Thursday, 30 May 2013

A Visit to The National Space Centre, Leicester

So today was the day that we decided to venture out a bit further from home. W has been doing about space at school, so I thought a visit to the National Space Centre would be good.

It took just over an hour to get there. I dutifully ignored the satnav and followed the brown rocket signs around the ring road, as advised on the website. Satnav was adamant that we should go throught the city centre. I rather wish we had, as it was a lot quicker going home this route! Thankfully the carpark is only a short walk from the entrance to the Space Centre, but you do have to pay £2 to park.


The National Space Centre, Leicester

I would definitely advise booking tickets online in advance. When we got there, we didn't have to queue at all, as we could just go straight to the pre-booked ticket collection desk to get our tickets. Booking online also means that you can choose which showing of the planetarium show you want to see, rather than getting given whatever is left when you get there. It worked perfectly for us, as we had a little look around when we got there before going in for our showing, and then had lunch when we came out, so no hanging around waiting for a late show. It was £13 for an adult and under-5s were free, so both my boys went in for free (W is 5 and a bit, but shhhh don't tell anyone!)

Once in, you needed to keep your tickets handy, as there are lots of interactive exhibits that you can scan your ticket on and it then stored information on your ticket. For example, in the Tranquility Base section, you could untertake lots of different astronaut training activities such as moonwalk practise. At the end, you scanned your ticket and it brought up all the tasks you had completed and then produced a crew card and postcard of your moonwalk that you could have emailed to you to print at home. Great fun!

The ground level had all the usual space stuff - info on being an astronaut, all about the planets, stars, black holes, space exploration etc. There was also an area with people giving talks at various times during the day. For half term, the topic was Women in Science. We listened to a bit about the first woman in space (Valentina Tereshkova, if you're interested), and a bit of the Horrible History of Women in Science. Both were very interesting and well presented, but my two are a little too young and got bored after a few minutes. Throughout the ground level are various dressing-up points aimed at the under-5s, where they can dress up as an astronaut, a star, an alien or a scientist. My two loved it! There were also lots of those things you stand behind and put your face through a hole to have a photo taken, which was also a bit hit with my two!


Pondering Quantum-physics?

My two little astronauts

Upstairs is all about rockets. They have a Thor missile on display, which is very impressive. You can take a glass lift up alongside it to various viewing platforms, to get a better look and learn more about rockets, missiles and the space race. We did this just before we left, and the queue for the lift was not bad at all.


Thor Missile


There is a large self-service cafe serving soup and a large range of sandwiches and baguettes, cakes, crisps etc. I'd brought a packed lunch each for the boys, but got myself a sandwich from the cafe. I was impressed with how much seating they had for the cafe and how clean and well-serviced it was. In fact, the whole centre was very clean and well-staffed. The boys particularly liked the toilets, which were space themed, with automatic washbasins built into the walls which automatically squirted soap, water and hot air!

The planetarium show was called "We Are Aliens" and was all about the possiblity of there being life on other planets. It was a great show, but I would have liked a more traditional planetarium experience of the planets and stars. There was a later showing like that, but the queues were enormous, as it was not bookable in advance.

Considering it is halfterm, I was amazed at how quiet it was. I was expecting the place to be packed and huge queues for all the interactive exhibits, but it wasn't, which was great! I did notice that there were far more little boys there than little girls. I guess space is something that must appeal more to boys than girls!

All in all, a very enjoyable day out. G wants to go back again, and said we can go for my birthday next week. When I said I didn't want to do that for my birthday, he had a huge tantrum! So I have promised we can go back for his birthday next year! There was the usual whining and fighting over whose turn it was to press buttons/have their photo taken/look through a telescope/whose feet were hurting most/whose legs were aching etc* (*delete as appropriate) which always drives me potty, but that seems to be par for the course on days out!






DISCLAIMER - This is NOT a sponsored post

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Epic Review

We survived another trip to the cinema. Although, whilst in there, I vowed that G would NOT be going again, and W would not NOT be allowed a drink next time!

W was extremely excited to be going to see Epic in 3D. We have been avoiding watching anything in 3D of late, due to the extra expense and the fact that G spends most of the film with the glasses off (like today!). I think W was actually a little disappointed with the 3D experience today, and spent the first half hour of the film complaining loudly to me that his glasses weren't working as "nothing is popping out of the screen at me"! The novelty of 3D does seem to wear off after a few minutes, as your eyes and brain just adjust to watching it that way, and it ceases to amaze or enthrall you. The adverts you see in the cinema for 3D films are always way more 3D than the film is in reality - things flying out of the screen towards you, and the feeling that you could reach out and touch it! I think that's what W was expecting, and although I found it was lovely to watch in 3D, I can see why he was disappointed.


The film itself felt vaguely familiar. It was a bit of a cross between "The Spiderwick Chronicles" and "Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Rescue". Many, many similarities in plot between the three films! Despite this dejavu, I enjoyed the film (despite the trials and tribulations of having 2 children with me!). But I pretty much enjoy any film at the cinema to be honest - I just love the whole experience, especially the enormous popcorn and fizzy drink!

G was a little underwhelmed by the whole thing though. He took his glasses off after about 10 minutes, and then dropped them twice on the floor - cue lots of rummaging and scrabbling around under the seats looking for them, as despite not wanting to wear them, he still wanted them, and I think the whole cinema knew it too! He also managed to tip his popcorn over twice. Those cinema cleaners certainly had their work cut out for them cleaning our row of seats today! Then there was his usual figeting - up and down in his seat, wanting to sit on my lap, then wanting to sit in his seat, then on his knees etc etc. Thankfully there was no-one sat in front of us, as the seats got a lot of kicking and pulling! G's antics coupled with W's repeated toilet trips (where we all have to go with him), meant I missed some of the crucial plot twists. But as it was certificate U, the plot wasn't so complicated that I couldn't follow it, even for me!

Overall, we enjoyed our morning at the cinema on a cold and rainy day. Not sure we will be getting Epic on DVD, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.






DISCLAIMER: This post is NOT sponsored in any way.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The double-edged sword

School holidays - the ultimate double-edged sword...

On the one hand, an enormous relief not to have to rush around getting ready for school, doing the school run and watching the clock all day ready for the return school run. On the other hand, I have 2 small boys at home all day, all week, in the rain, waiting to be entertained!

During term time (and a lot of the rest of the time too to be honest!), I find myself constantly shouting "QUICKLY!", "COME ON!", "HURRY UP!" and "WE'LL BE LATE!". But these phrases seem to mean very little to a 3 year old, as he completely ignores me and carries on with whatever he is doing at his usual snail's pace. It is one of the things that drives us mad the most - being ignored by our children! Getting to school on time requires lots of use of these phrases. Even more so on the days when I do 2 drop offs at different places - G to nursery at 8.45am and W to school for 8.55am. Every second counts on these mornings, as leaving even a minute late means having to park further away which means it takes longer to get back to my car which means we are late getting W to school! So holidays at least means we don't have all the mad dashing around. It's also nice not to have days that end at 3pm. My whole day revolves around school timings, so once 3pm arrives, that's pretty much it for the day - downhill through supper, school reading and bathtime.

This week, we have had a bank holiday, and also husband has Friday off, so we actually only have 3 days to fill. I managed to last until midday today before giving in to the pester-power of getting the paints out! W is a prolific creater of art, and we are constantly having to clear out his 'masterpieces' into the recyle bin under the cover of darkness. After 10 minutes, and about 10 pictures, he decided he wanted to do glueing and sticking instead! I'm now left with a sink full of paint pots, brushes etc to clear up. Isn't this what they go to school for - to paint, glue, chalk to their hearts delight, so that their poor parents no longer have to put up with the mess at home??? Thankfully G, the little one, is not so bothered about arts and crafts, and was having his nap at the time, as he is a total liability with the glue and paint, and seems to apply it to every surface and orifice other than the paper! We spent the afternoon under a blanket on the sofa (where's the sun gone?), with popcorn, watching "Annie" on DVD. G kept telling me he couldn't hear the telly as I was singing too loud!

Tomorrow we have a trip to the cinema planned to see Epic. I splashed out and booked us 3D tickets, purely because that was the viewing time that suited us best. W loves a bit of 3D, but G is not so bothered and last time didn't even wear the glasses for most of the film! So tomorrow will be mostly taken up with eating our body weights in popcorn and fizzy pop.

Thursday, if it is STILL raining, I may venture further afield with them to the space centre in Leicester. I have a few Tesco days out vouchers that we can use there, and W has been doing all about space at school recently, so he will love it.

Before we know it, Monday will be here again and a return to the "QUICKLY" and "WE'LL BE LATE!", so rather than bemoaning the contant nagging, demands and arguments (from the kids, not me!) that makes up my days of school holidays, I should enjoy the more leisurely pace, spending time with my two little monsters darlings, and make the most of the little lie-ins that husband gives me (well, he let me lie-in a little this morning and brought me a cup of tea in bed before going to work, so hopefully he's reading this and will continue along those lines for the rest of the week!)

Monday, 27 May 2013

Festival of Country Life


Another sunny day, another country show visit! This time it was to Lamport Hall and the Festival of Country Life.


Lamport Hall

First impressions were that this show was on a much smaller scale than yesterday's one at Burghley House - it was cheaper to get in and there were no queues. But once we were inside, there was a surprising amount of stuff to see.


First stop was the food hall in the old stables. Although there were only a few stands, I think they were much better than at the show yesterday. We practically bought half their stock! We came away from there with 3 pounds of sausages (buy 2lb get 1free!), 2 bags of fudge (one of which was sea salt tablet - to die for!), 2 slabs of rocky road, more pork scratchings (can't enough of those salty, crunchy morsels - my secret snack shame!), 2 bunches of fresh British asparagus, 2 dozen eggs, and for our lunch 2 sausage rolls, a game pie, a bacon & cheese pasty, 4 caramel slices and 4 flapjacks!! Phew! Lucky we had the buggy with us to carry all our purchases!

The rest of the stables was full of antique & craft stalls, so we gave these a quick peruse before heading out to the rest of the show. There were loads of vintage cars, steam engines, tractors, motorbikes, army vehicles etc etc as well as many traditional crafts such as blacksmiths, wood turners, rope makers, bee-keepers etc.
W in a Messerschmitt


W watching another blacksmith - he is totally fascinated by it and could have stayed there all day watching him at work!

Again, the boys were pretty well behaved, despite being cold (after yesterday, they had shorts and t-shirts on again, but it was much cooler today and very windy!) We are very lucky that G still has an afternoon nap, and so with only a little encouragement he climbed back into the buggy with his muslin and went to sleep for an hour. It makes it a whole lot easier when you only have one child to entertain and keep track of whilst walking around these places!

All in all, an immensely enjoyable bank holiday weekend. Aren't we being spoiled by the British weather by having 2 sunny bank holiday weekends this May!!










Sunday, 26 May 2013

Burghley House Game and Country Show

The weather was forecast to be lovely this weekend, so after a day of gardening yesterday, we headed out for a family day out.

Having grown up on a farm in the Welsh countryside, I have been to many, many agricultural and country shows in my time! I love browsing the stalls, especially the food tents which usually have plenty of samples on offer. The boys have been to a fair few too in their short lives, as every August we head down to my parents' in Pembrokeshire to the Pembrokeshire Agricultural Show (a 3 day extravaganza, second only to the Royal Welsh Show in Wales!)

This week I had spotted lots of signs up on the roadside advertising the show at Burghley House in Stamford. As it is only half an hour away from us, and Burghley House in on my Stately Home Bucket List(!), we thought we'd pop over to have a look.

The show is on for two days - today (Sunday), and bank holiday Monday. I have to say, they are very lucky with the weather, as if the weather was anything like it was here on Friday, it would have been a total washout. Instead, we had a lovely few hours strolling around in the warm sun, but with a nice cool breeze so that we never felt too hot.

The boys were exceptionally well behaved, which made a huge difference to our enjoyment of the day. So often, one or both of them have a tantrum about something or start whining which in turn puts husband and me in a bad mood too. But even when we said they couldn't go on the fair rides until we had had a look around, they were as good as gold, and patiently waited until we were on the way back to the car. It probably helped that we fed them with lots of treats all the way around (hot sugary donuts, pick'n'mix sweets & pork scrachings!) - probably the worst things a child can eat in terms of sugar, salt & fat content, but hey, it worked a dream on their behaviour!

W took a huge interest in all the traditional crafts being demonstrated - blacksmith, pottery making, glass blowing, glass etching etc, which was lovely to see. He also really enjoyed watching some of the entertainment in the various rings - a sheepdog herding some geese and a motorbike stuntman!

I have to say, I have never seen so many dogs in one place before! Practically every person had a dog or two in tow! Not great when one of your children is scared of dogs. And these weren't small dogs either - many were taller than the children and seemed to want to give them a good sniff. I'm not a big dog-lover either - I don't mind them, but I definitely don't fawn over them like a lot of people do! 

All in all, a lovely day in beautiful surroundings. They boys finally got their fair rides - W on the trapese trampoline, and G on the swing seats. We finished off the day with a quick stroll around Stamford (beautiful, picturesque town, well worth a visit) and supper at McDonald's!









It's curtains for me!

Finally! No more light streaming in our bedroom at the crack of dawn every day. No more freezing cold bedroom (hopefully!). No more baby black-out blind suckered to our window. We finally have curtains! A roman blind and a curtain with covered pelmet to be precise!

When we moved in, our bedroom had some rather hideous curtains up. A dark maroon coloured brocade fabric, with a fringed pelmet(!), that finished about 6 inches short of the floor, thereby completely failing at their intended job of shutting out the morning light, and keep the warm air in! Unfortunately (or fortunately!) I don't have a photo of them. As soon as we started having the bedroom re-done last August (new built-in cupboards, coving and redecoration) those nasty curtains came down, and the baby black-out blind went up. It's one of those travel blinds, that have suction pads to stick to the window, so that you can make baby's bedroom dark wherever you may be. Little did I know how useful it would be long-term, and that it would be used non-stop for 9 months!


Before we moved in

After we redecorated & had built-in wardrobes fitted



Before

After


After Christmas, I finally got around to visiting the interiors shop in our local town to look at curtain fabric. They came out to measure-up and give advice on what sort of fabric and colours they thought might work in our room, which is painted in "Elephant Breath". If you've ever wondered what colour an elephant's breath is, I can tell you that it is a kind of greige - in some lights it is a warm grey, and in others is almost brown. (You've gotta love those funny folk over at Farrow & Ball who think up the colour names!). I collected a few fabric books from them to take home to look at. Which I did....repeatedly...for weeks on end!

Finally, I decided on two fabrics (with the help of husband) - one for the blind and a different one for the curtains.  I'm a little scared of prints and patterns, as I always worry that I will soon get bored of them. The fabric books showed pictures of beautiful curtains and blinds in mix and match patterns, but I decided that as they were going to be pretty expensive, I didn't want something that would date or that I might get bored of, or anything that would make it difficult to change the decor of the rest of room. I had in mind some sumptuous curtains, so chose a taffeta fabric in a browny grey - not too shiny, but shiny enough to give a bit of glamour to the room. We went for some pattern for the blind - a geometric shape (almost a giraffe print) with a slight trim of bright pink to match some of the colour in our rugs in the room, and to brighten the colour scheme of the room a little. They also made a fabric covered pelmet, using the taffeta curtain fabric and trimming it with the blind fabric. Both the blind and curtains are lined with very thick interlining, so we're hoping this will make a huge difference in the winter, as our bedroom was one of the coldest rooms in the house last winter!

The finished result is lovely. It adds the perfect finish to the room.




It's hard to get a good picture to do them justice, due to the light from the window and my lack of camera skills!

The downside is that it is now extremely difficult to get up in the morning, as the room is pitch dark and feels like the middle of the night!










Saturday, 25 May 2013

Lemon Parmesan Crusted Asparagus

For husband's birthday this week, we had a special birthday supper of steak, garlic mushroom and asparagus. I saw a recipe for this asparagus somewhere, and gave it a go. I love asparagus, and the addition of lemon zest, parmesan and breadcrumbs took it to another dimension. I generally keep a bag of breadcrumbs in the freezer (made from leftover stale bread) for topping pasta dishes etc. I think this lemony, cheesy breadcrumb mixture could be used for loads of dishes - coating a piece of chicken breast, topping some fish etc, so I will be making up a bag of this for the freezer!

Lemon Parmesan Crusted Asparagus

Ingredients
1 egg
2 tbsp milk
Handful of grated parmesan
Handful of breadcrumbs
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 bunch of asparagus
Salt and pepper

Instructions
1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and grease a roasting tin or line with parchment or foil.
2. Beat the egg and milk together in a shallow dish.
3. Toss the breadcrumbs, parmesan, zest and salt and pepper together and spread out on a plate of shallow dish.
4. Dunk the asparagus in the egg, a few at a time, and then into the breadcrumb mixture. Make sure they are coated all over before putting in the roasting tin.
5. Roast until golden brown and the asparagus is soft, approx. 20-25 mins.



Before roasting

After roasting - crispy and golden

I could eat a plate of this all on its on (maybe with a little lemon or garlic mayo for dipping!)

Enjoy!




Friday, 24 May 2013

Breath Holding

The first time it happened, G was about 7 months old, and we were at a 'Music with Mummy' class. While I was putting my coat on, he suddenly leaned back (thinking I was still sat on the floor behind him) and hit his head on the floor. It was carpet, and I knew he hadn't seriously hurt himself, but he screamed and then went silent. After a second or two of him being silent and floppy, he suddenly started crying again and was then fine. I didn't think too much of it until a few weeks later when it happened again. He was sitting on his bedroom floor playing while I put his clothes away. He overreached for a toy and toppled over sideways. Again, he screamed and then after a few seconds went silent. This time I was watching him carefully. He screamed, and then at the point where a child would normally take a deep breath to give another bellow, he didn't or couldn't take a breath. His face was frozen in a silent scream, his eyes looked panicked and then he went deathly pale, floppy and seemingly unconscious. An eternity later (but actually only a few seconds), with me shouting his name, blowing in his face, pinching his cheeks etc, he opened his eyes and started crying again. He was then VERY drowsy and pale for a good half hour, before the colour started to come back.

I mentioned it to the health visitor, who just said it was "breath holding" and he would grow out of it.

After another couple of episodes over the next few months, the big one happened. He was about 13months old, and still showing no signs of moving at all. We'd dropped big brother at nursery at 8am and come home. He was sitting on the sofa with some books. As I leaned over to pick him up to take him into the kitchen for breakfast, he leapt towards me and did a kind of forward roll off the sofa onto the mat on the floor. I swept him up quickly and he went into a breath-holding episode. Except this time he didn't regain consciousness after a couple of seconds. About a minute went by of me trying to bring him round and I knew something was wrong, so I lay him on the floor and dialled 999. The ambulance came within 5 minutes, by which time he had come round. The 999 operator had transferred me to a paramedic who had kept me talking the whole time, talking me through putting him in the recovery position etc. When the ambulance crew arrived at the door, they had a camera-crew in tow (something they had omitted to tell me on the phone!). They were filming for emergency rescue or one of those sort of real-life docu-dramas, and did I mind being filmed? Well apart from the fact that I'd thought my baby was dead, I hadn't yet had a shower and looked like a greasy scarecrow! I was told to pack a bag with nappies, food, milk etc for him, as he would need to be taken to hospital to be checked over. They got it into their heads that it was a head injury due to the fall and didn't seem to be listening to me about the breath-holding thing. By the time I had run around gathering a few things, G was fine and beaming at all the camera crew, paramedics etc. I phoned husband quickly to let him know what was happening, leaving a message on his mobile (he later arrived at the hospital in a major panic, as he had only listened to the first part of my message which said "G fallen off sofa, unconscious, called an ambulance, on our way to hospital" but he didn't hear the last bit of "he's fine, everything is ok"!!). We had to stay in hospital all day for observation, first in children's A&E and then on the ward. I had to keep talking people through it over and over again, and every one of them focused on the fall & potential head injury bit & not the repeated breath-holding bit. Eventually, late afternoon, a paediatrician came to discharge us. She decided that it had just been another breath-holding (thank you!) but had no idea why he was doing them. She thought it was possibly due to the fact that he was so immobile, so that when he did a sudden movement & fell he went into shock. She advised to try to keep him calm in these situations ie not sweep him up the second he falls, and hopefully he would grow out of it.

I googled it and discovered that what he does is something called "pallid breath holding" as opposed to tantrum breath holding, where the child holds their breath on purpose.

The last episode he had was not long after we moved here, just over a year ago. The boys were fighting in the shopping trolley while I was trying to pay for the shopping. When I glanced over, I suddenly realised that G was slumped in the seat unconscious. W freaked out and started screaming, as he thought he had killed his little brother! Tesco staff were brilliant - a first aider was called, someone finished packing my shopping for me and took it to my car and loaded it for me. He was only out for a few seconds thankfully. Later that year, he finally started walking and has not had an breath-holding since.

Until this week....I was trying to get them upstairs for bathtime, and G was messing about. He tripped over my feet and plonked down heavily on his bottom. He yelled, and exasperated, I grabbed him up to take up for his bath. But I must have picked him up at the wrong moment, as he failed to take the breath and passed out. W at first found it funny, thinking G was pretending, but then realised it wasn't funny at all. G came round after a few seconds, and was then very sleepy. W kept saying "Mummy, DO NOT tell anyone what happened, as they would be very sad and scared". It shook him up as much as me.


G has been fine ever since, but it was still a frightening experience. I usually leave him a few seconds when he falls or hurts himself, until I hear him take another breath after the first cry, as it seems to be the sweeping him up mid-cry that shocks him. On this most recent occasion, in my haste to get them upstairs for their bath, I wasn't really thinking.

I really hope he grows out of this soon, as it is not an experience I want to repeat any time soon.



Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Birthday Cookies!

We're well into birthday season in this house (youngest one's birthday end of April, husband's 40th tomorrow, mine in a couple of weeks), resulting in LOTS of baking going on (and an ever-increasing muffin-top as a result!).

So far today I have made a batch of Peanut Butter Cup, Pretzel and Chocolate Chip cookies, and a batch of Double Chocolate Chip Oaty Cookies. Both of these are for husband to take in to work tomorrow for his birthday. I will also be making a few Smarties choc chip cookies later - some for husband to take to work, and some for a cake sale at school. I'll post some recipes up this week, if I remember!


Peanut Butter Cup, Pretzel & Choc Chip Cookies

Double Choc Chip Oaty Cookies


Cookies seems to be my latest bake-craze. They are very rewarding to make, as they are quick, easy, make a lot and the Aga bakes them fairly well (no worrying about them rising/sinking/soggy bottom etc). Also, EVERYONE likes a cookie, even if they don't much like cake. And of course, you can't beat a bit of uncooked cookie dough to nibble on - I reckon I could eat the whole bowl without ever cooking it!



Triple Choc Chip Smarties Cookies






Thursday, 16 May 2013

The C Word

No! I don't mean that word! I mean the other C word - a far nastier, more vicious and destructive word - Cancer.

I found out yesterday that an old school friend has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. She is the same age as me (37), has 3 small children under 6 which have all been breastfed, and has no family history of it. She went to the doctor about a back problem, and mentioned in passing that one of her breasts fell a bit hard. The doctor referred her for tests to be on the safe side, and they found a very large lump, which had been there for a while. She is shortly to start chemo. She seems to be dealing with it all exceedingly well, and has a very positive attitude, so fingers crossed all will be well eventually.

This news totally shocked me, as I do have a family history of breast cancer. My granny died of it, and two of my aunts have recently been treated for it (and succesfully fought it so far). It seems to be late-onset breast cancer as all three have not developed it until their 70s and early 80s.

Here is my dilemma. Do I keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best, and deal with it if and when it comes (most likely not for a few decades yet)? Or do I try and get one of those genetic tests done that tells you the likelihood of you developing it?

Angelina Jolie has been all over the media this week, regarding her decision to have a double mascectomy. I think she is an inspiration. For someone so keenly in the public eye, whose career is largely based on the way she looks, I think it is an immenely brave thing to do. By writing about it, she has single-handedly brought breast cancer awareness to the masses.

I have a doctor's appointment tomorrow morning to get some hayfever medication for the season. I think I may just mention my family history to him while I am there...

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

What did we do before the internet????

Isn't it amazing how entrenched the Internet has become in our everyday lives? No-one seems untouched by it. Every newsworthy event in every part of the world seems to be accompanied by mobile-phone footage, tweets etc.

I truly don't know how I would survive without the Internet these days. I buy pretty much everything online, apart from groceries (I do the occasional online order, but generally prefer to browse the supermarket shelves myself). This week it is a friend's birthday, so I went online and ordered her a present to be delivered straight to her, and then ordered a personalised card to be delivered straight to her too. So much easier than trekking to the shops, parking, traipsing around the shops to find a present and card, taking it home, wrapping it, then traipsing to the post office to post it, by which time it is already the day before the person's birthday, and Royal Mail 1st Class is unlikely to get it there on time, so I end up having to pay for Special Delivery!!

Before children, when I was working full-time, the only time I could get to the shops was on a Saturday when they were rammed, so I used to do a lot of Internet shopping (especially at Christmas). Once I had children, I realised that shopping was now one of those tasks that you avoided doing at all costs with baby/small child in tow, as the window of opportunity in a day was so small - timing had to be absolutely perfect in order to make sure baby/child wasn't tired/hungry/bored/needed a poo etc. So I shopped online even more. Internet shopping is definitely the friend of the busy parent!

I find buying online is usually cheaper too. I know that I have probably had a hand in the death of the high street, but when I know I can get the same goods online for a fraction of the cost, and don't have to brave the one-way systems and extortionate parking prices of the town centres, then I know which one I am always going to choose! If I can't get it on Amazon or eBay, then it's just not worth having!

Since we moved house, online shopping has become even more important to me. I suddenly find myself 20 minutes from the nearest supermarket rather than 5 minutes. The local large towns all take about 20-30 minutes to get into the centre, and are pretty big sh*t holes if I'm honest - very run down with wall to wall charity shops and pound lands. Don't get me wrong - I LOVE a pound shop, but it's nice to have a few other shops to choose from too! Our local small town (walking distance from our village) has a few small shops (butcher, baker, post office, greetings card shop, newsagent) but not great for finding a last minute birthday present. Thankfully a new independent toy shop has just opened, so at least children's birthday presents will be sorted from now on!

But the Internet is not just about online shopping. The communication it has enabled is just phenomenal. Families on opposite sides of the world can have daily face-to-face chats using Skype. Facebook enables you to show your holiday snaps to all those old school friends that you haven't seen or spoken to for 30 years! Twitter allows you to know what your favourite celebrity is eating for breakfast! Life seems to be broadcast live via social media these days.

When I was at university (many moons ago...well the mid to late 90's), I remember having to go to the "email lab" to send and receive emails. It was a strange, formidable place full of hardcore geeks. I had no idea what to do, and only went there to accompany an American friend who was on an exchange visit and who regularly sent emails to her family back home. It's amazing to think that that was only 18 years ago. The Internet has basically taken off in the last 18 years.

With the rise of smart phones and tablets, the Internet is constantly at our finger tips, any time of night or day. We don't even have to wait for the PC or laptop to start up in order to google how old Tom Jones is whilst watching The Voice on a Saturday night -  we just reach over, pick up the ipad/iphone/other device and tippity tap, the answer is there.

I manage ALL of our finances online. I can check credit card balances, bank transactions, ISA performances etc at the touch of a button. I can view our electricity tarif and usage and submit meter readings online. I can get quotes for car or home insurance after a couple of minutes of form filling instead of the endless phoning around and answering the same questions over and over. I can see at a glance what the best savings account/mortgage/credit card is. All of these things used to take a long time to manage before the Internet.

There are of course some downsides to having all this information readily available. Here are some I have noticed that apply to me:

* I no longer use my (millions!) of recipe books. I find it so much easier to just google what it is I want to cook, look up my many pinned recipes on Pinterest, or use one of those websites that you can type in the ingredients you have and it comes up with some recipe ideas.

* I no longer phone my friends very often. I already know the ins outs of their daily lives, places they've visited, funny things their child has said this week etc etc from facebook. If we're lucky, we may exchange emails!

* It's far too easy to get life envy from looking at other people's wonderful holiday snaps or reading about their seemingly perfect lives on facebook. We must remember that Facebook is only an edited version of people's lives, and that many people only post the good stuff!

* Pinterest is bad for my health. I have pinned so many things that I would like to cook/make/sew that if I were to do all of them, I would be fully employed for the rest of my life. Some of the stuff on there makes me feels seriously inadequate!

* Online fraud. No matter how stringent virus protection and security is, there are people out there able to manipulate it, and there always will be. We have been victims of credit card fraud in the past, but thankfully I picked it up almost immediately due to being able to check our accounts online!

* And of course the big one for me - WILFING! I don't want to know the number of hours of my life I have lost to surfing the net aimlessly.

The positive impacts far outweigh the negatives though!

Our children are growing up, never having known a world without the Internet. Our 3 year old has been using my iphone and ipad since he was 1. He is fully competent at using BBC iplayer to watch a particular cbeebies programme. The older one, is addicted to youtube, where he watches lots of clips about moshi monsters. It seems to be intuitive to them. This is their world. A world where they have everything at their fingertips.




Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Calling All Superheroes!

Saturday was a big day in our house - our 3 year old's Superhero birthday party!

We hired the village hall (at the bargain price of £8 per hour) as we didn't fancy 20-30 kids aged 3-5, plus a few parents, rampaging around the house. However, as the event drew nearer, and we had had only a few acceptances, we started to wonder if it was worth bothering with the hall after all. I am astounded at how many people didn't bother to reply to the invitation at all, leaving me in limbo as to how many to cater for, how many party bags to do etc. I'd invited all of the children who are in the same 2 sessions as our little one at nursery, but I don't even know who most of them are or who the parents are. I guess that if the parents don't know who we are, then they don't bother to come to the party. Such a shame, as I was really hoping it would enable us to meet some more families from the village. Oh well...

We decided to go ahead with the hall anyway as it was booked, and it worked out well. There were only 13 children in total (including our 2), but it meant they had loads of space to run around and do the party games in.

If you are ever stuck for a party theme for a 3+ year old, then Superheroes is a winner. I found SO much stuff on the internet for cake ideas, party games, party bag filler etc. Due to the all the recent films and the ones being released soon (Spiderman, Ironman, Batman, The Avengers, Superman), there is tons of branded party stuff around.

I have to confess to losing my party-mojo a little in the run up to it, due to all the rejections and lack of replies, so last week was rather busy as I tried to get games organised, food planned etc in time.

Friday was spent in a baking frenzy as I tried to get to everything made.

For the cake, I thought I'd keep it simple with a Superman logo. However, my icing skills are not up to much, and I was rushing too much. The finished result was ok, but not my finest creation!



It's supposed to be G instead of an S

Smarties cookies - the most delicious, chewy, chocolate chip cookies ever!


Cakes for the mums & dads

Where possible I tried to theme the party food too! I'd ordered a Batman cookie cutter from Ebay ages ago, but when it arrived it was way too big to make biscuits with, so I decided to cut the sandwiches out with it instead. It worked brilliantly!

Dinner, dinner, dinner, dinner BATMAN!




Kryptonite and Spiderman Jellies

There was also the obligatory cocktail sausages, cheese cubes and crisps galore!

The 3 year olds didn't really get the party games, but bumbled along with it all. The older ones however, showed steely determination to win each game! We did the following games:

  • Musical Superheroes - I printed some superhero logos (spiderman, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) and laminated them. They were scattered around the floor, and when the music stopped they had to find a logo to stand on. The one with no logo to stand on was out (a bit like musical chairs). The laminating turned out to be a bad idea, as the first round or two saw a couple of them almost breaking a limb as they leapt onto the logo and the thing skidded off across the floor!
  • Pass the Kryptonite - a managed to find a giant green glowstick for 99p (bargain!). This was passed around the circle. When the music stopped, whoever was holding the kryptonite was out. A kind of reverse pass-the-parcel. It took a little while for the children to grasp that they DIDN't want to be holding the kryptonite when the music stopped!
  • Destroy the Bombs - lots of balloons blown up, including some black ones. Some had a sweet inside the balloon. The superheroes have to detonate all the bombs that an evil villain has dropped. They loved this game - being allowed to jump on balloons to burst them, and get sweets!
  • Chase the Baddie - a baddie (the older brother of one of the guests who was happy to relieve husband of this role!) had stolen the bag of sweets and the superheroes had to chase him to catch him. When the music stopped, the first one to touch the baddie got a sweet from his stolen loot! This was our little one's favourite game! We played it after the food, and it really helped wear them all out and get rid of the sugar rush!
As time fillers, we also did some rounds of musical bumps, musical statues (they had to strike a superhero pose when the music stopped) and husband demonstrated the moves to Black Lace's Superman!


Our little Batman


We had a lot of help from our best friends, who helped set up and clear awy, as well as making sure everyone had a cup of tea and a cake!

All in all, we had a fun time. The two boys loved it, and that was why I went to the trouble. Sometimes I wonder why I go to all the effort (and expense) of doing themed parties every year, but the boys love it and I love the planning! I'm already planning the Moshi Monster party our eldest has requested for September!




Monday, 13 May 2013

Busted!

So, my cover as Wilfing Mum has been blown! I have been found out by husband!

Although it was never my attention to keep this blog a secret, as I am just starting out with it, I thought I would just see how I got on with blogging before telling anyone about it.

However, husband was having a discussion with a work colleague about the term "Wilfing" and they googled it. Up popped a picture of our son linking to my blog! Husband got the shock of his life!!

So a big hello to my husband (who is now an avid reader of my blog!) and his work colleagues. Hope you enjoy what you have read so far and continue to read my future posts. You never know, I may divulge some juicy gossip about husband one day!!

Thursday, 9 May 2013

My Love Affair With Converse

The title of this post says it all really. I LOVE my converse (all 4 pairs of them!), and am a little addicted to wearing them. They are like wearing slippers for me, with the added bonus of being able to leave the house in them without people looking at me strangely!

The boys both have at least one pair too. Theirs are the boot version (Chuck Taylor hi-tops), whereas mine are the shoe variety (Ox lace). The two boys have recently become as obsessed as me with their cons, ever since they spotted Doctor Who wearing a pair (David Tennant's Doctor rather than Matt Smith). Since then, they have spotted Mr Maker in a pair, Sid from CBeebies and Dracula's daughter Mavis in Hotel Transylvannia, to name but a few!






My love for my cons grew recently when I discovered they can be machine-washed to come out looking like new! My first two pairs (green and red) were looking decidedly shabby, and I feared I would have to retire them off. But then I stumbled upon a pin on Pinterest (of course!) about how to clean Converse and similar canvas shoes. So I gave it a try, thinking I had nothing to lose if they came out totally unwearable.

Method:
1. Remove the laces and soak in bleach or detergent (depending on dirty they are!) and then wash with your whites on a fairly hot wash.
2. Wipe any mud from the rubber trim of the shoes and wash on a cool wash (I did mine at 30 degrees) with some towels. Don't use the spin cycle.
3. When washed, leave to dry outside or somewhere warm (I put mine on the aga, where they dried really quickly.)

The original pinner said to make a paste with bicarbonate or soda to scrub the white rubber trim before washing, but I didn't do this and they came out looking brand spanking new anyway!


Husband has always been very anti-Converse. He doesn't mind the rest of his family wearing them, but he point-blank refused to get any himself. Until recently! I convinced him to try on a pair of mine (sadly, we have the same size feet - mine are very large for a woman and his are pretty small for a man!), and he could not believe how comfortable they were!! He has now said that he would wear a pair if he were to receive some for his birthday. So, the search is on for a green pair of Chuck Taylors for his 40th birthday next week!



Disclaimer: This post has not been sponsored in any way and is purely my opinion.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Attack of the Muffin-Top!

It's back! It seems to have snuck up really slowly and quietly before bursting out over the top of my jeans this morning! It's the dreaded muffin-top!!

I first developed a major problem with the muffin-top after having my second child. I was still able to wear all my pre-pregancy clothes, I just had a nasty overhang of flesh around the top of waistbands. I tried a bigger size, but that was too big (which I was VERY glad about, as it was pretty de-moralising having to take a size 16 off the rack to the changing room!) I tried a looser belt hole, but my jeans kept slipping down, and a baggy backside is not a good look! While I was still breastfeeding through the autumn and winter, it was fairly easy to hide the muffin-top under loose-fitting tops and jumpers. Once Spring approached, and my brother's wedding in the July, I knew something had to be done to banish the nasty muffin-top.

So I started going to Zumba classes with a couple of friends and ate sensibly by keeping a food diary. I managed to shift a few pounds, but still really needed to lose half a stone. Then I discovered the 30 day shred and the Dukan Diet. The combination of these two really kicked the muffin-top into touch. All my clothes fitted better, and I even fit into some size 12 stuff! I relaxed a little over what I was eating, and the exercise (other than Zumba) tailed off. But I wasn't putting weight on, so was happy.

Then we moved house...! No more Zumba with my friends. A freezing cold house with an aga, which made me want to eat stodge and casseroles all the time. To get used to the aga, I practised making lots of different cakes (and eating them!) I no longer walk to school every day as the walk is a good bit further, so only do it a few times a week. Recently, I seem to crave sugar, and binge on chocolate, biscuits, cake and bread. Generally I have been comfort eating, which started to ease the stress of the move. (I blame Pinterest a little bit too, as I keep seeing amazing looking cake and sweet-stuff recipes which I just can't resist trying!)

I've felt a need to address my eating habits for a little while, especially since Spring finally arrived. Putting my jeans back on this morning after a couple of days of wearing loose fitting skirts & tops in the sunny weather, was a bit of a shock. The muffin-top seems to have won the battle.

But the war is not over yet. Time to attack my muffin-top...

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Should we stop watching?

I have suggested to husband that we have a TV ban during the week - no TV Monday to Thursday evenings. Recently we have found less and less that we actually want to watch, but still we find ourselves slumped on the sofa every evening come 9 o'clock, staring at the (rather large!) box in the corner.

Husband was rather sceptical at first, but once I explained my reasons, he actually thought it a good idea! Now that the evenings are lighter and the weather warmer, we should be sitting in the garden enjoying it, doing a spot of gardening, exercising, reading, sewing, talking....(he was slightly alarmed by the last one activity!)

Over the winter, our house is so cold, that in the evenings all we want to do is snuggle down in front of the fire to keep warm and avoid leaving the room at all costs! I've tried to sit at my sewing machine which is in a different part of the house, but after only a few minutes I lose all feeling in my fingers and toes due to the cold! So evening productivity (after the boys are in bed) reduces to pretty much zero.

So last night (Monday) was to be our first night. But we hit an early stumbling block in our new regime - the snooker finals and Stoke v Sunderland! So some caveats have had to be added:

* Bank holidays don't count
* Football or other major sporting events don't count
* Holidays/days off don't count
* Ironing doesn't count (I've GOT to watch TV while ironing or I would go insane!)

So we shall see if we manage to do without telly for 4 nights a week, and if it has any positive impact on our lives. So far so good tonight - boys have been in bed for 40mins and husband not yet home from work...

UPDATE 8th May 2013 - more football on last night, so husband still not had a TV free night. He did turn it off after the football had finished and we both had an early night! I got lots of party planning done for 3yr old's birthday party on Saturday.





Thursday, 2 May 2013

Guilt

Guilt seems to be an ever-present feeling for me these days. Off the top of my head, these are some of things I feel guilty about right now:

* That I don't spend enough time properly playing with my children i.e. getting down on the floor and playing a game or doing a puzzle with them.

* That my house isn't as clean as it could be

* That I haven't been in touch with certain friends

* That I'm a SAHM when many mums are working full-time and still manage to juggle all the housework, shopping etc

* That I'm not more understanding of my husband's work stresses

* That we don't see the in-laws more often

* That my youngest son still naps for 2 hours per day so I get some peace and quiet

* That if I sit down with a coffee and wilf on the ipad I'm being lazy

* That my husband is at work, up to his eyeballs in stress while I am at home every day

* That I'm sitting here writing this instead of doing housework or something more useful around the house!

As my boys get older, my guilt is starting to get stronger. Or maybe I am only just realising what it is.

We always thought (my husband and I) that once we started a family, I would stop work to bring up the children. I worked long hours in a senior position in a small company and I couldn't see how I could give my full attention to both my work and my baby. Fate gave me a helping hand, and around the time I found out I was pregnant, I was also made redundant (something that we had known was coming at some point as the company was up for sale). I temped in London for another 6 months before the baby was born, but knew that I wouldn't be going to back to work for the foreseeable future.

The guilt started to kick in once the friends I had made, through the NCT ante-natal group, went back to work. A couple of them went back full-time and the rest negotiated part-time hours. I was the only one being a SAHM. I watched them struggle with their guilt about leaving their babies with childminders and nurseries, and their constant juggling of work and home-life, and felt immense guilt.

On days when I struggled with a screaming, colicky baby and hadn't spoken to another soul all day, I again felt guilty - I should be enjoying and savouring every moment with my baby shouldn't I, as many working mums didn't get the chance to.

There was also the feeling of getting to the end of day and feeling like I had achieved nothing. The house was a tip and the cupboards bare - what had I been doing all day (and I'm sure husband thought the same thing when he came home at night!). Not having the structure of work and the sense of having achieved something tangible was very difficult. The fact that I was feeding and nurturing a small person seemed to illude me!

But I adapted to life at home, and started to look at things like getting all the washing done or a trip to the supermarket as my achievement for the day (and I still do!).

As my boys get older and more independent, the guilt changes. My husband picked me up on the something the other day - he asked why I was brushing our 5yr old's teeth, why wasn't he doing it himself. I replied that he may not clean them thoroughly enough. His response was "if you keep doing it for him then he never will learn how to do them properly". He was right of course. I've thought long and hard about it and have come to the conclusion that I have continued to do things like brush their teeth, put their shoes on, get them dressed etc (all things a 5yr should definitely be doing, if not a 3yr old!), because I've always seen these things as my "job" and if I no longer do them, what should I be doing instead? So I was feeling guilty if I didn't carry out these day-to-day caring duties, but now feel guilty that I haven't been teaching the boys how to be independent and not lazy lumps!

Our youngest starts pre-school in September and will be doing 3 full days a week. A few family and friends have asked what I will do with myself. And it's a good question. Part of me is relishing the idea of some time to myself to get stuck in to some craft project, sewing or decorating around the house. But a big part of me feels guilt. I'd like another baby (husband not so keen though!), but is that desire driven by the need to try to assuage my guilt - if I have a new baby to look after I won't feel guilty about being at home every day!

Re-reading this now, I've come to the conclusion that my guilt is owed largely to having given up my career. I studied for 3 years for my degree, then for another 4 years to get my chartered accountancy qualification. A little voice in my head says "what a waste"! I feel that as I've stopped work to be at home full-time I should be filling every minute of my day with household and childcare duties, and when I'm not, that is when the quilt kicks in. I am so much happier being a home-maker that I ever was at work. I was never hugely ambitious, but went through the paces of getting a professional qualification because I was academic and that's what was expected of me. Going back to work is still not a realistic alternative at the moment, as the boys are still young. Even when they are both at school, there is the nightmare of school holidays, sickness etc to cover, when we have no family anywhere near us to help out. But everyone still asks me when I am going back to work!

Women seem to feel this kind of guilt far more than men. I've never heard a dad express their guilt over going to work every day and leaving their baby in daycare. I never see my husband feeling guilty because he hasn't played football in the garden with the boys all week due to working late every night. Men see it as their duty to go to work and provide for the families, and therefore work often takes priority. Women seem to be caught in the middle of careers and family, and whichever they opt for or any compromises they make to accommodate both, make them feel some form of guilt.

For now, I need to try to enjoy my position as a full-time mum to my two boys and stop feeling so guilty about everything. My husband enjoys the fact that he doesn't have to lift a finger around the house, something that would have to change drastically if I ever did go back to work!