Saturday, 3 December 2016

Forestry Commission England’s guide to choosing the perfect Christmas tree!

Choosing your Christmas tree is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the festive season, but other than the size, what are the things to consider when buying your tree? 

We have been invited to Delamere Forest tomorrow to choose our very own Christmas tree so the lovely folks at the Forestry Commission have kindly shared some of their top tips for choosing the perfect Christmas tree match this festive season. 

How to choose your perfect Christmas Tree

Norway spruce

The Norway spruce is the traditional Christmas tree – it’s known for:
·         A wonderful shape and an abundance of branches – great for hanging lots of decorations!

·         A lovely ‘Christmassy’ scent that's perfect at this time of year

·         Being a little sharp and spikey to touch

Who does it suit?

With a long lasting scent and a traditional shape, Norway spruce are perfect for those who appreciate the classic look and smell of Christmas.


It’s best to buy your Norway Spruce nearer to Christmas as it can lose its needles quite quickly once brought indoors. To help your spruce retain its needles for longer, keep it away from the radiator and ensure it’s watered every day.

Nordmann fir

The Nordmann fir is the most popular Christmas tree in Europe – it’s known for:
·         Having soft foliage and an even shape – making it a joy to decorate!

·         Glossy, dark green needles that have a whitish/light blue underside

·         Strong branches, which are great for hanging those big glass decorations

Who does it suit?

With its big needles which are lovely and soft, Nordmann fir are perfect for those with young children.


The top quality Nordmann fir can be quite a wide tree, so you will need reasonable space to show it off to its best. For a 6ft tall tree allow approximately 5ft space.

Lodgepole pine

The Lodgepole pine looks best in a big space with high ceilings – it’s known for:
·         It's bushy appearance and luscious long green needles

·         Branches that point upwards

·         That wonderful pine scent

·         It's great needle retention, which makes it a long lasting tree

Who does it suit?

With the best needle retention of them all, Lodgepole pines are perfect for those who like to decorate their tree and little earlier and don’t want Christmas to end.


The long needles on Lodgepole pines draw attention to any decorations. More is definitely more with this tree!

Real v’s fake Christmas trees

Being experts in trees, woodland and sustainable forestry, Forestry Commission England’s real Christmas trees are so good, even Santa has given his stamp of approval. But why buy real?

Real trees use 10 times fewer materials and five times less energy than artificial trees. And they are completely biodegradable.
Forestry Commission England only sell trees that are grown in the UK in a well-managed way and more trees are planted each year than harvested. This year, you can even plant your own!

Every tree sold will come with a free baby sapling, allowing you to plant and grow you own real Christmas tree for the future.

It will also come with a certificate of authenticity to guarantee the trees quality, which will be signed by Santa himself.

There is also so much more to offer than just buying a tree. Many of the Forestry Commission England sales centres offer a whole Christmas experience including a Santa’s grotto and a whole range of activities for both little and big kids to get into the festive spirit!

To find your nearest centre, purchase a 100% Santa approved Christmas tree online or check out top tree tips on keeping your tree fresh and healthy over the festive holidays visit

Monday, 28 November 2016

Twenty Questions to ask your children...

Brother and sister running in the park

Life at this time of year is busy. On top of the usual demands of both grown ups in our house working full time, commitments of a blog and a scout troop to run, school and clubs for the children, there is also the extra pull of festive events, plays, Christmas parties and more. Sometimes it feels like the whole family is constantly on the go and we barely have a moment to really talk to each other. So when Shepherds Friendly got in touch to tell me about their 20 questions to ask your children worksheet, I thought it was an ideal opportunity to sit down with Elizabeth (6) and Ben (9) to have a chat and maybe reveal some interesting answers. I do of course chat to them both about their day on our walk home from after school club but they are often tired and sometimes the best I can get out of my eldest is what he had for lunch!

20 questions to ask your kids

Over the weekend we sat down with with a hot chocolate and a biscuit each and I 'interviewed' both of my children using the worksheet available over on the Shepherds Friendly website. They loved the novelty of it and I found that some of the answers were predictable, others surprised me while a couple were just so heartwarming they nearly brought a tear to my eye. I've typed up their responses below:

Twenty Questions I asked my Children

1. What is your favourite colour?
Elizabeth: Green!

Ben: Red

2. Who is your best friend? 
E: Nathan

B: Billy

3. What is your favourite TV programme?
E: Skylanders

B: Horrible Histories

4. What do you want to be when you grow up?
E: A teacher and a mummy

B: An Author or an inventor

5. What car do you want to have when you grow up?
E: A blue one


6. If you could go anywhere in the world on holiday, where would you go?
E: Cornwall!

B: South Africa

7. Do you want to get married one day?
E: I’m not quite sure…

B: No

8. How many children would you like to have?
E: One

B: Four

9. What age are you when you become an adult?
E: 17

B: 20

10. What are you good at?
E: Skipping and drawing

B; Football and making up stories

11. If you had a superpower what would it be?
E: Fire!

B: Being able to teleport

12. If you had one wish, what would that be?
E: That everyone in the whole world is happy

B: To own a restaurant so I could eat there every day

13. What do I do as a job?
E: Earn money

B: Working in the glass building in Manchester

14. What are you scared of?
E: Nothing because I’m a brave girl

B: The dark

15. What is your favourite song?
E: Bohemien Rhapsody

B: 12 days of Christmas

16. What is your favourite class at school?
E: Dinosaur topic

B: Science because we're learning about Space at the moment

17. What is something I always say to you?
E: Love you lots like jelly tots

B: Be good

18. What is the hardest thing you've ever had to do?
E: Hard work at school

B: Carrying my heavy rucksack on a hike

19. What makes you happy? 
E: Playing with my friends

B: Playing with my friends

20. What makes you sad? 
E: When I fall over and get hurt
B: Being told off

Reading through the answers I can see both my children's individual personalities stand out. My kind and loving but fearless six year old who loves rocking out to Queen and my cautious and sensible but imaginative nine year old who adores his food and loves learning about the world he lives in!

As well as being something to look back on as they get older (I may even ask them again each year to see how things have changed), some of the answers my children gave made me reflect on how I talk to them. The fact that they didn't really understand what I did for work everyday surprised me and I will certainly try to be more open with them about this from now on. Their answers to question seventeen made me wonder if I talk differently to my son and my daughter, She remembers happy words of love while he has the cautionary reminder to 'be good' at the front of his mind. I will work on this.

Overall it was a fun little exercise that we all enjoyed, I would recommend having a go with your children, do let me know in the comments or on twitter if you get any funny or surprising answers!

How to join in:

• Download and print off the worksheet above
• Ask your child(ren) the questions and why not get them to colour in or decorate it too? You could even frame it!
• Why not take a picture and share it on social media to share with your family and friends
• Use the hashtag #ShepherdsTwenty so that you can share your child’s answers with other parents.
• Don’t forget to put a note in your diary to do it again next year (or just let it appear on timehop!)

The twenty questions to ask your children worksheet was designed and provided by Shepherds Friendly Society who offer a range of savings plans including a Junior Isa.

Disclaimer: This is a collaborative post.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Win a Pudsey and Friends DVD this Children in Need

Today my children have gone to school dressed in spotty clothing and head boppers ready to donate to Children In Need Appeal. This charity campaign has always been close to my heart, even more so since I went in to labour six years ago and all of the staff on the maternity ward were dressed up and raising money for this fantastic charity.

This year, the stars of CBeebies have joined forces with Pudsey Bear in a one-off collection of favourite episodes. 

 The nation’s favourite bear Pudsey is bringing you a very special DVD compilation featuring 15 episodes from CBeebies’ best loved shows, providing over 3 hours of top entertainment in Pudsey and Friends, released by Abbey Home Mediaraising valuable funds for this year’s 
BBC Children in Need appeal. 

For the very first time BBC’s Children in Need, and Abbey Home Media are bringing together all your favourite CBeebies shows on DVD to help disadvantaged children and young people throughout the UK. You can purchase the DVD for just £5 and a minimum of £2 from the sale of every  one will go towards helping children and young people across the UK have a safe, happy and secure childhood and the chance to reach their potential. This donation has been made possible through the generosity of the many companies and individuals involved who have either contributed their shows or services to this unique project with no charge.

This very special DVD compilation is a great way of entertaining young children with its familiar, well-loved characters and diverse range of fun and engaging programming whilst also helping raise funds for a fantastic cause. 

The collection features the following episodes:-

Twirlywoos – Turning; Peter Rabbit – The Tale of Old Rusty; Something Special – Fishing; Bing – Hearts; Teletubbies – NewIn The Night Garden -. Cough
Charlie & Lola – I Can Train Your DogTimmy Time – Timmy’s Picnic; Sarah and Duck – Sarah, Duck and The Penguins; Chugginton Trainee Camp -The Furchester Hotel – Peckity Woodpecker; Octonauts – Porcupine Puffer; Cloudbabies – Rainbows Orchestra; Q Pootle 5 - Pootle’s New Spaceship.

This very special DVD compilation is a great way of entertaining young children with its familiar well-loved characters and diverse range of fun and engaging programming whilst also helping raise funds for a fantastic cause.

The lovely folks at Abby Media have given me a copy to give away to one of my readers! Just pop over to twitter, follow @mymummyspennies and retweet for your chance to win...


Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Project Mc² H₂O RC Car #STEAMday

Today is national S.T.E.M/S.T.EA.M day, a day devoted to inspiring children to take an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths. It’s about promoting education choices for all young people and it’s something I believe strongly in. Although I am always encouraging both of my children to explore the world around them and ask question, when I look at the toys they play with most I see my son's are mainly construction based, involve problem solving and calculating risks, where my daughter's are much more imagination based. Now I know gender isn't the only factor here of course, they have different personalities and interests and my son is three years older than my daughter, but it's something that I am aware of.

It's so very important to encourage our children to pursue an interest in S.T.E.A.M from young age to give them the best start in life irrespective of gender. Significant gender gaps exist in S.T.E.A.M related education paths and careers and as a mother, I want to encourage both my son and daughter to pursue any interests they have in these areas as it would set them up well for future careers.

Project Mc² H₂O RC Car in packaging

My daughter, Elizabeth, is six next week and is the perfect age to learn about science and experiment through play. The Project  Mc² range is perfect for inspiring a spark of interest in girls of her age who may not have otherwise found science appealing.

Project Mc² H₂O RC Car - what's in the box

The car is a good size, a shiny bright red colour and has some really cool features including working headlights, adjustable wing mirrors, seat belts and coloured rear lights, as well as a fabulous personalised number plate adorned with the word, 'NERDY' emblazoned on it.


Once removed from the packaging we found it comes with a separate engine, a funky remote control and a little water 'fuel' can with removable cap. Although the car is powered in part by H2O, it does require batteries that aren't included, both in the engine and the remote control (9 x AA in total), so it's best to have these ready to go along with a small Phillips head screwdriver to install them. 

One thing to note is that the car doesn't include any dolls, what you see in the packaging image are cardboard cutouts. You can buy the dolls separately  at around £24.99 each. We don't currently own any of the dolls from the range but may well be investing  after the success of the car. This didn't bother Elizabeth the first time she played with the car as she was much more interested in how it worked, but later on she used her Anna and Elsa 'Barbie' style dolls with it and they fitted perfectly in the seats.


First Elizabeth installed the engine, connecting the wires under the bonnet like a 'real mechanic', She filled the tiny 'fuel' can with water and delighted in filling up the tank. We spoke about how the water would complete an electrical circuit and turn on the 'power', she actually squealed when the lights came on! Elizabeth was full of questions and we popped over to the Project Mc² website to find out some more answers. Here's what it had to say:

Water has two jobs here. First, adding it into your RC car turns it on. The water completes an electrical circuit and allows electricity to flow from the battery to the motor. Second, it creates the mist that looks like the car’s exhaust. The mist is made from millions of tiny water droplets. Splashing around a pool creates lots of large droplets, but if you could do this ultra-fast, you would form ultra-tiny water droplets. The same thing happens in your RC car. A small plate vibrates super-fast to make millions of tiny water droplets that form the car "exhaust." 
The remote control allowed Elizabeth to maneuver the car around and she found it a lot easier to use that RC cars we've had in the past.  She loved the effect of the steam coming out of the exhaust pipes and kept refilling it again and again.

filling the Project Mc² H₂O RC Car with water

I've had a little trouble uploading our video that we had great fun making, so for now you can watch it in action on the Project Mc² youtube channel, but i'll add our video in as soon as I can!

Elizabeth has gotten excellent play value out of this toy, playing imaginatively with her dollies (taking them shopping to the 'Traffic Centre' and on a trip to the theatre) but what's more is that she has also gained knowledge, asked questions and taken a real interest in how it works, even explaining to Nanna on the phone how; 'the water conducts the electricity and takes the power from the engine to the lights'.

Project Mc² H₂O RC Car #STEAMday

The Project Mc² H₂O RC Car is aimed at children aged six and over which I think is about right for them to be able to get full educational as well as play value from it. It has an RRP of £59.99 but I've seen offers on amazon with at least 20% off that, so if it's on your child's list, do shop around. Although that may seem like a high price tag, this is a substantial toy that would certainly be a 'main' gift at Christmas. For a branded toy I found it to be really high quality and sturdy with great attention t detail both inside and outside the vehicle. It fits in nicely with the rest of the range and is a great tie in to the Netflix series if your child is a fan of watching McKeyla McAlister, Camryn Coyle, Adrienne Attoms,Bryden Bandweth and their adventures.

Why not check out some of the other great Science toys and kits reviewed by The Brick Castle family? Project MC2 Lab KitAdrienne Attoms Doll with Volcano Experiment ReviewCircuit Beats ReviewMcKeyla Doll with Lava Lamp Experiment Review.

This post contains affiliate links. We were sent the Project Mc² H₂O RC Ca in exchange for this post.