Smiggle- Gift Voucher Giveaway

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I was invited recently to the Smiggle branch in Bluewater to open the next window on their Christmas advent calendar and see what treat could be waiting for me.

Anyone that has been to a Smiggle store will know it’s an explosion of colour and a total must for all stationary lovers. The store there is not huge but is very well stocked with both lots on the shelves and underneath the display tables ( so I cannot see you having any trouble getting a particular item you may be after).

At the moment they have lots of their fabulous Christmas Advent Stockings, that retail at £28. That may sound a little extravagant but is in line with Lego or even Yankee candle (if you buy yourself one!). However, the goodies that are in the advent would cost around £40 if they were bought individually, so a bargain when you consider that and also a great alternative to just more chocolate.

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There are the typical colour assumptions, pink for girls and blue for boys, but there are also lots of alternatives that can be gender neutral. Some of the bits can work out quite expensive but there are also some fabulous gifts that would be perfect for Christmas presents that work out at just £10-15 which is very budget friendly.

I particularl
I particularly liked this design on a black background and perfect for little monster lovers!

There is also a wonderful little colouring area set up in this store which was in use most of the time I was in the store and it was constantly busy in there. I was given the chance to peel off the next advent sticker from the window outside to get the next prize ( which I will include with the gift voucher giveaway as a little extra, it’s a Goo Glopper………………!

The store manager there, Linda, has a great manner about her and she will find out if it’s your birthday and get the whole store to sing Happy Birthday to you, I heard the singing even before I reached the store as I came down the escalator towards it. You will recognise her as she has a huge whistle hanging around her neck and she’s not afraid to use it- so be warned.

So I have a lovely £25 gift card and my Goo Glopper from behind the advent to giveaway to all you lovely stationary loving peeps. All you have to do is comment below with what you would use the voucher for and fill in the normal Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

‘Papa Don’t Teach’ – Would you teach your teen to drive?

Now if you asked me this a few years ago my answer would have definitely have been yes, that would have been because I was then working as a qualified Driving Instructor as a job and obviously had a suitable car which had duel controls. In fact it was something I was really looking forward too. I no longer work as a driving instructor due to my long term illness and so I am now looking at it purely from a parent’s point of view.

Therefore,if you ask me that question today, the answer is a resounding NO! In fact, just today I have booked him to start his lessons with a reputable company and instructor. Many of you will think this is madness to throw all that money away on lessons even though I feel I could teach him no problem but I would only do so in a suitable car with duel controls, believe me I speak from experience that learner drivers  try to kill you on a daily basis when they are only starting.

Then throw into the mix that you are the parent. You know, the parent who see’s that they live like a slob, cannot cook for themselves and that they NEVER do as you ask them to do. Then you expect them to listen to you just because you are going to teach them to drive in your precious family car…………….RECIPE FOR DISASTER RIGHT THERE PEOPLE.

As a previously qualified instructor, I went through rigorous training so that I learned very quickly that a teen learner driver will take everything you say literally, so do not be shocked when you tell them to turn right and they end up in someone’s driveway ( because they didn’t realise you meant ‘the next right’), or that they cause you whiplash as you told them to slow down so they slam the brakes on because they thought they had to stop right there and not at the give way at the approaching junction. These mistakes are easily dealt with when you, as an instructor can take control of the car to ensure you do not get whiplash or cause an accident and therefore have the patience of a saint!

As a rule instructor DO NOT shout at their students however, as a parent driving my family car with my learner teen at the wheel I can see where parents teaching their own teens is a much more stressful situation. Instructors have a certain way of explaining things, we have been through our training sessions where our ‘instructors playing trainees’ will take everything you say literally and believe me as an instructor you learn VERY quickly what NOT to say to a learner. Come on most of you will have seen Sky’s Driving School of Mum and Dad where they draw on Sandra Dodson’s experience, who also is former deputy chief driving examiner at DSA, Driving Standards Agency to point out how things should be done.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware of how much driving lessons cost and I can see as a parent I can see how you could question how or why they cost what they do. Then just look at it from the other side, that instructor has undertaking the rigorous training programme ( and believe me not everyone is cut out for the job!). They are also providing a suitable learner car complete with dual controls for the safety of your teen, themselves and other road users ( something that you could not even contemplate pricing on insurance). Your teen learns in the correct way at their own pace ( as everyone can learn differently) and then they have the same car to take their test in so everything is also familiar to them. The instructor will have visuals to explain any manoeuvre they need to learn  and teach them the safe way of completing it ( don’t forget a parent may have been driving for 20 years and have an huge repertoire of bad driving habits that they could automatically pass on).

So before you take the plunge just take a look at this video produced by Carfused.com after a recent survey of how a stressed learner is a very distracted learner. Also look at how the Dad instructs his daughter as opposed to how Sandra does……

Papa Don’t Teach- Carfused

So take it from me, someone who has been trained to actually do the instructor’s job and just think twice before letting your little prince or princess into your precious family car with no dual controls and then expecting them to A) listen to you and B) not misinterpret what you actually want them to do. Look at the cost of the lessons overall, and then the cost of possibly replacing your car (if they are unfortunate enough to cause an accident) and then the insurance premiums afterwards………………………..I know which I would prefer!!

Have you taught your teens to drive? I would love to hear about your experience.

My baby turns 15!

It feels like time is just spiralling out of control, there’s no brakes, no way of slowing it down to appreciate what is going on.

This week saw my youngest turn 15, now one of the oldest in his class. To be honest he’s like 15 going on 50 but that’s another story, however, his age now hits hard as he is my youngest, my baby so to speak. It seems like only last week we brought him home from the hospital and felt we had all the time in the world to appreciate him.

So what happens? We blink and they are teenagers, to old to be babied and not old enough to be an adult, yet they are like mini adults with their own personalities and strong views. I am now officially the smallest person in the house with the 2 boys towering over me, making me feel small and old!

Birthdays can make you nostalgic, look back with rose tinted glasses and feel as though you didn’t make the most of the time when they were young. Of course this is never true. They were hard work as babies, they took all of our time, we were up during the nights, nursed them when they were ill, praised every stage of their development and enjoyed all the different stages they have been through.

My baby can now look down on me and pat me on the head. He can make me laugh and cry, he can frustrate the life out of me ( everyday), make me proud, embarrass me and show his loving side ( which we don’t always get to see). He knows how to make me the perfect cup of coffee, knows how to get his way, knows how to argue his case but can be very caring when he knows I am ill and will still accompany to the cinema- although I am sure those days will soon come to an end. He is growing up fast biting on the tails of his 17 year old brother and embraces independence at every stage.

I can only try and treasure the time we have now before his life takes him in the direction he wants to go, be that staying close to us or venturing further away on his on journey.

Happy Birthday to the baby of the family and thanks for making me feel proud ……………………….but OLD!!

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How to ensure your kids stay safe online

How to ensure your kids stay safe when they’re online

The internet is a very useful tool to help your kids develop. Whether they need help with homework, talk to their friends from school or just play, they can just log on to the computer or tablet, but steering clear of danger is something that doesn’t always enter their thoughts. A session of carefree browsing might seem fun, but clicking on the wrong page could do a lot of harm.

If you have young children, you might feel it’s necessary to watch their every click. While this can be useful in case they click on something by mistake that you won’t want them to see, it’s impossible to do this all the time, especially as they get older. To avert any problems such as clicking on a pop-up ad by mistake or talking to someone they shouldn’t, here are some handy tips:

Select a list of sites they can visit

As a mum to an 13 and 15 year old, I am extremely concerned about the things they view on the net, but I’m aware that I have to loosen the restrain as they mature into their own and trust that they’ll be safe even when unsupervised. If unlike me, you have younger kids then it’s best to limit them to only visiting a handful of sites in the ‘favourites’ column of your web browser. When mine were little our computer was downstairs in our kitchen at a workstation and so I did find it easier to monitor. However, now with Iphones, tablets and laptops I can see how easy it can become for them to have more ‘freedom’.

By slowly introducing them to the wonders of the web, you can show them more interesting sites as they get older. That way, you won’t have too much to worry about when you feel they’re ready to browse without you watching over them. We started with the CBeebies and Nickelodeon sites which were firm favourites. As my eldest got older it moved on to Club Penguin and Minecraft.

Use a comprehensive antimalware program

This is one of the easiest steps to take to help keep your kids safe online. A family protection software with user defined restrictions and allowances could help with blocking any malicious or ‘adult’ sites that your kids may enter by accident, minimising any damage in the process.

Leave social media till later

Image credits to jcfacility.co.uk

However, once they start secondary school and approach their teens, your kids might want to create a social media account. You should tell them about how it works, and if you’re on the same site as them, add them as friends or follow them to see what they’re up to, just to give you peace of mind. When they started on Facebook one of the rules was that they had to be friends with both myself and my OH. That way we could easily keep track of what they were doing on there. Our reasoning being, there is no need to be embarrassed about what was being said and therefore there would be less secrets. They know we occasionally check on their timeline just to make sure they are being ‘appropriate’. My OH is also a policeman and so has always made them aware of the possible dangers of chat sites and online gaming such as Xbox etc. We also have rules in place with the gaming and my youngest who has just turned a teenager yesterday has yet to be registered on his!

I think it’s all about being sensible as a parent, if you are able to build up trust with the older kids whilst allowing them to make some of the decisions you are at least on the right track. With younger kids it’s all about the security precautions you can impose without them being aware.

 

DISCLOSURE:This is a Collaborative PR related article

Haven Holidays

When the boys were small, toddlers actually, my best friend and I had a mad idea of getting a static caravan as a joint adventure where we could spend the days taking our kids to the nearby beach and just have a bit of fun. Both our OH’s worked very long shifts so it made sense that we all spent the time together and let the kids be good buddies.

Now when we went looking we really didn’t know what we wanted or how much it was going to cost. What we did know was that we don’t want to travel any more than about an hour or so away- making it more accessible for impromptu weekends and last minute get togethers. We also knew that because money was an issue as neither of us were working, we didn’t want a caravan on a site with loads of entertainment facilities as we wanted to bring all the kids up showing them that they could have lots of fun without spending a fortune.

That meant we really only had the payout for the caravan itself and the yearly site fees to pay along with some insurance.

We had the caravan over on Sheppey which was only a 50minute drive away for us both. We went for an 8 berth ex Haven caravan with lots of communal room at the front and kitchen area.

Although we no longer have the caravan we used it for around 6-7 years and my boys who are now 15 and 12 remember it with a lot of fondness and great/fun times with friends.

However, now the boys are older I think my priorities would be different. A site with a clubhouse and some entertainment and maybe a swimming pool would suit the age group of our boys better. These sites inevitably cost more.

So if your contemplating something like this for next year ( and lets face it after this years summer you would be mad to go abroad) take a look at some advice below of what to look out for.

 

THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW WHEN CHOOSING A PARK FOR YOUR STATIC CARAVAN
You’re not wrong if you think choosing a holiday park for your static caravan is a big decision. Not only will you want to pick a park that your whole family will love – you’ll also need a location that you’ll want to visit again and again. Not to mention the financial things you’ll need to take into account – this choosing a holiday park business is more complicated than it sounds, but don’t worry, here are a few tips to help you choose the right park for you with as little hassle as possible.
The closer the park, the more often you’ll visit
It’s common sense really – the closer the holiday park is to where you live, the more often you’ll go there. But how close you want your static caravan to be to home depends on a number of things.
For one thing, are you going to be using your static caravan for long or short getaways? If you live in London and you’re buying a holiday home for regular weekend trips away, somewhere like Sussex or Kent would be perfect for you. It’s under two hours from London so it’s close enough to pack up the car on a Friday night and go.
But if you’ll be spending your main two-week holiday in your static caravan, you’re probably willing to spend more time getting there. That opens up your options to regions like Devon, Cornwall and even those as far afield as the Lake District. If you’re only going to be visiting your park for longer holidays, the whole country is your oyster!
It’s not just about on-park activities
It’s true, holiday parks offer a whole range of on-park activities and facilities that you’d be mad to miss out on. From live evening entertainment to kids clubs and heated outdoor swimming pools, you could easily spend an entire week on the park with everything you need right there.
But since holiday parks tend to be located in Britain’s best holiday destinations, static caravans can be the perfect base for exploring a whole region. Buy a caravan at Devon Cliffs and you have the whole of the West Country at your fingertips. Not to mention some of the UK’s best beaches and best weather.
Other costs to consider
Remember that when you’re buying a holiday home, it’s not just the static caravan you’ll need to pay for. Static caravans for sale on holiday parks also include annual sites fees; this covers park maintenance, landscaping, security and the use of the park’s facilities. Site fees can cost anything from about £2,000 to £5,000 so you should make sure you can afford this before you put anything in writing. However, the site fees vary depending on park and pitch location so research the cheapest ones in advance to save yourself a good chunk of money.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post in collaboration with Haven Holidays

Walk to school

With all the talk on Twitter and Facebook about kids returning to school this week I’m asking the question:

Do You Walk To School?

My 2 boys are at secondary school now and at age 15 and 12 (almost 13) they STILL walk to school! (well one goes on a bike)

For the whole of their time at nursery and primary school we walked to school- always. It is about a 15 minute walk away from where we live. Their secondary school is about a further 5 minutes away from there.

When it was raining we still walked as the roads would be far more busy and we would have to park about 5 minute walk away so we would have got wet anyway. I found that by the time we had walked to school we had beaten all the traffic and could get undercover ( let’s face it that’s why we have UMBRELLAS!). Also It was a quiet time to chat without too much distraction from telly’s. We began to meet friends on the way, the kids would maybe take scooters etc and in the summer we would go straight to the park on the way home.

I do appreciate that not everyone is in this position, maybe the school is further away, or the parents both work and therefore haven’t the time to walk there and back before work. But you and I know there are loads of parents who live close enough to walk and yet chose to get in their cars to drop their kids outside the school gates!! The operative word being ‘CHOOSE’. So from there their kids then are trained to expect to be driven everywhere.

Check out this video below by StartRite taken from a child’s point of view about walking to school.

Great British Walk To School

So I will ask you again……..Do you walk to school?

Teenagers and the Summer Holidays

           TEENAGER ALERT!

Recently I have been reading and envying all the latest posts about keeping the kids entertained over the summer break. I used to do the same, list all the things we wanted to do and all the places we wanted to visit, arrange meeting up with friends for picnics in the park, swim afternoons, beach visits………………….and the list goes on.

My boys are now 15 and 12 (almost13) years old., and with ALL the will in the world I cannot get them enthused about anything ( obviously Xbox is not included here). I’m aware that the age they are now they like to lay in occasionally, have lazy telly mornings and later nights. But really what the hell am I going to do over the holidays? I cannot let them fester in their rooms all day!! I know they prefer to manage themselves even if it means just watching tell or playing on their phones or whatever they do whilst they lounge about in their black holes. The mere mention of going to a park or a walk somewhere sends them into meltdown mode! Things like cinema/ bowling/ Go Ape etc all cost lots so would only do occasionally.

So, I’m frantically looking for options.

We have booked a week away camping in the Isle of Wight in August. Actually they are both looking forward to this as they went there with their primary school on their Yr6 trip. So although we have booked the campsite etc, we are leaving the holiday up to them- we have the guide books and they know pretty much the places they want to visit over there (inc the hotel that they stayed in LOL). So this week away should be great for all of us ( even with their continuous bickering). To top it all off we are NOT- I repeat- NOT on a budget this time after a little radio win in May I have purposely kept plenty of spending money!!

My OH with be working as normal on shifts so there will be days when he is here with us and others were he wont. The days he is not here are perfect lazy days or cinema days that will fit in with my M.E. However, when he is here I would like us to actually DO something rather than waste the 5-6 weeks!

So apart from the normal having friends over for xbox and a sleepover I’m manically trying to sort ideas that wont cost the earth but that they actually want to do—no point forcing them to do stuff they don’t want to as no one ends up enjoying the day.

My list so far:

* Groupon have a great offer on for tickets to Horrible Histories Live in London ( still a pay out but def worth doing for a major treat)

* Thinking of possibly one of those Cineworld monthly tickets? Anyone tried these and are they worth it?

* Eldest has already arranged to go stay in Plymouth at my mums as my brother lives there and they spend days walking the moors!

* Fishing (my new obsession!) with the youngest while the eldest is away……youngest loves it and eldest detests it.

*If the weather holds out we will definitely get a day at the beach, complete with burgers cooked on the beach for tea- that we still like doing but cannot swamp them with doing it lots! Might offer them each to bring a friend which will separate them and contain the arguments.

*They still enjoy movie nights- so invest in a few new DVD’s or a pay per view off demand with popcorn and fizzy drinks to keep them happy- again could get them to invite a mate or two as a change???

* Games nights- monopoly being a favourite, as is Texas Hold’em ( *cough* nothing like teaching your kids to gamble!!) We invested in a proper poker table last year with cup holder etc

Other than that I’m pretty stumped, neither are bothered about cooking/ baking really and definitely making things/ craft is soooo out of the question 🙁

All you with teen boys, what else would you suggest?

#Hungry2Happy Challenge

I came across Britmums Hungry2Happy Challenge and it isn’t something I would normally do but lets face it £200 Tesco vouchers or £700 Centre Parcs Vouchers is nothing to be sniffed at.

Normally when I see these food challenges a lot of them are aimed at getting younger children to eat and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to join in with this one. My boys are now 12 and 15 years old and seem to be always hungry- so it’s one for the teens.

When I saw it was to use Richmond’s new mini meatballs I knew my boys would eat them, we already like Richmond’s Irish recipe sausages. So with that in mind I aimed the meal at something more teen friendly with an element of fast food.

There are days where we have after school clubs that are timed so that dinner would be too early but they wouldn’t feel like eating if it was too late!! So I decided that my meatball  sub would be a great fast food alternative for teens.

This was very quick to make up and cook through and with ingredients that I would naturally have in my house- so nothing fancy needed, that’s a bonus!

1. Put the meatballs in the oven to cook for 8minutes, add the ciabbatta rolls, 1 for each person.

2. Dice the onion and the mushrooms, cook in a little olive oil while the meatballs are cooking.

3. Once the meatballs are done add to the pot with the onion and mushrooms and crumble on the Oxo cube.

4. Stir in the tomatoes and add a decent shake of the Italian spice and cook through for around 10 minutes until the sauce has thickened.

5. Cut the rolls open, butter if you prefer, and add a couple of spoonfuls of the meatball mixture and serve!

* you could add cheese on top

* you could serve open with salad or closed as a sub!

Time taken- 20 minutes in total and I would bet that it would be great kept in the fridge and reheated the next day for seconds.

I added a compulsory bit of greenery!!

Simples!!

This post is an entry for BritMums Hungry to Happy Challenge sponsored by Richmond Mini Meatballs. You will find more details of the challenge here

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How did that happen?

That is the question I have pondered this week. Why? Well I woke up yesterday morning with the realisation that I am know old enough to have a 15 yr old son!

YES……………………15!

Again I ask ‘How did that happen?’

It seems like only months ago I came home with my firstborn, tiny and crying, cuddly and gorgeous.

Now that cute and cuddly baby has somewhere along the line turned into a grumbly, mumbly, spotty, hairy 15 yr old.

ONE IS NOT AMUSED………………………..of course it’s all about me!

He was happy with his tickets to go see Bon Jovi at Hyde Park in July!! Yay
His cake is quickly becoming a fire hazard!!

I don’t feel any older than I did in my 20’s so I cannot comprehend how those 15 years have just gone past in the blink of and eye.

WHY DOES THE TIME GO SO QUICKLY?

My Mother’s Day!

How has your day gone?

Flowers?

Chocolates?

Lunch or dinner out?

Today I have had coffee in bed while I opened a few cards and a little pressie or two. I know these times can become very commercial so we always agree not to go mad and that it is the thought that counts. So I had a bought card from my OH but homemade personal ‘printouts’ from the kids (which I prefer).

I was chuffed to bits to get the soundtrack to the new Les Miserables film which has already been played today!

However, my definite surprise pressie was a fab onesie!! No laughing please I have really wanted one for ages but it’s not something I would go and spend money on for myself when there are lots of other things to pay for.

Sadly I look FAR too happy wearing this LOL

I am now sitting on the laptop while they are all ‘secret squirrel’ in the kitchen making dinner………………..I will admit I am slightly scared at the idea as my OH is the worst cook ever, so it will be like the blind leading the blind. However, like I said earlier it’s the thought that counts ( that’s until the food poisoning kicks in and then I will be swearing).

We also popped into Costa earlier(as my youngest had a party to go to) and I was able to have my favourite vanilla latte and caramel shortbread as a quick treat!

Calorie overload

AND to top it all off I have just seen that The Wizard of Oz is about to start on telly!!!

MY DAY IS COMPLETE.…………..if for some reason (possible impending food poisoning) I don’t make it to tomorrow, I can safely go knowing I had the BEST day today!!

Let me know how your day went.