Saturday, 28 November 2015

Hornby My First Scalextric review

If you're scratching your head wondering what to buy for a car-mad toddler for Christmas, you'll be pleased to know that Scalextric have launched My First Scalextric, dubbed "racing fun for the young driver" and targetting kids aged 3+. We received a set to review and it appealed to all three of the Madhouse kids, regardless of age and sex.

The cars are much bigger and chunkier than the usual die-cast cars so they are easier for little fingers to manipulate. (It's 1:64 scale.) The whole set has been designed with young children in mind so the controllers are also easy to use and colour coded with the cars for simplicity. You can adjust the speed using the controllers and also limit the power, if there is only one speed (the top one !) as far as your children are concerned ! That said, the cars seem to stay on the track even when they're racing round really fast, unlike the old-fashioned Scalextric I remember playing with in my youth. They did fly off a few times but that just had the Madhouse kids squealing with glee even more !

As I remember, Scalextric was always great fun to play with for kids but a total pain to put together for the parents, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that they've simplified the track too. It slots easily into place as a simple figure of eight with two bridges to elevate one section. I didn't even need to read the instructions - a glance at the picture on the box was all that I needed to work it out.

You can see the TV ad here to get a feel for the toy. It's an ideal introduction to Scalextric for young children of both sexes, before moving on to the proper "grown up" sets when they're a bit older.

As I went to link up to the product on amazon, I noticed that there are a lot of negative reviews, alongside the positive ones. I had a quick scan through and the problems mentioned are multiple - one car going quicker than the other, the controllers going wrong, the track coming apart ... I decided to play with the set for a bit longer before writing my review, in case the problems started appearing after a longer period of use, but even after a few weeks, I still haven't had any issues at all. Scalextric do also address the negative feedback on their websie and say : My First Scalextric, and the whole Micro range, has been designed with younger people in mind. The cars and track are actually very robust but the set does require maintenance. Care needs to be taken assembling and disassembling the track and the cars’ braids (small brushes on the underside) do need to be looked after. We also recommend using the power limiter on the hand controllers for smaller children who want to go as fast as they can all the time. However, with this small amount of care and attention the set should offer tonnes of fun for many play times."

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £34.99

Disclosure : We received the product in order to write an honest review.

Aldi's Christmas range of toys & stocking fillers (review)

With Black Friday (and I have to say, I couldn't quite believe how many emails I got from brands this year !) and Cyber Monday whipping consumers across the globe into a manic festive spending frenzy, you might be looking at your bank balance and wondering how you're going to manage to afford everything. Well, Aldi to the rescue - they have a fabulously frugal but nevertheless appealing range of gifts and stocking stuffers that are in their stores right now, while stocks last. Get your (ice) skates on though, they won't hang around for long !



With Aldi’s excellent value stocking fillers, in stores on 15th November, it is definitely the season to be jolly. Start your Christmas shopping early this year and choose from these fantastic gifts for kids, in stores while stocks last.

Encyclopedias – £2.99
Give your little ones hours of educational fun with Aldi’s great value selection of encyclopedias. With 10 different titles available, there has never been a better way for your kids to learn about the world.

Dinosaur Toys – £4.99
Aldi’s six detailed dinosaur models come complete with rubbery skin and convincing features and at such great value, you can buy the whole collection.

Jigsaw Book – £3.99
Ideal for rainy days spent indoors, Aldi’s six different storybooks come complete with jigsaw puzzles for added fun.

Hand Puppet – £2.99
Great for telling stories, these soft-touch animal hand puppets are guaranteed to keep the little ones entertained for hours.

Aldi’s Children’s Stocking Fillers Under £5 range is in stores on 15.11.15 and available while stocks last

Dinosaur Toys £4.99
Mini Colour Watch £4.99
Children's Games £3.99
Felt Creations £3.99
Christmas DVD'S £3.99
Jigsaw Book £3.99
Hand Puppet £2.99
Book & Model £2.99
Busy Day Board & Book £2.99
Encyclopedias £2.99
Scratch & Stencil £2.99
Puzzler Yearbooks £2.49
Christmas Sticker and Activity Books £0.69


For lively little ones and creative kids, the Aldi Specialbuys November Toy range has a brilliant selection of top-quality, value gifts that will provide hours of delight for all ages, in store on 26th November and available while stocks last.

Scramblebug - £19.99
With four wheels that can move in any direction, this sturdy yet stylish insect-themed ride will help your little ones whizz around safely. Available in red or green and suitable for one to three year olds.

Boy’s and Girl’s Bikes - £79.99
These top-quality bikes, with their reliable parts and superior materials, are excellent value and a great gift for budding cyclists.
• Steel mountain bike frame
• Suspension forks
• 6-speed Shimano gears and shifters
• V-type brakes
• Safety pedals with non-slip pads
• Aluminium rims
• Printed saddle
• Includes tools

Balance Bike - £39.99
Providing a fun way for your child to develop his or her balance skills, these colourful, easy-to-assemble Balance Bikes are great for children aged three plus.

Star Wars Figure - £6.99
May the force be with you with this great value range of original 6” Star Wars plastic figures – choose from Stormtrooper, Finn, Snowtrooper, Kylo Ren and Darth Vader. 

Star Wars Vehicle - £17.99
Relive the magic of Star Wars with these action toys. Choose from AT-DP, Inquisitor TIE Advanced Prototype or The Phantom Attack Shuttle.

Star Wars Gift Books - £4.99
These books will test the knowledge of even the most die-hard fans. Includes ‘Star Wars in 100 Scenes’, ‘Lego Star Wars in 100 Scenes’, ‘Star Wars Character Encyclopaedia’, and ‘Star Wars: The Ultimate Visual Guide’.

Star Wars Rebel Figure - £5.99
The perfect partners for the Star Wars Vehicle, choose from Obi-Wan Kenobi, Agent Kallus, Luke Skywalker, Stormtrooper on Han Solo. Accessories include Lightsaber, Pistol and Helmet.

Soft Christmas Toy - £3.99Suitable for all ages, these high-quality plush toys will bring a smile to any little face on Christmas morning. With two lovely designs per pack, you can choose from the Santa, Reindeer, Snowman or Penguin.

Frozen Doll - £7.99
Recreate the adventure of an eternal Winter with these dolls from Disney’s Frozen film. These beautiful dolls are the ideal gift for every Frozen fan and will soon become lifelong friends.

Aldi’s November Toy Event range is in store on 26.11.15 and available while stocks last

Boy’s Bike £79.99
Girl’s Bike £79.99
Balance Bike £39.99
Mega Set Pre-School Assortment £19.99
Treasure Chest Storage £19.99
Scramblebug £19.99
Star Wars Vehicle £17.99
Toy Pram £17.99
Pal £14.99
Boxing Set £9.99
Frozen Doll £7.99
Play Tools £7.99
Animal Hot Water Bottle £7.99
Torch £6.99
Star Wars Figure £6.99
Brainbox Games £5.99
Star Wars Rebel Figure £5.99
Colour Magnetic Sketcher £5.99
3 In 1 Games / Puzzles Sets £4.99
Star Wars Gift Guide £4.99
Learning Series £4.49
Children's Christmas Dress Up £3.99
Book & Gift Sets £3.99
Soft Christmas Toy £3.99
Licensed Drinksware £3.49

Disclosure : I'll be receiving some goodies from the range.

Fab freebies of the week 28/11/15

I'm sure I say this every month but how on earth is it almost December already ?! And how can it only be four weeks until Christmas ?! Just time to grab a few last-minute freebies as stocking stuffers. Fingers crossed the advent calendar competitions will have a few surefire wins in them too :) 


Get yourselves a free Malibu hot chocolate every Saturday until Christmas - yum !

Win a free sample from the Lacoste L.12.12 collection - Super Savvy Me have 20,000 up for grabs !

Haig Club are giving 1000 people the chance to try out the ultra-smooth Single Grain Scotch Whisky for free.

You can request a sample of Vita Coco coconut oil here

Request a free sample of Dolce by Dolce & Gabbana perfume

Santa Maria have 5000 chilli con carne seasoning mixes to give away

Innocent are spreading their usual festive cheer and sending out surprise freebies - you can also sign up to get free super smoothies for your office

You can print off a voucher for a free box of Taylors Tea fruit & herbal infusions here

Video Convertor Factory are having a Thanksgiving giveaway - you can get free serial keys of 5 software programmes (HD Video Converter Factory Pro / DVD Ripper Pro / Photo Watermark / Video to GIF Converter / Document Manager) worth $190 before Dec.1

There are still a few vouchers left to send to a friend for Yazoo milkshake

For all you crafty freebie-hunters, you can request fabric and ribbon samples here

YoGheeButter look like they are sending out samples if you tweet them

@UniqueSkinUK PCA Skin Hydrator Plus SPF 30 NOW direct in the UK, check the reviews!! Clinics DM for free sample

If you like clever couponing and freebies using shopping apps, as well as competitions, make sure you check out Jo's Freebie Friday posts at Given To Distracting Others

You can see previous weeks' freebie roundups by clicking here but be warned, many of the offers are only valid for a short time. Let me know if any have expired and I'll remove them from the roundup.

You may also like to enter my giveaways :

Friday, 27 November 2015

Madhouse recipe : 10 Minute Spicy Veggie Soup

Last night, I got home from work at 6pm and we headed straight back out to go to Sophie's parent-teacher evening. When we finally got back home for the second time, it was past 8pm and I really couldn't be bothered with starting to cook anything complicated. I contemplated freezer diving then threw together this concoction which was ultra quick, really tasty and a healthy option to boot. What more could you ask for ?!

10 Minute Spicy Veggie Soup

ingredients :

drizzle of olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tin red kidney beans
2 tins chopped tomatoes
1/2 ice cream tub full of leftover cooked veggies (peas, carrots, sweetcorn) from the fridge (but you could just throw in some frozen veg and let it cook for a bit longer)
3tbsp chermoula (Moroccan spice - you could use curry powder instead)
pinch of salt

Fry the onion and garlic in the oil until soft. Empty in the tins. Stir in the veggies. Add the spices and salt. Get into your jimjams and it's ready !

Barleycup review

What do you drink to kickstart your day? The chances are, you probably said tea or coffee, unless you're like me and have a glass of orange juice or water instead. There is a different option available though that you may not know about - Barleycup. At first glance, it looks just like coffee, both in the jar (if you go for the granules, that we tried - it is also available in powder form) and also when made up with hot water.

It is described as a natural alternative to tea and coffee and it has a lot going for it - it is certified by Coeliac UK as gluten-free, it's naturally caffeine-free, it's also free of any added sugars and is only 10 calories per cup. It is made from a blend of roasted barley, rye and chicory roots, which doesn't sound as if it should be gluten-free but the manufacturing process involves washing the ingredients so that the water-soluble ingredients separate from the roasted raw materials and the non-soluble ingredients, including gluten. The extracted liquid is then dried and becomes Barley Cup, either as powder or granules.

I have to admit, I did have my doubts before tasting it, because in France, chicory is often looked down on as a cheap alternative to coffee, often drunk by older people who got a taste for it during the war when the real thing wasn't readily available. Madhouse Daddy remembers drinking it at his grandparents' house when he was a child and wrinkled up his nose when I told him about Barleycup. I'm not sure if his tastes have changed or if it's the fact that it is blended with barley and rye, but Barleycup has a mild, vaguely nutty, smooth flavour that met with his approval. It does have a similar taste to coffee but, as it is much milder, it is better suited to children, especially as it is caffeine-free.

It is available in four varieties : Barleycup Powder, Barleycup Granules, Barleycup Organic and Barleycup with Dandelion. I was impressed to see that the Barley Cup website also has a series of recipes for you to try, including Barleycup Pancakes with Plums, Barleycup Cake, Barleycup Cookies and Barleycup Frappe. I may have to experiment with some of those !

for more information :

Disclosure : We received the product in order to write an honest review.

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 27/11/15

Since dusting off the Slimpod, I've had weird cravings for stir-fried veggies and soup so be prepared to see lots of those in upcoming menu plans !!


lunch - smoked sausage and bean stew

dinner - vegetable soup


lunch - roast dinner

dinner - leftover soup


dinner - special fried rice (with leftover roast chicken or pork, depending on what we had)


dinner - baked potatoes with cheese & beans


lunch - tacos

dinner - tartiflette


dinner - grilled salmon with stir fried veggies


dinner - Mexican black bean soup

***Click on my Menu Plans tag to see all my other weekly menu plan blogposts.***

Meal Planning Monday

Want to see what everyone else is eating ? Head over to Meal Planning Monday at Mrs M's blog !

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Children's book review : Christmas 4000 Stickers

As Parragon Book Buddies, we are always excited to receive our monthly book to review and we were particularly delighted to discover that this month's title was a festive-themed bumper activity book called Christmas 4000 Stickers.

No, that wasn't a mistype - there really are a whopping 4000 stickers hidden inside ! There are lots of elves, gifts and Christmas decorations to use to complete the pictures and carry out the various tasks within the book.

But there are also oodles and oodles of colourful bonus stickers, that could be used for other festive crafting activities such as making Christmas cards, wrapping paper or paper chains.

The activities within the book are fun and varied, with colouring and mazes ...

... pages to test your observation and drawing skills and much more. They're simple enough for young children to complete with a little adult help and varied enough for older children to enjoy.

The illustrations are bright and cheerful and, let's face it, with 4,000 stickers, how could it fail to impress, both for kids, who will have fun decorating the 48 pages before moving on the rest of the house (I kid you not - Pierre was sticking them on his bed, his door, all passing visitors and even the dog at one point !), and also for parents, as a way to keep the kids busy and having some good old fashioned fun away from their screens in the run up to Christmas!

star rating : 5/5

  • Paperback: 48 pages
  • Publisher: Parragon; Csm Stk edition (31 July 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1472378946
  • ISBN-13: 978-1472378941
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 21.6 x 27.3 cm

Disclosure : We received the product in order to write an honest review.

The perfect boots for keeping out the winter chill (review)

After packing away my summer sandals, I went back to my trusty Converse as we moved into autumn. Now that it's got decidedly wetter and colder though, they're just not cutting it any more, so I was delighted to receive a pair of funky Valerie Wedge Heel Long Boots from Online Avenue to review, as part of an EtailPR campaign.

If you want the extra height or elegance of heels, you often have to compromise on the comfort and wearability that flats offer, but with these boots, you can have your cake and eat it ! The wedge heel makes them much more comfortable (and stable, if you're not great at walking in heels !) than regular heels, and your feet are perfectly enclosed, making them really easy and comfortable to walk in. They can be dressed up with tights and a little black dress or dressed down over leggings or skinny jeans with a tunic or baggy jumper. I've been wearing them to work (I love the fact that I can reach the top of the blackboard now !) but they'll also be perfect for Christmas party season.

I received the Black PU (fake leather) boots but they also come in Black Faux Suede, Navy Faux Suede, Purple Faux Suede (very funky !) and Taupe Faux Suede. They have a really long zip which means they're extremely easy to put on and take off and they are available in sizes 3-8. They also have a great price - £25.49 - so if you can't decide which colour to go for, you could splash out on a couple !

I didn't know much about Online Avenue but their aim is to stay on top of the latest trends and provide customers with quality products at affordable prices. They believe fashion is a right not a luxury, which is great news in these times of austerity !

Disclosure : I received the product in order to write an honest review.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Children's book review : Seas of Ramion - Frank Hinks

Have you discovered the weird and wacky world of Frank Hinks yet? You may remember my earlier reviews for Boris and the Dumb Skulls, The Blizzard Wizard and The Body Collector, which give you a glimpse of the riotous real of Ramion. 

Frank Hinks is currently working on the seventeenth book in the series and has now compiled a collection of three stories from the Ramion series in one hardback book. It's a beautiful tome, packed with brightly coloured illustrations and the Madhouse kids were very impressed by the fact that it's embossed with gold, even asking if it was real gold  ! Well, who knows? Anything's possible in Ramion !

The book is a wonderful companion to the books for hardcore fans and also those who are new to the series. 

You will be introduced to the bizarre beings that people the stories and will soon be swept away by Frank Hinks' inimitable style.

The book features three stories :

- The Kingdom of the Deep - The witch Griselda is in need of a holiday. She rejects her pet skull Boris’s suggestion of the south of France, and tells him that they will go and stay with her cousin Veronica in Morgan Castle in the south of Wales. But before leaving, she magically changes the holiday plans of the boys and their parents.

- The Blizzard Wizard - One touch of the Blizzard Wizard and body, mind and spirit turn to ice. With the unwitting help of foolish Cloud 9, the Princess of the Night frees the Blizzard Wizard from prison and he turns the Garden and the Gardener, and along with them the whole of Ramion, into ice.

- The Body Collector - Longing to dance and swim, Boris the skull wants his body back but cannot remember where he lost it! When Griselda and Boris visit the Body Collector nothing works out as they expect.

The crazy stories where anything can (and probably will) happen, the irreverent sense of humour, the fast-paced action and the multitude of brightly coloured pictures that festoon the pages make the stories perfect for reluctant readers or those with a short attention span. The Ramion adventures started with the author's oldest son giving him the first line of a story at bedtime each night and leaving him to take it over without any idea where it was going. We've spent many a happy bedtime reading a few pages of the story, giggling at the unexpected events and eccentric characters. It's a series that will appeal to kids of all ages, including "big kids" who have retained a childish sense of humour and are still young at heart !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £9.99

Title Seas of Ramion
Series A collection of three published stories available on one hard back book
Author name Frank Hinks
ISBN 978-1-909938-01-4.
Publishing date 20 October 2015
Price £9.99
Backing format Hard Back
Pages:  240
Reading age:  7+
Publisher Perronet Press
Books available from Gazelle Distribution:
Tel +44 (0) 1524 68765; Fax +44 (0) 1524 63232

Disclosure : We received the book in order to write an honest review.

Madhouse recipe : Two-Way Pork, Pepper & Pineapple Stir Fry

The Madhouse kids aren't keen on spicy food so I often serve them their dinner first, then add lots more herbs and spices to the remainder of the pot to create something more appealing to an adult palate. This was the kids' version of my Pork, Pepper & Pineapple Stir Fry that was sweet and not spicy.

And this was the grown-up version which is less visually appealing but more likely to get your tastebuds tingling !

Veetee had sent us through a tub of their 2 minute basmati rice that can be microwaved or stir-fried so I used that, but you could also use up leftover cooked rice. As is often the way in a bilingual household, we had a laugh at Veetee sounding like "vite tea" - a franglais version of quick tea - which was certainly what was needed after a very long meeting about a school skiing trip that Juliette should be going on in January.

 Two-Way Pork, Pepper & Pineapple Stir Fry


a drizzle of olive oil
4 pork chops
2 onions
1/2 red pepper
1/2 green pepper
1 can of pineapple

for version two :

3 generous squirts of chilli mango sauce
herbs and spices : lime chilli, smoked paprika, garlic salt

I decided to chop the meat off the bone and cut it into bite-sized pieces, along with the peppers and onions. Stir fry it in a little oil until the meat is cooked through but the peppers still retain some crunch. Add the pineapple chunks for the last couple of minutes, along with a slosh of juice from the can. Serve on a bed of rice with an extra pineapple ring on top.

For the spicier version, add the remaining rice to the pan, along with the herbs and spices and a generous amount of mango chilli sauce, then it's ready to reheat when the grown-ups are hungry.

Adding this to the #KitchenClearout linky as it used up a bottle of mango chilli sauce that's been hanging around in the fridge for far too long ! What's lurking in your larder/fridge/spice rack? Join in with this month's #KitchenClearout linky.