Winter gardens

I’ve been quiet of late and this is a post of few words, but that’s not to say I’ve not taken my camera out, so I thought I’d take ten minutes to share some snaps from my Instagram feed throughout winter, a little grainy from various insta filters but they spark joy nevertheless.

ladybird in the yarden ice disc surprise wreath roses 1

As always some blooms have been picked up along the way and brought indoors, and others have been bought with the weekly shop to brighten the place up

roses daffs top view

I’m looking forward to getting up to speed with blogging more regularly through spring and writing something a little more lengthy, but it’s been nice to muse over some snaps for now!

DIY Christmas Cones

I love a Christmas project, and this year I’ve been making a few new decorations for the tree for J to enjoy.  When Crafters Companion dropped me a line to ask if I’d like to try some of the Debbie Shore patterns from her Christmas Projects DVD my first thought was that I haven’t used my machine in ages, but my mind was put at rest when I saw that the patterns were simple, clear and had fewer than 5 steps!

These Christmas cones are just one of many great projects on the DVD and now that I have been bitten by the sewing bug again I’m going to start another project tonight!  The cones required me to cut two pieces of fabric that had been folded in half, sewing an inner and an outer cone together to form a lining for the cone, adding ribbons and buttons to finish off, the projects really are as simple as that and because the DVD comes with a sizeable piece of fabric it makes for a really great kit for a novice like me!

Debbie really nicely captured my imagination and I’m now industriously crafting more decs:

“I still remember the Christmas decorations from my childhood, that were brought out every year, bringing a smile to everyone’s face and making the festive season that little bit more special. I’m hoping the characters on this CD will do the same for your family, with the likes of Rodney Reindeer, Christmas Carole, Paul the Penguin and of course, Santa, making an appearance each year.” (Debbie Shore)

cones 1

Filled with a few stocking filler sized presents these make a lovely gift in themselves, here’s one I’ve put together for my Playmobil fan!

christmas cones

Do you have any Christmas projects on the go? I’d love to hear about them!

Keeping warm with Trespass Winter Coats

I’m not really one for buying a new winter coat each year, I like to spend a little more and get a coat that I’ll reach for year after year. I recently waved goodbye to my beloved faux fur lined parka of over 5 years and was mulling over what to go for next when Trespass dropped me a line to ask if I’d be interested to review something from their winter range. I chose the Glacial women’s long length down jacket and crossed my fingers that long length would indeed fit my tall frame! I love that it’s a parka style but with added weather-proofing benefits!

trespass 1

I’ve not had a down jacket before but I’m really glad I gave this a go, filled with naturally insulating material (70% down to 30% feather) wearing a down coat is like wearing a duvet, seriously good! I put this to the test on a recent work trip to Preston, three hours on cold trains and waiting on platforms. I sat down at one point and the down was so cushioning and warm that I didn’t mind the cold, I just relaxed with my notes and felt a bit smug!

IMG_3746

The long length definately helps as I’m nearly 6 foot tall, this was a great length for me, above the knee which I like, and what makes this ideal for a taller lady is the flat cuff with an inner knitted cuffs, the sleeves are maybe just half a cm shorter than I’d like but the second cuff helps to stop drafts from travelling in through the sleeves! The hood is also a great fit, not like the ‘fashion hoods’ that you get on some winter jackets, this is a what I’d call a ‘proper winter coat’ instead! I really like that the Trespass branding is quite lowkey with this jacket, this means I can wear it for everyday occasions without it looking too sporty.

IMG_3666

As with all Trespass winter coats there’s real attention to detail in the pockets, button over to keep everything dry, with a poly coating to help wick away the rain and snow I like the two big deep pockets so I can ditch a bag when I’m walking the dog but have all my essentials to hand.

IMG_3820

Onto the important stuff, the price, with an rrp of almost £200 this is certainly an investment coat, but if like me you’re outdoors a lot through winter and want quality this is the coat for you. Right now it’s actually 50% off, so for less than 100 quid you can pick up a really warm, stylish and practical coat that’s within budget too.

Disclosure: I was sent this coat for review purposes and all views and images are my own

Make your Christmas Table Magical!

One of the things I remember from being small is decorating my Mam’s plants at Christmas time with little 80s Santas, reindeer and toadstools on wires, and a centrepiece made from oasis florists foam. This year I’ve had a bash at my own version with a gratefully received goodie bag for review from Oasis Home and Hobby.

oasis cracker

I love their Christmas Cracker centrepiece, easy to customise with flowers, foliage and ribbons to complement your table scheme a novice could make a lovely piece in around 20 – 30 minutes. All good Christmas crafts start with a walk to gather things to bring in from nature! We had an afternoon walk to gather pine cones and holly.

I trimmed the cracker with ribbons while I soaked the oasis block for 60 seconds.

oasis cracker 1

Once you’ve soaked your oasis you’re ready to go, trim your foliage and your cut flowers and firmly push them into the Oasis, I worked from the centre out to get good coverage and make sure my flowers weren’t dwarfed by the foliage.

oasis cracker 2

I finished off with a few pinecones covered in glitter, and I’m really pleased with the results!

Disclosure: I received these products for review purposes, all views are my own

Traidcraft Toys Fair Trade Review

Traidcraft is the UK’s leading fair trade organisation fighting poverty through trade, practising and promoting approaches to trade that help poor people in developing countries transform their lives. Traidcraft toys and products are traceable back to their producers whose stories they tell on their product pages and product packaging. This is also a way of ‘buying local’ for us as Traidcraft is based just down the road from us!

TC4

I was offered the opportunity to review a Fair Trade product with Traidcraft, and given Joss’ birthday was coming up and she is getting very involved in roleplay I thought it would be nice for us to try out this little wooden teaset I prefer to buy wooden toys as they’re long lasting and sustainable and knowing where products have come from and that their producers are making a good living as well as working in a quality environment is so important.

TC2

I found the site easy to navigate and enjoyable to browse, the toy arrived promptly, was packaged up securely in plastic all ready to be played with, napkins folded and lids in place and I thought that the tag that was enclosed was a great way to highlight the importance of buying fair trade and letting someone know about fair trade if that was received as a gift.

TC1

We set up a birthday party, Joss decided that the ‘Easter Rabbit’ and Dinobob were invited!
TC3

This is a real toddler friendly set, long lasting and made from wood this is a gift that will grow with her, the pieces are small enough to fit in little hands and the detailing is gorgeous, especially the little napkins, they were an unexpected treat as when I saw the photos online I didn’t know they’d be included, the flower shaped coasters are really well made too! As I’d hoped she chatted away to her rabbit, this photo captured the question “would you like some tea with your breakfast?”

WP_005168

A happy accident, we discovered that the pieces fit with her little kitchen set perfectly too!

WP_005177

This is currently priced at £20, about what I’d expect to pay for a well made handmade and hand painted toy and knowing its provenance makes this a really special gift, tackling poverty and supporting small producers rather than the big toy chains.

We're going on an adventure

Using mini baubles to decorate an advent house

using mini baubles 1

It’s Christmas craft time again, the nights are drawing in and I’ve been getting busy with a few activities to relax and unwind. This week I’ve been taking part in a blogger’s challenge set by Ocean Finance to decorate a plain wooden advent house. I’ve been thinking about a little advent tradition for the last few years but didn’t ever get round to doing something about it! I was sent the house and a voucher to decorate it; at first I was a bit daunted, I painted the house a chalky white using a Rustoleum sample, and then felt at a bit of a loss as to what to do next!

I finally had the bright idea of using mini baubles to fill the roof space, when I saw these gorgeous pastel colours I knew I’d set on the perfect colour scheme for J! I got to work with my gluegun, attaching the sequin trim and securing the baubles in place, it was a bit tricky to get them organised into the tight space but a bit of jiggery pokery seems to have done the trick!

This little house was finished off with some really glittery stickers to draw the bauble scheme together, and I added number stickers to each door. I picked up a bargain bucket of playmobil bits and bobs to fill the doors, and of course some chocs too, roll on December 1st, I think my little poppet will love her advent house!

using mini baubles

I’m now off to check out pinterest for ideas for using mini baubles to make other decorations as they’re so sweet I bought two boxes!

Autumn/Winter 2015 Girls Style Edit

edit

1/ H&M 2/H&M 3/H&M 4/M&S 5/Next 6/Kickers; Jones the Bootmaker

Disclosure: This is a collaborative post

Non-scary pumpkin carving with kids!

non-scary pumpkin 3

J is really interested in Halloween this year and has been getting really excited about it. She has had her bat outfit on more than once already and has been trying to cast magic spells with her wand. Enjoying Halloween with her has been great fun so far and I wanted to find a way to make a great looking Pumpkin whilst keeping her fingers intact and not terrifying her (she’s only three!)

My solution to carving the Pumpkin safely was to do the cutting and preparing myself and enlist Joss’ help with the rest. Once the top of the pumpkin was cut off, Joss spread glue all over it and sprinkled glitter / jewels on top (and got a fair amount stuck to her hands too!) While she was decorating, I quickly scooped most of the flesh and seeds out in preparation for carving.

non-scary pumpkin 2

Instead of carving a scary face into the pumpkin, I thought something more ‘pretty’ to go with the lovingly made lid provided by Joss would be nice. I used cookie / pastry cutters to make shapes in the pumpkin by hammering it gently into the sides with a rolling pin. Joss was able to help with this too and we chose a heart shaped design which we hammered all the way around and I used a sharp knife occassionally to help the cutter through.

non-scary pumpkin 1

One of the nice things about this way of carving / decorating the pumpkin is that the glitter / jewels look good in the daytime and the shapes look great at night with the candlelight so you can make a display on a windowsill or as a table centrepiece that looks good throughout the day. Happy Halloween!

non-scary pumpkin 4

Cooking with kids: Rusty’s Winter Warmer Granola

Enlist the help of your toddler to make a healthy, tasty and pure Granola that’ll give you something guilt-free to look forward to every morning.

rusty's granola

Ingredients:

I use about 100 grams each of the below nuts / seeds:-

Linseed – great plant source of omega 3 fats, adds a nice crunchy texture to the granola

Walnuts – omega 3 fats, can reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, source of antioxidants, good for your brain

Pecans – Great source of vitamin E which is important for healthy skin

Brazil nuts – rich in mono-unsaturated fats, vitamin E

Almonds – good source of magnesium which is good for a healthy heart, potassium, vitamin E

Sunflower seeds – lots of Magnesium, vitamin E, Selenium (may be good for preventing cancers)

Pumpkin seeds – contain Zinc which is great for your immune system, mood, sleep, skin (and more)

Dried, diced papaya and / or pineapple – taste great

One large cooking apple – for binding the granola

Honey – so good for you in so many ways I can’t list them all here and anyway you need it to bind the granola together

Oats – I use quick cook oats as they’re easier to buy in a supermarket but simple rolled oats are a longer lasting energy source

How to

Slice up the large cooking apple into chunks and put in a pan with three or four tablespoons cold water. Put a lid on and give it 5-10 minutes at a low – medium heat. Have a look and give it a mix. Once it’s the texture of apple sauce take it off the heat and put it to one side while you prepare the rest of the granola.

This is where your toddler will love helping. Show her all the nuts you’ve bought for your granola and tell her what they are, what’s good for her about them and encourage her to have a taste (being mindful about allergies and choking – you know your own kids). She won’t like all of them but will hopefully like some. Eating nuts is a great habit to get children into – they’re great for snacking and keep really well. Very healthy in moderation.

Now help your toddler to pour all of the nuts into a big, strong freezer bag. Seal up the bag (be sure to squeeze the air out first) and get a rolling pin. On a large chopping board or tough surface, help your toddler to smash the nuts up with the rolling pin. Keep her fingers out of the way and be sure to make some serious noise. I personally like to make monkey noises as loudly as possible with Joss. It’s a fun way to let off some steam and smile. If the noise is too much for you or someone else at home, you could provide some monkey ear muffs for the duration. I try not to worry about the size of the nut fragments, it’s nice to have a bit of a mixture for texture and crunch.

Get a big mixing bowl and pour in 500 grams oats, the smashed up nuts, seeds and dried papaya / pineapple. Ask your toddler to give it a quick mix to make sure the nuts and seeds are evenly distributed.

rusty's granola 3

Now take the pan of cooked apple from earlier which should still be warm. Help your toddler to add 2 – 4 tablespoons of honey and mix in. You can use whatever honey you like but I really like using an orange blossom honey for the citrus taste. I add a couple of teaspoons of ground cinnamon too and then ask Joss to mix it up really well, trying to make sure the cinnamon is well combined, get your toddler to have a smell, amazing!

rusty's granola 1

Ask your toddler to spoon about half of the apple / honey / cinnamon mixture into the bowl of oats, nuts, seeds and fruit and mix it in well with a big spoon. Once she has combined as much as possible, add the rest of the apple sauce mix too and ask her to give that a good stir in. You might need to help out to ensure that everything is well mixed in. The whole mixture should end up quite stodgy and moist. If it doesn’t fit this description you can always add another tablespoon or two of honey to help it stick together.

Preheat your oven to around 140 – 160 celsius and spread the mixture out thinly onto baking trays. The last time we made it, the mixture covered 6 baking trays so we had to cook it in three goes. Put each round of baking trays into the oven for around 10 – 15 minutes, checking regularly and redistributing on the tray if necessary. A little browned is ok, but take care not to burn it. Once done, leave out for a few minutes to cool down and fully dry out. Break up gently and store in an airtight container.

rusty's granola 2

I eat Rusty’s granola with either coconut milk or natural yogurt and a little honey. You could try adding fresh fruit to it as well. This granola lasts me a month; don’t overdo it – there are a lot of nuts and seeds in this granola so probably 3 or 4 tablespoons is enough for breakfast. What a great treat on those autumn / winter mornings!

Optional: I sometimes add finely chopped, crystallised ginger before baking. Use in moderation but it’s a brilliant winter warmer!

Five Newcastle Gems for Family Days Out

Last weekend I made like a tourist and took J on an open top bus tour of our own fair city. There’s a lot to be said for taking the time to remember what you love about your surroundings, and it was lovely for Joss to take a different view of the toon landmarks that she’s growing to know and love as much as I do. As we made our way, windswept and chilly she shouted out “I’ve been to that Park” and “we go there!”

For the reasonable price of £8 per adult, and with under fives going free, you can hop on and hop off the bus along the hour long route, I highly recommend dressing warmly if you’re going to sit on the top deck, but it’s such an adventure for public transport loving little ones!

IMG_2894

When Travelodge Newcastle asked me about Newcastle’s hidden gems for visitors I thought back to the bus route and the things J paid particular attention to on the way.

Five Newcastle Gems for Family Days Out

I think our favourite places in town are great for visitors and local alike. Whatever the season, whatever the weather Leazes Park is perfect for a walk, wrapping up and crunching through the autumn leaves, and gathering conkers and acorns is one of my favourite things to do in town. There are some fab little eateries up there, including Red Mezze and Bar Loco for great value grazing.

We often have a walk through the park before a visit to our favourite family museum The Hancock (or Great North Museum). If your kids love history, animals or dinosaurs they’ll love the Hancock’s longstanding exhibitions, younger ones will love playing in the Mouse House playroom and we keep going month in month out because their special exhibitions are superb. At the moment there’s a great exhibition, Spineless, about invertebrates featuring new specimens, games, activities and lots of opportunities for dressing up – ladybird selfie anyone?! One of our hidden gems is Mark Toney’s Ice Cream Parlour up by Haymarket Metro, the sundaes are great value and a real old fashioned treat for kids.

1

Down Northumberland Street you’ll find two of J’s favourite places to pop in and relax, The Laing Art Gallery and Newcastle City Library – both have little reading nooks and play areas for younger children and with plenty of events and heritage collections at the Library, and great value exhibitions at the Laing there’s always something to browse for all ages. As an aside, if you’re ever in town and stuck for a gift or a card both the Library and the Laing have fantastic local contributions, I’ve been known to do most of my Christmas shopping in the Laing!

Heading straight down to the Quayside (but if it’s lunchtime popping into our favourite cafe, Panis, for a quick pasta lunch!) there’s a lot to be said for taking some time out by the River Tyne.  As an aside if you’re planning on staying in Newcastle the Newcastle Central Travelodge is located at the riverside so a good place to pick up the Hop On Hop Off bus!  We’re usually pretty eager to head over the Gateshead Millenium Bridge to get to the Baltic. J likes to head straight for their children’s activity area where there’s usually a crafty activity set up, I like to browse the exhibitions and often pop back two or three times to see my favourites, this summer Fiona Tan was particularly enjoyed but there’s always something to pique my interest. Heading up onto the viewing platform gives a sublime view of the Tyne Bridge, one of my favourite landmarks, and on a nice day you get a great view of the river towards the Ouseburn.

Tan exhibition

Tan exhibition

This completed our bus tour of the toon, we headed back to Central Station and chatted about the things we’d seen on the way home.

Do you have any favourite family haunts in Newcastle? We’d love to hear about your hidden gems!

Disclosure: Post in collaboration with Travelodge