Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The seven ages of the School Nativity

So, it's nearly Christmas Day and as I prepare for the festivities by relaxing with my favourite Christmas film, Nativity (even though I've watched it twice already over the weekend) and a nice big gin, I've been reflecting on my own children's school nativities over the years.  I've been to loads of them now both good and bad and so thought I'd share.

1. The first first nativity

You know then one.  First child, first nativity.  I had to provide a full sheep costume and so as not to be outdone by the other parents I decided that nothing less than a proper costume from a fancy dress outfitters would do.  This had nothing to do with the fact that I had completely underestimated the demand for sheep costumes in the North West of England that year, and having sent DH to two branches of Asda for the £5 version only to discover that they had sold out, realised that my options were somewhat limited.  £20 plus p&p it cost me.  Still, he looked adorable, and being in the Reception class, was of course only on stage for about four minutes of the whole thing.  Money well spent...

£20 for four minutes use - bargain

2. The second first nativity

Being slightly more savvy this time, I decided that I'd make my daughter's nativity costume, I mean, how hard could it be?  Then the slip of paper came home.  She was to be a sparkle (WTF?). So I hit the shops for tinsel, sparkly material, silver tights and a cheap tshirt to embellish (even someone of my limited sewing skills can manage that). With the material I planned to make a simple skirt.  After pondering it for a moment I hastily bundled it up into an envelope and posted it to my mum to do.  Ahem.  Thanks Mum I owe you.  Child one also needed a costume (donkey) and so, because I had yet again left it too late for a supermarket version, I ended up back at the same fancy dress website as the previous year, ordering a ready made donkey tabard for him.  Of course my daughter really did sparkle and was at the front of the stage so all things considered it wasn't a bad effort.  My son ended up somewhere in the shadows at the side of the stage with the rest of the Year One choir. Why did they need costumes?  Why? That was another £20 wasted then.


3. The third first nativity 

I can't remember anything about this one.  Can't even remember what DS2 was supposed to be.  Was it because he is an oft forgotten third child?  Well, not exactly.  Two days before the nativity and after sourcing the black pumps that he needed to wear (costume provided by school - result!) I received a phone call from his teacher asking if I could come and pick him up.  It turned out that some other child in the class had pushed him into the side of a toilet cubicle in the pre-lunch hand washing scuffle and he'd split his head open.  It needed gluing shut (boak) and he had to spend the rest of the week off school, so we never got to see him in his first nativity.  I'm sure it would have been good...

4.  The weird alien nativity

I can't be the only parent that has had to sit through this can I?  For those of you who haven't had the pleasure I'll attempt to explain.  I think that the rough plot had something to do with aliens coming down to Earth to witness the birth of Jesus (again WTF?).  What I actually remember is seeing DS2 shuffling up the central aisle of the school hall, dressed as an alien with some sort of flashing wig on (surplus from school disco I think). Then, well, what happened next was anybody's guess.  I was at the back of the hall balancing two one year olds one on each knee (big knees obvs.).  I'm sure it was delightful, but I did not see.  Really though, aliens?  At Christmas?  What were the teachers thinking?

5. The one I can't remember nativity

So, bad mother of the year award here clearly, because I don't remember this one at all.  I didn't even have the excuse of not being there this time.  I watched the whole thing, start to finish.  I even remember where we sat in the hall.  I just can't remember the plot or what part DS2 played (occasionally I get flashbacks of something to do with the Caribbean but then I wonder if I'm confusing it with the alien one again, or perhaps I spent the whole play just having a really nice daydream about Johnny Depp, I'm not sure). In fairness, I was distracted with a pair of two year olds climbing all over me.  I wonder if DS2 will ever forgive me?

6. The last first nativity

Moving forward to this year.  My last first nativity as a mother.  The last time with Reception aged children.  I wanted to blub my eyes out all the way through, because, that's what you are supposed to do isn't it?  Especially when I have a 10% stake in the cast.  But you know what?  All I could think about was that at last I didn't have to sit through the whole thing with a pair of babies or toddlers on my knee.  It was bloody amazing, just sitting there and not pissing off any of the other nativity watchers.  To spite me, and burst my bubble somewhat, someone with a very vocal one year old positioned themselves next to my left ear for the entire performance, just so I didn't feel too left out.  Which was nice.

Look at my lovely empty knees...

My mum sobbed throughout the whole thing though ;)

7.  The final nativity 

Looking forward, what will my last nativity ever as a parent be like?  Will I cry?  Will I understand the plot?  (Please God, no more aliens)

I do know that I will be sad to see the back of the annual nativity play, for all its faults and the disasterous costumes and plot lines I've had to endure over the past few years, it's been fun.  An essential part of parenthood and a right of passage.

Every year I moan about going, but I'll let you into a little secret, I love it.  Really really love it.  There is no better way to start the festive season when you are a parent, is there?

With that I'd like to wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my fellow nativity goers, past, present and future.  Be it aliens, traditional or Caribbean, whatever you watched this year I hope it was wonderful and made you proud.

If you've been reading my blog this year then thank you!  It really means such a lot to me, especially reading all your comments.  I'll be back some time after the Christmas break with more nonsense from inside my head.  See you soon!

Friday, 19 December 2014

Baker Days - Review

This year that we we decided that we wouldn't be buying or making a big Christmas cake.

I'm not sure about you, but ours usually ends up being left until January and then once I'm sick of looking at it, moving the tin around the kitchen and attempting to eat it, I do my best to get rid of it by sending it into school in the children's lunch boxes.

So this year no cake has been made.

When Baker Days recently got in touch to ask if I'd like to review one of their letterbox cakes for Christmas I was in two minds.  What if we couldn't eat it all?  What if it ended up with the same fate as last year's cake?  Wouldn't that be a bit of a waste?

After a quick look as their website, however, I could see that they sold so many different types of cake, different sizes and styles that I was sure that I could find something that would be suitable for us.

The Baker Days website is very easy to navigate.  There are various categories for the different designs of cake.  You can have Christmas cakes, Birthday cakes, personalised cakes, and even cakes with photos.  There are so many different types that I can't write them all down!

In addition to that their cakes come in a range of sizes from the letterbox cake which serves about 4 people to a large cake which serves 40-55.  They even have cupcakes too.

Once you've selected which style and size of cake you want you can also choose from sponge cake, Belgian chocolate chip, fruit, gluten wheat free, and dairy free cake.  There really is something for everyone here.

After a bit of pondering I chose a letterbox cake with a Christmas design and fruit cake inside.  My cake only took a day or two to arrive.  The beauty of the letterbox cake is that, as the name suggests, it fits through the letterbox, so it didn't matter that I was out when the postman called because it was waiting for me on the doormat on my return.

The children were really excited to see the cake.  It was packaged inside a sturdy white box and inside the cake was nestled in a sweet little cake tin.  As it was a Christmas cake we even had a cracker supplied too, which was a really thoughtful touch.

The children had planned on writing their Christmas cards on the day the cake arrived, so we decided to accompany our after school card writing with a slice of cake each.   Perfect!

The cake was delicious and had lovely juicy pieces of dried fruit inside.  The icing was just the right thickness and not sickly like some of the bought cakes I've tried before.  The design we had chosen was really cute and fun.  We managed to divide the cake into more than the advised 4 slices - I think ours made 10 child sized portions in fact.  We had no problem eating it all up either, so no January leftovers ;).

Would I buy a Baker Days cake for myself?

Well, yes.

In fact, I'm really kicking myself that I didn't look them up before now.  With all the 40th birthdays that have passed in the last year or so (and that I've sadly missed due to geography) a Baker Days letterbox cake would have been the perfect gift to send each one of my friends.  Because of the options for dairy free cake they would also be suitable for lactose intolerant family members (who are really difficult to buy for).

Prices start from £14.99 for the letterbox cake, which I think is good value when you consider all the different options you can have to personalise each cake and make it unique to you.

We were sent a Baker Days Letterbox Cake for the purpose of this review. All words and opinions are our own.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Never upgrade your iOS device just before Christmas - a cautionary poem

Never upgrade your iOS device just before Christmas
You'll end up in a tizz just like me
My apps are all blank, can't contact the bank
And I've no idea what we're having for tea 

Never upgrade your iOS device just before Christmas 
I've been left in a bit of a mess
Can't message DH, or Pinterest boards make
And I've got four billion emails unread*

Never upgrade your iOS device just before Christmas 
My calendar used to have appointments galore
I forgot the school Christmas play, a party for a birthday 
Maybe this isn't actually as bad as I thought...

Never upgrade your iOS device just before Christmas 
My ringtone just isn't the same
I should have 4G, I've even said please
I now know everyone at Tesco Mobile's first name**

Never upgrade your iOS device just before Christmas 
My monthly cycle tracker app has gone a bit crap
If I'm up the duff by New Year (probably triplets I fear)
I'm blaming Sir Jony from Apple***

Never upgrade your iOS device just before Christmas 
I hope no one expects Christmas cards from this mother
My address book's been wiped, no one's getting skyped
It'll take me a whole year to recover!

Seriously Apple?  FML.


*  Sadly a totally true fact (see above)

** Not an exaggeration - spoken to seven different people today 

*** Doesn't rhyme but I'm past caring tbh and it almost probably will be his fault. Stupid phone.

Wicked Wednesdays

I'm very fortunate in that our primary school infants team provide all the costumes for the nativity play.  It takes a lot of stress out of the whole thing (for me at least).

I did have to laugh when I saw DS3 in his costume this year, for his role as an Innkeeper.

I knew the results would be a little on the large side when he came home from school and told me that his costume "had pins in it, Mummy!"  

The off the shoulder look suits him, don't you think?

Massive respect and a Merry Christmas to all the people that helped with the costumes.  It was lovely to see Angels with gold tinsel halos and Baby Born in her starring role as the baby Jesus.  We had a great time!


Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Tyre Safety - How much do you know?

What do you know about tyres?

I'll be honest.  I don't know a lot.

I know that they are expensive to buy, that you need the right type for your car and that the pressure has to be checked occasionally.

I also know that it is important to maintain your car tyres properly.

At some point in the next few months we are going to need a couple of new tyres on our family car.  This makes me sad because with the money we've saved for this purpose I'd rather spend it on a meal at a swanky restaurant or a day out at Alton Towers for the family or some sort of equally fun treat.  Family safety comes first though, especially when you bear in mind how many people our car carts around, so tyres are what we're spending the money on.  Sometimes being a sensible grown-up is necessary but a little bit boring.

My husband is the one person in this family who usually checks our car tyres at the start of every autumn/winter (more often than not as part of a general tidy up and polish of the cars), he also checks my mum's tyres too.  I don't think either me or my mum would be confident in checking the tyres ourselves which is bonkers as our names are on the documentation as registered keepers.  We really should know more about doing it ourselves.

I was rather unsurprised when I was recently sent the results of a survey conducted by Michelin and Mumsnet which stated that there was still a discrepancy between genders with more men taking responsibility for tyres than women.

The infographic below shows the main findings from the survey.

I probably am guilty of leaving everything to DH when it comes to car related matters.  As I say, I am not as knowledgable about things like tyres as I perhaps should be.  

Having said that, after DH had our tyres checked recently he did tell me that it isn't just the tread depth that is the one reason for replacing car tyres.  We hardly do any milage at all (less than 2000 miles per year in my car) and yet despite having plenty of tread left on the tyres the two oldest at the rear of the car need to be replaced because they have started to perish.

We have already started looking around for good deals at all the local garages and also with some online retailers.  I am particularly keen on some of the mobile retailers that come out and fit the tyres at home as this would offer us greater convenience.  We are looking at all the major brands too - DH likes a quality brand when buying tyres.  As Michelin themselves say, "not all tyres are the same...".

You can even have a look at the video below to find out how Michelin are improving their products by understanding driving usage and behaviour.

One thing we have not considered is a set of winter tyres.  I was surprised to read that winter tyres can significantly reduce breaking distance compared with regular tyres - even in temperatures of between 4 and 6 degrees centigrade.  That's about the temperature that it is now when I'm driving the children to school in the morning - it isn't even icy!

Until reading the results of this survey I didn't even know that tyre labels include a rating for wet braking stopping distances - did you?

In fact, this survey really opened my eyes to all the different aspects of choosing tyres and tyre maintenance - especially now that we are about to spend some of our cold hard cash on new ones.  

Tyre safety is so very important - I'm going to make it my job at the very least to learn how to check my tyre pressure and tread depth in future.

This post was written in collaboration with Mumsnet and Michelin.  I have not received any payment for this, however by taking part I will be entered into a prize draw, the winner of which will receive new tyres. 

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Okido Magazine - Review

We were recently sent a couple of copies of Okido magazine, a children's science and arts magazine aimed at 3-8 year olds, to review.

Now, for as long as my children have been able to point and speak, a trip to the supermarket or newsagents usually coincides in requests for all sorts of revolting looking superhero themed or pink and purple sparkly publications laden with about a million pieces of plastic tat sellotaped to the front of them.  Then they get them home, wrench the free gift off the front and the magazine ends up being ripped to shreds and unreadable.  There is nothing more soul destroying than seeing this having just parted with the best part of a fiver for the privilege.

What I loved about Okido magazine when I first clapped eyes on it was the fact that it has none of this.  Just gorgeous thick beautifully illustrated pages full of stories and activities and pages to colour in.  It just oozes quality.  I may have even wanted to keep it for myself just a little bit.

Gorgeous illustrations

Recipes and other activities

 But, of course I couldn't do that.  The twins (in particular DD2) could not wait to get their hands on it.  In fact we spent a lovely afternoon sitting and reading the stories, playing one of the games that was on a fold out page in one of our copies (played it 8 times in fact), and then colouring in some of the wonderful illustrations (even though I was gritting my teeth - they are just so beautiful, even uncoloured!).

Pictures that I didn't want them to colour in! (they did eventually)

We loved Squirrel Boy

The magazines come with a new theme each issue and we were sent copies of Holidays and Healthy!  I thought that the content was nicely age appropriate and because the twins have just started to learn to read and write, it was nice to be able to help read it with them.  They are like little sponges at the moment and I really did think that they learned something from reading through the magazines.

Learning about Chicken Pox

We played this eight times!

I was so impressed with them that I showed my mother (who used to run a newsagent herself) and she did an audible gasp of delight when she took a look.  She often buys the children a magazine each and the last time was very uninspired at the choices available for the twins - this magazine is the one she should have bought!

Speaking of buying magazines, Okido costs a very reasonable £4 per copy and is published bimonthly.  If you go to their website at www.okido.co.uk you can order it there and if you are looking for an original Christmas gift for a child then they even do a Christmas gift subscription for £24 at the moment.  Perfect!

We were sent two copies of Okido Magazine for the purpose of this review.  All words and opinions are our own.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Wicked Wednesdays

Hello!  I'm back, finally.  Can't quite believe that it's been three weeks since my last Wicked Wednesdays post.  I have been so busy and aside from a small technological breakdown last week am now back on track for more #WickedWednesdays fun.

Last week my eldest daughter invited a friend round after school.  This was a new thing for me because rather unlike when you have primary aged kids round to play, which requires supervision, with preteen girls all that happens is that they disappear upstairs for ages and hang out on kik and Instagram for hours, while listening to One Direction or something like that.

Despite the fact that they hardly spent any time outside my daughter's room I still felt the need to clean the house from top to bottom before DD1's friend arrived (please tell me I'm not the only one who does this).  Anyway, as I was shoving yet more clutter into a cupboard so it didn't look like we live in a total pigsty, I discovered the following which I photographed for your delight.

You know that I have already showcased DD2's beautiful artwork (which continues to appear by the way).  I thought I'd show you what happens when you move on from home drawn pictures to gifts bought by a child with no supervision whatsoever.  

This was a gift bought by DS1 a few years ago. He was on a school trip and for some reason suddenly decided that we needed an anniversary present.  It probably had a lot to do with being faced with a shop full of tat (and that we'd packed him off on his trip with a crisp tenner) and that he felt he had to spend the lot, but I am still to this day aghast at his choice of present.

You also have to imagine that this was presented to me in a crumpled paper bag after having been stuffed into his suitcase next to his dirty socks for a week, for full effect.

Bought with my own money #winning

I have no idea why he chose this.  I do not like dolphins or ornaments.  My house is practically an ornament free zone.

Readers, I had to pretend to be really pleased.  I had to display it on a shelf in the living room for the best part of a year until he forgot about it.

So, parents of small children, cherish the badly drawn pictures, for this is what they turn into eventually.  One day you too can have a home full of tat lovely ornaments.  Although, he's getting better.  For my birthday this year he bought me his favourite chocolates (so that I could share them, of course).

Still, it's the thought that counts, isn't it?


Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Out of this world pizza slicing with Chicago Town

Voom, voom, voom...

As a mum of three boys I've become fairly accustomed to light sabre sound effects and indeed a love of all things Star Wars by my boys over the past few years, so when Chicago Town got in touch and asked us if we'd like to test out their special new Slice Sabre I of course had to say yes!  I mean, who wouldn't want to slice their lunch up like a Jedi?

The Slice Sabre is available to all Chicago Town fans who collect the codes on promotional packs of their Deep Dish pizzas.  Collect five codes for a Slice Sabre or nine for the Super Slice Sabre which comes complete with precision cutting beam and awesome sound effects.

We were sent the Super Slice Sabre and had a lunchtime of fun slicing our Chicago Town Deep Dish pizzas with it.  The kids loved the laser that came out of the handle to guide our slicing and we didn't even have to use the force - it is very sharp!  The pizzas themselves are really yummy too.  It's been years since I've had one! (They are totally going on my shopping list in future).

Slicing my lunch like a Jedi - Super Slice Sabre in action!

In addition to this Chicago Town also have a game on their Facebook page - Slice Sabre Pro, where you can put your slicing to the ultimate test.  You can also share with friends and challenge them to beat your top score as well as being in with a chance of winning an selection of cool Chicago Town goodies.  My teen thought that this was epic and immediately vowed to try and win himself some more pizza...

Chicago Town Deep Dish pizzas are available in a variety of flavours, including Four Cheese, Pepperoni, Chicken Melt, Ham and Pineapple, Meat Combo and limited edition Ham and Cheese Topper at all major supermarkets with an RRP of £2.29

You can visit the Chicago Town Facebook page to play Slice Sabre Pro here and follow them on Twitter at @ChicagoTown.

We were sent a Slice Sabre Pro and some vouchers for Chicago Town pizza for the purpose of this post.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

A quiet word with the man in red...


I cannot call you dear, unfortunately you are no longer dear to us.  Yes, that's right, the magic is over.  The illusion of your existence has been shattered in this house.  The pre-teen has seen to that (another post in its own right).

My children are not stupid anyhow.  They have seen me at 9.30 am on a weekday during the recent half term, swearing under my breath at the computer as I try to load the Tesco Direct website.  Yelling in despair as I realise that, despite my best efforts to get in there quick and a copious quantity of vouchers to "double up", I have failed in this year's attempt to secure their heart's desires via the World Wide Web.

In fairness that isn't your fault.

It is Martin Lewis's fault.

Thanks to him giving everyone the "heads up" on GMTV (or whatever they're calling it this week) on that very same day as I was doing my Christmas shopping, there were no actual toys or video games left.

Cheers Martin.  Just so you know, come Christmas morning when my offspring are eagerly opening their gifts hoping to find the latest My Little Pony Castle/Lego Movie Set/Supermario vs Sonic the Hedgehog whateveritis game, they will instead find the sorry remnants of the Tesco toy catalogue and I will be screwed.

Anyway Santa, that aside, you may well ask why I am writing to you via the medium of the internet (you are on the internet aren't you?  I hope so because my printer has run out of ink).  Well, I too was a little girl once.  I used to write you my dreams for a happy toy filled Christmas and leave you a mince pie and a whisky by the tree.

The trouble is that when you are a grown up there is nobody to magically give you gifts anymore.  What's worse is that having blown every penny of cash that we have as well as all the Tesco vouchers on our children, it is highly unlikely that we will be buying ourselves any gifts either.

So Santa, I am writing to you in the hope that a little Christmas magic really does exist and telling you what I, a mother of five, regular gin drinker, and occasional housewife would like.

And I'm not talking about another Cath Kidston flowery handbag (they are actually a shit present), or a large supply of gin.  No.  I have something much more useful in mind.  The ingredients for a Happy Christmas.

1.  An Enthusiasm Bottler

A what?  A device to bottle people's enthusiasm.  Do you remember the time when my first child had his first Christmas play?  Do you remember how enthusiastic we were as parents?  Do you?  Well, that enthusiasm leaves at around child three (and definitely by numbers four and five). What I would like is a device that bottles it up so that I can get it out before each school play and give it back to myself.

This year we have somehow found ourselves in the situation that we have two separate school performances to attend in the same week.  What would be great is if we enjoyed it as much as we did for our first Christmas nativity.  DH has been ducking out of attending them for years (sneaky sod) and so I feel an appropriately large does of enthusiasm might be required there.

2.  An Invisibility Cloak

Specifically I need this in the run up to Christmas, so can this be an early gift?

I want to be able to do the school run without being accosted in the playground by various members of the PTA for raffle tickets or tickets for a fundraiser pamper evening (please, if I want to be pampered for the evening it won't be the PTA I'm calling on to help me).

It would also be handy for hiding the children's presents under.  I never have enough clever hiding places and despite the fact they have seen me order most of the presents online I would still like a little mystery left.

Plus, if it all goes tits up with the Enthusiasm Bottler thingy then DH and I can take it in turns to hide under it with a hip flask during the various school plays...

3.  Neverending batteries (all sizes)

One word.  Furby.

Yes, another of those creepy little gits is on one particular child's list.

The number of batteries they go through is phenomenal, and if I'm honest I'd quite like to enjoy Christmas without having to drunkenly stab a Furby's bottom with a screwdriver after too many glasses of Prosecco, while I attempt to calm a wailing five year old because the batteries inside the godforsaken creature have died yet again.

So, there you have it, Santa.  You may as well forget the garden centre grottos and naughty list.  You are dead to my children now.

I still believe though, and if you grant my wish?  I'll leave you a whisky and a pie.

Lots of love to you and the reindeer

Philippa (age 40 1/4)

Thursday, 27 November 2014

How Does Your Garden Grow? - Autumn

It's been absolutely ages since I joined in with HDYGG and I've really missed looking at all the beautiful garden inspiration from everyone else (even though I rarely have anything to show that is inspirational myself).  So this week I thought it was high time I wrote something about our gardening exploits.  The truth is that we are very fair weather gardeners and since my last update, apart from doing a bit of tidying up as the autumn started to arrive, I have done nothing since.  I thought I'd post a few snaps of the weird and wonderful things that have been happening since September in the garden anyway.

Firstly, the tidying.  Perhaps I was a little early as most of the leaves were still very much on the trees, but I was pleased with it all the same.  This was my (slightly grainy - sorry) view from my chair in the garden as I enjoyed tea after a hard days clearing up.

As I was tidying I found something that I wasn't expecting.  We have for a while now had a hedgehog who uses our garden as a thoroughfair.  You can see the hole he uses under the fence and the trail of droppings across the lawn leading to his exit at the back of our car port and driveway.  As I was clearing away the dead leaves and weeds I found that the hole usually used by the hedgehog had grown somewhat.  Either he's put on an awful lot of weight or there is something new visiting the garden.  Funnily enough, a few weeks before I found the enlarged hole, DH had gone out to put some rubbish in the outside bin and discovered that there was a similar sized hole under our garden gate.  We have weed suppressant membrane and pebbles in this area and the mystery creature had ripped the whole lot up and dug right down to the sandy soil underneath to escape the garden.  It was a right mess.  And to think I blamed the kids for messing around in the garden without our knowledge!  Sorry kids.

Autumn is pretty much the only time of the year when I really enjoy what's in our front garden.  As you can see we live on a fairly modern housing estate and our front garden is the product of the house developers.  Even after 13 years we haven't changed it much.  The original tree that was planted here died shortly afterwards and so I asked the developers to replace it.  They came along and planted this Ash tree and I'm so glad they did.  I just love the colour it goes in September.  This year it is even bigger and redder than ever.  I even caught one of the neighbours taking a snap!  The only thing I don't love are the amount of leaves that it drops.  We has a really breezy weekend shortly after this picture was taken and now there are leaves everywhere.  We still haven't tidied them up...

Other things happening in our back garden include plants doing things that they shouldn't be doing.  I'm not complaining.  We bought a Fatsia a year or two after moving in here and it's been steadily growing year on year ever since.  I've always wondered why it has never flowered but my mum (the gardening expert of the family) said that it just needed to reach the correct level of maturity first.  I had high hopes this year when it seemed to put on more leaf growth than ever, but I was sadly disappointed - not one single flower.

Imagine my surprise on looking out into the garden last week and finding flowers poking out from the foliage at the end of the garden.  I have no idea why this is happening in November but I'm afraid there are a few shots as I've waited so long to see this!

I didn't include a full garden shot this time, as I say, we haven't done much to it and it is looking a bit of a state.  The leaves from the Magnolia have dropped off now, revealing hundreds of fluffy little flower buds ready for spring.  I always love this - so exciting to think that once winter has been and gone there will be so many beautiful flowers to look forward to!

Not only that but our daffodil bulbs have started to sprout up from their pot.  I'm assured that they'll stop once the frost comes, but it just goes to show that even though this time of year the garden looks quite dormant, things are still happening out there.

Sadly, I don't think we will be enjoying our Acer next year.  Since September it has been looking like this.  Initially I thought it was just shutting up shop for the winter, but the leaves went like this far earlier than my neighbours Acer tree, and instead of falling off properly they have stayed this way ever since.  I can't believe that this is the second Acer we've lost this year.  It seems we are never destined to own a healthy tree :( .

So that's the Autumn in our garden.  Apart from topping up the bird feeder out there I don't think I'll be doing much else this year. It's funny but as the garden winds itself down for the year I am suddenly feeing that we are all missing that extra space.

It is so wet and grotty that it is very difficult to spend any time out there.  Even the children are using the garden less.  DD2 rushed out at the weekend in her wellies to play on her swing but soon came back inside sobbing because she had slipped over.  She is still hoping for snow so that we can build a snowman - a bit early for that!

How Does Your Garden Grow

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Alternative Family Games for Christmas

As a child, for me one of the most exciting things about Christmas was receiving a new board game to play on the day.  I loved them - my favourites were Operation (pretending you were a real doctor) and Monopoly (pretending to be a rich property tycoon).  What's not to love about either of those things?

I haven't played one in years (well, unless you count the time I thrashed DH at Trivial Pursuits and made him cry but I am banned from talking about that).

Anyway, on an episode of The Apprentice a few weeks ago, Lord Sugar tasked his apprentices with inventing and marketing a new board game.  With my love of such things I reckon I'd be good at that.  So with Christmas looming I thought I'd make a start by giving a festive twist to some of the classic board games and update them for modern families everywhere...

1.  House Trap

You are stuck in a house for a week with your nearest and dearest.  The winner of this game is the first person to last the whole week without losing their temper over whose turn it is to load the dishwasher, feed the in-laws or answer the front door to the Rotary Club charity collectors.

2.  Trivial Parents

Spending the Christmas holidays with your parents who only have two topics of conversation.  The winner of this game is the first person to change the subject successfully for more than 20 minutes. The loser is the person who gets stuck looking at holiday snaps from their latest jaunt with SAGA for the rest of the day.

3.  Poodo

The large floater in the main bathroom with use of toilet roll (this time, thank god) but not necessarily sure about any hand washing.  The question, as always - Who done it?  Players are reluctant to own up and so you must use your inner most detective skills to find the culprit.  The game that only a Christmas spent with small children can deliver.

4.  Snap

Same present two years running.  The winner is the gift giver and not the recipient, obviously.  Special points can be awarded to family members who manage to buy their gifts on 3 for 2 deals without getting rumbled on the big day. (And I KNOW this isn't strictly a board game, but work with me here?)

5.  Angry Hippos

Tescos, the day after boxing day.  Who will get the last loaf of bread and the bargain reduced price crackers (for next year, naturally)?  The winner is the first person through the checkout without getting trampled by the angry hippos, who despite not having stopped eating for the last three days, still need to fill their trolleys with enough food to feed about 36 teenage boys.

As you can see, I would have been all over this task if I were a contestant on The Apprentice and probably won, so Lord Sugar, are you going to give me a job?

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Kirsty's Ready Meals - Review

I won't lie, DH and I are no strangers to the more than occasional ready meal.

Sometimes tea time comes and I'm so exhausted what with all the school runs and cleaning up and other stuff that goes on here during the day that I find myself reaching into the fridge or freezer for something ovenable and easy to feed ourselves with, rather than cook yet another a meal from scratch.

Everyone does this sometimes don't they?

So, when Kirsty's ready meals got in touch and asked me if I'd like to review two of their new products I was keen to give them a go and see if they were as good as some of the products that we regularly buy.

What makes Kirsty's meals slightly different from standard ready made meals is that they are suitable for everyone to eat.

Kirsty’s range of ready meals has been developed by Kirsty Henshaw who appeared on Dragon’s Den and subsequently won over Peter Jones and Duncan Bannatyne. They are based on Kirsty’s beliefs to inspire and motivate others to leads a happy healthier life through their diet and lifestyle.

We were sent two different meals from the range try, Lasagne and a Thai Chicken Noodle meal.

Kirsty's meals

The Lasagne we were sent is made from an authentic recipe including a Bolognese sauce using 100% British Beef, Italian pasta topped with a B├ęchamel sauce, and is free from wheat, gluten, dairy and nuts making it the first lasagne on the UK market that is both gluten and dairy free.

The Thai Chicken Noodle meal we tried includes a hot and spicy Tom Yum sauce, marinated chicken, soya beans, carrot, bean sprouts and red peppers with rice noodles (and again it is dairy, wheat and gluten free too).

Both dishes have the added bonus of being one of your five a day and low in saturated fat, and sugar.

With this in mind I was very happy to let my children eat these, which pleased my teen no end because I'm apparently the only mother who won't feed him ready meals every day of the week, like his mates get at home (although I seriously doubt that's true).

Predictably when Friday night came last week I found myself at a bit of a "what can I feed them" loose end and so we decided to give the Kirsty’s meals a whirl. My two older children both plumped for the lasagne and my noodle mad middle child decided he'd like the Thai noodles. This was no problem because the meals all cooked at the same temperature in the oven and for around the same time.

Me? Well I just sat back and had a cup of tea while the whole lot cooked, which made a nice change from slaving over a hot stove...

One of the first things that I noticed was that the meals really smelt like home cooked food rather than a ready meal (the noodles in particular smelt delicious). When they were served up I liked that they looked good too. I could see plenty of different vegetables in the noodle dish and also peppers in the lasagne.


The teen and the preteen said that the lasagne tasted really good and I had to point out that there was in fact no cheese on the top of it - they couldn't tell and therefore didn't miss it!  Unfortunately DS2 decided the noodles were a bit on the spicy side for him. I tasted them myself and while I would agree that they are very spicy, I did think that the flavour was good and there was plenty of chicken in the dish which you don't usually see in ready made meals. The teen also tried the noodles too and cleared the plate!

Thai Chicken Noodles

On the whole I can really see a place for Kirsty's meals at the supermarket.

Would I buy them myself? Not as a regular purchase, no, but when a guest or family member with food intolerances was dining with us, I could see myself buying them so that nobody felt left out or deprived.

At around 300 calories per meal they would be good for dieters too (hello January!) and although that isn't a lot of calories, they must be filling because my teen, who has the hollowest legs ever, did not complain once about being hungry after eating his meal.

Kirsty's ready meals are available from Waitrose, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Ocado and are priced at £3.00 which I think is very reasonable value.

To find out more about Kirsty’s you can visit the website at www.kirstys.co.uk or find them on Facebook here.

We were sent a selection of Kirsty’s ready meals for the purpose of this review. All words and opinions are our own.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

100 reasons why school admin has sucked the joy from my life

Well, not 100 maybe but at there are an increasing number of reasons why it gets on my nerves.  I am currently drowning in school related admin, to the point where I may need a PA to deal with it all for me while I get on with all the normal stuff I have to do (like ironing and watching Homes Under the Hammer).

As I write this I can see at least two forms that need filling out in addition to several on line orders and requests to complete ALL BY TOMORROW.  It is worse than helping the children with their homework.

Not yet had this joy with your offspring?  Let me enlighten you...

1.  Filling in emergency contact forms

OK, so when your children start school there are certain pieces of information that schools need.  For example, who to contact in an emergency, like when your child throws up all over the playground in front of all the parents who were bothered to attend on sports day, or maybe who to call when they throw themselves into the school wildlife pond and soak themselves to the skin.* Ahem.

So, this information is held on file in case of such eventualities to be used when the need arises.  Sounds quite straightforward.

Except, whenever your child goes out on a field trip somewhere for more than five nanoseconds, then it is required all over again.  Child going on two trips in the same week?  Surely the same form will suffice?  No.  Please fill it out twice.  Front and back.

Is it too much to ask whoever filed the exact same details only eight weeks ago at the start of term to, erm, un-file it and copy it?

Two trips, two days apart, same child *sigh*

2.  Emails 

I get on average about six school related emails a day.  When both schools announced that they would communicate with me by email I was overjoyed.  I mean, I'd much prefer to read a nice clean uncrumpled email than hunt through the teen's rancid backpack or sift the latest of dd2's artwork to find appropriate letters.  Way more sanitary and easier for us all.

That was until I realised that nobody in either school office knows how to operate email circulation lists properly.  I signed up to one newsletter and now?  Three copies every time (one for signing up and then two further copies because I have two children at the school in question). I am the same person.  I only need the information once.  Surely it would just be easier to add my email address to a school wide list instead of once for every child?

I used to look forward to opening my email inbox ever time it went ping.  Now I just weep a little, my finger poised over delete, as I read the latest goings on at the PTA.

And the other thing?  Who gave the PTA permission to use ParentMail at 11.30 pm on a Sunday?  I do not want to know about Boxercise in the school hall, I want to go to bed.

3.  School blog

Yes, I know, I'm moaning about a blog, but bear with me here.

The blog itself is great.  Who wouldn't like to see what their five year olds have been up to all day? It is in fact like a little piece of magic, especially when I see the puzzled looks on their sweet faces when I tell them that I know what they've been doing all day before they have a chance to tell me.  They think mummy has magical powers!

But, the downside is this.  Information duplication.  (Again.  Do you sense a theme here?).

The teacher likes to send us little reminders on the blog about trips and events that are coming up.  So now I have forms to fill out, emails to read and a blog post all reminding me of the same blardy thing!

4.  School dinner menus

So, after the five emails reminding me that I need to fill out these forms (this time online) I eventually find the original email for the online school booking system which tells me what my password is (seriously Alan Turing could not even crack that one - why all the random numbers and letters?  Why not our surname and/or children's names, something easy to remember.  It isn't as if I'd mind if someone broke into my account and paid for the odd school trip or even did some of the admin FGS). 

Anyway, once I'm in, I am then faced with menu choices for the coming weeks.  This in itself is not too bad, only the menu is the same one for three weeks at a time.  Can't I just fill it in once?  It isn't as if my children are suddenly going to develop a love of meals that they have shunned the previous two weeks in a row.  I speak here as the mother who knows her children's limitations well and who has made the same cheese and ham sandwiches for the last five years for at least one of my children.  Hell would freeze over before their tastes deviated from the standard list of acceptable sandwich fillings.  Adventurous they are not. 

I'll admit that any kind of home admin is not my strong point.  It is all so dull.  But, school related admin is ridiculous.

There must be an easier way?

Anyway I've really got to go now and crack on with those forms.  The school have just emailed to tell me I need to bring a tombola prize tomorrow.  I hope Aldi is still open...

* Both of these things may or may not have happened to DS2 during his school career.  In my defence, I was on the way to sports day (and jolly grateful that I didn't have to stick around and watch in the end).
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