Thursday 31 October 2013

Get Crafty for Charity !

I'm always highly impressed by the crafty projects that most of you (I'm talking about the bloggers, I'm not a stalker !) seem to get up to with your kids, so this should appeal to you crafty types.

Cuticura are running a Crafty Confessions campaign over on their Facebook page. A new study shows that half of UK mums admit to being more enthusiastic about school arts & craft projects than their kids and  some even admit to staying up all night to finish a project, trying to bribe teachers and sabotage the competition in order to win first prize!

Lorraine Thomas, Chief Executive of The Parent Coaching Academy and author of ‘The Mummy Coach’ knows just how important it is to encourage kids to get crafting. She says:

“Children love getting their hands dirty and take to all kinds of art and craft activities with relish. They’re great for their development – getting hands around a crayon, grappling with a paintbrush and experimenting with colour and materials will expand their imagination and develop motor skills. It will boost confidence and concentration. All children are artists and they use all their senses. You’ll see them smelling, touching, seeing, squeezing. You’ll see them become increasingly imaginative, demonstrating creative problem-solving skills. Art is a very positive channel for your child’s energy and enthusiasm”

Cuticura are encouraging parents to get crafting with their kids – perfect timing with Halloween and half term upon us! If you post your crafty pictures and share your crafty confessions on Cuticura’s Facebook page, they’ll donate £1 to the Prince's Foundation For Children and The Arts.

I don't really have any Crafty Confessions to share. I do occasionally help the kids colour in their pictures for school when they get bored and don't want to finish them, and I did use to get my mum (who is a much better artist than me) to draw my pictures when I was at school, but I'm not at all competitive with the other mums and don't push the Madhouse kids to be the best. I like the idea of making a charity donation though so I'll head on over and share this picture of one of their craft projects.

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

"Dear Diary" Kids' Filofax Blogging Challenge

Maggi Roasted Honey & Mustard Chicken Seasoning review

Earlier in the week, I needed something quick for tea - Channa Daal was off the menu because I'd forgotten to soak the chickpeas overnight ! - so I had a rummage in the cupboards and came up with this sachet of Maggi Honey & Mustard Chicken that I'd thrown in the trolley while shopping at some point.

You just mix the contents of the sachet with some water then dip the fresh ingredients - chicken, potatoes and root vegetables - in the mixture before putting it all in the oven.

I first tossed in some raw carrots and onions. I decided to precook the potatoes in the microwave for 10 minutes to make sure they cooked through - there's nothing worse than half raw potatoes when you do a tray bake !

After putting the carrots and onions in the bottom of the roasting tin, I tossed the half-baked potato wedges and added those, then placed the coated chicken pieces on top. I drizzled any leftover mixture over the top.

45 minutes later, it came out looking beautifully golden brown with lovely melt-in-the-mouth roast vegetables.

Tastewise, everyone loved it, although we all agreed that we couldn't taste honey or mustard ! It's a mild, slightly sweet sauce that is perfect for a family friendly meal and great as a no-brainer when you need something quick midweek when you dash in from work.

According to the pack (which serves 4), each serving contains 517 calories, 13.3g sugars, 20.4g fat, (of which 5.1g saturates) and 1.6g salt. I'm hoping that includes the chicken and veg ! The full ingredients list is  Sugar, Modified Starch, Flavourings (contains Celery and Egg), Salt, Mustard Powder 8%, Onion Powder, Maltodextrin, Yeast Extract, Mustard Seeds 3%, Wheat Flour, Citric Acid, Sunflower Oil, Thickener: Guar Gum, Honey Powder 0.3%, Garlic Powder, Caramelised Sugar, Turmeric

star rating : 4/5

RRP : 85p for 65g

Other reviews you may be interested in :

My Birthday Cake : Nigella's Devil's Food Cake

iChild Saving Superstar Activities review

iChild recently got in touch and asked if the Madhouse Mini-testers would like to discover their website and the wide range of free downloadable educational activities that it offers. They particularly wanted us to have a look at their ‘Saving Superstar’ packs, which they have created in partnership with F&C Investments.
In a nutshell, they’re designed to help educate children about financial management in a way that’s appropriate to their age group and above all fun. The packs are suitable for children aged 0-5 (EYFS), 5-7 years (KS1) and 7-11 years (KS2). You can download all the resources from the website but for the purposes of the review, they sent us through some printed packs.

As you can see, there are a wide range of worksheets and activities to work through, all of which are brightly coloured with lots of photos of things that children will recognise from their daily lives, making them appealing because they will relate to their own experiences. This is the contents of one pack so there is plenty to keep kids of all ages occupied.

A variety of skills are called on - not just numeracy but also writing and drawing.

I love the way the activities are totally relevant to real life, giving life lessons that will be useful and important for saving money in the future. Here, for example, you need to compare the prices in different shops to see which one is the cheapest. Price comparison websites abound these days, so it's great for kids to learn about the logic behind them and acquire the skills themselves.

Similarly, making them think about the cheapest way to buy things, in multi-packs or individually, loose or prepackaged, using special in-store discounts and promotions, is another great skill. Even as a grown-up, it's sometimes easy to get sucked in by the big "unmissable offer" signs in supermarkets that, on closer inspection, work out more expensive than usual.

Older kids get to learn about debit and credit cards in a simple way, hopefully helping them to wise up about not getting into debt as soon as they're old enough to flash the plastic.

It's not all educational worksheets though - there is also a fun Home Budget board game.

There are also star sheets, reward charts and a certificate for completing the Saving Superstar programme which will help keep them motivated.

Younger children get to discover money, learning about the different coins and banknotes in circulation.

I remember doing "money maths" at primary school myself so I loved helping Pierre and Juliette do this worksheet !

There's fun as well as learning though, for example colouring in a piggy bank.

And again, there's a board game and reward charts and stickers which are guaranteed to put a smile on their faces !

I was very impressed at how complete the programme is, covering a wide variety of aspects that are really useful in real life. The activities made the kids think about things - for example, supermarket promotions - that they usually just took at face value. When we went shopping last time, Sophie was looking out for "fake deals" that look good until you work out the price per item !

Whether you're a parent, teacher or childminder, iChild is absolutely teeming with downloadable activity packs, covering anything and everything from Rememberance Day, autumn and anti-bullying to Guru Nanak and Chung Yeung. (No, I didn't know anything about the last two either !)

All resources are available for free from the website, although you can become a premium member for £79 a year.

Disclosure : I was given a Gold membership in return for an honest review.

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Book review : The Little Book of Monarchs - Tony Boullemier

I'm getting my thinking cap on for the Applewood Spreadable blogger challenge !

A couple of weeks ago, a cheeky little email landed in my inbox that made me smile - it made me get a big CHEESY grin actually ! It started : "I would like to invite you to take part in an Applewood Spreadable blogger challenge, to create your own family recipe using the cheese and a hamper full of delicious ingredients that we will provide. If you are interested in taking part, we would send you a hamper full of delicious ingredients to act as inspiration, as well as some Applewood Spreadable and a bottle of something tasty to help wash down your meal." What's not to like?!

It got even better when I saw the fabulous hamper that arrived - hmmm what will I be able to rustle up with this little lot?

I love the interesting combination of store cupboard basics and more unusual ingredients. I think I have an idea for lunch actually - that cute little pumpkin is begging to be used as it's Halloween today !

Watch this space to see the recipes that I come up with and let me know if you're taking part too - I'd love to see your creations.

Disclosure : I received the hamper in order to take part in the challenge.

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Madhouse recipe : Quick Midweek Moroccan Chicken

Book review : The Little Book of Monarchs - Tony Boullemier

The Little Book of Monarchs is the perfect history book for people who don't like history, or even books come to that ! The press release describes it as probably the most concise English history book ever but that doesn't do it justice. Author Tony Boullemier has taken all 42 rulers of England since 1066 and condensed each reign into 5 bullet points. As well as covering all the major battles, rebellions and bizarre deaths across ten turbulent centuries, each page dishes the dirt on the monarchs, revealing their strange foibles and the royal gossip of the time.

Each monarch also has a humorous cartoon accompanying his or her rapid rundown. My favourite is the cheeky one featuring our current Queen telling Prince Charles to keep his hands off her crown jewels and wait his turn ! As the press release says, it's history with a smile on its face, but it is nevertheless an educational read, covering a large part of English history and providing a chronology of the different monarchs' reigns.

I sat down and read it cover to cover (it only took half an hour), frequently smiling and saying "Did you know …?" to anyone in the surrounding area. Then I passed it on to 12-year-old Sophie who did exactly the same, so it certainly appeals to all generations.

Tony Boullemier apparently wrote The Little Book of Monarchs as a response to the falling standards of history in schools, which he feels focuses on specific periods without giving a proper overview. It is informative and accurate but it's above all enjoyable and fun.

Star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £7.99

  • Hardcover: 88 pages
  • Publisher: Matador (1 Oct 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1783060859
  • ISBN-13: 978-1783060856
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 13.4 x 1.4 cm

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

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Giveaway #337 : Win a pair of Skribbies customisable high tops - closing date 30/11

Who needs felt pens and a sketch book in their stocking when kids can get creative scribbling on their shoes? The perfect Christmas gift to get youngsters' style and imagination flowing, Skribbies customisable footwear can be drawn on over and over again thanks to their unique wipe clean surface.

These trendy high tops have a shiny white surface that enables children to alter the look of their shoes as often as they like. Simply draw-wipe-draw to create a different pair of shoes every day!

Inspire children to create their own unique designs using the magic ink pens and funky monster stickers included with each pair. They can express their own style from the moment they come out of the box.

In addition to the selection of magic ink pens and Skribbies monster stickers, each pair also comes with a pen holder wrist-band that doubles-up to provide a useful shoe ‘rubber’. 

Skribbies are available in a selection of colourways to suit boys and girls: Hot Pink and Red, Neon Yellow and Black and Bright Blue and Navy, in sizes ranging from UK Junior Size 10 to UK 3 (RRP £35.95).

Skribbies are the perfect Christmas gift, so give Santa a hand this year and make sure you have a pair under the tree!

Available online via or call 020 3287 2944

(You can read our review of Skribbies and see how Juliette customised hers here.)

To enter the competition to win a pair of Skribbies customisable high tops, simply enter your details on the form here and LIKE Skribbies on Facebook (

T & C's : Entries close at midnight on the closing date. Winners will be selected and notified by the PR company. Prizes will be sent out by the companies or their PR directly to winners.

Book review : A Ghost At The Door - Michael Dobbs

The front cover of A Ghost At The Door declares it to be "the electrifying new Harry Jones thriller". I haven't read any of the others but this didn't detract from the storyline as all of the necessary background information is given. It does sound as if there is a lot to learn about this colourful character in the previous episodes though - he is an ex-soldier, a disgraced politician, he owned and lost a fortune, he was at odds with his wealthy father ...

Ah yes, the father. Harry's father Johnnie, who died of a heart attack on a luxury yacht while cavorting with a young lady, leaving behind millions of pounds and as many secrets and unanswered questions for his young son to inherit. Harry doesn't know much about his rather enigmatic father, but the little that he does know was enough to fill him with contempt.

At the start of this novel, Harry looks all set to marry his girlfriend Gemma, but he needs to unravel the mystery of his origins before he can set out on this new life serenely. Having very little to go on, Harry uses an old photo of his father at Oxford University with the croquet club, the Aunt Emmas, to track down old friends and acquaintances. His suspicions are aroused when it transpires that several people from the photo have died in mysterious circumstances, but being deliberately run off a cliff while following a lead in Bermuda leaves no doubt at all - someone doesn't want Harry uncovering his father's secrets.

It's a fast-paced novel packed with exciting twists and turns, although I did work out the ending before I got there. Certain elements of the plot were slightly unbelievable, such as Harry coming out almost unscathed after driving off a cliff, girlfriend Jemma's reactions and the cheekily named Delicious Hope, the friendly Bermudan cop, but if you are willing to suspend belief, knowing that - like big screen Hollywoodian heroes - Harry will come out on top with barely a scratch even when the odds are stacked against him, it's an enjoyable read.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £18.99

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (12 Sep 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1471111512
  • ISBN-13: 978-1471111518
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.8 x 3.8 cm

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Book review : Wrongful Death - Lynda La Plante

Novi Stars Curl 'n' Coil doll review

Juliette is a huge Monster High fan and when we received a Novi Stars doll to review, she excitedly squealed "oooh she must be one of the Monster High dolls' friends" ! She has the same gothic, cute-but-slightly-scary look that is sure to appeal to all fans of Monster High/Bratzilla dolls.

If you look closely, it's not just a gothic, slightly zombified look though. She has a square body and a rather worrying bionic-looking leg too. I turned to the press release for clarification and it suddenly all made sense : "New cosmic-cool Novi Stars Curl ‘N’ Coil dolls are half Novi Star and half robot, with amazing hair that can be styled in tons of extra-terrestrial styles! The super galactic dolls are invading Earth to find out what their Novi Stars friends are getting up to."

The plastic spiral Curl 'n' Coil hair can be curled into an up-do by pulling on a piece of string and the doll comes with accessories to style and tie the hair in place. (We spent ages looking for a black string like on the box, before realising that it's the white strings that need to be pulled !)

It all looks a bit Terminator to me - "Hasta la vista baby, my curls'll be back !" - but Juliette had no qualms at all and took it all in her stride. I suppose it's no worse than Bratz dolls with pull-off feet or Monster High dolls with arms that drop off ! Maybe little girls playing with less humanised dolls is a good thing and they won't all compare themselves to Barbie with her impossibly skinny waist any more !

Juliette thinks she's really pretty anyway, which I have to say, once I got past the robotic bits, I agree with.

She also comes with a robotic pet, a cute Telepuppy which reminds me of Doctor Who's robotic pooch sidekick, K9.

Our dolly is called Roe Botik but she also has a friend called Tilly Vizon (who looks even scarier to me. I'm sure that cyborg eye would have given me nightmares as a kid !).

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £24.99

for more information:

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

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Madhouse recipe : Quick Midweek Moroccan Chicken

I've already shared a very similar recipe for slow cooker Moroccan chicken using chicken thighs, but earlier in the week, I needed something quick and tasty for lunch. Within 20 minutes, this was on the table.

Quick Midweek Moroccan Chicken

ingredients :

500g chicken breast
2 onions
1 clove garlic, crushed
salt & pepper
1/2 red pepper
1/2 green pepper
3 tbsp olives
3 preserved lemons, sliced
1 tsp ras el hanout spices
1 tin chopped tomatoes

Chop up the chicken breast into bite size pieces and fry in a little olive oil with the onions and garlic. Season with salt and pepper.

When the chicken is just cooked through, add the red and green peppers and olives. Continue cooking for a few minutes.

Add the spices, the tomatoes and the preserved lemons. Leave to simmer for 10 minutes and serve with couscous.

Tasty Tuesdays on

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Stretch your pennies with Tesco Clubcard's Christmas Boost campaign

I don't want to worry you but it's just 55 days until jolly old St Nick comes ho-ho-ho-ing down your chimney. While the kids are getting excited, you might be looking at your dwindling bank balance in dismay, thinking about all those presents, festive nibbles and bottles of plonk that you still need to buy. Luckily, Tesco are ready to give you a helping hand to make the budget stretch further by launching their Christmas Clubcard Boost campaign.

Basically, they'll double up the value of your Clubcard points either instore or online at You can exchange every £5 of your Clubcard vouchers into £10 of Boost tokens to spend at Tesco in selected departments. Exchange your vouchers until 20th Dec 2013 and use them by 31st Dec 2013 for the perfect gift or to get ready for the big day. The scheme works in ten departments : Hudl Tablet & Hudl Accessories, Clothing, Electricals, Baby & Toddler, Opticians, Phones & Accessories, Toys & Bikes, Skincare, Cosmetics & Fragrance, Finest Wine and Finest Champagne and Furniture, Home, Cook & Dine.

I decided to create a Clubcard Boost wish list, choosing products from the Boost categories on the Tesco website to see what I could spend my vouchers on and how much of my Christmas shopping I could do using the scheme.

The obvious place to start is the Toys department. I know Juliette would be absolutely over the moon to receive something from the Monster High range. This Monster High Ghouls Rule Draculaura Doll looks absolutely gorgeous. There's already 25% off selected Monster High products so the doll is on sale for £17.22, reduced from £22.97. Add in the Clubcard Boost and you're laughing all the way to the checkout.

For almost-teen Sophie, I could have stayed on the doll theme actually, having spotted that they have a gasp-inducing (if you're a fan !) collection of One Direction dolls ! However, I decided she would prefer this 1D inflatable floor cushion. It only costs £10 to begin with, so add in the Clubcard Boost and it's an absolute bargain.

Hmm what about Pierre? Well, now that our patio is all finished, I think he'd love a play house. We've been half-heartedly looking around but they're quite expensive so we're still unsure. Tesco have this little beauty - the Keter Holiday Playhouse - for £50, so by the time you've boosted your Clubcard vouchers, you could pick one up for £25. That's well within our Christmas budget.

Madhouse Daddy is always hard to buy for, but he likes gadgets and I think he could spend some quality time with Sophie, looking out for the different constellations in the sky, if I bought him this Discovery 50 MM Astronomical Telescope. It costs £30 so it's a steal with doubled-up Clubcard vouchers.

And for me? Oooh how about this rather fab state-of-the-art HoMedics Shiatsu Massager that would give me some much-needed me-time when I come home tired out from work and still have to get dinner on the table and supervise homework? I could never usually justify the £60 price tag but the Clubcard Christmas Boost would bring it well within our budget.

And finally, as a general gift for the whole family/house, I love the look of this Slob Chair - brilliant name ! Sophie has been wanting a bean bag for a while but this looks more comfortable and supportive. It has a £48.75 price tag but you know the drill by now - once it's Clubcard Boosted, it's a bargain.

I was actually really impressed with the number of items included in the scheme so it's definitely well worth a look when you start Christmas shopping.

Disclosure : Tesco kindly offered to send me one of the items on my Boost Wish List, in return for sharing it online with you.

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

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