Early Starters – it’s Competition Time!

This week, Libby and I have been lucky enough to be reviewing the latest books by Rod Campbell, creator of the much loved Dear Zoo. The new series is called Early starters and consists of these four fabulous books. 

Each one of them is based around a particular theme. “How many?” is a great introduction to counting, “My Day” follows the baby’s day and encourages children to name objects. “What’s That?” has lovely colourful page tabs and helps a child to learn about animals and things they might encounter in every day life. Libby’s particular favourite is “Can You?”. This follows the story of a baby that can open a present, look in a mirror and do various other tasks. It is a touchy feely book that allows the child to demonstrate that they can do all the things that baby can do. 

I initially wondered whether these books might be a little bit young for Libby now, but she completely disagreed. They are very educational and encourage basic learning in addition to the usual imagination that is generated through reading. Libby has insisted on reading all of the books many times over, finally settling on “Can You?” as her favourite, which we are now reading on repeat. This photo shows part of her decision making process! She loves “My Day” because it is great for her to read to herself if I’m busy. 

The fabulous people at Macmillan Children’s Books have given me a full set of these books to give away. If you know a toddler who might like them, please enter through the below Rafflecopter. They are gorgeous books and would suit babies from as young as you decide to read to them (day one in our case) through to around age three, at which point they are great for children to read (i.e. name the pictures) to themselves. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Developing Imagination

One of the most fascinating things about having a toddler is watching them change and develop every day. A baby who eats, sleeps and excretes gradually becomes a real little individual with their own personality and character. One of the most exciting things about this is the development of the imagination. 

Alongside the language skills that she is developing, Libby is gradually starting to develop the imagination to play games by herself. When left undisturbed for a while, she will chatter away to herself, playing both parts of a conversation and discussing what she is going to do. She also sings songs, occasionally making up a new verse but sadly not yet understanding what it means to sing in tune. 

When given some toys or props, she will use them to make up a very simple game or role play. A great example of this came yesterday when she got on her wooden ride-on lamb toy and put her dad’s cycle helmet on her head. She then rode off up the hall telling me “Libby’s off to work on her motorbike”. She knows that her dad goes to work on his motorbike every day, so odd though it seems, it’s quite a logical game for her to play. 

Whilst I’m no expert, it seems to me that the two most important things that are helping to develop Libby’s imagination are reading books and playing without adult intervention. I seem to remember reading that allowing children to dictate their own play rather than interfering is one of the best ways to teach them to ‘think outside the box’. Whilst I’m not keen on that term, I love the concept. I like the idea that Libby will grow up to be independent, free thinking and not constrained by societal boundaries. 

As for books, I can already see the advantages that Libby is gaining from them. We haven’t attempted to teach her to read yet, but when shown text she already looks at it from left to right, clearly copying what she has seen us do when reading to her. Today when she saw me writing, she commented “L, L for Libby”. Whilst she couldn’t see what I was writing, I now know that she takes it in when I try to show her the letters in her name. We have been lucky enough to have received some lovely books to review today, so Libby is looking forward to reading them this evening and sharing her thoughts on them on my blog tomorrow. 

Review of the Rebuilding Society

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to review the Rebuilding Society website. I had heard of crowd-funding and peer-to-peer lending before, so I was delighted to spend some time researching the concept. As I run a small business, it is always great to know the options that are available to us in terms of funding. 

This time, I dealt with the Rebuilding Society as a lender, having £50 to lend to one of the companies listed on the Marketplace. I took a little while to choose a company to lend to, because I wanted to make sure that my money went to a company whose ethics I agreed with. 

This is what I liked about the concept. Putting savings into a bank account earns a very low rate of interest these days. Other options include investing in the stock market or putting money into an investment fund. The problem I have with investment funds is that you can’t guarantee the ethics of the company that you are investing in. I have dealt in the stock market before but it is time consuming and risky, both things that I am unable to cope with at the moment. 

The way that the Rebuilding Society is different is that all companies wishing to borrow money tell you about the company, what they do and their background. Each company is graded according to risk in categories A to C, with C being the most risky. As you would expect, the more risky companies borrow at a higher rate of interest.

That said, none of these are hugely risky businesses. They are not start-ups with no background and history, they are profitable companies who need a bit of extra capital to expand, branch out or take on another area of work. 

I initially bid to invest in a company that related to photographic print, but I received an email after the closing date of the loan to say that there had not been enough interest in the company so I wouldn’t be able to lend to them. I therefore waited a little while to find another business that I liked the sound of. 

This time, I have bid to invest in a company called Exquisite Handmade Cakes Ltd. They have been given a C risk rating, so I know that there is more of a risk that my money won’t be repaid. That said, they make cakes. What’s not to love? The loan is for £50,000 for sales and marketing, and I know first hand how expensive that can be. But if invested wisely, £50,000 will go a long way for a small business and they can expect a great return on that investment. 

Personally, if everything goes well, I will get an amazing rate of interest on my money. I have bid to lend to this company at their level C standard rate of 20%. This is so much more than I would get in an ISA that I will definitely be pursuing this avenue of investment in the future. I would also consider requesting a micro-loan if we were in a position to need to do so at any point. 

Read the beans book!

A couple of weeks ago, Libby was lucky enough to be sent two more of the beautiful Zoe & Beans books to review. The books are called “Hello Ladybird” and “We’re Not Scared”. 

As always, both books feature really sweet, simple stories and gorgeous, brightly coloured, eye-catching illustrations. 

Hello Ladybird follows the story of Zoe and Beans finding a ladybird, only to lose it again. Luckily enough, it turns up, just where you wouldn’t expect it! 

We’re not scared is another lovely book that demonstrates to children that so many of the things that people are commonly afraid of are actually fine. Zoe and Beans aren’t scared of anything… but in a sweet little twist at the end of the book, they show that they do have a sensitive side as well! 

Libby always loves the Zoe and Beans books, and each time she has some new ones I notice her taking in more and more from both the story and the illustrations. This time, she particularly loved looking for the ladybird. I know how much she enjoyed the books, because a couple of days after we’d last read them, we were sat on the bed in my room reading when Libby suddenly jumped up. She climbed off the bed and ran into her room, shouting “read the Beans book!” 

Sure enough, back she came with one of these books in each hand. I think it’s safe to say that they’re a hit! 

Let’s go fly a kite!

It was a few years since I’d been to Aberystwyth before we launched our fab lowest unique bid competition to win a holiday to nearby New Quay. I had a quick day out in New Quay and came back via Aber to take some photos for work recently, and it really has given me a taste for going back. In particular, I love the Red Kite centre, it’s so fascinating to see these amazing birds with such a stunning backdrop as the lake. The last time we went to see the red kites, I was on the back of hubby’s motorbike. Oh how times have changed! I’m dying to get over there again now though, Libby would love seeing the birds and it would be great to take the dogs for a walk somewhere so beautiful. As you can see, we’re mainly confined to muddy fields or roads at the moment on our walks. 

I’ve just written a blog post for work about Aberystwyth, so here is an extract from it about the fantastic red kite centre in case you are considering going yourself. I would personally wait for the weather to cheer up a bit, although it is open all year round and even on a dry winter’s day, it would be a glorious place for a walk. 

Bwlch Nant yr Arian Forest

The stunning and distinctive bird of prey the red kite is still a relatively rare sight in the UK. However, their numbers are increasing thanks to places like Bwlch Nant yr Arian. 

In 1999, the area became a red kite feeding station with the aim of helping the birds to thrive in the area. Over 150 kites gather every day of the year at 2pm in winter and 3pm in summer for their daily feed. The public can have a great view of the birds feeding from the opposite side of the picturesque lake or from a bird hive that overlooks the feeding area. Whilst many visitors attend purely to look at these majestic birds, there are lots of other activities on offer at Bwlch Nant yr Arian. There is a café where you can relax and enjoy the view and a play area and educational activities for children. If you are feeling a bit more adventurous, other activities on offer include horse riding, mountain biking and orienteering. There are also walks to suit all abilities and fitness levels.

An ethical business

Since starting to run a brand new website, I know that people are keen to find out what it’s all about. Our ethics and ethos are really important to us as a company, so I’d love to tell you a bit more about them. 

Our website is a really different and exciting travel site because all holidays are available for people to win rather than buy! The concept is based on lowest unique bid auctions. The way it works is that people pay around £1 (it always works out less because of bid package offers) to bid on an auction for a holiday. Instead of the highest bid winning the holiday, it is the lowest unique bid that wins, i.e. the lowest bid that only one person places.

Before rebranding our website, we gave away two short breaks in Paris, a two week holiday to Phuket, Thailand and a two week holiday to Whistler, Canada. All winners were delighted with their holidays and couldn’t believe they’d won them for a matter of pence! We decided to rebrand our website with a new name and format to allow us to do more to support other small businesses and charities. We now run two types of mini-auctions.
The first type of mini-auctions are those in aid of designated charities. All money raised in our charity auctions goes directly to the charity that the auction supports. At the moment, we have two tickets for the Tottenham v Dnipro match on Thursday to give away. This auction closes at 10pm tomorrow (Wednesday 26th February) and all money raised will go to the amazing Street Child World Cup charity. We are also running an ongoing charity auction in which we will take 50 bids. You can win a fabulous recipe book and all money raised goes to the incredibly worthy Maternity Worldwide charity.
In our other mini-auctions, people can win small items related to holidays, all sourced from small British businesses and entrepreneurs. We are starting these auctions with two sets of luggage tags and matching passport covers. These were made by Meebee Designs, a fabulous British entrepreneur who makes her items out of reclaimed materials. They are handmade and exclusive. We pay full price for the items and we will take around 50 bids on them so that the odds of winning are amazing and we make enough to cover our costs for purchasing the items, plus hopefully a little bit towards the running costs of the site.
Regarding the holidays, we have two running simultaneously. Our first two holidays are based on the vacation vs staycation theme. This should be really interesting because UK holidays seem to be so popular at the moment and it will be interesting to see whether there is more interest in the vacation or the staycation. The vacation is to the South of France, the staycation is to New Quay in West Wales. Both are fantastic destinations and the accommodation is second to none. Again, we have paid full price for the holidays from British business people and we are aiming to cover our costs and take a small amount of profit to cover our website running costs. This will allow us to continue to host charity auctions without charging the charities anything.

Please do pay us a visit, you can support some amazing charities and win fantastic prizes. If you are a small business or charity who we might be able to help, we’d also love to hear from you.

Street Child World Cup

Today, I was approached in a work capacity and asked to support a truly amazing charity called the Street Child World Cup. Someone has generously donated two tickets to the Tottenham v Dnipro Europa League match on Thursday night (27th February). That’s why we’re running a really quick auction to give away the tickets, ending at 10 pm on Wednesday night (28th February).

I’m sure that Tottenham and the exciting Europa League fixture don’t need any introduction, so instead I’m going to tell you a bit about the amazing charity that we are raising money for.

Across the world, millions of children live and work on the streets. In 2014, this is nothing short of disgraceful. The Street Child World Cup is a global movement for street children to receive the protection and opportunities that all children are entitled to. March 10th 2014 will see the start of a 10 day tournament where street children from all over the world will represent their peers who live and work on the streets.

The aim is to give these children a voice through numerous projects that focus mainly on art and football. The Street Child World Cup itself is the culmination of work over the past four years and will raise awareness of the plight of the children. In this day and age, it is a travesty that a charity has to raise awareness for children who are denied such basic rights as a roof over their heads.

Whilst we appreciate that not everyone can drop everything and travel to White Hart lane on Thursday, if you are able to go to the match, this is a great opportunity to win tickets for next to nothing. It is also a fantastic opportunity to support an amazing charity that is really deserving of our support.

Wine wine wine

As work is somewhat manic at the moment (along with the slight inconveniences associated with a chatty toddler and being 7 months pregnant), I don’t manage to blog as much as I want to. These days though, I do write a daily post on my work blog and today’s post is about a subject that I thought my blog readers might also enjoy. So here is a brief guide to wine from the gorgeous Languedoc Roussillon region of the South of France. 

The Languedoc-Roussillon region is the most prolific wine-growing area in France. With the whole of France being so famous for its wine, this really is some accolade. It is not surprising then that there is a vast array of wine available of various different varieties. You can also enjoy a vineyard tour and tasting experience in the region to allow you to find out a bit more about the local grapes. The most important grapes in the region tend to be Lladoner Pelut, Cinsault, Grenache and Mourvedre. 

Wine tasting

The French are incredibly proud of their wine and rightly so, and no-one more so than the producers themselves. That’s why a winery tour and wine tasting will be such a fascinating experience in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. They love to tell you all about the wines, where they come from, how they are made and why they are some of the best in the world. Just half an hour’s drive from Ille-sur-Tet, you can visit the Domaine Treloar Vineyard and Winery. Take a tour of the vineyard and wine cave with an explanation of the winemaking process. Then move on to sample some of the wines and enjoy a home-cooked lunch. This is a small, friendly and family run wine producing estate so be sure to book a tour before attending to ensure that they can accommodate you. 

Cotes du Rousillon Villages

Just South of Corbieres lies the Agly river. Alongside the river there are just 25 villages that have been granted the Cotes du Rousillon Villages wine label. The label only produces red wine. The wines are quite strong, spicy and medium bodied. 

Grand Rousillon

The Grand Rousillon label applies to sweet wine from 89 of the region’s villages. Both sweet red and sweet white wine is produced under this label. The main grapes used for the sweet white wine are Muscat blanc, Muscat romain and Grenache. Grenache is also used for the slightly more unusual sweet red wine, along with Carignan, Cinsault and Lista. 

Crémant de Limoux

In the Roussillon region, crémant is produced following the same method as that followed when producing champagne. This includes a second fermentation process within the bottle that captures the carbon dioxide that produces the sparkling effect. The landscape and climate are similar to that in Chateauneuf du Pape so as can be expected, the sparkling white wine produced is of excellent quality although much cheaper to purchase than that produced in the Champagne region of France. 

Whatever wine you enjoy, if you win a holiday to this amazing wine producing region of France, you won’t be disappointed. It is a great idea to keep a note of your favourites throughout your holiday because despite their excellent quality, Languedoc-Roussillon region wines are relatively inexpensive so they make great souvenirs to take home.