GCSE’s and Beyond

Posted on March 20th, 2014 - Fiona

I feel at a crossroads with the eldest teen. Nick and I have come back from an important meeting with school where they have sung the praises of Alistair, told us how proud we should be and how he is obviously going to do so well in his GCSE’s.

Ally, a cheerful happy go lucky lad

Nick and I were a little taken aback by this. He has just had a school report home as the basis of this meeting, his last before his exams this summer detailing his mock results and predicted grades. His predictions are mostly A’s with a few B’s, of course we are delighted about this, however his Mock results were, mainly D’s with a few B’s and one A.

 School Report

I now sit back at home reflecting on this and wondering why they choose to praise my all too laid back son who clearly has spent far too much time enjoying family life on the farm and not enough time revising for his mocks. Surely they should have taken this opportunity to give him a verbal kick up the ass in front of us and tell him to pull his finger out and do some revision over the next few weeks so he realises his predictive grades. I am cross with myself for being taken in by their lovely comments and not pointing this out. I love him dearly and am delighted he is quite bright and keeps up with his homework and assignments with some excellent results, but praise for doing precious little by way of revision is not what he needs.

School  Mock Exam Results

We tried to understand which subjects he should focus on for ‘A’ levels, but none of us are any clearer as a result of the meeting. I’m sure the teachers talked themselves in circles. Alistair is a capable all rounder showing no preference between subject areas. Trying to understand for university if an ‘A’ level in Maths is worth more than one in Geography, or if carrying on four subjects and risking lower grades than pursuing just three subjects is still far from clear. Tomorrow is the deadline for handing in the form to stay on for 6th form and he is still in a dither. He has no idea what he wants to do for a career which doesn’t help us either.

At the moment I think he is going to put down for Maths, Physics, Business Studies and Geography but with a possible swap to English and or French. Thankfully the teachers have confirmed that right up to the first few weeks of the new term he can still change his mind. For this I am very grateful as Ally is quite likely to swap depending on his final exam grades.

Selling 6th Form at Parents Evening

We were also told that the AS levels were being dropped at the end of the 1st year of A levels, yet my friend came out of her meeting saying she was told they would definitely be taking them. Is this central Government being indecisive or just local schools unable to work out what is going on? Either way it is not filling me with confidence in the UK education system right now or the school despite the sales pitch they try to give in their bid to keep pupils on into their sixth form.

In some ways having teens is great; they are more responsible, capable and independent and for us really help out with the family business. Socially both Alistair (age 15) and Felix (age 13) are maturing into a new level of sibling friendship and enjoy a good discussion with us as parents.


Teen teamwork & friendship on the farm


However the worry of guiding them in making the best choices for their future life is every bit as onerous as selecting their first preschool. If anyone has been through this stage recently and knows what the Universities are looking for or how to motivate a too laid back teen to revise, I’d be delighted to hear as I think the teachers are far from clear and so in turn are we. 

I’m Joining Mummy Barrow for ‘Ranty Friday‘; hop over to see what is riling other bloggers.


Dinner Table Debates

Posted on February 26th, 2014 - Fiona

Family Time

Busy lives

Dinner time is catch up time

Encourages debate, good for school work, expanded vocab, public speaking, social skills

A bag for all Reasons

Posted on February 18th, 2014 - Fiona

This is the strapline on the wonderful Mia Tui Bags label that came with with my Amelie Minnie Bag. Don’t be fooled by the name, the Amelie Minnie is actually the largest bag I own and yet one of my smallest all in one. This is because one of the many features is a little clutch or shoulder bag within the bag. An ingenious idea if you are travelling and want to leave your large bag from the day and just take a smaller one for the evening.

A bag for all reasons

Style Matters

The colour range is diverse with something for everyone from classic black to subtle shades or for a real statement I simply adore the vibrant teal colour I have chosen. My whole wardrobe is now moving around what I can wear with my bag from nail polish to wellies. I love that it lifts a plain outfit and have discovered I have many scarves and pieces of jewelry in the same colour which makes my bag perfect for so many occasions. It is strong, waterproof, stylish and modern in shape and has a sophisticated matte finish of a very expensive bag.


 A wardrobe to match Mai Tui Bags

No More Embarrassing MomentsEmbarrassed face icon

Big bags are great until you go to look for something. I have been caught so many times emptying my bag on the street hunting for my keys which have slipped to the bottom or feeling flustered at the supermarket checkout when a queue had formed behind me and I am delving deep on a fruitless search for my purse only to find I have tipped out tampax, nail polish, and a cuddly toy before I find my purse waving at me from the side. My Mia Tui bag has been thought out so well with perfect attention to detail inside that makes it practical and easy to avoid these frustrating and embarrassing moments.  


So Many Uses

I have already mentioned the simple evening bag which sits comfortably inside my Minnie Ameile, but there is more. A clear plastic wallet is perfect for cosmetics, small liquids  or baby wipes and is airport compliant for carrying liquids on board a plane. A pen holder, insulated bottle holder, space for a netbook or tablet, phone holder and best of all your keys on an elastic no loose clip. With everything in it’s right place there is still room for your shopping, work items or the jumper you just took off. In my case my lovely big DSLR camera fits in easily along with my netbook, a tape measure and so much more for a shopping trip for Coombe Mill or day out with the children.

Work & Shopping

If I still had a baby I could see myself doubling this up as a baby bag too utilising the bottle areas for food and milk and side areas for nappies.

Off to the gym? No problem fitting your kit inside and with the extra bag it comes with it is perfect to store your trainers & gruby gear after.

A bag for the Gym

For a stylish day at the beach a swim suit, wrap and towel fit nicely in the middle leaving room for your suncream, book, glasses and a snack around the edge.


Packed for the beachEverything you need at the beach


I am going away with the family for a few days at half term and this will be the only bag I take. I know it will cover every use I could need and fit in with my wardrobe from morning to night. That’s a whole load of old bags for the charity shop!

More about Mia Tui Bags

The Minnie Amelie is one of a range of stylish and practical bags in the Mia Tui collection. This range retails for £55 and looks at least this price too. However right now the teal colour I have is in the online sale at just £45 making it a real bargain. It would make a wonderful birthday present, new baby present or just a pick me up gift for you! No wonder it has won awards from Mother and baby and Practical Parenting magazines.

A Special Discount Code for Coombe Mill Blog Readers

Order anything from the Mia Tui Bags Range and add Coombe15 in the discount section to receive 15% off the marked price.

15% discount at Mai Tui with Coombe Mill


Win your Amelie Minnie Bag with Coombe Mill

For your chance to win one of these amazing bags that could replace all others just follow the instructions below. Remember to complete all the steps to give yourself more chances at winning. Good luck to everyone taking part. 


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I was given my Mia Tui Bag to review for this post. All thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.


A Greek Taverna for Farmer Nick

Posted on February 17th, 2014 - Fiona

Farmer Nick requested a big Greek birthday party to rival the one I laid on last year, I knew I would have a job to come up with Farmer Nick the Birthday Boysomething as fun and yet original under the same theme but I love a challenge. Having said that I am not super woman and as my guest list hit 20, with still more Nick would love to have invited, I had to plan carefully to create an evening that would flow without placing undue pressure on myself. 

Planning for Dinner Party Success

Think about Table Layout. 

Don’t let lack of space inhibit you from a party. A little imagination can overcome many space issues. I am lucky enough to have a large open plan kitchen/dining room with a huge table to seat twelve. In the past I have added extra temporary tables to extend the seating to sixteen but with twenty this wasn’t going to work. I was left with a buffet option which I have done successfully in the past with a disco too for my birthday, but Nick is not a disco fan and really wanted a sit down. The answer I came up with was to take down our large table and replace it with four small tables each seating five. I took the tables and chairs from garden furniture around our little lodges. This seated everyone perfectly but could have left people not able to socialise widely had I not given plenty of thought to the seating plan.  

Make a Seating Plan 

It is worth taking time to consider the seating plan and not just leave it to chance. Identify your chatty and outgoing friends who you know will keep a conversation flowing and spread them amidst quieter more thoughtful people. Boy girl seating and thinking of common interests also makes it easy with people who don’t know each other well. The name place is a chance to be creative; I used Greek Flags round napkins for Nick’s party with the names on.


 Place Names for a dinner party

Move People Around

For our Greek Party I was conscious that people might be limited to their individual tables and so I constructed, not one but 3 plans which took some thinking through but was simple to administer on the night. By labelling my tables 1 to 4 and writing a number on everyone’s name tag my plan was in place. Between courses I asked 1st the men to look at their name tag and move to the table number indicated, then the ladies after the following course. This way everyone had a fresh group to match their new dish. To make it even clearer I had a table plan drawn up which made quite a talking point over drinks before we sat down. Even if I have a large single table I often ask the men to all move two places to the right at some point to liven the evening with fresh conversation.

Table Plan


Maximise Your Courses

A number of small courses keeps a party moving. I reckon on four as standard. Normally a starter, main, pudding and cheese, though for my Greek night I broke with this format, though still maintaining four courses plus coffee and chocolates. Food is the focus of a Greek party and with so many unusual dishes I printed some menus; this also ensured everyone knew to pace themselves!


Greek Menu

Theme the Evening

I find a theme a great way to coordinate a party. I have done Hollywood (with tips on a disco party), a casino night, Greek parties, Indian evenings, it really doesn’t matter but it’s a good idea to let people know on the invite. I like an occasion to dress up and usually make this clear too, for Nick’s birthday Greek Evening I gave the option to dress smart or Greek or better still combine them both. The menu was all Greek with English translations and we made our small tables in the room look like a Greek Taverna with wine bottles for candles, the laminated menus stood between the salt and pepper pots on each table which were dressed with blue and white checked cloths. The room was surrounded with twinkle lights and dressed with sprigs of ivy while the CD player played Zorbas the Greek. I even went to town on the birthday cake with a three dimensional carrot cake to look like the Acropolis which I kept as a centrepiece until pudding.  The finished effect which had the desired “wow” from our friends as they entered, immediately feeling they had been transported from windy Cornwall in February to a Greek Island taverna in summer.


Nikos's Greek Taverna

Keep the Drinks Flowing

A party that rocks never sees an empty glass; people can be shy about refilling a glass so make sure someone is on drinks duty. I usually leave this to Nick and prod him from time to time when he chats for too long and neglects his job! Give your guests at least half an hour to stand and chat over a couple of drinks before seating them. This is a chance for introductions for anyone in the group who hasn’t met and a catch up for friends who might not sit together. You will be surprised how quickly this time goes and how relaxed everyone is, just make sure as host you hold back on the drinking or you will forget what is going in and out of the oven!

Pre dinner drinks


Don’t Rush the Meal

Entertaining is like going to a restaurant, it is a leisurely affair and a break between courses allows your food a chance to digest, your guests an opportunity to move around if needed and as host gives you time to eat and prepare the next course. I always ensure everything is ready in advance so that all I am doing is taking in and out of ovens (yes I’m lucky to have two) and serving on the night giving me plenty of time to enjoy the party too. I also only served the starter to the table placing subsequent courses out on our kitchen island and asking everyone to come and help themselves. This works well when there are choices for the food and some dishes which are not familiar to everyone.


 Leisurely Meal

Something Entertaining

Adding something unexpected is always a good idea. The Boys had a wave machine as one of their Christmas presents and I brought this into the corridor for a bit of fun after dinner. The idea came from The Mad Blog Awards last year where a larger version was a huge success. Sure enough after a few drinks the brave tested their balance with great cheers from all watching. A bit of frivolous fun always goes down well, sadly I swapped from camera to phone to instagram the action and the picture quality has suffered but the fun still shows.  

Party entertainment

Accept Help

My final tip is to be outright in asking for help. Along with an invite I asked if my friends would mind bringing a dish. There is so much for a Greek menu, especially if you are really going to go to town on the options.  I handed out many of the side dishes, leaving largely just the main course and pudding for me which helped so much.

I also had the family to help me lift tables and chairs around, friends who arrived in the afternoon to help me create the Taverna, it became a team effort with plenty of time for everyone to return home and change for the evening. During the evening itself I was never short of offers to help between courses and I gladly accepted.

Nick’s Greek Birthday Feast

The night itself ran like clockwork thanks to my advance planning. Guests arrived at 7.30pm and we didn’t get to pudding until midnight. It was heading to 1.30am before our guest began to leave with everyone quite unaware of the time; even Farmer Nick who always falls asleep early was the life and soul throughout. It was such a happy evening with an amazing combined spread of food. I hate to see anyone leave hungry, the Greek way is clearly rubbing off on me!

A Feast of Four Courses 

Seeing my email fill in the morning with lovely thank you notes like this I know it wasn’t just Farmer Nick who enjoyed his birthday. He will be 50 next year, what am I going to do for that one? 




Don’t be scared of a party if you have a special occasion coming up, just remember to plan well and the night will look after itself.

Tractor & Trailer  

Talking of the MAD Blog Awards, the 2014 awards are now up. There are so many wonderful blogs I interact with each week chosing just one per category is no easy task but please do to vote for your favourites, whoever gets to go on the night will have such an amazing time, and a few fun party ideas to copy too!

Win Sarah & Duck on DVD

Posted on February 13th, 2014 - Fiona

Entertaining Preschool Children

Any Mums out there will know how precious a little ‘time out’ is with preschool children. Youngsters are demanding and require your attention to ensure they are safe, entertained and stretched in their learning, yet sometimes they can lack an “off button” when you feel tired. An educational DVD during the day to allow you five minutes with a cuppa or a chance to do the ironing, pay the bills or such like is perfect. The lovely people at CBeebies are well aware of this and have just the DVD coming out for the first time this month. The magical world of Sarah and Duck is being extended from the popular television series.

 Sarah & Duck dvd

I love this DVD for its simplicity. The 3rd party narration is so clever and clear it leaves the youngest of viewers easily enchanted with the simple yet quirky stories without the need for “why is she doing that Mummy”.  Sarah and Duck takes a child’s view of the world on their “quacktastic” adventures. Your little one will be gripped as the lovable duo try to reach a rainbow, pretend to be a penguin and even help an umbrella to stay dry. The DVD covers the first 10 episodes. Just enough time to get those essential chores done before the next pressing engagement calls.

Sarah & Duck was co created for CBeebies by Karrot Entertainment’s Tim O’Sullivan and Sarah Gomes Harris based on a personal childhood love of ducks. I can so see where the affection comes from just watching my own children and our guests here on our holiday farm where feeding the ducks is a favourite daily activity. The ducks oblige by following the farm tractor round all the other animals just like little people. It is easy to see how children find Sarah and Duck such an appealing pair and their antics so captivating.

 Ducks & Kids at Coombe Mill Farm



The DVD will be available on general release from Monday 17th February with a recommended retail price £10.20. Over the spring there will be books and toys available to support the DVD while there are currently some great games and other on line activities over on the CBeebies website for Sarah & Duck.


 CBeebies Sarah & Duck Toys

Win Sarah and Duck on DVD with CBeebies and Coombe Mill

Thanks to the friendly folk at CBeebies I have three copies of the brand new DVD to giveaway here on the blog. Simply follow the instructions below for your chance to win. Good luck to all taking part.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I was given a promotional copy of the DVD to review for the purpose of this giveaway. All thoughts expressed are my own. My DVD copy will be available for our guests to borrow whilst on holiday with us at Coombe Mill.