How to make the most of London this autumn/winter.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

With the winter on its way, the chances are that you’re spending your evenings snuggled on the sofa with a hot cocoa and a blanket - but there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. 

One of the very best cities to check out during the Christmas season is London – so below, we’ve rounded up ways to make the most out of a trip to our capital city.


Book accommodation in advance

There’s no denying that accommodation in London can be expensive – if you want to stay in The Lanesborough’s luxurious suite, for example, you’ll need to cough up £26,000 a nightTo get the best deal on your visit, you should make sure you book your hotel in advance. 

You can do so by checking out the bed and breakfast London section of the Toprooms website. There, you’ll find quality bed and breakfast rooms that don’t cost the earth and allow you to explore the sights and sounds of London on a budget.

Explore the Christmas markets

If you want to get into the festive spirit, then consider the Winter Wonderland, which is one of London’s biggest Christmas markets. With an open-air ice rink, more than 200 wooden cabins offering gifts and food and the Giant Observation Wheel, which rivals the London Eye, there's something for the whole family to do. 

Taking place throughout November and December, this free-entry market is a must-do on your next visit to the capital. Elsewhere in London, you'll find markets in Leicester Square, Southbank Centre and Clapham Common.


Take in a musical

It doesn’t make sense to visit London without taking in a musical, and with November and December being particularly busy times of the year for the West End, you should consider buying your theatre tickets now to avoid disappointment. 

The good news is that there is a whole host of musicals to consider, whether it's The Lion King, Aladdin, Les Misérables, Thriller or Matilda. Musicals are fun for the whole family and can be a great afternoon out.

Go shopping

Markets are great for finding trinkets and gifts for friends and family, but if you want to get prepared for Christmas, then London is the place to be. Not only can you find a whole host of stores on the capital's famous Oxford Street, but you'll find unique shops, such as Alice Through the Looking Glass at Charing Cross station, which offers Alice in Wonderland-inspired items. 

On Baker Street, you’ll find The Beatles Store which, you guessed it, stocks t-shirts and 1960s memorabilia, while Cyberdog on Camden’s Stables Market stocks fluorescent and futuristic clothes and accessories to get you ready for a night of raving.

There you have it – some of the best ways to make the most out of your next visit to London. 

There’s so much we didn’t mention, like creating a map of your activities and booking bus and tube fares in advance, so the best thing to do is explore the city on your own terms. 

Whether it’s your first time or you’re a veteran, have fun!

Talking favourite holidays and keeping in touch with those at home!

Friday, 10 November 2017

After a lot of Friends deciding to go abroad for Christmas this year, my Husband and I have found ourselves reminiscing on past holidays.

Our first together was back in 2005 when we had only been a couple for 6 months. We went on a bargain holiday to Bulgaria where it rained for 6 of our 7 days there, all our excersions were cancelled and we only got had enough sunshine for an hour in the outdoor pool the whole week!

However we loved it. We had a great time together, talked got hours, ate/drank too much and still look back on it very fondley. Fast forward ten years and I'm not sure how fun it would be with an almost 3 year old to amuse! Times were very different then though and revolved around bars and resteraunts not soft play areas and My Little Pony!

As a couple we have been to a few different places and would sometimes go on a few long weekend breaks instead of an actual holiday.

Once Liv was born we went to Haven in Lincolnshire for her first holiday, along with my Parents. We have been to the Dominican Republic with Family got my 30th Birthday, to Haven with 10 Family members and even to Florida for 3 weeks when Liv was almost 2 - Talk Talk Business kept us in the good books allowing us to Facetime the Grandparents on the go - they were not happy we had taken little away for 3 whole weeks I can tell you!


My Husbands favourite holiday with his family was Disneyland Paris. My Mother in Law spent many hours entering competitions back then and was very lucky to win a Family holiday!

The holiday that stands out most for me was Zakynthos in Greece way back in 2002 with my Parents and Brother. It was our only family holiday abroad having always holidayed in Devon and Cornwall as a child.

I remember the weather being amazing and the people being ever so friendly. Some of the views were spectacular. My favourite excersion was out to the Navagio (shipwreck) beach in Anafotiria Village. It is the most beautiful sight. It's an exposed cove which holds the wreckage of the Ship Panagiotis which was wrecked on the beach while allegedly smuggling cigarettes in 1983, giving it it's nickname "Smugglers Cove".



Isn't it beautiful? The limestone cliffs and sparkling, clear blue waters surrounding the shipwreck make for a must see if you are in the area. It really fascinated me. I would definitely take my little Family back. It would be interesting to see how it has held up over the last 12 years or so.

Where was your favourite holiday?


We had a great time in Florida - despite a minor car accident!



Back in 2013, we were incredibly lucky to spend 3 weeks in Orlando Florida and had an absolutely amazing time.

We visited some fantastic places like Disney's Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, and Aquatica. We swam with Stingrays, scuba dived and swam with Dolphins at Discovery Cove, visited a fantastic beach and made lots of amazing memories.


My top tips are: before heading off on holiday, always make sure you have plenty of snacks and things to keep the Children entertained, make sure your tyres are correct for the climate you will be driving in. Use a trusted company like www.tyreplus.co.uk, and always make sure you are fully ensured or take out full insurance on hire vehicles. You will understand why as you read on!

As well as Liv and her Daddy we also went with my Aunty and Uncle and their Son and Daughter, a true Family holiday.

Things didn't start too well though when, after a 9 hour flight we got through the airport and arrived in the car hire area and were presented with a very small, 7 seat 4 by 4. Trying to stay positive in the sweltering heat, we went ahead and tried to squeeze everyone in along with a car seat for Liv, 7 suitcases, 7 lots of hand luggage and a stroller. Twenty minutes later we had to face facts, it was not going to happen in a million years!


So after a chat with a representative of the car firm, we were given another set of keys and sent off down the forecourt to our only other option, a 14 seat bus. Yep an actual BUS. My poor Uncles jaw hit the floor wondering if he would be able to not only drive on the opposite side of the road but also manoeuvre this beast around safely. It was on that thought that he disappeared back to reception and quickly upped the insurance to fully inclusive (for about £6 extra!) better to be safe than sorry.


We really had no option but to take the bus (literally) so the boys started to load the immense amount of luggage through the back doors while I was tasked with installing Livs car seat.


That is when we hit upon a little problem - to get in you had to be a gymnast as the floor of the bus was about 3 feet above the ground, I am hardly short at 5ft 10 inches but only just managed and only one of our group was taller than me. While everyone fell about laughing at my attempts to get in I was convinced there would be some steps inside once I managed to get in, surely . . . . . .


Yes, you guessed it NO steps. So after a lot of laughing and heaving and hoeing we managed to get all of the shorties in and we were all ready to begin our Orlando adventures. 



First stop - Walmart for some steps! We left these in the bus when we returned it but I expect they were removed, I wouldn't be surprised if they have a stock room at the back filled with unwanted used steps.


We quickly got used to the bus and it actually ended up being a godsend having all the spare seats to spread out on when the heat started to get to us. Liv had her travel DVD player strapped to the headrest of the seat info t without it bothering anyone. We kept a box of toys and books on a spare seat to help keep her entertained on particularly long trips.

It was also very easy to pack everything we needed in when travelling for an hour or so each way to a park or beach, especially with a young toddler in tow.



As it turned out, the insurance was also a Godsend as reversing the opposite way off the Villa's drive for the first time just three nights before we left, my Uncle misjudged the distance between the bus and the mail box across the road . . . . . .


All of our jaws dropped as we heard a loud bang/smash/scrape of metal. As it turned out he had only smashed the rear light, the bulb was still working and the mail box hadn't budged so we cleared up the mess and carried on our holiday wondering how much we would be charged when we returned the bus.


Three days later the lovely Gentleman that signed it off didn't even look at the damage before declaring "Sir with your insurance coverage you could have driven it off a cliff and we wouldn't have charged you!" It gave us all quite a giggle!

The latest list of home improvements.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Last year we did a lot of redecorating and home improvements last year, including insulating the loft and turning a walk in wardrobe into more of an extension of our bedroom. It was really hard work and led to a lot of decorating but it was definitely worth it.

We are now working our way through the never ending list of jobs, upgrades or improvements we have left. This is the plan for the rest of the year.

1) Paint the kitchen.

Our current paint has cracked on the walls so we are planing on using this Pollyfiller SmoothOver before re-painting, it sounds very easy to use and should prevent us the cost of having to get a plasterer out. Our kitchen is very small so one tub should be enough to complete this job, although how efficient we will be is another matter!


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2) Finish the loft.

We insulated the loft last year which meant moving it's entire contents to one of my Mother in Laws spare bedrooms.

We now need to buy some more stilts to lay the boards on, shelving units for storage and eventually installing double sided ceiling insulation to help keep us warm in Winter and cool in Summer. 

Work up there stopped for several months as my Husband injured his back and shoulder, unfortunately for him that gave me plenty of time to look at some beautiful roof Windows and even found an article about how to choose the right blinds for them on the roof window store's website. This would give a beautiful finishing touch to the previously unused space, I may even venture up there too!

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3) Upgrade the living room TV.

Okay so we know this isn't essential but we have been meaning to do it for a while now. We have looked at so many different kinds and have finally decided on getting something from the rather fabulous Panasonic 4K TV range. We very rarely go out to the cinema or for a meal anymore so a bigger, better TV would get a lot of use and we deserve a treat! 
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4) Make our yard more Child friendly.

Sadly, our only outside space is a tiny little cemented yard at the back of our house. 

We are hoping to lay some artificial grass to make it a safer space for Liv while still allowing us to access the manhole.






Since we sadly lost our beloved King Charles last year, Liv now has the yard to herself with her own little trampoline, sandpit and outdoor toys, it's just the rough cement flooring that is an issue now.

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5) Replace all of the light switches and sockets.

We currently have white plastic ones at the moment but would love to upgrade them to some lovely matt silver ones, I believe the finishing touches really do make all the difference, don't you think?



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6) Update the living room wallpaper.

I still love the teal colour scheme we have but after looking at the same dated flowers for the last 6 years I think it's time for a change.


So that's our most recent list. What jobs are you planning on doing next?

Our dream Winter home - going away for Christmas?

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

After a sudden spurt of Family and Friends announcing they are going on holiday to warmer climates this Christmas, my Husband and I found ourselves musing over the idea too.

It turns out that we both agree - we hate the idea - thankfully!

Now don't get me wrong, we love a good holiday soaking up the sun we never seem to see here in sunny Wales, however Christmas to use screams wrapping up warm in your new knitwear while getting a red nose and cheeks from playing in the snow.

After a long chat involving a glass of wine or two, we have decided that the absolute perfect Winter home for us would be in Alaska.

Picture Christmas day like the Wham video for Last Christmas, opening presents from under the beautifully decorated real Christmas tree, next to a roaring log fire. Followed by making snowmen and snow angels in the crisp white snow, hot chocolate in front of the fire to defrost, while the Children excitedly play with their new toys and you all sing along to Christmas songs in the background.

Next up a home made turkey dinner around a huge dining table, lovingly made in the spacious kitchen with an Aga of course! A traditional nap in front of the Queens speech with the Quality Street to follow.

Then after an exhausting day full of eating, drinking and generally being merry, curling up into beautifully luxurious bedding from Julian Charles to watch the Northern lights above as you drift off to sleep - absolute perfection!


How beautiful is this?
Copyright Julian Charles


I genuinely cant even imagine how Christmas day would work in a country where it is boiling hot! Imagine being covered in sun cream on the beach on Christmas Day, eating a salad for lunch! Now after Christmas would be a whole other story!

Have you ever thought about going abroad for Christmas? What would your dream be?

Brought to you in collaboration with Julian Charles.

The best car for new drivers.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Now I am starting to learn to drive - at the ripe old age of 31 - I have been getting a lot of advice on the best first family car to buy.

This is all very welcome as I don't mind admitting that I am absolutely clueless about anything and everything relating to cars.

You see my Husband doesn't drive either so I have no experience at all of what size or type would suit us, which brands are most reliable, the difference between petrol and diesel and don't even get me started on how I wish I had paid much more attention to my Dad (who is a mechanic) when I was growing up, but  I'm afraid I was a stereotypical Girl who far preferred applying make up and buying new clothes to helping him mend the cars!

Anyway, I digress. For the last few weeks I have been doing some research based on the advice I have been receiving from Family and Friends and I have found that Skoda's are very highly recommended for new drivers.

A Friend of mine from Scotland has been helping me search and found an excellent local Skoda dealership selling both new and used cars in Scotland so I think it may be time for a visit! 

This is our favourite so far, a quality second hand Skoda Citigo which costs less than £45 a month (PCP)



We have decided we would definitely like 5 doors as it makes things far easier when getting Liv in and out of her car seat.

It is also important that whatever we buy is isofix compatible so that we can easily and quickly install Livs seat and also my Neices when she comes to stay, saving a lot of fiddling around and stress too!

If anyone has any more advice I would love to hear from you!

How to help your Children learn with music!

Friday, 29 September 2017

For those of you that don't know, Pomelody is a comprehensive online music education system for children 0-6 and their families. In short it is the world’s first music education e-learning platform for infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers.

Designed from the ground up to stimulate a child’s music potential while giving parents (even those of us with no music ability!) an opportunity to bond and have fun.


Having reached its Kickstarter target in just 10 daysPomelody is now targeting its stretch goal of $55,000 on Kickstarter which will enable the development of an institutional version of the platform giving free access to underprivileged children, such as in orphanages, around the world. Music can have an important therapeutic effect for children escaping from war or natural disasters and offers a positive escape.

Pomelody the world’s first music e-learning platform for infants, toddlers and preschoolers, managed a Kickstarter campaign with the aim to bring fun, family-bonding music education to children and parents everywhere.


The idea came from professional musicians Adam and Anna who, whilst raising a young family and knowing how powerfully music impacts on a child’s development, tried to find musical content that they could use in order to interact with their children. There was very little musical content available and what was available was unstructured. They set about designing, testing and recording a series of specially recorded songs, music theory tutorials for parents and animated stories for kids. The result is the first simple to access (online via PC, laptop or tablet), fun and engaging platform for parents to embrace music along with their young children. Indeed, the first music-making classes for families ever put on video.

The production of content (season one is finalized) and building the platform is nearly finished. Pomelody has used Kickstarter to successfully secure funding of $30,000 to help develop further seasons (delivered quarterly via PC, laptop and tablet) and to finish the platform build.



So, what exactly do you get as a series backer of Pomelody, firstly a Kickstarter special price $109 instead of $149, but also

· Collection of 25 songs - composed, recorded and produced with 12 different bands / artists
· 10 Pomelody classes recorded
· One songbook
· 3 animated lectures with music theory for parents
· Animated stories

Adam, Weber founder of Pomelody, said: “Music is such a powerful medium to stimulate a child’s imagination. Its benefits stretch way beyond childhood with many reports suggesting that it can boost an individual’s adult IQ by up to 18%, compared to children with no early years music exposure. Whilst this is motivation in itself, it's the sheer joy and bonding between a child and its parents that makes interacting with music so magical. With Pomelody we have a created a unique opportunity for families to bond, to learn, to have fun and to stimulate the next generation. We are very excited to bring this project to market and, fingers crossed, we can achieve our stretch goal and give free access to underprivileged children around the world.

I absolutely believe this yo be true. I am a huge music lover so Liv has been brought up around music her whole life, from singing nursery rhymes to making up her own songs with her musical instruments, I feel music has had a big impact on her learning. Also it is fun which means it is a great way to bond, best of all your little ones don't even know they are learning! I can't wait to give Pomelody a try!

Give the Kids Something Different This Birthday

Friday, 4 August 2017

Struggling to find the perfect birthday present this year? 

Why not try something they can’t break after a few days? 

Something which won’t leave them glued to a screen or keep them cooped up indoors all day. 


Remember the days, when playing outside in the garden or at the local park was our escape? The thing we would wait all day for until we finished school. 

Give your kid that same experience which they won’t forget, one they will be telling their kids about one day. 

Ticket to an event

Does your child enjoy listening to music?  Singing along to their favourite song? How about giving your child their first real experience at a concert, a play or a show? 
Let their love for music/dance/performing grow; watch them find inspiration by the uplifting atmosphere, you can find out who’s on tour by visiting sites like Ticketmaster.

Magazine subscriptions

Why not give your child a monthly subscription to their favourite magazine? Allow them to learn more about their favourite hobby, whether it’s an interest in cars or a particular sport etc. Give them the excitement of receiving an envelope with their name on every month, allowing them to feel grown up. 

Classes

Does your child dream of being the next Olympic athlete? How about the future winner of the Grand National? Or how about the next famous Popstar? Classes in skills such as horse riding, singing and dancing give your child the opportunity to improve their ability and become the best they can be. Allow them to feel part of something, enabling them to build friendships which will last a lifetime. 

Musical Instruments

Why not a piano to go with those piano lessons you bought at Christmas? Or a guitar, or a set of drums? Encourage your little one to practice each week and improve their skill. Let them express themselves in a different way, one which they can go to school the next day and show off their improved skill. 

A Piggy bank

Receiving a piggy bank gives your child a sense of independence and responsibility in learning to save and manage money. Why not let your children choose a toy which they have to pay for, encouraging them to save up for it? This gives them a chance to feel like a grown up and may benefit them in future.

Memberships

Why not something which could last the whole year. Does your little one share the same dream as most other kids? To have their own Gorilla? Tiger? Giraffe? Or maybe an Elephant, Rhino or Cheetah? The different Adoptions packages which The Aspinall Foundation offers include unlimited entry to Howletts Wildlife Park or Port Lympne Safari Park. 

Your child has the option to visit their beloved animal at any time throughout the month or the year dependant on the package. 

Day out

How about a day out, doing an activity they’ll love? The options are endless, for example, swimming, bowling, skating, have a picnic at the park or go on a bike ride. Being able to create great memories which will be remembered as ‘the best day ever’.

7 Things to consider for first-time homeowners decorating their homes

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Decorating your first home? Then we’ve put together our 7 top tips to help you, from discovering the artist within you to making the most of the inexpensive solutions available. You’ll soon have your new property feeling like a home. Here are some hints and tips on how to go about it

1) Incredible paint effects 

Take a leaf out of the book of Jocasta Innes and rediscover traditional painting techniques to introduce some unique style into your home. In her book Paint MagicJocasta re-introduced painting techniques such as marbling, stippling, stencilling and rag-rolling to the British public. So why don’t you have a go? It’s amazing the effect that a fresh lick of paint can have on a room. So get out your paint brushes and get to it. If you want to make a small room seem larger, then stick to pale colours and use paint with light reflective qualities toenhance the light levels in the room. It will help give your home a fresh new look and make it look brighter and bigger to boot. 

2) Statement furniture

Put a personal stamp on your home with a few pieces of statement furniture. Invest in furniture that is well crafted and will serve you for a long time to come. Shop around online to buy furniture directly from the manufacturers, so that you save by cutting out the middleman. That way you’ll get better quality for your budget and save the pennies and pounds.Look closely for the signs of a well-made piece of furniture from dovetail joints to wooden corner blocks and avoid those pieces that primarily utilise staples, glue and nails. 

3) Think vintage

Vintage style has been a firm favourite with interior designers for a long time now, and it’s an easy way to inject some personality into your interior design scheme. Scout around your local charity shops, auction rooms and car boot sales to find a few choice bargains. Don’t stick rigidly to one era. Have fun creating a pick ‘n’ mix of different styles to introduce a unique personal style into your home. If you’re looking for a focal point for a room, vintage finds can be the perfect means to achieve this.
If you’re working to a small budget to decorate your first home, then don’t forget to check out the freecycle network: www.freecycle.orgIt’s a community-based initiative that’sentirely non-profit making. Here, you could find a pre-loved pieced of furniture that needs a new home and stop it going to landfill. With people regularly updating their soft furnishings, living room suites and kitchens, you never know what nearly-new treasures you might find, so log on to find out.  



4) Making over your kitchen

Making over your kitchen doesn’t have to be expensive. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you need to shell out for an entirely new fitted kitchen, as that’s not the case. You can give your kitchen a fresh new look simply by giving it a new coat of paint or putting new doors on your cabinets. In fact, you don’t even need to do the latter, with specialist paint and colourful vinyl available to update a tired-looking kitchen. Have a go at some DIY jobs like tiling, there’s lots of advice available online from Wikihow to YouTube.        

5) Architectural salvage

Architectural salvage yards can be the perfect place to find an unusual feature for your new home or garden. Don’t just take things at face value, think about how you could reuse or repurpose objects and give them a new life. Old sinks and chimney pots have long been repurposed as eye-catching garden features, while vintage industrial paving could be reused to create the hard landscaping features in your garden. What’s more architectural salvage yards often come up trumps with striking features for inside your home from stained glass inserts for your windows to old sewing machine bases to repurpose as tables.

6) Discover your inner artist 

Discover the artist in you and get creative while decorating your new home. Whether it is fabric, painting, woodwork or ceramics that interests you, use your creative talents to make your house a home. Sign up for a local evening class and develop your craft skills. Get to work creating a bright rag rug for your living room, a painting for your wall, a quilt for your bedroom or a statement piece of ceramics to give the wow factor in your home. Consider reupholstering your vintage and charity shops finds to give them a new look. The sky’s the limit, so let’s get started.         

7) Light fantastic

Optimise the light levels in your new home by introducing mirrors and glassAgain mirrors 
are something you can pick up for a song in your local charity shop, but there are also lots of chic, inexpensive examples available in high street shops too. Consider creating a gallery effect with lots of smaller mirrors clustered together on one wall. Also, think about introducing glass tiles or light fittings with cut-glass elements that will reflect light around your home. 

So there you have our seven top tips for decorating your first home - we hope it’s got your creative juices racing and that you’ll soon have your new home decorated.