Thursday, 12 December 2013

Christmas present idea - my gingerbread family

Fancy creating a homemade and personal Christmas present? I'd like to share a gift that I made last year. It was so simple, fun and I have it on good authority that the recipients loved them!

The Big Idea

So, my idea was to immortalise my family in the form of gingerbread people! Gingerbread is a traditional Christmas treat - I was inspired by lots of cute gingerbread men decorations, and of course, beautiful gingerbread houses. The brilliant thing about gingerbread, is that it makes a great gift because it keeps for days (if not weeks) stored in an air tight container. Which is handy, when you consider the amount of gluttony that goes on during Christmas week.

The Recipe

I used the recipe on the BBC Food website.

Ingredients
  • 350g/12oz plain flour, plus extra for rolling out
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 125g/4½oz butter
  • 175g/6oz light soft brown sugar
  • 1 free-range egg
  • 4 tbsp golden syrup

Method
  1. Sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and cinnamon and pour into the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and blend until the mix looks like breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar
  2. Lightly beat the egg and golden syrup together, add to the food processor and pulse until the mixture clumps together. Tip the dough out, knead briefly until smooth, wrap in clingfilm and leave to chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
  4. Roll the dough out to a 0.5cm/¼in thickness on a lightly floured surface. Using cutters, cut out the gingerbread men shapes and place on the baking tray, leaving a gap between them. 
  5. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until lightly golden-brown. Leave on the tray for 10 minutes and then move to a wire rack to finish cooling. When cooled decorate with the writing icing and cake  
In addition to this, I bought a selection of things to decorate my gingerbread people - a pack of different coloured icing pens was really useful, along with some little decorations to stick on.

Let your imagination run wild!

Making an artistic representation of a loved one is always slightly risky (now is not the time to suggest they might need to lose a little weight, or to highlight their thinning hair!!), but it's easy if you just get their hair and colour right, then pick up on one other characteristic unique to them.

Brown paper packages, tied up with string...

I didn't do this, but it would be so easy to buy some simple cellophane bags to pop your gingerbread family in, and tie them up with some pretty gingham ribbon.

The end result

Here's my family - have fun making yours!

 






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Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Supporting local businesses this Christmas - Studio Style of Art

First, a quick apology

It's been an awfully long time since I last put finger to keyboard and wrote a blog post... In my defence, I've been busy holidaying (back in September which is pushing it as an excuse in November!) and also trying to get my freelance career going. That and managing a pint-size toddler with more demands than your typical A-lister, has left this blog somewhat neglected and at the bottom of the pile. So I'm starting my new year's resolutions early, and will try to get back into the swing of things again with more regular posts.

Christmas shopping

With Christmas just around the corner, I wanted to highlight something that I think everyone should consider when it comes to Christmas shopping - supporting local businesses. It's so easy to make one online trip to Amazon, and throw in presents for the whole family into your shopping basket within a few clicks. I can't deny that this is much easier than schlepping up and down the high street, in the cold, and with the crowds. However, there are a lot of small and home-based businesses out there that are struggling to compete with these massive companies, with dubious corporate tax practices (ahem). Buying a gift where you can look the person that created it in the eye, or knowing that your money is going straight back into a local business has to give you much more satisfaction than buying something from a faceless website, right? And so often, these local businesses are creating really unique, hand crafted gifts, that you can't buy anywhere else. What could please the gift recipient more?

Introducing Studio Style of Art

So on this theme, I wanted to introduce a creative business local to me - Studio Style of Art. Creator, Anouk Goossens, set up her hand painted crockery business after being inspired by her grandfather. Originally from the Netherlands, she now runs her art and craft studio from her home in St Neots. Anouk hand paints plain white pieces of crockery and turns them into beautiful, unique pieces that would light up any kitchen. Her range of products covers everything from  tea cups and mugs to teapots, cake stands, plates, and breakfast and dinner sets. What's more, it can all be personalised, or she can even create something original just for you.

After helping her out with her website, Anouk kindly offered me a complimentary breakfast set personalised for Bobble. I wanted to share it, because I think it's lovely. And it would make a perfect Christmas, birthday, christening or new baby gift.


Here it is, beautifully gift wrapped. You can't see from here, but the mug is stuffed full of lovely sweet treats. Some of which I might consider sharing with Bobble!


And here it is unwrapped. As you can see, I went for a car designed, for my vehicle-mad little one.








This little set is usually priced at £17.50, which I think is a great price for something so unique.

Please take a look at the rest of the website, to see some of the other lovely products available. And if you're local to Cambridge, you will find Studio Style of Art at the general market every Monday and Tuesday between 10am and 4pm.

In the meantime, good luck with your Christmas shopping and don't forget to try and shop locally for as many gifts as you can!
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Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Weaning your baby - Home cooked vs Jars

There's a story in the news today that caught my eye - it turns out that the factory produced jars and pouches sold to help parents wean their babies, aren't as nutritious as home cooked food. Seriously. No schizzle Sherlock!

Baby weaning foods found 'lacking'

I'm not going to wax lyrical about why home cooked food is better for your baby. It's just so obvious isn't it? Food cooked at home from scratch is going to taste better than something mass produced in a factory and created to have a long shelf life. It doesn't warrant a news article does it?

What I think does warrant a news article is the fact that these manufacturers are misleading parents into thinking that this stuff is just as good as home cooked.

Weaning is such a emotive subject. Nothing but milk before 6 months? Baby-led vs purees? Jars vs home cooked? Everyone has a strong opinion about these things. It's such a minefield. But for what it's worth, this is my two penneth.
  1. Start weaning when you think your baby is ready for food.
  2. Choose baby-led, purees or a combination and find the one that suits you and your baby best. 
  3. Even if you think you really can't cook, try to make your baby some food from scratch. A bit like breastfeeding (eek, another dynamite topic!), I think that everyone should at least try it. If it's not for you then fine, but I think that giving it a go is the least you can do for your baby.

Give home cooked food a try

In the spirit of giving something a try, and the spirit of my blog which is to help out others by giving some tips, I want to share my tip for making weaning easy. Annabel Karmel's wonderful book, Top 100 Baby Purees was given to me by my lovely sister in law. Having successfully weaned her two girls using these recipes, it came highly recommended.

There's lot to love about this book:

  • The recipes are split into sections based on your baby's age to take you through from first tastes at 6 months, moving on from first tastes at 6-7 months, second stage weaning at 7-9 months and finally 9-12 months. You don't need to worry about what age your baby can eat certain foods, you just work your way through the book.
  • You don't need to know anything about cooking as the recipes explain everything in simple steps. 
  • Nearly all of the recipes are suitable for freezing, so you can batch cook and defrost different meals as you need them. 
  • There are recipes for all meals, including breakfast and pudding. 
  • A lot of extra information is provided about the principles of weaning and food allergies etc. 
  • The recipes really are delicious. I would quite happily eat everything that I've cooked from this book.

My other tips for making weaning fun, enjoyable and successful

  • If you're not a great cook, why not use weaning as an excuse to get better? Learning to cook really isn't that hard, and it can really make a big difference to your health and lifestyle. Speak to your health visitor about the places where you can get support.
  • Give jars and pouches a try and see what you prefer. They definitely have had a place in my kitchen purely from a convenience point of view, but I prefer to make Bobble nearly all of his food as I have the time to do so. 
  • If you have a friend who is staring weaning at a similar time, why not share the cooking? You both cook a new recipe but make a double portion to share and swap with the other person.

Buy Annabel Karmel's Top 100 Baby Purees from Amazon


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Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Travelling with a baby - Baby Friendly Boltholes

I'm a big fan of holidaying (who isn't?) so when Bobble arrived we were determined that we were still going to be able to travel as much as we did in the pre baby days. I think it can be easy to lose your confidence a bit after having a baby, in so many ways, including travelling. Aside from perhaps not having quite a many spare pennies as before, the thought of packing up all of the new equipment that you need for a baby can often make you think that it's easier to stay at home.

But fear not, there are several companies out there specialising in this niche market, who can help you enjoy a stress-free first holiday with your little one. I've had a great experience with Baby Friendly Boltholes, so I'm going to tell you about how they can help.

What is Baby Friendly Boltholes?

Baby Friendly Boltholes provides a one stop shop for parents of pre-schoolers wanting to travel. Covering destinations as near as the UK and far flung as Thailand and the Caribbean, it lists hotels, b&bs, farm stays and self catering accommodation carefully selected with parents in mind. It errs towards the more luxury end of the scale, but does also feature plenty of places that are also wallet friendly.

We used Baby Friendly Boltholes when we took Bobble on his first trip abroad to Italy when he was 7 months old. I came across the website using good ole Google as I searched for baby friendly self-catering accommodation. I was looking for somewhere that could provide a lot of the equipment that we used at home, but didn't want to transport with us, particularly on a flight. Lots of places provide a cot and a highchair, but for young babies and even older toddlers, it takes more than just these two things to care for and entertain your child. At 7 months, we needed things like a hand blender, steriliser, toys, bouncy chair, baby bath etc. All of this was provided at the accommodation. And what's more, as the owners are usually parents themselves, they can also offer lots of helpful advice on family friendly restaurants, activities and days out when you're there.

The lowdown... 

Is it going to cost more?
You don't pay any booking fees to Baby Friendly Boltholes as you book directly with the owner. As I said above, a lot of the properties are quite luxurious so can seem more expensive. But as always, if you're parents to a pre-schooler, you can save a lot of money by travelling outside of the school holidays.

There are so many properties to choose from, how do I choose?
My one criticism of BFB, is that I don't find the search function on their website particularly easy to use. There are a lot of filters (which is great) but you can still often end up with pages and pages of potential properties to look through. However, what I think is fantastic is their online chat facility. I have used this several times and love the fact that within a minute or 2 you are talking to a real life person who is very happy to suggest properties based on whatever vague or specific requirements you have.

How do I know if the properties are any good?
Each property has a tab showing reviews and feedback from previous guests, so you can get a very good idea of what you can expect when you get there - no surprises.

Our experience

We used BFB in October 2012. We were looking to travel to somewhere that might offer us a last glimpse of sunshine before a (what turned out to be a ridiculously) long winter. I used the online chat facility and spoke to a real life person. She suggested a few properties in France and Italy based on my requirements for equipment, number of bedrooms and budget. I shared the shortlist with my husband and we ended up choosing an apartment based in the same location as one of the suggestions. It was slightly more expensive than the one that had been suggested. I think this is actually a great point, the rep from BFB didn't try to up-sell me at all.

Where we went

We spent a week at the Pantano apartment at Santa Chiara, which is in Umbria. We flew in and out of Rome, which was a little over a 2 hour drive away, but there are nearer airports. There's no getting around the fact that the apartment is a little off the beaten track. It's literally down an unpaved road, and is a good 10 minutes drive from the nearest supermarket. However, the location is so peaceful and idyllic, that we didn't mind.

The view from our balcony

The view in the other direction
Pantano apartment is on the top floor
Looking across the olive groves
Surrounded by olive trees, the sun drenched balcony offers up great views of the valley, and as this apartment is on the top floor, those views are uninterrupted. The owners are English and live on the ground floor. They're perfect hosts in that they're there if you need them, but not always there and watching your every move! Equipment-wise, it was spot-on. As well as a cot and a highchair, a baby monitor and steriliser were provided along with a hand blender. Admittedly there weren't any baby toys as such, but the swing in the garden more than made up for this. It was Bobble's absolute highlight of his first holiday abroad! For older children, there were some toys provided and the (shared) garden also included a slide and other toddler-friendly toys.

King of the swingers!

What we did we our week

During our week we enjoyed several trips out. We visited the beautiful city of Assisi and the ancient town of Spello. We saw a lot of the town of Gubbio from underneath an umbrella, and found Lake Tresimeno to be pretty, but rather quiet out of season. We crossed the border to Tuscany and visited Cortona, a place that we had holidayed in 10 years previously. We pottered around the quiet city of Città di Castello and enjoyed some amazing gelato while Bobble snoozed. Under umbrellas once again, we saw the impressive man-made waterfalls at Cascata delle Marmore. And finally, we did a whistle-stop tour of Rome before flying home.

Assisi
Spello

Travelling in Italy with a baby

For a first holiday abroad with a baby, we felt that we couldn't have done better than travel to Italy. The Italians LOVE babies, and everywhere we visited/ate/drank we were treated like royalty. I think this is actually true of a lot of countries in Europe, based on our experiences in France this year. In the supermarkets you can buy nappies, formula and wipes - so you can save space in your luggage. We were still fairly early on in Bobble's weaning journey so I just took a selection of Ella's kitchen pouches to make mealtimes easy, but supplemented these with fresh fruit, which was plentiful.

The one thing that I didn't enjoy on this holiday, in fact I'd probably go as far as saying that I hated it, was the driving. Driving in Italy was very stressful. It didn't help that Bobble spent a lot of time crying in the back of the car, which we had to use almost everyday due to the fairly remote location of the apartment. What made matters worse, was the other drivers on the road. Yes there may well be a lot of Italian drivers who are courteous, considerate and safe...  but it felt like the majority were dangerous, unpredictable and scary. Some drove incredibly slowly, which can be very unsafe on a motorway, some insisted on driving right up your rear end, and many others relied on the fact that you could read their minds and anticipate the fact that they were going to pull out, overtake or turn off. Ok, rant over. I'm never that great a passenger in a car, so maybe it's just me.

The last word

My top tips for travelling abroad with a young baby:
  1. Don't panic about the flight, it won't be nearly as bad as you think it will be. You might actually enjoy it!.
  2. Tiny babies are so portable! If you travel before you begin weaning, you have so little to worry about. And if you're breast feeding, it couldn't be easier!
  3. It really is worth staying somewhere that is baby or child friendly. With packing space at a premium, it will really help if some of the essential equipment you need is provided.
  4. Think about what you can buy when you get there, rather than trying to cram everything in. Nappies and wipes take up a lot of space and nearly all of the brands you can buy in the  UK are sold abroad.
  5. Remember that you're on holiday, so try to relax! A stressed out mummy and daddy will more than likely make your baby stressed too! Accept that you won't be having the same sort of holiday as your pre-baby days and instead, just enjoy showing your little one the sights, smells and sounds of new and exciting places!

www.babyfriendlyboltholes.co.uk




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Monday, 19 August 2013

A unique and personal wedding present idea - 12 months of treats

One of my oldest and dearest friends is getting married this summer. I'm going to be a bridesmaid and can't wait to help her celebrate the big day!

When it came to choosing a wedding present for them, the bride and groom opted for what a lot of couples now seem to do - a request for no gifts, or some cash towards their honeymoon. I can completely understand this, especially when most couples already live together and have no need of the 'setting up home' things that go on a traditional list.

Waiting for a brainwave

Rather than simply write a cheque, I really wanted to give my friend and her fiancee a thoughtful and personal gift. Luckily there was a small group of us, friends from school and college, who felt the same so we put on our collective thinking hats and tried to come up with a few ideas. We hit a bit of a wall when it came to giving them a one-off gift that was both extravagant, and within our fairly modest budget. So I did something that I often do when I've exhausted all other ideas. I turned to a facebook group I belong to for local mums and mums-to-be and sought their ideas. And what do you know, they came up trumps!

The big idea

So this was the idea. Rather than give them 1 special treat, like meal in a fancy restaurant or a night away in a hotel, why not give them a whole year worth of mini treats? Here's how it works.

  1. The bride and groom are presented with a box. The box contains 12 envelopes (one for each month of the year), a variety of presents labelled with a particular month and an envelope labelled 'read me first'.
  2. The 'read me first' envelope contains a letter explaining how the gift works. At the beginning of each month, the couple open an envelope which contains details of that month's treat. The treat will either be a voucher/money to spend on a particular thing that we have chosen for them or instructions to open a particular present.
  3. The lucky couple open up one treat a month until they reach their one year wedding anniversary.
Pretty simple eh?

Why I think this present idea rocks


Here's 5 glorious reasons why this present is fabulous:

  1. No one has a lot of money these days, so what better way to enjoy yourself than to have a full year of treats paid for by someone else?
  2. When it comes to trying new things or having a date night, it's so easy to put it off isn't it? Not enough time, not knowing where to go or what to do and not having much money are just a few of the usual excuses that roll off your tongue. This present takes all of those excuses away!
  3. You can make the treats really personal. Whatever your friend's hobbies, there is always a treat that you can build around it.
  4. This is a great present to organise as a group. Unless you are extremely generous, you will need at least 2 or 3 friends to contribute to make your budget go further. Even if you only allocate £10 a month, that's still £120, so the more that join in the better.
  5. The happy couple will not get another present like this one. Well unless this post goes global and suddenly everyone starts doing it!

Treat ideas

I'm not going to spoil the surprise by revealing what's gone into my gift, but I really think that the world is your oyster when it comes to thinking of 12 different treats. Here's a few ideas to get you started...

  • Cinema voucher
  •  Bowling voucher
  • Meal in a new/favourite restaurant
  • Starbucks/Costa voucher for coffee and cake
  • Ingredients to bake a Christmas cake
  • Voucher for a garden centre
  • Spring bulbs to plant in their garden
  • Wildlife park/aquarium tickets
  • Afternoon tea voucher
  • Day at a spa
  • Night at a hotel
  • Ghost tour for Halloween
  • Bottle of wine/bottles of beer and a DVD for a night in
  • Sparklers and a bag of cinder toffee for Bonfire Night
  • Voucher to buy some Easter eggs from a fancy chocolate shop
  • Tickets for a local farm
  • B&Q/Homebase voucher to decorate a new house
  • Pottery painting vouchers
  • Cash to spend on cocktails
  • A dance lesson
  • Canoeing/rafting/windsurfing lesson
  • Segeway experience
  • Cooking/baking lesson
  • Murder mystery night
  • Comedy night
  • Theatre trip
  • Cheese and wine evening
  • Romantic night in - bubble bath, candles, chocolates etc.
  • Breakfast in bed - egg cups, toast rack, posh jam and marmalade etc.
  • Picnic basket/picnic rug
  • Money/voucher for Sunday lunch or Sunday brunch
I could go on and on, there are endless possibilities!

More tips about treats

  • With my present, I tried to think quite 'seasonally'. So I went for outdoor activities while the weather was still likely to be good, and indoor ones during the winter. 
  • It's easy to weave in Valentine's Day, Easter, Halloween, Bonfire Night and Christmas to the treats too. Not to mention birthdays and of course, their one year wedding anniversary
  • I also tried to think of activities that are much harder to do once children are part of the equation, you know, just in case!
  • I tried to ensure that there were a good spread of presents to open, so they had some actual keepsakes after the year is up.
  • If you're buying anything food or drink related, check the best before date to ensure it's still ok to eat or drink when they open it!

Making it all look pretty

For the most part, the monthly envelopes are the main attraction of this present. So for me, it was important that they look pretty. I look into buying some really sumptuous and expensive looking envelopes, then stumbled across a much better idea instead. And what do you know, I found the idea on a blog. Emily Summers at Design and Nonsense had written a post about making pretty handmade envelopes out of wallpaper samples. Total genius. And what's more, I already had a bag of wallpaper samples lying around from an earlier decoration project. All I had to do was buy some glue and find a free hour or so of my time to make them. The glue was a doddle, the free time less so with a toddler currently going through a no-sleeping phase!

Here's my finished envelopes! Now I'm definitely not a gifted crafter, but I was quite pleased with these.
Pretty neat, eh?

The full set of 12

The finished present

Here's my finished present. I've got a box covered in gift paper that I'm going to put everything into. Now I'm just excitedly waiting for them start opening those envelopes!


Preparation is key!

One final tip, this is a present that is definitely easier the earlier you do it. It will take a bit of thinking to work out what you can buy with your budget. And don't forget to allow time for writing the letters and making it all look pretty.

Let me know if you end up giving this a wedding present to one of your friends. I'd love to hear what you put in it and their reaction!
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Wednesday, 14 August 2013

I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike

A couple of months ago, around the time that the prices in the car parks of my local town were increased (again!), I made an ebay purchase. I bought a barely used Hamax Kiss bike seat to go on the back of my bike. As well as saving money, I thought this would be a great opportunity to dust off my old bike and have some gentle exercise at the same time.

What a bargain!

As I side note, ebay once again proved to be a great place for picking up second hand bargains. I paid £26 for the seat. The RRP is £60, but I have just spotted that you can get the same seat in Halfords for £47.99. So at the very least, I saved £22 by buying second hand. Yippee!

Getting back in the saddle

After getting used to riding a bike again after at least 2 years out of the saddle, and getting the hang of loading and unloading Bobble, I was ready to start putting my best leg forward. Initially I used the seat for trips to the park and toddler groups - it was strangely liberating not having a pushchair! Bobble loves being in the seat as he gets a whole new perspective on the world. I'd also add that the extra weight really isn't noticeable. The hardest part is getting on and off the bike as you have to handle it completely differently to prevent it from tipping over.

A family peddle around Rutland Water

Recently, when we had family to stay, my biking-mad brother suggested that we join them for a ride around Rutland Water. I'll admit to being slightly apprehensive. I'd only ever done very short trips and wasn't sure that my legs would stand up to a longer distance. But with a husband who is also biking-mad, I knew that he would enjoy it too, so we agreed to join them.

I've never been to Rutland Water before, in spite of passing it about a million times on drives up and down the A1. I had no idea that it's one of the largest artificial lakes in Europe and is Anglian Water's drinking reservoir. In spite of its very functional purpose, it's actually rather pretty and is a globally important wetland site. There are loads of things to do there. Apart from riding a bike, you can take a walk, go wildlife spotting, try out any number of watersports, go rock climbing, or even take a trip out on the lake.

We had a great day out there, so I thought I'd share the details to inspire you.

What we did on our day out

We arrived in Witwell and ate our picnic on the grass alongside the lake before setting off on our bike ride. We took our own bikes, but you can hire them from £9.99 for the day for a child's bike. You can also hire a child seat for a bike from £3.99 for the day.

A complete circuit of the lake is around 15 miles. We had several mini breaks on the journey and a longer rest at the award winning Horse and Jockey pub in Manton, just as a few spots of rain started to fall.



During the first half of the ride the road/paths are a little bit set back from the lake and there are a few hills to huff and puff your way up. But the second part brings you much closer to the lake and is very pretty. We passed through a couple of Rutland Water's other visitor centres, as well as a couple of well positioned ice cream vans, so there are plenty of places to rest/pop to the loo/scoff an ice cream.



All in, we cycled for 2 hours, but we gone for almost 3 hours with all of the breaks. The majority of the route is on very safe roads and paths within the nature reserve. There is a very short stretch on a quiet road, and another section on cycle paths running next to the road.

Along the way we saw loads of families out on their bikes. Call me old fashioned, but I got a lovely warm feeling seeing so many people out enjoying such a simple and healthy activity.

Find out more

Rutland Water has its own website www.rutlandwater.org.uk but for details on bike hire, this website gives much more information www.rutlandcycling.com.

Finally, for planning a family day out this website is the best place to begin www.discover-rutland.co.uk
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Thursday, 8 August 2013

An aMAZE-ing day out for the whole family - Milton Maize Maze



If you live in Cambridgeshire or you're visiting the area on holiday, there's one place that I recommend you visit - the Milton Maize Maze. We had an absolutely brilliant day there recently and as a I make a point of recommending it as a great day out for the whole family (to everyone I know!), I had to share it on here too. But don't delay, the maze is only open until 3 September, so plan your visit soon!

Maize Maze? What's that?

You know maize! You've probably enjoyed some of it on your BBQ this summer... it's corn on the cob. A maize maze is simply a maze made out of corn on the cob plants. It's a tall plant that can grow up to 8ft, making it perfect maze material as you can't peek over the top and cheat.

Why is it so much fun?

Maize Mazes are open across the whole of the UK for a couple of months during the summer. As well as providing a fantastic maze to negotiate, most sites offer a whole host of other fun activities to keep you entertained all day. At the Milton Maize Maze the following attractions are included in the admission price:

  • Peddle go karts
  • Mini golf
  • Giant inflatable slide
  • Mini golf
  • Tractor and trailer ride
  • Bouncy castle
  • Table Football 
  • Pool 
  • Table Tennis
  • Trampolines
  • Giant Jenga
  • Word Cup Football Shoot Out
  • Field Skittles
  • Duck racing
  • Under 6 toddler area
  • Meet the animals
 I'm sure you'll agree that this is an impressive list of activities!

 Getting competitive on the go karts
Some of the field of fun activities



Negotiating the maze

Admission prices for the Milton Maize Maze

So how much is this going to set you back? I think the entry prices are very reasonable.

Adults: £7.95
Children under 16: £6.95
Children under 3: Free
Students/OAPs: £7.50 (with ID)
Family ticket: £30 (2 adults + 3 children, or 1 adult + 4 children)

Season tickets are also available and start at £55.

I think you'll agree that as far as value for money goes, you're getting an awful lot of fun for your pennies.

Who's going to enjoy it?

Easy - everyone! We have been every year for the last 4 years, and each year have had a brilliant day out. In those 4 years we have gone as childless adults, adults with a small baby and adults with a group of children aged from 1 to 6 years. There really is something for everyone. The adults will particularly love the go karts, the inflatable slide and getting competitive with the table football. We have found every year that this isn't actually enough time to play with everything. That season ticket is starting to look tempting...!

Sounds good. What about food?

You've got 3 options:
  1. Bring a picnic
  2. Buy a local free range sausage sandwich or burger from the BBQ marquee
  3. Buy a sandwich/salad/jacket potato/cream tea from the Old Dairy Cafe
All of the food menus can be found on the Milton Maize Maze website.

I'd also recommend taking a mid afternoon break from all the fun to fill up with an ice cream (luxury Norfolk ice cream) or a slice of cake from the Old Dairy Cafe. Yum!

Got a pushchair or wheelchair?

The maze has been designed to provide access for everyone. So while your wheels may get a little muddy if you visit after rain, you will be free to get lost along with everyone else.

Where can I find the Milton Maize Maze?

Milton is 4.5 miles north of Cambridge. Full directions can be found on the website.

Opening times, what to wear, payment details, can we bring our dog and other FAQS

Answers to all of these questions can be found on the website.

Find out more

www.themiltonmaizemaze.co.uk


Don't live nearby?

Fear not! There are maize mazes right across the country. Find one near you by visiting www.maize-maze.com

Disclaimer
This is not a sponsored post. Our visit to the Milton Maize Maze was a family day out, paid for out of our own wallets.

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Tuesday, 30 July 2013

A lesson in cupcake decorating with the Butterlicious Cake Company

My finished creations!
I struggled slightly to think of birthday present ideas for myself this year - I must have had too many birthdays! But it wasn't long until I hit upon an idea that satisfied a couple of things that I miss in my new life as a Mummy. Firstly, a chance to do something by myself (whilst Bobble enjoyed some Daddy time) and secondly, having the opportunity to do something creative.

As you know, I love baking, but if you remember Bobble's birthday cake fiasco, my enthusiasm doesn't always equal a particularly creative output! I love making cupcakes, but in my own words, they do often look like they've been decorated by a very eager child. So with this in mind, I decided that what I would love to do, was have a cupcake decorating lesson. A little research led me to booking a lesson with Lynne, a very lovely lady who runs the Butterlicious Cake Company right here in St Neots.

What we covered in the lesson

I had a 3 hour 1 to 1 lesson with Lynne, at her beautiful home, from where she runs the Butterlicious Cake Company. During the course of the lesson she shared with me some fantastic tips and advice about how to make stunning, (verging on too-good-to-eat!) cupcakes. She talked about the importance of selecting the right colours for the decorations as well as how best to present the finished cupcakes in their box.

Lynne is a former teacher so is a complete natural at running the workshop. She explains things extremely well and gives lots of support and encouragement as you try to replicate what she's demonstrated.

As well as showing me the tools of the trade, it was very much a hands-on lesson during which I decorated 6 cupcakes of my own which I took home and devoured with my very impressed husband. The cupcakes had been baked in advance by Lynne and were by far the most delicious vanilla cupcakes I've ever tasted. I have to confess that I always skip past vanilla flavours in recipe books and go for chocolate, red velvet or something more adventurous. Not any more, I've been converted!

During the lesson I got to use a variety of cutters and moulds and worked with florist sugar paste to create delicate flowers, shells and even a Lego man! The decorations were given a final flourish in the form of luster dusts and edible paints. I've never felt that I have a particular fine touch when it comes to delicate work, but for a beginner, I couldn't quite believe what my (usually heavy hands) had created.

After the lesson

Lynne provided workshop notes to accompany the lesson which are fabulous. I will definitely be referring back to these, and I've already starting shopping for some of the tools of the trade so that I can attempt to create some of these beautiful cakes at home. While I don't think I'll ever be up to selling my cakes, I'm delighted with what I was able to learn in one lesson and having now shared these pictures with my friends and family, I think I've raised the bar for future birthdays and celebrations!


A small note about my rather sinister looking Lego man! Unfortunately he wasn't quite dry at the end of the class so putting his face on didn't go that smoothly. Left a little longer, he wouldn't have such hollow eyes and such a manic grin! Bobble's Daddy didn't seem to mind at all and wolfed this cupcake down first!

Food for thought?

I think a workshop like this is a great activity if you want to indulge yourself, or for a group of friends sharing a love of baking. It would make a brilliant activity for a hen party, or even for a birthday party for little ones. Lynne is planning on running more workshops in the future, so do get in touch with her to find out more.

A little bit about The Butterlicious Cake Company

Specialising in de-licious flavours and beauti-licious toppings, their cupcakes are freshly made with the finest ingredients. Their regular flavours include Classic Vanilla, Decadent Chocolate, Luscious Lemon, Carrot, Coffee, Lemon Meringue and a family favourite, French Toast! Toppings include the creamiest buttercream in vanilla, cream cheese, chocolate, coffee and other flavours or their stunning sugar paste creations. Gluten Free cupcakes are also available. So if you're looking for a utterly delicious cake maker in the Cambridgeshire area, I would definitely recommend The Butterlicious Cake Company.

Find the Butterlicious Cake Company on Facebook 

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Monday, 29 July 2013

Introducing Joolz Day - A great pushchair for tall parents

Before I tell you about why we went for the Joolz Day and why I love it, let me describe what we were looking for in a pushchair. In no particular order, this is what was on our must-have list.

Top features we wanted in a pushchair

  1. Carry cot and toddler seat - either two separate parts or something that would covert. I personally don't like seeing tiny babies in anything other than a lay flat carry cot, and for as long as possible.
  2. An easy fold. I wasn't fussed about being able to do it with one hand, I just wanted something easy.
  3. Solid and well built, balanced with a frame that isn't ridiculously heavy.
  4. A basket big enough to contain a rain cover, and preferably more.
  5. Adjustable handles that come up nice and high - we're both fairly tall (5ft 8 and almost 6ft).
  6. Not costing the earth - preferably under £500
  7. Tough enough to take on rougher terrains, not fully off road, but should be able to cope with grass and paths that aren't completely smooth.
  8. Ability to put a car seat on the frame.

Features that we weren't fussed about

Things that weren't important to me...
  1. Size. Our car is an estate, so while I obviously didn't want it to fill the car, it didn't have fold down really small either.
  2. Designer brand - quality is much more important that the 'right' name.
  3. Available in blue or pink or other crazy patterns and colours. Ugh. I hate this. Sorry! 

Late additions to the must-have features list

Funnily enough, after using a pushchair for the last 16 months, there are some things that I've come to realise are important, which weren't on my original list. I would definitely include these features on my must have list for any future purchases.
  1. A seat unit that faces both ways (i.e. parent and outward).
  2. A seat unit that has several positions including lay flat and fully upright.
  3. A good sized hood that offers good protection from the sun.
  4. 4 wheels rather than 3. When you hit a curb, a single wheel at the front often spins and puts itself in a sideways position, making it hard to get over the curb. 4 wheels just feels more stable.
  5. A high seat unit that enables you to use the pushchair as a highchair, and brings your baby nice and close to you when they're parent facing.
  6. A mattress in the carry cot suitable for overnight stays.

Taking the Joolz, and Bobble, for their first walk

Why did we choose the Joolz Day?

Ok, that's enough lists for now! So how did we end up buying the Joolz Day? It was quite a long process. After shopping around and reading lots of online reviews and watching online demos, we fancied the features and looks of the Bugaboo Cameleon and the iCandy Peach. But retailing at almost £1000 when you tot up the cost of all the kit, these were budget busting. For a while I was determined to buy one or the other second hand, but they both hold their values well and it seemed that we would be paying around £500 for something that was going to look 'well used'. I've no issues with buying second hand, but I drew the line at something that was going to look tatty and faded. Also, after another try of the Cameleon, I found that I really couldn't get the hang of the fold.

Then one day we came across the Joolz Day. Designed in The Netherlands (where the Bugaboo range comes from), it's USP was the 'DAY' - Designed Around You. In short, its design is ergonomic, with benefits for parent and baby.

These benefits are...
  • Very high adjustable handle - great for tall parents.
  • Very high position for the carry cot and baby seat - less bending down for you.
  • Suspension on all 4 wheels - extra comfort for your baby and easy pushing for you.
  • A centre of gravity that means the whole thing won't tip over with a large bag on the handle and no baby in the seat.

Why we fell in love with it

I loved the look of the Joolz Day, and in terms of all of my other 'wants' it pretty much ticked every box.
  • Carry cot and seat all included for one price.
  • Overnight mattress on the carry cot (no need to take the moses basket away on those early trips to see grandparents).
  • Big rear air-filled tyres making it extremely easy to push across a variety of terrains.
  • Easy fold and the ability to go fairly small and flat with the wheels off (even the carry cot collapses).
  • Compatible with Maxi Cosi car seats.

Money money money

Let me out!
Joolz is one of those brands where they don't like to display their prices online (so annoying! I don't understand this at all!) but all in (excluding accessories) expect to pay between £550 and £650. This was a little more than we were hoping to spend, but being a smart shopper, I managed to buy an ex display model via the eBay store of a nursery shop for £480. The seat unit hadn't even been taken out of its wrapper and everything else was good as new, complete with a full warranty.



Thoughts after using it for 16 months

Plenty of space for pram gymnastics
By now, I think I've given my Joolz a full road test, goodness knows how many times I've used it! I can safely say that I'm not going to stop using it and switch to a basic umbrella fold stroller as a lot of mummies do at this stage. When we've used one on holiday, we really miss the Joolz! However, there are some slightly less than perfect things that I would also like to point out:
  • My rain cover tore in several places after less than a year's use - Joolz have since replaced it for free.
  • The black frame does mark very easily. The scuffs (and they are these rather than scratches) can be rubbed off with a little elbow grease.
  • My rear tyres have suffered punctures on two occasions.
  • The seat unit is started to look a little faded where Bobble's legs sit.
  • I wouldn't buy from a shop not local to me again. It's been a pain where we've had issues with things such as the rain cover and an issue with locking the front wheels. Any money that we saved by buying online has probably been spent on petrol!
However, all in all, I would definitely recommend this puschair. I think it's a great compromise if you like the features and looks of the pricier Bugaboos and iCandys, but want to spend a lot less. I hope to get several more years of use from my Joolz Day.

 

Where can I buy it?

The mecca of baby shopping, Kiddicare, sells the Joolz Day instore, but not online. Visit the Joolz website to find a retailer local to you.

Now this little boy looks like one very satisfied fan of the Joolz Day!


Disclaimer: As ever, all thoughts and opinions are my own and no money has exchanged hands in return for the writing of this post.
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Thursday, 25 July 2013

A-Z of saving money

Airmiles. If you or your partner travels for work, check whether you're allowed to keep and spend the airmiles personally. Avios (BA) now lets you redeem them against flights, hotels and car hire. We once enjoyed a 4 night break in a 5* hotel in Jersey with flights and car hire for £56, for both of us. What a bargain.

Budgeting. It's kind of obvious, but if you don't work out how much you've got to spend and on what, how much control have you got over your finances? I know it's utterly dull, but go through your bank account in detail over 6 or 12 months and you'll build up a very clear picture of where all your money goes.

Clubcard points. If you shop regularly as Tesco, you are missing out if you don't get a clubcard. The points soon add up and are nearly always worth double their monetary value when you spend them. The places that they can be redeemed are pretty good too.

Delivery charges. It's getting easier to avoid paying these. A lot of shops offer a 'free to store' delivery option and many offers are either dropping their charges completely (Amazon) or will run 'free delivery' promotions.

Ebay. Buying or selling - you can still get a bargain or make a few quid on this old favourite.

Freecycle. Sign up to the one in your local area to get rid of things you no longer need (one man's junk is another man's treasure) and to pick up bargains, for zero cash. 

Groups, specifically Facebook selling groups - they're hot with secondhand bargains. Find and join your local groups to find the best deals in your local area.

Handmade. If you're a genius in the kitchen, a master of a sewing machine or an absolute pro with a camera, they why not offer up your skills as a Christmas or birthday present?

Insurance. While paying out a (steadily increasing) annual premium might seem like somewhere you could save money, don't be tempted. Most people can't afford to not have insurance. And if you can, then you are probably wasting your time reading these tips!

Jewellery. Got some old jewellery that you don't wear anymore? Gold in particular is easy to trade in for a bit of extra cash.

Kayak.co.uk A travel website (flights, hotels, car hire, holidays) with lots of lovely filters, including a trip advisor rating.

Loyalty cards. Is there a shop that you shop in on a regular basis? Then make sure that you get a loyalty card. They don't cost a thing and you will eventually build up enough points for a freebie.

Moneysavingexpert.com A fabulous website. Sign up immediately to the newsletter and don't consider making a financial investment (be it something to do with savings or a big purchase like choosing a new phone contract) without visiting the website first.

No. Sometimes you have to say no, which feels uncomfortable. And for us Brits, we really really don't like this, which is why we so often say yes when what we want to do is say no. No works particularly well in cross-selling situations, special offers on things you don't really need and auto renewal on services you don't need or use.

Oyster. If you're visiting London either as a day tripper or as daily commuter, you need to get an Oyster card. It's the cheapest way to pay for single journeys on bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground and most National Rail services in London.

Photobox.co.uk. I love this website for two reasons - 1. They produce top quality products and 2. They regularly run really great offers. Make sure you sign up to hear about their promotions.

Quidco. My preferred cashback website.

Recycle. There are so many things that can be used more than once and save you money at the same time. How about cutting up your old Christmas cards to use as gift tags for next year's presents?

Shop around. It's so simple, and it doesn't just apply to online shopping. Many retail shops offer a price match guarantee, and even if they don't, it's worth asking if they can offer you a deal.

TK Maxx. I flipping love this shop. You need patience to sift through the rails, but the pay offs are great - anything from 50%-70+% off high street prices on quality clothes, shoes and homewares.

Uswitch.com Make sure you're on the right deal for your gas & electricity, broadband & phone and mobile phone contracts.

Vouchers. When I eat at a chain, I rarely choose somewhere without checking for discount vouchers and special offers first. The vouchercodes app is pretty good when you're out and about.

Wewin4u.co.uk Subscribe to this brilliant little website and instantly get entered into thousands of online competitions. I've won some amazing prizes courtesy of this website.

X Ok, I'm stumped with this letter! But it's a perfect gap in the market if you want to set up a penny saving website!

YouTube I'm stretching this slightly, but did you know that YouTube, as well as featuring lots of hilarious videos of bad dancing and cute kittens, also contains product review videos and 'how-to' guides? When I was pushchair browsing, I used the dedicated Kiddicare channel to watch demos of different pushchairs being folded and unfolded and their unique features being highlighted. You can also look up videos of all kinds of random things like replacing a cracked screen on your iPhone.

Zzzzzzs (cop out, I know, but this is a hard letter!) Make sure you get enough sleep. Shopping in a sleep deprived state of mind will lead to you making bad choices. You might buy something you don't really need or you'll fill your supermarket trolley with convenience food, which always costs more!

Share your top tips

Phew! Well that was 27 ways (ish!) of saving money. What's the biggest amount of money you saved, and how did you do it?
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Monday, 22 July 2013

The secret to sitting down comfortably after your baby is born

As I write, the Duchess of Cambridge is at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington, in labour. I can't help but feel a little bit sorry for the poor gal. We opted to only tell immediate family when my labour began. No such privacy for Kate, she has the whole world clammering to know the minute-by-minute details of her labour. For her sake, I hope her birth is easy, uncomplicated and that the baby is healthy.

So today I wanted to share a tip specifically for postnatal women. If you've had a natural birth, no matter how well things went, the chances are that you'll be feeling a little bit sore. Especially sitting down! Bruising, tears, grazes, stitches... ouch, ouch, ouch. It's not fun. But there is something that you can buy to make you feel a little more comfortable.

You'll probably have been advised to take plenty of baths after the birth. But did you know that there's something magical that you can put in your bath? Badedas has been around since the 70s (see this seriously questionable ad alluding to what happens to a woman after a Badedas bath! Horse-related? Not sure that's legal!) Dodgy woman-horse relationships aside, midwifes and new mums have been recommending Badedas Rich Bath Gelee for years. Containing horse chesnut, the gelee smells delicious and a little goes a long way.

I'm afraid I don't know why it works so well on postnatal women, but it really does. Without going into too much personal detail, I can hand-on-heart say that using this in two baths a day for two weeks after Bobble's birth really did help me. And I needed a lot of help! Unlike other home remedies for easing the ouch, it doesn't sting, and the scent is really relaxing. It's also safe to use before your baby is born, when long soothing baths are also to be encouraged.

The only downside is the price, it's over £6 for a 300ml bottle. But as long as you keep it away from the rest of your family, one bottle should see you through more than one baby!

It's available to buy from Superdrug, Boots and some large supermarkets.

So if you're looking for a great gift for a baby shower, why not grab a bottle of this? Let's hope that William has got some on standby for Kate!




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Sunday, 14 July 2013

Through the lens - hello you!

When I started the 'through the lens' theme, I planned to share photos of places rather than people. To inspire some wanderlust if you like. But I've been thinking lately about what makes a great photo. You can spend hours setting up the perfect angle, lightening and subject. But sometimes, a picture is brilliant because it's a shot that has perfectly capturing a moment, where you just happened to press the button at the right moment.

Now that Bobble is so wonderfully mobile, he gets a bit more of a say in the many moments that a camera is pointed in his direction. His interactions with the camera can produce some pretty funny shots, and occasionally, they capture his cheekiness and inquisitiveness perfectly. Lately I've been holding my camera down at his level, not looking through the lens and just shooting. The results have been mixed, but they definitely show him in a different light and angle.

This photo wasn't taken by me (duh, I'm in it!) and it wasn't taken in the way I've described above, but the theory is still the same. I love it. I love the closeness to the camera. I love the peering down the lens. And I love the fact that there's someone in the background loving the moment.


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Saturday, 13 July 2013

Introducing Myakka - fairtrade furniture

An exciting delivery arrived at our house last week - Bobble's birthday present from his paternal grandparents, Granny and Grandad. A lovely little giraffe bookcase, made from solid monkey pod wood.

Luckily as Bobble is only 1, he didn't seem to notice that his present had arrived four months late. I'd almost given up hope that it was ever going to arrive, but when it did, it was well worth the wait.


If you're interested in buying this bookcase, look it up on the Myakka website.

As well as showing you this gorgeous present, I wanted to introduce you to Myakka, a fair trade furniture company that is rather popular in our house. There are several reasons to love Myakka furniture, here's my top 5 reasons:
  1. It's solid wood furniture. MDF and flat pack certainly has its place, but sometimes it's nice to take delivery of a piece of furniture and know that it will last, and that you won't need to fight with a million tiny screws and allen keys before you get to enjoy it. 
  2. It is very affordable. It's not flat pack Scandinavian cheap (naturally), but I think you get a lot of quality for your money.
  3. It is fair trade. Myakka work with a supplier in India to ensure fair and proper prices for everyone. Read more about it on their website.
  4. Sheesham Indian wood, along with Acacia, Mango and Monkey Pod is fast growing and sustainable.
  5. Their customer service is excellent. Yes, there was a big delay on this bookcase, but I didn't ever feel like they weren't eventually going to deliver the item - because they had my trust.
So if you're looking for some new furniture, why not take a look at their website. And what a bonus, they're currently having a summer sale!

www.myakka.co.uk


Disclaimer
This is not a sponsored post. All of our previous purchases, including this one, have been paid for and selected by me.

 

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Friday, 12 July 2013

If it ain't broke... - how to mend the 'new' Gmail inbox

I'm not a big fan of change. I like order. I like things to be the same. No surprises. You get the picture. So you'll understand my dread when I log in to my Gmail account to be greeted with a 'welcome to your new inbox' message. Uh oh.

So is my dread justified? Absolutely. Don't get me wrong. I love Google. I love Gmail. It's generally a pretty smart, reliable and very user-friendly email platform. But why would I want to organise my inbox into different tabs? Why oh why Google? Why would you presume that I'm not efficient enough to want to filter through my own emails, by making a quick visual judgement based on sender name and subject line? (Isn't this what folders are for?) Am I really not clever enough to do that myself? Please! Give me a little credit.

There have been some awful changes to Gmail in the past, and as usual, there are some quick ways to revert back the changes.

So if you hate change like me, here's how to fix your Gmail inbox and make it good as new. Or at least as good as it used to be before Google decided that we needed help.

At the end of your lovely new tabs, there's a plus symbol. Click on this and you will see the window below.


Untick all tabs except 'Primary', then press save.

If, for some unknown reason, you want to reinstall the tabs, you can get back to this window by clicking on the cog symbol in the top right, then selecting 'configure inbox'.

 I hope that helps!

And relax... order is restored.

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Thursday, 4 July 2013

The best BBQ sauce that you'll ever taste

With a BBQ weekend on the horizon (cross those fingers tight) I wanted to share a recipe that I discovered a few years ago. It is for the most utterly divine BBQ sauce. The best you'll ever taste, I promise! If you like BBQ sauce that is sticky like jam, sweet like brown sugar and so ridiculously moreish that you will want to eat it with a spoon, then you're going to love this.

Smother it over sausages, burgers, kebabs, roasted vegetables and whatever else is cooking on your grill. You won't regret it, and you'll never buy a bottle of supermarket sauce again.

Ingredients

  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • olive oil
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped 
  •  salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
  • 55g/2oz dark brown sugar
  • 50ml/1¾fl oz dark soy sauce
  • 300ml/10fl oz tomato ketchup

Preparation method

  1. Fry the onion and garlic in olive oil with the chilli, fennel seeds and sugar.
  2. Add the soy sauce and ketchup and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes to combine the flavours.

Credit for the recipe goes to James Martin via the consistently wonderful BBC food recipe's website.
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Monday, 1 July 2013

Freecycle - One man's junk is another man's treasure


A super quick, super simple post for a Monday. I wanted to introduce you to the joys of Freecycle. I'm sure many of you have heard of it, and many more are probably using it. It's not exactly a new website, in fact it's been going since 2003. However, it might be one of those things that you don't quite understand or know much about.

So, I thought it might be helpful to give an easy 5 minute guide to using Freecycle. My experience of Freecycle is that it's a fantastic way of getting rid of things that you no longer need, without the hassle of either trying to sell them on ebay, or taking them to your local recycling centre or tip.

What is Freecycle?

Freecycle is a local, community-based recycling organisation. It's a network that connects people who have items they no longer need, with people who can make use of them - with no money changing hands. People looking for items can also post requests for 'wanted' items on the network.

How does it work?

You register on your local Freecycle website and in doing so, you will receive a daily email containing details of the items available to offer, and items wanted.

What sort of things do people offer on Freecycle?

Anything and everything! Furniture, books, clothes, car parts, garden equipment, kitchenware, baby equipment, electrical equipment... the list goes on! I've checked the email I received today and on offer are fencing posts, bunk beds, wood pallets and wildlife magazines - a fairly eclectic mix! Some things are not allowed - pornography, alcohol, tobacco, drugs and firearms - no surprises there!

Does it need to be in good working order?

No. So long as you describe its condition accurately (so the recipient knows what they're getting), it really doesn't matter. After all, if it was in perfect condition, you would probably make some money wouldn't you? Most of the things I've got rid of via Freecycle were broken to some degree! You'll be amazed at what someone else can do with something that is just cluttering up your garage or house.

I've got something to list, what do I do?

After signing up and registering with your local network, you simply write a short description of your item, it's location and you're done. No need to add photos or spend more than a couple of minutes on your offer ad. Your ad is then listed on the website for your local network and included in the daily email. People wanting your item will contact you by email, and you arrange a convenient time for them to collect it from your house.

Is it safe?

Use your common sense. If you don't want to deal directly with the person collecting the item, simply leave it on your doorstep, or arrange to meet them in a public place.

What are the benefits?

As well as clearing some space in your house or garden, you can enjoy the great feeling of being able to do something good for the environment, helping out someone in your community and the smugness of saving time of either a trip to the tip or half an hour crafting a detailed ebay listing. What's not to love?

My experience

I've only used Freecycle a few times, but each time I've been stunned at how quickly I've been able to get rid of something I no longer need. I've given away an old hosepipe (minus the trigger attachment), a barely working vacuum cleaner and a toy that no longer works. Each time I've had at least one request for the item and have had it collected from my house within 48 hours of listing the item. I should also mention that I don't live in a particularly large town - I imagine that in a city it's even easier to get rid of things.

Find out more

Don't be put off by the less then glamorous website, it's one of those things that just works without looking pretty!


http://uk.freecycle.org/


Are you a Freecycler? What's the best thing that you've been able to pick up or the most unusual thing that you've been able to give away?

© 2003 The Freecycle Network 
All rights reserved. 
Freecycle and the Freecycle 
logo are trademarks of The 
Freecycle Network in various countries.
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Friday, 28 June 2013

Family-friendly gite in Normandy

Mont St-Michel
We recently enjoyed a lovely two week holiday in France. In a rather spooky case of history repeating itself, my very first trip abroad was to northern France, when I was 15 months old - the same age Bobble was during this holiday. My parents were a little more ambitious than us however, as they opted to camp and they also had my two year old brother to keep entertained too! My mum also likes to remind me that this was also the days before disposable nappies were widely available! We went for the slightly easier life and decided to have a week in a gite in Brittany, followed by a week in a gite in Normandy.

Finding the right place

There is a plethora of holiday cottages and gites available in northern France. We didn't book until fairly late (2 months before) and found that availability was still very high. The biggest issue we found was that the two bedroom places that we were looking at hardly ever seemed to have baths, providing a shower instead. It seemed that Bobble was at a slightly awkward age. Too old for a baby bath (many places offered these along with cots and highchairs) and still too young for a shower. It might have just been a coincidence, but the two places that booked both had baths and both had English owners. Maybe relaxing in the bath is more of an English pass time than a French one!

Another tip related to availability... As you can usually see online how booked up the accommodation is, if it's still got lots of free weeks and you feel confident enough, why not see if you can negotiate on the price?

5 good reasons to stay somewhere family-friendly

After spending a great week in Brittany, we moved on to our base in Normandy. While our gite in Brittany was lovely, I was excited about our second week in Normandy as we had found somewhere that was very catered towards families with young children. I'll tell you why this was great.
  1. We only had space to take a small number of toys with us. After 1 week, Bobble was getting a bit bored of these, as were we!
  2. When there's lots of things to do at your accommodation, it's a bit like being at home in the sense that you don't feel the need to rush out in search of entertainment. You can relax while your child plays and has fun too.
  3. There is usually equipment available for you to borrow, freeing up a bit more space in your car which is probably already packed to the rafters.
  4. It is very likely that the owners have children of their own. If they're close by (ours were in the house next door) they'll be on hand with ideas of days out and help if you need it. They might even have children of a similar age, providing instant playmates for your own children.
  5. The accommodation will have been prepared with children in mind. This not only means that stair gates and other safety measures will be in place, but I think it also means that the owners will be a bit more relaxed about general wear and tear, which is more relaxing for mum and dad too!

Kestrel Cottage, Le Hamel Roger, Normandy

 

Kestrel Cottage is a former cider mill that has been converted into a four bedroom gite. It's found in the calvados region of Normandy and is a little over 20 minutes drive from the large town of Vire. The very friendly English owners, Angie and Danny, have been there since 2007. They have six children (yes, six!) aged between 1 and 12, who were really friendly, polite and incredibly well behaved.

Quick list of the gite's features
  • Four bedrooms, but the gite can sleep between 2 and 12 with additional beds and cots
  • 2 bathrooms - 1 with bath and shower, the other with just a shower and loo
  • Large kitchen including washing machine, dishwasher and all the kitchen essentials you could wish for
  • Large living room with plenty of seating, a DVD player, TV with English channels and a log fire for cool evenings
  • Large upstairs gallery landing area/play room with lots of toys and a second television for watching films
  • Outside seating area including a bbq.

Kestrel cottage

The really large garden
The big selling points: family-friendly extras
  • Next door, there is a play loft stacked with toys for all ages. Ball pools, ride on toys, dressing-up clothes, toddler roller coaster (Bobble loved this!), mini pool table, air hockey, table football (we loved this after Bobble had gone to bed!) and much more!
  • The large garden, as well as giving lots of running around space, provides even more toys including a trampoline, swings, slides, basketball hoop. Oh, and a solar heated above ground swimming pool!
  • The list of baby and toddler equipment that is available to use or borrow is huge! As well as the usual things like highchairs, cots, steriliser, spoons and bowls etc. they also have bigger things like an off-road pushchair and baby carrying rucksack.
  • The price you pay includes all bed linen and towels and the end of stay cleaning - this is unusual for France, where you are usually asked to clean before you leave to avoid losing some of your deposit.
  • Angie runs a weekly music class which we were invited to attend. Unfortunately we couldn't make it as we already had plans, but it would have been great to do some singing in English and French!
What is there to do nearby?
Here's how we spent our week - I've included driving times.
  • Viaduc de la Souleuvre (20 minutes) - a great afternoon spent watching people way more adventurous than us bungy jumping, zip wiring, riding a luge or on a completely insane swing that takes you from 0-120km in 3.5 seconds!
  • St Sever Forest (25 minutes) - good place for an afternoon walk in a mysterious and brooding forest.
  • Mont St-Michel (1 hour) - France's third most visited attraction and for good reason! Unlike it's English equivalent, you don't need to go by boat or rely on tides.
  • Arromanches - one of the D Day landing beaches (1 hour). Packed with history and home to a museum and 3D cinema.
  • Honfleur (1 hour 25 minutes) - my favourite place! An enchanting little town with a gorgeous port, a lovely park and lots of interesting streets for pottering along.
  • Bayeux (35 minutes) - go and see the tapestry and enjoy wandering the streets.
A few pictures from our week

Find out more

Prices (2013) start from £350 and go up to £690 per week depending on the number of guests and the time of year. You can check availability online or contact Angie directly bookings@lehamelroger.com

Visit the Kestrel Cottage website


*Our week at Kestrel Cottage was paid for by us and I have not received any compensation for this review.
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