Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Cherry On Top Award

Lou from Bloggomy has tagged me to receive a Cherry on Top Award!    So in accordance with rule number one of thanking the blogger that tagged you...thank you Louise, a wonderful friend who spans both my real and virtual life!

Next I have to say three things that I love about myself.  Now, this is not as easy as it sounds.

1:  I don't want to cheat and say I love my children because they are not actually 'me'...but I do love how I have chosen to parent the five remarkable little people that I am proud to call my children!  I pride myself on having always put them first, taking their lead and enjoying the martyr-ish self-sacrifice which has defined me for the past 24 years!!  They are my life and they have taught me what unconditional love means.

2:  I love that I can be strong.  I have made brave decisions and done things to protect my loved ones that really defies my usual laid back attitude.  In fact, I am working on a big, brave decision that will affect me and my family right now (so watch this space!)  I have fought back against problems and adversity...and will continue to do so.  I come out fighting when the chips are down (even though it can sometimes take a while to gain momentum!)

3: I love my body. But not in that way!  I love that I could get pregnant.  I love that I could carry and nurture my five children inside my body.  I love that I was able to breastfeed them for as long as I wanted to.  My body may be carrying extra pounds, it may bear the scars and stretch marks from a life well-lived, but it has done me proud.  I won't ever be a super-model, but I'm sure that is an over-rated lifestyle anyway!

Next I have to post a picture that I love.  There are so many pictures that I could have picked but I wanted one that had all my babies in it, and Ian is there in spirit as he was the photographer.

Lastly I have to tag five bloggers that I love.  I've been a bit out of the loop for the last few weeks and it is amazing how fast you drop out of things.  But here are my five, who have all been there for me this month sharing the love :)

Susan Mann
Sarah Mum of Three
Blog By Baby
Squeaky Baby
Circus Mums

Monday, 30 January 2012

The Ultimate Icing on the Cake

For the best results when decorating cakes, professionals recommend that you use the very best ingredients.  Already renowned for giving home bakers a helping hand, Silver Spoon is taking baking to the next level with their high quality range that includes everything you need to give impressive results in the kitchen.

The Queen of Couture Cakes, Mich Turner MBE, has launched the new Professional Quality Silver Spoon Create range of edible cake decorations.  Mich has decorated cakes for celebrities and royalty and she is sharing some of her professional secrets with this range.

The selection includes Finest Quality Marzipan which has 40% more almonds for a superior flavour and texture.  The almonds are sourced from the finest Mediterranean crops. It comes ready to roll and is ideal for covering fruit cakes, petit fours and sugarpaste modelling.  RRP for a 500g pack £3.99.

The range also includes Ready to Roll Madagascan Vanilla White Icing, made with finest Madagascan Vanilla  beans for an enhanced flavour, and gives a perfectly smooth, pure white finish.  RRP for a 1kg pack £3.29.

For a classy finishing touch, Silver Spoon Create includes a selection of Gold, Bronze and Pearl Lustres which can be delicately painted onto hand piped detail or sugar flowers and decorations for a romantic pearl finish.  RRP for a 20ml bottle is £2.49.

I am quite a novice when it comes to cake decorating, but I do like having a go!  I've been looking at the Baking Mad website and feel very inspired to bake a cake for Ian for Valentine's Day.  I don't know how far my talents will take me, but I know I'll be using the best possible decorating ingredients with the products I have been sent to test out.  Wish me luck!!!

Copyright Baking Mad

Sunday, 29 January 2012

#Project 366 becomes #Project 52!!

Reflecting on my own participation in Project 366, I decided that a daily photo post on my blog was just too self-indulgent.  Hell, I was boring myself!  However, I love the idea of capturing photos of my family and our life everyday so I'll be doing a project 52!  One photo post a week of what we've got up to, to sum up our week!

Ella and Freddy have a new game, where she picks him up and puts him in the linen basket!

Freddy in a Basket

Friday, 27 January 2012

Detoxification with Higher Nature

If this is the year that you have promised yourself that you will strive to get fitter and healthier, then you may be interested in Higher Nature.  Higher Nature, supplier of vitamins and organic foods, has a great range of supplements and natural beauty products that can help give our bodies a much needed boost.

I was sent a jar of fragrance-free Alka-Bathe detoxifying mineral bath salts to try out.  Alka-Bathe provides alkalising minerals (Potassium, Sodium bicarbonate and Silicon dioxide) for a complete detox. Cleansing and detoxifying the skin by drawing out acid waste products, it is also relaxing and soothing - comparable to a hot spring spa. Only two tablespoons are needed per bath.  The 650g clip-top Kilner jar looks great in the bathroom and comes with a wooden scoop which hangs from the clip. 

I love the design of the jar and the scoop.  It looks really lovely and would make a perfect gift. The promise of a spa treatment in your own home is very appealing.

Suggested Usage:

Sprinkle approximately two tablespoons of Alka-Bathe under the taps as you fill the bath. Re-cap immediately. Soak for at least 15 minutes, gently rubbing your body with a washcloth or loofah to facilitate the cleansing action. Preferably, do not wash your hair when using Alka-Bathe. After bathing, dry off and rest for 5-10 minutes. 

I've had a very stressful few weeks so a detoxifying bath was just what the doctor ordered.  As it is fragrance free, lighting a few scented candles helped engage all the senses for a relaxing experience.  Soaking for 15 minutes gives you a chance to forget all your worries and to get away from it all.  

The bath salts dissolve very well in the water.  The bath water didn't feel any different (sometimes bath products make you feel a bit 'slimy'), which I imagine is because these salts are very pure and natural.  As there were no bubbles or fragrance, it was a very different bathing experience. But if you just imagine that you are bathing in a hot spring spa and let the salts do their work, it is most enjoyable.  

Bathing in alkaline mineral salts promises to alkalize your body, drawing out impurities and toxins and promote healing.  It is also meant to be really good after strenuous exercise to relax and soothe muscles.  For a full detox you can use the salts in conjunction with Alka-Clear capsules or powders also available from Higher Nature.

The Alka-Bathe is vegan and not tested on animals and has a hypo-allergenic formula.

The 650g glass jar with scoop costs £20.95.   (A 450g pack is available for £14.20 but it doesn't come in the glass jar.)

The Spice Tailor

We are big fans of curry Inside the Wendy House.  I love how versatile Indian cuisine is, and how well it translates into vegetarian cookery.  Although I occasionally make curry from scratch, I generally opt for the time and effort-saving short cut of using jar sauces which are OK, but don't taste like an authentic Indian.  The Spice Tailor is a  new range of quality cooking sauces that are speedy and easy to use and taste like real Indian food should!

The Spice Tailor has a range of seven curry sauces that have been tailor made to let you create authentic Indian dishes with a fresh and modern outlook.  Created by Anjum Annad, the sauces showcase some of the best Indian dishes that she has chosen and developed.  They are free from artificial additives and are completely vegetarian. They also allow you to get dinner on the table in ten minutes!  You can tailor your own meal by adding  your choice of protein or vegetables and each pack comes with serving suggestions.

Each one comes with a packet of spices and include a red Guntur chilli if you want extra heat.  Some include a marinade or base sauce as well as the main cooking sauce.

I was sent a Keralan Coconut Curry and an Original Tikka Masala to try out.

I really liked the cardboard sleeves that attached to the individual plastic bags containing the spices and sauces.  It made the product really stand out from other curry sauces on the market.  Each pack serves 2-3 people, so I made both curries for a full family meal.

Paneer Tikka Masala

Frying the spices.
Adding the Paneer and Marinade.
Stir in the Sauce.
Quorn Keralan Coconut Curry

Frying Spices and Curry Leaves
Add Quorn Pieces and Curry Sauce
It was so easy to make the two curries and they were really quick and easy to do.  I was so impressed by the taste of both curries.  The Tikka Masala worked so well with the Paneer which was seared with the spice infused oil and marinade.  The Kerulan was mild but flavoursome.  

These sauces will make a perfect store cupboard stand-by but are also good enough to serve up at a dinner party or for a special meal.

The Spice Tailor Sauces are available in Korma, Mangalore Herb, Tikka Masala, Rogan Josh, Keralan Coconut Curry, Punjabi Tomato Curry and Spiced Spinach Curry flavours.  They are available to purchase from The Spice Tailor website or from Waitrose for £2.89 a packet.

Banoffee Muffins Recipe

It is just so quintessentially English to partake in elevenses!  That little drink and snack that we indulge in between breakfast and lunch, keeps us going and gives us a lift.  In the cold, grey month of January I for one need a bit of comfort food (in moderation of course!!).  I am therefore wholeheartedly supporting Anchor's campaign to bring back elevenses!!

At 11am the kids are at school, I've spent 2 hours running around after Freddy/ blogging/ shopping/doing a bit of housework and I need to sit down to recharge myself!  A rest and a treat restores the calm and gives me the boost I need to carry on with a busy day!  Anchor want to empower those people like me, who feel the need to enjoy a mid morning snack, to embrace the concept of elevenses in all its glory. 

To help get the Eleveneses ball rolling, we've taken to the kitchen to whip up some delicious Banoffee Muffins.  They are an indulgent treat that embodies the joy of elevenses.

Banoffee Muffins

300g SR Flour
1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
1 teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda
1 teaspoon Mixed Spice
110g caster sugar
1 egg
75g Anchor Butter -melted 
6 tablespoons milk
3 Large Mashed Bananas

1 can of Carnation Caramel

My Little Helper 

  • Preheat oven to GM5.
  • Sieve flour into bowl adding bicarb, baking powder and spice.
  • In a bowl mash the bananas.  Add the melted butter, egg, milk and sugar.
  • Mix the wet and dry ingredients together.
  • Put into a greased muffin pan or into silicone muffin cases.
  • Cook for 18-20 minutes.


Turn out and serve with caramel blobbed on top.  Pop in microwave for 10-15 seconds for an indulgent warm Banoffee Muffin to make your Elevenses extra special!

Warm Banoffee Muffins...Yum!

Personalised Cards For Every Occasion From Scribbler & A Discount Code!

Are you looking for personalised cards that are well designed with an edgy sense of humour?  Do you have something to tell someone and want to do it in a fun and unique way?  Would you like to send the perfect Valentine's card to your loved one?  Then look no further...Scribbler have a range of personalised cards that can literally be adapted to any occasion!

I was given the opportunity to try out Scribbler's website for myself to create a personalised Valentine's Day card for my husband Ian.  After changing my settings in order to view the rude cards (the website defaults to keep the X Rated stuff hidden) I had so much fun looking at the designs.

How about this one for a bit of risqué romance?

Copyright Scribbler
I love the range of Knit and Purl cards featuring knitted characters that are just too cute!  I quite liked the vegetarian angle of this one!
Copyright Scribbler
There is a great selection of Fridge Magnet designs spelling out messages.  Some are sweet and cute, some are a bit racy and some are downright dirty!!  So whatever you want to convey to your Valentine, you can say it in fridge magnets!
Copyright Scribbler
This design was one of my favourites and gave me a bit of a giggle!  It's definitely a bit different to the typical Valentine's cards you find in some shops.  Very original!

Copyright Scribbler

I really like the originality of the designs and the range is really extensive.  There are romantic cards and there are filthy cards and everything in between.  So whoever you are planning on sending a card to, you'll find something that fits the bill.  There are designs for every level of relationship from secret admirer to happily married.

All the cards have some level of personalisation.  You can change some of the text on the front of the cards, adding a name for example. Some require a photo upload to put your recipient directly in the picture.  Inside you have free reign to add a personalised message across both pages.

I think I have yet again gone for the safe option with my photo card option for Ian, but I love my Top Sante photoshoot pics so much I wanted to use them for something!

A medium sized card is competitively priced at £2.99 + 50p P&P.  I ordered mine yesterday morning and by the afternoon had an email telling me it had already been shipped!  How is that for service!  You can have the card delivered straight to the recipient or have it posted to yourself with a blank envelope if you plan to give the card in person.  Mine arrived today with a snazzy green envelope to give it to Ian in.  The quality of the card is good with glossy card and crisp printing.

Scribbler has kindly offered a 20% discount code for readers of Inside the Wendy House to use against any cards in their range.  Simply fill in the Coupon Code section as you checkout with the code ITWH2512.  Perfect with Valentine's Day coming up...and don't forget Mother's Day on March 18th!!  Click here to go to the website now!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Resurrection of Spinky The Hamster

Today my hamster was dead.  At least I thought she was dead.  The cold, stiff little creature was motionless.  Her head was swollen with her eyes fused shut and her ears tucked into her puffy head.  She had lost all her colour and had a white nose and mouth. Her limbs jutted out rigid and immobile. I poked her, I rattled her cage.  Nothing.

I was so upset.  It seemed to compound every crap thing that has happened this month.  It was as though our poor pet had died due to my negativity rubbing off on her fluffy, little body.  It seemed like a terrible omen.

Some time later I thought I ought to 'deal' with the hamster proferring some dignity to her in her death.  But when I picked her up she slowly and slightly raised her head and hissed at me.  I didn't know hamsters made a noise...dead hamsters definitely don't make a noise!  So she was still alive.  I actually freaked a little.

Whenever I am not sure of something I turn to Google.  So that was my first port of call.  It turns out that this is not an unusual occurrence with lots of people having 'dead' hamsters that weren't actually dead.  Apparently it is a hypothermic coma because they get too cold.  Whereas I thought that the big, snuggly nest that she had made was a sign that she was comfortable and warm, it was actually a sign of her struggling to keep herself warm.  The sudden cold weather had dropped the overnight temperature in our dining room enough to send her into a false hibernation.  This kills hamsters.  They are not equipped for it and die of hypothermia.  The advice said to warm up the animal slowly and then there would be a chance of recovery.  I felt so guilty.  I couldn't even take care of a rodent.

I turned on the heating and moved her next to the radiator wrapping her frozen body in an old towelling bib.  There was no change.  The online advice said that if you don't get them out of the coma within an hour then it is too late.  Her lifeless body told me it was all over.  I phoned Ian in tears...I never knew I was that sentimental.

When it was time for the school run I walked past the cage and just had the feeling to try one more time.  Even though she'd been frozen solid for some seven hours, I owed her that.  I took her upstairs to my bedroom where the sun was shining through the window.  With the radiators on for another hour and the warmth of the sun on her, I left for school.  I picked up Kizzy and explained what had happened preparing her for her first pet's death.

We got home and went to say our last goodbyes.  I was shocked to see the previously lifeless body was now shaking violently.  Her head was still all puffy, her limbs were still frozen and stiff, but the body was in convulsion.  I consulted my friend Google again, to see that shaking was a sign of the muscles coming back to life.  There was hope.  Eventually she opened her eyes into little slits and lifted her head.  It was so sad to see her trying to move.  She was stumbling and falling and rolling and dragging her back legs behind her, but she was alive!

Kizzy sat with Spinky, urging her to take water from a dropper.  We gave her chopped carrot and bit by bit she recovered.  The strange swelling went down.  She found her feet.  Her colour returned.  We saved her!

It feels like I have turned a corner.  Definitely a sign that things are on the up.  Things are getting better.  The resurrection of our hamster means so much more to me than I could ever imagine.  She was all but stone cold dead, now she is running around her cage.  I nearly gave up on her, but I didn't.  That is quite prophetic!

We are now investing in a heated cage for her.  Our born again hamster deserves to be treated like the little miracle she is.  She's not out of the woods yet, but she is fighting back.  A lesson for us all!!


I remembered one of the reasons I started this blog.  It was my therapy.  Casting out my negativity into the ether.  Getting rid of my pain, sending it into the void of the internet.

January 2012 has been the crappest month I've ever had.  One bad thing after another sent to try us.  We keep pulling through but my grip is loosening.

I watch myself as I tap away on the keyboard diligently writing reviews and other posts.  I wonder why the hell am I trying so hard to post photos for Project 366.  Photos that I am sure aren't interesting to anyone other than myself.  I'm losing a bit of myself with every passing day, yet I don't want to let anyone down.  Or maybe in continuing with the charade of normality I am holding on to the last thread that is keeping me from imploding.

We've been trying to cope with some problems, which aren't mine to discuss here.  But I've felt tested.  I've questioned myself.  I'm my own toughest critic and although I know in my head that I'm not doing anything wrong, my heart tells me I'm coming up short at every hurdle and should do more to make things right.  I am truly spent: emotionally and physically.

My daughter, who is struggling with her exams and her life at school, has got her school report.  Some teachers have been really sympathetic with Ella's situation.  Others have been utterly thoughtless saying that she should be disappointed for getting a grade B in a mock exam.  A 'B' is bloody brilliant from someone who says that school makes her feel like crawling into a corner.  What a great way to make a vulnerable teen feel worthless!  So much for pastoral care.

Meanwhile the wonderful world of anonymous cyber-bullying has reared its ugly head to persecute my daughter.  Reading through what some sad and evil little troll has said to my beautiful girl has made me sick.  Worse still, it's someone who knows her personally.  Every fibre of my being wants to write a response telling them exactly what I think of them and invite them to take their issues up with me face to face.  I'd love to tell them what a cowardly, pathetic little stain they are, but as an adult you can't do that.  Instead I've done the grown-up thing and print screened the vitriol that is inciting my child to commit suicide because no one would miss her.

I'm a believer in signs.  Always have been.  If my husband buys me flowers and they wilt the next day, I worry that that is a representation of our relationship somehow.  It's stupid but I think it stems back from when my depression was at its worse and I'd honestly believe something dreadful would happen unless I could count to 100 before the next car drove past my bedroom window.  Our hamster, who I actually and ridiculously  adore has keeled over and died.  She is lying in a crumpled ball in her bed and I can't deal with it at all.   It seems just so symbolic because she was healthy, fine and friendly.  Now she's dead.  My mind is in overdrive trying not to latch onto it as a sign or a dark prophecy of impending doom.  Plus I'm going to have to tell Kizzy that I somehow managed to kill her pet whilst trying to care for it.  I can't help but think that everything I touch turns somehow to shit.

I hope that by pressing 'publish post' I'll exorcise these thoughts.  It'll empower me to take some control back.  I feel like I'm failing, I'm falling and yet life goes on around me. I carry on doing what I do with a painted smile on my face. I wish the clouds would clear, just for a while. Just to let me collect myself.  To let me deal with things and make it all better.  I want to make it all all right for the people that I love most in this world.  Not being able to do so is crippling me. I'm frustrated and it's opening up a part of me that I thought I'd put away for good.  That is scaring me.

Oh to have a magic wand and make everything right for everyone.  In the absence of the aforementioned wand, I'll just have to man up and get on with it.  I don't have the luxury of self pity.

Normal service will resume immediately...I've got a review and a 366 photo to post.


Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Keeping Coloured Hair Looking Good with Regis Designline

Back before Christmas I was treated to a fabulous hair cut and colour by the lovely team at Regis.  It was such a delight being pampered by style director Sarah who was so knowledgeable and passionate about her job.

During my time in the chair we chatted about what products I used on my hair.  I was a bit embarrassed to confess I just used whatever was on special offer when I went shopping.  She explained to me that this was not a good idea as many of the shampoos and conditioners that we pick up from the supermarket shelves are really not very good for our hair at all.  They contain chemicals to coat our hair which initially makes it feel smooth and knot free, but ultimately damages it making it look dull and lifeless.  If you spend a lot of money on getting your hair cut and coloured then it is in your interest to look after it and keep it as healthy as possible for as long as possible.
Washing With Regis Products.
Regis have a range of hair products specially designed to meet all of your haircare needs.  Designline shampoos and conditioners are uniquely formulated to bring out the best in every hair type and texture whilst the styling and finishing products give you the tools you need to create salon inspired looks and styles.

I was sent a selection of Designline products from the range to try out.  They are available exclusively at Regis Salons nationwide.

Designline by Regis
The shampoo from the Designline range for Colour Care helps protect colour from washout by fifty percent.  It refreshes colour-treated hair while improving shine, health and body.  The conditioner helps restore chemically compromised hair adding softness and vibrant shine which can be lost during the colouring process.

Colour Care
The shampoo and conditioner smell really nice and are really lovely to use.  A little goes quite a long way which is a consideration when using more expensive, premium products.  I don't know for sure whether my colour has lasted better, but my hair feels healthy and is shiny.

The Powder Boost Volumizer is a great product.You gently tap over the roots and massage in to give instant matte volume and texture to the hair.  This is great for days between washing (common when you are a busy mum to a toddler!)

The Fiji Therapy Styling Oil is a very rich treatment, which when applied sparingly to wet hair, hydrates, heals and protects it.  It also gives a shiny finish.  This product is not one that I'll use, as it has been adopted by my husband who loves oil treatments on his hair ever since having one at a Health Spa a few years back!!

So, if you spend a lot of money on cuts and colours at the salon, it is worth investing in good quality products to help maintain the health and appearance of your crowning glory.  Pop into your local Regis Salon to see the products on offer.

My New Toy! #project 366

Who knew what fun it was to find free books to download to your Kindle!  I have masses of reading material from lots of new authors and no shelf space has been compromised.  Genius!!

My Kindle!

McCain Ready Baked Jackets

There’s nothing quite like the smell and taste of a slow oven-baked jacket potato, but the downside is waiting ages for it to cook. The rush of family life means we sometimes need meals to be ready in minutes, so getting dinner on the table quickly takes priority.  Unless we have planned our meal well in advance, oven cooked jackets are off the menu!  

Microwaves have made it easier to cook a single spud, but the flavour and texture is lost.  Cooking enough jackets for a big family is impossible in a microwave and often ends in a microwave /conventional oven juggling act.  The average time people take to cook their jacket spuds, using oven, microwave or both, is 40 minutes!  That's a long time to wait for your dinner if you are in a hurry to feed the family. 

Now the wait is over with new McCain Ready Baked Jackets. Ready in just five minutes, they will make a delicious slow-baked taste and smell possible in a flash.

There has always been a constant compromise between oven baked taste and wanting to speed up the process, which is where McCain Ready Baked Jacket Potatoes win!  In just 5 minutes  you can be enjoying a fluffy, comforting and delicious baked spud that tastes as good as one you have slow baked from scratch. You get the smell, the taste and the fluffiness in a fraction of the time.

McCain have taken the best British potatoes, they cross cut the top and drizzle them in Sunflower Oil before slow baking them in the oven.  All you need to do is pop them in a microwave for 5 minutes which is enough time to prepare a topping and voilà have a healthy, satisfying meal in a jiffy! 

McCain have come up with some serving suggestions for enjoying your Baked Potato.  How about cooking as per instructions, then scooping out the flesh and combining it with 50g of soft cheese, 50g of grated cheese and chopped spring onions.  Refill the skins then grill until golden brown.  Delicious!  You can experiment by using different cheese...Cheddar, Blue Cheese or even Parmesan. (meat eaters can add chopped ham...and veggies could add chopped Quorn for a tasty twist).  My kids enjoyed them with baked beans and grated cheese...quick, easy and very yummy!

Cheese Stuffed Jackets
The McCain Ready Baked Jacket Potatoes have an RRP of £1.29 for 2 and £1.99 for 4.  They are a great freezer standby allowing you to knock up a quick, healthy meal in minutes...perfect for those busy times!

*No compensation was received but we did have some spuds for lunch.*

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

One Born Every Minute #Conception

The final prompt for the Netmums 'One Born Every Minute' post is disability and conception.  I can't comment on the subject of disability but conception is something I'm very familiar with.

My own mum had trouble conceiving.  She had blocked Fallopian Tubes which needed to be opened in order for her to get pregnant.  It took five years for my parents to conceive my eldest sister.  Five years later they had the procedure again to conceive their second child.  Then five years later, quite by chance they naturally conceived me...their little accident miracle!!

Knowing about my mother's difficulties conceiving, I thought the same may be true of me.  However, I couldn't have been more wrong.

Aged 18...New Year's Eve...pregnant.
Aged 21...Valentine's Day...pregnant
Aged 27....Judge Dredd Film Premiere and after party with free booze...pregnant
Aged 33....New Year's Eve (again)...pregnant

All these pregnancies were not exactly planned, they were more like getting lucky in a game of conceptual Russian Roulette.  It was a conscious decision to not take precautions.  I definitely courted the notion of getting pregnant and I did so incredibly quickly and easily.  Each baby was adored from the moment they were conceived (and continue to be the most precious things in my life.)

However, with Freddy we decided to 'try' for a baby.  We were both the wrong side of 40 and I was fully aware that fertility levels rapidly decline as we get older.  I had been on the pill for many years but came off them when I realised they were adversely affecting my mental health.  We discussed Ian having a vasectomy, but I couldn't bring myself to let him do it.  It was too final and I didn't feel that my childrearing days were complete.  So we thought we'd leave it to nature and have one last try.  I instantly felt really panicky convincing myself I'd be infertile.  I even began to talk myself out of the whole thing to avoid disappointment if I didn't fall pregnant.  I started to think about how easy life would be as the other children were getting so grown-up. I had all but given up on the whole idea, finding a million and one reasons to not try at all.  That would mean I'd never have to face up to not being able to conceive "at my age".

Then....there it was...two lines on the pregnancy test!  I had indeed become pregnant within the first month of trying.  I was in equal measure delighted and terrified.  I went on to have my gorgeous baby boy and thank my lucky stars every day that I fell pregnant before fear stopped me from trying!

I am so lucky that I have never had to worry or wait to get pregnant.  It really was so easy for me to conceive  and each baby has been an absolute blessing.  I can't imagine what my own mum went through being unable to fall pregnant naturally.

My Freddy Bump!
My Baby Boy x

Teenagers and Exams

At the moment, my 15 year old daughter Ella is taking some of her GCSE exams.  Today it's Biology and Geography SDME.  My eldest daughter Megan also has five of her final year exams at university taking place.  The whole concept of exams and education has been very much at the forefront of my mind.

When I was at school I was one of those people who loved exams.  I was not very engaged in class.  I didn't enjoy participating in lessons and preferred the challenge of being on my own with an exam paper.  No distractions, no having to listen to a teacher and no being held back by the less able students.  It was quite a selfish way to conduct myself.  I took very little part in classroom activities but totally rocked the exams.  I had strings of stress-free A's.

The format of O'Levels were very different to GCSE's.  We had a multi-choice paper, a short answer question paper and an essay paper.  It was very straightforward and tested your knowledge of the whole subject.  How times have changed!  GCSE papers seem very strange to me, filled with odd scenarios that require you to think outside of the box and decipher the question before applying any factual knowledge.  There is an emphasis on evidence and proof rather than just the facts.  It tests something very different and I'm not sure I get it!

Instead of highlighters and revision notes, which were my tools of choice, kids these days use Moodle, an online resource.  The temptation to flit between social media and revision is too great, and I defy any teen to be 100% committed to the uninspiring pages of exam questions when an MSN conversation beckons just a click away!  Procrastination is just too easy!

All that aside, I have found my attitude to the education system changing dramatically.  Ella is not as happy with exams as I was.  They cause her stress and make her feel sick.  She is an incredibly clever girl and the teachers quickly saddled her with predictions of achieving A*s.  This is course is great for the school helping them exceed their targets and make them look good in the league tables.  The teachers will be able to take credit for the results and prove their worth in a system that is now based so heavily on paperwork, evidencing added value and results.  Exam results are as much about the school as the kids who sit them.  Consequently there is enormous pressure on my daughter, and she has cracked under it.

She has told me how certain teachers have given her a hard time because she got a high B and not an A in a mock exam.  Seriously?? Is this the way to motivate a teenager?  She was made to feel like she wasn't good enough and underachieving.  When 48% of her peers will fail to even get the expected standard of 5 GCSE passes, why put pressure on someone who is doing perfectly well?  Can they not concentrate on the low achievers and help a few of them succeed?  Ella will do just fine, but not if she is made to feel worthless in the process.

I have come to realise that as long as you get a grade C or above in English and Maths and three other passes, no one really cares what GCSE grades you get.  Employers aren't interested in what you got at school when you were 15 or 16.  So whether you get an A or a B is irrelevant.  For me, my daughter's mental state, self esteem and confidence are far more important than whether she gets A*s on her exam certificates.

My eldest son performed OK at school.  He wasn't highly academic but achieved above average results.  School tried to pressure him into the university route which I felt from the start was not for him.  He went into college but clearly had no desire to pursue academia.  After failing his first year we stepped in and helped him find the confidence to leave education, in spite of the teachers trying to make him persevere.  He has gone on to excel in the workplace and is doing very well as a System's Analyst.  He didn't need A'Levels or a degree to get where he is.  It isn't always the right route.

Megan is a high achiever and walked away with 7 A*s and 5 As at GCSE.  She went on to get her A'Levels and is now in her final year at University.  She has however, come to the conclusion that she feels pigeon-holed by her degree and after she graduates plans to take a completely different direction.  I am proud of her for coming to this conclusion because ultimately it is her happiness that is the most important thing.  She hasn't wasted three years at university because she will have a good, well valued degree and has learned many life lessons.  But life as a number-cruncher does not excite her at 20 years of age.  She will have her whole life to work out what and who she wants to be. Number-crunching can wait!

There is too much pressure on our teens.  The options they take to decide which GCSEs they want to do is made out to be the most vital decision of their lives, when in reality you are just trying to find subjects that actually fit into the timetable.  Then you have to pick A'Levels.  Again there is so much pressure on kids to pick the right subjects.  I told Ella to pick what she enjoys.  Unless you have a specific career goal in mind, it really doesn't matter.  It's all UCAS points at the end of the day.  Generally, once you get to university you are told to forget everything you've learned up to that point.  And who really knows what they want to be when they grow up anyway.  Life will kick up all manner of opportunities and unexpected directions.  I'm one for embracing what comes along.

I have come to realise that the mental health of my children and their self-esteem is far more important than any exam results they get.  I want them to do their best, but not at any cost.  I hope they succeed in becoming what they want to be, I hope they will be hard working and take pride in their achievements.  But I also hope they know when enough is enough.  I don't want them crumbling in the face of unnecessary pressure, just to satisfy OFSTED or a teacher's targets.  I want them to enjoy their education.  I do not want them to dread it.  Life is about so much more than that.  I do not want their joie de vivre sucked out in the face of undue pressure to perform.

I am so proud of my children.  I don't need an A* to prove how great they are.

My Girls are Worth So Much More than their Exam Results!

Monday, 23 January 2012

New Vans! #project366 Day 23

How do you make a teenager happy?!  Buy her new Vans!!  
How do you make Mummy happy?!  Buy them from Cheshire Oaks for half price :)


Sunday, 22 January 2012

Potty Training My Toddler!!

Last week Freddy made the decision that it was time to cast his nappies aside and take another step on his journey to becoming a big boy!  The timing wasn't great, with his daddy having had surgery the day before, leaving me a little preoccupied with nursing my poor husband in his time of need.  However, it may have been due to the fact that Nana babysat him while I was at hospital with Ian, that spurred Fred onto his decision.  I came home to find Fred walking with his legs akimbo and hoiking up his nappy through his trousers.  My investigation showed that poor old Nana had put his nappy on backwards.  The velcro straps were attached loosely behind his bum resulting in a saggy, misshapen mess between his legs!  We think perhaps this experience made Freddy decide that enough was enough and his adamance at going nappy-less next morning was a direct result of this!

I was not in any rush to begin potty training.  I was going to wait until Springtime when I could let him run around bare-arsed without catching a chill.  But Freddy really was insistent on going for it 100%, so we went along and followed his lead.  He is 2 years and 6 months old, with good language, so when he wants to go he says 'wee-wee's coming'.  This gives us enough time to whip out the Pourty which he dutifully sits on and generally performs.  We have a few false alarms and he sometimes tricks us, but mostly I have been really impressed with his understanding of the potty training game.  He has gone dry through the night on three consecutive times, but I'm not brave enough yet to let him go unprotected in bed (after all he is still in our bedroom and usually ends up co-sleeping).  We have done a few car trips with him and have so far had no car seat wetting accidents which is absolutely brilliant.  He has been taken shopping and although we constantly nag the poor child as to whether he needs to go, he seems to be handling being nappy-less in public perfectly well.

To facilitate the transition we have stocked up on plenty of pants.  I have a soft spot for baby boy trunks which are just the cutest things ever!  We also have a plentiful supply of tracksuit bottoms which are easy to pull up and down.  We have the 'potty bag' that we now carry around everywhere which holds a spare potty, spare pants, trousers and socks, (lest he wees down his leg!) a plastic bag for wet clothes and tissues for any mop ups/wipes that need to be carried out.  It is certainly going much better and is much easier than I feared.

I think letting Freddy make the decision was the factor that has made this so much easier than I anticipated.  We have always taken this approach in our parenting, believing that baby really does know best, and regardless of what it may say in parenting guides, every child is different and comes to milestones in their own time.

This potty training lark has made me reminisce about my previous four children's toileting journeys.  When Joe was a baby it was not uncommon to start them potty training at a year old.  I introduced the potty to him at about 9 months old 'catching' the occasional wee or poo more by luck than judgement, or by encouraging him to play on the potty for extended periods.  This resulted in the potty training lasting for ages with a toddler who was understandably unreliable.  That can be so frustrating and generate tonnes of wet washing!

Megan's potty training came about through her determination to wear pretty pants!  She was (and still is) a very single minded young lady who has a strong will and desire to succeed.  I remember many a time pushing her along in her push chair and being aware of a trickle of wee coming out from underneath it, because although the mind was willing, the bladder wasn't so sure.  But she persevered and achieved her pretty pants goal.  Ella and Kizzy's potty training came easier as I was more relaxed and prepared to wait, rather than rush the situation.  As they were a bit older and both very chilled little girls they made the transition very quickly.

In looking back at my previous experiences, I have realised that you very quickly adjust to any situation.  As things change, so does our perception to them.  Consequently, what felt like a stressful few weeks at the time, soon blurs in our mind and is virtually forgotten over time.  Parenting is all about phases and stages and adapting to them and working out new ways to cope with new situations.  If we relax and take it in our stride then we can coast through the upheavals with minimum disruption to our lives and stress levels!

Talking to Ian, we both have very sketchy memories of actually potty training the girls.  At the time I'm sure it was all encompassing and hugely time consuming.  So I know that this stage of Fred's life will soon be over and him wearing pants will become the norm.  So even if he relapses, has accidents or decides that he wants to delay this stage for a while even after his brilliant start, I will remain chilled out and not worry about it.

Potty Training!

Oh Baby London

Oh Baby London is a children's clothing line born out of a hatred for dull, uninspiring, pastel baby clothes.  When founder and graphic designer Hannah became pregnant, she was so disillusioned with the babywear on offer that she designed her own range of clothing full of life affirming anarchy.  With her children as her inspiration and her muses, Hannah has created baby clothes that are original, unique and incredibly funky!  

With bang on trend graphic and slogan print and retro tees, onesies, shoes, bottoms and dresses, Oh Baby London caters for mums who want something a bit out of the ordinary for their precious little ones.  They also sell a selection of shoes, gift sets, accessories, books, toys and retro blankets and cushions.

Oh Baby London has a shop in Brick Lane and also sells their range online so we can all get our hands on the gorgeous, quirky clothes for our trendy kids!

Freddy was lucky enough to be sent a Cool Britannia Union Jack print sweatshirt to try.  Made from 100% soft, thick cotton, it is perfect for little Brits!
It is available in sizes suitable for newborn tots right up to kids aged 8.  It arrived beautifully packaged secured with Oh Baby London ribbon and stickers for a personal touch.

The sweatshirt is so well made from a very strong and hard wearing fabric and the stitching is very secure.  The attention to detail is great.  The fabric design is really original with rumpled Union flags and safety pins in an homage to the punk era.  The colours were quite muted making it look retro and really trendy.

We got the sweatshirt in size 3Y.  It was a spacious and comfy fit on Freddy, so he'll have a bit of growing room.   It kept him really warm and did not restrict movement at all.

The Union Jack Sweatshirt costs £20 direct from Oh Baby London.  At the moment they also have a great sale with up to 75% off selected styles.  You can also sign up to their email newsletter for 20% off your first order.  

And if all that isn't reason enough to pay a visit to OH Baby London, just look at this Shearling Biker Playsuit.  How incredibly cute and funky is this!  It's currently on sale for just £27!!

New Hat! #Project 366 Day 22

Kizzy's New Hat!!

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Pilgrim's Choice The Choosiest Cheese

Shopping for your favourite Cheddar has just been made a whole lot easier thanks to Pilgrim's Choice.  In response to customer feedback, the helpful folk at the "choosiest cheese company" have revamped their look and range for 2012!

The Pilgrim's Choice Range
The new eye catching, user friendly packaging carries helpful descriptions to guide your cheese selection.  So whether you like your Cheddar crumbly or smooth or rich or punchy, you'll be able to pick the right cheese to suit your tastes.

Each pack also includes cheese-tastic recipes, serving tips and suggestions for flavour combinations.  So whether you are after simple sarnies or cheese based masterpieces, there are loads of ideas on the packs.  This will give you culinary inspiration and give you plenty of cheesey knowledge to impress your friends!

Serving Suggestions
With the brand new award winning Lighter Extra Mature Cheddar which accompanies the Lighter Mature Cheddar in the range, even those of us who are watching our diets can continue to enjoy a quality cheese which contains 30% less fat without compromising on taste.  I've tried the Lighter Extra Mature Cheddar Cheese and I can confirm that it is really delicious.  It is really strong and tasty...perfect for cheese on toast!

I love the definitions on the packs which really helps with appreciating the cheese and understanding the qualities.  My children prefer the rich, smooth flavour of the Mature Cheddar, while my husband favours the tangy, crumbly Vintage Cheddar.  It is really useful to know what you are getting when you buy your cheese.  The information on the packs gives lots of good ideas for meals, snacks or ways to use your cheese.  How about grating over salted popcorn? Or serving in a Ploughman's with a drizzle of runny honey?

Each pack is embossed with the "Choosiest Cheese Company" crest - a celebration that Pilgrim's Choice cheese experts hand select only the finest cheese from the best farms and creameries!

2012 promises to be an exciting year for Pilgrim's Choice with a high profile TV ad campaign due to be launched soon.  Join in with the fun at the Pilgrim's Choice Cheese Facebook Page or find out more at

Keep an eye out for the new distinctive packaging in a supermarket near you, and pick up a pack of your favourite Pilgrim's Choice Cheese.  It is the perfect cheese for anyone who appreciates quality, flavour and heritage, but also appreciates good value!


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