Monthly Archives: November 2012

Amateur astronomy from your loft 1

You are one of 7 billion humans on earth – the densest planet in a 4.6 billion year old solar system. You are in a galaxy spanning around 110,000 light years, in a universe containing an estimated 9 sextillion stars. With the right technology you could see over 142,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilometres into space. Humans have been practicing forms of astronomy for centuries, but the developments we have made from the 19th Century onwards have been particularly illuminating, and we now know more than ever before about the universe.

It’s no wonder that people are so fascinated with what lies beyond our humble planet. The most exciting part is that star gazing is now a pastime that is available to everybody with a desire to learn more about our solar system.

Not only is amateur astronomy a fascinating hobby, it’s also a great way to spend time with your kids and bring what they learn in school to life. To make stargazing a truly rewarding experience, you’ll need a telescope and a good place to spot the stars. While there are plenty of stargazing spots in the great outdoors, having your very own indoor observatory is even more convenient.

If you have a loft , this can be the perfect place to set up. Not only is it convenient to star gaze in the comfort of your own home, but it is also a good way to make the most of your loft and save it from becoming a dumping ground and a wasted space. It’s common for lofts to go unused, and this is one way to ensure you’re getting value out of every room in your house.

However, you might need to do some renovating to ensure it’s the perfect stargazing space you’re after. If you have a sky light, or are thinking about adding one for star gazing, it may help you to get more use out of your loft as an additional room during the day too. You might want to consider making it a bit more comfortable with some seats, a carpet and maybe even a lick of paint.

Budgeting for this project may take a bit of planning. Whether you save up to pay for your loft-turned-observatory, or look into whether a loan may help you cover the costs, it’s best to sort out the budget ahead of time.

In addition to stargazing among the comforts of your own home, you’ll probably have an Internet connection handy and can easily find out what you’re looking at. This will also allow you to check if there is anything particular to look out for that night. Sites like are great for finding out what’s happening each night in theUK, and you get the satisfaction of understanding what you’re looking at and learning how to find different planets, stars and other phenomenon.

Some exciting sights to see from your loft over the rest of 2012 include a lunar eclipse in late November, Jupiter reaching its closest point to the Earth in early December and the Geminids Meteor Shower in mid-December. So, get your telescope at the ready and head up to the loft for some magical views of the night sky.

Top toys for 6 and 7 year old boys 9

Maxi and Mini have both loved this play set and we have had hours of fun challenging each other with our own cup competitions. It is great as it packs up relatively small and is easy to play. Mini has had hours of fun just role playing with the characters and I have proven that I can beat both the boys at football! This is a great gift for any football made boy or girl and a really great value gift.

Wappy Dog (£25)

Wappy Dog is a game for the Nintendo DS and it has been a huge hit with Mini. Our Wappy Dog is called Ninja, which is a much better name, as I keep calling it yappy dog! So what is it. Well it is an interactive game with its own character dog. You feed it, pet, it, look after it, but you also play games with it. For a family without a dog it is great as it doesn’t cost anything once bought and it doesn’t need feeding with real food or taking for walks in the dark weather! Mini specifically loves playing rock, paper, scissors and fruit catch with his Wappy Dog.

Angry Birds Trilogy for Nintendo DS (£37)

Angry birds are taking over the world or so it seems. This is the perfect game for maxi, who has loved it. It is such a simple concept but captures his imagination and he just loves it as will many children of his age. Oh and Maddad has been know to play on it when he is in bed! It has Angry Birds, Angry Birds Seasons and Angry Birds Rio, it didn’t take long for Maxi and MadDad to be hooked on the straightforward yet satisfying game lay that defines Angry Birds. There are 19 episodes, each with an exclusive new level that will keep you interested and ready for more.

LEGO Darth Vader and Storm Trouper Torches (£15 each)

What is it about boys and torches? These have been a MASSIVE hit in The Mad House. They are ingenious and for two Star Wars and LEGO mad boys these are great presents. They have been left on a lot and we are still on our original set of batteries after 4 weeks, but you do have to buy your own as they do not come with them. Darth Vader’s light saber is removable and also lights up perfect for role play with evil Jedi teddies!

On the Wish List

This year the boys have also asked for the following for Christmas:

Guinness book of Records 2013

Skylander Giants for Wii

New Bikes (20 inch as both of them has grown so much)

Jaffa Cakes – Mini!

Win With The Mad House and Barratts 22

If your children are anything like my boys, then I am always grateful for any help I can get with the cost of shoes.  I love shoes and have to say that the boys do not share my enthusiasm for shoes other than for football boots and trainers, which are something that I can not get excited about. I find girls boots and shoes much more interesting and before I had my boys and my feet grew in pregnancy (no one tells you that your old shoes will no longer fit) I could fit in to girls shoes and save a fortune! and The Mad House have teamed up to offer you the chance to win £50 voucher for Barratts. more »

Free cash for doing what you would normally do online

I am all for passive income! So the thought of getting paid for doing what I do online anyway was a no brainer for me. So when the Tots100 were looking for people to take part in their Christmas Swagbucks challenge I jumped at the chance to be part of it.

What is Swagbucks?
Swagbucks is a site that basically rewards users for spending time online. With this site you accrue a virtual currency for doing the things that you might normally do online – using search, watching videos, chatting, playing games, doing polls and surveys etc etc – and you earn from doing it.

Swagbucks has been running in the US since 2007 and is one of the country’s top 100 trafficked websites. Since 2007, the company has paid out more than $26m in rewards to its members – and now Swagbucks is available in the UK!

What is the challenge?
The competition is simple, whichever blogger earns the most Swagbucks by 5pm on December 14, 2012 will win a fabulous £250 gift card.
So I can earn these virtual pennies in a couple of ways, by searching the internet, spending time online, doing little quizzes and playing games and I can appeal to my friends, family, loved ones, blog readers etc to sign up and have a go themselves.

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All you need to do is click this code: and follow the easy instructions – Please

Perfect Christmas Gifts for people who have it all! 5

We are a pretty small family and do not but a lot of presents, but sometimes it can be really hard to know what to by for people. So I thought I would let you know some of my ideas of things for people that are really hard to buy for. Some of these things I have been asked to review, others I have purchased myself and really loved.

UGG Slippers

Yes these are expensive at £100, but……. they are perfect for the woman who has everything and would love to have warm toasty feet. My MIL would love these, but I am not for giving up the pair I got for review and I am not a slipper person. These are the most substantial slippers I have ever tried and are very warm and cosy. I am all about value and would hope that the cost per wear on these slippers was similar to others on the market nad that I would get years worth of wear from them.

Personalised Heart Bracelet

Personalised jewelry is a great gift for a woman, especially when it is as stylish and easy to wear as this personalised heart bracelet from Treat Her. It is £89.99 and will fit any size of wrist as it is elasticated and made of silver. You can have both sides of the heart personalised, so makes a great present for any mum or grandparent, without being twee.

Handcrafted Christmas Stocking

I am a big advocate of hand crafted British made products and when Kelly decided to open Petit Fromage, I knew her products would be exceptional. She is currently producing the most wonderful handmade Christmas products including bunting, table runners and the most beautiful, stylish and unique Christmas Stockings from £20.00

The Tweetie Tag Necklace

Oh how I adore this unique and made to order necklace from Victoria Wallop, which you can buy though We Shop. Victoria’s jewelry is handcrafted and totally unique to you. It can be customised to include a hashtag and perfect for any social media addicts. A must have #justsaying

Interflora Hamper

Often when you buy a hamper you are left in June with some part of it that just isnt what you want to eat. Well this isn’t the case with the Silent Night Hamper from Interflora which is £80. How do I know, well we were sent it to review and were going to pass it on to our inlaws, but the boys found it first and have already started to make their way though the treats. I love the fact that it comes in a traditional wicker basket that I can recycle. The perfect pre Christmas gift.

Bunny and Toad Stool Night Light

I love a bit of kitsch and I adore Dotcomgiftshop and when I saw the Toad Stool nightlight (£3.95) and Bunny Nightlight (£4.95) then I just had to have them. So I treated myself to them to brighten up my desk and they really do. Both the boys love them and now want there own!

Orla Keirly Bag from Zalando

I am a big OK fan and was asked to try Zalando and what can I say apart from they are the perfect match. The bag is divine and the service from Zalando is second to none. Not only do they have free delivery, they also have free returns too, which I tried out. Their customer service team were helpful, courteous and timely, which is what you need when you are buying online. I love the amount of choice that you have with Zalando and I even purchased my fab yellow converse from them.

Yankee Candles

Oh what can I say about Yankee Candles. They smell divine, last for hours and are just wonderful. I have been delighted with the ones that I was sent and have purchased them in the past as gifts. You really can not go wrong with a Yankee Candle as there is a scent for everyone.

Neals Yard

I am really funny about what I put on my skin and when my good friend Louise from Panacea Health and Beauty suggested I give Neals Yard a try, I know that she would know what she is talking about and I have been loving this brand ever since. So what can I say other than I am a convert to Neals Yard.

#savvyspender Twitter Party 28 November 7.30pm to 8.30pm 1

I would like to invite you to a great Twitter Party being hosted by me and the amazing Penny Golightly, on 28th November between 7.30pm and 8.30pm, all about shopping habits and family treats.

We would love to hear about how you stick to a budget, choose appropriate family rewards, spend your money wisely and if your shopping habits have changed recently compared to previous years.

I know how hard it can be to budget well in the current financial climate and talk a lot about saving money on my other blog A Thrifty Mum. But we really want to hear from you and I hope that together we can share some brilliant top tips that will help us all. Even though I often write about family money saving I still have a lot to learn and I love getting new tips and ideas.

And as if sharing your knowledge and learning new ways of saving money wasn’t enough to tempt you to join in, there’s even going to be prizes!

The party’s being sponsored by Barclaycard and their Freedom Rewards credit card. This new reward card is potentially very useful for organised spenders who pay their balance off every month, as you earn points on everything you spend, that you can then redeem in a range of high street stores (check out!

I’d love you to spread the word for us a little – more people joining in with #savvyspender means more money saving tips for us all.

See you there

Managing your heating costs this winter 1

The newspapers have reported recently that 80% of families are planning on rationing their heating this year, with the majority limiting their household heating to one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening.

If you are like me, being cold makes you grumpy, add on the stress of bills and I am completely intolerable. The winter of 2010 was a turning point for me, the coldest winter on record and I lived in a flat where the landlord didn’t feel it was important to fix the boiler until February (it broke in October).

I learned a valuable lesson that I would like to share with you on how to stay warm without being completely reliant on expensive central heating.

Draft Management

Drafts cause a big problem, particularly in old houses, if you are using the central heating you might as well go and pour all the money in your purse out onto the street. The main places to check would be around window frames and door frames, particularly if you are in an older building and the letter box. It is amazing how much cold air can get in through the letter box. Consider putting a draft excluder along the bottom of the door or installing a curtain across the door to keep the draft out.

Curtain Management

A good set of lined curtains is a must. The curtains should be long enough to reach the window sill. In a bay window with a radiator under the window sill, consider lifting the curtains up to the window sill to allow the heat to escape the radiator so it is not going straight up the inside of the curtain. Curtains should be opened during the day to allow the warmth of the sun to heat the room (for free) and then closed in the evening to keep the heat in. In an excessively drafty window, check the top of the curtains to see if there is a lot of cold air getting in, if so, a blanket or towel rolled up a lot the top of the curtain pole can help eliminate this.

Door Management

Open internal doors during the day to allow the heat from the sun drenched rooms to filter through the house. During the winter, houses get stuffy due to the windows being closed and us spending more time in doors, during the day when you are not at home, let the air circulate. Close the internal doors during the evening to keep the heat in the room you are in. Consider congregating in a smaller room, a smaller room takes less time and energy to heat and will remain warmer for longer. Encourage the children to close doors behind them when going in and out of rooms; my mother was a big fan of “were you born in a barn?”

Clothes Management

Everyone has been told at least once in their life time to “wrap up warm because it’s cold outside”, well, the same applies when it’s cold inside. Layer up. Lots of thin layers will help keep the heat in more efficiently than one thick jumper. A nice pair of winter pyjamas for the kids, plastered in their favourite cartoon character is essential. If the layers aren’t working for you, then snuggle up underneath a blanket, the more people you can snuggle under one blanket, the more heat that will be created. Make sure you wear thick socks at all times, everyone knows heat escapes through your feet quicker and if your feet are cold, the rest of you is likely to feel cold. Also, consider sleeping in socks, if you suffer from cold feet during the night.

Have a warm dressing gown beside the bed to put on first thing in the morning and last thing at night after your bath.

Bed Management

People who work in the industry will advise you to have one duvet for the summer, a lighter one, and one heavier duvet in the winter. This does not have to be the case. A medium tog duvet will suffice for both. If you cannot afford an electric blanket, like me, put a regular fleece or wool blanket under your fitted sheet, this will help you maintain some extra body heat when sleeping and make the bed cosier. Place a heavy wool blanket over the top of your duvet to create some weight to the duvet and stop cold air getting in. And then there is always the old reliable, a lovely toasty hot water bottle, I wouldn’t be without mine, it lives against my feet all winter.

And if all else fails, have a hot chocolate with plenty of marshmallows. It always warms people up in the movies, so it must be true.

This article was written by Vicki Power on behalf of Custom Curtains.

I am having Eye Surgery 10

A couple of weeks ago I made my way to our nearest (well over an hour away, as yes I live in the middle of nowhere) store to have my initial consultation with the Optical Express Team. Before I tell you more about my consultant, let me tell you I am short sighted and have worn either glasses or contact lenses since I was 20 years old. I had considered Laser surgery in the past and often do every time I take the boys swimming.
I was given an appointment at Optical Express and advised that my consultant would take anything from an hour to two hours and that I would have to have drops put in my eyes, which meant that I would be unable to drive for the rest of the day and might find it harder to focus too. MadDad came with me, but rather than come in to the consultation he took the boys away to keep them occupied.

Initially I had a chat with one of the team and we talked through what happened during surgery and I watched a short (7 minute) video about Optical Express and the surgery types they offered. I then had a couple of tests including the “pressure test” were a puff of air is blown into each pupil and also a focus test just like I get when I go to the opticians.

I was then transferred to another room to have an optical technician go through an eye test with me. If you have had a test at an optician then it is very similar and very though. It was during this point that I had the drops put in my eyes. Now Mini had already told me that this was a little like having vinegar put in your eyes and will sting and boy he was right. I also had a yellow dye popped in my eyes. This was the most uncomfortable part, but the sting was very short and it didn’t last at all. I then discussed if I was eligible for surgery what type I would need and asked if I had any questions.

To be honest I had lots of questions and the technician answered them all as fully as he could.

And that was my consultation over. I was not pressured in to making a decision there and them and told them that I would go home and make my decision.

Once I was at home, I decided to ring my friend and optician and ask her advice. After talking to her, I had more questions, but the team at Optical Express were excellent and rang me back with the answers and put my mind at rest.

So I am going to have Lasik Wavefront surgery to correct my vision and yes I am a little anxious, but more than that I am very excited.

Kids get Arty – Kadinsky 6

So when Mini asked if he could have the watercolours out to paint and started painting concentric circles in squares, I decided to sit down and we had a fab discussion.

Wassily Kandinsky (1866 – 1944) was a Russian-French painter. His style of painting originally belonged to expressionism, and is sometimes included in symbolism. Kandinsky was one of the artists who gave shape to the abstract art in the early twentieth century.

Kandinsky was inspired by music. So whilst mini was painting I popped on Vivaldi’s four seasons. We talked about the fact Kandinsky thought that each colour has its own language and expression. Kandinsky tried to convert musical compositions into paintings. He heard colours in music and he saw music in colours. Mini told me that black must be sad music.

We also talked about the fact that paintings do not have to be of things or people and can be looked at in lots of different ways. I loved the fact that it is something that MIni could easily mimic and didn’t feel that there was a right or wrong.

The Mothers Union wants to ban letters to Father Christmas 15

Tips for making it cheaper:

Think of things are preloved rather than second hand
Do not give gifts in boxes and then children have no idea if they are new or not
Talk about giving to children less lucky as themselves and sort though toys before Christmas
Make gifts, rather than buying them
Set realistic expectations
Father Christmas is always listening, just because you do not get all on your list doesn’t mean he hasn’t seen it, it just means he said no to some of them!

Encouraging remembrance in Children 3

Mini is obsessed with planes and tanks and was very respectful when we went to The Imperial War Museum at Duxford, especially when chatting to a retired serviceman about things on his birthday.

How do you talk to your children about Remembrance Day? It is hard to balance the memories without scaring them.

Autumn Days 1

We love sunshine and getting out and about and unfortunately this Autumn has not been as crisp and bright as we had hoped, but we haven’t let this stop us making the most of our weekends together as a family. Both boys play Junior football, so sunday mornings are usually taken up with a match, but the rest of the weekend we make sure that we have something planned that we can do as a family.

Our recent weekends have included:

A trip to a local Rugby match
Family Bowling
A trip to The National Railway Museum
A trip to Dalby Forest
Car washing
We were sent some great items from Bonprix to test out and the image above shows the boys in their new favorite cardigans. They are fleece lined and so soft and they have a zip in addition to the lovely paddington bear style fastening and are £14.99 each. MadDad and I

Craft-A-Day and a giveaway 37

This is a delightful book which gives you a simple craft for every day of the year themed by weeks. The crafts are all achievable fun and many can be made with things that will already be in your stash. With weeks such as star week, Bear week and mittens week, I was hooked and so were the boys. The book is fantastic for novice crafters or perfect for a teen looking to craft. Yes some of the crafts are simple, but I am a big fan of simple crafts. Most weeks induce a cake topper and garland.

Good things come to those who wait 5

Today we were sent some Snazaroo face paints by the wonderful chaps and chapesses at Panasonic and Mini decided he wanted to have his face painted as Dracula. So me and Maxi sat him down and I did the best of a bad job. When I was finished Maxi asked if he could put a pumpkin on my face using a stencil we had been sent, so I said of course and then he asked for a couple of stencils on his face. I bit down hard on my lip and tried not to squeal a th shock and stenciled on a bat and a spider web as requested.

I then went in the kitchen to tidy up the mess and light the pumpkins and left the boys to play a board game. You can then imagine my shock when I walked in to find Maxi had been in the dressing up box and put on Mini’s skeleton costume from last year. Yes it was short, but he had put on his black thermal pants under, so you couldn’t tell.

I decided not to say anything and you should have seen MadDads face when he got home. He was delighted and for the first time ever he took both boys trick or treating. So good things come to those who wait, either that or the lure of all that Halloween candy got too much for him!