Saturday, 10 December 2016

Choosing the perfect Real Christmas Tree

We always have real Christmas trees at home, for me there's nothing better. You can't beat the smell of the pine and the natural look and shape of a real tree.  There's also environmental benefits to a real tree  and I have this argument time and time again, but they are grown as a crop, like any other crop.  I think people somehow think it's bad to go around chopping down trees, but the fact is they are grown specifically for this purpose - just like any other plant crop, and if everyone suddenly stopped buying real ones, there'd be considerably less trees grown on our planet!

We spotted the tree in the photo earlier in the year, in fact it way May!  Hidden deep in the forest, we were astounded that someone must have walked for miles carrying all those decorations to dress a tree that practically nobody would see.  It felt magical, and I still don't know the story behind it, I guess we'll never know!

There are of course pros and cons to having a real tree inside your home, and everyone's needs and desires are different so the Forestry Commission have come up with this handy guide to choosing the right one for your home.

All of the christmas trees sold at the Forestry Commission sites are 'Santa Approved' and with each purchase you get your own living mini sapling to take home, meaning you can grow your very own tree in your garden.  Many sites are also holding festive events too, from Golden Pine Cone hunts, to arts and craft sessions, and of course, Santa's Grotto.  Check out what's happening near you.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Deck out your home this Christmas for less with Poundland's cracking value

Christmas is such an expensive time of the year right?  All those presents, the food, the drink, the parties, the new frock and the Christmas all adds up.

So when it comes to dressing the house, I like to try and save costs where I can.  I have my old favourites in the loft which come out year after year, but I do try to keep them up-to-date with some on-trend accents and I also tend to use a lot of natural materials such as pine cones, holly and ivy which I gather from the garden or pick up on woodland walks.

To freshen my decorations up, I've been bargain-hunting in Poundland and I have to say, (not that I'm averse to shopping there, or could ever possibly be called a snob) you'd never guess that they came from a discount store.

To create a cosy hygge feel in my dining room, I've decorated the mantle in Scandi style red and white.  Candles for that feeling of warmth and soft lighting, pretty wooden star fairy lights, a sprinkling of candy canes and some real glass vintage style baubles all add to the look. I bought some scented tea lights too to add to the atmosphere and they smell lovely - just £1 for a pack of 16 orange and cranberry scented candles.

Large etched glass vintage style bauble £1, pack of 9 mini mercury glass baubles £1, set of 6 wooden star lights £1

I've kept the feeling if hygge going with my red and white theme. Cosy up with decadent glasses of hot chocolate topped with candy canes, or use them to decorate door wreaths such as this handmade rag wreath I've made. 

Ho ho ho glasses £1 for 2, metal sleigh bells £1 for 10, candy canes £1 for 12, chocolate coins £1 for 15

If you've been hooked by the metallic trend, then these copper fairy lights are just the job.  The Moroccan style, little lattice-work spheres are so stylish. Copper works really well against vibrant green foliage, so these would be perfect for a mini tree or to wrap around a spruce wreath, and being battery operated is a bonus as it makes them more portable.

Set of 10 battery operated copper LED lights £1

Silver metal star lights with blue LED bulbs £1 set of 10 battery operated fairy lights

Icy blues and silvers are a stylish combination, and you can make it grown-up without venturing into Disney's Frozen territory.

Create a cosy basket for guests to grab a snuggly blanket while they enjoy their mulled wine, decorate with frosted glass or these real glass baubles with feathers inside, and the delicate beauty of iridescent star confetti.  As well as all the items for £1, Poundland has started selling more and more larger items, so don't be surprised to pick up some bargains like this gorgeous blue soft fleece blanket for £3.

Blue fleece blanket £3, filament style LED fairy lights set of 6 £1

large glass feather bauble £1, confetti bauble £1 for 2

Stock up on traditional pillar candles too to create mantle decorations and table centrepieces.  Take a rummage through the artificial flower and foliage section, and add fresh greenery from the garden.

Church candle £1, mini glass silver baubles £1 set of 9, silver faux eucalyptus £1 stem of 3

And it's not just the decorations where I've been able to save a few quid, I've also got lots of gorgeous wrapping paper, trimmings, Christmas cards, stocking fillers, chocolates and even this delicious Huntley and Palmers Christmas pudding for just £1.

Huntley and Palmer large Christmas pudding £1, sleigh bells £1 for 10, mini glass baubles £1 for 9

So if you haven't ventured into Poundland for a while, take a look, I'm sure you'd be amazed at their cracking value!

Come and join in the #CrackingValue Twitter party on Friday 9th December from 12:30-2pm to win some prizes! We'll be giving away 5 £20 vouchers throughout the party and trust me, that will go a long way!

Take a look at some of the other amazing Christmas bargains other bloggers have found:

Rock N Roller Baby has a festive table display
Little Likely Lads looks at gifts and wrapping
Deep In Mummy Matters looks at living room decorations
What Hannah Did Next shows off her Christmas dining table
Modern Mummy shows off her colourful eclectic style
Blog By Baby has some gorgeous gifts and wrapping ideas
The Joy Of Five has a stunning fireplace decoration
Innocent Charms Chat shows off her choice of decorations
What the Redhead Said has a stunning Christmas Tree

Disclosure: I was sent £50 voucher to purchase Christmas items to showcase them.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Playbrush - The smart new way for kids to brush their teeth

Now I'll admit, when I was first asked to review a new bluetooth children's toothbrush, I thought it was a bit of a gimmick.  I mean, does anyone really need a smart toothbrush?

But I have to say, from my initial thoughts, I am pretty much won over.

The new Playbrush has been developed by a start-up company as a fun way to get over that perennial problem of getting children to brush their teeth properly. My daughter is 8 years old, so she's obviously past that stage where I brush her teeth for her or monitor her intently.  She's looking for more privacy in the bathroom and I need to be able to let her deal with her personal hygiene herself.  However, as a mum, I know she hasn't been brushing her teeth for the full two minutes as recommended, and I'm pretty sure she isn't doing all areas of her mouth thoroughly.  Luckily for us, her six-monthly dental visits are always issue free, but I'd like to keep them that way and prevent any future dental health problems.

At this festive time of the year, we also have the added problem of advent calendar chocolate for breakfast!

So how is Playbrush different?

Well, it's a silicone cap device which fits snugly to the base of any manual toothbrush (although there is also a new toothbrush included in the box).  It means, going forward, we can just replace worn brushes, but still use the device.  After a simple charge via a usb, the attachment transforms the brush into a games controller.  Using bluetooth technology to connect to your phone or iPad, it works with downloadable games to encourage better brushing.

There are currently four games available, free to download, which gives plenty of variety and your child won't get bored.  Each time the teeth are brushed, you can chose which game you want to play and collect points for good brushing.  The way the games are devised, it promotes good speed of brushing, different angling and directional movement of the brush to get into all the nooks and crannies of the mouth.  Little motivational messages pop up as you go, and there's a countdown timer to keep you going for the full 2 minutes.

I really like the leaderboard idea, it gives a competitive edge which I think kids love and will keep them motivated to try harder.  You also get a snapshot report at the end of the teeth brushing session to tell you which areas of the mouth you've cleaned properly, again, great for improving your dental hygiene.

I love that it takes away the twice daily battle of getting my daughter to do her teeth - she's super keen to get brushing now and improve her scores and I no longer have to nag her.

As a parent, you can sign up for a progress report, to keep track of how your child is getting on.

The Playbrush has been developed with leading experts in the dental field, and has been featured in the Guardian and FT.

Because the base is interchangeable, and because you can add multiple profile users to each game, it's really cost effective for larger families, meaning you only have to purchase one of the devices and change it around on different sibling's toothbrushes.

My biggest concern was around having my phone or tablet in the bathroom with all that running water - I've had far too many bowls of dried rice incidents!  However they've thought of that too - included in the box is a plastic holder with suction cups allowing you to safely store your phone away from the sink while playing.

All in all, I'm really impressed.  It's a very well thought-out product and helps tackle an issue which many parents face every morning and evening, so well done Playbrush!

The Playbrush is currently at sale price of £19.99 making it the ideal Christmas present.  It comes with a 2 year warranty and there's a 30 day money-back guarantee if you're not happy.  Chose from pink or blue.

Disclosure: I was sent a sample to review.  All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

David Walliams talks about The Midnight Gang

We've read every book he's written.  Then we've read them again. And again. Honestly, I don't think David Walliams could write a bad children's book. Each one is hilarious, crammed with fantastic characters and dreamed up by a rare and brilliant mind.  Cross between Roald Dahl and Kenneth Williams, he's guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

When news of his latest book The Midnight Gang came out, I was instructed asked to get it pre-ordered so it would arrive on release day.  It was devoured at every opportunity and declared an instant hit! A children's hospital is perhaps an unlikely backdrop for magical adventures, but Walliams delivers with his usual style. It's no surprise that it shot straight to the number one position.

We were lucky enough to attend one of his live shows at the weekend, and meet some of the characters from the story.  The event at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham was raising funds for the Birmingham Children's Hospital and we are all excited to see him.

Lots of people had come dressed in their pyjamas and dressing gowns and every child was presented with a goody bag of a 'midnight feast' before settling down in our seats.  The performance was introduced and hosted by CBBC's Kate Thistleton.  David Walliams came on stage dressed in his dapper silk pyjamas and gold monogrammed slippers.

He began by talking about his inspiration for some of the characters. The Porter for instance in the story is based on one of his favourite characters from childhood- the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Other inspiration came from Peter Pan.

You cannot beat hearing an author reading their work aloud - hearing the intonation and voices that they intended brings the whole story magically to life.  The entire audience were enthralled listening to excerpts of The Midnight Gang.

Of course, like most of his books, Raj the shopkeeper makes an appearance and he told us that this character was inspired by a real life shopkeeper near where he lived.  The shop was chaotic - biros kept in the ice cream freezer, balls of string with the magazines... yet he was always jovial and they used to have a lot of laughs together.  He wanted a character in his books who was an adult, yet not an authority figure like a teacher or parent.  It's funny to think that somewhere in London there's a retired shopkeeper who probably has no idea he's the inspiration for such a much-loved book character!

He talked about his relationship with Tony Ross who illustrates most of his books, how he always gifts him a crate of gin at the end of each project and how he has complete faith and trust in his interpretation of the stories.

In his last book, The World's Worst Children, a collection of short stories, he admitted that Blubbering Bertha was based in part on his sister and he himself was probably most like Windy Mindy - a girl with incredible wind who manages to play the tuba with her bottom burps!

He loves to write about things which are a bit naughty and not usually talked about in polite conversation, and said that's what first drew him to his hero Roald Dahl.

Williams described himself as a reluctant reader as a child and it was only when he discovered Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the magical world that opened up, did he develop a love of reading.  His other childhood favourites were Dr Suess books, Stig and The Dump and Day of the Triffids.

He admitted to feeling some pressure now he's in that position to influence young minds, he loves that he can now encourage reluctant readers, particularly boys, to take an interest in literature, but said it does come with a responsibility.

When compared to Roal Dahl, he felt he's a cheap imitation - a Poundland Dahl, but very much inspired by his style, the forbidden, the dark versus the funny, and his ability to capture the spirit of a character.

As a budding writer, Ruby found it riveting to hear his advice, to look for inspiration everywhere - even the most unlikely of places.  Gangsta Granny for example was based on his own grandmother - no, she didn't steal the crown jewels, but her home did always smell of cabbage and he was quite reluctant to go and visit.  That was until he started to really talk to her about her youth, her history and the exciting adventures she'd had.  He loved to hear her stories of the Blitz in London and it made him realise that everyone's got a fascinating story.

It really was a fascinating show.  We loved hearing some of the thought process and inspiration behind some of our favourite stories, and listening to him read in character's voices was such a magical treat.  If you get the chance to see him, do go along.

You can watch the show on the World of David Walliams Facebook page and he's also appearing in London with Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) at the O2 on1st December - now that will be brilliant!

Disclosure: We were gifted the tickets to see the show.
the Pigeon Pair and Me

Saturday, 19 November 2016

The Pick of Palava

For quite some time now, I've had my eye on the gorgeous dresses over at Palava.  I've followed them through thick and thin, right from their early days trading as PoppyEngland, through their various name changes, forced upon them by bigger, heftier brands. I don't know about you, but I'm all for the underdog, and hate to see independents suffer because they're not as large or rich as others.  They were forced to change their name recently from Poppy, so chose Bryony and Co, but what would you know, they faced a challenge on that too!  So, to represent the palaver they'd been through, settled on their very apt new name. You can read all about it here.

Still with the same gorgeous styling, attention to details and brand ethos, it's about time I got myself one of these gorgeous dresses.  And when I say one, I mean two obviously.  Despite swearing never to do the matchy-matchy thing, these designs are just so beautiful I think both myself and my daughter deserve one.

Let's be honest, it can be a leap of faith investing in something seen online. You worry about the quality and the cut, but having seen the ranges stocked in a couple of gorgeous independent boutiques recently, I am 100% reassured about the level of craftsmanship. 

The frivolous frothy frills on the chiffon petticoats, the decadent detailing on the girl's party wear  - sumptuous sequins and fabulous faux fur all make these pieces to treasure.

These are perfect for the upcoming party season, but I'm looking for dresses we can both wear on Christmas day with full underskirts, but also team up with layers of tights, cardigans, wooly scarves and winter boots for frolics in the forest.

It's no secret that I love woodland, and I'm never happier than when surrounded by trees, a carpet of golden leaves beneath my feet, so it was unsurprising that I've chosen the Forest pattern.

The dress is available in child sizes (shown above left) in their popular Martha style dress with sash waist tie from 6-12 months, right up to 9-10 years. In the adults, the timeless and elegant Freda style is cut to flatter the figure.  It is available in sizes 6-18.

Now, I'm in love with this pattern. It's perfect for us and represents our loves and lifestyle to a tee.  My only quandary is which colour-way to choose? Marvellous as the Navy is, it also comes in this delicious mustard colour. I'm completely torn.  Which to go for?  I need your help!  Let me know which you prefer and put me out of my misery.  

Which would you choose?  Oh 'eck - they do it in a skirt too!  Decisions, decisions...

If you love independent retailers, why not give them a follow on social?

All images courtesy of Palava.  

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Homemade Dog Treats - Peanut Butter Biscuits

We made some of these for Delilah's birthday and they went down a storm, so now I'm thinking of setting up a little production line to make them as Christmas gifts for all my four-legged canine friends.

In hindsight, the cookies are quite dry, so I'll maybe make them with a smaller cutter next time - a small dog would find them a bit of a mouthful, but what can I say, they looked so cute cut with my bone-shaped cutter!  Guess I'll be scouring the Lakeland catalogue that's just landed on my mat for a smaller one. Or you could use mini Christmas cutters if making them as a festive gift.

Me and Ruby made these together and they're so easy for kids to make, I was surprised at how easily the dough came together, they were practically mess-free and as we're all gluten-free so only had GF flour in the house, that's what I used.  They came out really well, but you could use normal flour also.

Halfway through the rolling and cutting, Ruby announced with horror that she'd forgotten to wash her hands (you know, like you're supposed to every time you bake), but then decided "ah it's ok Mum, dogs lick their butts and everything so I'm sure it won't matter!" She cracks me up.

Anyway, onto the treats...

  • 240g plain flour (white, GF or wholewheat) flour
  • 1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 80g smooth natural peanut butter (choose one with no added salt or sugar)
  • 220ml warm water 

  • Preheat the oven to 350oF, 180oC, Gas 4.
  • Mix together the flour and baking powder in a bowl.
  • In another bowl, mix together the peanut butter and warm water until smooth. Then slowly add to the dry mixture and mix together  well. 
  • Add a little more water or some milk if the dough is too dry, or flour if it’s too wet.
  • Tip out onto your worktop, knead and roll to approx 1/2 - 1cm thickness.
  • Cut with a cookie cutter and place on a baking tray covered with non-stick paper.
  • Bake for 20-25 mins or until lightly brown.
  • These will keep in an airtight container for about 2 weeks or you can freeze them.

Will you be making any doggie gifts this Christmas?

Monday, 14 November 2016

Magic Dip - A Marbling Craft Kit Perfect for a Christmas Gift

We've been playing with the very cool Magic Dip set from Character.  My craft-mad 8 year old is absolutely loving it.  While it comes complete with some items to dip (a photo frame, a plastic bangle, some charms and some greetings cards and labels) she's actually really enjoying finding other items she can customise and I fear that pretty much everything in the house will soon be marbled!

The paint effect works on pretty much any surface including paper, card, wood, rubber, silicone, fabric etc etc so she's had fun making her own gift tags and dipping notebook covers.

There's also gems and glitter included to further jazz up items.

The set is really neatly designed so you can keep all your items to hand which is ideal because once you start the activity you have to work fairly quickly before the paint disperses on the water. There's a protective rubber glove included which was great because it can get fairly messy - a pair of gloves would have been better.  We protected our surfaces and floor but did find that normal nail polish remover cleaned up the bowls and tools of any residue.

I have tried to marble items before using nail varnishes but it was woefully unsuccessful and I just got in a horrible, sticky mess with it and the paint wouldn't take.  This product does actually work!

The water you suspend the colours on does have to be room temperature and our first attempt was not great.  But after reading the instructions fully, I realised the water probably was too cold - easily done in this frosty snap we've been having.  I left the water a few hours to come up to room temperature and tried again, and happily it worked like a charm.  But take that as a word of warning if you have an impatient child - it would be worth preparing the water to the right temperature a good while before you suggest embarking on the activity!

Overall, we really liked this kit.  We love the unique designs you can make and the fact that you can design on all sorts of surfaces and items.  We may need to use a bigger bowl to try out whole sheets of paper for example and I'm still searching for where to buy replacement paints so we can carry on using it after the supplies have run out but I think most craft shops sell them individually, or there's a starter kit available for £9.99 which has paints in.

Priced at £29.99 it would make a great Christmas gift for a crafty child.  It's recommended for children from around 8 years plus and although I'm sure lots of boys would love creating their own designs, the accessories included are very much aimed at girls.

Disclosure: We were sent this kit for the purposes of the review.  All thought and opinions are my own.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Delilah's First Birthday and a Super-Easy Dog Birthday Cake

I can't believe our little bundle of fluff has turned one.  In some ways it only seems five minutes since she burst into our lives, turning everything upside down.  In others, we simply can't imagine life without her, she completes our household and comes everywhere with us.

From the very first meeting she stole our hearts.  We struggled through the toilet training, hands red raw from excessive anti-bacterial gel. Constant mopping up and disinfecting. Training her to walk nicely on her lead (ok, so that's still a work in progress) and getting her to sleep through in her crate.

Actually, it was over so much sooner than I expected.  She just fit right it. She's so laid back, happy to stay home alone if I'm out, or leap into the van to come on camping trips with us.  When we lost Ella I truly didn't think I'd be able to love another dog, but she's filled up my heart and I can't imagine life without her now.

Ruby had been planning her first birthday for months, and when the day came (slight confusion over the actual date - the vet has one registered, the Kennel Club another but we went by the date of the photo we were sent from the breeders when they were first born) she was determined to give her and her brother a birthday to remember.

Delilah was showered with cards and presents before her 'party in the woods'. I'm quite sure anyone passing would have thought we were barking mad, but hey!

I have gag-inducing memories of the annual 'dog cakes' Blue Peter used to concoct on the TV when I was a child.  Dollops of tinned meat congealed with jelly.  Ruby too had been scouring Youtube for suitable recipes, all of which involved baking, and most of which I'm fairly sure Delilah wouldn't have eaten.

Instead, I came up with my own super-easy and tasty doggy birthday cake which went down a storm, and importantly, didn't make me heave.

I picked two large beef burger patties from the supermarket and grilled them. Allowed them to cool completely before sandwiching them together and 'icing' with meat pâté.  The result was a chunky, meat-tastic pink cake, finished off with dog biscuits to decorate and a birthday candle - naturally.

Both Delilah and her brother went mad for it and would probably have wolfed the whole thing down given the chance, but I thought it would be too rich given that they're used to dry food, so they each just had a slice.

Me and Ruby had baked some peanut butter doggy biscuits too, so they munched on those washed down with a warm flask of homemade chicken stock.  Spoilt pooches!

Singing Happy Birthday to two dogs in the woods and blowing out their candle may seem odd to most people, but I think we've started a tradition!

Monday, 10 October 2016

Colour Me Happy - Autumn Crafts in the Forest

I'll admit to feeling a bit of a slump this September.  It hit me really hard. The end of a fabulous summer and amazing holidays. I struggled with the back-to-school scenario, Ruby moving up another year, her last year in her current school.  The sense of time rushing on and passing me by.  The sudden change in the weather and the days shortening.  However, Autumn has always been my favourite time of the year and now that October has kicked in, I can feel my spirits start to lift again with the promise of spectacular colours, afternoons spent kicking through crispy leaves, gathering shiny conkers, the smell of woodsmoke and bonfires, hearty casseroles and wooly mittens on the horizon.

I'm not alone,  recent research by the Forestry Commission shows that  96% of people point to beautiful autumn colours improving their mood.  In order to make the most of this stunning time of the year, they have developed a series of 'Colour Me Happy' autumn trails  to delight the senses.  Children and families can search for and hide acorns like squirrels, listen to the crunchy leaves underfoot and forage for juicy blackberries.  The trail will give your wellbeing a boost before the winter months.

Rachel Giles, Learning Manager, explains:

“Autumn is such a special time of the year, and the forest creates a wealth of opportunities to explore with all our senses – from tasting juicy blackberries, to smelling the damp earth, and enjoying the amazing array of colours of the trees. We hope that this trail will really get people excited about being in the forest this autumn, and that they will also learn something about the trees and wildlife that they find during their visit.”

There is also the chance to be part of our wonderful woodland weave. Hang your piece of forest art within the canvas to help us create a vibrant community artwork and share the growing masterpiece with us on Facebook using #ColourMeHappy.

We headed to the forest this weekend to soak up some fresh air, and I popped a few craft materials in my bag.  Collecting up autumn treasures such as acorns, pine cones, beautiful coloured leaves, delicate ferns and soft feathers, we set about making a dream catcher.  All you need is a hoop - you can use a wooden embroidery hoop, or make one from wire - some string or yarn and some beads and collected treasure to decorate.

Dream-catchers originate in Native America and are hung above the bed to filter out bad dreams.  Ruby's delighted with hers and plans to hang it in her bunk in the camper van.

Next, I set her the task of finding some tiny treasure. She hunted down teeny pine cones, delicate feathers, small pieces of fern and miniature coloured leaves to make fairy jars.  I brought along a packed of little glass jars (I bought mine from The Works and cost £1 for a packet of 6) and some packets of glitter.  We filled the jars with fairy treasure and a sprinkle of magic dust.  She's made some for her friends as good luck charms, and we think they're just delightful.

If you want more ideas such as making your own blackberry art, leaf bookmark, mini woodland weave or autumn colouring sheets, download the free activity pack from the Forestry Commission.

Disclosure: We are Forestry Commission bloggers and receive an annual pass, we were also sent a pack of craft materials for this activity.

Growing Family

Friday, 16 September 2016

How To Deal With Your Hound When You Go On Holiday

Since having our motorhome, we've loved going off on family adventures, and the great thing is the dog can come too.  We also often seek out places that are dog friendly and have stayed in some amazing self catering cottages and even hotels.

However, there's bound to come a time when you're going somewhere that pooch can't come.  This summer we jetted off to Crete and of course, she couldn't join us. This was the first time we'd ever left her, so it was pretty heartbreaking.

Figuring out who to care for your pet while you're away can be a daunting task and you need to find the right setting so you don't have to worry about them when your mind should be on beaches and suncream!

There are various options though, so I'm sure you can find the best solution for your furry friend. Sometimes it can be a case of trial and error though as Amanda from The Ana Mum Diary found out:

We've tried a couple of different ways with our dog.  The first was a dog sitter and this worked really well, and I felt confident leaving him.  Recently we tried kennels as it was a longer trip and though we didn't really have any issues as such, Bennett didn't eat for a few days because he was anxious. I think overall I felt more confident with the dog sitter as he seems more settled when he's in a home environment.


This is a person who has your dog in their own home while you're away.  It can be to be a more expensive option, but  it's the one we tend to choose as we've found a great sitter who we know and trust and she used to have our old dog. She has the dogs as part of the family, so I can relax knowing she's still getting her creature comforts as well as lots of interaction and cuddles.  She sends us regular pictures so we know that Delilah is happy and settled - I loved this picture she sent of her soaking up the sun!

Recommendations from others is a good idea if you're looking for someone for the first time, but there are other ways of sourcing a reliable sitter.

Penny from Parent Shaped says:

We met our dog sitter through an online company, she's been brilliant and also has a greyhound so we always know he is having a brilliant holiday too.  She is retired, always available in the school holidays and has lots of time to walk him.

Lins from Boo and Maddie has a regular dog-walker who she uses when she's at work, so she's been lucky that she'll also dog sit for holidays:

If we're going somewhere either abroad or isn't dog-friendly in the UK, we always try to leave Maddie with the lady who takes her out for walks.  She lives nearby, doesn't cost us any more than kennels and she and Maddie absolutely adore each other.  We know she'll be well looked after and get lots of walks and attention.


Lucy of Lish Concepts chooses a trusted kennel for her dog Buddy:

We have lovely kennels in the countryside near us run by two sisters who adore dogs.  They have outside and inside spaces and a large woodland area out the back for walks.  Buddy loves it and is always happy to go and come home again. I'm glad because I always worried when we leave him alone.

Tanya from Mummy Barrow picked a great kennel with added benefits:

What I look for is Cheeky's reaction when he goes. It was recommended to us the first time we used it (I think that is really important, find somewhere a friend is happy with). Since then Cheeky has loved going.  He knows as we approach where we are going and literally jumps out of the car and runs down the drive to reception.  They all know him by name,  Also they have a webcam in some kennels, so when we recommend to friends with a ver timid dog they put her in the kennel with the webcam so they can watch and see they're fine!  A kennel that really listens to you and is prepared to adapt is crucial too.

Michelle from The American Resident has found a home from home for her dog:

I use the kennels run by our dog's breeder.  She LOVES going back to her first home, almost too much!  The pros are that they already know and love her, the cons are they can see how lazy we've been with her training!

Family and friends

Using family and friends can be a great option (usually free or cheaper!) Your dog will already know and be familiar with them and they'll know all their little foibles.  The negative is that something could go wrong or your pet disgrace themselves and impact on your relationship!

Cass from Frugal Family has solved two problems in one:

We have someone in our family who comes and stays in our house with Buddy while we go away which is great because I think he's too set in his ways to be happy anywhere but his own home.  It also has the added benefit  that our house isn't empty either.

Mari from Mari's World also uses family to look after their dog:

My husband won't let Baxter go to kennels! On the occasions we can't he goes to my mum (who spoils him rotten!), and we have a neighbour who pop in when we're out for shorter periods and walks him.


This is the 21st century option! A new website offers to temporarily house dogs looking for sitters with people looking for a part-time pet.  Clearly there's a trust issue and you need to check the person out carefully, but it seems a great solution. And for the humans it's a chance to send time with canine companions without the long-tern commitment.  Perhaps they're thinking of getting a dog and want to try it out and see how it works for their family, or maybe they've lost a loved pet and aren't ready to commit again but missing a four-legged friend in the house.  You simply pay a membership fee and find your perfect match.  The service included insurance too.

What solution do you choose when looking for someone to mind your dog?

Monday, 5 September 2016

School Reviewer- School Info At Your Fingertips

Like many others up and down the country, today is the first day back to school for my daughter.  The school years just roll by too fast and she's already entering her last year in her lower school - it only seems like 5 minutes ago she was starting reception!

After 4 years at our local school, I feel I know it really well.  I'm active on the PTA, I go in and assist in class and her dad is Chair of the Governors so I feel we're in a great place to understand the workings of the school and the teaching staff.

However, to my horror, last week a post popped up on Facebook from our local council saying it was time to apply for the next school starting academic year 2017.  I'm not emotionally prepared for this, and am definitely not equipped with the knowledge to make those choices.  Information tends to come from speaking to parents with older children and visits to the school, and hours and hours searching the internet.

We live in, I think, the only county in England still to retain the three-tier school system of Lower, Middle and Upper school so it means changing schools even more often.

Thankfully, this task has just got a whole lot easier with the launch of School Reviewer, a website which brings together all the useful information into one place.  You can search for catchment areas - great if you're planning a house move, and it will be really useful to see where all our new housing developments fall for school places - then delve down deeper for each individual school and research their Ofsted inspections, academic attainments and read reviews and comments from other parents.

The site is still new and growing but as it begins to get more populated I can really see the benefit in the reviews and also the school forums where you can chat to other parents about school specific issues.  There's also a great feature of a buying and selling section where you can sell on old uniform, kit and equipment (just think of all those play costumes that only ever get worn once then confined to the dressing up box never to be seen again!) This facility is free of charge with no commission and knowing you're selling to local parents, it will be easy to arrange drop off and collection of goods, again keeping the costs down. You can communicate securely via their communication hub and liaise with your buyer or seller.

But School Reviewer does so much more too.  There's a section where you'll be able to search for qualified tutors if you're looking for extra tuition.  If you're a private tutor do register as it is a great way to get more visibility. The service is free to both provider and user and parents can rest assured that those registered have provided their full credentials and DBS certification.

Thinking ahead to SATS and exams, there are example test papers available online, written by teachers who have experience in both setting and marking the questions.  The SATS tests available are currently free so they are a great walk-through preparation for your child, allowing them to practice at home. There are also GSCE papers available to try out at £4.99 each which I think is a small price to pay for the experience and peace of mind they will give.

There's also a really informative blog section giving lots of topical tips and ideas like preparing for the first day at school.

I think this website has huge potential, but like anything of this kind it's only as good as the people who populate it. So get on there, start using it and maybe leave a helpful review for a fellow parent who's considering your school. Start listing all that uniform you've just discovered no longer fits, or take the bold step to post the first question in the parent's forum for your child's school - who knows where it will lead!

Disclosure: This is a collaborative post.