Wednesday, September 21, 2016

School Reviewer - An unmissable FREE resource for UK parents


If you are a parent chances are your questions and worries about what school they will go to, how they are getting on, what the next step will be... began long before you signed any registration form. As parents we worry and we question, that's our job.

For parents in the UK there is now a wonderful resource to help you not only choose the right school for your child, but also chat to other parents, watch invaluable videos on specific exam paper questions, view catchment areas, buy and sell uniforms and other items, find tutors in your area and much more.

School Reviewer

schoolreviewer.co.uk previously provided a database of detailed profiles, academic data and OFSTED reports. The number of establishments currently covered is apporx 40k.

schoolreviewer.co.uk is the only site in the UK that not only gives parents the invaluable stats and knowledge about every UK school at every level,  it also lets them know which homes fall into which catchment areas.  


The site allows parents to talk with other parents on school forums, both individually as single schools and nationally.

It’s also the only site with walk through question by question downloadable videos for GCSE math’s, SATS and 11+ papers.  The only one to show how a 100% A+ grade can be scored on all papers. It's an impressive resource. The mathematics consultant is a maths teacher at Surrey University who has over 30 years experience in teaching all levels of maths, and who currently sets and marks the national papers such as SATS and GCSE.

It is also the only site with a unique buy and sell section that allows parents to sell old, outgrown and no longer needed school items - something that almost all of us could do with after totting up those back to school costs.

It is also the only site that is also recruiting tutors for free on its site so all parents will have access to the right and nearest tutors to help their children again through their educational journey.



Clever doesn't even come close!

The site's main aim is to guide parents through the whole school experience - from rating available schools in their catchment area, to discussing tips and issues with other parents, to sourcing or selling on related items, to getting the very best grades for their child. It's a wholesome approach that takes on an impressive amount of details in order to provide a one stop site covering everything parents may need.

The site is constantly being updated and improved, with new resources being added all the time.

Whether you're starting out on the educational path, or nearing the end of your school journey - it is well worth a look.

Even Baroness Karen Brady thinks so. You can see her interview live on School Reviewer website now.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. 



Sunday, September 11, 2016

Puglia Part 2: Alberobello, Polignano a mare and Matera


The one thing I love about travel blogging is that you get to revisit in your mind all the places you actually visited when you were off gallivanting wherever you were. 

My Italian adventure was quickly receding into memory, reduced to a faded picture of me lying by a pool in the long gone sunshine. But now it's all back in the forefront of my mind, thanks to rummaging through my camera roll for this post *happy face*

So, Puglia. 

We stayed in Noci - in this little hideaway. Following a day or two of lounging by the pool at our perfect trullo, we took to the winding streets to visit some of the must-see towns around. First up - 

Alberobello



Alberobello is famous for its trullos. We strolled the narrow streets spotting them every so often, before stumbling across a whole host of them clustered together on the other side of town. Many of the trullos are still homes, with lots of them converted to shops, bars, wine cellars and even hotels. 




As far as the eye can see








It's a stunning and unique place and well worth a visit.

Next stop on our day trip itinerary was the drop dead gorgeous -

Polignano a mare



We arrived the week before the Red Bull Cliff Diving competitions. The high boards were already set up and when you stand on the cliffs opposite, believe me - they are high. 


We hopped around down here plucking up the courage to jump a pathetic few feet - and still managed to leave blood on the rocks.
Check out those camera-shy Italian boys


No thanks



As the clouds rolled in and the winds picked up the coast line changed dramatically to moody, danger-filled cliff tops.


The town itself is filled with little streets and open squares with bars and restaurants in abundance. A fab day out. 

Our final day trip was spent sheltering from a thunderstorm in - 

Matera


Built on a cliff side the whole town is developed from a series of caves that became local homes. Prior to the 70's whole families and their animals including chickens and horses would live in these cramped caves. Eventually the government forced them to leave, providing proper housing, but in recent years the old caves have been redeveloped into houses, restaurants and hotels.

It's an impressive sight, even if you are huddled under a parasol slurping your remaining wine as the rain pelts down and the thunder rolls through you.


Every place we visited had incredible food for bargain busting prices. One three course meal with wine cost €30 - for the two of us. Our most expensive meal out was €60 and that was in a beautiful traditional restaurant that served us up six main courses to get through - plus starters, wine and dessert. Greedy much?

If you're considering Italy for a holiday in the near future you'd be wise to at least think about Puglia - it's the only holiday you'll ever go on where you spend less than you expected to. Just watch that waistline...

Thursday, September 1, 2016

An Italian hideaway

Ever dream of running away? Ditch the kids, jump on a plane and have a proper holiday?

Well I can tell you now - I'd highly recommend it.

I'm just back from a week of perfect peace at the stunning Masseria Tinelli in Puglia, Southern Italy.  


It's an unbelievable find - one of those almost-to-good-to-be-true-maybe-it-doesn't-actually-exist places on Airbnb. The ones that you close your eyes, click confirm and hope to god it'll be there when you touchdown. 

And fortunately I can confirm that it does. 

Surrounded by olive groves and fig trees, Masseria Tinelli offers the choice of staying in a small private trullo or a larger apartment in the old house, all based on a working farm that our host Marina and her parents still run. 

Our trullo was perfection. Quiet, secluded and recently renovated just last year. The design and build mean that it remains cool on those melting hot days and warm on the colder ones. 


The stroll from the trullo to the pool runs through the olive groves, and you can pick ripe fruit from the trees as you go. The communal pool was almost always deserted, with the occasional other guest passing through from time to time. 



Staying on a agritourisma site allows you to see parts of Italy, and meet wonderful people that you wouldn't normally get the chance to. We took full advantage of their Italian cooking class - followed of course by a huge traditional meal where we got to meet other guests, locals and family during a wonderful evening. With our party covering every age from 2 to 92 it was an unforgettable experience. Grandma's cooking was some of the best we ate over the whole week (and we ate A LOT). And Papa's homemade wine was rich and smooth with not a touch of a hangover the next day. You can't get better than that. 

Our lovely host Marina
Dinner by the pool
The farm is a 1k walk from the nearest town, which is lively but almost entirely devoid of tourists. The food is unbelievably good and almost insultingly cheap. Among the best dishes we sampled (did I mention that there were many, many dishes..?) were - wild boar pasta, lamb casserole, seafood linguine, aubergine parmagiano, courgettes with mint and lemon, pizzas, pizzas, pizzas, wine, wine, wine and of course always ice cream to finish.

We rolled home each night thinking of hot, strong coffee and fresh fruit by the pool the following morning. The most taxing task of the day being lifting my book a little higher to block out the sun's glare. And so the days melted into each other and the stresses melted away.

If you think you could handle non-stop eating, drinking, sunning and relaxing, I'd highly recommend it. Tell Marina I sent you, and don't believe her brother about his Dad's wine. No hangovers, promise.


Useful Info: 
Ryanair fly from Dublin to Bari
Bari to Noci is approx 1 hour by car
Airbnb link to Masseria Tinelli


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Top Model

It's been a busy summer so far. The work, life, kids juggle is even more tricky without school, so we've been trying to make the most of the down days and weekends when they come around.

This week the middle boy turned 10. Double figures and obviously cause for celebration.

To coincide with this, George at Asda got in touch to offer me and my daughter the chance to pick some outfits from their ever expanding range. We spent a lovely evening lying in bed fine tuning our choices before sending through the order. (Did you know Asda now ship to Ireland too? An excellent discovery on my previously unaware part.)

So amidst the weekend of cake and presents and sleepovers at Grandma's house we got to take some pictures of our new threads.

It's very obvious that only one of us is a pro here, so please don't judge too harshly.






Not so Mini Me




The 8 year old practising his photography skills

 And that's a wrap.





Disclosure: All clothes were provided free of charge as part of the #GeorgeMiniMe campaign.

Friday, July 15, 2016

My hometown

The other week I read the lovely Where wishes come from's ode to her hometown, a town which happens to neighbour mine.

Since then I've had a stream of words and memories tumbling around my head that have been waiting to find a place on a page, or a screen at the very least.

So seeing as I only have a small amount of space in my brain left these days, I think it's probably time that I made room for some of the more pressing matters in my life - such as who is minding my kids this week and when the hell am I going to get the time to wash those clothes.

So.

My hometown. It's not hard to pop on the rose tinted glasses and get all nostalgic about it, because the fact is it was very much a fairy tale place to grow up in.


We lived in a house with a big garden right in the centre of the village. My earliest memories are of sun soaked summers, walking barefoot down the main street and over the iron bridge to the beach. The old brown bridge provided it's own entertainment for many years - each step was patterned with one of three designs and we would race each other over it shouting diamonds! fishes! holes! fishes! fishes! diamonds! until we tripped over ourselves or our words and someone was declared the winner.

On the other side of the bridge we entered my most important world. The sea. But only after trying to figure out the absolute centre stone in that weird stone circle thing by the public toilets first.

As kids we would jump through the waves screaming with cold and delight. Later years saw us graduate to 'the mens' where we would dare each other to jump and dive from ever more dangerous places. The board, the bridge, the blue spot, the mini blue, the wall.. Somehow we survived it all, though looking back I'm not exactly sure how.

In those early days there was also a raft there. I used to look longingly at it as it bobbed up and down in the distance, so far away even for a decent swimmer like me. The older, cooler teenagers would take it in turns to swim one handed out to it, carrying cigarettes that they would then light up as they lolled around sunbathing. I promised myself that one day I would make it out there, but I never did. The raft got broken up in a storm and was never replaced. Years later I saw a photo of that raft - it sat about 20 feet from the rocks we jumped off. It felt like going back to primary school and sitting on tiny plastic chairs that had seemed so big at the time.



The barefoot walk would then continue round to Mrs. Mooney's to buy Mr.Freezes, then back home over the hump back bridge with an inevitable stubbed toe along the way.

Those years are filled with many, many more half memories.

The old tramp that lived in the rundown outhouse in the church yard. We called him the The Tailor and he would sometimes call to the house and sit on a chair on the front porch while my father delicately gave him a shave, the sharp blade glinting in the sunshine. I remember the look of peace and gratitude as his face was gently wiped down with a warm towel. Human touch.

Whole days were spent playing tip the can with all the neighbourhood kids. Den building. Spying on the 'secret society' that were definitely plotting something in the old Masonic building. Sliding down the roof of the CSSM tent and getting caught. The Octagon. Borrowing boats from the harbour. Crunching our way through snow to the top of the golf course, coal bags in hand, watching with wonder and fear as older and bold kids upgraded their form of transport to a car roof. Penny sweets from Eugenes, quarters of lemon sherbets from the La Touche, picking up friends orders from Forget-me-knots on the way back to school after running home for lunch.

When I hit my teens the basketball courts took over from the beach and I would spend long days playing with friends and - very importantly - boys, until it got too dark to see the hoop and we would all amble happily home together.

So very wholesome and healthy, but of course it wasn't long until we were drinking in D'arcy's field and showing fake ID in The Burnaby. Cabanas and The Stables were a foregone conclusion, and I don't think we could have had more fun anywhere else in the world. We still regale each other with tales from that time, memories bonding us forevermore.

During college I moved away to a new town, returning weekends to work the bar in the new nightclub back home. I spent Friday and Saturday nights watching my friends drinking and dancing and felt myself suspended - one foot in each place - not quite belonging in either.

The town was changing and I wasn't really a part of it. New shops popped up, new estates filled with families I didn't know, houses turned into business, and everything shifted.

The years following saw me living in places as diverse as Dublin, Sydney, London, Bristol, Aughrim and Spain. I nearly made a life in some of them, but none ever felt like home. I would always come back to visit of course. Driving from the airport I would get a pain in my heart when I reached the crest of the hill coming into the town, to see the harbour and the sea and the houses twinkling below me. My town.

And then I came home for good. And it felt like a deep exhale. Like stepping back into a pair of old comfortable shoes. Like belonging. Like family. Well, like coming home.

And now I hope the fairy tale continues with my own kids. And maybe one day when I'm old and infirm their kids will push me up the main street, while I moan and give out and ask where Scuffles is and what happened to Loves Supermarket and who are all these blow ins anyway?

Let's hope so.


Monday, July 4, 2016

Jobs, juggling and turning corners

So yeah, I got a job. It's not that I forgot to write about it. I just wanted to have something to write about when I did.

And now I do.

Two months ago I began working with the wonderful Zahra Media Group who produce lots of big Irish magazines like Easy Parenting, Easy Food and xPose Magazine. Somehow the stars aligned and I was given the opportunity to become their Digital Manager for Parenting - a title that seems a little too grand but one that I am very happy to take on.

So I slipped on some heels, slipped out the door and became a proper working mum that goes to an actual office.

And what an office it is.



I have to say it's been pretty wonderful. There's obviously the juggling business and that tricky believing in yourself lark, but the commute is just a twenty minute drive and the people are completely awesome. 

So anyway - drumroll please - this week sees the launch of the new website I've been brought in to get off the ground and make amazing. It's a slightly terrifying prospect, but someone told me recently I was a badass so I'm doing my best to believe it. 

Obviously there were cupcakes purchased.


And then we all had a sugar rush and started to look ridiculous.


We're a professional bunch though. Promise.

Fancy a look? The website is www.mumsonline.com and we're Easy Parenting on Facebook. 

Do pop over and say hello, I have cake don't you know...



Friday, July 1, 2016

Cruise Control


Every thought of a cruise for your next family holiday? Chances are you probably haven't. It's not really the first thing that comes to mind for most of us when we're planning that precious week or two in the sun.

For one there's the expense, and then there's all the old people, not to mention being stuck on a boat with no escape. And lets not even get into the thoughts of one of the kids going overboard...

But just hang on a moment, because it seems that cruises have changed significantly in recent years.

Ships are now catering to whole families with multiple pools, kids clubs, spas, a choice of restaurants and basically anything you'd expect from a great hotel abroad - but with the added benefit of seeing the world and exploring different ports while you're at it.

Having had tour and lunch onboard the Caribbean Princess which was recently docked in Dublin I have to admit it's a tempting option.

The scale of the operation is truly awe inspiring. Not even close to being one of the biggest cruise ships out there the Caribbean Princess caters to over 3000 guests with over 1000 staff. That's a jaw dropping 1 :3 ratio of staff to guest.

But the size doesn't mean the quality is compromised. The food on offer is varied, great quality and caters to every need and whim.

Case in point - these hand made chocolates. And yes - they do taste as good as they look.


The staff are incredibly knowledgeable, happy and fun to be around. But sure why wouldn't they be - they get to sail the high seas and travel the world for a living. 


So what's on offer? 

Even though this isn't one of the largest ships there is so much to see and do. Multiple restaurants and bars, theatres, spas, gyms, kids clubs, pools, casinos and relaxation areas. The cabins are cosy and cleaned twice a day. There's 24 hour room service too. Oh, and did I mention that all your food is included in the price?






I visited the ship on a rainy, wet day in Dublin and was still impressed. The thoughts of lying by the pool with blue skies, sunshine and the ocean spreading our all around me has me reaching for my captain's hat. Let's just hope for your sake I'm not piloting your one...


The Carribean Princess is part of Princess Cruises and was visiting Duiblin as part of their British Isles tour. There is loads of great information on their website and you can get lost in their itineraries of cruises to everywhere from Alaska to New Zealand. Prices begin in the region of £450 pp.

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