Order in chaos, chaos in order (sponsored post)

Meal planning – what could go wrong?

Parenting is a juggling act, a feat of will, an endless battle to get organised, a desperation to minimise risk and a constant quest for peace of mind.

I’ve become so much more organised since becoming a parent. Before kids, I lived for my work and worried little about other practicalities. Now I’m a lean, mean, planning machine. Oh yes.

We have home insurance, health insurance, life insurance and all manner of cover. We have multiple bank accounts, emergency childcare details and back-up email accounts. We have plug guards and cupboard locks and emergency numbers pinned by the fridge. We have bath routines and weekly meal plans, craft boxes and cookbooks. The furniture is practical with rounded corners and the surfaces are always being wiped.

Except…the toy box is full of pans and spoons from the kitchen cupboards. The meal plan now says, ‘cake and pizza’ in a childish scrawl. The pile of household paperwork is balanced precariously on the hall phone table, mixed in with out-of-date flyers from school bags and junk mail retrieved from the doormat. The surfaces may be wiped, but they’re rarely free of crumbs and sticky, felt tip tinged hand prints.

Oh yes, I’m a lean, mean, organised machine. There is order in our chaos, and chaos in our order. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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How to Save for a Rainy Day (sponsored guest post)

We’re all looking for a great deal on just about everything. What we save here, we can spend there. I adore the internet. Fingertip shopping allows you to compare prices, read product reviews, and find the best overall deal for your money.

Food

Find manufacturer coupons online for household staples like bread, cereal, and peanut butter. Many companies provide cents-off coupons to get you to try out their products. Others issue savings certificates for tried-and-true items that are persistently on your shopping list. Sign up for email updates and get printable coupons sent right to your inbox. Some manufacturers even mail out free samples for exciting new products to try out.

Mortgage

Compare your home mortgage interest rate to the advertised rates of other loan providers. Chances are other banks are offering a lower percentage than you currently have, especially if you’ve been in your home for a number of years. Your current lender may even have lower rates than the 30-year fixed loan you locked into when you first provided your signature. Now is a great time to refinance and to push your monthly payments down. Refinancing typically requires appraisal of your home in its current condition and closing costs. If you can’t afford these expenses upfront, many loan companies will roll the cost into the loan.

Utilities

Try new light bulbs, the standard incandescent bulbs that were popular for more than a century are no longer in vogue. Today’s most energy efficient homes have done away with these bulbs and replaced them with CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lamp) lighting. You’ve seen them in the store, they’re squiggly-shaped. Just a few years ago, these bulbs were relatively expensive. Now, however, CFLs are inexpensive and the savings they offer your household are outstanding, and will stick you with a much lower energy bill.

Clothing

Keep in mind a new top or a fashionable pair of shoes doesn’t mean you need to squander your cash. Like I suggested, the internet is the perfect marketplace for comparison shopping and for saving. You can browse your favorite stores online and sign up for emails to get coupon codes and more (maybe a Backcountry coupon code, for example).

The cost of living needn’t damper your financial forecast. You can be frugal, but still get the things you really want. A quick online search makes everything at the ready so you’re equipped with money-saving tools. The internet makes it possible to do your financial homework to help you cut costs on just about everything. You’ll be able to save up for small purchases now and major items in the future, regardless of what the weather calls for.

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UK Holiday How-To: What’s The Best Kind of Break To Take With Your Kids? (sponsored guest post)

Image © A Mummy Too

Whether it’s a half-term week or a seemingly endless seasonal break, the school holidays can be a tricky and tiring time. With the Easter holidays not far off, pressure to organise activities with the kids is undoubtedly mounting. Families remaining in the UK may be wondering which stay-cation is the best kind for those travelling with children, so we’ve taken a little time to weigh up the pros and cons of a few popular options.

Visit The Seaside

Ice cream, donkey rides and paddling by the seashore – breaks by the seaside are a truly classic kind of British holiday.  Head to Brighton for the pebble beaches and head spinning rides on the pier, or to Bournemouth, famed for its warm microclimate and many miles of golden sand. Beaches are a great place for lively activities and relaxed ones alike: hunt for fossils or fly a kite, or (if you’re lucky) do some sunbathing and gently play in the sand.

That said, keep an eye on the weather. An entire day at the beach in unfavourable or chilly conditions is fun for no one, so contingency plans are a must. Another issue to contend with is the crowds. Driving in circles in search of a parking space – only to then discover that there’s no room on the beach – isn’t the best way to spend quality time with the family. Try to find secluded coves or go on cliff-side walks if you’re keen to avoid the masses.

Visit The Countryside

A holiday in the country can be a real breath of fresh air, particularly for city-dwellers who can look forward to life at an entirely different pace during their break. As well as giving the whole family a welcome break from TV and console screens, you can use the opportunity to get back to nature and enjoy the refreshing sights and sounds of the great British outdoors.

However, the change from a faster-paced lifestyle can often mean boredom for kids, so while you might be looking forward to relaxing, it’s important to have things to do scheduled, too. Be wary of camping – it’s all very well planning outdoor rambles, but if the weather isn’t on your side you may end up with grumpy and fun-starved little ones. Extra difficulties can be raised if you set up camp miles away from the nearest amenities. Instead, try combining countryside with convenience and staying at a holiday cottage, farm or Center Parcs village. Center Parcs is a particularly good choice for those looking for activities to keep them busy, with a wide selection of outdoor and indoor pursuits on offer and many of these suitable for all ages.

Visit The City

There’s a huge advantage for those holidaying with kids in taking a city break – namely, just how many attractions there are. Shopping centres, museums, cinemas, playgrounds and restaurants abound. UK breaks in smaller cities such as York or Oxford make great choices for those visiting as a family, as they offer enough to see and do to keep everyone entertained, but are just small and quaint enough to not feel intimidating. York is great for educational activities, such as following the beautiful ancient city walls or visiting the Jorvik Viking Centre. Oxford is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic, or hire a boat and do some lazy punting down the river. (Harry Potter fans will be enthused to learn that they can also join in with Potter-themed tours, and explore local areas where film scenes were shot.)

Nonetheless, city breaks can cause problems for families. While there may be many family-friendly attractions to amuse yourselves with, these will undoubtedly be very busy, and particularly so during holiday seasons. Always remember to think about your movements in advance (and take into account the extra time you might need to travel here and there, as the cities themselves will be more crowded). Always be careful of ‘overdoing it’; little legs can get tired, and trying to cram too many activities into a single day, including the time it takes to travel between them, will mean none of them are enjoyed at all.

What are your favourite destinations for a family holiday, and how do you overcome the challenges of travelling with kids?

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How to start dating again after divorce (sponsored guest post)

Divorce rates today are high, leaving many men and women having to negotiate single life after many years of being with someone else. After a large portion of time spent in a relationship, putting yourself back out there might seem a scary prospect. While things may have changed on the dating scene since you were younger, there are plenty of people in the same position also looking for love.

Although finding a partner through online dating websites such as eHarmony UK is becoming increasingly popular, there are still some amazing places to meet new people in London, or to wow your partner on the all important first date.

Here are some dos and don’ts for how to start dating again after divorce.

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/akahige/435441561/

Do… develop a support group

It’s a good idea to turn to old friends for support after divorce as they will know you better than anyone else. However, making new friends is essential to making a recovery after divorce as they will be less likely to take sides or feel uncomfortable about your newfound singledom. Finding new friends who are also single will help give you the confidence to get back out there and start meeting people again.

Don’t… listen to bad advice

You’ll likely have plenty of friends or acquaintances who will be ready to jump in with advice as soon as you let them. Make sure that you use your discretion in who you listen to, as  what might be solutions for friends may be a disaster for you. Be open-minded, but don’t feel you have to listen to everybody.

Do… examine what went wrong

It might be painful to look back over your past relationship, but it’ll help to set you up properly for the future. If you didn’t feel confident in your last relationship, you’ll want to make sure the pattern is not repeated. Try to improve your self-esteem by valuing yourself and spending time with others who value you too.

Don’t… live in the past

Examining your past relationships will help you move on, but don’t get too hung up on mistakes which may have been made. Concentrate on getting out there and planning new activities for yourself. Being single needn’t mean your life is on hold – try something new instead of sitting with your problems. You never know who you might meet.

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/lightthroughmylense/6470067149/

Do… take a chance

Online dating can help you meet a huge variety of potential matches and give you a chance to find a new love quickly. Many people use dating websites after divorce to help them find a new partner who shares their interests and understands their situation.

After a divorce, feelings of loneliness or disappointment are common and it’s important not to let these feelings spoil the chance of finding new love. Many people find their perfect partner dating after divorce and you’ll have plenty of chances to find yours.

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Time to think about February half term break ideas (sponsored post)

Image © A Mummy Too

Now that Christmas is over and we’re at the beginning of a new year, it’s hard to say goodbye to holiday fun and go back to old routine of work and school. Like many families, we love adventuring, so our thoughts have already turned to the February half term.

What sort of family breaks take your fancy?

Hit the coast?

Yes, it’ll be cold in February, but there are still some beautiful beaches up and down the UK that are fun to visit all year round. Fossil hunting, kite flying, the local marine centre. Ooh I can almost smell the sea air.

Escape to the country?

Since having kids, I’ve really warmed to quiet breaks in a cosy cottage in the countryside. A few years ago we went and stayed near Thirsk and explored James Herriot country – lovely.

If you’re looking for a bit of inspiration, Scottish-cottages.co.uk have a great selection of luxury cottages online.

I really like the idea of staying near the beautiful Loch Lomond and exploring Trossachs National Park. How about you? Here are some of the cottages available over half term.

Visit the big smoke?

I lived and worked in London for years and a little piece of my heart it still there. If you fancy taking a break in the city next half term, Time Out London has extensive listings for pretty much everything happening in London. Take a look – you sure to find loads of ideas to keep the family busy.

Jet off to warmer climbs?

We’re generally happy in the UK all year round, but if the summer seems too far away, perhaps you’re planning to take a break abroad.

Overseas breaks can be pricy in school holidays, so it makes sense to book early and use comparison sites to find the very best deal.

So that’s a few ideas, but there are loads of others I could list – walking holidays, theme parks, boating holidays…the list is endless so, what will you do?

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