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Saturday, 30 November 2013

A Night Out at The Hinds Head in Norton-in-Hales

Last night, a bunch of us school mums enjoyed a night out before the chaos of Christmas descends, and had a fabulous three course meal at The Hinds Head pub in Norton-in-Hales, Shropshire.

The recently refurbished, family run, traditional village pub has a wonderfully relaxed and warm atmosphere. The Hinds Head has many features of a quaint, country pub, including cask ales from local breweries, a wood burning stove and a cosy snug, along with a high quality, contemporary restaurant. The ingredients are locally sourced where possible, and the menu includes pub classics alongside some more modern dishes.  I was glad to see a nice, well conceived vegetarian option for me to choose from on the set menu!

The Christmas decorations were up and the fire was burning, the perfect setting for a pre-Christmas festive get together.  Add great company, loads of laughs, class room anecdotes and a few rude stories featuring Take That concerts, strippers and trouser dropping, and you have the ingredients for a great night out.


          


For my meal I chose a mushroom bruschetta, followed by a goat's cheese, caramelised red onion and cranberry Tart Tatin with new potatoes and salad, finished off with a chocolate brownie with ice cream and raspberry coulis.

The presentation of the food was quite stunning, with great attention to detail and the portion size was perfect.  (I hate those super fancy restaurants that give you a teeny tiny piece of food in the middle of a plate ...yes Michel Roux I am looking at you!! The meal I had at his restaurant may have looked beautiful but left me starving!)

The staff at The Hinds Head are friendly, very pleasant and attentive.  My niece is one of the bar staff team and it was lovely catching up with her on my night out.

The Hinds Head have just launched a take-away service and I am eyeing up the 'Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall Pizza' with caramelised onion, pear and blue cheese!  How deliciously different does that sound!


Goats Cheese Tart Tatin


We had a great night out and it was lovely for me to get to know some of Freddy's classmates' mums in a social setting with some great food.  It's nice to feel a part of the community and to be involved in my little boy's school.

If you ever find yourself in Shropshire and are looking for some top quality pub grub or a tasty Sunday Lunch in a beautiful, little village, I'd highly recommend The Hinds Head in Norton-in-Hales.

What Fred Said About Kizzy's Nose Bleed

Today Kizzy had three rather dramatic nose bleeds.  Freddy's reaction to his sister pouring blood from her nostrils was actually hilarious.  Here are some of the gems he came out with between his ughs and oohs of revulsion.

"Kizzy, Kizzy you look like a zombie with blood all over your face."

"I had a nose bleed once but it came from a cut on the middle of my nose and not down the nose holes."

"You need one of those things that keeps blood out of your pants on your nose!"  (Yes, it seems he knows all about Always Ultra!)

"If all your blood keeps coming out you will be as flat as a pie with no blood in you."

"I think it was quite bad and I don't ever want to do that in my world."

"I think a snake bited her up her nose!"

"I won't help you because it's too bad and I'll get blood all over my clothes and I'll cry."

***

Other than this my other favourite thing Freddy said this week was after he tripped up and fell over with a big bang.  He jumped up and said:

"It's OK I landed on my bum not my head!!"

***

This week Freddy won Star Pupil for trying really hard in phonics.  He is starting to read words and shows so much interest in letters and sounds.  It's lovely to see my little boy, who had literally zero interest in reading or writing, suddenly getting all excited by his phonemes and digraphs!!


star pupil


Said it Saturday



Friday, 29 November 2013

Smurfs 2 DVD Review

My son Freddy is a big fan of the Smurfs.  He loved the first film and he loves the video games, and now he has The Smurfs 2 on Blu-ray!  We were sent a copy of this sequel  and enjoyed a family film night watching our favourite short, blue characters as they embark on an exciting adventure that takes them all the way to Paris!

Smurfs 2


Like the first film, Smurfs 2 is a mix of CGI animation and live action starring Hank Azaria and Neil Patrick Harris, both of whom give good performances.  The story sees evil Gargamel up to his old tricks and has kidnapped Smurfette as part of his plan to transform his latest creations The Naughties into Smurfs.  The Naughties, Hackus and Vexy are great characters, full of mischief.   We find out about Smurfette's back story and see a new side to the lovable girl Smurf voiced by Katy Perry.  Dim witted Hackus and his sister Vexy were Freddy's favourite characters who were involved in some of the film's funniest moments.

There are lots of visual jokes and slapstick comedy which is a big hit with Freddy who chuckles his way through.  There are also some genuinely quite moving moments regarding the sense of belonging and a message from Papa Smurf that we can all learn from:

"It doesn't matter where you come from, what matters is what you choose to be."

Smurfs 2 introduces a new character, Vanity, a Smurf with an Oedipus complex who adds to the laughs as the Smurfs attempt to rescue Smurfette and help her decide her fate and find her place in the world.  It's cute, a bit cheesy, funny, entertaining, easy to watch, touching and fun.  A great idea for a festive, family film which will keep the tiny tots entertained and give the grown ups a few laughs too. 


Bonus Features on the Blu-ray™ 3D and Blu-ray™ Include:

* Three Blu-ray exclusive featurettes:

o The Puurrfect Companion: Azreal’s Tail – See how Azrael was created, from the live-action cat to the digital double, and how actor Frank Welker brought the character to life.

o Evolution of the Naughties – Learn how the filmmakers designed the newest additions to The Smurfs, Hackus and Vexy.

o New Faces In Smurfy Places – Meet the new characters, Hackus and Vexy, and hear from actors Christina Ricci and J.B. Smoove on what it was like to voice the Naughties.

* Smurf-O-Vision 2 App – Play Smurftastic activities with your favourite Smurfs and sync with the Blu-ray to unlock more fun

Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray and DVD Bonus Features Include:

* Deleted Scenes

* Two featurettes:

o Blondes Have More Fun: The History of Smurfette – Learn all about Smurfette’s “golden” past as we trace her origins back to Peyo’s stories, and how that in turn inspired the filmmakers as they were putting together this newest Smurf’s tale. Then, hear from Katy Perry on how she tapped into her inner Smurf to pull off the role in the voiceover booth.

o Animating Azrael – Discover how the filmmakers animated our favourite feline sidekick.


#TheSmurfs2


THE SMURFS 2 has a running time of approximately 1 hour 45 minutes on the Blu-ray and 1 hour 41 minutes on the DVD, and is rated U.

Release date December 2nd 2013.



What Christmas Means To Me

My daughter Megan has done me the honour of writing a post for me to publish here on my blog, about what this Christmas means to her.  After reading it, I'm feeling ready to rise to the challenge and help make this year the best Christmas ever!


"Christmas was always super exciting as a kid, for all of the obvious reasons. Santa, presents, more chocolate than you could manage to stuff into your ever- filling belly and those smoked cheeses in a log shape which for some reason became a Christmas family tradition. But as I’ve gotten older, the prospect of Christmas has only excited me more. I get at least a full week off work and I get to spend it having some real quality family time. Although many things have changed this year, including the fact that I will no longer be welcoming smoked cheese logs or Ferrero Rocher into my festive diet due to my new found Veganism, I already know the great feeling I’ll get waving goodbye to rainy Manchester and razzing my little old Peugeot down the M6, singing at the top of my voice to Mariah and WHAM!

One of the things I love most about Christmas in the McDonald household is that every year is different and every year is somehow just that little bit better than the last. I’ve loved going away for Christmas and I’ve also loved being at home. This year will no doubt be the biggest and best one yet, with four generations all under one roof in the comfort of the McDonald home!

The biggest challenge this year will be the food. From meat eating older brother Joe to Vegan me, it was going to make for an interesting take on the traditional Christmas dinner. But, with mum being super supportive with my quest to battle my health problems and ditch the dairy, she’s suggested a Vegan Christmas all round. And I couldn’t be happier. Instead of feeling glum because of all the things I can’t have this Christmas, I have felt really inspired to embrace the new things that I can have. I’ve been on a food and recipe finding mission to ensure we can indulge on the big day. Who knew how delicious dairy free ice cream and chocolate could be?! I’m looking at you Swedish Glace and Booja Booja!


I simply cannot wait for the big day when Santa rocks down the chimney and I get to, once again, have the best Christmas I’ve ever had with my hilarious family. No pressure Mum!"


This is a guest post written by Megan, part of a series of seasonal guest posts I will be featuring over the next few weeks :)

Wowbutter - 100% Nut Free Peanut Butter Substitute

Peanut allergies affect around 400,000 UK adults and one in fifty children, and can be deadly. Even being around someone who is eating peanuts can trigger an allergic reaction.  This has meant peanut butter has been off the menu for many families and in some schools.  That is until now.  Wowbutter is a 100% peanut free spread, which is providing a great tasting alternative which is completely free of the allergens gluten, dairy, egg and nuts.

Available in creamy and crunchy varieties, Wowbutter is made from non-GM soya beans and is a source of protein and Omega 3 and is suitable for vegans.


Wowbutter


Ian and Freddy are big peanut butter sandwich fans.  Freddy calls them 'daddy sandwiches' and will always happily tuck into one for his lunch.  So I decided to test out the quality and taste of Wowbutter on them, without telling them that it wasn't made from actual peanuts!


Wowbutter


They both enjoyed their sandwiches and when I asked Ian what he thought of the new 'peanut' butter he said it was the most peanutty tasting peanut butter he had ever had.  He assumed it was a really high quality brand with extra peanuts in it.  He was shocked when I told him that it was 100% peanut free!  He loves the stuff!

Under the label is a sheet of stickers which can be stuck on school lunchboxes to show that your sandwiches are 100% peanut free in case of any issues with children with allergies, letting the school know that your sarnies are safe!


Wowbutter


The Wowbutter can be used as a tasty spread in sandwiches or on toast, or can be used to make a satay sauce or in baking.

It's won Gold in the Quality Food and Drink Awards 2013.

Available in Holland and Barrett, Whole Foods and Booths for £4.99 for a 500g jar.


Tickety Toc Christmas Special and a Twitter Party!

Get ready for Chime Time as Tommy and Tallulah star in their own festive special! The half hour long Christmas episode of Tickety Toc: "Christmas Present Time" premiers on Nick Jr at 12.30pm tomorrow, on Saturday the 30th November!


Santa in Tickety Town


It’s Christmas Eve, and as Tickety Town prepares for Christmas, a shock crash landing by Santa throws everything into turmoil!  The reindeers have caught colds, Santa’s sleigh is broken and all the presents are spread across Tickety Town!   It's up to Tommy and Tallulah to save Christmas with the help of their friends, Pufferty, McCoggins, Hopperoo and Madame Au Lait, plus a sprinkle of Magic Christmas Sparkle Dust!


Tickety Toc


Pre-schoolers will love joining the twins as they embark on this Christmas adventure.  The tree is all decorated and Tickety town is waiting for Santa to bring the presents.  But after the sleigh crashes Tommy and Tallulah need to become Santa's Little Helpers to make sure the presents are delivered before chime time. Everyone works together and Madame Au Lait is on hand with her Christmas Chilli Cheese Bites to help save the day and make sure the presents get delivered on time!


Tickety Toc


There's a nice message that is all about giving and helping that runs through the show.  Tommy and Tallulah want to make sure everyone gets a present this year and do their best to make it happen.



After 'Christmas Present Time' has been shown, you can join in a Twitter Party from 1-2 pm with @TicketyTocUK so come along and join in the festive fun!

Thursday, 28 November 2013

BullGuard Identity and Social Media Protection Review

In a world of technology, where we have unlimited access across multiple devices to the entity that is the internet, it is natural to have concerns about security.  In a cyber world that has no boundaries, there is potential for danger in terms of both cybercrime and child safety. 

As a parent to five children, internet security is something that has been a cause for concern.  We generally try to instill in our children the concept of self-regulation through education.  This works to an extent but as the phenomenon of social media expands, and children begin accessing it earlier, it can be helpful to keep a watchful eye over their activity without being obtrusive or making them feel that they are not being trusted. 

Research, conducted by BullGuard of 200 parents of children aged 10-17,  found that 61% of parents admit to snooping on their children online without their child's knowledge or consent.  38% of these parents believe that if they found out, they would lose their children's trust and admitted to feeling guilty after checking up on their children's online usage. 

According to the research, these are the top ten ways that parents snoop on their children:

1.            Reading messages on social networking sites
2.            Checking their internet history
3.            Reading their text messages
4.            Monitoring their list of friends on social networking sites
5.            Checking their pictures on social networking sites
6.            Reading their emails
7.            Checking their call list
8.            Finding out their passwords
9.            Asking teachers to keep an eye on their internet use
10.          Getting a sibling to help to snoop

This whole subject poses a real moral dilemma. It is clear that there is a need for parents to keep an eye on their children's online activity and for children to have the freedom to enjoy things like Facebook without risk. Having a safety net to alert us to inappropriate content, photos or interactions, allows us as parents to step in to avoid any potential dangers before they escalate.


Social Media Usage Infographic


I have received a copy of BullGuard Identity Protection and Social Media Protection to review.  The box contains a keycode to access the online protection with a quick start guide.


BullGuard Identity and Social Media Protection


It was easy to set up an account with a password and then activate the Licence Key by inputting the code, which gave me access to the Identity Protection and Social Media Protection Tabs.  This gave me access to my dashboard.  It was as easy as that, nothing to physically download and no programs to run.

The Identity Protection monitors your personal details on the web 24/7, such as your date of birth, NI number, driving licence number and contact details as well as your financial details.  You can add and update the information to be sure that your personal information is not being used online without your knowledge. Hopefully I'll never need to test this out to its full extent as that would mean I was the victim of ID fraud, but having the protection in place gives me confidence in the safety of my online activity.

The Social Media Protection allows you to add three Facebook accounts for monitoring.  You can send an email request to your child who can then accept your request, or add an account directly.  I sent the requests because I wouldn't want the kids not to know that I was accessing details from their social media. My girls were very compliant!  Each profile can be accessed separately from the summary page.

It updates you on each account's social media activity such as status updates, friend requests, messages and malicious links.  Keywords are flagged up so anything containing inappropriate language or content is given a risk alert of high, moderate or mild. You can then open any of the events on the dashboard to see them and assess the content.  So far, most of the high risk alerts have contained swear words, offensive language or sexual references, so it is doing its job!  I'm not at all concerned with teenage banter, flirting or moaning, in fact I think it's perfectly healthy for kids to express themselves in this way, but I'd want to step in if anything sinister appeared in their newsfeed or private messages.

I like that BullGuard provides a discreet way of remotely monitoring your child's Facebook activity, without directly invading their privacy.  It gives alerts for each activity with a risk rating, so you can use your discretion as to whether you need to open up the event to investigate further.  You aren't simply watching everything your child and their friends post.  I wholeheartedly believe that children need their privacy, but that needs to weighed up against their online safety. The Social Media Protection gives children the freedom to use Facebook while you keep a watchful eye on their safety.

Having witnessed online bullying and the secrecy and embarrassment that can come with it, being able to oversee any high risk activity containing flagged keywords, will allow you to intervene and open the communication between you and your child, which will hopefully resolve the problem before it gets out of hand.  That makes this a very useful tool.  17% of parents have had to step in after their child received online threats and 10% said their children had been subjected to online bullying, so this is a serious concern in many families.

Half of the parents who took part in the study admitted that their biggest concern was who their children were talking to online. With BullGuard you can monitor friend requests so if anyone you don't know personally tries to add your child, you can check them out and avoid any inappropriate contact.  It gives you an opportunity to remind your child about the dangers of talking to strangers online.  We read so many horror stories in the media about children being groomed, it is vital that we keep our children safe without restricting their freedom or instilling unnecessary fear in them.  We want our children to be technologically savvy and develop their own independence, but it's good to know they are not unwittingly entering into an online relationship with a social predator.


Alex Balan, Head of Product Management at BullGuard says: 

''It's a minefield for parents, whilst you want your children to have freedom and make friends you want to ensure they are safe when they are online. And this is where BullGuard Identity Protection can help. It’s hard enough watching your children 24/7 in the real world, but keeping tabs on their movements online is the real challenge. BullGuard’s Identity Protection (http://www.bullguard.com/products/bullguard-identity-protection.aspx) offers Facebook protection for parents concerned about what their children are being exposed to such as cyber bullying, social predators or inappropriate content. It provides unobtrusive parental controls that permit parents to keep a discreet eye on their kid’s Facebook activities, so they can go back to just worrying about them in the real world.”


This is definitely a useful parental tool for anyone concerned with online safety, who wants to protect their children without restricting their freedom online.








Why I Love My Washing Machine

Back in the late 1950's, when my parents were newly weds they moved in to a caravan to begin their married life together.  A few years later they became parents for the first time - long before disposable nappies were readily available. Terry nappies needed to be soaked and boil washed everyday in a pan on the stove.  My dad had his new post-army civvy job and needed his shirts to be freshly laundered. Clothing was hand washed and mangled before being hung on the line to dry, a feat in itself with a young baby to look after.  My mum coped, because it was the way things were done.


50's Living


By the seventies, my mum had three daughters, of which I was the youngest.  The laundry demands of  a 70's housewife with three girls and a husband still in need of crisp white shirts was huge.  The old twin tub, which was kept in a full length cupboard and pulled out into the tiny kitchen when the washing needed doing, was a small help.  I still remember my mum with her apron and headscarf on, sweating profusely at the exertion of filling and emptying the twin tub, scrubbing stains by hand and hanging the clothes outside in the backyard on the line that was suspended between the drain pipe and our nut tree.  It took up so much of her time and was labour intensive, as she battled with the noisy, inefficient, juddering second hand machine to get through her mountain of dirty washing.

Fast forward another thirty years and into the world of high tech, convenience and efficient white goods.   I wonder how on earth families survived in a pre-washing machine era.  We are spoilt by the ease in which jobs such as laundry can be carried out today.  We throw in our 8 kg load, add detergent and softener, turn a dial and press a button and as if by magic, technology does the job for us.  We might complain at having to unload the machine and sort out the clothes not suitable for tumble drying, but when I think of what women went through back in the olden days, I know that I am so much luckier than them with my easy care fabrics, stain removers and A rated appliances.

It's easy to take our appliances for granted, that is until something goes wrong and we find ourselves bereft of the convenience and efficiency of modern day living.  I know this through experience - bitter experience!

Back in the days when my dirty washing basket contents were generated by one messy toddler, a fashion conscious teenager, a sporty footballer and a schoolgirl, the unthinkable happened.  The washing machine broke down. First thing to alert us to this disaster was the noise.  The machine had been getting more and more noisy over the weeks beforehand but I simply tried to ignore it and pretend that this was just a normal part of the cycle, rather than the battle cries of a harbinger of impending doom.   This day though, the noise was something else!  Not even turning the radio up to drown out the noise could allow me the delusion of everything being OK.  It sounded like an aeroplane was trying to take off in our utility room.  The house felt like it was shaking in time to the out of control, violently vibrating, movements of the washing machine. Pulling out the wet washing, I found the clothes were smeared with greasy dirt and were peppered with little holes caused by them being pinched between the seals and the wobbling drum. The dirty water hadn't drained properly and spilled out as I tried to salvage my misshapen laundry from my monstrous machine's gaping maw.  The washing machine which had been one of my best friends in the world was now a vicious clothes destroying, stinking water spitting enemy.  It had turned on me.  Whereas I usually sniffed my freshly laundered, floral scented, warm washing as I pulled it from the drum, smiling sweetly at my domestic goddess prowess, I found myself sat in a puddle of dirty water with a pile of soppy wet, holey garments on my lap and crying!

Apparently the bearings had gone.  A common problem with overworked, old and tired washing machines. Thankfully we got a brand, new shiny washing machine to replace the old one which arrived a few days later. The relief of not having to 'wash by hand' was palpable.

When we first used our new washing machine, it was so quiet that we had to check if it was actually working!  We had grown accustomed to our progressively noisier and noisier machine that we had forgotten what a real washing machine should sound like!

Nowadays my BEKO washing machine quietly and efficiently gets on with the job at hand, leaving me free to sit here on my laptop feeling virtuous as I am by all accounts 'doing the laundry' - multi-tasking at its very best!

I feel such admiration for the women that have come before me who have managed to keep on top of their housework, cooking, cleaning, laundering and sweeping, without the benefit of the modern appliances that we take so for granted these days.  We really shouldn't ever complain about doing our daily chores.

Thankfully Ian is far more on the ball now when things look like they might go wrong.  We've learned from our mistakes!  He's there changing bulbs in fridges, fitting drive bands in our vacuum cleaner and replacing seals in our oven door, keeping our appliances working well and extending their useful lives.  Great for the environment and for our pocket!  So hopefully he'll keep our washing machine in good working order for as long as possible, allowing me to take full credit for keeping on top of our mountain of laundry and keeping the family looking smart and well turned out, with minimal effort on my part!


I Love My Washing Machine



This blog post is my  entry into the Tots100/PartSelect ’Love Your Appliance’ competition.


This appliance gets my seal of approval!

Kids and Technology - High Tech Babysitters or Educators?

Research into the smartphone and tablet habits of the youngest members of UK families has revealed that seven in ten parents feel their children are brighter because of early exposure to technology.  Nine in ten believe that using gadgets can be educational for their kids, and a third of parents with two or more children said they'd noticed a difference in the development of younger children who have become adept at using new technology.  A quarter of parents report that their children are already far more proficient at using a smartphone and tablet than them and a further three quarters believe that the ability to engage with technology is a crucial part of their child’s development.

The results of the study commissioned by LifeProof, award-winning maker of all-protective, everyday cases for smartphones and tablets, also show that more than half of the 2,000 parents studied allow a child aged three years or younger to use their phone or tablet, with a third of parents remarking that their child is increasingly interested in using technology so they can ‘be like mum and dad’with nearly two thirds of parents saying that their children would choose technology over their usual toys if given the choice.

The average parent hands over a gadget to their kids at least three times a week because they themselves are exhausted and need a break, while six in ten use time on a smartphone or tablet as a way of rewarding their young ones for good behaviour.  While four in ten parents admit that they sometimes use their smartphone or tablet as a high-tech babysitter to keep their kids entertained.


LifeProof Infographic


I must admit that Freddy is a regular tablet and smartphone user, and has been since he was around 2 years old.  On car journeys, in supermarkets or in restaurants, it was helpful to keep him entertained and we found that Angry Birds was the app to do it!  Nowadays, we specifically download educational apps so he is learning as he plays.  But I'm glad to say, he still has a healthy love of playing with real toys, running around outside, socialising with friends and hitting things with sticks!!  I think he's got the balance right.


Baroness Floella Benjamin, OBE commented on the research: 

“Gadgets are a part of everyday life and are here to stay – but should be used as part of a child’s creative development along with other stimuli.  There has been much written about the use of gadgets by children, and technology is becoming a vital part of everyday life – but of course, as with everything, should be used by children and teens in moderation. Children shouldn’t be passive when it comes to technology, they need to be in touch with it, and learn to be creative and inventive, because ultimately there are many long-term benefits."

Steve Daverio, MD of LifeProof said: 

“It’s great to see how many parents are using their smartphones and tablets as educational tools for their children - and that even the very youngest members of the family have something to gain from using these devices.  With over half of parents revealing their children use apps better than they can, the study shows a real trend towards children using gadgets as part of their learning and development.”

Inevitably though, the damage toll to gadgets across UK households is high with a fifth of parents having had a phone or tablet broken or screen cracked after handing it to their children.  The average parent has spent £110 fixing gadgets, and has had two electrical devices broken by kids in the last 12 months alone.  The most common cause of damage is items being dropped or having things spilled on them.

My teenagers are actually the worst culprits for breaking gadgets.  We have had an S3 with a cracked screen and an iPhone dropped out of a moving bus in the last few weeks alone.  Ian's iPhone has thankfully been protected with a LifeProof Case, which is water proof, dirt proof, snow proof, shock proof ... and Freddy proof, so his phone has survived remarkably well!  Take a look at this video to see just how kid proof the LifeProof cases make your iPhone 5.


        


LifeProof cases are designed to be slim and sleek, ensuring users have access to all of the functions on their smartphone or tablet.  This means you can take photos underwater, use the device as a recipe book in the kitchen, set up a GPS unit on a bike ride, use fitness apps on the run – or hand your phone or tablet over to the kids without worrying! There’s a case to suit your needs suitable for a multitude of devices. Don't learn the hard way.

LifeProof


For further information on KidProofing your gadgets and to explore the full range of LifeProof cases visit: http://www.lifeproof.com/en/kidproof






Win a copy of Disney's Frozen Soundtrack

I can't wait to take the kids to see Disney's latest movie, Frozen, especially after listening to the original soundtrack.  The songs from the film took me back to the Ashford and Menken glory days of Disney songwriting.  Each of the eight original songs propels the storytelling and adds emotion and humour. "Let It Go" sung by Demi Lovato delivers a poignant and powerful message about self discovery.  It would make a perfect stand alone chart song, it's very credible and relevant with a great catchy and empowering chorus.  Other songs represent a return to Disney's musical excellence.  "Do You Want To Build a Snowman?" is a heart tugging tune filled with raw emotion whilst Olaf's "In the Summer" is laugh out loud funny!  The score is inspired and epic, embracing the beauty of the setting and the emotion of the story.  The music takes you on a wonderful journey.  If this CD is anything to go by, Frozen is going to be a beautiful and stunning movie!


Frozen


We have 3 copies of ‘Frozen’ The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - which features a recording by Demi Lovato - to give away. Frozen OST is out to buy on 2nd December and includes music and songs from the festive new movie from Disney.




Frozen, Disney


To enter simply fill in the Rafflecopter entry form and tell me what your favourite Disney song is as a blog comment. This will unlock bonus entries!  The prizedraw closes at 11.59am on the 5th December.  Good luck.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

‘FROZEN’ The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is available from 2nd December from Walt Disney Records

Win competitions at ThePrizeFinder.com

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Lindt Master Chocolatier Collection

As the festive season approaches, Lindt introduces its most stylish gift for Christmas yet, guaranteed to delight even the most discerning chocolate connoisseur. Inspired by the joy of giving during the festive season, the NEW Master Chocolatier Collection is a unique selection of 16 delectable chocolate recipes perfected by the experts at Lindt.
Lindt Master Chocolatier Collection

My favorite type of chocolates are the ones that contain either coffee or nuts, so when I read the tasting card I was very happy to see plenty of nutty pralines and truffles plus two coffee flavoured chocolates - Tiramisu and Coffee Ganache.  A perfect line-up! Lindt also make my all time favourite chocolates Lindor, so I knew I was in for a treat!

These luxurious chocolates are made using only the finest ingredients and from the intense flavour of the velvety rich Coffee Ganache to the temptingly soft and smooth Almond Truffle, each irresistible mouthful delivers a bite-size moment of decadence.  The chocolates look beautiful, especially the Signature Dark Ganache and the Caramel Praline with gold writing enbossed onto their outer shells.  Lovely attention to detail.

Lindt Master Chocolatier Collection

There wasn't one chocolate that I didn't enjoy trying, and my girls agreed that these were a lovely selection of chocolates that were quite simple in their design, but beautifully made and quite delicious.  They are not keen on overly fancy flavourings so this classic selection of pralines, ganaches, creams, truffles and caramels were thoroughly enjoyed!

A joy to give, a delight to receive; the Master Chocolatier Collection is presented in a stylish and contemporary gift box making it the perfect present for loved ones.

The 305g box containing thirty chocolates is £12.99 or there is a smaller 144g box for £6.99.  This is great value for such a large selection of quality chocolates.

See the full range at www.lindt-shop.co.uk

Lindt Master Chocolatier Collection

Center Parcs November Challenge - An Autumn Poem

This month, Center Parcs is challenging bloggers and their families to come up with a poem inspired by Autumn.  Autumn has always been my favourite season as it takes us from the glorious summer sunshine to the cold winter's snow, heralding great changes from day to day. You can really see nature at work and marvel at all its wonders.  

Emma Tapp is Center Parcs Whinfell Forest resident nature expert and Conservation Ranger.  She has some top tips to bring inspiration to help us unleash the inner poet.  Our favourite tip is:  Be inspired by your surroundings - Observe as the leaves change colour from green to red and let the beautiful burnt oranges get the creative juices flowing, what does it look like and remind you of?

It was fun to go out for an inspirational autumn walk and kick up the leaves.  We talked about what we could see and what things we did in the autumn months and let our surroundings inspire us.  Kizzy is a very poetic soul and we brainstormed and talked about similes, metaphors, rhyming couplets and the imagery of Autumn, inspiring each other further.  I love hearing her ideas and working with her on something creative.  Especially when we get to scrunch through the fallen leaves at the same time.


Autumn Fun


Autumn

Low sun shining in the morning skies
Its orange glow dazzling our eyes,
As our warm breath mists the cold air
And coats are zipped with a mother's care.
Keeping the cooler air at bay
On the school run or out at play.

The roads are lined with litter bug trees 
Mindlessly dropping their unwanted leaves
Leaving them to fall and tumble 
Autumnal acrobats, nature's jumble.
Reds, brown and yellow - a tapestry,
Of Autumn's colours for all to see.

Summer seems so long ago,
Tomorrow holds promise of winter snow,
But here and now, each autumn day
Brings ripening fruit and golden hay,
Leaves to crunch and darkening nights,
An extra hour and Halloween frights.

Watching and wondering at seasonal changes,
The marvel of nature as the world rearranges.
Preparing itself for the coldness to come,
Whilst bringing along its own sense of fun.
A walk in the park, feeding the ducks,
Football fans cheer, all praying for luck.
Wishing on rainbows, the first frosts appear,
Another step taken through another great year.


This is my entry to the Center Parcs and Tots 100 November challenge. If I’m chosen, I would like to visit Whinfell Forest.

#WIN a Samsung LED HD Smart TV

With Christmas fast approaching, I have a really prize to give away to one of my readers.  By entering my festive giveaway you could win a fabulous 22" Samsung LED HD Smart TV in white, thanks to the lovely people at Argos!

Argos


Ideal for any bedroom or kitchen, this white 22 inch 1080p Full HD Smart TV provides stunning definition with a Freeview digital tuner for your entertainment. The HDMI, USB and SCART sockets provide additional connectivity options, whilst the auto set up feature ensures efficient TV channel and radio station scanning. It has an energy efficiency rating A and is wi-fi enabled.

What a brilliant gift for you to surprise someone special or to keep for yourself so you can keep up to date with your favourite TV shows or even access the internet.  The RRP of this fabulous Smart TV is £249.99.

smart tv
You can find out more about this Smart TV and other televisions on the Argos website here.


For your chance to win this prize simply fill out the Rafflecopter entry form below and leave a comment on this post telling me what is your favourite TV programme to watch over the festive holidays. Are you a fan of the X Factor or perhaps the soaps or maybe you are a fan of the Queen's Speech??

The giveaway ends at 11.59pm on 11th December 2013.



Terms and conditions.
By participating in this prize draw you are deemed to accept these terms and conditions.
Prize draw open to customers and non-customers aged 18 or over who are UK residents. Draw is not open to employees of Argos, their families or anyone associated with this draw. Proof of eligibility must be provided on request.
The prize is a Samsung UE22F5410 22 In Full HD 1080p LED Smart TV - White, includes postage to the winners UK address. Promotion runs from 27/11/13 and all entries must be received by 11.59pm on  11/12/13 latest.
Winners will be drawn at random at the end of the promotion.
The prize is not transferable and there is no cash alternative. The promoter’s decision is final in all matters and no correspondence will be entered into. The promoter reserves the right (a) to add to or waive any rules on reasonable notice (b) cancel or postpone the promotion at any stage in the event of circumstances beyond its reasonable control; or (c) in its reasonable discretion to substitute a prize of equal or greater value.
If a prize remains unclaimed after reasonable efforts have been made to contact the winner the promoter will be entitled to dispose of the prize as it sees fit without any liability to the winner for having done so.
The promoter reserves the right to alter, amend or foreclose the promotion without prior notice.



Win competitions at ThePrizeFinder.com

Forever Friends A Christmas Wish For You CD

Forever Friends launches its first Christmas themed album with Sony Music


Forever Friends has teamed up with Sony to launch a  festive themed album, ‘A Christmas Wish …For You’ which includes a sleigh load of especially chosen Christmas songs.

With 63 tracks featuring a blend of Christmas classics, nostalgic charm and contemporary tracks, this CD will get the whole family in the festive mood and dancing around the living room!  There is something for everyone from the kids to the grandparents, covering all styles and musical tastes.

The CD is available to download from iTunes or to buy from major supermarkets, BHS, HMV or Amazon for about £5.

I was sent a copy to have a listen.  It is definitely a great selection of Christmas songs with artists from Wham! to Bob Dylan to Dean Martin.  It will be perfect background music to play and sing along to while I wrap my presents or prepare Christmas dinner.  It'll also be great for the car to get us all in the Christmas spirit.

 The box is lovely, featuring a cute Forever Friends Bear, wrapped up in a snuggly scarf and mittens. This CD would make a lovely gift or stocking filler and is a great buy for just £5.  


Forever Friends


Track Listing

Disc One

1 Westlife - I Have A Dream
2 John Legend - What A Wonderful World
3 Train - Shake Up Christmas
4 Jessica Simpson  - What Christmas Means To Me
5 Christina Aguilera - This Christmas
6 N Sync - Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays
7 Britney Spears - My Only Wish (This Year)
8 Fiona Apple - Frosty The Snowman
9 Mary Chapin Carpenter - Bells Are Ringing
10 Sara Bareilles - Love Is Christmas
11 Sarah Mclachlan - Happy Xmas (War Is Over)
12 Harry Nilsson - Remember (Christmas)
13 Keb' Mo' - We Call It Christmas
14 John Denver - Christmas For Cowboys
15 Dolly Parton - We Three Kings
16 Martina McBride - What Child Is This
17 Charlotte Church - Dream A Dream
18 Jackie Evancho - Believe
19 Peter Autry & Howard Blake - Walking In The Air
20 The Priests - Come All Ye Faithful
21 Plácido Domingo & Luciano Pavarotti - Cantique de nöel (O Holy Night)

 Disc Two

1 Wham! - Last Christmas - Single Version
2 Shakin' Stevens - Merry Christmas Everyone - Single Version - Re-Mastered 2004
3 The Ronettes - Sleigh Ride
4 Bob Dylan - It Must Be Santa
5 Hall & Oates - Jingle Bell Rock
6 Darlene Love - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
7 Johnny Mathis - When A Child Is Born
8 Greg Lake - I Believe In Father Christmas
9 Gladys Night & The Pips - Do You Hear What I Hear?
10 Boney M - Mary's Boy Child/Oh My Lord
11 Dana - It's Gonna Be A Cold, Cold Christmas
12 Cyndi Lauper - Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree
13 Jose Feliciano - Feliz Navidad
14 The Crystals - Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
15 Bette Midler - Cool Yule
16 Aretha Franklin -Kissin By The Mistletoe
17 Michael Bolton - Joy To The World
18 Barry Manilow - I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm
19 Gloria Estefan - Christmas Through Your Eyes
20 Steve Tyrell -   I'll Be Home For Christmas 
21 Carly Simon  -  Let it Snow

 Disc Three

1 Andy Williams - It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
2 Doris Day - Winter Wonderland
3 Mel Torme - The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)
4  Perry Como - It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas
5 The Drifters - White Christmas
6 Patti Page - Christmas Bells
7 Eartha Kitt - Santa Baby - Remastered 2001
8 Dinah Shore & Buddy Clark - Baby, It's Cold Outside 
9  Vic Damone - Deck The Halls
10 Percy Faith & His Orchestra & Chorus - Happy Holiday
11 Tony Bennett - My Favourite Things
12 Dean Martin - A Marshmallow World
13 Elvis Presley - Blue Christmas
14 Johnny Cash - The Little Drummer Boy
15 Jerry Vale - Silver Bells
16 Gene Autry - Here Comes Santa Claus (Down Santa Claus Lane)
17 Jim Reeves - C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S
18 Burl Ives - Santa Mouse
19 Harry Belafonte - I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day
20 Frank Sinatra - Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
21 Mahalia Jackson - Silent Night Holy Night

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Five Ways to Liven Up a Dinner Party

The festive season is a great excuse to get together with friends and family to enjoy a dinner party. Here is a guest post giving you some simple ideas on how to make your party go with a bang and give your guests a party to remember, without blowing the budget.  I love the Dream Dinner Date idea!


"If you feel like your dinner parties are drier than an overcooked turkey, it's time to get creative and inject the fun back into your gatherings with a lively theme or alternative entertainment. 

Dream dinner date

As much as we love our friends, everyone has fantasised about which famous faces we would invite round for dinner if we could. A poll showed that our top would-be guests are Jesus, Leonardo da Vinci and Nelson Mandela. Make your friends' dreams come true for the night by getting everyone to pick their ideal companion and having someone else come dressed up as that person. If you want to get really into it, make everyone stay in character all night.

Game on

Hunt through your wardrobes and dig out those classic board games that you've forgotten you had. These old-fashioned forms of entertainment will break the ice and get you laughing. A game of Cluedo might seem quaint, but give it a few rolls of the dice and competitive spirit is bound to kick in!



Board Games


Formal fun

If you're used to only seeing your friends in their casual gear, get everyone to scrub up smartly by instigating a fancy theme at your next gathering. Naturally, this means enforcing a dress code: men should don their sharpest suits while women can find on-trend maxidresses at Very. Try your hand at a tricky dish, or serve up more standard fare on china plates with silver cutlery. Choose a suitably classy playlist to accompany the meal.

Murder mystery

Add a tantalising touch of danger to your evening by turning it into a murder mystery party. You can buy ready-prepared plans with characters, a plot and a chosen murderer. There are even different themes, from Victorian to gangster, so you can go as wild as you want.



Murder Mystery



Competitive spirit

Copy the format of Channel 4's hit show Come Dine with Me and take it in turns to host. Mark each other on your efforts and give the winner a prize at the end. A little bit silly and lots of fun, be warned that this might bring out your ruthless streak!"



This post was written by Kira and is a part of  a series of seasonal guest posts that I will be featuring on my blog over the next few weeks.  So keep an eye out for those!

Miniland Educational Toys Review

Freddy and Kizzy were very happy to receive some Miniland Educational toys to try out from DKL.  Freddy received a Pair Game and Kizzy got a Crystal making set in a tin.


Miniland Pair Game


Miniland Educational is a range of high quality toys including first constructions, sand and water toys, large vehicles, aptitude games, science kits in tins and anatomically correct dolls. Brand new to the UK retail market, Miniland offers added value with educational booklets and activity cards, as well as fun toys that children will enjoy playing with.


Crystal Set


The Crystal set contains goggles, tweezers, magnifying glass, crystal solution, tub and a booklet.  Budding scientists aged 10 and over can make the chemical solution and grow their own crystals.  The sets come in a variety of colours so you can create crystals in green, red, yellow or blue.  Kizzy is really interested in science and this set is a great introduction to the scientific process of crystalization.  It would make a lovely stocking filler to inspire young scientists.

The Pair Game consists of a plastic board with a lift up top containing 16 apertures, each with it's own pull out lid.  There are 24 different worksheets that can be placed into the board, each one with 16 images corresponding with the holes in the top.  Children have to lift up the lids to find pairs ... either matching or corresponding images.

Miniland Pair Game from DKL


The selection of worksheets is quite inspired featuring images from the human body, animals, upper and lower case letters, numbers, counting, Chinese letters, artwork, optical illusions and facial expressions. Children will enjoy matching up the images and working out which pairs go together.  The images acted as prompts for conversations as children get to really think outside of the box to solve the puzzles.

It  develops memory, turn taking, observation skills, language, counting, letter recognition and hand eye co-ordination.  I was very impressed with the range of images and the simple but effective design which takes the game of pairs to a whole new level.

It's a great educational toy for children aged 3 and 6 and can be played on their own or against a friend.

Both these toys plus other Miniland Educational products and quality, educational toys from other brands can be found at www.dkl.co.uk.

New and Improved Galaxy Chocolate Goodies

I received a lovely bundle packed with some fantastic Galaxy goodies to try out.  As a self-confessed chocolate lover, I was only too delighted to test out the range of new and improved Galaxy grocery products which included a selection of drinks and spreads!


Galaxy, chocolate

The package looked so lovely,  presented in the bright pink organza bag, that I thought it would make a wonderful Christmas gift for chocolate lovers, which would make a change from a conventional box of chocolates!

The package included:
Galaxy Chocolate and Hazelnut Spread
Milky Way Stripey Spread
Mars Thick Shake
Galaxy Caramel Thick Shake
Maltesers Thick Shake
Galaxy Iced Coffee Mocha Latte Single Shot
Galaxy Iced Coffee Mocha Latte Double Shot
Galaxy instant Hot Chocolate
Galaxy Frothy Top Hot Chocolate

chocolate


Imagine your favourite chocolate as a spread in a squeezable tube ready to be enjoyed!  The spreads are a convenient way to enjoy delicious Galaxy squeezed directly on bread, toast, fruit, desserts or biscuits.  The creamy, rich Galaxy and Hazelnut Spread would be a great topping for a cupcake or muffin.  The Milky Way Stripey Spread is a really fun product for little chocolate lovers to enjoy!

The Thick Shakes come ready to drink from the bottle and come in Mars, Galaxy Caramel and Maltesers flavours.  They are ambient products so are great for taking out and about but are best served chilled.  The kids made short work of the shakes and declared them as delicious!

The Galaxy Iced Coffee Mocha Lattes have been rebranded and improved.  They combine two of my favourite things - delicious coffee with the smooth taste of chocolate and are my hands down favourite Galaxy product.  They are indulgent and delicious, giving me a perfect pick-me-up when I fancy something yummy.  At just over 200 calories they aren't too calorific, but taste like a real treat.

The hot chocolates are a perfect warming drink for the winter and are so convenient.  Just add to hot water to make a deliciously chocolatey drink.  The Frothy Top Galaxy gives you a lovely, creamy top to your drink...perfect for giving you a hot chocolate moustache as you sip it!  You can make it with hot milk for an even creamier hot choccie.

The New and Improved Galaxy and Mars products are excellent.  They are delicious and add a bit of luxury and indulgence to everyday life.  Find them in the supermarket and give yourself a treat!

Hotel Chocolat Classic Christmas Selection Review

Hotel Chocolat have sent me a Sleekster box of their Classic Christmas Selection chocolates to try out. The beautiful red box is decorated with silver embellishments and looks positively festive.  It contains 28 individually crafted chocolates in milk, dark and white, perfect for sharing.


Hotel Chocolat


The box has a sleeve which has the chocolate menu printed onto it.  These are the chocolates in the Classic Christmas Selection:

Chambord Royale -A real Champagne truffle blended with black raspberry liqueur.
Christmas Mess - Fruity cranberry ganache and strawberry mousse with meringue sprinkles.
Cranberry Cup - Tangy cranberries blended in a more-cocoa white chocolate ganache.
Rum Punch -A creamy milk truffle with ginger and orange and premium Jamaican rum.
Nutmeg & Almond Praline - Almond praline flavoured with nutmeg.
White Chocolate & Vanilla Bell - Cast in  creamy white chocolate with vanilla essence and seeds.
Dark Christmas Tree - Cast in  smooth dark chocolate with deep aromas and punchy cocoa notes.
50% Milk Bauble - Deeply chocolaty but still milky – made with less sugar and more cocoa.
Pistachio Praline Crunch - Pistachio praline with cherry and a hint of rose and a whole pistachio nut.
Mulled Port - A warming truffle with  ruby port, spiced with Pimento leaf and bitter orange.
Marzipan & Amaretto Truffle - Fine almond marzipan softened with a splash of mellow amaretto.
Caramel Supernova - A star of oozingly soft caramel paired with 70% dark chocolate.
Praline Crisp Star - A contrast of smooth, mellow praline and masses of nibbly feuilletine.


Hotel Chocolat Christmas Chocolates



The chocolates look beautiful, with some vibrant festive colours and Christmas shapes.  The flavours are all very seasonal featuring fruity cranberries, boozy port and rum, spicy nutmeg and rich marzipan.  The flavour combinations are very imaginative and sophisticated, providing an exciting taste journey for discerning palates.

Hotel Chocolat Christmas Chocolates


The textures and tastes were all very interesting and fans of Hotel Chocolat will not be disappointed by this festive selection with its combination of seasonal flavours, which are on a whole adventurous and surprising.


Hotel Chocolat Christmas Chocolates


My favourite chocolate was the Praline Crisp Star with smooth praline and crispy feuilletine enrobed in milk chocolate and shaped like a Christmas star.  It was lovely and looked beautiful.  This is perhaps the most mainstream of all the chocolates in the selection, but the quality was exceptional. 


Hotel Chocolat Christmas Chocolates


The Sleekster box fits through most letterboxes so can be delivered even if no-one's home and costs £23.00.  If you buy three or more seasonal Sleeksters the price is discounted to £21.00.

See more chocolate gifts from Hotel Chocolat at www.hotelchocolat.com

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