Thursday, 31 March 2011

Making an Entrance

A quick post to link up with White Lily Green's fabulous blog and her Handmade Thursday link.

Inspire Me Beautiful

Sadly I haven't had time to make anything this week, but I thought I'd show you some thrifty makes I did recently for my hallway.

Living in an old house we're cursed with drafts, and desperately needed a door sausage to keep the howling winds out.  I'd seen some gorgeous ones about, but they were so expensive. In the end I picked up a very cheap one, but it was definitely more practical than beautiful.

But I was lucky to find a lovely piece of fabric in the remnant bin at John Lewis. The colours were perfect for our hallway, so I got the machine out and made a simple tube, sewed a channel each end, threaded with ribbon, tied on bows and hey presto!

There was just enough fabric left to make a small cushion to go on my bargainous £2 charity shop chair which sits under the stairs.

I'm rubbish with a sewing machine, but very excited to have found a local beginners course starting soon.  I can't wait to start learning!

If you want to see more of my charity shop finds, pop back to my blog every week for 'Magpie Monday'.

Now, you could pop over to White Lily Green to see all the very clever crafty people's creations.

The Co-operative - Join the Revolution

In 1844 the Rochdale Pioneers started a revolution which changed the face of commerce forever.  That revolution is still going strong through the modern day Co-operative.

Each year the Co-operative supports thousands of projects here in the UK and in the developing world, enabling local people to change the world in which they live.

One such project which appeals to me is Urban Bees which was set up to protect the rapidly declining honeybee population.  Urban Bees, with help from the Co-operative have now installed 20 new hives on rooftops and in community gardens and allotments across London. They also give training and start-up equipment to help other individuals and companies to do the same.

Bees are estimated to contribute £200 million per annum to the UK economy through their pollination.  Their numbers are in rapid and dangerous decline, yet scientists are still unsure why. Over the last 20 years the number of bees in the UK has dropped by 50%.  This poses a massive risk to our food production so any simple steps individuals can do to help could make a big difference.  Whether that's planting bee-friendly plants in your gardens, buying a bee-box or becoming an amateur bee-keeper.

This project sits perfectly with the Co-operative's own campaign 'Plan Bee' and is a great example of their ethical credentials.

Why not take a look at the Co-operative website and join the revolution.  See how you can get involved by finding a local project, or maybe even starting your own.

The Co-operative
Join the revolution
Get involved

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Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The Wonderful World of Zoobles

Since Spinmaster launched this range of cute collectable characters, they've been going down a storm.

There are over 150 different characters to collect, and aimed primarily at girls aged four and over, so expect pester power to come into its own!

Zoobles retail from £5.99 for a single pack and £9.99 for a Twoble pack, so not exactly a pocket-money toy I'd say - if your poppet wants to collect the whole range thats....gets fingers and toes out....nearly £750!!!

They are charming little characters which curl up into a ball. When placed on their magnetic 'happitat' they spring back to life.  We were sent one for Ruby to try out, and she really adored it.

But, no sooner had she got it out of the packet, than we thought we'd broken it - it curled into a ball, but we couldn't get it to pop open again.  Ruby picked it up and hurled it across the room. It hit the wall, popped open and has been fine ever since!  I'm sure this is not the recommended way to deal with something like this, but it is I think testament to how robust and resilient this little toy is.

It's a handy size to pop in your pocket or bag for distraction while out and about, although I have to say, it's diminutive size does make it tricky to find in the cavernous pit of a toy box we have.

They have a very cute website which Ruby has enjoyed exploring, playing the games and looking at all the different Zoobles.  Check it out - but please note the tempting competition on there is for USA only - shame!

Sponsored post - This toy was provided free of charge for the purposes of writing this review. However, any opinion expressed here is my own and is honest.

Party Pressure?

Anyone who speaks with me on Twitter will know all about my almost hysterical panic over Ruby's birthday party this year.

Becky from Baby Budgeting very kindly wrote a guest post for me which did go some way to quell my rising panic.

My aim wasn't specifically to save money (although it's always nice isn't it!), but I did have a desire to go back to a more traditional approach, and give her an old-fashioned birthday tea party.

Ruby's forever coming home from nursery with invitations, and lovely as some of the parties have been, the pure commercialism and competitiveness amongst mums is not something I want to be drawn into.

Don't get me wrong, there's still pressure. Who do you invite? Do you choose some children and not others?  Will the other mums 'get it' or will they think we're cheapskates?

In the end, we invited all the kids at Ruby's nursery - make that nurseries as she goes to two different settings throughout the week.  That's 30 kids, plus family.  BIG MISTAKE!!!

We had decided to hire a local hall - parties at home are too hellish for me and we simply don't have the space.  We were lucky to have a local venue which had just been refurbished, looking for bookings to raise funds, and got that for £10 per hour.  It's a lovely old hall, with loads of space to run about, a basic kitchen, loos and a little garden.

We decorated the hall with bunting and balloons and laid out tables with cloths borrowed from my mum. I have to confess, we didn't do any food ourselves - apart from the sandwiches, but bought it all from Costco!  There were sausages, carrot and cucumber sticks, cheese cubes, sandwiches, ham, and crisps, followed by strawberries, fruit salad and cupcakes.  So many of the mums complimented me on such a healthy spread (what were they expecting?), and then proceeded to pile their kids plates up with crisps, cakes and sausages, so we went home with a carrot mountain and shed loads of fruit!!

Ruby had been very clear that she wanted to play pass the parcel; musical statues, do the Okey Cokey and then have a 'disco'.

Following Becky's advice, I made up the pass the parcel (with Ruby's old Cbeebies magazines as wrapping) with a simple forfeit in each layer (admittedly I also put a little sweet in too!). They were very simple tasks that I felt a 3 or 4 year old could manage easily, and we were on hand to help.  However, it soon became clear that these kids had no clue how to play pass the parcel.  I don't think most of them had ever done it before - how sad is that?  It was also made more difficult by me having no idea how many would turn up as most hadn't RSVP'd and lots of people arrived late - some breezing in an hour late.

OK guys, here's how it works...

We abandoned pass the parcel after everyone had had turn, and quickly decided that musical statues probably wasn't a good idea. So instead they all ran around like crazy loons, strutting their stuff, chasing balloons and pulling some funky moves.

Hoppin & Boppin

DJ Daddy Cool

One thing that was a big success was the 'bug' hunt I organised.  I bought some chocolate ladybirds and hid them around the garden for the kids to find.  They were asked to collect them all up into a basket and then they were shared out evenly.  The kids loved it, and it was a sunny day so it was nice to get them all outside doing something.

Sorry Becky, I gave in on the party bags, but I did ours quite differently. You can see them here.

All in all, it seemed to go quite well, if a little chaotically.  Never again shall I invite that many people, and I will chase up RSVP's almost as soon as they've opened their envelopes next time.

Our take on the humble party bag

Much as I would have loved to have done away with party bags altogether for Ruby's party, I couldn't do it!

However, I was determined that we wouldn't have bags brimming with stuff - plastic toys, rubber balls, notebooks, jewellery, sweets... The levels some parents go to is, frankly insane!

Helen from Jessies_Online very kindly offered to send me some of her cellophane bags to use, and they were just perfect for the job.  She stocks a huge range of different patterns and colours, and has some lovely Easter themed bags too.  Priced from £1.50 for 20, I think they are great value for money.

While you're looking in her store, you really must check out the super-cute paper popcorn bags - how great would they be for a movie evening at home?

So, for Ruby's party I decided to fill the bag very simply.  Inside each we put a slice of birthday cake wrapped in a pretty napkin; a balloon; some bubbles (which I bought very cheaply on eBay); and a bag of chocolate buttons.

*adopts the M&S advert-lady's voice* But these weren't just any chocolate buttons.  These were Chocadores pocket-sized Ecuador 39% Mini Milk Chocolate Buttons.

I'm delighted that Chocadores have started packaging then in smaller bags, and these are perfect for kids.  The mums were very impressed with the buttons, and I suspect probably ate more than their kids did!

The buttons are priced at £4.25 for 5 50g bag - so at 85p per bag I think that works out very reasonably.

Finally, each bag was tied with a balloon on a ribbon.  I pushed the boat out and used helium filled balloons, but you can buy balloons with sticks much more cheaply, and they would work just as well.

What was really lovely about doing it this way, was that they acted as decoration during the party, then they were simply handed out at the end.  Because the bags and the contents where unisex, there was no issue about how many of what sort to make up. The children got to choose which colour balloon they wanted, and they all went away happy.

Disclosure: Jessie's Online Store kindly provided the party bags free of charge - thank you.  Chocadores are my lovely sponsors for Cybermummy, and although I did buy the chocolate buttons, they gave me a friendly discount!  However, any opinion expressed here is my own and is honest.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The secret arts of housewifery - 1930's style

Myself and other bloggers were recently asked to take part in a challenge for Procter and Gamble to celebrate their 80th anniversary, and highlight the changing role of motherhood through the decades.

I'll apologise in advance - this promises to be quite a lengthy post but I really hope you'll stick with it and join me on my journey.  I really wanted to do this task justice, for a number of reasons.  It makes such a pleasant change as a blogger to be involved in something challenging and interesting, and the people at P&G couldn't have been more helpful and supportive. I also wanted it to be a learning experience for Ruby and for myself, and to bring about a greater understanding of how our grandmothers daily life would have been.

In exchange for reading this, I promise you will get so see some fairly horrendous pictures of me and my first shaky attempts at vlogging...

Outer Beauty

The first challenge began for me the night before.  People didn't tend to have showers back in the 1930's so I took myself off for a soak in the bath.  This coincided with Earth Hour, so I enjoyed it by candlelight.  Granted, it would have been nice to have some luxurious bubbles and hair products, but I had to make do with the solid bar of plain soap - both to wash myself and my hair.  Washing long hair in the bath is never easy, and after pouring many jugs of water over my head, it still didn't feel clean.

After my bath, I went downstairs where Mr 1930's kindly brushed it for me in front of the fire and I sat there until it was fairly dry.  Then it was time to tackle the rollers!  I'd looked on the internet to find out about thirties hair, and some of the techniques like finger waves and pin curls looked incredibly complicated, so I put the curlers in and hoped for the best!

I slapped on some cold cream, which smelt lovely and was silky soft.  Sadly I hadn't read the notes properly, and used it as a moisturiser rather than to help clean my face, so I did wake up with a bit of an oil slick going on on my skin.

After a frankly shocking night's sleep on my head full of curlers, I washed my face with soap and water, and cleaned my teeth with the pink toothpaste provided.  I actually quite liked the taste (I think it was Euthymol) but I did miss the familiar minty freshness.

Hilda Ogden eat your heart out

Next up was make-up.  Unfortunately my pink ivory face powder and rouge was missing from my pack, so I improvised with my own makeup, using powder, a little black mascara and a lovely dash of scarlet lipstick.  Getting dressed proved tricky. I live in jeans at home, but it was rare for a 1930's lady to wear trousers even, so I opted for a straight skirt, a blouse and some t-bar shoes.

The moment of truth...removing the rollers.  Oh my god! I looked like Shirley Temple (after sticking her fingers in a socket).  Nothing I could do would tame my unruly barnet.  I suspect the curls were too much of a shock for it after a lifetime of straightness, so I opted for a headscarf.  I did consider washing them out, but that would have meant another bath...

Ready, Steady, Cook

First challenge of the day was making a cuppa.  The water was boiled on the stove in a pan, and the tea was made from proper leaves in a teapot.  I really enjoyed this process throughout the day, and drank my tea from a proper cup and saucer.  I'm a tea monster, and usually drink about 10 cups a day, but making tea the old fashioned way meant although I drank considerably less, I enjoyed it more.

Breakfast was a hearty bowl of porridge. Ruby conceded that it smelt nice, but wouldn't be persuaded to try some.  I tried offering all kinds of '1930's alternatives' like boiled egg, bread, even cornflakes were around then, but she finally settled for some fruit.

No sooner had breakfast been consumed and cleared away, than I was thinking about starting lunch.  This was a bit of a theme to the day - it was punctuated and dictated by mealtimes.  The lunch menu suggested butternut squash soup, but I wanted to make bread rolls to go with it, so as soon as the clearing up was done, myself and Ruby got on with making and kneading the bread dough.

The soup tasted amazing, and both myself and Mr 1930's loved it.  Interesting that I would usually have whipped out my blender to make it - I'd never have considered squishing it through a sieve!

The bread rolls came out pretty well too, although we didn't get to eat lunch until about 2pm - clearly I should have started earlier!  Ruby refused the soup, so she had a roll with cheese and Mr 1930's got a jar of Branston pickle out and took delight in telling me it has been 'made from the same recipe since 1922 - Ha!'.

Again, pretty soon after the lunch was cleared away, it was time to think about preparing the dinner.  We were having 'Scotch Hotpot' which took 2 hours to cook in the oven.  I was fairly apprehensive about it as it had beef steak and pork sausages in - I don't think I've ever eaten a casserole with beef and pork in.  The addition of tomatoes as per the recipe didn't do a lot for me either, but I think I'd call it a success - the recipe served 4 and the whole pot was consumed by myself, Mr 1930's and Ruby, along with some green beans.

I might try making this again - but maybe just with pork sausages and apple. At least as it was a slow cook recipe, it allowed me 2 hours to get on with my chores!

It was also nice to all sit down together at the table. We are guilty of not eating together as often as we should.

I don't consider that we eat a lot of convenience foods (if you don't count the odd takeaway and restaurant meal!), but it made me realise that products we don't even consider to be 'convienience' like teabags, sliced bread, instant coffee and spreadable butter can all be done without.

Much as I enjoy cooking, I never cook three meals a day from scratch - breakfast for Ruby is typically a bowl of cereal (I usually do without), lunch would be a sandwich or something-on-toast, and I will cook our evening meal.  Making everything from scratch certainly takes a lot of organisation and planning - something I'm not great at.

It's worth noting, that I didn't feel hungry or snack at all throughout the day, despite probably using up far more calories that I usually do.  Which makes me think I either snack through boredom, or a hearty bowl of Scottish oats really does set you up for the day.

Everything but the Kitchen Sink

All this cooking resulted in a lot of washing up.  Sadly, the dishwasher was not an option, not indeed was a generous squirt of Fairy Liquid.  The pots and pans had to be washed in the sink with the dubious assistance of some solid lemon soap and a metal scourer.

It really was an arduous task, and the end result was smeary, greasy dishes.  Ruby liked to help, as she does with anything connected with water.

The vaguely clean dishes were left on the drainer to dry.  After this challenge I've decided I wouldn't want to live without washing-up liquid (or better still, my dishwasher).

Dirty Laundry

Boy was this a fag!  I'll let the video tell you more, but at the end of this I nearly ran out to the outhouse and kissed my washing machine!  Apologies about the over-enthusiastic director!

I only attempted a couple of bits, Lord alone knows how they coped with large items like bedsheets and towels.

How Clean is your House

I'm a bit of a lazy cleaner as it goes - a 'spray and wipe' kinda gal, so I found this challenge really interesting.  I used bicarb to clean the sink and it came up sparkly and gleaming - I even did the fizzy trick with bicarb and vinegar to clean down the plug hole. 

Cleaning the floors was something of a revelation.  I'm ashamed to say I couldn't find my broom anywhere - I always use the hoover, even though we have hard floors throughout downstairs.  So to do the kitchen floor, I was on my hands and knees with the dustpan and brush.  I'd only cleaned the floor the previous morning, and was quite shocked to see the amount of debris I swept up - you don't get to see this when you vacuum so it was a bit of an eye-opener!

Then the floor was mopped in a solution of hot water, lemon juice and bicarb.  I was quite dubious of this - I thought it would leave the floor sticky.  But it absolutely didn't.  It smelt divine and cleaned the grime a treat (bear in mind Mr 1930s had been gardening all day, hence the amount of muck, but still, as I'd only done it the day before, I was amazed at the colour of the water - yuck!)

There are certain cleaning products I wouldn't want to do without, but I'll happily continue using lemon and bicarb to clean my floors.  I must also locate my broom and use that more to sweep the floors than vacuum - although I draw the line at taking my rugs outdoors and whacking them with a carpet-beater!

I ran out of time to clean the windows with vinegar and newspaper, but I'm pretty sure even a 1930's housewife didn't clean them everyday!

There was time for a little light dusting with my favourite ostrich feather duster and that was me done!

Batteries not Included

This was, without a doubt the hardest part of the day!  Trying to keep a toddler entertained without the use of modern-day toys, TV or computer was a real challenge.  At first I thought, no problem, we'll just go out - to the park, to feed the ducks... But in reality there wasn't enough time to do all the chores and go out with her.

The toys that were provided (wooden blocks, a teddy, a yo-yo and a book) didn't hold her imagination for long.  The yo-yo was instantly swung around her head in imminent danger of smashing the window or garroting her, so that was swiftly removed!  The wooden blocks were played with for all of 5 minutes, as was the teddy.  These toys I'm sure would all be fine if I could have sat for hours with her.

So instead, she helped me, and we kept her busy kneading the bread dough, helping with the washing-up, mopping and dusting.  We were also lucky it was a beautiful day so she was in and out of the garden helping Daddy to do the digging - I think they were digging for victory!

We did manage to find some time while the dinner was cooking to read books and play board games, but I think in all honesty she missed her dose of Cbeebies!

She did thoroughly enjoy the day, and loved doing things 'like Nanny did'.  She rushed into nursery the next day and told them that she'd been in 'the olden days' and babbled quite excitedly about all the things we'd done.

All in all, it's been a great experience. I've discovered things I don't want to live without - the computer, washing machine, washing-up liquid, shampoo and showers, and things I probably could manage ok if I used less of - floor cleaner, the hoover, teabags, my electric blender...

I'd like to say a massive thank you to Procter and Gamble for the opportunity, all the materials they sent to do the challenge and the video camera.

Happy Birthday P&G!

Monday, 28 March 2011

Magpie Monday - Summer Fun

This weekend heralds the start of British Summertime and I found some fab things on this week's charity shop trawl to get me in the mood!

I found two lovely floral dresses for a fiver each, both still brand new with labels in.  The pale dress is a maxi style with spaghetti straps and an elasticated bust.  The darker one is a short dress which I'll wear over navy linen trousers or jeans.  Not that I'm a particular follower of fashion, but I am glad that florals are back in. It means I can wear them without people asking if I'm wearing my Nana's curtains.

I also picked up this book for a quid. Perfect for lazing in the deckchair with a cuppa.  I've just finished reading Night Music by the same author which I really enjoyed, so I'm hoping this one will be as good.

Ruby spotted this old-fashioned hobby horse while I was browsing the book shelves.  She amused herself and the other customers by galloping around the shop on it, but then whined and whinged that she wanted to buy it.  Expecting it to be quite expensive, and (if I'm honest) not relishing the prospect of lugging it around town, I asked how much it was.  The assistant wasn't sure so toddled off to find her manager, then came back and said "£1.50"!!!  So we had it - with Ruby promising faithfully to carry it.

Of course, no sooner had we left the shop than she said it was too heavy, so lug it around town I did, and also assaulted several people on the bus with it on the way home.

It needs a couple of stitches where the reigns have come away, but still, she loves it.  I'm thinking maybe I'll fashion a Cath Kidston-esque teepee in the garden and we can play cowboys!

Finally, my absolute best find of the week (if not year) was this uber-cool pair of retro Converse roller skates!

I spotted then languishing under a shoe rack, and seized them.  There was no size marked, but they looked about right, so I slipped my boot off, popped one on and had a total Cinderella moment!  They were made for me.

I was never particularly good at roller skating as a kid so it remains to be seen how I get on - particularly as I have the balance and co-ordination of a new-born foal, but for three quid it's got to be worth a go.  There's at least a fiver's worth of laughs to be had surely...

So, what did you find, I can't wait to see all your second-hand treasure.  If you have something to share, please grab the badge and link-up below.  Alternatively, you can twitpic using the #magpiemonday hashtag or post on the blog's facebook page.

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Saturday, 26 March 2011

Could I cut it in the Thirties?

Procter and Gamble have been making products to make our lives easier for 80 years now.

They've recently release research entitled 'The Changing Face of Motherhood' highlighting how the role has changed over the eras.

I was brought up in the Seventies and Eighties - according to the research this is the period most of today's mums would like to have brought up their baby.

Procter and Gamble challenged me and other mummy bloggers to undertake the 'Life Before Procter and Gamble' challenge and spend a day as a 1930's housewife.

How could I resist!  I'm thinking evening cocktails, cigarette holders, flouncing around saying 'I love you darling, rarely I do' in a Brief Encounter kind of way.

Hmmm.  After speaking to my Nana who was a real-life 1930's housewife, it seems it wasn't exactly like this.  However, with four generations of females - Ruby, myself, my mum and my Nana I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to learn about how things were different in different eras.  We spent some time reminiscing with Nana, talking about wash days and rationing!

We also spent quite a lot of time looking through old photographs, which was quite a thought-provoking experience.  We lost Grandad three years ago, and I often forget what he lived through.  It was good to remember how he'd fought in the war, and sad to see pictures of him and my Nana looking so youthful and full of energy.  In their younger days they had a tandem and used to cycle all over the country on it.

When my uncle was born, my Grandad was away in the army.  He was allowed 2 days leave to come home and see him, and then returned to duty.  My uncle didn't really get to know his dad until he returned after the war.  Very different times to nowadays with 2 weeks paternity leave, and me moaning when Ruby's dad is too late home from work some nights to give her a bath.

During the war my Nana worked as a Clippy on the buses, with family helping out with child-care.  Bringing up children during war-time must have been unimaginably tough.  Not only the fear of air raids, the worry about loved ones fighting abroad, but the rationing and hard work of running a household makes me realise how good we've got it now.

So tonight I plan to have my bath and put in my rollers in preparation for tomorrow's 1930s task - although if I end up looking more Shirley Temple than Greta Garbo, I shall be washing it straight out again.

Pop back soon to find out how I get on.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Enjoy Mother's Day with some help from Boots

Mother's day is fast approaching and Boots have some amazing offers to help you save money - maybe you could use the extra pennies for a pampering treat for yourself?

Boots has a 3 for 2 offer across thousands of baby items from 4th April until 3rd May, so why not stock up on essentials like:

 Boots Baby Sensitive Oil (300ml £2.03)

 Boots Essentials Baby Bath (£7.99)

Boots Ramer Ultra Soft Baby Sponges (£2.04 for two)

If you're out and about now the sunshine has finally arrived, then these  Boots Wrist Reins (£5.10) are great to make sure your little one doesn't venture too far on their own. 

Once the clocks change, this Gro Anywhere Blind (£29) might be helpful getting little one to sleep when it's still light in the evening.

The lovely people at Boots sent me some products, and I'm giving away a box of  Boots Play and Splash Mats to help keep mess to a minimum so there’s less tidying up for you to do. They are disposable and ideal for both meal and play time.

To enter, just leave me a comment below telling me how you'd like to spend Mother's Day. Please ensure you leave a way for me to contact you (twitter ID, email, Facebook name etc).

For one extra entry (please leave a separate comment) tweet the following: "I'm entering @missielizzieb 's blog comp to win Boots Splash & Play mats"

Open to UK only, closes at 12 midday on Friday 1st April 2011.

This is a sponsored post - I received free samples from Boots in exchange for promoting these offers.