Turning Twenty Six and a Gift of Geeky Brilliance

Recently it was my 26th birthday. It was quiet, yet lovely. It was spent with family, eating cake, enjoying gifts and generally having a nice time.

For my birthday, my rather lovely husband ordered me a gift from Shabby Geek Box. This rather wonderful company takes from you a list of your favourite films, games and other geeky stuff (and obviously some cash) and then sends you a big box full of stuff associated with your chosen themes.

Usually, my husband cannot help but give me clues about what I might be getting and that’s if he hasn’t given up and just asked me what I’d like. Plus, if Pip finds out what any presents are, it’s pretty much impossible for them to then be kept a secret. On a few occasions, she’s approached the intended recipient, whispered what the gift is at them then told them very firmly not to tell anyone because it’s supposed to be a surprise.

But with a box from the Shabby Geek, nobody knows what I’m getting so it’s a guaranteed surprise but at the same time it’s very likely going to be stuff I’ll like and want because I chose the themes. As it happens, I loved all of it. The contents were: two mugs (one Harry Potter, one Twilight), two Pop Vinyl figurines (one Severus Snape, one a gold Dalek), a set of Doctor Who Stickers, a Doctor Who lamp, a set of four coasters each with a Hogwarts house coat of arms on it, a Hunger Games bag, a Doctor Who comic, a Dalek cushion cover and a little pack of Haribo sweets. It was brilliant.

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You know, I had been concerned that moving into my later twenties might mean I’d suddenly become very serious and mature. Having received a big box of geeky bits and bobs for my birthday and been completely thrilled with it, I’m now secure in the knowledge that I’ll still be my usually silly self for at least another year yet!

Please note: I wasn’t asked to write this by Shabby Geek Box nor have I been compensated in any way for this review. I genuinely just think they’re a good company and deserved a bit of nice promotion.

Getting Ready for a New School Year

This time of year feels far more like a fresh start to me than actual New Years. The end of summer holidays means that Pip will be heading into a new year of school but also I’ll be starting my new (and last!) university course soon. I like to be prepared well in advance and have my desk ready with everything I’ll need.

I do have quite a love of stationary. My train of thought tends to be a bit chaotic so being ultra organised really helps me keep on top of my studies, plus all of the other stuff on my never ending To Do list! I have a deskpad, something I find really helpful for being always close to hand for random but important notes – the kind I might lose if I wrote it on a post-it or scrap of paper. There’s also our elephant, shared between me and the Husband (our desks are pushed together) that can be written on with dry-wipe marker pens. Both of these came from Paperchase, a store I really love for their useful yet quirky stationary.

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I currently have just one notebook, again from Paperchase. As it’s my only notebook, I note down everything from writing ideas to shopping lists and random ideas (recently lots of ideas for a certain little lady’s upcoming birthday party!). Ideally, I really need three notebooks – one for writing ideas, one for any random scribblings and one for university notes.

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I have a new lamp for my desk. We already had a good lamp to share between our desks but it’s nice to have my own one, plus as a huge geek and Doctor Who fan, I love the design.

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Cups of tea are an essential part of my writing and studying. So I keep a coaster on my desk. Until recently, it was a Duff Beer mat. Then I was gifted this gorgeous set of Hogwarts coasters that fit together like a puzzle. Since I’ll be studying Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for my Children’s Literature course this year, it seems like a perfect addition. When all of the pieces are together, it’s large enough for my mug and a couple of cheeky biscuits – very handy!

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As someone who doesn’t regularly act her age, I like to keep a few fun things on my desk, just to keep it looking like the happy creative space I want it to be. Currently I keep my Red Panda stuffed toy and a Severus Snape Pop Vinyl figure on there. I am planning to add more Pop Vinyl figures.

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A couple of weeks ago, I bought a new cork noticeboard to hang above the desk too. It’ll mostly be for displaying little posters, postcards and photographs but I’m hoping to also put up some motivational quotes or pictures and I’ve also pinned up a family calendar, so that we all know what’s going on and when. I’m using some pretty pom pom push pins from Paperchase (that’s some great alliteration, right there). I’ve already got my eye on some very cute little frog push pins too.

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We seem to be fairly well-stocked in terms of pens, pencils, highlighters etc so I don’t think I’ll need anymore of those.

For family and student use, we have a HP Envy printer with a subscription to Instant Ink. I cannot recommend this highly enough. It’s cheap, simple and means you will never run out of ink. Your printer simply sends a message to HP when it’s supplies are running low and more cartridges are sent out to you, along with a little bag to send back your old cartridges for recycling. As technologically savvy as I like to imagine myself to be, this still feels like some kind of witchcraft to me. Plus, because you pay a monthly charge for a number of pages, not an amount of ink, it doesn’t matter what you’re printing – such as high quality colour photographs – you’re not going to get charged extra for it as long you remain within that number of pages.

What are your favourite stationary items? How do you keep your desk organised?

A Day at Bristol Zoo Gardens

Yesterday we had a family day out to Bristol Zoo Gardens.

We’ve been before, about two years ago. Long enough that Pip couldn’t remember it, making it feel like a new adventure.

I’ve been wanting to go again. Partly because there are bits we didn’t get to do before and also because the Gorilla enclosure was not finished for a our first visit and I was eager to see it.

I’ve always loved visiting zoos, farms and wildlife reserves. Any opportunity to see some wildlife. Both me and Pip are very enthusiastic about the natural world so a trip to the zoo is very exciting for us.

Bristol Zoo, amongst many other similar institutions, are dedicated to conservation efforts to save many of the world’s most endangered species. Pip is surprisingly passionate about conservation for such a young person. She watched a documentary about gorillas a while ago and was very upset to hear that they were being poached to the point that one day, there might not be any left. She was determined that she wanted to do something to help. So, we adopted one of the Western Lowland Gorillas that live at Bristol Zoo Gardens. A baby called Kukena. So yesterday’s trip was particularly special because Pip was able to see her little gorilla, playing happily with his family.

Capybaras & Tapirs, all huddled together out of the rain

Capybaras & Tapirs, all huddled together out of the rain

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One of my favourite moments of the day was seeing a gorgeous little family of Ring-tailed Lemurs, including a baby clinging to an adult’s back. It was difficult to know who the parents were, since childcare duties seemed to be shared out between them all!

Ring-tailed Lemurs

                     Ring-tailed Lemurs

I faced my fear of flying insects to go in the butterfly forest. I’m glad I because they were very beautiful and thankfully none of them attempted to land on me!

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Owl Butterfly

I was a little sad that the weather was bad. It didn’t spoil the day too much, since there’s so much indoors to see, but it did prevent us feeding the Lorikeets, something I was quite forward to!

My favourite animals, the Red Pandas, were hiding up in their tree so all I got to see of it was a fluffy striped tail hanging down but never mind. I find it much better for zoos to provide enclosures as close as possible to the animals’ natural habitats, including places they can have some privacy. Even if we don’t get to see them, at least we know they’re happier!

It was a great family day out – I recommend it to all

Our Summer So Far…

We are three weeks into the summer holidays and it’s been a very fun (and busy!) time.

There was a visit to the National Museum in Cardiff, partly to see the newly discovered Welsh dinosaur.

NOT the new Welsh dinosaur, which was a little too crowded to get a good picture of.

NOT the new Welsh dinosaur, which was a little too crowded to get a good picture of.

We’ve played football and tennis in our local park.

We’ve been to our local library a few times. Pip is taking part in the Summer Reading Challenge.

There was a trip to the cinema to see Inside Out, which we all loved. I was very impressed with the representation of the human mind in such a easy to understand concept. The short shown before it, Lava, is now my favourite Pixar short – we’ve been listening to it ever since!

Pip’s been to a holiday club for a few days. This was mostly to fill our childcare needs but it also gave her some time amongst other children and trying out new activities. It also gave me a little bit of time to myself before and after work shifts!

We had afternoon tea in our favourite cafe. Little sandwiches, mini yorkshire pudding filled with coronation chicken, mini prawn cocktail, Welsh cakes, little sherry trifles (for the grown ups only, obviously!) and infinite amounts of tea, all served on gorgeous vintage china and with lovely 40s & 50s music playing in the background. Fabulous.

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Myself and Pip had lunch in La Tasca, taking advantage of their offer of free children’s food throughout the summer holidays.

We’ve discovered and started collecting LEGO Mixels. I think these are a great idea as, aside from the instructed build which look a bit quirky and cool, there’s so many other ways of building your own little monsters out of the sets, especially once you can combine them together.

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Our growing project has had mixed success. The carrots have been harvested and taste lovely. However, the tomato and courgette plants have produced nothing edible, despite looking healthy enough. Still, we can try again next year and I’m currently on the lookout for some seeds that can be planted and grown over the autumn and winter. I know there are some types of lettuce and cabbage that can be grown in colder weather.

Lovely homegrown, oddly shaped purple carrots

Lovely homegrown, oddly shaped purple carrots

There’s still plenty to look forward to for the rest of the holidays. Pip has yet to complete the Reading Challenge so we’ll be going back to our library at least once. I really want to visit the Cardiff Bay Beach. I also want to go to Heath Park and possibly Roath Park too – both have brilliant playgrounds and lots of wildlife to see. We’ve also still got plenty of home activities for days when the weather’s not so good – there have been a fair few rainy days so far and only so many times I can coax a five year old into her wellies and waterproofs. She loves the outdoors but she absolutely detests being cold or wet.

How’s your summer going?

Top Ten Free Activities for Summer Holidays

Along with Christmas (yes, I’ve said the C word in July), summer holidays are one of my favourite times of the year. Lots of time to enjoy with my daughter and loads of fun activities going on everywhere. However, six weeks of big days out can start to get a bit pricey, so I try to balance it out with activities that are free of charge. I really believe that you don’t need to spend lots of money to have fun as a family. So here’s my top ten free activities for the summer holidays:

1. Parks. Here in Cardiff, we’re very lucky to have so many great parks. Brilliant for outdoor exercise, meeting new children to play with, learning about nature and for picnics. We’ll be spending plenty of time in our local parks over the summer.

2. Libraries. Not only for discovering new books to enjoy, there are often fun activities going on at libraries over the holidays. In the UK, children can sign up for the Summer Reading Challenge, giving plenty of motivation and rewards for reading.

3. Arts and crafts activities. Ok, so it could be argued that this isn’t really free, as you’ll have to buy at least a few things for any craft activity. However, if you get maybe a set of paints, some glue and scissors, hours and hours of creative fun can be had by recycling household items such as kitchen roll tubes, cereal boxes, washing up bottles etc.

4. Printables. There are loads of free printables on the internet. Colouring pages are great for keeping the kids occupied for a bit while you get boring grown up stuff done. There are also lots of learning worksheets and activities to do together. Try looking at Twinkl or the Cbeebies website.

5. Board Games. Again, this is entirely free since you would have to actually buy the board games. But once you have, they’re always there, ready for an hour you have to fill. Anyone who regularly reads this blog knows that we as a family are huge fans of tabletop games. If you’re put off by memories of Monopoly fights, please look around at the games available today. There are such a huge variety, I really think anyone could find something that they and their children can enjoy.

6. Museums. We have several museums within easy reach and they’re all free entry. As a bonus, they’re all running activities over the summer. A great hands-on educational activity.

7. Movie day. While I only do this a couple of times over the six week break, it is nice (especially perhaps the day after a really exhausting day out) to cuddle up on the sofa with a big bowl of popcorn and enjoy some films.

8. Geocaching. A great way to explore the outdoors, searching for hidden caches in parks, around town centres and pretty much anywhere. Pop on the Geocaching website and find caches near you.

9. Visiting the coast. Notice I didn’t say the beach. Yes, the beach is a great, fun and free day out. But there’s plenty more to do at the coastline than making sand castles. You could search rock pools for sea creatures, hunt for shells and even fossils!

10. Historical sites. Castles, ancient ruins, churches and other historical sites are often free to visit and offer a fun way to learn about national and local history.

What other fun free activities do you and your family like to enjoy during the holidays?

Top Five Items to pack for days out

For us, the summer holidays are very nearly here and I know that for many of you, they already are. I’ve got lots of fun days out planned and it should be a great summer.

Of course, especially with a small child, you always need to be prepared for every eventuality. I carry a backpack on days out. It’s much more convenient than a handbag as you’ve got hands free and it can carry much more comfortably. Here’s my list of things to keep in your bag on a day out:

1. Suncream and sun hats. So, so important. Even if it’s a cloudy day, I always keep suncream and hats with us so that if the sun does peek out later on, we’re ready for it and we don’t need to hide in the shade or, even worse, go home to avoid sunburn. I also try to dress Pip in clothes cover her shoulders. I know that I can burn really easily and, given that she has the same very pale skin as me, I imagine Pip would too – hopefully we’ll never find out!

2. Waterproof jackets. I’d recommend waterproofs that fold away into neat little bags, making them really easy to carry around without taking up much space in your bag. They come with us even on sunny days because the British weather is famously unpredictable. Just as with the sun cream & hats, it means that if the weather changes, the day out doesn’t have to end! Plus, it provides a clean and dry place to sit on grass in the park.

3. Water. In hot weather, it’s easy to get dehydrated, especially if having an energetic day outdoors. Keeping a bottle of water handy prevents this and also means that you won’t be spending money on extra drinks while you’re out!

4. Spare clothes. Food mess, travel sickness incident or jumping in muddy puddles (Peppa Pig has so much to answer for), clothes get ruined easily on a day out. I always at least take a spare top for Pip.

5. First Aid Kit. I keep a small kit just containing antiseptic wipes and plasters in my bag every day anyway but if we’re having a whole day out, especially for something like a walk in the woods where getting medical attention isn’t going to be quick or simple, I pack a slightly larger kit. Here’s an NHS guide to what should be in your first aid kit. You can also buy pre-prepared first aid kits but make sure they contain everything you need.

What else would you keep in your bag for a day out?

Jurrassic World Racism Controversy: A Few Facts

There seems to be a big issue with the new Jurassic World movie, as many people seem to think it’s being racist by referring to pachycephalosaurus as ‘pachy’. For those who aren’t aware, this sounds the same as a derogatory term for people from Pakistan (not a term I would ever use or defend the use of, I’d like to make very clear). While I haven’t seen the film (although I really, really want to!) I’d like to point out a few things:

1. The dinosaur in question is NOT pakisaurus. A pakisaurus is a completely different dinosaur, specifically a sauropod, so named because it was discovered in Pakistan.

2. Pachycephalosaurus is regularly shortened to ‘pachy’, due it being a very long and somewhat tricky to pronounce name. Including in Jurassic Park 2: Lost World as shown in this clip. Did anyone cry out for that film to be banned? Nope.

3. This film was made in America, where the derogatory term ‘Paki’ is not used or known. The people who made this film would not have made that connection, never mind put it in the film as some kind of subtle message that Pakistani people should be treated as dangerous animals, as seems to be the main point of the argument.

I really hope people pay attention to these facts, calm down and enjoy the movie – it sounds awesome and I can’t wait to watch it!