Wednesday, 29 February 2012

#TheGallery: Friends

A lovely theme this week from Kate. So here are my offerings:

I went through High School with a great bunch of girls. Four us were in the same form from 1983-1987. It will be 29 years since we started there together this September. We have done lots together (sometimes as various smaller combinations) from cycling the Loire valley aged 18, skiing trips and lots of happy memories. Here we are a few years ago celebrating (in a very refined fashion!) a hen do:

Flash back to 1995 and I don't think we look all that different:

Click on the camera logo to see what everyone else has posted.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Educational Review: My Phonics Kit

Sponsored Post

Phonics is now a key part of the Foundation and Keystage 1 learning in English primary schools. Many of us parents have had the joy of practicing these sounds with our 4-7 year olds. As it is such a fundamental part of their learning the government have introduced a Year 1 Screening Check from this summer. The key points of this are to check:

  • a child can give the sound when shown a grapheme
  • blend sounds in order to read words
  • read phonically decodable one-syllable and two-syllable words
  • read a selection of nonsense words to show they are really decoding and not guessing
Oxford Reading Tree have brought out My Phonics Kit to help parents practice with their children at home. The set is based upon the popular Biff, Chip, Kipper and Floppy series with characters most children are familiar with from school. My son is only in Reception but we gave the kit a good try out.

The kit comes with several components:
  1. 3 workbooks
  2. reward stickers
  3. a sticker chart
  4. a CD
At the start of each book is a selection of phonic graphemes so that you can tell if your child is going to be able to complete the workbook. My son obviously didn't know them all but he was very keen on doing the books any way:

Let Your Body Drive

Sponsored Post

Get interactive with Peugeot:

Monday, 27 February 2012

Family Fun: Gardening

Welcome to week 5 of the Family Fun blog hop. For more details please read the launch page. In the words of a classic 1970s children's TV programme this is about switching off the television and doing something more useful instead!

get the InLinkz code

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Butler's Sink Rock Garden

Last month I was in the right place at the right time (dropping my son off at school) to end up the proud owner of a free Belfast sink! I decided to turn it into a rock garden but until today I hadn't had a chance to complete the project. Having bought suitable plants during half term my mum came round today to help us.

By the time I'd got the three of us wrapped up to join my mum she had already done the bulk of the work:

The sink had been raised to a level off the ground to allow drainage from the plughole. Rocks were added to the bottom then it was filled with soil/compost. Some rocks were then artistically arranged before the plants were put in:

measuring the space needed

Friday, 24 February 2012

Fairtrade Fortnight

Sponsored Post

It is nearly time for Fairtrade Fortnight (February 27th - March 11th 2012) and this year they are asking us to Take A Step for Fairtrade. Watch this video to find out more:
Here are some facts about Fairtrade:

  • 60% of Fairtrade farmers and workers are based in Africa. Thanks to them we can buy Fairtrade cotton clothing, cosmetics, wine, fruit, coffee, tea, chocolate and much much more…
  • Fairtrade is a thriving and growing campaign movement with over 500 Fairtrade Towns, over 600 Fairtrade Schools, over 140 Fairtrade Universities and over 6,700 Fairtrade Faith groups, including synagogues, mosques and Hindu temples. Find your nearest campaign at
  • 19 million glasses of Fairtrade wine were enjoyed in the UK in 2010. You can buy Fairtrade wines in most major retailers and selected wine merchants. Or savour a glass in one of 137 Marston’s pubs across the UK.
  • Three of the top chocolate brands in the UK are now Fairtrade. Look out for Kit Kats and Cadbury Dairy Milk bars with the FAIRTRADE Mark and from next summer, Maltesers too!
  • Chichester Cathedral is the world’s first public building to display Fairtrade and Fairmined certified gold. In October 2011 a 3ft cockerel was gilded in Fairtrade certified gold and positioned atop the 270ft Cathedral spire.
  • Three out of 10 bananas sold in the UK are Fairtrade. All bananas in Sainsbury’s are Fairtrade – they sell 1,200 Fairtrade bananas a minute adding up to a whopping 650 million a year.
  • Fairtrade and Fairmined certified gold was launched this year on Valentine’s Day. The gold is mined by small scale artisanal miners in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. Livia Firth wore Fairtrade gold to this year’s Oscar ceremony in LA.
  • Model and TV presenter Lisa Butcher has just launched a range of Fairtrade cotton tee-shirts available from Tesco online.

Zhu-Fari Lion Park Playset

Sponsored Post

We were sent one of these new Zhu-Fari playsets plus a Zhu-Fari Elephant for my daughter to try out. They follow on from the highly successful Zhu-Zhu hamsters and they are aimed at girls aged 4-8. My daughter already had a hamster which she enjoys playing with so we were looking forward to trying out the set. They sets are available from stockists such as Argos for £19.99.

The first test for me was to put the playset together following the "simple" instructions. As they are designed for many countries these have no words and just images. Needless to say it took me longer than it should have done to make the playset look like it did on the box:

The sets do not come with any animals so you need to buy these separately. We were sent Wharton the adult elephant:

It's very amusing to all ages to watch the animal scuttling around and changing direction when i finds its way is blocked. It also makes noises as it makes its way around. To buy a similar animal from Argos would cost you £9.99. The elephant successfully negotiated its way around the lower levels of the Playset but was too large for the slide and swings.

To get full use of the Playset you need a baby Zhu-Fari animal. These should be available from most toy retailers but online I can't find many as yet. It is possible to buy a mother giraffe and her baby for £24.99 via Amazon

In the absence of a baby Zh-Fari animal my daughter enlisted a baby Zhu Zhu hamster instead. This whizzed quite happily down the tunnel and on the swing. It isn't however designed to interact with this playset so we may have missed out on somethings.

My daughter and her little brother enjoyed playing with the set when we got it but haven't expressed too much interest in getting it out repeatedly. Their favourite bit was definitely Wharton the elephant. If you have a big Zhu Zhu fan then this could be a fun addition to their collection as long as you can get the animals to go with it. 

We’ve Just learned that with Zhu-Fari you can even win a break for all the family at the Safari Hotel at Chessington World of Adventures. It’s a great competition, you can enter here I'm off there now to check it out.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Reasons to be Cheerful XXXIV ( #R2BC )

Reasons to be Cheerful at Mummy from the Heart

Been a mixed week so I need to raise myself back up and just focus on the positives and hope things stay that way...

1) Family party

My cousin's partner turned 30 and threw a charity cake sale as a birthday party. So we got to eat cake for a good cause whilst playing games and chatting. A great recipe for a fun family afternoon. Here is a selection of the cakes we had to choose from:

2) Beautiful scenery

Sunday was a gorgeous day (shame much of it spent at an indoor birthday party!). I did manage to find a few minutes to stop and take in this lovely view of Windermere with the mountains behind on the way home.

3) My children

It was parent consultation week at their school and it was a delight to hear how well my children are getting on. My 8 year old daughter was given a spelling age of 11.5 this week and it at or above all expected levels in her other key subjects. My 5 year old has come on so well with his writing and drawing at school. He now writes legible sentences with phonetically correct spelling. Apparently his is in the teacher's "top" group so a great start to his school career.

4) My fitness

Using My Fitness Pal has helped me to watch what I'm eating. Even though I've been too unwell to exercise since Sunday I still lost 0.5lb this week. Here's hoping that I can shake off my virus and use exercise to shake off the last 4lb I need to reach a 2 stone weight loss!

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

#TheGallery: Landscapes

Love this week's challenge from Kate. Living in Cumbria I am surrounded by marvellous landscapes like these:

Rydal Water


Kent Estuary

Monday, 20 February 2012

Family Fun: Half Term Edition

Welcome to week 4 of the Family Fun blog hop. For more details please read the launch page. In the words of a classic 1970s children's TV programme this is about switching off the television and doing something more useful instead!

The majority of schools have just returned after half term so please link up with posts letting us know what you got up to during the break!

We have had a fairly relaxed time with not a lot going on as the lurgy was effecting more than one of us! I will link up the posts I did about some of the fun we have had.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Family Fun: A Hike via the Fairy Steps

This is a story best told in photographs so here I go:

We parked at Heron Corn Mill:

Then we followed footpaths and roads to climb up through woods full of snowdrops:

Friday, 17 February 2012

Change4Life: Don't let the drink sneak up on you

The Department of Health's latest Change4Life campaign for adults is to get us all to watch how much we drink. I know that this is an area I need to look into. They have done a fun little video to get us started:

Most of us know that we should try and stick to the recommended limits:

Women: should not regularly* drink more than 2 to 3 units of alcohol a day. That’s no more than a standard 175ml glass of wine (ABV 13%)

Men: should not regularly* drink more than 3 to 4 units of alcohol a day. That’s not much more than a pint of strong lager, beer or cider (ABV 5.2%)

* “Regularly” means drinking this amount most days or every day.
ABV is the percentage of alcohol in the drink.

It's ever so easy at home to exceed these guidelines - if you open a bottle of wine and drink just half that's about 4.5 units of alcohol! If you want to know how much you have drunk then use this handy calculator:

They have also given some useful tips to cut down:

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Reasons to be Cheerful XXXVIII ( #R2BC )

Reasons to be Cheerful at Mummy from the Heart

This week the host is Seasider in the City but the linky works just the same. I've also been tagged by Mum in Pink Wellies for Thankful Third Thursday so I have to list 10 items that are making me happy and not just the usual 3! Better get cracking then:

1) Half Term

A week without being forced to all be ready by 8:30 and for all plans during day to end at 3 makes life so much more relaxing. Funnily my daughter gets up earlier during the holidays than she does on school days!

2) Friends

My son went to a friend's party last Saturday and was driven there by the boy's mum. He wasn't very well whilst there and when I went to pick him up (miraculously he had bucked up by the time I got there!) there were lots of mummies I knew there. Nice to catch up with other mums I hadn't seen for a while.

3) Family Fun I

We had a lovely Sunday afternoon with my mum and granny over at my parents' house. Having collected granny from her home we were treated to a yummy Sunday lunch before playing games and watching a movie together. With only one granny left its fabulous she is now in the same town.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

#TheGallery: Embarrassing Outfit

Well Kate hasn't asked us to do anything silly for a while so here is a chance to laugh at my younger self:

This was taken in the late 1980s or early 1990s I think. My parents were having a civilised party at their house whilst I was invited to their daughter's friend down the road for a party with a theme of either vicars and tarts or something similar.

My mum had lent me her fake fur coat to cover up the fact that underneath I was wearing nothing much more than my lingerie! Needless to say my parents insisted that one of them walked me to and from the party "just in case".

Can't believe that a) I left the house wearing this outfit and b) my parents let me!

For more embarrassing outfits click on the logo up the top...

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Metric v Imperial

Despite being born just before the UK switched to decimalisation much to the despair of my engineer father I still use lots of imperial units. I grew up with pints of milk on the doorstep and buying petrol by the gallon. We were measured in feet and inches and weighed in stones. Recipes (like this one for cakes) were in ounces and food was bought in pounds and ounces. 

The only reason I know that I am 173 cm tall is that I went on a school ski trip to France and had to get measured for skis! As for everything else I've got used to filling my car in litres but on the whole my mind still works in imperial. It doesn't help that most of my favourite recipe books are still pre-metric in their measurements!

With two children currently at school I'm doing my best to try and stick to metric measurements. They know their heights in metres and centimetres and I haven't confused them by converting into feet and inches. When we measure the size of other things I try to remember to use the side of the tape which has centimetres on it.

Anyone else find it a struggle to get with the programme and use the correct units?

Monday, 13 February 2012

Family Fun: Across the Generations

Welcome to week 3 of the Family Fun blog hop. For more details please read the launch page. In the words of a classic 1970s children's TV programme this is about switching off the television and doing something more useful instead!

This week we are looking at the fun you have had with more than 2 generations of your family together. Whether its something with your children's grandparents or its you with your grandchildren. Come in and share (you can grab the code here get the InLinkz code).

I am very lucky that having moved to Cumbria we have 4 generations of the family close by. This means that we are often doing things with at least 3 generations together. This Sunday we had great granny around too and tried to make sure she felt involved with the little ones. Obviously this is harder than it used to be but we had fun doing a magnetic jigsaw together:

There was also a highly competitive game of Super Scrabble. Even my 5 year old joined in and even if he only knows words like C-A-T it means we can all play together.

Obviously when its just 3 generations we can be a bit more active and regularly go hiking or something outdoors. You can see quite a few of these on my blog. If you have done some family fun activities with lots of your family than please join in the blog hop:

Saturday, 11 February 2012

100 Books in 2012 - Update I

Regular readers will know that I signed up for a second year for the challenge of reading 100 books in a year from Book Chick City (having failed last year!). I am once again using Good Reads to track my progress and rate my reads. This year I am trying to remember to record the books I have read to my children as well as this must run into the dozens over the year!

This year so far my track record is looking good:

That's apparently 6558 pages already in 42 days! So what have I been reading?

As you can see its a mixed bag but a few from the same authors. So I'll pick out a few highlights.

Garth Nix - Keys to the Kingdom Series

I have read other fantasy works by Nix but hadn't read this 7 book series. They are in the teen fiction section of the library which I love to dabble in! They follow the story of accidental hero 12 year old Arthur Penhaligon who is chosen as the Rightful Heir to the Keys of the Kingdom whilst having an asthma attack during his school cross country lesson. Of course the current holders of these keys aren't going to give them up without a fight! Each book tells the tale of a different key. None of them are hard to read but very enjoyable.

Michael Morpurgo - War Horse

Having seen the movie I had to read the original book. Its a lot less sentimental than the Hollywood makeover and its all from the view point of Joey the horse. Again this is official a children's book but I would recommend to adults too.

New authors

I like to try out some new authors to vary my reading. So far this year I have discovered Terry Brooks and Elizabeth Moon in the Fantasy section of my library. I read the whole of one trilogy by Moon and I'm waiting for some more Brooks books to come back in! Her books are in the vein of Tolkein with elves, dwarves and magic as well as human battles. The Brooks ones are darker and so far lay out a post apocalyptic United States laid waste by man, bio weapons and demons.

New books by old favourites

I love being given book tokens at Christmas enabling me to make the most of the January sales to complete collections by well loved authors. This year I got Christopher Paolini - Inheritance, Bernard Cornwell - Death of Kings and Patrick Rothfuss - The Wise Man's Fear. A mix of fantasy and historical fiction continuing previously well loved stories.

Books I read with my children

My children have inherited my love of books and have a good selection on their shelves. It does help that I sell Usborne books to boost their home libraries. You can see a few of these on the current list. They also love modern favourites such as Stick Man. Now my daughter is into chapter books so there will be a variety of new ones appearing soon but they take a while to read at a chapter a night!

So it's looking good so far but I think I'm a bit weighted towards fantasy so far and need to branch out more! Watch this space for future updates...

Friday, 10 February 2012

#FictionFriday War Horse


In the old school hall they use now for the Village Hall, below the clock that has stood always at one minute past ten, hangs a small dusty painting of a horse.
For more on this meme  go to HomeDad's blog for more of the books I'm reading this year check out my Good Reads challenge.

LifeCircle 2012: Time Management

Life Circle

This week Kate has had us looking at our Time Management. This something that applies to everyone not just parents but being a single mum I think I need to try and manage time better. 

I use my large family calendar and my iPhone to remind me of tasks that need to be done on a major front or that are out of the house. The day to day tasks and paperwork jobs tend to be done my memory. 

There are certain regular things that take place each week that I have to fit everything else around. This includes my activities as well as well as school runs and children's activities. With these things fixed in time/day of the week it is normally easy to fit other tasks around them.

On days when I have nothing out of the home during the day I get on with jobs around the home such as de-cluttering and re-organising. I am dabbling in the Fly Lady system for fitting in different household chores for each day and timing tasks for 2, 5 or 15 minutes. Shoving a load of laundry in each day helps to keep on top of things.

The fly in the ointment comes when I have a few weeks like the last three when I have poorly children at home. Planned tasks get shelved and other things get forced to top of the list. I had hoped to have the house much more organised before half term but things just haven't worked out that way... So my to do list is there but it hasn't actually got much shorter!

To see if other people are more successful than me please pop over to Kate's blog.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Reasons to be Cheerful XXXVII (#R2BC)

Reasons to be Cheerful at Mummy from the Heart

I am writing this under not ideal conditions as my children are both at home off sick and driving me up the wall! So I need to think positive and save my sanity....

1) Friday night fun

One of my neighbours came round this Friday and we shared wine whilst knitting, sewing and nattering. It was great to have some adult company and some quality time without needing babysitters and in the comfort of my own home! Hoping to repeat this maybe with more mummies from my road and friends.

2) Snow weekend

Well the snow finally made it and for once with good timing as it was the weekend. We had lots of fun that I wrote about here. Our little cul-de-sac really comes into its own in these weather conditions as we all get out and the children play together whilst the adults supervise. Its a great way of getting to know everyone much better.

3) Good neighbours

My neighbours with a son at the same school drove my children to school in their 4x4 on Monday when it wasn't nice driving on the snowy roads. We are able to take turns at giving children lifts or baby sitting the youngest who doesn't yet go to school. It makes all our lives at lot less stressful.

4) Treats

A friend is learning massage at Kendal college. She needed a willing victim to practice on this week and I volunteered. It was so relaxing to have a full Swedish massage and just what I needed after the weekend.

5) Photography

I have had lots of praise for my photos on blipfoto and Instagram. Funnily its been the trusty iPhone coming up trumps as I have to remember to take my camera with me..

Please go and visit the others in the blog hop:

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

#TheGallery: Family Story - Black Magic

Tara has asked us to delve into our archives to find a photograph with a story behind it today. Thought I'd make sure I dug out one with a difference today and so I present you with us preparing to launch our Wayfarer Black Magic at the Isle of Whithorn, Dumfries and Galloway in the 1980s:

At the time 3 out of the 4 of us were keen amateur dinghy sailors so we had taken the boat up from Berkshire to Scotland when we went to stay at my grandparents' home at the Isle. We had visions of spending a lot of our holiday sailing around the harbour and getting some sea practice in. That week was the local regatta and we entered a few of the races - not with very much success!

Then came a day we will never forget. My dad and brother went on a longer distance race out of the harbour. My mum and I stayed on shore to observe. Gradually it got darker and darker and still no sign of Black Magic and her crew. Eventually from the land overlooking the entrance to the bay we heard them as the boat had capsized and they were struggling to get her back up and sailing. The local RNLI lifeboat was called out to rescue them.

Luckily both my dad and my brother were in one piece but Black Magic couldn't be salvaged and next morning bits of her turned up on the rocks. We drove home with an empty trailer and some spare sails and memories of a very scary few hours for us all...

For more photos please click on the logo up the top...

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Spend Vouchers, Get Rewards!

Like most parents these days I find that with budgets getting tighter it is really great when companies like Tesco give something back for every penny spent on their products. Where I lived before we had a very large Tesco store and I was often to be found in there buying the groceries, clothes or filling up my car. I wish I'd cottoned on to the value of Clubcard points other than reducing my total at the checkout sooner! 

Lots of my friends would talk about how Clubcard Deals had got them family days out to places such as Legoland. This made me look again at saving up my points for something much more fun than a discount on the weekly shop. It didn't take me too long to accrue enough points for us all to head off for a day at Legoland ourselves. 


It was a great use of all that shopping! The return value for a family day was so much better than just taking the voucher as a discount on the groceries. It was ever so easy to get the points built back up as well with a family to feed and a car that drove quite a few miles.

I was a bit more pragmatic next time I saved up points and used them towards my RAC breakdown cover. When you see how much this saves over the actual cost of cover it was a great way to keep my costs down. When special offers come out which double the vouchers it can be an even better deal. Last year I doubled up my vouchers to get myself some more clothes without feeling guilty! 

Just last week I got a warning e-mail to say some of my vouchers were due to expire so I popped on the Tesco website to see what deals I could get. With school holidays coming up and children to entertain I decided to cash all my vouchers in for days out vouchers. With the current deal the value was doubled so this leaves me plenty of options for a day out with my children. There are plenty of venues within an hour's drive of my home to choose from even if we are too far from Legoland these days!

So why not see where your Clubcard Vouchers could take your family this half term?

Sponsored Post

Viral video by ebuzzing

Monday, 6 February 2012

Family Fun - The snow edition

Welcome to week 2 of the Family Fun blog hop. For more details please read the launch page. In the words of a classic 1970s children's TV programme this is about switching off the television and doing something more useful instead!

This week the focus is on fun in the snow. If you had a snowy weekend with the kids then link up your posts on here. If you haven't had snow this time then link up and old one. Whether you have been sledging, building snow men or making snow angels why not share the fun with everyone else.