1 November 2017

What our family has been up to October 2017

So these monthly family portraits and family catch-ups are back on again! The last time I wrote one of these posts was in August, where it was all about camping. I missed out on September, as I just physically couldn't get myself on the computer for ages. Blame it on tiredness, feeling a bit sick, and just plain forgetting that it was the end of the month and we hadn't taken a family picture yet... Any multitude of reasons! But I am glad to be back writing these again, and really looking forward to looking through all our pictures at the end of the year and seeing how our family has changed throughout the months.

This past October we have got hooked on Game of Thrones, enjoyed getting dressed up for Halloween, and been rather sickly family, with me having repeated colds, hubby getting a trapped nerve and slowly healing his cracked ribs, and our daughter just not getting rid of her impetigo. Poor little one is now on oral antibiotics.  

That said, this October I have loved:
  • Game of Thrones! We started watching the programme in September - we are now just about to embark on Season 7. 
  • Jon Snow ;) 
  • Finally getting back to blogging after a month long break
  • Doing a sugar skull make-up for Halloween. 
  • Reading books again - got Zadie Smith Swing Time as a commuting read.
  • The return of Stranger Things on Netflix - and of course the new Start Trek too!
  • Seeing how Aili is loving practising her letters, and writing three letter words all by her self!  

This month my daughter Aili has enjoyed:
  • My Little Pony - we hear the theme tune sang at us at least once a day. 
  • My Little Pony film. Very exciting and quite scary, she cried and wanted to go back home a few times during the film, but bravely sat in mama's lap through the scary bits and did enjoy the film in the end. 
  • At school she is doing lots and lots of "gift guides" it appears. They cut things out of toy catalogues and glue them on an A4. We now know that My Little Pony, Shimmer & Shine, Paw Patrol, babies, Barbies, doll houses, My Little Pony castles, amongst about a million of other things are expected for Christmas. 
  • Having her very first sleepover at her best friends house. And her best friend also coming over to ours for a sleepover. 
  • Going to a baby disco at Rave-a-Roo.
  • Being the Chief Toy Tester for the near-future Christmas gift guide on this blog!
  • Playing with her new mobile phone - KidiCom Max, which she loves.  
  • Having had a massive haul of Halloween candy on her first proper trick and treating experience. 

Hubby has loved:
  • Game of Thrones, just like me!
  • Daenerys Stormborn ;) 
  • Half-term, and having the little one home. 
  • Having the little monkey enjoy her time with nanny and us being able to have a couple of date nights. 
  • Halloween and Rave-a-Roo baby disco.
  • Getting two big contracts for work!

 So that was our October. How was yours?

You might also like: How did July 2017 go for our family? and What have we been up to June 2017?

24 October 2017

What we think of the home security system Y-Cam

Recently I got a Y-Cam home security alarm for a review. A home security system has been one of those things I've wanted in my home for ages now. It's been the combination of a slightly anxious nature, reading too many real crime stories online and an overactive imagination. Touch wood, we've never been burgled, but as we live in an end of terrace home it's been one of the things that do make you worry at times. Having a home alarm system has helped my mind ease a lot. 

Y Cam Protect alarm home security system bundle

As for the home security system, I've been very pleased with our Y-Cam - it was easy to install, has been easy to use with apps on our smartphones and works well. It alerts us via noise and a mobile notification if alarms are triggered - obviously it's only ever been just us forgetting the alarm was on and walking in! You can have different levels of service - we don't pay anything monthly but if you want additional services such as recording on a camera (if you have one) or SMS alert messages, you can opt for one for £5.99 a month.  

Our bundle is the Y-Cam Protect. It comes with the hub, one remote, one motion alarm and one access alarm (used on a door or window). The amount of alarms in this package is perfect for a flat. It is also just about enough for a normal sized house, if you can position the motion alarm in a sensible way. That said, for a house I would recommend getting a more substantial version, or perhaps buying one or two more access alarms to properly cover the whole house. 

our living room

So what have I been particularly impressed by Y-Cam system?
  • Easy to use: I installed the system and apps in less than half an hour. You literally just plug it in the router, add the motion and access alarms on your app and stick them where you want. Easy to use also on your mobile via an app. 
  • Smartphone application: Instead of a remote you can use the app on a smartphone. You can turn it on an off anywhere with internet, so even if you forget to turn it on before leaving, it's not a problem. You can link several apps, so everyone in your home can use it via a smartphone. You also get notifications on your mobile if someone activates the alarm, or if alarm is triggered.  
  • Cost: The bundles are very reasonably priced for home security systems. Ours costs £149.99 which is very affordable for a home security system. You can have bigger bundles of course, or add to the bundle, which also increases the cost.  
  • Responsiveness: I've tested the alarm myself obviously, with accidentally walking in the room, and yes - it works really well. The motion alarm has a great reach! 
  • Adaptability: You can buy additional motion and access alarms so you can fully cover your house. You can also get a camera, internal and/or external, so you can check on your house when away. 
What could be improved with the Y-Cam system?
  • The alarm sound: To be honest, the alarm sound is quit quiet, and could be difficult to hear upstairs if you were sleeping. This could be improved if you could purchase an additional internal siren to use upstairs - none were available when I checked. 
  • Internet-only for a non-subscription version: As part and parcel, if you want the additional cover which is not only reliant on WiFi, you have to pay - £5.99 a month. You get additional benefits too, such as more customisable cover of the house (use only part of the alarms for example), camera recording and logs and SMS messages when alarms triggered. This is standard for home security systems so not a real negative - but worth remembering that full cover requires some extra cash on a monthly basis. 

our kitchen

Overall I have been very pleased with our Y-Cam home security system. We have the bare-bones version but we find it is sufficient to provide a decent level of cover. The biggest benefit I think is how easy the system is to use via a smartphone app - you can literally turn it on anywhere there is either WiFi or 3G, and you also get notifications via the app if the system has been activated or alarms triggered. 

Have you guys ever had home security systems? Have they eased your minds?

17 October 2017

Hey blog - It's been a while

You know when sometimes you mean to do something but just never get around to it? And then you think you should really do your return to it properly. Plan perhaps. Come back with a bang. And you just don't.  And you still don't.  And suddenly it's taken a ridiculous time and you just feel a bit embarrassed about going back.  

Well. That's just what has happened with my blogging. And coincidentally, also me going to the gym. 

So I figured I'll just get back on the horse. No special planning. No special bang. Just here. Writing where I can (and also packing my gym bag and scheduling that session in my calendar). 

Recently I've been terribly tired and lethargic. Coming back home all I've wanted to do is eat, watch Game of Thrones and sleep, in just that order. So that's what I've done with my days. Wake up, go to work, come home, watch telly, faff on social media, go to sleep. Rinse and repeat. After a day spent staring at the computer at my day job, opening up the screen at night has felt nauseating. So I haven't.  

But the way I see it, it's OK to take a break. It is good to not try and push yourself when all you are thinking about is rest. It is important to listen to yourself. Our lives are stressful enough as it is, with the never-ending cycle of climbing the greasy pole, school runs, work meetings, school meetings, laundry, cleaning, food shopping... Sometimes rather than just trying to do it all and making never-ending lists, it is important to prioritise rest and recuperation so you can get back on the horse properly. Just do the bare minimum and move on. 

There are a few things I have found help when you are feeling stressed and overworked and need to chill a bit:
  1. Grab a ready-made meal on the way home or work, rather than battle through trying to cook something. No shame in that!
  2. Get a girly, easy-to-read magazine for the commute to avoid answering the email mountain.
  3. Take the time to do something nice for yourself, like a manicure or a putting on a face mask or a nice, long, hot bath.
  4. Find a good box set to binge on. 
  5. Stretch and breath. 
  6. Get to bed before 10PM and for the love of god, don't set your alarm any sooner than  you absolutely at the latest have to get up. 
  7. Treat yourself to a nice cup of milk and a good quality chocolate. The milk chocolate bars with added sea salt are divine. 
  8. Remember that no-one is irreplaceable at work or other engagements. Delegate and prioritise what you can. 
  9. Say no to new responsibilities and good-bye to some old ones. Just say no more often, full stop.
  10. And remember - this too shall pass.   
So here I am again, back on the horse. I've been doing all the above steps to work myself past the lull, and it has helped. 

What kind of things do you do when all you can do is the bare minimum?

15 September 2017

How to spend a family weekend in Winchester

We very much enjoyed our recent weekend family trip to Winchester. One of my recent travel pledges has been to go and visit places outside London too. Whilst we enjoy exploring the nation's capital, there are so many fabulous places to see outside the Big Ol'Smoke too, and I have been itching to go and see them. When we were invited to visit Winchester as part of the Creative Winchester campaign I was more than excited. Within this post I'll tell you all about what we experienced and how we found Winchester, and add some top tips for families too. 

Please note, this post is written in collaboration with Visit Winchester. 

flowers in winchester park

How to spend a weekend in Winchester with kids - ideas for a family weekend!

winchester riverside

girl winking

winchester river

I loved walking around Winchester. The town is seriously picturesque, packed with historical tit-bits. It was by far the most important cities medieval England had and the closest thing to a capital. Winchester also housed the then richest man in the country, the Bishop of Winchester. You can still walk amongst the ruins of the old bishop's palace, Wolvesey Castle, where Mary Tudor had her lavish wedding reception after being married in the Winchester Cathedral

More modern times have seen the Cathedral as the final resting place for Jane Austen, just a stone throw away from her the last house she lived in. Nowadays Winchester is the watercress capital of England, thanks to the chalky, watercress-friendly river that runs through it. They even host a Watercress Festival every May. Incidentally, one of the most pleasant walks in Winchester must be the riverfront, lushiously green plants lining the clear waters. On your walk you can also spot a section of the old Roman Wall. It is pretty crazy to think how much history this tiny town packs in itself.

The modern town is quaint as well, with pretty alleyways, and very very nice shopping facilities indeed, with a rather nice-looking high street with the more upmarket shops as well as independent retailers. There were many rather tempting looking shops we didn't have time to pop by, fortunately for the benefit of my wallet.

wolvesey castle ruins

winchester new bishops palace with warped windows

winchester gate

mum and daughter in winchester

oldest part of winchester - yellow middle-ages houses

winchester cathedral on a cloudy day

purple flowers and winchester street

We got to experience some of the best bits of Winchester, so here are the highlights and my recommendations for when you visit there. 

Where to eat:

Winchester hosts many nice restaurants, from celebrity-chef led places to real local delights. For a lunch or a coffee stop our tour guide recommended Chococo, a perfect place to enjoy a sweet treat, and Cathedral Refectory, a popular lunch stop right near the Cathedral.

We can also definitely recommend Kyoto Kitchen, a contemporary Japanese restaurant much-loved by Winchester locals, for either lunch or dinner. First, I have to say, I've lived in Japan and I have worked in Japanese restaurants, so I know my sashimi so to speak. Kyoto Kitchen was hands down the best Japanese food I have had. The food was very Japanese, but with a contemporary edge to it and a dash of fine dining and a sprinkle of experimentalism, and it was just the most delectable combination.

We got to sample a huge selection of the menu and everything was top quality. The more adventurous starters must have been the beef tataki, a sort of a seared beef carpaccio with it's citrusy ponzu sauce, and the homemade chilli sauce with the deep fried squid. As for sushi and sashimi, the cherrywood smoked salmon sashimi and the Winchester Roll, rolled in locally grown wasabi leaf, were real highlights. The latter was a delicious mix of seaweediness of the wasabi leaf, saltiness of smoked trout and sweetness of the mango sauce. My husband on the other hand raved about the Tuna Tartare, with it's barbeque-like spiciness giving the dish a real kick. For mains we had salmon and seabass - both gorgeously prepared, with traditional Japanese flavours such as miso and ginger done in a fresh way. My fussy daughter on the other hand was very taken by the ebi tempura (deep fried king prawn) and ika kara-age (deep fried squid) - apparently the owner's young children fans of these dishes too, alongside the edamame beans.

As Kyoto Kitchen is a small restaurant, table reservation is recommended, especially during weekend evenings. They are welcoming to families and high chairs should be available too, although as it leans on the finer dining side lunch is probably better if you have a rowdy kid in tow!

street in winchester

kyoto kitchen in winchester shop front

japanese gyoza dumplings

japanese beef carpaccio dish

sushi dishes in kyoto kitchen

grating fresh wasabi

miso-covered salmon at kyoto kitchen

What to do as a family:

The town is a beautiful place to walk around. The riverside is a must visit, and the Roman Wall adds a bit of a history to it. The Winchester Cathedral and Wolvesey Castle are the two main historical features worth seeing in minimum. Wolvesey Castle, or the old bishop's palace, is now in ruins having been destroyed in the 17th century. The new bishop's palace was built right next to it, but unfortunately partly on the old moat and one wing had to be completely removed due to structural damage. When walking past the new bishop's palace check for warped windows which are still visible! Other than the historical sights, just walking around the pretty town is a nice way to pass time, and checking out the shopping too. 

A bit outside the town is the Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium, which houses a huge amount of science-related activities for kids. You best drive up there or take the bus, as it isn't walking distance away. It caters for all ages, although older children will get more out of the science experiments. As an adult I found quite fun, and enjoyed trying wheelchair basketball and brainwave games, and I think older children would love the centre. Our four year old found many fun things to do too. The small outdoors play area and the inside soft play area will help in entertaining the littlest ones of the family. The planetarium hosts different shows during the day, so check the age recommendations and timings before getting there if you are keen on seeing one. There is a small cafe so you can spend all day there if you wish, although I'd stay clear of the machine-made coffee.

animal xrays in science centre

science centre from inside

girl standing on a podium in science centre

Marwell Zoo is another place to visit close-by to Winchester, and warrants at minimum four hours. I would make it a day trip really. Marwell Zoo is described as a walking safari, and that is what it certainly felt like. In many places you came unbelievably close to the animals, with either just the moats or a fence separating you. You felt you were really in their presence. I was especially impressed by seeing the tigers pacing past just a few meters from us and seeing the rhinos walking on the grassy fields maybe ten meters away. It was incredible. In many instances the views to animals were uninhibited by glass or wire, and you felt like you really were on a safari. We saw many animals we had never seen before, such as snow leopards and rhinos, which was quite special.  

There was also a land train with stops across the zoo which is useful with smaller children or if you don't want to walk too much, and a 15 minute rail train too, likely to appeal to the younger ones. There were several outdoor play areas for kids of different ages too, so the kids get to let off steam between checking out the animals. Many families bring in picnics as there are several good places to set yourself up dotted across the park, but you can eat at the park too, and the food is what you would expect - sandwiches, burgers, and so on on the slightly pricier side. We ended up skipping lunch as we had had a huge hotel breakfast and couldn't stomach the idea of even more food and opted for coffees - decent-quality and very well needed by the afternoon!

tiger walking past a dad and daughter

an emu at marwell zoo

mum and daughter looking at birds at marwell zoo

land train at marwell zoo

mum and daughter looking at each other

keeper at marwell zoo feeding meerkat

meerkat standing at marwell zoo

dad and daughter looking at animals

marwell zoo signposts

rhino in marwell zoo

mum and daughter pointing at rhinos at marwell zoo

mum an daughter watching rhinos at a zoo

Where to sleep:

And speaking of breakfast, it brings me to where we stayed over the weekend. We slept at the Holiday Inn Winchester which is located almost next to Winchester Science Centre. As usual for our experience of Holiday Inn locations, this was a pleasant stay with comfortable and neat rooms, good breakfast with all the possible continental and English breakfast options available. We also rather enjoyed the good selection of channels in the rooms and relaxed a bit by watching the toons with the little missy. The added good thing about Holiday Inn Winchester was also that they have a Kids Stay and Eat Free deal going on, where kids under 17 stay for free if sharing with parents, and kids under 12 eat for free with their parents - making family travel a tad bit more budget friendly. The hotel lobby was rather grand looking, and we spotted a wedding going around there too!

a mirror and a picture of a hotel room

holiday inn winchester room

a wedding couple at holiday inn reception

Overall, we had a fantastic time in Winchester, with our four year old exclaiming "I love Winchester!". We very much enjoyed it, and had a blast. There was lots to see and lots to do as a family, and we would definitely recommend a visit to anyone. And it's just two hours drive away from London too!  

Top tips for families:

Have you visited Winchester? What would you recommend?

And don't forget to check my video from Winchester too :)

1 September 2017

How to make a paper zoo: easy origami animals for kids

Paper crafts are great crafts to make with kids, cheap, easy and disposable. For this craft I have selected several easy animal origami patterns, which make for a perfect little paper zoo - imaginative, and fun to play with. I had great fun making these, and my daughter loved playing with them. The first few patterns I'm sharing are very very easy that can be done by young kids with minimal parental assistance. The rest of the patters are classed as easy, but a few were tricky for an origami novice like myself thus best left for older children or adults.

Please note, this post is written in collaboration with The Works

little girl with a paper zoo

little girl playing with jumping origami frog

Easy origami ideas for kids - how to make a paper zoo

I checked The Works for supplies for origami and found lots to choose from - from books on origami to stacks of origami paper. Origami paper is quite thin so folding it is easier, but you could just use normal white paper too. With white paper you can then ask your kids to colour in the animals and draw them faces. We used normal coloured paper as we wanted to have a nice and bright zoo. You can find both white and coloured papers on The Works too.

If you are using normal A4 or A5 sheets the only thing you need to do is to is cut them in squares. A simplistic tip perhaps, but I do this by folding the upper corner to the opposite edge, so the paper looks like a straight-edged triangle sitting on top of a rectangle on the bottom. Then just cut away the rectangle!

The easiest animal origami patterns are probably these bunny, bear and cat heads - these are very very easy and totally appropriate for kids. They will enjoy drawing faces on them too. These were my daughter's favourites and she adored drawing them little faces, complete with mouths and beautiful eye lashes.

showing easy animal face origami

butterfly origami

mum and daughter flying paper origami birds

mum and daughter playing with origami

You could also have some flying creatures in your zoo. These twirling birdies can be thrown like a paper aeroplane too and they will twirl to ground. Swanspelicans and bats are fairly simple and suitable for older kids. For adults these little budgie birdies and butterflies make a good challenge. As for land-dwelling animals, some ideas could be elephants, dogs, horses, foxes and penguins

Possibly the most fun are these little amphibians though - jumping frogs. There are two different designs you can use (these jumping frogs and these jumping frogs are particularly good), but both are pretty complex and suitable for older children really. Younger children will love to make them jump though and you could even have a race with them.

smiling girl playing with origami

And if you want - you could easily make this paper zoo into a Noah's Ark too. All you need to do is to fold a great big boat and if you are feeling brave enough, set it in the bathtub too!

What did you think of this paper zoo? Which one of the animals would you do?

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