A Lifestyle & Parenting Blog

Monday, 24 April 2017

Review: Always Have Your Favourite Shows To Hand With The Amazon Fire TV Stick

You wouldn't expect Amazon to offer a product that wasn't a) innovative, b) well made and c) reasonably priced (eventually -  the launch price of the latest Kindle Fire was a bit of a shock).

And so it is with the very nifty Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote.

Amazon Fire TV Stick With Alexa Voice Remote

We were sent one to review from Maplin.co.uk and we opted for the Alexa Voice Remote version as we have recently purchased an Amazon Echo Dot and have been impressed with it.  Plus, not only have the kids had fun with it, it's company for me when they're at school and far less trouble than a pet.

Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote Box Cover

I should explain here that you don't need an Amazon Echo or Dot for this as the Fire TV Stick already has Alexa installed.

What does it do?

Basically the Fire TV Stick is a plug in and go way to access on demand TV and stream your favourite subscription TV shows and movies.

This is the second generation of the Fire TV Stick and with it you can access over 7000 apps, games and Alexa skills.

It has 8 GB of storage and 1 GB of memory for apps and games, a quad-core processor, plus 802.11ac Wi-Fi for fast streaming and smooth performance.

You can give Alexa commands such as "Launch Netflix" or "Skip ahead 5 minutes" and of course other commands such as "search for local restaurants" and "remind me why I had children again". Actually Alexa doesn't seem to be able to answer that one. She will, however, tell you a joke if you ask.

You can even pick up where you left off and bring hit shows and movies with you when you travel. All you do is plug your Fire TV Stick into a TV's HDMI port, connect to Wi-Fi and continue watching.

And you can quickly play your current favourites or find something new to watch from the home screen.

Connection

The Amazon Fire TV Stick connects via a USB cable to the HDMI port on your TV and the box contains a handy HDMI extender to improve Wi-Fi and remote performance.

Power up your Alexa Voice Remote by simply inserting the batteries and then complete the on-screen set up by selecting your Wi-Fi network from the networks displayed on the screen. You'll need your network password to hand.

Contents of the Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote box

There's a little voice button at the top of the Fire TV stick which allows you to ask Alexa to find your favourite TV show or movies.

And that's it. Simple, speedy and easy to understand.

Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote Home Screen

It's better with Amazon Prime

We have been members of Amazon Prime for several years now and not only do you get the unlimited one-day delivery, but you can watch thousands of movies and TV shows with Prime Video, listen ad-free to hundreds of hand-built playlists and access two million songs with Prime Music. You can also safely store an unlimited amount of photos. (Current fee is £79/year).

Trailer poster for Star Wars Rogue One on the Amazon Fire TV Stick

The Amazon Fire TV Stick has obviously been designed to complement this service and we found that whilst on-demand TV is free and services such as Netflix would obviously be covered by a separate subscription, lots of the Amazon programmes are free to Prime members but otherwise incur a charge (albeit generally a very reasonable one).

What if you already have a Freeview Digital Recorder?

Now if you have a Freeview Digital Recorder (we have a Humax) you might think you won't need one of these and, if all you watch is on-demand TV to catch up with your favourite shows with the occasional Netflix movie, then it may be a bit of a duplication.

Even so,  I found accessing programmes via the Fire TV Stick far quicker and easier than using the Humax remote.

DC Legends of Tomorrow Trailer Poster on Amazon Fire TV Stick

Take your favourite shows and movies with you

It is surely the portability of the Amazon Fire TV Stick that is one of its greatest strengths and for parents the ability to take their little ones' favourite shows with them will be a great help on holidays (you know on those rainy staycation days!) always assuming there is a compatible HDMI TV.

However annoying Spongebob Squarepants may be, he beats the sound of children bickering any day.

Or it's great if you work away on business or to make your uni digs feel a little more like home with the familiar films you love.

I was really impressed with the Amazon Fire TV Stick. It's simple enough for even the most technophobic to use. The instructions were clear and the buttons big enough for less agile fingers to cope with and there really is a vast choice of entertainment to choose from.

And for £39.99 it's a bit of a bargain.

You can find out more at Maplin.co.uk.

*collaborative post
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Sunday, 23 April 2017

Key Spring Interior Design Trends For Your Home

This Spring, say hello to geometrics and exotic motifs.

Spring is finally here, and with it the feeling that better weather is about to come, and with that, Summer! Colour, pattern, and plants are the key to giving your house a new look to welcome the season.

Spring flowers in a white pot on a wooden table

There is a whole new generation of graphic artists taking the design world by storm right now, and they are drawing upon influences that range from geometrics and primary colours to the 80s design movements. Think pop-art, and colours.

When it comes to colour a favourite trend of 2017 is the rise of rich jewel tones. These jewel tones go hand in hand with soft pastel colours. Vibrant greens, purples and ruby reds mixed with soft pinks and blues.

Pastel shades are a great way of introducing subtle colour into a room, they’re brilliantly minimalistic and set the tone for a Bohemian, Romantic style. If pastels aren’t your thing you can always for the bold side and choose earthy colours like powdery pink, terracotta, sand, ochre, or olive green. They will give a great exotic feel to the room and will go great with spring trends.

They provide a great way to introduce subtle colour into muted schemes, so they work brilliantly in minimalist, Scandinavian-inspired homes where brighter shades might jar. They’re both warming and calming, and they look wonderful offset against neutrals. They’re incredibly versatile, too: you could start small by introducing a few earth-coloured ceramics, or go bolder and paint the walls. The mood is all about fun and glamorous escapism.

Introducing Geometric Patterns

To meet the geometric trends of 2017 spring here are a few easy additions to the home that will change the feel without too much hassle.

Two geometric shaped mirrors hanging on a wall

I particularly like these geometric mirrors by Lisa Angel. With a minimalistic geometric design, they provide the perfect start to a spring refresh. These hexagonal mirror can be easily hang in your living room by their attached sting and are available in multiple sizes. Plus, their simple design means you won’t have to change up your room massively to accommodate it.

Glossy black table and chairs in a dining room

If you’re looking for a more bald geometric piece to add to your home, consider lighting. This statement lamp by Fabbian, it comes both with or without suspension and is a great way to add some personality into the room. Suspension lamps are coming back, and personally, They tend to give more style to a room than surface mounted lamps. This design in particular is bit pricey but there are plenty luxury lamps to choose from in LampCommerce.

Exotic and Botanical Themes

This is another favourite spring trend because it is bringing some great patterns with it, I’m specially excited by the Banana Leaf Patterns. I absolutely love, love, loveeeee (did I emphasise that enough) tropical wallpapers. I think, when used properly and only for details, they can really change a room massively by brightening it up and giving it life. Choose a wallpaper that has colour, but be careful with a heavy pattern. Bold choices can be good for a while but a simpler design with fewer colour or clutter will last longer.

Banana leaf wallpaper detail over a wooden bed with white bedding

If you don’t want to change your walls but like the pattern, why not frame it and hang it in your living room? Or consider instead pillows. Pillows are a great way to contrast colours, specially in living rooms. There are plenty of Banana Leaf Design pillows to choose from in vtwonen and etsy, and come in different sizes and patterns. Framed patterns or pillows are a great quick and easy change to make to your home decor which will make your room feel new without making an entire project out of it. 

White sofa with green banana leaf detail cushions in a living room

A tip I would say is keep to a simple palette with accents, but be brave with texture and layering. Remember, you don’t have to make massive changes to your home to give a spring makeover.

Collaboration with Max Lami
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Saturday, 22 April 2017

Review: Sk:n skincare - Skin Products From A Leading Skin Clinic

I was recently sent some new skin care products to try from leading skin clinic sk:n.  I am always on the look-out for products which will help my mature skin look a little brighter and which don't irritate my sensitive patches.

sk:n Anti-Ageing Age-Delaying Cream for younger skin and sk:n age-defying brightening & firming eye cream

Sk:n has 42 clinics nationwide and offers a range of specialised skin treatments including laser hair removal, tattoo removal, anti-ageing injectables, dermal fillers, facial treatments including microneedling, a range of peels for rejuvenation and a range of treatments to combat acne.

You would expect naturally, therefore, that their own range of skincare products would do the job well.

After describing my skin type, I was sent three products to try:-

Sk:n Cleanse: Vitamin-Rich Cleanser for oily skin containing glycolic acid, Evening Primrose Oil and Vitamins A, C & E (RRP £17.50).

Sk:n Anti-Ageing: Age-Delaying Cream for younger skin containing clincially proven anti-ageing peptides, Vitamins C, E & A and Shea Butter. (RRP £35)

Sk:n Age-Defying: Brightening & Firming Eye Cream containing clinically proven anti-ageing peptides, Vitamin B3, Caffeine, Glycerin and reflective optical particles (RRP £25).

All ingredients which you would expect to find in a range of skincare products designed by a company who understand skin.

Sk:n Cleanse: Vitamin-Rich Cleanser for oily skin

sk:n Cleanse: Vitamin-Rich Cleanser for oily skin
Sk:n Cleanse: Vitamin-Rich Cleanser for oily skin
Unfragranced and effective at removing oily residue after a long day, I found this light gel cleanser pleasant to use and it came in a generous size (200ml).  I did find, though, that it was slightly too strong for my skin as whilst I have an oily T-Zone, the rest of my skin is quite dry.

Interestingly, I can no longer find this product on Sk:n's website and it seems to have been reformulated for Normal / Combination skin, which I suspect would have suited me far better.

Sk:n Anti-Ageing: Age-Delaying Cream

sk:n Anti-Ageing: Age-defying cream for younger skin
Sk:n Anti-Ageing: Age-Delaying Cream for younger skin
This was a lovely light and easily absorbed cream which my skin seemed to drink in, leaving it smooth and hydrated.

Sk:n Age-Defying: Brightening & Firming Eye Cream 

sk:n age-defying brightening and firming eye cream
Sk:n Age-Defying Brightening & Firming Eye Cream
This was my favourite of the three products because not only was it gentle on the delicate under-eye area, it didn't sting (always a risk for contact lens wearers) and it did seem to make the area brighter.

Each product contained a leaflet offering a free facial skin analysis plus £25 off any treatment at Sk:n's clinics.

Whilst I found all the products pleasant and at least as effective as other anti-ageing products I've tried, I think that Sk:n's strength lies in skin analysis and the prescribing of tailored treatments, including skincare.

You really can't assess someone's skin via email after all.

Every Sk:n consultation includes a skin assessment, discussion of your particular areas of concern, treatment fact sheets, tailored recommendations and treatment plans. They say they always make sure to advise you on the right treatment, with the best practitioners to meet your needs.

You can find out more at their website where you can discover their full range of treatments, the clinic nearest to you and also book online.
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Friday, 21 April 2017

Tips For Coping With A Child's Car Sickness

The holiday season is fast approaching and I'm sure many of us parents are planning our holidays, making endless lists, bulk buying toiletries and trying to summon up the energy to do the packing.


On top of this, there's an extra stress if you are travelling long distances by car or if your children (or even you) suffer from car sickness.

I wasn't too bad as a child but my sister would be looking green before we'd travelled more than a couple of miles!  Cue much packing of potties and urgent pit stops in lay-bys.

My dad gave me some sensible advice about carrying a large plastic box in the boot with a change of clothes per child, including towels, wet wipes and also a big bottle of soapy water for quick clean ups. He also advised carrying travel potties or old ice cream cartons.

My parents used to give my sister Sarah and I travel sickness pills and packets of Wrigleys Double Mint chewing gum to give us something to focus on.  And we quickly learned that reading whilst the car was moving was a no-no!.

I asked some of my fellow parenting bloggers how they cope with the nightmare of travel sickness and they had much wisdom to share.


Here are a few of their suggestions which also include advice for travelling on ferries and planes.

Shannon says "maybe not for a child for fear of them choking. How about lollipops? Or even a chewy toffee or sweet?".  [sarbthoughts.blogspot.com]

Mary says "My nephew used to be really travel sick even on short journeys but it all stopped when he used child travel bands. He's just left Uni so I don't think it's an issue any more, but they certainly saved us all having empty ice cream tubs in our card when we'd take him out!  With ferries - don't sit at the front of the boat or look at the horizon." [Over 40 And A Mum To One]

Claire says "I always had a pack of wipes, plastic bags and spare clothes. Keep a window open to let air in. Don't let them drink milk, and strong juice before the drive or during. Keep snacks light." [familypanelreviews.co.uk]

Helen says "I had really bad travel sickness as a child and the only thing that worked was a bobble on my wrist. The ones with the metal bit pressed on the inside of my wrist. Not sure how safe it is but it 100% worked" [http://hrbx.co.uk/]

Lisa of Travellovingfamily.com has a great post about coping with travel sickness on aeroplanes.

Tips from a Flight Attendant - Preventing Travel Sickness

Mellissa says "When all else fails Kwells is great and suitable for those over 10. You can take one as soon as you feel ill although it is better to take one 20 minutes before the journey." [Flydryexplore.com]

Rebecca says "Avoid dairy products before you travel if you suffer with travel sickness, they seem to make it worse! Two of my children suffer badly but not so bad if they've not had dairy products." [www.mumof3boys.co.uk]

Sophie says "For ferries I discovered that laying in a chair like you're in a rubber ring (if that makes sense) helps because the sensation is more like bobbing along on a lazy river" [onetenzeroseven]

Coral says "I was only car sick in smooth cars never in land rovers or lorries. Was told sitting on a news paper prevented it. Mind over matter I guess. Doesn't help in a cyclone in Fiji though. Avoid reading and devices. Look at the horizon. I talked a person out of sea sickness on a ferry. NLP and hypnosis can work." [Travellingcoral.com]

Michelle says "My parents used to give me child travel sickness tablets & anti sickness wristbands." [Looking For The Silver Lining]

Katy says "Distraction can be a fantastic way to ease the anxiety of a child who gets sick on long journeys. Often the anxiety can be what makes the child feel unwell. Packing toys, games or even a tablet can be a great way to distract a child!" [www.katykicker.com]

Rebecca Ali says "My mum used to keep a cool bag with ice cold water or go to the on-boat bar and get some ice which used to help loads (especially on boats and planes). Cars I was okay with but my granny always uses limacol in the car - it's a super strong lemon-lime scented thing thay she'd rub on a cloth and breathe and apparently that helped her from her youth to now." [Pocahontas Jane]

So there you have it - quite a few votes for wristbands which I'm off to try.  Otherwise I'll be relying on travel sickness tablets for children and a big bucket safely stowed in the boot!

Do you have any tips to add?  Please share them in the comments below.
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New Releases, Free & Bargain Books Link-up Week 17 2017

New Releases Free & Bargain Books Link-up Badge

How are you all this week?  The Easter school holidays are drawing to a close here in Wales and we've just returned from a fabulous short break courtesy of Butlins.  The weather was typically British but so was the fun!

I hope you had a great Easter and enjoyed your fill in chocolate.  It's back to 'healthy' eating in the Hobbis Household which means the Husband is going to have to back away from the Monster Munch and I am going to put my new running shoes on. Heck, I may even leave the house in them.

I've just read a great thriller by Carolyn Arnold - Remnants (Brandon Fisher FBI Series) with a serial killer whose actions are beyond grisly.  It's a real page turner and I'm looking forward to reviewing In Doubt by the incomparable John W. Mefford. This is an Ivy Nash thriller, a new detective for me and in this one, Ivy must protect a little girl from a wealthy egomaniac hell-bent on revenge. I'm looking forward to sharing my thoughts.

As usual, there are some great books on the linky - and don't forget you can always add your own to spread a bit of the book love.

Don't forget that I still have plenty to be won on my competitions page and don't forget my problem page here.

Happy bargain and freebie book hunting on this link.

Have a great week!

Sharing the Love of Books
Enjoy our selection of New Releases / Free & Bargain Books this week

Authors please feel free to add your own books
Readers please free to add your own finds
(any genre except erotica welcome)

This weekly link up is hosted by Beck Valley Books & these awesome book loving blogs...
Monday
 Life as Leels | IrishdaisylovesRomance | Book Babble | All Romance Reader
Tuesday
It's My Side of Life | Celticlady's Reviews | First Time Mommy Adventures 
Wednesday
Beck Valley BooksCinnamon Hollow Reviews
Thursday
Miki's Hope | Nicki's Nook
Friday
Ebook Addicts | I Love Romance | Colorimetry | The Ultimate Fan Blog Mother Distracted
Saturday
Totally Addicted to Reading | 3 Partners in Shopping | Angie's Angle I Create Purty Thangs | Wishful Endings
Sunday
Lynchburg Mama | LibriAmoriMieiAli - The Dragon Slayer | Wondermom WannabeDeal Sharing Aunt | Rambling Reviews 


For Pre-orders post - PRE-ORDER / genre / title /author
For New Releases post - NEW / genre / title / author
For Free Books post - FREE / genre / title / author / end date 
For Bargain Books post - SALE / price / genre / title / author / end date
(Strictly no Erotica please.  Steamy romance is fine but watch those covers people, incase any underage child is viewing it!)

Click here for this weeks awesome selection!

*this post contains an affiliate link
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Thursday, 20 April 2017

Problem Page Edition 16 2017

This week - handling commitment issues, spotting the signs of pregnancy and what to do when you can't stop sleeping with your ex student.

Couple on a boardwalk looking over a lake and surrounded by mountains

If you would like any advice, feel free to treat me as your agony aunt. Just message me or pop a comment in the comment box at the end of this post. I promise to be gentle.

Here are this week's questions.

Q: Should I stop casually dating this single mother all together? 

We’ve been having consistent casual sex for over a month ever since she moved close by. She has a 2-year-old toddler (boy) whose father isn't involved much. What I don't like is that she continually brings up step-dad talk even after I reject the role. She's a cool person, but should I drop her?

A:I’m intrigued that you are ‘rejecting the step dad talk’ after just a month. 

Has she specifically mentioned this or are you just cheesed off that she rightly prioritises her son and his needs? 

This doesn’t sound as if it’s going anywhere and frankly if it’s just sex you’re after I’d move on before you mess with her, and her son’s feelings. 

If you date a woman with children, you can’t expect the child to take second place.

Q: I haven't been in touch with my ex for a month (We just broke up) seems like he has had a new date already. Should I wish him happy birthday?

A: If you were the dumper as opposed to the dumpee and your ex took it badly, or you think there may be a chance of getting back together, then I would say absolutely. 

If you are hurting or want to send him the greeting to cast a little shade over his new relationship, I’m not sure it’s a good idea. 

Of course, after a little more time has passed, wishing your ex a happy birthday if you are on amicable terms is the mature thing to do, but this all sounds a little too soon and ever so slightly raw. 

Incidentally, the fact that he has a new date doesn’t mean much. Some men can’t stand to be on their own for two minutes. 

Without knowing the exact circumstances of your break-up it’s hard to advise more fully but I would let things lie this year and if he wants you back let him do the running.

Q: How soon will I know if I am pregnant?

A: Missing a period and possibly more than one period is the most reliable way to find out - although an over the counter pregnancy test will be 99.999% accurate and you can do a test after your first missed period. 

Some women do just know though - I had strange cramping in my uterus and felt tired and weepy. It’s easier to know on the second pregnancy though. 

There are plenty of other signs - tender breasts, spots, frequent urination, increased discharge, light spotting (as opposed to the fuller flow of a period). 

If you are trying to get pregnant, make sure you are making healthy changes to your lifestyle and not stressing to give yourself the best chance - no booze, cigarettes, more exercise…. the usual common sense advice. 

And don’t expect to have sex once in a blue moon and then get pregnant first time. It may take a year or longer to conceive. It’s not necessarily the automatic process you think it is. 

If you think it is taking too long, see your GP to make sure you and your partner are in the fullest of health and whether any further investigation is needed.

Q: How do I handle a girl with commitment issues? 

We've been seeing each other for nearly 2 months. We're exclusive and lately she's been very intimate and likes to cuddle a lot and kiss more in public which she didn't like to do before. However, she doesn't want to label anything and would rather take things slow. How should I handle this?

A: 2 months is really a very short time and you probably don’t yet know each other very well beyond the initial attraction. 

You sound very keen and desperate to announce your relationship to all and sundry. She, on the other hand, does not. 

I think she is perfectly sensible to want to take things slowly. Perhaps she has been hurt before or she is mature enough to know that the initial passion can fizzle out leaving the relationship dead in the water if there is no solid friendship behind it. 

If, on the other hand, she won’t acknowledge your relationship to at least her family and closest friends, I would be a little suspicious. 

You use the term ‘exclusive’ - are you sure she’s not just trying to keep her options open? 

The only thing you can do is have a frank and open conversation about whether you really are exclusive but at just 2 months in, I don’t think you should be pushing for a firm commitment. 

Q: I slept with my ex student. I am married with kids. My body really craves for him. Is it normal?

A: I’m intrigued that you seem to ask completely the wrong question. 

Is it normal is really not the issue. Infidelity happens all the time. We know this and it does not excuse it. 

What you are really asking is can you justify sleeping with your ex student because your hormones are talking louder than your brain. And the answer to that one is no. But you know that, don’t you? 

To potentially throw away a marriage and embarass the hell out of your kids for a brief moment of passion doesn’t seem like much of an exchange to me. 

And as a mature woman, using the ‘my body made me and I can’t help myself’ card is a little lame, don’t you think? 

I sense that you are really miserable but unless you want to make things far worse (surely there’s a lack of professionalism in sleeping with an ex student too), I would quietly say goodbye to your fling, hope your husband doesn’t find out and focus on what you would lose if this all came to light. 

You’re human - of course you are - but if you’re looking for validation that you are still attractive and sexy, it’s your relationship with your husband that needs working on. Don’t judge yourself too harshly but for heavens sake take a moment and think.

How would you have responded to these questions? I'd love to know. You can find more advice on my problem page

Disclaimer: All materials included in this post are intended for informational purposes only. This post/information is not intended to and should not be used to replace medical or psychiatric advice offered by physicians or other health care providers. The author will not be liable for any direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary or other damages arising therefrom. 


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Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Parents - Stress Free Revision Tips For Your Child

It's that time of year again when exams loom and schools start to circulate exam timetables and remind parents about the importance of getting our kids revising as early as possible.

girl in a leather jacket revising from a book

You may recall that last year, there was a great deal of press coverage about parents protesting about the stress some of their children were feeling when faced with Year 6 SATS.  In fact, some parents were so incensed they pulled their children out of school on the day of the test.

Here in Wales we have the National Reading and Numeracy Tests which Caitlin (now 9 and in Year 4) and Ieuan, (aged 7 and in Year 2) will be sitting in the second week of May.  These tests enable recording of a child's academic performance on a database so that this can be compared to the national average.

I can see no point in pulling your child out of school in protest.  It will not change the system and nor will it help the child to cope with the stresses Academia places on all of us for as long as we are students. The most sensible approach, I think, is to view these examinations as a 'learning curve'.

These tests offer a chance for our children to begin to learn how to deal with examination stress and to make the vital psychological link between effort and results. These tests are also a chance to learn other skills, such as revision, planning and even self-care in the face of times of worry and pressure.

If our children learn these skills early on then, arguably, GCSEs, and A Levels may be slightly easier to cope with.

What is important, I think, is how we as parents explain all this and how we help our children to understand what the results mean.

Whilst an exam result is an indication of intelligence and effort, it is a marker in the sand.  Because the results are calculated taking into account the performance of your child's peers.

There are other variables such as how the child felt on the day. For example, are we really saying hay fever sufferers who gave a poor performance on the day of the test due to summertime sniffles are less intelligent? And what about those children whose teachers have been absent and replaced with a totally disinterested supply teacher?

We need to explain to our kids that the result of their test will be an indication of their current ability and no more. With the proviso, of course, that they need to give their best effort. Once that is done they can do no more.

We must also be careful not to communicate our own stress about their performance to our youngsters. After all, exams can be retaken.

As a nation we are not the economic powerhouse we once were, largely because we are not as competitive as, say China.

I am not saying we should hot-house our children as is the way in some parts of Asia but we do need to teach our kids that competing is a vital skill if you want to move up the career ladder.

Our children will need to compete for university and college places.  They will need to compete for jobs.  We do them no favours if we don't at least begin to explain how the world works in this regard.

In classes of mixed ability which we now have, the pace seems to move to accommodate the slowest child and, although this makes sense from the point of view of developing a strong social community where each individual is valued, the trade off is an environment where those who could benefit from extra attention don't get it and teaching staff have to struggle to cope with behaviour that is often driven by far more than just occasional naughtiness.

Some parents think that if a child is not particularly academic it is not fair to subject them to tests which may dent their self-confidence.

But surely with the right attention and tuition, overcoming learning challenges may actually boost the confidence of these children.

There are, after all, enough hugely successful entrepreneurs whose own academic performance was dismal.  Richard Branson, and Steve Jobs to name but two.

So how can parents help their kids?

I wrote a practical guide to revision which you and your children may find helpful.  "Revision Tips To Show Those GCSEs Who's Boss". You can read it here.

But here are some things we, as parents, can do.

Don't over-react

If you make these exams / tests the be-all and end-all you will add undue pressure on your child. Hence, Ieuan's school is very wisely calling the Year 3 testing a 'Quiz'.

Make sure you familiarise yourself with your child's curriculum and study topics

Our school sends out regular term updates so we know what our kids are studying and what their learning outcomes are.  If you have been working with your child throughout the academic year, you will be better placed to help them with their revision.

You will also feel a bit calmer because you will know what needs to be covered.

Invest in some study guides

There is a lot of age-appropriate / Key Stage learning material you can buy or download.  In Wales, past tests can be downloaded free of charge from the Learning Wales website.

There are also websites such as Twinkl which, for a nominal monthly subscription offer a great range of educational resources.

Set a regular study timetable

Design a timetable which has study 'periods' of about 45 minutes and help your child work through his topic book or a past paper.

All gadgets stay off until the homework is done (even if it means changing the WiFi password!).

Add an incentive

Whether this is extra family time - such as a trip to the cinema or to a favourite local attraction, make sure you prioritise down time too.

Ban Late Nights

For you and your children.  You'll need your sleep to cope with an emotional, antsy child and to keep your patience in the face of the inevitable "I don't want / need to revise" rebellion.

Improve your diet

Mainlining on take-aways and high sugar foods will make you all feel low and under par.  Now is the time for some proper home cooked meals.

Buddy up

Why not form a little study group with your child's best buddies and their parents.  You may find it more effective to get the kids studying in a more relaxed atmosphere.  They can then do a fun activity once the work has been done, football, swimming or some other form of stress relieving exercise.

Work with the school

If your child is really struggling, don't be afraid to talk to your child's teacher to see if there is the possibility of any extra tuition or support.

It may be there is a gap in your child's knowledge (perhaps something that was covered when your child was off sick) that can be easily filled by a fact sheet or online resource.

Exams, tests, whatever blood-pressure-inducing terminology we apply to them, are designed to put us under pressure to see how we perform.

Watch for signs of extreme anxiety / depression

If you feel that your child is really suffering physically or mentally through exam stress, you need to get your child to open up and talk about their fears.  It may be worth taking them to see your GP if their anxiety symptoms are becoming unmanageable.

If they won't talk to you, perhaps they will talk to another trusted adult or perhaps an older sibling who has gone through the pressures they are facing.

As parents there is a lot we can do to help our child and, in doing so, help ourselves to feel a little more confident too.

We just need to remember that exam results do not define who we are and certainly don't dictate who we will become.
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3 Ways The DVLA Can Help You

In the UK, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency or DVLA, can be your ally when it comes to anything related to driving and vehicles.
Blue Volkswagen Camper Van
Tens of millions of driving and vehicle accounts are handled by the Agency and they help law enforcers, not only in regulating traffic, but to identify and apprehend traffic violators and other criminal elements. 

With the DVLA, the roads of UK are much safer, and you as a driver have somewhere to turn with your motoring and vehicle related queries.

Here are some ways the DVLA can help you:

1. Visit the DVLA in Swansea in person to get your licence

The DVLA is concerned and responsible for anything related to driver and vehicle licensing.

For starters, if you are over 15 years and 9 months old you can get a provisional driver’s license from the DVLA, given that you meet the necessary criteria and you possess the required documentation and identification.

The provisional license is your gate pass to obtain your license. With it, you can enroll for driving lessons and then take the necessary examinations to get your license. Getting the assistance from DVLA will help you obtain your license without the hassle. 

Finally, it is also the DVLA who provides you with the license card which allows you to drive anywhere in the country.

As well, by visiting DVLA, you can also register your car or vehicle so you can use it within the United Kingdom. The Agency holds the registration and provides the necessary registration documents. 

You may also refer to them any other concerns you may have on your driving record or license such as a change of address, medical conditions that impact your driving capability, and more.

2. Find all the information you need on the DVLA website

Now that the DVLA's services have been centralised in their head office in Swansea, travelling there in person may not always be possible given work and family commitments, especially for a minor query. 

Fortunately, the official DVLA website provides comprehensive information on various matters related to driving, registration, and licensing. You can visit the site and get the information that you need. It provides information on legal obligations, obtaining a license, viewing the license, renewal application processes, towing, and many others. The website alone can already answer many of your questions.

3. Phone their support line

It is always advisable for drivers to keep a list of DVLA phone numbers with them in case of queries, concerns or emergencies. DVLA numbers serve as a support line for drivers and owners of vehicles. By calling them, you can get all the necessary information you need for your license or vehicle. Phone representatives are on standby to assist you .

The DVLA also provides other information related to UK driving including logbooks, VSC, car registration, information about driving with disability and many others. By keeping a list of DVLA contact numbers with you, in your phone and in your car, help, and assistance is just a phone call away. DVLA numbers can also be used by non-drivers and they are always ready to provide information regarding their services.

*collaborative post
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Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Review: Butlins Minehead - Fun Stands The Test Of Time

When I was a child in the 1970s, my sister and I were taken to Butlins Minehead several times by our grandparents.

Those were the 'Hi Di Hi' days when accommodation was a small but comfortable prefab chalet with a tannoy to summon campers to their meals with gusto at 7 am in the morning.

Linda Hobbis, Sarah Jasper, Harry Setters & Phyllis Setters at Butlins Minehead circa 1974
My sister Sarah and I with our grandparents, Harry and Phyllis at Butlins Minehead circa 1974
There was an impressive network of cable cars which seemingly floated over the camp as well as a Gaiety Ballroom and a Gaiety Theatre.

Sarah Jasper & Linda Hobbis plus large monkey at Butlins Minehead circa 1974
Sarah and I - gran always dressed us as twins!  Can you tell I'm shattered?
Food was everywhere, particularly, I recall, freshly made mini doughnuts.

The fairground was free and when we weren't there or in the arcades playing slot machines for a penny, we would religiously attend the Donkey Derby, the Glamorous Grandmother competition, It's A Knock-Out and I think there was even the traditional Knobbly Knees.

The Red Coats were friendly, glamorous and talented.

We ate ourselves into oblivion, attended a show every night and stayed up far too late dancing in the disco.

Fast forward almost 40 years and I'm back at Butlins' kind invitation holding on tight to my memories and wondering how the camp would have weathered the passing decades.

Promotional leaflet advertising the return of the chalet to Butlins Minehead


And this time I've got two kids with me who are roughly the same age as my sister Sarah and I were when we visited.

ARRIVAL & CHECK IN

Our initial impression on arrival was a sense of overwhelm.  I had forgotten just how big the site is and finding our way to West Lake Villages where we had a lake view chalet involved a little too-ing and fro-ing up and down the car park and a little heated marital discussion on the basis that the Husband had a map.  Give a man a map and he automatically becomes Roald Amundsen.

We had a Lakeview Chalet in West Lakes Villages
But everything is signposted and eventually we found the chalet accommodation office where we were required to book in.  If you do get lost return to the large Guest Check In centre at the front of the complex and they'll be able to help.

The site is a collection of 'villages' with designated check-in points so you have to make sure you go to the right place.  You park your car, check in and then drive round to your accommodation where there is a designated parking place and you can unpack.

Our tips: if you get lost, return to the central Guest Check In and they'll direct you.

ACCOMMODATION

We were based in West Lake Villages, a complex of new style chalets built surrounding a man-made lake with a fountain.  Everything was well laid out and pristine - and incredibly peaceful. You pay an extra supplement for a chalet right by the water but ours, with a lake view, was very pleasant.

Our chalet was on the top floor.  The chalets are built in small runs of one-up, one-down and entered via a contactless key card.

Butlins Lakeview Chalet interior, bedrooms, bathroom and sofa
The bedrooms, bathroom and comfort family sized sofa
There was a double and a twin bedroom, a bathroom with a toilet, a combined bath and shower and a generously sized lounge / diner with a fully equipped kitchen including a fridge and a microwave.
Kitchen and retro detailing - Lakeview chalet, Butlins Minehead
A generous sized kitchen and lots of retro detail
A balcony looked over a green central area towards the lake and was visited by ducks, geese and rabbits.  There was a table and chairs on the balcony so you could just relax whilst the kids played football on the green space below.

Kids being kids, it didn't take long before they were out making new friends.  Top tip - take a football.

Our chalet also had housekeeping and towels were supplied. The bathroom had a small pouch with toiletries but you would need to bring your own and particularly a bar of soap.

I was really impressed with the quality of the chalet's fixtures and fittings.  The chalets are, of course, reasonably new, but the accommodation was a world away from the prefab days of the 1970s.

There were several clever little touches too - a chalk board with chalk for the kids to play with, coat hooks running around the rooms for all those towels and coats and when we arrived our towels had been turned into an Easter bunny.

We didn't take food with us, although we did take teabags and biscuits plus a bottle or two of wine. The site is well equipped with supermarkets which carry all the basics you could possibly need.

In any case, you will find you are amply fed if your package includes dining, with only lunch and snacks to provide for.

WiFi was free for us for two devices, however, depending on your package you may only have 30 free minutes a day and need to pay for top ups.

Our tips: bring soap, tissues and toiletries. If you don't have housekeeping with your package, don't forget towels and bring extra ones for swimming. Caffeine addicts should bring their favs with them plus some milk if you don't like milk capsules.  And there was a corkscrew, but a spare never hurts. Bring a ball for the kids (although you can buy one on site)


Butlins Minehead site map
There are plenty of maps and information leaflets to help you.
DINING

We had the Premium Dining package which meant that breakfast and dinner was all in and we could choose between two restaurants, The Deck or The Yacht which were situated in a block a short walk from our chalet.

Caitlin and Ieuan enjoyed the food at The Deck, Butlins Minehead
Caitlin and Ieuan testing the food at The Deck
The dinner menu changed daily and for the duration of our stay we dined in The Deck which is the bigger of the two.

Both restaurants are on the ground floor with a bar situated just outside and toilets inside.

The food is served buffet style and there are stations for grilled food such as steaks and burgers, wok-based food and pasta.  Dishes are cooked fresh for you if you want to wait or you can help yourself from the dishes already laid out.

The Yacht & The Deck Premium Dining Restaurants at Butlins Minehead

There is also a large well stocked salad bar, various soups in tureens and cabinets full of desserts, primarily cheesecakes or, if you're quick, cheese & biscuits.

The children's buffet food is laid out separately and I would say that it is geared for kids much younger than Caitlin and Ieuan.  There are plastic plates and knives and forks available and the menu is pretty much chips, nuggets, sausages and standard kiddy fare.

My only gripe with the food we had is that the temperature of the children's food could have been much hotter and the chicken dish laid out one evening had gone completely cold.

My suspicion is that given the number of adults to kids, the adult food gets replaced far quicker and far more frequently than the kids food does.

The temperature of the adult food can also be a little hit and miss depending on what you choose. One evening we had freshly cooked chicken, noodles, veggies and soy from the wok station which was lovely but on another we had a vegetarian Jalfrezi curry which was just hot enough.

Dining runs from 4.30 - 7.30 pm so you take pot luck depending on when you choose to dine. Sunday night seems to be the night for early dining as there was a pool party starting at 7 pm in Splash Waterworld.

But the desserts...... apologies to Butlins at this point for Caitlin and Ieuan empyting the ice cream machine and the cheesecakes were lovely.

Teas and coffees are available from a self serve machine as are squashes for the kids and these are free of charge.  Alcoholic drinks are available from the bar outside and have to be paid for by cash or card - you can't add the cost to your room.

Occasional fluctuations in temperature aside,  the food was lovely, great quality and varied enough so you didn't have to eat the same thing each meal.

Breakfast offered pasties, fresh fruit and yoghurt, cereal and a buffet style full English with the works - including fried bread and kippers.

Breakfast is served from 8 am up to the very reasonable 10 am but, again, towards the tail end of the time period you may find some of your favourites have gone.

Caitlin and Ieuan loved going off to get their own food (particularly the ice cream and squash) and of course, you can refill your plate if you are extra peckish.

Our tips:  come early for the hottest food and biggest choice and don't forget cash / card if you plan to buy drinks from the bar

ENTERTAINMENT & ACTIVITIES

As I child I remember being so tired getting back on the coach to return to Plymouth that I could barely speak.  (The Husband can only dream of this now).  I was expecting a jam-packed few days and there are certainly plenty of things to do.

The central hub of the camp is the Skyline Pavilion - a massive white tented structure which houses a shopping mall, the stage areas, numerous cafes and restaurants, arcade type machines, a pool and bowling hall and more toilets.
Collage of pictures in the Skyline Pavilion Butlins Minehead
The Skyline Pavilion is the hub of the camp
There is also a handy information desk which helps you get your bearings and tells you the day's available activities and what shows are available at the Skyline Pavilion (which has a large stage area surrounded by seating), Centre Stage and Reds.

The Skyline Pavilion stage is home to the Skyline Gang (a Butlins version of Lazy Town) and Silent Cinema.  Centre Stage hosts the bigger, music based shows, for example The RollerBoys and Freddie In Concert (A Freddie Mercury tribute act) whilst Reds hosts shows for the little ones such as Justin Fletcher's Just Sing & Dance and Billy & Bonnie In The Wizard.  Billy and Bonnie are Butlin's resident bears.

We saw three shows, wrestling, Sam & Mark On The Road Show and the Teletubbies.  I say we,  I watched the Teletubbies whilst Ieuan muttered "I am SO too old for this".  I enjoyed it.  Both the Teletubbies and the wrestling were in the Skyline Pavilion where, again, the noise levels were an issue for me.  I much prefered the Centre Stage venue which, though spacious, is more intimate and hosts fewer visitors.

Our tips: plan your shows in advance so you can use your B-Line passes if you have them and secure early entry and better seats.  Some of the shows don't start till around 8:30 pm.

Daily Activity Schedule

Each day has a full timetable of activities included in the price of your break, details of which are available on the leaflet "Butlins When And Where".

In it you'll find lists of daily activities and shows all handily designated with the age range these are best suited for.

On first sight, these are primarily geared towards tots and I was initially worried that there would not be enough for Caitlin and Ieuan's age group to do.

I needn't have worried. For example, there is archery, shooting and crafting for the over 9s.  There's also a circus school, drum workshop, magic workshop and numerous science workshops.

The Husband took Caitlin to the code breaking workshop hosted by Bletchley Park.  In this, they had to crack the code by breaking into three safes to assemble a six digit code to break into the master safe.  They also wanted to go to the Bath Bomb workshop hosted by The Royal Institution and L'Oreal UK & Ireland to investigate the science of fizz but it was fully booked.

As it was Easter, there was also an Easter Egg Hunt where youngsters had to crack the code by finding crates in secret locations around the camp and solving the puzzle to get part of the code.

There is something on right throughout the day, whether it's a sporting activity, crafting or a show and the programme spans from 8 am through to 12:30 am with live music in one of the complex's pubs, Inn On The Green.

Not everything is free, however, for example the Adventure Golf, Ten Pin Bowling, American Pool, Go Karts and Bungee Trampolines all have a charge.  The golf is £3.50 per person and go kart hire is £9.50 per half hour per kart.  It's worth getting an All Action Pass which includes all these activities a £17 per person.

Caitlin, Ieuan and Mathew Hobbis at Butlins Minehead
We loved the go karts
You can also buy B Line fast passes from £20 per person for 3 nights which allows priority access to Centre Stage, Reds and Splash Waterworld.

We absolutely love the Go Karts which we hired twice and which brought home my dismal level of fitness quick nicely.  Cycling round on these is a great way to get your bearings and to appreciate just how big Butlins Minehead is.

Our tips:  get there early to get your pick of the best go karts.  The outdoor activities get busy early. Plan your day to make sure you get everything in!  

Eating and Drinking

Because we have breakfast and dinner in our package, the only thing we had to provide for was lunch, snacks and drinks and there is plenty to choose from.

There's Ludo's Restaurant (Italian), The Diner (50's themed burger joint) and the Firehouse Grill as well as the Sun & Moon family pub, Soho Coffee Company and Inn on The Green (drinks only).

We ate in both the Sun & Moon family pub, the Firehouse Grill and the Soho Coffee Company and found the food in all three good quality and good value.  The children's menus were adequate and the portion sizes generous.  In fact, after a full breakfast at The Deck we didn't have all that much room for lunch!

Children's menus are priced around the reasonable £6.50 mark for a main, dessert and a Ribena Mini.

Our tips: we found the Sun & Moon to be quieter and more relaxed than the food venues around the Skyline Pavilion.

The Pool

The outdoor lido with the fountain I remember has been replaced by the huge Splash Waterworld, an indoor heated pool complex with a wave machine, a disco beat and a number of very long and exhilirating water slides.

The queues to get in were long although given that it was Easter weekend this was not surprising. (so a B Line pass is a good idea). Once through the door you are given an allotted time frame (we had an hour and a half) and a coloured arm band in the good old fashioned British style.  (Yellows out of the pool now!!!).

retro Butlins postcard

There are multiple changing areas with cubicles and lockers which require a pound coin to get your key out.  Due to the number of people who had already been there that day, the changing area we chose was a little less than fresh but this is a common problem where there is lots of nappy changing going on!

The Husband took Ieuan on the waterslide but, again, there was a queue.  There are three slides of varying length and Ieuan waited 20 minutes to get on his.  A lady in the queue behind him had waited 45 minutes to go on another of the slides so she was clearly earning her mummy stripes.  Despite the wait, haring down a waterslide with his dad in a small inflatable boat was one of the highlights of his holiday.

I stayed with Caitlin in one of the three smaller pools.  The main pool has a continual current and a wave machine and is definitely not suitable for non swimmers.  We were in the second pool, smaller, no current and well manned by lifeguards.  There is a third kiddy pool nearby.

I was really impressed by the lifeguards who were really attentive and not afraid to usher swimmers back into the shallows if it looked like they were not confident swimmers.

On a personal note, as a tinnitus sufferer, I found the volume of the pool absolutely deafening - not helped by the disco music played to encourage swimmers to circle round the wave pool but this is not a criticism of Butlins.  If you do suffer from tinnitus I would suggest you take ear plugs.

Our tips:  be prepared to queue, both to get in and to get on the waterslides; don't forget pound coins for the lockers and if you are a tinnitus sufferer, take your ear plugs.  Parents of non-swimmers - make sure you stick to the designated non-swimmer areas.

The Fairground

Again, this is free.  It's smaller than I remember and I was hoping for a ghost train but there is a carousel, a helter skelter, dodgems, waltzers, go-karts. Chair-o-Planes and the Rockin' Tug.  Kids have to be tall enough to go on each ride and if you don't like fast rides you are rather limited to the safer choices of the helter skelter and dodgems.

Carousel and helter skelter at Butlins Minehead
You're never too old for a carousel
The fair closes at 5 pm during the week but is open till 8 pm on Friday nights which coincided nicely with our arrival.

Little ones have their own Little Stars Fairground.

Out and about

Should you find the time to actually leave Butlins, Minehead beach is literally just across the road and is a lovely soft sandy beach.  Nearby there is Dunster Castle and Somerset Valley Railway sends its steam trains along the perimeter of the camp.

Collage of Minehead Beach with Caitlin
Minehead beach is literally a stone's throw away - shame about the lack of sun!
BOOKING YOUR NEXT BUTLINS BREAK

The kids absolutely adored our 3 days at Butlins and were shattered by the end of it.  I asked Ieuan what was his favourite bit and his response was "there's so much to do.  I'm struggling".  Both Caitlin and Ieuan asked to come back and, not surprisingly, Butlins Minehead is pretty fully booked for the rest of the year.

Caitlin & Ieuan with Butlins Easter Eggs

There is, however, an on site Holiday Acccommodation office where you can book your next Butlins break with an up to 40% discount.  You can also secure your next booking for just £10pp.  This makes subsequent bookings even better value if you rebook whilst you are there.

Front cover of Butlins booking folder

We have a 3 night break on the same basis (lake view chalet in West Lakes Village and the premier dining package) for just over £800 - with a significant saving of around £400.

Our tip:  if you want to come back, secure your next break for the minimum deposit of £10 per person.

So, did Butlins Minehead 2017 compare favourably to the Butlins I remember in the 70's?  Yes it did - it's a lot more comfortable and nobody shouts at you over a tannoy to get you up for breakfast. Come to think of it though, that tannoy might be very useful on school mornings.

Big thanks to Butlins for our break and for giving the Husband a chance to laugh at my rubbish cycling abilities.

Things will be different next year.  You'll see.

Find more information and to book your break go to  www.butlins.com.
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Monday, 17 April 2017

Win English Tea Shop's Luxury Organic Tea Collection This National Tea Day (21 April)

This Friday 21 April is National Tea Day - yes a whole day dedicated to my favourite non-alcholic beverage and, in the words of the popular World War II song sung by Jack Buchanan, "Everything Stops For Tea".

Steaming cup of tea in a white china cup on a desk with computer

I mention this because Caitlin has just finished her World War II school project and, of course, Dame Vera Lynn has reached her milestone 100th birthday so all things 1939-1945 are particularly topical in our house at present!

To quote:

"It's a very good English custom
And a stimulant for the brain
When you feel a little weary, a cup'll make you cheery
And it's cheaper than champagne..." [Lyrics Goodhart, Hoffman & Sigler]

And lest you think that I have gone rogue and am being unfaithful to my fellow Welsh countryfolk, as I may have mentioned before, I was born in Rochford, England rather a few years ago now. Hence my perennial emotional conflict whenever Wales play England during the Six Nations.

Did you know though, that over 165 million cups of tea are brewed daily in the UK so it’s no surprise having a cuppa has become a Great British tradition and is proudly celebrated each year on National Tea Day.

English Tea Shop Luxury Organic Tea Collection
English Tea Shop are giving away 50 of these beaut-teas on National Tea Day 21st April

So I was delighted to be sent the most beautiful selection of luxury organic teas from English Tea Shop in their Luxury Organic Collection to help me celebrate National Tea Day in style.

And not just me because on 21st April, English Tea Shop are joining the festivities by giving away Luxury Organic Gift Tins to 50 lucky tea fans on their social media channels.

Founded in 2010, English Tea Shop is a premium speciality tea company based in the UK and believes in the power of Tea, Loving, Care. They work with the finest Organic and Fairtrade farmers, blenders and producers from all over the world to produce a diverse range of organic teas, from the true classics to the more unusual. The brand uses age-old practises and quality tea leaves to create a superb tea coming from the heart of Sri Lanka and is built on sustainable and ethical values, with employee and farmer welfare at its core.



The Luxury Organic Collection contains 72 individually wrapped pyramid tea bags and features a diverse range of classics to more unusual herbal varieties.

The range includes:

Organic and Fairtrade English Breakfast: A pure Ceylon black tea sure to quench any thirst for a proper English brew

Organic and Fairtrade Earl Grey: A quintessentially British tea delicately flavoured with bergamot

Organic and Fairtrade Green Tea: A delicate and refreshing blend of 100% organic and Fairtrade green tea

Organic and Fairtrade Peppermint: A revitalising and delicious tea packed full of antioxidants

Organic Chocolate, Rooibos & Vanilla: Caffeine free, naturally sweet and antioxidant rich rooibos deliciously blended with vanilla and chocolate notes

Organic Black Tea Chai: Organic black tea entwined with cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and orange peel

Organic Lemongrass, Ginger and Citrus: An understated classic packing a citrus punch! Notes of Lemongrass and citrus infused with a tingle of ginger will refresh any palate

Organic Green Tea Tropical: Made with the finest organic green tea combined with mouth-watering tropical herbs and fruit flavours

Organic Super Berries: A delightful blend of classical herbs and aromatic berries - tastes as delicious as its aroma

All English Tea Shop teas are created using time honoured healthy ingredients. The range includes nature’s most revitalising herbs, spices, fruits and flowers for the most beneficial infusions and naturally cleansing teas.

I loved the Organic & Fairtrade Earl Grey which had just the right delicate blend without being overpowering and the refreshing Organic & Fairtrade Peppermint - great when you've um, overindulged slightly!

You can find English Shop Teas in Harrods, Selfridges, Debenhams, WHSmith and Wyvale Garden Centres.

The Luxury Organic Gift Tin is available to win on the English Tea Shop Facebook and Twitter channels on Friday 21 April, all you need to do is comment, re-tweet and follow to be in with a chance to win!

For the full English Tea Shop product range visit: http://www.theenglishteashop.biz/


*I was sent an English Tea Shop Luxury Organic Collection for the purposes of this post.
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