Monday, 20 April 2015

You know your partner's a runner when...

1. There's a whole closet drawer dedicated to Lycra.

2. You need to find room in the kitchen for the boat sized containers of recovery shake powder.

3. They take all the fun out of food by referring to it as 'fuel'.

4. The Strava app has a better idea of where your other half is at any given time than you do.

5. There's generally a pair of trainers dangling off the washing line being aired.

6. Underwear is now selected for how supportive it is, not how attractive it looks.

7. Nipple chaffing is now a real thing that can apparently be discussed in polite company.

8. Your lovely bubble baths are shoved out of the way in favour of Epsom Salts. 

9. Your bedroom always smells faintly of Ralgex.

10. Going out clothes and proper shoes are forsaken in the holiday luggage in favour of running kit.

11. You can no longer walk past a sports shop without having to go in for 'a quick look'.

12. The most expensive footwear they own is a pair of trainers.

13. PB & Jelly now means 'personal best and an energy gel'.

14. Their legs are considerably browner than most people considering it's only spring.

15. You realise that the only way you're ever going to get to see New York/Paris/Sydney is if they get a place on the marathon there.

16. You can't find your best wine glasses because your cupboard's full of sports bottles.

17. There's random safety pins all over the house from holding race numbers onto their Tshirts.

18. They have a total meltdown if they can't find their earphones.

19. You now know it's not just horses who can give off steam.

20. They wear plasters on their nipples.

21. You've gone right off pasta.

Despite all this, and everything I say, I'm hugely proud of mine as he runs his first full marathon, the London Marathon this weekend.  If you'd like to sponsor him you can find his Just Giving Page here - he's raising money for Oxfam.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Helping children who are suddenly bereaved

Every year in the UK, hundreds of people die suddenly, leaving families devastated.  Disasters such as road accidents, murder, suicide, heart attack and other fatal illnesses can affect anyone.

Bereavement is a difficult subject and the sad reality is that in the UK a parent of a dependent child will die every 22 minutes, leaving 41,000 children without a parent each year. In addition to this, currently in the UK 309,000 children aged between five and 16 years old have been bereaved of a parent or sibling.

If tragedy were to strike and you lost your partner, your parents (your child's grandparents), one of your children (your child's sibling), or your child suddenly lost a school friend how would you cope?  How would you ensure that both your own grief and that of your child was handled effectively? Perhaps you're a godparent or a named guardian in a friend's will - how would you cope if you found yourself caring for a child who'd been suddenly bereaved?  Where would you turn?

The Co-operative Funeral Care have partnered with CHUMS (the Child Bereavement, Trauma and Emotional Wellbeing Service) to offer the a number of films as a free resource to local schools, medical professionals, community groups and bereaved families. The four animated films include ‘Our Year Since Dad Died’ and ‘Our Year Since Grandma Died’ and look at issues young people face when losing a parent or grandparent. 

The launch follows on from the success of The Co-operative Funeralcare’s Amy and Tom books, which are a tool for bereaved primary school children and distributed free to over 25,000 family liaison officers, schools, bereaved families and medical professionals across the country.

The tools deal practically with an array of issues a child may face including:

  • Disbelief and denial
  • Shock
  • Managing new and strong feelings
  • Dealing with the 'why' questions
  • Explaining the role of A&E and the emergency services and how and why they may not have been able to save the person
  • Coping with the trauma of witnessing the death or incident
  • Survivor guilt
  • What happens with organ donation
  • Dealing with whether to see the body
  • What happens at a funeral
  • What happens after death
  • Fear that others will die

The Co-operative Funeralcare is the only organisation in the UK to make the animated films available free of charge to key people and organisations in a position to support bereaved children such as teachers, medical professionals and community leaders.  

The short animated films have been produced by Angel Studios and are available for free on request from The Co-operative Funeralcare in your local area.

Disclosure: This post has been written in association with The Co-operative Funeralcare.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

A wood cabin stay at Church Farm Ardeley, Hertfordshire

Church Farm is absolutely my new favourite place and we've been here a fair few times over the past year or so.  It's so close that in all honesty there's not really the need for us to stay over, but we never want to leave at the end of the day so I'll usually book for us to camp.

We've stayed in our tent a few times, but with the weather being a little cooler it's great to have the option of their wooden lodges.  They're also perfect if you're not a hardened camper, don't have all the gear, want to stay with a group of friends who are not campers or just want to get a flavour of camping for the first time.

Given that they have toilet and shower facilities on site, an absolutely superb cafe serving breakfast and lunch and an exquisite pub - The Jolly Waggoner - over the road serving excellent meals, you really can just chuck your clothes and bedding in the car and be done with it.  No extra camping paraphernalia is required, making it ideal for a last minute getaway.

There's a number of cabins dotted around the farm in various different woods, but both times we've stayed in a lodge we've booked into Beard's Oak which is a young wooded area with small and sapling trees.  There's a number of cabins in this location so perfect if there's a group of you staying, although both times so far we've had the whole area to ourselves.  Other cabins are more secluded in other woodland areas of the farm but be aware that access by car is not alway possible to the remoter ones, depending on how wet and muddy the ground is.

The cabins themselves are very basic.  Each one comprises of a comfy double bed (bring your own pillows, sleeping bags or duvet and sheets.  Some are large enough for families and have single camp beds too - check online.  There's a wood burner in each lodge, a blind on the window for privacy - not that there's generally anyone around, but it keeps the morning sun out too.

If you want to take your own gear, there's room for it - we've had 3 of us, a camp bed, the dog's bed, our portable toilet and our camping stove as well as all our overnight bags in one comfortably.

The first time we stayed in a lodge it was February and bitterly cold with snow on the ground.  We snuggled up under duvets in our onesies with hot water bottles, but after 20 minutes of the wood burner pumping out heat, we were all stripping off layers it was that toasty.

From Beard's Oak you can hear the owls hooting, you might catch the sound of the sheep in the fields and in the morning you're likely to glimpse a pheasant or two strutting around.

An overnight stay will cost you £8.50 per adult and £5.50 per child (under 5s free) in camping fees, plus between £20-30 extra for a cabin.  Camp fires outside your cabin are allowed although you do need to pay £10 for permission and logs and kindling are on sale in the farm shop.

We love our cosy nights in the cabins, perfect for a romantic night away, a family adventure or a group trip.  Head over the road to the Jolly Waggoner for a great meal, local ales, vodka made on the farm and a cosy fireside welcome.

In the morning, head over to the Farm Cafe for a hearty breakfast (including vegetarian and gluten free fry ups) before visiting the animals on the farm.

What to take:

A torch and battery operated nightlight (we take our Ikea battery fairy lights which are excellent and last ages longer than any camping lamp).

A portable loo is good if you want to avoid the trek to the compost loos or the flushing loos on the main farm complex in the middle of the night.

What not to take:

Electric gadgets will be useless as they're not mains connected.

If you're cooking for yourself, due to bio security reasons you can't take meat from external sources on site.  Buy bangers from the farm butcher's counter or save yourself  the hassle and dine out at the Jolly Waggoner or in the farm cafe.

Linking up with Time Travellers.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Spring Greens - Next Kid's Clothing

We've reached that stage where my daughter is adamant she'll choose her own clothes and outfits, and the constant battle that ensues with her not wanting to dress like a little girl, and me not wanting her to dress like an adult just yet.

It's not often now that we agree on an outfit so when we do it's cause for celebration.

On a recent shopping trip we popped into Next and we both fell in love with their new season's kids section.  There's so many different looks to choose from and for Ruby who has now taken a firm stand against 'wishy washy pastels' the bright bold colours were really refreshing.

I love the vibrant greens she picked out and this outfit is a winner for us both.

The pretty cardigan with it's crocheted daisies is perfect for chillier spring days.  

Daisy cardi available in white, yellow or green £13-19

The skirt has a fun mini pom pom trim around the hem, and is a riot of colour meaning we can mix and match it with navy, cerise pinks, purple, yellow or orange.  

Flippy Skirt £10-16

Is there anything that heralds the arrival of warmer weather better than the sight of little toes? These sandals have a lovely retro feel with their cutout detail and Ruby says their really comfortable - personally I feel the ankle strap is too short, it only does up on her on it's last hole and pushes her foot forward a little too far.

Sandals, available in green, white or pink £12-15

Take a look at the Good Life, Bright as Day and Hello Spring collections which are my favourite - I've already got my eye on quite a few other pieces!

Linking up with Wednesday's Wardrobe.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Travelodge - quality stays at budget prices

I must admit, I've always been something of a snob when it comes to hotels, believing you get what you pay for.  I'm all for grabbing a bargain, but not if it compromises our holiday or overnight away.

Travelodge have recently spent £57m refurbishing their hotels and I have to say, from our recent stay at their Birmingham Airport location, it really shows.

Travelodge Birmingham Airport
Image: Travelodge 

From only £31 for a double room (advance booking rate) I can honestly say there was very little to set it apart from a hotel room at four times the cost.

All the staff that we came into contact with were extremely amenable, all asking us about our stay and offering any help we needed.  I'd like to praise especially the guy on reception who was exceptionally welcoming and helpful.

We were visiting Birmingham to see Disney on Ice at the Genting Arena, NEC and this hotel is ideally situated, only about a mile and a half away - don't be tempted to walk it though as the route is down a duel carriageway - trust me! Instead, the reception staff will book you a discounted taxi which costs around £5.50.

If you're visiting the NEC, arena or flying from the airport, then this is an ideal base.  In fact, our room overlooked the runway and Ruby had a great time watching the planes take off (it's situated right next to the control tower so for any budding plane spotters it's perfect).

Travelodge Birmingham Airport runway view

That said, we weren't in any way affected by noise during our stay.  I guess they don't have night flights from Birmingham and that, together with excellent double glazing meant we all slept undisturbed.

The beds in Travelodge hotels are all designed exclusively by Sleepezee and have over 900 individual pocket springs.  We did find the beds firmer than we're used to, but all had a comfortable night's sleep.  Ruby's bed was a single and she was a bit put-out by that - usually in family rooms she's used to sofa beds which give her more room, but given that she was asleep within 5 minutes of hitting the pillow it obviously didn't bother her that much!

Travelodge Birmingham Airport Family room

Travelodge Birmingham Airport  room

Travelodge Birmingham Airport  room

Travelodge Birmingham Airport Family room

Travelodge Birmingham Airport tea making facilities

In the room you'll find everything you need - a colour remote TV; bedside lights; a desk, temperature controls; hanging space and coat hangers; tea and coffee making facilities (they are much more generous with their consumables than other more expensive hotels we've stayed in and were happy to provide sachets of de-caf when we asked).  There's a good sized en suite bathroom with a lovely powerful shower and everywhere was spotlessly clean and fresh.  Toiletries are provided in the form of wall mounted pump dispensers, I guess to reduce the cost of disposable individual bottles of shampoo and shower gel.  There were plenty of soft, white, fluffy towels for us all.

Travelodge Birmingham Airport en suite bathroom

Travelodge Birmingham Airport en suite bathroom shower

The only thing that seemed to be missing was a phone.  If you needed anything from reception, you couldn't ring down, but let's face it, when was the last time you used a hotel room landline? Ok, so there was no mini-bar either, but again, who pays mini-bar prices these days?

As we were pushed for time, we decided to eat in the hotel bar area rather than at the venue.  This was a good choice as it meant we could avoid the crowds and the over-priced takeaway food options at the arena.  The food is not going to win any Egon Ronay awards, but it was cheap and cheerful and filled us all up nicely.  There was a good kid's menu offering 2 courses for only £4.95 which is excellent value and we chose the nachos at £6.95 to start,  piri piri half a roasted chicken at £8.75 and a chicken salad at £7.95.  They also had a pizza option you could eat in your room.

Travelodge Birmingham Airport food options

Travelodge Birmingham Airport food options

The bar area was spacious and airy, with a contemporary feel to it and they offered a good selection of wines, beer and soft drinks.

Travelodge Birmingham Airport lounge area

Travelodge Birmingham Airport lounge area

Travelodge Birmingham Airport bar

Travelodge Birmingham Airport lounge area

Breakfast is served in this area in the morning and it's an extra £6.65 per adult if booked online in advance.  There was a wide selection of hot and cold foods and again the staff were very attentive at clearing tables (and mopping up spilt milk - sorry about that!).

Travelodge Birmingham Airport buffet breakfast

Travelodge Birmingham Airport buffet breakfast

Parking's not included in your stay, but there is a NCP operated car park right outside priced at £7.50 for 24 hours and you can come and go within that period for no extra.

Travelodge Birmingham Airport reception area

In the lobby area there's vending machines offering quick snack options, a cash machine and an electronic checkout facility, but you'd miss the delight of speaking to the staff if you use that, which I honestly think is one of the biggest selling points of this hotel.  All the team seemed young, but very passionate about their roles and eager to help.  They were a real asset and credit to the company.

Our stay has certainly opened my eyes and changed my perception of 'budget' hotels and next time I'm looking for an overnight stay or a weekend away, I'll definitely be seeking out a Travelodge.  They are ideal for families as kids not only stay free, but get free breakfast too.

Disclosure: We were invited to stay for the purpose of this review. All opinions and images (unless otherwise stated) are my own.

Linking up with Time Travellers.

Everything's better with cake

Let's face it, there's not much that can't be improved with a nice cuppa and a piece of cake.  I often bake my own, but when we're off on holiday there generally isn't time to fit it in with all the packing and preparations.

Mr Kipling cakes are tried and trusted and are firm family favourites - mine being the pink 'knee cap' fondant french fancies that I still love from my childhood.

We packed a bunch of boxes with us for our recent trip to Snowdonia, and here's just some of the experiences that were made better with cake - from personal achievements to family fun to peaceful reflective moments.

Celebrating conquering a mountain with cake.

Post wild-swim cake snack and energy boost.

Beach-time treat - everyone runs back for cake!

A relaxing afternoon in the garden needs tea and cake.

What do you make better with cake?

This post is an entry for #betterwithcake Linky Challenge (, sponsored by Mr Kipling. Learn more at Mr Kipling's Facebook page. 

Friday, 3 April 2015

Disney on Ice - Magical Ice Festival Review

Back in the Christmas holidays we went to see our first Disney on Ice show, and ever since then we'd been looking forward to the promised 'Ice Festival' complete with the cast from Frozen.

Well, last night the wait was over as we headed up to the Genting Arena at Birmingham.  The excitement was palpable at the venue with thousands of mini Elsas and Annas excitedly waving their LED wands and chattering about when they'd get to see their heroines.

It turned out, the Frozen section wouldn't be right til the end, but throughout the promise was there, just like the giant illuminated snowflake high up in the riggings, waiting for it's moment.

Personally, I much preferred this show to the 100 years of Magic show.  They spent longer on each film section, and reduced the amount of films featured and I think this worked much better.  You got a much more detailed overview of the plots, and it didn't feel so rushed through.  Somehow it just seemed to flow better.

The compares for the evening were, as ever Mickey and Minnie, joined by their friends, but they didn't need to do as much work stringing the performance together, as it just followed through more naturally.

First up was the tale of Ariel, the little mermaid. A fabulous pastiche featuring Sebastien and all the underwater creatures in a fast-paced, fluorescent skating version of 'Under the sea'.  It's a truly spectacular opening to the show and the audience were joining in, singing and clapping along.  There were over 20 characters on the ice at this point, with all manner of amazing sea creature costumes - rays, jellyfish, starfish to name a few - it was like a crazy underwater rave.  Of course, there's Eric, and his shipwreck is portrayed cleverly, the pact Ariel makes with Ursula and her ascent up to the surface to become a human is cleverly produced with fabulous rope-work and acrobatics.  

Next up was the scenes from Tangled and we're introduced to Princess Rapunzel and her mother Gothel. As per the story, Rapunzel dreams of leaving the tower, and after a chance meeting with fugitive Flyn/Eugene, they leave the tower together. It's of course only then that she discovers the beautiful lights she sees each year on her birthday are in fact lanterns sent from the royal castle in search of the long-lost princess.  There's a great performance by Maximus the horse, and the rising lanterns and ultimately the flag-waving celebrations bring the first half of the performance to an end.

Cue mad interval scrambling for Disney-themed merchandise, massive lines for the toilets (tip, get Dad to take kids to the loo because the ladies loos are always rammed) and huge intake of sugar before rushing back to seats.

All settled back in our positions, the second half commences with Belle and Beauty and The Beast.

There's a spectacular performance of 'Be our guest' with Lumiere, Mrs Potts, Chip and the knives and forks, and it's clear from the reaction that Beauty and the Beast is a firm favourite with the audience.  The spectacular demise of Gaston is met with cheers, before Belle can finally dance with her true love in the ballroom.

When Mickey returns to the stage and introduces a 'famous ice hunter' the crowd literally go wild, you can tell this is the moment they've been waiting for, and when Kristof and Sven glide on stage, it feels like the roof might come off. We have a rendition of 'reindeer and better than people', before another huge cheer as Anna enters the ice.  We're treated to 'For the first time in forever' which clearly is about the millionth time for most of the audience as they all sing along word for word.  We also have 'Do you wanna build a snowman' and the arrival of Princess Elsa.  At this point Anna falls over and I'm not sure if this is scripted or not, but she recovers gracefully.

Prince Hans arrives so we can all enjoy 'Love is an open door', with a thousand youtube-wannabe mums and daughters belting it out in the audience.

Then suddenly there's screams from the crowd as somebody spots Olaf. Actually I think Olaf gets the biggest reception of all the characters of the evening. We're treated to a very retro and 70's styled 'In Summer' with bees and flowers and lots of Hawaiian shirts.

Elsa's ice palace is a little disappointing but the rendition of 'Let it go' and the actual snow makes up for it.

The production team cleverly deal with the frozen heart scenario with an illuminated cloak, and so ends the performance.

There's just time for a final encore and roll-call as all the characters come back on stage, and wave wildly at the audience.

It was fabulous show, we all really enjoyed it.  I'm sure many many memories were made that night, and I think Disney on Ice performances will become an annual treat for us.

My only complaint was the timing.  Our show started at 7pm which really is too late for such a young audience.  It finished around 9:30 and even staying in a nearby hotel, Ruby wasn't in bed til 10:30.  We can just about get away with that on a holiday evening, but some of the scheduled shows are on school nights.  We had to squeeze past several crashed out littlies sprawled out across their parent's laps, so I'm sure we're not the only ones who felt it too late.

You can get details of all the upcoming performance venues and dates here.

Disclosure: We were sent family tickets for the purposes of this review.  All opinions and photos are my own.