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Friday 23 December 2011

Children's DVD Review: Arrietty

As a child I loved Mary Norton's book The Borrowers, about tiny people who lived under the floorboards and came up to borrow things that the human folk may not need, such as sugar lumps and tissues.  So hearing it had been made into a modern film was exciting news. Arrietty is an animated family feature film which runs for approximately 90 minutes.  Made by the Ghibli studio that produced Spirited Away and Ponyo, it is the tale of a young boy called Sho who is seriously ill and comes to stay in a mansion in the leafy outskirts of Tokyo whilst he awaits treatment.  During his time there Sho meets a tiny little girl called Arrietty who lives in the depths of the house in her own diddy house with her parents. Sadly once her parents realise that a human has seen her they need to move away to keep themselves safe but before this we get a delightful story of an unlikely friendship and a slightly kooky housekeeper!

This is a beautiful film, which was enjoyed by all the family from my 4 year old girls through to my husband and I. The animation is just lovely, I commented to dh that it is not at all garish like some children's films.  It is muted and very realistic and the story unfolds in a very touching and captivating way.  This film has provided a couple of happy afternoons viewing for us so far.

Arrietty will be available to buy from all good retailers from 9th January 2012.  I would happily recommend it as a good investment to add to your family films library.  You can pre-order on Amazon for £11.99 for a DVD at the moment.

Take a peek at the trailor -

Certificate : U
Run Time:  90 minutes
Language:  English or Japanese with English subtitles
Actors: Saoirse Ronan, Olivia Coleman, Mark Strong, Tom Holland
Directors: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Disclaimer:  This is a  review post, I received the DVD free of charge. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Sunday 11 December 2011

Review: Scotch Pop-Up Tape

Now I have to be honest with you and say this is going to be a pretty concise post, let's be honest, how much can I say about sticky tape before you click away?

I have been using the Scotch pop-up tape strips for probably 2 or 3 years now.  They do work out to be a little more expensive than tape on a roll but I find the faff of finding lost ends on tape rolls a complete put off and that just never happens with these nifty little strips.

When you need to wrap about 20 shoe boxes in Christmas wrap for Operation Christmas Child you need something that actively helps you rather than hinders and Scotch pop-up tape does the job really well.  Look, I even modelled my little dispenser in action for you -

The dispenser filled with 75 strips in a pad retails for £2.49 and refill packs of 3 tape pads are available for an RRP of £2.69 but I have to be honest and say that I always buy mine when they are on discount or 2 for 3 type offers.  I do like a bargain and you can pick them up in most good stationers, supermarkets and general retailers. Thea re 2 for £3.00 at Tesco at the moment.

So will I be using tape strips this Christmas to do my wrapping, oh yes I will, in about 10 minutes in fact.  All the kids are now asleep so it is the perfect time to grab dh and get in a bit of wrapping action - it is all rock and roll here!

Disclosure:  I received a dispenser and some strips for the purposes of doing this review.  I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Monday 28 November 2011

Recommended Children's Books for Christmas

Not too long until Christmas is upon us and if you are anything like me then some of your Christmas shopping will be done in bookshops.  I just love to browse through books, each year I take it upon myself to help the children I buy presents for improve their love for books.  I bought one of my nephews a book recently and he commented this would be his fourth book.  How sad is that?  My kids have dozens and dozens of books each and we visit charity shops and the library frequently so we can keep rotating and keep our reading fresh. I suppose my love of reading has translated into a love for them too - result!

I was recently sent 3 books to review and share with you.  Here is what we thought!

Magic Beans: A Handful of Fairytales from the Storybag. RRP £9.99 in hardback
This one suited my girls age group (they are 4) with me reading to them but equally JJ could easily have read it to himself at age 8. It is a wonderful book to read at bedtime and I was able to read to all 3 children with them  all equally being interested and engaged. The book contains fourteen wondrous stories and each one is described as a magic bean: written to capture a child's imagination. The collection of classic stories are retold in a modern manner by some of today's best children's story tellers including Jacqueline Wilson, Phillip Pullman, Michael Morpurgo, Anne Fine, and many more.

My girls particularly liked the tale of Rapunzel told by Jacqueline Wilson and I was super pleased to see Aesop's Fables included.  I have such fond memories of being read these simple but brilliant tales by my Mum when I was young. I would happily recommend this book for both boys and girls.

History Keepers: The Storm Begins by Damien Dibben. RRP £12.99 in hardback
JJ who is 8 read this but let me tell you a secret....  so did I and I am considerably older than 8! lol I am assuming this book is aimed at pre-teens/ teenagers but at a mature 8 JJ was fine reading it and really got into the fast-moving story.  In this book (the first of many I hope) young hero Jake Djones travels through time to save his parents – and history itself.  The way that true life historical events are woven into the story is extremely clever. I felt like I was being taken on a  rollercoaster ride through this book and it kept me turning the pages avidly. I believe this book will appeal to both boys and girls and should feature on every older child's Christmas list.  It is superb and I can't wait for the next book in the series...

Sapphire Battersea by Jacqueline Wilson.  RRP £12.99 in hardback
This is the second book in a trilogy, with the acclaimed Hetty Feather being the first. As JJ is a real boys boy I passed this book to my friends 10 year old daughter, H and asked for her comments. 'I loved it' was the first thing she said to me when I saw her the other day.  She told me that she read it in 2 days over a weekend as it was fantastic.  She had not read Hetty Feather prior to this book but she said it did not matter as she was able to understand everything in the book and she would, be using her pocket money next week to buy Hatty Feather. 

Her mum tells me that Sapphire Battersea is well written and very pre-teen/ early teenage years friendly. There is a sad part when a key character dies (I won't spoil it and say who) so you need to be aware that it is not really aimed at younger children. Also your child needs to be aware that there will be a third book out in a year or so which will reveal the ending to the story.....  so they need to be patient and wait for it!

Another recommendation, I am now reliably informed that JJ would have loved it too and whilst my assumption was that it is a girls book, apparently that is not so.

All three books are available at good booksellers such as Waterstones and WH Smiths and can also be purchased online from Random House.

Disclosure:  I received these books free of charge to review.  I was not instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Sunday 27 November 2011

Review: Marley and Me, The Puppy Years

This afternoon I spent a couple of hours ironing, something which is OK but not the most interesting thing I can think of doing.  To make it more bearable I normally watch something good on TV, so when my kids asked if we could put Marley and Me, The Puppy Years DVD on I happily said yes.  A nice family, easy viewing movie was just what I needed.

The film did not dissapoint.  I had enjoyed the original Marley and Me movie and whilst this film did not actually fit in with the story line from the original film it was in the same vein and had the same beautiful labradors. We are a family with a penchant for Labs and I think this certainly helped us to enjoy this film. it is what it is, very easy viewing, a lot of fun and nothing too taxing. Marley talks this time and you get an insight into what the animals are thinking, just a bit of fun.

This storyline sees Marley as a young puppy in Vancover, looked after by his dogsitter Bodi Grogan, played by Travis Turner (Supernatural, Fairly Legal), who is staying with his grandfather Fred.   Bodi has always wanted a dog of his own and during the summer, to prove to his mum that he is ready for the responsibility, he enters Marley in the "Ultimate Puppy Championship," along with the neighbour’s Labrador puppies Fuchsia and Moose.  
After weeks of mayhem, training and hard work, Marley and his team the “Ragga Rascals” are ready for the competition. They come up against strong competitors when they face the other puppy teams; a group of pugs, a gang of Australian cattle dogs and the intimidating trio of miniature Doberman pinschers. I'll let you watch the movie to find out the ending but needless to say as a family certificate U it is  good one! Here is a quick clip to give you a taster.

Marley and Me, the Puppy Years was relaeased on 14th November 2011 and I believe it will make a great Christmas gift. The RRP for the DVD is £14.99 but it is available on Amazon right now from £9.00. It is also available as a Blu-ray for RRP £19.99. Both DVD an Blu-ray have additional features.

Disclosure:  I was provided with this DVD for the purposes of this review.  I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Review: Bonusprint Personalised Photo Gifts

You may know by now that I adore photos and whilst it is fine to look at them on the PC, there is nothing quite like having photos in an album which can be happily flicked through at any time and with minimum fuss. As well as albums I am an avid fan of framed photos in my home and more recently I have started to enjoy some photo gifts too.

I find that photo gifts are something you can make for minimal cost but they are super little thank-yous or token gifts for God-parents. Perfect with Christmas just around the corner.

When Bonusprint asked me if I would like to review some of their photo gifts, 'why not' said I! Bonusprint is a company I used to use back in the old days when the only way to see your photos was to send your film off and get it processed, so I knew the name and I used to be happy with their product so I thought I would give them a whirl again. 

First things first, take a look around their site and see what I might like to create.  I spent a happy couple of hours browsing, uploading my photos and making my gifts online. I found the site easy to use and the instructions were clear.  Uploading the photos was easy and quick, unlike some sites I have tried to use before.  I had the option to crop or leave my images so they would look right on the gifts I chose. Once I had made up one gift it was then very easy to use the same image on another different gift. Checkout was easy and secure and I was able to pay by any of the widely recognised debit/ credit cards and also use paypal if I wished.

I ordered 4 different types of gifts as well as a couple of photos which I'll be framing as gifts. Delivery times are clearly stated on the site but I was surprised that my order came out in parts.  The photos arrived just 24 hours after ordering and then I received 3 more parcels, all arrived within 7 days of placing my order.  I was extremely happy with the time frame and the way the items were packaged but to be honest I would have preferred just one box with the full order as numerous trips to the post office to collect as the packs were too big for my letterbox was a bit of a pain. I did like getting email notifications though, keeping me up to date of the status of my order and letting me know when things had been dispatched.

Let me share with you what I made, these are just a small selection of the photo gifts that are available -

Torch Keyring - £4.99

When I saw this online I mistakenly thought it was a metal keyring but actually just the loop is metal the case is silver coloured plastic.  It does feel fairly sturdy but is still just plastic. The torch operates by the black button on the back, it is easy to depress and operate and provides a good light for seeing your lock in the dark. The photos look very good under the plastic cover and I'll be happy to give these out as small Christmas gifts.

Durable Glass Chopping Board - £18.99

Bit of a different one this but I am super pleased with it. My Mum has had glass chopping boards for years but they always have old fashioned and garish pictures on them.  Now my little ladies can make me smile as I prepare our dinner! The size is 30cm x 40cm.  Very tough glass, it has even been dropped so far and is surviving!

Kids T-Shirts - From £5.99

I am pretty sure my kids will be thrilled to find these in their Christmas stockings.  I have such a vain bunch that the idea of walking around with a picture of themselves on their front will be right up their street!  I love the idea, the size of the t-shirts are good, as are the printed images but I was a bit let down to find that one of the t-shirts is 100% polyester and the smaller two have a high polyester content too. I would not normally buy polyester tops for my kids. I should have read the description better, it is not as if they hid the fact. However, a good point about it being polyester is that they guarantee the image quality for a year.

Personalised Note Cards - From £2.50 per pack of 8

Getting ahead this year I ordered 3 packs of personalised note cards.  There are loads of standard designs you can choose from or you can tailor them to your need. I created Christmas thank you cards and was able to print a message inside every card to ensure that the after Christmas send out will be super easy this year.  I will most definitely buy these again.  They are pretty small at A7 size but they do the job very nicely indeed.


Quality of gifts 4.5/ 5
Delivery time and packaging 5/5
Ease of use of website 4/5
Value for money 4/5

All in all I have been very happy with my Bonusprint experience and I will happily use this company again. Especially when I see special offers, such as that I spotted earlier.  Spend £30, save 10%, spend £45, save 20% and finally spend £60 and save 25%. 

Disclosure:  I received the items free of charge for the purposes of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Friday 18 November 2011

Review: Perform Parties & Stage School

'The best party ever!' was the statement made by Miss E after attending a mock up party held by the company Perform.

A couple of Sunday's ago the kids and I travelled up to London with Daddy, he was off to work and we were heading to a blogger event which had been put on by Perform.  I have to say we were all looking forward to this as we were promised a high-energy, fun and infectious party that would combine a mix of drama, dance and singing specially formulated with a focus on child development to bring out every child's true potential. Sounds like a pretty impressive promise doesn't it?

I have to say, none of us where disappointed. My children all joined in with the Perform kids party and a mix of children from 4 years old to about 10 years came together and had fun for nearly an hour.  Any party host that can entertain and engage (and boy she really did engage) a group that varied in age has a real talent. Of course if you were booking a party for your child it is unlikely that the age range would be that varied and the material could then be tailored to the age of the children attending.

So what sort of things did I see them getting up to?  This party was sold as a Pirate and Mermaids party and the host was fully dressed in her pirate gear and even put on the accent.  She had boundless energy and a real warmth that made the kids feel at ease. It was superb to watch one little girl of about 5 years be really shy at the beginning and sit with her Mum and then warm up as the event went on and by the end she was joining in independently and having as much fun as the other kids.

The children all searched for the missing pineapple, played musical statues hiding from the evil Pirate, did some mime, played hide and seek and enjoyed many more games. They were sitting one minute, playing with their partner the next, marching alone a while later and then back into the circle for more team games.  High energy it definitely was, one hour at this party would be enough for any child of have had their fill of fun.

The game I really enjoyed watching was 'banana'.  A really simple game with the kids and the host sitting together in a circle. One child comes to the middle and can only answer banana to any question asked,  the host talked animatedly about how she liked to wash her hair in the shower in the morning and then asked the child what they used to wash their hair.  Of course they answered banana and had the whole group roaring with laughter with them.  The aim of this game is to take the child who is too shy to speak when the centre of attention and to make it so easy for them that they too can just say banana even if it is in the quietest voice ever but then the sense of satisfaction they get by knowing that they did it causes a roll-on effect.

How fabulous, parties that also develop and engage all children.  Perform focuses on the 4 C's and every activity that is undertaken will focus on one of the 4:
  • Confidence
  • Concentration
  • Coordination
  • Communication
Perform run parties in 3 different age ranges, Mini P's for 0 - 3 year olds, Perform for 4 - 8 year olds and Perform Plus for 8 - 12 year olds. If you live within the M25 the cost of a 1 hour Perform Party host is £158 and that rises to £168 if you live outside the M25.  I have to be honest and say I have no idea how this price compares to other children's entertainers or such that you may book.  I tried to google and see but they are all evasive and do not give a price. For me this would be more than my budget can stretch to as I tend to do thrifty parties but if I did have money I most definitely would go down this route as all my children loved the day and I feel the parties are suited to both boys and girls. There are tons of different themes you can choose from too.

Watch a small part of the party in action -

As well as parties, Perform also run drama classes in absolutely loads of locations, mostly London and the Home Counties it appears.  Perform do say they are always looking for new venues though and encourage people to contact them with suggestions. I have friends whose children have attended the Perform stage schools before, not because they want them to attend serious stage school when older and become professional actors but because they want the children to grow in confidence. I know my God-daughter attended for a couple of years and this certainly helped this shy little girl blossom and feel more comfortable around strangers and in a large group.  You can book a free taster class for your child before you go ahead and decide if Perform is right for your child too, which is good for peace of mind. All children wear a red Perform t-shirt at the classes for the same reason that your child will wear school uniform, so they are comfortable, in clothes can they can  be free to romp around in and so there is no hierarchy. The cost of a t-shirt is £7.50 and they are really good quality cotton.

I enjoyed talking to Lucy Quick at the event, she is the Principal and founder of Perform, having created the company 12 years ago. Lucy told me that over 4000 children attend their classes every year now and that they have a fund whereby they offer scholarship to about 150 children a year to attend their classes for free.  I was so pleased to hear that the children that get the free spaces are those shy children who would really benefit from a confidence boast but whose parents could not afford the fees.  The nominations for scholarships are received from school teachers and such.  I am very much the kind of person who likes to support a business if I like their ethos and way of working and Lucy certainly seems to be someone with a good heart and a great vision for empowering children.  I'll leave you with a link to Lucy's blog, this is a bit of a gem I found when investigating the Perform website.

Disclosure: The children and myself were invited to this event and given a goodie bag with t-shirt and CD.  I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Friday 11 November 2011

Review: Ben and Holly's Little Kingdom Lotto Game

What does £7.99 buy you nowadays?  Not a lot really, it hardly buys one entry to the cinema. So when I was offered a game to review which could last for loads of plays and engage both of my 4 year old twin girls I could hardly say no. Especially when I saw it was a Ben and Holly's Little Kingdom game.  My girls are crazy abut the TV show and I have to be honest Nanny Plum has me chuckling too!

Ben and Holly's Little Kingdom lotto game is a fun memory game featuring Ben and Holly plus other favorite characters from the TV Show.  Holly has accidentally mixed up all the things in the Little Kingdom whilst practising her magic spells. The task set is 'can you help her put them all back where they belong?' I have to be honest and say we have had a few lotto games in our house in my time.  All the kids are big board game fans and I was a little fearful that this game may be a bit young for the girls but actually it is slightly different in that there is a picture scene and the child has to spot if the card they have picked up features something from the scene on their collector card rather than just matching a picture card to the exact same picture.

My girls loved this and they have even suggested that we buy the game for their cousin for Christmas too. We have enjoyed many good games so far.  There can be 2 - 4 players and the game is aged at children aged 3 upwards with the object being to fill up your 6 slots on your collector card first. Miss E has shown herself to be a bit of  a star at this game, which is perfect as there are many things that Miss M tends to beat her on.

I am happy to recommend this game, it is good quality with both the box and cards being a good durable thick cardboard. I think the play value is great and the game will last a long time and children will come back to it again and again. The RRP of £7.99 is great value and you can buy this game from all good retailers, such as ELC.

If you have little Ben & Holly fans like I do then you might find the official Facebook page of interest, go and take a peek.

Disclosure:  Thanks to Entertain One for providing the game to me free of charge for the purposes of an honest and independent review.

Monday 7 November 2011

Review: Morphy Richards Premium Plus Bread Maker

What is better to wake up to in the morning than your house smelling of fresh bread?  Not a lot right?

I have been experiencing this delight over the last few weeks and it has been wonderful. The kids have been super happy too.  A classic white loaf is their favourite whereas I like to have a malted seedy loaf and the beauty of the Morphy Richards Premium Plus Bread Maker is that it can produce any kind of bread product that I fancy and much more besides - pizza dough, pasta, bread rolls, cakes and even jam.  Yes jam, seems a bit strange doesn't it and I have to say I have not yet tried that function out.

Just call it Morphy Richards Corner!

Upon seeing the breadmaker JJ did a happy dance and announced to me that it was great, we would never need to pay for bread again.  If only babe! However a white loaf is definitely cheaper when homemade and of course another benefit is that I know what goes into the bread rather than lots of preservatives that I have no understanding of. A basic 2lb white loaf costs us well under 50p all in.  You can't knock that!  The loaf also lasts well, I chose to keep mine in a canvas bag to keep it fresh.

As a first time user of a breadmaker I have been pleased with this product and the great results it gives, here are my first couple of attempts at using it to make bread-

Malted wholemeal loaf with mixed seeds

Classic white loaf

My hubbie found the machine easy to use whereas I felt a bit overwhelmed by the amount of information that was in the instruction manual.  Everything I needed to know was in there but for me the layout is not as intuitive as it should be. Sadly our manual is already starting to get very dog-eared so I will be printing out another from the Morphy Richards site and laminating it, a bit sad but necessary if I want to try out all 50 odd recipes that the manual contains.  I think my next attempt will be raisin bread, the kids will love that in the morning for breakfast.

There is a fair amount to tell you about this beast of a machine, so I'll do a quick pros and cons list:

The Pros:
  • Chuck all the ingredients into the machine, set the program and off it goes.  It mixes, kneeds, proofs and then cooks all with no effort from me - perfect!
  • 19 different programmes to suit all types of bread and baked products.
  • Variable loaf sizes and variable crust settings - so you can get just the loaf you like.
  • 12 hour delay, so that you can have freshly baked bread upon waking.
  • The baking tin is very easy to remove and clean.  The loaf also slips out easily once cooked.
  • Fruit and nut dispenser to ensure that your baked product has a well spread mix of contents.
  • Easy view window on the top, so you can watch what the machine is doing.  The kids love this - it is nearly as entertaining as the TV!
  • Over 50 recipes in the instruction manual.
  • Well priced bread for a premium product.
  • No dashing to the shops as you are out of bread!
  • Easy wipe clean, no smear stainless steel exterior, looks stylish.
  • Cool touch exterior, making it safe to leave cooking around my children whilst I am out of the room.
and the Cons:
  • A very large piece of kitchen equipment, also fairly heavy but as are most things that cook!
  • The instruction manual takes a lot of working through.  You need to have a good read through it and then trial and error will help you to find the best recipes for you.
  • The electronic programmer has a dull display which can be really hard to see, especially when the sun is shining in. It is also not that obvious as to which part of the program you are setting.  I have to follow the manual each time, I am sure with more use I would get to know it better.
  • Not sure this is really a con but something I did not expect.  The mixing paddle stays in the loaf while it bakes and then you have to cut it out once removed from the baking tin. Thus leaving a hole in the bottom of the loaf - see the paddle still in there:
Mixing paddle baked into the bread!
You can buy the Morphy Richards Premium Plus Bread Maker HERE, it retails for £139.99 and has a 2 year guarantee.

Disclaimer:  I was provided with the breadmaker free of charge as part of the Innovators program.  I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Friday 4 November 2011

Making your House a Home - Canvas Dezign Review

I love my home, it is somewhere that I feel safe and happy.  Anywhere can be a house, somewhere to lay your head at night and to cook a meal but for me a home is all about that warm feeling.  You know, when you walk in and think 'ahh I'm home'.  I just want to kick off my shoes, get in my PJ's and get cosy.

One of the biggest things for me that makes my house a home is personalising it with photos.  I adore being surrounded by happy memories and pictures of the ones I love. When you watch all the house shows they tell you not to over personalise your home and to keep photos to a minimum but I totally disregard that information. Take a look at the slide show and see all the photos around my home, I think they add to my decor and make my house look nice as well as being personal to me and my family.

This week I received a beautiful new photo canvas from Canvas Dezign and I am just waiting for my hubbie to hang the hook in the lounge so it can adorn my one bare wall.  For now it is sat in the dining room and making me cheerful as I sit at the table and use my laptop.

and here it is in it's full glory!

I love this canvas, it is probably the best one I have ever received.  Just look at those vivid colours and the actual quality of the canvas is good, very thick.  The wooden frame which it is stretched over looks well made and has extra supports at the corners which was good to see.  The canvas came with a wall hanging kit to help us put it up easily.

The canvas I choose was 16" x 12" and was just £22, I think that is great value. Even add to it the £9 delivery charge and the total cost of £31 is definitely something I would pay for such a lovely photo. Talking of delivery, I received my canvas from the courier within a week and it was extremely well packaged to protect it.

I love the modern clean lines of a canvas print, I choose to have my photo wrapped around the frame and this really makes it stand out and look stunning. The detail is excellent and nothing has been lost from this photo by having it made into a canvas.  Now if only I was smiling!

Why don't you take at look at Canvas Dezign's site and check out the different sizes available ( from 6" x 6" to 40" x 40") and see how easy it is to upload your print and order someone a very beautiful Christmas present.  I would happily recommend their service.

Disclosure:  This is a review post.  I received my canvas free of charge for the purposes of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Review: Photobox Personalised Calendars

I have to say that I am fully in 'Operation Christmas' mode already and I am enjoying myself.  I know that some people say it all starts too early nowadays and that it can take the joy out of it but for me as a frugal type it helps to start shopping early and spreading the cost.

I have been musing recently about what to buy people and indeed whether to keep buying for some people as I hate the way that celebrations like Christmas can just become a bit 'tit for tat'. I also begrudge buying things for people that they may want but that I do not particularly agree with such as cigarettes or alcohol so when Photobox approached me to try out some of their personalised gifts I was thrilled.

I am known for my love of photos and have bought photo gifts before - mousemats, coasters, mugs etc and this year, thanks to Photobox I have made calendars for all the grandparents and great grandparents. Calendars are something that have always been a popular Christmas gift for the ladies in our family and even better that they can now be customised with family pictures and appropriate captions.  I just know that these will go down a storm.  I kid you not when I say that I was over the moon when these arrived on my door.  If I am honest I did not expect them to be half as good as they are but having received a superb canvas print form Photobox before I should have known that the quality of their work is excellent.

Firstly I made the calendar by uploading photos to my personal account online, this was simple and fairly quick.  Then came the hard task of deciding which photos to use.  I loved the software which allowed me to zoom in and out and move the photo around so that I could get the best fit.  I was able to add captions to the photos and edit those to suit my taste.  The personalised message I added to the front will make it clear to the recipient that this is a present from the kids and when I received the calendars today I was pleased to see they come with a wipe-clean plastic cover, both front and back.  The paper is good quality and you can tell by the feel of the calendar that it is a premium product.

There are loads of different styles to choose from.  I chose the slimline as I know my family use their calendars to record what is going on, like the dentist and such. These retail at £17.99 each or they become cheaper with the more you buy.  At the moment there is a 2 for 1 deal on all the calendars and diaries and I used this to create mine.  My bill ended up being just short of £55 for 5 slimline calendars including postage.  I was very pleased with this and now having received the calendars I feel they are great value.

Since I used Photobox the first time I now receive emails with special offers and there are loads of great baragins to be had.  When you first join you will receive 50 prints for free as an opening offer.

I am very happy to recommend Photobox and the service I have received on the 3 times I have used them has been excellent. The online system is easy to use, the products are excellent and the postage and packing is reasonable in price and quick in time.

Disclosure:  My account my credited so I could purchase the calendars for review.  I was not instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Saturday 22 October 2011

Review and Giveaway: Nip and Fab Scrub Fix (Facial Polish)

Congratulations to @RedRoseMummy, you are the lucky winner. Sorry for the delay in announcing!  Please Dm or email me your address details to pass on to the PR.  Thanks, Mich x

I have shared before that I am not very reliable when it comes to a good facial beauty regime.  For some reason I just forget most nights, I am good with taking my make-up off and having a wash but the moisturiser just never seems to make it my way.  Thankfully I am good with things like face masks and exfoliating too, they always feel like a treat, like I am taking some well-earned time just for myself.

Over the last few weeks I have been using the Scrub Fix facial polish from the Nip and Fab range twice a week and I have to say I really like it. A while back one of my friends tried out the Tummy fix product from the same range and she gave that a thumbs up, so I felt positive to try another product from the coveted Nip and Fab range.

At £10.95 for 50ml I think this product represents good value, you need just a small amount to do the job and it really does feel as if it gives your skin a good exfoliation.  Straight after using it my face felt tingly and fresh and then over the days following I did come out in some spots as if it has detoxed my skin and helped to deeply cleanse it.  The facial polish was very easy to use, I applied a small amount with my fingers, gently rubbed it in avoiding my eyes and then splashed it off with lukewarm water.  The smell was very mild but pleasant and I feel sure I will keep on using this product.

What the Press Release says -

Exfoliate, stimulate and give your skin a natural glow with this triple action facial micro-exfoliant. A refreshing, renewing pick-me-up, this delicious scrub contains clever ingredients such as bamboo micro-particles to refine, polish and maintain moisture levels, salicylic acid (Beta Hydroxy Acid - BHA) renowned for its ability to resurface and brighten the complexion and renewing, decongesting plant-based polysaccharides. Used once or twice a week, this beauty boosting treat will work hard to lift away dirt, grime and remove dead skin cells to leave you with skin that’s noticeably clear and radiant.

Fancy winning yourself a tube of Nip and Fab Scrub Fix?

  • Mandatory - Follow my blog on google friends connect (in the sidebar on the right) and leave a comment to say you have done so, let me know how I can contact you - twitter ID or email.
  • Additional entry - tweet 'I want to #win @NipandFab Scrub Fix in @michelletwinmum's #giveaway #competition http://bit.ly/nUXOuP'
  • Additional entry - follow @NipandFab on twitter and let me know you have done so.
Terms and Conditions of Entry:
  • The winner will be chosen at random
  • Open to UK and Ireland residents only
  • Giveaway closes at 12 noon on Monday 31st October 2011
  • The winner will be contacted within 3 working days of the competition closing
  • The winner needs to contact me within a week of my announcing the winner or I will draw again
  • The prize is not transferable and there is no cash alternative
  • The product will be sent direct from the PR agency
Disclosure: I received this product free of charge for the purposes of this review. I was not instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Review Vlog of the Morphy Richards Supersteam Steam Mop & Cleaner

Grab a cuppa, sit down and watch me go about cleaning my lino floor in my dining room and then the grout, tiles and shower doors in my bathroom.  I try my best to do a good QVC impression! My husband seems to find it incredibly funny when I do vlogs, apparently I have a good narrative voice....  I'll let you decide.

I have been lucky enough to road test the Morphy Richard Supersteam Steam Mop & Cleaner, which retails for £129.99 and is available to buy from the Morphy Richard site. It comes with a 2 year guarantee and can happily tackle a wide assortment of tasks around the home, check out my vlog to learn more...

In the main I really liked the cleaner, it works well and does a huge variety of jobs but for me it is a bit of a luxury, not really a staple item every house must own but if you are the kind of person who loves to know that your house is truly clean and sanitised then this is just perfect for you and worth every penny.  For me I expect it will be something I use a few times a year for a deeper clean. 

Enjoy that?

Now go and check out Home of the HouseProud if you have not already, this is a super site full of reviews, cleaning tips, yummy recipes and great competitions and discounts for Morphy Richards products. At the moment there is a great competition running to find the Home Made Cook of the Year 2011. If you think you can rustle up a hearty main course for 4 for the budget price of £7.50 then do enter as you could win a £1000 Morphy Richards kitchen make over, Stove mini range cooker, a DAB digital radio and  a one day Women's Institute cooking course for you and a friend.  Sounds fab, now if only I could cook better!

Disclosure: This is a review post, I received the steam cleaner as part of the Morphy Richards Houseproud Innovators scheme for the purposes of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Friday 14 October 2011

Review: Discover the Extreme World Encyclopedia

I count myself as lucky that I have an 8 year old boy who likes to read, extra lucky that he loves to read all types of material.  When I saw the new encyclopedia from the Discovery Channel and Miles Kelly was up for review, I just knew that JJ would adore it but actually my expectations were smashed, this is a really fantastic book for people of all ages, not just kids. In fact the other night dh sat there and looked through it for a good hour and deemed that it would be useful to him in his capacity as a Cub Leader.

The book is just slightly larger than A4 in size, is hard-backed and has good quality glossy pages.  It has been built to last. 

It is absolutely packed with snippets of information.  There are six distinct sections to the book - Active Earth, Awesome Animals, Incredible Science, Ultimate Machines, Super Humans and History Revealed. Each of these six reference areas are then broken into smaller chunks with an easy to find index.  For example within the Active Earth section you could choose to learn about space, deep-sea, freaky weather, volcano's and much more - there is a great diversity to the book.

Each double page spread focuses on a different area and the photos and graphics are phenomenal, the information is presented in a fun way with different text types, slants and all in a snippet format, so there is no great long lengths of reading necessary.  I am pretty sure JJ will view this book as fun reading rather than educational when I give it to him as part of his Christmas presents.  Win:win for me a s parent, something he wants to read but that actually teaches him something as well.

Some snippets from inside the book -
  • At its top speed, the F22 Raptor could fly from New York City to Miami in less than 40 minutes.
  • In 2010, a quake in Chile was so powerful that it literally moved the entire city of Concepcion 10 ft to the west.
  • The Suzuki Hayabusa can go from 0 to 60 mph in just 2.7 seconds.
  • One medieval remedy for the plague was to drink a glass of your own urine twice a day.
  • Ants can lift up to 50 times more than their own body weight.
  • In parts of the Antarctic, the Sun remains below the horizon for 105 days during winter, leaving the land in near total darkness.
  • The language of Silbo, from the Canary Islands, uses penetrating whistles that can be heard over long distances.
  • Arica in the Chilean Atacama Desert experienced less than 0.03 in of rain during one 59-year period.
  • Kingda Ka rollercoaster’s 418 ft drop is the biggest in the world.
  • Greedy Romans sometimes made themselves sick in order to be able to eat more.
Discover the Extreme World retails for £17.99 and is available in all good book shops such as WH Smiths and Waterstones but actually I found a super bargain on Amazon with it selling new copies for £9.17, including free postage.  How can you possibly go wrong at that price? I would highly recommend this as a Christmas gift for your Key stage 2 child.

Disclosure:  This is a review post, I received the book free of charge for the purposes of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Sunday 9 October 2011

Review of Online Plus Size Retailer: One Stop Plus

I'm a big girl, you'll know that if you read my other blog but I still love to shop, especially for clothes. 

Normally I am an in-store shopper, I have always been a bit nervous about online shopping as I assume that the retailers will not have my size or that the cuts of the clothes will be all wrong.  So I was really interested to try out One Stop Plus the online store for women sized 14 - 36 and men sized L - 9XL (who even knew there was such a size?).

I was allowed to browse their online store and choose something I fancied.  Well that is a big task, there are 100's and 100's of items on this site.  I expect most people would think this a good thing but I actually found the sheer amount of things to look through just a tiny bit daunting.

In general I really like the site; it is clean, well laid out and easy to navigate. Everything is in neat categories and you can filter your search by type of clothing, size, brand and price.  This is a big help when there are so many items to look through.  The dress I choose is from the Taillissime range which I have now learnt is the plus brand of the French catalogue brand La Redoute.  At £55 it is not the cheapest item but I do really love it.  JJ said I looked like a rock star when I went out with my leather jacket over it, bless him! The main part of the dress is a black jersey fabric, a mix of viscose, polyamide and wool, it feels super soft on and does not cling too much.  The sleeves are actually long with a sort of netting ruffle trim, I felt happiest with them pushed up a bit and they stayed up well and kept their shape.  The bottom of the dress is also trimmed with the same in a ra-ra effect.  I choose the subdued black but if you are a bit more adventurous than me you can have a black/ white trim on the dress.

I ordered a size 20/22 and expected the dress to be a bit clingy, I was assuming I'd wear it in a bit, once the diet had kicked in but actually it was fine now so I would suggest that things may come up slightly large with this particular brand.  There is good clear sizing on each of the products on the website and I like that transparency. I choose to wear the dress for dinner with the girls the other night and just teamed it with some thick black tights and knee high boots but next time I go out with dh I may be brave and wear it with patterned tights and some heels. I just need to remember that the mesh layer at the bottom is sheer and my legs are effectively on show.

One Stop Plus plays host to loads of brand names such as Ellos, Anne Weyburn and Carmakoma and also many household names such as Birkenstock, Nike and Triumph.  I suspect it is called one stop plus as you really could kit yourself out in a full wardrobe - clothes, underwear, shoes and nightwear all from one place.

I noticed that some items are at absolutely crazy prices, £11 for a great evening top or £9.00 for a skirt.  If you are ever travelling to Oz or such and need a summer wardrobe in winter then check out this store for super bargains. Talking of bargains, they are offering 15% off your first order and free delivery if your order is over £60. Otherwise the cost of postage and packaging is £3.99 regardless of how large your order is. I have to say my order arrived really quickly, within 2 days of placing the order so I would have no hesitations in recommending OneStopPlus.

It can't all be great, I hear you crying at me.  What could be improved on this site? Well for me, I'd like to see a few more bigger models, some with real curves in real places, ie: wobbly tummies!  You see the picture at the top with the model and then you see me, there is a difference, but then again maybe they would never sell the dress if I was the model.  lol

So now I have my staple evening out outfit sorted for winter.  A big thank you to OneStopPlus.co uk and also to Best British Bloggers (@BritBloggers) who set up this review opportunity for me.  They are looking to sign up more bloggers ready for their new campaigns which are coming on-line, so pop over to their website and take a look or tweet and say hi.

Disclosure:  I received this dress free of charge to review, I was not instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Tom & Jerry do The Wizard of Oz! Really? Review

Don't you just love Tom and Jerry?  I know I do, they take me right back to my childhood, along with the roadrunner, the kind of programmes I watched as I grew up in the seventies and thanks to my dh my kids are familiar with these old slapstick kind of cartoons.  Luckily they love them too, must have inherited our sense of humour.

When I was asked if I would like to review Tom and Jerry and the Wizard of Oz, I said yes straight away as I knew my kids would enjoy it and they did, loads.  This DVD has been on so many times in the last couple of weeks it is untrue.

All the important parts of the original Wizard of Oz story are still there and the cartoon Dorothy really reminds me of the original one and those sparkly red shoes, yes I want some, as do Misses M and E too!

“In this captivating story, Tom and Jerry are twisted up into a powerful tornado, soar over the rainbow and down the yellow brick road, where they encounter some of the legendary story’s most cherished characters including Dorothy, her little dog Toto, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Lion, the Wizard and many others. The cat and mouse team go paw to paw against a legion of flying monkeys and set out on a dangerous quest to storm the Wicked Witch’s castle in a heroic attempt to return Dorothy and Toto safely back to Kansas, because after all, there is no place like home! This exciting new story is full of heartwarming and hilarious moments, and beautiful songs, including the memorable, Over the Rainbow.”

Dh commented to me that the art and animation was really good for a made for DVD movie and who am I to argue? Overall I think this is a great movie, it is retailing at £4.99 and you can't argue with that price. With a certificate of U and a run time of about 45 minutes it hits the nail right on the head.

Released on 19th September 2011, you can buy your own copy now on Amazon for an amazing £3.69.

Top Family Score 5/5

Disclaimer:  We received this DVD free of charge for the purposes of this review.  I was not instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Sunday 18 September 2011

Eric Carle's New Book Review: The Artist who Painted a Blue Horse

If I said to you Eric Carle?  Would the name mean anything to you?  For me I would think it familiar but would not be able to put my finger on why. Say to me The Very Hungry Caterpillar and then it would click.  Ah yes the guy who did that amazing children's book, the international best-selling author!

Well there is good news for Eric Carle fans as he is just releasing his first new picture book for four years. The Artist Who Painted A Blue Horse is being published by Puffin in hardback on 4th October 2011 and we were sent a copy to review.
If you know your art you will recognise that the paintings are inspired by the work of the great Expressionist painter Franz Marc. For me this book is all about the art and it would suit a family who are very visual and enjoy being creative. The book is described as a celebration of creativity and colour. Eric Carle will inspire young artists everywhere to use their imagination.

I gave the book to my 4 year old twins, thinking they would enjoy it and we did have a chat about the paintings and whether we would like to see a purple fox or orange elephant in real life.  They sat engaged for a few moments and both agreed that the polka dotted donkey was their favourite but then they moved away.  I put this down to them being too old for the book as there are very few words and not really much of a story if I am honest. My 8 year old literally flicked through the book and reported that it was for babies.

I am not sure what age this book is aimed at, I expect if my girls were younger and were just learning their colours and animals then this might have been used more but for two 4 year olds who are hungry for information and good stories it just did not cut it for them. So sadly the book was not a big hit at our house but perhaps if you are more cultured than us and enjoy a good visual book and some superb artwork then this will be for you.  One thing to note if you are looking to get this book for younger children is that whilst it is hardback the pages are actually paper and could therefore rip easily.

Like I said though it is very beautiful and the paintings are super quality.

Disclosure:  We received a copy of this book for the purposes of this review.  I was not instructed what to write and I remian honest.

Monday 12 September 2011

Review & Giveaway: Humf & The Fluffy Thing DVD

OK, I'm about to make a big revelation here and you must not laugh at me. Ready?

I love Humf, it is such a beautiful and simple program for pre-school kids. Are you laughing yet?  Stop it!  There is nothing wrong with a bit of kids TV or in this case DVD.  I really do not watch much TV with the kids so I am unsure quite why I have seen so much Humf, I think it is to do with the time of evening that it is shown on Nick Junior.  Quite often we get the girls all showered ready for bed and then snuggle up on the sofa together to watch something calm and age appropriate and many times Humf is the chosen program.  My near 8 year old JJ also really enjoys it but I am sure he would not readily admit that to his mates!

The thing I love about Humf is that it is a very innocent program, there is no hidden innuendo. Humf and his friends Loon (don't you just love that name for a pink feathery bird?) and Wallace (green friendly monster type thing if you were wondering) are all good little kids and never do I have to feel as if I should be censoring my children's viewing.  Even the youngest of children could happily watch this program without ever being scared or inappropriately influenced.  We all know that kids learn what they live and my Miss M shouting 'You silly old fool' out the car window to someone was proof that Nanny Plum from Ben and Holly can sure say some inappropriate things!

My girls (just 4 year old twins) were made up when they found out they were the chief reviewers in our house for the new DVD (released today) Humf and the Fluffy Thing.  The DVD contains 10 episodes of about 7 minutes each and they are all equally as entertaining and easy to view. The added bonus is that for the RRP of £9.99 you also get a bonus DVD with another 6 eposides for free.  Bargain, hey? but don't think it stops there as I have spotted that you can buy a new copy on Amazon at the moment for just £6.20. A fantastic little gift for Christmas I say.

Humf is narrated by Caroline Quentin and she does it really well, taking us through the day to day life of 3 year old Humf and his view of the world. Humf normally seems to be described as a purple fluffy thing, he is super cute and cuddly as are all the characters in the show. Normal daily activities such as a trip to the shops or the park become a fun adventure as you discover things through the eyes of a pre-schooler.

I asked the girls how they voted for Humf and they both agreed that it should get top marks 5/5

So would you like to win a copy of Humf and the Furry Thing DVD?
  • Mandatory - Follow my blog on google friends connect (in the sidebar on the right) and leave a comment to say you have done so, let me know how I can contact you - twitter ID or email.
  • Additional entry - tweet 'I want to #win a Humf DVD in @michelletwinmum's #giveaway #competition http://bit.ly/n3l9Zs'
 Terms and Conditions of Entry:
  • The winner will be chosen at random
  • Open to UK and Ireland residents only
  • Giveaway closes at 12 noon on Wednesday 21st September 2011
  • The winner will be contacted within 3 working days of the competition closing
  • The winner needs to contact me within a week of my announcing the winner or I will draw again
  • The prize is not transferable and there is no cash alternative
  • The DVD will be sent direct from the PR agency 
Disclosure:  I received this DVD free of charge for the purposes of this review.  I was not instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Sunday 11 September 2011

Review: Jabra Drive in-car Speakerphone

I am finally starting to catch up with the rest of the western world when it comes to technology, last November I got a smart phone and about a month ago I was lucky enough to receive a Jabra Drive in-car speakerphone to test out.

I love to speak on the phone when I am in the car. As a busy working mum of three the car is often the only place I get a bit of peace and quiet but until now I have used the little headphones like you use with an iPod. They have never been that successful for me, low volume, crackling and the ear plugs dropping out and falling away from me just when I get to an interesting bit in the conversation.

I have seen those bluetooth wireless speakerphones that go in your ear but I have never fancied one of those. The Jabra Drive is the perfect answer for me, it clips (like a big tie clip) onto my sun visor and when I get in the car I switch it on by flicking the button and set my phone to bluetooth enabled and it verbally confirms to me it is 'connected'.

Then if a call comes in I just reach up and press the speakerphone to answer, I do not need to look away from the road as the pad is large enough to do by feel. There is also an easy to use volume set + and - switch.

I also love the fact that when I leave the car, I just turn the speakerphone off so as not to waste the battery life and I slip it onto my sun visor facing the other way, then all that shows is a metal clip and it presents no interest for anyone who wishes to steal anything. I need not worry about the charge though to be honest as once fully charged the unit provides 20 hours of talk time and 30 days of standby time, pretty impressive, hey?  I can't imagine I'll ever be going off on a 30 day drive. An in-car charger is provided to use with the cigarette lighter socket.

As I mentioned I am a novice with all things techie and I was able to unpack the Jabra Drive, plug it in for its initial charge and then set it up with my phone without reading the instructions.  It really is very intuitive and easy to use. Another good advantage is that it can connect to two mobiles at a time and seeing as dh and I only have the one car this is super useful for us both to be able to use it without any fuss.

In all I am really pleased with the Jabra Drive.  The performance is very good.  I have used it numerous times and have been able to hear the person I am speaking to perfectly and they confirm that they have a good, clear connection from me too. I would happily give it 5/5  and at £49.99 RRP I think it is good value as well as I expect it to last a very long time.  You'll be pleased to hear that I have found new ones on Amazon selling for just £36.03.

I'll hand over to Jabra to give you the product specification:
  • Bluetooth 3.0, including eSCO 
  • Multiuse™ – connects to 2 Bluetooth devices at the same time 
  • Voice guidance system alerts low battery status and Bluetooth connection 
  • Crystal clear sound with echo and noise cancellation (DSP) 
  • Automatic volume adjustment 
  • Auto-paring to mobile phone 
  • Dedicated control buttons 
  • Stream audio from GPS applications 
  • Up to 20 hours of talk time and 30 days of standby time 
  • Dimensions – L104mm X W56mm X D18mm 
  • Weight – 100 grams/3.38 ounces 
  • Includes a Micro USB cable, in-car charger, clip for visor and quick start manual
For more information on Jabra’s line of in-car speakerphones and other mobile products, visit BuyJabra.com or follow us on Twitter at @jabraeurope.

Disclosure:  I received this speakerphone free of charge for the purposes of this review.  I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.