Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Getting ready for Halloween with The Fort Shopping Park

It seems impossible that we're at the end of October already and getting ready for Halloween.  As it's half term this week, we're off to The Fort Shopping Park in Birmingham to get our halloweeny things ready for the weekend.

We'll be taking the kids on a small (and supervised) trick or treating adventure and will be following it up with our own spook-tastic night at home, so I'll be looking for a range of supplies.  I love these Witches Brew and Candy Corn Yankee Candles from Clinton cards.  They're £18.99 each but Yankee Candles smell lovely and last for ages!

Toddler girl and our son both need to be kitted out in some creepy clobber – Clintons also has some great outfits available, and I love this Werewolf costume, although I wonder if our son might be a bit scared by it! 

I love this Batman t-shirt, just £9 from Next for toddler girl, and as she's growing so fast I can get more wear out of it after Halloween too.  The bat wing hoody from New Look would go brilliantly with it.

I love all the accessories around too, and these two TY Beanies from Clinton cards are great for clipping on pumpkin treat collecting buckets.  I think toddler girl would love them and feel sure they'd stick around for long after Halloween!

And while I'm shopping I'll definitely be heading to Starbucks for a pumpkin spice latte to get myself in the Halloween mood while husband goes off to Poundland to stock up on sweets and treats for our kids and all the other trick or treaters!

I'd love to know what you're up to for Halloween - are you going trick or treating?

Disclaimer: post written in collaboration with The Fort Shopping Park.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

On bouncy castles and toddler girl

One of toddler girl's favourite things ever is a bouncy castle.  She loves to boing around, but has a lot of trouble staying on her feet if there are any other children on there!

Here she is at her friend's birthday party at the weekend, bouncing away on an empty bouncy castle.  She has such fun, and was delighted to be going to a birthday which she received her very own invitation for. It was the birthday of the younger sister of our son's mate, and toddler girl loves her!

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Cooking with Tefal Optigrill - a review

The Tefal Optigrill is a grilling machine designed to cook meat, fish and other foods to perfection.  Husband is partial to a nice steak, so we were very excited to try this out.  After a week or two of using it I can honestly say it's changed the way we cook - for the better.

The Tefal Optigrill box and website promise a 'smart automatic grill that adapts the cooking time to the thickness of the ingredients and indicates the precise cooking time from rare to well done.'  I say this is a George Forman style grill, but so much better and more intelligent which takes the hassle and guesswork out of cooking meat, and with great results

Straight out of the box you get the machine itself, full instructions, a quick start guide and hints and tips.  A nice laminated card gives a quick and easy view of when things will be cooked, and is a handy addition to keep next to the Optigrill.

The Optigrill is a good size for one to four people, and measures about 35cm at its widest.  The grill plates are aluminium with a really top quality feeling non stick coating, and are easily removable once cool and go in the dishwasher.  I love this feature; it's totally no hassle and ideal to make sure they're sparkly clean after each use.

The grill plates are angled to make sure any juices or fat run down into the drip tray.  Again, I love the fact that the drip tray slots in to make it fixed, but can easily be pulled out and put in the dishwasher.  This makes sure there's no mess on your worktop if you accidentally knock it.

The Optigrill has six cooking programmes for different types of food as well as a manual mode.  The manual mode is ideal for things like toasted paninis and wraps, where you just want to put the machine on and warm something through for a few minutes.

Our son loved his cheese and ham toasted wrap after school, and said it was the nicest he'd had for ages!  I love the ribbed lines the grill left which it look professional.

The best bit about the Optigrill are the six dedicated automatic cooking programmes for different types of food.  On the main handle of the Optigrill, you can see the types of food you can select - burgers, chicken, bacon, sausages, steak/chops and seafood.  Once you select your food type, you close the grill and wait for it to heat to the required temperature, indicated by a change of light in the main disc.  A reassuring beep tells you when it's ready to start cooking too, just in case you're getting on with other things.

You then put your food in, and the Optigrill automatically detects its thickness and therefore the cooking time.  The colours work their way through the dial beeping as they change, so you can take your food out when it's cooked just as you like it.  

Husband does like a nice steak, and we let the cooking run through until it was rare-medium cooked (he likes it more rare than medium).  It was cooked absolutely to perfection, and after a short resting time, husband tucked in and said it was the nicest cooked steak he'd ever had at home.  For my part, I can see how the Optigrill gives really consistent results, much better than the old griddle pan we normally use which I often struggle to cook with!

I've also had great results with king prawns, sausages and veggie skewers, which again were all cooked to perfection and maintained their flavour and moisture really well.

I really appreciated that the fat in the sausages was able to drain out whilst cooking, but they still tasted moist and great.  Our son loves sausages, so a healthier version is always appreciated!

The Tefal Optigrill is a great grilling machine that I would definitely highly recommend.  I love the fact it cooks perfectly while I can get on with other things, and that it's so easy to use and clean.  It's a good size for most small to medium size families and will fit in most cupboards, although ours has been used most days this week and hasn't made it to be put away yet!

I feel sure that anyone who enjoys meat, or who wants a more flexible way to cook everyday food in a healthy way would use it all the time.  Five out of five from us - a new kitchen essential that's highly recommended.

I tested and recommend Tefal Optigrill model number GC701D40. You can find out more about this model on the Tefal website.

Disclaimer: we were sent the Tefal Optigrill for review, but as ever, all words and thoughts are my own.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

An updated garden and getting the professionals in

We've been in our house for about 10 years now, and like loads of people our garden has always been lower priority than the rest of the house, work, life etc.

I've long wanted a lovely garden, and husband and I have talked and talked about what to do with it.  Our garden's triangular and has a decent slope to it, a sign of the modern development our house is in and the type of plots that were built on. 

It's in a lovely south facing position and we get lots of sun, and it spans the back of our house so is actually lovely and wide.  We do however, have a few houses which can look in our garden which leads to a feeling of a lack of privacy. We removed eight massive trees when we moved in, and it's been a bit of a hotch potch of things since then.

Husband and I both wanted something private, up to date and low maintenance.  We also wanted to even out the slope and sort our ancient and mismatching fencing out.

We decided to get a professional garden designer in - despite the (actually not too expensive) cost, we thought a professional could really help us achieve what we wanted, rather than just put a few new slabs down for us.  Although it felt like an indulgence, I knew when I met the designer, and when we saw the first cut of the plans it was the right decision.

The first plan we saw really went a long way to achieving just what I was after - privacy, grown up and space for our kids to play, and bringing everything together. 

I love the plans too, and can really see it coming to life in our garden.  I can't wait to see the final design in a few weeks and then hopefully the work will be completed in the next few months.

I'll keep this blog updated and if you have any tips for managing a garden project, please let me know.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Family life is...

Family life is a box of tissues....

You know the weather's changing and the days and nights are getting cooler when the coughs and colds start.  Toddler girl's been full of it this week, and hasn't slept well with a croupy cough.  Roll on summer again!

I'd love to know what's summed up your family life this week, please let me know.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Developing maths skills in pre-school and early years schoolers

Our son has always loved numbers, they seem to make sense to him more than letters and words.  Our daughter is showing the same aptitude.  I think they will both be engineers!

I have no idea if their maths skills are a result of luck or judgement, but maybe some of the games we've played with both of them have played a part?

Water measuring

We've always had some cheap jugs and cups in the bath.  Both of them love to fill up the jugs and pour the water into others.  We try and talk about this too - 'the volume of water is greater', 'now it's overflowing because there's too much'.  They both check this all over the bathroom floor regularly!

Local buses
Our son started this one when he was quite small and now we always notice the number of every bus that we get on or pass.  This really helps early recognition of numbers, and when added to a conversation about the number 23 bus being a higher number than seven, adds to early understanding of the 'value' of numbers.

Shut the box

Our son had 'Shut the Box' for Christmas when he was in reception year at school.  The idea is you roll two dice, and then 'shut' any combination of wooden numbers that add up to the dice value.  He initially needed a bit of help with this, but loves the game and is fluent with his number bonds now.  All without him realising he was learning - bonus!

We sometimes use the blocks of Jenga to make repeating patterns, and when playing normally talk about higher and lower towers.  All this helps early maths understanding.

Connect 4
Long before our son could count, and now a toddler girl is approaching three, we use my vintage Connect 4 set to make colourful patterns and take turns to put the coins in the frame.  Again, it can start a dialogue and easy opportunity to count (and take turns).

Colour days

Sometimes when toddler girl and I are home alone, we have 'colour days' where we look out for everything of a single colour.  So we spot red cars, roses, red swing seats, eat tomatoes etc.  Again this provides a great opportunity for counting and also promotes colour learning too.

I feel sure there are loads more ways to promote maths skills in pre-schoolers and early years schoolers.  What are your favourite?

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Year two infant school literacy and maths

Our son is now in year two at school.  I'm told he's working to a new, harder curriculum this year and it definitely feels like the pace of school life has stepped up.


The focus on literacy this term so far seems to be on handwriting, reading and comprehension.  Having started reception learning to write letters in a joined up style, year one didn't seem to focus on this at all.  It's back in year two though, and his homework so far this term has concentrated on writing letters in this way, and ensuring the sizing is all correct. 

Having been writing for many years now, I take letter sizing for granted but watching a six year old try and deconstruct why capitals are high (and different), some letters go under the line (p, g) and some are greedy and are high and go under the line (f) is amusing!

He is also concentrating again on sentences, making sure to always use a capital letter, full stop and ensuring it is grammatically correct.

Spellings are concentrating on suffixes - so working out and learning the rules around adding ing and er.  Who knew there were three rules for doing this?!

We continue to get a reading book everyday which are getting longer (sometimes 32 pages).  As our son is now a fluent reader, the focus is on comprehension and the books are a mix of fact and fiction to support this.


His maths work so far has seemed easy in comparison to literacy, maybe the harder stuff will come later in the term or maybe he just prefers maths?

School's requested that at home we look at odd and even numbers, counting up in ones and 10s and number bonds to 10 (all the ways you can add up to 10 for those of us not down with school lingo!).  The focus is on using a 100 number square grid.

This week's homework is all about money, and uses coins to find ways to add up to every amount between 11p and 20p.  We have been set a similar maths challenge this term which asks the children to add up rugby scores and find all the ways to get to certain scores.

Our son is really engaged at school and listens to his teacher well.  As a result, none of this is a massive challenge for him, but is stretching his ability to focus and apply himself to it at home when he'd rather be at the park.  I'm loving seeing the progress he's making - in just two short years he's gone from very early letter marks and recognising words to reading, writing and adding up fluently.  Amazing!

Are you kids in year two?  What are they working on?