Friday, 28 March 2014

Word of the Week

My word of the week is

ILL

Yes, apologies for the silence but I've been mopping up sick and wiping snotty noses since the beginning of the week.

Everything seems to be suffering, my blog, my children, in fact the only thing that hasn't suffered is the cleaning.  In a bid to try and make sure ds3's sickness (which thankfully no one else seems to have) doesn't spread to all of us I've been cleaning and washing for Britain.

Things seems to be calming down now though, with only minor snottiness and occasional calpol required for the smallest two, I should be back on track next week.

Click on the badge below for some other (and hopefully healthier) words of the week!


The Reading Residence

Monday, 17 March 2014

Manchester United Museum and Tour Review

We were recently asked if we'd like to visit the Manchester United Museum and also attend a stadium tour too.  Now, despite being a mother of three boys, we don't follow football religiously here, well, five of us don't at least.  DS2 and DH however were secretly delighted for us to have been asked to go and visit the Theatre of Dreams, so off we went early last Saturday.

When we arrived it took us a little while to find out where we were supposed to be.  Signage wasn't the best but I suspect that was largely down to the fact that none of us had visited the stadium for some time (it was actually my first time!).  Once we'd located the entrance (which was just round the corner from the Megastore) we were given our tickets on a lanyard - I found this quite handy as juggling two small people (not literally, just handholding and that kind of thing) and needing to keep tickets to hand is a bit of a pain and this was so much easier.

The Museum

Once inside we made our way around the museum.  Now if you like silverware and football shirts this might be your kind of thing.  The children were very interested in all the different types of trophies and there were lots to look at as you'd expect.  We also liked looking at the various shirts and having a particular soft spot for Eric Cantona, I of course had to go and find one of his (complete with iconic collar) to take a picture of.

Ooh ahh, Cantona!

DS2 and the twins pose with the trophies

The museum is divided into various rooms and displays, including one dedicated to the Busby Babes and there is plenty of memorabilia from various parts of the club's 104 year history to take a look at.  I do think that had we just had our eldest (and less excitable!) children in tow we may have been able to take a closer look at things as there were a lot of displays to read, which takes some time.  Bearing in mind we only had half an hour to view the museum (which opens at 9.30 am - we were booked on the 10.00 am tour) I think it was all that we needed, although after our tour was over we were told that we could go back into the museum to take another look if we wanted.

Sir Alex's Tracksuit and Torch from the Olympic Torch Relay in 2012

Q&A with Sir Alex Holgram


The Stadium Tour

Once we'd taken a look at the museum we ended up in a waiting area, ready for the tour to start.  Our tour time was announced and we were introduced to our tour guide, Mike, who explained that we would be making our way around the entire stadium starting with the newest part, the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand.  One thing to note is that throughout the tour there were a lot of steps which made me think that we certainly wouldn't have been able to do this visit a few years back and I was very glad that all my children were able to walk around it with ease (although the twins got fairly tired towards the end).  The tour took about an hour and a half.

My favourite bit was being in the stadium itself and I don't think you can beat that feeling you get when you first see the size of it - it is so impressive.  It was so quiet too - quite different to match day I suspect!  We first spent a bit of time in the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand learning all about the stadium and its vast capacity (over 75,000) while sitting on the VIP seats (the difference of which is padding compared to the regular seats!), next we moved on to a section of the tour that focused on the Munich Air Disaster and were shown the memorial from that.  We then went into the press suite - a rather large room complete with many internet connections where the journalists file their reports while being fed soup, sandwiches and chips!  (I even checked the menu which had been left out ready for Sunday's game!).

My first sight of the pitch

We were shown the Directors suite (only three types of gin in the bar - tsk!) and the player's lounge and of course, the most exciting bit, the player's changing room!  Our tour guide gave us a little insight into what happens there on match day - what kit each player has and even who sits where (apparently Ryan Giggs always sits in the same spot, right in the corner).  DS2 was really excited to sit where Wayne Rooney sits - something to tell all his friends at school!

DS2 pretends to be Rooney

We were shown outside after that, to see where the directors and press sit on match day and were told all about how the TV cameras get put in the roof, back inside we were even shown the police station that they have in the stadium.  I feel that we got a really good explanation of how everything works there - something that you just don't get from watching a match on the telly!

Tour Guide Mike explains about TV cameras

The final section of the tour showed us the tunnels both old and new and we were able to walk down the original (and very steep!) tunnel out to the dugout, where we got to sit in the substitute's seats.  Being next to the pitch itself is somewhat impressive too.  I couldn't get over how neat it all looked  - I wonder if DH could get our lawn looking like that? ;).

The new tunnel

Future Moyes replacement?

Pitch side!

The subs don't seem to be dressed for the match!

At the end of the tour we watched a final video of Manchester United and then it was over!  We all applauded Mike the tour guide, he had done a fantastic job showing us around and was very patient with us all!  In fact, all the staff we met on the day were so welcoming and helpful - so thank you to them too!  The tour left us at the Manchester United Megastore and I have never seen so much football stuff in one place - it is huge!  We collected our free personalised tour certificates (one for each of the children except DS1 who being a typical teen, pretended to be completely underwhelmed by the whole experience!) which along with the ticket lanyard made a really nice memento of our day out, and then made our way home.

We thoroughly enjoyed our trip the the Museum and Stadium Tour at Manchester United.  I think it makes a fantastic and very unique day out even if, like me, you aren't the world's biggest football fan.  I was very sad to see United were beaten by Liverpool the following day - better luck next time boys!

We were given free entry to the Manchester United Museum and Stadium Tour to inform this review. All opinions are our own.

The Manchester United Museum is currently free of charge to everyone throughout March 2014.

For more information visit www.manutd.com/freemuseum. Paid Stadium Tours can also be pre booked at www.manutd.com/freemuseum or by calling 0161 868 8000.

Under 5s go free for the Stadium Tour when accompanied by one paying adult. One child under 5 can also eat free in the Red Café with one paying adult.

Standard Museum opening hours apply 9.30am-5pm (9.30pm-4pm on selected matchdays)

Please note, on evening matchdays and on Tuesday 18th March a Museum entry fee will apply from 1pm-5pm. The Museum is also closed on 16th and 29th March due to matchday preparations. Stadium Tours not available on matchdays or after 12pm on Tuesday 18th March.

Season Ticket holders, Official Members and Executive Club Members will continue to receive 50% off Stadium Tour prices.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Word of the Week

This was supposed to be last week's word, but as I was a bit pushed for time and didn't end up posting much so I've decided to carry it over to this week instead.

My word of the week is



Why?  Well just when I start to wonder whether I should be blogging at all, lovely things start to happen because of it.  Last week it was everything from a couple of good PR contacts and related opportunities from those, to somebody giving me a nice complement about my blog.

It made me realise that my blog is becoming worthwhile - be it for a small amount of promotion for something or a recipe shared or a post that makes a reader chuckle, it means something to somebody other than me.  I'm not as popular as some, I'll admit, but I'm getting there and really starting to enjoy everything along the way.


The Reading Residence

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Things that make me happy - a Groovy update

I haven't written a groovy update in a while.  The truth is there isn't really much to update!  The sun is finally shining and that makes me feel a bit groovy at least.

This last month we've been trying to think about some things we need to do to improve our surroundings.  Now that the double pushchair is long gone we can finally give some thought to decorating the hallway (and filling in the dents in the walls left by the pushchair!  I'm really not a great driver!).  I also replaced the blinds in our bedroom which had seen better days.  It is surprising how just this small change has made me feel a lot better about our bedroom and I think I'm going to make a few other changes in there - just little things but hopefully will make it feel more like ours rather than an afterthought.  It is funny but DH spent a lot of time decorating the children's bedrooms over the time we've been here but we have never found time to get ours just how we'd like. I think it is important in such a busy house that our only adult space should feel nice to spend time in.

DH made a start on getting the garden straight too.  The only thing standing in his path, quite literally, the fence which is shared with a neighbour and which fell down in last month's high winds.  Currently it is hanging over most of the left side of our garden and leaning on the twin's swing so that can't be used either.  I suspect we will need to enter into a discussion with our neighbours at some point because the responsibility for the fence is shared, although at the moment I'm feeling rather anxious about it (for reasons not worth discussing here).  This is definitely not groovy.

DH bought me some daffodils this week.  I love flowers of any kind but don't get them often.  I couldn't help but smile as the daffodils started to unfold their petals - nothing says Spring is here more than their bright yellow colour.

Spring has sprung

Kate on Thin Ice has asked in her post this week that the Groovy Mums think about how we can best support other mums who are experiencing tough times, how we like to be supported and where we take inspiration from when we are struggling.

I suppose for me support can be anything from just knowing that someone is thinking of you to practical support like giving advice, or helping someone to implement a change in their lives.  I'm lucky enough to have a family around me, who over the years have offered us a great deal of support both practical and emotional.

When our son was ill in hospital they spent time with us and him, often giving up other commitments to do that.  When our car was taken off the motorway at high speed causing enough damage to write it off, my in-laws were there in a flash and picked us up from hospital.  My mother-in-law even bought sandwiches and snacks for the children and my father-in-law and sister-in-law managed to gather enough cars and car seats so that we could get home safely from the hospital.  My own parents came back up that same motorway to visit us as soon as they heard what had happened and babysat while we sorted out new car seats, bought takeaways so we didn't have to cook and were just generally fabulous.  Funnily enough DH and I were talking about this recently and we both still do remember very clearly and appreciate what they all did on that day - I don't think thank you could even cover it!

I wouldn't say I've ever taken any inspiration from anyone although I think having children is pretty inspiring in itself.  I sometimes feel that I should be doing something new with my life and my children are the inspiration for that.  Feeling that they could benefit as much from the change as I would is a very big motivator!


Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Carte Noire Espresso Capsule Review

It might not surprise you to learn that having been no stranger to sleep deprivation over the past thirteen years of child rearing, I am a lover of all caffeinated beverages.  In fact I don't just love them, I adore them.  Coffee is my preferred way to start every day.

Most of my coffee drinking tends to be of the instant variety these days - I swing from drinking cheap as chips instant coffee one day to barista style "posh instant" the next.  I also own a Nespresso* machine too although its use has been reserved for high days and holidays more recently.  This is because the coffee, lovely as it is, is fairly expensive.  When we first bought our original machine 12 years ago I must confess that I didn't think about how much it was going to cost me in terms of restocking it and delivery charges for doing so every few months.  Over the years we have tried bulk buying the coffee (which then goes out of date), visiting their boutique at the Trafford Centre (which works OK if we're headed out that way anyway but is not worth the visit for just coffee) and ordering smaller amounts online (OK but they need ordering in multiples of 50 and they still charge the same delivery for 50, 100, 150 so not very cost effective).

By last Christmas I had almost run out of capsules and so started looking at other alternatives.  Happily there are a few out there these days.  I managed to find two websites offering compatible capsules, one YouTube video explaining how you can refill your old capsules (so messy!) and a refillable capsule on Amazon (again, messy).  Most of the compatible capsules that you can buy online for Nespresso machines still have some of the same drawbacks, namely price per capsule and online delivery.

Wouldn't it be so much easier if you could go to the supermarket and just buy 20 or so capsules with your shopping?  Well,  I was very excited to learn that Carte Noire have launched a brand new range of Nespresso compatible capsules that are available in supermarkets!  Even more exciting still, Carte Noire sent me some capsules to try out in my machine at home, so that I can tell you what I think of them!

My wonderful box of goodies from Carte Noire

First Impressions

The capsules come in boxes of 10 and unlike Nespresso branded capsules they are individually wrapped in foil pouches inside the box.  The first thing that hit me on opening the pouches up is the wonderful coffee aroma.  It is just like opening a bag of ground coffee.  I suppose this helps keep all the smell and taste of the coffee in, keeping the capsules extra fresh.  Another thing I noticed are that the best before dates are quite long on these.  Compared to my current batch of Nespresso capsules purchased at the end of last year with a best before of September 2014, the Carte Noire capsules have a date well into the middle of next year.  This is a major thumbs up for me because when we buy coffee there is inevitably one type that we don't always use up straight away, causing it to be pushed to the back of the cupboard for a while.  It is nice to know that if that happens with these, I won't necessarily be throwing out coffee with a vastly expired date when I realise it is still there.

My "Coffee Cupboard" stocked up with Carte Noire

There are four different intensities of capsule offered in the range.  The higher the number, the higher the intensity, with 3 being the least and 9 being the strongest.  There is something for everyone here and I wasn't disappointed with any of the flavours.  Also, worthy of note is that the intensity number is printed on the outer foil pouch.  I must admit that having been a Nespresso customer for many years I should know which colours of capsule are which, but I did find it much easier to select the correct flavour with the number printed on the outside of each one.

Individually sealed capsules inside the box

The capsules fit our machine with ease, although I did feel like I was forcing the closing mechanism down a fair bit compared to with my usual capsules.  Our machine (A Magimix Citiz) brewed the coffee with no trouble at all and ejected the capsules well (rather more effectively than the Nespresso ones which quite often get stuck!).  All in all I am impressed with both the packaging and usage.

So, how did we use them?

As I say, we love a good cup of coffee here.  DH and I don't always sit down together for a coffee, being quite a busy household we tend to grab drinks at various times of the day.  That's why we bought our Nespresso machine in the first place, so that we could prepare a really good cup of coffee on the fly or when we have five rare minutes to ourselves to enjoy.  I think that the Carte Noire capsules complement our drinking habits very well, here's how we tried ours out:

1.  The "I'm going to be late for the Train" Coffee

DH had overslept slightly and needed a quick wake up before running for the train to work.  "Fire up the Quattro!" he said to me (Yes, really he did, it may have been early in the morning but I do remember thinking "What??").  Now, he's no Gene Hunt (unfortunately) and rather than a fast Audi what he really wanted was a cup of decent coffee.  Nothing too strong but something tasty nonetheless.  So on went the Quattro Nespresso machine and in went a Carte Noire Capsule No 3 (Elegant).  "Nice coffee" he said - he's a man of few words, so this is a real compliment.  I had one too and would agree.  It was a nice easy drinking coffee which is light with cereal notes to the flavour.  It is really similar to one of my favourite breakfast time Nespresso pods but, as DH revealed later in the day, the flavour is really long lasting and stayed with him all the way to work, which he liked.


Firing up the "Quattro"

2.  The "Just a quick one before the School Run" Coffee

I had five minutes before we needed to leave.  Amazingly we were all on time for once and the kids had their stuff ready.  What a luxury, five minutes to myself?  I made a quick cup of coffee before I ran the gauntlet delivering the children to their various places of education.  For this quick treat I chose Carte Noire Capsule No 5 (Delicat).  The crema on top of the coffee was really thick.  It looked like I was drinking a little glass of Guinness in fact!  It is velvety and fruity in flavour.  This would normally put me off as I'm not fond of more acidic coffee blends but this was different, moreish even.  I made myself a second one soon after I returned from the school run because well, I really wanted to have another taste, simple as that!

3.  The "I'm all alone in the house with some cake" Coffee



I found Carte Noire Capsule No 7 (Aromatique) to be a perfect companion for something chocolatey.  I made mine into a cappuccino, which is possibly sacrilege of some sort as far as real coffee connoisseurs are concerned, but I don't care, it was delicious!  I tried it as an espresso too and it really is very good either way.  The flavour was just as described, hints of cocoa with nutty and caramel undertones.  It turned my left over chocolate fudge cake into something special and I'd go as far as saying that this was my favourite out of all the coffee we tried.  I have to say I savoured every mouthful, which is not something I get the chance to do very often!

4.  The "Sunday morning lie-in" Coffee

This is really my bedside table, complete with coffee

What's that?  A lie-in?  Yes really!  I have to confess that I do get these very often at the weekends now that the children are getting older.  DH is very good to me and supervises the breakfast situation so that I can stay in bed, which makes it even better.  This weekend was different however, because I decided to make myself a quick coffee and then return to bed to enjoy it in peace.  I chose a Carte Noire Capsule No 9 (Intense) to make into a latte.  I thought that the stronger flavour would come through the milk better than one of the lower numbered intensities and I wasn't disappointed.  If I am being totally honest it was better as an espresso, but is did make a very acceptable latte all the same (of course, even better on Sunday morning while sitting in bed!).

I didn't get the chance to use any of our coffee in any recipes, but I plan on using the rest of our No 9 capsules for a tiramisu at some point.  I think the earthy tobacco taste would be great in a creamy dessert.  I was cheered to find out that our local supermarket has some of the Carte Noire capsules in stock already.  I'm sure some will find their way into my shopping basket over the coming weeks.

This post is an entry in the Foodies100 Espresso Collective Challenge, sponsored by Carte Noire. Each box of Carte Noire Espresso capsules contain 10 single servings and are available in supermarkets at an RRP of £2.79 and are available in four intensities. To find out more about the new Carte Noire Collection Espresso click here

*Nespresso® is a registered trademark of a third party without any link with Mondelez International group. Compatible with all Nespresso®* machines bought before July 1, 2013. After that date, compatible with most Nespresso®* machines bought. For additional information regarding compatibility, please see UK: www.CARTENOIRE.co.uk/compatibility

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Raiders of the Lost Fridge - the Curse of the Teenager (A Multiple Choice Quiz)

We all know that teenagers can be challenging to live with at times, however some are better than others.  To help you decide where on the spectrum of reasonableness* your teen falls I've compiled a helpful** quiz for parents.

1.  You have a pint of milk left in your fridge and need to use it for cooking a meal later.  Your teen is due home any minute and you have to go to pick up their younger sibling from an after school club.  Does your teen:

a.  Drink most of the milk while you are out so that you have to feed the family an assortment of random left overs from the freezer?

b.  Make you a cup of tea on your return, leaving just enough milk for you to cook with?

c.  Surprise you by cooking the meal so that you don't have to?


Oh, thanks for that ds1...

2.  Your teenager has three pieces of homework to do.  Two of them are due tomorrow and the other one by the end of the week.  Do they:

a.  Do one piece at the last minute, after you've nagged them all evening, then remember the second piece when it's past ten o'clock, completely ignoring the third?

b.  Do the most immediate pieces of homework first and then complete the third piece the following day without being asked to?

c.  Do all of their homework at after school homework club the same day it is set?

3.  You have asked your teenager to tidy their bedroom.  Do they:

a.  Ignore you and play on their XBox - if you want the room tidy then you do it?

b.  Begrudgingly tidy just their own things from the floor, leaving their brother to tidy his stuff, then play on the XBox?

c.  Let their younger brother play on the XBox while they tidy the whole room, make the beds and run the vacuum cleaner round?

4.  It's Mothering Sunday (yay!) and you are expecting lots of great things.  Does your teenager:

a.  Forget all about it and assume that their dad will buy a card and present?

b.  Save enough pocket money to buy a card and some chocolate from the pound shop - it's the thought that counts?

c.  Make sure you get a lie in by making breakfast for everybody else and then bring you breakfast in bed.  Then surprise you by spending a month's pocket money on an amazing present, after all you do so much for them?

That's it!  The end!  It's time to check your scores.

Mostly a's

Are you me?

Mostly b's

Congratulations, you are clearly doing a great job, what's your secret?

Mostly c's

Oh my god, your teen sounds amazing!  Can we swap?***


* not an actual spectrum at all

**  may not be very helpful

***  I'm joking, he really isn't that bad... (but son, if you are reading this, there is still plenty of time to take note of question 4...).
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