Willow Face Paint Hoo BookFest

How to get Vouchers/Adverts for your school or charity

Willow Face Paint Hoo BookFest
Cheeky Butterfly

It’s school summer fair season again!  That means I’ve been approached by a LOT of schools in the surrounding area, for either adverts in their brochures or vouchers for their raffles.

Realistically, the vouchers do not really help me with my business.  I don’t get a lot of visibility from them and I don’t get a lot of business.  However, I do like to support the local community; my kids are at a local school, and I’m very aware of how hard the PTA’s work for both the private and state schools.  Sadly at times I do feel a little ‘used’ at times by the schools that approach me (not all, just some), which I suspect makes the PTA’s job even harder.

So I thought I’d write some tips on how to get those much needed adverts or vouchers from local businesses.  Most importantly you are looking to create a relationship with the business; where they know that you don’t just want a voucher from them, you actually care that they gain from it.

  1. If you are asking for raffle tickets, have a simple brochure and list all the small businesses that gave you a voucher with a thank you and their contact details.  Or create a poster that is in a prominent position at the fair if you can’t afford brochures.  The raffle prize will cost the business money to provide the service/product and it takes a lot of return visits from that customer to cover that cost.  So this gives them increased visibility.
  2. Suggest they offer you a raffle ticket for something that can be upgraded; this gives them a chance of covering their costs at least.  For instance, if I offer a 45min massage, someone might upgrade it to 60mins.
  3. If you are asking for adverts, please consider what value for money you are providing in comparison to other local advertising options.  Some schools would like to charge me the same amount to potentially reach 300 parents that I can reach 20,000 people in for a local magazine/newspaper.  They also tell me how many children are in the school, rather than how many families, which can often be about 60% of the original number.
  4. If you are asking for adverts give them plenty of time, a deadline, explain what format you need the advert in (e.g. PDF/Jpeg) and what the dimensions of the advert will be.  Also, send them a complementary version afterwards, to show them that you definitely did do the advert.
  5. Offer them a package where they can have a stall at your fair, offer a raffle prize and advert in your brochure at a reduced rate.
  6. Do some research into the most popular stalls; my heart breaks sometimes for the small businesses sitting their all lonely with products which are just not suitable for that school.
  7. If their business doesn’t really suit a stall at your fair, they could sponsor one of the PTA stalls.  For instance we often have simple games, where the kids win sweets.  These could be sponsored by the business, and reduce the PTA’s cost in return for a sign thanking the business for their sponsorship.
  8. Keep a record of the businesses and the contact person that help you each time.  Then to save you time you can contact them directly each year.
  9. I recommend that you find out if any of your PTA or parents actually use the business – I’m much more likely to give a voucher to a client, than a stranger who contacts me once a year.
  10. Contact the most local businesses first; they are the most likely to gain from supporting you.  Whereas I’m often contacted by schools from a long way away, that probably are too far for me to realistically gain clients.  It’s worth walking up the local high street and making a list of the companies, the person to contact and which ones might be interested.  Once this list is created it can be used each year.
  11. Support the business on social media – send a thank you tweet and message on their Facebook page.  Like their Facebook page and follow them on twitter.  Mention them on your private Facebook profile as well.  All these things help with a small businesses marketing campaign, and helps to reduce their costs.
  12. During the following year, share one or two of their Facebook posts or like them to show that it’s not just at Christmas and the Summer Fair time that you are interested.

I know this probably sounds like a lot of work, and it might be a little late for this year’s fairs (sorry!).  But once you have your list of businesses, it is likely that they will automatically help each year and you’ll only be looking for 1 or 2 extras per annum.  You will stand out as so much more loyal and caring than the other schools, that the business will always be willing to help you where it can.

I’d also recommend other ways of building a relationship with the business:

  1. Invite someone in from them for careers days, and send thank you’s on social media for their time.
  2. Offer them the opportunity to put fliers in the school bags – this can be more successful than an advert in the school brochure and lucrative for the school.
  3. Proactively find out what local businesses the parents work in and specifically target them, as they have greater interest in the school.
  4. If you have railings at school, you could offer for them to make a banner and advertise there every now and again (for a fee of course).
  5. If you do other events during the year, potentially offer for these businesses to sponsor some aspect of it.
  6. For your most reliable and loyal business supporters, you could add a thank you page to the school website.

Please remember that these are small businesses.  Unless they are very lucky, the owners are probably earning as much or less than they would do if working for someone else, and they are much more stressed.  Why on earth in that case do they do it?  Well that’s a question I’m not sure of the answer for!

I really hope this helps in that rather desperate rush to compete with other schools/charities for small business support.

 

 

Why Pampering Is The Best Present You Can Give

Pampering – it’s one of the best presents you can give YOURSELF or your loved ones!

It might sound a bit ridiculous for the owner of a Hair & Beauty Salon and Spa to say this: But I hadn’t understand HOW important it is until recently.

Now Danny Smith at Radio Verulam is a big fan of a pamper, so I thought I’d chat with him about it, about how under-estimated it is.  People think of it as a treat – whereas, I’m beginning to understand that it’s essential.

If you missed us, you can listen again for a week here.

 

What is a pamper?

Chance for a cuppa
Cup Of Tea and a chat is good for the soul
A Pamper is time.
Time for yourself.
Often considered a treat.
Normally associated with something relaxing or revitalising.
Misconstrued as expensive and something that only happens sometimes unless you are really rich.
Many people only think of a pamper as a beauty treatment or Spa service, however, I think of it as anything that makes you feel special and wonderful.  It’s something that brings joy to your life; but you need to be fully present with it and fully ‘in the moment’ if you are going to get all the benefits.
It’s more like a special moment, that can be anything from 5 mins to a whole day.

Why is it important?

Life Is Not Measured by the number of breaths we take ...
Life Is Not Measured by the number of breaths we take …

 

I know we have busy lives, so you might have a pamper one day, but still have to go back to reality and the stresses of every day.  I used to think that therefore it wasn’t that important.  Especially when I was focussed on the therapies I used that clear out old hurts and traumas; I often forgot about daily life.
But I’m convinced that if I’d spent more time thinking about myself on a daily basis I wouldn’t have got Fibromyalgia and now be faced with all the struggles physically, emotionally and mentally that limit me.  (I might have got my head around them, but still, I could have missed that whole learning and gone straight to the winning line!).
A pamper will reduce your stress and cortisol levels.
Why bother you might think?  Because stress increases your cortisol levels, which affects your sleep, your quality of living and attacks your immune system.
A strong healthy body means that you can make the most of the good days and sail through the bad days.
So to me, that is a great investment – we never know how long we have here on this earth, so every day is important.

How often?

6 Steps To A Sparkling You
6 Steps To A Sparkling You
So many people I know think that having a yearly pamper is enough.  Or maybe a quarterly one.  Some go as far as making it monthly.
Since writing my book ‘Six Steps To A Sparkling You and Enjoying Being a Mum’, I’d increased it to weekly.
But with some recent huge stresses in my life, I realised that I need it DAILY.
Do you think that is really greedy?
Maybe it is.
But being faced with panic attacks, heart palpitations and constant sugary feelings, I realised that I didn’t have much choice.
So over the past 6 weeks, I’ve been coming up with different options for pampering.

Self Pamper

Great books for mums
Books, books, books …
Remember that it’s about bringing a moment to your life, with some joy, and a feeling of happiness or calm.
Often it’s about adding something to make the moment more special.
What works for me is:
  • A 15 min walk in nature.
  • Popping to a coffee shop with Little Dimples.
  • A bath with a lovely bath oil, candles and calming music for 30mins.
  • Going to Pilates
  • A massage/manicure – I know it’s a bit obvious, but it can’t be beaten.
  • Watching a rubbish catchup TV program in bed (I don’t get to watch TV very often, so it’s a treat for me)
  • A catchup with a friend without kids 😉
  • Reading a book, snuggled up, with a smelly candle and lovely music
  • Doing a meditation

 

Pampers you give

I think that our houses are pretty full of STUFF!  So if you can give a ‘pamper’ or something that your loved one can use to self-pamper, then you are not just giving them a short moment of relaxation.  You are also giving them the opportunity to have a healthier, happier life for a period of time.
So they make a great Birthday or Christmas present.  Or maybe a spontaneous present to show how much your appreciate them!
Here are some ideas:
AromaWorks Candle
AromaWorks Candle
  • Candles: but be careful to get them ones that will keep them healthy – I prefer beeswax candles, because Paraffin wax candles are the ones that make all that black smoke.  Think about the black marks they leave on a wall, and then think about your lungs.  We sell Aroma-works candles at Espiritu, and because they are beeswax, they smell all the way to the bottom of the jar.

 

Spa Gift Voucher

  • Gift vouchers: most beauty salons or Spas will let you choose a gift voucher for something specific, but let the person in question swap them if needed.  I recommend that you choose a specific one; if you are unsure the girls at the salon will be able to guide you as to what is ideal.

Pamper Parcels

  • Pamper parcels: I was sent THE MOST AMAZING box a couple of months ago from this lovely new company.  It had every thing you need for a pamper: a bath oil, candle, body moisturiser and of course chocolate!  The great thing about a ready made box like this is that there is no way that you could put it together yourself for the price.  Plus, if you aren’t artistically skilled, they have put it together with such cute little touches, that it adds to the whole experience.  So I can really recommend them!
Make your own pamper box
Make your own pamper box
  • Make a gift box yourself: However if you are artistically skilled, then hows about putting together your own box?  Rachel’s Organics sent me a lovely treat about 2 months ago.  It had a pair of warm wooly socks, 3 of their gorgeous mousses,  tea lights to put in the glass jars when I’d eaten the yummy desserts, a lovely silver spoon engraved with my blog name, and the cutest little Prossecco bottle.

 

Maybe the biggest gift we can give or receive is time and a moment?

I’d love to know what your favourite pampers are?

Have I convinced you to pamper yourself some more?

 

Disclosure: Although I’m not doing any reviews this year, I couldn’t resist when Pamper Parcels offered me a lovely pamper box in September, as they’d seen from Twitter that I was a little stressed.  A huge thank you to them, along with Rachels Organics who sent me a lovely box full of gorgeous chocolate & vanilla desserts and some really cute goodies in October.  I think that a little part of me was beginning to understand the POWER OF A PAMPER, but their thoughtfulness was really kind and helped me REALLY understand how much I needed it.  Thank you guys – you were like a subtle message from the ether – way more subtle than the panic attacks I had, but I put your boxes to good use then!

Is it possible to have romance and kids?

My Top 10 Tips for Making Sure You Are Safe And Sound In 2014

Is it possible to have romance and kids?
A hug

So for this months chat with Danny Smith at Radio Verulam on his Drivetime show, I thought we’d talk about ways to help you feel more secure in 2014.

(If you fancy listening to us, you can for ONE week only here, I’m at 5.30-6pm).

Christmas is a very stressful time that can make us feel insecure.  Plus, although it seems as though the recession is turning around, I think it might take a bit longer to kick in for some parts of the country than others.

Lots of things make us feel secure: friendships, relationships, health, jobs, money and family.  It’s about finding a balance that counts.

So for those worried about 2014, I thought that I’d give some tips on how to make sure that you are safe and sound:

1) Be nice.

I have a friend who is a ‘Nomad’ – i.e. technically someone who has nowhere to live.  She’s been a nomad for nearly a year, and has always had somewhere to stay.  The main reason being she is genuinely lovely.  People love having her around (check out her blog, it’s fascinating reading).  Being a nice person, must therefore be one of the the best insurances that there is.  Never ignore your friends; you may need them one day!

Always be gracious and think the best of people; it’s amazing what can happen when you are like that as opportunities can come from everywhere (and if you are ungracious you will lose out).

2) Ask for help

But of course, she wouldn’t have got any help if she didn’t ask!  If you let people know that there is a problem, then they will help out, and EVERYONE deserves help in a time of need.

There are also some great charities out there providing support like Homestart or food banks; there should be no shame in asking.  When I spoke to someone from Homestart last week, she said that this year there are families struggling terribly, much more than in recent years.  You are not the only ones.  (A HUGE thank you to all our customers, friends and neighbours btw – we managed to collect a staggering 85 presents for Homestart Watford this Christmas!)

3) Give back in return

In return my friend helps people out – she’s been a godsend for us for the past few months.  It’s quite true that people will get sick of a taker, but if you always make sure that you give in return (but don’t over give), then they will feel fulfilled by helping you.  It might be that you can’t do anything in return for a while, but that’s OK.  Also, it might be that you are limited in what you can do; don’t worry about that, and don’t under-estimate the value of what you CAN do.

4) Listen to your intuition

In a busy world, your intuition can save you time, and warn you of things that you are ignoring that could cause a problem.  Taking time to chill every day for a few minutes, try a simple meditation, go for a walk, or have a bath, can really help you to hear your intuition more.

5) Don’t ignore your debts

They just get worse when ignored.  You need to face them, be clear on your in and out goings and if there is a problem, get some advice and make a plan; check out the money advice service for free help.  Don’t ever think that you ‘have to spend money’ – don’t get into debt because you feel you should keep up with presents or socialising.

6) As soon as possible save

Try putting a little away each week, even if it is just £1.  Even if you are in debt.  Aim to build up to 10% of your income.  This sounds crazy, but it has a magical effect and it’s never too late to start.

7) Have a to do list

That way, things can’t creep up on you that might cause you trouble.  But if you are very overwhelmed, put them on a ‘long term’ list and stick to 3 top priorities.

8) Take responsibility for your life

I don’t mean ‘take the blame’, but I do mean looking at what you’ve been feeling powerless about and taking responsibility for your part in it.  Your attitude will affect your job and your relationships.  Ironically it is very unattractive to be around someone who is full of excuses, always blaming everyone else and feeling victimised by situations that others see differently.  Whereas someone who is strong enough to see their mistakes and their part in a situation is much more attractive in a relationship or workplace.

9) Take care of your health

Don’t ignore those niggles.  Stop putting it all off.  One of my best friends died 2 weeks ago – sometimes the body gets irritated with waiting for us and there are no more last chances.  It doesn’t have to be momentous, just take little steps.  A little more exercise, drinking enough water, improving your posture and breathing, and eating healthier will make a big difference.

10) Make contingency plans, then put them away

I don’t believe in worrying.  But I do believe that insurance and planning ‘just incase’ is worth it.  But once you’ve done it, put it away until you need it.  Face your fears, don’t let them run you.

 

I wish you all a wonderful 2014, because we ALL deserve it this year!

 

 

 

 

My Little Pony Review

Why a ‘cutie mark’ is so important for my daughter

My Little Pony ReviewAbout 6 months ago I decided to cut back on TV watching and banned Cbeebies etc from being on as much.  It took me several weeks to discover that Little Dimples (then just turned 3) had worked out to use YouTube – argh!

Not just that, but she had worked out how to stick the headphones on for the computer so that I wouldn’t hear the tell tale signs!  Little Minx!

It was during this that she discovered My Little Pony and fell head over heels in love (how she found it I have NO IDEA!).  Obviously there is a lot to love – ponies, sparkles, pink, magic etc etc.  But actually as I started to catch more of the story I started to understand the fascination.

At first we could find everything on Youtube and then they disappeared, which caused us lots of tears in the house.  Then I was contacted by a lovely PR and I understood why they had disappeared – because they are now available on DVD!

The first story is lovely about how Rainbow Dash discovers that whilst learning is important, so is friendship – and that it creates magic in life.  I love this story as I was a much too serious and studious little girl, and I wouldn’t want my children to be quite that good (I know I might regret that one day!).

The second DVD ‘Call of the Cutie’ has a story on it explaining about how every pony has a ‘cutie mark’ on them that gives them their identity.  Now my gorgeous little girl was born with what they call a ‘stork mark’ on her head.  It’s basically a birth mark where the claws of the stork would be if they really did fly a baby to it’s mother.  Most has faded, but the flash on her forehead still shows when she is having a tantrum (she isn’t slow in coming forward about how she feels about things).  She also has a ‘zip’ all the way down her back.

I have a large strawberry birthmark just below the bra line, and I know that it has caused me many odd looks.  Little Dimple’s is more noticeable and I was wondering how to explain it to her one day when it gets pointed out.  But MLP answered that for me and I could photograph her ‘cutie mark’ for her and show her that she too has one, so she is ‘special’ like the ponies.

I’m also a BIG fan of learning about yourself, and learning to be you.  Just you.  No one else.  Which is a strong message in Ponyville.

They now have Equestria girls as well – Little Dimples is in 7th heaven with the dolls that go with them.

Christmas is coming up and you are bound to get requests for presents.  A DVD is always a useful thing to have, but it can be tricky to pick something that doesn’t have a downside – like Barbie’s neck.  I love the MLP series, so reckon they are a good bet for you (even Curly Headed Boy watches them, but don’t tell anyone).

But don’t forget what I mentioned in my previous post about Christmas – there is no point to rushing around like a headless chicken and not enjoying yourself!

 

Disclosure: I was sent a couple of CD’s by the PR for My Little Pony.  I’m not reviewing things at the moment, but as my daughter loves MLP, it wasn’t difficult to agree to review it for them!  They are available in all good retailers and www.clearvision.co.uk priced £12.99. Certification U: Suitable for all audiences.

Christmas Tree At Espiritu

The Top Three Best Christmas Presents To Give Your Friends And Family

I’m at Radio Verulam today with the gorgeous Danny Smith on his Drive Time show.
(want to listen to my dulcet tones -it’s available for a week here)

Christmas Tree At EspirituSo apart from David Tennant wrapped in a bow, what are the best presents that you can give to your loved ones?

It’s tricky isn’t it!

Last year I gave you:

Practical tips on how to know what your loved ones would actually love to receive.

How to afford presents for your children at Christmas.

Plus most importantly the ‘Top 7 Tips On How To Deal With Stressful People At Christmas’!

And a warning about refunds policies.

 

Today I’m going to tell you without doubt the THREE BEST PRESENTS EVER!

 

1) Make Someone Feel Special

Make some one feel you really care, that they are really special and that they really mean something to you.

You can’t buy this.

This means, time, eye contact and no phone/social media.

Listen to them.  Ask them questions.  Find out about what’s going on in their lives, what makes them tick, what they are worried about and what they love.

Don’t look over their shoulder at ‘that other thing that caught your eye’.

Make them feel like they are important, so that they can go out into the world knowing that someone cared.

It doesn’t have to be a whole day, just 30mins can do it.

Pick your family first, then your friends, then maybe someone else – maybe there is an elderly person that needs a little bit of attention right now, or a young child that could do with a chat?

Maybe it’s someone you work with or a client/customer?

That can make a HUGE difference in someone’s day/week and will pay you dividends in happier relationships and successful businesses.

 

2) Give Something To Someone In Need

It can get really overwhelming can’t it?  There is Children in need, the Phillipines and a news packed full of people struggling to make ends meet.

Don’t try to help the whole world or get yourself into debt.

Instead decide on what you can afford to do time/money wise and then go and do it.  Then feel good about yourself that you made a little difference.

Maybe it’s a donation, or a clear out of your cupboards for the charity shop?  Maybe you could get involved and volunteer some time with a local charity?

At my new business Espiritu Salon and Spa (up at Battlers Green Farm in Radlett) I knew that we were going to have a Christmas tree.  But I wanted to do something more worthwhile with it.  So we phoned around and were really chuffed when Homestart in Watford said that they could do with some help.  We are collecting presents for them – so if you are local to me, check out this blog post for more information on how you can get involved.

Doing something like this is great for a team or wonderful for a family to get together to do.

Because a lot of little differences together make a HUGE difference in someone’s day/week and improves your self-esteem and feelings of purpose.

 

3) Take Care Of Yourself

When you take care of yourself, you are more relaxed, happy and fun to be around.  That is so much lovelier than a stressed out person who has managed to do a pile of To Do’s from a list that probably wasn’t that important after all.  Not really important when you think about life, memories, and how sometimes we only have a short time with people.

It doesn’t have to be doing something pampering like your hair, beauty or a relaxing therapy treatment (see how I threw that in there so subtly – btw we have some great presents too if you are struggling to buy something for aunty/grandma/your wife), it could be a walk, or a bath with a few candles or 1hr to read a book snuggled in bed.  Whatever helps you to feel revitalised, even if for just a short time.

Make the most of your life.

Let people make the most of you because you are at your best.

Don’t let fear get the better of you and ruin what you have got.  Instead, count your blessings and be grateful for the simple things in life.

Be you, because you can make a HUGE difference in someone’s day/week, but when you are only letting yourself be half of you, you can’t make as much of a difference.

 

Hope you love my present ideas!

What are your favourite presents?

 

Charity Shop Finds

Getting unusual jewellery doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

So you’d like to buy your wife/partner/girlfriend some jewellery, but don’t know how to do it without bankrupting yourself?

I love jewellery, but I love saving money too.  This can make it difficult if you want ‘original’ jewellery, because it can make us tempted by the likes of Pandora or Tiffany, but then we are talking mega bucks.

A few years ago I was a fan of Schwarovsky because of all the sparkles, but then I fell foul of their returns policy after getting the wrong sized ring for a birthday present (due to going on holiday straight after, I couldn’t return it as I had taken too long).

So the question is, how to still get a sparkle fix and not cost a fortune?

 

Here are my Top 3 Tips for buying gorgeous jewellery on a budget.

 

1) Original designers on Etsy, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram

There are loads of people out there making gorgeous unusual pieces.

Lady muck is a good example; she sent me this wonderful Alice in wonderland broach which I put on my denim jacket.  I’ve never been sure what to do with a broach, but this works perfectly; just a little bit cooky/vintage too which is great for me.  (If you have little ones make sure you check the metal circle every now and again that holds the charm on the brooch).

Brooch from Lady Muck
Lady Muck’s Brooch

One of my favourite people is GreenfroggyFae, who normally sells her pieces locally, and I’ve been nagging her for months to get on the internet, and at last she has a shop!  She specialises in pieces made from old watches, and has a really creative style.

Wave some pictures in front of the love of your life and mention words like ‘vintage’, ‘silver’, ‘gold’, ‘crystals’, ‘under stated’, ‘fashion statement’ to see which words they pick up on the most.  If you are going for colour, have a look at what they already have, and what colour their clothes are; you don’t want to repeat what they have, but also don’t want to choose colours they never wear.

 

2) Local crystal shop

I actively have to avoid my local crystal shop as the kids and I are suckers for anything that sparkles, and I really do have enough crystals.  But I have treated us to a couple of visits recently, and this is what I came back with.  Don’t you think that ring is gorgeous, and much better than anything you could get normally in the shops?

For anyone near me who doesn’t know where to go, this came from Destiny Rising, which is at Battlers Green Farm in Radlett.

Crystal ring from Destiny Rising
Sparkly x 3!

 

They can have added benefits of being ‘good for you’ too.  So it’s wise to go knowing when they were born (star sign), and wether they have any ailments or problems needing fixing at the moment.

 

3) Charity shop

On one of my declutter trips to the local charity shop I actually got a chance to check out some of the stuff that they had.

Now you might not like this gorgeously sparkly bracelet, but I thought it was a real find , if maybe only right for summer wearing.  However, there was loads of much more tasteful stuff, so get yourself down to your local charity shop for a treat!

Charity Shop Finds
Butterfly Sparkles!

 

I go on my intuition; so rather than go in every week to see if there is something there for me, I go when I get a big urge to visit the shop.

 

 

What do you think of my finds?

Where’s the best place for you to get lovely sparkly things that don’t cost a fortune?

 

Kids love Dens

Great Toy For Imaginative Outside Play For Boys and TomBoys

Several months ago I was sent the most amazing thing for Curly Headed Boy to review the ‘Ultimate Dangerous Den Kit‘ from Battle Box.

OMG was I the best Mummy in the world for this old blogging marlarkey when it turned up!

Luckily for me they are incredibly nice people as well, and they have never nagged me once knowing I had my Fibromyalgia diagnosis and was taking some time out.

I’m hoping that this review catches those people still making the most of new year sales, or with presents to buy in January and February; such a difficult time just after Christmas.

Ours came with:

  • Camouflage Tarpaulin
  • Steel pegs
  • Strong cord
  • Wooden Mallet
  • Danger Mines sign
  • Den Bags
  • Union Jack Flag
  • Camouflage net
  • Go Wild! Book – 101 things to do outside before you grow up
  • Backpack
  • Help for heroes chocolate bar
  • Playing Cards

 

So several months on what do I think about it?

It’s a great present that will last for years and get used by both Curly Headed Boy and my tomboy Little Dimples (3).

I love anything that battles the lure of the computer game and gets the kids outside.

Plus we found that Dens can be made inside, so it can be used all year round.

I remember making Dens as a kid and mine love them just as much as I do, but there are times when a couple of pillows just don’t work, and this is perfect.

If you can’t afford the ultimate Den Kit that I was sent, then I would go for the Essential Camping Kit as a great alternative and maybe get someone else to buy the hefty backpack in the ‘create your own kit’ section.

Before this I had tried to make a sort of Den that went over the Kitchen table; ahem, it didn’t really work out, especially as they kept bumping their heads on the table.  So this kit has saved several bumped heads and tears!

If you have a ‘big boy’ who doesn’t really need a den, check out their battle boxes for all their ‘special things’.

 But let me show you what the kids thought ….

Kids love Dens
Very chuffed!

 

Ultimate den kit
In it’s full glory

 

Making a Den Inside
Dens work inside too!

 

My one complaint?  It made Christmas shopping really hard this year for me and Santa!

 

Disclosure: Battlebox sent me a den kit to review, but that doesn’t affect my opinions of the kit, and I would seriously have considered buying one myself.

 

 

Tips for dealing with Christmas

7 Top Tips on How to deal with stressful people at Christmas or special occasions

Tips for dealing with ChristmasIf you ignore the money worries, which are frankly caused by buying presents or stuff for people, then the next biggest cause for trouble at Christmas or other big family events and parties is PEOPLE!

So this months feature for Danny Smith from Radio Verulam‘s drive time show (92.6FM) was all about them and how to deal with the stress.

I love people, but Oh My do they know how to cause trouble when more than one of them gets together, in fact some of them love causing trouble!

So here are my seven top tips for avoiding arguments and break downs/ups during Christmas, family parties or any big special event.  Anything from dealing with your family, the in-laws, your other half and over excited kids.

(I’ll pop the audio at the bottom as soon as I have it).

 

Tip 1- Hold your tongue and don’t get drunk!

Go out for some fresh air

 

I’m not being a spoil sport, but drink and stress don’t go well together.  In fact neither does lots of sugar followed by a sugar low (check out my healthy eating for rubbish cooks for ideas to counteract that sugar buzz).

Take a breather, and get out for a walk.  Just 10mins walking round the block can help you have patience for a few more hours.  It’s pretty easy to come up with an excuse; say you are feeling odd, or have to deliver a card urgently, or need to buy more milk (hide the extra in the garage).

Remember to BREATHE and especially breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth in equal measures e.g. a count of 4 in and 4 out.  The nose will calm you down and it’s important to balance the in and out breaths.

 

Tip 2 – If you do too much for people they will treat you like dirt and show no gratitude

 

This is a very ironic but massive rule to learn in life.  There should always be a balance between how much you give and receive in return.  If you do too much, then the people you did it for will subconsciously feel guilty and then resent you for being a martyr and doing too much.  It pretty much always goes wrong and is one of the biggest causes for an argument.

Instead learn the art of delegation and get everyone involved in helping, even if it’s just with hoovering the lounge and setting the table or doing the clearing up.  Ask people/family to bring provisions or look after the kids with a winning ‘I know you’d love to help’ kind of smile.

Make sure you set their expectations early on, so that everyone knows what the plan is e.g. I’ve had a chat with Curly Headed Boy about the order of events on Christmas Day and that his Grand Dad has had a terrible Flu.

 

Tip 3 – if you are really sure of yourself you don’t need to convince other people you are right

What is success and failure

 

Some people are like energy suckers and love a good argument discussion they drag you into ‘debates’ which become heated and unpleasant.

Just remember this rule:  It really doesn’t matter if people disagree with you, because 50% of the world always disagrees with you.  So there is no need to try to convince them or win the debate.

If other people start up a difficult conversation, just interrupt and suggest to continue it at another time or place; after all you are in charge (if it’s not your party, maybe make a distraction instead).

 

Tip 4 – being clear about your boundaries

Often we get really upset because we have just had hours of abuse or nit-picking.  The key is to knock it into touch at the beginning and do it early enough before you are too upset.

It’s not about shouting at people or telling them what you really think.  They key is to say how you feel e.g

When xxx does/doesn’t happen
I feel xxx
If it continues/happens again thenconsequence you are willing to go through with that isn’t inflammatory>

For example:

  • When things like that are said I feel hurt, so if it goes on I’m going to go and have a little walk or watch TV.
  • When no one helps me to tidy up after lunch I feel really unappreciated and don’t feel like doing any more
  • I get stressed when the kids are running around me when I’m cooking, I need someone to play with them please, otherwise it might be dangerous.

 

Tip 5 – learn from your mistakes

Ok, so you might not manage all this, or some of this advice might be a little late.  Don’t get bitter, just make sure that next time works for you!

If you are a bit stressed the night after the event try counting your blessings before you go to sleep, as there is bound to be something from the day that went well, even if it was just how helpful someone was in the midst of the chaos.

 

Tip 6 – make a plan b

Face your fears, and work out what’s the worst that could happen and hen make a contingency plan and store it away.  This is not about worrying about something, this is about sorting out your ‘insurance’ and popping it in a drawer to be pulled out in an emergency, just like we do with cars.  Also, when faced, our fears are often never as bad as we think they will be.

Ideas could be to pull out board games to calm down hyper kids, or to have a new film up your sleeve for when everyone needs a chill.  Maybe putting on some music would help put people in the festive spirit, or going out for a walk stop people from getting too stir crazy.  A big pot of coffee might help with the family drunk, as will not having too much alcohol available for them.

(If however there is domestic violence in your house, I strongly suggest that you get advice from a professional about holiday periods.  Plus be very careful if you are planning on leaving soon, as it’s the point of separation that can be the worst).

 

Tip7 – but expect the best

Is it possible to have romance and kids?I bet you are looking at me with misbelief at this one, but seriously, miracles do happen!  So the most important tip is to focus on how you would like the event to go, rather than on what you don’t want to happen.  If you focus on people misbehaving it tends to happen, maybe because you behave in a way that prompts it psychologically.

This is particularly true of children and awkward relatives.  If we expect kids to be badly behaved we tend to get on their case really quickly, thereby over-controlling them, and making them feel suffocated.  Being nervous around a tricky relative will put them on their guard as well, thus bringing out the worst in them.  Drunken relatives, may still drink, but it’s possible that they fall asleep in the corner, rather than cause a massive problem!

 

I hope these tips help, as memories from special events can last for a lot longer than the actual event.

Feel free to add your hints and tips or success/disaster stories.

Remember there are lots of other tips on here about how people behave and how to feel more contented and Christmas.

Card made by kids

Tips on getting the right gifts without spending a fortune!

I was asked to come up with top tips for people worried about what to by for friends and loved ones from Christmas and Birthdays by the lovely Danny Smith from Radio Verulam‘s drive time show (92.6FM).

It’s a tough job to come up with a present or gift that you can afford, and that they love getting.  But it’s not impossible!  My last post was about presents for children, this one is for the grown ups in your life.

If you prefer to hear Danny and I talking than read this post, check out the link at the bottom.

 

How to cut costs and still send great presents:

 

Benefits Cuts

1) The first rule is don’t go into debt for christmas, unless you are sure you can pay it off the next month.  No one is worth over spending for; in fact I can pretty much promise you that the present will go wrong if you spend too much.

2) If you are struggling financially, especially at Christmas, then cut all the budgets for presents in half.  You can often buy a great present for 50% of what you used to spend e.g. £30 vs £15.  It might take some extra effort, but it’s still possible.

3) If things are really bad have an honest chat with your friends and family; no friends who are worth anything will mind not getting an expensive present or not getting anything at all.  Just ask if you can skip this year, or do a secret santa with a price limit of £5 or £10, which means loads of thought.

4) Cut postage costs at christmas with a thoughtful email with photos and interesting info (not showing off stuff!) or send online cards.  (Some people also make a donation to charity)

5) Hand made presents are still appreciated: some people make lovely candles, cakes, tarts, or a scrap book with photos in it.

6) Do something for them instead e.g. some DIY or fixing something.

7) Don’t over spend on food; it’s not about making sure you become lardy bloaters.  I do my shopping online so that I can keep going back and double checking my 2 christmas food shops (one for big long lasting stuff, the other for perishables).

8) For parties or Christmas dinner ask people to bring something; it’s lovely to feel like you’ve contributed to a meal and helped out.  It’s easy to, as they could bring cheese and biscuits/pudding/starter/wine/chocolates etc.

9) Don’t get conned into spending lots of money on Christmas decorations; they really don’t have to match of have a theme.  Make some if you have none, and then buy them in the sales on Boxing Day for next year.  Remember the Pound shops will help you out with getting loads of buck for your money.  DONT GO TO THE GORGEOUS GARDEN CENTRE GROTTO unless you have your bank with you!

Important Information For Dads

Card made by kidsYes, you may have talked about not spending money on each other at Christmas or for birthdays, but always buy something.  You can get hand creams, pretty bracelets/rings, or a bunch of flowers for £5.

Remember EACH child buys a present for each parent.  So if you have more than 1 child, it is more than one present.
If the kids are young make sure that they MAKE CARDs for mum, covered in as much glitter, goo and stuff as possible to show how much they love her (you are looking for time and effort versus beauty here!).
(Don’t feel bad, the Big Hairy Northern One has fallen foul of all of these, so it happens to the best of them; learn from each others mistakes!).

How to buy presents that people like!

Just as in my previous post about presents for children, the rule of something they want, they need, to wear and to read is a good starting point.  Remember also something to watch or listen to.

The key is to buy something that people actually want, not what you think they want or like!

How?

Be a detective.

Listen to them.

Remember the lost art of conversation.

Detective Tips:

1) What do they have around the house

2) What do they spend their money on

3) What do they spend their time on

4) Who do they spend their time with

1) What do they have around the HOUSE:

Don’t add to a collection if already full!

Something that is going to use up like smelly things is great or a treat they can’t afford.  Check their cupboards for hints: which bottles are untouched (disliked) and which are nearly finished?

Don’t buy paper books if they use a kindle or don’t read!

Are they smart, minimalistic and modern, vintage, old fashioned or cutsey?

Do they love pictures and have a space?  Do they love photos?  Are they running out of space, hows about an electronic photo frame?

2) What do they spend their MONEY on:

People generally spend their money on what they like the most.  With a Mum you might need to think back to before kids though, and then add a dash of common sense about the fact that some of those things she would still love a chance to do and some are now inappropriate!

Also ignore the fact that a Mum tends to spend more money on herself than her kids and check out what she gives her friends as presents.

What does she need to spend her money on; clothes, PJ’s, scarves, hats, bags, filofaxes (oops sorry that’s me!), boxes (me again!)?  What has she forgotten to buy for herself?

(Top Tip: give teenagers vouchers, that way they can buy stuff in the sales and get more for their money)

3) What do they spend their TIME doing:

We again tend to spend our timing doing what is most important to us.  Even the boring chores will be different for each person as to how much of a priority they take.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because they do all the cooking, that they want something for the kitchen though!  When I asked on twitter, Mummy Barrow told us a great story of how her – mother in law was given a food processor, which got dumped straight back in her husbands lap with a few choice words.  Ironically the Big Hairy Northern one is a lover of gadgets, so potentially that wouldn’t have failed for him!

Something clever is a subscription to a magazine as it keeps on giving all year long, or a special posh tea.
I’m part geek and part tree hugger.  Pretty much anything that sparkles, or is related to faeries or looks astonishingly like an iPad mini works for me.  But be careful.  When I say I’m a tree hugger, I’m more your natural cycle type, not into the peace for all the world stuff, so this is where the art of conversation comes in to find out more about the person.  Oh and I might be a bit trekky, but the model of the star ship enterprise really didn’t work for me (so sorry Big Hairy Northern one, but I had to share!).
What do they love, but hardly ever treat themselves too?  Things they used to do a lot before having kids?  Maybe a massage, spa day, day out with the girls?
What do they like reading, watching, where do they like going?

4) WHO do they spend their time with:

The ones that they really enjoy spending their time with, not the supermarket assistants!  Who would they like to spend more time with?  Maybe a trip for the family to a show?  Maybe a national trust membership for the family?  Perhaps organise a surprise visit from their best mate?

What do they think about the latest fads, or shops?  Are they a Cath Kidston type of woman, or an Apple Mac type of man?

 

 And men remember this all important rule: THIS IS NOT LIKE A MAP,

ask …. unlike when you need directions!

Happy Christmas/Birthday shopping guys!
I’d love to hear your stories of best and worst presents here, or your stories of how these tips helped!
p.s. Don’t forget wrapping paper and sellotape!
http://youtu.be/x8D751UEpBY

Presents

Tips on affording and buying birthday or christmas presents for children

I was asked to come up with top tips for parents worried about affording presents for their kids at Christmas and Birthdays by the lovely Danny Smith from Radio Verulam‘s drive time show (92.6FM).

I’ve written my tips below, but if you fancy listening to our dulcet tones, then head to the bottom for the audio clip.

Stress

Exhausted MumsIt can feel incredibly stressful to not be able to afford expensive presents for children, but there are ways around it.

The first thing you need to know is that:

 

YOUR CHILDREN WILL NOT BE RUINED BY NOT HAVING THE EXPENSIVE PRESENT

OR GETTING SOMETHING SECOND HAND!

 

They will either get used to the idea and work out for themselves that they haven’t been ruined, or they will get off their butts and grow up with a job that will enable them to earn well, so it will give them motivation in future.  (Ok so a few will grow up to be whingers, but I think there is more to that than just a few presents).

In fact last year we bought Tracey Island at a school fair for 50p and added extra bits from ebay where they were missing.  And when Curly Headed boy was little we bought the basics of a brio set new, but added shed loads from eBay.

 

When I asked on twitter, the most popular reply was to go for second hand:

   Emily: bought duplo second hand
   Molly: bought a dolls house
   Jenny bought a well loved dinosaur, who 4yrs on is even more well loved

Get a mix of toys/useful presents

 

There is an old fashioned quote that I love that gives ideas for presents:

  • something they WANT
  • something they NEED
  • something to WEAR
  • something to READ
I think that sometimes we focus too hard on just buying toys, when ‘in ye olden days’ it would have been great to get an orange.  So get them used to the idea that getting new PJ’s and gloves is great too!

Budgeting

Affording to buy stuff on a budgetThe first rule is don’t go broke, don’t get into debt that you can’t pay off really quickly.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t ‘not worry’ about money.  October to february is an expensive time for us with birthday for the Big Northern One, Curly Headed Boy, then Christmas and then Little Dimples.  If we are not careful we are in major trouble come the spring with big credit card bills.

For the kids birthdays we tend to stick to the monthly ‘kids pot’ as the budget; it just means that there won’t be anything spent on the other child and no school uniform buying etc in those months.
Christmas is obviously tricky as presents are needed for both, but we stick to a limit (well I have a bad habit of blowing it a week before, but not by much, I just love parcels!).
When we want to buy something bigger, like the year we got an xBox Kinect 360, we say that Father Christmas has given a ‘Family Present’ for everyone, and then bought games that work for everybody.  This year we are doing the same with Guitars.
I do LOVE stockings and little pressies.  But they don’t have to be expensive, and can include the traditional satsuma, chocolate lolly, socks, pants, a book, and something fun like a little figure for my son or a sparkly thing for my daughter.

 

Make the most of what you buy

How to organise a play room

 

I do take them through a catalogue for ideas.  But at the same time I spend a lot of thought about what they ACTUALLY play with and do and their personalities, rather than what they think they want.

It would be horrid to work hard to afford presents and then find that they weren’t worth the stress.  So I’ve got loads of tips to make sure that you really get value from your spends:

 

1) Don’t ruin their imagination, they don’t need things that take away the fun from playing like kitchens and those packs of Lego that you are meant to make into something specific, just get put on a shelf after being made and never touched again.

2) Buy things that will last for years and be added to e.g. Wii, Xbox, Wooden Train, Scooters (buy accessories the next year), dolls houses

3) Focus on outside e.g. balls, scooters, bikes etc

4) Ban plastic tat unless necessary (wood can be expensive)

5) Stick to one system and get rid of the others e.g. Only Lego or Kinect or Mechanno etc

6) Send lists to friends and relatives and explain that you don’t have enough money to cover everything your kids need or want, so their help with sticking to a list is much appreciated.

7) Ignore big toys that will take over your house, kitchen, lounge and life e.g shops, kitchens and huge plastic toys etc

8) Expensive dancing/talking toys are a waste of money

9) Ban Children’s TV with adverts from November; stick to Cbeebies or Disney

10) Look for versions of toys that fold up e.g. we have a wooden fold up house for Little Dimples, which is much easier than the big castle we once bought for Curly Headed Boy (they do fold up castles too).

11) They don’t need 100 teddies, 100 dolls or 100 little bits of stuff, so stop the collecting bug!

12) The old games are the best: ball, teddy, hoola hoop, kite, marbles, dolls, jigsaws, snap

13) Second hand is fine, especially for young ones and things that they grow out of e.g. bikes, duplo, dolls houses

14) Remember that old saying: something they want, they need, to wear and to read.  Maybe consider things to make and watch as well.

15) Check out these simple Top 10 games that work for kids and give you a break.

If you do get overloaded by toys in your house, check out my top tips for sorting out a playroom and my other tips for decuttering.

If you fancy listening to these tips check out the audio here:

Feel free to add your hints and tips below, the more the merrier!

Wishing you stress free shopping and happy kids!