Friday 26 February 2016

Sheffield Park Garden National Trust, East Sussex

In March 2014 we headed out one Sunday, after lunch for an exploration of our local area to see what we might find. With no fixed plan in mind, we travelled for just under an hour in the direction of Uckfield and stumbled upon the National Trust's Sheffield Park and Gardens. Of course, as devoted NT fans, we headed in for a look around and found a really lovely formal garden set around four lakes. It was a particular delight for us to find influences of the great garden architect Capability Brown as we live in a Capability Brown designed home.

Kids at Sheffield Park
March 2014 on the left and February 2016 on the right
The kids did what they do best and climbed trees, ran and played games together and posed for my photos (I'm so lucky they humour me). The ducks and swans love to be fed and there are some really unusual trees and shrubs in the gardens. After a couple of hours, we realised it was getting late and we needed a drink so off we went to the coach house for a very tasty cream tea and by the time we finished we realised it wasn't practical for us to now explore the 250 acres of parkland around the garden.

We vowed that we would come back another time to explore the parkland and enjoy the wildlife, meadows, springs and woodland play trail that the National Trust always do so well. Time passed and we visited lots more local NT sites and never made it back to explore the parkland, so when we were faced with the same kind of circumstance on Sunday last we decided we would head over to Sheffield Park and have a good explore.

Just one issue when we got there Sunday, I hadn't packed any wellies and whilst it had been a bright and beautiful day when we visited in March 2014, this February was awful - cold, wet and exceedingly muddy. With our sensible heads on, we decided another look round the garden would be a better idea than venturing into the parklands.

Let me share with you some photos of the gardens, some from 2014 and more recent ones too. I think perhaps we need to visit in the Autumn as well as I can imagine the colours will be magnificent. This is one of the beauties of living in a variable climate like Britain, we do the seasons really well when it comes to nature!

For my father – a legacy for my step-sister

Girl playing Doctor from Shutterstock

Ground breaking low cost annual insurance for working parents to protect their salary in the advent of a child getting sick or injured.

For 12 years Max Robinson’s father, cared for his sick daughter.  His father, Malcolm, divorced and re-married and started a second family. Malcolm’s first daughter’s birth and life were straightforward. He was not expecting problems, but his second daughter showed just how much can go wrong in a child’s life.

During the years of treatment father and son witnessed other parents, whose lives had been torn apart by the consequences of a child’s illness and a reduced capacity to earn money.

Max, a professionally qualified insurance practitioner had 29 years’ experience covering many different roles. His experience gave him the confidence to develop a new insurance product for working families.

Thursday 25 February 2016

What is Love?

I suspect many of you reading this think I have gone a little bonkers and are wondering why a half-eaten pack of ready pancakes could possibly suggest love but they do.

One of my eight-year-olds had a pancake or two for her breakfast before I got up and instead of leaving them open on the side to go hard, she got a bag out the drawer and covered them up. She cared enough to emulate me and to tidy away and make sure they were still good for the next person who fancied one.

That person was my son, four years older than my daughters but did he put the pack back in the bag to keep them fresh?  Of course not, it didn’t even occur to him, he just left them on the side and the crumbs everywhere, confident in the knowledge that Mum would do it.

So back to the original question – what is love?  Well for me love is often an action. It is something that a person chooses to do, it isn’t always a feeling. That day love was about making an effort and going out of her way to make things better for the next person. That kind of love took thought and effort and it pleased me immensely.

I’ve often wondered about love as an action, especially in marriage. You hear so often nowadays of people getting divorced because they do not ‘feel’ in love anymore and personally I think that you have to put hard work into marriageand choose to love each other. Of course, there are times when you are bubbling over with love but equally I’ve found in the last twenty-odd years that there are times when I do not have those feeling so much.

I recall a while back speaking to some older friends who had fostered children for years about how it must be difficult to deal with some children and how do you show them love, so they can feel secure? They assured me that if you treated them the same as your own child and you carried on as if you loved them the child would feel the love and gain the reassurance and security they needed. ou didn’t always have to actually love them, just ‘act as if’.

Then this morning at church we were again exploring the book of Ephesians and one of our pastors was talking about how God loves us and dwells in us and this got me thinking about love as an action and I realised that there are two ways to love someone. There is the all-encompassing unconditional way that God loves us and I love my children and there is also the love that we make an effort to show, the love as an action. Like making a cup of coffee for my husband even when he has been a grouch all day or helping my girls to tidy their rooms even when they have been back chatting.

So it is OK that sometimes I don’t feel an overwhelming love for everyone in my life, I can choose not to be led by my feelings and make an intentional decision to act out love.

Being a Good Friend Isn't Always Easy

I've got to the age of 42 and if I'm honest I can probably count on two hands the number of really good friends I've had in my life. I don't find it that easy to make close friendships and certainly not to keep them going. I suspect there are all sorts of reasons for this but today doesn't feel like the day to dissect it and examine it.

There really is something about friendships shared over a long period of time though. Take those three ladies I'm pictured with above, I've known them since I was 18, that is 24 years and there we were earlier this month supporting our friend Kate who had lost her sister. Julia and I had a coffee before the funeral and I felt tears in my eyes as I said to her 'gosh I miss you' as I hadn't seen her for about three years. Purely because we had moved house and she had moved house and now we were a couple of hours apart. This reunion made us both take stock and we will be meeting again very soon.

I'm in a comfortable place now where I realise that friendships come and go with different seasons and stages in life. It was quite a wretch a few years back when a couple of friendships just started to tail off and I didn't see people as much as I had before and this was just because I/ they had gone back to work, or our kids had grown older and were not so friendly any more. Moving away has also had a big impact and I'm not the best person at keeping in touch, as much as I might think about it. I just don't like telephone calls, they make me all sad.

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Review: Lunch at Jamie's Italian Trattoria, Tunbridge Wells

Our family love to go out together and enjoy some good food and it is always nice to try somewhere new and explore a new town too. So last Thursday we headed into Kent to Tunbridge Wells to have a browse and also lunch at Jamie's Italian Trattoria. Now obviously we all know the Jamie Oliver name but none of us were familiar with this restaurant concept so we were excited to try it out, especially as my twin girls really love pasta.

We were pleased to see that Jamie's Italian Trattoria is an easy walk from the train station in Tunbridge Wells. It is situated on the High Street between the main shopping mall and the more up-market Pantiles area. The high street is a great one to browse along as there are loads of very nice shops to both look in and also just window shop.

Jamie's Italian Trattoria was easy to find with double shop frontage and it looked very authentic Italian from outside, when you go inside it is heavily themed and very pleasant but we couldn't really put our finger on what style we thought they had gone for. There are exposed ceilings, paintings on walls made to look old, exposed pipe work and lots of sanded wood - my husband commented it looked almost Cuban and I could see where he was coming from.

Sunday 21 February 2016

What is your child's favourite day out?

There is nothing my family loves more than a day out together exploring somewhere new, especially if it is outdoors. It makes me laugh when we announce to the kids that we are off to the beach, a country park or perhaps a National Trust property and we get a groan as they say they would rather stay home and play on the computer, do some colouring or make believe.

Then magically it is as if they come alive when we arrive and the four year age gap between my son and daughters is forgotten and off they all run to play amongst the trees, to look around the living history exhibits, or to collect stones on the beach. Wherever we go they have fun and I am so glad that we just tell them they have to come with us and get on with it.

Of course it wasn't always like this, JJ never used to be the cool gamer that he is now, as a youngster all he wanted to do was be outside and run off his excess energy. Nothing pleased him more than a day to a theme park like Chessington where he could enjoy some rides, have a picnic and perhaps meet up with his grandparents.

Friday 19 February 2016

Thorpe Park Annual Pass Sale & WIN an Annual Family Pass

I've written before how Thorpe Park holds fond memories for me. I grew up just 20 minutes away and it was somewhere we visited often, especially as in those days you could gain entry to the park pretty cheap if you just went for the last hour or so. It was a very different place back then though with low-tech rides and minimal thrills.

Nowadays Thorpe Park has earned itself the reputation as the thrill seekers paradise in the UK. it boasts over 30 thrilling rides and attractions including some of the scariest about like Stealth, Nemesis Inferno and SAW - the ride.

Tuesday 16 February 2016

Play to Their Strengths

Last Thursday morning I was watching a parenting DVD with a group of friends and I was really struck by some of the content. The focus of the mornings session was on teens and identity, looking at how important it is for your child to work out who they are and what is important to them.

There was various snippets of interviews with both parents and teens and the example that really struck me was a father telling a new friend that he had three sons. He talked of his oldest boys being 18 and 16 and both very academic. Then when he came to talk about his 13-year-old son he said he was very worried for his GCSEs as he wasn’t academic at all and he’d just taken a maths tutor for his boy to help him ‘come on’ but actually he wasn’t too enthusiastic about it.

The friend then asked a very pertinent question ‘what is it that lights him up? What does he enjoy doing?’ and he was told that the 13-year-old loves to cook. To which the friend then joked ‘well maybe get him a cooking tutor and help him excel in something he loves, rather than something he dislikes and has no talent for’ and when you think about it, how true is that? I suspect most of us have built our careers or achievements on the things that we enjoy or are naturally good at. God gives us all-natural giftings for a reason, so we may use them, it’s an unusual person that pursues a career which includes skills they struggle with or dislike.

These thoughts of encouraging your child within their natural strengths stayed with me throughout the day and kept coming back to the forefront of my mind. It was easy with two of my children to be able to say where their natural strength or preference lay and I could easily think of examples of how I might encourage them.

I had to think for some time though before I could come up with a natural strength for one of children though. She is a good all-rounder and as yet I couldn’t decipher what it might be that she is shining in but when I really spent time thinking about her it was clear to me that her natural gifting must be in hospitality. Even though she is only 8 she loves to welcome guests to our home and my husband's work. When people leave here they often comment about how she was the first smiling face they saw and she made them really welcome.

It would be all too easy to think that her skills of hospitality are less important or tangible than her brother or sister's giftings in maths and art but actually, I think they are perfect and we really ought to be encouraging each of our children where they naturally excel. It never works when you try to stifle a natural talent, all we want to do is build each one of our kids up and raise them to believe they can do anything they want. That sense of ambition and perseverance will serve them well.

Our world has become too focused on academia and the pursuit of A grades. I want my children to be well-rounded, there is so much more to life than the grades they come out of school with and I refuse to put immense pressure on them at this young age. When they all received their reports last week I reiterated again that the most important thing to my husband and I is that they are making progressing and trying hard.

My son's report was full of A grades but there was the odd ‘could do better’ or some such wording for his homework and we told him this isn’t acceptable. Not because he has to improve his grades but because he needs to apply himself to his school work in the same way he does to Minecraft. He is fortunate enough to find study and academia easy and thus must not rest on his laurels and coast along.

The reports for the girls were not so high achieving and that is fine, with them we had discussions about good attitudes, doing our best, and looking for progression. Each of us is created unique and we do not have to be judged against a standard that the government say they must meet, all they have to do is try hard, be kind and follow their natural calling. The rest will take care of itself by the grace of God.

The Spirit of God has made me;
the breath of the Almighty gives me life.~ Job 33:4

Our Guilty Pleasures on NOW TV

We've had NOW TV for around three months now and I have to admit that my family have been firmly converted, it is the on-demand TV service that is best providing all that we want to watch. It's good that between us we can all watch in the way that suits us, be it on our tablet, in the lounge via the NOW TV box or even using our laptop, but to be honest with 5 of us in the family it would be good if we could have more than 4 devices on our account as JJ, dh and I would all love to have both our iPads and laptops registered for use at different times.

Of course there are three strings to the NOW TV bow but we don't really watch much sport so it is the movies and the entertainment options that are really working for us.

Friday 12 February 2016

3 East Sussex Seaside Towns to Visit with the Kids in Half-Term

I know some people are put off visiting the seaside when the weather is not so good but actually, we just go for it. Of course, it helps that we are only 20-30 minutes from numerous beaches nowadays but even when we lived further afield we used to take a day trip and enjoy the fun of the seaside whatever the weather. The big pull of visiting in the Winter of course is that there aren't any crowds and you really can enjoy all that space with your kids.

There are loads of great seaside towns to visit in our home country of East Sussex and you can take your pick but the three I am giving a shout-out to today are Bexhill-on-Sea, Eastbourne and Hastings.

Thursday 11 February 2016

I Never Want to Tidy Toys Again!

I've been feeling a bit poorly over the last week and to be honest it has made me a tad grumpy at times and certainly my patience and tolerance for noise and mess has been low. After a number of nights with interrupted sleep and only limited rest we decided not to go to church Sunday morning as I just didn't think I'd be able to function for the rest of the day and my husband had been out at Night Church until the early hours of the morning.

The girls and I had made a deal to get their homework done and to tidy their bedrooms before lunch and then the afternoon would be more relaxed with a photography walk and a cream tea after. The morning started well as I had managed to get about six hours sleep and we got all the homework out the way pretty early and with minimal fuss.

It was then time to start the clear up of the bedrooms and before we could even start that I realised the lounge was a mess from where the girls had been up before me. In truth they had been really good and got themselves some breakfast and turned the TV onto low to chill and do some colouring whilst I continued to rest but for a few minutes all I saw was the mess in the lounge.

Monday 8 February 2016

Term Time Holidays - Yes or No?

Image Credit: Mayan Ruin from Shutterstock

It's quite a major debate, isn't it?  I am constantly seeing posts across my social media feeds with parents asking other parents if they should take their child out of school to go on holiday. We all know that the price of holidays depends on the popularity of the time of year and it is pretty logical really.

When JJ first started school we took him on a term-time holiday each year as it meant we could enjoy a break with my parents for next-to-nothing and seeing as I wasn't earning major money it was just what we needed. Time to be a family, have fun together and recharge our batteries. We didn't have any qualms about doing it as he was just 4 or 5 years old and the the few days he missed school were not crucial in the overall scheme of things - he is a bright boy.

Then things changed, the twins became old enough to go to school and JJ was learning different kinds of subjects and we felt he might miss out by not being at school. Also the ten days discretionary leave that a Head could issue changed and now Head Teachers can only authorise leave in exceptional circumstances and those circumstances are left up to the Heads discretion. It is a bit of a minefield to be honest now.

Sunday 7 February 2016

Adventurer Mens Waterproof Boots from Mountain Warehouse

JJ came home from Scouts a couple of weeks ago with his new programme for the term and it looked like they were going to have lots of fun - explorer camp, hiking, life skills, emergency aid, buggy races, tending their allotment and a water camp. As I scanned the list I noted the remark that all scouts would need to make sure they had sturdy walking boots for the hike as it would be over rough terrain and shoes, however study, just do not give the ankle support that is needed.

I recalled that last time we had gone out for a ramble JJ had been moaning that his walking boots were pinching, so I got them out to have a look and low and behold I found they are only a size 7 and he is now between an 8-9. I therefore knew it was time to have a look on the Mountain Warehouse site and see what was available for JJ at a good price. I was super impressed that there were walking boots on there ranging from just £19.99 for a basic pair up to £159.99 for top of the range Apex Isogrip ones.

As JJ is still a growing lad (he is only 12 years afterall) I didn't want anything too expensive but I wanted his feet to be comfy, dry and well-supported so I opted for a pair of Adventurer Mens Waterproof Boots  in a grey and orange colourway. I see the other colour option - blue and dark grey, which is also very nice, has gone into the sale and is just £29.99 now too. The boots are available in sizes 7 - 12 and I think they come up true-to-size.  We went for a 9 for JJ as he can wear thicker socks or even two pairs whilst they are on the larger size and then grow into them, making them a wise investment.

Wednesday 3 February 2016

Designing my Dream Kitchen.... One Day!

Image Credit: Custom Kitchen Design from Shutterstock

I've got to a point in life where I really am very content. I've achieved the things I want and now I am content to follow God's will and see where He leads me. Right now that means I am down in East Sussex volunteering, mothering and supporting my husband in his work.  In the future who knows...

But if I am really honest there is one thing that I am a little sad I'll probably never get to do and that is design my own super stylish kitchen. My husband and I bought our first house in 1997 and we changed the old-fashioned brown tiles to a mix of bright and cheerful ones but that was about it as eighteen months later we were moving into a house that came with our work and we knew we'd only be there short-term so no point in doing any more than a lick of paint. The next place we bought was a brand new flat where we got to choose the tiles, worktops, cupboards etc which was nice but it was only a small place and I wasn't that excited.

Then in 2002, we moved into our forever home. My husband and I could see ourselves living in this house for the rest of our lives. It might only have had three bedrooms but we quickly converted the garage into another room which became JJ's bedroom and the plan was always to put an extension on the back and to knock the kitchen and dining room into the extension so there was a large, open-plan and very light space that I could pour my heart into and design.

I had the vision of how it would look, a light kitchen probably with simple shaker style kitchen units, a large island where I could cook and prepare the food whilst the kids sat up on high chairs on the other side and did their homework or some drawing. We'd have one of those enormous American style fridges with a water decanter on the front and all the white goods would either be built-in or hidden away in the utility room at the back.

The kitchen would open straight into the dining area which would be able to seat eight or ten so we could happily have guests around and then a comfy sofa and TV would encourage the kids to relax close by so that our lounge could remain an adult sanctuary to be enjoyed in the evening. I remember costing and planning it all out one evening and discovered that to achieve what I desired we would need around fifty-thousand pounds, that was a big wake-up call and the project quickly became just a dream. What I should have done is have a look at Kitchen Warehouse for an affordable solution.