Sunday, 31 August 2014

Silent Sunday 31/8/14

Friday, 29 August 2014

Tall Daughter reviews Coca-Cola Life and Tanya Burr nails.

 Coca-cola Life review

Coca-cola Life review
You may have seen the new green Coca-Cola Life cans in the supermarket recently. They're certainly eye-catching, and walking past the display in a supermarket yesterday I overheard a group of girls wondering what it tasted like.

We got the chance to find out when we were sent a sample to test, along with a can of Classic Coke, Diet and Coke Zero. Fizzy drinks are only ever a weekend treat in our house, so this was a bonus for the girls.

As it turned out, it was (14 year old) Tall Daughter and her friend who did the tasting, which - to make it a fair test - I thought they should do blind.

I put the four different Cokes in anonymous cups (they didn't see the cans, and the classic coke can mysteriously 'disappeared' from the fridge so I bought a bottle for the tasting) and asked both girls to taste them, put them in order of preference and to also guess which was which.

Coca-cola Life review

The results were interesting: both girls preferred cup A (Diet Coke) but thought it was Classic Coke. They also both put cup D (Coke Zero) in 4th place.

The Coke Life came out of it well, both girls said they would drink it, but knew it wasn't their normal 'Coke' choice. I suppose part of it is getting used to a new taste.

I'm pleased Coca-Cola have introduced a drink with less sugar. The new Life is sweetened by stevia, a leaf extract, and has a third less sugar and 89 calories a can. While it still couldn't be described as a healthy option, as a weekend treat for the girls it's a move in the right direction.

Tanya Burr nails review

Tall Daughter is a massive Youtuber fan, so when I asked her if she'd like to review some of the Tanya Burr nail polishes she nearly burst my ear-drums by shrieking "YES!"

I'll be honest, I had no idea who she was so I'll hand over to TD to tell you more.

"Tanya Burr is HUGE on Youtube where she's a beauty and lifestyle guru, and I love her blog too. She makes videos about her favourite beauty brands, e.g. nail polishes and make-up.  She also makes fun videos with her fiance Jim Chapman and her friend Zoella (The mega-star blogger and Youtuber, Zoe Sugg).

Tanya also does meet and greets for fans, but I haven't met her. Yet!

I like wearing nail colours when I'm not in school and the Tanya Burr polishes are all great quality and the packaging is really pretty. They don't take long to dry, and cover well - I have used them with just one coat - and lots of my friends complimented me on my nails and asked about the colours.

There are ten colours in the range and I'd already bought one of the colours before we were sent another four to review, mine is the blue one called Little Duck. The lids were a bit fiddly to get off sometimes, but apart from that I really liked them."

Tanya Burr nails review

So there you have it, two reviews carried out by Tall Daughter with a little help from her friend.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Tessie is ten! Plus 10 reasons to adopt a retired racing greyhound

We've reached a couple of big milestones with our lovely greyhound Tessie. On 1st of July she turned 10 and then 2nd August marked 5 years since we adopted her.

Tessie has been a complete joy since the day we brought her home from the kennels.  We haven't had a moments trouble with her (if you ignore the cake stealing) and I can't imagine life without her, so I thought this might be a good time to give 10 reasons why you should consider a greyhound as your next dog.

1.  They don't need a lot of exercise. 
This is one of the main misconceptions about greyhounds, that because most are ex-racers they need a lot of exercise, when in fact the opposite is true. A greyhound is happy with two 20 minutes walks a day. Of course, they will walk for longer but they really don't need it. 

2. They are low maintenance 
Greyhounds are easy to look after, don't need a lot of expensive grooming and are happy to spend most of their day sleeping.  They also have little or no body odour, which means none of that doggy smell in the house.

3. They are very quiet 
Greyhounds rarely bark, and are very quiet dogs. When we were considering adopting a dog I didn't want a loud, yappy dog, and discovered that greyhounds are one of the quietest breeds. They like to 'roo' when they make a low howling sound, but not very often. Tessie only barks when she needs/wants something - food, a walk, or needs to go in the garden.

4. They are very clean and easy to housetrain
Ex-racers in particular are trained to keep their kennels clean and do their business outside, which makes it easier to transfer to their new lives when they're adopted.  Tessie has been clean in the house since day one.

5. Greyhounds are good with children
They're just as good as any other breed and better than many because of their gentle nature. Plus ex-racers are used to being handled by their trainers at the racetrack and as a result are patient with children who can be a bit rough and tumble with pets. 

When I was thinking of adopting a greyhound, a friend said she was concerned it might be aggressive because they're trained to chase small animals. I promised her I wouldn't let my children dress up as rabbits or hares.

6. Black greyhounds are 'hypoallergenic'
Greyhounds don't have 'undercoats' which means they are less likely to cause allergies in humans, particularly black greyhounds which shed less than the other types.

7. They are loyal, gentle animals
Greyhounds have a very gentle temperament and are very eager to please their owners. They are usually so grateful for a home and a warm comfortable bed that they prove themselves to be loving, gentle pets. 

8. Many greyhounds can live happily with cats 
Despite their high prey-drive and training to chase small furry animals, many retired greyhounds are trained to co-exist with other animals and are safely rehomed to families with cats. The Retired Greyhound Trust will match a greyhound to your family's requirements, and make sure they get the best fit for both you and the hound.

9. Watching them run is a thrill
Greyhounds are the fastest dogs on earth and can reach speeds of 40-45mph. The first time I stood close to Tessie running at top speed was  one of the most thrilling things I'd seen.  To watch her run around me in circles, purely for pleasure, at such close range was amazing, and even now that she's older and runs less and less it's still wonderful to see her run across a field.

10. There are literally hundreds of retired greyhounds looking for their forever homes. 
Racing greyhounds are retired from racing at the age of 5, and even earlier if they are not successful racers, so there are hundreds of them around the country just waiting for someone to adopt them.  If you want an elegant, eye-catching pedigree dog then a greyhound might be the dog for you. 

If you are interested in adopting one of these beautiful animals, please contact the Retired Greyhound Trust who will put you in touch with your local branch.

10 reasons to adopt a retired greyhound

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Fun and flavour with Chewits Xtreme at the Chill Factor-e!

We were recently invited to an exclusive event at the Chill Factor-e near the Trafford Centre, Manchester. It was to celebrate the launch of Xtreme Chewits new pineapple sour flavour, to add the already popular tutti frutti and apple flavours.

We jumped at the chance to attend as not only do we like Chewits, but it's also quite unusual to be invited to an event aimed at teenagers.  Tall Daughter invited two of her friends to enjoy an afternoon of airboarding and extreme sledging, and after being kitted up and following the safety talk they were having a great time on the slopes.

I'm going to let the photos do the talking, but needless to say they all had a great time and even after stuffing their faces with Chewits they used up enough energy to demolish a very nice buffet meal afterwards.

It was lovely to meet other bloggers at the event too: Ally from Messed Up Mum, @GymBunnymum and Jenny from The Brick Castle, as well as their lovely families.

Thanks to everyone at Chewits for organising an  afternoon of Xtreme fun!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The noblest thing you will ever do

Robin Williams in Dead Poets' Society

This morning I woke to the news that the wonderful Robin Williams had died after an apparent suicide.

A hugely talented actor and comedian, he leaves behind a legacy of brilliant performances in films and TV shows including one of my all-time favourites, Dead Poets' Society.

Whatever the reason for his death, one thing is certain - here was a man who despite his talents, accolades and worldly goods, was bedevilled by depression.

I posted a quote this quote by Stephen Fry on Facebook, but despite believing it to be true and wishing people would take every word to heart, my own experience of depression tells a different story.

I have only ever told three friends that I struggle with depression. As in, actually sat down with them and tried to explain the dark moods, the blackness, the despair. Since then, only one of those friends has maintained contact with me.

I get it. Depression is difficult to understand. Why would someone like Robin Williams be depressed? He has more money and fans than he could shake a stick at. And yet, he was.

And it's embarrassing to talk about. I mean, everyone feels a bit down sometimes don't they? Pull yourself together!

Then there's the disbelief that someone is depressed. "But you always seems to happy!" Well, a lot of people with depression are experts at covering it up with a smile. I know, sounds crazy but it's true. How can someone smile if they're depressed? Yet they do.

Something that I'm guilty of doing myself is trying to find a reason for depression, something that has triggered an episode, and I only recently realised that there doesn't have to be one.

Depression is just there, like a rain cloud that passes over a town without warning. A town where people where playing in the park, or had hung their washing out on the line to dry in the sun. A place where one minute it was bright and happy and the sun was shining and now, suddenly, it's pouring with rain.

If anything good comes from Robin Williams' death, let it be a better understanding of mental illness and depression, and that people think about their own friends and relatives who struggle with it and try to understand what they can do to help.

Please, try to help. A text, an email, a phone call. Just knowing someone is thinking about you, it helps.

God bless, Mr Williams. Rest in peace.

Depression Alliance

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Our review of the Kia Carens 1.7 CRDi

Kia Carens 1.7 CRDi review

The Kia Carens is the fourth Kia car I've driven and in all honesty I've become a bit of a fan. 

We had the Carens on review for a week, which coincided with my first week off work and meant we could get out and about a bit more than usual.  We took advantage of it to head off to the beach; go to Yorkshire for the weekend; do our normal around town driving; and enjoy a couple of long drives in the countryside.

I'm not a driving expert, so there'll be no mention of torque or coupled torsion (sounds painful), just pretty simple terms about what we thought of it as a family car. 

First impressions

When it was delivered to the driveway, I was a surprised (and a bit excited it has to be said) to see it was a 7-seater.  As a family of 3, we don't need that many seats but visions of day-trips with a car full of teenagers suddenly became a possibility reality.  

The Carens has 7 permanent seats with two rear seats that are easily (with the pull of a strap) lowered to increase the boot size. With the two rear seats up, the boot size is pretty small, but big enough for a day out or general everyday driving.  We also used it as a 6-seater with just one of the rear seats down, which gave us plenty of boot room. 

Using all of the seats, it comfortably accommodated 7 people, plus a large picnic cool box, a beach chair, bags and the normal paraphenalia you need for a day at the beach. 

What we liked

We liked the spacious interior with generous leg room, plenty of head room and comfortable, adjustable seats. My girls were also impressed that the first two rows of seats could be reclined to an almost horizontal position - handy for long drives when the kids are tired no doubt.  

We liked the versatility of the seating and boot space. I was impressed with the rain-sensor front wipers, the reversing sensor (handy with a larger car) and the automatic setting available for the headlights. There were also underfloor storage boxes for essential items (first aid kit, maps, umbrellas) and a novel little 'conversation' mirror above the rear view mirror which gave a clear view of the back two rows of seats - ideal for keeping an eye on small children. 

The Teenager loved the USB ports and the multi-speaker system (ideal for playing Foo Fighters LOUD!) and Tall Daughter loved the amount of space - even with all seats occupied there was plenty of room for everyone, nobody felt 'squished'. 

I'm not the most confident driver, but I found the Kia Carens very easy and enjoyable to drive, and it really came into its own on the motorway - smooth with a very responsive engine.

This was also my first experience of driving a diesel car, and I was pleasantly surprised at how quiet it was. It was also very economical on fuel - at the end of a week of urban and motorway driving it had done an impressive 53mpg. 

What we didn't like

My own really small quibble is that the speedometer wasn't a digital display, which I have in my own car, but I suppose it's just what you get used to.  

Of course, the other thing we didn't like is that we only got to keep the Carens for a week.  Sad times.

Friday, 8 August 2014

When are children old enough to travel alone?

Earlier today, I listened to an interesting radio debate about whether children should be taught to travel on their own from an early age.

There's been a lot of media attention about the mother (no mention of the father even though there is one) who was refused a Eurostar ticket for her 11 year old daughter, who would be travelling alone. 

The mother, Anne Atkins, defended her decision to allow her daughter to travel to Paris (and be met at the other end by an older sibling) because she had been travelling alone on buses and trains since the age of 7, and had been walking to and from school - and crossing two roads - since the age of 6. She said she encouraged her children to travel independently and believed it fostered a sense of adventure and developed their independent spirit.

I remember years ago travelling back from Germany on the train. It was a journey I made every few months, and took about 20 hours. It involved getting a train from Hannover to the Hook of Holland, a busy ferry terminal, catching an overnight ferry to Harwich, then another train to London, before travelling back up north.

On one occasion I met a 10 year old boy, Peter, who was travelling alone.  His father (who was in the forces) had put him on the train in Germany with written instructions on how to get home.  I realised he was a bit nervous about travelling, so took him under my wing and we travelled back together all the way to London where I put him in a taxi and gave him instructions on how to get to his final destination (can't remember where).  It's funny, because by that stage I felt quite protective of him and hesitated about putting him in the taxi but from that point we were travelling in different directions.

Another time I was at a children's party, and a mum who I'd just met for the first time, was telling everyone how her son (aged 9) had just travelled by train from Liverpool to Edinburgh to stay with relatives. She said he'd been walking to the shops - about a 10 minute - walk since the age of 5, and had travelled on buses and trains several times without mishap.  She felt very strongly that he needed to learn to be self-sufficient and be able to find his own way around.

I was a bit shocked at the time, but when I thought back to my own childhood I was walking to the shops from about 6 and walked to school on my own from a very early age.  We used to play outdoors all the time, and would roam unhindered around the neighbourhood, going to the park or nearby playgrounds until tea-time when we would make our way home.

Even so, I've never encouraged my daughters to travel alone. These days we're so much more aware of the dangers for children, although I've never seen any evidence that proves it's worse than when I was a child.  We've had the stranger danger talks when they were younger, and talked through different scenarios about what they would do if they needed help, but even so our local public transport is pretty poor so if they've needed to go anywhere I've generally taken them in the car.  Have I mollycoddled them too much?

The Teenager, who is 17 now, has always been fiercely independent and first asked if she could walk home alone from her after-school netball club in Year 5 (so aged about 9 or 10). We lived about 5 minutes from the school, but even so my heart was in my mouth every time she did it. I was worried about her safety obviously but also, if I'm honest, about what other parents would think.  Would they think I was a lazy parent? Irresponsible?

She's also been using local public transport since the age of 11.  The first time she travelled alone was on a day when I was at work but her school had an Inset day. She caught the bus to a nearby town to visit a friend but didn't tell me until she'd arrived, when she texted to say she'd arrived safely.

When I started a new job last November, which meant leaving early and getting home late, one of the considerations we had to make was about how Tall Daughter would get to and from school.   There's no direct bus route, so apart from one day a week when I work from home she walks the mile to and from school on her own.  She's not as confident or as independent as her older sister, and as she's 14 you might think there's nothing to worry about, but I still feel concerned.

I don't know what the answer is.  Would it have been easier if she had walked to school from an earlier age? Should I have encouraged them to do more on their own? When do parents stop feeling guilty?

What about you, do your children travel anywhere on their own? Do you think we mollycoddle our children these days?

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Dash Fashion - versatile, comfortable clothing

Dash clothing

I'm no fashionista, ask anyone who knows me, but we all have to wear clothes don't we?  It's just that I'm not very good at clothes shopping.  Considering I have two teenage daughters who are professional shoppers in-the-making I'm pretty rubbish at it, so I tend to buy most of my clothes online.

At work I wear smart business-wear, but in my own time I'm all about the comfortable clothes so I was interested to hear from Dash Fashion (which is part of the Jacques Vert Group) who very kindly asked me to choose a couple of items from their website.

I'll be honest, I'd never heard of Dash before but their range of relaxed, comfortable clothing is right up my street. Plus they are reasonably priced and go up to a size 22 in most items, which is a win-win in my book.

It took me a while to decide but in the end I chose these two pieces, which I know I'll get plenty of wear out of. What can I say, I like stripes!
Block Shoulder Stripe Top
Block shoulder stripe top £35.00
Relaxed Tie Waist Dress
Relaxed tie-waist dress. Reduced to £25.00

I haven't worn the stripey top yet because the weather has been so hot, but I know it will become a favourite when the weather cools down a little.  The dress is very easy to wear and because it's loose and cool it's been a life-saver in this heat.

I'm already looking at their autumn arrivals and have a couple of items earmarked...

Dash Fashion

Disclosure: I was sent the two items for review purposes, but words and opinions are my own.