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Spring drives with Emma around Northern Ireland

One more day and it will be spring, how very exciting!

Well, in the calendar, that is, at least, so this is a good time to start pondering on day trips we would be able to take now that the weather is a bit warmer.

Chill.ie have challenged me to come up with a list of #hiddendrives within Northern Ireland and although I’m not sure the things I have in mind are very secretive, they are still worth a visit at this time of the year.

We are members of the National Trust and a trip to Mount Stewart in spring is as close as you can come to heaven! The drive to Mount Stewart, located on the shores of Strangford Lough in County Down, takes only 30 minutes from Belfast and it is a lovely journey. Following a three year £8 million restoration programme, this 19th- century house has been significantly transformed, making it a must-see attraction on the island of Ireland.
In 2017, Mount Stewart will unveil the newly restored Central Hall floor and stunning Rome bedroom. There will be opportunities to see collections of international and national significance and one of the most significant silver displays in the Trust’s care. Exquisite family collections will be on show including works by Lawrence, Brock and Stubbs. Visitors will have the opportunity to explore this wonderful home at their leisure or by guided tour to learn more about the Londonderry family and the important role they played in local and international history.

This coming weekend Mount Stewart will celebrate the World Book Day and it will also see the official opening of The Magic Ink Pot play park so if you’re like us, fed up of being cooped up indoors, do use the opportunity and come out for some fun and exercise!

Another drive both Emma and I really enjoy is the Antrim Coast.

We live very close to Whitehead so it is really within our reach and the lighthouse walk is invigorating and offers some stunning views on a sunny day.

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Something I’d really love doing, once it opens again for the season, is The Gobbins cliff path walk. It is a bit steeper that the Whitehead one and consequently, only opened for grown ups. Again, it is really close to where we live and it is something I think I will enjoy with a friend.

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But the ultimate drive for this spring will be going to visit the North Coast and places we haven’t seen yet! We are both familiar with the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge and again, as members of the National Trust, we will be able to visit them at any point we desire but we haven’t yet visited the Dark Hedges and I do think Emma would enjoy a visit there this year. Visiting the North Coast requires a day trip and if you have the time, possibly an overnight stay, as there is so much to see and do!

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What are your plans for this spring? And what would you like to visit with your little ones?

Disclosure: I was compensated for my time in putting together this post but all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

#KnowYourMoney

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I have been a single mum for four months now and I’ve learned more about how to manage my money in this time than I had in the 10 years I was married.

Being responsible for our budget, expenditure and savings was a very scary thing when I started at the end of October last year but slowly yet surely, I’m getting the hang of this, I think.

The first thing I did was keep a very close eye on our bills and reduce them whenever possible. I changed my mobile phone provider and the gas provider as soon as we moved in as I found better deals with competitors. This resulted in a saving of over £20 per month, with very little effort.

Keeping a close eye meant also eliminating unnecessary direct debits. In October we still had both Netflix and Now TV billed to my account but upon realising that we rarely used the Now TV I decided to cancel our monthly subscription, saving another £10 per month!

I decided to keep my Amazon Prime subscription and bought an Amazon Fire TV stick, as I deemed the £39.99 investment worth the money long term. My judgement proved right as the Amazon Fire stick comes not only with a host of movies and series to watch but also with a Netflix account usage option, making our evenings in the house much more entertaining! Emma has numerous series saved as her favourite on Netflix which means she rarely runs out of options and is never bored when home. I also can relax in the evenings with a good movie when she is in bed, and all at no additional cost!

I then turned my attention to our food bill. I love variety in our diet and we consume loads of veggies and fruit on a weekly basis so I took to shopping in Lidl for those. When it comes to meat, I kept an eye on deals at the meat counters and also hunted for yellow stickers in supermarkets. I buy our canned and dry goods in Home Bargains, as their prices are the best and usually their products are great quality.  This strategy has been working like a charm, our freezer is always bursting with good quality meat which has been purchased at great prices and our food bill rarely goes over £40 per week now.

When it comes to clothing, I have been an expert at shopping in sales for years now and that hasn’t changed. This year, I scoured the internet for good deals for Emma and ended up bagging a lot of great items for her next season’s wardrobe from shops like Joules and Boden. For myself, I am still enjoying a very generous discount with Joules as a blogger so all my tops get bought from there now. My jeans and the rest of my wardrobe come from Primark or H&M, as they are usually cheap and can be replaced seasonally without great expense.

The scariest part has been thinking of savings and finding a way to save money for holidays in the summer. I have decided to set up an account for Emma and start depositing her child benefit in there every month. I realised that by saving the £82 per month religiously will create by the time she is 18 a golden egg of more than £10,000 (!!!) which she’ll be able to use to get herself a wee car or start her student life quite comfortably.

This year, we’ll most likely holiday with family in Romania or France, Emma is quite excited about seeing her grandfather as she hasn’t been there since she was 2! Going home for our holidays and staying with either my parents or my brother will mean saving on accommodation and food bills but I do hope in a few years’ time Emma and myself will have a proper holiday together.

 Swiftmoney.com have invited bloggers to share their money knowledge and expertise with their readers as part of their #KnowYourMoney campaign. What are your own tips and experience, would you mind sharing with my readers?

Disclaimer: This post was written in collaboration with Swift Money and I have been compensated for taking the time to put it together.

Parenting Super Powers

I have been invited by npower(@npowerHQ) to write about my own parenting super powers in view of their new #familysuperpowers campaign that’s being promoted at the moment.

As a recently “knighted” single mum, my super powers have to cover a huge variety of needs: from being Emma’s protector and provider to being her playmate, role model and educator. From being her nurse when she is ill to being her encourager when she feels down.

But the thing is my super powers find their strength in the very person I am meant to “prove” myself to. Emma motivates me every single day to be the best mummy and super woman I can be.

We have learned a lot about each other in the past three months. We have become thicker than thieves, as they say, and we have continuously drawn strength from each other’s beauty of soul and resilience.

We have had some terrible lows but the highs are the things we cherish and will always remember.

We have grown together, in our grief journey, on our life journey.

If you are looking for a practical example, it will have to be the fact that we have gone abseiling together while on a retreat with Cancer Fund for Children last summer.

I am not good with heights but I didn’t want Emma to learn to fear the same thing.

So, when presented with the occasion, I did put my superwoman cape on and under the admiring gaze of my little girl, I climbed and then, with eyes closed, launched myself down, trusting only a flimsy rope.

Did I enjoy it? Nope, not at all. My knees and hands hurt afterwards and my legs were like jelly. But I did it because I want Emma to grow knowing that fear is there to be defeated, not there to defeat us.

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I watched my beautiful girl follow my example and there and then, I knew that I am raising a super girl! I knew the strength it takes to climb that wall and more importantly, defeat those fears, and I saw it in her and couldn’t have been prouder!

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npower is inviting every super parent in the land to share a video or image of her or his parenting super powers with at familysuperpowers.com for a chance to win one of three UK theme park resort breaks.

Watch Peter and Emily Andre’s super power video for ideas for your own clip:

I am a member of the Mumsnet Bloggers Panel, a group of parent bloggers who have volunteered to review products, services, events and brands for Mumsnet. I have not been paid for this blog post but there will be a gift voucher sent as a token of thanks. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity.

Safety in the work place

I have worked in all capacities in the past 10 years, both as employed and self-employed, for big schools and small families and from home.

I have never seriously considered safety at work until I read the new research by personal injury solicitors, Hayward Baker, which reveals the unsafe and unsanitary working conditions that are putting the health of millions of British workers in serious danger.  

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 The in-depth study discovered a staggering 69% of British workers – 21 million of them – claim their workplace to be a health hazard. Please see the above attached infographic for more research findings although top level figures here:

·         35 percent of working Brits have picked up an illness from their place of work – with 18 percent claiming to have been struck down with food poisoning or caught a stomach bug because of dirty conditions.

·         A further 39 percent have even suffered an injury at work – with two in ten (20 percent) Brits having been to hospital due to a work-related illness or injury.

·         Shockingly, almost half (46 percent) of those polled complained to their bosses about the state of their place of work, with a further 21 percent saying their manager did nothing to rectify the situation.

 The research was commissioned following the launch of the personal injury solicitor’s new interactive injury compensation calculator,  which provides workers with an estimate of how much compensation they would be entitled to following an accident or injury at work.

It sure makes me glad to realise that all the people and companies I worked for so far took clear steps in safeguarding me and others working for them. I couldn’t imagine a more horrid situation than the one in which you get injured in your work place due to unsafe conditions or a manager’s lenient attitude towards worker safety.

I’m also very glad that as a blogger I get to work from home and that there are no hazardous activities or conditions involved in this occupation, other that expressing opinions others might find offensive :-)!

Have you suffered from an injury at work? Was the company supportive towards you or did you have to seek help elsewhere in settling the matter and getting the support you needed in your recovery?

Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post.

To uniform or not to uniform?

I’ve been challenged by the lovely people at 4imprint to give the idea of uniformity some thought and create a blog post around my thoughts about what it is to wear printed t-shirts as a uniform.

I have been wearing uniforms all my life, from when I started primary school in Romania at the age of six, many, many moons ago.

I remember disliking the feel of the plastic onto my skin but cherishing the identity the uniform gave me. I was a big girl, going to school on my own (those were Communist times still and both my parents had to work in order to be able to provide for us) and I belonged to a community of little people, all dressed up more or less in the same fashion as myself.

Fast forward six years and me being in my first year of grammar school, when monumental things happened to the leadership of the country and Romania achieved its “democracy” from 45 years of dictatorship. People were elated and they demanded freedom in everything, including from our school uniforms. An instant influx of bad quality jeans inundated the market and everybody decided that they were to be preferred to a uniform.

I hated it, the lack of uniform in my grammar school. It immediately turned into an opportunity to highlight the financial gap between families and implicitly, the children.

I still have photos I have hidden away in my mum’s home of me wearing horrid, baggy clothes, the only ones my mum could afford buying for us.

My clothes did make me stand out but not in a good way. I would have appreciated the uniformity of a common outfit for all the pupils in school at this point and preferred the anonymity of the uniform over the embarrassment of ill fitting clothes as a teenager.

I moved to Northern Ireland 10 years ago and worked as a teacher intermittently in a lot of local schools. I soon realised that even the teachers adhered to an unwritten code of uniformity for which I felt very grateful, as it gave me a sense of guidance and belonging.

Of course, when Emma started school three years ago, I welcomed the strict guidelines that came from her school regarding not only the code of conduct but also the school uniform.

I love seeing her all ready in the morning, looking sharp and tidy and I do know that she always feels a sense of pride when wearing her uniform, as it gives her an identity and and motivation to keep her behaviour in check as she represents her school while she is out and about.

Lately I have been working as a nanny and even there, I did feel the need of a “uniform”! The school where I did the pick ups is in quite an affluent area so my Joules t-shirt “uniform”, although comfy and informal, did reflect the intention to comfort to the environment.

I have added an infographic on the subject as well.

Do let me know what your thoughts are on the subject, I’ll be very interested in hearing other opinions on the subject!

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Disclosure: this is a collaborative post.