Saturday, 31 August 2013

Review: Exbury Gardens & Steam Railway (New Forest)


Whilst we were on holiday in the New Forest we were lucky to be offered review tickets for Exbury Gardens and steam railway. It is not somewhere I have heard of before and to be honest, a garden might not normally be my first choice of place to visit with my 3 young kids. However we’d have been missing out due to my narrow mindedness and assumptions that my kids would like something more glitzy.

We found Exbury fairly easily, once you start to get close there are the brown signs that direct you in and I was surprised to find the car park practically empty and the place looked pretty deserted. Upon speaking with the receptionist I learnt that the key times for visits are April/ May when all the world famous rhododendrons and azaleas blossom. Looking at the brochure the colour in the gardens at that time looks amazing, really beautiful. Once autumn is fully here that is another key time for visits too as all the trees change.

It would then be easy to think that summer might hold nothing much for us to see but actually the gardens are interesting and well maintained at all times in the year. The Sun Dial and Tennis Court gardens are bright and beautiful and the trees offer a variety of shapes, sizes and colours all the year long. There were some unusual tree species like the Tulip Tree, Monkey Puzzle Tree, Mahogany Maple and weeping beech.

Buggy Ride
First off to we hopped on a chauffeur driven buggy for a guided trip around the gardens, this took about 45 minutes and we hopped off to look at the carp in one of the ponds and gladly listened to our guide tell us about the history of the gardens and area. He was also really knowledgeable about the species of plants on site and it was amazing to hear that just 8 gardeners tend the land on the estate (all 200 acres of it). The buggy is an optional extra and costs £4 per person, I thought it was thoroughly worth it and even the dog was welcome on the buggy.

The driver was such a friendly guy, both Miss E and Miss M took turns to sit with him and chat

Walks through the garden
There are 23 miles of walks through the gardens and they offer a whole variety of different landscapes, some by the river, others through valleys of rhododendrons and some through more formal gardens. I love the meadow with river view that in the spring is covered in daffodils and of course the kids love to run through the woodlands and more densely planted areas. The paths are generally earth and can be a little uneven but there are many that are suitable for those in wheelchairs or with disabilities.

There are lots of benches to be able to sit down and muse or of course it is great to take a picnic and spend some time there. We hardly saw any other people as we went around the gardens and it would be a great day for a romantic afternoon for two. Many people had their dogs with them and they are welcome on a short lead.


Steam Train
Of course for kids a ride on a train is always a highlight and the Rhododendron line did not disappoint. The journey takes about 20 minutes and you have a short stop half way round so the driver can oil this engine. The kids are invited to get off and go and have a look at the engine as he does it.

To make it more fun for the kids there are shrubs being trained into animal shapes and some animals made from metals around the track for the kids to spot, some of these are really great.
After the ride it is good to take a walk into the train shed and see the exhibit about how the railway came into being. I enjoyed the short video watching it is all being built.


Mr Eddy’s Tea Room
This is not cheap but the food and the portions are excellent, there is an abundance of inside and outside seating and the service is efficient and friendly too. I had a jacket potato with coronation chicken, salad and coleslaw for £6.50, the kids has sausage, chips and beans at £4.50 each and Dh had a cottage pie, new potatoes and vegetables for about £8.75. This tea room was nice enough that I’d happily travel back here again just for it. We didn't try any of the cakes but they looked excellent as well.

General Facilities
·     *   There is loads of free parking at Exbury
·     *   free wheelchair loan
·     *   a nice gift shop
·     *   well maintained toilets
·     *    very friendly staff

Pricing
You can opt for an ‘all-in’ ticket from 10 June – 25 October and this includes admission to the garden a ride on the steam railway, a buggy trip and discount vouchers for the tea room and shop. These cost £16.50 per adult and £7.00 per child and include a voluntary gift aid donation. There are various separate pricing options available too, take a look online. 

In conclusion –
We all enjoyed our visit to Exbury Gardens and it is somewhere we would happily come back to. As we have just moved to a 220 acre estate ourselves my kids are now a bit spoilt for beautiful countryside to run around but I’d say if your kids do not normally have much access to such a lot of space then they will love the opportunity to explore this land and to let off some steam. Take a picnic and make a family day of it. I noticed you can do a family nature trail for £1.50 too and there are many special days and weekends at Exbury, I particularly fancied a mushroom foraging weekend break!

A big thumbs up from our family. 10/10, I can’t think of anything else I’d like to have found at Exbury.

I'm linking up this post to Fiona's Country Kids - click on the badge to head over and see what others have got up to in their Country Kids exploits.

 Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall
Disclosure: I was provided with free entrance, buggy ride and steam train journey for my family in return for this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.
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Thursday, 29 August 2013

New Forest Reasons to be Cheerful (week 35, year 3)



Happy Thursday, as you know I’m away on holiday this week, so I bring you Reasons to be Cheerful from the New Forest and boy is it beautiful here.  I have driven through before and even used to live in Bournemouth so I’ve been close many times but never until now stayed here and really experienced what it is like. I can confirm that I’ve been missing out and we would happily come here again on holiday.

This week my reasons are all based around my holiday -

*  We are reviewing Shorefield Country Park staying in one of their pet friendly lodges and I can happily say it is super here. This is by far one of the best caravan parks I have stayed at, it is really well kept and the entertainment/ swimming is putting big smiles on my kids’ faces! (full review to follow.

*  I can visibly see my dh starting to chill and forget about the stress of being in a new and demanding job. He really needs this break and is enjoying himself.

*  We have been swimming every day in the indoor pool and I’m loving it, the girls are getting more and more confident in the water and that lifts me.

*  I love seeing all the wild foals, cows and donkeys as we drive through the national park here, it just isn’t a sight you see every day.

*  We really enjoyed ourselves at Exbury Gardens and steam railway, a real highlight was having a chauffeur driven tour of the gardens by a very lovely man who told us all about the history, plants and trees.

*  I’m off for a massage tonight before heading out with dh for a night together, it should be fun.

What has made you cheerful or grateful this week?

It could be something massive or it might just be the everyday simple things that happen. If you are new to Reasons to be Cheerful then take a look at the background to this linky and my rational for starting it 3 years ago. Write a post and link it up, no rules, just as long as you have written about something which is adding a smile to your face or rocking your world then I’m happy. Then link up the post, add in the blog hop code to your post if you fancy and then people can go from post to post nice and easily. Visit a few other people and leave a comment and I pray they will come do the same for you. I’ll try and visit everyone this weekend when I’m back home.
 
I’m doing this on the hop this week so #R2BC blogger of the week will be back next week. Do feel free to shout out anyone you would like to see highlighted as blogger of the week.

Wishing you a blessed week ahead, Mich x

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Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Look for the light....

Quite a while back I watched this Youtube clip from a TEDx conference held in Houston last year. The talk is given by my lovely friend Karen Walrond who writes the uber blog Chookooloonks and she has to be watched to be believed. I've written about Karen before as she is the author of a fabulous book too - The Beauty of Different and this TEDx talks expands on her theme that we are all beautiful and that it is our difference that gives us that beauty. This time Karen asks us all to 'look for the light' but don't believe me that she is good. Believe the 83,383 views that this clip has had in the last six months. It is about 15 minutes long but worth it I believe.



So I mentioned that Karen asks us all to look for the light within a person, not to just disregard them based on the prejudices that society has taught us. In her talk she shares lots of pictures from our shared trip to Ethiopia and then asks people what they see. Take this picture I took (not half as good as Karen's but you'll get the idea). If you saw this person walking down the street in the UK what would you think?


Tattoos on the face and neck - she must be part of a gang?
Very young - bad mother?
Child with runny nose/ dirty clothes - neglectful mother?
Poorly dressed - benefits scrounger/ on drugs?
Large cross around her neck - with a cult? brain washed?

We are all guilty of making snap judgements at times and that is when we forget to look for what is good in a person, or that special light. Karen urges each one of us to go about our day and to look for familiarity, sameness, resonance in everything we see. I know from being in Ethiopia that the lady pictured above was a very loving mother and was far older than you could imagine. As we interacted with her with all felt that bond of motherhood and there was much the same about us, despite how different it appears on the surface.

Since Karen opened my eyes to this, I have to admit I've been looking for the light in people. Not every day, I'm not perfect, I don't always remember but when I do I am richly rewarded. I see my new neighbour next door who is full of light, so much so that she practically glows but I also see it in my kids as they annoy me and act out. I noticed it Friday night in the lady that came and sat next to me at a service, we had never met before but we got talking and as part of the service we were asked to write down our impressions of each other and to pass those over. These were proper first impressions and the word that encompassed this lady for me was beautiful. Beautiful and in love with Jesus.

I was so blessed when she gave me her impressions on what she saw in me -
Kind, warm, generous, friendly, sincere, non-judgemental.
Pragmatic and practical, more concerned with deeper, more meaningful issues than with the superficial.
A good friend to have in difficult and good times.
How amazing is it to hear those things from a stranger? We had chatted for barely 10 minutes and she saw all this in me. This lady certainly had the gift to look for the light.

I'm not telling you this so you can hear how great I am, I'm mentioning it as it is so important to look for our own light as well as that of others. I have always tried to adopt the life stance that I'll think well of others until proved otherwise and this light searching fits right in with that, but it dares to go one step further.

Before we talked about our impressions of each other we had to write down how we saw ourself. The first word I wrote? Well fat of course, as sadly I allow that label to dominate me and much of the rest was pretty negative too. I knew I had potential but I did not build myself up and compliment me as I might have others, why is it we are so self-critical?

I dearly need to look for my light and recognise it every day. I'm OK. In fact I'm better than OK, I'm great.

Here is a 20 minute short film we watched as part of the service last Friday. It is mind-blowing, I've never heard of it before but I had been missing out. My favourite line from the film is 'the greater the struggle the more glorious the triumph'. When you have some time, I'd urge you to have a watch, it fits right in with the looking for the light philosophy.

I've got myself a new task to add to my list for the rest of my life - I must look for the light. Do you fancy joining me?


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Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Giveaway - Superb Mini B Beanbag


A few weeks back my girls reviewed the mini-B beanbag from Room to Grow and they both absolutely loved them.  In fact the whole family really like them and they have been used a lot over the last month or so.  They go to Church with us in the evening, the kids take them outside on the grass and of course they are great for lounging watching TV. Take a look at our review for a full write-up.

We love our bean bags so much that I am confident you will love them too and I asked Room to Grow if I could have one to giveaway to one of my readers. Being the great people they are they said yes and you can choose the colour of your choice too, there are loads of great bolds to choose from. Also the mini B beanbag is not half as small as you might think, my dh used it for a few weeks whilst we did not have any furniture in our new house. The Mini B beanbag retails for £59 and is worth every penny.

Wishing you the best of luck, Mich x


a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Monday, 26 August 2013

Swapping personalities with your twin

As she went to bed tonight Miss E asked me a question and she was wearing her most serious face. She also looked pretty concerned as she said to me -

'Mummy, when did Miss M and I swap and I became the naughty one?'

It is at times like this that you realise her giggles and smiling face as she is told off are all a front and really she is taking in what you are saying. But before you worry, no we have not told her she is 'the naughty one' but it has definitely been commented by dh and I recently that her behaviour in general has been far more naughty. She has stopped listening, started to be very disobedient and is not really taking anything seriously.

Then by chance at the same point Miss M has started to behave better. I think she has finally learned her lesson and knows that her naughtiness and disobedience is not getting her anywhere and therefore why bother? Miss M has become incredibly loving and her helpful side is really showing itself and she is lapping up all the praise. After years to being really trying I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this positive change.

I know it had been a difficult time for them both over the last couple of months, first daddy moved to our new house a month earlier than us, then they left their school, friends, family and neighbourhood they have known all of their six years and now they are settling into a completely different way of life. Trying to navigate their way through what is acceptable and what is not. Where the boundaries are and why they are there are things really being tested by both girls at the moment.

I'm fully confident that once school commences and a routine establishes and Miss E starts to feel more secure again she will soon be back to her normal little loving, obedient and cheerful self. This time of mischievousness that she is going through may not be all bad anyway, she needs to toughen up and be able to face up to her gregarious brother and twin sister. Her past response has been to whine but I hope as she gains confidence she will be able to verbalise her frustrations more and to tell them to leave her alone. Assertiveness is a really positive attribute.

As I kissed Miss E tonight and laid down for a cuddle with her, I reassured her she is not a naughty girl. She has not traded personalities with her twin as she thought she might. She is just growing up and as part of growing up we change and we try out new things and we learn. We all make mistakes and that is OK, it is just important that she keeps talking to Mummy and Daddy and praying to Jesus that she is able to remember to listen to us more and to act on what we say. She has to fully realise that we have rules and boundaries for a reason and they are to protect her and allow her to grow in a safe environment.

After I came downstairs I recalled a conversation with a twin mum that I had just after my girls were born. She advised me never to label them and never to assume I knew their personalities, because as soon as I did that she said they would swap. Over the years we have found this to be really true, at first Miss E screeched all the time and then she started to sleep like a dream and was a little quiet and subdued poppet. Then in the last year or so we have seen her develop and grow and find her voice and independence but still she was well-behaved but now is her time to act-out a bit and to find out what is acceptable behaviour and what is not but she will be fine. We will steer her and keep her on the straight and narrow.

This parenting lark is not easy and you never quite know whether you are doing it right but with the help of the Lord we will keep on doing what feels right and try to help our children grow up to be caring, independent and decent adults.

If we manage that then I'll consider my job done.

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Sunday, 25 August 2013

Dressing up for the MAD Blog awards

I can't believe how fast this year is passing, in just under a month I'll be in London to attend the MAD blog awards and that is super exciting. I'm very humbled to be there as a finalist in the Outstanding Contribution Award, there are 10 of us in this category and every one of the finalists is a blogger I admire. Of course the truth is that I don't really feel I deserve to be in this list but it is wonderful anyway.

I've been to the MADS once before and had a great time, I hold very fond memories of spending the early hours sat outside a bar with about six good friends drinking wine once the awards had finished. This year will be even more exciting as the MADs team have excelled themselves and the awards are being held at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington. I went to a Christmas party at this hotel back in 1997 and it was really good, so I have high hopes for a swish evening.

Talking of it all being a bit posh I really need something nice to wear. Thankfully I'm quite long in the blogging tooth now and this means that I have not been stressing for months about what I shall wear like I did in 2011. Back then M&S sponsored me to get an outfit and due to my size and the time of year it was I could hardly find anything to wear. This time I'll be wearing a dress I have worn before and feel good in. It is slightly too long, so I have about 3 weeks to get it taken up as I don't want to kill myself in the 4 inch spiked heels I wore last time.

You can't see my dress too well as my girls are hiding it but it gives you the idea!

That reminds me that I need to look for a new pair of shoes to go with my dress and I've been looking at the Clarks shoes range at Littlewoods and chosen these black patent court shoes, they do have a 3 inch heel but with it being a bit chunky and having a small platform sole I believe they will be comfy for a nights dancing. At £69 they are an investment but I always think Clarks shoes are worth it and if I am feeling a bit decadent they do them in a wine colour and that would match my dress too, so it depends if I am feeling sensible or fanciful.

I also like the look of these sling backs and the great thing with them is that they are reduced to just £31 and that is a real bargain for these elegant evening shoes. Ohh decisions, decisions.


Anyway I have to hold off for another week as my house sale is due to complete next week and then I feel like I have license to treat myself so I can indulge in a bit of shopping and maybe just book myself a room at the Royal Garden Hotel too!

Nights like this are always a paradox for me as I long to be there and enjoy it but I also feel like I don't deserve to be there and the inner child in me always rears her head and reminds me of the young Michelle who sat behind a curtain for a whole birthday party as she did not feel wanted. I think it is about time I grew up and started to value myself a bit more, don't you?


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Saturday, 24 August 2013

#CountryKids - Dead wood sculptures

We had such fun as a family last Saturday, in fact I'd go as far as to say it was my favourite day since we moved to our new home.  I can't believe it will be 4 weeks we have been here on Monday, on one hand that is no time at all and we have done so much and on the other it has whizzed past in a whirlwind and the kids will go back to school in the not too distant future. Never did I think that I might be just a little sad about that.

Last Saturday afternoon we joined up with about 6 other families from our local church to take part in a fun youth activity afternoon. Once a month all the kids of 8 years and more meet together to do something fun but this month as it was the holidays all the family were invited to join in. So we set off with our road map to head for a farm in the middle of nowhere to what we thought would be a treasure hunt and BBQ, we had been warned to wear sturdy shoes as we had to go over a field of sheep and told we would be heading into a coppice to explore. We were up for it, it is good to do something different after all.

After many a winding road and a trip up the steepest, more narrow lane I've ever seen we finally ended up on top of the world and the views were fantastic. Every side of the farm had sheep and we were directed to drive across a field full of sheep and we reached our new friends. After a few quick hellos we were pointed in the direction of the coppice and the kids were told they could go explore if an adult was with them.  Well off they all headed with dh and I thought I better follow suit.


After splitting into two teams and seeing who could navigate the coppice the fastest everyone was firm friends. We were then set the tasks to split into three teams and told to make a sculpture from all the dead wood. Dh and I ended up with a team of 4 young girls including our twins and we decided we would make a horse. The girls collected sticks and came up with ideas whilst dh stringed them together. It was so great to watch all the children as they ran around, laughed, plotted, teased each other and came together to make a sculpture.




Of course a BBQ was next and we all filled our tummies with sausages, burgers, crisps and biscuits. The kids ran around the the adults chatted and we just had time to have a quick puzzle building competition before the heavens opened and the rain came.


We had about 3 hours of great fun and I look forward to getting to know all our new church friends a lot better over the coming months.

Click on the badge to head over and see what others have got up to in their Country Kids exploits.

 Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

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Friday, 23 August 2013

Review: Drusillas Park, East Sussex

It was my birthday last week and not just any birthday but a big one, one that ends in a zero and what does any self-respecting mummy do to celebrate her birthday in style? She goes to the zoo for the day of course! Well I did, maybe not what every mum might choose but the kids and I did have a blast at Drusillas Park, which is a good thing as I was not overly impressed with the rest of my birthday!

Hands on learning
Drusillas labels itself as ‘no ordinary zoo’ and it is right. It is a good balance of animals, education, play and fun. They pride themselves on being the best small zoo in the country and their aim seems to be to really get kids and adults alike to engage with the animals and the exhibits. My first comment when I came home and spoke to my husband was how great Drusillas would be for school trips. What was even better was that it was not the same educational stuff that you have seen at every other zoo, there was a whole assortment to keep you engaged. Just have a look –


Zoolympics
Probably JJ’s favourite part of the day (aside from the food, that is always a highlight for him) was the zoolympics challenge. Every so often around the park there was a challenge to time or record yourself to see if you could match an animal in speed, noise etc. JJ excelled himself at the screaming one but Mummy still beat him, reaching a whopping 96 decibels. We were all super impressed with Miss M, who is just 6 and she can run at 36kmph – future Olympian in the making maybe?


Play areas
Miss E’s best part of the day was all the play areas. She loved climbing up the massive rope tower and then letting herself fall down it, following the lead of the bigger kids – scary but fun apparently! There is a large play area at Drusillas called Go Wild and this is full of wooden play equipment, towers, swings and slides of the kids and then there is also Go Bananas with more fun like banana boats and zip wires. If the weather is not so good you can go in and try out the Amazon adventure and whilst it is not the biggest soft play it was fun the kids told me.

There is also a small water play area which we did not realise before we visited or we would have taken our towels. Explorers Lagoon is not that big but the kids in it seemed to be having a blast. We also enjoyed the Edens Eye maze and the kids liked to lead me round in circles!

There are a few extra attractions that you have to pay for and at £3 for 6 slides on the inflatable I think they are very pricey and I hate it when attractions charge an entrance price and then put other things inside that you have to pay extra for like Panning for Gold, mini golf and wall climbing.


The animals
If I’m honest the kids were a bit disappointed there were not any big animals here. I think they have been spoilt because of where we used to live and they hear the word zoo and think elephants, lions, giraffes and zebras. At Drusillas you are more likely to find smaller creatures like lizards, monkeys, lemurs, penguins, beavers and a nice farmyard.

There are quite a few keeper talks and feeding times that visitors can observe and I always love watching the penguins get their fish. You can also walk through Lemurland (and watch them jump over your head) or go through Lory Landing aviary and see the rainbow lorikeet birds.


Food and drink
For a small venue there are a good number of places to eat and considering we went in August on a warm day, there was plenty of seats in the main explorers café. This was a nice café with a wide selection of hot and cold food. We opted me for kids meals (me included) and these cost just under £4 each, they were tasty and did the job! Later in the day we had fresh doughnuts which were 95p each or there were deals when you bought more. JJ had a design your own sundae for £2.50 and the girls had slush drinks at £1.99 each. There are four different food venues on site and the variety is good. I would say some things were a little overpriced though - £2.99 for a plain cheese or ham sandwich feels steep to me.

Enjoying my birthday doughnut!

Onsite facilities
Signage was good to get to Drusillas and there was plenty of parking available. There is a small gated play park in the car park so the kids can let off steam before or after going in. We did not arrive until late morning and there was not any queues at all, but from the looks of it they are organised and efficient if there is as the ground is all marked out for different lanes.

All the toilets we used were clean and orderly. There was children’s seats and low sinks in some and these were clearly marked. Baby change facilities appeared to be good as well, although of course we are beyond that point now.

There is free wi-fi in all food and drink and play areas in the park and it appeared to be efficient, any time I looked at my park, it prompted me to join up!

Pricing

We were given complimentary tickets as part of this review but had I needed to pay for myself and my three children it would have cost us £53.99 buying a family of 4 ticket beforehand (for peak season). This is about £13.50 each and is hardly more than a cinema ticket, so I think that is very good value for a whole days entertainment to be honest.  I noticed you can also use Tesco Clubcard deals here too, which is a big bonus.

Overall
We all had a really nice day at Drusillas Park and would happily visit again. In truth we would probably take a picnic next time and then we could have exactly what we want to eat and we would certainly remember towels and swim costumes. My family would recommend Drusillas and we give it a 9/10 for all round family fun.


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Thursday, 22 August 2013

Reasons to be Cheerful - short and simple (week 34, year 3)

Hello and happy Thursday,

I hope life is going well for you.  If you are in the throes of the school summer holidays then I pray they have been as stress free as possible. Having the kids every day for six weeks or more sure is hard work! This is my first real insight to that as normally I'm a part-time working mum and I still get some respite at work. This year of course that has all changed and I know it is a blessing and I'm very lucky but it takes a bit of getting used to.

I'm going to the short and simple approach to my #R2BC this week, here they are -

1.  We are going on holiday on Monday.  We are heading to the New Forest to stay in a lodge at Shorefield Country Park and we get to try out the spa and restaurant as part of our review. I love being a blogger, it is so awesome of be able to do amazing things together as a family that we would never be able to afford otherwise. The big highlights for me will be five whole days with dh (who it feels like we have not seen properly for weeks) and getting to swim with the kids every day.

2.  Amazing neighbours and living in community. It feels like a big weight off my mind to know we can go away Monday and I can shout it from the rooftops. If you are a burglar and you know where I live it does not matter as you'll know I live as part of a community now and we have the most amazing neighbours in and out of our house when we are not here.

3.  This weekend we have 2000 odd Christians coming on site for a Church weekend and we get to join in with their fun. The kids are already signed up for the fun children's groups and  I can either opt to have 3 hours a day to myself or go to one of their sessions.

4.  Spending one-on-one time with Miss M today. It's funny how things end up, none of the kids wanted to come out to the shops with me today as they all felt they had better options but it turned out Miss M was to come and we had a lovely time. Just two hours together chatting and shopping and as a bonus we found the most divine deli and coffee shop.

The biggest babychinno ever!

Now it is over to you - what is making you cheerful and grateful this week?

If you are new here, welcome.  Do go and have a read about why I started Reasons to be Cheerful and what I feel the key to happiness is. This is a very inclusive linky, it does not come with lots of rules. I just ask for common courtesy, write your post and link it up, then comment and say hi to a couple of other linked up bloggers. They should hopefully come and visit you too and we are all happy - comment love shared all round. Just a word to say I probably won't get to comment round all this week due to my holiday!

#R2BC Blogger of the Week
This weeks shout out goes to Kate who blogs at Kate on Thin Ice and the Naked Mum blog. She was one of the first bloggers to join in with this linkey and has probably been the most faithful over time. She has a few weeks off and then pings back and always has the longest lists of gratitude I have seen. It is fabulous that she works so hard to be cheerful, despite what might be going on in life for her. Having met Kate in real life a few times now I know her to be a warm, friendly and sincere lady..... go say hi!

Have a fabulous week ahead, catch you soon.  Be blessed, Mich x

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Wednesday, 21 August 2013

I walk far more than I ever dreamed - Review of the Fitbit Flex activity monitor

In my quest to get fit I have been sent a Fitbit Flex fitness monitor (or flashy pedometer to someone like me) to wear and review. I must have gone a bit geeky as I am super excited about this and find this little gadget one of the best toys I've been given in ages.

Last year I was given an electronic activity tracker by work and I wore it on my shoe and it counted my steps and would then download to my computer if I had the receiver plugged in. I thought that was nifty and it motivated me to beat my own totals until I got this one.

Unisex Wristband

The Fitbit Flex is much more advanced and is conveniently worn on your wrist and it tracks you 24 hours a day, well as long as you are wearing it of course. As a default it is set to a goal of 10,000 steps a day as that is what the government recommend a healthy adult should do. It became apparent very quickly that I needed to increase that goal, as within my first few days I had totted up 19,233, 23,476 and 20,102. This moving to the countryside lark is proving very good for my activity levels!

I have to be honest and say the wristband is not the most glamorous thing to wear but it is fairly understated and no-one has questioned what it as.  I think most people would confuse it with the rubber wristbands that people wear to support a cause. I love the fact that it is waterproof and I have worn it in the shower to try this out. In fact it only really comes off my wrist when I need to charge it.

The wristband I was sent is slate grey and I received two sizes, a small and a large but only one tracker and clasp. At first I thought this was a bit wasteful as you could just order the size to suit you but actually for me I think this is quite good as JJ has shown an interest in wearing the tracker and this means I can loan him it for a week or so, once I have seen my patterns start to emerge and because of the colour and design it is totally suitable for a guy to wear too. There are other colours available and you can buy more wristbands if you wish to change them, I’m not sure I’ll bother as this one is fine with everything.

Recharging
I found the wristband a little difficult to do up on myself at first but then found the knack was to press down between the fasteners and then it pops on easily. The tracker fits into the wristband and mine appears to need charging every 4 days or so but the great thing is I get an email to tell me that the battery is low and thus I don’t have to remember to do this off my own back.

Charging the tracker is easy but it did take about 2 hours to fully charge it in the little UBS convertor that came with it. This does mean you cannot be using it at that time which is a bit annoying but not sure how you would get round that to be honest. I have just taken to charging mine when I would be sat at the laptop anyway.



Flashing Tracker
The tracker has a light display which flashes through the wristband and by tapping it twice it will show me how far I am into my daily steps target for that day. There are five lights and the more lights that are on the more I have done. Sadly I cannot see on the wristband my exact steps, so that always remains a nice little surprise ready for when I log into my Fitbit dashboard.

Sleep Mode
When it is time for bed I can also tell the Fitbit that I am about to sleep by tapping it rapidly for a couple of seconds, it then shows me a different series of lights and changes mode. I’ve never had anything that tracked my sleep before so this was really interesting to me. On the first night it showed I had awoken/ been restless 14 times in the night but that I had 96% sleep efficiency that night – well I never! Of course in the morning I do the same and tap the Fitbit rapidly and it changes back to day mode.

Download and Dashboard
The Fitbit tracker has a tiny USB receiver which is small enough that I leave it permanently in my laptop and carry it about. This means that whenever I am connected to the internet the Fitbit syncs and my information carries across without any effort from me.

I can easily see on the dashboard how many steps I have done, miles walked, calories burned and really active time I have had that day. I can also view my sleep patterns. There is a ton more functionality in the dashboard as well and I love the fact I can find other friends from Facebook who are using the Fitbit as well. My friend Clare is very active and when I first saw she had done just over 26,000 steps in one day I never thought I’d get there but I have!


I can also manually log my sleep, food, activity, blood pressure, glucose, heart rate, weight an journal if I so wish and there appears to be a really active and encouraging online community for those who use Fitbit trackers but I didn't use that side of things as I have enough friends encouraging me in my weight loss journey and of course my journalling is done here.


Overall I think the Fitbit flex is fabulous and I would happily buy one. At £79.99 it is not cheap but it is robust and rechargeable and thus should last me many years. You can buy direct from Fitbit.

What I really like -
  • How easy it was to set up, 9 simple steps to go through and just about 3 minutes
  • It emails me when the battery needs recharging, how cool is that? And the battery lasts for about 4 days too.
  • It syncs and downloads my data automatically whenever I am close to my receiver and the laptop is connected
  • It vibrates on my wrist and lights up when I reach my steps goal for the day
  • I get motivational emails awarding me badges for the best amount of steps I have walked in one day
  • I can wear the wristband for showering and swimming and thus it gives me an accurate total for my days activity
  • It tracks the quality of my sleep and this has definitely reminded me to go to bed earlier
  • It can wake me with a vibrating silent alarm 
  • If nothing else, it is always there acting as a visual reminder to move more and sleep better and that I am finding makes a real difference to me
What is not so good –
In the interest of a balanced review I always like to point out the not so good parts of a product but to be honest I’m struggling with the Fitbit Flex as is works really well and does everything it is sold as doing. I suppose my only complaint is that it does  sync with my iPhone 4, I need a newer version for it to work with it.

Disclosure: I was sent the Fitbit Flex free of charge for the purposes of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.
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Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Back to school with Tesco (F&F uniform)

With the move to East Sussex this means a whole new uniform for each of my three children and of course that can be a costly business, I have to be honest and say I don't like to buy the cheapest uniform out there, I like to buy clothes that are value for money. Ones that I can afford but that will also stand the test of time and last the dozens of washes and tumbles they will get here in our house.

I've been lucky enough to receive some Tesco F&F school uniform for the last couple of years now and I've not had any issue with any of their items. JJ is still wearing now the winter coat that was sent to him last July and considering the warm coats only cost about £19 that is fantastic value.

This year I ordered £50 of uniform for JJ and for that amount we received -
  • winter coat £19
  • 2 pairs of quality school trousers £10
  • 4 white polo shirts £5 for a pack of two
  • 3 pairs of boxer shorts £2.50
  • 5 pairs of grey socks £4
  • pair of navy jogging bottoms £6
I didn't choose the value or cheapest items, you can get 2 packs of trousers for as little as £5.   I chose the ones I knew would last well. Here is JJ testing out his new uniform -


White polo shirts are always the thing I buy the most in any year as JJ (and the girls to to it) seem to get them filthy and they constantly arrive home with stains that I can not seem to remove. The 2 packs start at £2 for two and at JJ's size they are £5 for two. I like to go for the 'Buy one, give one' polo shirts and this means for each item I buy from the range Tesco give a full uniform to a child in Bangladesh, Kenya or Sri Lanka. Just another little way that we can help those less fortunate.

These polos are roomy, nice and long for tucking in and they button up really easily. I noticed they are double stitched too.


The trousers we received have adjustable waists to ensure they are comfy and are also Teflon coated to keep stains at bay, as mentioned before this is important with my kids. I didn't order any girls clothes this time but it is good to know that all the pleats in dresses and skirts are permanent and don't come out in the wash.

I'm sure you'll agree JJ looks great in his navy parker coat and he really loved the mock fur around the hood. Sadly the arms are a very snug fit and he finds it uncomfortable so we will need to change this for another coat. I think it is the trendy styling and with JJ being a larger kid it just does not suit him, in the same way skinny trousers do not either.

JJ loves the navy joggers as they are so comfy and have a cosy feel inside, he has even asked me to buy him some more for lounging around the house in.

The socks and boxer shorts are as you would expect, basic and comfy and perfect for back to school.

Delivery and returns
I placed my order online and choose the collect from store option, this meant I was able to get everything I wanted but no delivery cost was incurred and as I needed to go there anyway it was convenient. By ordering before 3pm I was able to collect my items the next day. If I had wanted my parcel to come direct to my door then it would have been free as orders are free at £50 and over or £3.95 for standard (2-5 days) or £5 for next day delivery. Tesco is also really convenient in that all returns are free too.

Save money
Of course being Tesco you can save money on your uniform purchases too by changing your clubcard vouchers into double with Clubcard Boast, so £5 becomes £10 to spend in store. Or you can use some of those vouchers that come through every month to gain double points or money off when you spend a certain amount. I receive loads of vouchers from Tesco, not sure if that is because I am a Tesco credit card customer.

Disclosure: We received this uniform free of charge for the purposes of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

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Monday, 19 August 2013

Come walk with me...

A couple of weeks back I started a quiet morning walk every day and so far, so good. I am keeping it up each day and really enjoying it.  I'm out the house for about 45-60 minutes and that includes walking and praying.

My Fitbit Flex is on my wrist and monitors how active I am being. I have already seen an improvement in how quick I can walk the lake and also how my aches and pains in my calves are lessening. Each walk round the lake clocks about 3800 steps up and that gives me a great start to the day.

I can honestly say I never in a million years thought I could enjoy exercise but it must have just been that I needed the right place. I have not been enjoying the mossie bites it has to be said!

I thought you might like to come walk with me and see the beautiful views I get to take in each day. I am so looking forward to seeing the landscape change over the year and watching summer turn to autumn and for all the leaves to change and start to fall. I don't think I'll ever get bored....


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Sunday, 18 August 2013

What kind of breakfast starts your day?

They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it is the one that kick starts your metabolism and sets the pace for the day. It is of course called breakfast for a reason, ie: it is breaking the fast that your body went through as you slept. In this day and age when food is so freely available the fast is not half as long as it might have been 100 years ago when they might have finished dinner at 7pm and not eaten again until the next morning and the body went through a good 12 hour fast, nowadays it is all too easy to snack right up until you fall asleep.

I think I can honestly say hand on heart that I've never skipped breakfast and of course on the surface that appears a good thing but the truth with me is that food is far too important to me to miss a meal. I get exceedingly grumpy when I'm hungry and it is just not worth the agro. The good part of this is that my kids don't miss breakfast and I'm installing in them the importance of starting the day well with a balanced meal. School of course advocate this and say that it helps the behaviour and concentration of children to have eaten before school. I want to ensure I help them have the best educational chance possible after all.

Daddy is not such a great role model in regards to breakfast. He runs out the house most days without having gone near the kitchen, luckily as he works in catering I can tell the kids he is eating at work and that satisfies their curiosity.  I know the truth is that dh will happily skip breakfast sometimes. Luckily when off work and home he is happy to have some porridge, shreddies or such and set a good example.



I'm delighted to have been sent some Belvita breakfast biscuits last week. I'm not sure what made me say yes to reviewing them to be honest, for me the words biscuit and breakfast do not naturally go together. Breakfast is the one meal of the day when I am generally healthy - I like to have some complex carbs, low fat diary and perhaps fruit, so say a bowl of porridge and a glass of orange juice. The sweetness of the juice satisfies my cravings and the slow release of the oats keep me feeling full for a long time.

Having said yes to reviewing the Belvita biscuits, I tried the new Belvita apricot and live yoghurt duo crunch and thought they were OK. The actual biscuit is really tasty but I found the apricot jam a bit too sweet and at 110 calories a biscuit I could not imagine me having them for breakfast. But I was super pleased when dh tried them and liked them and then I heard him say he would take the rest of them to put in his desk drawer at work and that way when he runs out the door and straight into the office he can snack on a pack of these with a glass of milk. Perfect I said, add in an apple or other fruit and you have a balanced breakfast. There is hope for him yet!

If something like the Belvita breakfast biscuits encourage a person like my husband to eat breakfast and start the day well then that has to be a really good thing. He has already checked out the other flavours and asked me to buy him the strawberry and live yoghurt duo crunch next.  I must say I'm also tempted to buy a box of the original whole wheat biscuits in the crunchy oats flavour for me to try. There are now 11 flavours in the range and the biscuits have an RRP of £2.79 for a box of five individual packs. The individual packs are perfect to put in your pocket or bag when you are on the go.

When I was shopping at Tesco the other day I noticed that the duo crunch box of 5 packs is on half price special at the moment and retailing for just £1.34, I think that is a fabulous deal, just 27p a day. We will be investing in some more at that price for sure.

I'm not saying everyone should change to eat a breakfast biscuit, if you have a good breakfast routine established then well done and keep with it but if you are the kind of person who is in a hurry and skips breakfast then try these out and keep some at the office for those times when you need a boast. They are made so that the energy releases over four hours and this will help with your concentration and energy level.



Disclosure: Thanks so much to Belvita for sending me out some biscuits to try out and thanks for the super days out kit that you sent, the picnic rug and bag are just beautiful. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.
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