The Grape Club: A Review

I’m a big fan of wine. I’m half Italian; of course I love wine, but I’m no expert. I know what I like, and I dislike plonk, but I do tend to veer towards Old World wines and drink predominantly Italian. It’s always good when I get the opportunity to taste things I wouldn’t normally try or buy myself, so I was delighted to hear from The Grape Club - a wine club.

The Fab Four

Subscribers to The Grape Club receive four hand-picked bottles of wine each month (called a Grape Drop – Mmmm grape drop). The wines aren’t the usual supermarket fodder, but nor are they really expensive. If you particularly like any of the wines, then you can buy them straight from The Grape Club at a 15% discount. You also get their personalised tasting notes so you can learn a bit about the type of wine, the producer, what sorts of flavours you might get and what would pair well. All educational but in a non-patronising way.

I’ve been a member of a wine club before with London- and Surrey-based Philglas & Swiggot, but a case of six red, six white – also with tasting notes – which my husband and I got every other month cost £250 (you could also opt for every month at that price). When our twins were born and we became a family of five, our spending priorities changed quite a bit and we cancelled. The Grape Club is far more accessible: four bottles a month cost £45; they’re delivered straight to your door and postage and packaging is included in that price. For this amount, you’re obviously not going to get the very highest calibre wines (and in my opinion neither did we with the far pricier Philglas & Swiggot offering), but what you will get is introductions to different, varied and extremely good ‘every day’ wines, as opposed to very special occasion wines. You’ll see how you can get something far better than a very mediocre, ubiquitous supermarket wine, at the same price.

So, on with the tasting of February’s Grape Drop. I’ll try not to come over too Jilly Goolden…

1) Vergelegen – Premium Carbenet Sauvignon Merlot 2010

I’d never been very tempted by South African wine up until a few years ago when I was recommended one called Meerlust in a wine shop. It wasn’t very expensive and I was very pleasantly surprised. I was therefore eager to see what this Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend would be like. We actually opened it before food and had it on its own, which can expose wines a bit. This one had nothing to hide. Made in the Bordeaux style, it was lovely and rich, almost chocolatey, without being heavy. It was very flavoursome, but not overpowering. We actually had a curry later on and had the last third of the bottle with it. I don’t tend to think that curry and wine really go as the strong flavours of the curry often overwhelm, but this one held its own and actually complemented nicely. The tasting notes did say that it goes very well with most meat or chicken dishes or a hearty winter stew, so quite an allrounder. A definite hit! With the Grape Club’s Member’s 15% discount it costs £62.94 for a case.

2) Torres – Pazo das Bruxas, Rias Baixas 2013

I don’t tend to drink much white wine in winter, mainly because I like fuller-bodied wines, which go with my heartier, red meat and carb-heavy fare when it’s cold. I personally find that quite a lot of the supermarket white wines (around the £6-£12 price mark) and definitely most pub white wines are rather insipid. This Spanish white is made from the aromatic Albarino grape. It was beautifully crisp, but you get a slight sweetness when you first sip. I hate sweet white wines (I’m not including dessert wines here), but this isn’t a sweet wine, you just get a hint of it before the more dominant fresh crispiness hits.

We actually had the majority of this on its own and it was absolutely lovely. It’s light, but has more about it than the omnipresent low grade Pinot Grigio that you get (there are some fantastic Pinot Grigios out there by the way), but didn’t have the heaviness that I find, and don’t particularly like, with many Australian white wines. I thought it drank so well without being paired with anything. However, we had veal sweetbreads as a starter (Valentine’s Day cooking by my husband) and the remaining glass did go very well. It would go beautifully with seafood. A case of six bottles costs £67.37 with the Grape Club’s Member’s discount.

Taste, learn and enjoy

Tasting notes

Tasting notes

3) Trapiche Melodias Winemakers Selection 2013 

Ahhh Malbec. I started sampling Argentinian Malbec about 10 years ago. As I mentioned, I haven’t traditionally gone for New World wines, but I found that Malbec definitely had an Old World wine taste (probably to do with the grape variety’s history) and I loved it. A couple of years after tasting my first Malbec, I went on honeymoon to Argentina and as part of it stayed at the amazing Cavas Wine Lodge in Mendoza aka Malbec country. Like with most types of wines, there are good, mediocre and bad versions. This is certainly a good one! Beautifully rich and well-rounded, it had that classic dark fruit flavour and – yes, to go all Jilly on you – oodles of blackberries and black cherry. This can most definitely be drunk on its own. We savoured a glass each before having the rest with the classic beef pairing. Gorgeous! A case is £58.70 with the 15% discount.

4) Rothschild Mouton Cadet – Reserve Sauternes 2012 

This is what I’d call a sticky. Whilst I don’t like sweet white wines, I love many of the sweet dessert wines. That sounds weird, but it’s because it isn’t the sort of wine you’d have on its own or with your main, it’s something you’d have with lighter desserts or blue cheese or even as an aperitif with something like pate. The other classic it goes with is foie gras. We had ours with a tarte au citron. However, I take it back, I would very cheerfully drink this on its own. It’s sweet as you’d expect, but actually has a lovely dry finish. My husband, who has a sweeter tooth than me, had to be prised away from it. Absolutely delicious. A case of six half-bottles costs £63.70 with the Grape Club’s Member’s Discount.

If you want to discover some lovely wines, have a bit of an education about what you are drinking, are fed up with supermarkets pushing certain below par labels at inflated prices then The Grape Club is for you. What’s more, quote ‘The Parent Social’ if you’d like to try it out and you’ll get 15% off your first month :-)

I’ll leave you with a quote from my dad, who is an Italian wine and food merchant, but definitely no philosopher. When asked what was the best wine you could have he replied: “The best wine is the one you enjoy drinking the most.” Very true…

Measles Outbreak UK

Last week I double checked the girls’ red books just to make sure that all three had definitely had both doses of the MMR vaccine (Mumps, Measles, Rubella).

I’m seeing an increasing number of news stories about pockets where there have been outbreaks – Disneyland being a particularly headline grabbing one – and whilst most of these have been in other countries, I think it’s going to be a serious issue in the UK. By the way, in 2000, the US declared that it had eliminated measles.

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I’m not going to even begin to debate about the pro-vaccine v anti-vaccine camps, I’m far too ignorant about all of the issues involved. All I do know is that I’m very happy that a quick look at their records did confirm they’d had both doses of the vaccine.

There was much negative publicity about the MMR vaccine and this was enough to put many parents off getting it for their children. Again, I’m not going to go into that, but it does mean that the uptake of this particular vaccination is severely reduced.

Measles is extremely contagious, so much so that 90 percent of those who aren’t immunised would catch it if they were exposed. It’s airborne and can remain in the air and on surfaces for up to two hours after an infected person has left, and it is transmittable before it can be diagnosed. Children who are too young to have had the first dose or second dose of the MMR vaccine are obviously at risk as are children with illnesses such as cancer who can’t be vaccinated and children who are immunocompromised.

I hope I’m wrong about a big UK outbreak, but as the children return to school after half-term, I’m starting to fear the worst.

Here’s what the NHS says about measles with some of the signs and symptoms:

Measles is a highly infectious viral illness that can be very unpleasant and can sometimes lead to serious complications. However, it’s now uncommon in the UK because of the effectiveness of the MMR vaccination.

The initial symptoms of measles develop around 10 days after you are infected. These can include:

  • cold-like symptoms
  • red eyes and sensitivity to light
  • a high temperature (fever)
  • greyish white spots in the mouth and throat

After a few days, a red-brown spotty rash will appear. This usually starts behind the ears and then spreads around the head and neck before spreading to the rest of the body.

Read more about the symptoms of measles.

Playing Out – A Thing of the Past?

I came across an article on Mail Online, which showcased photographer Robert Frank’s pictures documenting early 1950s London. They’re so striking; I think they’re fantastic. It made me look for further examples of his work and during my Internet travels I came across another photo by a different photographer (Weegee) that also really struck me. This one was from the 1930s and was taken in NYC, but it, and one of Frank’s, did have an element in common: children playing out unsupervised.

Summer, the Lower East Side by Weegee (aka Arthur Fellig)

Summer, the Lower East Side by Weegee (aka Arthur Fellig)

 

 

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Robert Frank photo from the early 50s showing London children playing out

My mum was horrendously paranoid about, and overprotective of, my brother and I, yet we were still allowed to play out. In my case, this usually consisted of a few of us riding about on our bikes, which, as I lived in Streatham in South-West London, often meant cycling around various blocks of terrace houses. I had to check back every 20 minutes (so probably a bit different from the playing out of my mum’s generation), but despite her anxieties I did get to enjoy this freedom – and loved it.

I do worry about many things relating to the kids, but I know I’m not nearly as anxious as my mum was.  However, after looking at these photos and thinking back to my own childhood, I said to my husband that I couldn’t imagine for a moment letting our eldest play out in the streets. He agreed that it wouldn’t happen. I certainly wouldn’t let her (or my younger two) sit in front of the TV or play on games consoles for hours on end instead, but I can’t foresee ever allowing them to just go out and be left to their own devices. We live in what I’d class as a fairly ‘safe area,’ yet I don’t see other children playing out either, so I know it’s not just us.

It makes me feel a bit sad.



The Missed Party Invoice

When did kids’ parties get so complicated?

You’ve probably seen the news story doing the rounds today about the £16 invoice sent to the parents of a boy who was a ‘no show’ at a friend’s party at a dry ski slope.

I’m sure like many others, I thought that this was totally outrageous. However, from firsthand experience, I know how stressful it can be (or how stressful I make) organising a child’s birthday party, and how costs can start to spiral even when planning something rather more modest than a party on a ski slope.

Did she just flip out and send the invoice in a moment of post-party madness?

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Elsa keeps the children entertained. That helps!!

Here are my top five party organisation headaches (I think they call these First World problems):

1) Too many guests turn up on the day

You’ve carefully calculated, done the correct number of party bags, the right amount of food and the right number of layers on the pass the parcel; then you get a couple of extra on the day. I always do plenty of food and extra party bags just in case. However, if you’ve hired an entertainer or the party is at a particular venue you may have to pay for a certain number of children/places.

For a Frozen-themed party we booked ‘Elsa’ from My Little Princess Parties (they’re great by the way). We provided the cake, party food and party bags, but all the entertainment was laid on by Elsa at a cost of £199 for two hours. This covered up to 25 children. More than 25 kids and there was a charge of £5 per extra child. Over 30 and an extra entertainer would have been required. Thankfully we had exactly 30. Phew!

2) Too few guests/lots of cancellations

What if you play it safe with numbers and then get loads of last minute cancellations? For one party, I got four cancellations on the day and one no-show. I was hugely disappointed on my daughter’s behalf and was pretty stressed as I didn’t want the party to be a complete flop. I didn’t tell her about the cancellations. It was the right thing to do. She had a brilliant time anyway (there were still plenty of partygoers despite my worries), and it was only afterwards that my daughter started dissecting the guest list and realised that not everyone had made it. She was fine.

From a cost point of view, if you’re doing an activity-based/venue party, you’ll probably get charged for the number you specified. Just suck it up. You were expecting to pay that anyway.

3) Party duration 

One of my biggest mistakes was having a fourth birthday party at home, which was three hours long. It was just way too much for 38 (yes, 38) young children. For a select number of friends, who are a bit older; fine, but for younger ones, it’s mayhem. Two hours is plenty.

4) How much to spend on party bags 

Do you go with a massive bag of tat and tonnes of sugary treats (which incidentally the kids love and the parents hate) or go for fewer, more quality items? Oh the  dilemma. A mixture I reckon. Kids are hugely disappointed if the bag’s really sparse, even if there is something in there that’s really nice. Parents are hugely disappointed if there’s a tonne of plastic mini toys in there that will be broken within minutes and then litter their house. If mine are anything to go by, they get extremely attached to tat and it’s almost impossible to throw these items away.

5) Will I look like a complete weirdo if I send out save the date emails before the actual invitations?

I didn’t send these out for my own wedding yet for two consecutive years I have sent ‘save the dates’ for my eldest’s parties. In my defence, you have to book December parties well in advance and people do get very busy at that time of year.


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Family New Year’s Resolutions

We’ve had a good year with lots of fun and laughter, but there are definitely things we could all improve upon.

I’ve never made New Year’s resolutions before, but here goes… I’ve also optimistically made some on behalf of the children. In fact,  two of these were mentioned by Santa himself in the girls’ Portable North Pole messages on Christmas Eve. Is it too early to say he’s already taking note of behaviour for next Christmas?

He's taking note already for Christmas 2015 (maybe)

He’s taking note already for Christmas 2015 (maybe)

My resolutions

1) Don’t say no when I could say yes. I’m not talking about being a pushover and saying yes to every request from the children, but if they want to do baking after dinner, I shouldn’t automatically say no just because I don’t want a load more washing up late in the day

2) Stop checking my phone for emails and Facebook notifications when the children are eating their meals. Awful habit. Will resolve to not even take my phone to the dinner table

3) Switch off from work and not check email all the time. Instead check every couple of hours when not working, so that non-work time is properly focused on the children

4) Don’t sweat the small stuff. Perhaps the kids wouldn’t be preoccupied with tiny details and pretty insignificant things if I wasn’t

5) Cut down on booze, unhealthy snacking and comfort foods so I can lead by example. I can’t tell the children off for asking for too many treats if I’m making lots of unhealthy choices. Credit where credit is due, they’re very good with fresh fruit and veg

All three girls’ resolutions 

1) Not mess about at the dinner table

2) Listen!!

3) Put one thing away before taking another out

4) Watch a bit less TV

Youngest daughters’ resolutions  

1)   Pleases and thank-yous used to be automatic, now not so much. Get back on track with those

2)   Not have tantrums about the minutest of things (wishful thinking on this one)

3) Speak properly and not in ‘whinge’ language

Eldest daughter’s resolutions 

1)   Stop bossing younger sisters about

2)   Not interfere in things that don’t concern her (mainly about her sisters)

Happy New Year all!! 



Christmas Bits and Bobs

Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, but the run up is a long one. We had nursery and school fayres in mid-November, and the shops have been Christmassy since the start of October. I think we’re in danger of losing some of the magic. However, there’re certain things that we do that are simple, which the kids really enjoy and that don’t break the bank.

The advent calendars

The Nutcracker Advent Storybook Set2

We are starting to get a collection. My eldest daughter Sofia was bought a big felt one that you hang on the wall and has 24 little pockets to stuff treats into. It’s already a tradition, and it’s an exciting thing when it comes out of the loft. Then came the Victorian Townhouse 3D calendar, which I got from a friend who was a Phoenix Trading representative. Fantastically, they have three in the range now, so each year, for the past couple of years, I’ve got the Townhouse, Department Store and Bakery for the three girls. Amazingly we haven’t had arguments about who has which!

Then this year came the birthday present keepsake for Sofia from The Bristol Parent: The Nutcracker storybook set and advent calendar. It is truly beautiful. There are 24 little books, which retell the complete story. Even better, they have little cords attached so you can hang them on the tree. This will be coming out year after year, and I’m hoping that it’s something she can eventually pass on.

The Christmas books

We already had Santa is Coming to London, and as a Londoner I loved it. However, we now live in Surrey. So when out on my one and only (quite short, due to school run) Christmas shop, I was very excited to see the Santa is Coming to Surrey hardback for the bargain price of £4.99. Reading about local landmarks with a Christmas theme equals much excitement!!

He also visits Leeds...

He also visits Leeds…

Sofia was bought the wonderful Usborne book Christmas Decorations to Cut, Fold & Stick as a birthday present. She absolutely adores it. She has just turned six and was able to do it completely independently. I will be buying another one next year!

The arts and crafts

Paper chainsThe twins’ nursery fayre was a bit short on Christmas decs, so we got going on making paper chains with random coloured strips of old wrapping paper and drawing paper that we had in the art box. They loved doing it so much I bought this great festive paper chain kit from John Lewis (which is now reduced to clear). Lovely quality, thick paper; dotted lines to show where to cut and little sticky dots to hold the links together. It also includes a penguin design. Ahh Monty.

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Paper plate angelsA cute activity that the girls really enjoyed doing. There are quite a few variations on the ‘paper plate’ angel. This is probably the simplest.

Take one white paper plate, cut out a V-shaped section, which is just under a quarter of the plate and attach at the bottom. Then decorate.

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This a three-year-old’s work-in-progress. The glitter hasn’t been added yet and it has a weird facial expression, but apart from that…

Glitter pine conesThis has to be one of the easiest (and cheapest) craft activities ever. Forage for a few pinecones, daub with PVA glue and dunk in glitter. Then simply attach a sparkly pipe cleaner or ribbon and voila a Christmas tree decoration.

Remembrance baubleSofia goes to an after school club that’s run by one of our local churches. The other week we were asked to email over a picture of someone that our family would like to remember. A week later the children (with some help I’m guessing) had made them into a bauble. These are now adorning one of the trees that they’ve put up in the church. I thought that it was a really lovely idea.

Bauble

Your child could also draw a nice picture to go in there.

A quick Google has thrown up a pack of four create your own baubles for £9.99, but eBay has quite a few options also.

More tree decs - we visited a Christmas fayre and there was a nice DIY craft stand. For £2.50, we got plain flat wooden decorations that the kids could customise with glitter and all manner of gems and sparkles. Sofia (seen here showcasing her effort along with an angel made from the Usborne book) certainly got her money’s worth. Now pride of place on the tree.

Decs

Personalised Christmas cards

My Mother-in-Law bought each of the girls Lets Colour In Kids Personalised Xmas Cards. They come as a pack of five, have each of their names on the front, and as the name suggests, they need colouring in. They are a bargain at £1.80 a pack.

The National Trust visit

I’m always talking about the National Trust. They do Christmas very well. Today we went to Polesden Lacey. The house was beautifully decked out as part of its A Christmas Advent’ event, which celebrates the countdown to Christmas in true Edwardian style.

Twenty-four festive scenes and traditional activities celebrate the advent. We loved looking around the house again but this time with the Christmas theme. Sofia loved doing the trail of all things Christmassy, they all got the chance to decorate one of the trees and also write and post a letter to Father Christmas. Then there was a little present each before a carriage ride around the grounds, pulled by horses that were dressed as reindeer. More details of the many Christmas events going on can be found hereIMG_3700

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Woodland walks, ticks and recognising Lyme disease

We’ve had a very busy half-term holiday and have visited lots of places. One place was The Vyne, a National Trust venue near Basingstoke in Hampshire, which was stunning and had so much for the children to do.

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We met up with family and had a great time exploring the very extensive woodland (where we found our first geocache), the walled garden, house and chapel, and having a nice long walk around the ornamental lake. I’d thoroughly recommend visiting.

The day after our visit one of my daughters told me they had a spider on their arm. I took a look and saw a weird black spot on the inside of her elbow. I tried to rub it off but it didn’t budge. I kept picking, but then was concerned that maybe I was actually scratching off a mole. Then the thing came off. I put it on some white paper and discovered it had legs!! I immediately took a photo. I wasn’t sure what it was and whether it was something I needed to be concerned about,  so I consulted the Oracle that is Facebook, and my friends immediately responded. It was unanimous: it was a tick. Everyone said I should get it checked out, as without using a proper removal tool I may have left part of the tick in her skin and this would be bad. This site has some very useful information about proper removal and dos and don’ts.

Not the best pic, but you get the idea

Not the best pic, but you get the idea

The doctor took my call very seriously and we went the same day. He couldn’t ascertain whether I had removed the whole thing or not. He said I needed to be very vigilant and had to look out for a ‘target/bullseye rash’ which expands radially from the site of the tick bite, and which can occur from two to 30 days after the initial bite. This is a symptom of Lyme disease. Other early symptoms could include a fever and fatigue.

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An example of the ‘target/bullseye rash’

 

A more comprehensive symptom checklist can be found at the Children’s Lyme Disease Network.

He didn’t want to give a course of antibiotics unecessarily as a precaution, but said that if she experienced any symptoms to go back immediately and then antibiotics would be administered. So right now we’re applying Savlon and keeping a very close eye.



Do as I say, not as I do

I’ve actually realised, I don’t always lead by example. The top 10 things I tell the children to do/not do, but which I’m actually guilty of myself :-(

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1) Don’t get up from the table until you’ve finished

2) Don’t play with your toys at the dinner table – I check texts and emails on my phone (aka toy) at the table. What a TERRIBLE habit 

3) Finish one thing before you start another

4) Take that pen out of your mouth –  There isn’t a pen in the house that is in tact or doesn’t have drool coming out of it when you try to write. Euggh! It’s not the kids, it’s me 

5) Don’t bite your toothbrush – Similarly, I’m always chomping on my toothbrush and  have to buy a new one every few weeks

6) Put your shoes on whenever you go outside – In summer I’m forever wandering outside barefoot

7) Don’t interrupt each other

8) Sit properly in your chair

9) Don’t shush each other, it’s not nice 

10) Don’t have a snack so close to dinner 

Something for me to think about and which I will address. I hope I’m not alone. Anyone else guilty…?