Thursday, 3 September 2015

The perfect summer's day #Justrefresh

Sometimes the perfect summer memories are created with just the right blend of careful planning, with some spontaneous moments thrown in.

Take this glorious summer's walk we had a few weeks back.  Armed with little more than some warmer clothes in case the weather changed, some juice and snacks in the bag and an OS map to save us getting hideously lost, we headed off to find an idyllic English Country field.

Following the footpaths, it was obvious that some of these routes had not been trodden in quite some time.  The tangle of brambles and overgrown foliage provided ample opportunity for swashbuckling our way through, cutting a swathe through the undergrowth.  Parts looked like fairytale lands, secret hidden worlds where nymphs and fairies must surely hide.

But sometimes, when taking the path less travelled, it's best to get a lift.  Daddy's broad shoulders took the weight and lifted her high above the golden grasses, alive with the chirrup of crickets.

Discovering the perfect golden cornfield, it proved to be the ideal spot to stop for refreshment break.  Nibbling on a piece of corn, Ruby noticed how the stalk was hollow, just like a drinking straw.  Given that the harvested stalks are also called straw, we pondered whether this was the origin of straws as we know them.

The next field along had been cut, infact the combine harvester was just finishing up the last corner, gathering the wheat, so we picked up a stray stem, gave it a quick rinse through with water and tried it out.  It was perfect!  

The ideal countryside drinking straw to enjoy our refreshing Ocean Spray juice through.

Packed with vitamin C but with less sugar, Ocean Spray Light Cranberry Juice has only 20 calories per 250ml, so it's the perfect way to rehydrate on a summer day.  Full of juicy flavour, it's a real hit with our family.

After all that adventuring it was time to return home for a snack of yoghurt-covered Craisins and another refreshing drink - it's thirsty work this exploring!

I'm working with BritMums and Ocean Spray highlighting the everyday moments of colour that give each of us a little lift, just like Ocean Spray adds colour to our day and delights us all year round. I have been compensated for my time. All editorial and opinions are my own. Visit OceanSpray for more information. 

Friday, 21 August 2015

Smart Storage and Space Saving Solutions for Bathrooms

I wanted our new bathroom to be clear and tidy.  My inspiration was the sleek hotel bathrooms we'd stayed at recently.  Having a place for everything means it's so much easier to keep tidy, with essential toiletries out of sight, yet we're much more organised and able to find everything in an instant.

However, I didn't want it to be too clinical.  I still wanted to be able to display my treasures.


With no available surface areas in our refurbished bathroom, shelves were the obvious choice to be able to display trinkets and keep items to hand.

I struggled to find shelves the same colour wood as the units we'd build in, but thankfully found these high gloss coloured floating shelves in Homebase.  I opted for dark grey to match our colour scheme, but they're also available in a range of wood effects and colours from scarlet red to lime green.

Being floating shelves, they give smart, sleek and modern lines. I've displayed my collection of vintage bottles holding my bubble bath and salts. I've also added a fresh pot plant and a citrus lime cut-work lantern also from Homebase to tie in with my scheme.

Sliding Bath Storage Panel

About 15 years ago I said someone should invent one of these.  There's so much wasted space under your bath and for small bathrooms that's space you should be using.  I knew I should have patented it at the time because of course now someone makes them.

This two door sliding panel is made by Croydex and we purchased it from Plumbworld.  Each end is lockable making it the ideal place to keep your dangerous cleaning products and bleach out of reach from small hands - not to mention keeping your expensive bubble bath safe!

Now we have somewhere to hide away all those unsightly spare loo rolls, bottles of cleaning products and the everyday bubble bath and shampoo you don't necessarily want out on display to the world.  It's the best thing we've installed in our new bathroom and if you're looking for extra space I recommend you simply change your bath panel to one of these - you'd be amazed how much space there is under there.

Sink Vanity Units

We didn't like the look of some of the built in bathroom furniture - some of them looked more like kitchen units with worktops.  We finally settled on this hanging sink unit from IKEA, which has two generous drawers beneath.  Perfect for storing spare towels, as well as your everyday face-care.  It has a divider in the top drawer so you can have his-n-her space.

I've added these storage pots, also from IKEA and it's made my daily skin-care routine so much simpler.  I love having everything on hand but out of sight. There's also a good range of perspex drawer organisers for cosmetics and toiletries currently on sale at TK Maxx.

Tall Wall Cabinets

If space is at a premium, go upwards.  We selected this matching tall unit to go with our vanity.  Although fairly slimline, it's amazing how much extra storage it's afforded us.  I arranged the internal shelves to accommodate a laundry bin in the bottom, to keep all the dirty washing out of sight.  Our bathroom fitter installed our shaver socket inside the cupboard so we can keep all our electricals out of view when on charge.  Visitors don't need to see my epilator now do they?

Above, there's another five generous shelves which I've loaded with baskets and filled with our ridiculous amount of toiletries.  The plastic baskets make it easy to reach anything, and items don't lurk at the back never to be seen again.  Our old bathroom was so chaotic we could never find anything and it often meant buying more on the weekly shop just because I never knew if I was running out of shampoo or toothpaste.  When I unpacked all our boxes after the bathroom was finished, I discovered I had 11 cans of deodorant!  Now we can easily see what needs replenishing - although I suspect nothing will need to be bought for quite a while!

Mirrored Cabinets

Everyone has a mirror over the sink, so it may as well be a mirrored cabinet that you can use for storage.  This tall, slimline cabinet is also from IKEA, and now houses our toothbrushes, medicine, first aid items and various lotions and potions.  As it's so tall, it's perfect for keeping tablets and medicines out of kid's reach, but it's narrow enough to fit comfortably over the sink.

What are your top bathroom storage solutions?

Disclosure: Homebase provided me with a voucher for some finishing touches.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Marmite and Manchego Bread

This recipe was inspired by some recent car boot finds.  I got chatting to a lovely lady who lived in rural Cambridgeshire.  Her Victorian home had long had a large fish pond in the garden, but a few years back they filled it in so she could build an art studio in the garden.  It transpired that the previous occupants of the house had used the pond as their waste disposal, lobbing in discarded bottles, and when doing the building work she unearthed umpteen old glass bottles.

She kept many of the interesting ones, unusual Victorian glass and bottles from local breweries, displaying them in her studio, but at the car boot she was keen to get rid of some of the more common ones.

I picked out quite a few - for only 10 pence each I could hardly refuse.  I was drawn to the old Marmite bottles, being a fan myself of the black stuff, and she also let me have this old wooden bread board for 10p too.

I love Marmite - I've even made chocolate marmite lollies before now. Bread and marmite go together naturally for me - whether spread on hot buttered toast, or in an old-school sandwich, so I experimented and came up with this recipe which includes Marmite in the dough.  The toasted cheesy topping finishes off the bread nicely.  You could use any hard cheese, but Manchego is a personal favourite - plus I'm not gonna lie, I quite like the alliteration.

The recipe would work equally well with white flour, but I'm trying to steer clear of white bread at the moment, plus I was keen to use up this gorgeous flour I picked up on my travels.  It gave the finished loaf a lovely smokey, nutty finish.

I made this using my Kitchenaid with a dough hook, but you could equally knead by hand, and I guess it would work in a bread machine too.

If I'm honest, the bread didn't rise as much as I'd hoped, but it wasn't a warm day.  It was also a heavier texture than I'd liked but I suspect this was because of the rye flour.  I'm sure Paul Hollywood would have scowled at me. I'll try it next time with some plain brown flour, or perhaps mix some white into my rye flour.  Whatever the texture, the taste was incredible, and that's what counts!  And the smell- Oh my word the SMELL!

Because the dough is so dark, you have to hold your nerve to let it cook.  It seems like it's browning too quickly, but give it the time to cook through.

Ingredients for one small loaf:

275g strong bread flour
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
175ml warm water
1 large tbsp Marmite
2 tbsp vegetable oil
30g Manchego cheese (grated)

Stir the flour, sugar, salt and yeast together in a bowl until combined.

Dissolve the Marmite in the water (you may need to use slightly hotter water than you'd usually use for bread-making to ensure it all dissolves, and then allow to cool before adding it to the yeast mixture).

Add the Marmitey water and oil, and mix on a low speed for about 2-3 minutes.

Scrape down the bowl and dough hook and cover the bowl with a clean towel for 15 minutes.

Next, turn the machine to knead and knead for 5-6 minutes.

Scrape down and turn out onto a lightly floured surface.

Form into a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a clean cloth and leave for 1 1/2 hours.

Gently remove from bowl, re-shape into a ball and place onto a baking tray covered with greaseproof paper.

Cover with a large bowl, lightly greased and leave to prove for a further 45mins-1hour.

Pre-heat the oven to 230 degrees c.

Before placing in the oven, score a large cross on the top, cutting down 1 cm deep.

Cook for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 180 and cook for a further 12-15 minutes.  In the final 5 minutes, remove from oven, generously sprinkle the cheese on top before returning it to melt and bubble the cheese.

The loaf should feel light and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Linking up with the Mummy Mishaps' Great Blogger Bake Off over at Jo's Kitchen this week.

Mummy Mishaps

Chemical-free cleaning with the Hoover Dual Head Steam Jet Mop

I'll admit, as far as electric steam mops were concerned, I was in the whats-wrong-with-how-it's-always-been-let's-not-over-complicate-things-and-make-it-electronic camp.  However, after recently house-sitting for my parents and trying theirs out I was amazed at how much cleaner a steam mop gets the floors over a traditional mop and bucket, and I'm won over on the fact that you can get things so clean without the use of any harmful chemicals.

I recently went along to Hoover's launch of their upcoming new cleaning gadgets and was offered the 1700w Dual Head Steam Jet Mop to trail on a loan basis and I was keen to put it to the test at home.

I've tried it out on a variety of surfaces including wood, ceramic tiles and vinyl tiles.  It also works on carpets but alas we don't have any carpets to try it on so that option hasn't been tested by me.

Hoover claim that the steam jet mop kills 99% of all germs and bacteria including Staphylococcus Aureus; Salmonella Enteritidis; Candida Albicans; Aspergillus Niger, so as well as getting your floors sparklingly clean, you can rest assured that they're hygienically safe too - great if you have young children crawling around. The fact that the steam mop uses water alone to produce the steam and there's no added detergents or chemicals is also ideal for anyone with allergies or those wanting to reduce the amount of toxins they use around the home.

The unit was simple and intuitive to assemble from the box - I even did it with no instructions!  The upright handle is removable which is great if you're short on storage space.

This mop is lightweight - weighing just over 3kg and certainly feels less cumbersome than lugging around a bucket full of hot water and a mop.  Plus you only need to glide it over the floor, not keep lifting, rinsing and squeezing out like you do with a normal mop.  It takes up less space than a traditional mop and bucket for storage too - although being electrical obviously I can't just chuck it outside like I do with my current non-electric mop!

Filling the reservoir was simple, the large screw cap opens to give plenty of room to fill straight from the tap without the need for water jugs or funnels.

It's more sanitary and hygienic as you simply remove the velcro pads and pop them in the washing machine meaning you're starting each time with a clean mop rather than just spreading the muck and germs around that might be lingering on your traditional mop-head.

It's super-comfortable to use and feels like less strain on my back than my old mop.  The twist and steer technology and flat back cleaning gives brilliant manoeuvrability allowing you to get under low furniture and cupboards easily.

I was concerned about mopping my bathroom, given that most bathrooms won't have an electric socket to plug in, but it's 8 meter reach meant there was no problem cleaning the bathroom floor from the socket on the landing.

The 'dual head' refers to the large area mop, used with interchangeable mop pads, and then with a simple press with your foot on a pedal, the mop section releases to give you a powerful scrubbing brush.  Together with the steam jets, the brush is great for getting ground-in dirt such as dried on muddy footprints or pet paw marks.

My only issues would be that the brush does tend to leave the floor rather wetter than the mop, and you have to go back over it to wipe away the dirty water and although the brush is a triangular shape allowing good access to corners, the main mop is rectangular, making tackling corners tricky.  Other mops I've used also feature pads which 'wrap around' more, giving something of a 'bumper' to the mop, preventing knocks and bashes and also giving a certain element of cleaning up the skirting and around the bottom of basin pedestals, toilet cisterns etc.

Overall though, I'm very impressed with the Dual Head Steam mop.  I was amazed (and a little embarrassed) and how filthy the pad was after mopping my hall floor, especially as I'd 'cleaned' it the day before!  Check out the difference in colour on the used and unused pads below.

The Hoover model leaves the floors drier that other brands I've tried, great for busy family households as you can walk on them much quicker.  It also seemed to lift out a lot more grime than other models I've tried.

I liked the 'upright parking' feature, no worrying about having to lean it on something or it falling over if you're taking a break.  The water capacity of 0.7 litres was plenty to clean my floors and it heated up to steam almost instantly from filling.

It's simple and intuitive to assemble and use, and the push button and handle are comfortable to hold.

But most of all, I love that it gets my floors so clean without any harsh chemicals at all.

I'm sold on steam mops now and sad to return this product after my loan.  I don't want to go back to my smelly old mop and bucket, so it's time to invest!  Do you have a steam mop?  Have I convinced you to try one?

Monday, 3 August 2015

Pass around the world to win great prizes

Coming from the home of the Bedford Blues, we are a family of rugby lovers, chasers of the egg shaped ball.  My dad used to play professionally, he's still a season ticket holder attending as many matches as he can at their home ground, with my brothers and nephews also getting to as many games as possible.

There's a really fun competition currently running with Allianz to celebrate their partnership with Saracens called 'Pass Around The World' where YOU can be involved and win great prizes like a £150 Ticketmaster voucher, or even lunch with the Saracens team.

All you need to do is upload a short clip of you passing the rugby ball and it will be included in a video montage - you could be receiving or passing the ball to the likes of Owen Farrell, Lewis Hamilton or the Bayern Munich Football team.

Why not get down the park or out in the garden with the kids and make your quick video?  It's a great way to keep the kids active during the summer holidays and encourage them to play sport.

Here is a brief run-down of what you need to do, but full details and terms and conditions are on the website:

  • Get Mobile Ready: Remember to turn your phone side ways to film your pass.

  • Film Your Pass: The ball must come in from the left and out through the right. What you do in-between is up to you.

  • Upload: Make sure your video is no more than 10 seconds long and is under 30MBs. Upload it on our website and share it with your friends!

  • WIN: all entries will be submitted into a prize draw (terms and conditions apply, please visit for more information.) 
Here's my attempt!


Where will your pass go?  Go on, give it a try!

This post is in association with Allianz.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Fab Lab Invent-A-Scent Perfume Kit - Review & Giveaway

If like me, you're looking for a fun activity to keep the kids busy on a rainy day - AKA the school summer holidays - then I can thoroughly recommend the Fab Lab Invent-a-Scent Perfume set from Interplay.

Not only did it capture my daughters imagination for a good few hours, but we also managed to sneak in a bit of stealth learning which is always a bonus when there's 6 weeks off school stretching ahead of us.

I really liked the packaging and appearance of this set. Not too overtly pink, it shows a young girl in a white coat on the box, any efforts to encourage more young girls into science is a great thing in my opinion.

Inside the box, you'll find a selection of pipettes, a pair of rubber laboratory gloves, 5 different scents, gift bottles, self-adhesive labels, tester strips and an activity guide and instructions.

The booklet was full of interesting facts - Ruby was delighted to hear about the ancient art of perfume blending and that perfume bottles have been discovered by archaeologists thought to be over 4,000 years old in Cyprus - this piqued her interest since we're off on holiday to Cyprus soon.

We read the safety instructions and information about allergens before starting on the kit.

Ruby learnt about blending different scents to make perfume, she learnt about base notes, top notes and heart notes and we talked about the perfume I wear and how it smells after different lengths of time.

There's a helpful sheet inside the booklet where you can jot down your perfume blends, useful to refer back to if you want to make up more of a particular favourite.

We had a maths lesson discussing proportions and ratios, and I found this easiest to explain it like a cake recipe which you scale up to make more, or mixing a paint colour.

Once she'd blended her first perfume, we spent a while, eyes closed smelling it and thinking about what it reminded her of and how she could best describe it. Her first blend consisted of musk base note and pink flowers and green top notes. This she said reminded her of forests and waterfalls in Wales and she named and labelled her bottle 'Woodland Waterfall'.  She came up with some great adjectives for her other perfumes and named some 'Tropical Island', 'English Country Garden', 'Fruity Fantasy' and 'Luxurious Lemon Tart'.

We had a lovely afternoon playing with scents and coming up with individual perfumes.  After mixing them on the tray, you can transfer your blend with the pipette into a gift bottle and label it up ready to give to friends.  Ruby preferred to make small amounts, experimenting with different ratios, so she'd have preferred to have more bottles included in the kit, and also some spare labels - there's only 4 for the 4 bottles so no room for errors with your writing.

I also noted that the scents were very foamy, making lots of bubbles which at times made it difficult to get back into the bottle.  This may have been partly due to inexperienced use of the pipette, but they were prone to foaming, even after I explained about suction and vacuums and how pipettes worked.

There's lots of discussion in the booklet about matching fragrances to different personalities but Ruby was less interested in this part of the kit, preferring to mix her own and experiment. 

Overall. we though this was a lovely set with good quality ingredients.  The scents were all long lasting and highly fragranced and Ruby loved using the little strips to test her perfumes (there were plenty of these included).  More gift bottles (of smaller sizes) and labels would have been useful and perhaps the plastic insert which is used as your blending palate could have been a little sturdier.  This set is aimed at age 8+ and Ruby is 7.  She struggled a little with the concept of scaling up for large quantities, and I also noted I had to help remove the plastic stoppers to open the bottles, but these quite rightly have to be tight to prevent any spillage in transit.  We spent a good few hours with this kit and there's plenty left to use it again and make up more perfumes.

So from this one activity, we had a little bit of History, lots of Science, plenty of Maths and some English and vocabulary practise - her teachers will be pleased!

The set retails at £12.99 which I think is good value for money and would make a great gift.

If you'd like to win one of these kits for yourself, simple complete the rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms and Conditions:

UK entrants over the age of 18 only. 
Entrants will be submitted to the random draw. 
Incomplete or Duplicate entries will be deleted. 
All times are in GMT. 
The giveaway ends at midnight on 6th August 2015
Blog Owner not responsible for non-delivery of prize. 
Entrants must leave a means of contact: either twitter handle or email address. 
Prizes must be claimed within 2 days, otherwise another winner will be selected to replace the non-claimant. 
The prize is the item featured in the post, and there is no cash alternative. 
Please allow 14 days for delivery.

I received this kit for the purpose of this review, all images and opinions are my own.  The prize will be fulfilled by Interplay.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Five Free Things To Do This Summer

The long summer holiday can be an expensive time to keep the kids entertained, so here's my top five free activities which are heavy on fun and easy on the purse.

Visit the Forest

A trip to the wood is our favourite thing to do for free any time of the year, but in the summer it's perfect.  The tree canopy will protect you from scorching sun on hot days, or offer a little shelter from the rain if you're not so lucky with the weather.

There's loads to do in the forest from bird and wildlife spotting, to den building.  Take a picnic and make a day of it, but remember to take all your rubbish home with you.

This year, the Forestry Commission are hosting Superworm trails after the success of the Gruffalo and Gruffalo's Child trails last year.  Based on Julia Donaldson's popular book, follow the markers, complete the activities and have a super day out.  The trails are free to do, although you may need to pay a local parking charge if you take your car.  You can buy special activity packs but they're not necessary to complete the trails, and you can download some free activity sheets from the Forestry Commission site instead.  You'll find a full list of participating forests on the website.

In both Grizedale and Whinlatter in the Lake District, they're also hosting 'Wormy Wednesdays' on Wednesdays throughout the summer holidays.  There will be additional art and craft activities and sessions, see local sites for more information.

Splash at your local play fountain 

Hours of free fun can be had in splash parks and municipal fountains.  My favourite in London are at Granary Square in Kings Cross where they have loads of deckchairs, live music and street food, and also at the impressive backdrop of Somerset House.  You can find more London play fountains here and many large towns and cities now have their own too.  Take a towel and a change of clothes!

Canals and Rivers

I always remember summer holidays used to include trips to the river to feed the ducks - the perfect free afternoon of fun.  The Canal and Rivers Trust have a free booklet and sticker pack crammed with loads of activities, things to spot and things to make.  Send off for your 'What Shall We Do Today' pack and make the most of our waterways.

Watching the barges drift by, playing pooh sticks, collecting feathers are all childhood memories I have, and the website has a great interactive map with downloadable guides for local days out and details of events and festivals.

Incidentally, they're also on a mission to encourage us to feed the ducks more healthily.  We shouldn't be feeding them bread, but corn, peas, oats and fruit instead.  

Visit the beach

It wouldn't be the summer holidays without a trip to the seaside.  From rock-pooling to building sand-castles there's plenty of free fun to be had on the beach.  Build a moat around your castles and fill it with buckets of sea water, beach-comb for shells, driftwood and pretty pebbles, bury each other's legs in the sand, fly a kite...the list goes on.

Crabbing is a firm favourite, but remember to do it responsibly.  Here are a list of dos and don'ts to prevent causing distress to the crabs:

  • Don't put too many crabs in one bucket - four or five at the most
  • Do add some rocks and seaweed to the bucket to make them feel more at home and reduce their stress
  • Don't keep them out of the sea for too long - return them after an hour at most
  • Do keep them in sea water and change the water often to avoid asphyxiation
  • Don't keep your bucket in the sun
  • Don't use a line with a hook.  A net to hold the bait is kinder
  • Do hold your crab correctly to avoid damaging it (and avoid you getting bitten!). Hold it either side of it's shell towards the back, or finer and thumb top and bottom of the shell
  • Do separate any crabs which are fighting by returning them to the water straight away
  • Do take all your rubbish and equipment home with you - lines and nets can damage birds and marine life 
  • Do go crabbing - it's a great way to introduce kids to marine ecology.

Remember to stay safe at the beach.  The RNLI are again this year sending out Beach Smart kits free of charge, with fun stickers and safety guides.  Their motto for staying safe in the water, is to remember - hold tight, hands up if you get into any difficulty.

Visit the library

The library is always a great place to enjoy books and magazines for free.  But over the summer they always host a reading challenge too.  If you haven't already, encourage your kids to sign up.  This year the theme is Record Breakers, and children are rewarded with stickers and certificates for the amount of books they read.

Check out your local library for summer holiday activities and craft events too, many of which will be offered free of charge.

What are your favourite free things to do in the holidays?