Review – Ravensburger Science X Maxi Prehistoric Expedition

Ravensburger Science X Maxi Prehistoric Expedition Often you get a science kit and you have to add lots of additional products to make it work. This is certainly not the case with Ravensburger Science X Maxi Prehistoric Expedition.  The only extras you need are water and distilled water.  In fact you can do most things straight out of the box. Box Contains
Includes 1 ammonite, 1 Excavation Block, 1 Excavation Tool. 1 Thermometer, 1 Magnifying Glass, Plaster Powder, Triops Eggs, Triops Food, Triops sand, 1 Meganeura Model, 1 time line, 5 Plaster forms, 1 triops basin, 1 T-Rex model and instructions.
My boys are just like me and hate to conform, so there was no way they were going to go through the booklet in the order they should, but that wasnt an issue as the booklet has a great index and was easy to dip in and out of. plaster fossils Firstly, they decided that they needed to make the T-Rex skeleton and had a great time doing it.  then they decided to mix the plaster au paris and make the fossils, again not in the order in the book, but all of them at once! We also had a go at growing the triops, which will go down as the great triops got ate by the dog experiment! This is a great kits and the boys have already have had many hours of fun with this fabulous kit and  there is many, many hours of playability left. The quality of the kit is second to none and I am really impressed.
We Liked:
  • Pretty much everything you need is in the kit.
  • The booklet is full of facts and can be used sequentially or you can dip in and out thanks to the great index.
  • The quality is fantastic.
  • It gives you the opportunity to take the experiments a step further.
We weren't Keen:
  • Initially it seems expensive for a kit, but once you take in to account all that is in the box than it is good value for money.


Why not see what some other bloggers though of the Ravensburger Science X Maxi Prehistoric Expedition.  Baby Budgeting, My three nad me, Live otherwise, Lakes Single Mum

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HELP – How do I get my seven year old to keep his room tidy?

tidfy This was tidy 1 hour before I took this picture!  Help, MiniMad’s bedroom resembles a bomb site I am in need of some help and advice people of the interweb.  Mini Mad’s has an issue with keeping his bedroom tidy and I have to admit I am finding it exceedingly hard to deal with. Maxi is a rather neat child and his room is kept pretty much in order and all I ever need to do is give it a quick hoover and dust and maybe put a few things away every now and then.  He even makes his bed on a morning. Mini, on the other hand doesn’t seem to do anything other than make his room a mess. We have tried to make sure that he has sufficient storage and have even considered a single bed with storage too.  He has two book cases, but his books are always on the floor.  He has a desk, but his pens are always on the floor with his notebooks. He has two clothes rails in his wardrobe that he can reach, but his clothes are always on the floor. He has shelves and a storage basket for his teddies, but does he use them?  I even gave him a basket for his shoes, but no, they end up everywhere on the floor. We know that his room could do with an update, but I am loathed to decorate again, at least until he has some respect for his belongings and room. Today I went in to find he hadn’t even bothered to open his blind, make his bed or remove his water bottles for the last three days. I feel like I am sharing my home with a teenager not a seven year old. So, people of experience, please can you help me.  How do I deal with this, whilst I still can. 3.
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Post-it Note art, crafts and activities – Something for the weekend

I don't know about you, but I never realised there was so much you could do with post-it notes.  I was challenged by them to create three crafts or activities using their new  Full Adhesive Notes, otherwise known as FAN. These notes mean you can adhere the whole note to the surface of your notebook or wall, meaning it will stay put for longer! tulips We are currently on a real origami and spring crafting flow so me and the boys sat down and we put our heads together and came up with the following:

Origami Tulip

These are so simple to make, all you need are the post-it notes.  I decided to put together a quick video how to for the tulip head.

Tulip Card

tulip card We decided to take some of the tulip heads that we folded and turn them into spring flavoured cards.  We glued the tulip head to the card and painted in the stem with water colour paints.  These would make gorgeous Mother's Day cards or even easier cards.

Post-it note pinwheels

Materials Method These were made the same way my two colour daffodil pinwheels were, except I used the hole punch to make a whole on every other corner and also the center (as image), so that it was easier to get the split pin through. I made sure that the adhesive was at the rear of the pinwheel so that you can stick them to things.  In fact my boys went round putting them all over the house! Smart School house has a great tutorial here. post it pinwheels We had great fun using the post-it notes and have worked with them in the past and made a post-it note creeper and also some installation art using post it notes. If you fancy getting hold of some yourself then go on over to the Post-it UK facebook page and learn more. Other super post it crafts post it collage
  1. Amazing spring mural by Inner Child Fun.  How perfect are pink post-it notes for the cherry blossom.
  2. Simple Stuffed Animal Superhero Cape 
  3. Mondrian art for kids with post it notes 
  4. Post it note treasure hunt
  5. Post it note sudoku 
  6. Free printables for post it notes 
  7. Post - it note noun hunt
Make sure you are following our facebook pageGoogle + page or on Pinterest (where I have over 50 post it activities, crafts and art pinned) for lots more stone crafts and activities over the coming week. 3.
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Karcher SC2.500 Steam Cleaner Review

The sun has started to shine and it has made me feel as though I need to get on with the spring cleaning.  In fact I am steaming in to spring, thanks to Karcher. karcher steam cleaner review We have been reviewing the  Karcher Steam Cleaner SC 2.500 for the last month or so as part of their 2014 ambassador program and I have to say we are really impressed. I have never owned a multi purpose steam cleaner before, but now feel that every household should have one.  The boys have named ours Arthur and he has get to have been put away since we got him. We liked:
  • The Karcher Steam Cleaner SC 2.500 is a multipurpose steam cleaner and is powerful enough to clean the floor and the oven.  It cleaned grubby grout making it sparkling white.
  • It is easy to use and the tools are store back in the body of the machine
  • The cloths that attach to the tools are toweling so easy  and inexpensive to replace (as we use the machine a lot I needed more cloths as I do not wash that often!
  • No chemicals are used.  As someone who has had cancer and who's children might have the same genetic spelling mistake it is important to me not to use anything that could possibly carcinogenic.
  • The steam can melt fat (It did a great job on our cooker hood)
  • It is compact enough to fit in our cupboard, but the water tank is large enough that I can clean the whole of the hard floor downstairs.
  • It didn't scare the dog!
We weren't keen:
  • Oh how I wish the power cable had been longer and also retractable (it is 4 meters long).
  • It is an investment piece of equipment at around £232
  • It takes a while to heat up ready for use and I am an impatient soul!
Steam cleaner Collage Now I am going to admit that I don't have any pictures of massive transformations, but we live in a house that is only eight years old and in an area that doesn't have limescale, however, the steam cleaner has made cleaning much more of a pleasure and I feel that my home is clean without the chemicals which is such a relief and we had a bout of a sickness bug and I made sure that I cleaned everything with the steam cleaner and I managed to avoid getting it, which is something of a miracle. I really loved how fast it cleaned the boys trip traps and it also did a superb job on the bathroom too.
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Cooking with Kids – Aunty Chris’ Yorkshire Parkin

Yorkshire Parkin I love cooking with my boys and this is a recipe from my childhood and one that Mini loves to make and loves to eat!  Yorkshire Parkin was my Aunty Chris signature bake.  Hers was always perfectly sticky and delicious and tasting it takes me right back to her home filled with cousins fitting in front of the coal fire under one of her crochet blankets. I found this version of Parkin handwritten in one of mum's cookbooks when she died and it is a regular make.  It gets better with age and you have to leave it 24 hours after baking before eating any so it is the perfect cake tin cake.
5.0 from 1 reviews
Aunty Chris' Yorkshire Parkin
Parkin just gets better with age and is as good on day 5 as day 2!
  • 120g golden syrup
  • 120g treacle
  • 120g butter
  • 120g of brown sugar
  • 220g of fine oatmeal
  • 120g self raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon of of mixed spice
  • 50ml milk
  • 1 egg
  1. Preheat your fan oven to 160 degrees c
  2. Prepare a 20cm square tin (I use a silicone one, but a lightly greased and lined tin is perfect).
  3. in a large saucepan, place the butter, syrup, treacle and brown sugar and heat until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.
  4. Put the dry ingredients in to the pan and mix well before adding the milk and egg.
  5. Place in prepared tin and bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until a metal sewer comes out of the centre clean.
  6. Transfer to a wire rack in the tin to cool
  7. Once cold turn out and coot before wrapping in greaseproof paper and storing in an airtight tin.
Yorkshire parkin collage In 2014, global flavour leader McCormick, parent company of UK leading herbs and spices brand Schwartz, is celebrating its 125th anniversary. The yearlong celebration kicks off with the launch of the 125th Anniversary Edition of the Flavour Forecast and the Flavour of Together programme, with the goal of connecting people around the world as they share 1.25 million stories about the special role food and flavour plays in our lives. Their key flavour forecasts for 2014 are: 
  • Chillies Obsession
  • Modern Masala
  • Clever Compact Cooking
  • Mexican World Tour
  • Charmed by Brazil
I was inspired by the clever compact cooking to share with you our Yorkshire parkin, as it only needs one pan for all the ingredients, therefore, requires little washing up. Get involved and share your flavour story at Schwartz Facebook or 3.
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Stone crafts and activities – Something for the weekend

stone art, crafts and activities Stones and sticks, there us something about my boys and these materials. We seem to collect these "treasures" wherever we go and I have to make sure I empty trouser pockets before washing them or I would be busy washing stones too!

{How to} Make a stone Tic Tac Toe or noughts and crosses Game

tic tac toe We are big fans of simple games and often play noughts and crosses or tic tac tow on paper, but we recently had a go at making a game from some stones we had collected and a wooden cheese board. Materials
  1. Stones
  2. Black Sharpie and White marker
  3. Tape
  4. Wooden board
How to make it. As the boys wanted to make our with me, I oped for as simple as possible and marked out the board using tape.  I will change this for paint when I have more time. We simply drew either an X or an O on the stones. This has been in our living room for over a month now and it played with a lot.  So many visitors have commented on it and asked where they can get their own version!

Go on a Stone Hunt

stone crafts, art and activities We often go on little mini adventures (walks) and my boys always collect treasure.  I adore this idea of a nature walk with alphabet rocks.  Or you could use the walk to talk about the different type of rocks.

Crafts with Stones

pet rocks There are so many fantastic crafts that you can do with stones such as pet rocks which is something the boys love to make.  I love the idea of making a set of alphabet rocks or using them as plant markers.  If you dont want to get the paint out, why not try these wax rocks, which are stunning.   You could also use your stones to make art too like these at Zing Zing Tree.  If you find a precious stone then why not turn it into a stone necklace.

Activities with Stones

memory stones If you already have lots of stones in your house then it is time to get active with them.  I love Nurturestore's stone cairns or you could have a go at scooping and selling with your rocks.  You could use them for spelling or story telling.  We use our stones to record memories.  Rocks and stones are also perfect for sensory play. Make sure you are following our facebook pageGoogle + page or on Pinterest for lots more stone crafts and activities over the coming week.
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Squeezing it in to a weekend

Like many families we are squeezed.  With work, family commitments, school, diy, sports, beavers, cubs, hobbies and cooking, cleaning and all that comes with a home and much more and since the new rules about holidays during school time we are even more squeezed.  We have just Squeezed an awful lot on to a weekend at Center Parcs (come back over the coming week to find out just how much), but Actimel also know a lot about squeezing a lot of good things in to small things.  Their 100gram bottles are packed full of yogurt, live cultures, fruit puree, calcium and essentials vitamins B6 and D. squeeze more in At the moment they are running a super competition to give you the opportunity to squeeze in a once in a lifetime event such as an amazing music concert at the O2 in London. Do you want to win? Well you have to tweet Actimel at @ActimelUK and tell them what you have squeezed in using the #squeezemorein hashtag actimel   This weekend we squeezed in bike riding, rock climbing, abseiling, zip wiring, crazy golf, football, swimming, climbing rope ladders, playing pool, hangman, aerial adventures, gladiatorial challenges, board games, a pedicure, threading, meals out and lots of quality family time together. What have you squeezed in to a week? Want to find out more, then look at the fab Actimel Facebook Page.  Want to see some more images of us squeezing more in to our weekend, then take a look at The Mad House Facebook Page. 3.
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{How to} make a two colour daffodil pinwheel

Spring is one of my favorite seasons and I have been seeing pictures of daffodils flowering, but where we are in the NE of the UK are a couple of weeks behind, so we decided to take matters in to our own hands and make some two colour daffodil pinwheels.  These would also be the perfect St Davis's Day craft (which is on the 1st March). two colour daffodil pinwheel Materials
  1. 2 squares of yellow and orange paper
  2. Split pin
  3. Egg carton
  4. Green Pipe Cleaner
  5. Green plant stick
How to make your two colour daffodil pinwheel
  1. Your paper needs to be coloured on both sides, if you do not have the colours you want you could always paint them.
  2. Draw a line from corner to corner though the centre of the paper and cut from the edge three quarters of the way to the centre.
  3. Fold consecutive corners of the paper in to the centre and secure together (I used a stapler, but tape would be fine)
  4. Cut out the pointy part of the egg carton and either paint or colour in (this will become the trumpet of the daffodil)
  5. Make a small hole in the centre of the pinwheel and the centre of the egg carton and push through the split pin, opening at the other side.
  6. If you had any green straws you could just push the split pin in to it, but as we didn't, I decided to use a pipe cleaner to wrap round the split pin and then wrap it round a plant stake that we already had.
  7. We curled the yellow edges of the paper over a pen, so that you could see more of the contrasting orange colour.
foam pinwheel daffodils Adaptations We also made a couple using foam sheets instead of paper and the egg carton,these are going to go in our garden to until our daffodils flower! ”#DaffodilBoy”
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Getting outside in all weathers – something for the weekend

I am as guilty as others at looking out of the window and thinking of things that we can do inside to escape the weather rather than embracing the weather and getting some fresh air.  So I am dedicating this week's something for the weekend to getting us outside and encouraging our children outside too.  In many parts of the UK it has been the wettest winter on record and often March and April can be pretty wet too, but I am determined to get us out and about.

Ways to encourage kid's outdoors


15 rainy day outdoor activities

Photo credit: AR Blog 
  1. Go on a rainbow hunt.  Not just in the sky, but also look for colours of the rainbow all abound you.  You could take a treasure bag and look for natural materials in the colours of the rainbow and bring them home to stick on contact paper.
  2. Go dancing in the rain.  You can make up a dance with an umbrella!
  3. Look for reflections in puddles.
  4. Take photos of rain droplets on things such as spiders webs.
  5. Do some mud painting.  You can use a twig or leaves to paint with the mud on paving stones or fences or on paper.
  6. Look for rain shadows.  Patches of dry that can be found where something has been covering the ground making a rain shadow.  You could even place things outsode before it rains so that you can make a design (like stencils).
  7. Make a shelter or den, wither with sticks or leaves or with tarpaulin.
  8. Make a rain catcher
  9. Make a rain water run, you could adapt Science Sparks colour mixing wall.
  10. Try tasting raindrops by catching them on your tongue
  11. Go looking for snails
  12. Take your bath toys on an outdoor adventure, let those rubber ducks out on puddles!
  13. Make a natural umbrella with the biggest leaf you can find.
  14. Make mud pies, mud castles and mud sculptures.
  15. Measure how deep puddles are (you will need a large ruler for this)
windy outdoor activities

Windy Day Outdoor activities

  1. Make pinwheels to spin
  2. Blow bubbles and see where the wind takes them
  3. Make and fly paper planes
  4. Make streamers for wind dancing
  5. Let off balloons in the wind
  6. Make and fly a kite
  7. Be a superhero using your coat as a cape
  8. Make a windsock
  9. Make music with wind chimes (you can use kitchen utensils! )
  10. Make a sailing boat

How to Make a Windsock.

windsock These are super easy to make and you can use them to see which direction the wind is coming from or you can just use them to run around with in the wind. Materials
  • Large plastic bottle or circular container
  • Plastic bag
  • decorations inc tape and ribbon
  • string or wool
How to make
  1. Cut the bottom and top off your circular container or bottle to make a cylinder wound 6 inch or 15 cm in depth (this is the opening of the windsock)
  2. Pierce a hole in each side of your cylinder to thread your sting through to make a handle or hook for hanging your windsock.
  3. Using a plastic bag (we used a black sack cut out a tube shape (the boys wanted ours to be fishlike!).  Make sure that the long edges are all taped togethger, but the ends need to fe loose so the wind can blow through.
  4. Attach your bag to the cylinder at one end either with tape or staples.
  5. Decorate your windsock.  You could glue shapes on, paint it or even use ribbon to add streamers.
windsock collage

Having the appropriate clothes for the weather

  This is a biggy for me, as there is nothing worse than being too cold, wet or hot.  So it is important to have the appropriate clothes available.  With this in mind we have a wicker basket at the front door which is filled with hats, gloves and scarfs and the boys also have waterproof coats and trousers (ours are from Muddy Puddles) for this time of year.  We also have waterproof poncho's too and the boys have waterproof boots that are easy to clean too.  I make sure that I keep a can of waterproof spray in the house, so I can reapply it. Layers are the key to our wet and damp winters.  We all have thermals and fleeces and I make sure we wear them.  I also have a waterproof backpack where I put spare gloves and hats for really wet days and plastic bags for the replaced wet stuff. We don't very often have really cold weather, but remember this video that Heath at Not from Lapland did about dressing children in cold weather and made sure that we had padded waterproof trousers for when it does snow and waterproof gloves too Make sure you are following our facebook pageGoogle + page or on Pinterest for lots more ideas on getting outside with your family over the coming week.
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Please take 2 minutes to watch this

Hair straighteners literally transformed my life.  It is split into two era's life before straightener and life after straighteners.  I now have manageable hair.  However, I would not want the to transform the life of any child. Did you know that  hair straightener burns among children has doubled in recent years and they now account for nearly one in ten burns.

Keep your children safe

If you use hair straighteners, follow the Electrical Safety Councils top tips to make sure that you, and your children, stay safe from electrical burns:
  1. Keep hair straighteners out of reach of children - Children’s skin can be 15 times thinner than that of adults so it’s important to keep them out of reach of little feet and hands.
  2. Use a heat proof pouch - Hair straighteners stay hot up to forty minutes after they have been switched off. A heat proof pouch is the easiest and safest way to store a product after use.
  3. Keep them away from skin - Do not allow the any of the hot plates to come into contact with the face, neck or scalp when using straighteners.
  4. Seek medical attention - In the incident of a serious burn, seek immediate medical attention.  If the hot plates comes into contact with the skin but it is not serious, run the affected area under cold water.
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Tips for a good bedtime routine

We have been round and round the block when it comes to bedtimes.  We have been remarkably lucky with Maxi, he has always been a dream when it comes to bedtime and goes to bed and to sleep with little or no fuss.  However, to make up for this Mini has been a challenge, well from turning two years old! bedtime I am please to say that at seven he is now really good at going to bed and much better at getting to sleep, so I thought I would share some of the things we have done to make this as easy as possible. A bedtime routine is key for us.
  • No computer or electronic screens after 6pm.  This is non-negotiable.  We do allow some TV, but mostly it is quiet time for reading, board games, jigsaws and chatting.
  • No electronics in bedrooms. No TV's, no games, no tablets.
  • A regular bedtime.
  • We end the night with three positive things from the day.  Things that have made us happy or smile.
  • A good nightlight.  Philips sent the boys a softpal nightlight each.  Mini has a Mike one and it gives off a soft glow that doesn't interfere with his sleep.  I found it important not to dismiss his fear of the dark and a night light makes all the difference to him being comfortable in his room.
  • Both boys have a Lumie Bodyclock Go and this is great for helping Mini getting off to sleep as it dims over a 30 minute time, so he can often be found asleep with a book in hand!
  • Not too much to drink after 6pm.
  • Audio books.  Both the boys have a great love of audio books and often go to sleep listening to them.  Mini is currently listening to David Walliams and Maxi is using the Leapfrog Leap Reader to read audio books.
  • Relaxation CD's.  When Mini is finding it really hard to go to sleep or wind down we turn to our Relax Kids CD's which really do help.
bedtime routine Both the boys have had periods when they have been anxious or upset and this often shows itself at bedtime.  We have used many different ways to handle this including:
  1. Making a dreamcatcher.
  2. Talking about what is concerning them and making sure that we do not dismiss their concerns.
  3. Worry dolls - you tell them your worried and leave them under your pillow and they take them away.
  4. Relaxation CD's.
  5. Worry Spray - A mix of lavender and water in a spray bottle to spray away the scaries! (lavender is very relaxing, which can help in itself)
  6. A special stone for rubbing if you are worried.
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Colouring on Fabric

One of the things that we love to do as a family is to sit and colour in.  I find it really therapeutic and have some adult colouring in books, so I don't feel left out when the boys are colouring.  Crafting as a family doesn't have to take lots of equipment or even lots of time and this is a great activity for fitting in to small amounts of time. coloring on fabric When I saw Tidny Fabric at Ikea I knew it would be perfect for family colouring sessions.  It is great to get it out of the cupboard and set it at the table for times when we all need to wind down and have a good chat.  Slowly over time it is getting filled in more and more and we all really enjoy doing this. We are using fabric pens thaa £7.99 from Yellow Moon and are just like felt tips and you set the colour to the fabric permanently by ironing it.  We are going to turn our finished fabric into cushion covers for the family room.  It is a great activity for people of all ages as the pens do not bleed through the fabric, like felt tips can sometimes on paper. colouring hats But you do not have to just colour in on sheets of fabric, the boys have also personalised some caps too.  They had so much fun making them there own and this way they do not get confused as to which is theirs! colouring collage You can find so many more simple art and drawing ideas on this week's something for the weekend post.  
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Simple drawing and art – Something for the weekend

simple drawing This week has been filled with a nasty vomiting bug, which has really taken us back to basics in The Mad House.  We have done a lot of reading, watching movies and simple art and drawing.  So I decided to concentrate on that for this week's something for the weekend.  We received an amazing gift pack from Australian company Smiggle, who have just opened up a store at Westfield and it included a fantastic scratch book, which is what inspired this weeks activity, make your own scratch paper. make your own scratch paper

Make your own scratch paper

  • Paper
  • Crayons or oil pastels
  • Black tempura paint
  • Washing up liquid
  • Foam applicator (you could use a paint brush)
  • We all had so much fun colouring in our sheets of paper with crayons, making sure they were as colourful as possible.
  • We then mixed the black paint with a good squirt of washing up liquid and used the sponge applicator to color the crayon.
  • We applied a second coat on some of the sheets when the first one dried and then the sheets were ready to be used.
Childhood 101 has a great post about making scratch art with oil pastels, which is the way we used to make it when I was younger.

Other Drawing Activities and Games

PicMonkey Collage   Drawing can be a wonderful open ending art activity.  It doesn't need lots of materials and it not messy at all, just look at how inviting this invitation to draw is.   When the boys were smaller I would use masking tape to fix paper to the table and also to give their drawings a boarder.   I adore this idea with drawing cards and Artchoo has some fab drawing games for kids on her site. You can draw almost anywhere and adore this idea from Tinkerlab about drawing under a table  and also you don't have to just use paper, you can make comics on the ipad, colour on perspex, mirrors, photographs or windows and even the pavement or sidewalk.

Books about Drawing

One of the things that has always stuck with me is that you should never ask a child "what is that?" when they have done a drawing or picture as this implies that it doesn't look as it should! Instead, ask them to tell you about there drawing.  I have always encouraged the boys to just draw and doodle and say that things do not have to look like photographs and below are some of the books that we have in our home. Make sure you are following our facebook pageGoogle + page or on Pinterest for lots more simple drawing and art and activities over the coming week.
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6 Gifts Mothers Definitely Do Not Want on Mother’s Day + Cath Kidston Giveaway

Mother’s Day is a special time of year where we celebrate everything that our mothers have done for us over the years.  From changing your nappy to helping you put money into your children’s savings account and, these days, listening to all your worries and woes, your mum has been there for you through it all, so she deserves something special to remind her just how important she is. We suggest you read this list and avoid these items at all costs or you can expect to have one disappointed mum on your hands this Mother’s Day.

cath giveaway

‘#No.1 Mum’ Mug Firstly, how many mugs does your mum actually need? You already bought her that colour-changing one for her birthday and she still hasn’t used that mug with a picture of your face on it that you got her for Christmas. Secondly your mum’s only going to get upset when she bumps into someone at work with the same mug and realises that she is not the sole owner of the title ‘Number 1 Mum.’ Socks This is a present that should be reserved for Father’s Day only and even then it’s a pretty lame gift. That fake smile you’re dad put on is going to look even more unbelievable when your mum tries it out.  And for heaven’s sake if you do opt for this gift, take note from above and don’t buy a pair that declares your mum as the ‘Best Mum in the World.’ It’s not OK on socks either. Anti-Ageing Cream Yes your mum has been talking about how she’s run out of her anti-ageing cream or she’s been going on about that new product she saw on the TV that claims to take 10 years off your face. No, that wasn’t a hint. Any gift that suggests your mother isn’t the youthful, beautiful young mum she once was is asking for the silent treatment or possibly even tears. This also applies to hair dye to get rid of those pesky grey hairs, cellulite cream, weightwatcher membership, gym membership … A Tattoo Nothing says Happy Mother’s Day  like a tattoo of your mother’s face slapped across your arm or the picture of a heart with the word ‘Mum’ scrawled across it plastered on your chest. It’ll really help you bag that special someone and help you out with next year’s Mother’s Day gift of a grandchild for sure. Bath Stuff This can actually be quite a nice present. Your mum can have some much needed ‘me’ time whilst she relaxes in the bath making use of your present.  Where you most likely sourced this present from however is probably what makes this present one of the worst.  It’s pretty likely that your mum remembers seeing you unwrap the present that your auntie gave you just a few months ago at Christmas and probably feels a little cheated now it seems to have made its way into her collection of Mother’s Day presents. A Book on Parenting If it’s her first Mother’s Day as a parent, she’s probably going to appreciate all the help she can get. On her 10th Mother’s Day as a mum she’s probably not. cath giveaway

Cath Kidston Giveaway – What is on your wish-list this Mother’s Day?

To stand a chance to win this lovely Cath Kidston Sewing Kit with the twin travel pack tell us what your most desirable Mother’s Day present is. Whether the kids bring you breakfast in bed, make you a card, give you a weekend away (with the collaboration of Daddy’s credit card) or they promise you they will to go to bed on-time, we want to hear what you are wishing for this Mother’s Day! a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Exploring sense of smell and taste

smell and taste When I was pregnant I seemed to have such a heightened sense of smell and have passed that on to Minimad. Maxi has been under the weather lately and noticed that when his nose was blocked foods didn't taste the same or as strong, so I thought we would explore this. Firstly we had a look online and discovered this great page at the Childrens University of Manchester all about taste and your nose.  The boys had great fun exploring the web site and told me all about it, so we decided to put the theory into practice with some food and drink . We decided to test, orange juice, apple juice, blackcurrant juice, sugar water, salt water, dilute soy sauce, lemon juice and lime juice.  The boys took turns to test one another, blindfolding each other and giving them a taste whilst they held their own noses. drinks The boys also made a chart so they could write down what each of them through the tastes where and after we sat down and looked at the results and they made their conclusions. Maxi noted that he could still taste more of the food by just holding his nose than when it was bunged up, so I tried to explain that the mucus that caused his congestion was at the back of his nose and throat too blocking the smell more. taste collage We learned about the  five main tastes which are bitter, sweet, sour, salty, and savoury or ‘umami’ and they matched the food they often eat in to the different taste groups. We also discussed the facts on the infographic we received below from  Can you imagine growing 2 meters of nose hair! Otrivine Did You Nose It Infographic v3 3.  
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Fingerprint heart valentines cards

fingerprint heart cards I have to say that as a couple MadDad and I have never really been in to celebrating Valentines Day.  Mainly due to the fact that it is our wedding anniversary in March and we tend to celebrate that much more than Valentines, however, since having the boys things have changed. It seems that they really want us to celebrate valentines, they have made fingerprint love heart cards for their dad and also made heart bookmarks which they are giving out to their teachers tomorrow.

Simple Fingerprint Heart Cards

fingerprint hearts It doesn't really get much simpler than this and I think we originally saw this over at Thinly Spread a couple of years ago.  You take a forefinger and angle your fingerprint then add a second one to make a heart shape. Chris' are much neater than ours, but then my boys are only 8 and 7 and refused any help! To make it simpler for younger children you can add the paint to a sponge rather than a paper plate like we did, in fact the sponge method is better for all ages, but the boys wanted to mix their own colours.
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Something for the weekend – The pompom edition

pompom I loooove pompoms and so do the boys.  we find making them something of an addiction especially with these Pom-Pom makers.  It really is super simple and something that my boys can do all on their own and is a great way of using up scraps of wool.  We find making them really therapeutic and something that we tend to make them on an evening when we are all sat around chatting together.  These makers are really simple for children to use, just take a look at the video below of Thinly Spread's Bonus Boy aged five making a pompom.

How to make a Pompom

  Cardboard strip method - Maggie at Red Ted Art shows you how to make a pompom using just a strip of card and wool in her blog post about making pompom bunnies. Cardboard donut method - Miss LIzzie at Me and my shadow shows how simple and effective this method is with her pompom wreath. Crayon box chronicles shows us how to make pompoms using folks  - This is so easy for tiny pompoms.   You can even make them from two cardboard rolls.

Crafts with Pompoms

  pompom chcks Materials
    • Yarn
    • Pom Pom Maker
    • Felt – yellow for the chicks
    • Glue – we used the glue gun, but also fabric glue
    • Small beads for eyes
  1. Make a largeish pompom in yellow wool for the chick’s body
  2. In yellow felt cut out two shapes for the chicks wings and one for the chicks tail feathers.  Also cut a small triangle for the chicks beak - in future ones I will make this orange to stand out more.
  3. Stick the wings and tail to the pom pom using a glue gun.
  4. Stick the eyes and beak on using fabric glue
pompom bunnies You can also make pompom bunnies or pompom monsters.  There are lots of animals you can craft with pompoms, including hedgehogs, spiders, robins or sheep!   Why not make a bunch of white pompoms and then you have no melt indoor snowballs.

Activities with Pompoms

  racing pompoms I know my boys would love to race pompom balls, see more of this great activity at frugal fun 4 boys.  You could turn them in to angry birds and use them to knock down cups or use them for a colour sorting activity.  You can even use pompoms for maths activities or literacy exercises. pompom crafts Make sure you are following our facebook pageGoogle + page or on Pinterest for lots more pompom crafts and activities over the coming week.
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Are you supporting Sport Relief – Dial for Davina Day

I guess we are all aware of the Team Honk relay race in the blogger community, but were you aware that Davina McCall  is attempting to run, swim and cycle over 500 miles from Edinburgh to London, entirely under her own steam?  Do you know that she cycled 90 miles today? I have to say I wasn't until I saw her pulled out of the water at windermere after attempting to swim in the frigid waters.    Davina's challenge is all about girl power.  She is going to to go through hell and back in order to raise money for Sport Relief.  You can keep up to date with her challenge  on the Beyond Breaking Point Website and there is also up to date photos, videos and facts on the website. header_desktop Tomorrow (13th February) is "Dial for Davina" day, where BT willdonate 1p to Sport Relief for every call made from a BT home phone line, BT business line as well as every call made from a BT payphone. Davina is also the voice of BT’s Speaking Clock until the 23rd March,  and if you call the speaking clock from a BT landline BT will donate 10p to Sport Relief.

What else can you do to support Davina?

  Send Davina a supportive tweet using the hashtag #Davina.  She is 47 years old and this is an amazing challenge and not one I would even contemplate doing. Any tweets will appear on her wall of support. Sponsor Davina as she goes Beyond Breaking Point. Sponsor Davina at All the ups and downs of Davina’s challenge will be captured for a BBC documentary, to be broadcast in the run up to Sport Relief Weekend, which is taking place from Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd March. 3.  
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Kids in the kitchen. My top tips for baking with boys!

I say boys, but really these tips are great for baking with any child.  My children have been helping me in the kitchen from when they could sit in a high chair.  I tried to involve them from a young age, even if it was just giving them some pastry to play with.  I wanted them to feel comfortable in the kitchen and be involved in preparing their food. Baking is a great exercise for children, it involves lots of different skills such as reading recipes, measuring and weighing ingredients, following instructions, motor skills (mixing), measuring time and also is a great way to connect them with the food that they eat. Mini Baking

Tips for cooking with younger children

  1. Write out the recipe in simple words and laminate it.  Even if they can not read it is great to show them the recipe.
  2. Get out the ingredients first
  3. Put everything at their level.  We used to work at the kitchen table as it was the perfect height for them.
  4. Get child sized implements
  5. An apron that fits them is great too.
  6. Be prepared for mess, but hey you can clean it up!
  7. Simple recipes are best, try one only a few ingredients first
maxi cooking

Tips for cooking with six plus children

  1. Let them chose the recipe and check if you have all the necessary ingredients.  If you are out of any then they can write a shopping list and go shopping with you for them
  2. Encourage them to read the recipe and do the weighing and measuring themselves.  We found that having electronic scales that also can be used for weighing liquid were ace when they were younger.
  3. Be prepared for the finished product not to look like you think it should. This is their project not yours.
  4. My boys have a step that they use so that the kitchen counters are a good level for them, but still mix on the kitchen table.
  5. Encourage them to clean up their mess.
  6. There is nothing wrong with packet mixes.

Great recipes for kids

  Shortbread, oat and raisin cookies, gingerbread, three ingredient cookies, rice crispy cakes, Spelt banana bread, banana muffins and pebble cookies. What is your favorite recipe for cooking with kids?  If you have blogged it then please do join in and add it to the linky below.
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How to make a paper plate clock

Whether you are teaching your children to tell the time or just want a great craft activity, a paper plate clock is an excellent way to get talking about time as you make one.  Both my boys have watches and use them too.  The Watch Hut has some great childrens watches that are perfect for telling the time. paper plate clock What you need:
    1. Paper Plates
    2. Split Pins which are sometimes called Paper Fasteners
    3. Pen's or crayons
    4. Card
    5. Paper numbers (for younger children)
    6. Scissors
How to make 
  1. Cut out the hands from contrasting card, making one longer than the other for the minute hand.
  2. Place the numbers round the clock, this is easier if you to the 12, 3, 6 and 9 first.
  3. Make a small whole in the center of the plate for the hands and use the split pin to secure
Variations - You can use two paper plates like we did to make lift up flats and put the minutes underneath.  Alternatively you can add them to the outer rim of the paper plate and colour the minutes past one colour and the minutes too another colour. clocks Free clock printable from Mini Eco.  If you don't even feel like making your own clock, then you can print off one of Kate's free printable here. 3.
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Something for the weekend – Winter Olympics Edition

olympic crafts and activities We are so excited in the Mad House that the Olympics are upon us again.  I love the winter olympics and it is a little known fact that Mini was named after a scottish skier!  So this week's something for the weekend is dedicated to Olympics.

Make your own Olympic Torch

For inspiration we took a look at the previous torches and discussed what a relay race is.  We also looked at the torch being used for this winter Olympics Olympic touch make your own  What you'll need:
  • 1 sheet of white construction paper
  • Clear tape
  • Red, yellow, and orange tissue paper, 12" x 12" square of each colour
  • White craft glue
 How to make it:
  1. Roll the construction paper into a cone shape, tape closed.
  2. Layer the tissue paper squares, red on the bottom, then orange, and yellow on top.
  3. Gather from the centre of the squares and hold in your hand like a bouquet of flowers.
  4. Put some white craft glue into the sides of the opening of the cone.
  5. Place the tissue paper into the cone and let the glue dry completely.
Variation: For older children why not make it look more authentic, by covering the torch with bubble wrap to represent the holes and paint with gold paint.  I also love this torch painting by J Daniel4's Mom

 Other Olympic activities

olpympic-medal-chart We had great fun making our own medal chart.  This was a super opportunity to discuss why Countries often have different spellings to how we know them and to look at their flags and where they are in an atlas or on the globe.  I adore this flags of the world bunting by No time for flashcards. Below are some other great activities for older (6 plus) children:
    • Be a reporter at your favorite event at the Olympic games.  Try to encourage descriptive words and ask lots of questions, which should encourage this.  Including What is the sport about?  How is it played?  What is the weather like? What is the atmosphere like? What is the score? Who wins and how do they do it?
    • Pretend you have won a gold medal at the Olympics.  How would you feel?  Try writing a speech that you would give after winning a medal.
    • Write a biography of your favorite Olympian.  Use the internet to find out information and write about your favorite Olympian.  How old are they?  What sport do they do? You could even draw a picture of them.
    • Design a poster for your favorite Olympic sport.
    • Junk model your own ski slope
Olympic Activities for Preschool and toddlers Picture1 The Olympic pictograms above would be perfect to print off and make a matching game with.  They are really beautiful.

Great Books about the Olympics

Make sure you are following our facebook pageGoogle + page or on Pinterest for lots of Winter Olympic crafts and activities over the coming weeks.
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Something for the half-term holidays – let your kids become an Animal Champion!

February half-term is just around the corner, which means a number of parents are frantically searching for a various action-packed activities suited to the entire family.  Giving parents the perfect option to keep the kids entertained while teaching them vital life lessons, the RSPCA is launching their Animal Champion campaign – the perfect antidote the humdrum nature of half-term. rug A lesson worth learning Those who have pets at home will already know how important it is to care for animals. Aside from showing them love and affection, caring for an animal comes with plenty of responsibility and requires owners to ensure the safety and health of their pet. Animals need consistent exercise, must be fed throughout the day and groomed on a regular basis. It can be hard work having a pet but the love received in return is certainly worth the effort and this is what the RSPCA wants to reinforce. Animal Champion Logo Become an RSPCA Animal Champion Not all animals are fortune enough to have a happy home and that is one of the reasons for the RSPCA Animal Champion scheme. The animal charity hopes to encourage children to become a champion to teach them a number of important lessons when it comes to caring for animals and provide parents with an easy way to keep them occupied over the holidays. What’s involved? To sign up, parents will need to apply for an RSPCA Animal Champion toolkit. You can sign up for this online and it costs just £15 to do so. Inside the kit, you’ll find a challenge checklist poster, a number of video updates and a choice of several challenges. Prior to beginning these challenges, it’s important to sit down with the kids and help them choose five of their favourite ones. These challenges can be completed both inside and outside and involve the likes of baking cakes, becoming a detective for the day and organising an animal themed sleepover. There’s even one fundraising challenge to embark on for those who want to help raise money for this worthy animal charity. Rewards for all Children who complete five challenges will receive their very own special award and certificate, which of course should take pride of place on their bedroom wall. Aside from being presented with a certificate that proves they’re a fully-fledged Animal Champion, this fun-filled scheme is a great way to teach your children the differences between right and wrong when it comes to properly caring for animals. This training will hopefully encourage them to teach their friends and family similar morals in the future; spreading the word about animal care far and wide. Visit the RSPCA website for more information on the work of this great charity and for details on how to help your kids become an Animal Champion. The Animal Champion scheme is open to children between the ages of 6 and 12 years and costs £15 per pack/child. The closing date for applications is February 12. 18.            
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The ultimate guide to crafting with stones

If you children are anything like mine then they will always return form an outing with some sort of treasure.  We are lucky to live five minutes from a beach and I have to check the boys pockets each time we come home as they always have stones in them. crafting with stones Stones or beach pebbles are so tactile and make a great crafting and activity material and I am going to be using them for this week's something for the weekend, so do come back on Friday to see what we have been doing with the ones they collected this weekend. One of our most favorite things to do with stones is to add them to our memory jar.

Memory Stones

memory stones Memory stones are so simple to make, but are perfect for using to encourage crafting and also to help instill memories in children.  We make them each summer to record what we have done and the boys adore making them. All you need are some pens, sharpies are great for this and some stones, oh and a jar to put them in. We like to place them in a clear jar so we can look at them and watch as they increase over the summer.

Story Stones

unknown-2 When I saw this great activity over at Happy Hooligans I knew I had to include it.  You do not need any artistic ability just some pictures and glue.  Jackie explains how she did it, so go and take a look.

Stone Pets

pet stones The boys made these stone pets way back in 2009 when they were only 4 and 3!  They have really stood the test of time and are so simple to make. Materials:
  1. Stones
  2. Acrylic paint
  3. Paintbrushes
  4. Googly eyes
  5. Glue
  1. Paint the stones with acrylic paint and allow to dry.
  2. Use different colour paint to add your decorations
  3. Glue on eyes
If we make these again, I will varnish them with a clear polyurethane varnish so we can put them in the garden. craft-materials-blog-hop  This post is part of Cratulate's guide to 50 craft materials.  
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Blowing away the cobwebs

valley gardens cliff view alvin mini maxi ball January was dark, wet and dismal and we were determined for February not to be and a Sunday with sunshine and no rain meant blowing away the cobwebs and taking a trip to the beach.  There was a flask of hot chocolate (with marshmallows to add) in the rucksack and then the first icecreams of 2014 for the boys (lemon twist for Mini and Blackcurrant and Licorice for Maxi). All this fresh air was followed up by fabulous Roast beef and yorkshire puddings made my MadDad and the boys. A perfect sunday.  
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Heart bookmarks

We are big readers in The Mad House and love books.  So when Bostik invited us to be part of their craft club and come up with something with a selection of craft things they sent us we decided to make heart bookmarks in celebration of reading and valentines.

Simple glued Bookmark

  card book mark This bookmark is super easy for children to make. Materials:
    1. Card
    2. Decorative paper
    3. Heart stencils (we printed out hearts about 3 inch and then 2 inch in size)
    4. Glue - we used Bostik All Purpose Glu & Fix Clear Extra Strong Glue
  1. Cut out the larger heart in the car and the smaller one in decorative paper (or you could use one of your children drawings)
  2. Place the smaller heart on the large one and glue the top two thirds of the hearts together, leaving an opening for page marking.

Felt bookmark

felt heart book mark Felt is a great fabric for teaching children to sew as it doesn't fray. Materials
    1. Felt
    2. Heart template
    3. Scissors
    4. Thread (we used silver)
    5. Needle
    6. Embellishments
    7. Glue - we used Bostik All Purpose Glu & Fix Clear Extra Strong Glue
  1. We decided to use the three inch template from our previous bookmark and with a soft pencil drew around it on to the felt and cut out two hearts.
  2. Then placed the right sides of the fabric our (our felt was more glittery on one side.
  3. Thread the needle and tie a know in the end of the thread to prevent it coming through the felt.
  4. We stitched the sides from around two thirds down in a running stitch.
  5. The boys then went though my buttons and embellishments until they found what they wanted (A large white snowflake) and they stuck it on the felt.
hearts collage   heart bookmarks for valentines day  
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Something for the weekend – Heart Activities

something for the weekend header Valentines Day is just around the corner and this weekend we are focussing on some heart activities which are suitable for doing as a family.  First up is our Family Heart Art.  I am a sucker for making art as a family and love things that we can display seasonally that mean things to all of us, just take a look at our family art christmas tree to see what I mean.

Family Fingerprint Heart Art

  family fingerprint heart Materials
  1. Canvass (I love the hard board ones for little fingers as they can press as hard as they like without damaging the tension)
  2. Paint - We used red and white acrylic, but any paint works
  3. Paper
  4. Low tack tape
  1. I drew a heart on to a piece of paper and cut it out the size I wanted our fingerprint heart to be.  If you want something more precise then print out a heart and cut it out.
  2. Fasten the stencil to the canvas with low tack tape.
  3. Place some red and white paint on to a paper plate or palate
  4. Take turns in dipping finger in and making fingerprints on the canvass.
  5. Allow to dry before removing stencil
  6. Date the canvass
heart art collage   There are some great heart art out there, this valentine heart mosaic is great for younger children who love glueing and sticking as it encourages them to try and keep in the lines or print out this fab activity printable for using in the car if you have to travel.   You could brighten up your windows with this lovely heart window collage and use up any heart cut outs you have with this amazing heart window collage at Hands on as we grow. For those of you with preschoolers here is a great collection of valentine sensory activities and why not improve cutting skills with these broken hearts.

Look for hearts in Nature

  Shape-Walk-Tree-Trucks This activity was inspired by Dansom Lane who went on a shape walk in their local forest.  We are planning on going on a beach walk to see if we can find heart shaped stones to decorate and also look in our local woodland for heart shaped leaves.  If the weather is bad, why not take a look round your own home for heart shapes or look and see if you can see heart shaped clouds in the sky.

Acts of Kindness

  Why not use this time of year to discuss acts of kindness and the fact that being kind is something that we should all do as much as we can.  It makes me think of the song "Love is like a magic penny" which I learned as school.  By giving it away you get much, much more in return.  Maggie from Red Ted Art has a fab 31 days of love series at the moment, so if you have time why not make something from it to gift to someone. heart crafts The boys are taking lollipop flowers in to school for their friends next week. and we have been making heart bookmarks (for their teachers) with our craft pack we received as part of our Bostic Craft Club membership.  See more on this tomorrow! Whist talking about kindness, I adore this hug jar, perfect for moment when we all need a little pick me up. and we will certainly be making a valentines heart happy wall.  I am also going to do a heart map with the boys too (and one for myself).  A "I love you more than....." picture would be perfect for loved ones this valentines day too.

Kids Books about love

  One of our most favorite books is all about unconditional love.  No Matter What by Debi Gliori.  It is an emotional hug in a book. Debi manages to use beautiful lyrical words to reaffirm that a mothers love is limitless in such a beautiful way.  We were introduced to this book when my mum died, but even now my boys love this book.  Other books about love: sftw   I hope your weekend is filled with family,. love and laughter and do let me know what short of things you would like to see featured. Make sure you are following our facebook page, Google + page or on Pinterest for lots of heart crafts and activities over the coming weeks.
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Something for the weekend – Bird activities and crafts

something for the weekend header   Welcome to the first ever something for the weekend #sftw.  A regular series which I hope inspired you to make, so, see, cook and just generally enjoy family time at the weekend.  The idea is to provide simple activities that can fit into family weekend.

 Bird Watching

  live_bird_counter_tool This weekend is RSPB Big Garden birdwatch, so I thought I would so a something for the week with this in mind.  The birdwatch only takes an hour of your time and is a great way to introduce different birds to your children.  You can print out a checklist (or use their online tool on your tablet, desktop of mobile phone) from the RSPB website and they also have information of what to do to attract the birds to your garden.  If you want more bird based activities, they also have some great family fun activities on their web site.   Alternatively you can find a super free bird watching printable book here at Buggy and Buddy

Bird Feeders

    bird feeders When I was decluttering my kitchen this week, I am ashamed to say I come across a rather large amount of very out of date nuts and seeds, so rather than throw them away we decided to make bird feeders with them. Ingredients
  1. Bird seed or nuts and seeds
  2. Lard or solid vegetable fat if you are vegetarian.
  3. Yoghurt posts or other pot (we used jelly jars)
  4. String
  5. Cookie cutters
  6. Greaseproof paper.
  1. Pop your block of lard in a large heatproof bowl and place over a pan filled with simmering water.  The aim is to softener not melt the lard.   If you are doing this with small children you can do this by vigorously beating the lard with a wooden spoon.
  2. Stir in the bird seed
  3. lay your cookie cutters out on wax paper and fill half way with the birdseed mixture.
  4. Cut your twine, knot the end and push the knot down into your birdseed.
  5. Continue to fill the rest of the cookie cutter with  birdseed, covering the end of your twine and knot.
  6. press down on the birdseed so it is compact.
  7. Allow them to dry overnight and then remove from the cookie cutters and hang them
birdfeeder collage We also made some in pots, which do not have very well as they are rather large and heavy, put they are perfect for popping on top of bird feeders.  Another way to do this is to use pine cones.  just mix the lard with seeds and oats with your hands – lovely messy fun and swish it into the pine cones. Then refrigerate and hang.  You really can just use what you have in.  No seed or lard, then do not despair you can use peanut butter and loo roll to make bird feeders! .  Or if you have some cheerios, then try these fab cheerio bird feeders from Happy Hooligans.  

Pinecone Owl

  pinecone owls You can find the instructions to make this adorable pinecone owl here.  You only need to have pinecones, glue, Felt, (or you could use craft foam or even card if that is all you have) and googly eyes.

Books about birds

bird books

  I hope you like this and would love any feedback you can give me.  If you are looking for other bird crafts you could always make bird cards, handprint duck,  foam birds with feathers or these fab play dough feathered birds.  I adore this fab creative writing ideas from Nurturestore.  Buggy and Buddy has a great roundup post all about learning about birds. sftw
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Grandma’s Chicken Soupy Stew

This is my Mum's recipe and it is a family favorite with both the boys and even better it is frugal too as it uses up the chicken carcass for making the stock.  You could make it suitable for vegetarians by using vegetable stock and substituting the chicken.   If you do not have much chicken then a broth pack is a great way of bulking it out and I have to say I love adding pearl barley to mine. It reminds me of dinner round the table when I was growing up and there was always a fight for the extra dumplings! chicken soupy stew
5.0 from 4 reviews
Grandma's Chicken Soupy Stew
  • Chicken Carcass
  • Leftover roast chicken
  • Vegetables
  • Suet
  • Self raising flour
  1. Place the chicken carcass in a slow cooker and cover with boiling water.
  2. If you have any leek or carrot tops then add them too and cook on low overnight.
  3. Strain the liquid and if you want pick off any meat from the bones.
  4. Allow the stock to cool and remove fat from the top.
  5. Place the stock in to the slow cooker and add chopped up vegetables. This one had carrots, swede, parsnip, leeks and onions.
  6. Add chicken.
  7. Cook for 4 hours on high in a slow cooker or 8 hours on low.
  8. For the Dumplings (this makes 8)
  9. g of vegetable suet and 200g of self raising floor in a bowl.
  10. Make a well in the middle and add water, mixing with a butter knife until it comes together.
  11. Form loosely into 8 portions
  12. For a crispy top cook in the oven uncovered for 20 minutes.
  13. For a soft top leave on high in the slow cooker for 30 minutes.
Perfect for cold winter evenings.  I guarantee empty bowls for this meal!  It also freezes well and is great warmed up and you can blend the leftovers to make a smooth soup perfect for flasks. soupy stew This is our favourite winter warmer recipe and we are entering it in the competition.
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Something for the weekends

something for the weekend header Weekends are often busy, filled with things to do and places to go for most families, but I also want them to be a time where you can create as a family and make the most of each other.  With this in mind I have decided to run a weekly post on a friday featuring fun, fabulous and simple ideas for a creative family weekend. These will be seasonal ideas of simple things that you can fit into your frenetic family life along with homework, movies, birthday parties, shopping and everything else a busy parent does. I will give you a list of materials needed (most of which you will be able to find around the house or supermarket) and then some inspiration of what to do with them and hopefully help you fill your weekend with less #screenfree time. But I need your help with this.  I would like to know the type of things you would like to see.  Do you want arts and craft, cooking, baking, ideas for outdoor play or a selection of all? I do not want to make life more complicated but to encourage you to enjoy the simple things in life and slow down.  I want to encourage us all to put down our mobile phones and to be the change we want to see in our children. I am not looking to make life more busy, but to help you find a balance and inspiration.  I want to encourage our children to not reach for their screens at the first sign of boredom. So what do you think? Are you up for reestablishing the connection with your children, for being a child again and having some fun? Are you ready for something for the weekend?
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8 Tips for caring for school shoes

Shoes shoes are a real investment.  Mini has just had to have new ones as his feet had grown and they cost £42, thankfully we had a £40 voucher from Clarks to put towards them.  For Mini we really have to look to a shop like Clarks as he has wide feet and a high instep.  His current shoes are a 2.5 H width fitting.  When you pay that short of money for shoes it is essential that you look after them and I have to say I learned a lot about caring for leather shoes from my Dad and Granddad. caring for school shoes
  1. Add a name label, when you have paid for school shoes, you do not want to lose them! 
  2. Protect them before they are first worn with a protective waterproof spray and again on a regular basis.
  3. Never dry them over a radiator or heat source when wet, instead fill with crumpled newspaper of paper and allow to dry naturally.
  4. Get your children to take them off when they get home from school to air them out.
  5. Remove dirt as soon as possible, get in to the habit of giving them a wipe over each night with a damp cloth
  6. Clean on a regular basis with a leather cleaner.  I am an old-fashioned wax and brush girl, which I leave on for an hour to sink in before removing with a soft brush and rag.  Applying the wax with a brush gets it in to all the bumps and crevices.
  7. Liquid scuff polish is a great quick fix to keep shoes looking smart
  8. If shoes start to smell then a sprinkling of bicarbonate of soda in them overnight will deodorise them.
clarks shoes Mini really wanted the yellow and green trainers, but school shoes have to be black! I love the use of coloured laces to bring shoes and boots up to date and will be doing this with the boys shoes.    
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Update on my word of the year – Nurture

We are now two weeks in to January and I thought I would update you on how I am getting on with my word of the year and my intentions for 2014. nurture 600 Over on A Thrifty Mum, I have been documenting my decluttering efforts, which are going really well and I am pleased to say that slowly but surely I am simplifying our home and belongings.  I am learning that I also need to nurture the environment we live in making life easier for all of us.  With this in mind I have decided to get our tumble dryer repaired.  I haven't used the dryer for over a year as it has been broken and have found drying the washing such a chore this winter. With regards to nurturing myself I have appointments with numerous specialists to discuss my condition and I am also having regular blood tests to ensure that things do not get to the stage they did before Christmas.  I understand that by keeping on top of it I can really make an impact on all of my family.  So this really is key for us all. Sewing lessons also start again next week and I am really looking forward to spending time with a fab group of ladies and my sewing machine.  I started on Capturing Childhood Manual Overdrive e course this week too. Each lunch time I take Alvin out for a walk and it is doing me the world of good to get out of the house and experience some sunshine. MadDad and I are also making time to have movie nights together and enjoying our evening time together.  We have plans to have more lunches together and spend quality time together. I am also learning to say "no" to things.  I ask myself the question "will this nurture me and my family?" It is early in the year, but things are going well at the moment and by having a word to focu on it is really making me think and evaluate what I am doing. 3.
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#ScreenFree Update and our perfect day

  screen free prompts The boys have had their first week back at school this week and one of the things we are trying to do is reduce their reliance on screens and technology.  I have not thrown out all screens or even banned their use, but I have insisted on at least one screen free activity a day from the above list of prompts. We find screen free time much harder in these dark and cold winter days.  In the summer the boys first reaction after school is to get changed and go out to play outside. This month as part of our ambassador program Center Parcs asked us to think about our perfect day.  So we all sat down at dinner and discussed what we would like out of a day at Center Parcs and not surprisingly the main thing that came out of the discussion was more family time outside. Both the boys would love to do something action and adventure like aerial tree trekking or a Quad Bike Safari.  I am looking forward to board games on an evening and cycling together during the days.  When the boys are not on an action and adventure kick I know we ill be in the pool and I will have to drag my water babies out as they love being in the water. I might even get time to read a book whilst they are all in the pool.  You never know! So what would be your perfect day? I’m a Center Parcs Family Blogger and will be visiting Whinfell village with my family. If you want to enter to win a place as a wildcard winner just go to the challenge page to find out how
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Help me win some Winter Sun

The last time I visited the Canary Islands was in January 2001.  2000 had been a really bleak winter and my Father had died in an industrial accident and I really needed some winter sun, so Madad and I took a wonderful relaxing trip to the Canary Islands.

The Canary's really were the perfect place to capture some winter sun, make peace with the previous years happenings and reconnect with each other after a very stressful period.

Each January  Las Canteras Beach in the Canary Islands come alive with sand sculptures that reach 4 meters in height which are amazing and the 22 degree weather really makes looking at them just wonderful.

We enjoyed some amazing Canarian food when we last visited way before we had children and I remember spending plenty of time on the beach and around the pool reading (which isn't something that tends to happen now).

MaDad isn't really one for sitting and soaking up the sun, so we also hired a car to explore the Island and took a number of boat trips, in addition to jet skiing and parascending, yes we used to be pretty adventurous!

Well we have been given the chance to relive this holiday and you can help.  I have the opportunity to win a round trip ticket for 2 to Gran Canaria, accommodation at a 4 star hotel, and half board. I have shared the video on your Facebook page,  and I NEED YOU to share it with your followers.  I will only qualify once I  have reached 50 shares. The winner will be the contestant whose video has been shared the most by the 8th of January 2014 at 20.00GMT

So please go to my facebook page and share the video - Pretty please! 

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Fingerprint Thank you cards – Robins

We are working on reducing the boys reliance on technology and we decided to make fingerprint thank you cards for part of our #ScreenFree time. robin fingerprint cards I think that it is really important for the boys to say thank you for the gifts they receive and as a family we love to give and receive hand made cards.  I try to make sure that what we do is something that the boys can do all by themselves and they loved this activity. Materials
    1. Cardstock or blank white cards like these 100 Pack of White Square Card and Envelopes
    2. Paint (we used tempura, but any will do)
    3. Fine tip black pen
The boys turn white card in to cards by folding them in half. finger The they painted a finger with brown paint and made fingerprints on a card to represent the Robin's body. They washed their hands and by the time they returned to the table the brown paint was dry, so they painted the tip of the little finger red for the Robins red breasts. They then added the birds beaks and feet with a fine tipped pen. tongue of concentration Maxi wrote thank you on the front of his cards (note the tongue of concentration), whereas Mini wanted to have lots of Robins on the front of his cards. robin fingerprint card Do your children send thank you cards out after christmas or when they receive gifts?
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40 Things I have learned

  1. I am a the cat's pyjamas
  2. You can not have a champagne lifestyle on a larger income
  3. Less is more
  4. You are never too old to set a new goal or dream a new dream - C.S Lewis
  5. Sew a little love into every stitch
  6. That life is not a one way journey, you can make turns and even go backwards if you chose.
  7. Being wonky is good
  8. The sum is greater than the parts
  9. Fairy lights are for all year round, not just christmas
  10. Family is EVERYTHING
  11. Most things can be healed by spending time with children
  12. That I am not the only person in the world to have a stationery and washi tape addiction
  13. Creativity is like a muscle
  14. Happiness is not perfection, it is learning to look past the imperfect
  15. That it is acceptable to get satisfaction from hanging washing on the line
  16. Not much beats slipping between freshly laundered better, other than being joined there by the ones you love.
  17. The secret to good Yorkshire puddings is an extra egg.
  18. That having gift vouchers means that there will be nothing you want from that shop and not having them means you are longing for something!
  19. I am not defined by my broad Northern accent.
  20. Being polite costs nothing and gives so much.  Always say please and thank you.
  21. My best has to be good enough
  22. In order to make life better for woman, I have to raise feminist boys.
  23. There is unbound joy in finding money in old bags and coat pockets
  24. A pot of tea solves a lot of life's woes
  25. Tea tastes better served in china cups
  26. I would rather spend more on paper straws then drink from plastic ones
  27. I have to be the person I want my children to become
  28. Kindness costs nothing, starts with me and needs to be an intention I make everyday and I should always give more than necessary
  29. That now is my happy ever after
  30. There is something wonderful to be found in a family button tin
  31. Life is too short and unpredictable to not live in the present. Yes life is a grind, but I am not being worn down, I am being polished!
  32. No balls in the house is a good rule
  33. Where there is love there is life
  34. That I light the way for my children by the bridges I burn
  35. Accidents happen
  36. Buy quality and only buy once
  37. Given enough glue sticks and glitter I could rule the world
  38. There is no way to be a perfect mother, but I am the right mum for my boys
  39. That if I can not change a situation then I have to change my thoughts about it.
  40. We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.
Blatantly copied from Housewife Confidential and kept for my 40th Birthday, well actually I turned 40 on December 20th, but with illness and a superb family christmas I forgot to post this!
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A month of #ScreenFree prompts and activities

screenFreww If your children are anything like mine they might have slipped back in to the habit of reaching for screens first over this festive period.  Both the boys now have an Ipod, which seems permanently attached to their hands and I really have felt the need to look at ways to encourage them away from their reliance on technology.  I find that this is only really an issue over the dark winter months as during the lighter nights their first reaction is to play outside with their friends. So over January I am going to be giving you (and them) a screen free activity each day on The Mum in The Mad House facebook page.  Come and join us and let me know if the prompts are working fo0r you and your children. Yesterday we worked on our words for the year and Mini's was Harmony as he is going to look at improving his temper and to try and not fight with Maxi! harmony Maxi's word was Creative as he understands that he needs to be more creative in life and not look to technology all the time. creative Maxi initially had issues with doing this activity, but it seems he just has problems with failure to transition from one activity to another.  Once he started this task he really enjoyed it and had so much fun.  I am hoping by having a word to focus on we can light that spark of imagination again and be a little more #ScreenFree.    
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My word for 2014 – Nurture

My word for 2013 was Joy, or more specifically Choosing Joy.  I focused on looking past the negatives and choosing to find joy in all I see, do and make.  It wasn't always easy, but the more I did it, the easier it became and I actually found that I started to do it automatically without thinking about it.
We have been truly blessed in 2013 with some fantastic family experiences, but there has also been some real challenges.  I hope that I have dealt with them mostly with dignity and also learned from the experiences.  I have certainly learned who my true friends are, but I have also learned that I need to let go and just make the most of everyday.
This year I want to concentrate on Nurture.
verb: nurture; 3rd person present: nurtures; past tense: nurtured; past participle:nurtured; gerund or present participle: nurturing
  1. 1.
    care for and protect (someone or something) while they are growing.
    "Jarrett was nurtured by his parents in a close-knit family"
    synonyms: bring up, care for, provide for, take care of, attend to, look after, rear,support, raise, foster, parent, mother, tend; More
    antonyms: neglect, hinder
    • help or encourage the development of.
      "my father nurtured my love of art"
    • cherish (a hope, belief, or ambition).
      "for a long time she had nurtured the dream of buying a shop"
noun: nurture
  1. 1.
    the action or process of nurturing someone or something.
    "the nurture of children"
    synonyms: encouragement, promotion, fostering, development, cultivation,boosting, furtherance, advancement More
    • upbringing, education, and environment, contrasted with inborn characteristics as an influence on or determinant of personality.
      "we are all what nature and nurture have made us"
      synonyms: upbringing, bringing up, care, fostering, tending, rearing, raising,training, education More
      antonyms: nature, innate disposition, inherited characteristics
I need to nurture myself a little more and focus on finding answers to the ongoing health issues I suffer from and find ways that I can support my body and soul with my condition and be a little gentler on myself.  But I also want to extend this to all the other areas of my life too.
I am going to continue to learn new skills and keep up my sewing lessons on a weekly basis and also the Saturday workshops now and then.  I also want to work on my photography skills and have joined the Manual Overdrive course with Capturing Childhood.  I have found that learning new things nourishes me and enables me to be a better person and give more to my family.
I am going to spend time supporting my children, tending to their changing needs as they grow up. I want to find ways to encourage them to be less reliant on electronics and to nurture their other talents.  I want to make spending more time outside a priority and have fun as a family.  I want to nurture their life skills.  I want us to cook, bake, make and create together.
I am going to give more time to my marriage.  I have loved having MadDad around during this festive season and realise that we need to spend some more time with just the two of us.  We had lunch together on my birthday and it was a rare treat that we both loved and we decided that we are going to make more time for each other.  Maybe not date nights (as it is hard to get people to look after the boys), but why not meet for lunch more often or watch a movie together.  My marriage is important to me and worth spending time and energy on to nurture it.
I also want to nurture my career. More on this to come!
Finally, I am also going to nurture our Finance, but there is much more on this on A Thrifty Mum, where my word of the year financially is PRUDENCE.
So each quarter when I produce my seasonal manifesto's I will use Nurture to help me focus on my tasks, hopes and plans and update on the previous quarterly goals and aims.
I find that my having a one word that sums up my goals and plans for the year it makes me much more focused and I use it as a visual reminder.  I print it out to remind me of what I am looking to achieve.
Cass also told me that Ruth at Dorky Mum does a word of the year too and she is much more eloquent that I, so hop on over to read more about her word.  I also completed Susannah Conway’s Unravelling the Year workbook after reading about it on her blog and it really helped me reflect on 2013 and put 2014 in to perspective.
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Putting Christmas in to perspective

It has been something of a challenging couple of weeks here in The Mad House.  I was not very well up on returning from our fantastic holiday in Florida (more on that to follow) and have had to spend some time in hospital.  Christmas and my 40th Birthday have really had to take a back seat to me getting to a stage where I could be at home. christmas tree Being in hospital at this time of year really got me thinking about all the families who spend the festive season apart for whatever reason and for all the fantastic NHS staff that work over this time of year. I have been so lucky that friends have been able to step in and collect the boys from school and feed them, enabling MadDad to visit me and ferry me around.  I am so grateful for the support I received online, in addition to a dear friend even coming in to our house and making sure it was all clean and tidy for my return.

Christmas is not about the presents, it is about the presence.

  It really is about the presence of people you love and care about.  People that make your life shine and fill it with joy. So I am not worrying about the reviews I need to write or other commitments I have, but I do want to say a few heartfelt thank you. So I hope that you all have a wonderful festive period and have some great times with your families.  I might be around over the holidays, but I am not sure.  So Merry Christmas to all.
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Day 12 of the Center Parcs #CPGift Christmas Competition

We are delighted to be Center Parcs family bloggers here at the Mad House and cannot wait to start planning our trip to Whinfell Forest and enjoy our first family Center Parcs holiday. Center Parcs are currently running a fantastic competition to win a stocking full of goodies OR a family break at Center Parcs. Below is the stocking full of goodies you have a chance of winning if you enter. Center Parcs Goodies Center Parcs are launching a brand new advert on Christmas day, so before it launches they are offering you the chance to guess some items which appear in their advert. Each day the mystery gifts are featured in a vine which Center Parcs will tweet here at midday or if you need an extra clue for today, check out the image below. The competition finishes today,  the 19th December, so make sure you keep an eye on their twitter feed . 12 Center Parcs Christmas Riddle Clues_ MumintheMadhouse Once you think you know what the item is, head over to the Center Parcs twitter page. RT the tweet containing the clue and use the hashtag #CPGift and don’t forget to add your guess. Make sure you are following @CenterParcsUK Check back the following day to see if you were lucky. View full terms and conditions here.  
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Our favorite Christmas Movies

throw We are an eclectic bunch in the Mad House, but one thing we all love is Christmas Movies and snuggling up on the couch watching them together.  Now thanks to Laura Ashley we have a new throw to snuggle under and watch our movies and the Tartan Cranberry Check Cotton Mix Throw is perfect in colour to match our traditional red and green decoration, so henceforth will become known "The Christmas Throw"! There is also lots of other things that can be done with a Laura Ashley throw, just take a look at this round up post where other bloggers show what they did with theirs. rug I would never attempt to wrap the presents without Elf on the screen and a Baileys in my glass!  Now bear in mind that Mini is seven and Maxi eight and me and MadDad a lot, lot older (in fact I have a significant birthday this Friday)! Our current favorites are: We have our Advent Box and it is filled with Christmas Books and films that we get our year after year and add to them too and the throw will be added to it this year when it goes away.  I so look forward to winter evenings with the boys after school once we have done a craft where we can shut the cold, dark world out and enjoy a film together.  We have had such joy introducing them to classics like Gremlins and Home Alone. I would love to know what movies I have missed and what would be on your list.  Disclosure: I was given a new throw and compensated for this post, plus it contains affiliate links too.
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Kid Made Christmas Decoration’s – Cotton Reels

I love this time of year, It makes me feel all crafty so the boys and I decided to make some vintage spool christmas decorations to combine my love of sewing and their of making things for Christmas.  They love looking back at the decorations they have made in previous years. cotton Reel Materials
  • Vintage spools or empty cotton reels
  • Ribbon (one for tying round and another for the hanging)
  • Glue gun
  • Embellishments (ours were felt)
  1. Measure the ribbon, so that you have just enough to wrap round the spool ot reel.
  2. Apply a blob of glue and attach the end.
  3. Wrap round and attach with a further blob of glue.
  4. Take a ribbon and thread through the hole in the reel or spool
  5. Knot the bottom allow sufficient for a decorative dangle!
  6. Apply hot glue to the bottom of the opening and allow to dry against the knot
  7. We finally applied a felt christmas tree embellishment to a number of the decorations to hide the seam.
We have also made air drying clay ornaments, which are great for slightly older children to make. kidmadeornamentseries
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Giving extra this Christmas with Mum in the Mad House and Halifax

I am a huge fan of making Christmas memorable and one of the ways I do this is by giving gifts that we have made.  So I am delighted to be working in partnership with Halifax the bank who give you extra to inspire  more of you to give extra this Christmas by taking the time to produce homemade gifts for that special someone. I want to share with you some ideas and inspiration for craft ideas that can be produced by you and your family and given as christmas present this year.  None are hard to do and are fun family activities and I guarantee you the receiver will be over the moon with the little extra that you have added to your gifts made with love and thoughtfulness.

Simple homemade gifts

simple homemade gifts

Festive Inspired Gifts

simple festive gifts

To win an iPad enter our prize draw brought to you by Halifax

For your chance to win an iPad 16GB Air Wi-Fi ,  please enter the prize draw by submitting your own tips for a great homemade gifts this Christmas.  Entry is via the rafflecopter mechanism below.  a Rafflecopter giveaway For full terms and conditions click here Halifax partnership
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2013 Gingerbread House

One of our advent traditions is to make  and decorate a gingerbread house.  With being out of the country this year we accepted a pre cooked one from Sykes Cottages to build and decorate.  Unfortunately ours came a little damaged (hence the silver foil bottom), but I managed to get it stuck together and then provided the boys with a selection of sweets and icing and left them too it. gingerbread house I have to say it looked a little difference when they first decorated it (they gave it icicles), but Mini kept eating them!  Also they do not know the expression of less is more, so this is a #moreismore gingerbread house and it was two sweets for their mouths and one for the house! Each year I say I will make a pretty one all of my own, but in all honesty the boys adore decorating the house and it has become part of their advent traditions and activities. So for now I am happy to let them put all of their artistic endeavor in to the house decorating and I take a back seat.  I do not even stick around when they are decorating it as I know I would try to take over! If you are looking for a fab, not too gingery gingerbread then I have a fab recipe here. Disclosure: We were sent a free Gingerbread house  for the purpose of this post 
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Getting Croodiacious with Dreamworks in LA

Back in September (yes it seems like ages ago), I was fortunate to go to LA and visit the Dreamworks Campus and get a sneak peek in to how The Croods was made.   My trip to DreamWorks was to celebrate the release of The Croods on DVD and Blu-ray.  Now I have to say that as a family we adored The Croods and went to see it at our local cinema over the summer and the boys were delighted that it was on our flight home from Florida last week. me and belt As this was my first trip to a Studio I had no idea what I was about to see.  Well it was pretty mind blowing and I had a really unforgettable experience. The croods The day commenced with a visit to the Dreamworks cinema and an introduction to the film by Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders, who wrote and directed the film.   They told us about the  fictional prehistoric era known as The Croodaceous period and introduced us to the main characters, The Croods, who are the worlds first modern family. I  was then lucky enough to decorate a pair of Ugg Boots which represented Eeps discovery of shoes in the movie, which is one of those seminal movie moments for me and has stuck with me since seeing the movie.  But The Croods is about much more than shoes, it is about family and how even though we can all have different aspirations, fears and thoughts that ultimately family is everything. I was gobsmacked when we were taken to the CGI stage, where real people become animations by having sensors placed on to them.  It really was mind boggling that a computer becomes a camera allowing the filmmakers to get new camera angles. I learned that lighting is one of the major aspects of making an animated feature so watchable and that the sound team go all around the world to record the actors for the voiceovers.  Dreamworks Studio is as much a technology company as much as it is a movie studio, hence it being in Redwood California. The whole day was just amazing, I even got to meet one of the head animators and have a go a drawing my own belt character and so can you as it is an additional feature on the Blu-ray and DVD! 5264601000_3PA_jpgHR DreamWorks Animation's The Croods DVD & Blu-ray is out now
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Can shoes look good and still be comfortable?

Do you have to sacrifice style to have confort?  I would like to assure you that the answer is no, you just need to know where to look for things and I am going to share with you my fantastically hot purple heeled boots as an example. Nigella Boots These beauties are the Nigella ankle boot from Hotter Shoes and are £90.  They are fantastically good looking, but even better they are so comfortable you can wear them all day without getting aching feet. They have a real victorian feel to them, but are bang up to date in a super purple colour and a 2 1/2 inch heel.  They have cushioned leather insoles and flexible grooved soles, which really makes them a dream to wear. I have said before that I have a high instep and wide foot, but these are perfectly easy to get on and fit well, but they also come with a shoe horn as an free extra, which I love.  The zip fastening is easy to get up and down and makes them very easy to put on. Every time I have wore these fab Nigella Boots I have been asked where I got them from.    I actually found it really hard to chose that shoes to get and my shortlist is below: hotter collage    
  1. Cheshire boots - £129.00
  2. Somerley Brogues in Red/Blac - £79
  3. Donna Heels in Dark Purple - £85
  4. Shake Shoes in Boysenberry - £66
What would you have chosen? So yes you can have style and comfort.  Just make your way to Hotter Shoes.
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Festive Jam Jar candle holders

jam jar   I love candle light, especially during the Autumn and winter months when the dark nights are upon us.  There is something warming and comforting and these festive jam jar candle holders are so easy to make. All you need is a selection of jam jars, things to decorated them with and some glue or double sided tape. We used lace (that was my mums), sheet music paper (which I sourced via Pinterest and have saved on my free printables board) and some scraps of ribbons. These jam jar candles are not just for Christmas we have had them by our fire place since I made them last year! If you are a candle lover then make sure you take a look at my decorated pillar candles and teacup candles too tea light holders Some other great jam jar candles: Sequined Jam Jar tea light holders by Nurturestore Granny Chic tea light holders by Tales from a Happy Home Festive candle holders by Planet Penny Jam jar and tissue paper luminaries by The Imagination Tree Glitter tea light holders by Be a Fun Mum Etched jam jar tea light holders by Pea pod designs Festive Jar lights by The Boy and Me Sparkly Jam Jar tea light holders by Fantastic fun and learning
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Kettler Go Kart Nitro Extreme

I am a BIG advocate of free range parenting and getting children to make the most of the outside.  My boys had as much of a free range summer as I could afford them and have bikes and scooters.  Their best buddies also have a Kettler GO Kart that they adored using over the summer.  This Autumn we have been putting the  Kettler Go Kart Nitro Extreme through its paces. The Kettler Go Kart Nitro Extreme is a go kart aimed at children aged 7 to 12 years old and we have had children on it from aged 6 through to 12 so can attest that it is suitable for a wide age range and that they can adjust the seat themselves, so no adult intervention is needed to get it ready for the next child.  (Sorry about the pictures, but it has been so dark here) Go Kart Nitro Extreme The Kettler  Go Kart Nitro Extreme has an RRP of £249, which is a lot of money, however, if it lasts from ages 7 to 12, which is five years and gets use throughout that time I think that it is extremely good value for money.  Plus they hold their value, just take a look on ebay and see how much they sell for second hand. Since we got the Go Kart it has been used every day come rain or shine and has been great for encouraging them to get out and exercise.   We live on an estate and there are some inclines, but the Go Kart handles them really well and once the boys got used to it no push starts were needed.

Ease of Assembly

  Me and the boys managed to put this together ourselves in around 20 minutes.  The box it came in was MASSIVE, but this meant that we only need to add the wheels and handle/steering wheel.

Quality of build

  We are hugely impressed with the quality of this go kart.  Yes it should be good for the price, but it is sturdy and goes over bumps and kerbs with ease and feels really solid and of great quality.  My friends Kettler is 6 years old and still looks great, so Kettler has a good reputation.


  There is something fantastically fun about being on a kart.  Being closer to the ground makes you feel as though you are zooming at great speeds.  The Go Kart Nitro Extreme is a big hit where we live with children queuing up to take a go on it. We love the Go Kart Nitro Extreme and think that the boys will get a lot of play out of it.  The only negative is finding space in the ever full garage to store it! Disclosure: We were sent a Kettler Go Kart Nitro Extreme to review.  As always my thoughts and views are my own and are not influenced by anyone in any way.    
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Strengthening Our Winter Defences

One of the things I miss most about living in Berkshire is my next door neighbour Louise, who runs her own business Panacea Holistic Health and Beauty.  Louise is one of those people that has an innate ability to make you feel good about yourself and I was lucky enough to be a client of hers. panacea She provides a variety of holistic therapies and beauty treatments, gift vouchers and natural health and beauty products.  Her massages are divine and she tailor makes her treatments according to your requirements and needs.  She has the ability to put people at ease and make your treatment relaxing and refreshing. She made a superb inhaler and roller ball of a special aromatherapy mix for Mini and his tantrums, which he still uses to this day.  I felt more than confident in asking her advise as she is a trained and qualified aromatherapist. So I asked her to write me a guest post about how we can all strengthen our winter defences.  S0 over to Louise: Strengthening Our Winter Defences
With autumnal colours filling the landscape there is no denying that winter, and all it's associated ails, is rapidly approaching.  Do you dread the onslaught of endless winter bugs?  Stocking up on tissues and mentholated rubs and lozenges?  Would it surprise you to learn that it doesn't have to be that way? It's very simple; avoiding the winter bugs is all about having a strong immune system.  If you have been watching 'Food Hospital' on Channel 4 you will be very aware of the power of  food, and our nutritional status for keeping us healthy.  Well, here is my prescription for staying healthy this winter and beyond.
  • Top up your friendly bugs.  Those that reside in our intestines have been proven to have a very positive impact on our immune system.  Too few and we get ill.  It's very easy to give them a boost with a quick course of probiotics which are available in both capsule and powder form.  Top Tip: Always take probiotics during and after a course of antibiotics.  Antibiotics kill off the good bugs as well as the bad ones.
  • Boost Your Vitamin C and Zinc.  These are the primary immune boosting nutrients.  Unfortunately to get the immune boosting benefits you will need to supplement as it is virtually impossible to obtain a sufficient dose through food alone.  Take 1-2 mg of vitamin C and 15mg of zinc a day. Top Tip: Vitamin C helps the absorption of iron from your food, so take some of your vitamin C when eating iron rich foods for an added boost.
  • Take a high quality multi vitamin/mineral.  There are lots of other nutrients involved in keeping your immune system in optimum working order such as Vitamin A, Vitamin E, magnesium, calcium, selenium and molybdenum. Top Tip:  All supplements were not created equal.  Avoid cheap version where costs are kept down with dosages too low and ingredients the body finds difficult to process making them an expensive waste of money.  If you only have to take one a day, it's not enough!
  • Clean up your diet. All the advice above will be more effective if you eat a nutrient rich diet too.  Fresh food in a rainbow of colours provides added benefits that these supplements can never hope to live up to including enzymes, fibre and helping your body to absorb all these extra nutrients you are fuelling yourself with.  Refined, processed food often use more trace minerals to digest them than the 'food' itself actually provides.  Finally, cut right down on your refined sugar intake.  Studies have shown that eating sugar suppresses our immune system for up to 5hrs; plenty of time to catch that cold. Top Tip: Xylitol is a widely available natural sugar substitute that looks and tastes great, doesn't spike blood sugar levels and is even good for your teeth.
  • Catch more ZZZZZZZs.  There is a close association between immune function and sleep.  Sufficient sleep, believed to be at least 7 uninterrupted hours a night, enables the immune system to recharge.  Interestingly the onset of an illness of any kind also increases our need for sleep as our immune systems go into battle.  Having a young family of my own I know this is not always easy to achieve, but I find knowing how important it is helps me focus on getting more sleep, even if not enough.  Top Tip:  Start 'winding down' an hour before you want to sleep...log off and switch off and choose reading or listening to a relaxation track before drifting off.
  • Take some Exercise. The important word here is 'some'.  Those of us that have 30-45 mins a day of moderate intensity exercise such as brisk walking or gentle jogging are 20% less likely to catch colds and coughs.  It is  equally important not to overdo it however, as strenuous exercise actually depresses the immune system making you more susceptible rather than less.  Top tip:  Try to exercise outside whenever possible for the added bonus of a mood boost too.
  • De-stress.  The hormones released when we get stressed are further immune supressors.  Reducing stress is not easy to achieve as we are often reacting to situations outside of our control but it is important to take action to reduce the negative impact where we can.  The suggestions above will all help; more sleep, more outdoor exercise, and a better nutritional status will all help our bodies to 'stand down', fight or flight not required! Top Tip:  If you find it hard to wind down try a warm bath, take slow, deep breaths from a couple of drops of a relaxing essential oil (lavender, chamomile, frankincense)on  a tissue or listen to a guided meditation/relaxation track, often available as a free download.
In my personal experience this immune boosting plan will keep you free from all manner of bugs.  I find that illness only strikes when I have been well for so long that complacency sets in and I drop too many of the balls.  But the great thing is that if you do most of the suggestions, most of the time your immune system will be so strong that you won't even notice:)
Thanks to Louise's advise the boys have been taking supplements and we are currently reviewing the Higher Nature range of Childrens Vitamins and I have to say I am really impressed.  Rather comically the boys have taken to calling them their "chemicals" and  have not missed any since we got them.  They are using the Kids Vitamin D3 Spray 625iu, which is mint flavoured, the Kids Vital Vits,  Kids Smart Focus  and Kids Fruit & Shake.  We also have Kids Relax & Unwind, but neither of the boys like the taste.
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Great Kids books for Advent and Christmas

christmas  and advent books Now that we have got down the Advent box, I thought it was time to share with you some of our favorite books about Advent and Christmas. My boys are 7 and 8 now and some of these are long time favorites such as Dear Santa, which although they have outgrown they still love.  
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Beauty buys to put on your Christmas list

I used to be something of a beautyaholic.  I adore potions and lotions  and BC (before Children) I would spend my hard earned cash on lots of new and exciting cosmetics that promised the world.  I loved the packaging, the anticipation and the whole buying something for me. Now my life is different.  The only time I get stuff like this is Christmas and Birthdays or if some kind PR sends me something! So this is my list of things that I have popped on my Christmas List.  Some have been previous PR samples, others products that I am getting to the end off! top beauty buys Healagel Eye.   I have been looking for a new eye cream since having my eyes lasered nearly a year ago.  Since giving up my glasses the area under my eyes has been dry and sore.  I have tried alsorts of products and even been to see my GP, who said it was due to my skin not used to being exposed and that it needed to acclimatise.  I have been using Healgel Eye for the last 2 months and my eyes are no longer dry and sore and I feel much better about them.  Now at £32 I know it isn't cheep, but I rarely spend any money on myself and I am a firm believer in that if you find something that works then keep on with it.  Plus it has a pump dispenser so provides you with measured amounts and I reckon I will get around 4 months useage out of it. Nourish Argan Skin Rescue Treatment  The latest cult brand at that is getting rave reviews from customers is Nourish, which was created from the guys that brought you Neal’s Yard. Certified Organic by the Soil Association, the Nourish skin care range was developed in 2012 to offer cutting edge, beautiful, high quality natural and organic skin care products. I have been using the Nourish Argan Skin Rescue Treatment, which is £18.95.  It is perfect for my skin at this time of year, which really hates central heating. Nourish Argan Skin Renew Treatment I have also switched from my normal moisturizer to Nourish Argan Skin Renew Treatment and my skin is reaping the benefits.  Again central heating makes it tight, sore and dry and this puts the life back in to it without being to heavy and greasy.   It is £21.50. Lily Lolo Honey Glow Shimmer Stripes  I used to wear make up everyday when I worked, but since being a mum I no longer hide behind my "face" plus I wanted the boys to understand that women do not need make up to look good.  That said I still love makeup and wear it when I am going out of on days when I look particularly dreadful!  I was recently introduced to mineral makeup and was send the Lily Lolo Honey Glow Shimmer Stripes compact.  It is £19.99 and I have used it a lot.  I opted for the honey glow as I am a real pale skinned person, but we are going on holiday.  This gives me a gentle, subtle hint of a glow and makes me look like a better version of myself. Liz Earle Hair Oil  Botanical Shine Nourishing Hair Oil for all hair types is the only product I use on my hair other than shampoo and conditioner and they have to be paraben and SLS free.  At £15 for 150ml it  is on the expensive side, but I have had my last bottle since March, so when you bring it down to a cost per use it is amazing value.  People have raved about Moroccan Oil and I have used both but much prefer the Liz Earl Hair Oil.  Even Maxi uses it to make sure his curls to not tangle. I was devastated when I left my bottle at Thorpe Park earlier in the year and was straight on to the internet to buy another bottle. Aromatherapy Associates Bath Oil I adore a long warm bath and there is something decidedly indulgent with Aromatherapy Associates Bath Oils.   When my mind is racing and my insomnia raging then a bath with their deep relax oil goes a long way to helping me get on top of things and trust me that is priceless.  My oil lasts me all year as I treat it like liquid gold.  The boys are not allowed anywhere near it.  This has been on my Christmas list for the last 18 years and I really look forward to unwrapping a bottle. L'occitane Hand Cream I used to have a love hate relationship with hand cream.  I hate dry hands, but I hate greasy hands even more.  Then a colleague introduced me to L'Occitane Hand Cream and it transformed my life.  It is really thick and you only need a tiny bit.  My colleague was a glamorous more mature lady and I used to really look up to her.  She was always perfectly groomed and very chic.  She also taught me her way of putting on handcream.  You place a very small (pea sized or smaller) amount of cream on to the back of your hand and then rub both the backs of your hands together, before turning them over and rubbing in the remainder of the cream which means your palms do not get too greasy .  This is the hand cream I always buy my MIL. What is on your list for this Christmas?
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