My Small Stuff – April

April showers, make may flowers.  I hope this is the case.  April in The Mad House was filled full of the joys of an Easter holiday which meant a visit to the Chill Factore and also a brilliant day out with friends at FlamingoLand (review to follow). Aprils small stuff We have made the most of the good weather to replace the raised beds in the garden and add more.  We have also been testing out a Karcher Pressure washer, well I say we, but mostly MadDad has been using it to clean the car, patios and water butts! We have also spent rather a lot of time outside on scooters, playing football and cricket and Mini helped out at GrandPa's farm for a day too. It seems looking back that April was full of cake, at home where we made easter nests, easter eggs and various other cakes and also at Blog Camp. We have been practicing our magical abilities thanks to Innocent and their magic circle.  If you want to join in then #innocentmagic tricks are on the back of the packets of all of the innocent Kids juices. We received a package of shreddies with a special knitted coat by the knitting nanas! April was also filled with crafting.  I have been playing with the New Circut Explore, so have the boys.  We have also been busy making cards and the pompom maker made an appearance again! April wouldnt be complete without Easter parties, paste eggs, bonnets and fun with family, so we managed to squeeze all that in too. In fact April has been a brilliant month.  I hope yours has too. If you want to join in, then feel free to grab my badge and add yourself to the link below.
The Mad House
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Blogs are like children, you don’t have favorites, they are all unique!

I am something of a blogging OAP and I saw a post where bloggers where sharing their favorite bloggers and I thought I would join in.  But the thing is blogs are like children, it is wrong to have favorites.  So I am going to share with you some blogs that rock my world at this moment in time! blogs are like children
Nurturestore Cathy blogs about play ideas.  She started blogging not long after I did and she is an inspiration to me.  Her blog is full of inspirational, simple and effective prompts for play, crafting and fun.  Every sunday she sends out a newsletter that is filled with a weeks play activities. She also writes and publishes ebooks which are filled with amazing activities for babes, toddlers and older children.  Oh and she also has an app too with over 800 ideas and activities on. The Diary of a Frugal Family Cass blogs about maximising what you have, whether that be money, time or making memories.  Her kindness and generosity of spirit shines through in everything she does including her blog.   She has some great ideas and I love her series on teaching children the value of money. I am proud to say that though blogging Cass and her family have become friends as we live near each other and she and her family have become our friends and she is always there when I need her. Thinly Spread Chris is one of those people whose integrity is admirable.  She blogs about family life with four children aged from 18 through to 8 and also is an avid supporter of Save the Children.  She is one of those people that is generous of spirit and also a great listener and advice giver.  I have been lucky enough to be a receiver of her sound advice on numerous occasions.  I also hope that when the time comes for my children to spread their wings I can only be half as gracious about it as she is. The White Approach When you see Karen's home in pictures you would never guess it is filled with twin nine year old boys and an 18 year old too.  It is a wonderful haven of white.  It is stylish and seems oh so aspirational, but the beauty of Karen's home is that it really is very achievable and she shares that with you via her blog ands how she has achieved it on a very tight budget. I can atest to the fact that her house is a warm, inviting and very practical home because over the years she has become a family friend and her boys and my boys adore each other and what more we have been welcomed in to her home. Utterly Scrummy food for family Michelle provides fantastic family friendly food inspiration.  Her meal plans are amazing, budget friendly but more than that include food that is tasty, easy to prepare and cook.  They are perfect for busy families.  Each week Michelle provides a meal plan including a shopping list. Her recipes are perfect for my growing boys and I love that they are easy to make, but tasty and nutritious too. Head in Book Oh how much do I love this blog........... it is hard to put into words.  The fab Head in Book says what I am thinking, but with much more eloquence.  She talks about current events and politics in a way that everyone can relate to.  She makes me think, she makes me question the status quo. She doesn't accept that things have to stay the same.  Oh but better than that she understands irony! Mortgage Free in Three This blog is all about saving money and making money. It is about frugal stuff that works.  Elaine shows me how to make a little go a long way.  Not only does Elaine gives loads of advice, ideas and methods of saving money, but she provides you inspiration for making money too.  All this whilst she is growing men.   But the thing about Elaine isn't just that she blogs about all this, but she actually offers help and advice on how you can become more money savvy.  She is a wise woman who I have learned a lot from. Susannah Conway It is hard to explain exactly what Susannah Blogs about, but her blog always leaves me thinking.  It encompasses spirituality and mindfulness. it is a place of kind words and forgiving nature.  It is all about learning to accept the person you are and be at peace with your inner self without losing the urge to be a better self. It is where I go when I need to feel the wind in my hair and the sand between my toes.  The People Shop - Alison's Blog Alison Sadler is one of those people that you want to be best friends with.  She has an innate sense of style and her love of colour and design makes me smile.  She is so giving with her craft tutorials and I want her to be my new BFF. She inspires me to craft more for craftings sake.  To let my creativity flow.  But more than this, she brings together hundreds of crafters, makers and designers on Instragram every Monday for her #makeitsewcial chats and show and tells. The AR Blog The musings of Becky and the photo's of Becky and Tom grabbed me by my heart and then picked me up and shock me.  There was and still is something about their images that imprinted themselves on me.  The way they capture the everyday moments, the simplicity of the images countered with the complexity of the everyday is just amazing. Plus we have a shared love of yellow and who couldn't love a woman that tells you that giving blood burns in excess of 650 calories!
So these are some of my current favorite reads over a lot of genre's from crafting, play, politics, food, parenting, lifestyle and finance.  So come and share your favorite reads of the moment as there is nothing nicer than finding a new read.
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Why did the pup chew My Hotter shoes?

I am a member of the Collective Bias® Social Fabric® Community.  This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper amplification for Collective Bias and its advertiser Alvin claimed my hotter shoes I love shoes and over the years of blogging have developed a real love of Hotter Shoes.  Once you find a brand that are comfortable, but also stylish then you tend to stick with them.  My previous Hotter shoes got me through a three week vacation to Florida without any blisters, so you can understand why I loved them do much. So you can imagine that I was devastated to find out that Alvin had claimed one of my shoes and not only had he claimed it, he had destroyed it before I realised. So I was delighted to see that #CollectiveBias were looking for someone to go and shop for a pair of Hotter shoes. hotter shoes Collage

What makes Hotter Shoes so great?

Hotter shoes are the most comfortable shoes I have worn ever and I don't say that lightly.  I have wide feet and a high instep so have searched high and low for shoes that are comfortable, but also stylish as I am not yet an OAP! Hotter shoes have special contoured footbeds, extra roomy toe boxes, soft padding at heels and tongues, lightweight, shock absorbing soles and smooth internal seams.. They also come in a wide fitting too. I have been wearing Hotter shoes for the last four years and I am really impressed at the newer styles coming out this spring.  I decided to buy a pair of  DIzzy shoes, which are flat to replace the Shake ones that Alvin chewed, but I have my eye on the Dawn Wedges in  bright pink for the summer. my hotter shoes  Collage I have been wearing the Blue Neon lace ups for the last two months and love them, they give me great support and look fab too. The shoes I chose are the light olive Dizzy and are light, comfy and look pretty great on too, better still they had £10 off and were £56 rather than £66. These shoes will be kept away from Alvin I can assure you!
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Lets talk about Free Range parenting.

My boys are nearly 8 and just turned 9 and  last summer I championed #Freerange parenting.  I tried to give them freedom to explore, play and investigate independently. Are you a free range parent We are very lucky that we live in a housing estate on the edge of a village and have an excellent environment for children to play in.  Cars drive slowly through the area, we have fields nearby and a woodland area and back all within 2 minutes of the house.  The estate is filled with children of all ages and a lot of them are allowed to play out and you can often find a group of them playing football or cricket after school or during the day. My boys are allowed to walk to and from school on their own and to visit one of the local parks.  They are allowed to visit friends and to play football on the green.  I trust them.  I know they they will push boundaries, but that is what being a child is all about.   I insist that they wear helmets when on their bikes and their scooters.

Am we free range enough?

  last week Forest Poppy linked to a great post about The Overprotected Kid.  It got me thinking that I maybe need to be a little more freerange with the boys. It left me wishing that we had an area such as The Land near us.  It also reminded me of an incident last summer that initially had me pretty scared. Mini came home to get a bottle of water and when I asked why he told me they were using a magnifying glass to try to start a fire! I was petrified, but then after talking it through my MadDad he told me I should be pleased that Mini felt he could tell me and also that he was sensible enough to make sure they had water.  Oh and that as a child he had set fires on the farm with his glasses and this is what boys do! Both the boys are members of the local Beavers and Cubs and they do a lot of life skills activities there and love it and they are spending next weekend at camp and I have to swallow my urge to wrap them in cotton wool and keep them at home.

Why we free range parent

  I have to admit that I do not find free range parenting easy.  I have to make sure that I fight my fears for the good of my boys.  I want them to have street smarts, I want them to enjoy the childhood that MadDad and I did.  I remind myself constantly that the danger is no worse than when I was a child and that the fact is we are just more aware of it. In fact parenting isn't easy full stop.  I want to raise well rounded, caring and independent individuals who can cook, clean and be good company! I find it hard balancing their needs in this modern world.  Finding an acceptable balance between screen time and other activities.  I do worry that they are over reliant on  technology, especially during the winter months.  Are you a free range parent?  Do you worry that your children live in to much of a protective bubble?
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My two weeks with the Cricut Explore – An interim review and thoughts

The Cricut Explore was released in the UK today and I have been lucky enough to have had one to play with for the last two weeks, so I wanted to share with you my thoughts from this first two weeks with this revolutionary machine. First off I am going to admit that it has been Easter Holidays here and my number one priority is my boys, so it remained unboxed for three days and has only been played with in small chunks oe with them with me. Secondly, I am going to admit that cutting is my kryptonite.  I hate cutting things, I do not have mad cutting skills and I love my Cricut Mini. Lastly, this was a gift from Cricut, however, my views are always my own, honest (to a fault) and that I have an ongoing relationship with Cricut and am going to be providing them and you with some projects.

The Unboxing Experience

  I have admitted that the Cricut Explore remained in its box for three days before I had a 20 minute chunk of time to devote to it.  I thought it would take me this long to set it up.  I was wrong.  It took 7 minutes to get the machine out of the box to pluged in and working and that was with a 7 year old helping. unboxing the cricut explore Normally with machines and boxes, you have to have one person open the box and the other tug at the internal packaging to get it out.  Not so the Cricut Explore, there are little tags to remove the packaging and then the machine is in a tote bag and comes out so easily. Mini and I had the machine plugged in and in place in seven minutes and ready to cut.  We didn't even look at the instructions! In the box you get everything you need to get started, including a 12 by 12 cutting mat, a pen (yes the Cricut Explore can cut and draw at the same time)!, samples to cutting materials. a tote bag and all the cables you need.

Using the Cricut Explore

  Using the Cricut Explore really is childsplay.  Both Mini and Maxi have created projects over the Easter holidays on the our machine.  They found the new project center and Cricut design space simple to use and very intuitive. and not once did we get the instruction booklet out.  There will be more on their projects over the coming weeks. The Cricut Explore really does make cutting, designing and making projects simple, easy and what's more they look amazing. Our intial review on Cricut eXPLORE

What we love about the Cricut Explore

  Both me and the boys love the new Cricut Explore.  I want to say it really is a revolutionary machine and will change the way I craft and create.
  1. It cuts over 40 different materials including fabric, felt, wood veneer, vinyl, freezer paper, cardstock and much more with just the turn of a dial.
  2. It is quiet, so I can craft and cut when the boys are in bed (yes I am a midnight crafter)!
  3. It is so easy to use.  Both the machine and software is usable without even reading the instructions.
  4. You can design on the machine - YES, this means you can use your own images or design them.
  5. Is makes crafting inspirational, not aspirational.  It gives you the ability to produce fantastic items.
  6. They have a try before you buy on their image library and you can have access to this online for £7.99 a month or for a single image at 79p or for all year at £79.99.
I don't say this lightly but they really have thought of everything.  There were a few things that I felt the machine needed like a wireless access and I have since found out that a bluetooth adapter is due out in the next six months as is an interface with tablets. I have only had the machine two weeks, but yesterday met with Kim from The TomKat Studio and Mandi from Vintage Revivals and these two amazing American bloggers have had their machines from September last year.  So take a look at what they thought of the Cricut Explore. Cricut Explore the easons Also just look at these amazing items, which were all made on the Cricut Explore by the very talented Suzie from Cricut. Disclosure: Review based on a free sample
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Tell me your favorite 888 Ladies Game and Win

  888ladies comp 888 Ladies are a online bingo site that have been nominated in the Which bingo awards in the following categories and would love your vote.
  • Best Online Bingo Site
  • Most Socially Responsible Bingo Site
  • Best Online Bingo TV Ad
  • Best Online Bingo Promotion - £888 Free Bingo
They would also love to know your favorite 888 Ladies game and I have a fab competition to win the following:

How to enter:

  Write a blog post telling me what your favourite  888 Ladies game to play and also what you would spend your winnings on. Make sure your entry states "This is my entry for the 888Ladies Bingo Competition" linking (NOFOLLOW) to http://bit.ly/1mH8eaR Come back and link it to this post.
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Twitter Party

I am also hosting a twitter party on Tuesday 29th April at 8pm
The Twitter Party is scheduled for Tuesday 29th 8pm where I will be talking about your online leisure habits with the hashtag #888Ladies.
Come and chat with me about all things bingo where the best three tweets will win a £50 Amazon voucher.
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To see full terms and conditions, please click here.
3.
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The MiniMads review Crisp Ultima 125 Scooter – Gold/Satin Black

Crisp Ultima 125 Scooter - Gold Satin Black One of the things that I encourage my boys to be is active and as you may know I am working at reducing their reliance on electronics.  This is much easier now the weather is better as they choose to be outside with their friends. SkateHut.co.uk sent us a Crisp Ultima 125 Scooter - Gold/Satin Black for the boys to try out and it has been a huge hit. They liked:
  • It has larger wheels than other stunt scooters so goes faster making it suitable for skate parks and speed stunts.
  • It is really sturdy, so perfect for learning on
  • It is smoother due to the larger wheels, making it ride over cracks better
  • large deck makes it easier to catch in the air
Overall:  Stunt scooters are an investment, so it makes sense to to really check out and research your purchase.  This scooter is £189, so it is a real investment piece.  You can not go to our local skate park if you do not have a suitable board and they have to have fixed handles. This scooter has caused oohs and ahhs with all the children in the street and seems to be a really big hit. Skate Hut is a really good site as they do video's for all their kit, which gives parents a real insight into what they are purchasing. 3.  
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Cooking with Kids – Easter Nests

popcorn and marshmallow easter nests It doesn't get much simpler than this, but my boys love cooking and baking and we were challenged by the team at Center Parcs to make some Easter Nests.  We made the standard ones with chocolate and rice crispies, but we also decided to make some with popcorn and marshmallows. Ingredients:
  1. Chocolate buttons
  2. Rice Krispies
  3. Mini Eggs
  4. Marshmallows
  5. Popcorn
Method: Chocolate Nests These are the most simple to make and we use buttons as they melt faster.  We melt the buttons in a heatproof dish in the microwave and simply stir in the rice krispies until they are all covered. The boys then scoop them in to the cases and add the mini eggs on top. Popcorn and marshmallow nests These are much messier to make, but just as much fun.  My tip is to make sure you have a bowl of clean warm water at hand so you can shape the  nests with wet hands to prevent the marshmallows sticking on to your hands. We used massive marshmallows as that is what we had in from when we roasted them last, but any will do.  We popped them in to a heatproof bowl and in the microwave for 30 seconds.  They started to expand! We then mixed them with some popcorn which we had previously popped using a spatula.  With wet hands to placed the popcorn in to large muffin cases.  We dried out hands before adding mini eggs. If we had any white chocolate we could have melted that and drizzled it on to the nests. East to make easter nests Why don't you make some edible Easter nests for the competition over at Tots100. By getting involved in this month’s challenge you could be in with a chance of becoming a wildcard blogger and winning a break at a Center Parcs Village of your choice! The challenge closes on April 27th so good luck! Disclosure: We are Center Parcs family bloggers
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Weekends With The Kids: Ideas Of What You Can Do To Fill The Time

Those two days after Friday can feel like a huge chasm, when you have kids to entertain. It’s easy to get stuck into the same routine and lose all inspirational ideas. Here are a few new ideas to help with bonding between yourself and your children. Make the most of the time that you have! pet rocks Rock City What better way to weigh down your picnic blanket than by using the tools nature has given us: massive rocks? Instead of using plain boulders, get out your paintbrushes and be creative.  Why not make your own pet rocks. garden 2013 Grow Plants The garden isn't going to sort itself out. An extra pair of hands can be useful, and you’re teaching your kids some great horticultural skills for the future. They might be more likely to eat their vegetables, if they’ve grown them at home. Mini running round Play A Sport Whether it’s badminton in the back yard or football at your local park, get out and have fun! Watch The Stars Kids love an excuse to stay up late. Grab a hot chocolate and go star-gazing – it’s certainly worth getting a telescope, so your kids can learn more about the universe. Treasure Hunt Who doesn't love a good treasure hunt? Think up age-appropriate clues and set up a long foray into the wilderness that will keep them occupied all day (just make sure the prizes are worth it). maxi cooking Cook Together If you can have fun, eat something tasty, and teach your kids a new skill, why wouldn't you? Choose a simple and creative recipe that everyone can join in with, like fairy cakes! If you are unsure of cooking with kids I have some great tips. Go On A Day Out Do you feel like it’s time to get out of the house? There are lots of great venues throughout the UK, whether you choose to visit an art gallery or a wildlife park, such as Knowsley Safari Park. Make A Dress-up Box We’re sure you have old costumes kicking around the house, as well as a few bits and bobs out of your own wardrobe. Dressing up can spark imaginations and even facilitate activities like play writing and acting. 3.
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The Mad House visits Chill Factore

The Mad House visits the Chill Factore Last week were invited to experience Chill Factore in Manchester.  As it was half term I took the boys and also two of their friends, so I had four boys aged 7, 7,9 and 10. The boys had a blast in the Snow Park area, just take a look at the video of them on the Luge, Tubes and Sledges. I loved it too, it was great fun watching the boys, but even more fun joining in. My boys had their own snow gear, but you can hire what you need there and also buy gloves (they do not hire them) . Both the boys now want to go back and learn to snowboard and ski.  I wish we lived closer as they offer some great holiday clubs where you can do just that, Disclosure: We were invited to experience the Chill Factore free of charge and the images above are courtesy of Stephen Devlin Photography 
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