Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The New Blog Is LIVE!

I have now moved to the new site, I really hope you will join me in Zoe & Drew's new home


I look forward to seeing you there!

Zoe
x

Friday, 8 June 2012

New Blog is Almost Ready

Morning! I hope you are all well and having a good half term.  Unfortunately myself and a couple of the children have been struck by some horrid bug yesterday, but are now recovering.  This has unfortunately slowed me down in launching the new blogsite but I am planning to share with you all next Monday.  I am so excited about the new site and the new features I am offering, all to be revealed very soon.  I have also started planning some great summer posts and have a new team member to help me expand my coverage of products for the 0-5 age range.  A new site will mean that Zoe & Drew can keep getting bigger and better. 



I also wanted to share a couple of other things with you.  Just when we thought it was safe to take down the bunting Euro 2012 starts today and I have posted a fab football party inspiration board over on Let's Plan A Party.  Hopefully it will be helpful in planning a party for your budding Beckhams.  Also I wanted to share something I read in a tweet from The Design Trust earlier today, with the opportunity for funding for creative projects.  This seems like a great opportunity and something I am looking into to help get a huge project off the ground that I am working on behind the scenes with a very dear friend.

I'm off now to recover properly and will put the finishing touches to the new site this weekend.

Have a fab weekend,

Zoe
x

P.S. If you would like to find out more about placing an advert in The Directory, a new feature on the new site (pictured above), please email thedirectory@zoeanddrew.co.uk for a media pack.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Kit Heath Giveaway Winner

Hello, just popping back to announce the Kit Heath giveaway winner. So drum roll please............


The winner is Lisa Williams
Congratulations!

 I will now contact Lisa to confirm her address so that her prize can be sent as soon as possible.  Be sure to keep reading as I am hoping to have some fabulous giveaways throughout the summer.

Enjoy the rest of your day,
Zoe
x

Our Jubilee Roundup

Morning! I hope you all had an amazing weekend.  After watching the Jubilee pageant and the Jubilee concert I felt incredibly proud to be British.  With union jacks flying, bunting streamed around our country I am sure we all felt the same way.  Celebrations have been fun here in our village, starting on Saturday morning with a fun run.  The youngest villagers started the races with lap of the football pitch, then Kitty ran two laps of the pitch in her race for 5-7 year olds.  She wasn't fazed when I realised she had to run two laps, not one, but smiled and carried on running! Next Lucy and Amber ran three laps of the football pitch, however their race got off to a rather fast start which left many of the runners with a stitch by the third lap, yet both girls ran well and had fun.  Connnor and Jack were in the 12-15 year old category, which was running alongside the adults, due to the restrictions on the time we were allowed to close the roads in the village.  After a lap of the football pitch the runners headed off for 5km around the village, whilst Kitty, Lucy and Amber played in the park with their friends.  The wait wasn't too long before the runners started appearing across the playing field and Jack was amongst the first three runners to appear.  But their race wasn't over and they still had another two laps of the football pitch to finish the full 5km! Jack kept his third place, finishing first for his age group and third overall.  Connor wasn't far behind and finished in the Top 10 of his age group and Top 20 overall.  I was incredibly proud of all my children and they all came away with tired legs and special Jubilee wristbands to be tresured for years to come.


Jubilee cupcakes made by Drew


Sunday was a quieter day here, so we took some time to catch up on some jobs and watch the Jubilee pageant.  I know many of you headed to the Embankment to wave your flags and cheer on this amazing flotilla along the Thames.  What an occasion to witness, I am sure you will be treasuring such memories forever.


Amber & Kitty at the Jubilee Tea Party

We woke on Monday to grey skies and drizzle, which didn't bode well for the Jubilee Tea Party at the village school later in the afternoon.  However the sun broke through, the clouds turned to white and the party could go ahead outside on the school playground and field. Phew! The girls and I spent the morning making crowns and tiaras for the headwear fancy dress competition, whilst Drew baked cakes fit for any Jubilee celebration.    Finally it was time to head to the party, it had been a long wait for Kitty who was very excited.  There were fun games and the fancy dress parade, followed by plenty of food and special cakes.  Then the village postie and his band played whilst the children played unihoc, football, skipped with hula hoops and blew bubbles.  The party came to an end with a Tug o' War, which we of course joined in.  This was a wonderful party and I hope the girls remember it when they think back to 2012.


Kitty playing at the Jubilee Tea Party


Our evening was spent watching the Jubilee concert at Buckingham Palace, with mixed opinions on the performer choices, but certainly enjoyed most of it.  The graphics projected onto the palace all night were amazing, the highlight for me being when Madness were singing on the roof.  A good ol' sing song and I was pleased that Connor, Jack & Lucy knew the words to the old songs aswell as the new!

This was a huge celebration and one I will not forget in a very long time.  I am sure we will all remember 2012 for the Jubilee and our own celebrations aswell as the big ceremonies and parties.  Today I am proud to be British.  Let's keep those flags and bunting flying, as we look forward to the olympics and remember why Britain is Great.

How did you celebrate? I hope you had fun however you celebrated.  Be sure to share some photos as I would love to do a round up of Jubilee celebrations, wherever you are in the world.

Enjoy your day,
Zoe
x

Friday, 1 June 2012

Celebrate the Jubilee with British Design

Morning! It's Friday and I am looking forward to a lovely long weekend.  Although I will be sneaking in a little work as I finish the new blog but I will also be making sure I spend lots of time with my family.  There are all sorts of things going on in our village this weekend to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee and we will of course be hanging out some bunting in the garden.  I also plan to watch the Jubilee River Pageant and the Jubilee Concert from the comfort of my sofa, but if you are lucky enough to be attending please share some photos with me, perhaps I can even share some here on the blog.  I was only tiny when the Queen celebrated her Silver Jubilee but I have a large coin to commemerate this special occasion.  I also have one of these coins to celebrate Prince Charles marrying Lady Diana, I think I also had a mug. Teatowels, mugs and other souveniers are still wonderful commemerative products for such special royal occasions but I am pleased to say the designs now are far better than previously.  So for todays post I thought I would pick out some of the best products that celebrate the Diamond Jubilee over on Not On The High Street, designed and made here in Britain.



Jubilee Plate from Gallery Thea
Jubilee Mugs from Catherine Daley Designs



Jubilee Hearts Picture from Little Cherub Design
Diamond Jubilee Screenprint from Susan Taylor



Jubilee Teaparty Teatowel from Victoria Eggs


Have a wonderful weekend everyone, stay safe and enjoy the celebrations.
Zoe
x

Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Big eCommerce Conference - Part 2

Welcome back! Thank you for all you lovely comments and feedback about my write up so far of The Big eCommerce Conference.  The next seminar was delivered by Suzanne Dibble, who I know from Twitter (@law4mumprenuers).  With the brand new Cookie Law coming in to play a couple of days before the conference Suzanne was keen to teach us what this meant to our websites.  For those that think the only cookie is filled with chocolate chips, Suzanne explained what internet cookies are and what they do.  Cookies store data of website users, which is done in the background without us knowing and tracks users habits on various websites.  I reguarly delete my cookie history on my own laptop and advise you all to do so too, as too many cookies from the internet has a similar affect as real cookies, it makes your system sluggish and slow! 

With the new EU law coming into play here in the UK this month we now all need to make sure we are compliant.  However at the eleventh hour the directive shifted the goalposts as there were concerns that the new cookie law would affect an already struggling British economy.  So should we all be rushing to ensure we have a cookie policy on our websites? A question that remains unanswered however Suzanne advised that we should all try to comply with the new laws.  Therefore you will need an opt-in consent form for all users of your website. Businesses can get a cookie policy widget from www.heartinternet.co.uk/eu-cookie-law.html and there is also a Wordpress plugin available for cookie consent, I am yet to find one, but will let you know when I get a moment to look! 

Another point raised by Suzanne whilst discussing cookie law was the need for websites to have a privacy policy.  The cookie policy can be an extension of your privacy policy.  As a blogger I am not yet sure how this all affects me and I assure you I am investigating this and when I know I will update you, incase as bloggers we need to take action.

Pinterest is still a hot topic for debate with regards to copyright law and I am not even going to try and tackle this hot potato as so many other bloggers have dealt with it so well.  At the end of the day you need to decide about using Pinterest, but I urge you all to pin carefully and wisely, ensuring the links you pin from are the original image source.  If you do not want people to pin from your blog or website there is a code available to block pinners.

Suzanne then moved onto explain that Twitter, Facebook and Blogs all come under the CAP Code, the Committee of Advertising Practice.  All advertising must be legal, decent, honest and truthful.  You can sign up for email updates regarding the CAP code here.  Continuing the seminar we were reminded that all email marketing should be done with opt in boxes, to ensure we were gaining peoples permission to send regular email newsletters or campaigns and that as direct sellers we must ensure we have a 7 day cooling off period period. 

The internet is so huge that measuring and ensuring compliance to the numerous laws is a huge undertaking and we all know that there will always be somebody avoiding compliance.  However I think it is important as responsible business owners that we should make sure our own affairs are in order and legal to avoid future reprimands that could affect our businesses dramatically.

What are your thoughts? I know as small businesses we have so many hats to wear and law is probably the most complicated.  Suzanne's website can be found at www.lawyers4mumprenuers.com if you would like some help with understanding the legal minefield.

I will be back tomorrow with more ideas and information from the conference as well as some fabulous finds to commemorate The Queens Diamond Jubilee.

Have a wonderful afternoon,
Zoe
x

Family Fun - National Maritime Museum

Morning! I hope you are all well and I expect you are looking forward to the long weekend ahead.  Contining my ideas for family fun in London I have found a great activity at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.  With the River Thames being a focal point of the Jubilee celebrations, especially with the Thames River Pageant, what better way to get involved than attempt to build your own Flotilla!  Throughout half term you can join one of the twice daily workshops at the musem to create your own barge or boat, that can then contribute to a giant Jubilee flotilla display. 



Whilst in Greenwich you really should visit the Cutty Sark.  Just a few weeks ago this beautiful tea clipper has started welcoming visitors onto her decks again, after having to be restored after fire almost destroyed her.  Over the bank holiday weekend children can join the special workshops to design a souvenir mug or cup to celebrate someone who is important to them.  This activity is free with your Cutty Sark ticket.  I remember visiting the Cutty Sark as a child and being quite awestruck by it's size.  She really is a beautiful ship and apparently you can now get underneath, something I don't remember doing, where you can sit in the cafe and enjoy a cup of Twinings tea.  Sounds perfect!

Have you visited the Cutty Sark since her restoration? I am sure it is wonderful and I know that you can buy souvenirs made by Snapdragon, specially designed for their visitors shop.  So even a great tourist attraction such as this supports British small business, which is fantastic.

Have a wonderful day and I'm hoping to post the next installment from the conference later today.

Zoe
x

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Big eCommerce Conference - Part 1

Yesterday I set off early to travel down to Woking to attend The Big eCommerce Conference, hosted by b:web.  I have chatted with Zoe Brown, the MD of b:web, on Twitter for a while and know how passionate she is about helping small businesses get the most from their websites. Some of you may remember that  Zoe was the designer behind the Riot Raffle website.  So I was thrilled to be able to finally meet Zoe and her team.  I was also able to finally meet Isa Maria, of The Noisette Academy.  Isa has become a dear friend via twitter and email and has been somebody I have wanted to meet in person for a long while.  Fresh from her trip to Rwanda, Isa is full of ideas and plans so be sure to join her on The Noisette Academy and follow her progress.  Joining Isa and I at our table were Gabrielle of The Green Gables and Katie of What Katie Did Next.  I have met both Gabrielle and Katie previously and was delighted to meet up with them both again.

Leather & Liberty Print Purse from What Katie Did Next


I know from all of the tweets you sent me, thanking me for the live tweets from the conference and the RT's, that many of you want to know more about what I learnt yesterday.  I want to share so much with you all but because I have come away with pages of advice and ideas I don't now want to write a huge essay of a post! So I am going to spread it out over the next few days and as so many of you are small businesses, online and as 'real' retailers, I hope it all helps.  I will aim to condense the content from the conference, offering you all the key points from the different seminars and workshops. So here goes!

Having perused the conference programme I was still undecided which workshops to attend, but the line up was impressive.  The speakers were all informative and most were inspiring.  The first seminar was with Matt McNeill, an email marketing expert and founder of Sign-Up.to.   Having been planning to start weekly email newsletters as part of the bigger and even better Zoe & Drew I was keen to learn about planning and running sucessful email campaigns.  Matt's seminar was incredibly informative and I have plenty of notes to help me create my own email newsletters that people will open.  Interestingly Matt stated that email marketing has the highest return with £1 spend creating £40 revenue.  Key factors for good email marketing include -
  • Build expectation - tell people how often they will receive your email newsltters.
  • Sell it to them - give people a reason to sign up, perhaps you will share product previews, discount codes, exclusive offers.
  • Keep subject line short and concise, no more than 50 characters - make people want to open your email.
  • Never have photo heavy content - often emails are opened on mobil devices which often leave blanks where images should be. People will just click delete.
  • Best time to send email newsletters/campaigns are Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday during office hours.  Optimum time to send - Thursday around 11am!
I then had to choose which workshop to attend and chose 'Sucessful Online Local Retailing' which proved very interesting.  In  a world doiminated by internet shopping it was interesting to see how local retailers are adapting to the online and real worlds of retail.  I defiantely believe there is a shift in our retail habits as we crave real shopping experiences yet still need the options of online shopping.  James Puddicombe of Voodoo, explained one of the key factors is community.  Local reatilers can be part of online shopping communities but also be part of our real communities. They know what we want as local shoppers and can be part of our community.  Local retailers are often passionate about what they sell and this means their marketing is authentic as they know and love what they sell.  They should also use this when writing the copy for their websites, using their own voices, not generic product descriptions that you find on websites such as Amazon.  So even though there are so many website selling similar products, local retailers can suceed in the online market as well as their local market, by being passionate and owning their niche, their topic. 

Do you already send email newsletters? Have you found a tried and tested method that works? Do you agree that there is a shift in our shopping habits? I would love to know what you all think.  Now seems a good place to stop as the conference took a coffee break! So I will be back soon with more, including ways to stop you using social media to much and why you need to be blogging for your business.

Have a fab day,
Zoe
x

Carddies Giveaway Winner

Hello! I hope you are all having a fab day. Just popped back to annouce the winner of the Carddies Giveaway.  So drumroll please.....................

The winner is
Becca (@littleacceb)

Congratulations!

I will now contact Becca and arrange for her prize to be sent.  Thank you to everyone who entered and to the wonderful team at Carddies.

Enjoy the rest of your day,
Zoe
x


Diamond Jubilee - Street Party Food

Morning! It's almost upon us, the long bank holiday weekend to celebrate The Queens 60 year reign.  The bunting is fluttering in the breeze, union jacks are hanging across the main roads of the centre of the capital and there is an air of anticipation and excitement across our beautiful country.  On Monday I am taking Lucy, Amber and Kitty to a Diamond Jubilee street party at their school.  We will be taking plates of homemade cakes, whilst others are bringing the sandwiches and sausage rolls.  The village postie and his band will be playing and there are lots of fun games planned.  Having already posted inspiration for a Jubilee Street Party on Let's Plan A Party, I thought I would share some foodie ideas for your own street parties. 



Yummy sausage rolls made by Drew for his own blog


Easy to pick up and eat food is essential at a street party, or finger food as some might call it.  Sandwiches should be cut into fingers with the crusts removed, well this is a royal celebration!  Of course cucumber sandwiches are a must, as well some delicious British cheddar and pickle, ham and mustard and of course Coronation Chicken





Victoria sandwiches or smaller versions are part of traditional British tea and scones should be served with homemade strawberry jam and lashings of clotted cream.  Plastic beakers filled with British strawberries, sprinkled with sugar and topped with a swirl of whipped cream are perfect.  You could also serve apple crumble in little pots alongside small pots of trifle.  Children and adults all love jelly and what's a party without jelly! 


Grenadier Guard Cookies
Cookies from an English themed party I featured on Let's Plan A Party from The Inspired Occasion.

Cakes or cheesecakes can be topped with berries in the style of the union jack. You could make cookies cut to be the Grenadier Guards or crowns.


To quench all the partygoers thirst large jugs of homemade lemonade, elderflower cordial mixed with sparkling water, ginger beer or endless cups of tea served in vintage china.  Or maybe some of the grown ups will prefer something a little stronger, so jugs of Pimm's or barrels of real ale or bottles of cider will be needed!

Have you any other great ideas? Be sure to share below.

Enjoy your day,
Zoe
x

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Family Friendly Afternoon Tea in London

Morning! I am out today at The Big eCommerce conference and am very excited to finally meet Zoe Brown of bweb, the wonderful lady who put together the Riot Raffle website in a very short time, last August.  I am also finally going to meet Isa Maria of Noisette Academy, eeeeek, I am soooo excited.  I have been friends with Isa for nearly two years via Twitter and emails and now I can finally meet this amazing, inspiring lady, who has just returned from her trip to Rwanda, delivering sewing kits to ladies there trying to earn a living to feed and clothe their children.  Isa started the Empowerment Project to raise funds for these sewing kits shortly before her trip and managed to deliver over 50 sewing kits. 

Whilst travelling to the conference I am a little disappointed that the only part of London I will see is stations and not get to experience the hype as the capital prepares for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations this weekend.  Hopefully the union jacks will still be flying when I visit London in a couple of weeks.  For todays post I thought I would share some wonderful venues for you and your families to enjoy a delicious afternoon tea in London, where children are very welcome to indulge their sweet tooth aswell. 

Teddy's Tea Time at The Montcalm, Park Lane

image courtesy of The Montcalm


Last month The Montcalm launched their special Teddy's Tea Time, offering young guests the chance to enjoy a variety of delicious treats.  They can choose from their own 'Teddy's Tea Time' menu, which includes chocolate dipped fresh fruit, ice creams, pastries and cakes aswell as iced fruit cordials.  All the little guests will receive a complimentary Montcalm teddy to take home.  Prices start from £12.50 per person and I am sure you will be spoilt for choice.
{www.montcalm.co.uk}


Big British Tea Party at Selfridges



From this Thursday (31 May) you will be able to enjoy the highest afternoon tea in London, sat upon the roof of Selfridges.  As part of their summer long Big British Bang celebration, you will be able to play a round of crazy golf on the roof of this flagship store and then enjoy lunch, afernoon tea or dinner and drinks.  The 2500sqft crazy golf course has been designed by Bompas & Parr, the well known British jellymongers.  The course is set to resemble a giant confection of cakes, with each hole representing famous London landmarks.  I have to admit it all sounds wonderful and am sure it will be visited by many this summer.
{www.selfridges.com}

Afternoon Tea at The Athenaeum, Mayfair


Earlier this year The Athenaeum was named as 'Top London Afternoon Tea 2012' in the Tea Guild's prestigious awards.  Younger guests are very welcome to indulge in afternoon tea with their family in the Garden Room, although there is not a seperate menu for younger guests.  However I am sure sandwiches, cakes and scones often seen on cake stands for afternoon tea appeal to all ages.
{www.athenaeumhotel.com}

There are many other options for afternoon tea in London this summer, including The Petersham, who have a special Jubilee celebration menu including choux swans, and of course Claridges, to name just two.  Have you enjoyed afternoon tea as a family in the capital? Please share other suggestions below, I would love to hear of more.

Have a wonderful day and be sure to join me on Twitter for updates from The Big eCommerce Conference.

Zoe
x

Monday, 28 May 2012

Team GB Trunki Winner

Hello, I hope you all had a fab weekend in the sun.  We had lots of fun, which included water fights and ice lollies a plenty!  A couple of weeks ago I started a giveaway for you to win a Team GB Trunki and today I am thrilled to reveal the winner. 

Drum roll please......................



The winner is Cheryll (@pipersky1)
Congratulations!

I will now contact Cheryll to confirm her address so that her Team GB Trunki can be sent. 

Thank you to everyone who entered.  The suggestions for events in a Trunki olympics have caused much amusement and I am sending them all to the fantastic team at Trunki. 

Have a great start to the week,
Zoe
x

PS Don't foget to enter the Carddies giveaway (ends at 11.59 tonight) and the Kit Heath giveaway.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Family Food - Eating Outdoors

Well there is little doubt that the return of the bright yellow orb in the sky will bring on a flurry of outdoor cooking and eating around the country, as we all take advantage of the change in weather.  Actually I am sitting outside typing this at the moment, which is where I intend to stay all weekend if possible.   

So what to eat over the weekend, are you going to get the barbecue fired up, or maybe just bring the meals from the kitchen to the garden table.  Either way works just fine, but it you are grilling outside just make sure you allow enough time to get those coals ready for action, crispy and raw never being a good idea.

Barbecue ready to cook on
I always find that it is nice to get the children involved in anything outdoors and cooking is no exception.  That is not to say that leaving them in charge of the barbecue is a good idea, but they can certainly take part in much of the preparation, marinades, salsa and salads being just a few things which they are quite capable of managing with a little bit of supervision.

Quiche, kebabs, satay and crispy duck
Actually there really is no limit as to what you can eat outdoors, but I guess most of us tend to go for a summer type of menu.  We try all sorts of different things, home made flat breads for example are brilliant on the barbecue and the simplest of all breads to make.  While the crispy duck in the picture was prepared indoors, before being laid out on the garden table, a great feast for the children.  

Key Lime Pie
Whatever you do though don't forget a nice, cooling dessert to finish off your outdoor meal with, if you have gone down the quiche route may I suggest you rustle up some meringues, you will have enough spare egg whites sitting around, and fill them with cream or crush them up and make an Eton Mess.
Anyway I hope you all get your fair allowance of sunshine this weekend and if you are eating outside, have a great time and enjoy yourselves.

Andy

Friday, 25 May 2012

The New Zoe & Drew Blog

Good afternoon, I hope you have all had a fantastic weekend and are looking forward to a weekend in the sunshine.  I'm looking forward to catching up on some gardening, eating al fresco and playing in the garden with the children.  As some of you are aware I am busily building a new Wordpress blog for Zoe & Drew, which has at times left me in tears of frustration.  I finally feel that I am getting somewhere this week and will officially be moving across there after the bank holiday weekend.  However I really wanted to give you all a little sneak peak today and share some of the new features with you.




I have loved using Blogger but felt I had outgrown it and needed more options to be able to do all the things I have wanted to do with the blog.  The new Wordpress site will mean that you, my lovely readers will be able to find posts from specific categories, with a drop down menu in the sidebar.  I will also be starting a new weekly newsletter in addition to the blog to bring even more fab ideas and special offers to you. 

I am also adding a new feature called The Directory.  This will be filled, I hope, with wonderful British businesses making products or offering services that fit with the Zoe & Drew ethos.  All the businesses that apply will be approved by me before joining The Directory, to ensure their business and products fit the Zoe & Drew ethos. The categories in The Directory are Baby, Children's Fashion, Children's Rooms, Family Days Out, Family Holidays, Family Photographers, Party Time, and finally Toys & Gifts. Members of The Directory will not necessarily need their own website, but must have an online retail outlet, eg Etsy.  If you would like information about this fantastic new feature, please email thedirectory@zoeanddrew.co.uk for a media pack. 

Obviously moving to Wordpress has provided plenty of headaches, which I expected.  One of the most frustrating is that all the tags used in posts on Blogger have been imported as categories, so I am having to go through every post to change this! Another problem was finding a template I liked.  Having got incredibly frustrated with the free options I decided to buy one, from an Etsy designer, as funds are limited otherwise I would have loved to have a professional blog design completed.  So will it all be worth it? I certainly hope so!

Right back to changing those categories and tags and lots more tweaking,  so that everything will be ready for the official launch on Wednesday 5 June. 

Have a wonderful weekend,
Zoe
x

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant

Hello, I hope you all had a lovely day yesterday.  I had a wonderful day out with Kitty's class at Felixstowe beach, looking at houses, shops and hotels in a seaside town and of course some time to build sandcastles and a picnic on the beach.  Felixstowe is also a very busy port, so the horizon out to sea often features large container ships as they head into port.  There are also plenty of sailing boats, little fishing boats, canoes and more out on the sea, especially at weekends when the sun is shining.  But it sounds like the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant will more than rival our skyline here on the Suffolk coast! 


With over one thousand boats joining this amazing pagent on Sunday 3 June, the River Thames will be brought to life with this huge flotilla.  Starting up river at Battersea Bridge at 2pm the flotilla will travel along the river to Tower Bridge, however the boats will be seen further along the river as they muster in Hammersmith and disperse to West India Docks.  Rowing boats, working boats, steam boats, pleasure vessels, Police, armed forces and Fire crews will all be sailing along the River Thames adorned with union jacks and streamers in celebration of The Queen's Diamond Jubilee.  There will also be passenger boats carrying up to 30,000 flag waving well wishers.  As if this wasn't enough there will be music barges and boats spouting geysers.



I am sure you will agree that the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant sounds like a wonderful spectacle of quintessential British celebration.  Sadly I will not be one of the crowd lining the riverbank, but I think it will all be broadcast on that good ol' British institution, the BBC.  Please do share photos if  you do attend, it would be lovely to share them here on the blog. 

Have a great day everybody and remember that sunscreen if you're lucky to be out in the sun today.
Zoe
x

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The Beach Factory

Morning! Well the sun has finally got his hat on and we are basking in a little piece of summer here in the UK.  I am heading off to the beach this morning with 50 chidlren aged 5-7, as I am helping with Kittys school trip.  Apparently we are searching for pirates, which Kitty is very excited about, but I will clarify this pirate hunt with the teachers shortly!  Heading to the beach when the sun is out makes me very happy, even if I will have 8 little people to work with whilst I'm there.  But as the sun is out I am double checking essential kit, suncream, sunhats, water, Jungle Fever spray.  Although it is often easier to head out in the summer than the winter it is important to keep our little ones and not so little ones protected in the sun.  Recently I discovered The Beach Factory, a fantastic website with everything every sun loving family needs.



The Beach Factory was started back in 2003 to offer UV swimwear.  Whilst UV swimwear is still the core of the business, The Beach Factory now offer a fantastic selection of products that make your trip to the beach safe and fun.  Over the past few years my own daughters have loved having towelling dresses for wearing on the beach to keep them warm after playing in the sea and all of my chidlren have Aqua Shoes, as the Suffolk coast is mainly shingle. 



Popup UV Tents are ideal for keeping your youngest children in the shade and away from the suns harmful rays without missing out on the fun.  They are also great for tired toddlers to take a nap in, especially when the sun is at it's hottest. 



The Beach Factory has a fantastic selection of board shorts, wetsuits, swimwear and beach bags.  They also have windbreaks, essential for any trip to a beach in the UK, picnic rugs and fabulous stripy deckchairs.  With everything in one place this website really is a must visit for all of your summer essentials.  As the sun has finally arrived and with the summer holidays drawing ever closer The Beach Factory have a fantastic discount especially for you, my lovely readers.  From now until the end of June you can get a 10% discount on all your summer kit using code ZD100612 when you shop on their website.

The Beach Factory

Now I'm off to have fun and make sure my charges stay safe in the sun. 
Have a fun day everyone,
Zoe

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Bookclub - A Place Called Here by Cecelia Ahern

I love a good book and so do all of my children so I thought I would start a weekly bookclub post, to share some of my favourite books and some of the childrens favourites too.  With an eclectic taste in fiction and with a broad age range of children I am sure we will have a book for you.  This first post is part of the Tots 100 Bookclub and is by one of my favourite modern writers, Cecelia Ahern.  Whilst the tag chicklit is quickly stuck to the cover of so many books written by female writers in the past decade, Cecelia Ahern's books do not fall into this category.  I have read all of her novels at least once and I can assure you they are well written and have all made me stop and think, often in new ways.  Her storylines are clever, her characters are thoughful and thought provoking, her writing may take you a little out of your comfort zone but I assure you that it is worth the journey.

For todays post I want to share my favourite of her books, A Place Called Here.  The main female character, Sandy Shortt, has been a little lost in her own life, but refuses to admit it, as she is always on the hunt for lost things after her classmate went missing twenty years ago.  Now as an adult she helps families whose loved ones have vanished try to track down the missing people.  Meanwhile Jack Ruttle is desperate to find his brother, Donal, who disappeared a year ago and believes that Sandy will be the one to find him.

 

However life is never that simple and whilst Sandy starts her quest in her latest search, she herself goes missing.  As if fallen down a rabbit hole, or more like through a hedge, Sandy has stumbled into a world where every lost item and person she has searched for in the past two decades now lives.  Whilst this may seem like a crazy notion, Ahern writes in such a way to make it believable, allowing us to actually question if there is such a place.  She made me question if such place exists and I truly believe there mucy be a place that has a whole bunch of Grant family odd socks and missing toys.  But really this book has a much more serious message and tone in the fact that often we need to stop running away and see what it is that we really want.  Yet Ahern writes in such a way that doesn't make the book seem gloomy, the story is incredibly well written, captivating her audience with the tale of Sandy and the lost souls.

The book continues as Sandy's constant seraching continues but this time it is her who is trying to find a way a home, to the loved ones and home she had spent years running away from.  Will she manage to leave a place called Here? Well I will let you find out for yourselves!

Are you a Cecelia Ahern fan? Be sure to let me know which is your favourite or if you read A Place Called Here after reading my review, I would love to know what you think.

Have a lovely afternoon,
Zoe
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Junior Magazine Design Awards

Morning! I anticipated the arrival of the latest copy of Junior yesterday as some companies were tweeting their successes in the Design Awards early yesterday morning.  Thankfully I was right and just in time for lunch Junior landed on the doormat.  I already knew that I Love Gorgeous had won Best Designer Girls Fashion and Belle and Boo had won Best Online Toy & Gift Retailer.  However these were the only winners I knew of and so eagerly looked to see if there were any other names I hoped to see in the Winners and the Highly Commended lists.
Popcorn Jumpsuit from I Love Gorgeous


Of course there was the predictable winner of Best Family Day Out, Legoland.  However the rest wasn't so predictable.  I was incredibly excited to see Carddies gaining Highly Commended in Best Arts & Crafts.  Don't forget to enter the giveaway to win two sets of Carddies.   I was also pleased to see Trunki winning with their Paddlepak, which I reviewed back in March.  I also recognised a couple of companies that I have featured in my weekly Family Holiday posts, including The Athenaeum which was highly commended in  Best Family UK Hotel and Ski Famille gaining highly commended in the Best Family Holiday Tour Operator award. 

Best Interiors Collection awards went to PaperBoy Wallpaper and Baby Joule Nursery, with highly commended going to Funky Little Darlings and Laura Ashley.  Best Furniture Collection award winners were Feather & Black and Tissington Little Chair, with highly commended going to Laurette, Maclaren Nursery and P'kolino.  I really don't envy the judges of either of these categories as the shortlist of contenders was incredible.

Safari Collection from P'Kolino


I am still absorbing all of the awards winners and highly commended businesses but one thing I have realised is that Zoe & Drew needs to feature a few more designs for the littlest people in our lives. Although I will not be adding a little person to make it easier to do this! But fear not I have a couple of ideas that I have already started researching to make this happen. 

So were there any winners I felt that were undeserved? To be honest no, apart from the Best Family Car winner.  How can a car with only 5 seats possibly win Best Family Car? Even with the average 2.4 children you will need extra seats for when friends come to tea, it's your turn to do the Brownie pick up, your turn to do the Rugby away match road trip.  Sadly five seats do not meet the needs of many modern families, so yes I was disappointed to see the Skoda Yeti win this award.  Which car would I choose for the modern family? Well let me make a coffee and I'll make a list!

So many deserving winners in the Junior Design Awards but sadly not enough time to share all of them here, but you can buy the special issue in the shops later this week or visit their website

Right I'm off to make that list of Best Family Cars with more than five seats!
Have a fab day
Zoe
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Monday, 21 May 2012

Family Fun - V&A Museum of Childhood

Morning! I hope you all had a fab weekend.  It was Connors birthday yesterday so there was plenty of cake, infact a very delicious three layer creation by Drew that was a real treat.  Whenever any of our children celebrates a birthday Drew & I find ourselves thinking back to when they were little and reminiscing about their younger years.  I am sure we are not the only ones!  How many treasures have we all squirreled away to remind us of our childrens childhoods? I know I have several, that each hold special memories.  But I wonder how they choose what gets to stay in the museums? These are not such personal choices but things of importance to a certain era, a way for the international public to reminisce with newer artefacts or learn of previous generations.  However each year they have a particular programme, befitting of current affairs, so it is no surprise that the V&A Museum of Childhood has displays and exhibitions for the Olympics and the Jubilee this summer.

London 2012 Mascots - Wenlock and Mandeville

This weekend saw the start of the 'Mascots of the Olympic Games' display at the V&A Museum of Childhood.  Since 1972 when the first mascot, a Dachshund, appeared at the games in Munich there have been mascots at every Olympic and Paralympic Games.  I am sure you have all seen the mascots for the olympics this year, Wenlock and Mandeville.  Each of these mascots illustrates the identity of the host city but also have to incorporate the Olympic Games brand.  Some countries use national symbols, but I am hoping Wenlock and Mandeville are not the new iconic symbol for Team GB!

During the Jubilee weekend the V&A Museum of Childhood will be hosting a Royal Rumpus.  Families can drop in for storytime, 'The Princess and the Pea' being the tale of choice, arts and crafts including flag and crown making, then ending in a Royal Promenade to show off your crafty skills. 

There are numerous displays, exhibitions and activities at the V&A Museum of Childhood throughout the year so even if you don't make it there this summer I am sure you and your children will have a wonderful time whenever you visit.

I hope your week starts well,
Zoe
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Saturday, 19 May 2012

Saturday Matinee - The Avengers



Well unless you have been hiding in a cave for the past month, you will probably have heard about the release of Marvel's Avengers Assemble and if like me you have teenage boys, then it is a must see.  Not that I had any problem with going to see it you understand, but at their age I watched the original Star Wars movie and this may be the same kind of watershed moment that comes along so rarely.

Actually I am not brave enough to suggest that this will match the longevity of Star Wars, but if anything can then this is it.


The film revolves around the assembly of Earth's greatest Superheroes in an attempt to defeat an alien invasion led by a rather powerful chap named Loki.  You will probably be familiar with most of the main characters, Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk and Thor being the best known, Loki is actually Thor's brother, which if you have seen the earlier films will make perfect sense.

In fact what Marvel have done is to link up their recent films to create this blockbuster, which appears to be something that they have had in mind for sometime.  Certainly the recent Captain America film had several clever touches to bring it into line with what was to come, the introduction of Stark senior, Iron Man's dad and the appearance of Samuel L Jackson's character at the end, were obviously included with this in mind.

However none of this detracts from the quality and fun of this film.  It has a strong story line, combined with plenty of action and plenty of Iron Man's trademark dry humour from Robert Downey Jr.  My eldest son thought it started a bit slowly, but in many ways that was due to the need to draw all of the threads together in the story.

Once it gets going though it is pretty much non-stop action which keeps you on the edge of your seat.  There are a few twists along the way to keep you guessing and there is never any sense that victory for the Avengers is a done deal, although you may have your suspicions.

Overall a great film, hopefully there will be more, ideal for teenagers and forty six year old's, well I enjoyed it anyway.  In fact my only disappointment is that people might think it slightly strange if I start running around the garden with my homemade Captain America shield, don't laugh you're going to want one as well after seeing this.

Have a great weekend

Drew.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Family FoodCakes and marshmallows for school

Morning! At last it is Friday, it's felt like a long week this week.   Today I have passed the blog over to Drew for his first Family Food post.  This will be a regualr feature and I am sure you will all love his tasty treats and ideas for feeding the family.  With five children our kitchen is reguarly in use and often delicious smells waft up the stair as I sit at my desk, whilst Drew busily cooks up a storm.


Anyone with children at school will at some time have been approached during the evening with the news that some kind of cake is required for the next morning at school, leading to some frantic late night baking and mutterings about being told a bit earlier the next time.  Fortunately for us we now seem to get slightly more notice, not always mind you, which obviously makes life a bit easier you might think.

However this week turned out to be slightly different, with would you believe three confections required, all for Thursday.  Although slightly stunned by this and the amount of baking that would be required, I tried to limit my moaning about teachers, schools and children in general, after all we have a friend with triplets who must deal with this kind of kitchen congestion all the time.

After a thorough interrogation of the children concerned it was decided that one cake, a batch of cupcakes and some marshmallows would do the job nicely, so I opened the production line and started baking.

Cakes and marshmallows
Obviously vast amounts of butter cream was required for the cakes and a double quantity of marshmallows needed to be made, well it did not seem fair for us not to have some too.  The marshmallows are a firm favourite in our family, so I thought it might be nice to share the recipe with anyone who has not tried making them before.

Actually making them is not overly difficult, although an electric whisk is essential unless you have arms like Popeye and a sugar thermometer makes life easier as well. On this occasion I made a large batch, for obvious reasons, so it is possible to half the ingredients used to create a more manageable amount.

Marshmallows
So to make this giant sugar feast I used a 8 x 15 inch deep tray/tin, which loiters in the cupboard for brownie making duties normally, and dropped a magic liner in the bottom, although you could just grease it.
Next up are the ingredients, which consist of 900g caster sugar, 25g powdered gelatine and 3tsp vanilla extract. You also need cornflour and icing sugar to coat them with once they are prepared.
The process of making them is fairly simple, but does require attendance in the kitchen as this is very much a stir and whisk recipe. Place the sugar in a large pan with 350ml of water and bring to a gentle boil, stirring constantly so the sugar dissolves without burning. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the temperature reaches 235F, which takes about 15 minutes.
 
When the mixture has almost reached the required temperature, put the gelatine in a large bowl with 200ml of water and whisk briefly to blend. Pour the hot mixture into the bowl with the gelatine, whisking constantly and add the vanilla extract. Keep whisking until the mixture starts to cool and thickens, takes about 15 minutes with an electric helper.
 
Marshmallow mixture
Mix a couple of tablespoons of icing sugar and corn flour together to dust the bottom and sides of the prepared tray, then pour in the marshmallow mixture. Dust the top and then leave to cool and set for 3 hours.
Marshmallow squares
Once set slice into squares and roll in some more icing sugar with corn flour, eat as many as possible, then store in an airtight container in a cool place, job done.

These marshmallows really are very yummy!
Happy baking everyone,
Zoe
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Thursday, 17 May 2012

Kit Heath Jewellery and a Giveaway

Morning lovelies, almost the end of the week and SATs! Although Lucy seems to have sailed through the week with little stress, which is such a relief. Also Jack seems to have coped well with his exams this week.  I know we are looking forward to half term already, yet Connor will then be revising so not a complete rest in our house! Hey ho at least we can take some time off to enjoy the Jubilee celebrations in our village.  I know we are not the only ones going through exam stress and I am sure little treats are already being planned.  Perhaps a day out, a new top or a new book or a bracelet.   Maybe you are looking for a tasteful piece of memorabilia to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee? Well Kit Heath certainly have lots of beautiful treats for our daughters.

Blossom Silver Locket


Inspired by his grandfathers gemstones and  his metalwork teacher, Kit Heath set out at eighteen with an idea to create beautiful jewellery.  His entreprenurial spirit was fostered by his teacher who also taught him the skills he needed to make his jewellery designs.  However at eighteen money wasn't abundant to buy silver so he 'borrowed' the families silver candlesticks!  A few years later, in his early twenties, Kit brought a shop in Devon, where he left his teenage sister all week to run his new retail business.  Meanwhile he spent the weeks finding jewellers to stock his designs, touring the south of England in his VW campervan.  The business grew rapidly and soon Kit and Katie's ideal of having an international jewellery business was realised.  Kit Heath is now a quintessential British brand sold in independant and major retailers here in the UK and the US aswell.

Bluebird Stud Earrings


Having seen some awful children's jewellery over the years I remember seeing Kit Heath jewellery in a local jewellers and as a parent I was delighted to finally find something beautiful for my daughters.  Just knowing that their designs are made using sterling silver and not cheap metals is a winner in my opinion.  Nevermind that their designs are stylishly cool enough that children actually like them.  Whilst my daughters are yet to have their ear pierced they are already choosing earrings on the Kit Heath website, pretty little studs with a flash of colour. 

Bumble Bee Stud Earrings


Personally I really like the silver beads and charms.  I still have my silver charm bracelet that was a christening present back in the 70's and all of my girls love looking at it, making up stories with all the charms.  So for me the Kit Heath silver beads and charms are a new version of my bracelet, but mean that girls can collect beads and charms over the years.  These bracelets are designed to be treasured and parents, grandparents and godparents can buy new beads or charms for birthdays or Christmas.  Also they are reasonably priced so as girls get older they can save their pocket money for new beads or charms. 

Scrumptious Strawberry Bracelet


With the Jubilee fast approaching it would not come as a surprise that this quintessentially British jewellery designer has a fabulous collection to celebrate the occasion.  Adorned with iconic union jacks in a palette of patriotic red, white and blue I assure you that you will not be disappointed.  Whilst these designs are made especially for 2012 I am sure we will be wearing them for years to come.

Kit Heath Regal Bracelet


Now after all of this eye candy, this post is about to get even better. The incredibly wonderful team at Kit Heath have provided a Sterling Silver Regal Bracelet, from their Kids collection, for me to giveaway to one very lucky reader.  I actually don't want to run this giveaway and keep the bracelet for myself, although not sure it would fit as it's a childs bracelet!  However I will be good, so here's what you need to do to win the Regal Bracelet from Kit Heath.

In order for your entry to count you must leave a comment below. Please leave a seperate comment for EACH action you take.
  • Visit Kit Heath and leave a comment below to tell me which is your favourite piece of jewellery.
  • Tweet "I've entered the @Kit_Heath giveaway on @ZoeandDrew blog".
This giveaway will be open until 11.59pm on Friday 1st June 2012. A winner will be chosen using a random number generator and will be announced on this blog on Monday 4 June 2012. This giveaway is open to UK residents only.
Good luck!
Zoe
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