Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Review: Hot Dots Jnr

I'm sure by now you're aware that Meg has a keen interest in reading, and talking!  But not so much with numbers...she can count to 10 which is fine but anything above that and we start to struggle.  Neither has she got the patience to sit and count things, she'd much rather be pretending to be a fairy or (probably more accurately!) a pirate and if you challenge her to count something she's more likely to just pluck a number out of the air than try and correctly guess it.

Which, of course, is fine and I love that she is so creative when she plays but I have found myself wondering over the last couple of months what steps we need to take to help her prepare for school next September.  Obviously this will be a gradual process but it doesn't hurt to consider it, does it?

So I was intrigued to see how Meg would get on when we were sent Hot Dots Jnr to review by Learning Resources.  The Hot Dots system is basically an electronic pen which can be used with a variety of sets.  Your child touches the pen onto the answer they think is correct and it either lights up red or green and has accompanying phrases or music.

We were sent the numbers and counting set which is aimed at 3-6 year olds.  When Meg first  opened the pack I thought the cards were really simple.  She's at the lower end of that age bracket and she was dealing with them without any problems, but then she got further into the pack and the cards did get a good deal more difficult with her needing to identify the number written in word form.  Meg, of course, had very little chance of getting this right but it was interesting watching her trying each one and working out which was the right answer.

The cards cover counting, matching and sequencing.

I really liked this set, we've had it for over a month now and Meg will still fetch it and sit quietly playing with it.  Eli also likes 'joining in' and identifying the different animals on the cards!

There are lots of different sets available from the Learning Resources website.  I've added a phonics set to Meg's Christmas list as I think it's something which will get well used.  

Disclaimer: I was sent the Hot Dots Jnr Set to review.  All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own. 

Monday, 26 November 2012

Meal Planning Monday (26 November 2012)

We very nearly stuck to our meal plan last week which was refreshing!  The only change we made was a sneaky payday take out on Thursday so the turkey meatballs have been carried forward onto this week.

I had some comments last week about the sausage special so the recipe is below.  I found it on the internet (possibly Netmums?) but I change what goes in it almost every time I make it so I'll just put the most basic version down.  I have found it's one of those recipes which happily lends itself to whatever you've got in your cupboard!

Sausage Special
6-8 sausages
1-2 chopped carrots (I prefer cutting mine into cubes so they go soft and the kids eat them!)
1 chopped onion
1 tin of baked beans
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 crushed clove of garlic
150ml vegetable stock

Grill the sausages.  In the meantime, fry the onion in some oil, add the garlic and when soft add the tomatoes, mushrooms and carrots and let them cook through on a low heat.

When the sausages are brown, chop them up and put them in (this can be at any point).

Add the beans and the vegetable stock.  Simmer for 15-20mins until ready.

Serve with potato, crusty bread...whatever you like.  My kids generally prefer mash with this.

I hope that can be of use to someone!  It's even better reheated as it tends to thicken and as a family of 4 I find there's usually enough leftovers to freeze another meals worth.

So, onto this week:

I'm linking this up with At Home With Mrs M's Meal Planning Monday.  For more meal inspiration why don't you go and look at the other links?

Monday, 19 November 2012

Meal Planning Monday (19 November 2012)

On last week's meal plan we had cowboy chicken which proved quite popular and I said I would post the recipe.  So here it is, it's so easy and simple and really quite yummy!

It's meant to be made with chicken drumsticks but I'm not a fan of chicken on the bone so I always use chicken breasts.  Works either way.

- chicken drumsticks
- 2 lemons
- 1 tbsp clear honey
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- black pepper and mixed herbs

Put chicken breast in an ovenproof dish.  Squeeze the lemons, drizzle the honey and crush the garlic over them.  Season with pepper and mixed herbs.  Marinate in the fridge for a couple of hours.

When you're ready, put them in the oven (covered otherwise they'll dry out) at 180 C and cook for around 40 mins or until the chicken is cooked through.


This week's meal plan is a bit scrappy.  It's the week before payday which as usual means using up all the remaining bits and pieces in the freezer and cupboards.

 For more meal plan ideas pop over to At Home with Mrs M.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Wot So Funee - It's All In The Accent

We're currently at that point in Meg's life where almost every other sentence coming out of her mouth has great comical value.  She just says what she's thinking and isn't bothered or aware of the consequences.  And sometimes it's so unintentional you just have to laugh!

On Thursday I took the kids on a 2 hour walk.  Despite being consistently asked 15 minutes before we left whether she needed the toilet, reminded that there wasn't a toilet there and forcibly plonked on the toilet before we left when we were about halfway round naturally Meg decided she needed a wee.

Luckily there were public toilets and several other mums present who shared an eye-rolling "yours too eh?" moment with me when I entered.

So, the scene is set.  

Meg was on the toilet, swinging her legs, taking her merry time regaling us all with a tuneless version of Baa Baa Black Sheep when her welly fell off.  Naturally Meg exclaimed "oh my welly has fallen off" except, at the moment Meg is being a pirate, so what she actually said was "argh me willy has fallen off"

That in itself caused me to stifle a giggle but I couldn't help myself when a little voice piped up from somewhere else in the toilets:

Small child: *gasp* "Mummy, what if my willy falls off" 
Clearly harassed mother: "Your willy won't fall off, don't be ridiculous" 
Small child: "I just heard it"
Harassed and exasperated Mother: "I don't think that's what she said"
Meg *indignantly*: "Yes I did, my willy fell off!"

I tried and failed at not snorting with laughter and we had to hide out in the cubicle until I was sure the other mum had gone as I don't think I could have taken the glares.

Definitely one of the funniest things to happen for a while, I just hope that other poor boy isn't too traumatised!

I'm linking this up with Actually Mummy's:

Wot So Funee?

Friday, 16 November 2012

Book Love: Tideline by Penny Hancock


The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

I said last week that I was going to review the last two books in the trilogy but I really haven't much to add other than, if you haven't read them - do!

If you want to read my earlier review, you can do so here.  

I thought instead I would review the book I've just finished.

Tideline by Penny Hancock
He chose to come to the River House.  She chose to keep him there.  Forever...

I'm not usually a fan of thrillers so I was a bit wary when I first started Tideline but from the first page I was hooked.  The story is centered around Sonia, a voice coach who teaches from her home River House which is situated near the Thames.  She opens the door one day to 15 year old Jez, who has come to collect an album Sonia's husband Greg offered to lend him.  Sonia invites him in and asks him to stay for a drink.  During that time Sonia is overwhelmed with a desire to keep Jez in the River House in order to 'protect' him.

You meet various characters in the book and some of the chapters are written in a third person narrative from Jez's aunt, and Sonia's friend, Helen's point of view.  I can see why Penny Hancock has done this, to help with the flesh of the story but the chapters were few and far between and at times I felt a bit unnecessary.  

The book starts the minute Sonia opens the door to Jez which I found difficult to begin with.  I wanted more of an introduction to the characters but instead Penny Hancock just begins with the meaty story and doesn't let up until the end.  The reasons behind Sonia's decision to kidnap Jez are unraveled and revealed slowly throughout the telling of the story.

What is so interesting about this is that it's not often you read a book from a captors point of view.  Penny Hancock has created a very troubled woman in Sonia but one you almost start to feel sorry for.  It was an interesting perspective to read from.

The premise of the book is quite unsettling and at times I found I had to try and read it from a more removed mindset as it is incredibly dark but I honestly couldn't put it down.  There is a twist right at the end which I didn't see coming at all and definitely made it worth finishing.

I also enjoyed how Penny Hancock tied everything in with Sonia's obsession with the River Thames.  If you don't like overly descriptive books then this is probably a big turn off but she often relates things back to the way the river works and a lot of Sonia's thoughts and emotions are intertwined with descriptions of the Thames.  I thought it was clever.

My Other Half read this book and didn't enjoy it.  He felt that there was too much 'emotional reasoning' and felt quite unsympathetic and angry towards Sonia.  I can understand his comments but I thought that this was part of the genius in the telling of the story as you see Sonia as a real person, with real issues and in some ways you can begin to empathise and identify with her despite the awful things she does.

If you enjoy thrillers then I think this is definitely a book worth reading.  If you don't like books which have an unsettling negative element to them then I would give it a miss!

If you want to join in with my Book Love linky, please do.  Feel free to take the badge too :)

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Currently Reading: The Adulteress by Noelle Harrison

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Making Space...

I've been quiet on the blog this week as I've been a busy bee preparing for the arrival of the new member of our family.  I've hoovered and dusted and disinfected and mostly read and read and read to try and at least convince myself that we're prepared for our new inhabitant!

Tomorrow is a very exciting day for Meg and she has told everyone we've met today that she will be going to pre-school tomorrow in her pyjamas (for Children in Need) and then Daddy will be coming home (and never ever ever going away EVER again without us) and then we will be going to pick up our very special new friend. 

We're bringing him home tomorrow so watch this space, I'm sure there will be plenty of photos!

Monday, 12 November 2012

Meal Planning Monday (12 November 2012)

Much to my amazement we almost managed to stick to the meal plan last week.  We deviated from the plan on Friday (although I can't remember what we had, which is slightly worrying!)

It was so nice not having to spend most of the afternoon thinking over what we might be eating later on, made things feel much easier!

With the change of the weather I've had to fight the urge to serve casserole after casserole this week but I'm not sure whether I'll succeed or just change my mind on the actual day!  My Other Half is away for most of the week as well, so it will just be me and the kiddies to feed which should mean most of these meals can be made and leftovers frozen which will be good for the purse!

Silent Sunday (11 November 2012)

Love All Blogs

Friday, 9 November 2012

Book Love: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins


The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I haven't quite finished reading the third book in this series but I thought I'd just review the first one this week and I'll review books two and three next week when I'll hopefully have finished.

If you haven't yet heard of 'The Hunger Games' they are a trilogy about 16 year old Katniss Everdeen who lives in Panem (what we now know as North America).  At the centre of Panem is the Capitol and there are 12 further Districts each devoted to a different industry or skill surrounding it.  There was once a District 13 but this was destroyed by the Capitol in an uprising.  It was this rebellion that led to the creation of the Hunger Games, a live TV show where 1 boy and 1 girl from each District are forced to appear and fight to the death.  Katniss is the heroine of the trilogy and all three books follow her journey.  

I won't go much more into the plot than that otherwise I feel it would be spoiling the story.  These books are marketed as teen fiction but I think their appeal runs much wider than that.  Both myself and my Other Half have read them and I would recommend them to both adults and teenagers.  I think Suzanne Collins has written a fantastically fast paced, intricate story which is quite difficult to tear yourself away from!  

I have found myself getting incredibly frustrated at points with the 'will they won't they' love story between Katniss and Peeta (the boy chosen to represent District 12), I think this is brilliantly interwoven into the main thread of the story.  It's not really essential that they do get together but somehow it's what you really want to happen.  Or what I want at least, I'm more of a sucker for happy endings than I think.  It's a slow developing storyline but it was the one that kept me gripped and turning the pages.  (NB: Also one I felt the film did NO favours.  I give their interpretation a big *thumbs down*)

There is also absolutely no way this story is predictable.  I didn't see any of the major curveballs coming and would just be comfortably getting into the story when something huge would happen that would shift the entire course of the book.  Suzanne Collins really does manage to keep you guessing until the very end.  Even now on the third book I have no clue what is going to happen in the final part.

I could go on and on about how well this is written but I just recommend you pick it up yourself and give it a go.  You will know within the first few pages whether you're likely to be hooked or not.  I can't think of a single place in the story where it's felt sluggish or slow moving.  Basically READ IT!

Currently Reading: Mockingjay (The Hunger Games Trilogy) by Suzanne Collins

Thursday, 8 November 2012

The Rylan Factor...

Ok, so if you're a watcher of X-Factor, or if you just happen to be on a social media network on a Saturday or Sunday night it probably hasn't escaped your notice that Rylan is still here.  Much to the chagrin and dismay of thousands of X-Factor fans, apparently.

Fans who come out in force ranting and raving about how unfair it is that 'good' acts are going home and talentless tuneless twonks like Rylan are still around.  And my favourite of course, that X-Factor is a fix.

Now, I won't go as far as to suggest that it wasn't decided for the judges who to put through into the final.  I certainly find it difficult to believe that two international music superstars saw something amazing in Rylan and chose to put him through.  I was listening to an interview with Robbie Williams on Radio 1 on Sunday and I think he hit the nail on the head when he said that Rylan has a big future ahead of him, probably as the star of a reality TV show.  What's bigger than reality TV right now?  We've got The Only Way is Essex, Geordie Shore, Scouse Wives and all those others spin offs.  If all that Rylan achieves is to get his own reality TV show then it's still a win for the producers isn't it, after all, he'll forever be associated with the X-Factor. 

But I highly doubt that the producers would be daft enough to jiggle the results around to keep Rylan in.  Particularly given the exposure rigged phone voting has had over the past couple of years.  So it therefore stands to reason that people are voting for Rylan and not for the acts who are sent home.

And so what's the point in complaining?  I wonder how many of those people flooding Twitter and Facebook have actually picked up the phone and voted for their 'favourite' act?  And how many actually thought those who have gone home so far had a real shot at winning?  For a start the Over's never do well.  I would hazard a guess that for those who are actually voting they are just not current enough.  And then the alternative acts who have survived the first few weeks start to drop like flies.  And finally, you have the ones who are musically talented but just can't connect with the audience.  I liked Kye enough listening to him but I didn't get captivated by his performances.

On top of this, what does posting about it actually achieve?  Those people who love an underdog will simply be encouraged to come out in Rylan's defence and I sincerely doubt that the producers are going to remove their ear plugs on a Saturday night and say "Oh, holy moly, that boy can't actually sing.  Better get rid of him."  The honest answer is that Rylan shouldn't have been put through in the first place but he's here now, what's the point in bemoaning it?  

I know you probably can't tell from the tone of this post but I can moan with the best of them come Saturday night when I'm listening to him ruin a perfectly good song but it's not as if he's going to hold his hands up and admit he can't sing and gallantly bow out either is it?  Who would?

I can't claim to be 100% against him either though.  Quite frankly it would serve Simon Cowell right if he had to give a million pound recording contract to a man who, thus far, has only shown a talent for managing to murder several songs each week in his mash ups.

In fact, if I'm honest, I'm less bothered about Rylan's presence than I am about the number of times Louis reminds us that "we're looking for an international recording artist" (anyone for a drinking game?!?) or how he seals the fate of his acts "I really hope the public vote for you, we need your votes!  *waggles pen*"

So here's my final thought on the matter - if you don't like the X-Factor, don't watch it.  The producers are always going to do whatever it takes to push up their ratings.  This certainly gets people talking and tuning in.  If you want to make a difference stop watching.  A drop in viewers will have more impact on the content of X-Factor than any number of tweets or Facebook statuses.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Review: The Land of Sometimes

Every now and then you come across something which you just can't stop raving about.  Something you tell everyone about even when it's not relevant to the conversation.  The Land of Sometimes has become that thing for us.  My Other Half has even taken to playing it to unsuspecting family and friends.  We really love it that much.

If you're sitting there, brow furrowed wondering why you haven't heard of such an amazing thing then let me enlighten you.  The Land of Sometimes is an audio storybook which tells the adventures of twins Elise and Alfie as they travel through the Land of Sometimes, where four seasons pass in one day.  Each part of their adventure has an accompanying character and song.

At the moment Meg and Eli are a little bit too young to understand the complexities of the story, and I found that some of the language was used a bit optimistically if the target audience was younger children but as this is advertised as being for ages 2-99 I suppose it doesn't matter too much!  

I think my favourite thing about the music is that there are so many varying styles there's a song for everyone.  Meg, naturally, loves Little Twink, the cheeky mischevious fairy who makes a mess whilst children sleep.  Little Twink has been blamed for a lot of emptied toy boxes lately!

My Other Half loves the Chant of the Chameleon Catcher and can often be heard giggling away to the lyrics when it plays in the car.  I'm not sure what my favourite song is, I enjoy them all.  

We think the entire thing has been expertly produced and we would really recommend it for anyone with children.  It has been a refreshing change from the usual children's songs we have playing on long car journeys!

It also encourages creativity in children, we've enjoyed having long conversations with Meg over what we think the characters look like (prior to looking at the illustrated booklet which comes with the CD and shows the island and the characters)  and what we think of the songs.  I don't think it will be long before Meg's making up dances for each song!

The only teeny tiny niggle I have is the difference in volume between the spoken story and the songs.  The story is incredibly quiet in comparison to the songs and we find we either have to have the songs really loud to hear the story or we have to turn the volume up and down all the time.  It would have been better if they could all have been on a similar level.

For children who enjoy the story you can also visit the website for some more interactive activities, such as exploring the map further or downloading colouring pages of your favourite characters.  

I would love to see what else they have lined up for the characters.  Maybe a Land of Sometimes version 2?  

With Christmas coming up I think this would be a perfect gift.  I already have several people in mind who will probably be receiving this from Meg and Eli!!  It costs £9.99 from the above website plus p&p and I really see this as a gift that will last and grow with your children.  We've had it for almost a month and we have listened to some part of it every day even if we're just popping to the shops in the car.  At the moment the kids just appreciate the musical side of it but I can't wait until Meg is a bit older and we can snuggle up and listen to the story together.  I think it's brilliant tool for inviting children to use their imaginations.  

Disclaimer: I was sent the CD for review purposes.  All opinions are my own and yes, we really do love it THAT much!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Wot So Funee - Sibling Love

Siblings are so fascinating.  I never appreciated my brother and sister until I left home and now that I'm watching the relationship between Meg and Eli develop I think I miss the time we used to hang out even more.

Sometimes though, you just have to get on and fight it out don't you?  Meg can usually be relied upon to tell the truth about what has happened when they've had a scrap but we've recently entered a phase of her trying to twist the truth to suit herself.

Last week my Other Half came across Eli crying and asked Meg what had happened.  This was the conversation:

"Why is Eli crying?"

"I don't want to tell you"

"Why is he on the floor?"

"He just fell over, when I didn't push him down"

Oops!  Better work on your deception skills Meg!

Wot So Funee?

Monday, 5 November 2012

Smile (See it Snap it Love it)

If you get your camera out and ask Meg to smile at the moment you're likely to be met with this kind of face.  She appears to have 'gone off' smiling nicely for the camera!

So I was a bit stumped by this week's theme of 'Smile' for See it Snap it Love it.  But then I remembered that we did manage to snap this gorgeous photo a month or so ago.  I guess I'll have to treasure it until she decides to start smiling nicely again!

For more entries head over to Dear Beautiful Boy.

Meal Planning Monday (5 November 2012)

I'm back for Meal Planning Monday with a vengeance.  I've let things slip over the last few weeks as things have been quite chaotic at home but I've taken advantage of the new month to start again with my weekly meal plans.

We're away this weekend at a family event so I haven't got any plans for then although we are obviously hoping to eat!

For other meal plan ideas, hop over to At Home with Mrs M.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Book Love: The Venetian Contract by Marina Fiorato


I've been quiet on the blog this week as I've not been able to tear myself away from the trilogy I'm currently reading.  I must be the last person to start reading them but they were worth it!

But as you'll probably see I've changed the name of my posts to Book Love Friday as I would love this to become about a group of people who love to read sharing their recommendations.  Not just me giving you my opinions on books!

The Venetian Contract by Marina Fiorato
What secrets lie at the heart of Venice

I can't start this review without saying anything other than I LOVED this book.  It's the story of a young Turkish female doctor called Feyra who risks her life to take a message to Venice during the plague.  Her story is intertwined with the stories of Venetian Dr Annibale Cason and architect Andrea Palladio.  

The story is expertly written with fascinating descriptions of the local architecture, I felt like it was just enough that I was able to picture exactly what the buildings looked like without being overdone and reading like a textbook.  It definitely left me with a longing to visit Venice and Istanbul (then Constantinople) just to see the buildings and experience the sights and smells depicted throughout the story.

The book was easy to read and I felt it kept a good pace, I read it in under a week which usually means I'm hooked!  The characters were well written and Fiorato kept me guessing until the very end whether love would blossom between Feyra and Dr Cason and even what the outcome of the story would be!  There's a mixture of fact and fiction within the story too which always lends itself well to someone who enjoys their history!

There were a few darker moments which were appropriate to the story and I particularly found it interesting to read about the conflicts between the Turkish and the Italians at the time.

As you can probably tell, I can't think of anything to criticise in this book.  I read a lot of historical fiction based in Medieval England so it was nice to read some set in Europe and experience a different perspective.  If you're a fan of historical fiction then I would definitely recommend this book.

As always, if you want to link up with a review of a book you've written please do so below and feel free to take the badge and share the Book Love!  Also, feel free to just leave a comment with any book recommendations.  I find recommendations are the best way to find new authors!

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Currently Reading: The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins