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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.