Rediscovering the 'Me' in 'Mumeeeeeee'

'I have always thought that there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than a housewife’s badly-cooked dinners and untidy ways'. (Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1861)

December 31, 2011

Happy New Me


So, Christmas is over. We've all eaten our way through too many chocolate oranges and are left feeling, let's just say, a little 'festive' around the middle. Generally, I'm not a fan of the 'post-Christmas/pre-New Year' week - it all seems a little forced and makes me realise how much I love my routine (even though I complain endlessly about that routine when I'm doing it). Also, the Christmas trees look very sad after Christmas, don't you think? Like they're trying really hard to still have a great time, with all their lights and baubles, but just ending up looking a bit tragic. Anyway, I digress....

So, it is with great delight that I realise we've reached New Year's Eve and with just a few more hours of excess to get through (that means you, box of fudge) I can look forward to starting on that detox I've been promising myself since, erm, this time last year and can happily put the gin bottle away for at least a month and not miss it at all (crosses fingers).

I'm also looking forward to a fresh start with my writing in 2012. I have watched several of my friends achieve huge breakthroughs and fantastic writing success in 2011 which has been hugely inspiring (yes, I am talking to you Maria Duffy and Jane Travers). Anyone who has followed me from the start (March 2009 - check it out here if you don't have anything pressing to do) will know that I've loved my blogging journey and have been pursuing my dream of being a published author at the same time. There are various posts around my blog explaining my writing journey (sorry - am a bit too full of stilton to think of a better word at the moment) and am delighted to be in a very happy place at the end of 2011 with a fabulous agent, Sheila Crowley of Curtis Brown, two 'near-miss' novels behind me and a notebook full of fabulous ideas which I just can't wait to get started on.

I also recently started writing a guest blog called 'Carry on Writing' for writing.ie which will follow my writing trials and tribulations during 2012 and I will also be continuing with my book review blog 'Off the Shelf' for hellomagazine.com. Hot off the press, Jane Wenham-Jones has also mentioned me in January's Writing Magazine which is rather exciting and in a lovely pre-Christmas Tweet, Vanessa O'Loughlin at Inkwell Writers mentioned me as 'one to watch in 2012'. Now, if all that doesn't give me the prefect excuse for an extra glass of champagne tonight, I don't know what does.

You may, or may not, also have noticed that I am no longer @hotcrossmum on Twitter, having decided, finally, to be my real self @HazelGaynor. Hot Cross Mum, the blog, will continue to be a place where I muse, rant and ponder all things child/parent related, and other things besides which catch my attention, but as far as my writing career goes, I shall henceforth be known as, well, myself!

So, here's to a fresh start, a blank screen and may the words flow as freely in 2012 as the bubbly will on the last night of 2011.

Cheers to you all and HAPPY NEW YEAR.

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December 19, 2011

Stowells Light Wine


Ahhhh, Christmas - I love everything about it: the songs, the fairy lights, the feasting and the, ahem, occasional festive tipple. I'm not usually one to fret about the colorific content of the liquid I am about to sip in contented enjoyment, but, let's face it, I turned 40 this year and that taut stomach I used to possess (when I was around the age of 14) just isn't going to make a reappearance anytime soon. So, if there is a wine out there which has lower calories than others, I for one am willing to give it a try.

The new Stowells Light is a low alcohol wine at just 5.5% and contains just 60 calories for a 125ml glass, that's 30% less calories per glass than a typical glass of wine. Great news - especially as this means I can now scoff the entire packet of crisps with a slightly less guilty conscience - hurray to that!


Stowells Light White is made from a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, and has fresh flavours of melon, pear and apricot. The Shiraz Rose, which I tried, is full of juicy strawberry, raspberry and cherry fruit flavours. Yum to all of the above. Cleverly, even though the wine is low alcohol and low calorie, it doesn't lose any of the flavour and if you like your wine to have a refreshing, fruity taste experience, this could be one for you. There is, of course, a big taste difference from a heavy, full-bodied red, but if you're looking for something lighter - in every sense of the word - I think this could be a big hit.

Clare Griffiths, Marketing Director for Accolade Wines (the people behind the Stowells brand) comments, 'We are very excited to launch Stowells Light. Quality and experience is at the forefront of everything that Stowells does, with a 130 year history as a wine merchant it has a great tradition of innovation. Our research has shown there is significant demand from consumers for low alcohol and low calorie offerings from brands they know and trust. But they are not willing to compromise on taste. We believe we have found a winning solution with Stowells Light'

Stowells Light is available at all ASDA stores nationwide for RRP £5.49.

For more information, visit www.stowellslight.com

Disclaimer

Please remember to drink Stowells Light sensibly.


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December 9, 2011

Modern Languages in Primary Schools - lost in translation?


In Ireland's budget earlier this week, among the many shocking and depressing announcements made, was a proposal to abolish the Modern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative with immediate effect. For anyone not familiar with the initiative, and to understand how short-sighted this is of the government, please read the response below from Tanya Flanagan, National Coordinator of the programme.

'As you can appreciate, we are absolutely devastated by this announcement which comes at the end of a year when we have been congratulated at every review meeting with the DES in terms of how we have continued to maintain and deliver excellent services while achieving significant efficiencies.


We support modern languages in over 550 schools nationally with a core team of just 6 people. We provide training, resources and school-based support as well as funding 300 visiting teachers who deliver the programme in schools nationwide, all within a budget of under €2 million, and not the €2.5 million erroneously quoted in the budget documents.

In terms of policy, we are already years behind our commitments under the Barcelona Agreement and the Lisbon Strategy – these agreements called for systems to be in place to facilitate early language learning of at least two foreign languages by 2010 .….Even more incredibly, all EU countries, including Ireland, ratified recommendations in NOVEMBER 2011 in which we have pledged to “step up their efforts” to implement the Barcelona Agreement!!! Please see - http://register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/11/st16/st16744.en11.pdf


As recently as October the Royal Irish Academy published their National Languages Strategy which called for “the Modern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative (to)be integrated into the mainstream curriculum, as strongly recommended by the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (2005) and the Council of Europe Policy Profile (2008) document,rather than being limited to extra-curricular time and to a portion of schools”. A Dept. of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation report also quoted in the RIA strategy and states that “the widespread but erroneous perception that ‘English is enough’ militates against the kind of plurilingual ambitions and achievements common in non-anglophone EU member states. The most recent strategy and action plan issued by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation argues that ‘the main challenge for Ireland…is to become a truly multilingual society, where the ability to learn and use two or more languages is taken for granted and fostered at every stage of the education system and through lifelong education”.


By abolishing the programme, over 14 years of expertise will be lost to the system and a whole generation of our children will be placed at an even greater disadvantage as they try to compete for jobs with our fellow Europeans.This decision will result in the only children accessing modern language classes being the privileged classes who can afford to pay for them – a return to the situation of 20 years ago. It will also result in over 300 more teachers on the live register.'


This video link also captures what is at stake with the Minister's decision to abolish the MLPSI programme.


If you would like to support the MLPSI to get this decision reversed, please contact your local TD, contact the Minister for Education directly at MINISTER@education.gov.ie , visit the MLPSIFacebook page and sign the petition to register your opposition to the budget announcement.


Thank you.


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December 2, 2011

The twelve days of a parent's Christmas

To be sung to the tune of 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' (obviously!)

On the first day of Christmas, my children gave to me, a toilet floor covered in wee.

On the second day of Christmas, my children gave to me, two dirty mugs and a toilet floor covered in wee.

On the third day of Christmas, my children gave to me, three Ben Ten's, two dirty mugs and a toilet floor covered in wee.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my children gave to me, four rude words, three Ben Ten's, two dirty mugs and a toilet floor covered in wee.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my children gave to me, five stolen things - four rude words, three Ben Ten's, two dirty mugs and a toilet floor covered in wee.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my children gave to me, six friends for play dates, five stolen things - four rude words, three Ben Ten's, two dirty mugs and a toilet floor covered in wee.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my children gave to me, seven loads of washing, six friends for play dates, five stolen things - four rude words, three Ben Ten's, two dirty mugs and a toilet floor covered in wee.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my children gave to me, eight hours sulking, seven loads of washing, six friends for play dates, five stolen things - four rude words, three Ben Ten's, two dirty mugs and a toilet floor covered in wee.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my children gave to me, nine silly dances, eight hours sulking, seven loads of washing, six friends for play dates, five stolen things - four rude words, three Ben Ten's, two dirty mugs and a toilet floor covered in wee.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my children gave to me, ten stones for keeping, nine silly dances, eight hours sulking, seven loads of washing, six friends for play dates, five stolen things - four rude words, three Ben Ten's, two dirty mugs and a toilet floor covered in wee.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my children gave to me, eleven minutes typing, ten stones for keeping, nine silly dances, eight hours sulking, seven loads of washing, six friends for play dates, five stolen things - four rude words, three Ben Ten's, two dirty mugs and a toilet floor covered in wee.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my children gave to me, twelve 'mum, mum, muuuuum-ings', eleven minutes typing, ten stones for keeping, nine silly dances, eight hours sulking, seven loads of washing, six friends for play dates, five stolen things - four rude words, three Ben Ten's, two dirty mugs,

and a toilet floor covered in weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

This post was written for Potty Mummy and Expat Mum who made me properly Laugh Out Loud and inspired me to blog about wee on the floor after some shared tweeting on the matter.

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Hot Wheels Wall Tracks review


I have two boys. They have lots of race track for their cars. It spends most of its life in various bits and pieces scattered around my sitting room or somebody's bedroom and I spend most of my life tripping over it, standing on it or hoovering up segments of it. Basically, it drives me up the wall. So, imagine my delight when Mattel got in touch to see if my boys would like to try their new Hot Wheels Wall Tracks, which you can, literally, drive up the wall. Yes please!

The idea of Hot Wheels Wall Tracks is that you assemble the racing track on the wall, where it stays, rather than under your feet. The track comes with a hanging template to help set them up - admittedly my husband took charge of this, but he reassures me that it is quite straightforward. The track sticks to the wall with 3M Command Strips, which you can get from places like Homebase and B&Q - but they also come free in the Hot Wheels box. 3M Command strips are safe and easy to use and don't damage the walls - although there are obvious warnings about using on your lovely new Farrow and Ball wallpaper etc! The sets are all fully customisable and connect to other Hot Wheels sets so you can mix and match to create different race tracks.

I have to admit to being sceptical when I saw the info for the product - would it really stay on the wall? Well, it does and the boys absolutely love it. We have assembled it in the smallest bedroom in the house - an average sized box room of an average sized 3 bed semi (to give you an idea). It is fixed from about half-way up the height and takes up about a third of the space of the longest wall and runs down to floor level. It is also designed to run in a curve around a corner so some of the track is also fixed against the small side wall. Of course, the kids take the track apart and change bits around and forget to put bits back together so some does end up on the bedroom floor - unfortunately no toy is completely mess-proof - but, all-in-all, I think this is a toy which prevents more mess than it creates.

This really is a great idea and a great toy and if you have kids who love their racing cars and racing tracks this is sure to be a big hit. Plus, the novelty factor of having a racing track actually on your bedroom wall is pretty hard to beat! Thumbs up all round from the Hot Cross household!



The starter set is priced around £29.99 and the stunt sets are priced around £16.99.


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November 24, 2011

Send a letter from Santa with the NSPCC

The NSPCC are hoping to raise over £1.6million from their Christmas 2011 campaign whicih includes a number of simple, yet effective, fundraising initiatives.

Firstly, the Letter from Santa. This has been running for a couple of years now and is a lovely way to support the NPSCC, and bring a little bit of Christmas magic to the children in your family for a suggested donation of £5. The short trailer below tells you more about it.



Or, why not send a personalised NSPCC eCard with a range of animations to choose from or an NSPCC Christmas Bauble which is a great stocking filler and a nice change from socks, ties and the wrong perfume (sigh).

All these activities will help to raise much needed funds to help vulnerable children across the UK. Visit the NSPCC website to see details of all their Christmas fundraising activities. You can also contact the NSPCC on Twitter @NSPCC.

Thank you.

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November 23, 2011

Advent Calendars - Choc or Not?


As Dec 1st approaches, the travesty of modern Advent Calendars will, once again, rear its ugly, chocolatey head and make me sigh inwardly as I leave the supermarket checkout.

Gone, it seems, are the simple, paper Advent Calendars of Christmas Past where you opened a little window and found a lovely picture of a toy soldier or a teddy bear or a robin in the snow. Gone, is the delight of comparing your picture to your sister's to discover that she got a rubbish bauble picture and you got a snowman. Gone is the sheer joy of the Double Window for 24th December which you tried and tried to resist peeking at for the entire month. Gone is the thrill of the Christmas Eve nativity scene which was eventually revealed behind that final, huge window. Gone are these simple, happy advent times.

Now, we have the dubious festive delights of, Peppa Pig, The Simpsons and Ben effing Ten - all with a nasty, cheap chocolate hiding behind the 'window' in a crappy plastic tray which will inevitably be eaten for breakfast because, obviously, the windows are opened first thing in the morning. What, pray tell, is festive about that? Huh? HUH, Tescos, M&S and other offending shops -what do you have to say for yourselves for foisting this annual travesty upon our poor, unsuspecting children? Call me a snob, call me scrooge, call me whatever you like, I would rather consume an entire platter of brussels sprouts than have a chocolate advent calendar in the house.

Thankfully, sense has prevailed among some and there are still a few paper calendars to be found. We have had a UNICEF advent calendar for the last few years - it's a lovely calendar which goes right back to traditions, keeps things simple and does just what an advent calendar is supposed to do - count the days down to Christmas with festive pictures behind each window. We also have a lovely hand-made fabric calendar which, admittedly, does have a little pocket for each day of December, but that doesn't necessarily mean the pockets will be filled with sweets - possibly little notes to the children, or something (when I've got around to thinking about it) but not chocolates every day.

So, who's with me? What's your opinion of the advent calendar - do you choc, or not?

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November 21, 2011

Surprise! It's the Best of Britmums Carnival


It's been a while (a year to be precise), but I'm delighted to be hosting the Best of Britmums Carnival again this week. In keeping with the festive season (31 sleeps and counting, people), the theme for this week's Carnival is 'Surprises' which, as it turns out, come in all sorts of shapes and sizes - and, erm, forms.

Thanks to everyone who submitted a post and to everyone who retweeted my Tweets about the Carnival. All that remains is to add a splash of Baileys to your coffee, squirt some cream on a mince pie, sit back and enjoy your fellow blogger's surprises.

*

First up, we have Maggy from Red Ted Art who offers a lovely way to surprise someone with these very crafty 'No Knit Christmas Stockings' . She also does some surprisingly green washing with her 'Night Time Laundry' tips.

Next is Emma from Mummy...Mummy...Mum who surprised me by sending her Carnival entries before I had even remembered I was hosting one! She tells us about how surprisingly quickly we forget how calm life was before school days in 'The School Run Baby'. From her Science Sparks blog, she also shares a Bonfire Night surprise with her 'Firework in a Glass.'

Luci from Mother Wife Me is a first time Carnivaller and starts her foray into Carnivals with an absolute corker of a post about the mother of all surprises she got from her toddler. Read all about it in 'Surprise - It's a Poo!'

Next, Heidi from Mama Cook shares some surprisingly delicious food ideas for babies and toddlers. Check out her Roasted Courgette Chips and her Swede and Carrot Puree which, she claims, even adults will enjoy - surprised? You betcha.

Cass from Frugal Family tells us about the very sweet and very surprising organisations skills of her daughter in her Proudest Moment.

In a very honest and touching post, Tracy from Green Mums shares her thoughts on how becoming a parent surprised her in many, many ways in 'Well now, that was a big surprise.'

Next to share her surprise is Liz from The Mum Blog who brought a tear to my eye (and restored my faith in the male species!) in the very lovely, 'Thank you, he's beautiful'.

Maria from Tiger Tales shares her thoughts on becoming a mum (and includes some extremely cute photos!) in 'Surprise Surprise!'

Mary from A Small Hand in Mine who was surprised to see her son's classmates wearing their school uniforms with a post about one of those days in 'This morning...'

And finally, I had my own unwelcome surprise recently when my son discovered one of my Grandma's pills and thought it was a sweet. He was surprised to discover that it didn't taste very nice - I was horrified. Read about it here.

Thank you to everyone for submitting these posts which I really enjoyed reading. If you would like to contribute to, or host, a Britmums Carnival, details are on the Britmums Blog here.

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November 15, 2011

What is it with ambient lighting and men?


If there is one good reason to enjoy the onset of winter, it is ambient lighting: table lamps, fairy lights and candles. Ahhhhhhh, bliss, relaxing in the cosy warmth of your home while the wind howls outside and the rain lashes the windows.

That is, until your husband gets home.

What is it about the male genetic make-up which prevents them from enjoying soft, ambient, calm lighting and compels them to exist in either absolute gloomy darkness or in the harsh, stark brightness of the 'Big Light'?

Every evening it's the same routine - I go around creating a pleasant, calming mood in the house and he then goes around muttering about too many lights being on and asking what the fairy lights are doing up in October (I personally blame Nigella Lawson for this particular lighting issue - if she can have a fairy light covered kitchen all year round, why can't I?). Then, he switches off all the pleasant lights and turns on a couple of 'Big Lights' which give me a migraine and unsettle my biorhythms.

And surely, there can be no greater disappointment than returning from a rare evening out to find the entire house shrouded in absolute darkness.

'You sure this is your house love?' the taxi driver enquires as we pull up outside.
'Yes,' I sigh.

So much for coming back to a warm, welcoming, softly lit glow through the windows. Oh no - I go inside to find him sitting in total and utter darkness with just the flickering lights from the TV for company.

'Why didn't you turn the lamps on?' I'll enquire, turning the lamps on.
'I didn't need to - I can see fine without them,' he responds.

So, it seems that for my husband, lights are purely functional. They provide light, if any is needed (which it, apparently, frequently isn't). End of. And why, oh why, would you add lots of additional lights when you have one perfectly good 'Big One'?

Sigh.

Nevertheless, I shall persevere with my nightly routine and will continue to switch on my lamps and fairy lights and will light up my Yankee Candles and tea lights and flood the house with pleasant scents and warmth in the vague hope that one of these days, a light will switch on in his brain and he'll 'get' it.

Fairy lights are for life you know, not just for Christmas.

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November 11, 2011

Best of Britmums Carnival - call for entries


It's been a while, but I'm delighted to be hosting the next Best of Britmums Carnival on 22nd November.

In the spirit of the build up to Christmas, the theme is 'Surprises'! Whether it's something surprising that's happened to you, ways in which your children have surprised you, ways in which being a parent has surprised you or any other sort of surprise, this Carnival is all about the 'Ta-Daaaaaa'!

Please email entries to me at hdgaynor@gmail.com by 20th November at the latest so I have time to pull it all together and have a G&T.

If you haven't contributed to a blog Carnival before, further details about the Britmums Carnivals can be found here.

Looking forward to reading everyone's posts.

xx

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November 10, 2011

A wooden toy is for life, not just for Christmas


Last night, while I mopped up spilt tea, retrieved peas from the bottom of chair legs and muttered expletives under my breath (a regular occurrence at around 5.30pm), the boys found the Smyths Toys catalogue and occupied themselves for a good thirty minutes 'oooooh-ing' and 'aaahhh-ing' at The Stuff. I don't really like them doing this and have motherly-angst that they should be doing something educational like, I don't know, arguing with each other, but it gave me a few minutes of peace and quiet in which to mop, retrieve and mutter so I left them to it.

You see, the problem with a lot of 'The Stuff' in such toy catalogues is a load of all plastic rubbish, quite frankly, which will fall apart within a few hours and which I will spend most of my life putting back together. So, I am extremely keen to tell you about the award winning Le Toy Van Toys which specialise in wooden toys. Proper, quality, well-made, gorgeous wooden toys.

The company offers everything from wooden blocks, to fire engines, play kitchens and balance bikes to suit all age ranges and all price ranges. I challenge any parent not to see something on the site that they would love and the fact that the toys are made using responsibly sourced wood is also a plus point.

We were very lucky to receive the amazing 'Excalibur Castle' to review and I have to say it is one of the nicest toys we have. As with any toy, there is some assembly required, but it's fairly straightforward and after a bit of screwing and aligning, you have this fabulous creation ........


Although the toy doesn't come with any of the figures pictured (which is a bit of a shame and one or two figures included would be a nice addition), this is a sturdy, excellently made, robust toy which cannot fail to excite the imagination of any child - boy or girl. With working pulleys and drawbridge and plenty of corners and levels to role-play scenes with, my boys have adored playing with this. I am sure they will continue to play with it for many, many years to come and I have a feeling that this is one of those toys I could see coming out of the attic and being dusted off for the grandchildren to play with.

The Excalibur Castle isn't the cheapest at just under £50 but I think it's a great investment for a family toy which will stand the test of time.

That's my top Christmas tip for 2011 and for that, I think I deserve a glass of sherry. Cheers.

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November 7, 2011

The one in which my son eats one of my Grandma's pills


It's a classic case of mistaken identity and it happened to us this weekend.

Staying at my Grandma's house comes with plenty of hazards, mainly in the form of excessive amounts of lemonade, trifle and out-of-date biscuits, but a new hazard presented itself this time we visited and it took the form of a 400mg ibuprofen tablet. She'd dropped it earlier in the day and placed it on the sideboard. My 4-yr-old saw it and, thinking it was a sweet, popped it into his mouth.

The first I knew, he was spitting a vibrant pink mush out of his mouth complaining that 'this isn't very sweetie-ish'. Alarm bells started to ring and it became clear that he'd helped himself to a tablet. But what tablet and were there any others? Did he swallow any? Had my 6-yr-old eaten anything? Serious discussions were had and satisfied that it was just the one tablet, and that, as far as we could see, he hadn't actually swallowed any, I called NHS Direct for advice.

By this time, all seemed to be fine with my son and Grandma, feeling guilty, presented him with a ginormous bowl of ice cream. So, when the advisor at the end of the phone (going through a routine questionnaire which bizarrely included questions such as 'Did the individual take this in order to self-harm' and 'Has the individual swallowed a coin or battery') asked me whether he was gasping for breath, going limp or blue around the lips, I happily said 'No, he's eating ice cream.' What on earth it must be like to endure those endless questions if your child was gasping for breath, going limp or blue around the lips, God only knows - and I hope I never find out.

The NHS Direct service was very efficient and the nurse called me back within 10 minutes to reassure me that he would not come to any harm even if he had ingested a little of the tablet and that there was no added complication because he'd been taking Benilyn for a cough.

Nevertheless, I put him in bed with me that night and didn't sleep a wink while I watched him like a hawk and wondered why pharmaceutical companies make their tablets in such child-appealing colours. Why not make them a dull grey or something a child would be less likely to confuse with a sweet?

Anyway, it was a lesson learnt for all of us and I would urge any Grandmas reading to take note: keep all medication well out of the reach of Grandchildren - and perhaps ease back a bit on the portions of ice cream too.

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October 25, 2011

Pampers and UNICEF - Make a Difference


What would you say if I told you that a baby dies from the tetanus disease every NINE minutes in the developing world?
What would you say if I told you that the tetanus vaccine, which will save that babies life, costs just 4.4p?
What would you say if I told you that by clicking on a website, you could generate the cost of that vaccine and save that babies life?

Here's how you can help - please read on to find out more about the campaign.
For each of the following actions taken Pampers will donate the cost of a tetanus vaccine to UNICEF which will help protect a woman and child still at risk from the disease.
The Pampers/UNICEF Make a Difference campaign was launched to a group of UK and Ireland bloggers in London last Friday. I met some amazing people, learnt an huge amount about the incredible job UNICEF do in developing countries and now I am writing this blog post to ask you to take a couple of minutes to support the campaign.



What is the campaign about?
Since 2006, Pampers has partnered with UNICEF to help eliminate maternal and newborn tetanus (MNT) globally with its ‘1 pack = 1 life saving vaccine’ campaign, which has funded 300 million tetanus vaccines to help protect women and their babies around the world. However, MNT still threatens the lives of 130 million women and their newborn babies in 39 countries around the world and it is those women and babies UNICEF is trying to reach now.

What is Maternal and Newborn Tetanus (MNT)?
Maternal and newborn tetanus, are deadly diseases caused by bacteria that lives on dead and decaying matter in soil, animal dung and faeces, and usually begin with the contamination of an open wound. Newborn tetanus occurs when newborns are infected as a direct result of unhygienic birthing practices, such as cutting the umbilical cord with un-sterile instruments, handling it with dirty hands or treating it with contaminated dressings and traditional substances such as ghee, cow dung, ashes and mud. Mothers can be infected with maternal tetanus during an unsafe or unsanitary delivery. Maternal and newborn tetanus are completely preventable through immunisation and hygienic birth practices.

Hardest to Reach

Although MNT is easily preventable, the reality is that a baby still dies from MNT every 9 minutes and there are still approximately 130 million women and their future newborns – equivalent to twice the combined populations of UK and Ireland – who urgently need to be protected. These women and babies live in some of the hardest to reach communities around the world (i.e. those who live in remote, inaccessible communities, those who live in nomadic tribes, those whole live in urban slums and those who live in countries experiencing civil war) with no access to quality healthcare.

Why don't Pampers just give UNICEF a donation to cover the cost of the vaccines?
By adding the UNICEF name to nappies and baby wipes, Pampers gives the campaign global reach and also helps to put the UNICEF name into people's houses. If the money was quietly given to UNICEF, the campaign wouldn't have the same impact in terms of raising awareness of the issue of MNT and ensuring this gets onto the agenda of governments globally.

So, again, how can you help?
Please take a moment to click on the sites above. It only takes a minute. It's not much to ask really, is it.

For more, first-hand experience of the amazing work being done by UNICEF, please read Tara Cain's very moving account of her trip to Indonesia 'Inspirational People'.

I will also be working with Irish bloggers Lisa at Mama.ie, Sandra at MummyPages and Michelle at New Irish Mammy to raise awareness of the campaign.




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October 24, 2011

Fancy dress: to buy, or to DIY?


My son will be dressing up as Harry Potter for his birthday party this weekend. When we first discussed it, he thought this wasn't going to be possible because, as he pointed out, "Well mummy, I would really like to dress up as Harry Potter, but we don't have a Harry Potter dress-up suit."

Hmmmmm.

I proceeded to explain that dressing up doesn't just have to mean buying a ready-made costume from a shop and that you can actually make a costume up from things you have around the house and in the dressing up box. He looked at me dubiously. "Erm, well, OK mummy. If you're sure."

"I'm sure," I said and started rooting around to find anything which might result in him vaguely resembling Harry Potter.

Five minutes and a ridiculous amount of mess later, he was running around the house shouting 'expelliarmus' to his younger brother, as he pointed his 'wand' (aka 'mast from a toy pirate ship') at him. With a pair of black trousers, a plain black jumper, an inside-out cape from a batman suit (OK, we cheated a little there) a pair of old black-rimmed specs with the lenses taken out and my old school tie, Harry Potter was born. With the addition of a Hogwarts school crest printed off the web and a quick face-painted lightening bolt across his forehead, the transformation was complete. And I was actually quite pleased with my creation - far from looking 'home-made' he looked great!

I remember dressing up as Mr Bump for a village fancy dress parade for the Queen's Silver Jubilee (yes, I am that old). My 'costume' was made out of a chicken-wire frame onto which the long blue tail off my dad's stunt kite was wrapped. Add in a few bandages from the first aid box and I made quite a reasonable Mr Bump. I didn't win a prize, but hey, we tried and I'm sure, like me with my home-made Harry, my mum was as pleased as punch as she led her Mr Bump down the village.

Coming up to Halloween, the issue of fancy dress always crops up - the shops are rammed full of perfectly made, often quite affordable dress up costumes which make it difficult to justify going to the bother of trying to lash something together yourself, which obviously won't look as professional. But where's the fun in picking something up 'off-the-shelf'? Much better to make something out of the odds and sods you have lying around the house, don't you think?

Or do you disagree? Are shop-bought costumes just more convenient? Are they an easy-option for busy parents or do you still enjoy making up your own costumes for your kids - cardboard boxes covered in silver foil and all that, or would they be mortified at the thought?!

I'm also ranting about Halloween in general over at Ready For Ten this week - why not pop over and see why it makes my blood boil. Boo humbug, as you might say.

Now 'expelliarmus' - I have a halo to polish.

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October 19, 2011

To walk or not to walk? The great buggy debate.


So, we know childhood obesity is a problem and it was reported in the Telegraph this week that the issue of the humble buggy could also now be a contributory factor to this problem.

'Make your 3-year-old walk on short trips', rather than strapping them into the buggy all the time is the advice being given by Health Ministers. And I, for one, say here, here.

I think one of the more depressing sights on our streets has to be the school child, slumped into a buggy which is about four sizes too small for them, dragging their shoes along underneath it while they scoff a packet of Wotsits. It makes me shudder. It's almost worse than seeing a builder's bum. Almost.

OK, we all know how eye-crunchingly frustrating it is to walk anywhere with a toddler. A five-minute 'pop to the shops' becomes a polar expedition, stopping here, there and everywhere to look at this leaf and that twig. And yes, it's sometimes difficult to know what time you'll need to leave the house to allow enough time with a dawdling tot to make sure you get to where you need to be in time. You have to keep your eyes peeled and keep up a constant stream of cautionary advice, 'Watch where you're going,' 'Careful of the cars,' 'You're a bit too near the kerb' etc etc. So, of course, the temptation is to hoist the kids into the buggy so we can go wherever we want, at our own pace and in our own, invariably precious, time.

Both my boys were out of the buggy and walking to the local shops by the age of around two. Of course, for longer trips and busy shopping centres the buggy came in handy, but as far as I can remember the buggy quickly became more of a hindrance than a help, tipping itself over every time someone got out of it (that I do not miss) and anyway the boys went as rigid as iron girders if I so much as attempted to strap them into it.

The buggy is now somewhere shoved into the back of the attic. I'm sure that because I haven't used the buggy for so long, I have put myself through some additional frustrations and done more than my fair share of chiding the boys along to get to where ever we are going, but they are now great walkers (6 hr hike up a mountain in the Lake District at ages 4 and 6!) and, more importantly, they understand the rules of walking near roads and crossing the road safely.

What do you think? Do buggies have their time and place or do you rely heavily on your buggy for a 3-yr-old (or older)? It's an interesting debate and one which I am sure will continue to run for as long as the buggy manufacturers continue to think up ways of keeping us hooked on their products.

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October 7, 2011

My Mum's Christmas Cake - continuing the legacy

In the infamous, shouty words of Noddy Holder 'It's CHRIIIISSSSSSSTMAAAAAAS'.

Well, not quite, but it felt like it was getting close when the delicious smell of my baking christmas cake filled the kitchen at the weekend (and whoever said dark rum was only for pirates was wrong by the way - my 4 and 6 year olds were both a little too keen on the smell of the stuff).

Baking the Christmas cake is a very special occasion in our house. Not just because of the tradition of making a wish as we stir the mixture (and the hilarious - yes I'm being sarcastic - mess which ends up all over the floor), but it is a special occasion because the recipe we use is my mums.
I rediscovered her hand-written, dog-eared recipe a few years ago. It was nestled between the pages of her 1964 edition of Woman's Own Cook Book (a book which probably deserves a blog post all of its own). Despite the fact that there is a huge rip in the instructions where the vital information about preparing the cake tin and baking temperature should be, and despite the fact that my husband and two children won't eat the finished cake, I will continue to make it every year because it was a family tradition from when I was a little girl and now, as a mum myself, I will continue the legacy of my mum's Christmas cake. Think of it, if you will, as my own little tribute to the marvellous woman and baking genius she truly was.

Even though it isn't yet Halloween, now is the time to be making those cakes people, and it's also National Baking Week in the UK. So, if you haven't made yours already, here is my mum's recipe to inspire and get you into a Christmas cakey bakey mood.

'Andrea's Christmas Cake'
(make 5-6 weeks before Christmas - with a glass of sweet sherry* to hand)

Ingredients
8oz soft butter
8oz light golden soft brown sugar
4 large eggs/4 tablespoons milk/4 tablespoons dark rum beaten together - total weight of 12oz liquid
12oz self raising flour/1 tsp mixed spice/4 oz ground almonds - mixed together
8oz currants/8oz raisins/8oz sultanas/4 oz glace cherries/2 oz mixed peel/2oz chopped nuts - mixed together

Method
Line 8inch square or round tin with greaseproof paper - bottom and sides of tin
Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Gradually add the liquid mixture and the flour mixture alternately.
Stir in the mixed fruits.
Make wishes!
Pour into the prepared tin and bake at 120 celcius for 4 and a half hours.
Allow to cool in tin.
Remove from tin, prick holes in top and pour over a tablespoon of rum.
Wrap cake in greaseproof paper and foil and place in tin.
Prick holes in top and pour over a spoonful of rum once a week until about a week before Christmas when the cake will be ready for icing. There are no instructions for icing the cake, so like me, you'll have to make that bit up yourself!

*the sweet sherry is optional but adds to the authenticity of my 1980s memories. Feel free to substitute the sherry with red wine, port or whatever takes your fancy. This also helps you to be significantly less bothered about the mess your kids will inevitable make when stirring the mixture and tipping the flour bit all over the floor.

Enjoy.

This post was partly inspired by the fabulous 'Little Legacy' started by Penny over at The Alexander Residence. Lovely, timeless things from small, humble beginnings.

@AResidence




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October 5, 2011

What books are you reading during Children's Book Week?


With The Telegraph reporting this week that we are in a golden age of children's literature, it would seem that Children's Book Week has plenty of reason to celebrate and be proud!

It still shocks and surprises me when I read reports which provide statistics showing that parents don't read a bedtime story to their children. This has been something we just assumed everyone did as a parent and has been part of our bedtime routine (I say 'routine' with a manic grin on my face) since the boys were tiny, tiny babies. Even though I can sometimes barely keep my eyes open, reading bedtime stories is a great way for everyone to wind down. Our nightly battle isn't so much about brushing teeth, it's about how many stories they can have before the lights really do have to be turned off! The boys (aged 4 and 6) are now able to enjoy a huge range of fiction and non-fiction books as well as picture books and the shelves are straining under the weight of all the fabulous stories we have treasured so far - and will treasure for years to come.
John Lewis has released their Top 10 Children's Books for Christmas to mark Children's Book Week - the list includes some great classics such as The Famous Five as well as modern classics such as The Gruffalo.
The John Lewis Top 10 selection ranges from beautiful sound books to box sets featuring many of children‟s literature‟s best-known characters. “Christmas is not only about the latest must-haves but also the "should-haves‟ - books should be an essential part of every child‟s Christmas,” says John Lewis toys and books buyer Elaine Hooper. “According to a recent Unicef story, children most enjoy spending time with families and siblings. Reading is the perfect way to bring the whole family together. Choose books you know will capture your kids' imaginations and they‟ll want to read them over and over again making books a great
value for money Christmas gift.”

The John Lewis Top 10 is:

1. Head Shoulders Knees and Toes sound book £6.99
2. Jingle Bells sound book £6.99
3. The Night Before Christmas book and CD £7.99
4. The Jolly Postman £11.99
5. Lego Star Wars Ultimate Activity box set £12.99 (exclusive to John Lewis)
6. The Lego Ideas book £16.99
7. The Peter Rabbit Library £19.99
8. Pretty Pink Tea Par ty £19.99
9. The Gruffalo & Gruffalo‟s Child £20
10. The Famous Five 10 Adventures boxed set £35

Special offers from John Lewis this Christmas include a Famous Five boxed set of 10 books at £35, with £50 off the RRP, and a Peter Rabbit Library at £19.95 with £15 off the RRP.

Children's Book Week is an annual event to celebrate reading for pleasure among primary school children. There are a huge amount of activities taking place around the UK to celebrate Children' Book Week. Check out the website for further details.

This isn't a sponsored post - I just love books!!!

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September 30, 2011

Playdates - The Rules


Play dates are funny things - they sort of creep up on you as you stumble and wobble your way through motherhood and I, for one, have never quite been sure of the rules. So, for what it's worth, here's what I've learnt over the years.

When your child is invited to a play date
1. Don't stay for a cup of tea when you drop your child off. The other parent doesn't really want you to stay anyway - even though they will ask - and you both know that you're planning a quick trip to the shops to take back that top you bought at the weekend, so make a run for it while the going's good.

2. Don't expect your child to eat anything sensible, speak or generally interact with the other parent in any way. They will simply make a beeline for the toy box/play room and won't emerge until it is time to go home.

3. Stay for a cup of tea when you go to collect your child. You won't be able to get them to come home with you anyway, so you might as well stay and have a chat to the other parent while you shout the occasional 'ten-minute-warning' up the stairs. This can take up to an hour.

4. Be prepared for tears and much prising of toys out of clenched fists when it is actually time to leave. Laugh it all off - you can be cross in the privacy of the car on the way home.

5. Enjoy the compliments the other parent gives you about how polite/kind/pleasant your child is, because within five seconds of getting into the car they will unleash a tirade of fury and exhaustion on you.

6. Expect your child to announce a list of all the amazing, cool toys their friend has and to complain relentlessly about the rubbish and 'lack of' toys they have themselves.


When hosting a play date
1. Plan a fun activity you can all do together like baking cookies, making rice krispie buns or decorating fairy cakes. You will enjoy doing it anyway, even if the children show absolutely no interest whatsoever until the eating part.

2. Keep the TV on standby for emergencies only i.e. when the 'play' part of the date seems to be causing more arguments and disagreements than anything else. This is when you calmly put a Scooby Doo DVD on and get everyone to sit quietly on the floor with a drink and a piece of fruit and retreat to the kitchen to make a nice cup of tea and congratulate yourself on how well the play date is going.

3. Don't expect the DVD/drink/fruit calmness to last for longer than five minutes. At this stage, one or another of the children will be bored of the DVD and will want you to help them finish their Lego spaceship or read them the entire encyclopedia of dinosaurs they have discovered.

4. Don't expect your children to necessarily entertain/play with their guests. They won't. You will.

5. Beware of the 'Last Few Minutes of Mayhem Syndrome' - even if the play date has been a great success and everyone has played brilliantly and the TV wasn't even needed and there were no arguments, you can guarantee that two minutes before the parent arrives to collect their child, all hell will break loose - someone will need a poo, the cat will puke on the carpet, your own children will start fighting, the guests will spill a drink all over themselves and the smoke alarm will go off. Smile and offer a cup of tea anyway and ruffle your child's hair affectionately as you fondly wave goodbye from the doorstep.

7. Be prepared to have serious words with your children as soon as everyone has left about how disappointed you were with their behaviour and that if they can't learn to share their toys they won't be able to have any more friends over. Most play dates will, inevitably, end in tears.

8. Spend the rest of the afternoon tidying up and eating the rest of the rice krispie buns.

So, now you know!


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September 28, 2011

The one where I encounter a children's party entertainer


It started innocently enough. A general enquiry left on a mobile phone - 'I'm vaguely interested in hiring a children's entertainer for my son's party' - that sort of thing. Little did I know what dark and strange things I was meddling with.

The 'children's entertainer' in question - who shall remain nameless (in a Voldemort kind of way) returned my call. I should have suspected trouble the moment I answered the phone.

"Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii," she trilled into my ear. "It's blah blah, from blah blah blah. You left a message about our party planning service." Did I? "I'm just leaving an event - can you hear me on the speakerphone?" Unfortunately, yes. "So, how are you today?"

My hackles are already rising - she is WAY to happy to tolerate for more than five seconds. "Well, erm, I was just making a general enquiry about the costs really."

"Oh, well that's grrreeeeat. Fantastic. Isn't it a beautiful day?"

I now notice the time and realise I need to leave the house to collect my son. "I was really just wondering that the costs are," I say, as I start walking to pre-school.

"Well, we have several packages with several different pricing options, depending on the day, time, location, the specific entertainer, the age of your child, whether it is for a boy or a girl and whether you would like the full entertainment package or not. For boys our most popular packages are the Magician and Pirate."

"Well, we kind of wanted a Harry Potter theme and I really just wanted to....."

"Our full package is absolutely fantastic. The children absolutely love it. We can offer a full hour and a half of face painting, parachute games, disco dancing, balloon animals - in absolutely any shape, size or colour the children would like - what colour would your child prefer? And the best part of all - a MAGIC SHOW - because we truly believe that all children have extra special magic in their hands on their birthday." Her voice is now so enthusiastically high, I am surrounded by bats and dogs. "Isn't that wonderful!"

Just tell me the f***ing price lady.

"So, because you're outside Dublin it will be ten euros more than if you were in Dublin. If you choose the Friday it will be ten euros less than the Saturday and if you choose a time slot of 10am-12pm that will be ten euros less than at other times, which will be ten euros more if you;re in Dublin, but it will still be ten euros less if you choose the Friday rather than the Saturday and it will also be ten euros less on either day if you choose our newest entertainer, unless you live in Dublin in which case it will be ten euros more than you would be paying for an entertainer outside Dublin."

I failed my O'Level maths. All I am hearing is white noise. I turn my phone off.

All, ALL I wanted to know was how much it would cost for some fella to come to my house dressed up like Dumbledore, do a few magic tricks and disappear - as if by magic. Instead, I just spent possibly the most annoying, unnecessary, unhelpful fifteen minutes of my life.

Suffice to say, the hired entertainer idea has been ditched. It's far too complicated. Instead, I think Daddy will have to put on a wig, hide a few coins behind his ear and burst some balloon snakes. What more could a six year old possibly want anyway?

I think there is a moral in this tale - but the screeching lady has me so bloody confused, I'm not quite sure what it is.



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September 22, 2011

I blog, therefore I am.

Blog:

noun

  • a personal website or web page on which an individual records opinions, links to other sites, etc. on a regular basis.
So, now you know what the official Oxford English Dictionary definition of a blog actually is.

But the what isn't usually the most asked question. It's the why. 'Why do you blog?' is what people really want to know when they look at you goggle-eyed over the bowl of kettle chips at someone's house party.

It's not an easy one to answer and sometimes I'm not even sure myself (as can frequently be seen in the ever-increasing gaps in my blog posts *slaps self on wrist and promises to do better*). But, even though my poor, long-suffering blog should probably be taken off to some sort of a Shelter for Neglected Blogs at this stage, I could never abandon it, walk away, switch off completely, because it's my little bit of space to write, rant, pontificate, practice using words like pontificate and generally 'connect' with other people who like to write, rant and all of the above.

This is by no means the first blog to question the why of blogging. Far from it - there is continual debate out there in the blogosphere about the 'why'? Funny that - how the act of blogging itself often becomes a reason to blog. And it isn't just the doubters and the nay-sayers and the blog conspiracy theorists (I don't actually think there are any of them, I just made that bit up) who ask why - it's the bloggers themselves. People like me. Bloggers.

Is it all a bit pompous, we ask? Are we bloggers just the annoying kid at school who strains their arm ever skywards in a desperate attempt to be picked to answer the question; the kid who revels in the 'show and tell' days - 'Look at me, Look at me!' we shout, 'I have something very important and astute to say.' Are we bloggers all just lying in the gutter, looking at the words of agreement and support in our comments boxes?

I don't think so.

In fact, I think blogging is just the same as anything else we choose to do in life. We do it because we enjoy it. We get a sense of satisfaction from it. We may do it to hone our skills as a writer (you wouldn't find Usain Bolt heading off to the Olymipcs without putting in a bit of practice somewhere first would you now). We may do it to build a profile, to 'showcase' our portfolio, to promote a book (oh yes, one day, it will be mine), or to simply have a space to say what's on our mind when a spiral-bound notebook and a distracted pre-schooler don't seem to be giving us quite the attention we feel we deserve.

Why blog? Why not.

This post was inspired by two other very interesting posts I've read this week about the point of blogging. They are written by Caren Kennedy here and Derek Flynn here.

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