Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Deck out your home this Christmas for less with Poundland's cracking value

Christmas is such an expensive time of the year right?  All those presents, the food, the drink, the parties, the new frock and the Christmas all adds up.

So when it comes to dressing the house, I like to try and save costs where I can.  I have my old favourites in the loft which come out year after year, but I do try to keep them up-to-date with some on-trend accents and I also tend to use a lot of natural materials such as pine cones, holly and ivy which I gather from the garden or pick up on woodland walks.

To freshen my decorations up, I've been bargain-hunting in Poundland and I have to say, (not that I'm averse to shopping there, or could ever possibly be called a snob) you'd never guess that they came from a discount store.

To create a cosy hygge feel in my dining room, I've decorated the mantle in Scandi style red and white.  Candles for that feeling of warmth and soft lighting, pretty wooden star fairy lights, a sprinkling of candy canes and some real glass vintage style baubles all add to the look. I bought some scented tea lights too to add to the atmosphere and they smell lovely - just £1 for a pack of 16 orange and cranberry scented candles.

Large etched glass vintage style bauble £1, pack of 9 mini mercury glass baubles £1, set of 6 wooden star lights £1

I've kept the feeling if hygge going with my red and white theme. Cosy up with decadent glasses of hot chocolate topped with candy canes, or use them to decorate door wreaths such as this handmade rag wreath I've made. 

Ho ho ho glasses £1 for 2, metal sleigh bells £1 for 10, candy canes £1 for 12, chocolate coins £1 for 15

If you've been hooked by the metallic trend, then these copper fairy lights are just the job.  The Moroccan style, little lattice-work spheres are so stylish. Copper works really well against vibrant green foliage, so these would be perfect for a mini tree or to wrap around a spruce wreath, and being battery operated is a bonus as it makes them more portable.

Set of 10 battery operated copper LED lights £1

Silver metal star lights with blue LED bulbs £1 set of 10 battery operated fairy lights

Icy blues and silvers are a stylish combination, and you can make it grown-up without venturing into Disney's Frozen territory.

Create a cosy basket for guests to grab a snuggly blanket while they enjoy their mulled wine, decorate with frosted glass or these real glass baubles with feathers inside, and the delicate beauty of iridescent star confetti.  As well as all the items for £1, Poundland has started selling more and more larger items, so don't be surprised to pick up some bargains like this gorgeous blue soft fleece blanket for £3.

Blue fleece blanket £3, filament style LED fairy lights set of 6 £1

large glass feather bauble £1, confetti bauble £1 for 2

Stock up on traditional pillar candles too to create mantle decorations and table centrepieces.  Take a rummage through the artificial flower and foliage section, and add fresh greenery from the garden.

Church candle £1, mini glass silver baubles £1 set of 9, silver faux eucalyptus £1 stem of 3

And it's not just the decorations where I've been able to save a few quid, I've also got lots of gorgeous wrapping paper, trimmings, Christmas cards, stocking fillers, chocolates and even this delicious Huntley and Palmers Christmas pudding for just £1.

Huntley and Palmer large Christmas pudding £1, sleigh bells £1 for 10, mini glass baubles £1 for 9

So if you haven't ventured into Poundland for a while, take a look, I'm sure you'd be amazed at their cracking value!

Come and join in the #CrackingValue Twitter party on Friday 9th December from 12:30-2pm to win some prizes! We'll be giving away 5 £20 vouchers throughout the party and trust me, that will go a long way!

Take a look at some of the other amazing Christmas bargains other bloggers have found:

Rock N Roller Baby has a festive table display
Little Likely Lads looks at gifts and wrapping
Deep In Mummy Matters looks at living room decorations
What Hannah Did Next shows off her Christmas dining table
Modern Mummy shows off her colourful eclectic style
Blog By Baby has some gorgeous gifts and wrapping ideas
The Joy Of Five has a stunning fireplace decoration
Innocent Charms Chat shows off her choice of decorations
What the Redhead Said has a stunning Christmas Tree

Disclosure: I was sent £50 voucher to purchase Christmas items to showcase them.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Playbrush - The smart new way for kids to brush their teeth

Now I'll admit, when I was first asked to review a new bluetooth children's toothbrush, I thought it was a bit of a gimmick.  I mean, does anyone really need a smart toothbrush?

But I have to say, from my initial thoughts, I am pretty much won over.

The new Playbrush has been developed by a start-up company as a fun way to get over that perennial problem of getting children to brush their teeth properly. My daughter is 8 years old, so she's obviously past that stage where I brush her teeth for her or monitor her intently.  She's looking for more privacy in the bathroom and I need to be able to let her deal with her personal hygiene herself.  However, as a mum, I know she hasn't been brushing her teeth for the full two minutes as recommended, and I'm pretty sure she isn't doing all areas of her mouth thoroughly.  Luckily for us, her six-monthly dental visits are always issue free, but I'd like to keep them that way and prevent any future dental health problems.

At this festive time of the year, we also have the added problem of advent calendar chocolate for breakfast!

So how is Playbrush different?

Well, it's a silicone cap device which fits snugly to the base of any manual toothbrush (although there is also a new toothbrush included in the box).  It means, going forward, we can just replace worn brushes, but still use the device.  After a simple charge via a usb, the attachment transforms the brush into a games controller.  Using bluetooth technology to connect to your phone or iPad, it works with downloadable games to encourage better brushing.

There are currently four games available, free to download, which gives plenty of variety and your child won't get bored.  Each time the teeth are brushed, you can chose which game you want to play and collect points for good brushing.  The way the games are devised, it promotes good speed of brushing, different angling and directional movement of the brush to get into all the nooks and crannies of the mouth.  Little motivational messages pop up as you go, and there's a countdown timer to keep you going for the full 2 minutes.

I really like the leaderboard idea, it gives a competitive edge which I think kids love and will keep them motivated to try harder.  You also get a snapshot report at the end of the teeth brushing session to tell you which areas of the mouth you've cleaned properly, again, great for improving your dental hygiene.

I love that it takes away the twice daily battle of getting my daughter to do her teeth - she's super keen to get brushing now and improve her scores and I no longer have to nag her.

As a parent, you can sign up for a progress report, to keep track of how your child is getting on.

The Playbrush has been developed with leading experts in the dental field, and has been featured in the Guardian and FT.

Because the base is interchangeable, and because you can add multiple profile users to each game, it's really cost effective for larger families, meaning you only have to purchase one of the devices and change it around on different sibling's toothbrushes.

My biggest concern was around having my phone or tablet in the bathroom with all that running water - I've had far too many bowls of dried rice incidents!  However they've thought of that too - included in the box is a plastic holder with suction cups allowing you to safely store your phone away from the sink while playing.

All in all, I'm really impressed.  It's a very well thought-out product and helps tackle an issue which many parents face every morning and evening, so well done Playbrush!

The Playbrush is currently at sale price of £19.99 making it the ideal Christmas present.  It comes with a 2 year warranty and there's a 30 day money-back guarantee if you're not happy.  Chose from pink or blue.

Disclosure: I was sent a sample to review.  All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

David Walliams talks about The Midnight Gang

We've read every book he's written.  Then we've read them again. And again. Honestly, I don't think David Walliams could write a bad children's book. Each one is hilarious, crammed with fantastic characters and dreamed up by a rare and brilliant mind.  Cross between Roald Dahl and Kenneth Williams, he's guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

When news of his latest book The Midnight Gang came out, I was instructed asked to get it pre-ordered so it would arrive on release day.  It was devoured at every opportunity and declared an instant hit! A children's hospital is perhaps an unlikely backdrop for magical adventures, but Walliams delivers with his usual style. It's no surprise that it shot straight to the number one position.

We were lucky enough to attend one of his live shows at the weekend, and meet some of the characters from the story.  The event at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham was raising funds for the Birmingham Children's Hospital and we are all excited to see him.

Lots of people had come dressed in their pyjamas and dressing gowns and every child was presented with a goody bag of a 'midnight feast' before settling down in our seats.  The performance was introduced and hosted by CBBC's Kate Thistleton.  David Walliams came on stage dressed in his dapper silk pyjamas and gold monogrammed slippers.

He began by talking about his inspiration for some of the characters. The Porter for instance in the story is based on one of his favourite characters from childhood- the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Other inspiration came from Peter Pan.

You cannot beat hearing an author reading their work aloud - hearing the intonation and voices that they intended brings the whole story magically to life.  The entire audience were enthralled listening to excerpts of The Midnight Gang.

Of course, like most of his books, Raj the shopkeeper makes an appearance and he told us that this character was inspired by a real life shopkeeper near where he lived.  The shop was chaotic - biros kept in the ice cream freezer, balls of string with the magazines... yet he was always jovial and they used to have a lot of laughs together.  He wanted a character in his books who was an adult, yet not an authority figure like a teacher or parent.  It's funny to think that somewhere in London there's a retired shopkeeper who probably has no idea he's the inspiration for such a much-loved book character!

He talked about his relationship with Tony Ross who illustrates most of his books, how he always gifts him a crate of gin at the end of each project and how he has complete faith and trust in his interpretation of the stories.

In his last book, The World's Worst Children, a collection of short stories, he admitted that Blubbering Bertha was based in part on his sister and he himself was probably most like Windy Mindy - a girl with incredible wind who manages to play the tuba with her bottom burps!

He loves to write about things which are a bit naughty and not usually talked about in polite conversation, and said that's what first drew him to his hero Roald Dahl.

Williams described himself as a reluctant reader as a child and it was only when he discovered Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the magical world that opened up, did he develop a love of reading.  His other childhood favourites were Dr Suess books, Stig and The Dump and Day of the Triffids.

He admitted to feeling some pressure now he's in that position to influence young minds, he loves that he can now encourage reluctant readers, particularly boys, to take an interest in literature, but said it does come with a responsibility.

When compared to Roal Dahl, he felt he's a cheap imitation - a Poundland Dahl, but very much inspired by his style, the forbidden, the dark versus the funny, and his ability to capture the spirit of a character.

As a budding writer, Ruby found it riveting to hear his advice, to look for inspiration everywhere - even the most unlikely of places.  Gangsta Granny for example was based on his own grandmother - no, she didn't steal the crown jewels, but her home did always smell of cabbage and he was quite reluctant to go and visit.  That was until he started to really talk to her about her youth, her history and the exciting adventures she'd had.  He loved to hear her stories of the Blitz in London and it made him realise that everyone's got a fascinating story.

It really was a fascinating show.  We loved hearing some of the thought process and inspiration behind some of our favourite stories, and listening to him read in character's voices was such a magical treat.  If you get the chance to see him, do go along.

You can watch the show on the World of David Walliams Facebook page and he's also appearing in London with Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) at the O2 on1st December - now that will be brilliant!

Disclosure: We were gifted the tickets to see the show.
the Pigeon Pair and Me

Saturday, 19 November 2016

The Pick of Palava

For quite some time now, I've had my eye on the gorgeous dresses over at Palava.  I've followed them through thick and thin, right from their early days trading as PoppyEngland, through their various name changes, forced upon them by bigger, heftier brands. I don't know about you, but I'm all for the underdog, and hate to see independents suffer because they're not as large or rich as others.  They were forced to change their name recently from Poppy, so chose Bryony and Co, but what would you know, they faced a challenge on that too!  So, to represent the palaver they'd been through, settled on their very apt new name. You can read all about it here.

Still with the same gorgeous styling, attention to details and brand ethos, it's about time I got myself one of these gorgeous dresses.  And when I say one, I mean two obviously.  Despite swearing never to do the matchy-matchy thing, these designs are just so beautiful I think both myself and my daughter deserve one.

Let's be honest, it can be a leap of faith investing in something seen online. You worry about the quality and the cut, but having seen the ranges stocked in a couple of gorgeous independent boutiques recently, I am 100% reassured about the level of craftsmanship. 

The frivolous frothy frills on the chiffon petticoats, the decadent detailing on the girl's party wear  - sumptuous sequins and fabulous faux fur all make these pieces to treasure.

These are perfect for the upcoming party season, but I'm looking for dresses we can both wear on Christmas day with full underskirts, but also team up with layers of tights, cardigans, wooly scarves and winter boots for frolics in the forest.

It's no secret that I love woodland, and I'm never happier than when surrounded by trees, a carpet of golden leaves beneath my feet, so it was unsurprising that I've chosen the Forest pattern.

The dress is available in child sizes (shown above left) in their popular Martha style dress with sash waist tie from 6-12 months, right up to 9-10 years. In the adults, the timeless and elegant Freda style is cut to flatter the figure.  It is available in sizes 6-18.

Now, I'm in love with this pattern. It's perfect for us and represents our loves and lifestyle to a tee.  My only quandary is which colour-way to choose? Marvellous as the Navy is, it also comes in this delicious mustard colour. I'm completely torn.  Which to go for?  I need your help!  Let me know which you prefer and put me out of my misery.  

Which would you choose?  Oh 'eck - they do it in a skirt too!  Decisions, decisions...

If you love independent retailers, why not give them a follow on social?

All images courtesy of Palava.  

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Homemade Dog Treats - Peanut Butter Biscuits

We made some of these for Delilah's birthday and they went down a storm, so now I'm thinking of setting up a little production line to make them as Christmas gifts for all my four-legged canine friends.

In hindsight, the cookies are quite dry, so I'll maybe make them with a smaller cutter next time - a small dog would find them a bit of a mouthful, but what can I say, they looked so cute cut with my bone-shaped cutter!  Guess I'll be scouring the Lakeland catalogue that's just landed on my mat for a smaller one. Or you could use mini Christmas cutters if making them as a festive gift.

Me and Ruby made these together and they're so easy for kids to make, I was surprised at how easily the dough came together, they were practically mess-free and as we're all gluten-free so only had GF flour in the house, that's what I used.  They came out really well, but you could use normal flour also.

Halfway through the rolling and cutting, Ruby announced with horror that she'd forgotten to wash her hands (you know, like you're supposed to every time you bake), but then decided "ah it's ok Mum, dogs lick their butts and everything so I'm sure it won't matter!" She cracks me up.

Anyway, onto the treats...

  • 240g plain flour (white, GF or wholewheat) flour
  • 1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 80g smooth natural peanut butter (choose one with no added salt or sugar)
  • 220ml warm water 

  • Preheat the oven to 350oF, 180oC, Gas 4.
  • Mix together the flour and baking powder in a bowl.
  • In another bowl, mix together the peanut butter and warm water until smooth. Then slowly add to the dry mixture and mix together  well. 
  • Add a little more water or some milk if the dough is too dry, or flour if it’s too wet.
  • Tip out onto your worktop, knead and roll to approx 1/2 - 1cm thickness.
  • Cut with a cookie cutter and place on a baking tray covered with non-stick paper.
  • Bake for 20-25 mins or until lightly brown.
  • These will keep in an airtight container for about 2 weeks or you can freeze them.

Will you be making any doggie gifts this Christmas?

Monday, 14 November 2016

Magic Dip - A Marbling Craft Kit Perfect for a Christmas Gift

We've been playing with the very cool Magic Dip set from Character.  My craft-mad 8 year old is absolutely loving it.  While it comes complete with some items to dip (a photo frame, a plastic bangle, some charms and some greetings cards and labels) she's actually really enjoying finding other items she can customise and I fear that pretty much everything in the house will soon be marbled!

The paint effect works on pretty much any surface including paper, card, wood, rubber, silicone, fabric etc etc so she's had fun making her own gift tags and dipping notebook covers.

There's also gems and glitter included to further jazz up items.

The set is really neatly designed so you can keep all your items to hand which is ideal because once you start the activity you have to work fairly quickly before the paint disperses on the water. There's a protective rubber glove included which was great because it can get fairly messy - a pair of gloves would have been better.  We protected our surfaces and floor but did find that normal nail polish remover cleaned up the bowls and tools of any residue.

I have tried to marble items before using nail varnishes but it was woefully unsuccessful and I just got in a horrible, sticky mess with it and the paint wouldn't take.  This product does actually work!

The water you suspend the colours on does have to be room temperature and our first attempt was not great.  But after reading the instructions fully, I realised the water probably was too cold - easily done in this frosty snap we've been having.  I left the water a few hours to come up to room temperature and tried again, and happily it worked like a charm.  But take that as a word of warning if you have an impatient child - it would be worth preparing the water to the right temperature a good while before you suggest embarking on the activity!

Overall, we really liked this kit.  We love the unique designs you can make and the fact that you can design on all sorts of surfaces and items.  We may need to use a bigger bowl to try out whole sheets of paper for example and I'm still searching for where to buy replacement paints so we can carry on using it after the supplies have run out but I think most craft shops sell them individually, or there's a starter kit available for £9.99 which has paints in.

Priced at £29.99 it would make a great Christmas gift for a crafty child.  It's recommended for children from around 8 years plus and although I'm sure lots of boys would love creating their own designs, the accessories included are very much aimed at girls.

Disclosure: We were sent this kit for the purposes of the review.  All thought and opinions are my own.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Delilah's First Birthday and a Super-Easy Dog Birthday Cake

I can't believe our little bundle of fluff has turned one.  In some ways it only seems five minutes since she burst into our lives, turning everything upside down.  In others, we simply can't imagine life without her, she completes our household and comes everywhere with us.

From the very first meeting she stole our hearts.  We struggled through the toilet training, hands red raw from excessive anti-bacterial gel. Constant mopping up and disinfecting. Training her to walk nicely on her lead (ok, so that's still a work in progress) and getting her to sleep through in her crate.

Actually, it was over so much sooner than I expected.  She just fit right it. She's so laid back, happy to stay home alone if I'm out, or leap into the van to come on camping trips with us.  When we lost Ella I truly didn't think I'd be able to love another dog, but she's filled up my heart and I can't imagine life without her now.

Ruby had been planning her first birthday for months, and when the day came (slight confusion over the actual date - the vet has one registered, the Kennel Club another but we went by the date of the photo we were sent from the breeders when they were first born) she was determined to give her and her brother a birthday to remember.

Delilah was showered with cards and presents before her 'party in the woods'. I'm quite sure anyone passing would have thought we were barking mad, but hey!

I have gag-inducing memories of the annual 'dog cakes' Blue Peter used to concoct on the TV when I was a child.  Dollops of tinned meat congealed with jelly.  Ruby too had been scouring Youtube for suitable recipes, all of which involved baking, and most of which I'm fairly sure Delilah wouldn't have eaten.

Instead, I came up with my own super-easy and tasty doggy birthday cake which went down a storm, and importantly, didn't make me heave.

I picked two large beef burger patties from the supermarket and grilled them. Allowed them to cool completely before sandwiching them together and 'icing' with meat pâté.  The result was a chunky, meat-tastic pink cake, finished off with dog biscuits to decorate and a birthday candle - naturally.

Both Delilah and her brother went mad for it and would probably have wolfed the whole thing down given the chance, but I thought it would be too rich given that they're used to dry food, so they each just had a slice.

Me and Ruby had baked some peanut butter doggy biscuits too, so they munched on those washed down with a warm flask of homemade chicken stock.  Spoilt pooches!

Singing Happy Birthday to two dogs in the woods and blowing out their candle may seem odd to most people, but I think we've started a tradition!