Valentine’s Day personalised gift ideas

There is nothing like a personalised gift to say “I love You”, so with Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I was pleased to get the opportunity to purchase some free gifts from Snapfish.

Now in our household, the boys don’t like being left out of any special day, so I said they could each choose something for themselves, as well as joint gift from the three of us to their Dad. Son1 decided he would like a t-shirt and he took a photo of one of his favourite characters from Super Mario on the TV screen. Once his image was uploaded to Snapfish, he added some text and a celebration border.

Snapfish personalised t-shirt

Meanwhile son2 remembered how they had both designed notebooks for Father’s Day last year and wanted to make one featuring his most loved teddy. I recommended he take his photo in portrait format, based on finding out last time that very few of the designs worked well with landscape images.

Snapfish personalised notebook

Snapfish personalised notebook

Then on to the gift for Dad. I was thinking along the lines of creating a photobook with snapshots of our favourite family memories. However I was overruled by the boys who decided he should have large fridge magnets. And that these should feature the photos they had taken rather than family shots. Do I have a sneaky feeling that Dad is only going to be the owner of the magnets for a very short time, before ownership is changed.

Snapfish personalised magnets

However they did let me take responsibility for designing a Valentine’s Day card, so I chose an image of the three of us for him on a square card. This did take some effort as there was a huge choice of almost 500 designs, which I admit that I didn’t look at them all. After looking at the first few pages, I stopped and did a search for the word “We” instead which returned 12 results. And finally I spent the last of our credit on a few extra photo prints.

Snapfish personalised Valentines card

Despatch was very prompt and everything was well packed. I was very pleased with all our items apart from one thing. Son1’s t-shirt is enormous. Not the size we ordered. And even more surprisingly, an age 12-14 size that didn’t even exist on the product order page, older than all the options available. Work that one out if you can!

Finally the prices paid. The t-shirt was £7.99, the notebook was £5.99, the magnets were £3.99 each and the card was £2.29, so all good value in my opinion.

You can find Snapfish on social media as follows:-
Facebook | Twitter

I’d love to hear what you would choose from Snapfish?

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Disclosure.  I received a voucher to purchase items from Snapfish.  All opinions are my own.

Eric Says Thanks – book review and giveaway

Although we are not a particularly religious family, the boys both have children’ bibles which they were given as christening gifts. And they do frequently enjoy dipping into the bible stories voluntarily. So I was interested when we were given the opportunity to review a free copy of “Eric Says Thanks” – a kids book written from a Christian perspective, but suitable for families from all faiths or none.

Eric Says Thanks kids book

This book is aimed at children age 3 – 7, but son1 wanted to be involved too, so he read the story out loud to son2. It is about a boy called Eric who wants to say thank you for his tasty toast. At the end of the book is a verse, a game suggestion and a prayer.

Eric Says Thanks kids book

Son1 was quick to remember the game at teatime and chose the mashed potato. So the boys thanked me for the mash, then the shop keeper, the delivery driver, the potato factory workers, another delivery driver, the farmer and finally God for the sunshine and rain to help the potatoes to grow.

It was really sweet to see them tell their version. They enjoyed the story which is written in a rhyming style and gave it the thumbs up. Words like epic and awesome helped them engage with the content.

And you may see a reading of the book here, which the boys enjoyed too.

Eric Says Thanks is written by Dai Hankey and illustrated by Xavier Bonet. It is being launched today for publication tomorrow and is currently retailing at The Good Book Company for £5.99 compared to a RRP of £6.99 for a paperback copy. It is targetted at children age 3-7 and is published by The Good Book Company. It may also be purchased via Amazon. A great fun rhyming storybook to introduce young children to God as the giver of all good gifts and to encourage your children to say thoughtful thank you’s.

Dai Hankey is a Welsh pastor who’s also a DJ and rapper. He has written books previously, but this is his first one for children.

Eric Says Thanks kids book

And I’m hosting a rafflecopter competition to giveaway copies of Eric Says Thanks to five lucky winners, courtesy of The Good Book Company.
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And you may see my other giveaways here.

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Disclosure.  This post is a review of a product I was sent for free.  All opinions are my own.

Slow Cooker – Beef Curry

I kept seeing lots of very tasty sounding slow cooker recipes online last year, so I decided to put a slow cooker on my Christmas wishlist and my sister kindly bought me one.  I’ve used it twice so far.  One was very simple – gammon which I soaked overnight first to remove some of the salt and then I just covered it in water and slow cooked it for 7 hours. The other was a beef curry and I’ll share the recipe here with you now.

Beef Curry

Beef Curry

Ingredients (serves 4)

450g diced stir-fry beef
2 cooking apples
400g tin of tomatoes
2 medium onions
1 carrot
1 large potato
3 mushrooms
75g sultanas
3 tbsp plum chutney
1 beef stock cube
400ml boiling water
3tsp madras curry powder
3 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice

Method

Peel and chop the onions and potatoes.
Peel, core and slice the apples.
Peel and slice the carrot.
Remove the cooking pot from the slow cooker and place on hob.
Add oil and heat gently.
Add apple and onion and fry until soft.
Meanwhile tip the plain flour into a flat dish.
Add the beef and turn several times until it is fully coated in flour.
Add beef to cooking pot and fry gently.
Crumble the stock cube into a jug and add boiling water.
Stir until dissolved.
Add stock to the cooking pot.
Drain excess juice from tinned tomatoes and chop roughly.
Add carrot, potatoes, mushrooms, tinned tomatoes, sultanas, chutney and lemon juice.
Stir in the curry powder.
Place the cooking pot into the slow cooker base and cover with lid.
Cook for about 6 hours on medium.
Serve with rice and enjoy.

beef curry

Beef Curry

I had been hoping to receive some free English Provender Chutney for the 2016 Jar Amnesty but I guess I wasn’t one of the successful applicants. Instead I took a look at their website and my recipe was inspired by the English Provender Plum & Bramley Apple Chutney.

You can see from the ingredients list that I used plenty of plum chutney to give my curry a zing. This was a jar of homemade plum chutney, purchased from the WI Country Market which had been hiding at the back of the fridge. I had been challenged to use up condiments lost in the back of my fridge for the #JarAmnesty. And I included a couple of apples for it to match my inspiration.

plum chutney

I’d love to hear what is your favourite slow cooker meal?

Update at 14:30 1st Feb.
I have just now received my 2 free jars with less than 3 hours until the competition closing date, so glad I went ahead with my recipe before this, but here is a photo of the Apple, Pear & Fig Chutney and the Wholegrain Mustard with Fig & Honey just received. I’m looking forward to coming up with some more recipes using these.

English Provender Chutney

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Disclosure. This post is an entry into the #JarAmnesty Challenge with The English Provender Co and Foodies100

Balance Active Formula Spray Body Lotions Review and giveaway

I took an extended break from reviews over Christmas, which also explains the lack of giveaways on my blog recently. However those of my followers who love a giveaway will be pleased to see I’m back with the first for 2016. And there are more to follow shortly.

This time I have received two Balance Active Formula spray body lotions free to review.

Balance Active Formula Body Lotions

Firstly the one with the red lid. This is a Nourishing Spray Body Lotion which is infused with Argan Oil and a snake venom-like peptide Syn®-Ake to intensely moisturise and target anti-aging skin.

Balance Active Formula Body Lotions

Balance Active Formula Body Lotions

Secondly the one with the turquoise lid. This is a Hydrating Spray Body Lotion which is infused with Hyaluronic Acid and Coconut Oil to deeply hydrate dry skin.

Balance Active Formula Body Lotions

To test them out, I used the Nourishing Body Lotion on my lower left leg and the Hydrating Body Lotion on my lower right leg, whilst leaving my upper legs unmoisturised for comparison over a period of several days. I liked the spray functionality and you then just massage it into your skin. I found it was easily absorbed and didn’t feel greasy. My lower legs are usually drier than my upper legs but instead my lower legs both felt much softer and smoother than my upper legs, right from the first application.

The packaging indicates that these products are Paraben and Phthalate free.

These body lotions are available to purchase from Beauty & the Bunch, currently priced at £5.49 each for 200ml, a very reasonable price in my opinion. I loved them both equally and highly recommend them.

And I’m hosting a rafflecopter competition to giveaway a pair of these body lotions courtesy of Balance Active Formula to one lucky winner. A lovely pampering prize.

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a Rafflecopter giveaway – Please click on the link to enter.

I’d love to hear your beauty skincare tips.

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Disclosure.  This post is a review of products I was sent for free.  All opinions are my own.

A good night’s sleep

Son1 always has great difficulty getting to sleep and almost every night is still awake well after 9pm and occasionally even when I go to bed. I think it is probably due to a combination of his nightly chemotherapy and an overactive mind. I can often hear him climbing out of bed to look at things in his room and sometimes he comes back downstairs. This is particularly the case if he wants a drink or snack once his hour is up. He isn’t allowed anything except water for an hour either side of his nightly chemotherapy and the timing of this, usually means he has to go to bed without the glass of milk that he really wants.

He has a high sleeper bed, so I was interested to hear about a new product called a Night Night Pocket which ties onto the bed rail and is strong enough to hold the weight of a drink bottle and books. We have received one free to review.

Night Night Pocket

It is made of strong sturdy 100% cotton material with four long wide velcro straps. Very easy to install and I could immediately see it was not going to fall off. It has two pockets – one for a drink bottle and a larger one for books, toys, torch, soother, etc or whatever else a child might want in bed.

Night Night Pocket

I discussed with son1 what he would like to put in it for his first night and we agreed on a water bottle, a book and a torch. He found it straight-foward to lean over to take things out or put them back in the pockets, even in the dark (although we did take the photos with the light on).

Night Night Pocket

I’m quite happy for him to read in bed, especially if it helps him to fall asleep. Much more preferable to when I find his iPod Touch under the pillow the next morning, even though we have a house rule of no electronic devices in the boys’ bedrooms. I believe these stimulate the brain, which is not helpful at bedtime.

So this is a great product in my opinion for assisting your child in getting a good night’s sleep and you too, as it should reduce those night-time calls of “mum, I need a drink”. We have previously attempted placing a water bottle on his bed near the pillow, but it hasn’t worked since it tends to slip between the bars in the night and fall to the floor.

The Night Night Pocket currently retails at £24.99 including P&P or may be purchased via Amazon and Kiddicare and is available in navy blue stripes or pink with polka dots. It is not recommended for use on cots. Slightly more expensive than I would have expected, but worth it from the point of view of an undisturbed night.

Night Night Pocket

Night Night Pocket

I’d love to hear what are your top tips for getting your children to sleep.

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Disclosure.  This post is a review of products I was sent for free.  All opinions are my own.

Apple Cake

My parents still had rather a lot of apples left from their trees this year which are getting to the point of needing to be used soon. So they gave me a large bagful and I decided to make another apple cake. I first made this recipe back in October when it was my turn to contribute 40 small cakes to the weekly teahouse that I attend, and it was very popular.

Apple Cake

Apple Cake

Ingredients (makes 9 – 12)

350g cooking apples
juice of ½ lemon
175g margarine
200g soft brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
extra brown sugar, to sprinkle

Method

Pre-heat fan oven to 160 deg C.
Grease and line a square baking tin (20cm x 20cm).
Peel, core and slice the apples.
Squeeze lemon juice over them to prevent them from browning.
Place the margarine, sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour and baking powder into a large bowl.
Mix until smooth.
Spread half the cake mixture into the tin.
Arrange half the apples over the top of the mixture.
Top with the other half of the cake mixture and then with the other half of apples.
Sprinkle over the extra brown sugar.
Bake for 45-50 mins in pre-heated oven until golden and springy to the touch.
Leave to cool.
Then turn out of tin and cut into slices or squares.
Serve and enjoy.

apple cake

I’d love to hear how you use up surplus apples?

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Guest post: Choosing a Nursery

Choosing a Nursery: Make Sure You Choose the Best for Your Little One

toddler

Source: https://pixabay.com/en/toddler-child-happy-kid-fun-girl-667300/  – FREE IMAGE

This time of year is a common time for mums, who have been on maternity leave, to venture their way back into the workplace. The difficulties facing women returning to work after maternity leave are well documented and, as you can expect, are a source of worry that can lead to stress.

As well as having the burden of coping with going back to work, it also more than likely that you will be tasked with choosing a suitable nursery or day care for your little one. While this may seem like something relatively straight-forward, it is actually more complicated than you think; this is especially the case when you realise that you will actually have to leave your child in the hands of a stranger. Yes, exactly!

Choose Somewhere Outstanding

This one is actually the most important, but also the most straight-forward; we all want the best for those we love, so why settle for second best for your beautiful children?

If you can remember back to your schooldays, then you probably remember those stern looking men and women in the corner of the room taking notes and assessing your teacher; this was probably the only time that he or she had the whole of the class on their side and co-operating fully.

Anyway, those were OFSTED inspectors, and guess what, they also do the same for nurseries. Therefore choosing a nursery that has an Outstanding OFSTED report should be your main priority, it also gives you that little bit of extra reassurance that your child will be in the safest hands possible.

Keep Everything Close To You

Another important consideration is to make sure that you are within easy reaching distance of both your place of work and the nursery. A friend of mine recently started sending her baby girl to her local nursery in Hove, luckily for her she works a brisk fifteen minute walk away. She was really apprehensive about sending her daughter to nursery at first, but the fact that she is so close by has really helped put her mind at rest and I can report than both mother and daughter are very happy.

This is not only something that is worth considering for this very reason, but it also allows you to spend as little time as possible travelling, this is something that is worth taking into account as you will be surprised at how quickly you tire when you first start working again.

Check It Out For Yourself

A nursery should provide the foundations of your child’s education for the rest of their life and that is why this a decision which should not be taken lightly. It is essential that you go and take a look at the nursery yourself so that you can gauge whether or not it is suitable for you child- just because it has an outstanding OFSTED report, does not mean it is the right one for your child.

Spend some time with the members of staff and try to decide whether or not they would be a good fit for your son or daughter. You can also spend this time looking around the facilities; there should be a variety of educational and leisure ones available for your child to enjoy. Remember, a large proportion of the time they spend at nursery will be playing and interacting with other children, this is essential for their future social development.
Remember that there are numerous considerations to take into account when choosing a nursery but I hope that these initial points have been enough to get you started and find the perfect place for your child.

Guest post by Tom Ward of ThoughtShift.

Chicken and Lemon Traybake

I was inspired to try cooking a traybake by Easy Peasy Foodie who shared her Christmas Turkey traybake here. This sounded ideal for our Christmas dinner as I was planning to cook it at my parents’ house but also intending to arrive around midday, so time would be a limiting factor. However I wanted to try cooking a traybake in advance of Christmas, to avoid anything going wrong on the day, so this is the recipe that I came up with.

Chicken & Lemon Traybake

Chicken and Lemon Traybake

Ingredients (serves 4)

8 chicken legs and thighs
1 lemon
3 large potatoes
1 medium onion
8 mushrooms
2 sweet red peppers
8 cherry tomatoes
1 tsp dried rosemary
salt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil

Method

Preheat fan oven to 180 deg C.
Chop the peppers into quarters lengthways.
Chop the lemon into 8 pieces, removing any pips.
Peel and chop the potatoes into small pieces.
Peel and chop the onion into 8 pieces.
Add the oil to a large roasting tray.
Heat in oven for about 1 minute.
Add all the vegetables except for the tomatoes.
Add the chicken.
Turn everything a few times to baste with the oil.
Sprinkle in the rosemary.
Season with salt and pepper.
Cover with foil.
Cook in preheated oven for about 1 hour, basting at intervals.
Remove the foil.
Add the tomatoes and cook for a further 10 minutes.
Serve with a selection of green vegetables and enjoy.

lemon & chicken traybakeWe all agreed it was a very tasty meal. And I felt happy and ready to then follow up by cooking a Christmas turkey traybake for 10 people. I used 3 roasting trays for such a large number and did as much vegetable prep as possible in advance at home before driving to my parents’ house. I used turkey steaks and a selection of vegetables comprising potatoes, baby carrots, parsnips, sprouts and sweet peppers, but cooked the pigs in blankets separately since the meal needed to be gluten-free for one person. Sorry no photos of my Christmas traybake, as too much else going on.

I’d love to hear your ideas for a traybake?

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Britmums Book Club review – The Playground Mafia

My latest book that I have received free to review from the Britmums Book Club is The Playground Mafia by Clare Christian and Elisabeth Kent.

The Playground Mafia by Clare Christian and Elisabeth Kent

This is what it says on the back cover.

The average playground is full of bullies, show-offs and gossips – and we don’t mean the kids. Parents have evolved into the worst kinds of stereotype in the last few decades and this fun and funny book identifies them all: spot them in your playground today!

From Competitive Mum to Flaky Mum to Tittle-Tattle Mum (and with a few dads thrown in for good measure) the playground stereotypes are hilarious and horrifying in turn.

Packed with wonderfully observed case studies, this book will strike a chord with any mum who has cowered behind the bike shed to avoid OFSTED mum. 

The authors (obviously both normal mums) have used over 13 years experience of primary school playgrounds to identify and categorise all the key players.

This was a funny book to read. A good laugh. It has several pages for each of 30 different types of parents, mainly mums but a few dads too. You can even tick them off and award yourself points for spotting them. Reminds me of the I-Spy books I used to take on holiday as a child. It also compares each parent type to a cocktail and includes the recipes at the back of the book. Great for light entertainment.

Luckily I didn’t find myself reading about me. So hopefully I’m a normal mum.

Bizarrely I have already read a story with the same title only earlier this year. That was a light-hearted chick-lit by Sarah Tucker. Although that was a different genre with an unbelievable plot, I could see some of the parent types mirrored there.

The Playground Mafia is published by John Blake Publishing. The paperback edition is currently on sale on Amazon for £7.99 compared to an RRP of £5.99. First time I’ve ever seen a book retailing on Amazon at above the price on the back of the book, although there are some cheaper prices via the Amazon marketplace. I’m assuming it must be due to its popularity, so check whether you can get it in your local bookstore first. It is also available in kindle format. I found it a really funny read and thoroughly recommend this book, although at only 180 pages, I was left wanting more.

This is my sixth book from the Britmums Book Club. Previously I have read the following for Britmums.
A Better Man by Leah McLaren
Hippy Dinners by Abbie Ross
The Silent Hours by Cesca Major
The Judas Scar by Amanda Jennings
Above All Things by Tanis Rideout

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Disclosure.  This post is a review of a book I was sent for free.  All opinions are my own.

A magical walk

This post has been pending since when we were on holiday last summer. We stayed on a static caravan site in Devon and when we went for a woodland walk on the site, we discovered something rather magical and unexpected. The boys were not interested but I loved these miniature fairy folk doors at the bottom of tall trees.

fairy doors

It was a trail. Here is one of the signs. I love how it asks are you a fairy or elf.

The Council of Five

There were lots of things to discover hanging in the trees too, but unfortunately they didn’t show up on the photos I took, but look at the fabulous toadstools. Not quite enough for a full fairy ring though.

Toadstools

So what have you discovered on a walk that you weren’t expecting?

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