Thursday 31 October 2013

Are you ready for the cough and cold season?

It's that time of the year again when we are struck down with coughs and colds. Kids mixing at school, standing on crowded commuter trains and sharing air-conditioned offices means they can spread like wild-fire, but a few simple preventative measures can help keep you and your family protected.

Hygiene and hand-washing is vital to prevent the spread of germs.

What top tips do you have for dealing with colds?

Disclaimer: This is featured post in association with Alphega Pharmacy.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Homemade Crab Apple Jelly

Now's the time to pick crab apples, growing up and down the country in hedgerows, car parks, roadsides and even in town municipal planting.

Looking just like regular apples, but in miniature, these little beauts are pretty much inedible raw being so bitter and sour.  Turning them into delicious pink jelly will give you the perfect accompaniment to pork, ham and even cheese.  A dollop of this with a chunk of pork pie is heaven.  They also make a great addition to a homemade Christmas hamper.

How to make crab apple jelly

The apples are ready when they come away from the tree with the gentlest of twists, although with the current weather there's likely to be plenty of windfalls.

Begin by thoroughly washing the apples.  Then cut into half or quarters depending on size.  There's no need to peel or even core, chuck the chunks into a large saucepan.  Pour on enough cold water to cover the fruit. Add some lemon rind at the ratio of 1 lemon per kilo of apples.  Turn the heat on high and bring to a rapid boil.

Then turn down to a moderate heat and cook for around 1 hour until the fruit is mushy.  Strain through a muslin and leave overnight to drip through into a bowl beneath.  Do not squeeze or it will cloud your jelly.

Next day, sterilise your jam jars by washing it hot soapy water, rinsing then placing on their side in a very low oven.

Measure the amount of apple liquid you have strained.  Add approximately 1 lb of sugar for every pint of liquid - less if you want a sharper taste.  Return to the pan with the sugar and heat slowly to dissolve.  As it heats, your liquid will turn from a pink grapefruit colour, to a rich liquid amber.  Turn the heat up high and bring to a rapid boil. Skim off any scum with a metal spoon.  After about 10 minutes of boiling you should have reached setting point.  You can test this by dropping a spoonful onto a cold plate from the fridge and seeing if it's set.


Leave to cool a little before decanting into your sterilised jars.  When completely cold, screw on the lids tightly and store in the fridge or a dark cupboard.

 Let me know if you give it a try!

Saturday 26 October 2013

Is there a connection between windy weather and children's behaviour?

This is a subject that's fascinated me for a while. With stormy weather and gale force blasts of up to 80 mph forecast to hit the UK over the weekend and early next week, I decided to do a little more research.

It's sometimes said amongst teachers that windy weather equals a tough day in the classroom, and I asked friends and family in the teaching profession if they'd heard that suggestion, and if they agreed with it.

The answer came back a resounding YES!  Some said it had been mentioned at teacher training, others that it was commonly discussed in the staff room.

They reported wild-eyed and super-charged children, whipped up into frenzies, who were difficult to control and lacked concentration.  They said they had more behavioural issues to deal with on stormy days, and some even dreaded days when bad weather was predicted.

I guess you could argue this behaviour away to some extent - maybe stormy weather has resulted in 'wet break' and the kids haven't had chance to get out and expend their energy?  Perhaps the weather was bad overnight and the noise has disrupted their sleep making them less able to concentrate and more cranky?

Hearing all this makes me wonder if this may actually be the real reason that schools close during severe weather!  I was at school in '87 when the Great Storm hit and our school closed down, allegedly because it was too dangerous for the school buses to operate.  Me and a bunch of friends sought out the highest multi-storey car park in town and ran around on the top floor to see if we could fly.  That was a pretty insane thing to do. 

When you look to nature, you also see unusual behaviour in animals at times of imminent storms or severe weather.  Have you ever noticed birds and beasts acting strangely and seeking out shelter at times of impending storms? Is this a finely tuned survival instinct or something else?

It's believed that animals pick up on the change in atmospheric pressure just before bad weather arrives and this is what causes their odd reactions.

There's been some research about the effect of low barometric pressure and how this affects humans, so perhaps it's not the wind per se that's responsible for cranky kids, but the low atmospheric pressure that comes with it.

The Canadian Psychiatric Association published a study that found that acts of violence and emergency psychiatry visits "are significantly associated with low barometric pressure." Authors in that study concluded, "the data supports the interpretation that low barometric pressure is associated with an increase in impulsive behaviours."

Researchers in the Ukraine have found that slight low-frequency atmospheric variations can influence human mental activity, causing significant changes in attention and short term memory functions.

This article is really interesting, and it lists some steps you can take to prevent stormy behaviour at home too:

  • Pay attention to weather forecasts so you're aware when low pressure systems are moving in. Times of extreme systems might not be the best days to plan a lot of outings or have high expectations.
  • Keep the environment especially calming. Relaxing CD's, warm baths, comfortable clothes and a calm environment will be especially helpful.
  • Avoid other triggers during these times. Since some children become more hyperactive when they've had artificial food colorings, for instance, you might want to keep your child's diet as natural as possible during these days.
  • Wait it out. Once you know there's a reason for the behaviour, it's generally easier to make it through it. The storm will pass, in more ways than one.

So, what's your view on this?  Does windy weather equate to wild kids?  Are your children more bad-tempered when it's stormy?  Do you have any tips to share on how you handle that?

Friday 25 October 2013

A time to give - Save the Children's Wishlist

At this time each year, up and down the country parents are being asked to fill shoe boxes with gifts to be sent out to children in need.

Whilst it's an admirable idea, we for one family will not be participating this year - nor did we last year.

I'm not going to get into a big debate about the organisation Samaritan's Purse, it's been discussed ad nauseam.  But what I do think is important, is that parents make informed decisions, so if you've not heard both sides of the argument, toddle off to your nearest search engine and have a read...

Are you back?  OK.  So, here's why we won't be participating.

We are not a practicing Christian family.  Yes, we do celebrate Christmas, but to us it's about the concept of goodwill and giving to others less fortunate. As a non-religious person I'm not comfortable with my gift being administered and distributed by an evangelical group.  I want to give my gift freely, unconditionally and without strings.  I don't want it to be handed with even the remotest possibility that it will be given together with religious brochures and pamphlets or for there to be any suggestion that the young recipient attends a meeting, class or workshop.

That's me.  You will no doubt have your own views.

What I do know though is that we still want to be involved in charitable gift giving - particularly at this time of the year.  So we will be sitting down, as a family to choose an item from Save the Children's Wishlist.

For me, it's a brilliant concept. Rather than putting some money in a tin or writing a cheque, using the Wishlist allows Ruby to actually see a real gift. It has more meaning and is more tangible, so she can know, that by buying for example the gift of seeds, it will help a less fortunate family to feed themselves and become more financially independent by selling their surplus crop at market.
There are lots of gifts to choose from starting at £5, and each gift is categorised so you can choose to support a certain area such as education; emergency and crisis aid or natal care.

So, if you don't want to support the shoe box campaign,  please remember there are alternative gift ideas which will do an awful lot of good for someone who really needs it.

Stylish gifts & home ware from Joules

Joules are celebrated for their quality country clothing - their strap line is 'Established in the fields of Great Britain' but did you also know that have a rather natty line in home accessories and gift ware?

If you're looking for something for a stylish person who loves the great outdoors then this is a perfect place to look.

Their kooky mugs celebrate some of our best loved wild animals including the pheasant (as on my mug above); the badger; the fox and the hare.  They also come in plain bold block colours or their iconic stripes and florals.

I love my mug, it's just perfect for sitting with a hot coffee out in the garden, breathing in the Autumn morning air and surveying the garden whilst making a mental to-do list for the day.

I was also sent the beautiful scarf you see above, again with a pheasant design. It's vibrant magenta adds a pop of colour to any outfit and I've taken to wearing it with my khaki coloured rain coat on the school run this week.  It's really brightening my day and I've had lots of lovely compliments about it.  

The fabric is beautifully soft and has a great long length meaning you can wear it in lots of different styles.

Carrying on the iconic British wildlife theme, I adore this set of nesting/stacking cake tins.  Each one has a different design, finishing with the wily fox on the smallest.  The largest tin would hold the biggest cake I could ever hope to bake and the smaller ones are perfect for cookies or cupcakes.

I love the styling of these, the bold colouring and iconic print.  The flash of Joules branding is just enough to shout "style" without screaming "ostentatious".  At £30 for the set they'd make a great birthday or Christmas present which will be used and enjoyed for years to come.

Even better news, currently if you enter the code GRAZIA at checkout, you'll receive 15% off any order (including sale items) and free postage.  I *may* have just ordered myself a natty little pheasant tunic!

Disclosure: I was sent the above items for the purposes of the blog post.  All opinions are my own.

Thursday 24 October 2013

Zone your home energy and cut your fuel bills

I'm of an age where I still remember watching in awe the gadgets of the future on Tomorrow's World.  Where we were promised remote controlled living and robotic home help.  Well, bonkers as some of the featured items were, by and large, we're here now and living that dream.

With the advent of wi-fi and smart phones, the possibilities are becoming a reality and today Honeywell, the heating specialist, announces evohome it's new concept in household heating management.

We've lived in our home for over two years now and have still yet to figure out our thermostat and heating control panel.  We have a complicated affair installed for the previous occupants who worked away a lot. Internet searches and two boiler engineers have failed to crack it.  Consequently, we're either freezing, or baking away and having to open the windows.

This is not sustainable!  It's not easy on the wallet either, which is why I was so interested to hear about evohome.  Basically it is a system which is installed alongside your existing central heating allowing you to zone your home into up to 12 different areas with independent settings.

As Jeremy Peterson, General Manager of Honeywell says "you don't have one light switch for your entire house, we believe you shouldn't control your heating with one single switch".

Honeywell estimate you could save up to 40% of your heating bills using this new system, and with fuel prices continually rising, this is welcome news.

For us, it means we could have different heating levels in our spare bedroom which is rarely used, compared to our bedroom.  Ruby's bedroom is in a loft conversion, so being at the top of the house it gets warm through the natural rise of the house's heat.  The new system would mean we could lower her radiator's temperature.

I work from home and in the winter I would expect to probably have the heating on during the day, but why heat the entire house when it's just me sitting in my tiny study?

The system can be controlled remotely via a smartphone, meaning you can switch it on as you journey home.  If you're held up or stuck in traffic, you can delay the timed switch-on of your heating, meaning you're not wasting energy and money.

evohome also combines a raft of smart technology designed to enhance your comfort. From understanding when a window is left open and adapting your heating accordingly, to learning how a house heats up and cools down throughout the year, evohome is not just a thermostat but the “brains” of your home heating. Intuitive control functions mean settings can easily be overridden when needed, delaying the heating coming on when you arrive home late. 

The product will be available in the New Year and will be priced around £250. It is designed to be easily installed without disruption to your home décor by one of Honeywell’s recognised heating installers and comes in a range of colours. It communicates wirelessly around the home and is guaranteed to fit most heating systems, including those with stored hot water.

Disclosure: This is a featured post brought to you in association with Honeywell.  Images are courtesy of Honeywell evohome.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Halloween on a budget

You don't have to break the bank to throw a spooktacular party; decorate your home or dress up the kids. With some imagination, a little crafting, using what's already around the home and some thrifty shopping your can have a fright-night to remember without alarming your bank manager.

Poundland have a fantastic range of Halloween products in store with everything from food; sweets; table decorations; costumes and accessories all at only £1 each.

They sent me a voucher and asked me to go along and chose my top picks to share with you.  I'm afraid it's a little difficult to show them in all their gory glory as we'll actually be away for Halloween, so I'm not decorating the house, but we will be taking this little lot with us and decorating our cottage and transforming it into Sleepy Hollow.

Ruby is only 5 so we steered away from the real gory stuff - although there's plenty of blood and horrors in store if your kids are older.

How cute is this little fella?  A ceramic ghost tea light holder which would look brilliant on a window sill with candle light pouring through.  If you're safety conscious you could go for battery operated tea lights instead.

I picked up a spiderweb lacy tablecloth for our Halloween tea - or you could choose to hang it in the window as a decoration.
The centre piece to our spooky tea will be a brain jelly from the mould I picked up in store, as well as a selection of treats and cakes served on this cupcake stand.

I've treated myself to some new make-up for the occasion!  I'm going to be one glamorously scary witch with these on. I'm really keen to try the tattoo stickers given that I'm so rubbish at face-painting!

Since I couldn't show you all the items being displayed I thought I'd share Ruby's Bento lunchbox she took in today.  With a Halloween theme, a lot of these items are from Poundland, so I can create scary lunchboxes all week long.

I've included carrot muffins made in their Booo range cake cases with toppers. Ruby iced them and sprinkled on apple flavour popping candy, also from Poundland.  I cut tombstone sandwiches from one of the cookie cutters from their range - who knew it was so difficult to write in Marmite?  There's a Fruit String 'worm' (I was pleased to find these as she loves them, and they're half the price I pay in the supermarket).  The pumpkin satsuma was blatantly stolen from an idea of Life at the Zoo's (although I couldn't locate my black Sharpie so I used black paper cutouts glued on).  There's a witches finger made from a Peperami with  flaked almond finger nail, some cobweb pretzel snacks and a plastic spider, one of tonnes in a pack from Poundland, just to give the dinner ladies a fright!

So, get yourself down to Poundland and seek out some scary bargains!

Disclosure: I was sent some vouchers to choose items to review and feature here.

Monday 21 October 2013

Zeamu Music - Kids CD Giveaway

Ruby is now of the age where she LOVES pop music.  Much of her previous favourites have been discarded and relegated to the 'too babyish' pile and now she wants boy bands and dance tracks.

The trouble is, so much chart music nowadays is totally inappropriate for 5 year olds (or teenagers for that matter).  If you can actually hear the lyrics, chances are you'd be pretty shocked by some of them.  And don't even get me started on some of the videos which look more like x - rated movies.

Well, enter Zeamu Music a new record label that’s been launched specifically for children aged 4 to 11 by a collective made up of some of the music industry’s hottest producers, musicians and composers. 

As parents themselves, the founders of Zeamu Music couldn't find any music specifically made for kids. There is music for babies and toddlers and then mainstream pop - but nothing for the little folk in between. Therefore, they decided to create some really great, original pop tunes for kids that they could feel cool listening to, that had lyrics about topics they think and care about and that their parents wouldn't mind listening to! It was also important that the songs be sung by kids, making it even more relevant to children.

We've had the CD in the car now for about a month, and I have to say it's the most requested (whispers: even over One Direction!).  We all sing along to it, and each have our favourites.

Ruby and her Dad like "doing the Robot" a funny song about a boy's embarrassment at Dad's dodgy wedding party dance moves.  The lyrics are really very funny.

I really like "put your arms around me" with it's reggae intro and catchy chorus, it reminds me very much of a Lily Allen tune.

It's genuinely a lovely album to listen to together, with absolutely no fear you'll be put in the awkward position of explaining something far too adult for impressionable ears!

The characters that feature in the videos, are also identifiable on the website where you'll find a host of free downloads including all the lyrics. I did try to get a video of Ruby singing along, but she's suddenly become camera shy and point blank refused.

Nevermind, you can have a listen to one of the tunes here:

The CD or download version is available to buy online at the Zeamu shop or if you're very lucky, you could win one here.

To grab a chance of winning a copy of the CD, simply complete the rafflecopter below.  The closing date is 12:00 on Monday 28th October 2013 and the giveaway is open to entrants in the UK and USA only.  The prize will be fulfilled by the record company please allow at least 28 days from winner's notification for receipt.  One winner will be selected from correct entries at random.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: This giveaway is brought to you in association with Zeamu Music who also provided me with a copy of the CD for the purposes of this review.

Magpie Monday - Hip Flask

Meet my mate Stanley.

I don't mean that in a menacing, gangland kinda way.  There's nothing remotely frightening about this hot pink fella.  But he is one of my most financially savvy second-hand buys.

I am well known in my social circle for my flask-carrying habit.  I already have a perfectly pretty and serviceable one, but it was rather on the small side.  Now the rest of my family and friends are coming round to portable hot drinks it was time for an upgrade to a larger capacity.

This beauty set me back a whole £1.99 in a charity shop, and considering these cost well over £20 brand new, I think it was a great buy.  They are guaranteed for 25 years, so I'm not really taking a gamble with a pre-used one anyway.

So, why pack a flask?  Well, the reasons are many, including:

  • You can make your drink exactly how you like it.  I am a tea fiend, but I've never yet found a takeaway that can produced a decent cuppa.
  • It's a great money-saving tool.  With the costa coffee (see what I did there?) being so extortionate, you can easily rack up a hefty bill on a day out.  Carrying your own means you can stick two fingers up to the ubiquitous Starbucks et al on every street corner.
  • It's the greener option.  No more disposable polystyrene or cardboard cups and plastic lids and crazy plastic stirrers that don't even stir.  This baby is washable and 100% reusable.
  • You can enjoy a cuppa wherever you are, anytime.  Stuck on a broken-down train with no hope of getting home in the foreseeable - whip out your flask and be the envy of all commuters.  A chilly walk in the woods with the family?  Keep them going and stave off the grumbles with a steaming cup of hot chocolate - for extra brownie points, pack a pot of marshmallows too.

Making up a flask is now part of my routine whenever we're off out anywhere- keys: check. Mobile phone: check. Stanley: check.

He comes on trips to London allowing me to breeze straight past the coffee stall and not be tempted by the waft of roasted beans.  We can head up the motorway using the service stations only for wees instead of being mugged by Costa.  He comes on family outings; keeps me company on craft stalls; and thaws the Old Man's cockles with hot soup after a winter outdoor swim.

Flasks are the future!  What say you?

Have you found any great preloved items lately?  I'd love you to grab the badge and link up. 


Friday 18 October 2013

15 no carve decorated pumpkin ideas

You can take your life into your hands trying to carve a pumpkin.  Wielding your sharpest knife while the kids jump up and down demanding Disney characters...

But there is another way.  There are tonnes of beautiful and creative alternative ideas, many of which are child-friendly so they can get involved too.

Steampunk Pumpkin vintage jewellery

1. Steampumkin

I saw this stunning pumpkin at a local festival.  It was part of a group collaboration, and all the pumpkins had been painted white.  Simply drape vintage costume jewellery for this glamorous gourd.

Glitter Pumpkin

2. Glittered pumpkins

This glitzy pumpkin was part of the collection too.  Totally covering the whole fruit and using longer, strand glitter gave a blurred, shimmery effect which was just beautiful.

Kid's Glitter Pumpkin

Or, you could try a child-friendly version like Domestic Goddesque has done using glue and sparkles.

Autumn Leaves Decorated Pumpkin

3. Autumn leaf pumpkin

This gives a very natural effect, and makes the most of the beautiful autumnal colours around.  Stick on with PVA glue, and check here for the full tutorial.

Glitter Dots Pumpkin

4. Sparkly dots

Using glue dots is a mess free way to add glitter to your gourds, and gives a beautiful polka dot effect like Craftulate has done here.

Googly Eyes Pumpkin

5. Eye Spy

Kids will LOVE sticking googly eyes on.  Get self adhesive ones for a super-fast pumpkin makeover.

Spider Pumpkin

6. Spider Pumpkin

Painted pumpkins are great, but Here Come The Girls has taken it to the next level by adding legs and making an adorable spider.

Cut out stick on shapes pumpkin face

7. Stick on Faces

Peakle Pie shows you can still get the traditional pumpkin face without carving, simply by using black stick-on pieces.

Drip paint pumpkins

8. Drip paint pumpkins

The Imagination Tree has used shimmery metallic paints to create these beautiful drip detail decorated pumpkins.

Funny Faces Pumpkins

9. Crazy hair pumpkins.

OK, so there's a little cutting here, but Sunhats and Welly boots show us how to make cute characters with crazy hair.  Love the changeability of these.

Flower Holder Pumpkins

10. Flower vase

If you're happy to cut the top off, then you could make a vase or centrepiece filled with seasonal flowers like Martha Stewart does.

Yarn Wrapped pumpkins

11. Yarn wrapped pumpkins

The Imagination Tree uses colourful wool and yarn to make these gloriously tactile pumpkins.

12. Washi tape stripes

Patterned sticky tape is perfect for decorating pumpkins, and you can tear strips off and let the kids stick it on in any design they desire.

13. Doily Pumpkins

Use old fashioned lace doilies which you can pick up in charity shops and apply with mod podge or PVA glue for a delicate vintage style decoration.

Lollipop Trick Or Treat Pumpkin Holder

14. Treat Holder.

Martha Stewart again comes up trumps with this novel way to hold and dispense lollies to your trick or treaters.

Tinsel Wrapped Pumpkin

15. Glitter Grooves.

Take some tinsel strands (lametta type - do they still call it that?) and glue it on to highlight the natural contours of the pumpkin. A simple and effective way to add a little sparkle.

Will you forgo the knife this year and give one of these a try?  Which is your favourite?

Thursday 17 October 2013

Decorating pumpkins with leaves

I know, I've gone pumpkin crazy lately - hold onto your hats because there's more to come too!  I just can't help it, I think I'm obsessed with pumpkins.

Our recent craft hangout hosted by Red Ted Art was all about leaves, so I knew I wanted to decorate a pumpkin or two with the beautiful leaves that we collect on our ambles home from school.  It's the best time of the day, strolling along, hand in hand (when I can get her off her scooter), chatting about her day and picking up interesting coloured leaves.

I think they make beautiful, seasonal decorations, they're not Halloween specific, but are a reflection of nature at this time of year.

You will need:

Selection of seasonal leaves (try to get the thinner varieties than the really thick ones)
PVA white glue watered down a little (or Mod Podge)
(We also found that a glue gun was helpful in securing them down first, before 'varnishing' over)

I'll fully admit we rushed this project a bit so it didn't turn out perfect.  We will do it again and next time we will try to pick smaller leaves as they worked best, and we'll also flatten them out for a few days between newspaper and some heavy books.  We did find they had a tendency to spring back to their natural curved shape before the glue dried, hence glue gunning them down.

We spent quite some time just playing around with the leaves first.  Examining their shades and texture, sorting them into size or colour order.  Once we'd decided where we wanted them to go, it was simply a case of glueing them to the pumpkin and then painting over with the white glue.

Remember to paint all over and not just on the leaf part as it gives a really lovely glossy sheen to the pumpkin.  Leave to dry and do a second coat if you can.

Admire your pretty pumpkins.

For more lovely leaf crafting ideas, take a look at the video and links below.

Red Ted Art: Leaf Clay Bowls  Leaf Crown  Leaf Rubbings
Kids Chaos: Hammered Leaf Prints
Peakle Pie: Leaf Fairies
Here Come The Girls: Andy Goldsworthy Project Tree Family Reward Chart

And for more Autumn activities and craft ideas, visit the Forestry Commission's Autumn page.

Linking up with Sunday Showcase.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Spiced Pumpkin and Raisin Tea Cake

Spiced Pumpkin and raisin tea cake recipe

This is a proper cake.  Like the your best date, it can be dressed up or down to suit the occasion - bake it in a pretty bundt tin and pop a mini pumpkin in the centre, drizzle with orange flower icing, and bedeck it with leaves and flowers for a full-on autumnal centrepiece.  Or, bake it in your trusty loaf tin and enjoy a generous chunk with a pot of real tea to get you through the afternoon slump.  Slice it and wrap in little foil parcels to unwrap on chilly woodland weekend walks...

When you make your last cup of tea of the evening, pour an extra one for your raisins, and make yourself a promise to spend an hour in the kitchen making this cake. Is there anything better than warm, spicy fruitcake gently baking in the oven while the rain pours down outside?

Ingredients: (makes one medium sized cake/1lb loaf)

125g cooked, mashed pumpkin
125g soft light brown sugar
125g raisins soaked overnight in black tea
1 egg
75g soft butter or margarine
200g self raising flour
50g plain flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice

Pre-heat the oven to 190c.

Grease (and line if you can) your baking tin.

Cook and mash the pumpkin as described in my pumpkin and scone recipe. Set aside to cool.

Cream the butter, sugar and spices together.  Whisk in the egg until thoroughly combined.

Stir in the cooled pumpkin.

Mix in the flour and when fully combined, strain your raisins and stir in.

Pour into your baking tin and cook for between 50mins-1 hour.  Insert a skewer into the centre to check it's cooked through.

Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar or make up some icing with orange colouring and orange blossom water.

Easy Pumpkin Cake

So which pumpkin recipe wins your vote - the sweet or the savoury?

Tasty Tuesdays on
Romanian Mum