Monday, 31 December 2012

Meal Planning Monday - 31 December 2012

Happy New Year's Eve. How cool is that - 2012 has just about outstayed its welcome and I can hear 2013 heading down the path to knock on the door like the postie with a parcel of something you ordered from eBay but can't remember what it was - exciting stuff! Looking back to this time last year I was amused to see I meal planned for the entire month of January. Can't say I feel inspired to do the same this week.

Here is my plan for the next week. Tonight is Chinese takeaway as promised to the kids, but after that normal food resumes in earnest because, quite frankly, I have overdone it somewhat at Christmas and now feel like poo.

Whole Chicken Done in Slow Cooker
Chicken and Veg Soup
Veg Stew and Dumplings
Sausage Casserole with potatoes of some sort
Minced Beef Yorkies
Chicken or Beef fajitas

I have no plans to bake this week unless my kids don't stop bickering, in which case it might get a little Hansel and Gretel in my kitchen. Fruit and veg will be eaten in abundance because I am a bit concerned they may develop scurvy. 

As always, remember to check out other Meal Planning Monday posts over on Mrs M's blog.

If you are celebrating tonight I hope you do it in style and if you are not, I hope those noisy buggers with fireworks don't keep you awake.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

What Were 2012's Most Popular Christmas Presents?

Not me - I would not be smiling like this if I got a teddy bear unless I was wondering where to stick it
The wrapping is off and the toys have had a good few days of being thoroughly road tested and now it's time to work out what was a success and what not to bother with next year. The difference when I quizzed the kids was funny. My 10-year-old was very diplomatic and said he liked everything, before managing to narrow it down with difficulty to his favourite five presents. The 5-year-old was less tactful about it, happily listing what he liked and (though I didn't ask) what he didn't!

Popular with both is LEGO Lord of the Rings for the Wii. They managed to make a fair amount of progress on this before the "+" sign on all remotes stopped working. From what I have been able to find out (ok, been told by my more technologically savvy brother in law) it could be the sensor bar so they are stuck on level 9 until the replacement arrives and hopefully fixes the problem. They also got LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, but haven't had a chance to play on it yet.

He also liked the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, The Third Wheel, and a box set of the Wimpy Kid DVDs, this LEGO Orc Forge set which I have just realised I scored a total bargain on because I paid £23 and it's currently £45, making it one of my favourite presents too ...

... and his Razor stunt scooter which I paid about £20 more than this for - pah!
He was also given a blow pipe (like a sophisticated pea-shooter) and a remote controlled car that does stunts, and some nice drawing pencils which made his list of favourites.

My 5-year-old's list was much shorter. He loves his LeapPad Explorer 2, playing mainly with the video and photo functions and the extra Spongebob spelling game I downloaded for him. At the recommendation of Mrs M we also got him an AC adaptor so he can play with it plugged in at home and I am sure it has saved us a few battery changes.

He also loved the PaperJamz set with guitar, drums, microphone and amp and unfortunately the feedback you get by putting the mic near the amp! There are also some good voice effects which we all had fun with. I got these on sale at The Entertainer for £22.99. No way would I have paid the original £80 or whatever the set sold for, but £23 is about right.

The other item that made his favourite list was his Angry Birds hat/scarf/gloves thing. It's a bit big and my husband hates the way it looks, but he likes it and he's easy to spot when he's wearing it, so I like it too

What was a hit in your house this Christmas?

Friday, 28 December 2012

When does Optimism become Stupidity?

Congratulations to Kate Winslet and Ned Rocknroll who have recently got married. It's her third trip down the aisle and I wish that she wasn't so secretive about it because I would love to see her wedding dress. Kate is my only girl crush - I would be delighted if I looked like her. I am fairly sure I've posted about my admiration for the way she always looks spectacular on the red-carpet and pretty stylish day-to-day as well. I reckon she wore something in heavy oyster silk and 1930s inspired like the woman in this gorgeous 1930s inspired wedding or this stunning original
Photo from

I'm 18 months older than Kate, married at 25 and have just celebrated my 13th wedding anniversary, so to have been married 3 times by now seems a little exhausting, however I sincerely wish her well. Like Elizabeth Taylor (8 times), Zsa Zsa Gabor (9 times), Mickey Rooney (8 times), and countless others with multiple marriages under their belt I admire their romantic enthusiasm. A bad marriage could (ironically) put someone off matrimony for life but Kate and others jump in with both feet, believing that a failed marriage or a romance that has run its course doesn't mean they are unlovable or undeserving of happiness, just that they are with the wrong person.

Kate has been getting a fair amount of stick in readers' comments, as does Ulrika Jonsson (4 children with 4 different fathers) at times, with people calling them stupid, selfish (not thinking of the kids), or weak for constantly needing a man. I do not believe they are any of these things. Their decisions have not been easy and both keep their children out of the limelight therefore showing consideration for their childrens' wellbeing. I think Kate and her ilk are optimistic and I'd like that, should my marriage end, I have their hope, openness to love and enthusiasm that will allow me to find another partner.

What are your thoughts? Leave me a comment and if you know what her dress looked like please share!

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Ring in the New

I love this time of year. Ok, it's all a bit blah and flat after Christmas (except for my stomach which is more rounded after copious food and drink indulgence) and with the weather so crap it's nice to plan ahead to rosier times when life is perfect because I have made exactly the right changes. Here are my 2013 New Year's Resolutions.

Only buy new shower gel and shampoo when the bottle is nearly empty, and don't buy conditioner every time. My bathroom shelf is full of half used shower gels in various fragrances (I get bored) and full conditioner bottles because who uses as much conditioner as they do shampoo?

Wear more dresses. I like them. Life is easier with a dress because it already goes with what I have on.

 Iron more. I have got really slack with ironing lately and though my kids are always clean there have been mornings when they have left the house looking more than just slightly rumpled. A few minutes in the tumble drier or hanging things over the radiator is not an adequate substitution.

 Get up earlier. Sure, it's difficult in winter but getting up at 6am makes my day so much more productive than if I don't get up until 7am (or even later). Dragging myself out of bed is not easy but once I'm downstairs I'm fine.

Blog more. Not for you lot, but for me. I am getting on a bit and keeping a blog helps me remember when I did things, or what that place was I liked so much, or which time-wasting website is the best

Disclaimer: these are not my nails - how does she do stuff?
Get a shellac manicure. Despite my best efforts I cannot stop nail polish from chipping. It doesn't matter what brand I use or what I put on before or after, my nails chip within hours of being painted. I have been meaning to get a shellac manicure for months. In 2013 I will see if it is the answer to my goal of virtually effortless grooming.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Film Review - Rise of the Guardians

In a display of spontaneous parenting (and because I wanted to see it) we took the boys (10 and 5) to see Rise of the Guardians (PG) on Tuesday night. We normally try and see a film as a family around Christmas because I think it's a nice family activity and it's more enjoyable than standing around freezing in the park, pushing the youngest on the swings while the oldest does his best to break his neck flinging himself around on his scooter. So, Tuesday night I felt all Nice-Mum and surprised them with a trip to the flicks.

As with all great kids films Rise of the Guardians is about a battle between good and evil and includes a voyage of self discovery. It has an exciting plot that progresses well. It was enough to keep both kids interested, and even though it was a late night for the youngest he didn't get bored or (too) fidgety. It's not always easy to find a film they both enjoy but this is one of them. It's just over an hour and a half long, although I'm going to voice my normal complaint about Vue's overkill with the whole ads, preview, Edith Bowman bit where they just show clips from all the films they've just showed the preview for. Adding half an hour of bumpf before a kids movie is pushing their patience somewhat.

Rise of the Guardians is by Dreamworks (who brought us the likes of Shrek, Puss in Boots, Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda) and it lives up to its family film pedigree providing entertainment for children and adults. The characters and sets are well drawn and gorgeous to look at with beautiful colours and detail. Each of the main characters has their own unique personalities and quirks and is totally believable. I could quite happily suspend my disbelief in Santa, the Tooth Fairy, et all for the duration of this movie. The plot is a little wooly at times but not in an annoying way. I loved the casting - Hugh Jackman as the Easter Bunny was funny without being cheesy, Isla Fisher was perfect as the Tooth Fairy in raptures over Jack Frost's white teeth, I loved Alec Baldwin's Santa Claus and Jude Law's husky voice added just the right amount of threat to the Boogeyman.

It was a little scary at times for the five year old who spent the second half cuddled up on my lap. In the spirit of all great children's films it has an uplifting finish and he's suffered no repercussions with the portrayal of nightmares and fears. It is definitely PG rather than a U. It's not about Christmas as such, but the inclusion of Santa and plenty of snow provided courtesy of Jack Frost (the leading character) make it nice and festive. I recommend you go and see it and if you go to Vue, take advantage of their Cheap Tuesday where adults get in for the same price as kids and it's much quieter than on a weekend. Rise of the Guardians is out in both 3D and 2D. We saw it in 2D because I'm not a massive fan of 3D films and the youngest drives me crackers by forever losing his glasses because they don't sit on his face properly. Some of the flying scenes are probably great in 3D, but I don't think I lost anything by seeing it in 2D.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Meal Planning Monday - 3 December 2012 (the Fantasy Edition)

Welcome to the Fantasy Edition of Meal Planning Monday. This is where I plan what I wish I was eating instead of what I will actually be eating. It's not that I mind my diet so much, just that Tesco does the planning for me and I miss browsing Pinterest meals board and cooking with my slow cooker. Here is what my alter ego will be eating this week.

(total fantasy since I am the only one in my house who would eat this. Love the serving suggestion "serve it with roast chicken and steamed veg for a complete meal" Mac & Cheese is a complete meal! The only thing you need to serve it with is more Mac & Cheese)
(would swap the rosemary for thyme to go with the chicken)
(anything with sweet chilli sauce is a winner, in my book - unless it's fish)

Mmmm.... I love this meal plan and think I will pop over to my fantasty alter-ego's house for dinner this week. In reality I am sticking to my diet plan and utilising what I have in the freezer & cupboards to make room for CHRISTMAS (yes, it lives in my kitchen).

Have a great week and remember to check out more Meal Planning Monday posts on Mrs M's Linky or follow on Twitter at #mealplanningmonday

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Elf on the Shelf... ish

My five year old son is, well, five, so I thought that Elf on the Shelf might be an extra carrot/stick in my December parenting arsenal. When I investigated the cheapest I found was around £25 and I am far too tight to pay that for something that looks like this:
So I shelved (sorry...) the idea until I was in the pound shop last week and I discovered these beauties. I think you'll agree that they could practically be twins - in the freaky sense, anyway.

Son was sceptical about the origin of the "elf" but the beauty of him being five is that he is a die hard Santa believer and when he suggested we get rid of it I said we couldn't possibly because Santa had sent him. It's kind of working in that he's a little freaked out but I'm sticking with it because he hasn't had a nightmare or anything and any way I can get someone else to be the bad guy "do you want the elf to tell Santa?" is a way I can stay looking golden.

He's on a high shelf which would require a chair to get to, but this is how I frequently find him

If you get a chance you definitely need to google Elf on the Shelf related blogs. Some parents really get carried away, some totally tongue in cheek and others really creative and funny, like Lil Blue Boo's

Friday, 30 November 2012

Reindeer Gingerbread Men

Check out my cool reindeer bickies made from upside down gingerbread men! They're in plastic bags because I made them for the school Christmas Fair/Fayre (never sure on the spelling of that one). Copied from Inspired by Foodie Quine (awesome foodie blog - check it out). I was so impressed with how easy they were. I tend to make more cakes than biscuits and I'm still a bit hit and miss with the temperature sometimes on my new-ish oven, but I used this recipe from CookUK and it was a doddle. I did muck around with the spices using 1tsp of ginger and 0.5tsp of cinnamon.

I also tried making snowmen with the bickies turned the other way around but they looked like something you'd see on Cake Wrecks so my kids made short work of them.The recipe is easy and foolproof enough to do with the kids and icing anything is always great fun (unless it's the cat, in which case I don't recommend it).

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Random Likings

1. Toothpaste Squeezer
Just recently - ok, for the last year or so - my eldest has been driving me nuts complaining that once the toothpaste tube is half used that it's "empty" and he can't get any toothpaste out. It goes against the grain for me to chuck things away unnecessarily and I remembered the little clamp we had on the old metal tubes of toothpaste when I was a kid (you know, back in the day when there was only one type of toothpaste and nothing for different ages). I picked these babies up for 99p on eBay and am hopeful they relieve me of the twice-daily irritation. 

2. December

 I love December! The whole excitement of the lead up to Christmas Day (or my personal favourite, Christmas Eve) is intoxicating. It's not just the whole kids and Christmas thing I enjoy, but the thought of being able to relax from work for a few days and eat lots of delicious food guilt free. I am being strict with myself now (both work and food wise) so I can really enjoy myself over Christmas.

3. Christmas Find and Colour
9781741837421 I See Snowman Search & Find And Colour

 These activity pads are £3.99 at The Works (online and in store) and well worth it. They're huge (50cm wide or so) Where's Wally type things where you have to find items in a larger picture. There are two levels of difficult in the one picture, with a list of words for older kids and drawings for younger ones. Each pad has heaps of pages, with the Snowman ones being in black and white for colouring. My 5 year old particularly loves them and he and his 10 year old brother will quite happily do them together. Anything they do together without arguing is a rarity so I am doubly glad for these activity pads! The Works have a good choice of Christmas stories and activity books and is worth a visit if you're looking for something to keep your kids quietly occupied.

4. Tweetie Tag Necklace
This cute necklace caught my eye when I saw a tweet about it this week. It's made by Victoria Wallop and costs around £50. I like this trend for identity and charm style necklaces (even though I'm not a necklace wearer myself. I you like this you might also want to check out Chambers & Beau. 

5. The Polar Express

Despite a love for, and a large collection of, Christmas films I have never seen The Polar Express, a fact which elicited shocked gasps from friends when they discovered it yesterday. Before I go crazy and spend a whole £5 on it tell me, is it really one I should watch. I think it's never appealed because it has a train so prominently in it and I always hated Thomas the Tank Engine, but I am willing to be convinced otherwise

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Monopoly zAPPed - a Review


When catalogue shopping kings Littlewoods got in touch to ask if I'd like to review the new Monopoly zAPPed Edition I nearly bit their hand off. Would I?!  I played loads of Monopoly in my youth (back in the day when there was just the one version) and my kids are just as keen as me on the classic so both Monopoly and Monopoly Junior get played quite a lot in our house. Monopoly zAPPed needs to be played with an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. You download a free app and you're good to go. As yet there is no android version.

Let's start with the look of the game. It's a lot slicker than the old version. The board has some snazzy graphics with the train stations looking more like bullet and less like steam trains. The old utilities have been replaced by modern counterparts like Satellite, but all the property cards are the same. The pieces are cool little plastic numbers with the car looking like a red Ferrari! My ten year old son held up one asking "do you want to be the chapel?" Chapel? It's the base of an iron love... Some domestic eductation required there. Setting up is almost the same except instead of dealing out the money (and keeping a few hundreds for yourself if you're the banker. C'mon - we've all done it) you register your credit card and scan it on your device (we gave this game a go with both an iPod Touch and an iPad), which then goes in the middle of the board for the duration of the game. 

Play is virtually the same as the original version of Monopoly except all monetary transactions are done by swiping your credit card. Chance, Community Chest and Get out of Jail are done on the iPad/Pod/Phone too, with little games to compete to see who won. These were my least favourite part as despite landing on Community Chest three times I never won the money as I couldn't get the hang of the game that went along with it. The kids, however, had no problem and thought my ineptitude was a great laugh. If you're the sort of person who is anal about lining up your money neatly in a line by denomination and always got a bit stressed when other players chucked theirs any old how into a pile you will appreciate the streamlined look of this game.

With such rubbish weather on the weekend we gave this game a thorough workout and generally agree that it was good fun and, the kids in particular, preferred it to the original version due to the novelty of swiping their credit cards, the screen (natrually) and the video games within the game. The downsides were that you can only have four players, sometimes the card doesn't swipe automatically and it takes a little while for the iPod/Pad/Phone to register it's there, and play is actually a little slower than the old-fashioned handing over of the money. 

Hasbro say it's suitable for ages 8 and up and I would probably agree with this. My five year old was totally confused by the money because it is in massive and unfamiliar denominations (like some sort of generic faux Euro) rather than the paper dollar denominations in numbers he can recognise. I liked that you can clearly see how much money everyone has, but then I'm nosey like that.

I'll admit I was a little sceptical that this would live up to the origianl version which I love so much but I was proven wrong. Hasbro have left the essence and rules of the game pretty much unchanged so it's just as competitve as it always was. If you're looking for a great compromise between a family game and getting the kids off their personal screens then, at £30, Monopoly Zapped is a fab choice not just for Christmas but for any time of year. It won't be gathering dust on our shelf, that's for sure.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post, but all words and views are my own. I used stock photos because I couldn't work out how to play with my iPod Touch and take photos at the same time!

Monday, 26 November 2012

Meal Planning Monday - 26th November 2012

Hello and welcome to another healthy and nutritious week on my pre-Christmas diet. I am mixing things up a little bit this week, being the glutton for punishment that I am, and adding at least one "fast" day where I only have 500 calories, or two if I can manage it without turning into a snarling snapping beast. Although I am enjoying the great feeling that comes with sustained low calorie healthy eating, I do look at my Pinterest meal boards with yearning at times. Christmas is probably going to be a massive blow out!

Chicken, spinach and mushroom risotto
Chicken, brown rice, spinach, mushrooms and soy (fast day)
Mozzarella, parma ham and pesto ciabatta 
Bangers and Mash
 Quorn Bolognese
Tomato and Vegetable Soup (fast day)
Spinach and ricotta pasta bake

Sorry it's not very inspiring menu but it's healthy and I am losing weight.I'm impressed with the range of meals Tesco has in their diet plan although I chop and change them at times to fit my mood or what is going on.

Next week I'll do a Dream Meal Plan with more interesting options as I have seen some gorgeous looking recipes lately!
Remember to check out Mrs M's Linky for more Meal Planning Monday posts. 

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Top Charity Christmas Presents This Year Are...

Charity shops are so much more than second hand shoes and books. They are a real treasure trove of fantastic new items that you can not only enjoy owning (or giving) you can enjoy the sense of warmth that your money is going to a better cause than to fuel some faceless corporation's management bonuses.
Here is my pick of the best charitable Christmas pressies.

National Trust
"The National Trust works to preserve and protect the coastline, countryside and buildings of England, Wales and Northern Ireland"

Just £12 will get you this nifty woollen rug that is perfect for keeping in the car or over a chair for tucking around you when it gets a little chilly. In Britain you can pretty much guarantee that it will get used year round and because they're made from recycled wool you an extra kick of feel-goodness that you're buying a present that looks after your wallet, your recipient, and the environment.
Handmade in Exmoor, Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh handmade soaps are a fab twist on tradition and at £2.25 each they are ideal as stocking fillers, Secret Santa pressies, or tarting up your bathroom to impress guests.

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)
"...saving threatened birds and wildlife across the UK and overseas"

I love watching birds. We mainly get sparrows but I have put one of these on my Christmas list in the hope that I can encourage a more diverse array into my garden to give me a more comprehensive way to procrastinate when I am supposed to be working. At £4.99 this Treat Tray Window Feeder is sturdy enough to withstand weather and clear so you can see all the tasty meal worms (yuck!)

The RSPB have a wide choice of jewellery (surprisingly so, I though) and this sweet Scarlett sterling silver beehive necklace is £59.99. It is hand made in Brighton so choosing it supports British artisans as well as the birdies. The range also includes bees and dragonflies.

British Heart Foundation
"funds research, education, care and awareness campaigns aimed to prevent heart disease"
Another stocking stuffer or Secret Santa pressie are these wild flower hearts at £2.99 for a packet of 3. Made of biodegradable stuff with seeds in them, they're an easy way of growing gorgeous flowers indoors at any time of year.

Alice's Escapes
Alice’s Escapes is a charity run by a team of volunteers committed to providing free holidays for families with a seriously ill child.

£10 from the sale of every one of these special Emma Bridgewater Sailing 1/2 Pint Mugs is donated to Alice's Escapes. Alice Pyne BEM is a pretty awesome 16 year old who, despite her own terminal cancer, has not stopped in her relentless quest to do what she can to improve the lives of other families living with cancer. Follow her blog or catch her on Facebook and Twitter

Marie Curie Cancer Care
"Our Nurses provide care to terminally ill patients in their own homes or in our hospices, while offering support to their families."

I love this wooden fishing game £10.49 and it would be on my shopping list if only my kids weren't too old. I have always found toys from Marie Curie Cancer Care to be great quality so this game would be great if you have several children to entertain.

 They also have these tiger and chick LED torches for £2.99 each. They don't need batteries as they charge by squeezing the handle a few times. These are great for kids who are a little scared of the dark as if they fall asleep with them on the batteries won't go flat.

Their website says "100 per cent of profits from every product go towards providing a Marie Curie Nurse this Christmas".

British Red Cross
"Caring for People in Crisis"

I really liked this Scotty Dog doorstop from the British Red Cross and it's currently on sale for £11.99 instead of £20.

If you have seen any charity shop gems let me know by leaving me a comment. I'm always open to shopping with a conscience.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Meal Planning Monday-ish

Whoops! I have a meal plan but haven't had a chance to write it up yet. Actually, all I need to do is copy it across from Tesco Diets since I am following that again this week. It's been pretty easy to stick to but I am missing my slow cooker. Things are pretty manic lately and am am struggling to cook dinner on time (ie: before my family starts eating the furniture or nagging me so much I feel like battering them with it). I forgot my shopping list when I went to the supermarket on Sunday so some meals have had to be tweaked or repeated as I refuse to go back or order any more groceries until next Sunday. We have plenty of food here and I'm not doing a special shop just for diet food. I'll have to tweak the meal plan to suit what I have.

Baked Leek and Bacon Risotto (this is lovely and where I thought the portion would be too small, by adding a massive handful of fresh spinach  it is perfect).
Vegetable Soup
Spicy Parsnip and Apple Soup
Stuffed Peppers with Basil and Feta
Thai Red Chicken Curry
Tofu Salad with Garlic Bread
Turkey Burger with Salad

I can pretty much guarantee I won't get more than half of that and the other half will be what I can cobble together from the food I already have at home.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

DIY Decorated Letters Tutorial

I'm actually going to attempt a tutorial today. I thought of doing this blog post retrospectively so please forgive the fact that I start with one letter and finish with another. I have eight nieces and nephews to buy prezzies for at Christmas, ranging from a 2 year old girl to a 14 year old boy. Three of them are in Australia which means whatever I give has to be light enough to send or something I order online and get sent to my mum's for her to wrap and deliver. This year I started planning in August (I kid you not) will the full intention of having everything done in time to post surface mail. Yeah... right... like that happened. In a fit of crafty passion and because I finally bought some Mod Podge and I was dying to do something with it I decided to do a personalised decorated letter for them all as part of their prezzie.

Here is what you'll need:

  • Cardboard letters (I got mine from Hobbycraft but they're widely available online)
  • Mod Podge (again, Hobbycraft) sparkly and plain
  • Scissors
  • Paintbrush
  • Something to cut up for the pictures. Comics are great but I had a couple of these rubbish Hello Kitty books to butcher for the girls' letters
You'll need to get all your bits of paper and pictures cut up before you start gluing. The first two letters I did were comic ones and it was a bit fiddly trying to find the right pictures to cover all the brown of the letter. The later ones I did I used different coloured plain paper to cover the letter first so it didn't matter if I missed little bits here and there. I don't recommend using tissue paper, by the way, as I did on the K & M. It's ok, but it can get a bit soggy and wrinkly if you're a bit heavy handed with the Mod Podge.

Cover your letter with your choice of background paper. It doesn't have to be plain - spots or other wrapping paper could also work well. Cutting squares around 3cm x 3cm is an easy way to patchwork it, rather than trying to wrap it. Let it dry (it doesn't take long).

Then you need to cover your letter with your pictures of choice. Here is one partially completed.

... and here are two I made earlier. Give it all a final coat of Mod Podge which dries like a varnish to seal and protect everything. My boys have these on their doors stuck on with those sticky Velcro dots but they can also stand on their own on a shelf.