Monday, 29 May 2017

Our family and screen time

With the half term holiday underway and the long summer holiday rapidly approaching I've been thinking again about how much screen time my children have. Their screen time mainly consists of playing Minecraft and watching videos about Minecraft on YouTube on their tablets, often with a film night at the weekends. They each have their own tablet but we look after them and they ask to use them, again they have to ask to use our PCs for Minecraft or other games. But we are pretty relaxed about allowing them.

During the school week I don't let them have any screen time after school until 5pm, which ties in nicely with them giving me some peace and quiet to make dinner and lunchboxes. On a night when we are home straight from school this gives them enough time for homework, piano practice for Harry, and some time for them to play. Several nights we are out, like for swimming lessons, and on those days they don't get any Minecraft time. Then they are allowed to watch their tablets while they eat their dinner. I know it's a bad habit, but it doesn't make any difference to the speed at which they eat their dinner, and they are usually so tired that they aren't in the mood to make any sort of conversation while they eat!

Child playing Minecraft on the PC

Mornings are another time that they are allowed their tablets. They both wake up so early and always have done, so they can come into us half an hour before they need to get up to claim their tablets, and it gives Ram and I the chance to wake up gradually.

At the weekends and during school holidays they do have more screen time than I'd like. If we don't have anywhere to be, the morning tablet-in-bed-slot is extended for as long as they are happy to wait until breakfast (although to be fair it's usually only a short while as Mia in particular can't go long without food!). Then if we are going to be at home most of the day, after breakfast I try to get them to have a break for an hour or so before letting them get straight on and play Minecraft.

We have a set up where we have two PCs that are linked, so they can both play together in the same game. They really love it, and when they aren't able to play they are often talking together about what they are going to do next time they have chance. They usually play really nicely together, but sometimes there can be disagreements and arguing, at which point it is swiftly turned off!

I must admit I find it difficult to criticise too much screen time when my husband and I are worse at using our phones ourselves. So I try very hard to show them other things that can be done instead of staring at a screen - for example by sitting and reading a book, doing some crochet or doing a jigsaw. To be fair they are generally very good when I say that screen time is up and they need to find something else to do, and any initial protest usually dies down quite quickly.

I'd love to know how other people manage screen time with young children?

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Can you save money with underfloor heating?

Today I'm sharing a guest post by Russell Bowes - Google+Twitter

The warm fuzzy feeling you get when you step onto a heated floor may be one of the simplest pleasures in life, especially when the weather is miserable outside. Unlike most luxuries in life, this is one that can actually save you money over the long term.

Unlike conventional wall mounted radiators, underfloor heating generates radiant heat which is even and ambient. Therefore a single panel will generate more heat than a wall mounted radiator of an equivalent size, which will enable your room to feel warmer at a lower temperature, bringing down the cost of your energy bills.

If you are going for maximum energy efficiency, a water based underfloor heating system is recommended. They rely on your boiler, rather than a direct electricity supply, so use energy more sparingly than an electric system. According to installing a water based underfloor heating system can reduce your energy bills by 40% or more.

However before installing underfloor heating there are some important practical aspects to consider. Firstly, underfloor heating is cheaper to install as part of a new build effort, or a major home renovation project. Updating an existing property to include underfloor heating is more costly and further complications arise with period properties.

Therefore a number of factors are worth considering such as the upfront costs, how long you plan to be in your property and whether or not you’re likely to offset the costs overtime with the savings you make on your energy bills. Even if your personal situation means that you’re unlikely to claim back the upfront costs of underfloor heating, you may decide it's an affordable luxury that you want for your home.

If you opt for underfloor heating, I recommend that you maximise the impact it has by taking other simple steps keep your home insulated and as warm as possible:

● Install cavity wall insulation
● Install double glazed windows
● Use draft excluders on doors, windows and letterboxes
● Replacing your old boiler with an A rated condensing boiler and use an insulating cover. These measures combined could cut your bills by £300 a year and your carbon emissions by 1.5 tonnes.

Sofa and cushions
Photo credit - Naomi H├ębert via Unsplash

This is a sponsored post

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Enjoying the warm weather

Hasn't the weather this week been beautiful! Really warm and sunny - I really hope this means that summer is here!

I seem to spend quite a lot of my time indoors during the day, so I've been trying to make the effort this week to get out and about a bit. On Monday I went for a long walk. I'm trying to find the quickest way to walk to the sea directly from our house without having to go through the private estates that are all along the coast (I'm never really sure whether you are allowed to walk through them if you aren't visiting someone as I feel as though I look a bit suspicious, especially if I'm on my phone playing Pokemon Go). I found a route which came out on a lovely bit of beach that was peaceful and a nice place to stop for a few minutes.

East Preston beach, West Sussex

I'm taking part in a midnight walk next month to raise money for the local hospice, so it was good practice! I'll be walking 7 miles, I don't think that the distance will be too challenging but the fact that I'll have to stay up until midnight before I can start might be! (I'm doing the walk as part of a team and I've not got started with asking for sponsors yet but I'll leave my link here in case anyone is interested in sponsoring me - Jennifer Jain on Just Giving).

I also went for a long walk along Littlehampton sea front with a friend, with a stop to sit outdoors and enjoy a drink and some cake. Unfortunately I wasn't as prepared for the sun with sun cream as I am when we are on holiday, and I now have a tan line which I'll be stuck with for the rest of t-shirt weather!

I've taken advantage of the nice weather to get the cars washed. I only wash the cars in the summer, and usually only once or twice a year, but each time I do it I promise myself that I'll increase the frequency. Let's see how long that resolution lasts! While I was out the front I noticed that the garage door and side door could do with a clean as well, so that's a task for the weekend if the warm weather holds.

Now that Harry can finally ride a bike we've bought him a decent bike that is the right size for him. Ram bought himself a new bike too so they can go out on bike rides together. I'm still debating whether or not I need a bike myself. I can't see any useful reason to have one as we live too far from school to cycle there and back and I can drive or walk to the shops. It would purely be for fun and keeping fit, and it's a lot of money to spend if I don't end up using it much. Cycle carriers, or at least ones that hold four bikes, are also quite pricy if we wanted to venture for cycle rides further afield.

I've made a start planting the vegetable patch although the weeds are growing faster than the vegetables at the moment so I need to sort that out. Likewise my beautifully jet washed paving slabs are starting to look a bit weedy so they need tidying up a bit too.

I'm really looking forward to the children being off next week and being able to spend some family time together - let's hope the lovely weather lasts!

Friday, 26 May 2017

How to save money when booking a holiday

We are lucky enough to travel a lot as a family, and one of the reasons that we are able to afford it is because my husband is very good at finding the best deals and ways of saving money when we come to book. So I thought that I'd share some tips for making your money go as far as it possibly can when you are booking a trip.

If you have pre-school children then the most obvious way to save money is to travel out of season. Before having children we always travelled at quiet times and never went away during the summer, then with small children we always avoided school holiday times. You can find some very reasonably priced package holidays at quieter times of the year, often in places like the Canary Islands where the weather is still very warm even during winter. We had a couple of lovely holidays to Lanzarote out of season, and UK breaks can also be very cheap outside peak times.

We are a bit more limited now the children are older as we have to work around school holidays, but there are some types of holiday where the prices don't increase too much, for example city breaks away from the beaches can remain consistently priced throughout the year.

Even better if you can travel somewhere that has school holidays at a different time to the UK. For example, Center Parcs in the UK is well known for increasing the cost of breaks massively during school holidays. But if you look at the cost of a visit to a Center Parcs on the continent, even once you've added in the extra cost of travel to get there, you can still make huge savings if you check your dates carefully. We've visited Center Parcs in Belgium a few times over the last few years, most recently Center Parcs De Vossemeren, and have enjoyed a very reasonably priced break during the school holiday, the half term holidays are best for this.

You need to keep a close eye on the special offers from various travel agencies. Many will have promotions if you book a long time in advance, for example kids stay for free. If you are booking a cruise, by booking early you can often receive free parking at the terminal or some on board credit. However there is also something to be said for waiting until the last minute, I'm not always a very spontaneous person, but if you are signed up to mailing lists from holiday companies there are quite often some excellent deals that come through if you have a bit of flexibility!

Family on the beach

It's always worth having an account with a cashback site for all sorts of purchases. We've been using Quidco for several years and have made a fair amount of money. For example, when booking with Expedia you can receive 12% cashback, as well as many other deals with hotel chains like Travelodge and airport parking.

If you are a regular supermarket shopper you can collect reward points, like the Tesco Clubcard scheme. We've always used Tesco Clubcard points to pay for travelling on the Eurotunnel which is a significant saving on the cost of the holiday, and they are also brilliant for days out from home or while you are away.

Finally, if you need to pay for the holiday upfront, particularly if you are booking last minute, once you've found the best deal and are ready to book another way to save money when booking is to consider taking out a cheap personal loan to cover the cost of the holiday.

Do you have any more money saving holiday ideas? I'd love to hear them!

This is a sponsored post

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

The last big party?

Next week Mia turns six and she's very excited about her soft play party. It will be our fourth party at this particular soft play venue (our first one was Harry's fifth birthday!), because once you've found something that works why change it! It's a good sized soft play which you can hire exclusively so you don't need to worry about it being too busy, it's supervised, and there's only one exit, so you can keep an eye out for escaping children. We know exactly what we are doing now and it's not too much work.

I'm pretty sure that this will be our last big party. Hopefully from now on we can get away with something a bit smaller, or at least something that can be hosted at home like Harry's Minecraft party. This week I've been working on the party bags. In the past we've quite often ended up with a few extra children as people bring siblings along. This time I've specifically invited siblings so I'm pretty sure on my numbers, but I always make up a few extra party bags just in case anyone unexpected turns up. 

I remember how excited I was to be making up party bags for the first time - below are the ones we used for Harry's first big party! I must admit that the novelty hasn't worn off, I love making up the party bags, choosing what to put inside, and actually putting the bits into the bags.

Party bags for child's party

There will be the traditional balloon and cake inside, as well as some sweets and a little chocolate bar. Then a few other bits and pieces - some bendy pencils, a little notebook and so on. I was particularly pleased with one thing that I bought - some little soft emoji keyrings which are quite sweet. I don't have many spares though so I'll have to use them all - I'm just hoping that no-one will be offended by finding a poo emoji keyring in the bag - hopefully they will just find it funny!

I'm also using up leftovers from previous parties, which I hope doesn't break any rules of etiquette. The contents of the bags are pretty much identical, but there will be a few bags with slightly different bits as I didn't want to over order. In particular the actual party bags themselves are the leftovers from four different themes - I'm hoping that no-one will notice or care! I've never done separate bags for boys and girls although I do have both pirate and princess bags, perhaps I'll have to let them choose which bag they want from the pile!

I'll be quite sad as it feels like the end of an era, but I won't miss big parties!

Monday, 22 May 2017

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

At the weekend  Ram and I took Harry up to London for the day, and we took him to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It was a bit of a mission to get the tickets, so we were very lucky that my brother-in-law was able to buy some extra tickets quite a while ago, and we could tag along!

This post doesn't really contain any spoilers, but please don't keep reading if you don't want to know anything about the show!

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child theatre

We didn't realise when we booked the tickets that the performance we saw was the last one by the original cast. I don't know if the audience is normally so enthusiastic, but there was a brilliant atmosphere in the building! The play is performed in two parts so it's a long show, although we had a break between the two with enough time to grab some dinner.

As you leave the theatre after the first part you are encouraged to take a badge with the hashtag #keepthesecrets, and promise not to spoil the show for other people. Although I had read the script, back when I didn't know that I'd be able to get tickets, there were still plenty of surprises, and I think that people really have made an effort not to give away too many details.

So I don't want to say anything about the play that might be a spoiler, but I can say that it was amazing and we absolutely loved it!  It's a very intense show, loud and fast paced, and as you'd expect from a Harry Potter story it deals with some dark themes. There are some fantastic magical effects and I'm sure that it would benefit from another watch - I'm sure that I missed things!

#keepthesecrets badge

The play is billed as suitable for children aged 10 and up, so I was a bit unsure as to what Harry would make of it. Originally just Ram and I were going to go, but since booking the tickets Harry had seen all the films and read all the books, including the script for the play, and he really wanted to come along. When another ticket in our group became available we decided that all three of us would go, and Harry's cousin, who is also 8, was watching too. I was surprised however not to see any other children in the audience, perhaps because it was quite a late finish for a school night.

Fortunately Harry really enjoyed it, and although he did find some parts of the show a little bit scary (it's a bit different to reading about something sinister happening and then it actually taking place in front of you!) he was really glad that he had come along.

Now I'm just desperate to watch it again!

Friday, 19 May 2017

The cable box

We are very lucky. We have a good sized house, and we have plenty of storage. One of my reservations when buying this house was that the more room you have, the more you find to fill it, and I admit that there are several things in our house that wouldn't be there if space was more limited. However I like to think that I personally am very good at decluttering and passing on the things that we no longer need, and I take on this responsibility for myself and the children.

Unfortunately Ram doesn't share my interest in decluttering. Although he's not really the sentimental type, and he doesn't have the boxes of old diaries or photographs that I like to keep, he isn't good at passing on things that we no longer need, in case they are useful one day. One prime example is the cable box, or more correctly now, boxes.

Boxes of random cables

I'm guessing that one of these probably resides in most houses up and down the country, and I hate it. I don't like the fact that the cables are all tangled, it makes me uneasy in a Feng Shui sort of sense, as though it means that the energy in our home is jumbled up. I don't like that I don't know what most of the cables are for. I don't like it because owing to my lack of knowledge I worry that we might get rid of a cable and then find that we need it and can't replace it. I don't like it because many of the cables relate to outdated tech that we've since upgraded, and it feels like such a waste.

I'm currently going through many different types of item around the house and having a sort out - the so-called komono from the Marie Kondo method. I can't sort the cable box myself because it isn't mine (all the cables that I need for my own personal electronic devices, like my Kindle and Fitbit, are neatly labelled and stored in sensible places for when I need them). So I've hauled the boxes down from the top of the wardrobe and left them prominently in the bedroom for Ram to go through.

It's been there a week and I'm not sure he's really noticed it yet.

Do you have a cable box? I'm sure I'm not alone!
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