Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Magpie Monday - Ruffle Scarf

I know I'm super late joining in with this weeks Magpie Monday, in fact I haven't joined in for weeks. Not because I dont want to...Hell No! I love Lizzies Magpie Monday! I just haven't charity shopped since way before Christmas. I've been decorating my bedroom so I've been pre-occupied with ploughing my spare pennies into that project.

I always look out for things I can use for crafting. As I enter my charity shop my eyes scan firstly for fabric, wool and patterns and I'm thrilled that I recently managed to pick up a lovely big bag of wool for £1.

The stash was mainly a gorgeous arran wool but there was also a ball of coffee coloured with glitter that I love. I decided to make my teen a ruffle scarf with it. She loves it and wears it all the time.

Linking up to Lizzies Magpie Monday

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Monday, 30 January 2012

Thrifty Gardening - Build a Chicken Coop For Free

People often say to me "I'd love to keep chickens but my garden just isn't big enough". My response to this is any sized garden can accommodate a few hens, you don't need lots of space and you really do not need a massive garden. You could use something as small as a rabbit hutch or an even smaller idea is a fence mounted coop like the one below.

(Photo Sourced from http://farmingfriends.com/)

I have quite a nice size garden so I have the space for a larger coop. When I decided to rescue some ex battery hens I started looking about for a coop and was surprised at how expensive they can be. Papa is no carpenter but he is quite handy with a hammer and nails so we decided to build one. As you know we love pallet wood and by using that we could have a coop for free.

My main concern was keeping my ladies safe from foxes. I had heard horror stories of foxes getting into the coop and slaughtering every last one and I really didn't want to wake up one morning to that. We began by digging out a trench and Papa made up some wooden cages using chicken wire (measuring approx six inches) and he buried them  under the ground where the chicken run was going to be placed. This would stop predators (and our own dog) from digging under the Chicken run and causing havoc.

(Trench Dug and small cages buried before putting the coop in place)

We built the actual coop on legs which is another good way to keep your Hens safe.

We created a pitched roof and used ply wood which was recycled from a local factory. They had thrown it  away into their skip...we asked and they happily gave it to us.  A smooth floor makes it easier to clean and sweep.

Papa put two big doors either side of the Hen's little doorway. The doors hinged and swing open, these big doors make life easier when it comes to mucking out. Also being on legs the muck can be scooped straight onto a wheel barrow for easy disposal.

 The coop has three nesting boxes inside with a drop down hatch which makes collecting eggs a doddle.

Papa then made a run for our ladies to be free. I would love to let them roam free around my garden but my pooch wouldn't like that very much.

Our Granddaughter helped with construction and our pooch is happier with the hens safely tucked behind their run.

Do you keep Hens or fancy keeping them?
They really are great pets (and they feed you!)

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Listography - Top 5 Websites

This weeks Listography is our Top 5 websites and I'm guessing most of ours are going to be quite similar. The five I use the most are...

1) Of course number one is blogger...

and I use it even more now I have a new photography blog (Mama Syders Photography) where I'm hoping to use to improve my photography skills.

2) Netmums Parent Blogger Network - I love this site for keeping up to date with everyones blogs and reading some new ones.

3) Twitter - What more can I say...I love it!

4) Facebook - Another great place to keep up with Friends and other bloggers.

5) Ebay - I love looking out for bargains on ebay and I also get most of my crafting materials from here too.

So what are your top 5? Similar to mine?

Linking up to Kate's Listography.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Living on Less Money - Ways to Save

People often ask me how we manage financially since we have 'downshifted' our lives and the answer is quite simple ...We improvise. Most things we do or want in life there is always a cheaper alternative and when I say cheaper I don't mean the quality of the product or experience is less, I just mean in the financial sense. 

We recycle as much as we can ie; our old bed will soon be a bench for the garden (blog post to follow), we make furniture from driftwood and old pallets, in fact we don't just stop at furniture we have made a tree house, hen house, garden furniture, decking and fencing all from pallet wood. Some clothing can be re-used for cleaning cloths, patchwork crafting, old jumpers can be turned into leg warmers and mittens etc. The list is just endless. With a bit of imagination you can save a fortune and live on far less money.

I'm not saying we never buy anything new, of course we do. I like a new outfit or kitchen gadget as much as the next person. We love good quality garden tools and having a decent telly. The kids like most gadgets...mobile phones, games consoles etc. But we are careful, we are frugal and we rarely pay full price for anything. We spend time looking for reduced items and special offers, we grow as much as we can and keep chickens.

Spending less money does take more effort but it really is so satisfying and leaves more time to spend together as a couple and as a family. Before we downshifted we both worked around the clock. We were like passing ships in the night and after so many years it chipped away at us and destroyed us. It ruined our relationship and lead to a separation. When we got back together we knew things had to change and since we have  downshifted our lives we are happier than we have ever been. The previous pressure we felt has been relieved.

One of the things we do to save money is create useful items from pallet wood. During the warmer months Papa spends time collecting discarded pallets from local businesses. If you wander around to your nearest industrial estate and spot some pallets out the back then just ask if they mind you taking them away. Most of the time they say yes as it saves them the time of getting rid of them. 

We have saved a massive amount of money by using pallet wood and the things we have made with it are used daily. My whole garden has been built with pallet wood.

Have you used pallet wood to save money or to make something useful?

 This blog post is part of the Thrifty families blog carnival over at Family Budgeting

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Our Favourite Camping Holiday

We have taken the kids camping a few times over the years and the best trip was when we took them to Jersey on the channel Islands back in 2001.We had four kids with us aged 11, 10, 6 and nearly a year old.

Our reason for picking Jersey was because back in 1981 Mum took me and three of my Brothers there following her divorce from our Dad. It was very brave of her to take four kids away camping on her own like that and as you can read here. We had a fantastic holiday, In fact so fantastic that Papa and I took our four kids back to stay at the same campsite, Rose Farm twenty years later in 2001.
 (Me and my Brothers - Jersey 1981)

We packed our bags and headed for Weymouth where we were booked into our B&B for the night. Our ferry was at 4am and as we were not driving we stayed in accommodation that was within walking distance of the port. It was quite hard going getting four kids up and ready to catch a ferry that early in the morning but we did it (just about) and was glad that we had stayed somewhere so close. I made sure they all had their travel sickness tablets the previous night, which ended up working a treat for them all. 

The kids loved the ferry and as we approached Jersey we were treated to a display from three dolphins as they swam and jumped along side the ferry. It was as though they were welcoming us to the Channel Islands. A really amazing experience, a definite 'wow' moment.

We were greeted at the ferry port by our travel company and driven to the campsite. After booking in we headed to our pre-assembled house tent. Of course the kids were so excited (What is it with kids and tents...they love them?) as they picked their beds I opened the wine and Papa cooked a meal. That first night we were all exhausted and just fell into our beds.

(Jersey 2001)

We managed pretty well with four kids in a tent, we just had to be as organised as we could. The tents were really well equipped and the campsite had a great restaurant if we didn't fancy cooking. In fact we found everywhere we ate out in jersey was really reasonably priced. 

Jersey is a beautiful Island with many unspoiled, clean beaches and a very obvious French influence. We loved it and had a fabulous fortnight, even without a car we saw quite a lot of the Island and cherish our memories from that camping trip.
(Jersey 2001)

This is my entry to the Tots100/Al Fresco Holidays competition (http://www.thomsonalfresco.co.uk/)

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Listography - Top 5 Biscuits

A nice easy one for this weeks Listography - Our Top 5 Biscuits.

1) McVities Friut Shortcake - Our newest biscuit addiction
2) Jammie Dodgers - These have always been my favourite - Moorish!
3) Bahlsen Choco Leibniz Biscuits - These are for when I'm feeling Flush
4) Oreo's - I just Love these!
5) Jaffa Cakes

So what's yours?
Linking up to Kate's Listography.

Center Parcs Celebrates 25 Years!

It all began in 1987 when Center Parcs revolutionised the UK holiday market by introducing family breaks throughout the year, offering an alternative to the seasonal getaway. As a family we were there practically from the start. 

May 1988, I was seventeen and engaged to my new boyfriend (Papa Syder) when Mum decided to organise a weekend break away to this really cool new place in Nottingham called Center Parcs. Mum very excitedly told us that Center Parcs had an  amazing Swimming complex with slides, flumes, wild water rapids, a wave machine (which was relatively new in the eighties), Jacuzzis and it even had a snack bar in the pool. All this underneath a giant glass dome.  We were intrigued and couldn't wait to get there.

It was mine and Papa's first holiday together and we were not disappointed, we loved it. Mum didn't see us for dust as we made our way to the dome every morning, towels rolled up under our arms, we would jump onto our hired bikes and swim for most of the day. 

That same year Mum was looking to book our family holiday and gave us the choice of (a) A week in the Canaries or (b) two weeks in France staying at Center Parcs. We didn't hesitate and picked Center Parcs. It was booked for September 1988.

 (Center parcs 1988)

Mum took seven kids ranging in age from six months to me who had just turned eighteen. We piled into Mum's mini bus, I put my Bon Jovi cassette into my personal stereo and cranked up the volume as we headed towards the ferry. We made our way across France, all desperate to jump in that pool. 

What Mum liked about Center Parcs was that we all loved it there, having such a big age range there was something for all of us. Also back then the accommodation was ultra modern, spotlessly clean and well equipped just as it still is today.

Since those early days Center Parcs has been our number one holiday choice. We have stayed there almost every year since 1988 and thoroughly enjoyed every visit. All four of our kids (and now our Granddaughter) love staying there. Here are a few snapshots of just some of the years we have been. Our kids and my five brothers have grown up at Center Parcs.

 (Center Parcs 1993 & 1994)

(Center Parcs 1998, 2004 & 2005)


For 2012 Center Parcs celebrates its 25th year with new, exciting developments:

* New features at each Subtropical Swimming Paradise are in the early planning phases to include new water rides, toddler play areas, warm water pools and private cabanas at all locations.

* Center Parcs’ uniquely designed luxury Treehouses have been completed at Longleat Forest. 

* Spa Suite accommodation has been built for luxury spa breaks at Elveden Forest.

* New shops, restaurants and cafes including a children’s toy shop (Just For Kids), gift and home décor shop (The Store Room) and a new burger restaurant (Dexter’s Kitchen).

(Center Parcs Treehouse)

There are four Center Parcs locations across the UK - Sherwood Forest (Nottinghamshire), Elveden Forest (Suffolk), Longleat Forest (Wiltshire) and Whinfell Forest, (Cumbria).

Breaks at Center Parcs in 2012 start from £249. For more information or to make a booking, call: 08448 266 266 or visit: www.centerparcs.co.uk

To follow Center Parcs on Facebook please visit their official UK Facebook page www.facebook.com/CenterParcsUK

We have three villa's booked for winter wonderland this year as members of our extended family are coming too. We can't wait, I'm sure it will be a another break to remember!
You can check out my guided tour to the new Woodland lodges here

*This is not a sponsored post.

Silent Sunday

Friday, 20 January 2012

Getting Organised - Space Saving Tips

I like a tidy house but I'm far from obsessive about it. During the summer I'd much rather be out and about than wasting time on the housework. I'm not a person who is tied to it, I have no real routine and I don't freak if something is a bit messy. My house is very 'lived in', as long as it's clean and reasonably tidy then I'm happy. When the house is tidy it does lift my spirits and makes the home much easier to run and a more comfortable place to be.

Even though I like a lot of things around me, mainly books and photo's I keep any clutter to a minimum and have regular de-cluttering sessions. I get rid of all the things I don't use, it is surprising how quickly clutter builds up. I have to do this because my house is quite small and storage is limited. I am forced to use the space wisely. ie: My house is an old one so the family bathroom is downstairs, I have no airing cupboard so we have a corner bench dining suite with lift up lids perfect for storing our towels. We have to improvise what we have into usable space. I am constantly thinking of ways to utilise the space in our living areas. Everything in my home has a place, it certainly makes rushed early mornings easier to cope with.

 (Our dining area doubles up as an airing cupboard)

So what can you do to save on space and keep mess to a minimum? Here are a few tips.

The Kids Toys - I never freak out if the kids make a mess, I let them enjoy playing even if I do have a moan at the end of the day as I'm picking up millions of shiny beads or crippling myself on yet another piece of Lego. 

When the kids were little I would keep a toy box in the lounge and only have that one box rather than a ridiculous amount of toys shewn everywhere simply to be trampled all over. I would empty that one box onto the lounge floor every day and not worry about the mess. I would rotate the toys every few days for constant interest. The benefit of sticking to the one box would mean less breakages and if you did need to tidy in a hurry it is much easier to quickly scoop everything up into the box and pop the lid on. It also meant that come the evenings when (hopefully) the kids were all in bed the lounge easily become a 'grown area' area. I had friends who would have the entire contents of their child's bedroom in their lounge then complain that they felt overwhelmed by the mess. Stick to one box, it makes life so much easier.

Using Doors & Hooks for storage - I use doors as storage. Every door in my house have hooks. In the bathroom I have a oilcloth tote bag hooked up that I use for storing toilet rolls, in the kitchen I have hooks for my brolly's, handbag, shopping bags etc. I also have small hooks on the door frame for our keys. I have hooks screwed into each step under the stairs for school related stuff ie: P.E bags, swim bags, lunch bags etc. The bedroom door hooks are used for jackets and dressing gowns. I have hooks everywhere.

Shelving - I'm big on shelving. The interior walls of our house can easily be used for storage, for our books, DVDs, family photo's and even our log storage. I have shelves for everything even my cups in the kitchen.

 ( Making use of our walls and alcoves)

Under stairs storage - So many people do not make good use of their under stairs. Our house is so small that half of my bathroom is actually under the stairs, however I still make good use of it by hooking up our school essentials, coats and storing shoes.

So do you have any great space saving tips for me? I'm always on the look out for new ideas.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Reasons to Be Cheerful

I've had a good week. As usual I always try my best to overlook any negatives. Its not always easy especially when I have one child unhappy at school and the other wants to move back to Devon. It causes me a lot of stress and worry so I like to concentrate on the good to keep me sane.

1) The week kicked off with a lovely weekend with our Granddaughter. We baked cakes and went for a long country walk. We love spending time with her.

2) I told you last week that I'm decorating my bedroom. I've finished the painting and now I'm just waiting for my wallpaper to be delivered. I purchased all new bedding and it's sooooo comfy that I struggle to get out of bed in the morning.

3) I've finally joined the 'Blackberry' gang. I know I'm behind the times but I didn't feel the need to update my phone (I must be getting old) until recently. My Daughter got a new one so I got her old one. I'm just getting to grips with it. I take forever to figure it all out.

Linking up to Michelle's Weekly Reasons to be Cheerful #R2BC

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The Gallery - Eyes

As soon as I saw this weeks Gallery theme 'Eyes' I instantly thought of my Granddaughter. You see, she has different coloured eyes and they are stunning. It makes her unique. It makes her stand out from the crowd. Our Special Girl. Of course her eyes are not the only thing that makes her special, everything about her does.

Linking up to The Gallery

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Thomas in Charge DVD Review

Thomas is back with a new DVD due for release in the UK  next Monday 23rd January. We were lucky enough to have been sent a sneak preview which I very excitedly handed over to my Nephew who absolutely adores Thomas and Friends. My Nephew is twelve, autistic and usually responds really well to Thomas so I knew he would love this.

The DVD features four very new and very exciting engine packed adventures that shows Thomas and Friends, Thomas in Charge, Henry trying to do a good deed, Emily collecting flowers and Gordon looking after Whiff's waste dump.

Thomas and his friends are preparing for the Railway Inspector's visit to Knapford Station. But when the coal trucks crash covering Gordon in soot, can Thomas take charge and help straighten out the mess?

We are also treated to an exclusive 'Watch with Mr Perkins' which is a lovely bonus feature all about musical instruments. Other bonus features also include a jigsaw and an extra all about a real train guard.

This DVD got a definite thumbs up from a massive Thomas fan (Who also wants to be a real life train driver). We would recommend this as a great gift for any child who enjoys Thomas and Friends. 

Available to buy from Monday 23rd January 2012,  RRP - £12.99, Running time - 54 minutes, certificate - U

 *This product was sent to me free of charge for the purpose of this review. I have received no financial reward for writing this post and as a family we always give an honest and unbiased opinion.* ◦ 

Monday, 16 January 2012

Call The Midwife and Our Poplar Nan

Call the Midwife is a BBC TV adaptation of the gripping and heartfelt memoirs of Jennifer Worth, a midwife who worked the poor area's of Poplar in the Eastend of London during the 1950's. This trilogy of memoirs each sold nearly a million copies. Sadly, Jenny passed away last year aged 75 and never got to see her book transformed onto our screens. As I sat and watched the eagerly anticipated programme last night my thoughts turn to my Nan and her family.

 (Me and Nan)

Nan was born in Poplar, the same area from which these memoirs are based and was actually named after the Poplar midwife who delivered her. Nan, the youngest of seven often spoke of her time growing up in the Eastend and she would tell me stories of how her Mum and Dad met. 

My Great Grandmother came from a military family and was born in India while her father was serving over there. She was raised in very privileged surroundings with servants meeting her every need. 

When her family returned to the UK they settled in London and my Great Grandmother took a job as a Nanny for a distant cousin of the Queen. My Great Grandfather couldn't have been raised more different and was considered poor, very charming but very skint. He worked as a Grenadier Guard (you know the ones with the red coats and fluffy black hats who guard the palace) and Nan would tell me romantic stories of how my cheeky cockney Great Grandfather would wolf whistle my Great Grandmother as she passed him on her way to work. They fell in love and against her parents wishes my Great Grandparents got hitched. Her parents felt their Daughter had married beneath them and Nan would delight in telling me how well spoken and lady like her mum was.

I don't know how true this story is or if Nan added a bit of glamour to liven it up because she knew I was a sucker for a good love story but I was fascinated as she dramatised every word for me so many times and the Great Grandparents that I had never met come to life so vividly in my imagination.
(My Great Grandparents)

Aged just thirteen Nan sadly lost her beautiful Mum during the blitz. She died as the local air raid shelter was blown to pieces. My Great Grandmother lost her life protecting her children as she quickly pushed them under a bench in the shelter while the bombs hit London. Nan and her sisters were rescued but lots of her Friends and neighbours were lost to the bombing that night and it is something that still haunted my Nan right up until her death last year.

As she was so young Nan was evacuated to Wales and then to Ireland where she met my Grandad. They married and after having two kids in Ireland they eventually returned to Nans beloved Poplar where my Mum was born during the fifties. Like a lot of Eastenders they then moved out to Essex as Grandad took a job at Fords motor company and Nan had a fourth and final baby, my Uncle.

 (Nan, Grandad, Mum & her siblings - Mum in the middle next to her Brother)

They were very happy, very in love and I miss them both so very much.

So did you watch the Call The Midwife last night or have you read the books? Like me did last nights episode make you realise how easy us Mums have it nowadays?


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