Friday, 14 December 2012

Humiliating Christmas Cards to Make: a Tutorial

Nothing like a bit of humiliation at Christmas.  It's a fantastic time to dig out all the photos from Christmasses gone by and the crappy decorations the kids made at school 30 years ago.  I am not spared this humiliation as every year, the creepy looking shepherd collage with shifty eyes that I made when I was nine makes a sinister appearance, as does this photo of me winning a colouring competition at 4 years old, which is affectionately known as 'Lisa and Wrong-un Santa':
"May I congratulate you on your excellent comb-over Father Christmas? And no, I don't want to see your kittens."
Rory is 3 years old now and I haven't got enough Christmas themed dirt on him yet to put aside for years to come, so what better opportunity than Christmas card making to create some?  Cue this tutorial which I gave a test run several years ago on my Year 3 class, who are now about 14 years old and will be overjoyed that I assisted them in making this priceless piece of embarrassing nostalgia by now.

You will need:
Photos of your child's face (do be creative with these - try and get one of them of them pulling a supremely gippy expression), card, glue, doilies (white and gold) and silver or gold pipecleaners.

Step 1:
Cut out child's face.  Obviously if they're older and less cack handed than my child they can do this themselves.  As it is, I didn't fancy clearing up blood and severed limbs so I did it.  Why has it uploaded to blogger sideways? Sorry.


Step 2:
Cut out 1 triangle shape from a white doily and two triangles from a gold doily.  Again with the sideways uploading - WHY?


Step 3:
 Glue the two gold triangles to the back of the white one like so:


Step 4:
Stick to the card right side up and top with child's disembodied head.  Curse Blogger for uploading 50% of photos in this post sideways. 


Step 5:
Cut a piece of pipecleaner to make a halo and attach with glue.


Job done.  Send out to deserving relatives and save one to bring out ceremoniously each year for comedy value and general bashing of self esteem.

Disclaimer:  I would like to point out that Rory did actually make this card - he made 3 in fact - but every photo I took of him doing the different steps came out as a blur of flashing glue stick and wild eyes, so I had to set some of them up afterwards.  Proof below that he was involved:


Tots100 Experience Days Competition

Monday, 10 December 2012

Slow Cooker Review - Morphy Richards 48718

I have a confession: I am a very lazy cook.  You've got to wonder how someone who used to work as the head chef in a brasserie restaurant 10 years ago can now not even manage to heat fish fingers up without burning them, but somehow it has happened.  I used to have visions of myself as a Nigella/Jamie Oliver hybrid, whipping up delicious feasts for my family and incorporating all sorts of exotic ingredients.  My children would have adventurous tastes and would play happily on the floor while I slaved happily over a hot stove, Italian mama style.

But the sad truth is that my child likes...ummm...ham sandwiches, that's about it, and I simply cannot be arsed to spend more than the absolute minimum of my time cooking, especially when my son is prone to climbing high things and throwing himself off them onto his head while I'm busy in the kitchen.

Maybe the nice people at Littlewoods found out about this.  All I know is that they sent me a rather snazzy slow cooker to test out and review.

Here it is - a smart little Morphy Richards number:

I'd heard good things about slow cookers and their wondrous time saving benefits and couldn't wait to try it out, so last week I had a go at a sort of beef casseroley thing in it.  I could have used one of the recipes in the booklet that comes with it, but I was being all "I was a chef once, you know" about it, so did what I usually do and made it up as I went along.  For reference purposes, I browned some chopped steak and onions and threw them in the slow cooker with carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers, rosemary, garlic, red wine and beef stock then put the lid on, set it to 'medium' and left it for 8 hours.

Soon the air was full of the best sort of mouthwatering smells and I couldn't wait for dinner time.  It really does make one feel like a smug domestic goddess when ones husband gets in from football to the scent of beef stew wafting out of the house (open the window slightly so the neighbours can smell it for extra smug points).  The only problem I encountered was that I'd forgotten that as the lid stays on all the way through cooking, liquid can't escape as steam and reduce, so I'd used way too much wine and stock (ahem, should have used a recipe perhaps).  This can apparently be fixed by removing the lid and putting the heat up to 'high' an hour before serving.
It was delicious though, if a bit, err, liquid, and - best of all - as I didn't have to spend half an hour cooking at the usual time in the evening, I managed to knock up a quick syrup sponge pudding, thus hitting epic new heights on the smug-o-meter.
A resounding success.  So why haven't I used it since?  I have chicken sitting in the fridge just begging to be slow cooked, yet somehow it hasn't happened.  I think it's the amount of preparation needed first thing in the morning - a time which I usually spend showering with my eyes still shut and running around trying to locate small gloves and packed lunch boxes.  I think I need to get the hang of chopping everything up the night before and throwing it all in with one hand in the morning whilst making dinosaur shaped ham sandwiches with the other.  Or maybe slow cooking is only good at saving time for people who are organised and efficient to start with.  I'll keep you posted.
I would definitely recommend trying one though, and if you use a buy now pay later catalogue, you can afford to get one now to help with the Christmas cooking without eating into your Christmas budget - worth thinking about anyway.  Now, do you think I can slow cook a ham sandwich?
Disclaimer: I was sent a slow cooker free of charge in exchange for a review.  All views are my own and I was not paid for the review.

Season of mists and...whatever.

Way back in the time I like to refer to as BC (Before Child), autumn and the run-up to Christmas was my favourite time of year.  The crisp golden leaves, frosted grass, cheeks rosy with the cold and mulled wine.  I'd start willing it to hurry up at some point in July.  Now (AC: After Child), this time of year is referred to as the season of sick and yellow snotfulness in my household.  I don't know if there were any crisp golden leaves outside because I was busy being ill and looking after a poorly child, and you can't drink mulled wine on top of Lemsip and Codeine. 

I used to imagine autumn and winter with a child being a time of wonder and joy; all nativity plays and frolicking with friends and their children in the snow.  Sadly, the reality of small children at Christmas time is a lot of mucus and not seeing your friends for months on end because you tag team each other with illness from about mid September until...well...March.  And even then there's chickenpox to contend with.  Chickenpox loves to sneak in in March or April just when you think poorly season is over.

In addition, I am ridiculously busy at the moment trying to salvage some of the work that had to be ignored in favour of Dealing With The Sick and haven't even had time to go Christmas shopping.  There have been no carols or festive films.  There have been no mince pies.  The only signs that Christmas is coming are:

a) Rory keeps waking up at night because he's too excited about opening his Advent calendar every morning to sleep.  I shit you not.  This did not appear in my Christmas-with-a-small-child dream sequence.

b) He is a shepherd in the pre-school nativity play and keeps breaking into song with bizarre Jive Bunny style mixes of Away in a Manger, Jingle Bells and Personal Jesus, at least one of which he cannot possibly have learnt at pre-school.

c) Richard is having his annual Q4 Christmas work related breakdown.  Spare a thought for all of those who work in retail at the moment.  And their spouses.  Especially their spouses.  Seriously people, your Christmas has NOT been ruined because the gift you ordered hasn't turned up yet.  However, my Christmas is being ruined already because my husband keeps having funny turns of the heart variety because of the stress you don't realise you're putting him under (which isn't even his fault - it should be down to I.T. and customer services to sort it, but as the highest up person in the team, he ends up dealing with it).  Last year our nice family trip out to buy the Christmas tree from the farm mainly consisted of him lying down in the car looking grey and clutching his heart.  Please try not to finish him off entirely this year.

d) There has been a glitter shitting incident.

I'm off to catch up on some work now.  Please send mince pies and sloe gin.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

FOLKSY GIVEAWAY: Backbeat Leather

I have got such a great giveaway for you this week, and this time it's something for grown-ups, not the kids, which is fantastic because those little feckers get all the cool stuff usually.

Allow me to introduce you to Backbeat Leather, a husband and wife team who make rock and pop influenced leather accessories.  They have SO MUCH BRILLIANCE in their shop and I want it all.

Look at these belts. JUST LOOK:

And this phone case - love it:

And...and DOG COLLARS!

I could post image after image of their stock and be here all day, but you'll just have to go and look for yourself so I can get on with it.

Backbeat Leather were kind enough to send me one of their belts to review.  Long Suffering Husband was in need of a cheer up present, so I chose with him in mind and picked this beautiful bird and barbed wire design, which he loves:

At some point when I actually manage to catch him for more than 2 minutes I'll replace that pic with one of him modelling it for you all.

It's such a great quality belt - really sturdy, lovely aged looking belt buckle and the design is just beautiful.  It looks great now, but I can tell that it's going to go on looking better and better the more old and worn it gets (which is going to be a lot as he's worn it nearly every day since it arrived).  There's a choice of sizes available, which is useful as you know you're going to get a belt that fits really well.  If you're unsure which size to go for, you can send them a message and they'll ask for measurements, which is really helpful.

Giveaway time...

To win one item of your choice from Backbeat Leather, complete the Rafflecopter widget below.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 26 November 2012

So, that was November then.

I've not been around much recently.  Want to know what I've been doing?  Here's a run-down of events since the end of October:

1. Rory comes down with vomity bug on the weekend half term starts.  Weekend a write-off.

2. The pure joy that is half term with a still slightly sickly and bored child.  Twitch.

3. That weekend, my husband goes out in Manchester with colleagues and stays at one of their houses.  Or so I think.  I get woken up by a phone call from a very nice nurse at Trafford General Hospital at 7am on the Saturday to say that they've got him in with a head injury.  Brilliant!  Excellent way to start the weekend.  No other information available until half an hour later he phones me and says they've made a mistake, he hasn't hit his head at all, he has only a slight graze on his cheek and he's going to walk 3 miles to the car and drive himself home.  He sounds a bit odd and I try to tell him this and beg him not to drive home, but he is irate and won't listen.  Panic filled 2 hours spent convinced that he's going to crash and kill himself on the way home. Miraculously, he eventually walks in having not crashed during the 45 minutes drive.  But no wonder he sounded odd and was so cross - he has HORRENDOUS CONCUSSION and a massive bruise and grazing all over one side of his forehead, eye and face and proceeds to be Very Ill Indeed for the entire weekend.  Turns out he threw himself out of a taxi onto his head and was out cold.  Has no memory of any of it.  I grow several hundred more grey hairs over the weekend.

4. Rory develops a terror of pre-school and has to be prised off of me screaming and crying every time I drop him off.  He shakes every time we even approach the building, cries at the thought of going and attempts all manner of emotional blackmail on his fraught mother.  Gets worse every day.  By the end of the week, I feel like crying with him whenever I drag him through the door and have to prise his fingers off of the door frame.

5. Rory gets a nasty virus, which lasts for nearly 3 weeks and means a LOT of missed pre-school, which is really going to help with his new phobia.  I have piles and piles of work building up that I can't get done because of having to look after ill child injured husband.  General illness turns into the worst cough I've heard in a long time that keeps him awake at night and means endless trips out of bed and into his room for me.  3-4 hours sleep per night every night for a fortnight or maybe even more - I lost count.  Was like having a newborn baby but without having to whip breasts out every time I got out of bed.  Every time I think he's on the mend, he develops a different symptom, most notably, a baffling measles-like rash.  Many trips to the doctors.

6. At some point during this period, he also manages to dive head first off a chair, smacking his head hard on the floor.  On examination, his pupils are wildly different sized, so off we go in an ambulance - the second member of my household to be at hospital with a head injury in a week.  Discharged, come home, weep a bit.

7. At another unspecified point in this endless 3 weeks, I catch the virus and spend a week feeling awful.  Rich isn't allowed to take time off in November and December because he is a Retail God, so I have to carry on looking after poorly death wish child on my own whilst feeling like proper shit.

8. Rich catches the virus.  Only somehow - do not ask me how - he manages to get dangerously dehydrated with it over the weekend (we're on wrecked weekend number 4 here).  Is that another admission to hospital I see? IT IS!  Off he goes to be put on a drip and kept in overnight.  Rory in pieces about daddy being in hospital yet again and still really ill himself.  To add insult to injury, the morning after Richard's admission to hospital, Rory chokes on something and has to be held upside-down and smacked on the back to dislodge it. this starts off a new obsession/phobia about eating.  Tra la la.  Rich comes home after nice restful night in hospital with skin like a beautiful ripe peach after a night on a drip, having been brought Sunday lunch on a tray to eat in bed.  I'm frantically plucking another 300 grey hairs out, prising my eyes open with matchsticks and my hands are shaking whenever I sit still because of the stress.

9. Richard is better and back at work.  Rory's rash is nearly gone and he's almost well enough to go back to pre-school.  The end of another day is in sight and I'm contemplating hitting the gin.  So what does Rory do? Dives head first off a chair again, landing on his head on the floor, which makes a sound like a coconut being dropped.  Have mild breakdown.  Fortunately pupils fine this time as, frankly, cannot take him to hospital again or social services are going to be round convinced that I am abusing my husband and son.

10. We're so nearly at the end of the last awful week.  It's Thursday.  I can make it...I can make it...I can...OH FUCK, my back's gone 'twang' and I'm stuck in the middle of the living room floor unable to move with a 3 year old, husband unable to come home and help me because it's the Christmas rush at work, no food in the house as I was just about to go to the shop to buy some, my dad ill and my mum on crutches with an equally dodgy knee so they can't help, in-laws in Australia for 3 weeks.  Dial out for pizza, spending my last 12 quid in the process and inch across the floor to get it from the delivery man when he turns up.  Take a lot of Codeine.  Bemoan lack of downstairs toilet.  Write off all the work that's piled up over 3 weeks that I've sworn I will do as soon as everyone's better because I can't even sit at the computer.  Think about gin.  Can't have gin as on Codeine.  Sniff gin and think of happier times.

That just about brings us up to date.  Husband is at work, child is finally back at pre-school, my back is bearable enough for me to sit and type for the first time in a few days and I'm bracing myself for the onslaught of the next lot of work about to come in.  If anybody ever wants to use me again, that is, seeing as I had to let a couple of people down in the last 3 weeks.  I'm sorry, people.  Hopefully this goes some way to explaining.

The rest of you, I'll be back on it with more tales of domestic crappery ASAP and I have a fabulous giveaway for you which will go live either today or tomorrow depending on how much I get through this afternoon.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

FOLKSY FRIDAY: iwishiwasa review & giveaway

The Disgrace Family received possibly the best thing we've ever received through the post this week, which is saying a lot, because the list of cool things we've received through the post includes Richard's limited edition Star Wars trainers and a bag of fizzy cola bottles as big as my head..  I think this tops them - just.

I am talking about a superhero mask and cuff set from iwishiwasa - AKA Tamsin, a London based costume designer and maker who makes the coolest dressing up costumes around.

Rory is a serious wannabe superhero and can often be seen shooting imaginary spider webs from his hands at passing babies (he neither likes nor trusts babies) a la Spiderman.  He also loves dressing up.  Now, I can and do use a sewing machine, but not brilliantly, and not in the genteel sort of way that one imagines a woman should sew.  I bash clothes together whilst swearing like a sailor at the machine, sewing over my fingers and using the sort of commentary usually only seen in bad S&M porn: "Come on you bastard, you can do it.  That's it...faster...FASTER.  NOT LIKE THAT.  Rein it in, bitch.  That's right, who's your daddy?" The resulting items are wearable, but only just and not always desirable.  So until now, Rory's superhero endeavours have been limited by a slightly crappy cloak that I knocked up in 30 minutes:

As a result, he was delighted (and extremely vocal about it) when we opened our little package of awesome.

This outfit was instantly donned and he refused to take it off when we went into town to run errands.  This was interesting.  Women tutted and avoided my eyes in a "HOW VERY COMMON" sort of way.  Little boys looked envious.  Grown men high fived him.  Later on, Daddy stole the mask and was overjoyed to discover that it stretched enough to go over his head.  Please excuse all the boxes and crap in the background of the photo below.  I have taken on an Avon round, the detritus of which you cab see behind Richard (yes, an Avon round on top of everything else.  It should be me wearing a superhero costume really shouldn't it?)

We all LOVE this costume and it ticks all my fancy dress boxes by being a) handmade, b) colourful c) really well made and c) so so so cool.

You want to win one don't you?  WELL, YOU CAN!  Fill in the Rafflecopter form below to win your choice of either a glam rock mask (like the one Rory is wearing) or a star mask and cuff set.  Don't forget to take a look at the iwishiwasa Folksy page or their website to lust over more fancy dress costumes - you have to check out the capes and the Indian headdresses.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

PS Congratulations to Emma W who won last week's giveaway.  Your cards will be with you soon.  Anyone who missed out on winning and loved the gorgeous personalised cards from Clarkie designs, go buy some from here:

PPS I know it's not Friday.  I know I'm a day late.  Coughing boy had to stay off pre-school yesterday so I'm drastically behind.  Forgiveness?

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Hots Dots Review (combined with some ramblings about parenting)

I love my parents.  They've made their mistakes (as all parents do), but one of the things I really admire them for is bringing my brother and I up to be who we wanted to be, not what they wanted us to be.  There was never any pressure for us to do well at school - only to behave well.  They helped us with homework and encouraged us at what we were good at.  If it was obvious that we weren't putting any effort in, there'd be the odd nag, but generally we were left to make our own mistakes and learn from them.  My brother and I are like chalk and cheese, but the one thing we have in common as adults is that we both work doing something we love (I write and he's an independent games designer).  We're both a bit crap at doing what idiotic office managers tell us to do, but we've definitely thrived on this environment of making our own way and not being pressured.

On the other side of the coin, are the type of parents who push from an early age and never stop.  Their children are pushed to do their best, be the best, succeed at everything and fulfil ambitions that are not their own.  They get rewarded with money for As in their GCSEs (or even their spelling tests).  They do stupid amounts of extra curricular activities.  When they want to relax, they are forced to play educational games or...even BLUE PETER.  I feel really sorry for anybody who was brought up like that and have resolved that Rory will be brought up as I was - with support and guidance when it's required but enough of a free rein to be himself, make mistakes and learn from them.

Believe it or not, this is all relevant to this review - all will become clear later.

So, Rory and I were sent a Hot Dots card pack and pen to review.
Hot Dots is a self checking learning tool aimed at children between the ages of 3 and 11.  It consists of a box of cards relating to an area of learning, and a self checking pen.

The pen requires batteries and is MAGIC*. You read a question on the card, choose one of the answers, press the MAGIC PEN* on the dot next to the answer you've chosen and it flashes green if you're right and red if you're wrong.  You can also turn on the pen's MAGICAL VOICE*, which will cheer and shout out praise if you get an answer right and, amusingly say "err, no" if you're wrong.

We were sent 'numbers and counting' which was perfect for Rory as he's great at phonics but pretty poor at number recognition.  He quickly got the hang of using the pen to choose the answer, and got stuck in.  It's an activity that requires an adult's help for younger children as you need to read out the questions on the cards, but children who can read should be able to do this independently.

He liked the talking pen and the green and red lights, but after 5 minutes, he got bored and wandered off.  I put the box where he could see it and waited for him to ask to play with it again.  Four days later, I was still waiting and wondering how I was going to write the review.

Here's the thing:  I love this product.  I think it's great.  I think it's a fun way for children to learn and adults to assess what they know.  I think that children should love it.  But Rory didn't seem bothered.  And then I started worrying:  Was I turning into the sort of parent who pushes their child and has too many ambitions for them?  Was I going to make him watch Blue Peter, learn the violin and start paying him for getting his spellings right?  I had vague memories of the Little Professor (maths calculator type toy of the 80s that kids were supposed to love, but in reality got use once and then ignored because it was boring) and started feeling twitchy.  Then I let him eat five Party Rings in one go and watch Fleabag Monkeyface and felt better about myself.

The next day, Rory pointed to the Hot Dots box.  "Can we play numbers, please?"  I got it out, and he played with it happily for about 20 minutes.  This happened the next day too, and the next.  He's enjoying it now, and I'm really pleased to see how much it's helped already with his counting and number recognition.  I'm really glad I let him choose when to play with it rather than trying to force it on him though or he might not be so enthusiastic now.  Phew - parental smugness can resume.

To conclude, here's my list of pros and cons:

1. I love how portable this is -the pen will fit in the box, and the box has a handle of just the right size for little hands.  I think it will come into its own for things like waiting at the doctors or in a restaurant when Rory might otherwise get fidgety and impatient.

2. You only have to buy the pen once.  You can buy different sets of cards depending on what your child needs to work on and their age, so it's a toy that lasts a long time.

3. The self checking pen is innovative and fun.

1. Why isn't there an 'off' switch?  Or a lid?  the pen nib can get pressed down accidentally whilst in the box, making the batteries run down.

2. It would be tempting to try and force this on a child, which I think would result in resistance.  Buy it, show them how to use it, and let them use it in their own time for best results.


If you would like to win a set of Hot Dots cards and a Hot Dots pen, go here: to enter a Facebook competition to win one of five sets.  Good luck!

*It's probably not really magic.  I wouldn't know. I was rubbish at science and hated it and therefore my parents never pushed me (see above).  Therefore anything that I can't work out is 'magic'.  This includes magic painting books.  Seriously, how do they make them?  You may want to consider this before embracing my parenting technique.

I was sent a Hot Dots set of cards and pen free of charge to review.  All opinions are my own.  i was not paid for this review.

Friday, 2 November 2012

FOLKSY FRIDAY - Clarkie Designs Review & Giveaway

It's Friday, so it's time for another Folksy giveaway.

Last week, I introduced you to the fabulous Colour Me Fun and ran a giveaway for a set of 8 of their crayons.  Well done to the winner - Tiffany O.  your crayons will be with you shortly.  for those of you who didn't win and NEED crayons in the shape of cool stuff in your lives, check out the Colour Me Fun Folksy shop here:

This week, I'm featuring Clarkie Designs, run by designer, Emma Rogerson, who started out designing prints for her own children's bedrooms when she couldn't find any art that she liked for them.  The result is her shop full of child friendly prints and cards, many of which can be personalised.

Look at this cute personalised penguin card:

And this space wall art:

And (my personal favourite) a card that children can colour in themselves before giving:

I received these 2 cards to review:

I chose them for people I know who have birthdays coming up so they could be personalised.  They're great cards - the printing is very clear and the colours bright and fresh.  They're priced at between £2.25 and £2.45 which I think is a good price for a personalised card like these.  I chose the space invaders design for my brother, who is a games designer and the colour-it-yourself one for Rory's friend Eve, who loves to draw and colour (Rory is a bit crap at colouring in - if your child is equally cack handed, you could always include a little packet of coloured pencils or crayons in the card for the recipient so they can colour it themselves, which is what I think I'll do in this case).  Unfortunately, their birthdays aren't until after Christmas so I can't tell you what they think of them, but I'm sure they'll be suitably impressed.

On to the giveaway.  The winner will get to choose 3 personalised cards from Clarkie Designs of their choice.  Just complete the Rafflecopter form below for your chance to win. Please don't cheat and say you've fulfilled conditions when you haven't as I do check!  Good luck everybody.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

There's a Hole in my Judgey Pants

Rory went trick or treating on Wednesday night.  This was one of the many things that my child was never ever going to do.  There was a list of at least 100 of these things, mentally compiled before I had him, the vast majority of which have been mentally scribbled out with the words "fuck it" scrawled across the page over the last 3 years (coincidentally, this is roughly the amount of time that has passed since he was born).  The first thing to go was "My child will not watch television" which lasted until he was 2 months old and I discovered the soothing powers of Saint Justin of Fletcher on babies.  It was swiftly amended to "my child will only watch CBeebies", which doesn't entirely explain why he now seems to have an intricate knowledge of the characters on something called Fleabag Monkeyface, the plot lines of which revolve entirely around farts and toilets.

My brother and I were allowed to go Trick or Treating twice when we were very small.  I remember it being The Best Fun Ever.  After that, my parents decided that we weren't allowed to, although the reasons for this were rather vague with something about devil worship being muttered occasionally and frightening old people (which I never understood as we only went to our friends houses).  My suspicion is that not letting your children do it was simply the middle class thing to be seen to be doing of the 80s.

It's all very civilised around here anyway - teenagers don't do it, children are always accompanied by a parent and incredibly polite (as they turn up on your doorstep dressed as the Grim Reaper and a severed head) and the unwritten rule is that you don't knock on the door of any house which doesn't have decorations up.  I'm trying very hard to justify myself here aren't I?  The truth is, actually, that it looked like fun and I want Rory to have fun.  So off he went in his crappy home-made bat costume (cobbled together from 2 old black t-shirts and a hat that neither of us has any recollection of owning) and returned grinning and clutching a modest bag of sweeties.  And, yes, I let him eat a few sweets before he went to bed too.  That's another thing off the list.

The next day, Halloween paled into insignificance.  I found myself a) in McDonalds ("I will never feed my child McDonalds"), Rory eating the chips from a Happy meal and ignoring everything else ("I will never allow my child to eat only chips for a meal"), having got him there in the pushchair ("Tut. Children over the age of 2.5 shouldn't still be in pushchairs. Lazy.").  Also, I was not only singing along to the music playing while we were eating, but performing a duet of Tina Turner's Simply the Best between a french fry and Finn McMissile ("I will never buy Disney merchandise") for my son's entertainment.  "What are you Mr Chip? You're simply the best...".  This was followed by a rousing version of Scott Walker's Jackie performed by a Chicken McNugget on which I had drawn a face (come on - he was hardly going to eat it was he?). Eclectic play list in McDonalds these days.  Making junk food sing and dance wasn't ever on the list but I'm thinking now that it should have been.  Where are my standards?  Where is my dignity?  'Cute cute in a stupid ass way' indeed.

PS  Have just realised that I did at least stick to one item on my list: "My child will never have a dummy."  I loathe dummies.  No offence to those of you who use them - hey - you've got to do what you've got to do, and I'm a Nugget dancing, McDonalds dwelling, tv babysitting, pushchair toting mother who lets her 3 year old knock on doors and ask for sweets dressed in rags. I'm hardly in a position to judge).

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Breakfast Club

The scene: Disgrace Towers.
The time: 7:15am

Rory: (from under his duvet in voice of disgruntled yet soon to be deceased gremlin): "MUMMEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE."

Me: "Oh, you're awake then.

Rory: (sounding much like furious snake that has been poked with a stick) "Urghhh. GAHHHH.  GO AWAY MUMMY."

Me: "Oh, I thought you called out for me."

*no answer*

Me: "Rory?"

Rory: (now in voice of vexed hell beast)"I AM A STONE. I AM NOT TALKING TO YOU BECAUSE I AM A STONE."

Me: "Oh, right. I'll be a stone too then."

Rory: Shhhhh Mummy. Stones can't talk."

Me: "OK."

Rory: "I am a stone who doesn't like you, mummy."

And so on until I finally manage to prise grump-o-stone out of bed and fill him full of Coco Pops and bananas.

As you can see, my son is deeply unpleasant before he's had breakfast.  He shouts at me, throws himself on the floor and goes limp so I can't pick him up and refuses to answer questions.  I know how he feels - I'm vile before I've had breakfast too.

Now just imagine you're a child who hasn't had any breakfast.  Imagine going to school and being asked to listen, sit still, take in information, contribute to discussion, fulfil tasks and behave impeccably on an empty stomach.  I couldn't do it and at 34 years old, I have better impulse control than a primary school age child (ahem, one hopes).

Sadly, there are many children in the UK who do go to school without having had breakfast.  Some are neglected, others are from families for whom money is so tight that they just can't afford it.  Others come from perfectly affluent and caring backgrounds, but their parents both work and it's difficult to fit breakfast into the short window if time between waking up and getting the whole family out to school and work.

When I was a teacher, I used to keep a bowl of apples and a packet of Digestives in my cupboard all the time for anybody in my class who came to school hungry (This may make me sound like the patron saint of teachers, but lets be honest - I ate far more of the biscuits myself than I gave away), but while that helps, it's not a long term solution.

Hurrah then for school breakfast clubs, and hurrah also for Kelloggs, who gave over 500 schools a £450 grant from a total funding pot of £23,000 to help fund their breakfast clubs.  Without this funding, many of these clubs run at such a loss that they can't afford to stay open, meaning no breakfast for vulnerable children, so it really is a wonderful and worthwhile initiative.

The campaign was so successful that it's coming back this year and this time there's even more money in the funding pot, so that's at least another 500 schools (and countless children) who are going to benefit from the Kelloggs breakfast club grant this year.  Brilliant news, I'm sure you'll all agree.

If you know of a school which has a breakfast club and would benefit from this grant, tell them to visit Kelloggs here to apply before applications close at the end of January 2013.

I am a member of the Netmums Blogging Network, a unique community of parent bloggers from around the UK who have been handpicked by the Netmums team to review products and brands on their behalf. I have been paid expenses and supplied with a product sample for this review but retain all editorial control. All my Netmums Reviews will display the Netmums logo within the post.

This is a Netmum's sponsored review.To find out more click the button:

Friday, 26 October 2012

FOLKSY FRIDAY - Colour Me Fun review and Giveaway

Hello Disgraces, and welcome to my new regular Friday feature.

Every Friday between now and...ummm...nearly Christmas, I will be reviewing an item from a seller on the lovely and running a giveaway for an item from the same shop.

"But what is Folksy?" you cry.  Well, it's a British online superstore of hand crafted items made by people all over the UK.  Each person sets up their own Folksy shop and lists their handmade items in it.  It's a fantastic resource for buying lovely and unusual gifts, homewares and cards (and, ahem, treats for yourself) and it is particularly satisfying to know that your money is going to a small business.  I have been scouring the Folksy pages to find sellers whose items I think fit in well with the tone of my blog.  I mean that they're quirky and appealing to parents, not that they're sweary and a bit crap, before you ask.

This week, we are kicking off with Colour Me Fun, who make crayons IN THE SHAPE OF COOL STUFF LIKE RACING CARS AND LEGO BRICKS AND PLANES AND SHIT.  Well, not shit.  That would be unappealing to say the least.  You know what I mean.

Tell me it's not just me who nearly wees a little bit at how awesome these are?  And that's not down to a dodgy pelvic floor, believe me.

They sell all sorts of shapes - there's love hearts:
Christmassy ones:
You can even have your name in crayons:
I could go on posting photo after photo of them as they have so many different shapes available, but I'd never get around the the review and giveaway.

Rory and I were very kindly sent a pack of eight robot shaped crayons to review.  They arrived well packaged in a sturdy box with enough bubble wrap to make sure they wouldn't break.

Now, I've been trying to interest Rory in colouring in and drawing for ages now, but he's rarely interested in it.  However, he took one look at the crayons in the shape of robots and announced that "WE MUST DO COLOURING IN IMMEDIATELY, MUMMY."  He then drew and coloured for about an hour, which is something of a record.  I joined in too (God, I love colouring in. And no, I'm not referring to the Sex & the City innuendo there).  We found them easy to use due to the knobbly shape being good for little hands, and the crayons were really good quality and very bright in colour.  They look so good that it feels a shame to use them, but even after an hour of use, the robots still look like robots, so they seem to last a good long while too.  What I liked most about them was that when Rory got bored of colouring, he played with them in other ways.  They became stacking blocks, then characters in a bizarre game involving a Cadillac, Macca Pacca and Noah from Noah's Ark.  he then went on to making letter and number shapes out of them by lining them up.  Brilliant.  I think they'd make a great stocking filler and they'd be perfect for party bags (er, for those of you who actually put thought into party bags, unlike me who just stuffs random tat in two seconds before the guests arrive).  All in all, a 10 out of 10 review from Disgrace Towers.

Now then, if you'd like to win a set of 8 crayons of your choice from Colour Me Fun, complete the Rafflecopter entry form below.  The more tasks you fulfil, the more entries you get.  Please don't claim to have completed a task when you haven't - if you win, I will check, and if you haven't done what was asked, you'll be disqualified.  Sorry.  This giveaway will end next Friday, just in time for the next one to start, so come back and find out who has won and what's on offer next Friday.  Happy weekend to you.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Reading Eggs Review

Now, it's not often that I go all serious on you, but I am 100% serious when I say that this review is about one of  the best reading resources I've ever come across, and I used to teach in primary schools so there's some serious weight behind that statement.  I am also 100% serious when I say that I believe that learning to read is the most important academic skill a child can learn.  So do read on if you're interested in teaching your child to read or enhancing their existing reading skills.

Rory and I have been trialling Reading Eggs; an online program which teaches children to read at their own rate with a series of lessons full of games, puzzles, stories and songs.  He's been interested in letters and words for quite a while now, and I have taught him a lot of letter sounds and how to segment words into different sounds already.  Given this interest, I thought that Reading Eggs would be appropriate for him.  It's suitable for children aged 3-7 (with Reading Eggspress available for 7-13 year olds), and your child completes a small test at the beginning to judge their level so they start in the right place.

For children who are not yet ready for phonics, there is the Play Room area, which contains lots of fun games and activities to help with mouse control and observation, which is perfect for pre-school children and a lot of fun.  Rory has spent a ridiculous amount of time in the Kitchen area of this section creating virtual pizzas and fruit salads.  He enjoys this so much, that I sometimes give him a pad of paper, a pencil and an apron and send him round the room to take orders from everybody so he can play restaurants.  He dutifully scribbles away on the pad and then goes and knocks up a virtual feast for all - brilliant for putting writing in context.

As he had phonic knowledge already, we started the lessons as well, which are recommended for Reception age upwards.  If your child has recently started school, I'd say these lessons are a must as they consolidate everything that is learnt in phonics lessons.  Rory is only just 3, but he still finds the lessons really engaging and easy to understand.  He sits on my knee to do them, so I'm always on hand if he doesn't understand something and I offer him lots of encouragement.  The lessons are bright, fun, obviously good quality and last about 20 minutes, which is the amount of time that tends to be dedicated to phonics each day at school.  The y focus on letter sounds, single words and sentences, just as would happen in school, so they complement existing learning really well.  They are presented by animated characters - so far we have met Sam the Ant and Jazz the Cat and there is a lot of variety throughout sessions, so he doesn't get bored.  He absolutely loves them.  Every day he begs me to "learn his letters" and gets so excited to see what he'll be doing today.  "The best thing ever is when Mummy lets me learn my letters!" he shouted at playgroup the other day, making me look like the sort of awful pushy parent who keeps her child in a box and only lets him come out to do calculus for fun.  That is how much he loves doing them.

But do they work?  Well, that's a big fat yes.  Rory's made a lot of progress already and is becoming really confident in deciphering and spelling out words himself.  Because he's only in pre-school for 15 hours a week and I'm at home with him the rest of the time, I top up by doing little activities with him off the computer to keep track of where he's up to (again, I am NOT that pushy parent - I promise we only do stuff he enjoys and that he wants to do).  Here he is the other day doing a word building sticking activity.  He completed it entirely without any help.  I'm really impressed - this is the sort of thing I'd do with a mid ability reception class at this time of year, not a 3 year old.  And he's bright, but he's not the next Einstein or anything - it's definitely down to Reading Eggs that he can do this already.  This might be making me sound a bit of a smug parent.  Believe me, I was anything but smug when he started shouting "C for Coke!  N for Nuggets!  B-I-G M-A-C" the other day.

I think what I like the most about it is that you can keep track of your child's strengths and weaknesses.  Rory's brilliant at phonics and word building, but clueless re: sentence building at the moment.  But that's fine - if things start getting too tricky, I can just go back and choose a lesson he's done already to re-cap or bide some time before going any further, and if he starts getting frustrated, we can just switch back to using the Play Room and have a break from the lessons.

In fact, the only negative things I can think to say about the whole experience are that occasionally a couple of the puzzles can be a bit glitchy, but that's quite rare, and that I would quite happily smack the Jazz the Cat character in the face with a P-A-N.

If you'd like to try Reading Eggs yourself, go here and have a look: It generally costs £39.95 for a full years subscription, which I think is well worth it.  there are often discounts available too, so look out for them.  And just for you, I have a code for a free extended 5 week trial (they usually offer 2 week long free trials, so you get an extra 3 weeks with this code):   UKB24MBT

Do give it a try and let me know what you think.  5 weeks is definitely long enough to make a huge difference, so see what you think.

I was not paid for this review.  Rory and I were offered a 5 week trial of Reading Eggs in exchange for a review if we liked it.  I was under no obligation to write a review at all.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

How to Clean Up Puke (by an emetophobic)

Have you heard of Emetophobia?  It is an extreme phobia of vomit/vomiting and I have it.  I've had it for a long time now - around 23 years to be exact.  And when I say 'extreme' I really do mean extreme - this is not just the normal horror that most people feel when faced with a puking child or a tummy bug, this is life controlling, severely limiting stuff.  I've coped a lot better with it for the last 8-10 years than I did before then.  I'm still a quivering, panicky wreck whenever I have to deal with it, but when I tell you that I used to starve myself so I couldn't possibly be sick and at one point couldn't even leave the house at all because of it, you'll see how far I've come.

Now.  What would be on your list of things not to do when you've got a crippling phobia of vomit?  Training as an early years teacher is probably up there, right?  Because you're sensible. I, however, am not sensible and did exactly that in my mid 20s.  Hurling a-plenty.  Awful.  Not the job; the hurling.  My several years of working in schools and with small children has taught me some helpful tips for dealing with pukey scenarios though, and it's only fair to share, so here's my vom attack list.  Do not read on a full stomach:

You will need:
Two buckets (one for vomit catching, another for vomit cleaning)
Febreeze.  no other air freshener will do.
A metric fuck-tonne of kitchen roll.
Disinfectant a-plenty
Disinfectant wipes (we're not saving the planet here people, we're cleaning up puke)
Bicarbonate of Soda: Lots
A dust mask that covers your mouth and nose if you're like me and are pathetic (find them in B&Q)
And (drumroll) - my secret weapons - lots of sand and an old cereal packet or similar.

Plan of action:
1. ALERT! ALERT! SPRAY THE FEBREEZE, I REPEAT, SPRAY THE FEBREEZE.  Spray it so much that you're all choking on the scent of 'fresh linen' for the next 3 days. Also, open every window in the vicinity.

2. Stick puke bucket under child.  Mad person tip: put on dust mask now to reduce germ and vomit scent inhalation.

3. Assess situation.

4. If the puke has occurred on carpet, a) WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? Have I taught you nothing? Rip all carpets up and cover entire floor of house in laminate flooring or PVC or something.  Carpets and small children = disaster.  b) You're going to have to go straight in with the kitchen roll to mop up and pick up chunks (bleughh), then clean it all up with soapy water before going over it with disinfectant in water.  Sprinkle liberally with bicarb and leave to dry.

5. If the puke has occurred on a solid surface like vinyl or laminate flooring or a table, you're going to make like a school caretaker and go in with the sand.  (Hum the Mission Impossible music here).  Sprinkle handfuls of sand all over the area of pukage. Be liberal with your sand.  You can't possibly use too much.  This will turn it into a solidified mass (heave) which you can then use your old cereal packet to scrape up and dispose of.  Any cardboard will do actually - you just need a bit to scrape with and a bit to scrape onto.  This negates the need to deal with any 'bits' and you can go straight in with the disinfectant and water before bicarbing the area like a mo-fo.

6. Getting rid of the bicarb once the area is dry is a problem.  Hoover it up, but this makes me obsess horribly about germs being in the hoover.  I end up using yet more disinfectant to wipe it down inside and out and chucking the hoover bag away.

7. Turn attention to child.  Plonk in empty bath and remove clothes.  Put clothes in washing machine to boil wash.  Hose down child with plenty of soap and water.  Dry.  Re-clothe.  Surround with towels.

8. If you're me, scrub self raw whilst sobbing and shaking, followed by disinfecting every single door handle, centimetre of floor etc etc.  Hopefully you're normal - if so, don't bother with step 8.

TOP TIP:  One of the schools I worked at gave children shallow bowls to vomit into, which they kept ready-lined with paper towels.  The shallow depth resulted in less splashback and the paper towels meant that the whole lot slid nicely down the toilet and left the bowl more or less clean, which meant that it just needed filling with water and bleach and leaving to stand rather than a traumatic amount of rinsing out and emptying.

There you go - hopefully that helps.  And if you're wondering how I can possibly be as phobic as I say I am after reading all of that, then believe me - last time my husband vomited in the toilet when he had a tummy bug, I had such a bad panic attack that I lost all feeling in my hands and face for 12 hours.  If you're like me, all you can really do is prepare yourself, think of a strategy and try and block it out while you're dealing with it.  And only have a child with someone who doesn't mind dealing with it - that's helped on most of the occasions.

Linking up here:  Have a look for more tips for cleaning up unpleasant bodily emissions.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

When Bad Things Happen to Good People's Bathrooms.

Lets be honest straight away: I am writing this post to enter a competition to win £2500 towards some serious home renovation.  I'll post the details at the bottom so if you live in a similarly afflicted house to mine you can enter too.  However, once you've seen my bathroom you won't need to enter because your house will look like a palace in comparison.  Seriously, I spend untold amounts of time praying that visitors won't need a wee because the bathroom is that shameful.

Cue some horror music to add atmosphere to the proceedings. We are going for the multi-sensory approach here, so if you could also waft a bottle of bleach under your nose at the same time, that would help too:
(ignore the video - we just need the sound effects for this journey)

We'll start gently:

That doesn't look too bad does it?  For a start, it's sparkling clean - I always make sure I keep our bathroom seriously clean as I don't want people seeing the mess it's in and thinking we live in total squalor.  Just because it's a DIY disaster area doesn't mean we're not clean.

See, sparkling. Albeit in serious need of some new sealant:

Moving on a little, lets take a closer look at those tiles:

These were the height of fashion in...wait...NEVER.  Although it's entirely possible that in 1992, someone saw them in a shop and thought "meh".  I loathe them.  I loathe them more than if the bathroom was a never-been-decorated-since-the-70s affair. At least awful 60s and 70s tiles have character.  These ones are just naff enough for visitors to imagine that we have no taste.  (We didn't choose them by the way - they were here when we moved in, along with the rest of the monstrosities that we inherited from the previous owners).

WOOAAAAAAAAAAAH! Just threw you in at the deep end there.  This is the result of a plumbing disaster of many moons ago.  Insect infestations tend to live in it and it cannot be hygienic.  Here we have tiles hanging off the wall, bare plaster, chipboard that's been hacked into and exposed toilet pipes. Hurrah.  

Aaaaaand here's a bit that looks like a rat's gnawed it.  I'm assuming that no rats have gnawed it, but hey - what do I know?

Home to a thousand spiders.

Yes, the floor tiles stop about 4 inches short of where the bath starts.  Because that's a great look.  Also visible is where the bath was particularly crappily installed and is coming away from the wall.  Oh happy day.

Not pictured (because it's too shameful to do so) is the grouting on the bath tiles that are orange with dirt. Disclaimer: they were like that when we moved in and it doesn't matter how much bleach/bicarb/whatever product it is that Jacko off Brushstrokes advertises I throw at it, it will not get clean.  Also not pictured is the crappy shower that graces your body with something akin to a spray of gnat urine rather than the thunderous elephant wee that dreams are made of (um, sort of, only less kinky).

"Why do you live like that?" I hear you ask.  Well, we moved into this house with the intention of doing some serious work on it, but then I fell pregnant with Rory unexpectedly (seriously - several gynaecologists who said I couldn't have children were proved wrong) so I gave up my salaried job to look after him we are, blessed with the child we thought we'd never have, but penniless because I stay at home to look after him. I'd rather have my time with my miracle baby than any amount of money, but that doesn't stop me from feeling utterly depressed at all the things we can't afford to do to the house as a result.

So...that's my bathroom as it is now.  This is your cue to stop the horror music above. We'll change the soundtrack now. You can put down your bottle of bleach also and breath in the light, fragrant scent of spring blossoms:

This is what I want:

OK, not two sinks (due to bathroom being miniscule) and not a corner bath, but a calming, old fashioned oasis in pale green and white with panelling on the walls and bath instead of those godawful tiles, a bit of storage under the sink so I can banish Rory's toys there (never again will I be forced to take a bath with Thomas the Tank Engine and chums grinning at me from the bath rack like steam fuelled pervs).  Floor tiles know...actually cover the FLOOR (imagine that!), I'll make green striped roman blinds for the windows to hide the unidentifiable bit of sticky stuff that nothing on this earth will shift from them (didn't photograph that - your constitutions are not strong enough) and - most importantly - NO GAPING HOLES where the wall has been hacked into.  There's a lot more on my Pinterest board here: and I've done a few (very vague) sums in my head and worked out that stripping the whole lot out and replacing with a lovely new bathroom suite, floor, panelling, curtains etc would probably come to around the £2500 mark, whereas a budget version of this operation (keep the current bathroom suite but strip off tiles and replace with panelling, new floor tiles, blinds, accessories etc would come to around £500 - which is handy because that's the runner up prize.  See what I did there?

What else? I'd get Rory to make some bubble art in toning greens and beiges to frame and put on the walls (good old charity shop photo frames painted white would be perfect) and a couple of bathroom/relaxation themed family photos too perhaps.  Plus I'd dig out some batteries for my much loved and trusty old cream Roberts radio as it would look perfect in there - and who doesn't need a bit of Classic FM in the bath?

I'd like to imagine that all of this will automatically make us into the sort of family who lounge around the house stylishly in matching understated pyjamas and always eat organic.  I'm also imagining that it will magically make my jeans fit again and mean that the house will never need cleaning.  The chances of that are slim to none, but what I can promise it would do is stop me from feeling embarrassed whenever guests have to use our bathroom and assuage my guilt over giving up a decently paid job to stay at home with my son and write for a pittance.  Fingers crossed, eh? Builders

Tots100 Home Decor/Renovation Competition in association with rated People.  to enter, go here:

Image credits: sinks and panelling originally published online here:
Panelled bath originally published online here:

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

"I SEE DEAD PEOPLE" Join in with my creepy Halloween linky

I'd just put Rory to bed the other night when he called me into his room to ask me a question.  This is an irritatingly normal occurrence and the question is usually along the lines of "why do flies exist?" or "why can't I wee out of my eye holes?"  This time, however, the question was "is that lady downstairs going to come and say goodnight to me?"


"Umm, what lady, Rory?"

"You know - that lady who's downstairs. By the fireplace. She's called Felicia."


"What's she doing downstairs?"

"I'm not sure. I think she was looking for something."


Needless to say, there was no lady downstairs and Felicia is not a name that my son is familiar with.  He was, however, absolutely insistent that she had been downstairs just before bedtime.  I mean, he does come out with some absolute bollocks sometimes, but I can always tell really easily when he's making things up, so I've come to the conclusion that either some ghostly type called Felicia was poking around by my fireplace, or Rory really and truly thought that he'd seen what he told me.  

I can't decide which.  My house isn't the slightest bit scary or uncomfortable.  But odd things do happen - things disappear and reappear in odd places etc.  However, I can clearly remember regularly hallucinating a racing track complete with cars whizzing around it in our living room when I was 2 or 3 years old and being too scared to get off the sofa because I could see that the cars would run me over.  who knows what goes on in the minds of little children?  Maybe they really can see spirits.  Maybe they just have such vivid imaginations that they can't control them or tell the difference between fantasy and reality.  

In any case, it's made me think differently about something that happened a few nights before the Felicia incident:  Rory was tossing and turning all night with a cold and making such a racket shuffling about that I couldn't sleep.  Richard had fallen asleep on the sofa downstairs in front of the television. I was finally drifting off to sleep at about 3am when Rory called out for me.  I woke up and decided that I was so tired I wasn't going to get up for him unless he called me again.  When he called for the second time, I shifted to get out of bed, when I heard Richard coming up the stairs.  I heard Rory saying that he wanted me and being told that it was too early to get up and he had to go to sleep, then Richard going back downstairs again.  I mentioned it in the morning, but Rich was adamant that he'd never left the sofa all night.  Gulp.  Was it Felicia or one of her mates?  Was my husband just sleep walking?  We will never know.

I think I'm too much of a hardened cynic to really believe in ghosts, but I love a good ghost story all the same.  So as this has neatly coincided with the run up to Halloween, I thought I'd run a Linky/Meme/whatever it's called for you to link up with your true creepy stories.  It could be your child having a Paranormal Activity moment a la Rory, or something from your childhood - or anything really.  Just add the link to your post below and make sure you include the link to this blog post in your post so everyone knows where to go to read some more scary tales:

Happy haunting!