Thursday, 28 April 2016

Our Easter Holidays

It seems strange to be writing about things which are Easter related as the actual Easter bank holiday weekend seems so far ago now.  I can hardly believe that we are racing towards the end of April and then towards our summer...although whether that will actually be sunny I have no idea.  As I write this rain is hammering down on the window and the weather and overall temperature wouldn't look out of place in February!

It seems to take me about a week after the school holidays to recover and catch up on all my work and outstanding emails; this holiday has been no different and the blog has suffered a little bit so I'll be playing catch up for a while yet I'm afraid.  There's just always so much to do which I'm sure everyone finds now and then.

But onto our Easter holidays.  The weather was typically British and very mixed; we had days when we were outside all day bathing in and soaking up the gorgeous sunshine (and I have the tan lines to prove it) and then days when we could only look longingly out of the window as the rain pelted down.

We managed to squeeze quite a lot into our holidays though.  We spent the first couple of days down in London for a special event at Wembley Stadium; the rest of that week was spent enjoying the sunshine and making the most of our newly fixed up garden (thanks to James for all his hard work in the run up to the holidays!)...both Meg and Eli are getting so good on their bikes now and Meg is nearly always racing up and down on her rollerskates so they had plenty of fresh air.  I think that skills such as roller-skating and bike riding as such great ones for kids to learn.  Or anything outdoors really, I can remember hours spent outside as a kid in the lane playing on my Pogo stick or batting a tennis ball against the side of the house with a racket.  I know Eli is quite keen to get his own pair of skates too; I think I might be sticking these proline skates on his birthday wish list!

There was also lots of time for relaxing and chilling out however; I love that both Meg and Eli are little bookworms.  It's definitely something they get from me.

I think my two favourite days however were the following week when we managed to get in a trip to the beach and a trip to the Legoland Discovery Centre in Manchester.  Thanks to the fact that our school's Easter holiday is so randomly placed we actually had the Discovery Centre pretty much to ourselves and I'll be doing a more dedicated post about that next week.  It was a really lovely day though and the kids were totally worn out which is always a winner in my book.

The beach was basically deserted, despite the gorgeous weather and we managed a great couple of hours.  The kids were even brave enough to venture out into the sea for a little paddle as well.  It didn't last long though before they were shivering their way back up the beach to dry off and carry on with their sandcastle creations.

The last couple of days of the holiday were spent gearing up for the BBQ we were holding for James' 30th birthday.  We had 30 people all crammed into our garden and house (depending on whether it was choosing to rain or not at various points of the day) and it was such a lovely time.  I was totally worn out by the end though and I think that has contributed to my slow pace this week.  At least that's what I'm going with!

Overall we had a wonderful couple of weeks and I'm actually really pleased that this school term is so short; just 5 weeks at school and then another two off.  I'm really hoping for nice weather the whole of those two weeks so we can really get outside and enjoy beach days and trips exploring.  That's what the holidays are for after all.

This is a collaborative post.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

DC Super Hero Girls UK Launch YouTube Channel plus Giveaway!

Although it probably sounds terribly stereotypical, until we had Eli we hadn't ever really explored the idea of superheroes with Meg.  It wasn't something that she was interested in until Eli decided that he liked everything superhero related!  It was only then that we began to realise that when it came to female superheroes, there weren't that many around.

I was thrilled therefore when I was recently contacted about the new DC Super Hero Girls YouTube channel which has just been launched in the UK.  DC Entertainment have created an animated series which is all about action-packed girl power; you can follow them as they discover their special powers and abilities as well as uncovering life lessons such as friendship too.

Straight away Meg (and Eli!) were intrigued and we loved the variety of characters and how dynamic they were.  The episodes are quite bite-size and the DC Super Hero Girls YouTube channel makes it easy for kids to watch their favourite characters on demand and from any smart device.

The fun doesn't just stop with the YouTube channel however, as the DC Super Hero website allows kids to play games, download free printable activities and more.

If you fancy winning 1 of 3 £100 Visa Card with DC Super Hero Girls then just complete the rafflecopter below.  Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 18 April 2016

Wembley Stadium Tour with FA Girls' Football Week

Last week we were lucky enough to be invited down to London for an event being hosted by the the FA in connection with Girls' Football Week which takes place the week beginning 25th April.  The aim of FA Girl's Football Week is to help raise awareness of the opportunities for girls to play football locally, to drive participation by girls in the sport and to encourage changes in perception by both parents and the children themselves.

Last year the FA launched a campaign known as #WeCanPlay to help challenge perceptions and demonstrate that girls can play football just as much as boys can.

I was quite sporty all through school and played on every single school team right up until I left in Year 11, including football, so I was quite surprised to see statistics (from girls surveyed by the FA) which suggested that just over half of them felt football was a game they could be involved with, unlike netball and tennis.  I find this such a disheartening piece of information and think that both girls and boys should be encouraged to take part in as many different sports and activities as possible.

Primarily it was Meg who received the invitation to the FA event, but we all tagged along for the experience (because who would say no?!).  We were treated to a tour of Wembley Stadium, given the opportunity to meet with ex-England and current Arsenal player, Kelly Smith as well as having fun with some football coaches at the end.

I can't start the post other than by saying it was an amazing day.  From the gorgeous weather right through to Kelly's inspirational talk explaining how much she had to overcome in order to be taken seriously as a girl playing football, it was an all round fantastic day.

The tour itself was a huge highlight, particularly for James who is a massive football fan although I was excited to spot a Rugby World Cup 2015 All Blacks shirt in the changing rooms...I think I may have been the only person taking a selfie with it though...

Eli recently joined a local football team but it isn't something that we had particularly thought about for Meg.  Partly because we didn't think she would be interested but also because she is into gymnastics and swimming and seems to be very good at those two things.  Watching her train with the coaches at the end was something of an eye-opener and we were really pleased to watch her getting involved even if she fell over a few too many times!

Talking about it with her afterwards, she was really spurred on to get involved and have a go; I wasn't sure whether Eli's team was a mixed team although I know it is something they have talked about so I used the Play Football search engine on the FA's website so look for local mixed teams.  I was actually really pleasantly surprised to see that there are so many and so if Eli's team don't offer opportunities for Meg then we have other options to explore.  To be honest, it wasn't something I was expecting given the remote area we live in so I was glad there are the chances out there if girls want them!

Overall we had such an amazing day;  not just because we were given the chance to tour Wembley and meet Kelly Smith but also because it a real eye-opener in terms of needing support for Women's Football and the importance of raising awareness.

A huge thank you to everyone involved with organising and running the day.  We had a great time.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Siblings {April}

I posted just last week about how this month seems to have gone so quickly and yet we haven't really done anything at all and I had to do a double check when I had the reminder to sort out my siblings post.  I think perhaps for us it is more to do with barrelling towards the Easter holidays; everyone else seems to have had their holidays and be back at school and we are only just enjoying the first week of ours.

The holidays are always a funny time for Meg and Eli.  I know from reliable sources that they play together on the school playground so they are used to still spending a good portion of their time together and yet there are so many more silly squabbles and fights when the holidays begin.  I think it takes them a few days to adjust to being around each other all day; by next week they will be completely inseparable.

So there isn't much to share about my two siblings this month.  We have rushed from pillar to post, from school to after school class and then to bed and tried to make the most of the sun when it deigned to shine.

I am hoping for many more lazy days when the warmer weather arrives; days spent sat out in the garden listening to Meg and Eli discovering and playing and enjoying themselves rather than sitting with their noses pressed against the window wondering when it is going to stop raining.  The curse of living in a seaside town in the North West I think!

The Me and Mine Project

Thursday, 14 April 2016

On Getting Fit...

Prior to having the children, getting fit wasn't something I ever really thought about.  I suppose it was somewhere at the back of my mind but having been quite sporty in school and then walking to work for a good few years, I always thought I'd got the 'being fit' thing covered.

Cue two pregnancies and a couple of years later and I began to realise just how unfit I had actually allowed myself to become.  I probably began to notice it around the time I became unwell.  I had dabbled in a few bits and pieces here and there; yoga, pilates, the 30 Day Shred...but nothing had really 'stuck'.  Both Meg and Eli are very active and I began to find it harder and harder to keep up with them.  I love playing sport and there is nothing worse than finding yourself out of breath after just 10 minutes!

When a close friend decided to take up spinning class and invited me along I was dubious.  I had heard no good things about spinning and I dodged the invitation for a couple of weeks before I thought...why not?!  Although perhaps if I'd known ahead of time how it would feel that first week I would never have signed up to go along!

I enjoyed the pace and the feeling of getting lost in the music but clearly there were muscles in my legs and arms which hadn't seen use in far too long.  I spent the entire following week not being able to get up and down the stairs without tears stinging my eyes and sitting and standing was an adventure in itself!  I don't think it had helped that I hadn't had the right kit; my trainers were yoga trainers and not properly padded so as well as my aching legs and my bruised arms, I had sore feet to contend with!

But you know what?  I stuck with it.  I equipped myself with the right exercise gear and I kept pushing myself to go each week.  The rumours are entirely true; I don't think it ever gets easier and some weeks I feel like I might actually topple sideways off my bike but I am certainly beginning to notice a difference.  My recovery rate is much better and I recently signed up to a local gym which I have been going to a couple of times a week.  

There must be something going on too as I recently treated myself to some new running leggings over a new summer top.  I can't think of when that would even have been something I'd thought about!

Some weeks I have to really push myself to go but as much as the stories about how hard spinning class is, so are the stories about how great you feel about yourself once you start exercising.  I feel happier within myself, I have more energy, more get-go and last week I ran headfirst down a steep dune without a second thought and I wasn't even slightly out of breath.

I did share this picture the other week after we went to the gym with another friend and she really put us through our paces...who knew a plank could hurt so much?!  I can't deny that it doesn't still hurt but it always, always feels great once I come home and can sit down with a cup of tea knowing that I went to the gym and earned it!

I'm so pleased I decided to start getting fit and I hope that I can keep up the momentum!

This is a collaborative post

Monday, 11 April 2016

Hooray, It's The Holidays!

I feel like we are some of the last people in the country to finally finish for the Easter holidays but we are finally there!

I was looking back over how we spent our Easter holidays last year and I can't believe how different the weather is; as I write this the rain is hammering at the windows and Meg and Eli are bouncing off the walls desperate to get outside and play in the garden.  Last year we spent almost every single day outside.  I'm hoping that this British weather bucks its ideas up and we don't have rubbish rain every day!

We don't have many plans at the moment which partly I love and partly I don't.  Usually I'm a proper nerd about the holidays and I make whole spreadsheets covering the things we could get up to...I haven't done that this time and although that feels kind of nice I also want to make the most of having them both at home.

Maybe I should use some of our ideas from last year for inspiration!

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Review: Trolley Bags

A couple of weeks ago the lovely folk at Trolley Bags asked me whether I was interested in reviewing their product.  I have to admit I was intrigued at the idea of a packing system which was interconnected; and which rolled up so easily.

We have a drawer in our kitchen which is overflowing with reusable bags (thanks to the number of times we head out to the shops and forget to take any with us!) so I was a bit dubious about introducing more reusable bags into our lives...I don't think I needed to be.

I waited a couple of weeks until I was ready to do a big monthly shop as I wanted to really put the bags to the test.

The Trolley Bags are very simply four different sized bags which are connected via strips of velcro.  When not in use they roll up into a handy tube which can then be placed onto the front of the trolley (no worrying about ending up with your bags ending up buried at the bottom of your trolley!)

When you are ready to use the bags you simply unroll them and place them inside the trolley and they have rails which can be balanced along the edges of the trolley to keep them upright.  This is ideal for normal shopping but also if you do scan as you shop, as you can just pack as you go along as well as for people like myself, who like to shop in Aldi it's a real dream.

If you aren't familiar with the packing system at Aldi then you have to reload everything into your trolley and then pack away from the conveyor belt and till.  It's usually a royal pain as you have everything put nicely into your trolley and then when it comes to paying they whizz all your shopping through so quickly that it ends up all over the place.  Then you have to find enough space to pack it all into your bags at the get my point!

Being able to just unroll the Trolley Bags and pack as the items were scanned was such a time saver.  I even got into a very lengthy conversation with the girl serving about the bags and she commented that she was seeing more and more people with them and would be sure to recommend them.  Pretty good!

The bags are four different sizes which is helpful although you need to be careful not to overfill the bags as it may then prove difficult to get them out of your trolley.  I definitely found this and I have tried to bear it in mind since; the bags were slightly too long for the trolley I used so when I went to lift them out and into my car all the weight suddenly dropped to the bottom and there was a hairy moment when I ended up trapped between the boot of my car and a very very heavy bag.  So don't overfill is the lesson!

I drive a Peugeot 307 and all four bags easily fit into the boot.

I liked that as the bags are different colours you can sort your shopping out into categories (is that just me?!) which made it easy for unpacking at home as well.

What I liked:-

* A really simple system which can easily be transported.  Once I'd emptied the bags out I rolled them back up and immediately put them into my boot for the next time.

* Different coloured and sized bags made sorting and packing items easy.

* Fit easily into my boot even with each bag full.

* I fit a monthly shop (for a family of 4) into all of the bags.

* Good value for money at only £17.99

What I didn't like:-

* The interconnecting rails do stick over the edge of the trolley quite a bit.  I would be wary of children accidentally catching themselves or getting poked in the eye as they are unfortunately right at head height.

* Be careful to avoid overfilling as the large bag in particular can end up being extremely heavy

Overall I was very impressed with the bags and have used them a number of times since being sent them for review.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Outdoor Adventures...How To Be Prepared!

As a family we absolutely love being outdoors, especially now that we are closer to the beach.  If we are at home on the weekend you can guarantee we will either be pottering and playing in the garden or heading down to the beach or local wood for an explore.  Eli in particular absolutely thrives in an outdoor environment and turns into a completely different little boy!

Something we have quickly learned through trial and error is that there are some things you should always take with you in order to be prepared for an outdoor adventure.  Having two young children and one dog is often a recipe for someone either going face (or paws) down into a huge pile of mud or the heavens opening on the one time you didn't think to bring any spare clothing with you.

Despite knowing that we need to think in advance we even got caught out the other week when we headed out to the sand dunes in Ainsdale.  It was drizzling lightly and we had our coats and wellies on, the temperature was quite mild and although it was windy, it really wasn't too bad.  So off we headed, with just the things we had with us.  Big mistake.  When we were about an hour from the car the rain began to just pour and pour down.  That wind which had seemed okay a short time before was now an icy blast whipping our hoods off and lashing the rain into our faces.  Our wellies and coats proved insubstantial after half an hour of the torrential downpour; when we got back to the car Eli took his welly off and emptied a whole puddle of water onto the floor!  It would have been the ideal time to have a change of clothes handy but alas, we didn't even remember to take our own advice!

Which is kind of what prompted me to write this post today; to share with you our ideas of 'essential' items to pack on any outdoor adventure so that no matter what Mother Nature decides to unleash, you will be fully prepared and able to deal with it:-

1. A change of clothes
Accidentally falling into a deep puddle, slipping in mud or just getting caught out in the rain...these are all things which can regularly happen on days out, especially when you have children.  We very rarely leave home without a change of clothes for all of us (a few weeks ago excepted!) because you just never know what might happen. 

In fact, a couple of years ago we visited Delamere Forest in the winter.  It was bitterly cold and really quite vile weather.  We were following a trail and when we were about halfway round, Eli had given up completely and James was carrying him.  Cue James missing his step and slipping down a very muddy and wet hill.  With the extra weight of Eli, the pair of them just flew down this hill like it was a ready-made slide and they ended up absolutely soaked through.  So it isn't just kids who can have 'accidents', the grown-ups can fall foul too.

2. Wipes, wipes and more wipes
Baby wipes are an invaluable tool for any day out.  Whether you are wiping sticky fingers after an ice cream or muddy fingers after a fall, they are a real asset and we never leave home without some.  We usually pack one into the bag we are carrying for the day and have another pack in the car for emergencies.

3. Proper waterproofs
Especially key if you are travelling anywhere in Britain; you just can't ever guarantee the weather!  A decent pair of wellies and a proper raincoat will see you through most situations.  My coat is from Regatta and I love that it isn't only waterproof but it's also wind proof as well. Unfortunately I was daft enough to choose a white one so it's looking a little past its best at the moment.  I would definitely suggest darker colours if you are likely to be getting a little bit mucky when out and about!

4. Drinks and a snack
Obviously you would hope that nothing would go too wrong whilst having an outdoor adventure but in case you find yourself further from the car than you imagined or just a little bit thirsty, it's always good to carry a backpack with some supplies (plus your wipes).  Even just for your own sanity when your children start whining about being hungry, it's always good to have a piece of fruit that you can whip out and hand to them.

5. A sense of humour
This is such a vital thing when an outdoor adventure goes awry.  You have to just be able to laugh about whatever situation you have gotten yourselves into, because what is the alternative?  Moaning and crying will just inevitably make you feel worse about it!

This is a collaborative post

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Spend the Day in Greenwich

I'm not sure at what point I became obsessed with visiting Greenwich but right before our last trip to London it was something I became determined to do.  Possibly because I spend 80% of my freelance working life writing about London and it is an area which always crops up or because I had a hunch that it was the kind of place I would love...I don't know!

Anyway, I determined that on our next trip to London we had to factor in time to cross the River Thames and spend the day in Greenwich.  Luckily no-one had a problem with that and we were able to spend almost the entire day exploring the area.  And I would definitely recommend it.  Whether you are a family with young children or a couple on a romantic break and all arrangements in between, I am positive that you will enjoy a trip to Greenwich as much as we did.

Getting There
If you are staying in Central London then you will need to cross the Thames to reach Greenwich.  We chose to travel by car from our AirBnB accommodation in Crystal Palace because it was our last day in the city and we would be travelling home immediately afterwards (it's worth knowing that on a Sunday parking charges are HUGELY reduced in London.  We paid a grand total of £1 to park in Greenwich for the day but there are often free spaces aplenty) 

However, we also took a boat tour from Greenwich Pier so you could easily do this from Central London to make your way across.  I'll cover this in more detail below.  Alternatively the tube and the bus are great public transport options or you can venture out by foot and come through the Greenwich Tunnels which run directly underneath the River Thames as well.

What to See & Do
There are a number of great things to do once you are in Greenwich but if you don't have a lot of time then you will need to make your selection wisely.  The Royal Museums of Greenwich consist of The National Maritime Museum, The Queen's House, Cutty Sark and The Royal Observatory.  We only had time to fully explore one so we chose the National Maritime Museum as it seemed to appeal to everyone from my Dad with his love of naval history and battles right down to Eli who just needs space to burn his energy off.

We particularly enjoyed the interactive gallery for children and you can read our separate review of that here.

We also walked down to see Cutty Sark from the outside but unfortunately didn't have the opportunity to go in.

If we had time on our next visit to London, I'd love to visit the Royal Observatory and the Planetarium there but we just ran out of time.

Other great options for things to do include the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich Park and Greenwich Market.  We ventured into Greenwich Market for lunch and it was brilliant.  Divided into two sections, there is a food market at one side selling freshly cooked, locally sourced treats and on the other side you can find independent sellers with everything from homeware to jewellery to antiques.  It has a very 'arts and crafts' feel to the market and was a lovely place to wander and pick up a few souvenir trinkets to take home with us.

As I mentioned above, we also took a boat tour from Greenwich Pier.  You can save money (as did we) by avoiding the boat tour companies and just purchasing a ticket for a Thames Clipper boat instead.  These are more like commuter boats and they stop off at different piers along the Thames.  It would have cost us around £15-20 per adult for a boat tour whereas the Clipper was around £8-9 instead and both Meg and Eli were free.

Sure, we didn't get the full benefit of a tour guide or the in-depth information which comes with it but we were able to spot all of the major landmarks with the children and we even got to see Tower Bridge lifting up which was pretty cool.

We disembarked for a while at Westminster Pier; the water had been quite choppy and my Mum needed a break before heading back to Greenwich.

Where to Eat
Greenwich Market is a great option if you are working to a tight budget as there was a whole range of stalls selling various cuisines and dishes from £3-4 upwards.  You could also head to Greenwich High Street which has a number of cafes and coffee shops as well.

For our dinner, before we set off back home, we opted for a more 'traditional' Greenwich meal at Goddards at Greenwich.  This is a family pie and mash shop which has been open since the 1890's.  None of us were feeling quite brave enough to try their jellied eel but we did opt for the 'pie & mash' pie of minced beef with lashings of gravy (much to Eli's horror!) - I loved the old style feel of the restaurant, especially the wooden benches which made up the indoor seating.

As you can see, there is so much in Greenwich; the only trouble you will have is deciding what you've got time to do!
Travel Monkey