Thursday 29 August 2013

How to make wasp deterrent for alfresco dining

Ask me what I'm most scared of, and I'll probably answer (with a shudder) "wasps!!"  I have a full-on phobia, in fact even looking at the picture above is making me sweat.

I loath the nasty little things, and to be honest they almost ruin summer for me, because I love to eat outside.  But whether it's picnics on the beach, lunch in a pub garden; dinner outdoors or even an ice cream from the van, you can bet your life, as soon as there's grub around, wasps will come buzzing. This time of year particularly as all the fruit trees are laden with ripe plums, pears and apples, it means gardens up and down the land are infested with wasps.

I saw this clever trick at a bar while on holiday in France and I thought I'd share it with you.  I've never heard of it before, and by the look of the inquisitive locals, neither had many others.

I love it because it's safe (it won't harm other insects or bees), it's cheap (or free if you re-use), but above all - IT WORKS!

So here it is.

You will need:

A metallic dish - I re-use old baked bean tins or aluminium foil takeaway containers
Coffee grounds - you can dry used grounds so there's no expense or waste

You simply light the coffee grounds and allow to smoulder.  The smoke deters the wasps - I don't know whether there's something specific about coffee they don't like, or whether the smoke masks the scent of your sweet food, but frankly who cares how it works?!?

If you are re-using coffee grounds from your cafetiere etc, make sure they are thoroughly dry or you'll never get them to light.  If you're struggling, try placing a small amount in the bowl of a metal spoon and holding it in the flame of the gas hob, then gently drop into your tin of coffee.  This seems to make it much easier to light and smoulder.

Safety notes: 

Only use on a heatproof, non-flammable surface
Keep out of reach of pets and children
Do not leave unattended
Only use outdoors

Go forth and enjoy the rest of the summer wasp-free!

(thankfully the lovely Jayne at Mum's the Word is both better at graphic design, and less terrified of wasps than me, and made this wonderful image above for me - thank you!)

Win Sainsbury's Bumper Book Of Summer & Scrapbook

The school holidays are drawing to a close and it's becoming a challenge finding fun, new activities in this final week.

It's been a great summer though, with lots of adventures and memories.

Sainsbury's sent us a copy of their Bumper Book of Summer full of over 60 great boredom buster ideas, together with a lovely sticker and scrap book.  There's a huge poster and a DVD with step-by-step guides to the activities.

Ruby's a total hoarder (I wonder where she gets that from?) and has been stashing all sorts of souvenirs and mementos of trips and days out - ticket stubs, leaflets, feathers she's collected, train tickets, boarding passes...

Now we're winding down and getting ready for back to school, it's a perfect time to sit down together and make her scrapbook.  It will give us a chance to talk about our experiences, find out what she enjoyed the most, and which were the best for our family.

If you're looking to squeeze every last drop out of what's left of the summer, then complete the rafflecopter below for your chance to win a copy of the book and scrapbook.  It will come in very handy for next year too!

Terms:  One winner will be selected at random to receive the Bumper Book of Summer set.  Fulfilment of the prize is the responsibility of Sainsbury's.  Closing date is Monday 2nd September as shown on the rafflecopter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: We were sent one copy for ourselves and another will be provided as a prize.

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Wednesday 28 August 2013

Local history tour for kids

Today I thought I'd chance my arm at something vaguely educational  - during the summer holidays, shock horror!

I've been really fascinated trawling through my local 'past and present' page on Facebook and thought it might be fun to get Ruby out on a bit of a history hunt.

I printed off some old photos - search on Facebook to see if you have a local page, or check out the local history section of your library - failing that you can do a Google image search for historic photos of where you live.

Armed with a clipboard; camera; suncream and some emergency snacks, we headed out.

It was great fun searching out the photo locations, using local knowledge, a print of an old map and the modern day map app on my phone.  We married up features to check we were in the right places, then chatted about the differences and the changes over the years.

Ruby noticed how there were hardly any cars about in the 'olden days', compared to now.  We also noted how there are lots more houses, and they are much closer together.  She learnt how to pick out architectural features in houses to cross check them with our old pictures - she noticed how windows generally remained the same (or at least in the same places), chimneys were often recognisable even if properties had been extended, whereas front door-ways, fences and gardens had often changed.

Of course, the town's war memorial hasn't changed (but for having World War II's fallen locals added), but the surroundings are barely recognisable.

Using the old map, we found the rough location of the old windmill which burnt down over 100 years ago, but had once milled the corn for the whole village and beyond from the many fields and farms around.

The one she found most interesting was a picture of a horse and plough in the middle of a cornfield - standing slap bang exactly where her school stands today.

It was a fascinating day, we learnt a lot about our town and it's history, had a lot of fun; fresh air; plenty of exercise (turns out we were walking around for 4 hours) and best of all it was totally free!

There was something oddly comforting, yet humbling standing taking photos in the exact same spot that someone else had all those years before.

Do you fancy a local history tour?  How does your home town differ now from 100 years ago?

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Thursday 22 August 2013

Stylish, co-ordinated camping and picnic wear from Olpro

Aren't we lucky?  We get lots of lovely things to try out and this is one of my favourites for it's beautiful design, practicality and because it so perfectly suits our lifestyle.

Just as we are getting into camping, we are discovering that a lot of outdoor gear can shall I put this...?  Utilitarian?  Dull?  Khaki?  Boring?

Well, enter OLPro with their beautifully designed co-ordinated ranges like this one The Witley with its repeat pattern of badgers, trees and tents it's perfect for a forest-loving family like ours.

The seven-pole windbreak has been put through it's paces over the past few weeks and had performed brilliantly both on grass and sand - it even did a reasonable job at staying up on a pebble beach in Normandy.

It's generous 18ft length means you can adjust it to cover several angles, keeping the elements out and giving you some shade and privacy, or even setting it up in the round to make a cover-all changing area - perfect for the Old Man who likes to whip his kit off and go wild swimming at the drop of a hat!

The cotton fabric is rot-proof and is guaranteed for 2 years, the ends of the poles are steel tipped to prevent the wood splitting as you hammer it into the ground and there are clever little clips to keep the fabric in place.

Check out Mammasaurus' blog where she's giving away the five-pole version of these beauties currently.

To compliment the range, is a gorgeous melamine dinnerware service perfect for camping or picnics.  Available in a set of 16 pieces (for 4 people) or 8 pieces (for 2 people) or as individual items - great for families like us who tend to lose things!  Check out Stressy Mummy's blog review of the melamine ware in their other design - Berrow Hill.

For cosying down under canvas, there's the snugly sleeping bag with it's poly-cotton inner lining and microfibre filling to keep you warm but not sweaty.  It's a zip-up type too, not one of those that you have to wriggle about like a dying caterpillar to wrestle into, and for those who like to snuggle, two can be zipped together to form a double.

So there you have it, if the dullness of gear is putting you off camping, go check out OLPro. They have a great range of tents too and you can read reviews from Thinly Spread here and Mamasaurus here.

Disclosure:  We were sent the windbreak free of charge for the purposes of this review.  All opinion is my own.  No financial reward was given.

Where do fish come from?

Our trip to Normandy was full of lovely surprises as we stumbled on unexpected events; saw glimpses of village life and were treated to the kindness of locals time and time again.

Headed to find a beach, we meandered into a tiny fishing village in search of lunch.  But arriving in the dead zone between 12 ad 2pm we thought we were out of luck with all the shops and tabacs firmly closed.

We stumbled on a make-shift marquee near the sea-front, and although they were evidently packing up, two kindly old dears rustled us up a feast of pate baguettes and cans of Orangina, and we ambled down to the sea front.

A quick dip in the sea, and some pebble collecting took place before a big hullabaloo started around us.  It was clear there was something happening, and we eventually found out we were in the midst of the annual sea-fishing contest where the menfolk proudly hunted and gathered, vying for cups and trophies.

The boats started to appear on the horizon and soon a huge crowd had gathered to ooh and ahh at their catches.  Men in tight trunks proudly puffed their chests as they hauled their crates of fish off the boats for weighing.

We asked whether it was possible to buy some.  A Gallic shrug of the shoulders and a "Non" was at first disappointing, until we realised that they wouldn't sell them, but would happily give their silvery mackerel away.

Seasoned viewers of this spectacle produced plastic bags and some even had cool bags, but we hastily improvised with a pair of wet swimming trunks and a towel, carefully wrapping the bounty up and driving it home next to the air con vent in the car, before transferring to ice cold water.

A quick lesson from Google saw the Old Man deftly gut and clean the fish, and then they were put securely in the fish griller and popped on the barbecue.

The crispy, charred skin and the delicate sea salty flesh was delicious and could hardly have been any fresher - a great way for Ruby to see that fish doesn't always come in frozen rectangles covered in breadcrumbs.

As we'd been sent a selection of BBQ equipment from Sainsbury's we also tried out the sausage cage - not so good for the skinny offerings the French seem to favour, but I suspect perfect for a hearty British banger, where your sausages can be easily browned all over without the risk of losing them to the burning coals.  We also had some burgers which we cooked on the barbecue plank.  I can't say I was a huge fan of this method. There were no instructions with the product but my foodie friends informed me that I should first soak it in juice or alcohol (a couple of bottles of French beer obliged), then cook the meat on top.  It was like a little burger funeral pyre, but they were taking too long to cook through to the middle so we abandoned it! Maybe one for those with more patience!

Disclosure: We were sent the BBQ equipment by Sainsbury's to try out.  The mackerel came with no strings attached.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Sunday 11 August 2013

Mum's Office Big Family Diary - can it get me organised?

School Academic Year Diary
The start of a new school year brings with it many emotions and challenges, but for me it also represents a fresh start.  Another chance, a clean slate to start again part way through the year, with a lovely new shiny academic year diary or calendar.  Long-forgotten New Year resolutions of getting organised are re-kindled and I leap at the chance to start a-fresh in the grim, determined hope that this year will be different.

I am one of the mums at the school gate who only gets to hear last minute about mufti-day or the cake sale that was mentioned on a school missive months ago and has been screwed up in the bottom of the book bag ever since.  I've turned up to doctor's appointments a week late - and once a week early.  I've double-booked nights out and forgotten birthdays.

So this gorgeous looking diary looks to be the answer to my prayers.

I have got over my feelings of inadequacy that I don't have a beautician, a butcher or a cleaner who's number I can scribe neatly inside on the 'need to know numbers' section, and consoled myself that the next time the roof springs a leak I will have both the number of the guy who came out last time, policy number and telephone number of the insurance company who didn't cough up previously.

Whilst I do harbor the suspicion that this diary is for uber-glamorous, city-slicker mums with au-pairs and personal hair stylists, I do accept that it has something to offer every family.

Lets face it, before kids life was pretty straight-forward.  I only had to worry about myself, and I could pretty well keep tabs on what I was up to on a scrappy piece of paper at the bottom of my handbag.  But with family life comes swimming lessons; hospital appointments; play-dates; tea at friend's houses after school; governor's meetings and a plethora of other things I usually forget.

This diary has a space for everything.  There's a handy section at the front for recording all your children's personal details including allergies; shoe size and term dates.  I can pretty much stay up to speed with my one child, but if I had 3 or 4 I'm sure I'd get in a muddle.  I think this section would be particularly handy if you have childcare - it's something you can leave for your nanny or babysitter and be sure in the knowledge that they could get hold of the doctor in an emergency.

The 'in case I lose my mobile' section could stop many a cold-sweat moment, and I need to fill that in right away.

Moving on to the diary section itself, it is a week-at-a-view style, with one page for my plans, so it will be great for keeping track of all my work appointments and blog schedule.  The opposite side side is a grid plan with 4 sections so you can keep track of what the kids are up to; your partner's movements; use it for meal planning and shopping; budgeting...whatever suits your needs.

Overall, feelings of inadequacy aside, it's a great looking diary and one which I intend to use to the max.  It measures 24.5 cm x 19 cm so will fit easily into today's cavernous handbag.  I plan to leave it on the kitchen dresser so all the family can see what's on, and take it out with me as I grab my keys and mobile.  This way, I will keep a note of everything all in one place - rather than some appointments on the wall calender, some in my phone and some pinned on the noticeboard - that's how things get missed.

The diary comes in three colour options - raspberry, peppermint or blackberry, and has a stylish faux croc skin hardback cover.  There's an elasticated strap to keep it neatly secured, a pen loop to keep your writing implement handy and a useful gusset pocket at the back for notes; invitations and receipts etc.  It's available from stationers and retailers nationwide, or from Amazon at around £16.


Disclosure: I was sent a diary for the purposes of this review.  All opinions and images are my own.  The link above is an affiliate link.

Saturday 10 August 2013

Den building and forest fun at Fineshade

As an official reviewer for Salcey Forest in Northamptonshire, our discovery pass also covers Fineshade Woods, but up until yesterday we had never visited.  I was keen to see how it differed, when we got to attend a fun-filled family day along with other bloggers Carol; Kimberley; Lucy; Karin and Sabina.

When we arrived, we were met in the fabulous play park by ranger Cheryl.  The kids didn't seem to want to leave the park they were having such a great time, but were soon enticed away with promises of more adventures in the forest.

So, who wants to build a den??!!

Cheryl set the scene - we had survived a plane crash and were stranded deep in the woods.  There was no hope of rescue before night-fall so we must build ourselves a shelter to keep safe and warm.  She gave us some tips on how to build the best den and then each family set to work finding a suitable spot and hunting out fallen branches and sticks.  Den building is a brilliant activity for kids and families.  It encourages team-work; teaches them about safety and risk-taking; encourages respect for nature and is a great physical activity - but above all else, it's FUN!

We were all hugely proud of our dens, and each one was tested for it's water-tightness by brave kids, and a few brave dads.

After 'surviving' the morning in the forest, we all trekked back to the Top Lodge Cafe and were rewarded with a well-deserved lunch.  The cafe is bright, clean (5 star hygiene rating) and offers a wide range of hot and cold food; drinks; snacks; delicious cakes and ice creams.  There's loads of healthy options and they pride themselves in their locally sourced produce.  They are independently run by a small family business who are clearly passionate about what they do, actively seeking to be as environmentally friendly as possible by reducing their waste, composting on site and using it in their newly developed kitchen garden which will ultimately supply the cafe.

We enjoyed toasted sandwiches and tea in the pretty courtyard area, which also has a number of retail units including some set aside for local craft sellers.

I was really impressed with their eco initiatives - the toilets are flushed with rainwater collected from the roof; there is a reed bed sewerage system and solar panels for power.

After re-charging our batteries, we headed to the bike shop and hire centre managed by Rutland Cycling.  Here, the staff were friendly and knowledgeable, kitting us out with all we needed to enjoy a bike ride around the forest.  They have bikes; baby seats; trailers; pullalongs; helmets - you can even hire a satnav or an electric bike if you're not feeling energetic!

I have to say, I didn't like the wobble of the trailer bike so didn't manage to get very far.  I think next time I'll stick with a buggy trailer which feels more stable, although it was a great opportunity to try one out.

There are lovely, well-marked cycle trails for varying abilities and it offers a different way to see the forest, allowing you to get around much faster than on foot.

After our excursion, we headed back for a rest and an ice cream before heading back into the trees for a final explore, when we spotted Red Kites soaring high above, and a host of beautiful butterflies close-up.

As we pulled away in the car and the end of a wonderful day, Ruby asked "Mummy?  When can we build another den?"  Soon.  Very soon I think.

They were grubby, happy and utterly exhausted - the signs of a great day out don't you think?


Fineshade wood is managed by the Forestry Commission.  Entrance is free although there is a charge for car parking of £3 for the day or £1 for up to 1 hour/or after 5pm.  The car parking cost is invested into the management of the woodland.

The visitor centre and cafe is open 10am-5pm every day.

It is located an easy drive from Peterborough; Corby; Stamford and Oakham, sat nav postcode NN17 3BB


We are official Forestry Commission reviewers and receive an annual Discovery Pass.  This event was organised and subsidised by them and their partners.  All opinions and images are my own.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall