Monday, 31 October 2011

Sneaky Peak

I thought I'd give you a quick sneaky peak at what came through our door the other day...  

There's only 2 things I'm going to tell you so far.  The first is that you can pre-order your own copy from Amazon  (I am not an Amazon affiliate, I will not make any money from you using that link).  The second is that I was half expecting the title track to be a cover of Ottawan's 1981 classic "Hands Up".  Thankfully I was wrong.

Magpie Monday - Is There Anybody There?

Sorry. It's Hallowe'en, I couldn't resist a spooky title.  I haven't really been buying ouija boards from the charity shops.

Instead, do you remember a couple of weeks ago, I was bemoaning the fact that a mid-week visit to the in-laws meant I'd miss the car boot sales, but at least I'd still be able to get roe & chips?  Well, I was wrong.  Not only did I completely fail in my quest for battered cod eggs, but as we came off the M6, we spotted those familiar red signs.  But instead of saying "Sunday Morning Boot Sale", or even "Sunday Afternoon Boot Sale" (Sunday afternoon starts at 10 a.m. for no good reason), they said "Thursday Boot Sale".  Be still my beating heart!

Who am I to refuse?  Off into the muddy field we go, to find much the same as the weekend boot sale, including the impassable mud pit and incompetent car drivers.  Had a bit of a wander, and then Squeaky spotted this.  And when I say spotted, I mean something more akin to "gave a death stare & yelled MINE".  The somewhere-Eastern-European guy selling it could barely control his smile.  They were pretty near to packing up, and I think he was glad not to have to take it home.

I've been tempted to the Toy Story phones for a while now, though torn over whether a toy phone will distract Squeaky from trying to play with the house phone, or just encourage her more.  So when she/I found this one for £1, my decision was made.  She chatters away on it, and even seems to get the hang of the dial (and when was the last time you saw a phone with a rotary dial?), but it's not made much difference either way to her obsession with our real phone.  Ah well, you can't win 'em all.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Hallowe'en Tricks & Treats with Poundland

I never really got the chance to "do" Hallowe'en as a kid.  The whole Trick or Treating idea passed me by (it was the 80's after all, who would tell?), and then when I was older I moved to Yorkshire, where it seems to get passed over in favour of Mischief Night on 4 November.

So it's only now I really get the chance to play.  Squeaky's still far too young for Trick or Treating, but that doesn't stop us enjoying ourselves.  Poundland sent us a bag of goodies to get our Hallowe'en off to a great start (and I'll be scaring the local kids when they knock the door over the weekend, now)

Costumes and Hallowe'en parties don't have to be expensive.  A couple of white loo-rolls (or bandages) make an effective mummy costume, as long as the weather's ok.  Cotton wool pulled apart makes spider webs, or you could just pull the real thing down from the corners of my hall. Talc for a white face, a little tomato sauce or old lippy as blood.  And the old favourite to drink - vimto, with peeled grape eyeballs floating in it!

Poundland are also a great way to get your Hallowe'en supplies in for a low price.  We were sent masks, face paints, tights, and THE coolest beanie hat in the world, see for yourself. I snuck it out of the parcel without her noticing, aiming to wear it myself, but as soon as I put it on, she shouted "MINE, MINE!" and I had to give it up.  All the way round town, my little skelly girl modelled her hat, even when we popped in to Poundland for a few extra supplies for the weekend (batteries, Vimto, popcorn & glowsticks, if you really want to know!)  Whether you're going out, or just want to decorate the house to get into the spirit, there's loads of choice - oh yeah, and big bags of sweeties to distribute on the doorstep.

You can easily make your own Hallowe'en items at home too.  We got baking yesterday, and made Gruesome Marmalade pumpkin cupcakes.  Dead easy (muahahahahah!)  Take your own favourite cupcake recipe, or a packet cake mix (that's what we used, I'm lazy), and add quite a healthy dose of red & yellow food dye to make the cake batter bright orange.  It takes a lot of colour to make the resulting cakes colourful, so don't worry about overdoing it.  I probably could have done with a bit more in here, to be honest.

When it's mixed, put a small amount of cake batter into your cupcake cases, then add a quarter of a teaspoon of marmalade to each cake, then cover that up with the rest of your cake batter.  Try to make sure the marmalade is completely covered.  (If I was a food blogger, I'd've remembered to take photos at this point)

Cook for as long as it takes.  When they're done, take them out & leave to cool.  Meantime, use some green food dye to colour fondant icing & make stems. They're fairly gruesomely orange inside, but taste fab, the marmalade gives them a lovely flavour. And I can never resist fondant icing.  These cost me about £1.50 in total to make, for the bits I had to buy, all the rest was already in my kitchen.  Told you Hallowe'en didn't need to be expensive. And I can hand these out to the Trick or Treaters!  Not sure whether they'll think they're a trick or a treat, mind you.

So, there you have it, my guide to a great value Hallowe'en, with a little bit of help from Poundland.

Disclosure: I was provided with a selection of Poundland Hallowe'en products free of charge for the purpose of this review.  I was not told what to write, and all opinions are my own.  Links are provided for your convenience only, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme & will not receive reward for their use.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Hotel Chocolat Christmas Selection Review & Giveaway - CLOSED

This competition is now closed.

You know me, internet, I'm just slightly addicted to chocolate.  So when Hotel Chocolat got in touch with me & asked me to pick something from their Christmas Selection to nibble upon as the evenings are getting darker, well, how could I possibly refuse?

Shall I let you in on a shameful secret?  SqueakyDaddy hates mince pies.  I only like mince pies when they're warm & they've got a cheeky spoonful of brandy cream underneath the lid.  So when I browsed the Christmas Chocolates page, and spotted Alternative Mince Pies, my mind was made up.  Milk chocolate cups, with praline & salted caramel sounds far better to me than pastry & raisins.

The box contains 6 beautiful chocolates, and the attention to detail is astounding, even the tape sealing the box is printed to match the box design.  Seriously people, these are some beautiful chocs.

You'll have to imagine your own sprinkling of icing sugar over the tops of them, I didn't have any in the cupboard, and thought talc probably wouldn't do the taste any good.  But don't they look like mince pies? The ones from the posh shops with the shaped lids?  I know which ones I'd rather be offered.

You're probably thinking "6? Is that it?" but believe me, they are so beautiful and rich, I couldn't eat more than 2 in a sitting, and the second one I had to take my time over.  In the interests of an accurate review, I obviously had to have a darker and lighter one, just to see the difference.

Look at that!  If that's not a droolworthy photo, I don't know what is!  The praline layer on top is smooth and light, and the salted caramel base, well, what can I say? You can see it there, it's perfect.  I don't know why salted caramel tastes so good, but it's like something from another world.

We're converted to mince pies now, in Squeaky Towers, but only the alternative ones.  There's no alcohol in these, but I've got to admit I haven't shared them with Squeaky, they're too good for little mouths!  I think I'll find her something from the Stocking Fillers range instead.  Go and have a look & see what you'd buy.

Well, I mentioned a giveaway up the top there, didn't I?  That's what you're here for.  The lovely people at Hotel Chocolat have got a pack of Alternative Mince Pies for one of you lucky, lucky people to win.

How To Enter.

All you have to do is leave a comment below telling me which Christmas tradition you'd like to swap for an alternative.  Whether you'd like to replace the mistletoe with a glitterball, Cliff Richard with Justin Beiber or Morecambe & Wise repeats with Gigglebiz, the choice is yours.  (Tell me how to contact you as well, or I'll have to eat your chocs!)

Additional Entries
Extra entries can be gained by following tweeting Alternative Mince Pies, in your eyes! Win with @meedja & @HotelChocolat at

Or by liking the Squeaky Baby Facebook Page

Maximum 2 additional entries.  Please leave separate comments for each additional entry.

Closing Date Sunday 6 November at 23.59 GMT.

Please read the Terms & Conditions tab above. Entry into this competition signifies acceptance of the terms & conditions as stated.

Disclosure: I was provided with a pack of Alternative Mince Pies free of charge for the purpose of this review.  I was not told what to write, and all opinions are my own.  Links are provided for your convenience only, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme & will not receive reward for their use.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Cuddledry Cuddlemoo Review

I'm a big fan of loyalty schemes, the idea of getting something for using a product you'd use anyway really appeals to me.  So I was quite upset when Organix announced the end of their Natter Codes promotion.  However, it did spur me on to collect all my barcodes & send them off before the closing date, and in return I received a Cuddledry Cuddlemoo towel.

You may well have heard of Cuddledry, the founders featured on Dragons' Den a few seasons back.  Well, their range goes beyond the beautiful apron towel for babies, and also features toddler towels, SPF beach towels, colour change bathmats (how much do I need this? Not for Squeaky, but for her Daddy!), a whole range of bath accessories, and even a doggy version!  Squeaky had pretty much outgrown her baby towels, and the poncho towels on the high street are great for the beach & pool, but not all that practical at home every day, or at least not for me.

Anyway, I chose a Cuddlemoo, a toddler sized towel, with an absolutely adorable cow print, and little cow horns on the hood.  I knew the towels were good quality, from everything I'd read before I chose, but nothing prepared me for how good.  The towel has two layers of bamboo & organic cotton, so it's super-soft, and keeps in the warm as well as absorbing water.  I didn't quite understand that to start with, but there's two fine layers of towel, seamed together, trapping lots of lovely warm air between the layers.  There's a single press-stud at the bottom of the hood, meaning the towel stays on even when Squeaky decides to sprint through the house in search of fun.  Being a press-stud, I'm confident that if the towel catches on something, it will easily undo, reducing the risk of injury, something that worries me with ties & ponchos.

I love the design of the Cuddlemoo.  Squeaky has plenty to say for herself, though not all of it makes a huge amount of sense at the moment, but one thing she definitely knows is the noise cows make. Admittedly, she's adamant they say "mmmmmm", but it's close enough for me, and whenever she sees a cow, be it a real live one in a field, a picture in a book, a toy, or on the tv, she happily greets it with "mmmmmm".  She does the same with her Cuddlemoo towel, a sure sign it's designed to be understood.

There's loads of growing space in the Cuddlemoo, it's designed for walking age to 3 years, so I can see it being part of our family for a long time to come.

We even took our Cuddlemoo on our recent caravan holiday.  The weather was a long way from warm & dry, but even so, the towel dried quickly, and stayed soft & snuggly, and ready for the next wash.  And as the towel is so fine, it rolls up tight and takes up next to no space - essential in our little car!

I'd really recommend the Cuddlemoo, and the other products in the range. They'd make excellent gifts, as they're both practical and gorgeous.  I'd love an adult sized one, but as yet, they don't exist.  Maybe next year?

I received my Cuddlemoo towel free of charge as part of the Organix Natter Codes loyalty scheme. I was not asked to write this review, and have not received payment for it.  All opinions are my own.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Magpie Monday - A Penny Saved...

Well, after an extended break, thanks to life, work, and a whole host of technology-related tragedies, we're back on the Magpie Monday wagon this week.

I'm sure I've mentioned before that one of Squeaky's favourite hobbies is robbing my handbag.  She particularly enjoys finding my beat-up silver purse, opening it, and tipping the contents all over the floor.  As a result, the coin part had sort of stopped staying closed properly, so I was losing all my cash into the bottom of my handbag - also known as a black hole.  New purse, therefore, was order of the day.

I'd decided, following our recent trip to Newquay (not enough charity shops open, booo), that what I wanted was a surfer-style velcro rip wallet, because it might present a slightly tougher challenge.  What I could find in the High Street, was either too big, too small or too expensive.  And the day I'd decided enough was enough, the market was closed, so I couldn't find one in there either.

Instead, I popped into whichever charity shop it is in Swansea that bothers to open on a Sunday morning (only one, but it was far busier than I'd expected), and sitting on the shelf above the shoes, I found it!  The perfect Quiksilver wallet, for the princely sum of £2.50, rather than the £12 or so the surf shop round the corner wanted for it.

So I get a lovely new purse, and better yet, Squeaky gets my old purse to put her plastic coins and other treasures in.  Two for the price of one!  Can't beat that, can we?

See who else has been bargain shopping this week at Magpie Monday. Me and My Shadow

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Graco Contempo High Chair Review

As a Graco ambassador, I'm lucky enough to receive all sorts of their products to try out with Squeaky.  Our last high chair met with a bit of an accident, so I was delighted that Graco sent me their Contempo High Chair for Squeaky.

Picture courtesy of Graco UK
The Contempo is a really attractive looking high chair, with clean lines, and smooth brushed aluminium legs.  There's 5 height settings, something I'd never considered before, but as Squeaky is getting older & wants to sit at the table with us, rather than using a tray, it's something of a godsend.  We've taken the tray off, and push the chair up to the table so she can sit and join the rest of us. There's also 3 recline settings for those moments when eating is just so exhausting your little one needs a nap before finishing.

The wipe clean plastic cover is getting a good testing, spaghetti hoops are easy to remove as there's no dodgy crevices for them to fall into.  I thought I would miss the basket underneath our previous highchair, until I realised it was just a place to gather crumbs and discarded vegetables.

The Contempo comes in a Butterfly Blue design, as pictured, suitable for both boys and girls.  The seat is comfortably padded, and it's not so big as to dwarf a small baby.  The high chair folds up to an almost unbelievable 23cms, meaning it will fit into a small cupboard space, and is easy to fit into the car to take away.

 As you can see, Squeaky really likes her Contempo High Chair, and feels like a proper grown up part of the family, now she can join us at the table properly.  I think that's really important, as it reinforces her independence and encourages her to eat properly with us as she gets older.

Thank you Graco, for giving us this lovely Contempo High Chair for Squeaky.  She sends you her biggest, early morning grin!

Disclosure: I was provided with the Graco Contempo High Chair free of charge as part of my Ambassador relationship.  I was not told what to write, and all opinions are my own.  Links are provided for your convenience only, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme & will not receive reward for their use.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

It's just a phase

Those must be the four most annoying words in parenting.  "It's just a phase". Teething?  It's just a phase.  Waking at 3 am? It's just a phase.  Separation anxiety? It's just a phase.

Squeaky's latest phase is "What's That?" Addressed to pretty much everything.  Constantly, repeatedly, and to things that she already knows exactly what they are. It's just a phase I really hope passes quickly, because there's only so many times I can tell her what the tap is before I'm going to go bonkers. It's a tap. It's a tap, it's a tap.  A tap, lovey. It's still a tap. It continues to be a tap. It's STILL the flipping tap, for goodness sake.

I swear, the next time someone says "it's just a phase" to me, I'm going to spend the next half hour saying "whassat?" to them without stopping for breath & see how they like the phase.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

What can your Family Information Service do for you?

I was recently invited to join a parents/carers panel for my local Family Information Service, and it got me to thinking, what do they actually DO?  And despite me being famous/infamous enough to be invited, I wasn't really sure myself.  What better excuse to find out, and to share a bit of information with the world at large?

First things first.  The Family Information Service is a statutory service in England & Wales.  That means that wherever you live in England or Wales, your local authority HAS to have a Family Information Service.  If you're in Scotland or Northern Ireland, similar services exist, though they may have other names.  Elsewhere in the world, I'm afraid you're on your own for this one.

The Family Information Service are a "one-stop-shop" for any kind of information for your family (the clue's in the name). Looking for details of local childminders?  Out-of-school services? Youth clubs for a teenager?  Give the Family Information Service a call.  Maybe you've got a child with a disability and you're looking for some advice, or other parents in a similar situation. They can point you in the direction of someone who can help.

The Family Information Service don't provide all these things themselves, but they're a central point to find out what's out there in your local area, and to get information about services, support, events, groups, etc.  And if you're involved with a group, make sure your local Family Information Service have got the details, they can't give your information out if they haven't got it!  It's a great way to get new people involved, or if you're looking to expand a service, you can find out where there's gaps in other services at the moment (anyone who wants to set up an open-access playgroup around Merthyr Tydfil on a Wednesday, that'd be brilliant, and you'd have roughly no competition!)

The panel was really useful, in terms of finding out about things I didn't know, and finding out other parents' experiences.  It's like many aspects of parenting (and blogging, come to think of it), we all feel like we're on our own, and we're the only person to have faced this issue/made this mistake, and then we talk to someone else, and find we're all in the same situation after all.  I'm excited to be part of our Family Information Service panel, and hope we can make a real difference in improving the range of information available to people, and the number of people the information reaches.  One thing we identified is how marginalised you can feel as a working parent, so much attention is given to those who are out-of-work, that there's very few groups, informal provision or support available outside office hours.  If that's the impact we have, it'll be very positive for a lot of people. 

Oh, I mentioned events, right?  That's something our Family Information Service do too.  They run a Family Fun Day every year, getting lots of the agencies working with families in the area together to hold a day of fun in the sunshine, with arts, crafts, games, competitions, face painting, a great chance to get an idea of the range of services available (and also really, really good fun!)

So, that's the Family Information Service.  Have you used yours? Give them a call, they'd love to hear from you.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

I had Plans, you know

This is not a good week to be technology in our house.  My camera has gone to meet its maker (literally. I put it in an envelope to go and be repaired under warranty yesterday), and now the PC has had what I can only describe as a Total Existence Failure.  So that's going off to the nice man at the computer shop tomorrow to have its innards ripped out and the useful stuff that was saved on it put into a nice shiny new computer instead.  Luckily we knew this day was coming, and saved a lot of what would have otherwise been on the PC onto an external hard drive a couple of months ago.  I got a "well done" for that from the computer fixing dude in the shop. *smug*

All this means though, that the 3 parts written guest blog I was writing is now hidden somewhere in either the dead pc or the inaccessible hard drive (I'm not touching it til the shop man says that it's free of virii, trojans & other ooo-nasties), my Magpie Monday photos are stuck on a memory card with neither a camera nor a computer to display them on, and I'm reduced to writing everything on a teeny tiny netbook that runs an operating system I don't understand and a version of Firefox so out of date as to be obsolete & not supported by pretty much every webpage I visit.  And I can't figure out how to upgrade it.  I am not a geek, I just pretend to be one.

There were posts I was going to write.  Seriously, there are whole blog posts in my head, and I can't write them, they need pictures and access to my email, and more thinking than I can really do with this silly little netbook which randomly leaps back 3 pages through my browsing history for no obvious reason and without warning. Once the new pc is here, free of germs, and otherwise functioning, I think I'm going to end up paying the nice man at the computer shop to sort this one out as well.  Someone gave me idiot level instructions to do stuff to the netbook once, but I'm clearly even more of an idiot than they thought because it was just *whoosh*.

So, yeah.  Accept my apologies for the extended hiatus. It's not my fault, honestly.  Or, actually, is it? I just thought.  Viruses, germs, bugs, right?  Could I have uncovered a genuine computer/human crossover?  I've been feeling sorry for my self with tonsillitis the last few days, and now my computer has caught a bug too.  Maybe that's what it is?  Can I be awarded some kind of scientific research grant into the spread of tonsillitis via digital means?   

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Blogcamp Bristol - What a day

Just (well, 2 1/2 hours ago now) got back from Blogcamp Bristol.  My head is spinning with ideas, was to improve this here corner of the blogosphere, and wondering how to do half the things I haven't done before.  I've sorted out my pages, so I've got a contact page for all the lovely PRs to get in touch with me, without having to mooch around for my email address, I've got a disclosure page, tomorrow's going to be spent in clarifying & a little bit of archive editing (is that cheating?)

I think I need an idiot's guide though. Seriously, I can make a link, and add a picture or video, but that's about the limit of my talents.  I felt kind of like the newbie (and I've been blogging 18 months now, there were people at Blogcamp who'd been blogging WEEKS and they were all smarter than me)

I've got to admit, I've been kind of lazy in promoting my blog til now.  I've only shared on facebook or tweeted about posts that I'm really proud of - or I really wanted a response on.  That's going to change. If I've learned one thing today it's to get your profile out there. (And that bit about advanced twitter searches, but I'm keeping that as a big hairy secret)

So all in all, I had a fabby day, met some brilliant & inspiring bloggers, and have come away full of enthusiasm.  And germ. Thank you to Sally and the team, all the speakers, and everyone who came to Blogcamp Bristol for making it a great day.  (can you see what I'm doing here? Title, 1st para, etc!)

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Fate, heh.

Heh. After I posted last night's "I'm too tired for all this" post, SqueakyDaddy's boss phoned him & said "errr, can you work this weekend & have a couple of days off in the week instead?"!  So I get a weekend of sleep!  We'll go visiting in the week, which means no car boots, but still the chance of roe & chips, less traffic, and, well, I get some sleep. That's what matters, right?

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

TIRED With a capital everything

I'm having one of those days.  One of those days where you want to say "Sod it", quit everything and hide under the duvet until the world goes away.

We were on one of the £9.50 weekends until yesterday, rushed back early because SqueakyDaddy was working a late shift last night.  So I'm weighed down by a huge pile of washing.  I've been in work today, followed by a meeting I said I'd attend as both Me The Mommy, and Me The Work-Person.  More work tomorrow, followed by a drive to my mum's, with Squeaky in the car, because I'm off to Blog Camp on Thursday. (Really? This Thursday? How did that come around so fast?)  I still haven't decided when I'm driving back over, but SqueakyDaddy is on about going up to his Dad's over the weekend.

I can't say no.  It wouldn't be fair.  But really, when do I get a weekend? And Squeaky, come to that.  I'm exhausted just thinking about it all.  But there is the promise of car boot sales, good car boot sales.  And a trip to the chip shop for roe & chips.  This alone will make 2 hours on the motorway seem worthwhile.  (No, it's not the same if I buy a tin of roe & cook it myself. I've tried.)

Surviving the £9.50 Holiday

It's all been a bit quiet here recently, hasn't it?  Well, my feet have hardly touched the ground, that's the only excuse I've got.  Aside from doing what can only be described as Too Much Work, we've been gallivanting off for long weekends on those £9.50 holidays that crop up in the papers every now & then. (Not naming the paper, but you know the one I mean!)

We've done a few of these now, with a couple more to follow in the next month or so.  We're becoming old hands at it really, and so we've sort of put together a £9.50 Holiday Survival Kit of the essential things you need to remember to take with you.  Never mind the clothes, towels, toiletries, etc, the real things you need to take along...

Matches - If you're in a caravan, there will be a gas oven.  And it probably won't light itself, even if it's got an ignition switch.
Fan Heater - Unless you're as lucky as we've been this last weekend, you're likely to find your little metal box is pretty cold in the evenings.  And the gas fire is going to be even more temperamental than the oven.
Sharp Knife, Can Opener, Corkscrew - In theory these will be provided in your self catering kitchen. In reality the knife is going to be blunter than James Blunt, the can opener is going to be older than you, and the corkscrew will take one look at a cork & crumple. Even if you plan on cooking nothing more than toast, it's worth having these 3 items with you to insure against the chances of having to try & open a tin of beans & bottle of Bud using the door of your caravan.
Portable DVD Player - I've seen a few tvs with built-in DVD players in caravans & chalets. I've yet to see one that works.  A DVD player, plus essential kids DVDs means you stand half a chance of bedtime, or generally some quiet, happening without tantrums.  And if you take a couple of films, then when you're stuck in the van after baby's bedtime you've got something to watch too.
Coffee - I'm sorry, but I'm not paying what they charge in the "convenience store" for a tiny jar of nafcafe when I've got a huge catering size tin at home.
More changes of clothes than you ever believed possible - You child may be the neatest in the world at home, with their entire wardrobe on hand. But given a weekend away with limited changes, they will cover themselves in chocolate, ice cream, juice, sand, mud and unidentifiable muck roughly every 15 minutes.  And then wipe their hands on you.
A Fancy Dress Outfit - There's a pretty good chance at some point there will be a kids fancy dress party.  It happens, you might as well be prepared for it, rather than having to spend a Saturday afternoon in desperate search of a right sized fairy princess costume.
Lots of Biros - There will be bingo. Fact.  There may well be a quiz.  Don't be that person who has to go round all the other tables in the bar asking if people have got a spare pen.  (Or do like I did the other week, and use an out-of-favour lipstick as a bingo dabber)

Oh, and one more thing Your Sense Of Humour.  It's going to be cheesy, there's no two ways about it.  But so what? Squeaky has a great time, and looking around it looks like most of the other kids do too.  Who cares if you wouldn't normally be caught dead dancing to Agadoo?

This post is my entry to theTravelizer competition, though it was written as a genuine blog post prior to the competition opening.