Are we nearly there yet? Car trip ideas for the family

I’m really pleased to have joined the Sainsbury’s Bank Family Blogger Network (look I have a shiny badge in my sidebar and everything!) and to have fab Guest Posts like this one to share with you. I was not paid to host this post.

To paraphrase Ferris Bueller: family life moves pretty fast – if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

One of the best ways of taking it all in is to go on a family road trip – but where to go and how to go about getting there? Here are a few answers to both questions.

As always the devil is in the detail and planning and preparation are your best weapons. Consider the following to get the best out of your trip:

  • Planning – get the calendar out, sit down together and agree when a whole day, or even an entire weekend, can feasibly be spent away from home.
  • Make the time – if at all possible try to make it between spring and winter and at a time that everyone else in the country isn’t on the move or you’ll either be spending the whole time looking for shelter, or in the car.
  • Having agreed on a date – you’ll have to defend it vigorously from birthday party invitations or last minute social suggestions –and you need to settle on a destination.

The country
Buy the Ordnance Survey map for the area you’re interested in and plan your day(s). With a little map reading and calculation you could easily fit in a walk, a site of historical interest or a sporting activity. Use Google Maps and Google Earth to check the terrain and travelling times if your map reading isn’t up to scratch.

The beach
Living as we do on an archipelago dominated by a long, skinny mainland, we’re all pretty close to the sea. Even if you live in Northampton in the centre of the land mass you can be in Norfolk in three hours. So it is perhaps more accessible than you think.

Remember that you have to look for the best in what you see, not for what you feel ought to be there instead. So try not to bemoan the absence of rugged cliffs or golden sand but rather celebrate the haunting atmosphere or the post-industrial oddness of the parts of our coastline you can get to.

The city
For people living in the country the city can become a place to be raided – at great speed and with utmost seriousness – for Christmas shopping or essential supplies.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Look for the best in the city, the history, the life, the culture, the heritage, the traditions, the things that set it apart and from which it takes its identity.

Having settled on a destination and planned your trip, it’s a good idea to:

  • Vary the pace of the day and make stops that are good for the soul as well as for the body.
  • Assess any risks you’ll face – particularly when dealing with the sea. Tide times, weather and traffic are you main areas of concern, but also make sure you’re covered by adequate car insurance.
  • If you put the effort in at this stage you’ll have a memorable experience for the price of the fuel it will use to get you there and back.

Remember, you’re on a journey exploring, learning and laughing – together.

Author Bio:
Joel Dowling writes for the Sainsbury’s Bank Money Matters blog on subjects as diverse as music, motoring, finance and the family. He spends many weekends on the road with his family.

MAGMA launching at Paultons Park This Weekend

Last weekend we were lucky enough to be invited to the Press Launch of the new ride, MAGMA, at Paultons Family Theme Park. We had an amazing day and I have so much to tell you about the park but today I wanted to let you know about MAGMA, which opens this weekend!

Here is what they have to say about the ride:

A family thrill ride, MAGMA stands at 25 metres tall and features smoke, light and sound effects to create an ‘eruption’ prior to sending riders high in the sky above, ready to face a sudden drop back into the mountain below. And, the entrance features a pre-historic surprise for its daring guests.

To ride MAGMA accompanied children must be at least five years old and a minimum of 1.1 metres tall. Those over 1.3 metres tall and eight years old or older may ride unaccompanied. The only question remains, who is brave enough to enter the caverns of molten rock and discover the Jurassic secret entombed below?  

Paultons commercial director Stephen Lorton says: “Having opened Peppa Pig World to much excitement last year we were very keen to make sure we continued to develop the park for visitors of all ages. We think MAGMA is the perfect addition to Paultons, building on our reputation as a destination for the whole family. We look forward to welcoming families with children of all ages for a fun-filled visit.”

There is a preview website at to really get you into the mood!

As Pumpkin was obviously much too small for the ride, I nominated Daddy to go and try the ride first! I’m a real scaredy cat with rides and wanted to see how he got on first! He loved it 🙂

Daddy enjoying MAGMA

The ride takes you high above the park and you can have a good look around at what Paultons Park has to offer. But then just as you are enjoying the view, the ride drops and you head for the ground! Don’t worry, I got my go on the ride too and screamed like a girl on every drop 🙂

Here are some facts about MAGMA.

  • Height – 24.95m
  • Weight – 30,000kg
  • Foundations – 100 tonnes of concrete
  • Capacity – up to 16 guests
  • Music – 16 individual soundtracks playing at any one time
  • Volcano was made using:
  • 10 tonnes of steel
  • 7 tonnes of timber
  • 500 litres of paint

Paultons Park is just off Junction 2 of the M27, near the edge of the New Forest. Tickets can be purchased online or at the gate. Paultons Park is open daily until Monday 1st October.  Check the website for full details and daily opening and closing times which vary.

I’ll be back with a full review of the park including the fabulous Peppa Pig World soon 🙂

Disclosure: We were invited to the press launch of MAGMA and received free entry into the park.

Easter Gift Guide – No Chocolate In Sight!

Easter is well on its way now and the shops are full of chocolate in all shapes and sizes! But there are lots of non chocolate ideas for Easter gifts for those of us that want something a little bit different! Take a look at these ideas…

For the Kids!

Bunny, Chick & Egg crayons (set of 7 crayons) £3.99 + P&P

I just love these Bunny, Chick and Egg crayons from Colour Me Fun! A set of 7 cute crayons in red, blue, yellow, black, purple, orange and green. All Colour Me Fun crayons are hand poured using non-toxic, high quality melted Crayola® crayons.

Each crayon measures approximately 4cm x 2.5cm x 1.5cm deep (1 1/2″ x 1″ x 1/2″ deep), with the bunnies and chicks being the largest, which means they are great size for children’s little hands! Each set will be sent in their own small drawstring bag free of charge (normally 99p). This makes them easily transportable, would make great gifts and would also be fun party favours. Please supervise all children under 3 when colouring.

Last orders need to be placed by April 5th to guarantee delivery in time for Easter.

Munchkin Bath Toys

I love Munchkin bath toys and Pumpkin quite a collection now! Why not consider some fun bathtime products for an Easter gift? They will provide lots of entertainment and bathtime is great quality family time for us!  Munchkin’s range includes both fun and practical bath products. From interactive brightly coloured Dolphin Squirters to a handy bath scoop, you’ll find something perfect for your child. The range starts from £5.99 – great value!

New products in the Munchkin bathing range include

  • Snail Stacker: RRP £9.99
  • Dolphin Divers: RRP £5.99
  • Lazy Buoys: RRP £5.99
  • Baby Bath Ball: RRP £5.99
  • Daredevil Dolphin: RRP £5.99
  • Bath Toy Scoop: RRP: £12.99

Each item from Munchkin has been designed to excite and delight children whilst making parents lives easier and more enjoyable.

I have a fab Munchkin review coming up soon, so watch this space!

When I Was a Kid

Whatever the occasion, have a look at When I Was a Kid for great gift ideas for kids. Their range of wooden toys is fantastic and the customer service from Paul is second to none! One of my favourite brands stocked by Paul is John Crane, and our Easter gift suggestion is this fab John Crane Sorting and Teaching Clock.

This teaching clock features clear numerals with the number written out in words as well as letters which will help them to recognise the numbers.  The face of the clock is marked out with every minute as well as the colourful inner of the clock marking out quarters of an hour.

The sorting and teaching clock also has 12 shaped blocks in different colours which slot into shaped holes so you can do a different activity with the clock each time making the whole learning experience much more fun!

The clock is just £13.50 from When I Was a Kid and the last order date for Easter is Tuesday 3rd April.

Happy Feet Two

Out now on DVD and Blu-Ray just in time for Easter is Happy Feet Two. If you have the technology you can even watch it in 3D! This follow up to the successful Happy Feet movie is bound to be a hit with the kids.

Mumble, The Master of Tap, has a problem. His tiny son, Erik, is choreo-phobic and lacks the talent of all the other penguins. Reluctant to dance, Erik runs away and encounters The Mighty Sven – a penguin who can fly! Mumble has no hope of competing with this charismatic new role model.

Things go from bad to worse for Mumble when the world  is shaken by powerful forces. Erik learns of his father’s guts and grit as Mumble brings together the penguin nations and all manner of fabulous creatures – from tiny Krills to giant Elephant Seals – to put things right. 

The film features an all-star cast including Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Hank Azaria, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. Knowing how much fun the first film was I have high hopes for this one! Look out for our review of Happy Feet Two coming soon.

Pillow Pets 

Mookie Toys are bringing the original Pillow Pets to the UK this spring. Pillow Pets are a premium quality plush toy made of ultra-soft and cuddly chenille but with a clever twist.  When a hidden strap is released underneath, the cuddly creature transforms from a toy into a soft pillow, making the Pillow Pet a perfect travelling pal, naptime buddy and all round snuggly friend.

The range includes Silly Monkey, Playful Penguin, Comfy Panda, Snuggly Puppy, Magical Unicorn and Wiggly Pig, not forgetting Ms Ladybug and Bumbly Bee!   And especially for Easter, Cuddly Bunny, Thumpy Bunny, Puffy Duck and Fluffy Bunny.

Pillow Pets will become a must-have for all ages; from toddlers to teens and expectant mothers to grandmothers.  Snuggle up with your very own Pillow Pet, catching forty winks has never been more fun!

Priced £19.99 RRP and available from Toys ‘R’ Us, Amazon and other major retailers.

Pumpkin is reviewing a Puffy Duck Pillow Pet and we’ll be back with a review later in the week!

For Mum!

Well now I’ve given you some ideas on presents for your kids, here are a couple of ideas for Mum! (Devon Daddy, if you are reading these are definitely hints!).

Poppy Sparkles

I don’t think there is anything on the Poppy Sparkles website that I wouldn’t like to receive as a gift, but for Easter, how fab are these Friendship Bracelets? I love the bright cord colours and these would look fab with my sorry, your spring and summer wardrobe!

There are ten cotton colours available . The picture shows the freshwater pearl friendship bracelets, but they can also come with birthstone crystals. They’re priced at £10 each which is great value. The pearl or gem is on a large silver ring that will fit on most pandora type bracelets or it can be popped on a chain to create a simple pendant necklace too so its a really versatile gift!


This Easter, Boots have a collection of chocolate-themed beauty treats. As a confirmed chocoholic, these chocolate treats would be a welcome gift!


So that rounds up my Easter Gift Guide with only a little chocolate thrown in at the end there! I’ll be back to show you what I’m putting together for Pumpkin nearer to Easter! Let me know what you think of these products in the comments!


Monday Munchies – The One Where I Join Weight Watchers

Last week I joined in with Mrs M’s Meal Planning Monday and it worked really well for me! We ate what we planned on each night and I loved not having to think about what to cook each day as I’d already decided it! So I’m going to carry on meal planning and posting here each week! Monday is my food shopping day too so it all seems to fit together nicely.

Today I decided to go along and join a local Weight Watchers class. Its something I’ve been thinking about for a while and I’m feeling really positive about it. I’ve lost weight with Weight Watchers before so I know I can make it work. I’ve reached that point where its not just a bit of excess weight, but its getting in the way of my life and I feel unhealthy. I plan to give a quick update on my progress each week in this post too. Hopefully knowing people will see this will keep me accountable!

Here is my plan for this week…

Monday – Chicken Fajitas

Tuesday – Cod, home made chips and peas

Wednesday – Chicken Casserole

Thursday – Pork steaks, dry roast potatoes and veg

Friday – Pasta bake

Saturday – Out for the day including tea!

Sunday – If we are at home, roast chicken

This plan has a bigger emphasis on cooking rather than relying on store bought conveniences (oops!) so home made chips rather than from the freezer. I also want to get our veg intake up a bit too as its slipped lately.

Want to join in Meal Planning Monday?  Pop over to At Home with Mrs M.

Meal Planning Monday 12/03/12

Making a meal plan (and sticking to it 80%!) is one of my top tips for saving money on food, and saving your sanity at 4pm each evening!

This week I have decided to join in with Mrs M’s Meal Planning Monday.

Meal Planning Monday

This week is a slightly odd one as Daddy is away Wednesday to Friday and Pumpkin and I are having tea with Grandma on Thursday.

Monday – Chicken Fajitas

Tuesday – Cold chicken, home made chips, coleslaw

Wednesday – Salmon, new potatoes, veg

Thursday – Dinner at Grandma’s

Friday – Something from the freezer for me (hubby is away and Pumpkin eats at nursery)

Saturday – Maybe a curry?

Sunday – Mothers Day – no cooking here!

So all in all a fairly easy week for us. Want to join in Meal Planning Monday?  Pop over to At Home with Mrs M.

Five Things That Make Me Happy

When I saw the new meme that Danielle had started last week on her blog I decided to jump right in and join in myself!

First I have to tell you five things that make me happy, and then tag some other lovely bloggers too!

1. Weekends.

Now that we are a family, we cherish our weekends. Daddy works Monday to Friday and Pumpkin is at nursery/Grandma’s 3 days per week so the weekend is when we all get to spend time together, go on days out and generally have fun!

2. Washing on the line

For some reason, the sight of washing dancing on the line in my garden always makes me smile! For starters it must mean the weather is ok, maybe a bit blowy but still dry. It also allows me to feel somewhat like a Domestic Goddess. Look at me – I got up this morning, put the washing in and now its on the line. Domestic chores – tick!

3. Getting Mail

No not bills and junk mail, a real letter in a hand written envelope! It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it makes my day!

4. My Kindle

I always have a book on the go. Often several! I was always very sceptical about the Kindle, but since I was given one for Christmas I am hooked! Its light to carry around, I can have as many books as I like with me and I can read really trashy chic lit in the coffee shop and no-one knows!

5. Blogging

A bit cheesy maybe, but blogging is becoming a big part of my life and something that makes me very happy! I am a fairly shy person in the real world and not many people know me well. I am guarded as I’m afraid of being judged. But here in my own little corner of cyberspace I can be me and that makes me smile!

Aww all that positivity has left me with a big smile on my face!  If you have read this and feel inspired to write your own list, consider yourself tagged!

Mums Mall Guest Post: New Parents Guide to Finance with a New Baby

Today I am delighted to bring you a guest post from mum’s mall on finance with a new baby. Enjoy!!

Having a baby is a joyous occasion that is not without its own stresses and strains. Finances can present a particularly large concern for new parents, especially as the cost of raising a child continues to climb. This guide is designed to take the fear out of financial planning with a new baby.

1. Examine Your Current Financial Situation
• Budgets, Maternity Pay, and Debts

2. Costs To Consider
• Where Your Money Goes For The Next 18 Plus Years

3. Seek Out Sources Of Financial Benefits
• Tax Credits and Grants

4. Save For Your Child’s Future
• Savings Accounts and Investment Schemes

5. Save For Your Future
• Pensions and Savings Accounts

6. Plan For The Unexpected
• Emergencies and Insurance

7. Shop Smart
• Second Hand Goods

8. Train Your Child
• Raise A Smart Saver and Spender

9. Reevaluate Your Financial Situation
• Returning To Work

Examining Your Current Financial Situation:
Start by formulating a budget based on the income that you would have once your baby arrives. Be sure to include all of your monthly bills and expenses as well as pocket money for entertainment and pleasure.

Talk to your employer now to find out what benefits you will receive, as far as Statutory Maternity Pay or Paternity Pay, and how long they will be paid. Many employers will pay over the legal minimum. If you are not entitled to SMP, inquire about other benefits that you may be eligible to receive.

Look for sources of waste and excess spending that you can cut out now to save money in the long run. Try to eliminate any existing debt that you have before your baby arrives.

Costs to Consider:
Raising a child is an expensive undertaking. Expenses will vary from family to family, so you will need to consider where you can cut back and save. Items that you need to plan for include childcare, schooling and educational expenses, food, clothing, personal care, toys, hobbies, bedroom furniture and accessories, recreation and entertainment, holidays, pocket money, driving lessons, and medical bills.

Seeking Benefits:
Check out any tax credits that may be available to you as parents. Government grants are available to assist you with heating and insulation improvements to your home as long as you meet certain qualifying factors. In the unfortunate event that your child dies due to stillbirth or neonatal death, financial assistance is available for you during this difficult time.

Saving for Your Child’s Future:
It is never too early to start saving for university and career training. Create a nest egg that can grow with your child. Other options include junior ISAs, children’s savings accounts, Stakeholder pensions, and stock market investment schemes. Ask grandparents and other family members to make birthday and holiday contributions rather than buying expensive presents for your child.

Saving for Your Own Future:
If there are gaps in your State Pension qualifying years, consider making National Insurance contributions to boost your State Pension. Look into the Pensions Advisory Service’s National Insurance contributions planner for assistance. If you have other pension schemes, be sure to check whether or not you can continue making contributions whilst at home with your baby.

If you do not already have your own savings account or investment scheme, now would be an ideal time to start paying into one. Small contributions add up.

Plan for the Unexpected:
Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. Start an emergency fund that you can dip into if needed. Consider various types of insurance to invest in, should you lose your job, become ill, or die. If you have not already drawn up a will, do so immediately to ensure that your child is provided for in the future. Look into life assurance and income protection plans.

Shop Smart:
Try to borrow baby items whenever possible and shop second hand stores. Many hand-me-down items are still in great condition and will save you a fortune on things that you will only use for a certain period of time. Do not cave in to the pressure to have all of the latest designer items for your child.

Train Your Child:
It is never too early to begin teaching your child to spend money wisely. Be a role model of good spending habits. As soon as your child is old enough, teach him or her how to put money in a savings account. Help him or her to understand the wisdom in sacrificing now to save for the future.

Reevaluating Finances:
If you decide to return to work, look into childcare benefits, tax credits, and other financial assistance that is available to working parents.

Do not worry, panic, or stress over your financial situation. Set reasonable goals, and speak with a financial adviser if you need additional guidance.

This post was written as a guest blog post by mum’s mall – a specialist price comparison site for maternity products, toys, kids & baby clothes featuring over 50 online stores. Find mum’s mall on Facebook and Follow mum’s mall on Twitter.

Spend Less on… food

One of the clearest areas that we can save money in the Spend Less household is on food. Confession time… while I love to cook and actually think I’m not too bad at it, I rely too much on convenience foods which can really push the cost of shopping up. I also waste far too much food. I buy large packs of things as they are better value, and then don’t use them before they go off! Not very money saving…

So my next big project is to cut back on my grocery spending. I currently spend around £3o0 per month on supermarket shopping for food (eek!) and this is something that has to change. We are on holiday for half term week, so I am planning that June will be ‘Frugal Food Month’ in the Spend Less house.

I hope to cut my spending down to £200 which should be possible with some planning. This is for Spend Less Mummy, Daddy and Pumpkin’s weaning diet (her nappies, wipes etc come from a separate budget). I am sure that this amount could go lower, but a saving of £100 in a month is a good start!

In preparation for June, I have a couple of tasks to complete this week. Firstly, fridge / freezer /  and cupboard inventories so I know what I have to work with and eat up. And secondly, the start of a list of meals for the month, using these ingredients.

I will have lots of tips and updates to share with you through the month. Wish me luck!

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