Monday, December 29, 2014

Sealife Art Aquarium and a Family Pass Giveaway

In the October school holidays we took a day trip into Darling Harbour to visit the beautiful pair of Dugongs at Sealife Aquarium.

It was a gorgeous day out, any day in Darling Harbour always is. The kids had an amazing time at the aquarium, it was a first time visit for Lorelei and Sebastian, they'd never been before and they were fascinated by the bright fish and sea creatures.

We managed to catch a sneak peek at a new attraction being introduced these school holidays - the seriously amazing digital Art Aquarium that Sealife is using to bring kids creations to life.

My photo's of the experience are truly atrocious, the low lights and shimmering water does not make for great photo's unless you have an awesome camera and matching skills.

Photo Credit (because mine was lousy!)
Art Aquarium takes kids artwork to a whole new level. First Lorelei and Sebastian were able to sit and colour in a picture of a fish using some texta's - there were plenty to choose from but the attraction was super bust so we needed to wait a little for a space at the table. Well worth the wait though!

Hot Tip: Do make your child's artwork particularly unique. Write their name on it, or a special symbol, something to make it stand out.

The kids take their art work to a staff member for scanning into the aquarium. From here is it super quick for their beautifully coloured fish to appear in the Digital Aquarium, swimming amongst the other fish.

Incredible right? It definitely helped to have written Sebs name on his scribbled on fish, because we would never have spotted it amongst all the others as his colouring is very faint.

If you'd like to visit Sealife Aquarium and see the Digital Art Aquarium for yourself I have a pass for a family of 4 up for grabs!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Cubby House for the Win

The key point on our shopping list for our own home this year was a backyard. It didn't have to be big, just big enough. Big enough to eat outdoors sometimes, big enough for our swing set, but most importantly, big enough for a cubby house.

13 year old Madeleine was given her own cubby house at our first home when she was 3. Having it for so many years, so many birthday parties and play dates, it was the main thing we regretted leaving when we made our rush decision to move early last year. With Sebastian and Lorelei so little at the time, it was sad to think they would never enjoy the cubby house that Maddy had loved so much.

We were absolutely overjoyed to be able to get into our home this year with plenty of time for Christmas. Over and above anything else we could do for Christmas, we wanted to get the little ones a new Cubby. They're an expensive gift, but our logic has always been that the earlier we buy it, the more years it gets used for making it better value the longer we own it.

I shopped around for a while, looking for an open fort on stilts with a slide and a sandpit beneath. There were lots out there, we eventually I found the best price (including shipping) not too far from home. WA has HEAPS of cubbies at great prices, but once shopping to NSW was added it wasn't worth it. Before I made my purchase, I quickly checked eBay, and was surprised to see the same fort for sale - $150 cheaper Buy It Now! The same business had their stock on eBay at a lower price, which makes no sense to me since they have to pay ridiculous eBay fee's, but I bought it through the eBay channels anyway for $1695 including freight.

We had hoped that we could have it erected secretly by Christmas Eve, but even after 3 days of stealth work when the little ones were either napping, out of the house, or being occupied by me at the front of the house, we were electrified when little Lorelei suddenly asked out of the blue "Can I go outside to play with my cubby?"

I brushed it off casually hoping that she just meant her old little plastic cubby that she had seen in the garage, but the next day she busted us completely by randomly ripping up the blind in her room to look out at the cubby in all it's unfinished glory. We accepted the inevitable and let them out to it on Christmas Eve where they got to "help" husband finish building it.

The Fort was a huge win. It made Christmas Day and Boxing Day for us. Our kids and all the visiting kids were crazy about it, all ages playing on it for hours. It's been same each day since with my little ones wanting to get outside as soon as they wake up.

It's the best thing we could have bought for them - it meant that we went a little light under the Christmas tree with mainly gifts in the "Something they Need" category for the little ones (new preschool bags, PJ's, shoes etc) but there were some small toys for each of them to open anyway, along with a few items I won in various December Blog Giveaways, and they have absolutely loved having the cubby house so it was worth it!

Hoping everyone else had a wonderful Christmas as well, ours was a super relaxing couple of days, we don't do too much rushing around for Christmas anymore, we mostly just host a handful of people. Watch out for a couple of great giveaways over the coming days, I have some passes for Sealife Aquarium that I will be putting on the blog soon!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Getting Some "Helpling" Around the House

Make sure you read till the very end to get your Mummy Hearts Money exclusive coupon code for 1 hours free cleaning.

As if I wasn't already convinced that blogging is the most amazing hobby EVER, in the midst of end of year chaos, a little ray of sunshine landed in my blog inbox this month.

2014 saw me return to Full Time employment, and now for the first time in 4 year years we have 2 people in the workplace 5 days a week. It's been a constant challenge to keep up with the housework, dishes pile up, the laundry mountain NEVER goes down, and not much else happens at all.

Since our move in August, the house and I have reached a stalemate. I still have a garage of unpacked boxes, shelves full of random items that were shoved there till they find the home that has never been found, and a never ending stream of dirty dishes and laundry that I never quite get on top of. The chaos is hard to live with, but impossible to deal with. I tell myself it's only for a few years till the little ones are not such tornado's, but I know we will not get much time back to ourselves for a long time.

An email from Helpling was a little piece of awesomeness in a super chaotic month. I've been wanting to hire some help with the housework for some time now, but didn't know where to start. How I do know how much time to hire someone for, what am I allowed to ask them to do, do I need to be home, and lastly, but most importantly, will they think I am a complete grub?

Helpling's website took so much of the guesswork out of the equation. There is a clear hourly fee, a great estimation guide on how many hours will be needed taking into account bedroom and bathrooms, and a simple tool for locating a cleaner in your area. The website definitely takes the awkwardness out of engaging someone, although I don't know what I was worried about.

 When Sharon showed up (VERY promptly) she was friendly and talkative. I had previously done a tidy up of the house, ensuring all the random debris that a household of 5 accumulates had been put away, but I had resisted the urge to wipe down cupboards and clean the oven top, although every fibre of me was mortified at the idea of someone cleaning up my mess.

We did a quick tour of the house, and Sharon talked me through what she would be taking care of. Based on the size of my house, she assured me that it could be cleaned in much less than the 4-5 hour quote on the website, which I thought was terrific that she would be so frank about an assessment for ongoing work. I don't have a huge 4 bedroom house, and she was done in about 3 hours. The quote was more consistant for a larger 4 bedroom house with more living space and extra bathrooms. She also let me know that some customers engage her for cleaning for a time period they could afford, instead of for the suggested timeframes, and she would clean based on their priority lists, usually getting more done than was asked for.

While she was here, Sharon cleaned out my fridge (!!) dusted surfaces and windowsills, cleaned all the mirrors and mirror doors, scrubbed the oven and cupboard doors, as well as doing the floors. Bathrooms are clean, walls have had fingerprints wiped off, and the house has that fantastic disinfected smell. She made the beds as well, and washed our leftover breakfast dishes, which was definately not something I was expecting.

She brought all her own products and resources, asking me early if I was OK with her using bleach or if I would rather she didn't. She let me know she was always happy to use someone elses products, as many of her clients prefer chemical free cleaning products and would leave them out for her.

My house is spotless, the fridge is sparkling, and it all feels more orderly than it has done the whole time we have lived here. Knowing she was coming today meant that we all pitched in and did the house tidy that sometimes gets neglected because the job is so big. This is definately an ongoing option I need to explore. Husband and I have been talking about whether one of us needs to scale back a little to have at least 1 day each fortnight or week, but neither of our jobs can really cater to it. Getting someone in to help out once a fortnight with the house, and maybe someone else to help with the lawns is probably a good compromise. 

My house is lovely for Christmas day now, I just need to keep my little ones distracted long enough to keep it that way! It might be a little too late for Christmas Day for you, but if you'd like some help getting ready for the New Year, cleaning up after Christmas, or even just need some ongoing help like me, Helpling is there to help you out. You can set up a once off clean, or organise something more regular. And to get you started I have a voucher code for 1 hours FREE clean! (Minimum clean: 2 hours). Consider it my Christmas present to you, because spoilt as I am to have had a full house clean, I probably wouldn't have accepted this awesome little blog perk if it hadn't come with a perk for my readers as well. 

If you do go ahead and book, let me know! I'd love to hear your squeeky clean house experiance.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Abandoning the Santa Photo

I love getting a family Santa photo every year, but my timid and occasionally surly 3 year old does not. We are happy to hold her, and never force her to sit on his lap, but just being close to the man in red sends her into a panic of expectations. We have yet to get a smiling photo of her with Santa.

This was a free photo taken at a blogging event in November, but Madeleine was missing so we had no expectations of it ending up as our family shot this year and didn't really pretty ourselves up (the adults anyway!). There was armpit and not much else.

Then there was the fancy pants photo of 2013. We gussied up in our prettiest clothes, and wandered into Harvey Norman for their free photo. Once again, misery at being forced to be part of the process.

Looking back a little further to 2012, and Sebs first Christmas. She was OK, as long as we didn't try to give her to Santa. Safe in Mums arms there were no tears at least.

And back one more to 2011 and Lorelei's first Christmas. This was where the tradition of family Christmas photo's started, as before that Madeleine was always content to sit on Santa's lap by herself for her photo's. This one was always planned to be a family photo, as I liked the idea of sending it onwards to all the extended family to share with them our newest addition of the family outside of Facebook.

And that brings us to this year. I abandoned the Santa photo. Visiting Santa should be fun, amazing, an event of anticipation. Not something to dread and be terrified of. After seeing Lorelei at the free event at the Tower Eye, I realised that this was not our year for a happy family photo all together. So instead, I set them up at home in front of our own tree after the big decoration effort, and started snapping. And snapping. And snapping some more. I don't have an awesome camera, and I don't have kids who naturally pose in those adorable, catalogue worthy positions. It took a while to hit a semi winner, and I've run with it for this years Christmas card.

I think it captures pretty much exactly what 13 year old Madeleine's year has been with a 2 and 3 year old in the house.

What do you think? Do I have a winner?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Giving Tree Disaster

Butter wouldn't melt in her mouth.
We have a family tradition that we started when Madeleine was little. We like to take our kids shopping to choose a gift for another child their age to put under the Kmart or Target Giving tree's each Christmas. 

This is something we started many years ago when Maddy was 5 or 6, and we wanted her to understand how important it was to make other peoples Christmas wonderful. Buying for another child who isn't as lucky as yourself seemed like an easy connection for a little girl to make. Over the years this tradition has continued, but this is the first year we have involved 3 year old Lorelei. The last few years we have chosen for Lorelei and Sebastian ourselves because they seemed too little to understand the idea. But at 3.5, Lorelei was horrified at the idea that a little girl might not have a present, and promptly went hunting through the shops to choose something nice to give her.

All seemed like it was going well, we had to steer her away from a few expensive choices, but soon enough she was clutching a sweet little doll and a toy stroller that she loved. She couldn't wait to buy them, and dragged them around the store with determination.

Madeleine picked out a few decorative bedroom idea's, and a light up pillow pet was chosen as Sebastian's contribution.

We passed through checkout, and all was still well. Grabbed a few gift bags on the way out, and bagged our gifts up together.

Everything was still awesome.

It was all awesome until we headed back in store to pop a gift tag on the bags and put them under the tree. Lorelei loved her gift, completely blissful and refusing to let go to allow anyone to help with the bagging and tagging.

That should have been my first sign.

We TALKED about this. Lorelei was totally into the idea of gifting a nice present to a little girl that didn't have one.

The little girl she had in mind was herself. There were tears. There was more than tears, there was a damn tantrum, screaming and sobbing as we walked away from the tree. There was no right answer here. Snatch up the charity parcel from under the tree and pander to a demanding 3 year old? Walk away with a kicking and screaming child attracting attention to the mother forcing her child to give up a coveted toy that she personally chose and purchased? I could have died.

Maybe, just maybe, 3 was a little young to start this particular act of charity. Better luck next year at 4.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Seb Gets Grommets

Seb's been failing hearing tests in his right ear since he was born. We've been back to Westmead hospital countless times to have him retested, and time after time he fails the right ear and returns fuzzy results on his left ear.

While it hasn't seemed to affect him too much, his specialist describes it as like trying to listen to the world with fingers pressed into your ears. There's sound, but it's muffled.

This week Seb went in for day surgery to get grommets. For those that have never heard of them, or have heard but aren't sure what they are, a grommet is like a tiny tube, no bigger than the size of a match head, that gets inserted into the middle ear. The grommet will allow air into the middle ear, and will eventually be pushed out naturally when the eardrum has healed.

The specialist tells us that we can probably expect to see some changes in Seb once his hearing is improved. Less yelling from him, improved speech, less tantrums caused by communication problems, these are all possibilities. He's a pretty challenging 2 year old, but not so challenging that I will be disappointed if there are no changes. I'll just be happy for him if he's more comfortable in general.

What changes have we noticed so far?

Seb is still yelling when indignant or wanting attention, so hearing himself better isn't giving him a reason to not raise his voice. He is also arguing about some words. I'm guessing they sounded differently to him before, so he's gotten annoyed with us when we are apparently saying them wrong.

"Shoosh peeese Mummy"

"You want some juice Sebbie? Let's use the blue cup"


This can go on for a while and just stops when I produce the juice. 

I've also noticed he isn't snoring at the moment. It was never loud before, more just super deep and snuffly beathing, but it isn't happening at all the last few nights.

I'm not sure how much these changes can be attributed to the grommets, or how much I'm just seeing because I'm looking.

Scary as it is to have Seb go under a general anaesthetic, so far it seems like the procedure has been good for him. The costs involved weren't cheap - Approximately $587 out of pocket costs for the specialist - but we have no gap cover for kids at Westmead private so that part meant we didn't have to go on a waiting list to get the procedure done.

Sebs has no pain that I've noticed, and bounced back after the surgery almost straight away. The hospital had him booked for 7:30am surgery, so our little guy did not have to fast for too long - just from 9pm the night before. Brekky was a little late, but given he woke up to ice cream and jelly he wasn't complaining!

Fingers crossed the world is a little clearer for my boy now.

While you're here, make sure you enter the giveaway for an OMO/Jif Pack to give your uniforms a second chance for next year!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Preserving Uniforms with OMO {Giveaway}

One of the brands I met at the recent Bloggers Brunch was the Omo/Jif team. In the midst of exciting and unique products, they had created their own little stand of reality.

For me, it was the reality that jumped out at me. Because my reality is a never ending pile of laundry. Clothing to be washed, hung out, brought in, sorted, ironed and put away. Of course, a couple of those steps sometimes don't end up happening. It's my mortification that my teen doesn't even know that we have an iron.

I've never been a great laundress, my technique is to sort into blacks, colours, and whites, and wash loads of those shades without doing much more than check pockets for tissues (even that step I oftem skip). It frustrates me though that our clothes quickly look dingy. Maybe I'm growing up, maybe it's the frugalness in me that despises waste, but I've actually spent time lately trying improve my clearly dismal laundry technique.

Dismal because toddler clothing is always grungy around the neckline, my own work clothes fade so quickly, and white uniforms look disgusting before the term is over. Everything is clean, but so many of our clothes stop being attractive very quickly.

It feels very wasteful. Uniforms especially. Maddy hasn't grown out of her school blouses, but they no longer look crisp and white with splotches from careless food. Seb has only been wearing his soccer uniform for a term, but it is stained and grayish in many places already. What is it about sport uniform fabric?

I took my Omo Ultimate sample from the Bloggers Brunch, and considered the possibilities. "Actively lifts 48 hour dried in stains.". 48 hours. That's adorable. If 48 hours were the worst of my problems I'd be a happy lady. I gave it a whirl on 8 week old washed and rewashed stains.

Sebs jersey is so grotty looking. I dread to think about how many uniforms he will go through in life in an effort to keep him looking smart. I took my bottle of OMO Ultimate and smeared some on the various stains. The process was pretty simple, any remaining liquid in the cap went into the machine to finish off the load.

I'm not kidding. This was not intended to be a cheesy stain removal advertisement. But damn, when I saw the difference in Sebs jersey I had the email typed out requesting some product to giveaway about 2 minutes later. The stains are gone. Gray stains, gone. 8 week old stains, gone. I cancelled Madeleine's uniform order for a few new blouses, because I want to see what a difference OMO can make in rejuvenating the old ones. If it gives them the face lift I'm hoping for that's $120 I don't have to spend in a hurry!

Thanks to the OMO/Jif team I have a New Year cleaning pack to giveaway. As unChristmassy as that sounds, I can't think of anything better than saving a bundle on new uniforms this year.

If you'd like to see some OMO and Jif flying your way in Santa's sack, follow the easy Rafflecopter entry below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Jif and OMO cleaning products lighten the load for mums dealing with the toughest dirt. With its amazing stain removal first time, OMO helps to remove hassle by taking care of the laundry so that you can get back your precious quality time. Thanks to its advanced Lift-Action formula of the Jif EasyLift Spray range, it quickly softens and detaches dirt requiring less wiping, making it easier to get a streak free shine! Click here for more information

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Visit Santa at His Highest Point This Christmas

Today we took a field trip into Sydney to visit Santa. This is most definitely a change from our usual freebie at one of the local mega-chains, (which we still need to do since Maddy had to miss out on today), but when the invitation came to visit Santa at The Tower Eye, I couldn't resist.

Whether you call it Centrepoint Tower, AMP Tower, Westfield Tower, or The Tower Eye, it's definitely a excursion of legendary proportions for a Western Sydney girl like me.

These days, The Tower Eye has been undergoing some modernisation. It's now part of the Merlin group, who have been steadily bringing some great Australian attractions into their fold.

We started our visit in a waiting area, viewing all kinds of interesting trivia and displays. While The Tower Eye was the 4th biggest building in the world when it was first opened, there are many that eclipse it these days!

From there we headed in to watch a 4D movie about Sydney's attractions, from the birds eye view of a friendly Lorakeet. There was water, bubbles and vibrations, which worried a few kids in the room, although the Mummy Hearts kids thought it was a great adventure!

Once the movie was over, it was time to take the elevator to the sky. The littlest kids clamped their hands over their ears when the weird sensation of ears popping and blocking came upon them, but quickly enough we were in the sky!

The view was as amazing as I remembered from years ago. It's incredible to be so high up in such an iconic city. The water stretches in one direction, traffic is a million miles below, and all the landmarks are there before you.

Can you imagine meeting Santa in such a special setting?

From today till Christmas Eve, Santa will be spending time in the tallest grotto in Australia on the Observation Deck in The Tower Eye. Every child visitor will receive a free photo with Santa as a souvenir of their visit, taken by a professional photographer.

My kids were thrilled with the view, Seb in particular loved pointing out all the trucks and cars way down below, whereas Lolly was more interested in the boats she could see in the Harbour. I had my fingers crossed that with such an exciting build up, and after a couple of weeks of her telling me all about how Santa would be visiting our home for Christmas, that this would be the year that her shyness would break and she would have a chat and a nice photo with Santa.

Alas it was not to be. She was hopping from foot to foot in our little line, eager and enthusiastic, but when the moment came to step forward she panicked and clung to me. There was no way she was going near the big man, no promises or bribes could get her to so much as look at him, even though Seb was happy to give some high fives.

I sat with Santa for a few minutes to take a photo with Sebastian, and given Lorelei's interest we thought we might try a super quick snuggle on Mum's lap as far from Santa as possible. A world of no.

To his credit Santa was a trooper. He happily wandered away for another cherub to have a turn at sitting on his chair and taking a photo without him, and didn't flinch when Lorelei screamed and wrestled herself in the opposite direction. The photographer is pretty matter of fact about it as well, it's a memory worth capturing!

What does this free photo cost?

Even though the photo is free, entry is not. A single adult visit to the Observation Deck to see the view and meet Santa is $18.55 and kids over 4 are $11.20 (prices are the discounted online price). Family packages are available, but the people who really get some value here at those with Annual Merlin passes. The Annual Pass gives entry to 11 Sydney attractions (among others) so a regular tourist could head in for the day to see the view and meet Santa without paying anything at all.

Parking was available nearby on Sussex St for $10 all day (weekend rate) once we had our ticket validated at the Sky Deck reception. It's always worth checking the website of any attraction before heading in to see if there are parking options available.

If you're a Sydney local or a regular visitor, this was definitely a magical way to meet Santa. A little bit special, it makes a wonderful memory. Even if that memory includes a 3 year olds armpit.