Simple Living

I guess having one of the main focuses on our blog ‘simple living’, sounds kind of ironic given a life with four young children in absolutely no way simple. We had four children in five years, James was just 5 years old when our smallest arrived. It sounds crazy even to me when I say I had a five, four and a two-year-old as well as a newborn baby.

I am always entirely honest when I say I found the transition from three to four children the hardest, possibly because I was struggling with post-natal depression. I had a traumatic labour and birth with Ava. My waters had broken early in the morning, and we were desperately trying to move her from back to back on the hospitals birthing ball whilst in slow labour. Things escalated quickly when I started shaking uncontrollably with a high temperature. The doctors discovered I had sepsis and my body had started to shut down. I was rushed to labour ward and It felt like a twenty people were in the room within minutes. Luckily I had no idea how serious it could have been at the time, but the fast actions of the hospital team saved my life. It was an eye-opening reminder of just how precious life is.

Gotta catch em all – Catching pokemon.
Cuddles with Daddy

Simple Living

Focusing on the simple things is really important to me. Its a reminder to slow down and breath in the ordinary moments. The ones that happen everyday, but sometimes get lost in the chaos. Hugs, cuddles (“cuggles” in our house) and kisses. The endless stories children suddenly remember to tell you at bedtime, just because they want to see you for a little bit longer. The jokes and real belly laughs at mealtimes. Trips to the park and walks in the woods. Hot chocolates with hot chocolatey smiles.

Sometimes its also remembering how those moments happen, and trying to find a happy balance.  Between saying “yes” to the park, or “no” so you can tackle the washing pile. Or choosing to stay up past bedtime chatting, or saying “no” because you are completely parented out, and need five minutes alone.

Smiles while waiting for the Parade

Intentionality.

For me ‘simple living’ is a reminder to slow down. And that’s not all about speed, it’s about intentionality and creating time for the things that are really important. It’s a reminder to live with less, so we can enjoy life more. It’s a reminder to be grateful for the things we do have, instead of focusing on the things we don’t. It’s about thinking of others & the earth and its a reminder to be kind. To myself as much as anyone else.

Today we chose to cancel plans, and say “no”, just so we could take our whole family to watch James and Lily march through our town in the St Georges Day Parade.

We chose to relax with drinks we waited for James and Lily to finish. We chose to walk instead of driving, so we could walk past the canal and see all the trees springing new buds. There is a list a mile long that we didn’t get done – but moments like these don’t happen often, and the years pass too quickly.

“Look Mummy, this is how grown-ups drink hot chocolates, with one hand!”
Hot chocolate smiles

 

Because things aren’t always slow…

I completely forgot we were meeting 30 minutes earlier and I had to leave Simon, Ava and Amy walking, so James, Lily and myself could run half a mile to the meeting point!

When things are slow & simple, I know I am a better parent. I’m much more patient, kind and forgiving. And I’m kinder to myself as well as my children.

And so ‘simple living’ to me, is more a reminder to myself, to slow down, take stock and stay in the moment and be grateful for the little things in life.

I love this photograph because it shows Lily’s cheeky side and the playful rivalry that goes on between these two.
Almost twins. Born 16 months apart, and the different uniforms give them away today, but people still ask if they are twins!

 

Living Arrows

How To Embrace Hygge On A Budget

The Danes really seem to have a good balance, don’t they? As well as being the cited as the happiest people on the planet, they also have some of the most generous policies such as education, welfare, healthcare and maternity leave. And they have remained near the top of the happiness charts, despite paying some of the highest taxes (upto 60%) and having more rain than us Britons. Hard to believe I know!

I think a huge part of their happiness is down to their cultural focus on something else they are famous for, Hygge.

What is Hygge?

Hygee (pronounced Hou-gah, it rhymes with cougah) is a Danish concept that has become hugely popular in the UK. So much so that the word Hygge was shortlisted for “word of the year” in 2016 as it grew in popularity.

According to author of The Little Book of Hygge Meik Wiking, ‘hygge’ can be defined as ‘Togetherness, relaxation, indulgence, presence, and comfort. It all boils down to the pursuit of everyday happiness – the art of creating intimacy and cocoa by candlelight’. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

As consumerism latches onto the new craze, the buzz word has been used to advertise everything from Jumpers to Nightwear. But at the heart of Hygee, its far from about material possessions and more about priorities, and embracing the small things in life.

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How To Embrace Hygge On A Budget

Soft Lighting

The Danish are huge fans of soft lighting. There are lots of ways we can achieve mood altering light cheaply with candles of fairy lights.

Go for a Walk

Embrace the start of autumn by wrapping up well and getting outdoors. Whether you prefer a brisk stroll or a slow meander, just getting outdoors and spending time with nature is good for the body and soul.

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Snuggle up & Get Cozy

Snuggle up with your favourite blanket or person.

Saviour an hot drink

Tea, Coffee, Hot Chocolate. Whichever you choose, put the kettle on, make a brew in your favourite cup and savour each sip.

Embrace Togetherness

Enjoy time together with the ones you love. Play board games, watch a film, go for a walk or just cuddle. Time is the most valuable thing we have, use it wisely

Sit Around A Roaring fire

Have a bonfire outside, a fire in a firepit or if you are lucky enough to have a wood burner; inside your home. There is nothing quite like an open fire and watching the fire dance.

Treat Yourself

Hygge is all about indulgence, so eat the cake!

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Be Present

Follow all the above ideas mindfully. By switching off your phone, you can switch on your senses. Listen, Smell & Feel.

And Relax…

Hygee is all about having the time to embrace the simple things in life. What is your simple pleasure?

How To Embrace Hygge On A Budget.

Will you embrace Hygee this Autumn?

*This post contains affiliate links. If you decide to click through to make a purchase I will receive a (very) small commission.

Effortless Labelling with Stamptastic

It’s that time of year again when parents are buying uniform ready for September. This is our 5th year of buying and labelling uniform, and for the first time we have four sets of uniform to label, as Amy starts reception and our little Ava is to spend two days a week in the two-year old class that is attached to our school.

I always have good intentions of having all the uniform sorted, labelled and ironed all ready for the first day back, but in reality, I am usually the one frantically labelling and ironing the night before they are due to return. But not this year!

Stamptastic

Stamptastic produce name stamps and stamp pads that let you stamp the child’s name into clothing. The particularly amazing part is, as well as labelling school uniform, it can also be stamped onto wood, metal and some plastics too.

We decided upon a ‘Team Tasker’ stamp, mostly because it makes it easier to pass the girls clothes down, without too much confusion. Although with at least 13 years left in education for Ava I am really tempted to buy each child their own stamp.

Stamping is super easy

Stamping is really easy, and the clear plastic stamp makes it really easy to position the stamp in the correct place. The stamp itself is really clear to read, and the perfect size to fit most labels. Even if you move while stamping and smudge (courtesy of a toddler hug, thanks Ava) the stamp is still quite clear and readable.

The ink pad lasts 2 years if stored in the plastic bag which is provided and lasts 2000 impressions. The name stamp lasts at least 50 washes for most fabrics, though Stamptastic say some fabrics such as wool may need to be restamped after 20 washes.

The only item we have found so far is it doesn’t stamp well onto the children’s plastic water bottles. It lasts for about two weeks before it fades, which is exactly the same as a permanent marker. I think that’s to be expected due to the material, and that they are handled throughout the day and washed daily.

Ordering is easy too.

Stamptastic have just launched their brand new website, which is bright, clean and easy to use. You can see some of the options avaliable from my screenshots below.

Hurrah for Stamptastic!

I’m a bit of a perfectionist and love neat and tidy organisation (which with four children is an ongoing battle!). It has taken me about 20 minutes to neatly label all 4 sets of school uniform and I have to say I enjoyed it! I’m not sure I will enjoy it as much next year if the novelty has worn off by then, but it’s certainly a lot quicker and easier than ironing, sticking, gluing, sewing and even writing their names on.

If you have followed this blog for the last year or so, you will know we have been trying to declutter and simplify our lives by living with less. As a result, there aren’t many brands I agree to work with or products that I want to shout from the rooftops about, but Stamptastic and their stamps are one of them. I love how much time and energy they have saved me, and how neat the stamps look.

Stamptastic Stamps have an RRP of £10.00 and Stamptastic Ink Pads have an RRP of £12.00

Disclosure: We were sent the above products to review, however all opinions are my own.

Slow Mornings and Fast Weekends

Slow Mornings

There is something about waking naturally, rather than to the sound of an alarm or the radio. It always makes the mornings seem much more relaxed, even if they do start at the usual time of 7am (Yes, we are VERY lucky!).

My favourite part of the school holidays is losing the rush to leave the house. I absolutely love making a coffee for myself and Mr. T and taking it back to bed. (Secretly, I like it better when Mr T makes the coffee!) Just curling up under the duvet, with a hot drink and chatting has been amazing. Some mornings all the children join us, some mornings they all vanish down stairs to play. Its just a nice to catch up, because with the usual rush of school we hardly see each other before Mr. T dashes off to work.

Despite our beautiful slow mornings, this week has also been really hard. I’ve not been very well and looking after four children in the summer holidays is pretty manic, even when running at full power. They want to be constantly on the go, and I’ve had pain in my jaw and a virus which has meant we have spent much of the week at home.

Fast Weekends

Even when the mornings are slow, the weekends are still pretty manic. We have had a skip delivered outside our house, ready to take away our kitchen rubble from our kitchen renovation. We also planned to take a brick wall down at the back of our garden and level the ground to make room for our trampoline. Things rarely go to plan, so instead of taking one weekend, its taken two. Complete with a trip to the hospital when Mr. T hit his hand with the hammer!

It was a bit of a relief to escape for a few hours, to go to a friends birthday party.

My first go at capturing shots in manual at a dark venue!

Lily loved her cat facepaint
Ava insisted on wearing her denim jacket, which she loves!
I love this shot, taken just before I realised that all of Lily’s fringe had escaped (we are growing it out!) Ava is gazing up at Lily and you can see the love in her eyes.

I am linking up with Katie at Mummydaddyme and Donna at Whatthereadheadsaid for #TheOrdinaryMoments

Strawberry Picking

If there is one thing that our short time as allotmenteer’s taught us, it was to embrace the seasons and all that they bring. Its easy to take food for granted, because we have an affordable, continuous supply in our supermarkets. I remember last year when there was a shortage of courgettes in the shops in January, caused what The Guardian called a ‘courgette crisis’. Courgettes are only in season in the UK from late June to October, not having courgettes in January would have been quite normal for our grandparents!

A lot has changed for the better in the last century, but I do sometimes worry what the impact some of those changes are having on our planet.

Strawberry Picking

Over the last few years, we have grown our own strawberries in our back garden. Each year we managed to pick a small bowl each evening from mid June to mid July. Because of our supply of garden strawberries, we haven’t taken the children strawberry picking before.

Fresh strawberries bring back vivid memories of my grandma sat watching Wimbledon with a bowl of strawberries and cream. I remember visiting this strawberry field when I was a little girl, but I think I ate more than I put in the basket back then!

We were lucky that we visited when we did because it was the very last day open for picking. My four had a brilliant time, and their favorite part was having heaps of strawberries sprinkled with sugar for dessert.

Auntie Reanna helping with strawberry picking

Cheeky Amy!

Sleepy Ava – She napped during the strawberry picking and woke up as we were paying and chatting to the seller
*No James’ were hurt during the making of this photograph. (But James did eat his strawberry a bit too fast and it made him cough!!)
Ava ate more strawberries than anyone else!

Fresh strawberries are delicious and we will miss our garden strawberries next year, but we are determined to make sure we pick our own so we don’t miss out.

Loosing Weight with Weight Watchers Smart Points

After a year of on-off half-hearted ‘dieting’, whilst gaining weight, I finally decided that I had to commit to a weight loss plan to kick start healthy eating and weight loss.

I am a huge believer that weight loss in theory is simple. If you eat less calories than your body needs, then your body has to burn excess fat to continue to operate as normal. Its much, much harder in practise, isnt it!?!

I don’t believe in supplements, shakes or fad diets, as I believe that to stay at your goal weight you need a plan that’s sustainable and that creates healthy habits. My go-to choices were Slimming World and Weight Watchers.

Slimming World

I hadn’t tried Slimming World, but lot of my friends and family are following the Slimming World plan and have had fantastic results. All fruit and vegetables are free, most meat and seafood is free, as well as pasta and rice. You also to choose a small portion or carbs (bread or cereal) and dairy (milk, cheese) to eat syn-free each day. All other food must be counted and you have around 15 syns a day to use.

I did find slimming world easier to work with my young family, there are lots of family friendly meals that fit really well with the plan.

My first week on Slimming World

Except Slimming World didn’t work out great for me, and I managed to gain weight in my first week!

The honest truth is, I am greedy (there, I said it!). I like that comfortable full feeling, and a diet that says I can eat as much pasta / meat as I want, clearly wasn’t going to work for me, because I took that a little too literally! I overcompensated the portion sizes because I knew I would be restricting myself in other areas.

I struggled with feeling like some foods were off limits too (due to the amount of syns) I couldn’t find a content balance.

I should have really stuck at it a little longer, and lowered my portion sizes. I know for thousands of people Slimming World does work incredibly well, but after a week of trying and gaining, I was really disheartened.

Weight Watchers

I decided to go back to weight watchers. I lost over 3 stone in 2011 with weight watchers and found it really easy to follow. Except its changed, I followed the ‘Pro Points’ plan, and now its changed over to ‘Smart Points’. I had already paid my subscription for 3 months (going through Quidco, to earn cash back), so decided to suck-it-up and give it a go. (Which is much easier when money has been handed over, and you don’t want to waste it!)

The main different as far is that they have altered the way that food is calculated. Sugary/fatty foods are now a higher point value, and the ‘good’ stuff has lowered slightly. I also earn more daily points (30 Smart Points, up from 26 Pro Points) but less weekly points (35 Smart Points, down from 49 Pro Points). Also they don’t recommend that you eat exercise points any more, but you can if you want.

Weight Watchers have a new smartphone app, which includes a bar code scanner. It makes tracking food and calculating point values much easier than before. They also have their own community called ‘connect’ where you can follow other weight loss journeys and find ideas and inspiration from other members.

My only niggle so far is that I haven’t found anywhere to track measurements, and I loved that part of the old website. I also find that I am cooking slightly different meals for myself, rather than eating the same as my family on Weight Watchers.

The first week on Weight Watchers

In my first week on Weight Watchers (over Easter = lots of Easter eggs, birthday meals, ice-creams and picnics, a dieters nightmare!) I dutifully logged every morsel, and managed to go over my points by a whopping 66 points and STILL lost 3.5lb.

I think that weight watchers have the balance for Smart Points slightly wrong. I think its still possible to lose weight when you do go over your points, although I will be trying my best not to!

The verdict

I think weight watchers offers me a little more control. Most  veg, except potatoes, parsnip, peas and sweetcorn are free. That means I can fill my boots with the free veg and my chance of putting on weight is slim (unlike me!)

Weight Watchers’s is harder to stay on plan than previously, but it works.

I found that last time I could save a few points for a small treat on a evening, but with the new system I find myself using most of my points on my meals. Its definitely pushing me to leaner healthier options, and I feel much healthier and I have more energy with the changes. I am finding it really hard to manage without the extra sweet treats.

The before photographs

I usually am the photographer and behind the camera, but I want to be part of the photos going forward. If you look at the photos on my computer, you wouldn’t know I exist!

I was shocked (and a little embarrassed) at how big I look in these photographs. But the change has to start with me. Every photo from now onwards, I should look slightly smaller, I can’t wait!

I think the thing to remember is that different things work for different people. I need to control my portions, and I enjoy a little more freedom so Weight Watchers wins in my case. If you have good portion control and you dislike weighing and measuring then Slimming World a perfect option. Both plans offer good choices for a sustainable, healthy attitude towards food.

Which diet worked for you? Please leave a comment below, I would love to hear!

A Pumpkin Patch Tale

Ever since I saw the first photo of a pumpkin patch a few years ago, I have wanted to visit one with the children. We grew our own pumpkins this year, but when our friend mentioned it during a play date we decided to visit during half term.

Hectic mornings

Life with four littles never goes as expected and our morning is a good example. Our morning didn’t get off to the best start when we woke up late after a bad night with the children. After breakfast when Mr T left for work, only James was dressed. I had just over an hour to dress 3 children, make a picnic, find Halloween costumes, get myself ready and visit a cash machine.

I drove away feeling like my head was spinning.

Memories

On the way, I remembered I hadn’t packed nappies or wipes so had to call at a shop. I ended up calling at two shops as the first (typically!) didn’t stock Ava’s size. The second shop I called into was my local shop when I was growing up, on a little one-way street surrounded by other mostly independent retailers . Its near the street where I lived with my grandparents as my Grandma brought me up, she died almost 6 years ago and its that long since I last visited.

It’s amazing how one street can instantly transport you back to being 13 years old, and bring back so many memories. I used to walk down the street on my way to primary school, and occasionally in high school I would go to the bakery or chip shop for my lunch. The newspaper shop where I had a paper round still looks exactly the same, and even the staff in the little shop havent changed.

I walked back to the car feeling nostalgic and a bit sad that my little ones have no recollection of this little street. Thinking about it later I realised that everything we do is creating memories for our little ones, like visiting the pumpkin patch, growing pumpkins and all our little traditions we have made or will make in the future.

A pumpkin patch.

We had a fab day at the pumpkin patch, it was much busier than expected but had lots of things to do including fairground rides & hay bale jumping. The children listened to a Halloween story in a teepee sat on hay bales. We painted ceramic pumpkins, and enjoyed our (unhealthy, as I had forgotten the fruit!) picnic. We took a little wheelbarrow into the pumpkin field to choose our pumpkins, I was amazed at how big the field was, but next year I would love to come when it first opens to see the fields full of pumpkins.

Ava spent most of the day in our Tula carrier on my back, mostly because she hadn’t slept the night before and her wellies are a little big and a slower walker in a big crowd isn’t a good thing, it’s a shame though because it wasn’t until the end of the day that I realized I hadn’t taken any photos of her. She was dressed dressed up as a little witch and looked pretty cute in her costume. James wore a skeleton costume in the car but decided to take his costume off in the car when we arrived and he didn’t see many other children wearing costumes.

My favourite part of the day was the hay bale jumping! Although I think that I might be a bad influence, after loudly encouraging my little ones to jump I heard another mum asking her children not to jump, oops!

jumping from an halebale
Lily jumping from an haybale
jumping from an hay bale
James mid jump. – I feel awful for blurring faces on this photo but don’t know the children and didn’t want to add their faces online!

A lost child

Just before we left as we headed towards the exit, my friend asked where Amy was, neither of us could see her. I though she was by my side and when I realised she wasn’t I could feel the panic rising inside me. I remember telling myself to stay calm which was working externally but I could feel the panic taking over when I couldn’t see her. She was only lost for about a minute but it felt like forever, and when I saw a tear-stained Amy walking towards me clutching her candy floss in her hand I was so relieved to see her, and the look in her eyes told me that she felt the same.

Going anywhere with the four children can be really exhausting, keeping track of four little people when they head in different directions, listening to four voices when they all want to be heard at once. I think it depends on my mindset too, and because of my bad nights sleep, rushed start and my walk down memory lane I was feeling more on edge than usual.

Despite that frightening moment, we made some amazing memories, and will definitely be visiting again next year.

Teacups
Lily loved the teacups
goats
And the goats
A halloween cat
Amy with the pumpkins, before our frightening moment.
halloween cat
Lily pretending to be a cat

I am linking up with Katie at MummyDaddyMe for #TheOrdinaryMoments

which this week is hosted by Donna at Whattheredheadsaid

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An Autumn River Walk

“You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth”

This year we have spent the first few weeks of Autumn indoors snuggling up, drinking hot drinks, nursing colds, watching films and recovering from long weeks at school, so this weekend we decided to go for a walk to blow off our cobwebs.

We ended up walking over 6 miles mostly following the river and the children did amazingly well. Amy who is only three was a superstar and didn’t even complain once, which was really impressive as just before the summer she wanted to be carried on even the shortest of walks.

We sadly didn’t find any conkers, but Lily loved walking past the cows and insisted she had never seen a cow before (she has), and enjoyed seeing the ones that were ‘cuddling’ (It was the cleanest explanation we could find!). James loved the cow jokes afterwards!

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Leaves everywhere…
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Lily and her favourite leaves. Inspired by this photo from Esther at Inside Out & About.
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Ava walked a little way before she was ready for her afternoon nap. This was her just before she fell asleep
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I think this might be my favourite photo, I wanted a photo to prove we had bravely walked past those cows (when we were safely past them, because they were quite large and scary, especially when they started following us!). Mr T tried to wind me up by shouting ‘Watch out for that cow behind you’ – It didn’t work as I had already checked, but the girls did look, they were just checking their mummy was okay!

 

“You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth”

with the lovely Donna at Whattheredheadsaid.com

Living Arrows

Buying new school shoes

We have a little tradition in last few weeks of the summer holidays, of making a little event of our school shoe shop. I usually take the children during the week when Mr T is at work to avoid the crowds. Though taking four children shoe shopping has the potential to be eventful any day!

Back To School Traditions – The School Shoe Shop

On Monday we headed to our local Clarks discount outlet. All the children need slim fitting shoes, and having shoes that fit nicely is so important, especailly when they wear them 5 days per week.

We had an early start as I needed to call at the hospital beforehand to have some blood taken. I dont really like needles, but its easier going with the children because I dont want them to see me afraid.

On our way to the hospital we gave Mr T a lift into work, and we gave our next door neighbour a lift into town. It was a good excuse to apologise to her too. (We are chicken-sitting and the chickens had chosen that morning to be extra noisy)

I expected the hospital to be quite busy, but it was quiet. The children were a bit disappointed as it ment less time playing in the toy corner. The nurse’s gave them a chocolate for being good, which was really kind and made their morning – not like they dont get chocolate at home!

The last time I visited the hospital for blood taking, Ava was around 8 months old. I had carried her inside, and the nurse offered to hold her for safety. This time I took the Tula we had borrowed from our sling library to hold her on my front while I had the bloods taken. I was hoping they would be okay with that, as she is quick to explore and she would probably have loved to explore the room!

A few people at the hospital commented on the childrens good behavior, which made me feel very proud, and the receptionist stopped us to say we had a lovely family. Usually strangers say I have my hands full, which is true, but I will never really know if they mean it in a positive way!

We made it all the way to the car before we discovered that everyone needed the tolilet, so had to go back inside again. It wasnt wasted though because we got to chat to the childrens Nanna (Mr T’s Mum) who works on one of the wards.

Our next stop was the outlet, and the bathroom (again) before heading to Clarks. The lady who helped us was professional, knowledgable and went out of her way to help. We bought her a mini box of chocolates before we left the outlet to say an extra big thank you.

We bought 7 pairs in total! School shoes and indoor pumps for the eldest three, and a new pair of shoes for Ava. Amy was delighted with her first pair of school shoes, and her smile spread from ear to ear!

A Visit to Thorntons

On our first visit school shoe shop a few years ago, we recieved a voucher for a Thorntons ice-cream. Every year since we have visited Thorntons for an ice-cream after buying our school shoes, its a bit of a tradition. The children remember and ask about the ice-cream every year, without fail.

At the cafe, this year only Lily chose an ice-cream, James and Amy wanted a chocolate brownie. I bought a strawberry ice-cream milkshake for the children to share and I had a delicious white hot chocolate.

As we stood up to leave I put Ava back on my back in to Tula. A lady stood up to help me put Ava in the carrier as we were leaving, but I had already her fastened in. She looked impressed that Ava was so relaxed on my back! The same lady commented on how I had my hands full, but said the children were a credit to me. It’s always lovely to hear someone thinks your doing well, especually as shopping on my own with four littles takes a lot of patience!

jamesava

chocolatedrops

Kindness

Our two good deeds for the day were giving our neighbour a lift into town, and going out of our way to say thank you to the lady in Clarks. The children told Mr T later in the day and I am glad they remembered. Although we bought a gift for the lady in Clarks, kindness costs nothing and can brighten someones day. All the kind comments we received brightened our day too!

 

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James taking the opportunity to tickle Lily!
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Say Cheese. Ava tapped the wall and said ‘cheese’ to let me know she wanted me to take this photo!

Rainbow Zigzag Cake

Rainbow Zigzag Cake

Bottom tier: 6 layers of rainbow coloured cake, with vanilla buttercream and fondant
Top tier: 2 layers of chocolate cake, with vanilla buttercream and fondant

This rainbow zigzag cake is surprising easy to make! We baked each rainbow layer separately, and coloured the cake mix with gel food colouring, to help achieve the vivid colours. We made this cake for Lily’s 5th birthday.

INGREDIENTS

The Rainbow Cake x 6

170g / 6oz Sugar
170g / 6oz Margarine
170g / 6oz Self raising flour
3 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp milk
6 different rainbow gel food colours

The Chocolate Cake x2

170g / 6oz Sugar
170g / 6oz Margarine
170g / 6oz Self raising flour
3 eggs
3 tsp cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp milk

The Buttercream Icing x3

500g Icing Sugar
250g Full fat butter
1 tsp Vanilla essence
2 tbsp Milk

The Fondant x 2

I bought the ready to roll fondant, and used 2 x 1kg packs

The Bunting

2 Skewers
Rainbow coloured paper
String Glue

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METHOD

  • 1. Preheat the oven to 180 C / Gas 4. Grease and line a 9″ cake tin with baking parchment.
  • 2. Beat the butter and the sugar together in a large bowl, I use an hand mixer for this as its much easier. Break the eggs into a cup and mix together.
  • 3. Slowly add the egg mixture to the butter and sugar and whisk well, if the mixture begins to separate, sieve in a little of the flour mix
  • 4. Add the vanilla essence and milk, and mix well. Add the baking powder to your flour and begin to sieve it into the cake mix. Stir the flour in slowly with a spatula or a wooden spoon.
  • 5. Add gel colouring in small amounts to your mixture until the desired colour is reached. I use a toothpick for this and remember that the color will be slightly dark after baking.
  • 6. Bake for 30-40 minutes. I test the mix by putting a knife in the very center of the cake, if it comes away clear, the cake is ready.
  • 7. Take the cake out of the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack. When the cake is completely cooled wrap securely in clingfilm to keep fresh
  • 8. Repeat steps 1-7 for each rainbow colour.
  • 9. Repeat steps 1-7 for the chocolate, adding the cocoa power at step 5 instead of the gel food colouring. When we made this we didnt have a correct sized tin for our smaller cake so we used a square tin, and later cut the cake into a circle, you may have to increase the cake mixture if you do this.
  • 10. When all the cakes have cooled, place them flat in the freezer. Don’t make the same mistake I did an stack them all as it will squash the bottom ones! Allow to freeze for at least 2 hours. You can leave them in the freezer for longer, and prepare the cake layers in advance for when needed. Take the butter out of the fridge and allow to warm to room temperature
  • 11. Place the butter in a bowl, and mix with a electric mixer, it should pale in colour. Add the vanilla essence and icing sugar to the bowl a bit at a time,  add the milk slowly if needed to create a smooth and creamy texture.
  • 12. Remove the rainbow layers from the freezer and take off the cling film. Remove the top and bottom of each cake to create a level surface, I used a cake leveler for this, but you can use a knife. For the best finish cut all the layers to the size of the smallest cake.
  • 13. Place a small amount of buttercream onto your cake board to secure the first cake layer, place your first layer on top in a central position, then using a pallet knife spread a layer of buttercream onto the cake. Repeat this process until all of the cake layers have been used.
  • 14. At this point I had used all my first batch of buttercream, I made up batch number 2 and covered the top and sides of the cake, using the pallet knife to create a nice smooth finish and crisp edges, as this helps to create a smooth base for the fondant layer. This video shows how, however the lady suggests using two layers of buttercream, I only used one, but my first layer was thicker.
  • 15. Measure the cake to find how big your fondant icing needs to be to cover the it easily. The easiest way to do this is to take a piece of string and carefully measure from one side of the cake board, up and over the cake to the other side, then cut your string to size
  • 16. Sprinkle your clean work surface with icing sugar, and knead your fondant icing for a few minutes until workable. Begin to roll out, turning it as you go so that it doesn’t stick. Use your string to check when your fondant is large enough. Pick the fondant icing up with your rolling pin and drape the icing over the cake. Smooth the fondant using cake smoothers, pushing out any air bubbles and creases, starting on the top then working down the sides. Use a small knife to cut away the excess icing – don’t cut too close to the cake. 

  • 17. Repeat step 12-16 for the smaller chocolate cake. You will need the a third batch of buttercream and the remaining packet of fondant icing for this. I placed the first layer of the chocolate cake onto a piece of cardboard the same size, covered in tin foil. This helps distribute the weight when you place it on top of the rainbow tier later.
  • 18. Reserve a small section of white fondant to make a fondant number for the top, then split the leftover fondant from both cakes in to 6 even sections and add the gel colouring slowly using a toothpick until you are happy with the colours.
  • 19. Measure around the radius of the cake with some string and cut the string to size so you know how long the zig zags need to be.  To make the zigzags I rolled each colour into a long thin tube, before rolling it flat. You can use a ruler along side the icing to help keep it straight. I trimmed the fondant straight and roughly 2cm wide. Using a small square I cut away small triagle shapes to create the zigzag pattern. I forgot to take a photo, but this image explains it well.

    zigzag-fondant
    Image Credit: stylesweetca.com
  • 18. Carefully stick the zigzag fondant to the rainbow cake using a small paintbrush and water.
  • 19. I placed wooden skewers into the rainbow cake, and cut them to make them level with the fondant. This creates a firm base for the chocolate cake and prevents its sinking, then carefully place the fondant covered chocolate cake on top.
  • 19. Roll some of the leftover icing into small balls and place around the bottom of the second tier to cover the join.
  • 20. Roll the remaining icing out quite thickly, and use a small heart cutter to cut the hearts shapes to decorate the top tier. 
  • 21. We coloured and shaped the leftover white fondant to make a pink number 5, and secure in place with a toothpick
  • 22. Secure the remaning fondant balls and hearts into place using a small dab of water with a clean paintbrush
  • 23. To make bunting, dye some string using food colouring and leave to dry. When dry, tie each end of the string to the top of a skewer and position on the cake. To make the colourful flags, print out some rainbow coloured long rectangles, cut into shape, folded them over the string and glued in place
  • Tada! Finished zigzag rainbow cake
  • I didnt have a small cake tin for the 7″ cake, so i used a square tin and when the cake was part frozen I placed both layers of cake between two round bowls and used a bread knife to cut around the edges, using the bowls as a guide.
  • I also didnt have a smaller cake board, so I cut a piece of cardboard down to the same size as the cake, and covered it in tin foil.
  • You can lower the temperature of the oven, and cook for longer if you find your cake is rising too much. 

Our Christmas Traditions

Every year I love climbing into the attic and bring box after box of our Christmas decorations and memories that we have collected over the years. Its my favourite time of the year, and we spend a lot of time thinking of things to help make it magical for our little family.

Making Christmas Magical

Advent Traditions

1) Elf on the shelf.

We have a small toy elf that visits our house over the advent period during the advent period. He always joins us on the first day of advent and comes with a letter from Santa, which explains some more about him, and that he is an elf-in-training. He tends to get up to mischief when the children are in bed and we wake to discover what he has been up to, one year he climbed inside the toilet roll tube and rolled all the way down the stairs leaving a trail of toilet roll behind him! He also brings things for us to do during advent as a family, such as baking and crafts. He returns to Father Christmas on Christmas Eve, and as a parting gift, he brings us an Christmas Eve box (see below) Our first elf joined us when James was 4 years old and Lily was almost 3, they absolutely loved it!

2) The Christmas Story Advent

This is a new tradition we are starting this year. We have selected 24 winter / Christmas books and have wrapped them individually. We will open one each evening, and curl up on the sofa together while we read.

3) A different Advent Calendar

We have our usual chocolate advent calendars, and in addition we have a train shaped advent calendar with small pockets. This year we plan to write a small note for each day and have a mini challenge / extra treat and a song to sing.

Christmas Eve Traditions

4) Visiting loved ones

We try to spend the morning visiting Family and Friends so we can hide away at home in the afternoon and let the festivities begin!

5) Christmas Eve Baking

This year we are going to bake our own chocolate chip cookies to leave out for Santa (We may also have a few ourselves with our Christmas Movie!)

6) A (not so festive) Buffet

This year we are planning on having a Christmas buffet of either pizza or chinese, we are planning to choose a good variation of food so we can set up a mini buffet. This will hopefully make Christmas Eve a little simpler and mean we can avoid the kitchen and spend time together as a family

7) The Christmas Eve Box

Our Christmas Elf leaves us our Christmas eve box, which contains new nightwear, (and maybe slippers and a dressing gown) a hot chocolate, some chocolates and sweets to share and a Christmas movie to watch together. The ingredients for a perfect Christmas Eve movie night (and perfect Christmas morning photos!)

8) A full family photo

We are planning to set up the tripod and take a family photograph with us all together, Christmas eve is the perfect time to do this as the house is nice and tidy before the mayhem that Father Christmas brings, and everyone looks nice and fresh in their new Christmas Pjs.

a Christmas family photo
I was ill last year during Avas pregnancy, this was one of the few festive family photos we took. The children had fun. Honestly 😉

9 ) A Christmas Movie

We will spend the rest of the evening cuddling on the sofa watching a movie, just enjoying each others company. Its the one night that we dont worry if the children are late to bed, infact the later the better!

10) A festive story

Is it possible to have Christmas Eve without reading “Twas the night before Christmas”? We read this just before bedtime, we even have a new book this year that we will open as part of the Christmas Story Advent!

 

Christmas Day Traditions

 

We don’t really have a structure for Christmas day, its easier that way! We try and start with stockings before breakfast, then presents. I love listening to Christmas songs with a glass of wine while Mr T and I cook dinner. Dinner is eaten when its finished cooking and we try and play a family game and watch a movie in the afternoon if the children aren’t otherwise engaged with toys! We try and stay in festive mode for the full 12 days of Christmas before we take all the decorations down and carefully pack them away for another year.

We also have a list of photographs we try to take each year as a memory of the festive period. I think this year we will create & print a Christmas photo-book of our family memories.

family Christmas dinner

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Reading With The Reading Chest

James loves reading, his school set a challenge to read each night. He loves challenges too; he read to us every single night for 16 weeks. He came 1st in the reading challenge in his class and he was so proud of himself, his smile almost touched his ears! When the summer holidays started and we returned all the reading books to school, we all felt a bit lost, reading had become so ingrained into our routine.

Reading Chest: Review

We wanted to continue reading over the summer holidays and planned to use our local library, but they don’t follow the ‘oxford reading tree’ bands that the school uses. All the children’s books from 0-5 years are mixed together, meaning that I would need to guess which books are close to his level, or I could let James pick, but risk ending up with books too easy or too hard to read himself.

Then we found Reading Chest.

What is Reading Chest?

Reading Chest is an on-line subscription based scheme, which supplements school reading books perfectly.

Reading Chest Review

How does it work?

  1. You sign up on their website, and choose your subscription (which decides the number of books you recieve, and the number of swaps allowed each month, see options here)
  2. Choose the right level or ‘band’ for your child, and create a reading list.
  3. You receive your books, book bag, bookmark and sticker reward chart
  4. When you are finished reading, you return your books in the pre-paid envelope and wait for your next selection to arrive.

Reading Chest Review

Reading Chest Review

What did we think?

Reading Chest is working really well for us, we have the gold subscription and I have added Lily (who starts reception in a month) to the scheme too. The books they have received have been perfect for their reading band, and the selection has been varied and interesting. Sending the books back in the pre-paid envelope is really convenient, and I was impressed at the speed in which our new books arrived. I really like the book bag that arrives with the first delivery of books, making it easy to keep them together.

What did James & Lily think?

They both love receiving and opening their own post, and enjoy posting the books back too. They have enjoyed the selection of books, James especially enjoys the ‘Project X’ books, he read a book about flying tonight and followed the instructions to make his own paper aeroplane. They both love earning a coloured star to put on their star chart. Lily is sometimes reluctant to try, but if she is reluctant (or the TV is switched on), I remind her that she would earn a star and she is usually convinced. I changed James reading band earlier this week, and he received a free printable certificate, which he really enjoyed.Reading Chest Review

Will we continue after our trial?

We are planning on continuing as our school only change his reading book once/twice per week (parents/children can change more often if they want). Now James has a excellent memory, meaning after the first time he has read a book, he can repeat most of it from memory rather than actually reading it! I found myself going into his class after school at least 3 times a week to change his book, but from September I will be collecting two children from different sides of the school, so this will be much more challenging. (Infact collecting both children, from different sides of the school, with a toddler and baby in tow will be a challenge in itself!)

Find out more about Reading Chest here

Reading Chest Review

Are you reading over the summer holidays?

Disclaimer:  We were given a reduced subscription for a trial period of this service in exchange for an honest review.