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Sunday, 20 December 2015

Shortbread Biscuit Recipe

This is a super easy recipe for shortbread, which can be made using baking ingredients from Aldi. This will make them really cheap to make as the flour is just 45p for 1.5kg, the icing sugar is just 65p for 500g and the butter is 82p for a 250g block.

Decorate with Dairyfine chocolate which is 85p for a 200g bar or sprinkle with caster sugar at just 95p a bag.

They are perfect for Christmas and can be made using Christmas cookie cutters for a festive treat.

shortbread


Shortbread Biscuits

Makes: 24 biscuits


Ingredients:

325g The Pantry plain flour

225g Greenvale lightly salted butter

110g The Pantry icing sugar

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Either in a food processor or by hand, mix the ingredients together until you have smooth dough.

Roll out the dough to about 5mm, and cut into shapes.

Bake on a prepared baking tray for about 10 mins until lightly golden.

Allow to cool then transfer to a cooling rack.

Sprinkle with caster sugar or drizzle over melted chocolate.

Aldi


Find all of Aldi's recipes at www.aldi.co.uk.




Saturday, 19 December 2015

Christmas Party Food from Aldi

Whether you are having a big Christmas party or a more intimate family affair, Aldi can save you lots of money when it comes to feeding your guests.

The Let's Party range and the Specially Selected frozen party food range offer some great choices including some good vegetarian options, perfect for a buffet. The 60 piece Indian Snack Selection is great value at just £3.99 and includes onion bhajis, vegetable pakoras and samosas. For £1.99 you can choose 24 mozarella sticks, 26 cheese and jalapeno bites or 10 hand crafted vegetable Gyozas. The vegetable spring rolls are just 99p a pack. 

There are lots of frozen dessert items in the ranges including chocolate dessert shots, macarons and cheesecake. You can make a really impressive Christmas buffet with ease.

Christmas, buffet


Other great party snacks include the Jumbo Dry Roasted peanuts £1.99, Tortilla Chips 62p, Christmas Tree Pretzels £1.49 and the Mince Pies £1.15. The Specially Selected Milk Chocolate Brazils are just £1.85, which is a great price when compared to branded packs. Dairyfine Chocolate bars are just 85p each and the Moser Roth range is excellent value and great quality. The Aldi After Dinner Mint Thins are just 67p and will make the perfect ending to a meal. You get so much more for your money at Aldi.

party, Christmas


The Aldi range of confectionery, biscuits and snacks is really extensive and caters for all tastes and budgets. There are so many Christmassy choices available.

To raise a glass to the season, Aldi offer some superb value drinks at a fraction of the price of the big brands. Church's Ginger Wine is £2.99, Ballycastle Irish Country Cream is £3.75 and the Peach Schnapps and Cocobay Coconut Liquer are just £4.79 each. These savings really do add up and allow you to enjoy a great party for less.

Christmas


Aldi have some incredible buys in the fruit and vegetable aisle - carrots, potatoes and broccoli were just 29p a pack today. Christmas dinner really doesn't have to cost a fortune!

I really enjoyed buying some Christmas party items from Aldi and was very impressed with the value for money, the extensive ranges and the quality. I am looking forward to sampling all the food and drink over Christmas with my family!

Friday, 18 December 2015

UKTV Christmas TV Quiz

I love a good quiz and have been enjoying testing my knowledge in the online UKTV Christmas Quiz. You click to spin the wheel to choose one of the ten category segments, each one featuring questions based on a TV channel such as Dave, Gold, Eden, Good Food or Alibi. 

Christmas quiz


You then pick a difficulty level: easy for 10 points, medium for 20 points and hard for 30 points. You'll then be asked a multiple choice question based on a TV programme that features on the channel you've chosen.

quiz


Players start off with three lives and the aim of the game is to score the highest number of points across the maximum number of categories. Get a question wrong and you lose a life. Score in all ten channel categories to complete the game. You can share your results on Twitter and Facebook to impress your followers and friends!

It is fun to play alone or you can challenge your friends or family, where the person with the highest score wins. 

quiz


My personal high score is 200 points scored over 13 rounds in 5 different categories. That puts me in the top 67% of players so there is plenty of room for improvement. Apparently though, I'm pretty good at trivia based on TV shows on Dave - who knew? It gets quite addictive as I keep trying to beat my record. The quiz is purely for fun and the format reminds me of something you'd find on a TV quiz show, which is totally in keeping with the subject matter!

quiz, tv


This is a great TV quiz for keeping the grown-ups entertained over Christmas. Perfect for TV addicts who want to get involved in some healthy competition over the holidays.

Find the UKTV TV Christmas Quiz at www.network.uktv.co.uk/item/uktv-quiz/.


Wrapping Awkward Gifts - The Wrap Challenge with Musicroom

Wrapping the perfect present is not always easy! Especially if the present is something notoriously difficult to wrap, such as a football, a teddy bear or a musical instrument! Musicroom have made a series of funny videos highlighting just how difficult it is to wrap up instruments - such as the one below where a ukelele is the gift to be wrapped. Their message is that it's what's on the inside that counts, but a beautifully presented gift would definitely look better under the Christmas tree!


       


To test my gift wrapping ability, Musicroom have sent me my own Pure Tone ukelele and wrapping paper to see how well I can do. Now, I'm not the best wrapper in the world, but I think I can do better than the guy in the video!

ukelele, Christmas gifts, musicroom


The Pure Tone ukelele is a great first instrument for a child, and it comes complete with its own carry bag and tuition book. Ukeleles are really popular at the moment, with lots of artists using them. The 21 Pilots do a fantastic cover of Can't Help Falling In Love played on a uke. The ukelele has certainly come a long way since the days of George Formby. Priced at just £22.95, the Pure Tone ukelele is a great little investment and a lovely Christmas present.

So, armed with the gift wrap and the ukelele, I set about making a presentable job of my gift wrapping, to disguise the gift inside.

This is the technique I used:

christmas, wrapping

Take a large sheet of quality gift wrap, long enough and wide enough for the ukelele.
Fold in both edges to the centre and tape together.
Fold up the bottom (making sure it'll still be long enough for the gift to go in.)
Open up the folded over end and fold in the two outer sides towards the centre.
Fold in the two other edges to close up the bottom.
Tape all edges together securely.
Slide the gift into the open top.
Fold over the top and punch holes through it with a hole punch.
Secure with ribbon.



This technique results in a securely packaged and good looking parcel that cleverly disguises the gift within. So now not only is this the perfect gift, it's perfectly wrapped too. Both the inside and the outside count!


You can find lots of great gift ideas for music lovers at musicroom.com who are currently offering free delivery or you can click and collect from any of their stores nationwide.


Thursday, 17 December 2015

Half price Christmas tops from Selfie Clothing

The Selfie Clothing Co. are starting their Christmas sales early, with half price offers on some of their Christmas range.

There are some great festive printed tops featuring a red elf, green elf. gingerbread man or Santa character, where your child's head goes onto the character's body giving a fun, festive effect.  They are reduced from £15 to just £7.50 and are available in sizes from 2-3 up to 6-8 years.

selfie clothing co


Little ones will be able to get creative with the Colour In range of tops. Each top comes with 6 fabric pens using a high-quality UV ink which can be air cured for 24 hours. The colours will not come out or fade. The pens come in the colours red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. There are four different designs featuring a combination of festive characters.

They are reduced to just £7.50 in sizes 2-3 to 6-8.

selfie clothing co


Visit the Selfie Clothing Co to see the full range and to pick up a bargain. You could maybe even start next year's Christmas shopping! Standard delivery costs £2.50 and takes up to 3-5 days.

What Santa does on the other 364 days of the year

It's nearly Santa’s busiest day of the year, but have you ever wondered how he spends the other 364 days?  
A fun festive poll has been commissioned by photo gifting service PhotoBox, who asked children aged 5-8 to describe what they think Santa does when he’s finished delivering their presents, and the results were quite magical. According to the children, Santa’s January is spent fast asleep next to a cosy log fire, cuddling a teddy bear (69%).  He does deserve a well earned rest after all the hard work.
Photobox

By February, Santa is ready for Valentine's Day and is romancing his one and only Mrs Claus with love letters (72%). 36% of children think Santa celebrates his birthday enjoying ice cream (36%) but his favourite meal, according to 21% of kids, is fish and chips. However only 3% said he'd enjoy eating broccoli! Santa's favourite tipple is a chilled beer (26%) so maybe we should leave him a frosty lager instead of a glass of port on Christmas Eve?
For Halloween, Santa dresses up as a pumpkin (16%) and he loves the pretty coloured sparklers on Bonfire Night (25%). Santa's best friend for sharing Sunday Dinner with is apparently the Tooth Fairy, according to a quarter of the children asked. (Hope Mrs Claus is OK with that!)
Photobox

In his downtime, when he’s not ‘chilling out with the elves’, Santa has some interesting hobbies including singing (42%), colouring in (27%), baking (25%), shopping (20%), skateboarding (12%) and bungee jumping (6%). 
39% of children thought that Santa was eco-friendly, using a traditional pen and recycled paper to make his naughty and nice list of all the boys and girls at Christmas.
Inspired by the findings, PhotoBox has captured some wonderful photographs of Santa throughout the year, and has made the beautiful images available to download online. You can even make your own Santa calendar using their photos and enjoy the secret life of Santa Claus throughout 2016.
Santa, personalised calendar


To download Santa’s photos for the year ahead and get started on your own personalised calendar, visit: www.photobox.co.uk or download the PhotoBox apps from the App Store, GooglePlay or Amazon.




Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Mulled Thai Spiced Lager Recipe

As an alternative to traditional Christmas mulled wines, why not try this recipe for Mulled Thai Spiced Lager from celebrity chef Neil Rankin made using Budweiser?  It is packed with zesty, fresh Thai flavours and a kick of chilli heat, which complements the lightness of lager perfectly.

Christmas


Ingredients

660ml of Budweiser 
4 tbspn palm sugar
3 kaffir lime leaves
50g ginger
6 mint leaves
6 coriander stalks
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 lemongrass stalk
1/2 red bird's eye chilli

Method

Remove the outer leaves of the lemongrass and bruise the ginger using a pestle and mortar.
Place ingredients in saucepan and bring to the boil.
Once boiling remove from heat and cover pan with a lid.
Leave to cool then pass through a fine sieve.
Serve warmed, garnished with mint and coriander leaves.


I gave the recipe a go using some Budweiser that we were sent. I improvised slightly to work with ingredients I had to hand, but kept to the Thai spiced theme using coriander seeds, ginger root and green chilli with some fresh lime. I enjoyed experimenting with the recipe and feel inspired to try more exotic festive cocktail ideas in the future.

The Mulled Thai Spiced Lager gives a much lighter and delicately fragrant festive drink, with a spicy infusion of heat. The ginger gave it a Christmassy touch, while the chilli added a definite kick. Drinking it warm was really pleasant on a cold December evening.  It makes a welcome change to the usual mulled wines and fruit juices, and gives the lager drinkers a new, seasonal way to enjoy their Budweiser this Christmas.

Christmas, Budweiser

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Christmas Pudding Sundae with Carte D'Or Ice Cream

Christmas pudding is such a traditional festive dessert, but if you are looking for a twist on this old favourite, why not try a Christmas Pudding Sundae instead?

Made using creamy, vanilla Carte D'Or ice cream, rich Christmas pudding and a fruity, spiced cranberry and mulled wine sauce, this dessert combines some wonderful seasonal flavours to create something new and exciting. Carte D'Or sent me the ingredients to have a go myself.

Christmas Pudding Sundae Recipe

Ingredients
Serves four

8 scoops Carte D'Or Vanilla Ice Cream
200g Christmas pudding
100g cranberry sauce
2 tbspn mulled wine
2 tsp sugar
2 tbspn flaked toasted almonds
1 tbspn chocolate shavings

Method

Crumble the Christmas pudding into a pan over a low heat and warm through (or microwave according to instructions).
Mix the cranberry sauce, mulled wine and sugar in a separate pan. Bring to boil and stir to combine. Reduce slightly.
Spoon half of the Christmas pudding between four sundae dishes.
Drizzle a spoonful of the hot cranberry sauce onto the pudding, then top with a scoop of ice cream.
Repeat the layers, finishing with ice cream on top.
Drizzle over some more of the cranberry sauce and decorate with almonds and chocolate shavings.
Serve straight away.

Christmas recipes


Ian, who loves Christmas pudding, really enjoyed this dessert. It looked impressive and made something new and innovative from something very traditional. It will make an excellent pudding over the holidays. The warm Christmas pudding, the hot, tangy sauce and the cold ice cream worked really well together.

Don't lose your Christmas memories - back 'em up!

66% of people have lost digital Christmas photographs according to a survey commissioned by Seagate. Losing precious videos or images, really can be devastating as they are totally irreplaceable. From accidental deleting to software problems, these virtual files can be lost unless they are backed up and stored safely. With only 13% of people bothering to print out their festive pics, safe storage is paramount if you want to preserve your Christmas memories.

Having images on just a camera or a phone is not enough. Imagine losing your device and everything on it. Thankfully, most people can back up images directly from a smartphone instantly, using a simple app. Files on laptops can be easily backed up to external hard drives or to a personal cloud storage device. Sharing to social media is also a good way of keeping extra copies of precious images online.

Remember though that storage is not an unlimited resource to be taken for granted. Do you really need twenty identical shots of the kids in front of the Christmas tree? Use storage sensibly and back-up your files effectively.

Here is our review of the Seagate Personal Cloud 2-Bay storage device, which is what we use to keep all of our precious photographs safe.


Seagate, infographic

Monday, 14 December 2015

A Silly Family Photo and a Wonderful Celebratory Weekend

Four generations of the Jones-McDonald family gathered together to celebrate my parents' sixtieth wedding anniversary this weekend. We were joined by my sister, who has recently relocated down south, who returned along with her husband and two little ones, and her four grown-up daughters with assorted fiances, who helped make a day that my mum and dad will remember forever. There were 22 of us in all, including eleven grandchildren and one great grandchild. Unfortunately, my niece Kate and her little boy couldn't make it and my nephew Tom lives in America - but it was almost a full house! A wonderful time was had by all, including a lovely three course Sunday lunch at The Hind's Head, a gastro-pub in a village three miles away from my home. It was so nice to catch up with everyone, and Freddy was overjoyed to be reunited with his cousins Addy and Dylan again.

family


I took a lot of photos as it is quite a rarity to have all five of my children home at once, and to get all four generations of our family together. I was pleased to get some new family pictures, but my favourite of the day was this one of my family, (soon to be) daughter-in-law, grandson and parents pulling silly faces...you can only stay serious for so long!



Days spent like this, surrounded by loved ones, laughing, chatting and having fun, makes me realise just how blessed I am. I've got a family that brings me love and joy and makes me so very proud everyday. I couldn't really wish for more.

#JustWrite this Christmas with Bic

According to research conducted on behalf of Bic, it has been found that almost half of 13-19 year olds have never written a thank you letter, 83% have not written a love letter and just over a quarter have never even written out a birthday card.

In the world of social media, instant messaging and texting, it seems that writing has taken a backseat with 1 in 5 youngsters failing to pick up a pen, more than once every couple of months, outside of school hours. Writing is a skill that is creative, helping to unlock an individual’s potential. It is so sad to see it being overlooked in favour of tapping away on a keyboard or touchscreen.

Handwritten letters are so personal and heartfelt, and can be treasured long after any words on a screen have been deleted. 65% of youngsters admitted that they knew that recipients of a handwritten letter, rather than an electronic equivalent, would be delighted by such a thoughtful gesture. Yet they still choose to text rather than write.

The #JustWrite campaign was launched by Bic UK and ROI to try to encourage people of all ages to pick up a pen and get writing. Bic sent us some of their kids' range to help get Freddy writing, and to nurture this important life skill, making handwriting a pleasure and not a chore.

#Justwrite


Whether they are writing out cards for their classmates; making a wishlist for Santa or writing a thank you note to the grandparents, there are lots of opportunities for getting the kids practicing their penmanship this Christmas. Keeping a Christmas diary to record all the fun, festive things that they get up to, is a lovely idea to get children putting pen to paper during the holidays. A good way to get children enthusiastic about writing is to pop some lovely stationery items into their Christmas stockings. Who can resist the lure of brand new pens and pencils? The Bic Kids Evolution colouring pencils would be a wonderful gift for a child with their bright colours and extra resistant leads. All forms of mark making help with the fine motor skills needed for writing.

Christmas


As a parent, I believe that I play a big role in passing on a love and respect of handwriting to my children. Encouraging them to pick up a pen to help me write a shopping list for Christmas supplies or getting them to enjoy some role play, such as pretending to be a waiter taking orders for dinner, makes it a fun activity rather than a chore.

#justwrite, Bic


Freddy is 6 and is just getting to grips with hand writing. He finds it a bit difficult to keep his letters neat, well formed and on the line, but practice makes perfect. Using the Bic Kids handwriting goodies, Freddy was keen to write out some family Christmas cards as well as a special birthday card for his nephew Ted, who turns three this month. Making writing fun is definitely the way to go when it comes to getting children to write for their own enjoyment. Freddy loved sitting down and independently using his new stationery to get writing.

#justwrite, Bic


Having the child friendly Bic Kids stationery really helped with the physical process of writing. The stationery is designed to encourage correct finger positioning and is comfortable for little hands to hold. The refillable mechanical pencil was Freddy's favourite item from the Bic Kids range. The neat little mechanical pencil comes with a thick HB lead and six refills. It also includes handy sticker name tags to personalise it. Suitable for both left and right handers, it has visual guiding lines for correct finger positioning. The Graphite Learners Pencil is a chunky, wooden pencil with an ultra resistant 2HB lead. The pencil itself is triangular for easy grip and won't splinter if it breaks. It is also made to resist pencil chewing. It is great to see stationery designed with kids in mind!

Freddy's next writing project will be his letter to Santa, which he'll do once he breaks up from school, ready to leave out for the Big Man himself on Christmas Eve!



Friday, 11 December 2015

A Family Meal at The Harvester

If you are looking for a family friendly restaurant to take the kids for a festive treat or somewhere to grab some food after a day's Christmas shopping, then The Harvester is a great choice.  We were invited to try out the new Harvester restaurant in Southwater, Telford. We booked a table for 4.45pm on the Wednesday, so the restaurant was quite quiet with just a few other families eating an early evening meal. It's a good time to eat when you have kids to avoid the busy, dinner time rush, giving yourself time to relax. The venue itself is large and spacious and is laid out with a touch of a rustic farmhouse theme, but with some modern, quirky twists, making it really interesting and fun. 

We were greeted at the door, shown to our seats and given menus. Minutes later the waitress took our orders - using nothing but her memory to record our meal choices, which was an impressive feat!

We opted for refillable drinks and this proved a highlight of the meal!  The drinks station was a funky, touchscreen affair that allowed you to choose your drink (including branded  Pepsi, Tango and R Whites) then let you add a twist of flavouring. Strawberry, lime, vanilla and cherry flavourings were added to Pepsi Max, lemonade and orange Tango, much to the delight of the kids and to Ian who got quite a taste for Tango with a twist of strawberry.

We then collected our salad from the salad bar. There were some lovely things to choose from including black olives, silverskin pickled onions, gherkins, rice salad, pickled red cabbage and noodles alongside traditional salad items such as lettuce, cucumber, potato salad and coleslaw. Everything was well stocked and the area was clean. Next we added our choice of dressings and topped our salad with croutons, seeds and onion bits. The bread station had both brown and white rolls with a choice of butter or sunflower margarine. Again it was well stocked and clean.

Southwater, Telford, restaurant


Everybody enjoyed their salad, which we had while waiting for our main course. It was fresh and we enjoyed the variety. Our food arrived at our table within 15 minutes. Everything was hot and the portions were very generous. We had herb battered halloumi, chips and mushy peas served with a little bowl of tartare sauce. It was presented well. I was very pleased to see such an innovative menu option for vegetarians, offering some good, tasty comfort food. Freddy ate from the kids' menu and ended up with the default kids' vegetarian option of pasta with tomato sauce and cheese, served with a side of fries and sweetcorn, which was OK, but not as exciting or adventurous as our meals. (They do also offer soy and leek sausages on the kids' menu, but Freddy is a Quorn sausage boy and not a fan of the vegetable based ones, so that limited his options.)

When we had finished our tables were promptly cleared and we were given the menus for dessert. To be honest we were pretty full from our mains, but Freddy had an ice cream with strawberry sauce, which came in a little jar and looked really cute. Kezia opted for the lemon meringue pie with cream and raspberry coulis, which was very well presented. We all had a nibble and it was very nice. The real Cornish style dairy ice cream that they serve in the Harvester is really good and the variety of sundaes on offer is quite extensive, and includes their famous Rocky Horror,  Eton Mess or Oreo Cookies and Cream.

Overall, we were impressed with the surroundings, found the staff quite friendly and helpful and we enjoyed the food. The salad bar and unlimited drinks were both highlights, but we were also impressed with the speed of service and the size of the portions. It was nice to see several vegetarian options on the adult menu. Our mains cost £7.69 and Freddy's Bigger Appetites kids' meal was £4.99, both including unlimited salad, making it good value.

The Harvester is definitely a good venue for feeding the family. They have a festive menu on offer over the Christmas period, (with three courses from £14.99 for adults and two courses for £5.99 for the kids) perfect for a special meal out.

Harvester also have a take-away menu, which includes a box of salad from the salad bar. Perfect for those nights where you want a nice meal and a night in and don't want to cook! A breakfast menu is also available, with unlimited cooked or continental breakfast options and unlimited drinks. A nice way to start the day.

Check out your local Harvester and look at the menus online at www.harvester.co.uk.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Christmas Chocolate Treats from Cadbury #freethejoy

Cadbury's Festive Chocolate

From chocolate tree decorations to chocolate Santas to boxes of treats to bags of Snow Bites, Cadbury have a range of festive confectionery that covers it all. All with the trademark purple colour and golden Cadbury logo, Cadbury products have been a quintessential part of Christmas for years.

The tree decorations are a Christmas must-have for me. Ever since my eldest was a little boy, hanging the chocolate decorations on the tree has become one of our traditions. Little Joe would seek out the foil wrapped treats and sneak the chocolate shapes from off the tree whenever he got a chance, leaving the strung foil wrapper behind as evidence of his choccie heist. Now Joe's son, my grandson Ted, is the chocolate tree decoration fiend, so I'll make sure that there are plenty of chocolates for him to find when he visits over Christmas.

The selection boxes, tubes of choclate and chocolate Santas make great stocking fillers or tree presents for all the family and are ideal gifts for the kids' school friends.

Christmas


Cadbury Hot Chocolate

Nothing beats a lovely, warming hot chocolate on a cold winter's day - it's the ultimate in comfort. Cadbury Hot Chocolate delivers a mug full of joy by simply adding three heaped teaspoons of the chocolatey powder to a cup of hot milk. If you have a coffee machine with a steam arm, you can use it to make some fresh, frothy, foamy, fancy hot chocolate, just like they do in coffee shops.

hot chocolate


Adding flavoured syrups and topping with squirty cream, marshmallows, sprinkles or flakes, creates some incredibly indulgent festive, hot drinks. You can experiment with flavours and presentation to create your perfect Christmas Cadbury Hot Chocolate concoction.

Cadbury


As the Cadbury Drinking Chocolate does not contain milk, it is also ideal for anyone who avoids dairy products, by making it using soya, almond or coconut milk. In fact, using coconut milk adds an exotic twist to your hot chocolate, which is quite delicious.

Cadbury


Here is a recipe for a tasty festive twist on a classic hot chocolate using the barista method with a steam arm (but you can just as easily make it by adding the ingredients to hot milk and whisking together):

Minty Hot Chocolate

3 heaped teaspoons of Cadbury's Drinking Chocolate
200ml cold semi skimmed milk
20ml mint syrup

Mix together in a stainless steel jug, then heat and foam with a steam arm to approximately 70 degrees centigrade. Garnish with a sprig of mint for a fancy finish!


Look out for a Cadbury Advent surprise in a town near you

Be sure to follow the #Cadvent hashtag on Twitter or the Cadbury UK Facebook page to keep up to date with the Cadbury advent calendar truck that are appearing around the country bringing festive cheer to the people of Britain. Towns up and down the country such as Aylesbury, Peterborough and Liverpool have already enjoyed the Cadbury Christmas treatment as the advent calendar opened its festive doors revealing a special surprise treat for the locals. Will it come to a town near you?

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Cool, colourful stationery stocking fillers from Helix Maped

A great gift idea for school age children is stationery. Kids love something shiny and new in their pencil case or school bag, so it's a good idea to pop some lovely, colourful, kid-friendly stationery in their Christmas stockings. Anything that encourages my six year old Freddy to put pen to paper is a good thing, so if I can add an element of fun to writing, all the better. Even reluctant writers won't be able to resist when faced with a selection of cool, funky stationery,  such as these lovely products from Maped.

kids stationery


Maped Helix is a stationery brand with a long history in making educational supplies. The Maped products are the fun side of the brand, giving brightly coloured, quirkily designed, stationery supplies that the kids will love using. We were sent some products from the range to try.

The product that immediately caught my eye was the Bunny Innovation sharpener. The rabbit's mouth has buck teeth that move up and down when the pencil is sharpened as if nibbling on the pencil, helping kids learn to use the sharpener properly. It's innovative and fun and encourages a child's independence and responsibility when it comes to managing their own stationery.

The Twin Tip pen is the first double nibbed pen with colour changing ability, allowing writers to switch between four different coloured inks. Each end writes with a choice of two colours so switching between them is quick and simple. The soft grip pen makes it comfy to use. Great for diary writing, kids can easily add some colour to their page using just the one pen.

Tatoo Soft Scissors are comfy to use and beautifully designed with colourful handles and matching colourfully designed blades. They are perfect for paper crafting and are 13cm in length making them good for smaller hands to manage. The Graph Pens are vividly coloured, fine markers for writing and drawing. Their triangular shape makes them easy to hold and control. 20 different colours are available in a variety of sets or individually. The Colour Peps Flex Box is another innovative Maped product. The lidded tube contains 12 coloured pencils, which can be easily accessed by removing the lid and squashing down the flexible, concertina-style tubing to create a handy pencil pot. Once you've finished you can unclip the tube and allow it to go back to its full size and pop on the lid, storing your pencils safely and neatly away. It's a fun design that is quite ingenious. The pencils themselves have a soft lead and an easy to sharpen wood surround, making them nice to use.

These are just a small selection from the extensive Maped range. They also stock lots of stuff for left-handers, which I think is absolutely brilliant. Having lefties in the family, I know the difficulties they have when it comes to using some stationery, so to find fun and colourful left-handed friendly products is great for leftie kids.

See the range on the website at: www.mapedhelix.co.uk/products

Monday, 7 December 2015

My Christmas Netflix Picks

I can hardly grasp the fact that it is already December and Christmas Day is less than three weeks away. So while I sit and wonder where 2015 has gone, I am getting myself into the Christmas spirit by watching some top festive entertainment on Netflix. I love cuddling up on the sofa under a blanket with some popcorn, to watch a Christmassy film with the family.

Check these movies out now and join in with the Netflix festive fun.

A Christmas Carol 

Jim Carrey voices Ebenezer Scrooge in this 2009 Disney version of the classic A Christmas Carol. Mean, cruel and miserly Scrooge learns the power of opening his heart after being confronted by three ghosts on Christmas Eve, that show him the error of his wicked ways. It's quite dark and a little bit scary in parts, but the message is still as relevant today as it was when Dickens first penned this classic tale.

Santa Clause

Tim Allen stars in this great festive comedy. When he accidentally kills Santa he evokes the Santa Clause and has to take the place of St Nick himself. There are lots of laughs, especially as Allen's waistband expands and his beard grows to suit the role.

Jingle all the Way

Arnie plays a desperate dad trying to buy his son the must-have toy for Christmas. On his way he encounters a stressed out mailman, played by Sinbad, and it becomes a meteoric battle of wits as they try to get their hands on a Turbo Man action figure. There is lots of slapstick comedy and some hilarious action as they go to extraordinary lengths to get the toy. The finale is just fabulous and you get to see Arnie dressed as a superhero!

Home Alone

This Macaulay Culkin classic is such a timeless movie, that each of my children has in turn loved watching it over the last twenty years. Now it's Freddy's turn to watch Kevin's elaborate plan to defend his home against the bungling burglars, after being left home alone at Christmas. It's slapstick, it's funny and it has just the right amount of sentimentality to give it real heart. It's a Christmas must-see movie.


Mickey's Once Upon A Christmas

Join Mickey and friends as they star in three festive stories: Mickey and Minnie's Gift of the Magi, Donald Duck Stuck On Christmas and A Very Goofy Christmas. In the Gift of the Magi, Mickey and Minnie both try to get each other the perfect gift for Christmas even if it means parting with something they love. In Stuck on Christmas, Huey, Dewey and Louie relive Christmas over and over again in a Groundhog Day time loop until they appreciate the true meaning of Christmas. In A Very Goofy Christmas, Goofy and Max are awaiting Santa's arrival while neighbour Pete mocks them for believing. But Pete soon has to eat his words. It's great Disney storytelling that keeps little ones happily entertained.


Saturday, 5 December 2015

Tetris Light - a great gift for kids, teens or the young at heart

A unique gift idea for kids, gamers and tech lovers

Fans of the classic Tetris video game will love the Tetris Light, a fascinating, colourful and stylish lamp available from Maplin. Made up of seven individual Tetrimino pieces, you can create your own combination of the shapes, which light up in a multicoloured array. Each Tetrimino piece is made up of squares measuring 4cm x 4cm that build together into countless configurations. The endless possibilities that the Tetris Light offers, allows you to create your lamp in the shape and design that you want.

The blue piece is plugged in using the mains adapter and forms the base to the lamp. When another piece comes into contact with the base piece it automatically lights up. The other pieces light up when they touch any other illuminated piece. Remove a piece from the lamp and its light goes out instantly. It's so clever and playing with the combinations is as addictive as the game of Tetris itself!

Maplin


The lamp looks really cool and funky. It would look great in a teen's bedroom, games room or office setting. It would also be lovely to use in a kids' room, giving off a gentle, coloured light at bedtime. For younger children, it is worth bearing in mind that the pieces simply stack together and so the lamp can be knocked over quite easily.

The Tetris Light is a former winner of the Gift of the Year and after playing with it, I can see why. It is such an innovative product that combines an element of techy Tetris fun with the functionality of  a lamp. How it works is really fascinating and the lamp looks great when assembled. You can change the shape and configuration to suit your mood, and experimenting with the pieces is really quite stress relieving, making this a great novelty gift for young at heart executives too.

Maplin


The Tetris Light is available from Maplin for £29.99. Check out Maplin's range of electronic goods to find the ideal gifts for loved ones this Christmas, from toys to audio equipment to cameras, for the technophiles and hobbyists in your life.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Christmas Forget-Me-Nots - top tips for a strees-free Christmas

This Christmas Eve, make sure you avoid some of the classic Christmas pitfalls by being prepared for the big day ahead. We all know how stressful things can get as you juggle over excited kids, last minute gift wrapping and food preparation, so pre-empting problems can help you get through the day allowing you to go to bed filled with confidence that the day ahead will run smoothly. Here are some top tips to make sure your Christmas Day is a joy filled success.

Keep your energy levels boosted

Perfect for those who pack lots into the festive period, Emergen-C offers a double hit of energy release and immunity support  in handy fast dissolving, wallet-sized sachets. Packing 1000mg of Vitamin C to support the immune system, antioxidants, fruit extract and 7 B vitamins for energy release, Emergenc-C costs £4.99 for a pack of 8 and is available from Boots stores nationwide. For further information visit http://www.emergenc.com.

energy boost, immune support


Buy gifts for unexpected guests

Whether  one of the family invites  an unannounced guest to Christmas lunch or your neighbour decides to pop in for a mince pie, it’s lovely to make all guests feel welcome no matter how unexpected they are. To help ensure there are no awkward moments when it comes to gift giving, your local Lloyds Pharmacy has got last minute gifts wrapped up.  Pop an extra toiletry set or two under the tree just in case. They stock some lovely Baylis and Harding gift sets for the ladies and if you don't get any unexpected guests, you can keep them for yourself! The Sweet Mandarin and Grapefruit Weekend Essentials Bag contains bath milk, bath creme, shower gel, hand cream, body wash, body butter and a body polisher in a stylish weekend bag complete with phone purse. It's great value at £19.99 from Lloyds Pharmacy.

Lloyds Pharmacy


Avoid the‘Batteries not included’ issue

Imagine the scenario: when you pop the pressies under the tree, you realise that the latest must-have toy MUST have batteries and you are all out.  Avoid the disappointment on Christmas morning and be sure to stock up in advance. Keep a supply of AA and AAA batteries to make sure the kids can enjoy all their new toys this Christmas Day.

Help make it a silent night

If the excitement of the festive period has made the kid’s bedtime a nightmare before Christmas and the stress of preparing for the big day means you can’t switch off, why not try an essential oil? Soothing essential oils have been found to be very beneficial for supporting relaxation. Add a couple of drops of  Lavender Pure Essential Oil to your bedtime bath. (£11.39 available from Holland & Barrett Stores and online www.hollandandbarrett.com.)

Avoid those sticky moments

Avoid sticky situations if you find yourself wrapping Christmas presents at the last minute by making sure that you don't run out of tape. Make sure you have an extra roll or two of sticky tape on hand.

Or try the Scotch Pop-Up Tape Handband Dispenser for an easy way to get wrapping. The pre-cut strips of tape are dispensed from the hand-worn dispenser allowing you to keep both hands free for wrapping. No more searching for the end of the roll or getting stuck in a length of twisted up sticky tape! It's convenient and saves time - essential for this busy time of year. They are priced at £2.95 with extra refill packs available.

sticky tape, present wrapping


Mince pies for Santa or gluten free guests

Children love leaving out a mince pie for Santa on Christmas Eve, but if Santa, or any of your house guests  happen to be gluten intolerant , make sure they don’t miss out by buying some Lovemore’s Gluten Free Mince Pies. Available at Holland & Barrett for £2.89 for a pack of 4, these pies are a delicious festive treat. Made with shortcrust pastry and deep-filled mincemeat they contain no artificial colours or flavour. They are also dairy free.

Lovemore's, Christmas


Relax when the hard work is done


After all the hard work is done and you’re ready to unwind, treat yourself to a relaxing face mask while watching the festive edition of your favourite TV show on demand. The Dr. Organic Dead Sea Mineral Bio-Plasma Mud Mask contains organic Dead Sea mineral salt and mud, which have a long history of skin purifying and health promoting properties. In combination with a blend of bioactive, natural and organic ingredients, such as kaolin, plankton extract and algae extract, this face mask penetrates deep into the pores, effectively removing excess oil and impurities, whilst stimulating new cell regeneration.  A tube costs £7.99 from Holland & Barrett.



Thursday, 3 December 2015

Christmas Gift Ideas from Dr Organic, Lloyds Pharmacy and Olpro

The Dr.Organic Moroccan Argan Oil Luxury Hair Therapy Gift Pack is a lovely product, giving the gift of rich, smooth, well nourished, intensively moisturised hair to beauty lovers this Christmas. Containing three of Dr. Organic's best selling products: the Your Hair Magazine award winning Moroccan Argan Oil hair treatment serum, moisture repair shampoo and conditioner, the trio works together to leave hair clean, hydrated and in beautiful condition. 

argan oil, haircare


The organic Moroccan Argan Oil hair serum detangles hair, eliminates frizz, nourishes, protects and adds instant shine. It has a rich fragrance and lightweight, easily absorbed texture, with a little going a very long way. It contains natural essential oils and fruit extracts providing a rich source of vitamins, antioxidants and essential fatty acids. Even the driest, most damaged hair will be improved and look healthy and shiny.

The Dr.Organic Moroccan Argan Oil Luxury Hair Therapy Gift Pack costs £25 and is available from stockists such as Holland & Barrett. Other Dr Organic gift sets are available including a Manuka Honey Hand and Foot Gift Pack RRP £11, Rose Otto Perfect Complexion Gift Pack RRP £25 and the Snail Gel Skin Perfection Gift Pack RRP £40.

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When out Christmas shopping this year, why not pop into your local Lloyds Pharmacy for some great gift ideas? They have loads of quality gifts in store for all the family, including this Despicable Me 'Minion Made' Jumbo Activity Set. It is perfect for any little Minions fans and at just £7 is great value. The large size, Minion shaped set looks really impressive and boasts some excellent contents to get kids unleashing their inner artist with a Minions twist.

Minions, art set


The Jumbo Activity Set includes 14 coloured pencils, an A3 scene to colour, 10 chunky felt tips, 11 wax crayons, 14 oil pastels, 6 A5 Minion standees, 2 A4 sticker sheets, a sharpener, 2 self inking stampers and a cut out colour in Minion poster. Everything has Minion branding, making it really appealing to kids.

This is a lovely creative gift that any child will love to receive on Christmas Day. 

Other gifts available at Lloyds pharmacy include a Frozen Musical band Set for £9.99, Babyliss Twilight Shimmer Hairdryer for £19.99, Frozen 52 piece art set for £4.99 and the Baylis and Harding slipper set for £9.99. 

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For loved ones who are interested in innovative new green products, www.olpro.co.uk, the leading UK camping and outdoor equipment manufacturer, has launched a new range of eco-friendly tableware created from rice husk. They make perfect practical gifts or quirky stocking fillers.

environmentally friendly, biodegradable


Husk tableware is made using discarded agricultural rice husks following the rice harvest, making them extremely environmentally friendly and also biodegradable. Plastic takes thousands of years to biodegrade, releasing poisonous toxins into the ground. Rice husks are natural plant products and the husk material takes just 90+ days to turn into natural compost once disposed of. It's a great solution to the problem that using plastic has on our planet.

The new OLPRO Husk tableware range includes mugs, tumblers, plates, cutlery, bowls and sets of round or rectangular storage. They can be used safely in the microwave, dishwasher and freezer. 
We received a bowl and a breaktime beaker from the range. The travel beaker comes with a silicon sleeve and lid, making it perfect for both cold and hot drinks on the go. The husk material has no pores and is naturally anti-bacterial making it hygienic and extremely safe to use. The silicon sleeves and lids are available in six different colours.



The Kimchi bowl is lightweight, durable and strong providing an eco-friendly, hygienic serving dish for snacks, fruit or hot food. It is a good looking bowl with a unique Korean design that would look great in a modern kitchen. I really love these products. I like the look and the feel of the material and knowing it is such an environmentally friendly innovation is a real selling point.

Prices start at just £2.79 and right now they are on special offer on the Olpro site.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Tanqueray London Dry Gin - perfect for Christmas

Gin is quickly becoming the spirit of choice for discerning drinkers (and bloggers alike). In fact gin sales have experienced a 6% growth year on year, showing that the gin revival is showing no signs of slowing down. 

This festive season, if you are looking for a sophisticated, elegant gin, to set the tone for your Christmas celebrations then take a look at one of the world’s most awarded gins - Tanqueray London Dry Gin. Made with the finest botanicals including refreshing juniper, peppery coriander, aromatic angelica and sweet liquorice, it has a uniquely smooth yet bold flavour. The botanicals are matured to intensify their aromas, providing a pure clarity of flavours. It comes in an iconic green bottle inspired by the shape of a traditional three-piece cocktail shaker, stamped with the Tanqueray seal.

Tanqueray London Dry Gin


The crisp, fresh and complex flavour, is perfect for sophisticated cocktails or vibrant, chilled G&T's. You can enjoy the full G&T experience and evoke the golden age of gin drinking by using an oversized Tanqueray Copa glass with its signature green stem and black base. The shape allows Tanqueray's aromas to circulate for full appreciation of the flavour. The gin and the glass both make a great Christmas gift idea for gin lovers. 

Tanqueray London Dry Gin


Tanqueray London Dry Gin can be used to make a delicious Mulled Tanqueray Punch - a sophisticated alternative to mulled wine this Christmas. With its combination of citrus flavours and mulled spices, and garnished with some fabulously festive fruit, it is a drink that will impress guests this festive season.

Mulled Tanqueray Punch

Ingredients:
35ml Tanqueray London Dry Gin
60ml Pressed Apple Juice
25ml Spiced Sugar Syrup
15ml Fresh Lemon Juice
Cinnamon stick
Whole Fresh Apple
Whole Fresh Orange
Cloves

Method: 
Add all the ingredients to a saucepan.
Add cloves, cinnamon and orange peel.
 Heat up and serve into a latte glass with a clove studded apple slice. 
(You can scale up the recipe to make a large batch for parties.)


Units – 1.6 

Tanqueray London Dry Gin

Gift boxed Tanqueray London Dry Gin and Tanqueray Copa glasses (£12) can be bought from Alexander and James. 

Tanqueray London Dry Gin is currently £17.00 (75cl bottle) at Waitrose


I've received a bottle to try for the purpose of this review.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Breakfast with Father Christmas at Wyevale Garden Centre

One of the highlights of my calendar is having breakfast or tea with Father Christmas at Wyevale Garden Centre. It marks the start of the festive season and gives Freddy his first taste of Christmas festivities with the family. We were invited to breakfast on November 28th, starting at nine in the morning, and so myself, Ian, Freddy and Kezia headed off bright and early to the garden centre at Bridgemere.

A section of the restaurant is reserved for the breakfast and tea experiences and is decorated beautifully, complete with Santa's grotto surrounded by hundreds of quality gifts for the children to pick from. It looks really inviting!

We arrived to see the long tables laid with activity placemats, name stickers, crackers and a bag of chocolate coins for the children. We were able to help ourselves to hot drinks or juice, before having hot toast brought to the table. A counter allowed us to collect our cooked breakfasts, freshly served up by friendly staff wearing Christmas hats and jumpers. Other members of staff dressed as elves were on hand to help children back to their seats and to assist in any way they could. Christmas songs played and the atmosphere in the room was great!

Santa, Christmas


We tucked into our veggie breakfasts: scrambled egg, hash browns and beans for the kids and fried egg, fried bread, mushrooms, tomatoes and beans for the adults. The food was good, hot and filling. The helpful elves were on hand to collect rubbish and dirty plates, keeping everything tidy on the tables.

After the food was eaten, the children were greeted by Dorothy, the green witch and Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz who mingled with the guests. Children were given a Christmas tree gingerbread biscuit, a bag of icing and three little pots containing marshmallows, hundreds and thousands and chocolate buttons. Freddy had loads of fun decorating his biscuit and even more fun eating it! 

Santa, Christmas, cracker


Before Santa's arrival, the staff got everyone singing a host of Christmas carols together, which was really nice. Then the children had to shout for Santa, who burst into the room much to everyone's delight.

Children were taken up to Santa one family at a time and given the opportunity to have a chat and pose for photographs. He was a kindly, traditional Santa who put the children at ease and was very accommodating posing for numerous photos. He encouraged Kezia to come for a chat, which she secretly loved! After reminding the children to leave out a mince pie and carrot on Christmas Eve, the children were invited to pick a gift. Getting to choose what they want is a really nice touch. Freddy had his eye on a geology set, where you get to dig crystal gems from a lump of 'rock'. Kezia picked a cuddly toy cow, who she named Larry. 

Christmas, Wyevale


The experience lasts for around an hour and a quarter and is priced at £7.99 for adults and £9.99 for children. This includes the hot breakfasts, drinks, gifts for the kids plus the gingerbread decorating. An adult lighter option of  a baked pastry with coffee is £3.99. The constant attention and entertainment from the staff was really enthusiastic and kept a party atmosphere going. The organisation was excellent.

I really recommend this as a festive family treat. Afterwards you can explore the garden centre, which at this time of year is resplendent in wonderful Christmasness!

In addition to the Breakfast with Santa experience, there is a tea with Santa option. Children can have a hot tea with squash or a cold 'My Picnic' tea for £9.99, while adults have a festive sandwich, a mince pie and a sweet treat with tea or coffee for £7.99 or a slice of cake and a hot drink for £3.99.

Breakfast and Tea with Father Christmas is available until Christmas Eve.

Visit the website for dates and availability and book tickets for your nearest Wyevale Garden Centre. Book before December 6th and get £1 off all kids' tickets. www.wyevalegardencentres.co.uk/breakfast-or-tea-with-father-christmas.

Christmas gift ideas from Fenjal, Branston and Kopparberg

Give the gift of  pampering with the Fenjal Spa skincare range

Treat your loved ones to the rejuvenating qualities of a spa day in their own home with the luxurious Swiss bodycare brand Fenjal. With a range of indulgent products including the nourishing Fenjal Classic Creme Bath Oil to the hydrating Fenjal Classic Hand Creme to the moisturising Fenjal Sensuous Body Spray, the products evoke the decadence of a Swiss spa, transforming the bathroom into a pampering haven. The perfect antidote to the stresses of the season.

Christmas gifts, home spa


For a luxury gift, you could create a bespoke pamper hamper, including Fenjal products, presented in a pretty basket. Or they'll make nice little stocking fillers. They look lovely with their classic branding and the relaxing aqua colour scheme.

Prices start at £3.52 RRP for the body spray to £11.42 RRP for the 200ml creme bath oil. Other products in the range include body wash, body lotion, body powder and shower oil.


A cheeky stocking filler from Branston and Haywards

For some foodie fun stocking fillers, or to use as part of a festive food hamper for a loved one, Branston and Haywards have some seasonal must-haves This Christmas.

Christmas Day often sees a teatime meal of leftovers, cheese and crackers being served up to the family. Boxing Day lunch often sees a repeat performance! Adding some tasty pickles can definitely bring out the taste and add to the enjoyment. Pickled Onions are one of those foods I only ever eat at Christmas, so when I do get my fancy on for pickled onions, I want them to be good with just the right amount of tang and perfectly crunchy! I love the specially branded 'Boxing Day' Branston Pickle, giving our favourite pickle a festive feel.

Christmas, condiments


Other pickles, sauces and pickled vegetables are available from Branston and Haywards. Find them in supermarkets nationwide.


Keep Cosy this winter with a Kopparberg Spiced Apple Gift Set

Available at Boots for £12, the Kopparberg Spiced Apple Gift Set consists of a 500ml bottle of cinnamon Spiced Apple Cider, which can be served hot or cold, along with a lovely limited edition mug and a pack of cinnamon sticks for garnish.

This is definitely the ultimate Christmas tipple with its spicy festive fragrance and warming, woody sweetness. Perfect for a winter's evening, served warm in its own special festive mug.

Christmas, Boots

The Kopparberg Spiced Apple is also available in individual bottles from Tesco, Morrisons and Asda, (RRP £2.29) and can also be found at some UK pubs.


* I've received these products for this purpose of this review*

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