What to buy older teenage boys for Christmas

I’d like to think this is a gift guide with a difference!

First of all, anything I have suggested here I have bought my teens through the years or I know of friends who have bought their boys similar. Secondly, none of it has been sent to me to be promoted, so any companies I mention here I have actually used or bought from them over the last 7 or 8 years.

I also think that teen boys are much harder to buy for than girls ( probably because I don’t have girls but I would imagine with clothes, perfumes and makeup and jewellery most things can be covered and they are so expensive too so a designer item could certainly be covered as a main Christmas present!) and I appreciate I could totally be wrong about this, but I have only experience in buying for boys in this house and so I think that is where my expertise lies.

I also do not like giving my boys money! That’s just a personal choice I make and I also think they like it that way. Any family members who buy for them instead give them money so they always have cash to put towards something more expensive in the sales. We also aren’t the type of bargain hunters that go out first thing on Boxing Day to buy stuff in the sales either (again our personal choice). Therefore, I like to buy my boys things I know they want as a main present and then fill it out with the usual extras like, underwear, t-shirts, books, cd’s or films etc. That way we all still enjoy a chilled out morning with everyone opening their pressies etc as we did when they were little – and again they love it that way! Keep on Reading!

Chronic illness/ Chronic pain code for what we say and what we actually mean!

Most of you will know by now I have ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), Fibromyalgia ( widespread musculoskeletal pain) and more recently Joint Hypermobility ( in hands- when joints can dislocate!). I have had chronic illness and pain since 2009 and even with high levels of pain medications including morphine I still experience pain 24hrs a day, 7 days a week and 52 weeks of the year. In truth, I cannot remember certainly in the last 7 yrs or so of a time when I have been pain free. I read recently that the full list of symptoms of an ME or Fibro patient is the same as a patient with AIDS around 2 months before death! The most frustrating thing about my condition is that it is completely INVISIBLE. There is nothing to see, no bruising, no swelling of joints in my case, no identifying marks on the skin………….NOTHING. BUT MY BODY IS WRACKED WITH PAIN DAILY.

Now that may be hard to believe – how can someone be in pain all of the time even with very strong medications? A normal person’s brain is not equipped to understand chronic, consistent pain at all. Yes they can totally empathise if someone breaks their arm, or has the flu or even something like appendicitis because naturally our brains can understand what’s seen as danger or acute pain –  pain that will be there until that body part has healed itself…………short term pain. They can imagine from past experiences how painful those things could be, but the normal brain is not equipped to understand a pain that does not go away! It’s just how we are made- and therein lies the problem.

Therefore, as you can imagine this can be the cause of all misunderstanding around consistent pain. People think it’s actually not possible to be in pain for that long or believe that it never goes away. They see us ‘spoonies’ up out of bed and dressed and dare I even say it, possibly even with make up on and possibly even smiling and chatting!!! I mean c’mon if you are in pain would you even be doing that?………………..ERM…………..actually yes sometimes you would! Not because the pain is reduced that day or any less severe, but more so if you didn’t make the effort ( and believe me you have no idea how much fecking effort that actually takes when you feel like death!) you would never leave the house or see anyone!

Then once you have a chronic condition like that when anyone asks how you are- they aren’t fully listening or really wanting to know simply because most of the time they don’t understand it, think you are exaggerating or even lying about the severity of the condition. As time goes, on I can tell you, that you definitely find out who your true friends actually are. Having to cancel going on a night out does not go down well once you’ve done it more than once. The invitations to go out or do anything start drying up because if the venue is somewhere where there’s dancing to be done no one wants to be the one stuck at a table keeping you company! If its a day out with a fair bit of walking your invitation gets ‘lost’ as no one wants to be lagging behind walking at your speed rather than be with the crowd. Believe me it happens………………………………I’VE BEEN THERE AND GOT THE T-SHIRT ON THAT ONE!

You learn very quickly that when people ask how you are they are generally being polite and I can tell you most spoonies will answer ‘I’m fine’ (which generally means I feel like death but with a pulse!) and the conversation will quickly move on to what they’ve been up to.

So, I thought I would do a quick reference to what we say and it’s translation to what we actually mean- you know just for the laughs!

I’m Fine!

Like I said above this is the general term for I feel like death but with a pulse- but I have made the effort to get up and dressed to either meet up or go somewhere.

I’m a bit tired!

I literally cannot hold my own body weight up, it feels twice it’s normal weight but I also feel as though I’m wearing a pair of lead boots walking through a swimming pool of treacle whilst someone is pressing down on my shoulders with their own full body weight!

I’m a bit sore!

Feck me I think I’ve just done 10 rounds with Mike Tyson then been thrown out of the ring to be run over by 2 double decker buses and then been set upon by a pack of feral wolves…………..DON’T FECKING EVEN TRY TO TOUCH ME (OR EVEN LOOK IN MY DIRECTION)!

I had a rough day!

ALL OF THE ABOVE…………but now I feel sick, have a migraine and cannot even swallow food or fecking blink……………so I’m unable to get out of bed, the blinds are closed, earplugs are in as noise sensitivity is through the roof. Just check me occasionally to make sure I’m still actually breathing!

So if you have a friend or a family member who has a chronic illness and suffers with chronic pain, then PLEASE recognise the above standard phrases and REMEMBER what they actually mean. It could make all the difference to our day. If you look closely enough you will probably notice that  our smile we plaster on our face is not reaching our eyes…………..look closely next time.

HOW ARE YOU TODAY?

My tips on preparing your teen for University

My eldest baby left us on 12th September this year to start his university adventures. I didn’t want to write about it straight away ( or before) as my head was literally all over the place with a huge mixture of emotions. Yes I was unbelievably proud of him, but I was, as most mum’s would be, absolutely terrified that he wasn’t going to cope! It was so hard to leave him there on his joining weekend although we are lucky enough to be relatively close enough to go there for a day visit- which we did the next day to take him for a final family meal before leaving him properly.

last-meal-pic-with-conor

Almost a month into his new independent life and I am super pleased to say that he is not only coping very well but he is also loving his new found freedom. He has done several weekly shops now ( he loves the fact that he has an Aldi near him) and also done a few clothes washes too…………….this probably amazes me the most. He has also got himself a part time promotions job as well so is now earning a few extra pounds here and there to boost his weekly spending amount.

We had discussed the importance for him to maybe look for a part time job to subsidise his money as we as parents are not in a position financially to heavily subsidise him on a weekly or monthly basis. He is a sensible boy money wise as both my boys have been taught to save for the more expensive things that they have wanted over the years, but they also are shrewd enough to buy dvd’s/ older video games pre-owned from places like CEX and Game to make their money go further.

When my son initially discussed going to uni my husband and I did worry hugely about the financial side of things until it was explained at one of the uni talks that he could apply for possible bursary and loans etc that were means tested. Thankfully my son fell within that particular category however, I know other parents have had to look at other methods of supporting their child such as personal loans, savings and even equity release in order to support and subsidise their teen as necessary.

In a very short period of time I have come to realise that:

  • they will not starve!
  • they will eventually find the launderette
  • they will learn very quickly that their money does NOT last
  • they will cope because they have too

So here is a few of my top tips that you can help prepare your teen for living away at uni

*Teach them a few simple dishes to cook. My son is a very plain eater but he could at least cook pizza, cook eggs and bacon, cook chicken breasts properly and make sure he wasn’t going to get food poisoning!

*show them which of their clothes can go into the washing machine together and that their precious white t-shirt does not go in with their black jeans.

*one of the best things we did when setting up his student account was to keep his normal current account open so he could agree a weekly amount he could transfer on a weekly Standing Order from his student loan account into his current account. That way he has an agreed weekly amount he needs to manage on without the fear of dipping into his loan unnecessarily and whittling away at the money without realising.

*get them used to normal security measures ie: make sure before they go away they are used to always taking house keys with them everywhere-even if you are going to be home when they get in. If they are used to always taking their keys when  going out they stand less chance of losing/ forgetting to take keys when they are at uni…………..sounds silly but uni’s charge the students a fortune to replace lost keys!!

*take them with you when buying all their essentials to take with them, that way they know exactly what they have with them and they don’t waste money buying things when they get to uni that they already have tucked away in a cupboard!

* teach them to self medicate when they feel unwell. My boys have been doing this since their early teens and have a very sensible approach to over the counter medications. They know how and when they can take things like paracetamol/ ibruprofen and how often, cough mixture, hayfever tablets etc. YOU WOULD BE VERY SURPRISED HOW MANY TEENS DO NOT KNOW THE BASICS!

I could go on but those are a at least a few of the basic necessities to getting your teen ready for their independent uni adventure. If you have boys they will tell you that they wont be calling everyday, but what they don’t realise that they will find themselves texting you to check things about the cooking, the washing machines, their food shopping without actually realising that they are doing it………………………………………so do not fret THEY WILL KEEP IN TOUCH!

How to Prepare for Your Driving Test: Top 5 Tips

Having been a qualified driving instructor ( until my illness took over) I know how difficult it can be for anyone to transition from a provisional to a full driving licence, the driving test itself can often be a very daunting prospect. Both the theory test and practical test are actually very straightforward, but the pressure often makes these tests more difficult than they should be. My son has recently passed his theory test and hopefully will do his practical test quite soon ( when he gets a break from uni).

So, If you’re taking a driving test soon, these next five tips will help you prepare better in no time.

Take Advantage of Online Mock Driving Tests

There are many ways you can prepare for a driving theory test. You can read one of the available books on the UK driving test and learn more about the highway code and other knowledge. You can also use the tests at the end of those books to practice. The best way to prepare for the actual test, however, is to take a mock test online. I always advised my pupils to do what they think will be enough ( especially with teenagers!) and then do lots more!

There are a lot of sites that offer mock driving theory tests for you to try. Taking the online tests will help you prepare for the actual test mentally too, which is why it’s the best way to get ready. You can learn from your mistakes more effectively this way.

Timing the Test

Never take a driving test at a time when you feel stressful. For instance, you shouldn’t take a driving test on the same week as a school exam or any other stressful events in life. You have all the time in the world to get the driving license you need, so time your test correctly.

Get Enough Sleep

As mentioned before, it’s the pressure of taking the test that often make you fail. The test itself is very easy to handle. It is very normal to be nervous, but do not allow the nerves to take over, think of all the people already driving on the road they have all had to pass the test! To avoid feeling stressed on the day of the actual test, get enough sleep the night before. You should also avoid drinking too much coffee (or worse, energy drinks) before the test. The high level of caffeine will make you feel more agitated than usual.

Get There Early

Arrive at the test centre early. There is nothing worse and more off putting than rushing through the test centre doors with only minutes to spare.  Give yourself at least 20 minutes to get used to the test environment and catch your breath. You will feel so much better when the test starts and you’ll have no trouble at all passing the test with flying colours.

Getting to the test centre early will also help you prepare for the test mentally. Take deep breaths and visualise completing the test. Be positive about it and you’ll feel so much better – and so much more prepared – for the driving test. The examiners are normal people ( I know it’s hard to believe!), they are not there to fail you I promise.

Take the Necessary Documents

Last but not least, make sure you have the right documents with you. Most of the time, you need your driving license and your theory test pass certificate. Don’t wait until right before you leave for the test centre to prepare these documents. Have them ready the night before. If you do not have the appropriate documents you will not be able to take the test, so please be prepared.

You are allowed to bring someone to the test. If your child is taking their driving test, it is always a good idea to go with them and sit in the back of the car during the practical test. You’ll be providing a lot of moral support and your kids will have an easier time in general.

If you have a specific tip that helped you on the day of your test please share it with us as it could help someone else who is feeling very nervous about their upcoming test.

Rug Doctor to the rescue

I have been meaning to try one of these machines for ages especially for my youngest teens room as his carpet is in a pretty grim state, but it has ended up being a job I just procrastinated about rather than got on with.

So a few weeks ago I sent Rug Doctor a very cheeky tweet with a picture of my son’s excuse for a carpet to see if they would be up for a challenge! Unbelievably they responded immediately and emailed me with an offer to try one of their machines. So, I could procrastinate no more and it forced us into a complete clear out in my son’s room which was well overdue.

Disgusting I know!
Disgusting I know!

So the Rug Doctor carpet cleaner was delivered to my house complete with all sorts of cleaning sprays and the detergent to get started immediately. The very next day my husband was off work he went straight to work with the machine, which had clear instructions on how to use it actually on the machine itself and seemed fairly self explanatory. We just started with a patch in the room to see if we could see a ‘before’ and ‘after’ shot which I think you will agree shows an unbelievable improvement literally within minutes.

You cannot deny a definite before and after improvement- we couldn't believe the difference
You cannot deny a definite before and after improvement- we couldn’t believe the difference

I have seen these machines in most major supermarkets for hire for what I think is a very reasonable price as for us with one room mainly that we wanted done would have only have cost us around £40 for the day hire of the machine and the amount of detergent needed for the room. I think you will agree it’s certainly much cheaper than replacing a carpet if it really isn’t necessary or if money is tight.

As our son’s carpet was pretty grim to say the least we used the spot spray on the very tough stains and then sprayed a covering of the odour spray before going fully in with the machine to do the carpet wash. When we emptied the machine we were shocked at what came out…………..the water was absolutely disgusting!

EEEEEUUUUUUWWWW!
EEEEEUUUUUUWWWW!

This only proved to us even more that the cleaner was well worth using instead of just ripping the carpet out. Luckily enough we had enough detergent sent through so we made the most of the machine and did the stair carpet ( as there was an attachment hose with the machine) and our front room rug, just to clean it up a little for over the winter.

I am always a little sceptical about these sorts of machines thinking are they actually going to do what they say they will, to be honest that is probably what has made us unconsciously put this job off. Although I was sent the machine as a review after challenging them on Twitter to see if they were up to the job and therefore didn’t pay for the hire, I would certainly not hesitate to hire one of these again. It was simple to use and we saw results immediately. There are still some of the stains left on the carpet, however, they have been long standing ground in stuff that have been there for a long time. It still removed the harshness of them fading them slightly but overall the carpet itself without any stains really has come up extremely well and has been given a new lease of life for over the winter.

This is the complete ‘after’ picture of my son’s carpet:

Unbelievable isn't it?
Unbelievable isn’t it?

So don’t be like me and just keep procrastinating about a job like this, don’t rip the carpet out just give Rug Doctor a try, for the price of say a meal out for two you could get away with making your carpet last a lot longer and bring it back to almost how it was when it was new.

 

DISCLAIMER: I was sent a Rug Doctor carpet cleaner free of charge to try for review purposes but all views are my own and are based purely on the results we experienced

Popping my Britmums Live cherry- 2014

First of all this post is really, really late but I will explain that in another post!

Anyway on to the cherry popping.

So Britmums Live again, after listening to all the talk on Twitter last year, looking at all the fab pictures and generally feeling like I had missed out, I decided that 2014 was definitely the year I was going to go.

An amazing venue
An amazing venue

The venue was fabulous even on the outside.

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To say I was nervous was the biggest understatement. It’s ok to be brave chatting to people from behind a screen via Twitter and Facebook but going inside when it seemed everyone knew each other was daunting. Thankfully there was an arranged meet up beforehand for some newbies in a local Starbucks. This was great as we were all in the same position and it was good to meet a group of people before getting inside the venue.

The place was huge and absolutely mobbed with hundreds of excitable bloggers in a party mood.

Friday night awards with Katy Hill
Friday night awards with Katy Hill

I learned a lot from Britmums Live 2014. The agenda was packed and I certainly made the most of being a newbie and attended loads the sessions on offer. I was inspired by Capture by Lucy and I came away with some fab ideas, from sprucing up my site, talking better pics and generally being more confident about what I do. My favourite one was definitely Geekmummy who ran the tech session which was absolutely packed to the rafters and my pen was whizzing down dot com’s all over the place to help with the technical side of making changes on my site. I’m such a bloody technophobe it’s embarrassing!

It was rounded off by the Bloggers’ Keynote which had me laughing and then crying within minutes. Between that and the amazing opening keynote that morning from Benjamin Brooks- Dutton at Life as a Widower who reduced us all to blubbering wrecks from his speech but managed to be engaging and funny and upbeat all at the same time.

All in all I did thoroughly enjoy Britmums Live although I still felt very awkward and new and out of place, I met some lovely bloggers in the same position, had some great fun at the sessions and enjoyed some fabulous food from the Morrisons kitchen. However, due to my M.E the 2 days took it’s toll and so with that in mind I have decided that next year I definitely need to stay over in a hotel…………….. you know just to cut down on the travel……………..and not have such an early start on the Saturday………………nothing at all to do with staying out afterwards for a sneaky cocktail and a cooked breakfast in the morning……………. no not that at ALL!

 

 

How to de-stress family car journeys

As most of you will know by now I have to teenage boys. Just because they are teens does not make car journeys any less stressful than with a journey with toddlers. I remember when they were little they always took books, colouring stuff, small toys. Then as they got older it was Gameboys, audio books and DVD’s and now that they are teens they automatically lift their headphones for their phones or Ipods etc.

One thing that is easier to deal with is the fact they have a concept of time so they know on a long journey not to ask ‘Are we there yet?’ They also know and understand they have to wait until the next service station to go for a pee rather than having to stop on the hard shoulder to pee in the bushes!! We also do our game of Yellow Car on long motorway journeys although I do tend to become a bit competitive with this one.But they have learned from an early age to bring stuff to amuse themselves.

Yet I can remember how stressful even a short journey was when they were younger. Making them go the toilet before we left, remembering their favourite teddy/ blanket for the journey and listening to those sing-a-long tapes all the time.

Watch our video for top tips from the experts on the best way to ferry your little loved ones around in the car

 Every parent knows that heading out with the family in the car for a day out or a road trip can be a lot harder than it looks.

From packing all the essentials, to keeping the kids entertained during the journey, there’s plenty that mums and dads need to think about before heading out.

To help, Fiat 500L have got together with mummy bloggers and motoring journalist James Mills to give their advice on smooth family car journeys.

The experts give top tips on day out essentials, choosing and fitting car seats, entertaining the kids and maximising space in your car to make sure you can fit in everything you need for a pleasant journey and outing.

 

What is your favourite tip to de-stress a family car journey?

Thrifty ways of keeping warm when working from or staying at home

I am at home all of the time, sure I go out and about, meet friends for coffee, get my shopping in etc during the day while the boys are at school but because I’m unable to work I am generally at home most of the time.

Also because of my condition (ME/CFS) I feel the cold ALL of the time, but during the winter I refuse to heat a whole house by putting the central heating on when there is only me in the house. My OH always tells me off for this and will always tell me to put the heating on if I feel cold, which I do as soon as the boys are home from school.

When it is just me though I do think it’s a total waste. So I have over time found very thrifty ways to keep myself warm when I’m here on my own. Hopefully some of you who work and blog from home will find some of them helpful.

1. Wheat heat pads! These are fab and I was introduced to these by my mum as I struggle with muscular pain anyway. Literally you stick it in the microwave for 1min 30 secs and voila – instant heat. I use these to ease my neck pain and also helps to keep me warm.

2. Fingerless gloves! These may sound a bit Steptoe and Son but trust me when you are sitting at the laptop and your hands/ wrists get cold then you are going to feel cold generally. I’m a knitter so these are easy enough for me to make and I have several pairs. But really you could pick up a pair of cheap gloves from a pound store and cut the tips off so you can still type etc. It’s amazing how much heat they hold.

2. Good old fashioned water bottles! Either the full size ones or the little half size ones are fab. I have a full size one with a fleece cover on which will stay hot for ages. If I’m sitting on the sofa using the laptop then I rest my feet on it- once my feet are warm then I’m warm. I also have a little half size one which I use for my hands or rest against my back while I’m sitting.

3. Electric shoulder and neck pad. I was given this from my mum and use it all the time. It works the same as an electric blanket. If I’m sitting for any length of time then I plug this in pop it on a low heat and it has 90 minute cut off. I keep the heat minimal but wear it for the full time if I’m on the computer or sitting knitting/ crocheting/ reading/ watching telly etc. You can pick these up in places like Aldi or Lidl’s for around £15- a great investment rather than forking out for a days heating.

4. Thermals! I know soooo attractive- NOT. But these are great I have several pairs of ‘Heat’ knee length socks, normal thermal socks and some thermal vest style tops that go under what your wearing. Like I said not the most attractive things but they do work and can be picked up quite cheaply from sports shops to  Primarni!

5. Hot drinks.! This is obviously a no brainer and there is a chance you may get a bit waterlogged throughout the day but they do help. For this I recommend a flask- as sometimes when having a bad day I will be in bed or on the sofa most of the day. My OH and kids know to always leave me a flask of hot green tea! But for those lucky enough to have a little home office a hot drink from a flask is a godsend as it saves you interrupting your work or the flow of your writing all the time for a cuppa- so when you make your 1st cuppa fill a flask at the same time and that way you have your next warm drink at your fingertips. I have several single size flasks that keep a hot drink hot for ages.

So if your like me and are at home during the day but don’t want the expense of a huge heating bill over the winter try some of these tips and let me know how you get on.

 

 

 

The Importance of Bedtime Reading

So how important is bedtime reading to you as an adult? Hands up all you parents who have a read of a chapter or two before you go to bed yourself…………………..go on I will count you all…………………………..ok just a show of hands will do then.

So now as a parent how many of you actually read to your children before they go to sleep? Now don’t get me wrong there are days when maybe you have got home from work late to find chaos at home and by the time you have battled your way through dinner and the bedtime routines of baths etc, there may be a few nights that go past without a story………..Yeah?

We can’t always be perfect ( although we are most of the time of course!) but I would reckon that a good majority of us DO read to the kids before they go to sleep.

This was something I did almost religiously with my boys when they are young. My OH is not a big reader but I am and I knew it was important for the boys to enjoy books before they could master reading.

I am proud to say that both my boys are avid readers today, so that must be something I have done right at least!

Anyway, for those of you who maybe don’t read to the kids at bedtime, for whatever reason, check out this programme  online to help with the possible stress that bedtime reading can sometimes cause.

The Importance of Bedtime Stories

Watch our live show with Becky Overton, British children’s bedtime story writer, and TV presenter Helena Dowling to discuss why bedtime stories are so important for our little ones.

Show date: Friday 22nd March

Show time: 12:30pm  

Many parents can find bedtime stressful, but that needn’t be the case. Reading bedtime stories can really help your children relax and fall asleep more easily, and create an emotional bond between parent and child. Not only does a bedtime story help create a sense of occasion but it can also give children something to really look forward to before they turn out the light.

While some of us might lack confidence in our ability to read to our children, some of us are unsure of what tone or volume to use, or even what stories are suitable for bedtime reading – fear not, help is at hand.

So if you are worried about how you can read your children bedtime stories, don’t know exactly what the benefits of reading with your little ones are or want to share your tips and advice to other parents, then log onto our live show.

Becky Overton, a British Children’s Writer, whose stories are featured on A Bedtime Story with Arnie & Barnie on Nick Jr. and read by well-known celebrities such as Greg Rutherford and Kimberly Wyatt, is on hand to answer your questions, alongside TV presenter Helena Dowling and Holly Driscoll from Dolly and Daydreams.

Becky Overton, Helena Dowling and Holly Driscoll join us live online at http://www.studiotalk.tv/show/the-importance-of-bedtime-stories on Friday 22nd March at 1pm

Click here to submit questions before the show http://www.studiotalk.tv/show/the-importance-of-bedtime-stories

For more info check out http://www.nickjr.com/read

The Teenager Manual

No I’m not kidding I actually found this in the library today!

Yes the Haynes Teenager Manual!! So I couldn’t leave it on the shelf. I have 2 boys aged 12 and 14yrs and dealing with them is a complete minefield. They are both VERY different in character and also deal with similar situations in different ways. It is true that they cannot breathe the same air and DO NOT get on in any way!

I don’t want them to grow into delinquents or become estranged in any way and yet I do believe that it comes down to us as parents to do something about it.  WE must be doing something wrong if that were to actually happen and  to be fair I would be distraught.

So, in true fashion of ‘prevention rather than cure’ I saw this and thought………………well it worked out OK for cars didn’t it.

Well it can’t hurt can it?