Friday, 29 July 2016

Back to School with BIC Pens

A few weeks ago you may recall me mentioning that I had been busy making lists of the things that my five children needed for going back to school in September.  Never ending long long lists... *sigh*

With the pre-teen boy starting high school in September and needing such a lot of new uniform and other supplies, one thing that had completely slipped my mind was that he would be requiring a pencil case and a whole lot of pens to go in it.  In fact, on his taster day recently I was scrabbling round the house at 8.00 am looking for pens, pencils, a ruler and a pencil case to put them in - he'd never needed these things up until this point as his primary school provided the lot!

So, I was delighted when BIC got in touch asking if I'd like to take a look at their back to school range of pen sets.

We were sent a couple of sets from the range, one with BIC Cristal pens, retractable ball pens, pencils, correction tape, a glue stick and an eraser, and another with three different types of highlighter pens in a selection of colours.

The pen and pencil set is a great starter set for making sure your child has everything they need for their first day at secondary school.  In particular I liked the fact that there was a black and a green BIC Cristal included, and a glue stick.  I often buy extra of these things throughout the year and so it's good to have these essentials in a set like this already.  My older children use pencils a lot too (they are both taking Art GCSE) and so to have five included in the set was a bonus.  Also, aren't they funky looking?

I've bought similar unbranded supermarket sets in the past but the quality of them is nothing like the BIC sets, with cheaper pens running out after about a week or worse still, leaking, I've learnt the hard way that you really do get what you pay for!

My teen girl instantly claimed the retractable pens for herself, although I had a sneaky try in my diary with them and thought that they were brilliantly smooth to write with.  I also liked the rubber grip - very comfortable for a left-hander like me!

The highlighter set was fantastic too.  I've never seen such a huge pack of highlighter pens and they are a brilliant buy if like me you have more than one teenager taking exams.  I know that my two are both going to get a lot of use out of them with all the notetaking and text annotation they do in class and at home.  There are a good selection of colours and sizes in this pack, so everyone can have one of each - perfect!

Top to bottom: Original, Comfort and XL Highlighters from BIC

They also happen to be great for highlighting my running plan too!

All in all, we really liked these packs of pens, although if I had one tiny criticism it would be that the mixed set could do with a few more black pens going in there.  My two older kids go through what seems like hundreds of these a year and so one would only last us a few weeks if that!

Having said that, I'm pretty sure that the pre-teen will have everything he needs in this set to start him off at high school in September providing that the older two don't pinch it all for themselves first.  One less thing to worry about.

*crosses pens off the list*

The Back to School 15 piece pack has an RRP of £9.99 and is available from ASDA, Wilko, Morrisons, Staples and B&M Retail. The Highlighter 15 piece pack also has an RRP of £9.99 and is available at ASDA, Wilko, WH Smith, Staples and B&M Retail.

We were sent the two sets mentioned above for the purpose of this review. All words and opinions are our own.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Pandora's Summer Holiday Box

So last week, just as the holidays started, I asked the twins what they'd like to do over the summer break.

In about five minutes flat we had compiled a fairly decent looking list of all the things they wanted to do, including all the usual suspects like baking, painting, bike riding, picnics, trips to the park, oh you get the idea. All the things that we can never quite be arsed to do after school and at the weekends, except now we'd have all this time to be able to do so.  Perfect.

I felt quite excited at this point.  Like a child on Christmas Eve, full of anticipation of what was to come.

There was also my hope of the use of a National Trust membership that we had bought back in January and have so far only used twice.  Yep, the summer holiday was looking to be OK at this point, dare I even say, fun filled? Bring it on, I thought, I'm totally ready for this.

Fast forward one week.  The Pandora's Box of the summer holidays has been well and truly opened, and all the evils of the summer holidays have flown out.

Over the weekend we'd caught up on all the sleep (seriously, are my kids the only ones that are so tired they practically go into a coma for 48 hours at the start of every holiday?) and were raring to start on our holiday plans.

Monday was spent crafting after I'd found an old jar of Hama beads in a cupboard, and painting, play doh, playing in the garden (which did eventually descend into three children bashing the sh*t out of each other with badminton rackets - I knew it was too good to be true).  They are now banned from being in the back garden at the same time as one another.

Tuesday, at the park for 9.30 am for an hour, followed by a trip to the sweet shop on the way home and a picnic in the garden at lunchtime.

We were the only people in the park.  I reckon everyone else was still in bed.

Wednesday, bicycle riding for one, colouring in Pokemon printables for another (the third child had been lost to mobile phone gaming at this point, but at least he seemed content and who am I to complain?).  The teens arrived home at 1.30 pm from their last day of school, and immediately one went back out while the other spent the remainder of the day in a Snapchat/Instagram haze.

Thursday was the day I first heard the immortal words "I'm so bored!".  Which resulted in one feral teen and another sulking in his bedroom.  Also more Hama bead creations and a lot of TV.

And here we are at Friday.  Surveying the scene so far I have two bored children, two sulking teens and one well, I don't really know what he's up to but I haven't seen him for a while and he's not complaining so I'd say he's happy in his own company.  For now.

I also have a kitchen worktop full of Hama bead creations on their little plastic boards waiting to be ironed (I haven't done it, because who gets the iron out in the holidays when there's no uniform to be ironed, or is that just me?). Piles of colouring in/paintings and play doh stuck to the soles of my slippers (it turns out that six year olds aren't all that good at sweeping up the crumbs, no matter how brightly coloured and obviously still there they are).

Pretty sure this was a task on the Krypton Factor.
Try to get a piece of bread in the toaster without destroying the Hama beads.
It's impossible.

Not forgetting the fact that while we've finally had some summer weather, it's been so hot this week that none of us have been bothered about anything else bar eating large amounts of ice cream to try and cool down.

I'm also yet to tackle the things that I usually do when the children are at school, like housework and planning meals properly (I must be the only mum who goes to the supermarket every day to replace the vast quantities of food they all eat, oh and loo roll, don't get me started on that!).  That and the small matter of being part way through my half marathon training which I'm having to fit in around DH being at home.  I have resorted to running with the sunrise some mornings, which sounds very dedicated and also feels like it should be quite a beautiful thing to do, (it is, and it's been nice to go out when the proper runners run, I feel like I'm one of them.  Not the cyclists though, they still blank me, the meanies) but after two consecutive days, I've admitted defeat for now.  I'm dead on my feet by lunchtime, who's idea was an Autumn half marathon anyway?  What an idiot I am.

Black and white,
because nobody deserves to look at my 6.00 am bloodshot eyes, bleurgh.

After eleven years of this, you'd think I would know the drill by now, wouldn't you?  The truth is that I'm just not very good at keeping the kids entertained, and I think it's almost impossible to do that every day for seven weeks anyway.  It's safe to say that the optimism I had a week ago has gone already.  It's the same every summer.

I don't remember my own mother ever planning out activities for me in the holidays.  I don't ever remember being bored either for that matter.  Why do I feel so guilty then for not coming up with exciting things for my lot to do all the time?

One week down and another six to go (yes six!  The Tour of Britain has added an extra day on the end because this town is one of the stages and every road is shut that day, bloody cyclists).

Maybe it's time I said to my children that sometimes they are going to have to make their own entertainment this holiday?  

Either that or they'll just have to get used to being bored.

I'm sorry, kids.  Really I am.  But rather like Pandora, there's still one more thing in the box on our list, a visit to the National Trust place down the road.  I will use that bloody membership if it kills me (and it may).

You see I'm still clinging onto the hope that this might turn out to be a fun filled summer holiday after all.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The A-Z of Teenagers

Finally it's the summer holidays.  If there's one thing this time of year lends itself well to is that it's a good time to reflect on how much my family has changed over the past year or so.

But don't worry, this isn't going to be one of those wholesome posts where I talk about how good their school reports are and what a proud mum I am. *yawns* No.

Last year I felt that I needed some kind of instruction manual for the teenagers as they had unexpectedly upgraded themselves overnight into well, erm, more teenagery teens.  It was a difficult thing to handle.  This year however, I feel that I might finally know how the teenagers work.  Finally I know enough, having observed their sub-culture at length, to be able to write about it, so that nobody else with new teenagers has to concern themselves with such questions as "Is it possible to exist on a diet of pot noodle alone without getting scurvy?".  Don't worry folks, it's all normal. Or something.

So here I present my definitive* A-Z of teenagers...

A is for Always Right.  Because they are.  Parents are just stupid.  So stupid in fact that they are often heard asking the question "Do you think I'm stupid?"  This proves it. See?

B is for Bedtime.  Teens do not need a set bedtime.  Because who needs sleep when it's a far better use of time staying up on Snapchat/YouTube until 3 am?  It won't make me grumpy/too tired/late for school tomorrow.  If in doubt see A.

C is for Coats.  WTF is a coat anyway?  Outside the temperature could be comparable to Siberia.  There might even be a force ten gale and yet the teenager will shun any mention of wearing a coat (even a Jack Wills/Hollister/whatever the latest fashion is).  They would rather freeze than wear a coat, and frequently do. The good news is that this is possibly the only area where the parent of a teen can save money by simply not buying one.

D is for Drama.  Everything in the life of a teen is a drama. No, actually, it's a Drama, with a big fat capital D. Have they lost their favourite nailpolish or homework planner?  Worse still, have you tidied their room? (OMG you monster!) then expect a world class performance complete with door slamming (because whatever it is that they can't find will be exactly where they left it, guaranteed).

E is for Eyeroll.  To accompany the Drama, or just in general.  The eyeroll is the universal communication tool between all teens and their parents (this is the reason that Apple made it into an emoji). At least if they do the eyeroll it means they are listening though.  #findthepositives

F is for Floordrobe.  It's just like a wardrobe but you can see it better because it's all laid out on the floor for easy access.  Except when half of it is dirty and screwed up under your bed with sweet wrappers/your homework planner/a half eaten sandwich.  But it is still better than putting your clothes away. 

G is for Grammar.  Teens ignore all the rules of grammar, spelling and punctuation.  See example below.

H is for Hotel.  They treat your house like one.  Either that or annoy you so much that you feel like moving into one until they leave.  *looks up number for local Travelodge*

I is for iPhone.  "Everyone else at school has an iPhone 6s apart from me, I am a social pariah because you are so mean and won't buy me an iPhone.  Why are you so mean?  You must hate me and want to ruin my life!" on repeat until you give in... #FML

J is for Just Go Away!  A favourite phrase, to be yelled in relation to one's siblings for maximum impact.

K is for Kill Me Now!  Another teen phrase, used when they've got double maths first thing, have been asked to do their homework, they don't like what's for dinner, or just any time really.  Often used with the eye roll for further impact.

L is for Lynx.  The teen boy's scent of choice.  It's either that or eye wateringly bad armpit odour.  While deodorant might sound the preferable option here, do be aware that once applied it has a similar effect to a nuclear disaster.  Hazmat suits and breathing apparatus necessary.  Does anyone even know whether a can of Lynx has a half life?  I'm calling the manufacturers...

M is for Money.  Do you have any?  Can your teen have some/all of it?  What do you mean "you need to do some chores to earn it?".  Don't be daft, this is a hotel and parents are the ones who do all the jobs around here.  Silly.

N is for New.  Never old.  Don't ever make the mistake of trying to fob a teenager off with anything that's a hand me down.  The fallout will last for years, mark my words. (All I did was ask if she wanted her brother's barely worn and outgrown Converse, which I had washed.  What's the problem with that?)

O is for OMG.  Oh My God.  As in "Oh My God, stop going on about homework!", or "Oh My God, why are you being so mean?", or "Oh My God, stop having a go at me!".  It's like they've got their own personal religion or something.

P is for Possessions.  The simple rule here is what belongs to your teen is theirs and what belongs to you is also your teen's (like make up and other toiletries).  Unless you are offering it up as something that you no longer need but that they might like. See N for further clarification on this.

Q is for Quality Time.  Teenagers love spending quality time with their parents and family.  You can tell by the fact that when they do they will walk five metres behind or infront of the rest of their family at all times.  Don't think this is because they don't want to be seen with you, no.  It's because they want to admire you from afar.  Honest.

R is for Repeat.  With teens you often need to repeat yourself several times before any request sinks in (see E for signs of acknowledgement).  I myself have been repeating requests to tidy bedrooms/stack the dishwasher since 2013 to almost no avail.  Sometimes visual cues work better with teens.  Like leaving a days' worth of their dirty dishes on their bed.  Simple.

S is for Squad.  Or for anyone who uses the English language, friends.  Teens and their squad are connected by Snapchat, Instagram and text.  This is why you should never forget to top up their mobile phone, lest they be disconnected forever, like some kind of social outcast.

T is for Taxi.  Because you'll be expected to provide a taxi service (for free, obvs.) at the drop of a hat. Never mind whether it's Friday night and you had plans (plans?  Imagine that!) of your own.  The teenagers always come first.

U is for Units of Time.  Teenagers invent their own units of time.

V is for Vegetables.  Does your teen eat them as part of a varied diet?  "Well, potatoes are vegetables, and like, my McDonalds burger had like, ketchup and onions in it".  Plus Beef and Tomato Pot Noodle. Tomatoes are a fruit, so there you go, varied diet.

W is for WiFi.  It could be the most expensive and up to date internet service available in the area, but chances are, your teenager will still tell you it's crap.

X is for XBox.  Because shooting aliens is a better life skill to learn than say doing your Science revision, so that you might actually pass your GCSEs.  On the flip side, confiscating the power adapter is a rather good bargaining tool for getting said revision done. 

Y is for YouTube.  The trouble with regular television is just so... old, and only old people watch it.  It's probably why parents don't understand the internet at all, because we're all too busy watching the Antiques Roadshow or something.  And probably also why we don't understand why our really fast broadband speeds are still crap, because we don't watch Zoella or whoever icing cakes on YouTube.  I mean, who needs Bake Off anyway?  Also, all teens at some point think that they are going to make a career through YouTube, I'm blaming Zoella and her pals for this one too.

Z is for "Zoe's mum let's her have house parties/stay up after midnight/buys her 37 pairs of new trainers a week".  Somewhere there is always a much cooler parent than you, and their teen is bound to be friends with yours. Always.  Also, you will never be the cool parent, at least not in the eyes of your teen.  Don't even bother trying.

See, it's so much easier once you understand your teen, isn't it?  And all this observed from two children who have met all their targets at school for the year and have pretty amazing reports.  I know, I know, I did say that I wasn't going to mention that, but I do wonder how the teachers get the best out of the kids and we get whatever *this* is despite bending over backwards to try to please them.

It's also made me realise that maybe we can't always know our teenagers and how they work at all.  Now, where's the number for that hotel...

* May not be that definitive.  After all, they change their minds more often than Taylor Swift changes her boyfriends.

Friday, 8 July 2016

The End of Term Inventory

It's the end of the school year next week.  No more school runs, no more uniform to iron, no more packed lunches, yipeeeee!

But, when the holidays start I realise that once I've dumped the book bags in the corner and forgotten about the routine for a few days, there are things that suddenly need organising for the new term.

Uniform suppliers email me their offers and gently remind me of the lead times for blazers and sports kit, the kids wave lists of things they absolutely must have before the start of the new term under my nose (yes, thank you for letting me know about your GCSE English reading list 36 hours before the new term begins) and I swear this is getting worse each year.

So.  Much.  Stuff. *adds to list*

So I've started to make my own lists of stuff that they all need, before the new school year.  They are long, long lists.  Before I can go and get any of the new things I need to take stock of all the old.  Another list. It got me thinking.  What does happen to all the missing school stuff?  Is it on a planet somewhere next to the missing sock planet and the place where all my earring backs end up?  And why isn't all school uniform black, and stretchy so that it grows with the kids?  It would be so much better than this...

The End of Term Inventory


  • 40+ polo shirts of various sizes/shades of white.  Name tapes missing (washed away, or maybe I didn't bother last year, who knows?). Several demonstrating how the twins artwork has come on over the course of the year in various media.  Presumably there are so many because I didn't make a note of the 20 odd hand me down ones we already had last year.
  • 2 school logo sweatshirts (2! I thought I bought more of these...) both too small, with yet more black marker pen to the fronts.  Why does this stuff never wash out? Obviously a ploy by the school outfitters to make more cash out of us unsuspecting parents.  They must give them to the teachers for free...
  • 2 plain red jumpers.  One aged 5-6 like the rest of the twins uniform and one aged 6-7 (not ours)
  • 2 red cardigans with stupid heart shaped buttons that hurt my fingers to do them up.  Who thinks of these things FGS?  I bet it's someone who has never had to dress children in a hurry.
  • 2 Blazers.  Still fit but wrong colour for next year.  FFS. (Another school outfitter trick - why does one school need two different colours?)
  • 6 pairs of boys trousers.  Various sizes. All too short.  Just stop growing will you?
  • 2 standard issue high school skirts.  Still correct length.  Not replacing. *watches as teenage girl has meltdown because she's not as swaggy as her friends whose mums buy supermarket pleated skirts* Although quite why this makes a difference is anybody's guess, I just follow the uniform list.
  • Shoes and trainers. 10 pairs. All need replacing. It's no wonder they treat me so well every time I go into my local branch of Clarks. 

Book bags 

  • Three Biff, Chipper, Kip books (or whatever the hell they're called.  I must have read them all by now).  Must return these this week.  I'm not reading them again.
  • So.  Many.  Drawings.  Do they ever do anything else in year one?
  • Several party invitations for parties held in the past six weeks.  Oops.  I am crap.  This also explains the death stares I've recently been getting from other parents in the school playground.
  • 2 School holiday diaries. Not again? Just no.  I hate this side to the holidays.  We all know that our children are going to split their time 50/50 between the iPad and the TV so why do I feel so guilty that I have to do wholesome things and diarise them for the teacher to judge?
  • A flyer for the summer reading challenge.  This might be wholesome enough to balance out the guilt from iPad time?

Lunch Boxes

  • 3 potential biohazards.  Although they could make a nice little science project?  I could spend time cleaning them?  No.  Nobody has time for that sh*t.  In the bin they go.

Other School Equipment

I'm too frightened to look.  I mean, is it too much to ask that the teens could keep their maths sets in the bloody tins they came in?  Maybe then they would be able to find their sodding protractors at 8.20 am on a Monday morning when they have double maths first thing.  And calculators?  Pens? Art equipment (oh my god the cost of this stuff, the cost!).

All of this does make me wonder how on earth we have managed to even get through the school year in one piece.  But, we have.  And once I've distributed the contents of my current account between the shoe shop, uniform suppliers, WH Smiths and several large supermarket chains, we'll be ready to do it all again next year.

It's just never ending isn't it?

God, I love the holidays.

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