Sunday, 19 January 2014

A Weekend with a Weekend Box

This week I got the opportunity to try out a free "Weekend Box" to review.  I'm always looking for interesting things for the children to do on a winter weekend so I was very keen to see what they got out of it.

Before I get further into the review, if you fancy trying one for free with your family, you can go to and use the code NICOLA35 for a free Weekend Box with free delivery.  It's worth giving it a try.

I was very excited when our Weekend Box arrived, and was keen to have a poke at it before I let the children loose on it.  It's very attractively packaged, as you can see from my pictures, with the supplies for each activity individually wrapped and labelled.

The Weekend Box is a simple idea in many ways, but very effective.  There are four creative activities with pretty much everything you need to complete them in the box - Cook, Make, Explore & Green are the categories.  I think the only things we needed this time were scissors and potatoes.  Aimed at children between the ages of 3 and 8, they are designed to be creative and educational.  There are cards with clear instructions and a set of stickers to put on each card when the activity is completed.  The box itself has a certificate printed on the inside to use as a record for your child.  You've got everything you need for a quiet afternoon indoors - perfect for when the weather is as unpleasant as it has been lately!

I'd decided to start with the "3D Glasses" activity on Wednesday as a special treat to keep Mr J and Miss A occupied while Miss I was at Cookery Club.  They were very excited - as was Miss C - when they saw all the pieces in the box and the usual squabbling occurred.  On reflection it would have been better to just have Mr J and Daddy involved, but there was a passable level of co-operation with Mr J cutting out the cardboard frame for the glasses and Miss A cutting the coloured lenses to size and creating a lot of mess with the glue.  The children were a bit too impatient to wait for the glue to dry, so we ended up using sellotape to fix everything in place and they all enjoyed having a go looking at the sheet of 3D images.
So far so good.

It was a lot less tranquil on Saturday when we sat all the children down to have a go at the next two activities.  I'd decided that Miss I and Mr J should work on the Sand Art together, while Miss A and Miss C were closely supervised making the Bird Feeder.  A great plan...  Especially since they were required to tidy up the dining tables first to make room for the activities.

The three girls, who all strangely enjoy a bit of housework, were all very happy to help clear the tables of all the stuff that builds up during the week (toys, books, random bits of paper, the occasional shoe - you get the picture?).  There was a brief bout of tears from Miss A because she "didn't know what to do to help", swiftly solved by giving her a cloth to wipe down the tables.  Unfortunately, Mr J, who despises tidying up, got into a strop that resulted in him being banned from taking part in the activities until he could show me he was in a calm mood that wouldn't result in sand all over the room.

However, finally all were seated at their appropriate table with instruction card and supplies ready for Daddy to help them.  I, fondly, thought I would be able to leave them all to it and get on with the washing up.  Of course, I was wrong.

Miss A and Daddy started building the Bird Feeder together, but as there was nothing for Miss C to do I had to step in to engage her in counting the lolly sticks ready for the next stage.  The lolly stick base was carefully constructed by Daddy and Miss A and then, while Miss C was helping to build the sides, Miss A got on with the little colouring book that came in the box.  Actually, this colouring book has probably been her favourite part and she has spent the rest of the weekend carefully colouring each of the pictures with a focus that has surprised me.  The Bird Feeder was completed and left to dry.  We were going to put it out today with the Bird Seed provided but forgot, and Miss C is now sleeping with it clutched in her hand.

Meanwhile, Miss I was putting glue on the picture ready to add the sand and Mr J had calmed down enough to be permitted to join in but was having to just watch his sister at work.  This is where it first occurred to me that perhaps I had not thought things through properly.  I ended up letting him put all the sand on a plate ready for use.  When Miss I had finished getting the glue in the right places, Mr J was given the task of using the green sand.  Of course, he casually moved on to use the orange and red sand as well, leaving Miss I complaining that she hadn't had a go.  There is a second picture on the other side of the card, but we had to wait for the glue (which Miss I had over used) to dry before doing any more.  We have yet to complete the Sand Art activity!

We've left the fourth activity - Cooking Potato Boats - for the moment, as potatoes are not something we routinely have in the house, nor something the children very often eat except when disguised in a variant form (chips, mainly).  Perhaps, if I remember to buy some potatoes this week, we'll give it a go next weekend.

I love the idea of the Weekend Box.  I love the design and I love the activities themselves.  Unfortunately, though, I can't say the Weekend Box has been an unparallelled success for our family.  But that is more a result of the dynamics of having four children aged 2 to 8 than any fault on the part of the activities.  I hadn't considered how to make the best use of the activities for our three eldest, and hadn't fully taken into account the desire of Miss C, precocious 2 year old that she is, to join in.  I can imagine that in a family of one or two children they would have a wonderful time exploring all of the activities with their parents.  Our children did enjoy themselves, but there just wasn't enough to keep them all occupied.  I definitely think next time we would need to get a couple of boxes or simply make use of the activities in a different way - if we'd still had the 3D glasses to make it probably would have made a difference.

Remember, if you'd like to try it for yourself you can use the code NICOLA35 on the website to claim your free Weekend Box.  If you do, leave a comment below to let me know what you think!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

A Morning Miracle

We had such a good morning today.  Miss C woke me at 7.30am, so I crawled out of bed, switched on the hall light to wake the others and crawled back into bed.  A few minutes later Mr J appeared fully dressed in his school uniform.  I told him how impressed I was and that I guessed I had better follow his good example and get out of bed and make his breakfast.  The rest of the morning was a dream.

I felt much less grumpy about making their breakfasts.
Mr J even did the drying up and putting away of their plates & cutlery while he waited for his porridge.
There were tears from Miss C because the older ones were playing "Why we're all the odd one out..." (Mr J was the only one with a hot breakfast, Miss A had a straw in her drink, etc) and she didn't want to be the odd one out - but this was quickly resolved when the others agreed she didn't have to play.
Miss A got her clothes without argument, got undressed and only needed the minimum of help with trousers - rather than the normal sulks, tantrums and cries of "I want someone to HELP me!"

Generally tranquility reigned, and even that last frantic 5 minutes before we left the house was comparatively calm - even if I didn't get my normal morning cup of tea.

I feel so blessed because I'd been praying about how awful I feel about my attitude in the mornings.  I am always so tired that I don't want to get out of bed, I am then exhausted by having to nag everyone to get ready and become excessively grumpy about making breakfast, finding missing shoes and bags and generally no one doing what they're asked.  I had made a plan (not exactly a resolution) that I was going to try to get up before everyone, have a shower, read my Bible and spend some time just giving the day to God, but have yet to manage to do it no matter how early I go to bed.  It's not realistic, I suppose, because I am woken several times in the night by Mr M at the moment, but I really need to find that time to connect with God before the madness of the day descends on me.  I was so very grateful to have a positive start to the day with only a minimal effort on my part.  I'm praying that one way or another the same will be true tomorrow.

As this was a major achievement for Mr J, and Me, and everyone, I guess, I'm linking with Small Steps Amazing Achievements this morning.  Click the link to see what other achievements there have been this week.

Ethans Escapades

Sunday, 12 January 2014

My picture: His words - Mighty Warrior

"The Lord is with you, mighty warrior."  Judges 6 v 12

I've felt God say this to me this week and it makes me smile.  These are the words with which the angel of the Lord greeted Gideon while he was hiding in the winepress threshing wheat.  Given the context of the words (read Judges, it's always an eye opener!), they almost seem ironic.  Gideon does not come across as a mighty warrior.  But that is something I have found particularly encouraging this last few weeks as I have struggled with not feeling qualified for the things God seems to have called me to.  God doesn't look for the person who is qualified, but the person who is willing - and actually, reading the chapters about Gideon in the Bible, he wasn't even particularly willing, or rather he was fearful of getting it wrong and needed a lot of encouragement to know that God really was talking to him and would be with him in the fight against the Midianites.  What I find most reassuring is that God trusted Gideon - not because of what Gideon could do, but because of what Gideon would do if God was with him.  I guess if God tells me I am a mighty warrior, it must be true.  The great news is, I'm not alone.

This is inspired by Mummy From The Heart's series of posts My Picture: His Words which I try to join in with when I can.  

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Chainstores and Chainsaws...

I'm a big fan of shopping local.  Actually I'm a big fan of physical shops full stop.  After several years of having to buy many things online while in the Falkland Islands you find you miss them.  It is such a pleasure to actually touch something I'm thinking of buying and physically compare items.  Of course I still buy online.  We're still too far from a good range of major shops not to and it can be very convenient.  However, where I can, I like to go to a physical store to look at things and, since they've gone to all the expense of employing people and running a shop, I prefer to buy in the real world too.

When it comes to big purchases it can be a challenge to shop local and it's definitely worth doing a bit of research online.  However, it can be very rewarding if you find the right independent store.

As friends and regular readers will know we have a wood burning stove which we use as the main source of heat for our house.  Farming friends have kindly offered us their spare dead wood, but it needs to be chopped and a bow-saw just doesn't cut it.  (Are you enjoying my puns?)  So, it was time for Husband's desire for a chainsaw (also useful in the event of a zombie apocalypse) to be seriously considered.  In preparation for this I bought him some chainsaw proof trousers (online, I admit, but it was only days until Christmas and you can't get them at the local clothes shop).

The chainsaw was a different matter.  A bit of research on the Internet, although Husband was pretty sure he wanted a Stihl, and we headed to a town some miles away to see if the independent Home & Garden store there - Webbs of Crickhowell - had what we were looking for.  With Miss C & Mr M in tow, it was a little adventure.  Husband went straight to the chainsaw display, pleased to see there were Stihls available.  After a few minutes I left him to it to take Miss C on a bit of a wander before she destroyed something - she seems to have just realised that she is two.  There was furniture to resist touching and a lovely vase that would have been wonderful to hold, but we navigated the store and an exciting set of stairs without damages.

When we returned Mr M was seated on the floor in front of a range cooker, watching Daddy examining chainsaws.  Husband was disappointed.  The chainsaw he wanted was above the very generous budget of money given by his mum for this purchase and he decided we should head on to Hay-on-Wye to see if he could get a better deal - or reconcile himself to something less powerful.

We took a walk around the store again while he mulled this and were approached by a gentleman (I'm pretty sure it was the store owner, actually) who asked if we needed any help.  "Oh, we're fine, we're just looking at Chainsaws," said Husband, nonchalantly - despite being some distance from the chainsaw display.

"Did you see anything you liked?"

"Well, yes, but it's above budget," admitted Husband.

"Did Mark (we'll call him Mark) help you?  I'm sure he can do you a deal."

"No, we didn't speak to anyone."

"Let me get Mark.  Mark!  This gentleman would like a deal on a chainsaw..."

And that is one of the reasons why I love to buy local.  The staff in an independent store are much more invested in their customers - and much more willing to make sure they have tried everything to help you leave the store satisfied.

The other reason I love to buy from independent shops is what happened next.  "Mark" took Husband back to the display and they began discussing the different models, assembling one from a box and discussing safety issues.  Miss C and I wandered off again as she began to get bored and after several minutes of 'Yes, it's lovely but don't touch..." we returned to find Husband and Mr M looking for us so that I could take Mr M while Husband had a bit of training in how to use a chainsaw and try out the two main contenders.  (Having never used a chainsaw before the value of this impromptu lesson was incalculable.)

Miss C, Mr M and I followed the two chainsaw wielding men outside and stood and watched - and listened - as Husband played with the new toys.  Sorry, not toy, serious & useful piece of machinery.

After a while longer of watching this, and Miss C's increasing frustration at all the waiting around, I decided to do what I probably should have done half an hour before - see if there was a cafe near by.  We headed outside and two doors down was probably one of the most glorious bakeries I have ever been in - another independent store.  The cakes looked gorgeous and were enormous.  The doughnuts were twice the size of a normal doughnut.  We bought a cream doughnut for Daddy, shortbread trees for Miss C & Mr M and a huge apple & blackberry pie (three times bigger than a Mr Kipling!) for me.  I think we will have to go back to Crickhowell very soon.

We returned to Webbs just in time to give Husband our phone number (after a year he still hasn't got the faintest idea what it is) as he completed the purchase of one Stihl Chainsaw - professional quality with an excellent discount to bring it into budget.

And of course, it wasn't long after we got home that Husband donned his Chainsaw proof trousers, ear defenders and goggles and headed out into the garden to tackle the branches we had hacked from the old apple tree several weeks ago.

Do you seek out independent stores or do you always find yourself shopping in a chainstore?

What was the last thing that you 'Bought Local'?

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Happy New Year!

Well, I've been silent for a pretty long time, so it's probably time for a bit of reflection now the Christmas Season is drawing to a close.

As I type I am eating a Christmas Tree shaped pastry that was being sold for 10p at the supermarket today.  I suppose that is the big problem for shops with seasonal goods - getting rid of the ones that don't sell in the big consumer frenzy that precedes any holiday.  I am not feeling particularly inspired to write at the moment.  Perhaps it's that post-Christmas low that hits, where life feels full of left overs, all the excitement is passed...

But, no, if I'm honest, it isn't that at all.  I'm just not sure if I have anything to say at the moment worth anyone taking the time to read it.  That's not a sympathy plea, just reflection.  Life has been too busy for serious thought, and too much the same as everyone else for originality.  So, I shall give further words a miss and just let some pictures speak for me.
Isn't that Miss C's Playdough?
Mr M give MutMut a ride

Mr J's room tidy for 5 minutes!
Christmas Lunch

Oh no!  Mr M on the move...

Happy New Year Everyone xxx