Friday, March 28, 2014

FFS Friday - The Office Edition

Some grub in the office likes to leave toilet paper all over the seat - no doubt because they are avoiding coming into contact with the seat. It's all well and good for them, but the rest of us are then stuck coming into contact with their leftovers FFS

Another somebody (quite likely the same one) leaves a damp paper towel hanging from the door handle, right underneath the sign that asks people to take their paper towels and dispose of them in the bin. It is faintly grotty removing someone elses paper towel so they not touch the door handle. FFS

My favourite, cheap, parking lot normally fills up by 7:45am each morning and I am in a race against the clock to get  spot there FFS

This week it has been no problem to get a spot, even as late as 8am NO FFS

This is because of the steady rain driving people to the covered parking lots, which has resulted in my outdoor lot becoming a pool of mud. What I am saving in parking fee's I will probably have to spend replacing my shoes and washing my car FFS

I am still waiting for a desk to free up in the office and currently occupy half a metre of desk space in between x2 other people. It makes it very dififcult to hide the 2pm Freddo each day. FFS

You can thank you me for the rain at school pick up time. Each time I leave my umbrella in the car, it torrents down in the afternoon, making me either late home, or soaked, depending on the needs. FFS

How was your week? Soggy?

Dear Baby G

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cruising Insights - The Carnival Spirit Weekend Shortie

Taking a family cruise has long been on our list of things we'd love to try. I've always wondered just how much money would be required on board, and whether the cruise price really is all inclusive.

My mission on this long weekend cruise was to demystify cruising for all the cruise virgins out there. I took one for the team and set out to experience everything, and had a seriously awesome time.

The cheapest cabin type (no window, no frills) was quite compact. Don't expect to spend any time in there other than to sleep because that is all there is room for. The TV has a few basic channels on top of the cruising channels, but there is so much to do outside the room. Plenty of cupboard space for a family of 4, and on the Carnival Spirit bath and pool towels were replaced daily so there is no problem with a build up of wet towels. The en suite is basic, and comes with a small clothes line strung through the shower, and PLENTY of shampoo and shower gel.

Your room steward makes your beds daily, turns them down at night time, and leaves a towel animal and chocolate on your bed. There are no tea and coffee facilities in the room, but there is a mini bar (we locked ours!). There is a laundry on board, or laundry can be done for you at a cost. The rooms seemed to be the same size no matter what the configuration (twin, double, bunks, etc).

Watch out for: There was only 1 power point in the room, but since Internet and Phone costs are at a premium on board it's no hardship to let devices go flat.

The ship is all old world charm. I honestly felt like I was floating down the stairs on the Titanic....with a few extra lifeboats of course! There are couches and chairs everywhere, along with deckchairs up on deck, they make sure that everyone can relax. No matter where you are (except the inner cabins!) there is an awesome view.

All of your food is included in the price. You can eat a fantastic variety of great foods, and eat as much as you want, both in the casual food court style dining hall, but also in the seated restaurant with an assigned table and waiter. The service is unbelievable, with our waiter getting to know us well very quickly, and stopping by often for a chat. The food court and restaurant are open for broad hours across each meal, but outside of hours there was a 24 hour pizza bar + ice cream machines.

The food was of a high standard, but if you want something spectacular then the fine dining restaurant Nouveau has a base cover charge of $40 per person that allows an entree, main, & desert. We also received x2 wines per person and a pre entree courtesy of the captain, and from talking to other passengers it seems this is a regular thing although I can't swear that it would always be included.

There are sundry cafes and coffee shops on the ship that you can buy items from. I honestly never once felt the need. Every could be gotten at the right times at no charge in the food court dining hall.

Alcohol was not included on my cruise, but didn't seem too badly priced. Most cocktails seemed to be $10-11 for example, which is not unlike everywhere else. Alcohol costs would add up though if you were drinking daily.

Watch out for: Curiously soft drink is not included. Tea, Coffee, Hot Chocolate, along with some juices, water and basic Lemon Squash is. If you really want soft drink, there were packages available daily for unlimited drinks. 

There is so much to do on board. Nightly shows such a magic show and a dance production, new release kids movies in the large cinema, and a nightclub to keep you going after dinner. During the day there is a ball court, walking track and gym, mini golf, ping pong tables, giant chess set, and pools all over the the place along with the giant slides and spa's.

I happily joined in some of the trivia events running, and I was VERY regretful that the I couldn't join in any bingo because it clashed with the conference.

Shannen from the biggest loser was on board as the Carnival Cruise ambassador running the biggest boot camp at sea, and there was heaps of live music and bars to spend time in. If you are truly all funned out, it's not impossible to just stare out at the ocean. There was so many people sitting in the couches and lounges strategically placed everywhere just talking and watching the ocean.

There was a small charge for the bingo cards, but otherwise everything above is included! You will easily fill a day in and drop into bed exhausted.

Watch out for: There is also a casino on board with slot machines, roulette etc. While I have no objection to gambling in moderation, I don't love exposing my children to it and this casino is not barricaded in any way. Children walk through all the time on the way to the dining hall. There are plenty of other ways to navigate around the ship if you choose to keep your children away. 

On board shopping was not the price gouge I was honestly expecting. I picked up souvenirs for the kids and Husband spending just $30 all up, feeling a little shocked that the cruise play set, crystal earrings, and Carnival shot glass did not cost more. (The shot glass was just $2.85!) I also collected a stunning new evening bag for myself for only $10.
Wandering over to the clothing section I felt confident that I would find the inflated prices here. It's when a person does not have a jacket for cold weather, or a pretty dress for formal dining that they are willing to fork out the money. But no, the gorgeous dress I looked at was only $40 instead of the $100+ I was expecting, and so was the jacket. Definitely not the usual tourist destination prices.

There isn't a whole lot in the shops, but if you did plan to buy anything, the sales were frequent. Keep an eye on the fun program each day for tips on spot sales on certain merchandise. On the first night, there was a sale in the evening for 50% off all cruise merchandise.

Watch out for: Necessities were not well represented in the shops. Need ladies hygiene products, nappies or wipes on board? Make sure you take more than enough with you.

This was the only place I was shocked at the prices. Everything else had been more than reasonable, but the spa prices were at a premium. A pedicure cost $80+ (not a mani-pedi, just a pedi!) and everything else is along the same scale. It's definitely a treat you should think hard about before booking. If you want nice hair and nails for the trip, book them in the morning in Circular Quay instead. If you really want to experience the spa conditions on board (and they were good) get on board early and book for the first night as the prices are cheaper.

Watch out for: The up sell and the tip. Gratuities are included on board (although the service staff do an awesome job so feel free to leave a gift at the end of your stay) but the spa tacked on a tip into my receipt without asking. There was also a fair effort into selling me $150+ worth of product. The pedicure was good, and the worker did a great job, but I won't ever feel the need to use the cruise spa again at those prices.

The staff on board are phenomenal. My waiter was the loveliest, most personable guy I have ever met, the Captain and Cruise Director are incredibly generous with their time, the Maitre'D Desi, our steward, every person you interact with is just amazing. Carnival Cruise line have got customer service nailed. And Shannon. You know, me and Shannon. Besties.

Cruise Summary

I was astounded at what a low maintenance holiday this was. I normally come back from holidays absolutely wiped from arranging everything meals and entertainments and hustling the kids for travel. It is all done for you on the cruise, you just turn up if it suits you!

No souvenirs, no alcohol, and no spa? It is 100% possible to spend NOTHING on board the ship. For a short cruise with no stops like the one I went on, I would think that plenty of people don't spend a cent.

For longer cruises with offshore trips available, I understand that offshore tours range between $50-$200 per person. It is possible sometimes to organise your own activities at lower costs. Talk to the experienced cruisers you will meet at the breakfast table for tips! Call the cruise line before hand to find out the expected costs so you can budget accordingly and allow for money to spend offshore on food and activities.

Do: Checkout last minute cruise sites such a CruiseAbout and OzCruising as they will often include on board credit in the costs.
Do: Pack some pretty cocktail dresses to wear for Formal night on board. You can rewear the same one, but you will enjoying dressing for dinner.
Do: Take the opportunity to have a family photo on board! Photo's were not cheap overall, however they were beautiful and taking the kids in their best gear on Formal Night for a family photo will be much cheaper than going to a studio for portraits. At $30 for a good sized photo its the cheapest quality family portrait you will ever get!
Do: Pack a lanyard for your room key which also doubles as your payment method for everything on board. You won't handle cash at all! (Which can be dangerous, watch your account balances by checking in at the terminals)
Do: Take advantage of the kids club. The kids on board looked like they were having a blast, and were definitely well cared for. The kids clubs are all included.
Do: Make sure you are deck when the ship comes through the Heads at the end of the cruise. You will appreciate the home coming, no matter how early it is.

Special thanks once again to my DPCON14 sponsor Switched On Media, who have recently launched a Blogger Sign up page. If you are interested in working with terrific brands who have great representation, I can't give them more thumbs up (I ran out of thumbs).

Monday, March 24, 2014

Cruising Highlights

I've been, I've gone, and I've conquered the Carnival Cocktail. Both the cruise and the conference were a 100% success in my eyes, and I've come back with a million photo's and information to share. Far too much to get up tonight (my cruise docked at 7am, and I was at work by 8:30am!) but here is the overview.

You can stay, play and eat on the ship for the upfront costs. There is plenty of great food, available at huge hours of the day. HEAPS of activities for both grownups and kids, and good, basic accommodation.

I have been tentatively thinking that a cruise should be the next Mummy Hearts Money major family holiday and this little shortie (as the cruise repeaters call it!) has cemented it for me. More than anything I loved the absence of effort on this trip. It would be so nice to take a holiday where it isn't such a big deal to hustle the kids everywhere just to get them fed.

I'll be going into some level of detail about exactly what you get for your money, and what isn't included that you need to pay for. Hopefully anyone who has been interested in taking a cruise will get something out of my experience (happy to take one for the team!).

Blog speaking, I have come away with a to do list 3 pages long. The speakers were fabulous, and the idea's were flowing. I expect to deliver great things in the blog this year, and I want my readers commentary and feedback more than ever. Every Facebook like, blog comment, twitter reply is an indication to me of what is going well, and what I can do better, so please feel free to keep your feedback coming in any formats! My blog is my empire, and conferences are my opportunity to build my empire!

Watch this space over the coming days for more cruising highlights. There will be many. If you have any questions about cruising, please feel free to ask so I can include it! There was so much I was dying to see and do, so I'm sure many other people are curious too.

Special thanks once again to my DPCON14 sponsor Switched On Media, who have recently launched a Blogger Sign up page. If you are interested in working with terrific brands who have great representation, I can't give them more thumbs up (I ran out of thumbs).

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Cruise To Nowhere #DPCON14

I'm frantically packing tonight for a long weekend cruise. Also frantically cleaning, as it registered today that I will be coming home Monday to all the washing, so I wanted to get ahead.

Tomorrow I go to work as usual, clock up a few hours, then grab my bag and head into Circular Quay to board my Carnival Cruise for 3 beautiful nights!

I never thought I would say this, but I cannot wait for 3 nights without my family. 3 nights that are all about me. I'm not cooking, cleaning up after anyone, sharing anything (except my room with a great roommate!), will have food on tap and great company. No coordinating every else's schedule, no worrying about nappies, toilet runs, or tantrums.


It's not all cocktails and sun baking, I will be attending a bloggers conference on Saturday and Sunday which is the true purpose of the trip.

When I tell people in the office I am heading off on a cruise without my family, most people give me a bit of a look. Why would I go on a cruise without family, or at least friends?

When I tell them I'm attending a conference, it clears up some confusion. For a few minutes anyway. Until I mention it is a bloggers conference, and that's where the conversation becomes lots of fun. It seems incredible to most people that I would draw a small income from blogging, or that I would be so engaged with it that I would actually go on a cruise with strangers (although that phrase really doesn't apply to Bloggers).

I can't wait. I have so many expectations for my blog this year. I want to be more disciplined with what I blog and when. I want to deliver better outcomes for the Brands that engage to work with me, so in return I gain better opportunities that lead hopefully to bigger and better product giveaways for my readers. I would like to start to broaden my blog network, by guest posting, making media appearances, promoting the blog overall.

Mostly I want to be a better writer. I don't want to just wing it, I want to know how to write. This is why I go to Blogger Conferences. Because I have lots of wants.

And yeah. Cocktails.

One of the Mummy Hearts Money key #DPCON14 sponsors has been Switched On Media, who have kindly supported me with a series of posts that have slowly but surely paid for my ticket on this conference. Switched on Media have just launched a Blogger Sign up page, so if you would like make a connection with a fantastic company who have provided me with lots of opportunities, make sure you check them out.

Monday, March 17, 2014

25 Tips For Keeping Your Driving Costs Down

One of the big shocks to our budget when Husband changed jobs a few years back was the introduction of a second car's running costs. He had always had a company car, and we took it for granted, little realising what a big difference it was going to make.

Did you know it costs an average of $11,000 per year to operate a medium sized car? $11,000! More if you run your car for over 15,000 kilometers per year. With such an enormous chunk of our salary going towards our travel, we have become pretty good at keeping our driving costs down these days. Here are our tips for running those cars on a shoestring budget:
  1. Some Australian states or territories offer good behaviour discounts when renewing your license. For example, in NSW, a driver with a perfect 5 year record may qualify for a 50% discount! Likewise, drivers under 26 in Victoria may quality for a 25% discount if they have a 3 year good record. See your local driving authority for more information
  2. Don't speed! I know that's a little simplistic, but doing 95 km's per hour in an 80km zone on a standard 30 minute drive will only save you about 4.5 minutes. Is that really worth $248? (NSW standard fine for over 10km but under 20km for an unrestricted driver).
  3. Don't have accidents. Again, simplistic, but the drivers I know who have the most accidents also often have an attitude of not taking precautions against other people's bad driving. There is an assumption that if someone else drives poorly causing you to collide with them, it will be their fault. WRONG. Often if you are the car that crashes into the other, you will be found at fault and have to pay excess's or even car repair costs.
  4. Know the best petrol for your car. My car goes that much further on premium unleaded, so it makes no sense for me to fill up on E10 only to run out earlier in the week.
  5. Fill up on petrol repeatedly while prices are down. The days of a weekly predictable petrol cycle are gone. Don't wait till you are running on empty, pull in every 1-2 days while petrol prices are low, when prices rise, you will have a full tank to ride out the price hike.
  6. If prices have been up for a few days and you are running low, only tip in $10-$15 if it looks like prices will drop shortly then fill up in a day or so when prices drop again.
  7. Use and abuse the petrol voucher scheme's. Coles and Woolworths offer their standard petrol discounts, but did you know that IGA will also refund you 4 cents per litre on your petrol costs if you spend over $30 and produce your petrol receipt from any source? The savvy shopper could double dip by shopping at Woolworths/Coles, filling up and claiming their discount, then taking the receipt to IGA for your next shop.
  8. A perfect driving record can also mean a big saving on your green slip! One insurer was $200 cheaper than the others when we completed a comparison quote due to the absence of any demerits.
  9. If you are a dual driver household, quote your insurance from multiple angles. We found it cheaper to have policies in my name as a female driver over 30 with a good record with Husband as a nominated regular driver than to do it the other way round. Depending on the demographic, this can mean a big saving. Consider the long term impact against any no claim bonus's for the policy holder first.
  10. Restrict your policies according to your needs. For example, increase your excess for young drivers if there will not be a young driver and enjoy a small premium reduction.
  11. Consider how well a car will hold it's value, how much petrol it will chew, and how expensive parts will be when choosing a new car. No point buying it because it's pretty! If it will cost you a bomb to run it's probably not the car for a budget conscious household.
  12. Enquire with your insurer about long term policy discounts. Our roadside service provider offers  5% discount for a 3 year policy and a 10% discount on a 5 year policy. This also effectively freezes the premium so that you won't be affected by increases over that period.
  13. Plan ahead for parking! Do not leave the house without investigating the cheapest pay for parking options to be had at your destination so that if free street parking is not available you know your options.
  14. Do NOT ever take the easy way out and parking in a 15 minute street parking spot for 2 hours. The $75+ fine is not worth it. The odds are against you.
  15. If you are paying high CBD parking fee's, consider leasing a spot off a resident. Residents without cars, or who's cars will be with them elsewhere during the day will often advertise to sublet their spots for an amount that may be less than you are paying for parking in the main lots.
  16. Car pool whenever possible! It is worth an extra 10 minutes on your trip each way if someone else covers the parking cost while you cover the petrol. Advertise on your employee network if you don't have a like minded friend living nearby.
  17. If you can't avoid parking lot fee's altogether, ask if there are discounts for prepaying for your parking by the week or month.
  18. Reader Tip: Drive using Cruise Control to help with fuel economy and avoid fines ~ Laurel B.
  19. Maintain your car regularly. Lots of small amounts being spent on your car will hopefully keep the breakdowns and high cost repairs to a minimum.
  20. Take out store memberships with car maintenance supply stores. If we buy any parts, oil, servicing equipment/resources, and anything we purchase goes on sale within 2 weeks, we get credited back the difference. Makes it easier to purchase knowing you have the best price within a reasonable window!
  21. Negotiate for a better price. There is always wiggle room in the price set for new and used cars, especially when buying through a car yard or dealership. 
  22. Once the price negotiation is done, ask what else your salesman can do for you. Seat covers, servicing, roadside service, upgrades, there are plenty of options your salesman might have at his fingertips that you won't get if you don't ask! But be nice, no-one wants to help you out if you are their most annoying customer of the day.
  23. Investigate the warranty available if you purchase a new car. Some will be based on the age of the car, others may be based on the km's. Know your planned usage and what kind of warranty will be best for you as it can make a big different on how much money you have to spend if something goes wrong.
  24. Pensioner or senior discounts are often available on registration, licensing, and insurances. If you qualify for a discount, make sure you make the most of it.
  25. Cash is king! If you can save up cash for a car you can put aside the money you would have spent on repayments to save towards the next car. You will be able to upgrade much more quickly this way and will not pay hundreds or potentially thousands of dollars in interest on an asset that usually doesn't appreciate!
If you have a tip for keeping your road costs down, share with us on Facebook or in the comments below. I'd love to hear them!

This post was brought to you in partnership with John Hughes who understand that driving can be expensive! For 33 consecutive years,  John Hughes Mitsubishi have been in the top 3 biggest selling Mitsubishi sale dealerships in Australia. With a focus on quality customer service and a passion for striving towards excellence, these are the people to talk to about getting the right car for your family.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

One, Two, Three, Four....It's a Hi-5 Giveaway!

We've been putting the latest season of Hi-5 House through it's paces in the Mummy Hearts Household this week. We're never home when Hi-5 episodes are on TV, so our kids tend to watch them normally on DVD. As a result, this was our first time experiencing Hi-5 House even though a few episodes have aired already.

Lorelei is hooked. I was silly clever (?) enough to download the Tenplay app from iTunes AND I showed her that she could watch Hi-5 house episodes on the iPad. Any. Time. She. Wants.

Now when she sees me browsing the Internet or typing out blog posts she is at my elbow asking for Hi-5 pleeeeee-ase! I will never have the iPad to myself again.

The creators of Hi-5 have stuck to their usual successful formula in developing their new season, but have added a new twist. Episode 1 sees the cast (including x3 new favourites) take us on a tour of their new house, where everyone has their own zone that gives plenty of opportunity for their personalities to take us through all new sketches and musical numbers.

Even Sebastian who has no time for TV, made a beeline for the screen and stared transfixed the first time he saw a Hi-5 episode. He joined Lorelei in dancing and grooving around the lounge room, which is what I always loved about Hi-5. It's great that my kids get up and dancing, while absorbing the underlying educational messages that are in each segment.

Last week I posted a special Mummy Hearts Money interview with the cast of Hi-5. The personalities really come to life on the screen and you can see how much they love their work with kids.

Lorelei was sent a Hi-5 bundle which she was entranced with, especially the temporary tattoo's. It was her first time EVER, and she has been proudly showing off her new "sticker" to everyone. I'm dreading the fallout at shower time.

Mummy Hearts Money also has some great goodies to giveaway to celebrate the launch of Hi-5 House! If you have a little Hi-5er in the house, you have to enter to win one of these great packs.

1st Prize includes Jub Jub!
x2 winners will score one of these great Hi-5 merchandise packs, with the first place winner also taking
home one of these giant Jup Jup toys! This toy looks to be the same size as the one on the show, so think how much fun you get up to with this mischievous octopus.

Merchandise packs include:

Hi-5 Carrying Bag
Giant Hi-5 Foam Hand
Hi-5 Souvenir Program and Activity Book (with signed poster!)
Hi-5 Backpack
Hi-5 Tattoo Set
Hi-5 set of x5 hair clips

To win one of these bundles for yourself, easy entry via the Rafflecopter below.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Headspace...Can My Brain Be Any Fuller?

Why does Lorelei only wet her pants at home and not at preschool? If she jumps in muddy puddles that she personally created one more time I'm going to cry.

I feel sick when I login to the credit card iPhone app. It gets higher every time. I just need one fortnight where I pay more than we spend. Just one.

Bright side, Husband no longer has a black hole at the front of his mouth where a tooth used to be. It was an expensive hole to fill though.

I can't sleep properly while Sebastian is sick. I'm terrified he will choke, if not on the mucus that closes up his throat, then on the vomit that he brings up with the mucus. Maybe I should bring him back into our bed for the winter. I stress all night that he is cold, and he is, and if this winter is anything like the last he's never going to quite be healthy.

Can I justify a little holiday this Easter? We always take the kids away twice a year, but part of me screams that there should be zero unnecessary expenditure while the credit card is out of control, while the other whispers that a break together means so much to everyone.

Why do I need to sleep so much? My house would be clean, well, cleaner, if I could get by on say, 2, 3 hours a night. Sleep seems like so much wasted time.

I've secured myself a permanent role in the IT department at work. After doing some massive hours these last 2 months, evenings, weekends, everyone assures me this only happens right at this junction of a project but I can't help wondering if I have jumped out of the frying pan into the fire. Permanent work vs redundancy.  Well, I chose my path, who knows where it will go.

My 10 year anniversary came and went in the office very quietly. This was a day I have dreamt of my whole working life, it's one of those emotional milestones for me that I idealised. I expected more fanfare somehow. Kind of like I hope to get a gold watch when I finally finish one day after 10. Ill ion years of valued service. I have a feeling that won't happen. Does that even still happen?

On a final note, I never realised what a favour our old preschool would do for us. The only "artwork" I ever laid eyes on were special pieces that had been mounted for wall display or carefully selected for their end of year portfolio's. This new place sends home 2-3 random pieces of old computer paper daily that has been embellished by my children in various mediums. It's only been a month and I already have a boxful. Surely there is a special place in hell reserved for mothers that throw away children's artwork?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Reading Aloud With Your Child: The Kick Start to Learning

I come from a family of readers, so it was always important to me to read to my kids. We started reading to the girls from a young age, both were used to reading at least 2 books at bedtime well before their 2nd birthday.

At 18 months, Sebastian still has ants in his pants and won't sit still for a book. We try him out with a bedtime book periodically, but he gets frustrated very quickly with sitting still.

We don't want him to start disliking books, or dreading bedtimes, so right now we bring him into the room with Lorelei while we read to her instead. We use our funniest voices, and read the most engaging books, but we read them to her, and let Sebastian play on the floor with a car instead. In this way I hope to slowly gain his interest in the books.

The Monster at the End of this Book...It's a page turner

We like to read x2 books each night, and when we finish the 2nd one we give it to Lorelei to try reading it back to us. This is her favourite part, and she does an awesome job with a few of the books. It only takes a few renditions before she can tell the story, and it's so cute to hear her putting on voices like we do.

We kept up reading to our oldest daughter Madeleine for years after she learnt to read to herself. It was a nice bedtime routine, and meant that we could read more complicated books with her as she got older. The first time we opened a chapter book together I was so proud! Reading to our daughter when she was in primary school also meant that we could introduce more difficult words, talk about the books and how we felt about them. She knew I looked forward to reading the next chapter of a Wishing Chair or Narnia book as much as she did!

Those days of reading with Madeleine are long gone. At 13, she uses the last 30 minutes before bedtime as her reading time every night. Although we have gone through ages and stages where she has protested this enforced reading time, on nights when it is denied because we have stayed out late she is the first to complain that she can't sleep because she hasn't read!

It makes my heart sing when Maddy stands over me, excited about some new book she has been assigned at school, something she was reading for obligation but is finding herself engrossed in. She will chatter on endlessly, telling me all about the book, insisting I read it, issuing deadlines for when the book is due back at school. She cracks me up because she doesn't believe me when I tell her that some of her books were on my reading list too when I was in high school!

We honestly think reading to our kids gives them a better start in life. It gives them a love for stories, an appreciation for the distraction that unfolds on the written page, and helps with comprehension of the written word when they start school. Those squiggles mean something! It's also been a wonderful bonding experience with our girls, and I truly hope to find that quiet space with Sebastian one day, with books that intrigue him and catch his fancy too.

Our favourite books that get read over and over again:

The Monster at the End of This Book - By Jon Stone
Both our daughters have loved this book. Doing the opposite of friendly, lovable, old Grover's instructions cracks everyone up, and at the end of the book, the jokes on him! This was the first book BOTH girls ever read back to us.

There's a Hippopotamus on the Roof Eating Cake - By Hazel Edwards
This Hippo has been the explanation for all kinds of things in our house. Water pipes making scary noises? No, it's actually the Hippo sitting on the roof eating cake. Lorelei's dummy went missing? The Hippo took it!
The Hippo books have been favourite for generations.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar - Eric Carl
Who doesn't love a Caterpillar that eats everything in it's path? This pretty book with it's peepholes to the next snack is very engaging.

Guess How Much I Love You - Sam McBratney
The most beautiful bonding book ever. Lorelei showers me with little butterfly kisses when we read this book, it makes her feel very affectionate. You can't tell your kid often enough that you love them, and I tell Lorelei all the time that I love her to the moon and back.

When Sophie Gets Angry - By Molly Bang
Do you have a tantrum thrower in your house? We do too. All 3 of our kids have been known to throw huge tanties, and this was a book that both girls have been read. We let our voices run up and down the paragraphs, expressing anger loudly, and calming down with a soothing voice to discuss how Sophie manages her anger. Some of the phrases have been great for helping Lorelei calm down from a tantrum as she recognises the path that the phrase will follow and imitates according to the outcome in the story.

We can't say enough about reading aloud to your kids at every opportunity, besides giving them the best posible start to life, it creates opportunities for togetherness.

Australian Scholarships Group (ASG) is a not-for-profit organisation and specialist education benefits provider. ASG has supported over 509,000 children and their families to offset the cost of education. But now ASG is moving towards offering more than just education funds. They're creating an ever-expanding suite of resources, online tools, and guides - Like the 'Motivating Children To Learn' e-guide - to support parents and nurture children in their educational journey so they can reach their full potential. Visit to discover member benefits or call 1800 648  945.

More articles regarding education issues, development, family members and parenting available on

ASG is also offering a week-long, luxury family excursion. It's FREE to enter. Click here to find out how you can enter for your chance to win!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Behind the Scenes of Hi-5 House

Mummy Hearts Money was recently lucky enough to score an interview with the kids favourite musical group Hi-5. Our household has been fans of this group since their earliest days, taking Madeleine along to Hi-5 concerts many moons ago in her own toddler years. These days, it’s Lorelei who is our Hi-5 fanatic, so we were beyond excited to get a chance to grill the cast about Hi-5, life, and behind the scenes. Meet Stevie, Lauren, and all new talent who are sure to be favourites in no time, Dayen, Ainsley and Mary.

What’s the best aspect of being part of the Hi-5 team?

I get to do all the things I love dancing, singing and acting and still calling it work is unbelievable! Apart from the fun stuff, travelling, being a big kid and working with my best friends, the most special part for me being a hi-5 member has to be making kids around the world happy. 

We do a lot of work being ambassadors for starlight foundation and world vision and we get to visit kids in hospitals and visit countries like Cambodia and Philippines. It's such a precious moment when a kid smiles or gives you a big cuddle all because we made them happy. 

Do kids recognise you on the street in plain clothes? You all must be some of the most known kids faces on TV!

Yeah its totally surreal walking through a supermarket and having children literally run up to you and give you a hug. With our costumes being so colourful on Hi-5 it is quite nice to be able to wear “normal” clothes and remain somewhat anonymous….

I guess it’s sort of like Clark Kent wearing sunglasses and then as soon as he takes them off he is Superman; as soon as I put on a fluro pink Lycra t-shirt i become a recognisable Hi-5er. 

Are you OK with your fans coming up to say Hi? (or even Hi-5!).

I am more thank OK with fans coming up to say Hi. I am actually honoured. It's so special seeing kids with big eyes and open arms coming up to us, knowing our names. 

Every kid is so special and I'm so happy to have a part in some  of their lives and teach them positive messages early.

Who has pets and what are their names?

I have a beagle who is 1 year old called buster. He is very playful, active and cheeky and I treat him like my son! I also have 5 snakes... 

People are funny about snakes and there is a stigma about them but once you learn more about them the less scarier they are and you learn that each snake have their own special quality too! 

I have a carpet python, children's python, Stimson Python, jungle python and a blackhead python.

What can you share about the behind the scene's of a filming day?

We honestly spend most of our day in fits of laughter; its hard not to laugh when you look in the mirror and you are dressed as a pink cow or a Merman. It’s a very tough shooting schedule so we are usually bunkered down with a script in hand trying to get all of the information into our brains so we can transition it seamlessly onto camera. 

I loved shooting the new series with our new lineup, it was awesome seeing them grow on camera and it’s so nice seeing kids warm to each new member now.

What can you tell us about your great new series, Hi-5 House?

Mary: Its a brand new feel and style to Hi-5 where we all live together in one big house! From a new cast, new sets, new songs; it's a new Hi-5 for a new generation of kids!

Do you remember what you were doing the day you got the call to let you know you would be joining Hi-5?

I was actually trying to preoccupy my time with baking gingerbread houses! I had just finished my 3rd gingerbread house for the day and was getting ready to go to work as a party entertainer for a preschool Christmas disco! I made sure I played a Hi-5 song at the disco in honour of my exciting new job :)

What exciting things are coming up for Hi-5 in 2014?

2014 is a busy year for Hi-5, we are super excited for the launch of our new TV series, Hi-5 House, on Channel 11 this month, and are currently preparing for international tours throughout the first part of this year. Toward the middle of the year we are hoping to get back into the studio and film Season 2 of Hi-5 House ready for audiences after the airing of Season 1. We also have a big Australian tour in the works, where we hope to visit as many of our Aussie fans as we can. The end of the year is shaping up to be jam packed with tours and appearances in Australia and all over the world.

We are very keen to share with our audiences the hard work we having been putting in to produce some great new Hi-5 content for all our Hi-5ers.

Watch out for a Mummy Hearts Money review of the new series coming up on the blog soon, along with a giveaway for readers. We can't wait to sit down for some Hi-5 toddler time and check it out!

If you got 5 minutes alone with the Hi-5 cast, what question would you ask them?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Mummy Hearts Multi Cultural Family

I don't know if people are less curious online, or if it just doesn't translate as clearly, but one of the things I get asked about alot in real life is my cross religious marriage. Funnily enough I've never been asked online, although it's come up at blogger events.

People tend to be fascinated by our Australian/Lebonese - Christian/Muslim marriage. The most common question I am asked is "Did you have to convert?".

The simple answer is no. I didn't have to convert, and no, I didn't convert. I am still a Christian although admittedly it's been a long time since I attended church.

The more complicated answer is no, I didn't have to convert, although that wasn't really the happy answer at the time. The marriage worried alot of people 13 years ago, Husband really stepped outside the traditional mould when we tied the knot. It would have been far simpler and made people much happier had I agreed to convert. Because yes I was asked.

We ended up being married by a celebrant in an outdoor wedding. Each of us would have liked a religious wedding, but it was just too big a compromise to make either way. So a celebrant was a good middle ground.

It was hard work in the early years of our marriage. There was so much compromise, and it wasn't always 100% clear that it was worth it. Have you ever had a fight where you just aren't quite sure it's worth making up? We had lots of those back then.

There is no pork in our household. No ham. No Bacon and egg fry ups on Sundays. (Sniff). There are lots of arguments and compromise about things like when to pierce childrens ears, whether to circumcise, whether we can send our children to schools that practice a religion. Often someone is unhappy with the outcome. And often family members feel the right to weigh in with their opinions, which causes more strain than ever. Its hard work containing resentment on an issue that you've both had to compromise on when you have to have the argument over and over with people determined to make you change your mind.

14 years is a lifetime ago. There is no question any more about whether we are a family, whether we are a real couple, and we are both so comfortable with each others family that we spend time and socialise with the in-laws without one another. My kids celebrate Ramadan and Christmas both, and are a gorgeous Lebonese/Australian hybrid.

I'm not sensitive to other people's curiosity. I don't mind if people ask questions, I know when Sal and I turn up together to blogger events everyone is fascinated by the family relationship.

Do you have a blended cultural family? Is it a curiosity for others, or just a fact of life?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Shopping Centre Mortification - The Toddler Years

It's started. There will be no more family shopping trips for a while. No more bundling the kids into a car to go out all together and take care of a series of errands while also just enjoying some browse time while Husband is there to help run interference but also take part in the product research process. Sebastian and Lorelei almost simultaneously hit a new milestone each. 

Sebastian is at that stage where he is now walking and running confidently and can't understand why he needs to be in the pram. Fair enough, under many circumstances there is no reason why he can't get out and walk, as long as there is someone there to direct him a little and keep him walking in the right direction.

He likes to be able to meander through a shopping centre, gazing up at all the tall people walking in every direction, staring at the stairs, the water feature, the pop up shops in the middle of the walkway. People walk around him, most smile, a few frowning as they have to step sideways to avoid walking over the top of him. Every now and then he will stop, staring into a shop at something that has caught his eye, and eventually I have to prompt him to move onwards, which he will do happily.

I don't mind this stage. I know this will probably pass soon enough, and he will once again be happy to be pushed from one end of the busy store to another, only wanting to get out when we are stationary.

Lorelei on the other hand has been walking along holding the pram strap for quite some time. Sometimes she will sit in the double pram with Sebastian, other times she will walk. Mostly we let her choose, at almost 3 we would probably be thinking about giving away our pram were she our only little one left. Since she has always been pretty good about staying where she is expected to be, although it was a challenge to let Sebastian out to walk sometimes as well, it could still happen if both parents were on the shopping trip.

Not anymore. This weekend Lorelei did the thing that all parents dread. Determined to go on one of the shopping centre arcade rides (for a second time, having conned her way on to the ride with another paying child) she lay on the floor and refused to move. There was kicking. And screaming. Kicking off her shoes while also beating the floors and snotting everywhere. 

I was mortified. Not that I haven't been here before with Madeleine 10 years ago. I know the drill, you either  move the child to a quiet corner to wait out the tantrum passively, or you throw them over your shoulder and keep moving. What you don't do is reason, bribe, plead or threaten, because at 2 years old she has me by the short and curlies and she knows it.

That is exactly what we did, but with Sebastian carrying on like a pork chop because he was confined briefly to the pram while Husband made a purchase, Lorelei kicking and screaming over my shoulder in defiance, and a huge double pram to manipulate at the same time I confess myself beaten.

There will be no more shopping trips together for a while. At least a year. Meanwhile, I was calm emough about the situation to take a photo before picking her by the ankle. I don't know whether the raised eyebrows from passersby were about my dreadful reaction - photo - or by my clearly spoilt brat of a child but I don't care.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Go Forth And Shop - Celebrity Style on a Budget

With the Digital Parents Conference on board a cruise looming on the horizon this month (ha! see how I did that?) you better believe I have been on the lookout for a good sponsor to dress me.

I have no clothes. Seriously. None. While also having a wardrobe full and overflowing. With 8 different sizes at my disposal, I manage to have an abundance of clothing while having nothing to wear thanks to rapid weight loss and regain. The reality is, I'm a mum to 2 toddlers, I work full time and can rarely get to the shops, and I am honestly intimidated by fashion.

I need fashion that is comfortable for sitting cross legged on the floor with my energetic toddlers, fashion that will transfer to a shopping centre in style, and can be worn into the office on casual  Friday. And to put casual Friday in perspective, I sit in between 2 Greek Goddesses who roll out of bed in the morning, wipe a bit of sleep out of their eyes, and look like they've fallen out of a fashion magazine. It's hard work.

Most of all, I need an outfit that is going to stroll the decks of the Caribbean Cruise liner in between conference sessions with a cocktail in my hand. Priorities. And it has to be achievable on a budget, because I am not willing to waste huge dollars on my clothing. My money works as hard as I do, so it needs to stretch.

Hello Millers! The official Mummy Hearts Money fashion sponsor for #DPCON14! Straight away Millers ticks my boxes with affordable fashion - every time I jump onto their sale section to browse, there are more and more items under $15.

I've channeled a little bit of Sienna Miller when looking for my cruise about daytime style. I don't have any Harem pants yet, and I can't imagine why. They look so comfortable, with stretchy waists, baggy legs, plenty of fabric to hide lumps and bumps....why am I not wearing them already?

Here's how I piece together my own version of Sienna Miller gorgeousness via the Millers website (pun's are completely unintended but just seem to keep coming!).

  1. Emerald Paisley Print Cami - I've selected it in black trying to gear towards Sienna's middle combo. At $12 marked down from $28 I probably would have grabbed it in a few colours had they been available!
  2. Zip Pocket Harem Pant - Loving them. Elastic waisted! What more do I need to say? I cannot WAIT to get my hands on these. $30 at full price they still aren't breaking a sweat.
  3. The Art Deco Pyramid Necklace strikes me as being a great piece to take this outfit from the decks of the cruise and into dinner. It's $12 at full price.
  4. This Shell Bracelet will give me that little bit of daytime colour that I have sadly neglected. It's adorable, and will tie in nicely with some blue shoes that I'd like to team up with this combo.
Ignoring accessories for a minute, you can bottom and top up for only $42 and still look and feel a little swish. Not a bad price tag for a celebrity style! I actually saw plenty of printed Harem pants on sale for only $20, but I really liked these black ones with the gold zipper detail.

Just to make the most of any online purchase, Millers also offer free shipping over $60. Although with prices that low, it might be difficult to get the shopping basket up that high. First world problem, I know. Watch this space for me to be fashion modelling my new outfit on Instagram over the coming days. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Bee,oh,nah,deh.....also known as Bionade! {Review and Giveaway}

Healthy eating is a major issue in the Mummy Hearts Money household at the moment. Those of you following along on Facebook this month will know that I made a huge effort to give up sugar and other terrible things - only to land myself in hospital.

Seeing as how I can no longer eat a huge chunk of the healthier foods in life, and many of the foods left available to me are either not particularly healthy or unpalatable, can you imagine how happy I was to get email asking if I would like to try Bionade? Finally something I am allowed to consume that isn't going to be fattening!

What is Bionade? (Bee,oh,nah,deh)

Just saying. This is Austrayliya. I can almost 100% guarantee that you all are pronouncing this drink Buy-o-nayde in your heads, then possibly correcting yourself to Bee-oh-nah-deh with a smirk. It's just way too posh for the likes of me.

Bionade is a healthy, organic, fizz free drink made from a beer-like fermentation process. It has 60% less calories than regular soft drink making it a great alcohol-free subsitute! Some of Bionade's great qualities include:
  • Low in sugar
  • Free from artificial colours, flavours, and preservatives
  • Suitable for vegetarians and vegans
  • Low in sodium and phosphorous free
Initially I had thought Bionade would serve as a substitute for the usual cup of soft drink with dinner. When they arrived they were so pretty I realised they had much more potential. If you are looking for a nice non-alcoholic mix to have by the pool while we still have some nice weather left to enjoy, give this combination a whirl (and feel free to add vodka if non-alcoholic is not your style!)

Serve over ice and enjoy! 

Want to try Bionade for yourself? I have a case of 24 mixed bottles to giveaway to one lucky reader. You can try this fantastic alternative to soft drink yourself! Easy entry via the rafflecopter below.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The BIG SPLASH! Water Play for Toddlers

Our toddlers had a great time this weekend fundraising for the BIG SPLASH! an event to raise money for Premmie babies.

There was jumping in "muddy puddles" (aka our baby pool), duck and straw races, bubbles everywhere, and playing with coloured water tablets. Our gaggle of toddler visitors did what toddlers do best around water and splashed for a good hour, then enjoyed a sausage sizzle for lunch afterwards. Not even the rain this weekend deterred us as we simply set up in our big garage.

To wind down afterwards, there was colouring in, and of course Peppa Pig DVD's to watch. It was a simple afternoon of water play and almost no effort to put together.

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Every participant received a certificate of participation which my kids (Lolly is particular) were in LOVE with!

You can join an organised event by searching your local community here, or even organise an event for your friends and family yourself!

Some easy at home water play activities can include:

  • Sensory pool. Put some underwater toys in the bottom of a shallow storage tray and let the kids swim the fish, sharks and other toys through the water. Cups and scoops for moving water is also fun
  • Water balloon races. Fill up some balloons and let them run to get them into a bucket first!
  • Duck races. A few straws, ducks, and an eski or deep storage container of water and ducks can be blown across the pool!
  • Set up an old baby bath with some water, a dolly, and some sponges! Toddlers will LOVE giving a baby a bath
  • Paint with water! Give everyone a paint brush and let them paint the concrete or deck with water
For more idea's check out my Water Play for Toddlers board over at Pinterest - don't forget to like the Mummy Hearts Money boards while you are there!

The Lifes Little Treasures Foundation supports families of Premature or Sick Babies. The Big Splash fundraiser runs all of March and April. You can register online here and either create an event or join an existing one here. It was as simple as posting a link on Facebook to get some sponsorship for my toddlers.