Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Top 8 New Year Ideas (NOT Resolutions)

I've never been a fan of the word 'Resolutions' - it sets far too much of a challenge, and I'm old and wise enough to know that any resolutions I make would be broken within weeks. So instead, I've been having 'Ideas' for the New Year. Here's my top 8 Ideas for what I might* like to do in 2016 - maybe if you'd like to do them with me, you can be my motivation and I'll be yours (no promises though)?

1. Lose weight

Eat less, exercise more.

OK, I know it's boring, and I've been saying it for years, but just a little bit less to carry around would be nice. Oh, and an excuse to buy new clothes of course. However, to get to this point, I realise I will have to look at two things; diet and exercise. So don't hold your breath folks.

2. Stress less

Who am I kidding?! 

We've just bought a new house to renovate and live in. Watch this space for lots of home interior posts asking which taps are best. Moving house was rated as more stressful than bankruptcy, starting a new job or even divorce in some recent poll**.

Plus, I don't know if I mentioned it, but we have a girl with PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance). Free and easy living is not the name of the game, planning ahead to the nth degree and always having a Plan B, C and Z is what it's all about.

3. Clean the house

Well OK, maybe just tidy it up a bit more. 

In my head, I am aiming for the kind of household where it's all happy and bustle-y and anyone can walk in at any time and feel welcome and enveloped into our cosy home... in reality, I expect noses are turned up as visitors try to tiptoe through the Shopkins and surreptitiously brush off cat hairs if they dare to sit down anywhere. The new house (see Idea 2) is like a fresh start and will definitely be super minimalist and sleek from day 1... the girls are banned, of course.

Shopkins, for the uninitiated. This is about 1/10th of our collection.....

4. Sort my photos

Photo books are the future.

It's no lie that this has been on my to-do list for several years, and I do sporadically manage the odd bit of sorting, but this year I want to actually see some of the millions of photos that I take. Pointless taking them otherwise, isn't it? This whole post was actually just an excuse to spend hours sifting through this year's photos (don't get me started on the baby ones) to come up with this collage of one photo from each month this year. Do you even realise how difficult it was for me to whittle them down?!

Stephs Two Girls 2015 collage
Our 2015 Happy Collage

5. Wear more make-up

Or not. 

It crossed my mind recently how thankful I am for the upbringing I had and the genes I was given. I don't consider myself good-looking, and I don't doubt for one second that I could be made to look better with make-up (just not if I'm doing it myself, as at the grand old age of 43, I honestly still haven't a clue how). The thing is, I just don't care enough (yet). It's not self-confidence, as I've not been blessed with much of that, just a happy understanding that most of the time it doesn't matter what other people think of the way I look. Still, I am getting older, maybe I should be hiding embracing respecting that and turning to a make-up counter for some help....

6. Stop being last-minute

Is it really possible?

I've always been the kind of person who hates to be late but who only seems to be able to function and panic when it's right at the last minute. I pride myself on never having had to sign the late book at school, despite the difficulties we've had getting our youngest out of the house on occasion. We are nearly always walking in through the school gate last though, and I know it's just a matter of setting all the clocks in the house 5 minutes early so we can kid ourselves we are still late. Sounds like a good plan, no?

7. Act on reminders

As in, don't simply press OK to dismiss them on my phone.

I'm very good at making lists, and setting myself reminders in my super-duper technologically linked computer and phone. It's just making the time to do what needs to be done which is the problem. It's not as if I sit around with my feet up watching television the rest of the time, so you may well ask, what am I actually doing? Blogging, for one thing. Not going to stop that though, will have to think of another plan....

8. Live Life

Bryan Adams.

Possibly I shouldn't be sharing this, as a restraining order may follow, but I already have plans to see Bryan Adams THREE times this year (sorry Mr C). At his concert in May, at the Lytham Festival in August but much more imminently at Westminster on New Year's Eve (which will be broadcast live on BBC 1 I believe, so look out for me on your telly!). I'm also going to see Take That again in summer, so I should be pretty damn happy with my lot, and indeed I am.

This New Year's Eve event has made me stop and think though. I like to think of myself as a fairly well-balanced, stable kind of person who doesn't panic about much. There's been a fair amount of terrorism in my lifetime, but the recent Paris attacks seem to have affected me the most. I can't deny that I've had a bit of a wobble about going into Central London, at a key time of year, to celebrate in a very public place. The 'what ifs' are right there in the middle of my mind this time, not hidden away down the back. I don't think it's my time to go and I can't bear the thought of leaving my family behind.

BUT I also think it's important that I pass on to my girls a sense of what is right; that we can't let ourselves be bullied by others who think their way is the right way. Staying home sounds tempting, but it's not living life. As my favourite quote goes, 'Life's not about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain'.

Happy New Year everyone!

*this word is very flexible and it means you can't hold me to any of this. Hooray.
** I never was very good at research and quoting proper figures.
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Thursday, 24 December 2015

A special Santa message for your child - Portable North Pole (PNP)

It's not too late to create a special video message from Santa for your children, via the wonderful PNP Portable North Pole ( website. If you carry on to the end of my post you'll see there's a special discount code for my readers!
The first time I made these personalised videos when the girls were younger, I loved watching the amazement in their eyes as they listened to Santa deciding whether they had been naughty or nice. They're still not quite sure how Santa knows so much about them....

The videos take just minutes to create; you are led through some basic questions such as name, gender, age etc, and then you have the chance to upload photos of different events to make it even more special. Santa will actually speak their name, mention your child's birthday, or holidays, or favourite toy, and you can watch the look of surprise and wonder on your child's face as they try and figure out how he knows their name, who their friends are, and what they've been up to!

There are several options on the website; you can send your child a free short video from Santa or you can pay just a little for the Premium option and your child will receive a longer, 5 minute video. There are 7 different versions of the video to choose from this year, from a festive sing-along to checking out the post office activities. There's also the option to receive phone calls from Santa, along with an extra Christmas Eve video as he sets off, and of course there's an an App version too. 

Now is the perfect time to keep that Christmas magic going - it has become one of our family traditions and I can't imagine Christmas without it.

For all my lucky readers I've got a special treat - use this promo code: BLG20PNP to receive 20% off all digital products (excluding in-app purchases). Check out @PNPSanta for more info.

Disclosure: we were given access to the premium option so we could review the options; all opinions are honest and our own though!
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Thursday, 17 December 2015

Siblings {December}

December, my favourite month of the year. Also my busiest month of the year. So no long blog post, just a quick apology for photo quality (again). I blame the girls, I do. One of these days they'll stand still and both smile at the same time....

And just because one is never enough.... exciting (and busy, quelle suprise) times lay ahead for us in 2016 as we now have a 'little' project to work on...

dear beautiful
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How to keep the children busy - Animal Jam review

If you're wondering how on earth you are going to get the wrapping done, especially if, like mine, your children are a little older and go to bed later now, then why don't you let them loose on the latest online game, Animal Jam (! I can pretty much guarantee they'll be so oblivious to everything for a while, that you could almost wrap under their noses.

So what is Animal Jam? Well it's an online world, where you can choose your own animal character (a seal, in our case) and then customise their den. According to our eldest girl, who loves animals and is hooked, you 'play mini games so you can earn gems. Then you buy furniture for the den with the gems you've collected, and you can also buy clothes and pets for the animals'. Children are encouraged to explore and protect the natural world, and they collect fun facts and learn about animal conservation as they go. The game was made in conjunction with National Geographic, so as you'd expect from a well-respected name, it is packed with educational videos to keep your children learning as they play - it's a win-win situation!

Your child can chat to other players, but parents retain as much control as they like - a lot of thought has been put into the safety aspects of this online game. It is free to play but if you purchase membership a lot more benefits are unlocked. There's also an App version called Play Wild! which is worth considering too.

Disclosure: we received a goody bag and free membership for a week in order to trial this product. All views and opinions given here are our own.
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Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Festive Christmas Cupcakes

So this week I took some Christmas gifts in for the teachers: festive cupcakes. Ta-dah!

I try not to blow my own trumpet on a regular basis but I hope you'll excuse me this time. They're not up to commercial standards or perfect for selling in a shop or anything - definitely not a patch on my friend Deb's cupcakes - but I *think* they're OK.

I make cupcakes every year, on more than one occasion; in fact it's a bit of a trap that I've fallen into. By that I don't mean that the cakes are expected or that teachers would be upset if they didn't receive some. It's me putting the pressure on myself. I struggle to decide what I'd buy in a store as a gift for someone whose home life I know very little about in most cases, but at the same time someone who has made a huge difference to our lives. At the same time, I struggle even more to get my own children to make anything special for their teachers - not because they don't appreciate them, but more because there never seems to be a 'good time'. Of course, with PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance) in the house, there's never a good time for demands, but I do find that towards the end of term, even more chill time after school than usual is needed by our youngest.

Mr C always asks me why I'm making them. He can see the time and effort they take and to be honest I think he worries a bit about the mess in the kitchen....

I do it for two main reasons though; firstly because it's the only tiny bit of creativity I have in me (but if I'm being honest, Pinterest helps a lot these days), but secondly because I like to make people happy. Many people have told me they are tasty, and I have to believe them as I hardly ever eat cake myself (would much rather have a chocolate biscuit). They could be lying of course, just to make me happy, but I'm OK with that too. This year our eldest joined in with helping me make them and it was so enjoyable working together. I'm hoping this can be a new and long lasting festive tradition!

With this post, I am joining in with Penny and Wayfair's  #BlogItForward challenge, which is funnily enough all about giving back! The great news is that for every blog post about acts of kindness in December which is displaying the badge below, Wayfair are donating £50 to Habitat for Humanity. So this post is a winner!

There's so many simple ways we can help others, especially at this time of year, which can be tough for lots of reasons. Appreciating people and saying thank you is one way I'm joining in; highlighting great businesses and dropping much needed items along with extras such as toys into a food bank are others. The reward is feeling good, and knowing you've helped others. Why don't you try it and join in?!

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Wednesday, 9 December 2015

The chance to dance

Seriously, THE best way to spend half an hour. Watching your children dance freely, just enjoying themselves to the music and laughing out loud. I probably looked a bit crazy and doting, sitting there with a huge grin on my face, but honestly, it was the highlight of my year.

So I thought you should all share in my happiness - though yes, I appreciate they are my girls and it's not quite the same.... but I still reckon this clip will put a smile on your faces.

Huge thanks go to the wonderful dance teacher who has the most fabulous attitude, and who must be exhausted after a half hour session of following our youngest girl's instructions and copying her somewhat unusual dance moves. Yes, I do know teaching is generally supposed to be the other way around (i.e. experienced person to novice), but we'll work on that next term I hope! Due to the PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance), S likes to be giving the orders so that she stays in control, so it helps that there are not many in the class to argue with her...

These are special dance sessions put on by the Herts Dance Association at the All Saints Studios to promote inclusion, education and equality in dancing. I'm just so happy that the stars aligned, that this perfect opportunity landed right on our doorstep, and on an evening when we weren't already taking eldest girl to and from her after school activities. Lady luck was definitely shining on us and I'm grateful.

I had to include all the photos I took because they were all equally poor quality... will take along a better camera rather than just a phone next time!

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Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Reasons To Be Cheerful; December Achievements

Even in a tough week, there are always Reasons To Be Cheerful, and Small Steps Amazing Achievements (non-bloggers please excuse the strange writing but I'm joining in with these lovely linkies...). As I've told our eldest girl, happiness is an attitude; you can decide how you let what happens around you in life affect you.

I'm so super proud of both our girls this week. They are of course so different and yet both so amazing in their own ways (yes, I'm biased).

Eldest girl has had a few wobbles of late about not being able to achieve on a sporting front. She's not overly blessed with natural athletic abilities (she can blame her Mum for that) and struggles with co-ordination at times. PE is her least favourite lesson at school; she's keenly aware of how others avoid involving her in team games as some don't hold back on telling her when she's not fast or strong enough.

Despite all that she gave it a go when a fantastic local club (Paul Davis Fencing Academy) offered to run some lunchtime fencing lessons at school, and we were delighted when she was on the winning fencing team which took part in a competition outside of school.

Since then she has taken it up as an after school club, and this week the club held a Christmas party and small awards ceremony. Our girl was presented with the award for Best Female Sabre Player this term! She was so surprised and delighted, and I'm sure this will fill her with much-needed confidence and the motivation to improve even more.

Our youngest girl's class went off on a school trip to a local museum this week. Luckily it wasn't too far to travel, and she's managed to get used to the coach for the school swimming lessons (which have gone amazingly well, largely due to her love of being in water but also thanks to very flexible teaching staff). However we suspected this museum day out may not be overly successful for our autistic girl, for several reasons. Large group talks, in a fairly small space, are quite difficult for her to concentrate on (massively understating here) and the topic of Romans hasn't exactly grabbed her attention so far, so it wasn't a surprise when I was called to collect her from there at 1030am. It was a huge achievement for her to have even got on the coach in the first place though, so I looked on the bright side.

An even better achievement was to follow though; on Friday evening, completely out of the blue, she told me that she needed to revisit the museum at the weekend in order to learn more.

She wanted to present what she knew to the children on Monday at school, so Daddy took her there before a swim session on Saturday. She walked round the whole museum twice (it's not that large, to be fair!) and dictated notes to him on points she thought were worth mentioning to her classmates. Once back at school after weekend she was invited to share with the class and it was so heart-warming when one of her peers came running up to me afterwards to tell me how they'd all loved it.

I can't explain what a huge step forward this is for her; until now, a desire to learn hasn't really shown itself in any great way. This event has highlighted to us just how necessary it is for her to learn in a different way to her peers; at her own pace, and in her own style is what clearly works. All we can do for now is stay open and ready for more opportunities like this one.


Reasons to be Cheerful
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Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash for Nintendo 3DS: Review

Another great new game for the Nintendo 3DS has been released just in time for Christmas, called Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash.

In the game you are Chibi-Robo; a little robot trying to save the world from aliens who are using up natural resources. Your super power is the cord attached to you with a plug on the end..... yes, I know it sounds a little weird, but bear with me.

Chibi-Robo uses the plug in a variety of ways; as a whip, a lassoo and a grapple hook. He can smash through obstacles, use the hook to swing up to different levels and grab different, hard to reach items all over the place.

There are 35 stages all over the world and Chibi-Robo gets to meet new friends along the way, as well as dispatching aliens. The text in this game is at a fairly high level so the player would need to be a confident reader; here's an example from early on in the game (please do excuse the wobbly photo angle):

Having said that as always there is plenty to do even if you don't stop to read the instructions! It always amazes me how most children just seem to figure it out by themselves.

As you level up, you gain the Zip Lash power, which means you can break through bigger blocks and use the cord as a zip wire to travel further than before and over deeper ravines. There's also the option to purchase a Chibi-Robo amiibo for extra game play - this makes you supercharged and lets you unlock even more levels. The game itself is currently retailing at £24.99 on the Nintendo e-store, or you can buy it in a bundle with the amiibo for £34.99.

Disclosure: We were sent the above product for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the views expressed here are our own. 
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Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Nintendo New Style Boutique 2: Fashion Forward for the 3DS

New Style Boutique 2: Fashion Forward is the latest fantastic release for the Nintendo 3DS. We honestly can't rave about this one enough - I've enjoyed playing it nearly as much as our 10 year old girl!

 In her words, what happens in the game is as follows:
'Your character is given a mini key by Grandma, which unlocks a mini door. A tiny person called Sophie comes through and then makes you tiny so you can go back into her world with her. Once there, you are given an apartment, and you are then made manager of Sophie's shop.

You have to create fashion looks for customers, and if they agree to buy them you earn money for yourself. As you progress, more buildings are unlocked, such as a hair salon, beautician, and the Exhibition Hall where you can buy more stock for your shop. You can help in each of these other business to earn more money, or you can go there to buy yourself a new look. You can also do other activities, such as go to a cafe or a rock concert.  

With your money, you can buy miniature items to decorate and style rooms in a doll's house called Caprice's Chalet. You can also have your hair and make-up done!'

So that's it in a nutshell, but there's SO much more to it than that. The possibilities really do seem to be endless in this game. The core is as T said above; your character (which of course you get to name and dress yourself, as well as being able to choose eye style, skin tone etc) becomes Manager of a Fashion Boutique in a place called Beaumonde City. The city grows as you become more successful; you do that by speaking with clients and choosing outfits to sell to them relevant to their requirements. Of course you have to buy and manage your own stock and your shop interior and window displays; there are a dozen brands with 19,000 items and accessories to discover.

Your character can choose between five different careers at any time; Boutique Manager, Make-Up Artist, Hair Stylist, Designer or Model. As you walk around the City you can make contacts and improve your business as well as enjoying your own free time by having your own hair or make-up done. There are different options on everything from eyeshadow to lipstick, and as you improve through the game you are awarded new colours and choices.

Sorting the rooms in the Dolls House is a great creative outlet; with over 1,700 miniature items you won't get bored! You can pick colours and styles, and you can also choose exactly where to place everything including furniture. So it really is comprehensive home designing.

You can connect with friends via Local Play and visit their City or invite them to yours. You can take part in fashion contests on Miiverse, and scan Amiibo characters to receive extra rewards, 

We could fill pages and pages with these screenshots but of course we don't want to spoil it all for you... let's just say that it would definitely make a brilliant Christmas present, one which would be returned to over and over. It's available from Nintendo: New Style Boutique 2: Fashion Forward for £34.99 and right now there's a free £5 beauty voucher if you purchase there*. This game is definitely great value for money in our opinion. The visuals are of course 3D on the new 3DS but this game can also be played equally well in 2D on the 2DS.

*As at December 1st 2015. Please see Nintendo site for details.

Disclosure: We were sent the above product for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the views expressed here are our own. 

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