Mama OWL Blog: October 2014

{Autumn Bucket List} Halloween Pumpkin Carving

Friday, 31 October 2014

Happy Halloween! Or not, of course, if you don't 'celebrate' it...

How do you mark the occasion in your house? We don't trick or treat, instead having a fun family time at home enjoying snacks, a boo-ffet dinner, pumpkin carving & watching spooky family-friendly Halloween movies.

I only bought 2 pumpkins for carving this year because it's usually me who ends up having to carve them and I didn't feel like doing 4 or 5 again... One of our chosen designs this year is Jack Skellington, I've made a little video of our preparation and carving process, & photo of the end result below.

A Creative Christmas from Minted

Friday, 31 October 2014

Square Up by Up Up Creative

Finding the perfect present for Christmas can be nigh on impossible for some people, but what I have discovered over the years is that you cannot go wrong with a personalised gift - it shows care, it shows thought, it shows that you have put effort into creating something that your friend or loved one will really love and appreciate.

I have recently been introduced to the wonder that is, and I am in love. Stationery, photo art, home decor, keepsakes, photo cards - if you are a lover of great design and pretty things, then this site is for you. You can take your photographs, your memories, and turn them into art to adorn your walls and preserve them for a lifetime.

Just Fill in the Blanks! by Dana Beckwith

Minted is a design marketplace, sourcing creative content from independent artists, producing and selling the best content in the form of art, home decor, and stationery directly to consumers, with designers earning commission on each sale. Minted's community of independent artists and designers are located in 48 states and 43 countries - they are illustrators and textile designers, painters and packaging designers, marketers and stay-at-home parents. Some have design degrees, and others are participating in Minted competitions to learn design for the first time.

I have been perusing their beautiful array of stylish and unique holiday greetings cards, personalising various designs to see which is my favourite. I would say that the most difficult thing about the personalisation process on Minted is choosing which design you like the best - you can even try the "find it fast" option which adds your photo to all of the designs on screen, allowing you to see them all at a glance with your own image in place.

I've got a list a mile long now added to my Christmas wish list, and so many ideas for the perfect gifts for family members. Take a look at for yourself and be inspired, give your Christmas that personal touch.

This is a collaborative post.

E's Swimming Success #LoudnProud

Thursday, 30 October 2014

On Monday, E completed her stage one award at swimming and as of next week has a brand new orange swimming hat, and will move on up to a new class with a new instructor, and on a different day too. So it's all change!

The teacher she has had since she started lessons in September 2013 is sad to see her move on, but delighted to have brought her so far and watched her progress through pre-school and stage one. E only started stage one at the end of July, so she has made amazing progress in just three short months, and has grown so much in confidence & ability especially considering she is only 4 years old. We are so proud of all of her hard work, and I'm looking forward to encouraging her through stage two and beyond. Well done, E!

Linking up with 3 Children & It for this week's #LoudnProud

Light. #theGallery

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

We have just returned from a wonderful long weekend in Cornwall, and while we were there we visited the utterly breathtaking National Trust site, Kynance Cove. We all clambered down the rocky path to the beach and revelled in its natural unspoilt beauty. Even the children were in awe. It was a grey day, but the light over the water was really something to behold.

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery

Tips for a thrifty Christmas

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Christmas can be an expensive time of year, particularly as children get older the items on their wish lists seem to get more and more pricey - the latest gadgets and tech don't come cheap. Before I get into ways of saving money and how I find the best deals, I want to point out that Christmas is as expensive as you make it. Remember that your time and presence is more important and worth more than anything you can buy in the shops. Family traditions and making memories together will always trump even the most expensive present. When they get older, they won't remember the gifts that they received, but they will remember the time spent with them.

As a family of seven, with a large extended family, I have had to find ways to save money and manage my budget. Years ago I was terrible with money and always started the new year with Christmas debt, but now I have turned it around & we never start the new year paying off Christmas, it is all paid for in advance and I also manage to collect a box of gifts through the year, too.

I have previously shared some simple ideas for household money-saving in regards to making every day changes & savings including meal planning, and using sites like topcashback and paidshop, but these are more Christmas-focused & hopefully will help make a difference to your pocket. If you have any tips to add, please do share them in the comments section.

I know it sounds simple and sometimes it doesn't quite work out - you borrow £10 here, £5 there and soon it's all gone. If that is you, a Christmas savings scheme like Park could be worth looking in to, and if you get family or friends to join you can earn commission on their orders, too. The Post Office also run a Christmas savings club, as do ASDA and Tesco.

Alternatively, you could save all of your £2 coins throughout the year in a jar that you can't open without smashing/using a tin opener to discourage you from dipping in, or giving your savings to a trusted relative or friend who will keep it safe but not allow you to borrow from it during the year, removing the temptation. If you know that you can manage to save without dipping in (well done, it can be difficult at times!), shop around for a great savings account to keep it in. Don't forget that Toys R Us have started their own layaway scheme, too, to help spread the cost.

I start shopping in the post-Christmas sales, not just for gifts but for items like cards and gift wrap too. I have a box in the cupboard that I keep things in, and buy throughout the year in sales when I spot a good deal or a bargain. This goes for food too, I've started buying non-perishables to put away for Christmas, adding one or two things to my groceries each week - turkey gravy, jars of mincemeat and cranberry sauce, freezer items and the like.

Price check online for things on your shopping lists, compare prices and try and find the best deals, don't just buy the first thing you come across. Places like Argos often offer voucher deals around Christmas time such as £5 for a £50 spend & £10 for £100 spend - if you're going to spend £200, break it up into 2 transactions at £100 each where you can & get £20 back instead of £10. Look out for promo codes online, visit MSE, and sign up to emails from your favourite retailers for extra discount codes & offers. Check before check-out!

Work out what you can afford to save throughout the year, then work out how you will distribute it between each person you have to buy for (don't forget to work food shopping into your budget), and STICK TO IT. Don't be tempted to pick up a little extra this or that, or if you do - write it down! Make lists and plan, and stick to your budget. If you buy little things in the sales through the year, don't forget to deduct them from your total. Don't overspend, you don't need to. Christmas is not a competition.

Keep track of what you have bought and for who using spreadsheets, or just on a notepad somewhere safe. I like to buy using a list of categories including book, game, DVD, pyjamas, etc so I know everyone has one item of each and how much I have spent per item to help me track my progress & spending.

Stores like Boots and Toys R Us often have multi-buy and BOGOF offers running, or offer free gifts when you spend over a certain amount on a brand. If you're put off because you already have the free gift that's offered, perhaps it would make a great gift for someone else! Take advantage of click & collect services offered by stores like TRU & Argos, too, as then you can just walk in & pick up your order without being tempted in to spending more.

Supermarkets have great loyalty card offers, Tesco offer Clubcard boost on points throughout the year which can double your money in certain departments, & Sainsbury's have some great deals with their Nectar card. You can use your points towards gifts, clothing, or festive food shopping.

In November & December on the run up to Christmas, try and use up everything that is in your freezer and cupboards and make meals out of things that you already have. It'll slash your grocery bills, reduce food waste, and free up space for all of those Christmas yummies (as well as making room for any dinner leftovers ready to be made into bubble & squeak or turkey sarnies!).

Plan your Christmas meals and only buy what you need, just because it's Christmas it doesn't mean we all need to go mad buying things that will languish uneaten before being thrown out. I'm not saying don't treat yourself, by all means do, but by saving money on food you don't really need and probably won't eat, you'll have extra money to spend elsewhere.

Homemade gifts really are that bit more special, and I know that I for one love to receive things that people have clearly put thought, time, and energy into. If you have any particular skills - sewing, crochet, knitting, baking, jewellery making - why not use those and make some Christmas gifts? It will save you money, and you can give a gift that has been handmade with love and care - better than anything off a shelf.

If you have a large family or group to buy for, you can create your own Christmas hamper - cheaper than buying individual gifts, and much more personal. A favourite of mine is a "Christmas Eve hamper" containing popcorn, little bags of sweets, hot chocolate, marshmallows, a bottle of wine (for the grown ups!), biscuits, candy canes, and a Christmas movie. You can of course add in whatever you like, and if you buy one or two items in with your usual grocery shopping you can spread the cost over a few weeks.

As well as the links above, here are some of my favourite online shops for deals and bargains - The Works  The Book People  Yellow Moon

Sometimes we're all too quick to count down the days,
that we forget to make the days count.

Me add three

Festive fare at Garfunkel's, Bath

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

If you're averse to hearing the 'C' word in October I'd probably skip right over this post, but for the rest of us -


I am struggling not to go completely crazy with planning and preparation because we do still have 57 days to go (stop calling me those names, you'll go on the naughty list using that language!) and we still have Halloween, and of course H's 9th birthday to celebrate in November, but I am just so excited and want to fully immerse myself in the festive spirit. Yes, I'm a big kid.

As if by magic (I think the elves must have told them), Garfunkel's in Bath sent me a message to ask - did I want to come along to their beautiful restaurant - overlooked by stunning Bath Abbey - and sample their Christmas party menu? CHRISTMAS FOOD?! Try and keep me away, I said!

Garfunkel's in Bath is located at the Orange Grove inside the Grade II listed building, The Empire, and is nestled between the Abbey, and Pulteney Bridge. It looks so lovely all lit up at night, and the restaurant interior is delightfully vintage with Roman style pillars as well as fantastic retro booth seating that offers comfort as well as extra privacy from other diners.

The Mister and I went along with my in-laws, D & J, last week and were treated to a very pleasant evening with food, drink, and Christmas crackers! The Christmas party menu comprises three courses of delicious festive fare. A 2 course menu is priced at £18.95, and 3 courses is just £4 extra at £22.95.

We sampled the Warm Goats Cheese Salad (a vegetarian option), and Chicken Liver Pâté starters from the menu. Admittedly I'm not a fan of Pâté & swapped with the Mister, but I can assure you that the Goats Cheese Salad - warm goats cheese, on a toasted bloomer with cranberry sauce - was nothing short of divine and I absolutely loved it. The Mister says that the Pâté was equally as delicious, handy that I took him along really! There is also Prawn Cocktail, Winter Soup, and Cheesy Mushroom Bake (v) available for starters.

The main course was duck leg, and some traditional roast turkey served with a selection of potatoes, stuffing, and pigs in blankets, with seasonal vegetables and gravy. Aside from the Brussels sprouts perhaps being a bit too on the al dente side for my FIL's taste, the meal was delicious and I enjoyed my very first taste of duck (yes, really!).

For the main course, you can choose from traditional Christmas Dinner with roast turkey, Duck Confit, lamb, salmon, chicken, the Garfunkel's Pie, or Goats Cheese & Roast Vegetable Risotto as the vegetarian option.

There are five heavenly sounding desserts to choose from, and all four of us went for the Chocolate Fudge Cake, which was served warm and with either cream, or ice cream. The other options are Black Forest Gateaux, Apple & Cinnamon Crumble (this would have been my second choice!), Sticky Toffee Pudding, and of course a traditional Christmas Pudding with brandy sauce.

I thoroughly enjoyed every single mouthful of my dessert but sadly was defeated, and the Mister got to finish it for me (he was only too happy to oblige). I think the only complaint that anyone had about pudding was that there wasn't more of it! Very sweet, and very tasty. It has been several years since my last visit to Garfunkel's but I have been wooed by their exquisite food and very reasonable prices so we will definitely be visiting again. It looks like a lovely place for a family meal, with their standard menu offering something to suit all of my children's varying tastes and needs.

To find out more about the Garfunkel's Christmas menu, and to book your party, contact the Christmas coordinator on
We're going on an adventure
We enjoyed a complimentary meal and drink courtesy of Garfunkel's during their preview evening. The views shared are my own personal & honest opinions and written in my own words. All links are no-follow.

Meal Plan Monday 271014

Monday, 27 October 2014

Mon 27th Oct - We're home from our holiday today so just something quick & simple with whatever we can find in the cupboard, as the shopping's not coming until tomorrow!

Tues 28th Oct - Sticky chicken with crispy salad

Weds 29th Oct - Meatloaf

Thurs 30th Oct - Brinner

Fri 31st Oct - As it's Halloween we're having a fun themed buffet dinner

Sat 1st Nov - Garlic peri peri chicken with rice and tenderstem broccoli

Sun 2nd Nov - Roast pork and applesauce

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

My wanderlust list - Yorkshire

Friday, 24 October 2014

If you were asked - where is the one place in the UK that you would most love to visit, what would your answer be?

We are lucky to live in the beautiful West Country, an area steeped in history - we're just a stone's throw from the stunning city of Bath, and Stonehenge is less than an hour away. When we go away for short breaks in the UK we tend to head south; usually to Dorset, Cornwall, or Devon, but one place I would really love to visit is up north - Yorkshire.

The Aire Valley, Silsden  (Image Credit: M. Dobson)
I have heard wonderful things about Yorkshire, and have been tempted by all of the stunning scenic photographs shared by friends on social media. It features over 800 attractions, from world heritage sites to ruined castles and abbeys, mining museums and galleries - there is something for everyone.

Fountains Abbey, Ripon  (Image Credit: M. Dobson)
There's accommodation to suit everyone's needs, including backpackers barns, cheap hotels, countryside campsites, & self-catering townhouses. If we were taking the kids, I've heard great things about Billy-Bob's Ice Cream Parlour, which boasts a fantastic playground & undercover barn with dedicated area for smaller children away from the bustle of big kids, & where we could enjoy a delicious ice cream or food in the 50's style diner.
Bolton Abbey  (Image Credit: M. Dobson)
If we were enjoying a child-free break, I have been told that we should head into Leeds city centre where we'd be spoiled for choice with restaurants, attractions, shops, arts & culture, and nightlife - and most of the attractions are free! With museums, galleries, food & drink, shopping, and nights out where we can be entertained at a gig, cabaret, or comedy club, or even just to head out to a bar or club, I think both of our tastes would be well catered for.

Yorkshire is right at the top of my must-visit list for all of these reasons, and more. Where is top of yours?
Ilkley Moor  (Image Credit: M. Dobson)
sponsored post.

Before they fly the nest #Flying100

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

"Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer"

There are so many places that I want to visit that I don't even know where to start. I have a list as long as my arm of places I want to go and things I want to see, and most importantly places I want to show my children. One day they will all be grown up and going off to find their own adventures and it is so important to me to make these memories and share adventures with them now before that time comes. I have the rest of my life to see the world, I have a short space of time to see it with my kids before they fly the nest. With A being sixteen and making plans for university, those times are not far away.

One of the top places on my list was Paris and we were lucky enough to have finally made it there this Summer. The sights were breathtaking and the children were in awe of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral. We rode the metro, and took them on an open top bus tour of the city and revelled in the history and beauty of gay Paree under blue skies and sunshine.

Another of my top spots is New York City. I daydream about walks through Central Park and visiting the zoo, gazing up at the Empire State building, paying our respects at Ground Zero, taking a cruise on the Staten Island ferry to soak in the sights of the Statue of Liberty & the Manhattan skyline, and watching a show on Broadway - and a visit to NYC wouldn't be complete without taking the kids to the American Museum of Natural History!

Image Credit:
Staying in the US, next on my list is San Francisco. Cycling across the Golden Gate bridge, taking the ferry to Alcatraz & touring the "The Rock", taking a ride on the cable cars & enjoying the spectacular city views, seeing the sea lions at Fisherman's Wharf! From what I've read, it would take weeks to see everything San Fran has to offer, but we'd do our best to cram it all in.

Image Credit:
But probably the number one place I want to take my children is Walt Disney World in Florida. It is a dream of mine to get it all booked up and not tell the children until the day before we leave, when I would set out the suitcases and tell them to get packing. To see their faces! I know that it will take me years to save but it would absolutely be worth every penny just for that moment. For us, it really would be the place where dreams come true.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of commercial flight, #flying100 invites you to find out more about the history of commercial aviation with a fun timeline, read stories about the future of travel, and leave your own stories in the perspectives section. Three of my five children have never been on a plane and one was too young to remember his first flight, I hope that one day soon I can share that experience with all of them.

What destinations are on your travel bucket list?

This post is an entry for the #Flying100 Family Holiday Challenge, celebrating how flying allows us to make memories and ‘be there’, in association with #Flying100. Find out more at

{Autumn Bucket List} Autumn Picnics & Woodland Walks

Monday, 20 October 2014

The sun finally came out so we grabbed our opportunity to kick through some dry leaves during a little stroll around a local wooded area where we like to walk our Chorkie, Florence. Vita Coco Kids asked us to share a favourite spot for a picnic, and this place is lovely as it's just down the road from our house - Florence loves to run around the trees looking for squirrels! With the weather in our favour the girls & I packed up our basket & headed off to sit in the sunshine while Flo had a run around and got some exercise.

E had her favourite - cream cheese mini bagels and a fruit & yoghurt snack, washed down with a carton of Vita Coco Kids apple & blackcurrant natural fruit-flavoured coconut water. Vita Coco Kids are free from colourings and preservatives, and are not artificially sweetened. They are ideal to pack for a picnic, or in school lunch boxes. In the Summer you can even freeze them, then cut the top of the carton off and enjoy it as a refreshing ice pop!

Available in two flavours - Apple & Blackcurrant, and Mango & Pineapple - Vita Coco Kids can be purchased at Waitrose, Sainsbury's, Tesco, Ocado, Amazon, Holland & Barrett, Whole Foods, and Planet Organic, as well as some speciality and health stores, and other independents.


Just because the Summer has passed by, it doesn't mean we can't all still get out and enjoy a picnic. Autumn is a beautiful time of year with the changing colours of the leaves, and it makes an afternoon in the great outdoors that much more enjoyable. Just remember to wrap up warm and take a blanket, perhaps a flask of soup and some bread rolls, and make the most of the sunshine and these mild Autumn days while they last.


Meal Plan Monday 201014

Monday, 20 October 2014

Mon 20th Oct - Honey dill chicken with rice & vegetables

Tues 21st Oct Caribbean lamb with cumin roasted sweet potatoes

Weds 22nd Oct - The kids are having pizza, as the Mister & I have been invited to Garfunkel's to preview their new Christmas menu

Thurs 23rd Oct - Cottage pie topped with root vegetable mash

Fri 24th, Sat 25th, Sun 26th Oct - We're off for a long weekend away with the kids leaving my wonderful niece in charge of the house and the dog, so the plan is - there is no plan!

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

{Autumn Bucket List} Halloween Fun from Party Delights

Friday, 17 October 2014

If you're having a party this Halloween then Party Delights have the most devilishly brilliant free invitation printables that will have all the boos & ghouls queueing up to attend your spooktacular event! We were sent lots of spooky bits and pieces to have a go at making some ourselves, which was a great Halloween witchcraft to do together on a grey afternoon.

E's favourite design is the monster, & we added some googly eyes that glow in the dark! As part of their 31 Days of Halloween feature, Party Delights are sharing lots of fun Halloween ideas on their party blog, including games, craft tutorials, party decorations, food - even spooky make-up tips! We're especially keen to make our own Tin Can Bowling game by Red Ted Art.

Their blog is a great resource for Halloween party planning and we'll definitely be making good use of it for our own celebration planning as part of our Autumn Bucket List. What are your plans for Halloween?

Keep up the good work! #LoudnProud

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The past few weeks have been a blur. Settling two into new schools, two back into school for the new school year, and helping one adjust to sixth form study has been rather exhausting to put it mildly.
Trying to keep everyone happy, settled, up together with homework, and managing the day to day - getting back into the daily routine after the summer with clubs and activities - has been tough going.

But - we're doing it!

The kids have really outdone themselves. I am so proud of their efforts so far this school year and how grown up they are. This might get long (I do have five kids after all) so please bear with me...

A is thoroughly enjoying her sixth form subjects - psychology, sociology, history and English lit - and has already earned an A* on one of her essays, as well as passing the probationary period for her studies.

J is really enjoying his GCSE subjects that he chose at the end of year eight. He gets to spend a lot more time taking part in sports which he loves, and the school also arranged a trip to Eurogamer for the Computer science class. He was delighted to have met Syndicate (I imagine most parents of teens & tweens will know this name - über famous YouTuber) as well as other online gamers, J was really inspired.

L has adjusted well to senior school. It hasn't been easy, and we have had sadly some very unfortunate incidents where L has been the victim of bullying including a physical assault. But he has been so resilient, and the school have been wonderful. He has really made an effort with his school work and in lessons, and really puts a lot of effort in to keeping up with homework. He has been tired, & grumpy, but he is doing SO well. I am so proud of him.

H has thrown himself back into school life with gusto. He couldn't wait to see his friends after the Summer, and also signed up to two after school clubs - hockey and football - as soon as he could. At his parent-teacher conference last week he had a glowing report from his teacher saying how hard he works, and what a lovely boy he is. He really is a great kid.

E adores school and has such a lovely class, she has made lots of friends and the strides she has made in her learning have been huge! Her reading and writing skills have just taken off, she is even spelling words in her sleep (it was very funny - "Guh Oh Tuh - GOT" whispered in the early hours of the morning). At her parents evening, her teacher told us how delighted she is with her, and what amazing progress she has made. We had a wobbly few weeks first thing in the morning with some separation anxiety when she was dropped off (natural for a child who has so far spent all her time just with mum, and at a small nursery school), but I am sure we are past that now and she can continue to make great progress.

What achievements and proud moments are you celebrating this week? Big or small, we want to hear about it! Link up to Loud 'n' Proud and share with us, feel free to grab the badge and we would love it if you could visit others and share the linky love, thanks! Closes Midnight on Sunday.

Mama Owl

Find us over at notmyyearoff next week!
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