Sponsored Video: New TOTAL Greek Yoghurt Advert 2013 and my ultimate rocky road recipe

We are huge fans of Total Greek Yogurt and I have a large tub in my fridge most of the time. I add it to berries and sweeten it with honey in place of cream as a desert for the boys regularly and it is perfect served with warm pancakes, bananas and maple syrup as a weekend treat. The video below gives you an insight into the fact that it has remained unchanged since 1926, but not as to how versatile it is. It has become a regular addition to our rocky road or tiffin as it stops the chocolate setting too hard and makes it a lovely texture. rocy
ultimate rocky road recipe
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Ingredients
  • 200g TOTAL Greek Yoghurt
  • 500g milk chocolate
  • 250g butter
  • 180g golden syrup
  • 400g digestive biscuits
  • 100g mini marshmallows
  • 100g chopped dried fruit (craisins, cranberries or apricots are a Mad House favorite)
Instructions
  1. Line a 12 by 10 inch tin with cling film or lightly grease a silicone baking tin with butter.
  2. Melt the chocolate, butter and golden syrup in a bowl over just simmering water. Do not stir very often.
  3. Meanwhile crush the digestive biscuits and chop apricots if you are using them.
  4. Once the chocolate has melted allow to cool for approx 10 minutes, then add the yogurt and stir.
  5. Then add the biscuits, dried fruit and half the marshmallows.
  6. Put the mixture in the tin and the remaining marshmallows on top.
  7. Place in the fridge for at least two hours before slicing
This post has been sponsored by Total Greek Yoghurt 18.
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Every mother of boys needs to watch this

"John Beat Mary" "Mary was beaten by John" "Mary was beaten" "Mary was battered" Mary is a battered woman" Do NOT remove the men from the conversation.
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Half term week

half term  
      • Teaching the boys hangman
      • The log flume at Thorpe Park
      • Making the most of the sun - Maxi
      • Sunshine means water - Mini
      • The men in my life in the Crash Pad at Thorpe Park
      • Cakes by the minimads
      • Washing machine flooded our kitchen (insurance assessor coming on Thursday)
      • An adventure playground to ourselves on inset day
      • My monkey
What you don't see is that it was Maxi's first week at Cub camp, he learned to canoe, BBQ, make a wooden catapult gun, planted seeds, made a cresshead, walked a lot and went to a theme park.  He had the best time ever.  Mini and I missed him a lot, but we made the most of our time with reading, playing, football, baking and one to one time.  Oh and not being woken by Maxi the early riser at 5.30 am!
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Spring The Small Stuff – #S2S2D

Shoulder to Shoulder to Day
Today I am I supporting the fab and inspirational Emma from Crazy with Twins who is beating thyroid cancer.  I am proud to say that I have met Emma and she is a wonderful person, who is dealing with the challenges this battle brings her in as much of a positive way she can. I took a look at Emma's Blog yesterday and it had the BEST news ever, her body has shed the radiation so fast she can now cuddle her children again and they can continue being a regular family (well as regular as you can be with twins and an illness). However, I am aware that the results of the treatment will not be know for the next six months, but I also know that going through something like this can change your outlook on life and give things much more clarity. My experience has taught me to find joy in the everyday.  To make the most of the small things that help me get through each day and then to find three things at the end of each day that I am grateful for. favorites Spring The Small Stuff The smell of freshly cut grass. The sound of all the local lawn mowers on a Sunday afternoon. Listening to the shouts and giggles of children playing outside.  W watching the seeds we planted start to sprout.  Earthing up the potatoes.  Using up the last of the kale by making homemade kale chips.  Lighter evenings.  Waking to the sound of the birds singing.  The boys running in after school and then running straight out again to play with their friends. Wild Garlic and Bluebells.  The leaves on the trees all being green.  Blossom on the trees.  Cherry blossom on the floor like confetti.  The whole family washing the cars together.  Theme parks in the sun.  Sand in my toes and sun on my back.  Spring tides and large waves.  The promise of more to come. Washing blowing on the line.  less ironing.   lighter weight coats.  Putting away all the winter hats, scarfs and gloves and getting out the sun hats.  Rubbing sun cream on to the soft, soft skin on my children.  Sewing later and longer thanks to natural light!  Watching Dr Who together as a family.  The anticipation of camping trips.  Day trips to the seaside.  Icecreams.  The sound of the ice cream van.  The smell of BBQ's.    Spring Birthdays.  Mothers Day.  Fathers Day. Finally learning how to crochet (fourth time's a charm).  Buying fabric for new quilts.  Finishing existing quilts.  Plotting, planning and designing new quilts.  Going to my sewing lessons.  Plucking up the courage to go to the WI!  Watching my children take turns at cooking.  Eating child baked cakes. Waking up next to the ones I love.  Hands to hold. Comfortable silences.  Laughing at bad films and enjoying good films.  Family movie nights.  Board Games.  Bruised little legs in short trousers, especially school shorts!  Early nights in fresh bedding.  Good books.  Washi tape. White Walls.  Yellow.  Daffodils.  Tulips.   Good tea from china cups.  Good friends.  Great family. Reading books out loud to my children.  learning something new.  Challenges.  Even more yellow.  Craft swaps.  Writing letters.  Receiving letters.  The sun.  Scented candles.  Pims in the garden with my family.  Instagram.  Pinterest. Blog comments.  Being able to wear standard sunglasses. The fact that I impress my children that I am not scared on roller coasters.  My boys telling jokes that are funny and make sence (it has been a long time coming). Discovering new music.  Family excursions. little things   Whilst I was browsing blogs last night I saw this print from Hello Little Fox on Attic 24 and just had to purchase one.  As it encapsulates everything I was trying to say.
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Win a Bathtime Fun Hamper at #kidsbathtime Twitter Party on June 4th at 1pm

Twitter-Party-Banner I have raised two water babies, who have always loved bathtime.  So I am delighted to be co-hosting the #kidsbathtime Twitter party celebrating all the things that make bath-time such fun with Becky from Baby Budgeting and the Tots100. maxi bath h&a is the company behind some of the UK's most love character bathing products and they aim to make bathing more manageable and fun for you and your little ones with family favourites like Disney Princess and Thomas & Friends! I am going to be looking at ways to make bath time more manageable, fun  and relaxing for both you and your children.  I am really looking forward to hearing all your tips and ideas for making the most out of bathtime.
  • Make sure you are following @babybudgeting @Mum_TheMadhouse and @Tots100 on Twitter
  • Join in the conversation on Tuesday 4 June 2013 between 1 and 2pm (GMT) using the hashtag #kidsbathtime 
  • Five tweeters with the best suggestions and tips from the event will each win a fabulous H&A bathtime hamper worth £25! (terms and conditions apply)
Mini bath  
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10 ways to encourage children to save

I have recently blogged about 8 ways to encourage children to be frugal over at A Thrifty Mum, which has got me on the whole money management with children bandwagon.  I find that using practical examples really helps the boys understand money and finances, but one of the things that I find really hard is how to encourage the boys to save for savings sake.  After a chat on The Mad House facebook page I realised that I was possibly asking too much from them to save for savings sake.  However, I did get some great ideas of ways to encourage your children to save rather than splurge. saving
        • Give children a goal to save towards, something that really sparks their interest and motivates them. Create a chart to help them tick off the pounds/pennies until they reach their target - Ramblings of a suburban mummy
        • Teach children the different denominations of money and what they add up to. This helps her understand what spending each coin means - Verily, Victoria Vocalises....
        • Work out how much they need to save each week to buy a special something before a certain date, and then they can see that they have some money left, but they also get buy their big item. It's just small scale practice for when they're adults wanting a car, house or holiday - The Brick Castle
        • Pay "interest" on what he's saved that month. So if they save all month he can get something bigger - Snaffles Mummy
  1. Make it visually - Using a glass jar or even a money box that counts the money (like Cass from the Frugal Family) makes saving money much more tangible for younger children. Or even have a savings chart with stars and stickers.
  2. Set regular savings goals - Incentivise saving by offering added rewards at regular agree set points.  This is why the Pigs from Natwest really worked back in the 80's
  3. Pay interest - pay your child monthly interest on savings they have.  not only does this encourage them to keep it saved for longer, but it teaches them about money management
  4. Set a goal - Are they saving for a specific item?  if so make them a chart.  Encourage them to find inventive ways to earn money to help them achieve their purchase faster
  5. Insist that a percentage of their pocket money goes into a long term savings account.
  6. Discuss the reasons that people save.  By setting an example you are giving them the best lesson ever.  My boys are both very maths oriented and we discussed how a  Sippdeal SIPP pension works and why it is important to be able to look after yourself when you no longer have the ability to earn money.
  7. We also set aside so much money each month for fun family activities, showing that you do not need immediate gratification and that by planning, saving and managing our money we can all have fun.
  8. Open a bank account with them and actively use it.  Make sure it is a book account, so they have to go in to a branch to pay in and take out their money.  This way they have to plan spending within banks timescales and again learn that spending is not about instant gratification.
  9. Save smaller denominations to demonstrate how every penny counts.  The boys both have a large vodka bottle that they fill with pennies and once a year they exchange it for holiday spending money.  It really adds up and Mini is always on the lookout for peoples dropped coins when we are out and about.
  10. Teach your children that buying an experience (ie a trip to  a theme park) brings much more happiness than a products (such as an ice cream).  Saving for the experience may take longer or be harder, but it makes memories and makes the experiences so much better
visual savings Whilst chatting to people about saving and teaching children about money I came across some really great blog posts about it and they are too good not to share, Perle Noire wrote a super post on how she teaches her family about saving,  Cat from Yellow days, uses money as a maths tool and makes learning really fun, Becky from Baby Budgeting and Family Budgeting is really worth following for her fab money saving tips too. 3.
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Chewits Chewie Gum Guide to half-term and Win a Chewie Gum Hamper

win chewit Chewits recently sent the MiniMads some of their new Chewit Chewie Gum, which we have shared with the Frugals.  It was the first time the boys had chewing gum and they loved it.  Both of them felt really grown up!  I am making sure that they spit it out and not swallow it, but I am not telling them it will stick their insides together, which was the things that my parents told me! chewits

They have also been kind enough to offer my readers the chance to win a Chewits hamper worth £25 bursting with Chewit goodies.

The prize will include: Chewie Gum Box which consists of 12 packs of Gum Chew Tin  - Consists of eight stick packs in a silver encased tin Chewits Mug and Key Ring a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Connect with your children at mealtimes

As a mum of two boys I often find myself wondering if they are part of a different species!  They do things differently from me, their brains are wired differently, but one thing I really do want is to say connected to them.  I want to spend time with them and I want them to WANT to spend time with us.  I want them to enjoy family time and to keep me part of their life. connect at mealtimes This month I am sharing some of my top tips to connect families over on The Family Wellbeing Club with Actimel.  It is a really great website which asks you some basic questions about your family and then comes up with some tips which are very simple, but should have a great impact on the wellbeing of your family. Make mealtimes about connecting as a family One of the things that always amazes me is that other parenting never know what their children have been doing at school or had for dinner.  Often when they ask they get told "nothing" or "I cant remember"!  I get asked all the time how I know what is going on and what they are eating and for me it is down to spending time together, asking the right questions and also consistency. Dinner time is one of the major focal points of our day as a family.  MadDad makes sure that he goes to work early so he is back in time for dinner most nights and we try to eat at the table as a family as often as we can. This become much more enjoyable and achievable as the boys got to school age.  They get home from school and have a snack and then we all eat dinner together around 6pm.  The boys take turns to help me cook a meal or a desert and the other one will set the table.  We make an effort to eat at the dining table (except for Saturday night).  We also have a set of rules, which are not negotiable that include you must try food even if you think you do not like it, you chew with your mouth closed, always say please and thank you, you ask to be excused from the table and we all clear the table together. However, I really encourage chatting and communication.  When the boys were younger we had a news style roundup from each of us, where we "reported" our news and events from the day, which included what was had for dinner, what we have done, places we have been and also anything we needed to remember.  MadDad and I did this as well as the boys.  I would ask open ended questions about their day and encourage them to remember as much about it as they could.  Food can always be warmed up. Happy mature woman serving food to daughter with family sitting at dining table

Ways to encourage conversation at the dinner table:

      • Use story cubes
      • Ask questions such as What was the best part of your day?
      • My boys love hearing about when they were younger or other family members, so have conversations about how you chose their name or how you and your partner met.
      • Try finding foods all of a certain colour or starting with a certain letter.
      • My boys study a different topic each half term and we find out what it is and use that.  For example recently the boys have been learning about Australia and Africa and we have been discussing our visit to South Africa and Captain James Cook who was from our area. The school provides us with the topic list each term and we make sure we research it, so we have something to discuss with them.
      • Why not let your children interview you and you them.
mealtime connection Do not worry if you can not eat together as a family every night, just do the best you can and it doesn't have to be evening meals, why not have breakfast together regularly as a family instead.  Just try to make it special.  We use candles, cloth napkins and glasses with a jug of water on the table.  We never have the TV on whilst we eat and we have a no electronics rule.  Any telephone calls go through to voicemail or answer phone.  We start each meal with the intention of spending it together as a family and we wait until the last member is at the table before we start eating.   We do not say grace, but we do say a thing that we are thankful for that day. I would love to know how you make mealtimes work for you. Happy mature woman serving food to daughter with family sitting at dining table
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Tips for visiting Thorpe Park from Cass at Frugal Family

We are booked to spend the weekend at Thorpe Park this weekend and Cass at Frugal Family visited with her family a couple of weeks ago, so I asked her to let me know what I needed and her tips.  She was also kind enough to pop them in a blog post to share with you too! frugals thorpe park  

The frugals at Thorpe Park

When I heard that Jen and the boys were off to Thorpe park this weekend, I was so pleased for them as we had a lovely weekend there a few weeks ago. We planned our trip carefully as we wanted to get the most out of the weekend and I had loads to tell Jen about what she needed to do when she got there. Being a typical blogger, Jen told me to write her a post about what she should be planning for so here you go.... Before you go, make sure you're getting the best deal possible as there's lots of offers out there at the minute – Friij, Coke and using your Tesco vouchers are the main ones that I know of at the minute. Getting there is really easy which is always a bonus when travelling with children! I know that Jen is driving down from the North East but we went by train which meant we arrived at Staines train station. There's a bus that runs about regularly between the train station and Thorpe Park which costs £3.50 per adult return or £2.50 per child return. If you'd prefer though, you can get a taxi which is £2.50 each way (minimum of four passengers). When you get to the park and you're through the gates there's a brilliant locker room downstairs in the dome where you can store your belongings in a large locker for £1.00. I had an empty carrier in my handbag so I literally took out everything that wasn't essential for the day, popped it in the carrier and left it in the locker. There's nothing worse than wandering around with a heavy bag! If you've bought the fast track passes (which are excellent) make sure you know the time slots that you need to be at each of the rides and plan your visit around that because some of them are quite far away from each other. One thing to be aware of are the height restrictions in place at Thorpe park as the minimum height restriction for the larger rides is 1.4m – very sensible decision to me looking at the scare factor of the rides but very unfair in the eyes of an eight year old who is just under the height and had to watch as his dad and sister went on some of the rides without him. I think the height restriction is higher here than in some parks we've been to but the rides are in a different class to the ones we've seen before. There's plenty for all ages to go on though so don't worry if your children are under that height – it really is just the larger rides they won't be able to go on. We saved a fortune buying two refillable drinks for £6 which we shared between us and carried round all day getting them filled from time to time. We also took a picnic to eat which would have been great as there were lots of places we could have sat except we ate it on the train on the way! Oh, another thing. You get very, very wet on the water rides so it's worth having a few pound coins so you can use the dryer things that they have near each ride. I would usually say that things like this are a waste of money but they were great and stopped any whinges about being wet. If you're staying at the Crash Pad, make sure you book a table for tea – we forgot to and the only bookings left when we arrived at 7pm to eat were for 9pm. Luckily the coffee shop sold some rather delicious carrot cake so we weren't that gutted that we had to wait ;-) Also, make sure you take advantage of the early entry into the park if you are staying at the Crash Pad – the staff are great and literally start the ride as soon as you get strapped in so you can take full advantage of the 20 minutes or so before the park officially opens. The App is great too – it tells you what the current queuing times for each ride are so don't forget to download that before you go. I can't think of anything else but I'm sure Jen will have lots more to tell you when she gets back. Have fun x x
I have to say we only told the MiniMads of our trip last night and they were jumping around with excitement   If you have been I would love to know your top tips and be prepared to see lots of pictures and tweets marked #ThorpeParkMums over this weekend!  Oh and if you are interested here is a current events page for Thorpe Park. I also thought it would be great to collect all the posts for #ThorpeParkMums in one place, so have opened a linky. Please feel free to add yours
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Banana Bread with Spelt Flour

spelt banana bread I have recently been tested for celiacs, but thankfully this came back negative, however, on doctors orders I have been reducing my intake of gluten.  One of the flours that my body can deal with is spelt.   As a family we love baking and the boys both adore banana bread, so here is my take on banana bread made with spelt flour. ingredients As this is a recipe that I bake regularly with the boys, we use cups to measure it out.  This makes it super quick and simple for the boys to actually make themselves.  
Banana Bread with Spelt Flour
Author:
Serves: 8
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Ingredients
  • 3 mashed bananas
  • ¼ cup of oil, however we use Flora Cuisine
  • ½ brown sugar
  • ¼ cup of caster sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup of wholemeal spelt flour
  • ½ plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • handful og choc chips or chopped nuts (optional)
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 170 (fan) or 190
  2. Mash the bananas and combine them with the oil and sugars
  3. Add the salt and baking powder to the flours and mix
  4. Do not over mix, just stir until all the ingredients are combined
  5. Add chocolate chips or nuts and gently stir
  6. Cook in a greased loaf tin or a silicone loaf tin
  7. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes
  8. Remove from the oven and leave on wire tray to cool
  I am always on the lookout for ways to make my baking healthier and have really enjoyed cooking with Flora Cuisine which is a blend of sunflower, linseed and rapeseed oils, has 45% less saturated fat than olive oil and is high in omega 3. banana   You can see more images in my Google+ Album I am a member of the Collective Bias™ Social Fabric® Community. This content has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias® #CBias #SocialFabric.
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Updating the Kitchen – Moodboard

We have been in our home for nearly seven years and the time has come to update our kitchen.  We decided to change the wall colour from green to white and I want to have pops of mid century modern and yellow. The kitchen is one of the most used rooms in our house and in addition to being used for all the cooking we also use it to eat breakfast, craft and do homework too.  It is a happy room, but has it's issues including the futility area!
Kitchen Update
Every kitchen needs music and I love this  John Lewis Apollo II DAB/FM iPod Dock. it is a wonderful piece of kit that I was sent to review and is perfect for the kitchen.  I can charge my iphone on it and listen to digital radio or listen to my playlist.  I love the fact that it is compact enough to fit on my shelf, but the sound is clear and good quality and even better it is a great price at 39.99.
As I have said I have a love of mid century and Orla Kiely has a great interpretation of it.  I love her tins and fell hard for her melamine range.  The tray is a great size and the handles makes it perfect for the boys to carry.  The containers are going to get a lot of use from storing baking to summer picnics.
I adore Camila Prada's designs, they are clearly the love children of Tove Jansson and Orla Kiely.  We use a Koko storage jar as a sugar dish and it makes me smile everytime I use it.  I love functional peices that look good and work for us and rather than having the same things as everyone else I am happy to save up for the item I want or ask for it for Christmas!
Most of you will know by know that I am a tea monster too and when Not on the High Street offered me a gift I decided to get a Linda Bloomfield tea pot.  I choose the handmade 2 cup size and it is reassuringly heavy and pours beautifully.  It is a delight to use and makes drinking tea even more enjoyable.  MadDad things is looks rather breast like and it is delightfully tactile
After losing yet another lamp shade and cup to a ball in the house, we decided we needed some family rules and Find me a gift were happy to help and sent me a personalised family rules print.  My rules are: no balls in the house, try new things, use kind words, mind your manners, do your best, laugh out loud, be happy, share, enjoy the little things and keep your promises. What would yours be?
I am planning a video of my updated kitchen as soon as a few last things are finished and in place.
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Angelina, Me and BCRA

I have never ever compared myself with Angelina Jolie before, but I am now proud to actually say that both of us have undergone prophylactic double mastectomies due to a faulty gene. You can not have missed the announcement from Angelena about her choice and surgery, which I believe she did with such dignity and pose, but if you did it can be found in The New York Times. It is four years since I had my operation and it was what actually spurred me on to blog.  So let me tell you my story.

maxi me mastectomyMe with Maxi after the mastectomy, I came home with drains in

There is and was a lot of cancer on my maternal side of the family.  But we never actually contemplated any genetic link at all, even when my mum's younger sister was diagnosed with a rare form of primary peritoneal cancer we just thought that we were unlucky and concentrated on getting her through the treatment.  During this time she was offered a test as part of a trial to check for certain genetic "spelling mistakes".  A number of months passed and we just all got on with our lives and didn't give the test a second thought. After what seems like a long time, my Aunty was called in to see a genetic counsellor and was informed that she carried a spelling mistake in the BRCA2 gene.  At this point the testing was opened up to immediate family members and also to the children of her siblings who had already died of cancer.  My Mum decided to have the test and went to pretest counselling and joked with us that she would outlive anyone and that cancer would not get her.  So it was such a shock to her when the results came back and she too carried the faulty gene. At this point Mini, my second child was around one I was offered the test too.  MadDad and myself went along to meet the pretest councillor and discussed all the implications of having a positive test.  We left those meetings really feeling as though I needed to have the test and I need to be aware of what my risk would be.  Do I had the test and two weeks later we went back for the results, only to be told that I too carried the faulty gene too. We went home reeling, especially as I had been told that my lifetime risk of breast cancer was over 80% and my lifetime risk of ovarian cancer was in excess of 60%.  However, we decided to look up on this as a positive thing and do the only thing I felt able to do which was to gather as much information as possible about treatment and screening.  I had a mammogram and an MRI on my breasts, but both were really hard to interpret due to my age (the younger you are the more dense the breast tissue is) and also the fact I had large breasts. It was around this time that we made the hard decision that we were not going to have anymore children and that I needed to be well for the two I had and to have my ovaries and fallopian tubes removed.  I did this first as there is some studies that shown the risk of ovarian cancer increases at 35 and also it is a silent killer and there was no screening I could have at the time.

me and meMe and Mini, you can see the strap from the bag which contained my drains

Four months later we made the informed decision to have a double mastectomy and immediate reconstruction with implants.  We made the decision to have implants due to MIni being under a year old and the recovery would be quicker. So I went in for my operation on 28 February.  Unfortunately for me things were not straightforward and I had issues with the implants and subsequently spent a lot of time in hospital with sepsis and had to have the implants removed and another operation to remove some more tissue sue to the pathology of the previously removed breasts. It was a hard and very emotional time for me and my family.  I was in hospital for over six weeks over a two month period.  But I reduced my risk of breast cancer to less than 5%.  I still have not had a reconstruction, but when the boys are more self sufficient I will. When  my boys are eighteen, they will both be eligible for a genetic rest to see if they carry the same faulty gene that I do.  When I was eighteen we didn't even know what DNA was let alone be able to isolate and locate faulty genes, so it is my hope that by the time they are older not only will they be able to be tested, but if they test positive that they will be able to be cured.
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Crafting with Post-it notes

creeper We were recently sent a selection of post-it notes and a canvass to get our craft on with.  Being the total non-conformist I am we decided to have a go at installation art in addition to  making a picture on the canvass (this also had something to do with the fact that we couldn't get the post-it notes top stick on the canvass so the creeper we made fell apart!  I should have added glue to the canvass like The Boy and Me did!

post it 3

post it 2

post it 1

post it

The boys really enjoyed being allowed to stick the post-it notes to the wall and I felt safe in the knowledge knowing that they would not mark the paintwork or stick permanently.

We used Super Sticky fully adhesive Post-it notes which are in fab vibrant colours.  3M have just launched Post-It Notes Colour Cubes which have many more bright and lovely colours.  Why not check out Post-It UK Facebook Page for more information on the new range of Post-It Notes and see other peoples pictures too.

3.

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Win a Forestry Commission Discovery Pass

I am a huge advocate of free range parenting and natural play.  One of the ways I encourage this is by taking the boys to our local woods and also to Dalby Forest, which we are ambassadors for. I want them to learn that they can climb trees, roll in leaves and use natures playgroup.  I want them to learn all about unstructured play. I want to encourage them to build dens and look out for nature.  In short I want them to have balance in their lives, I want them to have a natural childhood along with the technology that pervades their lives. I am sure that I am not the only parent that feels this way.  If so then this giveaway is perfect for you. nature forests a Rafflecopter giveaway A Discovery Pass is valid for a specific location, and the winner will need to stipulate which venue they want.  Details here: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/pass The prize will be fulfilled by The Forestry Commission and the winner must be willing to provide full contact details The Pass is valid for 12 months and gives free parking for one car at the designated location. There are additional benefits to the pass including
  • A seasonal e-newsletter, with forest news and events.
  • Generous discount vouchers for shops and activities on and off site.  Benefits differ from site to site.
Forestry Commission Badge
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My smile is the mask I wear every day

Everyday I get up and I wash my face and I turn that frown upside down, for my smile is the mask I wear every day. MuminMadhouse I am a pretty quiet and private person in real life (I know you would never have guessed from this blog), I do not share my feelings or troubles freely.  I find it hard to connect with real people, hard to give myself freely to friendships   Partly this is down to having MadDad in my life, he was my best friend before he was my husband and I love him dearly, but also part of it is down to being let down and disappointed by someone in the past. When we moved back to the North East six years ago, I hoped that by immersing myself in to toddler groups etc that I would meet people and make friends.  But we moved to a small village and people here grew up with each other and a lot of those childhood friendships continue to this day.  I chat to people in the playground, I try to make an effort, but feel pretty excluded.   I know I have to put myself out there to be accepted, but gosh it is really hard. In the past I have struggled with depression and I still have numerous health issues, but I do not want these to define me.  I worked hard to overcome my depression and it is not something that I often dwell on.  Most of the time I am a pretty positive person. Recently I made an error and I fear that I have lost one of the people that I used to call a good friend.  This fills me with deep sadness and I do not know how to make things better, in fact I do not think there is anything I can do to make it better.  Hopefully time will heal things , either that or I will just have to let go and mourn the loss of a good friend from my own stupidity. I am at my happiest when I am with my family.  When I am surrounded with MadDad and the boys on a weekend.  I love having them around and I love doing things together with them.  I am putting myself out a little bit more and have been enjoying my weekly sewing class, even if I am the youngest by two generations! I am currently trying to pluck up the courage to go to the local WI group tonight, but worry that I will be the only one under 50!  I have left four messages for them, but they have not got back to me, so wondering if I should just go. Sometimes I just wonder if it is me that feels this way or if I am just feeling a little down in the dumps?  
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Bank holiday weekending

PicMonkey Collage   A super bank holiday was had by all the Mad family this week. There has been Dangerous Den building, mending and making too, plotting and planting, the first BBQ of the season,a new to us bureaux (ripe to a makeover)  a trip to Durham, baking and just being together as a family. I hope you have had a great weekend too.
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Meal Plan – The Fresh Week Pledge Edition

As part of the Tefal innovation panel I was asked if I would take the fresh week pledge to commit to giving up processed food from Monday 13 May - Sunday 19 May 2013 in favour of fresh, unprocessed food.  For me this is a bit of a no brainer as I cook from scratch most days. FreshWeek Since getting cancer I have been wary of processed foods.  I know that not everything processed is bad, but I make the effort to give myself and my family the best food I can and for me this means cooking from scratch. As a perk of being a Tefal Innovator they sent me a Fresh Express and a riverford food box this week, so kick starting my menu planning for next week.  So I am going to share with you my menu for this week and see if you would be willing to take the pledge.  If you do there is a chance that you too could win a Fresh Express and a Vegetable Box. Bank holiday Monday Homemade pancakes and fruit Salad Sandwiches with homemade bread BBQ with Fish, fennel, salad and homemade flatbreads Tuesday Scrambled egg with chopped tomato The boys are back at school so school lunch for them. Lentil bolognese (diced peppers, onions, passata, herbs) Wednesday Dippy eggs Spelt pizza bases with lentil sauce topping and vegetables, served with salad pizza Thursday Banana Muffins Chickpea curry and homemade naan bread Friday Fruit and yogurt Boys are at a party, but me and MadDad will be having homemade fish and chips Saturday Pancakes with fruit and yogurt Poached eggs with smoked haddock Sunday Breakfast Muffins Roast Chicken with yorkshire puddings and vegetables Homemade roast vegetables soup and homemade bread pledge
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Words of love

Each night as I tuck them in, the words of love are uttered.
"I love you" I say "I love you too" Maxi replys "I love you to the moon and back" I say "I love you three million, twenty two thousand and ninety eight miles" Maxi responds
maxi asleep Then I move on to Mini's room.......................
"I love you" I say "I love you more" he responds "I love you MORE" I reply "I love you the MOST" he says with such conviction it makes my heart ache
Not possible I think to myself, not possible. mini sleep  
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Fountains Abbey

Spring finally sprung in North Yorkshire this past weekend and we decided to take advantage of the National Trusts free weekend and visit Fountains Abbey. climbing fountains There is something wonderful in just getting outdoors and having fun as a family.  We packed a picnic and set off for an adventure. Maxi Fountains Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal is a great place to walk, explore, learn and have fun as a family.  It is a world heritage centre and the boys love being able to run and just generally have fun whilst I amble along at my own pace taking lots of photographs. mini fountains I love spring days out as a family.  Exploring places and enjoying each others company.  Over the Spring and summer we try to ensure that we spend one day at the weekend out as a family.  The thing is that the boys love being out and about as much as me and MadDad do and we spent Sunday pottering in the garden and the weekend was pretty screen free for all of us. You can see more of our photos from Fountains Abbey on our facebook page  Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall
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Encouraging writing in Boys – Scrapbooking holiday memories

recording holiday memories We are really focussing on trying to encourage our boys to move away from the electronic and take up more tactile pursuits!  I gave you some ideas for encouraging writing earlier in the week, but I wanted to concentrate on recording holiday memories this time.  When I was younger one of the most exciting aspects of any family holiday was receiving the developed film back from the chemist  and putting together an album of the photographs and writing the name of the holiday in the inside page. scrapbook 1 In todays digital world I find that my images stay on my PC, phone and on the digital photo frame we have and that made me sad, so I decided to encourage Maxi to make a scrapbook of our recent Orlando visit.  This was made even easier as we were gifted a whole host of Papermainia scrapbooking things in the All Aboard travel theme from Docrafts.com Whilst we were in Orlando Maxi made sure that he took maps, leaflets and keep all his tickets in to the theme parks, so in addition to any pictures I printed out he could also keep all this memorabilia and have a wonderful physical memory of our holiday. Firstly we sat at the PC and decided which images to print.  In future I think that I would send them off to an online provider to print, that way we could have a better quality print. Then we cut all the photographs out using the guillotine and then I let Maxi lose with the glue and a pen! scrap As much as I wanted everything to be neat and in a certain way, I knew that it was best that I just stayed on the sideline and let him fill the scrapbook in how he wanted it to be.  Afterall this is his holiday memories we are recording. The best thing is that whilst Maxi was busy doing this, Mini decided that he needed a scrapbook too and starting sticking in receipts and maps from visits to London in.  I hope that I have started something and that the boys start collecting mementos on holidays and trips and they keep on making scrapbooks. Recently our friends went on a holiday in the Norfolk Broads, which is somewhere we haven't visited at all and both the boys have decided that they want to  go on a Richardson's Boating Holiday.  They both love the idea of all the things they could record and keep in their new scrapbooks! 3.
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A day in the life of my hands

Maxi's hands

  • Two hands, one for each of my children.  I still take joy in the fact that at eight and nearly seven the boys want to hold my hands when we go places.
  • Two hands, to hold on tight to the man of my dreams
  • Two hands that love to get dirty with bread, paint, glue and glitter (not all at the same time mind you)
  • Two hands, one to hold the book and one to turn the pages as I read the bedtime story
  • Two hands that love to gently stroke my children as they sleep.
  • Two hands that tippy tap away on the keyboard letting the words flow from brain to blog
  • Two hands that hold the camera capturing the moments to make the memories
  • But mostly my two hands to help, they help my children learn to make their own way in the world

hands

To celebrate its 20th birthday, Carex has launched a nationwide competition to reward 20 busy pairs of hands around the UK!

The Carex Live Life Hands On Awards celebrate all the wonderful things that we do with our hands. Carex wants people to share a day in the life of their hands, showcasing the real life moments that hands unlock, every single day. Entries can be a couple of sentences, a short written diary, some photos or even video footage. Hands The competition is open to everyone and Carex will pick 20 of the most compelling entries to each win £500 worth of Red Letter Day vouchers, plus a year’s supply of Carex hand wash. To enter The Carex Live Life Hands On Awards visit the Carex Website 

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House of Secrets

We love books in The Mad House and one of my favorite times of the day is when we read to each other.  As the boys are growing up I still feel it is important to read to them and I am aware that sometimes the length of books is daunting to younger children if they want to read them themselves, however, chapter books are great for family reading.  We were recently sent The House of Secrets and we have been reading a chapter or two each night and it is a fab family book.  It is a real page turner. house of secrets We were keen not to let too much away, but have decided to do a very quick video review for you. This is a great book.  I read it all in the bath one night after reading the first four chapters to the boys!  It has encouraged us to talk about lots of issues as a family, but it hasn't been too spooky or scary for either of the boys.  It has really introduced the boys to the concept of cliffhangers and is a proper page turner.  It is crying out to be made into a movie, infact Maxi asked when it was going to be on at the Cinema. I would urge you to get this book, I am enjoying reading it to the boys as much as they are enjoying listening to it. Ned Vizzini is the bestselling author of the acclaimed young-adult books The Other NormalsIt's Kind of a Funny Story (also a major motion picture), Be More Chill, and Teen Angst? Naaah.... In television, he has written for ABC's Last Resort and MTV's Teen Wolf. His essays and criticism have appeared in the New York Times, the Daily Beast,and Salon. He is the co-author, with Chris Columbus, of the fantasy-adventure series House of Secrets. His work has been translated into ten languages. He lives in Los Angeles.
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Encouraging Writing in Boys

writing With the onslaught of electronics in todays lifestyle writing can sometimes take a backseat and I for one am keep to encouraging writing in my boys.  I think the fact that Maxi is both a reluctant reader and writer makes me more determined to find ways to encourage this skill.  Mini who is nearly seven loves to read and write and can often be found with a notebook and pencil in hand and is keen to improve his handwriting as he wants to get awarded a handwriting pen at school. Over the summer holidays last year we focussed a lot on writing and pen skills including making our own books, creating a writing centre and making memory stones. One of the things that I discovered was that good quality writing equipment was key in helping both the boys.   Triangular and wide pencils were easier for them to grip and paper with lines on made it easier too.  Good quality paper that they can press on without ripping is essential.  I also found that providing them with notebooks and letter writing stationery or their own choice helped to encourage them. Journaling q&A Now the boys are a little older (eight and nearly seven) we have moved on and they are currently filling in a Q&A a day for children journal each night before bed. These are brilliant journals, which asks a simple question each night and your child completes it.  It is only a sentence, so fast and simple to do before bed.  I want the boys to get into the habit of writing and feel this is a fantastic way to do that, plus it is a good way of recording how their answers change each year. Maxi is also putting together a scrapbook style journal of our recent trip to Orlando (more about that in the near future). Penpals ASwholarge Both the boys also have a penpal that they write too.  This is a great way of encouraging writing, penmanship and also communication skills.  They choose their own stationery and learn the joy of sending and receiving letters. We have even been collecting stamps to make a display with.  I know that the boys are  excited to use the special edition Dr Who Royal Mail stamps (released to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who this year)  on their next letters. mini writing 3.  
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Encouraging individualism in children

I want my children to be individuals  to not be afraid to be different. I want them to have the courage of their convictions and I want them to know that uniqueness is something to be embraced not shunned.  However, this is not easy ion today's mass market society   Everything looks the same and they often want to follow trends, well Mini does.  Maxi is much happier to stand out from the crowd. boys Over the Easter holidays we were invited to London Zoo by Next to see their Spring/Summer 2013 range and as both the boys have started to show an interest in the clothes they wear it was an interesting event.  Maxi gravitated towards the bright colours, whilst Mini loved the streetwear.  I was going to blog about the clothes, but realised that there are already some great posts out there from This  Mummy Loves, Inside the Wendy House and The Crazy Kitchen. hats As we left they were gifted a goodie bag that contained a monochrome hat and some sunglasses.  When we got home they thought it would be a great idea to use some fabric pens we have and to customise their caps.  I thought this was a great way of introducing individualism and we had great fun. hats next Both the boys really enjoyed personalising their hats from Next and took a lot of time in picking the colours they wanted and it was the perfect quiet time activity.  We sat at the table after bath time and discussed why it is OPK to wear what you want and that it is what is on the inside that matters not the outside. How do you encourage your children to be unique?  
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Geocaching with Children

Geocaching is a great way to get out and about and treasure hunt with Children.  For the uninitiated Geocaching is an outdoor activity where you navigate to a cache (or treasure for children ) using GPS.    Now that most of us have built in GPS on our mobile phone this is a great family activity and it is becoming a much more mainstream and Geocaching activity. geocaching with children What is Geocaching? It is a modern day treasure hunt using GPS.  There are over 2 million caches worldwide and to show you just how popular and accessible it is there are 14 within 2 miles of where I live on the North Yorkshire Coast! How do I find the location of Geocaches? You can search by location, postcode, county on geocaching.com.  It is a great way to get out and explore an area that you are going on holiday too.  There is a North Wales Geocache Trail, which is great for people holidaying in that lovely part of the British Isles (we had our honeymoon here and are looking to visit with the children next year).  The North Wales Geocache Trail is a great introduction to Geocaching as a family, it has a map for you to look at and decide which trail you might wish to use and the added bonus of prizes!  You can also search on difficulty, which makes it great for children.

nwb cover photo

What equipment do I need? Now that you can get Geocaching apps on your mobile phone, such as Geocaching by Groundspeak Inc for the Iphone and CacheSense for android you do not need to have a dedicated GPS device.  As with any walk it is recommended that you have good shoes or boots and dress appropriately, but as you can see it is a very low outlay activity. What is a cache? A cache is the treasure and a cache always contains a logbook or logsheet for you to log your find.  One of the guiding principles of geocaching is "take something, leave something." A geocache hider places a number of goodies in a container when a new cache is first started.  As people find the cache, they exchange goodies that catch their eye with trade items they've brought with them on the search.  The rule of geocaching is that if you take something from the cache, you must replace it with something of equal or greater value Have you been on a  geocache with your children?

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Perfect games for Children

Whenever I am asked for recommendations for games or toys to buy for younger children I often recommend Orchard Toys.  It is one of the first things that come to mind and both my boys have grown up loving and playing Orchard Toys.  In fact at one time or another I think we have had every single game in their range.  When the boys outgrown them I have passed them on to friends with younger children, these games are universally loved. spooky steps I love them for the following reasons:
        1. They are easy to play
        2. They are suitable for toddlers,  preschoolers  and upwards upwards
        3. They are fun and educational
        4. They are not mind numbing for adults
        5. They encourage independent play. My two can play without adult supervision
        6. They often combine chance with strategy, which means that people of multiple ages can play
        7. They are often 3D, however are easy to assemble and really strong and sturdy
        8. They are designed to hold children's attention and are played over a short period of time.
        9. They encourage and enforce educational skills through play without the child even noticing.
        10. They are reasonably priced, perfect for gift giving.
        11. They have great longevity
        12. Super playability
        13. They work within children's short concentration spans
Spooky Steps 159-548-spooky-steps-pack-shot We were recently sent Spooky Steps, which is a fun game for 4 to 12 year olds and focusses on maths skills.  It costs £14.99.  The boys both loved this and built it and played independently without any input at all from me and MadDad.   The instructions were clear and concise and they loved the 3D effect of the game board.  The quality of the materials is really obvious and although it has been played with extensively it does not yet show any signs of wear. The object of the game is to  creep through the spooky house to reach the cauldron and break the witch’s spell.  It encourages math skills, but also adds chance to the game, so evening out any age differences in players. As a parent this game was a real hit as it meant that the boys were using mathematics in a meaningful context without even realising that maths were involved.  This is the joy of Orchard Toys.  If your child means a little encouragement in a specific area you can focus on it without them even noticing and it makes learning a fun experience through play.  
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My Thatcher Years

I am not one for talking politics, but I was sat in the car listening to Jane Garvey on Radio 2 (much better than Jeremy Vine incidentally) discussing what people thought of Margaret Thatcher last week and it really got me thinking.  I understand that she polarised public opinion and there is a real North South divide when it comes to her and the politics of the era in question.    In some ways it wasn't a North South divide, but a class gap, which even shows in my home and the opinion MadDad and me have of The Thatcher Years. 318939_10151070661202084_1745406940_n I am a child of the eighties, I was born in the early seventies and lived on the North East coast with my Mum, Dad and Grandad.  My Dad and Grandad both worked in the shipyards.  Both were in management positions and my Mum was a SAHM.  My Dad had gone to Grammar school and college and apprenticed at the "Dock" in the Engineering department.  My Grandad was a blacksmith and had worked there from leaving school at 14, so you could say that shipbuilding ran in my blood.  All the other males in the family either worked at the Docks, the steel yard or the chemical works.  I grew up in Teesside an area of heavy industry born from iron and built of steel. My parents were the first in their family to buy there own house and we lived a relatively good life.  As a family there was two incomes coming in to the house and my mum was a stay at home mum from when I was born, so we never really wanted for anything.  We ate well, had great holidays and life was fab.  I remember riding my bike after school to meet my Dad on the way home from work.  We would get half way and he would stop the car and put the bikes in the back and go home together for a meal that my mum had cooked.  We spent many a summer evening on my Granddad's allotment where he grew vegetables cutting flowers and kept chickens   We would often build dens in the nearby nature reserve.  Life was uncomplicated.  My Dad was often to be found in the garage repairing car's for friends or doing up one to sell for some extra cash. I remember homemade clothes, family get togethers and riding my bike everywhere.  I remember having to be home for 4.30pm for dinner as Dad and Granddad got home at 4.15 and a meal was on the table at 4.30 every night.  There was band practice twice a week and my Dad got his license so he could drive the Band Bus on a weekend to cpmpetitions.  I remember sitting with my tape recording in the bedroom I shared with my brother taping songs off the radio trying to pause it before the presenter spoke, so that I could make mix tapes for the weekends journeys on the bus. I went to a good primary school and an even better senior school and my Mum became a School Crossing Warden or LollyPop lady.  We walked to school on our own from about seven years old and could often be found in the park after school fishing for guppies in the beck, carrying on at the golf links, crabbing at the boating lake or messing around on the beach. 560822_10151070659317084_1400903836_n Then things changed.  My parents tried hard to hide it from us, but it soon got out that the Shipyard was to be closed and thousands of men were to lose their jobs.  Their livelihoods gone, just like that.   Yes there was to be a decent redundancy package, but there were clauses about not being able to work for any other Shipyard for a set amount of time.  These things I didn't realise at the time.  It was as though someone had ripped out my Grandpa's heart.  Both my Dad and GrandDad had long service awards.  I remember my Dad going out looking for work.  I remember him traveling 60 miles each way everyday for work at Sunderland.  I remember the hushed conversations about tax and making sure the mortgage got paid.  I remember my Dad telling my mum that he wasn't too proud to do any work, but he was not going to sign on.  He never had and he never would.  I remember the mornings that my Mum got up at 5.30 am to go and clean the local British Legion Club before coming home to get our breakfast before school. My Senior School "merged" with another "not so good" school, but in reality, my school closed and the other school remained open crammed to the gills.   I went from loving school to hating school in one foul swoop and became rebellious. You know what, my Dad was one of the lucky ones.  He eventually got full time permanent employment, but not in his field.  Not doing what he trained all those years for and in an industry and position that eventually killed him (he died in an Industrial Accident in 2000).  Many people were out of work for years.  Families torn apart and lives shattered.  It is hard to find employment when the jobs do not exist. As a family we survived, we didn't thrive like some people.  But we were lucky, we had the allotment, which meant that we had lots of fresh veg   My Dad repaired the fishermans tractors and boats in exchange for fish  and seafood and my mum was an amazingly thrifty and resourceful woman. Love her or hate her, Thatcher stirred things up in the UK.  She was the first female prime minister in the UK and that is something to be proud of.  Growing up I never thought it was odd to have a female in this position it just seemed like the normal thing to me and for that I am grateful. So that is my Thatcher years.  What are yours?  
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Make Spring Cleaning a Family Affair

It's that time of year when we perform the exasperating task of preparing our homes for the spring. From shooing away dust bunnies to taking an inventory of your spring and summer wardrobe and picking out pieces to donate or give away, spring cleaning consists of many 'must-do' chores in order to prepare your home for the upcoming season. As difficult as it is to get ourselves motivated and actively cleaning, it's even more knackering trying to get your family to chip in; particularly the little ones. Face it, the last thing a kid wants to do is clean up, especially if it involves getting rid of some of their prized possessions (even if they haven't touched them in years). You can still clean house without it ending in tantrums and tears by following these simple tips. 80618803

Leave Those Tricks Up Your Sleeve

While we all tell our children little white lies every now and then, it's best to avoid deceiving your little ones or conning them when it comes to getting them to help around the house or do chores. While it's best to be truthful with your children about spring cleaning, you should also use a little charm and finesse. Ask or invite your wee ones to help you as most tots love being helpful and beam with pride when they've done a good job. Keep this in mind when you and your kids are going through their toys, games, and clothing. First, explain to them why you need to purge your home of some things that are old or no longer used. If you are donating some of their possessions, discuss with them the importance of giving their old things to other children who aren't as fortunate as they are. Next, let them make a pile of items they want to keep and those they can part with or no longer use for items that are in dispute, make your children justify why it’s necessary to keep them. In keeping with these tips, you're sure to have enough drawer and closet space ready for those spring and summer clothing pieces from Marks and Spencer.

Have Some Fun

Spring cleaning doesn't have to be a bore. Make a game out of cleaning with your children. Split your family into teams and assign them each a task or area to clean. Whichever team finishes first (and does the best job) wins a special treat. Turn spring cleaning into a scavenger hunt of sorts by hiding clues in places that need to be cleaned or organized, such as toy chests and closets. Again, be sure to reward your kids for participating and a job well done.

End With a Family Celebration

Treat the entire family to a night or day of fun after your spring cleaning is finished. Have a pizza night filled with games and sweet treats, or take your family out to a fun, themed restaurant, specifically designed for the kiddies. Even a simple activity like a family day of exploration at a nearby park or a nice picnic is an excellent way to commemorate your family achievement. And, in rewarding your children for their assistance and cooperation, you're not only letting them know that you appreciate their efforts, but you are encouraging and reinforcing positive cleaning habits. 18.
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School holidays, are you a lover or hater?

When the boys were toddlers I used to dread the holidays.  No toddler groups, no toddler only swimming, the park would be full of big kids and woe betide trying to do to soft play without an older and larger child pushing my poor smaller babes. Yes I really did hate the holiday times.  In fact I would sometimes sit and cry at the thought of what I was going to do to keep them occupied without our regular hangouts and places to go.  Even story time at the library was cancelled over the school holidays. I felt that I needed to have a routine.  that my whole world would collapse without the organised, regimented activities that we did each holiday.  I used to fool myself that the children needed these things.  That they needed to socialise and be with other children, but the real truth is that I NEEDED to go to these things.  I needed the adult company that going to a regular activity brough.  Those Tuesday morning toddler group at the Church was the only hot cup of coffee I got all week and what's more it was always made with hot milk! zoo

 The boys with the Frugals!

My two boys are fifteen months apart and going to these activities often kept one of them occupied whilst I could concentrate on the other or even better kept them both busy for five minutes peace.  I was never one to have friends at the groups, but I did used to enjoy getting out of the house and away from the monotony of the early years of parenting. When other parents, inevitably the ones with school age children would tell me they looked forward to the holidays I would inwardly wonder if they were mad! However, I couldn't feel any different now they are both older and in school full time.  I long for the holidays.  For the lack of routine and the ability to relax and slow down.   I love the fact that there is no rush in the mornings to get ready and get to school.  That we can be a little more relaxed about bedtimes and really enjoy each others company. I love the thought of not having a week of activities planned and being able to just go with the flow.  If we fancy fish and chips at the beach there is nothing stopping us.  Want to try a different park?  Yep lets just jump in the car!  We all love getting so engrossed in an activity that the hours role by and we have no where we HAVE to be. In fact the longer the holiday the better.  One week is too short, it takes a week for the boys to decompress and stop fighting with each other.  The second week is much better, they learn to make there own fun.  To cooperate with each other.  They start to get into the groove of playing out with friends and making their own games. But what do you think?  Are you a school holiday lover or hater?  
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Win a Haven Holiday

Fancying winning a 3 night weekend or 4 night Midweek break with Haven Holidays?    I thought you might............ All you have to do is share a picture of one of your Haven holidays saying why you think nothing beats a holiday by the seaside using through Haven’s Facebook app before 14 April 2013. Then Rory the Tiger will choose a winner and they can either have a 3 night weekend or 4 night Midweek break in a Deluxe caravan for up to six people before October 2013 (but this excludes July and August). Now I know that I am lucky to actually live by the sea, so I am biased, but I also know that nothing beats a seaside holiday.  There is something about the sea that makes me and the rest of the family relax and feel grounded.  The boys adore the sea.  They never seem to feel the cold of the water until they get out!  They love digging and making sandcastles and honestly nothing beats fish and chips out of the paper at the seaside. When I was growing up even though we lived by the sea, most of our family holidays were taken in our touring caravan at the great British seaside resorts.  In fact look at the photos my brother found of one of our holidays! holiday I love the fact that no matter how hot it was my Grandad would be fully dressed! I love reliving my holidays of past with my children, so why not enter and see if you can win a seaside holiday. For full terms and conditions please see the Haven Facebook app page
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For Better or Worse

MadDad and I have been together over 19 years and have been through many ups and downs, but how well do we actually know each other.  I like to think that we know each other pretty well, but Osbornes Solicitors asked us to put our knowledge of each other to the test with their new app For Better or Worse. scan0012 So We put the app to the test and I was pleased to say that MadDad kew quite a lot about me.  OK he didn't remember what I wore to our first date, but then neither did I!  However, he knows just how I like my tea and so he should has for the last eighteen years he has brought me a cup of tea in bed in the morning.  He knows my shoe size and my favorite food.  So as I far as I am concerned he knows all the major and important information. How did I do in comparison?   Well I am pleased to say that I too did OK.  Again, I can not remember a lot of the firsts. First date clothing, first words, first live band................... I have no idea, but then neither did he.  These things really do not matter in our relationship.  What matters is the present and the future.  What matters is that we continue to respect, love and cherish each other and that we put effort into making our marriage work. But he has never forgot an anniversary or a birthday and I know that my man is a keeper. So what about your that special someone?  How would they fair?  Why not give the app a go.  It made for some fun conversation and reminiscing in The Mad House. You can play on Osbournes Facebook page, or on the Osbornes website. 3.
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Homemade Birthday Cards

We are a family that loves making and receiving homemade cards.   However, I am aware the boys are getting older and I want to keep their enthusiasm for the homemade and very amateur cards.  So I thought I would share with you the cards I made for Maxi this year. Eight candle birthday card. 8 candle card Materials
  • Paper Straws
  • Card
  • Bakers twine (from Papermash)
  • Yellow and orange pen
  • Washi tape
  • Glue
Method
  1. Firstly I cut the straws to length
  2. Then cut a small amount of backers twine and glue in the straw to make it look like a wick
  3. Then glue the straws to the card.
  4. I then used the pens to make the flames
  5. Finally I ripped off some washi tape and wrote happy birthday on it
You could make it look more professional by layering and matting a happy birthday stamp or even print happy birthday and print it off and use that. Bunting Birthday Card bunting eight   Materials
  • Washi tape
  • bakers twine
  • Card
  • Scissors
Method Card making doesn't get much easier than this!
  1. Make bunting flags equally spaced on the twine using the washi tape by foling it over on each other.
  2. Then cut a triange shape to the bunting using scissors
  3. Stick on to the card with tape at the rear of each side.
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Keeping children entertained on car journeys

We have just come back from London, which for us is a five hour car journey each way.  We used to put portable DVD players in the car for these length of journeys, but at the moment we are working on reducing screen time, so we left them at home. entertaining I also am a great planner and in the boot of the car I have travel packs for journeys.  If you have ever been unlucky enough to have a flat tire or a breakdown with children in the car, you will understand just how much of a lifesaver having something they can do in the car is.
With this in mind I have we have activity packs in the boot of the car.  I have folders with everything they could need for a specific activity.  So if there is puzzle books, then I will make sure there is a couple of pens of different colours and also a highlighter for the wordsearches and a small dictionary for crosswords.
I tend to save all the crayons and pencils you get in restaurants and also all the little sticker packs and gift packs you get with children’s magazines.    The pound shop is also a perfect place to get things for this too.
Other things you could include in the packs are:
      • dot to dot books
      • puzzle books - maze, crosswords, word searches
      • Maths or english books
      • sticker books
      • Mess free painting
      • Plasticine
      • Small pots of playdough and a tray
      • Travel games such as battleship, connect four
      • A pack of cards
We also have other games that we play, that do not need anything at all and the boys current favorite is "I am thinking of..............".  This involves them thinking of something ie a country and then we have to ask questions to try and figure out what it might be.  I have learnt that their geography and knowledge of flags is way better than mine! How do you keep your children entertained on car journeys?
This is an entry in to the Tots100 Jolly Journeys competition in conjunction with Travel Supermarket.  Take a look at their UK car hire , as this is where they will be displaying some of the best tips they receive.
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Eggs decorated with washi tape

This is one of those craft activities that you can do whilst mindlessly watching the TV.  Sometimes on an evening when I spend time with MadDad I have the urge to craft, but it needs to be be something that I can do whilst chatting about our day and perhaps watching TV or listening to music.  These masking (washi) tape eggs really fitted the bill. washi eggts   To make it even easier you could use polystyrene eggs rather than blown eggs and then you wouldn't worry about pressing too hard either.  All I did was place strips of tape length way on the eggs from heat to point and kept going over lapping each time. They would look lovely hunt onto a branch as an Easter tree too, however, mine make me happy in one of my many cake stands and dishes. washi tape eggs
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Pom Pom Bunnies and Chicks

We have a thing for Pom Poms and have made lots of things with them preciously including pom pom bunting.  However, with Easter on the way we decided to try our hand at Pom Pom Bunnies and Pom Pom Chicks.  It was also the ideal opportunity to let Maxi lose with the glue gun. pom pom bunnies Materials
      • Yarn
      • Pom Pom Maker
      • Felt - yellow for the chicks, pink and white for the bunnies
      • Glue - we used the glue gun, but also fabric glue
      • Small beads for eyes
Method - Bunnies
  1. Make two pom poms using white wool.  One smaller than the other.  We used a clover pom pom maker.
  2. In white felt cut out a small heart for the bunnies feet and two ear shapes for each ear.
  3. In pink felt cut out a smaller Inner ear and also a tiny triangle for the bunny's nose
  4. Using a glue gun, stick the smaller pom pom on top of the large one
  5. Using fabric glue stick the pink inner ear on to the white ears and allow to dry
  6. Using fabric glue stick the eyes and nose on to the smaller pom pom and then the ears to the rear of the pom pom.
  7. The stick the heart to the bottom of the bunny with the pint facing the rear.
There is a super tutorial at maedchenmitherz. pom pom chicks Method - Chicks
  1. Make a largeish pom pom in yellow wool for the chick's body
  2. In yellow felt cut out two shapes for the chicks wings and one for the chicks tail feathers.  Also cut a small triangle for the chicks beak - in future ones I will make this orange to stand out more.
  3. Stick the wings and tail to the pom pom using a glue gun.
  4. Stick the eyes and beak on using fabric glue
bunny collageWe have also been making pom pom bunny bunting over on A Thrifty Mum. pompom bunnies and chicks
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Smartie Birthday Cake

It has become something of a tradition that Maxi always has a chocolate smartie cake for his birthday.  This year I decided to try and do something a little more eye catching.  I love baking, but find icing larger cakes something of a chore.  So this cake is very forgiving. cake   Cake Ingredients 
  • 6 oz of butter or marg
  • 6 oz caster sugar
  • 5 oz of self raising flour
  • 1 oz of coco powder
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • half teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons of milk
Method.  Cream together the marg/butter and sugar.  Then add the rest of the ingredients in and mix well! Put in two 7 inch cake tins (I line the tins with parchment and grease) and place in to a preheated oven of 180 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.  You can tell if the cakes are cooked if when you press the top it gives slightly but springs back. Remove from oven and leave for 2 minutes before removing from tins and placing on to a wire rack to cool. inside cake Icing Ingredients:
  • 1 block of butter (250gm of 10 oz)
  • 450 grams icing sugar
  • 50 gms of coco powder
  • half teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons of milk
Method Soften the butter in a mixer before adding the other ingredients.  Make sure you start mixing very slowly so you do not get icing sugar everywhere.  If your mixer does not have a splatter guard then cover with a tea towel. cake 1 Assembling the cake Sandwich together your two cakes with icing and then apply the remaining icing around and on top of the cake.  You are going to use the using around the cake to stick the chocolate fingers to the cake, so make sure you have enough at the sides. I applied the fingers and then refrigerated the cake overnight, before covering the top with smarties the following day. smartie cake
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How to make a Pinecone Owl and other pinecone crafts

Maggie at Red Ted Art (who has a new craft book out) hosts a regular Google + Hangout and this weeks was all about Pinecone crafts.  Mini has been studying nocturnal animals this week, so we decided to make a pinecone owl. This is one of those crafts that you can adjust dependent on the age of your child yu cutting out all the felt (or foam) and allowing them to glue it or they can cut it out and glue it too.  I made templates for the boys to draw around on the felt with a soft pencil and they cut out the felt themselves. pinecone owls Materials
  • Pine-cones
  • Felt (or craft foam) in yellow, brown and orange
  • googly eyes
  • Glue gun or glue (Maxi uses a glue gun, but mini uses craft PVA)
felt for owl Method
  1. Cut out in yellow a figure of eight shape for the base of the eyes larger than your googly eyes and stick the eyes to it.
  2. Then using orange felt or foam cut out a small triangle for the beak and curves with points which are the owls feet.
  3. You cut out a square in brown for the owls hat - approximately 2 inches in size, but this depends on your pine cone.
  4. Cut two triangles for the owls wings
  Other Pinecone crafts I have done over the years include:

pinecone garland

Pinecone and heart garland

IMG_3366

 Pinecone bird feeders 

pinecone doorPinecone door decoration

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If only I had know…………..

        • me and baby boysThat time truly flies and people were not exaggerating when they said "they grow up so fast"
        • That life really does change when you look at that tiny bundle and suddenly realise you are responsible for another human being
        • That one so small can create so much poo
        • That irony is not lost on babies
        • That boys WILL wee on you as soon as you remove their nappy
        • That no matter what colour you dress your child in, people will always think they are of the opposite sex
        • That second hand is not second best
        • That it will take 30 minutes more than you allowed to get out of the house
        • That babies smelled so good after a bath
        • That sleep is for the weak
        • That colic does get better
        • That cold tea is all I will drink for months and to invest in a thermos cup
        • That LEGO is a weapon
        • That poo could be such a funny word to toddlers and boys of all ages
        • That it is OK to get angry
        • That I will never again be able to go to the toilet in peace
        • That I would know The Hungary Caterpillar off by heart
        • That I would cry on their first day at Preschool
        • That DVD's do not wear out though repetitive play even if you wish they would
        • That nativities are so emotional
        • That is it perfectly acceptable to get sick of cooking and preparing meals
        • That it is natural to live in constant fear of something bad happening to your child
        • That it is not acceptable to fancy one of the presenters of CBebbies
        • Daytime naps for Mummy as well as baby are totally acceptable
        • That the odd jar of baby food and bit of salt will not harm your child
        • That saying no to homework is OK
        • That the cleaning can wait
        • That it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help
        • That weetabix dries like concrete, so wipe it up quickly
        • That when people are starring at your whilst your child is having a tantrum are actually thinking "oh no, poor woman" rather than "gosh what a crap mother"
        • That I would be a better parent for having some me time
        • That being a parent is the hardest, but most rewarding job in the world
This post is my entry into the Aptaclub ‘If Only I’d Known…’ competition  
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Spring Manifesto – 2013

Firstly back to my Winter Manifesto and how I have fared.  I am really pleased to say that I pretty much have ticked everything off bar joining the local WI.  I have tried and rang them twice, but they have not got back to me.  I have finished Mini's quilt (blog post to come) and love my weekly craft lessons.  They are a real highlight of the week for me. minis quilt So onward and upwards, what do I want to do achieve over this spring:
      • Sew some seeds for the raised beds.  MadDad is the green fingered one, but I do love plotting and planning with him
      • Get on my bike.  I still haven't felt able and I really want to join the boys on theirs this spring
      • Take more photographs with all of us in.  I need to make a conscious effort to get in the picture.  I have even bought a remote control for the camera
      • Take the boys to park after school now the weather is improving
      • Sort out the conservatory/playroom.  The train table is about to collapse and we need to find some new storage for board games and a coffee table on a very tight budget.
      • Keep sewing and book some more day courses
What are your plans for this spring?
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A birthday treasure hunt

We adore birthdays if you haven't already guessed.  I love making the day special and fun and one of the ways we do that is to have a birthday treasure hunt.  This is right up Maxi's street as he loves puzzles. maxi birthday These are the clues we used, which I took from the Real Treasure Hunt website. Refrigerator A clue to find where you keep things cold Where to go next is what you'll be told. Computer Letters, a screen, and even a mouse, look around, you'll find it somewhere in the house. Bed When it gets late and you turn out the light This is the place you'll be found each night. Socks You’ll need to think hard to solve the next clue Find a covering for your foot, but it’s not a shoe. Oven Turn up the heat it will help you bake Cookies, casseroles, even a cake. Shower A place where water falls down like rain after it falls on you it goes down the drain. Microwave A metal box with numbers is usually the norm For this thing that helps us get our food warm. My boy adores gemstones  so his birthday present was a tiny wooden chest filled with gems.  He also got some LEGO and Tech Deck too.
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Spring clean the clutter

The sun perhaps popped it head out from behind the clouds today, enough to make me see just how dirty my windows were! However, before I start on the epic spring cleaning, it is time to declutter.  Firstly I see no point in cleaning around clutter, secondly that clutter might make me some cash on somewhere like Gumtree (where it is free to list and sell items) and lastly a tidy house always means a tidy mind for me. So now is the perfect time to have a clutter clear out.  Firstly you have to find a system that works for you. But I have some ideas for you below. declutter
        1. I love this storage for transient items from The Red Chair Blog.  It is the perfect way to store items until you have enough to make it worthwhile doing something with.  Mine would read Donate, Sell, Recycle and Toys.  I am on the look out for a similar wire rack or bookcase for our garage space.  By keeping toys out of sight you will truly see if children play with them.
        2. Get your children involved in clearing their toys.  Have an agreement where they get 50% of any money you make from selling them or let them donate ones to people less well off.  It is a great way to learn about charity.
        3. Let go of children's artwork.  If you realty attached to it, then take a digital photo of it to display in a pocket system or recycle it to make cards or recycled art bookmarks.
        4. Work clockwise round a room from the door.  This way you are going an an organised manner and if you have to stop then you know where you are up to.
        5. If you are unsure of getting rid of something, then ask yourself if you have used it in the last year?  If you haven't then why not part with it.
        6. When it comes to children's clothes, why not have a swapping party with friends who have older and younger children.  That way you will all get something new out of it.  You could always do this with toys and books too.
3.    
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Spring cleaning in the bedroom

Hopefully spring is on its way.  This for me means that I start to think about spring cleaning.  I do try to keep up with most cleaning tasks throughout the year, but there are a couple of things that I only do once or twice a year. bedroom spring clean The weather this time of the year is pretty changeable, but we tend to change over our winter duvets and clean and store them and replace them with our spring/summer weight ones.  I also pop an extra blanket or throw on the beds for when the nights are really cold and to help the transition from winter bedding to lighter weight bedding.   Now is also the time to review the state of your bedding.  Perhaps your duvet or pillows are starting to show their age and it would be more economical to replace them rather than clean them.  So search online for Duvet and pillow warehouse promotional code and see if you can find vouchers that make the cost less expensive. My local laundrette offers duvet and pillow cleaning and it is much less expensive than the local dry cleaners.  It only takes a couple of days and the duvet comes back all ready for me to store in the airing cupboard.  By having getting it done as soon as I swap it means that it is ready to go back on and I do not have to worry.  I do this for our super king sized duvet cover. The boys single duvets are OK to go in our washer, however, I need to wait for a blowy day, so they can be line dried. Spring cleaning shores:
  • Hoover the ceiling to remove any cobwebs
  • Swap bed linen
  • Clean the curtains (mine go in the wash and on the line)
  • Clean the inside of the windows, first wiping down the frames (I use a solution of vinegar and water for this)
  • Wipe down the doors, light switches and skirting boards
  • Clean any pictures, both the glass and the tops of the frames
  • Clean on top of doors and the door frame
  • Vacuum under the bed, chest of drawers, bedside cabinet and dressing table
Regular cleaning Due to the fact that I am removing cobwebs etc, I may make more dust, so I also do my regular cleaning in the bedroom too.
  • Polish furniture
  • Clean all mirrors (we have mirrored wardrobe doors)
  • Vacuum
  • Dust light fittings and clocks
  • Empty the bin
  • Flip the mattress
MyVoucherCodes
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Easter Baskets and Egg Free Peppermint Creams

I love crafting with the boys, but as they get older, we need crafts that can fit in with school, cubs, football, cooking and the rest of everyday life.  So things tend to be done in small chunks.  Yellow Moon sent us a fab box of Easter Craft items including some wonderful Baskets and self adhesive foam shapes. The thing is these baskets needed filling and we decided to make some Peppermint Creams, but as we were using them for gifts I wanted them to be egg free. egg free peppermint creams Ingredients
      • 225g icing sugar, sifted
      • 115g Condensed Milk
      • peppermint extract
      • Food colouring
      • Dark Chocolate
Method
  1. Gradually mix the icing sugar together with the  condensed milk. We used the mixer for this on slow.
  2. Add  peppermint extract to taste and knead until smooth.
  3. Dust a clean surface with icing sugar and roll out the mixture to 5mm thickness. Cut into shapes with small cutter (the boys chose hearts and bells).
  4. Leave in a cool place to dry for two to three hours.
  5. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over simmering water.
  6. Drizzle the peppermint creams with the melted chocolate
  7. Allow to set.
This keeps refrigerated for up to three weeks.  
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Eighteen

Eighteen years ago yesterday at noon, MadDad and I were wed.  We have had a wild ride of marriage with some downs and some great ups.  He is always by my side no matter what I do or where I go.  He is my lifeboat in stormy seas and my biggest cheer leader.  We have grown up together and we are lucky enough to really enjoy each others company.  He is one of the most unassuming people I have ever met and is a real joy to live with. He has been by my side in sickness (more often than not mine) and heath (his) and is a wonderful partner and even better Dad.  I miss him when we are apart and love spending time with my family.  He really brings out the best in me and reminds me to always be the best person I can be. He has a weakness for great coffee and curly wurly's.  He likes the odd pint of Guinness and loves Beef and Yorkshire Puddings. Back when we got married I had AJ to JL 18 March 1995 engraved inside our wedding rings, just in case he ever forgot the date (ever the realist I am) and so far he hasn't. He really is my cup of tea...................... my cup of tea
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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
Author:
Recipe type: Cakes
Serves: 12 cakes
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
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
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 4
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
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