Friday, 30 August 2013

Back to School - get organised, get discounts, get dressed, get walking!

With only a matter of days to go until Curly Girl starts school *gulp* I'm feverishly preparing her school uniform, sewing on thousands of wonky name tapes, washing and ironing, supervising zip and button lessons and keeping my fingers crossed that all will be well come the first day of term. We're not so much 'Back-to-school' as starting school in this house but either way it's uber exciting, has me reminiscing about my own school days and gives me the chance to rap a bit about smoothing the transition from holiday to 'Hello Miss'.

Being a serial list maker you might have guessed that there would be a diary in my back-to-school post - and you'd be right. Being a serial list maker and planning freak I'm on a perennial search for the best organisation system (or as OH would put it 'a better mouse trap'; completely unnecessary in his eyes *scowls at OH across the room*). For me a comprehensive and flexible diary is at the heart of this system. I wrote last year about my new favourite diary from but I have to say I may have found a very strong competitor. I've been trialling the BIG Family School Year Diary from MUM's Office for the last few weeks and I must say it ticks a lot of boxes for me. It's essentially a desk diary that's designed to help get families better-organised for the coming year. At the front are clever 'juggling solutions' to help you to plan more effectively and you can view every family member’'s whereabouts and plans at-a-glance with an individual space for each child (and your husband) via the MUM'’s Office signature grid format week-at-a-view spread.

There are loads of useful sections inside including Need To Know pages for information, numbers, website address, In Case I Lose My Mobile and !!! (I love this one!); important pages to record personal information for all members of the family, a Pocket Money Record and Dates To Remember; Our Plans containing calendars and planners for the current and following years and pages for Travel Plans; Our Week to record the regular weekly routine - one for each term; The Week - a double page spread with the clever GRID format; and finally a Notes section. My only negative here is that the notes section is a bit too short for my liking.

The BIG Family School Year Diary certainly looks the part with a reptile-effect glossy cover available in three colours; raspberry, blackberry (this is the colour I have) and peppermint. It measures 24cm by 19cm with 176 pages so it's more a desk diary than a carry-around diary (unless you have a cavernous bag like me). It has a thin harback cover with rounded corners, a gusset pocket on the inside back cover (for all those school letters that you really should keep right?), 2 grosgrain ribbons, an elastic strap to hold it all together and a pen loop. It's dated from August 2013 to August 2014 to coincide with the new school year and has a RRP of £16.95. Me likey and I can't wait to get Curly Girl's weekly schedule so that I can start filling it in!

Whether your child is starting school for the first time or going back for another year it can certainly cost a pretty penny with everything from uniform and shoes to bags and stationery. So next I have some Back to School deals for you from
  • Free standard delivery on School Wear orders over £15 at ASDA George 
  • £5 off Kids Sport Shoes when you spend over £20 at
  • 10% off when you spend £25 or more on books at Waterstones
  • Buy one get one free on selected Back to School stationery at Sainsbury's

When Curly Girl starts school next week she needs to be able to perform various feats of toddler engineering including, but not limited to, taking herself off to the toilet, wiping herself and washing her hands (ideally in that order), using a knife and fork correctly and last but definitely not least; getting herself dressed. So far getting dressed has involved pulling up and pulling down but not buttoning or zipping. Eeeek! I was hopeful that  by Ted Dewan would help to get her in the right frame of mind for something a bit more tricky like school uniform.

This is one in a series of playful picture books about the miniature wonders of toddlers’ everyday life featuring a little black rabbit called Bing and his friend Flop. In this edition Bing learns to get dressed. With short texts, bright artwork and appealing characters, Bing has masters putting on his clothes with a little help from Flop, but he’s struggling with the right order. And when he’s fully dressed, uh-oh, he has an accident. But Flop tells him 'Don’t worry, Bing. It’s no big thing. Just get dressed all over again!'

I love this book. It's bright, colourful and funny and I also love how the series came about - here's Ted Dewan explaining the story:
Bing was born on a boring trip home on the Northern Line of the London Underground, when I was facing another evening of reading some of the tedious toddler books my daughter was in thrall with at the time. Put simply, I was cross that the many people behind these toddler books (author, illustrator, editor, etc) expected me to endure dozens of repeated readings of their brain-numbing pablum. Picture books for kids 4 and up often address both adults and kids. But I couldn't figure out why toddler books didn't bother. I reckoned it was tough enough being a toddler's parent, why make it worse? The idea behind Bing was to bring the pathos, the triumph, and the tragedy of being with toddlers into each Bing Bunny book. 
I hope that Bing Bunny will change people's attitude to the infuriating moments in their toddlers' lives. It's worked on me, especially when Helen and I were in the middle of potty training my daughter and I was often getting cross at her refusal to "try", only to then go hide under the kitchen table and pee there. Helen suggested I think of the picture of Bing Bunny when he wets himself in "Get Dressed" as a way of reacting to all the accidents.
It sounds dumb, but that picture got me on my own Road to Damascus when it came to my attitude towards parenting. I've found it easier and easier to remind myself that the little disasters are just "Bing Things", no big deals after all.
To celebrate the re-release of the series I have one copy of Bing: Get Dressed to giveaway to one lucky reader. To enter just answer the question using the Rafflecopter widgety thing below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Finally I have to mention the Start-rite Great British Walk To School campaign (#GBW2S) which was launched last week to encourage as many parents and children as possible to consider walking either all or part of the way to school this September.

To kick things off they've created this film *points up* called after speaking to 500 parents from across the UK to raise awareness of the campaign and to get parents thinking about their journey to school. Have a look if you have the time, it made me chuckle.

While we don't have a choice about driving or walking - there are no pavements where we live - the campaign still is also encouraging those of us who have to drive to park a little further away and walk the last half a mile with our children. Now THAT I can do. I walked to school EVERYDAY as a child and it worries me that the British walk to school is in decline. Apparently nearly a third of families drive to school and more than one in five has never even considered walking their child there. I wonder why? Will you be walking to school this September?

Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of the Big Family School Diary and a copy of Bing: Get Dressed to review and offered another to give away. I received no other compensation and all opinions expressed are my own.

Win competitions at

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Can a staycation beat a vacation?

We're back from our 10th wedding anniversary staycation in Scotland. Ten years! It feels like only yesterday when we tied the knot and promised to love, honour and obey. Well, ok perhaps I'm exaggerating, but definitely the day before.

We stayed at one of the fabulous Loch Lomond Luxury Lodges just 10 minutes drive from the Loch and 5 minutes from the villages of Dryman and Croftamie. I fell madly in love with our lodge from the moment we walked through the door - it was gorgeous!

There was only the four of us but it actually sleeps a maximum of nine adults if you use the sofa beds. The ground floor has two spacious bedrooms, one's a twin and the other's a double with a kingsize bed and plenty of room to put up Little Man's cot. The downstairs bathroom has a deep bath and a huge separate shower. The open plan lounge, dining area and kitchen had free WIFI (although it was a tad intermittent), a 42” plasma television, FREESAT and a DVD player and has French doors that lead onto a decked patio area with, get this; a big hot tub complete with fairy lights to look up at, Wheeeee!!

Hot tub complete with twinkly fairy lights - oh yeah baby
There was also a charcoal BBQ and large garden area that we shared with the other three lodges (they're spaced apart so you get plenty of privacy) complete with a play area with swings, wooden climbing frame and slide and a small wood that was perfect for hide-and-seek. The whole deck area around the lodge was covered – which meant we could use the garden furniture, BBQ and hot tub whatever the weather (glad we brought our fleeces). The kitchen was impressive and literally had all mod cons including a dishwasher, large fridge freezer, separate washing machine and tumble dryer – as well as Denby crockery and crystal glasses! This was MY kind of holiday home, oh yes.

Our home from home - very comfy
The master bedroom on the first floor had a kingsize bed, ensuite shower room and a second lounge with one double and one single sofa bed, a television, DVD player, stereo, private balcony and... a Scandinavian sauna!!

Ok so at this point you're thinking 'I bet all this didn't come cheap' and to be fair you'd be right. At over £1200 for a week we could have flown somewhere hot and stayed in a lovely hotel. But you know what? I LOVE that we chose to stay in the UK for this holiday. At our lodge EVERYTHING was included in the price - WIFI, electricity and heating, bedlinen, fluffy towels, hot tub towels, bathrobes, books, CDs and a selection of DVDs, a welcome pack with wine chocolate and biscuits and all the basics you don't want to have to bring on holiday with you - toilet rolls, cloths, tea towels, dishwasher tablets, washing up liquid, foil, salt, pepper, cooking oil etc etc.

PLUS Scotland is an absolutely beautiful country, people here are so friendly, we speak the language, there's loads to do and explore and while the weather isn't hot and sunny all the time as long as you're prepared there's nothing to stop you having a great time.

There's plenty of information about local activities on the Visit Scotland website and I used this to plan a few day trips before we arrived. While it was a bit disappointing that we were too late in the season to go to any of the Highland Games (I really fancied my hand at tossing the caber) we did spend a happy afternoon at Stirling Castle where Curly Girl explored every nook and cranny, met Queen Mary and learned how to use a sword (yes of course we came home with one, it's obligatory isn't it?).

Loch Lomond was just 10 minutes drive away and we spent two half days walking the Millenium trial and climbing Conic Hill with Little Man firmly strapped to my front or back in the still fabulous Ergo baby carrier.

We had a very interesting and somewhat boozy morning at the small and quite exclusive Glengoyne distillary. But the least said about that, the better I think.

All in all we loved our UK staycation and I'm already thinking about planning our next trip to the Lochs.

What's your favourite UK staycation destination?

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Silent Sunday

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Guest post: Budgeting for your bundle of joy: Tips for new mums and dads

Nappies, cots, prams, clothes - it's incredible how much money you can end up spending when a new baby arrives.  As I'm part of the Sainsbury’s Bank Family Blogger Network I have a useful guest post today from Money Matters, the Sainsbury's Bank Blog, with top budgeting tips for new Mums and Dads.

A new baby brings big smiles, short sleeps, daily messes and endless cuddles. It also brings an entire new list of expenses. Parents spend an average of £1,786 in preparation for a newborn, according to a 2012 survey. When you add this to the other costs of living, the figures can seem overwhelming. 

While it’s natural to want the very best for your baby, many new parents admit to spending more than they can afford, reports the Money Advice Service. To ensure your wee newborn doesn't have too big an impact on your wallet, consider the following tips:

Thinking ahead
Simply by considering your baby budget early, you’re already one step ahead. If money is tight and you’re worried about all the new costs, rest assured that nine months is a solid amount of time to get your ducklings in a row.

Break down your income and expected outgoings each month. Add up your recurring expenses, then deduct that from your monthly income. If that doesn’t leave you enough wriggle room, look for expenses you can cut out.

You can also check if you qualify for government-funded family benefits or look into whether taking out a personal loan would make sense for your financial situation.

The essentials
New babies are exciting, and it’s easy to get caught up in all the adorable clothes and cuddly toys. However, to keep costs down, focus on the essentials. The NHS provides a detailed list of must-have baby items, which includes:
  • Baby clothes (six all-in-ones, two cardigans, four vests, a shawl/blanket, wool hat, mittens, socks, sun hat)
  • Car seat
  • Cot/mattress/bedding
  • Pushchair/pram
Once you have these essentials, you can determine how much is left in your budget for additional items.

New, used and reusable
Second hand items will be less expensive than those you buy brand new. Friends and family members might be happy to give you their kids’ pre-loved toys, nursery furniture and ‘only-worn-twice’ clothes for free. However, certain items are best bought as new:
  • Second-hand child car seats are known to harbour hidden faults, and experts recommend that you only by them new. 
  • Buying your baby’s cot brand new may be the safest option. If you do go for a second-hand cot, ensure it meets British Safety Standards (BSEN716) and consider the additional safety checks recommended by the National Childbirth Trust. It is recommended that you always buy a new mattress.
Nappies are another major outgoing for parents of babies and toddlers. Opting for reusable cloth nappies over disposables can save you around £500 over two and a half years, according to Baby Centre. However, tumble-drying cloth nappies could actually cost you more than using disposables. Stick to air-drying for the best savings.

Worth the cost
It’s incredible how something so small can have such a big impact on your life. Those first few years are certainly a whirlwind of joy, stress, love and sleep deprivation. These highs and lows are what parenthood is all about and, with hundreds of thousands of new babies born in the UK each year, many of us believe it’s well worth it. Though the costs might seem overwhelming, budgeting for baby well in advance will save you money and stress later down the line.

These baby budgeting tips were provided on behalf of Money Matters, the Sainsbury's Bank blog. The views expressed at the top of the page are the writer’s and don’t belong to Sainsbury's Bank. This blog post only includes tips and information; it does not contain advice and should not be used as a foundation for any financial decisions. Sainsbury's Bank accepts no responsibility for the opinions of external authors and the content of external websites included within this post. All information in this post was correct at date of publication.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

A right Royal competition

Remember PurFlo? They're the people behind Little Man's favourite soft toy; his . Well Purflo and sister company Koo-di are currently running a competition for one lucky person to win the exact same bundle of baby goodies worth £295 that was accepted as a gift by their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge for baby George Alexander. Nice eh?

You can enter  and  and the competition closes on 7th September 2013.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Bod for tea's Books - Little Man's second book and a new favourite from the author of Goodnight Moon

We're avid readers at Bod Towers. OH prefers the real thing (I can't bring myself to say old-fashioned) but I'm not fussed - paperback, hardback, Kindle; just having the time to read is a luxury in the first place so I'm certainly not about to complain about the medium. It's important to us to encourage a love of reading in our children too and in the first of an occasional series - 'Bod for tea's Books' - I'll be writing about some of our favourite children's books both old and new.

We've been reading to Curly Girl since she was a teeny tiny thing and our book at bedtime is definitely an integral part of her night-time routine. So far Little Man hasn't really been any more than a cot-side spectator, playing with his toys while I read to his big Sister and marshal her into bed and then having his own milk-baggy-cuddle-'n'-song-time before sailing off to the land of nod. But a couple of weeks ago it felt like the time was right to start him on his own journey of literary discovery and of course there's no better book to start with than Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. This classic was the first book I ever read to Curly Girl and it felt right and proper to do the same with her brother. though and this post is actually about another book from it's illustrious author (or which more in a moment) and the second book I read to him - Hickory Dickory Dock from Paragon Books.

At first glance this looks like a standard board book for babies but turn it over and there's a hole. You stick your finger in the hole and suddenly the cute little grey fabric mouse head on the other side starts to wiggle about, it's pink nose twitching, ears waggling - you can almost hear it squeak! The story comes to life immediately and this simple addition makes the whole experience of reading the book much more interactive.

Little Man was more interested in chewing the corners of the book before the mouse started tickling his fingers - then it was a whole new game of catch the mouse each time I turned a page.  is part of Paragon Books' Little Learners Series and costs around £3.99. It's a lovely baby book, the perfect size for taking out and about when I need something to keep him amused and a great way to introduce these tried and tested nursery rhymes in a way that also helps to develop his hand/eye co-ordination. I'll be looking out for others in the finger puppet series like the adorable Incy Wincy Spider.

As I mentioned earlier, both Curly Girl and Little Man's first book was Goodnight Moon and it's a real family favourite so I was really excited to receive a copy of  (RRP £5.99); another book from the fabulous Margaret Wise Brown. 

Margaret Wise Brown wrote hundreds of books and stories during her life. Even though she died over 55 years ago, many of her books are still in print and new ones are being published. According to her website Margaret loved animals. Indeed most of her books have animals as characters in the story. She liked to write books that had a rhythm to them, so many of her books rhyme or repeat a word pattern. She even liked to place a hard word into a story or poem because she thought this made children think harder when they are reading. Great idea Margaret! 

Sunshine and Snowballs is a simple rhyming story of the seasons. Beautifully illustrated by Charlotte Cooke using two characters - a girl and a boy - to show the weather and seasons out of doors and the pictures really make the rhythmic sentences of the book come to life. Curly Girl and I read this together and we searched for all the animals and other objects mentioned in the rhyme in each picture; a simple fun game. 

Sunshine and Snowballs is a gorgeous book and like her other favourites - Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny - it could easily become a classic to be enjoyed by generations to come.

Both of these books are published by Parragon. You can contact the publisher via and and they're also on and .

Disclaimer: We were sent copies of 'Hickory Dickory Dock' and 'Sunshine and Snowballs' to review. We received no other compensation and all opinions are our own.

The winners of 'The Day The Crayons Quit' giveaway are...

We were sent a copy of the fab The Day The Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt to review and, as luck would have it, TWO copies to giveaway. Hurrah! So I asked "if you were a crayon what colour would you want to be and why?" and the two winners are...

Karen D
Who would be Purple - because she's deep and interesting and just a little bit girly

Becky D
Who would be Blue - calm like the sea


The Day The Crayons Quit is published by Harper Collins and available in hardback from all good bookshops including with a RRP of £12.99.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Guest post: Daddies' Sunday Morning Kitchen

This morning I'm popping up a guest post from my better half - and here's where I need your help. I think this man should have his own blog. Not that I don't want him guest posting over here, you understand, but I think he's not half bad and deserves his own audience. What do you think? If you agree leave me a note in the comments and I'll chivvy his reluctant self along.

Most Sundays I like to cook the family Sunday lunch - it's part of my Sunday routine, get up, use our spinning bike for an hour, shower, then treat myself to a bacon and egg sandwich and cook crispy bacon for Curly Girl (she loves it) and anyone else who wants in. I then turn my attention to preparing the meat for Sunday lunch. As it's normally some kind of roast or slow cooked dish once I've got everything prepared and in the oven, I have time on my hands. With an Alex Lester show from the previous week playing on the BBC iPlayer I'm ready to cook.

A couple of weeks ago I fancied more cooking so I set my mind to preparing a few dishes for the week ahead. That particular Sunday lunch was a sausage and chicken leg cassolet ( a classic French casserole). Cassolet is a family favourite and more traditionally made with duck legs, however our local farm butcher sells ten chicken legs for a fiver which is a bargain. He also makes his own high quality beef burgers which at ten for a fiver are another bargain and perfect for the BBQ while we enjoy this rare fine Summer.

So with the large cassolet cooking away I had two chicken legs left and four beef burgers which hadn't been eaten the previous day on the barbie. A couple meals here I thought - what can I knock up? As Curly Girl loves meatballs first of all I cut each beef burger into four quarters then rolled each quarter into a ball. A quick fry in a hot pan added colour and flavour then the meatballs went into a pot with a tomato and garlic ragu sauce (thanks Loyd Grossman), a tin of tomatoes, a splash of Worcester sauce and a mix of Italian herbs. Then I found a couple of cherry tomatoes in the fridge so they went in as well. With the meatball ragu simmering away on the hob after bringing it to a near boil, I turned my attention to the chicken legs.
BBC R2's Alex Lester aka The Dark Lord

Curry I thought. Another family favourite. So with the help of a Jalfrezi mix and some red onions and peppers from the fridge I set to work. All the ingredients except the onions went straight in the pan (our trusty Le Creuset in this case), while I sweat the onions in a frying pan before adding them to the main pot. Then I simply brought it to a near boil on the hob then turned it down to a slow simmer. Sometimes I just pop it in the oven at 180 degrees C for about 45 minutes then slow cook at 150 for another 90 minutes, but the cassolet was in there. Either way it's ready when the chicken just falls off the bone. One small point before you ask, I don't brown the meat in a pan first before cooking Indian food. While we do this in Europe to add flavour through caramelisation I've seen a couple of Indian chefs at work and they don't do it.

By the time the cassolet was done so were the other dishes, so with Sunday lunch served (with veggies a la Michelle I'd like to mention - Ed) I let the others cool. Meatballs in the fridge for Monday evening and the chicken Jalfrezi frozen for later in the week. The cassolet recipe I use serves eight so it's two family meals for us.

So an enjoyable Sunday morning cooking four family meals for four at a total cost of less than £20, while listening to classic songs and chat from Alex Lester. What could be better?

Coming soon -
  • I buy a organic chicken for about £12 and create four tasty family dinners.
  • We cook Ramond Blanc's salt baked leg of lamb.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

100 word challenge - after all the excitement...

The 100 word challenge at Julia's Place

He opened one gritty eye gingerly. Sunlight was creeping across the floor but it hadn't reached his makeshift bed yet. Still early. He yawned and looked around the unfamiliar room.. What had woken him? There. A little cough. He propped himself up on one elbow and looked over to the other side of the room, shhhh, he thought. After all the excitement of yesterday he didn't want to break the magical spell that mother nature had woven around his new family. He leaned over and gently prodded Miranda's shoulder. "Our beautiful baby's awake", he said grinning from ear to ear.

To find out more about the 100 word challenge for grown ups and read more entries for this week's prompt, visit Julia's Place.

The Summer so far... (plus free downloadable calendar)

Wow can you believe it's August already! We're three weeks into the Summer holidays and time is racing headlong towards Curly Girl's first day at big school on 3 September *gulp*.

So far we've had a busy few weeks with beach trips, birthdays, school uniform fittings and days out here and there. Oh and it's been hot here in the East of England. Yeah, I know it's been hot everywhere but 30 degrees in the baby's room...seriously? I know I shouldn't be complaining but that's just a teensy bit too hot. Thankfully it's cooled down a bit now (I know I'm tempting the wrath of the weather gods here), still shorts and t-shirts weather but without the gasping for breath.

Download PDF
Every holiday I put together a paper calendar for Curly Girl and stick it on the wall in the kitchen so that she can see what we're up to from day to day. It helps her to see what's coming up and helps me to see at a glance which days are home days and which days we're going to be out and about. It's a simple table divided into three columns - the day and date are in the first one, then a morning and afternoon column where I can cut and stick on pictures that Curly Girl will recognise as swimming, holiday, zoo, drama club etc. I've had quite a lot of interest in the calendar so I've made a special one just for you lot - you can download it for free here, print it off and use it as you want. You can write the date underneath the days, use words or pictures for your activities or get the kids involved and let them chose how it looks. Your call.

At the moment Little Man is suffering from a summer cold and not a very happy chappy; full of snot with no way to get it out. He's also taken to puking when he coughs which is fairly often and not the most pleasant of experiences. This all started when he realised, rather craftily, that he could attract my attention by coughing. Unfortunately on one occasion he coughed a bit too much and made himself sick. Of course this garnered him no end of attention as much running around ensued at his expense. 'What fun!' he thought. And so now when he thinks I'm not paying enough attention he coughs. Learning cause and effect at eight months old. Who knew?

My favourite purchase of the summer so far is this cool travel highchair - the Concord Lima. We weren't sent this to review I hasten to add, I bought it because it looked like exactly what we needed to pop the baby in when we're on picnics or out and about and it folds flat. You can use it on the floor (like the pic of Little Man on the left) or attach it to any chair. It's super light and very sturdy, has a lap strap to keep baby secure, a removable tray and best of all the cover comes off completely so you can sponge it or pop it in the washing machine. Which, considering the ahem... 'coughing' that's been going on around here has been more of a necessity than a bonus. Ho hum. It's a bit pricey at around £60 but I thoroughly recommend it.

Following our failed holiday in Spain a couple of months ago where we had to drive home a week early through the night when the antibiotics I was taking for a rather nasty infection stopped working, we've decided to have a staycation rather than going away again. So we're off to Scotland! I'm super excited as I spent many a holiday there as a child and thoroughly enjoyed every minute. At least that's how I remember it. There were some midges I seem to recall. And lots of hill walking. But most of all, I remember the breakfasts we had in our farm cottage B&B. Freshly baked oatcakes... is there a more comforting smell in the whole world? This time we're staying in a rather lovely log cabin with a hot tub. Yep if we were camping we'd be glamping. I'm too old for roughing it and besides, it's our ten year wedding anniversary so I think we deserve it. Not for us the weekend away sans children - nope we're all in it together and WE WILL HAVE FUN. There, if it's in capital letters it must be true.

With all this going on there hasn't been much time for blogging but it's Curly Girl's last Summer before school so forgive me but I'm making the most of it. I am planning a few more giveaways over the coming weeks (there's still time for you to enter my to win one of two copies of 'The Day The Crayons Quit' by Drew Daywalt) plus a round up of fab Back To School products for the end of August. In the meantime have a wonderful Summer!
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