Countdown to Christmas and Win Prizes Daily with the Fantastic Services Advent #ad

**Disclaimer: I have written this blog to advertise the Fantastic Services advent calendar as part of my brand ambassadorship. I am not being paid to write this piece, but my services are carried out by Fantastic in exchange for my honest reviews. Please click here for my full disclosure policy.**

If you like winning prizes, you’ll love the Fantastic Services Advent Calendar

Why should the kids have all the fun on the run up to Christmas? Every day between the first and twenty fourth of December, head over to Fantastic Services and click on the numbered door on the calendar, for your chance to win a prize. Best of luck!

Fantastic Services Advent

Oh Christmas tree

Fantastic have taken care of my family’s Christmas tree needs for two years in a row. I wrote an extensive review last year, but to summarise:

– Complete a simple online form, which will take you approx. 90 seconds
– Select which size real Christmas tree you would like (4 to 8 ft)
Fantastic Services advent– Fantastic will deliver your tree to your home (within the M25) on the day and time slot you choose
– Fantastic can decorate your tree, if you wish
– Fantastic can collect your tree during the first week of January for recycling, if you wish
– Click here for all the details

Let Fantastic take care of your Christmas pressies this year 

Anyone who read my piece on having a more eco Christmas knows how much I abhor pointless presents. Useful and/or meaningful gifts all the way here. And they don’t get much more useful than outsourcing your chores to Fantastic. I don’t know a single person who enjoys cleaning their house, or scrubbing their oven. Especially after entertaining over the festivities.

Fantastic are so more than just a team of cleaners though. They offer everything from house removals to furniture collections and assembly, to pest control, waste removal, handyman, gardening and so much more. You’d be hard pressed not to find something they could do in order to give your loved ones a break. I’m sure you would manage to put a smile on the grumpiest of grinches faces by giving them Fantastic gift vouchers on the 25th.

Exclusive discount and contact details 

Enter the code ‘MumTries’ for an exclusive discount, when making your booking with Fantastic. Please see below for their website and social media accounts:

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The Poverty Bandwagon

There’s a lot of noise being made about people jumping on the so-called poverty bandwagon. Apparently lots of highly successful, super affluent people had a tough start to life. Apparently they experienced poverty. Apparently they know the pain associated with the breadline. I say apparently because I am not them and cannot make comments on their lives. I can only talk about my own experiences and views on the world.

Poverty is no joke, and is all too real for too many. According to leading charities, 14 million people live in poverty in the UK. That’s approx. one in five of the population, which is made up of eight million working-age adults, four million children and two million pensioners. Eight million families living in poverty, where at least one person is in work. Think about that for one minute.

If you search #poverty on Instagram you’ll find over half a million posts. I honestly don’t have the words to articulate how I feel about this, but perhaps that’s part of the problem? Can everything in life really be summed up with a catchy, SEO optimised, Google friendly hashtag?

poverty bandwagon

Poverty and dysfunction don’t have to go hand in hand

I have spoken about my dysfunctional upbringing since my very first blog post on here in 2013. I never talk about my childhood to jump on the poverty bandwagon, or stay relevant. I talk about it because it still affects my day to day now. I do not know a single person, not one, who escaped a traumatic childhood without war wounds. How deep the scars run varies, but no-one gets away scot-free.

We can stick our broken pieces back together. We can have all the counselling in the world. We can write until we own the word catharsis. We can do everything in our power to break self-destructive behaviour cycles. Ultimately though, whether we like it or not, our past is a part of us. Making peace with it will help us heal, but it won’t erase the memories of it.

Dysfunction stems from not dealing with our demons and allowing them to overtake our lives. Dysfunction occurs regardless of the size of our bank accounts. None of us are immune to negative cycles turning into serious dysfunction. It’s up to us all to be self-aware enough to either stop things spiralling out of control, or admit when things have spiralled and seeking help.

Some of the kindest, most generous people I’ve had the privilege to know throughout the years have been dirt poor. Poverty doesn’t stop you from being a good, kind hearted person. Just as money doesn’t stop others from being mean spirited and unkind. We all have a moral compass and can choose to tune in or out to it.

Poverty certainly doesn’t stop us from being the best parents who ever walked the planet. Love is free of charge, after all.

poverty bandwagon

Lack of financial wellness

In April 2008 I had to declare bankruptcy. At the time it was a truly horrendous experience – degrading, humiliating and soul destroying. However, it forced me to take a long hard look at my relationship with money. Toxic doesn’t come close. No-one had ever taught me about financial wellness. I had zero idea of the impact on my mental health that being in debt from the day I could legally have a credit card would have.

Had I not gone bankrupt I might still have ridiculous and snobby views on buying things second hand. These days pretty much everything I buy comes from charity shops or selling sites. I’m not ashamed for my kids to wear clothes that have been kindly passed on to them, and they love knowing their friends wore it before them.

When I was a kid we had loan sharks who preyed on those with little cash to lend small amounts of money at extortionate rates. Nowadays they are on almost every high street in the form of pay day loans. I’ve often wondered how many are being kept in poverty because of them. That’s a whole other blog post though.

poverty bandwagon

Poverty is not glamorous 

Whilst I have never experienced living poverty as a parent, living through it as a child was very valid. Yes it was a different era, but no electricity or food in the cupboards on a regular basis was pretty tough going. Sleeping on floors at fifteen years old. Being exploited working underage. Having dirty old men ply me with booze and try to take advantage of me every week. Do I honestly think these things would have happened if I’d come from a “nice and wholesome” middle classed family? I doubt it very much indeed.

Right now, today, I live a comfortable life. I don’t have to stress about where my next £10 is coming from. Whose to say this will always be the case, though? I am all too aware that falling into poverty could happen to most of us. I’m not setting up a hashtag, or going on a crusade, but I will continue to donate to women’s refuges and food banks and hygiene banks. I’ll still take food to homeless people and carry on trying to help in any way I can. Be it spreading the word on social media about a crisis campaign or not buying Christmas presents and donating what I would have spent.

Great things can happen when people put their heads together

Scotland recently announced they would make sanitary products available for all students, let’s hope the rest of the UK follows suit. This incredible initiative would have never happened if girls and women had stayed silent about their situation, and carried on putting up and shutting up month after month.

There are success stories all over the internet. Of people who experienced temporary poverty and turned to their local community for support. When communities help their own, it builds lasting foundations. It helps get to the root cause of problems, so cycles can be broken.

There are some absolutely amazing people making noise for those less fortunate, in a non-patronising, non-IG filtered way. If you honestly want to help, start by opening your eyes, and taking a proper look. This A-Z guide of grass roots charities is a great place to start.

If you want to do something good, don’t jump on the poverty bandwagon with second hand stories and tenuous links. It pisses people off, and takes away from the truly needy. If everyone has had it “really really hard”, then how do we know who genuinely has?

**many thanks to Unsplash.com for the gorgeous, copyright free, free to download photos**

How to Have a More Eco Christmas this Year

**If you’re looking to have a more eco Christmas this year, you’ve come to the right place. This is not a sponsored post, but does contain links to other blogs I have written and sites you might find useful.

Calling time on pointless gifts to create a more eco Christmas

eco ChristmasI have always been a thoughtful gift giver. Plus I’m thrifty beyond belief, with a brilliant eye for bargains. I can walk out of a charity shop with a carrier bag chock full (of often brand new goodies!) for a tenner. It drives my husband mad, because on the rare occasion he ventures into one, he doesn’t find a thing.

I also love to make edible and drinkable gifts as well as natural toiletries. Over the years I’ve been known to dedicate entire weeks to the gift making cause.

These days, I don’t get nearly as much opportunity to source or make presents. Unless my heart has gone into it, giving gifts for the sake of it just feels meh. Don’t get me wrong, I still really enjoy putting together packages to send in the post. Spoiling friends, who are busy taking care of their own kids and are often forgotten about, is one of my favourite things to do. Obligation giving just does not sit right with me anymore though. Especially for children (more on that later).

Think of other ways to celebrate the countdown to Christmas 

Call me jaded, but this will be my tenth Christmas as a parent. My views have changed somewhat over the years, and I have come to absolutely abhor kids advent calendars. Along with elf on the shelf, Christmas Eve boxes and everything else that leads to over excitement central.

They caused my children nothing but abject misery, so we stopped trying to keep up with what everyone else was doing two years ago. Instead we did a kindness challenge countdown, which was hugely successful. Each day between the first and twenty fourth of December, my kids were given a task to promote kindness within the home. You can read about it here if you like.

Last year we had our biggest sort through of clothes and toys ever, and donated everything to a local centre who provide for women and children in refuges. This year we shall be putting together bags of hygiene products, for our local hygiene bank. Take a look at their campaign on Instagram for all the details.

Becoming more eco-minded isn’t just about Christmas

Eco ChristmasAs my kids get older, I want to steer them away from mountains of stuff twice a year. I want them to have memorable experiences, and fun days they can look back on. Also, I don’t want them to have unrealistic expectations. The idea that people automatically give us things, simply because it’s our birthday or Christmas is a concept mine find hard to understand. If someone isn’t in our lives on a day to day basis, they are in danger of being known as “such and such who sends us stuff.” Which is not good for anyone concerned.

The solution, and quickest way to be more eco (especially at Christmas time) is to opt out of consuming cheap products. Fast food, fast fashion, plastic crap the children get bored of after five minutes. Don’t even get me started on the disgustingly toxic paraben-loaded toiletry sets that are in every supermarket from the beginning of October. It’s all such bad news for the environment, and who really enjoys receiving these types of gifts? So let’s break this wasteful cycle. Giving pointless and unnecessary presents, purely because the calendar tells us to, has to stop.

Of course, there are some very lovely companies out there. Ones who consider the environment at every angle, and donate to many charities. Here are some of my faves: Librio, who make beautiful personalised kids books. Figtree Clothing, who promote a zero waste lifestyle, as well as selling stunning organic clothing and well sourced natural toiletries. Savon Stories, who hand make organic beauty products.

Try making your own gifts for a more eco Christmas  

Home made gifts really are the best. I get such pleasure from giving things I’ve created myself, and they are always appreciated and gratefully received. Over the years my nearest and dearest have been treated to delicious sweet treats such as truffles, brownies, energy balls and biscuits. Savoury delights including pickles, chutneys and infused oils. Face masks, body scrubs and lots of random bits and bobs I can’t even remember.

If you’re in the market for making, check out this Pinterest board, which is chock full of gift making inspiration.

You might also like my epic (or so I am told) choco-coffee liqueur…

Will you be trying to have a more eco Christmas this year? Remember small steps lead to big changes!  

Paradise Wildlife Park: A Brilliant UK Day Out for all the Family (Broxbourne, Hertfordshire) #ad

paradise wildlife parkIf you’re in the market to see animals of all shapes and sizes, I’m pretty sure you’ll love Paradise Wildlife Park.

I can see why it’s Europe’s leading zoo, because I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen so much variation under one roof. From reptiles to big cats, penguins to zebras and a life size dinosaur exhibition thrown in for good measure, you’d be hard pressed to not find something for everyone. All three of my children (aged 4-9) were suitably impressed, which is saying something in itself.

The park is huge and it was amazing to see how much space the animals have to roam around. My memories of the zoo from when I was a kid always include sad animals pacing their tiny cages. The animals at Paradise Wildlife Park are clearly being cared for well, and they certainly seemed to be content within their surroundings.

paradise wildlife parkThroughout the day there are feeds and talks you can participate in, to hear the keepers talk about specific animals. They also have daily shows in the jungle theatre. I really enjoyed hearing all about the cheetahs, although it’s sad to think that in this day and age people still kill big cats for their fur.

Did you know that there were over 100,000 cheetahs in 1900, compared to less than 10,000 now?

Did you know that unlike other big cats, cheetahs do not roar, they purr like house cats?

Did you know that cheetahs are the worlds fastest land animals? They can achieve their top speed in just three seconds!

paradise wildlife park

 

Our favourite bits 

There are over 800 exotic wild animals at Paradise Wildlife Park, including five species of big cats. We wanted to try and see everything, and arrived nice and early so we could fit loads in.

The big cats have such a presence, but they were also really chilled out, just loafing around. It’s like they’re looking directing at you, and I find it rather exhilarating being that close to nature. The white tiger was particularly awesome and so beautiful.

paradise wildlife park

The reptile house was fascinating, and I sat watching the alligator for about ten minutes – his graceful moves were so mesmerising. I couldn’t bring myself to look at the cockroaches, because I have a strange and unfounded phobia of them, which my kids all thought was hilarious. Clara was in awe of them because she thought they looked like giant woodlouse, one of her faves.

We love dinosaurs in my house, so the mini train taking us through the World of Dinosaurs was a real treat. There are thirty life size, moving and roaring dinos in the exhibition, which opened recently. They are incredibly well made and a few are a tad scary because of how huge they are, we really enjoyed it.

paradise wildlife park

It’s always a pleasure to see penguins strolling around, who can fail to smile at these little guys? The camels were intriguing creatures, although hold your nose because they’re rather pungent. The zebra was meandering freely in his stable, and we are still trying to work out whether they are white animals with black stripes or black animals with white stripes. Have you ever pondered this?

paradise wildlife park

 

After the children had exhausted themselves inside the park, we went to the outdoor playground for them to tackle the obstacle course. They then had about ten minutes at the soft play area before it was time to start heading off. They would have happily stayed for longer had we not been watching the time so we didn’t caught in rush hour. It was a truly fantastic day out, and I’d love to go back again sometime soon.

Facilities

There are tons of picnic benches dotted around, and lots of clean toilets (including plenty of baby changes and disabled loos). We took a picnic with us, but the food looked decent, and the cafes serve a wide variety of hot and cold drinks, snacks and meals. The park is buggy/wheelchair friendly, and all enclosures have viewing windows suitable for small children and those in wheelchairs.

We had a glorious day in the middle of summer, but there is also a huge indoor play area for not so great weather. They also have several other play areas, a giant paddling pool and adventure golf course to ensure everyone is kept busy.

You can book events and experiences, such as feeding big cats and shadowing the keepers. You can have champagne breakfasts at the park, barbecues, sleepovers and team building days with your colleagues. They also run volunteering days, and are a fully registered charity (see the video below for more details).

How to get to Paradise Wildlife Park 

Drivers will need to make their way to White Stubbs Lane, Broxbourne, EN10 7QA. There are several car parks, with capacity into the thousands, and apparently even on the busiest days there will always be room to park your car.

For the non-drivers among us (like my family), you’ll need to make your way to Broxbourne train station from London Liverpool Street, Hertford East or Cambridge or Tottenham Hale tube. Outside the station there is a phone number to call to request the Paradise Wildlife Park minibus collects you, to take you to the park. The journey time is around ten minutes and costs £3 an adult and £1 a child for a return ticket.

paradise wildlife park

I was so impressed by how quickly the driver arrived and the cost too, as it would have been three or four times the amount if we’d have taken taxis. The journey by public transport often puts me off going to places like this, as they can be monumentally difficult to get to unless you’re in a car. It’s nice to see non-drivers being so well catered for.

You will receive a small discount for buying your tickets in advance online, otherwise you can buy them on the day at the gate. Under two’s go free and other tickets range from £15.68 to £21. Annual passes start from just £5 a month.

For news and updates follow Paradise Wildlife Park across social media

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | Blog

paradise wildlife park

**Disclaimer: we were given our entry in exchange for this honest review – all thoughts and photos are my own. For my full disclosure policy, please click here.**

 

 

High Functioning Autism Through Polly’s Eyes

I wrote this piece because I wanted to try and convey what high functioning autism is like through Polly’s eyes. We sat together and read it, and I was fully expecting her to ask me to change some (most) of it. Instead she looked at me and said “mummy, I love it, it’s exactly how I feel.” Needless to say I ended up in floods of tears… 

My name is Polly, and I’m almost nine years old.

I look exactly the same as all the other kids my age, and I mostly act like them too.

I’m not the same though.

I have a neurological condition called high functioning autism. This means my brain is wired differently to most of the other kids I know.

through polly's eyesSometimes, when noises get too loud, inside my head starts to hurt. I know I should put on my noise cancelling headphones, but I don’t always like wearing them. If my sister is talking or singing in an annoying voice, it upsets me. I want to hit her and make her stop. Mummy says to use my words and ask her to stop instead of lashing out, but I can’t help it. My mind can’t think clearly when there is such a lot of noise going on.

Sometimes, if I’ve had a bad night’s sleep, and I’m feeling agitated, I pinch my brother. I know I should get my fiddle toys out or pinch a cushion instead, but it’s not the same. It feels nice when I pinch a person, but then I feel mean when he starts to cry.

Sometimes, when we’re eating, I take food off their plates. I know we’ve all got the same, but their food always looks better than mine, and it’s too tempting not to take it. This often leads to fights being started, but I can’t control myself. It feels unfair that they get the nicest food.

If we’re playing and they don’t listen to what I’m telling them to do, I get angry with my brother and sister. It’s annoying when they don’t follow my instructions. When they storm off to play by themselves without me, I scream “I hate you!” as loudly as I can. I don’t really hate them, but it makes me sad when they leave me out. Daddy says to jump on the trampoline and bounce away my anger instead.

Sometimes, I get cross with my brother and sister for no real reason. Mummy asks me what’s wrong, but I find it difficult to explain my feelings. When I see them playing together, and being happy, it can make me feel sad. “I wish I could be as happy as they are,” I tell mummy after I finish crying. If I’m in the right mood, I like it when she cuddles me because it helps to calm me down.

When I’m not in the mood for hugs they just annoy me even more. I get angry and start throwing things on the floor and screaming. I get so cross with mummy for not knowing that I don’t want her cuddles, and would rather watch my favourite TV shows. Next Step and Junior Bake Off always helps to calm me down, but I get sad when they end.

If I’m playing nicely with my brother, I get upset when he goes to our sister in the middle of our game. It makes me feel like he loves her more than he loves me, and I get angry and sad. I start lashing out, and then no-one wants to play with me anymore.

through polly's eyesWhen my brother and sister touch my special things, I get really mad at them. I don’t like it when my things have been moved around, and aren’t in the right order. I like to have everything in the same order, every day, otherwise it makes me feel muddled.

Sometimes I cry myself to sleep, because I know I’ve not been a good big sister. I try so hard, but some days nothing I do is good enough. Once I accidentally made a glass lamp drop onto my sister’s head, and she had to go to the hospital and have it glued back together. I felt horrible inside, and was worried that she wasn’t going to come home, like Grandpa didn’t.

It’s hard for me to be a good big sister. I want to be, and I am trying, but I don’t always do the right things.

Mummy says that my autism makes me a superhero. She says I have hidden powers that my friends don’t have. Such as remembering things like an elephant, and learning things really fast. Or when I walk into a room and work out what all the different smells are. Or how good I am at baking, even though I’m so young.

Mummy says that I’ve got deep feelings, we just need to think of better ways for me to show them.

So I’m making some promises to my family. I’m going to try and walk away if I know a fight is going to start, and keep my temper under control. If I do a quiet activity like colouring or playing LEGO before I’ve got too mad it’s much easier for me to calm down.

It’s hard to be a big sister when you’re autistic like I am, but I’m trying my best.

Mummy and daddy say that’s all any of us can do.

EDIT: October 2018, myself and the very talented Maddy Bennett are turning this blog post into a children’s picture book. Stay tuned for updates! 

 

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I promised something awesome for my #1000thpost and I hope I haven’t disappointed. A sneak peek inside the book my lovely and very talented friend @maddybennettcreative and I are working on. An adaptation of a blog post I wrote called “High Functioning Autism through Polly’s Eyes” Our aim is to help the siblings of our high functioning autistic kiddos, who just don’t understand why their brother or sister does the things they do. It’s not about shaming our kids, but empowering them. 💓 Polly is helping me fine tune the words, and Maddy is bringing the story to life with her amazing illustrations. We’re thinking of setting up a kick starter campaign and self-publishing old skool style (not through Amazon). Do you have any experience of doing this? Do you have kids who struggle with the unpredictable behaviour of their sibling on the spectrum? Would you buy the book?

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