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27 October 2016

My Boys Tech Club - October 2016

This month in My Boys Tech Club my seven-year-old wants to tell you why he loves CROSSY ROAD with his top 5 facts.

1. The aim of the game is to cross roads, rail tracks and rivers by moving forward one step at a time, By tapping the screen you can also move in any direction by swiping, except diagonally. You have to try and go as far as possible without dying.

My mummy says it reminds her of playing Frogger when she was younger.

2. On the roads are cars, lorries, bikes and buses going at different speeds but if you get hit or squished by one you die and the game is over.

You also die if you get hit by a train but you get a warning of a red light that a train is coming; or if you fall in the river or land on a crocodile's head.

3. There are different themes including the Arctic, a rainy city, a big city, and the dessert, there is even an old-fashioned one in sepia and another that looks like Pac-Man.


4. There are coins on the roads, tracks and on the logs on the river. You get more characters every time you earn 100 coins. You do get to choose your characters it is a lottery. There are 174 characters that you can earn in total.

5. It is fun to play, my favourite character is the basketball player because when he gets squished the ball bounced away. The instructions are very easy to understand and I can play for an hour before I get bored.

Cost: Game free to download. 
Time: Endless hours of fun.
Boys Club Rating: 4.5 out of 5

What games would you like My Boys to review?

Deb x

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25 October 2016

May the falls be with you in Ullswater

What's the point of working as a freelancer if you don't actually take advantage of the fact that you are able to manage your own time? And that's how we came to have a great family day out in The Lakes this summer.

And so it was, that during the last school holidays, I swapped one of my working days to a sunny Friday in August, from what was supposed to be a wet Sunday. And as a result we all enjoyed a family day out before the schools went back.

We packed a picnic and headed west to The Lakes. Ullswater to be more precise, with the destination of Aira Force in mind. The boys were even more impressed when they realised the part of the latest Star Wars movie had been filmed in The Lakes.

This is a place owned and managed by the National Trust. We are members, (which means we can park for free as part of our membership fee) but this was a place we have driven past but never before stopped.

Less than a two-hour drive from Newcastle and we were already approaching the junction on the M6 at Penrith to head into the lakes themselves. It was a glorious Sunny day, the Friday before August Bank Holiday weekend and it seemed like lots of other people had the same idea as us! Who'd have thought it :) 

The last time we'd been to Ullswater was in March this year, in fact on Mother's Day. The road was still closed following devastating floods, when we could walk along a car-free road in glorious sunshine, with clear blue skies but freezing cold temperatures.

I have to say no matter how many times I visit, Ullswater always manages to blow me away. The view down the lake is just amazing. 

Picture perfect. 

We drove straight to Aira Force on the A592 but because it was a very busy day the car park (which is quite large) was full. Fortunately, there are a further two car parks on the road A5091, on the other side of the falls, so we headed to Park Brow and luckily got one of the last spaces.

A clearly signposted path took us towards the falls, but instead of going straight there we headed back to the first car park where the facilities are, to take the boys to the toilets and buy them ice creams. 

Whilst there, we walked across to the pier where the steamer stops en-route around the lake from Glenridding to Pooley Bridge. Blue skies and sunshine made this place just divine. The boys quite fancied a dip in the lake but were happy enough just to watch the dogs jumping in and out of the water.

Back across the road and we headed to the falls. On a clearly marked path we crossed small bridges, explored the woods, the boys paddled in streams, we climbed stone staircases, stopped to take in the breathtaking views across the lake and took the highest path to the falls as we approached from above.

The waterfall is not the biggest, not the most dramatic we've ever been too but it is very picturesque. It is set in a dramatic landscape and with child-friendly activities and well-maintained paths it makes for a great family day out.

Apparently, after walking around this part is Ullswater, Wordsworth wrote: "I wandered lonely as a cloud". I can see why he was inspired.

The main force falls 65ft from a stone footbridge, the water glistened in the sun and the boys enjoyed spotting a rainbow in the spray from the falls.

It had rained heavily the previous day, so we reaped the rewards of that with a full and forceful waterfall. We walked further on a looped trail eventually making our way back to the car park. It was such a nice day though that we stopped off for pub grub in Pooley Bridge on the riverside before driving home.

Ullswater in The Lakes truly is one of my favourite places. A great day out. Perfect for any season. In fact to see the autumn leaves we may have to plan a visit again very soon :)

Cost: For non-National Trust members the parking charge for a car is £5 for 2 hours, £7 for 4 hours and £9 all day in the main car park. In the other car parks at Glencoyne Bay, Park Brow, High Cascades it is £5 for 2 hours, £5.50 for 4 hours and £6.50 all day.
Time: A good few hours to a full day out.
Equipment: Sturdy shoes and a picnic. Although the cafe was serving lovely food too.
Boy Club Rating: We'll be stopping off again not driving past next time we are in The Lakes.

Deb x

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21 October 2016

Two TV Treats to catch-up on - Oct 21 2016

My regular look at what's good to watch on TV via catch up.

After the boys have gone to bed, I’m always looking for something to watch on catch-up TV?

If you are too, then here’s my Top 2 Things to watch from this past fortnight.

This week it's an American remake and my own guilty pleasure …

The Night Of ...

A remake of a British drama doesn't always fill me with confidence, however, the reviews for 'The Night Of' meant it should be worth a watch. And it was.

Eight episodes, rather than the original five in the award-winning Peter Moffat version, Criminal Justice, eight years ago, this HBO adaptation, broadcast on Sky Atlantic looks at the randomness of justice, and whether you actually get justice in the legal system.

It's an eclectic array of characters that tell the story of a crime in New York City, that use both subtle humour and horror to great effect. Not always likable,  the characters are though engaging. Riz Ahmed gives a hypnotic performance as Naz in the lead role, as do the soon to retire cop and scruffy solicitor.

Interwoven with believable side stories to build up our understanding of the characters, this makes a real difference too. It certainly doesn't glamorise crime but instead gives an insight into the impact of the far-reaching ripples of a crime, and looks at many of the political and cultural issues affecting society today. It is brilliant and addictive - we virtually watched them back to back

Boys Club Rating: For anyone still missing The Wire, it's a worthy substitute.

Watch on Sky

Holby City

I have to admit this is one of my guilty pleasures. I haven't watched it for that long, but if I miss it, I do try to watch it on catch-up. 

A spin-off from Casualty, it's takes us through the lives of hospital staff, how their lives are entangled and how they deal with incidents, and the impact it has on their work and private lives.

I'm not a medical professional, and I'm sure if I was I'd have a different opinion, but if you are looking for a drama-soap that has interesting story lines and a decent script and actors then give it ago.

Boys Club Rating: A really enjoyable TV series but a little warning, though. Somehow we always manage to be eating when it's on TV, and gory operations with your evening meal are not the best - but may help with your diet, if not your appetite.

Watch on BBC iPlayer

What have you watched on TV this week that you'd recommend?

Deb x

20 October 2016

5 Days of Fun in Durham and Something for the Weekend

In the past, I have lived in Durham and I still work a lot in Durham, so with half term approaching fast here is a week of child-friendly activities to enjoy in Durham before the wintry weather kicks in.

On Monday take a walk through Hamsterley Forest.

Read about our day out at Hamsterley Forest here … 

On Tuesday get bewitched at Hardwick Park, with Wizard School and a welly walk 

On Wednesday take a step back in time at Beamish Museum. 

On Thursday, have an autumn adventure at Auckland Castle’s by exploring, engaging with nature and trying your hand at a host of exciting bushcraft skills. Plus arts and craft activities inside the Castle’s 17th Century St Peter’s Chapel too. 

On Friday, head to the Durham Heritage Coast to beach comb and discover treasure.

Read about our day out collecting sea glass at Seaham 

And something for the weekend … If you've still got the energy why not try out Beamish Wild High RopesCrook Hall & Gardens; Locomotion: The National Railway Museum at Shildon; or Killhope for more adventures.
This is a shortened version of a guest post I have written for Visit County Durham, you can read the full version on the This Is Durham Blog

18 October 2016

From Chickpea to Chocolate Spread

My Boys are now the willing eaters of chickpeas, every day - on toast, on digestive biscuits, as a dip for fruit - honestly! A great alternative to chocolate spread.

WARNING: I really do have to warn you that if you continue reading, your life will be changed - for the better I may add :)

It was during #NationalChocolateWeek earlier this month that I saw a few posts about chocolate hummus. 

Now being a hummus fan and a massive chocolate (especially dark) fan it wasn't long before I'd read a few of these posts - had to keep checking that it wasn't a cruel joke - I just couldn't believe it - way too good to be true :)

Reading them, it all seemed so easy too. Simply add cocoa powder (and a few other ingredients) to chickpeas in the same way that you would, to make your usual hummus. 

Well, that sounded easy enough, but would it really taste any good? 

The recipes I had found online, used a variety of different ingredients as a sweetener including maple syrup, honey as well as an addition of vanilla essence. Being out of maple syrup and honey I adapted the recipe for what I had in the store cupboard.

Here is what I used:

1 tin of chickpeas
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp sugar or syrup
6 chopped dates
A couple of sprays of coconut oil 
A splash of milk - any type

Here is what I did:

So I opened a 400g tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed and then put them in the blender. 

I then added to this all of the other ingredients (except milk) and whizzed it up. 

Once it was smooth I then added the milk to thin it out. 

And that is it. 

So simple. 

Two minutes tops. It nearly took as long to toast the bread to spread it on :)

Cost: Approx. 50p
Time: 2 mins 
Equipment: Food mixer
Serves: We used it constantly for four days. But as it was healthier we used it far more frequently than if it were chocolate spread.
Boys Club Rating: As much as I love savoury hummus I think I'm going to be adding cocoa powder to my chickpeas for a long time to come.

Did you know?

Chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, belong to the legume family, which includes a variety of beans, peanuts, soybeans and lentils.

They are a vegetarian-friendly source of protein, are a rich source of fibre and also contain vitamins and minerals and significantly boost your intake of manganese and folate.

What food have you made from a surprising ingredient?

Deb x

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14 October 2016

My Boys Art Club - October 2016

Kids artwork - having it hang on the kitchen wall is like a rite of passage through childhood. 

I can still even remember my dried pasta pictures sprayed with gold and silver paint adorning our walls when I was a lot younger. 

I do love having the boys art on the kitchen wall. In fact, at one time the boys were so prolific that we had nearly every wall covered. And some of it is really good. 

We are always looking for ways to display the boys' artwork. Their work may not make it into an art gallery, ever, but I'm creating an online art gallery for My Boys Art over on Pinterest - if you like it please let me know as they would be thrilled!

The first is the collection of Mothers' Day cards they made for me this year. Beautifully painted my aim is to frame and hang them together as one piece - I'll get round to it one day...

A montage of Mother's Day Cards - 2016

Why is art good for kids?

Kids whose creativity is nurtured are curious and inspired to learn more. Art can help to generate a love of learning; develop a willingness to explore; teaches risk-taking and allows you to learn from making mistakes. 

In my opinion, it is just as important as English, maths and science.

Thanks for taking the time to have a look!



Check out the MyBoysClub online art gallery on Pinterest

12 October 2016

Finding Sea Diamonds In Durham

I'd often heard people talking about how they had collected sea glass from the beaches of Durham, but I wasn't really sure as to how easy it was. I mean, is it just there waiting for you to find it? Or do you have to dig a bit or need some equipment? 

Sea glass, or ‘sea diamonds’ is the name given to the tiny fragments of discarded glass, found along the Durham coastline, that has been tumbled and smoothed by the waves.

As we found, anyone can walk down along the Durham coastline on the beach and find sea glass. It's fun, it's good exercise, and the whole family can join in with the treasure hunt!

Seaham was once the location of the largest glass bottle works in Britain. However nearly one hundred years after it closed, the coastline has been cleaned up. 

Now the Durham Heritage Coast, between Sunderland and Hartlepool, offers one of the finest coastlines in England, with a dramatic landscape with beaches, rugged cliffs and imposing headlands – perfect for a coastal walk with a treasure trove at the end. As to these beaches, the sea still returns the waste glass that in the past was routinely dumped, making it an amazing treasure trove for little fingers and thumbs.

The stunning Durham Heritage Coast Copyright: Visit County Durham

And after I'd seen the amazing art installation called Wave by local artist Stuart Langley at Lumiere Durham last year, of a giant wave made from sea glass, I was determined to try collecting it myself.

One sunny but windy day this summer we took the boys to Seaham and went on an adventure to beach comb for treasure.

We drove to Seaham at the northern end of the Durham Heritage Coast and parked for free in the car park just past Seaham Hall. From there it is easy to find the steps that lead down to the beach or along the coastal route for a longer walk without steps to the beach.

At first, you think it's going to be really difficult to spot the glass amongst the larger stones, but it doesn't take long for your eyes to acclimatise and suddenly you can see small fragments everywhere. 

Blue, green, yellow, red and white. The boys had a great time picking them up.  

They also paddled in the north sea and created their own art on the beach.

I have great plans for what I'm going to do with all of the sea-diamonds that we collected, from making jewellery to topping a set of drawers - whether they will materialise or not I don't know - but that's all for another time ...

Cost: Free
Time: Will easily fill and afternoon or a whole day with a walk along the coastal path.
Equipment: A container in which to out the glass collected.
Boys Club Rating: I want sure if the boys would find it boring but they loved it and want to go again and collect more.

What have you collected from the beach?

Deb X

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10 October 2016

An Afternoon with Broken Biscuits

I do have to start by saying this is not a 'theatre review' but an account of a lovely afternoon out that involved a trip to the theatre!

Secondly, I first heard of this new play Broken Biscuits, written by Tom Wells, when working for Live Theatre launching this current season. It was still in the early stages but sounded interesting, then the writer spoke about it at the press launch and the softly spoken and shy Tom intrigued me. His passion for his new play and the focus on optimism when you aren’t perfect, meant it was definitely one to watch out for.

Just before the play opened I was lucky enough to win two tickets via Twitter. So we organised childcare (it is suitable for over 12s but does include some swearing) and headed to the theatre one Saturday afternoon to see the World Premiere matinee performance of Broken Biscuits. 

Live Theatre is located on Newcastle Quayside, just a stones throw away from the River Tyne. The theatre is a beautifully restored and refurbished complex of five Grade II listed buildings in a unique historical setting, and earlier this year opened the new Live Garden. By producing and presenting new plays, Live Theatre finds, nurtures and trains creative talent.

If you haven't been to Live Theatre the Atrium Bar is right outside of the Main Theatre and you can take your drinks into the show - we handily had cabaret seats - which meant we had our own table and a great view of the performance. Behind the cabaret seats, there are rows of comfortable fixed seating and a balcony with more seating upstairs.

This is a Live Theatre co-production with theatre company Paines Plough, who commission new plays to tour across the UK. Broken Biscuits is a coming of age play about three teenagers who are definitely not the cool kids. It's all about their hopes, dreams and insecurities.

But quite honestly how many of us are cool people. Similarly to why I love the TV show 'First Dates', this play demonstrates that most of us, no matter how old we are, aren't cool, aren't uber-confident and supermodels, but instead are awkward, geeky, shy, just trying to be happy in our own skin and making mistakes and mates along the way.

Losers. Nobodies. Misfits. Are all words used throughout but really it boils down to the friendship that develops between three teenagers growing up one summer whilst singing in a shed.

Ironically, I'm not that big a fan of musicals but I do enjoy plays that include music. I'm still an indie kid at heart and all I could think of listening to their songs was that Holly's could easily have been recorded for Sarah Records and Bens song wouldn't have sounded amiss on the C86 compilation that I loved as a teenager.

This, however, is a coming of age play, suitable for people of all ages. The script is heart-warming, endearing, insightful and funny. The cast is amazing. The stage set adds to the performance and the music just so listenable. We left the theatre smiling and with a warm glow. 

As well as being thoroughly entertaining, the afternoon was also a look into the future and a reminder of how teenagers see the world. I would love it if my boys when they become teenagers aren't that bothered about being cool but have great friends, are happy with who they are and express themselves by playing in a band - even if they are not going to top the charts!.

Cost: Ticket from £6 - £22
Time: A very enjoyable 1 hr and 30 mins
Boys Club Rating: What can I say it's got unicorns, sparkly dresses and a soundtrack that I'd happily download. Go see it. Whatever your age you won't be disappointed.

Broken Biscuits is at Live Theatre in Newcastle until October 22 when it embarks on a national tour taking it to Plymouth, Hull, Scarborough, Sheffield, Bristol and Birmingham.

Production images supplied by Live Theatre.
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