Childhood running free: our holiday in Northern Norway

Up until recently we were living in the centre of a busy London Borough on a main road. My children never went beyond the front door without me. They never ventured beyond my line of sight. This, more than anything, is the experience that has informed all our holiday decisions.

We go camping, stay on farms, walk along beaches. We give them experiences: the chance to run free, barefoot, past their bedtime. The chance to feed lambs in their pjs. The chance to go off exploring without a parent.

It’s one of the reasons that, when most people head off to the tropics in their summer vacation, we headed North to the Arctic Circle last year. To Finnsnes, north of Tromso in Northern Norway (another Home Exchange). No, we didn’t need snow gear, though the snow was still visible on some of the hills even with the sun shining for 23 hours a day. In fact the first week we were there we spent most of the time in shorts. The sun shone for 23 hours a day.

Childhood holiday running free

Which was ideal, because we spent a lot of time outdoors.

We’re not ultra keen walkers or cyclists or anything like that, but the air was so clean it was intoxicating. DH and I sat out on a balcony during the late-night sunset every evening, saluting the sun with a beer. The children literally could not fall asleep until they were exhausted with fresh air and running around, drunk on the freedoms that they did not get back home. The chance for them to run free without us worrying was as intoxicating for them as it was for us. Let me tell you what it feels like:

It feels like a glass of cold clear water from a mountain stream that my children drank from whilst we explored a local National Park.

It feels like sitting on clear white sand eating a treat, then digging trenches and moats and making artworks with the shells and rocks.

It feels like making dams in icy tributaries leading out to the sea, and sailing leaves downstream.

It feels like sitting on a rocky outcrop cooking sausages on a portable barbecue whilst your tiny children climb another rocky outcrop barefoot because they’ve seen bigger kids do just the same.

It feels like teaching your children how to skim stones on a fjord as still as a millpond.

It feels like rolling down grassy slopes to see how many times you can roll over before you feel ill, and not worrying whether your clothes will get dirty, or if the slope is covered in litter or condoms or syringes.

It feels like dancing barefoot in a field of dandelion heads, picking so many that you start sneezing.

Norway holiday with children #glistenmoment

It genuinely felt like we were in a novel: Swallows and Amazons, The Famous Five, The Railway Children. Unsurprising that my children have begged repeatedly to return: to see the Trolls, to revisit the Northernmost Zoo, to run through meadows, build dams, paint faces with fingers wet from the lake on rocks that have been drying in the midnight sun.

It’s far from the world my children inhabit: we have to get in the car whether for the school run or if we need a pint of milk. They have after-school clubs and homework. I spend the day worrying about school choices and internet safety and stranger danger. They don’t get to have the childhood I did. I hope that being children all day long on holiday is enough to make up for it.

Who knows what our next adventure will be. I’m kind of hoping it’s to the Glorious South West of France and the amazing Geodome camping experience that Glisten Camping offers. Childhood running free: our holiday in Northern Norway is our #glistenmoment.

In which I become an SEO ninja: ten SEO tips

Some time ago I was a test-case. Exciting as I have never been unusual in any way shape or form (Granny M would disagree because I am her baby and therefore very special and so on….*waves* Hi Mum!)

But on that day I was unusual, a test-case, a trend-setter. Along with a dozen other bloggers from the food and parenting arenas, I got to try out the TOTs 100 latest brain child: the SEO summit. That day, people of the internet, and friends-of-my-mum *waves*, I became an #seoninja.

In this case, the Mr Myagi (I know I am mixing my martial arts references and for that I apologise but it’s my blog, ‘kay?) was Dave Sottimano, who was not only an excellent teacher, but also (and I’m quoting directly here) ‘very easy on the eye’. I know! Shame on me in the modern era to be making such a retro statement but let me tell you that if you are going to be spending 4 hours talking SEO semantics, you might as well be doing it with someone who is nice to focus on.

Now, you didn’t start reading this post because you wanted to hear about Dave’s good looks and dreamy accent. So let me get down to it. I have been learning SEO ‘on the job’ over the past couple of years. Some of my posts do very well and some not so well, and I know that it has a lot to do with how I promote them.

10 SEO tips

And so here are ten SEO tips I picked up from the SEO Ninja Summit that may help you.

1. Write unique descriptions for key pages with no duplicate titles, meta-descriptions or anchor text. Google does do a good job of filling in snippets automatically, so you can leave most pages blank except for main landing pages.

2. Snippets are where the action is. If you don’t know what snippets are, check underneath the title and link in a Google search. To ensure that the user clicks on your link rather than others, use keywords to encourage readers (these will appear in bold). It looks better for Search Engines, though it doesn’t affect PR.

3. SEO will ask for links from the homepage rather than individual post pages. This is because in 99% of websites the links that constitute page rank come from homepages. PageRank (PR) is determined by how many inbound links you have coming to your site. If there are two comparable sites, Google will give greater search ranking to pages with higher PR.

4. Heading tags: make use of headings. These will break a post up to make it more readable, but will also help you to create a post that is more rounded. If you answer more than one question with your post, give more information, you will rank for more web queries and thus gain greater page views. The same is true of images: more screenshots/relevant images give greater authority to your post in the eyes of the algorithm.

5. Make sure you fill in all the categories: meta name description, alt tag on your images, snippet. Give them all your attention, as the use of keywords in these areas of your post will give you greater searchability and therefore greater authority.

6. To the casual observer, Google Authorship relates to the author image and snippet that appears in a Google search listing. But the rel=author code may well become significant with the continuing growth of Google +. Google has it’s own step-by-step guide to claiming authorship, and you should check out Geekalicious post on Using SEO Effectively.

7. Keep keywords towards the beginning of a post. The key is more keywords: the snippets and terms that others use in search engines to find articles including yours that match their search terms. Google Suggest is a great tool for helping you with keywords and headings to include in your posts that help you rank well in searches for any given topic. This gives you greater click throughs and link-backs, all helping to build your authority in a topic.

8. IFTTT.com: spending time familiarising yourself with If This Then That will help all your promotion through social media. It really is a must-use tool. And I will get round to using it….

9. Guest posting is the easiest way to get a link-in to your site (something that counts towards your page rank): when you write a Guest Post, remember not to overdo the anchor text to your site. Inserting some of your own links at the end of the post with your Author Bio is the simplest way of including a link-back in text that you post on someone else’s site.

10.  When people make commentary about SEO, take it with a pinch of salt: there is always some good in an industry.

 

Want to know more? The Tots 100 is the place to learn SEO.

Quick Donut Cereal Crispie Nests

For children, the school holidays are a time of magic: a time of late nights, scraped knees and baking. There’s nothing that reminds me more of childhood baking that the rice-krispie cake.

So when the rain poured down yesterday, we girls got out the mixing bowls, and made some Quick Donut Cereal Crispie Nests. I recently saw a post on Maison Cupcake’s site that made me think I could use doughnut moulds to make these nests.

Quick donut Cereal Crispie Nests

Rather than using Rice Krispies, we opted to used Malted Wheat Squares- the supermarket own equivalent of Shreddies- which when crushed look much more like twiggy nests than the more pebble-shaped krispies, although any breakfast cereal should do the job.

Quick Donut Cereal Crispie Nests
Author: 
Recipe type: Kids
Serves: 6
 
Ingredients
  • 2 Mars Bars (I think that this is a Milky Way Bar in the US)
  • 25g butter
  • 1 tbsp Golden Syrup
  • 1.5 cups cereal
  • Egg confectionery to decorate
Instructions
  1. Put the chopped Mars Bars, butter and syrup in a pan and melt together over a gentle heat.
  2. Crush the cereal in a bowl (if using smaller, less square cereal, you won;t need to do this!)
  3. The nougat in the Mars Bar will stay a bit lumpy, but don't worry, beat the chocolate mix firmly then tip into the bowl with the cereal.
  4. Mix well so that all the cereal is coated.
  5. Put spoonfuls of mix into greased donut-shaped cake tin holes and press down firmly.
  6. Put in the fridge until chilled.
  7. There is a little challenge in extracting the cakes from the tin: I found the key is greasing with cake-bakers greasing spray, and a small plastic knife to persuade it.
  8. Tip each donut over, and you have your nest. Fill with chocolate eggs (you could stick in place with melted chocolate.

crispie cake easter nests

 

March 2014

1. The Girls try out their bikes on the beach promenade.

2. My American Uncle: a flying visit from the brother I haven’t seen for three years, over in the UK on business. Too short.

3. Dimples and I made Bunny Ear headbands from plastic bottles

4. LBG drives the car. In the car park outside swimming.

5. I made a mermaid tail from a tablecloth.

6. A trip to London for lunch near Trafalgar Square for me. Then Parents’ Evening.

7. All in pink on the school run.

8. She’s on the phone. At lunch whilst sister is at a party.

9. Dad was putting up a curtain pole, but the drill was very loud. So they got out their headsets.

10. Dimples amuses herself at home.

11. Stop! In the name of love….

12. Fine weather means a brief stop at a local playground on the way home from school.

13. The village churchyard in the morning mist after my doctor’s appointment.

14. Not so much mist as fog. On the school run. #suchfun

15. Testing the inflatable noodles.

16. Building a den in the wood with Papa.

17. Using the dog as a pillow.

18. The woodland flowers: primrose, forget-me-nots and violets. They are all bursting up through the ground at the moment.

19. I made chocolate buttons using a mould. When I wasn’t looking Dimples ate every single one from the top of the cupcakes.

20. I took Dimples to a local Farm. Three Little Ducks went swimming one day…

21. There may be a mouse in the woodpile. Testament to DH’s woodpile-building skills that there wasn’t an avalanche.

22. I went to the ball. I was on table Eight.

23. Just me and Kevin from Grimsby and his utterly scrumptious Other Half, Karen from New York.

24. Bloggers are a lovely bunch: they sent me flowers. I cried.

25. Fish cakes

26. Glee Encore: a purchase made with LBG in mind. She loves musical numbers.

27. DH chopped the old apple tree down months ago. The branches starting budding so we put them in water. Now I have a vase full of apple blossom!

28. Selfie with Mamma and baby Jessica.

29. The Girls watch from their lunch table as the summerhouse is erected. Who needs TV to entertain?

30. Going on a peacock hunt.

31. Family walk in the woods

 

March 2014

 

 

 

 

How to make a mermaid tail from a tablecloth

I recently made a Mermaid Tail from a disposable tablecloth for World Book Day. Here’s how.

Mermaid from a tablecloth

You need:

a disposable tablecloth: mine was paper with a plastic back

bubble wrap

a few cupcake cases

lots of double-sided sticky tape

Velcro dots

Mermaid from a tablecloth

These images are of my test-run. In fact it is easier to add the scales before you tie up the tail fin. But it is clearer from these images!

Firstly, I measured my daughter from waist to floor (length). And then I measured around her waist with a 15cm overlap (width). I cut a rectangle from the tablecloth using these measurements.

I then folded it in half width-ways, and trimmed it. I cut a wedge about 3/4 of the way down- I cut in about 3/4 of the width too, then I trimmed up and out in a curve in both directions. This will make the body and tail fins.

I folded over a very narrow “seam” across the waist of the tail and stuck down with sticky tape.

I cut strips- about 6cm wide) from the bubble wrap roll that were as long as the tail was wide, then I cut scale shapes along one edge. I repeated this about 15 times. Then I used the tape to stick these rows of scales- bubble side up- on to the tail. Start at the bottom, above what will be the fins, and add each new row so that it overlaps the previous row and is off-centre (a bit like brick-laying!) to it, so that the round edge of each scale sat roughly across the gap between scales on the previous row.

Once I had layered bottom to top, I trimmed the edges. You could just leave it like this, but I added cupcake cases, flattened and cut in half, randomly dotted and placed under the bubble-wrap scales. Mine were turquoise, a sea green and some silver too.

Lastly, I made the fins. Firstly, I cut up through the centre of the fin section, about halfway. Then I grabbed one of the fins in my hand, fiddled with it a bit so that it looked pretty, then held it in place with washi tape (you could use a hairband or elastic band.) I repeated on the other side, trying to get the two fins looking even. Finally I bound then two together.

Lastly, when I had my daughter to hand, I fixed two sets of Velcro dots on the waist of the tail so that the tail would be held snuggly in place.

We also added a shell bikini-  a strip of leftover tablecloth that I tied on over her clothes. This was embellished with two shell shapes cut from silver bubblewrap (the kind that insulates cold shopping) but you could use felt. The shells were decorated with glitter and stick on jewels.

We also used real beach shells to make a quick shell necklace and to embellish a headband.

These costumes (headband and necklace aside) were not designed to last, although one survived the day very well and is in our dressing up box. But they survived the day and were a quick solution to a costume drama.

mermaid tail costume and accessories

Starting on the sitting room renovation, with Wayfair home

We have been working hard to update the cottage in the wood. The rooms that are finished, we are really pleased with:

The Guest Loo

The Entrance

Dimples’ Room

LBG’s room

Family Room

Kitchen

But the Sitting Room is proving to be a challenge. It is quite large, you see, and I am at a loss as to how to bring the whole room together when all it wants to do, it seems, is eat furniture!

As it is on the end of the house, it has three external walls, making it very cool (read bracing) during winter months, so our first job was to get a wood burner installed. The previous owner had extended the room, and made the fireplace and chimney breast ready, so our work was a lot easier. A local fireplace company gave all the advice on the size we would need, as well as installing and offering great after-sales care.

sitting room renovation in progress

We consulted with a Plumbs consultant to get our sofas and armchairs- all from the old house or bought on eBay in anticipation of our move- to coordinate. The rest of the furniture is a mismatch of things that will gradually be replaced or moved over time. I was delighted at the weekend to win a design consultation with Sundridge Interiors, who will hopefully give me the ideas I need to get the room finished this year.

But the primary issue we had was lighting: the room was entirely lit with picture lights, which offered a low light though not enough to read by. We have replaced some of the picture lights with wall lights, which I got the electricians to hang upside down, as the fixture points on the walls were quite high up to allow for pictures to be hung at eye height.

But I still do not have enough ambient light. So I was delighted when Wayfair got in touch offering to help. They offer “a zillion things” for the home, and stock hundreds of brands of furniture, lighting, cookware, and much more for your interiors. In  my case they had the perfect lamp: the Knightsbridge Floor Lamp.

lighting the sitting room with wayfair

It was quick to assemble and ready to go with a perfect neutral shade that will match whatever wall colour we finally choose, though it is a shame, as with all lighting companies, that a bulb isn’t included as standard in the price. In this case I had to wait to enjoy the light until I purchased the correct bulb.

The height is adjustable and it has a long cord, making it ideal for the space: there is no space on the table for a lamp yet the corner is dark so without light you are unable to read in the perfect reading chair.

The lamp retails at £135.00. Next day shipping is available through the site. Service was quick and efficient and the parcel was well packed so there was no damage.

Disclosure: the lamp sent by Wayfair was offered in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are our own and this post has not been paid for. All other companies mentioned and their services were either won or bought at our own expense.

 

Chocolate Rice Krispie Easter Bunny Treat

There is, as far as I am concerned, always a reason for a Rice Krispie cake. And as our Easter holidays start today, these ones have an Easter vibe: Chocolate Rice Krispie Easter Bunny Treat !

Chocolate Rice Krispie Easter Bunny Treat

As I really wanted to get the details of the mould clearly, I first melted about 100g milk chocolate, distributing it easily between the four moulds, then tipping to get the chocolate to spread across the base. I left them flat in the fridge for the chocolate to solidify whilst I made the marshmallow krispie mix- I used the New Years Eve Rings recipe, halved, leaving out the cranberries, and substituting the cornflakes for rice cereal. In actual fact I used 75g plain krispies and 25g or so of chocolate krispies.

Once made, press the mixture into the mould. I used the handle of the spoon to poke the sticky mess into the edges, then once I was sure I had achieved maximum density, I pressed down the top with the back of the spoon. Then it was back into the fridge.

The following morning, with careful encouragement, they popped out of the shells reasonable easily and without breaking! Result.

rice krispie bunny rabbit

The Bunny Moulds- which work for cakes, jelly and sand- cost £10.99 for a pack of 4 from Unique Home Living. Made from flexible plastic in a mix of bright colours they are heat resistant to 600F/315C and oven, microwave, freezer and dishwasher-proof. The little jug is very useful for melting small amounts of chocolate quickly in the microwave and is perfect for pouring into moulds. Made from heat-resistant silicone it is also dishwasher-proof and costs £7.99

I was sent the Bunny Moulds, as well as some button moulds and a jug for melting chocolate in the microwave, for the purposes of writing this post.