Mama OWL Blog: March 2014

Meal Plan Monday 310314

Monday, 31 March 2014


Monday 31st Mar - Slow cooker lasagne

Tuesday 1sApr - Brinner*

Wednesday 2nd Apr - Baked potatoes with coronation chicken

Thursday 3rd Apr - Home-made burgers with chips

Friday 4th Apr - Home-made Balti beef & chapattis

Saturday 5th Apr - We've decided to get a deli pizza tonight to celebrate the beginning of the Easter holidays

Sunday 6th Apr - Honey roasted gammon

I've joined in with Mrs M's #mealplanningmonday linky with this post
*Brinner = Breakfast for dinner

A Day With Dad

Saturday, 29 March 2014

After hurting his back (not through playing football surprisingly, though I imagine continuing to play in spite of it didn't help) the Mister had some time off this week and so that meant he was able to come along & watch H's assembly about the Romans at school. I can't share pictures of that unfortunately but it really was lovely & the year threes did a wonderful job.

Afterwards the Mister & I picked up E from preschool and treated her to lunch on the barge at a little cafe down by the canal. She loved sitting on the boat and looking out at the other barges on the water, and after we'd eaten we took a walk along the towpath and down to a park nearby and let her burn off some energy. We also took a stroll down to the tithe barn for a little look inside, although E wasn't particularly impressed by it because it was empty!
This particularly playground has just been revamped and really is aimed at older kids (with one for littler ones just a little further down) but E was not at all put off by this and took great delight in leaping off things, whizzing along on the zip wire and hurtling down the slide at top speed.
She's always up for an adventure and loves to try everything out, and she really enjoyed having the opportunity to spend some quality time with her Dad on her own. Well, and with me of course but they were the ones racing around and playing on all the equipment!).
The Mister certainly seemed to enjoy himself too, being the big kid he is I think he secretly enjoys these visits to the park because it means he has a valid excuse to be playing on the equipment with the kids! The children do absolutely love it though and it is really lovely to watch. It's so important for kids to have a good bond with their dad, it really is a special relationship and my kids are really close to the Mister, which makes me very happy indeed.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Meal Plan Monday 240314

Monday, 24 March 2014


Monday 24th Mar - Baked potatoes with various fillings

Tuesday 25th Mar - Spaghetti bolognese & garlic bread

Wednesday 26th Mar - Chicken tikka skewers & rice (the Mr missed out on these last time so we're having them again for him, also because they were delicious!)

Thursday 27th Mar - Sausage & mash

Friday 28th Mar - Enchiladas

Saturday 29th Mar - Pizza for A, J & L who are spending the night with their grandparents while the Mr, H, E & I head off down to the coast ready for tomorrow's rugby tournament

Mothering Sunday 30th Mar - Undecided, as we don't know what time we'll be back from the tournament. It may end up being a takeaway but I've bought pork in case we're back early enough to make a roast. If not we'll just have it next week!

I've joined in with Mrs M's #mealplanningmonday linky with this post

Enjoy it while it lasts. #CountryKids

Saturday, 22 March 2014

You'd be forgiven for thinking that the title of this post is about the weather. Well I guess it is in a way because to be fair you never know how long the sunshine will stick around in this country. However, the title actually relates to the children.


J, H, E & I visited the local park again this week, a last minute decision late on in the afternoon just before sunset, and they had a good stretch of their legs and great fun on the equipment. A & L decided to stay at home. It was a bit chilly but the sun was shining, J of course being a teenager doesn't feel the cold (anyone who has tried to force their teen into a coat of a morning feels my pain in regards to this) and was wearing shorts & t-shirt, the rest of us more sensibly wore coats & a couple more layers and off we went to enjoy the last of the day's sunshine.

I sat down at one of the benches and watched the three of them play and interact together. Despite the age gaps (J is 13, H is 8 & E is 3) they really did play so well together. Nobody was left out, they really made the effort to have fun as a group. Of course it isn't like that all the time (I wish!) but that afternoon I really did just feel content watching them. I could honestly just sit and watch them play together all day.

What really hits home for me now is knowing how close we are to the next stage of childhood. E might only be 3 (though she turns 4 next month!), but come September I will have more kids in senior school than in primary, we're already talking driving lessons and universities and mopeds (J, of course).

They called me over to take this picture!One day soon, they will be off doing different things with different people and the times they spend together will be few and far between. The innocence and fun of a simple family afternoon at the park on the swings or climbing trees will be long gone, and then before we know it they will be there with their own kids. It has come around all too quickly for my liking.

So, as I was saying -

Enjoy it while it lasts, because it doesn't last nearly long enough.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

WIN - How to Catch A Star, the 10th Anniversary Edition

Friday, 21 March 2014



How do you catch a star? With a butterfly net, a rope, with your hands? How do you reach it, so high up in the sky? Can you fly there, hitch a ride with a passing sea gull, or even swim? *wink*

Oliver Jeffers shares a plethora of possibilities for catching stars in the 10th anniversary edition of his fun and imaginative book, How to Catch a Star. Beautifully illustrated with an engaging and entertaining story this is sure to become a bedtime favourite. E was captivated by the tale of the boy who wanted to catch his very own star, and laughed at the silliness of his plans - because you can't catch stars, after all! ... Or can you?

You can find out for yourself by entering my giveaway to WIN your very own 10th anniversary edition of the wonderful How to Catch a Star  by Oliver Jeffers, published by HarperCollins.

Simply enter using the Rafflecopter widget below, remembering to note the terms and conditions. Best of luck!

You do not need to have a blog to enter or leave a comment on this blog, simply use the name/URL or 'anonymous' option from the drop-down list, and please make sure that your name is in your comment if you use these options.
  • Competitions are open to UK residents aged 18 years and over.
  • The prize is 1 copy of the 10th Anniversary Edition of How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers.
  • The giveaway ends at midnight on 11th April 2014.
  • All entries will be verified before the winner is announced.
  • The winner will be notified via email.
  • If the prize is not claimed within 28 days a new winner will be drawn.
  • The prize is non-transferable and there is no cash alternative.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


In our opinion - this is a simply lovely book that my children will treasure for years to come, it makes a charming addition to our book shelf and I imagine it will be very well loved. It has certainly given E reason to smile, as she's demonstrated here with the help of her glow in the dark stars!

How would YOU catch a star?


Travel Essentials #MarkWarnerMum

Thursday, 20 March 2014


Let's be honest... Sometimes travelling with kids can leave you needing another holiday just to get over it. Particularly if, like me, you've got a whole bunch of 'em. And travelling with five with such varied ages - teens, tweens and a toddler - means having to cover all eventualities without ending up packing the whole house. You've got to be smart, sensible & organised, & really good at Tetris so you can fit it all in.

We're heading off on a road trip to the south of France this Summer and I have begun compiling my "travel bag essentials" list - this will be the bag that will be with me at all times, and will literally be my bag of tricks. If we need it, it will be in that bag. If we might need it, it will be in the bag. Even if we don't need it, it will be in the bag. You get the idea.

We've travelled around the UK with the children, as far down as the Isle of Wight, but travelling all the way down to the south of France will be a new experience - and we thought we'd throw in a whistle stop tour of Paris with six kids too (we're going with friends, I'm not just losing track of them all), just because we like a challenge.

The kids really enjoyed travelling on the ferry to the IoW & I know they're really looking forward to it again this Summer (particularly E who doesn't remember it at all).

Travelling to the Isle of Wight in 2010

It was our very first holiday as a family of 7 and we enjoyed glorious weather and a wonderful week away. we visited the IoW zoo, enjoyed paddling in the sea and eating ice creams on the prom and playing in the park at the holiday camp. I have really fond memories and look forward to creating many more in the years to come.

Travelling on the ferry & having to leave our car below deck for the crossing meant it was even more important to have everything I needed in my 'hand luggage' just in case, to save scrabbling around amongst bags & cases in the middle of what is essentially a floating car park.

So. My ultimate travel essentials are as follows, & in no particular order...

Wet Wipes ‒ An absolute must at all times for any age. I always have a packet of wet wipes in my hand bag never mind when travelling.

Cash ‒ I am guilty of only ever having my cards on me, if you're travelling it's always useful to have some cash - and some of it in change - just in case.

Mini First Aid Kit ‒ Just a small one consisting of plasters, a pair of nail scissors, paracetamol, calpol sachets, anti-diarrhoea tablets, antihistamines, tissues, antibacterial hand gel and a couple of tampons. This kit is an absolute must for me, I couldn't imagine travelling (particularly abroad) without having these things immediately to hand, as you may remember from when I packed for A's school trip to Poland. Remember to check what you are allowed to take on with hand luggage if you're flying.

Mobile Phone ‒ Fully charged, and ready to use. You never know when you might need it, and also in case anyone needs to get hold of YOU in an emergency back home. Don't forget to take the charger with you!

Snacks ‒ Nothing fancy, just little things that can be thrown over your shoulder into the back of the car if the starving millions start getting restless. I'd probably avoid anything that could get squished whilst in the bag, like bananas for example, and stick to things like cereal bars, mini cheddars, breadsticks, raisins, and the like. Also - water. Little bottles, big bottles, whatever, just make sure you have a drink handy.

Sick Bag ‒ I'm deadly serious. Always, always, always have some sort of receptacle in which to catch vomit. I never travel without one, even when just using public transport locally. There have been one too many incidents involving cupped hands and vomit on the bus. Imagine me sitting staring in horror at my three year old, who is staring back at me in stunned silence having watched me catch her sick in my hands, and then sit there watching it drip through my fingers as I realise that I have nowhere to put it. That. Always carry a sick bag.

Spare Clothing ‒ This really only applies to the toddler for us, usually just a pair of pants & leggings to hold us over until we can fix whatever issue it is we've had that will require a change of clothing, for example drink spillage, or vomit (see 'Sick Bag').

Bribes ‒ Not to be confused with snacks, these are the mini packets of Haribo or Starburst (etc. etc. - other sweets are available) that you can use to buy their silence or cooperation in desperate times. If you don't like the word bribe, simply substitute it for the more socially acceptable 'positive reinforcement', as in - you will positively reinforce that if they behave themselves until the next services, then they will get a sweet when you stop.

Now, this bag is entirely separate to what the children will have. They'll get their own little dap bags with their essentials, and that's a whole other blog post. This is just for us grown ups. Sorry at the lack of wine on the list, but that's a wee bit illegal & dangerous and with any luck it'll be at the other end of your journey anyway. Good luck! And don't forget the sick bag!

Adventure. #theGallery

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

I've jumped in puddles, wandered through woodlands, climbed mountains, sat up all night holding tiny hands, lost sleep, wished for sleep, discovered new ways of looking at things, hunted for dragons, laughed, cried, despaired, worried, wondered, learned. I have felt happy, I have felt sad, frustrated, furious, proud, bewildered, scared, overwhelmed, exhausted, elated, exasperated, exhilarated. I have gotten through whole days purely on adrenaline (and maybe a bit of caffeine) and other days, well, I don't know how I got through them at all. If there is an adventure bigger than parenthood, I would be very surprised indeed - and this is the single most amazing adventure of my life. I can't wait to see where else it takes me.


I have linked this post with #theGallery at The Sticky Fingers Blog.

#ScentsOfAdventure - The Maldives

Tuesday, 18 March 2014


What does the mention of 'The Maldives' evoke in your mind's eye?

Sparkling cerulean waters and pure white sands stretching out in front of you, basking in the sunlight and breathing in the scent of the islands. Luxurious, exotic, idyllic. Blissful days followed by clear nights, the skies illuminated only by the soft glow of the stars above and the moon reflected on the tranquil water. Walking along a moonlit beach hand in hand with your loved one, listening to the sound of the warm water gently lapping the shore. Watching the sun set in a blaze of glory over the horizon, and then getting up early just to watch it rise again, gently bringing the day to life and with it the promise of another glorious day in paradise.

The experience of a lifetime, the stuff dreams are made of.

Close your eyes. Take a deep breath, and imagine. What do you see? What can you hear? What can you smell?


I dream of halcyon days on the beach with my husband, reconnecting as a couple in our sixteenth year together, and finally having the 'grown ups only' honeymoon we didn't have when we were married twelve years ago.

Romantic candlelit meals, strolling hand in hand in the pale moonlight, swimming in azure waters. I can hear the sea murmuring on the sand, feel the sun warming my skin.

I can taste the cocktails...

I can even almost smell the sunlight, the sea spray being whispered through the palms on the beach, carried on the gentle breeze.


And for me, the signature scent of The Maldives should be 'Coconut Rose'.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maldivian_National_Flower_(5780948545).jpg#filelinks
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/didi8
The sumptuous aroma of coconuts & roses is the epitome of luxury and indulgence, the tropical paradise of The Maldives blended together in the scent of its national flower, the pink rose ('Finifenmaa') and its national tree, the coconut palm - together they capture the very essence of the islands.

Where is your #ScentsOfAdventure? See paradise for yourself at kuoni.co.uk/maldives.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/puppala/
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/puppala/

Fun & Learning on Family Holidays

Monday, 17 March 2014

I remember going on some wonderful holidays when I was growing up.

We travelled far and wide around the UK as well as travelling to Spain & the Canaries. We had wonderful experiences and saw so many things. Waterparks & Mount Teide in Tenerife, pedalos and playing on the beach in Ilfracombe, eating ice creams on the prom & burying my younger brother up to his neck in sand with my cousins in Weymouth, seeing the illuminations in Blackpool. So many memories of happy times that I hope will stay with me forever.

Since having my own family, I have enjoyed making new memories, and I hope that my kids will look back as fondly on these times as I do on my own childhood. We've visited some lovely places and had lots of good experiences and I look forward to making many more with them.

Lulworth Castle

One of my favourite holidays was a camping trip to Dorset. We visited Lulworth Castle and the children watched the jousting and learned about its history and the grounds & surrounding woodlands, and we went to the breathtakingly beautiful Lulworth Cove, a world heritage site, & walked along the Jurassic Coast.

L was thrilled to learn that it is known as the Jurassic Coast due to it representing 185 million years of the Earth's History with rocks from the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous time periods. L is very 'up' on his Dinosaur knowledge, and we also visited the Dinosaur museum nearby while we were there which was a fun activity for the kids as well as being educational.

Lulworth Cove

There was so much to see and do, our days were filled with fun and activity and our evenings were spent sitting outside the tent watching the kids enjoy their surroundings - climbing trees, building dens, making up their own games and just enjoying being together, drinking in the last of the day as the sun went down. We didn't have any technology with us, it was just us and the great outdoors and it was really lovely, seeing the kids just being kids & making their own fun, learning to appreciate the world around them.

Seeing how quickly the children have grown makes me realise just how important family vacation time is. It isn't just about 'getting away from it all' - it's about reconnecting as a family, spending time together and using that time to enjoy each others company and to explore new places and learn new things. Making memories and having these times to look back on when they're all grown up themselves, with their own families. You can never get this time back, it is so important to spend it wisely and what better way than by travelling together and sharing amazing experiences.

I am excited to take my children on more holidays and to have these special family times with them, one of the many places on my list to visit is Wales as it is such a beautiful country with its castles and sandy beaches, and a great destination for kids to have new adventures and learn new skills - it looks like the perfect place for us to explore together.

Dorset

This post is an entry for the Visit Wales #Wales4Kids Family Holiday Challenge. Wales is the perfect place for a fun-filled family break.

Meal Plan Monday 170314

Monday, 17 March 2014


Monday 17th Mar - Tomato, bacon & garlic pasta

Tuesday 18th Mar - Brinner*

Wednesday 19th Mar - Lasagne

Thursday 20th Mar - Home-made burgers & chips

Friday 21st Mar - Fajitas

Saturday 22nd Mar - Cod in butter sauce

Sunday 23rd Mar - Roast

I've joined in with Mrs M's #mealplanningmonday linky with this post
*Brinner = breakfast for dinner

Dearest Kids... An Open Letter.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Having spent the day redoing everything I did yesterday, I felt compelled to write a letter to my children to get a few things off of my chest.


Dearest kids,

Let me start by reassuring you that I love you more than you will ever realise. As far as I am concerned, the sun rises and sets on all five of you, and I will always love, and care for, and be there for you for as long as I live. Or for at least as long as I remember who you are.

But.

I'd like to let you know that the dishwasher doesn't load itself. After breakfast, and lunch, and dinner, those circular china things that you eat off of? They don't wash themselves and then crawl back into the cupboard. They require scraping and stacking in the dishwasher. Or, if you are looking for a clean bowl and have checked and found a clean one in the dishwasher - it is perfectly okay to empty the rest of the items out too, and put them where they belong ready for others to use. It's okay! I won't mind if you do that!

I understand that the bathroom is one area that might confuse you. It's where you clean yourself, therefore *it* must clean itself... Right?

Wrong.

The wet towels that you leave on the floor don't spring up and leap on to the hooks, or hang themselves over the bath, or indeed take themselves off to the laundry basket. This is not a Disney movie and I certainly ain't Mary Poppins. No no. They require human assistance to make it to their final destination. Towels are also unable to wash, dry, and fold themselves and return to the cupboard. If you happen across a pile of freshly washed towels on the landing outside the bathroom door waiting to be folded and put away, maybe you could try... I don't know, FOLDING THEM AND PUTTING THEM AWAY? Instead of stepping over them, or kicking them over, as you enter & exit the bathroom.

I also don't need proof that you've had a bath by way of leaving a ring of doom around the edge of the tub. Feel free to rinse it afterwards.

The plastic basket shaped objects in your bedrooms are laundry baskets. To clarify - they are baskets, where you put your laundry. So instead of screwing your clothes up into a crumpled mess and stuffing them down the side of your bed/under the bed/under your pillow/on the floor/on the bathroom floor/on your desk/anywhere except the laundry basket - perhaps consider putting them in the laundry basket. Give a try, you might enjoy it.

Before waking me/standing outside the bathroom door shouting MUM! MUM! MUM! (I can hear you, FYI, I'm just ignoring you - you know, that thing you do when I ask you to do something)/calling me to ask where something is, there's a tactic I often employ when needing to find something.

It's called looking for it.

For example, if it's a t-shirt you asked me to wash... Perhaps try the airer or the tumble dryer, or maybe even a drawer in your room. I can assure you that whatever it is, I'm not carrying it around with me waiting for you to need it. Also, I don't know if you have noticed but the tall, hairy man that hangs around the house from time to time? Drives you around? That's your Dad, he's equipped with eyes and hands and can also look for things - if I'm asleep/in the bathroom/on the phone/not at home then if you ask Dad, he might be able to help. It's worth a shot.

And finally -

I'm not doing your bloody homework for you. I already did my time, and I didn't even have Google.

Love always,

Mum xx

Park Life!

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Well this week was not exactly the balmy affair that the weatherman had promised (well - balmy in comparison to the recent downpours, that is) and so I had been putting E off the park after telling her I would take her, because frankly it was foggy and downright cold & I really didn't fancy it!
Wednesday rolled around and I could fob her off no more. Despite the fact that her little cheeks were rosy just from the short walk from preschool to the park due to the bite in the fog-heavy air, I had packed a picnic and we were on our way to the park - cold or no cold!

E took off running as fast as her little legs would carry her as soon as we reached the park. The swings are her absolute favourite thing and she made a beeline for them the second she was through the gate. I headed over to dutifully give her a push but she loudly informed me that A had shown her how to swing on Sunday, and she demonstrated how to swing her legs back and forth to gain momentum & propel herself without needing any help from Mummy. I was very impressed indeed! Such a big milestone for a nearly-four-year-old, she loves to do things for herself and be independent. Growing up far too quickly for my liking!
However - she did soon get bored of that and I was reinstated for pushing duties, and indeed ordered to push her "really really high!" and try and to get a photo of this, too, so that we could show Daddy later. Easier said than done, but we managed a couple.

She was squealing with unadulterated glee at every push, probably the only time my teeth weren't chattering was when I was laughing along with her at her enjoyment of the swings. There is nothing quite so warming to the heart as the laughter of your children - which is especially useful when it is brass monkeys outside!


We enjoyed a simple packed lunch of E's favourite things (including her Nutella sandwiches with the "crust-is" cut off) but it was too chilly to sit down for too long, so we were up and back on the equipment again as quick as we could. Climbing through tunnels, flying down slides, zipping along on the flying fox, it was lots of fun & we had a really good time in spite of the cold.

The only shame is that the park is looking quite run down these days, everything could do with a lick of paint & there are one or two pieces of equipment that could do with some fixing up. It's a lovely little park and I think with some TLC it would be even better. Regardless, we'll definitely be visiting it lots throughout the Spring & Summer and we are looking forward to spending lots more time outside now that the warmer weather is on its way (or at least hopefully will be soon!), we may even look into getting E her own swingset for the garden since she enjoys it so much.

Roll on Springtime!

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

{Lemony} Yellow. #theGallery

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

lemon brownies (lemonies)
Someone posted this 'Lemony Lemon Brownies' recipe on Facebook a few weeks ago, and I simply had to pin it to make at a later date.

My kids are huge fans of lemon flavoured, well, anything! so I knew that these would go down very well indeed. The brownies lasted all of about an hour before they were all polished off, & we decided to call ours 'lemonies'!

This is the original recipe from bestyummyrecipes.com, I've simply included conversions for ease. I take no credit for this recipe whatsoever, I just wanted to share it here because it is so delicious!

INGREDIENTS

{for the brownies}
3/4 cup (6oz) all-purpose (plain) flour
3/4 cup (6oz) granulated sugar
1/2 cup or 1 stick (4oz) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp lemon zest
2 tbsp lemon juice

{for the glaze}
4 tbsp lemon juice
8 tsp lemon zest
1 cup (8oz) icing sugar

METHOD
  1. Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/Gas Mark 4 and grease a brownie pan (ours was 7x11 inch).
  2. Zest and juice two lemons and put them to one side.
  3. Combine the flour, sugar, salt, and butter.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, lemon zest, and lemon juice until combined.
  5. Pour it into the flour mixture and beat until smooth and creamy.
  6. Pour the mixture into the brownie pan and bake for 23-25 mins, they should turn golden around the edges. Take care not to overbake or it will dry out the brownies.
  7. Allow to cool completely before glazing.
  8. Sieve the icing sugar & whisk with lemon zest and juice.
  9. Spread the glaze over the brownies and allow to set.
  10. Cut into even squares, and enjoy.


I have linked this post with #theGallery theme YELLOW at The Sticky Fingers Blog.

Love & Muddy Boots

Tuesday, 11 March 2014


Finally, the sun was shining and the rugby was ON! H was excited for the festival at the weekend and on Sunday he was up early & dressed ready to get going. The Mister & I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary on Sunday too, and while spending the day standing in a field watching the minis play in their tournament was not exactly romantic, it was a lovely day and H had a great time getting his boots (and everything else...) muddy after weeks of cancelled training & matches due to waterlogged pitches.

The boys had their pep talks before & after each match, and they played well. They were unfortunately plagued with injuries & didn't manage a win but they all gave it a good go & had fun, and at this age that's what it's all about.

In the evening we invited my parents round for a roast dinner, and we enjoyed a nice family meal together with them and the kids, it was the perfect end to a really lovely day.


I have linked this post with #MagicMoments at The Oliver's Madhouse.

Meal Plan Monday 100314

Monday, 10 March 2014


I have again referred to my kitchen bible, the Family Kitchen Cookbook to choose most of this week's meals. I have also again included the page numbers of the recipes that I used, for reference.

Monday 10th Mar - Baked potatoes with various fillings & salad

Tuesday 11th Mar - Brinner*

Wednesday 12th Mar - Home-made mini pasties with mashed potatoes & baked beans (pg 57)

Thursday 13th Mar - Chicken tikka skewers with rice (pg 100)

Friday 14th Mar - Fisherman's pie (pg 88)

Saturday 15th Mar - Cajun-spiced chicken drumsticks with potato wedges & salad (pg 113)

Sunday 16th Mar - Roast gammon 

I've joined in with Mrs M's #mealplanningmonday linky with this post
*Brinner = breakfast for dinner

Vive la France!

Friday, 7 March 2014

In less than 6 months, the Mama Owl household will be packing up & setting off to the south of France for a week of croissants, crepes, sunshine and wine (for the grown ups, not the kids, obv). Our very first holiday abroad together since the Mister and I took A & J on our honeymoon to the USA back in 2002.

We have enjoyed numerous wonderful holidays in the UK with the kids, to the Isle of Wight, Torquay, Center Parcs Longleat, and Warmwell amongst others, as well as lots of day trips to the brilliant attractions around the country including Thorpe Park, Paulton's Park, the Warner Bros Harry Potter studio tour, Woodlands, and Paignton Zoo to name just a few. But now that the children are a bit older, we think that this is the ideal time to set sail across the channel and enjoy what Europe has to offer.

My dear friend Leo has made this trip possible with his outrageously amazing organisational skills and general wonderfulness, and we are all so excited. We have begun planning our itinerary in earnest, the ferry is now booked and the plans are coming together. It's a long drive through France to our villa down in the south, and we have decided to stop off at roughly the halfway point and spend the night... in PARIS!

Photo Credit: http://www.hdwallpapers.in/

I thought it would be an amazing experience for the children (as well as myself, having never been there before) and we plan to take them on a whistlestop open top bus tour of the city to see all of the sights - Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysées, Arc de Triomphe, Grand Palais, Notre Dame, the Louvre, Musee d'Orsay, the Champ de Mars... I can't wait!

After the excitement of the city tour we'll be hopping back in our minibus and heading on down to our home from home for the week, a gorgeous 5-bed villa set in beautiful surroundings with its own pool & games room. The kids are thrilled to be going to a different country and are so looking forward to it, it's going to be lovely to spend a week relaxing in the sunshine all together and with friends. We're also taking our 19-year-old niece along with us, she has always been a big help with babysitting for us & being an extra pair of hands when I have needed them so this is our thank you to her. No babysitting required as we'll just be at the villa for the week so lots of time to top up her tan. I'm sure she & A will make good use of the sun loungers!

We've never travelled abroad with all of the children before so we're taking time to think carefully about things to take along with us for the journey to keep them occupied, as well as planning what clothes to pack for our week away (and I'm definitely going to have to invest in more swimming gear!). We'll be taking their Kindles and E's LeapPad2, and I am debating a couple of portable DVD players too.

Breaking up the drive in to two parts on the way there we hope will alleviate some of the tedium but if anyone has any suggestions or knows of any must-have items for travelling on the continent with kids - please do let me know!

While we're away the blog won't be left unloved - I'm delighted to be hosting some fantastic guest posts from lots of lovely bloggers about their own holidays to France - and hopefully some recipe & craft posts too - and so I hope everyone will pop by and leave some comment love for them.

Are you off anywhere nice for your holidays this year? How will you be spending your Summer?

Morning. #theGallery

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

There are times when you are just compelled to take a photograph of something, which makes me eternally grateful for the invention of camera phones. One morning before Christmas I had dropped off E at preschool and as I was leaving, I looked out across the town and was met with this breathtaking view of a Winter's morning. 

Unfortunately my phone wasn't able to capture it as I could see it, but looking at this photo I can remember just how beautiful it was, and can picture it clearly in my mind. I am often so busy rushing between places that I don't take the time to stop and appreciate what is around me, but this particular morning I stopped and I took a moment - and I am so very glad that I did.


I have linked this post with #theGallery theme MORNING at The Sticky Fingers Blog.

The Final Countdown - GCSEs

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

I remember taking my GCSEs like it was yesterday. The sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as we lined up outside the hall ready to be called in, the anxiety that gnawed at me throughout the two hour exams, the relief when it was over and the dread that came with waiting weeks for the results.

Granted, at that point in my life I had other - bigger - distractions to keep my mind occupied (namely the imminent arrival of A), but I still wanted to do well. I was already fully aware that I hadn't done as well as I could have (and I know that I had nobody to blame but myself for that) and I was so anxious to have something to show for the work I had done, even if it wasn't much.

Then results day arrived and as I feared, I hadn't achieved my full potential. But - I tried, and looking back on it now I am satisfied with what I got, taking in to consideration everything else that had been going on in my life at that time. I sat my GCSEs, I passed a handful of them with good grades, and I finished school.

To be honest the almost-sixteen years that have passed since then have been a blur, a whirlwind. Now here we are, observing as our eldest goes through the rigmarole of preparing and revising for her GCSEs (though thankfully not pregnant!) and I worry whether I am doing enough to help her, remembering those days so vividly myself. I worry that I push her too much, I worry that I don't push her enough. I just want her to reach her full potential, and to do the best that she possibly can.

Her provisional exam timetable dropped on to the mat over the weekend and it has been pinned to the memo board, and the final timetable will be issued at the end of March. We are just weeks away from the start of her year eleven final exams. As soon as the Easter break is over she will taking her final steps towards completing her compulsory secondary education, before moving on to the 6th form and beginning her A-level studies in September.

This is it! The end is in sight. We can see how tired A is and how hard she is working, and her Dad & I couldn't be more proud of her. She has been entered for the higher tier exam in every single one of her subjects and she has worked her arse off to get where she is. We hope that the next couple of months will pass easily, that her revision schedule won't be overwhelming, that the anxiety doesn't weigh too heavy, and that she does her best. As long as she tries her hardest, we really don't care what grades she brings home.

We plan to keep her going and make sure that she gets enough rest as well as does enough work, to keep a balance so that is doesn't exhaust herself or get 'burned out'. I've asked A to share some of her own revision tips for anyone that might be looking for inspiration, these are things she has come up with herself as well as suggestions given to her by her teachers and friends.

Over to you, A :
  • Revise in 20 minute bursts, and give yourself 5 minute breaks between each burst.
  • Change subject/topic after 40-60 mins.
  • Make revision cards, keep them with you and read them when you're on the bus/train etc.
  • Colour code everything.
  • Listen to music while you revise - the same music for each subject, then listen again before the exam whilst going though notes. It's been said that listening to the same music can help jog your memory.
  • Make a revision timetable.
  • Give yourself time off of revision at weekends, your brain can only take so much information in. 
  • When memorising entire paragraphs, write them out over and over again until you can do it without thinking about it (useful for languages).
  • Spend 10 mins revising a page in a revision book, then get your friend to ask you questions about that page.
  • Set alarms on your phone for when you need to revise.
  • Watch revision clips on BBC Bitesize and make notes on them.
  • Don't just read - we've been told that only 10% of what you read goes into your brain. Write out key facts and dates - this helps you remember them.
  • Get plenty of sleep, and exercise. 
  • Try to balance sleep, social life and school equally so you don't get burned out.
  • Write down pretty much everything that your teacher says during a lesson, this is good for when you go back over your notes.
  • Ask for past papers from your teachers, go through them and make sure you know how to answer and understand all of the questions.
  • Go over subjects every month or so to keep them in your memory.
  • Start revising before Christmas.
  • Put post-it notes with questions on around the house, when you see them - answer them.
We're dangling some 'carrots' for her to encourage her to keep motivated, & we've given her the tools she needs - now it's time for her to finish the job!
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