Friday, 31 May 2013

A trip to the beach

Yawn.  That's what you're thinking now, isn't it?  Another blogger, bragging about her latest jaunt to the seaside, while you're stuck inside because it's not so sunny where you are.  Well, stop rolling your eyes, put down your cuppa and read on.

I put the washing out to dry yesterday morning.  Always a mistake, it started raining about an hour later.  Typical.  It stayed drizzling on & off for most of the day, which put paid to any exciting plans we may have had for going to the park, or anything more strenuous than a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse marathon.  Squeaky, however, had other ideas.  She wanted to go to the beach, and have a beach party.  She's been hassling me for days on this front, and as it was my day off today, there was no excuse that I had to go to work, or she had to go to nursery.  A beach party was the order of the day.

No chance in this weather though, I don't really enjoy being that kind of old person who sits in their car on the seafront sipping a lukewarm cuppa out of a flask, reading the paper.  So I had to come up with an alternative.  And if we can't go to the beach, the next best thing is to bring the beach to us.  I'm not daft though, there was no chance of sand & water play on my carpets.  No way.

Instead, I raided the airing cupboard, and found every blue, brown & yellow towel I could get my hands on. Squeaky then made the blue towels into the sea, and the brown & yellow into the sand.  We got our buckets & spades, a beach ball, and had our very own indoor beach party.  (Please ignore the pile of clean washing artfully displayed in the background!)

We spent the afternoon building sandcastles, swimming in the sea, catching and eating fish, and throwing the beach ball around.  We even managed to turn the tv off for a good couple of hours!

I don't think this is a rainy day game we're going to manage on a regular basis, part of the excitement today was because we're off on a proper holiday soon, so Squeaky's building up to that.  Even so, it was a lovely way to spend the afternoon, and it's great to watch her imagination develop, suspending the reality in place of something much more fun.

What do you get up to on rainy days?

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Tea India - A New Review!

You may remember that late on last year, I reviewed Tea India's Black Tea & Masala Chai. This post still gets loads of hits, so I must have been doing something right that day!  Well, when they got back in touch recently to ask me if I'd like to do a second review, I was hardly likely to say no, was I?

This time, it wasn't me opening the door to the postie, it was Daddy, who is slightly less terrifying first thing in the morning  I was greeted with a box containing Black Tea and Vanilla Chai.  (And some tissue paper which has been stashed in the craft box for a rainy day. We have lots of those.)

While I'm not a big tea drinker, I always keep some on hand in the house for visitors, and so I enlisted the help of a couple of willing volunteers (aka my parents) to test out the black tea.  They were very impressed with the box, it's such a pretty design, and really gets across both the "tea" and the "India" sides of things, even if you took away the words, the paisley print teapot is so pretty!  On tasting, my dad said "It's tea, it tastes of tea."  Well, yeah.  Mum was a bit more detailed, "It's GOOD tea, one to save, not just for breakfast every morning."  I'll take that as a complement, I noticed the box sneaking out of the house in her handbag, so they're back to whatever's in my cupboard next time!

I kept the Vanilla Chai for myself.  I'm not good at sharing!  I love love LOVE vanilla chai.  I'm not even sure where I picked the habit up from.  It's not something I can find many places, but when I do, it makes me a very happy person, so receiving my own personal stash of it was a really big treat.  I make it with milk, but you can drink it black if that's your thing.  If you're really technical, you can even make it into a chai latte by heating the milk and using more milk & less water.  That's a bit too much work for me though.

I'm still of the belief that Chai isn't *really* tea.  It's nicer.  And the vanilla is so soft and smooth and soothing, after Squeaky's gone to bed, I can curl up with a mug and a couple of biscuits and have a few minutes of "me time" before I get back on with the busy life of a mum, blogger, laundress, nail polish addict and whatever other titles I may currently have.

Have I tempted you enough to want to try Tea India out for yourself?  I have? Excellent!  Right now, on their facebook page, Tea India have a You and I and a cup of Chai campaign going on.  Click on the link, and invite your best tea-drinking buddy around  for a very special cuppa.  You're then in with the chance to win a selection of teas, including Black Tea, Cardamom, Vanilla, and Masala Chais to share with your friend, and earn you a favour or two!  Read the terms & conditions before entering.  I'm not in any way connected with the promotion, just giving you a heads up!

Tea India is available in various supermarkets nationwide.

Disclosure: I was provided with the packs of tea shown above free of charge for the purposes of this review. I was not told what to write and all opinions are my own.  Links are provided for your convenience, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme and will not receive reward for their use.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Singalonga Drive-time

My car's a strange little creature. I curse it a lot of the time, it's not been the most reliable vehicle ever made, but it usually gets me from A to B, and more importantly, it's got stereo controls on the steering wheel.  I can't drive without some kind of music on in the background, though sadly I get less & less say on it these days as Squeaky tends to demand the latest Justin Fletcher cd at all times.  There's only so long I can listen to him singing assorted nursery rhymes before I want to cry.  Hopefully by the time desperation has been reached, she's fallen asleep, so it's time for my choices.

The cds in my car are an odd mix.  Don't judge me by my taste in music, please!  There's usually some 60's girl groups knocking around, Erasure's Greatest Hits, a couple of soundtracks and a really odd Spanish beach party cd that came back from Majorca. I don't understand most of it, but it sounds good with the windows down & the sun shining.  However, there's one cd that's more important to me than all the others put together.  It's a compilation that I've owned in various formats since it was first released, and I'm sure I've bought it about 4 times now, just to make sure I've got a working copy.  It's the kind of cd that if someone hadn't made, I'd've had to make myself, so many of my favourite songs in the same place.

So I fished it out of the glovebox, and tried my hardest to pick the one song that I love to drive to the most.  The song that's currently on loop in my head is one from the cd, and one of my favourites, but probably not THE best driving song.  There's one that's just made for listening to in the car.

The stereo effects on this song just work so much better in the car, you can really feel it move from side to side, even if your ears are as rubbish as mine!  And the fact it kind of encourages me to get there a little bit quicker? Well, I'm staying under the speed limit, just about!

This post was written as part of the Carcraft Sing-alongs campaign, to find the nation's favourite driving songs.

Rechargeable Batteries - Review

I'm hoping over the last month or so, you might have noticed a slight improvement in some of the photos on my blog. I decided to treat myself to a new camera, as my old one was heading rapidly towards both obsolescence and the point of no-repair.  I love my new camera and all its flashy settings, but for one thing. My old camera had a single solid rechargeable battery, similar to the ones in mobile phones.  The new one takes AA batteries, and seemingly eats them at much the same speed I eat chocolate digestives.  So when Rechargeable Batteries got in touch, offering me the chance to review some of their rechargeable batteries, it was like Christmas had come early.

I received a charger with 4 batteries included, a second set of 4 batteries, both sets designed for high-use items like cameras, and sneakily a little bit of chocolate.  They definitely know the way to make me smile.  Guess which I opened first!

Once I finished tucking in to the Dairy Milk, I opened up the packages.  Cleverly both sets of batteries come already charged, so you can just pop them in to your camera & away you go.  I was quite impressed to notice the difference in battery life between the rechargeable batteries and the standard alkaline batteries I'd been using before.  They seem to last about twice as long, though it can be hard to tell when I'm taking random snaps around town.  And unlike the rechargeable batteries I remember from my childhood, the power doesn't diminish in time, with over 85% power still available after a year's use.

The charger comes with both a standard UK plug, and a car charger, so there's no risk of running out of batteries on a big adventure.  A simple idea, but so effective.  How many more items should come with a car charger as standard?  Rechargeable batteries may look expensive in the initial outlay, but think about how many packs of batteries you'd get through otherwise.  In our house the simple answer is LOADS.  Even at discount store prices, you'd make your money back within half a dozen battery changes, beyond that, you're in profit.  Plus, rechargeable batteries aren't contributing to landfill or environmental damage.  I know that shops that sell batteries now have to provide recycling facilities, but how often do people really remember to take the batteries from the tv remote back to the supermarket?

I like the way the Rechargeable Batteries website is laid out - you can easily search for the items you're looking for, by type, by brand, or what you want to use them for.  The prices are clear, and there's no hidden extras.  Unless you count the chocolate!

Disclosure: I was provided with the batteries and charger detailed above free of charge for the purposes of this review. I was not told what to write and all opinions are my own.  Links are provided for your convenience, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme and will not receive reward for their use.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Aqua Ears Review

I love summer, and more than that I love swimming.  Unfortunately my doctor isn't quite so keen on me swimming, because I've had an ear infection for the majority of the last 2 years, or at least it seems that way. It comes, I have about three different lots of ear drops over the course of a month, it goes away for a few weeks, and then it comes back & we start the cycle again.  At the moment, it seems to be clear, and my doctor has given me strict instructions to get some ear plugs for swimming.  Squeaky also loves swimming, but HATES getting water in her ears.  So when I learned that Cirrus Healthcare were launching AquaEars children's ear plugs in larger branches of Boots this June, I was keen to give them a try.

I'd actually already bought some of the adult ones, BioEars, in our local Boots a week or so earlier, so the timing couldn't have been better.  They're a brand I recognise, and trust with Squeaky's health.  AquaEars, and the adult BioEars, are soft silicone ear plugs, designed to mould gently to the shape of the ear canal to stop water getting in, and also provide 22 decibels of noise reduction (very welcome around a noisy swimming pool!), which means they're also great for protecting delicate ears at festivals.  They've got ActivAloe and are antimicrobial, protecting from germs and stopping water getting in to the ear canal.  The AquaEars range feature a selection of favourite cartoon characters - Mickey Mouse, Hello Kitty, Spongebob Squarepants, Nemo, Cars & Princess Ariel.  We were sent a set of the Princess Ariel AquaEars, and a set of standard BioEars to try out & review.

The AquaEars have transfers of Princess Ariel on them, and Squeaky was very excited to have a mermaid princess to go in her ears.  I had to remind her from time to time to leave them alone when we were in the pool, but she wasn't bothered about them, and needed reminding far less than she would otherwise have been complaining about water getting in, so I think that's a success.  When we went swimming this Friday for the second time since receiving the AquaEars to try out, she actually asked for them, which really pleased me, and shows she's happy with them.  The earplugs are reusable and can be put back in their carrying box between wears, though they don't got back to their original shape, they keep the shape of your ear.  This makes them a little bit harder to fir the second time, but it would be a bit pricey if they were single use.  Sadly the transfer breaks up a bit on use, so they don't quite look like Princess Ariel after the first wear, but even so.

Nails: Deborah Lippmann - Ruby Red Slippers

I tried out the adult version, which are just a translucent pale blue, no pretty transfers for me.  Wearing hearing aids on a daily basis, I'm very used to having something in my ears all the time, so they felt no different to me.  I'm not sure how they'd feel if you're not used to the sensation, but as Squeaky was able to ignore them, they must be fairly comfortable.

I was a little bit hesitant to begin with in putting my ears properly in the water, I really don't need another ear infection right now, but in the interests of a full review, I did it for you.  And I was pleased to find that they do do what they claim, and were properly waterproof. No water in my ears at all.  Happy girl, happy ears, happy doctor!

AquaEars and BioEars are available from Boots, as well as other retailers.

Disclosure - I was provided with a pack of BioEars and a pack of AquaEars free of charge for the purpose of this review. I was not told what to write and all opinions are my own.  Links are provided for your convenience, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme & will not receive payment for their use.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Aqua Maris Review

It's summer.  Almost.  And what that means in our house is sniffles, sneezes, itches, runny eyes, runny noses, and getting through a small rainforest's worth of tissues.  I was pretty keen to try out Aqua Maris as I'd like to avoid giving Squeaky antihistamines as long as I possibly can, but she seems to be following in Daddy & my footsteps with the summertime blues of hayfever.

Aqua Maris is a natural way of dealing with hayfever, allergies and blocked noses.  It's a saline nasal spray, made with Adriatic sea water from Croatia.  The Adriatic is known for its clear & clean waters, and the trace elements in the water help cleanse and refresh the nasal passages & promote healing.  Breathing sea air has been a curative and restorative remedy for generations, and Aqua Maris has bottled it in a handy spray.

I was sent two bottles to try, one of the Strong version for adults, and one of the Junior for Squeaky.  And so we set to sniffing from our spray bottles, much to the confusion of Daddy.

The biggest immediately noticeable difference is that the Strong version is in a glass bottle, whereas the Junior is a plastic bottle, much more suited to when you're dealing with small people and their interfering little hands.  A simple thought, but a good idea in my opinion.

Now, as for the Aqua Maris nasal spray itself.  We've used saline sprays with Squeaky before when she's got a cold. She would never let me near her with the baby bogey sucker thing, and I've found that saline sprays work quite well to relieve blocked noses.  That meant she knew what to expect.  She wasn't entirely keen - then again would you be keen when a wild eyed mummy came running up to you wanting to stick something up your nose?  Despite the shouts of "No!" I managed to persuade her to let me try the Junior spray out on her, and it does seem to have an effect on her sniffles & sneezes, though I don't think I could manage to use it on her 3-4 times a day as per the instructions.

For me, it certainly seems to deal with the nasal symptoms of hayfever.  Sadly I also get the runny eyes and skin itching, and that means I haven't been able to cut out my antihistamine tablets just yet, though I feel better than I have done in a long time, in terms of hayfever at least!  I'm going to add it to my armoury of hayfever relief, and am anticipating trying it out on colds later in the year as well.  I was going to say "eagerly anticipating", but that would just be wrong, no-one is ever eager for a cold.

If you've never used a nasal spray before, it can be a strange sensation, spraying stuff up your nose, and you do sort of taste it in the back of your throat shortly afterwards.  But the spray is super-fine, it's a measured dose, so there's no worries about squirting too much up there and having it dribble back down (ewwwww!)  Sorry to anyone eating while reading there!

Aqua Maris is available online through their website, through Amazon, or from a number of independent pharmacies.

Disclosure: I was provided with two bottles of Aqua Maris free of charge for the purposes of this review. I was not told what to write and all opinions are my own.  Links are provided for your convenience, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme and I will not receive reward for their use.

Friday, 17 May 2013

A return to Cantref

Those of you with long memories will remember that a couple of years ago, Squeaky & I took off to Cantref Adventure Farm near Brecon for an Easter Adventure.  If I'm completely honest, she was a bit too little for it at the time, though it was a lovely day out.

Well, last week, with the bank holiday, we decided to go back. The sun was shining, the birds were tweeting, so we slapped on some suncream & jumped in the car.

As Squeaky is a bit bigger now than she was two years ago, I had to pay for her to get in (only by 1 cm, but a rule's a rule).  But being over the minimum height meant she was able to join in a lot more of the activities this time around.

We fed a very greedy baby lamb, despite being a bit wary before he came round to us.  He was very friendly, and drank the milk far quicker than a human baby would!  Squeaky was quite surprised that baby animals drink milk, from bottles, just like human babies.

We wandered off outside, and had a look around the farm.  The paddle boats were something I thought would still be beyond the capabilities of a small and cautious 3 year old Squeaky, but no, she was determined to have a go, and I'm not bragging (much) when I say she got the hang of it far faster than the older children who were having their turn at the same time.

We joined in the pet handling show, where we got to meet baby rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, rats and ducklings, Squeaky was very brave and petted them all - and I was very restrained and didn't try to sneak the ducklings out in my handbag. They were just a bit too cute to be real, and only about 3 days old, so they were little yellow balls of fluff.

Squeaky spent a happy hour or so on the indoor play areas.  This wasn't a bad thing, as the weather was really quite hot, and it meant we got a bit of a break from the sun.  Almost everything at Cantref is free, once you've paid your entrance fee.  The only additional charges are for one mechanical digger inside the main barn, and the pony rides.  Oh yes, the pony rides.  Now that Squeaky's tall enough to have to pay to get in, she's tall enough to have a pony ride.  She wasn't quite so sure about the helmet, but accepted the fact that everyone has to wear one when they're on the ponies.

Squeaky rode a pony called Dusty.  I was quite lucky with our timing, as he was just about the right size for her, the other pony was much bigger, and I'm not sure she would have been so happy to ride him.  This, I felt was a bit of a swizz, it was an extra £2 for the pony ride, which was one guided walk around a small enclosure.  OK, it's no shorter distance than a donkey ride on the beach, and a comparable price, and I suspect it's partly to ensure everyone gets a chance - if it were free the same children would spend all day on there at the expense of other visitors.  But even so, it wasn't great value.  She did get a rosette at the end of her ride, though, which she is very proud of.

I mentioned the indoor play areas.  There's a great big indoor adventure playground, much of which was still a bit challenging for Squeaky.  It might have been the number of older children on it that put her off (it was a very busy day!), or it might have been the size of some of the obstacles.  But she had great fun in the under 4's section, and on the big slide.  Thankfully she decided the sheer drop slide wasn't for her, I'm not sure I could have watched that!  She was also really quite taken with the tractor rides, and spent quite a while pedalling, and maintaining her tractor.  The attention to detail in this section was great.  There were 3 fuel pumps, as well as a dummy pressure washer and tyre pressure gauge.  I'm working on getting her to do my tyres next!

She also took great delight in the soft ball area.  I can't think of a better description.  A netted area with 4 ball launchers, a great big target bucket, and oodles of spongy tennis balls.  More of which hit me than their target, but never mind.

Squeaky also managed to persuade me to have a go on the swamp adventure, which we'd had to miss out last time we visited.  A rowing boat, a lot of swampy water, and public humiliation.  Rowing is far harder than it looks, and I have a newfound respect for our Olympic heroes, who make it look so easy.  (That said, I'm not the person just in front of us who got their boat stuck 3 times and had to be rescued)

I'm glad we went back, it was a fun day out for Squeaky and I.  I was really pleased that she was able to take part in so much more this time around, and really got into the whole experience.  It's not somewhere I'd go all that often, because there's only so many times you can do the same things, and there's other places to visit around here too, but as she gets older, there's more for her to do, and more for her to take in.

I paid for our tickets, this review was not requested or sought by Cantref.  I have not received any form of payment or compensation for this review.  All opinions are my own.  I am not a member of any affiliate scheme, links are provided for convenience, I will not receive reward for their use.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Chicago Town Hot Dog Deep Dish Pizza Review

There are certain words in our house that make people's ears prick up.  For Daddy, they include Eurovision and Curry. For me it's more likely to be Snooker & Gin.  For Squeaky, once we take the obvious TV programmes out of the equation, the two words/phrases most likely to get a reaction are Pizza and Hot Dog.  So you can imagine my response when we were asked to review Chicago Town's Deep Dish Pizzas, especially their new, limited edition Hot Dog Pizza!

It was like Christmas had come early.  I know I talk a lot about Squeaky's fussy eating habits (and it's officially recorded on her Health Visitor records, I saw them yesterday), but it's the truth. She is a real finicky creature, but her two favourite foods that aren't chocolate or ice cream are Hot Dogs & Pizza.  When I'm at my wits' end with her, they're our fall-back staples.

So, yeah.  I was sent some vouchers & off I popped to my local supermarket.  The Deep Dish pizzas are only small, they're just the right size for a Squeaky meal, but for an adult, I'd want some garlic bread or chips to go with them.  As a snack, they're great, but I'm greedy when it comes to pizza.  But it's Squeaky's dinner, and for her, they're just right.

I've had other pizzas from the Chicago Town range before, but never the Deep Dish.  I was really surprised to find that you could oven cook them, or microwave, with equally good results.  I was going to give you two photos to compare the two, but despite living in this house, with this oven, for nearly a year now, I still have my moments, and haven't quite got to grips with the fact that it's actually at the temperature it claims to be, and I slightly charred the oven cooked one.  The picture here is the second pizza, which I microwaved.

Squeaky honestly couldn't tell the difference between the two, and the fact that I can microwave them means I can have a dinner ready in a few minutes, or a replacement dinner on those joyous days where she decides she doesn't like whatever I've slaved over for her.

The reaction to the pizza, well, I will give you her honest and genuine quote "The pizza is OK to eat mummy!"  This, I believe means that the temperature was right, and that she was enjoying it.  As there weren't even crusts left to give to the birds, I suspect she really liked it.  I did have to pick off a couple of obvious bits of onion (which she decided were ham), because she didn't approve of them, but hey, that happens to us all some days.

The Hot Dog Pizza is a limited edition addition to the Deep Dish range (and I'm going to be stocking up).  The range also includes Pepperoni - my favourite, Ham and Pineapple - Daddy's favourite, Four Cheeses, Chicken Melt and Meat Combo.  Chicago Town Pizzas are available at all major supermarkets, for around £2.00 for a two pack (though you may find special offers)

Disclosure: I was provided with vouchers free of charge to purchase Deep Dish pizzas for the purposes of this review. I was not told what to write and all opinions are my own. I am not a member of any affiliate scheme, links are provided for convenience only, I will not receive reward for their use.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Walkers Hoops & Crosses Review

We have a new addition to our household!  Before you get cross with me for keeping big news quiet, I don't mean anything like that, oh no.  This new addition goes by the name of "Oo Oo Ah Ah"!  And she's a monkey.  A girl monkey, I'm reliably informed.  A girl monkey with a soft spot for Walkers Hoops & Crosses

Pass The Parcel
Oo Oo Ah Ah arrived in style to our house just over a week ago.  In a box, inside another box, inside another box, it was like a game of Pass The Parcel.  In fact, that's exactly what it turned in to, as Daddy went to the door to deal with the postman, I removed the outer posting box, and then Squeaky decided that I couldn't be allowed to deal with exciting packages by myself, and needed some assistance.  As soon as Oo Oo Ah Ah was spotted, Squeaky announced that "Toy Monkeys are for small children, not grown ups", grabbed her out of the box, and ran around the room cuddling her and shrieking "Oo Oo Ah Ah"  They're now inseparable.

Guarding the tasty treasure!
Aside from finding Oo Oo Ah Ah in our box, we also received a pack of Walkers new Hoops and Crosses. A baked wholegrain snack, designed to help keep children happy, and parents confident that their children are getting a balanced diet.  Snacks don't have to be bad, and healthy snacks don't have to be boring.  Our Hoops & Crosses were Roast Beef flavour (oddly, suitable for vegetarians!), and they also come in Salt & Vinegar and Prawn Cocktail flavours.  It seems like an odd selection of flavours to begin with, but thinking about it, they're all pretty strong & distinctive flavours, and Cheese & Onion never appealed to me as a child.  I wouldn't have minded seeing another obviously vegetarian flavour in the range. Though they are all suitable for veggies, it's not all that clear, especially for children.  Maybe cheese and chive, or pickled onion, something like that?

Anyways, on to the all-important taste test.  I thought I was going to struggle with this, to tell you the truth.  Once Squeaky realised that she was allowed to eat the crisps, as well as playing with Oo Oo Ah Ah, she thought it was a bonus extra Christmas, and curled up on the sofa with the bag, shouting at anyone who came near.  I risked life and limb (and camera) to take a photo for you.  The Hoops & Crosses are (oddly enough) shaped like O's and X's, which caused her some initial confusion, and then she decided she needed to eat all the O's first, saving the "No's" for later.  How she's cottoned on to X as an incorrect marker, I don't know.  Fortunately for reviewing purposes, she found herself too full to finish the packet and I was allowed to eat the last handful of X's.  Being wholegrain, they were actually quite filling, and maybe a full sized bag is a little too big for someone Squeaky's size.  I really liked the flavour and the crunch, not too overpowering, but certainly not a taste that gets lost in the wilds of a lunchbox.

I'm definitely going to be on the look-out for Hoops & Crosses.  With 85 calories per bag, they're great as a snack after our endless cycle of pre-school activities - gymnastics, dancing, etc.  And if I can grab the last few, I get a treat as well!  Everyone's a winner.

Walkers Hoops & Crosses are available from all major supermarkets in 6 bag multipacks.

Best Friends Forever!
I'll leave you with Squeaky & Oo Oo Ah Ah curling up for a well earned rest.

Disclosure:This is a sponsored post. I was provided with the snack and toy free of charge, and have been offered payment for this review. I have not been told what to write, and all opinions are my own.  I am not a member of any affiliate scheme, links are provided for your convenience, I will not receive reward for their use.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Our Bluestone Break

A couple of weeks ago, I spotted a competition on facebook to win a short break at Bluestone, a holiday park situated in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.  It's somewhere I've been dying to visit for ages, so I was ecstatic to win, even though I then had to persuade my boss to let me have the week off work!

Home Sweet Home
Now, when you hear the words "holiday park", what springs to mind? Caravans?  Ancient chalets like something off Hi-De-Hi?  None of that here. Our home for the week was a log cabin!  Not just any log cabin though, one with all the mod cons, a dishwasher, freeview telly, wet-room shower, a heated towel rail (you know my thing for heated towel rails!) big squishy sofas, an oven that puts mine to shame (and stumped me the first time I tried to use it).  And just in case, like me, you don't have a dishwasher at home, and didn't think to bring detergent, a starter pack with a short-break's-worth of dishwasher tablets & washing up liquid.  Forget log cabin, this is more like a log palace!

No Keep Off The Grass here!
Now, Bluestone is a very family orientated resort. Not just family-friendly, it's really set up to make sure the kids have a great time.  There's banners all the way up the drive with "Lots for Tots", "Where kids can be kids", "Free Range Children" and things like that.  It's not cheesy, in your face, traditional holiday camp style entertainment, club dances & creepy stuffed characters, but more like the wistful memories of the childhood you *think* you had, the one you read in an Enid Blyton book.  Lashings & lashings of ginger beer.  Rather than being encouraged to follow strict rules & stick to the paths, quite the opposite.  I love this sign, it sums up the spirit of Bluestone, for me it was all about adventure & nature, and just getting outside & enjoying it.  We were blessed with fabulous weather, which made it all that much easier, but in these surroundings, we couldn't help but enjoy ourselves.

If you go down to the woods today...
Squeaky was a bit frightened when we first spoke about staying in a log cabin in the woods.  I think it was the woods bit she was more concerned about, but I can't be sure.  I managed to talk her round though, with promises of a Teddy Bears' Picnic, and too much singing of "If you go down to the woods today...".  So she was absolutely determined that we should have a Teddy Bears' Picnic during our stay.  All other toys were left at home in favour of Tower Teddy and an un-named white Teddy.  According to Squeaky, teddy bears eat cheese, so I prepared a picnic of ham sandwiches for her, cheese for the teddies, chicken wings for the grown-ups, and crisps & pop for everyone.

Mummy's lego house.

Even if the weather hadn't been so good, we would have been fine.  The Adventure Centre had all sorts of undercover activities, including miniature golf, a lego room, where I might have got a little bit carried away and forgot that I was meant to be an adult now, a Circus Zone for the under 5's, a massive adventure playground with slides & rope bridges, and the Big Four activities - high wire swings, climbs, rope trails & bungees, though this last one had an additional fee.

There's a full programme of activities daily, some are free of charge, but others are paid for.  We didn't take part in any of the paid activities, because we found more than enough to occupy ourselves without doing so, and because Squeaky's still young enough to not know what else is going on.  I can see though, if you have older children that there's the potential for things to get very expensive.

We visited the swimming pool every day, another activity included free in your break.  There's no photos of this, mind, for obvious reasons.  The pool was great fun, as long as you're not a serious swimmer, as there's nowhere you could swim lengths.  Daddy spent much of his time on the slides, with 4 to choose from, he was occupied for a while.  Squeaky alternated between the children's pool and the shallow end of the big pool, and I bobbed about in the waves and around the lazy river.  I couldn't believe the lazy river went outside, and we were happily basking in an outdoor pool, in the UK, in April, at 5 in the afternoon.  Unbelievable!  There's a spa bath outside as well, for the over 12's.  That was a bit of an experience, dashing from a warm swimming pool to a hot spa bath, when the air between the two is a bit on the nippy side!  Made me enjoy the warm water all the more though!

Mmmmm, wine
Kids aside, I think Bluestone were expecting me.  Just take a look at one of the shops I spotted in the Village!  I've seen an off-licence on holiday sites before, but normally just a Spar.  I love the idea of a Wine Store on site.  It was part of a larger convenience store, but the whole of this storefront side was just wines & beers.  Lovely!  Just what I needed at the end of the day.  To be fair, even though we took a 3 year old Squeaky along, and there were a lot of children there, I'm pretty sure you could still have a great break at Bluestone if you didn't have children.  There's masses of woodland to explore, cycle, run, walk, however you see fit.  There's a High Ropes adventure course, adrenalin activities in the Adventure Centre, a glorious pool with slides.  And if there's not enough on site to occupy you, it's literally next door to Oakwood (seriously, you can see the rides from the site) for all the high-adrenalin rides you could ever need, and half an hour from the beaches & shops of Tenby.  I spent a lot of time thinking about which of my friends would love it the best, and came to the conclusion that all of them would, for different reasons.

The Treehouse
New for 2013 is the treehouse in The Village.  A series of inter-connected treehouses, linked by wobbly bridges, tunnels & slides.  This was where you'd find Squeaky, and lots of other children at every opportunity.  Over the course of our stay we saw her confidence increase on the bridges & she explored more & more on her own.  Which meant we were able to watch from the sidelines and have a little break ourselves.
Move over Ray Mears!
We took off for a "short" walk in the woods, following one of the nature trails.  We went a bit further than we'd really planned, but it did mean we got to see an area of the site that we'd not otherwise found.  Camp Smokey is a BBQ restaurant (sadly it was only open one day during our stay & we missed it), deep in the woods, and surrounded by the High Ropes adventure course, where we had the chance to watch one of the staff team zipping around above our heads carrying out his daily safety checks before any of the guests took part.  Part of me would love to have tried it out, but I can imagine myself getting stuck, dangling from a wire 30 feet up in the air, with everyone laughing at me.  And let's face it, those harnesses are hardly flattering!  Fair play to Squeaky though, she walked the whole way, which was probably about a mile & a half.  Because there was so much to look at, she didn't have chance to get bored & demand to be carried.  We followed numbers on the nature trail signs, found creatures, picked up interesting sticks, and collected tiny pine cones, for reasons best known to her.

Give us an "S"
I really appreciated the environmental ethics of the park.  All the accommodation has solar panels on the roofs, the pool is heated using biomass (believed to be the first in the world!).  You're encouraged to sort your waste into recyclable and non-recyclable sections.  The gates to the main site are only open on Mondays & Fridays, to allow cars to the cabins for checking in & out.  Outside these times, cars are parked in the main car park.  There's a few ways to get around the site though.  There's bikes (with baby trailers) and golf buggies available to hire, a free land train which circles the site hourly, or good old fashioned foot power.  We opted for the latter two.  There were times, especially in the afternoons, where the land train was incredibly welcome, after a hard day's adventuring.  The lack of cars on the site meant I had a bit more confidence in Squeaky's safety, after all, a golf buggy with a top speed of 5 mph might hurt if it hit you, but it'd do a lot less damage than a car.

And for my next trick
After our walk in the woods, we rewarded ourselves with a cuppa, a huge chocolate muffin, and a trip to the Circus Zone.  The Circus Zone is bizarre, it's free in the mornings, and then you have to pay in the afternoons.  So we went in the mornings!  Squeaky had a great time being a cheerleader, putting on a circus show in her tent, and being a caterpillar.  Again, reasons best known to herself.  I don't ask.
A caterpillar. Possibly Very Hungry.

Newton North Church
And finally, I'll leave you with one of my favourite pictures.  There's a ruined mediaeval church in the Village, which has been slowly reclaimed by nature.  I'm fascinated by the way nature takes things back bit by bit, and the church stood out so beautifully against the evening sky.  There's also the remains of a mediaeval manor house elsewhere in the site, but too far to persuade Squeaky to walk to just for me to take artsy photos.  Maybe when she's a bit bigger?

Disclosure: I won a four night break at Bluestone, free of charge.  I was not asked to write this review as part of my prize, but I have chosen to do so. I have not received anything for writing this review. I have not been told what to write and all opinions are my own.  Links are provided for convenience, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme & will not receive reward for their use.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

The Discovery Cinco De Mayo Challenge

Did you know that, as well as the passengers, made famous by a certain film, the Titanic was also carrying 20,000 jars of mayonnaise?  After her initial stop in New York, the liner was scheduled to carry on down the east coast of the US, and deliver the condiments to Vera Cruz in Mexico.  Now, as we all know, the Titanic never made it across the Atlantic, and sank, taking its human and egg-based passengers down to the bottom of the ocean.  The people of Mexico were crazy for mayonnaise, and were distraught at the loss of so many jars.  As a result, they declared a day of national mourning for their favourite foodstuff, which is still observed to this day.

The day of mourning happens on the 5th of May each year, and is, of course, known as Sinko De Mayo.

OK.  OK.  I'm sorry.  I can't resist a bad joke.  Not really anything to do with the Titanic, or mayonnaise.  Cinco de Mayo is a day celebrated in the US and Mexico, celebrating Mexican pride &
culture, and commemorating the battles of the early days of the American Civil War.

It's also got a touch of extra meaning for me, because our wedding anniversary was on 23rd April, and we spent the fortnight after our wedding in Mexico on our honeymoon, so it's a nice way for us to remember that as well.

Well, to celebrate Cinco De Mayo, the kind people at Discovery Foods sent me a little treat, and a challenge.  I received a bag full of inspiring ingredients, and they challenged me to my very own Cinco De Mayo celebration.  Well, I couldn't say no to that, could I?

Inside the bag I found a Fajita kit, Green Jalapeno Relish, Garlic & Herb Soured Cream, Salsa and Fajita seasoning.  I love Mexican food, but not too spicy, so I was really glad to find these were at the milder end of spicy (aside from the Jalapeno relish, but even that's good fun in small doses!)

I grabbed some chicken (thigh fillets, my latest discovery, Cheaper than breast fillets, tastier, but no bones to mess about with), onions & peppers & set to making fajitas.  Then I figured that wasn't really enough, and added some tinned tomatoes to some of my chicken & veg, rolled them up, put them in my beloved mini Le Creuset dishes sprinkled with cheese & bunged them in the oven for enchiladas. Perfect for a mini Mexican fiesta.

I even tried my hand (badly) at a bit of Mexican paper cutting.  Please don't laugh at me, I'm not an artistic kind of person.  At least I tried.  I remember seeing amazing cut paper decorations in the restaurant on our honeymoon, but I wouldn't know where to start making anything more complicated than the pattern below.  I felt like I was back in juniors doing this, mind you (and I messed up my first attempt by cutting through the wrong edges so it all fell apart. You won't tell, will you? It'll be our little secret!)

Well anyway. Rather than bad jokes, honeymoon memories & my complete lack of papercrafting talent, I'm sure you're more interested in the amazing Mexican feast I put together for Daddy & me.  Here, get your eyes, and tastebuds around this!  Enchiladas on the left, fajitas on the right.  Margaritas hidden until Squeaky went to bed!

We actually had more than enough fajita spiced chicken left, even after making the enchiladas as well.  So much so that I put it in a tupperware in the fridge, heated it up (thoroughly) the next day & served it up with chips & some more of the sour cream, salsa & jalapeno relish as dips.  Some meals are just too good to only eat once!

Squeaky decided to join in out fiesta feast with that traditional Mexican delicacy tostadas con espagueti.  Or spaghetti on toast to you, fussy child that she is.  She was very interested in the idea of having pancakes for tea, but a bit scared of the contents, even when I explained them to her.  We're getting there, slowly.

Discovery foods are stocked by most major supermarkets, though the full range may not be available in all stores.  They are also available to buy direct from Discovery through their website

Disclosure: I was provided with the above ingredients to create my Mexican feast free of charge for the purposes of this review. I was not told what to write, and all opinions are my own. Links are provided for convenience, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme & will not receive reward for their use.