Stay active as a family this winter

5 ways to get active as a family this winter

In the winter months it can be so tempting to spend our evenings and weekends curled up warm at home.  If you have children though you’ll know how much they need to get out and about, to use their bodies and burn off some energy.

And really, we all know that we’ll feel better if we actually get up and get active instead of just hibernating.

If you’re not sure what to do together though, here are 5 ideas for activities you can try as a family this winter.

 

1. Get some wheels

One of the best ways to get out and active as a family is to go out for a bike ride.

Make sure everyone is kitted out with helmets and head out for a cycle together.  Here in Swansea there are some great places to go for a family bike ride, and the prom at Swansea bay is always bustling with people out on their bikes.

If you’re not really a biking family then you could go for a walk while the children zip around on scooters or roller skates.  My children were recently sent some heelys from Skates.co.uk to try out which they absolutely love.  They just need to master them properly before we head out for a good walk/skate around the park.

 

2. Visit a trampoline park

If it’s too cold and wet for you to want to head to the great outdoors, then a trampoline park is a great option for getting everyone active.

A lot of places now have kicked things up a gear and are so much more than just a room of trampolines.  You can find places with ninja warrior style assault courses, inflatables areas and so much more.

 

3. Go swimming

Another option that’s great for all ages is to head for the local swimming pool.

Depending on what we fancy at the time we either head to the LC2 which is more of a ‘fun’ pool with slides, a lazy river and a wave machine, or the national pool where we can get in a bit more actual swimming.

Wherever we go though the children love being in the water and we all feel nicely worn out by the time we get home!

And even though it’s too cold to actually swim in the sea we also love popping to the beach in the winter months for a paddle.

 

4. Set up an obstacle course at home

If you don’t even want to leave the house in the first place but still want to get everyone active then you can set up an obstacle course at home.

Put some cushions across the floor to jump across, create a ‘balance beam’ with washi tape on the floor and set up chairs and tables to climb over and under.   Games like hide and seek, and even party games like musical statues and musical bumps are also great fun ways to get everyone moving and away from screens for a bit.

 

5. Indoor rock climbing

For the more adventurous types, a home made obstacle course would be way too tame.  In that case, see if there’s an indoor climbing centre you could visit.

They’ll have qualified instructors to, literally, show you the ropes and you’ll all come away with a sense of achievement for trying something new and pushing yourself.  Most centres have different walls and set ups for every level of experience, so whether you’ve never climbed before or if you’re an experienced climber you’ll find something to suit your ability level.

 

So there you have it, a few ideas for different activities you can try this winter to get the whole family active.

What’s your favourite way to get your family moving?

 

Disclosure: this is a sponsored post

New year resolutions worth keeping

New year’s resolutions that are actually worth making

How many times have you made a new year’s resolution, only to give up with it a few weeks later?

We tell ourselves this is the year we’ll get in shape.  We vow to stop drinking and to cut sugar out of our diets.  We promise ourselves that we’ll make these huge life changes, and then beat ourselves up when we don’t see them through.

The problem is that these kinds of resolutions are generally about depriving ourselves in some way.  In the cold, dark days of January we try and cut out the things that we enjoy, the things that bring us pleasure, the things that brighten up our days.

This year though, I think we should all be trying something different.

 

This year we should be making resolutions that are actually worth keeping.

The kind that add to our lives.  Resolutions that bring us joy and contentment.  The type of things that make life better, happier, brighter for us and those around us.

 

Focus on kindness.

One of the best resolutions to make is to be more kind.  To other people and to yourself.

Make a promise to yourself to work on stopping negative self-talk.  If you wouldn’t say something to your best friend, then don’t say it to yourself.

Be kind to your body.  Learn to love it for everything it’s done and everything it still lets you do.  Remember the line from the sunscreen song, “Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own”.

Make a point of treating everyone you come across with kindness.

Hold doors open, smile, let someone go in front of you at the tills, offer compliments, buy flowers for your partner, write a thank you note to the school lollipop lady, let other people live their lives without comment if what they do doesn’t harm anyone else.

Just be kind.

The world would be so much better if we all put more kindness out there.

 

Manage your time better.

I don’t just mean learning time management tricks to be more efficient, although this is a great skill to master.

What I mean is really look at how you’re spending your time.

Make sure you’re actually using your time in a way that brings you and your family joy.

When you’re with your children, make sure you’re really present with them.  Instead of trying to multitask, take one thing at a time.  Plan an evening routine so that you have time to read with your children every night.  Schedule in a few hours each weekend to get out as a family and explore the local woods or park, no phones allowed.

 

Don’t postpone joy.

This is a big one for me, and one that I’ve been working on for years now.

If there is something that will bring you joy, and it won’t harm anyone else if you do it, then go for it.

Now. 

Don’t wait for an imagined ‘perfect time’.

Eat the fancy box of chocolates.

Wear the new shoes on the school run.

Crack open the bottle of champagne in the fridge and celebrate a random Tuesday.

Stop saving things for ‘best’.  This is your life, right now, this is it.  And it is so fleeting.  Make a point of finding as much joy as you can, in the big things and the many, many small moments.

 

Have you made any resolutions this year?

Do you think you might try and of these suggestions instead?

Chocolate torte with merlyn

Merlyn chocolate torte recipe

Most families have a particular dessert that they enjoy at Christmas.

It might be a traditional Christmas pudding, a trifle or a slice of Christmas log.  When I was younger we would have Tunis cake with cream which I hardly ever see in the shops these days.  And for my husband’s family it’s been a chocolate torte that’s been the perfect ending to a Christmas dinner for years.

It’s become a running joke that whoever in the family (and extended family) who isn’t in Swansea for Christmas that year gets sent a photo of the torte to show them what they’re missing out on.  It’s that good.

And it’s not just for Christmas either, it’s the perfect thing to make to end any special dinner party or meal you’re planning at any time of the year.  It’s simple and chocolatey and rich and once you try it I promise it will become your go-to dessert to make any time you want something indulgent to share with family and friends.

 

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 450g dark chocolate (ideally 70% cocoa solids)
  • 5 tablespoons liquid glucose
  • 5 tablespoons Merlyn Welsh cream (or any other Irish cream liqueur)
  • 570ml double cream (at room temperature)
  • 75g Amaretti biscuits

To serve:

  • Cocoa powder for dusting the top of the torte
  • Single cream

 

 

Here’s how to make it:

1. The first thing to do is get a 23cm cake tin and line the bottom of it with greaseproof paper or baking parchment.  Then lightly brush the sides of the tin with oil.  At this point you can also get the cream out of the fridge so it’s not too cold when you come to use it.

 

2. Next you need to crush up the amaretti biscuits.

We tend to put them in a plastic bag and then bash them with a rolling pin until they’re really finely crushed.  You don’t want any big lumps of biscuit left.

Once they’re all crushed sprinkle the crumbs on the base of the cake tin.

 

3. Then you need to break the chocolate up into pieces and put them in a heat proof bowl with the Merlyn and the liquid glucose.

Put a little bit of water into a saucepan and put it on the heat until it’s just about simmering.  Then sit the heat proof bowl over it, making sure that the bowl doesn’t touch the water.

Stir the chocolate mixture over the heat until it’s all melted together and looks smooth and glossy.  Once it’s all melted take the mixture off the heat and leave it to cool for about 5 minutes.

 

4. While the chocolate mixture is cooling you can get the cream ready.  Pour the cream into a bowl and whisk it until it’s thickened up but not yet forming peaks.

 

5. Next, fold half of the cream into the chocolate mixture.  Then fold that mixture into the rest of the cream.

At this stage it might look a bit ‘wrong’, but stick with it!  Keep gently mixing until it’s all smoothly blended together.

 

6. Spoon the mixture into the tin that you prepared earlier.

You can even the mixture out a bit by tapping the tin.  Then cover the tin with clingfilm and pop it in the fridge to chill overnight.

 

7. When you’re ready to serve the torte just run a knife around the edge of the tin to loosen it a bit, and then turn it out on to a serving plate.  Which means doing that fancy-looking thing that they do on bake off where they put a plate upside down on top of the tin and then flip the whole thing over.

 

8. Dust the top of the torte with some cocoa powder and then serve slices of it with cold single cream.

 

I hope you enjoy this torte as much as we do!

Just be aware that it is really quite rich, so you don’t need huge portions.  But you do need the cream, it cuts through the richness and makes the whole thing absolutely perfect.

We generally make it with Merlyn Welsh cream, but you can use any Irish cream liqueur like Baileys if that’s what you have in.  You can also replace the Merlyn with rum or even bourbon.  We’ve tried it with both of these and it always tastes amazing.

Host a great Christmas party

How do you host a great Christmas party

Hosting a private party at home or for the company’s holiday party, in this case, for Christmas, is not an easy thing.

It normally involves a big venue and a special celebration involving a lot of people.  And, as a host, you want the party to be memorable and successful.

Planning is the key to a successful party. Whether you are hosting a Christmas party of your own or using a service from a professional event planner, it’s still a hassle. You need a guide and a few important tips to help you get started.

Planning can be simple, but when it comes to the actual organizing of this and that you will need a lot of help from your coworkers or friends and family members. Otherwise, you will work under pressure alone.  So if you do what the event specialists do, and get everyone involved in the process, things will be much easier to manage and the job will be done in time.

So, what does it take to host a Christmas party?   I’ve got some tips from the professionals at Engog UK to share with you today.

 

Set the perfect date

Why is finding the right date for the party so crucial? Because, Christmastime is one of the busiest times of the year, other than New Years, and everyone’s calendars quickly fill up with festive parties and events.

If you’re hosting a Christmas party for your company, you have to get everyone to come since they too have other places to go for Christmas. Whether you’re hosting your own party or the company’s, it’s best to send out a memo asking which dates are best. Then, you can pick a date from the majority. To get a good turnout at the party, make sure you send all your guests the “save the date” email or memo.

 

Estimate the budget

Budgeting is also is key to a great party. Christmas parties in particular will need lots of organizing, such as Christmas ornaments, a venue, food and drinks, entertainment and many more. So, the amount of budget you have will determine the things you will have for the party. When your budget is quite small, then you might need to reduce some supplies for the party. So, budgeting your Christmas party early on will help you determine the things you really need and those things you can do without.

 

The type of Christmas party you want to hold

Another important thing you need to do as a host for a great Christmas party is to decide on the type of Christmas party you’ll throw. This may include factors such as the number of guests coming,location, budget, etc. You might also have to consider if it’s best to have a daytime or nighttime Christmas party. In addition, you have to consider budgeting for the guests’ spouses and kids if they’ll be coming too. All sorts of other things might need to be considered too. So, for you as the host, you might want to ask other people to get involved and exchange ideas.

 

Music and Entertainment

When your Christmas party is in a bigger venue, your guests will assume there’s some music and entertainment in the party. It is a common thing to have some sort of entertainment in a big event like this. You may consider hiring a band or DJ or just using the venue’s sound system. And for entertainment, you can involve coworkers to participate if they’ve got talents that they want to showcase. Meanwhile, if you’re having a home-based Christmas party, turn up your holiday music CD player. As for entertainment, bring out some card games or other fun games to get everyone involved and enjoying themselves.

 

Search for a venue

If you decide on doing the party out of the office or not at your home, then finding a venue for a special Christmas party and booking it early on is also important.

You never know when someone else will book the best venue near you since a lot of people will be booking parties at this time of year.  Also keep in mind, once you’ve found the venue, that as it’s the busiest time of the year they might not give discounts. You can try to negotiate and ask what things you can get included in the price of hiring the venue.  You might find that they’ll be able to supply some Christmas decorations, furniture, equipment, and so on.  You never know if you don’t ask!

 

Theme your Christmas party

Having a theme for your Christmas party is important too. Because more than likely you’ll want it to look fancy, fun and pretty. Involve your team of planners in deciding what theme is best. Such as WinterWonderland, Christmas Cookies, The Masquerade Ball and many more. You can even think about asking your guests to dress up to suit the theme of the party.

 

Food considerations

If it’s a smaller party at your very own home, simple meals and snacks are generally the best option. When the party is bigger, you can consider hiring a caterer. They will have various menus available that are great for Christmas. Or else, you let them know the food you need by request. Of course, make sure the food and catering will fit into your overall budget

 

Provide drinks

Having a separate bar or minibar is also good since most guests will be up for drinking and partying at this time of year. Cocktails, wine and other booze can be a bit pricey. But, there’s an alternative. For a bigger party, you can set up a free welcoming drink, but guests would have to pay a small amount per drink, depending on what you’re serving, for seconds, thirds or more.

 

Invitations

Once you’ve got all the details sorted out, make spend a bit of time on the invitations. Make up a list of guests that are invited and decide on the best way to reach out to them with an invitation.  Depending on whether you’re arranging an office party or a private one you might choose to contact everyone by email, text, phone or traditional paper/card invitations.

 

Now, with all those tips, do you think you have what it takes to host a great Christmas party?

 

Disclosure: this is a collaborative post

Pork bolognese with spaghetti

Our family favourite pork bolognese recipe #AD

This post is part of the Family Favourite campaign, sponsored by Love Pork.

When it comes to cooking for the family it can be really hard to find meals that everyone will enjoy.

My children have both been quite fussy eaters at different times, and it can still be hard to get them to eat new foods.  One meal that we’ve started making recently though looks like it might be a winner.

Steve makes a delicious spaghetti bolognese that we both love, and so does Rhys.  And Nerys even said she liked it when she tried it so I’m hopeful that one day soon we can all eat it together.

The recipe we use is one that Steve has been playing around with and adapting for a few months now, and is based on a traditional ragu.

We made it with pork mince last week and it was absolutely delicious.

 

If you’d like to give it a try, here’s what you’ll need:

  • 500g pork mince

 

  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 sticks of celery, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped or grated
  • 5 mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 courgette, chopped or grated
  • 1 tsp chopped garlic

 

  • 2/3 tube tomato puree
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Mixed herbs
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp yeast extract
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard

 

  • 1 litre stock
  • Small glass of white wine, ideally dry
  • 1 bag of baby spinach
  • 250ml whole milk

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Heat a small amount of oil in a pan and then add the pork mince.  Cook the mince until it is just starting to brown, breaking it up a little with a wooden spoon as it cooks.

2. Once cooked through tip the mince into a sieve over another pan or bowl, to drain off any fat.  If you use lean mince then there won’t be much fat at all to drain off.  Then you can just put it to one side while you cook the vegetables.

3. Add a small knob of butter to the pan you cooked the mince in.

4. Over a medium heat cook the onions, celery, carrots, mushrooms, courgette and garlic.

5. Keep stirring the veg until it’s all cooked through and softened.

6. Add the tomato puree and stir through the veg.

7. Add the mince back into the pan and stir into the vegetables.

8. Season with salt and pepper.

9. Add the wine, and then the stock to the pot and stir well.

10. Add mixed herbs (about a tablespoon), honey, yeast extract and mustard.

11. Keep on a low heat and stir as the sauce reduces.

12. Once the sauce has reduced add the milk and spinach, then cook for another 20 minutes.

13. Towards the end of the cooking time put your spaghetti on to cook.

14. Serve the spaghetti with the bolognese and top with grated Parmesan, black pepper and mixed herbs.

 

The beauty of this recipe is that you can really do whatever you like with it.

You can chop all of the vegetables up really small to create a more hidden-veg type sauce.  We chop the veg pretty small when we make it, and grate the carrots, and you’d be lucky to be to pick out any pieces of vegetable once it’s cooked.

If you’d rather though you can chop everything more roughly and have a chunky vegetable bolognese.

As far as the vegetables go you can play around with the amounts that you put in and the types of vegetables that you include to suit your family’s tastes.  You could use different types of mushrooms, add in some mixed peppers or even try some chopped aubergine in there.

 

If you have a bit more time to give to this meal you can also do what we do some weeks and cook it nice and slowly.

We use a dutch oven to cook our bolognese on the hob following the instructions up to stage 11.  Then we add the spinach and then transfer the pot to the oven to reduce and thicken up.  It sits in the oven at about 100 degrees for 3 hours, before we take it out, give it a good stir and add the milk.  Then we pop it back in the oven for another hour to reduce down again.

 

What I really love about this recipe is that it’s so tasty you forget how much veg is crammed in there, and you have the benefits from the meat too.

Not only can pork be lean, but it’s naturally rich in protein, low in salt and provides ten essential vitamins and minerals that supports good health and wellbeing. These are: thiamin (vitamin B1), niacin (vitamin B3), vitamins B6 and B12, riboflavin, zinc, potassium, phosphorus, selenium and pantothenic acid.

With the pork mince as a base you can change up the flavour of this recipe by using different herbs and spices.  And the ragu is a great, easy thing to make that can be used in so many different ways.

It can be served with any kind of pasta, made into a lasagne or put into a cottage pie.  It’s also a great recipe to make in bulk, just increase the amounts of all the ingredients.  Then you can freeze portions ready for a quick, delicious meal another day.

For more great recipes, head to www.lovepork.co.uk.

 

Disclaimer: I’m working in a paid relationship with Love Pork and BritMums highlighting family favourites, but all recipes and opinions are my own.

Keep your home safe this Christmas

Home Alone 5: Keeping your home safe this Christmas

One thing to take from the Home Alone films is that we will do remarkable things to protect our homes from burglars. Criminals preying on empty homes over the Christmas period may seem outrageous, but the festivities really do bring with it, ‘Burglary Season’. Nest’s report on Burglary in Britain reported that the highest number of home invasions are committed between November and January. This is facilitated by shorter hours of daylight and homes filled to the brim with presents. Colin Port, Ex-Chief of Police Bristol, said: 

“As winter takes hold of Britain, the days get shorter and the nights get longer, thus providing additional cover for criminals. But this is just one factor in the rise of burglaries. The cold weather also plays a role. People are much more likely to close their curtains and avoid going out for an evening stroll, meaning less chance of a neighbour spotting someone up to no good. It’s also present buying season — making these months a relative gold mine for thieves.”

It seems that we need to up our security measures over Christmas. The question is: how? In the Burglary in Britain report, questionnaire respondents shared their makeshift security schemes that sound straight out of the imagination of Home Alone’s Kevin. One person admitted to placing a mannequin in front of the window in the pretence that someone is in, while another announced that they set out booby traps in the form of their children’s toys. 

Although these ideas are certainly creative, reformed thief Michael Fraser gives five top security tips on security systems, lights, and cameras. Luckily, you don’t have to take extreme measures and create elaborate booby traps: home security technology such as mobile application development has you covered!

Top tips:

DIY Home Security

If you’re strapped for cash over the festive period, DIY home security systems are ideal for you. With DIY homes security kits, you have to assemble and install the cameras, lights, etc. yourself. But it will save you lots of money on installation fees. These systems are normally self-monitored, so you will have to connect your kit up with your security app of choice. You’ll get notifications directly to your phone, but the emergency services won’t be contacted automatically — that part is up to you!

Professional Installation

If you’re willing to splash some cash on home security, professional installation will certainly provide peach of mind. A professional security set up will guarantee you 24-hour surveillance and the most high-tech equipment such as touch-screen hubs that contain RF, Wi-Fi, Zigbee, and Z-Wave radios. Definitely a level up from carefully constructed Lego booby traps!

Home Automation

Having your systems integrated is perfect for giving the illusion that your home isn’t empty (and no, we’re not talking about cut-out cardboard figures dancing at the pull of a string!) Home automation allows you to time lights to go on and off at certain times, or when motion is detected. You could set it to make doors unlock when a smoke alarm goes off or set a camera to begin recording as soon as a sensor is triggered. Home automation allows you to personalise your home security to suit your exact needs. 

AI Assistants

Alexa and Google Assistants have proved to be useful in securing your home! SimpliSafe is a recent addition to Google Assistant which allows you to control your security system remotely — even from your smart watch. Easily integrated with your other devices, AI assistants are a great method of home automation. You can also set them to begin recording when triggered by voices, allowing you to gather crucial evidence on the off-chance that a burglar does succeed in breaking in.

 

It’s important that you feel secure in your own home over the holidays — they’re about relaxing and spending time with family. So don’t worry about burglars and make your house thief-proof.  Install effective systems such as SimpliSafe to allow you to check your home from your smartphone. Luckily, there are plenty of options for cyber security on your phone, such as The Blackphone 2, developed by Silent Circle, which carefully encrypts all your security information. Layers of security might sound complicated, but once you’ve got everything set up, you’ll be able to enjoy your Christmas knowing your home is in good hands!

Disclosure: this is a collaborative post

Sources 
https://www.onepoll.com/_wp/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/NEST-Burglary-Britain-Report.pdf
https://huskyintelligence.com/ai-security/ 
https://uk.pcmag.com/home-security/74995/the-best-smart-home-security-systems
https://www.247homerescue.co.uk/5-ways-to-keep-your-home-safe-this-christmas/
Dealing with car sickness kids

Dealing with travel sickness in kids

Travel sickness in kids can put parents on tenterhooks even for short road trips. It can turn what was supposed to be an exciting adventure into a nightmare.

Around one in three people are susceptible to motion sickness but it is much more common among children, for reasons not fully understood.

Travel sickness is a complex syndrome believed to be caused by conflicting signals in body senses and often stops when you switch activities or cease the motion. When your kid experiences motion sickness, they usually feel dizzy, develop a fever, or feel nauseous. The illness can really dampen the mood of your trip for everyone.

Fortunately, you can manage travel sickness in kids with the following tips.

Ensure your kid sits in the right position

Choosing the correct sitting location in the car can significantly reduce motion sickness. Therefore, you should place your child’s car seat at the backseat of your vehicle, preferably in the middle.

The middle gives an uninterrupted view of the horizon through the front window.

Focusing on a single view will prevent sickness by controlling their senses. You should also advise your kids to rest their heads against the seat. It will control the movements of their heads, which can otherwise cause disorientation.

 

Avoid screens and make sure they do not read in the car

Kids love playing video games on the road or watching movies in the backseat. However, if they are prone to travel sickness, video games and movies are a big no-no. The stimulations used in movies cause conflicts in their senses, worsening the symptoms.

Reading also confuses the sensory elements because the ears can detect motion, but the eyes are fixed to the book. You should find low-tech games for your kids to enjoy on the road.

Better yet, they can listen to music or audiobooks.

 

Find the appropriate time to travel

Children are far less likely to suffer from motion sickness when they fall asleep. So it makes sense to try and plan your trip around your child’s naptime.

If your kid is sleeping, their visual signals are non-existent, meaning there are minimal chances of conflicts in senses.

Also travelling at night is an excellent way to eliminate carsickness.

 

Kids should not travel on an empty stomach

Many parents think that travelling on an empty stomach prevents motion sickness. The reality is it worsens the symptoms of nausea. While they should not overeat, they should have some food in their stomachs before departure. Give your child easy to digest meals or bland snacks that are rich in protein.

You should avoid greasy and spicy fast food before a long ride as they tend to cause a stomach upset.

To prevent nausea, stick to ginger and peppermint snacks. A few sips of water can also reduce the likelihood of your trip being messy due to carsickness.

 

Watch out for symptoms

It is critical to prevent the symptoms of motion sickness as soon as it starts since they tend to escalate quickly. The illness may not stop until you cease moving entirely. Therefore, if your child starts experiencing symptoms like dizziness or nausea, encourage them to do some breathing exercises to normalise their stomachs. If they are developing a fever, have them remove some clothes.

If they can also close their eyes for a couple of minutes, the feeling of dizziness will stop. However, if the symptoms intensify, pull over and let them rest for a few minutes. It would help if you kept the car window open for fresh air circulation. Excellent ventilation reduces the symptoms significantly.

 

Try medication

When preventive measures seem ineffective, you can seek advice from your paediatrician. They will likely recommend medication that prevents nausea on the road. While Dramamine is safe for kids, it has side effects. Your kid may not be able to enjoy their trip since they will arrive at the destination feeling drowsy. Medicine can only be given to children over two years old. Therefore, if your child is below two, try other techniques of managing motion sickness.

 

There are numerous ways to control motion sickness, but the problem is that not all of them are effective for all children.  For example, acupressure or simple distraction might work for some kids, but not for others.  Fortunately, when your kid hits adolescence, they will hopefully have outgrown the sickness.  It’s just a case of handling it as best you can in the mean time!

 

Disclosure: this is a collaborative post