Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Our weekend- Celebrating good times

This weekend was my mum's 60th and my parents ruby wedding anniversary.

I remember when my dad started planning the surprise party, we hadn't even moved back to South Wales and it seemed a bit if a pipe-dream thinking we might be.

My dad successfully managed to keep the secret- which I guess had something to do with the Italy-Wales match, and my mum doing her own math.

So, all my parents friends and family celebrated this weekend.

So here's them- my parents:

Monday, 25 February 2013

Are you 'Ready for Anything'?!

ActionAid  has recently launched its Ready for Anything campaign

ActionAid's campaign will help the world’s poorest people everywhere from Afghanistan to Burma to prepare for the next big disaster, helping to save lives NOW.
Throughout the campaign from 4 February to 3 May, every donation made by people in the UK will be doubled by the government, helping twice as many people.
Donations from the campaign, which has a target of £1.1 million, will go to disaster preparedness programmes across countries including Malawi, Burma (Myanmar), Afghanistan and Nepal, helping thousands of the world’s poorest people prepare to survive the next disaster.

As part of the appeal, last week saw ActionAid hold its first annual Global Emergencies Week, with people across the UK staging fundraising events from gigs to cake sales to raise even more for ActionAid’s emergency response.

Emergencies are becoming more frequent and growing in intensity. Between 250 and 300 million people are affected by disasters and conflicts every year, but this is expected to rise significantly. By 2015, the number of people affected by climate-related disasters alone is set to reach 375 million. Natural disasters hit the poorest people hardest – those who survive the initial disaster are left with their lives destroyed. Although not always in the news, flooding presents a regular and serious threat to people living in poor countries – but it is a threat which can be mitigated with help.

What can you do?
It’s simple help ActionAid spread the word to your networks by tweeting:

Double your donation! Until 3 May, UK Govt will match donations to @ActionAidUK. Text DOUB13 £5 to 70070 to give £5. Pls RT! #actionaidRFA

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Project #365 - Week 8

Well, a little later than usual, here's our week 8:

Sunday: Squeaks gets turned into a butterfly at a birthday party.
Monday: Working in London.
Tuesday: Travelling to the Midlands.
Wednesday: The boys decided to see how long my laughter could last.
Thursday: After a rubbish day at work we decided to go swimming to relax.
Friday: Off shopping, and Squeaks falls asleep in the car for the first time in months- she must have known she'd be needing all her energy for the weekend.
Saturday: A surprise birthday for Grandma, and the boys cause more laughter.

TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky

Silent Sunday

Silent Sunday

Saturday, 23 February 2013

The Mummyfesto by Linda Green - a review

It's been a while since I've read just for the enjoyment of reading.
'The Mummyfesto' by Linda Green was the perfect book to take me back to the pleasure of just reading.
And becoming absorbed in the characters, and their lives.
And having tears, of laughter and of sadness.
The first time I cried whilst reading the book I put it down to tiredness and went to bed.
I wish I hadn't.
The next morning I carried on reading and ended up scaring the children with puffy eyes, from crying so much before they had woken up.

The book is based on the two things which probably bother anyone who has been on maternity leave- what happened to my life? How can I get something back which takes on board my new priorities?

So, here's the precis:

Adaptable. Dependable. Good at clearing up mess. Being a mum is perfect training to run the country…

When Sam, Jackie and Anna successfully campaign to save their lollipop lady, a TV reporter asks them if they fancy standing in the general election.

It is, of course, a crazy idea: Sam’s youngest child has an incurable disease; Jackie is desperate for another child and her mum is struggling with Alzheimer’s; and Anna’s teenage children, and marriage, are in danger of going off the rails.

But sometimes the craziest ideas turn out to be the best. And just think what they could do if they did get to run the country…

It is of course made amazingly real, the issues become entwined in the character's lives but are real issues.

And I loved the book.
This really is the kind of book to read to get back into reading, or to have something to read which allows you to escape to a reality it wouldn't be so bad to be a part of.

And, as the added hook for me, the setting is Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.
Having spent five years in Todmorden, with Hebden as the place for great shopping and great evenings out, it was a difficult read from not getting overly nostalgic. It was great to know the setting so well, and did give the book a slight bittersweet edge, the perfect setting, which Mr J and I miss greatly.
A real testament that a book can make memories so real.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book for the purposes of the review. The views contained are my own.

Saturday is Caption Day

I took this picture on Wednesday. The boys were on form and finding each other's antics hysterical.

Friday, 22 February 2013


I've been taking every opportunity to raid my mum's photo collection lately- for reasons to be explained next week.

It's been hit or miss. Who can follow the logic mum has used in her many photo albums, and whilst I wasn't looking for any of me and my siblings, there have been a few which have led me to stash those as well.

Ok, so it could be embarrassing, but as a parent I look at these photos, from the person who took them, and from my mum's perspective as she added them to her photo album. I am constantly amazed.

I love how many photos must have been disregarded to gain these, and how much each photo must have meant given that with film there was the ethos that every photo had to be good... or wasted, whereas today, I have to admit to being wasteful, for relying on one of ten photos to be the one I love.

So, this is the photograph, which my dad inscribed 'first photo':
I look at this photo, and I see my three children. Admittedly, none of them seem to bare any resemblance to me. But it is that babyness, the chubbiness.

And whilst it bore the transcript of first photo, I suspect it was my first portrait, as I also found this photo:
I suspect I am a lot littler in this photo, a lot less chubby, and smiley...I can see my mum's look of fear... hmmmm why didn't I learn from her that siblings close in age bring equal happiness and fear!

But, if that was pessimistic, then I found this one, I love this photo, a typical '70's look. I can't quite figure out why I am wearing a harness in a pram, but then again, I can't figure out the cushions either.
If I know nothing, I know I rock the knitted bonnet.
This one, made me chuckle. For all my paranoia about whether to dress the boys the same, to realising through photos that for special occasions my mum dressed my brothers (with five years difference) the same, and also, as evidenced, could where she could dress us all the same!

And simply because I don't know who would laugh loudest at this photo, I decided to pocket it.
The contrast to those sweet children.
I think I was fifteen. And awesome.

And I wonder what my parents made of us.
As we grew up, and found our own way.
And made our own mistakes.
And how the resolve existed to support us.
In spite of any preconceptions or reservations.

I do not doubt how much I have tested my parents.
And yet I have never questioned their love.
And support.

And I hope, beyond hope, that I will be the same.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Swimming with children- a review with Splash About

We were delighted when Splash About contacted us about a possible review opportunity.
Mr J is a very keen swimmer and taking the children swimming regularly is something we're agreed on.
For me, it's because I'm such an unconfident swimmer which means I don't want my children to have the same fate.

Splash About is a great website as it offers information and advice as well as a great shop which provides a great choice for swimming home or abroad with children.

We were sent the BabyWrap and a beach ball to try out. I was really pleased to be able to test them out as they were both things that we needed to make the swimming experience more enjoyable for the boys.

Unfortunately, the swimming pool doesn't allow photography. So you'll have to bear with our words.

The boys love swimming. It's taken us a while to make it work given we have three under-4.
Having Squeaks learn to swim has made things much easier, she's happy to play in the children's area and practice her diving and seeing how much she can soak everyone as she kicks her legs.

For the boys we have bought float jackets which has boosted confidence no end which means we have three happy children in the swimming pool. We also discovered a local private pool which means they are happy for us to have three children with us. We'll be ok in the leisure centre from March, but to be honest I think we'll stick with this pool as the children's pool is so good.

The one thing which has slightly scuppered our enjoyment in the pool is Tiny getting cold. It's quite an odd thing to see a child laughing with teeth chattering, especially because he then starts crying and maybe having a tantrum the minute we try to leave.

The BabyWrap from Splash About it the ideal solution.  The BabyWrap is made from neoprene (the same material as wetsuits) so it has certainly done it's job in stopping Tony's teeth chattering.
The BabyWrap is also a great design. First and foremost the velcro fastenings mean they're not being undone. The boys have tried a version in the past- and spent the whole time undoing themselves from it due to the positioning of the fastenings.
With the BabyWrap the fastenings are extra wide and take more effort to get undone. Plus, unlike other versions, there's no easy place for little fingers to start and gain reward.
For comfort the seams are flat, so there's no digging in to baby soft skin. And for us the added benefit is that with a little maneuvering we managed to fit Tiny's float jacket over the top.

The BabyWrap does allow us to stay in the pool longer. These are great for babies, the texture allows you to hold your child securely, and keeps babies warm where the temperature can be variable.
And you can tell the difference it makes- hug you child after you've removed the BabyWrap and feel how warm they are compared to you!
The beach ball, as described, really is perfect for little hands. It is quite a small ball which means it's perfect for the swimming pool. No-one minded it being thrown around, in fact there was another ball in the pool, with a tougher outer, and that would be one of the benefits of taking a 'beach ball' into the pool, it's not going to do anyone an injury. The beach ball is a little tougher than beach balls as I remember them. This will be taken on all trips to the pool, the boys loved it, and didn't want to be parted from it once the session was over.

Splash About offer great choice, and great value for money. The website clearly demonstrates the differing benefits of its products, and gives a good understanding of products by age group.
Both of these items have made swimming a more enjoyable experience.

Disclaimer: We received a BabyWrap and beach ball for the purposes of this review. All views contained are our own.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Getting a lift home from work

Having spent the last five years or so being a 'mobile worker' there is no opportunity to lift share (well, apart from if I'm on a train with 500 other commuters), taking advantage of the 'cycle to work' scheme, or having any sort of routine.

Since moving to South Wales I have tried to use public transport more, I rarely drive now for work, preferring to work on the train rather than when I get home after a long day of work and driving.
We live a short walk from the train station, it's a local station which means it's been impossible to get a train to London early enough without going to a mainline station.

But lately, I've had the opportunity to get into London later so I've walked to the local station.
The only problem is in getting home.
Trains to the local station only run once an hour.
If my train from London is delayed, I'm left waiting an hour.
If I manage to catch an earlier train from London, I'm still waiting for my local connection.

But the train to the local town runs every 20 minutes.

So, I may have taken to phoning Mr J to see if he and the little people can pick me up.

And what a difference it makes.

The little people are so excited, for their little adventure (usually arriving back home a little later than bedtime).
The excitement breaks things up a little for Mr J against the usually stressful 'witching hour'.
And I love to see my children before bedtime, rather than arriving home once they are down for the night.

Squeaks now understands that sometimes mummy works from home, and some times mummy works away.
She looks forward to the treats mummy brings home (usually some biscuits I've slipped into my bag on coffee break).

And now, it seems Squeaks thinks mummy works at a train station.
Well, it's easier than explaining my real job!

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

A'hoy M'hearties - a review

I have three children who hold Jake and the Never Land Pirates, Peppa Pig, and Ben & Holly's Little Kingdom in equal esteem for daytime viewing.

Playing pirates is their favourite pastime, so I had three very exited children as a result of an offer to review dressing up costumes from Joker's Masquerade.

The first thing I was impressed by, as a mum to three, was the value for money. Squeaks is frequently being invited to costume birthday parties, which I doubt is going to change. And then, of course, the same will be true for the boys.

I managed to pick up three fantastic outfits for under £30, which I think it great value for money, and far better than I have been able to find on the high street.

Squeaks has requested a pirates party in March. Her first ever 'big' party as she turns 4.
So I ordered pirates outfits.

I was really pleased with the range available, plenty of outfits to choose from, ones that give distinction- from Captain to Captain's mate, and also ones that were suitable for any tomboy's who insist on going everywhere possible dressed as a pirate.

Of course, the minute the outfits arrived Squeaks had to wear hers. And even insisted on wearing it to a birthday party the next day... in spite of the party not having a costume theme.
And this is the best photo I have, because from the moment the outfit was on, until the moment she got into her bedtime bath.... this little girl would not stay still:
I love this outfit, as whilst it is unmistakably pirate themed, it has a teeny bit of femininity alongside it.
And most  importantly Squeaks loves it. She loves being 'Captain'.
The outfit itself is good quality, as you'd expect for a dressing up costume, and well made. A great fit, and a great price for a three piece outfit.

I decided, for the sake of peace and sanity, to select the pirate's lad outfits for the boys (although I put a pair of trousers on back to front to easily identify them via the patch). The range available would easily lend itself to different outfits, but I fear tears and tantrums.
As I was choosing outfits for Squeaks' birthday I went for 'mates' costumes rather than Captain.
And we got a three piece outfit, for a great price.
The boys outfits are for three year olds, so a little too big but they adore them. With their boots on, they look perfect.
As with most young children the hats came off pretty fast, but it did not stop the excitement and giddiness of dressing up time.
We can't wait to have them all together wearing their outfits- Squeaks is already insisting as it is Grandma's birthday this weekend- this is the occasion, although I would rather it be for her 4th birthday!

I thought these outfits were first and foremost great value for money.
They are good quality dressing up clothes, really well made, and a good size against age range.
Most importantly the children love them.
And when thinking about other themed birthday parties- or even World Book Day, Joker's Masquerade really does offer value for money.

Happy children really do make the world a better place!

Disclaimer: we received three outfits for the purposes of this review. All views expressed are my own.

Monday, 18 February 2013

James and the Giant Peach on stage

The Birmingham Stage Company is currently touring with their production of James and the Giant Peach and on Friday Squeaks and I were very excited to have tickets for the New Theatre, Cardiff.

As massive Roald Dahl fans (well, Squeaks is a fan in training) and theatre lovers this was something we had to see.
I did a New Theatre shopping spree last month as they have lots of children's performances this year, but this was the one to which I was most looking forward.

Seren was delighted to be in the theatre again. So was I- I had a nightmare after opting for the car rather than train.... and then wishing I had opted for the train!

Squeaks, like many other 3 year olds, has a remarkable memory. She didn't get to see Peter Pan at Christmas but had found out she was missing out on something. She therefore decided that she was going to get to see Peter's best friend- James.

Birmingham Stage Company have achieved amazing things with this production.

First, and most importantly, they have stayed true to the book, to the imagery, and to the characters. This was my deal breaker rather than Squeaks', but! I love to read, I see everything in my mind, but I could never put anything onto paper, let alone stage.
The interpretation of the book was fantastic, the way in which everything complemented Quentin Blake's illustrations and Roald Dahl's characterisation just left me in awe.

The second aspect, which would have paled my priority into insignificance if it had been any other way, was how well it engaged children.
The production is recommended for 4+, and I knew (as always) that I might have been pushing it. Squeaks has enjoyed so much theatre that I thought I would be ok... but, that was on the basis it had to be engaging.
And it was, it was fantastic. I spend so much time watching Squeaks in the theatre. I love to watch her expressions as she is taken away on the journey.
James and the Giant Peach had everything. It had audience interaction, participation, music, puppets, singing and rhyme.
It had 'horrible' people (Squeaks' classification of Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker) and the lovely James and his friends.
As always, the most remarkable thing about the production- as is the case for most children's productions- was the cast.
Eight people- eight people made this happen- had the enthusiasm, energy and versatility to make this happen.
And we loved every one of them, Squeaks loved James, she wants to be his friend.
I loved the skater sharks.
And we both loved giving the Peach a helping hand as it made its way safely to the USA.
I was amazed by the use of musical instruments throughout the performance, delighted the Squeaks could build an understanding how how music is created.
Squeaks loved the performance and now wants to read James and the Giant Peach.

The production is touring across the UK and is definitely a must see for any Roald Dahl fan.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Project #365 - Week 7

So, it was half term here, which is always a different dynamic to the week as we adjust to trying to keep three children entertained. As the boys get older this is getting much easier.

Sunday: Cheeky helps out as we bake Valentine's cakes.
Monday: my favourite photo of the week, the boys love anything to do with pirates and loved their new outfit.
Tuesday: Exploring St Pancras with a civil engineer. The water drainage system was explained to me in depth!
Wednesday: Whilst grandma and grampy looked after the little people, Mr J assembled Squeaks' new bed. Everyone was impressed.
Thursday: Back up North and overlooking Manchester.
Friday: An afternoon off and an afternoon with Roald Dahl's imagination.
Saturday: the Pirate theme continues as some sponge swords and a chair result in a trip on a pirate ship with Captain Hook.

TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky

Friday, 15 February 2013

Self feeding toddlers with Tommee Tippee- A Review

Weaning twins wasn't easy.
You're back to the need for either their patience- of course, I can feed one of you at a time without this turning into a crisis for the one temporarily starving.
Or, of your multiplicity, of course I can manage to feed both of you in tandem.

And of course, between bibs, wipe clean table cloths, and floor covers, magic happens, and you get to cross 'go', moving from weaning to self feeding.

The boys are at completely different stages of their self-feeding development. Whilst Cheeky has a great aim, is very adept with a fork or a spoon, Tiny is, well Tiny.
Tiny is, to me, a player. He wraps me round his little finger, so I feed him as he won't feed himself and I worry about him not eating.
Although, of course, for Mr J it's a whole different ball game and he happily eats.

We have become a big fan of Tommee Tippee. From bottles and sterilisers, to soothers and sippy cups, to heat sensitive cutlery and portion plates.
So, we leaped at the chance to put the feeding kit to the test.
I felt really frugal when it arrived, how come in such a short amount of time (ie since we weaned Squeaks three or so years ago) has so much changed, from a design point of view for the bowls, and from a more useable size and design of spoon.

The bowls now have a triangular base. Now, hand on heart, I have no spacial awareness or logical thought. I have no idea why a triangular base makes a difference, but it does. The boys seemed much more in control of their food.
The spoons also have a triangular handle.
Now, Cheeky is much happier with forks so I purposefully tested this with food more difficult with a fork.
Cheeky got on fine.
Tiny completely impressed me.
For the first time, in like forever, he just knuckled down and ate his dinner.
Without any beckoning for assistance, or refusal to eat.

For whatever reason triangles works where toddlers are concerned.

Mealtimes with triangles have become that little bit more enjoyable with the boys becoming more independent.

The pack also comes with a roll bib and a sippy cup. You will have to take my word that they were much sought after items. That I have no photos as wrestling was more likely than sharing.

I was really impressed with this kit. The items are all high-use items. There's nothing that's surplus to requirements.
I am so pleased at how much better the boys do with triangular shaped crockery and cutlery, although it does make a lot of sense from a hand-grip perspective.

Tommee Tippee is a quality product, based on almost four years of various items, and consistent use of some. Tommee Tippee prices are good value, especially given the high use of the products and that they are long lasting due to the quality.

This kit has enabled Tiny to feed himself confidently.
And that is worth it's weight.

Disclaimer: We received a feeding kit for the purposes of this review. We were not directed what to say, and all views and opinions are our own.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

When post-natal support goes right

Having talked to so many mums about the support of health visitors I am constantly amazed at how different the approach is, probably dependent on locality, and the number of babies coming into the world.

I have written before how my health visitor, Charlotte, supported me and the reassurance she offered to me as a first time mum, and then as a mum to twins.
Since moving to South Wales it has become apparent how different the situation is.

There appears to be, in some places, an air of  "if you don't ask you don't get", which is fine if you know what the service is, and, in this case, also having an understanding of what motherhood means- which as a new mum can be an unknown. As a first time parent, and for me without a network of friends with babies, I was clueless. I didn't know whether to trust my instincts and I definitely didn't know what was right and wrong as a mother.

Two things worked in my favour.

Firstly, naivety. When breastfeeding wasn't working for me within the first week I phoned the Midwife Led Care Unit and twice was re-admitted. Still to this day I don't think this is usual practice, I recall loosely being told it was dependent on spare beds. It got me breastfeeding.

Secondly, Charlotte, I'll tell you why in a minute, but at six weeks whilst Charlotte didn't encourage my decision to stop breastfeeding, she understood my reasoning and supported the decision.

At six weeks my questionnaire for PND was on the side of PND, the same thing happened after I had the boys- at ten weeks the questionnaire was near enough the same.

My rationale, I am a highly anxious person where my children are concerned. And my anxieties tend to result in tears, crying, constant crying.
I go blinkered where my children's well being is concerned. I know I am not unlike any other parent in this regard.
But I think the difference is, to me, how different this is to your natural stance.

39 weeks pregnant

Why do I think the approach in Calderdale worked so well.
Because Charlotte visited me pre-children.
At 36 weeks pregnant Charlotte arranged to visit me at home.
I was still working, Charlotte was an inconvenience to my day.
I had only heard bad things about health visitors, so I probably had that influencing my behaviour.
I vocalised that I had no concerns, other than speech development.
My birth plan was a non-entity, I didn't know my pain threshold, so I wasn't against anything, I just wanted to see how things worked out.
Breastfeeding, why of course I'll give it a try, seeing no reason why not to, or why there would be any reason not to.
And this, I think, is the key difference to a lot of other post-natal support.
Charlotte made an assessment of me pre-motherhood.

Before the pressures of motherhood.
Before sleep deprivation.
Before a sense of failure.

Charlotte understood that I am a control freak.

And with hindsight,  a control freak becoming a mother should get alarm bells ringing.

When I hear of other parents who's health visitors don't take them seriously. Don't understand their concerns.
Of course, I understand, and appreciate, the pressures on the front line NHS.
But, it doesn't excuse parents getting a rough deal.
And that's not something to be addressed by the NHS, but by government.

I think it should be mandatory for health visitors to meet with parents-to-be before the birth of the child.
I think PND would be better diagnosed, and I also think the differences between stress, anxiety, sleep deprivation and PND would be better understood.

Charlotte increased her visits as I struggled with breastfeeding, and made sure she was there for feeds to witness the basis of my anxiety.
Charlotte provided me with papers and references to 'fussy babies'.
Because Charlotte had tried to pacify Squeaks where I couldn't and struggled.
Because Charlotte understood I need to read things rather than to 'be told'.
Charlotte supported my decision to formula feed, and witnessed the transformation of Squeaks and I.
And supported the ethos that a happy parent is a good parent.
As opposed to me crying most of the time.

Pregnant with twins

Charlotte came to see me before the boys were born.
And laughed with me, the competitiveness, having to have two this time, as what would be the point of doing the same over.

And Charlotte and I were amazed at how well I coped, at how much I had learned and changed.
And that I had given breastfeeding a go, but as old feelings came back, I had been confident in my own self to make the decision to formula feed.
Until Tiny's pyloric stenosis surfaced.
And whilst a different HV thought there were signs of PND, Charlotte understood that my anxiety had naturally increased, and of course, I was back in a situation I had no chance of controlling.

I cannot believe the difference the support of a great Health Visitor makes.

And I cannot believe how easily it goes wrong.
And how short term savings result in long term re-investment.
And more importantly, cost so many parents their valuable memories and moments never to be recaptured.

The NHS is such a valuable resource, the difference a great NHS makes, saving so much money in the longer term.
This wasn't meant to be a rant about the government.
And yet, those deciding the NHS budgets, should try and take a longer term outlook.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Top Three Cars for Multiple Car Seats

For anyone who knows me, you'll know how distressing I found it when we had to invest in a MPV two years ago to accommodate three isofix car seats. A true sign I couldn't hide my age in favour of misplaced youth.
And you may remember how upset I was last year when we took the decision to sell my convertible, in favour of a car which could accommodate two isofix and a booster seat.

These decisions were made so much more difficult by not knowing what was on the market which looked good and had safety in mind.

So, I am delighted to welcome Ashleigh-Rose to welcome up some much needed car wisdom on accommodating multiple car seats. 

Let’s be honest the motoring industry isn't that accommodating to big families.
Choice is limited and most families with even the hint of more than one child get pointed in the direction of an MPV. Providing safe and reliable transport is an all important part of family life; however the thought of trying to squeeze two let alone three car seats into a vehicle can be headache in itself.
Whilst multipurpose vehicles are fantastic for families, providing space, comfort and all important safety features, they are not the only option for big broods. In fact most large cars come with isofix anchors as standard, but not all can fit multiple car seats.
Below are three I've picked that are perfect for large families.

Hyundai Santa Fe
The Santa Fe is by far the best buy if you want to avoid an MPV. All back seats are all fitted with isofix anchors and allow enough space for all three safety seats to fit across the back, this is one of the only vehicles that provides this option.
It comes in a five seat and seven seat option, both having plenty of boot space for double buggies, not to mention all the extra family essentials. The height of the vehicle is great for fitting seats, and has a great spacious feeling overall, even when it is loaded to the rafters.

The Santa Fe was also voted the safest car in its class by the Euro NACP this year. It scored fantastically for passenger safety and child safety in the three and under, and three and above age groups. It really is a stand out car for families; I would recommend a test drive at a local Hyundai dealer to any parent.

Audi A4 Avant
Estate cars are fantastic options for those after a smaller car; they are great for city dwellers and those who often find themselves fighting for parking spaces, outside the school gate springs to mind!
The A4 has also been classed as the safest large family car by Euro NACP, scoring particularly high for its safety technology.
The A4 comes with two isofix points on the back seats as standard, with both points on the outer seats.
It is possible to fit three child seats in the back row, but only if you use a backless booster seat. Opting for an additional front seat isofix or a universal child seat fixed with a seat belt, would be a safer option, as backless boosters do not provide side impact protection. Airbag deactivation ability comes as standard, and is operated by turning the key, meaning you can place front facing safety chairs in the passenger seat without any worries.
This car performs fantastically safety wise, and out of all three suggestions is the best looking. You also a have the reassurance of a German engine, giving you a safe family car with an Audi performance.

Skoda Superb Estate
Skoda’s reputation has not been too shiny in the past but you would be extremely surprised how well they fair for large families. The Superb is extremely cost effective to run and has been praised by many auto traders and experts on its incredible amount of room, so if it’s boot space you’re after the Superb is your answer. The Superb has been given a five star rating from the Euro NACP safety testing body, scoring highest for its passenger safety.
The Superb has two isofix points as standard, with the front seat isofix anchor as an optional extra. The passenger air bag in this car is deactivated by turning the key and comes as a standard fitting.
But the Superb really shines in the backseats. There’s plenty of leg room making it incredibly easy to fix the seats in place. The top tether points are easy to access, and the back seatbelts are the perfect length for securing both front facing and rear facing car seats.

The most important factor when you purchase a car is that you and your family feel safe and comfortable. On test drives take your car seats with you and try fitting them yourself, it’s of upmost importance that you are happy with your choice.
If you are worried about fitting isofix seats yourself, Halfords offer a fantastic service where trained individuals will fit the seats for you, all for free. So take your time to make your decision, if in doubt ask your local dealer and check out family car forums for some mother to mother advice.

Ashleigh-Rose Harman writes on behalf of West London Motor Group, a new and used car dealers with a range of family friendly cars, including the Hyundai Santa Fe.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Salt Dough decorations for Valentine's

We made some fantastic decorations for Christmas when we had our first attempt with salt dough. As they were so well received by the grandparents we decided to have a second attempt.

Since attempting salt dough I have read so many great posts, about using food colouring, glitter, acrylic paint... and I also read a lovely post about using fingerprints.

We decided to attempt all of the ideas, and have ended up with some much loved family decorations.

Like our cake baking, all three children wanted to get involved, and this was fun for the dough making.

We made a couple of batches.
We started with a cup of flour, a cup of salt and half a cup of water. Having read that the dough should be as dry as possible we added additional flour and salt.
We split the dough into three parts.
The first we left plain.
The second we added red. And split it again and added glitter.
Having seen how much glitter was needed once you start kneading, for the last batch we added a lot of pink (which looks dark red) and just added glitter along the top and rolled in.
Salt dough hearts for Valentine's
 We tried two different ways of drying out the dough, on a low temperature in the oven for a few hours. And in the microwave, intially for three minutes, and then at multiples of 30 seconds.
I'll hold my hands up, I may have decided to ignore the microwave instructions, decided on my own, and burned some.

I thought the microwave was causing the saltdough to rise, apart from the oven did this as well.

What I have learned this second time around,  is that the thinner the dough the more evenly it 'bakes' and doesn't rise. I guess the more air you get into the dough the more it rises- this was true of the dough the children played with.

And as always, using a straw to put holes in the decorations to hang them is a must!

We then had fun deciding what to do with our hearts.

Squeaks and I decorated the plain hearts with white and red acrylic paint, I still have to decide what to do with these.
Squeaks also decided to mix the white and red, which gave her great pleasure- she created pink! And may have repainted the pink 'food coloured' hearts with her shade of pink.

With the glitter red hearts I decided to attempt the fingerprint heart design. Squeaks' looked great so I grew in confidence.

My confidence was short lived, the boys hate having dirty hands, so putting paint on them was the cause of hysteria, tears, and screaming. I worked with what I had... and my mum loved it as her Valentine's gift.

For Mr J's Valentine's gift I decided to write our names on the food coloured hearts and string them with ribbon. Which look fantastic across the playroom window.

I think I prefer the hearts with glitter rolled across the most.
Although I still have to decide what to do with the hearts painted white, and those Squeaks painted pink.

Salt dough proved a hit with the children, Squeaks got involved with the whole process, the boys enjoyed the dough part, and they'd probably have enjoyed painting with brushes, finger painting has probably scarred them for life.

Baking for Valentine's

We had fun this weekend. The boys have decided they like making cakes.
When Squeaks was their age I bought our first packet cupcake mix, we've come a long way!
Mr J has even treated me to a stand mixer.
And it's saved a lot of time.
Admittedly in the meanwhile Tiny may have smashed an egg on the floor- so maybe it didn't really save time.
But I love it and so does Cheeky!
Baking with toddlers
We made our usual sponge mix, which was the same weight of flour, margarine and sugar as three large eggs. I've also taken to putting in a teaspoon of vanilla essence. 
As it was Valentine's Day (as if we need a reason) we went pink. I am so impressed with the gels you can buy from Hobbycraft, you need less than a quarter of a teaspoon to get a fantastic colour.

The boys got fully involved in the cake making process.

Which left Squeaks to get involved in the decorating.
As I had inadvertently used all the butter and it was a Sunday evening, we were left to use what was in the cupboards. We melted a bar of white chocolate and used our strawberry buttons, along with some candy hearts we bought from Lakeland.
Baking with children
And of course Squeaks couldn't wait to get her slice!

Baking with toddlers is so much fun.
This is my second time baking with the boys, the first time they gatecrashed Squeaks and I baking, with three, it's a bit stressful, with two it's great fun.

As always, the cake has been decimated, I can't believe how much I struggle with Tiny's meal times, yet put some cake in front of him... and I know he's playing me!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Fatboy Dog Bed- A review

This year is all about improving sleeping arrangements! When I wrote my 13 in '13 it was about getting the children's bedroom sorted. It is so much more than that- and of course, Miller as part of our family needs to have his own bed.
So we were delighted when Amara offered us the opportunity to review the Fatboy Doggy Lounge. In red!

Here's the story. The boys are great. Sleep in their cots. Like babies. But we do need to move into toddler beds. And they'll need more room. So they need to move into the spare room.

Squeaks ends up in our bed a lot. Mr J moves into the spare room. And maybe Miller's decided this is also his room.

So, we need to get Squeaks sleeping in her bed, and move the boys into the spare room.
So Miller needs a new room, and a new bed.

The first thing I loved about the Fatboy range was the appearance- not the typical dog bed range, and it means it fits, at either as part of or as a stand out piece for any decor.

We've decided, given how much time Miller spends with the children, that the best place for him to sleep is the playroom. It means where he snoozes in the day becomes his bed for the night.

And yes, there are lots of red pieces in the kitchen and playroom so this was the first thing I loved about Miller's bed.

Of course, this isn't really about what I think about the bed!
Miller was inquisitive in the first instance. Seemingly knowing this was his parcel.
Miller falls for his Fatboy Doggie Lounge
Miller was ok with waiting until Squeaks got home from school to open the parcel, she was the only one permitted near the box, and then, and since, the only one allowed on the bed. I suspect this is because she bribes him with cake!
Getting cosy on the Fatboy dog bed
So, what was the view on the Fatboy doggy lounge.

Well, Miller is a cocker spaniel, he'll be 6 this year. 
The lovely red bed is a small, it's filled with polybeads, and has a nylon cover.
Miller took to it straightaway.

I was a little more reserved, I didn't know how Miller would get on with the cover, it didn't feel very warm.
Although as I type this, I think about the thick coat he has, and that he'll sleep anywhere- slate tiles, wooden floors, carpet.

Actually there were two pluses that came with the Fatboy dog bed. The cover means it is easily cleaned (additionally it has a special repellent of moisture and dirt), and the polybeads means it molds around Miller making it a perfect fit.

Miller spent a successful first night in the playroom.
He got poorly and whilst we moved his bed into the lounge so he was with us through the evening, he still took to snoozing and sleeping on his bed.

Loving the Fatboy Doggie Bed

So, what are our conclusions on the Fatboy dog bed?

It is at the high end of the 'dog bed market', but it's not the kind of dog bed which is going to wear, tear, or get into bother with stains, marks or smells.

It is a dog bed. Miller has adopted it easily, he knows it is his (as opposed to the cats [or the children's]).

It is easily portable, we've moved it back and forth with no bother. And another massive plus for us is that as we have the perfect dog-minder for Miller, this will be great for the transition when we are on holiday (and eases a little of the guilt).

As already mentioned, it is easily cleaned. It doesn't seem to attract the dog (and cat) hairs that have seen us throw out other beds.

Miller likes it. There's no howling or doggy pacing on wooden floors.

And if Miller likes it, and it's practical.
Is there anything else to think about?

Well, my Yorkshire stereotyped husband will take me back to the price tag.
And I refer to how much we've spent on our mattress, and bed, and bedding.
And that of the children.
And that realistically, if Miller likes it, it's not unreasonable, and its practicality means it will see us right for a few years.

And of course, above all of this, it's a great colour for our home!

Dislosure: We were sent a Fatboy Doggielounge for the purposes of this review. We were not directed as to the content. All views contained are our own.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Project #365 - Week #6

So, I can't choose between my favourite photos this week... so I'm not going to *pokes tongue out in rebellious manner*

Sunday: Miller dog decides to take sympathy on my backlog of work.
Monday: A trip to Stoke-On-Trent.
Tuesday: Two little monkeys jumping on the bed.

Wednesday: doing more planting with daddy.

Thursday: Enjoying tea time

Friday: Walking a mile in Daddy's shoes.
Saturday: Insisting on wearing a pirate's outfit.

So, my favourites are Wednesday and Thursday.
I can't choose between happy children!

TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky
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