Stuck on You- Organised for September

**Updated Blog Post- 26th August 2011**

The kids have barely broken up for the school summer holidays but like many mums I've been busy preparing for the return to school in September. I have to start early, I learned this from experience when my daughter (my eldest) started school nursery and I didn't see the point of buying her uniform so early when there was a chance she'd outgrow it before September, so I held back then there was nothing left in the shops in her size when September rolled around!

These days I'm not a rookie! Organised mums get the uniform in July but buy the next size up, so even if they do have a growth spurt, it still fits. I have already got the kids their school shoes for September- I needed to do this early as *the* shop to go to doesn't get many in each size and will sell out quite quickly. So you could say my radar is up for anything the kids might need for September, and I'm getting it sorted now.

This year is particularly special, and requires more organising as my youngest is now at the age where he finished nursery and starts reception class. September will be his first time where he stays at school all day, and as he will be the youngest in his year, I feel I have a lot of preparation to do to get him up to speed. I've started to really encourage his independence in most of the things he does. So he already gets dressed by himself, but now he also puts on his shoes solo. He already gets himself a biscuit when I say it is ok but now he takes off the wrapper by himself and puts it in the bin too. Wherever there is an opportunity that I can let him be self reliant, I do and even though it's always quicker if I just do it for him, I'm holding back and letting him find his own way.

My daughter is 8 now and even though she is fully independent in terms of getting dressed- she needs some fine tuning too! She likes to borrow my things and so now I'm starting to feel like I don't have a baby on my hip anymore - they are both more independent, so I'm feeling like I want to have some things just of my own again- and not share! It's my turn to not want to share! The main thing she borrows is my hairbrush and all my hair accessories. I bought her some headbands of her own so she doesn't need to take my more expensive, Accessorize bejewelled satin headband, but she still uses my brush each day.

I went to a blogging conference recently- CyberMummy 2011, and in our event goody bags there was an offer from a company called Stuck on You. They make personalised items for kids and also those clothes lables that we all need when we buy in a load of new uniform, and I was able to get some free samples. So this made my 'organising side' very happy and I saw an opportunity to once and for all- get my daughter to use her own hairbrush!

I ordered a personalised hairbrush for her with her name on and a picture of a cupcake, and for my son I ordered a blue duffle bag with his name on- especially for putting his gym kit into when school starts in September. When this package arrived I was SOOOO excited! It felt like a gift for me, because when they have nice bags to put their things in, they are more likely to use them and I end up not stressing about them leaving it hung on their bedroom door - they actually want to carry it!

The blue duffle bag for my son is absolutely gorgeous! It is really good quality and is fully lined and even has a little zipped pocket inside which will be handy for when he takes his weekly 'baking money' into school. We got the picture of a campervan on the front and this has my sons name printed on it so its a real 'surfer dude' style bag which suits my son to the ground! I liked the fact that it was a big size, so it will easily take his gym kit for now but when he is old enough to join the local rugby team as his dad hopes to take him to, the bag is easily big enough for a rugby kit and studded boots to go inside too.

My daughter's hairbrush was excellent quality. It is a really solid feeling, thick wood. I know that sounds daft but what I mean is that it was substantial- not 'cheap'. The wood is painted pink and the name and a cupcake are printed on in white. The bristles are a thick plastic with bobbles on the the end, and when you pull them through your hair, it can cope with thick, coarse hair (which I have) rather than some brushes which are pathetic at getting out tangles in thick hair! Any girls hair type would be ok with this brush - and at least now my daughter won't feel the need to steal my own hairbrush. I like to know where it is and its never where I left it when she has used it!

The last thing I ordered from Stuck on You to get organised for school were some name labels for the uniform. I got two types - the stick on type and the iron on type. Apparently the stick ons are best for things that won't have as much 'wear' like the inside of school shoes (at the side) or inside a gym bag for example. The iron ons are designed for the items that you will wash, wear and iron frequently. However out of the two, I have to say I preferred the stick ons. They were easy to peel, easy to apply and seem to be welded on! I can't see those stickers coming loose at all and reassuringly, the Stuck on You swing ticket that came on the duffle bag has the tagline "Labels that stay stuck!" I liked this confidence - it made me more confident.

The iron on labels were really difficult to get off the sheet and I ended up having to get my scissors to crowbar the label from the sheet (which ended up damaging the label) then when I tried to iron it, it did not stick at all. I wonder if this was because I did have such trouble getting the sticker off the sheet - maybe I pulled off 'too much' of the backing and the adhesive bit that bonds to the fabric is still within the bit I pulled off? I'm going to have another go with it and see if I can make it work, but it wasn't easy to do so be sure to have plenty of time for the task when you start to label the school clothes

**Updated section!**
I was in contact with the Stuck On You people after I had this experience with the lables and they kindly offered to re-produce my iron on lables. They asked me if it was ALL the lables on the sheet that were difficult to remove and it was. They told me that it rarely happens that labels would arrive to the customer in this fashion, so I waited for the new sheet to make a new judgement on them.

It was a completely different experience when I got the new sheet of labels. Each label came off really easily and as I followed the step by step instructions on the packet, I got the outcome I was expecting! I am convinced now that I did just have a faulty sheet of lables the first time around. So if this happens to you, don't hesitate to contact the guys at Stuck on You as they are really helpful and will replace any faulty sheets (although they said this almost never happens, so it's likely you won't have this!)

Because it was so easy to do, I decided to label up my son's whole school uniform rather than a few key pieces, and I have some tips that might come in useful to you:

If you are ironing onto a crew neck jumper or into skirt or trousers with an elasticated waistband and therefore the neck or waist opening is quite small, rather than struggle to get your big iron into the opening, simply turn the garment inside out and apply the lable. Trust me, I did a couple the 'hard way' before figuring this out!!

Also, be sure to keep the iron still as you press the label on. By the time I'd done 4 or 5 pieces, I was getting confident and started concentrating less. Then I found myself wiggling the iron around on the garment like I normally would in 'traditional' ironing and it made my label wiggly! The name on it is a bit skew-wiff, but you can still read it. However for perfect neat labels- keep the iron still!!

All in all I thought the personalised gifts and school products from Stuck on You were excellent and I would definitely buy from them in the future. They have a Facebook page where you can find exclusive special offers and it can be found here.


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Does My Blog Look Big in This?

These days, not only do we have to think about how our clothes look on us, how well turned out our children are and how smart our homes look, having an online presence means that we have to pay attention to how eye catching and interesting our blogs look too!

I've got some improvements planned for this blog and my other websites to start in September, as I will have more time to work on them once my kids are back at school, but planning these improvements has made me think - what do our blogs say about us?

I think my bright pink leopard print background with the 'bling' stars shows my fun, colourful side, but you may think it means I'm like Pat Butcher from EastEnders, or that I have a 'Big Fat Gypsy Blog'. I've decided to tone that down a bit going forward - it was my first bespoke blog design and I wanted to throw ALL my ideas at it! I think I have got it out of my system a bit now!

I've got some thoughts on what I will do but I wanted to throw this question out to the blogosphere- what do you like to see in a blog design? Is it simple clean lines or do you like a bit of jazzy, busy, flashing carnival style fun?! Drop me a comment below...

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To Reveal - or Not To Reveal...

Sometimes the hardest thing about blogging is knowing what to write. I don't mean running out of things to say, but mostly that there is too much to say - it's tricky to find a place to start!

I will often go through the day and something will happen and I think what a great blog post it would make but then I have to really decide whether I want to share that story with the world or not, and decide what to keep private. My husband made me laugh today- he said something in a funny way and it would have made an entertaining story for the blog but then I don't want to share my marriage with anyone who happens to click on my website, some things are for just between two people.

My theory is that I only type up stories that I wouldn't mind if someone overheard me telling a friend. I don't mind sharing some of my thoughts with you when I'm working out how I feel about something - and to be honest, some of the best blog posts I've read are when the author has bared their soul a little, and written out what is going on in their head. I feel I 'know' them a bit better for having read about their day or what their dilemma is, but I won't share certain private things that give too much of us away. Close relationships are there to be protected and nurtured.

What's your blogging philosophy? To reveal or not to reveal? Drop me a comment below.

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News Just Announced!

I'm pleased to announce that I've been chosen for the Butlins Mum Ambassador Programme for 2011 - 2012.



This means that I will take two family breaks courtesy of Butlins to report on what I think and blog about the results! The blogs will be posted to this blog and I'll also Tweet about the breaks on Twitter!

You see- it's worth having someone in a green dinosaur suit scare you half to death at the recent CyberMummy conference! Ludo (the Butlins dinosaur) took a shine to me!!

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A Review in the Life of a Blogger

As a blogger I often get asked to review products and talk about them on my blog and recently I've had a couple of interesting ones!

A company called Kidz 5 a Day wanted me to try their chocolate flavored organic superfood that gives kids all their 5 a day in a chocoganic shake! (their words!) I haven't done many food reviews on my blog, but this particular one inspired me as I have a son who loves chocolate but won't go near fruit or veg so I do worry that he isn't getting all the nutrients he should (although he's a robust little thing and has plenty of energy!) I have tried to disguise veg in his food or tell him that Buzz Lightyear eats fruit but nothing works! I wanted to try the shake on him to see if I could get his 5 a day into him -and actually have him enjoy it! My daughter is a brilliant healthy eater but I still wanted to try it on her as a tester- I reckon if she doesn't like it then it really is wrank and I'll have no chance wth my son!

The other product I was sent was a body lotion from Jergens. I always need lotion for my gym bag as I get really dry legs, and I've used all kinds in the past. Some creams like Nivea have been hard to rub in and absorb, whereas others like an Yves Rocher one I used recently gave me a tingly feeling on my legs which was a bit odd. It was a cellulite cream that my mother had given me (cheers mum!) but still an unexpected sensation!

This one was light and easily absorbed and has a lovely fresh cucumber smell. I've never tried a Jergens product before but I'd definitely buy this in the shops. The tube I have is now safely in my gym kit for after my next spinning class when my tired legs will need some refreshing!

...and as for the Kidz 5 A Day shake? The kids weren't keen to be honest. I was quite disappointed about that as I like what it promises, but if they won't drink it then it's a no-go. The website says that it contains wheatgrass and I know myself that this is a taste that you have to get used to first, so I will keep trying to get them to use it but first impressions weren't good. On a better note, I drank it myself and it tasted fine but kids will be kids!

If you want to try the Kidz 5 a Day yourself, you can get a free sample at this link (just pay £4.95 P&P)

http://healthy.kidz5aday.com/11/indexd.php


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Video Blogging Tips from a Vlogger!

Here is a video I recently recorded to give some tips for fellow video bloggers! From how to get the right camera angle to how you sound on camera, this is what I've learned...
(This is just too annoying! To see the video scroll down to the very bottom of this blog and it is down there- I am investigating why it does this when I post a video!)



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A Fun and Sparkling Night!

We have a tradition in our house of a weekly family movie night. I go through the Sky menu at the start of a week to see what films are on during the week and record anything we haven't seen. I currently have Scooby Doo, Karate Kid and Bandslam lined up on the planner for when we are in the mood - all kid friendly and enough variety that we can watch what we are in the mood for on any day. It's great when you can be organised like this, because some great films are shown at odd times like 11am on a Tuesday morning - seriously, who watches movies at 11am on a Tuesday morning!! But I collect them all up for our Friday night when we can snuggle down on the sofa to watch.

Over the past few weeks we've had a bit of an animal theme- recent films have been Marley and Me, Hotel for Dogs and Hachi, but I think the kids are sick of fluffy dog films now so this week I think we will watch a bit of karate chopping and high kicking with Jaden Smith.

Our movie night last Friday was a bit different though, as Ben Shaws- the drinks company, sent me 4 crates of soft drink to enjoy at our movie night, because it is celebrating 140 years in business! Not only that- the kids wanted to play on the Wii and have friends over last week, so our movie night turned into a gaming and fizz night. The kids dug out some marshmellows that we had in the cupboard and we all rocked out to 'Just Dance 2'! Actually I didn't rock out- I tried to follow the moves on the screen but I'm much better freestyling it, so I supplied the cream soda and cloudy lemonade instead!

My favourite of the drinks was Dandelion and Burdock- I used to love this as a kid. We also got some Bitter Shandy which I remember having one year with my schoolfriend Victoria backstage at a school show. We ended up hiccuping then we saw that it said 'made with real beer' on the can! I'm not sure if they still do make it with real beer, or if I can just hold my drink better(!) but it brought back memories!!

If you want a bit of nostalgia, and a taste of that favourite cream soda, Ben Shaws are having birthday celebrations at the Eccleston County Fair from 16th to 17th July and also at the Southport Air Show from 23-24 July. Learn more at www.benshawsdrinks.co.uk

Having a weekly family movie night is a great way to keep strong bonds with the kids and ensure that ewveryone stays close. With our busy lives these days it's easy to lose traditions like eating round the table as a family or doing a regular activity together but our movie night is one tradition that is staying!

I also want to thank Ben Shaws for sending us the free sodas and the balloons and badges for your 140 year celebrations. I'm still kicking balloons out of the way in my living room where the kids have left them!!

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PR Vs Advertising

Once again, sex explains everything...including the differences between
direct marketing, advertising and PR.
You go to a party and you see a SEXY guy across the room. You go up to him
and say "Hi, I'm great in bed, what about it?"... That's direct marketing.

You go to a party and you see a SEXY guy across the room. You give your
friend ten dollars. She goes up and says "Hi, my friend over there is great
in bed, what about it?"... That's advertising.

You go to a party, you see a SEXY guy across the room. He comes over and
says, "Hi, I hear you're great in bed, what about it?"...That is the power
of PR.

I used to love this explanation in my PR days! I found it recently and thought it would make a fun blog post!

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Review: Bonusprint Photo Book



**This is a Product Review Post**

Product Name: Photo Book by Bonusprint
Buy Online Here: http://www.bonusprint.co.uk
Price: £19.99
Star Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

The blurb:
"Design your own photo books; new range and more intuitive software, easy to use features, best customer care and 100% satisfaction". I went for the Square Photobook – size L worth £19.99 which has a minimum of 24 pages and comes in a 21 x 21 cm size.

From the website, you can either download the software to make your book or do it online. I went for the online version as I didn't want to download software to my pc but it did appear slow to load. Maybe if you do the download things go a bit quicker?


Initial Thoughts: My thoughts of the actual book are that it is a very good quality on nice thick paper. I think that anyone would be thrilled to get this as a present, and it would make an especially nice present for the bride to have a book containing all her wild hen night photos! I chose to do a book containing mainly family photos of the kids and it makes a nice momento.
You do have options to go for 'add ons' like 'extra glossy paper' which costs a further £4.80, and to have a name on the front cover costs a bit more, but I didn't ask for any extras and the book I did get is lovely as it is.
However my thoughts on the process you need to go through to actually get the book are outlined below and unfortunately they aren't as positive which is why I could only score this product half marks.

What I Liked: When I tried to upload a photo that was a bit blurry, it asked me 'am I sure?' as it might reduce the quality of the book. This was good- checking in. I was bulk uploading pictures so I'd missed the blurred one and I was able to decide that I didn't want the inferior quality picture to be part of my book. I also liked that I could choose what order the pictures were displayed in and what colour the page around the picture should be! This meant that you could tell a story if you liked- rather than the book just being a collection of photos. I did a few pages where the pictures displayed were actually taken in sequence so I can see how the day turned out, in a photographic way! But you don't have to order the pictures yourself. If you are happy to have a collection of photographs then the software will put the pictures into the book for you to save time.


I wasn't Keen: Whilst I was creating the book the Adobe Flash Plugin crashed and I had to send a crash report. Then I 'autofilled' my book to try to save time, but I didn't have enough pictures to fill the book so I went to go back and add more but then I couldn't save what I'd done to that point, so I had to upload all the pictures again which took another half an hour out of my life. I didn't realise at first that I had not chosen enough photos to go into the book so this process turned out to be a bit of a hassle.

Once I'd got the book design completed, there was a delay in processing my order because the software was still uploading pictures to the BonusPrint server, in the background. It's good that the website will still allow you to carry on working whilst the background stuff is being done- like uploading the large photo files, but it did make me gasp a bit when I saw the progress message that informed me that two photos were still uploading. The estimated time to completion? 1193046 hours, 28 mins, 14 seconds! I'm not sure I have this much time left to live! Wowsers- I couldn't even compute that figure. But fortunately it didn't take that long- probably another 10 minutes or so to finish the uploads and then my book could be ordered.

Overall: The service crashed six times in total whilst I was tring to get a photo book. This includes one time when I ordered the book and the order process was 93% complete! I'd felt that I was almost at the finish line only to have to try my purchase again. It was frustrating. If I'd been a paying customer for this book and not getting a free review copy then I would have given up with the purchase at the first crash to be honest as it took too much time to deal with the Bonusprint website. The book itself - its great. The actual process you go through to get the book - its not. Bonusprint really need to see how this could be made easier and if it is third party software that causes this for example, then I think there should be a 'before you start' box on the site to tell you what the required version of Adobe or whatever the package is that you need, in order to get the best experience from this site.

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