Mama OWL Blog: February 2014

Springwatch #littleadventures

Friday, 28 February 2014

The Winter has seemed to last forever. Weeks & weeks of wind, rain and flooding. I always find myself longing for the Spring once Christmas is over, and recently we've been noticing more & more signs of its imminent arrival.

On our walks to swimming and to & from preschool, E has been gleefully pointing out all of the daffodils & snowdrops starting to grow in little patches everywhere, and the tiny shoots & leaves which are slowly peeking their way out on the hedges in the gardens we pass.

The evenings are lighter - which means no more trudging home in the dark after swimming lessons - and the birdsong has returned. The kids are usually famished after their swim lessons so they were keen to try out the new apple & strawberry flavours of Barny bear sponge snacks when I offered them, they were very handy for our early evening walks home.

L's favourite was apple while H preferred the strawberry, he said: "It's really soft and yummy, the strawberry is my favourite because it's so tasty!" so I think we can safely say that they have approval from the boys.
Barny bear snacks are also available in milk and chocolate flavours, and contain no artificial flavours or preservatives.

Have you noticed the signs of Spring peeking its way in? What #littleadventures have you been on this Winter?

This post is an entry for BritMums Winter Little Adventures Challenge sponsored by Barny, individually wrapped bear-shaped sponges with a hidden filling. Find out more about Barny here.

Meal Plan Monday 240214

Monday, 24 February 2014

Monday 24th Feb - Cheesy broccoli penne bake

Tuesday 25th Feb - Brinner*

Wednesday 26th Feb - Cottage pie

Thursday 27th Feb - Rigatoni alla amatriciana

Friday 28th Feb - Fajitas

Saturday 1st Mar - Lasagne

Sunday 2nd Mar - Roast chicken

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

I have no idea what I'm doing.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

There. I said it.

I genuinely don't have a clue what I am doing. Some mornings I wake up and it takes me a few moments to gather my thoughts. Things like, what day is it? How old am I? Do I have to get up yet? Why isn't this Bora Bora? run through my head before they eventually settle in to things I am meant to know and remember and do.

I get up, I feed/wash/dress/nag/hurry-up the kids to their various schools and nursery. I bicker with the Mister (who is the most miserable person on the planet in the mornings, aside from L). I make lunches, I make sure they all have clean clothes and are presentable and fresh for school, I help them with their homework (where I can... Really, I mean - SURDS? More like WTFs) & make sure everything they need is in their bag.

I will forget something, I always do.

It's like running on autopilot, doing all the things I know I have to do and that are expected of me as a mother. That's the easy bit. Then, sometimes, 'shit happens'. Things have seemed particularly difficult with the boys at times lately, there are lots of changes happening in their lives, at school, growing up, the joys that teens and tweens bring. Then I have to speak to the Mister, we have to deal with whatever has occurred. A missed homework. A detention. A refusal to take part in or do something.

I don't know what I am doing. I'm winging it. I ask for advice from some dear ladies who have shared various pregnancies with me over the years. I speak to the kid that is currently giving me grief (they take it in turns). I speak to the Mister. I speak to my best friends. I speak to the school.

I google it.

Between us all, we fumble our way through it, we figure it out, and we do what we think is best. So far so good, it seems to be working. The kids are good (mostly) and learning well (mostly) and growing (too much, and too fast - seriously my grocery bill is ridiculous), and we are making it through this jungle of teen-&-tweenage uncertainty the best we can. This is hard. This is scary. This is stressful.

I have no idea what I'm doing.

Kids don't come with manuals. I always second guess myself. It sometimes feels like I am doing everything wrong. I'm just doing my best and hoping that it is good enough, because this is all I can do.

But so far, so good.

Creative kids - Half term at home

Friday, 21 February 2014

Half term can be hard work when it's chucking it down with rain, but keeping kids entertained at home doesn't have to be expensive or difficult.

Take a look through your cupboards, and you'll probably find a whole host of things to keep them busy without having to rinse your debit card at the craft shop. As long as you have some PVA glue & a pair of kid friendly scissors, maybe a bit of glitter if you fancy it (at your peril - you were warned, don't blame me), then you'll find you already have the makings of crafty opportunities just sitting at home.

pasta and rice art
Pasta is fabulous. Macaroni is fantastic for necklaces if you have some thread or string to hand, or get a piece of cardboard (just cut a piece off an old box or an empty cereal box) and let them go mad with the PVA and stick on whatever pasta shapes you have floating about in your cupboard. E had great fun with some spaghetti, fusilli & macaroni - I even let her sprinkle on some pink glitter!

Another good way to use pasta for messy play is to cook up some spaghetti with various food colourings and let them squish it around in a bowl for great sensory play fun.

See 'pasta'. E sprinkled some risotto rice that had been lingering in the back of the cupboard (for longer than I care to remember) on to her pasta picture. Now, it's art!

cloud dough
Got some shaving foam? Then you can make your own cloud dough! Get a bowl, pour in a bit of cornstarch and spray in some shaving foam, smooshing it together with your hands until you have a mouldable dough. No weighing or measuring, just add as much as you like/need. I would recommend keeping the hoover handy, but it kept E busy for ages. When you're done, just store it in an airtight container (I've put ours in an old, clean pickle jar) ready to use another day.

See 'cornstarch'. Bonus - it'll smell nice too.

Alternatively, you could try out Tiaras & Prozac's recipe if you want to make your own cloud dough but don't have shaving foam or cornstarch!

You can either cut them into shapes to stamp with paint, or cook & mash them (um, let it cool too...) to let the kids get stuck in and play with. Okay - so it's a bit gross, but it's great fun.

Pour some out on to a piece of coloured paper on a tray, and let them draw it in with their fingers. So simple, but so much fun.

I still had the Christmas catalogues sitting in the utility room waiting to be recycled (yes yes, I know it's February), however E found a much better use for them - cutting out pictures of things she likes and gluing them on to some paper. She's made a lovely collage of all things Disney Princess and just about every dolly she could find.

If you have empty toilet rolls and cereal boxes (or anything of that ilk), why not try some junk modelling? Make robots or vehicles, or a jet pack! There really is no limit to the things you & your littles could come up with.

We had great fun making our tin can tealight holders, it was so easy to do and a great craft idea for older kids in particular, but the littles can draw on their own designs for you to finish off for them.

When you've finished the peanut butter or the pickle or the jam or whatever, pop the jar through the dishwasher (or you know, just wash it up) & you've pretty much got a ready-made craft. All you have to do then is glue some coloured tissue paper or old sweetie wrappers all around the outside of the jar and you've made your own pretty tealight or candle holder - ready to pop out on the table after a BBQ this Summer (wishful thinking maybe, but I'm holding out for a decent Summer after all this rain!).

Do you have any fun rainy day ideas to keep the wee ones busy at home? Please feel free to share them in a comment!

Meal Plan Monday 170214

Monday, 17 February 2014

Monday 17th Feb - Cottage pie

Tuesday 18th Feb - Brinner*

Wednesday 19th Feb - Cheese & tomato pasta bake

Thursday 20th Feb - H has requested fish fingers & chips, since it's half term who am I to argue?! They're having broccoli with it though *evil laugh*

Friday 21st Feb - Chicken enchiladas

Saturday 22nd Feb - Baked bolognese

Sunday 23rd Feb - Roast

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

WIN a bundle of BEAR Goodies!

Friday, 14 February 2014

As big fans of BEAR nibbles, Mama Owl is delighted to invite you to celebrate the launch of the brand new Blackcurrant flavour BEAR Pure Fruit Yoyos by bringing you this fantastic giveaway.

Made from 100% pure fruit picked in season that is then gently baked, with no added nonsense, BEAR Fruit Yoyos are the perfect snack to pop in a lunch box or just to keep handy for hungry tummies. BEAR have a wide range of additive-free goodies in addition to the Fruit Yoyos, including Fruit Pawsbreakfast cereals.

Sail the seas with perilous pirates, try not to lose a leg to chomping crocs, and growl hello in 80 different languages. BEAR’s new collectors cards follow BEAR on his journey around the world and we want you to come too!
You can enter to WIN a bundle of BEAR goodies, including the new cards, world adventure map, collectors card suitcase and stickers simply by entering using the Rafflecopter widget below.

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 February 28th 2014.
  • All entries will be verified before the winner is announced.
  • If the prize is not claimed within 1 week a new winner will be drawn.
  • The winner will receive their prize directly from BEAR.
  • The prize is non-transferable and there is no cash alternative.
Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

A School Trip - To Poland with Love {#TeenTravels}

Thursday, 13 February 2014

So today A headed off to Krakow, Poland with the school on their GCSE History & RS trip. Just after 3am the Mister loaded up the car with teen & her suitcase and off they went to meet the coach at school to send her on her merry way. They of course also had to turn around and come back again because she forgot her phone charger, but they got to the coach on time. Just.

I naturally had the task of getting her organised and ready to go. Passport - check, EHIC - check, behaviour contract signed - check. Then I had to make sure she had everything she would need for four days/three nights away from home, and of course money to spend.

Tip - Don't leave buying your currency until the last minute, particularly if you live in a small town with just a handful of bureau de changes and the local senior school is going on a trip... You see where I am going with this? Lots of people wanting the same currency at the same time = it's going to run out fairly quickly.
Try and do it the week before if at all possible, to make sure you have time for them to order what you need where necessary.

Luckily for me the Post Office was able to provide me with the currency I required for her snacks & drinks (the Mister & I decided £10 a day was sufficient, with £10 extra "just in case"), and I changed some of her own money for her, for spending. It worked out as 250 Zloty (£56) for food, and 180 Zloty (£40) to spend which we thought adequate for the trip duration.

I did all of her laundry (I'm still trying to figure out how she has so much when she seems to only ever wear her uniform or her PJs?) and put it in her room so that anything she could possibly want to take was clean & ready. I also asked her to put the rest of it away before she left... You know it's all still in the basket. I also packed her personal care kit in a small bag containing just about everything she could possibly need.

I'm probably over-cautious when it comes to packing for a school trip but I covered all the bases and I am satisfied that she won't be caught on the hop and has everything she could have a need for in the four days she will be away. A is almost 16, and so the things I have packed for her are items she is able to take care of & use responsibly herself. For younger children on a school trip I would suggest checking with staff as to what should be packed or instead given to the teachers who will be 'in loco parentis'.
A's basic personal care kit includes miniature bottles of shampoo, conditioner and shower gel which were £1 each from Wilko. You can of course save money by purchasing reusable miniature plastic bottles and just filling them up with products from your regular bottles at home.

A insisted on having some 'travel mouthwash' so we bought a small bottle of mouthwash and a miniature tube of toothpaste. I included a container of antibacterial hand wash, and a tube of hand cream as I would imagine it is rather cold there and it might come in useful, in addition I also put in a small cardboard emery board.

As well as a travel hairbrush (with mirror) and hair bands, I also packed facial cleansing wipes, deodorant, and a small pot of vaseline (to prevent chapped lips in the cold air) along with some tissues - handy for general use but she will be visiting Auschwitz & Birkenau during the trip, and so I imagine they will be essential for such an emotional experience.

I included her multivitamins for the four days she will be away, so don't forget to send anything you usually give your kids on a daily basis, a few plasters 'just in case' along with a pack of paracetamol and one of anti-diarrhoea capsules. As they will taking several excursions while they are there, the last thing I want is for her to miss out due to an upset tummy or any pain, so those two medications for us were a must.

She picked out her own clothes to wear (can you even imagine her letting her mum pick her clothes haha - that would never happen these days), including hats and items for her to layer up and keep herself warm, and a good pair of sturdy walking boots, a size too big to allow for thick socks. I even bought her a pair of 'smart tip' gloves so she can still use her iPhone without having to remove the gloves, because I'm thoughtful like that. I also advised her to write her name & address on a sheet of paper and put it inside the suitcase in addition to the luggage tag on the outer handle, just in case. In her carry-on bag she packed her phone, some chewing gum, books, the camera (with charger & adaptor in the suitcase) & her wallet with her cash.

After all that preparation, she was ready to go so here is hoping she has a good time, and learns a lot from her experiences there. She's due home on Sunday, although the last thing I got from her was a call to say they'd had to land in the Czech Republic due to bad weather in Krakow but they were sitting in the plane on the runway, refuelling & waiting to fly back within an hour or so (after the hour or so they had already spent circling the airport before being diverted).

Fingers crossed the rest of the trip is more straightforward and that she makes it home without more diversions. Although judging by this note ^^ I found on my calendar - if J had his way, I don't know that she'd be able to come back at all. Teenagers are such charmers, aren't they?

NB: There are many bogus sites online that will attempt to charge you for an EHIC. Please note, the EHIC is free and the link I have included in my post will take you to the genuine site, where you can apply for an EHIC without charge.

Our Home : The Living Room

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

I love decorating my home and a big part of the appeal for me is not just about choosing the wallpaper or paint colours, but the satisfaction I get from finding those perfect accessories that really complement the theme & add those all important finishing touches. If you fancy freshening up the decor without redecorating the whole room, you can change and update the look simply by choosing a neutral background for your paper & paint and changing the colour of the accessories.

My favourite colour is teal, and our living room has been various shades of teal, duck egg blue and brown (with a hint of gold) for about the last 8 years. Our feature wall is papered in a gorgeous teal, brown and gold and I have carefully chosen accessories to really set off the colours in the wallpaper & bring the whole look together.

Accessories - particularly things like ornaments, candles and throw cushions - don't have to cost the Earth, you can shop around and find the best deals for your chosen colour scheme and create your own design.

In our living room, the other three walls are painted a neutral colour and the seating & carpets are brown, so the accessories are predominantly teal in order to make the most impact on the room and really draw the colour from the wallpaper.
I have teal lamps on the side table and chest of drawers, a gorgeous cream owl ornament, a mirrored clock in shades of green & blue, artificial teal flowers and duck egg blue & brown vases around the room.

I browsed a variety of accessories and rugs from Argos in my quest for the perfect finishing touches for my living room, where I found the gorgeous vibrant teal Flora rug which looks beautiful and is now pride of the place in the centre of the room.

With woven backing and a deep, rich pile the Flora rug feels quite luxurious and the colour is really vivid, if a rug can be stunning then that is exactly what it is. It accentuates the accessories in the room and completes the look perfectly. It is, quite simply, perfect.

In Association with Argos.

Meal Plan Monday 100214

Monday, 10 February 2014

Monday 10th February - Cannelloni

Tuesday 11th February - Brinner*

Wednesday 12th February - Roast chicken

Thursday 13th February - Ploughmans

Friday 14th February - It's a surprise for the Mister, so I can't say!

Saturday 15th February - Sausage & mash

Sunday 16th February - Roast

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

A 13th Birthday #theGallery

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Today, J turned 13 years old and officially became a teenager. We got up this morning, wished him a happy birthday and he opened his card and present (that I told him I hadn't been to get yet - you've got to keep them on their toes) before he headed off to school. I can't believe I have two teenagers!

And what is a birthday without cake! I have been deliberating over what cake to make him for a few weeks. I considered things like boxing gloves or a boxing ring as I didn't want to make another football cake (he's had football themed cakes for the past three years - a football player in his old team colours with matching cupcakes, a football pitch and an England football shirt to be precise) and eventually settled on an XBOX controller. It was fun to make & not too technically difficult - luckily for me - and I am really pleased with the end result.

I started off with two layers of a square plain vanilla sponge cake, and then sandwiched them together with raspberry jam & vanilla buttercream, before shaping the cake using J's XBOX controller as a guide.

After shaping, I dirty iced the cake with more vanilla buttercream and then placed it in the fridge overnight to chill.

I bought black and white fondant icing to use for covering and making the decorations, and then coloured the white icing with gel colours for the buttons and simply mixed the black & white together to make grey, and I spray painted a ball of grey fondant with Dr Oetker silver shimmer spray for the centre X button.

You could cover the XBOX controller in either black or white fondant, or even green, but for ease I decided on black and grey and I am really pleased with how it turned out as it has been a while since I made a proper birthday cake - fingers crossed J will like it too.
In addition to the little extras of buttons and control pads, I made J's name & age out of sugarpaste (yesterday, & left them overnight to harden) to add the finishing touches to the cake.

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

Opting For GCSE Success

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Our house right now is a hive of activity, mainly revolving around school. I genuinely had no idea that school would get so intense. It's not a case of packing their bags, shining their shoes and sending them off on their merry way, and it certainly doesn't get any easier as they get older.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that once they get to secondary school, they would be able to get themselves ready and see to their own things, organise themselves and manage their own timetable...

Er - Nope. You'd be forgiven for it, sure, but you'd still be wrong.

With four out of five kids at school and one in nursery due to start school in September, there is absolutely always something going on - homework, coursework, school trips, assemblies, parents evenings, open evenings, after school clubs, all in addition to their extra-curricular activities. It's endless.

As L is starting secondary school this year he is having extra transition meetings and I am back & forth between the two schools helping him prepare, we also attended the open evening together so that he could have another look around (he had already visited for his Y5 taster day at the end of July) & learn more about the subjects he will be taking in September.

A is currently knee-deep in GCSE revision & exam prep. We have been to the sixth form open evening to look at her A-level options and have started researching the best universities and study abroad programs for her chosen path of study. In addition to that we are also getting everything in order for the History & RS trip to Auschwitz she is going on next week, and starting to think about the Y11 prom (if anyone wants to buy any limbs or organs, let me know, I'll be selling some soon).

Our secondary school starts KS4 in Y9 instead of Y10, 'opting' earlier than other schools, so the past couple of weeks have been full-on as J starts to learn about his options for GCSE and deciding what path he would like to take from September. The Mr & I went along with him to listen to a talk at the school and to have a look at what is available to him. He has a general idea of what he wants to do, and he has decided on subjects that he enjoys as well as ones that are appropriate for his potential career prospects.

It would be easy to steer J towards subjects that are all for the benefit of his future career but, the same as when A chose her options, we don't want him to 'burn out' on core subjects & mountains of coursework. We want him to study things that he enjoys, too, to keep a good balance.
For example, A opted for music as one of her GCSEs and absolutely loves it. She wants to be a history teacher eventually, but has taken music purely for her enjoyment of it & is doing really well. She has been having extra guitar lessons at school & has made excellent progress, and so that is what we want for J, too.

After much deliberation, J's final preferences are Geography, Computer Science, Physical Education and Graphic Design as his top four with Religious Studies, Music & History as his back up options. The form has been signed, sealed and delivered. Fingers crossed!

H & E have it easy right now. I'm going to take extra time to enjoy reading stories & listening to them read to me, helping them with their homework while I still can (really - google SURDS, they might as well be bloody hieroglyphics for all the understanding I have of them) and watching their assemblies & school plays, because this right now is the fun part and I am going to make sure that I savour every minute.

Meal Plan Monday 030214

Monday, 3 February 2014

Monday 3rd February - Toad in the hole

Tuesday 4th February - Brinner*

Wednesday 5th February - It's J's 13th birthday today, so whatever he chooses - as well as birthday cake!

Thursday 6th February - Baked bolognese

Friday 7th February - Honey mustard chicken & chips

Saturday 8th February - The Mr & I are out tonight, and the kids want... You guessed it, pizza

Sunday 9th February - Roast

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