Books for older kids this Christmas

Dan and I have just finished reading a book together (one of my most favourite before bedtime things we do that still lingers into his 12th year) and it stopped us both in our tracks.
We’ve talked about it, we’ve recommended it, we’ve run home to download the extra chapter we realised the author has written when we saw the book while browsing in Waterstones.

If you’re hunting for some last-minute presents to buy this Christmas, books books books.
If you get your children reading it will help them in school no end. Grammar, punctuation, how to form sentences, different sorts of sentence form, speech, spellings, how to think a little differently.
I’m convinced the reason Dan does so well in English at school is because he reads so much.
So give the gift of books; to your kids, to other people’s kids.

Here are Dan’s top 7 in no particular order:

GWR book Books for older kids this Christmas

Guinness World Records
If you’re buying for someone who isn’t a fan of books or novels, this is the perfect way to get them reading without them actually realising they’re doing it!
Every year Dan spends hours in a quiet corner with his head buried in it, taking it all in.
Whether they love sport, astronomy, celebrity, music, or just the downright bizarre there is something here for them!

 

wonder Books for older kids this Christmas

Wonder by RJ Palacio
‘My name is August. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.’
This is the perfect book to read together.
It’s about a boy called August who is born with a facial disfigurement that scares people and it’s about how he goes to school for the first time in his pre-teens. He’s always been homeschooled, but now he’s going to school and all he wants to be is accepted and to fit in.
It explores themes of bullying, tolerance, friendship and fear and is beautifully written. Also, I challenge you not to get all emotional every time to read a chapter.

 

doesmygoldfish Books for older kids this Christmas

Does My Goldfish Know Who I Am?
You know how children ask the darnest questions? Well this book answers them.
Do spiders speak? How does the lady in the satnav know where to go?
Not only that they’ve asked some fabulous experts to answer them – from Brian Cox and Sir David Attenborough to Heston Blumenthal, Tony Robinson and Miranda Hart (she answers ‘why are farts funny?’)
The questions were taken from primary schools across the UK and was released last year to raise money for the NSPCC. And it’s brilliant.
You will become engrossed and you will think you are the Font of All Knowledge after reading it.

SkulduggeryPleasant Books for older kids this Christmas

Skullduggary Pleasant by Derek Landy
When Dan started reading this series I was very dubious. I mean look at the cover!
The titular character is a wise-cracking skeleton detective, and it features magic, murder and mystery.
It’s a real page-turner and full of action and adventure. And his sidekick is a 12-year-old girl called Stephanie.
Well written, witty, and a real page turner.
Dan finished reading it and begged for the second book which he currently has his head buried in right now!

 

 

Hungergames Books for older kids this Christmas

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
As is usually the case, the book is way better than the movie.
The dark story of teenager Katniss who enters the Hunger Games arena to fight for her life in a battle where 12 boys and 12 girls are forced to kill or be killed.
There is so much more characterisation, background and little nuggets they don’t include in the movie, it’s definitely worth adding to your reading list.
It’s a lot grimmer than the film – there are some quite disturbing descriptions which I actually skipped over when Dan and I read it together a couple of years ago.
Another great book to talk about the themes afterwards too.

SpiderwickChronicles Books for older kids this Christmas

The Spiderwick Chronicles by Toni DiTerlizzi and Holly Black
If your young one likes fantastical stories of fairies and goblins – but with a dark twist – they will love this.
A family move into an old abandoned mansion and the children discover a field journal which seemingly points to there being a fantastical and bizarre mystical world, right outside the house in the woods beyond.
Gripping, slightly scary and full of adventure.
The movie version is also good too!

 

 

knifeofneverlettinggo Books for older kids this Christmas

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
This is the next book on our list to read together.
So I can’t actually tell you much about it other than it’s about a boy who can hear everything the men around him think and he realises he doesn’t fit in with their plans.
It also comes very highly recommended by many when I asked what books we should think about reading next.

So happy reading all.
And if you have any other recommendations, please share in the comments below.

Posted in Books, Christmas, Lists | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Our Christmas photo this year

Dear Santa Our Christmas photo this year

Every year we try to stage a Christmas photo.
Hopefully when the kids are in their 30s with kids of their own I’m going to have plenty of photographic evidence that they were once lots of fun and up for anything.
I’m sending this one with the words added underneath: Dear Santa, we can explain . . .

This year our photo comes courtesy of Postsnap, a personalised photosharing app that allows you to make greetings cards, postcards or announcement cards using photos directly from your iPhone or iPad or using photos from Facebook or Instagram. How cool is that?

Postsnap app Our Christmas photo this year
It’s supremely easy: You download the app (it’s only available on Apple devices at the moment but Android is to come), upload your photo, pick a template, personalise them, then send it straight to someone or to yourself.
And if you order more than 50 cards they work out at just 80 pence each.

But be quick if you want to get those cards sent out for Christmas . . .

Posted in Other Review, Photography, Photography Help, Reviews | 2 Comments

Umberslade Farm at Christmas

umberslade tractors Umberslade Farm at Christmas

There are certain days out at this time of year which are guaranteed to make you feel festive.
The German markets, ice skating, mince pies round at your friends’ houses and a visit to a working farm.

We were invited to visit such a farm this weekend. Mia took one of her best friends and we got to experience Umberslade Farm at Christmas in the glorious sunshine!
I really thought the girls would be too old for the whole holding baby animals, feeding the goats/chickens/calves, meet Santa in his grotto thing.
But not a bit of it.
Umberslade isn’t a big fancy venue with rides and soft play. You approach through the very picturesque village of Tamworth in Arden and drive down a lovely long tree-lined lane.
Umberslade is traditional. It’s a farm and you’re welcome to join in and collect the eggs and feed the pigs.

As you can clearly tell from the photos, the girls had a blast.
It being such a lovely day helped, being together helped, and being able to run free like 5 year olds with the sun on your back probably added to the charm too!
They even sat and chatted very politely to Santa and came out whispering “OBVIOUSLY we know it’s not the real Santa. There were no reindeers in any of the fields and anyway, we know the ones you see in places like this are just stand ins.”

umberslade driveway Umberslade Farm at Christmas umberslade goats Umberslade Farm at Christmas umberslade Collage Umberslade Farm at ChristmasThe Christmas programme at Umberslade Farm Park runs until December 24 and includes Santa’s Grotto (a £4 extra charge), a Christmas market (although when we visited there were only a handful of stalls) and a lovely Farmyard Nativity where the child (and a farm hand or two) dress up to perform the Christmas story in the stalls.

umberslade cow Umberslade Farm at Christmas umberslade stable Umberslade Farm at Christmas umberslade playground Umberslade Farm at Christmas umberslade chicken hovel Umberslade Farm at Christmas

Posted in Days Out, Travel | Leave a comment

Hungarian Goulash. My way

Hungarian Goulash ingrediants Hungarian Goulash. My way

I’ve been really trying to ensure we have at least one hearty sit-down meal midweek instead of the kids having one meal and the husband and I scoffing something at 9pm in front of the TV.
Which is really difficult when your kids are off out at various after school activities, sporting fixtures, visiting friends.
At this age it’s harder and harder to actually sit down as a family – even weekends are so hectic I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle.
But it’s a battle I’m prepared to ware, for I believe that sitting down together as a family at the dinner table is something to be treasured.

So basically what is needed is a meal I can throw in the oven, forget about for a couple of house and then produce in a flourish of ‘taa daa’.

This Hungarian Goulash recipe was always one of hubby and mine’s very favourite recipes when we were first together; warming, slightly spicy, filling. And now it’s become a favourite family recipe.
Fifteen minutes of prep and then you can throw it in the oven so when you’re all home the house smells amazing and you have a winter warming meal to sit down together to. And you look like a shiny star of the kitchen.

circulon pan set Hungarian Goulash. My way circulon saucepan review Hungarian Goulash. My way circulon pan review Hungarian Goulash. My way

Plus I was recently sent this gorgeous set of Circulon pans from Housemakers so I needed an excuse to try them out for size.
They look beautiful on my very average cooker icon smile Hungarian Goulash. My way , are reassuringly weighty and their non-sticky quality means you don’t need to use much oil at all.
The set comes with four items: 3 different size saucepans (I LOVE the 20cm pan for stews, meatballs etc as it has an extra side handle to make moving it easier) and a 24cm French skillet.

Absolutely fabulous.

circulon saucepan set Hungarian Goulash. My way circulon saucepan Hungarian Goulash. My way

I travelled to Hungary some years ago and stayed in the capital city Budapest – a beautiful city split over both sides of the Danube river; Buda on West and Pest on the East.
Every Hungarian home has a different version of the basic goulash, but it’s essentially beef with onions, tomatoes, peppers and that gorgeous Hungarian paprika all mixed together to make something between a stew and a soup.
And the best thing is experimenting to see which version you like the best.

So here’s mine. I’ve seen it made with caraway seeds and celery but ours is a very simple dish, which the kids adore.
And yes that is a jar of cheat’s chillies. What of it?

Anyway. It’s delish.

Ingredients
3 tsp oil
1lb lean braising steak cubed
2 onions chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp Hungarian paprika
1 tbsp plain flour
1 large red pepper chopped
1 red chilli
11floz beef stock
14oz can chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
3 floz red wine
salt and black pepper

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C.

2. Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a deep frying pan. Brown the meat on a high heat until browned all over. When sealed, remove to a plate.

3. Add rest of oil and stir in the onion until soft. Add the garlic and stir.

4. Sprinkle on the paprika and flour and stir, then add the red pepper, chilli, stock, tomatoes and wine.

5. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer.

6. Tip the sauce into a casserole dish. Now add the meat and stir together.

7. Cook in the oven for an hour and a half.

8. Serve with rice.
Done. Yum.

Hungarian goulash Hungarian Goulash. My way

Many thanks to Housemakers for the pans; they are seriously excellent.

Posted in Food, Other Review, Recipes, Reviews | 1 Comment

Win a waterproof winter coat from Mountain Warehouse worth £60 [closed]

win a mountain warehouse coat Win a waterproof winter coat from Mountain Warehouse worth £60 [closed]

At this time I year I seem to spend an awful lot of time outdoors. In the cold. And the wet. Freeeeeeezing.
Between watching rugby matches, the school run and walking the dog I run the gauntlet of all weathers.
And that’s pretty much what you’ll find on my Instagram feed – pictures of dog walks, frosty trees and me wrapped up to within an inch of my life!
However, you don’t have to because I’ve teamed up with the lovely people at Mountain Warehouse to offer you a a fabulous wintery coat to keep the cold and wet away.

The Canyon Women’s Long Waterproof Jacket comes in khaki or burgundy, it’s warm, waterproof and has a detachable fur-trimmed hood.
It’s currently on sale through the site at £59.99 but usually retails at £119.99.
And it’s lovely.

Mountain Warehouse coat Win a waterproof winter coat from Mountain Warehouse worth £60 [closed]

As an expert in keeping warm, this is going to be just the ticket. All you need are some gloves and thermal socks and you’re off!
So what do you have to do to enter? To be in with a chance of winning just fill in the widget below and cross your fingers!

Best of luck x

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Rules:
The competition is open to residents of the UK only (sorry rest of the world).
No cash alternative offered.
The prize is 1 Canyon Women’s Long Waterproof Jacket from Mountain Warehouse worth £59.99.
Entry is via Rafflecopter.
Make sure your contact details are easily available.
The competition closes on Thursday, December 18, 2014.
One winner will be chosen from all the entries after the closing date.
The winner will be asked to provide their full name and address for the prize to be sent to.
If a prizewinner does not respond within a week of being contacted, the prize will be re-drawn and a new winner will be contacted.

Posted in Competition | 211 Comments

5 ways you know you have a pre-teen boy in the house

delta force day out 5 ways you know you have a pre teen boy in the house

This month my boy officially became a pre-teen. He celebrated his 12th birthday.
Clearly I’m not old enough to have a 12 year old. There is NO WAY I’ll be old enough, or responsible enough, to have a teenager next year.

But I have been blessed, for my pre-teen is pretty much problem free.
He has been a joy to parent, right from the moment he arrived bang on his due date and he looked upon the faces of his two utterly bewildered parents.

Dan is a sportsman and has a sportsman’s team spirit, enthusiasm and respect. He is and always has been very loyal to his friends. He has great wells of compassion. And he still hugs his mum a lot.
His dad and I are really rather proud of him.
We don’t tell him this enough.

But there are ‘cons’ to this relationship.
5 of them actually. So here you go 5 ways you know you have a pre-teen boy in the house. So, you know, you can prepare!

1. The cupboards are always bare
I feel like one of my primary functions in this house is food shopping. Every other day I stock up and every other day it’s like a plague of locusts have munched their way through the entire contents of our fridge. And we have a very big fridge.
He is always hungry.
Half an hour after eating a roast dinner the same size as mine, he’s asking for a snack. My overriding vision of him is the ghostlike glow of the fridge’s innards as he stands there, eyes darting around the shelves for something to satisfy his raging hunger.
I didn’t realise one human being could eat so much toast in one sitting.

2. There is a certain smell
It is the smell of boy. Slightly sweaty, a little earthy, not entirely unpleasant but if left to fester it makes your eyes water slightly.
Last Christmas Dan was gifted lots and lots of Lynx body spray and Fat Face smellies. For a year we’ve suffered a fog of man scent enough to bring on an asthma attack if you walk in his bedroom.
I’m not sure which smell is worse.

3. Mud
Everywhere. Over everything. School shoes, best shoes, back of the neck, knees, fingernails.
You will wail about HOW the heck he manages to get so much mud in such hard to reach places.
And then wail some more as said mud finds its way onto towels, the bathroom floor, light switches.
He will pop outside for a quite game of footy and bring half the pitch back with him into your once very clean house.
His favourite trainers that he spent ages choosing because they had to be just so, will never ever be clean but he will shrug like you’re being picky and unreasonable when you point it out.

4. Socks
You thought sorting the socks out after a wash was a nightmare before? His socks are pretty much the same size as his dad’s. And the same colour. You will get moaned at, accused of incompetence and suffer the eye roll constantly for mixing them up.
Get used to it. Or buy socks which are easy to identify.

5. Social media
Ooof. A new generation of pre-teens brings with it a whole new host of issues.
Between the Xbox and his iPad there is a real danger of never actually seeing your child’s face, let alone having a conversation with them.
I’ve gone down the ‘if you can’t beat them join them’ route, so we often sit and giggle at something he’s seen online – obviously he has no clue it’s my way of checking that he’s safe and not using that godawful text speak any where icon smile 5 ways you know you have a pre teen boy in the house

I’m sure having a pre-teen girl in the house bring with a whole different set of challenges so we have that to come in a couple of years.
Are your experiences the same – or do you live in a whole other circle of hell?!

 

Posted in Dan, Lists | Tagged | 17 Comments

The Vileda Christmas message

“This Christmas, give time” 
Vileda’s Christmas message this year.

If you ask either of my children to share memories of Christmases from the past, it’s never about a particular toy they received. The gadgets come and go, the must-have game forgotten.
But the people we had over to visit, the days out, the time we spent inventing new silly games to play together, they all remain.
Truly, the greatest gift you can give a child at Christmas is time.

Many of the Christmas traditions can easily become a chore; putting up the tree between the school run, making dinner, the ironing, cleaning rugby boots, dropping off at after school clubs, food shopping. They can quite easily become a ‘let’s just get it done and over with’ job.
Writing cards – oh my goodness, all those cards – can make you roll your eyes when you just want to sit down and not have to think about anything other than yourself for a second.

But if you see each of them as a special time to be remembered and get everyone to join in, it will become a fond memory rather than a chore.

Giving the gift of time applies to the adults you buy for too.
Every year you have that typical dilemma – what to buy the friend who has everything. What to buy the in-law who’s really fussy. What to buy the nerd who only wants gadgets, but has them all already.

Schermata 2014 12 09 alle 15.22.10 The Vileda Christmas message

In this Christmas video from Vileda the answer is to give them time; time to indulge in their hobbies and passions, as you’ll see as the story unfolds.
Or, obviously, give them a Virobi and Relax Cleaning Robot to do their dirty work for them meaning more time to sit on the sofa and watch James Bond movies  icon smile The Vileda Christmas message
As well as the Cleaning Robot Vileda have a whole host of gift suggestions for the difficult person in your life. Although I’m thinking any fashion victim I know wouldn’t be happy opening a Hot Spray Mop on Christmas morning, but you never know!

This is a sponsored post with Vileda.

 The Vileda Christmas message

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The Photo Gallery 212: Christmas

christmas tree decorations The Photo Gallery 212: Christmas

Every decoration on our Christmas tree tells a story.
The flying sheep we bought while visiting the Lake District because it looked so odd and out of place in a Christmas decorations display.
The woodland Santa I spent a small fortune on because he reminded me of my childhood reading Lord of the Rings and looked like one of the Ents.
The fairy called Barbara, donated to me by my mum after years of sitting atop her tree.

And every year there are the decoration Santa personally picks and puts in both of the children’s stocking.
They remember every single one and who it belongs to.

So on Sunday night as we decorated our tree, we reminisced about Christmases gone by.  We giggled and remembered and wondered what Santa will put in their stockings this year.

And next week I’ll be doing my usual run around trying to find a decoration from Santa that a. We haven’t had before b. Would make a 12 and a 9 year old go “ooooo” and c. Fits in with my OCD about the tree looking just so *ahem*.

This post is for week 212 of The Photo Gallery: The theme is: Christmas.
As the run up to Christmas begins I love to see everyone’s trees go up, the shopping begin and the festive traditions kick off.
So link up and join in. I’m keeping this linky open between now and Christmas Eve for you to link up to. So there will be no new theme over the next few weeks, it will just be Christmas and you can link up as and when you have a post or photo. You can even link up multiple posts if you have them.

Other Christmas linkies running for you to join in with include:

If you’re new here and want to know what the Photo Gallery feature is, go and read, and then come right back and join in!

 You can also pick up a Photo Gallery badge code if you want too, though it’s not a requirement for joining in. But a shout out in some form would be much appreciated.
You could also subscribe to Sticky Fingers to make sure you never miss a theme; they are posted here every Friday.

Now go forth and show some big blog love. Visit other bloggers, comment on their post if you feel moved to do so, and be inspired.
This virtual gallery of photographs is about enjoying each other’s work, so go make someone’s day. You will get out of this whatever you put in.
Please don’t just link dump – this is not that kind of linky.

The link stays open until Tuesday so you have plenty of time to join in.
It’s open for absolutely ANYONE to join in – be you on blog, Instagram, Flickr or any platform where you an host a photo. But please don’t abuse it.

You can also find The Photo Gallery on: Pinterest Google + Follow Tara Cain’s board The Photo Gallery on Pinterest.

See you over there x



Posted in Christmas, The Gallery | Tagged , | 14 Comments

The Photo Gallery: Week 212

Gallery logo The Photo Gallery: Week 212Hello and welcome to week 212 of The Photo Gallery.

As the run up to Christmas begins I love to see everyone’s trees go up, the shopping begin and the festive traditions kick off.
Everything from Elf on the Shelf to Christmas cake making.

And just like I do when I walk the dog in the early evening and people have put their lights on but not drawn their curtains, I love to have a cheeky peek inside everyone’s homes to see what Christmas looks like for them.

And so, the theme for the next Photo Gallery is simply: Christmas.

Interpret it any way you like – your traditions, your tree, favourite decorations, story of your Christmases, a favourite Christmas, what Christmas means to you.
Anything you like.
AND, I’m going to be keeping this linky open between now and Christmas Eve for you to link up to. So there will be no new theme over the next few weeks, it will just be Christmas and you can link up as and when you have a post or photo. You can even link up multiple posts if you have them.

Other Christmas linkies running:

I’ll see you back here on Wednesday when it’s time to link up x

The Photo Gallery is a weekly feature for all those who love photography and photographs.
I set it up back in 2010 to give everyone an outlet to share and encourage and write really interesting posts around their pictures.

It has always been about being part of a community of like-minded people. It’s about sparking your imagination, being inspiring – and inspiring others.

But remember, you will get out of The Gallery what you put in, so try to visit as many of the other entries as you can, say hi, discover new people, welcome them in when they discover you, be generous with your comments.

Remember, you can also share your entry via:
Twitter by using the hashtag: #TheGallery
Or by joining in the Gallery communities over on Pinterest and Google +

NEW HERE? NOT SURE HOW TO ENTER THE GALLERY?

If you’re new here, here’s a post to tell you all about what The Photo Gallery is all about and how to enter.
And if you want to make sure you don’t miss any prompts or entries in future, make sure you subscribe to the Sticky Fingers blog and get all prompts delivered directly to your in box.
Go on, clicky click away, you know you want to …

If you want to join in with The Gallery and showcase your photos, come back on Wednesday and when my Gallery post goes live, add a link to your post on the Linky below mine.
The link stays open until the following Tuesday, so you have plenty of time to join in.
And ANYONE can join in.

Posted in The Gallery Themes | Tagged | 2 Comments

The Photo Gallery 211: Babies

Dan as a baby The Photo Gallery 211: Babies

Today my baby is 12.
I know, I know, I can’t possibly be old enough to have a 12 year old with me being so youthful n all. But there you go, I’m not and I do.

You read all the time how their childhood goes by in the blink of an eye.
And you scoff. I scoffed. Ridiculous said I, getting on with things and watching as in a blur I’m knocking on the door of the teenage years and my baby is no more.

It’s 9.15 in the evening and he’s upstairs right now reading in bed. He absolutely won’t go to sleep without calling me to come and say goodnight. It’s a bit of a ritual. I fluff up his feather duvet, sit on the edge of his bed, ask how the story is going, does he want a drink, has he packed his school bag.

But tonight will be different. Tonight I will kiss goodnight to an 11 year old and await the hug of a 12 year old in the morning.
And I pledge to enjoy every minute of this coming year because who knows what the teens are going to bring!

This post is for week 211 of The Photo Gallery: The theme is: Babies.
If you’re new here and want to know what the Photo Gallery feature is, go and read, and then come right back and join in!

 You can also pick up a Photo Gallery badge code if you want too, though it’s not a requirement for joining in. But a shout out in some form would be much appreciated.
You could also subscribe to Sticky Fingers to make sure you never miss a theme; they are posted here every Friday.

Now go forth and show some big blog love. Visit other bloggers, comment on their post if you feel moved to do so, and be inspired.
This virtual gallery of photographs is about enjoying each other’s work, so go make someone’s day. You will get out of this whatever you put in.
Please don’t just link dump – this is not that kind of linky.

The link stays open until Tuesday so you have plenty of time to join in.
It’s open for absolutely ANYONE to join in – be you on blog, Instagram, Flickr or any platform where you an host a photo. But please don’t abuse it.

You can also find The Photo Gallery on: Pinterest Google + Follow Tara Cain’s board The Photo Gallery on Pinterest.

See you over there x



Posted in The Gallery | 17 Comments