Wednesday, 18 December 2013

DO play with your food at Holiday Inn

Is there anything more stressful as a parent when you're away on holiday or just for an overnight break than dealing with a fussy child who fidgets and messes around at the dinner table?  The last thing you want to be worrying about is whether or not your child will eat their dinner.

The clever folks at Holiday Inn Hotels and Resorts have come up with an ingenious solution to this age-old problem.  They've enlisted the help of experimental food scientists The Robin Collective, and together have created some magical mealtime ideas to help make things easier and create a memorable dining experience for all the right reasons!

Launching in selected UK and German hotels, these new fun additions to the table include exploding parsley herb party poppers and a Willy Wonka-esque roast dinner flavoured straw.

We had fun at home playing with condiments in a piping bag - such a simple idea but makes dinner time so much more fun.

The new menu of condiments is available for a limited time at the Holiday Inn Manchester Media City; Camden Lock; Stratford; Birmingham City Centre and Edinburgh.

Photo Alex McGuire

Disclosure: We were sent a Magical Mealtimes box to experiment at home with.

Christmas all wrapped up at Poundland

I don't know about you, but I always blow my budget on gifts at Christmas and then am always shocked at how  much the bits and pieces for wrapping add up to - paper; tags; gift bags; ribbons and bows all seem to add extra pounds on top of the present itself.

I also have the dilemma between wanting my presents to look attractive and enticing, and knowing that in most cases the wrapping will just be ripped off and put in the recycling bin.

Poundland always comes up trumps when it comes to gift wrapping.  They have some gorgeous ranges and gift wrap from £1 for 3 rolls you can't go wrong.

My favourite this year are the brown luggage labels, which unfortunately have sold out in my local store, but I'll be popping back to see if they have more.

There are bottle bags at 2 for £1 which are ideal for giving my bottles of homemade wine in.  

Pick up a box of 12 traditional candy canes and add one to a simply wrapped brown paper parcel.

There are also Thornton's chocolate lollies at 2 for £1 and these are perfect for slipping under a bow on a child's gift.

So, with ribbons, money envelopes and large sacks all at £1 there's no reason why your gifts can't look stunning this year, even if you are on a tight budget.

Disclosure: This is a featured post in association with Poundland.  I was sent some vouchers to purchase some finishing touches for Christmas.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Easy Christmas Pud Tunnock Teacake Pimp!

Easy Cheat - Tunnock's Teacake Christmas Puddings

Ahh Tunnock's Teacakes, the iconic Scottish teatime treat of chocolate covered gooey marshmallow and biscuit...  The mere sight of the red and silver foil wrapper takes me back to my youth.

For Christmas, I've pimped up the Tunnock's for those who don't like Christmas pudding.  These would be great to serve at a kid's tea party, or pop in a lunchbox for a festive treat.

You'll need:

  • Tunnock's Teacakes
  • Easy Roll White Royal Icing (you need only a tiny amount, so use any leftover from the Christmas cake)
  • Holly decorations either edible or non-edible

1. Carefully remove the foil wrapper.  Resist the urge to scoff teacake.  Set aside the wrapper for smoothing out later with the back of a spoon (What?  Is it just me who used to do that?)

2. Roll out a small amount of icing between two sheets of non-stick paper.  Cut out with a sharp knife a free-form shape to represent dripping icing - this is a sort of random fried egg shape.  Roll some more with the rolling pin.

3. Place on top of the chocolatey dome.  It should stick on it's own, but if not warm a teaspoon in a cup of boiled water, dry and gently rub the spoon over the chocolate to melt slightly before laying the icing on.

4. Finish off with the holly decoration and you're done.  Super quick, super easy festive pimp!

Tunnocks Tea Cake Christmas Puddings

Romanian Mum

Monday, 16 December 2013

Magpie Monday - Christmas Dress

Tearing through town at break-neck speed earlier in the week, I spotted a gorgeous sparkly dress out of the corner of my eye in a shop window.  I did a cartoon double-take, and quickly nipped inside.  I checked the label, realised happily that that make and that size was perfect for me and trotted up to the counter.

Me: "Hello, please could I have the dress on the mannequin in the window?"

Charity shop Assistant (sizing me up in my huge baggy jumper and unflattering raincoat): "What?  For you?"

Me (smiling through gritted teeth): "Yes please".

Charity Shop Assistant slopes off to de-robe the dummy.  Returns. "Do you want to try it on?"

Me (still with gritted teeth): "No thanks, it'll be fine".

Charity Shop Assistant (looking me up and down again): "Are you sure?"

Me (no longer smiling): "Positive".

Charity Shop Assistant: " Well, you can return it for a refund within a week if it doesn't fit".

I hand over my £8, go home, try it on, admire my new sparkly brocade 60's style mini dress that fits perfectly.

In yer face grumpy lady.  I'm tempted to put it on and slink in there just to prove it to her.

Just goes to show, you can get high-end style snooty sales assistants for a fraction of the price if you shop around!

Anyway, what do you think of my Christmas Day dress?  I'm thinking black leggings, ankle boots and hair up?

Magpie Monday will be taking a break for the next fortnight, but will be back in the New Year.  I'd like to thank you all so much for supporting Magpie Monday and sharing the pre-loved love.  Wishing you and all your families a very happy Christmas. x


Friday, 13 December 2013

Upcycling Christmas Light Bulbs

You might remember a while back I got hold of this box of old Christmas tree bulbs.  I was drawn to the pretty colours in my usual magpie fashion, and had crafty plans for them...

Things have been pretty busy since them, but I've finally squeezed in half an hour to give these my attention. Today is of course Christmas Jumper Day with Save the Children.  You can read about it here  and please join in with a festive top and donate £1 to an amazing cause.  You can do it simply by texting TEAMTHINLYS to 70050.

Here's my fuzzy selfie just to prove I'm on-board with the shenanigans.  And to go with my happy chappy penguin, I'm going the whole hog by wearing these that I made last night.

They are super-simple to make. You'll need some fine jewellery wire, a pair of pliers and some earring findings.  Wrap the wire tightly around the bulb fitting and bend at a 90 degree angle.  Use your pliers to make a loop and attach to the earring.  Use a small dot of glue or solder to make sure the looped wire is firmly fixed to the bulb - you don't want it dropping out and smashing on the floor while you're boogieing to Slade's finest Christmas hits now do you?

I love the colours of the glass, and it seems a shame to lose them just because the bulbs are dead.  I've glue-gunned some onto an empty glass votive and under the flicker of the tealight they still give a lovely festive glow.  A nice addition to my kitsch Christmas corner I think!

To make, use a hot glue gun to affix the bulbs around the outside of the glass candle holder.  Stand the holder on a flat surface to make it easier to line up the bulbs level.  If you don't have enough to cover the whole candle holder, a few dotted on look just as effective.  Use a black Sharpie marker and join them up by drawing a 'cable' between each bulb.

This is my entry to the Lightbulbs Direct Christmas crafting competition.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Chocolate Reindeer Poop - Easy Christmas Gift for School Friends

Chocolate Reindeer Poo - edible fun gift

We had some fun making these last night ready for Ruby to hand out to all her little class mates.  Granted, it might not be the most sophisticated present, but show me a 5 year old who doesn't find poo hilarious...

It's a very thrifty gift - one and a half large bars of chocolate and about half a box of rice crispies has done the whole class of 30.

These are basically 'droppings' of rice crispie cakes - I'm sure I don't need to tell you how to make them...

OK then.  Break up chocolate into small pieces, melt in a bowl over a pan of water on the stove.  Ruby helped to do this, but obviously, be careful with the heat.  Then stir in rice crispies and a few handfuls of raisins (lets make it a little bit healthy!) and keep stirring until they are all coated in chocolate.

Chocolate Reindeer Droppings

Dollop little spoonfuls onto a sheet of greaseproof paper and leave to cool and set.

Chocolate Reindeer Poo - printable label

I printed off these tags on card, feel free to scale this image to size and use it.  The poop was then scooped into little cellophane bags and stapled shut with the labels.

I've checked with the teacher for allergies, but it's worth keeping hold of the chocolate bar wrapper and cereal box just to advise parents.

Chocolate Reindeer Poop

Happy Christmas!

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Share your handmade tips for giving extra this Christmas - and win an ipad!

Halifax, the bank that likes to give extra, are encouraging us to get more creative this yuletide and give a little something extra with our Christmas gifts.

A few thoughtful touches and DIY extras can really bring a present up a level - even a shop bought gift can be enhanced with a little personal touch to show you care.

I've been scouring the web and bring you my favourite ideas for extra finishing homemade touches...


Lots of us like to give a bottle of wine or maybe a spirit at Christmas.  You can easily make it into a much more personal gift by adding your own label to it.  There are lots of free printables available online, I particularly like these ones.

Pyjamas and Dressing Gowns

Cosy new PJs are a popular gift at Christmas, but why not try adding a homemade extra like a hot water bottle cover.  These are really easy to make from old felted sweaters, so try a little upcycling!


Bubbles and bath items can be presented beautifully as a spa set like this, mixing both shop bought and handmade items.  This turns your gift into a really wonderful pampering treat. Have a go at making your own shower scrubsbath bombs or body oils to give a really personal gift.

Photos and Pictures

We often give family photos as presents to grandparents - particularly school photos.  Instead of giving them in the ugly cardboard frames they come it, get your glue gun out, raid the button tin and decorate a frame to turn it into a wonderful keepsake.


These can be very expensive to buy, and let's be honest, nice as a box of chocs is, it can look a bit impersonal.  Making your own chocolate gift is not difficult, and you can package them up beautifully. These chocolates by Domestic Goddesque are so pretty.  Or if you are feeling a little more adventurous, these stunning truffles by Breakfast by the Sea look to die for.

photograph copyright © Heather Wilkinson 2012

A book is a wonderful gift to receive, but why not add an extra special touch by making a bookmark to go with it?  I make lots of these and they are very simple to do.  You need some velvet ribbon, some ribbon crimp ends (you can source these online or in craft shops), pliers and some old pendants or broken jewellery. Such a pretty and practical upcycling project.

Games and Toys

There are lots of simple games you can make yourself, like these beautiful stone dominoes by Martha Stewart.  Red Ted Art has these adorable story cubes which will last as long as your imagination does.  Or why not pimp a shop bought toy, like Finley and Oliver does with this fabulous Lego play and carry box.

Gift Vouchers

A highly practical and popular gift, but lets face it, not exactly inspiring to look at!  Now that most vouchers come on pre-loaded credit-card sized plastic, making a lovely wallet for one not only makes it look more appealing, but it can be used after to hold business cards or store cards.


You can turn a gift of a DVD into something much more special by creating a movie night hamper.  Theme the items around the film and add in packs of popcorn, a mug and some hot chocolate sachets and marshmallows, a homemade face pack, scented candle ... whatever is appropriate.

Gift Wrapping

No matter what you decide to give this Christmas, a little creative extra touch when wrapping it will go down a treat.  For children's presents you could add a candy cane; gingerbread man or chocolate tree decoration under the ribbon. Pretty iced biscuits look gorgeous as well as being a tasty treat tied to the front of a gift. Use pretty scarves and vintage brooches to dress up a gift, and the recipient will be sure to want to keep the wrapping.  Keen cooks and bakers will appreciate a festive cookie cutter or a sprig of fragrant herbs attached to their gift.

So, those are a few ideas to help you give a little extra this Christmas.  But I also want you to share your creative tips.  Please complete the rafflecopter below and leave a comment on this blog post with your best DIY tip for making your gifts a little extra special.  One contributor will be chosen at random to win a fantastic iPad Air 16gb (Wi-Fi only) worth around £400.  Just think of the hours you could spend on that drooling over blogs, Pinterest and Craft Gawker!


This prize draw is in collaboration with Halifax.  The prize will be fulfilled by their agent.  The prize draw closes at midnight on 18th December 2013.  One winner will be selected from all valid entries at random. When entering, please ensure you provide a method of contact so I can notify you if you win.  All reasonable attempts will be made to contact the winner, but if they fail to respond within 7 days I reserve the right to re-draw.  Open to UK entrants only, and only one entry per person please. For full terms and conditions please see here.


This post is in partnership with Halifax.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

As you can see, there were 329 comments left and it seems that Blogger puts a cap on comments shown at 200, so here's a screenshot from my dashboard to show that the comment was left fair and square. Congratulations to Fiona.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Can a website help with the Christmas Shopping?

We've been trying out the website Compare 4 Kids to see how easy it is to use and if it can help to select the perfect Christmas present.

I have to say, in days pre-parenthood I'd have loved this site.  If you don't have children or are buying for kids outside of your own children's age range, it's impossible to keep up with what's hot and what's not.

So, I sat down with Ruby to test out the site with her imaginary budget of £100, secretly hoping to get some ideas since I still haven't done my Christmas shopping.

It was a great chance to practise some maths skills - the gifts are categorised by budget - so she could choose 10 gifts at £10 each, 4 at £25 each or 2 at £50 each...guess which she went for?!

Now, the first thing you need to key into the site annoyed me.  A lot.

With so many toy retailers finally shrugging off the boy/girl labels and gender stereotyping, it's disappointing that this website wants to know if it's searching for a boy or a girl.  Yes, her ultimate wishlist DID include a lot of pink and fluffy and that was HER choice, but I don't want her choices to be narrowed like that.

We did go back and key in 'boy' to see how that compared, and Ruby made lots of exclamations of "why's THAT for a boy?"  Atta girl!

Anyway, on to the gift search.  We keyed in '6 year old' and I have to say, most of the gifts selected were age appropriate.  They were pulled from a wide range of sites from Argos to Not On The High Street, from Hamley's to Cath Kidston.  There were lots of smaller companies represented too with more unusual gifts.

This isn't the way I normally shop.  Generally I'll go through a cashback site earning money for myself, rather that through a portal from a refers site, but it was very useful for showing me items I might not have seen otherwise.

The disappointing part for me though, was when you click on your chosen item, you are just whisked straight to the merchant's site.  There doesn't seem to be the option to create a wishlist, and I think they're missing a trick here.  It would be super useful to make a list of desired items and be able to share it with friends and family.

Some of the items we chose were not showing at the current price - happily they were cheaper when we landed on the merchant's site, due to seasonal sales, but it did make budgeting tricky!

So what did she choose for her ultimate wish list?

1. Ozzbozz Chaotic Scooter in Pink from Argos at £29.99

2. My Purfect Grooming Salon from Hamley's at £20

3. One Direction Ultimate Stationery Set from Argos at £12.99

4. Pink Frothy Tutu Skirt from The Kids Window at £18.40

5. Monster High 13 Wishes Twyla Doll from Smyths Toys at £16.99 (I might need to veto that one as I think they're hideous!  They've already mysteriously disappeared of her letter to Santa)

6. Just enough pennies left to buy some princess stickers from ELC at £1.50.

Disclosure: This post is my entry for a competition to win our wishlist with Compare 4 Kids, however all views expressed are my own and I've received no financial reward for writing this article. I hope they will find my feedback useful!

Light up your Christmas with John Lewis

For me, Christmas doesn't properly start until the decorations are up at home.

We always have a big, real tree up in the front room window and a wreath on the front door, but we've never really decorated outside before.

There's a few reasons for this.  Mainly, a lot of outdoor lights look tacky to me - I don't want giant inflatable Santas scaling my walls, or millions of coloured flashing lights glowing like a beacon from my front hedge.  I also worry about the waste of energy such electric decorations use.  There are also practical problems and where will I plug them in?  Will they get stolen from my front garden?

However, John Lewis have sent me an outdoor decoration that meets all of my criteria, and I'm now sold on outdoor lights - much to my daughter's delight!

The LED Reindeer light is stylish enough for me to approve of, and cute enough for my daughter to love.  It gives off a very bright white light, making it glow welcomingly at our porch.  The LED lights use 75% less energy than conventional bulbs, and as it's plugged in inside we can easily switch it on and off - it's typically on from dusk to bedtime.

The extra thin and flat electric cable fits neatly through my sash window, allowing us to close and lock the window on it - no security or loss of heating concerns.

We love Randy (yeah - so we named him!), although Ruby is desperate to fashion a red nose for him and turn him into Rudolph!

John Lewis have a huge array of both indoor and outdoor lights this Christmas to suit every taste.  I'm quite taken by this pre-lit house.  I think it would look stunning on the mantelpiece.

So, what's your view on outdoor lights?  The more the merrier or subtle and discreet?

Disclosure: We were sent the LED reindeer and a set of tree lights for the purposes of this review.  All views and opinions are my own.