Monday, 28 September 2015

The Perfect Family Car

I have had a number of cars over the years. I remember my very first one - a baked-bean coloured Vauxhall Corsa. It was my little pride and joy. That was until I realised that it had a faulty engine and I had to have it scrapped....

Anyway, since then I have had  quite a few cars. It was a lot easier before we had the babies - there is much less to consider, you can just pick a ca because you like it. However, with the kids obviously we have to think about them. You need something that is big enough to fit them all in as well as being economical on fuel. Chances are if you have a few kids, you might be running them here there and everywhere for a number of years so it's important to pick the right car for your family. Here is what we took into account when we purchased our Ford Focus:

1) Room

There had to be plenty of room in the back. We have three children so we needed to fit the cars seats in. We also had to take into account all of the kid's "stuff" - they just tend to cram their things in the car with them, they can't help it. Elsa dolls, shoes, books, half-eaten apples... everything tends to end up in there with them so we needed a car with plenty of room.

2) Child-Locks

This was essential for us. Kids mess and fiddle with everything in cars and it would be terrible if they could open the doors, it's bad enough that they mess with the windows! So we have the child-locks on ours and gives us peace of mind.

3) Entertainment

We have  CD player and a radio in ours. We don't have a DVD player but that would be nice. We tend to use the CD player and radio and sing along with them on long journeys. We all sound brilliant. Brilliant-ish.

4) Fuel Economy

We do use our car a lot. We use it in the week for work and then we try to get out and about most weekends. We needed our car to be economical on fuel as well as being reliable.

5) One with a separate noise-proof section for the kids, like this:

Just kidding.

This post was brought to you in association with Parkway. All words and views are my own.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Christmas Shopping

I know, I know... the dreaded "C" word so early in the year. But as parents we are all desperate to get Christmas organised. This year we are planning a little trip in December to Brussels for the Christmas markets, so we definitely want to get cracking early with the organising! So I have put together a little Christmas wishlist of essentials that we want to get in for the kids and for our home this Christmas. I'll be done by the end of November, promise...

Christmas last year!

1) Craft Items

When the kids are off we love to buy them craft supplies for those cold days indoors. I love the decorate your own baubles and clay figurines for them to paint. I put a load of old newspaper down and just let them get to work. I love watching them enjoy themselves and get messy as they learn!

2) Christmas Jumpers

I love Christmas jumpers on the kids. They are so festive and I love that they can wear them all December and be so warm and wrapped up. I don't even have one for myself and I am certain Warren would hate one. I think I will definitely have to buy us one each this year...

3) Advent Calendar Supplies

We don't buy the kids advent calendars because we have a gorgeous wooden one that lights up. It is a church and has pull out drawers for each day of December. So instead of buying them calendars, we buy sweets or chocolates and put them in each drawer for each day. Needless to say they love opening them!

4) Stocking Fillers

I love buying stocking fillers in the run-up to Christmas. I just pick up bits as we go. The Works have all kinds of stocking fillers on their website at the moment. I will definitely be checking that out!

5) Decorations

We do have quite a few decorations for the house already. We have Christmas candles and candle-holders for the table. However, this year I would like to get all new decorations for our tree. I think a trip to the local garden centre might be in order in a few weeks - can't wait!

This post was brought to you in association with The Works. All words and views are my own.

Back to Uni as a Post-Grad

I've finished uni now of course, with my first class degree (did I mention it was first class at all??) but I am yet to have my graduation ceremony - that will be in November, I am beyond excited. However, I have still enrolled at University of Liverpool to complete my MA in Twentieth Century History. It was Welcome Week this week so the place is buzzing. Freshers everywhere, huge amounts of people swarming the campus. There was a boy dressed as a yellow submarine, RAF people, people selling posters, Greggs giving out free coffees, Dominos giving out free pizzas...

Now normally I would be all in for the "free stuff" - but you know what, I just didn't want to know. I was so pleased to be getting my timetable, my module information, my reading lists, meeting my supervisors... I was just not bothered by anything else.

One of my concerns was age. Now I know I'm not going to be the oldest, and it doesn't really even matter, but there has always been this thing in the back of my head that tells me I'm too old to be a student. With the OU I could hide behind my laptop and the online essay-submissions. With a brick uni there is nowhere to hide. I had bought new clothes (in the New Look sale, sale fans - I got a dress for £5 - bargain!) I did my hair and my make-up and generally made a bit of an effort. I feel like I a going somewhere I truly want to be. As daft as this sounds, but this is my social life. I LOVE being a student, this is totally me - if I won the lottery the first thing I would do is be a full time student, I just love it.

As I sat waiting in the reception area with other students I realised that age doesn't really matter. I talked to everyone (as I do, wittering on.) The whole post-grad co-hort for the School was there, so there were maybe 60 people? We were gradually reduced in numbers as we were taken off to our specific courses. In ours there were only 7, and we are mixed age but not mixed gender. I was the only woman there and this really surprises me. It doesn't bother me at all though.

My module looks AMAZING. I have missed "work" so much. I have a reading list as long as my arm and so much time to find to get it done. Next year I can take some optional modules - this is new to the course and I think it's a great idea. I am choosing a politics module to do with international slavery and human rights. This is brilliant for me because I was torn between choosing International Slavery MA and the Twentieth Century MA. In the end it came down to my background knowledge. My strengths lie in Twentieth Century, so I have a lot of background knowledge in this area and also I own a lot of the books needed already. With time tight, this was the best option for me, so it is great that I get to dip my toe into politics next year too.

I really can't wait t get started. I did have some worries before I started - I thought I might see the programme and run a mile, I was worried about the cost - I'm working an extra job to pay for this degree, and I worry about my own knowledge and whether I can keep up and do the degree well. Some of those fears are still there, but I feel much better seeing the programme, and the money doesn't even matter - this is my "thing."

These next two years are going to be the busiest I've ever been, even by my standards. I am working at the university 17.5 hours. I am also working temporarily for the NHS in a casual/part time role which will probably last me for the duration of my degree, or thereabouts, I probably average about 6 hours a week. I'm also volunteering from October in the local archive, digitising some collections. I know nothing about archiving, which for an historian is pretty poor, hence the volunteering. I imagine I will only manage 2 hours a week though, if that. Maybe more in school holidays.

And of course there are the three kids.

And the house and everything that goes with that.

I was looking for a MEGA PLANNER you know like a big diary-cum-panner-cum-notebook type thing and I just couldn't find one that met all my needs. I mean, who could? So I just bought one from the pound shop, just a usual diary - I'm sure I'll manage to put everything in.

I now have three ID cards, three emails, three logins. It gets confusing. (This is not counting blog emails...)

It sounds complicated, but everything is set up for me to win. That's how I look at it. This is not a normal situation, I know that, but it's my situation and I love it. So the way I look at it is:

I work at the uni (so easy for me to get to and from my classes, I work it around work)
I work at the NHS to pay for my uni fees (I work just enough hours to cover the expense)
I'll volunteer in the archive to brush up my archiving knowledge and skills
I have two days off a week with the kids and to catch up on housework
We try to pack our weekends with fun things to do with the kids, ballet, teas out, days out - now the house is sold we can afford it.

And when things get busy and stressful, I tend to write in this blog, or do a post involving weird photoshopped photos of me at the Bake Off or whatever. As sad as it is, I amuse myself...

My life is full. I can never be bored, I am too busy for bored. Once a week I plan on taking a nice long bath to chill out, I am aware that I will need time for myself. My reading will be done on the way to work and on the way home on the bus. That's around an hour and half. Then another two or three hours at night when the kids are in bed. When it comes to essay time I will lock myself away as I usually do.

I am really looking forward to this. I have missed it lots.

Hello old friends...

Student Money Saving Tips

Now I don't like to brag here, but I am definitely brilliant at money saving. I am a penny-pinching money-saving Mother. I am also a student, which naturally means that as I pay for my education I don't exactly have thousands in the bank to squander. So, below I have prepared my favourite money-saving tips for you. Pennies do make pounds and saving a little bit adds up to a lot.

1) Shop the Sales

Sounds really obvious, right. Don't buy your summer clothes in summer - get them in the winter sales! Buy your winter boots, cardis and coats in the summer sales! It is something that sounds so simple, but it really does save you a fortune. When I do this it means that I can buy clothes and items for myself that were once quite expensive and decent quality, but because I shop smart I get them at a fraction of the price. Brilliant!

2) Meal-Plan

As a busy mother of three children it really does make sense that I meal plan. Even if you have no kids and are a student it still makes a great deal of sense. Every Sunday I sit down and plan seven meals for the week. I then make my list and shop according to the list. I try not to deviate from the list. This means that we all eat healthy, balanced meals and there are no unplanned trips to the supermarket. Unplanned trips to the supermarket do not do anyone's bank balance any good - believe me, I've been there!
Studying/Meal Planning/Budgeting all in one!

3) Use Price Comparison Websites

If you are looking for insurance or a cheap phone, a loan, a credit card - whatever it is, use a price comparison website. I tend to look on Martin's Money Tips quite a bit and see what the best deal is for me - don't settle for the first thing you see - shop around!

4) Open a Student Bank Account

Student bank accounts are a great way to save your money. A lot of accounts have interest free overdrafts and sweeteners when you open your account. Do check them out and find the best deal to suit you.

5) Use the Library

Again, sounds obvious but my second home is the library. I very rarely buy new books - they are expensive and the university has a cracking library for me to borrow books from. If I really love the book then I will go out and buy it. Using my NUS discount card of course!!

This post was brought to you in association with TSB current accounts. All words and views are my own.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Cake Baking with Cake Boss

As a bit of a wannabe-baker I was really excited to be sent some goodies from Cake Boss. Cake Boss supply a wide variety of cake-decorating and baking tools and gadgets - definitely something that I am always looking out for!

We were sent the following items:

* Fondant Rolling Pin
* Fondant Rolling Mat
* Smoother
* Cake decorating Kit

We couldn't wait to get cracking with this one and get baking. I do love baking cakes, especially the kids birthday cakes and on special occasions. Now my cakes are never going to be Pinterest superstars - I don't apply filters to my photographs I generally just tell it like it is - however, I was pretty sure that with the right tools my cake would be amazing, and I wasn't wrong!

So we decided to bake a normal sponge cake with butter cream and jam filling. A very simple recipe (I used a packet mix Ssssh don't tell anyone.) As is always the way when you decide to do these things I opened the fridge to find just one egg and I needed two so Warren had to steal an egg from his Mum as it was Sunday night and no way were we trekking out all over to buy eggs. And so, reality checked, we started the baking!

The kids were sort-of interested in the baking, but it wasn't long before they disappeared. Once the sponges were out, burnt bits cut off and filling applied, it was time to get creative with the tools we had been supplied with.

Cutting the "well done" bits off the cake...

That was when the kids all of a sudden came running back in and I found myself tripping over each of them as they all wanted a go with the rolling pin and the "Plasticine." (Icing) *sigh*

Getting to work with Cake Boss
Anyway, I was very impressed with the fold-away mat. Not only does it have the measurements handy for covering your cake, it is non-stick, as in, the icing just does not stick to it at all. The rolling pins are the same - the icing just doesn't stick to them, it was brilliant. I usually have an absolute nightmare with my wooden rolling pin and I use a ton of icing sugar all over the worktop to stop the icing sticking and I make a right mess. This time it was easy!

Everyone getting stuck in helping out - sort of!!

I also loved smoothing the icing onto the cake - the tool to do this really does work and this is definitely the smoothest and best-finished cake I have ever made.

Smoothing and cutting like a (messy) pro baker!
The cutters are also brilliant. The design we chose was just the plain flower motif as you can see from the photos. There are also 3D cuters for leaves and flowers, it was very easy and looked really impressive. I could also use the cutters for biscuits too so I think these are really great.

The finished cake!

As you can see from the photos - we really enjoyed baking and using the Cake Boss items. They really helped us and made the finished cake a lot more professional-looking than it would have been otherwise, I'd definitely recommend checking out their website for any cake-baking items

Eating the cake!

I was sent the Cake Boss supplies free of charge for the purpose of this review. All words and views are our own.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Giveaway: Family Ticket for Here Be Monsters at The Epstein Theatre, Liverpool

I am so excited to bring you this lovely giveaway from The Epstein theatre in Liverpool. We have visited the Epstein on a number of occasions and absolutely love it and the shows that they put on for the kids are amazing. Rosie and Alice are just about old enough to really start appreciating this type of family show and we can't wait for this one.

Here is what they have to say:

"The Epstein Theatre has a little scary pre-Halloween treat to keep your little monsters entertained this Autumn.As part of its line up of fabulous kids’ shows, Mayflower Productions will present Here Be Monsters on Saturday, October 24 and Sunday, October 25, 2015.Set sail with the villainous Captain and his fearsome crew in the thrilling musical adventure Here Be Monsters as they journey through monster-infested waters in search of a mysterious island crammed with jewels and gem stones.The Captain is certain that “monsters simply don’t exist,” but as they near the island and the mist closes in around them, his crew are not so sure…This thrilling new musical adventure is performed by five talented actor musicians who bring this exciting story to life.Let your little monsters loose and what’s more, if they come dressed up as their favourite spooky characters, they can win a family ticket to the glittering pantomime Cinderella which will be staged at the Epstein Theatre this festive season!"

I've teamed up with the Epstein to offer one lucky family a ticket to the show. The ticket is a family ticket for 2 adults and 2 concessions - what a lovely Halloween treat this is! We can't wait to see the show.

To enter just fill in the Rafflecopter form below. Good luck!

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Giveaway open to UK entrants only
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Saturday, 12 September 2015

Time and a Sold Sign

My house is finally sold. After two years, an offer, and months of waiting for completion - I am finally free of the rope around my neck.



I owned the house myself. I then met Warren and we decided to buy a new home together. My old house was quite small, and I was quite happy to move out - fresh start. Very blase and a little naive. In love and just wanting to be together - a fresh start in a new town. A home of our own.

I'll be honest, I didn't even think of the consequences. This was years of paying two mortgages. I have worked tirelessly to pay for a house that I don't live in. I thought that it would sell....just like that. But it didn't work out that way.

But that doesn't matter now. A line is drawn and our fresh start is here. Funny how things happen. If we hadn't have moved in together would we have had Alice and Rosie? Would Warren have got so far in his career? Would I have completed my degree and be so fortunate as to have a good job at the university - on the way to doing my masters and this blog - would I have started it had things been different?

None of us know.

Time changes us.

I remember the day I moved in to my house. Single parent, lugging all pots and pans in bags, full of energy and so excited at my new adventure. The removal men had literally dumped everything I had in the middle of the living room. I worked tirelessly for hours moving furniture, cleaning, arranging. I picked two-year old Emily up from nursery and we went straight to Asda and bought the essentials we didn't have; black bin liners, dustpan and brush, mop and bucket, batteries, milk and bread...

I remember that Asda run like it was yesterday. Me, on my own, just getting on. I loved the house. It was mine all mine and my own achievement. It meant everything to me - I was working to pay for mine and Em's future and it was going to be such a bright one.

When we got back to the house, most things tidied away and ready to settle down for the night, I noticed an old clock still hanging on the wall in the kitchen. Nothing special. Usual clock face with pebble-coloured rim. It had stopped, so I put a battery in it and it started ticking away. It was just on the wall above my little dining table for two - that'll do, I thought. That clock ticked there for all the time we lived there.

Just last weekend my Dad and brother had cleared most of the furniture out of my house. The place was empty and me and Warren went in to tidy round and lock up properly. As we were about to leave I saw one last item on top of one of the kitchen cupboards. The old clock. It wasn't ticking, battery dead - left lifeless for perhaps years. I picked it up and held it like my most prized possession as I said goodbye to the house that had been loved for so long and yet had caused me the most pain over the years. I turned the key in the lock for the last time, quite emotional and thoroughly drained.

How strange then, that as we got to our current (and now only) home, which is full to the brim with toys, books, records and love - we found our own kitchen clock, stranded an hour behind, just stunted, unable to be revived.

And so, as the old pebble-rimmed clock had started my fresh life in my new house with Emily all those years ago, it now comes with us on our fresh start - our new journey as a family with one home; financial burden gone, a new life, a new start.

The old clock stays with us. As an important part of our new life. Just in time for our actual fresh start.

Friday, 11 September 2015

House Management

Early morning start 7.30am. Emergency morning meeting called to mediate between two unruly employees. The complaint was "She's getting me." Organise for employees to sit on separate sides of the couch.

Breakfast. Employee number 1 is fed and ready to start the day. Employee 2 is skiving, "I don't WANT my breakfast." Employee number 1 eats Employee number 2's breakfast.

Employee number 1 now wants breakfast and is screaming.

Emergency meeting called. 7.45am. All breakfast issues sorted. All fed and ready for work.

Proceed to check emails and manage office in usual manner. Both employees are lay on the couch drinking milk, watching fully grown adults play with toys on Youtube.

Quick coffee. Check emails. These include:

a) Co-Manager email (husband) - Senior employee was "mouthy" on the way out of the door. Suggests laptop ban and total routine change. Action scheduled immediately.

b) AW14 emails. Things our office needs. No, scratch that - things our office can't miss out on. Like gillets and wellington boots. Delete.

c) Student Emails for registration. Put in diary to complete when all employees are elsewhere.

9.00am - Scheduled office activities for the day. These include book-reading, play cup-cake making, colouring in and playing in the garden. There are a few office rules to abide by (none of these will be followed by employees only management.)

* Never do one job at once. Keep moving. Use all of your time management and mediation skills e.g. When employees are screaming at each other in the back garden -  altercation over a toy car, simply continue to peg out the washing and maybe use the naughty step.

* Remain calm and collected at all times. Your employees are fairly junior, they will test your patience and ask stupid questions. They may also disrupt the workplace and even destroy it by unravelling a whole toilet roll and using it as a magic carpet - all around the office space. But you are the boss. Use your skills to remain calm and fix things.

This is not conducive to a productive working environment...

10.00am - The post. This is a race. As the manager you may find yourself racing to the door before your employees grab the letters and tear them to smithereens.

11.30am - Scheduled lunch break. They will fight you for Pom Bears for lunch. Just make the pasta and pretend that snacking is not allowed in the office.

12.00 - Employee 1 works at a different branch in the afternoons. So, it's time to drop her off. Give employees said Pom Bears to encourage them to walk in civilised manner. And in a straight line.

 If one runs away, CHASE THEM...RUN LIKE THE WINE WIND. Tip: Wear trainers or running shoes. I know it's a professional work environment, but court shoes just won't cut it, sorry.

1.00pm - Fob Employee 2 off with menial tasks. (Lie her on the couch with milk and a blanket and the Peppa Pig.) Proceed to manage the following:

* General office tasks: Tidying all employee paperwork and/or crap clothes, books, toys. Clean bedding. Wipe round.

* Maintain all communal areas. Domestic planning. (What's for dinner?)
* Answer phone to all incoming queries. Do you have any PPI??
* Organise office clothes for the next day. This might involve shaking out ironing.

3.30pm - Arrange collection of employee number 2 and prepare self for conflict management. By 4.30pm sure enough both employees are arguing because "she is sat on my couch"

Mediate. Breathe.

Cook dinner. When senior employee comes home from school arrives ask her how her day was. She might just ignore you and run upstairs to complete her office tasks play Minecraft.

Emergency meeting 5pm. Dinner is ready. Everyone must come to the dining room. You hear the keys turn in the door. It is Father/Husband and Co-Manager. Put the dinner out and let the co-manager do some co-managing.

Business hours are over*

*Of course they're not - you're still on call, you always are. And you have "real" work tomorrow. Two jobs. And you're a student.

*Hands notice in*

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Review: Chemist Direct

I was recently asked to review an order from Chemist Direct - an online pharmacy that stocks all kind of medicines and toiletries. As we have just about finished renivating our bathroom, this review came at a great time.  was quite keen to stock up on all of the bathroom essentials. Having three kids means that they have different products to us - shampoo, toothpaste and toothbrushes. My order consisted mainly of shampoo, conditioner, shower gels and other bath time essentials.

When the order arrived although everything was in bubble wrap, one of the hand wash bottles had burst open, so I did have to have a little bit of a clean-up before I could unpack everything. This was a bit annoying but I suppose when you are ordering goods like this online then you might expect this type of mishap - it wasn't a massive catastrophe as the handwash was still in tact and put to good use!

The products themselves were great - the website offers all kinds of products that you might like to get delivered. They do offer some of the products in bulk - so you might save some money if they stock what you need. I found the main benefit to this website to be the ease of ordering online - a couple of clicks and you are done. This saves time and petrol for yourself, and it would be great if you wanted to bulk-order as you were short of time.

Overall I thought this website was easy to use and the ordering system and delivery was handy. If you are after a few bits and pieces to be delivered in bulk then this might be the website for you.

We were sent a voucher code to cover the cost of our items. All words and views are our own.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Open Door

It is Wednesday night. I'm drinking red wine.

My three children are safely tucked up in bed. Rosie has a pretty pink princess blanket. Alice sleeps with her Frozen-themed quilt. Emily is still sat playing Minecraft on her laptop. My husband is reading his newspaper on the couch beside me.

We have no money. My bank balance is zero. I will repeat that later.

We have a warm home. There are two bathrooms. Three bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining room, a lounge. Gardens - front and back.

We have books and records. We like jazz - we don't watch much TV but we read a lot and appreciate our lives together. We read the news.

There is a dead baby washed up on a beach somewhere. On the internet. Not in our lives.

This baby is wearing little velcro shoes and navy pants. His face is in the sand. He is dead.

I sip my wine.

We play songs on YouTube and watch an episode of Mad Men (second season - we have got through so many episodes - the characterisation is fantastic.)

We work a lot.

I have three jobs, my husband has two. We juggle quite a bit. I am a student as well, and privileged to be one, I know this.

The body imprinted on the sand - the man lifted the body and carried it away. The lifeless body, flopping this way and that.

Our kids are back at school tomorrow. Alice in her new crisp uniform. Emily Year 8 (how did time fly!) with concerns about school lessons, correct shoes and the like.

I drink some more wine, grateful for what we have.

But I don't put a full stop there because this is disgraceful behaviour. Yes, I am grateful for a happy and comparatively rich life, but I am full of anger and fear and hatred. Wealth is the problem of these nations who think that THEY control borders and entry and life. Our bank balance is ZERO because we are wage slaves. We work and we pay and people are facing war and terror and they reach out to US because they are desperate and we turn our backs. Because we are scared, because we are too poor, too scared and too controlled by our own government. Make no mistake, this country is rich.

My house is here.

It is warm, we are fed. We have tap water, we have blankets and even spare "things" that we don't use.

And our bank balance is zero.

So if everyone else could take a look at themselves...and see what it is that they have spare.

Maybe...just maybe we could help. What happened to the good old "whip round" -  a couple of quid in the pot. Can't we DO THAT? What is wrong - is there too much red tape, too much bureaucratic nonsense for us to see the woods for the trees??

I see a body, a life...a baby.

Washed up on the shore. And I wish that I could have opened my door and said YES. Come in. Come inside. We don't have much, but what we do have we will share.

Disqus for Wife, Mum, Student Bum