Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Me & Mine {March}

This month we have loved:-

*Finally saying goodbye to the chicken pox.
*Spotting the different signs of spring whilst we've been out and about.  Eli in particular loves showing off his knowledge of spring flowers.
*Fun family days out enjoying the ever so slightly warmer weather.
*The start of the Easter holidays, for Meg at least!

I honestly cannot believe that we are heading into April.  This year just feels as though it is whizzing away from us.  This month I will find out whether Eli got a place at our first choice school which has seemed so far away for so long and now it is finally here, eek!

It also marks the beginning of a crazy birthday season for us, starting with James' on the 25th.  We have something very exciting planned for that, of course and for Meg and Eli whose birthdays swiftly follow.

Then we are almost in summer and the promise of the long, beautiful stretch of the six weeks holiday.  We are going away to the South of France and honestly, that cannot come soon enough.  I'm hoping we might be able to squeeze in a trip away before that if the weather is nice enough but we shall see.

For now, I'd be quite content to just see some warmer days rather than the mish-mash we are having at the moment.  As I write this there is hail slamming against the windows...hail, at this time of year, what's that about?!

dear beautiful

Mr Tumble's Circus Live on Stage 2015

If you are anything like me, over the last few weeks you will have been scouring the internet looking for ways to occupy the kids during the Easter Holidays.

We have got some great family days lined up but as Meg and Eli are currently under different Council's their holidays don't match so I have a three week period to cover - eek!  

Luckily, one of the activities we will be enjoying together (on the one week off they share this Easter) is CBeebies Live! Justin & Friends: Mr Tumble's Circus.

We are looking forward to seeing some of our favourite CBeebies characters such as Swashbuckler presenter Gem, Andy Day, Robert the Robot and, of course, Justin!  We haven't been to this kind of thing before with both the kids so we are really excited about it, and are hoping it's going to be lots of fun.  If you've ever seen a recording of Justin's House then you'll know the kind of thing we are expecting to see.

The show is taking place all over the UK throughout the Easter period and tickets start from around £13.50, you can check out your closest venue here.

If you've got any tips for us on how to keep the children from bouncing out of their seats in excitement then let me know.  Meg has been to the pantomime a couple of times with school but this will be the first time Eli has seen a show like this.  I'm hoping he will be so transfixed by what is taking place that he won't think about escaping and trying to join in...we shall see!

We'll be going next Thursday so keep your eye out for our pictures and selfies and don't forget to check out whether it is coming to an arena near you.  I'm sure it will make a fabulous family day out.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Cadbury's Eggsplorers Easter Egg Trails

If you are looking for something fun to do in the Easter holidays then why not check out one of the fantastic Cadbury's Eggsplorers Easter Egg Trails?

Over a quarter of a million Cadbury Eggheads have been delivered to 300 National Trust properties ahead of the annual trails which will take place between the 3rd and the 6th of April.

This means 21.5 tonnes of chocolate, thousands of eggs and lots of creativity needed from staff to ensure they are well hidden!  Temporary locations include inside grandfather clocks, pianos, vases and bookcases.

If you want to unleash your inner explorer and take part in one of the trails then you can discover which trail is nearest to you here: https://www.eastereggtrail.com/

The Cadbury's Eggsplorers Easter Egg Trails are now in their 8th year and are proving as popular as ever.  Last year over 680,000 people got involved and the National Trust is hopeful for the same number of people again, if not more!

We are going to be heading to our local trail and I'll update you with how we got on later.  Be sure to have a look and see where your nearest trail is!

Love Food Hate Waste Campaign

Did you know that in the UK alone we create 4.2 million tonnes of food waste each year?  How immense is that!  

We are quite keen meal planners but I have to admit that sometimes, even despite our best intentions we are guilty of contributing to that amount.  When I was asked to take part in a blog challenge relating to the Love Food Hate Waste campaign I was more than happy to get involved and see how I could improve on our eating habits to ensure that we aren't needlessly throwing food away.

If you want to see more of how I got on then you can in the video below.  It contains some interesting facts, and some ideas for how to make a meal go further:-

The whole purpose of Love Food Hate Waste is to raise awareness of the need to reduce food waste and help us take action.  It shows that by doing some easy, practical everyday things in the home we can all waste less food, which will ultimately benefit our purses and the environment too.  Visit the website to see more.  In essence, the campaign is made up of 5 elements:-

Meal Planning
Taking a little extra time before you go to the supermarket to plan your meals can be a huge help and can ensure that you don't get home and realise that your trolley full of food actually equates to very little meals.  There are loads of food planners online you can print out and use, and there's a great one here at Love Food, Hate Waste.

Savvy Storage
Make sure your food doesn't go bad well before it should by understanding and utilising proper storage.  This means things like keeping your vegetables in the fridge, freezing meat and other food products if you know that you won't use them before their use by date (watch the vlog for my insider tip!)

Understanding Dates
Know the difference between 'sell by' and 'use by'.  'Sell by' only applies to the supermarkets, the one you need to keep an eye out for is 'use by'.  Again, as above, if you know that you won't use something by the date then freeze it.  Most food products now come with a handy symbol which shows whether they can be frozen or not.

Portion Sizes
Are you guilty of making too much pasta or rice?  I know I am, I do it all the time and then I have to feed it to James to make myself feel better!  Recently I bought a measuring device for spaghetti which has been really useful but there are also guides online which demonstrate how you can work out the different portion sizes with handy measuring tips.

Got some leftover veg?  Throw it into a casserole.  
Got leftover meat? Make a pie.
Got leftover sauce? Freeze it and use it to flavour a pasta dish.

There are loads of ways you can use up leftover food, as I said above, I cover one in my video blog if you are interested to see.  Have a look online and you'll find tons of information of crafty and clever ways to make food go further and to use up anything leftover at the end of cooking a meal for your family.  This has to be one of the worst ways in which we waste food and I am definitely feeling the challenge to be better!

Disclosure: I was provided with vouchers to purchase the food used in the video above.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Friday, 27 March 2015

My March Reads

March has been a good month for reading; I think my new determination to get some sleep by getting early nights, away from the television/my phone/the ipad has done wonders for my book reading.

I know it's not quite the end of the month yet but I have just started a mammoth book by Ken Follett so I know there won't be any others to share with you until the end of April {seriously, how is it almost April?!}

Here's what I've read in March:-

City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments #1) by Cassandra Clare - this was recommended to me by a fellow blogger when we realised we had similar taste in books.  It is the first in a rather long series and is a dystopian/fantasy novel which is rather hard to sum up in just a short paragraph.  Think warlocks, vampires, faeries and all sorts of fantastical beings living alongside humans, and Shadowhunters, a group of warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons.  I've seen this book taking some flack on review sites but I found it to be fast-paced, interesting and quite gripping.  Okay, it's not necessarily an original idea but I still thoroughly enjoyed reading it and have bought the next few in the series.  I should also add that if you have seen the film, don't let that put you off reading the books.  They were nothing alike.
Star rating: ****

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes - I should have known before I ever started this book that it would leave me in tears.  I don't think I've read a Jojo Moyes book which hasn't made me cry yet!  Lou Clark has lived in the village all her life; she knows how many steps there are between the bus stop and home, she loves her job working in the local tea shop and her life is just the way she wants it to be.  That is, until the tea shop closes down and she is forced to reassess where she's going in life.  She ends up taking a job as an 'aide' for Will Traynor, a successful, adventurous businessman who was injured in a motorcycle accident, completely throwing his world upside down.  He has completely lost his desire to live so when Lou bursts into his life, the results are completely unexpected.  For both of them.  I'll admit that I didn't particularly like the ending of this story but I thought it was extremely well written, moving and a challenging subject.
Star rating: ***

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier - This was my chosen D book for A to Z authors after reading the review on Claire's blog.  It's probably not a book I would have picked up otherwise but I'm glad I did as it's quite different from the usual stuff I read.  The story begins in Monte Carlo, with a young girl being swept up in a whirlwind romance by Maxim de Winter.  She accepts his sudden marriage proposal, walking away from everything she knows and stepping into the strange and different world of life at Manderley.  This is a classic tale of mystery and intrigue, coming of age and romance.  The only reason I marked it down to 3 stars was because I guessed the big twist at the end, which sort of spoiled the surprise.
Star rating: ***

The Chosen Queen by Joanna Courtney - I was lucky enough to be sent a proof copy of this book which will be published in early May.  It is the story of the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and is a beautifully woven tale with likeable and believable characters.  I honestly found myself wishing for some creative licence on Joanna Courtney's behalf as I loved King Harold and actually found myself in tears at the end of the book, even though I knew what was coming!  I would highly recommend buying this book in May when it is released and will hopefully have some more information closer to the time to share with you on this.  Absolutely a 5 star read, without a doubt.
Star rating: *****

A Place For Us by Harriet Evans - I picked this book as I was struggling for an E in my A to Z Authors challenge and I only finished it at the end of last week.  It's kind of left me not sure how I feel about it, I can't decide whether I liked it or not!  Martha Winter decides to blow her family apart on her 80th birthday by revealing a secret which has long been kept hidden.  She has spent the last 50 years building an idyllic family life with her husband David and their 3 children at their home of Winterfold.  As the story unfolds, we discover that each member of their family is harbouring their own secrets, must face up to their pasts and come together in order to heal and move forwards.  I thought the story was well written, with believable characters but my issue is that there were so many threads I felt like you only ever got half the story for each person.  I was left wanting to know more, whilst at the same time not wanting to as so much of what they were hiding was dark.
Star rating: ***

Have you read any good books this month?  I always love to hear recommendations.

Linking up with A-Z Authors and Read With Me.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Clitheroe Castle & Museum

On Saturday our random map adventures took us to the wonderful village of Whalley and we decided to pay a visit to the nearby Clitheroe Castle & Museum whilst we were in the area.

As you might imagine, Clitheroe Castle stands at the heart of Clitheroe, high on Castle Hill and Meg and Eli both spotted it as soon as our car pulled into the town.  Cue lots of excited shouts and squeals.

You can't park at the castle; there is street parking dotted around but as we were visiting on a Saturday we found it to be pretty busy.  However, if you follow castle parking signs you can park in the long stay car park next to the train station; the castle is just a short 5 minute walk away and it costs about £2 for 4 hours which we found was plenty to explore the castle museum and to have a short walk around the town with a pitstop for coffee and cake.

You can reach the castle entrance either by climbing up the steep stone steps and making your way along the walls and down the other side (which offers stunning views over the surrounding countryside) or by walking around to the left which is the flatter route and therefore better for pushchairs etc.

We, obviously, had to have a race up the steps.

Entrance fees for the castle museum are £4 for adults, with children being free.  We thought this was very reasonable, especially because the museum also offers free explorer backpacks for children which contain a magnifying glass, an explorer's hat and a clipboard with items for them to find and tick off.

Eli was excited about his pack, honestly.

There was also a special event on, which is running for the month of March, all about animals and Meg and Eli were invited to see how many cuddly animals they could spot hiding in the displays and exhibitions.  This was a really great way of getting the kids involved and interested in the displays; myself and James commented that we've never seen them so keen to be at a museum before and both were asking questions about the different things they were seeing.  At 5 and 3, we were quite impressed with this!

From the looks of the posters dotted around, the museum often has special family friendly events running; I think it's dragon related in the month of April and we have promised Meg and Eli a return visit!

The museum walks you through 350 million years of history from fossils right through to a fully equipped Victorian kitchen and also explores the heritage and geology of the surrounding area.  There are plenty of little interactive elements to engage children such as musical instruments, dressing up, a colouring station and so on which we also enjoyed.

It isn't huge, but there is lots to see and overall it took us about an hour to get through all the exhibitions.

There is also an outdoor area which sits at the bottom of the castle walls and has been designed for more imaginative play.  Meg and Eli enjoyed running around more than anything but they did have a go with some of the play equipment there.

We didn't try the cafe as we wanted to head into the town for a look but from our quick walk through it appeared equally child-friendly; there is a bookshelf with some children's books and toys dotted around to keep them entertained whilst they wait for the food which I thought was a good idea.

Overall we thought this was really great value for money, and has clearly been thought through in terms of being family friendly.  Meg and Eli loved the explorer backpacks and we had to prise them off at the end.  The staff were all helpful and friendly, for example, they offered to hang up our coats whilst we walked around despite there not being a designated cloakroom area when I commented on how warm it was inside.

We will definitely be returning in April for the next event and would recommend the castle museum to anyone in the area, especially those with younger children.

Monday, 23 March 2015

A Saturday Adventure

On Saturday we awoke to the sun streaming through the curtains, the birds singing and a real sense of spring in the air.  The kids had stayed asleep until 7.30am (which almost certainly never happens, especially on a weekend), the house was tidy and clean (which almost never happens, ever) and we were all in the right kind of mood for a little Saturday adventure.

This was the type of adventure I have wanted to have for a while, but there has always been some reason why it wouldn't have worked so I was probably more excited than the kids although it was them doing the choosing.  We asked Meg and Eli to close their eyes and point to a place on the map we had in front of us, and wherever they picked, we would visit.

The first attempt stalled as Eli managed to point to the middle of the Irish Sea which, although we were feeling adventurous, as Meg doesn't currently have a valid passport meant we were somewhat limited!

The second try pinpointed the Lancashire village of Whalley.  So, true to our word, that's where we headed.

Although we have tried to explore the local area, we often head south to Liverpool as that is an area James knows well, or to the other larger cities such as Manchester and Preston so heading north to the Ribble Valley was a new one for us.  We were expecting rolling countryside but perhaps not that the whole area would be so picturesque; and such a short drive from where we live too.

To make the most of the nice weather we decided to take a picnic and firstly visit the nearby town of Clitheroe and explore the castle and museum before heading back down to Whalley.  I'll share another post detailing our visit there at some point otherwise you'll be overwhelmed by photos and information.

Clitheroe is basically surrounded by stunning countryside, wherever you look there are green fields.

I know it doesn't really fit with the post but I just love this shot of the war memorial at the castle.

We managed to spend quite a few hours exploring Clitheroe so we were all actually fairly tired by the time we rolled into Whalley but I'm so glad we went.  From the quaint little high street to the stunning Abbey ruins which sit along the banks of the River Calder, it was just a lovely way to end our adventure.

I've never really thought about a place being peaceful before, especially not when half the building is in pieces but the Abbey was just something else.  Both myself and James commented on it and I don't know whether it was the gentle gurgling of the river in the background, or the lack of traffic noise, or just the fact that the sun was setting when we arrived, casting an atmospheric warm glow over the ruins but whatever it was I felt this real sense of calm.

Meg was actually being a little grumpy here rather than pensive; but I couldn't resist capturing the moment.

I also left feeling incredibly inspired, suffice to say there are now a few potential ideas bubbling around in my head for a new novel.

I think we'll definitely be repeating our map adventures.  We all had a wonderful family time, and we now know that such amazing places are right on our doorstep so there's no excuse for not getting out and exploring them!

I am linking this post up with Lets Talk Mommy's Share With Me.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Review: Home The Movie

As this review goes live I should (all being well) be sitting in a lovely plush cinema seat next to Eli, popcorn and treats in hand, enjoying the new family movie which is 'Home'.

If you haven't yet come across Home then in brief:

'When Oh, a loveable misfit from another planet, lands on Earth and finds himself on the run from his own people, he forms an unlikely friendship with an adventurous girl named Tip who is on a quest of her own.  Through a series of comic adventures with Tip, Oh comes to understand that being different and making mistakes is all part of being human.  And while he changes her planet and she changes his world, they discover the true meaning of the word HOME.'

To coincide with the release of the film we were also recently sent some Home goodies which included Captain Smeks Shusher Wand, a plush toy of the Trip's pet cat Pig, Boov Mood Ears and two Home Mood Bubbles (all of which are available for purchase at the majority of toy retailers)

I'll admit that I had quite a fun time playing with the toys before I handed them over to the kids, particularly the Mood Ears which I am modelling below.  I won't lie, at only £3.99 I am very tempted to buy these ears in all the different colours.  Just you know, because.

You're welcome.

I had spotted the trailer a few times before being asked to do this review and was quite looking forward to seeing it anyway, especially as the character Oh is voiced by Jim Parsons from the Big Bang Project, which I absolutely love.  

In the end, I did hand them over to the kids who also got a lot of enjoyment from them.  In particular they liked adjusting the Mood ears and then forcing asking myself and James to guess how they were feeling.

They found the Shusher Wand hilarious and took it in turns to repeatedly press the button until the laughter came on; the Wand has about four different phrases and sounds from the film.

I also thought the Mood Bubbles were very good value, at £2.49 they are well within pocket money range and children can collect the different coloured characters which again, comes down to their 'mood'.

I'll leave you with the above for now, but will be adding my review of the film to the blog shortly so do make sure you come back and check that out.

Disclosure: We were sent the above products and provided with cinema vouchers for the purpose of this review.  However, as always, all thoughts and opinions are our own.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Review: Frozen Magic Snow Sleeve

As is the case for many parents up and down the country, our house contains two very Frozen obsessed small people.  We have Frozen clothing, Frozen cuddly toys, Frozen figures, Frozen cutlery and dishes, Frozen puzzles and Meg even had a Frozen birthday cake last year.

If that wasn't enough there is much excitement currently whizzing around the house about the new Frozen Fever film which is out on March 27th too (if you haven't yet heard of it, don't worry, you will!)

As you can imagine, when we were sent the Frozen Magic Snow Sleeve from Flair and an accompanying Elsa Frozen dress from Rubies UK, Meg practically snatched my arm off.

You can watch our short vlog below to see what we thought about the products or read on for more information.

The Frozen Magic Snow Sleeve comes with four elements: the hard plastic bracelet, a can of Magic Ice (snow), a refillable water squirter and a fabric sleeve.

The box also contains an instruction manual which clearly sets out how to attach the can of Magic Ice to the bracelet and then how to fasten the bracelet onto your wrist.  Once it is attached, you slide your fingers under the 'attachment' and lift it up, resulting in the snow or water firing out.  Simple!

Both Meg and Eli found this quite tricky to do with their bracelet wearing arm so as you can see in the video above, they tended to use their other hand to fire, but neither of them seemed to mind about this at all and it certainly didn't take away from their enjoyment.  I imagine older children (or adults) would most likely not find it a problem.

The can of Magic Ice probably lasted for around 15 minutes before we had run out and needed to switch to the water.  I have looked online and it doesn't appear you can buy replacement cans of Magic Ice yet but the product is very similar to silly string so I'm not sure whether you could use that instead?  Of course, it would probably be advisable to not do as we did and use it on your driveway; even a number of days later it looks like we were attacked by some students!

The refillable water bottle is also clearly included for when the snow has run out and although Meg was less interested in this, Eli had lots of fun shooting water out at myself and James!

The Elsa Frozen dress we were sent is being modelled by Meg and I thought it was very good quality.  I particularly liked the sparkly cape which can be attached by velcro to the back of the dress; I thought that was a nice touch.  I know there are oodles of Elsa dresses on the market but this seemed to be one of the better ones I've spotted out and about.  The snow boots are a personal Meg choice.

I can imagine that the Magic Snow Sleeve will be on lots of Frozen fans wishlists, especially as the weather gets warmer (the Magic Ice can only be used outside) and although it isn't particularly cheap at £29.99 you will get repeated use with the water bottle.

Overall both Meg and Eli got lots of enjoyment from the Sleeve and I am certain they will continue to play with it, especially in the summer.  

Disclosure: We were sent the above products for the purpose of this review.  However all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Family Fever