Center Parcs Challenge – Easter Nests

26 Apr

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This month’s blogger challenge from Center Parcs is to create your own Easter nests. Ooh, this got my taste buds going I can tell you! Cake sprang to mind pretty quickly (as it usually does!)

There are lots of tips for making Easter nests over on their challenge page.

I decided to make some gluten-free Easter nests so that I could eat them too! We practiced making some birds nests in the garden before hand, using some grass, leaves and sticks. We talked about the kind of colour that birds nests can be and we decided that if the birds used lots of moss then the nests would be mainly green. (Thank goodness as I didn’t have any brown food colouring!)

Here is the recipe we used. It only made 7 cakes so you might want to double up on this.

4 oz butter or margarine

4 oz caster sugar

2 eggs, beaten

4 oz Doves Farm Gluten Free Flour

Butter Icing

Green Food Colouring

Chocolate Strand Sprinkles

Cadbury’s Mini Eggs

Method:

Beat sugar and butter together, gradually add the eggs and then gently mix in the flour.

I used silicone bun cases to bake these. They take 15-20 minutes at 190 degrees Celsius.

Whilst they are cooling down, add some green food colouring to your butter icing and spread this onto the cakes. Add chocolate sprinkles and mini eggs and there you have it!

If you take part in this Center Parcs challenge you could win yourself a holiday to Center Parcs!  If you want to enter to win a place as a wildcard winner just go to the challenge page to find out how.

 

 

 

 

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Center Parcs Longleat. Our review in pictures and video!

17 Apr

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As you may have seen in an earlier post, I was chosen to be a Center Parcs Family Blogger for 2014. This was such a privilege as we LOVE Center Parcs! Earlier this month, we visited Center Parcs and were asked to review our holiday. Firstly, here is a quick 2 minute video of our top tips!

The children did not know that we were going until the day we were leaving. We picked them up from school and told them that we were on our way to Longleat. The excitement was pretty full on, I lost track of how many times we heard “are we there yet?”

Finally we arrived and were given a very warm welcome at check-in. We were directed to our gorgeous 3 bedroom woodland villa. It was way out on the edge of the park which we loved. On a previous visit we stayed much closer to the plaza which is great BUT we saw very little wildlife. This time we saw lots and lots! We also got to make good use of our bikes which the children loved. You feel as if you could be anywhere, with the Giant  Redwoods and Conifers towering over you. It all feels very Scandinavian.

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Our villa was just perfect, very spacious and it had everything we could possibly need. We also received a complimentary grocery pack which was great. It meant that we didn’t need to pack tonnes of food as all the essentials were already there. The children loved the huge blackboard on the wall and spent lots of time recording our daily activities and our wildlife spots!

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One of the things we love most about Center Parcs is the ability to let your children run free. You don’t need to worry about cars and there is so much space! When we were not in the Subtropical Swimming Paradise the children explored the area, climbed many ancient, twisted trees and tackled the numerous adventure playgrounds that can be found all over the park. They were basically in heaven!  We loved cycling around from place to place and spent most of our time on our bikes (although there is a land train which runs very regularly). We were a little worried that our five-year old may not be able to cope with cycling the quite long distance from our villa to the plaza but he did really well. The cycle routes are really well thought out so that they are mainly flat and easy to navigate. There are some fairly steep hills on site so you might want to check this out when booking your accommodation.

Loving the great outdoors!

Loving the great outdoors!

As part of our family blogger experience, we were able to choose a complimentary activity  from one of the numerous ones available on site. It was very difficult to choose as there really is something for everyone. We decided to choose the ‘outing with owls’ as I just LOVE them. Their huge big eyes and heart-shaped faces just fascinate me and I think my love for them has rubbed off on the children.

I am so glad we chose this activity, it was amazing! We all got to fly two different types of owls and the lovely Clare was so knowledgeable about them. She obviously genuinely loves them and is so enthusiastic about sharing her knowledge with others.  I would definitely recommend this activity and I’d even consider doing it again if we were to go back. The look on the children’s faces when they got so close to these amazing birds was just priceless.

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It is very tempting to eat out every day at Center Parcs. There is just so much choice and everywhere is child friendly. It is not particularly cheap though so I would recommend making the most of your lovely villa to self cater if you are on a budget. If you do decide to eat out I would highly recommend Hucks. This has a play area at the back of the restaurant which is made to look like a pirate ship. It is all designed quite cleverly so that you don’t really notice it is there when you are eating. There is a buffet option for the children with all the usual foods that they love. Adult portions are huge! There is a good selection of cocktails and we just had to sample a few of these! My only negative point about Hucks is that since our last visit, they have installed computers for the children to play on at the back of the restaurant. I imagine most families go to Center Parcs to escape the pull of games consoles and to re-connect as a family. Having computer games in a family restaurant kind of detracts from that ethos.

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Look at the size of these Nachos!

If you visit the Pancake House, I’m sure most children would love the chance to ‘decorate their own pancake’. They have the option of gluten-free pancakes, which for me was a huge bonus! The food was lovely, good-sized portions and I think, one of the cheaper options for eating out at Center Parcs.

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The Subtropical Swimming Paradise is just amazing! We love everything about it and our children would happily stay there all day until they are  little shriveled up prunes. I do wish they could extend the outside pool area a little though, it can feel a bit of a squash and a squeeze at busy times.

If you are holidaying at Center Parcs try to make the most of your time there. You may not be able to check into your villa until 3pm but you are welcome to leave your car and luggage in the car park and enjoy all the facilities until your villa is ready. Likewise, on the day you check out, you can depart your villa and take your car to the car park but stay until the end of the day.

Would we recommend Center Parcs? Most definitely yes! If you can visit outside of peak times then the prices are pretty reasonable and you will have an amazing time.  If you would like to be in with a chance of winning a trip to Center Parcs then head over to their challenge page to find out how.

Have you visited Center Parcs? What would be your top tip for getting the most out of your visit?

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Painted Driftwood Wind Chimes

14 Mar

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We have been busy scouring the beaches for drift wood and other interesting items lately. The storms have washed up so much flotsam and jetsam, it is quite depressing when you think how much rubbish people throw away instead of putting it in the bin.

Anyway, we found some lovely smooth drift wood which we brought home after our last visit.Lily and Thomas put it to good use making pretend campfires, swords and bows and arrows.. then we decided to paint it and turn it into a nice Eco wind-chime.

We initially started to paint them an aboriginal way, using lots of little dots to make up a picture. Lily did this in school last year and loved it. I left the children to it and the driftwood soon became animals. We had a lizard, a tiger a whale and a robin to name a few. We used acrylic paint so hopefully these will last a good while.

We have hung it in the apple tree and it makes a very subtle noise when blowing in the wind. The children love it and of course it was all their own work so they are quite proud!

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With spring in the air, we painted these outside and made the most of the warm sunshine. The blossom is on the trees and plants  are starting to appear through the heavy, wet soil. A few more days like this and it should soon start to dry out. If you fancy getting outside and doing some nature-inspired painting, why not enter the Center Parcs Challenge at the same time? You could  win a family holiday, just go to the challenge page to find out how http://bit.ly/1kAhiA1

Braving beautiful Plymouth in the storms of 2014

9 Mar

This post is a little late, especially now that spring seems to have finally arrived (yippee!)

I just wanted to share a few pics of us braving the storms to get some wild and windy fresh air in February. I must admit I don’t really like being out in the wind, it always makes me nervous and I can’t stand being cold. Thank goodness for my coat with a decent hood!

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Plymouth took quite a battering in the storms this year with 40ft waves smashing into the coast and destroying local restaurants. Hundreds of trees have come down in and around the city, rivers have flooded and walls have come crashing down. Also of course our rail line was cut off at Dawlish during one of the storms and this has caused mayhem for commuters.  Hopefully we have now seen the last of it until next winter.

There’s no doubt the storm has been exciting in its own way and we couldn’t resist taking the children out to see some big waves (always staying safe of course). People will always talk about the storms of 2014 so here are some of our memories.

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Looking a little windswept!

Looking a little windswept!

We finished our walk off with a well-deserved cream tea in the Duttons Cafe on the Hoe. This is a lovely little cafe, the owners are so helpful and friendly. They offer lots of gluten-free options including these gorgeous scones. Definitely the best I have ever tasted!

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Thrifty Pirate Party

25 Feb

I thought we were coming to the end of birthday parties at home but oh no!!…  I did of course give in to pleading and begging from my very persuasive 4 year old and agreed to a pirate themed party at home.

We didn’t want to spend a huge amount of money, I don’t think it’s necessary to go over the top at this age. Good old pinterest came in handy for sourcing ideas and helping fuel my motivation which was somewhat lacking! As you know I am a huge fan of recycling so a lot of my ideas were focused on recycling what we already had.

We made use of a fantastic beach find. A wooden plank had been washed up during one of the storms so this came home with us to be used for our ‘Walk The Plank’ game. The children walked the plank and then they could go off to find some hidden chocolate coins. If they found a coin they could come back and have another go!

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We played lots of games which cost next to nothing.

Pass the treasure chest

The prizes are all in a Treasure Chest and the children pass the chest around in a circle. When the music stops they pick something out. I filled it with ‘recycled goodies’ (in other words, cracker toys or items from other parties that the children forgot we had!) I prefer to play this rather than the traditional pass the parcel as you don’t need to waste loads of paper.

Choc Ahoy

This idea was pinched from a friend of mine. She throws the best parties and my children always come home raving about the games. The children sit in a circle and you put a scarf, hat and gloves in the middle along with a big bar of chocolate and a knife and fork. The children throw the dice and if a child gets a six then they have to put on the clothing and then try to chop up the chocolate with the knife and fork. Over-sized gloves makes it a pretty funny, frustrating affair for the children but at least you know there is no fear of them spoiling their appetite!

Pirates Aboard

I printed out 6 different pirate themed images (pirate ship, captain hook, skull and crossbones etc) These pictures are spread out all over the floor. We stuck a list of the images on the wall and each image had a number next to it from 1 – 6. The children dance along to the music and when the music stops they jump onto one of the pictures. You then roll a dice and you call out the picture that coincides with that number. Any child that is on that particular picture wins a sweet! This game is cheap as chips. All you need is the pictures (again printed from the internet) and a packet of Haribos.

Ducky Ducky

This is such a fun game and I remember playing it at family gatherings with my grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. I remember laughing so much I could hardly speak and Thomas is much the same when we play it now. Everyone sits down and one person in the middle is blind-folded. Someone spins the blindfolded player around so that they do not know which way they are facing. They then sit on someones lap and say “Ducky Ducky”. The person whose lap they are sitting on has to reply ‘quack quack’ in a disguised voice. Needless to say this had everyone giggling and falling about…. brilliant.

We made most of the things for the goody bags ourselves. We made some great cardboard swords. I forgot to get a photo of these but you can see them here . We also made some lovely telescopes out of old cardboard tubes. I used the tubes from wrapping paper as these are much sturdier than your average toilet roll. All you need to do is cover them in black paper and then add some gold trim.

We also included some pirate colouring pages which I printed out for free. Just type in free pirate colouring pages in Google and you’ll find enough to keep them occupied for weeks!

We buried some real treasure and my husband drew a map to put in the goody bags so that the children can try to find it at a later date. It is buried elsewhere (at a secret National Trust location!) Two of the children went out last night to find it with their parents. They found the booty and were very excited judging by the photo that their mum sent me!!

We did buy a couple of bits for the party bags but I thought these were quite nice and I figured a compass and bubbles would probably go down well.

Pirate party favours from Dunelm Mill £1.29 for 4

Pirate party favours from Dunelm Mill £1.29 for 4

Decorations

I was going to make some paper bunting but decided to make some material ones that we could use in the little man’s bedroom afterwards. He loves it and the bunting only cost me £5.50 to make. I bought the material and bias binding on ebay. I will try to write-up a tutorial for making this at a later date.

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We had some fantastic signs at the front of the house which hubby designed. The children love them so much we have decided to leave them up for a few days. I hope they don’t scare the postman off?

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The Cake

I’m not really sure how thrifty the cake turned out to be compared to a ‘shop bought’ one. I initially purchased ready to roll chocolate icing which turned out to be a complete disaster. I had to peel it all off and start again with chocolate frosting. I made an enormous madeira cake which involved an awful lot of ingredients including 8 eggs. All in all I think it cost me around £13 to make and I could have bought one from the local supermarket for a lot less. BUT my children love their home-made birthday cakes and again, I just couldn’t say no!

It turned out quite well but I think what really made it were the Playmobil pirates which I borrowed from a friend, don’t they look great? If you are looking for a fail-safe birthday cake recipe then try this one for a madeira cake. I am the worlds worst cook but this cake came out perfectly. Of course decorating it was another matter and I don’t think I will be attempting this shaped cake again!

For lots more ‘pirate party’ ideas, check out my pinterest board.

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My letter to David Cameron

5 Feb

Dear Mr Cameron

Can we have a new Secretary of State for Education please? Can we have one that actually knows something about children and education?  I understand Mr Gove went to a private school which is all very well and lovely but he doesn’t know the first thing about state schools. Yes, he allegedly ‘consults’ with teachers before he comes up with his fanciful ideas but I’d love to know just which schools these teachers are from. You can bet your bottom dollar they are not from struggling state schools.

Improving education in schools will not happen by making the days longer. It will come about by investing in excellent teachers, listening to and respecting their views and by providing them with adequate support and resources to do their job. They are the experts when it comes to Education, not Mr Gove. Asking already over-stretched teachers to work longer hours will have them running for the door. That should bring an interesting end to his education reforms.

I always try to keep an open mind about change. I look at suggestions from both sides and  have always been very good at seeing things from other people’s point of view BUT, what planet is Mr Gove living on?? In a recent interview he said that if our children are in school for 10 hours per day, this still gives them plenty of ‘family time’. How does he come to this conclusion I wonder? If my children finish school at 6, we will be home at 6.15pm and they go to bed soon after 7pm. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for a family meal, let alone anything else. So, weekdays are written off, that means children will only get to spend time with their parents on a Saturday and Sunday. What about parents who have to work weekends? What about all the chores that working parents have to fit in at the weekend, like shopping, housework etc? Does Mr Gove really think that this is an acceptable amount of ‘family time’? If he does, then I pity his children.

If Mr Gove had an educational background then he would know that children learn through play and through exploring ideas themselves. They do not learn best when sat in a classroom for 10 hours having his regimented curriculum spouted at them. Children need time to play what THEY WANT TO PLAY, to use their imagination, to be free to come up with their own ideas and most of all they need time to rest and relax.  My children are exhausted at the end of the school day as it is.

Your Education Secretary has already done his best to destroy our quality family time. He has taken away our parental right to decide when we want to holiday as a family. Don’t get me wrong, I agree that parents who push the limits should be punished but to say that we cannot take our child out of school for even a couple of days in a year is harsh. For most families this means the end of any foreign holidays where children can learn new cultures and languages.

What Mr Gove  doesn’t seem to realise is that we have children because we want them. NOT because we want to pack them off to school for 10 hours a day. We actually want to see them grow and develop and we want to be the biggest factor in that. Otherwise we would just drop them off at the school gates at age 4 and collect them again at age 18.

Mr Gove bases a lot of his theories on the PISA results. Considering the number of different countries participating in this study varies from year to year, it is hardly an accurate comparison. One thing I did find interesting though is that one of the top performing countries, Korea, also reports having the unhappiest students. But hey, does it really matter if our children are unhappy? Mr Gove seems to think not.

Oh and I have to mention the idea of getting children to ‘mop floors and pick up litter’ as way of punishment for bad behaviour. I assume this is some kind of joke! If a child is disruptive in class and refuses to do what they have been told then what makes you think they will pick up a mop and set to work with it? They are more likely to use it as a weapon.

My perfect day at Center Parcs

25 Jan

This month Center Parcs are challenging bloggers to describe their perfect day at Center Parcs.

For my family, this would most definitely involve a lot of time in the sub-tropical pool. We LOVE the pool at Center Parcs, especially the outdoor area, the lazy river and the wave machine. My children would happily spend the whole day in the pool but we do tend to leave before we turn into a family of prunes.

Whilst watching the family videos on the Center Parcs website I heard one family refer to a ‘Baby Owl Handling experience’ Twit… Twoooo.. yes please! I would love to do this as I am crazy about owls. My husband would probably be very happy to have a go at the Aerial Adventure and my daughter may even give this a go too, depending how brave she was feeling. The thing we really love to do is to explore the park, either on foot or on our bikes. We love being at one with nature and making our own fun (although admittedly we do have to stop at EVERY playground that we come across!)

To complete the perfect day I would like a lovely meal at the Hucks Restaurant or The Pancake House. Both serve amazing food and are excellent at catering for coeliacs like myself. Just thinking about it is making my mouth water!

Back to the villa for hot chocolate and stories. On a perfect day the children would go to bed with no trouble at all and hubby and myself can sit back and enjoy a glass of wine or two….

‘I’m a Center Parcs Family Blogger and will be visiting Longleat village with my family. If you want to enter to win a place as a wildcard winner just go to the challenge page to find out how http://bit.ly/1gvBHBB

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