Wednesday, 17 December 2014

How many Santa's is too many Santa's?

Now, I love Christmas as much as the next person and a visit to a Santa's Grotto is on most parent's to-do list during the month of December. But without sounding a bit 'bah-humbug', just how many times does a child need to visit Santa!?

We live in a very small town/large village and even here, if (big IF) my children were to visit each Santa's grotto/party that is on offer in the place we live, they would see the big man himself over 10 times! I manage to tactfully avoid most of them - not because I don't want to support the particular group or charity that is providing the Santa experience, just because more than a couple of times is too many!

They also vary in, let's say, authenticity. One particular Santa is pretty good and sees the children in two different grottos. He cleverly remembers them by name (small town syndrome!) so that he can check if they have been keeping their promises of bring well-behaved, tidying their bedroom, etc, etc. 

My children have known for a couple of years that the Santa that we visit in our town are actually Santa's helpers. They cottoned on pretty quickly that they look slightly different at each visit and so the truth was told! Father Christmas does exist and lives happily in Lapland with assistants employed all over the world to help collect messages to send to Santa and distribute presents to the children.

Although... they do believe the Santa at Portmeirion Village is the REAL one, namely for 2 reasons - he has a real beard and can speak Welsh! Our first language at home is English but my children are taught through the medium of Welsh and so are fluent Welsh speakers, so only the real Santa would know that they could speak Welsh, right? That's a good enough reason for me!

This year, we didn't manage to visit the Christmas markets at Portmeirion, but if you are ever near there on the first weekend in December, it's well worth a visit!

So anyway, when you're planning your December fun and festivities, take care not to have a 'Santa Overload'! It can be more magical keeping somethings under wraps...



Monday, 3 November 2014

'Shell Shock' by Neil Blower - Book Review

I don't often review books as I think it's hard to do the book justice without giving anything away! For this book, I make an exception!

The author is the son of an old friend who I recently caught up with after about 16 years with only Facebook contact! Both of our lives have changed in this time and it was lovely to see her again, have a good chat and a coffee! I just need to make sure that the gap isn't so long next time!

So anyway, onto the book! I read all sorts of genre of literature and will give anything a go. I knew that Neil had written a book and had seen coverage of his story on breakfast TV a couple of years ago.

Basically, in the book he tells the story of life after war through the eyes of an army veteran. There's no holding back and it shocked me in parts as he tells the story of living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sometimes, I think I live in a bubble where bad things don't happen up people I know but horrific things DO sadly happen all of the time. 

I'm not ashamed to say that the book made me cry and I'm pretty certain that it will do to you too. If you do one thing this Remembrance Sunday, please take time to just even think about our troops; those at war, those who sadly have not returned and those who have returned and are still suffering.

Please give it a read as it really is written from the heart. As I was kindly given a copy of 'Shell Shock', I have donated the cover price to Combat Stress. You can buy your own copy here with £1 from each copy sold going to this very worthy charity. 

Neil has written a second book, so keep an eye out for it - it's definitely on my Christmas list! There's also a third one on the go.... watch this space!

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Dog Treats Vs Poison: A Pet Health Infographic

We love our dog Lucy and for most of my life, had a dog at home - a cuddle on demand and she doesn't argue back! BLISS!


But we're always really careful about what treats we give her. Here's a handy infographic from Vet-Medic with some simple do's and don'ts!


Thursday, 2 October 2014

Great Gizmos - Sensory Toys


Play and Learn with PlanToys 

Just in time for starting the Christmas lists, the eco-friendly wooden toy range PlanToys is pushing the boundaries with educational toys to make them more interactive and fun as well as flexible and responsive to children’s needs and circumstances.

The Adaptive Toys series from Plan is the latest wave of toys that is entirely dedicated to children with special needs. This highly original collection of learning toys caters for three groups of children with special needs which are cerebral palsy, autism and the visually impaired. There are lots on offer but here is just a snapshot of this great developmental toy range;


The Build-A-Robot is a complete learning experience for kids! The wooden robot includes four interchangeable heads that feature an array of emotions including happy, sad, cross and surprised for children to learn. He can also sit and stand as his chunky legs and arms are moveable to imitate a human being.











For problem solving there is the Vehicle Puzzle that encourages children to match the correct driver to their vehicle, whilst also learning how to shape sort. Each puzzle tile features a colourful background to help solve the game and all tiles interlink together to form a large floor piece. The puzzle includes a helicopter, space rocket, car and submarine for added play value.

To help develop fine motor skills, the Beehives game allows children to match the correct bee to its corresponding colour hive using the wooden pincers included. There are six brightly coloured hives that each have their own miniature bee, complete with stripes and wings. This game also helps reinforce colour recognition and counting.

 For children who are visually impaired, there is a Braille Duo that helps children learn the alphabet and number sequences. The Braille Numbers set enables kids to count to 10 with the wooden tile set that is beautifully engraved with large numbers and the corresponding Braille cells. The reverse side also contains leaf illustrations with the correct number of leaves on to help children count. The 26-piece Braille Alphabet features both the upper and lower case letters of the alphabet and matching Braille symbol, to help each child learn their letters.


These really do look like great toys, whether your child has special needs or not, sadly my children are now above the target age range however I have a younger niece and another one (niece/nephew!) on the way, so I'm sure they will creep onto the Christmas list somewhere!

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

How easy is it to be safe online?

Actually how easy is it to stay safe online? I think I'm pretty up to date with all things secure - I never click the 'save payment details for future use' check box which is offered on so many websites nowadays and I make sure all my anti-virus software is up to date. But maybe I could do more....


Choice Loans have just launched a new interactive infographic that outlines every type of fraud, and 16 different things you can do right now to prevent being a victim of identify fraud or money theft online.

Did you know that £450.4m of credit card fraud was committed in 2013 alone according to Financial Fraud Action UK and there were  221,000 cases of Identity Fraud in the UK last year - also there was the recent iCloud hack!

Have a look at the handy guide here > http://bit.ly/identifyfraud to make sure that you are staying as safe as you can be!


Sunday, 28 September 2014

Magical museums & great galleries!

Did you know that Henry VIII enjoyed a kick-about with his mates, back when football was a game of ‘beastly fury and extreme violence’? Or that with a quick rummage around your kitchen cupboards, under the guidance of museum scientists, you’ll find all you need to make an erupting volcano? Did you know there’s a huge stuffed walrus with its own Twitter account living in a museum in London?


Show Me, set to become the ‘go to’ website for children and young people looking to discover and learn about the weird and wonderful world of museums, galleries and archives across the UK, has just launched this September. The site showcases a fascinating range of stories, artworks, objects, games, films, apps and days out listings to inspire and ignite young imaginations.

The online 'exhibits' are most certainly based around the questions that children ask, for example you can find out about the top ten dead thing in museums(!) and how to make a Roman shield. There's everything from things to make, fact sheets and online games to help to educate your child whilst having fun at the same time!
 
Show Me is excited to be working in partnership with the Bafta-winning Culture Street team who specialise in making short films and interactives for and with children and young people. Culture Street brings a selection of the collection objects featured on Show Me to life in a brand new series of short films about collection objects chosen by children on museum visits. The children take viewers with them around the museum, asking curators the questions we’d all like to ask.

Show Me is also a guide to the best family-friendly museums across the UK, featuring information on the latest events and exhibitions for family days out.

www.Show.Me.Uk will feature:
  • Hundreds of museum games and learning resources 
  • Zoomable, high quality pictures of collection objects from a range of museums 
  • Culture Street’s films and interactives on key collection objects
  • Make & Do guides – from volcanoes to Roman togas and wartime carrot fudge
  • Behind-the-scenes info and stories from the world of museums
  • What’s on guide – venue & listings info on family-friendly UK museums and galleries
  • Homework help for kids and supporting resources for teachers.
Find Culture Street’s films and interactives on www.culturestreet.org.uk as well as on Show Me.

Show Me is edited by Anra Kennedy, Content and Partnership Director at Culture24 and a trustee of both campaigning charity Kids in Museums – www.kidsinmuseums.org.uk - and GEM, the Group for Education in Museums – www.gem.org.uk.

Anra Kennedy says, “It’s so exciting to be opening up museum and gallery collections to a new generation of children and young people on Show Me. There are so many wonderful stories and treasures in museums and galleries but they’re very difficult to find online, especially for kids and their time-pressed parents and teachers. The site will keep growing and developing with more collections, games, stories, museums and listings being added all the time, I’m hoping checking out what’s new on Show Me will become a habit for many children and young people.”

Annie Devitt, Head of Learning at the National Media Museum who worked with Culture Street on the films around their collection says, "We were given a brilliant opportunity to work with Culture Street and their young filmmakers to uncover some of our hidden collection objects. They have managed to bring the history and science behind our treasures to a much wider audience."

Show Me is also supported by Arts Council England.

John Orna-Ornstein, Director of Museums, Arts Council England, said: “The Arts Council is pleased to be supporting Show Me, an initiative that promotes museum collections in an original, relevant and engaging manner. Stories are at the heart of every good museum and Show Me will help to bring collections to life for a wide audience.”

To explore museum content for children and young people why not visit www.show.me.uk and www.culturestreet.org.uk?


Friday, 26 September 2014

Perfect eggs!

Running a B&B means that we are self-confessed experts at cooking eggs.... of all types! We're lucky that we have a super-duper hot plate to fry our eggs on but not everyone has that luxury!

Lark and Larks have put together this great guide to cooking the perfect egg... what do you think?


What's your favourite way to cook eggs? For me, it's poached all the way!

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

I *heart* Italy! Romantic break in the planning...

Fancy a romantic break away? I've always wanted to visit Italy and love the sound of these ideas...


HOFSTATTER: A JEEP DRIVE THROUGH THE SOUTH TYROLEAN “MASI” OF HOFSTATTER
Visiting the estate Hofstätter is an experience that involves all five senses. The guests will be amazed not only by the cellar and the beautiful wine shop, but also a restaurant, a wine bar and the Garden - Vineyard, which makes this enchanting corner a pleasant and unique place to meet. If you want to understand a wine and it's characteristics, you have to explore the vineyard. At Hofstatter estate, you can also make a trip by jeep, having the opportunity to learn about the territory of the vineyards of this historic property, which is located in one of the most ancient wine roads, in the village of Termeno, the old hamlet which has given the name to Gewurtztraminer. If you want to try the typical Thyrolean food, you can taste delicious local dishes accompanied by wines from Hofstätter in the attached Restaurant.


BAGLIO DI PIANETTO:  A SICILIAN WINE CHATEAU AND A RESORT TO DISCOVER IN THE HEART OF SICILY
Baglio di Pianetto is the fulfilment  of an ambitious project and the dream of its founder, the Count Paolo Marzotto, to give life to a chateau in Sicily to produce excellent wines from both Sicilian indigenous grapes such as Insolia and Nero D’Avola and the international grapes Viognier, Petit Verdot and Syrah.

The company owns two estates in Sicily, one is located near Palermo where the vineyards grow at the altitude of 650 metres. Here the area is constantly ventilated and subjected to a considerable temperature range between day and night.  These conditions are perfect for Catarratto, Viognier, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The other property is in the south of Sicily, near Siracusa, where the blazing sun permeates the soil which is mitigated by the frequent sea breezes. This is the ideal microclimate for Nero D’Avola, Frappato, Syrah and Moscato di Noto.

Baglio di Pianetto is not only a chateau. It’s also an Agrirelais, a charming resort in the countryside near Palermo, among vineyards and olive trees. A beautiful destination to spend a relaxing vacation to discover picturesque villages, the centre of Palermo with it's artistic treasures and churches, the beautiful natural environment  and especially to enjoy Baglio di Pianetto’s wines and to visit the winery. 


ROCCAFIORE RESORT & SPA: ORGANIC WINE-MAKING AND CHARMING HOSPITALITY
If you want to take a break and relax in one of the most beautiful areas of Umbria, you have to stop at Roccafiore: a wine estate and a Country Chic Spa Resort where style, tradition and comfort blend together in a harmony created by experience and passion.

Roccafiore is a perfect location for a gateway for two with a restaurant offering delicious local dishes, a beautiful wellness centre and an enchanting hotel in the heart of Umbria immersed in the green countryside surrounded by 90 acres of gardens, vineyards and olive groves.

If you want to discover nature while having fun, you can also join "Jurassic Pork", the “wild” real safari aboard off-road experience to those, they offer along a path surrounded by vineyards and olive groves where you can also visit the of Cinta Senese pigs.

Tucked away among the gently rolling hills and in a wonderful secluded spot, Roccafiore estate is also a real bio-natural reserve, which combines the use of an ancient agricultural tradition with technological innovation in order to preserve the environment.


IN THE HEART OF MAREMMA WITH TERENZI
The Terenzi estate has sprung up as the result of an ambitious idea: to promote an area that has so much to give - starting off with its great wines - but that for far too long has been held in less consideration than other areas of Tuscany. To make this dream into reality, the Terenzi family decided to give up all their other activities and dedicate themselves full time to the area of Scansano and its flagship wine: Morellino.

Hospitality is another cardinal feature for the young Terenzi brothers, who are now running the activities and who enjoy making people discover how wine is made, educating them to drink well and allowing them to get to know the family and the region on a personal basis .
The area devoted to hospitality includes the restaurant, the wine shop and the inn (an old converted farmhouse) composed of 9 rooms decorated in traditional Maremman style, so that every guest can feel perfectly at ease.

The restaurant re-evokes a typically informal and welcoming Tuscan eatery, with a splendid veranda that looks out over the vineyards and the gentle valleys of the Maremma. The old farm has, on the other hand, been turned into an inn containing 5 rooms and a suite, distributed among the three main farm buildings that make up the "agriturismo". Each room is spacious and comfortable, with all the mod cons such as free Wi-Fi connection, drinks fridge, television and telephone. 

The excellent local cuisine; the close proximity of the Saturnia thermal baths, where you can also find exclusive golf courses and riding stables; the opportunity to go on excursions to the Maremma Alberese Natural Park, to Porto Santo Stefano and Porto Ercole, or to the splendid sites of Pitigliano and Sovana: all this makes the Terenzi estate an unmissable destination when visiting the Maremma around Grosseto.


THE TASTE OF THE UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE AT LA CIAU TORNAVENTO
If you pass by Piedmont region, you should stop in the Langhe, whose viticultural landscape has just been recognized as a World Heritage Site by Unesco.

In the heart of this enchanting wine region, which produce Barolo and Barbaresco, two of the world’s most famous wines, wine growing has been the heart and soul of the economy for centuries. For a fine dining break, you cannot miss the restaurant La Ciau of Tornavento, where the high cuisine is defined by elegant flavors of the dishes created by Maurilio Garola.

You can eat on the balcony watching the most beautiful landscape of the Langa and taste great wines:  inside the restaurant you can visit the most important collection of Italian wines, a real temple with over 60,000 bottles in a room designed for them. La Ciau has been included in the list of restaurants with the best wine list by Wine Spectator and in 2013 
the Revue de Vin de France has awarded La Ciau as the best wine list in the world.

http://www.laciaudeltornavento.it/ita 

Monday, 22 September 2014

Coffee, coffee, coffee....

If there's one thing that I couldn't give up, then it would be coffee!


The story of coffee
Despite being readily available, coffee has a colourful history dating back to the 9th century. To give you a better understanding of the world’s favourite drink, Logic Vending have put together this guide covering everything you need to know about coffee!

When was coffee first discovered?
According to legend, coffee was first discovered in the 9th century by an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi. He realised that the beans has miraculous ‘perk-me-up’ qualities when he noticed that his goats became spirited and sleepless after eating berries from a certain tree. Kaldi recounted the phenomenon to the local monastery whose abbot made a drink with the hope of staying awake for evening prayer. After experiencing the energising effects first hand, the abbot shared his new found knowledge with other monks. Thus the coffee craze was born!

The Arabian entrepreneurs
While coffee was first discovered in Ethiopia, the Arabs were the first to actively cultivate plantations and start up a thriving trade market for the beans. During the 15th century production was limited to the Yemeni district however by the 16th century, production had extended to Turkey, Egypt, Persia, Syria and beyond.

Coffee arrives in Europe
Compared to the East, Europeans didn’t discover the delights of coffee until the 17th century when whispers of the black brew reached major cities. While consumers were sceptical at first and referred to the drink as the 'bitter invention of Satan,’ it was soon given the seal of approval by the Pope himself! By the mid-17th century London played host to over 300 coffee houses.

The US invasion
America was the next nation to taste the bitter bean when merchants brought coffee to New York (then known as New Amsterdam) in the mid-1600s. While tea remained hugely popular, King George’s 1773 ‘tea tax’ turned Americans against the leaf based beverage and coffee emerged as the drink of choice.

The spread of plantations
As the world began to develop a growing taste for coffee, European nations decided to stir up the Arabian coffee plantation monopoly. While they did encounter resistance, the Dutch eventually got their hands on some seedlings in the mid-17th century and attempted to plant crops in Indonesia. The beans thrived in the warm climate and today, Indonesia remains a primary producer of coffee. In 1714 the Dutch showed a streak of exceptional generosity and presented a coffee plant seedling to King Louis XIV of France. The seed was sewn in the Paris’s Royal Botanical Garden where it thrived! However in 1723, a young officer is thought to have stolen a seedling and transported it to the French Caribbean Island of Martinique. Thus the beginning of the South and Central American coffee revolution!

Where is coffee produced?
Today, coffee plantations are grown in countries across the globe. Asia, Central America, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands are all popular coffee producers however it’s Africa and South America that really steal the show.

So if you love coffee just as much as me and are looking for a high quality coffee machine to rent or buy, Logic Vending has a huge selection of models to suit cafes, restaurants, bars, salons, offices and more. The Fracino Romano 2 Group is a great commercial coffee machine to lease and features an hourly output of 400 cups. For smaller settings, bean to cup machines are ideal. So, have a look at their website and choose what would be best for you!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Expecting the unexpected through the post!

ascdirect.co.uk has been providing a wide and varied range of corrugated box solutions for over 30 years. These can be designed to exact specification including recyclable, lightweight or heavy duty for export. The boxbuilder tool allows customers to design a bespoke design tailored to their exact needs which keeps postal costs to a minimum and offers great environmental savings.
To mark the re-launch of its new website ascdirect.co.uk has released a list of the weird and unusual things its customers have posted with boxes made through the boxbuilder function:

  1. ‘Breathable’ boxes for a bee breeder;
  2. Snake carrier;
  3. Worms (for fishing enthusiasts);
  4. Double walled box for posting frogs;
  5. Motorcycle box (whole);


One customer requested a box be made so he could post his daughter out to visit his parents in Australia. Though a box could be made it is illegal to put children in the post!

Andrew Woodhead, Managing Director at ascdirect.co.uk said: “We have had some very unusual requests but we enjoy providing the perfect solution to all our customers packaging needs. These have ranged from a request for boxes to post live crickets to reptile pet owners as food, and a box to post a bee hive safely.”
 

“We are always looking at ways to support the individual packaging needs of a growing network of entrepreneurial home-workers who are fuelling our extraordinary cottage industry in the UK. Now our customers can design their bespoke boxes easier and quicker than ever before. The process has being simplified down to three simple steps, improving our customer’s on-line experience but with our great value prices remaining the same.
 

”With Ebay and Amazon sellers also playing a big part of our customer base, they are able to design their perfect box - offering savings on postal costs as well as environmental benefits.”
It is possible to send living creatures through Royal Mail and these include bees, caterpillars, cockroaches, crickets, destroyers of noxious pests, earthworms, fish fry and eggs, leeches and other parasites, lugworms, maggots, mealworms, pupae and chrysalides, rag worms, silkworms, spiders and stick insects. In order to comply with the tight postal guidelines** laid down by Royal Mail, the boxes used need to be secure and good quality to ensure that they do not break open during transit.
 

*Live animals and reptiles are prohibited, as are any creatures or insects classified as dangerous within the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 (including certain venomous spiders). Please see www.royalmail.com/internationalprohibitedgoods for more information.
 

**They must be boxed and packaged to protect the creatures, Royal Mail staff and their customers from harm. Items must be clearly marked ‘URGENT – LIVING CREATURES - HANDLE WITH CARE’. The sender’s name and return address must be clearly visible on the outer packaging.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Gruffalo: Games mobile app

Families have been flocking to download the first-ever Gruffalo: Games mobile app since it launched at the end of August, helping it to become the most popular Kids and Education iOS app this week.

Children can test The Gruffalo’s quick-thinking and super smart moves in a series of simple but classic games, helping complement the key skills they’re learning at pre- and primary school.

The team behind The Gruffalo: Games app is Oscar-nominated entertainment company Magic Light Pictures and is based on the much-loved picture book, The Gruffalo, written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler.

The games are based on traditional and well-known children’s games that everyone will be familiar with, including snap, three-in-a-row, matching and jigsaws – but each with a monstrous twist!


In two of the games, 3 In A Row and Snap, children are able to play against The Gruffalo himself, who, despite his terrible tusks and terrible claws, is surprisingly good at card games. Children will find plenty of challenge trying to beat him!

The beautifully designed and illustrated app is aimed at 3-7 year olds and features six games set to music from the films. Gruffalo: Games captures the essence of the stories by featuring both The Gruffalo and other popular characters from the book, including Mouse, Owl, Fox and Snake.

The enduringly popular children’s character comes to life in this new mobile app which has been designed to entertain children and engage them with the real world, as well as The Gruffalo character.

The Gruffalo: Games follows in the footsteps of the highly successful Room on the Broom app which was launched by Magic Light Pictures in October 2013.

Martin Pope, co-founder of Magic Light Pictures, said: “We’re thrilled that The Gruffalo’s many fans seem to be enjoying the games so much, which are designed to be fun, challenging and encourage imagination. “

“It's been a pleasure and honour to work with Julia's wonderful rhymes and Axel's amazing illustrations, and we’ve worked closely with them to ensure we stay true to their characters.”

Magic Light Pictures developed the app with Stormcloud Games, who they had previously worked with on Room on the Broom: Games released late last year.

The Gruffalo: Games iOS app is available to download priced £2.99.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Sunflower Seed Flapjacks

Good fats/bad fats... it can be a minefield out there with lots of dietary advice being thrown at us from all directions. Everyone loves a treat but finding an energy-rich, healthy snack can be tricky! That's why I love this easy to bake flapjack recipe.

Don't be mistaken, it's not a low-fat recipe by any means ('real' butter!) but it has the classic flapjack recipe base with oats (great for long lasting energy!) and you can add seeds (sunflower or pumpkin work best) to increase the 'good fats' in the snack. Dried apricots also work a treat as would any dried fruit to be honest! So give it a go for the after-school snack; I'm sure you and your children will love it!

Sunflower Seed Flapjacks
200g unsalted butter
6 tbsp. golden syrup
330g porridge oats
2 tbsp. sunflower seeds (or pumpkin seeds or a mixture of both)
2 tbsp. nuts (I like to use flaked almonds, but any would do)

  1. Preheat the oven to Gas 4 and line a Swiss roll tin or 10" square tin with baking parchment.
  2. Combine the oats, seeds and nuts in a large mixing bowl with a pinch of salt.
  3. Gently heat the butter and golden syrup together over a low heat until completely melted.
  4. Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients and mix gently. Spoon into the prepared baking tray and press down quite firmly to level the mixture.
  5. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20-25 mins until golden brown. The flapjack won't quite be set, but leave to cool completely in the tin before turning out. I tend to score the flapjack into portions after about 10 mins of cooling but still leave in the tin until cold before removing.
  6. Enjoy! This will keep in an airtight container for a few days... if it lasts that long!

Friday, 1 August 2014

Kitting your children out for school with Aldi!

Aldi is fast becoming one of the leading supermarkets, but don't forget they also stock a great range of children's clothing including school uniform and shoes. We were approached to road-test some of the Back to School range and so here's our thoughts - from both a kids and parents point of view!


C says that the girl's cardigans are nice to wear with the sleeves not too long nor not too short. Or too tight for that matter! The skirts are long enough to fit nicely but still let you run around the playground. And the shoes are pretty and look nice with tights or socks.

J says that the sweatshirts are nice and don't make him itch! The trousers are the right length (J has quite short legs but the trousers weren't really, really long on him) and adjustable waists so they don't fall down! The polo shirts are nice and comfortable and don't make you too hot when playing with your friends at playtime.

And from a parent's point of view... the clothing seems to wash well and holds it's shape when dried. The test will be how they stand up to the first full term of school paint! The hems are well-stitched and look kid-proof. The shoes are well made and look nice as well as being practical. There's not a huge selection of colours so make sure you check that your local store stocks the colour that you need. The prices are very reasonable and you can also stock up on underwear and socks, at least starting the new school year with all matching socks! As a side point, there's also stationery, lunch boxes and other school essentials available so you could get basically everything under one roof for a bargain price! A stress-free shopping trip sounds perfect! 

So pop down to your local Aldi and have a look at the uniform on offer - I'm sure that you won't be disappointed!

Thursday, 31 July 2014

31 things to do in August!

Here comes August! We've been waiting for you for sooo long - so don't disappoint and make sure you keep the sunshine with us for a few more weeks!

Here's our list of the 31 things we hope to do during August - some indoors, some outdoors and some necessaries which aren't exactly adventures....
  1. Go on a bike ride - we're spoilt for choice where we live but we probably will embark on a northern cycle up the Wales Coast Path.
  2. Have a kid's bedroom 'sort out'! Refurbish our local charity shop with anything that we have outgrown - toys and clothes!
  3. Paint a picture.
  4. Paddle in the sea.
  5. Buy new school uniforms and shoes.
  6. Plan our Cardiff weekend away (October can't come soon enough!).
  7. Have at least(!) one day where my 2 children don't fall out!
  8. Go for a swim in the sea.
  9. Go for a swim in an indoor pool.
  10. Have a movie marathon.
  11. Make something out of papier mache (my kids love this, whereas I hate it!)
  12. Walk the MawddachTrail.
  13. Following my eldest's eye test (next week), get her kitted out with new glasses.
  14. Visit Bendigedig Indoor Play Centre.
  15. Sort out pre-school haircuts.
  16. Visit the library once a week to join in with the Reading Challenge.
  17. Visit Lake Vyrnwy.
  18. Have a BBQ on the beach.
  19. Make a new dessert with the kids - not cupcakes!
  20. Visit a National Trust property.
  21. Knit something.... probably a scarf!
  22. Cross my fingers and either celebrate or commiserate when my Welsh exam results arrive!
  23. Have a board games evening - some of our favourites include The Logo Board Game and the Deadly 60 Tracker game.
  24. Go to the cinema.
  25. Fly a kite.
  26. Crack the 100-word spelling list my youngest has to learn over the school holidays... we're over half way there 2 weeks in!
  27. Go out for Sunday lunch - a luxury for us to have an afternoon off during the school holidays!
  28. Help my eldest with her fundraising plan to raise money to help pay for a class trip.
  29. Plan the Autumn Term for Brownie meetings.
  30. Make something useful out of loom bands!
  31. And finally, have at least a little fun and smile every day!


Monday, 28 July 2014

Sticky Hot Dog Jackets - Recommended Recipe!

Sticky Hot Dog Jackets
Serves 4, takes about 1 1/4 hours including 1 hour cooking

4 baking potatoes, each weighing about 225g/8oz
olive oil, for brushing

For the sausages and glaze:
2 tbsp maple syrup or clear honey
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 tsp tomato puree
8 pork sausages

For the mayo:
8 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
3 tbsp snipped chives or finely chopped spring onion

  1. Rub the potatoes with a little oil, then sprinkle generously with salt (preferably flakes) and black pepper. Wrap each one in double-thickness foil and cook on the BBQ for 1 hour, turning frequently, until cooked. Or bake unwrapped in the oven at fan 180C/200C/gas 6 for the same amount of time.
  2. Mix the maple syrup, vinegar, mustard and tomato puree to make a glaze. Brush over the sausages and cook on the BBQ, turning and basting often, for 10 mins until cooked and sticky. Meanwhile, mix the mayo ingredients in a small bowl.
  3. Unwrap the potatoes and split down the middle. Add mayo and sausages (like a hot dog). Serve with a leafy salad.
Per serving: 740 kcal, 19g protein, 56g carbohydrate, 50g fat, 13g saturated fat, 4g fibre, no added sugar, 3.49g salt.

Recipe source: unknown

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Staying safe at the seaside this summer with the RNLI

School summer holidays often mean a trip to the seaside. Some of you may know already, but my husband is part of the local RNLI crew. Seeing first hand how often the ILB (inshore lifeboat) and ALB (all weather lifeboat) get called out during the summer months is quite frightening. Anything from a lost child to a boat in distress out at sea prompts a launch.

So, if you're heading for one of our beautiful beaches this summer, the RNLI offers the following advice for keeping safe:
  • Wherever possible, swim at a lifeguarded beach.
  • Always read and obey the safety signs, usually found at the entrance to the beach. These will help you avoid potential hazards on the beach and identify the safest areas for swimming.
  • When on a lifeguarded beach, find the red and yellow flags and always swim or bodyboard between them – this area is patrolled by lifeguards.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Be careful not to get cut off by the tide when walking along the shore.
  • Wherever possible, surf at a lifeguarded beach and follow the advice of the lifeguards.
  • Inflatable ​toys are great fun in pools, but we strongly advise against using them in the sea, as there is a high chance of being swept out.
  • If you get into trouble, stick your hand in the air and shout for help.
  • If you see someone in difficulty, don't attempt a rescue. Tell a lifeguard, or, if you can't see a lifeguard, call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard.
  • If you are hiring equipment for a surfsport, try to do so from a member of the Surf Hire Safety Scheme. Scheme members check equipment regularly for damage, rent out equipment suitable to your ability and offer safety advice for the local area.



Have a look for yourself at the number of launches listed on the RNLI website here. Also, as they rely heavily on public donations, feel free to click the 'donate' button too! :)

Friday, 18 July 2014

Lake Garda - a dream holiday... one day!

I, like many of you I'm sure, have a mental list of all the places that I would like to visit before my number's up - Lake Garda being one of them!

Even after the end of summer, the Lake Garda is a place to discover, where you can relax among breathtaking panoramas, street food, fish and many other local products such as oil, high quality wines, restaurants and much more. Here are some ideas for an itinerary with suggestions for wineries visits, events, restaurants and hotels.

On Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th September, Ciottolando con Gusto will be on stage in Malcesine, with a sort of treasure hunt along the roads full of “ciottoli” of the medieval hamlet which overlooks the lake.

The event is dedicated to the discovery of the flavors of Garda Lake, from fish, to Garda Dop Olive Oil to the product of Monte Baldo. With the map of the little hamlet in hand, foodies will have the chance to choose among the different menus of the several bars, wine-shops, restaurants and pizzeria, which will join the initiative.

Each food & wine lover, thanks to a coupon that everyone can buy at the Ciottolando info point, will be able to create its personal menu, opting for a first course in a venue, and then the second course in another one and so on until coffee and dessert.

In the Giardino del Gusto, Via Navene, you will have the chance to buy the typical products of Monte Baldo, from cheese to honey, oil and many more.

TUTT’OLIO - 19 OCTOBER 2014 - MALCESINE (VR)
Sunday, October 19th, the town of Malcesine will become the stage for Tutt'Olio, the event that will give tastings, walks among the olive groves and themed menus to discover one of the typical products of the Garda, its olive oil. The full program of the event will let you know this product in all its forms, from the tree to the table. A real journey in an all-round excellence of our country....

 
In case, you want to visit a winery….
GERARDO CESARI: AMARONE, GARDA, ROMEO AND JULIET
Founded in 1936, Gerardo Cesari has soon become synonymous of the wines of Verona in the world. Thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of Franco Cesari, in the early Seventies, Cesari Amarone is among the first wines in Valpolicella sold in the five continents. Just a few kilometers from the Lake Garda and from the city of Romeo and Juliet, the winery located in Cavaion Veronese offers to tourists and wine lovers the opportunity to get to know the place where the most popular wines of this area are born.

Cesari wines have been recently recognized abroad with the title of “Bester Amarone des Jahres 2013” assigned by MUNDUSvini 2013, one of the most important German wine contest.

In addition, in order to promote the culture of its territory, the winery has decided to support the Juliet Club, the association that replies to the thousands of letter to Juliet from all over the world. The Cesari wines are in fact becoming the wines of the lovers.

For a gourmet stop…
RESTAURANT VECCHIA MALCESINE (1 MICHELIN STAR)
Leandro Luppi is the chef of the Restaurant Vecchia Malcesine, a little venue overlooking the small houses of Malcesine town centre.

Twelve years ago, Leandro arrived in this place after several working experience in Alto Adige and Trentino and took over a typical trattoria and bravely transformed it in a place of the taste, with a cuisine which combines the creativity of the chef with local seasonal products.
 

For a vacation spot …..
VILLA CORDEVIGO
Villa Cordevigo Wine Relais is an 18th century Venetian Villa with formal Italian gardens and an age-old park which has recently be entirely refurbished as a 5 star hotel with its Oseleta Restaurant. The spectacular entrance along a drive flanked with tall cypresses leads to the Relais itself with its olive groves and woods, a 100 hectare estate on the hills of Cavaion Veronese above Lake Garda and just a few kilometers from the famous city of Verona.

Obviously, there are many more sights to see but these are now all on my list! Where would you love to visit?

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Summer photography tips and tricks with Jessops' expert help!

Capture every moment spent with the children this summer! I love to take photo's of my children and the mischeif and mayhem that they sometimes get up to, but how to get the image right? Ian Savage, Head of Training at Jessops has these great tips for taking the perfect photo!


1. Child’s play
Kids rarely stay still long enough for you to take their picture, but instead of resorting to bribery to get them to sit down for a photo, start photographing them on the go. Either choose your camera’s sports mode or select shutter-priority and continuous AF. In both cases, your camera’s autofocus will keep your subject in focus, even when that’s a toddler wobbling around a playground on a bike with stabilisers. It really is child’s play to get a good shot!



2. Get together
Whether you’re enjoying a barbecue in the back garden or a walk in the park, it’s a great opportunity to get some photos of everyone together. And with just a bit of planning, you can get some lovely photo memories. Before you gather your group, scout out a good spot and think about your composition. All in one long line is boring, so consider arranging them in two lines; ask some to sit, or have the kids kneeling in front; or how about running towards you? Lines, by the way, don’t have to be horizontal; think vertically, too, and have fun!



3. Beautiful portraits
Taking portraits outdoors means you can work with lots of lovely daylight, and at this time of year you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to stunning natural backdrops. When you position your subject, make sure they won’t be squinting or pulling a face because the sun is in their eyes. Face them away from the sun – side lighting works well – and ask them to stand in a shaded area for a more flattering, less harsh light. Then all you need to do is turn the exposure mode dial to aperture-priority, focus on the eyes and take the shot!



4. Action shots
Feeling a bit more adventurous with your photography? Then try panning. This clever technique gives your photos a sense of movement. Pick the point you want to take the photo and face it, but then turn to the direction the subject will be coming from. Half press the shutter button, and without moving your feet, turn smoothly to follow the subject, fully press the shutter button at your chosen point to take the photo and continue to follow the subject out of shot.



5. Childproof!
Many cameras are waterproof, sand-proof, dust-proof and even drop-proof these days – so if you want to take great shots without worrying about the kids’ grubby hands, or damaging your new piece of kit, consider a camera that’s up to the challenge.





Recommended by Jessops: Ricoh WG-4 GPS
If you need a super-tough camera to take with you on your adventures, look no further than the Ricoh WG-4 GPS. It’s waterproof to 14m, shockproof to two metres, and can survive being crushed by 100kg weights: perfect if you want a camera that’s safe around kids, without compromising on quality.


I think I'll be putting this camera on my birthday list.... roll on September! 

Friday, 4 July 2014

Summer Food Tips

With the summer comes the sun (usually!). Here are ten top tips to help keep your tasty food safe over the summer months.
  1. Use small ice packs in your picnic bag to keep food cool, fresh and hygienic (especially anything that it dairy based).
  2. Add wet ingredients to sandwiches on arrival at your destination to avoid soggy bread.
  3. When picnicking, pack rubbish bags, so you can take your leftovers and packaging away with you.
  4. Don't attempt anything to grand - the most popular food is often the simplest. Quality, fresh ingredients always taste fabulous in the fresh air.
  5. Buy some simple mesh dome-shaped covers to keep insects away from salads and other foods.
  6. Stock up on paper napkins and hand-wash gel, and keep them in the car ready for impromptu picnics.
  7. Simple crudités with dips are great sharing food and work well for summer lunches and suppers at home or on a picnic.
  8. For sweet treats in summer, avoid chocolate, and opt instead for refreshing fruit salads and yoghurts, or finger foods such as flapjacks or shortbread.
  9. Use insulated containers to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.
  10.  Try herbal or mint tea, or iced coffee as a refreshing, thirst-quenching variation.
(These great tips come from The Co-Operative Food)
 
 


Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Summer Raspberry Sweet Treats!

Summer is a time for picnics and al fresco eating, but what's a picnic without a sweet treat?! Combine your outdoor eating with a good walk and you've every excuse for a tasty dessert!

We love these simple Raspberry Shortbread Bites - prepare in advance and then assemble just before eating... delicious!

Ingredients (makes 6)
Shortbread
200g butter, softened
200g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
100g plain flour, plus extra for rolling
100g cornflour

Topping
150g raspberries, washed (other soft fruits will also work really well)
Clotted cream, fresh cream or butter icing, which ever is your preference
White chocolate chips/shavings

Base
6 ready made meringue nests

  1. At home, make the shortbread. Pre-heat the oven to Gas 5. Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.
  2. With an electric hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together for approx. 3-4 mins. Sieve the flour and cornflour into the mixture and combine with the mixer for a further 4-5 mins.
  3. Roll out onto a floured surface to a thickness of approx. 2cm. Cut into rounds with a 6cm cutter. Re-roll the dough and cut further shapes if required (any leftovers can be your taste-testers!)
  4. Bake in the oven for approx. 10 mins - the edges should be golden brown. Once out of the oven, sprinkle with a little sugar - coloured sugar looks a little bit more special! Leave on the tray for a couple of minutes to cool and then cool completely on a wire rack. The shortbread will keep for 2-3 days in an airtight container (if it lasts that long!)
  5. When you are ready to eat the delicious treats, place a meringue nest on your plate, top with a little cream, a sprinkle of white chocolate and a few raspberries. Finish off with a shortbread top and enjoy! 

So there we have it - my entry for the Sweet Treats category! I hope that you enjoy it as much as my family does.

This post is an entry for the #MorrisonsMum (or #MorrisonsDad) Summer Recipe eBook Challenge sponsored by Morrisons, which has recently cut prices on over a thousand every day products. Find out more here price checker tool.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Breaking down the barriers - understanding the logic behind *some* Welsh words!

Being able to 'analyse' Welsh words makes it easier to remember them and then translate new words as you come across them.

These are just five quick examples of words which you break down into smaller words which *might* help you to keep them firmly in your brain!

  • Cefnogaeth > cefn o gaeth > to have someone's back > to support

  • Cyfrifiadur > cyfrif i addurn > a counting ornament > computer 
    • anything beginning with cyfrif is to do with counting; cyfrifiannell is a calculator, cyfrif is to count, cyfrifydd is an accountant.

  • Llyfrgell > llyfr gell > a cell of books > library
    • oergell (cold cell > refrigerator) and rhewgell (ice cell > freezer) follow the same pattern, so anything with -gell is a container of something.

  • Ffermwr > fferm gŵr > farm man > farmer 
    • words ending in -wr are mostly someone who works somewhere; gyrrwr (gyrru gŵr) > driver, cyfreithwr (cyfraith gŵr) > solicitor, tafarnwr (tafarn gŵr) > landlord.

  • Modurdy > modur tŷ > motor house > garage
    • words ending in -dy/-ty are often a place where things are housed or work is done; ysbyty > hospital, gweithdy > workshop, gwesty > hotel. 
 
 
So, it makes sense to try and understand how the word is 'made', you will have a logical reminder of most words and be able to work out the unknown ones... well, some of them anyway! Of course, not all words DO follow a pattern, but it's a start!
 
Share some of your own tips below!
 


Monday, 2 June 2014

Welsh English words - a blend of two languages!

Although Welsh stands pretty strong as a language in it's own right, there are many, many borrowed words in the modern Welsh language. The spelling often looks very different to the English spelling, but when you say the word, all becomes clear!

Here are a few of my favourites!
  • fan > van
  • marmalâd > marmalade
  • trowsus > trousers
  • coffi > coffee
  • cwestiwn > question
  • plismon > policeman
  • beic > bicycle
  • sgarff > scarf
  • ffrog > frock/dress
I'll be adding to this list so keep checking back for updates! Have you got any more to suggest? Let me know in the comments!


Image via http://bit.ly/Pszzlg