Monday, 27 March 2017

Giveaway #617 : Win gorgeous pampering gifts from Baylis & Harding - closing date 11/4


Did you get your mum something special for mother's day? Did your own kids spoil you rotten? Well, whether you answered yes or no to both questions, my advice to you is forget mother's day and make the effort to treat your mum (and yourself) on other days of the year too ! I always find that it means more on a non special day because it's more unexpected and heartfelt than something that has been bought just because a million signs in the high street are telling you not to forget !

Baylis and Harding have some gorgeous product lines that are perfect for women of all ages. In honour of mother's day, they sent me through two beautiful pampering treats.

The Luxury Foot Set from the vibrant, carefree Pink Prosecco and Cassis range contains a 50ml Foot Lotion, 25g Foot Soak Crystals and a pair of super soft socks to relax and revive tired feet after a long day. Presented in a pretty gift box with stunning rose gold metallic detail, this will make the perfect gift for Valentine's Day, Mother's Day or any other day of the year.

The large single wick candle in a jar comes from the beautiful La Maison Linen Rose & Cotton collection and is the perfect candle to either use at home or as a gift. The exquisite fragrance is pretty and delicate and the gorgeous silver coloured container will be a stylish addition to any home. The wax is a delicate pink colour which adds a subtle feminine touch. The 180g candle has a total burn time of up to 25 hours.

Baylis & Harding have generously offered to send one of each gift to a lucky Madhouse Family Reviews reader. Fill in your entries via the Rafflecopter widget below.

UK only. Closing date : 11/4/17

T & C's : Entries close at midnight on the closing date. Winners will be selected with a random number generator and announced on facebook and in the giveaway post subject line. Please note, you will be contacted by email and/or twitter and if I haven't heard from you after 28 days, I'll have to pick another winner. Prizes will be sent out by the companies or their PR directly to winners. Madhouse Family Reviews cannot be held responsible for any prizes that go astray !

(Highland) Spring Has Sprung ! (review)

For the past week, I've been on a work trip to Norway, and one of the main things we noticed is how outdoorsy the Norwegians are, whatever the weather. After climbing up a (small) mountain, we all settled down for a barbecue ... in the snow (admittedly only a few flakes, but still !). (If you don't believe me, head over here for my post about climbing up Dalsnuten.)

We all loved how organised they are, with everything in their rucksacks and car boots from spare hats and scarves to foil survival blankets and little lambswool squares to sit on to prevent getting a cold bum on the freezing rocks ! We were most impressed with their big reusable water bags too - they'd be great for school trips and family picnics, even in the UK. Even on a smaller scale, most of the Norwegians we got to know always had a bottle of water in their hand or bag and at school canteens, restaurants and even the hotel lobby, they had jugs of fabulous fruit-infused water at your disposal, flavoured with red berries, lemon, mint and cucumber or watermelon, which were all very refreshing.

I spent my whole time there sipping smoothies, freshly squeezed orange juice, "vitamin shots" made with fruit juice, and water, and despite the long and intensive days (both in the conference rooms and trekking up steep hillsides), I felt really alert and full of vitality. On an average day back home, I never drink half as much and with hindsight, I'm sure this is why I feel sluggish and under par. 
When Highland Spring invited me to take part in their Sparkle Challenge, I was intrigued. They are on a mission to encourage people to start 2017 on the right foot by making positive health choices, starting with healthy hydration, because when you're 100% hydrated, you're much more likely to be on top of your game – mentally, physically and emotionally. 

The quickest and easiest way to feel good is to drink water, yet research shows that 66% of Brits don’t feel they always drink enough water on a daily basis (I'm one of them), so Highland Spring offered to provide a month's supply of their water, along with some serving suggestions, to keep me (and the rest of the family) hydrated and feeling good. As they say, staying well hydrated is such an easy, healthy way to help you be the best version of yourself, and it’s even better when you know that their natural water comes from Scotland’s beautiful Ochil Hills.

The Madhouse kids instantly fell in love with the sparkling water, with or without a quick squeeze of fruity concentrated squash, and they actually seem to prefer it to coke and other sugar or sweetener-packed fizzy drinks - bonus ! They've also adopted the 500ml sports cap still water bottles, both at school and when out and about, because they are bigger than their usual drinks bottles so they keep them going throughout the whole day.

Now that the warmer weather is here, the Madhouse kids - particularly Pierre - will be spending a lot of his time outside, playing football or riding his scooter or bike around the huge car park opposite our house.

He was very proud of himself when he discovered that he can slot a bottle of Highland Spring under his saddle so that he can have a quick drink whenever he needs one.

Which is basically all of the time because he is a bundle of energy and never stops !

Despite the adverts, it's not just sugary snacks that help you work, rest and play - Highland Spring have definitely helped us put a spring in our step too !

Adding chopped fruit and herbs to a bottle of water and leaving it overnight to infuse is my favourite way of tempting everyone to drink more, but the easiest and most important thing, we've discovered, is making sure you always have a bottle at hand - in the car, at work and when heading off to the park on a sunny afternoon. Here at The Madhouse, Highland Spring has definitely sprung !

Disclosure : I received a delivery of water to take part in the Sparkle Challenge.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Bubbles Blog Tour Author Guest Post : How life differs in France and the UK

As a dual-nationality French/English family, I was fascinated to learn about a charming new children’s book, Bubbles, written by Malcolm Howard & Steve Harrison (published by Clink Street Publishing, 2nd March 2017).

Inspired by his many years living in Chamonix in France and waking up daily to see the stunning mountains and countryside landscape, Malcolm Howard decided to put pen to paper to create the story of Bubbles. Initially written as separate stories for the children his then wife was nannying, their enthusiasm for the characters prompted Malcolm’s family to publish the book as a surprise for his seventieth birthday.

Beautifully illustrated by Steve Harrison, Bubbles will stimulate the imagination and bring a smile to children and adults alike as they join the escapades of Angelique and her nursery school pupils in the Alps..

The book blurb explains : Angelique has long thin legs, long thin arms and a turned-up nose on which sits an enormous pair of spectacles. Her spectacles are so big that they look like magnifying glasses and make her eyes look very large. She normally wears black shoes, a blue dress and a red scarf, and she has just been awarded all her Certificates and Diplomas to become a teacher. But she needs a job. Returning to her home village at the foothills of the French Alps, Angelique finds her childhood school has closed! All she needs is determination, enthusiasm and ten pupils to re-open the school and realise her dreams. But Angelique soon realises that her daily adventures have only just begun.

Author Malcolm Howard has kindly written us a post about life in Chamonix and how it differed from his home town in the UK.


Home in England is Walton-on-Thames in leafy, suburban Surrey. It’s in the Thames valley, which is flat. The river meanders down from Windsor and Weybridge before passing Walton and flowing onwards to Hampton Court, Kingston, Richmond and, eventually, through London to the sea.

The river is picturesque and populated with rowers, pleasure boats, swans and geese. The towpath provides a trail for walkers, joggers and cyclists and riverside pubs ply a lively trade. But the area is liable to flooding in wild winter weather, which can be a bit of a bore.

Contrast Chamonix, which is mountainous. Melt water from the glaciers provides white-knuckle rafting rides down the River Arve, which joins the Rhone at the outflow from Lake Geneva and eventually reaches the Mediterranean sea.

Chamonix gained prominence as a mountaineering resort – it is not one of the best skiing resorts. The most adventurous skiing is off-piste with a cable car ride up to the Aiguille du Midi followed by a tortuous descent of an arête on foot, often requiring crampons, and then a guided ski run down the Vallee Blanche.

Slightly out of town, on one of the buttresses of Mont Blanc, is the village of Les Houches, which hosts the Chamonix World Cup Downhill Race. That is where the British Ski Academy is based and that is what drew me into the region.

The things we do for our children!

My son James liked most sport, but loved Alpine Ski Racing. There are few more expensive pastimes. I started Ski High School so that he and others could train in the Alps and also do their schoolwork. He made the British Junior Ski Team and then broke his ‘tib’n’fib’ and took up paragliding instead.

The British Ski Academy evolved from that. But in the preceding eight years we travelled all over the Alps, in France, Switzerland, Italy and Austria. They were ‘heady’ times. But it cost me everything I had, so it was time to head back to dear old ‘Blighty’ (an affectionate term for Britain during the world wars).

I gained employment with the Surrey Probation Service and saw out my time until retirement organizing and supervising Community Service projects, dealing with offenders given Community Service as a punishment. It reminded me of my time in the army, and I would have wanted most of those offenders on my side!

I am now retired and have become involved with local politics. I have been elected to the local Borough Council and worry about things like local green space, and the river flooding. Oh for a white-knuckle ride down the Arve!

#MySundayphoto #SundaySnap 26/3/17

Being silly in Norway !

Sunday SnapOneDad3Girls

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Book review : Dare To Remember - Susanna Beard

Dare To Remember is Susanna Beard's first novel and follows the story of Lisa Fulbrook. Following a brutal knife attack in her own home which left her seriously injured and her lifelong best friend dead, Lisa is left trying to put her life back together and hide the scars on her neck with scarves. However, it is the invisible scars deep within that cause her the most pain and suffering - survivor guilt, PTSD, fear and grief, as well as an inability to remember what actually went on on that ill-fated night.

The basic premise is both poignant and intriguing and I had high hopes for a powerful, gripping novel that drip-fed information to the reader as Lisa gradually got back her memory piece by piece. I was a bit disappointed though because I felt it dragged and nothing much happened for a large part of the novel, despite regular but seemingly ineffectual trips to a psychiatrist. I have no doubt that this is realistic - recovery from this kind of trauma is obviously going to be a long and slow process - but it doesn't make for a gripping novel and I felt it needed to be sped up somewhat.

I enjoyed seeing Lisa slowly opening up and building new relationships, both with her elderly neighbour and her new friend, but I felt that a lot of time was spent on developing these relationships that, ultimately, didn't go anywhere. I kept half expecting some big twist such as Lisa suddenly remembering something about her attacker that linked her to one of her new friends, but it never happened. 

The idea of restorative justice - bringing victims and their aggressors face to face to offer some sense of closure - is intriguing and I woud have liked a bigger part of the novel to have focused on this as I felt that all of the potential wasn't exploited.

Overall, it was an enjoyable read and I really empathised with Lisa, but I do think it could have had more impact and suspense with a faster pace. It's more a poignant look at the consequences and recovery process from trauma than a nail-biting psychological thriller. I should also point out that I read this during a ten-hour series of airports and flights on the way to Norway, so I probably wasn't at my most receptive !

star rating : 3.5/5

RRP : £8.99

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press (1 Feb. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1785079115
  • ISBN-13: 978-1785079115
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2 x 19.7 cm

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

Fab freebies of the week 24/3

Here's a round-up of this week's best freebies, for you to enjoy as I'm flying back home from Norway ! It's a bit short and sweet this week as I've barely been on line all week.

@BasilurteaUKLtd Always looking for tea loving #Brits. Free samples available to the bloggers in the UK. #health #cuppa #hgwe

@ecigaspire Welcome to #pugtown live the #puglife vape the #pugsap reviewers DM address details for free samples available early April 80/20 VG/PG 3mg

If you’d like a free pack of bee-friendly wildflower seeds, fill in the address where you’d like your seeds delivered to.

Sow and Grow is a project with GIY (Grow It Yourself) to help kids be healthy by growing their own tasty food in class. If you'd like the chance to win a packet of seeds to plant at home, just enter your details

500 bottles of Head & Shoulders up for grabs on Super Savvy Me

To claim a Spring edition flower-shaped mini bar just leave your details in the form below and we will put one in the post to you before you’ve barely had the chance to put the clocks forward!

Nominate your nursery for a Stickle Bricks pack! The much-loved Stickle Bricks are back and GP Flair are giving nurseries across the country the chance to receive a free play pack! Inside each nursery pack will be activities, stickers, certificates and Stickle Bricks to play with. If you'd like to nominate a nursery to receive all this, simply send be the below information to

1. Your name
2. Name of nursery
3. Number of children at the nursery
4. Nursery contact details and contact name
5. Nursery address

Please ensure you have permission from the nursery before enrolling them.

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.

Friday, 24 March 2017

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 24/3

As I write this menu plan, it's my final night in Norway. Tomorrow we'll be flying home and it will be nice to get back into some routine. I won't have made a shopping list for this week's shop though, so it will be a case of using what's likely to be in the fridge and freezer !


lunch - roast dinner

dinner - homemade soup - pea and bacon maybe, as I know I have both in the freezer


dinner - mince and tomato crumble


dinner - chicken cau cau, a Peruvian dish which includes chicken, potatoes and peas, served with rice


lunch - sausages, mash and beans

dinner - home made deep pan pizza


dinner - baked potatoes with bolognese sauce (or rice stuffed round courgettes with bolognese sauce if they survived my week in Norway)


dinner - honey and soy salmon with noodles & veg

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

Join in with the weekly meal plan bloghop !

Norway diaries : The Bunad, traditional Norwegian costume

This week has been pretty full-on but we've managed to find a few slots to discover a bit more about the town of Stavanger and the traditions of Norway. On Wednesday, our hosts took us to a small museum in a library to discover local costumes.

The museum was actually closed but, after a quick chat with the librarian, she kindly opened it up just for us ! 

The costumes change depending on the region and apparently they cost a fortune to buy - coming from a Norwegian, this is surely not an exaggeration because everything is expensive here !

Obviously, Norwegians don't wear this every day, but we did see people wandering about in traditional dress on Sunday, our first day here, when there was a service at the nearby cathedral to welcome in the new bishop, in the presence of the King of Norway.

One of the Norwegian teachers explained that it really represents Norwegian identity and her mother, who never wears it in Norway, frequently wears it now that they live in Dubai !

One of the recent controversies is Muslim people wearing the Bunad with a hijab. Traditionalists think this is a corruption of the national costume while others like the fact that it opens it up to a wider and more modern public.

There is a shop in Stavanger high street selling bunader.

Although we haven't actually seen any customers in there, it shows that it is still a part of modern Norwegian culture.

Most of the Norwegian teachers said that they own one and wear it on special occasions.

I won't be bringing one back in my suitcase though !!

Giveaway #616 : Win 2 x Drumond Park Wordsearch Junior - closing date 7/4

*** Check out our review of Wordsearch Junior - how young do the girls look ?! ***


Drumond Park's Wordsearch Junior (rrp £22.99, age 4 upwards) uses clever circular wordsearch grids, which become more advanced as the child progresses, as an exciting way to reinforce early reading skills. It can be played as a fun, fast-paced, multi-player race to find patterns, pictures (balls, animals, foods, etc.) and simple words, placing coloured counters over the images or letters on the turntable board when you spot them, or as a calmer one-on-one learning activity.

The nine double-sided circular puzzle disks have three different levels of play, covering a myriad of topics. Little ones can dive in straight away, searching for images and patterns on the starter-level blue picture pattern cards. The red level takes players through the picture hint cards – finding words with picture hints to help them. Using the green word-only cards, they’ll be looking for consonant clusters and vowel combinations - increasing their reading skills without even realising it!

For more information and stockists, visit

I have a Drumond Park Wordsearch Junior game to give away to two lucky Madhouse Family Reviews reader. Fill in your entries in the Rafflecopter widget below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

UK only. Closing date : 7/4/17

T & C's : Entries close at midnight on the closing date. Winners will be selected with a random number generator and announced on facebook and in the giveaway post subject line. Please note, you will be contacted by email and/or twitter and if I haven't heard from you after 28 days, I'll have to pick another winner. Prizes will be sent out by the companies or their PR directly to winners. Madhouse Family Reviews cannot be held responsible for any prizes that go astray !

You may also like to enter my other giveaways :

Giveaway #615 : Win 2 x Anne of Green Gables on dvd - closing date 29/3

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Norway diaries : Climbing up Dalsnuten

This week, I'm on a teacher exchange project in Stavanger, Norway, and, although we're spending almost all our time in a conference room of the university working on a project about critical literacy, the Norwegian teachers did take us out on our first day to see some of the beautiful scenery. They all had loads of hats, gloves and scarves in their car boots so the first job was making sure we were all wrapped up warm enough.

That's not all they had though - despite the temperatures bouncing around zero and a few snowflakes falling from the sky, they gaily announced that we'd be having lunch outside and started unpacking water, cooking supplies and wood !

From the car park, we could see our destination - that big hill in the background. If you look closely, you can just see the little pillar on the top.

Stavanger is in the southwest of Norway and our hike was in Sandnes, the town just next to it. 

Dalsnuten has an altitude of 324 m and the excursion is described as "a refreshing walk through easy terrain to the summit which rewards you with a marvellous view". This is by Norwegian standards though and it involved lots of pretty energetic scrambling over slippery ice-covered rocks to reach the summit ! Picking our way back down was even trickier but it was worth it for the views.

Just a few metres from the car, the beautiful Norwegian scenery kicked in, with pure mountain lakes and woodland - Norwegian woods !

It's fabulously serene and untouched.

Our hosts said that we'd leave our provisions at the base of a tree and pick it all up a couple of hours later when we'd finished our hike. We laughed that if you did that in France or the UK, you'd come back and half of it would have disappeared ! They did say that this would be the same in the big towns but here in the mountains, there were just families so it was no problem. Sure enough, other people were leaving their food and possessions lying around in the woodlands.

There were a group of little wooden huts in a clearing in the woods that could be used by hikers and families as a rest stop. Little did we know that we'd find out more about them on the way back !

It was described as an easy walk but it was recommended to wear good walking boots - we soon found out why as we went stomping through waterlogged, boggy ground !

Then we climbed over the Norwegian version of a stile.

I didn't take many photos on the way up as it was complicated trying to find hand and foot holds and not slip on the rocks, but luckily the Sherpas had been through long ago to cut (very uneven) steps into the rock to help with the ascent. Two days later, I can still feel the burn in my thigh muscles though !

The mountain peaks in the distance were white with snow.

The wind really picked up as we reached the summit.

But the views out across the fjords made it all worthwhile.

The photos don't really do it justice.

But adding a couple of people to the photo gives you more of a sense of perspective.

This is the headteacher of one of the schools that we'll be visiting later in the week.

Right at the summit is the stone pillar (or cairn) that we could see from the car park.

There is a stone with a plaque telling you something but goodness knows what it says. Even if you could speak Norwegian, most of the letters have been rubbed off by the weather !

There is also a book for you to sign to say you reached the top.

I'm sure there must be a geocache lurking in one of these holes too !

A final look at the views and it was time to head back down - easier said than done, picking a path down through the rocks !

And back through the swamp !

The car park was full when we set out but we barely saw another person, except at the summit.

When our hosts had told us we'd be eating outside, we thought they were joking, but sure enough, we had a barbecue with snowflakes floating down around us !

The Norwegians had brought a big iron cooking tray, plastic food dishes, cups, cutlery, water, firewood and lots of vegetables that were already sizzling away by the time we got down to the base camp !

Next to us was a family with the kids cooking sausages on sticks which was really cute !

It was a bit smoky but the Norwegians even have a saying that the smoke always heads towards the prettiest girl. This makes you feel a bit better when you're spluttering and rubbing your eyes because the wind has changed direction !

On the way back, we stopped off at Sverd i Fjell, three 10 metre high bronze swords planted into the rock of a small hill next to the fjord to commemorate the historic Battle of Hafrsfjord in the year 872, when King Harald Fairhair gathered all of Norway under one crown. 

The largest sword represents the victorious Harald, and the two smaller swords represent the defeated kings. The monument also represents peace, since the swords are planted into solid rock, so they may never be removed.

We only took a quick photo though because the light was staring to fade and the wind was whipping across the fjord so it was freezing cold !