My new Shaw Academy qualification

certificate

A little while ago, I spotted a great deal on Groupon for an online Social Media Marketing and Online Reputation Management course from Shaw Academy.

It cost me around £30, which is a tiny fraction of the £395 it’s going for on the Shaw Academy website. I was happy with my bargain buy and looking forward to starting the course.

The course itself was done via live webinars, and when I saw the dates of the sessions I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it, because they clashed with the boys’ football training sessions. Being a mum always comes first for me, so I was a little disheartened until I discovered that I could access the recordings and therefore complete the course in my own time – hurrrah!

So that’s what I did – and today I achieved my foundation diploma in Social Media Marketing and Online Reputation Management (with distinction, no less!). I’m certain it’ll help me take the blogs further than I’ve been able to until now, and I’d love to be able to start managing some third party social media accounts too. I think that having completed a course and gained a certificate has given me not just knowledge but more confidence in myself as someone who knows how to ‘do’ social media.

I really enjoy learning new things and short courses are perfect for me. I find I cannot commit myself to part time degree type courses that last years and years. I’m impatient I suppose and want faster reward. So this will do me for today, and I’ll no doubt be searching for more courses on the internet before too long. There’s a more advanced course from Shaw Academy on the same subject so maybe I’ll go for that, though I’d need a small windfall or another great discount I think!

 

chain

The Blogger Chain

I always think it’s lovely when another blogger (or of course a non-blogger) says they enjoy my blog, or a particular post. The Blogger Chain is an idea I had to give bloggers the opportunity to do something for others, to build someone’s spirits, to pay them a compliment.

The guidelines are simple and you can read them here.

Without further ado, here are my three nominations.

RRM Name Only

Pippa at Red Rose Mummy was the inspiration behind The Blogger Chain. She works really hard on her blog, writes some fantastic reviews and co-hosts the always inspirational #WHWH linky. She manages all this while bringing up three young ‘uns too – not an easy task! Pippa is a super lovely person and a talented blogger too, well worth a read.

WitWitWoo-Header-Large.jpg

Kate at WitWitWoo never fails to make me laugh with her lighthearted posts (though she’s not afraid of the serious ones either!). Doing the parenting thing alone is not easy, but strong willed Kate takes it all in her stride. Kate doesn’t just blog at WitWitWoo though, she’s also one third of the team behind We Blog Travel, and she takes on freelance work too. Busy lady!

casa costello

When she isn’t ferrying her super talented children around their various classes and competitions, Helen at Casa Costello runs a weekly blog linky called Bake of the Week. I swear one day I’m going to try one of her recipes – though I’d much prefer it if she’d just call round with cake (Helen, if you’re reading this, email for my address. Cake always welcome). Helen’s food photography is brilliant and I love seeing her culinary creations on her blog.

Pippa, Kate, Helen: I would really love for you to help me spread some positivity through the blogosphere by nominating three of your own favourite bloggers and linking up here. Wouldn’t it be lovely to spend half an hour writing a short post, knowing you can use it to send three bloggers that warm fuzzy feeling?

Grumpyishmum

The day we made London

Yes, you read that right.

We were sent a chocolate making kit by Choc on Choc and we made a chocolate model of Big Ben, a London bus and a cab. The kids really enjoyed doing this activity, although I think their favourite part was actually eating it (as was mine!).

Choc on Choc collage

The kit comes with everything you need to make one set of parts for Big Ben, one bus and one cab, but the moulds seem to be fine to re-use should you wish to do that. We left our chocolate to set overnight and it was delicious. Also included are two pictures one London to colour in while you wait for the chocolate to set in the mould, an instruction sheet and a chefs hat. I liked the extra thought that had clearly been put into planning and designing the contents of these kits.

Something else that tickled me about Choc on Choc is that they clearly have a sense of humour. I love that they’ve brought out a new way to get your five-a-day… in chocolate form. I’m not sure I’d get away with that at Slimming World, but it’d be a very welcome treat!

The thing I loved most about chocolate London (aside from actually eating it) was that the boys could do every part of this themselves; even melting the chocolate buttons. They needed supervision of course, and they made quite a mess when pouring it into the moulds, but they really seemed to feel they’d achieved something a little bit tricky (mostly) by themselves. They were certainly very proud of their creations.

Choc on Choc do some brilliant kits – you can even make your own chocolate house! They have some fantastic gift ideas suitable for adults and children alike, and their prices are very reasonable too. Chocolate London is £12.99 and would make a great alternative birthday present.

*We were sent this choc on choc kit in return for our honest feedback on the product.

Gnome cushion title image

Craft activity: Yellow Moon gnome cushions

The boys love to be outside as much as possible, but when we’re having a day in the house they love to get the craft box out and make a mess a new creation.

I did the gnome cushion activity with them a while ago now and thought I’d already written it up but apparently not!

Gnome cushion title image

Rowan’s teacher told me that one of the activities he most enjoyed at school was sewing, so when these came in a box of craft supplies from Yellow Moon I thought they’d be a brilliant activity for him. Turns out the boys both really enjoy sewing!

Everything you need to make these cushions is included in the set, which is £4.99 for a pack of two gnomes. Yellow Moon are great for craft supplies and craft inspiration; there are plenty of different types of kits, tools and supplies to choose from so kids never have to do the same activity twice – unless they want to!

The gnome cushion kit comes with simple instructions and the boys followed them with ease.

Sewing Gnome 1

Pieces of felt are pre-cut ready for sewing to begin straight away – once they’ve managed to thread that pesky needle!

The pre-punched holes in the felt for the gnomes body was sometimes not quite cut all the way through, but with a little help from me the boys managed to sew them well.

Once the sewing was done, then came the stuffing. The kids loved doing this bit, but needed a little bit of guidance on how much stuffing to add because at one point Rowan’s gnome looked like it had eaten one or two pies too many! The stuffing is also provided but don’t feel you have to use it all between the two gnomes.

Gnome cushion - stuffing

Eventually we got them both suitably stuffed and started on the clothing. All of the gnomes ‘clothing’ was made from sticky felt which had a peelable back. The protective backing was a bit tricky to get off some of the pieces so we had to take extra care with those, but once we’d sussed out an almost fail-safe way to do it the last bits of felt were added very quickly and our gnomes looked great!

Gnome cushion - stickers

The quality of these kits is really good. The felt is strong enough to withstand a little bit of tugging as children sew and stuff, the colours are bright and cheerful and the design of the kit is very user friendly.

If you (or your children) would like to make your own gnome cushion you can find them on the Yellow Moon website. You’re guaranteed to find other activities that take your fancy on there too!

Game Review: Aladdin’s Flying Carpet

aladdin's flying carpet

A recent addition to our games collection is that of Aladdin’s Flying Carpet. We have reviewed several products from the University Games range and the boys were keen to put this one to the test when it arrived.

Aladdin’s Flying Carpet contains:

1 Zephur the flying carpet
32 pieces of treasure
1 platform
1 hinged arm
1 bag
2 wires (1 replacement wire)
1 set of rules

The game is easily set up and play started less than five minutes after the postman had been with our parcel.

Aladdin 2

Once set up, the magic carpet is ‘flying’ in mid air as the wire below anchors it down while the magnet above holds it suspended in the air. It is quite tricky to get the length of the wire just right; it can be too short and not hold very many pieces of treasure at all (or just not hold up at all) or it can be too close to the magnet above and just stick to it, meaning the game cannot be played properly. Once you’ve sussed out that bit though you’re ready for the off.

To play, each player takes their turn to choose one piece of treasure from the bag (no peeking!) and place it carefully on the flying carpet. One too many will make the carpet fall though, and the game will be over!

The boys enjoyed this game and played five or six times before they moved onto something else, which I thought was quite good. We found that sometimes it only took a handful of pieces of treasure to weigh down the carpet, and other times it held almost all the pieces. Once it even held every last piece which pleased the boys greatly, but made me wonder whether I’d set it up right!

The best price I found Aladdin’s Flying Carpet available for was on Amazon for £18.00. I think it would make a great gift for a young child, and I agree that the recommended age for this game is four years and over – any younger and I don’t think children would grasp the importance of balancing the treasure and games would be pretty short.

This is a great game to get kids thinking about strategy, magnetism and balance. My five year old picked up very quickly that you can’t just put pieces anywhere on the carpet after a few turns, and he rapidly changed his approach to the game. The game presented us with a great opportunity to talk about magnets too, and games that go hand in hand with education tend to get my vote.

My tips:

*Take the time to get the length of the wire just right to avoid disappointed faces after ten seconds of gameplay.

*Always count the pieces of treasure back into the bag – when the carpet falls it’s amazing how far those little pieces can travel.

*We were sent Aladdin’s Flying Carpet for the purpose of an honest and thorough review. This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.

When Karen met Ted

Karen Ted

Sometimes, people come into your life for a reason.

Almost ten years ago, Ted came into my life and turned it upside down.

I met Ted just before Christmas 2005. We were at the same party – he was on his works do and I had been invited along by one of his colleagues. We spent the evening in a cocktail bar, which I’m sure made conversation flow easier than it would’ve in a supermarket, but nonetheless we sat together all evening and by the end of it he was joining me and a few others back at my house for a bit of an after party. Oh, to be able to stay up that late now!

I think Ted spent a grand total of about three nights back at his parents house after that. We were engaged in February 2006, parents in 2007 and married in 2008. We had intended to do the last two things the other way round but… oh well. Some things are just meant to be.

wedding

I was, by my own admission, a bit of a wild child. Well, a wild twenty-something really. When I met Ted I lived a crazy life and I didn’t really have any intentions of calming down at the time because I figured life was for living and that’s what I was doing. (Turns out life is for living, but there are plenty of other ways to do that!)

Ted was like a wake up call. He didn’t ask anything from me, yet I wanted to live a different kind of life with him. We did things lots of new couples do, but our relationship was as though we’d known each other a lifetime. Ted knew me better than I knew myself some of the time and I know it’s soppy but he made me who I am today. It really takes someone very special to make you stop and re-evaluate your life, just because they love you. He didn’t do or say anything in particular to change me, he just loved me for who I was. When someone truly loves you, it’s far easier to learn to love yourself. I hear people talk about meeting their soulmate, about fate and about what is meant to be, and I know that whatever terminology you choose to use, sometimes things just have their own way of working out for the best.

Our ten years together haven’t been all rosy – I don’t know anyone who has a ‘perfect’ relationship. We fight, but we make up. We remember what’s important and we try to focus on the bigger picture rather than bickering who last emptied the dishwasher or walked the dog when both of us are tired and stressed. Marriage isn’t easy, but it’s worth your while with the right person.

I may moan about him sometimes, I may nag him a bit  a lot, but I will always be grateful to that long haired boy for buying me that cocktail, and for making me a better person.

Sometimes, people come into your life for a reason.

*collaborative post

The Last Letter

Dear Ashlee

You’d have been pleased with how your funeral went.

From the exotic flowers on your angel-white coffin to the horse-drawn carriage fit for a princess, I’ve never seen a more beautiful entrance made.

Your family were so strong. I honestly don’t know how your mum and Neil have managed to sort out every detail of the day so well. I can’t tell you how much admiration I have for them.

It poured down all day long. I wasn’t thrilled about that, but actually I think you’d have been happy because there was a rainbow later on, which was so fitting for you.

There must have been over 300 people in the church. You were probably the most popular person I’ve ever met. I’m not quite sure how I made it onto the short list of people reading at your service, but I’m incredibly honoured to have done so.

I’ve been proud to call you my friend for over 20 years, I just wish we could’ve seen more. You made everyone feel as though they were your best friend, made them feel special, you had time for them and you made everyone smile.

I don’t recall a time when you ever didn’t have a smile on your face. Even through the heartbreakingly tough times, you’d find something to smile about. I can’t imagine one single person remembering you without that beautiful smile full of sparkly white teeth.

The room for your wake had been decorated well and any bride would’ve been happy with the decor for her wedding – it certainly didn’t look like a funeral. I love the boob cakes you insisted on – different to the very end, weren’t you.

I haven’t been to your graveside yet, even though it’s been two months since you died. I don’t really know why, I just can’t bring myself to go there. I suppose until I stand there next to your grave I can just feel as though I’ve not popped round for a brew in a while. It’ll be so final, seeing your name on the headstone when it’s in place.

I will try this week, perhaps tomorrow, to visit. I don’t know if it will make any difference, but I know you’ll be pulling that pretend annoyed face at me for staying away if you can see me.

See you tomorrow.

xx

Summer 2015: Day One – LEGOLAND Discovery Centre

As much as I genuinely enjoy having the boys at home during the school holidays I’m not delusional and I know they need to be kept busy, so I’ve done my utmost to make sure every day has an injection of fun and educational activity. It isn’t possible (or, in my opinion at least, sensible) to be out and about every single day though because I know the boys just wouldn’t be able to hack it. Days out are tiring, so I’ve tried to mix it up a bit and alternate between days out and activities at or near to home.

Day one was an easy decision to make. We’ve been LEGOLAND Discovery Centre annual pass holders since March and haven’t visited nearly enough so the first day of the holidays was set aside for a visit to Barton Square.

LDC 1

The fun, as always, started before we even went into the building. The boys love ‘driving’ the racing car every time we go (or even walk past) and this time insisted on me taking a photo.

We don’t always go through the ‘factory tour’ at the beginning of the LDC visit because it’s always the same and we’ve seen it many times, but this time the boys did fancy it so off we went to listen to Professor Brick talking about how LEGO is made. It’s an enjoyable feature of a visit and a definite must for first-timers.

Once we’d been fully educated by Professor Brick, we shot some bad guys on the Kingdom Quest Laser Ride before heading to Miniland and the rest of the attraction. There is lots to do inside the discovery centre and you can find a full list and description of each part of the attraction here.

LDC 2

There’s a very exciting event coming to LEGOLAND Discovery Centre next month. Do you know a little lego loving ninja? Then you really need to bring them down to meet Red Fire Ninja Kai during August.

 

Kids will be able to make their own masks and airjitsu flyers before putting their creations to the test in the Airjitsu Flyer Academy. Don’t let them forget to obtain their Ninjitsu Diploma, or to take part in the Laser Maze Challenge! Once that’s all done, they can upload videos of their skills online too.

LDC 3

We have many more days of summer to go yet and this definitely means another trip to LEGOLAND Discovery Centre is in order.

What plans do you have for summer? Share them and inspire us!

 

 

Planning Rowan’s Circus Party

Rowan

Months ago, Rowan asked if he could have a party for his birthday next month, to which of course I said yes. He wanted a circus themed party and I agreed that would be great. He’ll be five.

So now it’s just a few weeks away from his birthday and actually we’re not going to be here anyway because we’re backpacking over his birthday week. I’d completely forgotten about Rowan’s party request… but Rowan hadn’t!

I always vowed not to break any promises I’d made to either of the children and aside from little things, like saying they could stay up but then sending them to bed when they’re getting a bit too rowdy, I don’t think I’ve broken very many promises at all. I certainly didn’t want to break this one – how could I when that excited little face appeared in front of me and said

‘Mummy, can I invite Alfie to my circus party?’

I did panic a little bit inside! Firstly, when on earth could I fit a party into an already busy summer? Secondly, how the heck was I going to afford to pay for a circus party for 30 kids the week after a holiday? Not forgetting the issue of trying to find a venue for a party in the height of wedding season – halls at a reasonable price are hard to come by at short notice.

I’m hoping to secure a venue today – and I’m hoping even more so that it won’t cost me a limb or two. In the meantime I’ve buried my head in the Pinterest sand and found some fantastic ideas for circus parties! Twinkl has once again saved by bacon by coming up with a circus birthday party pack (thank you, twinkl!) and I’ve ordered bits and pieces online for games and party bags, though there’s lots more to get.

I’ve managed to cost the filled party bags at around 61p each I think so I’m pleased with that. I need to source a cake (circus themed, obviously) so I’ve contacted the lady who did the boys christening cakes in the hope that she still makes them.

Rather than hiring a magician or a clown (lord knows that’d be out of my budget just now) I’ve decided to opt for a carnival type approach. We’ll have several different stalls offering an assortment of activities. Hopefully the children can be split into small groups and try each activity in a similar way to circuit training. Stalls so far are:

  • Tin can alley
  • Hook-a-duck
  • Circus skills (juggling, diabolo, tightrope)

So I need more ideas for those which I’ll be working on today.

I’m going to need a lot of luck and a fair bit of help from anyone I can pin down on party day if I’m going to pull this off!

Do you have a tip for planning or hosting a children’s party?

Kind Club: Surprise Decorating

Last weekend Ted and I took the boys up to Scotland for a short break with Forest Holidays. We were gone for four days and just after we arrived I received a text from my friend Emma to say that a suspicious looking man had been seen loitering outside our back gate at home. Unable to do anything much about it myself I phoned my mum to see if she’d call round to mine after work, just to give the place a look over. She said she would and asked for Emma’s address, which I assumed was so that my mum could ask Emma more about the dodgy dude hanging around the street.

Fast forward four days and I arrive home.

We have two back doors at home and we obviously lock them when we’re not there. On our return from Scotland though we found that the outer back door hadn’t been locked. I had received a call from my mum asking if we’d like her to drop round some pizza for tea so I figured she’d been and struggled to lock the door behind her; it can be temperamental at times.

What I didn’t expect was to come home to a completely redecorated, refurnished house.

Without me knowing, my family had spent months planning to use our time away to let themselves into my house and change it from this…

Lounge before

to this…

Lounge after

My lounge was tired, outdated and fast becoming a depressing sight. I’m not terribly good at decorating, nor was I in any way motivated to make improvements to a home I’d long since fallen out of love with. I was at the point where I never spent any real time at home because I hated looking around and seeing nothing but jobs to put on the to-do list I never worked on. Ted works long hours and is away often, so the time we do have together is spent with the boys, cramming fun into every hour we can. It isn’t spent decorating and is rarely even spent in the house. We’re an outdoor kind of family and it’s easy to push things like DIY out of your mind when it isn’t staring you in the face. Being overwhelmed with a job list you don’t have the confidence to tackle is pretty depressing, and maybe my family could see that in me.

I cried when I saw the lounge. The old, mismatched sofas were gone, replaced by modern and matching furniture and the worn carpet was a thing of the past. The wallpaper I’d picked out a couple of weeks ago was no longer just a photo on my mobile but really there in my lounge with matching cushions, curtains and rug. It was like walking into someone else’s house. Someone who loved where they lived.

I cried some more when I saw that not only had they completely revamped the lounge, they’d carried on and painted the stairs and the landing too. The bannister was clean, crisp white and not the kind-of-white-but-a-bit-chipped I’d left it four days earlier. From plain magnolia walls complete with kids hand prints, the stairway was transformed with cool grey colour and a white framed collage of family photographs. Everywhere I looked there was something new to be thankful for.

Stairs 2They even chose some word art that I would have chosen for myself. I do like to be as positive as I can about every aspect of my life, and this phrase is one that I would agree with. I had let the house get me down and it was pretty much the only thing in life that I felt I couldn’t tackle.

stairs 1

 

The one room I hated the most though was the bathroom. I had attempted to paint it myself but hadn’t used the right kind of paint for a room that gets damp so often and it was so patchy I could hardly bear to be in there.

Bathroom before

Not a place for a calming bubble bath – five minutes in the shower was more than enough time to look at those walls. From now on though I’ll be making a long hot soak more of a priority…

Bathroom after 1

 

bathroom after 2

I can’t really explain how lucky I feel today. My family and friends are truly wonderful people and I’m so grateful just to have them in my life. Nobody needed to do this for me, I didn’t ask for it and I certainly didn’t expect it. That’s what makes them so wonderful though; they have all taken time off work to work so, so hard on something they will gain nothing from for themselves. An act of kindness like that can only be done by very special people, and I’m fortunate enough to have many special people in my life.

Thank you Mum, Cath, Hayley, Naomi, Lynn, Shirl, Lorraine and Dora. I love you all.

Someone pass me a tissue?

Grumpyish Mum