Wishlist – Back to school for me

September means back to school and new slates and I always get the urge to do new things, make lists and plan and prepare.  It is more a new year to me than January and a time of resolutions. I was one of those children who loved going back to school.  I loved labelling my uniform and getting together my new school bag and stationery and that feeling still hasn't waned.  So this is my back to school wish list for me. back to school Clockwise: Satchel – NW3 Wakefield Satchel from Hobbs.  I adore this it is a good size perfect for holding all my “mummy” crap, but also my ipad. It also isn’t too ridged a satchel design and will go with anything and everything. Alphabet Index Tabs – Papermash.  Oh stationery how much do I love thee!  I adore index tabs and these are a little bit quirky with their different fonts. Shoes – Clement Derby from Hobbs.  Not your typical court shoes.  I adore these for the understated chic.  Perfect for girly dresses or with jeans for the autumn and winter.  Grey goes with pretty much everything Journal – Paperblanks.  Nothing screams back to school to me more than a blank journal.  The potential of a new book, with words to flow and fill the page.  I love the decoration on the outside of this journal which is inspired by Buddhist monks. Faber-Castell UFO Perfect Pencil – The Pen Company.  I love pencils and this is a great way of making a standard HB pencil look that little bit more grown up.  I love the fact that it extends the size of pencils and it has a built in sharpener. Now I just need a fairy godmother to look down on me and fulfil my wish list! What would be on your back to school wish list? 3.
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tassimo, how a coffee machine has revolutionised our lives (no exaggeration)

tassimo I never thought that a coffee machine would make such a difference to our home.  I am not a coffee drinker, but MadDad loves a good coffee and it is his affordable luxury in life. So when offered a Tassimo machine I thought it would be something that he would really appreciate.  I was right, he is really impressed with the quality of coffee.  The only time I drink coffee is in the lead up to Christmas when I add Baileys, so I decided to add some and yum, very nice grown up coffee. But the thing that has been most wonderful and completely unintentional is the freedom the Tassimo machine has brought to Maxi and our morning routine.  Maxi has always been an early riser and he loves to have a hot chocolate on a morning, but at 8 I feel that he is too young to operate a kettle, so one of us has to make him one.  The Tassimo machine means that Maxi can make chocolate for both him and Mini.   I love instilling independence in children and Tassimo has certainly revolutionised our mornings.  They are calmer, more relaxing and we get a little longer in bed! Over the the summer we have had iced Tassimo drinks including iced coffee and iced chocolate milk, which have been real treats for me and the boys and Maddad has been working his way through all the different blends of coffee. Pro's of a tassimo machine
  • Good quality coffee in a short time
  • Ability for children to use the machine
  • Cost per cup is not too expensive
  • Variety of drinks available
  • The fact it feels like an affordable luxury
  • That is can be used for more than just coffee and makes really nice hot chocolate
Con's of a tassimo machine
  • It is another kitchen gadget to take up workspace
  • The tea from the machine is not very nice
  • Storage of the t disks, both the new ones and also the ones waiting to be recycled
Recycling the T disks We are keen recyclers in The Mad House, so it is important that we just do not put the T discs in the bin, so are using the  Terracycle scheme.  We collect our used T discs and once we have a good box full we print off a label and send the disks to be recycled.  We have nominated a preferred charity to receive donations. 3.
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Things to do at La Croix Du Vieux Pont (France) when you are eight

We have recently been on a weeks holiday to La Croix Du Vieux Pont with  Al Fresco.  It is the first time we have experienced this type of holiday and decided to also take along my eight year old niece too. things to do Sometimes it can be hard to find a holiday that encompasses something for all ages and the likes of all the people on holiday and this is something that we have struggled with in the past.  Maxi and Mini are active from the minute they get up to the minute they fall asleep.  They love sports and swimming and doing stuff.  MadDad loves exploring, sightseeing and hates sitting in the sun.  He finds relaxing hard.  Me, well I like to catch up on my reading on holiday and to take time out from mothering duties! It turns out that a mobile home holiday in France has something to suit all of us and we had an ace time and all relaxed and had fun.  We found that getting up and about early in the day and exploring the local area and chateaus suited us well before returning to the sight in the late afternoon and spending that time at the pool until it closed at around 7pm.

On Site:

pool The pool The pool at La Croix Du Vieux Pont is fantastic and consists of one outdoor pool and three indoor pool areas with two slides.  The indoor pools have roofs that open.  We used the pool everyday and managed to find a sun lounger without too much trouble to place our things.  In fact the children would have remained in the pool all day every day if they were allowed.  The lifeguards were well placed and kept things under control ensuring that everyone had a good time.  The changing rooms are dark and dank, however, we never used them preferring to go with our costumes on.  I even managed to read a book whilst watching. kids club The Al Fresco Kids Club The kids club operated a two hour session from 10am to midday and from 4pm to 6pm daily.  The children went t0 one on the monday of our trip and loved it.  They designed their own planets and painted them and they also played some games.  They also made the decision that they HAD to go to the club on the Friday for Football Friday, which was great as meant that I could pack the caravan up.  We were so impressed that the staff rememeber the childrens names and if they bumped in to us on the park used their names.  The children would have gone every day if we had let them! Table tenis There are four table tennis tables in a cabin on the lakeside and another two in the sports area.  We bought bats and balls from the site shop and the children played with them a lot.  Next time I would make sure we took our own with us. Parks There are at least three play parks on the site and the children played in each and everyone of them.  They really enjoyed them and we loved that we could set a time with them and let them have some freedom to go and play together. lake Swimming Lake with beach Mini and my Niece particularly loved playing on the beach, but we didn't use the lake to swim in.  It was very popular and plenty of people were in with blow up dinghies etc.  It was shallow and perfect for toddlers. Go Karts,  trampolines, Bowling Alley and Laser Tag The park is well catered for if your children want to go on trampolines and Go Karts.  They do cost and the go karts were E2 for 5 minutes.  We let the children have one go on them, but there was plenty of other activities that were free.  There is also a new bowling Alley and Laser Tag if it is raining.

Off site

La Croix Du Vieux Pont is perfectly placed for visits to Disneyland Paris and also to Parc Asterix.  You can go on pre arranged excursions, but we decided to stay more local. pierfonds Chateau du Pierrefonds We spent a wonderful morning exploring Chateau du Pierrefonds, which is where the BBC series Merlin was filmed.  It is a picture perfect fairytale chateau.  Children get in free and it cost E7.50 per adult.  It opened at 9.30 am and although they recommend you only need an hour to look round we were there until 1pm.   Pierrefonds is a very picturesque town and we decided to make a day of it and had lunch out oo.  You can use pedalos on the lake.  All of us really enjoyed Pierrefonds and it was only a 20 minute drive from the campsite.  It turns out that they had a medieval weekend just before we arrived, so do check out the website for details of events. coucy Chateau de Coucy  We spent a morning running around the impressive ruins of Coucy castle, which was a stronghold in the middle ages built in the early 13th century on a rocky spur to the north of Soissons.  We arrived as the castle opened at 10am and pretty much had the ruins all to ourselves.   This was the childrens favorite  castle of the holiday, partly down to being able to run and explore.   They were up and down the remaining towers at the speed of lightening and Chateau de Coucy is certainly a perfect place to enjoy a picnic lunch.  It is free for children and cost E5.5 each for me and MadDad to get in.  Parking is free and it was around 35 minutes away from the camp site.  It really is an impressive sight as you drive up to Coucy to see the Chateau sitting high on the hill. The Supermarket My boys are now hooked on French food.  Well certain French foods including chocolate crepes, speculoos spread and biscuits and Lu Lu cake bears filled with chocolate.  They had lots of fun checking out French foods trying to translate them to english and trying them anyway.  They used their pocket money to bring home crepes, biscuits, toffees, pomme frite sauce, syrups and salad dressing.  They would have brought back a ton of ice cream if we had a freezer in the car. vex

The Donjon de Vez

The castle at Vez is under private ownership and is open from 1pm to 7pm during high season and is E6 per adult and free to under 12'S..  Do not expect this to be a traditional castle visit.  The grounds and castle house some fantastic modern art.   We spend a couple of hours here exploring the art installations in the wooded grounds and sheltering from the heat in the thick walled chapel.  Vez is only 15 minutes from the camp site.  This is where I fell trying to jump off a wall! amistabce Armistice Museum - Compiegne We stumbled upon the clearing and the museum by chance when we were exploring the area and we were so glad we did.  You can visit the clearing and the monuments free of charge of pay  around E5 per adult to go in ot the museum and see the carriage in which the armistice was signed.   The museum would not be suitable for little children and there are over 700 pictures on slides showing the devastation of the war which might not be suitable for some children to see (we didn't let the boys look at all of them).  Both of my boys are interested in history as is MadDad and they loved discussing it with him.

Details: 7 nights accommodation in a Vivaldi Mobile Home at La Croix Du Vieux Pont, which sleeps 6 and Eurotunnel Crossing for one car costs £1214 for 2 adults and 3 children on August 17 2013.  Special offers and discounts are available at certain times of year, see the Al Fresco website for details.  We received free Eurotunnel crossing and accommodation for the purposes of this review.  You can see more photos of our trip over on Facebook

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Back to School with Florence and Fred at Tesco and back to school link up

For the last three years Tesco has gifted us school uniform for the boys.  I am eternally grateful for this uniform and I am more than happy to recommend it to anyone who asks.  My boys are hard on their uniform.  Mini especially is just noise with muck on and the uniform gets washed and worn everyday. school uniform 2012  

The boys in their uniform LAST YEAR

I am a big fan of generic sweatshirts, they are great value and the boys love the fact that our local embroiderer puts the school badge on them for £2 an item, which means they cost me less than 50% of one bought direct from the school. I think that good uniform needs to stand the test of time, be a good price point and also fit well and Tesco seem to have hit all these points for us this year. Plus points:
  1. Adjustable waists - This is essential for my boys, who seem to thin out every time they grow!
  2. Hardwearing - Football every lunchtime on a MUGA really takes it out of the knees of trousers.  Tesco's have survived year on year
  3. Shirts that stay white when washed - Maxi is a shirt boy
  4. Do not shrink - polo shirts and sweatshirts that do not shrink when washed.  Mini wears polo shirts
  5. An embroidery service (if your school is registered)
  6. A good selection of styles
  7. Trouser that keep their crease when washed
  8. Shirts that do not need ironing when dried on the line or in the tumble dryer
  9. collars on polo shirts remain white and do not go grey compared to the rest of the shirts
The Mad House give school uniform by Florence and Fred at Tesco a HUGE thumbs up. stamptastic Whilst we are talking about school uniform, I am always on the lookout for anything that makes my life easier and I have to say that I have found the quickest and easiest way to label the boys uniform this year.   In previous years I have just used a laundry pen and wrote their names on but STAMPtastic is even faster than writing!  In fact It didn't take me any time at all, as they boys did their own uniform. The Mad House
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Top tips for looking after school shoes

This week we have been to Clarks to get the boys fitted and to buy their new school shoes with a voucher provided by them.  I believe that good quality school shoes are an investment and want them to last as long as possible and If your children are anything like my boys, then their shoes will take a real battering at school.  But there are a few things that you can do to make those shoes last longer and look good for as long as possible.

shoes tips

  1. Protect them - give the shoes a good start by giving them a layer of protective spray.
  2. Label them -  chances are other children will have the same school shoes, so make things easy by labelling them, the last thing you want is to lose them.
  3. Air them out – I get the boys to take their school shoes off as soon as they get home this way any moisture or sweat inside the shoe can dry out before the next morning
  4. Dry them out – If their shoes are wet, I stuff them with newspaper or any old paper I have and leave them to dry.  Never dry them in a warm place as this will crack the leather
  5. Remove Dirt – I encourage the boys to wipe their feet, but if they come home muddy then I give the a wipe with a damp rag
  6. Clean  and polish – Once a week I clean and polish their shoes.  I use a coloured shoe wax to restore them. After applying the wax with a soft shoe brush, I use a clean rag or cloth to buff the shoes back to a shiny new look. Using a cream conditioner with a soft cloth every couple of months will help to protect the shoe from the elements and prevent the leather from drying out.  I also use a waterproof spray after cleaning them each week.
  7. Deodorise – Once a week after cleaning I pop some bicarbonate of soda in the shoe to take away any smell.
  8. Quick fixes - I also have a scuff polish with a sponge applicator that I will use as and when required to keep the shoes looking OK.

The Mad House



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Walkers Mighty Lights – so good we turned them in to keyrings

We were sent a selection of  Walkers Mighty Lights to review, lightly salted, cheese & onions and roast chicken.  New Mighty Lights have 30 % less fat than traditional chips and are lightly ridged .   They are made from potato  and contain no artificial colours or preservatives and no MSG, which as a mum is pretty important to me.  They are also suitable for vegetarians. My boys do not have packed lunches very often, but we do like a family pack of chips to share and love enjoying them with some homemade dip, which Mighty lights lightly salted would be perfect for as they have a light ridge so hold more dip! mighty lights
Typical Nutritional Values
A 25g pack of  Lightly Salted Walker's Mighty Lights contains 114 kcal, 4.7g Fat (7%), 1.2g Fibre and 0.28g Salt (5%).
Potatoes, Sunflower Oil, Lightly Salted Seasoning.  The Lightly Salted Seasoning contains Salt, Flavourings, Sugar, Spices and Herbs
Tesco currently have Walkers Mighty Lights 6 pack for £1.00 (price correct on 27.08.13) , so we have stocked up on the lightly salted to east as a family.
But why no salt and vinegar is what Maxi wanted to know?
As it is back to school week next week, the boys have been making shrinky dink name tags for their new school bags adn I decided to show tham what I used to do with chrisp bags when I was younger. So we have made some Walkers Mighty Light Keyrings. how to shrink crisp packers For anyone that wants to shrink their crisp packets here is how it is done:
  1. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees (without the fan if possible)
  2. Place a layer of silver foil over a cold baking tray
  3. Iron your crisp packet (I put it under a towel)
  4. Place the crisp packets on the tray and then place in the oven
  5. Watch as they miraculously start to shrink (you think nothing is happening and then POW all of a sudden they start)
  6. As soon as they stop getting any smaller remove from the oven and place a heavy book over them to ensure they stay flat
I punched a hole in the packet before placing in the oven for the one we turned in to a keyring.  We then put an old keychain through the hole. You could also make badges by gluing a badge back to one. 8.  
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Encouraging boys to write – Comic Strips

Even though we have been having a #freerangesummer, I have been trying to make sure the boys still do some writing and record what we have been doing this summer and I was delighted to see this fab video that the Etherington Brothers made where they give Scottish Friendly some of their top-tips for creating a comic. In fact it inspired some comic strip making in The Mad House.  Firstly I printed off some blank comic strip layouts and we discussed what we wanted to make a comic about and the boys and their friends they were going to do ones about their day at Lightwater Valley. comic collage I also gave them a couple of stamps I had, one was a clock and the other a word bubble and then left them to it.  It was a great activity for the 5 boys I had who aged from 4 to 9.  They chatted about the events and reminised about the best rides, all the while colouring, writing and making a record of their memories. comic Whilst they were busy making a paper comic, Mini decided to make a comic of them making a comic on the Ipad using POW Comic Strip and photographs!  
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Lightwater Valley – Top Tips

top tips lightwater valley We had an amazing day at Lightwater Valley last week with friends.  Between us we had six boys aged between two and nine and each and everyone of them had THE BEST day ever (their words) and have already made us promise to take them all back next summer. So I thought I would share with you what made it such a good day and our tips to get the most out of your time at Lightwater Valley:
  • Get their early - The gates open at 9.45, we arrived around 9.20 and collected our tickets.  The boys were entertained in the queue by a fab magician and before we knew it the gates were opened.
  • The bigger rides do not open till 10.30am, so there is no mad dash to get anywhere.
  • We love the fact that there are rides for younger children next to ones for the thrill seeker and whilst Maxi was on the Eagle's Claw, Mini and the younger children rose the tractors at Eagles Farm.
  • Leave your picnic in the car and return to get it at lunchtime.  The car park is close to the theme park, so it doesn't take long.
  • There are lots and lots of green areas and picnic tables. In fact it is lovely to sit and eat your picnic under a tree.
  • The bins are all covered so there wasn't too many wasps.
  • Don't let rain bother you.  We went on a day when rain was forecast and we had NO queues.
  • The new Angry Birds adventure park is a MUST.  Our boys spent a good hour playing there.  It is well designed and suitable for all ages.  We even managed to have a cup of tea whilst watching them.
  • There are magic shows indoors and also birds of prey shows included in your ticket price.
lightwater We had a fantastic time and refused to let the very angry, rude, offensive and classless man who decided to swear at Mini and threatened to "give him one" for bumping in to his child in the Angry birds park ruin our day.  When I took him up on swearing at my child and asked that if he had any issues to come to me as his mother, he then threatened to hit me too and called me a fat bleep!  It has come to something when a four year old turns round and feels the need to tell an adult that swearing is unacceptable!  
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Trutex Uniform Review Update

Over a year ago I was sent some Trutex Uniform to review and I have recently been sent some more for the boys and I wanted to update you on how well they have washed and worn. The uniform is of good quality and is the brand of sweatshirts we would get from the school with the logo on if we bought direct from them. The sweatshirts have washed and better washed throughout the year and have withstood nearly everything the boys could throw at them with the exception of black permanent marker that Mini somehow got hold of at school!  In fact they have washed so well that Mini will be wearing Maxi's hand me downs come September. uniform  

My boys in their uniform last year.

The trousers too have withstood most things the boys can throw at them, they are sturdier in the knee than some brands and very durable.  However, they do not come with an adjustable waist which means that they got less wear than the other brand ones that did.  Thankfully this year they have introduced a slim fit trouser, still no adjustable waist (unless you want their chunky fit trousers), but they are a great fit for Maxi who is long and thin. The shirts have really impressed me this year.  They have washed really well and I have just given them all a brightening treatment  and they look good as new.  In fact you would be hard pressed to tell the new ones from last years shirts.  They have not worn at all on the cuffs or collar, which is great. Size wise they are pretty much spot on for my boys and consistent throughout the range and nothing has shrunk with washing and wear.   I am quite happy to buy unbranded school uniform an d take it to the embroiderer in the village who adds it on for £2.50 per item. It is easy to find your nearest stockist on the Trutex web site. 9  
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When not to behave like an 8 year old…

We had a fantastic week in France.  So much so that I often forgot myself and could be found playing and messing around like the boys and my niece.  We had some amazing days oput at local chateau's and it was at one such Chateau that I took leave of my senses. It was hot, the boys had found a shortcut back to the car and jumped over a wall and then egged me on to do the same. Hmm.... it wasn't elegant, in fact it was a disaster and BANG down the wall I fell. I lay on the floor winded and in pain, but I wasn't going to spoil our holiday as we only had a couple of days left. the wall! So we carried on with the holiday and I tried to manage the pain with over the counter painkillers and some delicious pink fizz. The journey home on Saturday was interesting to say the least and Sunday morning saw me at A&E having finally admitted that I was struggling to cope with the pain. So a CAT scan and a couple of x-rays later I have decided that it is time to start acting more my age than shoe size.  I can tell you that broken ribs HURT like nothing else and mean sleep is pretty none existent in The Mad House currently.  I also have a shadow on my lung, so am off for another x ray tomorrow to rule out scary stuff. But even though lack of sleep and pain is meaning I am a grumpy bean at the moment. France was amazing and we had a super time.  I must remember to crack open the pink fizz we brought back with us before bed tonight!  
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