Sunday, 31 December 2017

Happy New Year !

A big thank you to all of you who have read my blogposts, entered my competitions and left me lovely comments during 2017. 

Wishing you all a fabulous 2018.

Madhouse diaries : A Look Back at 2017

2017 is drawing to a close so it's time for the traditional look back over the past twelve months to remember what the Madhouse Family got up to.

January saw us going on several geocaching adventures - we started the year with our finds total in the 190s and finished at 226, which is not a huge amount but there are very few local ones still to find. I did create 17 caches of our own though, so it's been fun seeing everyone find those, even if it does take a lot of work repairing and replacing caches when they get trashed or stolen. 

February saw National Bagel Day which gave us a great excuse for some foodie fun and we set our first ever travelbugs free - the first one has travelled 6,402km and gone through Switzerland, Poland, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and Alsace and the second has clocked up 8,728km and passed through Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany before heading Stateside and continuing its journey in Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois. 

In March, I headed to Stavanger in Norway on a work trip and spent lots of time visiting partner schools, seeing how teachers there teach critical literacy and working on a common project for our school. (I'll be heading back there for another week straight after the Christmas holidays.) We managed to fit in a few adventures there, courtesy of our Norwegian hosts, including climbing a (small) mountain called Dalsnuten then having a barbecue in the snow (!) and discovering the history of the Bunad, the traditional Norwegian dress, in a local museum.

In April, we visited our local zoo with the Madhouse grandparents and got up very close to the bears (with just a pane of glass between us !). I shared some more of our Norwegian discoveries -  Hå Gamle Prestegard (an old vicarage and lighthouse) and the World War II bunkers and tunnels. Back home, we took advantage of an unseasonably warm day to go paddling in the sea and found a fabulous geocache full of plastic Kinder egg containers stuffed with treasures !

 May saw the creation of a fabulous unicorn-themed jewellery box using Gel-A-Peel and I took a trip down memory lane, recreating a retro-style school dinner fudge tart.

June brought an inflatable fun and gamers day, a vintage vehicle rally and the festival of the sea to town. We also managed to pack in a school day-trip to London, a walk along the beach which uncovered one of the wrecks of the Operation Dynamo boats that sunk during the evacuation of Dunkirk and a walk along the white cliffs and beach of the Cap Blanc Nez near Calais.

In July, we popped down to see the in-laws in Brittany and visited some local villages, Hanvec and Le Faou, took part in a Little Ships Urban Orienteering challenge around Dunkirk and had some family fun at the Sailing Tour de France village.

In August, we took the Tsum Tsums Channel-hopping with us, went to the Airbourne air show in Eastbourne, explored Meneham, the Breton village in the rocks and had an unforgettable experience with a wild dolphin in the harbour of Brest. We also had a fortnight in Fethiye in Turkey but I still haven't got round to blogging about it !

In September we visited an olde-worlde town called Locronan in Brittany (well, we actually visited in August but I didn't get around to blogging about it until September !) and created a giant geocache in Dunkirk to drop off some of our over-sized travelbugs.

In October, we had lots of Halloween fun, making gruesome witch's finger biscuits, visiting a spooked-up zoo and I blogged about our ride on the Téléphérique (cable car) in Brest which, amazingly, is part of the bus network !

November was a busy month at work but we started getting into the Christmas spirit, making Christmas tree cupcakes.

And December has been a festive whirlwind, with a trip to Bruges Christmas market where we saw the Sterrenstoet nativity parade, the magical Parade de Noël in Dunkirk, the Christmas decorations in Dunkirk  and lots more festive fun, including a free skating rink that the kids have been making the most of during the run up to Christmas !

Phew, I'm exhausted just looking back at the blogposts ! I wonder what new adventures this new year will bring - I already know we have a fortnight in Bulgaria planned in the summer and a week in Norway in January for work, but I'm sure there will be lots of fun closer to home too.

What were your 2017 highlights?

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Giveaway #664 : Win a 3-month subscription to Chewy Moon kids snacks (worth £30) - closed - winner Jo Hutchings

Last year - in fact, I've just checked the date and it was exactly a year ago to the day, which is quite spooky ! - I reviewed Chewy Moon, the subscription service for healthy, all-natural kids snacks by post, created by nutritionists and approved by kids. We loved the range of snacks, with both sweet and savoury options, and the cute and quirky packaging, but Chewy Moon have listened to customer feedback and improved their service even more.

Customers asked for more snackable portions and more practical packaging, as well as a reduction in prices, and unbelievably, Chewy Moon have delivered on all three points. By changing deliveries from weekly to fortnightly and reducing packaging and portion sizes slightly, they have reduced prices from £1 per snack to £0.50 and customers will get 25% more snacks for every pound spent now. The boxes start at £2.99 for 5 snacks, £4.99 for 10 snacks and £9.50 for sibling packs of 20 snacks, so that’s one snack every school day for a whole month for £9.98! Also, the snacks will now come in paper trays for the little ones to pick and eat from, and in new portion sizes that are perfect for the lunchbox (all whilst saving customers money). Last but not least, every box sold sponsors a hungry child‘s lunch so that’s a month’s lunch for a child in need if customers stay subscribed for a year.

We received a ten box pack, which came with a variety of activities - two collectible cards, a cartoon sheet, an educational card (about funny fungi) and a sticker book, for collecting the stickers that come in the snack boxes.

Here are the snacks that we received :

Safari Snack - Italian herb cashews, garlic mini bread chips, popped cheese

Strawberry Munch - Strawberry fruit strings, strawberry fruit stars, strawberry fruit hearts

Silly Vanilly - Vanilla Cookies

Jack 'n Berries - Flapjack, pure strawberry fruit hearts, cranberries, blueberries

Boogie Bites - Popped cheddar cheese, pesto breadsticks

Freaky Fruits - Blackcurrant drops, apricot sticks, cherry cubes, peach cubes, raspberry strips

Silly Circus - Animal shaped cookies

Tutti Frutti - Pure strawberry fruit hearts, mango, pure fruit raspberry strips, cranberries, cherry raisins

Crack A Beet - Organic beetroot crackers

Natures Cherry Cola - Natural cola flavoured raisins, cherry, cranberry

We loved all of them - in fact, the fruity strips and shapes were gobbled up as enthusiastically as sweets - and the packaging is perfect for school lunch boxes or after school snacks.

for more information :

Chewy Moon currently have a special Christmas offer on where you can get your 1st, 3rd and 5th boxes completely FREE. Just use code AEP4LUV. Even better news, they have kindly offered to give away a 3-month subscription to one lucky Madhouse Family Reviews reader. Fill in your entries in the Rafflecopter widget below.

UK only. Closing date : 14/1/18

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 ! Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. The winners' personal contact information will be passed on to the PR / Brand responsible and used only for delivery of their prize. 

You may also like to enter my other giveaways :

Giveaway #663 : University Games Word Has It - closing date 8/1

Friday, 29 December 2017

December 2017 Degustabox review

The final Degustabox of the year has arrived and it contains lots of things that are perfect for New Year's Eve nibbles and healthy foodie options for the semi-obligatory January diet !

As usual, it's a lovely mix of unknown products from well-known brands and total wild cards - brands that we'd never heard of and would never have bought but that we frequently end up buying again.

Without further ado, here's the contents of this month's box :

Everybody knows the Robinsons brand but I wasn't aware of the Robinsons Fruit Creations drinks (RRP £1.99), which contain twice the fruit for juicier and fruitier creations. We got peach & raspberry which is a refreshing, pleasant-tasting drink with distant echoes of the summer months. This was a big hit with the kids and I'm sure we'll be buying it again.

San Miguel 0.0% (RRP £3) is an alcohol-free version of the well-known beer, perfect for designated drivers on New Year's Eve or those who just don't want the hangover. Malty notes of barley offer a subtle roasted flavour and balanced bitterness to deliver a refreshing drink with all the taste but none of the alcohol.

Coldpress Valencian Orange Juice (RRP £1.50) is a delicious fresh-tasting juice made using only coldpressure HPP (High Pressure Processing) to keep the vitamins and nutrients in. It's pricey but it's a lovely, high quality juice.

Sleep Well (RRP £1.75) is a totally unique product - a vanilla drink that combines Jersey milk, honey and valerian, a herb that's been helping people relax and sleep for 2000 years. It can be drunk hot or cold thirty minutes before you want to sleep.

On to the snack options, the fabulously named Taking The Pea (RRP £1.50) is the UK's first Great Taste Award winning grab and go range of savoury pea snacks. They contain more protein than crisps and less fat than nuts, making them a healthy snack option. We got the smoked ham flavour which are very tasty.

Popchips Galactic Puffs (RRP £1.99) are the perfect snack for Star Wars fans of all ages, with air-popped (not baked or fried), light and airy snacks in fun shapes, including (if you're lucky) a special secret shape. We got barbeque flavour which were a big hit with all the family.

We discovered some Planters snacks in the last Degustabox and they're back in this month's, with Planters Nut-rition (2 x £1.29), in both a Protein Mix and an Energy Mix. Lovely fresh tasting nuts and dried fruit, perfect for snacking at home or popping in lunch boxes.

Another healthy snack option, Ryvita Lightly Salted Rye Cakes (RRP £1.39) can be topped with a variety of sweet or savoury toppings or just eaten straight from the pack. They are naturally high in fibre and low in fat. I'm not a huge fan but Sophie likes them, topped with cream cheese.

Lift Matcha Instant Green Tea (RRP £4.99) contains 15 stick-sachets that offer a simple way of creating a nutrient rich drink just by adding hot or cold water. It's made with  a blend of South Indian Instant Green Tea and Japanese Matcha. When you drink Lift’s Instant Matcha Green tea, you digest the whole green tea leaf, unlike you would with traditionally brewed leaf tea. Being a powder, in convenient single serve sachets, you can easily add to a shake, to baking recipes, or simply just make an uplifting cup of tea. I have a recipe for Matcha & White Chocolate Muffins that you might like to try.

Mary Berry isn't just the Queen of Baking, she also has a range of foods available, including this Mary Berry's Lemon & Mustard Seed Vinaigrette (RRP £2.99). Its zesty flavour is very versatile and works with everything from green salad leaves to salmon or poultry (leftover turkey anyone ?!)

This month's Product of the Month is Willies Cacao Black Pearls (RRP £6.59), pearls of single estate chocolate containing cascades of molten caramel. We got Sea Salt Caramel in fruity 70 Chulucanas chocolate, but there is also luscious Passion Fruit Caramel in Rio Caribe 44 Milk Chocolate. Very tasty, very indulgent and we loved the old-fashioned looking maps explaining the heritage of the chocolate that came with it.

Finally, Candy Kittens Sour Watermelon Gourmet Sweets (£3) are a product that we discovered and totally loved in a previous Degustabox. Deliciously fruity, tangy and chewy, they're quite pricey but they are gourmet sweets that use the best quality ingredients, as well as being gluten-free.

We used them to decorate some funky green Pandan cupcakes last time (there's a theme of green cupcakes going on in this blogpost !) but this time, they just got scoffed ... very quickly !

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 gives you a whopping £7 off the price of your first box, so you'll get it for just £5.99 - just enter code 0BS6T 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.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

My goodreads 2017 challenge - in by the skin of my teeth !

Every year for the past few years, I've signed up to the goodreads challenge and set a target of reading 52 books - that's a book a week for the whole year ! I finished my final book this week, which is lower than usual but still on target. If you want to catch up with what I've been reading this year and maybe compare notes, here's the list. (Click on the title for the review.) I'd love to hear if you've read any of the same books and what you thought, either directly in the comments or linking through to your reviews.













Hotel On Shadow Lake - Daniella Tully (review to follow in February for a blogtour)

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Giveaway #663 : University Games Word Has It - closed - winner Jackie Curran

Ready for a new board game for the new year? Challenge the wordsmiths in the family to this race at great speed... forget  the classic Scrabble and the attempt to get the longest or highest-scoring word. In this new word game from University Games, the tallest word is what you need !

Turn over the category card, spin the spinner and scramble to build the tallest word using the three sided counters, whilst the electronic timer is getting faster and faster…… Time is up, discover which Word Has It!

This is a great way of practising literary and spelling skills and helping the kids learn new words, and it can get quite competitive too for the older players ! Great fun for all the family.

Ages 7+. For 2 - 4 players. RRP: £19.99 available from Amazon

I have a copy of the game to give away to a lucky Madhouse Family Reviews reader. Fill in your entries in the Rafflecopter widget below.

UK only. Closing date : 8/1/18

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 ! Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. The winners' personal contact information will be passed on to the PR / Brand responsible and used only for delivery of their prize. 

You may also like to enter my other giveaways :

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

BABY Secrets - the new collectible to spend your Christmas money on ! (review)

Before the kids have had a chance to decide what to spend their (not very) hard-earned Christmas money on, there's a new cute collectible hitting the shelves : Baby Secrets. If your kids love LOL Surprise, which was tipped as one of the biggest sellers this Christmas, they'll love Baby Secrets too.

We received some of the BABY Secrets Single Packs, which are the perfect way to start your collection. Each one comes with one baby, one bath tub, a birth certificate and a collector’s guide.

The bath tub is great for playing with your new baby but it also reveals the secret part of the name - the nappy changes colour in water so you'll find out the sex of your baby !

As with all successful collectibles, each character has a unique personality and accessories. From painter baby complete with a paintbrush, to party baby with a sash and a party hat, they each come ready to share their own secrets. Discover the cutest and cheekiest babies in town – who will be your favourite?

There are 50 babies to collect so far, but I'm sure there will be further series released in the future. With a £2.99 price tag, they're perfect as pocket money toys once all the Christmas money has been spent.

The birth certificates remind me of Cabbage Patch Dolls, which were hugely popular when I was a kid back in the eighties.

As well as the single packs, there are four BABY Secrets Activity Packs to add to your collection: Pram Pack, Bassinet Pack, High Chair Pack and Rocking Horse Pack. The packs come complete with two exclusive babies, one surprise baby, a bath tub, three birth certificates, a collector’s guide and either a high chair, rocking horse, pram or bassinet. 

BABY Secrets is available from The Entertainer, Smyths, Argos and Toymaster.

To find out more, visit the BABY Secrets HQ:
PopJam channel: @BABYSecrets

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

Monday, 25 December 2017

Madhouse diaries : More festive fun !

We only broke up on Friday so we haven't had that much time for festive fun this year, but looking back through my photos, we've still managed to fit in a few trips out, starting off with our own local Christmas market here in Dunkirk. It's quite small but it's nice and Christmassy, with scents of toasted chestnuts, mulled wine and chocolate and cream laden waffles competing with those of the stinky cheeses and cured sausages sold by local producers ! The kids opted for a beignet, which is like a big doughnut that you slice open and fill with your choice of apple sauce, Nutella or strawberry jam. Sophie couldn't decide so the stall-owner gave her one half smeared in Nutella and the other in apple sauce !

We also headed to Bruges, which is about an hour away, for their fabulous Christmas market. It was a suitably cold day and as the twilight started drawing in, we could see all the fairy lights festooning the iconic buildings.

Whether small restaurants or big historic monuments, they all go to town and get into the festive spirit. We were particularly lucky to stumble across the Christmas Nativity Parade, the Sterrenstoet.

Bruges is atmospheric at any time of the year, with its canals and bridges reminiscent of Venice, but the Christmas lights really set it off.

 Back in Dunkirk, the kids have certainly been making the most of the free ice skating rink installed in the town centre, around the statue of Jean Bart.

 They spent about an hour skating around (or being pushed around for Pierre, who felt just too wobbly on his skates!) and Sophie has called in with her friends on the way home from school most nights this week too.

 Sometimes we go out looking for adventures and sometimes the adventures come to us ! Father Christmas and chums arrived on the little town square just around the corner from where we live, so we popped across to join in the fun and make the most of the free hot chocolate, apple juice and sweets on offer ! Look out Father Christmas, it's behind you !

We couldn't help giggling at the jugglers because they needed more practice and kept smacking themselves or each other in the head with their clubs !

There was music and laughter, courtesy of a brass band dressed up as magicians.

 And Mrs Claus busted her magic moves while Santa handed out sweets.

 As darkness fell, he abseiled down the clock tower. I didn't film it this year but here's my video from a couple of years ago.

So this is how he gets down the chimneys !

Just time for one more Christmas market, in Brest.

Despite being in Brittany, Sophie tucked into a bretzel from Alsace.

Happy Christmas everyone !

Country Kids
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