July 30, 2014

Makeover Your Kid’s Room!

snatchthedogI’ve always been mystified by parents sending kids to their room if they’ve been naughty. “How is this a punishment?” I used to wonder as I taped another ratings topping edition of Radical Radio!, my pretend radio show. “All my stuff is here!”

It’s time we moved away from thinking of your kid’s room as ‘time out’ or simply somewhere to sleep and started thinking big. Where can they play? Where can they create? Where can you give them the tools to make this possible?

A good place to begin is by giving it an overhaul. This should happen in any case every few years- I was mortified whenever I had friends round and they saw my Snatch the Dog decor in all its twee glory. (Though possibly that’d be fetchingly retro now).  Seeing how expensive wallpaper, furniture et al can be, how can you do it without going bust? How can you avoid your kid turning around in two years’ time and saying, “Mum, I’ve gone off it!”

Never fear! Here are 4 fail proof tips to give your kid a rocking bedroom…

 

1)  Likes, not crazes!

Remember: the average kid is a fickle creature, swayed by whatever the cool kids at school do. It might seem a charming idea to adorn the walls with Pokemon (or whatever he’s into at the moment), but will he still be such a fanatic in a year’s time?

Consider your kid’s long term interests. Does she love ballet? Is he interested in space? What are their favourite colours?

It’s sometimes claimed that your personality is fixed by the age of seven. I know I’ve  haven’t changed dramatically twenty years later. So if your daughter wants to be the next Kylie now, chances are she’ll still be interested in singers and showbiz for the years to come.

 

2)  Funky furniture

Kids of all ages (that includes grown up ones!) love wacky furniture. Draught excluders that look like snakes, squashy bean bags, crazy rugs, clocks with faces. They’re also pragmatic- they’d rather have furniture that does something.

Never has this been truer than of shelves and cupboards. It’s not enough that it holds their toys, books and clothes- they’ve got to look interesting too. Holdalls that look like tepees, geometric shelves. Make sure it doesn’t date quickly so the kid can carry on using them.

Tescos is a terrific place to go for shelving solutions. Whether the pretty (the much loved Disney Princesses) or the witty (a box that looks like a skip), there’s something for every taste.

 

3)   Budget!

Shopping on a shoe string needn’t be a bore. Indeed, with creativity and verve, it can be fun. Do you have some cute fabric languishing in a drawer? Turn it into a blind! Do you have any old paints or wallpaper samples lying around the house? See what you can make out of them! Even the shabbiest old bits of furniture can be transformed with a bit of love: paint them a new colour, change the cushions etc.

Stencils are a superb technique of decorating a room without breaking the bank. Since few of us are Michelangelo, it’s also the easiest way to paint a pattern or beloved children’s character. And there’s nothing saying it’s limited to walls- give the aforementioned old furniture a new lease of life.

Henry Donovan Motif Designs is a brilliant resource for stencils for every kind of home decor; check it out!

 

4)   The Land of Counterpane

Saving the most important thing till last! Beds are vital- not only can you sleep in them, they generally serve the role of lounger, desk, desert island or whatever imaginary scenario your kids come up with. It stands to reason that as the most crucial piece of furniture it should be attractive as well as comfortable.

Bearing this in mind, it’s best to have a bed that will last and your kid won’t quickly outgrow. Just Sleep Beds, an outlet selling cheap beds in Liverpool, offers a fantastic range of kids’ beds- from the quirky (beds that look like race cars!) to the practical (sturdy bunk beds). Pair this with their cracking accessories and you’ll have a bedroom fit for a princess (or princess).

 

It goes to show: making over your kid’s room needn’t be daunting. With your little one aiding the process every step of the way, it can be enlightening and fun!

 

kidsroom

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Which Dog is Right For Your Family?

kidanddogA kid and a dog- the start of a beautiful partnership. Children’s fondness for our furry friends is probably best summarised by my niece, who once announced she’d watch any film as long as it “had dogs in.”

If you’re choosing a new pet for your family, it’s sometimes tempting to bow to peer pressure. Kids are intensely receptive, often going for a breed for no reason other than “I saw one on the telly” or “my friend Robyn’s got one.” Indeed our own criteria is often based on appearance rather than character.

Dogs aren’t just four legged accessories but part of the family. Since this relationship is likely to last for ten or more years, surely you want to guarantee it’s the perfect fit?

 

Choosing a Dog

Since it’s a family decision, you should all put in your tuppenceworth. Dog ownership isn’t just something you can pick up and put down but a full time commitment. Are you prepared to budget to buy the dog’s food every week? Can one of you go home at lunchtime and spend time with it? Are you willing to give it as many walks as it needs (generally three a day, but it depends on the breed?) Avoid drawing up a rota or anything that gives it the appearance of being a chore- you don’t want any members of the family to resent the new arrival, however subconsciously.

Now it’s time to move onto the specifics. Look around you. How big is your house- would you be able to take dogs over a certain size? A flowing, glossy coat might look stunning in commercials, but have you the time to give such a dog the grooming it needs? What about your family’s health- do any of your kids suffer from allergies? While there is still no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog, some are much better in this respect than others.

Select.Smart  offers an incredibly detailed Dog Selection quiz, bringing up points you might not previously have considered. Would you want your pet to be an effective guard dog? If you’re house proud, could you really put up with one that sheds a lot of hair?

When I took the test, the results were chiefly terriers- no coincidence, since they’ve always been my favourite type of dog. My ideal dog would be lively, intelligent, enjoy walks but not be hyperactive, be sociable and not shed or slobber. If you’re looking for a family dog, you’d want to factor in compatibility with children and other pets as well.

 

Kids and Dogs

It’s natural for a kid to be excited by the new family member. Yet you have to remember that mannerisms which you find cute or funny in your kid might not be perceived as such by a dog. Even the smallest kid is larger than many dogs, and if the kid behaves in such a way to make the dog feel threatened, it may well provoke the dog’s temper. The earlier the kid’s made to see things from the dog’s perspective, the better.

Is your child a bit of a foghorn? Do they have a tendency to invade people’s personal space? Do they keep picking up your dog and hauling it around even though you’ve told it several times not to?

Quite recently I was sitting in the park, watching the world go by. A little boy was left to mind the family dog- he couldn’t have been more than four. I have rarely felt so angry- first that a small child was given a much older one’s responsibility, then at the way the kid was treating the dog. He wouldn’t stop poking it and at one point even tried to sit upon it (the dog being a Jack Russell). I’ve never wanted to intervene so badly, but knew I’d only be told to mind my own business.

For further advice, read this blog by Dr Sophia Yin, an animal behaviour specialist.

 

Training

Dogs aren’t saints and it’s wrong to expect them to be. Even the most placid can occasionally have outbreaks of naughtiness- my friend’s elderly boxer regarded anything in a bag as ‘his’, and decorate the room with it (most memorably a sack of potatoes).

If you want your new pet to rub along comfortable with the rest of the family, dog training is a must. Not only will it cure it of such undesirable tendencies as jumping up and doing its own thing out on a walk, it’ll help curb its aggressive tendencies. Ideally you should begin as soon as possible; organisations such as Clever Dog Company offer excellent puppy training classes in a relaxed environment, encouraging the dog and owner to have fun and bond as they learn.

My friend’s dog Oscar was an infuriating little pest when she first bought him. Noisy, wilful and a real attention hog- he hated it if you paid any attention to Lady, the dignified older dog. Having gone through an intensive program, he’s still an extrovert, but an endearing one. It’s nonsense to suppose that curing them of “naughtiness” will rob them of character.

 

family-dog-m

 

 

 

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Forest Pirates and Crinkly Wings: Baby’s First birthday

baby-girl-first-birthday

Your son or daughter probably isn’t going to remember their first birthday, but that does not mean that their first year on earth is not worth celebrating. In fact, my mother once described my first birthday as my most important in her eyes and therefore most stressful because she knew in years to come it’d be down to her, family and a scrap book of photos and stories to tell me all about it. For me, my mother’s feelings about my first birthday were a novel way to think of it which lead me to consider what I might do for my own daughter’s first birthday.

Every party needs invites, especially when the birthday girl (or boy, as the case may be) isn’t yet articulate enough to invite their nearest and dearest. For a lot of people invites refer to a stack of pink or blue written slips filled like paperwork over the course of an afternoon. This doesn’t have to be the case. There’s a couple of ways, I can think of, to approach party invitations.

You can inject some excitement into the hand-written invitation in two ways; you can make you own to give your party invites that added special touch or you can splash out on some especially well designed invites like those I opted for from www.partycare.co.uk. I chose to buy invites because, personally I’ve no artistic flair (cake making aside). Party Care were able to supply all my party bits and bobs, actually; they stock some brilliantly kooky fancy dress costumes for the older kids and have a section dedicated to baby’s first birthday supplies…not to mention cake decorating supplies too. Perfect!

Which leads me on to the second thing you’ll need for the perfect baby’s first birthday party…a baby.  Ok, seriously though, number two on the list is the cake. Have you thought yet whether you intend to buy or make baby’s cake?

babybirthday

Now, cakes are where I come into my own. I can’t wait for baby to be old enough to show her the pictures of the cake I made her, but I still had a lot to think about . I made and decorated baby a Moomin cake. Its creation required supplies though. If you’re working to a tight budget, be warned, making your own cake can appear a cheaper option, but if you’re intending on using coloured icings and cake decorations, expenses can quickly escalate. Hence, purchasing a cake can actually cut costs, half the stress and guarantee you get the result you want. A popular alternative to making your own cake is the ‘photograph cake’, available from most  ASDA supermarkets.

Being baby’s first birthday, many families choose not to bother with a theme. It’s understandable and more than likely that your adorable toddler-to-be is only going to fill that fairy costume with cake anyway. Theme or not, you can’t escape decorations though. Have you thought about balloons, table cloths, bunting?

toddler_boys_birthday_party1

Personally, I did opt for a theme and fancy dress. While my little bundle of trouble might not appreciate being wrapped up in ribbon and crinkly wings, her older cohorts certainly did. So, I turned to the good people at NetMums to help me to come up with ideas that would compliment my Moomin cake and eventually decided on an ‘Enchanted Forest’ theme. We painted trees on lining paper, cut them out and stuck them about the house. We devised games, such as ‘pin the berries on the bramble bush’ and stuck (soft) sweets to the trees so the kids could pick them like fruit. Plus, keeping a theme somewhat vague allows guests the freedom to think up their own ideas and get the older kids involved too. We had ‘forest pirates’, fairies and even a hedgehog turn up.

The last thing I did in preparation for my daughter’s birthday party was both the most boring and the most important –safe guard your house. You will never have enough cocktail sausages and cake to stop the little ones from trying to chew their way through, well, whatever they can. Also, with all the dancing and general bopping about both the kids and adults were doing by mid-afternoon our mahogany armchair arms could’ve presented a real hazard, had we not thought to move the furniture to the edges of the room and create space for everyone.

Another ‘health and safety’ issue we faced was allergies. There will always be at least one little one with a food or bubble mixture allergy. Find out, before you begin writing shopping lists, who likes what and who might swell up at the sight of peanuts. During children’s parties, there will always be moments in which not every child is being watched too closely. I don’t mean to scare anyone, but it’s just the truth of the matter. A moment is all it takes. Hence, I found the best way to avoid a birthday blowout (or worse) was simply to omit any food stuffs which figured on the allergy list. You’re going to have enough to contend with come the party, don’t add ambulances to the list.

And last but not least, have fun, get involved and worry about jam stains tomorrow!

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Chasing Your Dreams? That’s Not Mummery!

chasingMy other half had an epiphany the other day.

Before people think this is one of those “A funny thing happened on the way to the forum” anecdotes, hear me out. She and some likeminded friends want to start an all female Shakespeare company. She was invited to an actress’s workshop, where the same themes kept coming up. The women felt they had to choose between being a mum and being an actress; that there was no possibility of being both.

Then something wonderful happened. Maggie Fox, one half of award winning comedy duo Lipservice, said that being a mum shouldn’t be an impediment to following your dreams- indeed, she and Sue (her comedy partner) had deliberately planned their job around their families. Since the girls have been performing since 1985, she knows what she’s talking about.

So if you’re a mum who’s looking for a new job and going nowhere fast, or one who’s struggling to juggle the one she has with her home commitments, use Maggie as inspiration …

 

Start a business!

It’s official: it’s never been easier to start your own business. Think about it. In which other circumstances would you be able to work from home, plan your schedule, spend an entire weekend with your kids?

Sounds appealing, doesn’t it?

Work on your business plan. What are you selling? Who is your intended market? Will you be able to get funding?

Go to all the workshops you possibly can. Where possible, study for a business qualification through the OU or Learn Direct. Research the business themed websites and magazines. If by this time you have a strong idea you’re confident other people will buy into, go for it!

Don’t allow yourself to be intimidated by legalese. Businesses such as Formations Direct offer company registration services for extremely reasonable prices. Their basic package guarantees the same or next day formation, grants full trading ability, gives you after sales support as well as a free guide to running a business … A terrific deal, I think you’ll agree!

 

Publish an e-book!

The literary establishment may sneer but they’re in the minority. The meteoric rise of the e-book has led to previously unknown authors becoming household names.

Before you pull that dusty old manuscript out of a drawer, there are a few things to consider. Yes, you might possibly be sitting on an overnight success, but you’re far likelier to earn around £40-50 a month.  And just because it’s self published doesn’t mean you can eschew niceties such as spelling, punctuation and (whisper) a plot. Get second, third, even fourth opinions. If you bung it straight on without any input, the one and two star reviews will come as a painful shock.

Since e-publishing is still very much uncharted waters, do thorough research. Which company do you want to publish with? Do you want to publish it as a print book in the future? Where can you get a decent quality free review?

For further details, read this TechHive blog.

Start a blog!

It might sound crazy, but starting your own blog is the perfect marriage of the aspirations already discussed. If you haven’t the patience or capital to start a business, can’t write a novel but have plenty to say, you might have found your vocation!

The great thing about the Net is its democracy. You don’t have to be a celebrity for people to take an interest in you. All it requires is passion and industry. Take Julie Powell, an ordinary American stuck in a job she loathed. She’d always loved the TV chef Julia Child, so- in a flash of inspiration- decided to cook every one of the 524 recipes in Child’s cookbookMastering the Art of French Cooking.

How do we know about this? Julie kept a blog charting the ups and downs of her quest. It became an Internet sensation – and then a film, Julie and Julia. While I’m not suggesting your blog will be made into a film starring Meryl Streep, consider the possibilities!

If you want a few ideas for writing a fantastic, readable blog, try this article on About.com.

chasing1

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Superhero Dogs and Hot Dog Babies: Children’s Fancy Dress Parties

The last party I attended was  a fancy dress, birthday party for an eight year old. I remember it vividly. One friend dressed their dog in a superman cape. Another parent showcased their artistic flare by making their child’s costume themselves; their poor son spend three hours unable to sit down in a large cardboard outfit, dressed as Sponge Bob Square Pants. Suffice to say, by the end of the party he was, instead, waging war on the bouncy castle in nothing but his father’s Thundercats t-shirt. One little girl was dressed as a strawberry. Another couple brought their four month old son dressed as a hot dog. All in all, it was a brilliantly bizarre affair, and proof of how children’s parties continue to thrive, even in the midst of a recession.

childrensparty

Almost twenty years ago now, my 8th birthday party involved my older brother using our mother’s make-up and father’s old clothes to dress like a clown and make my school friends cry. Meanwhile, my mother spent all morning skewing cocktail sausages and cubes of cheese only for us kids to then remove the cocktail sticks and attempt to stab each other, leaving a trail of uneaten finger-food in our wake.

Back when I was a kid there were few options and almost all of them involved DIY and papier-mâché . Even at a time when fancy dress was customary, such as Halloween, your mum would simply sit you down and ask if you’d like to be a witch, ghost, black cat or pumpkin for the more ambitious parent, as I remember. Costumes were limited, not by imagination, but certainly by time constraints, money and artistic ability on your parents’  behalf. Now, come Halloween, or birthdays, or even Christmas, I see friends’ children dressed as everything from Yoda to Willie Wonka. There is a vast choice of children’s fancy dress  available for hire these days, such as that offered by Fun and Games Direct.

childrensfancydress

With the popularity of trick-or-treating waning in recent years due to concerns over safety and the all the horror stories told in the newspapers, such as The Guardian, the party really has come into its own. Long gone are the days when Halloween meant ripping a ‘head-hole’ in a black bin-bag, placing a plastic cone on a kid’s head and telling them they were a witch before sending them out to bother neighbours for sweets. And while I must admit I was initially sad to see the lack of kids tottering around the street with bed sheets over their heads, turning up to a party at which a baby has arrived dressed as Elvis Presley does go in some way to alleviate my grief.

elvisbaby

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Why Every Mum Needs a Good Bag

marypoppinsandherbagIt’s tough work being a mum. You’re expected to be a nurturer, a teacher and a best friend all rolled into one, as well as have eyes in the back of your head. Planning what should be a straightforward day out can become a military operation. It doesn’t help that whatever you might need at any given moment turns out to be exactly the thing you can’t lay hands upon.

Remember Mary Poppins’ magic bag? While modern technology hasn’t come up with one yet- sadly- you can create your own version, or near enough.

Here’s what every self respecting mum should keep in her bag at all times. Whether you were a Girl Guide or not, it always helps to be prepared!

 

(1)    A mini first aid kit

We all know what kids are like. They will climb that tree, or touch that sharp object, and end up hurting themselves. So how can you prepare yourself for such an eventuality without lugging a ton of medical supplies around?

Here’s a workable solution!  This mini first aid kit from Gap Year Travel Store can fit inside most handbags. It contains two sterile pads, eight plasters, a bandage and cotton buds.  You’ll never have to make a mad rush for the chemist again!

 

(2)    A camera

Although phones might have replaced a camera for many of us, there’s no denying that if you want to immortalise a precious memory, a camera is far superior. Taking continual photos is a great record of all the times you’ve shared- and believe me, most kids love putting photos in the album once they’ve been developed.

 

(3)    Travel Games Compendium

If you’ve had to make long, dull car journeys, chances are you’re well acquainted with the phrases “Are we nearly there yet?” or “Mum, I’m bored!

Want to stop any such complaints for once and for all? Then why not invest in a travel games kit? If your kids have particular favourites- Travel Scrabble, Pass the Pigs- you can take those along. A particular find is this 6 in 1 travelling games compendium, available on Amazon.

 

(4)    Make up compact

Just because you’re a mum doesn’t mean that your personal appearance has to go hang! A small compact with blusher, eye shadow and lip gloss will work wonders.

 

(5)    Guide books

Whether you’re home or away, it’s always handy to know what’s around the corner, whether it’s a family attraction, somewhere that does cheap but tasty meals, or- especially in the case of younger children- toilets. Your older children might find it fun to help you plan the itinerary beforehand. They can certainly help read the map while you drive.

 

(6)    A book!

Part and parcel of being a mum is a lot of waiting around, particularly when you’re picking the kids up. In these circumstances a good light read won’t go amiss.

 

You might be forgiven for thinking all this kit requires a colossus of a bag. When my friend Vicky put together her Wonder Bag (she has three kids), she turned to Sabarini, who offer a range of attractive leather tote bags. Sophisticated yet sturdy, they’ve been ideal for her needs- and you’d never guess at the arsenal within!

My-Mary-Poppins-Bag

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