Thursday, 27 August 2015

Back to School Mum Hacks

A while ago I wrote about my School Run Mum Hacks.  The little things that I do when I've forgotten to read the school newsletter and am too lazy haven't got time to buy fair trade produce/make a World Book Day costume/bring a tombola prize in for the school fair.  This post proved rather popular.

So I'm sitting here with less than a week to go before the children go back to school, thinking that you, my fellow hackers would like a few more handy hints* from me.  This time here are my back to school hacks, because let's face it, writing this is bound to be ten million times more fun than sewing on name tapes**.

If you are a new parent to the school run then I'm sorry, this post isn't for you.  Come back next year when you are as jaded and forgetful about preparing for the new term as the rest of us are.  

For everyone else, let's start with the most important one first:


Despite purchasing half of the Sainsburys/Tesco/Asda back to school range (that's just for my Primary School aged kids),  I still have to buy official school uniform for older children (because for some reason Secondary Schools can't just be happy with an off the peg ensemble) and so I take a few shortcuts.

Gone are the days when I could just buy a £12 blazer from Tesco and sew on the school badge badly. No.  These days the school my teens attend force us to spend £33 a time on a special blazer (not sure what's so special about it, its mabye the extortionate price).

Have you ever wondered why when you see the Year Seven children heading off on their first day of secondary school, they have Blazers that are so long that the sleeves reach down to their fingertips?  You could say that their mums are shopping smart, but no, they are fellow hackers.  Set yourselves up with a large blazer at the start of school then it ensures that at the very most, you only have to buy one other for the whole of their school career.  This in turn means that for the last few weeks of the school holidays you never really need to panic about delivery times for new uniform from the overpriced and understaffed school outfitters website.  I'm not doing it to save money, I do this because I'm lazy.

On the subject of uniform labelling, who has the time or the inclination to do that with less than a week to go?  With over 50 items of uniform to label I prefer to employ a more instant approach.  Prepared mums have special stampers and laundry pens, us hackers have a biro...

I am so over name tapes.


Want to queue on a Sunday morning a week before school starts in an overcrowded shoe shop, with half of the world all vying for the same pair of girls school shoes in an 8 1/2 E?  No, me either.  

Spend a bit of cash on some foot measures and do that bit at home, then order your shoes in to the shop.  This effectively means that when you turn up to have them fitted you can jump to the front of the queue.  It's like some sort of weird shoe shop etiquette being a customer with an order - I have no idea why this makes me more important in the eyes of the staff there, but I'm exploiting it.  This year I was in an out of the shoe shop in ten minutes (with three pairs of kids shoes - go me!).  I may have been £120 lighter for the process, but at least I didn't have to queue.

The path to stealthy shoe shopping

Book bags 

Remember them?  Or did you throw them into the corner of your child's bedroom at the end of last term, just like I did?

Time for a quick tidy up of all the forgotten drawings and unsold Summer Fair raffle tickets.  Then write a few comments in the homework diary about all the reading your children have done over the holidays.  Because you have been reading, haven't you?  Sorted.

Getting everyone up on time

This is quite difficult when nobody wants to go back to school, myself included.  The promise of food is the only way to unite my family in this goal.

What gets teens out of bed quickly?


You could also go for the overly sugary cereal option (remember after 9.00 am the sugar high won't be your problem), the advantage of this means that you can set it up the night before and get the children to help themselves, thus ensuring another five minutes in bed for you. Win/Win.

Getting yourself ready for the first school run

It's inevitable that by the time I've got everyone else ready on the first day of term, I will have no time for myself, because I have had an extra five minutes in bed while they've all been eating breakfast.

How can I stop the world from realising how disorganised I am, and that I can't be arsed to set my alarm clock?

No, I'm not going to put on my gym gear again (that's my original hack, and it works but nobody is going to believe that I'm going for a run on my first few hours of child free time in six weeks - everybody knows it's the time for trashy daytime TV binge watching and coffee).

The chances are that everyone else will be so busy flapping over their own last minute dilemmas that they won't notice your completely un-ironed just out of the laundry basket clothes or lack of makeup.  This is probably the one day of the year that you can get away with this.  Embrace it, and then go back to shoving on your gym gear next week.

The things I can't help with...

Lunch boxes - there is no hack for these that I know of.  Either do them in advance or in a hurry like everyone else does.  Pre-packaged snacks and ready sliced things make this task slightly less painful and reduce the chances of me losing a finger tip or two while trying to slice cheese for sandwiches in my sleep deprived state.

School admin - if you haven't done it now then it is probably too late.  Feel the wrath of the school secretary or have your kids go hungry because you forgot to put in this week's school lunch orders (again).  Sometimes I like to style it out by claiming that because of the volume of emails (which by the way started two weeks before the end of the holidays) they all end up in spam.  This only ends up with the school secretary helpfully sending me duplicate hard copies of everything "just in case". Which means that I've just doubled the school admin pain.  Bollocks.

Forgetting things - you're just going to have to go home and get that PE Kit that you've left in the hallway.  Sorry.  We've all done it.

And there it is.  The realisation that in a few days time I'll be embarking on yet another year of winging it, forgetfulness and hacking my way through the tedium of the school run.

It'll be my eleventh.  You'd think I'd have some sort of long service medal by now, wouldn't you?  But then, I'd only have gone and lost the email.  It's probably in my spam...

* Not handy hints, just admissions of laziness and guilt

** You honestly think I'm going to be sewing on name tapes now??

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Ninja Chip Eater

Last week it was DD1's 13th birthday.

If you follow me over on Instagram, you may have noticed that as a kind of a birthday outing we went to the filming of Ninja Warrior UK in Manchester (which was great fun by the way, even if we had crap seats).

This provided loads of great photo opportunities, although my favourite one of the day has to be this one of the birthday girl as I tried to take a picture of her while we were having lunch.

Food definitely more important than smiling for your mum to take a picture, she's shaping up to be a pretty typical teen already!

Smile for the camera...

And just to illustrate how far away our seats were from, well, everything, really, here's another snap of the "celebrities" (Ben Shephard and that bloke who's name I can't ever remember), oh, and the wall...

Beat the wall, beat the wall...


Friday, 21 August 2015

Dork Diaries - Once Upon a Dork

We were recently asked by the publishers of the Dork Diaries series of books if we'd like to take a look at their latest book.

DD1 has been a massive Dork Diaries fan since she was in Primary School and even though she is now at the upper end of the age range of these books, she was still keen to find out what happens next!

If you aren't familiar with this series of books, Dork Diaries is aimed at girls aged between 9 and 13 and follows the story of 14 year old Nikki Maxwell and her life in and out of school.  The books are written in diary format with cute and quirky illustrations and comic strips which add to this humorous take on the life of a teenage girl.

Dork Diaries - Once Upon a Dork is no exception to this format and starts with Nikki being late for school complete with illustrations of her running out of the door (sadly with her little sister's lunch stuck to the front of her sweater!).

Later that day, during a game of dodgeball, Nikki has a bump on the head which leads to a dream in which she, her two best friends Cloe and Zoey, and the boy she has a crush on, Brandon all become part of well known Fairy Tales.  Of course, the school mean girl Mackenzie is there too.

The rest of the book follows Nikki in her dreamworld, helped by her Fairy Godmother Brianna (who is also her little sister).  Will she ever get home?  You'll have to read to find out, we're not spoiling it for you!

What we thought:

DD1 is at the upper age range for these books now, as I've already mentioned.  She really enjoyed the Dork Diaries series when they first started, but now that she's older they are posing less of a reading challenge for her.  She finished this particular book in only one day.

She and I both agree that they'd suit a younger pre-teen audience the best.  They are a largely innocent read and reminded me a bit of similar books that I'd read as a child (Sweet Valley High anyone?).

If you've got a 10 or 11 year old girl then this would make a good stocking filler or gift, especially if they are already a fan.

Dork Diaries - Once Upon a Dork, by Rachel Renee Russell is priced at £6.99 and is available to buy here.

We were sent a copy of Dork Diaries - Once Upon a Dork for the purpose of this review.  All words and opinions are our own.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

My Holiday Homework Hell

We are in week four of the holidays here already.  How exactly can this be?  I have hardly had the time yet to do any of the things I need to do.  Uniform is only partially bought, the fun activities have been abandoned due to the rubbish weather and don't even get me started on bloody school shoe shopping.

But, there one thing that's playing on my mind more than all of that.  

Holiday homework.

This is my own personal hell.  Not because I'm against homework as such, but because no matter how hard I try I cannot encourage any of the children to willingly get involved without a) a row and b) bribery.

Ultimately if they don't do their homework it me that's failed, not them.  I am the parent after all.  It is my responsibility to make sure they do it.

As I sit here thinking about it, I can feel the fear rising in my chest.  In fact, it's rather like being back at school myself.  And homework, no matter how old you are, still sucks.

Here is a selection of the tasks that we've been asked to complete over holidays and the struggles I've had with them.

1.  The Talking Box/Memory Box (aka The Box of Crap)

We had this task last year and the year before that (I'd consider myself an expert on this particular activity as a result).  Just a simple cardboard box which you fill up with holiday memories so that your child can talk about them when they go back to school.  This is fine if you've planned six whole weeks of foreign holidays, trips to theme parks and activities which require a second mortgage to fund them.  If, like I did last year, you forget about the box until the last week of the holidays, when you have nothing planned other than labelling school uniforms, then you are left with the prospect of making memories in a slightly more creative fashion.  I'm talking baking, den building and my bĂȘte noire, crafting.  Once the panic sets in it is very easy to find yourself making pasta jewellery and salt dough like your life depends on it.  And then, you go to print out all the photographic evidence which you hope will serve as an explanation for the dodgy looking box full of glittery tat, only to find that someone's jammed the paper and the ink has been used up printing a colour heavy screenshot of Thomas the Tank Engine (sent to print no less that eight times).  FML.

Paint that pasta jewellery like your life depends on it...

2.  The Holiday Scrap Book

This year's task in preparation for Year One.  Now that the twins can write, we've got a diary/scrap book with 36 pages (front and back) to fill with tales of our holiday escapades.  So far this has included a trip to the dentist and a haircut.  This is week four.  There is nothing in our diaries at all for the rest of the holiday (apart from the shoe shopping - kill me now).  And, even if there were?  How on earth am I supposed to get them to sit down for more than two seconds and write about it?  When the books first came home I was naively optimistic about filling them up.  The teacher's email said how excited the children were about writing in them.  She was right - apart from my kids, who after proudly showing me how much glitter (why always glitter, eh?) they had decorated the fronts of the books with, lost them in their rooms and forgot about them.  And I'm still vacuuming up the glitter...

Considerably less glitter than when it first arrived.

3.  Musical Instrument Practice 

OK, so I thought that the school musical instruments were supposed to be returned at the end of the year, but no, it appears that ours (a trumpet) is here to stay over the holidays.  Does that mean it needs practicing?  Of course it does.  Unhelpfully there are no earplugs for the rest of the family, should any music practice happen.  Also, I am pretty much tone deaf and therefore not qualified to give the appropriate level of support required.  Let's face it, DS2 is never going to be joining the Royal Philharmonic at this rate, is he?

Pass the earplugs, please.

4.  Reading (The Infant Years)

"Biff the Teacher, Kipper", said Chip.

Times five million (seriously, how many of these books did they make?)

Can someone come up with a new reading scheme please?  Maybe one which centres around the Kardashian sisters, One Direction or something vaguely topical and/or interesting?

Until they do, these are remaining firmly inside the book bags (totally with my blessing).

5.  Reading (The GCSE Coursework Years)

Me:  Have you started reading Lord of the Flies yet?

Teen:  Why should I?  Reading is obsolete now that we've got the internet.  Anyway, haven't they made a film of it that I could watch instead?

Me:  *weeps for future generation*

Not reading Lord of the Flies (sadly)

See, homework sucks, and not just for the kids.  But, just like the kids, I wish I could avoid it.

I am dreading my children going back to school because of it (or should that be the lack of it?).  And, yes, I'm worried that I'll get the blame.  Maybe I'll have to make up an excuse to buy us more time?

I wonder if the music teacher would accept a note saying "the dog ate my trumpet"?

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Holiday Flashbacks

Time for another #WickedWednesdays with brummymummyof2 and this week I've gone back into the archives of our family photo album (yep, you guessed it, kids just not being funny this week).

I like looking back at pictures of the older children when they were much smaller.  For one thing it reminds me of all the silly things they used to do and for another, well, let's just say that this week's offering reminded me of something else important.

This picture was taken in the summer holidays 10 years ago, when DS1 and DD1 were pre-schoolers and DS2 was a newborn, and I think serves as a good reminder of what sort of chaos happens in a house with three under fives.

In particular it reminds me that while they were messing about in front of the camera (DS1 sporting underpants on his head there) there were also loads of other things the two of them did while I was otherwise engaged with velcro baby DS2, such as shredding my credit card, dismantling the TV cabinet and pulling down a curtain pole from one of the bedrooms, to name but a few.

So, Glory Be! to never having to endure a school holiday with under fives in the house again and happy Wicked Wednesdays!

Plus, it is obviously a painfully embarrassing picture when you are nearly 15 years old  - I'm sharing it on Facebook later if he doesn't tidy his room... ;)


Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Fuss-free haircuts at Little BigHeads, Wilmslow

When the school summer holidays started this year, I didn't just think about all the lazy days we were going to have (well, maybe I did to start with), I also thought about the long list of things that I needed to get done in the six weeks before school restarts.  Believe me when I say that with five children of various ages slowing me down, this list can take ages to complete.

One of the things at the top of my to do list was haircuts.  My two girls in particular badly needed their hair cutting.  My littlest, DD2, has been having her hair trimmed by me, but since she started school last year I have been letting it get a bit long (and tying it up for school). I must admit that I was dreading trying to cut it myself again as it has got so much thicker recently, and so my only other option was to take her to a hairdressers for the first time ever.

DD2 can be quite a fidget when she gets a haircut at home and so I was delighted when the people from Little BigHeads in Wilmslow got in touch and invited us to come down and get the girls' hair cut there.

Little BigHeads is a hair salon specifically designed for children with an emphasis on creating a fun and enjoyable experience for both parent and child.

The salon we visited in Wilmslow, Cheshire (they also have a salon in Bramhall too) boasts child sized chairs complete with mini TV screens and a dedicated playroom - perfect if you have other children in tow as I did.  They also have free Wifi and coffee for the grownups (they obviously knew I was coming!)

We were greeted with a very warm welcome by owner Sharon, and once we'd decided who was going first (DD1) and I had settled DS2 and the twins into the playroom area, our stylist Sarah got to work!

The twins get busy in the fantastic playroom at Little BigHeads

DD1 had very specific ideas on what she wanted (a short bob - nothing to do with the fact that I had just had the same style a week earlier!) and it was lovely to see the care and attention Sarah took in listening to her requirements and creating the style for her.  

The "before" picture

DD1 going for the chop

Nearly finished

Happy new hair!

As you can see, DD1 was so pleased with the result, as was I.  I think Sarah did a great job, don't you?

Next DD2 had her turn.  Having seen her sister's haircut she just wanted to copy, but Sarah suggested that it might be too drastic a change and so we settled on a slightly longer bob instead.

Discussing how short to go

I was rather worried about how Sarah was going to keep DD2 still enough to cut the back of her hair evenly.  It is the one area I have always struggled with when I've trimmed her hair at home, but this is where the tiny DVD players by each chair came into play.  Sarah got DD2 to hold the screen on top of her lap and so she was looking down at just the right angle for Sarah to cut her hair.  Simple but so effective!

The lure of watching minions was too great - DD2 didn't move an inch

In fact, I'd say DD2 was remarkably calm throughout the whole haircut, which is quite unlike her!  The staff at Little BigHeads are excellent with their tiny customers and I while we were there we saw plenty of much smaller children who came in reluctantly but who left after their haircuts with smiles (and a lollipop - very important that!).  

Still nice and calm - no fidgeting whatsoever!

Finishing off our second haircut of the day

As it was DD2's first time ever at a proper hair salon, the staff at Little BigHeads made and extra special fuss of her once her cut was compete.  She had a spray of glittery hairspray and a certificate as well as a lock of her hair, which was wrapped up in a pretty organza bag, to keep.  

The finished haircut, complete with glitter
 (which you can't really see, but I can promise you, she was thrilled!)

DD2's "booty"

There were stickers and lollipops too (including some for my boys, who had been making good use of the complimentary juice and playing with the train track in there while the girls had their hair cut). 

While I was secretly dreading getting the haircuts done with the two boys in tow as well (the teen was happily in his cave at home),  I found myself walking away from the salon feeling very relaxed about the whole experience.  The children were all happy, more importantly the girls had each had fantastic haircuts and it had all been so quick that we were back home in time for lunch.  It felt very good to finally get those haircuts ticked off my list!

Time to go home!

I thoroughly recommend a trip to Little BigHeads if, like me, you are in need of a haircut (or two) for a fidgety child.  I'd like to thank Sharon and Sarah and the rest of the team there for making us feel so welcome on our visit.

You can read more about the Little BigHeads salons and the services they offer (which are priced from £5.00 upwards) on their website here.  They even offer parties and hair cuts for mums too - just brilliant!

We received two haircuts at Little BigHeads, Wilmslow for the purpose of this review.  All words and opinions are our own.
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