Monday, 1 December 2014

Best before...

Amongst the junk brought back after clearing some of mum's hoard was a vast array of free toiletry and cosmetic samples. This list on the wikipedia entry for compulsive hoarding pretty much summed up mum's hoarding and the collecting of free samples looks like a common trait...

She was happy for me to take them because at least then they'd be getting used. But on closer inspection some of these samples were VERY old. We're talking pre-website-address on packs, brands that don't exist anymore (remember Organics shampoo?) or exist but under a different name...

From a time long ago when Cif was Ajax, Snickers were Marathons and Olay was Ulay.

I use the same method for checking that toiletries are good to use that I would with food: if it looks ok and smells ok then I will use it. Make-up (especially mascara) and medicines I use a lot more caution with, and anything used by the kids.

Does anyone really take notice of the icon on the back of the pack that says when it should be used by? For ages I wasn't even aware of the significance of the "open pot with a number on it" symbol. I know that there are bottles in the bathroom that pre-date the birth of E (and probably K).

According to the British Skin Foundation, the use by date on cosmetics is from when you open the product. So if it says 18 months on the box, it should last for 18 months from when you open it, provided it's been stored correctly. Many of these samples didn't have that symbol or any indication of when they were manufactured. If it's hermetically sealed in its foil sachet how long will it survive and what happens when it does go off?

So far, one pack was ripped open to reveal contents that had separated and resembled cottage cheese... nice. A couple haven't had the strong perfumed smell I'd expect so perhaps that's worn off over time. I even used the vintage Ulay – out of sheer morbid curiosity – and it was fine; my skin didn't burn/start itching/hair fall out. 

I reckon I have enough here to last me for a few months so I'm setting myself a challenge to not buy any new products until I've used up these first. But I'll be giving the foundation samples a miss. They turn me a worrying shade of orange even before they've gone out of date so I'm not taking any chances.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

A hoarder's daughter

I've made no secret of my mum's hoarding but what I haven't explained is how severe it is. Those hoarder next-door programmes you see on TV? It's that kind of bad. Bad enough that the council have stepped in and told her that they class it a fire & health hazard and she has to clear her hoard to meet their approval (this is the first of many grey areas - just what is their measure of tidiness?)

Their idea of 'helping' her is to send a team to clear the entire flat. This sent my mum into a panic: how would they know what is valuable and what isn't. And with hoarding only recently being recognised as a form of OCD, clearing the junk would not be addressing the source of the problem.

Frustratingly for mum, she knows that she has a problem and has even asked her GP for help but there seems to be a lack of support for this condition. Perhaps because not much is really known about it.

To appease the council I been going over to her flat at weekends to help her start sorting. It's a daunting task with every dimly-lit room being stacked high with boxes and bags all in a coating of cat hair and dust (with the occassional fossilised cat poo thrown into the mix). It's physically and emotionally draining for both of us but mum is being surprisingly cooperative about getting rid of things and we often unearth stuff from when my brother and I were kids that makes us laugh - there was a smirk on my face as I put a smeg-head badge into the box for him. Her goal - apart from being evicted by the council of course - is to get the flat in a state that she could have the grandchildren over, which would be brilliant for all of us.

I've found the most useful tip is to get stuff out the house immediately: rubbish bags and recycling straight out to the bins, old furniture/junk - that hopefully the council will remove - straight out into the back garden, and boxes for me, my brother or for charity into my car. We also give ourselves a little cheer whenever we clear a cardboard box and flatten it for recycling! Also some proper storage has helped; we replaced two knackered old chests of drawers with an Ikea unit that holds multiple boxes which is useful when you're trying to group similar things together as you're sorting.

A few finds...
The Dressmaker magazine 60s 70s
Matching family kaftans (Dad looking especially cool) in The Dressmaker Special

crap craft chicken egg holder
Angry bird... crap crafts started early for me. This was an Easter egg holder I made at school. I took a photo for posterity before it went to the big chicken coup in the sky aka the bin

Retro Global Hypercolor and folding sunglasses
 A hipsters dream: from the top... Global Hypercolor sunglasses (still work!), vintage 50s sunglasses and 80s folding sunglasses

A collection of 1980s Sainsbury's Mr Men yoghurt pots
 A collection of 1980s Sainsbury's Mr Men yoghurt pots

I've brought back three carloads of junk - enough for several car boot sales. All the things for charity needed sorting and cleaning/laundering first; and if I didn't do it quickly then I had two little helpers going through the boxes too. "What is this mummy?" said E clutching a Zippo lighter - eek!

Mum's now at the stage that she can get to the windows and see the beds again. Mr has been helping with the flatpack construction and putting up blinds for her (her cat likes to shred nets). She seems determined to carry on decluttering and is waiting to hear back from the council to see if what we've done is enough. I'll definitely have to go back and help more but I'm looking forward to a weekend off to just relax a bit.

Happy 5th birthday BEAR

Birthday bear with badges

Thank you to BEAR for sending us a surprise birthday kit to celebrate their 5th birthday. We had fun making our own bear badges and party blowers. They have a new campaign supporting the WWF (the animal charity, not spandexed wrestlers).

For every pack of limited edition WWF Paws sold (with the iconic Panda WWF logo on), BEAR will donate 5p - and 25p for multipacks - to help protect endangered bears and other wild species.

More information can be found on the BEAR website here.

bear birthday wrapping

Bear birthday package

bear save our paws

Disclosure: We were supplied some BEAR paws and craft kit, all words and opinions are my own.

Friday, 6 June 2014

DIY quick & easy cat crafts: t-shirt and mug

DIY cat stencil T-shirt
I was given back K's P.E. bag before the Easter Break for washing only to find that her T-shirt and shorts hadn't been worn at all; although they did now reek of rubbery shoes. I remembered K's teacher telling me that it took twice as long to get 30 5-year-olds changed into a P.E. kit than it did to actually do P.E., so it seems they just wear the plimsolls to save time (does anyone else call them pumps?! I used to when I was at school in the West Midlands).

The T-shirt came in a 2-pack so I had another pristine one at home - complete with name label neatly sewn in - that would never see the schoolyard. And for some reason I'd bought ones with puffy sleeves so I couldn't even pass them down to E, so it was time to give it a makeover for K.

It was this quilt on Pinterest that inspired me...
Cat quilt by Mer Mag
Cat quilt by Mer Mag - tutorial here

I love the simple shape and the contrast. For my T-shirt I decided to go for a quick sellotape mask rather than faffing with stencils and scapels.

Sellotape mask for quick T-shirt stencil

It took only a couple of minutes to mask out the shape freehand (it's easy to peel off the tape and reposition if you need to).

Sellotape guide for T-shirt cat stencil

I put card inside the shirt to stop the colour bleeding through to the back and then got out this ancient pot of fabric paint.

Very old Dylon fabric paint

It's so old it has an 081 London dialling code (a hotline to Annette Stevens for usage tips!), and the old factory is just up the road from me but has long been closed although it does still has the Dylon sign. But the fabric paint is still going strong so I painted it on - the kids gave me a hand - and then left to dry for a couple of hours, peeled off the tape and ironed to set.

Fabric painting DIY cat stencil t-shirt

You could mask off an area for eyes but I had a delve in my Nan's old button stash instead and found some round ones with a cool inner cats eye shape and sewed them on with green thread and at K's request added a little bow from a scrap of ribbon.

DIY kids cat stencil t-shirt
 It's nice to see it getting some wear instead of languishing in a drawer.

I also had a plain white mug bought with the sole intention of making one of those Sharpie mugs you see on Pinterest, so when I saw this I knew I should try it with a cat design...
DIY bunny ears mug via Mommo Design
Bunny mug via Mommo Design

I drew on the ears freehand, in hindsight it would have been smarter to pencil them on first, and drew a face on the bottom.

DIY cat ears mug

K added her name... and then to figure out how to set the ink. 

Cat ears DIY mug

This link to a '21 tips for DIY sharpie mugs' post had some very conflicting information about what type of pens to use and how to bake them in the oven. My plan was to put the mug in a cold oven, turn it up high and leave for an hour, then leave the mug in while the oven cooled down again. I did this while cooking something, to save energy, which meant the mug ended up splattered with food, not a good look, and then the design went and washed off with just a gentle handwash. Next time I'll buy a proper ceramic pen and not have to suffer the wails of a child that has just seen their artwork destroyed before their eyes!

DIY cat ears & face stencil mug
The one time the mug got used (by a very chicken-poxy girl) :)

Monday, 2 June 2014

In case of emergency: bake cake

Two things I'd forgotten to mention recently: E turned two, and my daughter is some kind of clairvoyant. She drew this picture of me about a week before I got chicken pox. In case you're wondering, yes my hair looks just like that in real life - like a bird has landed on me.

mummy with chicken pox spots

The two coincided meaning I guiltily had to cancel E's party; I didn't want to be responsible for another chicken pox party. I already had the second-hand garage to give him plus K had been bribed to graciously given up her outgrown Microscooter for E to have. With a really good scrub, the removal of all these elastic bands collected on the streets of London...

elastic band ball
 Thank you Royal Mail

... and a new pair of handlebar grips it looked pretty good even if he's still a bit small for it.

We knew the kids probably had the pox on the way too so they were also quarantined and after a week of us being stuck in the house I was close to losing my sanity and running out of ways to entertain them (Frozen for the 76th time?). On E's birthday Mr remembered the leftover tank of helium from our wedding and some balloons in the loft and that kept them happy for a while.

Blue balloon drawn on with marker
 Birthday boy
Blue balloon drawn on with marker & stickers
 Balloon drawings with stickers

If you are ever in need of an emergency cake like me then this chocolate sponge recipe is good. I chucked all the ingredients in a food processor, no sifting, no adding gradually and it turned out fine. Draw around your cake tin on paper as a guide, sketch a basic stencil then cut out with a craft knife...

Paper cake stencil - skull & crossbones

... and sprinkle icing sugar through a tea strainer or small sieve onto the cake and add sweets for any extra bits like eyes.

Pirate skull & crossbones stencil chocolate cake

The upside of having to cancel your child's party is that there's a larger proportion of cake to stuff in your face.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Treasure and tombola trash

Bad tombola prizes

One man's trash is another man's treasure hideous tombola prize

An extra benefit of being signed up to Freegle is that they email you a weekly events roundup which is how we found out about a May Charity Fair in nearby Beddington Park.

Having had two chicken pox ridden kids couped up in the house for a week (yes, I generously passed it on to both of them) this looked like the ideal day out - fresh air, fields, a playground, stalls and a church open-day with the promise of bric-a-brac.

We got there early, made a beeline for the cake stall and then had a browse around the stalls. Mr tried his luck on the tombola and found he had not one, but TWO winning tickets, woo! I hoped we would win the Lindt bunny glinting at the front, but no, it wasn't to be. Instead we were presented with a grimy, used CD holder and this abomination of a torsion pendulum clock. We didn't want to appear ungrateful (even if we were) so we took the items with a smile, that was probably more of a grimace, and hid them in the car.

For some unfathomable reason K has taken a shine to the clock. It's made of a plastic so lightweight you could knock it over by breathing too hard and has REAL plastic gems at the base which is what I imagine she is drawn to. I would have let her keep it - out of sight obviously - but then its alarm went off at 5am which I take as a sign that it must go. Then I found that E had pulled off one of the 'crystals' (doesn't he realise this is a precious timepiece?) and was chewing on it, so yes, it really must go.

At least the church made up for the tombola. Book stalls were set up in the pews and I got this Ladybird classic (look a magpie!) for 10p...

Ladybird book of garden birds

Ladybird book of garden birds - magpie

Now I just need some birds in the garden. We don't get any being tree poor and cat rich. We do manage a bit of twitching on the walk to school though.

I also got this 70s looking book with stories for all seasons for 20p...

Stories for all seasons bookStories for all seasons book spread

But my favourite find was this utilitarian looking milk jug with imperial measurements for 20p.

Vintage striped milk jug

Have you had any luck finding any second-hand stuff?

Lining up to Liz's Magpie Monday

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Vertbaudet review

This is the first time I've done a review where I didn't know what I was being sent. I bought K's bridesmaid dress (this one that I dyed for another wedding) and Christening dress from Vertbaudet - lured in by special offers and free gifts - so I knew that the quality was good.

I also hinted, quite heavily, that I'd love these Viking wellies for E, and that I try to avoid pink clothing for K...
Vetbaudet Viking wellies

It was very exciting opening our surprise parcel and, hurray, it contained the amazing wellies. I love the retro looking design; they may be listed under the 'boys' section but that didn't stop K from wanting them too. There was also lots of sunny yellow and stripes...

Vertbaudet Spring collection - yellow & stripes

K said that the raincoat was "the best thing ever" and wore it even though the sun was shining. Her friends ooed and ahhed over the pretty lining and buttons...

Yellow bird coat lining - Vertbaudet

The lack of rain also meant that I was told to fill a bucket so they could make puddles...

Vertbaudet clothes in action - yellow & stripes

The stripey dress (which helps support a children's vaccination programme set up by UNICEF) was a hit too and K wore it with leggings to a friend's monster party. E also looked good in stripes on a trip to the seaside (this was a welcome break between me having chicken pox and them having chicken pox). His sailor top does a good job of looking smart but being comfy. And coordinating with the deckchair.

We found the quality of the clothes was good but the sizes varied across the range. K is nearly 5 and the age 5 dress was big on her but the age 6 jeans and raincoat were a very snug fit. I'd suggest ordering the size you want and the one above to get the right fit - delivery is free over £60 and with free returns you can send back the ones you don't need.

The retail prices are higher than I'd usually pay (e.g. £38 for the raincoat, £18 for the wellies) but there are plenty of offer codes around plus you can get cashback through Quidco. If you sign up to Vertbaudet they'll send you discount codes as well as ones for some useful free gifts: we've had an adjustable sleeping bag, melamine dinner set and activity cube in the past.

Vertbaudet started in France over 40 years ago and has been in the UK as a catalogue shop since 1997 and more recently with an online store too. The benefit of shopping online is that there are exclusive products not in the catalogue and you can check availability instantly. You can find their website here.

Disclosure: I was sent clothing for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own and unbiased.


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