Category Archives: Uncategorized

Five things you probably don’t know about me

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1. I need glasses but I’m too vain to wear them except when I’m driving or watching TV. I just don’t feel like me in them, although it is nice to be able to see things occasionally. If I scowl at you across a road, I’m (probably) not grumpy, I’m just squinting to see you.

2. I hate washing my thick, wavy hair. It’s such a long, drawn out palaver. But I love it when it’s clean. Oh, to be the kind of person who can just whizz it under the hairdryer and run out the door. Does that person exist?

3. I would love to swap places with Lucy Worsley for a day. Wouldn’t be fun being clever for a living and getting to poke about in all those old buildings? She also has the most enviable hair and wardrobe. I’ve tried to imitate the hair, but it doesn’t really work so well on me (see point 2 above).

4. My house is often very messy and my children don’t always behave beautifully. I’d rather only share the good moments. I realise that by doing this I’m perpetuating the Instagram/blogging myth that everyone has a beautiful and perfect life, but that’s ok isn’t it? I think we all know by now that even the most beautiful photos have a heap of old junk pushed just out of shot. Or maybe that is just me after all.

5. I find it easy to justify spending money on clothes, but stint on shoes. I’m beginning to think it should be the other way round.  I’m always the one in the beautiful dress with the scuffed old boots covered in mysterious stains. I think I find it hard because I usually find pretty shoes uncomfortable, and spending money on sensible shoes is just too sensible.

I’d love it if you’d like to join in with me on this. Do tag me in and share your five things either on your blog, or on Instagram! 

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Our Easter holiday: chocolate, castles and an extinct volcano

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Hello from the other side of the Easter holidays! It’s been very quiet around here lately, as I’ve been spending time with my two energetic boys on their long school holidays. I hadn’t meant to have such a long break from the blog, so this is a bit of a rambling post.

Hot cross buns

The Easter weekend was right at the beginning of the holidays. The boys enjoyed two egg hunts – one here and one at their grandparents’ house. They were both treasure hunts with clues and the boys had such fun. And got a lot of chocolate (I totally failed to follow my own advice here). It was wet in the end, but the hunts were just as successful indoors – and actually the potential for clever clues is much better!

Tulips

After all the chocolate we needed a good walk by the river…

Puddle jumping

Followed by our first ice cream of the year!

Ice cream

After the Easter weekend we headed off for a few days in the Leicestershire countryside. We stayed in a beautiful little country cottage in the Vale of Belvoir, which is just over an hour away from us. James grew up in the this area and couldn’t wait to take the boys to some of his favourite places.

On our first day we visited Beacon Hill, overlooking Loughborough. It’s an extinct volcano and has the most amazing rocks to scramble about on. The boys love a bit of climbing and had a great time.

Beacon Hill

The hill is part of a larger country park which also has a Labyrinth made our of Rhododendron roots. The boys were fresh from watching Labyrinth the film for the first time, so were deeply excited by the thought of this. In reality, it wasn’t quite as exciting as the Goblin City, but it was still pretty fun and completely deserted.

Beacon Hill Labyrinth

For our next adventure we drove over to Nottingham Castle. The castle is sadly nothing like it would have looked to Robin Hood and his merry men (it was demolished after the Civil War), but underneath its unassuming exterior it still has its famous ancient tunnels.

Nottingham Castle

Nottingham Castle

The castle was built upon Castle Rock, and within this huge lump of sandstone (and underneath the rest of Nottingham) are a whole network of tunnels. We had a tour of Mortimer’s Hole which leads right up to the top of the rock. The history is really palpable down there and we all had a fascinating time – it’s not at all claustrophobic, more a big open tunnel which is quite steep in places.

Mortimer's Hole

Mortimer’s Hole

On our last day at the cottage we went to Belton House, which is near Grantham. Belton has the most amazing adventure playground with a miniature railway.

Miniature railway at Belton House

It’s also a beautiful house and garden, where the book and TV series Moondial was filmed in the late eighties. Those of you who follow me on Instagram may have noticed that I recently read the book and re-watched the TV series. So, I lured the boys with the adventure playground, and in return I got to spend a while wandering around pretending to be Minty from the book and generally being a bit sad.

Moondial at Belton House

I must apologise to the National Trust for standing on the Moondial (well, sundial really), but I couldn’t resist recreating this photo from my childhood…

Moondial

All in all, It was great to get away and we all fell in love with the wood burner in the holiday cottage.

Wood burner

Over the last weekend of the holidays we found ourselves at another castle. This time it was Castle Rising, an old favourite of ours in Norfolk.

Tom at Castle Rising

We usually just go to the castle, but this time we also did a three mile circular walk through the pretty countryside around it. We had a lovely picnic in the sunshine and even saw a beautiful hare close up. We rounded things off with an ice cream and a run around the castle. It was the perfect end to the holidays.

I hope you all had a great Easter too. I’m looking forward to catching up with all my favourite blogs over the coming week!

Lizzie x

An Easter giveaway!

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I’ve thoroughly enjoyed choosing the things for my shop and now I want to share a special treat with you – the chance to enter a rather nice Easter Giveaway. Just the thing to cheer up a Monday morning!

The prize is the lovely bundle of goodies shown above – a Renu jug, a sweet blossom candle and a leaf bottle stopper.To enter, simply use the competition form below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck! 

Our favourite Christmas books for children

Lucy and Tom's Christmas

Image: Shirley Hughes

If you love a book as a child then, chances are, it’ll stay with you. You might forget about it for twenty-odd years, but when you have children of your own, the memories of those favourite stories come flooding back.

My absolute favourite Christmas book is Lucy and Tom’s Christmas by Shirley Hughes. This book, first published in 1981, sums up my childhood Christmases better than any photograph. Her evocative illustrations evoke memories of my own childhood home, it could almost be our Christmas. I approve of the fact that Lucy and Tom don’t put up their Christmas tree until Christmas Eve. We don’t wait quite that long (more the end of the school term), but this ethos ties in very well with my own desire to celebrate Christmas in a traditional way.

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I am so happy to tell you that this wonderful book is back in print again. It now has a slightly different title – Lucy and Tom at Christmas. Shirley Hughes has also written an Alfie book all about Christmas time. Alfie’s Christmas is very similar to Lucy and Tom’s and you may notice some similarities!

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a bit of Raymond Briggs would it? Obviously we love the Snowman, in all its forms, but my boys adore Briggs’ Father Christmas even more.

FatherChristmas

It’s very British, a little bit grumpy and it makes a great change from all the sugar-coated nonsense we’re force fed from at the middle of November. Give me Father Christmas in his  ordinary house over Queen Elsa any day.

For older children, the magic of The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet and Alan Ahlberg never dims. It’s packed full of little letters to read, books within books and even a little jigsaw puzzle! One to be shared, year after year.

Jolly Christmas Postman

And we also love…

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Left to right:

Room for a Little One by Martin Waddell. This is a wonderful retelling of the Christmas Story.

Richard Scarry’s Best Christmas Book EverMy boys love this one, I am learning to love it!

Mog’s Christmas by Judith Kerr. The original and best book, not the new one which goes with the Christmas advert (which is also nice, but not quite the same).

There are so many lovely Christmas books out there. What are your favourites? I’d love to discover some new classics. 

 

 

 

An icy Sunday – in pictures

Frosty puddle

Yesterday was the first icy day this autumn. We wrapped up in our warmest things and set off for a walk. Little boys love icy puddles… especially when they have a stick to poke them with…

Frosty puddle

We posted a letter…

Post box

We ran down hills…

Running down a hill

With rosy cheeks and numb toes, we went to the market for a bag of roasted chestnuts…

Roasted chestnuts

Then back home for Stir-up Sunday…

Stir-up Sunday

Stir-up Sunday

Stir-up Sunday

As darkness fell the house was filled with the scent of winter spices.

The perfect way to spend a icy day.

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How to cope on a long car journey with kids

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We love our annual trips to Wales, but it does involve an eye-watering six and a bit hours in the car with my two boys. It’s always, always, worth it when we get there, but here are a few things I’ve learnt along the way…

1. Plan where to stop

Planning is key. We like to make a list of good places to stop at various points of the journey. You might not need them all, but it’s nice to know you’ve got it all ready just in case. A good alternative to a service station is to stop at a National Trust property. If you’re already members, then it’ll cost you nothing to go and eat your picnic, stretch your legs and use the loos. If you’re not a member, then look for places like country parks. If you stop at traditional service stations, there isn’t really a chance for children to run around – which is so important on a long journey.

2. Take plenty of snacks and a picnic

You don’t want to be at the mercy of over-priced service stations, do you? We always pack up a picnic to eat and plenty of snacks. The last time we forgot to take one,  we ended up spending about £25 in a roadside Starbucks on sandwiches which the boys didn’t eat. It was such a waste and ate into our holiday spending money. If you don’t have the time to make sandwiches, call into a supermarket and buy things like sausage rolls and apples – it’ll still work out much cheaper.

3. Consider breaking your journey halfway

Rather than trying to do everything in one go, it’s worth thinking about staying in a hotel at a good halfway point. When the boys were younger (and less good in a hotel) we used to press on, but now it’s getting easier to stop at a Premier Inn halfway. If you book in advance it’s pretty good value. We all share a family room and it’s quite fun for the boys. This means our journey is reduced to 3 hours each day – not so scary!

4. Make a simple map

If your children are inclined to start up the ‘are we nearly there yet…?’ chant as soon as you set off, then it’s worth making them a simple map so they can plot your progress. Draw a simple design on some sturdy cardboard and make a little car which you can move along with blu-tac as you go. This really helped my boys get an idea of how far we’d come – and how far we still had to go!

5. Travel sickness

My eldest son gets terribly car-sick. We’ve had some truly miserable times cleaning up sick on the roadside – usually when we’ve only been driving for about half an hour. At six, he’s old enough now to take travel sickness pills so we always make sure he’s had some before a long journey. My youngest isn’t affected so badly, but we use the wrist bands for him, just in case. If your child isn’t old enough for the tablets yet, then avoid giving them too many drinks, or a giant bowl of cereal for breakfast. Keep a window open, drive slowly on twisty roads and make sure you have a big sick bucket with lots of kitchen roll and wet wipes. It really is awful, and I wish they’d make some medication for under fives!

6. Play some simple games

We like to play I-spy – although my children have some quite amusingly creative ideas about the rules. Another game we always play is spot the Eddie Stobart lorry – the prize is a sweet, which I usually regret as we spot so many of the damn things!

7. Story CDS

We have a stack of fairy tales on CD which were free in a newspaper a while back. You can get good ones from the library too. These short stories are a bit easier for those with shorter attention spans!

8. Find your own coping mechanisms 

We always have a bag of sweets on the journey, which is probably very bad, but it cheers things up. And as much as I like picnics, sometimes it’s OK to just stop at a McDonalds – at least you know it’ll be clean and you won’t be ripped off. It’s fine – relax, and don’t feel guilty.

9. Have a few surprises up your sleeve

I sometimes buy a few little inexpensive toys or stationary as prizes or rewards – which is great if things are getting a little fraught. A new comic or a colouring book is a great thing to whip out at a stop, or in a hotel room.

What are your top tips for surviving a long car journey? I’d love some new ideas! 

 

You Baby Me Mummy

My Week

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After last week’s wet weather, we had a wonderful sunny weekend and we were determined to make the most of it.

Remember that mystery blue paint last week?

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Saturday was spent finishing off a very special project I have been working on – a customised children’s playhouse in collaboration with Wayfair. This project has been so much fun, and you can read my article in full here. Here’s a little sneak peak, but I’ll be sharing lots more photos and a fun little video next week.

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On Sunday we had a wonderful family day out at the seaside. My parents came too and we all drove over together to catch the steam train from Holt to Sheringham. It was a great day out and the weather was perfect. Read more here.

Sheringham

The rest of the week has been a busy one. My youngest son has been going to speech therapy summer sessions every morning this week, which has meant getting the boys up early. My boys are not early risers, and this return to routine has not been welcomed at this point in their holiday! The speech therapy sessions only last for 45 minutes, so I’ve been killing time in and around the hospital. I did a run one day, and sat in the Docky Box cafe on the others. It really is a dismal and depressing place! But it’s doing him huge amounts of good, so I mustn’t complain too much.

The only upside to hanging round the hospital (a former RAF hospital) is the amazing park nearby. The old RAF houses are now used by the US airforce and they brought their own exotic play park with them – known in Ely as the American Park...

American Park

Meanwhile, my eldest has been to a summer club every morning, which he’s enjoying.

There’s not been much time left for exciting outings in the afternoons – but we’ve managed to catch up with some friends and have a lovely picnic in the park.

In other news, James was run over by a van on his bike yesterday – miraculously he wasn’t hurt other than cuts and bruises. There are far too many dangerous drivers on the roads in Cambridge. It’s really scary.

My word of the week has to be routine. We’ve had an unwelcome return to it this week, and none of us were quite ready. We’re looking forward to going back to some unstructured, non-institutional fun next week!

Lizzie x

The Reading Residence

Love/Hate Blogger Challenge

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Catherine from Pushing the Moon has kindly nominated me for the Love/Hate Blogger challenge. I love reading these lists as they’re a great way to get to know someone a little better. I really enjoyed reading Catherine’s list and I agree with all of it – especially the bit about putting away the laundry!

It’s hard to just pick ten things, but I’ve tried not to over-think it! Here’s my list…

10 Things I Love

1. My family

2. Tea – I couldn’t live without it and drink a bit too much of it. It’s usually builders, strong with lots of milk but no sugar – but I’m not averse to fancy tea on occasion. My parents used to call me a tea baby.

3. Buying new clothes. Or perhaps, more specifically, looking at nice clothes catalogues and thinking about what I’d love to buy if I had more money.

4. A tidy house. Shame it happens so rarely. I sometimes achieve a tidy room, but these days it’s rare for the whole house to look good.

5. Any book by Elizabeth Jane Howard.

6. North Pembrokeshire. Our favourite place to go on holiday.

7. Old houses with beautiful (but informal) gardens.

8. Dogs, even though I don’t have one at the moment. They’ll never be another kind of pet that comes close.

9. Talking. I love to chat and mull things over.

10. Cold, crisp weather. With coats, gloves and scarves.

10 Things I Hate

1. The never-ending housework of family life. I’m only ever treading water at the moment – the ironing basket rarely diminishes and the piles of irritating stuff gather more dust daily.

2. Only having one very small bathroom in our house. Clearly, this would’ve been a luxury once upon a time, but times and expectations change, don’t they? I hate the revolting mess two boys make of the one toilet every day. I’ve never had to clean a toilet so frequently – multiple times a day – yet it never feels properly clean! A downstairs loo would relieve the pressure considerably, but would require a lot of work and remodelling of the layout of our house. I’m thinking a compost loo at the end of garden?!

3. Anxiety. My weakest, and most hated, characteristic. Hating it doesn’t make it go away, but it does at least allow me to recognise it for what it is.

4. Seeing my children upset, or struggling with something. It’s definitely getting harder as they get older and meet new challenges.

5. Driving. I’m perfectly ok at it, I just really don’t like doing it very much. I think more than anything, I hate the fact that I don’t feel more confident about doing it.

6. Blood. I am terrible at the sight of blood and turn to jelly.

7. Wasting money. Even though I end up doing it quite a lot.

8. Feeling shy in new social situations.

9. Getting builders in. A necessary evil sometimes, but not one I enjoy at all!

10. Grey, dreary weather that goes on for days on end. Particularly bleak in the Fenland landscape.

I’m not going to do any specific nominations, but if you’d like to take part do let me know as I’d love to read your lists!

Lizzie x

Legoland for beginners

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Last Friday the boys’ school had a training day. A lovely, random day off – instant long-weekend!

We normally have our training days on a Monday, the day before the start of a new term at school – which is never the best time for a big day out. We decided to make the most of it and head to Legoland Windsor. It’s so rare to get the chance for a legitimate weekday off school and we hoped that it wouldn’t be too crowded.

After one visit, I’m certainly not an expert on the place, but here are a few tips I’d like to share…

1. Get there before it opens. We left home in Cambridgeshire at 7am and arrived at the park for 9.15. It was still fairly quiet at that point, lots of space in the car park and only a small queue at the turnstiles – including some of Gabriel’s classmates, which was a nice surprise! They let us in at about 9.30, and we then had half an hour to wander round the Star Wars mini model exhibit (the only thing open apart from the shop) before they opened the pathways into the main park.

2. Don’t bother going if your children are under 4. Some may disagree with this, but I’m glad we put off going to until both our boys were old enough to go on all the rides and enjoy them.

Legoland Windsor

3. Don’t try and do everything on your first visit. We really wanted to visit the Knight’s Kingdom first, so we skipped past the water rides to get down there before the crowds reached it. This was a great move as it was blissfully quiet. We went on the two dragon rollercoasters which were really fun and we hardly had to queue at all. It was so much quieter in the morning and I’m glad we did this bit first.

4. They have a system called Q-bot where you can pay to avoid standing in lines. We didn’t bother as it didn’t seem busy enough (the longest we had to queue was about 40 minutes) but I think it would be worth doing for a hot, busy weekend. The most basic one is £15 per person. You still have to wait, but you can wander round or sit in the shade and the Q-bot will tell you when it’s your turn. The more expensive ones cut down your waiting time – Express is £35 per person and cuts the wait by half, Ultimate is £75 per person (yikes!) and means you can skip straight to the front. Seems a bit like silly money to me – but I would consider the basic one, especially in hot weather.

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5. Does anyone actually pay full price for their entry tickets? I exchanged a year’s worth of Tesco vouchers for our tickets, which is great value. Most other people seemed to be using money-off vouchers of some kind – either from packets of cereals or newspapers. A good deal on your entry makes things like the Q-bots a lot more appealing.

6. Take a picnic. Some of the food looked ok, but it was expensive and the queues for the various kiosks were very long by lunchtime. We sat in the fantastic pirate play area to eat it –  with a couple of takeaway coffees for the grown-ups. We did queue up a few times for drinks and ice-creams, but it was much better to have our own nice picnic which I knew everyone would eat!

7. One of our favourite rides was the Lego Atlantis submarine aquarium trip. This was the longest queue we stood in, and it looked a bit dingy from the outside – but it was really fun! The boys loved seeing the real fish, sharks etc and I was pretty excited too.

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8. The most disappointing ride was the Heartlake City train, which broke down before it left the station! Plus, Tom dropped that pony on the track and it had to be retrieved by a kind Lego person.

9. The Lego staff were all really friendly and the whole park seemed a really happy place to be. Maybe this was because it was a weekday? Or maybe they all just really love Lego.

10. Get out while the going’s good. We decided to leave at about 4pm – before we all got cross and tearful, and to avoid the worst of the traffic and potential car park queues. As we’d got up pretty early, and it was a hot day, we were all very tired. I think if we hadn’t had a long journey home ahead of us we’d have stayed a bit longer – apparently it starts to get quieter again later on. In the event, there were no queues to get out of the car park, although the M25 was as horrible as you’d expect it to be at 5pm on a Friday.

The boys are already keen to go again (every weekend if possible!). It’ll definitely be easier next time!

Oh, and one last thing – remember to just smile and relax – it may be expensive and busy, but it’s only one day and your children will love it!

Twinkly Tuesday

 

DIY one-strand shell mobile

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You may remember we came back from our recent trip to the Isle of Man laden with shells and driftwood. I can never resist bringing things back from the seaside, but I never know what to do with them once I get home. Something of the beside-the-seaside joy is lost, and they tend to be left in carrier bags to gather dust.

Shells and glass

Katie from A Touch of Domesticity suggested a nice idea for the shells: a simple one strand mobile. I loved the idea and on a very rainy Sunday last weekend, I finally made it!

I’ve always thought that drilling holes through shells was nigh on impossible, so I enlisted the help of James and his electric drill. You will need some very, very strong drill bits – we used these Bosch Tungsten carbide tipped bits.

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The trick is to think of it as grinding, rather than drilling. Go slowly and use something like a cork mat to stop the shell spinning. These were thick shells and there was a lot of messy dust. Goggles are probably a good idea if you are using thinner, more brittle shells. It took a few minutes per shell – although the more pressure you can put on the drill, the quicker it goes.

drill a hole in a shell

shells with holes

Once you’ve dealt with the drilling, you can start the fun bit. Gather your shells, string, beads and anything else you want to use. I found these green wooden beads in Tiger and I also used a few large shell beads from an old broken necklace.

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Simply thread the shells and beads onto your strings, spacing them out with some triple knots. I started mine off with a hanging loop and went on from there!

shell string

Our string of shells is now happily hanging on our kitchen chalkboard. I can’t wait to get started on more shell crafts soon as I still have masses of tiny shells left! Any ideas?

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