Thursday, 11 September 2014

Pro-tect your home and contents

*Touch wood* I've never been burgled, but I know loved ones who have and know the trauma it causes and the havoc it wreaks.  It's not just about having valuable items stolen.  Worse than that it's the invasion of your home; the loss of irreplaceable family items and mementos; the hassle of organising repairs to doors and windows; changing of locks; endless calls to your insurance company;  time spent giving statements and details to the police.

The new system from Pro-Tec offers a wireless, self-install system which can give you peace of mind while away from your home - whether that's for a holiday or just to nip to the shops.

With motion sensors and door contact fixings you can leave your home safe in the knowledge that you'll be looked after.


The whole system works via a hub, connected to your phone line.  It's unobtrusive, and sits happily next to my phone, it's little green eyes beaming at me.  When you go out, you activate it via a key fob, giving you time to leave the house and lock the door behind you. If there's a breach of security in your home once you're out, the professionally trained monitors will listen in via your phone line to establish what's going on.  They can then notify you (or any number of named key-holders) by phone to discuss what action to take.  If they hear criminal activity they'll immediately dial 999 on your behalf.


The system was quick and straightforward to set up - I got a few grumbles presenting this to my Other Half at 9 o clock in the evening before we were due to go away for the weekend.  But once he knuckled down and read the instructions properly he had it all up and working in less than an hour.

There are even super-strong sticky attachments for the motion sensors meaning you don't even need any DIY skills!



Because you install it yourself, and it can easily be removed with no damage, it's perfect for those in rented accommodation, or for students away in halls.

The helpline staff were really friendly and helpful too when I called to register my details, and I was very impressed with the service they gave.

But Pro-tect is more than just a burglar alarm.  This clever bit of kit allows you to chose the right package for your needs, or add on extra components.  Not only does it look after home security, but you can also connect it to your smoke alarms; carbon monoxide detectors; panic buttons and medical alerts.

So it's ideal for:

  • General home security
  • Students away from home
  • Rented accommodation
  • Elderly or disabled people wanting to retain independence
  • Those living in vulnerable situations

I have to say, we haven't had the opportunity to fully test it out (thank goodness we've not been broken into!) but having it in place gives me peace of mind.  I've even managed to remember to shut the dog away at night, away from the motion sensors so she doesn't accidentally set it off!

Our dog would bark if there was ever an intruder, but knowing this system is in place for times when we're all out or away on holiday, or the neighbours are out means I don't have to give my belongings a second thought.

I really like the fact that you can buy add ons.  We may invest in additional door contact pieces so we can secure all entry points.  You can buy an external dummy box for the front of the house, shock sensors for windows and additional motion sensors.

Prices start at £99.99 for a basic package and £9.95 a month for 24 hour monitoring.

Disclosure: We were sent a Home Protect Package for the purpose of this review.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

10 Tips for the perfect relaxing bath

As parents it's difficult to find ways to switch off and get some of that illusive 'me time'.  Going out involves military-style planning and baby-sitting organising, but taking half an hour to have the perfect bath is something we can all do at home (unless you're one of those people who ripped out their tub in favour of a fancy wet room, in which case, too bad!) A relaxing warm bath is the perfect antidote to today's hectic lifestyles and research shows it can radically improve your psychological wellbeing.


Here's my top tips, but I'd love to hear yours.

1. Get scrubbing

You've finally snatched some time to relax, the last thing you want is to be surrounded by mess and reminded of boring domestic responsibilities.  So, before you take your dip, make sure the bathroom is clean and tidy. No stray socks hanging out of the laundry bin, no kid's bath toys ready to poke you up the bum, the splodges of toothpaste scraped off the sink and the toilet seat is down. 

2. Do not disturb

Make sure your 20 minutes/half and hour or however long you've allowed yourself really is going to be that. Pick a time when the kids are in bed, out with friends or generally occupied and there's no chance they'll come barging in to use the loo or ask where their shoes are/can they have a snack etc etc.  Lock that door! Oh, and don't be tempted to take your phone in.  The lure of uninterrupted time to scan social media might be attractive, but will it be relaxing?


3. Be prepared

Have anything you need on hand and within easy reach.  A cup of tea?  Maybe a cheeky glass of wine and some snacks?  Make sure you don't have to haul yourself out of the tub and go dripping across the room to get them.  Lay out fresh and deliciously soft towels.  Your BEST towels, not the ones you reserve for rubbing down the dog or taking to the gym.  Only the finest will do.  My towels of choice are Christy towels. Also have a bathrobe or PJs ready to snuggle into once you're done.

4. Lighting

Nothing says relaxing like candlelight.  Choose a fragranced candle and not only will the aroma work subconsciously on your mood, but the soft subtle lighting will relax you too.  Of course, subdued lighting also means you won't be laying in the bath examining your wobbly bits too closely and mourning the body you had ten years ago.


5. Bubbles

Similarly with foaming bath products, a few bubbles will hide a multitude of sins, allowing you to sink back and relax rather than wondering whether you should drag a razor over your legs.  Choose your favourite bath foam and soak up the fragrance.

6. Let the music play

Try and leave the Abba Greatest Hits or your favourite Kings of Leon CD for blasting out in the car.  Here you want ambient background music, not something you'll be singing along too or busting out your air guitar. Classical music is perfect, or one of those relaxation CDs that are all whales and prancing unicorns.  If you don't have any there's plenty free online.  Try it, you might surprise yourself.

7. Temperature

Not only should you make sure your bathroom is at a comfortable temperature, but you should keep your bath water at the right heat too.  Too cold and you'll not want to hang about long, too warm and it can put pressure on your circulation.  Try leaving the shower hose gently running in the tub to keep the temperature comfortably warm.  

8. Underwater

Lie back and put your head back into the water so your ears are submerged.  Go back to the womb baby! Is there anything more comforting than that muffled, underwater sound where time seems to stop?

9. Breathing

I'm not one for meditation.  Try as I might I can't seem to stem the chatter in my head.  But being in the bath is about as close as I ever get.  Breathe deeply and slowly, paying attention to the rise and fall of your chest as it floats up to the surface, and back down again.  Shopping lists and meal planning can wait, it's all about the inhale and the exhale.

10. Slowly does it

When you're ready to get out, remember to do so slowly.  No sudden shocks to the system.  It's not terribly relaxing to get up too fast, go light-headed and pass out now is it?  And nothing breaks a trance like bashing your head.  So raise yourself slowly and take your time.  


How about you promise yourself 20 minutes sometime this week?  Would you do that?

Disclosure:

I was sent a bathrobe and scented candle from Christie to enjoy my own relaxing bath.







Sunday, 7 September 2014

Cool new kid's brand, introducing...




There's a brand new kid on the block in the children's market.  The Sticker Club launched this month and we're really impressed.

Subscription products are hot news, you can now have food; make-up; clothing and all sorts of things delivered regularly to your door after a one-off order, and we all know how lovely it is to receive a treat in the post.  They are a great way to try out new designers and with so many brands breaking into the subscription market, it seems only fair that your kids can get in on the action. 


The Sticker Club is the brainchild of two fathers with a background in the tech market.  With this new product they're going back to basics and allowing children screen-free time and the chance to stretch their imagination and tap into their creativity (although I'm guessing many of the stickers will end up adorning tablets and gaming devices!).

For just £1.99 a week, your child receives a personally addressed pack through the post containing no less than 9 sheets of high quality stickers, with a minimum of 40 stickers.  They use up-and-coming and established independent designers so you can be sure of some cool images.  They also promise you'll never receive the same design twice.


Every child loves stickers, and once you get past that age where they can't see where's appropriate to use them and where's not (I remember having to peel stickers off our dog's paw pads once when my daughter was younger), stickers are great fun!

Now Ruby's at the age where she can creatively use them to make artwork, decorate her scooter and her school books, I've fallen back in love with them again.


Priced at considerably lower than the weekly magazines I'm always badgered into buying, I think this is a great value for money product.  Wouldn't it make a great gift too?  Long after the tinsel's packed away, your gift will keep giving, delivering a weekly shot of happiness direct through the letterbox. They also mail worldwide for the same price, so if you have friends and relatives overseas, then this is perfect.

Check them out on Facebook and Twitter where they currently have a retweet competition running to win a 3 month subscription, or on their website where you can find out more.

Disclosure: I received a press sample pack.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Minimize lunchbox packaging - Zero Waste Week

Did you know it's Zero Waste Week?  I'm proud to be an ambassador for this movement, and to help by sharing tips and ideas on how we can all work towards reducing the amount of rubbish that ends up in landfill.

The theme for this year is 'one more thing'.  By now most of us are pretty savvy and recycle our rubbish at home, take our bottles to the bottle bank and probably use reusable bags in favour of plastic ones.  But there's always a little more each and every one of us can do.

Ambassadors will be sharing our individual pledges of the one more thing we've promised to do.  Will you sign up and pledge to do one more thing?  A small change in habit or behaviour can make a big difference.

My pledge is to try and reduce the amount of rubbish in the school lunchbox. To steer away from those individually pre-packed items and to try and go waste-free by not using wrappings, foil or disposable pots.


I took this photo of a week's worth of rubbish collected from my daughter's school lunchboxes.  Dinners principally made using the 'lunchbox' items the supermarkets flaunt at us - particularly at back-to-school time. From what Ruby tells me, most of her friends have similar kinds of items in every day.


I was shocked!  Look at it all.  Wow.

This doesn't include the daily fruit peelings, trimmings and cores etc because those go to compost.  It also doesn't include sandwich making stuff because I'm going to continue making sandwiches most days and because things like bread, cheese and ham etc are used by the whole family and not just for Ruby's lunchboxes.

So let's see how much waste we create if we avoid the individually packaged items.  Here's the equivalent waste from the following week when I ditched the pre-packed lunchbox foods.  Are you ready?


A big difference huh?  Amazing in fact.

So how did I do it?

Here's an example of the type of lunchbox I made being mindful of packaging.



I switched multi-bags of individual packs of crisps for one large bag which I put in a washable lidded pot.

I made yoghurt at home and served it in a washable lidded pot too.

I switched pepperami's for slices of chorizo.

I switched packaged cake, cereal bars and biscuits for homemade flapjack or cakes made in washable silicone cases.

I used leftovers more effectively from the previous night's dinners.

I used homegrown fruit and veg where possible - no packaging at all.

I switched Babybels and individual portion wrapped cheeses for one family pack of cheddar and included chunks of cheese in her lunchbox.

I never use clingfilm or foil to wrap food or sandwiches.  Providing you use a sectioned lunchbox or separate containers, there's just no need to.

Juice cartons were swapped for a reusable bottle of water or squash - I used homemade cordial so no waste at all.

OK, I'll admit, all this homemade stuff does ultimately have some waste, but an empty flour and sugar bag once a month or so is WAY better than before.

My top tips for zero waste lunchboxes:

Alternative containers:

Invest in a Bento style lunchbox and a few little pots or silicone cake cases.

Personally, I love the click-lock bento box by Munchkin and the Simesta lunch box is our current favourite because it includes a drinks bottle.  It's available in most supermarkets for between £4-5.

You can pick up small plastic lidded pots cheaply and they will last and last.

Alternative foods:

Don't be seduced by the supermarkets.  There's is absolutely no need for you to buy mini packs of cocktail sausages, nets of pre-packed cheeses and individually wrapped snack packs.

Use leftovers creatively.  Ruby loves it if we ever have a takeaway as she gets rice; popadoms; prawn crackers or naan bread in her box!  Cold rice with a handful of frozen peas or sweetcorn is a favourite, as are cold sausages or cold Yorkshire puddings with some leftover roast beef inside.  I also use batter leftover from yorkshire pudding etc to make fritters which are a great alternative to sandwiches.


Use what you have in your fridge or cupboard rather than buying items especially for lunchboxes, as they'll often have excessive packaging.  Things like crackers, breadsticks, popcorn, rice cakes and even cereal make a welcome addition to a lunchbox and don't have anyway near the packaging of specially produced lunchbox fillers.

Make your own jelly, mousse and yoghurt and serve in washable containers, this will create a fraction of the waste.

Why buy a plastic bag filled with mini boxes of raisins or dried fruit when you can make up your own portions from your baking goodies?

Make your own treats.  I bake a batch of simple buns or flapjack on a Sunday afternoon, when the oven is on for our roast.  It takes hardly any extra time and the cakes will keep in a tin for the whole week.  I'll make up a small batch, add raisins or cocoa powder to half so there's some variety and maybe make up a tiny dollop of icing to decorate the cakes each day as I go so she's got something different looking every day.

Alternative fun:

One of the biggest reasons we get suckered into buying that kind of stuff is probably because we think it makes their mealtimes more fun. Oh and peer pressure too because so-and-so always has them.  But there's lots of other ways to make your child's meal more appealing than a character-emblazoned plastic wrapper.

Use washable food picks like the ones from Eats Amazing, to add character and fun to the meal.

Use cookie cutters to make sandwiches, wraps and biscuits more appealing.

Add a small plastic toy to the box, that way they can have their favourite character, without the packaging waste.  I have a box of 'props' I use for lunchboxes.

Try themeing the lunchbox.  I often do this and Ruby loves it.  I've done country themes; Disney themes, sports themes, even a beach theme!



So, lets just look at the benefits of reducing the lunch box waste shall we?

I don't mean just the environmental benefits.  We all know the reasons why we should reduce the amount of rubbish we produce (and if you don't then you really need to head over to Zero Waste Week to take a read!)

No, I mean the other benefits to approaching lunchboxes this way...


  • Your child will have more variety.  Buying a multi pack usually means they are going to get the same thing for the next 5 days.
  • They are more likely to try new foods.  Bento style boxes with lots of different foods, presented well, encourages them to try different things.
  • They will be more independent.  No more having to ask the dinner ladies for help to open those pesky packets all the time.
  • They will spend more time eating because they're not wrestling with packets and lids.  This should mean that they'll actually eat more food rather than running out of time so less wasted food.
  • Using your leftovers creatively and baking your own means you should save money.
  • You'll undoubtedly be giving healthier options and you'll be fully aware of what's inside the food.
  • They will finish their food faster, giving them more time to play outside, run around and get fresh air - perfect!


So, have I convinced you to ditch the individually packed items?  Will you try and reduce lunchbox waste this term?  Maybe you already have and have tips to share?

Or perhaps you'll pledge something different for your One More Thing?  I'd love to hear.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

What does your front door say about you?

Our front door is black.  It was this colour when we moved in and we haven't got around to changing it.  A black door is said to suggest authority; seriousness; order and reservedness.  Certainly those are the kind of traits you would expect for somewhere like No. 10 - probably the most famous front door in Britain (regardless of whether the current, or any previous incumbents live up to that or not).


I guess that's right.  I mean, how seriously would we take a PM who lived behind a cerise door?

But are these character traits for me?  Well let's take a closer look at my door.  It's more than just a colour.

Abandoned scooters entangle unsuspecting postman with their handles.  Not just one scooter, but two.  I don't know why, since there's only one child living here, but why have one scooter cluttering up your porch when you can have two? And then there's the discarded boots of all shapes and sizes.  Remnants of family walks, encrusted with mud, kicked off at the door, which we've meant to return to and clean but somehow never get around to.  There's a collection of sticks, some of which should more accurately be described as branches, that the dog has triumphantly carried all the way home from the wood, resolutely refusing to let go.  There's pine cones and smooth pebbles, treasure found on days out which seemed the most beautiful items in the world earlier, but somehow I now don't quite want to come over my threshold, so they languish on the doorstep for months on end.  I can't quite get rid of them either so they exist in the limbo of the storm porch.

Often there are parcels tucked behind all this detritus of daily life, left by lazy delivery drivers who can't be bothered to wait for me to come to the door. The newspaper is shoved annoyingly halfway through the letter box by the monosylabic newspaper boy, inviting the cold wind to come howling through and into our hall.

There's sticky fingerprints at child height, and unpolished silver door furniture - yet another job that never seems to make the priority list. There's the doorbell which hasn't worked for months because I never remember to buy the correct battery to replace the dead one.  Those in the know bang the knocker, and those not privy to this information - the door-to-door salesmen, Jehovahs Witnesses and political canvassers never get answered because I live in blissful ignorance that they were ever there.

But this is the door where I stand, laughing and chatting with friends who gush "I'm not stopping, got loads to do" and then proceed to spend half an hour on my doorstep chewing the fat.  This is the door that gets thrown open wide to family and loved ones, the welcome message on the doormat a true and heartfelt sentiment extended to most.

This is the door that my daughter rushes to when her Daddy gets home from work, hurling herself at him for bear hugs.  Provided there's nothing good on the telly of course.

This is the door that the dog sits behind.  Excitedly welcoming our homecoming as enthusiastically when we've popped to the shops for five minutes, as when we've been out all day, her mouth holding a random shoe and her tail banging the radiator in delight at our return.

This is the door that keeps us safe and sound.  That looks after us.  The door to a house of love and laughter, of arguments and irritations, of mess and too much stuff.  A family.  My family.

What does your front door say about you?



Saturday, 16 August 2014

Disney Frozen Party Ideas


We recently threw our own Frozen party - no reason, just because - well who doesn't want to celebrate the awesomeness that is Elsa and Anna?

Anyhow, I thought I'd share a few ideas of mine and some of the best the web has to offer in case you're planning your own Frozen inspired birthday party.

Invitations:

I used these lovely free printable invites from 31 Wife Fo Life.  But I also love the 'do you want to build a snowman' idea from Mummy Mummy Mum as an invite - we did these as party favours too.


Drinks:

We bought mini  flavoured water bottles and removed the labels.  Then, I cut out replacement sleeves from some Frozen wrapping paper and used a glue stick to attach.  I coloured the water with the teeniest tiniest drop of blue food colouring (use a pipette or old kids' medicine dose syringe to control the drops!)

Or for a somewhat healthier option, Here Come The Girls has some adorable Olaf juice cartons.


Food:

If your party is going to involve watching the movie, then popcorn is essential!  I made some popcorn buckets (see my tutorial) using some more of the Frozen wrapping paper, and left a huge bowl out so they could refill.


We also made cake pops using the same clever no-bake method that Here Come the Girls uses.  It's a great excuse to break out the old Christmas sprinkles!


We had sandwiches cut with snowflake cookie cutters, and because I was feeling guilty about the distinct lack of fruit and veg, we had Olaf noses (carrots of course).  We also made some crispie snowballs - use white chocolate and cereal to make a Frozen take on the old classic.  Sprinkle with blue edible decorations.



If you're feeling more ambitious with your sandwiches, Mummy Mishaps has some amazing Frozen inspired sarnies - Love is an open door sandwich is genius.


Party Games:

Lots of traditional party games can easily be adapted to make them more Frozen:

Pin the tail (or antlers!) on Sven
Musical Ice Statues
Stuck in the Ice (a game of tag like Stuck in the Mud)


I made some very quick and easy bean bags, decorated with felt snowflakes for a throwing game.  You just need a bucket or a hula hoop to throw into, and score points.

Activities:

There are lots of free printable colouring sheets available at Better In Bulk

You could try some no-cook play dough and build your own snowmen like over at Jennifer's Little World. She also shares this lovely idea for making reindeer antlers.


Speaking of headgear, Mummy Mummy Mum has a beautiful Elsa crown, and Kids Chaos these adorable paper cup crowns.



Cake:

If it's a birthday party, then of course that wouldn't be complete without a cake, and you'd be hard-pressed to find one (or should that be two!) as stunning as this by Here Come the Girls.


Party favours and bags:

There's a myriad of Frozen stuff on the market now, but you can still make your own bits and bobs to go in party bags.  We added some cake pops wrapped in cellophane with a pretty blue ribbon, a DIY snowman kit made of marshmallows, some edible eyes and a sugar carrot cake topper.  Ruby also made some simple bag charms by threading pale blue and white or silver beads onto yarn and attaching them to a keyring.



You can also buy thrifty favours such as packs of temporary tattoos, Panini stickers and Frozen inspired coloured loom band packs which won't break the bank.

What other ideas do you have?


Friday, 15 August 2014

How to make fabric cutlery rolls - perfect for picnics and BBQs



I recently found the perfect fabric for this project I'd been meaning to do for a while.  A set of 4 linen place mats in a charity shop for £1.50 and they were crying out for a bit of upcycling!


Of course, you can use any fabric for this, but the beauty of using place mats is that they are the ideal size and they are already hemmed and finished, so there's minimal sewing.  This took me about half an hour to make all four from start to finish.


First take your fabric (portrait way up) and fold about 1/3 of the way up. Press with an iron.

Then pop in your cutlery and see where you want to sew your channels.  Mark with pins or dressmakers chalk - love this fabric, it already has lines to follow!

Cut a length of ribbon long enough to tie around when the fabric is rolled up, fold it in half and tuck inside between the two layers of fabric, hanging out on one side.

Stitch along both edges, and where you have pinned to hold your knife and fork etc.

When you've finished, add your cutlery and a napkin then roll and tie.  You're ready for your alfresco dining!