Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Last minute twitching and a Merry Christmas!

I haven't felt much like blogging in the last week.  Christmas is always such a busy time for us and in the interests of trying to get everything done I've been keeping my head down and powering on through.  Now it's Christmas Eve and I've managed a full house clean, ironed everything I can, including the tablecloth and napkins ready for tomorrow, the fridge is bulging with food and there's a sizable quantity of wine in the kitchen.  I should be feeling settled but I'm now thinking that I should maybe do just one more sweep of the floors and perhaps I should have done a bit of extra baking too.

I always have a little bit of a last minute twitch over presents and the like and this year is no different.  Dh is twitching like mad over tomorrow's menu.  Has he got enough carrots?  Will there be enough stock cubes?  He has made visits to four separate shops today - some of them twice!  That's the thing about Christmas when you are a grown up, and moreover a parent.  You always strive to make things perfect for the big day, the perfect meal, the perfect presents.  Our children appreciate none of this of course.  My eldest daughter dropped the bombshell this afternoon that she has changed her mind about what she wants - how typical! (And tough luck I'm afraid, I may try to make everything perfect but I'm no miracle worker.)

I know though, that despite all the worry and planning when we wake tomorrow the children will be overexcited, there will be wrapping paper everywhere and I won't care anymore.  It won't matter that there isn't quite enough tin foil or that I could have bought something cheaper had I waited to buy it in the sale.  The important thing is that we will all be together, enjoying time as a family.  It's something that I've come to appreciate such a lot in recent years.  The trimmings, decorations and gifts are all extras.  

So with that in mind, I'd like to wish everyone who reads my blog a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  I hope you enjoy the festivities and I'll catch you all in 2014!

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Hotel Chocolat Signature Christmas Collection Review

I was recently given the opportunity to review something from the Hotel Chocolat Christmas range.  Having been a customer of theirs before when I was searching for a teacher gift I knew that their chocolates were very special indeed, but I had never tasted any for myself.  In view of this I asked to be sent their Signature Christmas Collection box. Hotel Chocolat describe them as their grandest selection of exceptional Christmas chocolates, and so I had high hopes for their arrival.

Dh and I have often bought a premium box of chocolates at Christmas time to be kept as a special "grown-up treat" just for us and these certainly fall into that category at £25 for 205g.  They arrived well packaged in a pretty box and once opened I was not disappointed with the contents.

Now, I could go into detail here about each individual chocolate but that would probably take too long.  There are 19 chocolates in the box and they were all spectacular but the ones that dh and I liked most were the Mulled Port, which really do taste properly of Port, very warming and a real taste of Christmas (we wish Hotel Chocolat did a box of just these!).  We also liked the Caramel Supernova which we had to eat all in one go owing to the wonderful liquid caramel centre, the 70% dark chocolate outer was divine.  Lastly the White Caramel Praline, which again has a runny slightly salted caramel centre that went brilliantly with the hazelnut praline topping and was all held in a milk chocolate cup - delicious!  

There are also two Hacienda lara chocolates (one dark and one milk) in the box which were some of the best chocolates I've tasted.  I tried the Dark Salted Caramel 90% and it had the most intense hit of cocoa and salted caramel I have ever eaten, but one was enough, by this point my tastebuds were buzzing with lovely flavours - I could eat no more!

We've been so impressed with this particular box of chocolates that dh has said that he will be making a trip to the Hotel Chocolat store in Manchester to see what else they have.  Personally I like internet shopping better and have been looking over the Hotel Chocolat website at all their delicious looking products.  

Dh noticed while we were eating them that so much attention to detail has obviously gone into the way the chocolates look.  Not only are the chocolates visually appealing but they all have a tiny Hotel Chocolat logo stamped onto the underside.  They really are every ounce a quality product and I'd be proud to give something from their range to a fellow chocolate lover as a gift or even to have them as an after dinner treat if we were entertaining friends.

We were kindly sent a box of Signature Christmas Collection Chocolates by Hotel Chocolat. All opinions are our own.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Ronald McDonald House

As I should be writing Christmas cards at the moment I got to thinking about the Charity ones that we buy.  This year we've got cards from Alder Hey Children's Charity but in previous years we had cards from another charity close to my heart - Ronald McDonald House Charities.  Here's why it is so important to my family.

I'd never heard of Ronald McDonald House (RMH) until 13 years ago when we found ourselves unexpectedly in the middle of a strange hospital in Liverpool with a very sick baby.  As we'd driven into the car park I remember commenting on the sign on the side of the building and wondering what it meant.  What I didn't realise was how central to our stay there it was going to become.

Ronald McDonald House - Alder Hey

The day after ds1 had been admitted to Alder Hey we were no longer allowed to stay overnight in the PICU with him.  We lived a good hour away from Liverpool and so I was quite worried about how this was going to work with a sick child who was facing some fairly complex heart surgery in the following weeks.  "Don't worry," said one of the nurses, "I've already put a call into Ronald McDonald House for you, they have a room".

I hadn't fully appreciated what the building was for until this point.  We were exhausted after a roller coaster day and night previously and as we entered RMH for the first time it was clear to me that this building was not only going to be a place to lay my head at night for the next few weeks but it was going to become part of our support network too.  The staff were so welcoming.  They showed us around the building, our room, a bathroom which was shared and downstairs there was a room full of little kitchens and dining tables where we could store and prepare meals.  Each kitchen was again shared with one or two other rooms and there were lockers for our food.  There was also a laundry room too.  It doesn't sound like much, if fact it was no different to some of the student accommodation I have lived in in the past, but I was overwhelmed with gratitude nonetheless.  

For anyone that doesn't already know here is a bit about RMH that I've taken from their website:

"RMHC (Ronald McDonald House Charities) provides ‘home away from home’ accommodation for families with children in hospital, somewhere free to stay for as long as they need to. There are currently 14 Ronald McDonald Houses across the UK, all just a stone’s throw from the children’s ward. Together, they help more than 6,000 families every year."

This was amazing for us as the other choices were either sleep upright in a chair by ds1's bed, drive there and back every day, or spend money that we didn't really have on a hotel room.  It meant that there was one less thing to worry about and we could concentrate on getting our son well again.

We didn't spend a huge amount of time over at the house.  As each day began we'd grab a quick shower and then maybe a cup of tea if we had time (there was a lounge on our floor with a kettle) and then head over to the PICU.  I could see the corridor outside the unit from our window at RMH which strangely gave me comfort.  I was still close to my baby after all.  We would both spend as much time as possible with ds1, barely missing anything at all and then take a break after the nurses changed at about 8 pm to go and grab some food - usually a take a way or something from one of the food parcels that family had brought us.  We'd return to ds1 and then take it in turns during the night.  Dh would go to sleep first and I'd stay, sometimes until 3 am doing feeds or whatever I could care wise for our baby and then dh would go back again at 6 am and sit with him until I came over at 9 am.  Despite this every time one of us came and left RMH there was always a friendly face at the desk, someone always asked us how we were doing and how our baby was.  These little interactions came to mean so much to me as I found it so isolating inside the hospital.

We occasionally spoke with the other parents there - people we recognised from intensive care, others who had been in our position and who had sadly found themselves back at Alder Hey again.  Conversations struck up over the washing up or a quick cup of tea.  It felt reassuring to know that there would one day be an end to the hospital canteen and late night pager calls.

Ds1 eventually got better.  We had spent just over two weeks there and were pleased to be going home.  This wasn't the last we saw of RMH.  We've been back to visit once or twice - in the early days after ds1's operation.  The staff there were only too happy to show off the lovely new wing to the house that they've been able to build due to the kind donations of so many.  My husband did the Manchester to Blackpool Cycle Race in 2001 and raised some more money for them too.  My mother-in-law took charity boxes into her work and in addition we have all bought cards at Christmas time.  RMHC has become one of our charities of choice and these little things hopefully go towards paying them back in some small way for the practical help we received back when ds1 was ill.  I'm hoping not, but as we now have two children with heart conditions, there is every chance that we may need their help once again and I already know how thankful I will be.

The RMHC website is here if you want to find out more about the work they do, or to donate.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Birthday Toy Round Up

I've been meaning to write this post for a few weeks now.  As you may know we had a few birthdays in October and the biggest and most toy laden was the twins' 4th birthday.  This is a round up of some of their presents.

Its been really hard this year to find anything that the twins like that we haven't already bought for our older children.  I've saved most of the toys as the kids have grown to pass down to their younger siblings but while this saves me a bob or two in the long run it makes it increasingly hard to buy for my littlest two because they seem to have everything already!  This year we decided that they would get a few  little things that they really wanted and would be easy to store rather than buying something bigger just for the sake of it.

Firstly from us dd2 received a My Little Pony Crystal Playset.  She already had the main Wedding Castle playset for Christmas last year and loves it.  She was incredibly excited to see that there was an add on set available this year and was desperate to get it!  Out of the box it required a fair bit of assembly (at 7.30 am this was no mean feat) but once it was up she was delighted.  It really is only a very tiny add on to the main castle set but came with lots of little accessories and another pony which she is very happy with.  It never gets put away as she tends to play with it daily so you could say it has been something of a success!

For ds3 we bought a Playmobil My Take Along Western City set.  To be quite honest this was more because I really liked the look of it rather than him wanting it (he didn't know what he wanted for his birthday so we all had to pick something we thought suitable).  Both the twins played with it initially but it has remained under his bed for a few weeks now.  Funnily enough, they play with the Playmobil dolls house we have all the time so I'm not sure why this doesn't appeal.

We also bought a Play Doh Frosting Fun Bakery for them to share.  This was an immediate hit with them and I can see why.  There are plenty of cutters and extruders included in the set and some realistic biscuit coloured dough too.  I'd never come across Play Doh Plus before but there are two small pots in this set which are softer than the regular dough and can be piped onto the firmer play doh as decoration.  We could have done with some bigger pots though as it is very messy and a large amount got lost on the table, floor, fingers, you name it!

My mum bought dd2 some wooden play food sets from ELC.  One was a toaster set and the other was a sandwich making set.  As soon as she saw them she requested her wooden kitchen to be set up and was busy making everyone a sandwich or toast!  I really like the sets myself.  They are nicely painted and look like they will stand up to a lot of play.  They have been played with a fair bit already and I quite often find plates and toys all set out waiting to be fed when I walk into their room of a morning!

Ds3's present from Grandma was a Tree Fu Tom Ultimate Tom.  I'd seen this toy on another blog and knowing what a big fan of the show ds3 is I suggested my mum bought him this.  Sadly the toy really hasn't lived up to the good reviews I'd read.  Would you believe we are now on our third one?  The first lasted a day before the sound chip broke and the second a month before the same thing.  It's a shame because he really loves this toy but at £25 I really don't think it is very well built for the price.

From my in-laws the twins got the same thing (always handy to prevent rows).  They bought them each a Lego Bricks and More Suitcase (one pink, one blue) and a couple of new story books each too.  The suitcases full of Lego were a major success.  They get carried round the house and set up all over the place.  The best thing is that when the twins have both finished with them the whole lot goes back into its suitcase for another day.  The inside of each case has little dividers too so that the smaller pieces can be kept separately from the bigger bits.  My only criticism with these is that when buying them there was only a choice of pink or blue cases.  What happened to green, yellow, orange or red? It would have been nice to have the choice of some more gender neutral sets.  Having said that I like the fact that each child's set is distinct and this definitely stops the arguments when things get mixed up!

The four story books that the twins received were Stick Man by Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler (my favourite by far!), Socks and Shark in the Dark by Nick Sharratt and Aliens in Underpants Save the World by Claire Freedman/Ben Cort.  We have loved reading them and after a cull to charity of some of our less loved stories a few months back it was really nice to get some new ones to replace them.  All I really need now is somewhere to put all the books (they seem to breed by themselves!).

So all in all they had a fairly reasonable haul.  I'm pleased that almost three months later we are still playing with nearly all of them!  Which of course begs the question - What on earth am I going to get them for Christmas?

This is not a sponsored post.  All items mentioned were bought by us.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Tree Time

I like Christmas trees, who doesn't?  Despite my dislike for looking after them for the whole of December, once they are up I love how they make our home look, and also how they mark the start of the festive season.  This Christmas our tree is special.  This Christmas our tree is the first proper tree we have had for five years.

We always had a tree in the past.  Our first was an artificial tree bought from John Lewis when we were newlyweds.  I loved that tree.  It was just the right size for the living room of our little two bedroomed terrace and I had bought gold and silver decorations for it - it was so grown up looking.

Later when we moved to our current house we opted for a real tree.  Dh bought it from Macclesfield Forest.  It made our house smell fantastic, really welcoming.  We always had a real tree after that first one.  Sometimes they were big, sometimes they were small but they were always beautiful (even the three foot high one that dh brought home half dead from the German market in Manchester one year).

2008 - the last time we had a tree

When the twins arrived I was too busy to sort out a tree.  The large amount of baby related stuff strewn across our living room floor also meant that there was nowhere to put one anyway and so that year we decided to put up the other decorations as normal minus the tree.  The following year we had crawling babies and the year after that two toddlers running around like whirling dervishes and the thought of clearing up needles and smashed decorations made me fear for owning a tree again, so we just didn't bother.

This year is different though.  This year the twins will not touch the tree and fiddle with it (yeah right), this year we have no toys in our living room and therefore have some space in which to put the tree.  This year I'm excited about the tree.

So bring on the needle sweeping, the constant watering and the fairy light checking (and also the panic when one goes and the whole set refuses to light up!).  I can't wait for the children to find their presents under it on christmas morning, to see who manages to steal the first chocolate decoration off the branches, maybe I'll even make some biscuit decorations too.  It will be beautiful and it will be ours.

Christmas Stockings - How Do You Do Yours?

Christmas stockings are probably the one thing that I seem to spent the most time on at the minute.  As our family has steadily grown the stocking present buying has become ever more complicated and I've found organisation is the key to keeping things straightforward.  After my first Christmas as a mother ended in having way too many presents to fit into the stocking (I was soo excited, but completely lost track) I decided that by keeping to a few simple rules I could avoid making the same mistake again.

I usually start in about October, writing a list for each child.  I use the notes section on my iPad so that it appears there and on my phone but apps like ShopShop do the same thing too (or good old fashioned paper, nothing wrong with that!).  I do this because then the lists are always handy if I'm out shopping and see something - I can check on my phone to see who it's for.  I keep the list to five items for each child.  This doesn't sound like a lot but I find that there are always odd presents that I buy which push the total to more.  At least by starting small things can't get too out of hand.  I always factor in that each child will get about three edible things as well - chocolate coins, a large tube of sweets (dd1 has almost always had a tube of completely pink smarties) and then something else like a selection box.

I try to do most of my shopping for the stockings on the internet.  Amazon is my first port of call, mainly for books and DVDs.  This year I followed that up with a trip to the newly opened Home Bargains shop that has appeared in our local shopping centre.  Here I have found some annuals, stationery, and a couple of novelty items too.  The rest will usually come from the supermarket and be things like toiletries, bubble bath, maybe some small Lego sets and gift cards (Club Penguin, iTunes, Claire's Accessories for example).

Once I've got all the shopping finished I tend to try and crack on with the wrapping straight away.  I always get a carrier bag ready for each child and write their name on it.  Once each present is wrapped it goes into the appropriate bag and then when everything for that child is done I tie the handles of the bag together.  This has a couple of advantages for me.  One is that if the bags are tied I won't usually be tempted to buy more.  Secondly on Christmas Eve I can just tip everything into the appropriate stocking in one go, simples!  You could of course use a different wrapping paper for each child.  I've tried this too but sometimes have to change who's getting what and so need to rewrap.

I found a great list of stocking fillers for different age groups which I pinned onto my Christmas Pinterest Board (You'll have to scroll down a bit) for when I'm stuck for inspiration.  It covers all family members but in our family the stockings are only for the children.  This is because the little ones think it is Father Christmas that brings them and he doesn't bring things for adults!  This suits me because at least dh and I get the credit for the bigger gifts - as it should be!

So that's how we do it here.  How do you do yours?

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Useless Mum Skills

Or should that be, seemingly useless ones?  You see, this week, as Christmas approaches we have given over to buying Satsumas and Clementines again due to their plentiful supply at the supermarket.  They are perfect for lunchboxes, not too big, easy to peel.  The trouble is that my kids (yes, even the older two) cannot get the hang of peeling them.  So much so that dd1 pleaded with me today to "please do it for me mum, I just can't and you can even make yours into the shape of an elephant!".  You see dear readers, I had forgotten a small party trick from long ago that I used to amuse my children with.  I have the talent of being able to remove a satsuma peel in one piece in the shape of an elephant (just the trunk and ears to be exact - don't expect a scale model of Dumbo or anything).

Dd2 shows off my awesome skillz

Obviously I had not realised this was such a special talent before now.  It got me thinking, I may have other useless mum skills that I didn't realise were so amazing to my kids.  It might even become a series*.  What useless mum skills do you have?

*probably not

Friday, 6 December 2013

I'm a Blogger, Get Me Out of Here!

Ok, so the very wonderful Kate on Thin Ice has tagged me in her new blogger meme which is in the style of the TV programme I'm a Celebrity.  I have to answer the ten questions she has set and then tag some fellow bloggers to do the same.  Her original post is here. I've been following I'm a Celebrity of an evening (from over the top of my iPad) and do feel vaguely qualified to answer so, here goes...
1. What one thing about being a parent makes you scream “Get me out of here!”
Ha!  Most things.  People think I cope brilliantly but really it isn't quite like that.  I suppose that the thing I hate the most is the school run.  The afternoon one is the worst, when I've got tired children in tow.
2. What qualities would you bring to the jungle?
Ooh, possibly the ability to do several things at once (didn't you know, all mothers of twins are in fact part octopus?).  I can also make a really good G&T.
3. How are you likely to annoy people in your were stuck with them for 3 weeks?
Taking over.  I'm a bit of a control freak, especially with cooking and tidying.
4. What is the worst thing you have ever eaten?
Actually there are quite a few things.  I really love cooking and eating lovely meals and it upsets me when something doesn't taste quite how I'd like.
5. What item would you smuggle into the jungle with you?
That's an easy one, my lip gloss - can't live without it!
6. What is the most daring thing you have ever done?
Quad Biking on a team building weekend when I was gainfully employed.  I had never done it before and was very scared!  Unfortunately I put rather too much emphasis on acceleration and ended up on the back wheels only, nearly bringing the whole bike over on top of myself.  I was shaken but got back on and finished the course.  Our team won too!
7. Who would you miss most if you went into the jungle with a bunch of strangers?
My husband, without a doubt - he's my soulmate.
8. What celebrity alive or dead would you like to have with you in the jungle and why?
A celeb chef of some sort, probably Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall - at least he'd be able to make a nice meal out of something inedible (can you tell food is a very important part of my life?).  Also, Caitlin Moran.  She's very funny and I've had a big ole girl crush on her for ages.
9. What would scare you about being in the jungle?
The insects.  I'm OK with regular creepy crawlies, but unknown or extra large jungle style ones would really freak me out!
10. After leaving the jungle, you go to a luxury hotel. What would be the first thing you did on reaching your hotel?
Have a big hot bubbly bath and a Gin and Tonic.
11. Who do you think should win the Jungle Crown this year?
Joey Essex for being the most entertaining.
12. Who is your least favourite celebrity in the jungle and why?
Lucy.  She has been very unkind to Amy and I can't warm to her at all.
13. Which celebrity has surprised you most and how?
They've all surprised me a little bit because you never know how celebrities are going to be until you see them in the jungle.  I really liked Laila Morse's trial the other day - thought she was really fab about it all!
So there you have it, I'm rather glad that I'm not in the jungle though, mainly because I wouldn't be able to blog or read twitter! 
So, now over to some other bloggers.  I'm tagging a few people whose blogs I enjoy.  @madmumof7 @mardykerrie @nortonmum @MsMummyofTwo @MeAndBooks.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

A Welcoming Entrance

OK, so I'll admit I'm a little Bah Humbug about Christmas at the moment.  If I'm honest it isn't all of Christmas that makes me grumpy, it is mainly the buying things part that annoys me.  The things I do love are the traditions, that warm Christmassy feeling you get when you see twinkling lights, eating mince pies, that sort of thing.  I will confess that I have been busy pinning a few bits and pieces recently in the hope that I might be able to transform our front door and hallway to make it a little more welcoming for guests this festive season.  I've also created a mood board too so that I can see how everything looks together. 

Our hallway is a bit dull if I'm honest.  Function presides over form, because when you have five children it tends to get a little crowded in there!  These are the things I'd do if I had the time, money and space.

1.  I love this console table.  It would make a great space to make a christmas display or even to place a nativity scene for the children.

2.  Because its Christmas that means it is also the party season.  If we had any gatherings this holiday I would forego the fairy lights around the door and choose these beautiful tea light bags to line the path and our driveway. 

3.  A wreath.  I do love a nice wreath on the door.  When mine goes up it signifies that Christmas has arrived.

4.  I like these little standard holly bushes.  They add a bit of interest to the front doorstep.

5.  Once through the door I think there should always be a spot of mistletoe - as I say, I love traditions and this is one of the oldest!

6.  A doormat is essential to wipe your snowy (please Santa?) boots on when you come inside.  This one is nice and festive too.

7.  Fairy lights and greenery around the bannisters for a warm and welcoming glow.

8.  Having somewhere to hang your coat always makes me feel welcome in other people's homes, so I'd make sure my visitors had somewhere to hang theirs.

9.  This sign caught my eye - Its the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.  That's just what Christmas is, a wonderful time with gatherings, friends and family visiting and happiness.  I'd be sure to place it somewhere prominent.

Needless to say, I probably won't get around to half of these ideas but if you are passing by this Christmas the welcome will still be warm and maybe if you are lucky I'll have opened some wine.  Please feel free to pop by and say Hi.

This post is an entry into the Turtle Mat Christmas Blogger Challenge.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Sounding Like My Mother... More than EVER

When I started this blog the title was meant to be a little tongue in cheek.  You know, getting older by the day, sounding more like your mother, the kind of thing that happens to everyone eventually, right?  I didn't then realise just how much like my mother I sounded and over the last few weeks it has become apparent that I do sound like her... more than ever.  Why is this a problem?  Well it isn't, she's a great woman and I'm proud to be a chip off the old block, but who wants to become to your own children what your mother was to you when you were growing up?  Not me.  I had planned to be the cool parent, but as it turns out I'm not at all.  These are the reasons (according to my children) why...

1.  I make them wear coats.

That is all.  I make them wear coats when it's cold outside.  How very dare I?  Shall I explain?  Apparently no one between the ages of 12 and 18 wears a coat to school or indeed anywhere these days.  Even in the rain.  So, by insisting my children wear a coat I am instantly being uncool.  "You'll catch your death" you might hear me say... And there she is.  My mother when I was aged 13.  There is also that other thing where they are wearing a hoodie, or whatever it is that is actually acceptable as outdoor wear, and then continue to wear it inside.  "You won't feel the benefit of that when you go outside again, take it off" I think.  There she is, again.

2.  I talk in excited terms about music that is at least 20 years old.

Rather in the way my mum would enthuse about Cliff Richard or Status Quo, I find myself making my kids listen to music that I think is still great when it is a good 20 years since it appeared in the charts.  "Ooh, Oasis/Blur/Shed Seven, they are good", except my children don't think so at all.  To be honest, I can sympathise a bit here though, I never really did like the Quo.  Sorry Mum.

3.  I don't understand their teachers.

Last week I wrote a whole post about ds1 and his cooking lessons at high school and how I was appalled by the lack of actual cooking going on and how everything came out of a packet.  It was almost as if my mother had written it. Then ds1 told me how unimpressed the teachers had been with his home made flour tortillas (they were making fajitas, the point of which was to learn knife skills rather than an actual recipe as I had assumed).  So the following week I sent him in with the correct ready made ingredients.  You know what?  It was much easier after all.  Ds1 was just like everyone else in his class - not the one with the knit-your-own-yoghurt mother who usually sends in weird ingredients.  He still didn't learn much though.  This reminded me of the time my mother rewrote an entire recipe for my GCSE Catering lesson.  Her way was of course right. The teacher was wrong.

4.  I won't put up the Christmas tree until a week before Christmas.

Bah Humbug!  Yes that's me, Mrs Scrooge.  I cannot surely be the only person who puts up their Christmas tree only a week before Christmas?  That's the way my mother did it and that's what I do now too.  After all, the needle sweeping really must get to you after four weeks or more, mustn't it?  No, I am uncool and not fun - I can now hear my 13 year old self yelling this at me, no wait, that's my actual 13 year old.  Yep, you guessed it, I have become my mother circa 1987 again.

So, you might be asking, what actually makes a cool parent then?  Well, as ds1 said just last week, Matt in his class's dad is cool, really cool.  What does Matt's dad do to make himself cool I hear you ask?  Apparently cool equals taking the day off work to buy and set up a PS4 for your son.  Yep, that's it, buying expensive gadgets for your child is cool.  This is nothing like me, again aged 13, wishing that my parents would buy a tv with a remote control or pleading with them to buy a computer that came with its own monitor and played all the latest games.  I'm drawing some comfort from the fact that while I'm just like my mother was when I grew up, so my children are like the 13 year old me, and one day this of course means that they will be the uncool parents.  Maybe that also means they will be just a little bit proud to be like 39 year old me too.

Thursday, 21 November 2013


We celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary recently (actually we forgot but that's another story!).  That same date was also the anniversary of something that has become equally if not more important to us.  It is the anniversary of the day we found out our first child had been born with a congenital heart defect.

Ds1 post surgery in November 2000
I had originally written a post about this day and finding out about our son's condition but when I read it back I felt that it was too emotional.  I wanted to write about the excellent doctors and other staff we encountered 13 years ago while at Alder Hey and how they saved ds1's life that day. My post didn't convey this at all and this made me feel like a fraud.  It made me feel this way because while we had some very stressful times when ds1 was ill, we did all come through it.  The memories are still very raw for me as a parent but ds1 is, as far as anyone else is concerned, a very normal 13 year old boy.  We are so lucky because he survived.  There are plenty of parents who do not get the same happy ending however, and I'm very conscious of this.

When we had our second child we were immediately offered a pulse oximetry test for her.  Dh took her to the special care baby unit while I was recovering and they were gone for only 15 minutes or so.  It was such a simple test to do and quickly put our minds at rest as to the health of our newborn daughter. Our hospital had the equipment and so no extra cost was incurred.  Had ds1 had the same test at birth it would potentially have picked up his condition, Transposition of the Great Arteries, straight away and he would have had surgery sooner, which would have been better for him and for the surgeons too.  

A few months back I was surprised when a friend posted a link to a petition on Facebook campaigning for pulse oximetry screening in newborns.  More than 10 years has passed since dd1 had her test and still this hasn't been rolled out so that every newborn in every hospital in Britain can have the same.  About a third of all congenital heart disease in newborns is detected before birth via the 20 week anomaly scan, pulse oximetry screening could raise this figure to three quarters if it were available to all.  That's a lot of children that could be helped sooner and a lot of parents prevented from going through what we had to.  It would even save lives.

I would urge anyone reading this to sign the petition.  My original draft of this post talked about how all the healthcare professionals that saw ds1 after his birth had missed his condition, I was very angry about this, but now I'm not.  The reason I'm not is that it really wasn't their fault.  In order for any healthcare professional to help us they have to be given tools to enable them.  There is an argument that adding an additional test to newborn screening would use up valuable NHS resources, but having the test in place would have meant in ds1's case that there would have been no extra visits from my health visitor in the early days, no doctors appointments, no ambulance called, no late night transfer to Alder Hey, and that's a lot of resource that could have been saved.  A link to the petition can be found here along with more information on pulse oximetry screening.

Our wedding anniversary this year was a celebration of 17 years of marriage, it was also a celebration that 13 years ago we were very lucky.  I hope that one day other new parents will no longer need to be as lucky as we were because their babies are able to have this test.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Dear Santa...

This week I've been spending much of my time in front of the computer in a kind of paralysed fashion as I try to work out who's getting what for Christmas.  The worst part is having to co-ordinate the purchase of stocking fillers and this has taken me via a great number of websites while I attempt to compile a list (or five!).  I thought that seeing as I've spent so much time thinking about the children this week it might also be fun for me to compile my own Christmas present wish list.  With five children to buy for, dh and I don't often buy each other a gift.  We'd generally rather spend our money on really nice food and some good wine as a reward for all of our undercover work as "Santa" anyway.  If, however, we had an unlimited budget, these are the things that I'm coveting just for me.

As you may gather, I do a lot of school runs - 3 a day on average, so because I spend so much time doing this it is important to me to look the part and be able to stay warm and dry in the winter.  My wardrobe is suffering a little at the moment.  To add insult to injury I have seen several people at the school gate and even my own mother sporting beautiful winter coats from Seasalt Cornwall.  To say I am envious is an understatement.  Not only are the coats warm but they are really waterproof.  Mum has the North Star Coat in a sort of grey/black shade which is really lovely.  As it happens thats my favourite one too but in order to avoid looking like her as well as sounding like her, I'd plump for a different colour.

I look JUST like this on the school run - honest

In addition to this I'd love a new pair of winter boots.  I've been coveting a brown pair of mid calf boots for some time, but never seem to be able to justify the spend - then I bitterly regret not buying them all winter.  Well, that's happened again this year too, but if I could I'd have these ones from Clarks.

National Sugar Boots by Clarks - £89.99

To complete the look, I'd really like a new bag, a waterproof one of course! (Can you tell it rains a lot where we live?)  My favourite one at the moment would have to be this Garden Bird Cross Body Bag from Cath Kidston.  I love the dark colours - a must when there are small children about.

I have a bit of a thing for bird prints too

When I think of Christmas I remember all of those gift sets of overly smelly toiletries that relatives used to give me as a teen (I don't think they were trying to tell me I needed a bath - I hope!) and I do still quite like that sort of thing now I'm a fully fledged grown up.  Last year we bought my mother in law a great little set from Bomb Cosmetics for Christmas.  The trouble was that when she opened it I instantly wished I'd bought one for myself too.  They have some wonderful Christmas themed sets this year and at £12.99 I think even the kids should be able to club together to get me one!

Pocket Money Prices! *stares hard at children*

If they were feeling especially flush I'd quite like some make-up from Benefit Cosmetics.  There are so many lovely sets to choose from, I'm not sure where to start!  As long as there was lip gloss of some sort in it, they couldn't go too far wrong.

Lip Gloss and Blusher - what's not to like?

I couldn't forget something for our home, after all, when I'm not doing the school run I'm generally here!  Before the children came along I had a pretty impressive collection of Alessi Kitchen and home-ware.  I used to really enjoy collecting it and displaying it all, however, most of it has now made way for more practical and child friendly items - even my whistling kettle is now in the loft :(.  On my search for presents this week, this Alessi Mediterraneo Fruit Basket caught my eye - very stylish and also big enough to hold all the fruit that we consume as a family in a week!

This would have pride of place in the middle of my kitchen table

I'd also like this wonderful smelling reed diffuser from John Lewis.  I love the last one that we had from Heyland and Whittle, but it has all gone now and I really miss the uplifting scent it provided.

Of course, this is all fantasy (unfortunately) and so I'll never actually get any of it unless I save hard for ever a while.  So to finish off my list I think I'd better make the last thing a present for my dh.  If he bought me even one or two items off my list he would really deserve it after all.  It's from Emma Bridgewater who are local to us and best of all its in the sale! (Although if it was full price I'd still get it for him).

Yeah!  He even cooks the Christmas lunch so this is totally deserved

Having said all of this, while its rather nice to get piles of presents on Christmas morning, after the events of the last few weeks I'll be rather glad to just have my all family around me on the big day.  I know I will enjoy seeing my children's faces as they open their presents far more than I'd enjoy any gift of my own and so with that in mind I'm off to carry on my Christmas shopping and attempt to find them all something they'll love.  With a bit of luck I may even get it all finished before the beginning of December...

What are you planning for Christmas, any good gifts?  I'd love to hear about them in the comments below.

This is not a sponsored post - if it was then there would probably be an outside chance of me owning this stuff.  All ideas are sadly just in my head...

Thursday, 14 November 2013

A Hug Without Permission

I'm linking this post up with Kylie at Not Even a Bag of Sugar.  It's a blog that I've read since the twins were tiny and it has given me great comfort particularly during the twins first year when their prematurity was more of an issue for us.  The 17th of November is World Prematurity Day and Bliss, along with organisations worldwide, are running the campaign #giveahug to raise awareness of pre term birth.

My twins were born seven weeks early.  We had expected them to arrive a little early as twins often do.  I had a scheduled Caesarian Section booked for when I was 38 weeks, in fact the day it was booked my consultant had seen me, I'd had a scan and been told everything was fine.  However, my waters broke that night and due to the fact that our local hospital had a full Special Care Baby Unit the decision was made to transfer me from there to a hospital 50 miles from home, which had space in their Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

I spent the next three days on bed rest while the consultant there tried to stave off my labour.  He thought he'd been successful but on the 4th of October 2009 at about 1.00 pm I was declared to be in full labour, 7 cm dilated with twins who were now both breech!  What followed was quite a blur.  No theatre and not enough staff, no anaesthetist either.  The twins delivery wasn't anything like I had planned for.  I had imagined being proudly wheeled out of theatre with a baby in the crook of each arm - that first hug with them both that proclaimed me a mother of twins.  Instead I was separated from them for more than a day. Neither dh or I got a cuddle with our babies for the best part of a week. 

Then, slowly the hugs came.  Despite having three older children and a lot of experience of looking after small babies, caring for the twins was completely different.  I couldn't pick them up when I felt like it or even change them without permission.  Hugs were scheduled as part of a routine.  I remember our first cuddle together very well.  I enjoyed it so much that dh had to remind me, an hour later that we had to go and pick up the other children from school and so we needed to leave the unit.  Begrudgingly I let the nurse put our babies back in their cots.  Most visits were like that, there never seemed to be enough time.

First hug together - not how I'd imagined

Something most parents of premature babies experience is that they don't feel like mum or dad until they are allowed to leave hospital with their child.  My twins were 18 days old when I finally got to be in charge, to hug them without asking permission first.  I get lots of hugs now of course, sometimes almost more than I can cope with in one go!  I appreciate them all because I remember how long I waited for them.  Every single one of them is special to me.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Ranty Friday - It's a brand new day, what you waiting for?

I'm not usually accustomed to writing ranty posts on my blog, but this whole week has wound me up, so I'm joining in with Mummy Barrow's Ranty Friday linky so that I can vent my spleen.  I'll apologise in advance, it's long.

For some reason, despite the lack of anything Disney related in our house (we don't even have Sky), my kids have picked up on the annoying Micky Mouse Clubhouse Hot Dog Song.  The song is so bloody annoying that considering I had never seen it myself until I checked out YouTube earlier, I cannot seem to get it out of my head.  "It's a brand new day, what you waiting for?" sings Mickey (clearly ignoring the rules of grammar there).  So, my cheery little mouse friend, shall I tell you what I've been waiting for this week?

This week started off waiting for the local hospital to schedule an operation for my poor mother who yet again needs surgery.  No problem, said I, we'll just wait for the call and organise things from there.  Shouldn't be too difficult.  Wrong.  Hospital phoned on Monday afternoon - could she come in for a pre-op now, the surgery will be tomorrow.  So, we dropped everything and rushed to the hospital, leaving dh to sort out school pick up, feeding children their tea and a kennel for the dog (oh, yes my mother has a dog, which brings me to my next point).

So, surgery all sorted out.  The pre-op people were actually very good although the hospital fleeced us for £2.20 for two hours parking along the way.  We get home and dh has sorted out the dog with a great kennel.  My in-laws use it so that's good.  They take the dog in the morning and leave all his stuff there.  You should be aware at this point that the dog is a Jack Russell puppy and my mother cannot cope with him any longer (he's not a bad dog, just too much for her) so we have been in the process of re-homing him.  Mum had spoken to the breeder and arranged for her to help find him a new home and there are a couple of possibles.  Mum also, due to the immediate nature of her hospital stay, had given my details to everyone, friends, neighbours, kennel, breeder (virtually half the town!).  So, I'm now in charge of the search process.

Tuesday comes, I take mum to hospital, she has her surgery, it goes ok I think, the hospital won't tell me much over the phone.  Back at home, I get a call from the dog breeder (who is lovely, by the way), a man is interested in mum's dog.  Great I think.  He is a good fit because he already has another dog from the same litter.  So we arrange to meet at the kennels (the owner of which is very accommodating) the next day.  My father-in-law drives me as I don't know the way.  We get there and the man, his wife and son see the dog and decide that they aren't a good match and leave.  I am cross because I feel they have wasted our time somewhat.  The main reason for their decision is that their dog reacted badly to ours, which is fair enough but they barely gave him a chance.  The breeder (who turns up too) says she'll call me and we go home.  I get about half a dozen phone calls for various friends of my mother throughout the rest of the day.  It's really nice that they care but the thing about retired people is that they've all forgotten what it's like to be person with small children to care for.  They manage to call at various points during and immediately after the school run, or when I'm bathing children and can't really speak.  One of them has an annoying text speak habit too.

I visit mum, she's doing well, but the op was longer and more complex than expected so she's staying in for a while.  I tell her the whole story about the dog and suddenly feel very responsible for the situation, which has not been of my making.

The week then gets rather better from here on in, well, the bits relating to the dog at least.  Another call when I get home, a very keen couple want to meet on Thursday morning.  So, yesterday I waited, and waited at the kennels, admittedly I'd arrived early but was getting worried when they didn't show, then I see the car coming up the driveway.  Fortunately they are smitten with the dog, I think they are more than suitable so they leave with him, I pay and thank the kennel staff and breathe a huge sigh of relief.

So, now it's Friday.  I have omitted one tale of stress from my week, which has been bubbling slowly in the background but I think here is a good place to write rant about it.  The one thing I have been waiting most for all week, actually for the last twenty-two days, is for Orange (or EE as they are otherwise known) to unlock my flipping iPhone for which I have agreed to pay them £20.  A call on Wednesday (on hold for 20 minutes which I could ill afford that day) revealed that, not only have they not done that within the 20 day timescale quoted, but they are now charging me £5 more a month for my phone service because it is out of contract and the discount I was receiving no longer applies.  Some fantastic customer service representative has promised to sort it all out for me but two days later I still have had no news.  I also have a nasty feeling that they have locked me into a further contract with them as he agreed to reduce my bill by applying a new package.  Seriously Orange, its not difficult.  I have an iPhone 3GS which I hardly use so it makes sense to move to a SIM only deal - I do not need an upgrade.  Your own staff agree with me and cannot match the other deal I've found, they gave me the PAK code (which expires in 8 days) and I just need the phone unlocking.  Do you usually hold your customers to ransom like this?  

Well, I know not many people read my blog, but can I just say to anyone who might actually be reading this that if they are ever tempted to become customers of Orange they should run in the opposite direction immediately.  The staff in the shop made a mistake on my contract originally and we spent over an hour setting it up.  The staff member serving me insisted on opening my box fresh phone and inserting the SIM himself, even though I asked him no to - do I look like I'm incapable of opening a box ffs?  I was charged for data for about two months even though it was included in my contract.  They employ call centre staff who can't understand me and who then send me 23 identical texts with the same spelling error in them, and now this.  As far as I'm aware I can't leave them but I can't live with them either.  I'm currently thinking it might be easier to just cancel the contract and take a new one out elsewhere.  I can't do that though, because my bloody phone is still locked to their network.   Argh!!!

A sample of the 23 texts Orange sent me last month

So, my Friday Rant is Orange/EE, easily as annoying as Mickey Mouse and his Hot Dog Song - maybe they should adopt that as their on hold music, at least I'd know the words...


Monday, 4 November 2013

Lunch Time Love

Over the last week or so, its been extremely difficult to get the twins to go into pre-school without a tear or two.  The staff assure me that they have a good time when I'm gone and they do always come out smiling.  That still doesn't make it any easier for us as I try to prise their hands from mine or remove one or the other of them from my leg when its time for me to go.

The worst bit is that just as ds3 has managed to settle and not end up having a tantrum, then dd2 decides that it is her turn to cry as soon as I leave.  They are tag teaming me!  I'm sure the other parents must either pity me or think that I'm a terrible parent as I stride purposefully out of the building with one or sometimes both of them wailing like banshees as the staff try to stop them from running after me.  This is a new thing for me as the other three children used to skip happily into pre-school, waving and smiling and actively urging me to leave at times!

Some distraction does help and the pre-school are fantastic at that but sometimes the lure of play dough or cutting and sticking doesn't even work.  In addition to that it eats into my precious child free time, the time that everyone promised me I'd have once the twins were finally in pre-school.  Three hours isn't actually very much though and two and a half (by the time I've extracted myself) barely gives me time to do all the things I need to do before its time to pick them up again.

That was until last Friday.  Friday is different for them at pre-school because I have an extra 45 minutes of our 15 free hours left at the end of every week.  This means that I can tag on a lunch time session for them and send them in with their lunch.  They get to have lunch in the dinner hall in the main school with all the bigger children.  While most pre-schoolers might be a bit daunted by this, mine really seem to love it.  They are actively involved in choosing what goes into their lunch bags and cannot wait to sit with their friends and eat there.

The lunch bags - apparently the best lunch bags ever...

So, last Friday, I was expecting to have to make my usual exit, with wailing children clinging to the hem of my coat.  When we arrived though, the twins rushed in, threw their coats off in record time and happily sat with all the other children waiting for lunch.  Dd2 waved and grinned at me, ds3 shouted "Bye, Bye, Mummy" and that was that.

I walked out of the school gate without the sound of my children crying echoing in my ears, I walked home with a smile on my face.  Who knew something so simple would have such a positive effect on us all?

I'm joining in for the first time with the #magicmoments linky at theoliversmadhouse.co.uk
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