Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Tips for saving money and keeping warm this winter.

The winter is fast approaching and a lot of people are dreading the bills that will be soon be landing on the doorstep. Energy prices have risen again and the cost of heating your home doesn’t come cheap. I have been talking with other mums and dads this week about the little and sometimes big actions we take to save money and stay warm during the winter months.      It’s sad but true that a lot of families can’t afford to turn their heating on and would rather go cold than go into debt to keep warm. I have put together a list of ways to help save money and keep warm, some are free or inexpensive and some come at a cost but will save you money in the long run.

Expensive solutions.

I will begin with the biggest and most expensive solutions:

  • Fit an energy efficient boiler – new boilers are not cheap but with an old boiler you are potentially wasting money. A new energy efficient boiler costs around £530 upwards but could save you up to £500 per year.
  • Double glazing – costs anywhere form around £3,000 upwards depending on the size of your house. Double glazing could save you around £100 a year and many companies offer BOGOF offers, shop around to get a great quote.
  • Solar panels - a basic solar panel kit is £12,000. Solar panels can produce 50% of your homes electricity and save you up to £200; some major fuel companies will let you have the solar panels for free. You can benefit form the electricity but you will not own the panels. I would recommend weighing up the pros and cons of solar panels before choosing which route to take.

Inexpensive solutions and tips.

Inexpensive solutions can make a huge difference in your home and in your purse:

  • Loft insulation – government schemes are in place to help people with cost of loft insulation. The elderly 70+ can benefit from free loft insulation, people who are on certain benefits can also benefit from free loft insulation. People who are not on any benefits can still receive up to 70% off. Loft insulation can save a family up to £175 a year. (www.freeinsulation.co.uk)
  • Draught tape – can be brought from as little as £3 from a lot of hardware stores.  Use a candle to locate any draughts and seal them, this will help keep the heat in.
  • Draught excluders – can be brought for around £2-£5, keep all of the heat in one room and stop a draught. You can also make this yourself, as a women and mummy I have lots of pairs of tights and odd socks; cut the tights in half and fill them with odd socks, place in front of doors and bingo.
  • Rugs – rugs on hard floors and help keep the room insulated and also stop your feet from getting cold when you get up.
  • Ecoflaps – letterboxes can loose 27% of your homes heat, eco flaps are around £20; they seal up the letterbox and still  the post to come through the door.  Ecoflaps are more available online. To save money you can just seal up your letter box yourself but remember to unseal it before the postman arrives.
  • Radiator boosters – as seen on dragons den. Radiator boosters sit on top of the radiator and suck up the lost heat from the back of the radiator and circle it though the room; they only cost 30p a year to run.  The cost of a radiator booster is around £20.

Free solutions and tips.

Saving money and keeping warm and free, what could be better?

·         Open blinds and curtains during the day to let the sun in and close them early evening to keep the heat in.

·         Layer up – its better to wear a few thin layers than to wear one heavy layer, jumpers and t-shirts will work great together.

·         Bleeding radiators – feel the radiator at the top and bottom, cold patches usually indicate that the radiators need bleeding. Bleeding radiators makes sure you are receiving all of the heat that you are paying for.

·         Remember not to cover radiators – keep the radiators clear to allow the heat to travel.

·         Candles – candles produce heat and a lot of people already have them in their homes; remember to be careful.

·         Light blankets/dressing gowns and socks - keep you warm if your just relaxing watching TV or reading.

·         Lots of hot drinks – hot drinks will warm you right though on cold days, thermo flasks will also keep your drinks warmer for longer.

·         Hats – the majority of your body heat is lost though your head so to keep the heat wear a hat.

·         Exercise – exercise will warm you up and keep your blood flowing, get the whole family involved in the housework; it will keep everyone warm and get the jobs done.

·         Keep doors open – when using the shower or bath and even cooking. If the kitchen and bathroom doors stay open it allows the heat to travel.

·         Washing on a lower temperature – using the washing machine on lower temperatures reduces the energy the washing machine uses and saves you money.

·         Try not to use the tumble dryer – getting the children’s clothes dry can be a nightmare in the winter but it will save you money if you use a clothes rail instead of the tumble dryer.

·         Hot water bottles – again a lot of people will already have them, great for keeping you warm.

·         Snuggles/hugs – my favourite; nothing beats snuggling up on the sofa with the hubby and girls and sharing body heat.

Stay warm. Thanks for reading, please follow me on twitter http://twitter.com/#!/hayleythompson1

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Disneyland Paris………..The magic begins the moment the tell them! A mums world review and our experience.

The Magic begins the moment you tell them, that’s the slogan and it isn’t wrong. I wish we hadn’t told them as early as we did because it was along time coming as the girls haven’t really got a concept of weeks and months.

            We had an early start, we left the house at 630am, the adventure began there, “but mummy its still dark and I’m sleeping” breakfast felt like it lasted an eternity and the girls got so excited it was hard getting them to stay still for shoes and coats. The drive to the airport wasn’t bad, the roads were clear and the girls were happily chatting to one another, I’m a terrible flyer and my stomach was in knots all the way and by the time we had arrived I was already panicking and we hadn’t even checked in. I chose to fly to Paris (even though I hate flying) because it was a lot quicker and at the time I thought it would be more exciting for the girls because they had never flew before. Check in was self service, clever mummy used the wrong machine and it couldn’t find us on the flight, after nearly crying and stamping my feet like toddler we got checked in, luggage was underweight and we had plenty of time to grab a coffee. We sailed through security and I even managed to control myself in the airport shops; all that was left to do was to get on the plane. My fear of flying isn’t because of crashing or anything like that, it’s because I can’t stand the feeling of going up in the air, I feel sick and my stomach does summersaults. I didn’t want to frighten the girls I had told them how great flying was and how much they would love it, if only I could convince myself. The plane was small and we found our seats easily, the only problem was that because the plane was so small we couldn’t all sit next to each other; I was to be across the isle.

I had my sick bag at the ready as soon as the engine started, I pretended to use it like a fan so my eldest didn’t think anything of it but I felt terrible. I had been sat next to a pilot (not the pilot, just another passenger going on holiday) and can never thank him enough; he spoke to me all the way up, giving me hints and tips on how not to throw up. Once in the air I was ok again, I got my pre packed picnic out (to pass the time) and gave the girls some snacks. The flight was really quick and the landing was smooth; minus a couple of seatbelt mishaps (mishaps being my middle daughter wouldn’t keep it on) we had arrived. The nightmare had just begun; no one could have prepared me for the nightmare at the France airport we had landed in.

Once off the plan we followed the signs to collect our luggage, we had to get a tram. My partner stepped onto the tram and the doors shut, the girls and I were left standing on the platform. 10 minutes and a lot of worry later we stepped onto the next tram to meet up with daddy and collect our luggage; wrong. Once off the tram we found my other half and went through passport control but still no luggage; three walking escalators and two lifts later (buy now the baby was getting heavy) we had the found the right carousel. The problem we were facing was no pushchair, the airport staff couldn’t understand me and I couldn’t understand them either, where was our pushchair? We finally found an English speaking employee who informed us our pushchair would come out separately on another carousel; a ten minute walk away. I was getting stressed out and regretting the whole idea to fly.

 All our luggage together we set off for our Disney transfer coach, we found it easily enough because the queue was spilling into the airport. “I need a wee mummy”, by the time we had been to the toilet the coach had been and gone and the next one wasn’t for another thirty minutes. I started feeding the girls, crisps, sweets and anything else I could find to pass the time before we could get on the coach. Once the coach arrived (late) we were on our way to our hotel only forty-five minutes to go.

            It was smooth sailing from then, we had a pleasant journey to the hotel and check in was very quick and very smooth, all we had to do was find our room. The Disney hotel SANTE FE was very basic but it was well compact and clean, our room was fairly big and we had everything we needed, the staff were friendly and very helpful. I unpacked had a quick cuppa and we were ready to go and explore. The hotel runs a free shuttle bus to the Disney parks, it arrives every ten minutes like clockwork and a godsend when you don’t know the way yourself.

            I found the Disney park a bit of a letdown if I’m honest, too many shops and I thought they could have more rides. The decorations were amazing, its Halloween season and it really did look magical but the girls were so excited and so tired. We had a walk around the main park but didn’t really go on any rides or in to many shops, it really is massive. The plan was to get an early night and then spend a whole day in the park. Once the children were asleep I started to find faults with the hotel I had chosen. As we only had one room with two double beds and a cot, once the girls were asleep my partner and I couldn’t really talk, watch TV, or have the main lights on; these are not faults of the hotel but faults with my booking of the holiday. 

            The next morning we headed to the main area of the hotel for breakfast and along the way we bumped into Mickey and Minnie. The girls gave the characters a hug and had their photos taken and also got autographs. Once we found the canteen I was pleasantly surprised at the choice for breakfast, I had read a continental breakfast and wasn’t really sure what to expect, it was wonderful. The buffet style breakfast had something for everyone; bread rolls, croissants, ham, cheese, fruits, cereals and toast not forgetting the wide variety of jams and spreads. We loaded our tray and set off to find a table. The hotel was busy and finding a table wasn’t easy but finding a high chair was impossible, I asked the staff and was told to look around the room because they didn’t have many. After having no luck with finding a high chair I asked a family who had one if I could have theirs when they had finished, I felt very rude interrupting someone else’s breakfast but they didn’t seem to mind and sure enough they let me know when they finished with it. The canteen also offered a wide variety of drinks at breakfast but I had developed an instant disliking to the French milk so it was just water for me. Before we had left England I had read on a parenting forum how expensive the food is in the Disney parks and the advice given was to make ham rolls at breakfast and take them with you for lunch. I set about making the lunch and tried to be discrete but half the hotel guests were doing the same thing and the staff didn’t seem to mind.

            Once we arrived in the park the dance train/parade was just beginning, the train passed us and the characters waved and dancers were dancing in front and behind the train; the downside to the parade was the ignorance of other people; I understand that everyone wanted to see but people were moving children’s prams out of the way and pushing people so their child could see. During the five days we were there the ignorance of people was astounding, the pushing and shoving to see characters and shows was unbelievable and that was the biggest disappointment for me. The prices of items in the park were very expensive, a coffee, water and juice was over ten euro! The children loved fantasy land and seeing the princesses, it truly was our favourite part of the parks. The queues for the rides were very long, many of them being an hour long, Disney offer a fast pass and in hindsight it is worth buying; queuing for up to an hour with three children could be hard work.

            During our visit we went to the Walt Disney studio park, the live shows were amazing and the interactive stitch show is a must see. We hired a pushchair for our three year old because the walking was getting too much for her, we paid nine euro a day for the privilege, the buggy was very lightweight  and another must have; I hadn’t realised just how big the resort was. The toy story play land was brilliant and very imaginative but we found it wasn’t really suitable for young children; many of the rides had height restrictions and were really a bit more for pre teens upwards. Playhouse Disney live was also very good. Our three year old got so into it, dancing to the music and she loved seeing her favourite characters on the stage (even if they were puppets.) All of the live shows were free and available in many different languages, the times and languages were clearly shown so you knew exactly what time to be where.

            Out eldest daughter turned six while we were away and we had a meal booked at cafĂ© Mickey with a surprise birthday cake. We arrived for our reservation and were kept waiting another twenty minutes for our table to be ready. Once seated we gave our food orders to the waiter and enjoyed seeing the characters walking around the restaurant, they took the time to stop at every table and spend a few minutes with all the children. The food wasn’t great, I’m not a very fussy eater but my stake was over cooked and very chewy (I ordered medium rare) and the chips were cold. The cake arrived with Mickey Mouse and the whole restaurant clapped their hands and sang happy birthday to my daughter. With our meals my partner and I had a starter each and a desert but I was still very surprised to be presented with a bill of 159 euro.

            Mickey’s not so scary Halloween party was next on the agenda. The park opened at night for the event and was very well lit and also very quite. The characters were everywhere and all of the rides were also on, the best bit was no ques. At 25 euro each (over threes) the night didn’t come cheap but we met so many different characters and also saw three parades, the children were given trick or treat sweets on every corner and felt really special, the final show was spectacular.

            A tea party with the characters, 19 euro each (over threes) was a bit of  let down for us. I had expected a bit more from the food on offer, it was just pudding, doughnuts, yogurts and chocolate cake.  I wasn’t expecting a three course meal but maybe something hot. Five characters were present at the party but seemed to spend more time back stage then they did in the eating area. If we had known how little time the girls would get with the characters we wouldn’t have paid the money.

            The journey home was better than the one to get there, the bus dropped us off where we needed to be and we checked in without any hassle. The flight wasn’t very smooth but I think I handled it quite well; the holiday had been a great success until the plane began to land. My little one (1) began to cry as we were landing and a French man shouted over to my partner in broken English, “cant you shut it up” to say I was offended is an understatement. We were already doing what we could to settle our daughter but babies cry, my partner was very angry and a few choice actions back to the other man made the whole situation worse. By the time we hit the run way the man was shouting at my partner in French, we could guess what he was saying with his hand signals. I am very proud to say that my partner picked our daughter up and walked off the plane and never said another word to the man in question, the better man walks away, and with our children present it was the right move.

            It’s lovely to be home and the memories we will hold forever, were talking about going back next Christmas. To sum up my review id say: it’s brilliant just to see the children’s faces light up. I do think it’s too expensive once you are there but that isn’t going to change. Timing is crucial for characters/parades and shows so try and plan well ahead. Book as much as you can; meals, shows ect. before you leave so it is one less thing to worry about then you get their. Disney offer a great meal option when booking. I have found; are the cheapest place to book your package is with Disney directly.

Please follow me on twitter hayleythompson1

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

cancer - destroying families for far too long.

Cancer is soul destroying, you know that your parents are going to die one day but when you hear the dreaded C word life as you know it changes. Emotions are hard to comprehend; you want to break down but yet be supportive and tell them its going to be ok. Life becomes about numbers and levels, I spent months doing research about what to expect and how to help but the feeling of helplessness is so overwhelming and that feeling never goes away.

It was 2009 when we found out my dad had prostate cancer, while going through the required tests doctors told us that is was unlikely to be cancer because my dad was so young and his PSA level wasn’t actually that high, hope is hope so we clung onto it. The test came back positive for cancer; the plan was surgery and the doctors were confident the cancer wasn’t very developed so surgery was a good idea. While waiting for the operation to have his prostate removed the cancer grew and progressed, my dad didn’t want to talk about it at all so all we could do was just watch  him sink deeper into a depression. Surgery was a success; the doctors removed the prostate without any problems but had decided that radiotherapy was also a good idea just to make sure all of the cancer cells had gone.

While my dad was recovering post surgery, the colour came back to his face, his depression seemed to have got a bit better and it was great to see him laughing and smiling again. I’m not an only child, my dad has five others, my little brother’s were so young that they didn’t understand what was going on and I honestly think maybe that was a blessing for them. As adults the rest of us helped when we could, he was our priority. The radiotherapy did not happen, the people who take part in the cancer trails are picked at random and even though the doctor thought it was a good idea my dad wasn’t chosen and it was a bit of a blow. My dads PSA level had dropped to almost what it should have after the surgery so life should continue as normal, in theory we were cancer free. Having the knowledge that my dad was on the mend wasn’t as comforting as I thought it would be, the constant dread of what ifs, never seemed to fade.

After having prostate cancer my dad had to have his blood levels checked on a regular basis, and each time the appointments came around it was sleepless nights for all involved and for almost two years the results were good. During the two years my dad changed his life; he stopped smoking, lost a lot of weight and was living healthier than he ever had, a healthy mind a healthy body was a theory he had but it wasn’t to be. Hearing the news that his PSA levels had risen twice consecutively hurt more than when I had originally found out about the cancer, my mind had gone into overdrive; could you really beat cancer twice? The second time around the options change, surgery isn’t an option because it has already been done, radiotherapy was on the horizon as were hormone injections; round two was about to begin.

The hormones have been started and radiotherapy will begin shortly, hope is in the air because after all if you haven’t got hope what have you got? Technology is a wonderful thing and new treatments are found all the time but when it’s a member of your family suffering the new treatments are not happening soon enough. The hardest part for me to grasp is that a few months ago my dad was healthy and since treatment has started he’s in pain and suffering from the other side effects of his treatment, I don’t think anyone wants to see their parent/s hurting. This time around my little brothers are older and are starting to understand more, as much as we are trying to avoid the C word you can see that their curious as to what is going on, children pick up on everything.

Cancer affects so many people on a daily basis but I don’t think you can ever understand properly until it’s your family going through it. Every cancer patient is a mother/father/son/daughter/brother/sister/grandparent and the whole family go through the emotions that it brings. My step mum has been brilliant through this whole process and can never be thanked enough. I donate monthly to cancer research if not for my dad but for someone else’s and I pray that one day a cure will be found. I pray and hope that we as a family can beat this for a second time around, cancer destroys so many lives a cure is vital. I’m sending well wishes to everyone out there fighting cancer, stay strong and remain positive.

Since writing this blog a new drug trail for prostate cancer has been stopped early because it is so successful, hope is alive.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on twitter hayleythompson1

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Getting my groove back

I recently read a blog post about mums getting their groove back and it gave me some ideas on how to get mine back. Since having the children I have definitely let things slip, as we all know their needs come first (and rightly so) and ours, well they get done when and if we have time. My partner and I have a date night once a month but I don’t really think that, that is me getting my groove back. The things I loved before having the girls were selfish, I was young and carefree.
            I think back to what I used to do before having the girls and all I can really come up with is drinking, partying and socialising. I went to college and studied my chosen profession and at seventeen - eighteen my weekends were spent with friends or working my part time job (to pay for the weekend’s antics) and not really doing a lot. I moved on to thinking about what I enjoyed when I only had one child and more time and responsibility; the list looked better. I used to love nothing more than a long soak in the bath using luxury salts and bombs; it isn’t quite the same when the children are in and out the bathroom ‘mum do you want some toys in there?’ or “mum can I just dip my feet in?” A quick shower in the morning is nowhere near as nice.
            I love to read but just don’t really find the time, I usually grab a chapter or so in the evenings but I used to read for hours on end but living in a busy house and having things to do it just isn’t possible to read for a good length of time. I read on the Amazon kindle and it hasn’t got a back light so no reading in the dark for me (something I used to do) and constant ‘mum are you sharing your toys” or “is it my turn mum” puts me off reading in the day and when I’m home I prefer spending the day times doing activities that include the girls.
            My wardrobe is pretty bland if I’m honest, it mainly consists of formal wear and then lots of jeans, basic tops and cardigans. Before having the children I loved shopping; shoes, bags, dresses and whatever really caught my eye. Since the children I love nothing more than shopping for them. I get myself clothes when I need them. Shopping for myself isn’t something I enjoy too much and money matters more when you have responsibilities then it ever did before. I will walk around the shops and if I like something I’ll weigh up what else is going out that week or what the children might need and then I end up talking myself out of purchasing it.

            To get my groove back I decided to start with the luxury bath, I brought some bombs, salts, melts and some candles to set the scene, I set the kindle up with a new book, my partner and the children were baking in the kitchen so I had an hour. I ran the bath but while it was running I put the washing away, it would save a job later. Once in the bath I turned the kindle on and settled in, the bath was lovely the book was a good read but after twenty minutes I wanted to get out, I could hear the family downstairs playing and laughing and I was bored. I got out the bath threw some clothes on and went to enjoy the fun.
            I also attempted clothes shopping this week; I wandered in and out of shops and brought a few items, nothing amazing or special just some winter bits and pieces. While shopping, I couldn’t resist buying the girls and hubby a few bits as well and I know they didn’t really need anything but I felt bad that I had something new and they didn’t.
            My attempt at getting my groove back wasn’t all that great. I’ve come  to realise that I didn’t loose my groove in the first place well at least I don’t think I did, my groove  changed. The activities I used to love are still great but they do not make me feel like the old me and I don’t think I want to be the old me. I adore the girls and love being a mummy and yes at times it’s tiring, frustrating and could test the patience of a saint but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I could carry on about the wonders of being a parent but you all know them wonders yourselves. The old me was selfish and irresponsible and yes I had some great fun but I’ve changed, more importantly I’ve grew up.
            Everyone needs ‘me’ time and I’m not different, I will make more of an effort to make time in the evenings for more reading and have long (well until I get bored) baths from time to time but I don’t need my groove back, I have a new groove now and I love it.

Thanks for reading please follow me on twitter hayleythompson1