Mutterings of a Fool

Man, Dad, Runner, Chief dog walker

Category: Sponsored posts (page 2 of 3)

Fun (hopefully) in the sun

This is a sponsored post.

With 2 small children and a dog our holiday planning generally involves anywhere you can drive to. Last year we had 2 weeks in Bordeaux which is probably at the maximum distance we’ll drive, it was about 7 hours of driving in France which is plenty long enough with a toddler. But the convenience of being able to pack everything you need and not worry about luggage allowances always wins out for me. I also think that the UK itself is too often overlooked and considered a second choice for a family holiday.

Bracken on Barbury castle 13Mar13This year we have 2 glorious weeks in Scotland planned, there may be the small event of my race (have I mentioned the little one day race I’m doing?!) happening on the middle weekend that dictated the holiday somewhat. But I also have family in Scotland and spent many summer holidays up there having adventures and building dams in streams.

I’m hoping Matilda and Henry enjoy it just as much, they certainly like the outdoors already and of course Bracken will be right at home up there. We’ve rented a cottage in the middle of nowhere and plan to spend our days walking and exploring before heading home for dinner next to the log fire.

In fact as a little detour, the inspiration for both getting a springer and calling him Bracken was my mum’s cousin in Scotland how had a cocker spaniel called Bracken when we were growing up. It’ll be fun to take our Bracken up to meet them so they can see what effect that had on me as a child.

We generally try to avoid trips away during the school holidays, taking advantage of that while we still can. July and August may in theory be the ‘summer’ months but why not relax on September breaks when the children are all back in school and the weather is still warm? Although I do remember a certain camping trip to the Lake District in early September one year with the lady of the manor where it rained for the first 4 days and that was truly miserable. We then had 3 days of glorious sunshine and blue sky but it wasn’t quite enough to wipe the memories of being constantly wet.

Of course if you can’t wait for September for your break there is always the opportunity for some summer bank holiday fun out and about, perhaps a long weekend next to the sea or simply staying at home and visiting the traditional beer festival?

So what have you got planned for your summer holiday this year? Anyone else with small children or no children have a September holiday?

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Matilda’s book reviews – Goodnight tractor and Ladybird books giveaway

I was sent a copy of Goodnight Tractor free of charge, but all words and opinions here are my own. Besides have you ever tried to force a toddler to like something?

I recently wrote a guest post for Ladybird books about what it’s like being a dad and reading to your children. As you may have guessed from these book review posts it’s a topic I’m quite passionate about and reading to both Matilda and Henry is definitely one of my favourite bits of each day. Not only is it good for their development it’s also a lot of fun telling a story and interacting with them.

Following that post Puffin (who are also part of the Penguin group with Ladybird) have kindly sent Matilda a new book called Goodnight tractor and perhaps more importantly for you some books for me to giveaway. You can find all the details at the bottom of the post, but first the review!

Goodnight TractorI’m always wary of new books, many seem to fall short of the high standards set by the classics and seem to often be a bit simple or basic. But we all actually really like Goodnight Tractor, it has a really simple story of a child putting his toys to bed but actually creates a lot of fun and interaction when read. It has a nice rhyming lilt to it which always pleases me for these sort of books, that sing song style of reading you fall into simply feels nice.

What Matilda particularly likes is that it features lots of animals on the farm so she can practise her moo and oink oink each time. She is also a bit obsessed by tractors, not least because there is a farm 30 metres from our garden and she can spend all day stood on the slide watching them. I’ve also been reading this book with Henry who is starting to say a few words and can make a clip clop noise for a horse with his tongue.

Inside goodnight tractorThe final piece to the jigsaw is the illustrations which thankfully are not bold and brash colours, in fact they almost remind me of a Raymond Briggs book in the colourings and style. This is a big book so you get great full double page spread pictures with the words overwritten rather than separate. I think this makes for a great reading experience for the age that Matilda and Henry are and ensures that they keep engaged.

Now I’m sure you are all dying to know how you can get your hands on some books of your own. Ladybird sent me a big pile of books so I’m going to split it into 2 prizes. The books are aimed at children aged around 2-3 but of course no reason you can’t use for slightly older or younger. In order to win one of the prizes all you need is to leave a comment answering the question below before the competition closes on Monday 1st July at 8pm, (please include your twitter ID or email so I can contact you if you win). Simple! Of course if you enjoy these posts and you want to subscribe to my blog via email or RSS I’m not going to complain. I’ll then pick 2 comments at random to win a pack of books each.

If you could read books to your children by only one author who would that author be and why?

Note this competition is open to UK entrants only, competition closes on Monday 1st July at 8pm where 2 comments will be chosen at random to win the prizes. No cash alternative is offered.

Pile of Ladybird books

The Green deal

This is a sponsored post, I was paid a fee to write it but all words here are my own.

Now that the lady of the manor has now officially quit her job and become a full time stay at home mum we’ve become laser focused on our regular outgoings. We have enough money to survive on each month but of course anywhere we can save on cost means more money to spend elsewhere.

Aside from our mortgage our gas and electric bill is the biggest outgoing we have each month and while we can do some simple things like switching lights off, long term there are bigger changes we could make. Things like insulation, double glazing and energy efficient boilers but these can of course all be expensive.

This is why the government has recently launched the green scheme which allows you to make improvements to your home to make it more energy efficient and pay off the cost through your utility bills. No cost up front to you as the home owner but all the benefits of a more energy efficient home. The scheme is set up to ensure that any energy savings will be worth more than the cost of the improvements.

 

Having read through the Green deal information I can already see areas we could improve our home. We definitely can increase the insulation in our loft which has the barest minimum level of insulation in there currently, something which we felt during those cold months of spring. Our heating system is also in need of upgrading, something we knew when we bought the house but something we need to save up to change.

The British gas green deal is British Gas’s offering under the government scheme, they can offer a home assessment to survey your home and advise on what energy saving improvements can be made. You can find out more details by visiting the British Gas website or calling 0800 107 2750.

 

Cash in the attic

This is a sponsored post and contains content that has been paid for, however I really do have such a dreadful DVD collection

We moved house 3 months ago now, everything is unpacked apart from 5 boxes. These 5 remaining boxes contain books (no book shelf yet) and a pile of CD’s and DVD’s that I’m not sure we even used once in the 3 years we lived in our previous house.

Add to that the fact that I’ve just replaced our PS3 with a Raspberry Pi to act as our media hub removing the last CD/DVD drive in the house and the chances of those boxes seeing the light of day any time soon is slim.

There is a pristine full box set of all Friends series, a Beverley Callard workout DVD (who doesn’t love a retro workout?), a Jamie Cullum Live at Blenheim Palace DVD where you can just spot me and the lady of the manor in the audience at 32 minutes and 18 seconds and the jewel in the crown Family Man the greatest rom com of all time.

Pile of CD'sWe could of course just leave them tucked away in the cupboard under the stairs until we move house again at some point in the future and realise that we still have them. Or we could have a go at selling DVD’s for cash at Music Magpie.

A quick scan of the barcode with their app and you can find out how much your DVD’s are worth. Pretty simple really. Print off the postage label and watch as the cash comes in. The same applies to CD’s and even clothes.

Which is useful as I have an impressive collection of CD’s from my teenage years that I can’t remember the last time I played. Plus I’m sure the lady of the manor’s wardrobe is looking a bit full and could do with thinning out a little….

Perhaps I can raise enough to buy a Sonos music system to stream from my Raspberry Pi?

Reward a runner

April and May is peak marathon season in the UK with the London Marathon of course but also many others happening around the country. With this in mind MandMDirect have a competition running for one person to win £150 of running kit. They are looking for you to nominate a runner that you know who has either run or is running a marathon this year.

I’m sure most of us know one person taking part in a marathon and quite likely doing it for a good cause too. Some shiny new clothing will not only make them look the part it’ll also make them run faster. Guaranteed*. The competition closes on Friday so what are you waiting for?

MandMDirect deliveryIt’s all pretty simple really, just pop over to Facebook (link below), enter the details of the runner you want to nominate and upload a photo. The winner can then choose £150 of running kit from their website. Having been given a voucher to spend on their website I can tell you that £150 will go an awfully long way as well.

I managed to get all of this stuff for less than £50 (that’s 2 tops, a pair of short and 3 pairs of socks!), that’s pretty awesome value and close to 50% of RRP. It’s top brands like Asics so no cheap or poor quality clothing. Plus I think red is actually quite slimming don’t you think? Very important when running in the countryside like I do…

You can find out more details by visiting their Facebook page here.

*This may be a lie

This is a sponsored post, MandMDirect asked me to mention the competition and sent me a voucher to try out their service for myself. I do however think it’s a cracking competition and always happy to work with companies that are supporting running.

 

Honey I shrunk the laptop

This is a sponsored post, I received a fee for writing this post but all words and opinions are my own.

Honey I shrunk the laptop – that in essence is the message coming from laptop makers at the moment with the creation of so called ‘Ultrabooks’. A thinner, shinier, faster, lighter and of course sexier version of the laptop. Yes that’s right I said sexier, because if you are a bit of a techy geek like me the smooth and sleek metal case of an Ultrabook is indeed sexy.

Photo courtesy of Johnlewis.com

It was inevitable of course with the rise of tablet computers, starting with the original iPad, that are much lighter and portable and of course have touch screen that computer manufacturers had to respond. This range of Acer laptops is a prime example of the new trend and is most likely just the beginning. If you haven’t checked out an Ultrabook yet do take a look at them, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the look and feel of them compared to your current laptop.

While the first Ultrabooks simply focused on being thinner and lighter we’re now also starting to see touch enabled screens. Windows 8 has helped make touch a nice thing to use for the first time on a PC and although it seems an odd thing to need on a laptop once you start using it you realise how intuitive it is. Certainly Matilda finds it very weird that she cannot touch the screen on my laptop, a new generation is growing up that expects touch now so I think we can expect a lot of innovation in this area.

This year has also seen the emergence of convertible form factors where the screen either rotates or detaches completely. Potentially giving you the best of both worlds between a laptop and a tablet. All the benefit of a keyboard while also allowing you to simply sit and touch the screen as you would a tablet. I’ve not had chance to play with one yet but conceptually it’s pretty interesting, just depends if the reality is one of compromise in all areas.

After a few relatively dull years in the tech industry it seems like we’re in for a period of innovation and competition as each company tries to establish themselves in these new market conditions. The lines are blurred between traditional PC companies and newer tablet companies and neither yet has the upper hand.

So what are your views on technology? Is a laptop now just something that runs iTunes and stores data? Or do these new designs spark your interest and desire to upgrade an old computer?

The perfect mother’s day?

This is a sponsored post, I was sent a goody bag by Oxo to use on Mother’s day but wasn’t told what to write. All words and opinions here are my own.

I have the same attitude towards mother’s day as Valentine’s Day, which is the concept is a good one but the commercialisation isn’t.  So in our house I kept it simple on Sunday and gave the lady of the manor a real gift rather than some overpriced gift that says mummy on it.

Our day went a little something like this; creep out of the bedroom at 6.30am to get a chatting Henry out of his cot and leave the lady of the manor to have a lie in. Go downstairs and have enough time to make a cup of tea before Matilda makes an appearance.

BBQ cooked breakfastThen breakfast with my 2 favourite little monkeys, which mainly involved telling Matilda to eat her cereal and not try to call the squirrels to come nearer the window. Plus of course persuade Henry that the correct way to eat breakfast isn’t with your feet on the table.

We also somehow found time to make a simple card with Matilda in charge of the ‘stick stick’. If she’d had her way I think I probably would have been stuck to that card along with half the contents of the cupboard.

The lady of the manor appeared around 9.30am, fully rested and recovered of course, so it was time for breakfast number 2. Now in my opinion no mothers day is complete without a bacon sandwich or 2 but we are still without a cooker in our new house so I had to think outside the box. So it was that I found myself in the garden cooking a full English on our gas BBQ (not just a pretty face am I?), which incidentally may become a regular Sunday brunch activity when the weather warms up.

I guess you must be getting pretty jealous now right? A perfect day so far? But wait there’s more.

DSC_0908In the afternoon my 2 commis chefs and I (with a little help from the lovely people at Oxo) knocked up what I can only describe as the world’s greatest Bolognese. I’m afraid I can’t give you the recipe as it’s a well protected family secret but there was some excellent left over slow roasted meat, an Oxo cube or 2 (of course) and a dash of Worcestershire sauce.

Love getting the little ones involved in cooking and beginning the education of where food comes from, how it tastes and how to prepare it. Matilda is also a dab hand at stirring (with a shiny new wooden spoon from Oxo).

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