Monday 31 December 2018

Madhouse diaries : A Look Back at 2018

So here we are, at the end of 2018, looking ahead to 2019 and wondering what will be going on in the next twelve months. Well, the main thing is, we made it - phew ! I've been completely offline for the last week or so, as I've been catching up with the family and just recharging my batteries. 2018 could be summed up in just one event, when Madhouse Daddy passed away in March, completely suddenly and unexpectedly. Next year will be another shock to the system as Sophie is moving across the Channel and going to college in Hastings. Our family unit is shrinking rapidly !

So, what did we get up to this year?

In January, I went to Norway on a work trip and, in between numerous school visits and conferences, we got to check out the mountainous region of Gjesdal municipality, visited a tiny church and beaches in Jaeren and discovered Stavanger in the snow. We walked along Hafrsfjord, saw the Swords in the Stone and even got to eat Norwegian waffles.

In February, we caught up with lots of reviews, trying out My Fairy Garden Unicorn Garden, L.O.L. Surprise Confetti Pop and Glam Goo, much to the kids' delight.

In March, we made our own Easter eggs and had some frosty half-term fun. Things took an unexpected turn for the worse when Madhouse Daddy passed away, after having a heart attack.

April saw Pierre and Juliette testing various recipes for edible slime and all of us trying to come to terms with life without Madhouse Daddy We made Poutine-style Chicken & Potatoes, Lamb Tagine and Slow Cooker Beef Maffé.

In May, we set out to enjoy the warmer weather, gardening and going skateboarding, and I made some delicious Cinnamon Roll Apple Tarts. We had fun with Nail-a-Peel 3d Nail Technology and tried Sweet Potato, Black Bean & Barbacoa Beef Burritos.

June was the month of school trips, including a day trip to London where I checked out Covent Garden in Bloom. We grew crystals and dug for gemstones in some National Geographic Science Kits and made Blueberry & Coconut Crumble Squares.

In July, we had lots of fun, going to Plopsaland theme park in Belgium on the train for Pierre's birthday and beating the heat with Bunch o' Balloons. We also got closer to nature with some My Living World Kits, with Pierre trying the Pocket Microscope, Triop World and Ant World.

In August, Pierre got to review a brand new scooter, had fun with Zuru's new X-shot blasters and we had a trip to see the grandparents in Hastings, checking out the wildlife at the park, the Old Town and North's Seat.

September gave us the last chance for making memories before going back to school, so we enjoyed a windy walk on Hastings Pier and had a day out on the buses, visiting Battle and Bexhill.

October saw us celebrating Halloween, going trick or treating and reviewing Feisty Pets soft toys. We also went back to Hastings, visiting Hastings Museum and Summerfields Wood. We scoffed Lancashire Hotpot, Pineapple & Coconut Dream Cake and Fruity Oat Crumble.

November was a quiet month on the blog because we had no internet access for two weeks - aggghhh ! It gave me a chance to catch up on some of my reading though, so there were lots of book reviews and we munched on some Peanut Butter Cookies.

And finally, December was all about family, catching up with relatives on both sides of the Channel. We had lots of fun with festive reviews, including the What's That Smell? party game, some festive picture books, a cracking festive puzzle from Ravensburger and the Very Merry Christmas Game.

So, what will 2019 bring? Well, I don't know really ! I'm still working on the paperwork to finally get Madhouse Daddy's life insurance from work to pay out (nine months on so hopefully it'll be sorted soon) but we're doing OK anyway. Sophie has her final exams at school in June (fingers crossed !) and is applying to go to college in Hastings after the summer. We have plans to go to Alaska during the summer but before I can book the flights, I have to renew our passports. I did finally get my French nationality through, so whatever happens with Brexit, we'll be OK. And apart from that, I don't really know. My main goal, as usual, is to make sure the Madhouse kids have smiles on their faces as often as possible !

Here's to 2019 being a great year for us all ! :)

Sunday 23 December 2018

Book review : The Mistletoe Haunting : Legend of Minster Lovell - David Slattery-Christy

The Mistletoe Haunting : Legend of Minster Lovell tells the sad story of Lady Ellen Forsyth, a young woman who is set to marry her sweetheart, Lord Lovell, on Christmas Eve. Ellen is a kind but ultimately naive young woman, unaware of all the emotional undercurrents going on around her in her family home : the jealousy of her elder sister Charlotte, who has not found a husband, and also the secret homosexuality of her husband-to-be, Lovell, who is secretly seeing his best friend (and best man at the wedding), the Russian Count Nicholai.

The run up to the wedding is charmingly related, with a real Downton Abbey feel about it. The servants are constantly rushing around, seeing to the intricate details around the country home and making sure that the guests are at ease. Lady Ellen is in the midst of things, with dress fittings and mistletoe parades up to the house, but she is largely unconcerned by all the practicalities and problems.

After the wedding ceremony, the younger guests all scuttle off for the charming tradition of a game of hide and seek. I have no idea if this was a genuine wedding tradition, but it is rather integral to the plot ! Charlotte has gone out of her way to spoil her younger sister's chance at happiness and leads her rather guileless little sister to her doom.

Alternate chapters bring us up to the modern day, with the reincarnations of Lovell, Charlotte and Nicholai continuing to see each other and, ultimately, continue the toxic relationships they had a hundred years ago. Ellen, who tells the story, is there as a ghostly presence, unaware of what went on all those years ago, but a seance by the descendants of some of her servants will ultimately reveal all to her and allow her to be free.

It's a charming ghost story, with lots of echoes of Christmas past which make it the perfect festive reading. The introduction explains that the story is actually medieval, much older than the Victorian setting it is given in the book, but I think this works very well. It's a short read, perfect for enjoying in the run up to Christmas.

star rating : 4/5

RRP :  £9.99

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Cosmic Egg Books (26 Feb. 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1785351672
  • ISBN-13: 978-1785351679

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

Saturday 22 December 2018

Fab freebies of the week 22/12

That's it - we're on holiday at last, yippee ! Time to chill out, catch up with the family and eat ten tonnes of turkey !! Have a lovely Christmas, whatever you get up to, and here's the second-to-last freebie roundup of the year :)

There are 1000 Christmas glossy boxes being given away on a first come first served basis for NEW accounts that sign up to simply be perks.

It's the last day for this one - grab a free  Lucozade Sport Fitwater with Shopmium

Play Costa's xmas game and win a voucher

Pick up your Rituals Ayuverda harmonizing foaming shower gel from Friday 21st December 2018! Simply show your Beauty Club card from the Fragrance counter of your local store. This exclusive sample will be given out on a first come, first served basis so visit your local store early to make sure you don’t miss out!

Get your FREE sample of our Award-Winning Minimalist WhippedPowder Blush!

Join the ELEMIS Review Panel for your chance to test and review brand new products before anyone else. For each new product launch we will select a panel of reviewers based on their suitability and provide full size items to be tested and reviewed. After testing the product, we will contact you and ask you to leave your review on the product page.

Request Bodyform samples - #CHALLENGEBODYFORM!
Each pack contains 2 x Fresh Protect Ultra Towels, 1 x Goodnight XL Ultra Towel, 2 x Multistyle Liners and 2 x 50p off coupons

We are on the look-out for 1,500 Insiders to show their intimate skin a little extra love with femfresh, then let us – and all their friends – know just how much difference this special attention has made!

We are on the look-out for 2,500 Insiders to try Perrier® & Juice, then let us – and all their friends – know just how much they’ve enjoyed these great tasting and refreshing drinks! Simply register below before 3rd January 2019 to take part.

We are looking for 150 owners and their dogs to join our new campaign for Purina® PRO PLAN® OPTINUTRITION™ by sharing and recording their results. Simply register below before 6th January to take part.

Merry Christmas! Welcome to iClever Giveaway Activity. Fill in the questionnaire, 100 lucky fellows will win our iClever newly released wireless charger.

Do you want to apply for a wildflower seed kit, learn about Spring sowing and how to transform a shared space with UK native wildflowers? You're in the right place! Fill in our form below and in March 2019 we'll take you on a growing journey.

@manxy1955 As a thank you for all your support here is a freebie. Free samples and delivery to any UK or USA address. No catch. Just promise to let me know what you think.

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 :

coming soon !

Friday 21 December 2018

The December 2018 Celebration-themed Degustabox review

It seems like the postie is forever at our house dropping off parcels lately. Whether he's delivering products to review on the blog or Christmas presents that I bought online, he's there several times a week, God bless him ! Earlier in the week, we were delighted to receive the final Degustabox of 2018 ... and it's a great one !

It's the perfect box for the end of the year, with alcoholic options, sweet treats to share with the family and a few store-cupboard basics too. Perfect !

The first product that came out of the box was this Nature's Store Salted Caramel Popcorn Bar (89p), which is perfect if you've decided to kick off the New Year by cutting out the sugary snacks. A blend of popcorn, seeds, dates and gluten-free oats, along with no added sugar Belgian chocolate, the bar comes in at under 150 calories, which isn't bad when you see the number of nutrient rich seeds and fruit in there. These will be instore soon, offering a tasty way to kick off the New Year !

Very similar to the Shreddies a couple of boxes ago, there was a Nutty But Nice Honey & Nut Shredded Wheat Breakfast-To-Go (£1.99), including milk and a spoon, which is perfect if you need a breakfast to eat on the way into work on a commute or a quick lunch at the office. It's very convenient and Sophie loves the concept, but I do think it's a very pricey way to start the day !

This month's Product of the Month, Slush Puppie Sour Cherry Flavour Slushy (£1.29) earned squeals of excitement from the Madhouse kids, but they had to wait a while to taste this one because it needs to be frozen. Once it's been in the freezer overnight, just grab it, squeeze it and drink it ! They all loved it and I love the fact that it has no added sugar, which surprised me. This is a new product range, available in Sour Cherry, Blue Raspberry and Strawberry flavours. Big bonus points for the resealable pouches and the fact that they only contain 95 calories. Currently available in multipacks of 3 for £3 at Tesco.

December is a great month for parties, with not just Christmas but also New Year's Eve on the cards, so I'm sure the Jack Daniels Lynchburg Lemonade Crafted Cocktail (2 x £1.80) cans will go down nicely. They offer a blend of fine Tennessee Whiskey, a dash of Triple Sec and a measure of zesty lemonade to tickle your tastebuds. These have been put aside to see in the New Year !

Funkin Passion Fruit Martini Shaker (£4) sounds like a great option for the girlies ! You just need to add ice and spirit and shake to create a delicious cocktail. Available in a range of classic varieties, including Pina Colada, Mojito and Espresso Martini, they are perfect for adding some cool drinks to Christmas or New Year festivities.

Ideal for those days when you've been running around like a loony and still have so much to do, or if you just fancy a quick snack or instant lunch, Maggi Fusian Noodle Pots (3 x £1.15) are a great choice. Will you choose Sweet Chilli, Chow Mein or Spiced Curry flavour? Each pot offers premium noodles and a sachet of spices and veggies, which are great on their own, or added to chicken or pork and veggies for a fuller meal. These are a great store cupboard staple, for nights when you have no time or energy to deal with cooking from scratch.

Another great family option - a packet of Spaghetti from Delverde (£1.99), made with durum wheat and water from a special place : the Verde River, which flows through the Majella National Park, in the Abruzzo region of Italy. Delverde Pasta is made using traditional bronze dies and is slow dried to preserve its wonderful flavour. Another great store cupboard basic, perfect for using up leftover turkey ... or just throwing together spaghetti bolognese !

Green & Black's Velvet Fruit (£3.29), in both Orange and Blueberry varieties, were a tasty treat that the Madhouse kids couldn't resist nibbling on. Indulgent fruit centres, coated in rich, smooth, dark chocolate - totally delicious !

Sleep Well (£1.25) is a product that we received in a Degustabox quite some time ago, but this time it's chocolate flavour. Made with milk from Jersey cows, combined with valerian, honey and cocoa, it is recommended that you drink this 30 minutes before you want to sleep. Night night !

Real Good Tomato Ketchup contains no added sugar and 78% less salt, but it still tastes lovely and is perfect for dolloping on the side of the plate (or into your bacon sandwich - hmmmm !). 

This is a great family-friendly selection of products that will all be devoured over the festive period and I loved the alcohol options for the New Year period too. 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 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.

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Book review : Missing Him - L. Penn

Missing Him : A real love story is a book by L. Penn, which follows the story of a troubled young woman, Emery Pearson. She finds herself in prison, speaking to a therapist, Susan James, but the reader doesn't find out until the very end of the book why she is behind bars. Although this is an interesting plot structure, it left me somewhat at a loss, as I couldn't decide whether to feel sorry for Emery or to regard her with contempt. She seems like an intelligent woman, helping to set up a reading and writing club within the prison, but she is frequently beaten up by the other inmates, which is usually a sign of some horrible crime that the prisoner is being "punished" for. Her dealings with her therapist at first show her to be a manipulative, uncooperative patient, which also doesn't help to give us a good first impression of her.

Inserted into the prison-life stories and scenes with the therapist are many flashbacks to her younger self, starting out with a scene when she is being beaten up by two boys in the school toilets and her soon-to-be hero, Jack Charles, walks in and saves her. The pair end up getting together in a passionate but complicated relationship. Their love is strong but very physical, with both of them punching and manhandling each other as a regular part of foreplay. The highly detailed sex scenes, particularly in the first half of the book, left me frequently feeling ill-at-ease, as they are very detailed and often violent. The pair are undoubtedly in love, but where will this relationship lead them both?

There are a lot of spelling mistakes and sometimes missing words, which annoyed me and made me want to grab my red pen to correct them - I can't help it, I'm a teacher ! Hopefully these will be edited out in upcoming editions. (Update : The author has assured me that the latest version is error free !) The end of the book does provide you with the answers you have been searching for all along to finally understand Emery's plight, but it was hard work getting there - maybe this is supposed to give you an insight into Emery's character though !

star rating : 3.5/5

  • Paperback: 318 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (20 Feb. 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1985748770
  • ISBN-13: 978-1985748774
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2 x 21.6 cm

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

Tuesday 18 December 2018

What's That Smell? The Party Game That Stinks (review)

What's That Smell? from WowWee is a fun new family game that is guaranteed to be a crowd-pleaser during the Christmas holidays. Let's just hope nobody has a bad cold with a bunged-up nose or they won't be able to play along ! It reminds me very much of the idea behind the popular Bean Boozled jelly beans, which entice you to eat disgustingly flavoured jelly beans, but this time we've swapped senses and it's your nose that is put to the test ! Tipped to be one of the the hottest games of the year (and already a big favourite on YouTube), What's That Smell? is the new scratch & sniff party game that totally stinks!

You can play with any number of contestants between two and six people, but if you're having a big family party, you could always work in teams. Inside the box, you get 48 mystery whiff cards, 4 stank cards and a sheet of whiff strips (for scratching the cards to release the smell), as well as card-holders, score cards and resealable plastic bags.

Once you've picked your card, place it in the card holder and give it a scrape then put your nostrils to work. Will you have something pleasant like strawberries or flowers, or will you be straight into olfactory hell with dustbins or pooey nappies?! Try to win bonus points by adding details of favourite memories or thoughts that the smell reminds you of. 

Scoring is a little bit complicated but it actually works really well once you get the hang of it. Reveal the answer on the card - you earn points if you got the smell right, or if you got the right category. Players will then decide who will earn points for having the funniest answer.  If you have the What's That Smell? app installed on your tablet, you can also grab one point if you went for one of the most popular wrong answers. You may have to go for a head-to-head Smell Off round and the winner will get to choose a player to suffer the Whiff of Shame. Will you be subjected to Extra Old Toe Cheese, Diaper Blowout, Hot Chunky Vomit or Smothered in B.O.?! Ewwww !

Have a look at the video for a better idea of how it all works. 

With over 50 smells from nice to downright nasty, What's That Smell? is a breath of fresh (and not-so-fresh) air in the party game category ! If you're looking for a game to keep everyone in good spirits during the Christmas holidays, this is a scent-sational option !

For 2-6 players ages 14+, RRP £24.99

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

Monday 17 December 2018

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 2018 week #51

At the end of this week, we'll all be on holiday for Christmas and boy, am I ready? We'll be visiting family during festive season which means I will get some time off cooking, and cleaning, and entertaining the kids ... bring it on, I say ! In the meantime, what will we all be eating this week?


dinner - I have some sausage meat, which I will wrap up in puff pastry parcels - along with mash and peas


dinner - steak, pasta & carrots


lunch -  fish, rice and peas

dinner - chicken casserole in the slow cooker, with baked potatoes


dinner - tonight may be a little complicated as Juliette has an appointment for her braces - fajitas could be a good (and quick !) option


 dinner - clearing out the fridge and using up whatever's in there .... or if there's not much left, shepherd's pie


lunch - kids' choice of restaurant/fast food - probably the old favourite, McDonald's !

dinner - sandwiches


May the holidays begin ! :)

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


Sunday 16 December 2018

Make-your-own Crystal Card Kit from Craft Buddy review

When the Madhouse kids were younger, they always loved getting out their paintboxes and felt tips and creating their own, completely unique Christmas card masterpieces for their friends and families. Now that they are older, with Pierre into double figures next birthday (gulp !), they've outgrown the finger painting and abstract artwork stage, but we have discovered a new product that's great as a home-made option for older kids and even artistic adults : the DIY Crystal Card Kit from Craft Buddy.

The Crystal Art concept, commonly known as ‘diamond painting’, is a universally popular craft that is suitable for adults and children aged about 8+. Having partnered with renowned artists such as Claudia Hahn (award-winning BBC wildlife artist), Randal Spangler (USA) and Kentaro Nishino (Japan), Craft Buddy Ltd have established the craft as a growing trend across mainstream Europe over the last 12 months.

Everyone knows the concept of “painting by numbers” and it has been well-and-truly updated and brought into the modern day as “bling by numbers” !

Using the pick-up pencil, simply lift the flat-backed crystals and place them onto the adhesive
card for instant stick. The results are sparkly, beautiful cards, either in a Christmas, Valentine’s
or birthday theme. We found it quick and simple to pick up and were very impressed with the results. Check out this YouTube video to see how it works.

The therapeutic benefits of Crystal Art are proven, with its ability to lower stress levels, increase attention span and develop cognitive skills. By combining Crystal Art with the tradition of cardmaking, the spirit of Christmas is given a unique twist. It's a lovely way to while away an afternoon in the run up to Christmas.

The DIY Crystal Card Kit is available from For more information on Crystal Art, visit

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

Saturday 15 December 2018

Fab freebies of the week 15/12

So how's the Christmas shopping/organising/decorating going? Fancy a break? Well, grab yourself a cuppa (or a glass of wine, depending on the time !) and have a browse through some lovely freebies that are just waiting for you to apply for. Enjoy !


This sounds great - who doesn't like ice cream, after all ?!
  Sign up to WIN one year’s supply of Breyers delights! 100 winners will be selected at random.
All entrants will automatically receive a coupon for a FREE Breyers delights tub.

Would you like to receive a box filled with amazing baby related products absolutely FREE? Sign up today to go in the draw to win one of our first boxes

Want to win 1 of 100 exclusive Screwfix Christmas Hoodies? Post your favourite Christmas jumper pic in the comments for a chance to win! T&Cs apply. Draw closes 16th December.

Free Potting Shed Calendar from Anglian Water

We are on the look-out for 2,500 Insiders to try Perrier® & Juice, then let us – and all their friends – know just how much they’ve enjoyed these great tasting and refreshing drinks!
Simply register below before 3rd January 2019 to take part.

If you are a Sky member, head over to the Sky shop, where they are currently giving away free copies of Arthur Christmas at their store - you need to login to be able to claim this one.

Join the mailing list for a free sample of HydraFit>

Make sure your foundation is party perfect this season. Visit us at your local counter for a complimentary iMatch™ consultation and take away a free 10-day sample of your chosen #foundation! #DoubleWear #DoubleWearOrNothing

72 hours of non-stop hydration is yours with NEW Origins Drink Up™ Intensive Overnight Hydrating Mask. Click to receive a complimentary sample delivered straight to your door.

Choco Kindle Chocolate Samples - Offer valid in UK, US and Canada only. Promotion open until 11:59 PM ET on December 30, 2018. Please allow 14-21 days for delivery. 21 days after your sample is shipped we will contact you via email. We will only contact you once regarding this promotion.

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 14 December 2018

Madhouse recipe : Kitchen Clearout Apple Crumble

The last few days have been decidedly nippy here, with a thick sheet of frost across the pavements all day long and a breeze cold enough to make your nose twitch when you step outside ! As Pierre has been off sick for the last couple of days with an ear infection, I decided to head into the kitchen and rustle up something warm and comforting to make us smile.

I'd received some cooking spice blends from Steenbergs to try out and I decided that now would be the perfect time to use them. I had a choice between Organic Lebkuchen - a blend of  cinnamon, cloves, ginger, allspice, coriander seed, green cardamom, nutmeg and mace, perfect for recreating German style biscuits and bakes (£2.65 for 40g) - and Organic Apple Pie Mix - a combination of cassia, allspice, coriander, nutmeg, ginger, clove and vanilla (£2.60 for 45g). Just removing the lid and having a quick sniff mentally whisks you back to carefree childhood days, running inside from playing with your friends and tucking into a steaming bowl of apple pie. Just what the doctor ordered on a cold winter's day !

I decided to create a recipe based on what was in the kitchen that needed using up - that would be a bowlful of apples and some Ready Brek then. The whole thing was polished off in minutes so I'll definitely be making this again. The spice blend gives it a lovely depth of flavour and the smell in the kitchen was wonderful !

Kitchen Clearout Apple Crumble

ingredients :

120g Ready Brek (or use rolled oats for a fuller texture)
100g demerera sugar
1tsp baking powder
80g butter
3tsp Steenberg Apple Pie mix (or you could use cinnamon)

5 Granny Smith apples
35g (3tbsp) butter
2tbsp flour
1tbsp lemon juice
3tbsp milk
60g demerera sugar

Turn on the oven on at 180° to preheat. Put the first five ingredients into a bowl together.

Start rolling it through your fingers to combine.

Once the butter has been nicely worked into the oats, pop the bowl in the fridge while you prepare the apple filling. (I would have added some whole rolled oats here for extra texture, but when I went to investigate, I discovered that I'd run out - oops !)

Peel and slice the apples. Reserve.

Melt the butter (I used the microwave but you could do it in a pan if you prefer) and stir in the flour.

Add the lemon juice and milk and stir, then add the demerera sugar. (I was using up the end of a bag, but brown sugar would work just fine too.) Mix it all together. 

Then add the apple slices and give it all a good mix until they're evenly coated.

Return them to the dish.

Pour over the topping and press down with your hands until the apples are completely covered.

Bake for about half an hour until the topping has "set".

Serve with ice cream or custard for extra decadence. This should be the dictionary definition for comfort food !

Adding to this month's #KitchenClearout linky as it used up some apples, Ready Brek and the end of a bag of demerera sugar that were lurking in the cupboards.

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