Mama OWL Blog: October 2013

{Autumn Bucket List} Welly Walks & Hot Chocolate

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

It has been perfect Autumn weather for enjoying a welly walk. Though unseasonably mild, we've seen our fair share of showers and blustery days this October and so we pulled on our wellies and took a walk to Nanny & Grampy's house along the muddy lane through the wet leaves.

It was fun to spot the wildlife on the way, and we had a look to see if Mr Squirrel was watching us from his tree. The kids love kicking through the leaves and talking about the different colours, they're really excited for Halloween tomorrow and carving their pumpkins (that'll be another tick off of our Autumn Bucket List).

The best thing about a welly walk in the brisk Autumn air is coming home to a big mug of hot chocolate and marshmallows (or snowman soup as it is known as a bit closer to Christmas!). It's one of my favourite treats to enjoy in the colder months.

I like mine made with warm milk and a spoon made of real chocolate, slowly stirred in and melted.
Then I like to add a generous splodge of squirty cream and top it off with some marshmallows and a sprinkle of cocoa powder.

How do you drink yours?

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

Personalised T-Shirt Printing

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Mister has been shopping around for a good deal on work clothing personalised with his business logo for a little while. As he is self employed he is, obviously, responsible for his own work uniform and while he often comes home covered in paint, he still needs to look well presented and professional... even with a streak of gloss over his shoulder or emulsion spattered across his chest. generously sent us a t-shirt printed with the Mister's logo to try out & see what we thought. It's had a few wears now, and been through a wash or two and the verdict is in... The Mister is delighted.

An excellent fit, great colour and very comfortable to wear, it unfortunately has gained a few blobs of paint here and there (hazard of the job, that) but he is really happy with it, and we'll be putting in an order for a few more t-shirts and a hoodie to see him through the Autumn/Winter. Along with the beard he seems to be intent on growing, the Mister should be quite snug through the colder months...
For competitive quotes on their high quality silk screen printed t-shirts, promotional clothing, workwear and much more, see the website.

We received a complimentary personalised t-shirt for review purposesThe views shared are my own personal & honest opinions and written in my own words.

Halloween Meal Plan 281013

Monday, 28 October 2013

Thursday sees a Halloween themed buffet menu with some spooky treats to enjoy with our Halloween movies & activities, the rest of the week is as fuss-free as possible what with it being half term.

Monday 28th October - Brinner* with hash browns, grilled bacon & poached eggs

Tuesday 29th October - Spaghetti bolognese & garlic baguettes

Wednesday 30th October - Sausages & mash with onion gravy & veg

Thursday 31st October -
  • Chicken 'goo'jons
  • Deviled eggs
  • Mini toads in the hole
  • Pizza fingers
  • Mummy dogs
followed by some 'I scream', ghost meringues & gingerbread skeletons amongst other things!

Friday 1st November - French onion soup & rolls

Saturday 2nd November - Ploughmans

Sunday 3rd November - Pork chops & applesauce

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

Florence & the Thundershirt

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The title makes this post sound like a really cool kids book, or some hot new band... It's not. Sorry.

But it is about a very cute dog and her very fabulous new jacket.

I give you... the THUNDERSHIRT.

In all honesty I had never heard of the Thundershirt either. Pets At Home kindly sent one, in XS for my gorgeous little Chorkie pup Florence, to try out.

The idea behind the concept is a good one, I think. It applies gentle pressure to reduce anxiety and calm your pet if they are over-excited or fearful.
Thundershirt's gentle, constant pressure has a dramatic calming effect for most dogs if anxious, fearful or over-excited. Based on surveys completed by more than 2000 customers, over 80% of dogs showed improvement in symptoms when using the Thundershirt.

Thundershirt can used for the following symptoms:
Fear of thunder
Fear of fireworks
Separation anxiety
Crate training
Problem barking
Problem Jumping
Lead pulling
and many more!
Florence was not particularly amused the first time we tried it on her, in fact she was downright miffed. She was staring at us in a way that suggested she thought what we were doing was akin to tarring and feathering her.

However, after a little while she seemed to change her mind, and has happily worn it out on her walks ever since. As well as being very soft and comfortable (she genuinely seems to like having it on), it is an extra layer to keep her warm now the weather is getting chillier. I do believe she pulls on the lead less during her walks when she is wearing it, but she is still young and sometimes the lure of the leaf blowing down the pavement in front of her is too much to resist so we end up running after it. All in good time!

The Thundershirt is available from Pets At Home priced at £35 and is available in sizes ranging from XS to XL.

We received a complimentary Thundershirt for review purposesThe views shared are my own personal & honest opinions and written in my own words.

Kids, Cash & Current Accounts

Saturday, 26 October 2013

J has reached the age where he wants control of his own money and his independence from us. He'll be turning 13 in February, and earns his pocket money doing chores (all of the children do, the bank of mum & dad in this house insists upon work before payment) & then the money normally rattles around in his pockets or the bottom of his school bag. I think it's probably time he had somewhere a little safer to keep his hard-earned cash.

The Mister & I have discussed J having his own bank account so that he can be responsible for maintaining it himself & learning good money habits now while he's young. The same reason that his Dad & I have instilled that they must work for their money - we don't mind treating the kids now & again but we're not an endless ATM. I've had a look into offers for current accounts and I am keen to find one that offers online banking (so that I can help him keep an eye on his spending & saving practices) and his own debit card.

J having his own card would be particularly handy in that if ever he is stranded somewhere without any money I can quickly & easily transfer money into his account to enable him to get home/buy food, whatever his 'emergency' might be. We have done on this a couple of times for A, like on one occasion that she attended a gig and lost the cash that she had on her, meaning that she had no money for food - a quick online transaction and that particular crisis was swiftly averted.

The kids know that we'll always help them out where we can in times of need. I'm anticipating those phone calls from uni asking for a food parcel or help paying for this or that, and that's fine. But they also know that they must learn to take care of themselves and personally I think that having and managing their own current account for their pocket money is a good first step towards independence.

{Autumn Bucket List} Feed the wildlife

Thursday, 24 October 2013

I did consider taking a picture of the kids sat around the table at dinner...

Instead, I am sharing with you a little walk E and I took to go and feed the squirrel that lives down the lane near my parents house. We have a big bag of peanuts at home from which we pour a little into a plastic container to take and sprinkle around at the bottom of the tree that we think he lives in (it is, at least, the one he is always sat in when we see him!).
E takes great delight in flinging the peanuts about under the tree for the squirrel (and any other wildlife that might happen across it). She is sometimes disappointed if he doesn't come out while we're there, but she has decided that if ever we don't see him it must be because he is sleeping!

We're going to be making some bird feeders for the garden during half term, E loves wildlife so it will be a lovely little project for us. Do you have an Autumn Bucket List? How are you getting on with yours?

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

Welcome to the family!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

RIP Sparky & Cannonbolt
Following the very sad death of Sparky the roborovski hamster in August, the kids had been extra attentive to the remaining hamster - Cannonbolt (I didn't name them...) - to prevent him from getting lonely.
However, hamsters do not have long life spans (2 to 2.5 years for this breed so I am told) and sadly a couple of weeks ago, we lost him too. They took it a lot better the second time, L in particular was distressed but nowhere near the degree he had been for the first one. A hard lesson to learn but one that seems to have 'sunk in'.

Both hamsters have been cremated and we're going to create a little area in the garden to place engraved pebbles, like a sort of garden of remembrance.

Alan & Victor the hamstersAt first they weren't keen on getting new hamsters as they didn't want to 'replace' Sparky & Cannonbolt, but they soon changed their minds so their Dad and I went off to go and pick two new members of the family, and here they are.

They have been named Alan & Victor and so far have settled in very well. They are still hiding from us mostly & don't appear to be feeling particularly social just yet, but I imagine after some time they will get used to us and their new surroundings and be a bit more open to some interaction. For now, the kids are enjoying watching them settle in & make themselves at home.

Florence isn't all that bothered by them, though I have caught her sitting on the arm of the sofa just watching them potter about in their cage (it's a safe distance away!). She's more interested in her teddy than anything else to be honest, she carries that ratty old thing around with her everywhere!

Do you have any family pets?

Waste not, want not - Hints for reducing household food waste

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

You may have seen in the news how Tesco revealed that they threw away 28,500 tonnes of food in the first six months of this year, and estimate that families waste around £700 of food a year. In the current climate, it seems almost criminal to be throwing away food when the Trussell Trust are reported to be opening three new food banks every week.

It makes you think about what you can do in your own home to prevent food waste, including ways to use up that veg that might be languishing at the bottom of the fridge or those heels of the loaf that nobody seems to eat (no such problem with bread in my house, I must add - the trick is getting to it before everyone eats it all).

There are lots of handy hints available online to help you reduce what you throw away. I've had a look around and found some recipes and tips for reducing food waste.


According to Friends of the Earth, bread is the UK's most wasted food. On their site they share 40 ways to use up stale bread including making breadcrumbs, a delicious bread & butter pudding (lovely at this time of year especially), making your own stuffing, croutons or perhaps some pizza toast as a quick after-school snack for the kids, to name just a few.


A great way to use up vegetables is a hearty soup, my Family Kitchen Cookbook has a fantastic recipe for what is called 'bottom of the fridge' or harvest vegetable soup, which can be made with onion, leek, celery and any old root veg you might have with some stock and seasoning and then whizzed to a smooth consistency. You can then enjoy it with the croutons you made with the stale bread!

If you have some over-ripe tomatoes, quarter them and pop them in a pan with some oil and garlic, then add water until the tomatoes have broken down (or give them a mash to help them along) with a bit of seasoning, and you have a perfect pasta sauce (that can also be frozen to use at a later date).

Bananas past their best? Don't bin them - make banana bread! Perfect for popping into kids lunch boxes as a treat (particularly if you have made it as a tray bake) or enjoying after your evening meal, or perhaps just a slice with a cuppa mid-morning. Don't forget, you can also wrap up a banana cake well (cling film and foil/freezer bag) and then freeze it for another time. I found this banana bread tray bake recipe on allrecipes which would be equally as good without the frosting on top, personally I prefer my banana cake without a topping anyway. You could even whip up some banana breakfast muffins using this delicious recipe from Utterly Scrummy.

Fruit that is going over can be whizzed up with some plain yoghurt or cream & fruit juice and then frozen in moulds or little containers to make fruity frozen yoghurt/ fruit fro-yo lollies for a treat.

Alternatively you might consider jarring up some homemade preserves and chutneys using leftover fruits & vegetables, such as onion marmalade, mango chutney, applesauce or maybe a nice apple jam.


I have found that careful meal planning saves us a bundle. Every Monday I sit down with my recipe books and choose what we're having - along with some input from the kids and the Mister - and I grocery shop online for all of the ingredients to be delivered the following Monday. I also link up with Mrs M's weekly blog hop and get some inspiration from the other bloggers who join in each week.

We choose meals for each day - being mindful of what activities we have on those days - and 9 times out of 10 we do stick to it. However, sometimes life gets in the way of even the best laid plans so we might jig the week around & have Thursday's dinner on Tuesday because it was quicker/easier, and we have "emergency" chips & fish fingers in the freezer just in case. But - we stick to our meal plans, and I don't have cupboards or a fridge/freezer teeming with things that will end up unused & binned at the end of the week which saves us money, AND reduces waste.


We do this every so often to use up bits & bobs that for whatever reason have been unused and are sitting around taking up space. Freezer-diving is especially useful before Christmas, to save money and free up room ready for all the festive goodies.
Even with careful meal planning, you find that you'll be left with the odd packet of mince or jar of sauce or something. So, we empty the freezer & cupboards and make meals from what we have.

A good example of this is this baked bean lasagne recipe which always goes down well and is made entirely of things that we usually have hanging about in the cupboard. It's also worth checking out Fab Food 4 All where bloggers share their 'Credit Crunch Munch' ideas including tips on batch cooking and using leftovers to make meals.

Do you have any tips for reducing food waste at home, or perhaps a recipe to share that uses up leftovers, or those bits that languish in the bottom drawer of the fridge?

Meal Plan Monday 211013

Monday, 21 October 2013

Monday 21st October - Toad in the hole

Tuesday 22nd October - Tomato, bacon & mascarpone conchiglie

Wednesday 23rd October - Chilli con carne

Thursday 24th October - Macaroni cheese

Friday 25th October - Homemade curry

Saturday 26th October - Cottage pie

Sunday 27th October - Honey roast gammon

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

All I want for Christmas

Thursday, 17 October 2013

The kids have written their lists (and are adding to them every week... although H appears to be copying ideas from my Christmas list...) and never have I been so glad that I start saving for Christmas in November the year before - as the children get older, the items on their lists seem to get smaller but more expensive!

I've been very lucky to be a runner-up in the BritMums & Barny #littleadventures competition with a prize of a £200 Argos voucher, which certainly helps towards the Christmas budget.
The teenagers are all about computer games, DVDs, money & vouchers while the younger ones are happily scouring magazines & catalogues for this year's "must haves".

We don't go mad at Christmas, I think you can easily overwhelm children with too many things, and I want them to get enjoyment from their gifts which I don't think they can do if they have a mountain of things.
There are so many kids around the world that have nothing, it seems wrong - to me - to spend lots of money on things that end up little used or ignored because they simply got too much & can't play with it all.
Feel free to disagree with me of course, but this is how we do things.

We concentrate more on the time we spend together and our Christmas family traditions. After all, they won't necessarily remember the toys they got at Christmas when they grow up, but they will remember the time we spent as a family.
We make gingerbread houses and decorations, we cook & bake, we watch movies and enjoy each other's company. So they write their lists and we stick to our budget, and we always have a really lovely Christmas.
L, H & E have very clear ideas about what they want this year. E (3) has dreams of My Little Pony, Disney Princesses, Sylvanian Families, Barbies, Doc McStuffins and anything to do with baby dolls. H (7) wants Pig Goes Pop, Playmobil and Deadly 60s as well as a slushy cup that he is desperate for, while both he and L want Skylanders Swap Force and Disney Infinity characters, and L (10) is also keen on a Kurio 4S Touch & TMNT goodies.

A & J are a bit trickier to buy for, buying Christmas presents for teenagers is no easy task and I can really struggle to find things that aren't DVDs or computer games. They might be asking for the latest game or the newest boxset but I don't necessarily want to just buy them those things.
Girls are one thing - if they're like my daughter then you can at least go for something like jewellery, perfume or make-up, but as a friend of mine said - buying for boys is even more difficult because you don't even have that back up. Well you might, I'm not here to judge.
It can be so difficult to make choices about what to get, trying to figure out from their lists what is going to be used & loved the most, and then trying to find the best deal for those things.
If you're lucky, their top toy isn't one that every other kid in the country wants... I remember one Christmas I spent weeks tracking down a Jagget doll for A. It's always worth checking out smaller independent retailers if a toy is popular, if it's sold out at the big stores you might just find it hiding away in that little local toy shop, that's where I found the doll in the end.

In a couple of weeks when my Christmas savings vouchers arrive, I'll begin my festive shopping in earnest. I have a stash of things in my wardrobe already, I made a start in January...

When do you start Christmas shopping? What do your kids have on their lists this year?

Sixth Form & Post-16 Options

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

I do genuinely wonder where the last 15 years have gone. I cannot believe we have a daughter who is in year 11, that we are making plans for the prom (I am currently deciding which organs to sell to fund 'the perfect prom dress' not to mention the shoes, the make-up, the hair...) and talking about revision plans, GCSEs and 'what happens next' - the post-16 options, sixth form, college, university...

For a long time A wanted to be a vet. She was certain, that was the career for her and it had been for as long as I can remember. Then when she took her year nine options she said "I want to be a history teacher", and that was that.
We discussed what GCSEs she should take and in the end she chose those most relevant to her desired future career as well as one that she wanted to take purely for the enjoyment she got from it (music).

She was fortunate and managed to secure all the options she had chosen, and since then things have gone well. She has, with the support & advice from the Mister & I as well as her teachers, decided to drop one subject (Child Development) in favour of spending more time studying for and revising for the other subjects (History in particular) and, I have learned after an 'academic board' meeting last week, is on course for top marks in all of them as long as she continues putting the work in as she has been doing.
It's our job now as her parents to keep her on the right path and make sure she gets plenty of rest and spends time at home revising, keeping on top of her homework & planning for her exams in the Summer.

There is a lot of pressure on her right now and we are doing our best to keep her motivated. We have a lovely family holiday in the south of France booked for the Summer next year and we'll return a few days before she will receive her results. We hope she'll be able to relax & enjoy the sunshine while we're away, and she knows that she has that to look forward to when her GCSEs are all over with.

We'll be attending the sixth form open evening for her current secondary school this week, and A has made an appointment with the careers advisor at school & looked at the list of the available subjects for the sixth form.
She has also started looking at universities that will be the best match for her chosen career, as well as those that offer an option to study part of her degree abroad for a year or semester as she is particularly interested in studying in the USA.

There is a part of me screaming internally at the thought of sitting her on a plane and waving her off to lands unknown, but at the same time I am so excited for her and the adventures that she has to come. I really hope that she will make the most of her opportunities and experience everything that the world has to offer her.

Well not everything... Some things I would of course rather she didn't experience!

But - she is a responsible, mature young lady and I have every faith in her that she will make good decisions, and go far (both literally and academically). She has a lot to offer the world and I am excited to see where she ends up.

Hopefully somewhere hot, so we can visit.

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

Meal Plan Monday 141013

Monday, 14 October 2013

Monday 14th October - Tomato & mascarpone conchiglie

Tuesday 15th October - Cottage pie

Wednesday 16th October - Chicken & broccoli pasta bake

Thursday 17th October - Kids are having fish fingers & chips while the Mister & I visit a friend in hospital

Friday 18th October - Homemade curry

Saturday 19th October - Baked potatoes

Sunday 20th October - Roast chicken

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

Enjoy #LittleAdventures Every Day

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Part of the fun of Autumn is going out and taking note of all the changes that happen around you. The changing colours of the leaves, the crispness in the air, seeing the dew on spiderwebs early in the mornings.

The kids and I do a lot of walking, which is the perfect opportunity to pay close attention to the world outside and make every trip out a little adventure of our very own, even if we're just going to the shop!
In the last few weeks we have enjoyed nature and taken time to stop and look at the spider fixing his web, the snail hiding from the cold, the bee on the fence having a rest from flying on a windy day.

We have kicked through leaves on our walks down the lanes, and E found a particularly pretty leaf that she brought home with her to keep after our trip to town. It's so nice that she is able to spot beauty in the smallest things and really appreciate her surroundings.

On our train journey back from a day in London, E was gazing out of the window, almost asleep, and remarked how pretty the sky was - the sun was setting and the evening sky was a stunning show of red, orange & yellow. I thought how really quite lovely it was of a 3.5 year old to appreciate a sunset.

Of course little ones (and big ones) need fuel to go on these little adventures, and I like to try and keep their lunches interesting for them. Currently we're trying out bento style boxes like the one pictured below - cheese & ham tortilla pinwheels are a nice twist on a traditional sandwich, with little pots of their favourite fruit & a delicious Barny bear sponge cake as a tasty treat.
Have you been on any #LittleAdventures this Autumn?

This post is an entry for BritMums ‘Little Adventures Challenge’ in partnership with Barny, the bear-shaped snack providing a little discovery in every bite. Find out more about Barny here:

{Autumn Bucket List} Have a fun family Halloween at home

Saturday, 12 October 2013

We are making great progress on our Autumn Bucket List. It has been so much fun that it has inspired me to do it for each season as they change, and to think of new ways to enjoy ourselves together as a family.

We are busy planning our family Halloween, we're not trick or treaters so we have fun at home together instead. The kids dress up so that they can answer the door to any ToTers that do happen our way, we play games, we watch some of our favourite family-friendly Halloween movies and we carve our pumpkins. This year I'm planning on making them a gingerbread house to decorate as a 'haunted house' and we'll have a buffet-style evening meal with food of their choice and some delicious homemade treats - like meringue ghosts & gingerbread skeletons - to enjoy after.

Delights UK kindly sent us some Halloween party supplies for our family party at home. The fantastic Boo Crew design is vibrant and eye-catching and sets the perfect spooky scene for a kids Halloween party.

In fact, the deluxe Boo Crew party pack (for 16) is currently available for just £19.15 and includes: Plates x16, Cups x16, Napkins x20, Tablecover, 12'' Latex Balloons x8, Flag Banner, and 11'' Balloons x10.

There are also lots of accessories & extras available to really make your party special - such as bottle labels to turn your fizzy pop into 'bats brew' and 'zombie tonic', snack & dessert bowls and treat boxes, or maybe your little boils & ghouls would enjoy the Boo Crew Party Treat Hunt Game.

You can follow Delights UK on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest & Facebook to keep up to date with latest news and offers.

How will you and your family be 'celebrating' Halloween?
Do you have a quiet night at home, or a big Halloween party?
Do you go out trick or treating? What will the kids be dressing up as this year?

We received a complimentary Boo Crew party pack and accessories for review purposesThe views shared are my own personal & honest opinions and written in my own words.

Updating Your Children's Rooms As They Grow Up - A Guest Post

Friday, 11 October 2013

Parenting is full of tasks you never see coming, and that in itself is no surprise. But when these tasks come up, it can certainly throw you for a loop! In a way, this is part of the charm of the parenting process - it always surprises you. But on the other hand, it never hurts to be prepared!

One of these surprising tasks that creeps up on you is the need to upgrade your children's rooms. Generally speaking, a baby's room won't suit a young child, and a young child's room won't suit a teenager! And to some extent, your kids will update their rooms on their own - but here are a few tips of ways that you can help their rooms to grow up with them.

From Nursery To Toddler's Room

  • Switch Wallpaper - For a nursery, parents tend to pick solid colors, such as "baby blue", yellow or pink, often depending on gender. When your baby grows up a bit, however, some more involved wallpaper can be in order. Check out Go Wallpaper for options that might appeal to young children.

  • Make A Play Station - Not a playstation as in the Sony gaming console, mind you, but a corner of the room designed for play - perhaps with a small crafts table, a rug that can stand to get messy, etc. Give your child a place to play and be creative in his or her room.

  • Upgrade The Bed - Of course, the cot has to go at some point, and when that day comes you may want to look at Dreams UK for suitable replacements. There you'll find beds designed for children, with fun frames and comfortable mattresses.

From Toddler's Room To Teen's Room

  • Make A Call On Electronics - Different parents have different views, but it's best to make a firm decision on whether you'll allow you teenager to have television or a gaming console in his or her room. Establishing a position when your children are still young will make it easier to enforce.

  • Don't Mind The Posters - Teens tend to want to decorate as they please, and it's best to simply let it be, so long as the posters and decorations aren't inappropriate. For example, a few favourite bands for film posters is fine - posters of Miley Cyrus strutting the stage half nude may be pushing the limit!

  • Install A Desk - A real desk is always a nice gift in updating a teen's room. It can help your child to feel impressively adult, and provides a workspace for the more difficult schoolwork that will be soon to come!

Of course, these are all broad general suggestions, but again, it's best to be prepared for these types of adjustments as your children grow up. To the extent appropriate, it's still best to let them tweak their rooms as they see fit. But when it comes to a new bed, or a new desk, etc., you can always step in!

This is a featured guest post.

Christmas Shopping for Teens

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Last week I handed out some blank paper & pens, sat the kids at the kitchen table with a toy catalogue and asked them to write down what they wanted for Christmas.

As you can imagine, there is a fair old bit on these lists, there is no end to the madness that is Christmas shopping for five kids. However, shopping for A is not quite so simple these days. She was sat at the table with the others, but of course didn't even glance in the direction of the catalogue her brothers & sister were so studiously poring over.

Teenage girls are a law unto themselves and often change their minds on a whim. I know this for a fact, having been one myself (not all that long ago... ahem...). What might be a 'must have' this week could be well out of favour by the time Christmas rolls around.

As she is quickly growing up to be a young lady and is no longer interested in the latest toy, I have been looking at things like perfume and make up, and the stunning jewellery designs at I have browsed the selection and seen some beautiful pieces that look like they would appeal to her and that she will be able to keep & wear for many years to come, but it can be so difficult to know what to choose.
Her Christmas list consists of band merch, books, money and DVD boxsets involving zombies & vampires for the most part. It is tempting just to give money or vouchers and to let her choose for herself, but I love watching the kids open their gifts on Christmas morning and watching the surprise & awe on their faces, and seeing their delight at the presents they have received.

Even though A is older, I still want her to experience that same magic of Christmas like her younger siblings, so I will keep on looking until I find the perfect present for her. Wish me luck, I think I'm going to need it!

This is a featured post.

{Autumn Bucket List} Bake More...

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Autumn Bucket List

Lately I haven't seemed to have the time to bake at all, and I have really missed it. I love baking, there's nothing quite like having a home-made dessert after a Sunday roast or as a treat on a Friday night.

So - since I have an abundance of apples sitting in a basket on the counter in the kitchen after our afternoon of apple-picking, I have been busy baking and putting them all to good use, whilst also fulfilling my Autumn Bucket List resolution to 'bake more'. The Mister is not a big fan of cooked apples (there's always one isn't there! And it's always him...) so I made him a bread & butter pudding to have after our roast at the weekend to keep him happy.

The kids and I have so far made a delicious cinnamon apple cake (I think this was my favourite), a toffee apple cake and an apple crumble using recipes from the Family Kitchen Cookbook. They are so easy to follow and the results have been very successful & thoroughly enjoyed by us all.

Cinnamon Apple Cake

Half the fun of baking, for me, is letting the kids join in and really get stuck in. I find that with both baking and cooking, the kids are far more likely to want to eat food if they have been the ones to help create it, which can be a great help for fussy eaters. E & I have had fun making biscuits too, my nan's vanilla butter biscuits always go down a treat and only needed a little input from me, the rest of the hard work was done by E!

Toffee Apple Cake
I've been enjoying making Autumnal dishes now that the weather is turning. Lots of soups, casseroles and warming, filling meals perfect for these chilly evenings especially after coming home from swimming or training sessions.

Do you have any special dishes & desserts that you particularly enjoy at this time of year? What are your family favourites?

For He's a Jolly Good Fellowes

Monday, 7 October 2013

With identity theft a big issue these days, we are all encouraged to keep our personal details protected. A thief only has to get their hands on basic details and you could be in for a real nightmare getting it all straightened out again.

I reviewed the Fellowes Powershred® 73Ci, a cross-cut shredder with "100% jam-proof technology and innovative safety features". Usually I keep my documents to one side in the utility room before burning a pile of them in the incinerator in the garden every so often, so being able to shred them is of course a much better option. It means I don't have stacks of old paperwork lying around & that I don't have to brave the elements out in the garden anymore!
We had a big stack of papers to put through, old bank statements and hospital appointment letters, that sort of thing. The children were of course keen to help so the first thing I did was test the 'SafeSense Technology' - as soon as your fingers come in to contact with the strip at the top, it shuts off.

So - I put a letter through, and then touched the strip - very carefully! - and as promised, the machine instantly shut down and stopped shredding until I removed my hand. I don't plan for the children to have their fingers anywhere near the opening at any time of course, but it is good to know that that extra safety feature is available should they manage to accidentally get their mitts near it.

We put through staples, an old CD, an old bank card and as promised it powered straight through. I tested what happened if you put too much in, the sensor showed red so I had to try again with less and it went through, no problem. It's not noisy, the waste is easily accessible and it's reliable, which to me is exactly what you want in a home-office shredder. Highly recommended, it does the job and is true to it's word.

The Fellowes Powershred® 73Ci is priced in the region of £180 and is available to purchase online from many good retailers.

We received a complimentary Fellowes Powershred® 73Ci for review purposesThe views shared are my own personal & honest opinions and written in my own words.

Meal Plan Monday 071013

Monday, 7 October 2013

Monday 7th October - Conchigliette with sausage and tomato sauce

Tuesday 8th October - Chicken Noodle Soup

Wednesday 9th October - Toad in the hole with onion gravy

Thursday 10th October - Baked potatoes & various fillings

Friday 11th October - Fajitas

Saturday 12th October - Home-made cheese & onion pasties with salad & mashed potatoes

Sunday 13th October - Roast chicken

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

Top 10 family-friendly Halloween Movies

Saturday, 5 October 2013

We're big on movie night at Chez Owl and since we don't go out trick or treating, Halloween is a great excuse for a family film night.

While the older two kids might well campaign for actual horror films (so not happening), we stick to spooky but kid friendly Halloween movies that we can enjoy as a family. Since it is fast approaching, we would like to share our top 10 family-friendly Halloween movies for anyone looking for inspiration. In no particular order -
  1. Disney's The Haunted Mansion.
  2. Disney's Hocus Pocus.
  3. Monster House.
  4. Casper.
  5. ParaNorman.
  6. Disney's Frankenweenie.
  7. Hotel Transylvania.
  8. The Nightmare Before Christmas.
  9. Coraline.
  10. The Witches.
Family Halloween Movies
Family Halloween Movies
All of these movies, in our opinion, make great viewing for a spooky night in. However - as with any movie, I must recommend using your own discretion as to how suitable they will be for your own kids as all contain some mild peril and potentially scary scenes for more sensitive and younger children. For very little ones, you could try Room on the Broom or The Gruffalo.

If you'd rather go for more traditional witchcraft & wizardry then the Harry Potter movies are a great choice. Alternatively if you have teens/older tweens to entertain, you could offer Warm Bodies, Dark Shadows, the Twilight Saga movies (popular with girls, can't imagine why) or Beautiful Creatures. These movies are all rated 12/12A but again, use your own discretion.
Halloween movies for teens
We'll be enjoying our Halloween viewing with some 'rainbow' popcorn coloured with purple, green & orange using a recipe from the Family Kitchen Cookbook, it's a fun twist on movie snacks & looks great too.

Do you have any family-friendly Halloween film favourites?

{Autumn Bucket List} Go to more sporting matches for the kids

Friday, 4 October 2013

I'll admit I am a reluctant touchline mum. Not because I don't love being there to cheer the kids on and support them in their sporting activities -

But because I bloody hate the cold.

I don't mind the rain, but when it's coupled with a wind that stops just short of gale force and a cold that chills you to your bones and takes you days to regain feeling in your extremities then yes, I am a massive wimp and would rather be at home in the warm, thankyouverymuch.


It's time to woman-up. I am going to go to as many matches as I able to, not just to watch the kids take part in their sports but the old man as well.
I've said it here now as well as in my Autumn Bucket List, you all have to hold me to it. I'll buy some extra layers. I'll get some welly socks. I will stay warm, and I will be there pretending I have a clue what is going on, and clapping when the other parents do. I might even try and learn the rules & laws. Soon enough they will be grown and off doing their own things, so I am going to grab every opportunity to be there for them while they still want me to be!

Last Sunday H had his first ever match for his U8s rugby team. He was so nervous in the morning but excited with it, and we got there early as advised by the coach because it was going to be a busy day for the club with lots of other matches going on at their new ground. The Mister got roped in to helping out with warm up (which I think is payback for him volunteering me for kitchen duty at training last week) and I was chatting to the other parents while we waited for everything to start. Our next door neighbours even came along to watch which H was really pleased about, too.

I'm delighted to say that he had a great first outing for his team and they won 2 of their 3 matches and drew the other, H even scored 5 tries. I was very proud indeed, the whole team did brilliantly. This is their last year of tag rugby and I know H is keen to be able to tackle (groan, such a boy) but this stage is so important for him to teach him the laws and let him get a feel for it. I know he is enjoying it and that is the main thing!

After the matches we had a quick look inside the new clubhouse and H had his post-match squash & hot dog, he likes his food and I think this was one of his favourite parts of the day!
I thought he would want to come home, have a bath & get straight into his jimjams but he was keen to get changed and go out with the Mister & J to watch J's football match in the afternoon so off they all went after lunch.

The good day continued with J's U13s team winning their match 5-1 so it was celebrations all round and I had some very happy boys indeed (the Mister included).

I've managed to find a taekwondo class for L to have a go at, so hopefully soon he will have his own activity to take part in as I know he has been feeling left out. The teacher has experience with children with special needs too which is of course very important and the first month's training is free, so fingers crossed he will enjoy it and want to take it up properly after his initial introduction, I think it'd do wonders for his legs too. We will see!

I have linked this post with #CountryKids at Coombe Mill
& #MagicMoments at The Oliver's Madhouse.

WIN The Family Kitchen Cookbook

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Regular readers of my blog will know how much effort I put in to my family's mealtimes - from the weekly meal planning to my new found enjoyment of Bento style lunchboxes. I also encourage and teach the children to be able to cook and bake for themselves, and make sure that we eat our evening meals together as a family whenever we can. To me, mealtimes are as important as what you put on the plate and they are worth taking time over & thinking about. I'm not talking whipping up a 3 course meal every evening, and like everyone else we have an emergency bag of chips in the freezer or sometimes we grab a takeaway but I try my hardest to give them the best that I am able to.

I was delighted to be given the opportunity to review the Family Kitchen Cookbook by Caroline Bretherton (RRP £25) published by As part of my Autumn Bucket List I have added wanting to 'try new recipes' so this was perfect for us, the first thing I made using the book was a delicious fruit crumble!

Every parent knows that when it comes to feeding a family, cooking a delicious meal is just half the battle as you grapple with shopping, menu planning and trying to please everyone. More than just a recipe book, Family Kitchen Cookbook offers practical advice on tackling all those daily concerns to help you transform the way you manage your kitchen and cook for your family and friends. 

This book is my new kitchen bible. Containing more recipes than I think I could ever cook as well as tips on shopping, meal planning, batch cooking & freezing and making the most of leftovers, there is almost nothing that the Family Kitchen Cookbook doesn't cover.
There is something for everyone including some great ideas for teatime treats and tips for when you have unexpected guests, in addition to a section about party food which is fabulous for me with the amount of birthdays we celebrate in a year in our house.
Each recipe is written in detail with step by step instructions and a beautiful photograph of the mouthwatering end result. I know I am gushing but I am genuinely impressed by what this book has to offer and we have enjoyed some delicious treats as a result of our efforts using these recipes - last weekend we made our own pizzas for dinner and then enjoyed a delicious cinnamon apple pie for dessert afterwards, with apples picked from the neighbour's tree (we had permission, there was no scrumping going on!).
The Family Kitchen Cookbook is a great addition to my library and one that I will refer to again and again, this week's meal plan consists almost entirely of recipes from the book. There are some great practical tips & ideas for last minute desserts and meals too, when the kids asked for a dessert after our roast dinner I had a quick look at what I had in the cupboards & managed to present them with a treacle sponge in less than half an hour (despite the fact that one of them smashed my pudding basin & I still haven't replaced it) which went down a treat with some custard.
DK UK would like to offer one lucky reader of my blog the chance to WIN a copy of the Family Kitchen Cookbook!

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 October 31st 2013.
  • All entries will be verified before the winner is announced.
  • If the prize is not claimed within 48 hours a new winner will be drawn.
  • The winner will receive their prize directly from DK.
  • The prize is non-transferable and there is no cash alternative.
Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Win competitions at - Competitions and Freebies in the UK

Gross Science! Zombie Hand Kit

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Halloween is fast approaching and if, like us, you're not a family that goes out trick or treating but you still want to have fun at home, Hobbycraft have a fantastic range of creepy Halloween crafts for your little boils & ghouls. We were sent the John Adams Gross Science Zombie Hand Kit (priced at £13, recommended for age 7+) to try - perfect for my boys who love anything disgusting & slimy.
What do you think a Zombie's severed hand might look like and what it might feel like to hold it in your hand? Well now you can see for yourself! 
In this totally gruesome kit, clip together the skeleton bones and use the special liquids and powders to mould a completely gross, fleshy zombie hand. Cover it with putrid, rotten skin, add decaying finger nails and finish off with squishy, squirming maggots! Finally, use the completely safe scalpel to dissect your creation and watch the rotten gore ooze out, GROSS!

The kit comes with full instructions and it is a comprehensive kit, but states that you will need to tape the mould together to prevent leakage so you'll need to make sure that you have some at home, as well as a jug.

H followed the instructions with the aid of A under my supervision and together they assembled the hand & connected everything together before popping it in the mould & pouring the mixture in.
We did have a bit of a 'mare with the mould and the mixture kept leaking out no matter how much tape we sealed it up with, in the end we had to put it in a bag to go into the freezer so it wouldn't spill out everywhere.

H wasn't impressed that it had to be frozen overnight because he's impatient! So it's worth bearing that in mind if you're doing it for Halloween, maybe to prepare it the day before so you can make the skin & do your dissecting on the day. Kids will definitely need grown-up help with this kit as there are several steps to carry out and it is rather complicated - as well as the potential safety hazard of the chemicals - but doing it together at the table for Halloween is the ideal opportunity for some fun experimenting, just be sure to carefully read all instructions first & follow all safety precautions.

The Gross Science Kits are also available in 'beating heart' and 'eyeball dissection' so there is something disgusting for everyone to enjoy!

We received a complimentary Gross Science Zombie Hand Kit from Hobbycraft for review purposesThe views shared are my own personal & honest opinions and written in my own words.

Are you online?

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Teen & I were discussing internet addiction last week and it got me thinking about my own internet use.
While I don't spend much time on the PC for 'recreation' (a chance would be a fine thing, with 2 teens & 2 tweens hogging it), I do rely on the internet for many aspects of my daily life.

This article about the nation’s online habits suggests that high street retailers are taking a hit due to the increased amount of online shoppers taking to the world wide web to buy everything from foodstuff to special occasion gifts and clothes. Even all of my banking is done online with the exception of paying money in, I actually even find that a major inconvenience if I am completely honest. Going to the bank? OUTSIDE? Where there are PEOPLE? Whatever next! (Can't I just do it online? Is there an app for that?)

You might think I am joking. I am. Sort of...

Our weekly shop is also done online. I write our family meal plan every week complete with the ingredients that I need after meticulously checking the cupboards and fridges/freezer to see what we already have in.
Feeding seven of us, I need to make the budget stretch as far as humanly possible and by meal planning I can ensure we only buy what we need, and don't waste food or money. I also have it delivered, meaning I don't have to endure taking the kids to the supermarket... They hate it, I hate it. This just makes it easier all round!

I don't watch television shows on the internet (I do however have a Sky+ planner that is full to bursting, one day I might get chance to watch some of the things I have recorded) and while the children do use their tablets & smartphones for games & apps, they do not watch tv shows on them like this article in The Independent suggests is the case for many kids. I don't feel that I can have full control over what they watch if they have unsupervised access to it like that so I don't allow it, with the exception of A as she is that little bit older and is sensible about her viewing.

Christmas & birthday shopping is almost always conducted via the computer or my smartphone. I couldn't count the amount of times a day I think of something and need to check the price online, or search for a shop that stocks it & to see if I could get it cheaper somewhere else. The smartphone certainly helps with stealth purchasing, too many little eyes around when trying to shop on the computer!

My blogging is done in the evenings when the younger ones are tucked up in bed, I try and get posts scheduled as much as possible because I simply have such little time in the day to get it done. Occasionally during a flash of inspiration if I am able to I will get on the computer and spill my heart out here to anyone willing to read it.
I love being able to share my thoughts, feelings and tales from our daily life here and I am delighted to have such loyal readership. I had a lovely comment about my apple crumble recipe the other day that really made me smile, those moments - yes, even something as simple as sharing a recipe that someone else enjoyed - are the ones that, for me, make blogging all the more worthwhile.

I do wonder how I would manage to conduct my day-to-day life without the internet. It would be possible of course, but it would mean more human interaction for my rather anti social self..!

Are you addicted to the internet? Do you conduct your life via the world wide web or could you manage without it?

This is a PR publication.
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