Goodbye Party Bags, You’re No Friend Of Mine

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Parties are one of my four-year-old’s FAVOURITE things. Getting dressed up (or you know, choosing which Disney costume to wear), writing the birthday card, wrapping the present, running around with friends, eating cake, playing games, bringing home a bag of plastic tat…

Oh.

Yes.

The bag of plastic tat. This is where my daughter and I have differing opinions. She loves a party bag. I hate them. Does that make me a massive killjoy?

But seriously, 99% of party bags are filled with toys that give five minutes of fun and then get dumped in a drawer and forgotten about, perhaps blowing bubbles which get spilled all over a party frock or the kitchen floor, and often a variety of sugary sweets from Haribo to popping candy.

I have no real issue with the sweets – aside from the fact that after a birthday party, the last thing any kid usually needs is more sugar. It’s the plastic. The tat! My house is drowning in tat. We have clever IKEA drawers which we bought to store toys, but they’re just filled with party bag contents. Played with for five minutes, forgotten about for five months.

I know what you’re thinking. I just need to get a black bin bag and do a clear out, while the four-year-old isn’t around.

But did I mention I’m also a hoarder?

I have a real issue throwing stuff away. My thought process goes something like this: “Right, I’m doing a clear out. Everything that hasn’t been played with in six months is OUT. Here goes. Oh, but what if this is the one toy she really wants to play with, this weekend? And she asks for it. And I have to admit I’ve chucked it. Maybe I could lie and say I don’t know where it is. Oh, maybe I’ll just leave all this stuff for her to play with. The minimal look in homes is so overrated.”

I think what upsets me the most about party bags is knowing how much money and effort goes into them. The four-year-old is soon to become the five-year-old and I’m in the throes of planning her party. The church hall is booked, the paper plates are on order and I’m trying to decide whether to bother doing cheese sarnies or just go for Nutella to ensure all kids actually eat one.

Then I get to the party bag organisation. Plastic tat ain’t cheap, you know. Even shopping wisely and going to Tesco or Wilko’s means spending 25p per piece of plastic tat. Times that by five, add in the cost of the party bag itself, buy enough for 30 kids and you’re already £40 down. £40 on tat that will probably get chucked as soon as the child gets home.

So I’m stopping the madness.

This is where it ends.

I’ve decided that each child that comes to this party will leave with a slice of cake and a book. A book bought in a ten for £9.99 deal from The Book People. Yes, there’s a risk I might give a child a book they already own, but as a parent would you rather be given a book you already have (options: keep one at the grandparents’ house, or regift it) or be given a bag of plastic tat?

Am I a huge killjoy who misses the point of party bags or the instigator of a revolution that will sweep the nation? Vote now.

Image: Shutterstock

Planning My Dream Kitchen

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I seem to have a never-ending list of things I want to tackle in my house – from repainting the living room and putting up pictures we’ve bought to clearing out the loft and re-organising wardrobes and doing a charity shop clear out. One room we’re pretty happy with is the kitchen – it’s large and bright, and opens out onto our (admittedly postage stamp sized) garden.

Our current kitchen is definitely the hub of our home – we spend the majority of our time there, eating, chatting, drinking tea. Even though I have a desk, I usually work in the kitchen. In the summer, I have the patio doors flung open and the radio on, tapping away at my laptop with a cuppa by my side. It’s at the heart of our little family – the four year old’s best paintings are up on the wall and we have framed family photos up there too.

But that doesn’t stop me from dreaming about my ideal kitchen, of course, which would be bright, airy, white with pops of colour and detail. In fact, I think it’s all about the detail when you’re planning a new kitchen – buying those accessories that will add some personality to the room. Popping up some shelving and choosing carefully what to put on them.

I love mid-century decor, so my dream kitchen would have plenty of 1950s shapes, vintage touches but also sleek and colourful. If we were to redesign the whole room and if money was no object, or if we decided to get a personal loan to cover it,  I’d go for a Smeg fridge freezer – they come in so many gorgeous colours and instantly add the wow-factor to a kitchen. Wooden or metal dining furniture would be softened with bright patterned cushions and there would be lots of plants on shelves and perhaps even a terrarium or two. Side note: there is no way I’d be able to make a terrarium looks as pretty as the one below, and I’d invariably kill everything off in a couple of months.

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What do you think? And what does your dream kitchen look like? Please tell me I’m not the only one who fantasises about this kind of thing!

Thanks to TSB for commissioning this post – for details of how I work with brands, see my Work With Me page. Kitchen image: Shutterstock.

Why A Ragdale Hall Spa Break Is Good For The Soul

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As well as blogging here (hello!) I also co-edit family travel blog Space In Your Case. One of the things I feel strongly about, with Space In Your Case, is that as well as focusing on brilliant places you can go with the kids, for fantastic family experiences, we also look at child-free breaks and date nights. Which might seem odd, considering we’re a family travel site but I truly believe that for many of us, we’re better parents to our kids if we have the odd night or weekend off. Of course, not all of us are lucky enough to have childcare available nearby, but if you do, I fully recommend doing it. You’ll come back revived, refreshed and with a desire to spend quality time with your children.

The Clarins Mum And Me Time spa day at Ragdale Hall in Leicestershire is designed for (yep, you guessed it) you and your mum. So it’s perfect for either leaving your partner at home to hold the fort for a day, or if he likes pampering too, Ragdale Hall are more than happy for couples to book the package.

I decided to take my good blogging friend Katie to Ragdale Hall – she had been twice before and loved it, whereas I was a Ragdale virgin. Of course, now I can totally see why she was keen to go back for a third time!

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We arrived at 10am and the staff who greeted us were so friendly (in fact, everyone we met there was lovely) and they explained how the day would work. We were given locker keys and filled in a health questionnaire over a cup of tea. Then we headed to the locker room where we found a fluffy white bathrobe in our lockers, along with our schedule for the day. The attention to detail here seemed spot on – granted it’s easy enough for them to print off your schedule and pop it in a locker for you, but it just gives that welcoming air of ‘We’ve been expecting you’.

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Our Clarins Serenity Facials were booked for 4pm which meant we had lots of time to relax beforehand. We headed into the spa area which has a sports pool, a large swimming pool, an outdoor pool (complete with waterfalls – lush) and then lots of different rooms, from a Thought Zone (a dry heat and warm, ergonomic seating coupled with music, images and colours which is designed to inspire positive thinking and inspirational thoughts), a Rose Sauna and a Scented Room (natural materials, fresh aromatic herbs and a gentle hue of colours help to invigorate senses). My favourite room was the Candlelit Pool – where you walked down some steps into a warm pool in a mosaic cavern with lapping water lit by the flicker of candles and a star-lit ceiling. It was magical. Some rooms, including this one, are silent rooms… and we managed to stay quiet while other guests were in the Candlelit Pool but I admit we started having a gossip when we realised we were in there alone!

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We decided it was time for tea and cake, so we headed to the Verandah Bar and sank into one of the big sofas. After sitting there for a while, reading magazines, we realised it was soon time for lunch, which is included in the Clarins Mum And Me package. The dining room is huge and feels formal in quite an old school way (waiters and waitresses put one arm behind their back when pouring things) but still relaxed and friendly….

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The Baby Show & Why You Really Need To Pay It A Visit

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Have you been the The Baby Show before? For anyone who’s pregnant or a new mum (heck, any kind of mum) it’s a must-visit event. I’ve been *counts on fingers* four times and I’d happily go again, despite not having a baby myself, anymore.

So what’s there?

Only hundreds of brands showcasing thousands of products – many of which will make your life easier and some just look darned cool and pretty, so you’ll want them too. You can spend the day browsing the many stands, chatting to the brands and meeting fellow mums or mums-to-be. There are lots of bargains to be had too – lots of the stands will have exclusive Baby Show offers so it’s a great chance to stock up on the things you like!

When all that shopping gets tiring (is that a thing? Doesn’t happen to me very often) there are cafes where you can get a coffee and a sandwich and The Baby Show Stage where you can watch various experts, from Annabel Karmel to Jo Tantum, give advice to the audience. Mothercare have a fashion show where you can see their latest maternity and kidswear collections brought to life on stage. There are even practical sessions run by The Natal Family which give you tips on caring for your little one.

As well as all of this, there’s a Tommee Tippee feeding area, baby change facilities and a creche too.

How to get there

The next Baby Show takes place at Olympia in London, on 23rd-25th October 2015. Olympia is right next to Olympia overground station and West Kensington tube (on the District line) is a short bus ride away.

Need to stay overnight?

The Holiday Inn Kensington Forum Hotel is nearby, on Cromwell Road and perfectly placed to lug all of your bargain buys back to after you’ve been to The Baby Show. It’s also close to the Natural History Museum and Science Museum so great if you want to sneak in a little museum fun too.

Buy tickets

Tickets for The Baby Show cost £20 each but if you hurry, you can catch an early bird special with 40% off! Buy them over at thebabyshow.co.uk

 

This post was commissioned by Holiday Inn – to see how I work with brands, see my Work With Me page.

Top Tips On Paying Off Debt

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I’ve spoken before about how I ran up debt when I was a student – mainly by buying too many pairs of jeans in Topshop and ‘going out tops’ in Oasis. Never mind the Bacardi Breezers from the local Wetherspoons (stay classy, Al). And it can be pretty tough to pay off debt – it can feel overwhelming when you work out how much you need to put aside each week or month to start chipping away at it.

Here are some top tips:

  • Sit down and make a proper budget. Work out what your outgoings are – and include everything – and what your income is.
  • Look at your outgoings. What can you cut? Martin Lewis always says your finances must lead your lifestyle rather than the other way around. Look at whether there are lots of little things adding up – do you have a £2.19 coffee three times a week? Are you spending on bus fares when you could probably walk?
  • With the things that you really can’t do without (food, for example), look at ways you can spend less. Shop in a cheaper supermarket, look for deals and if you can, pop in late afternoon when food is being marked down. On family days out, take packed lunches with you rather than forking out on pricey lunches. Look for vouchers – there are lots of websites that have deals and money off coupons for restaurants and days out. Start saying no to things – it might seem like no fun, but if you can’t afford that night out at Pizza Express with your friend, you probably shouldn’t be going.
  • If you have any savings, use them to pay off your debt (or part of it). The interest you make on savings is far less than the interest you’ll be paying on your debt.
  • Look into whether you’re entitled to any benefits (any family with income under £73,000 may be entitled to some form of benefit) or help with your mortgage.
  • Check whether you have been mis-sold any payment protection on your debts – if so, claim back the money. It’ll all help to pay off your debts.
  • Look into whether you can transfer your debt balance to a cheaper credit card. When done wisely, transferring a balance can save you money on interest.
  • Don’t panic! It might feel like you’ll never pay off your debt, but to use a cliché, Rome wasn’t built in a day! Keep going and you will do it.

Do you have any other tips on budgeting to pay off a debt?

Thanks to TSB for commissioning this post – to see how I work with brands, see my Work With Me page. Photo: Shutterstock