Tuesday, 7 June 2016

How to keep your dog cool this summer

Our old dog Ella was a real sun-lover. She'd always seek out the sunniest spots in the garden and bask for hours in the rays.  Our new puppy Delilah however, doesn't seem so keen.  It's quickly become apparent that she's not a fan of the heat, she shows reluctance to go out on warm days and becomes tired much quicker in the heat. Even her black ears are turning brown in the sun!

Overheating or hyperthermia is a serious risk for dogs in a heat wave and the RSPCA have some excellent advice on the signs to look for and emergency treatment to take if your dog becomes too hot.

Prevention is always better than cure, so these are my top tips to help keep your pooch cool this summer:

1. Dogs die in hot cars.

This should go without saying really.  Surely everyone knows this and wouldn't be stupid enough to leave their dog in the car?  Nope.  Every year it's the same, with reports in the papers of dogs who have died in hot cars.

NEVER leave your dog in the car when it's warm.  Not even in the shade.  Not even with the windows down.  Not even for 5 minutes.

At 22 degrees outside, a car can reach 47 degrees in less than an hour and that's lethal.

Don't do it.  Simple.

Remember also that the same can apply to conservatories, caravans and tents.

Dogs die in hot cars Infographic - RSPCA

2. Avoid the mid-day sun

If it's too hot for you to comfortably be out in the sun, then it's definitely too hot for your dog.  Hot tarmac and sand on the beach can burn the pads on their feet so alter your routine so you're exercising your dog early in the morning and late at night when it's not so hot. As a general rule, if you can't lay the flat of your palm comfortably on the ground for 15 seconds, then it's too hot for your dog to walk on it.

3. Choose cooler walks

Instead of heading to your favourite park where it's basically a huge open parched field in the sun, opt for shadier locations like a forest or a riverbank where they can cool off in the water if needs be.  My general routine is to take the dog on the school runs with me, but now it's getting warmer it's simply too hot to leave her tied to the school gates (where there's no shade) at 3pm.  We'll instead do a walk later in the evening when it's cooled off.

4. Water, water, water

Always remember to take a bottle of water with you on summer walks.  You could also carry a collapsable bowl or a bottle with a fold out bowl, although our dog will quite happily drink almost straight from the bottle as I pour it, or from cupped hands.

Remember also to check your dog's bowl at home, it will need refilling more often and ensure that the water is changed daily at least.

5. Less running

Delilah would chase a ball all day long given the chance, but she simply becomes too hot in the sun.  Instead, limit the amount of free running when it's excessively hot and instead provide mental stimulation by playing games at home in the shade. Treat toys such as Kongs are great for preventing boredom, and you can pop them in a ziplock bag and put it in the freezer before giving it to your dog.  Our dog also loves ice cubes - she comes running every time she hears our fridge clinking out ice in a glass.  For some cool fun, try scooting some ice cubes across the kitchen floor and letting your hound chase and chew them.

6. Provide somewhere cool at home

Make sure their dog bed isn't in the full sun.  They may want to retreat to it more during the day when it's hot, so make sure it's in a shady position.  Dogs love to cool down on cold floors and will often seek out ceramic tiles to flatten their tummies to and cool off.  Alternatively you could wet a towel and leave that for them to lay on.  Make sure you keep your house ventilated with windows open (blinds shut if it's in the full sun) and a fan on if you have one.

If your dog lives outdoors, make sure there's a sheltered, shady area for them to escape from the sun.  You can also provide a shallow plastic kid's water pool for them to cool off in.

7. Let them pant!

A dog's main way of regulating their temperature is to pant.  If your pooch wears a muzzle or nose collar, make sure it doesn't restrict their ability to open their mouth and pant with their tongue out.

8. Keep them groomed

Some dogs with thick coats or dark fur will suffer in the heat more.  Get professional advice from a groomer before trimming their fur as this can actually offer a level of protection against sunburn.  Keep coats brushed and tangle free to allow air to circulate to their skin properly.  Ticks also thrive in the heat so if your dog enjoys running in long grass, check thoroughly after walks for any who may have snuck aboard.

9. Cool not cold

Very cold water can cause shock and be dangerous to a hot dog.  To cool your dog off use cool not ice old water.  A mist spray bottle can be useful, but don't turn a freezing cold hose pipe on them.  If your dog has overheated, cool down gently by putting a T-shirt soaked in cool water on them or letting they lie on a cool wet towel.  Offer them small amounts of cool water and get advice from your vet immediately.

10. Cool products for hot dogs

Last but no means least, there are of course endless products on the market to help keep your dog cool.  From doggie ice cream to sun screen, here's a few that have caught my eye.

Do you have any top tips for keeping your pooch cool in the summer?


Tuesday, 17 May 2016

My Fairy Garden - Lilypad Garden Giveaway

A short while ago I reviewed the lovely Lilypad Garden by My Fairy Garden Interplay.  It's a really lovely set, helping children to learn about gardening and taking care of plants, while at the same time having fun building fairy furniture and using their imagination playing with the far house below.

Ours is still thriving and looking beautiful and Ruby loves to water it as she comes home from school.

Interplay are giving my readers the opportunity to win their own Lilypad Garden which retails at £19.99 by simply entering this giveaway. If you're looking for gift ideas, do check out the My Fairy Garden Range as there are some adorable items.

To enter, simply leave a blog comment stating which you think is your favourite item in the range and leave a comment below.  There are extra entries available for social following.  Closing date is midnight Sunday 19th June 2016, and this is open to UK entrants only.  The prize will be dispatched by Interplay.

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Thursday, 5 May 2016

The Special Bond Between Children And Their Pets

A brand new survey commissioned by The Baby Show has shown the importance of that special relationship between children and their pets.

Our daughter has grown up with a dog in the house, as did I, and when we sadly lost Ella last year, we only managed a few months before we felt we had to get another four-legged friend.  Once a dog-owner, always a dog-owner I guess.

The survey revealed that nearly half (47%) of new parents today have pets at home in the first three years of their child’s life, while 83% of parents believe that having a pet is beneficial for their child’s development. 

The survey also reports why parents think having a pet has a positive impact on young children with 60% saying it is good for them to interact with animals from a young age and almost a third (29%) believing it teaches them responsibility whilst 1 in 10 say it improves their social skills.  

Dogs were crowned king of the pets, beating cats, rabbits and fish as the nation’s favourite animal to have with young children:

  1. Dog (48%)
  1. Cat (30%)
  1. Rabbit (7%)
  1. Fish (6%)
  1. Guinea Pig (4%)
  1. Hamster, Gerbil, Mouse or Rat (3%)
  1. Bird (2%) 

Sarah Beeson MBE, expert speaker at The Baby Show and author of Happy Baby, Happy Family, says "it's no surprise that such a high number of new parents have pets.  We often practice our caring skills on our beloved animals before we embark on parenthood.

"It's always better  to be on the safe side when setting boundaries for the relationship between your child and your pet but it's a great opportunity for your little one to learn. The experience of pet ownership shows us how to be loving and respectful, and can give children a little bit of supervised responsibility.  The relationship your toddler has with your pet often starts long before they make friends at school or nursery; they really are part of the family."

Participants described  how their children and toddlers often confided in their pets and this helped them to build social skills and companionship.  Billy is a best friend to Danny Wong's child Laila (pictured), he says: "they love each other's company - we often find them under the dining table playing together!"

Families agreed that having a pet is the perfect way to help them prepare for interaction with other children.  Excercise with their pet was also a beneficial way to keep fit and talk through any issues the child may be having.

I couldn't agree more.  The positives of having a pet in the home are fabulous, and we really wouldn't be without one.

The Baby Show, with MadeForMums, is set to return to the NEC in Birmingham from Friday 13th to Sunday 15th May and they are offering a pair of tickets for one lucky reader. The ultimate pregnancy and parenting shopping event for new and expectant parents, it will be home to over 200 exhibitors, showcasing the very best baby and infant essentials. 

For your chance to win a pair of tickets, please complete the rafflecopter below.  One lucky winner will receive an electronic code to download free tickets which can be used on any of the three dates.  Giveaway closes on Monday 9th May 2016 at midnight. Open to UK entrants only.

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Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Easy Gluten-Free Chicken Nuggets Recipe

Easy simple chicken nuggets recipe

Since our family turned gluten-free in January as an experiment for various physical ailments, it's been a bit of a journey of discovery.  We're all feeling so much better for it and it's been really positive for us.  I haven't found cooking too much of a problem, and eating out is relatively straight-forward nowadays with most establishments catering for allergies.  What I do miss are the naughty little treats,  the quick and easy meals I used to go to my freezer for.  I hanker for a sausage roll or a decent frozen pizza.  There are some go-to meals that I've yet to crack as a gluten-free option but I'm pleased to say I've come up with a delicious and very easy recipe for gluten-free chicken nuggets using Nutribix breakfast cereal.  These crunchy, moreish pieces of chicken are super-healthy - I use free range, skinless chicken breast and they are baked in the oven rather than fried so they are low in fat.  There's no added sugar in the Nutribix biscuits and I add only a pinch of salt for taste, but you could choose to omit that altogether.  Nutribix are also fortified with vitamins, so they include Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin and Folic Acid. Made with Sorghum, they are naturally gluten-free.

I've also made these using leftover  cooked chicken from our Sunday roast, you'll just need to reduce the cooking time to ensure the meat doesn't get tough and over-cooked.


2 skinless chicken breasts
1 egg (beaten)
4 Nutribix biscuits (crushed)
Pinch salt, pepper and Cayenne pepper to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C.

Beat your egg in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, crumble the Nutribix with your hands into crumbs.  Add your seasoning and mix well.

Cut the chicken into bite sized chunks or strips.

Dip each chicken piece first in the egg, then in the coating and ensure it is covered all over.

Lay out on a flat baking sheet and bake for approx 20 minutes. Cut one nugget open to ensure the chicken is white and cooked through.

Serve with your favourite dipping sauce as a snack or with vegetables as a main meal.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

My Fairy Garden Lilypad

A few months ago, Ruby was thrilled to be asked to go along to the photo studio with Interplay to shoot some promotional shots for the My Fairy Garden Range. It was her first time modelling and she loved it.  I enjoyed mooching about behind the scenes, sizing up the backdrops and all the lighting.  It was really interesting to see it properly done (ahem!).

She got to play with the My Fairy Garden Lilypad Garden planter which she absolutely adored, but as it was a brand new product and not yet launched, we've had to keep it quiet.

I'm delighted to say that it's now on the shelves and Ruby was over the moon to spot herself in a toyshop window the other week - she ran in and proudly announced to the cashier 'THAT'S ME!!'  It really has done wonders for her confidence.

We already had the Secret Fairy Door, so Ruby was familiar with the range, but she was itching to get her hands on the Lilypad Garden and have a proper play with it.

She spent a fair bit of time planning her 'garden', making a colour scheme and deciding on whether she wanted trailing plants or tall plants.  The boxed set does come with some grass seed, but she couldn't wait for that and wanted instant impact (can't think where she gets that from?!).

We took a lovely trip up to the local garden centre one sunny morning and selected her plants.  I was so impressed with all the care and thought she put into the process.

Back home, she set about planting it up, deciding which plant would look best where.  Once it was all in place and throughly watered in, she started on the fairy decorations.  The kit includes a mini windmill, but we added one of our own and she made some miniature bunting from some stripy straws and wash tape. She had a good hunt round her playroom looking for bits she could decorate the fairy home with and she has loads of ideas for making furniture.  She's asked me to make some more champagne cork toadstools, and she's been collecting little sticks to make a table. There's also lots of ideas in the enclosed booklet of additional furniture you can make yourself.

The little frog is adorable floating on his lilypad in the little moat saucer, and he's had a few trips up to our bathroom too for bath time! Each component is well made and sturdy, and so easy to assemble.  

Every day when she gets home from school, she rushes to check on her planter and make sure it has enough water.  I love that this is something she can take care of herself.

Check out the whole range of My Fairy Garden.  We love the little doors which you can hide around the garden. Such a magical range!

Lilypad Gardens is available from good toy stores RRP £19.99.

Disclosure: We were sent the Lilypad for the purposes of this review.  All opinions are our own.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Win a Family Meal at Pizza Express with a £75 gift card

Readers will have seen that we've recently become part of the #PizzaExpress family, which has been great fun. We've reviewed our local restaurant in Milton Keynes, today took part in a fab Twitter Party where several lucky tweeters won £25 gift vouchers, and now I'm delighted to announce we have another giveaway for a £75 gift card, meaning you can treat the entire family to a wonderful meal out at your local Pizza Express. It's a great place to dine with kids with their special menu and kid's packs to keep them entertained.  Why not use the Easter holidays as an opportunity to try out their new spring menu?

You can check out the reviews from the rest of the team here:

The giveaway is open to entrants in the UK, aged 18 and over.  To enter, complete the Rafflecopter widget below.  The giveaway will be open for one week, and the winner will be selected at random after midnight on 7th April 2016.

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Saturday, 26 March 2016

Pizza Express - A Gluten-Free Family meal out

Pizza Express was one of my go-to places for a family meal out.  However, since we've all gone gluten-free (for various health reasons), we've not eaten out a whole lot.  I'm a pizza addict, and good pizza is something I've really missed since being gluten-free.  I've tried some restaurant pizzas, take-out pizza and supermarket pizza to cook at home and none of them have quite hit the mark.

We've recently joined the #PizzaExpressFamily blogger campaign, so I was really keen to see how our gluten-free experience would be and especially excited since they've just launched GF dough-balls (OMG OMG OMG).

We love eating out as a family, it's a great way to sample different food and I think it's important children can feel relaxed when eating out, but also learn how to behave in a restaurant.

The children's Piccolo menu I've always found to be great value for money - £6.95 for a starter, a main, a dessert and a babyccino.  Now they offer gluten-free doughballs, and the gluten-free brownie as dessert it means that Ruby was able to enjoy every course without missing out.

It's a shame they don't keep a stock of GF pasta, but let's be honest, we go there for the pizza don't we?

We visited one of our local restaurants at the Xscape complex in Milton Keynes. This is always a very busy restaurant being close to the multiplex cinema and the snow-zone, but it's perfect to visit after a family film.  Apart from their great family welcome and amazing food, one of the things I like best about visiting Pizza Express is that they are often in pretty cool repurposed buildings - we've dined in former banks, old Masonic Halls and listed coaching inns.  The Milton Keynes one is a modern, purpose built premises in the leisure complex, so lacks the charm of some others, but it's fresh and contemporary, with subtle lighting (perhaps too subtle for decent photography, so apologies for the grainy shots!).

Ruby got stuck into her colouring and activity sheets (she enjoyed the pop-out Easter finger puppets) while I perused the menu over a chilled glass of Pinot. There was no question she'd go for the dough-balls, and I like the fact these come with a little side of crudités of tomato, cucumber and pepper, helping her get her five-a-day.  The Old Man selected the antipasto.  When it arrived it was HUGE (I suspect they brought us the sharing platter by mistake) but we all chipped in and helped - we're good like that.  The Antipasto usually comes with baked dough sticks, but these aren't available gluten-free so they swapped them for some GF doughballs. I tried one, for research purposes of course, and they were delicious. Lighter and less doughy than the normal ones, but oh how I've missed doughballs and their moreish garlic butter.  I selected the mozzarella and tomato salad which was light and refreshing, with a generous ball of delicious creamy buffalo mozzarella.  The basil pesto dressing made a nice change from the usual sprinkling of basil leaves.

Onto our mains, Ruby went for a classic Margherita gluten-free pizza, I picked the Padana (my favourite) and The Old Man, an American Hot. The gluten-free bases were thin and crispy style but tasted just as good as the regular pizzas I'd missed so much.  I was a little disappointed with the topping on my pizza, I couldn't taste the goat's cheese at all and suspect it was just mozzarella rather than any goat's cheese.  Maybe because they were thinner, or maybe the lack of gluten, but we were all able to clear our plates happily.  I used to not be able to finish a pizza here and we'd often leave with a doggy-bag pizza box, but we certainly felt less full than usual.  Great news - there was room for dessert!!

The menu has simple to follow symbols for vegetarian and gluten-free so it was easy to see what we could order.  There is a GF brownie on the children's menu, but Ruby decided she'd rather have ice cream, and managed 2 delicious scoops. Him Indoors chose the salted caramel ice cream and his badly timed visit to the gents meant I got to sample quite a bit of it.  Oh my word, it was out of this world.  Seriously additively amazing.  They should sell that in supermarkets, I'd fill my freezer up!

My regular dessert would be the Caffe Reale, tiny morsels of spiced baby figs served with creamy mascapone and a coffee on the side.  But I decided to try something new, so I opted for the Tartufo Limoncello.  A pure white lemon gelato bomb, the sharpness of the citrus was balanced with the sweet crunchy studs of white sugary meringue.  I was waiting for the liquid alcohol centre of limoncello, but instead found a small, syrupy, almost jelly centre, so while not exactly what I was expecting, it was nevertheless very tasty and a lovely palate cleanser at the end of the meal.

Overall, I was really impressed with how well they deal with allergens.  The menu was easy to follow and there's some very detailed information on their website.  They even have a gluten-free beer.  All gluten-free dishes are certified by Coeliac UK.

We’ve worked hard to ensure that you can be fully confident of no issues upon entering any PizzaExpress. This includes changing processes in our kitchens – including labelling and storage, using new equipment only for gluten-free food, as well as changing the flour we use for tossing and stretching our dough to be gluten-free.

We're delighted that we can continue to enjoy meals out at Pizza Express and it's great to know that whichever branch we visit, we'll receive the same choices.  It certainly makes family trips out much easier.

Make sure you follow the news and fun with the #PizzaExpressFamily team. There's a Twitter Party coming up on 31st March from 2-3:30pm where you can win great prizes, and keep your eyes peeled for your chance to win a family meal.  Thanks to Pizza Express for providing us with a complimentary review meal for the family.