Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Butlins Skegness - amazingly good value!

S, on a ride around with Redcoats Wes and Shannon

Ah, Butlins. With your redcoats and green dinosaurs, you are a stalwart of the British holiday season. We had our first visit to Butlins last September when S was 2 and a half, paid for entirely with Clubcard Vouchers - and it was so fantastic we immediately booked a return visit for this September. We have just returned from that visit - and we're now pricing up another one for this Christmas! It is such unbelievably good value. We went to one of their Just For Tots short breaks and everything was included; the swimming pool, family entertainment, the fairground, sports coaching and meet and greets with the entertainers plus lots more. The Just For Tots breaks are new at Butlins for 2014, and everything is focused on under 5s.

On our arrival at the site (very well signposted) we were welcomed very warmly and given our welcome packs, which included a map of the site (including a buggy friendly walk) and a timetable of all the activities. We were informed that our accommodation would be ready from 4pm but that we were welcome to enjoy the site before then, so off we went to the fairground. This is an amazing facility that includes five rides and a trampoline, all suitable for under 5s. The rides are very safe and individually managed by Butlins team members so there is always someone supervising the behaviour of the children. On several occasions I saw the ride being stopped so that an upset child could be returned to their parents. 

All the fun of the fair

After the fairground we headed over to the Skyline Pavilion, the hub of all the action at Butlins. This is where the majority of the shows take place, and again, they're all included in the price of your holiday. Over the week we saw Thomas and Friends, Mike the Knight, Angelina Ballerina, Barney the Dinosaur, Mister Maker (yes, the actual real life Phil Gallagher!) and our personal favourites, the Skyline Gang (more on them later!). The shows last around 30 minutes, perfect for short attention spans, and are interactive - in the case of Angelina there was a dance to learn, and with Thomas two funny characters called Rusty and Dusty came out into the audience to make people laugh. Often at the end of the shows there is an opportunity to have your photo taken with the performers; there is a professional photographer there but you're under no obligation to buy these photos and can use your own camera too.

Meeting Thomas and the Fat Controller

There are plenty of sports activity sessions for the little ones too, and Butlins seem to have taken a leaf out of Center Parcs book with their ideas this year. S took part in football coaching, mini tennis, sports play, fun fencing and mini crossbows, all of which he really enjoyed. The sessions were led by sports instructors who were great at connecting with the kids and getting them involved in things they may not have tried before. There are also swimming lessons at the Splash Waterworld, although we did not take part in these. The pool itself is brilliant - lovely warm water and lots of different areas with the depths marked out clearly. Outside the pool is a splash water park with fountains that run every 20 minutes with different lights and musical themes - great fun on a hot (or even cool!) day! If your little one needs a relaxing break, the Little Stars studio is open every day for a drop in arts and crafts or messy play session.

Fun Fencing

To the main point of my review. The Skyline Gang! A wonderful group of entertainers that had the children transfixed from start to finish. Candi (pink), Sprout (green), Mimi (yellow), Dude (blue), Pip (purple), Bud (red), Rainbow the dog (orange) and new member Misty (black), they each had their own individual personalities. 

The Skyline Gang in 'Lost in Space'. Image copyright Butlins.
They performed three different shows; 'Beside the Sea'; 'Lost in Space'; and 'Caveman Capers'; and aside from those they also held balloon modelling and meet and greet sessions. 

S and the Skyline Gang
The children, not least our little S, were captivated by them, and the appearance of so many of them in full Skyline Gang costume by the end of the week is testament to how loved they were. They were so friendly as well, and just brilliant with the kids. We now have a little boy who has his first crush! Have a look below for a video of them in action. 

Our accommodation was lovely and clean, and very modern with everything we needed. It was self catering allowing us to save money by eating some of our meals in the apartment, although you can pre-book a dining plan which gives you breakfast and dinner. If you don't book a dining plan there are also plenty of restaurants on site that are good value for money - our favourite was the new Firehouse restaurant, which was similar in style and menu to Nandos, but there are also Italian and traditional fish and chip options, as well as plenty of cafes and a pub-restaurant (with an awesome wooden climbing play area outside!). 

All in all, it's an amazing place to take children, especially if you're on a budget. I'd highly advise booking in for one of their Just for Tots breaks, or just generally any break would be great!

Monday, 1 September 2014

The Gruffalo with the Royal Northern Sinfonia

Photo credit: Orange Eyes Ltd 2009
The Gruffalo (and it's sequel, The Gruffalo's Child) has won a special place in many a child's heart over the last 15 years, and for good reason. It tells the tale of a brave little mouse who, when faced with predators such as an owl, fox and snake, cleverly invents a monster who he will soon be meeting for a meal in order to scare them away. Little does he know that the Gruffalo is, in fact, real...

There have been many stage adaptations of the book in recent years, along with animated films of both books, and I can't wait to take S along to this event at The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester in October. Both films will be screened on a big screen, with the music performed live by the Royal Northern Sinfonia. The acoustics are wonderful at the Hall and it looks like a great way to introduce children to live orchestral music.

There will also be free family activities in the foyer from 12pm.

The event takes place on Thursday 30th October and tickets are available now.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Bathtime stress!

I am writing this after a long absence to ask my fellow mums for advice about what they do when it comes to the dreaded hair wash?

S is completely phobic about having water on his hair and so we manage to wash it about once a month. He screams, panics, thrashes about throughout the whole process, and it's horrible for everyone. Does anyone have a failsafe method that they use?

Needless to say, it's nowhere near as easy as this image implies, but I couldn't help posting it!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

It's beginning to cost a lot, this Christmas...

Mr C and Master S.

This is my first year with a child who is old enough to understand that Christmas equals presents. S is almost 3 and, while he isn't asking for anything in particular, I am so looking forward to seeing his little face light up when he is presented with a roomful of Monsters University merchandise.

However, this constant present buying takes it's toll on the purse, and there are still other things that I need to buy. We currently have no festive food, the tree has only just been decked (where were all the clear fairy lights this year?!) and the Secret Santa is yet to be purchased (more on that later).

So, when passing Poundland, I thought, hey, I wonder what I can get from my ever expanding list in here? And I have to say - a lot! Here is a list of the items I purchased, all for £20.

1. A melamine serving plate. This will come in handy for the Christmas day snack buffet - and just this weekend I also saw that our local cafe are using them for children's cooked breakfasts, which is a great idea if you have a child who is phobic about bean juice touching toast...

2. Christmas doggy treats. A gift for my colleague's dog!

3. Happy Birthday loot bags. S turns 3 in January so the expense is all going to begin again as soon as Christmas is over!

4. Fruit gummies. Perfect sweet treats for S on days when I'd rather he didn't have chocolate.

5 and 6. Pergale chocolates - for mum and dad on Christmas day.

7. Russian doll trinket box - perfect to put aside in case of last minute gift emergencies!

8. Mickey Mouse push light. S has recently started getting up for a wander at night, this will help him see his books.

9. Cheese! For our buffet at work tomorrow (yum).

10. 6 children's toothbrushes. He's going to need them after his Christmas chocs....

Subtotal: £10.00

11 and 12. 3 selection boxes for £2. We are not doing a Secret Santa at work this year but instead using the money to buy food to donate to the foodbank. We've also decided to add a small chocolate gift. What a lovely treat for such a small outlay.

13.  The Very Hungry Caterpillar sticker book. Lovely little stocking filler.

14-17. Melamine bowls, plates and salad serving bowl. Will be used to great effect on Christmas day.

18. Cookie Crisp cereal. Another potential sugar saver - I plan to dole out small bowls of this whenever S asks for chocolate or biscuits over Christmas.

19. 6 pack of Butterkist toffee popcorn - perfect for my girls' trip to the cinema (Hunger Games, since you asked).

20. Another melamine serving plate - because a friend was coveting the one in the cafe!

Grand total: £20.00

It feels great to have those few things ticked off my list - and at such a cheap price!

Have a wonderful festive season xx

Disclaimer - Poundland sent me £20 as part of their Christmas challenge. The choice of what to spend it on was mine.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Frugal Food

For those of you who have not yet heard of A Girl Called Jack, I recommend you get straight over to her blog as soon as you finish reading this. After finding herself in financial dire straits, she started the blog as a way of sharing recipes that she was able to make for a few pence in order to feed herself and her young son on the small amount of money she had available.

She has recently started the campaign #22mealsforacoffee to highlight the difference the cost of your daily coffee could make to a family struggling to make ends meet, encouraging us to spend that money donating to the very worthwhile charity The Trussell Trust, who provide foodbanks around the country, rather than popping into Starbucks every morning.

Easy Peasy Soda bread - 32p

I decided to take on the challenge of cooking the recipes from her blog, and seeing how easily I could get my food bill down. Over the past weekend I have knocked up her Mexican Bean, Chilli and Chocolate soup, her Easy Peasy soda bread and her Kidney Bean, Carrot and Cumin falafels. I didn't want to have to buy anything new so I substituted some items for those we already had in the cupboards, and everything turned out wonderfully. According to her prices, these two meals (we had the bread with the soup) cost me 85p. Healthy, nutritious and frugal - that's the kind of meal I like!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

To buy or not to buy....

...that is today's question.

My dilemma. I have to renew my train pass in December, at a cost of £870 for the year. This will go up in January 2014 (price TBC) so I definitely want to take advantage of the 2013 price while I can, but it depresses me to: A) spend that much money at once and; B) to think I will still be commuting in a year's time!

When I bought the pass last year I had been paying monthly, the saving worked out as £23 a month when I converted to annual. A massive saving, I think you'll agree. I started a regular savings account and put £25 a month away (I figured I wouldn't miss it as I had been paying it out anyway) so by December I will have £325 squirreled away towards the new cost, leaving just £545 to find. I had hoped to find an interest free purchases card to put this on but have only managed to get accepted for a 6.9% on purchases for life card.

So. I guess I just buy the pass and put it on the card? I can probably throw £75 a month at the card whilst still saving this £25 a month towards next year's ticket (please God don't let me need one next year!), and I think it will only cost about £10 in interest payments.

Don't really know what the alternative is but I'd love to hear suggestions!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Meal plans: 30th September - 6th October

So, both to keep me on track and to hopefully inspire some of you to try some new recipes, I will try to post up my meal plan on a weekly basis. I tend to take advantage of the yellow stickers (reduced items) in Tesco, the best bargains can be found around 3pm on a Sunday afternoon and after 8pm on a weekday. We currently only have a tiny fridge while we wait for our kitchen to be replaced so we're currently reliant on foods (root veg, tins etc) that can be stored at room temperature, barring milk, cheese, yoghurts and meats which we make space for!

Here follows my meal plan for this week. It's a day late so apologies for that, but I can tell you that the curry was yummy. I also don't tend to plan lunches as there's usually something leftover by the weekend, and I just take to work anything I haven't managed to use up the previous week. However, I'll often take salad, soup or pasta with me.

Monday: HFW's lentil dahl with brown rice and a tomato and red onion salad.

Tuesday: Quiche (from the reduced section) with lazy lady's skillet potatoes and broccoli

Wednesday: A Girl Called Jack's Carrot, Kidney Bean and Cumin falafel, with some potato wedges and spicy tomato sauce.

Thursday: Oven baked spinach risotto (spinach was purchased reduced to clear so I cooked it down in butter and garlic on Sunday before it slimed. Took up much less space in the fridge too!)

Friday: Oyster and Pearl's Tarka Dal with brown rice and a tomato and red onion salad

Saturday: Home made pizza (topped with whatever we have!)

Sunday: Leftover curry from Friday.

What are you having this week?