Monday, 10 December 2012

Playful parenting

This weekend I made a den for my son out of a couple of bedspreads and a blanket (originally purchased from charity shops). It was a big hit with my little boy, so I took the photo above and recorded an audioboo about it.

If the Audioboo player below doesn't work, please click here to listen to it on the Audioboo website.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Magpie Monday - Boden jacket

The jacket I love most, and wear the most, came from eBay. It is a dark grey cotton Boden 'Photographer' jacket with a boxy shape and four pockets.

Here is a picture of me wearing this jacket with a grey dress from Hobbs. The jacket looks good with dresses - and the pockets are useful.

There is also a lovely printed lining which can just about be seen on the photo below.

I had really coveted this jacket when I originally saw it in the Boden catalogue a couple of years ago, but the full price was £69 so I resisted buying it. Then a year ago saw it on eBay where I managed to buy it for £36.99. And it has been a really good buy as I have worn it 2-3 times a week since then and it washes well.

Update - while writing this post I had a quick look on eBay and found the more recent version of the  'Photographer' jacket for sale through the official Boden eBay shop for a 'buy it now' price of £34.50 including postage. So I have just bought that one too!

Linking up with the Frugal Friday Fashion Show at Family Budgeting and Magpie Monday at Me and My Shadow.


Me and My Shadow

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Magpie Monday - Scrabble and tablecloth

My first charity shop find this weekend was a 20 year old Scrabble set in absolutely pristine condition for £4. We will use this to play Scrabble with - resisting the temptation to make crafty things out of the Scrabble tiles.

I also bought this groovy 1970s tablecloth and napkin set, which will be great to use in the garden in the summer. It's nice to buy something so summery when the ground is covered in frost!

I have also been buying Christmas presents for people, but won't do a blogpost about these until after Christmas as I don't want to spoil any surprises.

Linking up with this week's Magpie Monday at Me and My Shadow - I'm really looking forward to seeing what my fellow Magpies have thrifted this week.

Me and My Shadow

Friday, 30 November 2012

Recycling Christmas cards into gift tags

When I was little, I remember my mum making gift tags out of of the previous year's Christmas cards, using pinking shears to create a lovely zig-zag edge. 

This is an old idea but a good one. As well as being a great way of recycling, this also means that you can select the gift tag to match the preferences of the recipient.

Following my mum's example, I have made gift tags in the same way this year.*

Here are some photos of my gift tags:

I'm linking up with Recycled Christmas at Lulastic and the Hippyshake. This is a great idea for a link-up. It is very easy to spend too much money at this time of the year, so it feels good to recycle instead of always buying new.

* Of course one thing that has changed since I was a child is that people send fewer Christmas cards. So instead of just using cards from last year I have used Christmas cards received over the past few years.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Magpie Monday - Filofax 'Urban' mini

I've been rethinking my Filofax configuration in readiness for next year. The pocket size Filofax I've been using this year is too much of a compromise - too big to take everywhere with me and too small to write decent notes in when I'm at work. So when I spotted an 'Urban' Filofax in mini size on eBay I thought I'd give that size a go.

When this Filofax arrived I realised that it would be perfect as an everyday wallet, as it has credit card slots, a compartment for notes and a zipped section for coins. I love the charcoal grey fabric and the dinky size.

The pen was a birthday present from my husband and I got myself a 2013 year planner and some lavender notepaper from Rymans. So now I'm all set. 

I was sat in a cafe today, writing my Christmas present list and thinking how lovely this pre-loved Filofax is. It just goes to show that you don't have to buy new to get something nice.

I'll be linking up with Magpie Monday at Me and My Shadow because I really enjoy seeing what other pre-loved items others have found.

Me and My Shadow

No-sew lavender sachets made from odd socks

How to turn odd socks into lovely lavender sachets:
  1. Gather together all the odd socks* left over after you've had a clear out, and ensure they are all clean before you start.
  2. Use a dessert spoon to fill each sock with dried lavender (or you could use mixture of lavender and dried rice). Ask your four-year-old to help you with this for extra fun and educational value!
  3. Tightly tie up the top of the sock using narrow ribbon.
So there you go, low cost and almost instant lavender sachets made from otherwise useless odd socks - and no sewing machine required. 

These lavender sachets are particularly good for putting in shoes to freshen them up a bit. I've put two of them in my red sandals (see photo below) and now the hall cupboard smells lovely.

* Where do all the odd socks come from? No matter what I do, we always seem to end up with some lone socks!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Magpie Monday - Hunting High and Low

This weekend I had an opportunity for a thorough look around the local charity shops without a small boy in tow. I set myself a £10 budget and then almost blew it straight away on a biscuit tin full of bobbins of thread.

But then I decided to see what else I could get for the same money.

The first thing I spotted, tucked away in amongst the homewares in the Sue Ryder shop, was a little kit to make a beaded broach. I didn't like the design at all, but 95p for lots of pretty beads, some stitching paper and a broach pin seemed like a real bargain.

I've always really fancied trying stitching paper but have never been brave enough to buy a packet of the stuff in case I turned out to be hopeless at it. So I'm pleased to have a little square to practice on, and I'm planning to use it to make a Christmas card. Will show you the results if it works out!

My next stop was the PDSA shop, where I found three DVDs for £1.49 each. The one I'm most excited about is Strictly Come Dancersize.

Also in the PDSA shop, I bought a couple of gorgeous Denby cereal bowls, £2.49 the pair. I think the pattern is Minstrel based on the photos here, which means that it dates from 1971-1977 according the information here. This design will go nicely with my other Denby and Midwinter items.

So that left me just over £3 from my £10 budget to spend on an original vinyl version of A-ha's first album Hunting High and Low from 1985, which I have been listening to whilst writing this blog post. A real blast from the past! I was 14 when it first came out.

I'm linking up with Magpie Monday at Me and My Shadow and Me Time Monday at Mums and Me.

Me and My Shadow MumsandMe

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Frankie and Benny's cocktail menu

There is a new cocktail menu at Frankie & Benny's. All the classics are there, including my favourite cocktail: the Cosmopolitan. This is described on the menu as follows:

A ladies favourite! The combination of Eristoff vodka, triple sec, fresh lime juice and cranberry, finished with an orange zest.

So it was with a happy heart that I headed the Nottingham City Centre Frankie & Benny's with a voucher in my handbag for two courses and two cocktails. I met up with 7 other local bloggers who also had the same vouchers and we had a lovely time.

I had two Cosmopolitans and they were delicious. Not too sweet and very refreshing, especially after a hard day at work.

The food was good too. I had the goats cheese and red onion wrap with fries and a mango sorbet for dessert.

Here are some photos of us enjoying ourselves:

Left to right: bloggers from Baby Budgeting, Alexander Residence, Super Lucky and me.

Left to right: bloggers from The Mummy DiaryLove Chic Living, MummyLish and The Ana Mum Diary.

We did have a few suggestions as to how it could have been even nicer:

  • turn the music down, so that it is easier to talk without having to raise voices
  • make the cocktail menu easier to read, the lettering was tiny and didn't show up clearly against the dark-coloured background
  • for the cocktails with ice, more cocktail and less ice would be good.

But even with these minor quibbles, it was a fun evening, and a real treat.

Disclosure: I received vouchers for two food courses and two cocktails (or other drinks), and so did the friends I was with. All reviews on this blog are completely honest.

Thank you to Becky for the photos of people - I only remembered to take photos of the cocktails!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

'Teach Your Monster To Read' - game review and competition

I came across a quote recently: 'Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.' This seems very true - I've been sharing picture books with my little boy, who turned 4 in August, since he was born.

But when it comes to phonics, I haven't really known where to start. To be honest, I have been scared of mispronouncing things and causing confusion when my son starts school.

So yesterday afternoon I sat with my son on my lap and we tried out a new game called 'Teach Your Monster to Read'. This game is absolutely free and we really enjoyed playing it. I'm pretty sure we both learned a lot too, though we were having so much fun that it didn't seem like hard work.

Whether it was herding sheep into the right pen:

Playing a retro platform game with flowers telling you which direction to go in:

Or trying to rescue the princess by choosing the right sounds to climb the tower:

Here are some of the points I thought were really good about the 'Teach Your Monster to Read' game:

  • very strong link between the sounds and the letters
  • your child can choose which games they play and which prizes they are playing for
  • it features the voice of Simon Farnaby, from Horrible Histories

So we will definitely be playing this again!

Draw a Monster Competition

The folks at Teach Your Monster to Read would love to see your little monsters’ monster designs.
They’re giving away £200 of Usborne books to the monsters the judges would most like to have as a pet.
For a chance to win, they’re asking children to draw (or paint or build) a monster and send a photograph of the finished work to go in their online gallery.
The monster can be one from the Teach Your Monster to Read game or from your imagination – it can be friendly, spooky, scary or silly!
The judges will be Cathy James from plus her two daughters – they will have the hard task of choosing the winning pet monsters.
Good luck!
1st prize: £150 worth of Usborne books of your choice*
2nd and 3rd prizes: £25 worth of Usborne books of your choice*

* Subject to availability, of course!
How to enter 
Send a photograph of your monster’s monster drawing to
Deadline is 5pm on Friday 9th November 2012.
The winners will be announced on Friday 16th November 2012
For full competition details - check out the Teach Your Monster to Read blog.

Disclosure: we will be sent 3 books of our choice from the Usbourne: Very First Reading Series as a thank you for publicising the competition.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Why stitching does me good

The picture above is a photo of 'Two Elephants' which I stitched for my parents to celebrate their ruby wedding anniversary. I had been planning to do something with names and dates, but my mum said she would prefer a picture and she has always liked elephants so I chose this.

The kit came from Jolly Red, but I used mint green aida instead of the beige aida supplied in the kit. I finished stitching this in the run-up to the birth of my little boy, so it helped me to avoid fretting too much about what lay ahead.

I am very grateful to my friends who introduced me to cross-stitching about a decade or so ago. I honestly think that stitching has helped keep me sane.

Here's a few reasons why a little bit of cross-stitching does me good:
  • I find it relaxing to stitch
  • once I'm in the flow of stitching I can't fret about anything
  • a real sense of achievement when I've finished - especially if I stitch a picture to brighten up a wall
  • I particularly enjoying stitching things to give to other people
  • I don't tend to snack so much (don't want to risk getting food on my stitching)
  • I can't drink much alcohol (unless I want to end up unpicking stitches the next day)
This post was inspired by this month's Needlework Days at Feisty Tapas, which includes the following suggestion:

Cross-stitching: try it, it's good for you...

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Magpie Monday - retro desk calendar

I've been trying to buy less stuff recently. This is partly to make sure that we stick to budget and partly because we put a lot of effort into de-cluttering over the last few months so I don't want the clutter to build back up again.

So every time I go into a shop and spot something I fancy buying, I ask myself the following questions:
  1. do I really want this item?
  2. will I still want the item by this time next week?
  3. do I actually need this item?
  4. is there room for it in my life and home?
  5. do I already have something that will serve a similar purpose?
  6. can I justify the purchase to my husband?
  7. can we actually afford it?
Because of this, I have been leaving lots of nice things on the shelf in charity shops recently, including a gorgeous glass cake stand which I saw yesterday (my husband wouldn't have seen the point of of a cake stand - why not put a cake on a plate?)

So instead of showing you a photo of a cake stand I'm taking the opportunity to show off this plastic desk calendar which I spotted in the window of the local Sue Ryder shop a couple of months ago. It is about 10cm tall, and you click a button on the top to change the number.

I love it! I keep it on my desk at work. As well as liking the retro styling, I find it really practical. When I need to sign and date forms at work I can see at a glance what the date it is. Plus is only cost a few quid, so it met all the criteria listed above.

This post is inspired by Magpie Monday at Me and My Shadow. (Sorry if my fellow Magpies get a sense of deja vu - I posted a photo on Instagram when I first bought the calendar)

Me and My Shadow

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Rohan 'denim plus' skirt

This is a picture of me wearing my bargain Rohan 'denim plus' skirt. I got this skirt from eBay for less than £13 (including p&p). The full price of the current version of this Rohan skirt is £57.

Rohan stuff is always excellent and I am particularly pleased with this skirt. It has a bit of stretch and is very comfortable to wear. The 'denim plus' fabric is lightweight and designed to be easy to wash and quick to dry so it's great for travel.

I buy quite a few items of clothing on eBay. As well as saving money, it also feels good to re-use pre-loved clothing in this way. Sometimes people are de-cluttering, or getting rid of stuff after they have lost or gained weight. There is some good quality clothing available, though I tend to stick to familiar brands where I know my size. That way I am unlikely to have to return items.

The photo above was taken for FrOctober - which involves wearing dresses and skirts throughout October to raise awareness of, and money for, peri-natal illness including post-natal depression. 

I will be linking up with Magpie Monday at Me and My Shadow and the latest Frugal Friday Fashion Show at Family Budgeting.

Me and My Shadow

Sunday, 7 October 2012

My first Slow Cooker Sunday

I want to do more home cooking but because I work full time it usually seems like too much effort. So I added a slow cooker to my Amazon wishlist and my dad bought it for me for my birthday.

The plan is that we can have a home cooked meal on a weekend day without spending the whole day in the kitchen.

Here is a photo of my new slow cooker in action:

The first dish we decided to cook was Chilli Black Bean Stew from Ultimate Slow Cooker: over 100 simple, delicious recipes by Sara Lewis.

There was a bit of preparation required (soaking the beans overnight then boiling them for 10 minutes, and the other ingredients were cooked for a short time on the stove before putting everything in the slow cooker) but after that it was a case of leave it on a low heat for 8 hours and resist the temptation to take the lid off before it was finished.

So what was the end result like? Well it was delicious. The beans were cooked to perfection and there was just the right amount of chilli to give it a bit of a kick without blowing my head off. We served it with rice, and it seemed like the perfect autumn comfort food.

So I think this method of cooking could be a good option for autumn and winter weekend meals. This particular dish was fairly cheap to make, and it was lovely to have a nice evening meal to look forward to without having to put much effort in during the evening itself. Plus we have a couple of spare portions to put in the fridge for tomorrow.

I'm linking up with this week's Slow Cooker Sunday at Mediocre Mum - check out what other yummy slow cooker food people have been cooking up recently.


Sunday, 30 September 2012

Magpie Monday - denim jacket

This weekend I had a good look around in the charity shops and dress agencies for dresses to wear for the FrOctober challenge. There were no nice dresses in my size, but I did buy a lovely denim jacket with a slightly fitted shape. I have been looking for a nice denim jacket for ages. This one originally came from Principles and looks as though it has hardly been worn.

I am planning to wear this jacket at the weekends over dresses during October. That way I can stay in my denim comfort zone without resorting to jeans.

The other preloved item I found this weekend was a stripy shirt from the M&S Autograph Boys range. I am always pleased to find nice clothes in charity shops for my little boy. He grows out of things so quickly at the moment. This shirt will go in the 'too big' stash for now, but I think my son will like the stars on the cuffs.

I'll be linking up with this week's Magpie Monday at Me and my shadow because I am always curious to see what pre-loved treasures others have tracked down.

Me and My Shadow

Decluttering toys

My husband has always been a bit of a minimalist at heart, whereas I am much more acquisitive and untidy.

But a couple of months ago, I realised that the volume of clutter in the house was starting to get me down. There was so much stuff and it was so disorganized that we couldn't even use anything properly.

The toys were irritating me most of all. For example, all of my son's jigsaws were mixed up in the same box. This made it impossible to do any of the jigsaws. I have now sorted all the jigsaws out into separate ziplock bags and put them in the correct boxes. It took ages, but it was worth it.

There was usually at least one train set spread out on the living room floor and nowhere to put things away properly. The big fabric toybox I bought when my son was a baby was still full of baby toys, even though my little boy is now 4 years old.

So we took the baby toys to the charity shop. We also got rid of the toybox because it was too deep to store train sets, Lego and Playmobil - the small pieces would just have got lost at the bottom.

We bought some underbed storage boxes from Argos to replace the old toybox. We chose the blue storage boxes as these go with the blue carpet in my son's room.

These storage boxes are absolutely perfect. They are the right depth to be usable without small items being impossible to find. We can tidy everything away after my son has finished playing. And the really amazing thing is that my son even helps with the tidying up and tells my husband off if things are not put in the right boxes.

So we have a tidy living room we can actually live in at long last!

Saturday, 29 September 2012

The FrOctober Challenge

I rarely wear frocks. Trousers are usually more my thing. Smart black trousers at work and jeans at the weekend.

But I am going to attempt to wear a frock every day for the month of October. This is because I am participating in The FrOctober challenge to raise awareness of post-natal depression and other mental health issues.

The slogan is:

Rock a Frock in October for Post-Natal Depression

I hope some of you will want to join in with FrOctober too. Here's how:

    •    Make a donation to our challenge charity PNI ORG UK here
    •    For all of October* wear a frock. Or a dress/tunic/skirt/skort/cullotes. Preferably a dress though.
    •    Recruit as many friends as you can to the Challenge – we’re gunning for at least 5 each.
    •    If you are a Twitterer, tweet a picture of what you wear each day, with the hashtag #frOctober.
    •    If you are an Instagrammer, put the picture it on Instagram
    •    Most importantly it’s about dressing ‘up’ and looking good to feel good.

I had a look through my wardrobe to see if I had any dresses. Sadly four of my favourite dresses don't fit anymore, so they have gone to Oxfam. But I decided that this gave me an excuse to order a couple of new dresses from Adini.

I've also got my smart shoes from Hotter and merino wool tights from M&S at the ready.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

We love Elmer

The original Elmer book by David McKee is one of my favourite ever stories, so I was very pleased when my little boy started to love it as much as I do.

Elmer is a beautiful, multicoloured patchwork elephant who decides he is tired of being different and disguises himself as a ordinary grey elephant, before realising that the other elephants love him for who he is. I think this message is particularly valuable for boys, as our society puts pressure on boys and men to appear to be dull and drab and not stand out in the way that they dress.

I recently spotted two more Elmer books in the local Oxfam Books and Music shop. My son usually asks me to read both of these stories together as they both feature Elmer's black and white cousin Wilbur.

Another Elmer item that came from a charity shop is this money box, which was bought on a trip to Buxton last autumn.

And my son calls this knitted blanket the 'Elmer blanket' because it is made of brightly-coloured squares. This was purchased in the local Oxfam shop.

Another handcrafted Elmer item is this cross-stitched picture I made using a chart from a book called More Storybook Cross-Stitch by Gillian Souter.

I'm linking up with Magpie Monday at Me and My Shadow. I'm looking forward to seeing what other pre-loved items people have found.

Me and My Shadow

This post was also added to a favourite blogpost linky at TheAnaMumDiary and