Mama OWL Blog: August 2013

#50Books2013 - August Round-Up

Friday, 30 August 2013

It's August! Welcome to this month's #50Books2013 round-up... Have we all survived the Summer? The end is in sight, or it was in sight a few weeks ago if you're in Scotland and you've hopefully been enjoying some quiet reading time since the wee ones have been back at school.

Mine go back on September 3rd (big ones) and 4th (little ones) so I have just over a week left. I'm torn between loving having them home and not having to race around like a loon & stick to timetables, and looking forward to them going back to get back in to some semblance of a routine... I can't decide which side of my brain is winning at the moment, all I know is that it's a bit fried.

I'm currently reading book 19, which means... drumroll... I have actually managed to READ A BOOK. Three books, in fact. Are you proud? I am. Considering I am the link host I am shockingly bad at keeping up and you all are putting me to shame.

I've read - and enjoyed - the first three books of The Mortal Instruments series, City of Bones, City of Ashes & City of Glass after a recommendation from the lovely @LadyKirsty1982 on Twitter. I'm currently reading the fourth book, City of Fallen Angels. If you're a fan of the paranormal genre then I highly recommend these books, too.
I am absolutely loving this series. The books have managed to make me laugh out loud as well as gasp in surprise, the main characters are likeable and it is easy to imagine the scenes as they are so perfectly set by the author, Cassandra Clare. I have high hopes for the movie which has just been released this month (I'm impressed with the casting, the actors look a lot like I have pictured them in my mind's eye especially Clary), and really hope that the screenplay as is close to the novel as it can get. It'll be a massive disappointment if they stray too far. I'm looking forward to watching it!

How are the rest of you getting on?

Soph has been Ignoring Life , One Book At A Time with her August reads, including The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson which she describes as "a good read", and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. To find out what she thought, check out her reviews which are always in-depth without giving anything away, honest and entertaining. Mumturnedmom is on book 23 of the challenge, having read The Magic Thief: Found by Sarah Prineas and Grounded by G. P. Ching this month.

Mrs JC has added two books to her 2013 reading challenge total, the most recent being The Buddha in the Attic which she has awarded five out of five stars. Bubbablue and Me is now on book 40/50 and has reviewed her recent reads, including the 'enjoyable' NYPD Red by James Paterson.
Mama, you talk? has shared her August challenge update which includes titles by John Boyne and Michael Morpurgo, read her review to see what she thought.

Ups & Downs, Smiles & Frowns shares with us her review on the poignant story of Thomas Buergenthal, the author of A Lucky Child: A Memoir of surviving Auschwitz as a young boy. Ojo's World rounds up her latest books while - thoughtfully - not giving away the juicy plotlines of her favourite genre of crime/thriller, and is currently reading Broken by Shy Keenan.

Join in with us on Twitter using hashtag #50Books2013 and tell us about your recent reads and share reviews. If you would like to join in with us, you can find out all the information here.

If you have a recent book review to share please link up below, you don't have to be an active part of #50Books2013 to share. As always, thank you for taking part in this challenge with me. You can email or tweet your reviews to me by 27th September to be included in the next round-up please.

See you next month! x

The last of the Summer Whine

Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Summer holidays are drawing to a close, everyone is planning and preparing for back to school (unless you're in Scotland in which case you were probably *here* about three weeks ago) and the mixed emotions are setting in.

I was so excited for the Summer to begin, I couldn't wait to enjoy the holidays with the kids and have a break from all of the rigamarole and routine - lunches, uniforms, appointments, activities, sports. Sometimes it feels like it really piles up on top of you and you just need a break.

Well, a break we have had and a lovely one it was too.

We enjoyed a holiday in Torquay and visited Woodlands Family Theme Park and Paignton Zoo, as well as stopping off to see Monsters University on the way home. A turned 15 and also spent a week visiting Ojo's World & family in Wales, and L turned 10 and we had a great time celebrating it by watching Despicable Me 2 at the cinema and taking him to Pizza Hut (his absolute favourite restaurant in the world).

We went swimming, and to the park. We were lucky enough to experience the magical (pun intended) wizarding world of Harry Potter at the Warner Bros Studio Tour.

We've had lazy pj days and movie nights, walks at sunset where we watched paragliders leaping off of the white horse into the horizon and where we played football & rugby and ran with Florence through the long grass. It has been just a really good, relaxing time. With the exception of losing Sparky, of course.

Now we're heading into years eleven, eight, six and three with the big kids and E will be starting nursery school. I'm getting the school uniforms ready and starting to (try!) and settle the kids back into a routine before they start the new term next week.

I'm looking forward to having some time back to myself - and putting my house back together - and I'm excited for all of the things the kids are going to enjoy this year. But I'm also anxious for A who will be striding headlong into her final GCSE exams, and for L who will need to start his transition from primary to senior to make sure he will be fully prepared when he leaves and also to be sending E off to nursery without me for the first time.

I have senior & primary school places to apply for (fingers crossed for first choices), uniforms to label, lunches to plan, and school bags to pack. We have so much to look forward to, I can't wait to see what challenges and experiences the new school year brings.

CandyShell case for iPhone 4

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Our goody bags from BritMums Live 2013 contained some fab items, one of which was an iPhone 5 case from Speck Products.

I don't have a 5 so I passed it on to my sister to use with her new phone, and the fab people from Speck sent me a gorgeous CandyShell case in my favourite colours, purple & teal - also known as peacock & grape - for my iPhone 4 (also fits the 4S).

The CandyShell offers dual-layer protection for your phone, with a hard outer shell and a soft rubbery, shock absorbent inner layer as well as a 'bump proof bezel' ridge around the front to offer extra protection for your screen.
I just wish I had had it before I dropped my phone and cracked the screen across the middle... D'oh!

As it happens, I have dropped it a few times since (not on purpose, I hasten to add) and it hasn't been damaged further or made the existing crack worse. I am satisfied that once I have the screen repaired it will be in safe hands... or at least a safe CandyShell, because I'm a complete butterfingers. The kids like to play on various child-friendly apps on my phone too, so this gives it extra protection from any knocks & bumps that they might inflict upon it!

The CandyShell is comfortable to hold as well as aesthetically pleasing and fits my phone just like a second skin. It comes in eleven different colour combinations and is priced at $34.95.

Speck Products offer lots of innovative and useful products to help keep your tablets and smartphones safe & protected in an array of stylish colour and pattern combinations. Check out for more information & follow @speckproducts on Twitter for all the latest news and updates.

I received a complimentary CandyShell iPhone 4 case for review purposesThe views shared are my own personal & honest opinions and written in my own words.

Trutex Schoolwear

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

We were fortunate enough to be selected by Trutex to review some of their range of school uniform. As he is the eldest boy, we decided that J would review the items and together he & I chose trousers, shirts and some PE joggers. As well as being comfortable, he wants to look good in what he wears and to be smart and well turned out for the new term.
The flat front trousers in black have an adjustable waist, which is ideal for our needs as J is tall but very slim and needs the leg length. This can often mean extra room around the waist which is unnecessary, so having room to grow & move without the trousers hanging off him is perfect. It also comes with a belt to ensure the most comfortable fit.
The waistband is fully lined for extra comfort, and the easy-care trouser fabric feels thick and strong, which is a must for my football-loving son (he's put the knees through in previous years!).
J says that they are comfortable to wear, as well as looking smart. We chose the size judging by his height, as he is tall for his age. We have found that this was the best & most accurate way to ensure the right fit, as the trousers have room for him to grow but aren't too long or baggy.

The 2-pack of long sleeve non-iron (my favourite!) white school shirts complement the trousers perfectly. He wears an age 13 shirt with 14" collar, the sleeves are a good length with room for him to grow. The shirt & trousers look great with his school logo blazer and he'll be staring year eight looking very dapper indeed.

In addition to his everyday school uniform, J selected a pair of AKOA pitchside training pants in black to wear for PE & also for his football training sessions midweek for our local U13s team.

The joggers are fully lined and lightweight and have an elasticated waist with zip pockets & side leg openings. They're also super soft and J is looking forward to giving them their first run-out when school starts back & his new football season begins. They also feature an adjustable tie waist and are roomy enough to be able to wear shorts underneath if necessary.

Included with the uniform was a back to school guide that Trutex have produced for the first time this year. It features great advice from leading experts such as the NSPCC, Beat Bullying, The Children's Food Trust and many other associations & charities providing help & advice about managing the back to school period with your tweens & teens. The guide has been distributed to schools & uniform retailers throughout the UK.

Trutex Schoolwear is available from a wide range of retailers nationwide. To find your local supplier or to shop online please visit

We received complimentary uniform from Trutex Schoolwear for review purposesThe views shared are my own personal & honest opinions and written in my own words.

Sleep tight, Sparky - Coping with the death of a child's pet

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The worst kind of pain to witness your child in is the kind that you can't take away with a spoonful of medicine, a dab of magic cream or by sticking on a colourful plaster. The kind that you can't just "kiss better" knowing that it will soon be forgotten about.

Last week, L turned 10 years old. We had cake and celebrated, and he remembered that on his 8th birthday he got his first pets, his very own Roborovski hamsters that he chose himself from the pet shop and that it was like it was their birthday too.

Early on Thursday morning, I was shaken awake by a frantic L telling me that Sparky was laying down and he couldn't wake him up. L's eyes were ringed red & full of tears, I could see that he was desperate for me to come and fix it.

It was a moment I had dreaded. Hamsters of course don't tend to live very long, and ours were already two years old. I knew it would happen one day and that it was going to be a hard lesson to learn. Even harder still knowing that with his additional needs, L - who has difficulty understanding relationships and emotions - thinks of his hamsters as his friends, when he doesn't have many human ones to speak of.

Sparky, the smaller of the two hamsters, looked like he was peacefully sleeping in the cage. I could see that he had died. My heart plummeted.

I turned to face L who was standing next to me, bouncing up & down on the balls of his feet and frantically rubbing the sides of his head ('stimming'), tears rolling down his cheeks. He was looking at me hopefully, and telling him that his friend had died was absolutely heartbreaking.

L was distraught. He spent the next three hours wandering around the house sobbing his heart out. He came to me for a hug (which is me holding him, as he doesn't always reciprocate even if he initiates it) and just wept.
My heart broke for him, he is utterly devastated. He has been watching his remaining hamster, Cannonbolt, like a hawk as he's convinced himself that he is going to die now, too. I'm expecting this to go on for a little while until he starts to come to terms with it.

My mum came to see L after I called her to tell her what had happened, and she took Sparky away with her, wrapped up safely in his makeshift shoebox coffin to the lovely chaps at Charlie's Parlour pet crematorium. They have 'sent him to the angels' and have returned his ashes to us so that L can scatter them in the garden at home and say his goodbyes. We're going to get him a little plaque or engraved stone to place out there, for L to remember him.

I've been straight with L about death, he knows that death is a part of life and that this is just the way things are. That it hurts and makes us sad, but that it gets easier to live with the pain as time goes on. He knows that it is okay to cry, and to wish that they were still here, but that they can't come back.
I have held him while he cried and let him grieve for his lost friend. I know that soon he will accept it and it won't be so painful, but it is a very real pain even if Sparky was 'just a hamster' to some. He was L's friend, and he will miss him.

RIP little Sparky.

Meal Plan Monday 260813

Monday, 26 August 2013

Monday 26th August - I haven't decided yet... We may or may not be off out somewhere since it is the bank holiday.

Tuesday 27th August - It's the Mister's birthday today, and he has requested a homemade curry, so curry it shall be.

Wednesday 28th August - Steak & roast vegetables (carrots, broccoli & asparagus)

Thursday 29th August - Sausages & cauliflower mash with mixed veg

Friday 30th August - Baked white & sweet potatoes with various fillings

Saturday 31st August - I'm hoping we're going out for dinner since it's my birthday tomorrow & it was the Mister's on Tuesday, so I will pencil in a deli pizza for the children and cross my fingers...

Sunday 1st September - Happy birthday to me! We're having a lovely traditional roast today.

I've joined in with Mrs M's #mealplanningmonday linky with this post

BEAR Paws for thought

Sunday, 25 August 2013

BEAR Paws fruit snacksMy kids are snackers. They like to munch on things, so finding something that is healthy in addition to being tasty & therefore appealing to five kids with very different tastes can be a bit taxing.

The children have taste tested BEAR's delicious fruit Yo Yos in mango, blueberry, raspberry & strawberry and all have received a unanimous thumbs-up, so they were delighted to be given the opportunity to try out new BEAR Paws.

BEAR Paws are a 100% pure fruit snack with ZERO additives. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. They are made from baked fruit (picked in season), and contain no added sugar, preservatives or stabilisers and count as 1 of your 5 a day. The Paws have been shaped in to fun paw prints and are available in three delicious recipes, each has its own special theme and contain five different animal paw prints from around the world for the kids to track.

Safari Paws are orange & strawberry flavour, and the animals to track are Gracie the giraffe, Laurie the lion, Zac the zebra, Ella the elephant and Hector the hippo.
BEAR Paws Monty the MonkeyDino Paws track Tom the t-rex, Dom the diplodocus, Tilly the triceratops, Ted the pterodactyl and Vince the velociraptor and come in delicious strawberry & apple flavour.
If the Jungle is more your scene, you can find Monty the monkey, Timmy the tree-frog, Colin the crocodile, Tallulah the toucan and Jessie the jaguar and enjoy tasty apple & blackcurrant paws.

These snacks made the ideal addition to lunchboxes for school, and I'll be stocking up ready for the new term in just over a week's time. Even if I can't get them to eat an apple, I know that they will gobble these up in a heartbeat and that is just as good.
In fact, the image I took for this review is the only one I got because they ate them all the minute I opened the box, and the first hand in there was that of my teenage daughter! If that doesn't tell you all you need to know, then try them for yourself and see what I mean. A (15) says that they are her favourite fruit snack, and keeping her energy levels up with healthy food is going to be paramount in her final GCSE year.

For nutritional information and to find your local stockists of BEAR Paws, visit their website at For the latest news and updates you can @follow_the_bear on Twitter and check out

We received complimentary packs of BEAR Paws fruit snacks for review purposesThe views shared are my own personal & honest opinions and written in my own words.

Rain won't stop play #CountryKids

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Last Friday I completely lost track of myself and we ended up missing L's swimming lesson. He was in serious meltdown mode for the rest of the day and he wouldn't even speak to me for a few hours. So I promised that I would take all of them to the fun swim on Saturday afternoon instead, to make up for it.

On Saturday afternoon we arrived at the pool at 1pm, only to realise that I had misread the timetable and that it didn't start until 1:45 not 12:45 like I had thought (the Summer holidays are seriously frying my brain). So, just a two minute walk down the riverside from the pool is a country park with lovely new playground facilities, and I suggested to the kids that we head off down there to kill some time before the session started.

Of course, such is my luck, it started to drizzle with rain as we got to the park, however it was a warm day and it didn't stop the kids tearing off into the playground and having some fun.
Indeed the only person remotely bothered by the rain was the teenager, of course. The other four had a great time racing around and putting the new equipment through its paces.
The park has been there for years (I've lived in this town all of my life and it has been there as long as I can remember) and it is well used by locals and tourists alike, so it is good to see that it has finally been given a facelift.
We stayed for about half an hour and then headed back to the pool, by which point a large queue had formed waiting for the fun swim. The boys spent the whole session racing along the giant inflatable in the main pool thoroughly enjoying themselves (and wearing themselves out...) while I was in the teaching pool with the girls teaching E to swim. We had a really fun afternoon and I'm definitely going to try and make it a regular thing.

I've linked this post with #CountryKids at Coombe Mill.

A Mighty Light Lunch

Friday, 23 August 2013

It's almost time to go back to school, and those of us who pack lunches for our schoolkids are often faced with the dilemma of what to put in it.

You have to feel that they're getting enough of what they need, that what you are giving them is healthy, and of course that they'll like (read: eat) it, while also making sure that you're mixing it up so they're not bored with the same thing every day.

My kids have either a wholemeal sandwich, wrap or pitta filled with whatever they fancy, a cereal bar, a piece of fruit or a cheese stick, a drink and a packet of crisps.
The fruit doesn't have to be a banana or an apple, if you invest in some mini plastic tubs you can pop in a handful of strawberries or grapes, or cube some melon. You could even make a little fruit salad in rainbow layers to make it more fun and appealing.

Fillings for their sandwich or wrap can be as fancy or as traditional as you like, mine love coronation chicken with lettuce, but equally will enjoy ham & cheese with a bit of mayo. L, having his own personal tastes, enjoys a nice chocolate & hazelnut spread sandwich, or maybe the occasional strawberry jam sandwich.

One thing that they all love is crisps, and they each have their favourite flavours. L & E's favourites are salted, they like to keep it plain and simple. J is strictly a roast chicken man, while A & H both like cheese & onion (like their mum!).

Walkers have just introduced Walkers Mighty Lights, ridged crisps which contain 30% less fat than standard crisps, and are also suitable for vegetarians.

Mighty Lights are available in three flavours - roast chicken, lightly salted and cheese & onion (perfect for my crew) - and are made with real potatoes, with no MSG, artificial colours or preservatives.

We were sent some to try out, and they've gone down a treat. Our days have been plenty busy through the summer holidays and the kids have often had a "packed lunch" lunch on the go, this week they've taste-tested each flavour of Mighty Lights (all in the name of research, you understand) and thoroughly enjoyed doing so.

They've received a unanimous thumbs up from the Owlets as well as the Mister (who also loves his crisps!). I tasted the cheese & onion and was pleasantly surprised to find that they have retained the Walkers flavour that I love.

I can add Mighty Lights to the grocery list, safe in the knowledge that they're lower in fat than your average packet of crisps as well as a source of fibre, & that they will be eaten and enjoyed by the kids come lunchtime after a busy morning at school. For more info including nutrition information for each flavour and FAQs, visit their website at

We received complimentary multipacks of Walkers Mighty Lights crisps for review purposesThe views shared are my own personal & honest opinions and written in my own words.

WIN a Jack the Giant Slayer DVD + Blu-ray Combo-Pack!

Friday, 23 August 2013

I'm delighted to bring you this fantastic giveaway from Warner Bros. celebrating the release of the movie Jack The Giant Slayer on Blu-ray & DVD.

Unleashed on the Earth for the first time in centuries, the giants strive to reclaim the land they once lost, forcing Jack (Nicholas Hoult), into the battle of this life to stop them. Fighting for a kingdom and its people, and the love of a brave princess, he comes face to face with the unstoppable warriors he thought only existed in legend... and gets the chance to become a legend himself!

Directed by Brian Singer (X-Men, Superman Returns) and starring: Nicholas Hoult (About a Boy), Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge!), and Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones).

We watched Jack The Giant Slayer recently with our older three children and loved it. It was gripping and action packed, but contained peril that may be distressing for younger or more sensitive viewers (rated 12).

Try out the Jack The Giant Slayer blog app below. You can control the action by moving your mouse across the action-packed movie scene .gifs, or take the quiz and find out if you're brave like Jack. Why not check out the giant soundboard and play with official sound effects from the movie and compose your own song!

For your chance to win a Jack The Giant Slayer DVD/Blu-ray/ Ultraviolet Combo-Pack, simply register your entries with the rafflecopter widget below. Please read the terms & conditions of entry.

You do not need to have a blog to enter or leave a comment on this blog, simply use the name/URL or 'anonymous' option from the drop-down list, and please make sure that your name is in your comment if you use these options.

  • Competitions are open to UK residents only.
  • The giveaway ends on August 31st 2013.
  • All entries will be verified before the winner is announced.
  • If the prize is not claimed within 24 hours a new winner will be drawn.
  • The winner will receive their prize directly from Warner Bros.
  • The prize is non-transferable and there is no cash alternative.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Breakfast with McCain

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Regular visitors to my blog will know how much I love my brinner. That's breakfast for dinner, for those wondering. It features almost weekly on our meal plan because it is the kids favourite, and also because on football training nights it is quick & easy and always delicious.

The best thing about a cooked breakfast, is that it is good for any time of day - breakfast, brunch, or brinner. Do you see what I did there? Exactly. It just works. You can have whatever combination you want. Bacon, eggs, grilled tomatoes, fried onions, grilled sausages, toast, baked beans, hash browns... Your options are endless.

My favourite combo is scrambled eggs, with grilled bacon, sausage and tomatoes, caramelised onions & hash browns served with a steaming vat mug of coffee and cream.

McCain have relaunched their delicious chunky hash browns with an improved recipe, to include onion and seasoning to make the new taste their best ever. My family LOVE hash browns, E loves to dip hers in tomato ketchup while J prefers his in sandwich form accompanied by some grilled bacon & sausages. The Mister and I just love them with a big breakfast (or brinner!) of all of our favourite things.

You can make your meal as sinful or as saintly as you like too. I prefer to grill and oven bake our cooked breakfasts. Even the hash browns are only 190 cals per serving & boast two out of four greens on packaging 'traffic lights'.
The Mister & kids cooked me to a delicious breakfast last weekend courtesy of McCain, and I thoroughly enjoyed every mouthful! It was the perfect start to the weekend, and also gave them good practice before my birthday in just over a week's time when I am fully expecting them to do it all over again!

McCain Hash Browns (700g) are available now from all major retailers, RRP £1.65. For more information about McCain including nutritional information please visit

We received a complimentary bag of McCain's Hash Browns for review purposesThe views shared are my own personal & honest opinions and written in my own words.

World Photography Day #theGallery

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Tara set us a challenge for #theGallery this week, as Monday was World Photography Day we were to take a picture on that day, of anything.

As it happened, Monday was L's 10th birthday. And so I share with you a snapshot of my beautiful, happy, smiling boy celebrating his 'double digits' just before he blew out the candles on his Skylander Portal of Power cake.

Happy 10th Birthday to my wonderful L, and Happy World Photography Day to everyone who loves being able to capture these memories, too.

Meal Plan Monday 190813

Monday, 19 August 2013

Monday 19th August - It's L's 10th birthday today, and he has requested a McDonalds. I'll not be partaking, so brinner for me.

Tuesday 20th August - Sausages & root vegetable mash

Wednesday 21st August - Slow-cooked chicken with mashed cauliflower & honey roasted carrots

Thursday 22nd August - Tomato & red pepper bolognese with courgette noodles

Friday 23rd August - Fajitas

Saturday 24th August & Sunday 25th August - We're going to be celebrating L's birthday this weekend - so whatever he fancies, depending on where we end up!

I've joined in with Mrs M's #mealplanningmonday linky with this post
*Brinner = breakfast for dinner

A midsummer sunset walk #CountryKids

Saturday, 17 August 2013

One of our favourite places to go for a walk is the white horse at Westbury, and this week we enjoyed a lovely evening walk just before sunset up there, taking Florence with us to give her a good run before bedtime. She had a great time, there are sheep grazing up there and she was fascinated by them though we kept her a safe distance from them being the excitable little pup that she is.
Flo had a great time tearing about and was delighted when she met a teacup yorkshire terrier puppy that was there with another family. There's a big field next to the car park and the kids had great fun playing football with the Mister, and H practised his rugby throwing & catching.
The view is beautiful and it was a lovely warm evening, though a bit windy at the top of the hill so A grabbed the Mister's work hoody from the car and put that on to keep warm. The boys & E had no such issue, racing around playing ball kept them plenty warm enough.
J got a bit of a sulk on and refused to come for a walk after they'd finished playing on the field, but the rest of us got to enjoy the sunset and blow the cobwebs away while faceache sat in the car and waited for us to come back. It was a really lovely evening and we'll definitely head back again soon.

I have linked this post with #CountryKids at Coombe Mill.

Make a meal of it

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Ok, so... It doesn't happen every night, but 9 times out of 10 in the Mama Owl household we all sit around the table for our meals. Growing up, we always had our evening meal at the table - there was no sitting in front of the TV, no taking plates to our rooms, we sat together. At the table. Without fail.

So, while this isn't always possible in our house - due to football training, swimming lessons, work - we do try our best to and when we are all at home, we all eat together.
This isn't just evening meals either, we mostly eat breakfast together (if we're not running late), and also lunch at weekends. We sit around the table and talk about our day and what we have been doing, anything we're looking forward to that week, what we're doing tomorrow...

Some nights are more chaotic than others and it's a successful mealtime if someone's drink hasn't been spilled across the table or one child hasn't elbowed another in the face (is it just my kids that eat with their elbows sticking out at all angles? Why?!).
We're trying to slowly coax L back to the table with us now too, his aversion to many foods (smells as well as taste/texture) means that he won't even entertain the idea in the evening, but for breakfast and lunch he will sit with us, and he has started joining us for fajita night again & will have lettuce wraps (the plainest things on the table).

We also have 'birthday breakfast' on our special days, this normally means home-made pancakes but sometimes it ends up being a spread of pastries and a full English. Sundays are roast days mostly, the Mister is as obsessive about his roasts as I am about my brinner.
Christmas Eve is always a Mexican feast of fajitas and nachos that we prepare together and Christmas Day is a traditional turkey roast, and the kids take in turns to set our festive dinner table (I'm currently on the lookout for things to spruce it up for Christmas 2013 if you have any recommendations).

With there being seven of us, it seems like there is never enough time in the day to get everything done, especially with the added rush of clubs, lessons & activities every week. Meal times in our house are family occasions, and they ensure that we spend at least half an hour sat together and making time for each other. I know that this isn't possible for everyone, which makes it that much more important. To not take the time that we are lucky enough to have would be a waste.

Get organised with Personal Planner

Monday, 12 August 2013

If - like me - getting yourself and your kids organised for back to school requires military precision, then I have the perfect giveaway for you.

I've teamed up with - one of this year's sponsors of BritMums Live - to offer readers of the opportunity to win their very own personal planner, which can be personalised and designed to your own specifications from the pattern, text & colour on the cover right down to the coloured stripes on the inside pages.

I used my gift card from BritMums Live to create my very own 12 month weekly planner, starting from September 2013 to help keep me organised for the new school year. I've even added special notes sections for pre-school memos for E and one to help me keep track of A's GCSE exams next Summer.

There are four sizes to choose from and many different patterns, colours, inlays and layouts which will ensure that your planner is perfect for your needs. Why not check out the Personal Planner facebook page for current offers and up-to-date news & information about their products - did you know that now you can even use your favourite Instagram photo as a cover for your planner?

To win your very own personal planner, all you have to do is enter using the rafflecopter widget below. Please read the terms & conditions of entry.

You do not need to have a blog to enter or leave a comment on this blog, simply use the name/URL or 'anonymous' option from the drop-down list, and please make sure that your name is in your comment if you use these options.
  • Competitions are open to UK residents only.
  • The giveaway ends on September 2nd 2013.
  • All entries will be verified before the winners are announced.
  • If the prize is not claimed within 48 hours a new winner will be drawn.
  • The winner will receive their prize directly from
  • The prize is non-transferable and there is no cash alternative.
Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Meal Plan Monday 120813

Monday, 12 August 2013

Monday 12th August - Sausages & root mash

Tuesday 13th August - Slow-cooked chicken with bbq bacon asparagus & honey-roasted carrots

Wednesday 14th August - Brinner*

Thursday 15th August - Farmer's Pie

Friday 16th August - Stuffed chicken breasts with steamed mixed vegetables & root mash

Saturday 17th August - Baked white & sweet potatoes with various fillings

Sunday 18th August - Garlic & rosemary butter-basted chicken

I've joined in with Mrs M's #mealplanningmonday linky with this post
*Brinner = breakfast for dinner

Family Days Out - The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Friday, 9 August 2013

In our house, Harry Potter is nothing short of a God.

A couple of years ago, the 'Elves' that visit our house on Christmas Eve with special presents for the kids to open before bedtime brought the Harry Potter movie box set, and we watched zero Christmas telly for the entire holiday as we were far too busy enjoying our Harry Potter movie marathon. H even dressed up as the boy wizard for World Book Day this year.

Out of all of my kids, A is probably the biggest fan. She has read the books more times than I can count and was beside herself with excitement when I told her that we had been offered the opportunity to experience the Making of Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio tour.

The morning of our visit we were up early and set off in good time in anticipation of either getting lost (I am the world's worst navigator) or there being traffic on the M25. To our surprise and delight, not only was it a clear drive all the way there without any traffic issues, it was also so simple to find that even I didn't manage to get us lost (that was more to the Mister's delight than anyone elses, admittedly).

Our tour was booked for 12.30 and we arrived about an hour early, but used the time to have a little wander around and check out the gift shop & café. We found a table and the Mister headed up to the counter to get our lunch and some drinks. There was a wide selection of refreshments available, and the Mister opted for some sandwiches & bottled drinks for us, and ready-made lunch boxes for the younger two which included a drink, apple, sandwich & flapjack. It was very busy in the café but the line moved quickly with little waiting time.

There is a picnic area adjacent to the car park, and halfway round the tour in the Backlot area you can make use of the picnic benches if you choose to bring your own lunch, but you are not permitted to eat or drink anything inside during the tour. In the outdoor area there is also a refreshments stand, and you can even purchase a glass of the famous 'Butterbeer' (one of only two places in the world that sells it). We bought some for the kids which they loved, though it was a bit too sickly for my taste!

The gift shop is a Harry Potter fan's dream come true, teeming with absolutely everything you could think of. Clothing, confectionery, books, costumes, keepsakes, collectibles... They are of course on the pricey side so that's something worth bearing in mind before taking the kids in there! As part of our tour experience we were gifted with four beautifully crafted wands (one each for my bigger kids) and a gorgeous white soft toy Unicorn for E as well as some delicious peppermint chocolate frogs. We purchased some sweets from the gift shop on our way out, & A used some of her birthday money to buy a t-shirt & other little souvenirs.

I was delighted to discover that the public toilets were absolutely pristine. Sensor flushes & taps and an airblade dryer meant that I didn't have to touch anything, it was all clean and tidy, fresh smelling and not at all traumatic for me - bonus.

There was a queue as we waited to go in, but with a tour starting every twelve minutes it was a very short waiting time and we were able to have a look at the 'cupboard under the stairs' as we waited. The beginning of the tour is guided and then you are left to walk through and take a look at everything at your own pace (or you can opt to be 'digitally guided' around with the aid of a handheld audio-visual guide which is available to hire).
The children were keen to collect the stamps for their activity passports and we took our time and visited all of the sets, and checked out the props and costumes and all of the wonderful things, that are created with such intricate detail, that make the movies as special as they are, & really bring  J K Rowling's books to life.

The kids were rushing back and forth between everything trying to take it all in, they were so excited to be there. We have tons of photos and the kids were delighted to be able to stand on the Knightbus and to sit in the flying car, and have a go at sitting on the motorbike & sidecar.
Probably the best part of the tour for me was watching the kids faces, they loved learning all of the secrets of the movies and getting to see the props, including the Philosopher's stone and the golden snitch. They took it in turns knocking at the door of number 4, Privet Drive and taking a walk on the Hogwarts Bridge, and we strolled down Diagon Alley looking at the beautifully crafted shop fronts. It really is a wonderland for any Harry Potter fan, and still pretty amazing if you've not become acquainted with the phenomenon yet!

Throughout the year the studio holds seasonal events, and right now is 'Summer Spells' which runs from July 26th-September 2nd and includes wand choreography lessons. From September 6th-26th you will be able to experience 'Back to School' at Hogwarts!

The staff throughout the tour are friendly, polite and helpful, and A was able to speak to the chap who was giving a talk about the costume design and he revealed he was one of the Death Eaters in the movies!

We queued up & the kids got to have a go in the green screen area, taking a ride on the broomsticks and flying in the enchanted car. I purchased three photographs of this experience for £21 & they will make great keepsakes of our day out. It's worth remembering not to wear green if you plan on having a go at this! E was most disappointed to discover that she'd missed out on it as she had fallen asleep, bless her! She had been dying to see the flying car!

We had a really enjoyable day out and it is certainly somewhere that I would readily visit again, and would also recommend to others. In our opinion, it's a must-visit for any Harry Potter fan.

We received complimentary tickets for the Making of Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio Tour for review purposesThe views shared are my own personal & honest opinions and written in my own words.

I have linked this post with #MagicMoments at The Oliver's Madhouse.

Play... #theGallery

Thursday, 8 August 2013

I'm late to the party for #theGallery this week, but I couldn't let the theme pass without sharing one of my absolute favourite photos of my children, ever.

It was taken this time last year. I'd been observing them in the garden as I went about my day while they enjoyed the sunshine, and I was bringing out some washing to hang out to dry. I grabbed my phone from my jeans pocket and snapped a quick pic, and this was the result...

Seeing them just enjoying each others company - no bickering, just fun, sharing, laughter & play.

I have linked this post with #theGallery at The Sticky Fingers Blog.

Meal Plan Monday 050813

Monday, 5 August 2013

Monday 5th August - Chicken, onion & pepper kebabs with cauliflower rice

Tuesday 6th August - We're off to visit the Harry Potter studios today but I'm making a sweet potato topped farmer's pie to pop in the oven when we get back

Wednesday 7th August - Brinner*

Thursday 8th August - Bacon-wrapped stuffed chicken breasts with mixed vegetables (and chips for the Mr & kids)

Friday 9th August - Bacon beef burgers with sweet potato mash

Saturday 10th August - Best BBQ Crock Pot Chicken

Sunday 11th August - Pork chops & applesauce

I've joined in with Mrs M's #mealplanningmonday linky with this post
*Brinner = breakfast for dinner

Keeping the little Ruggers busy

Friday, 2 August 2013

I have been keen to get the kids involved in activities outside of school, something to broaden their horizons and to meet new people and learn new things. This I feel is especially important for L, to help him socialise and hopefully make new friends.

J is on a local football team, which is co-managed by the Mister, and it has been good fun for him as well as a nice bonding experience for him & his dad. Granted, it doesn't always end well and sometimes J has wound up the Mister as both his dad AND his coach in one afternoon - no mean feat. But mostly, it's good fun and we enjoyed an evening out together for the football club's presentation night as the Mister is the goalkeeper for the senior team. He's knocking on a bit now bless him but as a goalie he has a few years left in him... So he keeps telling me anyway...
L & H both attend swimming lessons once a week. H is on stage 4 and is in a group lesson with eight other children, and L has 1:2:1 lessons with an instructor and is on stage 5. They are making amazing progress, especially L considering when we first started he didn't even want to get his face wet. Now he flings himself off of the edge of the pool with wild abandon, and they have both grown massively in confidence.

I'm hoping that a space will become available for E for swimming lessons after the Summer holidays so that she will be able to get started on learning to swim. And as for A, she has been taking guitar lessons at school since the beginning of the year, and has shown rather impressive musical ability considering her late start at it.

I do think it's important to encourage them in to extra-curricular activities without pushing them in to it, just because I want them to like something doesn't mean that they will!
To my delight H has shown an interest in Rugby, so I of course have offered to take him to watch Bath so that I can ogle the players to help him learn the rules and see how it is done. I took him along to his very first training session for a local team's U8s recently and he LOVED it. He has eagerly gone back each week since, and will be signing up officially come September.
He's definitely built for Rugby, being head & shoulders above most other kids his age. I really think that this is right up his street and I look forward to seeing him getting involved, making new friends & being active, I'm really pleased he's found something he loves.

I have contacted a local archery club that I am planning on taking L along to after his birthday (as members must be aged 10 or above) to see what he thinks. I'm keen to find something he can enjoy that doesn't revolve around gaming, which is his absolute favourite thing in the world. That's fine, after all he wants to be a computer game programmer "when he grows up" so he tells me, but I would really like to get him out and meeting people too. His hip & leg difficulties mean he finds running around a bit challenging and sometimes painful so after a suggestion on twitter, I think archery is a good place to start for him.

What activities are your children involved in or do you hope to involve them in when they are older? Are you involved in any sports or activities?

I have linked this post at The Monday Club.

Fifteen Candles

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Last Saturday our eldest child turned fifteen years old. We can't quite believe it ourselves, either. After all her Dad & I are both still in our... er... early twenties... um... *cough*

Anyway. All that aside, with having been away I had had zero time to make her a cake, or organise someone to make her a cake and so I was left with no other option than to BUY one from a SUPERMARKET. This filled me with utter horror. I do not give shop-bought cakes to the children for their birthdays because it is my job to make them. This rule doesn't apply to anyone else before there's uproar, it's simply my own rule for myself. I make my own cakes.

So the Mister & I headed off and duly came back with the least offensive and least mashed (really, what do they do to them? They're just sitting on the shelf?) cake that we could find, containing the most chocolate and sweets to make up for my shortcomings.

Having spent the week away and out & about, we hadn't made any plans so poor A had a rather quiet birthday at home, though she did invite two friends round for a sleepover (though please remind me to say no to that next time she asks) and we had cake and watched a movie. That is, we watched a movie downstairs, and she & her friends watched one upstairs and spent the entire night on tumblr, emerging only once or twice to get food.

Being the age she is, nobody knows what to get her for her birthday. I'm fairly certain she doesn't even know what she wants herself. So, much to her delight she received money from just about everyone and is busy planning what she wants to spend it on. I have said NO to the purple hair and any more gigs this year. Although she has gone to town to get her hair cut... She might well surprise me yet.

Birthdays for my bigger kids are not the jelly & ice cream laden affairs that they once were. A even said she wasn't as excited for her birthday this year as she had been previously, a sure sign that she is getting older. And although I am a little sad that that time has passed for her - the childish giggling sleepless anticipation of waking up to balloons and cake and toys - she has so much more to look forward to that it won't worry her for long, I am sure.

We're very proud of the young lady she has grown in to, and we're very much looking forward to seeing the adult that she will soon become. It doesn't matter how old A gets, she'll always be our little princess.

And doesn't she look lovely in E's tiara..?

(You're welcome.)

I have linked this post with Reasons to be Cheerful, The Monday Club and #MagicMoments.
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