Portable North Pole review

santa2I was so pleased to be asked to review the Portable North Pole video – not least because I’m an absolute Christmas obsessive and while actually believing in the big man might be a bit of a stretch for me – seeing him through Arthur’s eyes is just amazing.
It was easy to use, I simply tapped in my promo code and filled in the details – Arthur’s name, what he likes to do, whether he goes to nursery etc. It also asked you to confirm the correct pronunciation of your child’s name too.

Santa was very authentic with a wonderful beard and sitting in a magical setting. His big beard meant it genuinely looked like he was talking to Arthur and there was no hugely obvious dubbing of the sound either. Arthur was absolutely wide-eyed and watched it over and over again asking where he was and when he would see him again. Just to see how real it was for him and to experience is excitement was a perfect Christmas moment.
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It was a wonderful way to add a little something extra to Christmas and I will definitely be going back next year to do another.

Every year they expand their range and as well as videos and phone calls, available in their store this year are letters from Santa, certificates to let your children know they are on the nice list and even personalised colouring books.
The free version is great – perfect for Arthur as just two-and-a-half but if your child is older or you want something more you can pay just £2.99 for the premium video. The video itself is twice as long as the free version.

You are able to choose from a wide range of scenarios and exclusive clips including watching the elves making certain toys and Santa standing with the reindeers. You can even make it that much more personal with extra images being added.

I have a little Christmas present for you too – a discount code giving you 20% off digital products in the PNP store valid until 1st January if you fancy spreading a little Christmas magic: BLG20BKP

New Year’s Eve – how do you spend yours?

Before babies I spent a fair bit of December deciding what I’d be doing on 31 December. It had to be big, it had to involve as many friends as possible and the same went for alcohol as well. I loved it and standing on the cusp of a new year and all it promised.
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Fast forward, uhum, a few years and the most ambitious I get on the big night is a few friends round for an early drink or, if I’m feeling really crazy, dinner out, followed by sharing a bottle of the sparkly stuff! To be fair it’s the same for most of my friends these days. In fact a new survey by Ladbrokes Bingofound that last year nearly 70% (67%) of us stayed in. You need a second mortgage to pay for a babysitter and the drinks and the hedonistic crazy indulgence of a full on New Year’s Eve is best left to those not juggling broken sleep and toddler tantrums – so can’t say I’m surprised.

New Year’s Eve for me is different now but still special, standing on the cusp of something new and focussing your hopes and dreams. I always make a resolution or two, although according to the survey, last year, 55% of us never made a resolution and out of those that did less than 10% had still kept to it 12 months later!
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This year I’ll be having dinner with my boys, heading to my mum’s for a glass of something special and then it’s back to mine for a bit of tv and digging out the last of the chocolates from the bottom of the tin. But I still insist on staying awake, I might be in my pjs but there’s no way I won’t be watching the fireworks at midnight! Seems we’re all a bit reluctant to miss welcoming in the New Year and 76% of us stay up no matter what we’re doing.

So, have a great night, where ever you are and whatever you’re doing. Oh and remember to raise a glass and make a resolution – even if it is a cup of tea and you only stick to it until the end of January!

Seven perils of being Santa!

Santa Claus knows more than most the perils of heavy lifting…not to mention those icy roofs and loose wires he has to contend with. Here’s a little reminder of all the things facing the Big Man at this time of year – you might want to watch out for a few of these too!

The Seven Perils of being Santa The Seven Perils of being Santa was created by First4Lawyers

Munchkin’s marvellous bath toys and tidy

 

Toddlers love baths. Well toddlers love messing about with water – not sure actually washing is quite so important to them!

So we all know that making bath time fun is a key to getting them in and making them stay long enough to actually clean them! I’ve been sent some lovely new bath toys from Munchkin to help with the whole process.

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They are lovely and Arthur’s really been enjoying playing with his new friends. They are not your standard duck and frog creatures either. There’s a sea horse, a hermit crab, a cute little star fish and even a hammer head shark – a motely crew of searfaring friends! Of course they all squeeze water out and Arthur’s had loads of fun.

A perfect size for little hands they are well-made and just easy to use as well. He also loved the Tug along Boat which scoops up water and has a raft and some cute little characters to sail the boat. Again this was gorgeous and bright, well-made and easy to use with little hands.

We were also send a fab bath tidy to keep everything in. Made of mould resistant neoprene it’s perfect for all his toys and has a drain hole at the bottom. If fixes to your tiles with four suction pads and was so easy to put up – and so far it’s stayed up too. It was quite a revelation to see the edges of our bath as it’s usually covered in all manner of toddler chaos!

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Well done Munchkin they are lovely toys that capture the imagination and mean I can get my boy clean while he sails the seven seas!

The white bread mafia

Yesterday I exploded with rage when I heard Jonathan had given Arthur a sprinkle of hot chocolate on Weetabix for breakfast . What on earth was he doing?! There was porridge and stewed fruit in the fridge: Organic yoghurt and dried fruit – my poor boy.

Then I caught my breath and took a good long look at what I was doing and realised I had gone beyond worrying about Arthur eating healthily and had bought into the ridiculous new cult – I will name it the White Bread Mafia.

It started with Hugh Furry Knitting Socks of the River Cottage Garden and continues through the echelons of all middle-class Britain. It starts with a little guilt at not cooking every night and for me exploded on BBC2 when hugely wealthy  Jean Michelle Roux Junior told us all that white sliced bread was the food of the devil and we should all be doing what the French do and buying our bread fresh at least once a day.

To be quite frank, while on holiday in France this year I saw more white brioche with chocolate than I ever have over here and I’m sure the quantity of salami on offer is possibly on nutritional par with a Big Mac. Food snobbery is being confused with what’s really good for us –anyone know how much salt is in a tin of anchovies? Hmmm, less than a packet of Walkers.

There in lies the problem – actually there in lie all the problems. Just like when Hugh told us all to buy free-range chickens, telling us to buy fresh bread twice a day is basically another stick with which to beat us. A big long French one. Free-range is better for the chicken, possibly better for us but if you’ve got £3 left in your purse then that’s not even in  the equation – and quite right too.

People are not, in general stupid, but they are busy, poor, frantic and far too engrossed in other things.  What all these wonderfully helpful chefs and nutritional do-gooders have done is create a sense of guilt.  I’m afraid I’m on the side of the woman who buys a massive chicken for £5 because that’s what she can afford and she knows, with what little time she has, that will feed her family.

I don’t think white bread is the devil’s food – I rather like a bacon buttie on it to be honest.

So, to all members of the White Bread Mafia hear me now. Credit us with a little intellect. Don’t patronise and imply we are less because you earn more. Don’t make any more films of you cooking one meal in a ‘working-class’ kitchen’ to ‘prove’ it can be done. Stop telling people to use all the chicken and not just the white bits.

Yes, we can all cook good healthy meals from scratch and save money and for the most part I do. I spend far more than I should on organic yoghurt and free-range chicken because I presume it’s better but mainly because you’ve made me feel so darn guilty. I am a middle-class sucker who has bought the hype but I’m not going down without a fight.

Chicken nugget anyone?

 

My three day Exante diet

 So a few weeks I was sent some samples from Exante, a meal replacement diet, to review. I was all raring to go and then got struck down with the flu, which, in itself, is a fairly effective weigh loss option!

With Christmas looming ever closer on the horizon I thought I’d give a very low calorie diet a go – just for three days to see if I could kick start a final two week diet and lose a bit of my troublesome tum.

There’s a great selection on the website and I was pleased to see a balance between sweet and savoury as often it’s just the relentless sweet shakes. So I was hopeful of some delicious, unctious and wonderfully filling meal. Ok, I’m jesting but I jsut hoped it would taste better than ones I’d tried before!

In my box, I was given chocolate shakes, strawberry shakes, two different bars, vegetable soup, tomato & basil soup, thai chicken soup and mushroom soup. It’s all so easy. For the bars it’s rip off the wrapper and eat and for everything else just add water! The soups take a bit of getting right in terms of heating and consistency but I whizzed the shakes up in my blender in a couple of minutes

THE SHAKES

I was really impressed with the shakes; in particular the chocolate one which was rich and very chocolately. It felt quite indulgent and this was the one I enjoyed the most. Making it with my shaker meant there were lumps left in the mixture, while making it with my blender meant that the shake was smooth and frothy. Like a cold hot-chocolate drink and was rather delicious.

The strawberry one, which was breakfast on day two, was quite nice although not as strong in flavour. When it comes to banana it’s not for me, that’s not the shake’s fault – I just hate banana!

I found the shakes easy to use and they made up a lot so left me feeling full.

 

For lunch I went for the soups – I did it during my days off work so I didn’t have to monopolise the microwave in the office.

 SOUPS

I got it wrong to start with and ended up with some kind of mouse – not great for a soup. But after a little practise I managed to create a soupy texture and the tomato and basil was quite pleasant. I did cheat slightly and add a pinch of chilli flakes.

The vegetable soup has a better texture and after a quick microwave, stir and microwave again it turned out ok. I guess with such tight calorie control there are never going to taste amazing but they are superior to another well-known VLC diet I’ve tried in the past.

The mushroom soup was the best and even had a creamy taste and was very mushroomy. It made it feel a little more satisfying.

THE BARS

In the evening I had bars so I felt I had a little something to munch on – god how I missed chewing by the evening!

I had the chocolate and orange bars which looked quite substantial in the packet. You can only have one of these a day so if I was fdoing it longer I think I’d have them at lunch time for the convenience factor. It tasted rather nice, if a little powdery. Definitely orangy and I liked the fact it was chewy and made you feel you were actually eating something a bit indulgent.

My three days on Exante

Overall easier than expected and after the first morning I didn’t feel hungry – just craved carbs but that’s going to happen when you do a diet like this. The products are well labelled and fairly easy to use although the soup takes a bit of time to get right.

I liked some of the flavours and was impressed by the bars. Overall, if you do a fast diet like this you go in with your eyes open. You will crave carbs for a while but the fact the products had chromium in helped – it’s supposed to help stabilize blood sugar levels. This diet is also supposed to put you into ketosis, where basically you have no carb stores from food and your body starts using up its own. Not sure three days is enough to test this but I do think I could’ve stuck to this a lot longer than the three days too.

I was feeling quite bright-eyed and alert. So, what did the scales say? Well, apparently I lost 5lbs! Not bad for three days effort and a good boost to continue up until Christmas.

Winter gardening tips

It’s this time of year I look out into our garden and sigh a little. Leaves are covering most of the path ways; the pots are filthy and simply playing host to few a few sad looking twigs and the ground is hard, full of half-dead plants and an endless supply of snail shells.

It’s so easy just to leave it until spring when you feel a bit more enthusiastic and you’ve seen the first few green shoots. But this year we’re going to do a few simple things to makes life easier in the Spring. We’ve already build some new beds and this summer we put new soil down and invested in some new garden furniture. So it makes sense to do a bit of work now – even if I don’t feel like it!

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So here are some top tips for delivering a little tlc to your winter garden. Now I’m no Alan Titchmarsh so these are easy to so, quick wins and I’m not promising they will create an oasis – but they will help!

  • First up is a common sense clean up. I got rid of all the Autumn leaves and piled them into the compost head. If not they simple turn to slime across the path and by Spring you’re left with horrible marks that need scrubbing. I’m going to get down and get rid of all that horrible moss that grows up along the paths too.
  • I also took all my pots with summer plants, emptied them and gave them a good clean with elbow grease and washing liquid. I’ve stored the ones I’m not using in the shed so they don’t suffer in the frost.
  • This weekend we’ll be rampaging through the garden deadheading all those plants that looked so beautiful in Summer. I’ll also be cutting back my lavender and all those plants that grow back for Spring. It means we won’t be left with loads of woody twig growth.
  • Next up will be adding loads of lovely compost to the soil to get it in tip top condition.
  • I’ll also be planting some evergreens so my garden doesn’t look quite so depressing throughout the winter months.
  • We’ll also be sprucing up the fence panels and making sure any holes or rot are dealt with before they get too bad.
  • I love cooking with herbs from the garden so I’ll be moving the bay, rosemary and others somewhere warmer to avoid the frosts- probably just inside the shed.
  • Oh and last but not least I’ll be making sure our bird table is well stocks for our feathery friends

We’ve got big plans for the garden next year, we need it to be in great condition so we can get on with making it perfect for our family. There will be new seating areas and I want to plant some fruit trees too. If we follow some of these expert winter gardening tips and get our garden in great condition now, at least when the fun starts in spring we’ll be ready to rock n roll!