Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Win Paddington Bear books from the new film with Harper Collins

You can't failed to have noticed that the new Paddington Bear film is out now in cinemas.  We adored the first film, and so the sequel has been eagerly awaited in this house.

The nation's favourite bear is back, firmly settled in now with the Brown family and London life.  He's searching for a meaningful present for his Great Aunt Lucy's 100th birthday, and discovers the perfect gift in the form of an old pop-up book of London, now in the hands of antique dealer Mr Gruber, along with various other items of ephemera from a mysterious Victorian fairground family.

The book is rather beyond his means, but determined to show his beloved Great Aunt the city of London as he promised, he embarks on a hilarious series of odd-jobs to raise the cash.

The window-cleaning scenes are laugh-out-loud hilarious - to the point that people in the row in front turned to look at me in the cinema.

However, things take a turn for the worse as the true value of the book is discovered, making it hot property.  I won't spoil the story, but Paddington finds himself wrongly accused and in hot water.  Will he be able to clear his name?  Will his family be able to prove who really did it?

This film genuinely made me laugh and indeed cry. And I wasn't the only one - I witnessed quite a few adults hurriedly brushing tears aways as they walked through the foyer afterwards.

So any fan of the film will love these bookish offerings from Harper Collins to celebrate the release of the movie.

Paddington 2 - The story of the Movie RRP £5.99

Join the irresistible Brown family and their adopted bear, plus a whole new cast of heroes and villains. Bigger and better than ever, the story of the new Paddington movie is both hilarious and heart-warming. Guaranteed to capture the hearts of fans, old and new!
Read the story of the movie in this delightful book for ages 5 - 9.
Paddington 2 The Movie Storybook RRP £6.99

The bear from darkest Peru returns in a star-studded new movie! Discover the magic of Paddington 2 with this glossy storybook retelling.
Every page of this enchanting picture book features high-quality photography from the movie, and is perfectly pitched for a younger audience so all the family can enjoy the story time and time again.

Paddington 2 - Movie Sticker Book RRP £7.99

Meet your favourite characters and make some new friends along the way as the marmalade-loving bear returns for another sticky adventure. Packed with games, puzzles, crafts and much more! Includes postcards, mask, Paddington door hanger, and over 150 super stickers. The perfect gift for small paws!
Paddington Sticker Scene Book RRP £4.99

Explore the wonderful world of Paddington in this gorgeous sticker activity book!
With all your favourite characters and fantastic movie scenes to complete, this brilliant sticker book is packed full of fun. Marmalade sandwiches ready? It’s time to get sticking!

Paddington Little Library RRP £4.99

The perfect stocking filler! Four fantastic board books all about the world’s favourite bear! Perfect for fans of the Paddington movie aged 1 year and up. This chunky slipcase set with simple text and images is the perfect introduction to Paddington, for the very smallest of fans.


Meet the Browns
Paddington Gets Dressed
Paddington Loves London
Paddington’s Manners

One lucky reader will be able to bag all these wonderful books, simply by answering the following question:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This giveaway is open to UK entrants only. Closing date is midnight on Monday 4th December.  One winner will be chosen at random.

Monday, 27 November 2017

#GiveMoreThanAGift this year with easyfundraising - get good cause donations for free!

We're making a list, we're checking it twice.  It's that time of the year when we're all busy shopping for Christmas presents for friends and family.

Last year, UK online sales topped £21 billion with people chosing to order via the internet, and just imagine if even a small percentage of that figure could be donated to charities and good causes...

Well, it can be and it's really easy to do.  Simply by signing up for an easyfundrasing account and nominating your favourite charity, each time you shop via their website, app or toolbar, you can raise money for charity.

Join easyfundfaising's #GiveMoreThanAGift campaign this Christmas and each present you buy could also contribute a donation to your favourite cause - isn't that the true spirit of Christmas?

There are tonnes of charities, large and small to choose from, and if you're involved with a charity yourself, you can register it to receive funds.  We have done this with our school PTA and it's proving a very useful additional fundraising income stream.  There is no cost to either the charity or the person shopping, so it's a win-win.

Just imagine if each parent signed up and raised even just a few pounds per year - that would be equivalent to one large fundraising event the PTA wouldn't have to work hard to put on, and your kid's school would benefit from the income.  So whether you're raising money for a new playground, IT equipment or reading materials, it's well worth local PTA's getting involved.

easyfundraising, along with its users have helped to raise almost £19 million for good causes so far. So this year, when you are online shopping for gifts, you can get double the warm and fuzzies and #GiveMoreThanAGift.

There are over 3,200 retailers on the easyfundraising site covering everything from holidays to toasters.  The retailers give a commission for each purchase and easyfundraising turn it into a donation for your charity - easy!

Now, I'm not completely magnanimous.  I know money's tight, and there's the old adage 'charity begins at home' so I do have another cashback site that I also use, which pays money out to me directly.  I'll freely admit that not all my online shopping raises money for my chosen PTA charity.  But that's ok.  I'll often 'shop around' between my cashback site and easyfundraising - sometimes retailers aren't signed up on my cashback site, but they are with easyfundraising, or sometimes there'll be a big difference in the commission percentage between the two sites and I'll decide which to use. But every little counts right?  In the last year since signing up, I've raised nearly £62, and the handy leaderboard of contributors keeps parents motivated and competitive.

If you sign up using this link before the end of November, as an added bonus your chosen charity will receive an extra £2 donation (as will my chosen charity).  Everyone's a winner!  So if you're planning of taking advantage of Cyber Monday and all the Black Friday deals still on, you can now shop with a clearer conscience!


I have received no payment for this post, however by promoting the campaign I'm in with a chance of winning a shopping voucher.  The link above is a referral link meaning both your charity and mine will receive a bonus donation at no cost to either of us.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Reducing Your Energy Bills - Free Knitting Pattern for a Cute Caterpillar DIY Draft Excluder

As we finally exchanged contracts on our new house last week, I'm starting to think about the additional bills which will inevitably come with a larger and older house.  For all the character features I love about older properties, drafty old windows and lack of cavity insulation aren't on that list!

We've just had the first real overnight frost here and it's time to start thinking about how to keep our homes toasty and warm.

Statistics reveal that draughts are responsible for 10% of heat loss in the average home and up to 25% in some households. That’s a lot of heat to lose, especially in the coldest weeks of the year.

By draught-proofing, households can save between £25 and £55 per person on the annual energy bill. What’s more, draught proofing can be a cheap and painless (even fun!) activity.

First Utility has put together an illustrated guide which details the steps of making your own caterpillar draught excluder.  This cute and colourful character will add some fun to your home, but more importantly will help keep those pesky drafts out, and your heating bills down.

So, grab a cuppa, pull up a blanket and dust off those knitting needles.  What a lovely way to spend a cold winters evening.

The step-by-step instructions are simple to follow for even a beginner knitter, and you can easily adapt it to make the draft excluder as long as you wish to fit your door.  Why not make several - for your front door, your back door and even for internal doors to keep you toasty this winter?

You'll need four different colours of double knit yarn, some additional scraps, two buttons for the eyes and some wadding.  For the full, step-by-step instructions, please follow this link to the First Utility blog.

I'd love you to share a photo of your finished results with me, and if you have any other tips for reducing your energy bills this winter or draft proofing your home, please share them with me in the comments.

This post is in collaboration with First Utility.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

5 Ways to Fix Your Stuff And Help Save The Planet

Any aspiring eco-warrior worth their salt knows the mantra of the Three Rs - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.  But truth be told, all too often the emphasis in society is placed on increasing our recycling.  In reality, recycling should be our last option and I'm going to share a few ways you can both reduce your purchase of new items (and the amount of materials and energy used to produce them) and reuse what we already have by FIXING it!

My grandparents were from the Make Do and Mend era - loads of items around their house would have been fixed up with tape or glue or have splints strapped to them. But a lot of those skills have been lost.  Added to that, the current consumer society where we are actively encouraged by manufacturers to keep buying more stuff, whether that's through trends and upgrades or built-in obsolescence, and we're destined to fill up our land-fill in double-quick time.

But there are lots of ways you can try and fix things and reduce the cost both to your pocket, and to the planet.

1. Fix it with Sugru

Have you heard of Sugru?  It's a bit of a revelation in the crafting world and is super-useful for mending all manner of things.  A mouldable glue, it comes in a range of different colours to be used to fix anything from plastic, wood, ceramics, metal, glass, plaster, stone and some fabrics.  Once 'cured' it will form a watertight fixing, and what's more it's flexible too making it ideal for reinforcing all those gadget chargers which often will fray after prolonged use.  It's advanced technology makes it heat and cold resistant, dishwasher-safe (got any broken dishwasher trays anyone?!), UV stable, electrically insulating, shock absorbent, wipe-clean and strong enough to hold up to 2kg. It's skin-safe and family friendly too which means the kids can have a go at fixing their own stuff, or even improving existing toys and creating new ones.

It's perfect for fixing all manner of things around the house and garden and it's mouldable so ideal for fixing broken toys, making lost parts and mending snapped plastic components.  I put it to the test fixing a pair of scissors that had accidentally gone in the dishwasher resulting in the plastic becoming brittle and the handle snapping.  There was nothing wrong with the blades, so a quick shape of some colour-matched Sugru and they were good as new.

Sugru have been kind enough to offer a set of family-friendly mouldable glue to one lucky reader, along with a copy of their rather fab 'Fixer's Manifesto' poster to inspire you.  Read on to the end of the post to find out how to enter.

2. YouTube it!

Let's face it, you can find videos on anything and everything on YouTube.  So if you don't know how to fix it, look it up, watch others do it and learn. Everyone can learn basic skills like replacing a broken zip or re-wiring a plug and if it saves you having to throw something out and buy a new one, you'll be glad you did.

3. Visit a repair cafe

We were lucky enough to have a repair cafe held in our village hall a few weeks ago.  There was a stream of people through the door dragging in knackered vacuums, broken torches, clothes with rips, jammed DVD players and all sorts. A helpful team of volunteer experts were on hand to help show the owners how to safely fix them, and with the added bonus of tea and cake on offer, what could be better?

I took along a suit jacket to be repaired which was beyond my capabilities, and the lady there did a magnificent job, it was well worth the donation to the local green group.

The international Repair Cafe network is 8 years old this year, check them out to find one near you, and if there isn't one - why not start one?

4. Buy spare parts

Sometimes, a broken bit can't be fixed but that doesn't mean you have to chuck the whole item.  Online stores such as e-Spares stock over 1 million spare and replacement parts from many leading brands of manufacturers.  You can get spares for washing machines, dishwashers, TVs, cleaning equipment and cameras to name a few. They also have a library of handy videos showing you how to.  I recently broke my vacuum nozzle and because there was nothing wrong with the mechanics of the cleaner itself, I popped along to e-Spares and ordered a new set of hoses and attachments and now my cleaner is good as new, looking refreshed and smelling much nicer!

5. 3-D Print it!

Now this may seem a bit out-there but trust me, the time will come when you'll be able to pop along to a 3-D printing store and make your own replacement parts.  The technology is still expensive currently but advances mean it's not beyond the realms of possibilities that it will be cost-effective to soon print new bits for your broken items.  If supermarkets are already 3D printing replica models of children for grandparent gifts, then anything's possible!

So there's no excuse to chuck that broken gadget.

As promised, I'm going to give you the chance of winning a multi pack of Sugru mouldable fixing glue and a copy of their awesome Fixer's Manifesto poster to inspire you to fix more. To enter simply complete the Gleam form below. Open to UK entrants only. Closing date is midnight on Sunday 19th November 2017.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This post is in collaboration with Sugru.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Spiced Pumpkin Soup with the Simplissimo Chef from Scott

Simplissimo Chef Cook Blender by Scott

A little while ago, my trusty blender broke and I found myself a little bereft. I tried to get it fixed, sent it off to the manufacturer but was told there was nothing that could be done.  To be fair, it had taken a hammering over the years with almost daily smoothie making, so I'd been looking around for a new model to replace it with.  It was perfect timing then, when Scott got in touch to see if I'd like to try out the new Simplissimo Chef cook blender, due to hit the market in early November.

The Simplissimo Chef it turns out, is so much more than just a blender.  Like all good quality models, it can knock up a smoothie with ease and has no trouble crushing up ice cubes so it's perfect for making drinks.  At this time of year, I make a lot of soups.  And I mean a lot.  The Other Half takes a homemade soup to work most days, it's our lunch of choice at the weekends and we never venture out on an outdoor adventure without a flask of hot, nourishing soup.

And when it comes to soup, this is where the Simplissimo excels.  It's not merely a blender, but it cooks the soup too, meaning one seamless operation from start to finish - less hassle and considerably less washing-up!  It has two pre-programmed soup functions, for either smooth or chunky soup and you simply put in all your ingredients, your water or stock, any seasonings, hit the button and away it goes.  30 minutes later and you have piping hot, perfect soup every time. You can add ingredients during the cooking process so it's perfect if you want to stir in things with a shorter cooking time.

This is such a timesaver as it means I can simply load it up and get on with other things, walk the dog, do the laundry...whatever!  No more watching a pot on the stove, no stirring and no checking to see if it's done.  It also has a very handy 30 minute keep-warm function once finished which is ideal in a household like mine when you never know what time people are getting home.

What else was I going to make on this beautiful Halloween day than spiced pumpkin soup?  The recipe is below, and it's quite forgiving so use whatever you have - add in some sweet potato, butternut squash, courgette... That's the great thing about soups, they're perfect for using up odds and ends in the fridge.


600g pumpkin, peeled and cubed
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 leek, chopped
1 stick of celery, chopped
1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
1/2 inch root turmeric
1/2 red chilli, seeds removed
3/4 pint water or stock


Handful of pumpkin seeds
Sprinkle of sea salt (roasted in a low oven for 10 minutes)

There's no 'method' as such to write.  Simply add in all the ingredients, select 'smooth' and press start.  It really is that simple!

The cook function on the Simplissimo really sets if apart from other gadgets and makes it so much more than just a blender.  It comes with a steamer basket so you can cook healthy, nutrient-filled vegetables, and it will even cook sous vide so you can cook vacuum packs of fish and retain all the goodness.  I think this is really going to come into it's own when we're having our kitchen re-done as this little gadget can do it all.

The unit itself is very sturdy, with a good quality glass jug.  The controls and touch screen buttons are very responsive and easy to use.  It's stylish enough to have on your counter-top, and small enough to put away in a cupboard if you wish.

Oh, and the other thing? It has a self-clean mode.  Bravo!  Simply add water and washing up liquid, set it going for the 5 minute cleaning programme and it's done.  Seriously, this machine is genius.

Simplissimo Chef Self Cleaning Mode

I can't wait to try out more recipes - cocktails, dips, sauces and steamed food.

The Simplissimo Chef will be available from early November online here or from Amazon and Ebay with a RRP of £159.

Disclosure: We were sent the cook blender in exchange for our review.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Michael Morpurgo's Shadow - A Review and A Giveaway

Michael Morpurgo is one of the UK’s most loved authors, having written over 140 books in a career spanning over 40 years, with numerous accolades to his name, including The Children’s Book Award for a record fourth time last year for his novel An Eagle in the Snow.  

Many of his novels have been adapted into stage shows and several of his titles have been made into films, most famously the Steven Spielberg-directed War Horse, which we were delighted to discover is on tour at Bristol so we're planning to see it over half term. 

Lots of Michael’s most popular books feature stories of animals and this autumn Harper Collins are highlighting some of his most loved novels, to coincide with World Animal Day.

As you can see from Ruby's bedtime reading stash, he's a firm favourite in our house and we were thrilled to be asked to take part in this blog tour.  We're looking today at his novel Shadow, a particular favourite of Ruby's - I think she must have read it 5 or 6 times now.

The old adage of never judging a book by its cover doesn't seem to ring true for children, and she ABSOLUTELY initially chose to read it based purely on the front cover illustration showing Shadow the Springer Spaniel, as we too have a Springer.  So there was an instant hook and connection.  From there she has gone on to read many more of his books whether that be at home or at school.

So, over to Ruby to explain more about the book...

What is the book about?

It is about Matt's friend, a boy called Aman who is from Afghanistan.  He desperately wanted to come to England with his mother to escape the war there.  While hiding in a cave, an injured dog turns up. Aman helps it to get better and they form a strong friendship and the story is about that bond and their journey to safety.  But on finally arriving in England, they find that they may not be able to stay so are sent to a detention centre.

Which is your favourite character in the book?

The dog Shadow because I have a dog the same and Shadow is loyal, kind and brave.

What did you like best about the book?

I liked the story that Aman told because although it's fiction, it is a story that could have really happened to someone.  I could imagine it happening because it was so well written.

From a personal perspective, I think this book really explored the current issues around conflict, the refugee crisis and the treatment of asylum seekers, at a level that children can understand.  Often these issues may be picked up when the news is on at home, or headlines from a paper, and it's such a complex and emotional issue as a parent it is one I have difficulty explaining. Morpurgo humanises the plight with his characters and makes it much more accessible for younger readers to get an understanding of some of these modern issues.  Another connection for us is that much of the story is set at Yarl's Wood detention centre which is very close to where we lived.  Although thankfully they no longer house children detainees there now, the centre has been plagued with controversy since it opened in 2001.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to children aged 9+, those who are interested in animals will be hooked, and if, like my daughter your child is someone who wouldn't ordinarily be drawn to a book about war, then this is a great introduction and opens up conversations about topical issues such as the plight of refugees and the way they are treated both in their own countries, and once they arrive  at a 'safe' European country.

If you want to explore further, there are some activity sheets available here.

I'm delighted to say, that I have a copy of the book Shadow, signed by Michael Morpurgo himself to give away to one lucky reader.  To enter, simply complete the rafflecopter below, and don't forget to check out the #MorpurgosAnimals hashtag on social media where you'll find all the other blog posts in the book tour and a chance to win lots of other signed books.

Entrants must be resident in the UK.  One winner will be chosen at random and the prize will be sent directly from the publisher.  Closing date is midnight on Tuesday 31 October 2017.

This post is a featured post in collaboration with Harper Collins.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Spending family time together at breakfast with Ready Brek

Please excuse my disappearance over the past few months.  We've been busy moving.  Packing up our lives and moving 200 miles across the country.  It's entailed a house sale and purchase; a new job; a new school and countless hours of soul-searching about leaving friends and family behind, but we did it for the promise of a better work-life balance and more family time together.

It's working out pretty well.  The Other Half has swapped his daily 3-hour-plus commute for a round trip of about 40 minutes and it has enabled us to finally be able to all sit down together and eat as a family EVERY DAY - both breakfast AND dinner.  There was no chance of having breakfast together previously, with him up and out every morning long before I'd even stirred.  It meant the morning struggle of juggling all the family chores (you know, feeding the dog, walking the dog, getting breakfast, clearing breakfast, making packed lunch, asking child to get ready for school, asking again, asking for a third time, the inevitable hunt for a missing pencil case/football boot/water bottle etc etc) all fell to me, and tempers were often frayed.  Now I have someone to share these tasks with each morning things are so much calmer!

Having breakfast together has become a real pleasure so I was delighted when Ready Brek asked me to put their cereal to the test.  Now, I clearly remember the TV adverts for this from my childhood, with the kid skipping off to school with the Ready Brek glow - central heating for kids.  For some reason we never had it in my house growing up - it will go down in the annals of family history along with other items I was deprived of - the Mr Frosty slush maker and that money box that dispensed little miniature chocolate bars... bitter - moi?

Anyway, we all enjoy porridge and even though I've avoided gluten for well over a year now, I've found that normal porridge oats are fine for me.  Gluten and my stomach don't get on, but thankfully oats cause me no problems at all (oats are naturally gluten free but may be mixed with other cereals in the processing stage which is why you'll find gluten-free oats for coeliacs).

Ready Brek is a great choice for kids and provides them with slow-release energy to get them through the school day.  Many children's cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals, but unfortunately they also tend to come loaded with added sugar and salt.  Ready Brek contains no added salt or sugar and provides Vitamin Bs, Vitamin D and Calcium.  It is finely milled making a super smooth and creamy texture and is so quick and easy to prepare.

Like the Three Bears, we all take our porridge differently, and we've been experimenting with different toppings to come up with our favourites.  I like that I can prepare the toppings in advance and keep in the fridge, or use store cupboard items and then just make one big pan of Ready Brek - we all get what we like but essentially I'm just making the one breakfast.

Since moving to Somerset, I've been staggered at the amount of apples around. I mean, I knew it was famous for cider but seriously, practically every field is an orchard and every single garden contains at least one apple tree.  It means you can wonder down the road, happily picking up windfalls, or help yourself to some from the many buckets outside people's homes offering them for free.  I have a very sweet tooth in the morning, so I like my Ready Brek with some spiced stewed apple and a drizzle of maple syrup.

The quickest and easiest way to make up a batch of the apple sauce is as follows:

Peel, core and chop one large cooking apple.
Please in a non-metallic bowl with a sprinkle of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon each of cinnamon, all spice and nutmeg and a splash of water.  
Cover with cling film and microwave on high for 1 minute.
Remove from microwave and stir.  The apple should be soft and fluffy, if not, cook for a further 30 seconds.

The Old Man likes to be super-healthy with his breakfast, usually eating nuts, seeds and fruit so his winning combination was blackberries and chia seeds. We've been blessed with an abundance of blackberries this year and I'm frantically picking them to freeze or make juice and jam with before the end of September when legend has it the Devil pees on them and makes them all inedible!  

For his, I cook up some blackberries with a little sugar, much like making jam but before taking it to the furious boil and setting point.  The cooked blackberries keep well in a covered pot in the fridge for a week or two.

Like me, Ruby also has a sweet tooth in the morning.  Her absolute favourite topping is a spoonful of chocolate hazelnut spread and a handful of toasted hazelnuts for some added crunch.

The only problem is our happy family breakfasts are now filled with banter about whose breakfast is best!  What do you think?  Which would you choose or do you have your own idea?  I'd love to hear in the comments.

And you can check out how some other bloggers like their Ready Brek in these posts:

The Mummy Sphere makes banana breakfast muffins with hers
Pink Oddy has lots of suggestions including overnight oats, smoothies and flapjacks

This is a collaborative post with Ready Brek.