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Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Children's Books for Christmas #StoriesForLife

Books make such wonderful gifts for children. In gifting a book, you are giving a child access to a whole world of imagination. As they enter the pages of a book they are transported to different places, embarking on new adventures and meeting exciting characters. The gift of reading will last a lifetime!

This Christmas I am taking part in the Britmums and Penguin Random House Children's Books Christmas Present Challenge. I have been sent three fantastic books to gift to some of the special little people in my life.

children's books


Girl Online: Going Solo - Zoe Sugg

Zoella


Zoe Sugg, best known as vlogger Zoella, has released a third novel in her bestselling Girl Online series. The story follows Penny, who accepts an invitation to visit a friend's performing arts school. An opportunity to meet new people and make new friends seems just the remedy that Penny needs as she faces the world on her own.

Zoella's books have proven to be a big hit with many of the YA audience who can't get enough of her fluffy, light, comforting and easy reading style of storytelling. So for her adoring fans, this latest installment will be a fantastic Christmas gift.


Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down - Jeff Kinney

Jeff Kinney


7 year old Freddy is a very reluctant reader, however the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series is something that has totally grabbed his imagination. Double Down is the 11th book in this bestselling series. Greg's mum has decided that video games are turning his brain to mush and wants him to explore his creative side instead. So, inspired by a bag of gummy worms, Greg decides to get his mum off his back by making his own film. He hopes he might also become rich and famous in the process! But will doubling down on this plan just lead to double trouble for Greg?

Jeff Kinney's humorous and relateable style of writing and the brilliant, funny sketches throughout the book, is perfect to keep kids thoroughly entertained. The pages aren't too wordy making them easy to read.  The series has really captured my Freddy's imagination and he will be very happy to find this latest installment under the Christmas tree this year.


The Racehorse Who Wouldn't Gallop - Clare Balding

Clare Balding


Clare Balding, is more familiar to me as a TV sports presenter, so I was surprised to discover that she is also a children's author. This heart-warming tale tells the story of horse-mad, ten year old Charlie, who accidentally manages to buy herself  a racehorse. When the family farm becomes under threat of being repossessed, Charlie plans to race her horse on Derby Day. She knows he has got what it takes to win and save her home. However, the horse has a problem - he won't gallop and he won't go anywhere without his best friend, a naughty palamino pony called Percy. Can Charlie and her family help the horse overcome his nerves and become the champion she knows he can be?

My 8 year niece is an avid bookworm and this book will definitely be finding its way to her this Christmas.

***

As a child, I enjoyed the freedom that reading gave me, allowing me to visit far flung places and experience amazing things as I immersed myself in my books. One of the books that I absolutely loved, and which has stuck with me over the years is The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden.

Kizzy


The Diddakoi is the story of a little girl called Kizzy. She is half gypsy and lives in a wagon with her gran and her horse Joe.  They embrace a peaceful life holding on to bygone traditions. This means that she is seen as 'different' to the other children in town and cruelly judged by the adults who interfere in her life 'for her own good'. When her beloved gran dies, Kizzy finds herself all alone in a hostile world. She experiences bullying and loneliness that no child should ever have to endure. This book is written with a deep sensitivity and challenges the theme of acceptance with its gritty realism. Kizzy's indomitable spirit, feisty personality and strength of character will not be beaten, and we are heartened to find that there are good people who want to help this young girl find her way in the world.

I saw a lot of myself in Kizzy. A soulful child who didn't quite fit in. I loved her grit, her refusal to be kept down, her feistiness and her stubborn determination to do what was right for her. Kizzy was my first taste of girl-power!

This book made such an impression on me as a child, that I even named my daughter Kezia (the name that Kizzy is derived from in the book). That is the extent that this book impacted my life. I highly recommend it as a gift idea this Christmas. It is a story that I have already passed on to my own children, a real classic.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Christmas Gift Ideas - Bratz RC Hoverboard

This Christmas, the Bratz dolls are jumping on the latest hoverboard trend. The new range features fully functional RC hoverboards so the dolls can whizz around dressed in their cute helmets and safety gear. Cloe and Yasmin are both available with a co-ordinated hoverboard, which matches their accessories. 

The range combines all the appeal of a Bratz doll with the fun of a remote controlled vehicle. Just like a real hoverboard, the Bratz hoverboard goes forward, backward and in circles and LED lights shine on the board when it is in motion adding to the cool effect. The RC controller is egg shaped and matches the colour of the hoverboard, pink for Cloe and purple for Yasmin.

Bratz


The set features an adjustable doll stand, which enables Yasmin or Cloe to stand on their light up hoverboard while in motion for realistic hoverboard action. Both dolls are wearing a trendy new, casual outfit, as they adopt their hoverboarding style, accessorised with pink or purple elbow pads, knee pads, and helmet. The fact that they are wearing safety gear is setting a great example to encourage children to always stay safe when playing on bikes, skateboards, skates or even on a hoverboard like Cloe and Yasmin.

The easy to use Hoverboard RC controller allows a range of movement so the board can move forward, backward and complete a full 360° turn. The remote control requires 2 AA batteries and the hoverboard requires 3 AA batteries. So be sure to stock up ready to play.

Bratz


The Bratz RC Hoverboard dolls are recommended for children aged 5 and up and have an RRP of £39.99. It is a great Christmas gift idea for Bratz fans this year.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Del Monte - Vegan Peaches and Cream Cupcake Recipe #yestothebest

As a child growing up in the seventies, tinned fruit in syrup was something we often enjoyed as a special treat. Sliced peaches, pineapple rings, pear halves, mandarin segments or my personal favourite fruit cocktail were served as dessert, sometimes with some evaporated milk poured over if we were lucky. We loved it. It seemed very fancy to be eating what we saw as 'exotic' fruits all year round.

Nowadays, tinned fruit is still a store cupboard staple, but with greater accessibility to so many other fresh and frozen foods, we have tended to overlook this convenient, versatile and delicious product. Modern tinned fruit often comes in juice making it a much better choice than the syrupy fruit of my childhood memories. It counts towards our five a day giving us nutritional benefits. One portion provides fibre, vitamins and phytochemicals. It is an easy way to get some extra fruit into our family's diet, by incorporating it into recipes, serving it in jelly, in smoothies, using to top cereals or for eating on its own for pudding. Its long shelf life means it doesn't go off and it retains its quality so we can always keep a tin or two to hand in the kitchen ready to use straight from the can.

canned fruit


At this time of year, with Christmas racing towards us, using quality convenience foods in recipes can save us time and effort. It can also inspire us to try new ideas in the kitchen, which is something I always enjoy. Del Monte want to encourage us to start using tinned fruit in the run up to the festive season, by saying #yestothebest. For creating family favourites, both sweet and savoury, Del Monte fruit can be a great addition, needing no peeling or preparation.

I decided to use a can of Del Monte Peach Slices in a recipe for Vegan Peaches and Cream Cupcakes. Del Monte fruit is suitable for vegan diets so they make a great addition to this recipe. The fact they come ready prepared makes them such a time saving ingredient. Anyone who has tried to peel, de-stone and slice fresh peaches will know what an arduous task this is. The only effort required for tinned peaches is to open the can!

vegan cake, tinned fruit recipe


These cakes are light and fluffy and studded with colourful, juicy, sweet pieces of peach, which moisten the sponge. Topped with non-dairy cream and decorated with a piece of peach, they look very appetising. I love the vibrant, glossy colour of the tinned peaches against the pure white cream.

Vegan Peaches and Cream Cupcakes
(makes around 18)

Ingredients

1 can of Delmonte sliced peaches
200g of white SR flour
3 tablespoons of wholemeal self raising flour
200g of golden caster sugar
1 teaspon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 tablespoons vegetable oil (I use Rice Bran)
1 cup water

1 carton of soya whip cream (dairy free alternative to whipping cream)

Method

del monte


Chop up about 6 - 8 peach slices into small chunks and set aside.
In a bowl mix the flour, sugar and bicarbonate of soda.
Add the oil, vinegar, vanilla extract to the dry ingredients and quickly pour over the water.
Mix together to form a batter.
Add the chopped peaches and fold in.
Put spoonfuls of the batter into muffin cases in a tray.
Cook for around 10 - 12 minutes at 200 degrees C.
Remove from oven when springy to touch.
Cool on a cooling rack.
Cut a few of the remaining peaches into wedges for decoration.
Once the cupcakes are cool, whip the cream according to the instructions on the pack.
Spoon dollops onto the cupcakes and top with a chunk of peach.
Serve immediately.


del monte


Find out more about the Del Monte range of products at  www.delmonteeurope.com. Find the Del Monte products in supermarkets nationwide.

Personalised Videos from Santa from Portable North Pole

The 2016 Christmas countdown is on and what better way to celebrate than with a message from Santa himself. Dedicated to bringing the magic of Santa into homes at Christmastime, The Portable North Pole (PNP) website and mobile app is back once again to delight families, with personalised video and call messages. There are some amazing brand new features and content, with exciting new videos to create and calls to organise. 

Message from santa


Each message is carefully crafted to engage children of all ages, creating excitement in the lead up to Christmas Day. With personalisation including the child's name, each video and call is unique and magical.

The Magic Pass for 2016 is £9.99, which includes lots of unlimited premium content.

With the Magic Pass you will get: 

  • Unlimited Premium Videos featuring Santa and his elves, including one for Christmas Eve. Santa will be giving his naughty or nice verdict to encourage little ones to do their best in the hope of making the nice list!
  • The brand new Reaction Recorder to capture your child's look of wonder as they watch the video for the first time (only with the mobile app). 
  • Unlimited Santa Calls with lots of fun call scenarios including some to encourage good behaviour!
  • HD downloads of all your videos. 
  • Storytime with Santa with a new personalised story video for each week in December to keep the magic alive throughout the month.
  • A Santa-Approved Certificate to print for each of your videos.
  • Birthday videos for children's birthdays throughout the year.


This is great value for money and the quality of the videos and calls will delight kids of any age. I love PNP, it is a lovely family tradition to send messages and organise calls to my loved ones. Last year my grandson Ted was excited to get a phone call from Santa on Christmas Eve and my 7 year old son loved receiving personalised videos in the run up to the big day! They really are very special, magical and bring a lot of joy to homes across the world at this time of year.

New for 2016, there is a PNP toy and gift collection, which is exclusive to John Lewis, which includes lovely items such as elf toys, a storybook and a good deeds jar.

Find out more at: www.portablenorthpole.com.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Christmas Review Round Up - featuring Cuddledry, Peter's Yard and Stag Bakeries

Cuddleduck

How about this adorable little rubber duckie as the perfect stocking filler for little ones! Cuddleduck is a soft and squishy, 100% safe baby toy suitable for bathtime or for use as a teether. It is made from natural rubber that has naturally anti-bacterial properties and contains no nasties at all. It is shaped for little hands to hold and explore, and for little gums to chew.

Cuddledry


The gentle colours and polka dot pattern are stylish. Cuddleduck will look great in any bathroom and provides plenty of playtime fun for babies and children. They come in blue, pink and original polka dot designs and come attractively gift boxed.  At £7.99 they are a lovely little gift this Christmas.

Find out more about the Cuddledry range at www.cuddledry.com.


Peter's Yard

Christmas tea always involves cheese and biscuits in our house. I like to get some good quality savoury crackers and crispbreads to complement the selection of cheeses that I buy. I love the Peter's Yard selection boxes for offering a good range of biscuits for cheese that are a little bit different.

Peter’s Yard’s new Sourdough Crispbread selection box gives a great variety bringing together three quality, distinctive crispbreads with differing colours, shapes, textures and flavours. The Selection Box includes Charcoal, Spelt & Poppy Seed and the classic, award-winning Original recipe. Charcoal is recommended for a Brie or soft goats’ cheese; Spelt & Poppy Seed for Single Gloucester, Camembert, Wensleydale or Caerphilly whilst the neutral base of the Original crispbread is a perfect match to any cheese.

biscuits for cheese, crackers


They are made using natural ingredients to an authentic Swedish recipe making a light and crisp textured biscuit. They make a good gift idea for foodie friends who don't have a sweet tooth! Peter's Yard products are available from quality independent retail stores, Waitrose and Ocado and priced at £6.00 for the 265g box.


Stag Bakeries

Stag Bakeries is one of the most remote bakeries in the UK, based in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis on the Scottish Outer Hebrides.

New for 2016 they have produced a range of Dipping Crackers in Lentil & Biriyani, Green Bean & Ras El Hanout and Chickpea & Garlic varieties. These innovative and exciting crackers are part of their West Coast range.

The Lentil & Biryani dipping crackers are made with Mathia flour and delicately spiced with traditional Indian flavours. They work well with curry as an alternative to poppadoms. Or dip into mango chutney or raita for a delicious snack. They would make a lovely addition to a homemade foodie hamper and are suitable for vegetarians.

Indian crackers


Each variety is packed into 80g resealable bags which are available from speciality food stores like farm shops, delicatessens and independent retail stores for RRP £2.30.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Celebrating those Little Moments of Christmas Chaos

Christmas is a wonderful time of year and I spend hours making lists, researching recipes, buying thoughtful gifts and getting myself organised to ensure my family have the best day ever...but that doesn't necessarily mean that things always go to plan!

Christmas


However well organised you are, sometimes fate just comes along and tramples all over your best laid plans. It's at times like this that you either crumble and burst into tears or you pull up your festive socks and initiate Plan B!

Two years ago I had my house full with all the family joining us for Christmas Day. Making Christmas dinner for twelve people is always a juggling act, swapping things around in the oven to try and get everything cooked evenly and on time. Packing the shelves with nut roasts, stuffing, roast veg, potatoes, parsnips, Yorkies and veggie pigs in blankets is a test for any oven at the best of times. But this year, my oven decided enough was enough. It took me a while to realise that things were not cooking very well and then it dawned on me that everything was in fact getting colder. The heating element had lost the will to live. The oven was stone cold dead!

With twelve people hungry for their festive fayre, panic began to set in. Visions of feeding them Primula cheese spread sandwiches and a bag of crisps went through my mind. (That might be a yummy emergency lunch at other times of the year but not on Christmas Day!) What a disaster to happen on this day of all days!

 However, the spirit of Christmas was with us that day. My next door neighbours, who were away visiting family, saw my pitiful social media updates and came to the rescue. We had a spare key to their house to use in case of emergencies and this was definitely deemed as one of those times. We were told to go ahead and use their kitchen - their double oven was ours for the day. It was a Christmas miracle!

To add to the drama, it was raining. I gathered my troops to help, and clad in their festive jumpers and new slippers, we paired up. One of us carried a partially cooked tray of food while the other held an umbrella over head. There was lots of to-ing and fro-ing as we kept popping back and forth to check on potato roastiness and stuffing crispiness. Goodness knows what our other neighbours must have thought! Eventually, through top teamwork, our dinner was cooked. We carried it all back to our house and we were able to sit down together and eat Christmas dinner as a family. Only slightly later than planned and slightly chilled from being carried down the street in the rain.

When things go wrong, you have to find the humour in the situation. You've got to pull together and laugh about the broken oven or the smashed Christmas baubles or the inappropriately drunk auntie or the bout of ill timed gastroenteritis or the embarrassing moment when you realise you have forgotten to buy a present for one of your guests (yes all these things have happened to me.)

You can't avoid the unavoidable, but there are things you can do to help the day go smoothly. One of my top tips is to do all your food preparation on Christmas Eve. It's a family tradition for us to don our Christmas jumpers, whack on our favourite Christmas tunes and get peeling, chopping and prepping whatever we can in advance. This leaves Christmas morning free for the fun stuff like opening presents.  Speaking of presents - always keep a couple of extra wrapped gifts under the tree, just in case of unexpected visitors. Boxes of biscuits or bottles of wine are perfect choices, because if you don't need to gift them, you can enjoy them yourself. And don't forget to have plenty of batteries and a screwdriver available, so any new toys found under the tree can be powered up or assembled. There's not much worse to a child than having a new toy that can't be played with!

Even if the day does end up going completely pear shaped, remember that the 25th of December is just one day out of 365. Do a re-run on another day if need be. In the future, it's the laughs, the smiles and the fun that comes from being a family that will be remembered. We don't need everything to be perfect to have a great time. Embrace the chaos, keep a laid back approach and enjoy every moment.

Primula have a campaign this Christmas to encourage us to celebrate the big day in all its chaotic glory. They have teamed up with bloggers to share their own tales of Christmas woe alongside some top Christmas hacks to help you survive the day.

You can view or download the 'Primula Little Moments of  Christmas Chaos' booklet for free at https://issuu.com/primulacheese. Inside you can also find recipes, ideas for games and hints and tips for surviving and embracing the little moments of Christmas chaos!

You can join in and share your own moments of chaos or some of your own Christmas survival plans using the hashtag #LittleMomentsOfChristmasChaos on social media. Together we can celebrate Christmas 2016 without the stress!

Talking Food - Conflagrant Chilli Burrito Recipe

The average adult spends a whole six years of their life talking and thinking about food. As a nation we are obsessed with food, sharing photos, texting, messaging and chatting about the things we eat. However, our vocabularies are a little lacking when it comes to describing the food we enjoy. Words like delicious, tasty, nice and yummy are most commonly used. We also let hashtags (#foodporn) and emojis do the talking when it comes to discussing food on social media, which doesn't come close to describing the flavours, textures and aromas of our cuisine. So Sainsbury's has teamed up with lexicographer Susie Dent to help us evolve our vocabulary so we can improve our food talk and use words to reflect our new and exciting culinary landscape with the "The Sainsbury's Taste Dictionary :101 ways to describe each mouthful".

There are some wonderful words such as mealy, woody, fire-fanged, botanical, slape and lusty, but my favourite is the delightfully descriptive lickerous. Meaning sweet and tempting, it is the perfect word to describe cakes and desserts and one I intend to use more often in the future!

I have been challenged to come up with a recipe and to use Susie Dent's words to describe what I've made. So I've opted for an everyday dish that is a bit of a family favourite, so I can start dropping my newfound vocabulary into everyday conversations. No more 'yummy' or 'tasty' for us!

I've made a spicy and smoky Conflagrant Chilli Burrito, which can be described using some wonderfully descriptive words.


Taste Dictionary


Conflagrant - inducing a hot or peppery sensation
Sapid - strongly flavoured
Ardent - fiery and intense
Alliaceous - with a strong taste of garlic or onion
Lusty - hearty and wholesome


If you want to make my Conflagrant Chilli Burrito, here is the recipe:

Ingredients (makes 8)

8 large tortilla wraps
1 onion chopped
2 cloves of garlic crushed
2 teaspoons chilli flakes
1 teaspoon garlic granules
1 teaspoon smoky paprika
1 carton of chopped tomato
1 tablespoon smoky chipotle sauce
Dash of hot chilli sauce to taste
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1 can of red kidney beans
1 can of pinto beans
1 can of chickpeas
1 pack of microwave Spicy Mexican rice
grated Cheddar cheese

Method 

Fry the onion using olive oil in a deep frying pan until golden.
Add garlic and continue to fry for further 2 minutes.
Add the chopped tomatoes to the pan and add beans, tomato puree, smoky chipotle sauce, chilli sauce, chilli flakes, smoky paprika and garlic granules.
Cook for about 15 minutes until slightly reduced and combined.
Microwave the Spicy Mexican rice according to pack instructions.
Add to the pan and stir into the chilli.
To assemble, take each tortilla wrap and put a big spoonful of the bean and rice mix into the centre.
Top with grated cheese.
Fold into parcels to make the burritos.
Put in an ovenproof dish.
Top with a little more grated cheese and pop into a pre-heated oven at GM 6 for 15 minutes.

Serve with salad, guacamole, salsa and sour cream for a Mexican feast.

Follow @SainsburysNews on Instagram and Twitter and lookout for the hashtag #TasteDictionary for the chance of winning one of the dictiomaries.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Win a Nick Jr Goodie Bag with Nick Jr Carol-oke

win, christmas, competition


There is a great opportunity for little ones to appear on TV this Christmas with Nick Jr's Carol-oke. Imagine seeing your pride and joy on the screen in the run up to the big day, as part of a festive Carol-oke version of the classic Christmas song Deck the Halls! How magical would it be, watching your child fa-la-la-la-la-ing on Nick Jr?

To enter, upload a video of your little one (aged between 2 and 7) singing Deck the Halls and fill out the entry form for a chance to see your video appear on TV.  Entries need to be received between 21/11/2016 and 09/12/16. Five lucky winners will be selected every week and the winning entries will then be shown throughout November and December on Nick Jr. The first Carol-oke, featuring the first five winners, will be broadcast on Monday 28th November on Nick Jr.

Competition entry rules state that videos must be more than 10 seconds and under 30 seconds long. They must feature just one child per video and must not show any branding (such as on toys or clothing).  There can also be no background music playing. Entries will be judged on how funny, imaginative or creative they are, so have fun with your entry! 


 Click the button below to take you through to the Nick Jr Carol-oke competition page.



As an extra special treat, Nick Jr are offering one of my readers the chance to win a Nick Jr goody bag,which includes a bag, umbrella, colouring book, crayons and a Ready Steady dough kit . It will make a lovely little gift for a child this Christmas. To win one, simply click through the Carol-oke link using the button above to check out the competition. 


win


Then answer this question using the Rafflecopter entry form below...

What is the missing word? 

DECK THE HALLS WITH BOUGHS OF - - - - -.




a Rafflecopter giveaway



One winner picked at random from all correct entries will win the goody bag. Winner's details must be provided and will be sent to the PR company in order for the prize to be dispatched. UK entrants only. Winner will be drawn after closing date of 12am on Monday 28th November 2016.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Santa at the intu Trafford Centre - The Polar Expedition

Today, we were invited to the intu Trafford Centre to visit The Polar Expedition grotto in Barton Square. Families embark on a magical journey, guided by Eskimo Elves, to meet Santa. This year's grotto is very different to any we have visited before. It really is quite unique.

Christmas


I'm not going to give any spoilers as to what adventures to expect, but prepare to encounter a host of Polar animals and a cute baby reindeer called Norbert. It is truly magical!  You will meet some fun and engaging characters and can even learn some fascinating Polar facts. The experience contains some exciting technology that will thrill the whole family.

intu Trafford Centre


The grotto has been really well constructed with lots of attention to detail. There is so much to look at in the displays and decorations. This year, the grotto has been made in association with Playmobil and there is a giant Playmobil Santa in the entrance of the temporary building in Barton Square.

Christmas


The final stage of the journey takes you to visit Santa himself. I thought it was lovely that Santa talked to all three of my children equally and gave them each a gift. He was engaging and warm. (The gifts they received are good quality.) Santa's elf took photographs that were available to purchase in a variety of photo product options.

Christmas, Manchester


Prices for The Polar Expedition are £7.50 for children, which includes a gift and £5.00 for accompanying adults. You can find out more and book at: intu.co.uk/traffordcentre/event-archive/santa-s-secret-workshop-grotto.

Opening Times:

Until Friday 2 December
Monday-Friday 12noon-6pm
Saturday and Sunday 11am-6pm

Saturday 3 December - Friday 9 December
Monday-Friday 11am-7pm
Saturday and Sunday 9am-8pm

Saturday 10 December - Sunday 18 December
Monday-Friday 10am-9pm
Saturday 8.30am-9pm
Sunday 9am-8pm

Monday 19 December - Christmas Eve
Monday-Friday 8.30am-9pm

Christmas Eve 8.30am 4pm




Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Light Up Christmas with Aldi Specialbuys

The Christmas lights in the major cities have all been switched on and Christmas markets are springing up, up and down the country. This means that the festive season is well and truly upon us. With that in mind, the Aldi Specialbuys that are coming to Aldi stores on November 17th, are perfect for getting our Christmas spirits soaring! They have an incredible range of lights and light-up decorations that will make any home look perfect for the yuletide season, available online and in store.

Christmas, decorations


I received some to try out and am very impressed by the quality, the exciting designs and the price of the products. 

My favourite pieces include the Christmas Tree Snow Globe, which is battery operated with LED bulbs. The crystal-look glass tree has a multi-colour change function and a glitter snow swirl effect. It is mesmerising to watch and the kids love its sparkling, colourful display. At £4.99 it is a real bargain and would be a lovely gift idea for fans of festive frivolities.

Christmas decorations


The Christmas Light Up Globe is a lovely glass cloche on a wooden base. Inside is a bundle of battery operated LED lights that look really pretty. You can choose the plain globe or choose one which also contains mini Christmas trees, baubles or pine cones. Batteries come included so you can set it up straight from the box to bring some light into your life. At £7.99 it's a classy looking ornament.

Christmas decorations, Aldi


The light up canvas wall art pictures depict a festive scene, but have a sophisticated twist having twinkling LED lights integrated into the design. At £3.99 they are a real bargain and make a lovely gift. Choose from Winter Wonderland, Stag, Santa or Festive House. They come complete with batteries and are ready to hang.

Christmas light up canvas


Retro, illuminated, rustic wooden buildings create a charming village scene. There are churches and houses that come with sparkly snow detail and have a soft glow of light shining from the windows. They are really cute and Christmassy and at £9.99 make an impressive display. Batteries are included.

Pathfinder lights help lead the way to your door at nighttime. Choose from Santa, Star, Tree or Ho Ho Ho designs to add some Christmas fun to your garden. They are £14.99 for four, and come with a 10m cable and timer.

Every home needs a 6 foot illuminated inflatable to celebrate Christmas! An inflatable reindeer, Santa, snowman or Christmas tree are available for indoor or temporary outdoor use. They are such fun and just £19.99. They are sure to bring a smile this Christmas.

The Christmas Candle Arch brings festive cheer to the home with its gentle candlelight-like illuminations. Santa's Sleigh, Christmas Trees, Reindeer or Decorative Hearts are available with batteries included for the great price of £9.99.

Aldi, christmas decorations


A set of three decorative presents makes a stylish ornament, featuring 48 warm, white LEDs, an eight function controller and timer. There is a choice of four colours and designs with each set costing £14.99.

Aldi have lots of sets of lights at bargain prices. The 360 LED Christmas Lights set is just £14.99 has eight functions and a timer and can be used indoors or outdoors. 50 cm strings of battery operated garland lights are a pretty way to add some light to a room. At just £3.99 they are a fun addition to your festive decor at a great price and come in a range of designs.

specialbuys, christmas


The range of light up decorations and Christmas lights is excellent for adding some festive flair to your house this Christmas. Remember, the products are only available while stocks last, so be quick if you want to grab a bargain.

Here is a price list of the products that will be available to buy from November 17th:


Lights
360 Icicle £19.99
240 Net Lights £19.99
480 LED Cluster Lights £16.99
360 LED Christmas Lights £14.99
Christmas Pathfinder Lights £14.99
24 Giant Icicle Lights £14.99
10m Rope Light £11.99
Twig Lights £9.99
100 Faceted Cone Lights £9.99
Berry Lights £9.99
Decorative Garland Lights £3.99
Battery Operated Lights £3.99
50 LED Outdoor Lightchain £3.99

Decorations
6ft Christmas Inflatable £19.99
Set Of 3 Parcels £14.99
Christmas Village Scene £9.99
Christmas Candle Arch £9.99
Light Up Christmas Characters £7.99
Holly Effect Topiary Ball £7.99
Christmas Light Up Globe £7.99
Christmas Novelty Snowglobe £4.99
LED Christmas Canvas £3.99
Dancing Flame Candle £3.99
2m Tinsel £0.89
  
Sockets
Remote Controlled Sockets £17.99

Outdoor Socket With Dawn Sensor £12.99

See more details on the Specialbuys at aldi.co.uk.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Christmas Gift ideas for the Kids - Magformers, HEXBUG and #StikBot

This is the time of year when the kids start writing their Christmas Lists for Santa, detailing the presents that they hope will be under the tree on Christmas morning. This year Freddy has requested one of those funny face squishy stress balls with woolly hair.  He is very easily pleased sometimes. 😃 However, I'm sure Santa will be delivering more than just that to my little boy this year!

I have come up with a few Christmas gift ideas for the kids that will hopefully provide a bit of inspiration to anyone who is looking for suggestions of what to buy their children or grandchildren this year. These are pretty cool presents that will appeal to kids of a similar age to Freddy, which is seven.

Magformers

We discovered the award winning Magformers at the Digital Kids Show earlier this year and Freddy absolutely fell in love with it. It is a construction set made up of magnetic geometric shapes that form 3D creations. The pieces connect together using magnetism, which is very satisfying! I was really impressed with the mathematical application of the toy for making nets of 3D shapes. You create the 2D net, then gently lift it and watch the pieces connect into an impressive three dimensional shape. It is a toy that supports brain development through fun and educational exploration. It is also creative and artistic, unleashing a child's imagination. Whatever age the child is, Magformers' educational properties grows with them, from the early skills of shape and colour recognition, through to understanding magnetic forces and building simple 3D shapes right through to KS2 net construction. With the optional addition of wheels, characters, LED light up pieces, engine blocks, power generators and walking blocks, the potential for play just keeps growing.

magnetic construction toy


Freddy loved Magformers so much, we bought him two of the sets from the show and he continues to enjoy playing with them over most other toys. We will be adding to his collection this Christmas.

There are loads of different themed sets to choose from, with prices for all budgets starting at £14.99 for a 14 piece basic set through to £499.99 for the huge Expert Set. Magformers are for ages 3 and up.

You can find Magformers at www.magformers.co.uk


Hexbug Nano V2 Neon Launchpad

Fans of Hexbug Nanos will know that the little scuttling, motorised, gravity defying bugs can crawl, flip and climb - but do you know that now they can also fly? With the Nano V2 Launchpad, the Hexbugs can be launched into the air to hit targets.

HEXBUG, target practice


The 23 piece set assembles into an interactive shooting gallery in neon orange and white, with three adjustable targets. The central base launcher rotates so you can line up the shot ready to launch the Hexbug Nano V2 using the button. The Hexbug soars through the air and if the shot is on target, it will scurry down the neon tube back to the launchpad ready to play again.

HEXBUG


The Launchpad set adds an element of challenge to the Hexbug brand, giving children the chance to test their aim and their target skills. One Hexbug Nano V2 is included in the set so it comes ready for playing with. The set is connectable to other Hexbug sets for added value and fun.

The Hexbug Nano V2 Neon Launchpad is £29.99 RRP.  You can find out more at www.hexbug.com/nano/v2/hexbug-nano-v2-neon-launchpad.html.


#StikBot Zanimation Studio

The award winning Stikbots, from Brainstorm, allows children to unleash their inner film maker and produce their own stop motion animations using two fully poseable plastic stickmen characters. Used in conjunction with the free iOS or Android app, Zing Studio, the green screen technology allows the #StikBot characters to star in their own animated movies with cool backgrounds, created using a smartphone. You can use your own photos or choose a background from the app library. Sound effects and audio can also be added.

Stop Motion Animation


The set includes two StikBots, which come with suction cups on their hands and feet to facilitate dynamic poses, a tripod and a 2 in 1 Z-Screen glossy cardboard stage. The app is free to download.

stop motion animation, animation app


This is a brilliantly creative toy that uses technology in an incredible way to get kids making their own movies. It is an accessible introduction to the art of stop motion animation using the app on a smartphone. Kids are encouraged to share their creations with the #StickBot community.

This is a toy that can be added to with other #StickBot sets or used with other little toys to create bespoke animations. As a starter set to this genre of film making, it makes a great gift idea. I wish things like this existed when I was a child. It is brilliant, inspiring, creative and a whole lot of fun.

We'll be sharing some of Freddy's animations in the new year. Who knows? This could be the start of a Nick Park-esque career as an award winning animator!

The Zanimation Studio is £19.99 RRP, available from Amazon, Tesco Direct and Smyth's. Find out more about the #StikBot Zanimation Studio.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Christmas Gift Ideas for Vegetarians and Vegans

When you have anyone with alternative dietary or lifestyle needs in the family, some thought has to be made to ensure that the gift you choose is appropriate. As the mum of a family where the majority of us are vegetarian and vegan, I am used to sometimes having to think outside the box when it comes to buying gifts or developing our own family traditions at Christmas. I enjoy sourcing ethical gifts, dairy-free chocolates, vegan nut roasts and cruelty free products at this time of year, to keep our celebrations in line with our beliefs.

Buying presents needn't be a daunting task. Here are some cheap and cheerful, yet thoughtful ideas for what to get for the vegan in your life!

There is an increasing number of stockists of vegan confectionery with brands such as Booja-Booja, Plamil, Moo Free and the Fabulous Freedom Factory producing exciting chocolate gifts. Even supermarkets are doing their own Free-From ranges including sweets and chocolates.

Vegan Chocolate


Check out Vegan Town who do an excellent £20 vegan treat box containing 10 to 14 vegan chocolate, sweets and cruelty free goodies. They are available as a one off purchase or as a monthly subscription. I bought one last year and it was incredible. No one has to miss out on sweet treats this Christmas! 

Cosmetic companies such as Lush, Montagne Jeunesse and The Body Shop are all proud to be cruelty free, so it's easy to buy lovely toiletries and cosmetics, which always make great gifts.

Faith in Nature is a British company that produces an organic, cruelty free, vegan range of products that use the power of plants for their healing properties and gorgeous fragrances, just as nature intended. They are free from Parabens and SLS so contain no nasty toxins and are packaged using recycled plastic. 

vegan toiletries


I love their Pineapple and Lime shampoo and conditioner, made with an uplifting blend of pineapple, lime and mango, bursting with tropical fragrances. It is fruity and fresh, bringing some much needed sunshine into your morning shower. The handmade Faith in Nature soaps contain essential oils and natural ingredients. The Coconut Soap has a lush tropical scent and moisturising properties. The soaps come individually wrapped in 100g bars. The Rejuvenating Facial Wash contains aloe vera which has antioxidant properties. It is a simple product that foams with water, cleanses, refreshes and feels nice on the skin. The Restorative Hand Cream contains hemp oil which is rich in Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and minerals. It's a great saviour product for the winter, keeping hands soft and moisturised.

It makes a very thoughtful gift to buy a selection of products such as these and package them up in a basket, box or bag, to make a bespoke pamper hamper. Faith in Nature products can be purchased at discounted rates at www.discount-supplements.co.uk, online suppliers of health and fitness items at low prices. Prices start at £1.81 for the bar of soap to £6.05 for the hand cream.

Kitchen gadgets always make great gifts for aspiring vegan cooks. Shops such as Lakeland stock lots of gadgets and gizmos, some with a novelty touch, some more serious. When it comes to a fun kitchen gadget that has a real Christmas vibe, the Chef'n Twist 'n Sprout is perfect. If you are a fan of vegetables - and in particular Brussels Sprouts - this is an excellent gift idea. It's a bit of a novelty - but is also actually pretty useful when it comes to making Christmas dinner.

sprout peeler


Preparing sprouts is pretty laborious, but with the Twist 'n Sprout, it is much more fun. This gadget has a circular blade with a point. You pierce the stem with the point and then it works like a reverse pencil sharpener, boring out the core with a simple twist. It trims the outer leaves and takes out the core for evenly cooking your sprouts. It'll be a god send on Christmas Day!

The Twist 'n Sprout is £7.95 from Lakeland.

Another great gift idea for vegans and vegetarians is to make your own bespoke hamper, filled with exciting foodie products. It's great at this time of year because there is such a lot of choice in supermarkets, pop-up shops, food halls in garden centres or from gourmet brands. Many products are accidentally vegan so just check the labels when you are shopping. You'll be surprised how many products are suitable.  Here is a selection of some really interesting foodie treats that are perfect for Christmas.

Christmas food


Barry Norman is best known for being a movie buff, but he also makes some excellent premium pickled onions, which taste as good as homemade ones. They are hot and spicy, crisp and crunchy, adapted from a nineteenth century family recipe. A festive essential! RRP £2.40 from Ocado.

Clement Faugier's Vanilla Chestnut Spread is a festive treat containing crushed candied chestnuts in a sweetened, vanilla flavoured chestnut puree. Eat it on its own or with vegan ice cream, on crepes, in a pastry or as a topping for toast. Christmas in a can! It is available from Waitrose for £2.05.

Opies is a family owned food company dating back to the 1880's. Their quality foods are just perfect for Christmastime. Take for example their Pickled Walnuts, packed by hand these are a world renowned English delicacy. Great with some vegan cheeses and crackers on Boxing day.  They make a delicious sounding potato, mushroom and walnut salad. £2.49 from Ocado.

Opie's Stem Ginger in The Famous Grouse Whisky is new for 2016. Young ginger stem is carefully preserved in an alcoholic syrup, and is another Christmas essential. It can be used in recipes or poured over vegan ice cream for a simple, but very indulgent dessert!  It is £8.00 from Ocado. 

See the whole range with many vegan and veggie friendly products at www.opiesfoods.com.


Whoever you are buying for this year, just have fun with it and enjoy giving something thoughtful!

Monday, 7 November 2016

Introducing Callie - the newest member of the clan

On November 5th, my son Joe and his wife Jade (from Late For Reality) made Ian and I proud grandparents for the second time with the birth of their beautiful daughter Callie.

Weighing in at just 6 lb 14 oz, Callie is an adorably tiny little girl with a spattering of dark hair and the longest toes I have ever seen on a newborn. She is content, alert and so very snuggly. Just perfect.

We couldn't be prouder of Jade and Joe and are so grateful to them both for giving us the honour of being Nana Wendy and Guitar Grandad again. Jade did an amazing job making sure that she had the birth that she wanted, showing a real strength and determination. We are equally proud of our grandson Ted who has taken his new role as big brother in his stride. He is a credit to his mummy and daddy.

Family really is everything to me, and I adore each and every one of our ever growing clan!

family, grandparents

baby

family, new baby, three generations

Christmas Gift Ideas for the Grown Ups - featuring Zippo, HARIBO, Sugru, Dorco and Danger Mouse

If, like me, you now have grown-up children, they can often prove quite tricky to buy for. Even though three of my kids are now in their 20's, they still enjoy being part of a family Christmas and that includes finding a Christmas stocking and tree presents on Christmas morning. Here are some ideas for presents suitable for the grown-ups that work well as stocking fillers or for Secret Santa gifts. They are practical gifts with a quirky twist for the young at heart and are all good value for money.

Dorco Eve 6 Razor Subscription

How many of us at some point have shaved our legs using an old, blunt or rusty razor?  I know I have and I've got the nicks and scars to prove it. Why not avoid this from ever happening to a loved one again by gifting a subscription for the Dorco EVE 6 razor. Experts in shaving technology for over 60 years Dorco's  EVE 6, is their first UK razor for women.

Promising some of the best razor technology around, the Dorco EVE 6 has six blades, split into a unique 3 double blade format to contour to your body shape; ergonomic, non-slip handle and a multi-flex pivoting head. The moisturising band contains soothing, calming  aloe, moisturising, anti-oxidant Vitamin E and rejuvenating, calming lavender to avoid irritation. It promises a shave like no other!

Christmas gift ideas, razors


You can purchase the Dorco EVE 6 either as a one-off or as a convenient subscription straight to your door.  Order the  Dorco EVE 6 from just RRP £4.55 at www.razorsbydorco.co.uk.  Subscriptions, which include replacement heads start at £5.45 a month. Men's razors and subscriptions are also available.


Zippo Candle Lighter

I love candles, especially during the winter months, where they add a lovely warming ambience to the room. The Zippo Candle Lighter is a great addition to any candle loving home, making lighting candles easier, safer and more efficient.

The attractive slimline, brushed chrome lighter has a soft touch ignition system and adjustable flame dial and has child safety features. The lighter has a good weight and feel and has the quality that you expect from the Zippo brand. Its length means you can light a candle wick, lantern or fire without burning your fingers. It comes in a plastic case with full instructions and has a three year warranty.

Christmas gift ideas


At £13.75 RRP it is a lovely gift idea, especially if teamed with a gorgeous scented candle (and a can of butane, which is not included with the lighter).

See the Zippo range at www.zippo.co.uk.


Sugru Rebel Tech Kit for technology hacks

This is a great stocking filler for the tech lovers in the family. The kit comes with a booklet featuring 14 awesome DIY tech projects that allow you to get the most out of your technology. Using Sugru mouldable glue, there are a whole host of life hacks that you can carry out from repairing frayed cables to organising storage to pimping games controllers to making DIY security cameras. The Sugru can be moulded by hand and in 24 hours turns into a strong flexible silicone rubber. This allows it to be used in a host of inventive ways for both fixing and hacking your tech.

At just £10 it is a lovely gift idea, perfect for a Secret Santa present. The smart little kit contains the booklet, 4 single use packs of Sugru in red, black, grey and white, a storage tin and a Sugru remover.

Find out more at www.sugru.com/tech-gadget.

Christmas, mouldable glue, tech hacks


HARIBO Mega Stars Selection Box

We all know grown-ups love HARIBO just as much as the kids do, so the brand new Mega Stars Selection Box is a great little gift idea for adult sweetie eaters. The 300g presentation box includes a selection of HARIBO favourites - Starmix, Tangfastics, Super Mix and Giant Strawbs. Best of all for me, the Giant Strawbs are suitable for vegetarians!  Look out for the larger 600g selection, which is perfect for parties. Also check out the HARIBO Starmix & Tangfastics Crackers, perfect for stocking fillers. 

Christmas, sweets


Find out more about the HARIBO range at www.haribo.com.


Danger Mouse Merchandise

I love it when an iconic and much loved thing from my own past celebrates a resurgence and becomes popular again. That is what has happened with the brilliant Danger Mouse, bringing rise to a host of cool merchandise this Christmas. From mugs to jigsaws to books to toys to DVDs, Danger Mouse and his sidekick Penfold are still going strong 35 years on!

For grown-up Danger Mouse fans, there are some great T-shirts available at Debenhams and from Asda George. The blue Debenhams T-shirt comes in a lovely presentation slip box and features Danger Mouse declaring himself "The Boss!" on the front. At £18 RRP, it is good quality and makes a great gift idea for one of the men/ Danger Mouse fans in your life.

Christmas gifts, DM


The Asda T-Shirt is priced at £8. George also does mens' PJ bottoms for £10. Danger Mouse also has a range of baby clothes in Mothercare, which is adorable! A set consisting of a babygro, bodysuit and bib with a comic book style design is £15.99.


Friday, 4 November 2016

Bonfire Night Food Review Round Up - featuring Heinz and #PopWorks

This weekend is set to go off with a bang as Bonfire Night is celebrated. It's a great time of year for families to get together to enjoy a bonfire party or a firework display. I've been sent some food samples that will make great additions to any November 5th celebrations.

Heinz Classic Soups

The nation's favourite canned soups make an easy, warming, wholesome treat for a cold autumnal evening. Served in a bowl or a cup, soup is the ultimate comfort food for this time of year. We received five vegetarian varieties from the Heinz Classic Soup range: tomato, carrot & coriander, potato & leek, vegetable and lentil.

soup


All, bar the potato and leek soup, provide one of your five a day in each tasty serving and they keep you feeling full for longer making them a good food for anyone watching their waistlines in the run up to Christmas. They are also really good for when you are feeling full of cold!

Heinz Classic Cream of Tomato Soup is one of Freddy's favourite foods. He loves it as an after school snack and I'm happy he is getting something healthy and well balanced.

Find Heinz Classic Soups in supermarkets nationwide.


Pop Works Flavoured Popcorn

There is a new range of popcorn on the market for those looking for some unique, quirky tasting snacks that are a bit different to the norm. In Apple Pie, Sticky Toffee Pudding, Peanut Butter & Caramel and Sweet & Salty flavours, it is perfect for sharing as you watch the fireworks!

popcorn


Using a wet popping method, the popcorn is very light and crunchy. Each piece is lightly dusted with a delicious, flavoured coating for a taste sensation.

I received the Peanut Butter & Caramel flavour and the Sticky Toffee Pudding flavour to test out. They are extremely moreish! I liked the fact that they are dusted rather than coated with sticky caramel. It makes it easier to tuck in and share. The Peanut Butter & Caramel flavour was so good with the saltiness and sweetness combining nicely with a hint of peanuts for a very tasty satisfying snacking experience. Pop Works popcorn is a really fun treat from a brand that doesn't take itself too seriously - but that knows how to make a seriously good snack.

popcorn


Pop Works popcorn is available in supermarkets nationwide priced at £1.49 for a 90g bag.

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