Friday, 4 September 2015

School - the inevitabilities of the first week back

I know, it's a catchy title, but it's the end of the first week back at school and my brain is a bit frazzled so what do you expect?  After all the preparations during the final few weeks of the holidays, followed by the relief as the doors to the classrooms opened once more I hoped I'd be feeling more relaxed by now.

But there are things that I've come to realise always happen at the end of this week every year, no matter how much you think they won't, or how much you try to avoid them.

These are the inevitabilities of the first week of term.

School jumpers labelled or otherwise will be sucked into the vortex of lost property never to be seen again.  

You've hemorrhaged squillions of pounds on buying gold embroidered, diamond encrusted Cash's name tapes (complete with a picture of a train/fairy on).  They should be safe from the lost property box, shouldn't they?  I mean, what idiot can't see the lovingly hand stitched name on the inside of the collar of every piece of clothing your child owns?  The answer here is nobody because nobody ever checks these things.  Everything ends up in that box.  There is simply no point in sewing until your fingers bleed to ensure uniform never goes astray because it always does.  But then, next year you think, well maybe?  Maybe I'll just label the important stuff?  I mean, those name tapes cost a fortune and they'll only go to waste otherwise.  You'll never learn.

£120 worth of school shoes will be scuffed to ribbons courtesy of the school playground.  

Listen, I'm on top of the whole school shoe thing. Just two weeks ago I was victorious in my quest to exit Clarks with my sanity/dignity (but not my bank balance) intact.  Nothing could go wrong.  The shoes were polished and photos taken of the kids as they proudly wore them on their first day back.  And then, as they came running out of the classroom at the end of the day, there they were.  Marks, scuffs where there should have been black leather.  Scars on their beautiful new shoes.  Why can't they just stop climbing things and falling over?  Even for just one day? I shouldn't be so bothered, but I am.

Just stop falling over, will you? *sob*

There will be a nit warning letter from at least one class.

Of course.  Just to ruin your Friday night.

The teenagers will bring home letters detailing three overpriced foreign holidays amazing once in a life time opportunities, totalling over £1000.

Erm, they don't even have passports and are not studying French/Art/Geography for GCSE, so why are the school even asking?  Oh, if you haven't fainted or died laughing at the preposterousness of that then you'll also discover that £40 worth of primary school trips will need paying for by next week as well.  Oh well, it's only money...

If your child's school jumpers make it home then they will be covered in whiteboard marker pen.

It probably won't come off either.  You can attempt stain removal once you've finished the nit check.  Good luck with that.

One of the teenagers will have forgotten to write their homework into their planner.

It's a new planner FFS!  You've had it for less than a week.  What do you mean you didn't have a pen?  I bought a box of fifty from Amazon last week!  Well, if you can't do the homework you'll just have to do the detention and no I won't come and pick you up afterwards.  *head explodes*

One day he'll get it, you think, one day...

You still haven't started redecorating the hallway.

I promised myself I'd do it before the summer holidays.  Then I promised that I'd start it the minute the kids all went back.  I do this every year.  But then, maybe I'll just leave it.  One day distressed paintwork may actually be a thing.  Plus, I'm sure there must be a new series of Judge Rinder on soon.  I just won't have the time.

Every year these things happen.  Every year it is just the same.

*Adds stain devil, a nit comb and a lottery ticket to shopping list*

*and Gin*

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Diary of a Wimpy Kid - Old School

Ever since the first book was published, my kids have all at some point been massive Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans.  It's become a bit of a tradition over the last few years for DS2 to receive the latest book in his stocking at Christmas time and so when we were asked to review a preview excerpt from the new book Diary of a Wimpy Kid - Old School, we of course said YES!!

In the new book Greg wonders whether life really was better in the old days, especially as his whole town has voluntarily unplugged and gone electronics free!  Can he survive or will it be too tough?

In the extract we read, Greg and Rowly set up a lemonade stand and try to make some money.  In typical Diary of a Wimpy Kid style there are disastrous consequences.  Firstly they don't know how to make lemonade, then after Greg's dad shows them how, their lemonade is not quite what the customers are expecting.  This is not helped by the kid across the street who has a much better stand than them.  They eventually cut their losses and decide to market "Fitness Water" (as it seems a lot less effort) but that too ends in disaster.

My children all had a read of it too and I could hear plenty of giggling.  As ever, the pictures in the Wimpy Kid books really do add something extra to the story.  We all thought they were very funny indeed.

Puffin books had not only sent us the book preview but included a recipe for Homemade Lemonade which DD1 decided she would make as a surprise for her siblings (who went back to school the day before she did!).  Here's how she made it:

The lemonade was a great success and DS2 has already added a copy of Old School to his Christmas list.  He says he just has to read the rest of it!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid - Old School by Jeff Kinney will be released on 3rd November 2015, and is available for preorder here.

We were sent a digital extract from Diary of a Wimpy Kid - Old School for the purpose of this review.  All words and opinions are our own.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Postman Pat

This week's Wicked Wednesdays is brought to you by random sibling name calling.

DS2 and DS3 were playing upstairs quite nicely at first, then suddenly, DS3 ran downstairs sobbing.

Try as I might it took several minutes until he was calm enough to tell me what was wrong.

What could possibly elicit this kind of tantrum I hear you ask?

Well, it appears DS2 had told DS3 that he was... Postman Pat.

Nope, I'm not sure I understand it either.

Crazy children.

So glad they've gone back to school today... ;)


Thursday, 27 August 2015

Back to School Mum Hacks

A while ago I wrote about my School Run Mum Hacks.  The little things that I do when I've forgotten to read the school newsletter and am too lazy haven't got time to buy fair trade produce/make a World Book Day costume/bring a tombola prize in for the school fair.  This post proved rather popular.

So I'm sitting here with less than a week to go before the children go back to school, thinking that you, my fellow hackers would like a few more handy hints* from me.  This time here are my back to school hacks, because let's face it, writing this is bound to be ten million times more fun than sewing on name tapes**.

If you are a new parent to the school run then I'm sorry, this post isn't for you.  Come back next year when you are as jaded and forgetful about preparing for the new term as the rest of us are.  

For everyone else, let's start with the most important one first:


Despite purchasing half of the Sainsburys/Tesco/Asda back to school range (that's just for my Primary School aged kids),  I still have to buy official school uniform for older children (because for some reason Secondary Schools can't just be happy with an off the peg ensemble) and so I take a few shortcuts.

Gone are the days when I could just buy a £12 blazer from Tesco and sew on the school badge badly. No.  These days the school my teens attend force us to spend £33 a time on a special blazer (not sure what's so special about it, its mabye the extortionate price).

Have you ever wondered why when you see the Year Seven children heading off on their first day of secondary school, they have Blazers that are so long that the sleeves reach down to their fingertips?  You could say that their mums are shopping smart, but no, they are fellow hackers.  Set yourselves up with a large blazer at the start of school then it ensures that at the very most, you only have to buy one other for the whole of their school career.  This in turn means that for the last few weeks of the school holidays you never really need to panic about delivery times for new uniform from the overpriced and understaffed school outfitters website.  I'm not doing it to save money, I do this because I'm lazy.

On the subject of uniform labelling, who has the time or the inclination to do that with less than a week to go?  With over 50 items of uniform to label I prefer to employ a more instant approach.  Prepared mums have special stampers and laundry pens, us hackers have a biro...

I am so over name tapes.


Want to queue on a Sunday morning a week before school starts in an overcrowded shoe shop, with half of the world all vying for the same pair of girls school shoes in an 8 1/2 E?  No, me either.  

Spend a bit of cash on some foot measures and do that bit at home, then order your shoes in to the shop.  This effectively means that when you turn up to have them fitted you can jump to the front of the queue.  It's like some sort of weird shoe shop etiquette being a customer with an order - I have no idea why this makes me more important in the eyes of the staff there, but I'm exploiting it.  This year I was in an out of the shoe shop in ten minutes (with three pairs of kids shoes - go me!).  I may have been £120 lighter for the process, but at least I didn't have to queue.

The path to stealthy shoe shopping

Book bags 

Remember them?  Or did you throw them into the corner of your child's bedroom at the end of last term, just like I did?

Time for a quick tidy up of all the forgotten drawings and unsold Summer Fair raffle tickets.  Then write a few comments in the homework diary about all the reading your children have done over the holidays.  Because you have been reading, haven't you?  Sorted.

Getting everyone up on time

This is quite difficult when nobody wants to go back to school, myself included.  The promise of food is the only way to unite my family in this goal.

What gets teens out of bed quickly?


You could also go for the overly sugary cereal option (remember after 9.00 am the sugar high won't be your problem), the advantage of this means that you can set it up the night before and get the children to help themselves, thus ensuring another five minutes in bed for you. Win/Win.

Getting yourself ready for the first school run

It's inevitable that by the time I've got everyone else ready on the first day of term, I will have no time for myself, because I have had an extra five minutes in bed while they've all been eating breakfast.

How can I stop the world from realising how disorganised I am, and that I can't be arsed to set my alarm clock?

No, I'm not going to put on my gym gear again (that's my original hack, and it works but nobody is going to believe that I'm going for a run on my first few hours of child free time in six weeks - everybody knows it's the time for trashy daytime TV binge watching and coffee).

The chances are that everyone else will be so busy flapping over their own last minute dilemmas that they won't notice your completely un-ironed just out of the laundry basket clothes or lack of makeup.  This is probably the one day of the year that you can get away with this.  Embrace it, and then go back to shoving on your gym gear next week.

The things I can't help with...

Lunch boxes - there is no hack for these that I know of.  Either do them in advance or in a hurry like everyone else does.  Pre-packaged snacks and ready sliced things make this task slightly less painful and reduce the chances of me losing a finger tip or two while trying to slice cheese for sandwiches in my sleep deprived state.

School admin - if you haven't done it now then it is probably too late.  Feel the wrath of the school secretary or have your kids go hungry because you forgot to put in this week's school lunch orders (again).  Sometimes I like to style it out by claiming that because of the volume of emails (which by the way started two weeks before the end of the holidays) they all end up in spam.  This only ends up with the school secretary helpfully sending me duplicate hard copies of everything "just in case". Which means that I've just doubled the school admin pain.  Bollocks.

Forgetting things - you're just going to have to go home and get that PE Kit that you've left in the hallway.  Sorry.  We've all done it.

And there it is.  The realisation that in a few days time I'll be embarking on yet another year of winging it, forgetfulness and hacking my way through the tedium of the school run.

It'll be my eleventh.  You'd think I'd have some sort of long service medal by now, wouldn't you?  But then, I'd only have gone and lost the email.  It's probably in my spam...

* Not handy hints, just admissions of laziness and guilt

** You honestly think I'm going to be sewing on name tapes now??

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Ninja Chip Eater

Last week it was DD1's 13th birthday.

If you follow me over on Instagram, you may have noticed that as a kind of a birthday outing we went to the filming of Ninja Warrior UK in Manchester (which was great fun by the way, even if we had crap seats).

This provided loads of great photo opportunities, although my favourite one of the day has to be this one of the birthday girl as I tried to take a picture of her while we were having lunch.

Food definitely more important than smiling for your mum to take a picture, she's shaping up to be a pretty typical teen already!

Smile for the camera...

And just to illustrate how far away our seats were from, well, everything, really, here's another snap of the "celebrities" (Ben Shephard and that bloke who's name I can't ever remember), oh, and the wall...

Beat the wall, beat the wall...


Friday, 21 August 2015

Dork Diaries - Once Upon a Dork

We were recently asked by the publishers of the Dork Diaries series of books if we'd like to take a look at their latest book.

DD1 has been a massive Dork Diaries fan since she was in Primary School and even though she is now at the upper end of the age range of these books, she was still keen to find out what happens next!

If you aren't familiar with this series of books, Dork Diaries is aimed at girls aged between 9 and 13 and follows the story of 14 year old Nikki Maxwell and her life in and out of school.  The books are written in diary format with cute and quirky illustrations and comic strips which add to this humorous take on the life of a teenage girl.

Dork Diaries - Once Upon a Dork is no exception to this format and starts with Nikki being late for school complete with illustrations of her running out of the door (sadly with her little sister's lunch stuck to the front of her sweater!).

Later that day, during a game of dodgeball, Nikki has a bump on the head which leads to a dream in which she, her two best friends Cloe and Zoey, and the boy she has a crush on, Brandon all become part of well known Fairy Tales.  Of course, the school mean girl Mackenzie is there too.

The rest of the book follows Nikki in her dreamworld, helped by her Fairy Godmother Brianna (who is also her little sister).  Will she ever get home?  You'll have to read to find out, we're not spoiling it for you!

What we thought:

DD1 is at the upper age range for these books now, as I've already mentioned.  She really enjoyed the Dork Diaries series when they first started, but now that she's older they are posing less of a reading challenge for her.  She finished this particular book in only one day.

She and I both agree that they'd suit a younger pre-teen audience the best.  They are a largely innocent read and reminded me a bit of similar books that I'd read as a child (Sweet Valley High anyone?).

If you've got a 10 or 11 year old girl then this would make a good stocking filler or gift, especially if they are already a fan.

Dork Diaries - Once Upon a Dork, by Rachel Renee Russell is priced at £6.99 and is available to buy here.

We were sent a copy of Dork Diaries - Once Upon a Dork for the purpose of this review.  All words and opinions are our own.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

My Holiday Homework Hell

We are in week four of the holidays here already.  How exactly can this be?  I have hardly had the time yet to do any of the things I need to do.  Uniform is only partially bought, the fun activities have been abandoned due to the rubbish weather and don't even get me started on bloody school shoe shopping.

But, there one thing that's playing on my mind more than all of that.  

Holiday homework.

This is my own personal hell.  Not because I'm against homework as such, but because no matter how hard I try I cannot encourage any of the children to willingly get involved without a) a row and b) bribery.

Ultimately if they don't do their homework it me that's failed, not them.  I am the parent after all.  It is my responsibility to make sure they do it.

As I sit here thinking about it, I can feel the fear rising in my chest.  In fact, it's rather like being back at school myself.  And homework, no matter how old you are, still sucks.

Here is a selection of the tasks that we've been asked to complete over holidays and the struggles I've had with them.

1.  The Talking Box/Memory Box (aka The Box of Crap)

We had this task last year and the year before that (I'd consider myself an expert on this particular activity as a result).  Just a simple cardboard box which you fill up with holiday memories so that your child can talk about them when they go back to school.  This is fine if you've planned six whole weeks of foreign holidays, trips to theme parks and activities which require a second mortgage to fund them.  If, like I did last year, you forget about the box until the last week of the holidays, when you have nothing planned other than labelling school uniforms, then you are left with the prospect of making memories in a slightly more creative fashion.  I'm talking baking, den building and my bĂȘte noire, crafting.  Once the panic sets in it is very easy to find yourself making pasta jewellery and salt dough like your life depends on it.  And then, you go to print out all the photographic evidence which you hope will serve as an explanation for the dodgy looking box full of glittery tat, only to find that someone's jammed the paper and the ink has been used up printing a colour heavy screenshot of Thomas the Tank Engine (sent to print no less that eight times).  FML.

Paint that pasta jewellery like your life depends on it...

2.  The Holiday Scrap Book

This year's task in preparation for Year One.  Now that the twins can write, we've got a diary/scrap book with 36 pages (front and back) to fill with tales of our holiday escapades.  So far this has included a trip to the dentist and a haircut.  This is week four.  There is nothing in our diaries at all for the rest of the holiday (apart from the shoe shopping - kill me now).  And, even if there were?  How on earth am I supposed to get them to sit down for more than two seconds and write about it?  When the books first came home I was naively optimistic about filling them up.  The teacher's email said how excited the children were about writing in them.  She was right - apart from my kids, who after proudly showing me how much glitter (why always glitter, eh?) they had decorated the fronts of the books with, lost them in their rooms and forgot about them.  And I'm still vacuuming up the glitter...

Considerably less glitter than when it first arrived.

3.  Musical Instrument Practice 

OK, so I thought that the school musical instruments were supposed to be returned at the end of the year, but no, it appears that ours (a trumpet) is here to stay over the holidays.  Does that mean it needs practicing?  Of course it does.  Unhelpfully there are no earplugs for the rest of the family, should any music practice happen.  Also, I am pretty much tone deaf and therefore not qualified to give the appropriate level of support required.  Let's face it, DS2 is never going to be joining the Royal Philharmonic at this rate, is he?

Pass the earplugs, please.

4.  Reading (The Infant Years)

"Biff the Teacher, Kipper", said Chip.

Times five million (seriously, how many of these books did they make?)

Can someone come up with a new reading scheme please?  Maybe one which centres around the Kardashian sisters, One Direction or something vaguely topical and/or interesting?

Until they do, these are remaining firmly inside the book bags (totally with my blessing).

5.  Reading (The GCSE Coursework Years)

Me:  Have you started reading Lord of the Flies yet?

Teen:  Why should I?  Reading is obsolete now that we've got the internet.  Anyway, haven't they made a film of it that I could watch instead?

Me:  *weeps for future generation*

Not reading Lord of the Flies (sadly)

See, homework sucks, and not just for the kids.  But, just like the kids, I wish I could avoid it.

I am dreading my children going back to school because of it (or should that be the lack of it?).  And, yes, I'm worried that I'll get the blame.  Maybe I'll have to make up an excuse to buy us more time?

I wonder if the music teacher would accept a note saying "the dog ate my trumpet"?