Too many Advent calendars?


Today sort of marks the beginning of Advent (well, actually it was yesterday as it starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas but I digress). My children awoke eagerly this morning to open their individual Advent Calendars which, of course, are filled with chocolates.

They have been very fortunate in receiving chocolate Advent Calendars every year from two grandparents. They also have this lovely wooden calendar that can be used every year. Each door has a small decoration behind it that can be hung on the tree:


But how many advent calendars do they need? In previous years I have spirited away the chocolate ones and used the contents for baking cakes and other treats. As the girls have grown older, though, they have wanted to keep onto the calendars and I began to think I was just being a misery in denying them a gift that had been given with love.

As time has gone by the wooden calendar has been used less and less and, instead, has taken up precious space in our house. As I am still on a de-cluttering/house selling mission I decided that the time had come to get rid of it. Over the course of last month I have, sort of, been following the Minimalism Game and have put some items up for sale on our local facebook ‘free, sell, swap site’. So I’m afraid the advent calendar has now gone on to a good home and I have also sold/donated other Christmas decorations that we don’t have room for (including three miniature Christmas trees). All the money that I have made from selling these items is going towards a family Christmas treat so that we can enjoy an ‘experience’, rather than just keep onto stuff.

And the girls also agreed to donate one chocolate advent calendar each to the local foodbank. It seems madness in a time when so many children are without that mine should have more advent calendars than they know what to do with.

Incidentally, if you’re looking for an alternative to advent calendars and chocolates have a look at this great post about advent activities from the brilliant blog: my make do and mend year.

Second-hand games for the summer

In my recent trips to charity shops I’ve been able to pick up a few second-hand games to keep the family occupied during the summer (and our holiday to Scotland). I bought a couple of packs of Top Trumps. I hope these will be of interest as we’ll be camping on the West Coast and islands where there should be plenty of marine life (although hopefully not sharks!):


I also picked up a times table card game and was delighted to come across this box of Jack Straws which I had played as a kid:


I so remember playing with the tools and even using them for my dolls. The girls had started playing the game as well although, like me, are finding they are very useful for their Barbies to play with! Funnily enough having bought this game I then found an identical box in a completely different charity shop!

Finally I found this magnetic version of Ludo which may be handy for our long car journey:


We’re now away for a couple of weeks so no blogging but will be back later in the month (hopefully with some more second-hand gems).

School’s Out: a quick post about cheap uniform


I had sort of thought about doing a post about second-hand school uniform at the end of the summer holidays (although my kids have yet to break up).

But last night necessitated an emergency trip to our second-hand clothing depot (otherwise known as our loft where hand-me-downs are stored) for a summer school dress. The dress was also too long so I finally learnt to sew an invisble hem stitch using the youtube tutorial below:

I was also interested to read about Aldi‘s new uniform pack for £4 which goes on sale from this Thursday. The bundle features 2 polo shirts, trousers/skirt and jumper for primary school aged children. There’s an interesting article about this offer and a breakdown of costs in the Guardian here. Suffice to say the article draws two conclusions: either Aldi is taking a loss here in order to entice people into its stores (there has already been lots of media coverage) or the workers in Bangladesh are being paid 7p per sweatshirt (which retails at £1.25).

Having three children at school I do find it hard to meet the cost of buying school uniform and can see why the £4 offer would be appealing. In the past when we have bought shoes from Clarks I have paid nearly £100 in one trip! My eldest is now at Secondary School where we seem to be more tied to a specialist unform shop which is pricier. Since starting last September the PE kit has changed and the school is now proposing a brand new uniform for 2015 which means I can make little use of the second-hand supply which will soon be obsolete.

With my younger two girls I have relied on hand-me-downs from friends (hence the endless supply in our loft) which has worked well. With regards to manufacturers both the second-hand – and occasional first-hand – unform comes from a wide range of shops. I’m still doing well out of Adams and Ladybird clothing (remember those labels?), but have found that M&S clothing is not well-made. When I occasionally buy first hand I’ve found John Lewis lasts well. For me, spending slightly more on an item of clothing that will last for three children is more economical. Plus I’m assuming (rightly or wrongly) that a higher price means a better wage for a worker.

If this is a topic of interest to you don’t forget to watch BBC 2’s documentary, ‘Clothes to Die For’ tonight (Mon) at 9pm



Clothing clear out


Without any nagging my girls have decided to clear out their wardrobe and drawers and donate a lot of their clothes to charity. They have recently received two separate bags of clothing from different friends. We are very limited on space (one wardrobe for the five of us, a drawer for each of the younger girls’ clothes plus separate smaller drawer for underwear and pjs) so it really does have to be a ‘one in, one out’ rule.

Usually I get hold of the clothes before the children get home so that I can cull the donation before it enters the house (sorting out those outfits that are too big, or we have too many of already). But these bags arrived during the holidays and were welcomed with squeals of delight as they spent a couple of hours trying on new outfits. But in return they decided to make space for these new garments by getting rid of those clothes they no longer need. We now have two large bags to donate to the cothing bank at the girls’ school. (The clothing bank is very useful when I have to get ride of clothes now and don’t have the time or transport to take to a charity shop, or the patience and success with selling on ebay or facebook sites).


Upcycling childrens’ jeans

You may remember a little while ago I posted here about buying very cheap jeans from Primark. The jeans were for my little girls who had recently outgrown their other pairs. After the Primark post I tried to ease my green conscience a little by patching some existing jeans of mine. I was also determined to do something with the girls’ old jeans.

With summer around the corner I thought it would be perfect to upcycle the old jeans and turn them into shorts. But I wanted to do something more than just cut them off and leave them with frayed edges. After a quick search through my upcycling board on pinterest I came across some very cute fabric cuffed shorts. Again I followed the tutorial below from tlc inspirations (I find their youtube videos really useful – I posted here about following one to mend my jeans):


Bearing in mind I have a very old sewing machine and have very limited sewing skills I was able to refashion two pairs of shorts in just one morning. I used some old scraps of fabric to add the cuffs. This week has seen really warm weather and so it was great for the girls to come home from school and change into their new shorts:



Mending jeans

I blogged here about my recent visit to Primark to buy (very) cheap jeans for my girls. Since then I have been thinking about how I can avoid ‘fast fashion’, ie buying things that are quickly thrown away because of quality or trend. Okay, so the latter probably applies less to me at the age of 42 but I know there’s something I can do about not throwing things away because they are broken or torn. As you may know I help to run a bi-monthly Repair Cafe but I also have a sewing machine and access to the internet so I should learn to mend more myself.

The £5 jeans got me thinking that I could really learn to mend these myself. I originally bought the jeans for my 7 and 5 year olds because the older one was already wearing a second-hand pair that had gone in the knees, and the younger one had grown out of her M&S pair. Despite replacing them with inferior (and thinner) trousers from Primark I have kept onto the old jeans and plan to make shorts out of them for the summer. I have also used fabric from them to MEND my tattered jeans which have long needed either repairing or replacing.

After the obligatory search on pinterest I came across this really useful youtube tutorial from tlc inspirations:

I basically cut material from one of the girls’ pair of jeans and pinned it onto the inside out leg of one of my jeans. I then turned the trouser leg the right way and, with some effort, slid it onto my sewing machine. I then used a simple zigzag stich to secure the fabric in place and hey presto:


from this….



….to this

okay so it may not be the best fix but I did it and I can’t tell you how empowered I feel about it. I love these jeans and couldn’t bear the thought of parting from them, or having to scour the shops to find a new (or new to me) pair. I’m also now armed with the ‘skills’ to mend another pair, or repair the Primark jeans when they inevitably go, as well as some fun ideas to turn old pairs into fun shorts for the summer.

Second-hand crafting with the Scrapstore


Yesterday we paid a return visit to the fantastic Wiltshire Scrapstore. I had previously posted here about a trip to Barty’s, the Scrapstore shop in the beautiful village of Lacock. This time we ventured to the Scrapstore’s HQ and warehouse on a small industrial estate outside the village.

Once inside the warehouse you can pick up a carrier bag, or larger bin bag, and cram it full with all sorts of donated scrap: yogurt pots, egg boxes, paper, ribbon, foam, card, bottle tops and much more. All the materials are donated by businesses, and with some of them it can be hard to figure out the original purpose. For example one of the most popular items seem to be these sticky foam circles:


They are brilliant for craft making with kids. Just peel off the sticky cover and you can stick as much stuff on as you want. In the past the girls have turned them into birds’ nests, spiders and these:


I have no idea what they were originally intended for, but am grateful to whichever business donated them and avoided them being sent to landfill. I also picked up these large cardboard shapes (I think they’re meant to be folded to make boxes?). I thought they would be great to turn into Spring flowers, or maybe little chicks with beaks?


At the end of our visit we had a carrier bag crammed with goodies which came to a grand total of £3!


I also picked up some of these pre-cut themed sets as an alternative to Easter eggs for my nephews and nieces:


What I love about the Scrapstore is that it closes the loop: waste products no longer required by businesses are turned into craft supplies. I know that personally my children (and myself!) have spent many happy hours using our imagination to turn this scrap into some great craft.


Re-using old Christmas cards and a sneak peak at the Christmas cardi

I can’t put it off any longer: the Christmas edition of the Radio Times has come to an end, I’ve gone back to work and school starts next week. Christmas is officially over. Today is the start of taking down decorations and sorting through piles to be kept, recycled and re-used. With this in mind my girls very kindly helped me with an age old tradition of my childhood: turning old Christmas cards into present labels for next year.

Having taken down all the Christmas cards it was a good opportunity to read through some of the nice messages and to remember friends who had sent them:


We then carefully cut off the front of the cards:


And then punched a hole in the corner for the ribbon:


The finished label to be used for next Christmas:


We also saved a few larger cards to turn into home-made threading cards:

The girls very kindly took this photo of me hard at work, and surrounded by the mess that is currently our lounge. You will see that I am wearing my brand new (to me) Christmas cardigan which they bought for me in Bath from the Yellow Shop:


Second-Hand Birthday Party??

During the holidays my youngest daughter had her 5th birthday party. She chose a Beach Theme and with some ‘pinspiration’ and  some good old charity shop shopping we were able to make it happen.

I picked up four Hawaiin garlands (or Lei as I learnt) from the Oxfam shop. The party girl and sisters wore these to greet guests who then worked at our kitchen table to make their own garlands, or fish themed clothes pegs. We were very lucky that the day before the Year 6 Leavers’ Play had used a handmade Palm Tree as part of their scenery. I was able to borrow this huge tree (not pictured) and place it outside our house so that there would be no mistake as to where the party was at. Guests were also encouraged to come wearing beach clothes and sunglasses to add to theme. Party games included Pin the Tail on the Mermaid and Musical Beach Towels, as well as a bunch of five year olds trying to do the limbo!!

I  had  also had another flash of charity shop inspiration in the PDSA shop. Their summer window display consisted of about eight plastic spades (all donated) on a bed of sand. So I asked the puzzled shop assistant if I could buy all the spades and used them as the main component of the party gift. I added some sweets and cellophane wrapper ( not so green I know), added a luggage label as a thank you and we handed them out at the end of the party. Thankfully the spades didn’t look too tatty and I hope they got lots of use during the summer holidays that followed.

Holiday reading

It is less than one month before we go on our BIG holiday, camping in the South of France. We are travelling by train all the way which I am very excited about. We will be limited by space as we will be carrying rucksacks (adults) and small backpacks (children) but I still want to pick up a few things for the girls to read and do on the journey (we have already had the i-pad debate and agreed to leave it at home HURRAY!). I am very resistent to buying comics for the girls for the holiday as a) they have loads of unread ones already and b) I hate the plastic tat that is attached to them (I once had a holiday job sticking this plastic tat to comics and got paid a measly piece rate for it). Instead I am looking out for second hand books which are cheaper and less throwaway. So far I have collected:

IMG_8349holiday-themed reading books for two of the girls by their favourite authors.

IMG_8350These workbooks look slightly worthy but I know middle daughter will really enjoy working on them.

Although I have just dissed children’s comics one of the few I make the exception for is the ‘Jacqueline Wilson’ magazine which eldest gets on subscription and really enjoys reading. It does come with stickers/book/pens attached to the front but this ‘tat’ is slightly more worthwhile than the cheap, moulded plastic that is on a lot of the kids’ comics.


I was also fortunate enough to come across a pristine second-hand copy of Jacqueline Wilson’s autobiography, ‘Jacky Daydream’, which eldest has now read cover to cover:

Not bad for £1.29 from local charity shop!

Not bad for £1.29 from local charity shop!

Now that she has read it we might re-donate it to a charity shop and maybe some other child will pick it up for her holiday reading!.What do you do with books you have picked up from charity shops once you have read them? Do you keep them or pass them on?