In praise of Penny, it’s National Puppy Day

If you follow me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook you may have seen my occasional updates about the puppy who burst into our lives in December. A Christmas present she was not, but a much longed for, four-legged member of the family.

Meet Penny Sprocker. Or at least that’s how she looked when she trotted into our lives. She was tiny! Today is National Puppy Day and it’s made me look back and appreciate our lovely pup.

In praise of Penny, it's National Puppy Day

Since December she’s been a whirlwind of adorable chaos and we wouldn’t have her any other way. She’s a Sprocker – a Cocker Spaniel, Springer Spaniel cross. This means she’s bouncy, energetic, greedy and intelligent, apparently.

She’s five months old now, give or take. In those months she’s learned some of the basics – sit, stay, lie down. She’s also learned how to climb onto the dining table to snaffle any unguarded human food. She’s also learned (hopefully) that drinking funny coloured water out of the pond will make her poorly.

This was her on her first big walk in January. 

In praise of Penny, it's National Puppy Day

Penny likes long walks, she gets three a day. I did mention she was energetic didn’t I? She also likes things she can chew (like my carpets) and lots of cuddles. 

I work mostly from home, so she gets to hang out with me most days, which is nice for us both. Sometimes she goes to work with my husband. He works alone so she is company for him and his customers seem to like her too.

This was her yesterday, we popped in to his work for lunch and to say hello.

In praise of Penny, it's National Puppy Day

She has made going out and trips away more difficult and sometimes impossible. Holidays have to be dog friendly and everything we do we now have to take her into consideration. We’d forgotten in the 18 months we’d been without a dog just how tying they can be. So don’t get a dog if you’re not able to consider their needs, just like you would consider the needs of a child.

Having said that, we wouldn’t change a thing. The benefits to having a big floppy mutt around the house far, far outweigh the other considerations we have to make. We love her and we’re pretty sure she loves us too.

Penny Sprocks rocks our world!

I’m kicking ass and taking names, so don’t pity me

Thank you for your pity today. It made me see through clearer eyes how much stronger I am now and how far I have come in the nine months since my Dad’s death.

To you my life may appear to be spiralling, spinning, shifting and twisting out of control, but it’s all part of the process of finding a new kind of normal in my life. This chaos you see swirling around me, that’s part of the beauty and richness of my life.

Where you see a flailing, angry person, I see a girl pulling at the threads at the edges of her life, grasping at the bits of grief and anger and happiness and joy and love and pulling them together, twisting them into a more pleasing shape.

A wise person once said that the night is always darkest before the dawn. Or that you’ve got to break some eggs to make an omelette. I’m breaking eggs, I’m making omelettes. I am switching the light on before the dawn. I’m finding my feet again. So don’t pity me, don’t judge me. I am doing just fine. Finer than fine. I am at my very finest when I’m under pressure. I’m kicking ass and taking names right now, shall I take yours?

Do not look at me with pity in your eyes as you watch and judge me as tears spring to mine, or when I struggle to swallow my rage down. I’m busy feeling. What I’m feeling is real and it’s valid. I am absolutely normal with everyone, maybe my smile has a hint of rictus about it, but I’m fine.

No one feels the wrath which bubbles inside me. No one but me suffers because of the impotent rage throbbing in my chest. I know I need to find a safe outlet for my anger, but thankfully you came along with your inane comments and judgemental glances and became the target I was looking for.

I’d rather feel all of this anger and all of this pain than live for one single minute like you, in your emotionally homogeneous vacuum you call life. I would rather feel and live. I’d rather enjoy life and feel the lowest of the lows and taste the sweetest and highest of the highs.

I am living, I am blossoming. I am loving the people I love with every fibre of my being and every part of my heart. And I miss one of the people who lived and still lives in my heart. I always will. But don’t pity me my anger and my grief, because they are all the evidence I need that I was loved and I am still loved.

I know that the pity in your eyes is just jealousy. What a gift I have to be able to see the beauty in my grief and to be able to see that my anger is a gift born from love. My anger is a beautiful, creative gift, and your pity is your curse.

I'm kicking ass and taking names, so don't pity me

Learning at home with Education Quizzes

I think most parents are keen to help, push, coax and encourage their children to try their best to do well at school. Part of that is sitting with them while they do their reading, helping them with homework, doing educational activities with them and working with their teacher to encourage them to be the best that they can be.

Yesterday was parents evening. Whilst my boy is as bright as a button, he’s not always first with his hand up in class. He needs lots of encouragement to be the best that he can be. We already do lots of reading and educational activities at home with him, but we are working with his teacher to try and develop his motivation and to push him along a little bit. 

This week we’ve been trying to find new ways at home to make him feel that learning is exciting. We logged on to Education Quizzes, clicked on KS1 and got quizzing. He loves playing games, so if he feels like whatever he’s doing is part of a game then he’s all over it. 

Learning at home with Education Quizzes

The idea behind Education Quizzes is to help children to be more successful at school. By quizzing them on areas of the curriculum, the website helps learning seem more enjoyable. What’s more, it’s easy and we found it to be a great way to go over what he’s already learned at school; helping to build his confidence and show him how far he has come.

The quizzes are written by teachers and the quizzes are based on the National Curriculum. They are split into sections – KS1, KS2, 11-Plus, KS3 and GCSE quizzes and cover all the core subject areas. We had a good look at the KS1 options, as that’s where he is right now. KS1 is split up into different curriculum areas. We started working our way through the KS1 Maths quizzes. He loves maths, so this seemed a really good place to start.

Learning at home with Education Quizzes

He needed a little bit of help reading some of the questions, but he really enjoyed working through the quizzes with me. It really did help to show him how far he has come and just how much he knows. Confidence is everything for him I feel.

He has enjoyed doing the KS1 Education Quizzes so much he keeps asking for me to put them on the iPad for him. I’m very happy to oblige. I think it’s a useful website, especially for revision purposes. Our kids are tested every step of the way throughout their educational careers. Being used to taking quizzes and tests is a useful discipline. 

Subscription is monthly, costs £9.95 and it can be cancelled at any time. Education Quizzes go from KS1 right up to GCSE. So wherever you are there will be a quiz every step of the way. Looking back, I wish I’d had access to something like this when I was doing my GCSE’s. It’s an excellent revision tool.

For more information about Education Quizzes, visit their website.

Learning at home with Education Quizzes

This is a collaborative post.

Why I don’t need fuss on Mother’s Day

I know I’m a rare specimen, but I can live without too much fuss on Mother’s Day. I’m very content with a homemade card and a cuddle. I have a great relationship with my son and I feel loved, admired and appreciated by him every day. Plus I don’t want him to grow up feeling obligated to make a fuss when no fuss needs to be made.

Why I don't need fuss on Mother's Day

Nevertheless, I know at school there will be some card and gift making going on in readiness for Mothering Sunday. No doubt instructions for fuss making will also be issued from my husband.

My husband is prone to bouts of extravagance, so I have very firmly put in a request to go to our local community farm to see the baby animals. This is something we can all enjoy together. Ben and I can see the animals and meet the newborn lambs and calves. Daddy can walk the dog and then we can all go to the playground and have an ice cream. Sounds like a pretty good day out to me and one I’m really looking forward to.

Last night after dinner, I asked Ben some questions about Mother’s Day and got some surprisingly adorable answers. We’d been talking about the zoo, so both the zoo and walking the dog feature heavily; but I reckon this is worth three minutes of your time any day. 
 

I am so proud of my boy. Every day he brings sunshine and light into my life. We laugh and giggle an awful lot. He’s wonderfully creative and determined. He’s stubborn and wilful and as bright as a button. He wakes me up every morning with a kiss (because that’s how you wake a princess). Ben goes to bed every night insisting that we have a big family cuddle. He is kind and caring and I love the very bones of him.

Having him in my life is the best present I could wish for on Mother’s Day. Being a mum isn’t easy, not by a long chalk, but for me at least there are endless rewards.

What are your plans this Mother’s Day?

 

This week: Things to be thankful for

So far 2017 has been a bit like wading through custard. I’m still firmly in the grief stage and it’s showing no signs of shifting. I’m trying my best to shake it off and move forward by being kind to myself and focusing on being a good mum and a good wife. The last week, for various reasons has been especially hard. 

When you’re not feeling great it is often a good excuse to make a list of the people you love and who love you, or the good things in your life. In that spirit, I’ve decided to list the things to be thankful for from the last seven days. Because although it’s been hard, there have been an awful lot of good things and positive things in our lives.

Old Friends. When my husband found himself in a sticky situation this week, some of his oldest and best friends stepped up to help him. I am thankful for their care and compassion when he needed it.

Internet Friends. I have a small group of exceptionally wonderful friends who I met online but who have turned into the best friends a girl could have. This week they all noticed my dark mood and came to the rescue with love, laughter and a listening ear.

My son. He’s not feeling very well, but despite having an excellent excuse to be a grump, he has been full of smiles and love. He’s played, he’s snuggled, we’ve read together and he’s reminded me that the most important things in life are the people close to you who love you. He is my biggest fan and I am his.

This week: things to be thankful for

My husband. Despite having a horrendous week himself, he made the effort to take me out on a date even though he wasn’t in the mood to go out. We went to see Logan, not the most cheerful film ever, but we enjoyed escaping reality for a few hours and a bit of Hugh Jackman in a vest did nothing to hurt my mood.

Facebook. I have fallen out of love with Facebook for the time being. I’m just not feeling it, but I popped on this morning and the first thing I saw was a four year old video of my son cooing and dribbling and being adorable. It was very, very nice to be reminded of our little chubby cheeked baby who is now a strapping six year old.

New Phone! Yesterday my new phone arrived. I’ve been struggling for two years with a phone which wouldn’t support Facebook or Instagram. It was so bad it didn’t have a camera you could take a selfie with. My new phone is not top of the range, it’s a Samsung J5 2016 but it works and I can access and use the things I need to do my job as a blogger. It’s a really, really big deal to me. My friends are delighted they can now communicate with me in more than one way.

Seaside and Fresh Air. Last weekend I went to the Gin Festival in Blackpool with my best friend. We sat and ate those hot sugary doughnuts you can only get at the seaside. We talked a lot and knocked back a respectable amount of good gin. The next day he sent me an MP3 of a song he’d written about our trip to Blackpool. So I uploaded it to YouTube. You have to listen carefully as his voice is a bit quiet, but I think it’s hilarious. Bob is one of the best people I’ve ever known.

Hope. I’m thankful for hope. I’ve got good things to look forward to with fun people. I’ve got a holiday, a flying visit to Cornwall, I’ve got the Just So Festival to get excited about. I’m going for a spa weekend with some good friends. Plus we’ve got lots of family adventures to plot and scheme.

It’s not all darkness. It can sometimes feel that way but it isn’t. Writing down a list of things to be thankful for every so often can help bring the light and the good into focus, and that’s never a bad thing.

What are your things to be thankful for?

Gift Guide: Beautiful Mother’s Day Gifts from Amara

With several mothers to buy for, Mother’s Day always takes a little bit of planning and forethought. Nipping down to the garage and buying a bunch of forecourt flowers isn’t really an option. It’s just nice to spoil the people who do so much for us. I’ve recently discovered Amara who sell a beautiful selection of luxury interiors and gifts.

Amara stock over 300 of the world’s most luxurious home fashion brands. There were so many gorgeous gifts to choose from. I sat down with a cuppa and got all of my Mother’s Day shopping done and dusted in one sitting. I’m certain the mums in our lives will be delighted on Mothering Sunday. 

Gift Guide: Beautiful Mother's Day Gifts from Amara

Jewellery is always a solid choice for a Mother’s Day gift. I loved this Ted Baker Harly & Sinaa box set (£44) which includes a pair of heart shaped, silver coloured studs and a round shaped pair enhanced with glittering Swarovski crystals. These will be perfect for a certain someone who has a very classic taste in jewellery. I know she will love this set and wear them a lot. 

Gift Guide: Beautiful Mother's Day Gifts from Amara

Another special mum in our family loves candles and home fragrances. When I spotted this limited edition reed diffuser from Voluspa (a brand I know she loves) I put it straight in my basket. Presented in a beautiful glass vessel, with a set of reeds, this diffuser will fill her home with scents of orchid, white lily and spring moss. The diffuser costs £27 and will last up to six months. It’s a brand I know she loves, so I know I’m onto a winner here.

Gift Guide: Beautiful Mother's Day Gifts from Amara

I couldn’t resist putting this Joules Printed Picnic Rug with Carry Strap into by basket. We are all big fans of picnics, whether it’s an impromptu lunch in our local park, or a day out somewhere. A picnic rug is a great present for one of the outdoorsy mums in the family. This is an especially stylish one. It has an eye-catching floral print against a grey background. The soft rug is perfect for picnicking and has a water-resistant backing to protect you from the damp ground. This picnic rug is only £30, which I think is excellent value for such a stylish item.

Gift Guide: Beautiful Mother's Day Gifts from Amara

I am a little bit obsessed with good stationery. I know I’m not alone in this. Good stationery always makes for a great gift (especially for me, I’m hinting wildly here). This Nom De Plume pen from Kate Spade New York (£32) is gorgeous. With chic gold detailing, this bold blue and green enamel pen would be an elegant addition to a writer’s desk. Presented in a stylish gift box, this would be a wonderful gift idea for bloggers or avid writers.

Gift Guide: Beautiful Mother's Day Gifts from Amara

To go with the pen, I couldn’t resist this So Well Composed spiral notebook from Kate Spade New York (£16). It has an elegant black dotted design on the front cover, with the text ‘so well composed’ and has 160 lined pages inside. It’s got a practical interior pocket and it is just beautiful. 

Gift Guide: Beautiful Mother's Day Gifts from Amara

I was really impressed with Amara. They have so much to choose from, and it’s full of gorgeous, high-end gifts I know will be loved by the recipients. You get free delivery when you spend over £70 too.

Amara have nearly 35,000 products on their website, so whatever your mum’s style they’ll have a gorgeous gift to match!

Visit with Amara website for more stylish interiors and gifts for Mother’s Day and beyond.

 
Disclaimer: I was offered these gifts in return for this post, all images and opinions are my own.

Win Peter Rabbit: The Tale of the Great Rabbit and Squirrel Adventure DVD

Join our hero Peter Rabbit in his latest adventure in The Tale of the Great Rabbit and Squirrel Adventure. From the much loved children’s author, Beatrix Potter, comes a wonderful new collection of the escapades of Peter Rabbit and his friends.

The episodes on this DVD include:- The Tale of the Great Rabbit and Squirrel Adventure, The Tale of Two Enemies, The Tale of Mr Tod’s Trap, The Tale of the Wiggly Worms, The Tale of Fierce Rabbit and The Tale of Old Brown’s Feather.

DVDs for Five Year Olds

Follow Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny and Lily Bobtail on their adventures and their quest to save the day, overcoming obstacles and outsmarting predators, all the while finding fun and excitement in the most unexpected places. 

Peter Rabbit: The Tale of the Great Rabbit and Squirrel Adventure DVD from Abbey Home Media is rated U and is 84 minutes long. It is available in a range of high street shops and online now.

I am delighted to be able to offer my blog readers the chance to win their very own copy of the Peter Rabbit: The Tale of the Great Rabbit and Squirrel Adventure DVD. Just in time for Easter!

WIN A Peter Rabbit: The Tale of the Great Rabbit and Squirrel Adventure DVD

To be in with a chance to win a Peter Rabbit: The Tale of the Great Rabbit and Squirrel Adventure DVD, simply complete the Rafflecopter widget below. Good luck!

Check out our other giveaways over on our competitions page.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Terms & Conditions:
1. The competition is open to residents of the UK only aged (18) and over.
2. The prize is non-transferable and no cash alternative is offered.
3. To enter, please use the Rafflecopter widget above, complete any mandatory entries and any optional entries you would like.
4. The winner will be chosen at random from all valid entries.
5. The winner will receive a Peter Rabbit: The Tale of the Great Rabbit and Squirrel Adventure DVD.
6. The closing date for entries is 11.59pm GMT on 6th April 2017.
7. The winner will be informed by email within 7 days of the closing date.
8. The winner will be asked to provide a full UK postal address with postcode for delivery purposes.
9. The winners name will be available on request
10. Address details will be passed onto an agency to post the prize out to the winner, and is therefore beyond my control. I cannot be held responsible for prizes being lost in the post although I will endeavour to liaise with the agency.
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12. Entry to this giveaway confirms that participants have read, understood and agree to be bound by these Terms and Conditions.
13. HodgePodgeDays decision is final in all matters relating to this giveaway.

Review: The Gin Festival Blackpool 2017, Blackpool Tower Ballroom

In recent years gin drinking has enjoyed something of a renaissance. Although gin has been drunk for centuries, gin distillers have been tapping into the growing trend for small batch, artisan and craft gins for a little while now.

In 2012, in celebration of all things gin, the Gin Festival was born. Since then the Gin Festival has been popping up in fabulous locations up and down the UK. The Gin Festival is a fantastic travelling festival; full of vintage flair and with all the gin you could possibly want. It’s a great place to go and try new gins, meet the makers, sample some new things and pick up a new favourite. 

Last year I went to the Gin Festival Manchester and absolutely loved every second. This year I went a little further afield and spent an afternoon at the first ever Gin Festival Blackpool. 

Review: The Gin Festival Blackpool 2017, Blackpool Tower Ballroom

Photo Credit: Bob Bardsley

Set in the stunning Ballroom at the iconic Blackpool Tower, it was the perfect venue for the inaugural Gin Festival Blackpool. The festival took place on Friday 10th March and Saturday 11th March, I went along to the Saturday afternoon session and had a ball!

The Gin Festival Blackpool served up over 100 gins to the eager Blackpool crowd, including many new and exclusive gins. There were masterclasses with distillers, cocktails, hot mulled gin and toe tapping live music. 

With so many gins on offer, my companion Bob and I tried our best to sample as many of them as we could. After consulting “The Gin Book” we were given on arrival, we variously tried Daffy’s, Poetic Licence – Old Tom, Wicked Wolf Exmoor Gin, Wight Mermaid Gin, Inverroche Amber Gin, Isfjord Gin, Masons Tea Gin, Whitley Neill Quince, we also tried some hot mulled gin and a brand new gin from Yorkshire, Tinker.

Each gin was served with plenty of ice, a perfectly matched garnish and you could top it us with one of the six premium Fever-Tree tonics and mixers which were freely available.

Review: The Gin Festival Blackpool 2017, Blackpool Tower Ballroom

Photo Credit: Bob Bardsley

Our stand out favourite was a British made, Spanish style gin called Tinker. Tinker is a move away from traditional, juniper gins and is a fresh and innovative gin. Light on the palate and bursting with juicy berries. It is made by distilling juniper, coriander, orange, lemon, cassia, cinnamon, orris, angelica, liquorice, nutmeg and elderberries to create a contemporary classic. It’s one to watch out for in the future, that’s for sure!

If you couldn’t make it to Blackpool, why not book tickets for the Gin Festival in Glasgow, Manchester, Nottingham, Swansea, Torquay, Bournemouth, Bristol, Ipswich, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Gloucester, Stoke-on-Trent, Leeds or Oxford.

For more information visit the Gin Festival website.

You can read my guest post on the Gin Festival website here.

Easter Craft Tutorial: Easy Easter Bunny Bunting

This month I’ve been thinking about Easter crafts. Now that Lent is in full swing, a few Easter craft items have started to steadily make their way home from school. We’re not adverse to a bit of egg painting ourselves, but when my box of Bostik Bloggers Easter craft goodies arrived from Craft Merrily, I took one look and decided to make some Easter Bunny Bunting.

Easter Craft – Easy Easter Bunny Bunting

To make the bunting you will need:

A length of pretty ribbon
Some patterned craft paper
A piece of cardboard to make the stencil
A Bostik fine & wide glu pen
Some little paper flowers or small buttons
Scissors

Easter Craft Tutorial: Easy Easter Bunny Bunting

Using the downloadable template below (click on it to download as a pdf), draw a rabbit shape onto a piece of cardboard, cut it out and use it as a stencil.On your colourful craft paper, draw around your stencil. I managed three bunnies on this piece of paper.

Easter Craft Tutorial: Easy Easter Bunny Bunting

Cut our your bunny shapes. I was using a piece of ribbon about a metre long for my bunting, so I estimated I’d need around six bunny shapes, evenly spaced along the ribbon.

Easter Craft Tutorial: Easy Easter Bunny Bunting

Using small paper flower shapes, or little buttons if you prefer, glue them onto the bunnies bum to look like a little tail.

Easter Craft Tutorial: Easy Easter Bunny Bunting

Then glue the bunnies onto the ribbon, space them equally and leave them to dry overnight if possible.

Easter Craft Tutorial: Easy Easter Bunny Bunting

Hang your Easter bunny bunting wherever you like. I chose a bright and sunny spot in my kitchen. Where would you hang yours?

Easter Craft Tutorial: Easy Easter Bunny Bunting

I’m really pleased with how my Easter bunny bunting has turned out. Now I’ve got my bunny template, I can make all kinds of bunny themed crafts with it. What Easter craft will you be creating this year?

Note: I am a Bostik craft blogger and I was sent the materials to create a Valentine’s craft with by Craft Merrily. 

Three Meat-Free Monday ideas from Goodlife Foods

As the head chef in our house, it falls to me to put dinner on the table most nights. I’m a vegetarian, but the boys aren’t and I like to have a balance of meals through the week which suit us all. Maybe three nights a week they get something meaty and the rest of the time they will happily tuck into something we can all eat. I’m always on the lookout for meat-free Monday ideas to keep things interesting for us all.

This week we’ve been trying out some of the vegetarian meals from Goodlife Foods and in the process discovered some great Meat-Free Monday ideas.

Meat Free Monday ideas from Goodlife Foods

We loved this wholemeal pita stuffed with lovely crunchy salad and chickpea falafel with a side of slaw. These Moroccan style chickpea falafel from Goodlife are packed with spices and are just 39 calories each; making them perfect for a light meal. I always think falafel are really versatile, my freezer is rarely without a packet.

Meat Free Monday ideas from Goodlife Foods

Another favourite from the range was this Mushroom and Spinach Kiev. The Kiev is packed with mushrooms and spinach which hides an oozing creamy garlic and cheese sauce, and is coated in a crunchy seeded breadcrumbs. Although it’s not a stunner on the plate, it is absolutely delicious and just garlicky and cheesy enough. Served with some of our favourite veg – sweet potato mash, French beans and chantenay carrots, this was a cracking meal we could feel virtuous about. Each Kiev is 290 calories, so this was a good meal we didn’t need to feel bad about.

Meat Free Monday ideas from Goodlife Foods

My own personal favourite was the French Bean and Spinach sausages. They are so flavoursome, even my pork sausage loving boy tucked into them and demanded seconds. The sausages are filled with French beans, petit pois, fresh spinach, a pinch of nutmeg and a mild crumbly Wensleydale cheese. 

They are incredibly versatile. I served them with buttery mashed potato, French beans, garden peas and veggie gravy. They’d be fantastic in a wrap or sandwich, or thrown in with some creamy pesto pasta and they’re only 86 calories per sausage. They have lots of other sausage flavours too, I need to track down their beetroot and feta for a start!

Three Meat Free Monday ideas from Goodlife Foods

Goodlife Foods have been creating vegetarian sausages, vegan burgers, vegetable based kievs and falafels in the UK for over 25 years. They work with framers across the UK to sow, grow and harvest the best vegetables at their peak, so they know that their veg is fresh and tasty.

Whether you’re having a Meat-Free Monday, feeling flexitarian or you’re committed to a full-time vegetarian diet, Goodlife have a really interesting and tasty selection of frozen foods to help you mix things up and create great family meals.

Three Meat-Free Monday ideas from Goodlife Foods

I’ve been buying Goodlife products whenever I’ve seen them for years. You can find them in the freezer section in Booths, Waitrose, Ocado and Iceland, amongst other places. I’ve tended to keep them just for me; but now I’ve seen my boys tuck into them with gusto, I guess I’m buying them for the whole family now. It’s lovely to see such dedicated carnivores tucking into a very obviously veggie sausage and asking for more!

You can find out more about Goodlife Foods including finding your local stockist and their full range on their website.

Note: I was sent these products for review purposes, all images and opinions are my own.