FLORIDA FIRST TIMERS – DISNEY HERE WE COME!

It’s official, we’re off to the happiest place on Earth! Next August twelve of us (yes, twelve!) are Florida bound for a fortnight of fun in the sun. Having worked through the endless flight / accommodation / ticket options we’ve finally managed to get booked up and the countdown is on.

I should probably confess at this point that I have never really been a Disney kinda girl. I’ve definitely seen a few Pixar movies but as far as Bambi, The Lion King and all that – nada. I mean I’ve been around Flump while she’s watched Frozen but that’s usually while I get on with doing stuff or on long car journeys, in which case she has her headphones on so not sure that really counts?!

Luckily my 16 year old niece is a lover of all things Disney and has kindly agreed to supply us with a weekly DVD so we can do our homework in time for the big event. She’s also 100% obsessed with Harry Potter (now at Universal Studios) and I have serious concerns that she may not make it to Florida on account of being the first person to actually explode with excitement.

So far, so good. Aladdin – tick, Little Mermaid – tick and I admit, the new Beauty & the Beast movie is pretty awesome too. Any recommendations then lovely readers?

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SCHOOL HOLIDAY SURVIVAL PLANNER

Whether you’re counting down the last few weeks of term or dreading the prospect of having your little critters at home for the holidays, a holiday survival planner will prove mega useful when the time comes.

You can find lots of printable templates online, here’s one you might like but there are all sorts of variations so have a looksee for one that suits you best.

If like me you prefer to have a copy on your pc you can find monthly templates here downloadable for Excel and Word.

Hooray, you’re good to go! Here’s how I set about building mine:

Start with the biggies. I already know which dates we have our family holiday booked, when I’m taking the kids to visit family in Ireland and which week their favourite summer club is running so those go into my template, colour-coded to make it look pretty  obvious at a quick glance.

Add in any definites. I always feel for parents who have to arrange a party in the school holidays. If possible I make sure we RSVP ASAP to make their job a little less stressful. Along with these dates, I fill in things like family celebrations or pre-booked day trips/activities.

Book in the necessaries. I’ve learnt the hard way to plan ahead when it comes to anything school uniform/shoe related! You can now pre-book feet measuring in some stores making the whole process a lot less painful for everyone involved. Apart from the paying bit, that’s always going to hurt. If you need to go to a specialist uniform retailer for certain bits and bobs find out their opening hours (some smaller stores can be a bit random!) and see if they do appointments. It probably makes sense to pencil in morning to buy any other bits of uniform (don’t forget the PE kit!) so at least it’s all out of the way. Do this on a separate day to shoes/uniform shop, there’s only so much dullness anyone can tolerate. Arrange dental check-ups and hair appointments if required.

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SHARING IS CARING WITH PREZZO

Like most families our weeks seem to fly by from one to the next, a busy jumble of school runs, work, to-do lists, chores, after-school activities and emergency fish fingers sandwiches. Weekends are just as hectic to be honest, only with a lot more football and laundry involved. Which is why school holidays are such a relief when they do come along, a chance for all of us to take a break from the usual routine and spend some family time having fun. This half term coincided with a bank holiday which meant even Daddy got the chance to kick back for a few days!

After a rare family trip to the cinema we headed to Prezzo with our tummies rumbling (Italian is the ONLY option we can all agree on when eating out). The La Famiglia sharing dish was just what the doctor ordered, no fussing about what who was having what, just a huge bowl of spaghetti bolognaise delivered to our table pronto! There are 4 pasta dishes to choose from so something to suit every family. Dishing out for the family in a restaurant setting is a genius idea – everyone gets to enjoy a family style meal together just how they like it – from the spaghetti monster who always asks for extra pasta to the one who insists on having the sauce on the left, minus the cooking and washing up! Plus no food envy whinging (guilty!) and because everyone is served just the right amount, no wastage – ooh we like that a lot! Along with a couple of garlic flatbreads, we found the portion size perfect for 2 adults and 2 children, leaving just enough room for that all important dessert!

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10 WAYS I’M #ROCKINGMOTHERHOOD

 

You may have noticed the #rockingmotherhood tag popping up on your favourite blogs quite a lot recently. A list of 10 reasons why you’re acing it in the Mummy game followed by 5 nominees to join in. I’m all for encouraging us mamas to ditch the mum guilt and actually celebrate the positives of parenting so here goes…

1:EMBRACING NEW EXPERIENCES – Ha! Where to start with this one? Becoming a mother brings with it no end of new experiences and challenges. Some of these we may prefer to erase from our memory (Morning sickness? Episiotomy? Cracked Nipples? I could go on but I won’t!). Others open up a whole new world where we are forced to deal with things totally outside our comfort zone. From Great Aunt Aggie to Gina Ford (urgh) we’re bombarded and bamboozled with advice but ultimately the buck stops with Mama Bear and slowly you begin to grow in confidence, learning as you go. Every stage of parenting a small human throws up (!) weird and wonderful experiences. Eventually I realised that being a mother is a bit like being Charlie Bucket in Wonka’s Chocolate Factory; you know it’s a privilege not everyone gets, you spend most of it being slightly freaked out but ultimately you embrace it as one of the most amazing things you will ever experience.

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I DON’T WANT A JOB – AND THAT’S OK

If you saw my last post (the one where I freak out a bit) you’ll know that I had the opportunity to return to work pretty much immediately and so had to decide quick sticks what I wanted to do.

It all came about because I’d been considering returning to work sometime this year, possibly after the school Summer holidays – emphasis on considering and possibly. While updating my CV for the first time in over ten years, and having a mooch around a few job sites I kind of applied for a job, not thinking I’d even get an interview never mind end up being offered the role. I’m still not entirely sure why I clicked ‘apply’, I obviously got carried away in a moment of madness.

I’m a SAHM of two, both of whom have been in full-time education for almost two years now.

I think once the youngest child starts school there can be an assumption by family/friends/society that Mummy will be returning to some form of employment now she has all that time on her hands. The reality of the situation is that jobs that fit nicely around school hours and holidays are rarer than steak tartare.

More likely the majority of roles on offer will require you to be available weekdays 9-5, oh and probably won’t be cool with you not working school holidays, inset days, kids-off-sick days, polling days or any days that don’t fall within the stipulated terms of your holiday entitlement. If you’re lucky you might be able to wangle the odd morning off for a nativity play, class assembly or sports day but probably not all of them and probably not for every kid, every time.

Yes of course there are breakfast clubs, after-school clubs and the option of holiday clubs. Planning and staggering annual leave a year in advance to cobble together a childcare solution that gets you through until the start of term. If you’re very lucky there may be family on hand to help on a regular basis. There are ways to make it work and families adapt and work within their own constraints to do so.

So the question is, how do you decide if you should go back to work?

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OKIDO SUBSCRIPTION GIVEAWAY


When it comes to kids magazines we have a love/hate relationship. The kids love them, I hate them. Gone are the days where I could carefully select a magazine for its educational and developmental benefits, nowadays it’s ALL ABOUT THE FREE TAT! Who cares about the actual content when there’s (another) free fairy wand or miniature skateboard thingy on offer eh? Fair to say I’d fallen out of love with the lot of them until I was recently sent some issues of ‘OKIDO- The Arts & Science Magazine for Kids’.

This is not your average kids magazine. For starters I’m a bit jealous of just how cool it looks. The whole design and illustration is fun, modern and enticing. Spud and Flump instantly recognised the characters from the hit Cbeebies show ‘Messy Goes To OKIDO’ and couldn’t wait to get stuck into them, pouring over the pages and pages of stories, puzzles and (secretly educational- shhhhh!) fun ideas.

The usually flimsy pages are replaced with high quality heavy paper giving the magazine a more book-like feel and making the cut-out activities sturdy and durable. Usually I try to get the kids magazines into the recycling bin as soon as possible without them noticing but I’m more than happy to keep hold of these for their reading baskets.

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EVERY DAY’S A SCHOOL DAY- PLUS *GIVEAWAY* MATHS PUZZLE

So despite the fact I’m typing this in what feels like the Earth’s core while the paddling pool is filling outside, I think we’ve all accepted that the Summer holidays are over and normal business has resumed – boooo….

Thankfully the kids have settled back into the old routine nicely while I’m still busy clearing up/recovering from the aftermath of school holidays.

Spud and Flump thoroughly enjoyed their break from the classroom (as much as I enjoyed my break from the school run!) but in an effort to stop their brains from grinding to a complete halt I employed a few sneaky tactics to encourage learning in a relaxed, enjoyable way.

  • Reading. Every year we take part in the Summer Reading Challenge which encourages children to read books in order to earn stamps, which they can then exchange for prizes. This year was particularly special as it was also part of the celebrations to mark the birth of Roald Dahl 100 years ago! It’s free and had both kids devouring books enthusiastically – the power of a scratch n sniff sticker eh?
  • Writing. We chose postcards while on holiday to write and send to friends back home.(Did you know it can take the average 5 year old up to 35 minutes to choose 4 postcards? Neither did I). Spud kept a diary of his adventures in a caravan, wrote to Blue Peter and penned his very first best-seller based on Ronaldo and himself fighting aliens in space in order to save the world from an invasion. I successfully tricked Flump into practicing her writing by ‘playing schools’ with free printouts from this website which worked brilliantly until she decided she was going to be the teacher and I was the pupil.
  • Maths. I wrote about my kids very different approach to learning in Beauty and the Brainbox and this is particularly evident when it comes to numbers! Spud is a natural, he just ‘gets it’ and writes out number grids and times tables for fun . Sadly it doesn’t come quite as easily to Flump who has a more ‘I do not like the numbers and you cannot make me like the numbers’ attitude when it comes to maths. When the lovely people at HappyCalc  asked me to review their new maths puzzle I had a feeling it would be right up her street. I was right…

The box comes JAM PACKED with pieces (138 to be exact), a mixture of illustrations and numbers which are combined to make simple equations and awesome spacecraft creations. As you can see Flump took over the floor with her sprawling masterpiece and the space theme couldn’t have been more apt as this is her Year 1 topic – result!

 

It’s aimed at 3+ from an educational point but to be honest any child who enjoys puzzles would love it. In fact Spud is almost 8 and spent ages playing with it, particularly enjoying all the funny little illustrations (I have to say I was impressed with the details, so many different little creatures to spot!). Unlike any other jigsaw I’ve seen this one is completely free form with no specific rules, allowing the child to create their own original design every time. Ideal for any little anarchist.

If you’d like to get your mitts on one you can purchase here  (currently on offer for around £23 plus P&P) or you can WIN one by entering via the link below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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COOEE!

hello

Hello!!

Just a super quick half pint of a post today as I refamiliarise myself with a laptop and poke my nose around the screen to say “Hi!”

So it’s been 3 weeks, did you miss me? Pah, bet you didn’t even notice I’d gone. Charming! Well I missed you lot, keeping me entertained and distracting me from all the very important things.

We’re at the end of our first week back to school here and so far, so good. With the exception of just one little meltdown (me, in the middle of M&S) we’re settling back into the old routine nicely and so far nobody has lost any uniform and Mummy hasn’t forgotten anything important. OK, I forgot the cheque for school dinners but apart from that, all good. On reflection my kids appear to be doing school a lot better than I am, hmmm… Oh, oh and we’ve walked to school four days in a row now and only had to run twice to beat the bell – I can tell you’re impressed. To be honest though, that’s mainly because we got stuck in a traffic jam on Day 1 and Spud was almost having kittens at the thought of being late for school, as a result we are now too scared to ever drive again JUST IN CASE.

Anywho, now that the chalk dust has settled and I’ve had a chance return the house to some sort of order I’m sooooooooooooo looking forward to getting back to blogging, lots of ideas I’ve been itching to crack on with over the holidays.

More of that soon, school run beckons – lovely to be back, looking forward to catching up with you all next week.

Have a great weekend!

Charlie.

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THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

Somehow we are already halfway through the Summer holidays. Usually that statement would be one of reassurance, spurring me on through the second half towards the finishing line, where I can collapse in a heap at the school gates and be wrapped in a foil blanket by a member of St Johns Ambulance.

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This year however, something very, very strange is happening. After doing a quick check that I’d actually got my dates right and we were indeed at the halfway mark, I didn’t feel any sense of relief at all. In fact my heart sank a little knowing that the weeks are going by far too quickly and before I know it we’ll be diving into the new academic year.

So what has changed? How have we gone from a situation where I spend weeks dreading the arrival of the holidays and counting down the days until it ends, to one where the whole thing is a relatively pain-free, dare I say enjoyable experience?!

Now I know there’s a current trend of parents slagging their own children off, calling them everything under the sun and generally highlighting the many ways they make our lives a misery. While I find some of it funny, (Katie at Hurrah For Gin is just genius!) I won’t be referring to my kids as  dickheads, tw*ts or little f*ckers anytime soon (can’t promise I won’t be thinking it now and again though). Every parent knows children are hard work, they are relentless in their demands and have the ability to push you to the limit by breakfast but really, they are just being kids and sometimes kids can be annoying. As much as we would all love a tranquil existence with our impeccably behaved offspring it’s just not realistic to expect children to behave like anything other than children. In fact as parents it’s our job to deal with their little ‘challenges’ and ensure that they don’t develop into fully grown adult dickheads!

So apart from the incessant demands for my attention, requests for food, constant bickering and all the other perfectly normal shenanigans that make up family life, I guess what I am really trying to say is – the kids are alright. In fact they’re more than alright, I’d even go as far as to say it’s actually quite nice having them around! Yes, this is basically the post where I admit to sometimes enjoying the company of my own children. I can almost smell that Mother of the Year trophy.

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The obvious difference this Summer is that Flump and Spud are a year older, 5 and almost 8. This has such a big impact on many aspects of their abilities and behaviour versus previous years. In other words, they can enjoy doing way more stuff without everything resulting in some sort of emotional meltdown – HURRAH!!

Most days they can happily go from one activity to the next without needing to ask “What can I dooooo Mummy?” every 5 minutes and can play together or independently for a decent period of time too. Most days. Flump is more than happy in her own little world but Spud sometimes needs a little bit of guidance so we have a ‘Summer Rules’ sheet on the wall listing all the things they need to do before they are allowed screen time. This includes a certain amount of time reading, doing a craft, completing worksheets, making their beds, playing outside etc and usually this is more than enough to keep him entertained between breakfast and bedtime.

Days out are a much more enjoyable experience too. As long as I keep a constant supply of snacks and water on hand at all times the world’s our lobster. Playdates are a pretty relaxed affair with the little ones happy to play together (between snacks) and although there is an age gap, Flump is now more than capable of holding her own with the big boys and much to their annoyance often enjoys joining in with their games.

Where in previous years I wouldn’t have even attempted a trip to the shops unless it was absolutely necessary, so far we’ve managed a couple of pretty successful days shopping (even a Primark haul!) relatively fuss free. One of those included a trip to IKEA which the kids requested so they could go to Smalland for an hour, well I’m not gonna argue with that! Win win.

Lazy mornings, dawdling walks to the local playground, visits to the library and the odd trip to the coffee shop for a treat have broken the days up nicely and kept us happy with little effort or expense.

Credit where it’s due, they really have been pretty good company so far.

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In order to make the most of our time together I’ve made a few changes to my own behaviour which have without a doubt allowed me to enjoy the holidays in a much more carefree manner. Primarily, I’ve taken a big (temporary!) step back from blogging, writing if and when the notion takes me, dipping in and out of Twitter much less than usual and joining linkies a little less often too. This alone has made a huge difference – although I do feel like I’m neglecting my lovely blogging friends a bit I know they are a great bunch and will completely understand that family takes priority.

Spud and Flump are growing up far too quickly for my liking and every day I lose a little bit more of my babies as they figure out who they are and develop into little people! (Sad face.) I am very, very lucky to have the option of being a SAHM and I’ve realised that even though the kids won’t appreciate that now, hopefully in years to come they’ll remember the day we found ‘the tiniest frog in the world’ or knocked on fairy doors in the forest.

And so will I.

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BACK TO SCHOOL??

7 days. We are 7 days into the school holidays and already I feel like I should be sewing name tags into PE knickers*. OK, I get it. I know that as parents we’re responsible for kitting the crew out ready for the first day of term. I know it makes sense to just get it out of the way as quickly as possible, weeping into our ever-emptying purses as we go.

(*Pah, ha, ha AS IF!! I’ll be using my trusty Sharpie to scrawl initials onto washing labels like every year!)

We’re all used to seeing ‘Back to School’ signs in-store before the kids have even broken up for the holidays, I’ve already seen a few blog posts on the subject too but I’m sticking firmly to my usual Head-in-Sand technique. Is it too much to ask to just NOT have to think about school for a while? School-runs, PE kits, fundraisers, parents evenings, homework, packed lunches, random costume requests, assemblies, sports days, sick days, school trips, Nativity plays, birthday party politics, Harvest festival, after-school clubs, lost property, show and tell and the endless list of things that make up the school year – please can we just enjoy our holidays happily in denial that it’s all there waiting for us again in a few weeks time?

This will be my fourth year of ‘doing uniforms’ so I’m under no illusion that it’s going to be any different this time round. Here’s my personal method to dealing with the back-to-school prep (I’m not suggesting it will work for everyone):

  • Read emails from M&S advertising 20% off uniforms in June. Make mental note to take advantage of this offer saving time and money before the holidays start. Completely forget (mental notes are no longer a reliable form of reminder, make pointless mental note to write everything down, or even better set reminder on phone so I can’t forget to read it.) Remember the day after the offer has expired.
  • Ditto Startrite.
  • Spend 5 weeks not thinking about school
  • Plan a quick trip to Clarks to get the kids feet measured.
  • Approach the clipboard wielding member of staff and add your name to the waiting list (page 7) along with the entire population of Bedfordshire with children under the age of 12.
  • Have the mental ‘Should I pop next door for socks/water bottles/hair bobbles while I’m waiting?’ debate. Decide not to risk it.
  • Follow 5yr old around putting sparkly shoes with flashy bits back on the shelf, explaining why they’re not an option for school shoes and trying to ‘big up’ the lovely plain black, tat-free pair.
  • Thank God for 7 yr old boys who just want to get any pair and get out!
  • Purchase 2 pairs of ridiculously expensive school shoes, safe in the knowledge that after one day in the playground they will resemble something Worzel Gummidge might wear.
  • Momentarily feel victorious before remembering you still need to buy uniform!
  • Rifle through rails of uniform in the hope of finding anything other than age 15-16 polo shirts.
  • Feel a bit sick
  • Spend the rest of the day online sourcing the required items/sizes (speedy delivery obviously) and hoping everything fits.
  • Hunt out old school bags – containing homework form to be completed over the holiday! Quickly Google stuff. Print, cut, stick while child reluctantly labels things.
  • Bath, bed, book, lights out.
  • Wine.
  • Set alarm.
  • Make mental note to be more prepared next year.

Like I said, my way may not be the most pain-free approach to Back to School, but somehow, every year I manage to present the kids at the school-gate in a shiny new, grossly oversized uniform, ready to be adorned with biro, grass stains and a number of unidentified mystery stains in the coming weeks.

Ironically I live just around the corner from the official school uniform supplier and walk past a lovely display of embroidered badges and printed logos on a daily basis – it literally couldn’t be easier for me. Maybe I’m just a bit ‘homework on the bus’, maybe I should be a sensible, organised, responsible grown-up but actually we’re far too busy learning to ride without stabilisers and chilling on the paddling pool while we can!

So are you a super-organised Smuggy McSmuggerson or a bit of a Last Minute Larry like me??? Either way I hope you are enjoying the holidays so far! x

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