Sunday, 22 December 2013

Winter Itch Relief with Grahams Skincare

I know I've written before about Squeaky's itchy skin.  She's following in my footsteps with eczema in the summer and winter - we get a little light relief in the spring & autumn, but not as much as she or I would like.  Well, the kind people at Grahams Skincare got in touch with me, and asked if Squeaky would like to try out a couple of their products to help her with her winter itchies.  What parent could say no?

We received the Eczema Cream and Bath Oil to try out.  Unlike most of the brands we've tried in the past, these are very natural products, which makes me much happier to use them on Squeaky's delicate skin.  The bath oil contains Olive Oil, Apricot Kernel Oil, Sweet Almond Oil, and the cream includes Colloidal Oatmeal, Cocoa Butter, Shea Butter & Olive Oil.

Let's start with the Bath Oil.  Being an "oil" oil, rather than one with other stuff in it, it doesn't disperse very well in the water, and sits on the top.  That makes it cling to the skin really well - and the bath.  It's a definite case of clean the bath straight after, and be very careful as it's slippy.  The oil itself has very little scent, you'd barely know it was there, but it leaves Squeaky's skin feeling so soft & smooth, I'm tempted to try it out in my bath as well!

And the cream?  Well, honestly, I'm in love.  All that good stuff, and it smells of cocoa butter.  It's absorbed really easily, and somehow counteracts the slipperiness left by the bath oil, so she's not so greasy I can't catch her when she decides that running round naked as the day she was born is a really good game.  I'm definitely impressed, the cream's thick enough not to fall off your finger, but easy to rub in, and the squeezy tube is handy with a trainee escapologist in the house!

To give you some idea, I don't know the precise cause - it was either swimming pools or different washing powder, but Squeaky had a major eczema attack a fortnight ago, while we were away for a couple of days.  On returning home she was grouchy and itching like crazy on her arms, legs & back, all red & sore.  We broke out the Grahams, and while the patches haven't completely gone, I'm not being asked for scritches 24/7, she's not complaining about it, and the redness has gone away.

Grahams Skincare is available in the UK through their online shop.

Disclosure: I was provided with the products as detailed above 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 convenience only, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme & will not receive reward for their use.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Ding dong! Santa Calling!

This year, Squeaky has been lucky enough to receive a special message from the big man himself. The great FC, Father Christmas.  He's called her from his Portable North Pole to give her a personal Christmas message!  What a lucky girl she is!

Ho ho ho!

Well, I say she's had it. She hasn't just YET, because right now she's in her bed (or at least she should be, but a cheeky face has appeared round the corner of the door at least 4 times this evening, and she's heading rapidly towards Santa's naughty list!), and I'm keeping the video back as a special surprise for tomorrow.  I'm mean like that sometimes.

I've watched the video though, after creating it, and I was spellbound. It's so cute.  I was able to check the pronunciation of Squeaky's name (clue: it's not actually Squeaky!), add photos, personal information, and her own challenge of the year.  Ad the premium version adds even more options.  There's choices for adults as well as children, both of the naughty and nice variety.  I'm tempted to make one for Squeaky's daddy, but I'm not sure which list he's on!

Has Squeaky been good enough for the Nice List?  Well, you'll have to join Santa's elves & wait and see.

Oh, the suspense!
You can create your very own personal video message from Santa at PNP - Portable North Pole, and make Christmas magic for a child (or adult!) in your life.

You can even get a 20% discount off digital items on the website until 1 January 2014, using my code BLG20BKP.

We also had a play with PNP's other release for the year - Santa Sprint.  This is an app which we downloaded to the iThing, featuring Santa's helpful elves collecting cookies & other Christmas items in return for a story from the Big Man Himself.  The self same Santa (being the only one, it would be!) reads a special Christmas story - though this one's not personalised.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin
Much as I love the content of both the personal video, and the Santa Sprint game, I've got a couple of little niggles, though they might say more about my technical ineptitude than anything else.  It took me a good couple of attempts to create the video - so much so that I let my upgrade code expire because I just couldn't make it work.  And even now, having managed to successfully add the Santa Sprint app to my iThing, I can't actually give you a link to it in the app store, because I simply can't find it!  I know it's there, I know it exists, but it must be in a kind of electronic Bermuda Triangle, as I can't see it anywhere.  If you do find it, let me know!

PNP - Portable North Pole, and the Santa Sprint game are really adorable, and I'm sure you know a child or two who would love their own message.  As long as you're not as technologically incapable as me, I'm sure you can make Christmas magic for the believers in your life.

Disclosure: I was provided with a free download of the Santa Sprint app, and an upgrade code for the PNP - Portable North Pole video (unused) 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 convenience only, I will not receive reward for their use, nor use of the discount code featured in this post.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Night Before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas and like each night that week
Not a creature was stirring, not even a Squeak

Tucked up in her bed, with a new picture book
I couldn't help myself but to take a quick look

An old rhyming tale, about meeting Saint Nick
With bright colourful pages, she fell in love quick

Words from Clement C Moore, drawings by Henry Fisher
Each page illustrated with a beautiful picture

Santa and reindeers, she knew each one's name
And asked me "where's Rudolph", I had to explain

He was feeling quite poorly, nose snotty and red
When Henry drew these pictures, he was sleeping in bed

Now after that rest, Rudy's feeling alright
Ready to guide Santa's sleigh through the night

She started to yawn, her eyes closing too
A fabulous sight for a parent, it's true

So I tiptoed away, and left on the nightlight
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night!

Disclosure: I was provided with a copy of this book free of charge as part of the Parragon Book Buddies programme. I was not told what to write and all opinions are my own, as is the very poor rhyming, inspired by Clement C. Moore's poem, as featured in the above book.  Links are provided for convenience only, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme & will not receive reward for their use.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Elf On The Shelf, TV, Sideboard, etc

I suppose I should be grateful that our Elf On The Shelf didn't join our family until AFTER Christmas last year, thanks to the vagaries of Royal Mail.  He made a couple of out-of-season appearances throughout the year, but Steve (our elf has a distinctly un-elfish name, I know) has mostly stayed in touch using the magic bath phone.  Known to you & I as the shower attachment.

But now he's here.  He's taken up residence in our house, and of course, being an Elf On The Shelf, he has to move around & be in a different & entertaining location each day.  But less than a week in, and I'm running desperately short of ideas.  He's not going in the fridge, there's not enough space in there for food, never mind artistic elf installations.  I don't trust Squeaky not to disturb him if he's within reach, despite the dire warnings of the book.  So after the clock, the bookcase, a wreath on the mirror, the top of the tree, I'm running out of ideas.  In fact, I'm quite glad that we've got a few days away, so at least I can get away with not having to move him for a couple of days (though relocating him between Squeaky leaving the house & going back in could be a whole new challenge)

Elf on the Tree
I'm glad to have Steve, and he's added a nice new tradition, and a reason to rush out of bed in the mornings that doesn't just involve chocolate advent calendars, but it's one more thing to have to remember to do before bed, when my brain isn't at its brightest anyway.  He's going to have to move on from the living room soon, there's not many more places he can sit in here.

Acrobat Elf
Do you have an elf?  Where do you put yours?  Help me out here, I need inspiration, or I'll have to donate him to school for next year & they can deal with him!

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Scooby-Doo Adventures - The Mystery Map Review

Time.  Progress.  It's a weird old thing, getting older.  Things you thought you knew just aren't the same any more.  Not just Wagon Wheels getting smaller, the whole world moves on.  I thought I knew what Scooby-Doo was about, and then we received a copy of Scooby-Doo Adeventures - The Mystery Map to review!

Rather than the animation of old, with Casey Kasem's dulcet tones for Shaggy, The Mystery Map is a whole new departure for Scooby-Doo & pals.  They're puppets!  Actually really really well animated puppets, and more Sesame Street than I was expecting.  They definitely look like the original characters, so there was no trouble distinguishing who was who, to Squeaky's demands of "who's that?" for the first ten minutes or so.  It was good to see Daphne & Velma develop a bit of actual personality, though Fred was still a bit of a drip.  More importantly than that though, I am happy to confirm there was no Scrappy-Doo.  Let me say that again, No Scrappy-Doo.  This is vitally important, and I know there are many people who will be greatly relieved to learn that.

At just over an hour, it was the perfect length to keep Squeaky's attention, and the film would comfortably break up into two separate episodes, as the story divides quite nicely into two distinct parts, so if you're not so good at staying still for an hour, you can split it up to match the attention span of your mini audience.

The story is a great Scooby-Doo adventure, with all the features you'd expect - Scooby Snacks, running round randomly & screaming, hiding behind curtains, and the all important un-masking, complete with "I would've got away with it if it weren't for you pesky kids", which of course kept Daddy & I in stitches.  Squeaky just looked at us as if we'd gone mad.  Maybe we had!

For an easily scared child, as Squeaky is at present, it still wasn't too scary, and so full of silliness any momentary worries were quickly forgotten when the next laugh came along.  A great choice for curling up on the sofa on a chilly winter's afternoon, with a bag of popcorn.

Scooby-Doo Adventures - The Mystery Map wa released on 21 October 2013, and is available from Amazon and other retailers.

Disclosure: I was provided with a copy of the DVD 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 convenience only, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme & will not receive reward for their use.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Giovanni Rana Fresh Pasta

I might have mentioned once or twice in the past about our love of pasta in Squeaky Towers.  I don't pretend to be the greatest cook in the work, but we do enjoy a nice bowl of something Italian, with a chunk of garlic bread on the side.  (Note how I resisted the temptation to make the obvious joke about liking a hot, rich Italian Dish, and including a picture of Gino D'Acampo.  I'm expecting my Mature & Responsible Adult medal in the post any day now)  Well, the chance arose to try out some of Giovanni Rana's fresh filled pasta range, and who am I to say no?

We received the Giant Ravioli with ricotta, baby spinach & marscapone, and the Tortelloni bolognaise.  Two great traditional flavours, though the range also includes sauces, plain fresh pasta, and fillings including chicken, and a very intriguing gorgonzola & walnut.  These, I think were just right for me, I'd've been a bit wary of the gorgonzola without someone to tell me what to expect!

First up, we tried the giant ravioli.  And yes, GIANT is the right word.  You really only need about half a dozen per person for a meal.  We went quite traditional with these, keeping it simple with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of paprika for colour, and a rustic chunk of focaccia.  Perfect comfort food for these grotty evenings, and great with a cold glass of whatever takes your fancy. (Stop thinking about Gino! I can read your mind!)

GIANT ravioli!

Next up, the tortelloni, which I completely forgot to take photos of as I was positively starving after a day at work.  Keeping with the bolognaise style, I tossed them in some passata which I warmed through in a separate pan while they were cooking.  I was even generous enough to share a little with Squeaky herself.  For once, she was in a more adventurous mood and tried them, and even admitted to liking them.  Though she did then say she preferred her spaghetti hoops on toast! That's three year olds for you!

While I was mooching around my local Asda, looking for some garlic bread to go with the pasta, and checking out the reductions section, I did spot that they stock a whole load of the range - and check out those rollback stickers! Even better value.  So I thought I'd share this photo of Giovanni Rana pasta in its natural habitat, the chiller section!

Giovanni Rana has been making fresh, gourmet pasta for over 50 years, and has become an Italian staple, known for great taste & great quality.  For me, the fact that the pasta is ready in just a couple of minutes means I can get a healthy and tasty meal on the table after work without any hassle.  Compared to a lot of other filled pastas I've tried in the past, these kept their shape and their seal really well so I didn't have filling spilling out into the water & soggy pasta.  A definite 10 out of 10 from me, and a new addition to my shopping list.

Giovanni Rana pasta is available from Asda, Sainsbury's, Morrisons, Booths, Ocado and other retailers, priced on average between £1.99 and £2.49.

Disclosure: I was sent the pasta as detailed above free of charge for the purposes of this review. I was not told what to write and all opinions remain my own.  Links are provided for convenience only, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme & will not receive reward for their use.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Simple Christmas Craft - Rudolph prints

You will need:
  • Light brown paint
  • Dark brown paint
  • Red Paint
  • Card or paper
  • Googly eyes
  • Glue
  • Baby wipes
  • A child (or more than one if the mood takes you!)

 What you need to do:
  • Paint one of the shades of brown on your child’s foot.  Print this onto the paper/card to make the reindeer’s face.
  • Clean the foot!
  • Paint the other shade of brown onto each hand, and print this onto the paper, at the top of the face/foot print to make antlers.
  • Clean hands!
  • Paint red paint onto a thumb, and print this onto the face to make a red nose.
  • Clean hands!
  • Glue googly eyes onto face

Great for personalised cards, or decorations.  What grandparent could resist?  And it's a lovely way to watch your child grow, making a new Rudolph each year and measuring their hands & feet against the previous ones.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Is There Any Room At The Inn?

It's Squeaky's first ever school play in a fortnight.  And just like everything else school-related she's reluctant to tell me anything about it.  At All.  I think they must make them sign the Official Secrets Act when they start, either that or she's got a great future ahead of her as an international spy - MI5 wouldn't be able to get any information out of her, even under extreme tickling, she won't give an inch!

I know the play is nativity-ish, because we've got a cast list, so we know what costumes we need to supply for our budding Oscar winners.  I can't help but feel a little sorry for the camels' parents, because that's really not an easy costume to rustle up at home from the contents of various wardrobes & dressing up boxes (though I have seen a few available online!).  And I know the play is called "Jump If You Love Christmas", which sounds bizarre to say the least.  "Sit Down If You Wish It Was January" for the Bah Humbugs in the audience, perhaps?

An Innkeeper?

Well, La Squeak is an Innkeeper.  Innkeeper 3 to be precise (that's the one with the stable, if you were wondering!)  It's a role I remember playing myself in the dim & distant past, along with a gymnast (obviously at the nativity), the colour pink, and Mrs Red Hat from the Village With Three Corners.  As you can tell, I've had a wide and varied theatrical career, sadly cut short at the point where it was discovered I had no acting talent whatsoever.
An Innkeeper?

An Innkeeper though?  What DOES an innkeeper actually wear?  In the name of research, I paid a visit to our local, and discovered that an aging t-shirt from the brewery teamed with a pair of dubiously stained jeans, and a couple of tattoos seems to be a popular choice.  I could probably manage that.  Or there's the more famous options.  Bald head, burgundy jacket & pint pot a la Al Murray?  Leopard print, big hair, cleavage & too much make up in the style of Bet Lynch?  Apparently these aren't ideal suggestions and are more likely to be met with a referral to social services than a standing ovation.
A more appropriate Inn Keeper?

The internet leads me to believe that an innkeeper's costume is pretty much the same as a shepherd's, only without the sheep & crook (I might have to add a tankard, that would be fair, right?)   I quite like the look of this one, from Angels Fancy Dress - with a little adaptation, maybe a belt, my little Innkeeper could be the star of the show!

I still think Bet Lynch would be fun though.

Well, I was thinking aloud on twitter before I wrote this post, and the kind people at Angels Fancy Dress contacted me, and asked if I thought my readers would like a little offer?  Well, of course you do.  So, they've offered you all an amazing 10% off any item at Angels Fancy Dress - not just their Nativity Costumes.  All you have to do is use the discount code SQUEAKY10 which is valid on online orders until 31st December. Perfect for your Christmas or New Year's parties as well!  What are you waiting for?

Disclosure: This post was written without request. I have not received payment for this post.  I asked whether the company would like to be linked in my post, and they offered a discount for readers. Links are provided for convenience, I will not receive reward for their use, nor use of the above discount code.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Have yourself a LUSH little Christmas

I was feeling a little bit out of my depth, surrounded by the young & trendy members of the Cardiff beauty blogging scene, at the official Lush bloggers Christmas event a mere fortnight ago now (ooops!), but soon realised that beauty, food and parenting bloggers are pretty much all the same. We take photos of EVERYthing.  And complement each other’s taste in nail polish, handbags & coffee shops.  Bloggers are bloggers, not matter what they blog about.

I braved the rain and headed to Cardiff to take a peek at Lush's new Christmas range, and get a bit of inspiration for presents for my nearest & dearest.  We started out by trying our hands at making our very own batch of Catastrophe Cosmetic fresh face mask.  This needs to be kept in the fridge, but lasts about a month.  The main ingredients of kaolin, calamine & blueberries all go to soothe hormonal skin & absorb oils, meaning you can avoid the perfectly timed breakout on the day of your Christmas party. There's a tub sitting in my fridge right now, mixed (in part) by yours truly, and I'm working my way through it at a fair pace.  It's worked wonders on the spots that make a worryingly regular appearance on my T-Zone.

Let The Good Times Roll Cleanser has been a seasonal staple for a couple of years, with tears each year when it leaves the stores for another 10 months.  But this time it's here to stay!  Made with polenta, maize flour & cinnamon, to me it smells like Crunchie bars! A bit of squishing, and I had the smoothest & sweetest smelling hand in town.

Nails - Sinful Colours See You Soon & Barry M Boots Limited Edition 2013
Lush have got some lovely seasonal specials this year, Santa's Lip Scrub which tastes of cola and has tiny edible red hearts in it - everything in the scrub is edible, and it didn't take long before I had to lick it all off because it was so yummy.  There's a special Gold FUN wash, their amazing mouldable, squashable, playable, bubbly soap wash.  The Gold one smells of Honey I Washed The Kids (one of my very favourite Lush scents), and is full of tiny gold sparkles.  I can see this appearing in many a Christmas stocking.

And talking of stockings, who else hates wrapping?  Lush have got it all wrapped up (a ha ha ha, I'm so funny!), with gift boxes that are not just pretty, but also have surprises inside, like this bursting parcel full of confetti.  Others are like giant crackers, complete with crack!

I had to have a little play with the Emotional Brilliance Colour wheel before I left.  For those who haven't met it before, a wheel of 30 colours is spun while you close your eyes.  When the wheel stops spinning, you choose the three colours that attract you the most, and they tell you something about your mood or personality.  I chose drive, ambition and motivation - quite apt as I'd spotted Dream Job Of The Moment earlier that day & was full of my own importance!  The colours can be used as eye make up, lip colour, hair mascara, however you want.  The words are all positive, affirmative good words, to reflect how wonderful we are, or want to be!  That said, it got me thinking, and I kind of want to develop a Monday Morning version of the emotional brilliance wheel.  Trouble is, it'd probably end up something not too dissimilar to Fifty Shades Of Grey.  And the words, well it'd have to be things like ennui, exhausted, tedium, frustration, depressed.  I'd still wear them, mind!

There was also a very silly moment when I got back to my car, where I realised I'd tried out one of my three colour choices, and another which one of the staff was wearing & I'd complemented, and I found myself with a passionate & motivated hand.  Which sounds all kinds of wrong, and so immediately had to become a facebook status in the way that these things often do.

Disclosure: I was invited to attend this exclusive event, and provided with a goodie bag of samples free of charge. I was not told what to write, and all opinions are my own.  Links are provided for convenience, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme & will not receive reward for their use.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

We're Going On A(nother) Deer Hunt!

After our complete failure to find anything vaguely resembling a deer on our last trip to Cannock Chase, this time we decided to enlist the help of an expert, Squeaky's Uncle Terry, who apparently knows where they all hang out, and spots them on a very regular basis.  And they were all over Countryfile last week, so apparently people think they are real. Then again, I don't believe anything I see on the TV, with the exception of Dog The Bounty Hunter, they can do all sorts with technology these days!

Off we went, into the wilds of the chase, past a boulder left behind by a glacier at the end of the last Ice Age (I'm quite impressed by the pebbly steps  the Ice Age also seems to have left behind, hey ho!)  Deeper into the Chase, in search of the mythical deer.

And guess what we found?  Horse's hoof prints.

A feather.
A stream.

My jeans tucked into my boots to minimise mud stains.

A sign with the number 3 on it!

And, yep, you guessed it, a complete lack of deer.  They are definitely a myth, I'm telling you!  According to Uncle Terry, the problem was that we'd got cameras with us.  Cameras = No Deer.  If you haven't got a camera with you, they're practically coming up to swap Christmas Cards.

Maybe the constant shouts of "Daddy, Uncle Terry, Wait for MEEEEE!" and "One, Two, Three, WHEEEEEEEEE!" might have had something to do with the deer's absence too.  Maybe.

One, Two, Three, Wheeeeeeee!

So in the end, Ms Squeaky had to improvise, and do her best impression of a deer with a couple of handy sticks.  What do you think?

I'm linking up with the Coombe Mill Country Kids Linky

Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Parragon Book Buddies - Wakey Wakey Big Brown Bear

This month's arrival, courtesy of Parragon's Book Buddies, is Wakey Wakey Big Brown Bear, by Tracey Corderoy, and illustrated by Rachel Swirles.  (And I just have to say what brilliant names they both are!  It's not important, but it's true)

Autumn is fun for the animals of the forest, except for Big Brown Bear, who sleeps through it all until springtime, and misses out on all the excitement.  His friends try to wake him up to make sure he doesn't miss out on any of the seasonal fun in this lovely bedtime book, perfect as the nights are drawing in.

This is a great book to share, there's loads to talk about, with the autumn and winter, what children enjoy and dislike, why some animals hibernate, the changing of the seasons, and the way Big Brown Bear's friends try to make sure he gets to enjoy the autumn and winter without missing out on his precious sleep.  Squeaky was absolutely FULL of questions for me, though not always the easiest to answer at bedtime, admittedly.

Not exactly a happy model this month.
I quite like the idea of hibernating, if I'm honest, and I wouldn't be all that upset to miss out on the puddles or the snow that Big Brown Bear is so eager to experience.  I can kind of see where he's coming from about the crunchy autumn leaves though, they're my favourite part of this time of year, aside from the excuse to wrap up in big jumpers & scarves, and judging by the pile of fallen leaves, conkers, acorns & general discarded bits of tree in the corner of our living room, I'd say Squeaky feels much the same.

Wakey Wakey Big Brown Bear has jumped way up the list of current bedtime reading requests, and is a great seasonal read.

Wakey Wakey Big Brown Bear is available from Amazon and other retailers.

Disclosure: I was provided with the above book 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 convenience only, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme and will not receive reward for their use.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Corina Pavlova & The Lion's Roar - Sherman Cymru

Despite spending a year living just a 5 minute walk away in the middle of Cardiff, I'd never actually visited Sherman Cymru, one of Cardiff's hidden gems, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect when Squeaky & I wer invited to attend the very first showing of Corina Pavlova and the Lion's Roar, their Christmas show aimed at children aged 3-6.  In fact, not only had I never visited, but I wasn't even 100% sure where I was going, so I was very grateful for Cardiff Council's little brown tourism signs which lead me right to the door.  Parked my car in a very big puddle, and we were there.

The Sherman is a modern theatre, nestled in amongst university buildings on one of Roath's lovely tree-lined streets (great unless you have to park your car there every day, as I learned to my peril), with a welcoming cafe-bar in the foyer.  I wish I'd had a bit more time to browse their cakes, but it was one of those very busy days, and we only just made it to the theatre on time.  We were ushered into Theatre 2, an informal performance space, and sat down on the kind of tiny chairs more commonly seen in classrooms, alongside a few fellow bloggers, local press types, and a local primary school.

Corina Pavlova is a young girl, whose family has just grown with the arrival of her baby brother, who she's not exactly excited to meet, and is having difficulty getting used to.  She pays a visit to Mr McAlistair's Pet Shop, a magical shop with "Cats and Dogs, Fleas and Frogs, Lemurs, Llamas, Rats in Pyjamas"... where the customers don't choose their pets, the pets choose their owners, guaranteed to make sure everyone ends up with their perfect pet.  Corina meets a cheeky monkey, a hilarious French-accented snake, and the lion of the title.  While it doesn't *sound* like a Christmas play, there's a Christmas theme throughout, and the focus on family and family relationships is definitely a seasonal one.

The whole play was performed by just three, multi-talented actors, singing, dancing & playing a veritable orchestra of instruments - I counted a clarinet, flute, recorder, accordion, glockenspiel, xylophone (yes, I do know the difference!) and shaking eggs, and I've probably missed a few there!  There was also plenty of opportunity for little ones to get involved, tuning in their ears and mouths, not forgetting the all important ROAR!!

Squeaky & I loved the show, once she stopped asking me what was about to happen & watched to find out for herself instead.  It did get a little scary towards the end, so if you've got a more sensitive child, be prepared for some gentle cwtching!

At about an hour's show, it was spot on for Squeaky, and kept her attention throughout.  The fact that she was fast asleep in the back seat of the car within 5 minutes of leaving was even better for me.  Ever since, she's been asking to see the "singing lion show" again - so I take it that it's a hit with her too!

Corina Pavlova and the Lion's Roar  is showing at Sherman Cymru from 9 December to 4 January, with showings in English and Welsh.  Tickets are £7.00 and available direct from the theatre.  A very fair priced alternative to the traditional pantomime, and much more suited to a young family.

Disclosure: I was provided with two tickets to the show 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 convenience, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme and will not receive payment for their use.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013


Willpower is a wonderful thing.  I can be faced with a mountain of Brussels Sprouts, and I can easily resist taking even the tiniest mouthful.  Similarly rhubarb crumble, pistachio ice cream, wasabi peanuts and hoisin duck pizza.  Then there's times where I actually get all determined to do something about my ever expanding backside, and actually make an effort to resist things that I really enjoy.  And for a while I can do it.  I can cut out the muffins, I can ignore the office biscuit pile, and even say no when someone says they're going to the chippy for Friday lunchtime, and do I want a noodle special.  I even took homemade soup in to work today for my lunch, rather than a trip to the corner shop.

Powerless to resist

But then it happened.  I had to get oil for my car, which decided to be a particularly temperamental beast at 8 o'clock in the morning, when I needed to drop La Squeak at breakfast club at get in to work as early as I could to try & work the hours they pay me for.  So, there was no chance of a car-parts shop being open, and I took my chances with the supermarket.  What a mistake.  Right in front of me, on a huge pallet, just as I walked through the entrance barriers (it's getting more & more like Terminal 2 at Heathrow, my local Tesco, I'm sure).


Kryptonite in cake form.  Mr Kiplings Frosty Fancies, to be specific.

I tried.  I really did.  I turned my head, walked away & found the really exciting motor oil that I went in for.  I browsed the trashy magazine selection, and considered whether I had enough diet coke to get me through the day.  And then I had to walk past them again to get to the checkout.

Big Fat FAIL.  And getting progressively bigger and fatter, as these are going to be hanging around the supermarket for the next two months.  Honestly, I can resist most cakes, but I only need to think about these to start drooling like one of Pavlov's dogs.  They barely even touch the sides.  And if you think I'm going to share them with anyone, you're sadly mistaken.  My Kryptonite!  MINE!!

Frosty Fancies are my kryptonite.  What's yours?

Monday, 4 November 2013

Souper Mr Pumpkin Soup

Now that we've carved our first EVER pumpkin, and even stuck a tealight in him for a little while, we're left with the challenge of finding something to do with a large gourd that we've never cooked with before.  I know if I was American, or had any great culinary skills, I could make pumpkin pie, but not without some serious help.  So I opted for a failsafe idea.  Soup.

I love homemade soup, it's my favourite thing about autumn.  Tomato, cauliflower, broccoli & stilton, mushrooms, nothing is safe from my evil glare & stick blender!  So I decided to turn Mr Pumpkin into Mr Pumpkin Soup, with the help of my beloved slow cooker.
Mr Pumpkin
Half a medium sized (carving style) pumpkin. Preferably the non-carved half! 
One onion
1 litre stock (veg or chicken, up to you)
Two big pinches dried thyme
Large “end of a teaspoon” of dried cumin

Peel the pumpkin & chop into matchbox sized chunks.
Dice the onion
Put all the ingredients into a slow cooker for 1 hour on high, then switch off & attack with a stick blender to turn the pumpkin chunks into soupiness.
Turn slow cooker back on low, and stir occasionally until you’re ready to serve.

Add a swirl of crème fraiche & serve with crusty bread.

(N.B. If you haven't got a slow cooker, it'll work just as well in a saucepan on the hob, and probably cook a bit quicker, but you'll need to stir it more often to avoid burnt bits at the bottom)

Mr Pumpkin Soup
This made about 2 1/2 litres of soup, so if you're not planning to feed an entire army, you might want to reduce the measures slightly.  But it freezes well, and reheats well.  Above it's pictures in my new favourite thing, my Sistema Soup-to-go microwave soup mug. Perfect for carrying to work.  Small things please this small mind.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Living with a MAT

It was parents' evening earlier this week at Squeaky's school.  Yes, the same school that she only started going to, for 2 hours a day, at the start of September.  They don't waste time.  Aside from the shock to the system that a parents' evening bears no resemblance to the concept of "evening" as understood by any other part of civilisation, starting as it did at 3.30pm, I was looking forward to it.

Squeaky gets regular homework, roughly every other week, which I do my best to help with - though google did come to my aid when I was faced with a circle map, a concept I'd never heard of before.  But the school also run a monthly family challenge called Family Values, and I was hopelessly confused by it, so I wanted to ask some questions about that.

Well, anyway.  Squeaky's teacher is lovely, we had a comfy seat in the staff room & she proceeded to tell us that our precocious little madam is, well, just that, in not so many words.  Apparently she's smarter than the average Squeak, and they want to put her on the More Able & Talented programme (MAT).  At 3.  Having only been there 7 weeks.

Not this sort of mat
Image courtesy of 
 John Kasawa/
Well, obviously we already knew she was a small genius, what parent doesn't?  But it's rather nice to have it confirmed by someone who knows about these things.  It's such a cliché of parenting in the internet age, every Mumsnet/Netmums member's child is reading War & Peace at 2, and composing symphonies over their home-made sugar free baby led weaning flapjacks.  And I'm secretly Kate Moss.

I loathe competitive parenting.  I've agonised over telling, well, anyone about this (and was beaten to the decision by Squeaky Daddy who posted it as his facebook status within half an hour).  I've told people I trust, but there's no way on this little green earth I'm mentioning it to the mums in the school gate queue.  After all, all I know of their children is the few minutes a day I see them outside the gates, I don't know how easy or hard they're finding things.  Wouldn't it feel terrible if your child was falling behind at a young age, and someone was bragging about their tiny overachiever?

So, once they go back to school after half term, Squeaky will have her own Play Plan, designed to give her some extra challenges & extra stimulation to move her forward & reach her potential.  It's something I think is very positive - the same terminology is used - Play Plan, Individual Education Plan, for children with additional learning needs at either end of the spectrum.  I'm encouraged by the recognition that smart children need support as well as those who are struggling.  It didn't happen in my day (old fogey that I am), I remember being bored rigid by the school's choice of books for me, reading Judy Blume books long before I was old enough to understand what periods were, and effectively being left to self-teach in maths because I was working a full term ahead of the rest of the class.

So wish us luck, we've got a challenge ahead of us.  Keeping Squeaky motivated, maintaining the momentum from school, and just trying to keep up with her.  I'll do my best to record what life is like in the MAT programme, or at least as much as Squeaky will tell me of it.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Kellogg's Give A Child A Breakfast - Competition

You've read my recent post about the Kellogg's Give A Child A Breakfast campaign, haven't you?  Well, how would you like to help your local school's Breakfast Club, by giving them an amazing £50 of vouchers to help provide children with a healthy & nutritious breakfast?

That's right, I've got £50 of Kellogg's vouchers right here in my hot & sweaty hand, ready to send out for you to give to your school's breakfast club.  And if your children aren't in school, or your school doesn't have a breakfast club, there's sure to be another school nearby that does.  And they'd be more than happy to accept these vouchers.  (And if you still don't know of a school, I know plenty!)

Not this Breakfast Club!

Breakfast clubs are amazing.  I visit families every day who struggle to make ends meet, and have to go without basics to keep the house warm, to pay the rent, to have school uniforms. Breakfast clubs can ease a little bit of that pressure.

So, you want to help? And you want to win?  Here's what you need to do:

Leave a comment telling me your favourite breakfast, and a way to contact you.

Simple as that!  Nothing complicated.

Entries are open now, and will close on Friday 1st November 2013 at 11.59pm.  Any comments left after this time will not be counted.  Worldwide entries accepted, but the prize is only valid for donation to a UK school - so if you're overseas, think about where the vouchers are going!

A winner will be picked at random after the closing date.  My decision is final.

Best of luck!

Spots, Zits, Call them what you will

When I was younger I believed in all sorts of crazy things.  Unicorns, gold at the end of the rainbow, and the concept of there being a time in my life between the spots going away and the grey hairs starting.  Well, as the grey hairs started when I was 15, and at 37, the spots still haven't left that's clearly never going to come true.  I've tried all sorts of things to settle my skin down, but if the Belisha Beacon that's currently taken up residence between my eyebrows is anything to go by, they've not been all that successful.  Creams, gels, medicated washes, light therapy.  Maybe it's time for a bit of professional help.

I've considered talking to my GP, but in all honesty I spend so much time in there with one ear infection after another, I can't build up the nerve to talk to them about my spots.  I'm sure they'll just tell me to go away & get over it, they're far too busy with people who are actually ill.  But acne has a big knock on effect, it's not just about the uncomfortable & unpleasant looking spots, it affects your confidence, your mood, your job chances - who's going to want to be served their dinner by someone whose face looks too much like the pizza you've just ordered?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/

I recently heard of a company called SK:N clinics who are specialists in dermatology & dealing with awkward skin conditions.  SK:N clinics offer all sorts of non-surgical treatments to help deal with acne prone or problem skin, with skin peels starting from just £105 – I've got creams that cost more than that (which I won, admittedly, but even so!)  It doesn't cost the earth, and when I consider what I've spent over the years in trying to treat my skin problems myself, I'm kicking myself for not having thought about it sooner.

Acne scarring can also cause a problem.  It's not as simple as your mum used to tell you, that if you pick it, it'll scar, if you leave it alone it'll go away.  For one thing, who can really leave it alone when there's a nice juicy spot there, ripe for squeezing? Scarring isn't directly caused by squeezing anyway, it's caused by damage to the tissue beneath the skin, which can build up excess collagen trying to repair the damage caused by the spots, leaving that familiar pock-marked effect.  Even the rich and famous (or snooker players, I'm more familiar with them) can't escape this, though they have better make up than us.

Stephen Hendry still bears the scars of youthful acne
Acne scarring is treatable, using chemical peels, laser treatment, or the one that grabs my attention the most, a dermaroller, which creates thousands of tiny contact points on the skin, promoting skin renewal  using your body's natural healing process. It's a technique that can be carried on at home between consultations, and sounds like a high tech, skin version of the lint rollers that were so popular in the 1980s for removing fluff from jumpers.

I'm actually thinking quite seriously about this now.  Less these days for my face, but I'll be honest with you, acne can strike in other places as well, and I'm quite conscious of my acne in other areas.  You don't need a diagram.  The dermaroller is safe to use on all areas of the body, so this might just be the one for me.

What about you?  Have you ever sought help with problem skin?  What are your experiences?

Disclosure. This is a sponsored post. I was not told what to write & all opinions remain my own. Links are provided for convenience, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme & will not receive reward for their use.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Interviews. We love them!

I used to give Interview Skills training quite frequently in a former job, it turned out to be something I really enjoyed, seeing people who you knew were more than capable of doing a job, but didn't come across well in an interview develop the skills to sell themselves.  It's a vital skill in the job market, being able to come across well in an interview, and to give the best of yourself in the hope of scoring that top job.  If you want to learn more about interviewing, and hone your own skills (and I'm too far away for you to bribe me with cake), you could do far worse than to visit the Total Jobs Job Academy and pick up some tips. (My personal number 1 tip is to give yourself that one last look over in the bathroom mirrors before your interview - there's nothing worse than a dodgy looking stain)

There's been a vital vacancy in our house for a little while.  Since the retirement of Upsy Daisy, the important position of Most Beloved Nighttime Cuddly Toy has been filled with a series of temporary replacements, but now it's time to recruit a permanent team member.  So, I've held an interview with one of the likely candidates – Spanish Dolly.

Spanish Dolly takes the hotseat

So, Spanish Dolly, what special skills can you bring to the role of Squeaky’s Cuddly?
Well, I speak Spanish, I can count up to ten and say “Buenos Dias” and “Adios”, so we can talk in Spanish and learn new words.  And I know lots of songs from the Mini Disco.  I’ve got a bunny on my dress because bunnies are soft and cuddly, and most importantly I’m very squishy, so I’m really good for cuddles & cwtches.  That’s a Welsh word.  I know some Welsh words too.

OK.  What would you do if Squeaky had a nightmare?
I’d give her a big hug, and tell her about when I lived in Spain, with my brother and sister, Steve and Ponty.  I can’t close my eyes so I don’t go to sleep, so I’d always be there in case she woke up in the night, and I don’t get tired.

What about daytime then?  Nighttime Cuddly Toys don’t get daytimes off, unfortunately.
I’m good at dancing, I can fly, and I like going to new places.  Did you know that I went to Spain with Squeaky last year to find my friend Daisy (not Upsy Daisy).  I don’t mind getting messy, because I’ve even had a trip in the washing machine before, and I just come out smelling nice. I love having adventures, as long as there aren’t any animals that might try to eat me.  I’m a bit scared of being eaten.

Thanks Spanish Dolly. Have you got any questions for me, or Squeaky?
Yes.  Can I have some milk and a biccie now please?

So, would Spanish Dolly get the job, do you think? The final decision is up to Squeaky, but I think Spanish Dolly's in with a good chance, the other candidates include a hobby horse called Moo-Moo, a large Broccoli called Broccoli, and a slowly deflating balloon from a pizza restaurant.

This is my entry into the Total Jobs & I Am Typecast Interview competition.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Peppa Pig Daddy Pig's Puddle Jump App Review

We've recently become the proud owners of an iPad in Squeaky Towers, and that means something important. No longer do I have to look at press releases and adverts for apps that are only available for Apple products with an envious look in my eye (and a glare towards my elderly android phone)  So when the chance arose for Squeaky to try out the latest Peppa Pig app - Daddy Pig's Puddle Jump, I was hot on the download button.

Daddy Pig's Puddle Jump app is pretty much what it says in the title.  You can choose to be Daddy Pig, Peppa or George, and guide your character to jump over bushes, on trampolines, down slopes and into muddy puddles.  You're awarded one, two or three mud splats depending on how well you do on each round.

Except it's pretty much impossible to work out how the splats are awarded.  We've been back & forth through the levels, and nothing seems to make any difference. Hit the puddles, jump higher, miss bushes, run faster, hit the trampoline at the end. I really can't tell, and that's a bit disheartening for a very competitive three year old, who is determined to get three splats on every level, but can't find out how.

Sadly too, the puddle jump app is the only game on this app.  For £1.49, the same price as other Peppa games, it doesn't hold the attention that long.  Maybe we've been spoiled with Happy Mrs Chicken and Polly Parrot (both of which have recently updated & have a new mini game each!), with 5 mini games and the stickers to play with, but this is a stand alone game, and even though Squeaky is a Peppa obsessive, she gets bored with it quickly, and moves on to other apps, or trying to sabotage my emails.

Unless your child has already got the other Peppa Pig apps, and is the kind of obsessive completest who has to have absolutely everything in every possible format (see my Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy collection!), then this isn't the best value Peppa app available.  Squeaky enjoys it, but enjoys others more.

Peppa Pig, Daddy Pig's Puddle Jump is available from iTunes for £1.49.

Disclosure: I was provided with a code to download this app 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 convenience only, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme and will not receive reward for their use.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Mini Malaprop

I've written before about how entertaining it can be when Squeaky misunderstands things when she's learning Welsh at school, and some of the very cute variations of songs she comes out with. But the truth is, she does that in English too, as do most children, and much as I don't want to put her off by laughing, there's times when the malapropisms are just so funny I can't help myself.

For instance, the day she decided to put my washing basket on her head in her best Dalek impersonation, and walk around the house shouting "Inseminate".  That was a tricky one.  How do you keep a straight face?

It's not just children though. I've come to realise through Squeaky, how difficult a language English actually is to learn, and how lucky we are to learn it as our mother tongue, because I really don't envy anyone trying to learn it as a second language.  It reminds me of the Greek guy who ran a sandwich shop round the corner from my work, many years ago, who proudly announced to me one day while I was buying an expensive sandwich & can of a certain energy drink: "Red Bull gives you wind!"  And all that time I'd been blaming his sandwiches!

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Lunch Less Ordinary Challenge Week 3

This week, Mission Deli Wraps have set their Lunch Less Ordinary bloggers a really fun challenge, and for once I had the time to get involved.  It's the third week of the challenges, but the first time I've had the chance and the braincells to enter.

The challenge was to make a wrap inspired by your favourite film or book.  I thought, and thought, and thought a bit more.  Dirty Dancing?  Not really appropriate for a 3 year old, and it's quite difficult to put a tortilla wrap around a watermelon!  Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy?  I didn't have the ingredients for a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, Tesco had sold out of Arcturian Mega-gin.  So I decided it would be a better idea if I asked Squeaky for her choices.

We couldn't come up with a Toy Story sandwich, or at least not an edible one, there's not much food in the film.  And so we turned to her favourite book, and that's when inspiration struck.  The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Who says that wraps have to be savoury?  Sadly there was a lack of appetising looking plums & strawberries in the supermarket, so we had to improvise slightly from the original, but we took an apple, pear, orange, banana, melon, pineapple and grapes, and got wrapping.

The starting point for our Hungry Caterpillar wraps
On Friday he ate through five oranges, but he was still hungry!
A wrap in progress

It's a wrap!  We even found our Hungry Caterpillar plate.

The sweet wraps were really tasty, and a healthy treat for lunchtime, or a change from the usual supper time biscuit.  I think next time I'll cut the fruit a little smaller to make the wraps easier to hold, but the taste was amazing.  The tortillas went very well with the fruit, just a little touch of flavour (I used the plain ones, Mediterranean Herb didn't sound right for this, somehow!)

Om nom nom!
What do you think?  Is fruit the future? We think so!

This is our entry for the Mission Deli Lunch Less Ordinary Challenge.