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Tuesday 17 December 2013

Book review - One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

Anyone that reads my main blog will know that I am an optimist and that I choose to live a life full of gratitude. At the beginning of 2011 I started the Reasons to be Cheerful linky as I wanted to encourage other bloggers to look on the bright side of life and to choose to be happy, satisfied and content. I've known for some time now that when we actively seek reasons to thank God for all the blessings we receive in our life that things look better.

I recall Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts (A dare to live fully right where you are) book being first released back in 2011 and all my Christian friends kept telling me I must read it and it 'was so me' and I resisted. I don't meant to sound big-headed but I just wondered what else it would give me, I didn't have a lack of gratitude. I look for the grace in the small things, I notice the coy look on my daughters face, the smell of the fresh bed linen and the way frost glimmers on the morning grass.

So I surprised myself when I said yes to reviewing the book a couple of months ago, I'm no less grateful than I've ever been but I have come to a place where I find my writing more faith focused and I was wondering whether I would continue with Reasons to be Cheerful as a linky or if I would get back to the roots where it started - Grace in small things. I thought Ann Voskamp's book might help me to know which direction I must go in.

Sadly, I found One Thousands Gifts so very difficult to read. I love reading and normally can get into a book easily and then it is hard to put it down until I am read right through. That was not the case with this book, I laboured over reading it, just a few pages at a time and finding no enthusiasm for it at all. I can appreciate that Ann Voskamp is an artist in the way she writes, it is a very individual style and certainly one that I expect women warm to more than men. She really plays with words and as a simple kind of girl it all gets a bit too complex and poetic for me I'm afraid. The one good point I'd say is that because her writing style is complex you do have to slow down and savour her words to be able to take them in, scan read it and you will miss the points she hopes to make.

Here is a short extract from the first page to give you an idea of how her writing flows -

A glowing sun-orb fills an August sky the day this story begins, the day I am born, the day I begin to live. 
And I fill my mother’s tearing ring of fire with my body emerging, virgin lungs searing with air of this earth and I enter the world like every person born enters the world: with clenched fists. 
From the diameter of her fullness, I empty her out—and she bleeds. Vernix-creased and squalling, I am held to the light.
Ann Voskamp does have an interesting story to tell, she starts with the death of her sister and how this tainted her life and led her to live with ingratitude for a long time. As you read the book you are taken on a journey as Voskamp starts to change and realise her need for gratitude and not just when the going is good but also when times are hard. One thing I will take from the book is the use of the word Eucharisteo, which is the Greek word for thanksgiving and of course comes from the Eucharist that we partake in as Christians to come together and give thanks for Jesus and all He did for us and the forgiveness of our sins. I've always loved communion but if I'm honest I have previously associated it more with repentance and forgiveness than I have with thanksgiving despite the words that are spoken in preparation.

When you first read the title of the book you would be forgiven for thinking that it will be about the 1000 places that Voskamp has found gratitude and Gods grace and whilst she does share some of the gifts she recognises in her own life, gifts like 1) morning shadows across old floors, 2) jam piled high on the toast and 3) cry of blue jay from high in the spruce the book is actually far more autobiographical in style.

I have to say that I can't imagine reading this book again so I am happy to pass it on to a friend who is more poetic than I am. In the interests of balance I wanted to publish a couple of quotes here from blogger friends that I was discussing the book with recently -

Claire at Clarina's Contemplations - "It's fabulous, takes a while to get into the flowery language but it's brill"

Sara from Walking with Angels - "The book had a tremendous impact on me, it changed the way I view my life"

Disclosure: I received this

Saturday 14 December 2013

Review: Furby Boom

I remember when Furby's were first launched back in 1998 and not having any children then they were hardly on my radar and then when they were released last year again I didn't hear a peep from the kids about wanting one. But his year it has been a different story, I suspect that might be down to them currently being given as Happy Meal toys from McDonalds.

I had my suspicion that the kids might enjoy one but I had no idea quite how much the Furby would be loved. I agreed to review one thinking it would be a nice gift for Miss E at Christmas and that JJ could test it out and have a play prior to then. Stupidly I left it on the side in the kitchen on the day it arrived earlier this week and as soon as the kids arrived home they spotted it.

Family Toy to be shared
Miss M was the first to start shouting about it and whopping for joy that she had always wanted one. I expected JJ to look at it and dismiss it instantly as the one we received is pink and purple but no, he also started to shout about how gorgeous it was and he loved it and could he have the first go please. Then Miss E got a look in and she cuddled it tight and told JJ it was hers. As they had all found it I told them it was a toy to share and like a real pet they would have to take turns.

Set up
I handed the Furby to JJ to set up and read about as at 10 years he is good at that sort of thing and has more patience than I do. He straight away asked me for 4 AA batteries to power the Furby and luckily I had some, I'm waiting to see how long they last, I do hope it does not drain them too quickly. I'm used to practically everything being rechargeable nowadays. You need a tiny Phillips screwdriver to be able to access the bottom to put the batteries in but I found a metal skewer worked OK!

The Furby does not come with any kind of instruction manual which I found frustrating but luckily the kids were happy to go with the exploratory method of learning. JJ instantly downloaded the free Furby Boom app on his iPad and started to play. He had to hold the Furby 10 cm's away from the iPad and partner them and then teach the Furby it's name - bee-boo in case you are interested.

The Furby Boom is all about the interaction. It starts by talking Furbish (a nonsense language of its own) and the more you interact with it the more it speaks English. It really is very cute if you can get past the constant stream of chatter. I do like it when the Furby refers to itself by its name and he tells you he is happy etc.

I do have to admit I was pleased when JJ found out that if you pull his tail for 10 seconds or more he tells you how tired he is getting and then starts to snore and goes to sleep.  The girls like it when Bee-boo dances and gets all excited.  The more you interact with your Furby the more you shape its personality and it becomes more and more fun the kids tell me.

Furby Boom free app
As I mentioned you can download a free app to play with your Furby Boom. This is available for both apple and android products. We had tom take a couple of trys to be able to scan the Furby successfully when we needed to but it got there each time in the end and we are only talking a matter of a couple of minutes.

You can check the health of your Furby when you scan it and make up medicine if it is poorly and it will soon tell you if you are doing something it does not like. if you are looking after your Furby well you get rewarded with eggs which you can hatch into Furblings and then look after them too. You can get up to 50 eggs in total and end up with a whole Furby Boom City.

I love it that you can pay with Furby without the app, it is still a great interactive toy and that is mostly how Miss M and Miss E will use it but JJ being that bit older loves the extra element that the app brings.

The Furby Boom is sold as being suitable for children of 6 years and older but with a little help I'm sure younger children would enjoy it too. The best price I could find at the moment is at Smyths toys where it s £49.99.

My kids really love their Furby and if they had received it for Christmas I know they would have been supper happy. It is so silly in what it says the things it can do that it really plays to a child's sense of fun. I'm happy to recommend this as a good buy.

Take a look for yourself at the Furby Boom and see what my kids are so excited about -

How cute is this? Hasbro sent us a Pannell family picture of us as Furby's -

Disclosure: We received the Furby Boom free of charge for the purpose of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Friday 13 December 2013

Review: Nativity 2 - Danger in the manger

Well what a great couple of hours I've just spent with the kids cuddled up watching Nativity 2. I had no idea what to expect as I haven't seen the first movie but my 10 year old JJ rants on about how fabulous it is and he has been dying to watch this movie.

I can now see why he wanted to see it so much. What a great feel good movie, I love the kind of movie that is simple enough for the kids to understand but also entertaining and comical enough that us adults enjoy it too.

Yes it is corny in parts and Mr Poppy (Marc Wooton) will drive you bonkers but David Tennant (Mr Peterson) is fabulous and it is such fun to watch him playing two parts, I can really imagine he had a ball making this.

What's the story?
St Bernadettes is without a year 7 teacher and the kooky and irresponsible teaching assistant Mr Poppy, who is the nephew of the headmistress is driving every teacher away. Thank goodness that Mr Peterson is not so easily scared off and he joins the team and ends up having to get involved with Mr Poppys plans that the kids will travel to Wales and take part in the national contest 'A song for Christmas'. The film follows their hilarious journey to the event and will have you laughing, cringing and cheering them on.

Nativity 2: Danger in the manager will make an excellent Christmas present and I see it is available for £10.00 on Amazon at the moment for a DVD or £12.99 on Blu-ray. There is also a fab box set with Nativity 1 and 2 for just £13.55.

Run time: 106 minutes
Certificate: U

Have a look at the trailer and see for yourself if this is a film for you -

Wednesday 11 December 2013

December review round-up

Hello all,

I wanted to share with you about a few of the products I have been using recently to review.

Duracell Ultra Power batteries - In my opinion nothing has ever taken over from Duracell as being the best batteries on the market but Duracell do not seem content to rest of their laurels and they keep coming out with longer and longer lasting batteries - brilliant. A couple of months back I was sent some AA Duracell Ultra Power batteries and we put them in one of our torches. As we now live in the middle of nowhere and street lights are a thing of the past our torch is getting used an awful lot and I'm glad to say our batteries are still going strong. I had real peace of mind when we were preparing for the bad storm last month to know my torches would work if we needed them in a power cut. It is also great that you get the Powercheck on the pack and you can easily see ow much life your battery still has left in it. These AA batteries cost about £4.80 per pack of 4 in all the major supermarkets but most of them seem to be doing a 2 for 1 offer at the moment, making them a great price. Nothing worse than being without batteries on Christmas morning so do remember to stock up for those kids toys and gadgets.

Andrex classic white toilet roll - When Andrex sent me an email to ask me if I would like to make my bathroom festive for our seasonal guests I did wonder what they were on about but as a satisfied Andrex customer of many years I thought I'd give it a go and I'm pleased I did. Look how nice my downstairs loo looks now it is ready for the season!

I'm happy to endorse Andrex products as growing up it was the only toilet roll my Dad would buy as he likes a quality roll. My personal favourite is the Aloe Vera but I tend to only get that when it is on special and it is the classic white that adorns my bathroom - the perfect balance of softness, strength and length.

Disclosure: these products were sent to me free of charge to review, I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Monday 9 December 2013

Review: Hotel Chocolat Jingles and Mingles Bag

I have heard so much about Hotel Chocolat over the last few years but I've not actually tried any of their products until now. They look really nice but the price tag had put me off somewhat.

I was pleased to be offered the chance to review something from their Christmas range and I choose to try out the Mingles and Jingles bag.  This is 35 individually wrapped chocolates all presented in a cloth drawstring bag. The chocolates are milk (40% cocoa), white and milk caramel chocolate and come in very cute bell, angel and penguin shapes.

This is how it looks on the Hotel Chocolat website and I think the bag looks as if it has a silky quality to it. Unfortunately it does not it is just sort of a cream natural cotton feeling fabric.

This bag of 35 chocolates retails at £21, which at first glance feels quite expensive to me but when you break it down to a price per chocolate it is only 60p each and that feels OK for a premium product which is individually wrapped. I gave some out whilst I was at work the other day and my colleagues enjoyed them, especially the white chocolate bell, they really are exquisite. The milk chocolate penguin is good too but not as special as I might have hoped and the milk caramel chocolate is not to my taste.

You can see from my picture that the chocolates gets a bit beaten up by being in the bag with all the others. When you unwrap the individual chocolates they have little scraps and marks on them which takes away the quality feel and is a shame.

I did like the fact that there is a 100% satisfaction guarantee in every box of chocolates and I have to be honest and say that if I had spent £21.00 on these chocolates I might have been asking to use that as I want perfect condition chocolates for that money not beaten up ones, even if they do taste quite good.

I was very pleased with how quickly the chocolates arrived and the box they came in was attractive and the bag was well cushioned with packaging. There are a range of delivery options, the cheapest of which is standard 3-5 day delivery for £3.95 for one item. The last day to order for standard UK delivery is 18th December but you can order right up until 11am on 24th December if you are wiling to pay for the shuttle delivery service. There is also a free click and collect service if you are local to any of the stores.

Hotel Chocolate have a tasting club (which I think, was how I first heard of them, from friends who were enjoying lots of new taste sensations) and you can become a member and sign up to receive parcels of different chocolates to try, this is something that does some very interesting to me.

Disclosure: I received these chocolates for the purpose of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Sunday 8 December 2013

Review: Notcutts Christmas lights

When Notcutts offered me some new Christmas lights to review I immediately thought of my husband and how thrilled he would be. I know he has been after some more to decorate work (the conference centre where we live) and I asked him what he would like, at first he said to me some outside ones for the tea room and then he changed his mind to some for the main tree in the great hall.

He had a look at the 89 different ones on the Notcutts website (yes there really is that many) and decided that he would like some lights that could be used both in or outdoors and wanting some quite plain and simple ones, he went for the 400 white icicle lights. Looking at the picture on the website (below), he expected these to be a single train of lights but actually what arrived with us is a string of light that have 4 or 5 bulbs hanging down in the idea of icicles. I suppose it makes sense but personally I think the picture needs to be clearer in the future.

The lights are also called twinkling lights and I think we both thought that would be a gentle twinkle, it is actually a very in your face constant flashing. This is fine for outside and I can imagine these being used on the front of someone's house. For inside, in the bookshop in our case it really is a bit much after a while. Reception faced these lights and they could drive the receptionist bonkers after a while.

As you can see, they do look very nice. The white cord is quality and very long (17.4m in total), the bulbs are long-life, energy-saving LED and they are mains powered. They were supplied in a sturdy white plastic box with a clip on lid. This is great for packing them away and will last a long time.

These particular lights are now out of stock but I think they retailed for £40. If you are looking for some indoor or outdoor Christmas lights, then do have a look at your local Notcutts or on the Notcutts website as there is a fabulous selection.

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

Sunday 1 December 2013

Review: Be.ez LA robe case for 15" Macbook/ laptop

I requested this laptop case for review as recently I've been concerned about the amount of times I'm taking my laptop out of the house and of course the more it is moved around the more potential there is for it to be bashed.

I have a 15" Toshiba laptop and I was super excited to get a Be.ez LA robe case for it and as it is advertised as being for a 15" I thought all would be fine. Sadly what I now see is that the Be.ez is developed especially for Macbooks, which are of course far more slimline than my laptop. I could not get my 15" laptop into the bag.  Thankfully I went over to visit my mum and her laptop is 14.5" and this fits perfectly and snuggly in the case. So the Be.ez LA robe case does work for a traditional laptop if it is 14.5" or less.

It is such a shame I had to give the case away as I really love it, it is by far the best case I have come across. I have a Belbin one for my netbook and this is far superior in every way but particularly in the thickness and protection capacity of the case. The case is made from low resilience polyurethane material and is 5mm thick. The outside graphite colour fabric is jersey and the inside is a soft fleece and comes in burgundy, blue or black. There is also an inner lip for maximum protection.

The design is simple and unlikely to offend anyone and the zips are excellent, really wide grips for easy pulling. Take a look at the picture below and see how well the protective material works, I pressed my hand in hard and got imprints and then the picture on the right shows how well the material recovers and goes right back to normal, even after a nail imprint!

My Mum is really happy with her gift, so I suppose that is a bonus and I'll just have to sort myself out with another case for my laptop.

You can purchase the 13" or 15" Be.ez LA robe case on Amazon and I see the prices for a 15" one are as little as £17.70 which I think is a really great price for this quality product.

Overall verdict: If you have a Macbook or a laptop of 14.5" or less then I give this product 10/10 as I think it is superb.

Disclosure: I was sent this case free of charge for the purpose of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Saturday 30 November 2013

Easy winter cooking with Colman's and Knorr

Life can get very busy as a mum of three and particularly when one (or more, as was the case this week) of the children get ill it is really hard to stay on top of everything. It is important to me to be able to feed the family a good and nutritious meal even when time is tight so I often use some quick fixes and I'll share a couple of my favourites here -

Knorr stock pots -
My dh picked these up on special price when they were first launched and I have to be honest and say I wondered what the fuss would be about. Then one batch of winter vegetable soup later and I understood, they offer a richness and depth of flavour that I find cubes or powdered stock just do not.

This week I made a very simple spaghetti bolognese (which I served with garlic bread, peas and sweetcorn) and for the first time stirred in one of the beef stock pots about 15 minutes before serving. Muuummm is what I can say, oh yes I will be doing this again, it tasted delicious.

Colman's recipe mixes - 
I absolutely love these, they make cooking so easy and also super tasty. Staples that I use time and time again are the chilli con carne, chicken casserole, beef casserole, sausage casserole and cottage pie.  I have used many of the other varieties but these five staples can always be found in my store cupboard. I highly recommend them and often find they are on special at the supermarket and I can pick two up for just a pound.

Knorr gravy pots -
The first time I saw these little gravy pots was when my Unilever winter food hamper arrived with me a couple of weeks ago. I gave the onion gravy one a try one night when I had cooked toad in the hole. The taste of the gravy is excellent but for five of us we needed more than one pot to have enough to go round. I did find it a bit more effort to boil the gravy on the stove rather than just stir powder/ granules into hot water but the taste was so much better that it is worth it.

Nothing wrong in making life easy for yourself every once in a while I say, what little cheats do you use?

Disclosure: I was sent a food hamper from Unilever for the purpose of this review. I was not instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Friday 29 November 2013

Review: Smurfs 2 DVD

The kids were very excited the other night when I showed them that the Smurfs 2 had arrived in the post for review. They had all watched the original Smurfs move about a year ago with dh whilst I was away in Ethiopia, so for me this was my first foray into the newly recreated world of the Smurfs.  I loved the original cartoons when I was a kid so if I'm honest I expected to be disappointed with this film as remakes are often not as good as the original but I was very pleasantly surprised and enjoyed this film.


Evil wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria) creates Hackus and Vexy, a pair of mischievous Smurf‑like creatures, hoping they will let him harness the magical Smurf‑essence. However, he soon discovers that he needs the help of Smurfette, who knows the secret to turning the pair into real Smurfs. When Gargamel, Hackus and Vexy kidnap Smurfette from Smurf Village and bring her to Paris, it’s up to Papa, Clumsy, Grouchy and Vanity to reunite with their human friends, Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) and Grace Winslow (Jayma Mays), to rescue her.

But will they succeed and more importantly what will they all learn along the way? Probably my favourite part of the film was all the great story threads it had going through it, there was a fabulous message that we are all different and we choose who we will become. My favourite line was "It does not matter where you came from, what matters is who you choose to be".

Take a peek at the trailer and this will give you more of a flavour -

I found the Smurfs 2 a sweet film which was completely inoffensive. It made for a good family watch and kept us all in our seats happily munching the popcorn. My 6 year old twin girls probably loved it the most, one of them loved Smurfette and one the naughty girl Vexy, I think that tells you a little about their characters!

JJ, who is 10 years also enjoyed the film and he liked some of the one liners, there are a few good jokes in there if you listen for them.

All in all we give this a Pannell family thumbs up and would happily recommend the film to other families.

Run time: 105 minutes
Classification: U, suitable for all

Smurfs 2 is released on Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D and DVD with ultra-violet as of 2nd December. There are some fabulous additional features like the history of Smurfette and the animates making of some of the characters, as well as many deleted scenes.

You can purchase the DVD for £10, the Blu-ray for £15 and the Blu-ray 3D for £18 on Amazon.

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

Thursday 28 November 2013

Lewis come and do my school run and be really challenged!

Until July this year our school run consisted of myself and the three kids taking a five minute walk down the road and we were there, it really was idyllic and we never had to get in a car, well not unless I was late for work!

Since moving, the school run is pretty different.  We now live five miles from the kids school and even if we wanted to walk it would be too dangerous, a big main A road and then country lanes without any paths are our route. Also in the interests of being frugal and green we car share with our neighbour now. So my school run includes six super chatty kids in the car, all aged between 5 - 10 years old.

We do have a lot of fun but it can test your skills of concentration as a driver. The questions and chatter is pretty relentless - 'Mum, put on Olly Murs', 'Mum, can we have a snack when we get home?', 'Mum, can F come and play?' and on and on. Then in the background I can hear them playing the yes/ no game or singing along to the latest track. The noise level is high. I have to be honest and say that I have not really consciously thought about how demanding or stressful the school run can be, it is just something you do each day and I'm incredibly grateful to my friend P for doing one of the runs, so I only have to do it once a day.

Take a peek at this fun short clip and see how Lewis Hamilton copes with a school run -

Allianz Insurance asked the racing driver Lewis Hamilton to undertake a school run to see how stressful he found it as someone who is used to coping with driving in extreme conditions. He said 'I can certainly understand how parents could find the school run stressful and a real challenge when it comes to driving safely. Jess and Lauren were great fun but they were very chatty - so I had to make sure I remained focused on driving throughout the journey'.

The little girls made me smile and it was obvious they were super excited to be in the car with someone so famous but I'd like to set Lewis a real challenge and say come and do my school run and have six noisy kids in the car and then you can really test your powers of concentration!

As parents I think we all realise how important it is to keep our children safe and to be aware whilst we are on the roads, but it is great to have a reminder every once in a while as it is far too easy to become complacent.

Monday 25 November 2013

Review: Hello Kitty childrens watches

My twin girls are six now and they have started to take a real interest in what time it is, I think this is mostly to do with being able to check that Mummy is not sending them to bed before their allotted time!

Miss M is doing pretty well and seems to be getting the hang of it and Miss E has not taken as much interest as yet but that's OK. I am thinking it will be a good boost for Miss E though as she has trouble with letters and reading and as numbers seem to present no problem to her if I can help her to tell the time (particularly if we manage it before her twin sister, who is normally the first to do everything) this could give her self esteem just the kind of boost it needs.

Peers Hardy kindly sent me two Hello Kitty watches for the girls and I picked the ones that looked easiest to start to tell the time with. I really love how easy these watch faces are, not only do they give the hour times but also the minutes and they even have reminders on the hands as to what each hand means. I don't think it will take long at all to help the girls be able to tell the time with these to help.

The style I choose retails for £14.99 per watch and I think that is a good price, the watch looks to be quality with a stainless steel case, glass front and leather adjustable strap. I choose two slightly different colour ways so the girls can be individual.

You can see in the picture above how the watch is presented for sale. It comes on a cardboard slip in a plastic covering. It is not the best packaging in the world but it does the job and it was nice and easy to get into, none of those nasty ties that so many products have nowadays.

The back of the watch is a classic buckle fastening and my girls do not yet have the dexterity to do their own watches up but it is easy enough for me to help and I know they will develop that skill in the next year or so, JJ did.

I've only showed you one style but there is a massive range of Hello Kitty watches to choose from and there are many other great ranges from peers Hardy too - Mr Men and Little Miss, Moshi Monsters and Tikkers for children.

You can purchase watches form the Hello Kitty range at Watchshop.com, watches2u.com and on the high street in Debenhams, H Samuel, Fenwick Newcastle and Bentalls Kingston.

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

Saturday 23 November 2013

It'll be snowing at Butlins this Christmas

As you know our family loves Butlins and we go to one or more of the resorts every year but we have never yet had the fun of going at Christmas time. Each of the three resorts are open with Christmas themed short breaks starting from 13th December.

It does sound like you will have a fabulous time if you choose to visit - you can enjoy everything included in the price of your break, there is an Ice Rink, Winter Wonderland - where every child will get a free gift from Father Christmas, the Skyline Snowstorm - meaning that snow is guaranteed at Butlins, Christmas themed arts and crafts, and a traditional family pantomime.

If you are there for Christmas Day you will all be treated to a 5 course Christmas dinner and of course this means that you don’t have to worry about cooking or washing up - perfect! Then those lucky guests who stay over new year will enjoy a fabulous party and get to enjoy a firework spectacular.

Thee will of course be all the normal fun of Butlins too, with the indoor splash waterworlds, fun fairs, Bobs Yard and loads of family shows and entertainment with popular characters such as Mike the Knight and Angelina Ballerina.

Christmas themed breaks start from only £41 per person, for a 3 night break. Book online at www.butlins.com/Christmas or call 0845 070 4730. All breaks are priced per person and subject to availability. Entertainment may vary by break and resort and is subject to change.

Don't be sad if you can't visit Butlins this Christmas you can still join in with their superb advent giveaway. Like them on Facebook and then keep an eye every day for the chance to win great prizes like spa hampers, theatre tickets or an Xbox.

Disclosure: I am a Butlins Ambassador and in May next year I will visit the Bognor Regis resort to review a family holiday. As a family we truly love Butlins and pay to visit each year as well.

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Fabulous find - Topcashback.co.uk

I can't lie to you I'm pretty new to all these cashback sites. Until the summer I had never even tried one and even now I forget quite a lot to use the click through activation. Can you believe that I spent £4500 with a furniture retailer back in June and I forgot to go via a cashback site? You can tell I'm not over the disappointment of that one yet as here I am bringing it up five months later. If I had made my purchase via Topcashback.co.uk then I would have received 7.35% cashback on the whole purchase, that is £330.75 I lost out on!

Oh well, onwards and upwards, now I am in the loop I need to make sure that I do all my shopping online and by going via Topcashback.co.uk.  There are some fabulous deals to be had, as I discovered when they gave me and a few other bloggers £80 and challenged us to spend it via their site and make the most cashback/ save the most on normal retail prices.  Of course how much you can make/ save really does depend on what you need. I sat there this morning with my Christmas shopping list and started to have a look through which retailers I might visit and gain cashback from. I was pleased to see plenty of big names like Debenham, Asda, Argos and M&S.

Here is what I spent my money on -

Red Letter Days - Afternoon tea for two for £35, which gives me a massive 23.1% cashback. First £8.08 credited to my Topcashback account and a great Christmas present sorted. I was also impressed that when I visited the hotels website the price direct would have cost £4 more than going via Red Letter Days.

Then I bought some Christmas toys from Argos and a spend of £41.43 gave me £3.99 in cash back. Not quite the 10.5% it advertised but that amount did include the delivery charge and I didn't really expect to get cashback on that. I had some good savings on the items I bought though, a 2 for £15 deal saved me £5 and a reduction in the price of the Bop It saved me another £5.60.

Next I visited F&F clothing (Tesco) and picked up a bargain pair of slipper boots for Miss E, at just £7 a pair I don't think you can go wrong with those. I got 6.3% cashback on those and that was another 36p.

I think I did fairly well to gain £12.43 cashback on my £80 spend but not content with that I had an explore on the Topcashback site to see where else I could gain some money and they have a free cash section.  I took a free trial subscription to Love Film and once I have streamed 120 minutes of film I receive another £12.60 in cashback.  You really can't argue with 2 months of free movies and £12.60 given to you as well - perfect for TV watching over the gloomy winter months.

That takes my total cashback for my £80 spend to £25.03, that is a 31.3% return and I'm really happy with that.

I'll happily be using Topcashback again in the future an would recommend you take a peek as well. If surveys and competitions are your thing you can even earn money by doing those or using various insurance quote comparison sites too.

Disclosure: I received £80 credit to trial out the Topcashback site and to give my honest opinion, they have not instructed me what to write.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Time for Tesco Clubcard Boost

I absolutely love seeing my Tesco Clubcard points clocking up. Call me sad but it makes such a difference to be able to exchange those points for deals and to do things as a family that we might not be able to afford otherwise. And because we have a Tesco credit card it means that we earn a lot of points in this house no matter where we shop - it is win:win.

Now with Christmas fast approaching, I am all about getting prepared and sorting the presents out nice and early, so I was pleased to hear that the Clubcard Boost is back again. This is where each £5 of clubcard tokens can be boosted into a £10 voucher to spend and I can do this both in-store and online.  Not every department is included in this special event so you need to check, but so many are that it makes it really worthwhile.

Here are my top 5 of gifts that I am looking to buy this Christmas (and don't you just know they are all included in the Boost promotion -

1)  Both dh and myself have brothers who are not easy to buy for so I think this year I will help them to look after themselves. A 30ml bottle of Calvin Klein Eternity at £22 a bottle will do the job perfectly! (That is only £11 of clubcard tokens that I need to boost to get 1 bottle, bargain).

2)  next up is something to help JJ get up in the mornings. I did not realise kids turn into snoozing teenagers at age 10 but he finds it so difficult to awake. So hopefully this LEGO Ninjago Kai clock will help him. This is something really unique that I've not seen before and the red will compliment his room wonderfully. It is £25 and worth it I think.

3)  OK this next one is not the most glamorous gift but sometimes you have to be practical. Dh's grandma suffers with arthritis and I think this Kenwood electric can opener will really help her as it takes the hard and fiddly work out of it. At just £14 it is a good investment for her.

4)  My Mum is really stylish and I know that this lace top would look beautiful on her slim figure and at just £12 you can't get better than that. As it is cream coloured it will go with everything and you can have a cardie or shawl in the colder months to help you stay warm.

5)  Last up we have dh's parents who always like a nice tipple at Christmas so it would be sensible to invest in a case of wine for them. I quite fancy the Tesco Finish Pinot Grigio at £47.94 per case and don't forget if you boost your clubcard tokens it will only really cost you half that amount.

There you have my top 5 that I am going to be investing in this Christmas.

How will you boost your tokens?

Saturday 16 November 2013

Review: Instajunction

I have been using Instagram since October last year and I really do love it. As someone who until last week has only ever had a camera phone in recent years I really welcome the opportunity to use apps like Instagram to make my photos look far better. Something really very ordinary, becomes fabulous in just a few short moments - perfect!

Left - before and right = after being Instagrammed!

And now I can use Instajunction to transfer those great pictures onto many gift ideas and pictures for my home.

I choose to order a set of 4 coasters (which will be a Christmas gift, so I sure hope they are not reading!). These retail for £14.99 and to be honest I'm not sure about the colouring on them. They are very dark and brightly coloured, whereas I'm not sure the original Instagram images were. Have a look below and judge for yourself. I do think they look very modern and I like them but the person I'm gifting them to would probably like them to be more muted and real-to-life in colouring. The coasters are fairly small in comparison to others (they are 9cm x 9cm) but I think big enough to do the job you want them to. They are a quality wood coaster with a hi-gloss finish on the photo and that might be why the colouring looks darker than it really should be.

The other item  choose to trial out was the vinyl wall stickers. I opted for a pack of 8, which retail for £19.99 and I put the rest of the money in myself. Let me say now, I absolutely love these, they are brilliant. I have not quite decided where I will put them as yet but I have been using some blu-tac and trying out a few places. They do say that they are fully re-positional once I have stuck them to the wall but I want to play around and be sure I'm using them in the right area first. Here are a couple of ideas I have been playing with -

I found the Instajunction website easy to use and there is a good selection of products to choose from including magnets, cards, framed prints, calenders, mini books and many more.

I thought the flat rate delivery charge of £2.95 per order is really good value and the products arrived quickly and well protected for delivery.

If you fancy trying out Instajunction then use the code LOY25C9C at checkout to benefit from a 25% discount, this can be used as many times as you like before 31st Dec 2013.  Have fun!

Disclosure: I received £25 credit to spend at Instajunction for the purpose of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Friday 15 November 2013


You might be asking yourself right now 'what on earth is a Doodlemat?'. My first thought was that it would be one of those blotter type pads that posh desks have so the executive can doodle while chatting on the phone. I may just be showing my age and no where has those anymore!

However, these Doodlemats that we have received to review are quite different. These are aimed at children and make wonderful gifts.

The mats that I requested are the larger size (approximately A3), there are also smaller mats available, which are about A4 in size. I was impressed that the mats are made in the UK, it is always a plus to receive a local product. The mats have a glossy melamine cover which the children can write on again and again. The dry-wipe marker (one is supplied with it) wipes away easily with even just a tissue and of course comes off super easy with a wet cloth or wetwipe.

Miss M is obsessed with playing schools and shops at the moment and this board is just perfect for her to pretend she is at school or to write the price list on for her latest shop venture. Not only that I really like that I can just leave it on my kitchen table and when she comes in the kitchen to chat to me she now doodles safety on the Doodlemat instead of a) using up all my paper or b) doodling on my oilcloth!

There are ten different designs to choose from and I think these will appeal to both boys and girls and a wide variety of ages. JJ (aged 10) has already announced that he needs his own Doodlemat so he can play noughts and crosses and boxes when we go to restaurants and are waiting for our meal to arrive.

The A3 size Doodlemat retails for £16.50 and the smaller A4 size one is just £10.50.  Having seen and used the mat myself I feel confident it will last a long time. It is a nice thick corkboard which feels really durable, of course the flip side of this is that it is a bit heavy for the girls to use by just holding it, the large one does need to be on the table for them.

As well as the Doodlemat the same company also sell personalised place/ activity mats. I did not receive one of these for review as I knew my girls would love the Doodlemats best but they are very similar. The design just covers the whole mat and has the child's name on them. I adore the idea that the larger mat can be used as a chopping board to encourage the child to get involved in the kitchen.  If we did not have heat resistant coverings on all our wood tables I would definitely invest in some of these to protect my furniture.

If you fancy placing an order for a Doodlemat or placemat then head over and check out the beautiful designs. You can also claim 25% discount when you use the code 'Mummyfromtheheart' in the Promotion code box at checkout.

Delivery is £4.95 per order or you can pay £7.95 for express delivery, this seems a bit hefty but as I mentioned the mats are heavy and well-made and the weight is probably the reason. Maybe best to plan for some future birthdays and order a few at a time!

Disclosure: I was sent two Doodlemats for the purpose of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Thursday 14 November 2013

Fabulous Family Christmas Films on DVD

I don't know about you but one of my favourite ways to get into the mood for Christmas and to start the countdown to the big day is to watch Christmas movies. This year we no longer have paid-for TV and thus we have lost all the Christmas film channels that so frequently got played last year. Thankfully we were sent a couple of family friendly films to start our long countdown to Christmas.

I sat down with my twin girls  (aged 6 years) and snuggled up for a good watch and we thoroughly enjoyed our Sunday afternoon -

12 Dogs of Christmas 2 (The great puppy rescue)

None of us had seen 12 Dogs of Christmas the original movie but this did not matter at all, we soon got into the plot and enjoyed ourselves. I'll be honest with you, if you are an adult this film is not going to knock your socks off, it is not a blockbuster cinema movie after all but it was nice and perfectly watch able and actually just perfect for a family afternoon snuggled up together.

As far as Miss M was concerned nothing can top this film, it contains everything she loves in life - teenage girls, dancing and dogs - perfect! I love the message of this type of film where people pull together to save the day, in this case the dogs.

I am sure this film will be watched many times by our girls and JJ (our 10 year old boy) also enjoyed it too. Have a peek and see what you think -

Run time: 102 minutes
Certificate: U
Starring: Danielle Churchran, Sean Patrick Flanery, Alli Simpson
Availabel to buy on Amazon for just £5.00 - a bargain!

Home & Alone for Christmas

The other movie we watched was a bit too madcap for me if I'm honest but it truly had the kids hooting with laughter and I heard the odd snort from my husband too. In the style of the Home Alone films (but not as good in my opinion) it is about a family who decide to reconnect by staying home together with no utilities or luxuries in their home for 3 days but it turns out that they have to fight a couple of bad guys a la Macaulay Culkin. Not a traditional Christmas movie but one that allowed me to sit down and sew for an hour whilst the family were all happy watching.

Run time: 98 minutes
Certificate: U
Starring: George Newbern, Megyn Price, Taylor Spreitler
Available to buy on Amazon for just £7.07

Disclosure: Both of these DVD's were sent to me for the purse of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Saturday 2 November 2013

Zalando - More than just women's fashion

I think Zalando have done a great job of establishing themselves as a premium online supplier of women's fashion in the UK but I was really pleased to discover that they sell an awful lot more than just clothes for women.

Men's clothing 
Of course there are also men’s clothes, including many designer brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Bench, as well as shoes too. I ordered JJ a pair of slippers ready for Christmas and I was pleased to receive some nice grey snuggly ones from Tom Tailor. These retail at £17 and that did feel a bit on the pricey side but they are well made and I hope they would last quite a while. You can tell they are a premium brand as they come beautifully wrapped in paper and have a nice box - great as I’m giving them as a gift.

Children's clothing
I had no idea that Zalando sold clothing for children too and it would not have been my first place to look but the range they sell is huge. It takes quite some time to refine your search and find what suits you. I was pleased to see I could refine my search on all sorts of criteria though, such as size, price and colour and I did come up with loads of things that I liked so it was then just the hard decision of what to choose for Miss M to have as a party dress for Christmas.

I chose a navy blue lace dress from Molly Bracken which was advertised as 6-8 years but when it arrived with me it is tiny. I know Miss M is tall (but no taller than an 8 year old, she is only 6 years) and she could only wear this as a top with leggings. It is a shame as nothing on the description indicated to me that this particular brand might come up small and it seems a bit of a flaw that the measurements of the garment are not on the Zalando site. The dress I choose was £22 in the sale, so not cheap but for a special occasion dress I was happy at that price. I’m not so sure it would have made it into my basket at the original price of just under £40 for a child’s dress (or top as the case actually is!)

Can you see how short it is, would any parent let their daughter wear a dress that short?

Delivery and returns
The dress being very small did give me an opportunity to use the returns service and I found this really easy.  I went into my account and printed a label, then I packaged the dress back up, stuck the label on and had to take it back to a site which accepts Yodel, there were loads of sites near me and as I live in the middle of nowhere I think that must be indicative that there are lots of them everywhere. Once received back at the warehouse the money was transferred back into my account and I could choose again.

While I'm talking about Yodel I need to comment on how good I found the delivery service too, I received an email to say my parcel was now with Yodel and then once it was delivered I received another email, which might be surplus for some people but as my parcels go to our reception it was mega useful for me.

Household and home 
What I was really shocked at was that Zalando sell home goods. As with everything else there is a massive selection on there - you can purchase towels, bedding, accessories, rugs, clocks, wall stickers and much more. Again I chose an item ready for Christmas and was pleased to receive the designer pictogram rainbow clock by Karlsson. This retails for £29 and is great quality; really sturdy and it looks good as well. It is larger than I might have thought and again it highlights that sizing needs to be displayed better on the Zalando site.

I was very happy with my experience using Zalando and I'd happily use the site again, especially at sale time as I do love a good sale. At the moment you seem to be able to pick up some last minute summer bargains, so if you are heading abroad they might be good for you.

I received the products shown in this post free of charge for the purpose of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Friday 1 November 2013

Keeping your children safe with seatbelts

Parents around the country are certainly no strangers to having screaming children in the back seat of the family car and driving with the kids on board can sometimes be a tiring experience. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the UK’s first seat belt law which made it compulsory for those in the front seat of a car to belt up. Regulations came into effect for mandatory rear seatbelt wearing by children in 1989 and since then further legislation has been introduced to ensure children are properly protected whilst travelling in cars.

Apart from not wearing one at all, one of the biggest dangers to children is the incorrect use of seatbelts and child seats in cars. There are several common problems that affect a lot of parents and we have had a look at some of the most frequent, offering helpful solutions to ensure your family are kept safe and sound whilst you travel.
Common problems
  • The child seat is too loose
One of the most common issues drivers will make is to leave a child seat held too loosely by the seatbelt. Child seats need to be held in place securely otherwise they can be thrown forwards in an accident, potentially causing serious injury.
To avoid this problem make sure to check that the child seat you use is suitable for your particular car. Fit the seat correctly, make sure to pull seatbelts tight and secure to the seatbelt and the seat properly to prevent them from slipping.
  • The seatbelt won’t fit around the child seat
Seatbelt lengths differ between various car models. If you find that a seatbelt won’t fit around a child or baby seat it’s always worth trying the seat in other positions to see if there is a better fit. In some cases seats will feature an alternative belt route that allows you to secure the seat with a shorter seatbelt. Many modern cars also feature height adjustable seatbelts that can be lowered to facilitate the security of your seat.
  • My child keeps undoing their seatbelt
Some children will develop a habit of undoing their seatbelts. It can be extremely frustrating for parents and can lead to injuries when parents are unaware that their children aren’t secured in their seats. Whilst most children will eventually grow out of this behaviour there are things you can do to stop your child undoing their seat belt. Always tell a child why they need to wear a seatbelt, this way they know it is for their safety rather than to keep them under control. Don’t start a journey until your child has fastened their seatbelt correctly and is wearing it properly. If this is built into a routine it can emphasise the importance of the seatbelt over time.
 Alternatively you can tell a child that you can’t take them on the trip if they don’t wear their seatbelt for the whole journey. This can be effective on visits to their friends or places they are excited to visit. When a child undoes a belt during a journey pull over when it is safe to do so and repeat the fact that their belt must be done up whilst you are on the road. If boredom and restlessness are the issue then distraction and belt buckling games can also be incorporated into your journeys to help. With 30 years passing since the landmark seatbelt legislation came into effect, we have seen a vast improvement in attitudes towards road safety and the proper use of child seats and belts. If we are able to stress the importance of wearing a seatbelt to children at a young age, we will stand them in good stead for the future. By making sure children grow up aware of their importance we can prevent unnecessary injuries and encourage safer road use.
About the author: Michelle Arathoon works in the road traffic accident team at JMW Solicitors, who specialise in serious personal injury claims and regularly work on behalf of individuals injured as a result of serious road accidents. To find out more about the range of legal services they offer, visit www.jmw.co.uk today.

Saturday 26 October 2013

Review: Sheer roller blind from Web Blinds

I'm in love with my new blind, take a peek -

It is available from Web Blinds

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

Friday 18 October 2013

David Walliams - Demon Dentist Review & Giveaway

Huge congratulations to Robyn Logan and Esme Mccrub, the lucky winners. I've emailed you, please supply me with your name and address so the prize can be sent to you.  Thanks, Mich x

It was JJ’s birthday the other week and being the cheeky kind of Mum I am I gave him David Walliams latest book, Demon Dentist. I knew that he would love it, when the last Walliams book went on sale he rushed out and bought it but this one came as a review, he does not need to know that though!

JJ loves to read before bedtime and from that very first day of receiving Demon Dentist he started to read it, now under a week later he has finished it and announced that it is epic (his word for anything that is any good). JJ says this will be a great book for both boys and girls and he thinks you probably need to be about his age or a bit older to really enjoy it (about 9 years plus).

Here is the blurb (JJ's words not mine) -

Darkness had come to the town. Strange things were happening in the dead of night. Children would put a tooth under their pillow for the tooth fairy, but in the morning they would wake up to find… a dead slug; a live spider; hundreds of earwigs creeping and crawling beneath their pillow. Evil was at work. But who or what was behind it…?

I could hear JJ chuckling to himself as he read this book, proving yet again that Walliams is the king of comedy, not just for adults but kids as well. You can check out more David Walliams books at World of Walliams.

I had a chat with JJ about Demon Dentist -

How long did it take you to read the book?
I'm a really fast reader, so it only took me a couple of days to read this.

Who was your favourite character and why?
The social worker is, because she is really funny.

Does it have a good plot?
Yes of course Mum, all his books have a good plot.

What was the best bit of the book?
Definitely when the dentist takes out all the children's teeth.

Is it as good as the other David Walliams books?
It is really good, it is either this one or Gangster Granny that is my favourite.

This book has an RRP of £12.99 but it is available on Amazon right now for the bargain price of just £5.00.

Happy little man on his birthday
You can win 1 of 2 copies of David Walliams Demon Dentist. It will make a super Christmas gift for a child. Enter below, Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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