Kitting out ‘The Cell’ with a new bed

Though our house has three bedrooms, it was only originally a two up two down. The front bedroom which used to span the width of the house at the front is now partitioned, leaving us with three small bedrooms.

Being the last to arrive, Rowan has been lumbered with the smallest room which we affectionately nicknamed The Cell. The room is tiny. You literally couldn’t swing a cat in there. That’s not really a problem when the inhabitant of a room is six months old but it does become more of an issue when he’s four and has eleventy billion toys.

This year we gave Rowan’s room a complete makeover. Stripping it back to the plaster (which subsequently crumbled and fell from the wall – nice one) and chucking everything bar the carpet, we set ourselves the ridiculous task of trying to turn a minute space into a room where our four year old could have a space to call his own.

It didn’t start well when the plaster came off the wall, but that wasn’t a worry at all by the time we realised that the single bed we’d bought wouldn’t fit up the stairs. Genius or what. Anyway, since we had to rethink the whole bed situation we really did start to consider our options. That’s when the penny dropped and we realised that a bed with storage was what we needed!
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Now with Rowan only being four we couldn’t get him a high sleeper bed like his big brother so we looked at what else we could do. After considering an ottoman bed, we eventually decided on a cabin bed.

I can’t tell you how happy I am that we decided on that cabin bed! Rowan has toys, a wardrobe, bookshelves and even a really cool, lit-by-fairy-lights den which he thinks is the bees knees! Storage beds are a really good way of finding places to put all the ‘stuff’ we seem to need!

The cost of energy in winter

My gas bill came today and it was a shocker. Over the winter we all know we’re going to spend more on heating our homes and we know we’ll have the lights on earlier in the evening, but crikey – I think the neighbours must have hooked up their central heating system too! In addition to the cost of gas and electricity, there are some less obvious expenses that we may not consider at first.

Did you know, for example, that your car’s mpg is likely to decrease by up to 30% in the winter months? That, along with some other thought provoking facts and figures, are all wrapped up in this pretty presentation.

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So how can you save energy? Well, there are lots of things you can do, from switching off lights when leaving a room, to wearing a (Christmas) jumper when it gets chilly and not putting the heating on too soon.

A couple of years ago we had our cavity wall and loft insulation done because that can make a huge difference in the amount of heat lost via the exterior walls and roof.

The next thing on the list is a new boiler. Ours went out with the Ark but they’re just so expensive! People in receipt of certain benefits could qualify for a new boiler for free, but unfortunately we don’t qualify for that so we’re going to have a wait a little bit longer. I just hope our boiler makes it through another winter!

Do you have any energy saving tips to share with me? Maybe you use a low energy heater and find it indispensable? Or perhaps you go to bed early in the winter so you can get all snug under the duvet instead of putting the heating on! I’d love to hear how you save on energy – and money – during the cold months.

 

Theatre Review: Peter Pan Goes Wrong

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When The Lowry invited us to go along to see Peter Pan Goes Wrong, I really had no idea what to expect. I figured the show would be based on the usual Peter Pan story but would contain some twist or another.

What I didn’t bank on was a bunch of people crashing their vehicles in various parts of the city centre, my phone (and therefore satnav) dying a sudden and unexpected death en route, my car charger disappearing into thin air and an unscheduled toilet stop for my four year old, thus making me a bit late and missing the first five minutes of the performance despite them delaying the start (not just for me – lots of people were caught up in the traffic).

Nevertheless we settled into our seats before Wendy and her brothers had flown off to Neverland so we didn’t miss too much. As I sat down, I cringed as one of the characters accidentally knocked over a piece of the set. How terribly embarrassing! What I didn’t realise, though it became apparent very quickly, was that the broken set wasn’t an accident at all – there were pieces of set falling all over the place! That, in addition to the characters saying the wrong lines, more slapstick comedy than you can shake a stick at and some fantastically loveable characters makes Peter Pan Goes Wrong an absolutely brilliant show!

There are obvious jokes, subtle jokes, jokes that make the kids laugh their socks off and jokes that go way over their heads – I imagine every person in the audience tonight laughed out loud at least once. I certainly did! My kids were falling about laughing, they joined in with every ‘Oh no it isn’t’ and they talked about the show all the way home. Very loudly!

The storyline is essentially the same as the Peter Pan we all know and love but the show does actually do as advertised and goes wrong – very wrong! I suppose it was rather like a Peter Pan themed stage version of my disastrous journey to the theatre!

From a hookless Captain to an unconscious Peter Pan, a stuttering Lost Boy and a somewhat surprising star of the show, each and every cast member plays their part perfectly in this beautiful disaster of a show.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong is on at The Lowry until 11th January 2015 and ticket prices start at £18.00. You can find out more on The Lowry website.

Winter Wonderland Manchester

I’m just back home after attending the first night of Manchester’s Winter Wonderland and I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

We attended last year when the Winter Wonderland had its first year and we had a truly great time. I did wonder how the brilliance of last year could be topped but this year is no disappointment. Favourites from last year have returned including the circus, several of the rides, The Sooty Show and traditional fairground games, plus a whole heap of new entertainment in the form of new, bigger, better rides and the addition of Anna, Elsa and Olaf too! There are bouncy castles, rides for smaller children and an extended food court providing an array of foods too. A simulator, Santa’s Grotto and Meet and Greet sessions with the Frozen characters have all been added to the lineup which all in all makes for a pretty perfect night out with the family!

It’s all the fun of the fair with none of the chilly winter weather. It’s the circus without the queues and it’s the star studded evening every Frozen fan dreams of. I went along with my husband, my seven year old boy and my four year old boy. Every one of us had a wonderful time and we really are looking forward to returning!

I took a few snaps of our evening but you really do have to experience Winter Wonderland for yourself.

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The circus show was breathtaking and I feel I must mention the strongmen who have a completely brilliant performance that had my children mesmerised.

There is a good assortment of rides, meaning that young and old can enjoy the outing. From tiny tea-cups to dodgems and rides I’m too scared to go on at 32, there is definitely something for everyone.

Prices start at £15 per person when buying a family ticket and under threes go free. When you consider what you’d spend on a fairground, add on the cost of a meet and greet, a circus, a flight simulator and several large bouncy castles it really does seem like a good deal.

Food and drink are available from a large selection of vendors and prices are reasonable. There are charges for the traditional fairground games, there are stalls, balloons, games and of course the grotto which are all payable separately but – and this is the best bit – are totally optional in that you don’t feel you’ve missed out by not paying for extras. In fact, the three hour session isn’t really long enough to enjoy everything Winter Wonderland has to offer! I would advise visitors to get a map on arrival and plan their session around the performance times displayed inside.

Another great thing about visits being held in three hour sessions is the distinct lack of queues. No overcrowding means less waiting. There’s nothing more frustrating than paying to go somewhere and spending half your visit stood still. There isn’t any of that at Winter Wonderland. Our children queued very briefly for rides when they were already in operation but went straight on when the ride stopped.

So I guess what I’m saying is … Go. Go to Winter Wonderland, have a fabulous time. It’ll be worth it I promise.

The last note I feel I must make on our evening is that my seven year old son appears to be completely addicted to any and all things football related. When I asked him what his favourite part of the evening was, he said …

Meeting Wes Brown.

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(For those of you not in the know, Wes Brown played for Manchester United and my son lives and breathes Manchester United!).

Manchester’s Winter Wonderland is on until January 4th at Event City in Manchester. For more information on Winter Wonderland, visit their website.

Review: Skylanders Trap Team

Louis is a huge Skylanders fan, so when Trap Team was released earlier this year it was automatically promoted to the very top of his ‘need’ list.

We started last Christmas with Skylanders Swap Force and it’s been a huge hit all the year through. We’ve collected a few extra figures over the last twelve months and now have around 12 which are a mixture of giants, standard and swap force figures. Now that Trap Team has been released I was a bit worried that I’d have to buy all new figures but GREAT NEWS! the older figures will work on the new portal so if you’re already a Skylanders fan it’s all good! No extra mandatory expense aside from the starter kit and the option to add new and old figures to your collection in your own time.

In the new Trap Team starter pack you will get …

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  • 1 Copy of the Skylanders Trap Team Video Game
  • 1x Traptanium Portal – Place the Skylanders on the NEW Traptanium Portal and bring the Skylanders to life
  • 2x All New Skylanders – Trap Master Skylanders are the ultimate trappers with powerful Traptanium weapons. The Skylanders each have their own unique abilities and powers
  • 2x Traps – Defeat and capture villains in the Traps and then use the villains on the side of good
  • 1x Character Collector Poster – Build the ultimate Trap Team – Over 60 Skylanders to collect and 40+ villains to capture
  • 2x Sticker Sheets with Secret Codes – Enjoy stickers of your favourite Skylanders. Place the names and codes on the Character Collect Poster to track your collection. The secret codes can be used in the Skylanders Lost Islands and Skylanders Collection Vault Apps.
  • 2x Trading Cards – Learn more about each Skylander’s powers and abilities

We set up the game and away we went.

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As before, the spoken word of the game is subtitled and the player is guided through their adventure every step of the way. This makes the game easier for the younger players to follow (and doesn’t hurt for us oldies either).

The graphics, as always, are brilliant and the characters get more and more interesting with every new Skylanders game.

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Skylanders Trap Team is set to be one of the big sellers this Christmas and is already sold out from some retailers. I know there is current availability at GAME and I also know that their GAME Junior section is the perfect solution for parents like me who can sometimes get confused by all the complications of modern gaming.

God I sound old!

I would recommend Skylanders for children aged seven and over and the PEGI rating for Skylanders Trap Team reflects that. Kids any younger than that would find the game difficult to follow. Rowan is four and tries to play along but ultimately ends up annoying his brother because he’s always getting them both killed!

Skylanders is great fun for both kids and adults – my husband rarely refuses Louis’ request for a quick game on Skylanders!

Kind Club: A quick one before the new year

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Kind club hasn’t been at the forefront of my mind over the last few weeks because Christmas has taken over my entire life, or at least that’s how I feel.

Today I’m just going to tell you about the kind thing I did this afternoon and then Kind Club will be back – as a weekly linky – from January 2015!

Ellen Court is a place offering supported living for young women who are either pregnant or have babies or young children. These women need a helping hand to complete the transition from young and carefree to young and being a mother. It isn’t an easy transition for any of us and places like this are a perfect stepping stone for many.

Recently I’ve been sorting out the boys baby things and some toys that they have grown out of. I took a couple of bags of clothes, some books and some toys down to Ellen Court and donated them for the children living there to use.

It cost me nothing but once again I did something that made me feel good about myself. Kind Club really is bringing out the best in me.

I didn’t take the children today because to be honest, I don’t want to explain to them why those young women are there, or how the process works. They’re too young for all that just now. Besides, they were at school.

So that’s probably my last blog about Kind Club for this year.

Please remember to be kind to one another over the festive period and definitely come back and join in with the Kind Club linky from January – I’m super excited about it!

GAME to the rescue!

Louis loves his Playstation.

I do not love Louis’ Playstation.

I’ve played on it with him twice, maybe three times ever. I make excuses as to why I can’t play games with him.

The reality is that I don’t play because I haven’t the foggiest what I’m doing. On FIFA I can’t remember the right button for passing the ball, I get confused when the computer switches players without telling me and the only goals I ever score are own goals! Skylanders is his other favourite and if I play that I’m only allowed to follow Louis’ character around because last time I apparently ‘got us both killed’.

Sorry about that.

So I found this video on the ol’ YouTube and it appears GAME have spared a thought for parents like me and created a haven for us both instore and online. GAME Junior is designed to help us get to grips with kids’ games and understand what they are playing. Unfortunately, it can’t teach me how to win a game of FIFA against my seven year old but you can’t have everything…

So after watching the video, I had a look at the website to see if it was actually a useful resource. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it is very helpful. I can find out which games are popular now and what pegi rating they are (that’s guidance on the suitability of each game according to age).

GAME have done some research on this and it seems I am not alone in my cluelessness! They say…

We looked into the attitudes of parents to gaming and in short, found:

  • Nearly half are unsure what to buy – meaning the purchasing power lies with the children
  • 40% make excuses not to play games with their children
  • Parents who play video games with their kids are more likely to see the benefits compared to those that don’t who feel more cautious

To give that power back to parents, and alleviate concerns that most families can relate to, we’ve worked with family gaming expert Andy Robertson on a video which gives advice on how to manage gaming in the home.

So now you’ve watched the video, tell me how you manage gaming in your house? Do you have any idea how your kids games work? Could you/do you join in? Do you have any questions about gaming for kids that maybe GAME would like to answer?

The Snowman & The Snowdog Grotto

At the weekend we took a trip to visit the big man in a red suit at Intu Trafford Centre in Manchester. It was the first festive outing of the season for us and the children (including the six foot tall one) were very excited.

The grotto is based in Barton Square and is far more than an average grotto. On arrival, you’ll be welcomed by Santa’s friendly assistants before taking a seat in Billy’s Mum’s lounge to chat with her about the snowman and Snowdog that Billy had made. In the cosy warm lounge, she’ll talk you through the story and play clips of the film, teaching the children about how the snowman and Snowdog came about.
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From there, you’ll be led into a corridor of snowmen and women dressed up in clothes from all over the world. My children loved this part and we talked about where each snow character was from and what they were wearing.

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From there children are invited to write to the big fella and post their wish lists in a big red postbox. My youngest, aged four, was so proud of himself for writing his own list. He asked for an Olaf … and a puppy. Something told me that one out of the two would be a definite no-go!

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Once the letters are done with, it’s time to meet the main man!

There are several Santa’s in grottos so there isn’t too much of a wait, which is great because by this point the kids all have Christmas shaped ants in their pants, full of excitement and anticipation.

Santa’s helper checks the list (and the kids names and ages) before escorting you into a room full of Christmas magic and … Santa!

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The boys both for the same gift, which was very handy indeed as it avoided any squabbling, and they were absolutely thrilled with what they received. The entire experience, including an official photograph, would cost £20 for a family of 2 adults and 2 children. Considering a regular meet and greet with Santa can cost in the region of £10 per child, I do think this is excellent value.

The children also take home some special reindeer food which I thought was a lovely touch.

From there, we also had a ride on the traditional merry-go-round, situated just next to the grotto. I love old fashioned rides like this and I think the boys are just as fond of them as I am. The price for this is £2 per person.
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The whole experience took around an hour including the merry-go-round so you could make a day of it by having a mooch around the stalls, calling for a hot chocolate at Cadwalders, grabbing some rather unusual lunch from one of the hot food vendors (the boys had a kangaroo burger) or visiting Legoland Discovery Centre or Sealife Centre. There’s lots to do – and that’s just within Barton Square. There are more shops than you can shake a stick at within the Trafford Centre itself and restaurants galore, a cinema and adventure golf!

The grotto is definitely worth a visit and I would recommend making the most of the day by adding in a family activity too.

Disclaimer: we were invited to visit the grotto free of charge in return for an honest review.

Get Into The Winter Season Spirit And Create Snowflake Biscuits With Renshaw’s New Coloured Marzipan

renshaws 1Winter is finally upon us, and few baking ingredients say ‘winter time’ more than marzipan. An integral part of traditional Christmas cakes, and of course the ever popular marzipan fruits that surface in the run up to the 25th of December, marzipan is incredibly versatile and should be incorporated into more cakes and bakes.
Although it’s possible to colour marzipan much as you would flower paste, it can be a little tricky to get right. Marzipan doesn’t respond that well to most types of food colouring, though pastes do work and don’t affect the consistency of the marzipan. However now you can try coloured Marzipan from Renshaw.
Why not create these gorgeous little marzipan snowflake biscuits, the perfect treat for those cold winter nights.

What You Need To Create Your Marzipan Biscuits

The biscuit recipe is nice and simple and requires just a few basic ingredients:
• 125g/4oz butter and margarine
• 55g/2oz caster sugar
• 180g/6oz plain flour
And for decorating you’ll need some marzipan in whatever colours you’d like plus:
• White flower paste
• 6cm circle cutter
• Snowflake cutter
• Apricot jam

Making Your Marzipan Biscuits

Start by making your biscuits. This shouldn’t present any problems even for novice bakers.
1. Preheat your oven to 190o Celsius
2. Take your butter and sugar and mix together in a mixing bowl until it is smooth. Then sift in the flour and combine gradually until you have a creamy paste.
3. Wrap your cake mix in cling film and put in the fridge. Allow it to cool for at least 30 minutes.
4. Once the dough has hardened remove the cling film and knead the dough until it’s pliable.
5. Lightly dust your work surface with icing sugar and roll out your dough.
6. Use your circle cutter to press out the desired number of biscuits, this quantity of dough should yield about 24 biscuits.
7. Grease and line a baking tray and bake your biscuits for about 12 minutes or until they are a light golden colour.
8. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack before decorating.
The great thing about these marzipan biscuits is that the decorating is as easy as making the biscuits. Once your biscuits have cooled it’s time to get decorating.

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1. Knead your marzipan to make it pliable then dust your work surface with icing sugar again to avoid it sticking and tearing as you work with it.
2. Roll out your marzipan to a depth of about 3mm.
3. Press out circles of marzipan using your circle cutter.
4. Fix the circles of marzipan to the biscuits by using a layer of apricot jam.
5. Knead your flower paste until pliable and again roll it out to about 2-3mm deep on a dusted surface.
6. Use your snowflake cutter to press out snowflakes and then fix to the marzipan using some cooled boiled water.
7. For an extra touch of wintery sparkle lightly dust your marzipan biscuits with an edible glimmer dust.
So if you want a tasty nibble to go with your coffee and tea this winter whip up a batch of these marzipan biscuits and enjoy!

 

This post was brought to you by Renshaw’s – because let’s face it, if I were writing about baking I’d also be mentioning fire extinguishers and burnt bits.

Are Dashboard Cameras Worth Having?

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Ever wondered why we’re seeing an increasing amount of people with dashboard cameras?

You see a lot of dashboard camera videos going viral on the web, but why are there so many?

A dashboard camera is a small inside mounted video camera that captures video through the windscreen. They save the video onto a flash memory card which saves around two hours of video; the memory is constantly overwritten. The camera will switch on automatically when the engine is started. Generally video cameras have a GPS sensor and GPS data is stored alongside the video.

If the car is involved in a road incident, then this will be on record and can be used as evidence for the police if somebody is injured and/or for the purposes of an insurance claim.

Insurance fraud

One of the reasons why dashboard cameras have become so popular over recent times is concern over insurance fraud concerning false claims for whiplash injury. The fraudsters wait until the car behind them is driving too close, and then they brake very hard causing the following car to run into the back of them. Even if there is only minor damage, the fraudsters simply visit a doctor or A&E department and claim that they have whiplash injury. When making a claim you need to make sure you are giving correct information, having a camera in this country can lead to claims being handled correctly.
As whiplash is a very difficult injury to diagnose most medical professionals will simply go on the stated symptoms and agree to its diagnosis. The fraudsters present their claims which are backed by a solicitor to the insurance companies and receive damages which are typically around £3,000 to £5,000. The result is the perpetuator of the fraud gains, while the insurance company loses out. The hapless driver who was scammed also loses out through the loss of his no-claims bonus and higher insurance premiums. Subsequently, we then all lose out through higher insurance premiums.
As there are around 550,000 claims for whiplash injury every year and around half of these could be fraudulent, the cost is very high; it is estimated to be around £1 billion a year.
With a dashboard mounted camera the whole incident would have been recorded and the recording used as evidenced to prove fraud and protect the driver’s no-claims discount.

Cyclists

Another reason why more people are using dashboard cities especially in cities is the growing popularity of cycling along with the concern that many cyclists flaunt the law and cycle dangerously. When there is an accident between a bicycle and a motor vehicle it is often the motorist who is blamed, while a dashboard camera can record who was really at fault.

Are they worth the investment?

Dashboard cameras are relatively inexpensive ranging on price from around £30 to around £150, and it is apparent that many motorists consider the investment to be well worth the potential benefits of preserving their no-claims bonus. Once they are installed drivers can ignore them as they automatically record what is happening in front, but should there be an accident then the data is available on the memory card.

So do you think a dashboard camera would be a good investment? Do you have one, or would you consider one? I’d love to know your thoughts on this.