Reception At Balmoral – My Sunday Photo

Our Sunday Photo this week is a throwback one – to memories of our wedding reception at Balmoral Castle. If you saw our Burns Night post this week, you would have seen that we held our wedding reception on the 250th Anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth. What a very special day to have a Burns Night supper, and at a very special venue. OK, it was just in the Piper’s Hall, but our guests got a tour of the castle, and we got to take some photos on the lawn too!

Our wedding reception, Burns Night at Balmoral Castle, Scotland
Our wedding reception, Burns Night at Balmoral Castle, Scotland

We had our actual wedding in New England in the Fall. ‘Back home’ we lived close to Balmoral at the time,  so to have a big party for all our friends and family when we returned was just amazing. Hope you enjoy sharing our memories!

A kiss at the castle, Balmoral, Scotland on Burns Night
A kiss at the castle, Balmoral, Scotland on Burns Night


Nethermined – Ticket Giveaway For This North East Event!

Nethermined is back for its 3rd year, and it promises to be bigger and better than ever!

Win tickets to the 3rd Nethermined at NSU Newcastle 11-12th Feb 2017
3rd Nethermined at NSU Newcastle

***Please note – due to unforeseen circumstances, the Sunday event has been cancelled. Nethermined will now be Saturday 11th February only***

Arriving at the NSU Newcastle on 11th & 12th February 2017, Nethermined is an unofficial Minecraft Convention aimed at 5-16 year olds and their families, and indeed anyone interested in Minecraft and gaming.

There will be workshops, game zones, exhibitions and live shows. You will also find an increased number of special Guests around the venue.  Your favourite gamers and YouTubers will gladly stop and say hello! There will be opportunities for pictures and signings throughout the event, as well as taking part in the live shows and interactive sessions.

Nethermined Convention
Nethermined Convention

A large number of Minecraft educators, innovators and mentors are collaborating to provide the best workshop experiences. Local developer Coatsink will also be bringing their newly launched game Shu to the event. There will also be a large LAN area hosted by Club Minecraft, and a Parental Education area.

Nethermined LAN area hosted by Club Minecraft
Nethermined LAN area hosted by Club Minecraft

This year’s guests have been announced. They include Ibxtoycat, PhoenixGG2, Markoodle, SeaPeeKay, PerpetualJordan, Victoriarghhh, WhiteWolfEm, Dragnoz, AdamYT, LolaLove33, TheOrionSound, SirCutieYuki, Cheridet, TheTurkeyDinosaur, Ivexushd, DangThatsALongName, JackSucksAtLife. Visit the Nethermined web page for more details and links to all of their channels, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

We are so delighted that such an amazing and fun event is taking place here in the North East, and even more delighted to be able to give one lucky Family Makes reader a pair of tickets to the event!

Winners can choose a pair of standard entry tickets to either Saturday’s 11th or Sunday’s 12th February 2017 event. All you need to do to enter is complete one or more of the actions in the Rafflecopter widget below. Each action gains you an extra entry to the draw. Draw closes on Thursday 9th February. Tickets will be sent electronically.

***Please note – due to unforeseen circumstances, the Sunday event has been cancelled. Nethermined will now be Saturday 11th February only***

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If you are not our lucky winner, you can still buy tickets from the Nethermined website.

Burns Night – How and Why We Celebrate It

A Family Makes Burns Night Supper

January 25th 2017 is the 258th anniversary of The Bard’s birth and the 103rd anniversary of my Dad’s birth. Also the 8th anniversary of our wedding reception at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, the land of our children’s birth, and my home for approx. 25 years of my life. Yes, our wedding reception was a Burns Night supper, in the Piper’s Hall at Balmoral Castle, on the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robbie Burns. Very special indeed.

Raising a glass to my Dad on Burns Night
Raising a glass to my Dad on Burns Night
Our wedding reception, Burns Night at Balmoral Castle, Scotland
Our wedding reception, Burns Night at Balmoral Castle, Scotland

Just in case anybody was wondering why an Englishman was interested in celebrating Burns Night!

A kiss at the castle, Balmoral, Scotland on Burns Night
A kiss at the castle, Balmoral, Scotland on Burns Night

So, here we are, exiled 100 miles south of the Border, contemplating our meal on Wednesday night. How do you celebrate Burns night when the attendees total 2 adults and 2 primary school kids? The meal itself is simple enough. There’s tatties (mashed), neeps (champit), and of course, that most revered of Scottish delicacies (not including deep fried mars bars…), the Haggis*. Although the kids haven’t quite developed a taste for haggis yet, so we have sausages on standby for them! So that’s bangers and mash then!

*Rough translations – Tatties = potatoes. Neeps = turnips (or swede). Haggis =  a savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach[1] though now often in an artificial casing instead. According to the 2001 English edition of the Larousse Gastronomique: “Although its description is not immediately appealing, haggis has an excellent nutty texture and delicious savoury flavour“.[2]

*Wikipedia also tells us: the dish came to be considered traditionally Scottish, even the national dish,[6] as a result of Scots poet Robert Burns‘ poem Address to a Haggis of 1787.

Burns Night gone posh - fancy Haggis, neeps & tatties by Paul
Burns Night gone posh – fancy Haggis, neeps & tatties by Paul

Traditionally, the rest of the evening for a Burns supper would consist of whisky, poetry recitals, whisky, songs, whisky, toasts, whisky, funny stories and anecdotes, and more whisky. Followed by even more whisky…

Things are slightly more sober in the Family Makes house. Yes, I dress in full Highland Regalia (and refuse to confirm or deny whether I dress as a true Scot would)! These days we also manage to quell the cries from our children of “It’s a skirt! Daddy’s in a skirt!”. And I also ‘Address the Haggis’ and say the Selkirk Grace before the meal.

Cal also insists on a traditional Scottish dessert, as she is the dessert queen! It’s usually a raspberry cranachan (served in her vintage Mailing bowls!)

A traditional Scottish dessert, raspberry cranachan for Burns Night supper
A traditional Scottish dessert, raspberry cranachan, for Burns Night supper

The music is provided by Eddi Reader. She recorded a fantastic live album based on the works of Robbie Burns. Her rendition of ‘My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose’ was the song that greeted Carol as she walked into our wedding ceremony.  And of course we have a dram or two. Well, it would be rude not to, would it not?

“0, my luve is like a red, red rose,
that’s newly sprung in June.
0, my heart is like a melody,
that’s sweetly played in tune.
As fair thou art, my bonnie lass,
so deep in luve am I,
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
till all the seas gang dry.”

Wherever you are, Happy Burns Night (Nicht), and I’ll leave Robbie with the final word…

“May Freedom, Harmony, and Love, unite you in the grand Design,
Beneath th’ Omniscient Eye above, the glorious Architect Divine,
That you may keep th’ unerring line, still rising by the plummet’s law,
Till Order bright completely shine, shall be my pray’r when far awa.”

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Burns Night - see how and why we celebrate it
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First News Review – Our First Impressions

First News is a weekly newspaper aimed at children in the age range of 7-14 years. We’ve been sent two copies now, and they have gone down very well with my boys, ages 8 & 10.

What they like about it:

The boys felt very excited about something coming through the door which was for them. They also felt very grown up about having a proper newspaper, not just a comic which was full of cartoons.

Hugo looks very grown up reading his 'First News' newspaper
Hugo looks very grown up reading his ‘First News’ newspaper

They really enjoyed the subject matter – everything from World News and Home News to the science, technology, nature and sports. Every topic seemed to interest them. It was all explained in a clear and engaging way.

Toby, my youngest, especially enjoyed the puzzles and other interactive quizzes where he could get a pen out and take part, and Hugo, in particular, was pleased to see Harry Potter featured, as well as ‘coming soon’ type features that he could go to school and tell his friends about. Everyone wants to be the first to hear about things!

Toby enjoyed First News' quizzes and puzzles
Toby enjoyed First News’ quizzes and puzzles

What I liked about it:

They were reading! Yes, without my nagging or cajoling, my ‘typical’ boys who would rather be playing Xbox games or football, or doing anything but homework, were reading! Not only this, but they were happily reading things which were educational, informative and very useful indeed.

World news and features about animals were very popular
World news and features about animals were very popular

It was so good that I allowed them to record it in their school reading record, in place of their usual reading books. This is what they wrote (yes, they were writing as well!)

H: “This is a newspaper to tell me about my near future in 2017, and so far it has told me everything from Sweden to Turkey. It is brilliant as I know what is going on all around me and in other places.”

T: “A new newspaper for kids came a few days ago, with a lot of information in it. So I got straight to reading it!”…and then….

” Issue number 2  turned up at our door today and talked about protecting jaguars and celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. “

I also liked how much discussion and intellectual debate reading First News sparked in our family. We are always happy when topical discussion occurs, and are pleased to answer questions which show that our children are genuinely interested in understanding the world around them.

I’m really pleased that my children are also keen to share First News with their friends. I can definitely see this publication being very useful in schools too, either in the classroom or school libraries.

Lots of interesting facts to share from First News
Lots of interesting facts to share

Special Offer

If you are interested in having First News for your family, we have a promotion code so that you can access an exclusive offer for a subscription.  The price is 5 issues for £1 (on direct debit).  This is a trial offer.  After the 5 issues it continues as a price of £15.99 every 3 months.

Please follow this link to access the deal

Most people choose to continue with the subscription.  However, there is no obligation and the customer can call or email to cancel the subscription at any point and no further money will be taken.  (This is for the print edition of the newspaper only.)

We hope you enjoy your subscription as much as we are enjoying ours. I can see it being a very useful thing to have for a considerable time in our family.

With thanks to First News for giving us a subscription in return for this review. All opinions are entirely honest and our own.

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Hannah Spannah

When Is The Best Time To Ski?

At long last, winter seems to have arrived. Even here at the coast we had a covering of snow. The ducks have had fun skating on the pond, leaving the poor heron to gaze longingly at the fish who were swimming about in safety under the ice. So, while a few cms of slush brought the usual headlines screaming ‘New Ice Age is Upon Us’ from the tabloids, the rest of Europe and North America carried on as usual through proper winter weather of blizzards and bone chilling cold. Quite a change from a couple of weeks ago when there were tales of doom and gloom coming from the snow-starved ski resorts in the Alps.

Alpe d'Huez, France
Alpe d’Huez, France

Which got me to thinking, when exactly IS the best time to arrange a ski trip to the mountains in winter?

Many of us, of course, are limited to travel during school holidays, when prices are at their highest. In practice, this means Christmas, New Year, February half-term or Easter. Of these dates, Christmas and Easter tend to have lower prices than the other holiday times.  I guess the reason is partly weather related, since early season snow can be very hit and miss (this year being a prime example), and if Easter is later in April (again, like this year), the risk is that rising temperatures, long days and stronger sun will melt the snow. Another reason may be that some folk are reticent to put skiing before being at home with their family at Christmas.

When not encumbered by fixed holiday dates, most people would choose to ski when there is the best chance of the perfect mix of good snow and good weather. In this regard, February is a good bet. You’ve heard of February fill dyke? Well, that same tradition means that February is often the snowiest month in the Northern Hemisphere since the atmosphere is at its coldest at this time. Also, the days are significantly longer and the sun is getting a little bit more bite than in December and January, so it certainly feels warmer when it makes an appearance. March too can be a great month, especially if you choose a higher resort, say 1600m+, preferably with access to altitudes of 2500m or more.

Those are general  rules of thumb,

but the weather will do what the weather will do. I skied in Italy at Christmas 3 years ago, and the runs were closed for 3 days due to avalanche risk following a 2-metre snowfall. Twenty years ago I remember skiing in February at over 3000 metres on what can only be described as a vertical frozen waterfall, so poor was the alpine snow!

Sometimes you can ski on ice like a frozen waterfall!
Almost a frozen waterfall!

These days I can be reasonably flexible with which school holiday week to go away, so will leave it until the last minute to see what the weather is like. I also like to try and bag a bargain! If you hold your nerve, you can often get an outstanding deal. The Christmas deal I referred to above in Italy was a full board deal for our family of four. I reckon it was almost as cheap as what we’d have spent had we stayed at home!

So, in a nutshell, aim for mid-season. If you have no kids, avoid school holidays at all costs, the queues can be horrific! If you’re planning on going early or late season, aim high, preferably in a resort with access to a glacier.

Choose a resort with access to a glacier to guarantee the chance of skiing
Glacier skiing

Alternatively, try a wild-card destination. The Rockies of North America are snow-sure all season long, as is Scandinavia. Both can be very cold, but my experience of Scandinavia is that -30 there is nowhere near as terrible as it sounds. New England is also a destination to consider. A relatively short hop across the pond to Boston, followed by a couple of hours drive, and you’re there in the mountains. There are literally dozens of ski stations to choose from. We are heading there this year, so watch out for our recommendations.

Planning your trip is half the fun, so what are you waiting for? The snow is finally here. See you in the mountains folks…

Paul's Apres Ski
Paul’s Apres Ski

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Read about the best times to ski, and how to choose the best places for skiing to maximise your ski opportunities
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How To Make An Anglo-Saxon House Model

Today we’re showing you how to make a model of an Anglo-Saxon house. You guessed it, another homework challenge! I absolutely relish these build at home challenges, but I’m aware that they make some parents (and children) cringe, so we’re here to help you!

Firstly, a very quick background history. The Anglo-Saxons came between the Romans and the Vikings in Britain. So around the period AD 400. They ruled England for 600 years, and formed the basis of its culture, language and borders.

They set up in mostly small settlements, and built their houses from wood with thatched roofs. The houses were one room, and had a hearth with a fire for cooking, heat and light. The fire had a metal cooking pot hanging from a metal chain above it. A small room next door sometimes housed the animals, and they were also kept outside the house in small pens.

Here, Hugo shows how he made his model:

Our model of an Anglo-Saxon house was not the best one presented. We should have perhaps used straw for our thatched roof, but it is difficult to buy in small quantities. It’s great if you have a horse, or keep rabbits or chickens though – you probably have plenty of straw to spare! We also made it quite small, using a cat food box, but Hugo insisted he wanted to use this as he liked the ‘flap’ effect to enable you to look inside. Some of the bigger ones were very impressive!

What have you had to make for your homework lately? Come and share it with us!

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How to make an Anglo-Saxon house, witha demonstration video here. History homework sorted!
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Top 10 Ski Resorts For Beginners – Our Recommendations

Well, that’s Christmas and New Year done and dusted. Thoughts now move on to our next adventure as we start to get ready for our annual skiing trip. This year we’re returning to the other side of the pond, we’re off to New England. We got a great deal with Virgin holidays, despite the fact we’re going over the peak half-term week. The kids are no longer beginners, they are getting quite adventurous now, and I thought it was about time they spent some time on the slopes with dad. Somewhere not too difficult, but somewhere that non-skiing mum won’t be too bored either. Cal’s had a bit of a tough year, with continuing health issues, so a nice hotel with leisure facilities, adjacent to tax-free shopping, and with flights from our local airport, is just what the doctor ordered!

Collecting icicles in Austria
Collecting icicles in Austria

All of which got me reminiscing about the very first time I went skiing, back in 1978. A group of us had been away on holidays for the past couple of summers, and started musing about where to go the following year. In a moment of youthful impertinence, I suggested that perhaps we should do a winter trip instead and try skiing. After all, we used to go ice skating every weekend at Altrincham ice rink, so if you can ice skate, you can ski, right? To my amazement, everyone thought it was a great idea, and left me to make the arrangements.

And so, in the middle of a freezing January, we arrived at our rented bungalow in Aviemore, following a nightmare 24 hour journey through snow and freezing fog. I won’t bore you with every detail of our first time ‘on the slopes,’ but it wasn’t exactly what we were expecting. The road to the ski runs was closed due to bad weather (Aviemore is about 10 miles from Cairngorm, no ski-in, ski-out luxury here…), so we took our first tentative turns on the dry slope, and I still have the scars to prove it! The mountain was shut most of the week, so the only snow we got to ski on was the dusting on top of the dry slope. It was rubbish. Little wonder that of the 6 beginners that made the trip, only 1 actually persisted with skiing in later life.

Of course, we’re all wiser with hindsight, so where would I have planned to go for a beginners’ ski trip nowadays? Well, with apologies to the Scottish Tourist Board, it wouldn’t be Scotland (unless you live close to the slopes, which is a different matter). Europe has literally hundreds of ski resorts to choose from, so how to choose one for complete beginners?

A few suggestions follow, but they all have similar criteria for inclusion.

  • They need to have ‘nursery slopes’ (runs to learn on) close to your accommodation – there’s nothing more dispiriting than long walks or packed bus trips from hotels to the slopes, and back again.
  • They need an extensive range of easy slopes for when you progress on to the mountain itself.
  • A good ski school that can communicate in English is a must (especially for children).
  • There needs to be plenty of non-skiing activities, just in case you decide skiing isn’t your bag.
  • And finally, there should be decent apres-ski. After all, skiing is not just about the skiing. Ask any skier!

    Paul's Apres Ski
    Paul’s Apres Ski

So here’s my list, it’s not exhaustive, they’re in country order rather than order of preference, and I’ve not been to all of them myself, but they would certainly be on my short list if I had to start all over again…

  1. Arinsal, Andorra.

Small, pretty resort in the Pyrenees, with wide open easy pistes into the village, and a good English speaking ski school. It doesn’t attract the speed freaks or tipsy revellers that neighbouring Pas de la Casa does. Great for a first ski holiday on a budget.

Wide sweeping ski slopes in Andorra
Wide sweeping ski slopes in Andorra
  1. Obergurgl, Austria.

Nursery slopes next to hotels. Good apres ski. Uncrowded slopes through the week. English speaking ski school. We went there last year, and our kids really came on well. Toby could hardly stand upright on his skis at the start of the week, but was managing blues and reds by the end. Hugo was doing blacks, and actually wore the (Irish) ski instructor out to tears on the last day!

Obergurgl, Austria Ski Resort, great for beginners
Obergurgl, Austria Ski Resort
  1. Alpbach, Austria.

One of the prettiest resorts anywhere. Traditional Tyrolean charm, lots of nice walks and good hotels with leisure facilities for non-skiers. Easy tree-lined runs for beginners. Short transfers from the airport.

It’s always worth looking at the resort’s webcams. Alpbach’s are fantastic!

  1. Les Arcs, France.

Arc 1800 is probably best for beginners, as the slopes adjacent to the accommodations are all easy and ski-in, ski-out. Les Arcs is well known for its excellent, progressive ski school, and whilst the resorts (as in much of France) are purpose-built and a bit lacking in charm, the apres ski and facilities are excellent. If you want a bit more charm (at higher cost), try Arc 1950.

Les Arcs, France ski resort
Les Arcs, France ski resort

5. Alpe d’Huez, France.

Huge beginners areas adjacent to the resort, excellent ski school. It is high and snow sure, and the town itself is quite large with plenty to see and do apart from skiing.

Alpe d'Huez, France
Alpe d’Huez, France
  1. Bardonecchia, Italy.

This is a good sized town, not purpose built, and has an authentic lived-in feel to it. The best ski accommodation is just outside the town in Campo Smith, next to the lifts. There are plenty of nursery areas, and tree lined green and blue runs for when you’re ready to take to the mountain proper. The food, both on and off the mountain, is as you would expect in Italy, fantastic, and plentiful. Don’t forget a grappa or bombardino at the end of the day!

  1. Passo Tonale, Italy.

High and snow sure, with runs radiating out from the long village. Most of the runs into the village are easy,  wide and sunny. Quite a large village, and much of the apres ski tends to be hotel based, although there are plenty of bars dotted about.

Italian Skiing for beginners
Italian Skiing
  1. Saas-Fee, Switzerland.

High and snow sure, surrounded by a spectacular amphitheatre of 4000 metre peaks and glaciers. The town itself is car free, you get to the lifts by small electric powered buses, or even a novelty train. The beginners runs are extensive, and once you’ve progressed to the mountain, there are long wide blue runs to bring you back to the village. Great apres ski, and plenty of non-skiing activities to keep you entertained, including a long toboggan run, a glacier that you can have a tour through, and the world’s highest revolving restaurant with spectacular 360 degree views!

Saas-Fee as the sun comes up
Saas-Fee as the sun comes up
  1. Norway (most resorts, but especially Hemsedal, Geilo, Beitostolen, Trysil etc.).

A bit of a wild card this, but many Scandinavian resorts are particularly good for families first time skiing. Don’t worry too much about the lack of daylight in these northern climes, they are experts in floodlighting the runs. Night skiing is brilliant, you can see every lump and bump in the snow. A ski lift up a silent mountainside with the moon overhead is magical. The ski schools are fantastic and they all probably speak better English than you do! The only downside is the price of booze, but if you take your full allowance of duty-free (Norway isn’t in the EU), it shouldn’t be too bad.

Skiing for beginners in Trysil, Norway
Trysil, Norway
  1. Lapland.

Again, a bit of a wild card, but if you want to take the kids to see Santa, or want to see the Northern Lights, then why not combine it with a first time ski trip? Out of season (i.e. after Christmas), the costs come right down. Like Norway, the daylight is limited – but see above about floodlit slopes. It can be very cold (but a dry cold, -30C here doesn’t feel nearly as bad as it sounds…). The runs are mostly gentle, English is widely spoken, and the accommodation is top notch. Plenty of snow related non-ski adventures await, like snowmobiling, dog sledding, or ice fishing. Again, booze is a bit more expensive, but not prohibitively so.

Northern Lights in Lapland
Northern Lights in Lapland

Remember, I haven’t been to all of these places, so please do plenty of your own research. Good luck, and welcome to a lifetime of skiing fun!

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A Comper’s Wish List – Focus on Winning Competitions

I was a comper before I was a blogger. I would enter competitions every single day. Then I had to let it slide when we started this blog, as two time-consuming hobbies didn’t sit well with family life. Recently I started doing some comping again, so I’m sharing my comper’s wish list for 2017.

What is a comper’s wish list, and why do I need one?

Make a comper's wish list - which competitions would you like to win?
Make a wish list

Well, I’ve taken advice from the Queen of Competitions, Di Coke, who shares many comping tips on her website Superlucky Me. Focussing on what you want to win is a good tactic. It helps save time entering competitions for prizes you don’t really want, and encourages a positive mindset. You can search for the prizes you want or need, and are much more likely to be successful.  It also makes your time more manageable and stops you feeling overwhelmed.

You can also record your success against your wishlist, which is very motivating. And if all else fails, you’ve got a great birthday or Christmas present wishlist!

I find inspiration from competition websites, where I can browse through and see the type of prizes on offer and easily choose which I would like to win. In the run up to Christmas my focus shifts to toys and other things for my family. I also add to the list anything I might need but can’t really afford at the moment (like a new bed), or things I know are on their way out (like a laptop).

I had a very lucky month in October, when I first started doing competitions again (which I wrote about here), but not much since. I’m not giving in easily though, I’ve made a long list of wishes here!

  • Robot vacuum cleaner
  • Air fryer
  • Nutri-Bullet style blender
  • Stand mixer
  • Holiday – especially America – Florida, New York or Vegas, or Niagra Falls, or a ski holiday
  • Camera – especially one good for blogging
  • New bed
  • TV (preferably curved)
  • Laptop for Paul
  • Ride on Lawnmower (also a dream for Paul)
  • Raised flowerbeds or other garden decorative items
  • Garden shed/office/den
  • What are you wishing for? Have you made a list? Whatever it is, I wish you good luck!

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A comper's wish list - focus on winning competitions
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