Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Kindness Elves

Last year I deliberated over whether to join in with the 'Elf on the Shelf' phenomenon that exploded all over my social media networks.  I really like the idea of a little visitor from Santa coming to stay throughout December to check that the kids are being well behaved.  The only thing that really put me off was that I don't think either Meg or Eli would respond to that kind of bribery, they'd just be naughty and still expect the presents to turn up!

However, when I saw that Anna from The Imagination Tree had come up with the 'Kindness Elves' as an alternative to Elf on the Shelf I was intrigued.  Instead of just having an elf visitor who watches the behaviour, these elves are all about random acts of kindness and I particularly like the idea of leaving notes for the children pointing out when they have noticed lovely things the children have done.

After deciding I wanted to take part, the only struggle I had was finding suitable elves!  Apparently if you don't want to pay £20+ it's very difficult to obtain an elf at this time of year.

Thankfully the lovely Claire came to my rescue and sent me three little friends for the kids to meet.

And because I can't do anything by halves, I have written a little letter to accompany them on December 1st and I have also chosen three names for the elves.  I thought long and hard about this as I really wanted them to sound genuine and to mean something, this is something that I would like to keep going for as long as possible over the years.

So, introducing, with their Nordic names and the translations:

I can't wait to share what they get up to over the days in December and if anyone has any ideas, send them my way!

Friday, 29 November 2013

Review: Coppenrath & Wiese Desserts

I love cake.  I am, quite probably, a cake addict.  At the BritMums networking event on Monday I was talking with some fellow bloggers about whether we were savoury or sweet kinds of people.  I am the sweet variety, hands down.

This meant that when we were sent two of the new desserts from Coppenrath & Wiese, it was very difficult for me not to keep it under wraps and refuse to share with everyone else!  However, in the interests of fairness, and the fact that Meg spragged on me after the delivery...I had to.

We were sent the Mousse au Chocolat Torte and the Stracciatella Kirsch Torte.  Both are perfect for fans of chocolate.

The Mousse au Chocolate Torte was heavenly!  If you are a chocolate person then this is the dessert for you.  Three layers - plain, milk and white chocolate mousse on top of a chocolate sponge sat on a biscuit base.  Writing this is making me lick my lips all over again, it was simply delicious.

The Stracciatella Kirsch Torte was a mixture of chocolate and fruit.  Made up of a biscuit base, chocolate sponge with cherry infused stracciatelle cream on top.  Meg and Eli weren't as keen on this one as the fruit had quite a sharp taste but I thought it was equally as yummy, and I felt like I was getting one of my five a day by eating it...from the cherries, obviously *ahem*.  I don't think either myself or my Other Half felt bad for the kids, it just meant more for us!

The sponge in both the desserts was incredibly light and melted on the tongue and even though the desserts themselves were quite substantial, neither of them were heavy or stodgy which was a pleasant surprise.

Both these desserts would easily serve 8 people and would be great as a dessert option for a dinner party, or even just for a family night in.  The desserts are frozen and need defrosting fully before use (that part was quite difficult...)

With Christmas just around the corner I would definitely recommend these desserts, they would be perfect for having after Christmas lunch, especially as they are both considerably lighter than you would expect.

Coppenrath & Wiese also offer a great range of cheesecakes, gateaus and patisseries which, if these two desserts are anything to go by, will also be very tasty!

Disclaimer: We were sent the two products from Coppenrath & Wiese for the purposes of this review.  All thoughts and opinions are our own.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Review: Organix's Winter Warmer Range

As regular readers will know, I recently started working from home as a freelance writer and the decision was made that Eli would also stay at home with me.  In the beginning this seemed to work very well and I was almost guilty of thinking it was going to be all plain sailing (haha!) - in actuality it is easier than I expected but does still present it's challenges.

One of those is finding the time to balance everything: working, playing, eating, cleaning, not losing my marbles etc etc

So when we were sent a selection of Organix's Winter Warmer Range to try I was thrilled.  Lunch is always a tricky business as I haven't usually time to prepare more than sandwiches but always feel guilty then that Eli is eating jam sandwiches every day (jam is all he will eat...which is another story in itself!)

Ready for the cold season, Organix have created a selection of Mighty Meals and Soups ideal for chilly days. Their Mighty Meals include Spaghetti with Pork & Bean Meatballs, Hearty Veg, Bean & Lamb Hotpot, Tasty Veg & Beef Stew with Dumplings and Pasta Shells & Vegetables in a Tomatoey Sauce whilst the soups feature Hearty Root Veg and Beans, Tangy Tomato and Pasta and Tasty Sweetcorn and Noodles - so a really varied choice.

I was surprised when I first came to heat one for Eli at the time it reckoned it would take to warm up, just 40 seconds.  It seemed really quick...too quick and I was worried that it wouldn't heat properly in that time.  I'm pleased to say that was wrong and I actually needed to factor in time for it to cool down.  

For me, the big pluses are knowing that these meals are made with organic ingredients and that they take such a short time to prepare.  They are perfect for anyone who needs a quick meal when time is short and I found it so great on busy days to know Eli was getting something substantial to eat.

But, of course, the most important thing for the little people is whether it tastes good!  Eli ate the entire range we were sent and, as a particular eater (i.e. doesn't like to try new things), I was worried they wouldn't make it past his lips.  I tried to involve him in the preparation so that he knew what was coming and bar one day when I had to coerce and bribe him to finish his dinner (which I think is more related to him than the meatballs!) he was willing to try each one and declared them all to be tasty.

Another positive worth noting for the soups is that they are quite thick in consistency and so they don't just run off the spoon and all down the front of the child before they've even had chance to get it to their mouths...which happens a lot in this house generally!  Eli was less keen on the soups than the meals, but I think that is a preference thing as he doesn't usually deign to eat soup at all.

Overall, I was very impressed with the Mighty Meals and Soups and think they are perfect for little ones.  They are aimed at children aged 1-3 years and I think this is right.  I doubt there was enough food in the serving for Meg (who is 4 1/2 years), she would need to have something else alongside it whereas it was plenty for Eli.

Disclaimer: We were sent a selection of the Organix Winter Warmers Range to try.  All thoughts and opinions are our own.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Review: Go Ape

In the spirit of trying things new, when I was asked by Go Ape to review their Sherwood Pines Treetop Adventure, I said yes even though it isn't the kind of thing I would usually go for.

However, I was determined to be brave and with my enthusiastic sister as my plus one we set off last weekend for Sherwood Forest.

Before heading onto the course we were harnessed up and given the chance to have a good go at using our caribena clips whilst we were talked extensively through how to complete the aerial assault course safely.  We were part of a group of 10, so there were 8 other participants and I don't think any of them seemed as nervous as me.  Most were chomping at the bit and raring to go.  However, our instructor was very good at making sure that everyone felt confident before allowing us to go to the first course.

All important safety talk

The Treetops adventure is split into 6 sections and you basically complete one section before zip wiring down to the ground and walking round to the next section.  I thought this was a good idea in that it gave you time to recover if you were feeling nervous or overwhelmed and also gave you the opportunity to make your escape if you felt so inclined!  I will admit, had my sister not been there encouraging me along, I would probably have fallen into the latter group of people.

Reaction to safety talk...too late to change my mind!?!

There are a number of plaques placed at the bottom of the sections, which have interesting facts about the forest.  I thought this was a nice touch and a good distraction technique!

For people who love to test themselves then this is the ideal day out.  From climbing the rope ladders up to the platform to pushing yourself to walk on the wire without holding on (safely attached of course).  I also think it would be a good experience for someone who considers themselves to be afraid of heights.  I was not the most confident but I am really proud that I gave it a go and can say that I completed it.

There is a variety of challenges such as tunnels made of wood which handily swing as you try to crawl through to the only part that I almost didn't complete....the Tarzan swing.  I'm actually still not 100% convinced that my sister didn't push me off that one.  Jumping and swinging into a giant net is no mean feat, trust me.

However, being in such a serene setting was quite handy; when I found myself panicking I tried to focus on the forest around me.  Just, you know, not focussing on the fact that I was staring at the tops of some of the trees!  I have seen on the website that you can still go on the Go Ape course when it's raining...I'm not quite sure my nerve would have stayed around for that!  Luckily, the day was clear and dry for us and we managed to complete the course in just under 2 hours, with only a few mishaps (see below)

I would recommend wearing gloves, even if the day isn't particularly cold.  I wore mine but my sister didn't and ended up with blisters.  Thankfully that was the worst injury of the day so not much to complain about although my sister did end up with quite muddy trousers as it took her a few tries to learn how to land at the bottom of the zip wire and not fall on her bum (sorry Abi!)

Despite being terrified for most of the day I am actually really pleased that I took part.  The staff were fantastic, really supportive and our instructor stayed with us most of the way around, checking back that we were all okay.

I think this would be great as a different gift to give for Christmas, it's a really interesting way to test your limits and is more physically challenging than you might expect.

And, just to brighten your day here are some things I learned about myself:

1. When being put in your harness, your attractive jogging bottoms might ride up.  Make sure you are wearing matching socks otherwise people may point it out to you.

2. Tripping over at the bottom of the ladder on the first section will probably make you look like an idiot.

3. Not being able to open the security gate on all 5 remaining sections, will also probably make you look like an idiot.

4. I imagine I am the only person in the world who could observe that zip wiring from tree to tree was a bit risky if you didn't make it...and then fail to make it all the way across with my feet just touching the platform before sliding backwards.  Note to anyone taking part - do a bit of a run up for that one!

5. And as if I needed any more reasons why I shouldn't climb up and embrace my inner-Jane  (get it?!!) I imagine I am the only person in the world who could make the tarzan jump, get their foot caught in the net and have their shoe pulled off.  Seriously...

Disclaimer: I was offered the opportunity to visit Go Ape for the purpose of this review.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Review: Design & Drill Power Tool Workshop

As I've said in previous posts, we are big Learning Resources fans in this house.  We have reviewed a number of their products and have always found that they deliver.  Just last week Meg and Eli were playing with the Magic Moves Wand which is one of the first products we were sent, I think this is so great as it means that the toys really last the test of time.

So when the lovely folk at Learning Resources asked if we wanted to review their Design & Drill Power Tool Workshop we were very willing volunteers.  Eli is big on being a 'builder' and the idea of being able to have free reign with a drill that actually worked with 'real' nuts and bolts was beyond exciting for him.  Although the age limit on this is 3+ once he was shown how to do it, Eli hasn't had any problem playing with this.  There is a slight risk that the small parts may make their way into a mouth, but as long as you are vigilant then I don't see an issue.

You get a lot with this workshop.  As well as an electronic drill and screwdriver, you get a spanner and a manual screwdriver, 100 plastic regular bolts, 20 plastic fun bolts, two drill bits and an activity board which folds up into a carry case, perfect for storing all the loose pieces.  The bolts are all brightly coloured which is perfect for educational purposes.  We have played many games selecting all of one colour, for example.

This toy also encourages use of fine motor skills and it did take a while for both Meg and Eli to become adept at getting the bolts in and out but as soon as they cracked it, they both had lots of fun.  Meg in particular has enjoyed creating colourful patterns on the activity board.  With the Workshop you get an activity guide which has some suggestions of patterns you could make, we have worked together to create the different suggestions and although it has required a bit of input from me, I have been very pleasantly surprised at how well Meg did with this particular activity.

The only thing I would note is that the carry case is incredibly heavy.  It's heavy for me to lift, never mind a child so don't think of it as something that can be carried around with ease.  That isn't the case.  Learning Resources have made a Take-Along Toolkit which has been created to be a portable version of this larger Workshop.

Overall, we have really enjoyed playing with this toy.  If you are looking for a gift for Christmas for your budding builder then we would really recommend this.

Disclaimer: We were sent the Design & Drill Power Tool Workshop for the purposes of this review.  However all thoughts and opinions are our own.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Giveaway: Deluxe Afternoon Tea for Two with AskHerFriends

Okay, so it's probably no secret by now that I am fan of pretty things.  It's always been that way and this Christmas my wish list is full of adorable and unique items which are mostly from boutiques and independent sellers.  I just love them!

Last year I reviewed the AskHerFriends experience, or to be precise, my Other Half reviewed it and the formula they offered to find the ideal gift for the 'her' in your life.  We were big fans and I absolutely loved the suggestions that were made once my Other Half had completed the questionnaire and 'asked my friends.'

Whilst the formula of AskHerFriends has changed slightly and they are now operating as a marketplace, the beautiful items they have on offer haven't altered and if you are looking for inspiration this Christmas then I would definitely recommend giving this site a try.

As part of the #WinterGiveaway, AskHerFriends have offered a deluxe afternoon tea for two.  The experience is worth £35 and would make an ideal Christmas present for a loved one.  It can be used at a variety of locations up and down the country too.  Perfect!

To enter, just complete the rafflecopter below.

This competition will end on 11th December.  Good luck!

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Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Giveaway: 12 Month Subscription to Reading Eggs #WinterGiveaway

There was a slight delay with me getting the next competition in my #WinterGiveaway posted, so for that I have to apologise.  But, without too much ado here it is.  

Some time ago Meg and myself reviewed the Reading Eggs program, an online literacy world aimed at children aged 3-7 years.  We were very impressed by what we found and it really helped Meg progress with her basic reading skills.

Reading Eggs includes 120 literacy lessons, 96 spelling lessons, a creative writing factory, 20 comprehension and grammar lessons and more!  

Reading Eggspress in the next level up aimed at 7-13 year olds and uses a highly engaging spinning island where children are instantly involved and interested. The range of activities motivates students to return regularly to complete lessons, compete against others, earn more rewards and improve their skills. Within the program there are 200 comprehension and grammar lessons, a library with over 1000 e-books and much more!

It really is a great online tool to help with literacy.  Reading Eggs have been very kind to offer one lucky person a 12 month subscription to Reading Eggs and Reading Eggspress.  The subscription is worth £39.95 and covers access to both programs.

To enter, simply complete the rafflecopter below.

This giveaway ends on 10th December.  Good luck!

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Saturday, 16 November 2013

Giveaway: Day Dress from The Princess & The Frock #WinterGiveaway

Eek, I'm so excited to say I have another pretty thing to giveaway to one lucky reader.

If you haven't visited The Princess & The Frock, and you have children aged 0-7 years then you definitely definitely should.  All their items are handmade in the UK and made to order, which means that each item is unique.  They also make bespoke items and they are, frankly, bee-yoo-ti-full.  With a capital B.

I absolutely adore this Winter Blossom dress.  I think Meg would look gorgeous in it, I just have to persuade the OH to let me buy it for Meg's Christmas Day dress :)

But, now to the giveaway.  The lovely Claire from The Princess & The Frock has offered a day dress in the size and design of your choice (from the three below) - I don't envy the person trying to make that decision.  My personal favourite is the Soaring High design, if that helps!

To enter, just complete the rafflecopter below.

This giveaway ends on 5th December.  Good luck!

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Book Love: The Pirate's Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson


I'm a day late posting this review because I've had a busy week, so I apologise to anyone who was waiting with bated breath for the next book review (anyone!?!) 

The Pirate's Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson
1946, Hollywood comes to Jamaica, bringing adventure and glamour.

This was another one of my charity shop bargains - I must visit charity shops at least once a week to pick up some books now!  I will admit that I was taken in by the cover and the title, it sounded like it was right up my street.  My risk paid off as I adored this book.

Beginning in 1946, this is the story of a young girl called Ida who lives in Jamaica when Errol Flynn lands in his yacht.  Flynn decides to make his home in Jamaica and Ida decides to make Errol Flynn her husband!  Ida does succeed in entering into a relationship with Flynn and from their long-lasting fling, Ida gives birth to a daughter she calls May.

Further circumstances result in Ida having to leave May in Jamaica whilst she travels to America to find work and we pick up May's story when Ida returns, (as the wife of a wealthy baron!)

We then follow May's story as she tries to find her place in a changing Jamaica and to accept who her father is, though she only meets him once.

I thought that Cezair-Thompson had a fantastic way of writing, she made it very easy to empathise with all of her main characters and to really understand the way they were thinking and feeling, even Errol Flynn.  I was so curious about the 'real' story of Flynn that I looked him up after finishing the book.

It's clear that Cezair-Thompson has lots of local knowledge and her descriptions of the local land were just right in conjuring up white sandy beaches and crystal blue waters etc, she also managed to fit in lots of information about the changing political situation in Jamaica at the time without making it boring and irrelevant.

The story did seem to drag a little in the middle and jumped about a bit, but I stuck with it and I thought it picked up again at the end to end in a really interesting way.  I found myself sympathising with some of the characters I had previously disliked and I think this is down to Cezair-Thompson's way of writing, it really draws you in.

This is not an era I've ever really read about before but I will certainly be on the lookout for other stories of Hollywood, I found it particularly fascinating the way they carried on and behaved, I'm not sure how much of it was factual but it is definitely interesting!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I even found her local dialect writing easy to follow.  I have read another book set in Jamaica with the dialect written in and I found it very difficult to follow but this was not the case.  

It definitely gets 4 stars from me!

Friday, 15 November 2013

The Joy of a Hug

I'm linking this post up with Kylie at Not Even A Bag of Sugar.  It's funny, I sat down to write this post before I knew that the theme for World Prematurity Day was 'Give A Hug'.  World Prematurity Day is on the 17th November and a number of organisations around the world, including Bliss are running the campaign #giveahug to raise awareness of issues faced by premature babies and their families.

Neither of my children were born prematurely so I can't speak from experience about the importance of these issues.  However, Kylie's little boy Joseph was born around the same time as Meg and it was one of the first blogs I ever read, if you want to find out more information then you can visit her blog :)

So, back to hugs.  I am not a big physical contact person.  I always feel awkward about hugging, even close friends and I hate when you meet someone that you know semi-well and there's the whole moment when you aren't sure if you should hug them or not.  It makes me anxious just thinking about it! 

But, I love hugging my children.  I loved hugging them when they were teeny tiny and gave off the beautiful baby smell that all newborns seem to emit.  I love hugging them when they are snuggly and sleepy and although I complain about it, I would happily let them fall asleep on me most days.  Meg is a big hugger.  She can't cope if she see anyone having a cuddle and she isn't involved, she has to push and wriggle her way right into the middle of it.

If she comes into our bed in the middle of the night, she won't stay on the side, she has to be in the middle.  I guess to make sure that she gets the full cuddle treatment from both myself and my Other Half.  Several times we have removed her from our bed and taken her back to her own only to wake the next morning and find her asleep at the foot of our bed.  She loves physical contact and she loves to be near other people, preferably right in the centre!  I like that she is so cuddly, it's her way of showing affection to us and it's very sweet.

Eli, on the other hand, has always been the complete opposite.  He is very much like me.  When he was a little baby he couldn't sleep unless he was in his cot.  He never fell asleep on us, he'd physically arch his back and pull away from whoever was holding him.  He didn't like to be picked up unless he had initiated it and he certainly wouldn't tolerate being cuddled by anyone.  It didn't bother me to begin with but as time went on I thought more and more, it would be nice if just once Eli would come and sit on my knee and allow me to cuddle him rather than the grappled cuddles we did have, with me trying to hug him and him scrambling away as quickly as he could!

Last month, for the first time in his entire two and a half years, Eli climbed into bed with us, snuggled in and fell asleep.  Last week he sat on my knee and listened to an entire story without pushing himself away and more recently he has sitting on my knee and falling asleep on me at lunchtime.  You don't realise how much a simple action can bring so much happiness.  It's like he's finally realised how nice it can be to give and receive a hug!

I know that Eli loves us.  I don't need a hug to tell me that but there is something about an unprompted show of affection which gives you a lovely warm feeling inside, that sensation where you think your heart might burst with joy.  I know that even though Eli might not have appreciated it, I could have picked him up and given him a hug if I had wanted to but it wouldn't have been the same.

15 million babies are born prematurely each year around the world, 60,000 of them in the UK.  Most parents of these premature babies can't hug their baby for days or even weeks after they are born.  I can't imagine how hard that is, to not have the opportunity to pick up your baby and give them a big squeezy cuddle.

What I do know, now from experience, is that the first time you truly get to hug your baby, and the first time you get that cuddle reciprocated, is truly a very special moment indeed.

You can join in with Bliss and the #GiveAHug campaign by tweeting the following message on 17 November:

'I am supporting #wpd to help the 15 million babies born too soon each year with @Blisscharity #giveahug'

or by updating your Facebook status:

'I am giving a hug on World Prematurity Day in support of the 15 million babies born too soon throughout the world each year.  Help us raise awareness of the serious issues faced by them and their families by sharing and liking and by giving a hug #giveahug'

Giveaway: Lisa Angel Scarf #WinterGiveaway

I am particularly excited about today's giveaway as I have been lusting over various products from Lisa Angel ever since I discovered the 'Words to Live By' necklace that they sell (this is on my Christmas list *hint hint*)

I love discovering shops which aren't mainstream and sometimes are 'off the beaten track', they often sell such lovely items which you would only find out about if someone told you about them.  So, here is me telling you dear readers that if you are a fan of gorgeous items then you should set aside some time (and pennies!) and visit the Lisa Angel website.  I can guarantee that you will not be disappointed.  One of the other great things about Lisa Angel is that they offer free delivery on their items so the price you see is the price you pay, no hidden charges.  Excellent!

So, to the prize.  Lisa Angel have offered this beautiful Grey Butterfly Scarf for this giveaway and whilst I am coveting it for myself, I will settle for purchasing one of the other ones they sell, and trust me, there are many that I would like to own!  This would be perfect to give away as a Christmas present, I don't think there are many women out there who wouldn't appreciate it.

As usual, to enter just complete the rafflecopter.

This giveaway ends on 4th December.  Good luck!

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Thursday, 14 November 2013

Giveaway: Movin' Monkeys Building Set from Learning Resources #WinterGiveaway

I couldn't do a large series of giveaways without including something from Learning Resources.  We are such huge fans of their products and there are several items on the kids Christmas list, including what is up for grabs in this giveaway.  It's a shame I can't win the prizes myself!

Learning Resources is a fantastic company which designs and creates educational toys which make learning interesting and exciting for children of all ages.  They develop their own products and release about 100 a year, so there is a lot of choice on offer if you are looking for unique products for your children.

If you are interested in learning more you can visit their website or have a look around my blog for some of the other reviews we have done, you will see that we really do love their products and we have found them all to be long-lasting, durable and that Meg and Eli still play with them after months and months, which is always a bonus!

But, I digress.  Learning Resources have offered one of my lovely readers the opportunity to win a Movin' Monkeys Building Set.  Aimed at children aged 4-8 this is a creative jungle themed gears set which encourages children to build their own structures and is part of a larger range that Learning Resources have.

To enter, just complete the rafflecopter below.

The giveaway closes on 6 December.  Good luck!

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Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Giveaway: Personalised Personal Planner or Notebook #WinterGiveaway

I am big on being organised.  I must have about 4 different notebooks, all for specific things as well as my personal diary and a large family planner.  I was really excited when Personal Planner got in touch to see whether I'd like to review a personalised planner for 2014.  I spent ages looking through the different layouts and designs, what options I could have for each week etc etc - it's going to sound sad to say it but it was a lot of fun!

This is not the finished  product, it's just a coincidence we share the same name!

The full review of my own planner will be coming soon but in the meantime, you have the opportunity to win your very own personalised planner or notebook of any value.

To enter, just complete the rafflecopter below.

The giveaway closes on 2nd December, good luck!

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Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Giveaway: Katie Alice Baking Accessories from Creative Tops #WinterGiveaway

If you are a fan of baking and pretty things then this is the competition for you.  Creative Tops have offered some gorgeous Katie Alice baking accessories from the English Garden range.  They are perfect for any shabby chic fan (I'm actually quite jealous of this prize!)

You will receive cookie cutters, measuring spoons, silicone cupcake cases and three baking tins in large, medium and small.

Keep them for yourself or give them away as a gift this Christmas.  If you win these lovely items then the choice is yours!

To enter, just complete the rafflecopter below.

The giveaway closes on 1st December.  Good luck!

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Monday, 11 November 2013

Giveaway: £30 Voucher for TinyMe #WinterGiveaway

I was recently invited to attend an event at Brownsover Hall Hotel held by TinyMe to show off their fantastic personalised products.  We were all treated to a delicious three course meal and then listened to a short presentation about the minds behind TinyMe and shown samples of some of their products.

I fell in love with the designs straight away; they were cute and quirky and I am a particular fan of the monkey branding they have adopted.

At the event we were given some mini wall stickers to take home and try out and Meg loved hers so much that I knew straight away we'd have to buy some more.  Eli got his own mini stickers and I also bought some more from the woodland range, where Meg's tiny stickers had come from.

They are very easy to apply and have really changed the way the kids bedroom looks.  If you are bordering on the OCD like me, it may take you a while longer whilst you measure out and line everything up but the overall effect is brilliant.  I couldn't have imagined that it would make such a difference but it really has!  The best thing about the stickers is that they are removable and can be repositioned as you see fit, so you aren't stuck with one look once you have applied them.

I also ordered some photo stickers for myself but I haven't got around to putting them up yet. It's my aim to get it done before the Christmas decorations go up, which gives me a few weeks!

I was really pleased, therefore, when the lovely folk at TinyMe offered a £30 voucher to kick off my Winter Giveaway.

To enter, just complete the rafflecopter below.

The giveaway closes on 30th November.  Good luck!

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School is Ruining My Child

As mothers we create our children, literally, we carry them, nurture them, wipe away their tears, care for them when they are sick and protect and shield them as we see fit from the outside world.  In England this is for the first 4 years of their life and then suddenly, we are expected to kiss them on the cheek, gently squeeze their hands and release them to the big wide world of school.

Meg now spends the biggest chunk of her day within the school walls.  When September rolled around I had the same nervous feeling that I imagine most parents have when sending their firstborn off to school; a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, hoping it would go well.  Mixed in with that was the surety that she would be fine, she was ready to learn, ready to absorb the knowledge school would offer to her.  In that way, I was right, she has been perfectly fine.

But school is ruining my child.

Of course, there have been the tantrums and the dark days.  The utter exhaustion of the first few weeks and the worry that our child had somehow been swallowed by a screaming banshee and were we ever going to get a straight answer from her again?!?  That isn't what I mean.

As a mother, there have been some things that I have tried to protect my children from.  We don't watch the news, for example when they are in the room and I will only watch my beloved crime and hospital dramas when I know Meg and Eli are asleep upstairs or aren't in the house.  There are just some subjects which children do not need to be exposed to, because they are children.  Likewise we don't talk about certain things in front of them, we don't want to open ourselves up to questions that we can't answer satisfactorily or that will make sense to the inquisitive minds of our little people.  I am sure that for every parent it is different but we have always taken the time to be careful about what Meg and Eli hear and see.

So, hearing my daughter say the words to her little brother a few days ago, 'I'm going to kill you and all of your family,' quite literally made my blood run cold.  A few days before that, 'bang bang I shot you with my gun, now you're dead on the floor.'  A week or so before that she was deliberately baiting Eli and I asked her to stop because it was mean, 'but I like being mean.'  

This is not my child.

Meg has never been exposed to anything of the sort within our four walls, or in my presence.  We don't talk about death, we don't discuss violence of any sort.  We don't condone mean or unnecessary behaviour towards each other or our family and friends.

So the only place that she could be picking this stuff up from is school.  From her peers and from the playground.

Now, I'm not building up to saying that the teachers and assistants need to be marshalling the playground better and ensuring that all children play nicely and don't pretend to fire guns at each other or say things which I may deem inappropriate.  It might be that as a parent you are sitting there thinking that I'm making a big fuss over nothing but to me it is a big deal.  Guns and death and bad attitude were not things that Meg did or said or had before she went to school.  Those things didn't even exist to her before.

The teachers tell me that she is very popular at school, has friends in every year group.  I think that's so great when I hear it and then I stop and wonder whether the conversations she listens to when she hangs out with her Year 6 buddies at lunch time are appropriate for the ears of a 4 year old.  I don't imagine that those 10 and 11 year old girls are stopping to consider that maybe Meg shouldn't be listening in on their conversations and gossip.  

How can I protect her from this?  I don't think I can and this makes me panic.  It isn't that I want to shield her and keep things from her and wrap her up in a bubble until I'm old and grey and can't do it any more.  I appreciate that such things go on in the outside world and that at some point Meg, and Eli, will need to be aware of them.  But right now at the age of 4, there is stuff that just doesn't need to be on her radar.  I want the things she knows about, the games that she plays, to be appropriate and relevant for her age.  Is that wrong of me?

I don't think that we are addressing it in the right way either.  So far we have attempted to ask her not to talk in such a way which results in her answer of 'but so and so at school does it,' and outright telling her off which just makes us the bad guys and doesn't seem to have any effect on stopping her the next time she says something similar.  We are missing the mark in getting her to understand that it isn't the way she should be behaving.  

The worst part is that she didn't start to learn any of this until she went to school.  Eli is hearing it much earlier because Meg is passing it on to him.  I can't think of anything worse than hearing my 2 year old son talking about being dead.  I just think it's so...unnatural.  At this age children shouldn't have worries, they shouldn't need to consider the issues that adults do, the idea of someone coming into our house to kill us shouldn't even exist to them because they should feel safe and secure in their own little worlds and yet Meg has told me that this is something the children at school talk about.  I want to go and stand in the playground and say, 'What the heck?!? Play make believe superheros, or play house, play hopscotch and football, play running around like crazy and tig.  Don't talk about murder.'  What is that about?

I don't want her to be mean on purpose because she sees other children behaving that way.

I don't want her to play games where she is pretend violent because she sees other children playing those games.

I want my happy, go lucky, independent and creative child back.

How on earth can we find the balance between keeping her our innocent little girl and allowing her to be in the wider world, hearing and learning all kinds of things that we can't protect her from.

Short of taking her out of school, which is not only impractical and overly dramatic but also now a bit like closing the stable door once the horse has bolted, what on earth can be done?

Friday, 8 November 2013

Winter Giveaway 2013

I am so pleased to be able to say that over the last year my blog has grown from strength to strength and it's largely thanks to you lovely readers that I am still sitting here tapping away on my keyboard.  Whilst I know that people are coming back to read what I'm writing, I have an excuse to keep going!

As a way of saying thank you, I have collaborated with a number of brands to bring you the Winter Giveaway.

I have some really great prizes to offer and hope that as many people as possible will enter to show support for the brands and companies who have kindly offered them to me.

Book Love: The Detective's Daughter by Lesley Thomson


The Detective's Daughter by Lesley Thomson

This was a suggestion made to me by my Kindle (or I suppose, by Amazon) and I liked the idea of it so decided to give it a try.

In 1986, Kate Rokesmith decides to go for a walk with her four year old son down by the river.  On that fateful trip she is murdered, lives are ruined and Kate's death remains unsolved by the lead detective, Terry Darnell.  Inspector Darnell's passion for solving the mystery of Kate's death drives a wedge between him and his daughter, Stella who feels pushed aside by his obsession for finding out who the killer was.

Thirty years later, Terry Darnell dies suddenly and Stella comes across boxes relating to the case whilst sorting through his things.  Stella immediately decides to destroy them but something pulls her in and she starts to read them...

On the whole I thought this book was okay.  I don't like to write negative book reviews as I have yet to read a book which is totally disastrous but I will admit that I struggled with this one.  It is written from a number of different perspectives and there is no indication whose perspective you are reading from, you have to decipher it as you go along.  On the whole this isn't too much of an issue but I am personally not a fan.  I'd much rather the author just told me the person and the era I'm reading about rather than having to work it out and not concentrating on what is happening in the story because I'm so busy trying to recollect information to work out where we are in the book!

Also, I'm not sure if it was just the kindle version but there were a lot of spelling mistakes and errors too, missing words and at one point a whole plot flaw.  I can't say too much otherwise I will give the ending of the book away but a character is seated in a chair and then is lowered to the floor.  A paragraph later, someone else approaches them in the chair.  But they are still on the floor!?!

I am sure that for some people, things like that wouldn't be a problem but I really struggled to stick with the story.  I find mistakes a total turn-off to a book, even more so when sentences don't make sense and I had to reread sections to make sure it wasn't me missing something.

Another thing I didn't 'get' was the retelling of what happened to Jonathan (Kate Rokesmith's son) after her murder.  We are privy to two chapters I think of his experience at boarding school and then it stops...randomly in the middle of the book it just stops.  There is no connection or point to us hearing those facts other than perhaps if it intended to help us understand why the boy is so troubled but it just read as weird and out of place to me.  Perhaps that is the style...I certainly didn't get it.

I thought the concept of the book was really good and I didn't have a clue who was responsible until the end, a plus about reading on the kindle is I can't skip ahead as easily to see who the culprit is!  I just thought it could have been written a bit better, I finished the book ultimately confused and would consider a good chunk of the book totally irrelevant to the final chapter.  It's a shame because I can see how it could have been a really enjoyable read for me but it just missed the mark.

Not a thumbs up from me I'm afraid although I would be interested to hear from anyone else who has read it to see what they thought.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Review & Giveaway: Yu! Healthy Snacks

As mummy to two young children, having snacks on hand for emergencies/bribes/distractions is always handy but making sure that they are healthy can sometimes be a challenge.  Usually my two are good at eating their fruit but having sneaky ways of making sure they eat more is never a bad thing. When Yu! offered us the chance to try out some of the products from their Healthy Snacks range we were very game.

We were sent a great selection which, as you can see was made up of the Just Fruit Chews, Yoghurt-Coated Fruit Pieces and Yu! Bars.

The first one we tried were the Yu! Bars.  Containing 40% fruit within a yoghurt coated cereal bar.  I shared one of these with Eli and popped one into Meg's lunch box.  Both parties (I didn't really get a look in once Eli had tried it!) were very positive.  We often buy cereal bars for snacks but knowing that these contain some fruit is a very big plus in their favour.  Meg said it was 'delicious' and asked if she could have it again for lunch which is a good sign indeed!

Next up we tried the Yoghurt-Coated Fruit Pieces.  I tried this one myself and I was pleasantly surprised by this, having always imagined yoghurt coated things to be sickly sweet, it was very creamy tasting and satisfying as a mid-morning snack.

Finally, we tried the Just Fruit Chews.  These are bite-sized pieces of dried fruit which have been designed to look and taste like sweets but actually are 100% fruit.  For some reason the kids were less enthusiastic about these which, I managed to deduce was because they are dark in colour.  The sweets that they would normally be given are brightly coloured chewy sweets so they were dubious about my description.  Plus, as Meg kindly pointed out to me, sweets are bad for you.  I think I should have stuck with calling them fruit pieces because no convincing from me would persuade her otherwise!  So, myself and my Other Half were left eating them and we really enjoyed them.  I was surprised at how much I liked the blueberry ones as blueberries aren't a fruit I would normally opt for, I'm not too keen on the taste but these were very nice indeed.  One to bear in mind!

Overall, for a healthy snack I was very impressed by this range.  They offer a good variety of flavours within each type and they are perfect for lunch boxes too which is great if you want to slip in a little treat whilst knowing that they are okay for your children to eat.  We will definitely be buying from this range again as they proved very popular with Meg and Eli, especially the Yu! Bars.

So, if my review has convinced you that they really are yummy snacks, would you like to win your own selection of Yu! Healthy Snacks?  One of my readers can win a selection similar to the one I was sent in my review.

To enter, just complete the Rafflecopter below.

Terms & Conditions
- Open to UK residents only
- All entries will be checked
- The prize will be provided by Yu! Snacks and not Catch A Single Thought
- The winner will be contacted by email once their entry has been verified.

Good luck!

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Disclaimer: We were sent the products for the purpose of this review.  All thoughts and opinions are our own.

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