School’s Out! Planning Summer Activities on a Shoe-String Budget

The school summer holidays officially start for us today. I can’t believe that another school year has finished already. These years are flying by!

I’m really looking forward to spending some quality time with Lil’ L over the next six weeks. However, as I’m not working at the moment, I need to make sure that we keep spending to a minimum. 

We did lots of great free/ low cost activities last summer that we’re hoping to repeat or improve on this year. Here’s what we’ve come up with so far…

– Bike Rides
Inspired by the Tour de France, we’re going to devise our own ‘Tour de Bath’ where we explore different areas of the city by bike and record our ‘stages’ on a map, noting the distance and time.

– Hiking
There’s so much local countryside that we’ve yet to explore.  We’re going to pack some sandwiches, binoculars, a map, and waterproofs, and hike along footpaths and bridleways in the hills around Bath. Luckily my ‘smartphone’ has got GPS, just in case we get lost 😉

– Photography
Lil’ L loved the challenge I set him over the Jubilee weekend of photographing red, white and blue images. This summer I’m going to set him some more photographic challenges and show him how to edit photos and make online albums.

– Creating in the kitchen
Lil’ L has already devised a list of 15 new smoothies and milkshakes that he’d like to try making. During the holidays, we’ll work our way through his list, photograph the successes and blog about them.
I’m also really looking forward to teaching him how to make other treats, such as granola bars, chocolates, ice cream sundaes and so forth.

 

– Summer Reading Challenge
Last weekend, the children’s summer reading challenge was launched in Bath by Olympic Gold Medallist Amy Williams. It was such a pleasure to meet her! I didn’t get to hold the Olympic torch (like my mum did!) but I have now held an Olympic Gold Medal. It was beautiful… and way bigger and heavier than I imagined it would be!

The library reading challenge has really fired up Lil’ L. The first thing he wanted to do when he broke up from school today was to go to the library and borrow some more books!

– Maths Challenge
To keep our ‘maths brains’ ticking over, we’re going to take part in Carol Vorderman’s Online Maths Factor Summer School (I need this as much as Lil’ L 😉 ). The school costs £15 but is so worth it. Carol Vorderman has got to be the ultimate Maths teacher. Not only is she fantastic at explaining maths, but she actually makes maths fun. Her online schools are perfect for kids like Lil’ L who are yet to develop a passion for numbers.

– Summer Diary Writing
Lil’ L has recently started to get interested in writing and his stories are way more creative than anything I’ve ever written! I’d love to encourage him to keep writing over the holidays, maybe in the form of a summer diary or scrap book. As well as writing, he could add photos, ticket stubs, drawings and so forth.

– Family Activities at Local Museums and Galleries
There are lots of drop-in activities on offer at the museums and galleries in Bath which are free for residents, and I’m planning to make the most of them!  Does anyone fancy investigating Roman gods and goddesses and making Minerva’s wise owl? Or how about learning some Roman language and make a Roman book mark? I know I do! 🙂 
If you’re planning to be in the Bath area over the school holidays, you must check out the family activity programme. Here’s the link.     

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– Play Dates
It’s really important that I arrange some play dates for Lil’ L so he gets to spend time with his friends during the summer. I need to do this ASAP as I know diaries get filled really quick.

– Quality time with grandparents
Lil’ L rarely gets to have one-to-one time with his grandparents and this is something that he mentioned he would really like this summer. Next week, he’s going to spend a couple of nights with his nan and her two dogs in Dorset and he’s really excited about it! Hopefully, at some point during the summer, he’ll be able to have some one-to-one time with his other grandparents too.

– Family quality time
The three of us (me, M and Lil’ L) are really looking forward to spending a couple of weeks’ of quality time together during the school hols, which means switching all the gadgets off (phones, computers, etc) and giving each other our full attention. We really value our quality family time. For me, it’s priceless 🙂

– Buddhist Festivals and Daily Meditation
There’s lots of Buddhist festivals in the UK this summer, and I’m hoping that we’ll be able to attend at least a couple. As well as inspiring teachings and meditation sessions, there’s always lots of fun activities arranged for the kids. Lil’ L made some great friends at the festivals last year and hopefully they’ll meet up again this summer.


I’m also hoping that we’ll get into the habit of daily meditation, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. With Lil’ L’s help, I’ll set up a dedicated ‘meditation space’ upstairs. We’ll make it cosy with cushions and blankets, and light incense and candles. It’ll be great 🙂

 So that’s just a few ideas of what we’ll be able to do this summer on my shoe-string budget.  I can’t wait to get started!

I wish you all a wonderful summer. 🙂 xx

p.s. If anyone’s got a bit of sunshine to spare, we would really appreciate it if you could send it over here. Thank you 🙂

Weekend Highlights – Spray Painting, Bike Riding & Roasted Vegetable Risotto (with Recipe!)

Hi everyone! I hope you had a great weekend 🙂

We managed to fit in lots of fun activities this weekend, starting off with a trip to the library on Saturday morning where Lil’ L returned his book and came out with another seven! You can guess who ended up carrying those round Bath. Luckily he had lots of books to keep him occupied while we went for coffees in Neros 😉

I’m still getting a real kick out of how much Lil’ L is enjoying reading.  In addition to the library books, he’s also currently reading a chapter of Lemony Snicket to us every night and, on his own, he’s reading Philip Pullman’s ‘The Subtle Knife’ (both books that he picked up from the charity shop for a couple of pounds each).

In the afternoon, after a quick visit to a local village fete, Lil’ L and his friend T did some stencilling and spray art with M in our garage.

T did a space-inspired picture, while Lil’ L sprayed an underwater scene with a scary looking fish!

On Sunday, it actually stopped raining for a few hours and the sun came out. We decided to grab the opportunity to go out for a bike ride along the Kennet & Avon Canal.

To make it more interesting for Lil’ L, we said we’d cycle to the Angel Fish Cafe at Limpley Stoke for lunch.  That sure got him moving!

Both the boys fancied baked beans on toast but we were surprised to find that the Cafe only served white bread. No wholemeal, no granary, no seeded bread.  That’s no good! Bike riders need big chunky doorsteps of wholemeal granary bread to refuel them, not thin anaemic white slices 😉

Lil’ L asked if he could have an ice cream for dessert. I told him he could have one at the Canal Boat Cafe in Bathampton (back where we started our journey). This was a sneaky move on my part to make sure he peddled fast rather than dawdled all the way back. It sure worked 😉

We’ve had an unbelievable amount of rain lately but, on the plus side, the countryside is looking beautifully lush and green!

The muddy bike bottom really isn’t a good look is it? I’m so glad I’ve finally had mudguards fitted to my bike.

The face was pretty muddy too (and chocolatey!)

And look at those legs!

Back home, Lil’ L headed straight to the shower while I made the most of our sunshine and did a little gardening. I was amazed to find that we’ve actually managed to grow some strawberries that haven’t been eaten by a slug … or snail … or blackbird!

And look what else I came across… a beautiful shimmering blue damselfly taking refuge on Buddha 🙂

He stayed there for ages!

After a great day out, I cooked us a large pan of roasted squash and red pepper risotto. It was very yummy indeed. Unfortunately, Lil’ L isn’t a huge fan of risotto (he isn’t keen on the texture of Arborio rice) but I pre-empted any negative comments by serving it with some toasted wholegrain tortilla segments. He then proceeded to tuck in with enthusiasm, piling the crispy tortilla high with the risotto, and ate every last grain!

I often find that the addition of a ‘bready’ side dish, like a flat bread, tortilla, or piece of garlic bread can transform a meal for Lil L. I wonder if this is the same for all children?

At the weekend, I made the risotto with an old packet of Arborio rice that needed using up. Next time I make the risotto, I’m going to try the Riso Gallo 3 Grains Risotto Rice which consists of Italian Rice, Spelt and Pearl Barley. As this rice contains wholegrains, it will have a lower GI than regular white risotto rice, as well as other nutrients such as Iron and B Vitamins.

With the butternut squash and red pepper pieces, our risotto did look quite pretty. I also added some peas to add more colour and lovely nutrients 🙂

Here’s how I made it:

Have a great week everyone! 🙂 xx

This time last year… Glastonbury!

Weekend Photo Journal – Beautiful Walks, Bike Rides & the Bath Half!

Hello everyone!  I hope you had a great weekend! 🙂

We had a pretty active weekend, kicking off on Friday night with Lil’ L’s first experience of scuba diving at his friend’s ‘Bubblemaker’ birthday party.  What an incredible treat!  We didn’t get back home till gone 10pm but Lil’ L was still buzzing from the experience and not tired in the slightest!

 On Saturday, the weather was glorious, so we decided to walk along the Kennet & Avon Canal into Bath, hop on the train, and spend the day in Bristol.  The canal was a hive of activity, with lots of people out walking, running, cycling, boating and kayaking.

I love the way that a spell of good weather brings people outside 🙂

We did a lot of walking on Saturday.  We did six miles to and from the train station, and walked for about 2 hours round Bristol.  By the end of our canal walk back home, our feet were feeling a bit tingly and worn out, so we stopped at Bathampton Mill for a drink.  The weather was still so good that we sat outside on the decking next to the beautiful Bathampton Weir.

Back home, we decided that we definitely had earnt a movie and pizza night 😉  I made a portobello mushroom pesto pizza (drizzled with truffle oil).  Totally delish (and healthy!)  I promise I’ll write up the recipe soon!

Sunday was the Bath Half Marathon.  While I wasn’t competing myself, I wanted to go along and cheer on all those brave people that were running, and to soak up the atmosphere.  We decided to give our feet a rest and hopped on the bikes 🙂

We found a good location to chain up our bikes and watch the race, just outside the Holburne Museum.

 We watched the race on the final bend before the finish line. 

I felt really emotional watching the guys running past as I could sense their feelings of agony, relief and triumph as they entered the home strait on Pulteney Street. 

Well done to everyone that took part.  What an incredible achievement!

After the race, Bath was totally buzzing. Such a great atmosphere!  We decided to buy some food and sit in the beautiful Pulteney Gardens. Lots of people were in the gardens, making the most of the good weather 🙂

 

Here’s Lil’ L busy sketching in his new note book.  He’s really into drawing funny little cartoon characters at the moment.  Those filthy, muddy boots to his right are M’s.  He’d already been out on a 2 hour mountain bike ride before we went into Bath, and was covered head to foot in mud! 

Every time I point the camera at Lil’ L, he pulls a face.  You really have to catch him off guard if you want to get a decent picture.  I eventually managed to get one of him laughing  in between the face pulling!

 See what I mean?

By the time we’d finished lunch and headed back to Pulteney Street to find our bikes, the Bath Half was completely finished.  The streets were being cleaned, and the finish line banner was coming down, ready to be packed away for another year.

Time to head back home!

It has been a wonderful weekend in Bath, thanks in part to the beautiful weather.  Long may it continue! 🙂

What was the highlight of your weekend?

 

 

Weekend Photo Journal – Christmas has arrived in Bath!

We had another amazing fun-packed weekend!  Here are the highlights:

On Friday evening, we went to Devizes in Wiltshire to watch the Festival of Light parade.  There was such a great turnout!  And so much effort had been put into making the lanterns.  Check out the life size horse, with moving head and legs!

 

   

When the parade had finished, we went to an Indian restaurant with friends for a superb feast.  We ordered so many dishes that the waiter had to check that we seriously wanted that amount of food.  Yep, we did… and I’m proud to say that not a scrap was left 🙂  All of the food was scrumptious, especially the dhal, bindi bhajee, mushroom bhajee, pakora, onion bhajee, byriani…  As you can tell, I LOVE Indian food!

Saturday, we had to pop to Trowbridge to the opticians.  To make it more fun, we stopped for lunch at a little Italian cafe. I had the rosemary focaccia with roasted veg.  It was okay … but no way near as nice as my home made version 😉  We also spotted reindeer in the town centre.  I’m not sure what they were doing there, but they didn’t look too impressed.  They were way smaller than I imagined reindeers would be! 

On Sunday, Lil’ L and I needed to pop to the library and, as it was such a beautiful day, we decided to cycle in along the canal towpath.

I love the beautiful red berries that we see this time of year.

It took us less than 15 minutes to cycle into the city centre.  We locked up our bikes at Laura Place, at the end of Great Pulteney Street.  This is one of my favourite streets in Bath.  I just love the architecture! 

 

After the library, we popped along to the Bath Christmas Market, which is now in full swing.  Bath Abbey makes such a beautiful backdrop for the market.

 

 

I even spotted some Buddhas at the market!  They appear everywhere! 😉

Check out that beautiful blue sky. It’s incredible to see such a sky this time of year!

I love these old-fashioned carousels.  It was spinning round surprisingly fast… so fast in fact that Lil’ L didn’t fancy a go!

Kuyichi is one of my all-time favourite clothing brands and recently I saw a gorgeous long-sleeved Kuyichi top in an online store.  Unfortunately, it was way out of my price range.  So, you can imagine my delight when I passed the Ethical People store in Bath and spotted the same top on sale!  I tried it on and, yep, it fitted perfectly. Happy days 🙂

The Ethical People store is only going to be in Bath until the end of December, so I must check it out again and see if I can grab some more bargains!

After the hustle and bustle of the city centre, it was lovely to return to the canal for our ride home.  I’ll never get tired of the views from this canal!

Rather than finish our journey on the main road, we decided to walk our bikes along the river path and nip through the ‘orchard’.  We stopped a couple of times to take in the beautiful views.  We especially loved watching the reflection of the trees in the water.  It was incredibly peaceful down by the river.

 

 

I had all good intentions of baking the Christmas Cake this weekend (yep, I know I’m already a week late but that’s no surprise 😉 ).  I even soaked the dried fruit in the brandy overnight…

and M carefully double lined the tin in baking paper on Saturday night.  However, on Sunday I was having way too much fun cycling, wandering around Bath, drinking coffee with a friend and looking at her beautiful photos of Delhi, followed by a delicious meal at The George with M and Lil’ L that erm.. I sort of forgot about the cake!  No big deal, I’ll do it tomorrow (the famous last words 😉 )

I hope you all had a fantastic weekend!  What was the highlight for you?

A Wonderful Trip to Sherwood Forest

As soon as school was out on Friday, we packed the car, hoisted the bikes onto the roof, and set off for a mini break to one of my favourite places in the UK, Sherwood Forest.  This forest is most well-known for its links with the legend of Robin Hood.  We’re not sure whether Robin Hood really did exist but, regardless, I find Sherwood to be a truly magical place 🙂

 

M and I lived in Nottingham back in the 1990s, so we know the area pretty well.  Nowadays, we try and visit once a year, normally during the October half term when the forest is full of the colours of Autumn/Fall. 

 This year, for the first time, we chose to stay in a log cabin in the forest. 

 I loved the lounge area inside the cabin, with its little wood burning stove.  So cosy!  

Lil’ L had his first archery lesson… and turned out to be pretty handy with the bow and arrow 🙂

 We also went to visit Major Oak.  No trip to Sherwood would be complete without visiting this ancient tree where (as the legend goes) Robin, Marion and the band of Merry Men hid out.  This incredible tree is over 1,150 years old!

 However, the main reason for our trip to the forest was to ride the trails at Sherwood Pines.  The Kitchener’s Trail is absolutely awesome and currently my favourite trail in the UK!  

We rode it three times over the weekend.  Lil L’s verdict… “sweet!”.

 

The trail has lots of twists and turns, which makes it very exciting.  I love this sort of trail as it requires single pointed concentration… if your mind wanders… you’re likely to hit a tree trunk or stump.  I fell off once, which was more of a technical hitch where I skidded on sand into a ditch, rather than a mind wobble/fear moment (or a “mind slide” as me & M have started calling them 😉 ).  Luckily, I was wearing the new knee pads that M bought, so I didn’t feel a thing 🙂

There’s lots of variety on the trail, including the options of a fast downhill section and dirt jump area for the real adrenalin junkies.

I loved all the different sections we rode through, which included pine forests and ancient woodland filled with chestnut trees.

There was even a super spooky section, which you had to wind your way through.

Here’s a couple of action shots.

 

From the back, it looks like I was dressed appropriately for biking… but I so wasn’t!  Under the jacket and knee pads, I was wearing jeggings and a sparkly top.  The Essex girl in me still loves a bit of sparkle 😉

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend, filled with sunshine, lots of fresh air, exercise and a large dose of myth and magic 😉

A Wonderful Summer ♥

Before the summer is a long distant memory, I just want to record what an incredible six weeks I had with Lil’ L.  He’s growing up fast and I’m sure he’ll soon want to spend the holidays with his mates rather than good ole’ mum, so I really did savour every moment I had with him.

As I didn’t have an income for these six weeks, we thought of lots of fun, free (or low cost) activities to do.  Here’s a quick run down of our top five favourite summer holiday activities (in no particular order; they were all great 🙂 )

1. Cycling
We devised our own version of the ‘Tour de France’, which included stages both here in the South West of England and in France. Each stage normally finished with a sprint to a cafe. 😉  In total, we cycled 150 miles. One of Lil’ L’s favourite rides was the Verderer’s Trail in the Forest of Dean. It’s graded Blue but has a Red downhill section at the end. Lil’ L loved it so much that, as soon as he’d finished it, he wanted another go! I need to brush up my mountain bike skills because I fell off 3 TIMES (I’ve got an issue about sharp right hand turns 🙁 ).  Here’s a clip of someone else riding the trail. I’m glad I’m not the only one that keeps falling off. 😉

Here’s a short clip of Lil’ L and M riding the Intermediate Skills loop.

Lil’ L loves the technical rides much more than road cycling. You should hear him woop while he’s hurtling down those dirt tracks!

2. Hiking / Walking
We did some amazing hikes and walks around our locality, such as the one up Little Solsbury Hill. We even found different ways to walk into Bath. One in particular, which we termed the ‘Wild Walk’, was really fun. We took our cameras and photographed the creatures and wild flowers we spotted along the way. It certainly made walking into Bath more fun (and saved us a small fortune in bus fares!)

Here’s Lil’ L at the start of our wild walk into Bath.

And here’s some of the beautiful wild flowers we spotted on our walk.

40 minutes later, we arrived in the centre of Bath. 🙂

3. Visiting friends and family
We had some wonderful trips on the train to visit friends and family, including 2 trips to Brockenhurst and Dorset, and 1 trip to Bracknell. I managed to trade in my Tesco vouchers for a Family & Friends Railcard (which lasts a year) and gift vouchers for Redspottedhanky.com, which meant that all our train trips were FREE! What a bargain! 🙂

4. Photography
We had lots of fun taking photos of beautiful flowers and views, as well as attempting to photograph food for this blog.  Needless to say, Lil’ L took the best shots every time. 😉

Here’s his shot of a poppy in the garden. Isn’t it beautiful?

And here’s a shot he took of my favourite house on the canal.

5. Cooking
We had lots of fun baking cakes and making chocolates (all healthy of course 😉 ). Our favourite cake creation this summer was a super healthy, super delicious upside pineapple cake (I’ll post the recipe tomorrow).

All in all, it was a wonderful summer; one I certainly won’t forget.

I’d love to hear what your favourite activity was this summer.