Thursday, 18 December 2014

Knitting!

I've been making a conscious effort to try to slow down and calm down. A bit of a rest is really in order in our household and its such a luxury to snuggle up on the sofa under a blanket for a bit of lazy crafting. Ever since I was a small child I have loved knitting, in fact my main interests when I was little were reading, knitting, archaeology and natural history. I haven't changed much, although over the past few years of having kids I haven't had a great deal of time to knit much. In fact it was only this summer that I managed to finish a stripy cardigan I had started knitting for the eldest when he was four, it took me nearly three years!

That hasn't stopped me coveting wool and I'm quite a fan of Rowan Wool in particular. I think I can probably blame this on Liberty department store as they have the most amazing selection in there and I treated myself to some Summerspun in the sale last year. Its only in the past few weeks that I've had the time to actually knit something with it. Now, I have to admit that I'm not entirely sure about the colour as its knitting up but the quality and feel of the wool itself is wonderful and its a real joy to work with, so I can't wait to wear my top.

All Seasons Chunky
I'm being a bit naughty though because the Summerspun in taking a while to knit as its on small needles, so I've decided to make a quick knit waistcoat for little Ned from this Rowan All Seasons Chunky which I managed to pick up for a real bargain price in John Lewis. Its nice and easy and quick to knit up so I'm hoping he will have a new little waistcoat in time for Christmas.

Do you remember my crochet snowflakes? Well, I finally ironed them and I'm really pleased with how they came out.
Crochet snowflakes

Featured Post: Visiting Kent With the Kids

We are always on the lookout for good places to take the children which are far enough away from St Albans to seem like a proper trip, but not so far that the car journey drives us all to distraction. Kent is one of those places, its just around the M25 for us, but really does seem like going on holiday. Its been recommended to us so many times that you'd think it was the new place to holiday. In actual fact though, there is a lot to do from the coastal resorts of Margate and Ramsgate, through to Canterbury with its Cathedral, the Downs and of course the massive Lakeside and Bluewater Shopping Centres. In many ways it has a lot more to offer than Hertfordshire, but don't tell anyone I said that.
Enjoying the seaside, Kent has some of the best in the UK

But, of all the places in Kent to visit I always make a special effort to go to Maidstone. A friend of mine is a curator at the Maidstone Museum and Bentliff Art Gallery and I've got many happy memories of visits there. Its a brilliant place to go, with some really outstanding artwork and some impressive displays including a Japanese Gallery. They also have a great Natural History collection which encompasses some of the best Lepidoptera in the South East.

This time of year when the children are off school is a great time to go and visit places for a mini break. Particularly as you can take the opportunity to go to a pantomime. In Maidstone you can go along and see Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. There is also a really Christmassy event at Leeds Castle which is very close by.

As ever, one of the top places I can recommend to stay is the Holiday Inn Maidstone. We have found these to be really kid friendly and of a great standard across all the hotels we have stayed at. I

So, there you have it: just some of the reasons why people keep on telling me to mini break in Kent!

Monday, 15 December 2014

So things all went a bit weird...

Things have gone a bit strange since our burglary, its aftermath has swallowed up far more time than I could have possibly anticipated. Re-painting the damage in the kitchen, chasing and dealing with insurance and locksmiths and insurance listings. THEN, the sort out and tidy up. I suppose this has been the one positive thing from it all in that the house is genuinely starting to look a lot better because everything being muddled and on the floor has forced a massive clear out, something I've been aspiring to for years.

I'm trying to be ruthless, but its very hard. So far I've managed to take four bags of clothes to the charity shop and I have a lot of children's books to follow. I've also started being quite ruthless with kitchen stuff, who really needs specific Easter bunny shaped silicone cake holders anyway.

I've started tackling my books and I'd appreciate any tips for dealing with them. I have rather a lot to say the least and in going through three triple stacked bookcases alone I realised that I actually have so many that I've bought several books TWICE without realising. Clearly a problem with having too many. At the moment I'm working on the principle that I wont read Chick Lit again and also looking at fiction which I wont read again. This is hard because sometimes books are just nice to keep. However I know I have to be strict. I've also started clearing out cookery books. I' ve never been interested in cookery, I just don't need more than about 4!

The strange thing about the past few weeks is that there has been a lot of random weirdness happening. Strange familial disasters happening to our immediate neighbours which seemed too much of a coincidence. Almost like a little cone of oddness was hanging over this part of our cul-de-sac. I did wonder for a few days if this would be it, what else could happen.

We live very close to a supermarket and we popped out there the other day, on walking home the bird pictured literally fell out of the sky and hit the eldest boy on the shoe. The coincidence of it was rather unsettling because frankly its not a thriving metropolis where we live, we were probably the only people about.

So, apologies for the lack of updates life is busy, strange and I think I might just start the new year in a new frame of mind as all this clearing up is doing wonders for my mental health. I hate to say it, but in some ways being burgled may have been a good thing!

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Dealing with Sore Throats- some tips

This time of year its inevitable that you will get the dreaded lurgy. I only have to walk past someone with a cold and I almost instantly get it, and with three children in the house there is always someone poorly!

Last week I was very kindly sent a little gift box from Ultra Chloraseptic. It made a really nice treat after a difficult week and I was pleased to get something from Ultra Chloraseptic, as for me their sore throat spray is a handbag essential. Its one of the few things which really does work in relieving a sore throat and I'm always recommending it to everyone.

Contained within my little box was a scarf, some honey and lemon and a lovely mug to make a nice soothing honey and lemon drink. Obviously, as I have nosy children almost instantly I was making honey and lemon drinks all round. I have to admit, hot honey and lemon is one of my favourite drinks anyway, so this wasn't a chore!

Ultra Chloraseptic have asked some experts for some top tips, these are very useful reminders on the best way to deal with sore throats:

Prevention by GP Dr Mike Smith
1.Wash your hands regularly
2. Drink water when you feel thirsty to prevent your throat becoming dry and more prone to infection.
3. When you sneeze or your nose feels blocked, blow your nose one nostril at a time by pressing against the other one and wash your hands after safely disposing of the tissue.
4. Avoid crowded, hot stuffy rooms, trains or buses whenever possible.
5. Stop smoking if you do


If you want to find out more and have a look at the Ultra Chloraseptic range if you haven't come across it before you can find out more on their website.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Managing a Household Budget

Since I was made redundant financially things have been a little bit tight here, we don't have any savings to fall back on or any credit cards so we have to be very careful with our household budget. We'd love to save a little but its proving hard as unexpected expenses seem to come along each month wiping out any savings we make.

I cant imagine how hard it must be to save for a deposit for a house. We are exceptionally lucky as we already have a mortgage and its associated equity, but I'm not sure how my children are going to fare. One of my on going concerns is whether or not we should start trying to save, not for us, but for our children's deposits. I'm also wondering whether or not we should downsize and move to the countryside and the impact that might have on our mortgage and associated quality of life. If you are thinking of the same sort of scenarios and are wondering whether or not it is cheaper to rent or get a mortgage the TSB's mortgage repayment calculator is a really handy on line tool to see how much your repayments might be.

Anything related to having a roof over your head requires a little bit of cash though and I think over the years I've managed our budgets reasonably well all things considered! TSB offered me some vouchers to help with Christmas in exchange for telling you my top tips for managing a household budget so here goes:

1. Swop where you can to your favourite supermarket's own brand products. I've tried shopping at cheaper shops but to be honest they don't generally sell what we eat, sell smaller portions or I end up buying other stuff I don't need. I've found it more economical to go to my usual supermarkets and buy their own brand basics range of stuff like pasta, breakfast cereals, cakes, toilet roll and dishwasher tablets.

2.Use up all the food in your cupboards before you shop.

3. Freeze anything that's left over. I'm always freezing pasta, cheese and milk before it goes out of date. Make use of your garden to grow veg and preserve it if you have a glut to use later in the year.

Green tomatoes make excellent chutney!


4. Turn off lights, use the dryer less and stop flushing the loo unless necessary.

5. When buying clothes only buy the stuff you really like and you know will get worn even if its more expensive. Less is more! I also only buy classic clothes as these will last me for years.

6. Get membership of your favourite attractions for Christmas/ Birthdays. We are members of English Heritage and London Zoo and its saved us a fortune on days out as we always have somewhere to go which is 'free', provided you take a flask and food.

7. Recycle those kids party presents and make good use of discount book retailers like The Book People to stock up on stuff.

8. Be sure to use the on-line library services for access to loads of free magazines each month and look out for free kindle book deals alongside making full use of your library.

9. Make a spreadsheet list of what you are spending and categorise it. That way you'll see where there are savings to be made.

10. Try not to get too obsessed or too worried about it, life is for living and things usually work themselves out in the end!

Its also a good idea to keep an eye out on Freecycle and share as much as you can with friends and family, that goes for stuff, ideas and also parties etc. I think that managing a household budget effectively requires quite a pragmatic approach. For example, for us, it isn't any good doing rigid meal planning because with three children life is very fluid, its far better for us to make good use of the freezer for left overs and have emergency meals in there. In terms of charity shopping, I'd exercise caution, it isn't thrifty to buy stuff you don't need because its a cheap bargain. Personally I don't usually go into any shop unless I'm going specifically to buy something and that has probably saved more money than if I was going around trying to find bargains or 'browsing' in charity shops.

What do you think. Do you agree with me? What are your tips? I'd love to hear, please leave me a comment.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post.

Monday, 1 December 2014

My Favourite Shows on Netflix

Since becoming part of the  Netflix #StreamTeam I've pretty  much stopped watching free to air television. There quite simply is an endless amount of stuff to watch and I don't need to watch anything else. According to The Sunday Times style barometer  the other week Netflix-ing is officially 'cool'. Hooray! Finally I'm actually doing something that is cool.

But what do I spend my time watching? Well, to be honest each Friday or Saturday night each week we watch a movie. Its our unofficial movie night. Last week we spent a family night watching Racing Stripes, a movie about a racing zebra which I must admit I go completely sucked into. This week I'm going to make the kids go to bed early so me and the husband can watch Jack Reacher.

In an attempt to calm down a little I've been catching up with some of the shows which I started watching earlier in the year before I got sucked into working on the St Albans Literary Festival every waking hour. That means I've got Breaking Bad to catch up on alongside Lilyhammer, The Good Wife and Orange is the New Black. I've got a lot of knitting to do, that's as good excuse as any to sit and watch and relax a bit.

For the children there is the all new VeggieTales in the House, the VeggieTales stories are on based on Christian values and I think this makes a really nice change from some of the stuff the children are watching, especially around this time of year when its very commericalised. There is of course, also Horrible Histories which is a perfect way to engage and enthral the kids with a bit of history. My children watch this avidly and they have learnt so much from it I cant say no when they ask to watch a bit of television.

I don't watch a lot of television personally, although the children watch more than I would like them to. However, we have made it a family tradition to have a movie night on a Friday and over the last year we have been part of Netflix StreamTeam this has saved us an absolute fortune. If we wanted to go to the cinema as a family it would be in the region of forty pounds each time. If we pop on Netflix and select something its just the cost of homemade popcorn (lovely and warm), crisps and a pizza. Its the highlight of my week snuggling on the sofa under a blanket with the family and if you don't do it, I'd implore you to give it a try. Its especially nice at this time of year to be all cosy inside. Just be careful, once you get sucked into Netflix there really is no turning back because there is so much variety and such a lot to watch!

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Propel: A Flying Start to Christmas

Yesterday proved a brilliant antidote to the week we have just had, as we were invited along to the RAF Museum in Hendon for the UK launch of Propel's remote control helicopters (and UFO). This was a great showcase for all their amazing toys with a whole series of activities and courses on which to test your flying skills with some style.

The Propel range of remote control toys is really awesome and we loved playing with them (even if we did manage to fly a helicopter and get it stuck between two MDF walls!). Particular favourites are the Hovermaxx UFO and the Air Combat Helicopters which, from experience we can vouch for being robust, easy to use and lots of fun.

The Air Combat helicopter is a fab little toy which if you have a friend playing with you means you can have in air 'dog- fights'. Have a little look here:



These are retailing in Maplins for RRP £49:99

Our other favourite was the Hovermaxx UFO this is basically a really simple to operate remote control UFO which even the nearly three year old can use and enjoy. In fact, he has been using his for about 8 hours flat since he was gifted one at the event. I can confirm our ceilings have survived, thank to the soft plastic of the propellers!



You'll be able to get one of these in Maplins for RRP £19:99

I'm managing to write this blog during the daytime because ALL my children are actually happily playing with their Hovermaxx and they don't even have the television on. I must admit this is such a rare thing that I'm completely thrilled to have found something which they all enjoy at the same time. So I cant recommend these toys more highly!
The boy thinking to himself which ones he wants!
Propel really do have an amazing range of stuff, our seven year old was literally lusting after things and spent quite a long time browsing longingly at the range. If you are on the lookout for a Christmas gift this year then make sure you get along to Maplin and have a look at their range.



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