Thursday, 24 December 2015

Merry Christmas...

I am going to be signing off for about a week and a half to enjoy some family time so I just wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone who comes back time and again to read my blog or to chat with me on social media. 

This blog wouldn't exist without the brilliant support of the folk who read it and every single comment, share and like means so very much.

I will be back in the New Year to share about our trip to Norway, our Christmas and plenty more and I'm sure I will still be over on Instagram (as always) but for now, I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.

Merry Christmas from all of us.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Kringla Cookies and Julekake : A Taste of Norway

When Expedia recently got in touch with me to see whether I would be interested in taking part in their Christmas World on a Plate challenge there was really only one country I could have chosen.  The challenge has been running throughout the year with Expedia asking bloggers to create a recipe inspired by one of their holiday destinations.

Having just spent the weekend in Oslo I was really looking forward to give one of their wonderful Christmas treats a go.  One thing I noticed whilst we were in Norway is that they love their baked treats at this time of year.  In fact, there is a tradition known as 'Seven Sorts' where seven different types of cookies and biscuits are made and laid out to be enjoyed at various points in the festivities on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and beyond.

Whilst we were in Oslo we visited the largest Christmas market in the city and there were so many stalls selling large cookies on sticks with brightly coloured designs, marzipan shapes and plenty of other delights.

It felt a bit overwhelming trying to choose just one baked treat to give a go but eventually we settled on Kringla cookies.  Kringla are an interesting creation.  On the surface they look fairly plain and uninspiring (they only darken in colour if you seriously overcook them *ahem*) with no decoration at all, especially compared with some of the other baked treats on offer but the taste is actually something else.  They actually taste like cake rather than biscuit and the squishy softness of the texture, along with the simple sweetness makes them really rather nice.

I've seen a couple of different shapes from researching the best recipe on the internet but I liked the figure of 8 shape best and thought it would be the easiest one to test out.

Kringla Cookies

300g sugar
480g flour
1 egg
600ml sour cream
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

1. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees.
2. Combine sugar, egg and sour cream.
3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt.
4. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and combine completely.  The dough will be very sticky.
5. Refrigerate overnight (I did try a Great British Bake Off special here and try to freeze the  mixture but it didn't work and I found leaving it overnight the only way to reduce the stickiness and make the dough even slightly workable)
6. Remove dough and separate into two.  
7. Take half and form the dough into a long roll with your hands.
8. Cut off a narrow slice (about 1 inch wide) and roll into a thin sausage shape.
9. Form a figure 8 shape with the dough, pinching the ends together.
10. Place onto greaseproof paper and repeat.  Bake for 10-15 minutes until the dough feels firm and is lightly coloured.

Things to note:
* Make sure you roll the dough out on a well floured surface.  Despite being left overnight in the fridge the dough was still remarkable sticky and I did find it difficult to work with initially.
* Leave more of a gap than seems necessary in your figure of 8 as the cookies will rise and the gap will close.

* Don't leave them out otherwise you will find yourself returning again and again for just 'one more' taste!

Even our kindness elves got in on the action...

I also gave some JuleKake (Norwegian Christmas Cake) a go in our breadmaker which is the dark loaf you can see in some of the pictures.  This is so simply and so tasty; we've been eating it as a little sweet treat for breakfast this week and the kids are loving it!  I have to admit that I'm not a fan of traditional English Christmas cake but this is just subtle and light enough to have me completely hooked.


1/3 cup evaporated milk
2/3 cup water
1 egg
3 1/3 cups white bread flour
1/4 brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cardamom seeds
1/2 cup butter
2 1/4 tsp dry active yeast
1 cup dried mixed fruit

1. Put all the ingredients, except the dried mixed fruit into the bread maker.
2. Add the dried mixed fruit at the beep.
3. Enjoy!

So easy, so delicious and perfect for a little pick me up snack in the day.

Thank you to Expedia for inviting me to write this post and for the gift of a voucher and a hamper to help towards the purchase of ingredients as well.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Siblings {December}

I know it shouldn't have really come as any great surprise to me but I can't believe that this is the last Sibling post of the year!

What a year it has been; I have seen my two siblings grow and change so much in themselves and in their relationship with each other and I don't think that could have been more evident than this past weekend when we were in Norway.  

I read somewhere once that travelling brings out your true nature and I think that is so right.  Meg, who likes everything to be just so and needs to have a plan for the day and for that plan to happen exactly as she imagined and Eli, who is just a crazy ball of chaos wherever he goes.  Put the two together in a new and unknown city and you can imagine the result!

That said, I am very proud of Meg and Eli this month in the way that they were together, how Meg tried to adapt when things didn't go the way we imagined and knowing that Eli tried his best not to always be rushing round at ten million miles an hour (apart from when we were ice skating of course!)

The way they kept each other entertained during the 2 hour flight and the games they played in the apartment...just all the small things which combined meant that they actually behaved really nicely together and there was hardly any of the petty squabbling we sometimes see.

Of course with two weeks together off school from this coming Friday I might be painting an altogether different picture come January!  But for now I am really looking forward to the break and I am hopeful that it will be as heartwarming as our recent break away was.

And because I always try and throw in a silly one which has made me smile and shows me that no matter how much I shout 'smile at Mummy' when I take the photo...I always somehow end up with one or two which turn out looking like this....


dear beautiful

Friday, 11 December 2015

High Hopes, Nativities and Beach Walks...#LittleLoves

I can't believe there are only two more Little Loves left before Christmas...all the excitement!!  I feel a bit more 'ready' now having spent a couple of evenings this week wrapping presents and writing cards.  Now I just have to make sure I don't forget anything next week (the kids are supposedly 'winding down' by having something special to do on literally every day next week at school) ... I'm sure I am going to get my Panto day muddled with my Festive Jumper day or something.

Still plodding away with Inkheart. I just haven't had 2 minutes to spare this week as I've been racing from pillar to post.  I managed a chapter or two but I haven't read nearly as much as I'd hoped to.  Hopefully whilst we are away I will manage to get it finished.

The High Hopes Choir on Really.  It's about an conductor in Ireland who is putting together two choirs in Dublin and Waterford consisting of people who are homeless, living in shelters or who have been affected by homelessness.  He believes music is uplifting for the soul and could have a real impact.  Honestly, I don't know if I will make it through the series, I will in tears after just the first episode!

It's a total cheat this week but I will be wearing my new winter hat as you read this post.  Other than that I have just been wearing the usual and trying not to get too wet or frozen on the school run!

I know last week I was harping on about my children but I'm going to have to go there again this week.  Yesterday was Meg's nativity and I was literally blown away by her.  She had told us she was 'just a star' and we were fine with that, loving listening to her practice in her room.  Little did I know when I turned up to watch yesterday that she was actually the star of the show.  I had so many people come up to me afterwards and sing her praises.  Then this morning it was Eli's nativity and he did a super job.  One of the teachers told me I had the coolest kids so I will take that as a pretty good compliment!  Of course now I have all their songs whizzing around my head but I can handle that.  Maybe.

Here is Meg looking suitably awkward after I insisted that the Headteacher let me take a photo.  Nothing wrong with being a proud mum, is there?!

I am quite proud of the fact that despite having had the busiest week I only missed one day with the elves coming to visit.  We have done card writing and Christmas story telling, and today the kids took some chocolates in to share with their class and congratulate them on the hard work they all put into their nativities.

And Lastly...
I think this time of year is always so hectic and it can be so hard to find time to slow down and appreciate the smaller things but I have to say that this is really my most favourite time of year.  From the cosiness of homes which are decorated to the hilt to the general cheeriness that random strangers feel the need to share with you whilst out and about, the excuse to sing songs all of the time and spending time with family...I could go on and on.  

Earlier on in the week I enjoyed a walk along the beach with the dog and we happened to be there whilst the sun was setting.  It was the perfect time to reflect and take a step back from the present buying and elf organising and just the stuff and to think about the things I am really looking forward to this year.  It made for a pretty good picture too.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Breakfast with Santa at Wyevale Garden Centres

Each year we try and factor in one visit to see Santa (sometimes it ends up being more than once which can be a little confusing for the kids!) so when our local Wyevale Garden Centre invited us to come along and try out their Breakfast with Santa we knew it was the ideal way to kick off our festive season.

We decided to tie it in with buying our real Christmas tree which we always like to do on the first Saturday in December so we chose the 6th to go along.

Although our local Wyevale Garden Centre didn't have a Grotto, we certainly noticed that an effort had been made to dress up the restaurant area with festive decorations; there was a toy filled sleigh with a wonderful moving reindeer, a chair festooned with tinsel and sparkly bits where Santa eventually sat with the children and great thought had been put into the individual place settings as well.  I didn't even think to check whether there would be a Grotto and I'll admit to being a little disappointed on the day so this is definitely something I would check in future, and if you think it will be an important element then do make sure before booking.

A section had been cordoned off for the guests who would be meeting Santa and I particularly liked that each table had a name card with the family name and the children's names as well; no fighting over where to sit (from the parents!).  We just drifted in around 9.45am and found our seat.  Immediately an elf was over asking what we would like to drink, whether we were ready for our breakfast and encouraging Meg and Eli to get stuck in with their little activity sheet.

There was also a small soft play area just off from where we were sitting which had been closed to the public but was open for the Santa guests; ideal for Eli who was bouncing with excitement and couldn't contain himself.  He was never going to sit and wait for his breakfast to arrive as he kept looking for Santa at every opportunity so it was nice for him to go and play and burn off some of that excess energy.

We were given breakfast before we met Santa; for children that was a mini cooked breakfast and adults could choose between a full cooked breakfast or a lighter option of pastries.  We ordered these in advance when we were booking our time slot for the event.  The food was well cooked and there was a lot of it which James commented on a number of times.

After everyone had eaten their breakfast, the elf returned and asked all the children to shout as loudly as they could for Santa.  Surprisingly it took them a while to warm up to this but once they were really going for it, Santa appeared.

Each table was invited up individually to come and sit with Santa and meet him which I thought was lovely.  He spent a lot of time talking to the children and was very engaging.  I think you can tell by the look on Eli's face what he thought about the experience.

After they'd spent some time talking to Santa they were asked to choose a gift.  Although one part of me was a little sad that the gifts weren't wrapped another was pleased that we could see what the children were getting and that there was a range of items to choose from.  Neither of the kids ended up with the items they are actually holding in the photo as they both changed their minds after seeing what the other kids chose but the staff were very accommodating about this!

After speaking to Santa, some cookies were brought out for the children to decorate.  Again this was a lovely touch and it kept Meg and Eli occupied whilst Santa finished with the other tables.  I liked that he then didn't disappear away but wandered amongst the children chatting to them and the parents.  He was a very good Santa!

The whole event probably lasted just under an hour and a half and both Meg and Eli thoroughly enjoyed themselves.  It wasn't too long that the children lost interest or too short that you didn't feel like you were getting your money's worth.  I also appreciate that it most likely depends on the Santa you get on the day and your particular garden centre but we thought it was a lovely way to kick off this festive period.

As well as running Breakfast with Santa events, Wyevale are also holding Tea with Santa too so it's well worth checking what is happening at your local centre.  We wouldn't hesitate to recommend the event to friends and family.

We were provided with complimentary tickets to attend this event.  All thoughts and opinions are our own.

Monday, 7 December 2015

The Kindness Elves Return

For the third year running our home is being taken over by three small kindness elves.  They arrive on December 1st and head back to the North Pole on December 24th after leaving a little Christmas Eve goodie box for the kids.

Over the last couple of years I have managed to make December a very stressful time for myself so this year I have aimed to keep it very simple; I thought about the things I wanted Meg and Eli to learn and consider over the Christmas period, to not get drawn into the consumerism which seems to take over at this time of year and instead to remember what we are celebrating at the end of it.  

The main elements I want to pull out over the season are kindness, generosity and thinking of others mixed in with some real festive fun alongside the Christmas story.  Sounds easy doesn't it?! 

December 1st : Let's Begin
On November 30th, a magic door to the North Pole appeared on the skirting board in the lounge prompting much excitement that we were soon going to have some special visitors.  When Meg and Eli got home from school the elves were waiting with a welcome note and an advent candle.  Both Meg and Eli were bouncing up and down with excitement which bodes well for the rest of the month!

Listening to our teachers
Today the kids were going to their swimming lessons after school so the elves made their own swimming pool out of some Christmas baubles.  They also made a swing out of Eli's goggles which he thought was hilarious.  Their note today reminded Meg and Eli that their swimming teacher and all their teachers work so hard that it would be great if they could try extra hard to listen today to show their teachers some gratitude and kindness.  Given how well Eli did at his swimming lesson, and the fact that Meg was clapped by all of the parents watching poolside during hers I would say they very much took it to heart.

Sharing our toys
This morning we discovered that the elves had been playing with some of the kids toys all night.  So very cheeky!  They told us that they love to play and have fun with their friends but that it's important to share and be nice to one another which is very handy as both Meg and Eli have a friend each coming over from school today.

Today the elves brought Meg and Eli a gold chocolate coin each for having such good reports at parents evening earlier in the week.  I think it is so important to ensure that in and amongst asking children to look for ways to think of others, that we also praise and recognise when they do something well too.

Festive Fun
Today was all about festive fun.  We had breakfast with Santa Claus and then we went to a little Christmas Tree farm and chose our real Christmas tree.  When we got home the elves had been busy getting all our decorations in a tangle in an attempt to 'help' us.

Giving food to those who need it
Today was St Nicholas day and the elves thought it was the perfect opportunitiy to encourage Meg and Eli to think of others.  Their note explained that after church we would go to a local supermarket and buy some food to then give to the food bank in the village.  This was because there are some people, maybe even people we know, how don't have enough money to buy food.

I have to say that this has been my favourite activity so far this week; I loved how seriously Meg and Eli took their roles when it came to selecting items for the food bank and how interested they were in why some people have more money than others, how we can help people who don't have as much money and so on.  I got to experience a real glimpse into their generosity and i was very proud and impressed.

Tips for Buying a Used Car

I have to admit that when it comes to talking about cars I am not the most knowledgable person out there. We have recently just been through the process of buying a new car (to me) as my faithful Vauxhall Meriva croaked it. Not the ideal time right before Christmas but it is so nice driving a car which doesn’t rattle and creak and which actually gets warm during the colder months!

There are so many things to think of when it comes to choosing a new car and to be honest, I am more concerned with whether I think the shape and colour of the car is nice enough for me to drive it never mind how the engine runs or whether the tyres are worn down. When you are buying a used car it always feels a little bit like a lottery as you never really know what you will be getting. Luckily we have a garage just around the corner, who kept my Meriva going over the last few months until we could replace her, and we will be taking the new car round to them to be checked over, just in case!

Despite my primary interest being shape and colour, I have picked up a few important things along the way from listening to James as he negotiated and inspected the many different cars we saw:

Before you even go to see any cars it is worth looking around online to compare price guides for the range of cars that you are looking at so that you can avoid being overcharged. It will give you some ideas on the type of money you might expect to pay and should alert you to any possible issues if you spot a car which seems too cheap or too expensive.

Budget Carefully
When deciding on your budget make sure you factor in costs such as insurance, road tax, as well as giving yourself a little extra in case anything goes wrong. You might want to take your new car to an independent garage to have it checked over so you will need money for that, or you might know ahead of time that work needs doing such as if the tyres need changing.  You can check out for cheap yet reliable tyres online.

View It Properly
Don’t view a car if the weather is poor or at night; this will affect how well you can see the condition of the car such as scratches or dents which may be present on the bodywork. You should also take the car out for a test drive before agreeing to buy it; not only will this help you to see whether it starts and how it drives but you might also find that it just isn’t the right car for you. We viewed a couple of cars where the bite on the clutch was just so high and I knew it was something I would struggle with.

Finally, ask to see all relevant documents such as the service history, MOT certificates and the V5C registration. Although some cars won’t have a full service history they should all have the latter and you need to ask serious questions if the seller can’t produce these for you.
Collaborative post*

Friday, 4 December 2015

Romance, Parents Evening and the Kindness Elves...#LittleLoves

Well here we are having done our first week of December!  Is anyone else feeling slightly panicky that Christmas is coming closer and closer?!  I thought I had been fairly organised but as I watch my diary fill up and realise that the times when I can actually go out and finish shopping or write Christmas cards or wrap presents is actually getting squeezed into a very small time frame it does make me feel a bit wobbly.

This is my favourite time of year though without a doubt; panicky feeling or no!

I have really not done much reading this week at all.  I did get chance to pop over and read some of my favourite blogs such as Clarina's Contemplations but that was usually whilst I was sat in the car waiting for school pick up or quickly in between errands.  I am still going with Inkheart too which I am really enjoying, I just haven't had as much spare time to delve into it this week.

Anyone who has read any of my Little Loves posts will know that I do love a good box set and I was really pleased to see that Sky had brought back the Scandal one, especially with the new series about to start.  I am whizzing my way through as quickly as I can.  I also noticed that they have released Private Practice which I love; it's a much chirpier version of Grey's Anatomy so I have downloaded the last few box sets of that as well.  I am probably going to have to binge watch my way through most of them but I'm okay with that; when James is a music practice or football I can usually watch 2 or 3 episodes at a time.

My wardrobe this week has been totally uninspired.  It has rained almost every day (the joy of living on the coast in the North West apparently) so my attire has been any pair of trousers which isn't soaked through and James' raincoat as it is bigger than mine!

Amazing things about Meg and Eli at parents evening this week.  Honestly, I know some people don't like gushy posts about children but their teachers could not have been more complimentary.  I had been nervous about Eli's because he often gets warning cards for not doing as he is told but his teacher said that it's really only minor things, that is clever and inquisitive and really has something about him.  I can remember so clearly my fears about him starting school and whether he would manage and I just couldn't be my proud to hear how he's doing.

This week I have been getting my creative head on as we have had the Kindness Elves come to see us again for the month of December.  I will be posting a full update on what they have been getting up to next week but basically they are small elves who come each day and encourage the kids to be kind or generous or think of others in some small way.

And Lastly...
I wanted to share this moment because it really was a heartwarming part of my week; I felt a bit ill at the start of the week and pretty much spent the evenings of Monday to Wednesday collapsed on the sofa feeling sorry for myself (hence why so much television got watched).  One of the days I asked for a cup of tea and this is what James brought me.  It doesn't happen all that often but sometimes he does small things which are just so sweet.  Love him!

Have a great week all.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Family Day Out: Ahoy! National Maritime Museum Greenwich

On our recent trip to London we got to spend some time in the wonderful maritime area of Greenwich.  I have long wanted to visit Greenwich and there was no way that I was giving it a miss on this particular trip, especially when there are so many great things to keep everyone happy and occupied.

An absolute must on our list was a visit to the National Maritime Museum.  Not only were both my Dad and James really keen to have a look around but I had heard it was great for children of all ages too so we were keen to put it to the test.

Our first stop, naturally had to be the Ahoy! Section for under 8's.  This children's gallery is a fairly new addition to the Maritime Museum and has been specifically designed for children aged between 0-7 years with a separate area for under 5's.  Everything about the gallery has been created to be interactive and encourage imaginative play, all based around a maritime theme of course.

Children can stoke a ship's engine or play captain and take the wheel, they can try their hand at catching a fish or fixing a hole in the side of a boat.  Pretty much everywhere you turn there is something to engage and delight children of all ages and although it was quite busy when we arrived, there was so much going on that neither Meg nor Eli ever had to wait for something and could just get stuck right in.

The centrepiece of the gallery is the ship which sticks out into the hallway of the main museum and is very easy to spot when you come through the main doors of the museum entrance.  Children can peer down at visitors exploring the first floor or play dress up in the cabin quarters, man the riggings and so on.  I even saw some enthusiastic parents getting involved which is always great to watch.

The whole gallery has been well thought out to engage children and get them exploring and learning through play.  There are problem solving tasks, imaginative play, sensory elements and lots of fun to be had.  There is a member of staff standing on the doorway so that children can't get in or out without an accompanying adult (although Eli managed to slip past so it was a good job my parents were standing outside waiting!) and ensuring that only children of the right age go inside.  I thought this was a brilliant idea as it can be quite frustrating when you head into an area designed for younger children only to have older ones tearing around and causing havoc.  Especially when there is a similar interactive gallery on the second floor for children over the age of 8 although opening times for this are different to that of the main museum.

Both Meg and Eli absolutely loved Ahoy! and ran from place to place, pleased that here was a part of a museum that they could actually touch without getting into trouble!  It certainly added to our experience and the best part was that it was only a short walk to the cafe (up the stairs directly across from the gallery) when we had all run out of energy.

If you watch our recent video of our London trip you can see firsthand our experience at the Ahoy! Children's Gallery.

There is also plenty of other things to do in Greenwich if you are making a special visit to the area.  There is, of course, the rest of the Maritime Museum to explore, as well as Cutty Sark, The Royal Observatory and The Queen's House.  We bypassed these in favour of catching a boat ride on the River Thames from Greenwich Pier which I would also recommend.

Travel Monkey

The National Maritime Museum is Free Entry.