A free range summer

When I think of my summer holidays as a child, they were filled with sun, sand, bikes, scraped knees, dens and playing out with my mates, only coming home when I was hungry or thirsty.  This is the type of summer I want my children to have.  A somewhat retro summer and certainly a free range one. free range I am not saying that I am going to leave my seven and eight year old boys to fend for themselves all day or go on days out with them or even forgo every planned activity.  What I am saying though is that I am going to limt screen time and expect them to take out their cricket bat and ball and enjoy some outside time. I want them to get board and to try and find ways to fill that time with something other than a mindless electronic game.  If all else fails then they can resort to the bored jar and face the chance of getting a chore instead of an activity! Who is with me?
The Mad House
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  What is Free Range? Free range could be lots of different things depending on your childs age and your circumstances.  For some parents it will be going to the park and allowing your children to play freely without intervention whereas for others it will be street play or taking them to the beach for a couple of hours and reading whilst they play in the sand. For me it is about allowing the boys to ride their bikes round the block without me.  They have boundaries about where they can and can not go, but I do not follow them. I do not want this to be strictly defined.  You need to find something that you are comfortable with and age of child and location will be a big impact on what you allow them to do. My tips for going free range
    1. Get a set of walkie talkies, these are great for keeping in touch with your children.
    2. Set firm boundaries about how far they can go and when they need to be back (ie they must come back when you call them on the walkie talkie)
    3. Get the a watch.  Both my boys can tell the time now, so I give them a set time to come home
    4. Be prepared that all the children will come to your house with your children, I have squash and ice pops on hand through the summer
    5. Give them access to outdoor toys and activities - My boys have access to their bikes, scooters, balls and bats and we have more than one set as to encourage communal play.
    6. My garden has an open gate policy - I let other children in to my garden as long as their parents know they are allowed.
    7. Start slowly - take them to the park and instead of getting involved stay on the sidelines
    8. Make sure they have your phone number
What next?  Each week over the summer I plan to do a free range summer post.  It might be ideas that your children can use for street games or things to look for at the beach.  I would love for YOU to join in.  Write about how you are letting your children have more freedom over the summer or your plans.  Posts about what they have done would be great too.  Just leave me a comment on my most recently Free Range Summer post and I will add your post in my Free Range Summer weekly round up.  
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Pyjama Pajama Kickstarter Project

Pyjamas without labels that rub, scratch or irritate - tick Pyjama tops that are cool enough to wear as T shirts - tick Pajamas that capture children's imagination and move away from high street character driven ones - tick Pyjamas that have facts on them - tick

This and more is the goals and aims of Pyjama Pajama, a new company who are looking for Kickstarter investment at the moment. As a mum of two boys who spend more time in their PJ's than any other of their clothes and also the mum of one boy with eczema, who has a high sensitivity to labels, I know that this is a wonderful idea. 35e8df69d8446bf8f47c35211d6e1815_large What is a Kickstarter Project?  Kickstarter is a pioneering way to fund creative projects.  Itr is a really simple, but effective model, where you can pledge a certain amount of funding, in this case from £1.   It is a way you can back an idea or business that you feel is going to be something that you are interesting in.  It isn't all about big numbers, it is all about hitting a funding target and providing back to a project.  With kickstarter it is all or nothing.  If the funding amount is not met by the deadline then they do not receive any money.  To date 44% of kickstarter projects have reached their funding goals. What do you get in return?  For a £15 pledge you get a free pair of Pyjama Pajamas For £25 you get two pairs of PJ'sPJ For £60 you get 5 pairs of PJ's To see the full range of incentives, then take a look at the Pyjama Pajama kickstarter information.  I have pledged £25 and am hoping that this project gets all the funding it needs as they will become my boys Christmas Elves PJ's! Disclosure: I am being sent a couple of extra pairs of PJ's if this goes ahead - so get investing! 
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A family trip to Warwick Castle and our tips for a great day out

A couple of weeks ago we took a sneaky Monday off school and visited Warwick Castle for the day (we were offered the tickets in return for a review).   We had a wonderful time and I can safely say Warwick Castle has something for every age, but at 7 and 8 the boys had a super time and we can not wait to go back as we didn't manage to see everything. portculli We arrived at opening time and started our day at 10:30am watching The Raising of the Portculli, which is a great way to learn a little more about Warwicks defences. The boys then decided that they needed to climb the walls before doing anything else.  220 steps do not slow them down at all!  One of the great things about Warwick Castle is the daily shows, so we made sure that we took them all in. trbucet So next on the agenda was watching the firing of the trebuchet. We watched as the  largest working Trebuchet in the world threw its missile over 150 metres! The boys were particularly taken with the human hamster wheel aspect of it! After that wonderful show, we decided to catch the birds of prey, which is called Flight of the Eagles. prey The boys sat opened mouth watching the birds do their thing.  You can also get a closer look at them in their area later if you want to. bowman Next was the Bowman Show.  This is what made my boys want to be archers and beg to have a go (which we did and Maxi is a natural).  It was 12 arrows for £5 or 6 for £3.  You can see the photo's on my Google+ page. We also did Merlin's Tower, which was short, but AMAZING and the boys were smiling about it for the rest of the day and still keep telling everyone about it. The adventure playground is great and perfect for larger children, not just the littlest one. We had a great day, the only down sides for us where that we couldn't fit it all in and that the food  and service at the Coach House Family Restaurant was really poor.  Our meals were not brought out together and everyone had finished before mine was delivered to the table, inspite of us asking where it was three times (it was only soup and a roll, so I do not understand why it was so hard). It was even more infuriating, as there was only three tables in use and all the rest were left with the detritus of precious visitors. Our Top Tips
  1. Get their early and book your tickets (free but timed entry) for any thing like the Princess Tower
  2. Do the same for any paid activities, including Merlin Tower and the Dungeons.
  3. Buy a refillable hot drink voucher. It was £7, but my boys love hot chocolate and it cost £2.25, so soon paid for itself with that and our teas and coffees.
  4. See the free shows, they really make the castle come to life.
  5. You can not do it all in one day if you see the shows.  We didn't get to do the dungeons or the Kingmaker exhibition, but are looking forward to returning
  6. Book in advance online, that way you get a discount.
  7. Keep an eye out for the special events online - We are really looking forward to the Horrible Histories Stormin Summer event, which runs from 20th July to 1st September.
Where to stay: We stayed at at Chesford Grange hotel, which was delightful and less than ten minutes driving time to the castle.  The hotel is set in 17 acres of stunning green Warwickshire countryside, so there’s plenty of room the children to have a good old run after any travel and the hotel also has a brilliant pool with designated family splash times, so the kids can enjoy themselves in the pool .  My boys cooled off after our journey in the pool which is open till 9pm each evening. pool Our family room was spacious and the beds were comfortable, so we all managed to get a great nights sleep followed by a superb breakfast.  Children are well catered for in the hotel restaurant with a nutritious “Quackers” menu and we had a "Quackers" activity pack left in the room for each of the boys.
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Too busy having fun to photograph it

This weekend was filled with super family fun, but if you looked at my instagram stream or camera you would think we spent it doing nothing.  We were so busy doing, playing, making that I didn't take any pictures!
  1. Alvin's first walk and then many a subsequent walks.
  2. A house and garden filled with 11 children
  3. Cricket, more cricket and a little more cricket
  4. Salad sandwiches from the garden
  5. Planting peas and tying up ones that are growing well
  6. Weeding
  7. Washing and hanging out washing in the garden
  8. A trip to the seaside with fish and chips and lemon top ice creams
  9. Movie night
  10. Lawn mowing
  11. book reading
  12. Early morning LEGO building
  13. plotting and planning
  14. Den building
  15. Hide and seek
  16. Letter writing
  17. Roast dinner
So I am going to leave you with the only photo I took all weekend tom
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Summer Manifesto 2013

The sun has been shining, so I do not think that I am tempting fate too much by posting this years Summer Manifesto.  This is my personal Manifesto and a family one will be posted when I can tie the boys down long enough to discuss one! It has been nearly two years since I started doing seasonal quarterly manifestos and they have been positively transformational.  I can look back at my plans, they are achievable, measurable, specific and do not leave me feeling as though I have mountains to climb.  They give me the opportunity to review my short term goals and aims.  They enable me to focus on living in the moment whilst still looking forward. Firstly I need to review my spring manifesto 2013
  • Sow some seeds for the raised beds.  MadDad is the green fingered one, but I do love plotting and planning with him - Done, we have potatoes, peas, beans, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, sprouts and lettuce all planted.
  • Get on my bike.  I still haven’t felt able and I really want to join the boys on theirs this spring - Still to do 
  • 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 - I really need to focus on this more, so will be putting this on the summer list 
  • Take the boys to park after school now the weather is improving - Done on a regular basis, this is something that we all benefit from 
  • 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. - Done, we kept an eye on ebay and found the perfect table! 
  • Keep sewing and book some more day courses - Sewing is my me time and I am doing another day course on Saturday 
maxi slide Summer Manifesto 2013
    • Continue to find time for the things I enjoy whilst the boys are off school - sewing etc.  I am going to try some English paper piecing as it is portable so I can do it if we are at the park etc.
    • To go out more as a family.  Getting Alvin is all part of this plan and seems to be working up till now.
    • Make a family summer bucket list.
    • Practice my crochet.  After over two years of trying I think I might have cracked it!  I made a coaster!
    • Menu plan - Menu planning save me money, time, effort and makes us all happier.  This is something that has slipped recently, so I am going to endeavor to do this weekly.
    • Declutter.  Both the boys want their bedrooms changing round, so I'm going to do a boot sale and also clear the garage over the summer (yes, really!).
    • Go camping with the boys .
    • Realise that we do not have to have a strict summer schedule to enjoy the summer.  I want the boys to get board and learn to make their own entertainment.
    • Get fitter and healthier. Lose weight and exercise more.  I know that small changes can make a big difference.  I am looking at investing in some fitflop shoes from Shoetique in the hope that they help my back and improve my balance (which is something that has been out pretty much since I had the mastectomy.
    • To turn off more.  Less electronic time, more family time.
    • Have a family picnic once a week.  There is nothing wrong with doing this on a school evening.  We need to get out more and this would be a great way to connect as a family.
What are your goals and aims for the summer? 3.
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A new addition

Let me introduce you all to a new addition to The Mad House.  This is Alvin, our Bichon Frise Puppy. Alvin He has been part of our family for just over two weeks now and he seems to have been with us forever.  He has such a good temperament and we all adore him. Maxi has been scared of dogs for a long time and we have been working through that with the help of Buddy, who belongs to Frugal Family and for the last year or so the boys have been pestering for a dog of their own. We have talked about the responsibility that a dog entails and they had been showing us that they could be responsible dog owners.  He has had both sets of jabs and been microchipped.  Maxi is responsible for feeding and taking him out for his excercise etc on a morning before school and after school.  Both the boys have been grooming Alvin (with our help) and as from next week we will be bal eto take him out for walks, which we are really looking forward too. I am hoping that having him around means that I make time to get out and exercise (no excuses) and I am already loving his company during the day.

 Alv

 I think I am a dog person after all.

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RIP Google Reader, Hello The Mad House

Just because google reader is no more (well as of July 1st) doesnt mean that you can not longer read The Mad House.  You can find me many places, so to make it easier I decided to list them all below: themadhouse-avatar-150x150 RSS Blogloving Instagram Twitter Facebook Google+ Pinterest Get posts emailed to you Kindle I also want to take this opportunity to say that I really value each and every comment, interaction and reader I have.  You make my day much more interesting and I can not quite imagine life withour my internet pals.  I have been blogging my whitterings for five years now and it seems like onl;y yesterday I started.  This blog hold so many precious memories that otherwise would be distant and forgotton.  This blog has made me real life fiendfs that I call on all the time.  This blog has brought my family once in a lifetime experiances and lots of things that have brought us closer as a family. So thank you.
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Tips for LEGOLAND WIndsor with 7 and 8 year old

We love LEGO and we are also huge fans o0f LEGOLAND.  We go to the LEGOLAND Windsor once a year and Maxi and I were lucky enough to visit Legoland Florida earlier in the year too.  On Fathers Day The Mad Blog Awards hosted their first #MadDayOut at LEGOLAND Windsor and we were lucky enough to be asked to come along and help at the event. timthumb My boys are 132cm and 127 cm, so can go on every ride.  Maxi, who is the taller child can go on them all independently.  Mini can go on most independently, but needs to be accompanied by an adult on some of the others.  We were also gifted a gold VIP wrist band, which I believe is the equivalent of a Q-BOT Ultimate.  This meant that we skipped the queue on every ride. We managed to go on every ride in the p-ark in one day and there were no queues!  Was it worth it?  Well once both the boys are over 130cm we will buy then a Q-BOT Ultimate each, as it made the day so much more special and as a trip to LEGOLAND is a once a year thing for us I would rather save up and do it in style. legoland tips So What are our top tips for making the most out of your visit to LEGOLAND?
  1. Get there early - The park opens for general visitors at 10am.  Get there early for the park opening.  It is quietest first thing on a morning.
  2. Pick up a lost parent wrist band at the beginning of the park (Guest Services).  These are invaluable.  There are a lo0t of children and it is easy to lose one as Penny will tell you.
  3. Head for the rear of the park first.  The most popular rides are driving school and boating school, so it pays to get the queuing out of the way first and we found the queues much less on a morning.  We start at the back and work our way forward.
  4. If you stay in the LEGOLAND Hotel you get access to Atlantis 30 minutes early.
  5. Be prepared to get wet.  Splash rides include Pirate Falls Dynamite Drench, SQUID Surfer and Vikings River Splash.  We use poncho's to ensure that we have dryish clothes!
  6. Take swim wear or UV wear for children.  The new DUPLO Splash Valley  and Drench Towers is a superb water area with slides, fountains, water guns and much more.  There is a toddler area and an older child area.  It is great fun and perfect for when your children are flagging.  We managed to both grab a cup of tea whilst the boys made the most of the water.
  7. There can be a lot of walking and waiting, so if you have a buggy take it.  Even if your child doesn't normally use it.
  8. Make use of all your time.  We stayed till closing time, a lot of people leave earlier so the queues get shorter.
  9. Turn up for the Pirate of skeleton bay show early (20 mins approx before the start) and put down a picnic blanket a little to the right of the control booth on the corner.  The show is brilliant and will be enjoyed by all.   The harbour coffee shop does starbucks quality lattes.  Even better this is the perfect place and time to have your lunch in front of the show, its fab! And bring a picnic as food is ridiculously expensive.
money saving legoland Ways to keep costs down
  1. Take a packed lunch.  There are areas for eating your packed lunch or snacks.  You can also go back to the car to get it.  There are also lockers at the beginning if you want to store your bags, but they do not refund your coins.
  2. Kids eat free after 3pm in certain restaurants
  3. Get a refillable drink for £7, especially if it is warm.  You can use the drinks bottle once you get home too.
  4. Get the shopping over with at the beginning.  Set a budget and make sure you stick to it!  You can also leave your purchases their to collect on your way home.
  5. Keep an eye out for 2 for 1 deals by search on line.
  6. If you are travelling the park have an affiliation with a number of hotels and you can get your second day free.  It is worth checking out booking both hotel and park entrance with these hotels.
We had THE best time, in fact Mini called it Epic.  To see more pictures why not take a look at our LEGOLAND 2013 Google+ picture album   
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Top ten food safety tips to protect your family from kitchen bugs

Last week was Food Safety Week 2013, run by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and this year they focused on ways to reduce the risk of food poisoning at home. Here are some simple tips to help keep you and your family safe.

food safety

  1.  Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before cooking and after changing nappies, touching the bin, using the toilet, handling pets or preparing raw food.
  2.  Wash or change dish cloths, tea towels, sponges and oven gloves regularly and let them dry fully before you use them again.
  3.  Remove unnecessary clutter and wash worktops before and after cooking to prevent cross-contamination.
  4.  Always use a chopping board and wash the board in hot, soapy water after using and in between preparing raw and ready-to-eat foods. Better still, use a separate chopping board for each.
  5.  You don’t need to wash raw meat or poultry as thorough cooking will kill any surface germs. Washing meat can actually splash germs and raw juices onto other surfaces and equipment.
  6.  Make sure your fridge is set below 5°C to prevent harmful germs from growing and multiplying.
  7.  Don’t overfill your fridge. Air needs to be able to circulate to maintain the set temperature. If you are using infant formula we recommend you make up each feed as your baby needs it, using boiled water at a temperature of 70ºC or above to reduce the risk of infection, and use it within 2 hours. If you have no choice but to store made up bottles, do so in the coolest part of your fridge, away from the door, and for no more than 24 hours.
  8.  Cook food thoroughly until steaming hot in the middle to kill harmful bacteria. Food can then be cooled to a suitable temperature for children by cutting into smaller pieces and separating into shallow bowls, or even placing in a sealed container and running it under cold water.
  9.  ‘Use by’ dates are typically found on perishable products (dairy, meat and fish) and are based on scientific testing to determine how long these foods will stay safe. After that date, food could be unsafe to eat even if it is correctly stored and looks and smells fine. If you need to store a food for longer, consider freezing it.
  10.  ‘Best before’ dates are used on foods that have a longer shelf life and tell us how long the food will be at its best. After that date it is normally safe to eat, but its flavour and texture might have deteriorated.
To see how safe your kitchen habits are  and for more tips, take the FSA’s Kitchen Check online. You can get your little ones involved too by downloading their fun young people’s activities. Kitchen Check can be found at: www.food.gov.uk/kitchen-check 18.
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Seven

How can my baby be seven?  All of a sudden he is starting to look like the man he is going to be.  So in honor of my darling Mini, this is for you. seven Mini
  1. You give the best cuddles in the whole wide world, they are all encompassing and frequent.  One of my favorite times of the day is that cuddle in my bed before we get up and face the day ahead.  Oftren we each say five more minutes.
  2. You have no pause button.  You do everything at full speed.
  3. You are extremely sensitive, although you often hide it under your bravado.  You care about what other people think and say.
  4. You have my temper!  It is like looking into a mirror.  I know this is something you are working hard to control, but baby it is going to be a challenge.  I know, I have been there, however, it is part of your personality.  We talk about being able to learn to read and write, so learning to control your temper will be something you can do too.  We are already starting to see results and benefits from your hard work and you are becoming calmer everyday.
  5. Your family mean everything to you.  You love us all with a passion.
  6. You are a reader.  You love fact books and sleep with your Guinness Book of Records and 2013 Football fact book.  Every morning I remove at least 4 books from your bed.
  7. You put your clothes on back to front.  When we tell you, you just shrug and say it is "your thing"!
mini seven Happy birthday dearest boy.  I see your Grandad in you everyday and my only regret in life is that my parents are not here to see the men my boys are growing into and share in our lives.  Today we are going to celebrate with jaffa cake, rainbow cake, good friends and family.
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