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Friday, 31 May 2013

Name Labels for School Uniform

Freddy starts school in September.  I can't wait to buy him his teeny tiny school uniform and a lunchbox ready for his very first day in Reception.  However, with so many other mummies doing the same thing for their little school kids, we need to make sure that our children's things are clearly labelled so they can be returned in the very likely case that they get misplaced.

I was contacted by Ikast Etiket (or Label Yourself), an online company specialising in high quality tags, wristbands and clothing label solutions.  They provide an excellent choice of clothing labels that are perfect for the new school term.    Iron-on Labels and Transfers, Woven Labels, Name Stamps, Tapes, Fabric Pens and Stikins are all available to order, personalised to suit your needs.

I was pleased to receive a selection of products to label up both Freddy and Kizzy's uniforms for this coming September.


labelyourself


The Iron-On Labels will attach to items on clothing quickly and easily using an iron for 10-15 seconds. 
  • Iron-on name labels recommended for marking all forms of clothing e.g. vests, woollen hats, gloves, sweaters, trousers, rubber boots, rainwear, etc.
  • No sewing required. The labels stay on securely.
  • Iron-on name labels can tolerate washing temperatures up to 90ยบ degrees and tumble-drying.
  • Soft, user-friendly quality. Does not cause irritation to the skin.
  • Room for 2 lines of text (25 characters per line) and an image
  • Dimensions: 30 x 10 mm
  • All labels are white with black text.
  • 20 pieces cost £4.95

The Stikins are iron-free sticky labels that have multiple uses for both clothing and items such as lunchboxes and pencil cases.
  • Stikins have been tested to withstand 30 washes at 40 degrees.
  • For best results, stick on the care label of clothing.
  • Size 15 x 30mm with rounded corners
  • Room for 2 lines of texts (22 characters maximum)
  • Prices start at £6.30 for 30 pieces.

Label Yourself

The Fabric pen offers a quick and easy solution to labelling clothing instantly or in an emergency and is considered the best textile pen on the market.
  • Quick and easy
  • Very cheap solution
  • Perfect for clothing that isn't washed frequently
  • Just £3.00

So whatever your clothing labelling needs, Label Yourself has a solution.  Postage is a flat rate of £2.95 and orders take between 5 - 10 days for Iron-On Labels and 7 - 14 days for Stikins.


Thursday, 30 May 2013

'Grow Your Own' with Poundland

Poundland

If you like the idea of growing your own produce or getting out in the garden, but don't want to spend a fortune, then Poundland has the ideal range for you.  They stock a variety of seeds, pots, fertiliser, garden ornaments, bulbs, gloves, tools, solar lights, hanging baskets and compost all at just £1 each giving every green fingered gardener a selection of great items at bargain prices.

We were sent an assortment of the items to try out and were particularly excited about the idea of growing our own potatoes using the canvas potato planter, the Organic Potato Fertilser, the potting soil and the Maris Piper seed potatoes.  We don't have any room for a vegetable plot in our garden so growing things in tubs and planters works really well for us.  I really hope hope we get a good crop of spuds later this year so the children can get to eat the produce they have planted up themselves.  We also planted up Rocket, Herbs and Strawberries, as well as Sunflowers and Dahlias.  Fingers crossed for a bumper harvest!!

Poundland

Kizzy and Freddy enjoyed helping their dad in the garden during the glorious Bank Holiday weekend.  Gardening with kids is a great outdoor activity where they can learn about science and nature and get their hands dirty!

I was really impressed with some of the sets of seeds such as the Nice and Spicy Collection that included four types of chilli, pepper, coriander, basil. mustard greens and oriental spicy leaf seeds.  Excellent value at just £1 and an amazing collection of spicy ingredients to use in the kitchen.  The 10 litres of potting soil comes in a small pack which becomes reconstituted to its original volume by the addition of water.  This makes it easy to buy in store and carry home.  The herb seed discs make it very easy to grow your own herbs such as Parsley, Basil and Chives in pots. 

Check out the gardening range in store at your local Poundland and you could be growing your own for just a few quid!!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Making Artisan Ice Cream at The Ice Cream Farm

The Cheshire Farm's Ice Cream Farm is a wonderful attraction in the heart of the Cheshire countryside.  It is free to enter and an excellent day out for families.  Over the years, the farm has expanded and developed from a simple dairy farm to a brilliant tourist attraction for all ages.  You can come to meet the animals, such as the miniature ponies, alpacas, rabbits and pigs, watch the cows being milked and sample the delicious ice cream freshly made on site.

It also boasts Quad Bikes, Mini Golf, Adventure Playgrounds, Indoor Soft Play area, Gold Panning, a cafe, gift shop and a Games Loft, so it has something to please everyone. (Some activities are chargeable such as £1 for the quads and golf, £2.50 for 30 minutes unlimited play in the games loft and £3.50 for Crazy Daisy's Fun Factory soft play.  It is the farm's policy to provide top of the range activities at very reasonable prices.)  Kids can have parties at the Ice Cream Farm in one of the amazing themed party rooms, the Ice Cave or in The Loft.  It is a fantastic venue!

The Ice Cream parlour serves up tubs or cones of their delicious Cheshire Farm ice cream in over fifty different varieties from traditional Vanilla, to the very British Strawberries and Cream to the unique Blackcurrant and Liquorice.  My favourite is a scoop of Mocha and of Salted Caramel in a double waffle cone. Yum!

farm, attraction

The newest attraction on the farm allows visitors to see the ice cream production process in action from the viewing gallery.  You can even make your own bespoke ice cream in the amazing Artisan Room.  We were invited for a tour of the farm and had the opportunity to have a go at making our very own ice cream using an ingenious Cattabriga machine which churns and freezes the ice cream.  The freshly churned top quality  ice cream base can be flavoured with a combination of flavours, fruits, sauces, toppings and other additions such as chocolate beans, marshmallows or biscuit crumb.  The polystyrene tub of ice cream is then blast frozen in a freezer and is ready to take home in half an hour.  The packaging keeps it in perfect condition for the journey home.

We made a fruity peach and raspberry ice cream which is absolutely stunning!  Making the ice cream is an experience in itself.  It is really fun to do and the freedom to make your very own combination of flavourings means you can make an ice cream to perfectly match any meal.  I love the idea of having a special dinner and finishing it of with a specially made ice cream that I have designed and made myself!!  It costs £10 to create and make one tub of ice cream, £15 for two, which I think is an excellent price for doing something so cool using top quality ingredients!  Children can get involved as they are supervised and assisted by a member of staff who will help them scoop the base into the tub and mix in the flavourings. Pre-booking is required.

cheshire farm ice cream

For parents wanting a healthier,lower fat treat for their children or for those who avoid dairy products, the Cheshire Farm Ice Cream Farm have perfected an amazing frozen fruit treat, the Frozen Fruit Smoothie. Made using real fruit pulps they are churned to create an ice cream like consistency which is smooth and creamy.  The individual pots come with a spoon under the lid so they can be enjoyed straight from the tub.  We sampled a Triple Berry and a Tropical flavour Frozen Fruit Smoothie and they were delicious, intensely fruity and flavoursome. The ingredients list consists of lots of real fruit purees with a little added stabiliser to create the desired, scoopable texture.  It really is a healthy treat!

Cheshire Farm Ice Cream

The Cheshire Farm Ice Cream Farm really is an excellent family day out with free admission and with some amazing extra activities which won't cost the earth.  It is clearly signposted from the A41 Chester/Whitchurch road and is open every day except for Christmas, Boxing day and New Year's Day.

Take a look at the website for further details:

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Postman Pat Special Delivery Service Toys

When I first watched Postman Pat with my eldest children he was just a simple postman with a van and a cat.  Over the years, he has had quite a dramatic professional makeover and now has a host of vehicles at his disposal including a helicopter!

Character Online have a range of Postman Pat vehicles, playsets and action figures which will keep any little Pat fans happy as they re-enact scenes of their favourite Greendale adventures.

Freddy was sent a SDS Helicopter to try out.  The free wheeling vehicle comes with accessories: a harness and a highland cow.  Unfortunately, although it has a space for both Jess and Pat in the cockpit,  it doesn't contain any figures which is disappointing and makes this helicopter less of  a stand alone toy. However, some of the other vehicles do include Pat and he is available to purchase separately, so the helicopter will be a great addition to a Postman Pat toy collection.

Freddy didn't particularly recognise it as a Postman Pat vehicle once it was out of its box, but he was delighted to have a helicopter to play with! He did ask where "the man" was as the helicopter clearly has a seat that is crying out to be sat in.  He improvised in a mixed genre solution and made his Peppa Pig characters take the controls and fly the helicopter instead. Unperturbed by the lack of Pat, he enjoyed 'flying' the vehicle around, rotating the propeller blades and dangling the cow from its harness!

postman pat

The cow is solid and heavy and was a little difficult to balance in the harness, but is well made and cute.  The helicopter is nicely made and apart from the doors coming off when it was dropped, is quite robust and sturdy.  The free wheeling aspect of the helicopter, the opening rear doors and the spinning propellers add to the play value.  Freddy is really enjoying playing with the helicopter and bar from the lack of Pat, this is a good toy and a great addition to the SDS range.

Priced at £10.99.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Our Review of Center Parcs Sherwood Forest

Last Friday, we headed off to Nottingham, to enjoy a prize of a three night stay in a pair of three bedroom Woodland Lodges courtesy of Center Parcs Sherwood Forest.  My two eldest children joined us which meant I had my family, including my 5 month old grandson, altogether for a few days.  Thanks to Center Parcs' hospitality, we were treated to a wonderful long weekend with all the trimmings!  Even the sun shone for us, which made for a perfect family break.

family

The Woodland Lodge was quite practical and utilitarian looking from the outside, being single story, flat roofed and built from brick and wood cladding.  But inside it was modern, spotlessly clean and very well designed.  The main living area comprised of an open plan, fully equipped kitchen with all mod cons enclosed by a bar-like counter, a six seater dining area and a lounge with corner sofa and  built in TV.  Patio windows opened out onto a patio area with a BBQ and six seater table and chairs.  A full sized blackboard had a chalked on message welcoming us to Center Parcs which was a lovely touch.  Lovely photo artwork was hung on the walls making the place look really inviting.  Our lodge was stocked with some grocery essentials and a few luxury items to make our stay special.

The two twin bedrooms and double bedroom had very comfy beds made up in crisp white linen.  There was adequate storage and a vanity area.  The main bedroom had a TV.  There was a family bathroom with over-bath shower and a second toilet.  The accommodation included a cupboard where an iron and ironing board, cot and highchair were stored making this a very friendly family choice of accommodation.  It was a perfect venue for baby Ted's first holiday with our family.

family

Bike stands allowed us to lock up our bicycles safely outside, and a large hall was perfect to store the pushchairs, hang our coats and store our shoes.

holiday

 Our lodge was nestled in an area of woodland with a duck pond in its centre.  The flora and fauna surrounding us was delightful.  We had regular woodland visitors: swans, ducks, geese, moorhens, squirrels and rabbits, who came to our patio looking for breakfast every morning.  The natural setting was a wonderful playground for Freddy to let off steam, explore and play.  He made friends with children from neighbouring cabins and they enjoyed playing with sticks!!  It was idyllic!

outdoors

Although the lodges have full self-catering facilities, Center Parcs boasts a host of restaurants and takeaways to tempt you away from the kitchen.  We were treated to a meal at Huck's where we were invited to eat, drink and be merry!  We had a table overlooking the lake.  The American style restaurant has an informal atmosphere and even has a play area for the kids.  Children can eat from a buffet so they don't have to wait for their food.  Adults can choose from the Tex-Mex menu which features delights such as burgers, burritos, ribs, fajitas and steaks. 

To start we had the Surfboard platter that consisted of onion rings, a dipping pot of hot cheese and spinach sauce, goats' cheese empanadas, bruschetta, lime shrimp and buffalo wings.  It was enough for us all, both veggies and non-veggies alike and brilliantly presented on a mini-surfboard at the table.  For mains I chose the Portobella Mushroom sandwich served in a Brioche bun with salad, coleslaw and 'wet' fries (fries topped with cheese sauce).  It was very good and the portion size was big!  Freddy, being a little vegetarian, wouldn't have done justice to the kids' buffet of hotdogs, nuggets, fishfingers etc, so the waiter went out of his way to get him a cheese pizza from the next door restaurant.  It really went beyond the call of duty and we were very grateful!  For dessert, we had the absolutely massive Giant Sundae of Classics.  It consisted of ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate brownie, marshmallows, sprinkles, sauces and loads of chocolate  sweets in a huge bowl!  We all enjoyed cocktails, including non-alcoholic ones for the kids.  My Mudslide was gorgeous made with Baileys, Kahlua and vodka mixed with ice-cream and served with whipped cream and chocolate sauce.  Megan had a funky Jam Jar cocktail which was brilliantly presented in a glass actually made from a jar.  The restaurant experience was excellent.  We ate loads, drank some fabulous cocktails and enjoyed a relaxed meal overlooking the picturesque lake.  Perfect!

center parcs

We also sampled the delights of Dexters where we had an excellent veggie burger and milkshake, and the Dining In takeaway where we had a pizza meal deal delivered to our lodge and the amazing Pancake House (their Banoffee pancake was simply fantastic).  The onsite Starbucks provided a familiar setting for coffee and snacks.  The local Parcmarket stock a great range of groceries.  They have a lovely bakery section selling yummy cakes and biscuits!

During our stay we had bicycles from the onsite cycle hire shop.  I have never seen so many bikes of all shapes and sizes in one place!  We had mountain bikes for the adults.  Freddy had a trailer that was towed behind one of them.  He loved being ridden around the woodland setting and it was a very efficient way of transporting him around safely.  It was lovely to cycle around the roads knowing that we wouldn't encounter traffic.  Kizzy loved the freedom of being able to cycle around in a safe and beautiful environment.

Center Parcs Sherwood Forest has a lot of free activities to enjoy.  There are several outdoor play areas which were great with a lot of very impressive and unusual pieces of equipment for the children to play on.  The older kids enjoyed joining in the fun and "helping" their younger siblings climb up, slide down, swing and bounce!  The lake has a lovely, sandy beach which was a hit with the little ones.  They could build sandcastles and dig holes as if they were at the seaside.  

The fabulously landscaped, sub-tropical swimming pool is brilliant!  Freddy used one of the inflatable jackets that are free to borrow, so he felt confident in the water.  The main pool has waves that go off every half hour.  The outdoor pool was absolutely glorious in the lovely weather and I could easily believe I was somewhere tropical as I relaxed in the warm waters.  The older children loved the flumes and slides.  I was coerced into riding the rapids and instantly regretted my decision as I was tossed inelegantly through the water, not knowing which way was up, eventually sliding down with a huge splash into the plunge pool at the end.  The children thought it was hysterical and I did eventually laugh at my misfortune after the event!!  Freddy loved the children's pool featuring a pirate ship and a mini flume and slide.  It was really fun for him to splash and play in the warm water.

There are a lot of paid for activities to try out including golf, archery, high ropes, pottery, sports, watersports and exercise classes.  We tried our hand at a family game of ten pin bowling.  We were pretty shocking but it was good fun and the venue was pretty cool with funky lighting and effects.  Freddy and Ted scored best as they used ramps and bumpers to take their turns.  The rest of us threw most of our balls into the gutter!

The Aqua Sana is the onsite spa.  We were all treated to a 3 hour spa session where we experienced the different saunas and steam rooms and enjoyed the outdoor pool.  Ian and I had a Serail Mud Treatment where we smothered ourselves in different muds and then steamed ourselves for 25 minutes before showering the mud off.  It was very mucky but my skin felt lovely afterwards.  My girls babysat Freddy while we were at the spa giving Ian and I some alone time, and Freddy some quality time with his doting sisters!  While the older kids were at the spa, Ian and I had our first solo grandparenting task of looking after Ted on our own.  He survived...so I guess we did OK!

sherwood forest

Overall, we had an excellent short break, enjoying everything that Center Parcs has to offer. Even with the different ages of the children, everyone had a great time in the great outdoors.  

center parcs

Centre Parcs is not a super cheap holiday destination.  Instead it is a high quality alternative to travelling abroad where family can get together in a stunning environment with great accommodation to suit every budget (from the more reasonable Comfort lodges to the luxury Treehouses) and plenty of activities to take part in.  The facilities are excellent and the site is family friendly.  It's definitely worth spending your budget on a Center Parcs holiday tailored to suit your needs.  There are activities for every age group and the Subtropical Swimming Pool is excellent and free.  You can spend a lot of money at the restaurants and on activities, but you don't have to.  The self-catering aspect of the lodges means you can dine in cheaply if you choose.  There are enough things to do that are free meaning you don't have to spend a lot on extras to have a good time.  Although hiring a bike is great, it's not essential as everything is within walking distance.  

Whatever your budget, Center Parcs is a great destination for spending quality time with family and friends.  We loved it at Sherwood Forest and definitely hope to return.

Find out more at www.centerparcs.co.uk

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Lexon Flip Alarm Clock

The good people at Gifts With Style, online sellers of luxurious designer, corporate and high quality gifts, have sent us a fabulous  Lexon Flip Clock  to try out.  This innovative product, which has won the Red Dot Design Award Best of the Best 2013, is ingenious and quirky and would make a great present for anyone who appreciates brilliantly designed gadgets.

The LCD alarm clock has a colourful, rubberised casing and looks very modern and funky.  My tweenager Kizzy has been after an alarm clock for ages to help her get out of bed on schooldays.  However, with the prospect of fiddly buttons to contend with when half asleep, I had visions of her waking up half the neighbourhood with incessantly beeping alarms that she couldn't control.  The Lexon Flip Clock is the perfect solution to complicated alarm systems.  When the top of the alarm clock says ON the alarm is set.  The time for the alarm to go off is displayed in the bottom right hand corner.

clock

When the alarm sounds, simply flip the whole clock over to switch it off.  The word OFF is now on top.  It's that simple!  The LCD display also flips so it always displays the time correctly.  It is brilliant!

clock

The clock also has a snooze button and a light touch sensor that works both ways.  Both the clock time and the alarm are easy to set using the +/- buttons on the back of the clock and it comes complete with batteries.

The Lexon Flip Clock costs £29 and is available in ten vibrant colours.  The delivery was very speedy and the package arrived well packaged.

You can browse for a whole host of contemporary gift ideas at www.giftswithstyle.co.uk.  It's an excellent site to search for modern, stylish, functional and unique gifts that will be much appreciated!  They also have a great range of corporate gifts to suit all budgets.

They are the sole UK distributor for Lexon Design, who are a French product design company that produces design focused, user friendly objects for everyday living, such as our fab Flip Clock!

Friday, 17 May 2013

Why is Play Important?

UKMums.tv, along with their resident expert Dr amanda Gummer, are supporting the Make Time 2 Play campaign.  For 3 weeks from the 20th May they will be creating discussion topics on the importance of play on behalf of the British Toy and Hobby Association’s Make Time 2 Play Campaign http://www.maketime2play.co.uk/.

play

The importance of play in the lives of children should never be underestimated.  It is an essential aspect to the healthy development of young children and a fundamental part of learning.

The official advice is simple: children learn best through simple playtime which enhances problem solving skills, attention span, social development and creativity.

Incorporating fun themes into children’s learning makes the experience more memorable, more fun and less daunting so they will be more likely to want to do it again as they will be enjoying themselves.

Real-life experiences are the best ways for children to develop new skills and understanding.  They can explore their environment and through trial and error hone their skills and make discoveries in a hands on way.

Children learn essential social skills through playing with their peers. Relationships are the bedrock of society and children who play develop mutually rewarding relationships, learn to compromise, communicate and negotiate, all of which give them much better outlooks as well rounded individuals.

Even the most frivolous activity is beneficial for children as it helps them understand themselves better – learning what makes you happy and what makes you laugh helps children cope with challenges and acts as a buffer against mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Join in with the Make Time 2 Play campaign on May 20th and join in the discussion on how to Make Time 2 Play with your children.

Technology, Connections and The Home.

These days, it’s safe to say technology and the home overlap very easily. It doesn't matter who you are, you probably get some use out of technology. The humble telephone, for instance, still holds many uses. Likewise, TV and the internet is always in use. As a parent, you might use this a little, but children eagerly embrace and adapt such new technology.

As such, what might be of little use to you is something that your children will grow up around, taking it on as part of day to day life. In other words, you may have to provide something that you yourself do not use, or even understand the importance of.

The phone

Take the house phone, for instance. Whilst you may use it for occasional calls, someone else might be a frequent talker. Home phones offer a cheap way to make long distance calls, especially when compared to the costs of dialling out on a mobile phone. Even if it’s not in use, you still need a landline connection for the internet.

As such, you want a provider such as BT phone that offers you what you need. This can include international calls or a cheaper rate for domestic calls. Whatever you need, finding the deal that suits you directly saves you money and hassle.

The internet

As already stated, a phone line is needed if you wish to access the internet. This is where an arguable difference between generations can be seen. Adults and parents might use the internet, but this is nowhere near as much as a child may grow up to use it. Once they reach school age, the internet becomes an important tool for research. Additionally, online gaming and other services ensure that a child always has a ready use for the internet.

Likewise, other devices, such as phones and tablets, use the internet too. In short, even if you don't use it, your children place a great reliance on your broadband connection. As such, this is something you might want to invest in. It’s also something you will need to adapt; as it gets used more, you may need to switch to a better deal that copes with the traffic. With so much relying on it, it helps to have a connection that can both cope with demand and save you money.

In closing, this is just a quick look at two key areas of technology. Throw in the likes of electricity usage, TV and other areas, and you have an example of just how important technology is in the modern home and family life.



Thursday, 16 May 2013

Bigjigs Carpenters Bench Review

Bigjigs Toys


We are so thrilled to be Play Patrol Agents for Bigjigs Toys.  We love their wonderful range of ethical, traditional, environmentally friendly, wooden toys.  Freddy is so excited about putting the fun to the test by trying out some of Bigjigs Toys best offerings.

His first assignment was to test out the Carpenters Bench, a 15 piece workbench and tool set, suitable for children aged 3 and up.

Bigjigs

The toys comes minimally packaged in a cardboard box with the accessories contained in a single plastic bag. The bench itself is constructed from solid, varnished wood with pre-drilled holes for storing the tools and hammering in the nails.  The tools and accessories are very colourful.

Children can learn about shapes and colours as they sort through the pieces.  Number skills can also be practiced as children count the pieces.

Motor skills and dexterity are developed as little fingers pop the nails and screws through the holes and manipulate them with the tools.

The work bench gives opportunities for role play and unleashes a child's imagination as they pretend to be a carpenter or copy a parent's DIY skills.  Perfect for all those little jobs around the house!

Children's vocabulary is expanded as they learn the names of all the different tools and their functions.

Bigjigs Toys


Freddy (insistently and enthusiastically wearing his Bigjigs Play Patrol T-shirt and rucksack combo) was immediately drawn to the workbench.  He is a boy who enjoys hitting things so he set straight to work hammering the wooden nails into the bench.  Using the screwdriver he turned the screws and used the spanner to twist the nuts and bolts.

The nails hammered in completely into the holes in the bench.  Freddy was mostly able to pull them out using the claw side of the hammer (which catapulted them into the air much to his amusement) but sometimes they were just too firmly in.  I showed him how to turn the bench over and hammer them out from the underside.

The tools are solid and could cause damage if used on anything other than the bench.  In the wrong hands they could be lethal!  But teaching kids to use them properly and appropriately is a great lesson in itself.


       

The Carpenters Bench is a compact and self-contained toy that takes up little space compared to the full-sized workbenches available on the market.  It may be small in size but it has lots of scope for play with the assortment of holes and accessories to explore.  It's a good size for taking away to the grandparents or on holiday to keep children entertained, and it all fits back into the box after use.  Priced at just £10.99, it is a well priced toy that little ones will really enjoy playing with.

Find out more on the Bigjigs Toys range and purchase them online at the website:


You can follow Bigjigs on Twitter and Facebook.

Sixteen Things I Love About You

On May the 16th 1997, I married Ian.  The boy I had known throughout secondary school, who I had briefly dated and had never lost touch with.  The boy who was my best friend, seeing me through the ups and downs of my life.  The boy with whom I successfully gambled a dear friendship on, as we took our relationship to the next level. The boy who became a man.  My man.  The man I married.

marriage


Sixteen years of marriage later, I am sharing my life and my family with Ian.  I wouldn't want it any other way.  We have grown together and are now in such a wonderful place that brings comfort, stability and joy into all of our lives.  For that I am forever thankful.

So, as a tribute to the man that I married, here are "Sixteen Things I Love About You!"

1:  You are without doubt the most patient person I have ever met. Hearing you talk my 79 year old mum through the latest update on her computer is simply incredible.  You, sir, are an actual saint!

2:  You have smoothed away all my sharp edges and made me a better person.

3:  You are an amazing dad.  You are so hands-on with the little ones and an inspiration to the older ones.  You're the dad that the other kids think is cool.

family, daughters


4:  You can still give me butterflies when I look at you.

5:  You aren't afraid of turning your hand to anything. You really are an inspiration to me. You fear nothing!

6:  You support everything I do.  Even if I screw up, you're still there encouraging me. (I know that you don't really like chargrilled vegetable stew, but you make me believe that my burnt dinner offerings are not a total fail!)

7:  You look like the love child of Kevin Bacon and Mark Wahlberg.

8:  I love you playing the guitar. You even wrote a song for me. Our house is filled with music that transcends the generations and has us all singing along.  I love that. You are my rock star.

9:  We share a love of horror films and we indulge that love on our big ass 3D TV.  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D Blu-ray is on pre-order!

10:  You are non-judgmental.  You never hold anything I have ever done against me. (You even humour my cougar crushes on Harry Styles and Zac Efron.)

11:  You are not afraid to cry. (Especially when watching Little House on the Prairie.)

12:  You would rather be with me and the kids than anywhere else in the world.  We don't have to compete for your attention with the pub, football, boys' nights out, the gym or online gaming.  When we do things, we do them together.  The rest of the world doesn't figure in the equation. (But you still let me do all the things I want to do and facilitate me being able to do them!!)

13:  You believe in sharing all the housework, cooking, cleaning, laundry etc. plus you do the 'man's work' like DIY, putting out the bins and mowing the lawn.  I know how lucky I am!!

DIY


14:  You know me.  Better than I know myself. I see myself differently now, thanks to you.  Your patience and understanding has helped us weather many a storm.  You have literally saved me from myself time and time again.  You ground me, but you still let me fly.

15:  You are an incredible judge of character and you can instinctively read people and understand them.  It's a gift and I trust your judgment completely. (I do however wish sometimes that your gift was predicting lottery numbers.  We'd make fabulous rich people.)

16:  You make me feel safe.  You make me look forward to the future.  You make me whole.

marriage


I love you xxx

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Playing for Keeps DVD Review

PLAYING FOR KEEPS Out on DVD and Blu-ray 20th May

Gerard Butler stars in PLAYING FOR KEEPS, a new romantic comedy which comes with a bit of added spice! Out to rent and own on DVD and Blu-ray from 20th May (RRP £15.99/£17.99).

DVD


Butler stars as George Dryer, a down-on-his-luck former football star who is desperate to rebuild a relationship with his ex-wife, Stacie, and his young son, Lewis.

In an attempt to put his life back on track and win his family back he starts coaching his son's football team. But football coaching introduces George to the world of football mums!


DVD


We were sent a copy to review.  Our first issue was trying to work out what Butler's accent was meant to be  (Scottish??) and then decipher his mumbling dialogue. Secondly, his questionable morals sat a little uneasily in what is meant to be a heart warming rom-com.  I didn't find myself rooting for him at all as he wormed his way back into his ex-wife's affections.  Even when he grows a conscience and starts taking his responsibilities seriously, I struggled to feel that he deserved a second chance with his wife who was about to remarry.  Maybe if the male lead was played by an actor who I find irresistible I'd have felt differently, but I'm just not a fan of Butler in romantic roles.  Sorry!

However, the star studded cast kept us interested.  The women acted well, carrying the storyline, and the kids' football team were very cute. There were some heartwarming moments throughout the film that made us smile. Fans of Butler will undoubtedly enjoy this film which showcases his physique and rugged charm both on and off the pitch.

PLAYING FOR KEEPS INFORMATION:

Released: 20th May 2013
RRP: DVD £15.99 / Blu-ray £17.99
Certificate: 12A
Features: Deleted Scenes / The Playbook: Making Playing for Keeps / Creating An All-Star Team: The Cast of Playing for Keeps

Choosing Happiness

Being Yourself - Brilliantly

A highlight of my day at the Tots 100 Blog Summit was listening to the inspirational, motivational speaker and author of The Art of Being Brilliant  Andy Cope who gave a talk about happiness and positivity in everyday life.  His words spoke directly to the part of me that hides under a dark cloud somewhere deep inside, which sometimes surfaces and threatens to douse my life with irrational, negative thoughts.  Hearing Andy Cope actually felt life changing.

Much of what he said was incredibly simple.  We cannot change what is going on in the world, but we can change how we respond to it.  We can wait for some allusive pot of gold coloured happiness at the end of a neverending rainbow, or we can see the joy in the here and now.  We can train ourselves, with a subtle switch in our perception to choose to be happy.  This may be commonsense, but it certainly is not common practice.

Much of what was said was similar to the way I speak to be children.  If they are down about something that is happening in their lives I remind them that they are in control of how they see their problems.  Approaching those problems with a positive approach is empowering and gives them back the control that feeling down takes away.  Dwelling on negative thoughts will only ever create a spiral of despair.  Wishing away the days until after they have finished their exams or until they break up from school, causes them to miss out of the simple pleasures that surrounds them everyday.  Although these are words I say to my kids with conviction, I have never said them to myself.

Only 2% of the population of the UK according to Andy Cope's research are really happy.  Many of us fall into the category of 'mood hoovers' who dwell in the bottom of the happiness spectrum, sucking the positive energy out of everything and never experiencing true contentment in life.  But this negative outlook is learned behaviour.  Material possessions, career, wealth and success are things we strive for in life to make us happy.  We live fast but we don't live well.  The more we rely on these factors for our happiness, the more disillusioned we can become in our never ending search for the next thing that will complete us.  We need to strip this back and be grateful for what we have.  We need to unlearn this behaviour.  We literally need to stop and smell the roses.

Andy Cope starts each day being thankful that he hasn't got toothache.  A simple trick to start the day happy.  Instead of focusing on the fact that it is silly o'clock, it's raining and you've got loads of work to do, just focus on something positive as your first thought of the day.  For him it's the fact that his teeth don't hurt!  Choosing to find the positive in a situation is the basis of changing your entire outlook on life.  It's so simple, it's genius!  Applying this process to all aspects of your life can definitely change things for the better.

Driving home from Blog Summit there was an accident closing the M6 slip road and causing a tail back.  The weather took a turn for the worse and the heavens opened as we sat there in the traffic jam in the torrential rain.  This incident suddenly became a metaphor for life and a way to begin to change my perceptions for the better.  I didn't stress myself out by being held up at all.  I enjoyed being in the car with my family who had picked me up from the venue, chatting and laughing together about the day we had had.  Then suddenly the sun broke through the rain clouds and  a beautiful rainbow appeared up ahead.  A symbolic rainbow full of the promise of happiness right there at that  very moment.  A sign that we all have the potential to simply be ourselves, but brilliantly!


rainbow

Making Slushies With the Chillfactor Squeeze Cup

I am really hoping for a good summer this year.  After a harsh winter and a disappointing spring, surely we deserve a good summer?  If we do get sunshine and warm weather, one of the things my children love to drink is an ice cold slush.  

We have been sent a Chillfactor Squeeze Cup Slushy Maker from Character Online to try out.  The cup needs to be frozen in the freezer, then a chilled drink is poured in.  The soft cup is then squeezed and in seconds it turns the drink into delicious slush. Easy!

slushies

Any drinks can be transformed into slush: fruit juices, fizzy drinks, even milkshake!  It is fun to do and the resulting icy slushy is really good.  It is much easier than using ice and a blender and is mess free.  However you can only make one drink at a time and the cup needs refreezing between uses.  So if you have more than one child, you may want to get them each their own cup to avoid arguments!  The cups can be kept in the freezer ready for when a slushy drink is required.

The cup comes with a domed lid and a spoon-straw so you can enjoy your slushy anywhere you like.  They stay cold for a long time so don't melt quickly, allowing kids to enjoy their frosty slush.

The cups are £12.99 RRP and are re-usable.  They come in red, yellow, blue and green.  They will definitely be a lot of fun over the warmer months and Kizzy is looking forward to experimenting with fruit juices to make some delicious slushies that will contribute to her five a day.

Here is a video of the cup in action made for UKMums.tv




Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Beginners Tips For Food Photography

One of the (many) things I learned at the Tots 100 Blog Summit in Birmingham this weekend, was how to use my Lumix G2 camera a bit more effectively thanks to Tom and Becky Arber's photography workshop.  I've always wanted some hands on advice on how to get more out of my camera but have never been brave enough to sign myself up for a course.  To get expert advice (suitable for a simpleton like me) for free, thanks to this brilliant conference, was absolutely fabulous and just one of the reasons why I love coming to these events.  There is always something new to learn.

One of the things I regularly photograph for the blog is food for reviews or recipes and it isn't as easy as it should be!  Flashes make the picture look really flat.  Too little light and the image isn't sharp enough.  We don't always have a fabulous source of natural light to illuminate our photography subjects so for well-lit, focused food photos we need an artificial light source.  Tom had some great lights which were perfect for the job and cost just £30.  These will prove a great investment for most bloggers but you can use an angle poise lamp just as effectively.

I didn't realise just what a difference the different lighting made to the image.  I took these photographs of a plate of chocolate doughnuts using the automatic setting on the camera and without a flash.

chocolate doughnuts

Image 1 is lit from above with a light.  Image 2 has no extra lightsource.  Image 3 was lit from the side and Image 4 had sandwich lighting from both sides.  The difference in the images is quite marked, allowing you to get the look you want using shadows and lighting to their desired effect.  It has given me the confidence to experiment with my photography and to play with how I use lighting. 

We also got to play with shutter speed whilst photographing flour being sieved.  Using the S setting on the camera I adjusted the speed to about a 200th of a second.  This photo froze time showing the flour particles passing through the sieve almost individually.  Setting the camera to a slower shutter speed and using a tripod gave a very different effect of the flour flowing through the sieve.  It had a hazier look as the light entered the camera for longer.  These techniques can be used for liquids too to capture a drink being poured into a glass.

sieving flour

For close-ups, we used the Macro setting on the camera.  By setting the focus (mine is done by tapping the screen on the camera), and using a good lightsource, a very sharp, detailed image could be taken.  I had a try with some peppers and some birthday cake candles and was quite pleased with the result.

macro

macro


The workshop has given me a lot more confidence with my camera.  The different manual settings allow for a degree of control over the aperture and shutter speed to get the image you want to achieve.  The importance of good lighting has been demonstrated to me and I won't simply be flashing all my pics from now on!  Hopefully my photographs will improve now I know a few tricks and tips to improve my photography.  I'm still just a beginner who doesn't know the fancy phrases, but I feel far more empowered to give it a go now.

So even an old dinosaur like me can learn new things! Thanks to Sally and the Tots 100 team for their continuing input into the blog-related education of our community!

Monday, 13 May 2013

Thrifty Tips For Living

I often post ideas for money saving ideas, as having five kids and a grandchild means that my finances are often stretched to the limit.  Even once the kids leave home there is no respite, they still cost a fortune to support!  So I like to make our hard earned income work better and harder for us.  From everyday thrifty tips to long term financial planning, we do our best to make the most of our money.  I still want to have a full and rich life, I just want to reduce the price tag!

From Spending to Saving is looking for money saving tips, so here are some ideas on how to reduce the cost of living today and prepare for tomorrow.

Everyday

Stop and think "Do I really need that?" when you are about to buy something non-essential such as a coffee in Starbuck's or a glossy magazine.  It's these little impromptu purchases that can really add up day to day.  Instead, you can find alternatives so you don't need to feel in any way cheated by not buying those things. Why not make your own morning coffee in an insulated cup to take to work? You could also follow a glossy mag's feed on Twitter to catch up with all the celebrity gossip.

Take a packed lunch instead of eating out.  It is so much cheaper and will probably be a healthier option to the usual fast food outlets.

Look out for competitions that are free to enter and have a go.  It is not only a fun hobby, you could end up winning some great prizes. Check out Facebook, blogs and Twitter for current competitions and give it a go!


Weekly

Don't let your grocery shopping get out of hand.  The price of food and household essentials has rocketed, but there are ways to save.

1: Do regular cupboard / fridge /freezer stock takes.  If you are anything like me, you will stock up with things when they are 2 for 1 or on special offer and put them in a cupboard and forget about them.  Knowing what is hidden in the back of the fridge or shelves means you can shop more efficiently.  Don't buy more pasta sauce this week if you already have three jars in the cupboard!

2:  Buy things you need to make planned meals for the week ahead taking into asccount what you already have in stock.  Combining this with using things you already have in your cupboards is a very economical way to shop and stops things going out of date and needing to be thrown away.

3:  Have some good "use up" recipes for when you have perishables that need using up.  This is a Slow Cooker recipe that I use when I have veggies that need using up.  Any combination of root vegetables will do making a wholesome, healthy meal along with a few store cupboard essentials.

Vegetable Stew with Herby Cobbler

recipe



4 sliced carrots
1 small chopped swede
2 chopped sweet potatoes
2 chopped potatoes
2 sliced red onions
1 leek sliced
1 parsnip chopped
2 crushed cloves of garlic
carton of tomato passata
1/4 pint boiling water
1 teaspoon of Italian herbs
1 veggie stock cube

8 oz flour
4 oz margarine
1 teaspoon of Italian herbs
milk to form a dough

Put all the ingredients into the slow cooker for about 5 hours.  Make the cobbler by rubbing the fat and flour together.  Add herbs then make to a stiff dough using milk.  Roll to an inch thick and cut out rounds using a small cookie cutter.  Arrange on top and then finish off in the oven at 180 degrees for about 20 minutes.

4:  Have a "If it's gone it's gone!" policy with kids.  If they eat all the food they like on day one then they will have to go without until the next grocery shop.  There will be no top-up shopping for goodies!  They soon learn to pace themselves and you avoid getting into the habit of doing costly and unnecessary mid-week shopping trips.

5: Forget big brands and give own labels a try.  The quality is comparable but the difference in price is shocking!  Also look in pound shops for brands being sold at their discounted price.  This is great for toiletries, cleaning and laundry products


Monthly

Keep an eye on how much you pay to utility suppliers each month.  Check online to see if you could save money by switching supplier.  Websites such as MSE can offer good advice on if and when to switch.

Also review your Sky or Cable TV Subscription.  If you find you are only watching a few channels and not  getting good value from your package, then scale it down.  If you are paying for movies but not watching them, then take that off your subscription and save a few quid each month.

Annually

Car, Home and Life Insurance renewals can be a big drain on resources.  Never just renew your policies.  Always shop around for cheaper quotes, discounts or buy through a cash-back website such as Groupon.

Christmas and Birthdays can prove very expensive, but they don't have to be.  I would personally never get myself into debt to buy all the latest 'must-haves' for my kids.  They don't really need them and these things usually end up being five minute wonders anyway.  Instead, I buy things throughout the year when I see them on offer in the shops or online and spread the cost. Using points on loyalty cards means I can get some things for free.  I use my year's Boot's Advantage points to get perfume for my eldest daughter.   Planning ahead is the key to budgeting for special occasions which makes it easier to save up or spread the cost.

Parties don't have to be elaborate.  More and more parents feel the need to host parties that cost a fortune, when all the kids really need is some space to let off steam, some simple food and drink and the attention of some grown-ups!

Every year I use my Tesco Clubcard points to buy Merlin Annual Passes for the family.  They give us access to all the Merlin attractions: Alton Towers, Chessington, Thorpe Park, Sea Life Centres, Legoland, Madame Tussaud's, London Eye and The Dungeons etc.  This saves us a fortune over the year and allows us to do days out without having to worry about the entrance costs.

For a budget UK holiday, look out for super cheap advanced booking hotel rates and plan a road trip around the Merlin attractions using your Annual Pass.  Book a room for each night in a different venue and spend the days exploring some of the UK's best attractions.

Have an annual sit down discussion with the family to work out ways of cutting costs.  It's a great way of taking all your outgoings into account and work out ways that you can trim down expenditure as a family.  Involving the kids helps teach them about finances and the cost of living and gives them some financial responsibility, which are invaluable life lessons.

Long Term

Have a financial MOT with an expert.  Make sure that any financial products you have are appropriate to your circumstances and working best for you.  Money is a complicated business and sometimes a little financial advice can save you a small fortune in the long run.

Whichoffshore (the sponsor of this competition) is a company offering Offshore Pensions among its financial products.  These offer some quite attractive features such as giving you the ability to pay into the fund by credit card or standing order; increase or decrease payments; make adhoc payments and withdraw funds midway through the plan.  This makes it a very flexible way of preparing for the future, which may be a more appropriate method of reaching long term financial goals for ex-pats.

When each of my children were born, we opened them a bank account.  Any extra cash they had left over from birthdays etc was put into their savings.  Over the years, this cash has built up and has already proved invaluable to the older children when they left home to go to university or to put towards their first car.  Introducing children to the concept of saving at a young age forms good habits which will (hopefully) last a lifetime.


cash



Thursday, 9 May 2013

Post-It Notes "Friendly Frankenstein" Canvas Artwork

Gone are the days when Post-It Notes came in a single size and colour and were considered to simply be somewhere to write memos to stick to the wall using the clever self-adhesive strip.  These days they are a fun stationery must-have which have inspired people to become far more creative when using them.  Now available in lots of different colours, shapes and sizes, they are still handy for note making, but they can also be used as a material for arts and craft activities. They are mess free and re-positionable so are suitable for even the youngest artists in the family to use. No scissors or glue required. The sticky sheets are ideal for making mosaics, can be used to decorate a pinata, can create fun patterns on the wall or be used to make pixel-style pictures.  There are some amazing examples of fabulous full-wall size murals made using Post-It Notes on the internet which are simply incredible!

3M have just launched Post-It Notes Colour Cubes which really help inspire creativity with their range of vibrant hues!

We were challenged by 3M to come up with an idea for a piece of artwork made using Post-It Notes.  We were supplied with a selection of Post-Its and a canvas to use.

3M

It was fun experimenting with the colourful shapes and making designs.  After a lot of sticking and re-sticking of the Post-Its we had made Initial Mosaics and geometric patterns.  But the design we all agreed on was a fun and easy to make "Friendly Frankenstein" face made using the small green and yellow Full Adhesive Post-It Notes and one large blue Post-It Note.

post-its, 3M

Unfortunately, although they are super sticky and stick to almost anything, they didn't stick firmly to the uneven, rough surface of the canvas so we made our design on paper first, cut around it and then mounted it onto the canvas using fabric glue.  It looked very effective.

Here is my video tutorial on how to make a Friendly Frankenstein Canvas using Post-It Notes.

                           

We were really pleased with the end result, especially the curled hair on top.  Freddy wants it hung on his wall so he obviously thinks it is quite good!  We are going to experiment with this idea further ... a Mrs Frankenstein with curly eyelashes and matching hair-do will be next! There is so much scope to get creative and designs can be as simple or as elaborate as you want.

It is a really fun way of creating art and something that is suitable for all ages and abilities.

Check out the Post-It UK Facebook Page to check out the new range of Post-It Notes and discover a whole world of colour!








Wednesday, 8 May 2013

My Blue Nose Friends

A few Christmases ago, my eldest son introduced us to the My Blue Nose Friends toys when he bought one for each of his sisters and brother.  Everyone fell in love with the gorgeous soft toy animals who each had their own personality that perfectly matched the sibling who he gave them too.  That is the beauty of this range of  adorable plush toys, which are made by the creators of Tatty Teddy and Me 2 You, you will find one that is perfect for you.

Four new My Blue Nose Friends are being added to the collection: Smoo, Comedy, Spirit and Twist.  This makes a grand total of 111 My Blue Nose Friends to choose from.

Smoo the Highland Cow will clamber up the steepest slope to make sure she stays by her owners’ side. 


blue nose

Comedy the Hyena will have fans in tears of laughter as she just loves to make everyone smile! 

blue nose

Spirit the Lemur is bursting with energy but will always have time for a quiet moment with his owner.

blue nose

Twist the Snake has a spellbinding personality and will conjure the perfect solution should there be a problem!  

blue nose

Yo can visit the ‘Official My Blue Nose Friends’ Facebook page to chat to other BNF fans and find out about new launches and products including apps.  This summer, My Blue Nose Friends celebrates its 5th anniversary with the launch of four further Friends to add to the collection.

We were sent the new four toys and I have to admit making some 'awww' noises, especially when I saw the Highland Cow, Smoo.  I love the attention to detail on each individually designed soft toy, with their little sewn on patches and of course their blue noses. 

toys


Each beautifully made super cute collectable character is available from bycarteblanche.com, Amazon, Clintons, WH Smiths and Independent Retailers nationwide, RRP £5.  They really do make a lovely gift.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Woolly and Tig Toys

Woolly and Tig is the smash hit CBeebies show that has found a place in the hearts of pre-school children across the country and  Golden Bear is about to launch some cute new Woolly toys so little ones can have their very own Woolly friend!

The series follows 3 year old Tig, and her toy spider, Woolly. Each episode explores the feelings that children have when faced with new experiences, such as a first day at nursery school, where uncertainty and anxiety are replaced with fun and laughter when Woolly comes to life.  Woolly allows children to express their emotions and he gives sage advice that little ones will take to heart such as you can get to sleep by counting kisses or having a haircut makes you feel shiny and new!

We were sent some of the Woolly toys to try out.
  • Woolly Soft Toy
  •  Poseable Talking Woolly
  • Jumbo Bedtime Snuggle Woolly
  • Woolly Pick n Match Pairs Game

Golden Bear

The Poseable Talking Woolly is the perfect comfort toy and the ideal companion for little ones who love to take a friend on the go! Kids can press his head to hear some of his most popular phrases and bend some of his legs to position Woolly. He’s great for giving little ones a confidence boost in new situations as he is always on hand for a reassuring cuddle.

The Woolly Pick n Match Pairs Game consists of 16 pairs of cards each depicting a different emotion.  Happy, Sad, Proud, Shy and Frightened pictures of Woolly are some of the feelings featured.  Not only are these cards good for matching or games of pairs, they also open up dialogue with your child as you can discuss the pictures and talk about the different ways your child might be feeling.  Great for helping them understand their emotions.

The Woolly Soft Toy is a cute little comfort toy, suitable from birth.  It is a lovely little companion for children to carry around and love.  The attention to detail and the likeness to the TV character will make little ones fall in love with their very own Woolly friend.

Jumbo Bedtime Snuggle Woolly is Freddy's favourite of all the Woolly toys.  He is big and soft and adorable. Perfect for cuddling, this toy is a perfect bedtime companion and can help with the bedtime routine.  Children need things to bring comfort to them at times, especially if they feel insecure or afraid, so this snuggly Woolly will soon become a firm favourite when an extra hug is needed.

Woolly and Tig

Woolly and Tig is a perfect springboard for parents to discuss emotions with young children.  This makes dealing with common worries that children have that much easier, giving a focus and providing fresh ideas to approaching problems with positivity and fun.  These toys offer an extra aid in this process, bringing a familiar and cuddly companion into the proceedings.


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