Things I Discovered – February

Things I Discovered 4Well hello everyone and welcome to another round of all the lovely/useful/bizarre and downright fabulous things I discovered this past month that I know you’ll love too.  Crikey, its been a cram-packed month, whoever thought February to be boring?  As such I’ve had trouble keeping this down to short post (yet again!) but it’s very quick to read so skip to the bits that take your fancy.  This month has a bit of an emphasis on technology as I’ve recommended an educational online game for Play, found a child friend email provider and suggesting you read blog posts on marriage rather than the usual book.  Also, you’ll find a delicious oh-so-easy recipe for trifle, how charity fundraising can be great for making school fun, and the effect that the dreaded flooding has had on the earthworm….

Eat – ‘Fail-cake’ Trifle

Anything but a failure fruit trifle

Anything but a failure fruit trifle

Ever had a disaster with a cake and thrown in plain flour instead of the critical self-raising sort?  If you’re like me then you’ll not only have done this but not realised till after you’ve baked it and it’s come out looking like a cake suitable for Flat Stanley’s birthday, let alone your son’s birthday the next day…..sigh.  So, should this fate ever befall you, this recipe is the perfect thing for turning a disaster into a seeming Nigella triumph.  Simply freeze the cake until you need to whip up an indulgent dessert.  Or if you don’t have any failed, flat cake hanging around, then buy shop-bought chocolate swiss roll instead.

To buy:

  • 500g soft fruit – raspberries are my fav but forest fruits also work. The frozen bags from Sainsburys or similar are brilliant for this and only only £2.30 each.
  • Whipping cream (300ml)
  • Large chocolate swiss roll (or ‘failed’ homemade chocolate cake)
  • Raspberry jam (or other red jam)
  • Custard (about a litre) – either egg custard or Birds
  • Vanilla drops for the egg custard (if making)
  • Cassis or similar alcohol if making for adults
  • Large round glass or porcelain bowl for serving in.

Make the egg custard or make up the equivalent powdered stuff (can you tell I’m a custard snob?) and allow to cool. Whip the cream.  Slice up the swiss roll into finger width slices and spread the jam on one side of each. Or cut up the cake into slices like you would when serving, and spread jam on one side of each.  Then layer it all up starting first with the fruit, then a layer of sponge, then the second lot of fruit, then sponge, then pour the custard all over it.  Let the custard seep through the sponge for a about half an hour or longer, and then add the whipped cream on top and decorate with flaked almonds or sprinkles.  (NB If using Birds custard which tends to be quite thick, you might like to add a layer of custard onto of the first layer of sponge).

Result? Gorgeous, indulgent, semi healthy, dessert that EVERYONE loves, and is easy peasy to make. Result indeed!

Play – Sumdog

Sumdog homepage

Sumdog homepage

If your children are primary school aged, and their school isn’t already signed up to this fun maths website, then check it out for use at home.  It’s a fantastic, free, interactive, fun way of doing mental arithmetic  online which my kids are loving and can’t seem to get enough of at home  This is the first time I’ve recommended an online game in this Play section, and I do so reluctantly, as I know many kids spend far too much time online as it is.  Mine tend not to, so I’m happy to support this, but if you have kids who love computer games, this is a great one to steer them towards as they’ll be improving their mental maths skills quickly and in a fun way.

What’s also good is that they can play against their friends, and the difficulty increases as they improve.  The downside is we haven’t found the app for tablets that great as it doesn’t offer as many games, so if anyone knows how to get round that, let me know.  Check it out at

Read – 3childrenandit’s Marriage series

3 Children and It

Marriage Week fell in February, to time with Valentine’s Day, and to celebrate, the lovely blogger Suzanne from 3childrenandit invited 5 bloggers to write a post on the subject of marriage for each day of that week (10-14th Feb).  She very kindly included me in that invite (privileged I did feel, as she also asked some other fantastic writers).  I have to say that there are some gems in there, with a mix of advice, comic realism, grit and honesty so you’re bound to get a lot out of reading them, as well as reassurance that you’re not the only one (Sarah Miles’ To Have and To Scold took the biscuit for demonstrating that with her usual wry wit and humour).  Suzanne’s genius was that she invited her very own Gran who’s been married 72 years (yes, I did write 72) to write the piece for Valentine’s Day.  It’s a wonderful read that’ll make you glow from just reading it 🙂

I also learnt in the process how tough it is to write the post I wanted to write (honest) without being so revealing I’d die from regret or make my husband feel exposed.   So what did I do? I got him to go through it with a fine tooth comb and ‘approve’ it as well as sending the odd draft or two to Suzanne.  I also learnt how patient and understanding Suzanne could be 🙂  I owe you one, S!

To read the posts, go to and search for ‘marriage’.  To read mine, click here: ‘Marriage: Learning to live with imperfection’.

Places – Harry Potter Studios and Snowdrops at Benington Lordship, Stevenage

Many of you will know about our trip to Harry Potter Studios that is just 20 minutes down the road from us.  If not, and you’re interested in going, read about it here.  Suffice to say, it surpassed my already high expectations and we had a fantastic day.  If you’re Harry Potter fans, its easily worth the money, if not, it’s still an incredible exhibition showing you what happens when a film producer unleashes the best people to do their best work on every aspect of film making.  Nothing much short of genius.

Benington Collage 2For those of you who live in Hertfordshire, you might like my find of snowdrops at Benington Lordship, just outside Stevenage.  I wrote about it in my post on half term.  A gem of a place, this small country house cheats winter by opening its gardens at a time when no other country house is open. If you go on a sunny day, you feel your soul coming alive with the beckoning of spring and the prospect of warm sunny days outdoors – rather like the crocus’ that also pepper the lawns.  And they have a quaint little tea room run by the ladyship (or whatever she’s called) and her team of ‘senior ladies’ serving homemade cakes or a plate of 3 chocolate biscuits for 50p – how good is that?  Oh and they’re selling very pretty tea-towels and aprons for a great price (crikey, I am sounding like an old maid…

If you’re going this year, go now i.e. this weekend, as it closes for snowdrop viewings this Sunday, 2 March.  Tickets are £5 an adult, children under 12s free, under 16s £2.  It’s also open at Easter and in August Bank Holiday weekend for a Chilli Festival (sounds distinctly un-senior ladyship-ish!).

Technology/Internet Child Safety

My daughter, who is 9, turning 10, and is in year 5 and has started to ask about having her own email account so she can email her friends.  We have no problems with this and so was about to set her up on gmail, when a friend from school said she’d discovered an alternative email account provider called which is designed especially for kids.  I hadn’t realised that you need to be 13 to have a gmail account (did you), possibly because of the advertising on there.  Well, this email provider stops all spam, adverts and messages from anyone you don’t know.  It has flexible parental controls, from the strictest where you get informed of every email coming in before they get it, to allowing only known email addresses to go to their inbox, or any email addresses.

The email address they get is  their   So far, its working really well, and I’m sure very soon, i’ll be switching off the setting informing me of all emails coming in but for now it works very well.

Last month, we had a talk at school about internet safety by an excellent trainer provided by the local education authority (oh sorry, that doesn’t exist anymore thanks to Gove. From the county council).  Of the many interesting new things I discovered (which I’ll share over the coming months), one thing you might like to know is that if your child or you submit a false birthdate so they can set up a Facebook account (13 is the minimum age), the advertising system thinks they are that age and they will start to receive adverts on their page that are not suitable for them. E.g if they set it up in their first year at Secondary school when they’re 11, they will get adverts suitable for 18 year olds when they are 16.

People – Mayor of St Albans & Team Honk

Mayor Annie Brewster & 3 St Peter's parent bloggers

Mayor Annie Brewster & me and 2 St Peter’s parent bloggers

This month was the turn of the St Albans bloggers to grab ahold of that travelling baton that is winding its way from Lands End to John O’Groats in aid of Sport Relief and organised by the amazing #Team Honk.  What I learnt was how a charity event that like that can brighten the day of two entire primary schools, showing them what crazy things can be done for charity whilst also learning along the way.  The year 6 kids of Mandeville primary school worked out how many kids they’d need in the human chain to reach nearby St Peter’s school in their maths lesson, they discovered that a mayor can be modern, young, sporty, and fun (thank you Annie Brewster!), and that it’s really not too embarrassing have your nutty mum dressing up as Zippy or George from 70s TV cult kids show Rainbow (well, sort of). See here for my post on it.

Finally…..worms DON’T float!

Yes, to end on a whimsical and ‘I never knew that’ note, I have to tell you my most bizarre find.  This month saw the worst flooding this country can remember – which of course you’ll know unless you’ve been in hibernation.  As a result, parts of Britain have become underwater worlds, worlds that poor unsuspecting underground creatures like worms have had to come to terms with.  I witnessed this the other week.  Right next to the children’s school is an open area of grassland between the normally small and timid river Ver and a group of houses.  This field became flooded (still is in parts) and so I took my son and his friend for a wade in their after school one day.  The weird thing about it was how clear the water was, and as a result, we could spot loads of worms at the bottom of the water, crawling along the grass.   At first, I thought it a bit weird, then later, realised it was really weird.  Worms could clearly swim, or at least, they don’t float when in 2 feet of water.   Take a look:

Underwater Worm

Underwater Worm

This got my little head thinking, and when I asked a nature loving friend about it, he said “Oh poor things! They won’t be ‘swimming’ for long, they’d soon drown.”  Thinking him slightly eccentric to be so concerned about the critters, I realised later why his concern when I read an article in The Guardian a week later.  Nature groups are very concerned about hundreds and thousands of worms and beetles and ladybugs drowning as it means a reduced food supply for birds and hedgehogs and the like in the spring.  In fact, many hedgehogs and hibernating creatures will have drowned too.  A good, yet grim, little lesson in what an ecosystem is and how intricately connected we all are…….

So what have you discovered this past month?  Join in with the linky (a big thank you to all those who joined in last month!) or add your comments here.  And remember, you have a whole fortnight to join up, so what are you waiting for?!

18 thoughts on “Things I Discovered – February

  1. Pingback: Useful discoveries for families - March 2014 | Actually Mummy...Actually Mummy…

  2. I love that trifle! And yuck to the worms!! I think I need to get Grace to try Sumdog too. Sorry I haven’t come back to your email yet – will do that this week! As well as ruddy link up – I am officially useless!! Thank you for linking to PoCoLo x

  3. Unusual (but v. interesting) discoveries for this month! Especially loving the trifle – switching bicarbonate of soda for baking powder creates an epic fail in the cake department too.

  4. that maths website sounds good – i’ve not come across that one before. I am yet to read the marriage posts on Suzanne’s website – I want to find enough spare time to have a proper read rather than just a quick skim through. Love your snowdrops photos – very pretty. Sadly there has been loads of flooding where we are too. Can’t see the linky widget thing but here’s my post:

    • A very fine reason for not joining in paltry linkys! Fab news you’ve finished it. Wow, must feel incredible (as long as ur happy with it!). V exciting indeed….think u deserve some of that trifle from failed bday cake!

  5. Wow, what an eclectic mix this month Siobhan! Thanks so much for sharing my ‘marriage series’, I really appreciate it 🙂 I have actually added a link to all the marriage posts on the right hand side of my blog. Loving the idea of a ‘safe’ email system, I will look into that for my 9 year old, he wants an email address and I’m not all that keen. S x

  6. Siobhan what a weird and wonderful mix you have put together here! I love your knack for finding these items each month. I had no idea about the safe email set up ice cool and will be telling friends who have older kids about it! Thank you dear x

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