21 October 2014

Giveaway - Anyone for Mini Tennis?

*** This giveaway is now closed  ***

Congratulations to the winner, Clare A



My boys are sports mad. Their first love is football, but they enjoy being active and will give anything a go. They watch all the sport on television (given half a chance). Their favourite lesson at school is PE, so when they were asked to try LTA Mini Tennis they jumped at the chance.

What is mini-tennis?

Mini Tennis is the perfect introduction to the world of tennis for children between 3 and 10 years old. The tailored approach enables children to develop vital tennis skills and techniques at an early stage, and with all the fun and energy of the real thing. There are four stages of Mini Tennis; Tots, Red, Orange and Green, each with their own court size and type of ball.

LTA Mini Tennis Tots is for children aged 3 to 5 years old and enables them to learn the basics through a series of fun activities, based on the fundamental areas of balance, co-ordination, agility, movement and racket and ball skills. Tots play with sponge balls and 17 or 19 inch rackets.

LTA Mini Tennis Red is for players aged 8 and under and is played on small courts with mini tennis rackets and red soft balls. Within a modified space and with safer equipment, it’s just like the real game, and gives players opportunities to have long rallies and play different types of shots.

LTA Mini Tennis Orange is a progression from Mini Tennis Red, and is for players aged 8 and 9. The courts are bigger and wider than red courts, but still smaller than a full size court, and allow players to develop a rounded game whilst learning a range of techniques and tactics.

LTA Mini Tennis Green is a progression from Mini Tennis Orange, and is for players aged 9 and 10. The court is full size but played with green balls that are 25% slower than a yellow ball. It’s the next stage before moving on to full compression yellow balls on a full sized court and helps players develop and improve all aspects of their game.

Along the way, players can also earn their stripes with the LTA Mini Tennis Rally Awards. There are different levels at each stage of Mini Tennis and each level covers four different skills: Rally, Serve, Come to the Net and Score and Compete. Coaches and parents can take advantage of personalised promotional materials, awards, merchandise, equipment and clothing via the Mini Tennis Shop and www.mytennistoolkit.com.

In addition, Mini Red and Mini Orange are both great tools to adapt tennis to suit a range of disabilities.

***

So what did Presley and Cash make of their first tennis lesson?

They loved it. We were made to feel very welcome. There were eight children in the session, some had been going for a while and others were new. They started with a warm up and then moved on to learning the four stages of backhand, before playing games using a net.

The boys were able play the games well and remembered the four stages of backhand - and put them into play. They were engaged for the entire hour and thoroughly enjoyed elarning new skills.

***



The Giveaway

The Prize

· 1 x B ball Felt – Pack of 24
· 2 x Babolat Ball fighter 23” rackets
· 2 x kids t-shirts


a Rafflecopter giveaway


Terms and Conditions

The prize consists of  1 B ball Felt – Pack of 24, 2 Babolat Ball fighter 23” rackets and 2 kids t-shirts. The prize will be sent out by the promotor, LTA. There is no cash alternative. This giveaway is open to UK residents, aged 18 and over, who correctly complete the Rafflecopter form.
This giveaway starts 11.00am 21 Octover 2014 and closes 11.00am 28 October 2014. The winner will be picked at random from all correct entries within three days of the end of the giveaway, using Rafflecopter. If the winner does not respond within 7 days of being notified, the prize will be re-drawn.


Disclosure
We have not been compensated for this post. We were just happy to try mini tennis, the first session is free. 

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24 September 2014

Recipe: Slimming World Rice Pudding




Sometimes you just need a big bowl of the warm creamy comfort food that is rice pudding.

When you're trying to eat healthily and lose weight, you would think that rice pudding would be off the menu. Think again. If you make it yourself, from scratch, you can make it without sugar or even milk.

There is one rice pudding recipe doing the rounds at Slimming World where you cook pudding rice in diet cream soda to make a rice pudding. This used to be free on Slimming World, but it is now considered a "tweak".

There are lots of tweaks in Slimming World. People tweak the plan by combining free foods to make other foods. Eventually Slimming World catch on and allocate syn values to these foods (you can have between 5 and 15 Syns per day). Fair enough. You're only kidding yourself if you think you can lose weight if you eat your own body weight in - for instance - cooked lasagne sheets (free), coated in spray oil (also free) and baked in the oven. They're kind of like Doritos, but they're not a filling healthy meal. Tweaks are essentially free foods, but you're not eating them as intended, so they are given a Syn value. Pudding rice is a free food, but rice pudding (made with milk or diet drinks) is not.

I've made the cream soda rice pudding and it's okay. One day I realised I didn't have enough cream soda to make it, so I improvised and came up with a new method that is just as delicious and - most importantly - SYN FREE*.

*The small print. My recipe could be considered a tweak (although after a Google search I can't find an official statement by Slimming World about it), UNLESS you make it part of a food-optimised meal, i.e. one third of the meal is Super-Free. I'm yawning just typing this. In a nutshell - I think - if you have a plenty of veg on your plate for your dinner you can have this as a pudding if you serve it with fruit. Whatever. You don't really care about all that, you just want me to tell you how to make my rice pudding.


Sandy's Recipe for Slimming World Rice Pudding

Serves 4
Takes 20-30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 6oz Pudding Rice (usually found in the baking aisle of the supermarket)
  • 1 litre cold water
  • Artificial Sweetener (to taste)
  • Flavourings (we'll come to that later)

Method

  1. Put the rice, water and sweetener in a large saucepan and stir
  2. Bring to the boil
  3. Cook for 20-25 minutes
  4. Stir occasionally, gradually reducing the heat down to a gentle simmer 
  5. The rice pudding is ready when almost all of the liquid is absorbed by the rice
  6. You can serve it warm or cold

Flavourings

This is where you can be a little creative.

I sometimes add a few drops of custard, banana or buttery caramel flavouring to my rice pudding. I love Lakeland Natural Flavours (usually £3.99, but currently on offer - buy one, get one half price). I was just getting the link for you when I saw two new flavours: mulled wine and Christmas pudding. Oh my.

Lakeland Natural Flavours also work well mixed into that other Slimming World favourite, Quark.

If you like cinnamon in your rice pudding, add cinnamon. I can't think of anything more revolting, but it's your rice pudding.


I also like to stir through a teaspoon  - who am I kidding? -  a tablespoon of jam (2 Syns). Just like school dinners in the 1970's.

My other favourite is to add a heaped teaspoon of Options Belgian Chocolate powder to the cooked rice pudding while it's still in the pan (2 Syns-ish, that makes it approximately 1/2 a Syn per bowl).



Syn Free (probably) Slimming World Rice Pudding.

You're welcome.




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10 September 2014

Anti Social Media


Enjoy this blast from the past while you're reading. All will become clear...




Over the summer holidays I unplugged. This post about turning off electronic devices and spending summer outdoors struck a chord with a lot of people. It was picked up by Child Psychiatry UK and was also Netmums' Blog of the Week.

We did have a good summer. The boys enjoyed soccer camp. We had days out at Gullivers, the Milton Keynes beach, Pirate Golf, soft play, local parks and friends' houses. We had a jolly week in Hunstanton and spent a very long, very full, weekend at my in laws. We saw my mum too. We celebrated birthdays. We got new shoes. Okay, that last bit wasn't fun, but you get the idea. We were busy. We got plenty of fresh air. I took my book into the garden, not my phone. I only did a tiny bit of work in the evenings.

Now the boys are back at school - Year 2, oh my - I have time to get back to my online life. I'm finding it difficult to come back. That first tweet, that first Facebook update, that first Instagram felt difficult. Does anyone else feel slightly uncomfortable after a social media break? Joining back in is a little daunting.

When I was young, the end of the summer holidays was signified by the arrival of the fair on our village park. My brother and I would watch from our bedroom window as the the waltzer and the dodgems arrived on the backs of brightly painted trucks. We'd shout down to Mum with minute by minute updates. We'd go back to school on the Wednesday and the fair opened that night. We'd go for a look round then, to see what was there. We would usually go properly on the Thursday night, holding a handful of 10 pence pieces. I can smell the onions cooking, see the red, blue, orange, green and yellow flashing light bulbs, feel the force of the rickety rides and hear 'Feels Like I'm in Love' by Kelly Marie, like it's yesterday. We'd come home with our friends, holding a half-dead goldfish, a battered bag of candy floss and a half-eaten toffee apple.

Now the end of summer is marked by a back to school blaze of photographs of children in their too big school jumpers, stood outside front doors. Pinterest is full of autumn crafts, Halloween nonsense, bonfire toffee recipes and Christmas, Christmas, Christmas. And don't get me started on the Ice Bucket Challenge. It's all a bit too look at me in your face for me (apart from the back to school photographs, I love those).

Last year September to December flew by as I fitted in preparing for my family Christmas, with PTA duties and my freelance work. It's a busy time, but I want to enjoy the run up to Christmas this year. I want to have time to decorate the house, make cards, decorations, wreaths and gingerbread houses without feeling like I'm up against it all the time, like it's a chore, a job to get ticked off the endless to do list. Something has to give, and I now know what it is. My online life.

A couple of years ago I wrote a post called What is the Point of Social Media? Revisiting it today I realise that I still feel that way. I'm not that active online, although I can spend hours quietly nosing around blogs and bloggers, news websites and Pinterest. I often feel like this is wasted time, when I could be more productive. Perhaps it's time to keep the laptop closed more often and for longer?

Is is just me? Am I just being anti-social?

Do you have the balance right? I'd love to know how you do it.



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28 July 2014

Unplugged




I remember my summer holidays in the 1970's. The days were long and sunny. We called for our friends and had adventures in the woods. We found monster caterpillars. We made camps in the garden, we played Mummies and Daddies (there were a few kisses, but it was very innocent).

We rode our bikes around the village. We went to the park. We swung as high as we dared and jumped off onto the dirt. We all clung to the bright orange seesaw, trying to bump everyone else off. Our hands smelled of the metal of the climbing frame. We sat under the trees and collected beech nuts. We played in the grass cuttings.

We went to The Dump, but avoided the old mattresses so we didn't get fleas. We made dens in the hedgerows. We descended on our mums in rotation, and scrounged ice pops and iced Ribena. We came home for lunch and tea. No one wore a watch. No one had a mobile phone.

How I would love my children to experience that kind of summer. To have that much freedom.

The closest my boys get to having adventures is when they find a corner of our secure garden and start digging in the mud. I sometimes let them walk to the post box together. They are out of my sight for twenty long seconds.

Play dates are arranged. The wide school catchment area means that we usually drive to friends' houses. We also arrange to meet in the local park and take a picnic. We walk there and I love letting the boys run across the field to get to the pirate ship. I follow behind, watching them like a hawk.

In these fearful times, where everyone is a potential child snatcher, I just can't let go. I can't give them the freedom they need to learn to play, to look out for one another and be responsible. They are still only six and five. Maybe in a couple of years I will feel more confident and give the the chance to blossom.

Until then I need to give them the best, most fun summer holiday experience I can. This means keeping the laptop closed. I'm switching off for the summer, at least during the day. I don't want my children to remember their summer holidays as mum sitting at the laptop and them glued to electronic devices (as much as they love Mario, Luigi, Yoshi and the gang).

I want us to go out and get hot playing football, cricket, badminton and golf. I want us to walk, run and cycle. I want us to eat picnics, hide in the long grass and find banks to roll down.

If I ignore you on social media, it's not personal. It's not you, it's me. I want to live life unplugged this summer.



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Reasons to Love Living in Milton Keynes #12 - Gulliver's Land Theme Park

Review


There's a theme park in Milton Keynes, practically on our door step.

Gulliver's Land is almost Lilliputian, compared with it's bigger, noisier, well-known, busier cousins. It may be small, but it is perfectly formed. Still, there are over 70 rides and attractions. That's enough to keep me and my children occupied all day and we got to do everything we wanted.

The park is officially opened at 10.30, with a ribbon cutting ceremony, but you are let in the entrance before then. There is a carousel to get you warmed up, and a cafe with fairly decent coffee too.



Rides

Once inside everyone headed for the new ride, the Twist and Joust. I think there were logistical issues getting people on and off the ride as the queue moved very slowly. I guess there would be teething problems when a new ride opens. This put us off a little and we didn't try the Twist and Joust this time.



There were plenty of other big rides - with tiny queues -  to keep my 5 and 6 year old thrill-seekers happy. They LOVE the log flume and the Python roller coaster. Me, not so much. If it was up to me I'd stick with the gentler rides, like the wonderful, gentle Jungle River ride and the tea cups. I may have closed my eyes and screamed on the big rides, but I am proud that I didn't swear.

We have a new fridge magnet. It's a photograph of my children enjoying the log flume, and me screaming my head off. No, you're not seeing it.

This is more my style, being chauffeur driven in the Vintage Cars.



It is difficult when you go to a theme park with two young children. There are only a few rides (like the Tug Boat) where you can take them both on with you. Mostly there is space for one adult and one child and nowhere to leave other children. On some of the rides (like the one pictured below), six year old Presley was tall enough to ride alone, with me accompanying five year old Cash in the chariot behind him.




I'd recommend taking one adult per child under 140cm tall. Luckily we were joined today by my friend and her son. We were able to take it in turns to go on everything, with one adult left to hold the bags and watch the children.

The signs indicating who could and who could not go on a ride were excellent and perfectly clear. The staff measured each child and were clearly enforcing the rules. They were vigilant and safety-conscious. This gives you confidence, even though some of the staff looked quite young. Having said that, I am 44. A lot of people look very young to me.

Attractions

As well as the rides for all ages, there are other attractions that the children all enjoyed today. There is a massive ball pond for smaller children, a very good rope climbing frame, as well as traditional adventure playground equipment.

We had fun in the maze.



The small soft play area kept the children occupied while my friend and I sat on a comfy sofa drinking coffee.



Eating

There are many places to eat at Gulliver's. In the food court there is a good choice of food from around the world, including a fresh tasting tuna salad (not sure where in the world it was supposed to be from...). There is also a pizza and pasta restaurant.

Slushies, cold drinks, coffee, crepes and ice creams are sold all around the park and the prices are reasonable.

Presley enjoyed his £2.50 hot dog.



There are plenty of picnic tables and a grassy area at the far end of the park where we spread out our picnic blankets. There are bins galore and Gulliver's have addressed the problem of the wasps that were quite a nuisance when we visited last summer. They have hung fake wasp nests in the trees and we didn't see a wasp all day.


Facilities

The park is pretty well maintained, although the boys were disappointed that three of the four mechanical diggers were out of order. Some areas could do with a lick of paint, but it would seem that there is an ongoing upgrade happening.

The toilets were clean and they were evenly spaced throughout the park.


Want to go to Gulliver's?

There are Gulliver's Land theme parks in Matlock Bath and Warrington, as well as in Milton Keynes. Also in Milton Keynes is a Dinosaur and Farm Park, a Splash Zone, a campsite and a new Nerf Zone. We went to a birthday party in the Nerf Zone last week and all the children there LOVED IT.

For up to date prices and all information check out the Gulliver's website.

You can find also Gulliver's on Twitter and Facebook




Disclosure: I was given free entry for myself and my two children in exchange for this review. I have not been told what to write.




Other reasons to love living in Milton Keynes:

MK International Festival
MK Dons Football Club
The sausage and cider festival
The Stables at Wavendon
Milton Keynes Museum
The wildlife
The well-planned new city
Furzton Lake
The Concrete Cows
The 'Beach'
The green open spaces



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