Sunday, 30 December 2012

A Matter Of Life And Death - Book Review

I was sent a copy of Paul Carroll's debut novel, A Matter Of Life And Death, earlier in December, and I thought I'd give you a little book review.

It's weird writing that phrase. I feel like I'm back in secondary school (I'm OLD, they weren't called High School when I went. And mine's a flaming "academy" now), and I'll have to write 200 words on the main character's motivation & feelings, and what the author was trying to tell us.  And basically retell the entire story to prove that I've read it, or Mrs Jones will have a go at me.  But in real life, book reviews aren't like that. If I did that, I would have comments of SPOILER!!SPOILER!! there would be no point in you reading the book, and no-one would like me any more.  So this is a real world book review, not a GCSE.


Paul Carroll's A Matter Of Life And Death is, well, all about death.  It's a dark comedy, taking on the public mourning that seems to be growing ever more commonplace since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and just takes it to the seemingly inevitable extreme.  Sideswipes at the government, reality tv, twitter, and celeb-crusaders keep it light, despite the subject matter.

For a debut novel, I was actually really impressed.  The style of writing, and the approach to the subject matter was very reminiscent of Ben Elton, and the way of bringing a seemingly unconnected selection of characters to a joined up finish was really well written.  I love that way of writing, and spent a lot of my reading time trying to second guess how the characters were connected, and the significance of certain events.

I might be devoted to my kindle, but there's something about an actual printed book that feels so much better.  And with a real book, I can share it with Squeaky Daddy so much easier.

If you're intrigued, and want to a copy of your own, A Matter Of Life And Death is available on Amazon, or if you're all spent out after the sales, you could win yourself a copy on this very blog. Go win a book! But be quick, the draw closes on 31/12/12!

Disclosure: I was provided with a copy of the book free of charge for the purposes of this review, and further copies for the linked giveaway. I was not told what to write and all opinions are my own. Links are provided for convenience only, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme & will not receive reward for their use.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Calling All Fellow Lovers of Fashion - Daxon

Daxon is a pretty new name to me, but they're part of the world's 3rd largest home shopping network, and a sister company to the ever stylish La Redoute & Vertbaudet brands, which gives me a feeling that they're going to be worth trusting, and very tempting to buy from.  And Daxon are on the look-out for fashion-loving bloggers to be a part of their blogger network!  How could I possibly resist?

If you've met me, you'll know, my sense of style can be summed up with the word "convenience".  I buy a lot of my clothes in the supermarket, because it's so easy to throw a top into the trolley alongside your pizza and washing powder.  But if anything, home shopping has to be even more convenient.  There's more choice, and they'll bring the clothes to your door! No need to leave the house in this never-ending rain.

I'm already eyeing up this striped top for work...  only £27 in the sale.

The clothes have that hint of French style that is so familiar to La Redoute & Vertbaudet shoppers, little touches of style that you don't always see on the UK high street.  It's always nice to feel that you're less likely to bump into someone wearing the exact same outfit as you, if you've bought from somewhere outside of the same few shops in town that everyone visits.  (I spend the next few hours muttering to myself "I look much better in that than she does", whether it's justified or not!)

I'm also quite taken with these Mary Janes.  I haven't worn heels in a very, very long time, and cute flat shoes can be hard to come by. At £39, they're very reasonably priced, in my opinion.

Daxon don't just stock women's wear, they also have a great range of menswear and homewear.  So you can restyle the man in your life (if you dare!), and pick up some beautiful new bed linen at the same time.  They also have an extensive and stylish Plus Size section, with clothes actually designed for a fuller figure, rather than standard designs made larger.

If you'd like the chance to join me as a Daxon blogger, and earn yourself a £50 voucher for your time, then pay the Daxon blog a visit for all the info you need to know.

Whether you want to be a Daxon blogger, or just want to go shopping, why not pop over to their website http://www.daxon.co.uk and have a look around. They've got up to 70% off in their sale, so you might grab a bargain if you're quick!

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. It's still interesting though, and the items I have chosen, I genuinely like.  I have not been told what to write and all opinions are my own.

Friday, 21 December 2012

A Fair & Merry Christmas

Just a quick message this one, while the shops are still open before Christmas.  I know this is the season of giving & goodwill to all, but do me a little favour?  Think about where your Christmas comes from, and if you can make one little change, do one little thing to make someone else's Christmas & New Year a bit brighter, do it.  FairTrade is a very easy way to make a difference in people's lives, by choosing fruits, coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar, or even clothing that carry the FairTrade logo, you know that a fair price has been paid for produce.  How good will your Chrismas cuppa taste knowing that?

Here's a little message from some of Fair Trade's farmers, just for you...




I've been a FairTrade supported for a very long time, and have bent people's ears about certain products for as long as I can remember, because they really are very very good.  FairTrade products are available in all the major supermarkets, and don't add any great cost to your weekly shopping bill, and you get an extra warm & fuzzy feeling that you've done something for someone else.  Go on.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post, but one for something I believe in.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

CLOSED A Matter of Life And Death - Book Giveaway


WIN A SIGNED COPY!

BUYING THE PERFECT CHRISTMAS PRESENT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE…
A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH

If, by Christmas Day, you’ve had enough ‘festive cheer’ for one year, then fill your stockings with presents with a darker edge.

If woolly jumpers, over-indulgent hampers and a box of old-lady soaps are not your thing, then how does ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ sound?

This must-have debut novel by Paul Carroll is a satirical reflection of contemporary Britain. A witty, black comedy with a thought-provoking core.

Paul draws upon the age-old saying: “Everybody should be famous for fifteen minutes. After they die” and questions if society has gone too far.

Both entertaining and shocking, this book is a perfect present for those looking to add a bit of depth to this year’s Christmas stocking.

For a chance to win a signed copy of A Matter Of Life and Death, simply tell us the name of the debut author in a comment below, along with a way to contact you (email or twitter):
  1. Paul Carroll
  2. Caroll Paul
  3. Lewis Carroll
For a bonus entry tweet: "Stuff the tinsel & glad tidings, I wanna #win a copy of A Matter of Life & Death with @meedja & Squeakybaby http://squeakybaby.blogspot.com/2012/12/a-matter-of-life-and-death-book-giveaway.html" and leave me a second comment to let me know. Max 2 entries per person.

For more information visit www.amolad.co.uk

Closes 31/12/12, at midnight - as the fireworks go off!  3 copies to be won.  Standard terms & conditions apply, see the above tab.

Disclosure: I have been provided with a copy of this book free of charge, review to follow!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Jordan's Super Berry Country Crisp Review

Good morning!  How are you today?  Is the coffee piping hot?  OK. Now what are you having for breakfast?  If you're anything like me, you know you should have a healthy start to the day, but if you're lucky, it's a jammy dodger grabbed as you run out of the door on the nursery/school run before another day at work.  Well stop right there!  Make a bit of time.  Because I've got a bowl of loveliness to share with you!  Jordan's Super Berry Country Crisp, in fact.

Are you hungry already?  Country Crisp is made up of baked oat clusters with freeze dried blackcurrants, cranberries & blueberries.  All those lovely anti-oxidants waiting to jump into your bowl, and fill you with goodness!  I love the cluster type cereals, they stay crisp in milk far longer than flakes, and you don't get so much dust at the bottom of the box, so I was very happy to give these a try.

I tucked in to a bowl, just look at those berries!  It's not often that the reality looks as good as the picture on the box. (These bowls are HUGE by the way, that picture is very deceptive!)  The fruits have got so much flavour in them, even with the milk added.  They soften up a bit, so there's a good contrast between the fruits and the crispy clusters.

There was one little issue for me.  One that could be quite a big issue for other people.  We're a nut-free household by choice, not by necessity.  That means I don't have to scour labels for nut warnings, but I do avoid products that state they contain nuts on the front of the box.  I was surprised to find chopped roasted hazelnuts listed in the ingredients, when cereals usually make good mention of the presence of nuts on the front.  You can't really taste them, which suggests to me that they don't add anything, and I slightly wonder why they're there.  To be honest I'd rather they weren't, and I'm glad we're only nut-free by choice.

There was something VERY cool about the Super Berry Country Crisp though, that really made my morning.  Do you remember when you were a kid, how exciting Coco Pops were? Not just because you were allowed to have chocolate at breakfast time, but because they turned the milk chocolatey? That was even in the advert!  Well, I can go one better!  Super Berry Country Crisp doesn't give you brown milk, it gives you LILAC MILK! Honest! That's not a spoonful of yogurt there, that's semi skimmed at the end of a bowlful.  How cool is that? Seriously, lilac milk, if that doesn't start your day with a smile, I don't know what will.

Jordan's Super Berry Country Crisp is available from Waitrose & Tesco (and probably others) for around £2.69 for a 500g box.

Disclosure: I was sent a box of Country Crisp free of charge for the purpose of this review. I was not told what to write & 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, 11 December 2012

La Roche-Posay Skincare Review

I had this hope that for a time in my life I would have neither spots nor grey hairs.  Sadly the grey hairs started appearing when I was 16, and 20 years later, the spots still haven't gone away.  They might be slightly less frequent, but there they are.  So when the lovely folk at Escentual were looking for people to review the La Roche-Posay skincare range for sensitive & blemish-prone skin, I knew I was the woman.

I was amazed to receive a whole bundle of different products to try out, just have a look at this little lot!  We've got Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel, Astringent micro-exfoliant lotion (or toner to you & I), a whole selection of different moisturisers, Physiological micro-scrub, and a thermal spring water spray.  Wow! Where to start?

Actually, that's a difficult question. Because these are trial size products, they don't have all the instructions, so there was a little bit of guesswork involved. However, I'm plenty old enough to know how to wash my face properly, like the beauty experts say I should, so I hit the bottle(s)!

La Roche-Posay is a brand I hadn't heard of before, they're a  French company, and all their products are formulated with water from the thermal springs at La Roche-Posay. They're recognised as a leading brand for sensitive skin & dermatological experts.

I've tried out pretty much everything you see above.  I'm no expert on moisturisers, but the Effaclar Duo was my favourite, light enough to wear under make up, but left my skin feeling soft & smooth.  The cleansing gel was light & effective, and easily rinsed away, the astringent toner did what it said, which came as a bit of a surprise as it's been years since I used toner.  I love the spring water spray, this is going straight in my handbag, I love these for travelling, and it's small enough to be allowed as hand luggage on a plane.

After my first use, a little cluster of new spots cropped up very quickly. I'm not surprised, it happens quite a lot when I change brands, just working out some that would have appeared over the coming days/weeks anyway, bringing out the imperfections.  They cleared up pretty quickly and weren't followed by any further outbreaks in a week or so of use, so I'm happy.  My skin is noticably smoother, and despite a momentary tightness on using the toner, it settles nicely & feels really comfortable.  People with sensitive skin will understand, that's not an everyday occurrence.

With prices ranging between £5 -£25, the La Roche-Posay brand are comparable to other products at the better end of the high street, and they certainly seem to work for me.  The only one I wouldn't buy again is the Physiological micro-scrub, as reading the ingredients it contains polyethelyne, see my previous post about plastics in beauty products for more information.  I found this a bit strange as La Roche-Posay state a commitment to the environment on their website.  I'd love to see a more environmentally friendly version added to their range.

You can buy La Roche-Posay products online at escentual.com, or in person from their store in Wellfield Road, Cardiff (one of my very favourite shopping streets!)  You can also follow Escentual on twitter and facebook.  They have lots of competitions so they're well worth following!

Disclosure: I was sent a range of trial products free of charge for the purposes 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 and will not receive reward for their use.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

If it sounds too good to be true...

...it just might be.  I decided to treat myself recently. It's been a long year, and I've had some serious gadget envy going on, so when I saw a tablet pc with a shedload of accessories on the KGB daily deals website, for the princely sum of £74.99, I was pretty quick with my clicking finger.  I've bought from KGB, and other group-buying discounters before, and aside from a bit of hard sell from a photographer, I've never had any problems.  In fact, a couple of my colleagues had purchased a similar deal from a different supplier a couple of weeks earlier, and were really pleased with their buys, so I thought I was in safe hands.

The alleged deal.
That looks great, doesn't it?  £74.99 for all that. Notice the "perfect pressie" label too?  Sure you know someone who'd love to find this in their Christmas stocking.  Well, back in the first week of November, I agreed.  They called it a "premium piece of technological genius".

I sat & waited.  And waited.  And waited a bit more.  In fact, I never actually received a confirmation email from the supplier, Bo-Vida, and I had to chase it up through their contact page.  Allow 28 days for delivery it said.  And after 24 days, I got an email.  Not from Bo-Vida.  From another customer, who had received an email with around 200 customers' email addresses on, including mine, giving excuses for delays.  Now I'd not actually received that email, spam filters, maybe, but over the next few days, I received over 30 emails from complete strangers on the subject of Bo-Vida, their orders failing to be delivered, and problems with the tablets when they arrived.  I was starting to get twitchy.

But never mind the twitchy.  Think about what I just said.  An email was sent out to customers with around 200 customers' personal contact details on it.  Not hidden, not encrypted, just sent as a mass mailing.  That's a breach of the Data Protection Act.  Seriously. They've just broken the law right there, and fines for Data Protection breaches can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.  (It's fairly easy to avoid this if you have ANY tech savvy, you put your own email address in the "to" box, and everyone you're sending the mass mailing to in the "bcc" box, that way no-one sees anyone else's address)

Right. Back to the story.  Data Protection breaches aside, we've now reached 26 days since my order was placed. I try to log onto the website, only to find that my password wasn't accepted. I tried to reset, and no email ever reached my inbox, or spam filter to allow me to do so, so I can't check on the delivery status.  Fortunately though, I still have that email confirming my order, direct from the customer service team, as I didn't get the order confirmation.  Remember that?  Well, I replied to that, asking what's going on, and highlighting their data protection breach, and asking what they're going to do about that.

The reality
I got a reply pretty quickly, saying my order was ready for dispatch next day, allow 2-3 days for delivery. No mention of my other point.  Ho hum.  2 days comes and goes, as does 3 and 4.  Five days later, yesterday, my parcel arrives.  Hooray!  I opened it up, and found...  No SD card, one stylus, rather than 2, and no headphones.  All advertised as part of the peripheral bundle.  Ah well, I can pick an SD card up for not much cash, I've got a couple of spare styluses (stylii?) knocking around with the DS, and my hearing's crap anyway, I probably wouldn't use the headphones.  Let's fire this baby up.

Plugged it in (that cable's very short, you know!), pressed the power button.  All looks good so far.  Loading screen, lock screen, yeah.  Unlock the screen, and I'm greeted with CLICKCLICKCLICKCLICKCLICKCLICKCLICKCLICKCLICK. Non stop.  It slows down to something like the Countdown clock when the power cable's not plugged in, but sounds like Desert Orchid on the home straight when it's plugged in.  Not sounding good, really.  I turned it to mute, but that makes no odds, it's not a sound like an email "beep", it's a physical noise, something's clicking away, and it's something to do with the power.

Oh yeah, and the power.  It came half-charged, fairly normal for techy-things.  Enough to fire up & have a little play, but wants a proper charge before you use it.  So I left it last night for an overnight charge, in the hope this damn CLICKCLICKCLICKCLICKCLICKCLICK might shut up when it's charged properly.  No such luck though.  How much battery life do you think it has, considering it's a brand new piece of kit, and has just had a full overnight charge?  It's a mobile device, meant to be used on the move, not tethered to a wall, remember.  20 minutes.  Let me say that again, in bold. 20 minutes! That's not even going to get me to Cardiff on the train, never mind occupy me on jaunts to That London. It's barely long enough for a trip to the loo!

I've had a look on Bo-Vida's website, they'll only refund the p&p, because I bought through KGB.  They've got a lovely returns form, which I've printed & filled in, and it says to send to "the freepost address".  Except there isn't one, anywhere, on their website.  Or even a non-freepost address.  You know, one I'd need a stamp for.  Even if I find it, that's only the £7.99 delivery charge.  There's still the small matter of the £74.99 I paid to KGB.  Who have an entirely separate returns policy, and tell you everything but how to actually claim a refund.  I swear, I am going out of my tiny mind.

All I want is my money back, I don't even want the flaming tablet any more, it was just a way to get my phone back from Squeaky & her obsession for the Peppa Pig games on it.  Actually, KGB's registered office isn't far from here, if I can't find Bo-Vida's address by Tuesday, I'll just go down there in terrifying person & scream until they pay me to go away.  Anyone want to join me?

Note: Should I receive responses from either company involved, I will happily update this post, allowing them to have their say.  The details given above are true and accurate to the best of my knowledge, I would not publish them otherwise.

UPDATE 11/12/12
I have now had responses from both companies, but only after I drew their attention to this post. I have received a return address, and an assurance that my refund will be processed on return of the tablet, which went off recorded delivery today.  Bo-Vida have also reported the DPA breach themselves to the Information Commissioner's Office & put safeguards in place to ensure there is no repeat of the breach.  I wish everyone else caught up in this mess good luck, and await my refunds.

UPDATE 30/12/12
I've realised that some people are still struggling to get a returns address from Bo-Vida.  As I managed to obtain an address, albeit not the freepost one they mentioned on the returns form, I thought I'd share it.  The address to return your faulty tablets (or any other faulty Bo-Vida items) to is:
Bo Vida
The Forge
11 Wycombe Lane
Wooburn Green
High Wycombe
Bucks
HP10 0HD

Update 14/1/13
I was told that my tablet was being Quality Checked in December, all checks should be complete by 13/12/12. Heard nothing, so I contacted Bo-Vida AGAIN last week, and was told that my tablet was being Quality Checked, and should be completed by 16/1/13. Hmmmm. And then?  Who knows?

And for people hunting for the returns forms, Bo-Vida hide this very well on their website, but it's at http://bo-vida.com/media/Return_Form_Bo_Vida.pdf

Update 25/1/13 (hopefully the last)
My tablet has now completed testing, and my postage & packing has been refunded by Bo-Vida.  I've also had an email from KGB saying the refund from them should be received within 4-5 working days. So hopefully by the end of next week, I should be back where I started, slightly older, slightly wiser.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Perfect Christmas Breakfast Competition


A sprinkling of magic over your corn flakes?  Smoked salmon on toast?  Or are you just going to overdose on chocolates?

Christmas dinner is the main event, there's no doubt about that.  But what keeps you going until the turkey is carved?  How do you get the energy to tear through all the wrapping paper, and phonecalls to Auntie Maureen to thank her for that talc & hanky set?

That's what the Russell Hobbs blog team want to ask.  What makes your perfect Christmas breakfast?  Or who?  (I'd love to see what Heston would make for Christmas breakfast, I'm just not so sure I could eat it!)

You could win a toaster and kettle in this very cool competition.  All you need to do is tell the Russell Hobbs team what makes your perfect Christmas breakfast, who you share your Christmas breakfast with, or some of your favourite Christmas breakfast memories.

Send them off by email to  RussellHobbsXmasCompetition@gmail.com by 9am on Monday 17th December 2012, and you could be in it to win it, as Dale Winton would have it.  Entries will be judged & a winner announced on the 18th December.  You could be toasting up a storm in time for Christmas day!

For full details and terms & conditions, please see the Russell Hobbs website.

Or, in fact, please don't!  My toaster and kettle are both showing their age, and I could really do with winning this one myself.  Think of me this Christmas, and let me win!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

My Car Step - An Interview!

A couple of weeks ago, I braved the Cardiff Baby & Toddler Show, with a free ticket.  I tried desperately to convince myself that the free ticket was because I am some kind of Super-Blogger-Hero that they just couldn't possibly hold an event without my glorious presence, but the reality was, I went last year & my name was on a list, with everyone else's names.  I'm not as special as I think I am!  Before I went along, I had a browse at the list of exhibitors, to see whether I'd see any familiar faces, and who else would be there. Among the list was an entry for My Car Step, and I was intrigued.  I decided to myself that this was the one stall I really wanted to see.  Some ideas are so simple, yet so clever, you have to find out more & see it for yourself.

And I did!  I met Sally, the inventor of My Car Step, and I was really impressed by her, and by My Car Step itself.  So much so, that I'd like to introduce her to you.  Sally kindly agreed to answer my questions, and despite me not really rivalling Jeremy Paxman in the interviewing stakes, here's what she had to say...
Sally


How did you come up with the idea for My Car Step?
My little girl Jessica is now 4, but when she was 18 months old she started to get agitated and upset before every car journey.  She wanted to climb into her car seat herself but physically couldn't do it because she wasn't big enough to reach the seat.  So either myself or my husband tried lifting her in, often with her kicking and screaming or crying, out of frustration.  This kept getting worse rather than better and every car journey was very stressful to say the least. 

I started to look on the internet for a solution – some sort of step that Jessica  could use to climb into the car seat herself.  With no luck finding a product, I started using a foot stool.  However it kept getting in the way, taking up space in the footwell – plus of course it wasn't secure, wobbling precariously when Jessica tried to use it.  So I had what only can be described as a 'brain wave'.  

When Jessica first started using the prototype, she got super excited and felt really independent and grown up, plus of course we could all enjoy heading out in the car without anxiety of an impending tantrum.  The problems started again when I had to take MY CAR STEP out of the car (while applying for a patent), Jessica would have a tantrum because she wanted 'MY CAR STEP' back in the car again. 

Initially I was going to use MY CAR STEP just to help me, but then I noticed other people struggling to get their young children into their car seats – from pregnant woman who couldn't lift and twist, to 3 door cars, to grandparents who couldn't lift and twist.  After researching back pain and discovering that most back problems occur from lifting and twisting children, I thought lets see what the general public think about MY CAR STEP, and I was really pleased and pleasantly surprised with the outcome.  
My Car Step, in use

What's been the biggest challenge so far?
Because I have no experience in running a business, the hardest part for me has been trying to get it off the ground. Especially knowing how to approach the right people and how to communicate with them. In my profession as a teaching assistant, I know what I'm talking about, and am confident in speaking about it, but this is completely out of my comfort zone, so it's been finding that confidence to approach people.

And what's been the best thing that's happened in the My Car Step journey?
All the fantastic feedback that I've had from the public has been the best thing so far and makes it all worthwhile. There was one occasion that has stuck in my mind over others though, and that was when I had the safety test results back. Finding out that MY CAR STEP had passed all the relevant testing was a relief and a moment of celebration.

Was this your first "big invention", or are you a really clever person with great ideas springing out all the time?
I'm far from creative and inventive! But because this was causing me a problem I came up with a solution, so this has been my first big invention. But trust me — if I can do it, then so can anybody.

What advice would you give someone else starting out in their own business?
There'll be a lot of struggles, ups and downs, but if you believe in your product and business then stick with it. Don't be afraid to ask people for help, and do your research!

Is there anyone in business you'd love to be seen as "The New ..."?
Honestly as long as people like and enjoy using the product, that is good enough for me. I want to be as successful as I can and grow the business the best way I can. I would love to be the next Mandy Habberman or Cara Sayer (snoozeshade) — to see what these women/mums have done with their product in the space of time that they've achieved it, is honestly remarkable.  


My Car Step


My Car Step is available to buy online through the My Car Step website.

I'd like to say a massive thank you to Sally for agreeing to talk to me, and a big apology for me being so slow to get my act together.  I wish her lots & lots of luck with the business, and I can't wait to see what the future holds.

Disclosure. I have not received or sought payment or products in return for this post. I simply believe that this is a product and business worth promoting, and I am happy to do so free of charge.

Friday, 30 November 2012

HABA Ratz Fatz Adventskalender Ponyhof - Review

HABA Ratz Fatz Adventskalender Ponyhof. Phew. That's a mouthful & a half for poor little non-German-speaking me.  And that's the name of the latest product we've received as part of our HABA Mums Club membership to review.  Take a deep breath & say it slowly with me. HABA Ratz Fatz Adventskalender Ponyhof.

The HABA Ratz Fatz Adventskalender Ponyhof, as the name suggests, even to a non-German-speaker like yours truly, is an advent calendar.  I figured out the "pony" bit with not too much difficulty (the pictures helped), but I had to resort to begging twitter to help me with the "hof" part.  Roughly in English, it means Pony Yard Advent Calendar.  And as you can see, the calendar shows a festive stable scene.  The cover, shown, slips off from a lidded box.  Parents need to get into the calendar before the morning of the first to take the lid off the box so that their little ones can get the full fun of opening the advent calendar windows to find the treat inside.  I love the fact there is a proper box & lid, because it means that the pieces can be put away safely at the end of advent, and reused as a whole toy in the future, rather than becoming 24 small pieces of clutter to find underfoot at 2 in the morning.

Also underneath the slip-cover is a booklet.  HABA's instructions usually come in an array of European languages, but this is the first time I've encountered the booklet only in German.  I slightly feel like we're missing out a bit here, as each day has a little story, rhyme or game to play, relating to that day's toy.  Toy? Oh yes.  You can forget chocolate, the HABA Ratz Fatz Adventskalender Ponyhof has toys inside!  There's 12 wooden pieces, all up to HABA's usual high standards of production & fabulous colours, and 12 cards.  These come together to make up the pony yard, and can be used for all sorts of imaginative play and role-play.

From what I can gather, Ratz Fatz is the name of a whole collection of puzzle games from HABA, all featuring stories, rhymes & riddles, designed to develop language skills & understanding.  As we don't speak German, we may be skipping that part, but we can still have a whole lot of fun with our pony friends, inventing our own stories about them & their adventures.

Nails: Jessica - Black Ice
I know it's not December for another couple of hours (I'm writing this at 9.30 on the 30th), but in the interests of reviewing, I had a sneaky peak behind door number 1, and found this little gentleman waiting to find a new friend.  He's the first piece in our collection.  Squeaky's already seen the box, and knows there's something very exciting inside, she keeps asking for her "horsey calendar", so I know this is going to be a huge hit, and I'm looking forward to the stories she comes up with.

The HABA Ratz Fatz Adventskalender Ponyhof is recommended for children aged 3 and above, due to small parts.  Squeaky is 3 in January, but having checked the contents, I am happy for her to play with the advent calendar supervised by an adult.

For more HABA reviews, why not pop over to the HABA Mums Club?

Disclosure: I was provided with the advent calendar free of charge for the purposes 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 and will not receive reward for their use.  A version of this post will also appear on the HABA Mums Club site.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Life Story - Barnardo's

You might have seen an advert earlier this year, called Life Story, for Barnardo's.  It followed the story of Michael, a vulnerable child, whose life was turned around by Barnardo's workers, showing that a life doesn't have to end up the way it began.  The advert showed some of the range of services that Barnardo's offers to children, young people, and families, and won a 2 Gold and 2 Silver Awards at the British Arrows advertising awards.

Well, Michael was a fictional character, but there are plenty of "real Michaels" out there.  For one week from today (26/11/12), Barnardo's will be turning their facebook and twitter channels over to Jenny, Kirsten, Laura and Caitlin, four young women who are real Barnardo's service users, who want to tell their Life Stories about how Barnardo's helped turn their lives around.  They're stories to inspire, to amaze, and to make you think.

I haven't read their stories yet, any more than you have right now, but I'll be watching with interest all week.  Barnardo's does a whole lot more than people think.  They haven't run children's homes since the 1970's, despite popular belief, but they do work with vulnerable children & young people across the UK, in all sorts of settings.  From young carers to asylum seekers, fostering & education to substance misuse & family support, and campaigns to raise awareness of issues such as child sexual exploitation and youth criminal justice, there's a lot more to Barnardo's than you'd think.  And with over 800 projects across the UK, there's probably one close to you as well.  (Not to mention over 500 charity shops!)

The aim is to spread these four Barnardo's Real Life Stories as far across the web as possible.  You can follow the stories on facebook & twitter, with the hashtag #lifestory.  Can a tweet change a life? I think so, so join me in following the #lifestory all week.

This is not a sponsored post. I have not been told what to write. I am sharing this post because it is a charity I believe in.  Links are provided for convenience, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme & will not receive reward for their use.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Never Failed Yorkshire Puddings (recipe)

I mentioned these in an earlier post, and I know I've promised the recipe to a few people, so here we go.

I can't remember where I found this recipe originally, who gave it to me, it's just hand written in my recipe book, so if it's yours, thank you!  This has never ever failed me, in our old house with its thermostatically challenged oven, or our new house with its fully functioning fan oven. (I'm still getting used to that, by the way!)  The secret is, it's all measured by volume.  No scales, you just need a measuring jug, or a child's beaker with ml measures on the side.  And because it's such simple measures, it's easy to scale up or down, depending on your family size.

I made these. Really.

Ingredients
2 eggs
100ml milk
100ml plain flour

makes 6 muffin-sized yorkies, or 12 cupcake sized. Or probably one giant one, if you're a greedy person.

1. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, whisk gently with a fork & make sure there's no lumps
2. Put it to one side for at least half an hour (while you get on with making the dinner!)
3. Preheat the oven to gas mark 8, 220c, or whatever if you've got an old Fahrenheit oven.  If the oven's on for everything else, just whack it up for the last bit of cooking time.
4. Put a greased muffin tin into the oven to heat for 5 mins
5. Carefully remove the tin from the oven & pour the mix into the hot tin. Don't fill the spaces more than halfway, these are going to RISE!!!!
6. Put the tin back into the oven
7. Cook for 20 minutes
8. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR DURING COOKING TIME!!!!!! NO MATTER HOW TEMPTING IT IS!!!!!!!!!!
9. Remove from the oven
10. Be amazed.
11. Eat.

There you go folks, easy as that!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The Perfect Roast Potatoes!

The former parish priest at my mum's church had a regular sermon he used for children's masses called "the last roast potato", this post is dedicated to him.

After many failed attempts, I have found a Yorkshire Pudding recipe that works every time, with no problems whatsoever.  Remind me, and I'll post the recipe another time.  Because this post isn't about my Yorkshire Pudding skills, it's about potatoes!  Perfect potatoes! Splendid Spuds!

I was sent a fabulous pack to help me in my attempts to make the perfect roast potatoes, including a bag of Good Natured Splendid Spuds, goose fat, Cornish Sea Salt, an apron, and the all-important recipe.  So, at the weekend, I set to making an extra-special roast dinner.

The Splendid Spuds are a firm-fleshed white potato, easy to peel, and turn beautifully fluffy when cooked.  That's how a good roastie should be - crisp on the outside & fluffy on the inside.  And look!  How great do these roasties look to you?    Take it from me, they were stunning.  Not a single leftover, and I made WAY more than we needed for the three of us.

Would you like to give the perfect roast potato recipe a try yourself?  Here you go...

Ingredients
1.5 kg Good Natured Splendid Spuds
50g Goose Fat
50g Butter
Cornish Sea Salt
(Serves 4)

Method
  1. Preheat oven to 190C/gas 5/fan 170C. Peel the potatoes and cut into big chunks. Put them in a large saucepan of salted water and bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
  1. Once just cooked, remove from the heat and drain well. Scratch roughly with a fork (the rougher surface will give you crispier potatoes). Season with a pinch of Cornish Sea Salt.
  1. Heat the goose fat in a roasting tray until it is sizzling hot and then add the potatoes and butter to the tray. Baste or turn the potatoes (carefully) as soon as they go into the roasting tin so they have a light coating of goose fat from the start. Roast for 1 hour or until golden and crisp. Turn the potatoes during cooking at least once to ensure even colour.
  1. To serve, sprinkle the potatoes with Cornish Sea Salt and serve immediately.
Of course, if you're a veggie, you can replace the goose fat with more butter or oil of your choice, but honestly, goose fat does make a difference to the taste & crispness of the potatoes.

I served with Never Fail Yorkshire Puddings, roast chicken breast & assorted veggies, but you could serve these spuds with pretty much whatever takes your fancy.  Frozen roasties will never match the taste of real home made roast potatoes, and now I have a recipe that works, our Sunday lunches have just got one step better.  I need someone to teach me how to make proper gravy now!

Good Natured’s Splendid Spuds are pesticide-residue free, using only natural predators to control pests and disease, good bugs to keep the bad bugs at bay, leaving you safe in the knowledge that you and your family are getting just what nature intended.  Good Natured Splendid Spuds are perfect for roasting & mashing, with a soft fluffy texture & gentle taste. 

Good Natured Splendid Spuds are available in selected Asda stores nationwide, along with other fruits and vegetables from the Good Natured range.

Disclosure: I was provided with a Perfect Roast Potatoes hamper including the ingredients detailed above 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.



Master Moves Mickey Mouse Review

Squeaky is nearly 3.  There's something about children of that age, they develop overnight all-consuming obsessions, and they're a marketing officer's dream.  Squeaky's latest obsession is Mickey Mouse.  There's a very old cuddly Mickey in our house, that someone brought me back from Disney World long before Disneyland Paris opened, when I was just a small person myself.  He's been well looked after over the years, and Squeaky loves him dearly, but you can see he's vintage.  It actually surprised me looking at Disney toys today, how much the design changes over the years.

The very kind people at K and Co sent Squeaky a much more up-to-date Mickey.  The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Master Moves Mickey to be precise.  Or "that breakdancing Mickey on the adverts" as Daddy put it.  The postman crept up on me first thing in the morning while I was putting toast out for the birds, and handed me this MASSIVE box.  Foolishly, I opened it in front of Squeaky, just before we had to leave the house for nursery/work.  We were late.  He has a couple of "Try me" moves & sayings he can manage even when he's fixed in the box, and she figured this out in seconds.  Eventually, after much persuasion, we put him on the table and went out.

When we got home that evening, well, love is the only appropriate word for it.  I freed him from his cardboard prison (actually quite easily, the fixings are all twisted card, so totally recyclable), and set him free on the floor.  I thought the advert was putting it on a bit, but no, he actually dances, moves around, breakdances, it's really quite impressive.  If he gets stuck (which does happen sometimes), he even asks for help, and thanks you when you set him upright again.

I was pleased to find he came with batteries included.  Batteries slip into some kind of Bermuda Triangle in our house, and I can picture the scene if we had needed to find the 6 (yes, six!) batteries Mickey needed before we could play with him.  They're still going strong after a weekend of constant singing & dancing, so you can be sure that they will last through Christmas Day before you have to raid the remotes!

Despite the cuddliness of this photo, Mickey's body is quite hard, and he's not all that cwtchy.  I guess this is because he's got a lot of moving parts in that tummy, and it would be kind of difficult to pad him out.  It would have been nice though.  The upside to this is that he is absolutely, definitely, not a cuddly to take to bed.  Which in turn means we don't get woken up at 3 am by him wanting us all to practise our Mouska-moves. (Not Moussaka Moves, they're different!)

At £70.00, Mickey is not a cheap present, but if you have a Disney-obsessive in your house, like I do in mine, he's well worth it.  In the words of Pat & Mick "[He] hasn't stopped dancing yet!"  (Apologies to anyone who really didn't need reminding why it's a good thing the 1980's ended)

K and Co have a great range of toysgifts and clothes for the whole family, with free delivery and returns, there's no need to sharpen your elbows for the battle on the high street.  And with the option of interest free credit, you can spread the cost of Christmas too.  Please use credit carefully.

Disclosure: I was provided with Master Moves Mickey 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.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Hotel Chocolat Advent Calendar Review

There are some things that really get me starting to feel festive.  The first time I break into the super-sparkly red & green glittery nail polishes, the Christmas lights going on in town, and popping open the first door on the advent calendar.  I was a bit cheeky this year, and when Hotel Chocolat sent me their milk chocolate advent calendar to try out, I couldn't wait until December 1st!

Normally chocolate advent calendars are, well, a bit meh.  A nice exciting picture on the front, but the chocolate tend to leave you feeling a bit underwhelmed.  They're best left for the children, or shared in the office.  That's not the case with Hotel Chocolat!  From the outside, this is an advent calendar for the grown ups!  Subtle, beautifully designed, straight away you know this is going to be a treat that you don't want to share!  I actually opened this parcel in my office, there were a lot of very jealous co-workers peering over my shoulder & volunteering to be taste testers, as if I'd need any help.

The advent calendar itself is freestanding, and opens up like a card.  It's something that I haven't seen before this year, but seems to have become quite a popular concept for adults' advent calendars.  It means you can display the card, without the constant temptation to sneak open the next day's door just a little bit early (that's not just me, is it?)

Not pictured: drooling co-workers!
The sleek design continues inside the card, the numbers are embossed in silver, and the whole feel of the calendar, even before you get to the chocolate is one of luxury & quality.  By this point, I knew I wasn't sharing with anyone, no matter how nicely they asked!  I waited until I got home, but there was no way I was going to manage any further restraint, and so I'd soon popped open door number 1, and poked an eager fingernail through the foil beneath.  Always a good sign, the foil keeps the chocolates fresh.

Nails: W7 Metallic Mars


I was almost surprised to find a fairly traditional Advent Calendar chocolate shape, at least behind the door I've seen so far (I'm being good, doors 2-24 will be opened on their "normal" dates), and I found a chocolate Santa staring back at me.  In traditional jelly baby style, I promptly bit his head off!  Yum!  Like I said earlier, most advent calendar chocolates leave me disappointed, but these are something else. 40% cocoa milk chocolates.  That means Good Chocolate.  I can't wait to start my days with a mouthful of this advent calendar every day next month!  Can't we have "November Calendars"?  And every other month.  I'm a much nicer person when I start the day with some chocolate!  Looking at the images on Hotel Chocolat's website, the daily chocolate sculptures get less traditional, and more sleekly designed, but I'm keeping the rest of the month a surprise.

At £12, this isn't a chocolate advent calendar for the children.  But it would make a great gift for a friend or loved one, or if you just need a bit of a treat yourself in these dark mornings, and even darker evenings.  Go on, treat yourself!

Hotel Chocolat have a great range of treats for all tastes & budgets.  I'm definitely eyeing up the Secret Santa gifts page, as soon as the names get drawn out of the hat on Monday, I'll be away.

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


Friday, 9 November 2012

Chicago Town Takeaway Review

Big gap in the freezer, must be popular
I don't need to tell you I'm a pizza addict, do I?  It's pretty much common knowledge nowadays.  If you went on Pointless & the question was "Foods Lorraine Eats", Pizza would score you at least 85 points, and unless someone said "sprouts", which would score 100 for being WRONG, you wouldn't be through to the next round & wouldn't win the coveted Pointless Trophy.

Well, you can guess my reaction when I was asked to sample Chicago Town's Takeaway range.  I hadn't actually tried these pizzas before, as I tend to buy fresh, because I prefer bases that haven't been pre-cooked.  So I was really pleased to find that these are frozen fresh, so the dough bakes & rises in the oven.  You'd be surprised how much difference it makes to the taste.  Or would you?  Chicago Town's Takeaway range recently beat both Domino's & Pizza Hut to be voted the UK's number 1 pizza on description, price & taste.


I wanted this one SO much!
We rushed out to see which of the range they had in our local store.  Chicago Town have introduced a new Limited Edition Sloppy Joe, which I was really excited to try, but was foiled by our shops not stocking it.  They had a big gap where the New Yorker was meant to be as well, which was previously a limited edition, but has now taken its place as part of the full range.  Not to be disheartened, we selected the Pepperoni  and Cheese pizzas from the range, and rushed home to get them in the oven.

And we had to get them in the oven.  I didn't realise how big they were, in comparison to the majority of other pizzas on the market.  We've only got a fairly small fridge-freezer, and I couldn't fit them in the freezer.  Not to worry, as we couldn't wait another minute anyway, but if you're buying in advance and don't have much space, it's worth bearing in mind.





Eight slices! EIGHT!
Do you want to know what I mean by big?  8 slices.  8 generous, pick up and bite, slices.  A regular shop bought pizza will normally only achieve six before they get too skinny to handle.  8 slices means we can share a pizza between Squeaky, Daddy & I, with some garlic bread, and the adults don't feel robbed by a pizza-addicted 2 year old.  So we did share with Daddy, though not the pepperoni, that one belongs strictly to us girls!

What you can't quite see on the picture to the right, is something very clever.  It took me many years to be convinced by pizza cooking instructions that said to place the pizza directly onto the shelf in the oven, but when I did, it was a revelation, as the base cooks more crisp and evenly.  You don't do that with the Chicago Town Takeaway range though.  The pizza comes with a disposable cooking base, made of cardboard, with a black, reflective top to it.  I don't know how it works, but it keeps that soft uncooked base flat, and helps the pizza cook to an even, crisp finish.  And stops bits of cheese dripping onto the base of my oven, which is a very welcome development.

My pizza!
Did we enjoy the pizzas?  It's a resounding yes!  The only criticism I have is that the sauce in the stuffed crust gets, and stays, very very hot.  Hot enough to burn my tongue when the main body of the pizza has cooled down.  That'll teach me to slow down a bit, I guess.  We actually did a taste test between the Chicago Town Takeaway and another frozen cheese & tomato pizza, and the difference was clear.  The base tastes fresh, the toppings are really generous, and it actually tastes just as good cold (a very important consideration)

For those who don't like the stuffed crust, or are worried about incurring the sort of injuries I risk in the name of blogging (a slightly singed tongue, fine in five minutes), Chicago Town have also launched a new Classic Thin version of their Takeawy range, without the stuffed crust.

Chicago Town Takeaway Pizzas are available in major supermarkets, RRP £3.79.

Disclosure: I was provided with vouchers to purchase pizzas 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, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme and will not receive reward for their use.

Monday, 5 November 2012

CLOSED Friends Giveaway!

The theme tune to Friends is one of those songs that's instantly recognisable, from the first jangly guitar notes, to the clapping bit, to the "I'll be there for yooooooooooooou" chorus.  It's so cute & jaunty & guaranteed to put a smile on my face.

I wasn't immediately a Friends fan, it started when I was at uni, and I couldn't quite empathise with a bunch of glamorous New York 20-somethings with their perfect haircuts and imperfect love lives.  But then I grew up a bit, and became a somewhat less glamorous Yorkshire 20-something myself.  With an imperfect haircut and a non-existant lovelife, hence why I had the time to watch, and I discovered what I'd been missing.

Well, to celebrate the release of the complete series of Friends on Blu-Ray on November 12th, Warner Brothers have come up with an amazing prize for me to share with you.  How would you like to recreate the set of Friends in your own home?  Two oversized cappucino mugs to pretend you're in Central Perk, and a picture frame like the one on the back of Monica's apartment door.  (How I ever resisted the temptation to do this, when I lived in a flat with a peephole, I still don't know!)

Well, apart from this great prize, they've come up with all sorts of fun to get involved, and get back in touch with your Friends roots.  There's a daily quiz, so come back again tomorrow to take part again!  There's a whole load of Friends memes, for your amusement.  And a weekly video mashup of some of the best moments across the series.





So. I reckon you want to know how to win now, don't you?  Well, it's dead simple, just use the rafflecopter widget below, (you might need to use a laptop or desktop, sorry mobile people.)  The giveaway is open now, and closes at 5am on Saturday 24th November (blame Rafflecopter's timezones).  Open to UK residents aged 18 or over only.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck people.  I'll be there for you...

Cbeebies The Album 2012 - Review

I went away for a few days recently, being a normal person (OK, one with a bit of a nail polish habit), rather than a mummy.  It was great! I spent about 9 hours driving (total), and had my own choice of music the whole time!  Trouble is, I didn't know what to do with myself, and ended up listening to a random Spanish holiday cd, and Radio 2.

No such luck the rest of the time.  Squeaky loves her music.  We have a couple of CDs made especially for her, titled "Really Very Annoying CD" and "Annoying vol 2", featuring such wonders as Agadoo, Chocolatte,  Star Trekkin', Purple People Eater, and "1,2,3,4,5" (actually Mambo Number 5).  You can imagine how much I love listening to these, especially on long journeys.  That's the same sort of love I have for watching Deal or No Deal.  (I have trained Squeaky to slap Noel Edmonds' face every time she sees it)

So when I was given the chance to review the NEW CBeebies cd with Squeaky's help, I was glad of the chance for a change of music.  We bought the previous one a couple of years ago, only it's living in Daddy's car, so I don't get to listen to it.  I've claimed the 2012 version as my own.  The CD arrived just in time for us to take on a weekend trip away.  As soon as the first track started, Squeaky was singing along.  And looking slightly confused, as to why she could hear all her favourite tv shows, but not see any of them.  Given not much time at all, she was soon asking for her favourites on repeat.

I did wonder why there needed to be a new CBeebies CD, when one came out a couple of years ago, but there's a pretty fast turnover of shows.  I only noticed one song repeated from the previous cd - Timmy Time.  Other than that it's new shows, different songs from within the shows, and happily some of the other CBeebies songs - including our favourites, The Winter Song, and Goodbye Sun, Hello Moon.  There's even "Meet The Veggies" from Mr Bloom's Nursery and "I Am A Shape" from Mr Maker.  I'm *this* close to putting them on my phone as ringtones.  That would be normal, right?


There were a couple of "oddities".  Songs from single episodes of shows, that I barely recognised, mostly from shows that don't really have a distinctive musical theme tune - Charlie & Lola and Grandpa In My Pocket.  They slightly seemed like filler tracks, but given there's 50 tracks in all, a couple of less familiar songs is to be expected.  Oh, and as a word of warning, there's a bit of Justin Fletcher.  It's CBeebies, it's inevitable.  I know some people may have issues with too much Justin, but 4 isn't really too much, is it?  You can skip those tracks, if you must.

Is it worth getting? Yes!  The schedules are so different to when the last CD was released, if you have a current CBeebies addict, it's well worth the cash to keep them entertained.  The next thing I want to see, and I really, really do mean it, is a CD of Sid & Andy's number raps.  Seriously. I'd buy that.

The 2012 CBeebies CD is available from Amazon for £7.99.

Disclosure: I was provided with a copy of the CBeebies CD free of charge for the purpose of this review.  I was not told what to say, and all opinions are my own.  Links are provided for your convenience, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme, and will not receive any reward for their use.

And the NEW winner is...

As I didn't hear back from one of the winners of the Kelly's Ice Cream draw, I've had to choose a new winner.  Random.org chose number 8, and that's Attachment Mummy!

Congratulations, I've dropped you a tweet, if you can get your details to me, there's ice cream on its way!

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Tea India Review

It seems to be compulsory in the UK to drink tea. Lots of tea.  Even more so if you live in Wales.  When Tea India got in touch & asked if I'd like to try out some of their teas, newly launched in the UK, I was intrigued.  What's so different from any other cuppa?  Well, the postie turned up obscenely early on my day off, and I answered the door with scarecrow hair, PJs, and eyebags too big for Easyjet hand luggage.  Clearly a cuppa was just what I needed.

I love Chai.  I can't convince SqueakyDaddy, because he's not a tea drinker at all, but to me, Chai isn't tea.  It's not.  It's a million times nicer, more complex, and just yummy.  I was sent the Masala Chai to try out, but they also have a Vanilla Chai & Cardamom Chai varieties, so one for every mood.  The Masala Chai is blended with ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom, cloves & star anise to give a really warming rich taste.  Just right for the autumn nights.  It's a really complex flavour, and hard to describe.  I've never been one for being able to tell you what drinks taste of, I'll never put Oz Clarke out of a job!  Even though there's quite a few sweet spices in there, it doesn't make it a sweet tea.  It's a big flavour though, one to savour, not to bolt down.  It'll last ages with us as well, as it's only me drinking it!

I'll confess to not being a massive "normal" tea drinker, so for the black tea, I realised I should enlist the help of some experts.  My colleagues are well known for their great tea-drinking skills, and they deserve a little treat every now & then, so I took the box of black tea in for them to try out.  First impressions were that I was really spoiling them, the box definitely looks like a step up from the supermarket norm.  The tea itself passed the taste tests with everyone, from the no-milk tea drinker, right through to the lots of milk & at least 2 sugars end of the spectrum.  Not too strong, not too feeble, and no tanniny aftertaste.  The tea leaves are picked from only the top two leaves & the bud, where the tea is freshest, which is what gives the rich & smooth taste.

The Masala & Cardamom Chais have both been awarded a 1 star gold rating in the Great Taste Awards 2012, and the Vanilla Chai and black tea were each awarded a 2 star gold rating, confirming the quality of the range.  Tea's what you want it to be, a quick pick-me-up, or a real treat.  Tea India makes the treat side a whole lot more sophisticated.  I'm never going to be completely converted away from coffee, believe me, it's for your benefit as much as mine.  But I'm very happy to have an alternative.

Tea India is stocked in selected Tescos & Booths stores, Tescos stores mostly in the South East, Booths in the North West & Yorkshire.  Including my former stomping ground of Ilkley.  That makes me very happy.

Disclosure: I was sent two boxes of Tea India teas free of charge for the purposes of this review.  All opinions are my own & I was not told what to write.  Links are provided for your convenience.  I am not a member of any affiliate scheme & will not receive reward for their use.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Palmers Body Butters - Review

Christmas is fast approaching (sorry, but it's true).  If the men (I'm talking grandpa as well here, I'm not that sort of girl!) in your life are anything like the men in mine, then they're a nightmare to buy presents for.  Women are easy to please, or I am at any rate. If it's sparkly, or smells nice, I'm a happy bunny.    There's only so many jumpers & socks a man can usefully receive though.  And why shouldn't men have the chance to be pampered?

When Palmers offered me the chance to try out some of their Body Butters, and offered me some more "manly" scents, I was intrigued.  Palmers, to me, means cocoa butter, and much as I love it, it's not exactly manly.  I shouldn't have been concerned.  I received two tubs, the Shea Body Butter, and the Coconut Body Butter.

The coconut is a much lighter smell than I imagined, and SqueakyDaddy, who I enlisted as chief tester, said he liked it.  Strong words indeed.  It's subtle, and after 5 minutes, the smell has pretty much worn off, so he can use it before work, and by the time he's driven there, no-one would be any the wiser that he might be the kind of man who uses *shock horror* moisturiser!

L-R: Coconut Body Butter, Shea Body Butter
However, it was the Shea Body Butter that was the real hit.  I love Shea butter, it's rich and smooth, but there's very little smell to it at all.  Daddy's just spent a few days sunning himself in Spain, and he's come back with a slightly sunburnt head.  Apparently the Shea Body Butter is just the thing to soothe the tight & dry skin on his head.  I haven't been able to get anywhere near it, and my elbows are suffering as a result!

It might be an unusual gift for a man, but you know they're not going to get the same from anyone else.  Whether you've got a style-conscious teen in the house, a metrosexual man about town, a sunburnt hubby in need of a bit of TLC, or grandpa who's great at administering hugs, I think a Palmers Body Butter would make a great stocking filler.  Oh, and they're pretty cool for women too!  At £4.99 for a 170g tub, they're an affordable bit of luxury against the winter weather and a perfect Christmas treat.

Disclosure: I was sent the Coconut & Shea Body Butters 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, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme & will not receive any reward for their use.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Pip's Garden Review

Yes, that's her name. It's not a secret.
I was approached recently to review some personalised clothing for Squeaky from Pip's Garden.  I hadn't heard of them before, but they sell personalised children's clothing, as well as bedding and towels, all ethically sourced, making for a unique and very special gift.

Squeaky received a personalised pirate ship t-shirt with her real & proper name on it (though I wouldn't have argued with The Jolly Squeaky!)  Pirates are a big favourite in our house, so it was a great item to receive.  The pirate ship is embroidered on with appliqué sails & ship body, making each piece unique, before you even get to the personalisation.  The stitching is top quality - I've had a good old look, and there's not a loose end to be seen, so I'm quite confident that the shirt will look great for a good while.

 I mentioned above that the products are all ethically sourced, this was backed up further by the tag attached to the shirt - 100% organic African fairly traded cotton.  I know I'm not perfect, particularly when it comes to my own clothes, but where I can, I do try to make sure I buy ethically.  The small difference made to my costs makes a massive difference at the other end of the supply chain, and to the lives of some of the poorest people.  The content of this tag, and the detail in the shape, made me very happy.

Detail, yes, that would be the word.  Even the packaging was gorgeous.  I don't normally take many photos of paper wrapping, but I just couldn't resist.  Had wrapped, tied, with a hand written message on the tag.  The attention to detail in every aspect of the shirt, and its packaging, is just amazing.  It makes it a really special item.

And what does Squeaky think to it?  What do you reckon?  We were sent the age 2-3 sized shirt, she'll be 3 in January, but there's loads of growing room, so I think we'll be able to get plenty of wear out of it, before looking for another little pirate with the same name to pass it on to.

I always make sure I've given clothes a full wear & wash cycle before I review them, there would be nothing worse than writing a great review, & then finding something fell apart on the first wash. No such problems here.  The shirt washed beautifully, kept its shape, even with the embroidery & applique.

At £19.50, it's not the cheapest shirt ever made.  But considering that includes personalisation and shipping, it's not as pricey as it would first appear.  I think a Pip's Garden shirt, or romper would make a beautiful gift for a special child this Christmas. Or a personalised dressing gown for the favourite blogger in your life!!  (hint hint)

Disclosure I was provided with a personalised shirt 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, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme and will not receive reward for their use.