Friday 31 August 2012

The stars come out for Dora's live show

This week, we headed up to London to catch the new Dora live show on the West End.

'The Search for the City of Lost Toys' is an action-packed theatre production full of all the singing and dancing you'd expect from Dora and her friends.

The show runs until 16th September 2012, and then will be touring the country next year.

Ruby High-Fives Dora

If you get a chance to go, make sure you collect your free printed star shaped wand on the way in - this forms a key part of the interactive section of the show.

In fact, stars were very much a theme of the day.  It seems that Dora is a hit in a lot of celebrity households too...

Natalie Cassidy and family

Claire Richards and family

Sara Cox and daughter

Lucy Benjamin and daughter

Disclosure: We were provided with a family ticket courtesy of Nick Jr.

Monday 27 August 2012

Welcome Home - a social housing disgrace

Today, myself and other bloggers travelled to help fellow blogger Clara who writes at I want my mummy.  Myself, Mammasaurus, SeasiderClare and Two Under Two Too spent the day painting.  If you want to help with labour, materials, furniture or in any way want to help spread the message, that would be awesome.

Go check out her post and see if you're not as outraged, furious, shocked and appalled as I was at the housing that her council have offered a young, vulnerable family.

Let me explain, in case you're under the illusion that our welfare system provides an adequate safety net to people in times of need.  And you tell me that these set of circumstances couldn't easily have happened to you, or members of your family, or your best friend.

Clara had her daughter 19 months ago. Her and her husband were living in a nice, privately rented house.  After the birth of her daughter, Clara was hit HARD by Post Natal Depression.  She was so poorly that her husband had to stop work to look after her and their baby.

Their landlord suddenly announced one day that he was selling the property.  They were given one month's notice to find a new home.  Without the savings to cover a deposit and one month's rent in advance, they moved into Clara's parents.  Being closer to her family, and the support they could offer would undoubtedly help with her PND.  They contacted the council and explained their circumstances, and were offered emergency housing, as they were now effectively homeless.

This is what they were given.

A filthy, urine infested, grime encrusted, unsecure, unsafe, ill equipped, unhygienic, unsanitary house.

Bear in mind, they are paying rent NOW on this property.  Until they are able to move in, they are also paying for storage of all their possessions and are contributing to their upkeep at their parent's.

The home is unfit to live in.  Yes, the council have 'installed a kitchen' (5 cupboards, a sink and a little bit of worktop).  They haven't however dealt with the obscene graffiti on the kitchen window, the smashed pane from vandalism, the boarded up back door where it's been kicked in, the bird shit on the kitchen walls, the layers of congealed fat, hanging like stalactites from the artex.

Yes, the council have laid some shingle in part of the back garden.  But they haven't replaced the fence that runs almost the entire boundary line adjacent to a public alleyway.  The shingle is now simply a giant litter tray for the many local cats and dogs.  They haven't made it secure from vandals, or safe for a 19 month old to play in. They haven't dealt with the exposed wire sticking up from the ground.

Yes, they have given Clara the 'maximum re-decorating allowance' of £25 per room.  But let me tell you, we used approximately £40 of paint on the living room to cover the filth, the grime, the damp patches and the shoddy walls.  That's without even taking into account the cost of materials for sanding, filling, woodwork, flooring, curtains, lighting...

Yes, I realise there are people worse off.  I know there are people without a roof at all.  Or families who are living in one-bedroom B&B accommodation.  It's exactly for all these people that we need to raise awareness.

I was under the impression that our society, our councils, our government had a safety net in place when people reached rock bottom.  That they would help them back on their feet.  That they would care for and support our most vulnerable people.

But if this is it, it's not good enough.  It's just not bloody good enough.

Saturday 25 August 2012

The village show - a grand day out

There's something nostalgic and a bit Little Britain that appeals about a good old fashioned village show - you know, with prizes for the biggest melons and the most phallic vegetables.  Hell, Kirsty Allsopp managed to make a whole series about them.

I spotted one advertised nearby and persuaded the crew that we NEEDED to go along.  I can't say they were keen but when I mentioned there'd be cake, the ears pricked up.

I have never entered the hallowed grounds of a village show before, and the excitement was palpable as the locals queued up to see if they'd won a coveted rosette.

There was more than a frisson of excitement at the orchid display, with one old dear declaring loudly that 'this one's much nicer - I'd have given this 1st prize'.

It was a riot of colour, with the finest flora and foliage the locals could muster from their small holdings vying for attention.

Apologies for my blurry photos, but Ruby was hanging off my arm all afternoon jumping up and down excitedly, saying things like "Mummy, look at this funny carrot with a dingle-dangle".

There were big blousy tea roses and dahlias the size of dinner plates.

I honestly thought a lot of the categories were a wind-up - but don't make the mistake of tittering - they take this very seriously.

"5 cheese scones made by a man" - comedy gold (although I'm sure there's an equal ops law against this)

This fella won 1st prize. Mind you, he was the only entrant in this coveted category.

Points deducted for forgetting the soldiers.

Everything was on display, from crafts to almost biblical looking baked goods basking in a shard of light shining through the window.

If you get the chance to visit your local village show, then GO!  Make sure you:

1. Sample a cream tea - remember these ladies are prize winning scone and jam makers and chances are they'll make a cracking cuppa too.

2. Buy a raffle ticket - look what we won!

3. Hang around til the end when they sell off all the produce at 1950s prices.  I got 2 enormous bunches of flowers for a quid.

Get out there and go and enjoy the best this green and pleasant land has to offer x

Friday 24 August 2012

Smart shoppers make their own!

This week I was invited by Smart Shoppers to a day of 'make do and mend' at Hackney City Farm.

Smart Shoppers are a Facebook community, sharing hints and tips on money saving and thriftiness - pop over and join them.

In the spirit of the day, the kids went off and had all kinds of fun creating artwork, painting and presenting each of us mums with a crafty flower made from spent tealights.  They also had face-painting and a tour of the farm - least that was after I managed to prise Ruby away from my side.

Meanwhile, us bloggers spent the day chatting and sharing thrifty tips, while having a workshop by the fabulous Homemade London.

My favourite make of the day was this sugar scrub.  So simple to make, gorgeous to use and made with store cupboard ingredients.  It would make a great gift, and as Ruby helped me to make it, I think we'll whip up a batch for thank you presents for her nursery staff.

In a screw top jar, add one teaspoon of brown sugar and one of white.  Stir then add some light olive oil, until you have a layer of oil floating above the sugar.  Stir in, then add 2 drops of ginger essential oil and 4 drops of lime essential oil. Stir.  Then repeat until your jar is full.

You can vary the ratio of the two essential oils; use different ones, or leave them out altogether, and also vary the sugars - white sugar is finer so better for sensitive skins.  If you want a more vigorous scrub, use more brown sugar.

This smells so fresh and zingy, and I've been using it the past few mornings before my shower.  It's very invigorating and the oils leave your skin super soft.

We concocted a delicious face-mask using specialist powdered clay, as used in the best spas.  To that we added fresh, natural ingredients - cream, strawberries, banana and honey.  We tested them out on the back of our hands/arms - I reckon because they didn't trust us not to lick our lips!

Finally we made these super simple bath sachets.

Mix a couple of spoonfuls of dried lavender with the same of porridge oats and pop in a little organza bag.  Drop into your warm bath water for a creamy, relaxing bath.

I've come away with my head buzzing with ideas of different combinations and I'm looking in my pantry with new eyes!

Thanks so much to Smart Shoppers for a fabulous day and to Hackney City Farm for a cool venue, and Homemade London for the brilliant workshop.

Disclosure: We attended the event and expenses were paid, however there was no obligation for me to write about our day.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Walk to School Treasure Hunt

So. Ruby starts big school next month.  It's a mixture of excitement and nerves in our house.  What worries me most, are those inevitable mornings when I hear the cry "Mummy, I don't want to go to school today".  I'm sure it will happen. We sometimes have it on nursery days, and that's only twice a week!

I've come up with this idea as a distraction, and hopefully it will make the walk to school fun and exciting, and we'll avoid those awful scenes where I have to drag her screaming up the road...

This treasure hunt can be adapted to your child's age, ability and environment. Thankfully our school is very close so we only have a short walk, but I've made a selection of cards so we can have variety each day.

You can make your own, or print off mine here.  I've included a section where she can mark of the day of the week and the weather, and this will help her reading and recognition of letters and words.

Then, choose a selection of items - flora; fauna; street furniture; vehicle types etc.  Use either your own sketches, photos or clip art.  Try and include some 'static' items that you know will always be spotted on your route (ie traffic lights; a particular coloured door etc) and some 'transient' ones like a cat; a feather; a blue car etc.

Once you have printed your sheets out, laminate them so they are wipeable and will last longer.  If you don't have a laminator, most print and copy shops will be able to do this for you.

Punch holes at the bottom of each sheet and thread a ribbon through.

Then your child can wear it around their neck, hands free on the walk to school.  A regular felt tip will work well and will wipe off so you can re-use the cards.

Ruby chose her treasure hunt list from the selection this morning and had a great time spotting all the items.  There was no whinging or whining about going to nursery at all!  I need to find some kind of holder to keep these near the front door by the coats, and it will simply be a case of choosing one each morning.

How are your back to school preparations going?

Linking up with the Back To School blog hop and this linky party and Monday's Parenting Pin it Party.

Kiddycharts Blog: Parenting Tips Linky

Monday 20 August 2012

ZhuZhu Ponies

This you haven't got room for a pony?  Think again!  These cute little equine friends from Character, are the latest addition to the ZhuZhu pets collection.

I reckon they are destined to be on a lot of little girl's Christmas lists, and Ruby's pretty smitten with her pony 'Indiana' she was sent to try out, along with the Gable Stable set.

Press the button on the front of the pony, to hear it's cute neighing noises and trotting, and watch is it canters about the stable.

Ruby's had a lot of fun grooming and feeding her pony from the little selection of snacks that comes with the stable - apples and carrots, and oddly, ice cream cones.  I never knew horses liked ice cream!

It's a great toy and seems pretty robust.  The fence pieces click into place easily so she can manage it herself.  Like many other toys for her age group now, it does come with lots of tiny pieces - hoover eating sized bits, so I'll have to keep my eye out for them!

There are six different ponies to collect priced at £14.99 each and four different settings from £9.99 each.

Disclosure: We were sent a pony and a stable set to review. All opinions expressed are my own and are honest.

Kid's Craft - How to make Pirate treasure

Ruby is lately getting a little obsessed with pirates - X marks the spot and treasure maps and all that, so I thought it would be cute to make our own pirate treasure.

It's a simple craft, and Ruby managed most of the steps herself.

You'll need:

Card (or flat plastic from packaging)
PVA glue
Gold or silver acrylic paint
Black ink or shoe polish

Begin by drawing circles for your coin shapes.  Find something of suitable size to draw around, then cut out.

Once you've cut out your circles, draw some basic shapes on.  I just used circles and crosses.

Then using the PVA glue, draw over the detail.  You want to create a raised effect, and this is where using plastic can be better than card, which sometimes soaks up the glue.  If this is the case, you may need to allow to dry and go over again.  You can also use the squirty glitter glue pens for this as they give a good relief texture.

Leave to dry thoroughly, then pain front and back with metallic paint.

Finally, 'age' your treasure by rubbing on a little black ink or shoe polish and buffing.

Shiver me timbers, you're all done!

Linking up with The Boy and Me's Pirate Linky and Red Ted Art and Coombe Mill's Trash to Treasure