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It has been a week of accidents either at or on the way to school, a chill in the air despite the bright sun of the mornings, long shadows in the hour before dinner time. We are at that point of the year when you feel too warm for a coat, but it's not warm enough to wear a t-shirt. Autumn has arrived and with that, an abundance of conkers, if only you can grab them before anyone else! We had a couple of false starts when scouring the local parks. Then we struck the jackpot on a walk home from the shop, venturing on to some land between two high-rise blocks of flats.

There is only one question now; just what will we do with them all?!

My Sunday Photo

OneDad3Girls

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A couple of weeks ago I told you our first impressions of our recent holiday to Hengar Manor. Today, I shall give a more detailed review.

Hengar Manor is a well maintained country park near Bodmin and the village of St Tudy in Cornwall. We visited during the first week of September, so it while it was fairly quiet as most of the schools had returned, there was still a full programme of activities and entertainment running.

We travelled by train to Bodmin Parkway and got a taxi from there to Hengar Manor. If you do this, I would recommend calling the park to ask for the number of a local taxi driver; the fare on our return journey home was £10 less than our outward taxi.

As I said in my first post, check in was quick and easy. We were given all the information we would need about the park itself as well as a thick envelope of leaflets for attractions in the locality and indeed, further afield.

There are a few activities for children of Harry's age (four years old) but most of them are for slightly older children, five or even seven years plus. This was not an issue for us because we simply just wanted to relax together before Harry started school the following week but a family geared more towards activities may wish to check with the park prior to booking. We did take Harry along to Balanceability. An instructor led activity would usually be a good chance for parents to grab a peaceful cup of tea and slice of cake in the café. However, Harry had been (and still is!) going through a rather clingy stage so I remained with him, hoping to give him a little more encouragement to take part. Balanceability, as the name suggests, is about giving children confidence on balance bikes. Harry has one and has never particularly taken to it, largely using either his Microscooter or regular bike with stablisers, largely because they give him the speed he desires to keep up with his peers. We found the instructor very encouraging and I felt she really did try her best to get Harry involved from the outset. The activity has given him a little more confidence to practise with his balance bike more.

Balance bike confidence.
Balance bike confidence.

The main attraction for Harry and something we used every day was the swimming pool. Access to the 25 meter swimming pool is free and with a Jacuzzi, slide and separate baby pool, it is perfectly suitable for a week's break. We (somehow!) forgot Harry's arm bands but our worry was short-lived as they were sold at reception. There is also a small shop on site from which we bought an inflatable for Harry to play with in the pool. As Hengar Manor is a decent base from which to explore many attractions of Cornwall, I cannot imagine the pool gets overly busy even during peak season. There is also a crazy golf course and a nine-hole pitch and putt course.

As we do not have a car, we could not go to a local supermarket to stock up on food and so we ate on site each night, except for one. One night we picked up some frozen breaded chicken and chips from the shop and ate at our accommodation. Other nights we used the on-site restaurant or pub. It wasn't until we arrived at Hengar Manor that we realised we could have, in fact, submitted an on-line supermarket delivery which reception would have received for us. Well worth noting for any future visits. The pub menu was varied with something to please most tastes and the food was as expected from an average pub. That said, I did think that the vegetarian options were somewhat lacking with just two options of either a veggie burger or vegetable curry. There was also an Italian restaurant called Morellos on-site. This had a very limited menu but what they did have was very nice and excellent value for money. I would recommend pre-booking as the restaurant is small and both times we ate there we saw people turned away as they were fully booked. One of those nights the husband went to book a table and was told he didn't need to as they were quiet; I am glad he insisted!

There was entertainment each evening. Every evening started with a couple of games for the children followed by family entertainment for a couple of hours. From around 9 pm the evenings would finish off with a family disco.

A selection of evening entertainment
A selection of evening entertainment

We were sad to leave for home. All through our stay we were made to feel incredibly welcome, it felt like the staff right across the board genuinely enjoy their jobs.

We will definitely return and next time, with a car so that we can explore Cornwall further!

Disclosure: We paid in full for our holiday. However, we did receive an upgrade in exchange for a review. All opinions are honest and our own.

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It has been a long week. The start of formal education at school signals many things; long days, a more firm routine, a P.E. kit and book bag, new friends and old ones, new teachers, formal learning and some learning with play. It's more time away from Mummy and Daddy but more time with friends.

It means at short nap on a Saturday because even though you stopped napping about 18 months ago the week was just so tiring and exciting and different and Saturday night means seeing the family so you want to stay up a bit later.Silent Sunday 21-09-14

OneDad3Girls

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He has started school, embarking on his own journey through life. Of course his journey started over four years ago, when he first entered this world as a brand new, tiny human being. Back then he was so utterly dependent on me, to do everything for him, from feeding him, washing him, dressing him. I could lie him down somewhere and turn my back for a few seconds, knowing he would stay put, such was his inability to do anything for himself except breathe.

Now four years and four months have passed and he has started school. Proper primary school, with teachers and a uniform and term dates and inset days and homework and god forbid you take him out for a day during the week or else the government will fine you £120 for the pleasure. He cries about going each night and each morning and he drags his feet on the way.

There is writing practise to be done each morning in the classroom. In a class of however many children (25 maybe 30? I don't know) and then their parents and the teachers too. I find it claustrophobic and chaotic and distracting so I am not entirely sure just how much my four-year old gets out of. And if you don't fancy writing what about reading? He can recite the two books back to me but he isn't actually reading, he has memorised them, he doesn't look at the words or the pictures but the distractions in the room. Should I change the book now? Am I doing this right? Am I doing anything right any more and more to the point have I ever got it right until now? Should I tell the teachers that my son isn't getting anything from these 15 minutes each morning, other than delaying the inevitable that I have to leave him behind.

Then he sees his friend and decides that actually it is OK for me to go now, he will be OK now his friend his here. I sense he is still hesitant but take it as my cue to leave.

On picking him up, I question him like he is a terror suspect, asking him all the questions. "Who did you play with?", "What did you play?", "What did you eat at lunch time?" Some times he answers them, other times he doesn't. Every day he asks me why does he have to go to school again tomorrow "because Mummy it's a long time not seeing you and I miss you". It takes everything I have to not let the tears flow. "And I miss you too dude but if you want to be a fireman when you are bigger you have to go to school first".

The husband is working now too. Out of the house from 7 am until 3.30 pm. Leaving me alone to get Harry to school and pick him up, to manage the household, the chores, the shopping, the bills, the appointments, meals and everything else all by myself like a proper grown up for the first time in over two years. And in that two years so much has changed and I think I have forgotten how to run a house and now I have school-aged child and all the school stuff.

So many changes I feel left behind like the world is moving without me. Then a parcel arrives.

Open Uni pic

So I am changing too. Studying and trying to figure out what I want to do with my life.

All of this change is scary and exciting at the same time and I wonder, can I cope? I thought that now was the time to start studying after years of wanting to and never biting the bullet and now I wonder if I have made the right decision. So overwhelmed am I by my son going off to school and the husband working again and having all this stuff to do and trying to manage my emotions. I wanted to speak to my GP next week about weaning off my medication but all of this change has overwhelmed me and now I wonder if I should? Until two weeks ago I felt ready to have that conversation and I still want to but is that more because I just want to stop taking these tablets and to start feeling or is it because I actually am ready?

Next week sees another appointment with my Neurosurgeon, one that I will have to attend alone because the husband will be working and we can't afford for him to lose a day's wage to hold my hand. I have no idea what, if anything will happen. I am still in pain all day, every day. Some days worse than others but I get flustered and anxious and lose track of what I need to say, only remembering after the appointment and will anything I say make any difference?

Mind in overdrive. Change all around me. I can't keep up and feel lost but I don't want to feel lost. I want to feel normal. For once, I just want to feel normal.

Watercolour painting is a technique that is really popular, and it’s arguably easy to see why. It creates a beautiful, idyllic and soft image on the page that you just can’t achieve from different paints or techniques.

If painting with watercolour is something you’d like to try but aren’t too sure what to do, we’ve put together 6 tips which should help you as a beginner onto the journey of becoming a great artist!

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Invest in a good quality brush

A good quality brush will be really important for achieving great results; after all, we’ve all heard the phrase ‘a workman is only as good as his tools’ and this is true, to a certain extent. It’s well worth investing in one great brush than lots of cheaper, weaker ones that are more likely to malt on you and ruin your paintings. It’s said that a good quality brush can even reduce the amount of paint you use as it can keep more of it, so you won’t need to keep topping up as often. There’s a useful video here for choosing a good watercolour brush.

Invest in some good quality paper

Likewise, you will need some really good paper to hold up to the brush and paint, especially due to the heavy water content of watercolour painting. Look into the thickness of the paper as well as the colour (each ‘white’ may differ from store to store) and the texture in terms of how smooth it is on the surface; all these things will have an effect on the outcome of your work.

Understand how the colours will look when dry

Regardless of which watercolour paints you go for (there are some great ones here http://www.artifolk.co.uk/paints/watercolour-paints.htm), they will always look a little different on the page. As you are diluting them with water, they will appear much lighter and thinner than they do in the palette, so it’s a good idea to play around with different amounts of water you add to them to see how you can achieve certain shades.

Test colours first

As briefly mentioned above, testing the colours before you start on your masterpiece is a good idea so you can really get to know them and how you can achieve a range of shades and tones. Watercolour paint dries much quicker than you’d probably imagined, so changing the colour when it’s dry isn’t always easy.

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shutterstock_201024020

Avoid adding too much water

You of course need a lot of water for watercolour painting, but it’s important you get to know the amount you need to gain your desired shade and to avoid overloading your painting with too much liquid. When it comes to packing up your stuff at the end of a session, clean your brush thoroughly and leave it to dry naturally.

Go from light to dark on the page

Painting from light to dark is generally regarded as the best technique to work with as the white on the page will be a huge factor in determining the colours you achieve. There is a really good video here for beginner techniques that are well worth a watch, too.

Disclosure: This is a collaborative post.

It’s easy to get bored of your vases once you’ve used them for a few months or even years. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to display flowers in unique and creative ways. The following are also handy if you were treated by surprise to some next day flowers at Flowers Same Day and find you are out of vases.

Once you start using our suggestions you will find yourself looking at all types of old containers in a different way. There are plenty of items around the house you can use as a vessel to display your beautiful bouquet and other bits and pieces you can recycle for off-beat displays. Use your creative flair to add design flourishes to any of the following:

Light bulbs

Carefully cut the base off the bottom of a light bulb to insert smaller stemmed flowers. Stand the bulb upside down on a ring. A bright idea!

Pens and pencils

Tape a collection of colourful pens and pencils together from the inside to form a roll to put around the flower stems then decorate with a nice ribbon.

Watering Can

Now an established alternative to the vase, a watering can makes for a wonderfully off-beat flower display. They also have the added advantage of having a handle so you can hang them on the wall.

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Wine bottle

A favourite with restaurants and a convenient way to show off your excellent taste in wine. You can also use bottles of spirits such as gin and whisky which often come in more ornate bottles.

Paper cones

A creative way to adorn your new bouquet is to create a cone from beautiful wrapping paper, a nicely designed magazine cover or some sheet music.

Jars

Another reason to raid the recycle bin: Keep in mind your florist delivery next time you finish off a large pickle jar. You could even decorate the glass with a painted pattern to give your vase that handmade touch.

Paint Cans

Carefully decorated or shabbily stylish paint cans can hold the biggest of bouquets.

Old Wellies and Boots

A novel use of those wellies that don’t fit any more. A row of wellington boots with flowers in look wonderfully wacky.

Food cans

Take the labels off used food cans to provide a rustic looking vessel for smaller flowers. 

Poster tube

Just had a new print delivered? Poster tubes can be easily decorated with paint, paper or pen.

Jugs

Diversify the use of your gravy boat or drinks jugs with a fresh bunch of flowers.

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Test tubes

Although hard to find you will occasionally see these scholastic design classics in charity shops. Also available: boiling flasks, desk tidies and ink pots.

Old Chimney pots

Another item that can be hard to find but are often up for sale at auctions or specialist shops.

Disclosure: This is a collaboration post.

Renowned as a thriving financial hub for international businesses, London offers a whole host of opportunities when it comes to staging meetings, conferences and corporate events. Whether you’re looking to catch up with colleagues over a power breakfast, conduct a training seminar, hold an interview or secure an important deal with a prospective client, the location you choose can be crucial. To help ensure that you’re making the right decision for your professional event, here’s a roundup of London’s top places to do business.

The Landmark London 

If you’re wanting to impress, holding a business event at one of the leading five star hotels in London is sure to offer the wow factor. The Landmark London boasts an array of stunning meeting and conference rooms, each equipped with state-of-the-art technology and comfortable areas for coffee breaks. Alternatively, for something a little less formal, the hotel’s elegant gazebo area lends itself as the perfect meeting spot, with a selection of luxurious seating and light meals available. Moreover, Landmark’s guest suites come with spacious living areas that can double-up as intimate meeting spaces, ideal for small gatherings.

Offering expertly crafted, bespoke dining options for your event, express lunch menus are available in Twotwentytwo and The Winter Garden. The hotel also offers a variety of spectacular banqueting spaces which can be adapted to suit your individual needs, offering the perfect location for large sit-down buffets.

The hotel’s expert event organisers can help you with every step of the planning process to make certain that your event is a success. Catering for business travellers, the hotel has a great central location with excellent accessibility via the underground and train, as well as designated holding spaces for coaches.

The Museum of London

If you want to make an impression, it’s worth thinking outside of the box. The Museum of London offers a diverse selection of contemporary conference and meeting spaces, including a 230-seat lecture theatre equipped with state-of-the-art audio-visual controls. The venue also offers its unique Terrace Rooms for business purposes, comprising three separate spaces each with access to private gardens for the perfect break-out space.

The versatile Clore LearningCentre can function either as one large room for up to 200 delegates or it can be sectioned off into three separate areas for smaller meetings. There is also a special seminar room and e-learning suite close by.

The British Library

Unbeknown to many, the British Library houses an impressive conference centre that is ideal for meetings, lectures and media events. The business centre has its own private entrance with a variety of flexible facilities to meet a range of business needs. Whether you're planning a small congress or a large convention, you can choose from a selection of spaces, including the 255-delegate capacity auditorium and five individually designed smaller meeting rooms.

As an added bonus, the centre also has an onsite team of technical personnel to help ensure that your event runs as smoothly as possible. What’s more, the foyer and bar area offers the perfect informal environment to talk business over a bite to eat.

Central Hall Westminster

With a prime location and an impressive selection of versatile rooms, it’s easy to see why Central Hall Westminster is a top choice for corporate events of all sizes. With Europe’s largest dome ceiling, a theatre entrance, spacious foyer areas and a magnificent Grand Staircase, this location offers a truly unique space for clients, partners and colleagues to meet. From five-person meeting rooms to a 2,160-delegate capacity auditorium, each space benefits from large windows, high ceilings, blackout blinds and the latest technology.

For a refreshing twist on traditional conference rooms, Central Hall Westminster now offers an exclusive outdoor event space that overlooks London’s most iconic landmarks, including Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. With a reception space that holds up to 60 guests, the Skyline Terrace also connects to a bright and airy circular shaped meeting room for added space.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.

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Dear Harry

I cannot quite believe that this morning saw me and Daddy take you to school for the first time. It feels like just a few weeks ago that you were placed into my arms after you were born, when I made a promise to protect you and love you forever and now I have to let you go, trust other people to keep you safe from 8.45 - 3.20 five days a week.

You cried last night and this morning, telling us that you did not want to go, that you wanted to stay at home with us. We tried to reassure you that you will be with lots of your friends, you will make new friends, that your new teachers will look after you and that you will still have lots of time to play. You did not seem all that convinced.

Your school uniform (and trousers in particular) drowns you; Daddy says it looks like you are wearing clown trousers without the bright colours as they are so big on you even though they are the smallest size we could find. Whilst I was able to take them up at the legs, there is little I can do about the waist and a belt adds to the bagginess around the bum although at least it keeps the trousers up!

When we got to the end of our road on the walk, you were delighted to see one of your friends and you did what you always did to and from nursery; ran with him while he rode his scooter. For a short time I thought you might be OK but as we got closer to school, you kept nearer to me and Daddy. As we turned the corner and your school came into view, you refused to continue walking, pleading with Daddy to carry you. And carry you he did.

You played for a short while in your new playground with your friends and reluctantly came back when the bell rang. You gripped both mine and Daddy's hands and I wondered if you were ever going to let us go. We tried to read and write with you, something we are to do every morning but you seemed overwhelmed by your new surroundings and the amount of people there were in one room. I am not surprised; I found it rather daunting myself. ;-)

Then it was time for me and Daddy to leave you. I thought you were going to cry, you desperately wanted to either come home or if you had to stay you wanted to play with the train set you had spied. But it wasn't play time any more, it was time to practice writing with your key-worker and small group. When your key-worker said you could play with the train set before PE you warmed slightly but your arms remained firmly around my neck. And then, just as I was sure the tears would come, you spied that three of your friends are in the same small group as you and a further five or six in the same class. With the promise of a beef burger for lunch, a chance to play on the train set and us bringing your scooter for pick up, you let us go.

I am so proud of you. You handled it all a lot better than I thought you would, I was so sure you would cry and that I'd have to promise to get you at lunch time. Knowing that you have so many friends in your class (I think all of them bar two actually) makes me feel a lot more confident that you will enjoy Reception just as much as Nursery. And you will have lunch and play time with the other two friends as well; the old crew back together again.

I really hope your first day in Reception goes as well as your first day at Nursery did.

Lots of love

Mummy xxx

P.S. I am still cross you wouldn't let me take a photograph of you this morning.

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Well, the summer holiday seems have flown by. It only feels like it was Harry's last day at nursery yesterday and we had a long seven weeks stretching ahead, with no real plan of how on earth we could keep an energetic four-year-old boy entertained (or at least occupied) all day, every day. Somehow, we are on the last day of the break before he starts in Reception. Quite where the weeks have gone I don't know.

A couple of weeks into the break we decided to investigate the possibility of a holiday. We needed somewhere that wasn't too far from a train station and had activities on site due to not having our own car. The husband and I also wanted somewhere that would be relaxing and we didn't want to be surrounded by crowds of people. We had a budget in mind (including our travel costs) that we couldn't go over.

Whilst musing on Twitter, someone suggested I take a look at the Hoseasons website. I had heard of the company before but assumed that they either wouldn't be able to offer what we wanted or, if they could, it would be over our budget much like other holiday companies I had looked at. I am so pleased I did look despite my initial misgivings and found Hengar Manor.

For less than £300, I found self-catering accommodation for a full week. I was worried that the company considered the first week of September as off-peak, as many schools weren't returning until the second week, and that therefore there would be no entertainment or activities. So, prior to booking I tweeted with Hoseasons and was reassured that an activities programme would still be running and that yes, there would be evening entertainment. I was emailed a copy of the activities programme and advised that evening entertainment is changed on a weekly basis. Even before booking, I very much got the impression that nothing was too much trouble.

Hengar Manor

That vibe continued through our holiday. We got a train to Bodmin Parkway and then a taxi from there to Hengar Manor. There was a long, sweeping drive from the main road to the reception which certainly added to the sense of feeling secluded and truly getting away from it all.

Phil at reception was warm and friendly (something we soon found out was common with all the staff at the site) and check in was a quick and easy process. As we didn't have our own car, Phil offered to help us with our luggage to our accommodation, which the husband refused and said we could manage with the map. Once leaving the reception area, another member of staff (whose name I didn't manage to get) offered to help us despite going in the opposite direction. This offer of assistance we did take!

We were really impressed with our accommodation. It was light and airy, spacious and super-clean. The husband thoroughly inspected all the rooms as he always does (a bit of a clean freak is my husband) and couldn't find a single fault,. I am afraid you will just have to trust me when I say that is a rare thing indeed, although the fact that he is a chef should give some indication! We were also provided with a welcome pack; soft drink, a bottle of wine, chocolates, pasta and a few other bits, although I got the impression that is something the owners of that villa provided rather than being standard with the accommodation.

Hengar Manor

After a thorough inspection and unpacking our cases, we sat outside the villa for a cuppa to absorb our surroundings and a sense of calm descended, all we could hear were the birds tweeting and the ducks quacking. Any misgivings that had remained with us disappeared; Hengar Manor had made an excellent first impression!

We paid in full for our holiday and any associated costs for activities. However, we were given upgraded accommodation in exchange for a review. All thoughts and opinions remain our own.