Tuesday, 31 December 2013

#50Books2013 - The #50Books2014 Edition

Let me start by saying a massive thank you to everyone who has taken part in, tweeted and shared reviews for #50Books2013.

I've enjoyed reading your reviews and hope that you have managed to complete as many books as you were able to - remember, it's a personal challenge so the only person you have to answer to is yourself. Read more than 50? Fantastic! Less than 50? Fantastic!

We all know how life runs away with you at times and the weeks fly by faster than you know, until you realise it has been three weeks or more since you even turned a page.

For that reason - because it happens to me an awful lot lately and I don't feel able to do the linky justice knowing how much I am already committed to for the new year - I am handing over the reins of this linky for #50Books2014 to the lovely Sarah at Ups & Downs, Smiles & Frowns. Please remember to tweet her at @Ooserzoo with your review links every month and to use the hashtag on twitter so we can all keep up to date with how we are all doing. I'll be posting reviews and joining in as I when I can!

Remember - You can join in with the linky on Twitter using the new hashtag for the new year #50Books2014 to tell us about your recent reads and share reviews. If you would like to take part, you can find out all the information here about how to get started.

Happy new year everyone, and happy reading!

Monday, 30 December 2013

Meal Plan Monday 301213

In all honesty - this is really just a post to say that we don't really have much of a meal plan in effect, and are essentially just eating Christmas leftovers and whatever else we have in the cupboards, fridges and freezer in order to start fresh next week.

We had a lovely family Christmas and are really enjoying the break from the sheer madness that is our usual daily routine. We're just going with the flow and doing whatever we fancy right now, and loving every minute of it. It's so nice to have a rest from running around and always being on the go, I'm glad to have another week of it.

So have a very happy new year, and I'll 'see' you next week!

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Christmas Dinner Pinwheels

And so the Christmas leftovers menu comes in to full effect - turkey sandwiches, turkey curry and the like. If you're like us, we enjoy a selection of cold cuts of meat with some mashed potatoes, cheeses and that sort of thing so leftovers here can go a long way. But - if you want something a little different, you might just give this a go.

I had some jus-rol pastry sheets stashed in my freezer 'just in case' (as you do) and I knew that they would be perfect for making some post-Christmas pasties! However as I was getting everything out, I decided that I didn't really fancy the stodge of a pasty and fancied something that could be served with mash & cold meat, or enjoyed on its own straight out of the fridge.

I ended up with Christmas Dinner Pinwheels. The simplest thing ever, but effective & tasty and it meant no food waste. All you need is -

  • Pastry sheets
  • Leftover turkey
  • Leftover veggies & mashed potatoes
  • Cranberry sauce (if desired, or maybe bread sauce)

I rolled out the pastry sheets on the table, and spread a layer of cranberry sauce on one and left the other plain, before adding sliced up turkey to both.
Mash up the veggies and potatoes together, and fry off quickly to warm through and make a sort of 'bubble & squeak', before adding it on top of the pastry sheets.
Roll them up as tight as you can before slicing into round 'pinwheel' shapes.
Place them on their sides in an ovenproof dish and bake in a preheated oven (on about 200c) until the pastry is nicely browned (about 20 minutes or so).

They are so tasty and the ones that didn't get demolished straight out of the oven were enjoyed the next day, and not a single morsel of our Christmas dinner was thrown away. Ours included turkey, stuffing, sausage, bacon, sprouts, cabbage, leek and carrots and were thoroughly enjoyed by all of us.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Had Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Too?

Well that's it for another year. The post-Christmas clear up has started... Or not, if you're in my house - we're pretty much still knee-deep in toys and bin bags full of wrapping paper and it looks like a toy store has vomited all over my living room (and up the stairs... across the landing... in the bedrooms... you get the idea - not because there's a lot, but because there are 5 kids).

However, as promised the children were not "spoiled" or overwhelmed and we had a really lovely, quiet Christmas in which we spent time all together at home as a family, and the kids were delighted with their gifts.
I did everything I wanted to do and saw almost everyone I wanted to see - with the exception of 3 people who unfortunately cannot have visitors right now, but I know they know that I love them dearly & that they are always in my thoughts. If you could keep them in yours too, I would be grateful.

Saving for Christmas 2014 started in November (when I finished paying for this one), and I have already made a start on the preparations for next year buying up things in the sales. You can never be too prepared!

No food has been wasted, no gift has gone unloved and while there is no such thing as perfect - this was pretty darn close. I hope you all had a lovely Christmas, no matter where you were or who you spent it with.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Joyeux Noël!

A fun way for the kids to get involved and celebrate the arrival of the festive season is to let them make their own Christmas crackers, and Rosetta Stone kindly sent this fantastic cracker-making kit so we could do just that.

The kit provided enough to make ten crackers in two fun designs of Father Christmas & a snowman (all we needed was some glue, a pair of scissors and some sticky tape), and also included hats and jokes to place inside. It was a really fun activity and H, A & E sat with me around the table and we got 'cracking' (sorry - that was inexcusable, I blame my exposure to the cracker jokes).

The kit also came with full instructions as well as a sheet of unusual words from different languages to add to the crackers, I wonder - do you know what Yupienalle means? A great conversation starter!

We'll also be trialling the Rosetta Stone French language course in preparation for our family holiday in the Summer.

The course provides an interactive online studio including games and live chat assistance with native speakers in which to learn your chosen language, we can't wait to give it a try and see how much we can learn before we set off - currently my level is at 'Bonjour' & that won't get me very far!

So Joyeux Noël from us - we hope you have a lovely time however you spend it and whoever you spend it with. Au Revoir!

We received a complimentary cracker making kitThe views shared are my own personal & honest opinions and written in my own words. All links are no-follow.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Little Grippers for Sporty Nippers

In a house full of sporty kids, the opportunity to test Little Grippers was one not to be missed. While L of course doesn't need socks for tae kwon-do, they are brilliant for J & H for football & rugby. We received a pair each for the two of them, red in medium (sz 3-6) for H and black in large (sz 7-11) for J.
They are also available in white, navy & royal blue and are priced at £9 a pair.

Little Grippers is an award-winning British brand founded in January 2013, having invented an innovative solution that can be applied to a range of children’s garments to ensure they stay on! Applied robotically, the patented ‘Stay On Technology’ provides 100% natural, hypoallergenic, seam-free, long-lasting grip that’s suitable for children from birth through to their teens. Little Grippers is a family-run brand run by a parentpreneur team: Rachel & Adrien Pettiford.
True to size and a comfortable fit, these socks are designed to "Stay Up for the entire tournament" and I am pleased to say that they do exactly that. H played his last rugby matches of 2013 at the weekend and they stayed up throughout, even over the top of his thermal leggings. The socks were absolutely caked in mud when he got back (since it was chucking it down with rain the entire time!) but they have washed very well, with the colour and shape intact.

Little Grippers feature everything you could want in a sports sock - elasticated ankle & foot support, micro venting, flat toe seam with padded sole and a contoured fit. H says that they are comfortable to wear, and he liked that he didn't have to stop & pull them up like his other rugby socks (thanks to the clever hypoallergenic strip around the top of the sock).

For more information as well as the latest news and offers, check out their website, facebook page or follow them on twitter @LittleGrippers.

We received complimentary Little Grippers sports socks for review purposesThe views shared are my own personal & honest opinions and written in my own words. All links are no-follow.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Meal Plan Monday 161213

Monday 16th December - Baked potatoes & coronation chicken

Tuesday 17th December - Brinner*

Wednesday 18th December - Bacon cheeseburgers & chips with salad

Thursday 19th December - Toad in the hole with mash & veg

Friday 20th December - Spicy beef fajitas

Saturday 21st December - Deli pizza

Sunday 22nd December - Roast chicken

I've joined in with Mrs M's #mealplanningmonday linky with this post
*Brinner = breakfast for dinner

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Smells Like Christmas Spirit

Nothing conjures up the image of Christmas in your mind quite like the rich, warming scent of mulled wine and cinnamon.
My house smells very festive at this time of year with our baking of gingerbread, candy cane cookies and mince pies.
If you walk through my door in December, you basically get Christmas to the face. BAM.

However - I can't stand around baking all day (as much as I would love to) and so I'm rather thrilled that Air Wick have devised this clever little gel Crystal’Air aroma diffuser in the delightful fragrance of mulled wine and cinnamon apple. It is DIVINE.

The perfume from the coloured, scented gel is released gradually and lasts approximately 4-6 weeks. I have it upstairs in my bedroom, and while the fragrance is strong it is not overpowering.
I notice the scent as soon as I get halfway up the staircase, it really is quite lovely and makes the house feel rather welcoming and festive. The little glass disc (put it up out of the way of little fingers!) is also recyclable.

Air Wick offer a wide variety of air freshener products including candles, sprays and the classic plug-in as well as gel diffusers and sprays, available in a range of scents.

We received a complimentary Air Wick Crystal’Air for review purposesThe views shared are my own personal & honest opinions and written in my own words.

{Christmas Bucket List} Our Top 10 Festive Family Films

After we had finished putting up our decorations on December 1st we sat and enjoyed The Grinch together by the light of the tree (as per our Christmas Bucket List). Every year, it is a tradition in our house that the Elves bring a DVD on Christmas Eve that we watch after enjoying our snowman soup & opening the "Elf Gifts" (pyjamas).

In previous years we have enjoyed Arthur ChristmasInkheart, Mr Popper's Penguins and the Harry Potter complete boxset, although currently I'm The Elves are undecided as to what to bring this year!

There are so many festive films to enjoy that you might wonder where to start, and so I give you our own personal top 10 family Christmas film favourites, in order of the year they were released.

  1. Home Alone (1990).
  2. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992).
  3. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).
  4. The Santa Clause (1994).
  5. Miracle on 34th Street (1994).
  6. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000).
  7. Elf (2003).
  8. The Polar Express (2004).
  9. Arthur Christmas (2011).
  10. The Rise of the Guardians (2012).

The Grinch still makes me laugh so much despite having seen it more times than I care to remember, Jim Carrey is brilliant as the character and I don't think anyone can pull off that silly humour quite like him. Do you have any favourite festive films?

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

{Christmas Bucket List} #theGallery : That Festive Feeling

Our festive preparations are in full swing at Chez Owl. The decs are up, the wreath is on the door, the lights are twinkling and the meals are planned. I still have more wrapping than I care to think about to do (and actually a little bit more shopping) but we are sticking to our Christmas Bucket List and are well on our way to being ready for Christmas 2013.

The boys have taken part in their Christmas play at school ('The Birth of The King', set entirely to Elvis songs with the Angel Gabriel dressed up as The King himself - genius!) in which L was behind the scenes and in charge of the lighting and H was a part of the choir, and E performed her nativity play in the role of one of the three Kings, and a very fine King she was (we laugh in the face of gender stereotypes!).

We have been watching Christmas movies, and E has made some lovely decorations that now adorn the Christmas trees in our home. My favourite has to be the beautiful fairy that she made, that is now sitting proudly atop the girls bedroom tree. I think she is beautiful and E is so proud.
This is the first year that she has really understood Christmas and I'm so excited for her, I'm looking forward to making wonderful memories (and I plan on hanging on to this fairy for as long as she lasts!).

I have linked this post with #theGallery at The Sticky Fingers Blog.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

A Christmas Wreath Review

December is here, the Christmas decs are up and my front door was looking a little bare and unloved next to the twinkly lights in my window, so I was delighted to be given this beautiful Christmas holly wreath to review by local business The Floral Designer at Westdale Park.

I visited the shop and looked at the wreaths that were being made up to order, and I chose my favourite features from the others and ordered mine to be made to my personal specifications.

The next day it was ready for me to pick up, and I am absolutely delighted with it. It is fresh, beautifully made and exactly how I wanted it. It adds the perfect festive touch to the outside of our home, and we'll also be purchasing wreaths to lay at the graves of family this Christmas to remember them.

Also available are bulbs (ideal for Christmas gifts), holly balls, candles and more at prices to suit every pocket. If you are in the BA15 area, please check out The Floral Designer's facebook page for offers and availability and to place your order.

We received a complimentary Christmas wreath for review purposesThe views shared are my own personal & honest opinions and written in my own words.

Things that make you go VROOM!

In late November we celebrated H's 8th birthday. All year he had been begging for a swimming party (although we all know how I feel about hosting children's birthday parties!), so when the time came I dutifully called up the pool to ask about rates and rules etc.
We found out that there has to be one adult to every two under-8s physically in the pool for the duration of the party, as H is one of the oldest in the year, I figured that this would put parents off and so we encouraged him to think of something else and told him we'd have a pool party next year.

One afternoon H brought home a copy of Primary Times in his schoolbag and spotted an advert for a Go-Kart Party, so he asked if I would find out about them. I emailed and got a prompt reply from Gaynor & Mark who gave me all the relevant information and pricing, and the Mister & I agreed on a Go-Kart party for 12 for early December at a cost of £165 and got it all booked up.

The Go-Kart party offers a full experience with optional extras of medals, party bags and catering and is suitable for kids between the ages of 4 & 10 years. We opted for medals for our guests, and everything else was included (venue hire, invitations, certificates & a trophy for the birthday boy).

Lunch Boxes from Delights UK (food not included!)It was lovely & straightforward to book & pay and we did it all online via BACS and email which meant that all I had to do on the day of the party was get us there, and enjoy the day.
The Mister & I got up and finished packing H's Cars 2 party bags, sent for us to review from Delights UK, with Cars themed favour packs (consisting of Maze Puzzles, Disc Shooters, Siren Whistles and Mini Flags), gummi sweets & cake pops that I had made to save having to cut a cake, and lunch boxes ready to hand out to his guests after the party (as we had opted not to hire a party room).
The lunch boxes are really sturdy and had plenty of space for the potato snack, wrap, cheese, drink, cucumber batons & mini roll that we put in. We then got H, L & E ready & off we went!

Cars 2 themed Party bags and favours
Mark & Gaynor were there setting everything up when we arrived, and all we had to do was hand out name labels for the kids. Everyone then went into the hall and they sat the kids down and explained how it all worked and away they went! The party was action-packed and engaging from start to finish, the kids were all included and there was no waiting around for turns as they were too busy cheering on their friends, leading the countdowns to the end of the races and waving flags.
Mark & Gaynor were fun, patient and simply lovely with the children, speaking to them individually and keeping them involved at every moment.

Everyone was included and made to feel a part of the activities even when they weren't racing, I honestly cannot praise them enough.
The children each received a (high quality, not plastic!) medal & personalised certificate at the end of the party and H received his trophy and completed a victory lap around the track on his own, my boys haven't stopped talking about it since we got home!

Home-made cake popsIt was a wonderful party experience and I had some lovely comments from parents & the kids as they were leaving, everyone said how much fun it was and what a good time they had had. At school H's friends have told him that it was the best party they've ever been to!
The party was a huge success and I wouldn't hesitate to book them again, it's no wonder that they were shortlisted as a regional finalist for the NetMums Best Party Entertainer award. They really made H's day special and I would highly recommend them, it was absolutely worth every single penny.

We received complimentary Cars 2 themed partyware from Delights UK for review purposes. The Go-Kart Party was paid for out of my own pocket in its entirety. The views shared are my own personal & honest opinions and written in my own words. All links are no-follow.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Meal Plan Monday 091213

Monday 9th December - Cheese & broccoli pasta bake

Tuesday 10th December - Brinner*

Wednesday 11th December - Bolognese

Thursday 12th December - Fish pie

Friday 13th December - Fajitas

Saturday 14th December - Sausage & mash

Sunday 15th December - Roast lamb

I've joined in with Mrs M's #mealplanningmonday linky with this post
*Brinner = breakfast for dinner

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

A Tween Christmas Gift Guide

Shopping for five kids for Christmas is a taxing task in more ways than one. I must say that choosing things for E has been much easier than shopping for teenagers, and then there are the tweens. L has very specific likes & dislikes and picking things for him has been relatively easy. Poor H on the other hand still has a good chunk of his budget left & I really need to step it up.

I've had a look around the 'net and wanted to share my findings with a Christmas gift guide especially for a tween boy, for anyone else who might be struggling to find that perfect gift. H is 8 and mad about the outdoors, vehicles and construction so these gifts are ideal for him.

Under £10

Boots have a great selection of toys for under a tenner as well as offering 3 for 2 mix & match across a wide range of products. This NERF Firestrike Elite Blaster is just £8 and would be very well received by H who thoroughly enjoys NERF battles with his brothers & sisters (I say battles - more him sneaking up on them and catching them unarmed & unawares!). This NERF toy is suitable for ages 8+ & comes with 3 elite darts.

I also love this classic Connect 4 game from Boots, it was a favourite of mine as a kid and H is very much into playing games as a family so this would be a winner for him and at £9.99 it's a bargain, too. Suitable for two players, aged 6 & up.

Under £30

The Meccano Pro Toolbox from Debenhams is suitable for age 6+ & includes 8 buildable models (tools & building instructions for 3 models) with an engine to make your creations move. H is very hands-on & loves to create, so this set would provide endless fun and possibilities, all contained within a handy storage case. It currently has 20% off & is available for just £22.40, and you could save even more by checking vouchercodes.co.uk for promotions.

Flair Micro Chargers Time Track from Debenhams also looks like it
would appeal to H, with a track that you can reconfigure into multiple formations and four lane race action meaning he can play it with his siblings or friends.
At the moment it has a massive 40% off & is just £21.60. Suitable for age 6 years +.

Very.co.uk have the LEGO Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles™ Shredder's Dragon Bike for £25, and with a discount code available for first orders there is potential for more savings. A big fan of TMNT and a collector of LEGO this 198pc set ticks all the boxes for H, and is suitable for ages 6-12 years.

Under £50

Amazon have the LeapFrog LeapPad2 Power for £46.66 and there is also free delivery available. H loves to learn and the capabilities for this ePad are limitless, with expansion available through downloading apps, music, books, videos and more or by purchasing additional gaming cartridges. This is a great - and safe - electronic learning tablet for kids, with downloads available from the pre-approved library.

An enjoyer of the great outdoors (whatever the weather), H loves nothing more than to zip around on his scooter. His has seen better days, and I have heard him mention the JD Bug Pro Scooter before when perusing the Christmas toy catalogues. At £49.95 from Amazon it's very reasonably priced and has great reviews. Suitable for age 7+ it's said to be good for learning tricks on as well as being sturdy & durable.

All prices & offers are correct at time of publishing.
This is a featured publication.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Storage solutions for children’s bedrooms

Decorating any room in the home poses challenges but no more so than children’s bedrooms. Aside from building a practical space that manages to be both fun and safe to use, you also have to consider how you’ll tackle the issue of storage.
Kids are known for coming with a large number of accessories and for those trying to find practical storage solutions, these tips might help.

Hang it on the walls
From shelving units for books to hammocks for cuddly toys, there are plenty of ways to wall-mount storage in your kid’s bedroom. For a unique option, fix square storage frames to the walls and slide plastic boxes or drawers into them for a neat yet attractive storage. Make sure they’re not overfilled or placed at the wrong height to reduce the risk of accidents from falling boxes though.

Make the most of floor space
Kid’s bedrooms need clear access points with uncluttered floors but that doesn’t mean a certain amount of floor space can’t be dedicated to storage. You’ll want your kids to have the biggest play area possible in their bedrooms so invest in under-bed storage boxes that make the most of lost space.
If you don’t like being able to see these boxes as you enter then room then consider other bedroom furniture solutions such as divan or cabin beds. For older children, bunk beds above desks or sofa beds are a stylish yet practical solution that usually comes with a few key storage options.

Opt for mobility
Remember that not all storage units have to be fixed in position. If you’re after a flexible solution then go for something which offers mobility by choosing a storage unit with wheels. These are available in varying sizes to match different bedrooms and can be either plain or decorated depending on your preference.

Separate the bedroom
For those with more space at their disposal, separating the bedroom into distinct areas is a great way to give storage options an extra purpose. By placing storage units projecting out from a wall across the centre of the floor, you can give your child’s bedroom distinct sleeping and playing areas.
Remember not to cut too far across the bedroom when doing this though or you’ll make the room feel cramped and cluttered rather than large and open.

Make storage into a feature wall
Another great option for innovative storage ideas is to transform one wall into a dedicated storage area – making it a feature of the room at the same time. This can be done in numerous ways but the easiest is through the use of a large bookcase or perhaps two or more smaller units placed alongside one another. Fill this with everything from books, DVDs and CDs to games, toys and photos to give your child a functional yet fun bedroom design.

If you’re looking for more inspirational ideas on how to add storage to your child’s bedroom then this fantastic post on Channel 4 – 25 Storage Ideas For Kids’ Rooms – is a great place to start.

This is a featured post.

LeapFrog LeapPad2 Power Review

ePads are the latest thing for little kids - while my big kids are playing apps on their smartphones & tablets, their little sister is using her own electronic learning tablet to create, learn and explore in her own way.

The LeapFrog LeapPad2 Power (winner of the 2013 Educational Toy of the Year and People's Choice award for toys) comes with 9 apps, 4gb memory and lots of fab features including a camera & video recording capabilities. My favourite feature has to be the rechargeable battery pack and adaptor - no more endless replacing of batteries!

E is able to write & draw on the 5" touch screen with the included (and attached!) stylus, and we are able to expand its capabilities by buying game cartridges as well as downloading games, eBooks, videos, music & apps from the pre-approved library. You can tilt and shake for motion-based play as well as customise and care for your own pet, or create masterpieces in the Art Studio.

We were lucky enough to be offered the LeapPad Power 2 to review from ASDA along with two games, LeapFrog Disney Princess (for reading) & LeapFrog Cars2 (for mathematics) and I can honestly say that E absolutely loves it. She carries it around in her little backpack (along with the adaptor in case she needs to recharge!) and will sit and play on it for ages.
At mealtimes she takes great delight in playing music while we're sat around the table, and happily sings along as she eats her dinner, urging us all to join in with the song (we don't, generally, as we're not the Von Trapps but she does give it her best shot, bless her heart).
It's educational as well as fun, and E has thoroughly enjoyed giving this ePad a road test. For Christmas we have bought E some accessories and games to go with it, including a proper carry case for her to store her games and to keep the tablet safe.

For the latest prices and availability of the LeapFrog LeapPad2 Power, visit direct.asda.com.

We received a complimentary LeapFrog LeapPad2 Power & games for review purposesThe views shared are my own personal & honest opinions and written in my own words.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Meal Plan Monday 021213

Monday 2nd December - Cottage pie

Tuesday 3rd December - Brinner*

Wednesday 4th December - Cheese & tomato pasta bake

Thursday 5th December - Toad in the hole

Friday 6th December - Homemade chicken curry with rice

Saturday 7th December - Bolognese

Sunday 8th December - Roast

I've joined in with Mrs M's #mealplanningmonday linky with this post
*Brinner = breakfast for dinner