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!

Radio show about stress

Are you a stress junkie or got your stress habit under control?

Radio show about stressSo last months LifeStyle feature with Radio Verulam and the lovely Dapper Danny Smith on his Drive Time show was all about stress.

Sorry for the delay in posting it, my life has been a bit stressful!!

The big question is, when should you do something about being stressed and when is it just normal every day stress that goes away?

Hope you enjoy it and find it useful.

(You can either read it, or listen to the audio at the bottom if you prefer to listen to my dulcet tones!).

 

What is Stress

Life is always going to have it’s ups and downs, and we’ll be disappointed if we think that it’s possible to remove stress or difficulties from our lives.

But what we talked about on the show was the fact that some stress can be healthy and in a weird way enjoyable, whereas long term stress can start to have a detrimental affect on us.

So how can we tell?

It’s when it gets out of hand, and you are either constantly in fight/flight with constant adrenalin or totally shut down.  

It’s an inbetween place between a difficult day and more complex problems of mental/physical health.  So from that perspective it’s a good place; because it’s like a warning sign and opportunity to put things right in your life.

I was a massive stress junkie when I worked 13hrs a day, 6 days a week in IT and could easily smoke, drink coffee, nibble my nails, eat chocolate all at the same time; which is why they sent me on a pile of personal development courses and I ended up with my fascination for it.  People think I’m pretty calm nowadays, but I do get stressed, maybe I just know more about dealing with it, or getting rid of it, that’s all (or I’m a good faker!).

So what causes stress?

Finances: at the moment is obvious!  Being out of control, sticking your head in the sand and feeling powerless with long term financial problems which will take time to resolve is very difficult.  Check out my posts about saving/managing your money, especially the last two I did for Radio Verulam on budgeting.

Physical pain or problems: This I’ve had lots of experience with for the last 6 months or so and started to understand how very stressful it can be.  Especially constant pain for older people or some physical challenge that is stopping you from doing things.  Check out my posts on Fibromyalgia for more info.  Update: Your body can also come under stress due to allergies, intolerances, over exercise i.e. anything that put’s pressure on it and makes it feel concern for it’s safety or that it is under attack.

Work: some people love the stress of work; I love the excitement or nerves of being on radio and used to find it really helpful when I was a trainer in IT.  However, you can end up overworking, or underworking or doing a job you don’t enjoy which can be constantly stressful.  It does depend on the person though; if I’m bored I’m very stressed, whereas other people would love a job that was less challenging.

People: People get everywhere don’t they and they don’t half cause a lot of trouble!  Friends, workmates, partners and kids are all potential creators of stress.  Holding onto things that have caused you pain/trauma, that will sit in your body and eat at you.  Remember, it’s worth letting go because it’s not about them, it’s about the price you pay for still being hurt or upset about something.  Doing what other people think you ‘should’ do, can make you very stressed.

The good news is that we can’t always change the world around us, but we can change how we see it; so we don’t have to stay stressed.

 

How you know whether you are stressed?

Exhausted Mums

People often ignore stress, and that can be wise if short term; I’m not recommending that you become worried about stress as it can be really healthy.  After all it’s the stress that raises our adrenalin levels that got us running away from those dinosaurs all those years ago, and now keeps me on the ball when I’m doing something scary like a radio show!

But one sign that it needs looking at is when it is long term with no let up (i.e. more than a few weeks or months).

There will be also be an obvious hint because your family/friends/body will tell you.  They’ll either be getting grumpy with you or if you’re lucky they’ll sit you down with a cuppa/glass of wine and ‘give you a good talking to’.  Your Body will either keep getting sick or ill or give you stomach cramps.  It will keep giving you warnings and when you don’t listen it keeps upping the ante so that you listen to it.  (It’s trying to be helpful, even if we don’t see it that way when we have a headache!).

As the stress kicks in we become more worried, have memory problems, become indecisive, our thoughts start to control us, we have less rest, our brain going constantly, we get moody, isolated and start to feel helpless.

So don’t ignore stress as ‘just one of those things’.  

It’s not ‘one of those things’.  

It’s a sign that a change of some sort is needed, or at least a plan for a change.

Look after yourself when you are stressed, and don’t let it turn into a full blown illness or depression.  I’m a good example of ‘cobblers shoes’; I’ve been pushing myself just a little too far, for just a little too long, because I’ve always been able to cope.  But I didn’t make the time to go to Pilates or rest and my body is well and truly telling me off about it.

When we don’t reduce the stress it becomes a cycle where we eat worse, drink more alcohol/caffiene, eat more chocolate, go to bed later, and then pull away from friends who would be able to help us and become isolated.  So we get more stressed!

 

What to do about it?

Body:

This is the great place to start because if your body is happy, your emotions will be steadier and you’ll have more energy.  From there you will be able to tackle your problems more easily.

Exercise 3 times per week even just for a brisk walk, get some fresh air, get a little out of breath even if it’s just 15 mins per day.  This isn’t about becoming a Triathlete, this is about having some fun and rejuvenation.

Eating healthily (there’s loads of information on my blog about healthy eating, even if you are a rubbish cook like me!) has an AMAZING affect on us; never underestimate the power of nutrition to make a change in our lives.

Supplements are a great way to support your body; probiotics for your digestion, Omega oils for concentration,  Vitamin D if you miss the sunshine.

Drink water, have a habit like drinking a glass whenever you brush your teeth or come back in the house. Remember your body is like a car which won’t work without oil; we don’t work without water.

Sleep; start following a regular repeatable sleep pattern and stick to it!

 

Head:

Is it possible to have romance and kids?Now it’s time to calm those brains down.  (We’ll come back to ways of letting go of your problems, pains and hurts another time when we have more time).

Each night Count 3 blessings a night; it’s a great way to go to sleep and I promise you that you will have 3, even if it’s just a good cup of coffee or a sunny day.

Go on a complaining diet and stop talking about the stuff you don’t want or like in your life.  Seriously, no talking about the horrid stuff, no thinking about it, you are totally banned unless you are sitting down with someone to make a plan to change it.

Write down your problem; either just once to find a solution to your issue or every morning as recommended by Julia Cameron in her book ‘The Artists Way’.

Check out my favourite books that can help when you are overwhelmed or depressed.

 

Fancy Listening to me say all this with the added bonus of Danny?  Check out the audio here:

 

There are so many more things that you can do to reduce the stress, that we are going to have to come back to this subject at some point in time!  But I hope that this gives you a good starting point.

If you’re a Mum (or Dad) then you might like to check out my Kindle book (you don’t need a kindle to read it) for just 99p as well.

In the meantime remember that ‘this too shall pass’.

 

 

How to easily build a family budget that works and reduces your stress!

Money Saving TipsNow stay awake!

Remember I told you in my previous post about why budgeting is fab, that having a budget will reduce your stress, improve your relationships and give you a better sex life?

So now I’m going to give you some tips on how to build a budget, because it’s not always that obvious.

Plus you can listen to my dulcet tones again (lucky, lucky, lucky!) because I talked about this for Radio Verulam’s Drive Time show with Danny smith as part of my ‘Lifestyle correspondent’ role for them?  (Sorry it’s such a posh title that I just HAVE to keep dropping it in the conversation!).

There are three steps.

1) Build a budget

2) Fiddle/Analyse the budget monthly

3) Create a fun plan for the future

1) Build A Budget

Ok, so this bit might not be the most exciting bit, but once it’s done, it’s done!

You basically go through your Direct Debits, bank statements, credit card bills, and other bills to get a view on what you spent last year.

MoneySavingexpert has a great spreadsheet if you want one that will make sure you don’t miss anything out.

Here’s a picture of how we build ours up:

Once you have Regular spends, average spends, debt and food and house sorted: i.e what you pretty much have to spend (although you might find that you decide to cut back on some of it or remove it once you see it written down), then the rest goes into:

Savings for Fun: holidays, gadgets, gifts etc

Savings Forever: rainy day, pensions etc

Pots: For you, your hubby and the kids

The Pots are where the ‘magic’ happens!  You decide what a fair split is between you all, and then that is your limit.

But it’s no one else’s business what you spend there, so it can be spent without guilt or judgement.  If he wants to spend it in the pub or on a gadget then fair enough.  If you love shoes or handbags fine. It’s yours fair and square.

 

2) Budget Analysis

Each month (probably with a treat to encourage you, like a cuppa and a cake!), you go through how much you spent and compare it to the budget.

I’m telling you now IT WILL NEED REJIGGING!  So don’t feel guilty or judge yourself for that; you are bound to have been a bit keen and optimistic!

Then look to see if you got value for money from the spends that you have a ‘choice’ over:

Look for where you overspent, where you could have cut down, and what didn’t give you the value for money.

Little costs: Check out the little costs like coffees and multiply them by how many times a week/month/year they happen.  Are they really worth it?

Medium costs: Work out if they are worth the number of days it takes to earn them by taking your salary after tax/232 (full time working days) and seeing how many days it took to pay for them.

Costs that save money: If they save money, like our cars have done it might be worth it.

Debt: my rule of thumb is that it’s not worth going into debt for more than a season for pretty much anything.

 

3) Fun For The Future

 

After a while the budgeting will pay off and you will be able to look further ahead.

Sit down with a bottle of wine and DREAM!

What would you love to have done, seen or achieved by the time that you ‘kick the bucket’?

Maybe it’s a holiday, kids going to univercity, an extension on your house, or learning to drive?

This list is then great to compare to things you think of buying in between to see if they are really worth it, and to make sure that you have stuff to plan for and work for.

With debt you need to chunk it down to smaller units so that it seems more achievable e.g. £400pm is £100pw, which could be 2hrs of cleaning 5 days per week.  Plus remember to be upfront and tell organisations, debtors etc that you are struggling and make the payments manageable.  There are also organisations out there that can help you like the citizens advice bureau (I’m going to do some research and write a whole blog post about who can help you with debt problems in the next couple of weeks).

 

Here is my section on Radio Verulam with the lovely Danny smith (it’s 18mins):

 

 

So there it is, three easy steps, that might take you a little while to put fully into place, but will INSTANTLY make your life easier.

I really hope I’ve inspired you to have a go?

Let me know what you think?  Any questions or any problems with it, I’m here, so you just have to ask!

 

 

Is it possible to have romance and kids?

Is it the Mum’s responsibility to keep the romance alive?

Is it possible to have romance and kids?I was asked to pop onto the breakfast show for Heart Wiltshire the other week by the lovely Molly (check out what I said here on her blog)

She guessed I might have strong feelings about husbands complaining that they don’t get any attention any more and that the romance has gone out of their marriage!

And I do!

It’s not that I don’t think that Dads are as important as kids.

It’s not that I don’t think that they deserve to feel loved and get attention and sex.

But I can’t bear all the theories about how the wife should make an effort to make sure he doesn’t feel left out, poor thing.  Seriously!!

In the majority of homes the Mum will be juggling a pile of stuff, and has very little left to worry about romance.  It’s not that she doesn’t want it, it’s just that she’s concentrating on what has to be done, and that is taking up all her time, energy and brain space.

The Dad is a grown up, he can look after himself, manage his emotions and do a pile of stuff the kids can’t (or he should be able to, and can certainly learn to).

And there is NOTHING MORE OFF PUTTING than a bloke adding to the pressure of being a Mum, by whining about not getting any attention or romance.

 

You are probably quite right that your wife has put the kids first.  It’s called nature; our hormones give us little choice, and even if they did, practically speaking the kids need us and you are a grown up.

The question is can you man up to the task?

 

1) Make the effort to add a bit of romance in yourself.

Can you take over dinner time, tidy the kitchen and put the kids in the bath while giving your wife an hour to relax once in a while?  Put a film on that she’ll enjoy, make some pop corn, get a bottle of wine out and cuddle up to her on the sofa.

Talk to your parents or get a baby sitter and find somewhere that she would like to go.  If the kids are too young for you to go out at night, go out for coffee or a romantic picnic.

DON’T add extra pressure by pushing her to leave the kids for longer than she wants to.  It’s meant to be fun for her remember!

 

2) Find the romance that is there and make the most of it.

Philosophically speaking nothing goes away totally, it just changes.  You just aren’t looking for the romance in the right places.

Romance is about warmth, closeness, intimacy and fun.  Try to ignore the kids and they’ll kick off.  But create family romance by including them and you can still have it.  Picnics, walks in a forest, sand castles on the beach, family film time; all of those have that lovely romantic feeling to them.

Don’t ignore the kids wanting to give you hugs when you leave or at bedtime.  Have fun with it.  Have family hugs, instead of 1to1 hugs with your wife.

Bear in mind, if the kids are her number one priority, then the way to get up to number 1.5 is to go with it, rather than against it!  (Hint: this is how you get more sex with your wife).

 

3) Be Patient

Remember that this will pass, the kids will get older and she’ll have a chance to breathe, and come back to you.  Make sure you’re worth coming back to!

Don’t fall for that ‘My wife doesn’t understand me’ way of thinking and find some other woman to have an affair with; she’s just looking at you as someone who has already proved they can commit, and will do exactly the same thing to you eventually.

Get an interest that you can be passionate about during the few years the kids are little.

Get interested in the kids!

 

What do you reckon?  Am I too harsh?

Have you managed to keep the romance alive despite the kids?  Does your other half complain?  Did you come out the other side and manage to rekindle the love or did you find it was wrecked by the stress?

BTW I’ve written lots about sex and being parents, if you liked this post, you might want to read some more.

 

Omaha Beach in Normandy

An Adventure in Normandy


Omaha Beach in NormandyHmmm a Ferry and a mobile home?  I wasn’t sure what I was going to think about that.

I have fond memories of staying in a caravan in the South of France at about 5yrs old and it being a crazy fun holiday, so we decided to take a chance and accepted the offer to go to Normandy to try out Domaine De Litteau, which is one of the Siblu mobile home holiday sites.

Last year we went on our first ever family summer holiday and were shocked at the prices, as I steadfastly refused to pay the ridiculous sums of money being requested.

At last we found something I thought was reasonably priced, but I met loads of people on holiday who had been really unfairly overcharged because they had more than 2 children (i.e. double the price because they had to buy TWO studio apartments when they only needed one).

So I was really interested as a more affordable holiday option for families; especially those with young children who want inter-connecting rooms or who have more than 2 children and don’t want their holiday prices doubled.

Verdict – 7.5/10

Value for money: Brilliant.  These holidays are especially good for families who want their children near them when they are sleeping or have more than 2 kids.  You would normally get penalised for interconnecting rooms or having more than 4 of you, but that’s not the case at Siblu.

Courseilles Sur Mer

Courseilles Sur Mer Sand DunesBeaches: INCREDIBLE.  I’ve never seen such amazing, empty, long, sandy beaches in my life.  Nice and shallow for the kids to play/paddle in as well.  Warm enough when the water comes back in to swim in, just.  Apparently it doesn’t get too full when the french go on holiday in a few days time either.  BUT the beaches are 30 mins away, which was tricky with our kids.

The best spot is if you head to Omaha Beach, just to the right of the big silver pointy statue/memorial, near the food shack and life guard station.

Veuille Sure Mer gets really cramped when the tide comes in, so only good when it goes back out again.

We went to Arramanche one day, but it’s much more commercial, so headed out to Courseilles Sur Mer, which is less tidy, but has fun sand dunes and lots of people sailing/wind surfing and a great food shack.

Swimming Pool: Brilliant and hardly ever too packed as it’s not really somewhere that people stay all day.  It’s covered (the sides are removed when its hot), so usable whatever the weather and has a toddler area.  The BEST BIT was the water slide which did NOT go into the pool (which terrifies me from a safety perspective).  Instead, the slide is separate from the pool and I think therefore much safer.

Weather: perfect for young kids or active kids or people who like to go out and investigate without broiling i.e. it’s not massively hot and can be unreliable.  In fact I met several families in the second week who had been further south at another park and felt a huge sense of relief to come to a cooler site.

Journey: It’s only 40 minutes from Caen, so great for us with Little Dimples who pukes on long car journeys.

Food: We ate at the bar a couple of times and it was really good value for money (7€ for a meal), good food, just could have done with salad or more green vegetables for me.  They were rubbish at advertising what was available though.

Shop: The shop is small, but good for emergencies.  There is a supermarket near by.

Dress Code: Very relaxed, even in the evening.  Plus if you are worried about wearing a bikini, you really don’t need to; French women eat cake too; lots of it and their bikinis are atrocious!

Domaine De Litteau's forest

All weather swimming pool at Domaine De Litteau

Forest: We went for a couple of walks in the forest which was lovely (and cool) and they also do organised nature trails.

Meeting other people: I’ve discovered that I NEED chats with people, and I pretty much don’t care who with (although my best chat was with a young teenager about writing and what would the world be like if the Germans had won WW2).  It’s easy in a hotel when you all go down for breakfast at the same time, and sit around the same pool.  But it’s more tricky at Domaine De Litteau as all the facilities are at the entrance and the caravans spread out away from it up a hill.  If like me you need people, then you’ll need to make an effort to go to the Pirate evenings and meet other parents.  It will just take a bit longer.

Which mobile home: I would definitely recommend you go for one with a veranda as the weather in Normandy is unreliable (So an elegance or excellence van).  I don’t think that air conditioning is really important as it cooled down by 11pm, so if money is tight don’t worry about that.  If you would like to sit outside, or have napping toddlers or young kids who might want to play games, I would phone and request if possible a van with a good sized plot.

Noise: You can spookily hear people in the next van when the kids are running around and french babies seem to cry a lot.  But it all settles down pretty early by 11pm and didn’t stop my kids from sleeping at all.  We hardly heard anything in the second week.  Domaine De Litteau is a very quiet site at the moment, I hope they maintain this as they grow and don’t add in the day long music I’ve heard is at the pool at one of the other sites.

Max with face painting at the pirate party

Party night at sibluStaff: The kids club staff were great, maybe not as warm as the Cypriots from last year, but then they seemed to be only warm with kids and grumpy with the rest of the world (sorry for the generalisation!).  Some staff seemed a bit dippy or relaxed, but Carol who was in charge of the cleaning was brilliant and a great help, and the life guards seemed very aware (there was a dodgy review on trip advisor about them from last year).

Kids Entertainment: Curly Headed Boy discovered the kids club a few days in for the Talent show and was hooked!  He didn’t seem to mind that in the first week he was the only english boy at all (lots in second week).  There are often Pirate shows in the evenings, less professional that the other sites, but still really fun, and a special Talent show evening once a week.

Growth in future: Over the next few years they will be adding more caravans up to 500 (It’s 250 now), increasing the size of the pool, adding a little supermarket, changing the entrance to a safer location, adding 2 more kids clubs, and a restaurant.  Lots of those things will be great, and a little more organisation might be nice.  But at the same time I hope they hold onto the laid back feel that they have now.  I talked to someone who has owned a van for years, and they were really keen on the changes.  It’s brilliantly maintained, and I’m sure that they will keep it beautifully.

In general: It’s a very relaxed, slightly disorganised, but charming site, perfect if you don’t want to drive too far, like visiting interesting sites, and don’t want to be too hot.

 

Curly Headed Boy’s Review

He didn’t want to be missed out, so he’s made you this little video to show you what it all looked like!

 

 

Mobile Home at Siblu

Our Trip

Sadly our trip was marred by Little Dimples being sick for the majority of it.  I was exhausted before we even got there, and then hurt my back really badly.  There was a short remission after a trip to the doctor half way through and then she seemed to get sick again and the big hairy northern one hurt his back too.

It meant that I was stuck to the caravan for lots of the trip and unfortunately although we had one with a veranda we had one of the few that had very little out door space.  I should have asked for us to be moved, but I was too tired and didn’t think of it.

I wasn’t comfortable sitting outside the van because the space was so squashed, so I got a bit bored and stir-crazy.  To be fair, the majority of the pitches I looked at had loads of outdoor space, we were just unlucky.

Curly Headed Boy LOVED kids club and the pool, but it did cause a logistical nightmare though, trying to fit in visits to other places, beach trips and Little Dimples’ naps.  Next year it would be much easier.

My daughter hugging the graves at Omaha

Kids LOVE caravans, so it’s pretty much an immediate winner for them; although being ill Little Dimples did ask to go home regularly *sad face* (and is now asking to go back; typical!).

The 3/4 days that we did get to the beach I loved.  Kids just seem to play so naturally on a beach and I relax loads more.

I also went for aqua-aerobics a couple of times just to get some time to myself and discovered a new found respect for this much scoffed at exercise.

We also went to see the American cemetery at Omaha Beach which was really amazing.  The museum was great too, although not a long trip.

There was tonnes more to get out and see like the Bayeaux Tapestry, but sadly we didn’t make it.  We tried to see the english cemetery at Bayeaux, but it’s very different from the American one, with no parking nearby (you park at the museum that we had already driven past).  It was about to p*ss it down and the kids were grumpy, so I compromised with just looking as we drove past.

 

Siblu mobile home with verandah

Extras to Buy

Linen pack: let them provide the bedding, rather than fill your car to the brim!

Towel pack: You’ll get towels for the pool and shower.

Verandah: if you can afford it, very worthwhile.

Air conditioning: Probably not necessary, but maybe if you really hate any possibility of being hot.

 

What To Bring

Siblu Normandy isn't as hotTwo fleeces each: one can get sandy that way!  I brought just one and regretted it.

Tracksuit bottoms: great for after the beach when it’s chilly.

Pair of shorts: great for going to the beach or pool.

Two swimming costumes: so you don’t have to wear a wet one.

Proper PJ’s: It gets cool at night.

Jeans for cooler days and trips out.

Evening: casual, jeans, nothing very dressy, no heals.

Crocs: My peep toe crocs that were given to me with my ‘Inspire’ Britmums award were AMAZING!!!  I hated crocs before, but they are fab and the normal ones are great for the kids on the beach.

Food: You could go without. But it’ll save you shopping time if you bring a few essentials: Tomatoe Ketchup, Washing Up Liquid, Washing powder, Bleach for loos, Loo Roll, Soap, Pesto, Pasta, Tea, sugar, and anything your kids insist on having.

Beach tent and wind break at normandy

Wind break and beach tent: Really useful, especially with Little Dimples needing a mid-afternoon nap.  We also brought the Radio Flyer wagon for the beach and walking to and from the caravan.

Toys: iPads for journeys and incase the kids get sick, colouring stuff and pens (we made loo roll people one afternoon), Bananagrams, Duplo, Snap.  Buy Boules and sand castle stuff at the supermarket there (no shops on the beach).  There are plenty of plug sockets if you are geeks too and need to bring gadgets.

 

Price Comparisons

These are not comprehensive, but I was wondering how the prices match up.  I did some research between Siblu and Key Camp etc beforehand and apparently they are very similar.  So I checked what 2 adults, 3 children aged 2,6 and 13 would cost at a couple of different locations over 7 nights from Sat Aug 11th 2012.

Siblu – Domaine De Litteau – £616 + Ferry (with Cabin) £610 = Total £1216 (Remember to add petrol driving to Portsmouth and 60mins from Caen, and you could do a cheaper ferry trip)

Center Parcs – Elveden Forest – £1858 (monday-monday)

Butlins – Bognor Regis – Self catering apartment – £1658

 

Would I Go Again?

My family on a normandy beach

I would definitely do a caravan holiday again.

I definitely loved the peace and quiet and space of Normandy; I’m friendly, but not that friendly and don’t really want your towel next to mine, sorry!  I’d love to see more of the sites there as well, as they seemed to have real significance to life.

I was worried about Siblu being ‘cheap’, but there’s nothing tacky, nasty, dirty, or horrid there, which I was worried about.  It’s clean, pretty organised and beautifully maintained.

But I would like a beach nearer and a bit more sun.

I gave it 7.5/10 because I took off a point for the beach being so far away, a point for the lack of grass around my van, and half a point for slight disorganisation; it could definitely be an 8.5/10.

Eating at SibluI’d also like them to add the option to pay extra to not have to clean the caravan at the end.  I know they don’t expect a full clean, and I wasn’t planning on leaving it like a mess, but it would take a bit of stress out of leaving.  Oh and rent one of the vans out to someone offering massage and reflexology next year please!

So I reckon I would compromise and go to one of the other further southern locations for a week, where my friends kids spent the whole time in the water park, or where you could cycle to the beach.  Then I would come up to Normandy and Domaine De Litteau for the last week, more of a chill, swimming, kids clubs and visits to interesting places.

 

If you would love a holiday, would really like to go to France, don’t want it terribly hot, would like amazing beaches, kids clubs and great places to visit then I can highly recommend Domaine De litteau.  For more heat and more facilities go for a bigger Siblu site further south.

If you have young kids or can flex on dates, then avoid July-August, maybe even go in June for the D Day landings.  The prices drop are more than 50% off and you pretty much get the same holiday, maybe with more jeans, less shorts and even more chilling.

 

 

Disclosure: I was given a return ferry trip by Brittany Ferries and week at the Domaine De Litteau site from Siblu holidays for the family.  We added an extra week ourselves.  This didn’t affect my review and my opinions are my own.

 

Glamping an Vango Tent

The Perfect Tent For First Timers and Family Festival Goers

Ok I admit it, the Big hairy northern one was right!

It might not happen often, but his tendency to want to spend the spangdoolies was correct this time.

A few weeks ago he had a big panic about our tent and said he wanted to go back and look at the Vango Airbeam; basically a tent that blows up in 5 minutes.

Although it was to be our first time camping, I was pretty sure that it was going to be something that I would want to do again, so I agreed on the proviso that he got a smallish one and off he happily went to buy one.

It was such a good plan.  We had picked the worst weekend ever to try our first attempt at camping at our first attempt at a music festival, so there was no panic on getting the tent up in the rain as it literally does go up in 5 mins!  Plus we made a fast exit on the sunday due to the potential for getting ‘mudded’ in and the packing up took long enough; if we had added another 1.5hrs on top of that it would have been a nightmare.

Here is the video of him putting it up for only the second time; pretty cool heh!

 

 

This tent has two sleeping compartments, but we took down the separator as it was easier to just all sleep together.  There was plenty of room for the beds and our bags with clothes in them.

I would say that for a family of 4 it’s an OK size, unless you have loads of stuff like tables and chairs that have to fit in as well due to it raining outside.  So we are investing in a porch, ground sheet and also carpet for the section next to the bed rooms.  But if you are travelling a little lighter than we were it would be perfect for a short camping trip or a festival.

It also handled the rain and mud with no problem and no leaks.

 

 

Side View Of Vango Airbeam

The reason I hadn’t been keen initially is because I wanted somewhere to sit outside or feel like you were sitting outside and because it angles outwards it doesn’t give that feeling.  However we found that with two extra poles we could put the front door up and make a little place to sit under, which would be great in normal or slightly damp evenings (not when pissing down though!).

The only other problem is because of this angling outwards for all the doors (front and side), you have to quickly shut them if it rains, as obviously otherwise the floor gets wet.


 

Glamping an Vango Tent

 

One downside for me is that it’s also a disgusting colour; why oh why do tent makers think that we want to have a yukky green tent?  Adding bunting and some fairy lights did help though!

It’s quite expensive, you can definitely get a cheaper tent.  But it’s the same price as we would have spent on one yurt, and with this tent we are going to two festivals, and I’m definitely planning on going full on camping in it as well. (It was the Kinetic 500 which could sleep 5 (£600), but they do have bigger and smaller versions).

 

Have you had any tent nightmares you’d like to share or got a fab tent you would like to let everyone know about?

 

Disclosure: No one paid me or gave me anything for this review (but I’m always open to offers ;o) 

Radio Verulam Radio Interview

What Happens When You Mix The Mummy Whisperer, Actually Mummy and Verulam Radio Together?

Radio Verulam Radio InterviewIt’s just going to be a little chat between me and Helen from Actually Mummy and Dapper Danny Smith from Radio Verulam; what could go wrong?

First thing to go wrong was Little Dimples projectile vomiting across the kitchen.  Hence massive clean up required and then crossing of fingers that my neighbour would still like a playdate with me and cover the kids while I do the 2 min interview.

Thank god for neighbours who know her well enough to know that she does puke every now and again (or who needed that glass of wine more than they were worried about bugs – thanks T!).

Second thing to go wrong is Little Dimples producing a nappy full to the brim 10 minutes before take off.

Next less than wise option was the glass of wine to ‘settle my nerves’!

But I make it and I’m there 5 minutes beforehand as agreed and there’s no Helen and no Dan ….. don’t panic Lisa!

Technical issues resolved just in time, the next surprise is I’m assuming it’s being recorded and then ‘fiddled with’ before going live.  No idea why, it was just my assumption because we were on Skype and I’ve done a couple of similar things before.  However there’s Dan on Skype saying ‘And ladies we’ll be going live in 1.5mins, now don’t swear; I’ve heard about you!’. Oh dear!

What follows is a classic Mummy Blogger interview, starting with one of the best lines from Helen ‘Well it’s a bit like radio isn’t it’; uhm yes it would be wouldn’t it Helen (anyone would have thought she’d been on the wine, not me!).

I did manage to plug our fellow St Albans Bloggers also in the national MAD Blogging Awards: Dorkymum and All Baby Advice without a hitch (I hope anyway) and ask for votes as subtly as possible (maybe not that subtle actually).  (voting still open until June 6th at 5pm hint hint!)

Then we proceeded to encourage Dan to become a stalker and write a blog about all the people he sees when sitting in coffee shops (which he appears to do A LOT!).  With both of us talking at the same, poor old Dan ends up calling me Helen, but at least I didn’t call her Dan ;o)

Fancy a listen?

12 minutes later and it’s all over; the longest interview I’ve done so far, but over in a flash (thanks again for holding the fort so quietly downstairs T!).  A big thank you to Dan and Radio Verulam for being so supportive of us and letting us plug the MAD Blog Awards.  Lets hope St Albans has a clean sweep and we all win; if not at least there will be wine!

I’ve loved this years awards.  Last year I was all alone.  This year there are tonnes of us up for BiBs awards (Brilliance in Blogging) and four for the MADs.  The ceremonies are going to be masses of fun, and it’s been so great to have help getting votes from the others.  So I’d also like to thank Ruth from DorkyMum for sorting out some newspaper coverage for us at Herts Advertiser for the MADs and who ever sorted the story in St Albans People.

I’m off to cross all my fingers and toes!

 

 

#BlogItForBabies and Predictions for Mummy Blogging in the UK for 2012

I’m sorry, I haven’t been here for a few days.

‘Where’ve you been?’ you might ask?

Well I was over at Nickie’s place on the fabulous IAmTypecast blog discussing my predictions for the UK Mummy Blogging Community for 2012.  I didn’t post it here as I know many of my lovely readers are not bloggers.  But you might want to take a look, as some of the lessons to be learnt by bloggers in this coming year also work for other groups of people.

I love the Mummy Blogging community, and I think it has great potential.  But what I pointed out is that in order to grow and survive it will need to mature and change.  I feel these changes coming on now, and hope that the bloggers embrace them with open arms.  If they don’t then it could mean the stifling of a great movement, as I have seen in other communities before.  Change always creates a bit of chaos, so there is bound to be upheaval, but it’ll settle down.

I described 5 potential directions for the current bloggers and there are some great comments from people discussing them.

Now obviously, some will move around from one to another, and there will be new bloggers coming along in future years.  However, I do think that there are going to be distinct ‘attitudes’ that bloggers will adopt.  Lets see, we’ll know in the next 6-12 months if I’m right!

I do actually have loads of tips for blogging or running your own small business.  Do you guys want me to pop them on this blog?  Let me know if you’re interested; otherwise I’ll just do more guest posts instead.

 

For the rest of the week I was supporting a blogging campaign which shows all the best of the innovative, far thinking and growth potential that I talked about in my guest post.

The mighty Mammasaurus who runs the blogging site ‘Love All Blogs’ is travelling around the UK this week for the #BlogItForBabies campaign to raise awareness of Save The Children Fund’s ‘Build It For Babies’ campaign.

Here is the official blurb:  Blog it for Babies hope to raise money for selected equipment for a delivery room in a healthcare clinic in Bangladesh. We would love for a  campaign started by parents who are lucky enough to be able to take their babies and children to their GP’s when they are ill to be able to save the lives of little ones in Bangladesh who sadly do not have the same chance.

 

If you would like to donate a pound, all you have to do is text XVRL71 £1 to 70070

 

On Mammasaurus’s arrival in St Albans the whirlwind that is Actually Mummy had arranged a tent, with stalls from fab companies (apart from the 2 companies who refused to pay up at the end of the day despite the price being agreed, getting free links from great websites and blogs, and all the free tips available, let alone the chance to get involved in the activities – sorry had to be said!).

There was an hours lesson with ‘The Rock Choir‘, free blogging/SEO/Social Media tips from top UK mummy bloggers, and we finished with my son Curly Headed Boy teaching how to dance to Justin Bieber’s ‘Baby, Baby’, check out our moves here (the little one is Little Dimples):

 

Those crazy bloggers finished the day with naked ironing; they’ll do anything to raise money for charity!

 

 

Now you know why I love the Mummy Blogging Community!  There are some amazing women in there and I’m proud to know them.

 

money saving and cost cutting tips

7 Top Tips For Saving Money And Cutting Costs: My Piggy Bank Tale



Trying to cut costs, and even save money can seem daunting to start off with.

But I’ve found that once we got going, it gets easier.

What I’ve also discovered is that it has the surprising added bonus of adding back the adventure and sparkle to life; who’d have thought it?

So I’m sharing some of my Top Tips for saving money and cutting costs.  Check out the video, which mainly stars my daughter and dog, or read the tips below, or both!

 

1) Changing our focus to cost cutting and saving

money saving and cost cutting tips

I was very sensible with money as a kid, growing up with a recession that hit the building trade hard and parents who wanted me to contribute to my keep.  In our 20’s the hairy northern one and I would monitor every tenner we spent.  But somehow we got lost along the way and swapped our little cars for big ones, and never quite started doing the savings that we promised we would.  We’ve been getting back on the straight an narrow for a few years, but his recent redundancy has been the big ‘penny dropper’.  Suddenly we are cutting unnecessary costs, changing back to small tax free cars, switching from private to state schools, watching our pennies, and getting a focussed plan together on the savings front for ‘savings to spend’ and ‘savings forever’.

2) Look after your money and your money will look after you

I discovered a spooky rule about money a few years back; that when I save, budget, and monitor my spends, I end up with more money left over, more value in my life and ironically attract more money.  Obviously the hairy northern one was dubious of this rule at first being an accountant.  But the fact that we only followed the rule intermittently proved it was true, because every time we did it, my business at the time would be more successful.  It’s as though by proving that we would look after our money, we were being allowed more.  Almost as soon as we restarted this time, I started getting opportunities for this blog that I’d never been offered before; so it works for all types of business.

3) Budget for ‘Pots’ to give fairness and power in your relationship

We budget for ‘pots’ for each of us, so that spends can be transparent and fairly spread amongst the family.  The idea is that how much the hairy northern one and I have to spend is clearly set, but from then on it’s our own business what we spend it on.  It gives the relationship fairness, transparency and independence.  Otherwise in families there is often the myth that someone is spending more than is fair, that eats away at people.  The ‘pots’ don’t restrict us, they just help us to plan in advance.  We don’t always do it, as there have been times when we forget.  But the effect on our relationship is really noticeable when we do (that means more sex, if any men are reading this and want encouragement!).

Family fun4) Waiting longer for the things we want and focussing on ‘The simpler things’

The last 4 months we’ve been doing ‘use it up month‘ and following the rule ‘can it wait for a month’ before we buy it.  We don’t seem to be any the worse for it, after all, adults are just like children who become discontent and spoilt if they get everything they want all at once.  We all need something to strive for, and to feel that we deserve what we got.  I’m actually loving the fact that I’m being gently directed to concentrate on ‘The simpler things in life‘.

5) Spending less on the kids

I’ve been lucky to live next door to someone with a daughter a year older than Curly Dimples, who has pretty much dressed her since birth; difficult to organise maybe, but worth considering if you are moving house (the easier alternative would be to go to a charity shop!).  Obviously Curly Headed Boy has the genes of his father so often ‘NEEDs’ a new gadget!  I ban TV with adverts around birthday or christmas time to save my sanity and spend ages planning presents that I know will last.  He has surprisingly got the message and even bought himself a piggy bank at last years school fair (and a horrible monstrosity it is too, no wonder that Mother got rid of it!).

6) Can it be replaced for something cheaper, more fun and adventurous?

We’ve looked at our costs and looked at what we could replace without losing out.  In fact, alternative options can be more adventurous and fun, as well as much cheaper.  The glamping yurt from last year is switching to a tent, with me spending hours of fun searching for stuff to glamp up my tent on Pinterest so that I don’t get stressed by the dull nature of camping gear.  The gym membership full of guilt from lack of usage, has switched to more dog walking and dancing with the kids on the Wii, which has improved my skin no end from the fresh air.  I’m actually finding myself really enjoying the feeling of adventure as we look for different ways of doing things.

healthy retirement7) Start saving; even a little

The hairy northern one has now got a 4 day week interim contract.  This is great news, but realistically we need a ‘buffer’ to cover a potential gap between this and the next contract.  We are also looking to save money in the short term in order to maybe go away for a family gap year/season in between contracts.

Most importantly in the long term I’m aiming for a vibrant grannydom full of health and the financial freedom to follow my kids wherever they decide to go in the world (a bit of a granny stalker!).  A little less spent now will enable us to have freedom and adventure in our future.  So I focus on that as much as possible and keep reminding myself so that the little restrictions now don’t stress me out.

If you are looking to cut your spends and save money, I’d say – start now, even if it’s just £1 or £10.  Remember that with a little imagination you can often replace the things that you think are so necessary, with something cheaper that is also more fun and flexible.

 

I hope that you’ve enjoyed my tips and find them useful?

If like me you are nosey, then check out the tips from Maggie at RedTedArt and Michelle at Mummy Rates It too!

This post is part of a BritMums campaign in conjunction with Virgin Money.  There’s also a competition, which you might be really interested in, so check out the details below.

 

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Share your savings story for a chance to win £500 towards a Stocks & Shares ISA

Share your money saving stories or tips to take part in the Piggy Bank Tales Competition, sponsored by Virgin Money . You could win one of two £500 prizes which you can choose to invest in a Stocks and Shares ISA to jump start your own nest egg if you want to!

Taking part is simple:

  1. On your blog, post your own Piggy Bank Tale. Whether you’re saving for a rainy day or you’re into investing in the stock market, it doesn’t matter – your stories or tips can be fun, quirky or serious!
  2. Add the link to your post on the Piggy Bank Tales Linky below by 17:00 GMT on 10th April.
  3. Soon after that, we’ll pick two winners at random for the £500 prize.
  4. Read the terms and conditions.
  5. Tweet about your involvement using the #VirginISA hashtag

We’d also love you to grab the badge here and insert in your post to help spread the word.

Good Luck!  We can’t wait to hear your piggy bank tales.

My First BBC Radio Interview with My Daddy Cooks

 

I was in total geeks heaven; my first radio interview with Nick Coffer on BBC 3 Counties.  There were dials, buttons, screens, computers, flashing things, headphones; it was amazing.  I’d been on blogtalk radio before and interviewed by phone for local independent radio, but here I was being interviewed on BBC Radio, and I realised that I’d made a big decision – I love radio studios!

The great My Daddy Cooks who normally has a show on the weekend on BBC Three Counties, had taken on one of the Bank Holiday Christmas shows and really kindly asked me along.  I admit to being scared sh**less, and desperately writing notes in the waiting room as his introduction talked me up more and more and I panicked about not being able to remember how to talk, let alone anything else.  But he was a star.  How someone can talk so fast, press so many buttons, and keep guiding me to talk more/less, louder/quieter, quicker/slower, I don’t know, but he must be a natural at it.

So here it is…..

Want to know how many kisses I do?

Or the first time I’ve really talked honestly about how badly 2011 started for me?

What about my 6 tips for being a contented parent?

Or how I lost 2 stone in weight without diets or going to the gym?

Here is the link, incase you aren’t able to listen to it straight from this blog.

Lisa on BBC3CR

Big thank you’s to BBC3CR, Nick and the big hairy northern one who had to look after a couple of sick kids while I did the interview.  How do you think I did?  Be kind, remember it was my first ‘proper’ radio show!