Easter Fun at Calke Abbey, National Trust


Mr G knocked a few more of the 50 things off his list. Damning (and falling in a stream), climbing trees, climbing inside a tree…


Miss L built a den and played animals including a monkey and a snow leopard.


The Easter Egg trail looked a little busy so we walked along the river and through the woods to check out the new born lambs. Plenty to amuse kids along the way, dens, fallen trees and streams.

Mr G fell in the stream he was damming so it was time to go home after that wrapped up in my fleece. Tired and mucky and very happy.


Calke Abbey is a National Trust Property just South of Derby. It has a house, cafe, playground and some of the best dead trees for climbing in I have ever seen.


Simnel Cake, perfect for ailing souls


Bunny Burner. Still tastes awesome, even though I somehow read 6 minutes instead of 3 under the grill.

Good Friday I was feeling, ‘meh’, burnt out, tired and unable to face the mess from a busy week or even worse the prospect of building even more mess over the Easter holidays. But Mr A volunteered to take the kids food and ingredient shopping, so I cleaned the kitchen and prepared for some baking therapy.

Simnel cakes have been around since medieval times as a sweet treat, it was the Victorians who decided to decorate them with 11 balls to represent the disciples minus Judas. My interpretation, as a ‘heathen’, as Mr A affectionately refers to me, is all about Spring. I am a firm believer we need festivals to see us through the seasons.
Continue reading

10 tips for a long family drive

Next week me, my Dad and the kids have the long drive down to Gatwick, an overnight stop at the Ibis and then our flight to Bologna. The car journey had been the least of my worries, but today’s guest post has some good tips I hadn’t planned for.

The “are we there yet?” scene in the car journey is almost beyond familiar. And yet it happens all the time for many families who have to take long car journeys. With the Easter break coming up, it’s time to start preparing for long trips to grandparents’ homes and all that means for those of us with small children. Here are 10 tips for making the car ride a pleasanter trip for all involved: Continue reading

CLOSED Win Theatre tickets and dinner for 2 in London

I am really excited about this month’s giveaway. It combines four of my greatest passions: British Summer Time, theatre, food, and time with the one you love. In fact five, I really loved the music behind this show as a kid…have you guessed from the pic?

As I arrived in Nottingham from London at 6pm last night, it hit me it was still light! The clocks are springing forward on Sunday, so going to the theatre of an evening won’t seem so much like forcing myself out of hibernation.

This month’s giveaway is in partnership with Allianz Global Assistance:

Allianz Global Assistance offers quality travel insurances to millions of travellers worldwide and wants to celebrate the start of the British summer with you! Allianz Global Assistance wants to give you the chance to make more use of the additional daylight on offer starting when the clocks go forward on Sunday.

Win an amazing night out with Theatre and Dinner for 2 in London!

PRIZE: Two tickets for the musical “Thriller” in London and a two course dinner in a choice of one of ten restaurants. Drinks are not included. Price includes service charge and VAT. Tickets are for an evening show Sunday-Friday, or the matinee on Saturday or Sunday. For a show in April -June.

The lucky winner was number 29, Angela Wright!

To enter just leave a comment below telling me what the best thing about theatre is and please subscribe to the Alexander Residence by reader, or by email:

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Terms and Conditions
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  • The prize, as described in detail above, will be supplied on behalf of AllianzAssist, not by Alexander Residence, and is non refundable and non exchangeable.
  • Closing date Midday Monday 15th April.
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Listed with: ThePrizeFinder – UK Competitions

What have you got planned for the Easter break?


My strategy for the school holidays is to write a list with the kids of the things they want to do. This normally means I cannot fail disappoint them, and when they get to the end of the holiday they have a sense of accomplishment. At this age their ideas are normally not too ambitious, the picture above is Miss L’s list from last half term. The worrying stick man pose denotes yoga in case you were wondering. There’s a trip to the park, an indoor picnic and meeting some friends.

This time for once, I am ahead of myself and I have some tricks up my sleeve too.

See a show

I really want to take them to a show in London at some point, if not this holiday then in the Summer.  Travel Zoo have some cheap deals for the theatre in London.

Closer to home,the stage adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s I was a Rat premières at Nottingham Playhouse over Easter, Miss L are looking forward to seeing it this week. I’m excited about taking her to theatre that is a bit more grown up and sharing a more physical style of theatre with her. I fell in love with physical theatre, when I was a drama student.


photo by Oriana; via Flickr http://bit.ly/10A0fAR

This is a right ‘trick up my sleeve’, but thanks to the Bolognian Tourist Information I am taking part in a #socialmediafreetrip to Bologna, Italy. My Dad, a huge foodie, is excited about joining us. The kids are beyond excited about eating Bologna out of ice cream, tortellini and pizza. Expect lots of Instagram shots of Dad drinking expressos to try and keep pace, me wearing sunnies and sitting in beautiful plazas and the kids chasing pigeons.

Make a Kite

MAKE AND FLY A KITE from robcowen on Vimeo.

I’ve been reading Skimming Stones by Rob Cowen and Leo Critchley.after meeting Rob at a National trust event, so when he sent us all a video on how to make a kite I was inspired to try it myself with the kids. Skimming Stones is all about finding simple, forgotten skills that help us to interact with nature and achieve a deeper connection with our surroundings. Which leads neatly onto…


I want to explore Nottingham Forest, (the woodland, not the football team). It is sad to think so much of this area must have been woodland in Robin Hood’s time, and I feel like every time we try and find the forest I think ‘Is this it?’ but I think we must have missed a huge chunk, so that can be our quest. I am hoping the Forestry Commission can help me find it.


I have Maggy’s new book Red Ted Art up my sleeve, along with tea and biscuits, for a couple of afternoons of happy family crafting.

What you up to?

Post in association with Travel Zoo

5 timesaving combination oven recipes

Oh yeah, I am smug, not more standing over a hot stove for me.

Panasonic gave me a Combination oven to try out over Christmas. A few months in and it is really making a difference to how we cook. It can combine oven, grill and microwave to make cooking quickly taste just as good as the conventional routes. Panasonic microwaves use different technology, so no blind spots, shrivelled vegetables or need to rotate your food on a plate.

My favourite shortcuts and recipes so far are:
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What Long Term Impact Does Childcare Have on Children?

Today’s guest post is written by Emily, as a parent I think her insights into childcare are refreshing, in that they are written as a child and not a parent. My Mum spent ages trying to persuade me to go to camp, as much for me I think, as for her own sanity, looking back I wonder if I missed out?

As a child, I had an au pair (two, in fact) before I was school age and I went to a day camp during the summer holidays. Back then, before the cognisance of adulthood and a general awareness of self, my siblings and I didn’t consider the ramifications of an outsourced childcare – on us or our parents. We just went with it, as children do, and didn’t realize how little time we actually spent with our mum and dad.

When you’re a kid, life is a total mystery and your parents are superheroes. Although you question everything around you, you rarely question the behaviour of your parents. For the first ten or so years of your life, they are the centre of the universe, the omnipresent knowledge machine that offers cuddles and condemnation in equal measure, they are infallible and their decisions make the sunrise. It’s as simple as that. Continue reading

Ahoy, Mateys! Set Your Sights on a Norfolk Broads Holiday

I’ve stayed in a windmill, but I’ve yet to try a boat as a family holiday experience, however, I know at least one pirate resident who would be well up for it! Over to an expert, today’s guest post by Laura Potts is all about boating holidays…

Boating is in the blood in our family. I grew up sailing and later teaching and crewing; my husband graduated from racing his father’s handmade dinghies on the River Orwell in Suffolk to serving aboard aircraft carriers around the world.

So when the kids came along, it only seemed natural to get them into life jackets and on-board at the earliest opportunity.

It was, to say the least, not a success. Continue reading

Living in the future, right now

This guest post, by Amy Rutter, in association with LG, previews some amazingly futuristic gadgets….self making bed anyone?

You could argue that with the technology and gadgets available on the market today, we’re currently living in the future. Of course, actually, it’s the present, but we’re getting closer and closer to that futuristic world seen in 2015 in Back to the Future 2. I think it’s unlikely that’ll we’ll be quite there by 2015, but we’re not far behind.
Although we don’t have flying cars, we do have rechargeable electric cars on the road.

With most car manufacturers now giving it a stab, the Nissan Leaf is the top-selling motorway-ready electric car, selling 50,000 by February 2013. It produces no greenhouse gas emissions and has won numerous awards, including the 2010 Green Car Vision Award and the 2011 World Car of the Year. The only problem is, as well as installing a charging system at your home, you need to make sure there’s one nearby on your journeys.

The QOOQ tablet is perfect for budding chefs. Designed for even the messiest of cooks, this virtual cookbook is a touchscreen tablet that can handle sticky fingers, splashes of food and extreme heat. It has protected wiring and even sits on slip-proof legs so that it will hold itself like a book stand. Featuring interactive meal planning and an automatic shopping list, this should live in every modern kitchen.

LG launched a new smart TV in Harrods recently which is the world’s first 55-inch OLED TV. OLED means it’s wafer thin but has an amazing picture quality and 3D capabilities. The built in smart TV dashboard lets you swipe through programme options as well as stream films on demand, browse the internet and access social media sites. Fifty years ago, who’d have thought we could recreate the cinema experience in our front rooms?

How much of a drag is it to make your bed in the morning? Well, it’s not a huge pain, but it’d be great if it could be done for us, right? Cue this self-making bed from Spanish furniture company OHEA. When activated, a mechanical arm will straighten the sheets and duvet before lifting and straightening the pillows and dropping them back onto the bed. Luckily, the bed has a safety device which prevents it from making the bed while you’re still in it. That’d be a nasty wake up call.

One of my favourite gadgets in Back to the Future 2 was the pizza oven which let you put in a teeny pizza and 30 seconds later it emerges, 10 times the size and steaming hot. Genius! Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait for that invention, but it the meantime we’ve got this pizza ordering button (if you live in Dubai, anyway).

Wardrobe basics every woman should own

Alexander Residence has a resident stylist. Thank you to Amy Rutter for this no messing guest post in association with Simon Jersey, which lists 8 wardrobe must haves. Do you have any to add? I can’t live without  a long cardi….

There are some items which should be a permanent fixture in every wardrobe, through any season, come rain or shine. These are the staple garments which you’ll always need. They’ll get you out of trouble and are so versatile that they can be teamed with a number of different items to create numerous outfits. Continue reading

Easy Chocolate Brownies


These went down really well as Christmas presents for teachers, and we also took some as presents when we went to stay with my brother’s family. This recipe which I picked up from one of my visits to the Panasonic Ideas Kitchen, makes loads, at least 30 small squares, and is so easy. We make them in our Panasonic Combination oven which cuts the cooking time, but I have included conventional oven timings too.


  • 250 g plain chocolate
  • 250 g unsalted butter
  • 4 large eggs
  • 310 g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 180 g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 75 g hazelnuts
  • 75 g white chocolate chips
  • 75 g milk chocolate chips

1. Put the plain chocolate and butter in a large bowl. Place on glass turntable and cook on HIGH MICROWAVE for 3 mins. Leave to cool slightly.

2. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl and set aside.

3. Stir the sugar into the Chocolate. Add the eggs and vanilla essence.
Fold in the flour, nuts and Chocolate.

4. Pour the Chocolate mixture into the prepared cake tin. Place on tray and cook on COMBINATION: CONVECTION 180°C and SIMMER MICROWAVE for 18 mins. Or Gas 4/180 C for 25-30 minutes.

The middle should feel soft when cooked. Allow to cool in the tin. Remove the brownies from the tin and cut into squares.