27 March 2015

British Holidays - A Rainy Day Back Up Plan

As I mentioned recently, I'm off on holiday to sunny Wales this weekend! I'm very excited about my week at Haven Holidays caravan park Presthaven Sands, and for the most part have deluded myself into thinking it'll all be sunny days and blue skies! There is a small part of me though, the realistic part, that knows good weather in the UK is never to  be counted on, especially in March. Not that a bit of cold will stop us having lots of fun outdoory adventures, but it can't hurt to be prepared with a couple of indoor, weather-proof plans!

Easter Egg Hunt

We've stayed at a Haven site every year around this time for as long as I can remember, and an Easter Egg Hunt around the caravan has become a bit of a tradition. I'll admit, the first ever one was devised purely so I could stay in bed a little longer while the kids spend ages searching the caravan over for chocolate instead of demanding I got up to make breakfast! Such a good idea that I'm not going to let the fact that we're not actually there on Easter Sunday this year get in the way of it, it's close enough, right?!

Since I suspect the youngsters have cottoned on to my best hiding places, I plan to make it a little trickier this year by hiding these mini Lindt treats instead, as they are a little smaller than the ones I usually use, so harder to find! I have some other gorgeous Easter Chocolate from Lindt (yes, some of which I plan on devouring myself in bed while the kids run round looking for theirs, what of it?) including my very favourite little bunnies,... would it be too much to have these as a reward for finding everything else?

Easter hunt


For the first time we are staying in a fancy pants Prestige caravan instead of a standard, and one of the added bonuses is the Prestige pads come with DVD players! There is, in reality, a very fine line between 'watching a DVD' - something that is done passively, often while running round, doing other stuff and making noise - and 'having a private cinema', where quiet, stillness, and peace are the order of the day. The latter just feels so much like a proper family activity, and can be achieved by simply adding popcorn and subtracting light.

Craft Kits

I have a couple of craft kits to take away this year to give some things we can all do together if the weather keeps us indoors. I've mentioned the Crafty Creatives boxes before - a craft subscription box which contains all the starter materials for a different craft activity every month. These aren't really aimed at kids but the young 'uns have been known to give me a hand from time to time - you can seem the mosaic candle holders we made here, for example! The one I have going with us will allow us to decoupage Russian dolls!

decoupage russian dolls
I also have a couple of kits from Weekend Box to bring along - these are a more child-focused box of activities based around a theme. These look a bit simpler (the boxes are aimed at an age range of 4-6 ish) and contain a number of brightly coloured packets of paper, craft materials, seeds and other bits and bobs and should definitely help kill a bit of rainy down-time!

Of course, I'm hoping none of this will be necessary - I'm picturing ice cream on the beach, picnics in the park and a host of other sunny day activities - and if I'm lucky enough for that to work out for me, these will always keep 'til I'm home again!

Keep your fingers crossed for me!

25 March 2015

Exante Diet Products - Avoiding the Biscuit Tin

I'm not really one for diet plans, as you may have gathered if you've ever read about my cake preferences or, y'know, seen me. The idea of living on meal replacement milkshakes doesn't sound sustainable, or fun and didn't appeal to me at all. Until, that is, one day when I caught a conversation about diet products on twitter that mentioned the words 'maple syrup pancakes' and I was instantly intrigued....

The pancakes in question are from Exante Diet, and are just one of a wide range of products designed to it into one of a number of different weight-loss plans, from a super low calorie nothing-but-a-few-exante-products-a-day type plans to more palatable programs like the 5:2 plan.

diet meal plan

Like I said before, I'm not really one for diet plans. But I'm not really one or being organised either. This means I generally don't remember/get round to taking any food to work with me and faced with a meal-less 9-5 I tend to take one of two approaches - either don't eat anything and make up or it by stuffing myself silly when I get home, or by raiding the work biscuit cupboard to get me through the day - and I know neither of these are the most sensible way forward. 

meal replacement shakes

So this is where I was hoping the Exante products would fit in for me, and I was sent a few different things to try out. The pancakes were the things I was most excited about and they were pretty delicious to be fair, but since they need to be made like, well, pancakes - with a frying pan over heat, they're actually no good for me at work where we only have access to hot water and a microwave. 

Thankfully though, water and a microwave is all you need to put together most of the meals. The milkshakes are really tasty and just need mixing with cold water, and my gooey chocolate pudding was a lovely treat and took a minute and half in the microwave. There's also soups, pastas and porridges that I could make at work as a healthier alternative to half a dozen custard creams (a full days worth of Exante products is designed to hit all your nutritional requirements, so one or two products is bound to get me closer than the biscuits, while containing fewer calories!)

desserts for diet

I'll be honest in that I was a little dubious about the whole thing - figuring there was no way a milkshake could sustain my 'til tea time - and I don't know if it was super scientific ingredients or a weird placebo effect but either way it worked. Don't get me wrong, you won't feel like you've eaten a massive meal after one of these or anything, but they were surprisingly satisfying and tasty!

There seems to be various offers on the sites too - bulk packs and 4-6 week plans as well as individual products which often means you can grab a 'meal' for around £1 - and I know it wouldn't be hard to spend more than that if I popped out for something at the shop! I could definitely do with having an in-case-of-emergencies stash of these under my desk - and will be adding some of the delicious sounding diet bars to try too! 

23 March 2015

Pack For Wales

It takes a lot to convince me to leave my beloved Yorkshire, but I'm getting very giddy about my upcoming holiday to Wales! We have a week of family fun adventures to look forward to on the north coast - staying at Haven holiday site Presthaven Sands - in less than a week, so I really better start thinking about packing! 

take on holiday to wales

To help me on my way, I've been gratefully kitted out with this brilliant Berghaus backpack. There are not many brands that say 'adventures in the great outdoors' like Berghaus and I'm already inspired to take on more exciting activities than the 'trip to arcades' I originally had in mind - it's full of pockets and straps and sections and, most importantly, has plenty of room for packing all I'll need for days out for all of us (you should see the amount I've tried to squeeze into my handbag on occasion!) 

Plus how cute is our little dragon mascot? He really needs a name, doesn't he? 

welsh dragon mascot

My bag already came with some super items to get me prepared too! The Eurohike head torch is only likely to be used for finding our way back to the caravan from the club on this family trip, but I'm pretty sure I'll find other uses for it throughout the year - the Anker Mini External Battery could be a lifesaver though. You can use it to charge up your phone (or whatever) when out and about, and since my phone battery never seems to want to last more than three minutes then his could come in very handy indeed for when I invariably get myself lost - I just need to remember to charge it up before I stick it in my bag! The little yellow notebook is genius too. It's designed for use when wet and considering the weather I'm expecting to have (I never said booking a UK break in March was a great idea!) could be just the thing!

what to pack for wales

The only thing is, having all this stuff ready in advance seems to have lulled me into a false sense of security, that I was practically organised for the trip. Now, with not long to go, full panic has set in with the realisation I'm no way near ready! Packing is one thing, but knowing what to pack and having it handy are very different things altogether!

 One this that definitely will be coming with me is my new Berghaus travel mug - can you believe I didn't already have one of these? So now I can have the safety net of being within arms reach of a tasty, hot, life-affirming, spirit-warming cup of tea even when in the middle of no where, now that IS good to know! I'll obviously need to pack a good tea selection too - I wonder how many different kinds I'll need for a week?

I'll be packing my little book of Welsh mountains - everything looks SO BEAUTIFUL. I would love to do some mountain exploring, but can only envisage me having to carry round a tired six year old on my back (wonder if she'd fit in the backpack?), so might have to give any hard core mountaineering a miss this visit. The book will still come in handy as a guide to get some great ground-level views though!

And of course now I've though of one book I want to take it's reminded me of others I need to pack - books for the kids to read in the care to stave off boredom, books for me to read at night one they're asleep... see, it's never ending!
Then there's things we'll need for our outings and activities. I've spend many a recent hour scouring the Visit Wales website for ideas and looks like we won't be short of places to visit! A day or two on the beach is definitely on the cards so will need to dig out the bag of buckets, spades and other beachy tools (I've found the key to surviving the windy march coast is to keep busy!) Seaside towns always seem to demand a good pocketful of two pence pieces for the arcades!
It seems no trip to Wales would be complete without at least one castle visit, so I might let the kids raid their armoury for an item apiece to help them feel the part (we already have a surprising about of wooden swords, shields and other weapons lying around the house!) - you never know where dragons may still be lurking!
I'm sure the little ones are also up for a trip to the Welsh Mountain Zoo, but thankfully I can't imagine we'd need much more for that than a good camera or two, comfortable shoes for walking around and warm water-and-wind proof coats - things we'll be sure to need for the rest of the holiday anyway!
I'm starting to feel like I'm making some progress on my packing list - now I just need to think about clothes, food, entertainment, towels, toiletries, dvds, bakeware, electrical items, games, swimming stuff,... I really better get started!

20 March 2015

York - Vikings, Chocolate and Free Internet

It feels like ages ago now that I posted about my awesome little 'York Box', filled with exciting things from the city and tickets to go back and visit some of it's best loved attractions but it's taken 'til now to post about our day out, oops!

We all love York and go a fair bit, but we definitely timed this specific visit well for our purposes as we turned up in the middle of York Viking Festival! This meant that as well as the usual attractions that we had planned, the city was littered with 'extras'. The little ones got to dress up...

dress as a viking

... there were Vikings just walking the streets,....

...as well as Viking crafts, stories and loads of other things to see! After investigating the Viking ship and all the other stuff going on in King's Square we we're (temporarily) Vikinged out and headed into York's Chocolate Story for a sugary rest!

York's Chocolate Story is amazing! There's a museum upstairs - we didn't go there on this occasion but have in the past  - that takes you through the history of chocolate, with a heavy York bias! There's plenty of tasty samples and the chance to make your own scrummy chocolate lolly! There's also a fab chocolatey café and an amazing shop filled with an incredible range of exotic and exciting looking treats!

This time we were mainly concerning ourselves with the café! The order of the day was the chocolate fondue, a pot of delicious melted chocolate with strawberries, marshmallows, shortbread biscuits, fudge and more for dipping!

chocolate fondue stuff to dip

I can't begin to tell you how sugar-happy this made me! It was soooo good though! The hot chocolate here is incredible too, as you might imagine, and comes in a range of flavours and chocolate types. The milk chocolate with chilli is my favourite!

chocolate fondue in york

And speaking of favourites, next we were off to Dig! Dig is one of the attractions I received a pass for in my York Box and my kids LOVE this place. I have seriously lost track of how many times we've been. I can identify a sheep foot bone with the best of them!  It's an archaeology based attraction, and the best big is getting to go crazy in these mock dig sites. There are four little sites based on four historical periods with plenty to find in each. The staff here are wonderful, explaining what each item is and what it can tell us about the people who left it behind.

archeology museum

The second part of the guided experience is sorting through trays of bones and other leftovers, again looking for clues about the past. There's plenty of other things to see and do in the museum too, puzzles, games and colouring in amongst dug up bones and artifacts. 

learn about bones for kids

When we'd finished Digging it was time to head to the Jorvik Viking Centre or our last stop of the day! Jorvik is 30 years old now, and one of the most popular visitor attractions in the UK. It certainly was on this occasion - much busier than I've ever seen it before (and, like Dig, we've been here a bunch of times!) I don't know if it was the Viking Festival that brought all the history buffs out, but it did make it a little trickier to see everything. The highlight of a trip to Jorvik is the 'ride' that takes you on a narrated tour of a Viking village, with authentic sights, sounds and yes, smells, of the Viking Era. 

viking toilet

Now here's the sneaky bit! If you are in York and want to find your way to Dig, or track down the nearest Bettys Cafe or research any of the cities other attractions, you should be able to do so easily by jumping on CityConnect - York's free internet service! Just select 'CityConnect Free WiFi' under the wifi options of your little tech device and log-in to get online! You might need to keep re-logging in if you lose the connection (which did seem to happen everytime you go into a building) but to be fair you should be paying more attention to the gorgeous city than your phone and only use it to enhance your trip! Either way, it's good to know! 

Do you have any favourite spots in York for my next visit? And how jealous are you of my chocolate fondue? It's lots, isn't it?

19 March 2015

Crafty Creatives - Macrame Kit

Handmade Mothers Day gifts are the way to go - I'll always treasure the paper flowers, glittery photo frames and hand-painted pots I've received over my the years from my too and I'm sure my mum has appreciated my messy efforts over the years too, though my 'hand made' gifts usually come in the form of cake - tasty but not particularly long-lasting! This year I thought I'd try a slightly different approach and make use of one of the Crafty Creatives boxes I seem to have been collecting!

how to make macrame bracelets

This Macramé Bracelet kit turned up a couple of months ago but I obviously needed a good reason to bust if out  and get my macramé on. The kit, from Riverside Beads, comes with all the bits and pieces to make two bracelets as well as full instructions. The white beads with the purple flowers are so pretty!

jewellery making kit

I've never made anything like this before but found the instructions pretty easy to follow. The board holds the main cord in places while you essentially know another piece around it repeatedly. I had to unravel it a couple of times to get it as neat as I wanted but I soon found my flow!

diy bracelet

It's basically knot knot, knot, thread a bead, knot, knot, thread a bead, and so on 'til it looks a little something like this:

sparkly bead kits

It took me a couple more minutes to work out the back bit but soon enough logic kicked in and it all made sense! I'm quite impressed with the end result for a first timer, and I think my mum was quietly impressed too when she opened her little gift!

how to make bracelets - macrame

I've still got the pastel bits left over for another bracelet, which should be easy enough now I sort of know what I'm doing! Out of all the Crafty Creatives kits I've tried so far I think this was one of the easiest to get started with as well, in that it doesn't take a lot of time/space/preparation or make a lot of mess!
You can buy the Macramé Kits or all the individual bits you might need from Riverside Beads, and you can subscribe to Crafty Creatives for a new craft kit to be sent to your door every month!

17 March 2015

Bluebird Tea Co Spring Releases - Candy Floss and Hot Cross Bun

A change in seasons always brings with it many other exciting changes. Spring is a favourite to many, as everything is shiny and new - baby lambs, bright daffodils, and an exciting limited release selection of spring-inspired teas from my favourites, the Bluebird Tea Co

The lovely tea folk sent me a couple of their new blends to try and I couldn't have been more giddy! The seasonal offerings are always exciting and this time round is no exception! I was sent samples of the Hot Cross Bun tea and Candy Floss tea.

Easter tea orange an cinnamon

The first one I opened was the Hot Cross Bun - I was instantly drawn to it's gorgeous fruity, cinnamony aroma! This little packet contains rooibos, black tea, cinnamon, hibiscus, apple pieces, rosehip, orange peel, lapsang souchong, vanilla pieces and cranberry pieces which, when all brewed up together provides the most wonderfully authentic Hot Cross Bun scent (and I do firmly believe that the smell is the best thing about Hot Cross Buns!) and a deliciously rich, warming tea. This is cracking either with or without milk, though I prefer this one without. It's a great tea for these early spring days (that often still feel a lot like winter!) and I'm sure the perfect accompaniment to its bready namesake!

bluebird tea co seasonal releases

I knew when I saw the name that I'd love the Hot Cross Bun tea, but the Candy Floss was an intriguing unknown! I couldn't begin to imagine how a candy floss flavour tea would work, but once opened the packed to meet the sweet scent I was sold. It smells like a bag of pick n mix - that indistinct aroma of sugary goodness, but without the adverse effects on your teeth!

sweet fruity tea for spring

I fell further in love with it when I got it in my cup - my camera refused to show you this, but the result is the prettiest pink tea you ever did see! It looks like it should only be drunk by princesses (though don't tell that to my very manly brother who has been enjoying supping this as much as I have!)
This one is made up of Chinese white tea, hibiscus, apple pieces, elderberries, rosehip, pineapple pieces, red and blue cornflowers, stevia, strawberry pieces and hundreds and thousands - so as you might imagine the flavour is light, fruity and sweet. It's a lovely tea that seems perfectly matched suited for when the sun makes an effort to show itself!

bluebird spring tea

The other two teas in the seasonal collection are a delicious sounding Black Forest and a Smoky Russian Caravan, so I definitely think I should place another order before the season is out! You can get all of these plus a huge range of their permanent teas from the Bluebird Tea Co website or, if you can get there, from their store in Brighton!

10 March 2015

35 Things

T'other week I read the lovely Miss TeaPartyBeauty Hayley's brilliant post about the 30 things she wants to do before she hits 30. Reading through her lovely ideas inspired firstly to 'volunteer' my attendance to many of her planned events, and secondly to write my own list of things I aim to get done this year!

Unfortunately, though my birthday is a couple of weeks after Hayley's, theoretically giving me more time to complete my list, I'm (shhhh!) old. So my list contains not 30 items, but 35. And since Hayley wrote such a good list, and since I wouldn't have attempted such a daft task without her inspiration, I figured it was only fair that I steal five of hers,... y'know, to balance it out a bit! So the first 5 items are 'borrowed', the rest are... well, you'll see!
1) Visit an Alpaca Farm. This was definitely the first one I was stealing - Alpacas! Don't think this needs any further explanation!

2) Buy an All Day Bus Ticket. I actually can't remember the last time I got on a bus. It might have been before I passed my driving test. It'll be really nice to go visiting loads of places and not have to worry about things like sobriety!

3) Visit Poland. This one might be a bit trickier, as its dependent on both time and finances, but it's definitely a nice one to aim for!

4) Lost Two Stone. I guess they can't all be fun!

5) Go to a Gin Distillery. I'll admit that compared to some of my blogging buddies, my gin knowledge is somewhat lacking - but that doesn't mean I'm not interested in expanding my knowledge base!

6) Make Awesome Marshmallows. I'll never be a great baker, but I think the world of marshmallow-making has less competition!

7) Have Lots of Afternoon Tea. A bit vague, admittedly. Since I realised I went all of February without a proper afternoon tea, I'm aiming for at least once a month for the remaining months - but an extras would be great too!

8) Weekend at Legoland. At the start of the Lego Movie DVD, as you'd imagine, is a long advert for the theme park in Windsor and the little ones were getting very excited about the possibility of a visit! We've been today for the day but know they have an on-site hotel now and would definitely love to stay there!

9) Re-watch Twin Peaks. 2016 will see the return of David Lynch's bananas cult tv show which means this year I definitely need to refresh in preparation! That being said, there are certain scenes from the show that I first saw when I was around 10 that will never, ever leave my brain!

10) Visit a New Continent. This is a slight cheat that someone suggested to me, with the knowledge that I already have a holiday booked later in the year!

11) Walk to Top Withens. This farmhouse ruin on Haworth Moor is the supposed setting for the fictional Wuthering Heights. I've been wandering about up here a few times but always stopped short a mile or so from Top Withens and headed to the pub instead.

12) Hang Out with Owls. I love owls.

13) Make an Item of Clothing I Can (And Will!) Wear. I've never made anything more substantial that a scarf despite collecting dressmaking books and sewing magazines!

14) Read Ten 'Good' Books. I love good books, but I also sorta love not-very-good books. The sort of thing you pick up in a supermarket for reading on the train. I need to intersperse these with at least 10 'good' books, the kind of thing that has won awards or popped up on the national curriculum syllabus.

15) Get my money's worth put of my English Heritage card. I was talked into a membership on a visit to Richmond Castle late last year and really haven't made the most of it since then. Will have to work out membership cost Vs average admission cost then go see myself some castles!

16) Spend a day in bed. I like to  do things on my weekends and days off. Museum trips and visiting family fun attractions, exploring new cities,.. or just heading somewhere for tea and cake. But I am a tired soul and want a day in bed. I can get up to make tea and get chocolate, but otherwise it's a day in bed with books, films, and snoozing.

17) Organise all the family photos. The last time I did this was at the start of 2013, so that means I have two years of pictures in various folders across various computers. They all need collating and printing!

18) Explore North Wales. A bit like number 10, we've already got a trip booked at the end of this month. It's somewhere I've never been before and I'm looking forward to spending some time there!

19) Have a tidy house. I think this is mainly wishful thinking! It doesn't need to be like showroom-tidy but would love it to be can-have-people-round-without-a-weeks-notice tidy. This will definitely take some work though!

20) Register on a course. There is one in particular I have in mind but can't decide yet if it will be workable, for issues of time, finances, and brain stuff. If I don't end up going for it, I should at least get  myself on one of the fun sounding local community college courses!

21) Visit Cadbury World. I'm frequently told I'm already too late to see this place at it's best so I better get me skates on and call in before it slides further downhill!

22) Treatment at the Lush Leeds Spa. I've been dying to return here for a full treatment since getting a little look around at an event last year - they look life changing!

23) Sort out my finances. There's nothing too dire and scary here... my only debts are my mortgage and my student loan, but I have little bits hidden away in accounts I cant access and things like that, I need to get everything in one place!

24) The other half really likes boats. It can be a long trip or a short trip, on a big boat or a little boat,.. but we should definitely go on a boat!

25) Post more treats. I love getting treats in the post - who doesn't! This is hard now because I have very few people's postal addresses. Email addresses, sure - but you cant get cake via email (one day, hopefully!) If anyone wants to help get me started by emailing your postal address and three things that you like and I'll see what I can do!

26) Build a really big sandcastle. I think as I was getting towards the end of my list, thinking of those last few items got a bit all-consuming, as this one came to me in a dream! There, it was supposed to be one bigger than I am, but will settle for a 'really big' one.

27) Go out more to not-Leeds. For someone who doesn't live in Leeds, or even particularly like Leeds, I seem to spend too much of my leisure time there. I either have to make me Leeds friends go somewhere else or (more likely!) go out on my own like a loser!

28) Get my eyebrows professionally seen to. All these bloggers with these perfectly preened eyebrows and mine are just sorta there, on my face, a bit above my eyes. I don't begin to know or understand all the eyebrowey things other people do so I need to make someone who does understand these things, do them on  my face.

29) Eat more fruit. It's not that I don't even like fruit, I do. And I buy plenty of it. I just need to take the next step towards actually eating it!

30) Watch Breaking Bad. This should be a nice easy one, but I've never seen it and it's hard work for everyone in the office to wait for me to leave the room before they can discuss it. I'm doing it more for them than for me!

31) Whitby Abbey. I've tried to go to Whitby Abbey a couple of times in the last few years, but have never made it due to me either turning up on days it wasn't open to the public, or had been closed off due to adverse weather conditions or other things. It's not even like I'm that bothered about the Abbey, but coming so close a few times has made me determined to break through whatever invisible barrier that seems to be keeping me from frolicking among the ruins.

32) Learn how to make real actual cocktails (as opposed to just pouring tequila in beer and pretending it's a real thing!) - I'd love to have a 'signature cocktail'

33) Treasure hunt. Hopefully I can find a sort of pre-existing organised one, otherwise I'll have to set my own up but think this would be fun with the little fellas on a nice sunny day!

34) Find loving homes for the books, shoes and other things that I have no need for/several copies of/don't fit. This will definitely help with no 19!
35) Stop doing stupid things. I don't think I'm a stupid person, but I do do a lot of stupid things. Time to start learning from my mistakes instead of just making them over and over.
I'm not sure how high my chances are of getting through everything but having a list should at least really help when I have a free weekend and I'm stuck for inspiration! Who wants to come?

2 March 2015

Win a Bag for Your Mum This Mother's Day!

My mum is the worst person to buy for. She's terrible... she doesn't eat chocolate, or wear perfume... flowers mean little to her, and in terms of clothes, books, music or films she's so fussy about what she likes that it's impossible to buy things as a surprise and have her actually like them.

My dad, who has been buying her presents for a lot longer than I have, has worked out a couple of exceptions... a couple of 'safe' options ... He's claimed full monopoly on earrings, coats and watches (you'd be surprised how many watches you can justify buying when you don't have any other ideas!), which leaves me with bags. And that's great, because I love buying bags!

And here's the really exciting news - if you think you mum would like a new Mother's Day Bag you can win her one of these gorgeous designs from Vendula London!

Vendula are my favourite bag company (you can see here and here how much I love them!), their quirky bags and eye catching designs make them a sure fire winner with me, and the amount of comments I get when out with one of their bags tells me I'm not alone!
I think my mum would love the World Travel Tote Bag on the left there, and the Dandelion Musical Barrel Bag would be perfect for my mother in law, whereas my favourite is the Tea Room Grab Bag. If you think your mum would love one of these too you can either pick one up from the site, or if you are feeling lucky why not try winning one? We want to know what your mum is like so leave a comment describing her in three words and fill in the rafflecopter form below for your chance!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!