Thursday, 24 October 2013

Birthdays: the things my children have taught me...

Alongside Halloween, October holds one extra treat for me. Yep, it’s my birthday month – and I do like to celebrate (anything, at all, at any time). But having kids has opened my eyes to a whole new approach to that most special of days…

A minute on the lips, but a lifetime on the hips Babs...

Make your demands clear

A bit like Christmas once there’s just a heap of wrapping paper on the floor and you’ve eaten too many mince pies, birthdays can be a bit of a disappointment. Maybe all you got was a tea towel and a card with a joke about getting old. To avoid this scenario, you have to make your expectations of the big day clear to your nearest and dearest – CRYSTAL CLEAR. If you don’t, you’ve only yourself to blame. So, if you’re scared of clowns, balloons or birthday candles, tell your birthday slave/s before the big day, and if you want to eat off a Tinkerbell plate tell that special someone (maybe even right after your previous birthday finishes so they have plenty of time to organise it) in a loud, demanding voice.

Age is just a number

For a child each and every birthday means they are older, bigger, better. I’m not sure when that stops for an adult, but it’s too late for me to pretend I’m the right side of 40 (I was silly enough to have a big party, so everyone remembers – well remembers the start of the evening anyhow…). So, just like my kids I don’t make a secret of my age – and would willingly wear a princess-fairy-Peppa Pig birthday badge for all to see (if only they made them for my age!). Without that badge, how is anyone going to know I’m special??????

Stop pretending to be 'down with the kids' Barbie, you're 54 for goodness sake!

Let everyone else do the work

From watching my children I have learnt that when it’s your birthday, to prove their enduring love everyone precious in your life must work hard to ensure your day is perfect. In fact they should make sure your ACTUAL day is special – and ideally also make sure the weekend located closest to your birthday is ALSO special – maybe by throwing a party. Other things that your nearest and dearest may want to do to show you how special you are include: baking and decorating an extravagant cake to exacting specifications, showering you with gifts, inviting all your friends round to trash the house – and then tidy all the mess away, decorating the house inside and out with tokens of affection, collating a gift registry, filling the cupboards with your favourite foods. Really the list is endless. There are so many ways to show a person you love them. And you should expect to witness them all.

Come out of the ice bucket NOW!

Eat cake

Yes, birthdays are not exactly healthy days. Alongside the cake you have specified (exactly), birthdays must also include five varieties of crisps, jammy dodgers, popcorn, ice cream and sweets. You and your friends needn’t eat all the food provided, but it must be there in case you fancy just eating a bit of it – or piling it all onto your plate to look at. When you have tired of eating/not eating these birthday delicacies, have birthday slaves tidy it away into a dustbin sack (but not while you are watching, since that can be upsetting).

Clear your schedule

Birthdays are mega important. And arrangements can change, the weather can be unpredictable and illnesses such as chicken pox can devastate guest lists. If you want to achieve other things around the same time as your birthday – or if those people lucky enough to be celebrating your birthday with you have anything else to do other than care for you and your needs – it’s best to get it done before the actual birthday, so that if plans go awry there is plenty of room to maneuverer. For example, on your birthday, you might have planned to drop the kids at school, head off to the gym, take a daytime bath, cruise around a luxury supermarket and purchase your day’s delights, perhaps have a chilled glass of chilled bubbly with your lunch and generally relax. And then you might find that instead your youngest is off school and you are stuck trying to write a blog with CBeebies on in the background…

Seriously life? Seriously?
How do you like to spend your birthday? What have countless kiddie parties taught you about celebrating that special day? If you have a birthday story please share it below (think of it as your present to me). Or just blow me a virtual birthday kiss. Cheers!!

Thursday, 17 October 2013

The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre

Every now and again the parenting planets align perfectly. And so it was last Sunday, when having seen the weekend weather forecast, we dutifully completed the autumn scavenger hunt homework on a lovely sunny Saturday – and then had a fabulous time dodging the downpour that was Sunday at The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre
Find out the stories behind the stories...

Both my girls love books and writing. And of course, mummy has a bit of a vested interest in making sure that love continues at the very least as a hobby, if not into something more as they grow older (no pressure girls). And rather co-incidentally they are both being read Dahl stories in class at the moment (Matilda for the Year 3 child, and The Twits for the Year 1 kiddo). Since this award-winning venue had been in the back of my mind for a while, and I knew that heading outdoors would not be much fun, Sunday seemed the perfect time to head over to Great Missenden and explore.
Not sure Roald would have fitted in around here...
For us it was a 40 minute drive, and perhaps we were rather lucky to get a parking spot on the High Street right outside the museum. We arrived a little earlier than the 11am (Sunday) opening time but the very lovely staff were happy to let us in from the cold – and seemed genuinely interested in why we had come along. The same helpful people popped up here and there as we made our way around the museum – pointing out some of the things to see and do. At that point it hadn’t occurred to me that I would blog about the Museum, but I basically felt like we had been mistaken for VIPs (I should probably take off that fake press pass I made myself…).
Making up a boss

The museum’s website suggests that a visit will usually last up to 90 minutes, but I’m not sure why, as we managed 4 hours… As well as some well-illustrated information about Roald’s early life (he was a bit of a handful by all accounts!) and his time in the RAF, there are plenty of things to touch and explore in the two main galleries of the museum (plus they smell of chocolate!). You’ll learn about the inspiration for many of Dahl’s well-loved stories and characters. Quentin Blake illustrations abound!
Hands on

And then you arrive at the Story Centre – where it all gets hands-on crazy! As well as story sacks containing all you need to re-enact favourite tales such as Fantastic Mr Fox, there are interactive video screens and some very imaginative story-prompting ideas. There’s also a mock-up of the writing space Dahl crafted for himself, and you can sit in his chair and see if inspiration strikes!!
The man himself
At the back of the story centre was a well-equipped and brightly-decorated crafts area – modelled on George’s Marvellous Medicine. Kids were literally being dragged out of there kicking and screaming as there was so much to do! And I’m not sure I’d like to be the one to tidy up at the end of the day – let’s just say there were sequins, lots of sequins, and lots of children playing with those sequins. 
Before the kids got there...

The other main highlight of the visit was the regular story-telling that went on in Miss Honey’s Classroom. Our youngest went to listen to the impressively dramatic staff (drama school anyone?) three, yes three, times. Audience participation was also encouraged, if you feel your inner-thespian calling…

We had our lunch in the CafĂ© Twit, while we pondered exactly why the wall illustrations were upside down (you need to know what the monkeys did…) – which offered freshly-made food but was overcrowded because the weather meant the lovely courtyard tables were out of use. And of course we also spent some time in the gift shop, where I did get a bit of Xmas shopping done (and we were all allowed a bar of Wonka chocolate due to good behaviour).
I am the size of a 'complete Wonka' (I looked it up on their chart...)
All in all, I can’t recommend this Museum enough. I think kids do need to be above 5 to really appreciate it (under that age and they actually get in free) – and familiar with the stories too. Dry weather would also mean you can have lunch in the courtyard and go off on one of the nearby trails that take you around the pretty village of Great Missenden and through the stunning Chiltern countryside that Dahl grew up in (including a visit to his graveside where you’ll find the footprints of a certain BFG…).

Have you been to the Museum – and did your family enjoy it? Are you down with Dahl – and if so, which is your favourite title? Let me know in the comment box below – and it would be great if you could recommend other places to dodge the upcoming winter weather!

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Halloween Party Giveaway!

Yay! It’s October. I like October. As well as half term (or as I like to think of it, a whole week of lie-ins), this month I get to indulge my penchant for fancy dress with that spookiest time of the year – Halloween. Years ago, Halloween came and went without much fuss, but now you can throw a kiddie shindig that all the little devils in your life will love – and go that little bit crazy with costumes, decorating the house and other party fun.

Dressing for the part

Wanna look freaky for trick or treating? Well, the good news is that Seven Year Hitch has some ghoulish giveaways to help you have a very Happy Halloween indeed! First up, let me introduce you to ‘Snot The Zombie’ – the world’s first interactive backpack aimed at children aged three to seven (£34.99). Pop Snot on your back then get him to pull funny faces using the remote control – ideal for doorstop treat stops.
'Snot' could be yours!!

And for those wanting to look fabulously scary? How about a tutu pettiskirt from brand leader Angel’s Face? These fluffy, frilly skirts come in new-born to teen sizes – with the jet black or anthracite being the obvious colour choices for this night and many parties beyond. See below for your chance to win an Angel’s Face pettiskirt or ‘Snot’ backpack of your very own.

 Is 'too cool for ghoul' a thing? (It should be!)


And Halloween costumes needn’t break the bank either. Aldi (it won the Which? Award for best Supermarket of the year in 2013) has a ‘wicked’ range of costumes for kids (including witches, cats, pumpkins, vampires and skeletons) and grown-ups (check out the ‘killer’ skeleton dress!). Adult outfits start at just £7.99, and kids at £3.99, which, by my reckoning, leaves plenty in the pot for yet more candy (or some glowsticks - £2.99 for packet of six at Aldi)!!

Setting the scene

If you want to go that little bit further than a few cobwebs in the corners (I actually have authentic ones ready and waiting for that Halloween party, or in fact, any party…) take advantage of the 3-for-2 offer Hobby Craft is running across its Halloween range. The store has everything you need to create your own fantastic decorations (not least a paper mache pumpkin) as well as ready-made products to give your house that most-haunted look. I love the ‘fangtastic’ tableware and ‘shocktails’ bottle labels!
Open wide!

Party Packs does a great range of themed decorations – including blood splats to add to your windows and complete door covers and curtains. And why not jazz up the inside of all your rooms with ‘Monster Mood Lighting’ stickers that create creepy glowing faces where once there were just light switches? Boo!

Things to do

Alongside bobbing apples and a fancy dress competition why not play ‘wrap the mummy’. All you need is two teams and lots of toilet paper! Identify two good sports to become the ‘mummy’ (best check they don’t suffer from claustrophobia first). Then race to be the first team to encase that volunteer in toilet roll in the style of a Scooby Doo villain. Messy but hilarious!

My girls try out the Aldi range

To keep your mini monsters amused, provide some creepy crafts such as scratch art bookmarks and colour-in masks from Yellow Moon – or get your guests to decorate their own trick or treat bags. And as an alternative to spooky sweets why not try the themed treats and toys from Baker Ross (the dentist will thank you!) to pop inside?

And have a frighteningly good time!

Four ways to WIN!!!!

To be in with a chance to win either an Angel’s Face pettiskirt or a ‘Snot’ backpack, you can do one (or all) of these things:

1. Simply leave a comment on this blog below – stating ‘I want Snot’ or ‘I want an Angel’s Face’.

2. Follow me on Twitter @VanessaSH and tweet me with ‘I want Snot’ or ‘I want an Angel’s Face’.

3. Find my Halloween competition board on Pinterest and comment ‘I want Snot’ or ‘I want an Angel’s Face’ on the relevant image Pin.

4. Like the Seven Year Hitch Facebook page and post ‘I want Snot’ or ‘I want an Angel’s Face’ on the wall.

Each comment, tweet or post you leave will give you once chance to win the item - so the more you do the more likely you are to win. Good luck! (Sorry the competition is for UK residents only). Winners will be chosen at random and announced here on Friday 18th October.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Is your wardrobe ready to POP?!

It’s not easy being a SMOG. What is a SMOG I hear you cry? Well, um, actually it is a 'smug mother of girls’. My mum told me about the phrase after reading it in The Daily Mail (so it must be true). I assume it means that typically girls are perceived as being less trouble than boys – after all ‘boys will be boys’ (whatever that means!).

Jo and George from 'POP'
Of course it’s a load of rubbish. I might not have to regularly break up Star Wars re-enactments that have got woefully out of hand – or visit A&E with broken bones from tree climbing, skate boarding and roughhousing (again, whatever that means), but girls come with their own foibles and challenges. And a lot of girls also break bones, love Star Wars and can throw a punch like a heavyweight (I include myself in that last category, so leave a comment on this blog or I’ll send myself round!!!).

One of the major issues with raising my girls has been clothes. It’s fair to say that my younger daughter was known far and wide for her love of tutus. It didn’t matter if it was cold, if we were knee-deep in mud or actually at a ballet class, a certain ‘Hello Kitty’ tutu was always part of her outfit. I had to wash it nearly every day to keep up. Her elder sister can be just as obsessive – she has been through phases of only wearing pink, only wearing t-shirts that don’t cover her tummy, refusing to wear long-sleeved items unless they are under a shorter sleeved one (?) and is currently a trousers-only girl on the basis that tights are annoying (yes, they are).

Apparently boys wear clothes too...
So perhaps unsurprisingly, our wardrobes tend to have items that are well-loved-but-way-too-small-that-cannot-ever-be-thrown-out and items that have been rejected completely because of colour, fit, fabric, sleeve-length or some such nonsense. This means a lot of clothes that still have plenty of life left in them are grown out of  – and that I’m not keen on buying new clothes unless I know my girls are going to wear (and wear and wear) them.

Well, a girl can never have too many shoes - am I right?

The solution? Decent second hand clothes sales! And specifically the ‘POP’ ones run by local mums Jo and George (sales take place in Hare Hatch and Wargrave). Before the sale I take along my barely worn but lovely children’s clothes to be priced up and hung on the rails – and during the sale I take along my two little angels to select items to their own (albeit peculiar) tastes. At the end I get a little money and I spend a little money. My girls get clothes they’ll wear – and someone else’s children get to wear the items mine have spurned. It’s a win/win situation!

Girls Rule and Boys Drool!!
And while you have just missed the last children’s sale (silly moo, like it on Facebook now so you don’t slip up again) – you can take advantage of the duo’s first sale of Ladies clothes and accessories on October 15th. I’ll be taking along some items that still have the price tag on (oh, I’ve just realised where my girls get their ridiculous behaviour from) – and hoping to nab a few new winter wardrobe pieces at purse-friendly prices!!

Were you at POP this time round? Or was your wardrobe?! Show these local lovelies your support by commenting below...

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Henley Literary Festival - running on empty!

Why does the petrol light always go on when you are in a bit of a rush? And why is it that I’m always in a bit of a rush anyway? Well it did, and so it was that I drove in a mild state of panic to Bix Manor – a rather lovely llama-inhabited (seriously, this is my serious face) 17th century brick and flint barn – for the Henley Literary Festival's ‘From Blog to Book’ event. Two celebrated bloggers Maggy Woodley and Helen McGinn were there to talk the audience through how their enormously popular blogs jumped off the screen and into the covers of real-world books.

From Blog to Book

Maggy Woodley is the author of Red Ted Art - Cute and Easy Crafts for Kids. And boy, she knows how to ‘upcycle’. The book gives the reader inspiration and practical tips on how to get down and dirty with kids as they craft everything from lavender wands to salt dough beads. Sections cover Halloween and Christmas, paper crafts, edible goodies, sewing and everything in between. Many of the crafts are environmentally friendly and fall into the ‘thrifty’ category too.

Helen McGinn meanwhile made it quite clear her talents lie closer to the wine cellar than the sewing box. A former supermarket wine buyer her unpretentious blog has now become The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club: Everything you need to know about wine and much, much more. The book gives golden-rules and tips on wine buying bypassing sniffy snobbery and industry jargon. Helen also writes a column in the Daily Mail and appears on Alan Titchmarsh Show giving advice on how to choose that perfect bottle.

So how exactly did these passions end up published?

The two lovely bloggers turned authors

The easy way
Helen’s blog started after a ‘light bulb moment’ while googling breastfeeding advice. She happened upon a blog that helped her in an entirely new way and she didn’t feel intimidated or overwhelmed – unlike official sources of advice she had previously struggled with. And that’s when it hit her – choosing wine could be just as scary for the uninitiated. So instead of just passing her knowledge onto friends and family in a weekly email, she started to blog about which bottles she was buying. Pretty soon the Knackered Mother’s Wine Club had attracted a legion of fans – and even had one fan give up a less-than-fulfilling day job and open up a wine bar! It wasn’t long before her blog caught the eye of a publisher. Six months later her book was written (using comments on her blog as a guide to what readers wanted to know).

And what if you are hoping to follow in her footsteps? Helen advises that you write on a topic you feel passionately about (for her they’ll always be more wine to try…) and find a good online community to support you (she recommends Britmums). And then, just maybe, a book might be born!

The not-so-easy way
For Maggy Woodley, Her Red Ted Art blog began as a way to relive her happy childhood memories of crafting with her own children. She found being creative also gave her the extra outlet many Stay At Home Mums need to recharge their batteries. As her blog grew in popularity she found she was often asked to review craft books – and it wasn’t long before she knew she wanted to pen one herself. After building up her ‘blogging CV’ with pieces in the national press and creating a dedicated social media presence on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook, her perseverance paid off and a publisher said yes it had been considering her as a potential author. From there she nabbed herself an agent, used the blog to see which crafts were most popular and those that people were generally more apprehensive about and set about putting her passion into publication.

Looking back, Maggie realises she had tremendous support from her family and feels she’s found the perfect way to integrate what is now her job with her family. Her children are included in her crafting – and appear throughout the pages of her book. For her, the personal connection and identity a blog makes is the all important factor for getting the book deal – because it’s that sparkle that will make the title shine out from the bookshelf.

Do you have a book inside you that’s fighting to get out? And what kind of blog do you think would make a best seller? Comments below please!