Quick Round Up of Some Good Offers

Joseph Joseph Nest Measuring Cups

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I used to be rather affronted by recipes that used cups as a unit of measurement. However, after my husband bought a set from de rigueur kitchenware brand Joseph Joseph I was converted. The nest of eight measuring cups (shown above) is now just £7.oo at John Lewis. Bargain!

Wine & Prosecco

Save 25% on wines exclusive to Waitrose (including perennial favourite Valdo Prosecco) at WaitroseCellar.com. They’re also offering free delivery and Click & Collect.

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Clarks

Clarks has its mid-season sale on until Sunday 10th May (midnight) and has some big reductions on a huge range of men’s, women’s and children’s shoes. There’re plenty of seasonal shoes in the sale, but as a boot fan I reckon these are worth the investment for Autumn! £160.00 down to £80.00.

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Boots

I personally think that the Boots Advantage Card is one of the best loyalty schemes on the market. It’s just launched its Triple Points Event which runs until May 5th. Rack ‘em up!

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Have a great Bank Holiday all!

15 Things You Are Likely to Hear When You Have Twins

Dad with his hands full

You’ve got your hands full!

  • Two for the price of one!

  • You’ve got your hands full (especially if you have another child)

  • Are they natural?

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  • Buy one, get one free!

  • Just wait until they’re both walking

  • Double trouble!

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  • I bet they keep you busy

  • Just wait until they’re both teenagers

  • Do you feed them yourself?

Getting ready for a feed. Yes, I did feed them myself...
Getting ready for a feed. Yes, I did feed them myself…
  • Just wait until they’re both (insert any milestone you wish)

  • Double the work, but double the joy

  • Are they good?  - no they tag team so that they compound my sleep deprivation

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  • Ooo, I don’t know how you manage

  • Multiple mums are special (!?)

  • I always wanted twins

  • And the bonus one: Are they identical? This is regularly asked about twins that look nothing alike and even boy/girl twins!?

Mami2Five

Relaxation Time and TV

We returned home from the school run today in the usual chaos of animated discussion about everything that had happened in the  day, throwing off of shoes and coats, and the finishing of snacks that had been started en route. My eldest got changed out of her school uniform. I had an important call to make so ushered the three girls into the playroom. I heard the TV go on immediately and felt rather disappointed that they weren’t playing instead.

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I ended up leaving a voicemail so went to join them in the playroom straight after. I got my eldest’s reading homework out and sat down to listen to her read, saying we should do it before dinner. At that point she looked at me and said: “I’ve been working really hard all day at school, we’ve only just got in and I want to relax for a bit.”

I’m not a big fan of them watching too much TV and regular readers will know that we do a lot of activities – indoors and outdoors -that don’t involve the gogglebox, but I did find it rather hard to argue with her. She’d been looking forward to an episode of My Little Pony that is on this afternoon. I know if there’s an episode of Corrie or Eastenders that I want to watch, no-one is going to get in the way of that particular guilty pleasure.

Dinner will be ready in 15 minutes time, there’s no TV in the dining room and I’ve said that after they’ve eaten there’ll be no TV. They all agreed without protest. We’ll do the reading and then we’ll play some games together.

I’m left thinking that perhaps children really do need some downtime that literally just involves sitting back and tuning out for a bit. All things in moderation.

 

Our Visit to the Biscuit Ceramic Cafe

As a birthday present for my twins, a good friend of mine arranged a trip to the Biscuit Ceramic Cafe in Greenwich.

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We went during the half-term holidays so it was quite busy and crowded upstairs. I was very glad I hadn’t taken the double buggy as it would have been pretty tricky. However, my friend had booked the downstairs party room, which can be hired for anything from children’s’ birthdays to hen dos and team building days. It was a great space and the five of us (six including my friend’s six-month-old, had it exclusively). It was perfect.

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I’ll admit now, as the day was such a success, that I initially had misgivings. I had no doubt that my eldest, at five, would love it. However, I was rather concerned that three-year-old twins, with a low attention span, would be rather troublesome and not very engaged. I need’t have worried.

Sketching the design first

Sketching the design first

The girls each chose a blank ceramic item from a large selection. There were four shelves each with a different price depending on the size and complexity of the pieces. This price includes the use of all the equipment, paints, firing and packing. We had a cat, unicorn and penguin (all very cute), and I chose to paint a tile. Well I say paint, I actually just got all the girls to do a handprint on it. I’m not very artistic.

They were given a sheet of paper each to sketch their ideas/design onto. The twins just drew random stuff, but Sofia really planned out what she was going to do.

There were loads of different coloured paints set out on the table and plenty of duplicates of each so we avoided any issues about someone using the pink, blue, yellow, orange, red… when someone else ‘needed’ it. Each child had a palette and they were free to mix the colours however they wanted. There were also smaller paint tubes with nozzles for the more intricate work.

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The girls spent ages carefully painting their ceramics. Part way through, one of the very friendly staff came over to take our food order.

The kids all had simple cheese sandwiches and a big jug of squash to share, which was just right and my friend and I had smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels with rocket salad. We also had very nice coffees. The Biscuit Ceramic Cafe also has a wide selection of homemade cakes, which looked delicious. Unfortunately we were so busy we didn’t get a chance to sample any! I also see that they now serve a selection of red and white wine, beer and Prosecco. An added bonus :-)

We had a two hour slot, which worked really well incorporating the pause for lunch.

After eating, the girls resumed their painting and that was it, we left our masterpieces to be dipped in glaze and fired in the kiln. The girls were beyond excited about seeing the finished products. Less than two weeks later we received them. They were delighted with their creations.

We’ll be going back.

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Before the kiln

Before the kiln

The finished products:

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Bookings are only required for groups over six and for parties, and can be made by calling 020 8853 8588 or emailing: crumbs@biscuit-biscuit.com

Mami2Five

Marbling at Mucky Bears

I’ve written before about how much I value Sure Start Centres. Last week, the twins and I joined a friend and her daughter at our local one (incidentally where we first met over two years ago at a children’s cookery group with my older daughter) for a session we hadn’t been to before: Mucky Bears.

I love how children learn through messy play; it helps them develop their creativity and imagination with a wide variety of objects, textures and materials. If I’m honest, I also love them doing the messiest of messy play somewhere where I don’t have to clean it up on my own.

This particular week there was water play with various floats, coloured shaving foam piles to squidge hands into and make patterns with, a model farm complete with hay and construction toys with dried pasta and rice to make a massive mess with. They played with it all. However, the thing that really captured them was the painting with marbles.

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It was referred to as ‘marbling’, but it wasn’t the marbling that I’d done as a kid where you put inks onto water, which has washing up liquid in it, and then put a piece of paper on top to get a print. This was literally dunking and coating marbles in a choice of two paint colours, using a spoon to drop them into a tray, which they lined with coloured sugar paper, and then rolling them around the tray. The girls did a picture each independently, they did a joint one where they took it in turns at doing a layer, they did a joint one where they both did everything at the same time. They were fascinated by how different each one looked and especially fascinated by how they got lots of different greens from just their blue and yellow paints.

A really simple, but great activity; and one that I actually will try at home.

Mami2Five



The Grape Club: A Review

I’m a big fan of wine. I’m half Italian; of course I love wine, but I’m no expert. I know what I like, and I dislike plonk, but I do tend to veer towards Old World wines and drink predominantly Italian. It’s always good when I get the opportunity to taste things I wouldn’t normally try or buy myself, so I was delighted to hear from The Grape Club - a wine club.

The Fab Four

Subscribers to The Grape Club receive four hand-picked bottles of wine each month (called a Grape Drop – Mmmm grape drop). The wines aren’t the usual supermarket fodder, but nor are they really expensive. If you particularly like any of the wines, then you can buy them straight from The Grape Club at a 15% discount. You also get their personalised tasting notes so you can learn a bit about the type of wine, the producer, what sorts of flavours you might get and what would pair well. All educational but in a non-patronising way.

I’ve been a member of a wine club before with London- and Surrey-based Philglas & Swiggot, but a case of six red, six white – also with tasting notes – which my husband and I got every other month cost £250 (you could also opt for every month at that price). When our twins were born and we became a family of five, our spending priorities changed quite a bit and we cancelled. The Grape Club is far more accessible: four bottles a month cost £45; they’re delivered straight to your door and postage and packaging is included in that price. For this amount, you’re obviously not going to get the very highest calibre wines (and in my opinion neither did we with the far pricier Philglas & Swiggot offering), but what you will get is introductions to different, varied and extremely good ‘every day’ wines, as opposed to very special occasion wines. You’ll see how you can get something far better than a very mediocre, ubiquitous supermarket wine, at the same price.

So, on with the tasting of February’s Grape Drop. I’ll try not to come over too Jilly Goolden…

1) Vergelegen – Premium Carbenet Sauvignon Merlot 2010

I’d never been very tempted by South African wine up until a few years ago when I was recommended one called Meerlust in a wine shop. It wasn’t very expensive and I was very pleasantly surprised. I was therefore eager to see what this Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend would be like. We actually opened it before food and had it on its own, which can expose wines a bit. This one had nothing to hide. Made in the Bordeaux style, it was lovely and rich, almost chocolatey, without being heavy. It was very flavoursome, but not overpowering. We actually had a curry later on and had the last third of the bottle with it. I don’t tend to think that curry and wine really go as the strong flavours of the curry often overwhelm, but this one held its own and actually complemented nicely. The tasting notes did say that it goes very well with most meat or chicken dishes or a hearty winter stew, so quite an allrounder. A definite hit! With the Grape Club’s Member’s 15% discount it costs £62.94 for a case.

2) Torres – Pazo das Bruxas, Rias Baixas 2013

I don’t tend to drink much white wine in winter, mainly because I like fuller-bodied wines, which go with my heartier, red meat and carb-heavy fare when it’s cold. I personally find that quite a lot of the supermarket white wines (around the £6-£12 price mark) and definitely most pub white wines are rather insipid. This Spanish white is made from the aromatic Albarino grape. It was beautifully crisp, but you get a slight sweetness when you first sip. I hate sweet white wines (I’m not including dessert wines here), but this isn’t a sweet wine, you just get a hint of it before the more dominant fresh crispiness hits.

We actually had the majority of this on its own and it was absolutely lovely. It’s light, but has more about it than the omnipresent low grade Pinot Grigio that you get (there are some fantastic Pinot Grigios out there by the way), but didn’t have the heaviness that I find, and don’t particularly like, with many Australian white wines. I thought it drank so well without being paired with anything. However, we had veal sweetbreads as a starter (Valentine’s Day cooking by my husband) and the remaining glass did go very well. It would go beautifully with seafood. A case of six bottles costs £67.37 with the Grape Club’s Member’s discount.

Taste, learn and enjoy

Tasting notes

Tasting notes

3) Trapiche Melodias Winemakers Selection 2013 

Ahhh Malbec. I started sampling Argentinian Malbec about 10 years ago. As I mentioned, I haven’t traditionally gone for New World wines, but I found that Malbec definitely had an Old World wine taste (probably to do with the grape variety’s history) and I loved it. A couple of years after tasting my first Malbec, I went on honeymoon to Argentina and as part of it stayed at the amazing Cavas Wine Lodge in Mendoza aka Malbec country. Like with most types of wines, there are good, mediocre and bad versions. This is certainly a good one! Beautifully rich and well-rounded, it had that classic dark fruit flavour and – yes, to go all Jilly on you – oodles of blackberries and black cherry. This can most definitely be drunk on its own. We savoured a glass each before having the rest with the classic beef pairing. Gorgeous! A case is £58.70 with the 15% discount.

4) Rothschild Mouton Cadet – Reserve Sauternes 2012 

This is what I’d call a sticky. Whilst I don’t like sweet white wines, I love many of the sweet dessert wines. That sounds weird, but it’s because it isn’t the sort of wine you’d have on its own or with your main, it’s something you’d have with lighter desserts or blue cheese or even as an aperitif with something like pate. The other classic it goes with is foie gras. We had ours with a tarte au citron. However, I take it back, I would very cheerfully drink this on its own. It’s sweet as you’d expect, but actually has a lovely dry finish. My husband, who has a sweeter tooth than me, had to be prised away from it. Absolutely delicious. A case of six half-bottles costs £63.70 with the Grape Club’s Member’s Discount.

If you want to discover some lovely wines, have a bit of an education about what you are drinking, are fed up with supermarkets pushing certain below par labels at inflated prices then The Grape Club is for you. What’s more, quote ‘The Parent Social’ if you’d like to try it out and you’ll get 15% off your first month :-)

I’ll leave you with a quote from my dad, who is an Italian wine and food merchant, but definitely no philosopher. When asked what was the best wine you could have he replied: “The best wine is the one you enjoy drinking the most.” Very true…

Measles Outbreak UK

Last week I double checked the girls’ red books just to make sure that all three had definitely had both doses of the MMR vaccine (Mumps, Measles, Rubella).

I’m seeing an increasing number of news stories about pockets where there have been outbreaks – Disneyland being a particularly headline grabbing one – and whilst most of these have been in other countries, I think it’s going to be a serious issue in the UK. By the way, in 2000, the US declared that it had eliminated measles.

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I’m not going to even begin to debate about the pro-vaccine v anti-vaccine camps, I’m far too ignorant about all of the issues involved. All I do know is that I’m very happy that a quick look at their records did confirm they’d had both doses of the vaccine.

There was much negative publicity about the MMR vaccine and this was enough to put many parents off getting it for their children. Again, I’m not going to go into that, but it does mean that the uptake of this particular vaccination is severely reduced.

Measles is extremely contagious, so much so that 90 percent of those who aren’t immunised would catch it if they were exposed. It’s airborne and can remain in the air and on surfaces for up to two hours after an infected person has left, and it is transmittable before it can be diagnosed. Children who are too young to have had the first dose or second dose of the MMR vaccine are obviously at risk as are children with illnesses such as cancer who can’t be vaccinated and children who are immunocompromised.

I hope I’m wrong about a big UK outbreak, but as the children return to school after half-term, I’m starting to fear the worst.

Here’s what the NHS says about measles with some of the signs and symptoms:

Measles is a highly infectious viral illness that can be very unpleasant and can sometimes lead to serious complications. However, it’s now uncommon in the UK because of the effectiveness of the MMR vaccination.

The initial symptoms of measles develop around 10 days after you are infected. These can include:

  • cold-like symptoms
  • red eyes and sensitivity to light
  • a high temperature (fever)
  • greyish white spots in the mouth and throat

After a few days, a red-brown spotty rash will appear. This usually starts behind the ears and then spreads around the head and neck before spreading to the rest of the body.

Read more about the symptoms of measles.

Playing Out – A Thing of the Past?

I came across an article on Mail Online, which showcased photographer Robert Frank’s pictures documenting early 1950s London. They’re so striking; I think they’re fantastic. It made me look for further examples of his work and during my Internet travels I came across another photo by a different photographer (Weegee) that also really struck me. This one was from the 1930s and was taken in NYC, but it, and one of Frank’s, did have an element in common: children playing out unsupervised.

Summer, the Lower East Side by Weegee (aka Arthur Fellig)

Summer, the Lower East Side by Weegee (aka Arthur Fellig)

 

 

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Robert Frank photo from the early 50s showing London children playing out

My mum was horrendously paranoid about, and overprotective of, my brother and I, yet we were still allowed to play out. In my case, this usually consisted of a few of us riding about on our bikes, which, as I lived in Streatham in South-West London, often meant cycling around various blocks of terrace houses. I had to check back every 20 minutes (so probably a bit different from the playing out of my mum’s generation), but despite her anxieties I did get to enjoy this freedom – and loved it.

I do worry about many things relating to the kids, but I know I’m not nearly as anxious as my mum was.  However, after looking at these photos and thinking back to my own childhood, I said to my husband that I couldn’t imagine for a moment letting our eldest play out in the streets. He agreed that it wouldn’t happen. I certainly wouldn’t let her (or my younger two) sit in front of the TV or play on games consoles for hours on end instead, but I can’t foresee ever allowing them to just go out and be left to their own devices. We live in what I’d class as a fairly ‘safe area,’ yet I don’t see other children playing out either, so I know it’s not just us.

It makes me feel a bit sad.



The Missed Party Invoice

When did kids’ parties get so complicated?

You’ve probably seen the news story doing the rounds today about the £16 invoice sent to the parents of a boy who was a ‘no show’ at a friend’s party at a dry ski slope.

I’m sure like many others, I thought that this was totally outrageous. However, from firsthand experience, I know how stressful it can be (or how stressful I make) organising a child’s birthday party, and how costs can start to spiral even when planning something rather more modest than a party on a ski slope.

Did she just flip out and send the invoice in a moment of post-party madness?

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Elsa keeps the children entertained. That helps!!

Here are my top five party organisation headaches (I think they call these First World problems):

1) Too many guests turn up on the day

You’ve carefully calculated, done the correct number of party bags, the right amount of food and the right number of layers on the pass the parcel; then you get a couple of extra on the day. I always do plenty of food and extra party bags just in case. However, if you’ve hired an entertainer or the party is at a particular venue you may have to pay for a certain number of children/places.

For a Frozen-themed party we booked ‘Elsa’ from My Little Princess Parties (they’re great by the way). We provided the cake, party food and party bags, but all the entertainment was laid on by Elsa at a cost of £199 for two hours. This covered up to 25 children. More than 25 kids and there was a charge of £5 per extra child. Over 30 and an extra entertainer would have been required. Thankfully we had exactly 30. Phew!

2) Too few guests/lots of cancellations

What if you play it safe with numbers and then get loads of last minute cancellations? For one party, I got four cancellations on the day and one no-show. I was hugely disappointed on my daughter’s behalf and was pretty stressed as I didn’t want the party to be a complete flop. I didn’t tell her about the cancellations. It was the right thing to do. She had a brilliant time anyway (there were still plenty of partygoers despite my worries), and it was only afterwards that my daughter started dissecting the guest list and realised that not everyone had made it. She was fine.

From a cost point of view, if you’re doing an activity-based/venue party, you’ll probably get charged for the number you specified. Just suck it up. You were expecting to pay that anyway.

3) Party duration 

One of my biggest mistakes was having a fourth birthday party at home, which was three hours long. It was just way too much for 38 (yes, 38) young children. For a select number of friends, who are a bit older; fine, but for younger ones, it’s mayhem. Two hours is plenty.

4) How much to spend on party bags 

Do you go with a massive bag of tat and tonnes of sugary treats (which incidentally the kids love and the parents hate) or go for fewer, more quality items? Oh the  dilemma. A mixture I reckon. Kids are hugely disappointed if the bag’s really sparse, even if there is something in there that’s really nice. Parents are hugely disappointed if there’s a tonne of plastic mini toys in there that will be broken within minutes and then litter their house. If mine are anything to go by, they get extremely attached to tat and it’s almost impossible to throw these items away.

5) Will I look like a complete weirdo if I send out save the date emails before the actual invitations?

I didn’t send these out for my own wedding yet for two consecutive years I have sent ‘save the dates’ for my eldest’s parties. In my defence, you have to book December parties well in advance and people do get very busy at that time of year.