Sunday, 30 September 2012

An autumn walk


Yesterday we went on a lovely walk across the fields next to our house and enjoyed the sunshine and everything the countryside has to offer.  Isn't autumn special?

From tiny acorns...


The first of the berries on the holly bushes


We can't go under it, we can't go over it...


Now that's what I call giant haystacks!


Some clambering over stiles


and rickety bridges over rivers, looking for fish



Not quite ready...



A spot of foraging


and Mrs M very nearly disappeared down the rabbit-hole.


Everywhere wall full of colour and fruits and the countryside felt so alive! The children enjoyed their nature walk adventure and as it leads straight to a country pub, I think we may do it a little bit more often!



Children’s Halloween Party


Throwing a party at Halloween is great fun for all ages and if you really get in to the spooky spirit you can throw a really good Halloween party for your and your neighbourhood’s kids. A lot of parents would prefer their children not to be out on the streets knocking on strangers doors in the dark anyway so you would be performing a community favour! Just make sure there are the same amount of treats on offer and you will have the children on board fairly quickly too.


Remember, throwing a Halloween party for children should be considered under the same framework as say, a birthday party, just with a spooky slant on it, so just follow these simple children’s party rules and you should be able to pull off the perfect ghostly gathering:

Invitations At a children’s party its always best to send out invitations, this way you know the parents of the children are aware of the party and gives them the opportunity to diarise it. Make the invitations a little spooky either by buying them from a party shop or by making them by hand, this can be a great activity for children to get involved with. Always include an R.S.V.P request though, if you send out your invites in good time you should have a good grasp of numbers about a week prior to the festivities.

Food – Once you do have that number in your head you can start thinking about how much food you need to bring in. There are always some good filler foods like crisps and assorted pizzas that go down a treat but if you really want to impress, why not bake some skeleton ginger bread men or eye ball soup?

Costumes – As the host you should be leading the waywith the Halloween costumes and if there are a large number of you in the family, you can even choose a group costume. Making costumes by hand can be fun and rewarding but if you are already stretched with the party planning there is nothing wrong with ordering a professional costume online. You can order a really impressive costume from Fancy DressBall and have it delivered to your door, giving you the chance to make sure all the other elements of the party run smoothly.



Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Getting kids involved in the kitchen



There are lots of benefits to getting children involved with food preparation.

Children who are a part of cooking enjoy food more, tend to eat a more varied diet, become adults who prepare their own food from scratch and, of course, it is a great bonding activity and learning opportunity with their parents.

So what can parents do to involve children with making food? There are a few great ways to get children excited about meal times:

Give children options – Should you have carrots or broccoli today? Would they like a banana or some grapes for a snack? Letting children choose parts of their meal will engage them and make them more likely to eat what they’re given because they were given a choice. It’s also a great way to avoid tantrums!

Let children prepare food – Obviously there are a LOT of things children shouldn’t be allowed to do in the kitchen, but cutting up fruit for a snack, putting vegetables in a pan before it’s put on the hob and spreading butter on their sandwich are all great ways of giving children skills to prepare food, and getting them learning about the food preparation process.

Learn a new recipe – Just as we as adults get bored of the same food, the same goes for children too! Trying new recipes and variations of tried and tested dishes can keep meal times interesting for children. This can also be a great way of avoiding morning sickness while pregnant, as one of the signs of pregnancy can be queasiness over certain foods. A great way to avoid meat, if that’s what’s making you ill one month, is to try some new vegetables with your kids and check out vegetarian alternatives. It will most likely make your child a more adventurous eater too.

A great way to get your child cooking in the kitchen is to make fresh smoothies! You can adapt it to suit whatever you have in your fridge or fruit bowl. No milk? Try natural yoghurt or fresh fruit juice. These are also a great way to use up some soft fruit that may be past its best.


Fruit Smoothie
(makes 2 glasses)

One banana
A handful of strawberries
Half a glass of milk
Two scoops of natural yoghurt
A handful of grapes

Let your child wash and cut up the strawberries, peel the banana and break into the blender (turned off for safety!), and pop the grapes in. Blitz with the other ingredients and pour into glasses. Using a straw will make them seem like even more of a treat!

If you’re curious about how great you’ll be feeling about cooking in the kitchen, and are pregnant, you can check out your pregnancy week by week thanks to Bounty

Enjoy, and get your child involved.


Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post.

Bringing the fun back


Recently I've felt a bit in the doldrums, so has Mr M.  Neither of us have been able to put our finger on it  but there's been a general feeling of "meh" in the air. Don't get me wrong, we're both very happy and we have a good relationship with each other although I do feel we're stuck in a bit of a rut at times.

Last night it finally dawned on me. 

We need to bring the fun back into our relationship. 

We're so focused on the mundaneness of day-to-day life it seems that most of our conversations revolve around which swimming lessons are the best, whether I'll ever get my little girl into Brownies, what we're having for tea or which room needs decorating next.  We're fortunate to have good babysitters so we get to go out often, normally for a meal, but then those conversations are still there and we're too busy acting like grown-ups to have fun. We were watching Who Do You Think You Are last night (William Roache episode...his grandparents lived at Alton Towers) and reminiscing about how much fun we had the last time we went to Alton Towers. Then I realised that was 2002! Ten years ago.

We used to have fun together, we still do as a family and lots of it, but I want to have fun with my husband. I want to ride on roller coasters again until I feel like throwing up, I want to go to the pub and get completely legless - I just want to go out, be a bit silly and have fun so we can forget about all the trials and tribulations of family life and, even more so, our working lives.  I want us to laugh and giggle like we used to. We were silly once upon a time, and it felt good.

So I'm bringing the fun back. And it's starting with Keith Harris and Orville.

Yesterday I impulse bought a record player (I know) as Mr M was getting some stuff out of the loft and my box of records came with it.  We decided to buy a record player and spend some time listening to old records. I think we'll have a date night at home, listening to old records (I actually own this one and this, oh yes.) and I'll make some retro food and drinks. We don't have to go out to have fun, it's just making an effort.

Instead of just going out for nice meals (my waistband will thank me...) we're going to do something different - we'll go bowling and play air hockey, go to to gigs to see new bands,  find a comedy night, get dressed up and go somewhere posh for drinks (always a giggle as we never fit in...) and more importantly, get ourselves to a theme park! I'm going to plan a camping weekend in our van for just the two of us next Spring - we'd have a ball and was just the type of thing we liked doing pre-children.  

I'm hoping that by changing our routine and doing something different, it will make us feel more perky and well, more like us again and less like ageing parents!

What do you do to inject fun into your relationship? Ideas are always welcome!


Thursday, 27 September 2012

Coconut Prawn Curry


I finally got my hands on a copy of The Hairy Bikers book "The Hairy Dieters".  I think it was one of the hardest books to track down - EVER but eventually I got a copy via The Book People for the bargain price of £4.99.  There's quite a few things in the book that I'd like to make but the first thing I made was the Coconut Prawn Curry.

I was looking for something that was a) tasty, b) easy and c) quick and this fitted the bill. I adapted the recipe somewhat from the original so what you find below are my little tweaks rather than the original recipe. The curry that resulted didn't resemble the one in The Hairy Bikers book at all! Mine is also not diet-friendly as I don't use half-fat coconut milk like The Hairy Bikers do, I'm a full fat kind of girl (my waistline will back me up on this...) but obviously if you want it to be lower fat, than you can change this.

The recipe serves 2-3 but could be bumped up even more by adding a bit of extra vegetables to it. It's rather wet due to the amount of coconut milk I put into the dish (The Hairy Bikers used half the amount) but I just drained off the excess when serving it up - should have bottled it really, it was yum!

Coconut Prawn Curry

Ingredients

2 tbsp Keralan curry paste
2 tbsp cold water
1 medium onion, halved and finely sliced
1 orange pepper, deseeded and cut into small chunks
1 red pepper, deseeded and cut into small chunks
1 tbsp mango chutney
4 tomatoes, quartered, deseeded and diced
400ml coconut milk
2 tsp cornflour
200g cooked king prawns
100g baby spinach leaves

Method

In a large non-stick frying pan or wok, cook the curry paste, 1 tbsp water, onion and diced peppers over a low heat for around 5 minutes. Stir regularly to prevent sticking, until the onion has started to soften.

Add the mango chutney, diced tomatoes and coconut milk to the pan and bring to a simmer. Cook for around 4 minutes, stirring every now and again until the tomatoes are just beginning to soften. 

Mix the cornflour with the rest of the water to make a smooth paste and add to the sauce in the pan. Cook for around a minute, stirring all the time until the sauce thickens slightly.

Add the prawns to the pan along with the baby spinach leaves and cook for a couple of minutes until the prawns are hot through and the spinach has wilted. 

Serve immediately with some steam white rice and a nice hot naan bread!

I used the Keralan curry paste that Waitrose make however if you can't find that one use any medium-heat curry paste that you can find. The Pataks Jalfrezi paste would also work well with this dish.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

A review of the Holiday Village Menorca


Back in August the family and I skipped off to the First Choice Holiday Village Menorca for a week.  If you're not familiar with holiday villages you can check them out on the First Choice website here but basically your holiday is centred around the hotel, quite often on an all-inclusive basis with an array of children's clubs, entertainment and activities on offer. Having never stayed at a holiday village of any type before myself, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect and I was a little apprehensive.


Our first impressions were good. The reception staff and the manager were really friendly and welcoming and this continued through the holiday. Our room, in Block 3, was pleasant although admittedly it was looking a bit tired in places. We had requested a quiet room as the pool area is very noisy during the day and night and our room was perfectly situated - close to all the amenities, but facing away from the hustle and bustle. Our accommodation was a one-bedroom apartment and there was more than enough space for the four of us with large double bed in the bedroom and a sofa bed in the lounge area. We ended up with the children using the bedroom and Mr M and I spent the week on the sofa bed (which was comfy) as we were second floor and balconies make me nervous. There didn't seem to be any way of internally securing the door that led out on to the balcony and whilst my children are pretty trustworthy, I didn't want to risk them mucking about out there.


The bathroom was spacious with a separate bath and shower but would have benefited from a refurbishment, however that was purely cosmetic and everything was clean and in perfect working order.  There is a kitchenette in the room but we only used the fridge to keep some drinks in. There is no kettle provided however I believe you can hire one at reception, however we never felt like we needed it as drinks are pretty much available all day.  My one niggle about the room was the air-conditioning, or lack of it! When we arrived in Menorca we were greeted with a heatwave, it was so hot even the staff themselves commented on it being 29 degrees at 6am in their homes! The air-conditioning barely functioned and it's probably the only time I've been hot in an apartment or hotel room abroad. As the week went on and the temperature returned to a more normal level it didn't feel so bad, but more powerful air-conditioning would have been welcome.


I've never been all-inclusive in Europe before so the food element was probably the part I was most apprehensive about. I needn't have been though as the food was better than I expected and it was quite varied too. Most nights there was a "chef's table" by the door that would have different things on it. One night it was Spanish speciality cheeses, another it was a tower of profiteroles! We never had to wait for a table even though it was peak time and the hotel was full, and the restaurant staff were lovely and helpful.  All the food was buffet-style and there was lots choice as well as a dazzling array of desserts and ice-cream. There was even a food station for the little ones so that they could help themselves, although more often than not my two chose from the "grown-ups food".  There are two other restaurants you can eat at, and on your all-inclusive deal you get to eat at them once per week. The first is a BBQ restaurant and the second is an a la carte Italian. We didn't try the BBQ but did eat at the Italian where the food was good and it was nice to be served dinner for a change instead of having to help yourself.  There is a snack bar by the pool which is open all day and I'd read some dodgy reviews on Trip Advisor but my fears were totally unfounded. It's a great option if you don't want to get dressed for lunch and fancy just grabbing a burger or a sandwich.   The pool bar was very busy (all-inclusive drinks, it's going to be!) but they were adept at moving the queue on quickly and they provided lovely cocktails and scrumptious milkshakes for the children!


The pool area itself was nice, it was kept clean and tidy, and the children especially enjoyed the pool with the kiddy slides. It was noisy though and not really the place to relax - however there's a quiet pool over towards Block 4 which would be far more suited to a doze in the sun. Sun loungers? Ah that old chestnut  Well you could get a sun lounger up until about 11am if you weren't fussy where you sat i.e. in front of the very loud speakers, but if you wanted prime position or any chance of a parasol you really needed to be up and at them by 7am as sunbed-reserving was rife. There wasn't nearly enough parasols to go around and I think it's crucial to have a little bid of shade for the children.  One thing I feel I must point out - the tiles around the pool area are VERY slippy and I saw several children come a cropper on them. There were a few black eyes and bruised cheekbones. I'd fortunately seen it mentioned on Trip Advisor before I left home so told my children umpteen times a day to be careful but it's definitely something that needs addressing before someone gets seriously hurt.


There were plenty of kids clubs and activities to join in with through the day like the high ropes, swim academy, stage academy and football academy. The kids clubs are split into ages and there are sessions available right up until 11pm if you want to have some child-free time. My children are not really joiners so didn't want to go to the kids clubs and that suited me fine as we were on a family holiday so I didn't mind having them around me all day! However, from what I saw of the clubs they were very well run and everybody seemed to be having a great time. There's no doubt that the children loved the First Choice staff and I think often the feeling was mutual!


You can also book excursions and day trips with through First Choice. As we were only there for a week we didn't want to over do it but did book a day out on the "Pirates of Menorca" trip. This was a boat trip down the coast from Ciutadella to a more, erm, natural beach (yes, we saw mens danglies) at Son Saura. On the boat there was face-painting, they played games on the beach, went on a treasure hunt and had a colouring competition and ice lollies on the boat on the way back. It was nice to have some time away from the pool and it's always nice to have a boat trip to see a bit of the island.


In terms of entertainment at night - there was lots of it! The First Choice staff work hard to put on a good show and it ranged from audience participation games to music for children to tribute acts and shows (often performed by the First Choice staff who are amazing singers!).  The quality of the entertainment was pretty good although my children lamented the lack of a traditional mini disco and quite often it all felt a little bit too much of a showcase for the entertainers rather than something the little ones could join in with as the music was a bit too dancey and the dance moves were pretty impossible for a 4 year old to follow. Saying that though everybody seemed to enjoy it and be having a great time!


Cala'n Bosch itself is small but lovely and there is the choice of two beaches, Cala'n Bosch and Son Xoriguer. Son Xoriguer is a little trickier to find and we did get a bit lost on the first day, which in the blistering heat was quite unpleasant but it was worth it as it's a lovely beach.  Cala'n Bosch resort is centred around a small harbour which is bustling at night - lots of inviting bars and restaurants to choose from if you fancy stopping for a drink.

All in all it was a good holiday and more than met our expectations! I've come away with a high opinion of holiday villages and am already looking at the Holiday Village Rhodes as a holiday option next year. I fancy me one of those swim-up rooms!



First Choice offers seven night holidays to the Menorca staying at the Travelife Gold Awarded, 4Sun Holiday Village Menorca, on an All Inclusive basis from £661 per adult, first child travels from £364 and from £514 for the second. Price is based on a family of four sharing, and includes flights departing from London Gatwick airport on 27 October 2012 and transfers. To find out more about this holiday or to book visit your local Thomson featuring First Choice travel shop, firstchoice.co.uk or call 0871 200 7799.

Disclaimer: I received a discount on this holiday from TUI UK. All words, thoughts and opinions in the above review are my own.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

What I'm reading...

It's been a while since I've shared what I've read recently or what I am reading or even what I am going to be reading!  I thought I'd write one of these posts as reading other peoples lists on blogs has become my new favourite way of finding books to add to my Kindle.  

Shopping for books on my Kindle has become a new obsession of mine. When I see something I fancy, I save them into an Amazon wish list until I am ready to buy one. I can also see if the price has gone down since I added it to the list which greatly interests a geek like me.

Since I got my Kindle I've been reading a lot more. I love taking it on holiday and not having to decide what I wanted to read in advance - it's a lot lighter than carrying piles of books in my suitcase, which means more room for shoes! 

I'm not going to whittle on about the books in great detail or else I (and you) would be here all day but I've linked to them on Amazon so you can make your own minds up (and no, they're not affiliate links!).

What I've read recently


The first book I read on holiday was Bared To You by Sylvia Day. Obviously comparisons are going to be made to 50 Shades and it was a very very similar storyline but I thought it was a whole lot better written. I really enjoyed this book and look forward to reading the second instalment which is out next week I think.


After having many Lisa Jewell books recommended to me, I tried my first one, The Truth About Melody Browne. I enjoyed this book, it was a good holiday read and it has inspired me to try a few of her others. I didn't love it as much as I thought I would but it was easy going and interesting enough to keep me reading.


Can't Live Without by Joanne Phillips was a book I downloaded on a whim. The book was entertaining but also left me with a warm feeling at the end. I loved the character of Stella and can't wait to read more from Joanne Phillips in the future.


I downloaded Me Before You by JoJo Moyes ages ago and for some reason never fancied reading it, but launched into it on holiday. I think this book has been a bit marmite for some but I loved it. I was hooked on the story and cried buckets at the end. I don't think a book has made me cry since I first read The Time Travellers Wife.  Loved it and have downloaded some more JoJo Moyes to read.


The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood was another book that just randomly caught my eye and this was one of those books that I just couldn't stop reading until it was finished. It's a psychological thriller and it was a gripping read but not too hard-going which is one of my favourite types of book! I immediately raced off to see if Alex Marwood had written anymore books but alas I think this was the debut offering.


Finally, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. Totally not the type of book I would normally read but what a beautiful and touching story. I loved this book, it didn't have me gripped but it was a nice, gently story. I'll admit, it lost me part way through but the ending was sweet in its own way and I found it quite thought-provoking.

What I'm reading now

I normally don't like to have more than one book on the go but my Kindle is changing the way I read. I currently have three books on the go! Two of them are ones I just dip into every now and again, I tend to pick them up and read a chapter every so often as they're not really hooking me in but I do want to finish reading them.


Evelina by Frances Burney is a book I have wanted to read for a while but I'm finding it really hard to get into as I've not read classic literature for quite a while now so the language takes some getting to grips with. I'm reading it in small chunks!

I loved What Katy Did (by Susan Coolidge) when I was a child, I must have read it a hundred times so am enjoying revisiting this book as an adult and have been surprised to find that I probably didn't understand a lot of what I was reading back then. Fascinatingly I can still remember how I imagined the characters and settings to look. Hope to read this with my own daughter at some point but wanted to re-familiarise myself with it first.


And finally, my main read at the moment is Marianna by Susanna Kearsley. I'm really fond of a historical time-slip kind of book, I like the links between past and present so I was happy to find this book recommended somewhere and am so far enjoying reading it very much. I really enjoy books with a bit of something spooky in them so will be checking out her other books when I've finished.

What I'm reading next

It's hard to say what I am going to read next as I'm so indecisive and it depends on my mood but it's probably going to be these.


Reflected in You by Sylvia Day is the second book in Crossfire series that the book above, Bared to You is part of. I'm hoping to enjoy this one as much as the first, I was desperate to read this when I'd finished Bared to You.


Another historical time-slip book, Underground by Gayle O'Brien and it's storyline about a runaway who finds a 150 year old letter intrigued me. 


Before I Met You will be my second Lisa Jewell book. Actually it'll be my third but I abandoned one of the others after I couldn't get in to it, I will try again though. I like the write up for this so have high hopes.


Whilst I am travelling down the road of erotic fiction, I thought I'd go retro and try one of the original "bonkbusters" Lace by Shirley Conran. They say never judge a book by its cover, but I'm totally going to because look at it! Can't wait to get stuck into this.


And finally, what I expect to be a more difficult and intense read than most of the above, Florence and Giles by John Harding. It's described as a gothic thriller and I have no idea what it's about or what to expect! 

And there you have it! 

I'd love to hear from you if you've read any of the above books - no spoilers please if I've not read it yet! - and what you thought about them. Also if you have any suggestions of other books I might enjoy based on the above, do leave a comment, and make sure you tell me what you are reading at the moment - I love to talk books!

Swedish brand Polarn O. Pyret’s Children in Need campaign to launch



Since its launch in the 1970s, Polarn O. Pyret, veteran kids clothes brand, really has stood the test of time. The brand prides itself on making clothes that look great on kids, wash and wear well for the parents, and have as little impact as possible on the environment. It’s never changed its stance on the need for good design and clothes that let children be children.

PO.P promotes nothing but great quality, durability, and functionality – nothing more, nothing less. That’s why more and more people are buying their stuff. Oh, and not only that, but because PO.P garments wear and wash so well, they usually still look great and has many years’ worth of wear left in them even after they’ve been outgrown… Made even more useful by the fact that many of the garments and colours in the PO.P range are unisex. How great is that?!  So - they can be handed down from child to child in the family or between friends, or, alternatively, can be sold on – and have a very high resell value on sites like eBay.


Now for Children in Need this year, PO.P is asking customers to bring back outgrown PO.P clothes during October. If you’ve got any outgrown PO.P children’s or baby clothes lying around doing nothing, just pop into your nearest PO.P store, where they’ll gladly take them in for public resale across 14 UK stores from 1-18 Nov on special Hand It Down sale rails. 

While all proceeds from the sale going to this year’s BBC Children In Need appeal, this charity drive will also give you the opportunity to do your bit for the environment!

And what’s more, as a little thank you, any customer who donates an outgrown garment will then receive a 10%-off voucher to use in store throughout October on any purchase made for a brand new item.

PO.P plans to sell second-hand t-shirts on for £2.50, while snowsuits will go for around £25. PO.P UK’s MD, Mats Nilsson, said of the promotion, “Our clothes are made to last and this event illustrates the true value of durable clothes that can be used by more than two children. Our stand against ‘throw-away’ culture is good for the environment and good for the pocket too!”

This really is Swedish functionality – and generosity - at its best! Make sure you join in the fun in October and grab yourself a bargain In November. 


Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post.