Thursday, 11 September 2014

Charity shop bargain skirt #ThriftyThursday

I love a bargain and this week a found a real cracker: a 'White Stuff' skirt for just £3.99.

My workwear wardrobe has really suffered since I started working from home and I tend only to dress up when I have client meetings.

However, this weekend I am off to a conference with my biggest client, so I was looking for something smart yet comfortable.

The 'White Stuff' skirt, which I found in the YMCA charity shop in Teignmouth, ticked both boxes.

The skirt has an underlayer of smaller burgundy flowers on a pale pink background. Larger flowers adorn the over skirt, which is slightly shorter with a split up the back to reveal the underskirt. The garment is finished with an integrated tie-belt, which is long enough for you to choose whether to tie it at the front, side or back.

It's perfect for spring, summer or autumn and versatile enough to be worn to client meetings or for the school run.

Plus, it goes perfectly with a lovely burgundy 3/4 sleeve wrap top I had picked up last year in the British Heart Foundation shop for just a few pounds and some brown strappy wedge sandals.

What charity shop bargains have you found recently?

About #ThriftyThursday
Thrifty Thursday is a linky established by Cold Tea and Smelly Nappies as a place to share posts about anything to do with saving money and being thrifty.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Six natural ways to ward off wasps

I am petrified of wasps and September always fills me with dread as the cooler weather encourages those flying yellow and black stinging machines to start interacting with humans as they become more and more drowsy, drunk and bad-tempered.

While I’ve never been stung by a wasp, the thought that it is possible to die from an allergic reaction to a sting is enough to send me running for cover as soon as one approaches me.

With three young children around, I don’t want to use chemical insect repellents, so here are six natural ways to try and keep wasps away.

  1. Leave out slices of cucumber. They have an acidic property that wasps really don’t like.
  2. Grow mint. Wasps don’t like minty smells, so grow mint in your garden or sprinkle your picnic table with mint leaves. 
  3. Wasps also hate the smell of eucalyptus, so add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to cotton wool or a handkerchief.
  4. Create a fake wasps nest out of crumpled newspaper of a brown paper bag and hang it from the outside of your house or a tree. Wasps are territorial and if they think there is already a colony in your garden, they will keep away.
  5. Make a wasp trap by cutting a plastic bottle about two thirds of the way up. Fill the bottom third of the base of the bottle with soapy water. Then smear some jam around the top of the bottle and turn it upside down so the neck of the bottle is inside the base. The wasps will head towards the jam in the neck of the bottle and then fall into the soapy water and die.
  6. Look dowdy and ditch the perfume. Wasps are attracted to bright colours and nice smells. So if you’re making the most of the last of the summer sunshine and wearing a lovely bright outfit and have spritzed yourself in your favourite eau de toilette, you’re a wasp magnet. Stick to darker, dull colours and enjoy your au natural aroma. If you need to add a splash of colour to your outfit, wear red as this is one colour wasps can’t see. And if you’d rather wear some sort of scent, why not rub some cucumber slices into your skin?  

If you can add any other natural wasp deterrents, please share them. The more ammunition I have, the better!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

How to prepare your younger child for when their older sibling starts school

My 2 year old son is about to lose his constant companion.
He has never known life without his big sister. She is there to play with him as soon as he wakes up, she accompanies him to the childminder, they eat their lunch together, she is there for him every day. For the past two years, she has been an integral part of his every day life.

But from the beginning of September, she will be leaving him to start life at school. For six hours a day, five days a week, she will be doing something else, with other children, and he will be left at home.

While there is plenty of information about preparing your child for school, there's not much around to help get your younger child ready for life without their sibling.

So here are some five ideas about how you can help your younger child get used to life when their older sibling starts school.

1. Involve him in the preparations. As you sew nametapes into the school uniform, tell him about how his big sister is about to start going to school and what she might be doing when she is there.
2. Make plans for what he will be doing when she is at school. Plan trips to the park, the library, the zoo, the supermarket.
3. If you can, do a practice run where he goes to his childcare provider on his own. You could use this opportunity to do something special with your older sibling too - one last day of one-to-one quality time before school starts.
4. Arrange a couple of play dates for the first few weeks with other children his age who may also have an older sibling starting school.
5. Plan some simple, but special, activities for when she gets home from school. Bear in mind that she might be tired after a busy day learning and doing new things, but involving the two of them in helping make the dinner, baking a cake or doing a jigsaw together will help re-establish their bond and remind them how much they enjoy each other's company.

What advice would you add to help your younger child get ready for their older sibling starting school?

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

8 reasons to learn British Sign Language

A local British Sign Language (BSL) training provider is celebrating its first birthday today. To mark the occasion, SignUp BSL has launched a competition offering one lucky community group, business or charity the chance to win a one hour BSL or Deaf Awareness training session.

But why should you learn BSL? Here are eight reasons.

1. So you can communicate with Deaf people. I used to go to a toddler session at the local library, which was also attended by a Deaf couple with their young son. I was desperate to be able to say hello and get to know them, but I couldn't because, at the time, I didn't know their first language - BSL.

2. BSL is a beautiful way of expressing yourself. Think of how much you already use non-verbal signals to highlight what you are saying. If you dislike something, you screw up your face to show quite how distasteful you find it. If you are describing how big something is, you use your hands to show exactly how massive it is. If you are referring to an object, you will often point to it. BSL simply focuses on the hands and face rather than the spoken word.

3. It's a completely different way of learning. You can't take notes when you learn BSL and you definitely won't need a pen and pad. You just have to watch, remember and practice. Using your brain like this is tiring, but it is definitely a fantastic way of getting that grey matter working.

4. Learning any language is great for your brain and boosts cognitive processes. BSL has a completely different syntax and grammar structure to English, so you'll benefit from better problem-solving skills, improved listening and greater creative thinking.

5. Improved cultural awareness. When you learn BSL you'll also learn about the richness of Deaf culture and Deaf identity. Plus, the diversity of cultural variations in BSL will help you learn about how the language has evolved in different areas of the country - and the world.

6. You're spelling will improve. One of the first things you'll learn in BSL is the alphabet. Which means that even if you can't remember the sign for something, you can always spell it out on your hands. As a result, your spelling will be amazing.

7. When you're in the theatre or a library where you have to be quiet, you can still communicate! It's also a lot easier to chat across a noisy room.

8. You can also talk when your mouth is full!

Friday, 18 July 2014

How to organise summer holiday child care

School's out for the summer. And, unless you're a teacher and you get the 6 weeks off too, organising child care for the school holidays can be a nightmare. Especially, if like me, you have multiple children of different ages with varying interests.

So, that's how I found myself creating a spreadsheet so I could keep track of who is doing what, when and where.

Luckily, I work freelance from home, which makes life easier than when I had an office job with set hours. But even so, I still need to be strict to ensure I get my work done. Hubby works full-time and is pretty limited on when he can take his annual leave, which leaves me to sort out managing the childcare.

My youngest son is 2 and goes to a childminder, who is fairly flexible, which helps - a lot. My lovely childminder is also happy to increase my 3 (nearly 4) year old daughter's hours over the holidays and will even take my 6 year old son.

The only problem is that my childminder also needs a holiday, and the week she has chosen, just happens to be the week after we go away - so that's already one week of alternative arrangements to be found.

And then there's my oldest son, who has expressed an interest in going to a local football camp, and learning tennis and going to a sports camp at his school.

You can see how easily things can become confused.

So, I created a simple table in a word document with the week days along the top and the week commencing dates down the left hand side. I started off by marking in our booked holidays. I then hunted for some activities for my older two (football for my oldest son and a dance camp for my daughter) while my childminder is on holiday and begged my dad and a friend to take Wilf for two mornings. Once the holiday cover was sorted, I inserted my oldest son's remaining activities and then booked my younger two into the childminder on those days. Once I had sorted the childcare, I highlighted the days where I had childcare and marked those as my work days. I then noticed a couple of weeks where I didn't have enough working time, so I asked my childminder to take all three for a couple of days and I was sorted.

The spreadsheet has now been printed out and is on the fridge door so we can easily glance up and see who's doing what, when and where during the school holidays.

For once, I feel organised.

How do you manage childcare over the school holidays?

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Why we put a tank on our wedding (anniversary) cake

Who would put a tank on their wedding cake - or even their wedding anniversary cake?

I did - for both occasions.

It was certainly a talking point, but actually, there was real meaning behind the gesture.

You see, when we got married ten years ago, my husband's grandparents were preparing to mark their diamond wedding anniversary. The longevity of their happy union is a real inspiration to my husband and I and we wanted to honour them in our own marriage.

My husband's grandparents were married in 1944. And, like many men of his generation, he saw active service as part of the tank regiment (he was actually awarded the Military Cross). In recognition of his life as a serviceman, my grandparents had a small tank on top of their wedding cake and we used this on top of our wedding cake too.

Roll on ten years and we decided to hold a party to mark a decade of marriage as well as my husband's impending 40th birthday.

Every party needs a cake, so I commissioned Carole's Cup Cakes in Teignmouth to create a two tier, chocolate (my husband doesn't like fruit cake) wedding anniversary and birthday cake. Carole copied the flowers from our original cake in intricate sugar paste. She added two flags made of icing: one said Happy 10th wedding anniversary; and the other said Happy 40th Birthday Richard. And she added a tank to the top in recognition of the fact that my grandparents-in-law will be celebrating an amazing 70 years of marriage in October.

Unfortunately they are both well into their 90s now and are no longer fit enough to manage the 5 hour journey to Devon so they were unable to join us for our wedding anniversary party. However, we sent my mother-in-law back to Eastbourne with photos and a slice of cake for them to enjoy.

Do you have any quirky cake stories to share?

Thursday, 10 July 2014

10th wedding anniversary gifts (and how to replace a wedding ring with something better)

Today is my (well me and my husband's) tenth wedding anniversary.

The traditional wedding anniversary gift is something made of tin. But I think ten years is a big milestone and I wanted to get something special to mark the occasion.

My husband lost his wedding ring a couple of years ago. I wasn't that bothered, because, to be honest, I didn't really like it very much. It was a last minute purchase (we had a whole wedding to organise) and it was in the sale. It was a little bit too big for my husband and it was a surprise he managed so long without losing it.

So, for our tenth wedding anniversary I wanted to get him a replacement. Except, I didn't want to replace a wedding ring, I wanted something better, something that reflected our lives a decade later.

I was browsing Pinterest when I found the perfect idea: a band featuring the birthstones of our children.

I visited a jeweller in Exeter (I won't mention the name because they weren't very helpful, but it's behind Boots on the way up to the castle), but they were stumped when I mentioned June, the month my youngest son was born. The birthstone is pearl and apparently they can't set that into a ring. The alternative is alexandrite, but they said it was rare and very expensive. I'm not sure if it was to do with the scruffy way I was dressed, but I felt a bit like Pretty Woman in the posh boutique and it seemed like they were fobbing me off a bit when they suggested I get in touch when I knew exactly what I wanted. I didn't bother and instead I visited my local jeweller in The Triangle in Teignmouth.

Teignmouth Jewellers was a lot more accommodating and promised he would be able to get the alexandrite and the other stones and set them into the ring exactly like I wanted. And he did (delivering a week ahead of schedule). He wasn't even phased when I made an educated guess about my husband's ring size (no jokes please) and said it would be no problem to get the ring re-sized later if we needed to.

I'm really pleased with the result. The stones from left to right are: Sapphire (September, the birth month of my oldest son and my husband); Peridot (August, the birth month of my daughter); Alexandrite (June, the birth month of my youngest son) and Aquamarine (March, my birth month).

If we have any more children, the jeweller has assured me that it will be very easy to incorporate another stone into the ring.

I gave it to my husband this morning. And the best bit - the ring fits perfectly - if anything it's a bit tight so there's no excuses for losing it this time.

To accompany the ring and to celebrate with a meal at home this evening, I managed to find a bottle of 2004 Moet & Chandon from, of all places, my local Morrison's supermarket.

Happy 10th Wedding Anniversary.

What is the most amazing 10th wedding anniversary gift you've seen, given or received?