Sunday 21 August 2016

5 Essentials to Pack for your Motorhome Trip

We've had our little motorhome for a few months now and have enjoyed loads of trips away this summer.  We're still learning and still perfecting our packing, but there's a few things we quickly realised we couldn't do without.

These are the things that are always packed ready in the van for a quick getaway, together with all our cooking equipment, and well stocked bathroom. We're lucky that it has a full 'kitchen' area with gas hob, grill, oven, sink, and fridge with a little ice box - we've even managed to take ice cream away with us to enjoy in the evening on the beach!  We have electric lighting which runs off hook up or off the leisure battery. The little bathroom has a flushing loo, sink and shower so we're completely self-sufficient - perfect for wild camping!  But there's certain creature comforts I wouldn't want to be without:

Wet wipes:

Although there is a shower, it's a bit of a pain to use and if we're wild camping we need to be very frugal with our tank of water.  Wet wipes are perfect for freshening up at times where there is no access to a shower block and these new Johnson's Top to Toe washcloths are larger than the normal baby wipes making them ideal for a quick all-over!  Shock horror - we sometimes go a day without a shower.  They're great for wiping sticky hands, sandy toes and cleaning the dog down if she's muddy. They are super-gentle as you'd expect and there's no need to use soap or even dry with a towel afterwards.

Although at home I'm not a big fan of disposables, on the road we always take anti-bacterial hand wipes and surface wipes too.  It makes wiping down the bathroom or cleaning up after cooking breakfast so much easier.

Spare lighting

As I said, we have electric lights, but it's an old van and they're certainly not LED which means they drain the battery quickly if we're not on electric hook up.  It's well worth having a few of these battery operated push lights for emergencies, as well as a good torch.  A wind-up torch means you never need to worry about flat batteries!

We also have some of these clip on book lights which are great for reading in bed, and a string of IKEA battery operated fairy lights are the best we've found for both brightness and battery life.

A good cuppa:

Life on the road is improved immeasurably by a good cuppa.  We love that we have the freedom now to pull over at any picturesque spot we fancy for a brew, rather than having to rely on dull service stations.  A good kettle is a must and we like this whistling one as it's easy to get distracted and let the kettle boil over wasting precious water and gas.

Lots of fellow motorhomes recommend this collapsible kettle for space saving.

We've always previously used a stove top moka coffee maker, but after reading The Hedgecombers great post on camping coffee, I'm now converted to the Aeropress.  It really does make deliciously smooth coffee.

For tea, it has to be a good Russian Caravan tea like this one from Bluebird. If you order quickly using the code TOTESAMAZING you can get a free tote bag and some tea infusers too.

The Perfect Frying Pan:

An overnight camp wouldn't be the same without a good old fry up for breakfast, especially if you've managed to buy some freshly laid free range eggs from a roadside stall, and maybe picked up some local bacon from a farm shop.  Space is limited on the van hob with only three cooking rings so careful planning is required. I love my divided pan, it's the perfect space saver and is always packed.  If we take our little one ring camping stove out on walks for a cook up after a wild swim, then this comes too.

I've also just invested in a Ridgemonkey sandwich toaster, having been inspired by members of a camper van Facebook group.  Much cleaner than a normal pan because it's lidded, it can be flipped over to cook both sides and is most definitely not just for toasties.  People cook whole meals on it, warm up pies and quiches, waffles and pancakes, baked potatoes, cook meat and fish and basically anything else that can be griddled.

Phone charger:

We try as much as possible to switch our phones off and have a bit of a detox, but having a charge mobile is definitely a lifesaver.  If there's a mechanical fault and we need to call a breakdown company, for checking routes on google maps, getting advice from motorhome groups and using apps to find places to stay.  We have a number of chargers for when we don't have mains power.  This cigarette lighter adapter will charge two phones at the same time and works off the main battery.

We also have a solar charger which sits on the dashboard soaking up the sun.

What are your camping essentials?

Disclosure: We were sent some samples of Johnson's wipes to try out.  This post includes affiliate links, meaning if you make any purchases I will earn a few pennies.

Friday 19 August 2016

Preparing for Back To School With Education Quizzes

I'm a firm believer in letting kids completely relax and switch off in the summer holidays.  They work so hard at school and more and more are becoming stressed with the pressure put on them particularly if they've been doing SATS or have exams.

However, there comes a point in the holidays where my daughter becomes bored. She needs to use her brain!  We always sign up to the summer library reading challenge so I know her reading skills are ticking over, but we've been looking for something else.

Education Quizzes is perfect because it's tailored to your child's key stage level.  These bite-sized quizzes are great for preparing the brain for going back to school, and getting back into 'learning mode' before the end of the holidays.

Particularly good if your child lacks confidence, we've used many of the themed quizzes to go back over learning just completed in Year 3 and she's been really happy that she's able to get most of the questions correct.  It reinforces her understanding and gives her a boost as well.

She's also taken a look at some of the Maths and English quizzes for Year 4 which she'll be moving into in September.  She's been quite anxious this holiday about the new school year, fearful that the subjects will suddenly become hugely difficult, but she's found reassurance in being able to correctly answer a lot of the questions already before she's even started Year 4.

Like a lot of kids, Ruby loves to use IT to learn, but as a parent I do worry about internet safety.  This site is completely safe and age appropriate and there's no messaging facility for the child so you know that nobody will be trying to contact your child.

The site works on a subscription basis at £9.95 per month, with no obligation, you can cancel at any time.  Once you have the log in you can access the quizzes from any device making it perfect for learning on the go - we can take the iPad with us when travelling and she can access it from wherever.

The questions are multiple choice, and we did sometimes find on a tablet that the screen was too sensitive, meaning she sometimes hit the wrong answer accidentally, but that may be more about our tablet than the site itself.

Scores out of ten are recorded alongside each quiz, with the date it was achieved, meaning you can go back and practice areas where extra help is needed, and see your improvement.  All the quizzes are written by teachers so you can rest assured they're appropriate and accurate.  We did find some of the more subjective topics such as History and RE a little tricker because obviously not every class in the country will cover exactly the same facts, despite the national curriculum - for example, when learning about the Saxons, Ruby's class focused more on the social history than historical dates or facts. But we've found the Maths and English sections in particular, brilliant.

Each subject is broken down into topics for the relevant year group i.e in Maths for KS2 you have addition and subtraction, ordering, fractions, decimal numbers, handling data, measurement, time, multiplication and division, negative numbers, rounding etc etc.  There really is a wealth of topics covered.  You can choose PE, IT, Geography, Maths, Music, English, Design and Technology, Art and Design, PSHE, Science and Times Tables.

The levels range from Key Stage 1 right up to GSCE so there's something for everyone whether just starting out in school, practicing for their SATS, their 11 Plus or their GSCEs - there are 300 quizzes aimed at those taking their 11 Plus alone! With the curriculum and learning methods changing constantly, one of the huge benefits is that parents can be confident it's updated to show the very latest topics, unlike study aid books which quickly go out of date.

Because they recognise that not everyone can afford £9.95, they are working with schools to give full access to students.  Schools can pay on behalf of the students and benefit from massively reduced costs - depending on the school size it could be as little at £2 per year for each child.  If you work in education and would like to find out more about this scheme, you can contact them here. 

Take a look at Education Quizzes, there are plenty of free ones available to preview to before you sign up, so you can try it out for yourself.

Disclosure: This is a collaborative post.

Thursday 18 August 2016

Win a Scooter Lock for Back To School

My daughter loves to scoot to school.  As do most of her friends.

Luckily school provides a safe and secure scooter and bike store which is kept locked during the day. However, it's all too easy to pick up the wrong scooter in the mad dash of pick-up time.  They all look the same, and I'm embarrassed to say I have accidentally taken the wrong one home before.

She also likes to ride it when we run local errands to the shops or the library, and sometimes when we take the dog to the park.  Our supermarket has a strict policy on not allowing scooters or bikes into the store so we have to leave it by the door.  We live in a small town where most people know each other, but on occasions I have worried about whether it would be there when we return.

A bike lock isn't really ideal for a scooter as there's no handy place to store it, and it would mean me having to remember to pop it in my bag each time we go out.

This is why I'm so impressed with Scoot Lock.  It solves all these issues.

In bright, eye-catching colours, it makes picking the right scooter out of a whole shed of others a doddle as it's easily identifiable.  The lock remains in situ on the stem of the scooter meaning it's always with you.  It works with a combination code so there's no worries about forgetting or losing your key. And it locks it safely and securely around any handy lamp post or railings, deterring a would-be opportunist thief.

The front of the lock has a reflective badge, making scooting home in the dusk (yes, it will soon be that time of the year again!) much safer.

Fitting it was easy - I actually watched this YouTube video which shows how straightforward it is.  You are able to set the 4 number combination to whatever you like, so you can choose a memorable number for your child (just maybe not as memorable as 1-2-3-4 which Ruby suggested!) You can choose to fit it at any height up the stem of the scooter, we opted to towards the bottom as it will suit the store at school.  The lock comes complete with spacers enabling it to be fitted to any size scooter, even adult ones, and if your child upgrades their scooter, it can be removed and fitted to the new one.

The plastic coated toughened steel cable is 90 cm long making it easy to find a spot to lock to.  It is spring loaded so it safely stores inside the unit when not in use.

Scoot Lock would also be great to use on a bike or buggy, giving you peace of mind when you're out and about.

Scoot locks come in a range of bright, bold colours and there's a selection of fun stickers you can purchase to customise your lock.  Scoot lock costs £19.99, which given the cost of our expensive scooter, is a wise investment.

Lucky readers have the chance to win one of two locks by entering the following giveaway.

To enter the giveaway, visit the website and leave a comment stating which colour is your favourite. Giveaway is open to UK entrants only and closes at midnight on 31 August 2016.  Two winners will be selected at random from all correctly completed entries.

Disclosure: We were sent a Scoot Lock to review and the prizes will be fulfilled by Scoot Lock.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday 12 August 2016

A Seaside Themed Lunchbox with Hartley's Jelly

When Ruby first started school I used to love making her exciting packed lunches every day.  I enjoyed the creativity of putting together little themes and she loved eating them.  It honestly doesn't take that long to put them together, and the results are worth it.

I fell out of practice when she went through the brief period of qualifying for free cooked lunches in Year One, but I'm determined to get back on it in September when she goes back.  It's a great way of introducing new foods, helps with picky eaters, and encourages variety - and let's face it who doesn't want their food to be fun and appealing?

I created this lunch for her for a day trip to the beach and it went down a treat.  For someone who claims to hate pepper, she happily munched her way through the 'claws' on her 'croissant crab'.

I created a seaside bucket with crushed biscuit sand on top of her favourite fruity no-added sugar Hartley jelly. Added some homemade courgette and cheese muffin 'starfish', a Babybel beach ball, and some fresh strawberries to help with her five a day. There's even a teeny tiny 'ice cream cone' made from a broken cone filled with Primula squirty cheese and a little salami 'flake'!

The crab eyes are part of a clever set of picks from Eats Amazing, who sell all manner of Bento supplies and bits to brighten up your lunchbox.

If you want to try your own themed lunches, here's my tips:

  • Batch bake some plain cupcakes or savoury muffins.  You can cook them in differently patterned cases or decorate individually to fit your theme.
  • Different shaped and coloured lunch boxes help to add interest and right now you can collect the special Hartley's jelly lids to claim your own free lunchbox and stickers to customise it. Collect 12 of the limited edition green foil lids to claim your free set.
  • Include little printed images or notes which you can make at home.
  • Shaped cookie cutters are perfect for adding interest to sandwiches.
  • Cake toppers and decorations are great for adding interest.
  • Little party favour toys, 'cracker' items are great inspiration for a theme and you can add them into the lunchbox - a compass might inspire a pirate theme or a medal a sports theme.
  • Use topical ideas like the Rio Olympics, back-to-school or even their favourite band or football team for inspiration

Here's some other ideas you might like to try:

European themed lunches
Valentine lunchbox
Bunny themed lunch
Disney Frozen lunchbox
World Cup/Football themed lunch
Flower lunch
St Patrick's Day themed lunch
Rainy Day Lunch
Pirate lunch

This post is an entry for BritMums #HartleysYourLunchbox Linky Challenge, sponsored by Hartley’s Jelly

Monday 8 August 2016

Homemade Face Masks, DIY Spa and 10 More Ideas to Keep the Kids Entertained Over the Holidays

Halfway in to the summer holidays and now is the time when I need some inspiration to keep my daughter occupied, and some budget ideas are always handy.

She's just decided she's going to try and stop biting her nails - a really big deal!  We went off to the pharmacy and bought some of that foul tasting paint on stuff which I remember using at around her age.  I was surprised they still make it to be honest, I'd have thought the health and safety brigade would have had it pulled, but there it was, still on the shelves.

In honour of this, I promised her a spa day at home and given the disappearance of the sun, it was great timing.  This was actually a bit of mummy genius, because it means we can justifiably spend all day lolling around in our dressing gowns, plus I get a little bit of pampering too!

First up, we raided the kitchen looking for supplies.  DIY face masks are really easy to make and you can use what you happen to have in the cupboard or fridge.  We settled on avocado and honey, but you could also use egg white, banana, strawberries, yoghurt, oatmeal etc etc.

We took half a large avocado and mashed it with a tablespoon of honey.  Then the green gloop was smoothed onto our faces while we relaxed for 10 minutes. Slices of cucumber on our eyes added to the 'spa' experience. Letting your young child slather this on to your face is a real exercise in trust!

I have to say, I'm going to make this again!  My skin felt amazing afterwards, so smooth and it glowed.  I'm wondering if there are enough avocados in the supermarket to make a mask for my entire body...

Next was a nice relaxing bath with a homemade bath bomb.  This is a great activity you could do the day before.  They are easy to make using bicarbonate of soda and olive oil, but you will need some citric acid from the chemist.

Body scrubs are simple to make too, again using store cupboard ingredients of oil and sugar, or you could make an oatmeal bath soak.

Some mutual nail painting and some relaxing meditation music in the background and hey presto, you've got through another day not just unscathed, but positively chilled.

If you're still looking for more holiday inspiration, then check out some of my favourite bloggers.

Kirsty reviews a great day out at Willows Activity Farm.
Emma has some great tips on swimming safety.
Jenny has a lovely recipe for ice cream cupcakes.
Becky has a super simple banana muffin recipe.
Or take Cass' lead and have a back yard camp out.
Michelle recommends cliff walking.
Those inspired by the new BFG movie will want to have a go at Mari's Snozzcumber Ice Cream.

What are your plans for the rest of the holidays?

Thursday 4 August 2016

10 ways to get your kids outdoors and off technology

Everyone's extolling the virtues of Pokemon Go as a great way to get kids active and outdoors.  What even is Pokemon Go?  Well, don't ask me to explain it, the whole Pokemon craze completely bypassed me the first time around, and I'm trying not to get sucked into it the second.  I'm all for activities that get kids motivated to get outside and explore, so if poke hunting floats your boat, then that's cool but personally I'd prefer it if they could do that without being glued to a device since that's something our family are guilty of spending waaaaay too much time doing already.

So I've come up with my top ten outdoor adventures and activities which will keep the kids entertained all day long, giving parents some inspiration for when the summer holidays just seem too long, and encouraging families to spend some time together unplugged.

Petal Power

Collecting flower petals and making watercolour paint was one of the loveliest activities we've ever done together and it kept us entertained for hours and hours.  First going out exploring the local countryside and collecting the flower petals, then back at home making the watercolour paint and finally using it to create works of art.  Great for exploring the natural world, learning about and experimenting with colour and unleashing your creative talent. 

Painting with flowers

Image credit Coffee Cake Kids

Another take on using flowers for art is this idea from Coffee Cake Kids.  A lovely stroll around the park collecting yellow dandelions - lets face it, they grow everywhere - and back home for some painting fun.

Hunt for treasure

We've also recently got our archeology thing on and gone digging for pieces of colourful china to make a mosaic tray.  This was a brilliant and educational outdoor activity and prompted lots of discussion about local history, with the added bonus that we had a lovely homemade item afterwards to show for it. You could create similar with sea glass or shells collected on the beach.

Driftwood Games

Image credit Thinly Spread

If you are near the beach, then take a leaf out of Thinly Spread's book and use all those collected bits of driftwood and pebbles to create this simple game which will keep the kids entertained long after the tide's come in. Or Crafts On Sea uses collected pebbles to make some delightful story stones.  Again, extended fun with the collecting then making, then using the story stones for some extra screen-free fun.

Go on a street art hunt

For those who prefer to spectate rather than create art, exploring your local town or city for artistic graffiti is a great urban activity.  Granted, we did download an app to help us locate some of the Banksy street art in London, but it was just an occasional reference, most of the time was spent navigating the underground, finding our way through back-streets using a good old-fashioned A-Z and poking around looking for the famous images.  Back home, we recreated some street art on our garage wall using a stencil and some spray paint.

Explore a Treasure Trail

Image credit Treasure Trails

If you're not feeling particularly creative, you can buy an off-the-peg trail from Treasure Trails. Priced at £6.99 these are ideal for exploring your own locality, or for learning a different side to a place on holiday. With over 1,000 self-guided trails across the country, you're bound to find one for you.  With various themes, you can either immerse yourself in the world of espionage,  solve a murder mystery or search for hidden treasure.  The trails can either be ordered as a printed booklet or downloaded and printed at home. Once you've solved the trail, submit your answer online for your chance to win £100 and print your completion certificate.

Follow in the BFG's Footsteps

A Residence

Roald Dahl is more popular than ever with the release of the BFG film in cinemas this summer, and he is also the theme of this year's library reading challenge so anything Dahl related is hot news. A Residence has complied the ultimate map of over 100 Roald Dahl inspired places to visit. Look for pheasants in the forest that inspired Danny Champion Of The World or visit Bamburgh Castle which was used as the backdrop to the BFG.

Take a Gelato Jaunt

Image Credit: Babes About Town
If food is your motivator - and let's face it who hasn't used the bribery of ice cream as an excuse to get outdoors, then you have to check out Babes About Town's awesome Ice-Cream Crawl.  Taking in some of London's finest gelato joints, the kids won't even realise you've dragged them away from their iPads!  

Food For Free

If it's free food you're after, then how about a day foraging?  Whether you're urban or rural there's plenty to be found over the summer holidays.  We did a spot of urban forging this week and found a redcurrant bush growing in a hedge, and raspberries which made a lovely pot of jam.  Blackberries will be ripe soon (check out my post of 10 things to make with blackberries), wild cherries, hedge plums and you may even find some elderflowers still around.  You could have a go at making your own squash with my hedgerow cordial recipe. I defy anyone not to be able to find some dandelions, so why not try dandelion cookies. A good few hours out and about foraging for goodies, a few more hours making delicious treats, and end the day with feasting on the fruits of your labour!

Wild Cooking

Image Credit Foodie Quine

Take your foraging trip to a whole new level and try some wild cooking. Everything tastes better when it's been cooked over an open fire and the kids will love collecting the wood and helping with the cooking.  Foodie Quine shows you the best way to cook popcorn, and makes some awesome chocolate orange brownies in the hot coals.  For more fabulous campfire recipes, also check out Beach Hut Cook.

What's your favourite way to get out and explore?

Monday 1 August 2016

Make a mosaic crockery tray from found treasure

Most days I amble along the dusty old track into the local forest to take the dog for a walk.  Often we've noticed glistening pieces of glass and old broken china.  On one or two occasions we've even managed to dig out complete bottles with the help of a few sticks.  Nothing exotic, an old Shipham's meat paste bottle and a tiny glass one which was probably for some kind of medicine. Several people  have mentioned that this used to be an old dump in Victorian times, but I suspect it's more likely that these broken bits and pieces were shipped in as hardcore to lay the path.  We've spent a couple of happy hours in the local library this week pouring over old maps and local history books, but even Google can't help us in our quest to find out if it was indeed an old tip.

The other day, we decided to go 'digging' for treasure.  Armed with a little trowel, a bag and a pack of wet wipes to clean up grubby hands afterwards, we strolled along the shady path.  Despite being the summer holidays, we saw barely a soul, just a couple of dog-walkers who stopped for a chat, intrigued by our treasure hunt.

We were searching for little shards of blue and white china, and it was not difficult.  Many were laying on the surface, just waiting to be picked.  Others needed a little prising from their muddy setting before we were able to pop them in the bag.

It led to a lovely chat about the different patterns on the pieces we found. Some had snippets of writing on and we were able to tell where they'd come from.  We pondered which were older, whose table they'd graced in the past and what kind of meals they're served.  We were looking for nice flat pieces for our project, but we also found some great artefacts in the form of a pretty teapot lid, and what we think was the china stopper to a Victorian foot warmer or earthenware hot water bottle.

We spent a lovely hour or two being mini archeologists until, grubby faced and excited with our haul, we returned home to examine our treasure and clean it up.

Firstly, we gave it all a cursory scrub in some hot soapy water to remove the bulk of the soil. Then I left it to sit in some bleach for a few hours while we prepared and ate lunch.  Finally, I tipped it all into a colander and ran it through a hot wash in the dishwasher.

Our treasure was to become a mosaic tray, and I had the perfect little wooden tray I found a while back in a charity shop (you can find blank trays for this project in craft shops).  The only other thing we needed was some multi-purpose tile grout/adhesive and a spreader. You can often find china pieces when paddling in streams or rivers, at the seaside or you could try making this with sea glass found at the beach.

Ruby got to work arranging her pattern, placing her favourite pieces in prominent positions.  She remarked how it was like doing a jigsaw, except instead of getting easier towards the end, it got more difficult as you had to locate the right sized and shaped pieces to fill the gaps.

We added a thick layer of adhesive to the base of the tray (this needs to be as thick as your chunkiest piece of china), and gently pushed the pieces in, trying to keep them fairly level.  When the tray was full and the design complete, I drew around the base of the tray to make a cardboard template, and then gently pushed this down on top to make sure all the pieces lay flat and level.

Next the boring bit - you have to wait for it to dry!  I left it out in the sunshine for the rest of the day, and overnight before grouting.  If you've used a particularly thick amount of adhesive, you may need to wait 48 hours until it's fully dry.  Now you're ready to grout.  Just smooth some of the mixture all across the top using a spreader, making sure you push down into the gaps and all into the edges.  Again, leave to dry, preferably overnight, before wiping off the excess with a damp sponge.

We're delighted with our pretty blue and white keepsake.  A memory of a lovely summer holiday's activity of treasure hunting.

Linking up with Trash to Treasure.