Sunday, 18 August 2019

Freebies of the week 17/8

Just looking at the calendar, I'm starting to wind down and think about going back to work and school now - boo ! We still have a final trip coming up to see my family, but I can feel the mentalities around the house changing. We still have a couple of weeks to enjoy though, so let's not give up on the fun just yet ! Here's the latest round-up of fab UK freebies - fingers crossed there's something that will appeal to you :)


Debenhams Beauty Club have another freebie for you - From Friday 16 August, pick up your complimentary sample of the new Gucci Memoire D'une Odeur, a powerful scent that has been specially created for everyone regardless of age or sex.

Debenhams are also looking for 200 testers for Dior Joy perfume

If you buy a pack of McVities biscuits at Tesco, you can send a free pack to a friend

Win one of 30 tubes of Cath Kidston hand cream

Now available on Send Me a Sample : DKNY Be Delicious
Just say to Alexa or Google Assistant “Ask Send Me a Sample for DKNY Be Delicious”

If you buy a pack of New York Bakery bagels (in a special pack), you may win one of 41,000 bagel tins 

Win some Whole Earth peanut butter - 500 winners in total

Over on Facebook : We're always on the look out for beauty and skincare Instagram influencers to share their thoughts about the Udderly Smooth range!

Caboodle Firsts: Get one of 100 copies of new book Starve Acre by The Loney author Andrew Michael Hurley

Glowing skin is always in and we’ve teamed up with REN Clean Skincare to give away 500 50ml samples (that’s bigger than many full sized products) of their skincare bestseller “Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic”

Get some samples from Eloments Organic Vitamin Tea

Request samples of Boots StayDry bladder weakness protection

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 current giveaways :

Friday, 16 August 2019

Alaska diaries : Hatcher Pass

Waking up to a lovely, warm, sunny day (and with rain announced for the whole of the second week of our holiday, which - luckily - we managed to avoid!), we decided that it was the perfect weather for going out on a day of discovery. We decided to go and visit Hatcher Pass, which is pretty close to where we were staying, near to the towns of Wasilla and Palmer. It is a mountain pass that goes through the southwest part of the Talkeetna Mountains (you may remember our visit to Talkeetna that I blogged about here) and it is named after Robert Hatcher, a prospector and miner.

Our first stop was this beautiful view of the Little Su (or Little Susitna, for its full name) River, which is made of the water coming down from the Mint Glacier. In the top photo, it looks so calm and peaceful.

However, looking downstream, the river actually runs quite fast. Unbelievably (well, maybe not quite so unbelievably, this being Alaska !), we were the only people here enjoying the view.

Time to take some "look at how pretty it all is" selfies, then we headed back to the car to continue our trip.

My most overused word on the way up was "wow" ! It's all so natural, unspoilt and just plain beautiful. In fact, it's hard to know which which side of the car to look out of, as it's beautiful wherever you look !

It's a fairly good road up along Hatcher Pass - well, by Alaskan standards anyway ! The lower part is paved and open year round. From Independence Mine (see below) upwards, it's a gravel road and is only open during the summer months (roughly July to mid-September, depending on snow conditions). This sounded crazy to us, as it was T-shirt weather and this area of Alaska was just coming out of a heatwave, but I believe them ! 

I felt like we were in Austria, looking out across the Alps, rather than in Alaska. It's really beautiful.

Again, I couldn't decide which direction to face to get the best shot, so I just took loads of photos !

Our next stop was the last chance to use the restrooms (otherwise known as toilets) before heading further up the pass. This is the Independence Bowl parking area, where you can park if you want to go and visit the Independence Mine State Historic Park. There's gold in them there hills and, as well as visiting the buildings, you can also pan for gold yourselves. How cool is that?!

We weren't heading up to the mine today though so it was back to the car for us.

We soon arrived at the top and gazed out at the rivers running through the valleys. I was trying to imagine how this would all look covered in snow - probably just as it will be in a few short months.

Pierre was having more fun pretending to be a moose !

We watched a lone paraglider running and leaping off the hillside, then gliding back and forth across the sky in front of us.

There was a small lake here which was perfect for reflecting the clouds.

A great place for taking some family snaps.

And selfies for the kids. Now, I have nothing against selfies, but you miss out on all the surrounding view so I still prefer my picture above ! Just call me old-fashioned !

This was a great place for exploring. Pierre loved the little bridge over the rocks and we all spotted the little stream, beginning to wind its way down from the top of the mountain. This probably ends up flowing into the river we saw at the very beginning of our trip.

There were plenty of rocks to go scrambling over, looking for crystals, pretty rocks and - who knows? - maybe some gold? (Well, Pierre believed it and kept looking anyway !)

I wasn't lying about the crystals though ! I'm guessing this is quartz ?

This is another one of those areas that I'd love to see covered in snow. It wouldn't happen though, as this part of the route is closed during the (very long !) Alaskan winter.

It was lovely to see all the crystal clear water running down from the peaks - even after a good week or two of intense heatwave.

Time to head back up to the car, past the lake again.

You may have noticed some pink flowers in several of these photos - it's Rosebay Willowherb as we call it in England, or Fireweed as they call it in Alaska, and it is literally EVERYWHERE you look ! Sometimes, you look out of the car window and just see vast expanses of pink as far as you can see.

Time to start heading back down. Back to the views of green mountains and valleys, that really reminded me of my student days in Wales.

Coming down this side of the pass, the one word that sprang to mind was green. 

We made one last stop on the way down. We walked five minutes through some fir trees to take a final look at the river. Jim, who we were staying with, stayed in the car as he had a quick phone call to make. "Watch out for bears", he grinned, as we headed down to see the water. We all smiled back and strolled off happily, cameras in hand. When we got back to the car, he said "I wasn't joking by the way. This really IS bear country !" I faithfully declared that that was the last time we'd go exploring without him and his gun (which he always has on him, just in case he comes across a bear or a moose or something in a bad mood !)

Well, we didn't see any bears or moose on our whole trip in the wild (only in the zoo) but we DID spot an eagle flying up through the trees, which we still thought was pretty cool.

It's such a peaceful place - we only passed about two or three cars on our whole trip. A great place to just stop and breathe.

Driving back down to civilisation, we caught up with a huge lorry filled with water, spraying the dirt road all the way down. Jim told us that it was to keep the dust levels down. What a job - driving through the most fabulous scenery all day just spraying the roads with water. I have some serious career envy going on now !

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Book review : Stalker - Lisa Stone

With 4 x 10 hour flights awaiting us to transport us across the world to Alaska, I picked out several crime fiction books for me to read on the plane. Perfect, I thought. No interruptions, I thought. Then they turned all the lights out and we were in pitch black - boo ! Ah well, I did manage to work my way through one of my books in the airports, and I finished it off this week, once I'd finished unpacking.

The title, Stalker, gives you (or, at least, gave me) a pretty distinct idea of the type of person you'll be meeting inside : a secretive, probably kinky, possibly aggressive, type of guy (or girl) - definitely not someone I'd like to meet or hang out with. The central character, however, is nothing like that at all. Derek Flint is a 40-something, hard-working guy who lives with his mum and spend his evenings checking out the families for whom he has just installed CCTV cameras. While this is not exactly legal or morally correct behaviour, his heart is in the right place - he wants to keep them safe, sending a text or email message to get them to check their cameras if something looks a little off.

Things take a turn for the worse though. A series of crimes in the neighbourhood leads the police to Derek's door and his computer makes them think he is behind the attacks. It turns out that this is the least of Derek's problems though ...

It's an interesting book, full of suspense, that will leave you with a chill down your spine because it all sounds just too realistic. In fact, as the author points out at the very end, "This story could happen. It might already have." Eeeek !

star rating : 4.5/5

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Avon (14 Jun. 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780008236724
  • ISBN-13: 978-0008236724
  • ASIN: 0008236720
  • Product Dimensions: 2.8 x 12.7 x 19.6 cm

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Happy World Calligraphy Day ! #WorldCalligraphyDay #SaySomethingSpecial

Today is a very special day - it's my eldest daughter Sophie's 18th birthday ! Where on earth does the time go ?! Wishing you a very happy birthday Sophie ! But that is not all - today is also the third World Calligraphy Day. 

Celebrations are happening worldwide and calligraphers are getting their pens at the ready, to show some love for the event. Manuscript Pen Company sent us some lovely goodies so that we could join in and #SaySomethingSpecial. 

Like last year, Manuscript have partnered with Birmingham Children's Hospital to help #SaySomethingSpecial to children in the hospital's care. You could join in and even get your family involved - it's great to see different age groups saying something special. You can send your letters, drawings, illustrations or written notes to Say Something Special c/o Small Man Media, 2nd Floor, 6 Waterloo Road, Wolverhampton, WV1 4BL, where they will be distributed amongst patients, along with a selection of products from Manuscript’s new Lionheart range for the hospital to use for their art classes and play sessions. It's a lovely way to put a smile on someone's face when they're having a bad time in hospital.

There are other ways to get involved too. If you're a social media fan, why not create a piece of unique artwork and share it with @manuscriptpenco using the hashtags #WorldCalligraphyDay and #SaySomethingSpecial ? They can share it with calligraphy fans worldwide.You can also get involved by writing down your favourite word and sharing it with the hashtag #MyFavouriteWord. I'm sure there will be some strange ones in there !

Manuscript will also be running a selection of competitions for you to win some fantastic calligraphy bundles. Check out @manuscriptpenco on social media. They also have a selection of exclusive World Calligraphy Day craft projects that writers of all ages can get involved in. They can be downloaded from

Time to get writing !

Disclosure : I received some stationery in honour of World Calligraphy Day.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

July 2019 Picnic-themed Degustabox review

When we arrived back from our fabulous trip to Alaska, the postie had delivered the July Degustabox for us. Just as well really, as the cupboards were bare and the freezer and fridge had defrosted during a powercut - eeek ! So, what was waiting for us inside ?

Swiftly ripping open the packaging and pulling everything out, we soon discovered that this month's box had a summery Picnic theme. That said, the kids were keen to start nibbling on things even without the rest of the picnic ! So, here's what was in this month's box.

First up, Mister Free'd Vegan Tortilla Chips Beetroot with Onion (RRP £1.99) offer an original alternative to crisps. The crunchy, pink triangles have a deep, strong flavour that the kids weren't overly keen on, but they soon disappeared when I brought out a creamy dip to go with them ! They are high in fibre, packed with plant-based goodness, GMO and gluten-free and provide 114kcal per 25g. Available at Wholefoods Market, As Nature Intended, Planet Organic, WH Smith and local independents.

Frank's Red Hot Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce (RRP £1.50) is made with a premium blend of aged cayenne peppers that add a kick of heat and a whole lot of flavour to any BBQ or other meaty dish. Its great taste made it the secret ingredient in the original Buffalo wings created in Buffalo, NY, in 1964. I had a little taste on my tongue and it nearly blew my head off so use sparingly ! I haven't decided yet whether to pass this on to someone who loves spicy heat or keep it to add a small drop to various savoury recipes. It has great potential and a little goes a long way !

Rowntree's Randoms (RRP 2 x £1.29) were the first thing that the kids spotted in the box ! As the adverts say, 'Let your random side out' with every pack of completely unpredictable Rowntree's Randoms.  As well as the Randoms Sours (which deliver a tasty, zingy kick), we discovered new Randoms Squish'ems - squishy foam and fruity jelly all in one sweet. Both bags were greeted with squeals and moans of delight. Delicious !

Ravish Pineapple & Yuzu Salsa (RRP £1.50) is a great accompaniment to barbecues and meaty dishes. I went to investigate what exactly yuzu is and discovered that it's an East Asian fruit that resembles a small, wrinkly grapefruit. The salsa is sweet, tangy and decidedly tropical. Perfect for taming down heat or just adding a delicious topnote to anything that needs a little extra zing. Available at Tesco's and Waitrose. I was slightly dubious at the first mouthful but it's lovely - I'd definitely buy it again.

Ribena Frusion Blackcurrant Water Infused with Kiwi (RRP £2) was another great hit with the kids, and with the recent heatwave, it disappeared in double-quick time ! Naturally infused with real fruit and crafted botanicals, Frusion contains no sweeteners, is low in calories and rich in antioxidant vitamin C (which helps protect your cells from oxidative stress, whatever that may mean !). Above all, it tastes delicious - I'll be looking out for this one again too.

Deli Kitchen Greek Style Flatbreads (RRP £1.35) are the perfect way to offer a taste of the sun-soaked Mediterranean, even if you're staying at home this summer ! Fluffy, filling and easy to fold, they can be stuffed with anything you like - hot or cold, sweet or savoury ... the choice is yours ! We devoured them for lunch - I used up some leftover meat and salad from the day before while the kids opted for cheese and tomato or chocolate spread. Everyone declared them delicious ! Another one to add to the shopping list ! Available in Sainsbury's.

Ape Crunchy Coconut Bites with Sesame Seed (RRP £1.49) are a tasty snack that the kids really liked. The mini bites are made with a tasty combination of coconut and natural ingredients like cocoa and super seeds, then baked to create a delicious and unique snack with a satisfying crunch. They are gluten free, high in fibre, vegan friendly and have no added sugar. Perfect !

Monin Butterscotch Syrup (RRP £3) is a limited edition flavour, designed for adding to hot or iced coffee, but it can be used for so much more. The kids have been adding a small drizzle to vanilla ice cream, homemade smoothies and milk and I'll be finishing up what's left in some butterscotch cookies. It's a lovely rich flavour, great to experiment with. Available for a limited time in the hot beverages aisle of Sainsbury's.

Kallo Belgian Milk Chocolate Rice Cake Minis (RRP £1.99) were instantly grabbed from the box by Sophie, our resident rice cake fan ! They are the perfect blend of healthy (rice cakes) and naughty (chocolate), coming in at 104 calories per portion, which is very reasonable - barely worse than an apple ! Sophie polished off the lot and declared them delicious.

Simply Cook Piri Piri Chicken 3 Step Cooking Kit (RRP £2.50) allows you to cook a restaurant-quality meal at home in just 20 minutes. Just add the chef blended authentic flavour mix to your chosen fresh ingredients and bingo ! This is a great option for those who have very basic cooking skills or for anyone who comes home from work exhausted and wants a simple solution to creating tasty food. Discover the full range at and take note of the current offer: choose 4 recipes for just £1 (including free letter-box friendly delivery) with code DGYUM.

 A subscription to Degustabox costs £12.99 per month including delivery, with each box having a value of much more than that, but the great news is, I have a discount coupon code for you which means you'll get the first box for just £7.99 - enter code PKUFE at the checkout.

for more information :

Also now on Instagram @DegustaboxUK

Disclosure : We received the box in order to write an honest review. As a Degustabox blogger, I receive all of the products that go into the monthly boxes, but subscribers may not get exactly the same selection.

Monday, 12 August 2019

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 2019 week #33

Well, after last week's disaster with the mouldy, defrosted fridge and freezer, everything is now functional again. I cleaned everything out - yuck ! - and bleached it all to within an inch of its life, but there's still a nasty whiff of .... well, let's say rotten meat rather than death ! .... every time I open them. I'm hoping this will wear off soon ! So, what wonders will I be rustling up this week? 


lunch - chicken burgers in buns with fries and coleslaw

dinner - spaghetti bolognese


lunch - enchiladas

dinner - pork chops, rice & ratatouille


lunch - sausages, mash & beans

dinner - chicken casserole with potatoes


lunch - pasta with ham & cheese for the kids, pesto for me

dinner - leftover chicken casserole & potatoes


 lunch - cheese & veggie omelettes

dinner - pork or chicken stir fry with veggies & noodles


lunch - McDonald's or similar

dinner - sandwiches, salad or fridge clearout


lunch - spicy chicken with rice & green beans

dinner - cheese on toast

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


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