Monday 30 November 2015

Inspirational Personalised Stocking Stuffers from Snapfish (review)

If you're pulling your hair out trying to think of Christmas present and stocking filler ideas, I have some great news for you - Snapfish has put his Santa hat on and come up with some great ideas that you can buy from the comfort of your own home, without braving the bitter wintry wind or the manic crowds in the shops.

With three kids to buy for, I always think the contents of the Christmas stockings end up costing more and certainly using more brain power than the main Christmas presents. It's easier to buy things in triplicate but with kids aged 6, 10 and 14, finding things that appeal to all three is usually problematic. I thought I knew exactly what to expect when Snapfish asked me to check out their stocking filler ideas but I was pleasantly surprised by the wide range of gift ideas on offer.

There's nothing wrong with the classic ideas like photo books and mugs, but they're not really very original. You could make them a bit more exciting by making a photobook using a mixture of personal photos, celeb/cute pictures and inspirational quotes that the recipient has liked on facebook or pinterest, or order a photo mug and fill it with chocolates, kitchen utensils or pens and pencils, depending on their tastes, but how about getting something truly unique like a photo ornament for the Christmas tree?

I scrolled through for some more ideas on the Snapfish website and saw phone cases, coasters and teddy bears with a personalised photo T-shirt. That could be a lovely gift for a child or a romantic gift for a girlfriend or even newlyweds if you use a picture of the happy, smiling couple.

Other ideas were posters, keyrings, jigsaw puzzles and notebooks.

Snapfish gave me some credit to get creative with and see what I could come up with and I started off by creating an album with some favourite photos featuring all of the Madhouse gang. As you can see above, some of the photos have a little warning triangle next to them - this is Snapfish telling you that the quality may not be great if you use these ones. There's nothing stopping you but you've been warned, which is a handy feature.

After selecting your photos, you can crop them, recentre them or zoom in or out. It's all very simple and painless, even if you're technologically challenged. I decided to make some placemats using these photos, each one featuring a different member of the Madhouse family. I love the way they all represent special holiday memories or family fun moments which will make us smile every time we sit down for dinner. They cost £8.99 for an individual placemat, £14.99 for 2 or £24.99 for a set of six.

I also decided to order a notebook (£5.99) for each child, personalised with a photo of the recipient and their name. You can also add a special message inside, choose the colour and theme of the front cover and choose between plain or lined pages.

I also decided to create some fun personalised stickers for each of the kids, which can be used to decorate their rooms and also keep track of their belongings at school. As well as choosing the photo, you can select the background colour and design, as well as add text. They're great value, costing just £2.49 for 24 stickers. 

I'll be back to add photos of the finished items once they've arrived, but I wanted to let you know about a "50% off everything sale" with code SALE1115 until tomorrow. Don't miss out !

Disclosure : I received some credit to create some personalised stocking stuffers.

Forget Christmas jumpers and check out the festive Selfie Clothing range ! (review)

I'm sure you've all heard about the Elf on the Shelf but what about Elfie Selfies? The name already had me smiling but when I clicked through to find out more, I instantly fell in love with the range of cute personalisable festive kids' T-shirts available from Selfie Clothing.

It's not just elves though - there are twelve different Christmas T-shirt designs available, including snowmen, reindeer and even a Mini-Claus.

You just need to find a close up photo of your child looking straight ahead, send it off and let them work their magic. 

Your totally unique shirt will be handmade in the UK and delivered within three days. Even Santa would be impressed !

Selfie Clothing was born from a love of fashion and an appreciation for the global selfie phenomenon. John Treby, owner of Selfie Clothing Co, said: “My boys love Christmas and always enjoy dressing up as part of the festive celebrations. Rather than spend money on badly made Christmas-themed clobber that never fits properly and gets quickly abandoned, we wanted to give people the option to create something unique that could be enjoyed in the run up to Christmas, or as a unique gift on the day itself.” I think it's a great idea !

All of the T-shirts are available in four sizes, catering for children aged 2-8. They are made from a lightweight jersey blend with long sleeves and a round neck and they're lovely quality.

Here's the one I ordered for Pierre and I can't wait to see his face when he discovers it - many families give their children a new pair of pyjamas at Christmas so this would make a lovely alternative. 

The T-shirts cost £15 but you can get 20% off if you use code madhouse20 at the checkout.

for more information :

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

Sunday 29 November 2015

The Christmas Degustabox has arrived ! (review)

I couldn't help but smile when I saw the Christmas card enclosed in this month's Degustabox, featuring all the team grinning away in their Santa hats. It really is starting to look a LOT like Christmas ! Excuse me while I repress a squeal of excitement !

So this month's box is, unsurprisingly, labelled as the festive box. What Christmassy delights and indulgent treats would be nestling inside?

I always love the first peek when we open the box - there's always something that gets a gasp of appreciation from the kids (the popcorn in this month's box) and it's like Christmas every month, trying to work out what's hiding beneath the protective bubble wrap !

After going through and unpacking everything, here's what we had :

Butterkist Discoveries Salted Caramel Popcorn & Butterkist Sweet & Salted Popcorn (£1.49 & £0.55) - We started off with the Sweet and Salted Popcorn and loved it despite being slightly unsure to begin with. The Salted Caramel Popcorn is even more delicious and moreish though - like a cross between toffee popcorn and the sweet & salted. Perfect for nibbling on in front of a festive movie.

Ryvita Thins Cheddar & Cracked Black Pepper (£1.89) - The box says that they're perfect for sharing but they're also perfect for dipping and they go with everything, from tomato salsa and guacamole to baked camembert and chutney. Perfect for sharing in front of the telly in place of a bag of crisps or biscuits.

Ryvita Green & Black Olive Crackers (£1.29) - I've tried lots of Ryvita products in the past but I'd yet to try their crackers. They're lovey and crispy and crunchy and the olive flavour perfectly complements Mediterranean-style toppings such as sun dried tomatoes, grilled red peppers and feta. Maybe Santa would like some of these to be left out in place of the traditional mince pie this year?!

Belvita Red Berries Soft Bakes (£2.79) - We got the red berries ones but they are also available in Golden Grain or Chocolate Chips varieties.  As their name sugggests, they are softer than regular breakfast biscuits with a moister, chewier, more cake like texture that got a unanimous thumbs-up at The Madhouse. Great for breakfast on-the-go or snacktime at any time of day. They are made with five wholegrains, are rich in cereals and fibre and contain vitamin B6, iron and magnesium.

Nim's Mango & Pineapple Fruit Crisps (£0.99) - High in fibre and vitamin C, fab fruity taste, count towards your 5-a-day, lower in fat and calories than sweets or crisps ... What's not to like? The kids wolfed these down and declared them delicious.

Bourne & Wallis Baby Beetroot (£1.40) - I love pickled beetroot but I rarely buy the whole baby beetroot - they're great in salads though so would be perfect alongside the turkey leftovers on Boxing day !

Teisseire Vanilla & Caramel Gourmet Drops (2 x £2.79) - Teisseire is a well-known French brand that we are very familiar with - we love the wide range of cordials that are available in France, with anything from grapefruit and mint to peach and kiwi flavours. I'd never heard of or seen their Gourmet Drops though, nor the unusual flavours of caramel and vanilla. They can be used in hot or cold drinks or even alcohol to create interesting cocktails, hot chocolates or milkshakes. The kids love the tiny concentrated squeezy bottles that are easier to handle than big bottles. They're also lighter when you're lugging around the shopping and take up less space in the kitchen cupboards. Win-win !

Divine Dark Chocolate With Raspberries (£1) - I'm not usually a huge fan of dark chocolate because I find it too bitter and harsh, but the addition of raspberries takes the edge off, giving it a sweeter, mellower flavour. The Fairtrade credentials of Divine make it taste even sweeter as you know it's doing good in the world, helping out the smallhold farmers who provide the cocoa.

Hartleys Black Cherry Jelly & Strawberry Glitter Jelly (£1.29) - The Madhouse Kids love jelly so we always have a few packs in the cupboard, but we'd never tried the glitter ones - needless to say, the kids were over the moon ! I've used moulds to make the jelly into interesting shapes before but I found some really exciting recipes to try out on the Hartleys website, including layered jelly, orange jelly slices and pinwheels. Lots of fun to be had trying those out !

Branston Orchard Fruit Chutney (£1.49) - I love chutney - in sandwiches with ham and cheese, mixed in with melted cheese in toasted sandwiches, on the side of the plate at mealtimes, ... There aren't many savoury dishes that can't be improved with a dollop of chutney on the side, and that's especially true when using up the leftover turkey after Christmas ! This blend of Bramley apples, sultanas, orange zest and spices has a particularly festive flavour that would jazz up turkey salads and sandwiches and could even be mixed into turkey pies or pasties too.

Rekorderlig Dry Apple Cider (£1.49) - If you like wines and ciders that aren't overly sweet, you'll love it. It has a crisp, slightly sharp flavour that I found really refreshing. Make sure you drink it nicely chilled

This month's DB Discoveries products : Food Thoughts Organic Fairtrade 100% Cocoa Powder (£2.35) - it's unsweetened, contains no added sugar, is gluten-free and promises beter baking. I think I may have to use this for rolling chocolate truffles in in the run up to Christmas - I've already used it in these tahini truffles, which were rather nice.

Jim Jams No Added Sugar Hazelnut Chocolate Spread - The Madhouse kids (like most kids !) are huge Nutella fans, so I wasn't sure what they'd think of a no added-sugar variety. They loved it and said it had a chocolatier, nuttier flavour - bonus !

Holy Lama Mulled wine spice drops - These were a gift in this month's box and if you fancy trying them yourselves, use the code "Degustabox" at for 15% off. Great in drinks but I'm also wondering what else I can use them in - cupcake icing? fruit pies? jelly?

And an extra gift in this month's box - Baileys - Enough said, yum ! This is my favourite Christmas tipple - it's creamy and indulgent with a little warming kick as it trickles down your throat. Perfect for supping by the fireside waiting for Santa to come !

This month's recipe suggestion was for Black Forest Trifle, using the black cherry jelly - nice idea !

There is also another recipe for Butterkist Salted Caramel Pizza which sounds very strange but could be worth a try !

And another one for Orchard Fruit Chutney & Walnut Scones, which definitely needs testing.

I was over the moon with this month's box, both for the products (there's nothing we don't like or won't use) and also the recipe cards. It's always great to have ideas to use up the odds and ends of jars that clutter up the cupboards and the fridge.

A subscription to Degustabox costs £12.99 per month including delivery, with each box having a value of much more than that (£23.60 this month, not counting the gifts), but the great news is, I have a discount coupon code for you which gives you a whopping £6 off the price of your box - just enter code BLDEG15 at the checkout.

for more information :

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

Sunday weigh-in : I Believe I Can Fly !

Last week, I said I'd made the decision to dust off the SlimPod. If you don't know what a SlimPod is, it's a 10-minute mp3 that works, like hypnotherapy, to retune your brain to subconsciously make healthy decisions that wil help you lose weight - yes, I know, it sounds like a load of old mumbo jumbo but it's been clinically proven to work in trials and, even if I still don't understand how, it genuinely does work. I also mentioned that I didn't know why I'd stopped listening to it. Well, this week has reminded me - every time I try to play the mp3 on my computer, it wants to go through HP Connected Music which takes 20 minutes of hard work and frustration to get it to play. This week, my computer totally crashed and I had to do a restore which, although a total pain, deleted some of the files that were causing a problem - the SlimPod now works first time every time - yay !

I've instantly seen the first changes that show the SlimPod is working its magic - I imediately went off Diet Coke and started drinking water instead (because I wanted to, while thinking to myself that it was strange !). I've also been craving stir fried veggies and soup. My mindset has switched from "will I lose weight this week?" to "how much weight will I lose this week?" Subtle changes but every day, there's been something that made me do a double take and think "hmmm what's that all about?, that's the SlimPod making me do that !"

So last week I weighed in at 89.2kg. This week it's 88.6kg - another loss, which is great ... although the real kicker is that yesterday it was 88kg (and I even saw 87.9kg flash up on the screen as it was settling down to the final weight). Oh well, that'll be for next week - and given the time of the month, it's probably just water retention anyway.

Positives of the week

- After such a long time stuck on a plateau, two consecutive losses is great news !

- The SlimPod is definitely having its first effects - drinking water instead of Diet Coke, wanting fruit, stir fried veg and soup, ...

- My jeans are definitely feeling looser already

- Last week's badges - 5kg lost, 51lb to go, 10lb lost - this week 5kg lost, 50lb to go, 11lb lost ... I was sure I was going to cross off the next mini target (get my "weight to lose" badge down into the 40's) but never mind, that'll be for next week :)

Current targets 

Last week's target : Don't focus on the numbers, just listen to the SlimPod and come what may ! (DONE !) 

This week's targets : Keep listening to the SlimPod. Hit the next mini target - get my "weight to lose" badge down into the 40's.

Short-term targets 

(1) get back into the 80's
(2) get my "lbs lost" back into double figures
(3)  get my "weight to lose" badge down into the 40's
 (4)  get back to 87kg, my pre-holiday weight   
(5) get my "kg lost" badge back into double figures 
(6) get my "weight loss" badge higher than my "still to go" badge
(7) get back into my (smallest) bright blue jeans comfortably
(8) get back to 77kg - my lowest weight since my pregnancies

Longer-term targets :  Hit my target weight of 70kg.

START WEIGHT :93.7kg (BMI 34.8)
WEIGHT LAST WEEK  : 89.2kg (BMI 33.2)
WEIGHT TODAY : 88.6kg (BMI 32.9)
STILL TO GO : 18.6kg

Feel free to add your weightloss posts to my weekly linkie - it's great to see how everyone else has been getting on and give each other support and encouragement. You can even grab the linkie code and add it to your own blog if you like. :)

Created by MyFitnessPal - Free Calorie Counter

 MyFitnessPal - Nutrition Facts For Foods

Saturday 28 November 2015

Hornby My First Scalextric review

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

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

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

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

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

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £34.99

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 27 November 2015

Madhouse recipe : 10 Minute Spicy Veggie Soup

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

10 Minute Spicy Veggie Soup

ingredients :

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

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

Barleycup review

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

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

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

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

for more information :

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