Sharpie shells

My garden is full of shells. They are from all the beaches we have visited as a family and over the years they have started to take over – the pebbled area around the bench is now a beach – they have sneaked into the borders and adorn every pot plant. This evening, we decided to colour them with our Sharpies. 

I’m not sure what we’re going to do with them now (I’m guessing they’ll end up back in the garden!) but it was fun and a good way to keep bored children away from the gogglebox! So if you’ve been wondering what on earth you’re going to do with all yours, get scribbling!

10 Tips for Dealing with ‘Difficult’ Children

Any child can drive you nuts but a child who doesn’t seem to care about the rules or has no fear of adults can be a real test of the mettle. As a parent it’s hard because, well, you know you were frightened of your mum, so you’re expecting a bit of respect. As for teachers, we are prime examples of the sort of kids who meekly did as we were told, lapped up our education and then promptly regurgitated it to the next generation. It can come as a shock to realise there are kids out there who actually hate academic study, don’t have ambition and frankly find the entire situation so gawd awful they’d rather be down ‘t’ pit than stuck in a classroom full of people who don’t understand them.

So, after years of working it out on other people’s kids, here are my top tips for dealing with the ones who make you want to tear your hair out..

  1. Do not, under any circumstances, be tempted to raise your voice. This will have one of two effects, neither of which are desirable. The child will either (a). retreat completely and become unreachable, possibly for the rest of the day, or (b). lose it completely and you will spend the rest of the day trying to scrape them off the ceiling. That doesn’t mean you can’t be firm, just don’t shout.
  2. Be crystal clear about the consequences and stick to them. Don’t make threats you can’t keep because you may very well end up having to keep them – if you can’t think of anything then just remind them there will be a consequence, (even if you haven’t come up with anything yet), this is far better than threatening something in the heat of the moment and having to climb down. Consistency is key so if you change your mind about the consequence you will find it much harder to convince them you mean it next time.
  3. Allow ‘cool down’ time. Don’t ask for too much, too soon. Give the child time to cool off then you can have a reasonable conversation. Trying to get to this stage too early will be completely counter-productive and possibly reignite the entire situation.
  4. Don’t expect to intimidate your subject. Yes, you were scared of your mum and teachers and, yes, if they just appeared scary enough, or shouty enough, you immediately became a wobbly pile of jelly and apologised. A child with difficulties isn’t going to automatically respect you just because you are older, or louder so let go of this one, pronto.
  5. Give three clear warnings before you give a consequence. This is clear, consistent and, crucially, allows time for a pride climb down. For example, ‘I’m going to give you three warnings, this is your first warning. If you get three warnings you will have to (insert consequence here)’ Repeat this, in your calmest voice, exactly the same way each time. If you get the sneaky feeling you’re going to need to save that consequence for something worse,  you can even give a warning for the warning…for example, ‘If you carry on I will have to give you your second warning and you’ve only got 2 warnings left.’ I know, gazillions of warnings, but sometimes this is the best way and will actually get you what you want instead of creating a show down in which everyone loses.
  6. Be quick to spot the good stuff. It might be something everyone else can do right away but if you notice anything – a child who can’t usually say sorry uttering the words, a kid choosing to calmly take themselves to cool off or a shouter managing to keep it calm – compliment them.
  7. Be funny. This is by far the best way to be reprimanded so long as it is done in a way which includes the child, rather than being designed to encourage others to laugh at them, (I know this goes without saying but it’s important so I’ve said it anyway).
  8. Make it private. A quiet word in their conch-like is far better than broadcasting it to the world. The kind of children who are challenging you are also usually the children with the biggest self-esteem issues. Let them hang on to a modicum of pride and you’ll reap the rewards.
  9. Smile, smile, smile! Make your feelings very clear with your facial expressions, remember, kids who are likely to explode may well have some trouble reading body language so help them out by being obvious.
  10. Stay calm. Remember, you are the adult and no matter how rude or disrespectful they are being, they are just a child. You don’t have to ‘win’ to save face because you automatically hold all the trump cards.

 

 

Decoupaged cheese boxes

Things to keep the kids busy in Spring…part one. 

This is so simple and fun to do with great results. Ideal for children to store their precious little bits and bobs and you can even line it with felt if you feel like over achieving! 

You need this: 


Cheese box

Mod podge or PVA glue

Temporary glue (you can just use a glue stick)

Stack of old comics

Paint brush

1. Rip interesting words or pictures from the comics and use the temporary glue to stick them to the box. Allow them to overlap. 

2. Trim the edges with a pair of scissors then paint over with Mod Podge. Leave to dry and add two more coats. Finished! 

Anagram Fudge (for cryptic but yummy messages!)

Mix the letters up to send a secret (and yummy message). 

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Fudge is so easy to make and I love to do little packages for my friends and family spelling out a secret message or word – a private joke or love message.

So here’s how…


1 can of condensed milk

1 edible food pen

150ml milk

450g Demerara sugar

115g butter

Greaseproof paper, non stick pan and a shallow dish

Throw everything in and heat!

1. Line a sandwich box or tin with greaseproof paper.

2. Fill a glass measuring jug with cold water and place in the fridge.

3. Throw everything in together and heat up, nice and slowly so it doesn’t burn. Make sure you stir the whole time or, non-stick pan or not, it’s going to burn!

3. It should be done in 10-15 minutes but the best way to find out is to grab your jug of cold water from the fridge, drop a spot of mixture into the jug and see if it turns into instantly to fudge. Whatever the outcome of your first try don’t be tempted to cook it for too long because the fudge will dry out very quickly.


3. Once that is done pour into your sandwich box or tin and leave to cool.

4. Once it is cool you can cut into slices and use your edible pen to add a cryptic message before bagging it and giving it to your loved one. Ta-da!

Aquarium Soap (the easy way!) 

Day 2 of easy homemade gifts, the perfect accompaniment to yesterday’s tea cup candles!

Homemade soap? Wellll….sort of. This is melt and pour soap so you’re not going to have to muck about getting the mixture right, you’re just providing the design and the scent, the rest is done for you. Perfect for a beautiful and simple gift!

You will need:

The basics

  • Melt and pour soap (cheaply bought from eBay) clear and opaque, (clear for the blue layer only)
  • Small plastic fish
  • Glitter (fine)
  • Fragrance
  • Blue soap colourant or food dye
  • Silicone loaf style mold
  • Isopropanol spray
  • A microwave
  • A bowl and spoon

Method

  1. Cut half your opaque soap into cubes.

    Cut your soap into cubes

  2. Place into the microwave for around 3 minutes until all the soap has melted.

    Microwave for 3 minutes

  3. Now you can add your fragrance, colour and a little glitter. Stir in gently so you don’t get bubbles but not too slowly in case it starts to set!

    Add fragrance, colour and glitter!

  4. Pour slowly (to avoid bubbles) into your mold.

    Pour slowly

  5. Leave to cool for around three hours then spray with Isopropanol . This will stop colour leaking from one layer to another.

    Spray between layers to avoid colour leaching

  6. Once the first layer is hard you can add the other layers in the same way, just make sure you leave enough time for the layers to harden before adding the next one. You can now add your fish. 
  7. As you add the next layer (using the clear soap with blue colourant this time), just remember the fish are going to float so pour gently. Leave for three hours then add the final layer (the opaque soap with glitter in, as before).
  8. Once it has all set you are ready to remove it from the mold and slice into beautiful soap! Easy peasy and very rewarding!

Teacup Candles

Over the next week I’m going to show you some cheap ideas for gifts which are pretty easy and enjoyable to make.

First, tea cup candles, which are always beautiful and when put together with the soap I’m going to show you tomorrow look very vintage and good quality.

First, the basics you are going to need:

  • Wax (can be bought cheaply from eBay)
  • Tea cups (hit your local House Clearance shop, they’ll be very cheap – I got a full set of six with saucers for £3)

    Trawl the house clearance shop for pretty little bargains

  • Wicks
  • Wax dye or crayons (don’t use food dye, the oil and water won’t mix)
  • Hair dryer or embossing gun
  • Bowl, saucepan and wooden spoon

Basic equipment

  1. First, put your wax into a bowl.

    Fill your bowl with wax

  2. Fill the saucepan with boiling water and place the bowl of wax in the water.
  3. Heat until all the wax is melted. Be careful not to let it boil because you don’t want water in your wax!
  4. In the meantime, you can get your cups ready. Wait until the wax has nearly all melted then use your hairdryer or embossing gun to heat the cups. This is an important step as it reduces the chance of the wax sinking in the middle, (one of mine still sunk this time, it’s quite tricky to get it bang on, in this situation I usually cheat – wait until it has cooled and add a sneaky bit on top to cover the hole, shhhh!).

    Heat the cups to avoid sinking

  5. Place your wick into the cup and secure in place with two pencils to stop it moving around when you pour.

    Use pencils to keep your wick in place

  6. Now the wax is completely melted you can add your frangrance, make sure you use a good quality fragrance and lots of it or you won’t be able to smell it!

    Add lots of scent to make sure you can smell it!

  7. To add your colour either scrape off a little of your dye or use your crayon. Be sparing, these candles look best when the colours are delicate.

    Be sparing with colour for a delicate effect

  8. Once the scent and colour are stirred in you can pour into your cups. Pour slowly to avoid bubbles.

    Pour slowly to avoid bubbles

  9. Leave to cool. Ta-da! 

Southern Sardinia – Life is Beachy

The first thing to know if you’re planning to visit Southern Sardinia and see anything other than the nearest beach, (and maybe even if you’re not that fussed), is that you’re going to need a car. I can’t speak for the North but certainly in the South the pavements outside the towns have a nasty habit of disappearing, making walking anywhere a bit of a hairy experience.
Being more mobile also gives you chance to appreciate the fast changing landscape; to the North, the open farm land around Barumini; to the East, the mountains of the interior and, all around, the miles and miles of pristine coast line.

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If seaside is what you are after, you won’t be disappointed. The best beaches rival the Carribean for breathtaking vistas and although the sea hasn’t had chance to warm up yet we still managed to get burnt in April.

Capo Carbonara is featured on many of Sardinia’s postcards. The sand is white, the sea clear blue and the low lying rocks are fun for a spot of clambering about. Sandstone, the local rock, has been blown by the coastal winds into weird sculptures which halo the bay.

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To the West visit Chia, with lake and mountains to one side of the beach and the crystal waters of the med on the other – the sea and sky are impossibly blue and the sand actually sparkles.

Unfortunately in April there are no toilets open by the sea, as high season starts in May, so, if like us, you take advantage of the cheaper deals at Easter, you’ll have to make your peace with finding a spot for a wild wee in the surrounding bushes.

Another cool feature of both beaches and of the shallow waters heading West from the city is the large population of pale pink flamingos. Going about their business, these beautiful creatures are two-a-penny in the surrounding landscape.


Sardinia is home to the remains of an ancient and unique civilisation – the Nuraghe. Su Nuraxi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is definitely worth the trip. The Iron Age inhabitants of the island built a village complex in 1500 BC and, thanks to being buried under a hill for thousands of years, it’s still there. Using dry stone techniques the main tower initially stood at 22 metres, although these days it’s reduced to 15.

Still impressive and surrounded by four other smaller nuraghe, or beehive shaped towers, the homes were built at different stages of history up until 5 AD. The stone walls of the dwellings are often intact, (though the wooden rooves have naturally disappeared), there are also surviving fireplaces, cooking stones and home shrines for water worship. However, despite all this ancient wonder, my son’s favourite part was when the guide told us the surrounding countryside, covered in suspiciously unnatural looking but, (in actual fact), natural hillocks, was named, in Italian, ‘breast’ and quite literally, (as interpreted by the boy), ‘Boobyland’.


Once you’ve done that your ticket entitles you to visit any of the other ten sites in Barumini associated with the Nuraghe, including the Casa Zapasta where a Nuraghe village was found under the floor and which can now be visited via a series of glass floors and walk ways.


For history buffs there is also Nora, a site first settled by the Phonecians in 9 BC. The site was a perfect vantage and trading point was therefore settled by all sorts of other people too. The last lot and the ones to have left a lasting mark are those indefatigable Romans who built all the usual manner of mosaiced buildings, including baths, a teatro, a forum and various homes and shops. The English guide comes with the entry price and, if you time it right, once you’ve finished your tour group will be gathered up and taken up the Spanish look out tower next door.


All across the Southern coast towers were built to protect the Sardinians from raiding North African pirates who were wont to show up and steal their women and children. They appealed to the Spanish king, who initially meant to build 200 watchtowers but ran out of cash. In the end, 105 were built, of which only 65 remain – but 65 is still a lot. They appear on every horizon, finding their way into every picture.


In search of a boat ride around the caves on the coast of Capo Sperone we headed for the island of Sant A’ntioco. The winding mountain road was a bit slow and twisty but really worth it for the views. The interior of the island is very green in April, although having visited Sicily in August, I imagine it’s probably more yellow at the height of summer.

At last we arrived at the harbour of the eponymous capital. Unfortunately, this being April, there were no boats operating, despite all the enticing signs up and down the promenade. In Southern Sardinia nothing is running as it should until May, which is fabulous if you want the beaches to yourself and free parking but not so great if you are looking for things to entertain the kids or tourist attractions to be reliably open. The caves we had hoped to see at Grotte is Zuddas were also shut, apart from weekends and that was when we were going home. It was a pretty disappointing trip made worse by the fact we missed the beach we were heading for on the way home and ended up on a seaweedy coastline covered in bits of flotsam.

However, it wasn’t an entirely wasted trip, the mountains are beautiful and if you’d like to get out into them you could do worse than visit the WWF reservation at Oasi di Monte Acruso. It’s home to a range of indigenous species of plants and animals, not to mention supporting a very worthy cause.


Cagliari itself is the place to head to if you are looking for some thing a bit more lively or just some variation in your diet. There is only so much pizza one person can eat, especially when it’s as big as about three of your heads. Local cuisine is very fishy, as you might expect on an island, and features ravioli in large quantities.

Head to the back streets for quaint passages, beautifully crowded with pot plants and sun kissed yellow and orange buildings. There are a few sights to see, St Mary’s Basillica and the view from the Castello but really compared to the splendour of Italy they’re nothing to write home about.

The Devil’s Saddle rock which sits above Cagliari

Head to the harbour afterwards for gelato and watch the sail boats before scaling the rock known as Devil’s Saddle, thrown there, as legend has it by the Archangel Gabriel himself.


If you are looking for a spot of enforced relaxation Southern Sardinia is perfect. You simply can’t run out of perfect sands to gently cook yourself to bronzed perfection.

If you’re more of a culture-vulture you might be best to limit your stay to a few days in the South before heading up North to continue the adventure.

It is a place of wild, unspoiled beauty. The lack of tourist resorts and it’s natural gifts are refreshing and revitalising. Unwind, chill out and enjoy.

 

 

 
Tags: Sardinia, beach, vacation, relaxation, holiday, flights, Europe, Italy, island, Mediterranean
Categories: travel

Poland – from top to bottom

Let’s Gdansk!

Given the abundance of Polish workers in the UK, I (foolishly) surmised there might be something wrong with Poland – why would so many people leave? Was Poland dreadful? Were the streets of the cities filled with poor? What could be causing people to head west their droves? To be quite honest, I’m less sure now than I was before I left.

Poland will surprise you. I grew up as the Berlin Wall fell and still had in my mind Soviet era images of Eastern bloc countries where old ladies stand in queues for bread, men work in factories and the buildings are concrete, colourless and perfectly matching. Despite 30 years of history, Eastern Europe was still shrouded in mystery in my mind. By contrast, modern Poland is the eighth largest economy in the EU, visited by 16 million people a year. Compared to our little island it’s enormous. A road trip beckoned. But where to start? A problem easily solved by a quick glance at Easy Jet – the cheapest ticket flew us to Gdansk so we decided to start there, driving down the country until we finished at the jewel in the crown – Krakow.

After picking up our hire car and finding the hotel, we hit Gdansk old town, entering through the arch of Swan Tower, a lone reminder of the ancient Teutonic castle which once stood in the city. The area’s rich trading past is never more than a stone’s throw away and shops and stalls overflow with glittering amber – Baltic gold. As always, however, we were travelling on a shoe-string, so as much as I wanted to rush in and gather up all pretty treasures, I restrained myself and we set about working out what to do for free in Gdansk.

It’s easy to give yourself a quick walking tour through city centre. Quaint and classy, the old town is flanked by the majestic ‘Green Gate’ at one end and the ‘Golden Gate’ at the other. The harbour is a feast for the eyes, a mixture of maritime history and venerable old buildings, including the Mariacka Gate and the SS Soldek, the first seagoing ship completed in Poland.

Whilst in Gdansk we did take a quick trip to the beach but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have kids with you, like British seaside towns it’s stuffed with amusements and fast food and nothing to write home about.

Before heading off we stopped at Stutthof Concentration Camp. This was the first concentration camp outside German borders, gruesomely placed in Poland because the Germans didn’t like the smells coming from their own back yard. It was also the very last to be liberated. Trapped between the Nazis and the Red Army, Poland spent many years abused by more powerful neighbours and the scars still cut across the country, carefully tended and dressed but still achingly close to the surface. Travelling the country you can’t help but feel how unkind history has been to the stoic Polish.

Torun

Heading down the E75 our next stop was the massive red brick pile, Malbork Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site. We didn’t pay to go in but you can walk inside the grounds for free so, since we were on a tight budget, it didn’t really feel necessary.

At the time it was built it was the largest red brick castle in the world, however it was slightly spoiled for me knowing most of it had to be rebuilt after the war, so a lot of what you see isn’t original.

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Nearby Torun, also a World Heritage site, is stuffed full of culture and medieval architecture. The square is dominated by another beautiful town hall and you can visit the home of Copernicus as well as sampling the town’s famous gingerbread. There are old town walls, a tower to climb, (we love to climb towers!), and a planetarium too, definitely worth a nights’ stop-over.

We’d been told lots of scary stories about traffic and bad roads from our Polish friends but we didn’t have any problems at all during our stay – maybe we got lucky, or perhaps given the traffic on the M1, it’s all relative.

Poznan

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Poznan is an affluent city with big business, a booming student population and night life to match. The centre is chocolate box pretty and, because a lot of it was rebuilt after some serious bombing during World War Two, the paint is fresh and brightly coloured – a Saxon style rainbow. The big open square that characterises Polish cities is bursting with life.

We had a fabulous night out here and since we’d been on the road for a few days we were pleased to discover the Polish enjoy a drink as much as English. There is the obligatory selection of vodka, German lager, (it’s just over the border), and plenty of pubs and restaurants to choose from. Poland in general has quite a lot of rock venues, few and far between in the UK these days. There is, of course, also plenty of history and architecture to gaze at.

Wroclaw

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What is not to like about a town filled with over 100 tiny gnomes? We had a fantastic time in Wroclaw, hunting for the little men who are literally hiding all over the city. I’m still not entirely sure who put them there, or why, but they did go a long way toward making Wroclaw my favourite part of the trip (I think the cherry vodka we drank later in the evening might also have had something to do with it).

Wroclaw has been in an out of Germany, Czechoslovakia and Poland during its history and this is reflected in the character of the buildings, although to me it all seemed very Polish – a big open square, colourful buildings and lots of bars and restaurants. The streets of the old town are quaint, the night life is fantastic and we spent our evenings chatting up the locals in various taverns and ‘testing’ quite a lot of different flavours of vodka. We were lucky enough to meet a very friendly bloke who spent the entire night answering our questions about life in Poland under Communism and offering his views on pretty much everything. Which sums up our general experience of the Polish – friendly and welcoming (but not so keen on queueing or saying ‘excuse me’).

Krakow

We saved Krakow for the end and it didn’t disappoint. The 13th Century town square, one of the largest in Europe, is breathtaking. Impressive buildings dominate the centre ringed by medieval churches, .

I’ve been a bit spoiled by growing up in a Cathedral City and don’t tend to spend much time visiting European churches however I made an exception for Krakow because they’re too good to miss. As well as the more obvious ones in the centre, take time to visit the Franciscan Church which has retained its Medieval style and typically Polish decoration. The city also boasts proudly of the nation’s favourite son, Pope John Paul II, who is, quite rightly, on display at every available opportunity.

They are used to visitors in Krakow so beware the pricey nik-naks in Cloth Hall, head instead for the tower next to it for a great view from the top. Beneath the hall you can sneak underground for a peek at Medieval Krakow in the excavated caves below.

Once an hour listen out for the trumpet call from St Mary’s Bascilica, cut off part way through, in memory of an unfortunate medieval patriot, (shot in the throat by Mongols before he could finish), who died trying to warn of impending invasion.

For art, visit the famous Wawel Castle and cathedral, once the seat of the Kings of Poland, and now one of the country’s major art galleries.

The real highlight of our visit, (we happened to be there on August 1), was the annual commemoration of the Warsaw uprising, the largest uprising of any nation under Nazi rule, brutally crushed to the tune of 200,000 lives. The chilling scream of an air-raid siren through a warm August afternoon, signaled the beginning of a minutes’ silence. The sky was lit with flares and soon smoke and singing filled the city – a fabulous and haunting memorial, if you happen to be there.

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Auschwitz-Birkenau featured pretty heavily on our ‘must do’ list. Friends who had visited told me of the rooms full of spectacles, shoes and hair which brought tears to their eyes. The wretchedness of these too-short lives really bringing home the horrors of our collective past. Unfortunately for us, we visited the same week as the Christian Youth of the world, (literally – that is a real thing, they filled the entire city, moving in swarms, flanked by millions of nuns).

They had descended on Auschwitz-Birkenau in their droves and as a result all the museums within the compound were shut. Instead we traipsed around a designated path with hundreds of chattering ‘youth’, only able to see from the outside, reading potted histories on placards in the yard. In fact, we were lucky even to do that. We discovered on the way out we only got in because they thought we were with them, it was actually shut to the public…whoops! So at least we got to see it for ourselves. It was still a moving experience but not quite how I had imagined it. We got a far better sense of the tragedy at the Stutthof Camp earlier in the trip, where we could be alone with our thoughts and reflect on what had happened.IMG_3451.JPG

Our next stop was Schindler’s Factory, (from the film!).  If you want to get a sense of what World War Two meant to the people of Krakow there is no better place to go. The story is told from many points of view; Jewish, Catholic, Gypsy – all sorts of different people, a true reflection of the devastating effect of World War Two on the Polish.  Schindler’s Factory is a ‘must’ if you are visiting Krakow.

We finished off with a ‘jolly’ to the Wieliczka Salt Mine which was in operation between 1996 and the 13th century. Now it is the home of some amazing salt sculptures, including a huge underground chapel, complete with the Stations of the Cross and an impressive altar – you can even get married down there if you really want to!  Just make sure you book ahead in August because the queues are shocking.

So there ended our road trip. We stuck to the cities but Poland has plenty to offer in terms of open spaces, from the Masurian lakes to the Table and Tatra Mountains. Poland shares borders with a lot of interesting countries so it’s ideal for sightseeing, you can easily take a few days out and pop to Berlin or Prague. Next time I visit I’m going to make sure I get my visa and head into Belarus or neighbouring Ukraine (the safe bits anyway) and finally satisfy my Eastern curiousity.

Happy travels!