Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Paradise Wildlife Park - Snoozzze at the Zoo Review

Paradise Wildlife Park

Paradise Wildlife Park is a zoo set in the heart of the Hertfordshire countryside.  It is home to over 400 animals living in enclosures within the landscaped grounds.  Glass windows, viewing platforms and high walkways offer guests brilliant views of the animals, who are all very happy, healthy and well cared for.

We were invited along to enjoy a VIP experience at Paradise Wildlife Park, staying in one of their amazing onsite apartments for a Snoozzze at the Zoo! 

It was a three hour drive to PWP from our home in Shropshire.  We arrived at the Discovery Centre where we were given some much appreciated hot chocolates and biscuits and were briefed about our stay.  We were given our VIP wristbands and shown to our apartment, which was absolutely brilliant.  The Zebra Apartment was spacious, bright and airy and spotlessly clean.  The apartment is decorated using zebra print accessories including rugs, cushions, bed covers, headboards, canvas artwork and an armchair. The apartment sleeps up to 8 people.

There are two bedrooms, one twin and a double with very comfy beds, fluffy pillows, thick duvets and crisp white bed linen.  Both have a dressing table and a wall mounted TV.  A hairdryer is included in the double room.  The bathroom is huge with a large walk-in shower and plenty of fluffy, white towels.  Complimentary toiletries are included.  A kitchenette area includes a microwave, a fridge and coffee making facilities.  There is also a good supply of crockery and cutlery in the cupboards.  A utility cupboard includes an iron and ironing board and extra bed linen if you need to make up the sofa beds in the lounge area.  There is a big TV on the wall in the lounge which has lots of Freeview channels, there is also a DVD player and a selection of family films to watch.  The design and the specification of the apartment is impressive and we were all incredibly impressed.

Paradise Wildlife Park


The VIP wristbands granted us unlimited access to the zoo during opening hours plus gave us some extra perks such as a free train ride, free food pot and a round of mini golf.  Unfortunately, the St.Jude hurricane had uprooted some trees the night before we arrived, one of which had damaged the golf course so this was out of bounds.  A team was hard at work fixing the damage.  They were also working hard to keep the pathways clear of fallen leaves.  The post-storm weather for the days we were there was glorious, autumnal and crisp with clear blue skies.  We were very lucky.

There are a lot of play areas for the kids.  Slides, swings, playhouses, ride on toys, giant building bricks and a sandpit allow little ones to let off steam.  Regular keeper talks and shows on the central stage keep everyone entertained.  Halloween activities are taking place this half term and Freddy enjoyed watching four dancers lip synch and dance to some spooky songs while dressed in Halloween costumes!  There was a magician who made balloon models on afterwards.  A soft play area gives children an all weather play area to enjoy, while parents keep an eye on them.  PWP is also home to the National Speedway Museum.

 Freddy really loved the play equipment and his favourite was an old 60's Dennis Fire Engine that had been converted into a wonderful play thing. Freddy pretended he was a fireman, driving the engine and rushing to put out fires.  He also loved the old Gypsy Caravan which was over 100 years old and had been adapted with a slide coming out the back. Both demonstarte an inventive use of old vehicles giving them a new lease of life.

The Woodland Train is a little ride that goes on tracks through the woods where you can see model dinosaurs.  All the children onboard were very excited by it and some even screamed as we went past the T-Rex!  It costs £1 to ride the train, but it is free to VIPs.

Paradise Wildlife Park

But the star attraction of Paradise Wildlife Park is the animals!  From farmyard friends to the big cat collection to the penguin colony, all the animals were active and happy, keeping the guests entertained with their antics.  A Rainforest enclosure, Bat House and a Reptile Temple made interesting exhibits for smaller animals.  The zoo is home is the UK's biggest snake, a green anaconda called Optimus Prime.  He was huge! We loved the zebras who were gorgeous, and the rare White Lion family was a joy to behold.  Ares the Jaguar was a real hit as he stared at us through the mesh cage.  He was a powerful and beautiful creature.  We also saw wolves, lemurs, gibbons, meerkats, reindeer, camels, wallabies, tapir and some gorgeous red pandas among others.  I was surprised at how close up many of the animals were, and we all enjoyed being able to get a good view of them in their enclosures.  They are definitely the most human-friendly zoo animals I have encountered.

Paradise Wildlife Park

We enjoyed our evening in the apartment.  Once the zoo is closed, apartment guests have access to a back gate so they can go offsite to visit a restaurant for their evening meal.  The key fob activates the electric fence on your return.  We got ourselves a bit lost, but thankfully we had the phone number of a member of staff who is on call to guest who guided us home and then checked up on us later to see if we were OK.  Great service indeed!

The apartment was surprisingly quiet and peaceful overnight, but the gibbons sounded dawn chorus providing a wonderfully exotic alarm call in the morning!  Perfect.

Apartment guests are treated to an exclusive VIP breakfast at the Tiger Treetops restaurant in the morning.  Walking through the zoo before its official opening time afforded us an incredible view of the big cats who were as interested in us as we were in them. The restaurant is up a walkway overlooking the Amur Tiger enclosure where three gorgeous tigers live including Rocky the big male tiger. We were shown to a beautifully laid table and enjoyed a continental buffet breakfast while the tigers wandered around just a few feet from where we were sat.  It was quite an experience!  The waitress was attentive and friendly.

As we finished eating, the big cat keeper popped in and told us about the animals.  His passion, enthusiasm and knowledge was incredible.  He loved the animals he cared for and it came across loud and clear.  Another member of the team then took us on a guided tour of some of the areas of the zoo, and again his passion for his job came through.  We learned lots of interesting facts about the zoo, the animals, conservation and breeding programmes.  It is clear how much the employees of the zoo love what they do and the staff are all friendly, open and happy to chat to guests about the animals.

Paradise Wildlife Park

A part of this tour included a hands on animal encounter.  My girls absolutely loved this part of the day as they got to handle a Royal Python, Bearded Dragon and Gecko.  Freddy wasn't prepared to hold anything but was very interested albeit wary!  I fell in love with a Gecko.  It was so soft, almost velvety and sat happily in my hand while I admired his beautiful markings.  We also got to see some animal artifacts including a huge elephant tusk that had been confiscated by customs officers.  It was educational and an amazing opportunity that we all felt so lucky to have.  Unfortunately the unusual Tenrec was too grumpy to handle, but we got to look at this unusual creature in his house.  He looked like a cross between a mole and a hedgehog, but is actually related to an elephant!  A very strange little fella indeed.

  The zoo staff couldn't have been more friendly or helpful.  The facilities are good and there is a range of restaurants and kiosks for food.  There are vegetarian options available, so we had veggie burgers with chips and side salad  for our lunch which were pretty good and priced at £6.95.  Kids' lunch boxes are also available and Freddy enjoyed his cheese sandwich, drink, chocolate biscuits, apple and crisps which cost £4.95. There is ample seating throughout the park, and areas where you can enjoy picnics if you bring your own food to eat.

 Having the apartment on site is a real bonus when you have kids with you as you can access it throughout the day if you need a rest, a toilet stop or want to pick up or drop off something.  The Snoozzze at the Zoo VIP package is an excellent way to celebrate a special occasion in a never-to-be-forgotten, once-in-a-lifetime way. 

Paradise Wildlife Park


The VIP Snoozzze at the Zoo package staying in the Zebra Apartment costs from £599.
  • A fantastic and rare opportunity to stay over night at the animal park and experience the atmosphere and sounds of the wild as the sun goes down.
  • Enjoy a sumptuous continental style breakfast whilst taking in the breathtaking images of the tigers from Tiger Treetops restaurant. It's almost as if they are dining with you! (served between 8:30-9:30am).
  • Plus 2 whole days for you to enjoy and experience everything that Paradise Wildlife Park has to offer including the animal park, attractions & shows from 9.30am until closing time.
  • Plus animal feed bags to hand feed some of our animals with their favourite treats.
  • Plus a round of Safari Golf on the superb 18 hole course.
  • Plus a ride on the Woodland Railway.
  • Plus a fantastic opportunity to get hands on with some of "cute and cuddly" animal friends while an experienced and knowledgable animal team member gives you a guided tour of the animal park. Purely for apartment guests only! (9:30am - 10:30am)
  • Plus VIP wrist bands for both days of your stay.
  • Information pack which includes a local map highlighting locations of some of our favourite local restaurants, cinema, shopping centers etc.

Find out more about Paradise Wildlife Park and the Snoozzze at the Zoo packages on the website.  Plus discover details of PWP's extensive range of Animal Encounters, Experience Days, Zookeeper Experiences and Tours.

We were invited to enjoy the Snoozzze at the Zoo experience for the purpose of this review but no additional costs were met nor payment received.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Teksta - First Robotic Puppy in Space


Find out what happens when they send a Teksta robotic toy puppy into space and let him fall back to earth in a spectacular space jump!  Teksta is a real 21st century toy for techno-kids to love!

For this space jump Teksta faced some real extremes!

Teksta went up to an altitude of 97,000ft before returning to earth by Parachute.

He endured temperatures as low as -61 Celsius

Take a look at this video to see how Teksta got on.  It's pretty impressive!

TalkTalk's Halloween Horror Fest!

It's Halloween and if you want to celebrate by taking in some top scary movies, then look no further than TalkTalk Box Office!  With titles including Night of the Living Dead, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Zombieland, Fright Night 2, Jennifer's Body, Hide and Seek, The Pact and Warm Bodies, there are plenty of spooky movies to give you all the scares you want!

TalkTalk are also running a promotion of '3 movies for £3 for 3 days' starting on the 31st October on the selected titles: Jennifer's Body, Hide and Seek and Zombieland. The promotion will save you £4.50 and give you a heap of great entertainment straight to your TV!

We were given the chance to watch Zombieland on TalkTalk Box Office.  It is an American zombie comedy starring Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin.   As survivors of a zombie apocalypse, they take a trip across the US in an attempt to find a sanctuary free from zombies.

movies, film, Halloween

This film is great! It features laughs, scares, guns, love, loss, redemption, gore and of course zombies.  It is a breath of fresh air in the zombie genre.  The opening scene is absolutely perfect and so funny, setting the scene for the rest of the movie.   Bill Murray has a cameo role in the film that is absolute genius.  The zombies are despatched in a host of inventive ways that give you plenty of ideas in case the zombie apocalypse ever occurs!  I think this is the role that Woody Harrelson has been waiting for.  He is brilliantly cast as zombie killing Tallahassee playing it with great comic timing, coolness and charisma.  We loved it!

TalkTalk Box Office is super easy to use and you can watch your film of choice instantly from the comfort of your own home.  So there is no need to venture out into the cold, dark night this Halloween to rent a movie!

So grab your popcorn, snuggle up on the sofa and enjoy three nights of top scary entertainment with TalkTalk this Halloween!

Monday, 28 October 2013

What Fred Said This Week About Spiders and Noisy Girls

Possibly my favourite ever Fredism has been said this week.  He and Kizzy were playing at being superheroes when Kizzy broke wind.  In a dramatic voice Freddy announced while falling over:

"I was distracted by the power of the fart!"

He went on to be distracted by the power of kisses, hugs, duvets, kicks, hair, mummy and magic.  Where he gets his ideas from I don't know!

Freddy had his first school disco and had a wonderful time dressed as a cute little vampire.  When he was picked up he said, "I love my school, it has discos!"  I am so glad he is such a happy schoolboy!

Count Fred-ula

We're off to a sleepover at Paradise Wildlife Park tomorrow where we'll be getting up close to some of the animals including a tarantula.  I told Fred he'd be able to see one.
"Great!" he said.  "What's a tarantula?"
"It's a big, hairy spider!" I told him.
"Eurgh, I don't like that at all!" he said grossed out at the prospect.
"But they eat all the naughty spiders," Ella added to try to make him feel happier about it.
"Oh in that case I like them.  Are they like Superhero spiders then?"
I hope he won't be disappointed in the real thing when he realises it isn't wearing a cape.

Today was Kizzy's belated birthday party and we were doing face painting.  Freddy very gently painted his sister with a line and some squiggles.  We told him it was lovely and asked what it was.
"It's a bum with stink coming out of it!!"  Charming.

Noisy Girl!!

He had a lovely time at his sister's party surrounded by rowdy and very noisy 11 year olds.  But he did say "The girls hurt my ears!!"

Earlier we went to soft play with his two cousins Addy 5 and Dylan 3. All went well until Freddy decided he wanted to be the youngest.  But as he is 4, this was impossible!   He wanted me to tell Addy that she was wrong and was so adamant that he wanted to be younger than his three year cousin, but still be four! He had a mini meltdown regarding this issue, but thankfully he pulled it back and they all enjoyed an extra little play time in the outdoor play area where they shouted "I love you", at each other.  So sweet (eventually!)

Said it Saturday

Just Dance 2014

Just in time for Christmas, here is the latest installment of the number one selling dance game brand, Just Dance 2014.  With 47 tracks featuring some of the hottest new hits alongside some classic golden oldies, there really is something for everyone.  With genres from pop to funk to R & B to hip hop, there is plenty of choice when it comes to picking a tune to bust your moves to.  It's great to see a game which gets the whole family getting up out of their chairs and being active together.

There are a host of new features on Just Dance 2014 to maximize the play experience.

World Dance Floor:  Dance with anyone anywhere in the world in Just Dance’s first-ever online multiplayer mode. Players join a virtual crew and compete against each other and track their standing on global leader boards.

On Stage Mode:  Own the spotlight in this new mode where one player takes centre stage leading two back-up dancers and singing along to the track! 

Evolved Sweat Mode:  Players can personalize their Just Sweat workouts by creating custom playlists and tracking calories. There’s also a new option that will allow the players, in all gameplay modes to track calories/time spent dancing/number of songs played.  Perfect to help us all keep fit!

More Dances Per Track:  Find alternate choreography across all modes including Just Sweat, Extreme, Battle and Mash-Up to keep it fresh and bring variety to the game.

dance games


Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) – ABBA
The Way – Ariana Grande Ft. Mac Miller
Could You Be Loved – Bob Marley
Isidora – Bog Bog Orkestar
Fine China – Chris Brown
Limbo – Daddy Yankee
Get Lucky – Daft Punk Ft. Pharrell Williams
Moskau – Dancing Bros.
She Wolf (Falling To Pieces) – David Guetta Ft. Sia
Prince Ali – Disney’s Aladdin
It’s You – Duck Sauce
Turn Up The Love – Far East Movement Ft. Cover Drive
Alfonso Signorini (Eroe Nazionale) – Fedez
The Love Boat – Frankie Bostello
Careless Whisper – George Michael
I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor
Rich Girl – Gwen Stefani Ft. Eve
Feel So Right – Imposs Ft. Konshens
Wild – Jessie J Ft. Big Sean
I Kissed A Girl – Katy Perry
C’mon – Ke$ha
Applause – Lady Gaga
Just Dance – Lady Gaga Ft. Colby O’Donis
Just A Gigolo – Louis Prima
Blame It On The Boogie – Mick Jackson
In The Summertime – Mungo Jerry
Pound The Alarm – Nicki Minaj
Starships – Nicki Minaj
Troublemaker – Olly Murs Ft. Flo Rida
Kiss You – One Direction
Feel This Moment – Pitbull Ft. Christina Aguilera
Gentleman – PSY
Ghostbusters – Ray Parker Jr.
Maria – Ricky Martin
Where Have You Been – Rihanna
Candy – Robbie Williams
Blurred Lines – Robin Thicke Ft. Pharrell
99 Luftballons – Rutschen Planeten
Miss Understood – Sammie
Nitro Bot – Sentai Express
Danse (Pop version) – TAL
Flashdance…What A Feeling – The Girly Team
Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In – The Sunlight Shakers
Y.M.C.A. – Village People
#thatPOWER – Ft. Justin Bieber

Follow The Leader – Wisin & Yandel Ft. Jennifer Lopez

We were sent a Wii disc to try out and I set my Tiny Tester Team to work, putting the game through its paces.  Blurred Lines and PSY's Gentleman were quickly the front runners for favourite songs to dance to!  They were impressed with the sensitivity of the controllers and found that even during interactions with other players, the connection with the game was uninterrupted.

The dance routines are really good with lots of good moves and the songs are really varied.  The kids really love this game and agree it's the best one yet!

Available for Wii, PS3, XBox 360, Wii U, XBox One and PS4 priced from £23.99 to £34.99.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Storecupboard Challenge #onamission

Five Ways with Wraps - quick and easy meal ideas using food from the store cupboard!

It's the final week of my Mission Wraps Lunch Less Ordinary Blogger Challenge.  So far I've let Freddy make lunch and eat it in a den, Kizzy has rapped a wrap rap, I've made wraps inspired by The Avengers and we've done a blind taste test of inventive wrap fillings.

This week is a challenge perfect for these times of austerity...we've been challenged to do a week of meals using store cupboard staples, Mission Deli Wraps and a meager £5 budget.  That is five meals using only things I've got in the house and a few essentials.  Not only do the meals have to be cheap they also have to be fun and make a lunch less ordinary for us to enjoy!  We need to be creative and outgoing and make something that stands out from the crowd.  Challenge accepted!!

My store cupboards and freezer are quite well stocked so with the £5 budget I purchased cheese (£1.67), eggs (£1), soya cream (79p) and mushrooms (£1).  These are the recipes I came up with, all made using tins and jars from my cupboard and packets from my freezer...and of course, Mission Deli Wraps. They are great recipes for using up leftover bits and bobs in the fridge, so use them as a guide for meal ideas and get creative.  I call it kitchen alchemy!!  Knock up a lunch less ordinary without spending too much of your hard earned money and without letting any of your weekly shopping go to waste!!!

Wrap Lasagne

An quick and easy alternative to pasta lasagne that fits perfectly into a round ovenproof dish!

Quorn mince
Can of green lentils
Carton of tomato and roasted onion passata
Squeezable garlic and basil taste
Mission Deli Wraps Wheat and White
Grated cheese


Put lentils, Quorn, passata and a teaspoon of basil and garlic paste in a saucepan and cook through.
Layer the filling with wraps in a round ovenproof dish  and sprinkle on grated cheese.
Bake it at GM6 for 25 minutes.
Serve cut into wedges.


Easy Enchiladas

A family favourite in our house! It's easy and you can use any leftovers to tweak the recipe.  Using a jar of ready made salsa (I use Morrison's value salsa which is only 69p) makes an excellent creamy enchilada topping sauce in a flash.

Quorn Pieces
Onion sliced
Mushroom Sliced
Sweetcorn (half a can we had leftover in the fridge!)
Can of butter beans
Sachet of Fajita seasoning

Quorn Multigrain Deli Wraps

Small pot of single cream
1 egg
Jar of salsa sauce (the sort you use to dip tortilla chips!)


Fry up the onions, Quorn pieces, mushrooms and seasoning.
Throw in beans and sweetcorn (and anything left lurking in the fridge!)
Roll a spoonful up in a wrap and put into ovenproof dish.
Make sauce by mixing egg, cream and salsa.
Pour over and sprinkle cheese on top.
Cook at GM6 for 25 minutes.

Mission Deli Wrap recipes

Wrap Bowls

A fun way to serve up any dinner leftovers or meals you have frozen.  Plus you can eat the serving bowl afterwards!!

1 Mission Deli Wrap per person
1 portion of stew, curry, bolognese sauce ...anything goes!

Make a tortilla bowl by pushing wraps onto the underside of a muffin pan and baking at GM 6 for 10 minutes until crispy.

recipe, vegetarian, wrap bowls

Serve with a tasty filling.  We used a homemade red lentil and chickpea curry that I had previously frozen in the freezer.
It's pretty, it's fun and it's totally delicious!

Tortilla wrap bowl, vegetarian

Mini Quiches

A super quick, super easy, healthy alternative to calorie and fat heavy pastry!  The wrap base is a perfect way of making a quiche using an egg and cheese and any chopped veg you have in the fridge!

(per six mini quiches)
1 Mission Deli wrap
1 egg
Grated cheese leftovers
Any finely chopped veg you have (we used some slightly bendy old spring onions!)
Ground pepper

vegetarian quiche recipe, low fat quiche

Using a cutter, or by cutting around a plastic cup with a sharp knife, make six rounds of wrap, slightly bigger than the holes in a fairy cake tray.
Whisk egg and add grated cheese...any types.  It's a great way of using up leftovers.
Add any chopped up vegetables you fancy.  Again, use up leftovers.
Season and then spoon onto wrap rounds.
Cook at GM6 for about 10 minutes.

veggie quiche, no pastry quiche

Crispy Crumb Topped Pasta

Making the mini quiches meant we had a lot of off-cuts of wraps, which we would not waste!  It wouldn't be in keeping with the store cupboard challenge!  So I used them to make a crumb topping.

Tortilla wrap off cuts
Parmesan cheese
teaspoon of mixed herbs
ground pepper

Mission Wraps

Put the ingredients into a food processor and blitz them to a fine crumb.
Make a pasta sauce (I used pasata, mushroom and Quorn pieces with Italian herb seasoning and garlic paste).
Pour over cooked pasta in an ovenproof dish.
Sprinkle over the crumb.
Bake at GM6 for 20 minutes.

vegetarian recipe, pasta

I am so impressed with how versatile Mission Deli Wraps are, and I have had so much fun experimenting with the food in my kitchen!

Thank you to Mission Deli Wraps for this fabulous challenge.  Follow Mission on Facebook   for lots of fun and inspiration plus details of how to win £10,000!!

Saturday, 26 October 2013

How to Keep the Spark in your Relationship

However much I love my husband, there are times when I know I neglect us as a couple.  With all the pressures of family life, it's easy to let your relationship take a back seat.  It's easy to concentrate on the kids and give them 100% of your focus.  But one day they will leave home and you will find that it is just the two of you.  You owe it to future-you to pay some attention to your marriage, creating a strong foundation for the future and setting a good example to your children so they can go on to have good relationships in their lives.

I was lucky enough to have a transatlantic phone consultation with relationship expert and love guru Matthew Hussey as part of the date night campaign with Head and Shoulders. He told me some great tips on how to keep our relationship fresh and offered some helpful suggestions on how to make magic moments that will reconnect us and provide a framework upon which to grow together.  Making new rituals will help condition us into making our relationship better and build a relationship that will withstand the test of time.

1- Take time on your personal grooming so you look good and feel good.  Pamper yourself before a special date and enjoy making yourself look beautiful. (And if your other half complains you are taking too long getting ready, just remind them that you enjoy making yourself look beautiful for him!)

Head and Shoulders, Olay, OralB

2- Give your partner a compliment.  Think of something new to compliment them on and mean it.  Think about the little things that you love about them and let them know.  Make them feel loved and cherished and never taken for granted.

3- Recognise the different types of affection that you share with your partner and aim to add some extra ways to touch them that will keep them guessing.  Ian and I are really quite demonstrative and if I ever reach out to gently stroke his back or squeeze his arm, whilst we're doing the weekly grocery shopping or some other mundane task, it always makes him smile and silently reminds him that he is loved.  It's an unexpected  chance to connect in everyday moments.

4- Live in the present and dream of the future!  Look forward to something together.  Plan a trip, discuss your retirement or plan a date night!  Think of something that excites you that you can talk about and take mutual pleasure in.  Don't dwell on the comfortable familiarity of yesterday.  Look towards tomorrow and focus on the good things you are yet to enjoy.

5- Connect to each other through a shared activity.  Maybe take a course, learn a language, research something that interests you.  Having something new and different to talk about (other than work, money or the kids) that will inspire interesting and new channels of conversation.  Doing so helps you to grow yourself and open up the world to you both.

6- Rekindle early habits and set new routines into motion.  Don't focus on a one off grand gesture, instead work on a new set of practices that you can adopt into everyday life that will bring you together as a couple, help nurture your relationship and make your time together filled with special moments.

It's not rocket science, but it never hurts to remind yourself of the importance of devoting time to your marriage. We've been married for 16 years now and our third child is due to leave home next year, leaving us with just two chicks in our nest.  We are edging closer to the day when it is just the two of us and when that day comes I want it to be an opportunity to really explore and enjoy our time as a couple.  Working on our relationship now and holding onto the reasons that made us fall in love in the first place (some 30 years ago when we started dating for the first time) reminds me just how lucky we are to have each other.  We are soul mates, best friends and true loves.  Our time together is precious.  We need to remember this fact and not allow ourselves to slip into boring ruts that threaten to take the sparkle off of what we have.  Occasional date nights will definitely help put the romance back, allowing us to enjoy each other away from the responsibility of home life...if only for a few hours.

couples, relationship, marriage

You can find Michael's website at where he shares some of the secrets of attraction and where you can sign up to attend one of his highly successful and popular seminars.

The Date Night campaign that I am part of is being sponsored by Head and Shoulders who sent me the lovely pampering products!

Friday, 25 October 2013

Remembering My Sister

I don't think that a single day has gone by when I haven't thought about my sister.  I have held tightly onto her memory, preserving forever in my mind the way she spoke, the sound of her laugh, how she felt, the heaviness of her thick hair, her sense of humour and the way she made me feel that I wanted to be exactly like her.

Today would have been her 54th birthday. Had she lived, I'm pretty sure she'd still be the same Carol that I idolised. She was the joker, the larger than life character, the life and soul of any event who had the incredible talent of making you feel like you were the important and special one.  I miss her so much that even now 18 years on, if I think about all the years spent without her, times together that have been lost, the tears come all too easily.

With every joyous celebration and with every heartbreak we have shared as a family, there has been something missing, someone missing.  That will never go away.  The empty space is ever present.

Her passing opened my eyes to the frailty of life and our own mortality.  A sobering realisation and something I found very difficult to deal with as I was pregnant at the time of her illness. Creating a new life as my sister's time on this earth ebbed away.  It was too cruel an irony.  But I went on to deliver the beautiful baby girl who took my sister's name as her own. In memory of the auntie she never had the honour of meeting or the pleasure in knowing.

I know that Carol's energy is still burning brightly. She's still here, a part of her own children and now a part of her first grandchild. I take such pleasure in that.  Holding my beautiful great nephew in my arms, I felt the connection and knew that she was there.  Part of his genetic make-up. Part of his very soul.  It is a comfort to me.

Life continues and the world keeps on spinning, but I will never, ever forget.

I'll raise a glass of red wine in your memory tonight.

family, sisters

I recently found this photo of myself as a baby with my big sister, in a collection of old family snaps.  I'd never seen it before and discovering it really made my day.  I love how happy I look on my big sister's lap.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Halloween's Coming...Ooooooo! A Spooky Round Up!

Halloween or Samhain is one of my favourite times of the year.  It marks the start of the winter and celebrates the Feast of the Dead where the veil between the this world and the Otherworld is at its thinnest. I love some of the Pagan traditions, reflecting on changes that have occurred and remembering lost loved ones. But it is also a day that celebrates all things scary and horror related, my favourite genre of anything ever!  So I am also happy to indulge in the commercial side of the festivities, dressing up, making spooky food and having some frightful fun!

This year we are off to Alton Towers to partake in their annual Scarefest.  We love the horror mazes and the themed decorations and characters that can be seen throughout the park. We are getting the pre-bookable all-you-can-eat wristbands (at £29.50 each) enabling us to enjoy as much food and drink from the restaurants as we want:  unlimited hot chocolates, veggie burgers, fries, cakes and pizza, without worrying about the cost on the day! Given that a cup of coffee alone is over two quid, I'll definitely be getting my money's worth from this investment, enjoying breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner at the park.  Then we are staying at the hotel overnight. I love it when Halloween falls during half term!

alton towers
Scarefest 2012

We have lots more planned over half term.  Kizzy is having a belated Halloween themed birthday party.  It is nice to make loads of homemade themed Halloween food, but it really lightens the load to use some shop bought goodies too.  Asda have a really great range of sweet treats that will look great on a Halloween party table. They will definitely save a lot of time and effort for me, the party host, and they will delight all the little monsters!

asda, halloween
Halloween Treats from Asda

We bought a selection of Asda's  Halloween food range using a gift card we received.
Grusome Gooballs - fuzzy marshmallows with an orange gooey centre.
Perilous Pumpkins - orange marshmallow shapes.
Shocking Shortbread Bats - delicious choc chip shortbread bats.
Weird Witch's Hair - colourful candyfloss.
Exploding Eyeballs - individually wrapped chocolates filled with strawberry ooze!
Scary Skeletons - chunky chocolate shapes.
Graveyard Ginger Ghouls - box of 18 gingerbread biscuits.
Funsize Bags of Maltesers, Twix , Mars and Milky Way perfect for Trick or Treaters
Fiendish Fancies - Mr Kipling's fondant fancies get a Halloween makeover with orange and black icing. 
Witch's Cauldon - A brilliant black, handled witch's cauldron which makes a great container for keeping all the sweets in!

I love the Halloween bakery range which if I'm lucky might be mistaken for homemade gingerbread and shortbread (just don't tell my party guests!!)  It's nice to find such a good range of Halloween goodies available in my local Asda store all priced at £1 - it will definitely help with my Halloween celebrations this year!  (Check out for more spooky Halloween treats in The Big Shop of Horrors!)

When it comes to dressing up, I have collected a whole box filled with costumes ranging from witches to vampires to the Grim Reaper!  The girls love glamming up the outfits to create a fashion forward scary character!  This year my son's girlfriend Jade has got coloured cosmetic contact lenses in terrifying plain black.  They look really demonic!  She is working an outfit around them - a demon mermaid was one of her ideas!!  They will really make a huge impression this Halloween and take dressing up to a whole new level! Just look at this photo with one black and one blue's a bit freaky!  But jade is definitely rocking the look. (Thanks to my lovely future D.I.L for the photo!)

vision direct, Halloween
Jade wearing her Colour Contacts 

As for Freddy I could not resist this mummified Halloween Bandage Onesie from George.  At £9 it is a real bargain and is thick and warm with a zip up front.  He'll be wearing this to his first school disco tomorrow night!  It's cosier and more practical than flimsy fancy dress costumes so I won't worry about him getting chilly - and he looks so cute in it!

George Mummy Onesie

Ian and I have got World War Z on 3D Blu-Ray to watch on Friday night.  That will start our Halloween half term off with super scary bang.  We'll wear our Evil Dead and Hellraiser t-shirts, crack open a bottle of red wine and let the horror fest begin!

brad pitt
World War Z

So we have got a lot to look forward to this half-term.  Lots of top quality family time and all the spooky fun of Halloween with parties, discos and at Alton Towers' Scarefest.  We'll be eating spooky themed food and baking scary cakes and listening to our Halloween playlist and watching some good old horror films. Perfect.

Happy Halloween to everyone...however you plan to celebrate it!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Sweet Potato, Chickpea and Nut Roast Pie #vegan

I'm starting to think about Christmas food! This year is going to be quite challenging...not only am I catering for 11 people, I'm also planning a vegan Christmas dinner. So I'm trying out a few ideas with a plan to make something yummy enough to appeal to the carnivores, vegetarians and vegans alike, without compromising on taste.  I was very inspired by our visit to the Toby Carvery which offered two vegan dishes that could be eaten with all the carvery veg, yorkies and gravy. 

This is my recipe for an open pie that will work really well with all the roast dinner trimmings.  It is easy to make and really quick to put together if using ready rolled puff pastry.

Sweet Potato, Chickpea and Nut Roast Pie



1 bag of frozen sweet potato (Morrison's NuMe Sweet Potato Chunks)
4 carrots grated
1 parsnip grated
1 vegetable stock pot (Kent's Kitchen)
boiling water
1 can chickpeas
handful of walnuts and cashew nuts
ground pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon garlic puree
1 teaspoon mixed herbs
mixed seeds
1 packet of ready rolled puff pastry


Put sweet potato, grated carrot and grated parsnip into a pan.
Cover with boiling water and add stock pot and garlic.
Simmer for 20 minutes until soft.
Drain off any excess liquid.
Mash the vegetables and add seasonings.
Stir through chickpeas and nuts.
Place the pastry onto a baking sheet.
Score the edge about an inch from the edge.
Place filling onto the middle of the pastry.
Fold up edges and pinch corners together.
Sprinkle seeds on top.
Pop into hot oven GM 6 for about 25 minutes.

Christmas Vegan Pie

This was really delicious with a nice gravy and roast trimmings.  For Christmas I am going to add chopped chestnuts to the mix for a festive twist.  It's an experimental recipe, a work in process if you will, but this first attempt was really good!  It was good cold too.

I am now feeling very positive about making a yummy vegan Christmas dinner for the family!

Link up your recipe of the week

Scooby Doo for a New Generation

Zoinks!!  There is a brand new Scooby Doo! DVD to hit the shelves this week, which has updated Scooby and the crew for a whole new generation. With its cute puppet format, Scooby Doo! Adventures - The Mystery Map is perfect for a younger audience.

As a huge Scooby fan, part of me was very nervous to see a deviation from the original cartoons which I grew up with.  However, I was actually rather charmed by this version.  It's very different and oozing with kid appeal, whilst keeping the essence of Scooby and the gang.

Scooby Doo,

Shaggy, Scooby, Fred, Wilma and Daphne are true to the original characters in both how they look and how they sound, but they are just made younger and cuter!  They are really very sweet and Freddy was instantly hooked.  The sets are beautifully designed too, making it quite a visual feast.

The story sees the gang embark on an adventure to find Gnarlybeard's hidden treasure after finding a treasure map in a triple extra large Scooby Snack pizza!  When Phantom Parrot nabs the map, they need to sniff out the clues to recover the map.  It leads them to a super spooky pirate ship.

There are some catchy songs, some top gags, some mild spookiness and lots of puppety fun!  There are lots of references to the original Scooby Doo, featuring Shaggy and Scooby's appetites, Scooby's love of Scooby Snacks, Fred's ego and Wilma's brain.  It may be a new format, but there is plenty of material paying homage to the original, making it feel comfortingly familiar.

The DVD is a nice introduction to Scooby Doo! for younger children, who might find the original cartoons a bit too scary! It brings a fun family film in the style of the Muppets, and will provide a gentle scare for little ones this Halloween.

Available now, currently at £7.99 on Amazon.

We received a disc to view for the purpose of this review.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Getting Creative with the Zoob Modelling Kit.

I always like toys that inspire imaginative and creative play.  So when Freddy received a Zoob Modelling Kit , I was keen to see what he would make of it (and with it!) 

Zoob is a children's construction toy that using ball and socket joints to create moveable and posable models.  There are five different shaped pieces which are colour coded, and which fit together in different ways to make a variety of different connections.  Children can use the pieces to construct designs as varied and as elaborate as their imagination and ability allows.  The pieces feel strong and sturdy.

The Zoob Modelling Kit comes in a sturdy storage bucket with a fitted lid containing 125 Zoob pieces and five instruction leaflets with differing ability levels.  The first leaflet explores the type of connections which can be made and introduces some simple models.  The leaflets get progressively more detailed, inspiring more complicated models.

Freddy was happy to get stuck straight in (still wearing his PE kit from Friday's last lesson of sports at school) and intuitively fitted pieces together, twisting the ball ends in the sockets and attaching them to each other.  True to form, Freddy constructed lots of laser guns, zapping guns and shooting guns!  But I was impressed to see how quickly he worked out how to angle the pieces to create his visions of space age weaponry.  He then went on to make robots, which he proceeded to shoot with his guns.  It may not have been the most PC activity, but he had great fun and was being very creative with his imaginary game.


I really like the articulation of the various joints which allows you to manipulate the pieces at varying angles. The modelling set is really versatile with the pieces able to snap together in 20 different ways.  You can make geometric shapes such as pyramids and cubes which is quite a therapeutic activity! There are so many combinations you can make as you explore the potential of the pieces, and they swivel in the joints with a satisfying clicking noise!


But the real fun comes in being creative.  There are ideas for fourteen creations from the simple twirling top to the Zoob Dude to the very intricate Zoob Rex dinosaur, all featured in the instruction leaflets.  You can go on to do unlimited creative building!

Zoob, modelling toys

Some of the connections are trickier than others and need a steady hand.  However the basic connections are very simple, which means this set has great play longevity and will grow with your child.  At 4, Freddy was able to pop the joints together with ease, but over time he will be dexterous enough to make rotating hinges or multiple joint connections to create more complex models.

modelling kit

I had a go myself (as you do!) and made an articulated scorpion.  I was rather proud of myself even though it is only a level 2 creation.  Its legs and tail are all fully poseable. I will leave it up to Daddy to make the Zoob Rex which is the biggest and most complicated model in the instruction leaflet!

Overall, I really like Zoob.  It's not too fiddly or complicated at its basest level meaning Freddy played happily and independently and could successfully make models on his own.  It has the potential to grow with him as his dexterity and imagination further develops.  There are different Zoob sets available so you can add to your collection as they are all fully compatible.  It is very different to the other building block sets on the market, making it a unique addition to the toy box.  The pieces are quite chunky so even small hands are able to manipulate them and make good sized models with ease.  It's colourful and versatile and is very well made.  Little fingers can get pinched between the pieces as they click together if you are not careful (yes, it was me that got my skin pinched!!)

The 125 piece Zoob Modelling Kit costs £35 and is available at Aspace, where you can also find a whole host of fabulous quality products for kids, from toys to bedroom furniture.  Zoob is recommended for children aged 6 and up, but Freddy at 4 is loving it and plays with it every day.  It is a great idea for a Christmas present for creative boys and girls.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Do You Do Date Nights?

Ian and I have been married for over sixteen years and together as a couple for over twenty years.  Before getting together officially at 23, we were very close friends and had been boyfriend and girlfriend for a year when we were about fifteen.  So we have had a long relationship, spanning three decades!  We are clearly absolutely and undoubtedly meant to be together.

relationship, couple

When we got together at 23, I had two children which meant that we weren't able to 'date' with any wild abandon, spontaneity or freedom, so we quickly fell into enjoying time together at home and as a family. We skipped the bit where you go out wining, dining, clubbing or socialising.  It just didn't happen.  And as we went on to have three more children, we simply have never had the freedom or motivation to revisit the whole date night thing.  If we ever had the opportunity to go out, I always feel guilty about leaving the older kids babysitting and rush back home feeling stressed.  I think I've become a date-ophobe!!

Now Freddy is at school I don't think I can use him as an excuse to not go out once in a while.  He isn't a baby anymore.  I need to look at myself and at my relationship and give me and Ian the chance to rediscover each other.  I want to dress up to impress him and present myself as a woman who wants to spend some quality time together with her man away from the routine and comfort of home and family.  We need to start dating and get into the habit of doing things for ourselves as a couple.  Enjoying each others' company as grown ups and not just spending the evening discussing the kids and wondering if they are coping without us (which of course they will be, because they are great kids who are very why do I worry so much?)

Our third child is due to fly the coop next year, embarking on a life as a university student.  In a blink of an eye, the two youngest will be making lives of their own, going out, socialising and not needing to be 'mummied' 24/7 anymore.  There will come a point when it is just me and Ian...for the first time ever in our relationship.  We need to start building the foundations for this time in our lives, or there is a distinct danger of me being one of those mums who suffers from empty nest syndrome so badly that she ends up stalking her children and camping out on their doorsteps just to feel fulfilled again.  I need to redefine myself as a woman and not just as a mother, although being a mother to my five wonderful children is the role that I am most proud of and will always be a role that I cherish.

I was recently approached by Head and Shoulders offering me an opportunity to talk to a life coach, receive some pampering products and go on a date.  I jumped at the chance!  It sounds like exactly the sort of thing I need to break my non-dating cycle.  I commit myself 100% to blog challenges and this would provide the impetus needed to get pampered, glammed up, cast off my mummy guilt and enjoy a date with the man I love.  It could be the start of something good!

So, watch this space, because a new confident woman ready to hit the town with her husband, is about to emerge.  I'm sure that taking part in this challenge will give my confidence as well as my relationship a great boost and set us off on a new and exciting phase of our life!

Celebrating Halloween on a Budget with Poundland

Yet again the shelves in Poundland are being turned over to the seasonal products celebrating Halloween.  A fantastic array of spooky goodies from tableware, fancy dress, decorations, confectionery and bakeware are available and all for the bargain price of just £1!  This makes it so easy to budget and keep tabs on how much you are spending, while ensuring you get everything you need to make your Halloween party frightfully good fun! 

We were challenged to see what we could buy with £20 and I was very impressed with our haul.  I love the BOOO! themed tableware that they have this year.  The spooky ghost can be found on cups, plates, napkins, tableclothes and bowls to set the scene for a fantastic Halloween party.  The bowls and plates come in packs of 20 which is excellent value for just a £1, and the cups come in a pack of 40.  Plenty to go round.  The black plastic cutlery set is a very useful addition to the party table and the novelty pumpkin straws are a lot of fun and come in packs of 8 in either orange or purple.

The BOOO! theme continues with the cupcake stand and cupcake decorating set.  These are some of my favourite items this year.  The stand is made of sturdy card and the decoration set includes cake cases and toppers to make some easy Halloween themed cupcakes.  The stand filled with cakes makes a real show stopper table decoration!

The jelly moulds that I picked up are absolutely genius.  There is a brain and a severed hand mould which will be used to make some scary jelly.  Kids love jelly...they will love a green Frankenstein's hand jelly and a pink brain jelly even more so!

The cookie cutter set is a great addition to the kitchen at Halloween, perfect for making biscuits or cutting out little sandwiches.  The set includes a church, a cat, a ghost, a bat, a pumpkin and a gravestone.  You could also use them to make fondant icing shapes to decorate a Halloween cake.


Spooky balloons are always a hit with kids and the pack of orange and black ones are great value at just £1 for 18. I resent paying more than that for something that is probably going to end up being popped by the end of the night.  Why pay more?!  They can really help make a room look the part when strung up in bunches.  Poundland have heaps of other ornaments, window stickers, lights, toys and decorations to transform your home into a haunted house.

The Inflatable Kids' Seat was a great find.  It's like a black rubber ring with a bottom decorated with skulls. It will give Freddy somewhere fun to sit while he watches some spooky cartoons on TV!

I love the Halloween costume accessories.  I bought a two pack of Masquerade masks.  They are handy to have for impromptu dressing up and are good to have at a Halloween party for the guests to wear if they aren't in fancy dress.  Masks add an element of mystery and intrigue and are perfect for Halloween.  Other fancy dress accessories include hats, tights, special effects make-up, plastic weapons, glow stick jewellery, wings, deeny boppers, false nails and eyelashes.

The confectionery range at Poundland represents superb choice and value.  With brands such as Swizzels Matlow, Maom, Fruitella, Chupa Chups and HARIBO you know you are getting good quality.  Other confectionery items include Voodoo Candy Charms, Gummy Eye Balls, Spooky Popping Candy and Skull Sucker Lollies. I loved the Flying Sorcerors in orange and black.  Perfect for Trick or Treaters.  Other top brands of snacks such as Oreo, Cadbury, Fruit Factory, Mr Kipling, Pom Bear and Walkers offer alternatives to sweets and are great fayre for a party.

Take a look online to see the full Halloween range available at Poundland:

Show Me, Show Me...An Ageless Chris!

Back in 1993, my son Joseph, then aged 5, made some sausage and bean Dino Pasty-Saurus pasties and won a Flinstone's cookery competition that saw us fly out to Los Angeles to celebrate the opening of the Flinstone's movie and attraction at Universal Studios.  Yabba-dabba-doo!!

At the photoshoot, we were joined by an up and coming TV presenter, Chris Jarvis.  He was charming and handsome and we just knew he'd go on to have a great career!

Chris Jarvis, Cbeebies

Fast forward to 20 years later, and I was invited to have a top secret, sneaky peek of the set of the new series of CBeebies' Show Me Show Me with my three youngest children. We got to meet the stars of the show,  Pui and her lovely co-host Chris Jarvis!  He really hasn't changed at all...still charming and handsome!

Show Me Show Me

We watched the filming of a new on-location episode of Show Me Show Me which featured Miss Mouse as a bride and Chris and Pui throwing confetti.  It really was amazing watching what goes into the filming and the behind the scenes activity involved.  The set is superb and colourful.  Chris and Pui are so professional, having perfected the CBeebies, kid-friendly presenting that we all love. It was very impressive and they were both absolutely lovely people.

Whatever it is that Chris has that keeps him looking so young and so full of energy should be bottled...I'd buy some of his bottled joie de vivre, that's for sure!

The new series of Show Me Show Me, starts Monday 28th October at 10.05am on CBeebies

"Come out and play with Chris, Pui and all the toys as they explore their brand-new playground outside. Bursting with colour, it’s the perfect space to inspire young imaginations.  There’s a giant birdhouse, a bandstand, a big slide, magical woods and hills to clamber up.

In every episode, Chris and Pui explore two themes, from bread to blackbirds, robots to colanders and confetti to roadsweepers - anything can become the start of an adventure outdoors."

Sunday, 20 October 2013

We've Seen Andy and Mike's Tick Tock Time Machine

Today we headed to Oakengate's Theatre in Telford to see Andy & Mike's Tick Tock Time Machine.  Freddy was very excited about meeting yet another CBeebies presenter and watching the show.  It was his first visit to a proper theatre and he excitedly took his seat in the second row with a great view of the stage.  We bought him a light up wand to wave during the performance!

Andy day

The show started with instant high energy action that set the scene for the next 90 minutes.  The comedy pairing of Andy and Mike had everyone from the tiniest tots to the mums and dads laughing out loud and joining in with some interactive fun and games.


The story is based around Andy and Mike discovering a time machine invented by Andy's great great great grandfather Wally Bum *cue sniggers* which uses the power of a "flush" capacitor to transport them back and forward through time.  The kid-friendly toilet humour comes in bucketloads!


Their adventure takes them back to the Wild West and to Medieval Times and then forward to the 23rd century. They have to find some important objects and deliver them to the future in a bid to help save Future Mike from a rather odd fate involving Babybel Cheese!

Tick Tock Time Machine

The two man show adopts imaginative use of a shrinking box to turn one of them into a Mini version of themselves (subsequently played by a Ken doll) freeing up the other one to play one of the other roles - such as a hapless sheriff, a posing knight and a futuristic robot.  Audience participation provided another character who appeared repeatedly throughout the show.  It was a well devised idea to keep the action going and maximize the talents of Andy and Mike!  The scenery was minimal, but by rearranging it and turning it round, it transformed the stage into a castle, a jail, Wally Bum's workshop or the future world.

The show contains lots of songs and silly dances which has everyone clapping their hands and stamping their feet.  It also provided us with a very novel way of winning Rock, Paper, Scissors courtesy of Mike!

Andy and Mike

The banter between the pair added to the entertainment value, with a few gags that made the grown-ups snigger. Andy's ad libbing regarding Mike's sweating was a running gag (literally).  Mike ribbing Andy about his CBeebies presenting and in particular the Number Wrap that he performs with Sid was also very amusing.

The show was a big hit and I think it would translate brilliantly into a CBeebies show seeing the pair travelling through time introducing pre-schoolers to periods from history.  Great fun!  All the kids in the theatre were joining in with the audience participation and laughing at Mike and Andy's antics.  They really know how to entertain children.

After the show we got to meet Andy and Mike in the foyer where the kids got a sticker and a signed photo.  They had so much time for the families who queued up to say hello and it really made the experience special for little CBeebies fans (and those with a 'mummy crush' on Andy!!)

 A collection for the Lullaby Trust was also held as Andy and Mike are supporting this fantastic charity, in memory of Matilda Mae, during their Autumn/Winter tour.  Putting in your small change can really help make a big change, giving support to families affected by Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and providing funding for research into the prevention of SIDS.

Here is a list of upcoming tour dates.  If they are coming to a venue near you, it is well worth a watch if your kids love:  Andy Day/ silly mad-cap adventures / all-singing, all-dancing shows / having fun at the theatre.  It is great entertainment for little ones aged 3 and up.

Autumn/Winter 2013

Sat 26th October Frome, Memorial Theatre 01373 462795
Sun 27th October Malvern, Festival Theatre 01684 892 277
Mon 28th October St. Albans, The Arena 01727 844488
Tues 29th October Worthing, Connaught Theatre 01903 206 206
Wed 30th October Dartford, The Orchard 01322 220000
Thurs 31st October Yeovil, Octagon Theatre 01935 422884
Fri 1st November Porthcawl, The Grand Pavilion 01656 815995
Sun 3rd November Bournemouth, Pavilion Theatre 01202 456400

Spring 2014

Sat 15th February Leeds, City Varieties 0113 243 0808
Sun 16th February Lincoln, Theatre Royal 01522 519999
Tues 18th February Redditch, Palace 01527 65203
Wed 19th February Barking, Broadway 020 8507 5607
Thurs 20th February Dorking Halls 01306 881717
Fri 20th February Radlett Centre 01923 859291
Sun 23rd February Dunstable, Grove 01582 60 20 80
Sat 8th March Burnley Mechanics 01282 664400
Sun 9th March Bolton Albert Halls 01204 334400

They are also running a competition in conjunction with Duplo which you can enter by posting a pic on their Facebook page.

Find out more at

We received free tickets to enjoy the show but the opinions are all ours!


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