Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Eden Project

One of the aims of our holiday in Devon was to take a trip to the Eden Project. None of us had been, despite it celebrating its 10th birthday this year. We converted some more Clubcard vouchers into tickets so it was a cheapish day out, barring the petrol for the nearly 70 mile trip from where we were staying.

We got there early and got round the Rainforest biome early as we had been advised. I am so glad we did - it was hot and getting hotter all the time but it wasn't too packed. Everywhere we went, it seemed that we were just ahead of the crowd as it would fill up after we arrived. We tried to brave the Rainforest Lookout right at the top of the biome but I don't do well with heights and despite giving it a go, we got up two flights of steps and the children both freaked. I offered them the chance to turn back and they took it, something I was mightly relieved about! Missy Woo even came down one flight of steps on her bottom rather than having to look down. We let my husband go up by himself but even he came down slightly shaking as it was even scarier at the top so I was glad I took them back down. The children loved looking at the plants and insisted on taking photos, more of which later. We found it funny that we saw several robins around who must have made their way in from outside! The displays were well organised and appealed to the children as well as adults.

After we came out, we went into the bakery in the link building, which seems to be the nicest and best place to eat, with a relaxed atmosphere. You take a board and help yourself to whatever you want, order hot drinks from some of the staff then go and pay at the end. Top prices seemed to be about six pounds, which included the most enormous foccaccia sandwich - easily shared between two people. We actually bought the biggest scone I have ever seen which I covered with jam and cream; it fed three of us!

After the Rainforest, the Mediterranean biome was much more relaxed - and smaller too. We sat for quite a while listening to some songs. And lots more photos got taken!

Beyond the biomes, we wandered around outside and Monkey and I took the landtrain as we decided not to wait when we arrived. We all enjoyed the Core too, playing with the exhibits, like the giant Seed statue and the Plant Processor, and watching the films.  We came back via the picnic/play area and stopped for another coffee in the Apple Cafe at the Visitor Centre, which was not as good as the bakery, largely because no-one seemed to be clearing tables and it looked a mess. We found the shop really expensive so we skipped off home after that, though we got slightly lost as we missed the turning back to the A390 within the grounds (Eden Project, please note - make the A390 exit sign more obvious, like adding Liskeard or Plymouth so people know it's the right way to go!).

Our tips (some of these were passed on to me by the good folk of Twitter):

- Get there early and round the Rainforest biome first before it's busy.
- Use the park and ride to save your legs; we were quite close but some of the car parks are a very long way from the entrance.
- Take on loads of water when in the Rainforest biome - there are water fountains around and places to sit.
- Don't attempt to go up to the lookout if you remotely have a problem with heights.
- Wear loose, light clothing because you WILL get hot in the rainforest.
- You can buy an annual pass for the same price as a day visit but you can't do this if you use Clubcard vouchers.
- You can save money by booking tickets online, more if you select the date of your visit. You also get a discount if you arrive on foot, by bike or public transport (but you have to buy tickets on the door to get this discount).
- There are plenty of accessible routes but you will miss some parts if you have a buggy as there are lots of steps, or have a lot of lifting to do. If you can manage without one - I know that's not always possible - I'd recommend you leave it behind.
- Eat at the Eden Bakery - the food seemed the nicest, there were fewer queues, more seating space and the atmosphere was more relaxed. The food in the Mediterranean biome looked nice too.

I've put together a little slideshow of the best photos from our trip. They were mostly taken by the children - I've left off a lot of chopping off of heads and photos through wire mesh etc! But still, there are some nice photos in there and they did really well. It's great that you can do that with digital photography. Apologies that one is on its side but try as I might, Slide won't rotate it even though it says it is.


We think the Eden Project is a great day out for people of all ages - it's educational as well as fun and pretty much everybody will get something out of it. It is a whole day out - we were there from just after 10 until 4 - so the £60 for a family of four to get in is worth it, especially as most things are included in the price. And if you can make use of the annual pass and visit more than once, it then becomes a bargain!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Bekonscot Model Village

All the fun of the fair
Bekonscot is probably the place I first went on school trips. As a child, we visited several times as it's a short drive from where I grew up. I fond memories of visits there and as a child, I found it captivating.

For all the times we've visited family "back home", we've never taken the children there. We never seem to have the time to go in short trips down to my mother's but she mentioned it a few times in our last visits but they never came off. This time though, we planned to take them there if the weather was right and thankfully, the weather forecast for today was good - although it started badly as it was raining a little at 9am but sunny by 11am when we set off.

Missy Woo gets up close and personal
All the way there, the children were obviously struggling with a concept of what a model village was and what they could do there. I explained that the houses were much smaller than normal and Monkey said "but how can there be shops?" (Guess who had just been given a shiny £2 coin by my mum's neighbour that was burning a hole in his pocket?) I tried to explain that the buildings were so small that noone could go inside them, and they couldn't really see the point of the place!

Monkey stops long enough for me to take a pic!
After a bit of driving round, we found a suitable parking place. (I'll come back to that). We arrived just after 12 which seemed to be when a lot of people arrived. Bekonscot accept Clubcard rewards so we got in for a lot less than the full price (a family ticket is £26.00). The children had their photograph taken and then we took them into the village and once they could actually see the models, they got what a model village really was. And they were captivated as I was when I was a small child. Their eyes shone with excitement and I had to contain them from running around (they have signs announcing "No running please" around the place). For every turn of the path, they discovered new things. And to Monkey's delight, there were model trains running around the place. Our visit was punctured with "Mummy, look at this!", "Look, a train!", "What's that, Mummy?" as they passed from scene to scene. I was so thrilled that they too were taking enjoyment from something I remember so clearly enjoying from my own childhood.

When we stopped for lunch at the tea room / picnic area, the children decided to spend some of their shiny new coins on ice lollies and they learned a lesson in queueing after they hung around the front and the lady sent them to the back of the queue.  And they nearly forgot to pay!

After a quick run round the children's playground, they were off again around the rest of the village, climbing the viewing platform that allows you to look across the whole of the model village. The village is well organised throughout with a one way system in operation for most of it but it can get clogged up in places as the paths are narrow - if you are going with a buggy, I would recommend taking the smallest and narrowest one you own! Towards the end are remote controlled boats, and a light railway which costs a pound each and takes you on a short trip round the garden area. All of this was of course topped off with a visit to the souvenir shop, where I got off lightly - Monkey found a model plane (not totally relevant apart from the planes flying overhead in and out of Heathrow) and Missy Woo a fetching purple wallet which will actually have use when she has toast money to take to school.

From the viewing gallery
Our visit took us about two hours although you could stay longer if you went round again. Beyond the village, everything does seem pretty organised and well thought out (apart from the ticket office, which seemed pretty slow). They have a shed where you can store your picnics, the picnic area has a sheltered part to shade from rain or sun and there is even a glasshouse style shed for indoor picnics in case that doesn't provide enough shelter. You don't feel ripped off anywhere at all - I like that they give all their profits to charity too.

If you ever go, these would be my tips:

- There is limited free parking just beyond and opposite the entrance which is likely to fill up quickly.
- If that is full, do NOT park in Waitrose car park just beyond it.There were signs up saying you are likely to get fined. There is a 2 hour limit for parking there but I guess you could avoid by visiting the shop. Possibly.
- If you don't get there early enough to bag a space, I would suggest arriving after 12. There is on street parking on the roads beyond Warwick Road on yellow lines where you can't park between 11am and 12 noon and that's only a few minutes walk away. No need to park in pay and display car parks.
- Don't fret if you don't fancy doing a picnic. The tea room looked pretty decent and the prices weren't extortionate. We bought 4 drinks and a sandwich which came to £8. I spied pieces of pizza for 99p.  I didn't tell the children, bad mummy!

Today felt like I stepped back in time and I saw Bekonscot through the children's eyes again. It has an enduring, timeless quality to it where it feels like it harks back to a forgotten age that perhaps lives on only in Enid Blyton books but it still delights children with its variety and feels familiar to them. It's changed and moved with the times but essentially, it's still the same as it was when I was small, a very very long time ago.

I have not been paid to write this post - I just wrote it because I wanted to!

My Fitness Story... - Dave

Today's guest poster is Dave, who answered my plea for posts. Dave's take on weight loss is probably one familiar to many people - losing weight in the face of temptation of foods that aren't any good for you. His battle with himself appears to be the hardest of all. 

So weight loss. Its no easy thing. Going from a shocking 44inch waist to a 31inch waist in around 2 years might sound like a long time....but when your love of sweets, cakes, pizza and beer is as big as mine, it's tough. When I first started living on my own, it was take aways and pints every night or a trip to my local pub where you get pizza 2 for 1 and beer at the same time. Then I found it.....a love of hill walking and a tough other half who makes me hit the gym 3 or 4 times a week.

Ahhh the gym.....a place where folk in spandex make you feel bad by looking so good in it...and that’s just the guys. I try to hide myself away in a corner in my baggy shorts and XXL t-shirts to hide my smaller but still there gut.

A down side to this weight loss. Finding lumps under my skin, apparently a downside to being large and getting slim. They are merely lumps of fat left over that will be the last to go during my extreme slimming but upon feeling one on my what were rather large breasts, panic hit and I ran, nae sprinted, to my GP. Left feeling like a plonker with some antibiotics.

Weight loss is an uphill battle. The temptation of food, beer and sweets is far too much for me some days and I give in which results in feeling bad and having to work extra hard the next day to take it all off again.

So, yeah, I'm the man in your spin class that sweats too much and pants a time you see him, give him some respect; it's taking him more energy to drag his fat ass about trying to do something about it.

So moral of the story is “A big mountain of sugar is too much for one man. I can see now why God portions it out in those little packets.”

Thanks very much to Dave for taking the time to write this post. What I think this post demonstrates is the phrase "the road to hell is paved with good intentions". We all want to do the right thing, we WANT to do the right thing, but can we do it? Not always! 

Please do share experiences in the comments below. My guest posters really do appreciate the messages of support they get from readers.

If you would like to share your fitness story, then please contact me on Twitter or email me on the address on the About Me page. All contributions are really appreciated so do get in touch, even if you feel yours is not a worthwhile story. If it's a personal experience, it is. Do please join in - or ask your friends if you know someone has a story to tell, even if they don't blog.

I'll have a new episode in the My Fitness Story... series next week.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Something to save me fuel? Yes please!

So, as you read this, I'm on a bit of a road trip. On Tuesday, I drove from Lancashire to my mum's in Buckinghamshire with the children in the back. At the end of the week, I'll drive to Devon. A week later, I'll drive back to Bucks for a christening and then home to Lancashire in time for the start of the new term.


I don't do this often anymore. Why? Cos I can't afford it. Petrol costs are astronomical these days. I can actually remember when petrol was 39p a litre. The thought of it being nearly a whole pound more 25 years later is horrific. And yes, I really am that old.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Exploring more with Hyundai

We were very lucky on Saturday to be guests of Hyundai at Knowsley Safari Park and try out their i40 Tourer on the Safari Drive. Are they mad?

The children were very excited about a trip to the safari park as they seem to like zoos. We got there and found our way to the Hyundai centre, where I checked in whilst the children did some colouring. They gave me a time slot and even better, unlimited ride wristbands for all of us! We grabbed a quick coffee and did a scout around at the rides which were not yet open. We discovered the children were big enough for all of the rides - something that has never happened before.

Then, it was time for our drive. I was pretty nervous as I've never driven a car that size. The biggest car I've ever owned was an Audi A4. I got Monkey to choose which car - he chose the shiny black one with the chrome fittings which turned out to be top of the range model! The chap showed me around the car - and oh, my God! How different? My car is 7 years old and the most electronic thing is a digital odometer! This had no key, touchscreen controls for everything, and an electronic handbrake! I'm quite comfortable with new technology but this was a bit daunting. It even had a rear parking camera - for which thank God!

Friday, 19 August 2011

Toyologist (Guest) Review: Keter Handz-on

This review is another guest post by Keris, whose website is here. Keris writes in various places across the internet and has just had her second book published. You can read all about her and her blog by visiting her website. Keris was sent the Keter Handz-on to try out and here she reports back on how she and her son Joe got on with it.

The arrival of the Keter Handz-on Creativity Desk was greeted by 2-year-old Joe hopping up and down next to me, yelling, "Open! Open!" While I went to get scissors, he actually started ripping open the box with his bare hands.

I emptied the pieces out of the box and looked at the assembly instructions, but they really weren't needed - it was pretty straightforward. It all just clicks and slots together and I had the whole thing built in, I'd guess, less than a minute.

And as soon as I had, Joe sat down and yelled for paper. And he hasn't stopped playing with it - and yelling his demands - since. And this is not a child who sits still easily or, generally, willingly.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

My Fitness Story... - Jenny

Today's contributor only wishes to be known by her first name. Jenny responded to me on Twitter when I put out a plea for posts.She has agreed to tell her story but doesn't want it associated with her tweeting because as she said in an email to me, it's "just not necessarily an image I want to project right now". I'm happy to respect her wishes.

Her story is about how she overcame an eating disorder which affected her for a long time in her teens and early twenties. Eating disorders affect many people in the UK - it is believed that more than 6% of adults suffer from some form of eating disorder, and around 40% of those are bulimic. Yet, it is rarely talked about, so I am really grateful to Jenny for writing her story in the hope it will help others. Over now to Jenny to tell her fitness story...

Boot or Bust? Watch this!

This is a sponsored post

I don't often do these things but I thought this was worth a look. Lenovo threw one of their ThinkPad laptops out of a plane at 12,500 feet. Crazy? Quite possibly. But it shows how quickly they can boot up - something we could all do with at times. Mine takes a few minutes to get going, so most often I just put it to sleep at night so it can wake up in seconds. I'd much rather get working in seconds and being the kind of IT girl that I am, I'd rather start each day booting my laptop up.

Not sure I'd throw a brand spanking new laptop out of a plane though. The one I'm typing on right now might go out of a plane one day, but without parachute assistance. Suitable punishment for the grief it has given me from time to time. I'll show it who's really the boss. Bwahahaha. Anyway, enjoy.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Toyologist Review: Dyson Ball

So I bet you can tell from the name what this this is! It's a kids-sized version of the new generation of the Dyson upright cleaner, called the Dyson Ball - you know, with the ball that steers the cleaning head around. Inside the chamber, you have toy "dust" - which is pretty colourful for dust if you ask me, it's like someone has hoovered up a lot of miniature Lego pieces and they all spin around to imitate the "cyclone action" of the real thing when it's switched on. Allegedly, it does pick up small beads and pieces of waste paper into a small bin, but when I tried, it didn't seem to have that much suction and the little bin remained empty.

The Gallery - Black and White

I am not a very technical photographer. As I commented to someone only this afternoon, I probably take more photos with my phone now than I do with the camera. I like taking pictures but I am not in the finer details of it. I therefore don't do take many pictures in black and white, but thanks to the wizardry of photo editing software, I can turn anything I like monochrome. So, I've been looking through my archives, given as I'm enjoying child-free time this week and not spending too much time on the blog, fiddling with the settings and turning things black and white. After lots of messing around, I found this made the nicest picture.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Toyologist Competition time - Win a Zoobles Playset!

This month's prize is a Zoobles Blossoming Garden Playset worth £19.99. It's suitable for ages 4 and upwards. If you want to know more about Zoobles, we got sent one to review back in March so take a look at that.

This set comes with a Flower Zooble, a mini Zooble friend and 8 accessories. The set has a slide for the Zoobles to roll down and they will spring into life when they reach the hotspots.

If you would like a chance to win the playset, just leave a comment below. If you're not already following my blog in any way, pick your favourite above by clicking one of the jellybeans in the top right - there's one for subscribing via RSS, one via email, one for liking my Facebook page and one for following me on Twitter. All or any of those will keep you up to date with the latest events on the blog.

Please, please, PLEASE ensure you leave a form of contact. I've had people lose out on prizes because they have not left an email address or twitter account that I can contact.

Leave your comment (1 per person, subsequent ones will be ignored) by Saturday 20th August at 8pm.

Terms and conditions

To enter, then leave a comment below, along with a valid contact email address or Twitter ID, which will be used to contact you if you win and follow this blog via RSS, email, Facebook or Twitter.
One entry per person - multiple entries will be discarded.
The prize is a Zoobles Blossoming Garden Playset.
The competition closes on Saturday 20th August 2011 at 8pm.
The winner will be drawn at random from all valid entries.
The winner will be contacted that evening and asked to provide a postal address and contact telephone number within 48 hours or the winner will be re-drawn. The prize will be sent out by Toys R Us after 1st September. UK entrants only.

There is no cash alternative.

Meal Planning Monday

This is going to be my last Meal Planning Monday post before back to school week. Next week, I'm going to be travelling around for a few days, then we're going to be in Devon on our holiday and although we are self-catering, I'm not packing recipe books so I'll be sticking to old favourites that I can cook without thinking.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

A piece of cake?

As you know, I like to bake. I am not that brilliant at it in that I can't make my cakes look fancy, but they do turn out nice and taste pretty good. But I can follow a recipe and make most things. From scratch, that is.

OK, I admit it, I am a bit of a food snob. I hardly ever buy cake mixes. I can do it myself and most recipes are not difficult or lengthy. So, when Dr Oetker got in touch with me and offered me the chance to try some of their products, I wasn't all that bothered about trying their cake mixes. I use Dr Oetker for various things - baking powder, bicarb, and sprinkles (which mostly get used on ice cream cones). I used their coloured regal ice earler in the year to make this cake.

Silent Sunday

Silent Sunday

Friday, 12 August 2011

One in four women

What do you think that proportion relates to? It could be many things, couldn't it? In fact, I'm sure it is. Google it and I bet there are lots of answers. Sadly, the 1 in 4 women stat that I’m going to quote to you today is this: 1 in 4 women experiences domestic violence in their lives. That's twice as many women that suffer from breast cancer.

I am one of the “1 in 4s”. If you read this post that I wrote in April, you'd know that about me. I survived. I came through the other side. I did it on my own. Sometimes even now, I struggle with my self-esteem and I know that its root cause is almost certainly what happened to me, admittedly a long, long time ago. I wrote that post to help others going through domestic violence. Helping others is important to me because although 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence, they shouldn’t have to live with it.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

My Fitness Story... - Dave

This week's story is a bit different. I put out a general plea on twitter last week for more posts and Dave got in touch. He outlined the nature of his story and I was intrigued. I wasn't disappointed when Dave emailed me this post. Y'see, Dave had a serious problem with an addiction - to crisps. In his post, he tells how giving them up changed his approach to healthy living. Over now to Dave...

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Toyologist (Guest) Review: Keter Artisto

This Toyologist review is a bit different. I'm pleased to welcome Simone, from SFR Product Reviews, as a guest poster. Simone was sent the Keter Artisto to review with her daughter Liv. Here is what they thought of it...

The Artisto double sided easel table from Keter is one of the latest additions to a fantastic range of larger childrens' toys. A double artist table - perfect if you have two children, the main feature is the perspex sheet held firmly in the middle of the table which allows children to be as creative as they want to be. On either side of the perspex sheet are "lips" which allow paper to be held into place, absolutely ideal for painting!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Flowers to make your day

I love getting flowers. They never cease to make you smile. I guess it is the simple extravagance of receiving something that is beautiful but ephemeral. They are fleetingly at their best but they have so much to add. Yes, slightly extravagant, but so beautiful. If someone buys you flowers, it's a rare honour indeed. It makes you feel special, doesn't it?

The lovely people at Interflora have sent me flowers before but when they asked me if I'd like to receive some more, there was no way I could say no. They allowed me to choose what I wanted, so for me, it was all about one flower: the lily.

I love lilies. I adore the cala lilies but they were rather expensive. So I settled on these, which were delivered to my house the other day. Aren't they gorgeous? They are absolutely stunning and arrived in that lovely vase - a genius idea because I am forever hunting around for some big vases when I get big flowers such as these (not that that is a common occurrence, you understand!). As you can see, they made a nice centrepiece on my new coffee table. Don't get excited - the flowers actually cost a lot more than the table. (God bless Swedish furniture stores!) They have filled the room with a fantastic smell too.

If you're interested, the bouquet that I was sent was the Extra Large Scented Lily Vase, which is also available in pink. And it's also worth remembering that if you do order from the Interflora website before 3pm on any day except Sunday, they can be delivered the same day. You can also find local florists, like florists in London. Great if you need to save the day because an occasion has slipped your mind. And as all orders get sent to a local florist to make up and deliver your flowers, they will always be as fresh as possible. These arrived last Thursday and five days on, they still look good as new.

Now I just have to have the income to afford lilies sent to my home weekly. That'd be nice! This is my little pat on the back to myself for surviving the holidays so far.

(I was sent these flowers for the purposes of writing a review. I have not received any further compensation and all opinions are my own. )

Monday, 8 August 2011

Meal Planning Monday

Third week of the holidays! My, it's flying. Last week's plan went OK but the campers brought some sausages home which went in the slow cooker, meaning we never got round to having burgers and we never got to have the roast on Sunday as we were invited to a very last minute family get-together on Sunday. Whilst the children were saway, I found some paneer in Asda and made a fantastic paneer and spinach curry.

As I'm writing this on Sunday night and I don't feel overly enthused with eating as I'm stuffed from the party. Do not expect miracles! Here's this week's plan:

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Toyologist Review - Lite Sprites

Missy avec Lite Wand, swing & sprite
As I mentioned in my post last week, this month's parcel was rather girl orientated and Missy Woo was rather happy about that. Part of the delivery included some brand new toys, which are just reaching the shops in the UK this month. They're called Lite Sprites. The five sprites are fairy-like and glow in different colours. One of the sprites, Prisma, comes with a Lite Wand and one of them is a naughty sprite who rejects colour. All of them have their own light pod which is basically their home. And they all live in a world called Lite-Topia. Got all that? Good, because I have a feeling you are going to be hearing a lot about these little sprites. 

These toys are very clever, especially when used with the Lite Wand. It can collect colours from a colour wheel but Missy Woo was very impressed when I put the wand on her favourite dress and the wand picked up the main colour - and then we shared it with the one of the sprites just by pointing the wand at the sprites! Impressive stuff. The sprites can remember these colours but also has 10 favourite colours built in. They can "catch" spells too but the naughty one, called Bleak, can cast spells. 

Thursday, 4 August 2011

My Fitness Story... - Annie

Hello, it's My Fitness Story time again. I didn't think I was going to have a post this week but I put out a plea on Tuesday and I was deluged by offers so I'm pleased to say I've got a few posts lined up for August now. Please don't let that stop you submitting your own - you can never have too many posts lined up, I've found! 

Wednesday, 3 August 2011


As I mentioned in this post, neither of the births of my children was straightforward. Monkey's birth went on for several days, involving lots of wasted trips to hospital, extra visits for monitoring, an induction that was advised but wasn't necessary, a cervix that reached fully dilated then went backwards, a full bladder and a baby that covered everyone and everything within a 2 metre radius with poo as he made his grand entrance into the world.

So, when Missy Woo came along, I was hoping for a birth that was quicker than that, and possibly less dramatic. (I forgot the call for infant cardiac arrest at a critical moment... only to be told later that it had been a practice and there wasn't a baby in trouble at all.)

Monday, 1 August 2011

Meal Planning Monday

So, I survived the first week of the summer holidays and mealwise, everything went pretty much to plan. The children especially liked the honey and mustard pork I made for them on Sunday (recipe - mix runny honey and wholegrain mustard, spread on pork chops or pork steaks and bake in the oven!) so that was good as it was a first for them. They've asked for it again soon. I could easily have given them more, it was pleasingly gone in just a few minutes. 
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