that the summer holidays can be a challenge, so when I was offered the opportunity to giveaway a free day of football coaching for two children I jumped at the chance.  Powerleague have venues all across the UK, so there should be something near by you. a Rafflecopter giveaway The winner will receive a free voucher code from Powerleague and then they can book onto one of the daily sessions at the Kids Holiday Camps on the Powerleague website. If you are also looking for other ideas of what to do with your children over the summer holidays then why not take a look at Frugal and Fun, my new venture.  Frugal and Fun: Enjoying the holidays the thrifty way.  The book has an indoor activity, outdoor activity and recipe EVERY weekday of the holidays, you will never be bored! It is suitable for 3-10′s. The book also comes with a section on preparation activities so you are ready to go when the holidays start.  It could be the best £4 you spend this summer. All the activities are very little or no cost. Click here to purchase our new ebook. 150 pages of thrifty ideas for only £4 Frugal and Fun: Enjoying school holidays the thrifty way is also available to purchase on Kindle from the Amazon store.
Frugal and Fun: Enjoying the school holidays the frugal way
  Disclosure: I received remuneration for posting this competition
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Removing Red Wine Stains

OK So the irony isn't lost on me.  Posting a sponsored post about removing red wine stains the day after a fab Tots100 twitter chat on Children and Alcohol.  but I can assure you it wasn't me drinking the stuff.  No MadDad was having a very rare glass after nearly getting stuck on Newcastle during the apocalyptic #toonfloods! Now we have hard floors downstairs and I have never had to remove a red wine stain before, but I walked past him and spilled it on our rug.  So it was time to hit google and get stain removal tips more specifically how to remove red wine stains Initially it is important to mop it up and blot the carpet or rug with a paper towel or towel. Now is the time to use a carpet stain remover if you have one, if not there are a host of other suggestions on the web.  Thankfully we had some stain remover in the cupboard of doom under the sink!
  • Use a purpose made stain remover such as Vanish, as it is designed to effectively remove the stain.
  • Use white wine on the red wine stain
  • Use soda water to remove the stain
  • Use hydrogen peroxide and baking soda (wet and blot with the peroxide and then use the baking soda)
  • Salt, apparently can be poured on the stain until you decide what action to take as it is supposed to stop the stain setting
  • White vinegar should help remove the purple colour and then washing up liquid to help remove the rest of the stain
  • Some people have used milk!  However, the smell of stale milk is just horrible and I would never ever use it.
  • Shaving foam worked in to the stain and then blotted
  • A paste of bicarb of soda
  • Vodka on a dry stain
I would love to know your tips on removing red wine stains.
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Sponsored Video – Matterssons

Every now and then along comes a video that makes you smile.  I have to say that Matterssons hit the right note for me with this fab advert for their Fridge Raisers range.  Are your little ones Hank Marvin?
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Wordless Wednesday (Internet is down)

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My Father’s legacy

I have a peaceful 20 minutes while the men of the house have popped out to gather a little something I forgot yesterday for dinner.    Leaving the house strangly peaceful for a Sunday and giving me time to mull over Fathers, both alive and dead. My Dad was an amazing man and his Father (my Grandfather) before him was too.  They both shaped my childhood, giving me strong male role models.  Nothing was too hard for either of them, both worked with their hands, my Grandpa was a Ships Blacksmith and my Dad a Marine Engineer.  Our home was filled with their essence to the plants and greenhouse of my Grandpa (who lived with us) to the  wonderful handturned brass companion sets that my Dad made. Nothing was too much trouble for my Dad, he was a yes man.  He learned to drive a bus so he could drive the band double decker each weekend and twice a week for practice getting both his PSV and HGV licence.  They sang to me, taught me how to change tires and took me to the cake shop every Saturday before sitting down to watch the wrestling. oh and they might have a been a sneaky visit to the ice cream parlor each week too.

My Brother, Mum, Me and Dad on my Wedding Day 18 March 1995

I think that my Father and Grandfather both effected my choice in men, when it came to MadDad I fell hook line and sinker for a man with echo's of the other great men in my life.  A better husband I could not have and I have had the pleasure of watching him become a great Father over these last seven years.   I should have known he would do it well, as he injected me in y butt three times a day for the whole of my pregnancies and was just amazing.  Watching him grow and develop with our boys has touched my heart.  He makes me proud every single day and they both love him and choose to spend time with him.  He is a great Father. But my Father's legacy doesn't end with my boys, oh no you only have to take a look at my younger brother and the way he is with his children.  He is a wonderful father to Chuky, ever the child himself.  His nephews adore spending time with him and he is a good honest man.  He adores his step grandchildren and is starting to look more and more like my Dad. I am so lucky to have so many great men in my life.  Happy Fathers day, to those living and to those who's echos live on.
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Stitching

I have really struggled to find something other than read to pass the time with this stupid broken arm, but as the weeks have slowly past I have gained a little more movement and set about making my Mother in Laws bothday gift, a couple of hand embroidered tea towels. It has been a long time since I embroidered, so Mini watched me intently and then pipped up.  "I want to try to Mamma" I didn't need asking twice and we popped upstairs to pick out an image and for him to trace it out using a heat transfer pencil.  I then transferred it on to his own tea towel and I set to work teaching him backstich, which is a really simple stitch.  I showed him on my tea towel and he picked out his own colour thread and then set to work on his own. It was a real joy to watch my little boy concentrating so intently on doing something.  My whirlwind actually sat still and put his mind and hands to stitching and it was such a wonderful thing.  He learned that mistakes are easy to fix and that he had a new talennt.  The more he embroidered the bigger his smile got. All in all it took him 45 minutes to complete his macaroon and when he did, he asked if he could have his own stitching kit for his sixth birthday (which is on 24 June).  Mummy best get busy then making the little man his own needle book and putting together a little pack all of his own. I will show you my finished products after the Mother in Law has received them!
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Folding and storing fabric

The focus of the Tots 100 Home Club this month is storage and I am ashamed to say that I have more fabric that is decent.  It was just shoved in to every spare space in the study/craft room.   I often bought new fabric for specific tasks as I couldn't find what I was looking for, so decided that I HAD to organise my fabric first and foremost.

I decided that the easiest way to store it would be to fold it all the same size and store in some new baskets which I purchased from Homebase for this specific task.  They were £14.99 each and should last for a long time.  But how best to fold it all? I remember seeing on Sew Justine Sew last year that see stored her larger fabric on comic boards, but most of my fabric are smaller pieces and I didn't have enough storage to hold it all on comic sized sheets.  So I decided to re purpose something we already had, a ream of printer card.

  1. The card is a4 sized
  2. Fold it in half to make it A5 size.
  3. Lay out your fabric (I have used this for all my fabric from fat quarter to 4 yards)
  4. Fold the bottom of the fabric over the card and crease to the end of the fabric
  5. Do the same with the top
  6. then wrap the fabric over the card
  7. continue to do so until the fabric is all wrapped around the card.

I then placed the fabric in the baskets and on to an existing wrack that we already have.  I used some hampers to store quilt filling and stuffed toy filling on top of the unit.  I like using the hampers as you can squash it all in and then fasten it!

I would love to know how you store your fabric and other items for crafting.

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Jubilee Celebration

This weekend like many other people in the UK, we have been celebrating the Diamond Jubilee.  We have had a weekend filled with family and food.  It has been a joy to spend quality time with my family without the need to be somewhere or really achieve anything.  It has been bliss.

I hope everyone else has had a great long weekend too.

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Leaf Free Summer Salad – Royal Jewel Salad

I am a lover of salad, but the same could not have always been said about my boys, well that isn’t necessarily true; it is leaves that they have had an issue with in the past.  So in honour of the Jubilee I present to you my leaf free royal jewel salad featuring Apetina, which really complements the rice with its slightly salty taste and crumbly texture. Ingredients

·         Apetina cheese

·         Rice

·         Peppers (Red) - chopped

·         Small tin of sweetcorn

·         Sugar snap peas

·         Dressing of your choice (Nasi Goreng)

·         Poached egg to top (Optional)

  Method

1.       Cook and cool the rice according to the packet instructions.  When cooling rice I tend to add to ice water and then drain.

2.       Cook the sugar snap peas and garden peas and cool (again I add to iced water).

3.       Add all the ingredients to the rice and mix.

4.       I finish off with a poached egg on top and serve, but this is optional and the salad can be prepared the morning of an event and popped in the fridge until required.

 

Variations: This is such a versatile leaf free salad and it is perfect for using up any vegetables you have. The key is to keep it colourful. Chopped tomatoes, avocado and broad beans, spring onion and red onion will add a bite and a tin of mixed beans will be transformed by adding it to the rice and vegetables.  If you are not keen on poached eggs then why not add hard boiled eggs to the salad or even chicken if you want it to have some meat.   I am entering my Apetina recipe in their summer salad challenge and would love for you to vote for me on their Facebook page www.facebook.com/apetina. Visitors who like the Facebook page and vote for their favourite salad will be entered into a prize draw, for a picnic hamper (basket, with salad bowl and servers, plus dressing bottle) and in the final week prize will be a BBQ. Sponsored Post
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The difference a week makes – #Syria #TippingPoint

One week ago today (May 25) , 49 innocent children were killed and who knows how many more injured during an attack on the Syrian town of Houla.

Today my children walk to school and will spend the day celebrating the queens 60 year on the the throne.  I wasn't going to post about the atrocity that happened to those children in Syria, but my boys thought that I should.  We talked about what happened and tried to decide why such things happen and why all these years after the second world war, do we allow children to suffer like this.  My boys only know the News Round version of events, but even then it is horrifying.  The BBC website pulls no punches in detailing how the deaths occurred and it makes terrifying reading.

So whilst my children are celebrating this wonderful country we live in, take two minutes out of your day to sign Save the Children's petition to Stop the Killing, which call for world leaders to put in place an immediate and legally binding "Resolution to Protect Children" that carries the full force of international law on those attacking children and other civilians.

 
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Last minute Jubilee crafting thanks to Kodak’s free Jubilee printables

I have been unable to craft and it is breaking my heart, especially as the Jubilee is such a wonderful excuse for crafting, but I just can not manage it one armed.

Thankfully Kodak came to the rescue with their fantastic free jubilee printables.  So I have been printing like a demon on my new Kodak Office Hero 6.1 printer that they gave me.  I have made the boys fantastically simple crowns for their jubilee day tomorrow, printed out cake toppers for mini bunting for my Jubilee layer cake and more impressive that that I have actually use their bunting and flag printables to make the boys t-shirts for tomorrows red, white and blue day using Dylon image maker, which transfers pictures on to fabric! There is a great selection of free patriotic printables available including:
  • Union Jack Bunting
  • Union Jack flag
  • Crown, I have made these for the boys, all you need is a printer and elastic.
  • Cake decorations - I used these to make my bunting on my Jubilee layer cake
  • Party hats
  • Name cards
For lots more printing ideas why not take a look at Kodak's Big App website.

Disclosure:  I received a Kodak Office Hero 6.1 Printer to produce my Jubilee printables on.

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sponsored video – Avivia want to see what you have done to make your home extraordinary ….

Aviva are currently running a competition to win £5000. They want to know what you have done to make your home extraordinary. Now I could never live up to the two old chaps in the video below (please do watch it as it melted my heart a little and will hopefully make you smile too and is only a minute long).  They are looking for people around Britain who have done something extraordinary to their homes.  To enter all you have to do is post a short video clip or even just a photograph on their facebook page alongside a description of what you have done to your home and why.   Find out more about Aviva Extraordinary Homes.

I wanted to show you something in my house which made an extrordinary differnce to my kitchen and to my time in it with my boys. Let me introduce you to our art corner.

I wanted to show you that something small could make a major difference to a home and the way it works.  We have a witching hour in The Mad House.  That time when I am making dinner and all the boys want is my attention.  So I decided to move their tiny table (which is from Ikea and only cost 11.99) and coat the top with blackboard paint.  In fact everything I used was from Ikea and cost next to nothing.  The artwork is hung using a Dignitet tension wire (£8.99 each) and the rail and pots were from Ikea too.

Sometimes extraordinary doesn't have to mean expensive or extreme.  For me bringing the children in to the room I was in enabled me to get on with making the dinner, give them attention and also give the,m a place to be creative too.  It was extraordinary for me as it worked.
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More Small Stuff

I am struggling to see the good and light in everything at the moment and finding it hard to be bright and bubbly with a broken arm.  I can not sew, stitch, type, bake or craft, all the things that feed my soul. I can not bear to travel on a bumpy bus, especially as my fracture is not in a cast and mobile, so we are pretty much stuck to the small (very small) village we live in. The lovey people at Pickle Pie Creations sent me this "Jen Loves"  artwork, which currently has pride of place on my desk reminding me that it is the small things that count.  They are the things that make everyday doable. I have found that I am using Instagram more and more to keep a record of the things that make my heart sing each day.  It is about seeing the good in everything and the fact that the sun has come out has lifted my heart somewhat.
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Bean juice, slips and snaps

This is me right now. Let me set the scene.  I had dished up dinner, plaice, potatoes, mixed vegetables and cannelloni beans.  In dishing up the beans I had dropped some on the floor, so decided to quickly mop that area as it would be dry by the time we had eaten. This was he first time the boys had cannelloni beans as a side  rather than in a stew, so I had only popped a few on their plates and no sooner had I sat down to eat my dinner had the "please Mummy can I have more beans?" started.  So being the good mother I am I went in to the kitchen for more beans and slipped on the wet floor. I went arse over tit, in slow motion and put my left arm out to try and stop myself my catching on to the counter top, but instead of stopping me falling it just went crack instead.   So off to A&E in an ambulance I went.  Gas and Air did nothing and the poor paramedics couldn't get a vein to administer any pain relief.  Drew arranged for the boys to go to his parents and followed behind.  Once at the hospital I mad some morphine and then x-rays and yep, my arm is broken. but.................. in typical Jen fashion (I do not do anything by half) it is a lateral fracture of the bone as it goes in to the shoulder, so it can not be potted. So I am in a sling and in a lot of pain.  We are hoping that the bone knits well on its own in 3 to 4 weeks and then I am back for more x-rays in four weeks. I am feeling very sorry for myself, as it means I can not drive, dress myself or pretty much do anything at the moment, other than whinge and complain about the lack of sleep! I do not take being ill or injured very gracefully.  I am a pretty independent person and hate asking for help.  I really feel sorry for my dear husband as he has to put up with me and I am a like a caged animal already.  Goodness only knows what I am going to be like at the end of four weeks. So now I am a statistic, one of 2.7 million people who go to A&E each year after having an accident at home.  I am never mopping the floor again!
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Choosing Joy

One of the big things for me this last year has been making the right choices for me and my family.  For actively choosing to be happy and spread happiness and live as much as possible in the here and now.  I read a lot of blogs, they have replaced my magazine habit and are a lot cheaper and every now and then I come across a blog or a post that really touches me.  Lil Blue Boo is one of those blogs.  I have followed Ashley for over three years.  I comment occasionally and have also been though a molar pregnancy and the subsequent issues that she is going through, but although this touched me, it is the phrase "Choose Joy" that really has reached out in to my soul and tattooed itself on to by brain.

When you have been though illness, challenges and life changing events like I have, it can be hard not to keep looking for the next big thing.  The next issue that is going to come and kick your feet from under you and leave you firmly planted in the mire on your arse.   I can tell you from experience this is no way to live.  The anxiety that comes with daring not to enjoy the good times for the fear of what is round the corner, the concern that it is only pay off for the next debilitating event.  Sometimes it seems that we are given with one hand and then taken from with the other.

There have been times when I have screamed at the top of my lungs to an empty beach "why me?  What have we done to you?  Why do I have to pout up with all this shit?".  There have been times when I have had to lock myself in the loo to hide the tears from my boys, haven't they seen enough suffering in their short lives?

Then I read a blog like Ashley's and it reminds me that life is all about choices, not just the ones we actively chose to make, but the ones we chose to ignore too.  It is my choice to make the most out of each and every day, to believe the universe will provide and that we live everyday, not survive it, but enjoy it.  That I am going to chose joy.  That I am going to embrace my family and journey with them ever forward and yes I might be scared, but I will always travel my path with dignity, my husband and boys by my side and a heart filled with optimism and love.

I am going to try and live in the here and now and watch my children with their joyous abandon and let its infectiousness rub off on me.  I am going to make time for my husband and our marriage and I am going to enjoy reclaiming some me time and finding some inner peace amongst the white noise of everyday life.  I am going to do one thing everyday and do it well.

I am choosing joy.

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The things they say and do – The joke edition

Children and jokes.  I am not sure that the boys really get jokes.  They have up until now made up ones that made very little sence to me or anyone else for that matter, but had then rolling in the aisle. But the times they are a changing.......................
Maxi: Knock Knock Mini: Who's there? Maxi: Love Mini: Love who? Maxi: Love you too
Then they both kiss!
Mini: Knock, knock Maxi: Who's there? Mini: Atish Maxi: Atish who? Mini: Bless you
At this point they are laughing so much one of the boys has rolled off my bed, as they were telling jokes before bed, whilst I cleaned the bath.
Mini:  Mummy, we have a joke for you!  Knock, knock Me: Who's there Mini: Banana Me: Banana Who? Maxi: Banana Me: Banana who? Mini:  BANANA Me: Staring to get exasperated now Banana Who? Maxi: Orange Me: Orange who? Mini: Orange you glad we didn't say banana again!
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The Pyrex Dish

Image via A place of my own

Sheppard pies with golden pillows of potatoes topped with cheese and edges oozing with the delicious promise of what hides beneath.  Simple delights of cauliflower cheese or braised steak and onion.  The more complex flavours of lemon soul with fennel and potatoes.  A seventies delight of a pineapple upside down cake.

The focus has always been what you contained.  You were always been a vessel, serving us well.  My mum would use you to serve up wholesome family food and when the boys were born and she was on her own, rather than have you languish in the cupboard unused, she passed you down to me.

Once again, you became well used.  Perfect roast potatoes where held within glass walls, roast chicken, lasagna, macaroni cheese.  You became my go to dish, the one I always picked up first.  You were a doddle to clean going in the dishwasher and coming out as good as new.

Then last night the unthinkable happened, I dropped you.  This time you did not bounce, you shattered and with you so did a small piece of me.  You might only have been a Pyrex dish but you held so many memories for me.  So much of my childhood is wrapped up in the delicious food that my mum cooked.  I hold very fond memories of the time we spent in the kitchen.  She was a superb cook and tried to make sure that I was involved in the preparation in the kitchen with her.

As I grew up and had a family of my own, my mum always encouraged me to cook and I realised that she had given me a firm foundation in the kitchen and love of seasonal produce.  I know you are only a dish, but I cried a little last night for a woman that I miss so much and then when I saw you in the bin this morning I cried a little more for the time in my life you represent.

Yes, I know my mum would be saying "it is just a dish Jen" and indeed it is, but also a thousand memories were baking inside it and it will always hold a place in my heart.

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Olympic Learning – Make your own medals

There is nothing better than winning a medal, well perhaps winning a medal you have already made yourself.  So we set about making own own set of Olympic medals.

[gallery columns="2"]

Materials

  • Ribbon
  • Silver foil
  • Gold and bronze pain or crayon
  • cardboard or milk bottle lids prepped with PVA glue or polymer clay

To make our medals we pained or colored them in or covered them in silver foil and then drew our chosen design on them.  To get some inspiration we took a look at the past Olympic medal designs and discussed the symbols and their meanings.   I then punched out a hole in the top and threaded the ribbon through.

We also made some out of filmo and airdring clay.  We rolled out the clay and then cut out a circle with a cookie cutter and made a hole at the top with a straw and drew on our designs.  Dry or bake as per instructions and paint in the appropriate colour and allow to dry before threading your ribbon through.

Olympic Medal Facts

The silver used in the first and second place medals must be at least 92.5% pure. The "gold" medals must be gilded with at least six grams of pure gold. Medals also carry the name of the sport contested.

The last Olympic gold medals that were made entirely out of gold were awarded in 1912.
Each medal must be at least three millimeters thick and 60 millimeters in diameter.

The front sides of the medals awarded at the Games of the Olympiads feature an image of a Hellenic goddess holding a laurel wreath with the Athens Colosseum in the background. Since 1972, local Olympic organising committees have been allowed to create a design for the back sides of the medals.

The London 2012 medals, designed by British artist David Watkins, depict Nike, the Greek Goddess of Victory, stepping out of the Parthenon to arrive in the host city. The front side also shows a bowl resembling an amphitheatre, with the medal's overall circular shape a symbol of the world.
The back side contains a portrayal of the River Thames to reflect London, and a square to break up the medal's circular design and “emphasise its focus on the centre”.
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The things they say and do, The Beavers Edition

Maxi has been a Beaver for nearly a year and last week Monday was the eagerly anticipated first night of Mini's induction in to the world of Beavers. He was ready a whole hour before it was time to go, in Maxi's old uniform (which was kindly donated by a kind sole off twitter). This week he was just as eager to get there and ran out of the house early. When he came home all red faced (they played dodge ball) we discussed what he had learned:
"We learned about Saint George Mummy.  He is the patron saint of England" he happily told us "He was a Roman soldier who be came a crispy one"
Well we couldnt stop laughing and then Maxi told him
"No Mini, he became a Christian, but it doesn't matter as it is a myth anyway"
I am linking this to The Things they say and do at Thinly Spread
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Family Film Night – A romantic interlude

Romance, what is romance? I have to say I often feel the same, especially with two rather full on boys, however, since the transformation of Mini's bedtime, we have been having much more relaxed evenings and also making sure that we actually dedicate some time to ourselves and to each other.

BC (Before Children) we used to really enjoy going to the cinema, but since we do not have any one to baby sit we haven't been for loooooooooooooong time.  However, Warner Bros sent us a care package after the Oscars, which included:

Casablanca [Blu-ray] [1942] Gone With The Wind - 70th Anniversary [Blu-ray] [1939][Region Free] An American In Paris [DVD] [1951] The Blind Side [Blu-ray] [2010][Region Free]

Over the last month we have made time to watch these films, not ones that we would have normally chosen ourselves, but ones that we have enjoyed, not only for the films, but for the company.  We have made a real effort and off have gone the mobile phones and other electronic devises.

I have been amazed at how powerful, current and moving the older films are and even more amazed at the fact that I hadn't seen them before!  Also they were easy watching, so we could chat during them and not lose the plot, which is an issue I have with a lot of films and programs these days!

But more than that, it reminded me why I married MadDad and just how much I enjoy his company and how much I relish time on my own with him.  We have resolved to make more time for each other on an evening and also to try and arrange a couple of days or nights out just for us.  For the last seven years our life has revolved around the boys and the time has come to reclaim a bit of  couple time.  We are not talking about a regular date night, just taking the time to chat and turn off all outside interruptions.

We have and are quite a tactile couple and hold and all that in front of the boys, but I have to admit to finding it hard to find enough hours in the day to get everything done.  Something has had to give and it really has been our time together.  I was finding once the boys were in bed and I had everything prepped for the following day all I wanted to so was veg on the sofa and go to bed.  Finally now that Mini is going to bed like a good boy and Maxi is getting up and making his own breakfast I feel a little more human!

How do you make time for yourself and your partner?

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Boys and guns

I have two boys aged seven and very nearly six and I remember when they were very small having a conversation with MadDad about the fact that I wasn't going to allow toy guns in to my home.  I was determined that they would grow up in an environment that didn't promote fighting, death, anger or shooting.  For the first two years of Maxi's life, he didn't even know what a gun was, let alone how to use them.  I would not let any program on the TV that had violence on it, no Ben10, no Power Ranger or such like.  I was very clear and if he was ever bought a gun or such it went straight in the bin.

However, we got to a point where anything and every thing became a weapon.  He would use sticks as arrows and swords, duplo was fashioned in to guns and imaginative play revolved around cops and robbers.

As time went on the boys toys included Playmobil knights, castles and dragons, LEGO police and Toy Story little green army men and I realised that I was trying to swim upstream against my refusal to have these thigs in our home.  The final straw being when the boys were given Nerf guns and I realised that we all had a ball with them.

So we implemented a new plan.  Guns would be allowed in to the house as long as when I was involved in the play they fired "love bullets" and I would smother the boys in kisses and tickles when I shot them.  This has become a fun tradition when in our home.

I can not stop what happens when they are in school or at other peoples home, but I can in my house.  I do not encourage guns and I refuse to let them have access to shooting and war games on the Xbox, Wii or any other electronic devise.  As I believe that introducing them to active violence at this age is harmful and thankfully MadDad agrees.   There is enough real violence and war in this world that I do not wish to trivialise it or normalise it in any way.

But.......

I am realistic.  I know that they will role play cops and robbers, goodies and baddies and other role playing and I feel that this is an important aspect of their development, by playing it out they are actually reinforcing any learning about good and bad.  I am a huge believer in the benefit of learning through play and both my boys have had kitchens, cleaning toys and a buggy and babies.  There is nothing stronger in my opinion than learning in this safe environment.   There is nothing Mini likes more than dressing up as a Knight and slaying dragons or saving the villagers!  By not outlawing guns, I can start to influence my children's attitudes about them rather than just pretend that violence doesn't exist.

I would love to know your thoughts on guns and children, especially if they are a little older like my boys.

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Gardening with Thinly Spread

Chris at Thinly Spread and Kate at Kate takes 5 have teamed up to produce an idiots guide to gardening with children.  Even though we have raised beds, I usually leave the gardening to MadDad and the boys, but this year these ladies have inspired me to take charge and join in.

The week before last me and the boys planted tomatoes, sunflowers, peas and beans and put them in a tiny plastic greenhouse that I purchased from Aldi.

  I am really amazed at just how well they have done.  One thing I have to remember is being in the frozen north we have to plant a couple of weeks after Chris does.  So I may need to pot on some of the beans.  I have not been as successful with the kale I planted as none of the weeds have germinated.  We also have planted onion sets and potatoes in two of the raised bed. So my action list for this week is as follows:
  • Purchase some sweet pea seeds
  • Purchase some more kale seeds
  • Purchase some rainbow chard seed
I'm linking this post up to the 'Come sow with me' meme which is being run to support @ONECampaign 'LetsThrive' campaign. For more information read this.
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Washi Tape Magnets

I adore things that I can make and do that take no time at all and use things that I already have in the house.  Perfect when I need a moments "me time" in this house of chaos I live in.  When I saw this fab project on Make It, Do It, I pinned it for when I needed a moments creative space. It is a really simple project and a perfect way for using up any magnets that you get free.  I had a couple that we had received that were on our fridge.  I carefully pealed off the label, which thankfully came away very simply and left some adhesive on the magnet allowing me to apply some white paper on to it so that the tape which can be translucent had a good backing.   If it doesnt all you need to do is take some white acrylic paint and allow it to dry before the next step. I thought it was very apt that my magnet was all about recycling! I then took a selection of my tape and stuck it to the paper on the magnet.  As it is self adhesive this is all you need to do. I used my guillotine to cut between the strips of tapes and  and then used scissors to make the ends look as though they have been torn.
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I would like to give my Sister in Law a Big Break

At the moment Bacs the people behind Direct Debit are running a campaign for one special person to win £1,000 each month from February - October 2012 (nine prizes in total).

Do you know someone special who deserves a Big Break for one reason or another? Maybe they deserve to take a break and get away from it all, or to help them realise their dreams, or perhaps simply as a thank you. Why not nominate them to win their very own Big Break? Direct Debit has nine Big Breaks of £1,000 cash prizes to give away in 2012 - and every nomination will count towards a donation from Direct Debit to Marie Curie Cancer Care - so they get a Big Break too.

In order to nominate my sister in law Debbie I had to say in 100 words or less why I think she is deserving of a big break, so this is my nomination.

My sister in law Debbie works tirelessly for her local community Dormanstown, which is an extremely deprived area of Teesside. She is the founder of The Ladies of Steel a charitable group that focus on the local community including providing a youth club for 8 to 15 year olds, a youth dance troop,  in addition to family galas and regular children's parties for Christmas and Easter. The ladies of Steel were awarded the honour of Voluntary group of the year 2010 by the Redcar & Cleveland Voluntary Development Agency.  Debbie does all this whilst managing The corus sports & social centre.

My mum, holding my niece, MadDad and I and My Brother and Debbie on Maxi and my nieces Christening day

I am honored to have such a wonderful sister in law, she was a tower of strength to me when my mum died and is the hub of her family.  At the moment she is trying to put on a special event for 120 local disadvantaged children for the Queens Jubilee and if anyone can help with things for the goodie bags or raffle prizes, then please do get in touch with me.

I have not been compensated for this post, I just think that she really deserves it.

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It is not babysitting

Today my husband is looking after our children whilst I am at Blog Camp UK.  He will have sole responsibility for them until I get back on Sunday. When he is out at work during the week, I do not babysit our children, so why do people insist that when he is taking sole responsibility of Mini and Maxi they insist on calling it babysitting. So just to make it clear, he is not babysitting the boys in my absence.  He is PARENTING.
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Win one of five set of Mini Cards from Moo.com

Do bloggers need business cards?  Many people will have their own opinion on this, but I know that I received a lovely hand made gift last week from Mummy Limited and it came with an adorable Moo Mini card that said a handmade & Homemade gift sent with love.  It was a lovely touch and I have pinned said card on my notice board, so when Moo approached me to see if I would like to give away five set of 100 Mini cards I jumped at the chance.

Mini cards are half the size of standard business cards and can have coloured images on the front and back and what more you can have a different image on each and every one of them!

I am going to keep this very simple, all you need to do is leave me a comment below letting me know what colour you think my business cards will be.

For an additional entry, just tweet "I want to win one of five sets of Mini Moo cards from @overheardatmoo with @mum_themadhouse http://ow.ly/aphQM " and leave me an additional comment letting me know.

I will then use a random number generator to pick five comments as winners when the competition closes at 12 noon on Friday 27 April 2012

Competition Rules

The winners will be selected at random from all correct entries received. The winner will be notified within 28 days of the closing date.  The prize is as stated: no cash alternatives are available. This competition is open to UK entrants only.

So the winners are Hazel Parker, Rainie Bish, @gingerbread_mum, Sam and Kelly.  Please get in touch with me, so I can organise your cards.

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Mini’s Decoupage Money Box – Make it Monday

love crafting  with my children, but one of the hardest things for me is to not put my ideas and expectations of a finished article on to them.  We have been asked by Yellow Moon to review some of their products and one of the things I love about Yellow Moon is that there products are perfect for children of all ages.  They do not have preconceived ideas with them and they are super easy for children to use. As you may know Mini's bedroom has been recently decorated with a London theme and the lovely London based Victoria Wallop posted us some I love London wrapping paper, which was perfect for this craft. Materials
  • Design your own cube money boxes (£4.99 for 4)
  • PVA Glue or Mod Podge
  • Brush or foam applicator
  • Paper
Method We measured the side of the money box and cut out a template on card so that Mini could cut out the paper for the sides.  He then applied the glue to the box one side at a time using a foam applicator (he found it easier than the brush) and placed the wrapping paper on top. He continued to do that for all the sides of the box and then the top.  I used a craft knife to cut a slit in the paper at the top so the money could still go in. Mini then coated the money box in glue to protect the paper. Overview We both really enjoyed doing this.  It satisfied Mini's "noise with muck on" urges, it was empowering and involved him from start to finish and more than that it left him with an item he was really proud of and uses to keep any money he receives in. I am linking this to A place of my own's Make it Monday
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All this chocolate is obscene…..

Easter, what does it mean to you? For me Easter is all about new beginnings, about hope, about the possibilities that life brings and this is something that I wish to pass on to my children.   Both the boys have been learning about the Christian meaning of Easter at school and both have a fab letter about Easter, which I published on the blog last year.  We have the boys a fantastic Playmobil Easter Egg each, which had been sent to us by the PR and again which we gave last year and they still play with the toys, but what we didn't give them was chocolate (Those Lindt eggs in the below image are mine from the boys)!.    They have one chocolate egg each from my Mother in law, but that is it. Some of the pictures, I have seen today are just obscene, well the images aren't, but the amount of chocolate in them are!  I do not understand, why would you give your child that much chocolate or allow them to receive that much chocolate?  Now when it comes to foods, both my boys are allowed sweets, chocolate, fizzy drinks etc, but in moderation. I really feel that our celebrations are being commercialised.  When I was small there was no such thing as the Easter Bunny and we were grateful when we received one egg.  Nowadays the attitude of entitlement pervades everything.  My children would rather spend time with their family than receive a chocolate egg and I am sure most children would too if asked, but for some reason people feel the need to give or rather over give in my opinion. As a family we look forward to Easter for the traditions we have developed and the memories we are making.  We craft, bake and spend quality time together.  We have an Easter egg hunt, but only for decorative ones.  I give my nieces craft kits or sometimes even nothing. I do not feel the need to purchase them a gift for Easter and do not expect that they receive anything in return. So what does Easter mean to you and how much is too much?
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Ouir holiday so far, gale force winds, snow and Mini blowing away…….

We had such a lovely time in Northumberland last August that we booked for Easter before we left the site! We knew it was going to be rainy and windy for the  first couple of days, which was and is a real shock after last weeks 20 degree weather, but we came prepared with hats, gloves, winter coats and boots. But we didn't plan for the gales that we had today.  It was so windy that Mini blew away.  I have never run so fast in my life and when I got him his feet were off the floor. But not ones to be deterred, we had fish and chips for lunch and then made our way to Barter Books to dry off and fall in love with the place, all of us. We warmed and dried ourselves by their toasty fires and immersed ourselves in their shelves and then the boys came back to the van with a bag full. We then came back to the caravan which is rocking in the wind and curled up and watched a DVD together. A perfect couple of days.  Here to more this week.  
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Baking Day – Muffins

I bake a lot and I cook a lot, in fact I pretty much cook from scratch each day and if you want to see more of my cooking then take a look at Frugalicious Food, where I blog about all things food related. Sometimes I get stuck in a baking rut and just keep on making the tried and tested things like my banana muffins, knowing that they will go down a treat with the boys and MadDad, but then sometimes I get adventurous. This week I tried out Toffee Apple Sauce Muffins from Baking Mad with Eric Lanlard (recipe replicated with their approval) Ingredients, Sauce
300 grams Apple(s) Approx 2 large Bramley apples 100 grams Light Muscovado Sugar 1 tsp Cinnamon ground 2 tsp calvados (I used spiced rum) 1 tsp Water Additional Ingredients for the muffins 275 grams Plain White Flour 100 grams Golden Caster Sugar 1 tbsp Baking Powder 75 grams Unsalted Butter softened 2 Eggs large 125 ml milk 100 grams Fudge pieces 2 tsp Light Muscovado Sugar mixed with ground cinnamon 1 tsp Cinnamon ground. mixed with muscovado sugar
Method
Chop the apples and add them to a pan with all the other sauce ingredients and cook until sauce like and allow to cool.
Preheat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ Mark 6. Line a 12 cup muffin tin with muffin papers Sift the flour, sugar and baking powder into a large mixing bowl In a SEPERATE bowl beat the butter and eggs together then add the milk. Stir the flour mixture into the egg mixture until just incorporated and smooth. Put on a high speed and beat for 2-3 minutes until light. Finally add the fudge pieces and mix Spoon half the mixture into the muffin cases then spoon over the applesauce. (Ensure that the sauce is the same consistency as the atter so that it doesn't sink into the cakes) Cover with the remaining muffin batter and sprinkle with lots of cinnamon sugar Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Hints and tips from the first time maker.   I put far too much sauce in and it bubbled out making the muffins rather sticky to eat, but they are delicious.  Next time I will put less batter in the bottom and then less sauce and more batter on top.
Maybe I should have waited until I had watched Eric make them on his Channel 4 series "Baking Mad with Eric Lanlard".  The series is broadcast each weekday on Channel 4 around lunchtime, but you can catch up on 4OD.  Each episode features two of Eric's easy to follow recipes and a bake off between three members of the public who are enthusiastic baker and want to show off their baking skills to Eric and the nation.  The winner of the bake off then gets to create a delicious dish with Eric in a Masterclass session.
Jam Doughnut Muffins
These are delicious, but again I put too much jam in!  There is a great tutorial on making these at Tales from a happy home.
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My Small Stuff

The wonderful Is there a Plan B?, who is gorgeous and makes adorably perfect babies (I know I have met one), did a fab post with her small stuff in.  It has been going round and round my head, like a great blog post does, so now I want to blatantly copy pay homage to it, with my small stuff The smell of freshly cut grass, especially the first cut of the year.  Catching a hint of the smell of cut flowers as I walk past them. Warm milk in my favorite cup. Homemade chips, preferably made by MadDad.  listening to my children laugh at each others jokes that make no sense at all to me.  The way the sun makes rainbows through the grass on my front door. My Iphone. The hollow sound you get when you tap a perfectly baked loaf of bread.  Eating that bread in thick slices with butter and homemade jam.  Plotting what vegetables to plant in the garden.  The sweet anticipation of the garden harvest. The sea on a wild day.  Walking barefoot on damp grass.  Hanging out laundry to dry. Being inspired.  Stories of people that find their soul mates. camping. Ribbon. Having my CD's in alphabetical order.  Building LEGO.  Playing with Playmobil. Board games with the boys. Everyone in the kitchen on a Sunday morning. picnics. Woodland walks. The North Yorkshire Moors. Slipping in to a freshly laundered bed with ironed bedding, especially after a bath.  Waking up to find a small person snuggled in next to me and knowing I have time to enjoy the moment before getting up.  fairy lights. Sequins. Newly sharpened pencils.  Note books, especially new ones with all that promise a new unwritten page brings. Cartridge pens and writing with antique coloured ink. Fonts. Inhaling the smell of my children. Losing myself in a good or bad book.  Immersing myself in a craft project or sewing.  Baking, both the making and the eating (food for my soul and body)!.  Food generally.  I like food, I like producing it, cooking it, eating it and more importantly watching others eat and enjoy what I make. White china plates.  Chai Tea Lattes and Devon scones. The Instagram App. The feel of MadDad's hair after he has had it cut. A good blow dry.  The beach.  Music, dancing to it, singing to it and listening to it. Fabric, I think I have a fabric addiction.  Oh and I love buttons too. Homemade, handmade and artisan products. Craft books.  Dr Who.  Liz Earle Products and L'occitane Green Tea and Jasmine perfume. Hot baths on cold nights.  Aromatherapy Associates bath oils. Living by the sea. Fishing boats. Friends. A hand to hold. Comfortable silences. Secret jokes.  Blogging.  Being able to thread a needle.  Teapots. Boots. Driving and my sat nav. Jack Daniels.  South Africa. Boston. Adventures with my men. wrapping a present just so with crisp folds. Masking tape, especially washi tape. My family, indecently so, we fit together so well and I love their company.  I quiver at the way MadDad's wrists show when he wears his shirt and suit jacket.  MadDad's backside is very pleasing too! Posting small gifts. Finding the perfect present.  Reading bedtime stories. The photographs on my stairs. Tea made from tea leaves and out of a tea pot. Cats. Watching my children sleep.  The house when it is silent. Gift cards. Making tape. Learning something new. School church services. Boys in school shorts even with scuffed knees.  Idle chatter.
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The things they say and do – Singing out of tune and girlfriends at 5

The wonderful Chris at Thinly Spread (I have something of a girl crush on her) does a weekly Things they say and do post and it always makes me smile. Every week (usually on a Friday) we meet the fab Frugal Family for play and dinner.  It is wonderful watching our children interact and they really do never fail to make me smile.  This week we decided to meet at the park, but then Mini took a tumble and the wind of the North Sea sent us all pack to the Frugal Home.  After a tea party to celebrate Maxi and Master Frugals 7th bithdays, Cass popped on Wii Sing and so I present to you the Mad Frugal singers:   Whilst they were playing, Miss Frugal (who is the eldest of the bunch) taught the boys kiss, dare, truth or swear, which led to much hilarity in the car when Mini was picked truth and told me he had a girlfriend, but he had to share her with his friend at school too and that they took turns on which days they could kiss her on the cheek!
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Spring Manifesto 2012

Spring has sprung and I have to admit that Spring makes my heart leap a little and me feel so much better.  I adore Spring, there is something about this time of year, about the potential that Spring brings.  Buds, just waiting to burst in to life, lambs about to be born and the clocks about to spring forward too.  The air is filled with so much possibility.

Before I go in to my Spring Manifesto, I should review my Winter manifesto.  Overall I have been pretty pleased with what I have accomplished making sure that we go to the park has been artificial for both the boys and me, they get to run off their energy and I get the sunlight that I so crave.  The raised beds are all ready for planting,  days out have been taken each weekend (health permitting) and we have even managed to paint the sitars and the crudy.  We are still on the decluttering kick (these things always take longer than anticipated).  I am backing up my data regularly (preen) and certainly getting my crafting back on.

I haven't managed to start Pilates yet, although I have found a class as there was no spaces, so here hoping this will happen in Spring, but I have taken up swimming when the boys have their lessons (I feel better and am not moaning about being (delete as appropriate) hot, board, melting, board, sick of swimming lessons.

Cherry tree that we bought after mum died

  • Do my crossstich on an evening (I have found that I need natural light for it to be relaxing)
  • Keep up with going to the park with the boys after school
  • Invite the mums round for coffee once a week after school drop off
  • keep on taking a photo a day, use my perpetual journal/calender and make a journal
  • Sow some seeds and plant early new potatoes and onion sets
  • Try saying yes for a change 
  • Get my bike out of storage and go on a family bike ride
  • Have dinner with my brother and family
Do you have plans for Spring?
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Fabric Patchwork Plant Pots

We have a fantastic art gallery near us called Arts Bank (yep it used to be a bank and now it is a gallery).  It is somewhere both me and the boys love to go.  They have five floors of artwork and also a fab cafe on the ground floor. We visited again recently and I was inspired by some patchwork that we saw to make Fabric Patchwork pots (we gave them to my MIL for Mothers Day, so I didn't want to spoil the surprise as she reads my blog)!.  I am also on the lookout in the charity hops for some lampshades I can transform too.  I

Materials
  • Terracotta plant post (but you could use plastic ones too)
  • A selection of Fabric.  I used  Hunky Dorky by Moda, which I had in my stash
  • Mod Podge or watered down PVA as per Kelly's post 
  • A brush or sponge applicator
  • Clear spray sealant (if you want to use them outside)
Method I cut up my fabric in to a selection of squares and rectangles. Then I coated the pot with Mod Podge, before arranging a square on top and covering with yet more Mod Podge, before placing another piece of fabric on the flower pot. When ever I added a piece that went over the top or bottom of the pot, I made sure to snip the fabric vertically (cut slits), so it folded better and prevented puckering. Once the whole pot was covered, I made sure that all the fabric was coated with Mod Podge and allowed it to dry for 24 hours. As I was giving the pots as a gift, I made sure that I protected them with Rust-oleum Crystal clear in Matt, which I also used for my coasters. As it happens, Kat from Housewife Confidential also posted some patchwork flower pots last week and hers are much neater than mine!  
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Seven…….

Maxi turned seven last week, how the hell did that happen I keep asking myself!  He had a great day, school, followed by bowling and then pizza and cake.   So seven facts about my seven year old...........
  1. You love being different, having slightly longer hair, wearing checked trousers, the need to conform isn't in your genes!
  2. You are a wiz at maths and ask me to give you sums to do all the time, in  fact you idea of "fun" is a list of sums to work on!
  3. You are a very sore looser
  4. You fall asleep within minutes of your head hitting the pillow
  5. You are an early riser. 6am is a lie in for you
  6. You must have hollow legs, as filling you is impossible at the moment
  7. You always tell me you love me more than I could ever love you, but that is impossible, although I love hearing it
I have also linked this to the gallery this week (as the cake is covered in colour)
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The Tots 100 Bookclub – The Happiness Project

I love books........ a lot.  I have a pile by my bedside, pile downstairs on the side table, in fact we have books in every room of the house.  There are some that I keep coming back to and others that I only read once.  Some that inspire me, some that evoke all sorts of emotions and some that take me places so exotic I can almost smell the frangipan.

Last month as part of the Tots100 Book Club  Becky from Baby Budgeting recommended The Death and Life of  Charlie St Cloud for me and I am really looking forward to reading it.  

Sometimes you stumble on a book that you wouldn't normally read, but it comes at the right time and that is my book recommendation.  A non-fiction

 book that had a significant impact on me throughout 2011 (which was a hard year of firsts after the death of my mum).  The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  This is a thought provoking read, which helped me refocus on the things that matter and inspired me to try and find the small things that make me happy.

My well thumbed copy!

It is much more than a self help book, it talked to me in a non flowery way.  I stopped focusing on the negatives, leaving much more room for the positives.  As someone who has suffered with depression in the past and been through cognitive behavioral therapy it really compounded previous learning and enabled me to make practical changes. I have learned that by doing good, you feel good.  That small changes, make big difference and that it is my right to be happy.
I want to recommend this book to my dear friend Kelly at A Place of my Own.  Kelly has been through her own challenges  and I hope that it manages to talk to her, the way it did to me and that it lights a fire in her belly, as she takes on new and exciting challenges.
Some info about the book club:
The Tots100 Book Club is where bloggers share their favourite stories. Every month, the Tots100 invites 10 bloggers to tell us about stories that have moved and inspired them – and to share their favourite books with a nother blogger. Each month, they’ll be publishing a round-up of the Book Club’s recommendations over on the Tots100 site, meaning you need never be short of great reading inspiration again!
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Mini’s bedroom, how to change without redecorating

Mini was in the smallest room upstairs, but with him getting older, we wanted to give him a larger room, especially as he had asked for a desk, but we didn't want to decorate or go to much expense.  Now Mini is obsessed with London, all things to do with our nations capital.  So he wanted a London themes and with the Olympics coming this year, we thought it was the perfect time to update is things. Three of the walls in the room a very pale grey and one a sightly darker shade.  We reused his bed (originally from Ikea), his curtains, wardrobe and drawers. I have to admit I have had great fun sourcing items for his room and we are really pleased with the finished result. Source List We decided not to stick to one company to provide the style as we want it to be able to grow with Mini,  It is his birthday in June and he has already asked for a London Bus and Taxi too!
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A Memory

As I walked in to the wool shop, I caught a small hint of a smell that automatically made my heart lurch and turn sharply for the door. It was a heady scent of days long past and the sun streaming in through my mothers bedroom window making a rainbow on the wall.  Little motes fluttering in the sunshine from the talcum powder. I am sat on the bed, watching attentively as she pampered and preened.  Apply makeup, green eye shadow, face powder, a touch of blush and lipstick, always with a lip linger.  She has heated rollers in her hair and a scarf over the top.  I try not top stair at the swirls as I know they will make me all dizzy. Under her dressing gown she will have on her best underwear, always matching, just waiting to be covered by the outfit she has chosen earlier.  She carefully slips on her clothes.  Not disturbing her makeup of the rollers in her hair.  The hot brush is warming up on the bedside table, so she can finish off any unruly hair.  She then asks me to fasten her necklace and bracelet and clips on her ear rings.   She slips on her healed shoes and just before leaving the room, she sprays her scent,   Armani and if I am lucky I will get a small spray too. I follow her down the stairs, my beautiful Mum. I have that perfume, it was discontinued years ago and I remember my father buying bottles of it, as it was my mums signature scent, in fact it was the only one she wore. He didnt want her to run out and she had a bottle opened and a sealed bottle in the drawer. Inspired by this wonderful post by Victoria Wallop
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Yarn storming

Our local pier has been making the news as it has been yarn stormed.  It looks amazing and there are some very talented knitters in the local area so it seems.  It is literally five minutes from our house and the boys have been asking to go back each day to see if it has grown! It has an Olympic theme and it fantastic.  I took the boys along to see it on Saturday and they were transfixed. You can see more on the BBC news site
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Home made coasters

When I saw this on Kelly's blog and Pinterest feed, I just knew that I had to have a go at making some for the new Craft room/study or Crudy as it has beecome known by the boys! I decided to use some of the scrap book paper that I had used on my journal calender and make one for each of the desks (mine and the boys). Materials
  1. Mod Podge, Kelly has a recipe for make your own on her blog
  2. Paper
  3. Tiles
  4. Guillotine or scissors
  5. Sealant
  6. Felt or cork
  7. Brush or foam applicator
Method I had a pack of plain white tiles from when we moved in to the house, which were labeled 4 inches by 4 inches, but actually measured slightly smaller. I then cut out some of the scrapbook paper slightly smaller (abput 5mm), so I could have a white edge round the tiles and covered the tiles in Mod Podge.  This is pretty quick drying, so I applied quite a think layer on to the tile. I then applied the paper  and layered a thin coat of Mod Podge on top using a foam applicator (that way I didn't get crush strokes) and allowed it to dry for 20 minuites before applying further thin coat.  In total I applied 4 coats of glue and allowed it to dry over night. I then used my spay  protective coat.  I bought Rust-oleum Crystal clear in Matt as I didn't want my coaster to have a shiny finish.  I followed the instructions on the can and applied three coats in total and again allowed them to dry for 24 hours before cover the base with a square of felt. I love them and already know who I am making the next set for.  
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A few of my Favorite things

With mothers day coming, I thought I will do a very quick post with a few of my favorite things.

The lovely people at Dot Com Giftshop who have some lovely mothers day gifts sent me this mini chest of drawers for my craft room/study or crudy as it is now known.   I adore it.  It is perfect for holding all my knickl kacks in such as ink pads and stamps and guess what both Mini and Maxi are after something similar for their desks too!   I asked for Emma Bridgewater's  Diamond Jubilee Mug this for my wedding anniversary (which falls on Mothers Day this year).  I adore the fact that it is made in Britain and having visited the factory on a blog tour a couple of year ago I fell in love with all things Emma Bridgewater.

Now I know that I am not supposed to love a vacuum cleaner, but this Supervac, 2-in-1 Cordless Bagless Upright Vacuum Cleaner has transformed the time I spend cleaning my hard floors downstairs.  I am not a fan of cleaning, so anything that worls as well as this is fab in my book.  I have reviewed it over on my other blog A Thrifty Mum.

I have a stationery fetish, I make do bones about this, nor do I hide the fact that I have an addiction to paper straws, beautiful masking tape or stamps.  One of the best places to buy all of these items is Papermash, be still my beating heart.  The service is superb and the delivery ultra speedy.

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Light

Maxi, Mini and my niece on a fairground rise at the club in November 2010

Sometimes when the world seems to be spinning out of control When my head is full of thoughts, words and images When my heart feels heavy. I stop Breath deeply and remember to be thankful for the things that light up my life and for the people that make each day brighter.  
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Nobody likes me

Mini loves to write, to draw, to make his mark, so we enable him to do so and he has many a notebook or pad and I was putting one of them away one evening when I discovered a note that made my heart lurch.

Nobody likes me.

Now you might know that we have had ongoing issues with Mini about going to school since Preschool.  He doesn't like school.  He doesnt want to go and we have been trying to get to the bottom of this for a long, long time and finding  something like this in your five year old's notebook, I can tell you is crushing.

I know that we can not always be happy all the time, but at five you should be happy most of the time and you should not be made to feel as though no body likes you.  Initially when I tried to approach him about it, he just ripped the note up and started to cry.  He explained that none of the boys in his class liked hm, but I was at a loss as how to handle it and make him feel better.

But thanks to my lovely online friends I was provided with practical advise that I could put in place and start to work on reframing the "nobody" part of the note.  The wonderful Dawn aka The Moider had some excellent advise "Does nobody really like him, nobody at school? No cousins or kids of your friends. Help him focus in the people that do and those moments he enjoys. The things he does on his own or with his brother or you that are fun. It will help show him that the people who don't like him are a very small part of a big picture. It's worth a try.   There is no point disagreeing with him and telling him he's wrong because it's his belief. Help him reframe that belief to see the positives".

 The issue is still there, but we are working hard on making changes.  It doesn't stop my heart from breaking when I think about it though.

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Weekending

  Our weekend in Instagram.  Youn would never have guessed it was March, we have had a weekend of all seasons in one day!
  • Visit to the park after school with Frugal Family
  • Rainbow as photographed in the car
  • Maxi puzzling in the restaurant
  • Collecting a repaired loco from the model railway
  • Mini with a milkshake as we celebrated fab parents evening
  • R2D"2 as drawn by Maxi
  • Me as drawn by Maxi, he loves me as I cook nice food and give great bedtime cuddles.
  • LEGO on a snowy day
  • The snow on Sunday afternoon.
 
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What was Number 1 in the charts when your child was born?

I have been tagged by Mum of 3 boys to tell you who was at number one in the chat when the boys were born Maxi - 16 March 2005 Its all about you - McFly Mini - 24 June 2006 Nelly Furtado - Maneater I am going to tag the following people:  
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Stereotyping my children

Do you label your children.  Do you always call one child noisy or clever?  I remember reading something very early in pregnancy (sorry I do not know where) about the fact that you should never label the child just the action.  For instance not saying naughty Mini, but that was a naughty thing to do Mini.  This is something I have always tried to do with both the children, especially when it comes to actions and emotions.

However, I am finding myself slipping.  I have been heard to say on many occasions that Maxi doesn't do dressing up.  This is something that I have just got used to saying in a way to explain why he will not join in on world book day or for a fancy dress party. We have lots of dressing up outfits on the house, but he has never chosen to use them.  It was only this Christmas that MadDad mentioned to me that I was stereotyping him and that I needed to be more careful about attaching this label to him.

So when I was offered a couple of  childrens fancy dress outfits rather than just ask Mini to pick two I also asked Maxi what he would chose.  I never in a million years thought that he would wear it, but as I am all about trying to make changes, I asked for the one he wanted.

Yes, look that is Maxi in a dressing up outfit.  My boy exceeded all my expectations and wore it and still does.  I made sure that I didn't hassle him or make a big thing of it. But it has really confirmed to me the importance of labeling the action and not the child.  No more will I say that Mini is my child that doesn't go to sleep on a night and that Maxi is an early riser.  I will try and find other ways of putting it.  I do not want my words to become a self fulfilling prophecy.

Disclosure: We were sent two fancy dress outfits from www.megafancydress.co.uk

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Win 30 Pink Roses for Mothers Day

Clare Florist are a family owned florist who specialise in supplying online flowers.  They believe that flowers delivery should be a pleasure for both the sender and the recipient.  They have a really easy to navigate website where you can search for flowers by occasion, price, colour and type. They have provided me with 30 stems of pink roses to giveaway in time for Mothers Day to one lucky reader. The Pink Roses is an arrangement that comprises of thirty stems of the finest grade fresh Pink Roses, delivered "tight headed" which means that the roses have a greater longevity. These 30 stems of lustrous Pink Roses will arrive ready to arrange in your own vase.   I have left this as a really simple entry, all you have to do is leave me a comment letting me know what your favorite flower is. (more…)
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Orchard Toys Football Game – Review

The mini mads are very fond of board games.  However, at the moment, Mini is an extremely sore loser, which is compounded by the fact that Maxi is older and does tend to win more often when it is a strategic or tactical game.  So although we adore Orchard Toys and have never had a bad game (in fact I think we already all their games), I did hold out much hope of the Football Game being placed by just the boys on their own.  How wrong could I have been. The football game is a take on the standard game of snakes and ladders, but with many added extras all linked to football (which my boys loved).  In order to win you have to score the first goal, but this is a game of chance as you have to spin the spinner to score the goal and be careful as you could get a red card if you land on the wrong space. The instructions are clear and concise and very simple to follow.  I had one game with the boys and by then they had the hand of things and have played it often ever since on their own. I adore that this game has leveled the playing field for my boys, that they play without sulking or strops over who is winning, which is a lovely thing. Orchard are always educationally based and this is no exception and links to key stage one mathematics.  It encourages observation, interaction and turn taking and also develops instruction following and counting skills. The football game is aimed at children 5 + and costs £9.50.  
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Win a VTech Kidizoom Twist Kids Camera – Blue with Argos and The Mad House

I adore taking photographs and take far too many each month.  This is a habit that I have passed on to both of my boys and when they were younger, they both had a VTech Kidizoom and they have stood the test of time in The Mad House, even Mini's, which was dropped more times than I can recall.

So I was really pleased when Argos wanted to tea up with The Mad House to bring you the chance to win a VTech Kidizoom Twist Kids Camera - Blue.  Your children can enjoy taking photos and videos with this 2 mega pixel camera featuring a 4x digital zoom, built-in flash, colour screen, 5 great games and dual view finders.  They can edit and enhance your photos with a variety of frames, stamps and wacky effects.  There's a great voice recording function with 5 different voice changing effects; pitch up, pitch down, slow, robot and echo.

This is the perfect starter camera for any little one who wants to copy mum or dad. This prize has been supplied courtesy of Argos who stock a superb range of Vtech toys for kids aged from +12 months to 9 years. They also stock baby toys and nursery equipment including cot beds and bedding; to help get you out and about, Argos also has a great range of baby car seats and pushchairs. For a chance to win this Kidizoom camera, click away and enter my competition below!   (more…)
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Books by the Bedside – a meme

I love books, we have them everywhere all round the house.  But often my most thumbed books end up beside my bed.  The ones that I dip in and out of for inspiration, enlightenment and sometimes my general well being.  These are the books that make me happy each and every day and night.

So it got me wondering if this was the same for the rest of you and decided being the nosy person I am , I would love to know what books you keep by your bedside

So what do I have?

Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much - Revised Edition - Anne Wilson Schaef

I first became aware of meditations and positive affirmations before I went for my double mastectomy.  This is the last thing I read on a night and helps me focus.  It is uplifting, insiring and thought provoking and not at all new agey!

My Kindle 

I never thought I would like a kindle, but I love it.  I have just finished reading The hunger Games Trilogy as recommended by Northern Mum.  It has been a long time, since I devoured fiction lack I have this last weekend, I have carried my Kindle with me everywhere I have been and from room to room!

Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy  Sarah Ban Breathnach

Sometimes today's life can be filled with so many things going on.  This book helps me put things in to perspective and learn to love the simple things in life.

The Rhythm of Family: Discovering a Sense of Wonder Through the Seasons - Amanda Blake Soule

I aspire to be Amanda.  I want to live her life!  I want to be able to listen to the rytham of my family and the world around us and be more intune with it.  I like this book as it sparks ideas and makes me want to switch off for the very busy day to day life and take time out with my family.

The Write Start: A Guide to Nurturing Writing at Every Stage, from Scribbling to Forming Letters and Writing Stories - Jennifer Hallissy

For me reading and writing go hand in hand and I I want to be able to inspire and encourage my boys to do both to the best of my ability.  This book is great as it gives practical and simple exercises that we can all do.  This book gives me the tools to nurture my boys writing and mine too.

Rip the Page!: Adventures in Creative Writing - Karen Benke

Another inspirational book about creative writing filled with ideas, experiments and encouragement to get mine and the boys writing to flow.

Playful Learning: Develop Your Child's Sense of Joy and Wonder - Mariah Bruehl

I am a great believer in learning though play and this book explore this and gives suggestions of ways to do this for children ages 4 to 8.  I use it as a resource for expanding on what the boys are engaged in at a particular time. Learning isn't a spectator sport and I love getting involved in my children journey and learning with them and love that I can do this by playing.

Festivals, Family and Food and All Year Round: A Calendar of Celebrations (Lifeways)

I want to create traditions and make memories with my family and these books are a great way to kick start ideas.  These books encourage me to follow the seasons and the natural world and stop and look, listen and taste.  They are linked to the Christian calender, but that is not an issue to me. This books are all about getting together and celebrating the natural world and it's changing seasons.

The Gentle Art of Domesticity: Stitching, Baking, Nature, Art & the Comforts of Home - Jane Brocket

This book is a feast for the eyes.  if you are looking for ways to be domestic then this book isn't for you, but if you love the  fact that being domestic isn't a dirty word and delight in doing things well and the small things then you will love this book.

The Books by My Bedside Meme.

I would love some inspiration and am hoping to come out of this with a load of book recommendations.  So here are the rules (do not worry there are not many).  I am going to tag 8 people to do this meme and hope that they in turn will tag people.  If you are tagged, I would love for you to come back and leave me a note in the comments with your post link, so I can come  and have a read.

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#dosomethingyummy – Am I a Survivor?

I have a faulty gene, technically they call it a spelling mistake in the DNA and in mine and my family’s case the issue is with the BRCA 1 gene, which means that due to my family history I had an 80% lifetime risk of breast cancer and a 60% lifetime risk of ovarian cancer. It also means that I am more susceptible to a number of other cancers too. Now to put this in to perspective, genetic breast cancer accounts for approximately 5% of the cases of breast cancer, so it is a relatively small amount and pretty unusually to get the positive result for the spelling mistake. The reason I came to find out was down to my wonderful Aunt (my mums youngest sister), she was diagnosed with a very rare type of cancer, primary peritoneal cancer and during her treatment she was tested for a genetic spelling mistake, mainly due to my other Aunt dying from cancer and the history of cancer on my maternal side of the family. We all concentrated on my Aunts recovery and through nothing of the results not coming back, so that when they did informing her of the genetic issues we were all floored. Initially the NHS offered a genetic test to my Aunts remaining siblings, her daughters and my deceased Aunts children. My mum chose to have the test, even though she is the oldest in the family. She was diagnosed as carrying the spelling mistake too, which meant that the test was opened up to me and my brother.

March 09 after my double mastectomy operation (still with drains in)

MadDad and I received counselling from Macmillan even before we made the decision whether or not to have the test. We were really lucky in the care we received and we were also both of the same opinion, that finding out if I carried the spelling mistake would enable us to take proactive actions against any cancers. In all honesty I thought that I would be fine and to find out otherwise was a real punch in the solar plexus, but we decided that we would research all the options open to me and started meeting with consultants, cancer survivors, woman who had undergone mastectomies, nurses and anyone we could really. I had a mammogram, an MRI, a colonoscopy, a gasgoscopy and an ultrasound before we had come to any conclusion about what we would do. Initially I decided to have a hystoretomy. There were distinct advantages to having this operation prior to turning 35, both for the reduction in risk of ovarian cancer and also the fact that the changes in my hormones due to the operation would also reduce the breast cancer risk marginally. I underwent this initially operation in July 2008 when Maxi was 3 and Mini was 2. We both yearned for a larger family but decided on balance that it would be better to concentrate on the two we have rather than risk having anymore and subsequently developing ovarian cancer, especially as it is very hard to diagnose.  It was a really easy recovery and I was very lucky indeed.

We were also discussing the possibility of breast cancer and also the diagnosis of this, which would hampered by the fact that I was a larger breasted lady (38GG), so after much consideration, deliberation and after taking as much advise as we could that I would have a bi-lateral prophylactic mastectomy with an immediate reconstruction. I also decided that initially I would have a reconstruction with implants, as this meant the recovery should be quicker and less traumatic for us as a family as a whole.

Unfortunately this surgery was not easy in any way shape or form and although the initial operation went well, my body had a reaction to the implants and they had to be removed and then I developed a major infection and nearly died due to Sepsis. 3 years later, I am just getting used to the fact that I am covered in scars and still do not have any breasts. Knowing that I have this spelling mistake, also leaves me with the knowledge that I may have passed this “bad blood” on to my two wonderful boys. They will both be entitled to the genetic test at 18 should they wish and I will stand by whatever decision they make, but I also live in the hope that as they can now detect which gene the spelling mistake is in, that they make even be able to correct it by the time the boys are older. After seeing what people with cancer go through, the chemo, the radiotherapy, the long term drugs to hopefully prevent the cancer returning, we are in no doubt that we made the correct choice for our family. Yes what we have been through has been traumatic for the minimads, but the possibility of putting them through cancer and its treatment makes me feel physically sick. In doing what I have, I have not wiped out my all my changes of developing cancer, but I have reduced the lifetime possibility drastically. I understand that not everyone would have done what I did, but it was the right decision for me, I could not live year at a time just waiting for the cancer to show itself. I was lucky in that I could take preventative measures, which is not always possible. Does this make me a survivor?  I will leave that decision to you. This post was written to  promote and raise awareness of the CLIC Sargent Yummy Mummy Week – 10th to 18th March 2012 after being tagged by All baby Advise
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Trying not to pass my food dislikes to my children

MadDad's mum doesn't like mushrooms and tomatoes, neither does MadDad.  When you ask him he puts it down to the fact that he had never tried them until he was older and he doesnt like the texture, he never learned to like them.  In fact between me and MadDad we have quite a few food aversions, but we have always ensured that we try not to pass these on to our boys.

Growing up I didn't like turnip, but was made to have a tea spoon each Sunday on my dinner and told to mix it with my carrot or potato and I was expected to eat it.  Guess what I actually like turnip now.  With regards to veg, both the boys will happily eat their way though the garden, to which I am so thankful and I put down to the fact that we grow a selection in the garden.

One of our aims for our children was to try and eat our meals together and to not pass on our food aversions to the boys.  I thought we were doing pretty well with this, until I was sent some Salmon as part of my relationship with Fish is the dish.  I then realised that the boys had never ever had salmon.

Before Christmas we were sent a fantastic selection of Youngs Seafood products including some of the Jamie Oliver range, which included salmon and polock fishcakes.  I have to say that I am really am a big fan of frozen fish products and tend to use them instead of fast food.  I often will grab fish fingers or fishcakes and cook them for the boys and serve with garden peas and a jacket potato or oven chips, when I am short of time or inspiration and the boys think it is a real treat.  Both Mini and Maxi loved these fishcakes and asked me to buy more and it really got me thinking that I need to try and ensure that I do not influence the boys food dislikes.

OK, so I am not going to be cooking them salmon fillets on a regular basis, but this doesn't mean that they will not be eating salmon every now and then.

I would love your hints and tips on how to stop this happening again and how you make sure that you do not pass on your food dislikes to your children.

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Trutex Uniform Review

You can never have enough school uniform when you have two boys that are as active as mine.  We have to have a clean set for every day of the week otherwise the washing machine would be on all the time.

So when the nice people at Trutex sent me some of their uniform to review, I was secretly delighted as the boys had already managed to go though quite a lot of what I bought for them in september.

I was really impressed with the quality of the products they sent.  The polo shirts and jumpers didn't shrink when washed and tumble dried like some can and the trousers were lovely and soft, but also very durable.  Both the boys looked lovely in their uniforms and they have warn really well.  I love the fact that the jumpers are a lovely bright red and that the shirts do not need an iron if you give them a shake when you get them ut of the tumble dryer.  The whites have remained white and the collars on the polo shirts are the same colour as the rest of the shirt, which is great and haven't gone grey in the wash. In fact if you know Mini, he really is just noise with muck on, so his school clothes get a lot of wear and a lot of washing and the Trutex ones are standing up very well to it.

Yes the jumpers do not come with the school logo on, but our embroidery shop in the village can add a logo on for £2.50, so in future I will be getting this done rather than buying the expensive branded jumpers from the school.

Size wise they are pretty much spot on for my boys and consistent throughout the range and the only issue I had with them was the trousers do not come with adjustable waists so we have had to resort to snake belts.  It is easy to find your nearest stockist on the Trutex web site.

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Wizzarding Week at The National Railway Museum York

What could be better for my train loving boys than a Harry potter themed half term at The National Railway Museum in York.  We are regular visitors to both the York site and the Locomotion site at Shildon and love the specials that they put on over the holidays.

This half term is especially fun, as Mini loves Harry Potter and is a big fan and they have the Outon Hall, the steam train which was used in the Harry Potter filmns running for rides and we even cat in one of the carriages used in the film too.

The museum in the largest train museum in the word and is free to enter and is open from 9.30 to 6.pm daily  and even without a special event running is a fab day out for all the family, with something for children of all ages and grown ups too.

We got there for opening time, as we prefer to when it is a little more peaceful and have always found this works well for us and headed for the steam ride first and Mini was dressed up as Harry.  I have entered him in the best dressed wizard competition on the museums facebook page.

We had a lovely lunch and the boys enjoyed making their own wizard badges (which would have been £1.50 each).   The highlight for Mini though was the was the broomstick flying trick photography, which was run by Full Frame Events.  It was excellent value and a 9 x 6 photograph was £7 or a 7 x 5 just £5. We had such a fun packed day that Mini fell asleep in the car on the way home, which is something he hasn't done for over two years!
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Morphy Richards Products for Age UK – Never Loses Suction Lift Away Bagless Upright Vacuum Cleaner

When the chaps over at Morphy Richards Home Innovators asked me if I would like to review one of their products which they had launched in partnership with Age UK, I knew immediately who I would offer the review to.  My Brother has fantastic in laws and his mother and farther in law are in their eighties, so would be the perfect people to give any product a test run.  So I am going to hand you over to my Brother (who can be found tweeting @Boroyouths).

The Morphy Richards Never Loses Suction Lift Away Bagless Upright Vacuum Cleaner.  Well, that's a mouthful of a name isnt it!  Thankfully the vacuum is a lot more practical to use than it is to say its full name! Straight away it was easy to realise that it is a lot more powerful than it actually looks, the suction really is a plus point for the cleaner.  Add to that the pivital floorhead and it becomes not only easy to use but quick to use as you don't need to go over the same spot time and again because the suction lifts first time. We liked how we could also see any potential blockages through the small plastic window in the floor head, the one touch emptying sytem also meant not only was it easy for myself to use, but also my 'want to help' 5 year old daughter and my aging mother in law also.  With a simple button release the bottom of the collection devise opens up meaning you can just hold it over an open bin, press the button and within seconds its empty and ready to use again. Its noticeable that the vacuum keeps its suction when moving from a carpetted area to a hardwood or laminate flooring area, which is great as there is nothing worse than stopping, getting onto hands and knees to change tight switches when moving into different areas of the house. The mother in law who struggles to get around soon decided that of course I wasnt doing it right and needed to do it herself.  She said she found it easier than expected to manouver about and the swivel head would take a little getting used to.  It also was lighter than expected and the handle on the collection device is idea to use when carrying the vacuum upstairs. The Morphy Richards Never Loses Suction Lift Away Bagless Upright Vacuum Cleaner is priced at £199 and comes with a 2 year guarantee as standard, 5 year upon registration with Morphy Richards.
  Each of the items in the range of products come with up to a two year guarantee and a proportion of the sales (3%) go to Age UK, providing a vital source of income to help older people across the country, which is a great idea as I I believe older people need products to make everyday a little easier.  I also loved the pictures of my sister in Law's mum with the vacuum.  She doesn't look in her 80's does she.
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Listography – Mugs and Cups

Anyone who knows me will tell you I am a tea monster.  I am obsessed with tea and all that comes with it, which means I have lots of teapots, as I use real tea a nd a lovely selection of mugs and cups.  So I couldnt let this weeks listography pass me by.

Now I am rather lucky to be married to a fabulous man who brings me a cup of tea every morning in bed before he goes to work and as I am usually still asleep at 6.30am, he brings it in a travel mug, a) so it stays warm and b) so it doesn't spill if the boys knock it.

 

My next drink of the day is usually English Breakfast Tea (decaffeinated, as I am like the Duracell Bunny on E with caffeine now, I initially dropped caffeine to aid the absorption of iron).  I always use tea leaves so make a pot and then drink it in this lovely extra large tea cup and saucer which was my mums.

After I eat I prefer to have a peppermint tea and love it made from fresh leaves or failing that teapigs lose leave peppermint and I make it in my fab boden cup, which not only has an infuser, but also is insulated to keep things warm whilst it infuses.

When I have tea in the afternoon and evening, I like it out of the Emma Bridgewater Mug that I decorated when visiting her factory on a blog trip a couple of years ago.  We all decorated our own and they are in regular use each day.

Finally, I love a hot chocolate or a chai latte and the boys bought me a Big Love Emma Bridgewater Hot chocolate mug for my birthday and it is the perfect size for a large drink.

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When your child just doesn’t want to go to sleep – An update

Mid January I blogged about Mini not going to bed and going to sleep and how it was really affecting our evenings and also making him really tired and grumpy in the morning.  We were at a loss, especially as Maxi has always gone to bed like a dream.    Well I thought it was time for an update and I am pleased to be able to tell you that our evenings have been transformed.

Mini tonight at 7.15pm

Mini now goes to bed between 7.00pm and 7.30pm and goes to sleep.  He has even asked to go to bed and taken himself up at 6.45pm one evening.  Even when were were moving his room he still went to bed and sleep in all the mess and chaos.

So how have we done it.  Basically it has all been about consistency.  We have established strict bedtime routine for both the boys.  No screen time after 6pm, by this I mean computers and games consoles.  I read somewhere that it takes the brain an hour to wind down after screen time, so I want to encourage this in the boys.  We then try and keep to the same routine each evening of dinner, night clothes,  books, cuddles, tooth brushing etc and bed (with a bath a couple of times a week).

We downloaded the Relax Kids Wizard Meditations on to am MP3 and he listens to it every night using ETY·Kids5 universal earphones, which he loves.  He prefers to listen with the earphones and we have found that he concentrates more of the meditations that way blocking out external noise and influences.  Plus we do not have to worry about the earphones being to loud as they have a noise level limiter and they must be comfortable as he has no problem with going to sleep with them in.

Initially we implemented a reward chart for going to bed successfully, but now he knows that it is expected that he goes to bed and that it is reward in itself as he is much less grumpy.  Even Cass from Frugal Family has commented that his behavior is much improved in the last two weeks.

More than just making for a happier, well rest little boy, it has really made a big difference to mine and MadDad's evenings.  No more snipping at each other as to who will put Mini back to bed.  I no longer have a heavy feeling of anxiousness as bedtime approached.  We are a much happier family.  I am glad that we preserved over a few hard nights and approached the issue with consistency, a targeted approach and kept together on the same wave length.

I want to thank everyone for their support and suggestions and I am in no way smug, as I am sure we will soon be lurching to another parenting challenge!

Disclosure: We were sent a sample of the Etymotic’s ETY·Kids™ Safe-Listening Earphones 

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Me and MadDad have never been ones for shows of undying love.  We are a solid couple who try and bring love in to our everyday, rather than celebrate once a year.  However, when you have children that is not always possible, especially when they get hold of a cerebration and want to make it theirs. So who was St Valentine. Well he was a Christian call Vanetininus amd  He was arrested and imprisoned upon being caught marrying Christian couples and otherwise aiding Christians who were at the time being persecuted by Claudius in Rome.  Helping Christians at this time was considered a crime. Claudius took a liking to this prisoner -- until Valentinus tried to convert the Emperor -- whereupon this priest was condemned to death. He was beaten with clubs and stoned; when that didn't finish him, he was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate. So the boys are away that Valentines Day is about celebrating who you love and for standing up for things you believe in.  We are firm believers in family.  So we have embraced this and we fill out house with heats, good food and lots of home made heart crafting. We stole this finger print idea off Mediocre Mum (who in turn had took inspiration from Jude at Artful Adventures) and made cards.  I love these, they were very simple to make and the boys did all the work themselves, from cutting the paper, punching out the heart and arranging it all on the card.   We also used an old Boden catalogue and made scrap heart garlands with my heart punch.  This is super easy for the children to do and looks really effective.  Mini even managed to do the sewing on the machine with a little help from Mummy. We also made some heart sugar cubes (tutorial to follow).  
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The Happiness Project

After a week in which I found a note from Mini saying nobody likes him, when I saw Kate's blog post about what makes our children happy, it was something I was keen to do with them. So I presented them with a large sheet of paper and asked them to draw what makes them happy.  No prompting and just left them to it. Yes I am the fat one in the last picture by Mini, with a baby in my tummy, as he said he would like a baby sister to make him happier.  He is going to have to keep on dreaming as it is an impossibility! I decided to also put together a collage of recent photographs board of what makes me happy.
  • Growing things
  • Sewing and creating
  • Flowers
  • Family and friends
  • The seaside
  • Baking
  • Cooking
  • Tea
  • Books and stationery
  • My blog
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Calender Journal

I have never been one for keeping a journal with all my heartfelt feelings in, but I love the idea of being able to look back and see what I did this time last year or the year before.  So when I saw this project at Design Sponge I knew it was the perfect one for me. There are some great instructions over on their website, so I am not going to reinvent the wheel, but I couldn't find a cardboard berry holder (I guess as it is out of season), so I found a lovely pot one at Anthropology.  Instead of postcards, I used some scrapbooking paper that I had on hand and I used old index cards, that we had at home too. I love it.  It sits by my computer in the study/craft room, which used to be Mini's old bedroom (the smallest room in the house) and is just perfect.  I am going to be keeping an eye out for boxes of the right size so I can make these as Christmas gifts for all my friends. I am entering this in the #pinadicts linky over at Life as I know it
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The things they say – Maxi

Maxi: Mummy where is heaven? Me: Where do you think it is Maxi? Maxi: Is it near Devon? Me: Erm........ Go and ask your Dad

Maxi as Samuel Peeps in his class assembly this week

My stock response these days is to say "what do you think".  Often it is sufficient to clarify the actual question, this time not so much. Normally I do not send him off to ask his Dad either, but I am really unsure about this whole Heaven thing, especially since losing my Mum. I am linking this to my friend Chris at Thinly Spread's regular Friday Things they say and do!
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Snow Boogie Inflatable Sledge

Before Christmas we were sent a Snow Boogie Inflatable Sledge to review.   The  poor penguin sledge has sat in our garage waiting patiently for it to snow.  Now has it been last year we would have got loads of use out of it, but so far this year nothing.  Until Saturday night, when it started to snow. Sunday morning the boys were up bright and early (6am) and raring to get outside.  being the good neighbour I am, I kept them inside until 9am and then we all went out with the Snow Bogie Inflatable Sledge too. We used a pump to blow it up, which took about 3 minutes.  The sledge is lightweight and very easy for the boys to carry and they had a whale of a time on it. The sledge comes with 2 patches, which was good as they managed to burst it after an hours play, but then they were going pretty fast on it and all the children in the neigbourhood wanted to use it as it was faster than theirs!  MadDad had it patched and back inflated within 20 minutes. The sledge is 44 inches in length and is made from durable cold resistant  PVC vinyl with a sturdy handle on each side. It took 3 minutes to inflate the sledge by pump but it doesn't have a no return valve so the air comes out if you do not get the stopper in fast. The sledge is currently on offer at £7.49 and is great as it packs away small so takes no storage.
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My Amazing Gran

My paternal Gran died long before I was born, in fact she died long before my Dad and Mum got together and got married.  However, she was always with us growing up.  My paternal Granddad lived with my parents in the house that my Dad's wages had helped pay for when my Gran was ill.  Her picture always stood in pride of place on the dresser top in the sitting room and the wedding picture of my Gran and Grandad hung next to the one of my mum and dad on the wall and it hangs next to it sill on my stairs.

My Grandad William and Gran Marjorie with my Dad in the car

My Grandad didn't talk a lot about his "Marge" without his eyes filling up with tears. But I remember sitting on his lap whilst he went though the boxes of slides and showed them to me.  There were boxes and boxes of slides most of them with Gran in.  They often had day trips and picnics out on the moors and my Granddad never went anywhere without his camera.  She was a very stylish lady of Italian decent.

Marjorie 

Gran was a nurse, specifically working with children who had kidney problems.  She loved her job and was very good at it by all accounts and then she fell ill with kidney disease.  She very quickly became incredibly sick and was advised that she needed to go on dialysis, which was very new in those days.  But she refused, knowing that two children could have dialysis instead of her.  She went on to die within six months of her diagnosis, leaving my Granddad heartbroken.

It was only as I was going through some of the paperwork that I brought from Mum's that I discovered her death certificate and it reminded me of the story, which I often thought must have been exaggerated, as these things sometimes are, but no she died of renal failure on 1st October 1968 aged 43 years old.  I also found her Anatomy & Physiology for Nurses book which was from 1941 and have added it to the books in my book shelf. I often wish I could have met her, she looks and sounds like an amazing lady.

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Family Film Night – Dolphin Tale

Once a week we have a family film night in the Mad House.  We all curl up on the sofa with our PJ's on and watch a family movie with popcorn and drinks.  We even have special popcorn containers!

This week we watched Dolphin Tale.  We never got the chance to see this at the local cinema, so it was new to us all and we loved it.  It is the real life inspired story of Winter (the dolphin) who had to have her tale amputated due to infection after getting it caught in a crab trap.  It features Harry Conick Jnr, which a lot of the ladies like, but I have to admit that it is Morgan Freeman that makes my heart miss a beat, however, it is Winter and the children who really steal the show.

 

We sat though the whole film and even had to pause it for comfort breaks, which doesn't normally happen.  It is an engaging, thought provoking and uplifting film and it even had me shedding a tear near the end.  Yes it is schmaltzy, but it is the perfect family feel good film.

I can tell when my boys have enjoyed a film as it gets put on time after time and since receiving this they have watched it at least three times and we now have the winter webcam saved on the computer under favorites!

I loved the fact that after the film both the boys were really interested in finding out more about dolphins and we learnt that they are not fish, but mammals and are very intelligent.

We really recommend this movie, a fab film for all ages.  Dolphin Tale is available on Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray, digital download and DVD from February 13th 2012

Thank you to Warner Bros for sending it to us.

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A list of things I learn whilst decorating

We have been decorating and moving rooms round and it has been a learning curve for us all.
  1. I am not good when things are out of place
  2. I have not managed to lose my control freak tendencies
  3. Once a Facilities Manager, always a Facilities Manager (I adore space planning)
  4. Some paint smells worse than others
  5. I have too much stuff
  6. We all have too much stuff
  7. The Norovirus wipes you out big style
  8. Everything takes 3 times longer when you have children trying to help
  9. Next time, find someone to look after the children
Oh and in case you are wondering, I pinched this idea of the far more interesting Victoria Wallop!
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The mess makes me itch

We are in the middle of a room reorgaisation here in The Mad House.  We agreed that Mini would move rooms to the craft room/study as it is larger than his room.  MadDad felt that this necessitated painting Mini's current room before doing the actually moving.  Well he couldnt have picked a worse weekend for it.

As soon as we started moving things out of the room to make room to paint it Mini started to run a temperature and not a slight one, but a 40 degree delirious one, which meant that we had him in a tepid bath and stuck to me throughout the say, then to top it all off I started with sickness and diarrhea.  However, we had got to the point of no return, so MadDad soldiered on.

by 7pm last night, we had Mini's bed in his new room and not much else done and we had to admit defeat and just pile everything up so that Maxi could get to bed and remove everything off our bed so that we could go to bed.

Not ideal, but life goes on and I am coping, but all the mess is making my skin itch!

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Our Favorite Holiday

If you had asked me BC (before children) what my favorite holiday was, it would be a lot different to my favorite holiday now we have children, so when the Tots100 was asking bloggers to post about their favorite holiday in order to win a summer holiday from Thomson Al Fresco. I decided to tell you a tale of two holidays.

South Africa 2003

Before Children               With Children
Location South Africa Henley on Thames
Transport Airplane Car with car seats and sick bags
Luggage A case and small bag A car stuffed full to the gills
Accommodation Hotel Tent
Breakfast Leisurely and taken at hotel Cooked on a BBQ at 7am
Must haves Good books and sun cream Baby wipes, games, sun cream and clean loos
Lunch People watching in a café Sandwiches or MacDonald’s
Dinner Candlelit evening meal with husband accompanied with wine Cooked on a camping stove and washed in a communal sink accompanied with lots of wine for the adults
Typical meal Seafood with sublime wines Sausages and Beans
Relaxation Spa treatment or swimming in the pool What!
Shopping Markets and local delicatessens With children, no way just the supermarket
Most eventful happening Bring photographed with baby white Bengal tigers The children actually sleeping though the night
Best part of the holiday Being bought diamond earrings by MadDad The open air and relaxed time with the family
Worst part of the holiday Being seasick on the boat to Robben island Child being sick all over car seat
Best day trip A visit to the wine reagion A visit to Legoland
 

Hemley on Thames 2009

This post is an entry to the Tots100/Al Fresco Holidays competition.
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Do you have appliance anxiety?

So you even know what it means?  Well, have you ever left the house and had to return as you were worried that you had left the iron on or some other appliance?    New Research by British Gas found that 30 million Britons suffer from ‘appliance anxiety’ and can worry for up to 80 minutes each week about leaving appliances – such as boilers, irons and hair strengtheners – switched on when they’ve left the house.

Now I am going to admit that I have been known to do this occasionally with the iron, in fact I have ruined a pretty new iron by leaving it on all day.  But the average hosehold wastes £150 a year by leaving the boiler on and annually £740 million a year is lost due to applications being left on standby.

British Gas has introduced the Smart Meter in order to try and reduce the energy and money wasted by people leaving appliances on.    The next generation smart meter from British Gas has a traffic light system that indicates when appliances are switched on.

So a quick check of the smart meter as you’re running out of the door in the morning is all it takes to see if everything is switched off, giving you back time spent worrying on the journey into work and saving you money to spend elsewhere.

So British Gas have offered an auto shut off iron for one of my readers to win (worth over £80). a Rafflecopter giveaway
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When your child just doesn’t want to go to sleep

What do you do when you have a child that just refuses to go off to sleep?  I wish I knew.  Maxi has always gone to bed like a dream and when his head hits that pillow he is off in the land of Nod till six am ish.  Mini, however, is another story.  He needs his sleep and is a monster without it, as most children are, but he has this ability to fight going off to sleep. It started when he was around 3 years old and I put a lot of it down to the fact that I had been in and out of hospital and made allowances for him and for me. But the fact is he is five and a half and still doesn't want to go to bed on a night and will make every excuse under the sun to stay up or find a reason to get up.  My tummy is hurting, I have earache, I am hold, I am hot, I need a drink, I am hungry, I am scared and so on and so on.  The fact is that both me and MadDad had let it go on to long and we were tired.  Tired of the relentless taking him back up to bed, tired of not having our evenings together, tired of one or the other giving in and cuddling Mini either upstairs or downstairs and just plain exhausted by it all. We have tried everything, we have books in his bedroom for him to read, no screen time after 6pm, lavender in his room, blackout blinds and a nightlight too.  It is not a matter of him just staying in his room, it is a matter of him actually going to sleep and getting  enough rest. So inspired by my great bloggy friend Kelly, who has stood firm with Piran and changed bedtimes for the better, we decided that we needed to provide a united front and soldier on with a bedtime routine and stick to it.  Having used a relax kids CD in the past to help with Mini's anger management issues, we downloaded an MP3 about wizards (mini is Harry Potter mad), drew a reward chart together and made some firm rules.  Mini could get his reward, a special Olympic London bus once he had filled each window with a smiling face.  It is early days yet, but I have high hopes. How do you deal with a child that just will not go to sleep?
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Saying good bye

Earlier in the week I attended the funeral of a woman who inspired and nurtured me as a teen.  She died on Christmas Eve, just like my mum last year and it was a pretty surreal experience.  She had been ill for a short while, even so her death came as a complete shock to me, some people you think are just invincible.

I do not think that there are enough words in this world to describe the inspirational woman, who has left us all.  There was not even standing room at the funeral and when the whole of the congregation stood to sing Don Williams, You're my best friend I could almost feel her stood smiling on insisting that we were not flat and to sign from our tummy.  I managed to hold it together right until the end when Her husband Johnnie stood as they played  Marty Robbins, My Woman, my Woman my Wife, everyone then clapped as they closed the curtains at the crematorium.

She was a special woman for many reasons to may people as she ran the local Junior Jazz Band when I was young, so there were lots of people there who I grew up with, but haven't seen in more that 20 years.  It was really odd to not recognise these people, when everyone kept coming up to me and recognised me.  I tried to explain that having relocated in my early 20's I really didn't recognise a lot of them, that they had changed through the years and that only the ones I kept in contact with where the ones that I recognised.

M took me under her wing when I left home at 16 and didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, she provided me with council and guidance during some difficult teenage times and not once did she ever judge me.  She welcomed me in to her family and her home and will always hold a huge place in my heart.  Not only sis she provide me with a bed, she also provided me with the comfort and stability I needed during these times.  She was one of the first people I took MadDad to meet after we got together. I remember walking round her garden in Spring 18 years ago whilst she quizzed him as only she could get away with and I remember her face beaming at me from the aisle in the Church when we got married.

She always lead by example and never did anything by half's and has left behind a loving family, who certainly did her proud.  Her four daughters and two sons, stood up and sang loud and proud for their mum.  So here to you, M.  Your legacy will continue for a long, long time.

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When you give up your dream you die

Ah that quote has stuck with me since Flash dance, which was all those years ago in 1983 and yes that is the original one!  One of mine and MadDads biggest dreams has always been to own a second property, preferably in France.  As we get older and realise that we are happy to try and live on one income that original dream of a second home in France is fast becoming a long distant dream.  One we longed for when we were booking idyllic holidays abroad, when we had sufficient income to be looking for an investment property we  were too busy and had no idea that we wouldn't always be living this way.

So does the fact that we have given up dreaming about seeking to buy overseas properties mean that we are  old and withered before our time?  I hope not.  I hope that it means that we are flexible and that dreams are not static and can change along with our circumstances.  When I look at the things I dream about now, I have to say that health and happiness come first and foremost, so I thought I would make a list of what my dreams are at this time in my life.

    • To be healthy
    • For my family to be healthy
    • To try and fir one camping holiday in this coming year
    • To make the most of the boys school holidays
    • Top find part time work to take the financial pressure off MadDad
    • For my children to be happy
    • To learn something new
One thing I noticed when making my list was that y dreams are much less focused on me and are also much more short term and achievable.  I know that this is due to being a mum.  My children have brought many changes to my life, but one of the main ones and hopefully one of the best ones, is that they have changed my personality.  They have brought me patience and ensured that I a less selfish and self indulgent. What are your hopes and dreams for 2012?

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Weekending

Sometimes it is nice not to have too much planned over a weekend, too be able to take time out and be a family.  This weekend has been a lot like that.  We have laughed, cried and walked together.  Made dens, played games and cooked together.  We have planned, partied (well the boys have) and just been together.  I think I have been fortifying myself for the funeral tomorrow of someone who was very dear to me and influenced me as I grew up.  However, it is to be a celebration and I am to wear something bright.

    • Menu planning, which can be found at Frugalicious Food 
    • Building yet more Hornby, this time a good shed
    • The tidy side of our multi purpose room (study, craft)
    • The not so tidy side of our multi purpose room
    • It is amazing what a cardboard box can become
    • Sunday snack
Taken on my ihpone, feel free to follow me on instagram
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My Winter Manifesto

We didn't make any resolutions this time last year, in fact just getting through the new year intact was a bloody miracle and guess what I didn't feel any worse off for not having these things hanging over me.  I am not sure the beginning of the year, when the nights are dark and the days dank and wet is the best time to make resolutions.  So as I did in Autumn, I am doing a Winter Manifesto.  
  • Start Pilates lessons, I have found beginner lessons and the consultant things it would be good for my back
  • Keep on using my  Philips goLITE daily for up to 45 minutes (it really makes a difference in my mood)
  • Get my craft back on.  I have enjoyed the small things I have done at Christmas, so I have ordered a cross stitch kit to give me a kick start
  • Get the raised beds sorted and plant some seeds
  • Try and make a home made gift a month, to put away for birthdays and Christmas
  • To continue taking the boys to the park after school on dry days
  • To make one day a weekend a family day out, even if it is a car picnic in the rain
  • To listen to my body more and learn to take action
  • To take a photo a day
  • To work with the boys in decluttering the playroom and their bedrooms
  • To start to decorate the house (finances willing)
  • To back up my data
See there is nothing there that is difficult.  I like the fact that I set myself short term task and goals and have learned to make them a lot more realistic.   I took the pic above today from the car window.

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Christmas 2011

Christmas, a a special time for family and friends and this year one big part of our lives was missing.  My mum died on Christmas Eve last year and was discovered on Christmas Day by my brother.  This year was never going to be the easiest, however, we raised a glass to our missing loved ones and made the best of the day.  Christmas Lunch was at The in laws and we came home and watched the Gruffalo's Child, Dr Who (which had me sobbing) and Strictly Come Dancing.

Boxing day has been spend, lazing, playing games (our current favorite being Boggle Flash) and watching three generations build and part make a train set.
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This week so far in Instagram

I have been far too tired on a evening after a full day with the boys to do a full post, but I thought I would give you a glimpse in to this week so far in Instagram.  It was my birthday on Monday and it was filled, with love, surprises and a few tears.

  1. Reindeer food, details on my new blog A thrifty mum
  2. My birthday stash, I had been lusting after Nigel Slaters books forver
  3. Mini's desk tidy mouse, won from Domestic Goddesque from The Little Green Paintbox.  I urge you to take a look, it is only £3 and has everything you need in the box.  Fabulous!
  4. The boys waiting in M&S to meet MadDad for a supprise birthday lunch
  5. Birthday bowling.  It was wonderful to watch the boys play together
  6. Mini making Ninja Breadmen, recipe for not so gingery gingerbread from Frugalisious Food
  7. Layered Peppermint bark from here.  We left out the peppermintoil and you do not need 30 full sized candy canes, only about 10, we have shed loads left over (all crushed), but it is delicious
  8. Our gingerbread house made from Frugal Family's mould
  9. Mince pies ala mini
  10. No peaking, gift wrap and little boxes of loveliness for MadDads colleagues
  11. Felt mistletoe
  12. Christmas ribbon

Feel free to follow me on Instagram here

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Felt Mistletoe with button berries

Who doesn't love a good smooch under the mistletoe?  What with having to stay in for deliveries, being unwell and lots of school things to attend, I haven't been able to get out to buy any, so I searched the internet for a tutorial to make one with the small amount of green felt I had in my stash and came across the fantastic Stay at Home Artist blog and her 2010 tutorial for mistletoe.  I didn't have any pearl establishments so used an assortment of buttons and I love the finished ornament.  If I had more felt and buttons I would have made another.

The fab Coffee Lady also made mistletoe this week and can tell you why we kiss under it.

But the best thing is I have an excuse to have loads of smooches with my boys.

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A Pause in Advent

We really have taken a pause in advent this week.  All the activities I had planned with the children and for myself, just haven't happened.  I have found it incredibly hard just to hold it together, let alone do much more than has had to be done.

I did however, manage to get to the boys carol service at Church on Friday morning and found it one of the most moving and joyous experiences of the Christmas period so far.  The church was packed to the rafters and was standing room only for parents and the signing was just out of this world.

We watched Strictly Come Dancing the final last night and that was the straw that broke the camels back  for me.  I lost it, I started to cry and couldn't stop.  Strictly was one of my mums favorite programs, we had been to see the live show together and bought her a DVD of it for Christmas last year, which still remains unopened.  She would have loved this years series and it was Mini commenting that Grandma had just given him a 10 for his show dance that set me off.

I am hoping that this coming week with the boys off school and no expectations can bring with it some peace.

 

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A Friday night with family

My nephew got engaged and we had a fab Friday night with family celebrating. We should do it more often.
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Dishwasher safe Reindeer thumbprint mugs

We have made thumbprint cups before and they have always gone down a storm, this time we decided to do reindeer fingerprint mugs for the boys teachers and teaching assistants.

dishwasher safe kids thumbprint reindeer mugs

How to make Reindeer Thumbprint Mugs

Materials

  1. We pick up inexpensive porcelain cups from supermarkets when we see them and never pay for than £1 for each of them.
  2. porcelain paint pen
  3. porcelain paint

I try to make sure that I have baby wipes on hand or a bowl of soapy water, the paint hasnt ststained, but I dont want to take the chance!

Using a paintbrush apply a small coat of brown paint to your childs thumb, or if they are bigger they can do this themselves.

Then apply the thumb to the cup and cold and try to remove it without smudging (don't worry if you do get a smudge you can just wipe it off and start again).

Continue to do this around all the cups and then leave 30 minutes to allow to dry.

cups

Using red paint apply a "nose" with a paintbrush to each reindeer and again allow to dry for 30 mins before adding the antler and eyes with the porcelain paint pen.

We then followed the instructions on the paint for baking the mugs so that they are dishwasher proof. We have mugs 5 years old that are still going strong.

reindeer mugs

As the boys are getting older they are able to add the detail themselves and yes they do not look perfect, but that is half of the charm of them.

We also decided to do some tiny ornaments too, next time I would do this with acrylic paint as it would stand out more and also with bigger ornaments, but I will be looking for more baubles in the sale.  The matte ones are the most effective. I am also going to pop the year and initial on the underside and keep a couple of our tree, this would be a great thing to do each year.

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The week in Instagram

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The one where I moan about the Nativity

Since when did you have to turn up 30 mins early to the nativity to endure that you get a seat?  We have done two nativities this week, one for each of the boys and yes that was we.  I made MadDad come with me as last year Mum did and I couldn't face the thought of going on my own this year.

So I dragged my husband out of work during his busiest time  and even though we got there early we struggled to get a seat for Maxi's nativity on Tuesday.  So we thought lets turn up even earlier for Mini's and we were still not the first people to turn up.  In fact as soon as the doors opened there was a mad dash through the corridor to the lower school hall and people running for chairs as though they were sunbeds that some German tourist might claim and not content with one chair, oh no they claimed 3 or 4 for their friend who was just behind them - yeah right.

Anyhow whinge aside, it was wonderful to see my boys performing.  Their nativities hold a special place in my heart as they were what kept me going when I had sepsis after the mastectomy.  Yes I shed a tear, but more than that I loved every minute of them and you couldn't wipe the smile off my face for the rest of the day.

Maxi's (who still doesn't do dressing up) class, did a more traditional nativity with traditional songs and Mini's class (yes he loves dressing up) did The Snowman at Sunset.  The one thing that is fantastic about the school though is they never ask parents to make costumes, they are all made by the children or the staff, which I appreciate must be hard for them, but makes my life so much easier at what is such a busy time of the year.

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A Little Legacy – Christmas

@AResidence

My mum never did anything by half and Christmas was one of those things that was just magical in my home growing up.  When I was younger the decorations and tree would always go up on 19th December, the day prior to my birthday and there would be crape streamers strung across the ceiling and paper bells and balls hanging from ceiling too.  Everyone got involved in decorating, It was a real family affair.

Christmas decorating took a back seat after my Dad died, that is until the Grandchildren came along and then again, my mums house was a festive wonder filled with tacky decorations along side the more traditional.  She might have complained about decorating, but once she made a start she wasn't content until the Lounge, Dinning Room and Hall were all festive.

Taking down those decorations last year broke my heart and I wouldn't have been able to manage without the help of my wonderful sister in law and even this year it is too raw to have all of them out (we split them between us), however, I do have some of them and these are the legacy that my mum leaves to me and that I will pass on to my children.

So My mum's legacy this year is the wonderful decorations above, which I have placed through out my home.  The plastic Santa decorations, which are older than me, along with the small bears too.  Her Angel on top of my tree and Disney Decorations she bought with my Brother every time they went to Disney Land.   Each year we shall get out our decorations and think of her and maybe next year I will bring out more of her decorations and remember fondly the woman that shaped me and made me the mother I am today.  I miss you Mum, I love you Mum and you will forever live in in my heart.

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A pause in Advent, The advent story for children

I think I have said in the past that I label myself as something of a reluctant worshiper.  But you can not have Christmas without Christ and I also really enjoyed this time of year as a child growing up and going to Sunday school, so I make it my aim to teach the boys about Jesus, the Christmas and Advent. Last year, the wonder Coffee Lady told me about a book called The Light in the Lantern, which is filled with short stories for advent.  The stories are intended for reading aloud for children of school age and are perfect for sparking conversation about Advent.  The are pretty short, but perfect for night time reading. Then last week I had an email from Melitsa from Raising Playful Tots, who I respect a lot and she had a link to The Truth is in the Tinsel as her signature. So I decided to down load a copy of the book, which is wonderful.  it is for Preschool age children, but perfect for Mini too.  It gives you a reading prompt and an activity to make an ornament for each day to go with the prompt.  The whole activity will take less than 30 minutes and is a wonderful way to discuss the Christmas Story at a very basic level.  This is something we have really enjoyed doing each day and it has really made us take a pause as a family for the everyday rush that this time of year can be. This year I also felt that I couldn't have mum's nativity scene out, so the lovely people at Playmobil sent me a Playmobil Nativity and Three Kings, which the boys ans I assembled on Friday Afternoon and has been played with all weekend. We love Playmobil and I love the fact that this is just so perfect to use to role play the story and I do not have to fret about anything getting damaged or broken and the lamp even lights up too. How do you talk about Advent and the Christmas Story with your children?  Do you have any other suggestions or ideas for me?
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No Slogans for my boys

I was invited to the Spring Summer preview by Next as I am part of their Bloggers Network a couple of weeks ago. Before we went Next gave the boys £50 between them to buy an outfit, so off we headed to our nearest Next store. Now one of the things I used to have to do was make a beeline for any clothes that I didn't think appropriate. Now what do I mean by that? No slogans is the main issue for me. I do not like children in slogan clothing. So I was pleasurably surprised to find that there was nothing that I considered completely in appropriate and the boys both chose an outfit each. And yes I did have to add some pennies to it!

One of the reasons for attending was the fact that the buyers for Children's clothing were there and as a parent I could let them know my opinions of their clothes and I am not a shy and retiring person at all and really believe that changes will not be made unless we can provide constructive ideas and solutions to people.  So what did I say:

        • I would like to see the age groups broadened.  At the moment Next have 2 main age ranged Younger Boys (3 months to 5 years) and older boys (3 years and above).  Mini who is 5, is too large for the younger boys, but I prefer a lot of the styles, so perhaps a larger crossover is required, as I would love the boys to both be able to be in the Younger boys styles, so maybe younger boys could go up to 8 years.
        • Brighter colours please.
        • We love practical, so reversible clothes are great, as are turn ups (children grow fast) and buttons that are easier for young children to undo.  The introduction of rib wiast bands makes life so much easier and really increases childrens independence.
        • Keep away from logo's
        • I am not a fan of character clothing, but my children adore it, so please keep is simple and age appropriate
I went though a stage of not looking for the boys clothes in Next, but more and more it is a place we chose to shop.  There clothes have real durability and wash really well and I think suit my boys, but what do you think of the boys outfits?

 

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Win a Bunk Bed Buddy Around the World Limited Edition

We have a bunk bed buddy in natural finish in Mini's room for his mid sleeper bed and it has been a real revelation for him.  Like all tidy books products, it is superbly well built and designed and the buddy is very lightweight, but perfect solid and strong at the same time.  We live in a new house and the walls are made of plaster board so we have to be careful of what we put up, but this went up in seconds with the addition of some plasterboard screws and if you have brick walls then the appropriate fixings already come with the kit.

It is W53cm x H33cm x D13cm and comes already preassembled, so all you have to do is install it and it really did take less that 10 minutes, even with a handy helper!  The design is elegant, but perfectly practicable too, with the lower shelf having a lip, so that nothing can slide off.

All in all this is a great addition to any bedroom and the perfect solution for any non standard height bed.  I wish this had been around when I was in the top bunk as a child.  We also reviewed the Tidy Books bookcase earlier in the year.

Now for the exciting bit - We have teamed up with tidy books to offer you one of their Bunk Bed Buddy Around the World Limited Edition (worth £54.95), which you can win in time for Christmas (we are relying on couriers to get it to you oin time for Christmas Day). (more…)

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Alone

As I sit here and type I have tears rolling down my face because all of a sudden I have realised that my mum was alone and on her own when she died last year and what fear and pain she must have felt. I woke on Christmas Eve to the sound of the telephone ringing and when I answered it was mum.  She wasn't upset, just very matter of fact and said that her arthritis was playing up and she was finding it hard to get moving and get her medication and could I come and help her.  So I set off in the snow to Mums, which was about a 10 mile drive, but a world away in snow terms.  Maddad was at home with the boys and taking Mini to the GP's as he had a pretty bad chest infection and needed seeing.

When I got to mums, she had managed to get downstairs and I made her a cup of tea and helped her with her medications.  I got out her clothes and the tens machine and she was going to take a shower when the phone rang.  It was MadDad to say that it had started to snow again and he was stranded at the GP's with both the boys, as in 10 minutes over an inch of snow had come down and it wasnt showing signs of stopping.

So mum being mum told me to go home and get back to my boys, that she would be fine, as she was going to my Brothers for Christmas Day and would see hoe she felt that evening and might even pop to the Club for Christmas Eve.  So I did as I was told (if you knew my mum, you knew it was best to not argue).  I gave her a big kiss and cuddle and told her we would see her on Boxing Day for our family time together and then again on the 27 for our family get together with my brother and his family.

It took me over an hour to do a 15 minute drive and when I next spoke to my mum at 2pm, she told me the tens machine wasn't working and that my Brother was popping in to Boots to pick her up a new one.  She said she was feeling much better apart for some pain in her back.

I spoke to her at least two more times on Christmas Eve , once at 7pm when the boys rang her to say good night and then again at 9ish to say good night myself and wish her a good Christmas Eve.  She told me she was going to make a cup of tea and go up to bed, as Chris was collecting her around 10ish on Christmas Day.  So I said I would ring her in the morning, but if she didn't answer we would wait for her to call us.

We rang my mum at 9am on Christmas morning and left a message on her answering machine all singing we wish you a Merry Christmas and thought nothing of it and then received the call to say that he had found mum dead at 10am.

It is only now nearly a year later I can actually comprehend that my mum died alone in her home on Christmas Eve, probably just after speaking to me on the phone, as she was found in the kitchen with teabag in cup and milk on the side.  She was making that cup of tea to take up to bed with herself.  I can not imagine what she went though, but at the moment I am in pieces.

I WANT MY MUM

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Stockings, not on your life, I had a pillow case

Growing up, I never had a stocking, oh no I had a pillowcase that we could hang downstairs for Father Christmas to leave our gifts in.  Yes all our gifts pretty much fitted in to a pillowcase, except for the large ones, like my Sindy house (which was pre loved and already assembled and covered in a bed sheet.   This was something that carried on for me until Maxi was born when I made a Christmas Stocking for him and the following year when I made one for Mini too

So when Idealo, a UK based price comparison website asked me what I would buy for one of the boys with £75 for their Christmas presents, it reminded me of my childhood growing up and I accepted the challenge.

Why £75?  Well Idealo have discovered the average spend of parents on their children at the festive period is now £168, whilst in 1995 it was only £75.

So they challenged me and other bloggers to put together our christmas list for one child for £75 and I decided to do one for Mini, so here is what I chose and why. Dragon Hama bead box set £8.95 Mini loves all things crafty, but to be honest Hama beads have passed us buy and I thought that this selection would really excite him as he loves Dragons.  Merry from Craft Merrily suggest this as the perfect set for a 5 year old lad, plus they are great for improving manual dexterity and hand eye co-ordination. LEGO Creationary Game £22.40 We are huge LEGO fans and we have this on the Ipad and thought it would be fantastic to play together as a family.  We hvae lots of LEGO games and find them to be perfectly suited to us and the boys.  Plus we can always make up our own rules too. LEGO City Truck £19.97 Mini is particular loves LEGO City, he has great fun building it with MadDad, sometimes this can take a few nights, but then he really plays with the sets once they are constructed.  We have the airport and I thought this would be the perfect companion. Wheres the Doctor book £4.49 Mini adores Wheres Wally and we have all the books and he loves Dr Who too, so this is pretty self explanitory really. Boys activity book £3.99 Dark nights over winter time often means books, puzzels and crafting for us, so I hoped that this would be really interesting for MIni.  His reading skills are great and I wanted to keep him occupied. LEGO mini figures magnet kit £2.50 Can a boy ever have enough LEGO? Bike horn £3.00 Mini is now riding his bike pretty efficiently without staibilizers and loves these old fashioned horns, so I though this would be a perfect small gift for him. In total I spent just under £75.00 and I think that I got quite a large and varied selection for him, but I can see how parents would spend a lot more, especially when it comes to the cost of electronics and games.  I tend to buy small things throughout the the year for the boys and I also ban TV with adverts during the build up to the festive period, as otherwise all I would hear is "Mummy, I want that". Did you have a stocking as a child?  Do your children have one now?

Disclosure: Idealo purchased the items on my gift list for me for Christmas

 
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2011 Advent calenders and a Pause in Advent

I love advent and each year I also take part in a Pause for Advent with Floss  I use it as a time to explain to the boys the fundementals about Christmas and also to make sure that we do not get lost in the excitement of the buildup to Christmas Day itself. For the last two years we have hung up the 24 small stockings that I made, each with a task for the day attached to them.  I am hoping that by focusing on advent this year it will help me get through each day as it comes, rather than worrying about how I am feeling.  I am trying very hard to live in the present and take each day as it comes.

This is our list from last year Write and post your letter to Father Christmas Help ice the Christmas cake Make Christmas cards Make shapes with the cookie cutters and playdough Make Christmas shrinky dinks Make paper snowflakes Go to Carol Service Colour in some Christmas pictures Make some Christmas fairy cakes Make paper chains Collect Pinecones Start reading about the nativity Write your Christmas cards and deliver local ones Make salt dough ornaments String popcorn to go on the tree Make a bird feeder Sing and dance to Christmas songs Make some Christmas cookies Watch a Christmas movie Make reindeer food Read a Christmas Story Make up a Christmas story Take a walk in the dark to look at the Christmas lights Help trim the tree Make mince pies make spiced cider Find Mistletoe, hang it in our house and kiss under it. Make Thick Hot Chocolate and marshmallows Put up a wreath Decorate our gingerbread house Make a family traditional dessert In addition to this, we also have my old advent calender, which is 30 years old and I won from church, each day tells the Christmas story in a poem form. We also have two more calenders to add to that this year, both in the same format of 24 little books, one is the nutcracker and the other the Christmas Story, which I hope the boys will become attatched to in the same way as I am to my calender. Finally, as I am not really a scrooge the boys do both have a chocolate calender this year, which were given to them by Hotel Chocolat, who also do the most divine Christmas hampers too
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The pitfalls of parenting

Designed by the Confused.com car insurance team

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My Blogging Space

I have been tagged by ????????  to let you see where I blog.  I have shown this space before in my kitchen Vlog, yes I blog in the kitchen.  The kitchen really is the heart of my home and the room I spent the most time in.  If I was to have my way, we would live in an open plan house. I am going to tag, the fololwing people to show me where they blog:  
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Why and how to use a cost comparison site

One of the most effective ways to save money is to use an online cost comparison site such as Moneysupermarket.com These sites work by providing you with a list of quotes or prices based on the information you enter into them.  They do not charge the user, but make their money from charging a commission on any products bought through them.   They provide fast and current information in a timely manner, however, it can be daunting and also time consuming if you do not have all the information you need before you start.

So this week I want to talk about how to get the best out of a cost comparison site.  You can find utilities deals, the best credit card deals, insurance quotes (home, car, travel, wedding, pet, life, dental and buildings and much more), find the best broadband deal, the best mobile phone deal for you and much much more.

Be timely

Try and use the site a month before any of your renewals are sue, this will give you time to consider the offers and also read the small print and follow up any quotes on the telephone if you need to.

Have all your information to hand

If you are looking for quotes for your gas or electric, make sure you know your annual usage and have your previous bills to hand.  If it is car insurance you will need to know details of any previous claims, no claims details and dates of any motoring offences.

Use more than one site

There are a number of sites avalable, so make sure you use more than one, or one that is specific to the information that you need.

Things to watch out for

If a site has teamed up with a company, this often means that they have a relationship with them and might not be independent.  Also beware of hidden charges like delivery costs.  You also need to make sure that you are comparing like for like a nd read the small print.

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Conflicted

I am feeling miserable at the moment, down, blue, grumpy and just plain not happy.  I feel as though I am being torn in two directions.  I have the boys who are so happy that Christmas is coming and that Father Christmas will be on his way and the thing is as much as I love Christmas it currently fills me with a sense of dread and overwhelming grief for my mum.

I do not want Christmas to become a time of mourning for the boys, I want them to feel all the joy that Christmas brings to Children, but I also want to remember my mum and understand that I am still grieving for her.

I feel terribly conflicted and I do not know how to reconcile these feelings or even if I am supposed too.

I have made sure that I have most of the boys presents and have made a start on the advent activities that we will be doing in the hope that keeping busy helps.  I always find that the boys are the best medicine a girl could hope for.

But I am also a little concerned over my health at the moment.  For those of you that don't know I had an MRI scan on Saturday evening for some pain in my spine and I should find out the results in a couple of weeks time.  So I would appreciate your prayers (if you are that way inclined) or just your thoughts if you are not.

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Homemade Christmas Cards

We love making our own cards here in The Mad House, But I do realise that this might not be the same for everyone with children, but I thought I would share with you our favorite Christmas Cards that we have made. I think that Christmas cards that the children have made are a lovely thing to give, but often they can be messy, difficult, time consuming and complicated to make.  Not these.
Card
Masking tape
Green Paint
Sponges
Glue
Sequins or stars
Glitter
You start by cutting a tree shaped template in a piece of card.  The easiest way to do this is fold it in half.  You can make it as simple or fancy as you like.  I am simple lady myself.
Stick the template on to your card.  I also stick the card down to the table for minimad.
You can either use a sponge or just finger paint in the stencil (sponges are so much easier with small ones)
Watch out it can get messy - Mine wear the art smocks I made from MadDads old work shirts
Allow the cards to dry
Decorate your trees
We used sequins, small stars and glitter
 
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Showing our spots for Pudsey

Children in Need, we love it.  I love that my boys want to get involved and give to children who are in a less privileged position to them.  So when Baking Mad challenged us to make Pudsey cakes and said if we did they would donate £10 we said yes, knowing fine well that MadDad could take them to work to sell to make more money. So last night we set to making our mad spotty cupcakes, you can find these and more cupcake recipes over at Baking Mad What are you doing for Children in Need? Update: My boys made £32 from the people at MadDad's work, plus £10 from Baking Mad, which has all been donating to Children in Need.
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Children in Need

You can not really have missed the fact that this Friday is Children in Need.  Children in Need is one of the charities we support as a family and the boys are always keen to make their own contribution, as are we.

This year they will be showing their spots for Pudsey on Friday by wearing spots to school and taking in £1 each, plus we have been challenged by Baking Mad to bake for children in need  and they will donate £10 to them in exchange for our bakes, so we will be doing this on Thursday for MadDad to take to work on Friday and sell.

 

Again this year Build a Bear has partnered with Children in Need and are donating £5 from each sale of their Pudsey or Blush bears to them.  Last year they donated a staggering £135000 from the sale of their bears.   The bears retail at £15 each and I have to say my boys still sleep with their original bears that they made this time last year at Build a Bear.

What are your plans for this years Children in Need?

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The rules of blogging

The first rule of blogging, there are no rules of blogging. The second rule of blogging, there are no rules of blogging.   Are you with me?
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