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Posted by Mama Max - - 1 comments

I live in a house of 3 boys (four if you count long-suffering Him Indoors).  There are many upsides of being surrounded by all this masculinity and I love being a Mum of boys... however, one of the things that has been slowly building ever since my youngest two (recently turned 4-years old twins, the Shouty One & Chubby Cheeks One) potty trained last year is my realization that boys stink.  There is no ignoring the fact.  They pong and I'm not just talking about the whiffy socks and smelly toes that goes along with their age & gender!  

Those of you with a delicate constitution may wish to stop reading now, because I am referring to the rather gruesome reality that is their bathroom.  I have an ongoing daily battle with our downstairs bathroom (the one the boys use most frequently) which invariably stinks like a bus depot in the early hours of a Saturday morning.  I clean that toilet and floor daily with a bathroom cleaner and bleach.  I've bought extra mats so that these get changed out daily too.  And yet, the malodorous stench is only temporarily held at bay.

It was really getting me down.  Even to the point where I would beseech my newly independent little men to go back to sitting down for a pee, just to minimize the hose pipe effect (not that this made much difference)!  My husband even worried that we had a leak around the base of the toilet until I explained to him that the recurrent puddles on the floor were simply the result of the boys' bad aim.  Sigh.

Renton in the worst toilet in Scotland - from the film Trainspotting.

Whilst we weren't quite ready to accept the title of 'Worst toilet in Texas' à la the film Trainspotting I needed to sort the situation out.  The real problem was that the smell was deep into the porous surfaces in the bathroom... the grout around the tiles and the sealant at the base of the toilet bowl.  So all the surface scrubbing and cleaning wasn't getting rid of the miasma!

The solution was easier than I anticipated.  Pet stain & odor remover.  Simple.

We sadly don't have pets at the moment as the mobile expat lifestyle isn't very easy for them, but several years ago we had a very elderly cat called Tabitha who came to spend her golden years living with us when my in-laws emigrated. Such a sweet little thing, but at the ripe old age of 21 she started to lose control of her bodily functions (sad, but it happens to the best of us). I therefore became very familiar with certain pet cleaning products... and while I would hesitate before calling my kiddos little animals, how different could it be?

I sprayed the solution (containing enzymes that actually consume the odor-causing bacteria) around the base of the toilet, onto the grout around the floor tiles, along the baseboards, and even on the wipe clean paintwork (you can even use it on carpets and upholstery).  Allowed it to do it's magic for a few minutes and then wiped it up.  Easy and perfect.  Even days later, the lingering trace of urine that had plagued our bathroom has gone, leaving it fresh smelling and far more pleasant to use!

It hasn't cured my boys' lack of aim or stopped me having to clean up their messes EVERY SINGLE day, but it has got rid of the embarrassing whiff that had me cringing every time a visitor used our bathroom!

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Posted by Mama Max - - 0 comments

I was totally inspired by a pin on Pinterest showing a handy way to de-mystify the tangle of cables at the back of your furniture! We've all been in that situation where you've accidentally unplugged the alarm clock instead of the lamp, only to have to reset the time (grrrr!). Well, the easy fix for this issue is to label your cables, and the humble bread tag is the perfect recycled solution! Simply write the name of the appliance on the bread tag and slip it over the cable near the plug end. Perfect.

With this brilliantly simple solution in mind, I have been collecting bread (and potato bag) tags for a while, even designating a container in my newly organised kitchen cupboards for this purpose. But ever since this small, but handy, piece of plastic has registered on my radar I have been coming up with other uses for them. Check them out:

A cheap and simple wine glass tag... keep track of your drink when entertaining!

A key tag so you can identify & label all those random little keys in the drawer!

A perfect sized pan-scraper that won't damage your non-stick surfaces and will get in all the nooks and crannies unlike a normal scourer!

It would be brilliant to hear of some other ideas on ways to recycle these ingenious little thingamajigs, so leave a comment below if you have one to share!
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Posted by Mama Max - - 0 comments

We have a very practical, but not very pretty plastic picnic bench in our garden. Living in hurricane prone Texas, I wanted a cheap and cheerful garden set that was durable and low maintenance, but that could also be stored indoors at very short notice in case of an impending storm (hey, we don't have a pool to chuck them in like other locals do!)... better that, than having table sized shrapnel blown into the house! Our picnic bench is sturdy, functional but not in the slightest bit stylish. And I have tried covering it in tablecloths but then you always have the issue of where to stick the umbrella!!

But I found the perfect, low cost and (dare I say it?) stylish solution... plus it literally only takes 5 minutes and no sewing! I'd seen tablecloths for sale designed specifically for picnic tables, with elaborate zipper or velcro openings (from the center to the edge of the cloth)... but in considering the dilemma, I figured all you would need is a way to neatly create an edge to a hole big enough for the umbrella pole to slide through. Bias binding would work, but would be fiddly and time consuming. And then... the perfect solution popped into my head! Curtain grommets or eyelets!!!!

You will need:

  • A tablecloth that fits your table... this could be made from any material, including wipe clean oilcloths!
  • Scissors
  • A pen or dressmakers chalk
  • A curtain grommet with an internal diameter wide enough to fit your pole... mine measured 1-9/16" across and said it would fit curtain rails up to 1-3/8" and it worked brilliantly!

Firstly, work out where the center of your tablecloth is and mark it with the pen or chalk. Cut a circle out that is slightly smaller than the internal diameter of the grommet (your grommet may even come with a template!).

Line up the male and female sides of the grommet on either side of the fabric.

Clip the two sides of the grommet together to conceal the cut edges of the hole in the fabric. Iron if needed et voila!

So this is the before...

And this is the after!

Much nicer!!!!
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Posted by Mama Max - - 2 comments

Silent Sunday

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Posted by Mama Max - - 17 comments

My twin sons turned 4 last week, and I decided to throw them a party that would appeal to them, their friends, and their big brother too! I settled on a Knights & Princesses theme as both the Shouty One & the Chubby Cheeks one are very keen on playing castles & knights. I also thought this theme lent itself to a 'joint' party for twins! I simply asked the boys to choose a colour for their arms... so the Shouty One became the Red Knight & his brother the Blue Knight! Furthermore, the theme could include other medieval characters for those children who'd prefer to be a Princess or Wizard!

Setting the scene
We are very fortunate to have a large backyard with room for the kids to play, so despite the high heat & humidity here in Texas, I thought it would be fun to create a medieval castle and jousting pavilion for the kids to party in!  This sounds far harder than it really is!  I simply recycled cardboard boxes (I was also generously given a large sheet of cardboard by the warehouse people at a local store... it's worth asking) and cut them into the shape of castle walls with battlements.  I did contemplate painting the cardboard to resemble stone walls, but struck gold with this fab roll of wall decor used to create a castle effect for parties indoors.  It is 30' long and 4' wide and was ample to cover the castle I made.  I simply stuck it on the cardboard before cutting out my panels.  I created the effect of windows by sticking on short strips of black duct tape.  A few medieval shields cut-outs stuck on and some pennant flags and the castle was complete.  To assemble in the garden, I used garden canes taped onto the panels and pushed into the lawn for stability.

To create a medieval jousting pavilion, or tent, I simply added some decorations to an existing garden canopy/gazebo that we have.  I used sticky tape to attach alternating sheets of red & blue paper (just normal letter sized craft paper) to the inside edge of the canopy... this resembled the pelmets on a knight's pavilion tent at a medieval joust.  I then taped lengths of coordinating ribbon to each of the corners.

I put the kids' party table under this pavilion and simply used paper tablecloths to cover it.

Party food
The party was a mid-afternoon occasion and so I provided a light buffet of finger food that would appeal to kids & adults alike.  I kept to known crowd-pleasers rather than trying to recreate a medieval feast (no roasted peacock washed down with mead!)... so provided finger sandwiches, homemade scotch eggs (a favourite with the grown ups), cocktail sausages, fruit & veggies, chips & dips & goldfish crackers.  However, I was delighted to stumble across these delicious Pepperidge Farm Chessman shortbread cookies in my local store, which coordinated perfectly with the theme!

I also created medieval looking serving platters from over-sized, rectangular 'gold' paper plates, adorned with adhesive-backed craft gems.  These were only on the serving trays (not the kids' plates... for which I used plain gold paper plates) and I ensured that caution was exercised when allowing the children to help themselves to food... the jumbo gems, while fairly obvious, could potentially pose a choking hazard with smaller children.

I created a dressing up station for the children to select their chosen themed costume at the start of the party.
I spotted a great tutorial for making simple knights' tabbards from felt on pinterest and made up a selection of red & blue tabbards for the kids to choose from.  I also made some very simple princess capes, also from felt, that could be selected as an alternative.  I bought some brilliant party hats by Meri Meri to finish off the outfits.  These are designed as party hats, rather than costume hats, so they are quite small, but I thought they looked adorable set at a jaunty angle!

To complete their outfits, the children could choose to decorate a knights' shield or princess wand.  I bought craft kits for this activity and they were a huge success.

No party is complete without some traditional party games... so we had two!  A round of the British favourite, pass-the-parcel, and a more locally-inspired pinata!  I bought a dragon shaped pinata that I then slightly adapted from the traditional design (where you hit it with a stick until it bursts... not such a great prospect with a lot of 3 and 4 year olds) into a pull string one.  See this tutorial here.  I filled the pinata with candy (obviously!) but also with some themed mini toys... plastic rings and little knights action figures.

The favourite party game (by far) was throwing wet sponges at the 'naughty' Daddies in the stocks!  I used some of the cardboard off-cuts from my castle to create a set of medieval stocks that I taped onto a hanging basket stand in our garden.  I simply painted wood-grain effect with brown poster paint, added a sign saying "Ye Olde Stocks", glued on some aluminum foil studs and cut out holes for head & hands. The kids LOVED throwing wet sponges at the Dads!  Lots of fun!

The Cake, treats & goody bags!

I have made forays into the world of cake pops before and considered making some for the party.  However, I was totally inspired when I spotted some JUMBO marshmallows in the supermarket... I've blogged before about "cheats'" cake pops that don't actually use cake at all!  They were the perfect shape for some Knight's Helmet pops... and because the marshmallow is lighter and fluffier than cake the larger size still worked!  I simply pushed the marshmallow onto the lollipop stick with a small amount of melted candy to secure (as you would when making cake pops).  Then I dipped them into some melted gray candy (I achieved this by mixing white and black Wilton Candy Melts), and while still wet I attached an oval shaped cut out of gray-tinted fondant icing.  I used silver dragees to be the bolts on either side of the 'visor' (attached with a tiny amount of melted candy) and then used a black candy writer pen to draw vertical lines on the visor for the grille.  The final touch was to attach a real craft feather (obviously not to be eaten) to the top, again while the candy was still wet.  Once dry, I printed and cut out some paper shields, used a hole punch to make small holes top & bottom and then slid the shield onto the lollipop stick.  A final dusting with some silver Wilton's Color Dust and they looked fabulous!  Furthermore, they tasted absolutely divine as you would expect with marshmallows & chocolate... a match made in heaven!

For the boys' cakes, I went down the tried and tested route I have used (and blogged about) before.  I made a cake and covered it in plain white fondant icing before 'painting' it with edible colors.  I made two castles for the boys to stay with the Knights theme.  I simply baked a square cake (using my very reliable and delicious chocolate vegan cake recipe), cut the corners off slightly and then covered it in fondant.  For the towers, I used empty toilet paper rolls, covered in foil and then a thin layer of fondant icing.  I attached these to the cake by slightly wetting the fondant and pressing them against the cake.  Once set, I painted the cake. For more details on using this technique click here.  Once the 'paint' was dry, I created a moat & drawbridge  on the cake board by sprinkling colored sugar (just add a few drops of food coloring to sugar, stir and allow to dry) onto some melted chocolate that I had thinly brushed onto the board.  I added a row of chocolate chips for the river bank, and a small square of fondant (painted brown) for the drawbridge.  The finishing touch for the castle turrets was to stick on some ice cream waffle cones (with a little black frosting).  The candles were attached to the cones with toothpicks and some melted chocolate.

As you can see below, the boys were delighted with their cakes!!

Finally, for goody bags that the children could take home along with their costumes and pinata spoils, I filled some very cute plastic medieval goblets with a few more treats.  The cups were quite small, but I managed to fit in a couple of themed finger puppets, a packet of gummy bears and a few lollipops.  A clear cello treat bag, tied with some gift ribbon at the top finished them off!

I hope you've found some inspiration & thanks for taking the time to visit my blog!

For the Kids Friday
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Posted by Mama Max - - 0 comments

I am pretty confident that most people reading this post have a junk drawer in their kitchen. I have no idea how or why this happens, but in every house I have ever lived in this seems to be the case. In my case, it had recently expanded to junk drawer AND cupboard, and it was getting to the point where stuff would disappear into this bermuda triangle-esque mess never to be seen again! So, utilising one of my delicious child-free mornings (courtesy of the new school semester), I decided that enough was enough... the junk drawer/cupboard was going to be tamed!  This is the result...

I have periodically attempted this feat over the years, but it has only ever been a temporary decluttering solution, so I decided to be a bit more methodical this time by completing an audit of what actually ends up in the mess! The list was very long (and sometimes random), but I was able to categorise some of items:

- Stationery items - sticky tape, paper clips, glue sticks, elastic bands, scissors, pencils, erasers, pens, stapler, pencil sharpener, post-it notes, ruler, adhesive labels, reward stickers etc....
- D.I.Y. items - screwdrivers, hex keys, picture hooks, super glue, tape measure, felt furniture pads, adhesive hooks, pen knife, etc...
- Medications - headache tablets, bandaids, antiseptic cream, antihistamine cream, thermometer, children's pain reliever, arnica cream, sore throat lozenges, hand cream, lip balm etc...
- Books - recipes books, address book, bird field guide, etc...
- Transitory stuff the needs to find a home - Bits of broken toys/found parts awaiting reuniting with the rest, unopened mail, kids' artwork, photos, mementoes I want to keep....!
- Batteries
- Sunglasses
- Phone chargers etc...
- Box tops, Labels for Education, etc...
- Spare change
- Bread tags (I told you some of it was random)
- Garage door openers & spare keys
- Postage stamps
- Check book
- Business cards
- Takeaway menus
- Coupons
- Scraps of paper with important notes

I then measured the dimensions of the space available in the drawer and cupboard.  Armed with this information and the audit information (particularly the categories) I went shopping for solutions!

The Drawer

It is much harder to lose items and get in a muddle when you have dividers in your drawer.  Just consider your cutlery drawer... knives, forks & spoons all have a home and rarely get in a state!  So I figured that a drawer divider with small compartments would help keep the junk in order.  The reason for choosing a divider with small compartments is based on the audit above.  A lot of the items I found in my audit were small and easily lost.  The bigger items, especially paper items, such as menus, mail and kid's artwork deserved better homes than being stuffed in a drawer and so by only having small compartments in the drawer it means that they can't fit in even if you were tempted!!  I made this mistake before by putting a filing tray in a drawer... it just got filled with junk!
I bought mine in target for under $10, but there are some brilliant designs around that even expand to fit your drawer exactly to prevent bits from getting lost down the side!

I put small frequently used stationery items, such as paperclips, sticky tape & post-it notes in the divided drawer compartments.  Plus things like my check book and garage door opener that I need ready access to. You can also utilize small containers with lids to store items - I used a small plastic container to keep all my batteries together.

The Cupboard
Above my now orderly drawer is a cupboard which was also in need of some serious organisation.  Firstly, to keep the scraps of paper, menus, photos, lists, etc... I needed a display solution.  However, in wanting to keep the kitchen streamlined, I wanted to keep it hidden from view for the general public!  My solution came via Pinterest and it was one I had earmarked for this purpose... cork boards inside the cupboard door!!!!  I bought some plain 12" square cork tiles and used some 3M removeable adhesive strips to attach them to the inside of the doors.  Perfect!  I then use pins to attach business cards, important notes etc... I also keep a small sandwich bag pinned to the board to collect Box Tops & Labels for Education for the kids' school.  I've pinned a binder (bulldog) clip to the board to collate and store takeaway menus.  And finally, I've glued a hook to the board to hang scissors so they are easily to hand but well out of the reach of little people!!!

Inside the cupboard itself, I needed to streamline the storage of items that were less frequently needed.  For this purpose, I found a brilliant Sterilite plastic drawer unit in Target for under $10.  The drawers pull completely out which means you can put it up high and just pull the tray out when you need to find something.  It's approximately 9"x9"x9" so fitted in perfectly in one of the cupboard shelves.  I used the drawers to store: stationery (such as a pack of pencils, permanent markers etc..), glues & fixtures (picture hooks, super glue, felt furniture pads etc...) and tools (screwdrivers, hex keys, etc..).  I also raided the dollar section of my local Target and came up with some small bins and a plastic basket.  The basket I used to create storage for all the medicines and first aid items I needed close to hand... again, handy to keep out of the reach of small people.  The small bins I labelled to store the small random pieces that tend to accumulate over time... for me, it's pieces of toys that either need to be reunited with their set or need gluing/repairing.  I also have a bit of a thing for collecting bread tags... handy little things (I will blog more another day)!!!

Then, once the books are lined up neatly, an old mug/jar repurposed for spare change, a pot found for pens and a filing tray set up for kids' artwork that I want to file & keep... and the cupboard is done!

Several weeks on and this system is working unbelievably well!  In fact, it has turned into a mini desk area.  I invested in a charger unit to keep all the phone chargers organised and neatly out of the way, and with all the space created, there was even room for my notebook computer to be set up waiting in the cupboard!

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