Monday, 21 July 2014

School smart with Matalan #Review

Boys Matalan School Uniform
We have been very fortunate to have three children who love school. 
Ok, two of them are three and the other is five. 
So, when Matalan sent them a set of uniforms, the excitement was palpable.

Uniforms to be have become to me, like most parents, the holy grail.
I have already given up on a uniform which will last the year, my children are growing far too fast.
Instead I want something which washes well, that continues to look as new as possible, despite the intense wear my children subject their clothes.
Would a uniform from Matalan tick boxes for us?
Matalan Summer Girls School Uniform
 Seren's school uniform definitely did.
Washing school summer dresses in the past has seen the fabric tighten and become taut. Washing the Matalan dress, I was pleased that it kept its size, shape, and soft feel.
Whilst the children do wear the logo emblazoned cardigans and jumpers, in a sweatshirt material, in the good weather we've been enjoying, the Matalan cardigan gave Seren a bit of cover for the walk to and from school, and looked really smart on her, so I do like having this in her wardrobe.
Seren loved the socks. Admittedly I had no idea what a difference these socks would make to Seren's life. I feel like a bad mum. They are The Socks. At £3 for 3 pairs we will definitely be stocking up on these for next term- I guess Seren feels about socks the way I feel about stationery!
School uniform for girls at Matalan
In Seren's first year at school she has worn out three pairs of shoes and two pairs of trainers. And her feet haven't really grown. I loved the shoes we received, they were a good fit, comparable to her most recent pair of Clarks shoes in style and materials, and Seren loved them. Job done.

The boys are a bit more straightforward. 
Not having so much of a summer uniform we are very reliant on the quality of their polo shirts, which have fast become the bane of my life. 
I am a little bit grateful that I looked very co-operative when I offered to dress Tom in blue shirts to help with the initial identification of my twins. Truth be told, I have so many problems with my whites, and more so with the amount of stains we manage to attract. And then, add frustrations about shrinking shirts, how quickly they look like we've dragged them back out of the laundry basket.
This was to be the real test.

Matalan School Uniform for young boys
And whilst they've only had a fortnight's test, I am really pleased with the results. 
I can spot the difference between the Matalan shirts and those from two supermarkets when they are all hung together in the wardrobe (they may only have started school at Easter but I was already so disappointed with one supermarket's polo shirts I stocked up with another's!).
Tom & Seb are liking their uniforms. A great start.
They are a little big (I opted for the age above as they are nearer to 4 than 3!).
And like Seren's cardigan, they've had a lot of wear from their jumpers with the weather being so favourable.

And so, yes. We're liking Matalan's uniforms.
We especially like the price point.
We've been impressed with how they wear and they wash.
Matalan School Uniforms for boys
Disclosure: We received three sets of uniform for our children in return for an honest review. Opinions and views contained are our own.
Matalan School Uniform

Thursday, 17 July 2014

I am not a Completer Finisher

Years ago, too many to name, I did a course which involved looking at Belbin's Team Role Theory.
Representative of the general population, it transpired that our group lacked completer finishers.

It's followed me through life.
A lack of commitment.
An inability to wait for results.
And once the results are known, my instinct is to cut and run.

Lately though I have become aware of another habit.
Burying my head.

Life is difficult.
Of course, this is by my measure.
I know comparably.
I reiterate comparisons whilst I am sinking.
With insomnia. Migraines. And silly dreams.

And I know how many people I am letting down whilst I am sinking.

Because. When I have the choice. I can't look people in the eye and smile.
Without feeling like I'm deceiving.
Because I don't feel like smiling.

I feel like surrounding myself in my family.
Relishing in the laughter.
Embracing their love.

It's the only thing I can do.
I get home and I let myself by enveloped.
I am off the radar.
Uncertain of return for wanting to wallow in this love forever.

I have to return.
I have to pick myself up.

Each week reveals more.
And with more, the extended timeline.
That this thing will neither complete nor finish.
And if it does, it will not return.
It is damaged beyond recognition.
Lives are damaged inextricably.

And here I am.
Offering eye contact.
But only when I have no choice.

I will start afresh.
I will find me again.
I will be the commensurate professional.

From this point.
I will always trust my gut instincts.
I will only surround my family with those I trust immeasurably.
I will never again feel like my trust has been breached to such an extent that I struggle with forgiveness.
I will keep my family as my sanctuary.
I will keep them away from hurt, and those who inflict it.

I'm not sure how.
But this.
This we will move on from.
Maybe not stronger.
But hopefully, with the benefit of experience.

I will wake up in the morning.
I will spend it laughing, learning, and loving my boys.
I will take them to school.
And I will spend the afternoon making gifts for teachers.
And then, all three will return.
And we will write together.
On cards they created with the prints of their hands and finger tips.

And this is what matters.
Love. Generosity. Happiness. Friendship.

And that is what I will allow me to move on.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Ordinary Moments- Play time

I can reflect honestly, three children under 22months wasn't easy.
We sail our own ships.
We each find our own path to family.
And we are thankful that ours has been as straightforward as we could have hoped.

And with that, comes these children.
Whom we have brought up, to be strong, committed, loving, and true.
Which isn't always easy when you're one of three.
The eldest, the middle child, the youngest,
The girl, or the boy.
The tiredest, or the most energetic.
This is their everyday.

And so, this weekend, I sat back.
And breathed something I have not appreciated before.

A moment's peace.
It happened.
It happened whilst all three engaged in playing Tom's Fireman Sam favourite on Saturday.
It happened whilst they played Seren's Ben & Holly (and everyone's) favourite on Sunday.

I have lived, I have breathed and I have not noticed.
This is how my children have grown.
To interact, to laugh, to play.
What we were all born to do.
I am here. With them. But now looking in on friends.

And, maybe next week, I'll get all confident on me, and make myself a coffee and be able to drink it whilst it's hot.
But for now, I will celebrate a new ordinary moment.
Playing together.
Appreciating each other.
For as little or as long as the moment lasts.
Linking up with Mummy, Daddy, Me's Ordinary Moments.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Peanut Butter and Oreo No-Bake Cheesecake

I associate peanut butter with the USA.
And still not having the courage to put peanut butter and jelly (jam) together, I decided to go with my other American love- Oreo's.

And so, as a complete easy peasy desert- served in shot glasses to ensure small portions mean no guilt, this is our latest love (to make about 15 shot glasses).


For the base
1 packet Oreos
50g unsalted butter

For the topping
100g mascarpone
100g cream cheese
100g peanut butter (we used Duerr's)
175mls double cream
50g icing sugar, sifted

For the ganache
225g dark chocolate
125g double cream

1. Open the Oreos, and scrape the filling out. Crush the biscuits, either with a rolling pin, blender or pestle & mortar. (Siften off some of the crushed mix to use as topping).
2. Melt the butter and combine into the Oreo mixture.
3. Create a layer, either in shot glasses, or a flan base, as the base.
4. Flatten and chill in the fridge.

5. Break the chocolate into small pieces, and place in a bowl.
6. Add the double cream into a saucepan and bring to a gentle boil.
7. Remove from heat and pour the cream onto the chocolate and combine until the chocolate is completely melted.
8. Allow to cool and fill a piping bag.

9. Add the mascarpone and cream cheese to a bowl. Combine with a wooden spoon.
10. Add the peanut butter and combine.

11. In a separate bowl, whisk the double cream to soft peaks.
12. Slowly add and combine the icing sugar.

13. Fold the cream mix into the peanut butter mix.
14. Fill a piping bag with the mixture.

15. Take the shot glasses or flan base from the fridge.
16. Pipe the ganache into each glass/ fill the base.
17. Pipe the cheese filling.
18. Sprinkle Oreo crumbs.

19. You can eat the immediately, or leave to cool in the fridge for a few hours. (I suspect a few hours may have helped. No-one in our home had the patience).
Disclosure: We received some Duerr's Peanut Butter- which inspired the creation of this recipe!
Link up your recipe of the week

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Butlins Minehead- holidays in our reach

Since we have returned home we remain positive that if we walk a minute up the road, and gaze across the Channel, we can see the familiar scape of the Butlin's Skyline Pavillion.
It does nothing to reduce the ten or so times a day the little people ask when we're going back.

Because, despite all of my fear and trepidation about holidaying in the half term- our first school holiday break in a family focused resort- was more enjoyable than we could have imagined, and nearly two months on, I'd still summarize it as stress free.
We visited Butlin's Minehead. As the crow flies it is probably 30 mins, in a car, it is just over 2 hours. With recently toilet-trained boys, and with us ignoring traffic warnings, we'll call it three hours.
Which, for us as parents, makes it a perfect holiday destination.
For the children, well there was a little patience involved in the arrival queue. No more than any other holiday park, and no more than an airport, but with a fairground in sight, it just heightened the excitement.
On arrival, we were surprised by the efficiency. Because of the queue on the way in, I jumped out of the car to check in to save time. Apart from there were no queues, I picked up our keys and given our directions, and found Mr J pulling into a car parking space.
We were back out and to the parking for our accommodation quickly, and got to explore the resort before the 3pm timing to unload the car into our bungalow.
Our accommodation for the break was a silver bungalow. We had three bedrooms which made it a perfect home from home, and with a lounge and kitchen there was the space Mr J and I needed at the end of the day to relax.

Accommodation-wise I'd definitely recommend the silver bungalows, with a double buggy it was hassle free storage, and we felt completely sound proofed (although it would be interesting to know if our neighbours felt the same!). As we were staying half board, the kitchen was a grateful addition, and as we weren't reliant on it, the lack of a dishwasher was fine (we don't actually have one at home, but who wants to be washing stacks of dishes on holiday?!).
Everyone slept like babies and we had all the home-from-home amenities to make it a perfect landing.

On arrival, we explored the Skyline Pavillion and tried our best to find our bearings- which for Mr J means establishing where we'll be eating for the week, and where his adrenaline rushes will be found in the Fairground.
For me it meant where I'd find a little respite- coffee and softplay. And of course, comparing it to the much loved Bognor Regis resort!
Oddly, it took us until Wednesday to find the little people's fairground- the highlight of our time at Bognor Regis had been flitting between the performances at the Skyline Pavillion and the little people's rides. With the children a little older we tended to try a few of the traditional fairground rides on offer.

And yet, it transpired, outside of the Skyline Pavillion there is a fantastic indoor Little Stars Fairground. And we would go on to spend plenty of time there. With so much to do it made it perfect on the days there was rain, and oddly, even though it was raining and half term, there were no ridiculous queues or frayed tempers.

We stayed half board, which meant we were able to eat breakfast and evening meals in either The Deck or The Yacht Club, although it didn't stop us from enjoying the amazing ice-cream and sorbets at Scoop!
The Yacht Club offers a more traditional British menu, whereas The Deck offers a wider variety of cuisines, and feels more buffet style.
We loved The Deck, I imagine with older children The Yacht offers the perfect evening meal. With our three, trial and error alongside variety means we fell hook, line and sinker for The Deck.
I loved the children's menu, and the availability of plastic crockery and cutlery, but more so I loved the variety of food.
The children ate well, and ate lots throughout the stay. So much so,between us and them, I wonder how Butlin's make it work, and scare myself by how much we would have wasted (and how hungry the children may have been) if we were paying for three course meals each evening.
In terms of our week- the children loved it, ergo we loved it. With the added bonus I managed to read two books and drank great coffee everyday.

It is true that you can spend as much or as little as you want on holiday- and Butlin's is no different.
We assessed that we spent little, mainly on coffee and 2p machines. So on Thursday we decided to splash the funds the grandparents had offered for ice-cream money and a bit more- to get each a Skyline Gang outfit.
Because this holiday our children discovered, and fell hook, line and sinker, for the Skyline Gang.

The one element of Butlin's I defy anyone to be unhappy with is the entertainment.
I worry about how little children experience the theatre, and yet Butlin's are amazing at offering this experience- of imagination, creativity, and escapism.
And whilst the boys still adored Fireman Sam and Thomas the Tank, it seems they have all grown up a little too much from Billy and Bonnie, and they all needed something more.
And how completely overwhelmed were they do meet their new found crushes!
What else can I say?
My pro's and con's of Butlin's Minehead? Well, admittedly this is more comparison, but here we go.

I loved the Little Stars Fairground being indoors, and having so much more 'little people's rides' than appear to be on offer at the other resorts.
I loved the Soft Play, especially being so close to the Pavillion stage and a coffee shop.
I preferred Bognor Regis for being able to convert your meal for vouchers to eat at the restaurants around the resort.
I preferred Skegness hands down, and then Bognor Regis for Splash Waterworld. We loved Minehead- because we have inherited water babies, but it didn't seem to have as much for the littlest little people (under 1m).
We loved the accommodation. Of course the hotels at Bognor Regis are better, of course gold accommodation is better, but Mr J and I loved our bungalow as it completely met our needs.
I preferred The Deck to Bognor Regis, but not as much as Skegness. It offered great variety, child focus, in a stress free (or stress as much as you want) environment.

My real assessment of Butlin's is offered from a parent perspective. Mr J wants to go back with his mum and Seren in the summer holidays. For Mr J to want to do this, speaks realms. He is from Yorkshire, ergo a bargain hunter, and he knows Butlin's offers value for money.
Additionally, he had no qualms on our recent holiday to take the children off for the day on his own. Anyone who knows me, knows how ridiculous work is, which doesn't let up when I'm on leave. Mr J being so confident that he can keep three little people happy for a day, and keep his sanity, shows how great Butlin's is for keeping little people happy.

And, what I've missed, which I think is key to any holiday choice, is that we felt safe, the resort is clean, well maintained, and Butlin's seem to have such a focus customer service, that if you're going to Butlin's looking to get the most out of it, to create memories of great family holidays for your little ones- then, why wouldn't you go to Butlin's?

Disclosure: We are Butlin's Ambassadors and received a five day break to Butlin's Minehead, staying in silver accommodation with a dining package. All views and opinions contained are our own.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Word of the Week #WoTW

Of course this isn't the place to announce it.
But I'm slightly raw.

I didn't get the job.

I put myself out there.

And whilst I know I was rejected.
Oddly, or maybe not, it's already now more than that.

I have discovered what I am good at.
It has been reinforced what I am not so good at.

And I am left wondering.

I knew.

Before I left the assessment centre on Friday, I completed the evaluation form.
I stated that I was nervous and I rushed.
Before getting my feedback I was asked what I thought I had done well, and not so well.
I reiterated my comfort zones, compared to this new experience.
And it was reinforced.
I was nervous. And rushed.

Did I give them a get out?
Some of the facts speak for themselves.

I did well in the interview.
I did really well in my testing for verbal reasoning, and better than I thought, and therefore well, in my numerical reasoning.
I fell down in the "assessment centre" exercises.

I do care.
I don't care.

I know where I now stand.
I am scared.
And yet.

The experience has given me confidence.
It seems I am, in work terms, intelligent, and that I can demonstrate the positive attributes I possess at work.
In the role I was shortlisted for, it is too much of a development gap.
In honesty, before the interview, I was surprised I was shortlisted for the job.
I spent a week swotting up.
Trying my husband's patience as I spent each night reading endless government reports.
My dad and I joked that knowing nothing made me perfect for the job.

I had applied for two roles.
Part of the feedback was I was potentially better suited to the other role.
I didn't like to make them aware I hadn't been shortlisted for it.

It all adds up to make me feel that I don't fit.

And now.
Is this the beginning of the end?

Not knowing what my future holds.
Appreciating that the opportunity to progress has been halted.
Accepting, and gaining confidence from, the feedback given.

Knowing through the experience, how little satisfaction I have in my job.
That bit by bit the projects I thought had great qualities have broken me.
That I have found my ethical and moral values are more prevalent than I knew.
And more compromised than I thought possible.
And how my core project, my sanctuary, which I loved and nurtured, has found a surrogate.

Promotion isn't always the opportunity.
Knowing my strengths may not mean promotion.
Being happy.
Being content.

I'm not sure how I can create my balance of family and work.
My (and Mr J's) gut instinct was promotion wasn't going to work, I would be too compromised with working away.
But we were agreed that I need to be happy at work and a promotion would be an improvement.
And so.
To today.
A new blank page.
A new journey.

And now, to begin a new beginning.
The Reading Residence

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Siblings- July

This past month has seen so many adventures.

In school, Seren has experienced her first sports day, spelling bee, and school report.
How pleased was I to read how suited my daughter is to her name.
Tom & Seb experienced their first 'graduation', albeit theirs will be next year. We were able to witness their differences in a school setting, how seriously Tom takes his education at this young age, putting his heart and soul into his singing and counting; how Seb has his Daddy's boredom threshold, his sister's stubbornness, and if he sees his mummy, there is a magnet pulling him to her knee.
We managed to use the month to run away to Skegness with the little ones, to take them to a fab Routes to Reading day in Bristol, and really to make the most of them whenever we could.
 We witnessed their happiness, joined in with their laughter, and embraced their love.
My children have been my sanctuary.
My sanity.
My happiness.

They intuitively know when all I need is a cwtch.
They intuitively know when all I need is to pretend I am a horse and circle the room with a child shouting 'giddy up' on my back.
They know the value of a bedtime story to bring us home.

And they value each new experience.
From being able to create the momentum to swing high.
To piecing a jigsaw into a picture.
And taking over bedtime reading duties for a short while.

And as I get to be the observer.
To watch their roles unfold.
I remember being a part of my daughter learning to fly a kite.
And standby. As a spectator. As her brothers learn.
dear beautiful
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