Category Archives: Blogs

Treat car mad kids to a junior driving experience

When I was pregnant and on maternity leave I watched an awful lot of Top Gear. I blame my son’s obsession with cars on my postnatal obsession with Top Gear. He’s already told me he wants to be a racing driver when he grows up, and when we’re in the car he wants us to race the other cars on the road. We don’t, obviously, because it’s a road not a race track, but I can’t think of anything he’d enjoy more than being at an actual race track and taking part in a junior driving experience day.

Designed for children aged 11-17, there is a whole range of junior driving experience days to choose from. These experience days are available in five different locations across the UK. Depending on which experience you choose, it gives junior driving fanatics the chance to drive different cars; including supercars under the expert guidance of specially trained driving instructors. What a treat!

Imagine being able to drive a Ferrari, an Aston Martin, an Audi R8, a Lamborghini, a Nissan GTR or even a Porsche! Imagine what the other kids would say at school the next day! These junior experience days are such a good way to give kids who love cars the chance to be close to some of the best cars in the world; not to mention giving them the chance to drive them too!

I think experience days have come on quite a long way in recent years. I went through a phase of buying all kinds of things for my quite adventurous husband. Things like indoor skydiving and zorbing, but I know he would absolutely love a driving experience day. Maybe that’s something I could treat both of the boys to when the littlest one is a bit older and his feet can reach the pedals.

Have you ever been on an experience day? What’s the best thing you’ve done?

Treat car mad kids to a junior driving experience

This is a sponsored post.

Could you go on holiday for the cost of your commute?

Every January when the rail fares are increased commuters collectively wince and dig a little deeper to pay to get to work. These days I work from home, so my commute is non-existent, but I used to travel by train to work.

It wasn’t an epic journey, it was from my suburban home into Manchester and back again. The journey was quicker by train but quite a chunk more expensive and not as reliable as it should have been. It got me to work quickly and I usually managed to grab a seat, so I couldn’t complain too much.

Could you go on holiday for the cost of your commute?

I used to buy a weekly ticket for around £20. At the time I was working as a temp; it wasn’t worth buying anything longer term because my contract could have ended at any point. The £20 a week was a decent chunk of my disposable income at the time too, so like most other commuters I resented it.

My train was on the airport line. I used to wonder on rainy grey days what would happen if I stayed on the train and found myself at the airport. Turning up with my passport in hand and a weekend bag by my side. Where would I go? Where could I go?

Love Holidays have recently created an interactive tube map. The map highlights some of the holiday destinations that can be enjoyed in exchange for a week of rent and tube travel in the UK’s capital and most expensive city – London.

All you have to do is enter a daily commute on the holiday finder tube map and discover some of the destinations that can be reached, based on average weekly rent and tube fares in the UK’s capital.

So where could I go? It turns out based on my old commute length I could go to Turkey. Shall I start packing now?

Could you go on holiday for the cost of your commute?

Where could your commute take you?

This is a collaborative post with LoveHolidays.

Are we stuck in a rut with our Christmas Decorations?

I love decking the halls at Christmastime. One of my favourite things is spending the day unpacking boxes of Christmas decorations and with mulled wine warming and carols playing, decorating the house with my family.

We always get our tree from the local community farm. It’s always is slightly too big and sits in the corner of our living room. We decorate it with white lights, then it gets covered in red and gold baubles and other decorations. There’s no tinsel, but we use gold lametta to give the tree some extra twinkle and shine. We’ve got a wonky gold star which sits on the top of our tree. My son always gets lifted up to put the star, and the final flourish to our tree.

Christmas magic Christmas Decorations

There’s always a wreath on the door. Usually bought from the community farm, but failing that I’ve got a couple of spare wreaths I can use if I can’t find a good quality fresh one.

Although we don’t put the tree up until the weekend before Christmas, we do have some lovely lights which go up at the start of December. They’re very pretty coloured lights which hang in our window and we get lots of lovely comments on them every year.

We have a large kitchen diner which we don’t tend to decorate, other than with some lights. I’m very tempted to try to find a small thin tree to stand in the corner. It’s the room we spend most of Christmas Day in, so it would be nice it if was a bit more festive.

I feel like we’ve had this style of Christmas decorations for a long time. I wonder if this will be the year I finally decide that next year we do something different. Our style is very traditional, is it time to ring the changes?

I’ve no idea what kind of theme I might go for in the future. We’ve had 20 or more years of having a traditional Christmas style in our home. Whatever style we choose in the future would still need to feel warm and festive.

Are we stuck in a Christmas Decorations rut?

For all kinds of Christmas inspo, the Ultimate Christmas DIY Decorating Bible is a pretty good place to start. There are decorating tips as well as loads of brilliant Christmas craft ideas. Maybe a handmade Christmas is the way to go next year?

What’s your Christmas style? Is it time for me to make the change?

This is a collaborative post.

Creating a garden wildlife sanctuary project with the kids

We know that kids who are physically active have better physical and mental health, they are happier and lighter. Kids who spend more time outdoors in the garden have better vision, have reduced ADHD symptoms, are less stressed, develop better social skills and don’t have vitamin D deficiencies.

Outdoor activities and exposure to plants and animals is also an opportunity for our children to discover things they are passionate about and good at. You might be raising the next David Attenborough but if you don’t give your child the opportunity to see and interact with the natural world all that potential will be wasted.

Creating a garden wildlife sanctuary project with your kids

Some Alarming Stats;

  • British children are among the least active in the world, and fitness levels are plummeting.
  • ¾ of our children spend less time in the great outdoors than prisoners.
  • 70% of mothers recall spending time outdoors every day as children, while only 31% of their children do.

As parents we all know there are lots of good reasons why our kids should be outside but we can’t seem to find the time to make sure it happens. Part of the reason is our own hectic lifestyles which leave little time to go outside. It is much easier for us to plonk our kids in front of the TV or a tablet while we use our tablets to get the shopping done, book a holiday and finish that report. We are also terrified for our kids and most of us won’t consider letting them out of our sight in public which reduces their opportunity for outdoor play and prevents them becoming more independent.

Garden Wildlife Sanctuary Project

A great idea to encourage your kids to get outside is to have a family garden project. A vegetable garden is a wonderful idea but it does take a lot of know-how from the parents and a regular time commitment. For most of us this is too big of an ask. A much easier project is to establish a wild garden. The set-up is easy and low cost and very little regular maintenance is needed. If the project captures your families’ imagination you can develop it as much as you like by adding hedgehog homes, bird boxes & feeders, butterfly gardens and ponds.  All you really need to get started is a patch of garden, it only needs to be a few meters wide.

Start With Plants

The starting point for your wild garden project is to put in the right plants. If you are going to be encouraging local wildlife you need to make sure you plant species that are native to the UK and provide food in the form of seeds and nectar bearing flowers as well as thick plants for cover. Sound hard?  Not at all just buy a seed mix or two from a specialist supplier online! Look for ‘environmental seeds’ or ‘stewardship seed mixes’. You will also find ‘bee friendly’ mixes which are high in nectar producing flowers. ‘Bird mixes’ or ‘cover crop’ seeds are likely to provide taller and thicker plants to provide somewhere for birds to hide. You can start your kids off on the project by asking them to look online for suitable mixes.

It’s probably a good idea to buy a couple of different mixes for good variety. You can share the seeds between several families because one tin of 250g for £20 can cover as much as 50m of garden. When you plant depends on the seed mix so just read the instructions carefully before you buy. It’s no good buying a seed mix that has to be planted in the spring if you want to get your project started in the Autumn. All you need to do is dig the patch of soil, pull out the weeds and then sprinkle on your seeds. Make sure you water them every three days if there is a dry spell. A better idea is to give the job to the kids who can take it in turns to do the watering.

At the back of your wild patch put in 1 or 2 shrubs/trees. They provide shelter and nesting sites. Choose something that produces berries, they look great and provide Winter food for birds – Rowan, Elderberry, Holly and Crab Apple are all good choices.

Creating a garden wildlife sanctuary project with your kids

Other things to include

Litter – I don’t mean crisp packets – we are talking twigs and dead leaves. Decomposing vegetation is vital for lots of insects who provide food for larger animals like hedgehogs. Just collect up this garden rubbish from the rest of your plot and sprinkle it on your wild garden.  Don’t do this if you have just planted seeds as the litter will block the sunlight from reaching the seeds and they will not germinate.

Water – fresh clean water is important. You can simply sink a plant pot or plastic bottle (with the top cut off) into the ground. The kids can take it in turns to top up or replace the water.

Maintenance

Very little!  If your plants are a bit thin sprinkle some more seeds down in the spring or Autumn. Usually these wild mixes self-seed so you could find this is not necessary every year.  In early spring you might need to trim away the dead dry grass from the previous year to allow the sunlight to reach the soil.

Development

Once your seed mixes are working well you can think about adding a couple of specific plants. Snowdrops and daffodils don’t do much for wildlife but they are some of the first plants and flowers to appear in the Spring so they can be important for keeping the kids interest high. They also grow from bulbs which fascinate kids.

Sunflowers are fantastic for birds, butterflies and bees and you can have a who can grow the tallest competition. Pumpkins or other squash are also easy to grow and great fun.  For both sunflowers and squash start the seeds off indoors in a windowsill and then plant them out when they are a about 20 cm tall. You can label them so every family member knows who’s is who’s!

Once the plants are in place you can think about adding some specific homes for birds and animals. You can buy bird nesting boxes and feeders, homes for bees and hedgehogs online. If you are all loving your garden you can consider a bigger addition like a pond.

Education

The wild garden offers a fantastic opportunity for you to educate your kids about plants and animals. You can also give them some fun projects and treasure hunts which will keep them occupied while you do other things. There are loads of treasure hunt style lists online and wildlife spotter lists. These work well in your wild garden but you can also use them to make walks and day trips more interesting. The Woodland Trust has a nice set too.

Of course, you can just come up with a DIY activity for kids if you need to get them out from under your feet. Just ask them the following. They can take pictures of what they find on their phones and then use the computer to identify them.

  • How many plants can you identify
  • How many different yellow flowers are there
  • Find 5 different grass seeds
  • Look for 6 different sorts of insects
  • Find 10 different types of leaves
  • Identify 5 different birds

Creating a garden wildlife sanctuary project with your kids

This is a guest post.

What’s the best winter sun destination this year?

My central heating has just gone on which means two things. One, my next gas bill will make me cry and two, I want a holiday somewhere warm and sunny. Last winter we had our first foreign family holiday and my 6 year old has been virtually begging us to go away for some winter sun and it is oh so tempting.

Last year we went to Mallorca which was great for us. It was a fairly short flight and we were blessed with lots of winter sun to warm our bones. I think we’d all be happy to go back and that would be the easy option, but where could we go that was still a short-ish flight, still sunny and still within our budget?

Sol Katmandu Hotel, Majorca with Jet2Holidays

I’ve picked out some of my favourite winter sun destinations available on Holiday Gems this year…

Cyprus
We love Cyprus. We went several times before we had our son and they were some of the best holidays we’ve ever had. Lots of sunshine, some history, some culture, lots of great food and good wine. Pretty much perfect. We will definitely go back, but we might leave that until he’s a bit older.

Canaries 
The Canaries are real wish list stuff for me. I’ve wanted to go for years but we’ve never quite managed it. The islands are the perfect place for a family holiday, a couples break or just to grab some much needed winter sun.

Cape Verde
It’s a bit further than I’d normally choose to go, but these laid back islands are perfect for a beach break. With year round sunshine and decent temperatures even in the depths of winter, Cape Verde might be just the ticket to pull us out of the doldrums this winter.

Croatia
I’ve wanted to visit Croatia since my brother went and fell for its stunning good looks. With beautiful beaches, spectacular cultural landmarks and a fine selection of resorts Croatia is high on my list, especially as it’s pretty good value to holiday there too.

I’m not sure where we will choose, that will have to go to a family vote. But I can see the Canaries in our future, fingers crossed!

This is a collaborative post.

Unusually beautiful gifts from Uncommon Goods

With the nights drawing in, my thoughts are turning towards Christmas. I’m determined to be more organised this year and start my shopping early. I don’t have many people to buy for, but I like to buy the lucky few interesting things which have been carefully chosen. I’m always on the look out for something which is unique, which is why I did a little cheer when I stumbled upon the Uncommon Goods website.

Uncommon Goods stock a gorgeous range of unique handmade goods. It’s a place where beautiful handmade products are sold; a bit like a lovely craft market, but online and all in one place. They’re based in America, but they’ve recently started selling their wares in the UK too. This is something which pleases me. I like to think that my family and friends are special and unique people and they deserve special and unique gifts too.

Unusually beautiful gifts from Uncommon Goods

I adore (I really do adore) this Solar System Necklace. It’s beautiful enough as a piece of jewellery, but I love that it represents the sun and nine planets (including Pluto). Handmade in Maryland, USA, this is a really unique and eye-catching piece of jewellery. Costing £40.78, this is part of a wider collection of planet themed necklaces, earrings and cuff-links which would make really unique and interesting gifts for Christmas.

Unusually beautiful gifts from Uncommon Goods

My heart did a little melt when I saw these Baby Fortune Cookie Booties. Aren’t they adorable? They’re just £21.50 and handmade from extra-plush fleece with floor-gripping soles. Each little slipper curls back into a delectable cookie shape when not in use. These are perfect for my friend’s little baby on her first Christmas. Oh my heart. 

There are so many lovely gifts for the menfolk in my life. Take these Mathematical Glasses; they’re really fun and perfect for my brother who is a Maths Teacher. These glasses are so beautifully decorated, I know he will love them. They’re just £28.06 and incredibly unique, I can’t resist. 

Unusually beautiful gifts from Uncommon Goods

There are so many lovely, lovely things on the Uncommon Goods website. It’s well worth taking a look to see what interesting things you can find for your family and friends this Christmas.

This is a collaborative post.

Hair Care: How I’ve learned to live with my fine hair

When I was a child I had wonderfully thick and glossy hair, the kind people envied. Then I hit puberty and it gradually began to thin out, and thin out, and thin out. Now I have really fine hair. It is what it is, and I’ve got what I’ve got. I’ve just got to make the best of it.

Being a woman I have gone through hormonal peaks and troughs. When I was pregnant my hair grew thicker and more plentiful, but as soon as my son was born it all fell out again. It’s grown back a bit more now but I know that in the last four years, stress and medication have taken their toll. I’m now hurtling towards menopause and I’m worried what my post menopausal hair will be like.

On a day-to-day basis I use a special shampoo for fine hair. I also use styling products which are supposed to stimulate your hair follicles. Using a decent hair styling brush helps. I try to give my hair a few days off if I can. Sometimes I don’t leave the house so I don’t wash my hair, or I wash it but don’t style it; which gives it a break from the heat of my hairdryer.

These days I tend to use lots of thickening products, especially if I’m going out or heading to an important meeting. I find dry shampoo is a good way to temporarily boost volume, but it does make my scalp itch so I don’t use it very often.

I’ve got short hair which I’ve dyed at home for years. I dyed it back to near its natural colour a few months ago. Now I’m giving my hair a break from artificial colouring to see if that makes a difference to its condition.

I know it will get to the point where I will either need to fully embrace it and shave it all off, or take the hair transplant route. I’m not sure which way I’ll jump yet, but my fine hair is here to stay regardless of which shampoo I use.

Having fine hair is something which is remarkably common, but it’s almost taboo. In a society where your hair is supposed to be your crowing glory; if it isn’t then you’re not ticking all the ‘beautiful girl’ boxes. Not that I ticked many in the first place.

If your ‘crowning glory’ is mostly stuck down the plug-hole, should women just embrace it? After all, if it’s ok for men to be bald (and sexy) why can’t it be the same for women?

Hair Care: How I've learned to live with my fine hair

This is a collaborative post.

How To Help Your Kids Without Helicopter Parenting

Worrying about your kids to a certain degree is natural, but helicopter parenting isn’t the best thing you can do for them. If you want your child to grow to be a balanced, well rounded individual, you need to encourage them to be independent. You won’t do this if you’re micromanaging their lives.

Know Why You Helicopter Parent

If you want to avoid being a helicopter parent, or stop being one, it’s important to know why this happens in the first place. It’s usually down to the following reasons:

  • Fear of scary consequences
  • Feelings of anxiety
  • Overcompensation for your own upbringing

Which one is it for you? When you know, you can start to work these feelings.

Know the downsides of helicopter parenting to deter you from doing it. This type of parenting can cause many issues in your child’s life. Low confidence and self esteem are common among children who have helicopter parents. Undeveloped coping skills are also a huge problem. What about when your child doesn’t want to do their own laces, or perform the simplest of tasks? They’ll have a lot of trouble when growing up and heading off to places like college and uni, if they decide to go at all. There are services like those found on https://www.brillassignment.co.uk/dissertation/ that could potentially help them through, but they can’t do the entire course for them! You need to seriously think of your child’s future and how you’d like them to live their lives.

Anxiety in kids is common with helicopter parenting, and a sense of entitlement. In extreme cases, you may find undeveloped life skills that they should really have, such as dressing themselves. In short, stop micromanaging your child!

How You Can Help Your Kids Without Helicopter Parenting

Make A Child ‘Resume’

To prove to yourself and your child everything they can do, have fun making them a ‘resume’. It doesn’t need to look like a real resume. Just have fun with it. List all of the things they can do. For instance

  • Sian can put her toys away.
  • Molly can dress herself.
  • Tom can brush his teeth alone.
  • Adam can use the telephone.

Not only will this remind you of everything they are capable of, it’ll also help them to see how great they’re doing. Then they’ll be so proud of themselves that they will want to try hard to do new things!

Ensure They Live Balanced Lives

Make sure your child is living a balanced life, without taking it to extremes. For example, they should be able to do their homework and have a social life. They shouldn’t be doing too much of one or the other. Something called ‘Submarine Parenting’ is a good option. You’re there where they can’t see you, so they are less likely to come to you for help with something they can do alone. However, you’re in the background somewhere, so you know if they truly need you or not.

You should stay close for real emergencies, but encourage them to go it alone where possible.

What do you think of these ideas?

Read more posts about parenting here.

This is a contributed post.

Three risks every kitchen gardener needs to know

Once you get into growing your own food in your own garden, it can become something of an addiction. It saves you a lot of money on ingredients in meals or on simple treats like blueberries. When you grow your own food, something about it just tastes better, too. Knowing that you put the work in producing the food on your own plate is honestly more fulfilling than many expect to be, initially. But there are risks to growing your food at home that can result in all your efforts being for naught. Before you deal with the frustration of your hard work going down the drain, here are three risks, in particular, to watch out for.

Three risks every kitchen gardener needs to know

Get rid of the nibblers

Inviting some nature into the garden, whether it’s bringing in butterflies or making room with a hedgehog hut, can make the garden not only a much more relaxing and pleasant place to be. It can make it environmentally friendly, too. But if you let nature run wild, you can be certain your homegrown foodstuffs won’t last very long thanks to the pests. However, pesticides can often have a negative effect on the food you’re growing, too. Get to know which pests are likely to eat the foods you plant and find the companion plants that get rid of them. For instance, aphids are a very common concern when growing tomatoes. Aphids are repelled by catnip. Learn the pests that prove a risk to whatever you’re growing and the companion plants or predators you can introduce in the garden to keep them at bay.

Prepare for a cold snap

Planting foodstuffs is a seasonal job, and you’re best off planting when things are in-season. There’s plenty you can plant in the autumn and winter but, even then, a particularly cold snap can utterly ruin your chances of ending up with healthy vegetables. Controlling your climate with tools like Swallow greenhouses gives you some security that all your hard work won’t go down the drain because of one week’s bad weather. A little climate control allows you to have a greater variety of fresh vegetables the whole year round, too.

Keep the food healthy

Your vegetables might grow to a ripe old state no problem, but another issue is whether they’re really safe to eat or not. In urban gardening, in particular, there are risks that might make it less than trustworthy on the plate. As Treehugger suggests, there are real risks to contamination, whether it’s from the soil or the products you use on it. To minimize that risk, it’s a good idea to test the soil you want to use or even buy fresh, tested soil to create new plots. If you live by a road and you’re concerned about contaminated dust being blown in from the traffic, you can build a wall around the vegetable gardens to serve as a barrier against them, too.

Get over the three hurdles above and making your own berries and vegetables in the garden is going to be no issue at all. Now get out there and start growing.

This is a contributed post.

Learning: Is It Time To Embrace E-Learning?

If you’re reading this, you are probably starting to think about college or further education either for yourself or your children. Where should your kids go to college? When should they start preparing for it and how on earth can you afford it? Today, we’re not going to answer any of those questions. Instead, we’re going to look at the possibility of e-learning and why it might be the best option for your child.

E-learning is often learning based entirely, mainly or partially online. Through e-learning, you can gain access to the same or similar courses that you could at university. However, rather than spending your time at the college, you can work from home. This brings us to the first, rather awesome advantage of e-learning.

Complete Freedom

With e-learning there typically isn’t a full schedule. As such, you can choose when you want to work, how you want to work and how often you want to study. There might be an area of the course that you know like the back of your hand. You can skip over it and instead focus on another section. Or, you can use the spare time more wisely. Your kids won’t be rushing to lectures either which means that they could theoretically stay at home.

Now, the disadvantage of this is that they will miss out on the level of independence that develops when you’re in college. However, it doesn’t have to be that way, and there’s another advantage that we have to point out.

It’s Cheaper

If you’re worried about the costs of college you probably just breathed a sigh of relief. On average, top colleges can cost fees that range in the hundreds of thousands. If you don’t want to leave your kids with huge amounts of debt once they complete their degree, you’ll have to figure out how to pay these bills. But you won’t have to if you embrace the idea of e-learning. With e-learning courses are a lot cheaper, and you don’t have to worry about all the expensive add ons like renting a dorm room. Instead, it’s all covered in one easy to pay bill. There’s another benefit too.

Faster Than You Think

How long do you think it takes to graduate from college? You’re probably thinking somewhere along the lines of four years, but that’s not true online. You can graduate with an accredited online MBA in just eighteen months! That’s incredible, and it puts that dependence argument into perspective. Once they have the degree, your kid will be free to leave the nest entering the job market, long before their peers. As such, it doesn’t diminish their gained level of dependence. It just postpones it.

Open Possibilities

Talking to your child, they might assume that their options are limited when studying online. But that’s not true either, and they can study everything from health to business management and even human resources. As such, they can still find the right degree for them and get started, pursuing their dream career.

So, is e-learning the right decision for your soon-to-be college student? It certainly could be!

Learning: Is It Time To Embrace E-Learning?

Photo Credit: http://www.leanforward.com/

This is a contributed post.