What activities have been keeping the boys busy this summer

Most of this summer has been spent making the most of the wonderful weather outside and enjoying a #freerangesummer, but there have been times when we have played games and enjoyed indoor activities.  So this is a brief overview of what we have been playing with this summer Boys busy Lite Brix Lite brix  are a construction toy from Character.  They are based on the LEGO format, but the bricks are clear and once you have assembled your construction you add wires and a light system for the bricks to light up.  This was right up Maxi's street and he spent a couple of hours building the Lite Brix Lumie Racer..  It is great the way the  four colour LEDs that come to life when you plug the battery power pack into the model.  It makes for a really exciting build.    This set was £30 and he had hours of fun with it, before other children played with it and one of  my friends two year olds broke it unfortunately.  However, the beauty of this is that he can put it back together. We also have the Light Brix Lazer Copter, which is £19.99 and I think will be perfect for our screen free evenings as the nights draw in, as the lights look fab in the dark. Crystal Growing Kit Both the boys really loved the Crystal Growing Kit from Hobbycraft, which costs £25.  It is designed for older children and does contain chemicals which can be harmful and you need to have time and patience to make the crystals, which is something that MIni seriously lacks!  The first issue we had is that you need to ensure that your deionised water (which you need to source) has to be warned to a certain temperature, so we had to buy a liquid thermometer online as we couldnt source one locally.  By the time I had done this the boys initial excitement had worn off. The kit did make for some interesting conversations about crystal structures and we spent one evening researching this on the computer and looking at salt and sugar under the microscope.  Now the boys are at school I think this will get a lot more play as it is something they can start after school and continue with the next day. The Human Body As a family we LOVED this kit.  It costs £27 from Hobbycraft, but is jam packed with things to do, games to play and experiments, such as building your own stethoscope and finding out about finger prints.  It really tapped in to the boys imagination at 7 and 8.  I think it was perfectly pitched for their age range.  The kit is full of primary coloured based kit and is really engaging.  It is not something you have to spend hours with all at once, as it is broken down in to different sections and covers the five senses.  This has been returned to again and again over the summer and we still have more to do and use, plus it comes with a 48 page book.  A super buy. Puzzler Brain Games for the DS This came in to its own on one of our many long road trips.  It is perfect for all ages and both the boys, their cousin and the Frugals played with it.  At under £12 it is a great value game for any DS owner. Rather than use it in main game mode, which is a 90 tournament designed to improve your brain, they played it in practice mode, which is more like accessing mini games.  The 20 puzzles are based on training 4 different brain function categories - Visual, Word, Mathematical and Memory. During all the time it was played over the summer the boys never had the same content twice, which was pretty impressive.  
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The best weekend of the Summer – #EpicKielder

When I asked the boys what their favorite experience of the summer was, without pause their answer was our weekend at Kielder Forest in Northumberland.   Kielder has the biggest man-made lake in Northern Europe and, at over 250 square miles, the largest working forest in England.   For us, our weekend at Leaplish Waterside Park, Kielder was amazing. #EpicKielder We had a fun filled action packed weekend, but there was time to unwind and relax too.  It was filled with good food, good company (we even took Alvin #MadPup) and new experiences for us all. Friday We arrived on Friday night at 8pm after a  two and a half hour drive (on which we had to stop a couple of times for a car sick puppy)! to a wonderful lodge for the weekend.  The Lodge was superb and had a fantastic twin room for the boys and ensuite for us.  I had packed a meal for us for Friday night and there was a breakfast pack waiting for us full of essentials for the next day.  Whilst I was cooking dinner the men of the family set off with Alvin for a quick explore of the park and a play on one of the three adventure playgrounds. They returned for food and then we played board games until the sun set and then had a fab nights sleep. Saturday We were up bright and early for breakfast cooked by MadDad and then headed down for an hours exclusive swimming in the pool (The lodges have the sole use of the pool from 9am to 10am).  We then dried off and went for a brief walk before returning to the pool for the boys first activity of the day, where they learned to scuba dive and use sea scooters.  They had an hour and half in the water and were grinning from ear to ear at the end of it.  They announced it amazing and something that they must do again. sea scooting We then headed off for lunch and a brief explore of Kielder Castle.  Lunch was a true home cooked affair and MadDad and Maxi had corned beef pie, which was second to none and both left clean plates.  Mini loved the sausages and beans childrens meal he had and I had a toastie. We decided that when we come again we need to bring our bikes with us, but if we were staying for longer you can hire bikes from just next to the Castle (which isn't really a castle, but a hunting lodge!) archery lesson Next on the agenda was a family archery lesson and I am afraid to admit that my competitive side came out and I was proud to get the best score of the day!  The instructor was very patient with Mini and really encouraged him to do his best.  He made it look and sound easy and it was brilliant family fun and we were glad that we did it together. We then went back to the cabin to freshen up before dinner at The Boat Inn and Mini had a cat nap! Dinner was amazing, the service we received was fantastic, the food even better and there was a live singer on the night we were in.  The view from the restaurant is breathtaking and we all thoroughly enjoyed our evening meal before having a short walk and settling down for the evening. Sunday Sunday morning was a little more leisurely.  We had breakfast and then made our way down to the pool where the boys were booked in to  have a go at water walking.  Both of the boys thought it was great fun, but were pretty tired out after their allotted 15 minute session. Overview We could have stayed at Kielder for a whole week and still had more to see and experience.   We were amazed at the dark skies and the amount of stars that could be seen from the balcony of the lodge.  The lodge really was a home from home with everything you could need including a washer, dryer, cooker, fridge freezer and a dishwasher.  It really was an epic experience.

Disclosure: 7 nights accommodation in a Lodge at Leaplish Waterside park ranges from £349 a week.  Special offers and discounts are available at certain times of year, see the Kielder Website for details.  We received 2 nights free accommodation, free meals and activities for the purpose of this review.  You can see more photos of our trip on Facebook.

 Forestry Commission Badge

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Top comics for 7 and 8 year old boys – tried and tested by the Mini Mads

Time to fess up.  Although Maxi is an advanced reader, he is a reluctant one.  He reads way above his age, but doesn't find it enjoyable.  He doesn't get caught up in the stories like Mini and I do.  But he does like a comic.  So here is The Mad House low down on top comics for seven and eight year old boys.  I do not let the boys choose a comic at the book  store  or supermarket as they will inevitably chose one for the free gift and it will remain unread! top comics LEGO Club Magazine - Free, quarterly A free quality childrens magazine, yes I did say free.  The boys love their LEGO magazines and are glue to them from the minute they pop through the letter box.  There is a Junior magazine for under sevens and it really is filled with hours of fun.  It gives you ideas of things to build with your LEGO, stories, comic strips and puzzles too.  There is also an interactive version of the magazine too. Anorak - £6 per addition, quarterly Anorak is "the ‘happy mag for kids’ is aimed at boys and girls aged between 6 and 12 years old" and it is a beautiful magazine.  Printed on recycled paper with vegetable inks, the pages are matt and it has a wonderful book smell. It isn't a throwaway publication.  Just like much loved children’s magazines and annuals of the past, it is designed to be collected and kept.  In fact it is in the front of our bookcase and the boys go back to their previous copies on a regular basis. The Phoenix - £2.99, weekly This is a 32 page weekly comic, which is aimed at children aged 8 to 12 years old it features 7 or more exciting story strips, a puzzle competition and a new non-fiction strip every week of the year.  If you have an avid reader then this is the comic for you.  It is fun, full of quality stories and delivered every week.  Both the boys love The Phoenix, but it is too regular for us.  We would prefer it on a monthly basis as when they are busy they just pile up and you need to read them in order as some of the stories are longer than one week.    If you have a very reluctant reader then The Phoenix is available on the IPad. Strike-it - £2.99 13 issues a year Strike-It is a football magazine aimed at children under 13.  It contains posters, sports quizzes and interviews with football stars.  It also has tips on football skills.  Mini adores this magazine and reads it again and again.  He is one of those children that can spout statistics at you and loves football too, so this is the perfect age appropriate football magazine for him. Spider-Man Magazine -£2.99, 13 issues a year Spider-man has had a resurgence of recent months and both the boys are keen on the Spiderman Cartoon on Disney at the moment, so this magazine has tapped into that.   Spider-Man Magazine is an age appropriate take on the Spiderman story and is aimed at children aged six to twelve, so is perfectly pitched at my boys.  It is a comic strip style cartoon book with added extras including puzzles and colouring pages.  It has a really vintage feel to it.  National Geographic Kids - £33, 12 issues We had a subscription of this last year and the boys enjoyed it, but it is a little on the commercial side.   For children that love nature it is a nice read with competitions, puzzles and prizes.   You tend to also get a free gidt with each edition too.  Mini loved the posters that come with the magazine too.   For two fact obsessed boys this was a good buy.
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The Tefal Steam Generator means I can iron with broken ribs

Whilst on Holiday in France I broke my ribs being a loon and I would like to say that I have been able to rest up and be waited on, but in reality this just isn't  possible and life has to go on, including ironing unfortunately! Tefal steam generator There is no way I could have used a traditional iron and have been so thankful of my Tefal Steam Generator as the iron part is much lighter as the water for the steam is not stored in it, rather it is stored in a separate part.   The model I have is the Pro Express Total Auto Control - GV8930, which retails at around £299. Now I appreciate that this is A LOT of money for what is an iron, but really it is more than that.  Since getting mine I have halved my ironing time.  I used to take around an hour on a Sunday to iron 5 mens shirts, the boys school shirts and tops and all the rest of the weeks ironing.  Now that is down to 30 minutes.  Plus is it easier and looks better too. The Pro Express Total Auto Control means that I do not have to set the irons temperature, but I do have control of steam with its two preset steam levels.  It has 5 bar of steam pressure which means that the results are pretty impressive. It also comes with the following:
  • Tefal’s unique anti-scale collector and Auto clean soleplate
  • Unlimited ironing time thanks to the permanent refill and 1.8L detachable water tank
  • Added safety with the auto-off feature
  • Environment friendly product with an “Eco” setting saving 20% of energy
  • The cord winds back in to the iron
  • The iron locks on to the base, even when hot
So thank you tefal for my steam generator, but I wish I could of got out of the ironing this time!

The Tefal Innovation Panelists

  Disclosure: I was provided with  a Pro Express Total Auto Control - GV8930 for the purpose of this review 
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Back to School 2013

Back to school 2013   After what has been an epic summer the boys went back to school today.  I am sure that the summer of 2013 will go down in the anals of history.  It couldn't have been better weather wise and they have experienced the summer I have always wanted for them. I am a little sad to see them go back to school, but know that they have so much to look forward to this coming year.  It is also amazing to see how different they are this year in comparison to this time last year and the year previous.  How their likes have changed and developed. Both of the boys had first day nerves today as not only do they have new teachers, but also new class groups too.  Maxi is going into year four and Mini year three.  Hard to believe that both my boys are in junior school! My hope for them this year at school is that they have fun, stay happy and learn to get on with new people.  I want them to continue to remain individuals and learn to stand by their morals and opinions.  I also want them to remember that learning is not a spectator sport.  So get stuck in and enjoy it boys, when I look back at my school life, primary where the happiest and most carefree time of my life. Maxi September Mini sept The Mad House
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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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