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Saturday, 28 February 2015

A Letter to my Mum for Mother's Day

Dear Mum,

Although we are close, I know I don't often tell you how truly thankful I am for everything you do for us. So for Mother's Day this year, rather than buying you a box of chocolates (which I know you won't eat) or a bottle of wine (which I know you won't drink) I wanted to let you know the reasons I am thankful you are my mum.

You have taught me how to be selfless

I really admire that you have given up many years of your life to foster and help children who have been less fortunate than us. Fostering is a very tough job (that I'm sure I wouldn't be able to do) and nobody really understands it until they've been through it themselves. Fostering was a 24/7 job for you. You never really got a break and turned down countless nights out, holidays and trips because of your commitment. However because of your selflessness I am 100% sure you have given somebody a much better start in life.

You babysit and do my ironing

Not only do you babysit whenever I ask but you'll also tackle my ironing pile at the same time without being asked! You know how much I hate ironing and I really appreciate this.

You never judge or criticise

Despite your reservations about some of my ideas you have never once judged or criticised my parenting techniques or ideas - including baby led weaning which I know you were terrified about!

You are the hardest worker I know

Fostering has now been replaced with your full time job as a care worker. At aged 50+ you work 12 hour shifts for 42 hours every week providing care for the elderly (and you're on your feet most of the time). On top of this you are the main carer for my grandad and make sure you phone him every day, visit him daily on your days off and take responsibility for sorting out all of his medication and numerous hospital appointments. You never stop!

You always put other people first

You have numerous health problems yourself and have went through countless operations and procedures but you just get on with it and never moan. However if one of the family is poorly you are the first to help and will be straight over asking if we need anything or you can help in anyway.



The whole family is thankful for your legendery corned beef pie

I just had to include this! The whole family is truly thankful for your legendary corned beef pie which you always bring along to family parties. In fact it is so popular now that you have to bring two along to even a small gathering!

You are a much loved grandma to my children

Harry, Heidi and Jack love coming over to your house for tea (especially as you will always cook them their favourite foods) and always really look forward to their fortnightly sleepover parties (which is also the only time they get their shoes polished as you like to remind me- haha). You will always join us on adventures whatever the weather (even scooting along the beach in December) and will even go around the dreaded softplay centre with the kids whilst I enjoy a cuppa in peace.


You are both a mum and dad to me

My dad isn't in my life anymore but you have more than made up for it. If ever I have a typical 'dad' problem (especially dreaded car trouble) you will always be my first point of call and happily step up to the mark. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being both my mum and dad these past few years, I know it's hard for you but I appreciate it.



Thank you for being a wonderful mum and my true best friend. I know how sad you still feel every day that your mum was sadly taken from us a few years ago and Mother's Day is always a hard day for you but I know grandma will be so proud of how you have looked after my grandad. If I can only be half the mum and person you are I know I'm doing ok.

Happy Mother's Day

Lots of love 

Sam xxxx

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I have linked up with Adventures of A Monkey Footed Mummy #ThankfulThursday as I am truly thankful to have such a lovely mum.
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Friday, 27 February 2015

10 places to share your blog posts

If you are aiming to try and increase the number of eyes on your blog posts, this article is for you.

Facebook Page

Most blogs have their own facebook page these days and this is an obvious place to start. Link dropping is the worst thing you could do though so make sure you write a short introdustion to the post that will make the reader want to click more. I will often add my own photo that I feel is the best to showcase my post rather than the one facebook chooses for me (you can click 'remove link' and then add a photo instead). You can work out the best time to post for you but for me it is usually around 2pm or in the evening. Make sure you tag any businesses/people that have been mentioned in your post too for maximum exposure (Find North East Family Fun on facebook here). 


Facebook Blogging Groups

Bloggers love reading other blogs! I generally share my posts in three groups:- 

*The North East Network of Brilliant Bloggers (daily sharing thread pinned at the top of the page). If you share here, they will also tweet your links for you
*North East Bloggers (share on wall)
*UK Bloggers  (make sure you read the rules - this is a comment swapping group)



Local Facebook Groups

There are a few local facebook groups I share my posts in  - you need to be careful with non-blogging groups as if you are constantly dropping links and not contributing to the group it can be annoying so make sure you only post relevant links in groups you are active in. The main ones I use are:-

*The Inspire Network - The Network for NE Ladies in Business. They have a blog sharing post on a Friday.
*Family Explorers North East - This group is used to recommend and review days out in the North East. I generally only post a link if I have featured a fantastic value day out or featured one of their 'brilliant places'
*Keep the Kids Occupied and Mums in Durham are also sometimes relevant.

Twitter

Twitter is a wonderful place to share blogposts. First of all, make sure you shorten your links using bit.ly so you have more room to tweet! I tweet a few times per post - a couple will tag the people involved in your post (anything more than this and it can get annoying), a couple will use hashtags - I like #NEbloggers and #NEFollowers and a couple will include images from the post which always seem to get the best response. Don't tweet all of your tweets all at once - make sure you space them out. You can either remember to tweet or use a scheduler such as twuffer.

Twitter networking hours

I have written a whole post featuring how to get the most out of networking hours (check it out here) but for an hours work I will often manage over 1000 new blog views and will increase my twitter followers. It is certainly worth taking part in a few networking hours every week if you can squeeze them in.

Join in Linkys

Linkys are a fantastic way to get your blog noticed in the blogging community. My favourites are:-
- #LoveNorthEast (first week of every month)
- #TriedTested (every Tuesday)
- #TastyTuesdays (every Tuesday)
- #TheList (every Friday)
- #CountryKids (every Saturday)

Not sure where to start with Linky's? This guide from You Baby Me Mummy will tell you all you need to know.

Instagram

Blogging is usually very visual (although I am aware this post contains minimal images - haha). Sharing a few snaps from your post with a comment mentioning you can read more on your blog today will send more traffic your way. Instagram doesn't allow clickable links so make sure you have a direct link to your blog homepage in your instagram profile.


Google+

My blog posts auto publish to google+ which does increase a little bit of traffic however I have found sharing posts in relevant communities and using hashtags works much better. If I post a recipe, I will share in google+ food communities and if I post about travel I will post in travel communities - you get the picture! This method generally always increases the amount of +1's, comments or shares I receive. It works even better if you are active in the communities which is something I need to work on!



Linkedin

Linkedin is a network for professional people so only share your best content that will get you noticed here. If you are short of time you can easily add a blog post to you 'professional gallery' by clicking on the small square next to 'add position' and pasting the URL of your post where required.


If you have a little more time you can create a post on linkedin. You are able to do this by clicking on the pencil symbol at the top of your home page. I usually add a few of my best images and write a couple of paragraphs summarising my post with a clickable link back to my blog to 'read more' at the end. This method usually increases engagement when compared to the above method and Linkedin will send you weekly stats detailing how many people have viewed, liked and commented on these types of posts.



Pinterest and Stumbleupon

I have to say I don't get a HUGE amount of traffic from Pinterest (I do get a little - which is why I keep posting here) but I know other bloggers do. I have an app on my Mac toolbar that allows me to add posts to pinterest in a few clicks so it it pretty easy to do. I have also recently started adding posts to StumbleUpon and one day received over 100 hits from here. (StumbleUpon is also a great site to play with if you are bored).

I hope I have provided some food for thought - I would love to hear where you share your blog posts too.

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Thursday, 26 February 2015

Puddleflex trousers from Muddy Puddles - A review

We have to battle with a 1.5 mile walk to school every morning. When the weather is not so great, this can often result in our children starting their school day with soggy trousers which is not good for anyone! When we were asked if we would like to review a pair of Puddleflex trousers by Muddy Puddles, we jumped at the chance and saw this as a solution to our problems. As it was half term (and unusually not too rainy!) we decided to put them through their paces by visiting some local rockpools. Here's how we got on:-



Our initial impressions of the trousers were that they were very well made and of a lot higher quality than I expected - I am pretty sure they will withstand more than just a rain shower (in fact according to their website, these trousers have been designed to withstand even the strongest of storms).


In terms of design, I love the foot loops and elasticated ankle cuffs too which mean that they don't slide up Jack's legs when he was wearing his wellies (as I have often found is the case with other trousers) and keep him as dry as possible. The foot loops are adjustable and can be worn underneath or over wellies too depending on requirements (we preferred them under). The RRP for these trousers is £20 which I think is extremely competitive and very good value.



Although these trousers are made of a fairly thick material, they aren't lined but are still nice and soft on the inside. They are very roomy meaning Jack can easily pull them on top of his school uniform or clothes by himself. Jack turned 4 in December last year and I would describe him as a pretty average sized 4 year old. The 3-4 year old size fit him perfectly and I think will probably see him through the whole year.


Jack loved wearing these trousers, they kept him nice and warm and he loved that he had the freedom to jump in puddles, roll around the sand (yes really!) and paddle in the sea without the fear of getting wet.

After our trip to the beach we simply removed the (now smelly, wet and dirty) trousers and washed them at 30 degrees and were as good as new ready for our next adventure.


I have found these trousers to be extremely practical. They are so much more than just 'shower proof' and we found them to be fully waterproof. I will certainly have them on stand by for any rainy school runs we have to face and will be using them when we next visit the beach or go rock pooling. They will also be fantastic in the Summer when we go camping as a way to protect Jack's clothes from the filth they usually get covered in!

Here are our final scores on the doors:-

Fit - 5/5
Quality - 5/5
Durability - 5/5
Comfort - 5/5
Price - 4/5
Practicality - 5/5

Overall - 5/5

The trousers received 4/5 on price as postage also needs to be considered (from £3.95) and the only other place I would perhaps mark these trousers down for is their design - they are fairly plain and I would love to see some bright and funky designs in the future. Overall though I think these trousers are superb and I am going to order some for my daughter too.

We were gifted with a pair of Puddleflex trousers in return for our honest review.

Puddleflex Trousers are available from ages 18 months - 6 years in both blue and pink. They can be ordered online here:- Puddleflex Trousers


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Wednesday, 25 February 2015

St Mary's Lighthouse, Whitley Bay - My place of calm

There is nothing worse than having a pounding headache and being cooped up inside. If I am suffering from a bad head (as is often the case), I often find it does me some good to take myself off to the North East coast in search of fresh air and calm.


There are many spots of calm across the coastline but I find the benches overlooking St Mary's Lighthouse in Whitley Bay to be a particular quiet place to simply sit and just be.



There is something very calming about taking some time out to focus on watching the tide crash around the rocks below and I find that closing your eyes for a few moments to just listen to the waves as they rhythmically move really helps to relieve any tension you may be feeling.



After 10-15 minutes of fresh sea air, I will usually feel a lot calmer, more at peace and my pounding head will have often eased.

St Mary's Lighthouse can be found here: St Mary's Island Causeway, Whitley Bay NE26 4RS
There are plenty of seats available for you to quietly sit and watch the Sea. Why not visit the next time you feel the need to restore calm in your life.

This #BetterPlaces post is in support of the Syndol Headache Relief find Your Better Place campaign with BritMums. Syndol Headache Relief is now formulated for headaches. Visit www.syndol.co.uk for online resources with information about headaches and how to restore calm in your life.

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Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Family Dining at The Old Storehouse, Amble

The Old Storehouse is a 200 year old building in the heart of Northumberland. With it's stone walls, stunning decor and intimate lighting, a warm welcome is guaranteed. Owned and managed by Park Leisure as part of the luxury Amble Links park, The Old Storehouse is fully accessible to the public with it's own car park and entrance before you reach the park barriers.


Before I visit anywhere I have to fully analyse their website and menu's. I was full of hope as The Old Storehouse promised locally sourced food that was cooked freshly to order. Their website states if you need anything changed or have any dietary requirements they will happily accommodate and there is a specials board which changes daily. All sounded very promising!

There is a lovely enclosed play area next to the pub's entrance which was a big hit with our children. They happily played outside while we enjoyed a glass of wine and perused the menu.




I loved the interior of the pub with all it's quirky and individual detail. The site had £3 million spent on it a few years ago and it certainly shows. The Old Storehouse has a modern and luxurious feel to it yet you wouldn't feel out of place relaxing in your shorts and t-shirt in the Summer. We loved the lighting (especially the feature wall that changes colour), the water fountains and candle lit tables.





Before I start with the food, I just want to point out that the service we received was absolutely perfect for families - these guys know what they are doing! We were asked if we would like our children's meals brought out with our starter and then again if they wanted dessert as soon as they had finished their main which was perfect for us as we weren't ordering a sweet. There is nothing worse than hanging around waiting for your children's dessert when it is near bedtime. Service was friendly, attentive and knowledgable and we never felt rushed. The staff are confident and did not need to check back with the kitchen staff every time we asked a question.

Food


To start we ordered the Seafood Platter which was bursting with some of the juiciest tempura king prawns we've ever had along with salt and pepper Calamari, local soft shell crab and hand breaded whitebait bites. The platter was overflowing with delicious fresh seafood and at only £12.50 was simply incredible. I bet this would be lovely to share with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in the Summer.




For our mains I ordered North Sea Cod and hand cut chips and hubby ordered a 8oz Rothbury Family Butchers Beef burger with homemade ketchup and hand cut chips. It is refreshing to receive PROPER CHIPS in a pub as this seems like a rarity these days. Both of our portions were huge and we were both definitely struggling with our last few bites. Our food was gorgeous though and we had no complaints.




Children's Menu

As much care and attention has been devoted the children's menu as the main menu. Food is again, locally sourced and meals are cooked freshly to order. Children's meals are only £4 each which is a bargain as portions are huge and the quality is fantastic.



Mini Fillets of North Sea Cod with Hand Cut Chips and peas - £4



Spaghetti Bolognese made with 100% British Beef - £4



Free Range Chicken Breast, hand tossed in breadcrumbs and baked with hand cut chips and peas - £4

I cannot believe it was only £4 for FREE RANGE chicken goujons and hand cut chips - I don't know of anywhere that compares on price and quality!

Children's desserts are priced at £2.50 each and we were pleased to see thought had again gone into the presentation and extra points for serving homemade ice cream.


Children's homemade ice cream - £2.50


Children's Banana Split - £2.50

We were really impressed with every aspect of our evening at The Old Storehouse and bet it is now going to be a regular stopping place for us as we travel around Northumberland. At the moment, The Old Storehouse is closed on a Monday and Tuesday and open 11am-11pm Wednesday - Sunday. 

Links road
Amble
Northumberland
NE65 0SD
Telephone us on 01665 710500

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We were invited to dine with The Old Storehouse by Park Leisure in return for our honest review. We have also been given a £20 gift voucher for The Old Storehouse to giveaway to one lucky reader. Simply enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below to be in with a chance of winning.

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Monday, 23 February 2015

The Bowes Museum

We are slowly but surely making our way around all of the museum's in the North East. A visit to a museum is something my 8 year old will always ask to do and my younger two are usually happy to go with the flow. This week, it was the turn of The Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, somewhere none of us have been before and we didn't really know what to expect. I had read a few reviews online warning of us about a certain piece of modern art in the foyer, but other than that, we were visiting with no expectations.


Here is said piece of modern art. I expected to hate it and agree with those who had said it has no place in such a historic building but I actually found it rather amusing and the kids LOVED it! Anything that gets the kids interested in art gets my vote. At the end of every exhibit the kids would ask if they could 'see the wee'ing man again' HAHA! I'm sure they weren't the only ones. Unfortunately this particular exhibit closed at the weekend but I am sure it will be replaced with something equally as stimulating.

Entry to The Bowes Museum is £9.50 for adult and children under 16 are free. It is better value to buy a 6 month's pass for £14 as you will be able to visit again at no extra cost when the exhibit's change in the Spring/Summer (look out for YSL:Style is Eternal which opens on 11th July).

Ground Floor

The Ground floor of the museum is very child friendly. We enjoyed looking at the historic toys (and trying a few), the beautiful dolls houses and the various activities that were laid out on the table. There is also a dressing up zone where you can dress up as a Victorian child.


Free Craft: Make a Victorian Paper Doll

Daddy and Heidi trying out some Victorian toys

Learning about various joints

Identifying bugs under a microscope that can destroy museum artefacts

Floor One

Floor One is home to the beautiful Fashion and Textile Gallery which at the moment is focused around birds. I loved looking at all of the beautiful dresses as did my daughter (the boys not so much).



There are also various art galleries on this floor including some modern art. I think you can be interested in art at any age and our children never seem bored looking at pictures and always seem to find them interesting.


You can learn about the history of The Bowes Museum on this floor too and wander around the rooms which are set up as were in times gone by.


Floor Two

Floor Two is home to The Silver Gallery which contains lots of shiny objects. We loved what we called treasure chests and the large goblets on display. There is a beautiful silver swan in the centre of the room and the crowds gathered at 2pm to watch it play.


We waited in anticipation when a museum guide popped up out of the blue to start the swan. He was rather humorous and warned us that the swan only 'performed' for 32 seconds so we had better not blink or we'd miss it (Cue my daughter holding her eyes open). At over 200 years old I think the swan performed beautifully and I'm pleased we stayed to watch. The guide was available to answer questions afterwards.

There are some traditional picture galleries on this floor too which you might think children may find boring but I can hand on heart say my children really enjoyed looking around. We always ask them to pick their favourite and least favourite pictures in the room and to think of a reason why. I love that at even 4 years old, our children are starting to discuss art.

This 'cow' was a favourite painting

Cafe Bowes


Half way through our visit our children needed re-fuelling and we joined the queue for Cafe Bowes at about 1pm. Table service is provided and we were recommended to try the Jaffa Cake Ice Cream which was on special that day (we loved it). Children's meals were £4.50 for a sandwich, chips, fruit and a glass of juice or £5.95 for a hot meal and juice. Service was very friendly and if you are lucky enough to grab a window seat you will enjoy beautiful views of the gardens and grounds.




You can also order afternoon tea after 2pm. Click here for a full menu.

Park and Gardens

It was a freezing cold day and stupidly I had forgotten my coat so we didn't explore too much of the outdoor space. There is a newly refurbished play park for children, landscaped gardens and an accessible woodland walk. I imagine it would be a lovely place to spend a few hours breaking up your day in the warmer months.





Family Friendly

My overall impression is that The Bowes Museum was extremely welcoming towards families. I really liked the fact that there were craft tables dotted around the building with interesting and various activities - these could be making your own paper man with moveable joints, designing a mask and completing jigsaw puzzles. The activities complimented the room they were in and were enjoyed by lots of families during our visit. 

All of the staff were lovely with our children and you don't feel like you are on edge when you are walking around - the atmosphere is very relaxed. There are various family trails, backpacks and quizzes available at reception too which will involve your children even more.

We spent a good three-four hours in the museum but could have easily spent more, especially if we had explored more of the grounds. If you want to introduce your children to art, design and history, The Bowes Museum is a very good place to start.

We received complimentary tickets to the museum in return for our honest review. 



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