Tuesday, 30 November 2010

MACKIE'S SUPPORT 10th ANNIVERSARY OF HAGGIS HUNT !

This is something I while away many a silly moment with during the cold winter's evenings every year ! It's a great laugh, especially if you get your friends to go and wave on the live webcams ! Although I have to admit, I've never won so much as a bag of crisps on there !! In case you have no idea what the annual Haggis Hunt is all about, read on ! ...



Scotsman.com's internationally renowned interactive game, the Haggis Hunt starts today, 30 November, in association with Mackie's 'Haggis' Potato Crisps.



Managing Director, Andrew Richardson said "we are delighted that Mackie's have come on board and added another dimension to the Haggis hunting season."



Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the quirky online game - which runs from St Andrew's Day until Burns Night on 25 January - attracts thousands of players worldwide. It has developed a cult following and drives significant traffic to scotsman.com. Last year the site received over 4.5 million impressions in one month and entries were received from 72 different countries as far afield as Trinidad & Tobago, The Cayman Islands and Hong Kong. Most popular with web users in Scotland, England and USA, entrants also lived in more obscure locations like Uzbekistan and Equatorial Guinea.



What is the Haggis Hunt?



The game gives each visitor the chance to spot a Scottish Haggis that could wander in front of one of ten webcams at any time. Webcams are located throughout Scotland, including St Andrews Fairmont, Edinburgh Castle and a new addition for 2010, a webcam in the heart of the Mackie's Crisp Factory, where you can see crisps being produced. In addition there are international webcams situated in Times Square, New York and the Eiffel Tower, Paris. In 2009, there were 420,000 recorded Haggis sightings.



Why participate?



Visitors can search our ten live Haggis webcams to catch a glimpse of the elusive Haggis. Spotting a Haggis gives entry into the prize draw to win a variety of prizes from Mackie's crisps to a round of golf for four people.



Catching a glimpse of the extremely rare golden Haggis gives entry into the grand prize draw and the chance to win one night's stay in the luxury accommodation of the Kingdom of Fife Suite at the St Andrews Fairmont Hotel, including dinner for two people. In addition to this fantastic prize there is an invite to visit the Mackie's crisp factory in Perthshire and take home a selection of Mackie's potato crisps in six mouth-watering flavours, including Haggis & Cracked Black Pepper, Cherry Tomato & Herbs and Scotch Bonnet Chilli Pepper.



To view other exciting prizes and participate : http://haggishunt.scotsman.com/

Other competitions you may be interested in :

On the second day of Christmas, Next sent to me ...

... 2 Turtle Doves

Now then, let's see ... I'm not sure Next sell turtle doves so it's time to think laterally ! How about ...

an Activity Shape Sorting Turtle (£15) ?!


Now, doves ... ummm .... ahhh found it !!

Dove Grey 2.5L Matt Emulsion (£14) !

 I never would have thought of buying a tin of paint at Next but there you go, I didn't know they sold half the stuff I've been browsing through while hunting out Twelve Days of Christmas gifts !

I can't resist sharing this one with you  too - an adorable retro/kitsch bird box to hang in your garden for the local turtle doves to nest in !



Novelty Bird Box (£10)


See you tomorrow for the Third Day of Christmas !
Also, don't mis the Next daily Advent giveaway with some fabulous prizes to win every day !


To see my other updated Twelve Days of Christmas:


http://madhousefamilyreviews.blogspot.com/search/label/Next%20Twelve%20Days%20of%20Christmas

Monday, 29 November 2010

Target energy drinks


I've always thought of energy drinks as being really unhealthy things. I think it all started when I was cramming for A levels and horror stories started circulating around the sixth form about people taking Pro Plus caffeine tablets to keep themselves going in last minute all-nighter revision sessions then falling alseep mid-exam when the effects suddenly wore off. I still to this day don't know if there was any truth to the stories or if it was just an urban legend but I decided there and then to give them a very wide berth.

Then energy drinks became big news - I still steered clear but when big names like Lucozade jumped on the bandwagon, I started thinking they couldn't be all bad. I still wag a stern warning finger at the kids at school when I see them bringing Red Bull in their school bags though !

But when Target sent me one of their energy shots to try out, I was gobsmacked. They actually sound really healthy ! The first thing that impressed me was that they're sugar-free and each 60ml shot only contains 4 calories, compared to 28g of sugar and 112 calories in a typical 250ml energy drink. The label promises "No carbs, no sugar, no crash".

According to the website, you should "drink one half  bottle (one ounce) for moderate energy. Drink one whole bottle (two ounces) for maximum energy. Do not exceed two bottles of Target Energy shots daily, consumed several hours apart." They also give you the warning, "Contains caffeine comparable to a cup of the leading premium coffee. Limit caffeine products to avoid nervousness, sleeplessness, and occasional rapid heartbeat. You may experience a Niacin Flush (hot feeling, skin redness) that lasts a few minutes. This is caused by Niacin (Vitamin B3) increasing blood flow near the skin. Do not take if you are pregnant or nursing, or under 12 years of age."

But that's all the bad stuff. The rest seems really positive. "Target Energy contains a blend of B-vitamins, amino acids and essential nutrients. It contains zero sugar, zero herbal stimulants and only four calories. Target Original Energy contains as much caffeine as a cup of premium coffee. So no matter if you're a Student or a Doctor, a full-time or part time worker or a long distance lorry driver get the more out of your life with 'Target Life Original' (and it's small enough to pop in your pocket, purse or glove compartment!)".


Target proclaim : "You don't need energy drinks, you just need Energy! Target Energy shots pack a punch to Target Tiredness Fast. What more could you want? Target believes you should have a choice, to explore and express your personality, that's why we give you a range of flavours. One for every occasion!"

You have four colours and flavours to choose from : Life (Original - blue bottle - berry flavour), Gorgeous (Fruit - pink bottle), Sport (Citrus -white bottle) and Urban (Xtra Strength - black bottle - cherry flavour).

I tried the Urban one and just took a little sip throughout the day when I needed a little pick me up. It was enough to give me a quick lift without me feeling as high as a kite or overly "buzzy" and, all importantly, didn't stop me from getting a good night's sleep at the end of the day. It tastes pleasant too and I love the small-sized bottle which is perfect for stashing in your handbag or office drawer.

I lust admit, it's made me see energy drinks in a whole new and more positive light. I love the fact that it provides you with vitamin B, especially as recent reports have even suggested that high doses of vitamin B can help reduce brain shrinkage ! I'm getting too close to forty for that not to be an element to take into consideration now !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £1.79

for more information : http://www.targetenergyshots.com/

Other reviews you may be interested in :






On the first day of Christmas, Next sent to me ...


... a Partridge in a Pear tree !

Not content with coming up with great fashion, those clever people at Next have devised a dozen fabulous festive icons based on the Twelve Days of Christmas, all of which feature inspirational Christmas images from Next, and which are perfect for getting my blog all festive in the run up to Christmas !

I thought it would be fun to try to match the classic Christmas images to products available to buy at Next so, if you want a really impressive, romantic or just plain silly (depending on your viewpoint !) Christmas gift idea, you could offer a modern version of the Twelve Days of Christmas to your true love !!

So, today's gift is a partridge in a pear tree - hmmm.



How about this gorgeous Bay Tree (for £50) ?


and this ultra-cute pink bird fleece (£8-£9)

Both available from http://www.next.co.uk/ !

Also, don't mis the Next daily Advent giveaway with some fabulous prizes to win every day !

To see the other updated Twelve Days of Christmas:


http://madhousefamilyreviews.blogspot.com/search/label/Next%20Twelve%20Days%20of%20Christmas

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Honey Monster Choco Puffs Cereal

Well, who'd have thought it ? The Honey Monster is a marketing genius ! He's realised that kids always hone in on the new exciting-looking products in the cereals aisle of the supermarket so he keeps reinventing his famous Sugar Puffs ! The first limited edition was Banana Puffs, followed by the Halloween-inspired Spooky Puffs (that I reviewed here) and now there's a third new pack on the shelves : Choco Puffs. (And the Honey Monster website tells us there are more limited edition varieties to come !)

Choco Puffs started life as a limited edition but have now become a permanent part of the line, which just goes to show how popular they've been. According to the Honey Monster (oh OK, I know it's not really him doing the talking, I'm not totally mad !) : "A chocolatey twist on classic Sugar Puffs, the new cereal contains natural wheat puffs glazed with chocolate flavoured syrup. Fortified with vitamins and iron, Choco Puffs contain no artificial additives, are suitable for vegetarians and also a great source of fibre."

They are very high in sugar though. The second, third and fourth ingredients on the list are Sugar, Glucose Syrup and Sweetened Condensed Milk which are all basically different ways of saying sugar ! 100g of product contains 373 calories and 79g of carbohydrates, of which 43.3g sugar (which translates into 112 calories and 13g of sugar for a 30g bowl, which I suppose isn't too bad).

Taste-wise, both the girls but also 16-month-old Pierre can't get enough of them. I had a taste and found them a bit too sweet for my liking but I'm obviously not in the target audience ! The girls are already asking if we can try out the next Limited Edition pack to come out so the Honey Monster is certainly on to a winner !

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £1.99


Other reviews you may be interested in :


Emmay Care Magnetic Child Lock system

Since learning to crawl, Pierre has a new game. It involves going to the kitchen and pulling all the fridge magnets off the door. That's OK, they're all too big to swallow and he can't do himself any harm. That then progressed on to opening the cupboard doors and taking things out then slamming the doors. Hmmm, if he wants to take out the pots and pans, that's OK - all the cleaning products and dangerous things are up in a high cupboard - but he could catch his fingers in the cupboard door so needs watching. But his newest game is worthy of a baby version of TV show Jackass ! He pulls on the heavy drawers in an old solid oak cabinet until they fall out. There's nothing intrinsically dangerous in them - we're talking phone books and instruction manuals for various appliances - but the sheer weight of them would cause him some serious damage if they landed on his head.

When I was given the chance to review the Emmay Care Magnetic Lock Pack, it seemed like the answer to our prayers ! I'd never heard of Emmay but they appear to take safety issues very seriously. The Simple Safety Solutions website says: "Emmay have been working very hard over the last year or two getting their new range of Emmay Care baby safety products and child safety products. Emmay’s core focus has always been on quality and with their new range of baby safety and child safety products they have engineered quality into every item they make at the design stage."

The pack contains four locks, that can be used on cupboards or drawers, and one magnetic key. According to the manufacturers, it will operate through glass, wood, ceramic, tiles, laminates and non-ferrous metals and is suitable for doors up to a maximum of 26mm. There is an important warning to take into account when choosing where to fit the locks : "These child safety locks contain a powerful magnet. Do not allow the Magnetic Lock to come in direct contact with credit cards, video or audio tapes". It bears thinking about if you're about to fit one on the cupboard conatining your kids' prized VCR collection and risk wiping the whole lot out !

The locks are easy to fit - you will need to screw holes in the insides of the drawers, which can't be seen from the outside but it is something you'd want to avoid on a priceless piece of antique furniture ! - and they work really well. Pierre tried really hard to get into his favourite drawers and cupboards and totally failed. We even asked the older kids to try and they were very sneaky and ran off to get fridge magnets (I was impressed with that stroke of genius !) but they still failed.

However, this total efficiency is also a bit scary. If the only thing that will open them is the special magnetic key and they only give you one of them, it's worth more than the crown jewels and is something you definitely do not want to misplace ever, because if you did, you wouldn't be able to get into half of the cupboards and drawers in your house ! It's not even as if you can go and get a spare cut to leave with the neighbour in case you lock yourself out, so to speak ! In our house, we've stuck it to the top of the fridge out of the kids' reach but I would have preferred to have at least one extra spare key, just to be on the safe side.

They do do the job they are designed for very well though, so overall I'm impressed.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £9.99 for 4 locks and 1 key (other packs available)


Other reviews you may be interested in :

Russian Standard Gold Vodka



Christmas party season is almost upon us and the chances are, you'll be trying to decide what to offer (or adopt !) as your festive tipple. If you want to impress, champagne is always a safe bet, plus I've posted some fabulous Christmas cocktail recipes here on this blog (anyone for a Redfire, Spiced Orange Mai Tai or a Mulled Wine Cocktail ?!) and I've even told you all about Shloer and Bottlegreen as non-alcoholic options for your designated drivers or mums-to-be. But if you want a seriously impressive-looking drink to put on your kitchen table or to offer as a gift to someone with a taste for luxury, Russian Standard Gold Vodka, in its beautiful (not to mention festive) gold packaging, really looks the business.

Now, I've always thought of vodka as a drink that doesn't really taste of anything much. If you mix it with orange juice or coke, it will give your drinks a kick without really changing the taste all that much. However, that is not something you'd want to do with this prestigious vodka - it would be like taking an expensive single malt whisky and drowning it in coke ! Jo Birkitt, UK Brand Manager for Russian Standard Vodka comments: “We are delighted to be extending the Russian Standard Vodka range in the UK. Russian Standard Gold is truly unique vodka; the smooth texture and vanilla hues make it an ideal choice for discerning vodka drinkers who are looking for something very special to drink at home.” I have to be honest and say that I couldn't really pick out the notes of honey, almond and vanilla that are supposed to be there, but it is an exceptionally smooth, mellow and pleasant vodka to drink. Nothing at all like the hastily-downed vodka shots that I remember drinking in my uni-days that left you grimacing at the taste ! This is seriously classy vodka to be enjoyed by discerning grown-ups !

According to the producers, "Distilled from the finest Russian winter wheat from the southern steppes of Russia, blended with the softest and purest glacial waters from Lake Ladoga and incorporating time-honored Siberian golden roots which provide a soft taste - Russian Standard Gold is clear, pure, smooth and strong quality vodka, perfect for any discerning vodka drinker. Russian Standard vodka is steeped in Russian heritage; it is based on the vodka formula created by illustrious scientist Dmitri Mendeleev and is produced with premium Russian ingredients which are distilled at Russian Standard Vodka’s state-of-the-art distillery in St Petersburg."

They do say that you can drink it with mixers - "A smooth and rich vodka, Russian Standard Gold hosts a range of subtle sweet notes which blend together exceptionally well to create a magnificent  spirit that can easily be consumed chilled on the rocks or with a favourite mixer" - but I have to say, I think that's a bit of a waste because the taste on its own is exceptionally smooth and really comes out if you drink it over ice.


star rating : 5/5

RRP £20.00 for 70cl


Available in selected Asda and Selfridges stores

for more information : http://www.russianstandardvodka.com/
Russian Standard Vodka is distributed in the UK by First Drinks Brands Ltd.

Other reviews you may be interested :

Camitz Sparkling Vodka
Three Barrels Brandy

Grant’s Whisky

The Spiced Orange Mai Tai - Christmas in a Cocktail Glass









Heart-shaped biscuits recipe from Loseley


These biscuits look great as a home-made Christmas gifts for the grandparents.

Ingredients

125g Loseley Summer Meadow Butter
170g caster sugar
1 egg
230g plain flour, plus 2 tsps
30g self-raising flour
5 tbsp desiccated coconut
1 egg white
240g icing sugar, sifted
2tsp lemon juice, approximately
Pink food colouring

Method

Cream Loseley butter and sugar in an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in egg and then stir in sifted flours and coconut.

Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Roll between sheets of baking paper to 4mm thickness. Allow to rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

 Pre-heat oven to 160C. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Cut out heart shapes with a 5 cm-wide cutter and place on tray 1.5 cm apart.

Bake for about 10 minutes or until pale gold. Cool on a rack.

Place egg white in a bowl. Add half the icing sugar and combine. Stir in remaining icing sugar and 2 teaspoons flour. Add enough lemon juice to make a thick, spreadable icing.

 Tint with food colouring and spread on biscuits. Set at room temperature. Store in an airtight container.


Makes about 40 biscuits

 
Loseley Summer Meadow Butter is packed in a 250g tub and costs £1.29. Loseley Chilled Foods are available from the chilled cabinet of local independent grocers, Morrisons, Waitrose and now Iceland. Visit http://www.loseley.com/ for more information.

Other recipes you may be interested in :


Saturday, 27 November 2010

Dodo-Pad 2011 Diary


We all use the expression "as dead as a dodo" but after discovering the wide range of diaries and planners produced by Dodo-Pad, I think we should start a new idiom : "as organised as a dodo" ! I've already reviewed and adopted their Acad-Pad academic diary and their Household Stuff organiser and, unlike some things that I receive to review, use for a while then ultimately abandon, I've been using both of them non-stop ever since. They're perfectly adapted to the tasks at hand and really help you keep on track of things so they're a real time not to mention sanity-saver.

This time I was asked to check out the Dodo-Pad 2011 Diary which follows the same unique and wonderfully quirky formula of funny pictures, fascinating facts and oodles of doodles and writing space. Different people have different needs (and different sized handbags !) so the Dodo-Pad diary comes in six different formats. You can choose between :

2011 Dodo-Pad Desk Diary :  A trusted formula, with a new time-saving addition. "The Dodo Pad guarantees to prevent a pickle, loosen a tight spot and generally untwist those knickers by giving a delightful combination of clarity and order with a big dose of doodle-led humour." This year Dodo-Pad has added a unique wipe clean, crystal clear tabbed 'dodivider' that you can use as a book mark and/or to record regular appointments.


2010 Dodo Wall-Pad Calendar  : For all those who like a planner to organise life from the wall, the Dodo Wall Pad – complete with its own tabbed 'dodivider' – is designed to hang vertically from a punch hole. And it saves money on posters!

2011 Mini Dodo-Pad Diary : The mini-me to our popular desk diary, this pint-sized poppet is perfect for your pocket, handbag or briefcase.

NEW Personal-size 2011 Dodo-Pad refill (Filofax compatible) :  "Created due to popular demand (our fans were banging down our doors), this six-holed gem will fit into your Personal-size Filofax or your NEW Personal-POD! You can guess which gets our vote…"

A5-size 2011 Dodo-Pad refill (Filofax compatible) : As above, but this beauty is for those who prefer a slightly bigger diary they can really grab hold of.


2011 loose-leaf DODO PAD (DodoPAX system DIARY) : Last but not least, the Dodo-Pad diary is also available in this hand-crafted two-hole ring-bound format that slots perfectly into the DodoPOD binder.

Now, I know a lot of people have switched over to electronic gadgets and online organisers but I still love a good old pen and paper-type diary that I can scribble things all over at a minute's notice. If someone starts telling you a phone number while you're on the phone, you don't have time to start tapping on keys and doing things electronically. But, so that you don't feel left out when people start talking about the glamorous new skins they've just bought for their iPad, you can also totally confuse them by telling them about customising your Dodo-Pad ! "A brand new collection of faux leather slipcovers in four brilliant colours and two sizes, offer the classiest animal-friendly accommodation imaginable for your Desk or Mini Diary. With irresistible colours including Apple Green, Iridescent Lilac, Aqua Blue and Intense Red, they lend your diary a sleek exterior to protect its fun-filled content. Each slipcover has a blind-embossed Dodo Pad logo as well as a special Dodo Pad watermarked lining and the same high quality finish as can be expected from all Dodo Pad products."


With or without a funky slipcover, I can vouch for the fact that Dodo-Pads are very sturdy and resistant, as mine has been kicking about in my school bag, been bent this way and that as I jot things down when I'm on the phone, used as a scribble pad when I can't get my pen to work, and all manner of neglectful abuse ! It's still in perfect nick and looks ready to put up with a lot more mistreatment before it starts showing the slightest signs of wear and tear.

The only bad thing I have to say about Dodo-Pad diaries is that the little comments and doodles are so interesting and attention-grabbing that everybody always starts reading over my shoulder and then flicking through the other pages, so it's certainly not a good place to store confidential or top secret information ! You have been warned !

star rating : 5/5

The Dodo-Pad 2011 diary and the 2011 Wall-Pad calendar is priced at £11.50 and is available from http://www.dodopad.com/.
Other reviews you may be interested in :


Snowflake - Christmas Songs CD


It's nearly December ! Time to get the Christmas CDs out and leave them permanently in the CD players in the car and the house ! Well, thanks to the lovely people at Sony, I now have a new one to add to my collection. Aptly called Snowflake, its cheery red colour and smiley snowflake design are guaranteed to make you feel Christmassy even before you hit play.

The cover declares that this is a CD of "fun festive favourites for children and grown-ups", and I totally agree with that. It has the classic songs that most children will know and be able to join in with and the singer pronounces the words extremely clearly so if your little ones are trying to learn the words it's perfect. It's parent friendly too because it's not annoying to listen to, like some kid-oriented music compilations which end up doing your head in after a few listens, and it's not at all headachey.

Snowflake is the final album in a trilogy created by Rainbow Collections, the first two being Lullaby, a children’s bedtime CD, and Toybox, a collection of nursery rhymes for playtime. Judging by the fact that 5-year-old Juliette can't help getting up and bopping around the room while singing loudly along and Pierre giggles and bounces in his chair waving his arms around every time I put it on, I'm sure the other two CDs would be great for toddlers and young children too.

The blurb says : "Snowflake brings to life traditional Christmas songs recreated by the voice of trip-hop band, Zero 7, lead singer Sophie Barker and producer KK who has worked with many famous artists including Bjork and Brian Eno." Don't expect trip hop or rock music though - this is a very "easy listening" calming CD to listen to that is ideal for calming the kids down ready for nap time (afte a boogie around the room). 

It features 16 tracks and many of the popular Christmas classics are on there, including ‘Jingle bells’, ‘Frosty the Snowman’, ‘Deck the halls’, ‘Little Donkey’ and ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’. The album also features a brand new Christmas song called 'Santa's Little Helpers' sung by Sophie Barker and accompanied by the London children's choir. You can't get more Christmassy than a kids' choir !

Some of the Christmas CDs I've got are overly cheesy or sound really old-fashioned (anyone for a bit of Bing Crosby ?!) but that's not the case for Snowflake. It sounds a bit like the type of songs you'd get on CBeebies which probably explains why the kids have so readily adopted it and sing and dance along happily. But even the adults can't help grinning and singing along when the kids falter on the words of Frosty the Snowman ! The arrangements are really jazzy and guaranteed to make you do a bit of armchair-dancing which will help to burn off some of those mince pies and Christmas cocktails !

All together now ... Jingle bells, Jingle bells, Jingle all the way ... !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £7.99

Snowflake is available from November 6th at Amazon.co.uk, Play.com and HMV


Other reviews you may be interested in :

Playmobil Advent Calendars

We absolutely love Christmas here in The Madhouse and I always think the best part is the huge build-up to the big day itself, with Christmas CDs and Christmas crafts and Christmas baking, getting everyone in the festive mood. One very important element in increasing excitement levels (and not just for the kids !) is the Advent calendar.

When I was a kid, you used to open the windows and get just a little picture with, if you were lucky, a sprinkling of glitter. These days, it seems that almost every single one on the market has a little chocolate for each day of the month (and some of them go up to the 31st December instead of the 24th - what's that all about ?!). But if you want something a bit different, Playmobil have a huge range of advent calendars available.

I always assumed that the Playmobil advent calendars would be full of Santas, elves and angels or maybe a Nativity scene but most of them aren't the slightest bit Christmassy in fact. This initially put me off a bit, but the whole point is, the toys hiding behind each window can be added to your Playmobil collection and played with all year round because they're standard-sized Playmobil figures and accessories. As they say at Playmobil, " Let your little one’s imagination run free for longer than just Christmas". There ARE some Christmassy scenes available (see the top picture with Santa's Post Office or the Santa Feeding the Forest Animals one below) and, let's face it, if your kids are huge Playmobil freaks and want one every year, how many Santas do you actually need in your collection ?!



There seem to be absolutely zillions of Playmobil advent calendars available but here are some of the faves for this year !

4155 Christmas in the Forest £14.99


4160 Dragon’s Land £14.99




4159 Pony Ranch £14.99


4157 Police £14.99

4158 Unicorn in Fairy World £14.99



Each kit contains a variety of figures and accessories that all go together to create the scene shown on the box so for the whole run up to Christmas, your little ones will be all excited to see which part they will receive today to add it to the rapidly expanding scene. Each advent calendar comes with a sturdy cardboard playscene that makes it even more fun but do make sure you set aside in advance a flat space that you won't need for the whole of December ! If you set it out on the dining room table, you'll end up losing some of the tiny (and oh so precious !) little accessories when you have to move it.

Speaking of "in advance", you should also be aware that Playmobil make you work for your Christmas magic ! The advent calendar is a self-assembly kit and is at least as challenging an an Ikea flat-pack piece of furniture so set aside some time to put it all together in advance - without the kids if you want to maintain the element of surprise or together as a new festive tradition if you're reusing the advent calendar from last year.

As I mentioned, I initially wasn't keen on the un-Christmassy themes of some of the advent calendars, but it did also make me think that you could use these Advent calendars to count down to anything, like a birthday, a family holiday or a deployed parent coming home in Armed Forces families. Playmobil sets are always guaranteed to provide hours of creative play and the advent calendar format adds a real element of excitement in there. I always thought they were quite expensive but when you look at everything you get in the box, it's actually pretty good value, especially as the fun lasts so much longer than the usual chocolate advent calendars. They're also a great alternative if you have diabetic or lactose-intolerant children who can't eat chocolate. I think we've definitely started a new tradition in our house !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £14.99

for more information : www.playmobil.co.uk

You can purchase the advent calendars direct from Playmobil’s online shop, www.playmobil.co.uk  but they can also be found at Toys R Us, The Entertainer, and all other good toy shops.

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Mums can help shape products and services and earn some great rewards

Mum and MumPanel founder, Lynne Barcoe, is calling all mums and mums to be across the UK to help influence the products and services we see on our supermarket shelves, high street and online stores.

MumPanel, the specialist mum marketing consultancy, is looking for honest and real views and opinions from mums up and down the country. In return, those who become ‘mumpanelists’ can receive rewards such as high street vouchers, product samples and the opportunity to work with some great brands.

The consultancy is run by a dedicated team of marketing mums and has thousands of mumpanelists already joined up. It provides brands across the UK with mum insight, opinion and marketing solutions, helping them to develop and deliver better products, services and marketing strategies.

Lynne Barcoe said: “As a mum, how many times have you purchased a certain product or service only to find it’s not quite up to scratch? For example, a product could be too sweet, have too much packaging or be too difficult to assemble. Mums are the gatekeepers of the family finances and the main decision makers on family purchases so it’s in the interest of brands to listen to their opinions and involve mums in development and communications. Mumpanelists have already helped to shape products from Organix, Soreen and Woolworths.co.uk.”



She went on to say: “Mums who sign up to MumPanel will be invited to participate in activities like surveys, consumer panels, community activities, and product testing. In return for their time and efforts we provide some great rewards so it’s an all round win win situation.”

MumPanelist and mum of two Kirsty Hunt, from Wilmslow in Cheshire, said: “It’s great to know that I can influence the products and services that directly affect my family. The incentives are attractive too. Last week I held a product review for eight friends at home and in return we all had a great night and received high street vouchers for our views and time. It was good fun, empowering and rewarding.”

Those interested in becoming Mumpanelists can sign up at: http://www.mumpanel.co.uk/


About MumPanel
 MumPanel is a specialist-marketing consultancy, connecting mums with the nation’s brands. By working with thousands of mums across the UK, MumPanel provides valuable mum insights and marketing strategy and solutions that help brands shape their products, services and consumer engagement strategy.

The consultancy was set up in 2009 by mum of one and professional marketing consultant Lynne Barcoe. Lynne has over ten years’ marketing experience in FMCG, retail, healthcare and the utility sectors.

The Cheshire-based agency counts brands such as Organix, McCann Erickson, Dialogue 141, Woolworths.co.uk and Vifor Pharma as customers.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Merry Christmas from Ferrero


Scary thought for the day - can you believe this time next month Christmas will all be over for another year ?! But until then, it's time to get seriously into the Christmas spirit and this fabulously festive photo from Ferrero that landed in my inbox today is guaranteed to get you humming carols and looking for your Santa hat ! I can just smell the mulled wine and warm mince pies !



But that's not the only lovely Christmassy surprise I found in my inbox from Ferrero. They also made me a fabulous personalised Christmas card to go with my blog ! It's fabulous and I love it so much, I've proudly added added it to the very top of my blog sidebar to help spread some festive cheer in the countdown to Christmas.

But don't feel jealous !! You can make one too. As Ferrero explain, "To coincide with the launch of our new website, http://www.ferrero-range.co.uk/ (complete with Christmas preparation tips), we have created a unique festive e-card that can be personalised to send to loved ones. For every e-card that is sent, as well as spreading Christmas cheer, senders also increase their chance of winning one of hundreds of boxes of delicious Ferrero chocolate!" Oooh how cool is that ?!

For yet another opportunity to win, Ferrero fans can take the new ‘Which Ferrero Are You?’ quiz (www.ferrero-range.co.uk/whichoneareyou) which reveals which Ferrero in the range best suits them ! By putting the result of the quiz into a tweet alongside hashtag #ferreroxmas, Twitter users will be in with a chance of winning a fabulous Ferrero hamper full of the whole range to enjoy! Yummmm !



But that's not the only festive cheer that Ferrero are spreading.  Yesterday they also held a stunt in Covent Garden where they had an 11ft edible Christmas tree ! The picture below shows that it was as beautiful as it was delicious !
 

I always think of Ferrero Rocher as the ultimate Christmas chocolates so if you want to try to win some (or make one of those fabulous personalised e-cards), head on over to http://www.ferrero-range.co.uk/.

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New book release : The Golden Prince by Rebecca Dean - perfect timing !



A new book, The Golden Prince, written by author Rebecca Dean, has just been launched and, coming a week after the announcement of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s royal engagement, it's perfect timing !

 
How envious of  Prince William his Great-Uncle Edward would have been !

 
In 1917, three years into the horrific carnage of World War I, the then Prince of Wales, an officer in the Grenadier Guards serving in France, met and fell in love with a pretty Red Cross nurse, Rosemary Leveson-Gower.

There is good reason to believe that Prince Edward – later King Edward VIII who, in 1936, abdicated the throne to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson – would have married Rosemary if his father, King George V, had given his royal consent.

In 1917 however, the royal world was a very different place to the royal world of today. Written in stone was the cardinal rule that royalty only married royalty, and though Rosemary was aristocratic – her father was the Duke of Sutherland – she was, in King George’s eyes, a commoner. What he would have thought of his great-great-grandson marrying the beautiful Kate, daughter of parents from a working-class background, can only be guessed at.

It is written into the British constitution that a Prince of Wales must have the monarch’s consent when he wishes to marry. As King George adamantly refused to sanction Edward’s marriage to Rosemary, Edward couldn’t marry her and two years later Rosemary married one of Edward’s friends, Eric, Viscount Ednam.

The author Rebecca Dean believes that his father’s refusal to allow him to marry the girl he loved had a traumatic effect on Edward whose name was never again linked with that of an unmarried woman. In her book The Golden Prince, published this month by HarperCollins, she melds fact with fiction to explore the poignant situation of Prince Edward when, as a very young man, he was denied personal happiness by not being allowed to marry the commoner he loved.

How Edward would have envied his great grand-nephew William. And how different British history would have been if Edward, like William, had been given permission to marry the girl he gave his heart to as a young, idealistic prince.

 
I never used to think I liked the whole "historical fiction" genre, then I discovered Philippa Gregory's fabulous tales of The White Queen and The Red Queen and really enjoyed them. I'll be reading The Golden Prince shortly so keep your eyes open for a review coming soon.

 

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Jakemans Secret Sweet Shop - Free Sweets Alert !


I had to come and share this with you and give a heads-up to all you lucky Londoners who will be able to get your mitts on some lovely free sweeties ! Jakemans - the menthol confectionery manufacturer - will be opening a pop-up shop in London exclusively for 3 days in December.

Jakemans have been producing their family confectionery for over 100 years, so to celebrate its heritage they will be transporting people back to early 1900s Britain with a traditional Victorian themed sweet shop! The best part? FREE sweets for all visitors!

More info below ..

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The Jakemans Secret Sweet Shop

Rhubarb and custards, cough candy twists or liquorice sticks…whatever takes your fancy, us Brits are big fans of sweets that take us back to our childhood – there’s nothing quite like those traditional tastes to satisfy a sweet tooth !

To celebrate the very best of British sweets this winter season, traditional confectionery manufacturer Jakemans is opening the Jakemans Secret Sweet Shop at Whiteleys Shopping Centre in London on the 9th, 10th and 11th of December offering FREE sweets to all its visitors – something any confectionery fanatic will not want to miss !

A classic British favourite, Jakemans has been producing confectionery since way back in 1907. That’s over 100 years of quality, menthol confectionery and what they don’t know about sweet making really isn’t worth knowing.

On offer at the Jakemans Secret Sweet Shop, amongst a selection of other fond British favourites, will be all five varieties of Jakemans – Throat & Chest, Menthol & Eucalyptus, Cherry Menthol, Honey & Lemon and Blueberry Menthol – tasty hard boiled confectionery which not only soothes the throat but also provides stimulating vapours to help keep the nose clear.

Can’t wait to find out more? Here are just a few details of what you can expect…

Where?
First Floor, Whiteleys Shopping Centre, Queensway, London, W2 4YN

When?
Thursday 9th, Friday 10th and Saturday 11th December 2010
11am – 7pm

What?
In keeping with its British heritage of confectionery manufacturing, the Jakemans shop will transport you back to Britain in the early 1900’s …get ready for vintage sweet jars, old-fashioned weighing scales and lovely candy stripe bags, as well as masses of delicious free confectionery … yummy!

for more information (and to sign up for updates on the pop-up shop) : http://www.jakemans.com/home.ashx

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The Cooperative Membership Fund is looking for people to carry out positive work in the community

Woohoo ! Pudsey's gone and done it again ! Children In Need have once again raised a huge amount of cash for those who could do with a little help and has highlighted innumerable projects that have been undertaken and good causes that have benefited from the donated cash. It's great to see communities coming together to raise money but also taking advantage of the projects that make things better for everyone who lives in them.

The Cooperative Membership Fund

Well, if all those good deeds and projects have given you some ideas of your own, you might like to know about The Cooperative Membership Fund, which has already helped thousands of clubs, community groups and local charities to make Britain a better place.  This year The Co-operative Members have donated £1.2 million of their share of profits to local community groups across the country. It's run in a really interesting way, on a truly local level, with projects allocated by postcode so the money that members have donated in their area goes back into their local region.

To qualify for a grant, there are a few criteria that need to be met. The group applying for the grant must carry out positive work in the community, although it does not have to have charitable status to qualify. The project must address a community issue, provide long term benefit to the community, support co-operative values and principles and, ideally, be innovative in its approach.

Grants vary from a minimum of £100 to a maximum of £2,000. You could do a lot of good with that amount of money but even a small grant could make a big difference in the community. A project that I would absolutely love to see in my own local community would be a kids' allotment, getting young people into the garden to see how they can grow their own fruit and vegetables, as well as learning about the environment, organic gardening and composting. It would be great to then have a kids cookery club where they could learn to cook (and taste !) everything they've grown, showing them about healthy eating, home cookery and how much cheaper it is to cook up a tasty homegrown supper than grabbing a takeaway. It would also keep them off the streets and out of trouble, as well as enable them to pass their new found skills on to their families. Maybe I'll have to apply for a grant and try to put it into action when I finally hit retirement !!

 

Other projects that have been funded include swimming lessons and other sports clubs, but also beekeeping and exhibitions. Have a think about your local community and see what ideas you can come up with to make it a better place for everyone. Let me know if you come up with any great schemes !

 

For more information and to apply for funding, please go to http://www.co-operative.coop/membership/local-communities/community-fund/onlineapplicationprocess/

 





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Thursday, 25 November 2010

JOHN LEWIS DOG AD - WHAT ABOUT NEGLECT OF PET RABBITS? ASKS UK CHARITY


With the current cold snap, this seemed like a very timely reminder to keep your bunnies safe and warm from the Rabbit Welfare Association.

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In the light of the current outcry about the controversial John Lewis television advertising showing a neglected dog, the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWAF) is drawing attention to a wider issue: the silent suffering of a much larger number possibly hundreds of thousands of pet rabbits.



The ad which shows a child hanging a Christmas stocking on a kennel for the family dog, kept outside in the snow has generated support from almost 2500 people on Facebook and a great deal of media interest. The controversy stems from the fact that the dog is kept alone, outdoors, in inadequate accommodation: this, says the RWAF, is the norm for most pet rabbits in the UK, yet pet rabbits are no more suited to this than pet dogs.



RWAF Chief Executive, Rae Todd, said, "The John Lewis advert has received justifiable criticism but if it showed a child hanging out a stocking full of carrots on a small, snow covered hutch of a single rabbit, would there have been as much of an outcry? Countless thousands of rabbits are kept alone in a small hutch, with little or no space to exercise. What can they do all day stuck on their own in a hutch? They cannot bark so they suffer in silence.



Rabbits deserve the same level of responsibility as a dog or a cat, but they are so often the forgotten pet.



Anne Mitchell, who runs the RWAF helpline. agrees. "I receive a huge amount of calls in the winter from distressed owners who have found their rabbit frozen to death in its hutch. People think that because they have fur coats theyre fine in the cold, but the truth is that in the wild they live underground where the temperature only varies a few degrees between winter and summer, in large groups sharing body warmth. Rabbits are not designed to live alone, and they're not designed to live in a small wooden box in the garden."



Despite being the UK's third most popular pet, rabbits are amongst the most neglected. The RWAF, through its 'A Hutch is Not Enough' campaign, aims to educate owners and work with the pet retail trade to raise the status of the rabbit to that of a cat or a dog. Its website, http://www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk , offers advice on what rabbits need to live a healthy and contented life.



The RWAF urges owners not to forget their rabbits in the cold winter months. It advises that hutches and runs should be brought into sheds or covered, water bottles should be fitted with sleeves (available from pet shops) to stop them freezing, and extra bedding should be provided.



Please don't forget your rabbits this winter, says Rae Todd to rabbit owners. Apart from the need to be humane, you are also responsible for their care under the Animal Welfare Act. Even though it's cold, wet and dark outside, they still need feeding and cleaning out. The best way for rabbits to keep warm is for them to have the company of another rabbit - as they do in the wild. This needs to be done properly, i.e. two neutered rabbits should be introduced in the correct way and then live in appropriate accommodation.



For more information on caring for rabbits see http://www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk/.


The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF) is a registered charity, No 1085689 and is the official charity of the Rabbit Welfare Association which has about 3000 members. It is dedicated to improving the lives of domestic rabbits kept as pets in the UK.




Colour B4 Hair Colour Remover from Scott Cornwall

I've yet to dabble in colouring my hair, whether in a hair salon or at home, but I know the first grey hairs won't be too far around the corner and that will surely spur me on to give it a go. I must admit that one of the reasons I'm slightly apprehensive is knowing how badly it can all go wrong. I'm sure we've all heard horror stories from friends or acquaintances about knowing someone whose hair turned green or a nasty shade of orange after one too many home colorations. I personally remember trying not to laugh when a friend at university dyed her hair but also her ears and a large chunk of her forehead a lovely shade of dark chestnut brown ! As hair expert Scott Cornwall explains, "Until now, the only ways to recover from hair dye disasters were to cross your fingers, re-dye your hair and hope it worked or run to a salon (in a hat) and pay up to £200 for a bleach bath process and  re-colour" ! It's easy to snigger but I can easily imagine how mortifying it must be if it happens to you. After all, many women think of their hair as their crowning glory.

So Scott, who has worked in the hair industry for many years, came up with a solution, creating Colour B4 which allows you to "safely rewind to your colour before". Now, I was expecting a seriously confusing technical explanation with complicated chemical compounds but it sounds like a really simple idea. The website explains, "Colour B4 hair colour remover is the safest and most effective way to reverse an undesirable hair colour application. Colour B4 shrinks the artificial dye molecules in the hair, enabling you to simply wash them away. What's more, Colour B4 does not touch your natural hair pigment so you are left with the colour which lay beneath your artificial shade." How simple is that ?

It's not quite so easy if you've made your hair go lighter but you can still sort it out with a bit more effort. "Colour B4 takes you back to your lightest shade. It will return your hair to its natural colour if the artificial hair colour applied is darker than your natural level. If the artificial hair colour applied is lighter than your natural colour, the natural pigment within your hair has been chemically lightened. Although Colour B4 will remove the artificial dye, you will still notice your natural hair colour has lightened. In this situation (and to re-create your natural shade) simply select a hair colorant close to your own natural depth and tone. However, always select by one shade lighter than your (natural) depth to ensure a realistic result."

The box contains three bottles, all clearly marked with a letter so you don't mix them up (bottle A, Regular Activator - bottle B, Regular Remover - bottle C, After Treatment Buffer), disposable gloves and, all importantly, detailed instructions. (Read them. All of them. The chances are, you're having to use this product because you didn't follow the instructions first time around so don't do it again !!). Having looked around online, I'm impressed by the number of people saying how well this product works and how it doesn't leave hair feeling damaged or stripped, even on totally unbiased reviews websites like dooyoo and ciao. I can't personally vouch for its efficiency but the numerous positive testimonials leave me feeling hopeful and reassured.

The way I see it is, you wouldn't dream of making big changes to your computer registry without first creating a backup recovery disk, so why would you do it with your hair ?! I will certainly be keeping a pack in the cupboard just in case it all goes horribly wrong when I try to colour my hair !

RRP : £9.99


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