Friday, 28 February 2014

Review: Pancake Pile-Up!

This month we've started a little tradition of playing a family game after dinner in the evening.  Meg and Eli are able to stay up a bit later without being too grumpy and it's a great opportunity for them to spend some time with their Daddy who often comes home when we're mid-way through eating.

So, we were delighted when Learning Resources sent us their new game, 'Pancake Pile-Up' to try out.  Not only was it a new game to add to our supplies but it was also one which encouraged running.  This is a win-win for the kids!


Pancake Pile-Up is a relay race game aimed at children aged 4-8.  The idea is to use your plastic spatula to carry one pancake at a time across to your plate and pile them up as quickly as you can before finishing them off with a pat of butter.  The game comes with some activity cards which have different orders for the pancakes to go in.  We haven't played this specific game with Eli as he is too young but it's a great twist for older children to create an additional challenge.



As with all the games from Learning Resources, this isn't just a fun activity, it also presents a great opportunity for children to learn without realising it.  It helps with balance and orientation, as well as providing a great outlet for burning up some excess energy.


We have played this a number of times, and it's getting quite competitive now.  We have always played girls against boys and at my last count it was definitely the girls in the lead *cough cough*


The other thing I like about this game is that it would be perfect to play outside when the weather gets warmer and it's something which could be played with the children's friends when they come over which would teach them patience and taking turns as well (or try to at least!)

The game is on sale for £17.94 and I think this is good value for money.  The plastic spatulas and the pancakes are sturdy and well made, not likely to be damaged if a little one takes a tumble or accidentally stands on one (it happens...) - I also think it would be great to give as a gift.

Although the age limit is for 4 upwards, Eli has very much enjoyed playing with this and I think with a bit of adult supervision there's no reason why children under 4 who can walk and at least attempt to balance the pancake can't get involved.  As you can see from the pictures, both Meg and Eli tend to hold their pancake on but as they are at the lower end of the age limit I think this is to be expected.  Heck, even I hold mine on when I'm racing against my Other Half!

You can even put variations on the game as we did, such as having to hop like a rabbit or slither like a snake to get your pancakes across the room.

Bouncing like a kangaroo

And of course, with pancake day just around the corner it would be the ideal addition to a pancake themed party!

Disclaimer: We were sent Pancake Pile-Up for the purpose of this review.  All thoughts and opinions are our own.

Me & Mine Project {February 2014}

dear beautiful

This has been a fantastic month for us with lots of opportunities for us to relax and enjoy spending time together.  We've been out every weekend as a family and have avoided any more nose dives into puddles!

We have loved:

* Spending lots of time outdoors, exploring and discovering signs of spring
* Watching Planes (our favourite film this month)
* Spending half term together
* Visiting Knowsley Safari Park
* Playing a family game every evening after dinner and before bed

But, back to the photo.  I had such high hopes for this month's and I absolutely love it, apart from one thing...which I think will be rather obvious.

We were at the Safari Park, enjoying a lovely family day out but of course surrounded by some rather wild animals.  Right at the point when the photo was taken, my gaze just slid to the window of the car, just to check that none of the lions had decided to visit us!  I didn't have time to take another one of us all, so this month it is ME who isn't looking at the camera and not one of the usual culprits.  Whoops.

What a rookie mistake!


Book Love: Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach

BOOKLOVEBADGE

Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach
On the internet, we can be anyone we choose.  No one knows who we really are.


Where do I start with this book?  It was such an absorbing book that I finished it in less than a day.  I found the writing flowed so well and was very easy to read which meant I could literally race through it.

The premise as well, totally fascinating because it is such a plausible idea.

The story centres around Leila, a young(ish) girl who has lived quite a sheltered life.  She finds being sociable difficult and awkward, always seeming to be one step behind everyone else and so spends the majority of her time online.  Although it's not openly mentioned in the book, she definitely appears to be somewhere on the autistic spectrum, she is very literal and doesn't seem able to compute why someone would say one thing, when they actually mean another.  One day she discovers a website called 'Red Pill' where philosophical concepts are discussed.  Leila becomes a regular presence on the website and one day is approached by the website founder (Adrian) and becomes involved in a plan to help someone commit suicide by taking over their identity online and keeping up the premise that this person is, in fact, still alive in order to protect their family and friends.

This book is incredibly intense; the story is told by Leila who is narrating her side of events some time after the whole plan has been exposed.  It is a dark subject matter, the idea of someone committing suicide is never a light topic after all, but Leila's naivety, her isolation from the real world, adds in to make the story seem quite suffocating at times, for want of a better word.

The thing that really gripped me though, was how much this could be a true story.  Social media is everywhere these days, it is a massive part of people's lives and I think for the most part we all share information about ourselves and assume that those who reciprocate are (for the most part) exactly who they say they are.  The idea that someone could impersonate another person, someone you might think you know, is quite terrifying.  Imagine you hadn't seen a school friend for a number of years and suddenly they 'friend' you; you add them because you 'know' them.  But do you really?  It's quite a scary thought!

The only gripe I have about the book is the ending.  It was a short story, not much over 330 pages, but the ending was rushed and could have gone further I think.  I can't say much without giving the end of the story away but there are definitely some things left hanging and unexplored at the finish.  I think Lottie Moggach deliberately wrote it that way but this can be quite frustrating for the reader.

The book kind of reminded me of a modern day The Net (90's Sandra Bullock film) and is well worth a read.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it.  I'm looking forward to seeing what Lottie Moggach comes up with next!

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Bike Riding & Feeding The Ducks

Meg has been asking to go somewhere she can ride her bike for weeks since we moved and we just haven't had the opportunity to do so.  Living on a main road makes me a bit wary of just going for a ride up and down the street; cars whizz so quickly that it makes me nervous to consider her riding out there.

So, with a couple of hours to spare on Sunday evening we headed out to Southport Botanic Gardens to blow off some steam.


The Botanic Gardens are amazing, with a lake running through, a miniature railway, an aviary as well as a play area.  I can imagine it gets very busy in summer.

We must have timed it right however, as it was pretty much deserted when we got there.  Lovely and peaceful, until of course Meg and Eli arrived!


Eli was quite taken with the swans and reserved all his bread for just them.  Ordinary ducks are far too boring apparently.


We even managed to find a sweet little place to stop for a snack, on a carved out dragon.


There were lots of lovely signs of spring too which was so uplifting.  Be gone horrible winter weather!


As usual, I am linking this post up with Coombe Mill's Country Kids.  Do check out some of the other posts, especially if you want some great ideas on how to enjoy this mild weather :)

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Gallery: Guilty Pleasures

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery

The theme for this week's The Gallery is 'Guilty Pleasures' - I knew straight away what my photo would have to be.  I don't have many things which I am embarrassed about, which I have cause to be a little bit shady on when asked for more details.  

For example, I'm quite proud of the fact that my old(er) man crush is Kenneth Branagh...I mean, I just would...alright!


But the one thing I find myself over-explaining, rationalising, perhaps even playing down, is my love of cheesy American TV shows, and occasionally British ones too.  I know that the majority of them are lame, and stereotypical (it always seems to rain when the two protagonists need to have it out, have you noticed?) but I just love them.  

I get stuck into one particular series and then I spend the next few months devouring them.  Since we signed up to Lovefilm I don't even have to buy the DVD's anymore, I can just watch them instantly.

At the moment we're working our way through Grey's Anatomy but here are some of my previous obsessions.


Do you have any guilty pleasures?  I'd love to know I'm not alone!

Head over to Sticky Fingers if you want to learn the guilty pleasures of other bloggers!

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Slow Cooker: Lasagne

I'm afraid I didn't take any photographs of this lasagne as I was making it, bit of a fail on my part but I've had a couple of people ask me for the recipe so you'll just have to use your imaginations.  I'll give you a bit of help...it looks exactly like every other lasagne you've ever had.  Simple!

The difference between a store bought lasagne and a slow cooked lasagne is, quite simply, the taste.  This lasagne was the nicest I have ever eaten.  That's probably why I forgot to take a photo, it was all gobbled up before I remembered!

I made my own white sauce to go with this, but you could just as easily use a jar if you wanted to get it made quickly. 

Ingredients
500g mince
1-2 tins of 400g tinned tomatoes (I used one but could possibly have got away with two for a bit more sauce)
2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
1 onion
1 red pepper
2 sticks of celery
1 beef stock cube
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1tbsp dried mixed herbs
Pasta/Lasagne sheets
Cheese (grated)

Chop the onions, celery and pepper.  Fry the onions, celery and garlic until softened.  Add the mince and fry until brown.  Add the pepper, tinned tomatoes, herbs, worcestershire sauce and one crumbled beef stock cube and leave to simmer gently whilst you make up your white sauce.

For the white sauce:
40g butter
40g plain flour
1pt milk

Melt the butter in a saucepan on a low heat.  Stir in the flour until you have formed a paste.  Gradually add the milk in, stirring continually.  Bring to the boil and whisk until your sauce begins to thicken.  You can add some cheese in if you want but I'm not a big fan so usually leave this step out.

For the lasagne:

Begin layering up the lasagne in your slow cooker; start with your mince mixture, place lasagne sheets on top, drizzle with white sauce and grate some cheese over. Repeat until you are out of mixture.  I was able to create three layers but it would depend on how much you used on each layer.  Go for two layers if you want a chunkier lasagne.  

Cook on low for 5 hours.

Serve with green vegetables/garlic bread/whatever takes your fancy :)

Enjoy!

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Me & You {February 2014}

dear beautiful

As February is the month of lurve, we decided to try something a bit cutesy for our photos this month.  It's our first time messing around with our camera in this way and although I'm nervous about showing off the pictures, we had such a laugh shooting all these photos.

We must have taken at least 100 shots and have some great fails which will NEVER reach the light of day!

It's amazing to know that even after seven years of marriage we can still laugh together like overexcitable teenagers.  

I needed to laugh.  

This month the stress of moving, of trying to do everything and be everyone to everyone has finally caught up with me and I've felt as though I'm being crushed under the pressure. My freelance work has really taken off this year and it's taking some time to adjust to the differences needed in our routines.  My Other Half has been amazing and really stepped up to help me; getting up early with the kids, taking on the lion's share of the housework, allowing me to just have some time to myself.  I know how lucky I am to have met someone who will fight for me in such a way.  Who will allow me to have these moments of admitting I am struggling and who, without judgement, will make me laugh, lighten my load, believe in me.  Who will spend several hours taking really silly pictures with me.

We don't really 'do' Valentine's Day so this is our way of celebrating how much we mean to each other.

Hope you like it!






Probably need to work on my smile though...

Friday, 21 February 2014

Book Love: The Boy From Aleppo Who Painted The War by Sumia Sukkar



The Boy From Aleppo Who Painted The War by Sumia Sukkar
A Novel of Syria


I was sent this book for review and although I chose it from the press release, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading it.  To be honest, I’m still reeling from the emotional rollercoaster it takes you on and trying to put into words all that happens is a bit tough!

The book is predominantly written from the perspective of Adam, a 14 year old boy with Aspergers Syndrome and it is set during the Syrian conflict.  Adam sees the world in colours, so he talks a lot about people as colours depending on the way they are feeling; people are black or grey when they are angry, blue when they are sad and so on.  This is partly linked with his love of painting.  Adam uses his painting as a way to express himself and the things he doesn’t understand.

Writing from the perspective of Adam gave this book an amazing depth.  You are reading about the war through the eyes of a child and it helps to highlight what a ridiculous situation people were faced with, because of things completely out of their realm of control.  Initially I found it difficult to follow the style of writing as it was so different from what I was used to, quite simplistic and abrupt, but once I’d read a few chapters I found it easier to grasp.  I think the style of writing is what makes the story so heart-breaking; huge life changing events are relayed in such a matter of fact way, especially when detailing the acts of violence being committed.

There are also occasional chapters written by Adam’s older sister Yasmine.  Yasmine is responsible for Adam’s care following the death of their mother.  This is a task she does well until she is kidnapped by some soldiers whilst out with Adam and, naturally, then has her own traumas to deal with.  Personally, I found the experiences of Yasmine incredibly hard-hitting and was brought to tears a number of times, simply shocked that these atrocities could happen.  I found myself torn between remembering that this was a fictional book but knowing that these things exist in cases of war.

Beyond simply the descriptions of the escalating violence in Syria, the book also manages to throw in some humour which caught me off guard.  I would find myself laughing out loud before remembering that really, it wasn’t very funny at all.  I think it’s a clever writer who can draw that scale of emotion in one book.  One minute you are crying over some horrendous abuse being handed out and, in the next second, you are laughing at something inappropriate yet amusing.

In short, I think this is a stunning book, which bravely covers a horrific topic but does so in a way which reminds us that through every traumatic time, you can still find love, affection and humour. 

I would absolutely recommend this book.  One of the reviews said it was, 'as if the Curious Incident of the Night-Dog and The Kite Runner had miraculously fused.'  I haven't read either of these books but I know a number of you have.  Definitely give it a go if you liked either of those books and don't mind a story which will be tough to digest, but thoroughly worth it in the end.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Review & Giveaway: Canvas from Canvas Design

Moving house recently brought to light that we own a lot of photo frames, but that most of the photos in those frames are pre-children.  In fact, we only have three photos of Meg as a baby and none at all of Eli.  How shameful is that!!

This was definitely something I wanted to remedy as although I take a lot of photos (hundreds a week in fact), I never seem to get around to having them printed.

So when Canvas Design offered to send me a photo printed onto canvas, I bit their hand off.  It was perfect!

I knew exactly what photograph I wanted to use; this is one of the first pictures I took when we moved to Southport and I love that we all look so happy.  I wanted it to be a reminder that this new adventure is all about our little family unit, together.


The ordering process at Canvas Design is really simple and is done is three easy steps.  Select the photo you want, choose the canvas size and whether you have any preferences such as the effects, and then you checkout.

The canvas prices start at £7.99 and p&p is free with delivery in just 48 hours.

When the canvas arrived I was very impressed with the packaging.  The canvas had been well wrapped in cardboard as well as bubble wrap to protect it and the image itself is stunning.  The canvas is of a really good quality and comes with all the necessary attachments to hang it although we have just used a nail to balance it which seems to have worked really well.

This was my first time ordering a canvas and I wasn't sure how the quality would translate but it's really great.  We have hung it above the stairs and it makes me smile every time I come down and see our big grins looking out.


I absolutely love this canvas and am already thinking of which image I can get printed next.  Canvas Designs have kindly offered a 15% discount to any order placed using the code BLOG15 and I am really excited to be able to offer my lovely readers the chance to win their own canvas, of any size they choose, from Canvas Designs.

Just use the rafflecopter below to enter.  

UK entrants only please :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: We were sent a canvas for the purpose of this review.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Win competitions at ThePrizeFinder.com

Afternoon in The Park

On Sunday afternoon something amazing happened, something which people had probably started to wonder if they would ever experience again...the sun came out.

Not only that but it was bright, and warm, and almost like spring had arrived.

As you can imagine we were keen to take advantage of this possibly shortlived nice weather so we donned our coats and headed out to the park.

It's the park we have previously been to, but as my Other Half hadn't visited before, Meg and Eli took great delight in showing him all the different places to be explored.  First up though, there had to be an in-depth discussion about the best place to start.


Eventually it was agreed that the playground which had to be our first stop to burn off all that built up energy.


Then time to walk on the wall which they followed all the way around the lake.  Eli was slightly more dedicated to this task than Meg and even insisted on being carried across the breaks in the wall so he didn't miss a step.


We even came across a waterfall we had missed on our first visit and, ever the intrepid explorers, Meg and Eli wasted no time in climbing over the fence and scaling the rocks.


With Daddy keeping a close eye for safety of course (kind of!)


Meg is currently going through a 'need to know the answer to everything' stage and she was fascinated by the water feature bombarding us with questions, 'where does it come from?' 'why is it here?' 'what lives in the water?' and even at one point, 'can we get in?'


Then it was a little bit of fun spent running down the hill to Daddy, before we came across an old fashioned cross trainer type thing (not actually sure what it was) which was all had to go on.


Before heading back to the playground for one more quick swing.


I am linking this post up with Coombe Mill's Country Kids linky.  Head over to see how other bloggers have been enjoying some outdoor play.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Simple Indoor Play

It is currently half term for Meg and, as I'm sure any parent of school age children could tell you, it doesn't take much for boredom to set in.  On Monday we had a lovely relaxed day; at Meg's request we spent the day snuggled up on the sofa in our PJ's watching the television.  It was bliss.

I knew I was unlikely to get away with such level of calm for two days running though and it was unfortunate that yesterday we had to stay in all day waiting for the collection of a parcel.  It was one of those times when they give you a 12 hour time period, and we were unlucky enough that the man didn't turn up until 5pm.  Frustrating to know we could have spent the day out!

In order to beat the boredom, and inspired by Meg's latest phase of singing the Doc McStuffins song on repeat, I decided to set up a little vet surgery.  We fished a cardboard box out of storage, draped a blanket over it and our resident artist created a little sign to let the animals know where to come.


I didn't expect that it would be such a successful game.  Meg and Eli spent the entire morning fetching cuddly animals as well as cars, and fixing them up using the standard tools of a vet.


Right?



I was given the job of 'blanket server' meaning I had to carefully place the newly repaired toy/animal/car etc onto an available cushion bed and cover them with a blanket until they were well enough to leave the surgery.  When I enquired as to whether I could have a turn playing vet, I was condescendingly patted on the arm by my daughter and informed I should stick to what I was good at, blanket serving.  Thanks Meg.


In the afternoon, as the delivery man still hadn't arrived, the kids started to get a bit restless.  In the morning I had read this lovely post from MummyDaddyMe about going 'swimming' in the bath and thought it was a fabulous idea.

I set my little artist to work and asked her to design a sign for our indoor swimming pool whilst I ran the kids a very bubbly bath.


Meg adored being able to have a bath in her swimming costume; she kept asking me whether it was 'allowed'.  Eli was totally perplexed and wouldn't sit down initially but eventually he got the idea.




They stayed in the bath for well over an hour and a half and didn't seem to get bored at all.  It was lovely just watching them play and laugh together.  Even if they were a little bit wrinkly by the end of it all.