The team at Map of Wonders reached out recently and asked if we would like to review one of their maps. Of course we jumped at the chance, we live going on adventures and often end up in a random corner of the U.K. looking forward something fun to make the most of the trip. We have been lucky enough to explore most of the South Coast, from Kent to Dorset and have also ventured in to Wales too, but there’s so much we haven’t done.
The map arrived swiftly via postal delivery and at first glance it looked like a ‘normal’ OS map folded up neatly in to a handy travel size. I started getting nostalgic Duke of Edinburgh memories one flooding back but before I could even take a decent picture of the cover my little sidekick came along and decided he wanted to open it out. The map folded out swiftly and I could barely see Arlo behind it.
He started pointing out features on the map with its wonderful coloured illustrations of all sorts of different U.K. based tourist attraction and he was determined to pack up the car and head out to tick something off the bucket list straight away, but I managed to convince him to come inside and do some proper planning.
“I haven’t been everywhere yet but it’s on my list”
Arlo was quick to point out some of the smallest details, from animals which showed the location of zoos and wildlife parks to the awesome Waterfall. Arlo shouted at the top of his lungs that this was his waterfall… “remember mommy… that’s my waterfall… we went there the other day” – in actual fact we were in the Brecon Beacons last June and yes he did manage to walk behind a magnificent waterfall on an early morning trek outdoors.
The map is full of features, and there’s a useful key to demonstrate the type of attractions available. One thing we will certainly use this for is planning rest stops. We often end up pausing half way between locations to break up long car journeys, and like to venture a little further than a motorway service station. We tend to end up in places we haven’t researched as we are so focused on our destination and so this map will come in very handy in helping us find more fabulous adventures.
As always, I tend to catalogue our adventures with my blog and sharing photos on social media. One unique feature I love about the map is that the reverse side can be coloured in. My hope is that we can sit together after each adventure and colour in areas of the map we have visited, and turn this map in to a much treasured family keepsake. There’s some must see places to tick off the bucket list and lots of very useful family friendly advice. There’s over 1000 activities which will keep us busy!
I’m delighted to be able to offer you the opportunity to win your very own Map of Wonders. Just click the link below to enter. As always terms and conditions apply. This competition is free to enter. Closing date is October 31st at Midnight.
Products provided for the purposes of review by Strumpshaw, Tincleton & Giggleswick’s Marvellous Maps ~ marvellousmaps.com
I can’t believe it’s September and I’ve skipped autumn, Halloween and all of the festivities and already begun planning ahead for Christmas. Last year we did manage to squeeze in some activities but just like everyone else, most of our plans were scuppered at the last minute and we were unable to participate in many of our family traditions. Every year at Christmas we love to gather together and share experiences. This usually begins with making our gingerbread village and doesn’t end until the last Christmas decorations have been taken down from the tree.
We have already booked in a few different activities and have found that so many people are excited to visit attractions and see live performances that tickets are selling out like hot cakes, so here’s a definitive list of some Midlands based family friendly days out to enjoy with your families this Christmas. As always please check websites and Facebook pages of each provider for the most up-to-date information / links provided are correct at time of publishing. Let’s make this year the best one ever!
1. The Polar Express
Based on the beautiful animated film starring Tom Hanks, which stormed its way in to the list of top Christmas movies of all time, there are several railways in and around the Midlands which offer immersive experiences. You can wear your pyjamas and transport your household directly in to the magic of Christmas on a magical train journey, sample a hot chocolate and maybe even meet the big guy in red yourself!
There are several places you can book which is bonus of living in the centre of the country – each railway creates its own magical experience and these tickets sell like hot cakes so keep an eye out of the social media pages and websites for re-releases and added dates :
There is nothing more beautiful than seeing festive lights shine brightly as the nights draw in. I vividly recall the “light switch on” days of my childhood and now so many attractions in and around the Midlands host light trails with additional experiences to enjoy such as street food, craft markets and live music making the evening trips in winter worthwhile and enjoyable for all members of the family. Just remember to wrap up warm!
❄️ Warwick Castle – their festive light trail with the back drop of the castle is breathtaking. They host additional options such as stories with Santa for little believers to enjoy
❄️ Webbs of Wychbold are hosting a new light trail in their Riverside Gardens, and if last experiences of their grotto are anything to go by then this promises to be spectacular
❄️ The Winter Glow in Malvern – Jingle the elf told me that this spectacular event with four attractions including an awesome ice rink and big wheel is not to be missed!
There’s nothing more exciting than finding the perfect Christmas gifts for loved ones. I always find unique hand crafted treats from independent traders at street markets and tend to treat myself to sweet treats too. I like to try and visit as many different places as possible, especially smaller towns on the outskirts of the Midlands for a traditional expensive and these events really do make me feel festive.
❄️ The big one is back – Birmingham is hosting its famed Frankfurt Market once more and I couldn’t be more excited
❄️ Stratford Upon Avon – for a glorious Victorian themed market 9th -12th December
❄️ Worcester – their awesome market returns once more to bring festivities to town.
Visiting the theatre at Christmas is a much loved family tradition , I have missed live performance so much this last eighteen months that I’m keen to squeeze in as many trips as possible. From Pantomime to ballet and everything in between, theatres across the Midlands all have some special events lined up, we are spoilt for choice with some awesome venues and shows this year.
❄️ The Stick Man – Julia Donaldsons much loved story is touring the Midlands with a special Performance at the Town Hall on Boxing Day
❄️Alice inWonderland – at the Old Rep until 17th December
❄️ The Snowman – hosted by Carrot Productions touring nationally and in Coventry on 23rd December
With autumn rolling in we have the odd sunny day where it’s great to get outdoors and enjoy a brisk walk amongst the falling leaves, but most of the time in the U.K. it’s rainy, miserable and cold. It’s really easy to pop on a movie and snuggle up, but very quickly this becomes boring …. and it’s far too early to crack out the Christmas movies so this is where board games and puzzles really come in handy.
I’m a parent to a four year old so it’s impossible to look anywhere in our house without finding toys, Arlo has some treasured favourites which he drags everywhere… I have to prise his hands open when he’s asleep to put his cars safely away, and now that he has started school I find that he is a lot more independent and gets. Really involved with inventing make believe play scenarios with characters and action figures, and I recently realised that I miss playing together the way we used to.
I decided to order some family friendly games and toys for rainy days in collaboration with Very which we could play with together and review. Arlo already has his kids Amazon fire tablet and lots of fun (and educational) apps and accessories, and we also like to curl up and watch movies together too, but we do not want to rely too heavily on screen time even though we are fans of technology in this house so I’ve put together a list of some our favourite STEM toys for kids and creative toys for kids to share with you all:
This is a really simple game to play in pairs (or two teams) and one I remember vividly from childhood myself. The idea is that you have to create a line of four in a vertical drop board using red or yellow tokens. This is an ideal introduction to strategy for little ones and is the kind of game you can play repeatedly and never get bored of…. We tend to end up playing “best of three” when someone wins twice in a row and then it escalates from there.
One of Arlo’s favourite things to build is a marble run so I thought we could try out Kerplunk together too, this is another strategic thinking game which stretches those problem solving skills. You have to carefully pull out sticks and avoid dropping any marbles – this requires concentration and focus, excellent hand eye co-ordination and of course is great for practising counting and recognising more/less than – all disguised as fun!
Magformers are the perfect example of STEM construction toys. Using simple polygons which attach with magnets to build all manner of things. This introduction kit includes an adjustable wheel base which can be used to create different types of vehicles. This is something Arlo can play with independently, but I like to get involved and then we set up our own Formula 1 racecourse in the living room complete with a starting ramp (my chopping board propped up on the sofa) to race our models and decide who’s the fastest. Inevitably this can get quite involved and competitive so it’s the perfect rainy day activity.
Construction is one of Arlo’s schemas and so I’m keen to work and build on that, and training as a design and technology teacher means I’m fascinated with toys such as this open ended robot kit. I think it’s important to give children access to technology and to also develop problem solving skills. This kit comes with a guide to create a gear robot which gets you used to the resources and then you can go wild with creativity as the kit includes eyes and tracks and all sorts of fun extras for budding engineers to explore.
Arlo has always been obsessed with dinosaurs and we also love our arts and crafts in this house. I have a huge stash of materials and supplies which I like to keep safely out of reach to avoid complete chaos but I like to make sure Arlo has independent access to something creative – this little kit from Melissa and Doug is perfect, because it’s a wipe clean dry erase board and booklet complete with dinosaurs and it’s all contained in a neat little carry kit. I’ve left it up to Arlo to take responsibility for it and he takes great care to pack it all away neatly after playing. This is something we have taken out with us for car and train journeys and have used in restaurants too.
This V tech range of switch and go toys are hands down one of my favourites purposely because they are so robust. Each dinosaur transforms neatly in to its own vehicle, they all have an LCD screen which lights up and make noises which are tolerable for parents. We can race the vehicles, create lands for the dinosaurs and just let imaginations run wild. These are the toys which Arlo always wants to carry around with him and they get bashed around and dropped from heights as our stairs become a volcano that dinosaurs have to escape from (don’t try this at home) and every dinosaur we have from this range is still in tip-top condition.
If you follow us on Instagram then you’ll know that Arlo managed to keep a pet snail hidden in a jam jar his bedroom this summer for two weeks before I discovered it. He loves bugs and creatures and so I couldn’t resist picking up this snail world kit from my living world. This is going to allow us to set up a snail habitat at home and safely explore and investigate his favourite creatures. I’m going to create all sorts of different activities around this – so it’s not just about being responsible of taking care of his snails daily, we will be able to try observational drawing and constructing snails from play doh etc
Of course not everything we do has to be educational, sometimes we just like to have fun and these little remote controlled cars are high octane adventure. We have an open plan downstairs and these little cars keep him running around downstairs and having loads of fun…. He pulls the cushions off the sofas and makes obstacles and jumps to invent new tricks – and when we do get a break from the rain we can take this to the park for a run around because they work on all sorts of terrains.
It’s been fun reviewing all of these toys and certainly kept us busy, we hope we’ve managed to create some rainy day activity inspiration – it’s not too early to start creating those all important Christmas wish lists to send off to Santa too.
The best thing about this blogging malarkey is being given the opportunity to review some awesome new products. I often have to pinch myself because it hardly feels real and I am always grateful for everything we receive – from snacks to toys and beyond – this summer Arlo has had the time of his life, and kept our postman extremely busy. The best thing however is that we have been lucky enough to be able to secure prizes from PR companies and toy manufacturers we have worked with, to share with you, our readers.
I’m going to work as hard as I can to get some more fun projects lined up in time for Christmas (and beyond) because sharing is caring – so watch this space! There’s nothing like the buzz of a competition prize win, and even better when it’s a prize which you can choose for yourself. I have collaborated with some awesome bloggers to bring you this awesome giveaway.
For today’s competition, we have two prizes to offer you. The first prize is a £100 Amazon Voucher and the second prize is a £25 Amazon voucher. Both of these awesome prizes will come in handy for Christmas this year. What will you buy with your voucher?
Who Brings You This Competition?
A collaboration of bloggers have got together to bring this prize to you, the prize comes out of their pocket as a thank you for supporting them over the past year. You will find the links below, please pop over and visit them. You never know, you might find a blog that you really relate to. Sometimes we think we are the only person going through something, when in fact there are others. These bloggers share their ups and downs so that nobody ever feels alone.
In order to be entered to win the vouchers, you need to leave a comment on the blog post. Click on the rafflecopter and it gives you the instructions to do this. Then there are other options to follow the bloggers on their social media. The more entries that you complete, the more chances you have of winning a voucher (or even both vouchers). You don’t have to complete all ofthe entries to be entered, but each one you complete is an entry.
Terms And Condition▪ UK Entries only.▪ Blog comments must be over 8 words long otherwise it usually goes to the spam file.▪ This is a collaborated competition and is not associated with Tesco or any other company.▪ You must be over 18 to enter this competition.▪ You don’t need to enter all of the other requirements but if you do say you have completed them, please ensure that you have. Otherwise, your entry is void.▪ You have 28 days to claim your prize or another winner will be chosen. ▪ After you have claimed your prize, you will receive the voucher within 28 days
I’m writing this on Sunday evening, tomorrow is my actual course introduction so I’m not an expert by any means but my plan, and hope is to be able to find the time each week to sit down and gather my thoughts as I take on this PCGE year and train to become a teacher. If you have only just found my blog then welcome, I’m a single mum to a four year old who by sheer alignment of the planets is also starting school this week in reception.
I like many people lost my job in the midst of the pandemic, despite this I actually quite enjoyed lockdown. Being stuck at home and having the stress of the corporate career lifted meant that I suddenly had the time to do lots of things which I enjoy – from baking to crafts and redecorating my entire house (twice over). In fact blogging was also added to that long list of hobbies and so here we are. Back in December I had the realisation that I wanted to change my career entirely and it made complete sense for me to head back to University and train to teach Design and Technology.
Week one for me began officially last Monday, but the Friday beforehand I enrolled (online) and got an email about an ISE: Initial School Experience, along with a booklet to print off and complete during this first week.
I read the booklet and thought I understood the tasks and then I arrived in school on Monday and almost instantly forgot everything. With so many new faces to meet and a huge school to find my bearings in I was slightly overwhelmed but I just went with the flow of things. I met the staff in the department, who were busy putting the finishing touches to notice boards and resources and so I tried my best to pitch in and help out. I had plenty of time to chat whilst mixing up some fabric dye. Only a couple of the year groups were in school so it was fairly quiet, and I managed to ease in gently on my first day.
One thing I did notice is that I was introduced to all of my teacher colleagues by first name and then of course I had to clarify their second names before lessons later on in the week. In fact there was so much information I was glad to have my notebook and pen to scribble into during lessons when I was observing. Being the first week there was also lots of opportunity for me to learn about the dynamics of the school. I feel as though I understand the uniform policy, school behaviour policy and all sorts of other policy’s. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I said “wow things have changed since I was at school!”
PowerPoint presentations instead of a blackboard is new to me, as is a “hands down” policy with seating plans for every class and teachers directed to engage all students with interaction during lesson time. Homework set online is also a novel concept – I remember frantically scribbling down questions and details in my planner using tiny hand writing so that I could get down all the details and hauling huge textbooks around with me – now pupils have everything they need online.
Luckily I had the opportunity to shadow a wonderful mentor who helped set me up a timetable for the week which would help me cover all of the written tasks and spend time across the department. My host school covers all aspects of the Design and Technology curriculum: food, textiles and product, from year seven Key Stage Three, right up to A level. It was confirmed that I will be spending my first placement after a October half term in the same school and so I made a note of the exam boards and relevant information so that I can try to find the time to brush up on my knowledge.
I spent most of Monday evening talking to friends about the day and sharing my excitement and then I remembered to read my booklet and double check exactly what I was supposed to be observing in school. I had five tasks … plus a bonus challenge to discuss the impact the pandemic has had on learning, which fortunately came up in conversation a lot. I started to think of questions I wanted to ask and read a couple of chapters from the reading list books which helped me figure out a good way to make notes during observation of classes.
Tuesday morning I got myself in to a year group assembly and a fire drill and suddenly the nostalgia kicked in. I’d forgotten what it was like to sit silently in a hall and finding myself in the position of teacher instead of pupil felt so strange. I couldn’t help but feel emotional and inspired when a video clip of a Michelle Obama speech was played to motivate the pupils at the start of their term. I started to think about the way in which the teachers I was observing were engaging their pupils and made mental notes to save up quotes for future reference.
Moving between classrooms and navigating the layout of the school was a huge challenge but I managed to get myself everywhere I was supposed to be on time. I even found new year sevens asking me for directions so even though inside I felt like a fish completely out of water, it made me feel better to know that the pupils thought I knew what I was doing. In classrooms pupils started to ask me questions too, at first I wasn’t sure if I should just be silently observing, but eye contact and a gentle nod from my mentor teachers gave me the all clear to engage with pupils and I found this most beneficial to my experience.
I really enjoyed lunch, hidden behind the department, there’s an external door which leads to a secret garden, partially tended by the technician. I sat outdoors in the September sunshine with my new colleagues to eat my packed lunch (I’m still trying to eat healthily) With apple trees and rhubarb growing, and a huge stash of wooden pallets saved for a man upcoming project , and even a nest of foxes living under a storage container this outdoor space is the kind of space prospective Design and Technology teachers like me dream of, (I’ve already planted an imaginary herb garden, and thought of the best recipe for blackberry and apple pie) – the possibilities ahead are mind blowing. Of course this daydreaming and getting ahead of myself lasted only half an hour because back to back lessons commenced for the rest of the day. I did end up making toffee apples this weekend at home though.
I got to see my fair share of uniform policy violations last week and so made a mental note of these as part of my written task to observe behaviour management. I was also interested in seeing the differences between the classroom approach with year sevens in their first ever DT lessons in comparison to pupils who have chosen the subject as a GCSE option and are starting their course – in terms of expectations and structure of the lessons there was so much for me to write about, just the way in which pupils enter the classroom, get their equipment out and sit ready for lessons is poles apart.
After each day in school I made sure to go though my written tasks booklet and complete as much as I could as I went along. So many new things happened every day that I think it’s important to get myself in to this good habit so that I don’t end up forgetting any important relevant details. I also found myself sitting in the car park an hour early each day, re-reading chapters of my textbook and gathering my thoughts before school. The environment is so busy and the school day flies by so quickly that making this time and space and time for myself is going to be vital.
I’ve just finished spell checking my workbook and have emailed it across to my tutor for tomorrow’s deadline. I’ve also noticed that I have access to my full course online so I’ve had a bit of a look through – I have a calendar which is so busy it’s scary and seeing so much detail right now I feel a little overwhelmed. With my life timetabled up until next Summer I feel as though I’m going to look back at this blog post and feel like I’ve blinked and it’s flown by. Tomorrow morning Is my first whole course lecture. It’s online but I’ll have more of an idea of exactly what is required (I hope) in terms of written assessments and course assignments to complete.
I’m going to be spending the next eight weeks or so in University before heading back to school again, and I’ll share what I get up to along the way.
For those of us without our own home swimming pool,surely the next best thing is a trip to the beach! How convenient then, would it be to have your very own indoor space whilst you’re there? Over 20,000 British beach hut owners have prioritised exactly that. A creation that mimics all the home comforts you could need, is literally a short walk across the sand.
What is a Beach Hut?
Essentially a beach hut is a glorified shed that sits in a row with others permanently along the coast line. Beach huts can be used for all manner of things from storing wetsuits, to hosting a table and chairs to eat at, to shelter from the rain or for making a cuppa after your swim in the sea.
Where Do Beach Huts Come From?
Despite most people thinking that beach huts were originally thought up in Victorian times, the concept of a portable ‘room’ or ‘bathing machine’ as they were known actually began in the 1700s.
Prior to that the only folk who spent time at the seaside were generally fishermen, smugglers and pirates.
Thanks to new medical advice that sea swimming was inherently good for you, people began visiting the beach and recognising how enjoyable it could be too.
The early bathing machines were essentially a horse drawn shed, deliberately portable so that bathers could travel from the top of the beach down into the sea and retaining their modesty whilst taking their naked dip.
Famously, King George III insisted that his own ‘medical bath’ would need not only the bathing machine but also a full quartet playing ‘God Save the King’ whilst doing so.
By the time Queen Victoria was in power, visits to the beach and swimming in the sea in general was widely acceptable, but men and women would be kept separate. Queen Victoria had her very own beach hut built at Osbourne House in her beloved Isle of Wight in the 1840s.
By the 1900s, both sexes bathing together, along with wearing swimwear, had become the norm. That meant there was no longer a need for bathing machines to be moveable, and so the static beach huts we know and love today were born.
Since then, demand has steadily risen for beach huts. No less so than during the pandemic, as Brits got accustomed to the potential loveliness and ease of a staycation.
These picture-perfect mini houses by the sea are not just the ideal choice for a convenient, low maintenance staycation.
They’ve become a statement of personal expression too.
The smartest pastel-hues to the vibrant paint-box beach huts are just the outsides.
Inside, they’re often fitted out to allow for all kinds of enjoyments, from comfortable beach sleep-overs tocharming summer evening dinner parties, with the sea air and sound of the tides setting the scene.
The Cost of a Beach Hut
These apparently unassuming huts are fast becoming one of the most desirable retro getaway opportunities.
So as you’d expect, the increased demand plus the modification of beach huts means a rise in prices too.
Whilst back in 1980 you could buy your very ownbeach hut for just £100, in 2021 it’s feasible to pay awhopping £300,000 for a ‘high end’ luxury beach.
Expensive Bournemouth, Brighton or Christchurch in the sunnier south or Wells-Next-The-Sea and Southwold on the spectacular east coast are some of the most desirable locations, which all ooze the unique andchilled, pure British ambience.
Denisons, a specialist estate agents in the Christchurch area, confirm that prices have increased by 10% or so over the last year.
In fact, of the 400 or so beach huts in Christchurch, Denisons tend to sell approximately five annually – sothe waiting lists can be long.
Bearing in mind that the average UK property price is approximately £230,000, these prices are very steep, but beach hut converts wouldn’t change their lifestyle for a thing.
In fact these low-maintenance little homes tend to remain in families for generations.
Traditional beach huts are usually made of timber, each with its own individual colour theme and modern or retro styling.
The most beautiful can include sea-view decking, a barbeque or even a hot tub outside… but it’s on the inside that the 21st century has made the biggest impression.
Some incorporate two, or even three-level living. Cosy mezzanine bedrooms, Wi-Fi, fully equipped solar-powered kitchen, hot water, toilet and maybe a cosy wood-burner and sofa, are all encased within classic whitewashed walls and wooden floorboards.
Perhaps the ultimate luxury vision has been achieved by specialist architects Jak Studio.
The Spy Glass beach hut at Eastbourne, combines nostalgia for this iconic symbol of Britishness, with a completely new physical form.
Incredibly, the whole structure sits on a sleek timber turntable, allowing it to be rotated at will to track the movements of the sun. Owners can literally switch between the sand and the pier as their backdrop of choice!
Of course not all of our beach-life aspirations run so high.
In many cases the beach hut contains little more than a set of deckchairs and the ubiquitous kettle and a game of boules. A simple yet charming way of bringing the whole family together at the beach, making the special memories that will last a lifetime.
The Beach Hut Checklist
Thinking about buying your own beach hut?
Be sure to check out all the facilities, such as car parking, bathroom availability, power sources (which may be solar or calor gas) and standpipes – remember there will be no mains water, and beach hut life is essentially camping with benefits!
It’s also wise to consider whether local facilities will be adequate when the sun does decide to disappear – cafes and restaurants, cinemas and play centres, zoos and castles are all worth investigating.
As they are outside, beach huts can of course be liable to erosion, flooding and even vandalism – so insurance is a must. A specialist company such as TL Risk Solutions, can provide comprehensive beach hut cover, with annual premiums from around £150 up to £400 or more.
Maintenance should be minimal, but it’s sensible to budget for a repaint every three or four years too.
Beach hut owners are effectively renting land from the local council, and this will incur an annual licensing charge that can reach £2,500 a year.
Thoroughly investigate any additional local authority restrictions, for example around daytime-use only of beach huts, whether access to the beach itself is seasonal or year round, whether dogs are allowed, and whether the all-important barbecue will be permitted!
Remember that there may be options to rent out your beach hut at times when you just can’t get away. Rental is often by the day or week, and may be managed with a minimum of fuss by a local agent. Prices achieved will of course vary with location and facilities – from £1,375 a week for a three-bedroom, chalet-style beach hut in Tresco, Isles of Scilly, to £150 a week for a traditional wooden hut at Alum Chine, Bournemouth.
2021 may be the year of the staycation – but British beach huts have the style, situation and sheer ease of lifestyle which can be enjoyed for a lifetime.
One thing is very clear – Arlo loves everything about the natural world. He can churn out animal facts all day long and this summer surprised us all when he revealed he had been keeping a secret pet snail in his bedroom for weeks. Having the opportunity to try out the habitats and ecosystems toy from I’m a genius science seemed like a great opportunity. As soon as he saw the box he was excited.
This is one of those toys I saved for a rainy afternoon, I’d already opened it myself to check the contents and read the instructions and so for the first project I made sure we had some stones and natural materials collected from a nature walk to use whilst decorating our little biorb. When I told Arlo we were going to create our own little world he knew exactly what he wanted to include.
The box comes with a biorb in two halves, with various lids a stand, borage seeds, various scoops and a bag containing peat moss and lichens. Plus a delightful little book which includes various ecosystem projects and all sorts of useful information about things like the water cycle. We set to work immediately and used gravel to line the bottom of our ecosystem.
Planting the seeds and decorating the habitat took us a very long time. Arlo kept running around to find extra bits and bobs to decorate with, eventually settling on a pine cone centre piece with a shell and some wood and moss. He even managed to sneak a bug in there too which I spotted at the last minute. We used water to spray our environment and then added the lid and have placed it on the kitchen windowsill so that we can check in on it every day.
The idea is that the seeds will grow creating a mini ecosystem which constantly changes. You can use different pieces on the lid to emulate a water cycle and even add ice to try and create clouds via evaporation. This is such a great toy for nature loving kids and I like that it can also be used repeatedly as a learning resource for different topics. Available to order from Toys and Bears now for £19.99, however I have been kindly given the opportunity to give away one of these to a lucky competition winner.
Terms and conditions apply – click here for details – live until 18/9/2021- products provided for the purposes of review however as always all opinions expressed are our own.
I’m a huge fan of thirty day challenges, I’ve written about all sorts of different things I’ve tried in the past – from squat challenges which get increasingly tougher to more creative challenges where your skills develop as you try out a new make up technique every day. One thing I’ve been really focusing on is mindfulness. Over the lockdown I found compulsory online zoom calls for this appearing in my work calendar and I used to scoff at it because I didn’t really understand. I’d pop the sessions on, mute it and scroll through Instagram instead. Then when I left my job in December and suddenly felt the pressure and workload from work was lifted I realised just how stressed I had been.
I began to explore mindfulness and different techniques to find my inner calm. I started wearing a Fitbit to track my fitness but at forst I found it more interesting to monitor my sleep patterns – being a self confessed social media addict I realised I was going to bed and not “switching off” until way past midnight most evenings and this was having an impact on my sleep patterns. My scores were terrible. Releasing I had a problem is the first step but doing something about it isn’t quite so easy, especially when social media is a viable income source and I had committed to blogging and freelance writing projects in between my changing career plan.
I don’t know if it’s ironic, but using technology has helped me massively. I set myself personal boundaries on my phone – you can monitor your screen time from settings and then set yourself time limits for apps – I have a daily limit for social media which I have stuck to for six months. I also have a “down time” – I can only access essential apps between midnight and 6am unless I ignore the reminders – and so far I’ve managed to exert some self control and stick to my limits more often than not. This is despite me using my phone to run my blog and social media accounts.
This time away from my mobile screen has enabled me to explore other things – I have been writing from my laptop and have spent some time creating myself a home office set up, so that when I do need to work I’m in a productive environment and not hunched over a mobile device. This also helps massively when working from home with children – Arlo knows that when I’m in my office space I’m not to be disturbed, I set him up in his room next door with an invitation to play and he likes to independently create his own small worlds with his train sets and fire station. Once my work is done, I step away and can join in with him. Previously I would have tried to work from my phone in a shared space with Arlo and it just wouldn’t be productive. Now I can get something done and dusted in half an hour with some focus.
So once I finally got myself in to a decent work / life balance routine it was just around the time that the gyms opened up again – I signed myself up and started to head out to workout classes. I realised quite quickly that I needed to do more, Cardio was a major issue for me, and I found myself struggling at first. I had what was diagnosed as “atypical” pneumonia in February of 2020 and it took me about three months to fully recover – of course the sceptic in me thinks I probably had some sort of long covid but at the time I wasn’t able to get tested. Then almost a year of lockdowns meant that my fitness levels had declined – I struggled to participate in a short 40 minute Zumba class whereas before I would do two hour long classes back to back and jog home, not to mention participating in mud runs at the weekend for fun.
Again I went back to technology – monitoring my heart-rate and steps during workouts is a great motivator – you can see how many calories you’re burning and try and beat your own targets in every class. I noticed improvements as the weeks passed and in about six weeks managed to lose a stone in body weight, inches from my waist and just felt an overall sense of well-being. As my overall fitness improved I found my breathing also improved naturally and I’m back to doing two classes back to back. I’m not quite ready to sign up to a tough mudder but I can see it on the horizon! I do realise however that for some it’s not been quite so simple. The long lasting damage that the new “C who shall not be named” has done is something which we will be researching for years to come.
This topic is one I’ve discussed with many people and something I’ve been hearing lots about is the Powerbreathe breathing trainer – and being such a fan of technology given my own personal experiences I was keen to find out more.
Powerbreathe are a company who have been making Inspiratory Muscle training (IMT) tools since the 90s, and they were recently recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a great tool in COVID-19 recovery. The POWERbreathe has a wide use of applications for a wide range of people. IMT is scientifically proven to benefit patients with respiratory illness and healthy people, including athletes at all levels of competition, including Olympians.
I’m not an Olympian by any means but learning about this did get me to thinking about my breathing and my mindfulness again. I’ve been setting my watch to remind me to participate in guided breathing exercises – I have my own personal mindfulness tracker where I have learnt the basics of meditation and it all starts with breathing. I’ve also tried out some yoga and body balance classes – at the gym and online over the summer and been applying breathing techniques during these which I find helps me to focus, get deeper stretches and I’ve recently noticed that my balance seems to have improved as I focus on my breathing.
I like to approach things like meditation and mindfulness now with an open mind. I create my own versions of a thirty day challenge and I find that if I commit to something new for this short duration then it quickly becomes a habit and a lifestyle change. I start with a couple of minutes of a single simple exercise a day and then build it up and by the end of the month I notice the positive impacts and these new lifestyle changes quickly become a habit rather than a challenge.
Breathing is something I didn’t even really think about until I found myself gasping for breaths and reaching for an inhaler last Easter and this last eighteen months has taught me not to take anything for granted anymore.
Arlo has very kindly been sent out a beautiful Elmar bear from Steiff. To commemorate his starting school I thought he needed a special new friend and he makes the perfect gift because he’s just so huggable and soft. In fact this bear is the ideal gift suitable even for newborns. Available to order online from Steiff. They have a great selection of bears in all sorts of different styles and colours.
Steiff was founded in the 1880’s in Germany by a seamstress Margarette Steiff and originally they began life as pincushions would you believe? Of course the play value was immediately obvious and Steiff began to design and make prototypes herself and the business took off after the Teddy bear craze began after a cartoon of the American president Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt was published with a bear cub he refused to shoot on a hunt.
With such a great selection of bears on the website, to suit all occasions, at first it seemed like a daunting challenge choosing the perfect bear but this little guy jumped out at us because there was something familiar about him. Arlo’s grandma has a much loved Steiff bear from her childhood, which was purchased by her dad when she was a newborn. Fred is almost sixty years old but my mum recalls that when she was a child Fred had the same soft golden fur. Fred has been on some adventures in his life and is one of my mums most treasured possessions.
Theres just something so special about a childhood bear and the quality which comes from a Steiff bear really does mean that they will stand the test of time. My favourite feature of a Steiff bear is of course the iconic button in ear tag which was designed to prevent counterfeiting of the bears at the turn of the century and is a unique part of the charm of each bear.
Steiff stands for quality, with meticulous attention to detail and rigorous safety testing. The company motto is that “Only the best is good enough for children” with the materials being highly flame resistant and smaller pieces such as the button eyes have to be able to withstand tension tests and wear and tear. We have called our Elmer bear “Ben” after his great grandfather and we know that just like Fred his eyes will still sparkle brightly in sixty years.
Fred arrived to us as an online order and I must also add that the delivery was part of the high quality experience you would associate with such a traditional brand. Ben arrived resting comfortably in an ample sized branded box and wrapped delicately in layers of tissue, protected and secure. Watching Arlo open the box was a special experience and he couldn’t wait to pull him out. With the five way joints he can be positioned in sitting positions and he’s also great for a cuddle. This bear is an unmistakable original from the famous traditional house and already a much loved member of the family.
Steiff bear provided for the purposes of review, all views and opinions expressed are my own