Tuesday 31 December 2019

Goodbye 2019....

Goodbye to 2019. You were a lot fairer to me than the previous 6, so thank you.

In my home at least, we've found an overall level of peace and calm that has been hard fought for and a long time coming. We will always have a huge Elspeth-shaped gap in our family, but we are beginning to learn how to live alongside it and pick up some of the things we dropped when she died.

We had an excellent Christmas and spent lots of time with all of our children, as well as the Grandparents. Our big kids are settled at uni and work, our young boys are doing well at school. 2020 seems like the time to focus more on ourselves.

For the UK 2019 turned out to be a year full of momentous decision and political records which will be taught to our children's children as history, but will impact them every single day of their lives. We all know the theory now and 2020 will see Brexit become a reality. And that's probably enough UK politics for one post...

2019 was a year which saw young people front and centre, standing up for their futures with climate change school strikes around the globe. A young woman brought the climate emergency to the entire world's attention, just as a young woman emerged heroic in the year's most watched TV series, and 3 of the top 6 grossing movies 2019 have powerful female leads.

This year was, in many ways, the year we really paid attention to the kids and the powerful women...

Captain Marvel and Gary

Thursday 19 December 2019

Ad | Making A Gingerbread House (with HARIBO)

I've worked with HARIBO quite a lot recently, partly because they've brought out a whole range of vegetarian sweets which I can eat too! They asked if I'd be interested in sharing the #HARIBOFestiveFun by making a gingerbread house and decorating it with HARIBO sweets. I replied that I was already planning to, so it couldn't have fallen better really...

HARIBO Giant Strawberry Trees with decorations added

Gingerbread houses are synonymous with Christmas, even though there's no law that says you can't eat them year round. Those festive flavours and the spectacle of a gorgeous sweet treat in the middle of the table are just perfect, and ridiculously easy to make. Trust me.

HARIBO Christmas range of sweets and stockingfillers

Tuesday 17 December 2019

The Empty Chair...

This Christmas dinner, like the 5 before it, we will have an empty chair at our table. It's a chair that shouldn't be empty. A chair where there should be laughter, and smiles.

The empty chair is more important than anything else in the room. It represents the space in our lives, the hole we all navigate around every day. It can't be ignored, and as we go through our Christmas preparations, we plan and we buy, decorate and bake, the empty chair becomes more important.

At first it is quiet, sitting, watching. You catch it out of the corner of your eye, and you remember everything you try so hard to put to one side.

The chair gets bigger and more unavoidable as December progresses, until that innocuous piece of furniture is the loudest thing in the house. It becomes the only thing you can see when you look into the room.

A room recreated in LEGO, with a lit up fireplace, Christmas tree with presents and an empty chair.

illooms Balloons, Fixed LED Light-up Balloons Giveaway

illooms are the world's first LED latex balloons and I think we've been buying them since their launch in 2008. Each balloon has a fixed LED light inside which illuminates the whole balloon, and the effect is brilliant.

I'm delighted to be working with illooms, and one of my readers can win 5 x gold and 5 x silver illoom balloons - perfect for any celebration or party.

Gold illoom balloons

illooms balloons are very easy to use - simply pull out the tab before inflating and tie off as normal. You can fill them with helium, stick them to the wall or string them in rows like any other balloons. You can even play that most popular party game with no name, keepie-uppy.

Sunday 15 December 2019

December... #TBCSmiles

The last month has been a bit of a rollercoaster for everyone in the UK. The most divisive election I'll probably ever see in my lifetime took place, and also the most deceitful and untruthful. It's a hard place to be when pretty much all of the people you have to trust to look after you have been guilty of lying and spin. 2019 was the year we saw the end of political integrity.

I don't hide the fact I'm left wing. I've always been a person who feels if you live on an island with 10 people and 10 coconuts, everyone should get 1 each. That's just who I am. The election result has made 43% of those who voted feeling like winners, but it has also left a lot of people deflated, including me and my older children.

The benefit of age is that I've been in that position before, when mortgage interest rates were 15% and I had a small baby to care for. We were broke back then and I had no family to rely on for childcare or to rescue me, and I couldn't see how we could survive, but we did. It wasn't easy, just as it isn't easy for a lot of people now, and it taught me a lot.

I learnt the joy and pride of being able to bake, sew, fix my own van and do my own brickwork. I learnt that if you are prepared to give it a go, there's often someone who is happy to come and help, and you can find lifelong friends. I learnt that the poorer people are, the more likely they are to split what they have with you, and your heart will melt at their offer. I learnt that fair exchange is better than cash, and low paid or unpaid skills are often the most valuable. Most of all I realised that some people are so poor, all they have is money.

Thursday 12 December 2019

Hannah The Spanner And The Polar Bears Children's Story Book Review

Hannah The Spanner And The Polar Bears is a Christmas story book set on Christmas Eve, and it's the 7th in the Hannah The Spanner series written and illustrated by Stuart Simmonds and Bill Greenhead.

Hannah has some zany adventures and this tale features one of them, and it's definitely not the sort of thing that usually happens on Christmas Eve...

Hannah The Spanner And The Polar Bears Children's Story Book Review

The Hannah The Spanner books are big, bold and colourful, which is kind of like Hannah herself. This is a longer 64 page story, which starts with a boring trip to the superstore and a surprise wink from a polar bear soft toy. We see him again, and he's even more animated.

Hannah and her sister are aghast as a polar bear comes out of the fireplace covered in black soot

As with all of the best Christmas stories, someone needs help, and it's up to Hannah to provide it. The reindeer are out of action after eating some dodgy pork pies over Kent, and the polar bears are needed to save Christmas! Will they manage?

Wednesday 11 December 2019

That Time The Kids Saved Christmas...

We thought it was bad the year the oven broke on Christmas Eve, but then the universe said "Hold my pint" and we had Christmas 2018.

Last year was our best Christmas yet since losing Elspeth. We were doing Christmas. We'd decided to do an 'Advent' with the LEGO and built an amazing LEGO Christmas Village sprawling across 3 tables. It was ready for 1st December and it even had lights. It looked great unveiling a little more each day on Instagram.

LEGO scene with child in hood pushing girl on sleigh with village behind.

We had an awesome real tree and for the first time in years we had put up a second tree by the window. With the 1970's ultra-flammable decorations on the ceiling and bookcases covered in tinsel it was epic. My partner even had 3 extra days off before the kids broke up from school, so we had tons of time for preparations for the big day.

We had bought or collected loads of stockingfillers, but only a couple of main presents. This will be important later. It would all be wrapped at our leisure, with Christmas tunes on the TV and warm mince pies.

What's Down There? & That's My Willy - Children's Body Books Review.

I'm not shy about talking to my kids about personal body stuff. I have the benefit of experience with my older kids and I used to work with the NHS on sexual health, so I got over any embarrassment long ago. It's far easier to talk to your children when they are young, and when they ask, but that doesn't always make it simple.

What's Down There? and That's My Willy are newly released books from author Alex Waldron which are very honest, very clear and very blunt, and the messages they pass on are all positive and essential messages that I have told my own children at some point.

What's Down There? & That's My Willy - Children's Body Books Review.

Both books follow a similar light-hearted rhyming format, first introducing the main character, and then their genitals. It is made clear that these are your own. They're your private parts and it's fine to touch them and explore your own body. It's also fine to say "No" to other people if you don't want them to see or touch you.

That's my willy childrens body book explains its my willy and belongs to me

Treasure Island Review - Octagon Theatre, Bolton Christmas 2019 (Press Review)

Last night we were guests of Octagon Theatre, Bolton, to review this year's Christmas production - Treasure Island. With a big cast, lots of pirates, mutiny and treasure, this is a big show and they pulled it off beautifully.

The Octagon Theatre building is in the final stages of it's redevelopment, so the performance is at their temporary venue, Bolton Wanderers Football Ground at University Of Bolton Stadium. They've been there a while, but it's the first time we'd visited them there.

My two boys standing in front of large advertising board for Treasure Island

The venue is massive, and there is lots of free parking in Car Park A. It's a couple of minutes walk over to the main door, and when we arrived was lashing it down, so wear your big coat.

Inside is also not the warmest place as it's a huge open space with curtains to separate the bar/lobby area from the audience. It does warm up quite quickly once everyone is inside and seated, but dress warm for comfort.

Inside the auditorium audience seating Bolton Octagon at football stadium

The stage is MASSIVE! It is incredibly impressive and Bolton Octagon have made excellent use of all of that space, with a huge set. It leaves you under no doubt that what you are about to watch is a proper professional performance.

Monday 9 December 2019

Blinded By The Light DVD Review and Giveaway (Cert 12A) Sent for review.

Blinded By The Light is a UK movie brought to us by writer/director/producer Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham). Released by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, based on the book Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll, and inspired by the real life of author Javed Manzoor.

There is a superb cast, with credits including Bend It Like Beckham, Game Of Thrones and Gavin And Stacey, and a soundtrack featuring a host of late 1980's hits, as well as Bruce Springsteen's back catalogue.

Blinded By The Light DVD Review and Giveaway

The movie starts in 1980, with young Javed talking about his life and setting the scene. This is when he decides to start keeping a journal, and his story begins.

We skip to 1987 and Javed's now a young adult (played by Viveik Kalra), living in industrialised Luton, going to college and dreaming of something more exciting. His friend Matt has also grown up, but he goes on fancy holidays abroad and is in a politically active band. Javed needs more.

The soundtrack is brilliant. Cutting Crew, Pet Shop Boys and a host of others play along as the 1980's kids jiggle, lip synch and push a car to get it started in the morning, in a much more realistic version of 1987 than most.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold DVD Review, Activity Sheets and Giveaway (2 Winners) with Paramount Home Entertainment.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold will be arriving on Blu-ray and DVD today from Paramount Home Entertainment and we've been sent a copy to review. I also have two copies on DVD to give away to my readers, and I've included some activity sheets which you can print out and enjoy.

Starring Isabela Moner,Eugenio Derbez, Michael Peña, Eva Longoria, and Danny Trejo, it has an all-star cast and everyone has grown up since the animated series...

Dora and the City Of Gold DVD Review Giveaway Activity Sheets

When the movie starts you think you'll be watching a live action version of the animated TV show for young children. We are introduced to Dora and her family, including cousin Diego, and their unusual animal-filled life in the jungle.

After meeting Dora's talking backpack, suddenly everything changes, and you are 10 years into the future. Dora's behaviour is the only thing that hasn't changed, and it's causing a bit of an issue (and plenty of laughter).

Don't Upset The Llama! Family Party Game Review (age 6+) Sent by Tactic Games

Don't Upset The Llama is a family party game that is as crazy as it sounds. Tactic Games have sent us a copy for review and it's a lot of fun.

Suitable for 2 to 4 players aged 6+, you may well get wet, but not too wet. All you have to do is spot spitting llamas or trumpets on the cards before the other players, and you'll stay dry! Easy!

Don't Upset The Llama family party game review for Tactic box photo

Inside the box is everything you need. 64 cards, a special die, the very brief and simple rules, and the all-important star of the game, the Llama Spray Gun. I know what you are thinking, but trust me, it's just a little splash. It might look a big Llama pistol, but it's more of a kitten.

Don't upset the llama box contents spray gun cards

Saturday 7 December 2019

Christmas Hero Box Sets for the hero in your life (With FOX Home Entertainment)

My family are big movie fans. We rarely watch TV Shows, and I don't recognise any of the reality TV or soap stars, but we soak up movies and film night is a regular occurrence. Christmas is a time for classics, and Fox Home Entertainment have sent me 3 of their Hero Box Sets to look at: The Rocky Collectors Gift Set, The Clint Eastwood Collection and The Die Hard 1-5 Legacy Collection.

All of which will be under the tree on Christmas morning for my partner...

There is also a chance for one of my followers on Twitter to win all 3 of these box sets themselves - you can find my Fox Heroes Blu-Ray Box Sets giveaway here, and it closes at midnight Wednesday 11th December. 

AD | 10 Simple Winter Warmers with Schwartz Smoked Paprika

I home cook a lot, and I use a good variety of different seasonings for different meals. Schwartz asked me if I'd create some dishes using my favourite seasoning from their extensive range, and as I use it in potato dishes, pasta dishes, curries, stir fries, barbeques, mayonnaise dips, chilli and a host of other meals, I chose Smoked Paprika.

Schwartz Smoked Paprika 10 Simple Winter Warmers

I love Smoked Paprika because it adds depth of flavour and a little heat to your dish really easily, as well as adding colour, throughout the food, or sprinkled over the top. It's ridiculously versatile. It goes very well with potatoes, pasta, rice, beans and vegetables, as well as your protein - chicken, fish, or a substitute. Just don't burn it, or it'll taste bitter. Unless you are roasting, add it during cooking or afterwards...

Simple chilli ragu with veggie mince mushrooms onions peppers Smoked paprika

Friday 6 December 2019

The BBC One Christmas Animated Special Boxing Day Film 2019

On Thursday my 2 boys and I caught the tram into Manchester for a very special event. We were invited to a preview screening of BBC One’s Christmas animated special, Mimi and the Mountain Dragon. Based on the tale by Sir Michael Morpurgo, the story has been brought to life by a huge team, and it was made right here in Altrincham.

Mimi And The Mountain  Dragon BBC One animated film reviw

We were super lucky because not only were we going to be among the very first people to see the film, a long way ahead of it's BBC One Boxing Day screening, but the crew behind the film would be there.

My boys have both spent a large portion of this last school year studying Sir Michael Morpurgo, reading some of his books and looking at how his life experiences have shaped his writing. I was under an embargo, so I couldn't say anything until we were on the way there or they'd have told all of their mates at school.

Wednesday 4 December 2019

HARIBO 'Share The Festive Fun' Christmas Bundle Giveaway

Christmas is about treats and spoiling yourself, and in our house that generally includes some HARIBO for family - my partner for one says it wouldn't be Christmas without it, and those little bags are perfect stockingfillers.

HARIBO is offering 1 lucky reader the chance to ‘Share the Festive Fun’ this Christmas with a selection of delicious sweets and seasonal gifts.

This tasty bundle brings together HARIBO favourites with an extra special treat – the opportunity to create magical Christmas memories by decorating your very own gingerbread house. This is a tradition my family love, and I will be writing about making our gingerbread house again this year - it's been a while since I blogged my Gingerbread Castle.

Included in this prize package are a gingerbread house cutter kit and two new frosty friends from HARIBO - Pip Polar Bear and Puck Penguin. Festively packaged in cute polar bear and penguin themed gift boxes, these jelly and foam treats are going to be at the top of a lot of Christmas lists.

Tuesday 3 December 2019

Giving STEM Toys For Christmas with Brainstorm Toys (sent for review).

Anyone who has ever read my blog knows that I'm a huge fan of STEM toys. I love toys which inspire children to learn more about their world. How does it work? Why does it do that? How can I change it? Can I make it better?

These are questions our Scientists, Technology Experts, Engineers and Mathematicians of the future need to be allowed to ask, and as they find out their answers, your children will be learning skills which will last them a lifetime.

Brainstorm Toys are a household favourite and we've been buying them for our children since they were small. We've also reviewed loads over the past few years, and the links are all at the bottom of this post. They've sent us a selection of toys which I'll be putting away to give to my boys for Christmas.

On Friday 6th December at 6pm, Brainstorm are hosting a Twitter Party where they'll be giving away lots of fun educational toys. I'll be there, and if you have any questions then this is your chance to ask the professionals - and the bloggers and other parents.

Brainstorm STEM toys for Christmas arranged on table including dinosaurs stars stikbots

STEM Toys make excellent gifts because you are giving the child much more than 'a toy'. You will be helping them to grow, and you may be introducing them to a passion they'll have forever.

Buzzlebox Family Game And Puzzle Box Review (Sent by The Dark Imp)

I really like the ethos of Ellie Dix and The Dark Imp, so when she asked if I wanted to take a look at her brand new Buzzlebox, I was more than happy. This is a beautiful box of brand new games and puzzles designed to be played together, whatever your ability or age (from around 8+).

Ellie is a keen promoter of maintaining good healthy relationships with your kids through play. As your offspring get older, it's easy to drift apart until you realise you barely spend any time together when you aren't already busy. Games create relaxed environments for chat and laughter.

The Dark Imp Buzzlebox Unboxing Review Top contents shows shredded paper and a tin containing a game

The Buzzlebox is gorgeous. It felt like a treat opening it, and then I saw what was inside. This is almost entirely plastic free, and the only plastic included is reusable. The first Buzzlebox has a Gardens and Poultry theme. (Box 2 will be Doughnuts and Cake!)