Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Guess what we did last weekend.

Now this is how to choose your food in a restaurant. I suspect the coolness and nostalgia was entirely wasted on my boy.

Jamie's italian retro menu for kids

In the Bionic Bar these robots mix any cocktail of your choice - including a few non-alcoholic ones.

The machines are mixing our drinks now 

Yep I had a spa treatment and went out for dinner - pampered and primped :)

A rare attempt at glamour

With a slight lull in the day and a boy in kids' club I decided to catch a show. It was 'We Will Rock You' and it was fantastic. I had no idea I knew the words to so many Queen songs (all of them). 

The Killer Queen

Balcony blogging - ah the glamour of the cruising life. I could get used to sitting in the sun and capturing bon mots al fresco. 

My new office (I wish)

Disclosure: We were invited on a 'shakedown' pre-inaugural cruise on Anthem of the Seas by the lovely folks at Royal Caribbean. These are of some of the activities we enjoyed while there. 

Sunday, 19 April 2015

A sailor's life for me (sort of)

Ahoy there Sailor ! 
A while back I visited the world's largest cruise ship Oasis of the Seas and it was part of a new fleet being launched by Royal Caribbean - the Quantum ships. This weekend me and big boy are enjoying a pre-inaugural trip on the latest of this fleet, the Anthem of the Seas. As my in-laws live in Southampton we stayed over with Grandma and Grandpa on Friday evening so we could make an early start on Saturday morning. On arrival at the terminal building we were met by these jolly greeters who wished us a pleasant trip and went for the check-in which is all done online using handheld tablets. Security is airport style so we were prepared for this and it was all very smooth. We even managed to pick up some magazines in the terminal building, although - of course - we've been far too busy to read them !!

Mum airways
The lovely folks at Royal Caribbean planned a busy itinerary for us so we got on board promptly and made sure we found our room so we could get cracking with the activities. The first was this amazing skydiving machine called iFly which I thought was only for adults but my amazing and brave boy had a fly too. I was blown away by how well he did and even though he found it a bit overwhelming he made me so proud. 

Brave Boy
One of the cliches you hear about cruises is that you end up eating a lot of food as it's all there. Well, I can honestly say we've eaten a hell of a lot of food this weekend, but it hasn't been all buffets by any stretch. We ate in a Patisserie yesterday afternoon where they served a great hot chocolate for my boy and had a display of beautiful macarons and other petits fours that looked delicious. They were not available to eat, just to look at, but it's just as well really !! There is a lot of choice of places to eat on board and when you have little ones to feed that makes a lot of difference. Having the option for a slice of pizza or a quick bite in the afternoon or late morning can be the difference between a happy child and an almighty meltdown. 

La Patisserie 
Talking of which we also signed up for the kids club on board. Adventure Ocean is over two floors and provides childcare for children in age ranges from 3-5 (Aquanauts) 6-8 (Explorers) and 9-11 (Voyagers). There is also a room suitable for nursery age children. My boy loved it so much in the kids club I had to prise him out of it last night and he was raring to get back in there this morning. For child who isn't always keen on such things he really took to it. The staff are all fully trained and take great care of the children. On a cruise you would have a phone which they can use to contact you on the ship in case of emergency. Royal Caribbean also offer a babysitting service in room where 2 fully trained members of staff stay with your child. It is a paid for service and at $19 per hour I can honestly say it would give me peace of mind knowing I could go out to a show or for a meal knowing my children were being taken care of in room instead of by a monitor system.  

Decorative vintage aprons

Cruises haven't traditionally been seen as family holidays, but this ship has really given me pause for thought when it comes to taking my kids away. The kids club for one and the facilities on board for older children are amazing. On this ship there is a basketball court and circus school during the day and it's used for dodgems or roller disco at night. Then late at night it's a club venue for adults. I even tried my hand at a bit of trapeze this afternoon - photos to follow on social media no doubt. Finding time to do fun things for yourself can be a tough on a family holiday and that was one of my aims with this cruise. I have to admit it felt odd not having a child with me and to wander around thinking about how to spend my time, but it also was quite nice to have a spa treatment - hot stone massage, blissful by the way - and to go and watch a show with a cocktail served in my theatre seat. 

This is the life !
Admittedly, it's a different kind of holiday. The ship has different 'zones' for different interests so there is the pool deck and the Seaplex with games zones and fun areas for children. There are bars and cafes as well as formal dining and plenty of places to stop and have a quick bite or to get a drink. In fact my chosen blogging style is now a touch more decadent as I've taken to treating myself to a glass of bubbly before sitting down to write. I can see this being the way forward for me :) 

In a later post I'll tell you about some of what we got up to on the second day !

Disclosure: We were invited to try out the new Anthem of the Seas ship by the lovely folks at Royal Caribbean and Mumsnet. 

Friday, 17 April 2015

Let them eat cake, by them I mean me :)

I'm pretty sure most people I know think that life is better with cake. Apart from the gluten intolerant ones of course. They can only look at real cake enviously and wonder what a soft sponge is like and why life is so unfair. I kid, it's not funny and there are some pretty awesome gluten free cakes now. In face I'm sure one of the Bake Off challenges has been to make edible and tasty gluten free cakes. The phenomenal success of the Great British Bake Off is proof of our national love of all things cake related. When it's on I tend to be more inspired to bake at home, but I do have a few favourite cake recipes I stick to all the time.

I go through phases of making my own cakes and have been known to make muffins, brownies, banana loaf and used to make a lot of decorative birthday cakes following recipes from a Mary Berry baking book that I borrowed from the library years ago. However, I am also partial to nostalgia cakes and am not at all snobby about buying rather than making them for myself. My joy was stratospheric last week when the postman delivered this pretty parcel. It contained a selection of delicious Mr Kipling cakes including Viennese Whirls, Bakewell Tarts and my favourites - French Fancies.

My love of cake is such that on a semi regular basis me and my lovely friend SJ take in in turns to choose a venue for a posh afternoon tea as a special treat. I arrange childcare (Hubbie takes the boys to watch football usually) and we meet up and spend hours enjoying nice tea and delicious sandwiches and - of course - scrumptious cakes. It is always nice when someone else makes the effort for you. It's enough effort for me to pop a teabag in a mug never mind make a pot of tea so there's a very slim chance that I'd take the time to cut the crusts off sandwiches at home. I do, however, sometimes treat my boys to an 'afternoon tea' at home. I get out the nice cake stands and clear some space on the dining table that is always covered in stuff so we can sit and eat. Hubbie chooses a nice herbal tea, I pick a posh black tea and then we get to the heart of the matter. The star of the show. The reason we are even doing this thing. The cakes !

I've been a fan of Mr Kiplings cakes since I was a child. Theirs was the first apple pie I ever tried and the first bakewell tart. On the rare occasions when my Mum let us have fondant fancies we all had our favourite flavours. When we visited my Mum on Friday I took a box of them with me to share with everyone. My Mum has always been a fan of tea and cake and whenever we go there however much we have eaten for lunch she will still put on the kettle and serve cake before we head home. On this occasion it was a lovely sunny afternoon so we sat outside to take tea in garden with my parents.  I don't let my boys eat cake that often so when I offered these to my older boy he was delighted and he went for a pink one, Hubbie took a chocolate one and I instinctively went for the lemon. My sister laughed and said, "I should have known you would have that one, you always did." It is true and the bane of my life was that you'd never get enough lemon ones in a box so I'd have to ration myself. Can you imagine my delight when I found that you can get a box of only Lemon Fancies ? Now I get to have as many as I want. Don't even get me started on the big fondant fancy cake - I finally tried it last year and it made me very happy indeed.

I've probably established that a love of cake pretty much defines my very existence, but I hope that this last demonstrates that it's not an entirely selfish escapade on my part. Every week I have a standing date for a 'tea and chat' with my lovely neighbour Jill. When we moved into this house our boy was one year old and the lovely retired couple next door were so kind to us. Jill and her late husband Phil noted with delight how he grew, began to walk, learned to talk and became cheekier with every passing week. We would sit in the garden in the summer drinking wine while our boy ran around and would find any excuse to meet up for tea and cake. Phil was such an interesting man and I was so sad when he told me he had been diagnosed with cancer. He went from vibrant, funny and energetic to weaker and reclusive then after a period of illness he passed away. I would still ask Jill if she needed any help with shopping or a lift anywhere (she hates driving) or anything really. She would say she was fine so I'd leave it. I would invite her for tea and cake and she would pop in to see the boy and to have a natter. One day she mentioned that Phil would have loved to see how much our boy has grown and when he was very ill and we didn't see him so often he said he could hear our boy chatting over the garden fence and it made him smile. We call Jill 'spare granny' and she loves it. Once a week I get some nice cakes in and we have a catch up over a cup (or two) of tea. I offer cake and Jill says, "Oh, not for me," but every now and then she will indulge. I can honestly say that even though we'd meet up anyway the cake does make it feel a bit special and I like to make the effort for someone who means so much to us.

Life is definitely better with cake - whether it's indulgence or nostalgia or spending time with someone special.

I'm going to put on the kettle, I'm feeling a bit peckish :)

This post is an entry for #betterwithcake Linky Challenge (, sponsored by Mr Kipling. Learn more at 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Strawberries and cream optional

If you are a regular reader you will know that we are an active family who love to do things outdoors and my boys love sporty things the most. Since he was 18 months my bigger boy has been playing all sports including football and basketball and in the last year he got into playing tennis too. For a long time he didn't really enjoy it as kicking or throwing a ball was simpler. Then when he got a bit older he had some really great coaching and it made all the difference. Suddenly he was interested in tennis and he was also pretty good at it. He has been fortunate to have great coaching in lots of sports as we live in an area with some very affordable and professional coaching by our favourite sports organisation Totstars. My boy is blessed with natural talent and great hand-eye co-ordination so he is good at most sports (which he does not get from me or his Dad incidentally) he picks things up pretty fast and does well straight away. Now I've never been any good at tennis, but this month Highland Spring are providing free tennis lessons for families as part of a spring promotion to encourage families to participate in the sport. It has made me think it might be worth giving it a go to see if there is any potential for me to learn a few skills. 

Highland Spring Mini Tennis Month 2015 will take place in schools, parks and tennis venues across the UK in April 2015.  Tennis venues will be hosting free parent and child coaching sessions for the whole family to promote tennis as a family sport by showing parents how easy it is to play tennis with their children. Highland Spring is committed to getting more children to adopt better hydration habits and take part in active sport. This passion is reflected in Mini Tennis as an opportunity to inspire and motivate more children to take up the sport and get active. Mini tennis has smaller courts, nets and rackets and lower bouncing balls, offering the perfect introduction to the sport, with all the fun and energy tennis offers. This programme has been developed by the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), enabling players to develop vital skills and techniques at an early age. You can also find your closest Mini Tennis events here 

I always thought tennis was only for posh folk - not least as you had to keep the outfits white ! - but it's simple enough to practise and play with very little kit. Of course you don't have to take my word for it - here are Judy Murray's tips for how to get started - and as the mother of Andy and Jamie and a tennis coach herself she knows a thing or two about it. 

Judy Murray’s Top 10 Tennis Tips:

1.‎ Tennis can be played almost anywhere with a little bit of creativity and imagination. Our first "court" was our driveway at home, with two chairs and a piece of rope for the net.

2. The physical skills needed to play tennis can be developed at home using everyday household objects. ‎Jamie and Andy used to knock balloons over the sofa in our living room using their hands or cardboard cut out bats when they were toddlers. 

3. Tennis is quite a complex coordination sport, so learning how to handle a piece of equipment and to throw and ‎catch a ball are prerequisites to hitting a ball with a tennis racket. 

4. Tennis is a two-sided sport so it's important to develop coordination in both sides of the body. Make sure kids learn to throw, catch, roll and kick with left and right limbs.

5. ‎Because tennis is a combat sport, you always need someone to play with. Parents and siblings are usually the first port of call so even if your time is limited, 10 minutes a day of simple but fun skill-building activities at home, will help your kids to progress. 

6. Tennis is an unpredictable sport. You never know where or how your opponent is going to hit the ball. So you need to have quick reactions and be able to hit at different heights and varying speeds. Try throwing and catching with left hand, right hand and both hands together... from ankle height to above the head. 

7. Serving is often the hardest thing to learn. Pinata is a great way to get kids hitting above their head with a bat in their hand. ‎Fill a plastic bag with ripped up paper (and a few wrapped sweets). Tie a knot in it and loop the knot over a stick or the washing line. Ask kids to run and jump up to smack the pinata with their bats until the bag breaks and the sweets fall out. It’s a simple way to learn the serving/smashing motion. 

8. Learn to judge distances/heights and improve aiming skills by putting a number of targets at varying heights/distances/directions. Start by throwing at the closest targets and then move to those further away. 

9. Always start simple and achievable. Build confidence through success and then make the task tougher. As soon as a kid can do something easily, make it more challenging. That's the way to develop coordination skills. 

10. Be encouraging and demonstrate how to do things. Kids learn best by copying.

So, not excuses find a local mini tennis activity and give it a go. You don't have to aim for the Wimbledon final, you could just aim to have some fun. You can find more tips and some ideas for activities suitable for different ages in this handy guide. Strawberries and cream are - of course - optional :)

Monday, 13 April 2015

Happy Cattiversary Neo

Arty cat photo 

Seven years ago we moved into our new home together in Croydon. We had been married the previous October and spent months decorating and preparing our new home while we lived in my one bed flat in London - that was next door to Battersea Cats and Dogs Home. The excitement of moving into our first home together was surpassed only by the knowledge that at last we could have cats as we had a garden and space for them to roam.

We went on a Saturday afternoon to visit the cattery at Battersea and were looking for a pair of cats to keep each other company. Hubbie opened the door carefully and a small white cat was standing on the other side of it - clearly with an eye on the main chance. We managed to get into the room without the cat escaping and went to look into the containers that the cats were housed in. Each one had a note on the front of it giving some information about the cats inside. We wanted a friendly pair of cats who could live with children and would go outside. Hubbie had specified he'd prefer boy cats - he isn't a fan of girl cats as they can be divas apparently. Take it up with him, I'm just the messenger.

Ninja cat
So after wandering around and reading the profiles of the cats it appeared that all the pairs had been taken or were allocated and waiting to be collected. All the while we had been perusing the white cat had been climbing around at head height and watching us. We checked out his container and the profile described him as a domestic short hair cat who could live with children - possibly with other cats and to ask for more information about his health. He was aged 6 and a half and had been living there for a few months.

We had a chat about either taking one cat or waiting for a pair to come up. The white cat was at Hubbie's feet by now. He looked at the white cat, he looked at me and said, "I think I like him. Let's ask." We heard that he was a friendly cat who liked being outside and who had been with them for a while. He had some health issues which they advised we speak to the vet about him. We gave him some cat treats said bye for now and went to see the vet.

The vet told us that he had been treated for an unspecified skin condition, he had an allergy to fleas and a heart murmur, but was friendly. They had no idea how long he would have and they could only really say that he might have 6 months if we took him. We were advised to go home and think about it and make a decision. I spoke to another vet about the skin and the heart murmur and was told that a cat can live for years with the condition just like a human can. We spoke about it when we got home and we both felt that however long he had left we didn't want him to spend it in the cattery. Nice as it is there we wanted him to have the freedom to play in a garden and enjoy the outdoors again.

Is it a reindeer or a cat ? 
During the week I visited the PDSA to buy a cat carrier to bring him home in. We bought some cat litter, a tray and some cat food. Someone was freecycling cat toys and a cat cave so I went to pick those up for him. By the weekend we were so keen to bring him home we could hardly wait. Neo was so popular that it took ages to leave the cattery. Everyone wanted to say bye to him and the staff were sorry to see him leave, but happy he was going to a loving home. The vet gave him a check up again and told us that his heart murmur was at a level 3. It wasn't very serious but could get worse. Battersea gave us a few packs of cat food and his favourite blanket and a towel to cover his basket as it was raining outside. They weren't going to take the suggested donation of £50 for him, but we insisted on giving it as we really do appreciate all the work they do for animals.

I used to rush home from work to see Neo as he had to stay indoors for the first few weeks. The first time we let him out he jumped over the back fence and disappeared. My heart stood still as it seemed like he'd never comeback, but it was dinner time and sure enough he reappeared at his bowl ravenous.

Bend it like Neo 
This weekend Neo has been with us for 7 years. I have his heart checked every time we go to the vet and after he'd been with us for 6 months I asked the vet how it sounded. He said, "it's minimal, a one at most I'd say." I like to tell everyone that we fixed his heart with love. That living with us he has given us so much happiness and we hope we have given Neo a happy life too.

He has moved house with us and now has a lot more garden to roam. He has seen our family grow and now has two small boys (one smaller than the other) to deal with. He is patient, friendly and the boys adore him. Neo is such a special member of our family and I'm so delighted that he chose us.

Happy Anniversary Neo xxx
Relax, it's your birthday :) 

There are some great organisations that rehome cats and dogs:

Foal Farm

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Pure joy is a hunky man carrying my cat.

This week me and Hubbie were watching an episode of Hawaii Five-0 that I had recorded a few weeks ago. I say 'we' were watching when in actual fact it was mostly me - on account of the fact that my passion for Steve McGarrett is what really draws me to the show. Hubbie was only half paying attention - as usual - so neither of us was entirely invested in it to be honest.

That was until this thing happened. It was a fairly uneventful plot and we were half paying attention and laughing at our kids (we only do this when they've gone to bed as it seems funny when they aren't actually within earshot.) It was while we were chuckling at how odd they really are that we spotted someone very familiar on the TV.

Mr Pickles - looking a lot like Neo

Yep this guy. Apparently he's called Mr Pickles, but we know him as Neo. Yes. Our cat was in Hawaii Five-0 with Steve McGarrett and Danno !!! I cannot tell you how happy it made me to watch the hunky Alex McLoughlin carrying my cat around. A man who can carry a cat as casually as this is guaranteed to warm my heart and let's face it Alex didn't have to do too much to start with. 

Hey Neo, you lucky, lucky lad you. 

I think there is every chance that Steve / Alex may well usurp my beloved (and now married) George as the one who I would leave Hubbie for. If I 'had' to, not for nothing - obviously. 


So, I'm sharing these images with you and on the blog so that on days when the boys have left the bathroom looking like the Somme and the kitchen looks like a gaggle of cats have had a drag race around it all night or when I trip over teeny tiny hot wheels cars or bleedin' construction pieces of any kind (I will actually maim whoever told my son about those !!) I can find a quiet space, go to this page and drool. 

Danno, Steve and Neo / Mr Pickles. 
Oh and when I showed the photos to big boy he said, "It's not Neo Mummy." I asked how he knew and he said, "His eyes aren't that colour." I didn't have the heart to tell him it wasn't the cat that I was paying attention to. In a few years time he will have his own obsessions to indulge. 

And me and his Dad will laugh about it when he's gone to bed. 

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

An egg hunt, some tree climbing and an offer we can't refuse :)

Over the Easter weekend we had hoped for warm weather - but not too warm - so that we could do our annual Easter Egg Hunt in the garden. With two boys taking part this year I bought new collecting buckets in fetching yellow and we made an early start to ensure there was plenty of time to eat the finds and to prevent any animal pilferage. As it was a little damp underfoot they put on outdoor shoes and matching hoodies to seek out the tiny chocolate bunnies, the beanie filled eggs and finally the big eggs they all got - yes even Daddy.

In the afternoon the weather was so nice that we decided to take a trip to a local park so with one boy on his scooter and another in the buggy we trotted off down the hill and saw that a lot of other families with children were doing the same - probably also trying to wear off the effects of chocolate overload I imagine ! You may recall my big boy has a thing about climbing trees at the moment so he was delighted when we spotted this massive tree with enormous exposed roots and lovely, crunchy pods underfoot.

The next morning was a lot sunnier so Hubbie kindly took the boys outside to kick around a football so I had the house to myself for a little while. I did nothing more exciting than a bit of washing up and sorting out, but it was much easier - and faster - without the small persons around.

While the boys were outside I heard a jangling sound and I was puzzled what it was. I did wonder if it was a rag and bone call or something similar so I went out the front of the house to look and imagine my surprise when I saw a fire engine a few doors down from us ! My boys love fire engines and I called them to come and see the real life one that was in their road. I have never seen my big boy move as fast as this when I've asked him to do something.

The kind chaps on the engine were checking fire hydrants in our road and they were more than happy to show my boys all the equipment on the fire truck. As a devotee of Fireman Sam my boy asked to see all the axes, tried out a hose and even checked out the ladders. We were invited to pop over to the fire station any time to see more engines so with a few more days of school hols I think we might just take them up on that :)

This post is being shared with the #countrykids linky hosted by the lovely Fiona of Coombe Mill 

 Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall