Thursday, 21 August 2014

Meet the Unluckiest Van

As we go about our day to day lives we run into a variety of different scenarios. It's inevitable and all part and parcel of daily life, the good the bad, the happy and the sad. One cannot exist without the other.

Of course a dominant factor in all our lives is how we get around from A-B, be it for social, business or pleasure. Since upgrading my car recently I have had  to take a good hard look at my insurance policy, and since getting my beloved Mini on the road, I have felt like a sitting duck for people pulling out and just being drawn to my prized new car. We all have to get around and this is just as true for businesses. Vans are the very heart of most businesses and this is why having the right insurance policy will help keep your business on the road. That is exactly why Axa have created A Day in the Life of the Unluckiest Van.

Video produced by AXA Business Insurance

Road safety is extra specially important for vans, did you know that van drivers are 142% more likely to crash when reversing than any other motorist? Let's not forget that vans are bigger and weightier than your average car! I know that I personally would never have a calling when it comes to the van driving profession, but I can completely appreciate the extra skill needed to safely drive for a living.

It comes as no surprise to me that vans are targeted in auto crime, they are of course a treasure trove of tools and other items that are used on the job. Did you know that 78% of bike crime happens at night? And did you know that Catalytic converter theft has doubled in the last 3 years alone?

AXA Business Insurance has teamed up with Road Safety Analysis to present a study on British Van Drivers. You can read the full post here.

Disclaimer: This is a featured post

The Panaonic TZ55 Camera Review

A few months ago I welcomed the Panasonic TZ55 into my life. I was really excited to be trying it out and loved that it was so compact, it was something that I could keep in my bag all the time, and have on hand whenever I needed it.

Up until the arrival of the TZ55 my bridge camera came everywhere with me, and as much as I adore it sometimes it was just too big and not practical for me to take with me. I felt the need to have a compact camera on hand because I could not rely on my iPhone camera thanks to the battery being a 5 minute wonder, so I knew exactly what I was looking for.

The TZ55 arrived in a compact box and had everything I needed to get started. Everything but a memory card that you have to purchase separately. Inside the box you will find:

-          TZ55 Camera
-          Charger
- USB Cable
-          Camera string
-          Instructions & CD ROM

It was ever so easy to get the camera set up, the first thing you need to do is put it on charge until it is fully charged and ready for it's first use. It will then ask you to input date and time information, and then you are ready to get full use out of your camera.

The photo's used throughout this review are those that I have personally taken on the TZ55.

Camera Features:

16MP MOS sensor
20x zoom
Wi-Fi & smartphone connect
Sharper photos
Large tilting screen
Burst shooting

First Impressions & Features

My first impressions were that the TZ55 looked really smart, and I was really impressed with how the camera felt in my hands. You can instantly tell that the TZ55 is a quality made product.

I liked that there were many different settings to choose from depending upon the scene you were trying to shoot. A feature that I really loved is that this camera boasts its own Wi-Fi. I can link my phone onto the Wi-Fi and use it as a remote to take a photo remotely. A great example of when this would be incredibly valuable is when you are wanting to take a family photo, but one person needs to stay behind and operate the camera. Using the TZ55 Wi-Fi, I could simply link it up to my phone and take the photo while being in the photo with everyone else.

Another feature that I loved right away is the screen that you can pop out, in a day and age where selfies are a popular trait of the modern world, Panasonic have ensured that it couldn't be easier to take one. The screen pops right up so that when you turn the camera around to take your selfie, you can see the image before you take the shot so that you can in essence get the exact shot you are looking for.

For the first couple of shots, I took a few photos of Leo around the house, and in all honesty I hadn't been blown away by the quality of the images on each of the different settings.  I hoped that it was just because it was a new camera and I was just getting used to the different shooting options available. I did think that for a £199.95 point and shoot camera the images should be a lot clearer than what I was experiencing, and I decided to just keep going and looking at the images I took along the way, to see if they were improving.

In the months since the TZ55’s arrival, I have taken full advantage of keeping the camera to hand. I love being able to just reach into my bag and know that I always have the equipment to shoot a photo should the need arise. It is definitely a convenience for me, I have taken the TZ55 places I didn't feel I could take my bridge camera. We used it on two recent visit's to Alton Towers, I have used it at home and in the local water park getting shots of Leo just having an amazing time. I even used the TZ55 to record the moment we lit the candles on Leo’s 3rd Birthday cake while I took photos on my bridge camera. It is exactly for moments such as these that I wanted a compact camera to be able to capture these fleeting moments.

I do feel that the pictures I am taking now with the TZ55 are much better than when I first received it, but I do have to say that I did expect more from it. These days I tend to use the automatic setting the most, I did begin with going through the scene settings and choosing the one that was most appropriate to what I was trying to achieve, but I seem to take the best images on the automatic setting.

Over all I do really like the camera, but I do feel that the images could be to a higher standard. I have been through the settings and I have the images set to the highest setting, it may just be that I am expecting too much out of a point and shoot camera, but personally for the money I would expect it to perform to almost the same standard as my bridge camera.

The images aren't bad by any standard and you can see from the images within this review that we have had some great times using it.

The battery life on the TZ55 has been brilliant and has seen us through each of our trips out and about. I cannot fault the over all performance of this camera and although we got off to a rocky start, over all I have really liked Panasonic's latest addition.

You can purchase the Panasonic TZ55 for £199.95 at John Lewis.

Disclaimer: I was sent the Panasonic TZ55 for the purpose of this review. All views and opinions are completely honest and my own.

In a Naptime — Squeezing In a Workout While the Kids Are Asleep

Being a mum is the most rewarding job in the world. Your days are filled with love, fun . . . and heavy lifting!

As your baby moves through infancy, quite literally crawling toward toddler-hood, an undeniable fact will emerge—he just keeps getting heavier! This is a great reminder that healthy babies require strong mums—and it doesn’t have to take a pricey gym membership or daily private training sessions to keep you in great condition! 

A quick trip to the local supermarket or sporting goods store can give you all you need for at-home fitness during those stolen moments when the kids are with dad or the baby’s asleep. In under 20 minutes, you can invoke the essential aspects of any workout with three low-cost items—a jump rope, dumbbells, and a yoga mat— and this can be at home or at the health club!  

Experts agree that the most beneficial exercise routines combine cardio and strength-training. Lifting manageable weights (small dumbbells weighing two to five pounds) will develop and strengthen the arm muscles that mums use so much, while cardio (jumping rope can be done in place) burns off the calories that lead to excess weight and, in extreme cases, an unhealthy heart.

In fact, jumping the rope for just 10 minutes can burn 135 calories. But first, be sure your stance is correct. The rope should be held low, with your arms held down by your sides; the movement should come from your wrists and forearms, and the bounce in your step should be from the balls of your feet. Work up to the recommended 10 minutes; though a short span of time, it’s easier said than done for most beginners! 

Next, grab your two weights and hold them in the palms of your hands. If you’ve using your skipping rope correctly, you shouldn’t feel too much soreness in your upper arms and should be able to complete a few sets of bicep or triceps lifts (well, if time allows, as always!). Holding your hands palms-up and raising the weights toward your face will work your biceps. Twisting your palms to face each other and pushing back (straightening your arms from your hips) will attack the triceps at the back of your arms, where the dreaded batwing can emerge! Both bicep and triceps curls should be completed slowly and controlled, with about three sets of 12 to 15 reps, and arms should be held close to your sides. 

Look to your third step—stretching—as treat after your cardio and strengthening. The simple stretches you did as a kid — leaning over and touching your toes, touching an elbow to the opposite knee and twisting your torso around — are still totally valuable!  

Close out your first few workouts with shavasana, a classic yoga pose also called ‘corpse pose’. To get into position, lay flat on your back on your new yoga mat, close your eyes . . . and relax. Observe this routine and watch how you start to shape up despite the busy schedule.

Image by andrewmalone and keithallison, used under Creative Commons licence.

Arianne Harper is a mum of three and full-time personal assistant who still finds time to fit plenty of exercise into her daily routine. She particularly enjoys dumbbell exercises.  

Disclaimer: This is a featured post

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Visiting Edinburgh

Back in my college days we took a class trip to Edinburgh. It was a place I had never really considered visiting until this trip, and a place I haven't been back to since. But it was a fantastic few days, there is so much to see and do in this beautiful city, and it is a destination that we have spoken about returning to as a family. 

During my jam packed visit I pretty much ticked every tourist attraction on the list, all except Edinburgh Zoo. Edinburgh Zoo was a attraction that I was sorry not to visit, but between Edinburgh Castle,  The Dungeons, Our Dynamic Earth, the ghost tour and the National Galleries... I wasn't left with much spare time. In fact I could have done with a break to get over the college trip!

In those few days being in Scotland's capital city, I did fall a little in love with the architecture and being around so much history. The atmosphere was buzzing and I found myself enjoying every moment. I would love to go back and visit in the near future, and the zoo is already on my list of 'must visit places' for when I do. This is a place that is sure to be a big hit with Leo as he adores nothing more than peeking into the enclosures to see what he can see. 

Depending on what time of the year that you visit Edinburgh you have the opportunity to enjoy one of 12 festivals. In April time the Edinburgh International Science Festival takes place, and has a program bursting full of things to see and do for the young and old alike. In May the Imaginate Festival brings children's theatre from all around the world to Edinburgh.

As Summer swings around there are yet more exciting festivals to get involved with, Fringe to the ever popular Book Festival of story telling, Jazz, Blues and Edinburgh Mela. The festivals all offer something different, but one thing is for sure, by heading along to the festivals there really is something for everyone.

Photo Credit

Autumn provides the chance to introduce your little ones to the magic that only story telling can bring, with the Scottish International Storytelling Festival. New Year provides the Hogmanay, a winter festival that boasts it's very own carnival and not to mention the torch lit procession!

One of the great aspects about visiting Edinburgh is that there is Hotel Direct accommodation to suit every budget. When I visited back in 2006 as a student we actually stayed in a hostel, this suited us all perfectly. As students we didn't really have the money to spend on hotels, and for the amount of time we were actually at a standstill was for those few hours of sleep we fit in before we hit the tourist attractions again. This time around when we do visit Edinburgh again we will be going as a family of 3, so we have completely different expectations and requirements. On this occasion we will be looking for a comfortable base where we will potentially be spending much more time, given that Leo's bedtime is 7pm... So from then we would be in for the night. 

I don't know exactly when we will be setting a date to take a trip, but it is something that we will definitely be looking to do in the not so distant future. I love showing Leo the world, and sometimes you don't have to travel to far away to find some magical destinations. 

Disclaimer: This is a featured post

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

A Healthier Me - 9 Weeks In

In just over 7 weeks I have made some big changes to my life, I have made a conscious decision to treat my body like a temple (for the majority of the time) and in doing so, on July 31st I reached my first goal. I officially lost 1 stone in weight.

I am now 9 weeks into my venture and I am feeling amazing, I have just today lost my 17th lb! Making my total weight loss so far 1 stone and 3lbs!

My size 10 clothes are starting to hang on me where before some were a little tight, and I have even treated myself to a few pairs of size 8 jeans, which actually fit! Although they fit there is still room for improvement, but it is a great start. If someone had said to me back in June that I would be shopping for size 8 clothing in 9 weeks’ time, I would have laughed so hard my sides would ache. But it just goes to show the difference a few months can make if you are serious about achieving your goals.

I am now thinking a little further down the line, if I can do this in just over 2 months, where will I be in another 2 months? The more I achieve the more determined and driven I become which in turn puts my goals right within my grasp.

In the last couple of weeks I have become more active in the gym, and have increased my stamina on the cross trainer. At this moment in time I am focusing my main effort on cardio and complimenting that with sit ups and abdominal work outs. Although if I am honest I actually have no clue what I am doing, and I am in the process of getting a gym program drawn up to help me get where I want to be.

It is only really since hitting the stone mark that I have begun to see changes. My stomach is definitely looking flatter and I my bust has even shrunk (the one place I could do with keeping some chub!). I have even had to order new underwear now that my bras are not fitting as snuggly as they once did. I even feel like I have lost weight around my face, but the jury is still out on that one!

The weight loss has slowed down since I hit the top end of 8 stone back on the 22nd July, but I am a firm believer in losing it slowly and maintaining the result. A few weeks back I was sent a sample of XLS Medical in the form of the Carb Blocker and the Fat Binder tablets. I started off taking the Fat Binder and then incorporated the Carb Blocker, I went in open minded and wondered if I would notice any changes in the speed the weight was coming away or how much I was actually loosing from one week to the next. In my personal experience I didn't notice a difference in any of the above.

What is the XLS Medical Fat Binder supposed to do?
XLS-Medical Fat Binder is a natural weight loss aid that has been clinically proven to help you lose up to 3x more weight than dieting and exercise alone. It is gentle on your digestive system that leaves no known side effects in it's wake.
XLS – Medical Fat Binder is made with the clinically proven fat binder, Litramine, and essential fat-soluble vitamins. and has been proven to bind dietary fats before it replenishes the body with fat-soluble vitamins. In my personal experience though I didn't notice a difference through taking this opposed to not taking it. But then everyone's bodies are different and I have read other accounts that have demonstrate a completely different experience to me.
What is the XLS Medical Carb Blocker supposed to do?
The XLS Medical Carb Blocker is made with PhaseLite™, a clinically proven active ingredient which helps reduce carbohydrate digestion and absorption. The Carb Blocker reduces the break down of carbohydrates meaning they are too large to be absorbed by the intestine. The addition of Phaselite™ restricts the ability of the digestive enzyme alpha-amylase thereby inhibiting the digestion of complex carbohydrates into glucose. 
I was sent a pack of each of the above, each packet included 60 tablets. I took 2 tablets before each meal which equated to 3 times a day. Maybe it takes more than one pack for you to start noticing the effects? 
You can find out more about XLS Medical on their website, and you can also follow other peoples experiences.

At the end of July the Fit Bug Orb arrived in my life, and ever since then I have been using the Fit Bug to track my activity. I can see how many steps I take in any one given day and I can see how many calories I burn through day to day activity. Activity I didn't give a second thought to such as walking from my car to the office or taking a leisurely stroll into town all count towards my daily step goal. After having used the Orb for the last 2 weeks it is now setting me daily goals in the form of steps and aerobic steps that I should aim for. I seem to have no problems hitting my aerobic steps but if I am at work I am resigned to my desk. This often means that I don’t meet my step goal on those days that I am at work.

I am finding the Orb a valuable asset and it pushes me to reach my goals. I am a very visual person, so having the app on hand is a great motivation for me and I will be telling you much more about this clever fitness gadget as my venture progresses.

I will finish this post off documenting my weight loss so far:

Tuesday 10th June - 9 stone 11.8 lbs
Friday 13th June - 9 stone 9.6 lbs
Saturday 14th June - 9 stone 9.2 lbs
Sunday 15th June - 9 stone 8.6 lbs

Total weight loss for the first week - 3.2 lbs

Monday 16th June - 9 stone 8.4 lbs
Tuesday 17th June - 9 stone 8.0 lbs
Wednesday 18th June - 9 stone 6.8 lbs  
Thursday 19th June - 9 stone 6.6 lbs

Total weight loss for the second week - 1.8 lbs

Monday 23rd June - 9 stone 6.6 lbs
Tuesday 24th June - 9 stone 6.2 lbs
Wednesday 25th June - 9 stone 5 lbs
Thursday 26th June  - 9 stone 4.4 lbs
Friday 27th June - 9 stone 4 lbs
Sunday 29th June - 9 stone 3.8 lbs

Total weight loss for the third week - 2.8 lbs

Wednesday 2nd July - 9 stone 3.6 lbs
Thursday 3rd July - 9 stone 2.8 lbs
Friday 4th July - 9 stone 2.6 lbs
Saturday 5th July - 9 stone 2.2 lbs
Sunday 6th July - 9 stone 1 lbs

Total weight loss for the fourth week - 2.6 lbs 

This is where I plateaued for a little while (12 days).

Friday 18th July - 9 stone 0.7 lbs 
Saturday 19th July - 8 stone 13.2 lbs

Fifth week 

Thursday 24th July - 8 stone 12.6 lbs
Fridy 25th July - 8 stone 12.0 lbs

Total weight loss for the sixth week - 1.2 lbs

Thursday 31st July - 8 stone 10.8 lbs (I hit my first Stone!)

Thursday 7th August - 8 stone 9.4 lbs 
Saturday 9th August - 8 stone 9.2 lbs

Total weight loss for the eighth week - 1.6 lbs

Tuesday 12th August - 9 stone 8.8 lbs

Total weight loss in 9 weeks - 1 stone 3 lbs (17 lbs)

Disclaimer: I was sent the XLS Medical for the purpose of this post. All views and opinions expressed are completely honest and my own.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Kids in the digital age

Living in the digital age that we do, it is no surprise that technology is spiraling into all areas of our lives. I for one rely on my smart phone for more than I would like to admit, and technology is just part of my everyday existence. It is no surprise that technology is now even entering our children’s lives in many different shapes and forms.

As a child the most techy bit of equipment I owned was a original Gameboy, which at the time was a coveted toy at the top end of everyone’s Christmas List’s. But flash-forward 15 years and things have moved forward, rapidly. There are kid’s tablets, new kid’s game consoles, PlayStation’s, smart phones that each come with their own set of unique content. Our children are living in a highly digital age, and I don’t think that it is all bad, what I do think we have to be careful with is how much exposure we allow them to be subjected to. There has to be a happy medium.

I read a very interesting survey that was conducted over 2,000 parents that explored the different behaviours of our youth, and provided a accurate view of the here and now. It demonstrated the purpose and function that technology is playing today in our children’s lives.

One of the points that really stood out to me was that ‘a massive 39% of respondents said that there child owned a tablet, 38% own a mobile phone and nearly a quarter (24%) already have Facebook.’ That last point is quite worrying, Facebook is not a place for children, and I know that when Leo is old enough to discuss social media, there will be a firm age in my mind as to when he can join, and it won’t be until he is at least in high school!

What really shocked me was the statistics based on Leo’s age range ‘Nearly 1 in 3 children aged 2-4 own their own tablet (30%) and… Wait for it.. 22% own a MOBILE PHONE! 12% of these 2-4 year Old’s already have their very own Facebook profile. Feel free to chime in with WHAT!? Whenever you like..

Now admittedly for Leo’s 3rd birthday back in June we did treat him to a kid’s tablet, I thought it would be something he could enjoy on car journeys and for those moments where he just needed a quiet half hour. I believe that if the time is governed responsibly and Leo respects this then it will be more of a treat than an item he will sit glued to all day long. As long as a mediated balance is in place, then I think it can be an educational tool. However, I have complete control over absolutely everything on that tablet, from the content, to what he views and to what he can do. Leo’s tablet is completely locked down and I am confident that he is safe while he is using it. Of course Leo does not and will not own a mobile phone until he is old enough and responsible enough to do so, and that of course is many, many moons away.

It is suffice to say that I was astounded that children Leo’s age and younger, own their very own mobile phone and their very own Facebook account. All I can wonder is… Why?

The results have been compiled into a blog post which includes the expert opinion of Dr Rob Hogan, offering insight into the effects of our kid’s digital habits and how we can use digital responsibly.

What are your views on today’s technology and its effect on children?

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Kids Go Free with CBeebies Magazine

Earlier this month Leo and I were invited along to Alton Towers with CBeebies Magazine, in celebration of the new kids go free promotion. This event had been highly anticipated by Leo, I had made the mistake of telling him the exciting news around the same time as I first received the email, of course with this being weeks ahead of the event.. I discovered just how exceptional a pre-schoolers memory really is... and also how impatient that they can be! Lesson learnt?

CBeebies Magazine took over a room in the Alton Towers Hotel and having never been to the accommodation side of the park before, I was suitably impressed. CBeebies had put together a series of educational activities for the children and divided us into groups so that we could all take it in turns and enjoy everything. Each of the activities supported the Early Years Curriculum, just as the magazine does from start to finish. 

After we arrived fashionably late (as always) we joined our group and participated in the group drawing activity. All the while Leo kept reminding me that this wasn't CBeebies Land... For the first half an hour or so Leo was completely out of his comfort zone, and he would not leave my side. This for Leo is very out of character, but after a long car journey and being landed in a room full of people he didn't know, he just took a little while to come around. In fact for those first few activities Leo clung to me like the world was about to end, but as time progressed and he became familiar with the people and his surroundings... Leo let his guard down and enjoyed taking part with everything. 

Leo's favourite activity was by far the Swashbuckling group where he got to make and decorate his very own pirate hat and badge. In fact I couldn't get him away from this group, and even after the session finished he carried on sticking and enjoying himself. 

As the event began to wind down our thoughts began to ponder who the special guest would be, CBeebies had arranged for a special someone to come along and hand out the children's goody bags at the end. Leo was really looking forward to discovering who was on his way, and he was not disappointed when Postman Pat strolled through the door with Jess cat!

Leo seems to be at an age now where he really appreciates character meetings, and his reaction was absolutely magical. He doesn't get scared or not want to make an effort with his super hero, he absolutely loves to interact with them. As you can see, Leo's meeting with Pat himself was one of those moments that he will cherish for a long time to come, and I am so glad that he came out of his shell by the time he arrived. 

The CBeebies kids go free promotion is running over 5 editions of the magazine starting from July 30th 2014 right through until 24th September 2014.

Issue 410 (30th July) – Chessington World of Adventures 

Issue 411 (13th Aug) – Alton Towers Resort inc. CBeebies Land 

Issue 412 (27th Aug) – Warwick Castle 

Issue 413 (10th Sept) – Legoland and Legoland Discovery Centre 

Issue 414 (24th Sept) – SEA LIFE Centres and Seal sanctuaries 

Thanks CBeebies Magazine for such a fantastic day, we had a super time!

Disclaimer: We were invited along to the CBeebies Magazine Event and provided with complimentary entrance to the park. All thoughts and opinions expressed are completely honest and my own.