Monday, August 31, 2015

Science4You Soap Factory - A Review

We were recently sent a soap making kit from Science4You to test out and review. Science4You produce a range of scientific and educational toys that allow children to learn about scientific matters in a fun way. 

When is arrived in the post Kaya actually did a little happy dance and claimed that she had wanted to try soap making for YEARS. Who knew...?

With her brothers safely packed off out of the way she dived straight in. 


The Soap Factory  provides you with all you need to make a selection of soaps like a seahorse, a fish and a shell, adding different colour combinations and even glitter and different perfumes.  All of the products come with a 36 page educational booklet which delves into the basic concepts of science and how it applies to our everyday life. The booklets are all linked to the UK science curriculum.



As a parent of three kids between the ages of 6 and 11 I have seen a number of these type of kits come through the house - though this is the first Science4You product we've used. Quite often kits are supplied in big boxes which, once opened, produce a disappointing return. I can honestly say that this is not the case with this kit - which included solid soap, colouring, glitter, perfume, pipettes, gloves, moulds and even ribbons and wrap for gifting the finished product.

Kaya and her cousin tested out mixing colours, turning a solid soap into a liquid one and designing their own creations. They absolutely loved it, and although parental supervision is recommended I let them at it themselves - with strict instructions about using the microwave and lots of paper towels for mopping up spilt food colouring.


Science4You prides itself on designing toys that encourage education, fun and quality time with the family and I'd say they definitely hit the mark with this soap factory. 


Each of the Science4You products retail at £19.99 which isn't cheap - but it's a great bonding activity to do between friends, they learn and have fun doing it, and you could even factor in a gift for grandma or their teachers out of it. 


The girls had a really fun morning experimenting and there are lots of products left over for a second go. Plus we now have a lovely new glittery soap in the bathroom to use!


Disclosure:
I am a member of the Netmums Blogging Network, a unique community of parent bloggers from around the UK who have been handpicked by the Netmums team to review products and brands on their behalf. I may have been paid expenses, and have been supplied with a product sample for this review, but retain all editorial control. All my Netmums Reviews will display the Netmums logo within the post
This is a Netmum's sponsored review.To find out more click the button:

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Golden Years



There is a glimmer in the distance. A hazy light that draws nearer each new day that dawns until, oh! you are bathed in the beautiful glow of The Golden Years. Be careful though. They don't last forever. You need to make the most of this.

Sometime over the past year I've come to the realisation that I have hit that perfect moment in child-rearing, when all three children are of the age when they are independent enough to be able to not need me 24/7, but are yet to think that I am the most embarrassing creature ever to have blighted their earth.

They play together, get their own breakfasts, pop to the shops for forgotten milk and even react appropriately to parental bribery.

But not just that. They are actually sometimes fun to be around.



I know! We are finally at a stage where we can jump in the sea together and have water flights without one of them crying about getting wet. We can go cycling together without one of them falling off into the on-coming traffic. We can go for dinner together and have *gasp* a proper conversation that does not make you want to stick a fork in your eye. We can cheer each other on at actually entertaining football matches, and spend time at home watching genuinely good movies.

And it can be great.

However, now that I have had this epiphany I also realise that the clock is ticking. It is but a brief slice of time that these golden years are bestowed upon us. Already the tweenage hormones are surfacing and the door banging is beginning.

I'm doing my best to ignore it. But it's coming. As I lie on the golden beach of parenting the tsunami of horror is building. In two years my first born will turn teenager, closely followed by her two brothers, and it will be back to those dark and stormy days of old.

What the next phase will bring is anyone's guess, but for now - the shades are on and the warmth is welcome.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The best back to school shoes for your children's feet

My brother is a constant source of embarrassment to our family.  He is known in our town as 'that guy who never wears shoes'. Which is all very well if it's summer and you're heading to the beach - not so much when you meet him in a posh restaurant in November and the barefoot horror is exposed to the rest of the unfortunate diners. 

Anyway, I digress. The main reason he began going barefoot is due to a persistent bad back that regular shoes seemed to exacerbate. So he ditched them and has never looked back since. Barefoor 1: Shoes 0.

Our family was born and brought up by the sea and we spent much of our childhoods running to and from the beach barefooted. I really do think that children's feet should be allowed to breath and grow without restriction as much as possible. It's something I'm a great believer in - as my own children's feet can testify:



So when Barefoot shoes pioneer Vivobarefoot got in touch with me I was delighted to test them out and spread the word. 



Not only do Vivo Barefoot produce wider, flat-soled, flexible shoes without cushioning - which are proven to mitigate issues of footwear damaging children’s feet - they have gone one barefoot step further and launched a nationwide campaign to  highlight the damage ill-fitting, tapered non-foot shaped shoes do to children’s feet.



Supported by medical professionals and parents across the UK, the barefoot shoe brand is mounting pressure on mainstream footwear manufacturers and retailers to carry warnings informing people of the danger of conventional footwear design on a child’s natural foot development.

In order to educate parents, Vivobarefoot is running parent learning sessions at its London store in London and has provided a guide to buying safe shoes on its website www.vivobarefoot.com

Galahad Clark, founder of Vivobarefoot and member of the famous Clarkes Shoes family commented:

“Our kids’ feet are being physically deformed by the shoes they wear – resulting in a national crisis – and the footwear industry has turned a blind eye to the damage being done for too long now. The mainstream footwear industry has sold parents a lie and their failure to come clean about the dangers is becoming a public health issue. We want to educate and empower parents to protect the feet of their children and put them on a path of healthy natural development.”

And yes he's even talking about his own family's shoe empire there. 

We chose a really gorgeous pair of navy and lime trainers that the notoriously shoe fussy six year old absolutely adores. They are cool, comfortable and kind to his feet. What more could a kid or their parent want from a pair of shoes? 



Luckily our school isn't too strict about shoe colour or type - so these will be the only shoes he will need for the year - inside and outside of school. They do have more traditional type shoes available though and they all follow the same 'barefoot' ethos.

My boy has been putting these ones to the maximum test - running, climbing and jumping in them. These shoes are all about allowing your body to move as evolution intended - barefoot. 


 In fact, he is such a fan he refuses to take this pair of shoes off - a first for anyone in this family.  



Which reminds me - I must go and send that link to my brother... 

Disclosure: I was provided with a choice of shoes from Vivobarefoot for the purposes of this review. I strongly believe in both the brand and it's ethos and highly recommend you take a look around it's website or pop into one of their sessions in the London store. They also do adult footwear. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

8 of the best beaches in the Algarve



I've always been a beach person. I grew up by the beach, I live by the beach and when I go on holidays I go somewhere with a beach. I can't imagine not being beside the sea for any stretch of time. I love it. It's my happy place. 

We are lucky enough to be off to The Algarve in Portugal shortly as guests of Martinhal Family Resort in Sagres. The resort itself is something special - last year it was award not only Portugal's leading family resort, but Europe's leading family resort too. To say we're excited would be more than an understatement. 


Martinhal Beach that the resort sits on offers surfing, windsurfing, stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, or simply lazing around on the miles of sandy shore. I can't wait to get there and get snapping. Pictures to follow, obviously. 


Some of the other great beaches along the Algarve include these ones, chosen by the experts:


Praia do Zavial (Vila do Bispo) - surfing

Praia do Zavial is the perfect surfing beach for all levels; the smaller swells provide younger and beginner surfers with a great opportunity to take to the water but when the bigger swells arrive it’s time for the advanced surfers to demonstrate their skills. The beach is a haven, away from the typical tourist beaches and features no souvenir shops, ice cream venders or sun loungers, ensuring that Zavial’s wonderful natural beauty remains unspoilt. 




Praia do Barril (also known as Pedras D’El Rei) - Family-Friendly 

All 100 of the Algarve’s blue-flag beaches offer a family-friendly environment, safe waters and clean sands but Praia do Barril offers a fantastic family day out. With a miniature railway running to the beach from the car park at Pedras del Rei, the kids are sure to be entertained right from the start. Located between two other beaches, Barril has a number of restaurants and cafes to keep everyone well fed and watered. For those that want to hit the waters pedalos and canoes are available to explore the coastline and a lifeguard is on watch to ensure everyone’s safety.

Praia da Murração (Vila do Bispo) - Seclusion 
Praia da Murração is perfect for those looking for a secluded alternative to Praia do Amado and is sure not to disappoint! Murração is otherwise known as the ‘Jewel of the Costa Vicentina’ and with its pristine natural beauty it is easy to see why. Surrounded by cliffs and accessible only by off-road vehicle, the secluded beach is one of the rare areas where the vegetation meets the high tide line and on the cliff tops sheep can be seen grazing.




Praia de Monte Gordo (Monte Gordo) - 
Accessiblity
For those needing a more accessible beach Praia de Monte Gordo has the answer. The beautiful golden beach features a free car park and convenient disabled access, ensuring everyone can make the most of the Algarve’s coastline. The beach also has over 10 bar-restaurants and even more shops and cafes on the road behind, making this accessible beach perfect for the entire family.

Praia da Rocha (Portimão) - Activities and Diving
Praia da Rocha is the perfect destination for those looking for an active day at the beach. There’s plenty of activities available including jet skiing, surfing, boat trips and diving the fantastic Ocean Revival Project, the World’s largest single artificial reef which comprises of four purposely-sunk warships.

Benagil Caves (Carvoeiro) - Exploring 
The Benagil Sea Caves offer a completely different kind of beach experience; with beautiful arches formed out of rock, calm waters, natural ‘skylights’ and beaches only accessible by boat, the sea caves are the perfect place to explore.

Ilha Deserta (Parque Natural da Ria Formosa) - Exclusivity
Ilha Deserta is the perfect location for those wanting to venture a little further. This fantastic unspoilt beach is located on a deserted island which is easily reachable by ferry. Ilha Deserta is set within a beautiful protected park, which is sure to provide visitors with the perfect landscape in which to relax.



       
Now, who's on for a last minute summer holiday?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Why Giving Up Shampoo Will Make You Question Everything



Today is the fourteenth day that I haven't washed my hair. That's two weeks rather than my usual two days.

*waits for the 'I can smell you from here' jokes to subside*

Why would I do such a thing? Well a couple of different reasons really.

1. A really gorgeous role model

2. A festival

When I headed off to Camp Bestival I knew that I wouldn't get a shower for a few days so I washed my hair at the very last moment, blow dried it straight, and headed off with fingers crossed.

After three days without a mirror you sort of stop caring what you look like, so when I sat barefoot on the grass to listen to Lucy from Lulastic and the Hippieshake talk about 'How to stop washing your hair' I thought - 'Hey! I can do this!' Seeing as I was four days in already I reckoned I had a good head start so I just kept going.

I've since sold it to the kids too. I rarely wash the boys hair with more than water so it's actually not too much of a challenge.

This is me one week in. First post-festival night out. Looking pretty smug it has to be said, until I met my sister that is...



But WHY?

For me it's mostly about the toxins we are slathering all over ourselves every day. There are a huge number of nasties in most of the beauty products we buy, and the more you look into it the scarier it becomes:

"Cocamide diethanolamine was found to be 98 shampoos available on the high street. Cocamide DEA is not only an allergen with high potential as an irritant but it is known carcinogen and banned in some States"  - Lucy Aitkenread, The Definitive Guide to Giving Up Shampoo

Basically what shampoo and conditioners do is wash the natural oils out of your hair. We then use other products to put it back in, leaving our hair confused and over-producing it's natural oils. Not to mention all the chemicals entering our bodies.

So have we just been hood-winked by big business to use these potions that really we don't need? And if we can get rid of shampoo and conditioner what else can we get rid of? (Answers on a postcard please).

When I think of how many years of hair washing my kids have ahead of them that's a hell of a lot of unneeded chemicals being put on and into their bodies.

The Zoe Report has a really interesting post 'How to know which beauty products are actually natural'- which also produces the below infographic. Did you know that our bodies absorb 60% of the topical products we use? I certainly didn't.




Of course if you are only using products that you would be happy to eat - such as lemon or honey then you don't have to worry about labels. But if you're thinking of dipping a toe in then this is a good place to start.

Issues:

No major issues as far as I'm concerned. Although when I told my aforementioned sister about it she recoiled in horror telling me that I was disgusting. So thanks for that.

My hair is definitely 'waxier' than normal, as you'd expect, but nothing I can't live with for the moment and hopefully it should settle into it's own self cleaning rhythm soon and be shinier and healthier than ever.

Isn't that right Lucy...?

Alternatives:


Who knew there was a whole 'no poo' (no shampoo) sub-culture going on out there? A quick Google will bring up a host of alternative shampoos and conditioners from nature that you can use.

So far I've washed with bicarbonate of soda, lemon juice, cider vinegar and an egg (not all at once). It's been pretty painless and extremely interesting.

Lucy has tonnes of detailed suggestions on how best to use these and many, many others alternatives in her ebook.

So that's it for now. I'll let you know in another few months if I go the distance or if I succumb to the shiny hair flick perfection of big chemical love.

Want to try it for yourself? Join me at #naturalhairchallenge and let me know how you get on.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Camp Bestival - Getting There from Ireland.


Camp Bestival takes place every year at Lulworth Castle in the heart of Dorset. Dorset is an incredibly beautiful part of the the UK, but not always the easiest to get to. Especially if you are travelling from Ireland.

Before planning our trip to Camp Bestival I looked into lots of options for getting there. The site is serviced by coach, rail and taxi, so in theory you could fly into Southhampton or Bournmouth and make your way from there, but to be honest if you are festivaling with kids you are going to have a lot of STUFF, so in reality you really do need a car.

Which is where those lovely people at Stena Line come in.

With ferries running between Dublin and Holyhead or Rosslare and Fishguard this is the route I'd recommend to take - not only for Camp Bestival but for any UK camping holiday or festival experience. (They also run Belfast to Cairnryan or Liverpool if you are travelling from the north).

Stena Line were kind enough to offer us return travel to Fishguard so we were able to pack up the car with all those just-in-cases and head off without worry.

Ferry travel with kids is generally a whole lot less stressful than air travel, and we were all impressed with the entertainment on offer. There is a soft play area for the little ones, a big screen movie, arcade games and even entertainers who do arts and crafts. On the return journey there was a Horrible Histories show that the kids loved (and I even managed to sneak in a much needed forty winks thanks to it!)

Early morning ferry spotting




After docking in Wales we drove to Bristol and stopped off with friends for the night. It was the perfect pit stop and, although you could make the trip to Dorset in one go (it's about 4 - 5 hours from Fishguard to Dorset), I'd recommend scheduling in an overnight stay on the way instead. On the return trip we stopped off at a Holiday Inn Express just off the motorway and got a family room for two adults and three kids for £86, which included a full cooked \ continental breakfast and - oh the joy! - actual hot showers. To be fair I probably would have paid that just for my own shower at that point so everything else was a bonus.

Once off the motorway and heading to Dorset the directions get a little more tricky. We used Google Maps to guide us but without it we would have had trouble finding our way. After lots of twists and turns and little winding roads we made it - and yes, it was absolutely worth it.







Travel times:
Ferry Rosslare - Fishguard: Approx 3 hours
Fishguard - Bristol: Approx 3 hours
Fishguard - Dorset: Approx 5 hour drive
Bristol - Dorset: Approx 2 hour drive

Dorset is an incredibly beautiful area so you could easily turn the trip into your summer holiday and either camp locally or upgrade to a holiday home for the rest of your stay. In fact next year we probably will.

Disclosure:
Stena provided free family travel to me and Camp Bestival provided a weekend family pass. All views and images are my own. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Camp Bestival - Is it worth it?


AB-SO-LUTELY! I'm going to find it hard to describe how much I loved our first trip to Camp Bestival, but I'm going to try, because if I can convince even one other family to do it then I'll be happy. 

We arrived to the site on Friday lunchtime in the glorious sunshine. Unfortunately many of the best pitches were gone by then, but we wiggled into a little gap close to the entrance and after a hot and grumpy hour lugging our gear and putting up the tents we were all set up and ready to get stuck in. 


The festival site was a short and lovely ten minute walk away - giving you plenty of opportunity to people-watch. Beware them there hills though - travel light!




First stop was the Dingly Dell. A haven of nature inspired loveliness. Here the kids did a scavenger hunt, helped to build a huge boat with real hammers and nails, did a puppet show, played games, made clay shapes, did dress up and even hand-sawed and decorated a wooden necklace.










The site is big enough that there is always something else you haven't yet seen, but not so big as to be daunting and scary. Dotted around the grounds there are a myriad of different places to explore and cafes to find.




Our favourite spot was the upper kids field that hosted Big Top Mania - a circus inspired field of fun.

The kids loved joining in the shows, learning trapeze and generally being let loose to do as the pleased.





There was always something going on or some parade or human dinosaur passing through...



I managed to escape a couple of times over the weekend to The Guardian Literary Tent where some incredible speakers and interviews were taking place.


My lovely friend Lucy from Lulastic and the Hippie Shake talked about How Not To Wash Your Hair, I'm pleased to report that I'm on day seven of that journey now. Though granted I haven't been out in 'real life' yet.

If you're intrigued or fancy trying it Lucy has a book on everything you need to know.



I also got to do the embarrassing fan thing to Hollie McNish and get my photo taken with her. I'd like to think she was bemused and flattered, but I'd say freaked out was probably more the reality. 

Security!
Other than all that there was the food (incredible), the chill out zones, the fair ground rides, the places we never even got to, the lying in the sun, the cocktails, the bands, the DJs, the dancing and the incredible last night fireworks that we sadly missed. 











Baxter got to see his all time favourite band the Kaiser Chiefs. But were all sad to have somehow missed Steve Backshall from Deadly 60 on the main stage. And then, like a little bit of Bestival magic, he later came walking through the crowd and right up to Marley to shake his hand and say hello. Priceless.


Credit: Camp Bestival

Tempted? I'll be writing up a Getting There post soon, so if you are in Ireland you won't be able to use that as an excuse. I'll also be doing a top tips post so watch out for that one. In the meantime - checkout these posts from other Camp Bestival bloggers.

Camp Bestival is simply The Best.

Note: Early bird tickets are available this Friday 7th Aug at 10am. Ticketline 0844 888 4410

Disclosure: I was provided with Camp Bestival weekend passes for the purposes of this review. All words, pictures and opinions my own unless otherwise specified. 
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