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Alexander Residence: 01/10/11 - 01/11/11

Saturday, 29 October 2011

An eclectic collection of small but important stuff

Some little things I have liked the look, feel, smell of this week...
Hello Crocs Gust boot, Hello Kitty, Hello snow, Hello snug toes.  My friend and I were complaining we would have to put our Converse into hibernation for the Winter, then we discovered ones with fur.  It seems Crocs have also solved that problem, but for kids.  As well as these fab boots, they also do kids' Crocs with fur linings.  Snug sneakers rock.
Hello Peppa Pig.  You just keep on giving.  Peppa Pig is such a reference point for pre schoolers firsts.  Mr G and his friends went ice skating 'just like Peppa and George' last week. Peppa Pig International Day, is packed with 11 new episodes, it was released on DVD by Entertainment 1 on the 24th October, RRP £12.99.  Entertainment One have kindly provided one copy to giveaway to one lucky reader, see below.

Hello fairy lights.  It's cold and dark, I won't mention the C word.  But I will have some sparkle please.  A whole net of sparkle, which I think would capture the kid's imaginations too. Christmas Trees and Lights have everything you need to light up your house, garden and the sky this Winter.  Including some big boy firework sets. (10% off non-sale items from the website using this code - CTLSALE10)

Two curly haired kids + bathtime = headache.  But I love this.  It makes hair really soft and having kids that smell of banana and custard and not fluffy nonsense is a rather lovely thing indeed.
I'm having a nostalgic soap thing.  Pears and Wrights Coal-Tar soap.  Both remind me of my grandparents, and of home.  There's no coal or tar in it any more, but it smells just like it used to.

Have a lovely weekend.  What have you discovered this week?

Peppa Pig competition ends Saturday 5th November at midday.  UK entries only.  Comment to enter. Please leave me a way to contact you.

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Thursday, 27 October 2011

Tantrum Taming Little Legacy 16

8pm. I am sitting with my back to the inside of his bedroom door. He shouts. He pulls at me then tries to clamber over me. He yanks at the handle. He tries to hit me.  I pick him up and put him on his bed kicking and screaming.  I start reading a book to him.  He starts to lob things off his bed. Which is when Monkey hits me in the face.

I'm furious, but something catches me in time, makes me see the funny side.

'Hey monkey, I didn't know you could fly' I say.

My boy laughs.  A delicious little chuckle.

I carry on, 'Hey monkey, what's wrong with Mr G?' I make the monkey toy edge towards him. 'Hey Mr G why are you cross?' I say in my best monkey voice.

'Hmmmphh,' says my son, but there is a flicker of a smile in the corner of his mouth.

'Hummph?' I say as monkey,  'What's humphh?'

He laughs some more and pulls his duvet back on the bed.

I lay monkey down on the pillow next to him and make his paw tickle his cheek and his head cock to one side as Monkey asks 'Can I sleep in your bed?'

He pulls the duvet over his head, hugs Monkey and accepts my kiss on the cheek.

Distraction is the name of the game. Puppets are an amazing bridge when emotions are running high.  Naming emotions helps children to cope with them. Things I know thanks to my mum, who was a fabulous mum, gran and playtherapist.

Little legacy is a remembrance project , a positive and creative space, to celebrate small things handed down by inspirational people. Feel free to link up a little legacy you've been thinking about this week, or to leave one in the comments. Here's the code and here's more on Little Legacy

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Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Littlest Angel reviewed by our resident cherubs

Regular readers will know I used to be a film and media teacher, well I am also a frustrated film critic.  I love talking about children's media.  Let me show and tell you - with a bit of help from my resident cherubs - all about The Littlest Angel.   The film is based on the children's novel by Charles Tazewell.

The Littlest Angel is out now on DVD and would make a great Christmas film, gift or stocking filler.

Giveaway CLOSED - winners were comment numbers 3,7,13
I have three copies to give away.  Just leave a comment below. Feel free to tweet, if so, add an extra comment for an extra entry.  '#Win some family Christmas viewing, The Littlest Angel DVD #giveaway @aresidence'.

Competition ends Wednesday 2nd November 2011 at midday.  UK entries only.

This is a sponsored vlog.

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Monday, 24 October 2011

How do you talk about alcohol with kids?

As he stares out across the Thames, into the city that was my playground in my 20s, I can't help but wonder what he will be like when he is older.  What will he do? Where will he live? Who will his friends be?

After attending a Drinkaware event in London with my son - hence the snaps - I'm also now wondering what kind of drinker will he be?

It may sound early to be wondering these things, but after participating in the Drinkaware debate about kids and alcohol I've realised children are aware of alcohol from a very early age. As young as 8 they may develop ideas about the kind of drinker they will be.

Only in the last week my 5 year old daughter told me wine makes grown ups silly (not I might add from observation), asked me what a spirit measure was for, and wanted to know why someone had left a half drunk beer bottle in the street. She is aware and curious.

Only 17% of adults have a plan about how to talk about alcohol with their children, but evidence shows parents have the most influence on young people's attitudes to alcohol. Interestingly this is especially true if parents start conversations early, before the teenage years when peers become a much bigger influence.

Talking about alcohol doesn't have to be a daunting 'big talk'.  Drinkaware suggest their are four stages:
  • Age 8-10 is about awareness, when answering questions like 'Why do you drink?' by explaining that drinking is for adults and has both social and negative sides is appropriate.  
  • At age 9-12 curiosity kicks in and questions like 'What does being drunk feel like?' could be answered by talking about the impact of alcohol on the body and the difference between moderation and abuse. 
  • By ages 11-14 children may be experimenting, given that the average first unsupervised drink now occurs at 13.8 years.  This is good time to talk about peer pressure, to provide 'get out' strategies, and to discuss and agree rules and consequences together.  
  • Between 13-17 children may have tested their limits and may consider themselves experienced. Now is the time to provide tips on staying safe and to agree that if they get in a difficult situation they can call home no questions asked.
Drinkers are often very good at telling stories about alcohol related incidents, but not at talking honestly. It's easy to feel hypocritical as a parent, drink in one hand whilst preaching abstinence with the other. But as long as children see drinking in moderation, there's no need to feel hypocritical. Research shows that children learn about the kind of drinker they will be by watching their parents.

The biggest myth breaker for me, was of 'continental' drinking. Apparently there is no scientific evidence that allowing children to have a small amount to try gives them a responsible attitude in later life. In fact, research shows the earlier a child starts drinking, the higher the chances of developing alcohol abuse or dependence. Current medical advice is not to let children drink until 16.

The increase in 30/40 something parents drinking 'home measures' has meant many people underestimate the amount they drink. I thought I was pretty clued up until I checked my home gin measure with the measuring cup Drinkaware gave me. What I thought was somewhere between 1-2 units turned out to be a triple. It's no wonder that I am usually asleep on the sofa after one homemade G and T. Given that 2-3 units per day is the guideline amount for women, I will now be reaching for the spirit measure.

The top tips I picked up from the event were:
  • The worst thing you can do is say nothing.
  • The best thing you can do is have many open, early discussions which develop as your child grows.
  • Don't expect your child's school to pass on the message, alcohol is not a compulsory part of the curriculum.  (I still shudder at all the absent marks I put on the register for the kids in my tutor group who missed the one PSHE sex education lesson of the year).
  • Start conversations early, while children are still receptive to parental influence, 8-11 is a great time. 
  • In Newquay, where every year around 4000 young people gather after their GCSEs, to drink with sometimes tragic consequences, a police campaign centred on encouraging dignity and looking out for your mates.  These approaches worked very successfully with teenagers.
  • Help kids find a get out clause. It might be a Saturday morning drama or sports team they need to be hangover free for. Or knowing which drinks are lowest in alcohol.
  • Make your approach appeal to your individual child. A specific fact  e.g. for one mum telling her son 'cannabis shrinks your testicles' was enough. For another girl a newspaper article about a girl who lost her best friend to alcohol was influential.  
  • Building confidence and self esteem helps children to say no in a range of situations and to be able to stand up to peer pressure.  
  • Drink discussions don't have to be doom and gloom, the last thing many teenagers want to hear is scare stories. Alcohol has good and bad sides and both of these need to feature in conversations.
  • Get measure aware and make young people aware of different types of drink and mixer.
  • Agree the rules and consequences as a family and stick to them. Wavering because of a special event sends out mixed messages.
  • Don't be afraid to say that alcohol is for adults because children's bodies can't deal with it in the same way yet. Stress there are rules about alcohol for grown ups too.
What can you do if your children are still under 8?  Well you're probably doing it already, research shows being a warm loving parent, nurturing confidence and self esteem make children less likely to drink early and help them to keep sensible boundaries into middle age.

How do you talk to your children about alcohol? Have you got a plan?


Parents Drinkaware have great resources on the parent's section of their site, including a video where you can shape/practise tricky conversations with a 13 year old about alcohol.  You can also order the parents' leaflet Your Kids and Alcohol.  You can also make your child's school aware of these great resources for schools:

Teachers can get free primary and secondary lesson plans.  The programme In:tutition aims to build the esteem, confidence and decision-making skills of students aged 9 to 14 so they can make more informed decisions about a range of issues – including alcohol, sex and relationships and health.  The website has an explanatory video and schools can contact In:tution if they are interested in training or being one of the Drinkaware pilot schools.

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Saturday, 22 October 2011

Halloween Party ideas

I stumbled upon some shots from a Halloween party for 1-4 year olds last year.  I thought I would share some of the fun ideas my friends and I came up with.

Whilst being somewhat lacking in the nutrition department, these cheese sandwiches I made, with spider and worm cookie cutters, went down well.  Jam, which looked like blood and guts was also a winner. The centrepiece is spaghetti and maggot shaped sweets.  Lovely.

Halloween sandwiches
I don't think Halloween has to mean scary costumes, especially for little ones. My husband had just brought these back from a business trip, possibly more for his own amusement, so that's what my two wore.

Pre schoolers love messy play.  My friend E came up with these fabulous sensory delights.  We just had a play, and joked they looked like witches' eyeballs. Older children though, could do this blindfold and try and imagine what body parts they are handling, e.g. grapes as eyeballs, spaghetti as guts, an apricot as a tongue. It's a Halloween classic.

My friend K came up with the idea of wrap your mummy up as a mummy.  This can also be fun as a competition, with two teams racing to wrap up two mummies, or daddies.

One mummified mummy. Sorry to my friend S.

Taa daa!  Happy Halloween preparations!  And if you are still after a Halloween costume, check out my fancy dress post.  

Have you got any other fun Halloween party ideas?  

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Thursday, 20 October 2011

Iris and the guerilla gardeners Little Legacy 15

After last week I thought I would take a break from my mum's legacies to write about Iris's.

Iris is the daughter of a colleague and friend from my teaching days.  My friend K and I haven't seen each other since we both moved jobs and I moved away from London. But, by the power of facebook, I got to hear when Iris was born, to see Iris grow, to giggle at pictures of her wearing funky shades and playing in her allotment, and sadly to see her fight cancer.

Iris died this time last year. K talks about her loss from time to time, and celebrates Iris's spirit on facebook.  She's inspirational in that respect, and has encouraged me to express my own grief by celebrating the little things. Sometimes it's hard to know how to grieve, I think K has found a great way to remember Iris.

Last year K set up Plant an Iris in memory of children with cancer, and to raise awareness of the wonderful charities out there supporting families of children with cancer: The Rainbow Trust, Clic Sargent and GOSH.  Each Autumn followers of Plant an Iris plant Iris bulbs.  

I had Iris written on my hand this week to remind me to buy bulbs.
So now is the time to get planting, this morning I bought my bulbs. A friend also gave me this lovely Marks and Spencer indoor Iris set which needs planting. I am not sure yet if my approach will be guerilla gardening, my eyes are certainly open for a patch of land locally that needs brightening.  Failing that they will be in our own garden, but either way I look forward to Iris's little legacy popping up in Spring.
Little legacy is a remembrance project , a positive and creative space, to celebrate small things handed down by inspirational people. Feel free to link up a little legacy you've been thinking about this week, or to leave one in the comments. Here's the code and here's more on Little Legacy

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Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Fancy Dress Outfitters

‘You get on floor mummy, you horse.  You my horse.’

And so began our first morning together, me and Mr G, his big sister having started school. I dutifully played horse for all of about ten minutes, before realising this was setting a dangerous precedent for the next two years together.  Horsing around is not good for the back or my favourite jeans. It's also, as anyone who obtained their equity card as the back of a panto horse will tell you, not a terribly challenging role.  I needed to find roles that would work for both of us.

Fancy Dress Outfitter, Sir?
Then Fancy Dress Outfitters asked if we would like to review some costumes for Halloween. Anyone who has tried to explain Halloween to a pre-schooler will know it can be a weird and scary concept for them to grasp.  Mr G still hasn't recovered from me putting on a witches mask I found in a friend's dressing up box over the summer  (I'm a drama teacher, put me in a costume or mask and I do get carried away).  But after quick look on the Halloween section of Fancy Dress Outfitters,  I fell in love with the idea of gothic pirates.

Mr G and I spend much of our time at home dressed as pirates.  It turns out that most household jobs can be achieved 'in role' as a pirate.  Scrubbing the decks, making pirate sandwiches, cleaning and tidying the pirate ‘boat’ all interspersed with finding costumes, making maps and telescopes, digging for treasure, a quick sword fight and hiding from sea monsters. 

So thanks to Fancy Dress Outfitters Mr G has a proper pirate costume and I have a hat, which, I like to think, gives me status, which in turn helps keep everything here at the Alexander Residence ship shape.  Except Mr A is sulking because we didn't get him the Jack Sparrow costume.

Here are Miss L and Mr G doing the gothic pirate look.  I bought both of them ages 4-6 (they're nearly 3 and 5) and they were a good fit, as always good to buy big so they last longer!

Give me your best pirately poses
The hat of power
The great thing about the costumes is they are lightweight and easy to put on. We love our old fashioned dressing up box too and fashioning homemade outfits, but sometimes you can't beat the feel or the impact of a proper costume. The range is absolutely amazing, for both adults and children. Fancy Dress Outfitters is rather like an online version of the shop in Mr Benn.  

There are some great value costumes and accessories to be found, perfect not just for Halloween but for any dressing up event, or school plays.  Mr G's hat cost just £1.50 and whilst my hat costs £6.99 I think it is great quality and would also look great on stage.  (I am available for panto this season, just don't expect me to be the horse).

Image from the legendary Mr Benn by David McKee.  

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Saturday, 15 October 2011

Dolphin Tale - film goodie bag giveaway

We were invited to see the family screening of Dolphin Tale in London, sadly it was too far away, but being a film lover, I thought I would share the news, and the love, with this rather generous goodie bag giveaway.

Dolphin Tale has done amazingly well at the box office in the US, beating the re-release of the Lion King. Great cast too.  It was released here in the UK yesterday if you're thinking of heading to the cinema this weekend.  I am going to take my daughter and her friends as a half term treat.   Here is some information on the film, best of luck winning the goody bag!

Dolphin Tale, starring Harry Connick Jnr and Morgan Freeman, is inspired by the amazing true story of a brave dolphin (who also stars as herself in the film) and the compassionate strangers who banded together to save her life.

Watch the Trailer

Swimming free, a young dolphin is caught in a crab trap, severely damaging her tail.  She is rescued and transported to the Clearwater Marine Hospital, where she is named Winter.  But her fight for survival has just begun. 

Without a tail, Winter’s prognosis is dire.  It will take the expertise of a dedicated marine biologist (Connick Jnr), the ingenuity of a brilliant prosthetics doctor (Freeman), and the unwavering devotion of a young boy to bring about a groundbreaking miracle—a miracle that might not only save Winter but could also help scores of people around the world.

The Giveaway

Thanks to Warner Bros. Pictures, Alexander Residence has some brilliant film goodie bags (including a beach ball, beach towel, plush toys, photo frame, pencil kits, bracelets and stickers) on offer for 3 lucky winners. To be in with a chance of winning, just answer the following question in the comments…

DOLPHIN TALE is based on the true story of which dolphin who was found trapped in a crab trap?
  1. Summer
  2. Autumn
  3. Winter
Competition ended Wednesday 26th October.  UK entries only.   Please leave your Twitter or blog address. Feel free to tweet for extra entries: 'I want to #win a DOLPHIN TALE goody bag @Aresidence', please just leave an extra comment to let me know.

Winners: comment numbers 5, 7, 14.

© 2011 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved.

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Friday, 14 October 2011

Breakfast Clubs are Lifesavers

Breakfast clubs are a lifesaver. When I was a teacher I saw the improvements in concentration, health and well being, on children who might not have had breakfast without the club.  But when I visited Sycamore Primary breakfast club this week, on behalf of Kelloggs and Netmums, I realised the many other ways in which they make a difference.

The teacher who showed me in was on her way to the breakfast club to grab tea and toast before starting work.  Staff make use of the club to save time, but also to catch up with parents and children in a more relaxed setting.  I quickly got chatting to a group of children who - in between bites of their 70p bacon butties - told me there was something different to try every day: beans on toast, omlettes, cereal, toast.

Andi Ginns-Farrow, the learning support mentor who runs the club explained some of the benefits of breakfast club.  The club attracts children for different reasons, because their parents work, because they don't get much opportunity to eat socially, or because they won't or don't eat breakfast at home.  A surprising number of children don't eat breakfast.  Research suggest that 1 in 5 of 5-6 year olds prepare their own breakfast and that 44% of primary school children skip breakfast because they have no time in the morning.

All the children get a chance to play games, chat to Andi and eat a varied and nutritious breakfast round a table.
After bacon butties, two of the attendees enjoy a game of Jenga with Andi
One mum told me she started bringing her daughter to the club when she refused to eat breakfast.  Eating together socially with other children has made a big difference, and her daughter now eats breakfast nearly every day.

Over a 35p cup of coffee I chatted to Simone, a mum who uses the club so that she can get to work for 9am.  She had previously used private before school care, but with two children the cost of what effectively comes down to 30 minutes of childcare was too high.  For under £2 they now have convenient childcare, and a good breakfast. On maternity leave whilst expecting her third child, Simone was enjoying having someone else cook her breakfast and a chance to sit and chat to her children and their friends.

I was expecting to see lots of parents dropping kids off and rushing to work, but many parents use the club themselves.  For parents who don't work, breakfast club is a place to socialise with other parents.  The headteacher, Paul Worley explained that encouraging parents to contribute to the school is always difficult, but the breakfast club helped to break down barriers between staff and parents.  The club was also somewhere for parents and come and voice concerns, or to get support from other parents and the school.

Originally the club was free. Now, due to funding cuts, the school makes a small charge to cover food costs, but funds staffing itself.  I asked the headteacher if that was sustainable.  Although currently it is, he explained it is a halfway house between a social intervention and a hardship intervention.  For schools who have more children in poverty I imagine it must be tough.  Andi felt the funding cuts had made a difference; despite keeping costs low, there would always be children whose parents just couldn't afford it every day.

Kelloggs have stepped up to the challenge of filling the breakfast club funding gap, but they need help. For every click, like or tweet via the Kellogg's Give a Child a Breakfast site you see the breakfast counter go up by one breakfast.

Kellogg’s Cornflakes will also make a 3p donation for every pack sold to the Kellogg’s Breakfast Club Trust with the target of raising a minimum of £300,000 – which means one million breakfasts by the end of 2012.

Thanks to the staff and children of Sycamore Primary for my visit.

I am a member of the Netmums Parent Bloggers Network, a unique community of parent bloggers from around the UK who have been handpicked by the Netmums team from our database to review products and brands on their behalf. I am paid an expenses fee to cover my time but Netmums have no editorial control whatsoever about what I blog about. Being a member of the Netmums Blogging Network means that I can 'opt in' to try out products and brands and get my expenses covered but that I retain full editorial integrity.

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Thursday, 13 October 2011

Play Therapy Little Legacy 14/The Gallery

My mum worked as a playtherapist for the NHS. This month the British Association of Playtherapists sent a copy of her obituary, which they published in their magazine.  It was beautifully written and I am so grateful for it, but it wasn't easy to read. I don't know if you have ever read an obituary of someone you know. I hadn't. Obituaries are a glorious celebration of life and achievement, but as a document they feel so black and white, so final.

I am only just realising the impact mum had on the lives of so many families and children. Mum tended to play down her work, (just noticed the pun there, ridiculous but I'm keeping it). Through play, mum guided hundreds of children and families through difficult times.

My mum played tirelessly. It seemed to be effortless for her to get down to a child's level and be led by them. I've met few people so childcentred in their approach.  After teaching for many years she found her true vocation in play therapy.

This week I tried to take my son to pre school gymnastics. He took one look and ran out the door. At first I tried to pull him back, listening to some seriously dodgy, old school parenting voices in my head, saying I mustn't let him give up and that it was wrong to let him get away without trying.

And then I heard my mum's voice saying 'childcentred'.  So I followed him outside and let him swing in the railings. It wasn't gymnastics, but it was an impressive kind of parkour.  In fact I think he could be the next pre school parkour champion. Before long he had started digging and found a worm. Then a ladybird crawled across my bag and we sat together passing it back and forth between us giggling as it tickled us.

The sort of activities my mum absolutely relished. It is so easy to get lost in the sea of parenting voices, but this week I found my anchor.

Mum teaching L to search for insects


Little legacy is a remembrance project , a positive and creative space, to celebrate small things handed down by predecessors. Feel free to link up a little legacy you've been thinking about this week, or to leave one in the comments. Here's the code and here's more on Little Legacy.

Pop over to the The Gallery at Sticky Fingers where the theme is inspirational people.

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Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The Breakfast Club

When I was a teacher I taught a boy, let's call him Jack.  He was small for his age, eager to please and a little bit cheeky.  He would hover round my desk rather than talk to his friends. It didn't take me long to realise his home life was tough and what he really needed was a mum.

Jack had never eaten breakfast, his uniform was filthy, he was always hungry.  A trainee teacher left her handbag in the classroom and came back to find her purse empty. Eventually, under whole class duress, Jack came forward claiming to have 'found' the missing money.

Jack's Head of Year knew the bigger picture and worked with outside agencies to try and improve things. I saw him - a grown man, capable of reducing kids to silence with one glare - with tears in his eyes over Jack, on more than one occasion.

When things were at their worst for Jack I was pregnant with Miss L.  I was full of maternal instinct and the urge to take him home, to let him have a bath and a decent meal was unbearable. Of course, there are things you are allowed and required to do as a teacher that do make a difference: praise, encouragement and the time of day go a long way.  The office staff also found him clean uniform to wear, and shoes when his started leaking.

One of the little things that made the biggest difference in Jack's life was Breakfast Club.  Back then Breakfast Clubs received funding, so Jack was quickly earmarked for the club as a means to get him a free breakfast.  Jack had little adult contact, he normally got himself ready for school. Having a good breakfast and contact with a supportive adult, before the whirlwind of a school day began, was invaluable.

So that's why breakfast clubs are a subject close to my heart. Shadow chancellor, Ed Balls described the clubs as one of the most crucial tools in the fight against child poverty. First funding was withdrawn, which has forced schools to charge. Now further budget cuts threaten many breakfast clubs completely. Education Secretary Michael Gove has stated that corporate organisations may need to ‘put their hands in their pockets’ to bridge the funding gap.

Kelloggs have stepped up to that challenge, but they need help. For every click, like or tweet via the Kellogg's Give a Child a Breakfast site you see the breakfast counter go up by one breakfast.  Very satisfying, even more satisfying than your own breakfast.  Do it now, for kids like Jack.
Kellogg’s Cornflakes will make a 3p donation for every pack sold to the Kellogg’s Breakfast Club Trust with the target of raising a minimum of £300,000 – which means one million breakfasts by the end of 2012.

This week I also went back to an inner city primary school I worked in as a consultant, to find out more about what breakfast clubs have to offer. I was really inspired by the stories of what they have made possible.  Look out for my post on Friday.

I am a member of the Netmums Parent Bloggers Network, a unique community of parent bloggers from around the UK who have been handpicked by the Netmums team from our database to review products and brands on their behalf. I am paid an expenses fee to cover my time but Netmums have no editorial control whatsoever about what I blog about. Being a member of the Netmums Blogging Network means that I can 'opt in' to try out products and brands and get my expenses covered but that I retain full editorial integrity.

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Monday, 10 October 2011

Deal Collector

Group on, Living Social, KGB, Deals London... I certainly wasn't an early adopter to the discount houses.  I know this because they are now advertising on telly, a surefire sign that discounts are reaching the masses and not just the internet savvy.  

Are you one of those people who has their head round getting great discounts?  I'm not. My excuses are I'm always late to the discount party, the best deals are gone.  I don't know where to start looking. I can't be bothered wading through loads of offers. I need a deal collector to do it for me.

It can't be that hard, some people have got the hang of it, for example, in the last week my friend emailed me an amazing offer on a holiday to Marrakech which blew our ideas of a cheap B and B weekend in the UK out the window.  My next door neighbour saved us a fortune when our families went out for a meal together at the weekend. This week another friend has bagged us discount cinema vouchers.   Hello its Gemma saved me a fortune when we met in Leeds, with discount clothes vouchers.

So I am starting to feel like I should have something to bring to the table, especially in these expensive, recessive times.  

So I bring you Deal Collector.  It's a portal which brings together all the big discount sites: Group OnDeals LondonKGB- DealsLiving Social.  Its organised by city too, so you can easily browse the best deals in your area. There are local restaurants, services, events and activities, many of which are more than 50% cheaper.

Browsing the deals for my city, I found a full house clean plus 15 items ironed, for £38.  An hour's massage for £10 (at a beauty salon, thank you very much), a haircut for £13.50 and a full boiler service plus electrical safety test for £39.

You simply register for your local town or city, and either check the deals there and then, or opt to receive notification by email as soon as deals become available in your area, so no need to miss out or spend ages wading through different sites for deals. If you are planning a trip or holiday, you can search for deals in that area too.

A really simple way to bring together the best deals, from the biggest discount sites, in one place.  I may become the discount queen yet.

This is a sponsored post.
Discount Image credit -

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Saturday, 8 October 2011

My day of photography tuition

When my son was born we bought a Nikon SLR camera to try to keep up to speed with our children.  It's been on autofocus since we bought it, brought out on occasions when we feel we should have a photo. The first shot is of me on the operating table, about to have a c-section.  There's about 700 more shots, all of them lovely memories, but none of them particularly stunning photographs.

Hopefully that is set to change.  Back in May my dad bought me a day's photography tuition with Jon Cruttenden for my birthday. Dad, who takes great photos himself, stumbled upon Jon and his stunning photographs at the local market.

I finally redeemed my voucher this week.  The morning was spent gently filling my brain with theory and familiarising myself with the creative zone of my camera, the world beyond autofocus. Jon is a really patient tutor and had some great analogies to explain the technical bits.  He also provided me with an excellent set of notes to refer to afterwards.

After lunch Jon, a herd of cows, and I spent a sunny afternoon photographing White Nancy.  This strange bottle shaped summer house was built to commemorate victory at the Battle of Waterloo. I can't tell you how lovely it is to spend time on a proper hill (how I miss Cheshire) in the realms of my youth (I could see a handful of old school friends houses from this vantage point) without kids (I'm tired/hungry/bored) and armed with a camera (creative me time).

I had no idea how many decisions go into taking one shot.  As we climbed up the steep hill and I focussed on not losing my flip flops or landing in a cow pat, Jon was already narrating me through his thought processes as a photographer.  Would you like to be let in on some of mine?

So this is me procrastinating, taking pictures of Jon taking pictures, that old photograph the photographer cliche.

Jon pointed out that there's a kind of moody rock band look about a herd of cows which I came close to capturing here.  Would they co-operate and all look at the camera though?  I'm most annoyed with that grey one looking at the other one's bottom.

Turns out individual cows are easier subjects to practice on, they don't giggle, run off or blink.

I just love the way they stare at each other.  If White Nancy was just a bit more to the right, and the half a cow behind it pushed off.  Of course what I really wanted was a comedy shot with one cow's bottom and another's head poking out, but would they cooperate?

I got the head poking out, now would the other two push off?  I was starting to feel like they were talking about me now.

I like the cow curving round White Nancy.   The light is almost Mediterranean, and this is the 3rd of October.  But... the ahem 'white balance' isn't right, White Nancy is a bit pink.

'Yeah I know the rule of thirds', she said, 'I used to teach film'.  So why did I keep shoving White Nancy bang in the middle?  It would look so much better a third of the way over.

But, someone wasn't letting me retake that shot.  But do you notice how the shadow, on the right of White Nancy, emphasises its curve?

As a media teacher, I'm still more comfortable de constructing shots than constructing them.  There is an incredible amount you can ponder in every shot and I'm still juggling all that theory with controlling the camera itself and reacting to my surroundings.  But I can't recommend doing this enough.  I'm really excited about photography, the day totally changed the way I see it.

It's no longer just a case of dutifully documenting our lives.  I want to make time to create some great photographs.  Photographing something other than my children was very liberating, but still gave me plenty of ideas to practice on them. Although I kind of like the idea of hanging out on hillsides with cows.

Jon covers Staffordshire, Cheshire and Derbyshire and offers tuition as well as photography. Spending a day with someone who is passionate about their art, able to explain it and willing to let others into their artistic processes is a rare and inspiring treat.
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Thursday, 6 October 2011

Little Legacy 13 Mind Mapping

I am 17, sat at the kitchen table with my Sociology A level folder stuffed with nearly two year's worth of notes.  It is covered in some old Laura Ashley wallpaper, little green flowers are interspersed with cartoons by my friend Dave, and indie band names, carved with devotion, in black biro.  I should be revising, but I have no idea where to start.

Mum is cleaning up after tea, pretending I suspect, to be busy, while keeping a beady eye on my progress. She picks up on my fidgeting, deep sighs and aimless shuffling of paper and takes her cue to sit down with me.  Soon I am bawling at the enormity of the task ahead.

Mum taught me to mind map that evening.  A technique made famous by Tony Buzan, it's like a grown up spider diagram.  You take a central concept and group all the learning to do with it around it, using branches, words, images, symbols and colour. The powerful thing about mind maps is that they mirror the way the brain works, helping it to make connections, rather than feeding it a string of linear notes.

A mind map about Character for my OU Creative Writing Diploma
Neither of us realised at that moment the massive significance of that evening. Mind mapping saw me successfully through A levels, University and post graduate degrees. I passed it on too, mind maps also helped my GCSE and A level students achieve great results.

One evening, one huge legacy.  Thanks Mum.
Little legacy is a remembrance project , a positive and creative space, to celebrate small things handed down by predecessors. Feel free to link up a little legacy you've been thinking about this week, or to leave one in the comments. Here's the code, and here's more on Little Legacy.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Cartoons, attention spans and bright red vans

Children and Television  - untangle your mind with Postman Pat
There's been a lot of controversy in the media recently about a research study into the effect of cartoons on children's attention spans.  Now, just as the parent in me loves to sniff out and torture myself with any story that might suggest I am ruining my children, there's also a media analyst in me who can't resist a good read too.  Before I had children, I studied and taught children and media.

For every study that points to the harmful effects of television, another celebrates the medium. It really all comes down to context. The study in question suggested certain fast paced cartoons with surreal narratives, reduced children's attention spans, more than drawing or slower paced cartoons.  Whether that was a temporary or lasting effect wasn't determined, and I think that's the crux of it.  Sometimes having my brain fried by a genius thriller is a desirable effect of television, one I actively seek, as is being brought to tears by a great piece of music.   Is it that different for children?

I think it comes down to what is known in Media Studies as uses and gratifications theory.  The idea that we select media to meet our own uses and gratifications.  My children do this on a daily basis, they choose different programmes to relax, to be scared, to learn, to sing, to dance, to laugh, to be silly.  I try and encourage them to make their own choices from a pool of channels and DVDs I feel are age appropriate. I think it comes down to common sense.

I thought about the research while watching a Postman Pat DVD we had been sent a review copy of.  It wasn't that special delivery stuff, just vintage Pat.  The parent and the media analyst in me immediately warmed to its simpleness, it's not full of  jump cuts, pseudo educational interludes or strange computer animated creatures. It's old fashioned animation, lovingly rooted in the narratives of everyday country life. It unfolds gently, the birds sing, the sun shines, the green hills roll.  It's positively relaxing to watch. I challenge you not to hear the jangly guitar and singing of the theme tune and not 'feel you're a very happy wo/man'.

Nowadays there is far more pressure on parents to guide children through the huge variety of media out there.  Perhaps a trip down memory lane, to a time when television was a less 'sophisticated' medium, is the solution now and again.  It  was the perfect antidote for me.  Postman Pat definitely stands the test of time.  I also love Mr Benn, Magic Roundabout and the Flumps.  Which programmes stand the test of time in your house?

Turns out it's Pat's 30th by the way. Blimey. Sorry, if like me, that makes you feel old.  I remember sitting in the story corner in my primary school classroom, stroking a cardboard cut out of Jess the cat, while rehearsing the Postman Pat theme tune for our class assembly.  How time flies.

To celebrate his 30th, Pat has a new DVD out.  it comes with a free CD of rocking tunes too, which Mr G loved.  And its only a fiver on Amazon right now.

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