Tuesday 30 April 2013

P&G and Asda Clean Water Campaign


We've had so much of it falling from the sky lately, it's easy to take it for granted.  We have an almost limitless supply it seems, and every time we need a drink; brush our teeth; take a shower; water our plants or flush the toilet, it's there.  On tap.

It's easy to forget that every single day 2,000 children die as a result of contaminated water.  More children die because of diseases caught through dirty water such as cholera and dysentery, than from HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.

P&G and Asda have joined forces to help address this.  From now until 8th May 2013, every P&G product purchased at Asda, will see one day's clean drinking water donated by way of their purification sachets.  Click here to see a full list of their range from household cleaning and detergent products to personal hygiene items and nappies.

After 8th May, there will be selected items on sale bearing the Clean Water logo, and for each of these purchased, clean and safe drinking water will be donated.

In addition, you can donate a day's clean water simply by clicking on Facebook.  Every like of this page will trigger another donation, so please share and tell your friends.

We've been given some sachets to try and to see just how they work, so check back soon to see how we get on.  Each sachet can transform 10 litres of contaminated water into clean and safe drinking water in just 30 minutes.

Disclosure:  All views expressed are my own.  I received a sample pack but no financial reward.

Parent Bloggers and The London Community Gospel Choir Unite

Being part of a choir has never been more popular, thanks in part to recent TV series and coverage.  The sense of community from being part of a group activity, as well as the reported health and well-being benefits make this something many would like to be involved in.  It requires little expense and no special equipment or instruments.

However, practical and logistical reasons make it difficult for modern, busy parents to attend groups and regular practices.  Through this innovative project, a group of busy mums have had the chance to receive expert tuition from the London Community Gospel Choir, to join a community and rehearse to take part in a much wider event, all from the comfort of their own homes.

Using Google Hangouts, parent bloggers Marianne Weekes; Sharon Donnelly and Helen Wills, together with Mary Isokariari from The Voice publication have been receiving expert tuition and practising 'O Happy Day' before coming together for a World Guinness Record Attempt of the largest ever gospel choir at the 30 Choir festival on Sunday 5th May.

Rosie Shelly, Community Manager at Google UK said "this project is a great example of people getting together online and it's a brilliant use of the Google + Hangout platform".

The bloggers involved have been sharing this journey live with their viewers, and shown remarkable bravery! Helen Wills got involved because she "thought it sounded like a really cool idea and it's so exciting to be involved in something that's never really been done in this way before".

Sharon said she was "looking for something fun to get involved in", and being able to do it from home really appealed.  Mari had secretly harboured a desire to win the X Factor, and felt that this might be the closest she'd get!

Actually, she's not a million miles from X Factor.  All those choirs you see performing on Saturday night shows?  Yep, chances are that's the London Community Gospel Choir.  They've performed with the likes of Kylie Minogue; Blur; Nick Cave; Madonna; Elton John and Westlife to name but a few.

And now they're singing with bloggers we know and love - how cool is that?

If you'd like to go along to the 30 Choir Festival celebrating their 30th Anniversary, you too could rehearse with them and join the world record attempt.  Tickets can be booked online.

Meanwhile, I'll leave you with their live performance last week at The Shard where they became the first live music act to perform at what is now the tallest building in Western Europe.

Monday 29 April 2013

30 Ways to save £1

To mark the 30th anniversary of the £1 coin next month, Money Supermarket have launched a competition to find as many ways as possible to save money.  OK, so this makes me feel incredibly old because I remember getting crisp £1 notes for pocket money, but still, it seems a great idea for sharing tips.

Please note, in the spirit of frugality, some of the links and suggested products below are affiliate links, which means I may earn some pennies as a referral fee if you purchase/sign up.

Here are 30 of mine:

Cashback sites.  Everyone knows that cashback sites offer money back on online purchases, but some of them now offer much more.

1. If you have a smart phone, download the Topcashback app (affiliate link).  This allows you to register debit or credit cards and gain cashback in store now too as well as internet purchases.

2. The Topcashback app also has a nifty feature called 'snap and save'.  Its worth checking the featured products when doing your grocery shop.  If you purchase any of them, simply take a photo on your phone of your receipt and submit it, you'll be rewarded with anything from 10p to £2 back.

3. Quidco (affiliate link) is another one you should get on your phone.  It has a great 'check-in' feature which works with GPS to allow you to earn money when visiting shops.  you don't even have to make a purchase, just click a button on your phone.  Typically you earn between 10-20p per shop, but if you're mooching around town you can easily clock up a couple of pounds per day.  Quidco also offer cashback on in store purchases if you register a card, and a 'clicksnap' feature similar to Topcashback's.

4. Vouchercloud is another useful app to have on your phone. Again, using GPS it will find money-off vouchers for nearby shops, attractions and restaurants for you.

Grocery Shopping.

5. Try and make use of the handheld self scanning machines as you do your in store shop.  It helps you easily keep track of how much you've spend and keep to a budget.

6. Look for downloadable and printable vouchers before you go shopping on products you're likely to buy.  Supersavvymeyme is a good site for personal hygiene and cleaning product offers.  Other coupon sites include My Savings  and of course, Money Supermarket.

7. Work out when your local supermarket discounts fresh items - usually this is on a Sunday afternoon.  It's a great time to go shopping and take advantage of reduced-to-clear items.

8. Sign up to supermarket loyalty schemes.  Each year I manage to do my Christmas food shop using Clubcard and Nectar points I've saved over the year.

9. Follow these instructions to see if you have any 'missing' Tesco clubcard vouchers.  You can ask for them to be re-sent or use the codes to exchange them online.


10. Get into the habit of batch baking on a Sunday afternoon for lunchbox fillers for the week. Cereal bars, bakes and snacks are so expensive and you're paying a premium for the individual wrappers.  A batch of fruit buns or flapjack takes next to no time to make, will keep the kid's lunchboxes filled and cost a fraction of the price.  It's really useful too if you have allergies in the family as you know exactly what's going into them.

11. On a similar note, instead of individual dried fruit packs, invest in some small plastic tubs and use dried fruit from the baking section for a fraction of the price.  Also make up individual jellies and decant yoghurt from home will save you money.

12. When cooking meals that need a lot of oven time, like casseroles, lasagne, pies etc, I always double up to save on fuel.  Cooking two and popping one in the freezer for a later date, saves on cooking time, and means you have a home-cooked meal handy which just needs de-frosting and re-heating.

13. Learn to forage! You don't have to go full-on and live of nettles to be able to enjoy the fruits of nature.  Make like your grandparents and pick the blackberries in the hedgerows.  Check out the amazing interactive map on the Fruit City website and find fruit trees growing near you.  There are a host of community orchards and herb gardens springing up where you can help yourself for free.  Find out what's in your local area.

14. Grow your own.  Again, you don't need to have a whole allotment plot to enjoy homegrown fruit and veg.  A windowsill or some patio pots can still provide salad and tomatoes for the family.

15.  If you are planning on growing your own, join a seed swap scheme to save money.  This could be informally with friends and family, or an organised one - go Google your local area.  Saving seeds from previous year's crops is also a great way to save money.


16. PLEASE don't waste money and resources on bottled water.  Many investigations have shown expensive bottled water has no more benefit than tap water.  Re-use an old plastic water bottle or invest in a water bottle that you can refill, such as these from Sigg which will also keep it cool on a hot summer's day.

17. On a similar theme, buying coffee while out is so expensive.  The mark-up on a cup of coffee in a High Street chain is around 300%, so instead of boosting their obscene profits further, take a flask out an about with you.  No longer the preserve of little old couples on day trips, flasks are hip again, and rather than getting sniggered at, I often get complimented when on the train both for my canny money-saving and my pretty flask.  Check out some of my favourite designs.

18. I can't talk about drink without mentioning alcohol!  I've recently tried out making my own wine, and this little venture is going to save me lots of money.  The kits are great for starting out, and will give a reliable finish, but then you can get more experimental and save even more money by using foraged fruits and herbs in your beer or wine making.

19.  Cheap supermarket vodka and gin can be made infinitely more drinkable by infusing with fruits or spices, and also make a lovely Christmas gift.  Check out these great recipes for Limoncello , Spiced Vodka and Sloe Gin.


20.  It seems so obvious, but join your local library to save yourself a fortune.  Brand new books are so expensive, so borrow them for free and have an ever-changing book shelf.  Many libraries now also loan games, music and DVDs.

21.  Seek out your local toy library.  Many are run by Sure Start Centres of local family centres, but a quick internet search should find you one nearby.  There you will be able to borrow toys and baby equipment for free or a nominal charge.

22.  Many kids enjoy craft activities, but the supplies can be expensive.  Encourage them to use natural materials and things found around the home.  We have a junk modelling bag where we store up loo roll tubes, boxes and bits of plastic which will be useful for making with.  Check out great blogs such as Red Ted Art which has a wealth of ideas and inspiration for free or low cost activities.

23.  Get back to nature and do more outdoor play.  The old fashioned activities such as tree-climbing; kite flying; den building; pooh sticks are all free and so much better for you than playing computer games.  There are some great blogs and resources to give you play ideas, and my favourite is Family Days - Tried and Tested.  She has some incredible ideas for outdoor play that you'll want to rush out and try.

24. Birthdays can be very expensive, and once your kids start school and get invited to parties it seems like you have to come up with a present a week.  Stock up during the sales and on BOGOFs, and keep a small stockpile of gift items ready.  I set a budget of £5 per child (30 kids in a class that's £150 a year!) Most parents seem to spend more than this in our school, but with careful shopping and buying things at good value, I can stretch my £5 to get a very decent gift.

25.  School uniform time can also be a drain on the bank account.  Check with the PTA to see if your school does a uniform sale of outgrown second-hand uniform.  If they don't, why not suggest one?


26.  Transport is another big bank account sucker.  Where we can we walk or cycle for short trips.

27. Look into car-share schemes if you drive to work.  Buddying up with someone and taking it in turn to drive, will cut your fuel cost in half and be better for the environment.  Check out sites such as Car Share or Car Pooling.

28.  If travelling by rail, try to plan your journey as far in advance as possible.  If you can travel at specified times, book a discounted fare which stipulates which train you must take.  Also remember to book through a cashback site, or use a discounted ticket site such as the Trainline.


29.  This has to be one of our biggest monthly bills.  Make sure you're regularly checking for the best deals and switch provider if they offer a better rate.  Money Supermarket and other comparison sites can help.

30.  If you have an open fire place - use it!  Get the chimney checked and swept and burn solid fuel.  A woodburner is more energy efficient than an open fire, and burning wood is considered to be 'carbon neutral'.  We often take a large bag with us on dog walks and fill it up with free wood in the form of sticks and branches we find on the ground.  We find wood in skips (careful it's not been treated with harmful chemicals before you burn it, and ask permission before taking it); are given unwanted bits from family and friends, and Freecycle is a great source for free wood to burn.

Well, that's my 30, I could go on all day, but hopefully you've found some of those useful.  If you have any that I've missed, please do let me know.

Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links.  Money Supermarket are also paying £1 per tip posted up to £30.

Magpie Monday - Homemade Wine

I've recently decided to try my hand at wine-making.  It's been something I've wanted to do for ages, and I figured it would compliment my foraging habit quite well too.

I decided to invest in a proper starter kit to see if I got the hang of it, the theory being once I'd mastered a reliable kit, then I could move on to err... slightly more experimental versions.

My Pinot Grigio has been bubbling away for some weeks now and last week it was finally time to bottle it up.

I'd asked friends and family to keep hold of used wine bottles for me, so that bit of recycling saved me some more pounds as I didn't need to buy glass bottles.

Starting a new hobby can be really expensive, but the starter kit worked out to be good value, and even taking the start-up cost of all the equipment into account, this first batch of wine has worked out at around £2.50 per bottle - less than half the price of shop bought wine.

I've been lucky and have managed to supplement the kit with charity shop finds too.  I've picked up a couple of glass demi-johns for £1 each which will be perfect for the more wacky wines - I don't want to risk making 30 bottles of something if it turns out rank, so this way I can do smaller, 6 bottle batches.

They need a good scrub out, but since they usually cost around £6-7 each, I'm happy to do a bit of washing.

In another charity shop I found a whole bag full of wine making bits for £3.  I wasn't entirely sure what was inside as the bag was sealed up, but I could see there was a corking machine and those alone cost anywhere from £15 upwards, so I bought it.  Inside was all manner of things - corks; shrink sealers; push-in bottle caps; bungs and airlocks, so I think I struck lucky with this lot.

And finally, this book which has been kicking about my bookshelf for some time and inspired the whole thing.  It cost me the princely sum of £1.69 and has such delights as dandelion wine; parsnip wine and beetroot wine...yu-um!  Dandelion is next on the list, so check back to see how that works out!

So, what have you managed to get hold of second-hand?  Have you ever got something that's inspired or helped with a new hobby?

Grab the badge and link up.

Me and My Shadow

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Child Culture Vulture - a weekend of live ballet and folk

We know as adults how much more rewarding a live performance can be compared to watching it on a screen or listening to a CD.  The whole atmosphere, the experience, visiting new venues, the lights and the special effects...

Special children's performances are a great way to introduce your kids to the magic of theatre and live music, without the stress of tuts and disapproving looks from other audience members if your kid decides halfway through that they need the loo, or they insist on rustling their jelly baby bag at just the wrong moment.

Last weekend we took Ruby to her first ballet, and her first folk show.  It was a lot to cram into two days, but the whole experience was fabulous and she's been talking about it ever since.

On Saturday, we attended the English National Ballet's performance of My First Cinderella at the Waterside in Aylesbury.  It's a fantastic venue, and Ruby was in awe at the vastness of the auditorium.  The front of house area is bright and area, with plenty of space to accommodate the throng of little princesses and Prince Charmings who'd gathered excitedly.

Ruby too of course, dressed for the occasion and I'm relieved to say she didn't look out of place!

Cinderella is the popular rags-to-riches and good-over-evil fairy tale that most young children will already be familiar with.  But to help the younger audience follow the story there is excellent on-stage narration along with some gentle audience interaction - not too much to make it pantomimey.

The score by Prokofiev is spellbinding and captivating and I think was Ruby's first experience of classical music too.

She was totally entranced by the young adult dancers - all promising graduation dancers from the English National Ballet School.

photo credit David Jensen
There was an adorable moment when Ruby went all wistful and starry-eyed.  I asked hat she was thinking about, and she said she was wishing it was her and (her 'boyfriend') up there dancing on stage, and that he was her Prince Charming.  Bless her!

Each routine or solo performance was just the right length to hold the young audience's attention, and even though the story differed a little from the traditional tale, there was never a moment when Ruby couldn't follow it.

Image credit: David Jensen

The sets were stunning as were the costumes.  Ruby doesn't do ballet classes, but she still thoroughly enjoyed it and there were quite a few little boys who'd gone along (and didn't look like they were reluctant siblings accompanying their sisters!) It was a magical experience and as they are still touring until the end of May I'd urge you to go and see it if it's in your area.  There are still performance on in Bromley; Oxford; Crawley; Manchester and Richmond and all the details are on the website.


On Sunday, we headed off to The Junction at Cambridge to catch Megson on their live tour.  We're already big fans of their album When I was a Lad so we were really looking forward to it.

The show is 'family friendly' which means it can be enjoyed from babyhood upwards, and in fact there was a huge age range in attendance.

The children were actively encouraged to get out of their seats and dance up the front, and even the shy ones seemed to instantly lose their inhibitions the moment the bubble machines came on.

It's clear that Debbie and Stu have a child of their own (in fact little Lola was there at this show, catching her Mum and Dad play live for the first time).  They knew exactly how to interact with the children, and had them giggling, joining in and dancing along from beginning to end.

They took the time to introduce the songs and explain what they were about for those that didn't already know them, and also described what instruments they were using.

All the children (and parents) seemed to be having a fabulous time, and the music was toe-tappingly contagious.  The performance itself was just under an hour, and I suppose for the majority of the audience who were pre-school age, this was about right.  But I was left wanting more, and to be honest I wanted it to carry on for longer.

This is the perfect way to introduce your little ones to live music, and Megson were just so sweet, happy to chat afterwards and pose for photos or autograph copies of their CDs.  There is another show planned on 15th June at Kettering, but keep your eye on their Facebook page for updates and announcements.

So if you're looking to reduce your kids screen time and expose them to some live performances, I can hand-on-heart recommend both of these shows.  Have you taken your little ones to the theatre or a gig?  What did they think of it?

Disclosure: We received press passes for both the shows but all views and opinions are my own.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Win a £50 Amazon voucher with Appliances Online

The lovely folk over at Appliances Online are giving you dear readers the chance to treat yourself with a £50 Amazon voucher to splash on anything your heart desires.

So, not only do they offer great value for money with their white goods and appliances, but they are generous too!

My family recently had a new kitchen installed and the mother-in-law can't stop raving about how impressed she was with them after ordering a new hob and new integrated fridge-freezer, so I'm very happy to recommend them - trust me, if there was anything to complain about she would.

Appliances Online also have a very beautiful lifestyle blog, full of inspiration, stunning crafts, bakes and interior design.  I think I may have found a new time-sucker!  Go and follow blog editor Kimberly Hughes on Twitter and make sure you never miss another post.

I particularly like this one - 12 great plastic animal crafts.  Who doesn't have loads of plastic toys lying around the place?  Well, you can turn them into something beautiful and this blog post shows you how.  Inspired!

All this lovely inspiration must have you itching to go shopping for supplies?  Enter the competition via the Rafflecopter below and you could win £50 Amazon voucher to spend on whatever you fancy.  Please leave your answer to the question as a blog comment below.

This competition closes at 12:00 midday on 01 May 2013.  Open to UK entrants only.  The winner will be chosen at random from all valid entries.  I will notify the winner via Twitter and on this blog post, who has 7 days in which to respond.  The prize will be fulfilled by Appliances Online.

a Rafflecopter giveaway 

Disclosure: This is a featured post in association with Appliances Online.  Please see my disclosure page for further details.

Monday 22 April 2013

Tesco Price Promise

Living in a small town where the only supermarket we have is a Tesco, I've often harboured the suspition that we shoppers are treated as a captive market.  There's always grumblings amongst the queue that ours is one of the most expensive Tesco's around (I'm not sure how true this is, but the feeling certainly exists amongst local residents).

You see, we have no butcher; no baker; no greengrocer, so apart from a very small mini-mart, Tesco is our only choice if you don't want to drive or shop online.

This is why I was particularly pleased to hear that they have introduced the Tesco Price Promise.  Providing you purchase a minimum of 10 different items (at least one of which is a comparable branded or own label item), the prices will be checked against Asda, Sainsbury's and Morrison and you will get a voucher after checkout for the difference back if it would have been cheaper at another supermarket.

The same offer applies if you shop online too, so you can be sure of getting the best value for your groceries.

Tesco challenged me to try out the scheme, by doing a weekly family shop for £50.  I have to say, I found that quite a challenge, and it really made me realise how fortunate we are as a family.  My main extravagance is food, and I certainly usually spend a lot more than this on the weekly shop.  But equally, we usually waste a lot of food, so I was keen to see if more careful shopping would result in less food waste, and less lazy trips to the take-aways.

With some careful meal planning (the first time ever for list-phobic me); inventive use of things I already had in my larder and freezer; a shopping list; vouchers and good use of BOGOFs and special offers, I did manage it.

I got bits for Ruby's packed lunches in that budget too, and instead of buying bars, cakes and individual portion packs for her lunch box, I baked a batch of sultana buns, some flapjacks and packed dried fruit from my baking stash.

Using the handheld self scanners was really helpful in sticking to the budget too - much as I hate checking out with those things.  I'm always the one who has to call the assistant a million times, but it was useful to see the running total as we went round with the trolley.

So, here's what my £50 got - well, £49.81 to be precise.

With Ruby's dairy intolerance, we have to buy special items, which are not cheap, so it's good to know that the Price Check is ensuring we are paying the best price for it.

After all that...would it have been cheaper to shop around at the other main supermarkets...

Well yes, it would have been 28p cheaper to be precise, so that's exactly what Tesco gave me back in the form of a money-off voucher.  Much better than the time and petrol it would have cost me to shop around myself.

The really great feature is that you can go online and enter your receipt details, and it will show you exactly how your item costs stack up against the competitors.

So, remember, to make the most of the Tesco Price Promise:

You must purchase a minimum of 10 different items
At least one must be a comparable item
If your shop would have been cheaper at Sainsbury's/Morrison/Asda, you will receive a voucher for the difference up to £10 maximum
Remember to use up your voucher before it expires - typically in around 28 days

Have you benefited from the Price Promise yet?  Do you have any more frugal grocery shopping tips for me to cut my food bill further?

Disclosure: This is a featured post for Tesco.  I received the cost of my grocery shop up to the value of £50 in exchange for writing this feature.

Queen's Coronation Party - Win tickets with Horlicks

Remember the festivities last year for the Royal Jubilee?  Well the party isn't over yet as this year we celebrate the 60th Coronation.

Yes, I know, it's a bit confusing...all to do with Queen Elizabeth's ascension to the throne and her official crowning, but hey, she has 2 birthdays so why not 2 anniversaries?  Any excuse for a right royal knees up.

Horlicks, another fine upstanding British institution are joining in the celebrations and have cooked up some special recipes to mark the occasion.

The malted milk drink is packed with 12 essential vitamins and minerals (including A,C,D, and E and Zinc and vitamin B6), so it's a wonderful ingredient to use in cooking, as well as making a deliciously comforting bedtime drink, rich in calcium for healthy bones and teeth.

Check out the website where you will find such delights as Crown Roast of Lamb and Toasted Oats and Raspberry Ice Cream.

I'm going to share with you their special Coronation Chicken Salad with Mango - a new take on the dish invented by Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume for the official banquet in 1953.

This is a great recipe to use up leftover chicken after a Sunday roast, and is perfect for lunch boxes and picnics or as a sandwich filler.

Ingredients (serves 4)

375-400g cooked chicken
1/2 mango, peeled and diced
Shredded lettuce

For the dressing:

4 tsp Horlicks
2 tsp Curry Paste
6 Tbsp Mayonnaise or Greek Yoghurt
1/2 mango, peeled and cubed,
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Please all the dressing ingredients in a food processor and blitz until smooth.

Pour the dressing into a bowl.

Shred the cooked chicken and add it to the dressing and mix gently to combine.

Place the shredded lettuce onto a serving plate and add the chicken.  Garnish with sliced mango.

If this recipe has got you in the Coronation mood, why not try your luck at winning tickets for the spectacular  Queens Coronation Festival this summer.  There will be a garden party in Buckingham Palace, followed by an evening gala concert on July 12th.  Enter online for a chance of winning tickets for this exclusive event.

Disclosure: This a featured post is brought to you in association with Horlicks.  Please see my disclosure page for full details. 

Magpie Monday - Garden Delights

Finally the sun is out!  I honestly thought this winter would never end, but at last I've had a chance to get out in the garden, have a bit of a clear up and plant some colour out there.

I emptied out all the dead plants that didn't survive the late snow, and potted up the terracotta pots that I've picked up variously at junk shops and car boots.  I always grab these when I see them, I love the shape of old pots much more than the modern ones and plastic ones just don't cut it for me I'm afraid.

I display my pots on this vintage wooden ladder that I got at a car boot sale last year.  It was laying down on the floor when I paid for it so I was slightly taken aback by the height when we picked it up!  It's pretty hard to photograph it in it's entirety without having to crawl on the floor, but trust me, it looks lovely.

The green and cream pot at the base is actually a kitchen stock pot.  I paid 50p for it at a jumble and always intended to put plants in it.  I love how it looks.

Finally, yesterday as we were driving round Cambridge, we took a wrong turn somewhere - our sat nav has the annoying habit of telling us to turn 'half-left' - what is that anyway?  So, we ended up driving down the back of a row of rather nice houses.  Outside the back gate of one was a pile of bits and pieces with a handwritten note saying 'please take me'.  Naturally, I leaped out of the car to have a gander, and chose this item.

The picture doesn't really show accurately it's full filth.  It was covered in cobwebs and dead spiders, the tealights were all bashed and dusty, and the glass votives were blackened with soot and caked in melted wax.  But I thought it worthy of a rescue.

Cleaned up and outside on my patio table, the glasses sparkle in the light.  I had intended to spray the wire frame but actually I quite like the effect of the aged and rusty frame.  I may replace the candles for evening alfresco dining, or put cut flowers in there, or I even reckon I could serve up some refreshing garden G&Ts.

I think this sun has gone to my head!

What did you manage to rescue this week?  Please grab the badge and link up.

Me and My Shadow

Friday 19 April 2013

Jungle Express - learn your numbers with Orchard Toys

Yet again Orchard Toys have come up trumps with another great puzzle.

Jungle Express is a fun; bright jigsaw full of busy activity and plenty to keep active little minds occupied.

It's fair to say that Ruby is more a letters and words kind of girl, and is somewhat turned off by figures and sums, so anything we can do to put numbers in front of her and introduce maths in a fun way is great.

The 30 piece large puzzle was challenging enough for her - it's aimed at 3-5 year olds and she's at the top end of that age range.

Once completed we spent quite a while counting up all the animals, just to make sure the designers hadn't made any mistakes!  We counted 10 tortoises, 9 jumping frogs, 8 grey hippopotamus...

We then did some sums - how many animals would you have if you added the crocodiles and the monkeys together...what about if you added the lions too?

This is a puzzle that we go back to time and again to encourage her maths and I think it's helping.

As you'd expect from any Orchard Toy, it's sturdy and robust, well made and beautifully designed.

Check out their full range of fun and educational jigsaws; puzzles and board games on the website.

Have you tried any Orchard Toys products?  Which one is your favourite?

Disclosure: We were sent this jigsaw for the purposes of this review, however all views and opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Taking the Family to Tenerife

Featured guest post.

Situated in the Atlantic Ocean, Tenerife is the largest of the seven Canary Islands. Although officially part of Spain, the region is actually closer to Africa, located just 50 miles from the west coast of Morocco. The famous island is a popular holiday resort and a great place for families looking for cheap holidays. Although Tenerife is home to only around 800,000 regular inhabitants, this figure swells during peak season and around 5 million tourists visit the island every year, making Tenerife holidays some of the most popular getaways in Europe.


When you look at what the island of Tenerife has to offer, it is not hard to see why it’s so popular with families. Despite covering an area of only 785 square miles, Tenerife has areas of countryside and hills, a bustling inner city, glorious weather and, of course, some of the most popular beaches in Europe. The island also offers plenty of great package holiday deals and is blessed with a huge number of well maintained and wallet friendly hotels.

Getting there

Tenerife is serviced by two airports, one in the North in the capital of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and one in the south, in Granadilla de Abona. From drive from one airport to the other takes between an hour and a half and two hours, depending on traffic.


The draw of the beaches in Tenerife is almost irresistible, and it’s the reason that many people visit the island in the first place. The coast in the south of Tenerife is home to some of the more picturesque beaches on the island, with fine golden sand, well maintained coastline and excellent facilities, making them perfect for families. The southern beach of El Medano beach is the longest beach on the island at around 1 and a quarter miles long. In the north, the shore is generally a little more rugged and, although still enjoyable, perhaps not quite as well suited to children.


The history in Tenerife is compelling, and has enough stories to entertain the kids, you can find out about the history of the island in the aptly named Museum of the History of Tenerife, situated in the north of Tenerife. The region was also home to several important painters, such as Cristobal Hernandez de Quintana and Gaspar de Quevedo, whose art can be seen in the various churches around the island.


Food in Tenerife is big business, and the island is home to a varied mixture of cuisine, including an abundance of fresh seafood dishes. Marinated pork tacos are another speciality along with Canarian wrinkly potatoes. However, for those looking for a taste from home, the island also plays host to plenty of English style cafes and restaurant who’ll be more than happy to serve up a full English breakfast at almost any time of day.

Disclosure: This is a featured guest post in association with IceLolly.com  Please see my Disclosure Page for further details.

Monday 15 April 2013

Does your child still wet the bed?

This is a Netmum's sponsored review. To find out more click the button: 


Ruby mastered potty training very quickly and painlessly.  We had a target to work to - she needed to be nappy-free by the time she started playgroup at aged 2 and a half, and as she was really keen to go, it was a great incentive for her.

We had very few accidents and she quickly moved on to the 'big' toilet with no problems whatsoever.

Unfortunately, it made us a bit complacent.  She's never been a good sleeper, and after suffering years and years of broken nights, we were very reluctant to push the night-time dryness too early.

So, although she's been out of night time nappies for well over a year, now at the age of 5 she still wets the bed on a regular basis.  At least twice a week I'm trudging upstairs to strip her off, wash her down, fumble about for new sheets and bundling laundry into the washing machine in the middle of the night.

It's not fun for any of us.

The Drynites bed mats have been a godsend for us, saving our mattresses on countless occasions - especially now they come with sticky strips which means they stay put to the mattress under even the wriggliest child.  However, even though they protect the mattress  we're still often left with wet duvet, sheets and nightclothes.  Repeatedly washing and trying to dry a duvet all over the winter months has been a real challenge.

We got into the habit of 'lifting' her to go for a wee before we go to bed at about 11pm, as well as insisting she goes before bed.  We've restricted her fluid consumption in the evenings, but still it's happening.

It's not uncommon - around 1 in 4 children aged between 4 and 5 still wet the bed regularly.

When we recently wet on holiday, she was so anxious about it that I bought some Drynites pyjama pants for her to wear.  I have to admit, I was worried that it might be a step backwards, but the thought of a wet mattress and bedclothes and no laundry facilities gave me the horrors and would have been a total nightmare.

She wore the pull-on pants happily enough, and actually seemed to be more relaxed and confident.  On all 4 nights she slept right through and the pyjama pants were still dry in the morning.

So these have now become a regular feature.  I'm reading up on how best to deal with the issue, and I'm hopeful it will just be one of those things she grows out of.  There's lots of helpful advice on the Drynites site and also on the Netmums site about bedtime routines and coping with bed wetting.  You can also request a free sample and try the PJ pants out.

Do you have any advice?  Have you experienced and cracked the bed-wetting issue?

Disclosure: I am a member of the Netmums Blogging Network, a unique community of parent bloggers from around the UK who have been handpicked by the Netmums team to review products and brands on their behalf. I have been paid expenses and supplied with a product sample for this review but retain all editorial control. All my Netmums Reviews will display the Netmums logo within the post.

Magpie Monday - Caveat Emptor

As you know, I'm a HUGE advocate of buying second-hand.

Saving something from land-fill, saving myself some money in the process as well as finding unique and unusual items gives me a thrill every time.

Lots of my friends are jealous that I 'always seem to find amazing bargains' but this post is a little cautionary tale.

Sometimes, I get a bit slack.  Sometimes I let greed get the better of me...

This week I spotted a pile of printer ink cartridges.  They were for my make and model and having literally just shelled out a fortune last week, I seized them up.  I paid about £25 for one of the double packs, so £1.50 had me grinning from ear to ear.

I took the whole lot to the counter as quickly as I could, paid my money and skedaddled before anyone could beat me to it.

Outside, as I skipped along, smug in my canny money-saving ways, I felt a pang of guilt for the charity.  Should I have told them they were under-selling, that they could have got more for these?

My smugness and guilty conscience soon evaporated when I got them home and gleefully showed the old man how clever I'd been.

Opening up the first box, I noticed it had been very carefully taped down.  Inside, was all the packaging, even down to the cellophane wrapper.  The protective clip was on the cartridge, but it was totally, completely empty.

So was the next one. And the next, and the fourth.

I have serious concerns for the anally-retentive, OCD person that keeps ALL the packaging and carefully packs old ink cartridges up like they've never been opened.

I'd like to give the charity shop the benefit of the doubt.  I'd like to think that somebody donated these to be recycled and earn the charity a few pennies.  I'd like to think that the shop staff and volunteers didn't realise they had been used and assumed they were a stock donation.

In these post-Portas days when some charity shops are charging an arm and a leg, I really do think they have a duty of care to check the stock they are putting out on the shop floor.  I know ultimately it's down to the buyer to check, and that a lot of shops will have refund and return policies, but do I really want to be that tight-wad who takes something back for a refund?

Toys with bits missing; clothes with holes in; books with scribbled pages...these are all the things that put the uninitiated off buying second-hand.  Come on guys, get your act together!

Have you ever made a howler buying second-hand?  How do you check things over before you buy them?

I hope you've had better luck than me this week! Grab the badge and link up. Me and My Shadow

Monday 8 April 2013

Magpie Monday - Spring Greens

Apologies for my slackness last week.  The Easter holidays have been full-on, and I forgot what it was like to have Ruby at home full-time!  I promise I will catch up on last week's link ups as soon as I can.

We've had a busy week, but managed to squeeze in an adults-only weekend away which was bliss.  We stayed on a cottage boat - a static canal barge with Clifton Cruisers, and it was the perfect break.

The boat is moored in the village of Clifton just outside Rugby and there's plenty to see and do in the area. We had walks and a cycle ride along the tow paths, the Old Man found an old quarry pit to indulge his passion for outdoor swimming in, we had a fabulous night at the boatyard's dinner club joining their Australian themed evening.  The bustling and historic Warwick, Leamington Spa, and Coventry are all nearby.

Rugby is just a few minutes drive away, and it was to here I gravitated on the Saturday.  Last time we visited I was in seventh heaven with the amount of charity shops in town, and I overheard one customer proclaim that Rugby boasted 18 in total.  I'm sure that's right, and it even has a charity shop attached to the tip (of course, we managed a detour to visit this too!)

Unlike a lot of towns which have an abundance of charity shops, Rugby is still a thriving centre, with lots of independent shops, boutiques and lovely bistros and cafes - try the amazing Somersault vegetarian restaurant and deli or the Cafe Vin Cinq French bistro next door.

So, enough of the tourist information, what did I buy?

Well sadly the Old Man wasn't 'in the zone' which was annoying as I'd traipsed round muddy lakes for him earlier in the morning and held his clothes while he swam...

I did manage to buy some lovely spring clothes though, both for myself and Ruby.  I spotted this dress and looked to him for approval.  He wrinkled his face, ummed and finally declared that it reminded him of an old pair of kitchen curtains.

Green light for me then.  Any dress that looks like a pair of vintage curtains is a winner for me, so I ignored his exasperated why-do-you-ask-my-opinion-then-ignore-it look, and paid the £6 price tag.

I also bought this cute little blouse which I thought would look nice with jeans on a sunny spring day.

I like the detail of the gingham edging and the mother-of-pearl buttons.

For Ruby I found this pretty broderie anglaise dress with green print.

It has a lovely big bow at the back.

She also got this sparkly Next T shirt with ruched sides.

I also treated her to a Sylvanian Families Riverside Lodge house for £7 - a quick Google search on my phone told me these cost about £45, so I snapped that up sharpish.

All in all, a pretty perfect weekend!

What have you been up to?  Has boot sale season started where you are yet?

Grab the badge and link up your second-hand finds.

Me and My Shadow