Friday, 31 October 2014

Love the Little Things #4

It completely fell off my radar to write a Little Loves post last week, I can't believe how quickly the time is going by.  Just one week until I fly off to Uganda now (excuse me whilst I have a moment of panic!)

This week has been a toughie in particular and I think it has made me more determined to hunt out the good in our lives.  Sitting this morning with my cup of tea and thinking over what I was going to write certainly brought a smile to my face, so for me it worked!

This will kind of be a double-whammy as I play catch up from last week:

It took me a while longer than I thought to get through The Blackstone Key; it was a bit slow-going in places but overall I liked it.  I followed that up with The last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl With The Pearl Earring.  I've watched the film but never read the book but if her latest one is anything to go by then I will be hunting out everything she's ever written.  Love, love, loved it and she has definitely earned a spot on my favourite author's list.  Recommend picking it up if you can.

I'm currently reading Daughter by Jane Shemilt; I was a bit dubious about this one as it's the story of a 15 year old girl who is 'abducted' (*spoiler* I flicked to the end and it turns out she's not) but it's actually been quite intriguing so far.

I haven't really watched much television this week as we've been so busy.  As Wednesday was a particular crappy day, we decided to watch our old favourite 'Pitch Perfect' with a glass of cava (naturally), I know it's sad but I can't wait for the second one to come out next year!

I am a huge Pentatonix fan and I saw on YouTube that they have released a new Christmas Carols album.  As I'm also a huge fan of the festive season that will definitely be going on my iTunes list.  It reminded me of one song they did last year, 'Carol of the Bells' which just gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.  I am totally ignoring the fact that it is still October and am going to share it with you.  


Last week we organised a surprise party for my mum's 50th.  She had absolutely no idea that it was happening which was a small miracle in itself.  I sorted the decorations which included these fab printables which came from here, and also made a cork photo-frame which I think looks quite good if I do say so myself!

Is it bad to say I can't really remember what I've worn this week?  My head has kind of been in what I will be wearing as I try and hunt down summer clothes in autumn.  

And lastly...
We went to the National Forest Adventure Farm yesterday and got to visit their pumpkin patch.  I was thrilled as every single pumpkin patch in the North West appears to have run out and I had promised the kids we'd go.  They loved it, as well as all the other great stuff the farm has to offer, they had decorated it up for Halloween and we had to visit the Spooky Hotel twice.  The second time some kids, who must have been about 12/13, asked me to go round with them as they were too afraid.  I had to smile, if my 3 and 5 year old could handle it, I'm sure they could have!

What have you been up to this week?


Sunday, 26 October 2014

Halloween Fun With Pets At Home

I am a member of the #CollectiveBias® Social Fabric® Community. This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper amplification for #CollectiveBias and its advertiser.

There is an issue which divides our family greatly.  It is often brought up around the holiday season and evokes strong reactions in all those present.  On one side we have myself and the children and on the other, fighting his corner strongly, my husband.  What could this be you ask?  Well this year it was the issue of Halloween Dog Costumes.

I love the idea of dressing Pepper up.  She is regularly adorned with accessories and trinkets, forming part of the children's games but we've never branched out into actually buying something from a store, such as Pets At Home.

This is mainly because my Other Half abhors the idea and can't think of anything worse.  But this year, we were determined!

We laid out our plan for some truly spooky Halloween fun for Pepper.  First we would visit Pets At Home and purchase an outfit for Pep and then we would treat her to some delicious homemade Halloween treats.

And there was nothing Daddy could do about it!

We almost missed the cut-off for the outfits, which were already on sale the week we went, even though it isn't Halloween for quite some time yet.  I suppose this is to make way for their Christmas stock which is already dominating quite a large percentage of the store.

I spotted a HUGE hide bone which would be perfect for a Christmas treat, mostly because I'd like to see Pepper attempt to carry it outside and bury it in our garden as she likes to do with every other treat she is given.

Unfortunately, there wasn't much choice, perhaps because Pepper is a large dog.  There were plenty of cute outfits for little dogs but for her size we had to choose the skull body warmer and cap.

This was fine though, after much discussion we decided that she would be a pirate dog, which is perfect as the kids have plenty of pirate accessories to be her shipmates.

No trip to Pets At Home is complete without visiting the fish.

All dressed up and looking fierce, the next part of our day was to create some yummy special treats.

For this, we chose pumpkin and peanut butter biscuits.

It's the first time we have attempted to make our own treats but I have to say, it was so simple that we will definitely be doing it again in the future.

Pumpkin & Peanut Butter Dog Treats

What you need:-
*Peanut Butter
*Wholemeal flour

It is really so simple to do.

Scoop out the pumpkin and mush it up.

Add in the flour and the peanut butter.

Mix it all up until it binds together, almost like a dough.  Then roll it out, and use cutters or create your own shapes, like we did.

It's probably not the nicest for human consumption though, nice try Eli.

Easy peasy, delicious treats for doggies.

Have you been up to any pet-related Halloween fun this year?

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

I'm Going To Uganda with Send A Cow

In approximately two weeks time I will be boarding a flight at Manchester airport and embarking on one of the most life-changing, and no doubt challenging, experiences of my life.  Even as I sit here writing this my heart is thumping as I consider all that lies ahead.

I am a big believer in things having a time and a place, and even before I started writing my blog in 2012, I always wanted to be able to work with charities, particularly in developing countries.  I think perhaps inspired by my visit to Zambia in 2006, it has long been at the back of my mind but wasn't ever something I thought could happen in the present time, especially being mummy to two young children.

My blog has opened doors and given me some truly fantastic experiences and as regular readers will know, I was shortlisted for a trip to Cambodia in March this year but didn't make the final cut.  Well, this time I did make the cut and I couldn't be more excited!

I fired off an email without a second thought in September when I saw through Mumsnet that Send A Cow were looking to send a blogger out to visit some of their projects in Uganda and to share some of the amazing work that they are doing, never truly considering the possibility I'd be selected.  As you can imagine, my jaw almost hit the floor when I had an email back to say that they wanted me to be the blogger they worked with and I'll admit I spent a good few days flitting between elation and complete terror.

It's the longest I will ever have been away from Meg and Eli but honestly, it is such a once in a lifetime experience that how could I ever turn it down?

So, now I sit here with aching arms from the many vaccinations, with the words of my nurse ringing in my ears as she stressed about everything from me falling into dirty water to getting lost at the airport (I think it must be a small village thing!) making lists and considering all the things I am going to get to experience whilst in Uganda.

For those who don't know, Send A Cow works with communities and farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, to provide them with the necessary skills and tools needed to begin the long climb out of poverty.  They began working in Uganda in 1988 and have seen amazing results, with a number of families now growing surplus food, setting up their own small businesses and being able to send their children to school and university.

They also work in other countries including Burundi, Kenya, Lesotho and Zambia.

It is such a privilege to be invited to travel out with the charity and I can't imagine how it will be to see the projects up close, but I know from my time in Zambia that it isn't anything you can plan for.  I hope to be able to share on Twitter and Instagram whilst I am out there (providing my husband doesn't keel over at the data charges) but if my blog suddenly goes silent in November then rest assured I will have plenty to share when I get back.

If I don't get lost in the airport that is...

Monday, 20 October 2014

Slugs, Snails and Puppy Dog Tails...

I think I have mentioned before about Meg's love of all things animal related.  She likes nothing more than getting up close and personal with furry creatures, and we often have to deflect her requests to adopt and bring home various creatures.  This year she has even decided that when she grows up she wants to be a vet.

Now, I can just about handle the usual things you come across at children's petting zoos such as rabbits and guinea pigs and the like but on our recent trip to Astley Park we discovered that their idea of a 'pets corner' featured creatures of the reptilian kind.  

I won't dissemble: I don't like snakes.  I don't like lizards.  I don't like things which slither, or creep, or crawl or hop.  I don't like anything which looks as though it might take great delight in swallowing me whole.

Imagine my delight then, when I walked into the petting zoo to discover that Meg had a snake wrapped around her.  Yep, unfortunately for me, it would appear that Meg is the exact opposite.

In fact, the whole of my little family got in on the action.

Seriously, how much does this snake look like it's sizing Eli up!?

But our encounters with creepy creatures didn't stop there.  Perhaps inspired by their meeting with the bearded dragon and the snake, the kids then went on a bug hunt where they uncovered a number of worms, snails and ladybirds which were then proudly presented to us.

I smiled.  I congratulated them on their discoveries.  I pretended I was thrilled to have a worm dropped on my shoe.  

I was none of those things.

Next time, I think we'll just stick to the real zoo!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Review: Disney Princess Palace Pets Royal Carriage and Fashion Tails Set

A couple of weeks ago we were sent two sets from the Disney Princess Palace Pets range: the Royal Carriage and Fashion Tails.

Meg is a huge Palace Pets fan and we have had the app which is associated with this range for a while so I knew she would be thrilled to try these out.

Royal Carriage

The Royal Carriage is priced at £17.99 and comes with:

* Carriage
* Teacup (Cinderella's puppy)
* Tea set accessories
* Sparkly sunglasses
* Sparkling cape

I was really impressed with the attention to detail on the carriage, from the tiny bluebirds on the front to the sparkly pink wheels.  Clearly a lot of thought has gone into the making of it, and it is a sturdy toy.  The mirror on the carriage folds down to make a little tea table which you can then attach the teapot and tea cup to and there is also a carpet which slides out of the carriage to allow for a truly royal entrance.

Teacup is made of solid plastic, with a moveable head.  Her crown is removable, although her tail is not (which did cause some confusion especially with the set we were also sent below) 

Meg absolutely loved it, especially when she was setting up tea parties for the two pets we had been sent, and she also loved that the carriage was moveable and had little details which she could incorporate into her game (like the roll out carpet)

My only gripe with this product is the roll out carpet.  It is a very thin piece of plastic which bends quite easily and in fact if you don't get the Palace Pet sat on it at the right angle then it just bends under the weight and they fall off.  This product isn't cheap and I wish that for the money it costs, they could have somehow reinforced this plastic carpet.  It's a really sweet idea but I just know it's going to be the first piece to snap or break.

Fashion Tails

The Fashion Tails set is priced at £9.99 and we were sent Beauty, who is Aurora's puppy.  You can also buy this set featuring Teacup.  It includes:-

* Beauty
* Hairbrush
* 3 fashion tails

As with Teacup, Beauty is well made with a removable crown and a moveable head.  The three fashion tails easily clip on and off and the brush allows for grooming of the chosen tail.

It was nice having the two pets as Meg could create a real game and set up a tea party.  As I mentioned above, the only confusion came when she realised that not all palace pets have removable tails.  I believe there is another range of palace pet sets called 'furry tails' and these tails are not removable either.  Once I'd explained this to Meg it was fine but there were a few confusing moments when we tried to work it out without breaking it.

I thought the Fashion Tails set was a good price, and would make a nice gift for any little fan of Disney Princesses.

I also like how it all ties in with the app which is available free on apple devices.  As I said, we've had it for some time and Meg really liked being able to play with the pets and then go onto the tablet and groom them for 'the ball'.

I have also made a short video demonstrating the sets we were sent if you are interested to watch.

Disclaimer: We were sent both these products for the purpose of this review.  However all thoughts and opinions are our own.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Love The Little Things #3

This week has seriously gotten away from me, the last post I wrote was my little loves last Friday!  Having a (slightly self-inflicted) bout of illness followed by Meg getting poorly has just turned my days upside down and I don't know whether I'm coming or going at the moment. are my little loves from this week.

Having finished Dan Brown's Inferno, I was in no mood for anything heavy so I picked up a book by one of my all time favourite chick lit writers, Jane Green.  I was hoping for a warm and fuzzy story but this didn't quite transpire; the one time Green goes for a slightly more serious topic and it happens to be the book I choose!  I also started The Blackstone Key which was a random book I picked up at the library.  It's the first in a mystery series set in the 1700s and so far it's really quite interesting.

It was the finale of one of my guilty pleasures this week: America's Next Top Model.  I have found it really interesting having male models included in this cycle as it diluted a lot of the cattiness usually found in the show...but only by a little.  Who knew boys could be so mean?!  I won't admit to being surprised by the winner as I'd looked it up after watching the first episode, although having watched the series Jourdan would most definitely not have been my first choice.  You know, fashion expert that I am.  Not.

I drew a total blank at this one initially.  For a musical family we have been slightly devoid of music this week (unless you count the background music on Fifa 15).  The best I can offer is Andrea Faustini's rendition of the Earth Song on X-Factor.  He is my absolute favourite this year although I don't know whether he will make it to the final.

Talk about goosebumps.

Although Meg has been unwell for a couple of days this week she still managed to persuade me to set out some craft for them, so we had a go at making and decorating crowns.  It was quite good fun and I have been very amused watching Meg and Eli walk around regally greeting one another as 'Queen Meg' and 'Prince Eli'

Lots and lots of thick jumpers.  It has been so cold this week I have spent the majority of my days huddled under a blanket with a hot water bottle in an attempt to warm up.  It doesn't really bode well for the winter when I'm like this is October does it!

And lastly...
We went out to a charity night last weekend to raise money for our local food bank and had such a great time.  One of the things we have struggled with since moving here is making friends, especially James as he works such long hours, so being able to be sociable and talk to other adults (I'm making us sound like lonely hermits, which we're not. Much) was just really nice.  Winning three prizes on the raffle was also a bit of a bonus.

What have you been up to this week?


Friday, 10 October 2014

Love The Little Things #2

I so loved joining in with Love The Little Things last week, thank you to everyone who came by and left some comment love and welcomed me to the linky!

Although this week has been totally miserable, weather-wise, I have still managed to find lots of little pieces of enjoyment in the every day although admittedly some days I've had to look harder than others!

This week I finished The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin.  I read her debut novel The Last Duchess some time ago so when I saw this pop up on Richard & Judy's list (my good friends, obviously) I was keen to read it and it didn't disappoint.  I'm sure I will share my review of it with you in the next couple of weeks.

I also had to finally start Dan Brown's new book after I got James reading the earlier ones and he has been chomping at the bit to start Inferno.  He couldn't be the first one to read it though as he has no 'spoiler-alert filter' whatsoever so I'd know the entire plot and never get the pleasure of reading it for myself.

I have managed to only have a passing interest in it for the last 10 years but recently I seem to have become a *whispers* Strictly convert.  Normally at this time of year I would be glued goggle-eyed to the screen watching X-Factor but as much as it pains me to admit, this year it just isn't doing it for me.  Instead I have become utterly transfixed by the sparkly dresses and ballroom dances of Strictly Come Dancing.  So much so that I have even looked into classes for me and James to attend.  If only he would agree!

Oh, and I am definitely Team Jake Wood and maybe a little bit of Team Thom Evans as well (which may have less to do with his dancing skills. Ahem.)

This dance = amazing.

I suppose this isn't such a little thing but this week I heard the news that I was being invited to go with the charity Send A Cow to visit some of their sustainable farming projects in Uganda.  I am planning to write a more detailed post about this but I am simply buzzing with the excitement of the news.

This is the kind of thing I have wanted to do for so long and to be given the opportunity is just amazing.  I really can't wait.

We had the pleasure of making pocket money jars at the weekend, or at least, two members of the family enjoyed themselves.  I don't think I shall be able to last much longer staring at them day in and day out without making a few tiny creative adjustments (no, I shall resist!)

I also made my first stew in our slow cooker since it went out of action at the start of the summer.  I delighted all day as the smell of it simmering away slowly filtered through the house (it actually tasted vile but shhhhh, you can't have everything and I did love the idea of eating a delicious stew at the end of the day.)

Our wellies.  All week.  I don't know about elsewhere in the country but the weather here has been wet, cold, and wet.  I love the rain, especially when I can be snuggled up in my bed with a hot water bottle and a good book and there has been plenty of opportunities to enjoy that this week.

And lastly...
Meg received the 'privilege card' at school this week.  As best I can ascertain this means that she gets first choice of what to play with during free play on Friday and apparently she got it for good listening.  The thing I loved more than the fact that she was given it, was her sheer excitement to tell me.  Normally she looks a bit like a sullen teenager when she comes out of school, face downcast, usually dragging her feet and trailing her coat along the floor, but on Tuesday she was buzzing with the news and came bounding out to tell me with a big grin plastered across her face.

I have to admit that I am also quite pleased that she got it for something like good listening.  It's amazing how different kids are when they are at school isn't it?  I can tell you that 80% of the time when she's at home her thoughts are away in the clouds.

What have you been up to this week?


Book Review: The Water Horse by Julia Gregson

The Water Horse by Julia Gregson

'Catherine Carreg has been allowed to run wild, spending her childhood racing ponies along the beach in Wales with her friend Deio, the cattle-drover's son.  But Catherine is consumed by a longing to escape the monotony of village life and runs away to London.'

This story is set during the Crimean War and is the story of Catherine Carreg, a young girl who finds her life in the Welsh countryside restrictive and who longs for adventure and to be free.  Catherine is present when her mother dies, and stands by helplessly, not knowing what to do and it is this tragedy and inspiration which comes from a local artist, that prompts her to run away to London.

There she finds work in Florence Nightingale's 'Home for Sick Governesses' before responding to the call for nurses to go out to Scutari and help tend to injured soldiers.  Scutari and the hospital are nothing like she imagined; a literal living hell, and Catherine must learn to grow up quickly amongst the backdrop of love and war.

Alongside this, her long-time childhood friend Deio also becomes swept up in the heroic idea of war and must fight his own battles, and try to find his place in the world.

This book is set in a period of time which I haven't read much about before and I was intrigued to discover more about Florence Nightingale.  It transpires, from Gregson's point of view anyway, that she was nothing more than a glorified organiser and that she very rarely got involved in the medical side of things which surprised me. 

Gregson's descriptions of the terrible devastation that the Crimean war brought not only to the beautiful country it took place in but to the lives of the men involved brought everything to life, although in some instances the way she describes the medical procedures left me feeling a bit dry-mouthed and horrified!  She had clearly done her research and I found these parts of the book very interesting to read.

I was also astounded at the stark differences between the conditions in the hospital for the soldiers and then those in positions of authority, such as Miss Nightingale who is always very cleanly and pristinely turned out.

Although it can't be disputed that the premise for this story is a good idea, it just didn't work for me.

I was frustrated by the pace of the storyline and the fact that Nightingale's team of nurses were continually denied the opportunity to actually help the soldiers.  Although it is likely that this was actually the case I think that she could have moved the story on at a more brisk pace.  I felt as though I was living out the days with them in actual time at some points.

Catherine and Deio have a relationship which is supposed to build throughout the story; a 'will they - won't they' type of scenario but I have to admit that I found their exchanges to be stilted and strange; often I didn't have a clue what was going on.  Deio was not a particularly likeable character and there is one love-scene which definitely comes across badly when Deio forces himself upon Catherine.  After that I really struggled to see how they were in love with each other.  It was very odd.

On top of that, you reach the end the book having only had half of Deio's story.  The book literally just ends without warning and I was really disappointed.  It was as though Gregson got a bit lost in where to take the story but having invested in reading about Deio I wanted to know what happened to him during the war, and was completely denied.  

Likewise there are several characters you come to know whose stories are never resolved.  If you are going to end a book in an abrupt manner, I think it is always nice to then have a detailed author's note which provides more insight into how things turned out but again, there wasn't anything.

I would give this book 3 stars.  I really enjoyed Gregson's other book, East of the Sun but this story just doesn't match up.  There is a lot of potential here, and maybe it will grip other readers but it just didn't gel with me.  Perhaps if it had finished better I would have forgiven the other parts but an unresolved ending is just a huge no-no.


Thursday, 9 October 2014

Siblings {October 2014}

How am I sitting down to write my Siblings post for October already?  I seriously do not know where the time has gone to this year, it's crazy.

This month, my little siblings have been slightly more normal (well, as normal as we ever manage to be in our house) in their relationship, since they started having their own space again after the summer holidays.

I know that they miss each other when they are apart but they need that time to themselves, to be themselves without the other one hanging on.  

Of course what that does mean is that when they are finally reunited at the end of the day, they immediately disappear behind closed doors and I don't get much of a look in.  I suppose I would rather that than have them tearing each other's hair out though (although we also get plenty of days like that too, it's not all sweetness and sunshine.  Honest.)

I love listening to them play now, it is becoming slightly less directional: 'you say this and then I'll say that' and much more of a silent bouncing off one another.  It seems more natural, as though they are at ease with the way the game is going to go because they know how the other will react and so they don't need to constantly be feeding the storyline.  It has done wonders for my sanity as well not having to listen to them constantly giving instructions!

And, as ever, they are still very much a mischievous tag team which was evident when we recently went out and got caught in a torrential downpour.  As James and I sheltered underneath a tree and called them back we could hear their delightful giggles as they egged each other on to stay out as long as they could.

It's certainly fair to say that they are going to keep us on our toes these next few years!

dear beautiful