Mama OWL Blog: July 2014

Happy Birthday Sweet 16

Thursday, 31 July 2014

In the early hours of Monday 27th July 1998, a beautiful newborn baby girl was placed in my arms and I became a mum for the very first time. On this past Sunday, that baby girl turned sixteen years old.

A has had a busy year. Starting her first job, choosing her A-level subjects for sixth form, studying for and sitting all of her GCSE exams, and of course, her year eleven prom! She's been making the most of her extra long Summer by doing, well, not an awful lot to be honest, although she has taken on an extra day at work - but I think she has earned her break and celebrating her 16th birthday at the end of all that hard work is the icing on the (birthday) cake. In three weeks time, she'll have her GCSE results and will be preparing herself for year twelve, but first - we party!

Unfortunately my dad was working away so he couldn't join us, but we enjoyed a family meal at Frankie & Benny's with the seven of us along with my mum, and my M&FIL. It was a really lovely evening with great food and great company, A loved having her grandparents with her to celebrate her special day, but she did miss having "big grampy" there to share it, too.

After weeks of asking her what she wanted for her birthday without an answer, her Dad & I just gave her the money that we had planned to spend on her gifts so she could choose for herself - much to her delight. I imagine it will be spent on clothes, gig tickets and band merch but I do like to hope that she'll maybe be sensible and save some... 
Yea, I don't think so either.

42 Days of Summer

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

We have big plans for Summer. And we also have no plans. The beauty of our Summer will be that we will fly by the seat of our pants. Whatever we want, when we want, wherever and whenever the mood takes us.

We'll be taking a wonderful family holiday, our first one abroad all together, to Paris and the south of France, as well as spending a day checking out the awesome new #BludgersandBroomsticks event at the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour. We're off to Center Parcs for the day along with my brother, SIL & nephew to celebrate L's 11th birthday (ssh, he doesn't know this yet!) and as for the rest of it, well - we'll see where we end up!

If you're looking for ideas for your own #SummerBucketList or just some things to keep you occupied throughout the school holiday, check out my list :

You can't go wrong with a day at the beach. Building sandcastles, wave jumping, eating fish & chips on the sand, and paddling in the sea. I have vivid memories of days like these from my own childhood, lazy beach days are what childhood memories are made of. Even if it rains, you can always shelter in the arcades - just don't forget the 2ps!

We've joined our local library and are taking part in this year's Summer reading challenge - the Mythical Maze. Every Friday we visit the library, exchange our books for new ones & collect our stickers for our maps. We've really neglected our library, it's such a wonderful resource to have (& free!) so we'll definitely be making the most of it this Summer, and beyond.

A visit to the park is always good fun. We are lucky to have several nice parks locally and we like to take a picnic with us and enjoy some running about, swinging up into the sky, and a spot of tree climbing. If you're lucky you might be able to include some duck feeding, too! Britmums & McVitie's BN Biscuits sent us some samples of their cheeky winking biscuits in two delicious flavours - chocolate, and raspberry - to add to our picnic basket and see what we thought. It's safe to say that they'll be a regular addition to our packed lunches now, especially the chocolate flavour!

Our favourite picnic picks are:

- sandwiches/rolls/wraps (cheese, ham, and cucumber are our usual fillings)
- fruit (strawberries, bananas & apples are favourites)
- crudités (chop them up & store/carry in an airtight tub)
- yoghurts (we freeze the tube style ones so they stay cool for longer)
- sausage rolls (L would eat packs of these if we let him!)
- chicken goujons (pre-cooked, obviously!)
- cocktail sausages (again, pre-cooked... I hope this is obvious!)
- biscuits (BN are the new favourite of my kids, I didn't get a look in)
- crisps (a big variety pack - something for everyone)

We aren't too far from beautiful Shearwater, and love a leisurely woodland walk can be great fun and exercise. My kids always hunted for dragons but you could always look for bears, elves or even fairies! Climbing over logs and following the trails is a lovely, free day out if you find a clearing you can sit down and enjoy your picnic surrounded by beautiful scenery and the sounds of nature (and your kids bickering over the biscuits, probably).

Another favourite activity is picking your own fruit, get google on the case and find your nearest farm. I remember doing this as a kid and we had SO much fun. Two of my sisters have taken my nieces and nephews recently and really enjoyed it. Then you can get the kids involved in making their own jam, cakes, or perhaps a delicious Eton Mess!

Rain doesn't have to stop play, if the weather isn't great then you could always go swimming at your local pool to wear the kids out, or head to the cinema and catch a movie, there are always lots of new releases in the Summertime, or often on weekend mornings there are cheap kids film deals.

Have a great Summer!

Happy Endings, New Beginnings

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The time has come, L has finished primary school. I attended his leavers assembly having given myself a stern talking to beforehand - I was not going to cry. And I didn't.

Not during the assembly, anyway...

As I was leaving, the deputy head/SENCo told me how much she had enjoyed having L there and that he would be missed, which then set me off into a sobbing mess completely unable to express my gratitude for everything they have done for my son, and my family, as I had planned.

After his mistreatment at his previous school, the staff at his new school gave him the education, the opportunities, the time, and the care he deserved and they gave me my son back. I can't thank them enough for what they did for him. Some might say that they were just doing their job, but they really did go above and beyond for him, and I am so, so grateful for that. I'm so sad that it is time for him to move on, but I know they have given him the best possible start. When I got home (and composed myself) I wrote them an email and thanked them. I know I would have been incapable of saying the words out loud without crying again.

On the last day of school, the boys and I took in some gifts that they had chosen. We decorated a cake for all of the staff to share, H had two Costa Coffee gift cards for his teachers, L gave key rings I had made by Issy K Jewels (with little puzzle piece charms) to his link workers who are just the most brilliant ladies ever, and we gave the deputy head/SENCo a bottle of wine because frankly I'm sure she needed it by the end of term.

He was given a class picture signed by all the teachers wishing him luck at his new school and for the future, he had his shirt signed by all of his friends, and took a bunch of selfies of him & his chums before he left. And then it was time to go. Come September he'll be starting year 7 at senior school, off with A in the 6th form, and J in year 9, and the next chapter of his life will begin.

H has said how much he will miss having L at school with him, but he's excited about being the big brother at school now E will be joining him in the Autumn. She is really looking forward to going to "big school" and I know she will be well looked after by the staff, and of course by her big bro.

Her preschool graduation and sports day was the sweetest thing, she went up to receive her certificate & collect her folder and the preschool ladies said a few words about her, and then everyone gave her a round of applause. She enjoyed taking part in the races which were comedy gold rather than competitive, and it was all in good fun. All five of my children have attended that preschool so it's the end of an era for us now.

There are so many changes to come in the next few months. It's a cliché, but the time really does go by so fast. You don't see it happening until it has passed you by, and you realise that your children are taller than you. And have better social lives, because you can never get hold of them & they never answer their phone (that you pay for, so you can reach them). It just rings & rings - yet it's never out of their hand at home. Funny that...

I'm anxious about but looking forward to all the new challenges the new school year will bring all 5 of my kids. But first - let's enjoy the Summer!

Meal Planning Monday 280714

Monday, 28 July 2014

Mon 28th July - Baked potatoes & coronation chicken with salad

Tues 29th July - Fish & chips

Weds 30th July - Brinner

Thurs 31st July - Southern fried chicken, with salad & chips

Fri 1st August - Toad in the hole

Sat 2nd August - Spaghetti Bolognese with garlic bread

Sun 3rd August - Roast chicken

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

Anniversary Gift Ideas

Friday, 25 July 2014

review post.

My in-laws celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary recently, and the Mister and I spent a fair amount of time trying to decide what present to get them. We considered a nice framed photo of the children, but to be honest we can give them that any time (and do) so we wanted to choose something a bit more personal, and something that they would love.

Inspired by a design I had seen online, I set about making a 'thumbprint tree'. Using a plain black leafless tree image, I added all of our names within the branches & a lovely quote I found, then the Mister, children, and I made thumbprint leaves to finish it off before framing it ready to go on the wall.

We also chose a gorgeous green mix tartan design rug with woven backing from the huge range available at, the in-laws have spent a lot of time & effort redecorating their home recently and the hand-tufted rug complements their colour scheme perfectly, adding that finishing touch to their decor. It's lovely and soft, and L found it very comfortable to lay on while he played on his Nan & Grampy's laptop when we visited this week. M&FIL were delighted with their new rug, my FIL was very pleased with the high quality of it, & it now lies in the living room in front of the fireplace.

And finally, we did give them that framed photograph. But it was the one that I took of the two of them, out for lunch on our family day in Weymouth. Just a little something extra to remember their special day.

We received a complimentary rug for review purposes. The views shared are my own personal & honest opinions and written in my own words. All links are no-follow.

Our Summer Bucket List

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Today is the last day of term - the Summer holidays are looming, and we have six weeks stretching out ahead of us that I plan to thoroughly enjoy. I don't mean by rushing about with rigid plans and set routines, making sure we fill each & every day because that's rather unrealistic and frankly I don't want to, & the kids won't want to either - but by just making the most of it. Some days we might do things, some days we might not. There will be 'nothing' days as well as busy days, we'll just do what we like, when we like. I can't wait!

We enjoyed making Autumn & Christmas Bucket Lists last year too, which is something we'll be doing again later on this year. Have you made a Summer Bucket List?

A day in Weymouth

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Weymouth has to be one of my absolute favourite places in the UK. It's always our 'go-to' holiday spot (or even just for an impromptu day on the beach), and we have been there many times on our family getaways. It is absolutely beautiful, and very much the quintessential British seaside town.

The Mister's parents celebrated their Ruby wedding anniversary (that's 40 years, folks - you get less for murder) at the weekend, and as a family we all headed off on the train down to Weymouth for the day to mark the occasion. There were 23 of us in all - myself & the Mr and our five, my M&FIL, & the Mister's two brothers, their other halves, and their children & step-children.

The day didn't start very well with our town getting a real battering from the thunderstorms with some serious torrential rain, we experienced severe flash flooding and so ended up sitting on the train for over an hour waiting for the water to recede. As it happened, there were people collecting for CLIC Sargent on board with a raffle & a Disney-themed treasure hunt, and so the children were happily legging it up and down the carriages searching for the character pictures.

The weather was horrendous, we were left wondering whether or not to abandon our day out when we were told the water had receded and we were finally on our way. The rain continued on & off throughout the journey down to Weymouth, and as we arrived at the station the heavens opened once again. Regardless, we headed to the seafront and made the best of it, and as we reached the promenade the rain eased off.

My M&FIL had booked us all a table at a restaurant/takeaway called Fish 'n' Fritz for lunch, which is located on Market Street, just a stone's throw from the picturesque Weymouth Harbour. Fish 'n' Fritz is the national runner-up in the Fish & Chip Shop of the Year competition, & regional winner for the south west UK which, after sampling their batter from the Mister's plate, comes as no surprise. I was very impressed with their service which was nothing short of outstanding. They set up a table for our party with banners & balloons for my M&FIL, and posted a picture on their facebook page congratulating them on their anniversary which I thought was a lovely touch.

Considering the size of the party, the food and drinks were all ordered and delivered to our tables quickly and efficiently with no mistakes. The children were all served first (as was I, since I ordered a chicken burger and chips!) and the portions were more than generous, the menu even stated that if you wanted more chips you only had to ask and you could have more free of charge. This didn't happen though as we were all quite stuffed! The staff were just simply lovely, and I wouldn't hesitate to go back there or to recommend it to friends. In fact we fully intend to visit again this Summer!

By the time we had finished our lunch, the sun was finally out and it turned out to be a scorcher of an afternoon. We wandered along the harbour to the arcade & fair and my M&FIL handed out £5 each to all of the children to go off and enjoy themselves. They swapped their money for tokens for the rides and 2ps & 10ps for the machines and had a whale of a time collecting tickets and playing games together. E ended up biting off more than she could chew on one ride & cried to get off. The gent operating the ride stopped it no questions asked and let her get off and even gave her her token back to use on another ride which I was pleased about, it was very kind.

When all of the money and tokens had run out, and I managed to drag the Mister out of the arcade, my M&FIL treated all of the children to an ice cream each before we headed back to the railway station to catch the train home. We had a really lovely family day out all together, the kids had great fun playing with their cousins and celebrating with their grandparents, and I really appreciate my M&FIL arranging such a memorable day for all of us. I hope we will enjoy many more of them in years to come.

Congratulations to my M&FIL - D & J - on their ruby wedding anniversary. It's an honour to be their daughter-in-law and I am delighted to have been welcomed so warmly into their family, and to share these moments with them. They are wonderful grandparents to our children, and I have to say they've done a cracking job of raising their son, too. He's all right, is my other half. Congrats on these past forty years, and here's to the next forty.

When I Grow Up

Monday, 21 July 2014

review post.

One of my favourite things to do is imagine the children as grown ups. What will they do? Who will they be? Where will they go? I'm not wishing their time away, simply daydreaming about the adults they will become and where their lives will take them. As their mum, I hope I'm doing my job well, that they will grow up to be good people, and most importantly, that they will be happy in whatever they choose to do.

We are fast approaching that stage with A, who will be starting the 6th Form in September. We talk about universities and degrees and travel, potential careers and future plans and I realise just how fleeting childhood is. A wants to be a teacher, to travel around the world, to live in different countries. I remember when she just wanted her Barbie house to be built, and to know whether or not she was allowed another bowl of ice cream. know that we dream big for our children, and offer a fantastic selection of costume themed t-shirts to inspire their imaginations, including fire fighter, police officer, astronaut, chef, sailor, doctor, even an Olympic medallist. Or if they're more interested in being a ninja turtle or a penguin, and well, why not? Then there are t-shirts for that, too!

H often talks about wanting to be a fire fighter or police officer when he grows up. He is a very fair and reasonable young man (most of the time, he can be decidedly unreasonable when it's time to go to bed) & I think he would do really well in either of those roles. He loves this police officer t-shirt, and couldn't wait to wear it. It's made from thick, high quality 100% cotton with a double needle top stitched neckline for strength and to retain shape, and a seamless collar to stay smooth, and 'itch free'.

E on the other hand, well she's only 4. She wants to be a mermaid, a princess, a fairy, a fairy princess... She dreams of far off lands just like her big sister, but E's involve distant magical worlds and fairytales rather than beaches and big cities. Just like the book character, E would rather go on adventures in Wonderland, so the Alice in Wonderland costume t-shirt was the perfect choice for my beautiful dreamer. It even has a little "drink me" bottle peeking out of the pinafore pocket on the design!

The t-shirts have been washed and dried a few times now, and still look as good as new. They are put through a regular 40c wash, and line dried as opposed to tumbled because I prefer to do that where I can anyway - and we've had the perfect weather for it, too! They have been ironed (on the reverse), and the designs have so far remained intact and look like as lovely as they did when they first arrived.

There are a wide range of costume t-shirts that would be ideal for World Book Day fancy dress, particularly if you have a little one who doesn't like to dress up. These designs would have been perfect for L, who doesn't like the feel of fancy dress costumes or wearing anything too 'different' to his uniform to school, I just wish I had known about them sooner!
There's an excellent selection to choose from, including designs inspired by Dr Seuss, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, as well as things like wizards, princesses & pirates, and of course, Alice in Wonderland.

For more information, the product latest news, and to browse their designs, simply visit their website or follow them on twitter and facebook.

We received complimentary t-shirts for the purpose of this review. The views shared are my own personal & honest opinions and written in my own words. All links are no-follow.

Meal Plan Monday 210714

Monday, 21 July 2014

Mon 21st July - Ploughman's, with home-made bacon, goats cheese & broccoli quiche

Tues 22nd July - Spaghetti & meatballs with ciabatta

Weds 23rd July - Sticky chicken with rice & salad

Thurs 24th July - Pasta bake

Fri 25th July - Sausage & mash

Sat 26th July - Slow cooker lasagne & garlic bread

Sun 27th July - It's A's 16th birthday today, so we are out for a family meal to celebrate

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

Being an Active Family

Saturday, 19 July 2014

I am the first to admit that I am not a sporty person. I love walking and swimming, but generally speaking that's about it. If you are regular reader of Mama Owl, you'll know that I do, however, encourage the children to be sporty and active, and to take an interest in their own health and fitness. I want them to get out and about, to learn new things and meet new people, and most importantly, to be active & stay fit.

My younger 3 children all attend weekly swimming lessons, H in particular has been going swimming 3 times a week in recent months. It's lovely watching them progress and grow in confidence as well as skill. Swimming lessons are absolutely time & money well spent, for peace of mind if nothing else.

As well as swimming, they each have something that is theirs, and that they enjoy. I think it's important for them all to have something that is just for them to do, but that they can also share with their siblings on occasion. J plays football on Sunday afternoons for a local team, co-coached by his Dad. The others like to come & watch him play sometimes, and A & H came along to the presentation night recently to celebrate the team's achievements.

H plays rugby on Sunday mornings, and can't wait for pre-season training to begin. It will be full contact from September so we're going to be stocking up on the kit to keep him safe though I do anticipate a trip or two to A&E during his rugby playing career. E has joined us for tournaments and loves to cheer on her big brother when he's on the pitch, she is very proud of him which I think is very sweet.

With L's difficulties and additional needs, we had to find something that he would like but that wouldn't be too overwhelming or taxing for him. He loves swimming now (didn't at first!), and it is the ideal physiotherapy for him with his legs, but we wanted him to have something else to participate in that would help him meet people and improve his social skills, too. He has been doing Tae kwon-do since the end of last year and it really has done him the world of good.

E attends a weekly gymnastics class and she absolutely loves it. She is always very enthusiastic and loves nothing more than flinging herself off of the apparatus and around on the floor. I'm looking forward to watching her progress, I think she'll do really well. A often goes along with her sister to watch her class and to take part at the end when they use the equipment, it has been a lovely bonding time for them.

There are of course those times when we're not dashing off between various clubs, sports and activities, and we're just enjoying each others company at home. They love nothing more than playing together in the garden, be it kicking a ball around or back-flipping, cartwheeling and bouncing on the trampoline until they're called in for bed. We're looking forward to a lovely long Summer spent enjoying in the great outdoors.

#MarkWarnerMum Blogger Challenge Two

Friday Family Movie Night

Friday, 18 July 2014

review post.

Friday movie night is a big thing in the Mama Owl household. There is nothing we love more than choosing a good family film, getting some snacks and all snuggling up together on the sofas & beanbag to watch. Even with such a wide age range, we always manage to find something to suit us all, and usually it's a Disney movie that wins out.

Having grown up with the Disney classic Peter Pan, I was delighted that Disney continued on with the stories in the new Tinker Bell & Disney Fairies films. My kids are also big fans (not sure that the boys would admit it though to be honest) and they couldn't wait to watch Disney's Tinker Bell & The Pirate Fairy when it was released last month. Zavvi sent us a copy to enjoy together on movie night, and the children absolutely loved it.

From the world of Peter Pan comes The Pirate Fairy, a swashbuckling new adventure about Zarina (voice of Christina Hendricks), a smart and ambitious dust-keeper fairy who's captivated by Blue Pixie Dust & its endless possibilities.

When Zarina's wild ideas get her into trouble, she flees Pixie Hollow and joins forces with the scheming pirates of Skull Rock, who make her captain of their ship.

Tinker Bell (voice of Mae Whitman) & her friends must embark on an epic adventure to find Zarina, and together they go sword-to-sword against the band of pirates led by a cabin boy named James (voice of Tom Hiddleston), who'll soon be known as Captain Hook himself.

Enjoy the laughter, heart, magic and thrills of The Pirate Fairy.

E: "I like the movie because it has pirates in it and a pirate fairy!".
L: "It's awesome! I liked how they made friends with the pirate fairy. The funniest parts were with Crocky the crocodile".
H: "It was really funny, and now we know where Captain Hook came from".

The Pirate Fairy is a lovely family film, suitable for all with lots of memorable funny moments and I am sure it will be enjoyed by your family as much as it was mine, I can see this becoming a family favourite.

It's not movie night without snacks & yummy goodies, and along with our usual popcorn and jelly sweets, sent us a Shake n' Make Ice Cream Maker so we could make our own tasty ice cream. The description promises a delicious sweet treat in minutes... Did it deliver on that promise?

I have to admit I was sceptical at first. I'm wary of anything a bit gimmicky like that, and thought we'd end up with cold slush rather than ice cream... However, I was pleasantly surprised and indeed proved wrong. A was the chief ice cream maker, and following the step-by-step instructions we prepared our chosen ingredients, popped them inside the tub, and then gave it a good shake. It took more like 5 minutes than 3, but...

The results...

Tasty ice cream in minutes, exactly like it says on the box. We had to scrape it off the inside of the cone in the tub, but it was quick & delicious and I was impressed. We made strawberry ice cream first (which A had, of course), and then E helped make some banana ice cream for herself. I'm looking forward to making myself some clotted cream and honey flavour ice cream.

I love that you can choose your own flavours and ingredients and just make whatever you fancy, using ingredients that most people usually have in the fridge. A very clever bit of kit & lots of fun to use.

We received a complimentary DVD and Shake n' Make for the purpose of this review. The views shared are my own personal & honest opinions and written in my own words. All links are no-follow.

Just Keep Swimming

Thursday, 17 July 2014

When your little one first starts swimming, it can take a while to build up their confidence and safety in the water. The 'preschool' stage of swimming lessons can seem to last a long time, but it is vital to learn those early skills and make a good foundation for building on.

E started her swimming lessons in September last year, and has been going every Monday afternoon ever since. It was a nice routine actually, I would pick up her from preschool just before midday, and then we would go home and have lunch together, before getting her kit ready and walking down to the pool for her lesson at 1.30. At that time of day the pool is nice & quiet, not too many people around and it's peaceful for the little ones to learn. It has taken a while for her to feel confident in the water, and to have faith in her own ability, & in the last month we've seen a huge change in her.

With starting school in September E will be unable to attend the 1.30 class, so after speaking with the swimming academy coordinator, E's swimming instructor feels that E is now ready to move up to stage 1 as of next week. She will be in a later class, with the same swim teacher, & she is absolutely delighted to finally be moving on.

We are so proud of her progress, it's lovely to watch her flourish and see her skills develop and her confidence grow. Being able to swim is an important life skill as well as being great for fun & fitness, and I'm so glad that she enjoys it as much as she does. Well done, E!

Getting ready for Primary School, with Learning Resources UK

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

review post.

As E is starting primary school this September, we have been keen to encourage her learning as well as prepare her for the big changes that are to come. We have been gently introducing her to "everyday maths" by playing games as we walk places, by doing things like spotting numbers on homes, and counting flowers, and also teaching her everyday words by labelling things at home ("the door", "the kitchen" etc) so she can recite them to herself when she sees the words.

Children also respond well to imaginative play, which can help build on vocabulary and communication skills, and as a member of the Learning Resources UK Toy Testing Team, E was given the opportunity to try out the Pretend & Play® School Set to give her primary school prep a boost.

The 149 piece set comprises of a tri-fold classroom (with carry handle), with double-sided map, double-sided calendar, eraser, bell, hand pointer, clock with moveable hands, wipe-clean chalk board and pouch to keep all of the included school supplies in. The supplies included are: 5 pencils with erasers, 5 write & wipe crayons, 10 pages of stickers, 20 each of pupil scoreboards, certificates, playtime passes, pages of note paper, worksheets (maths and spelling) and homework record sheets.

E has enjoyed playing schools with H, he has helped her with the worksheets and has been a willing teacher, though admittedly a not-quite-so-willing student, and E has enjoyed looking at the maps to find where we live (and showing everyone else), and using the certificates to reward herself for anything she has said or done that she was particularly pleased with!

Learning Resources UK also have the brilliant Hot Dots® Let's Learn! Phonics set, which has been a fantastic tool for E to do some independent learning with the self-checking system. The set includes three books - vowels, first words, and letter sounds - and the talking pen offers immediate feedback with a red or green light, and can be set to an audio feedback setting or with fun sound effects - or both!

E loves the Hot Dots, I thought it was especially handy for her to be able to sit at the kitchen table and use them while I was preparing dinner, for one example, so that I could still be involved but she was able to check the answers for herself. I think they are a great learning tool and we plan to use them regularly over the Summer to get her ready for 'big school'.

We received complimentary Learning Resources UK educational toys for the purpose of this review. The views shared are my own personal & honest opinions and written in my own words. All links are no-follow.
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