A Lifestyle & Parenting Blog

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Get Ready For School With Nadiya's Lunch Box Hacks

With back to school just around the corner, BBC Good Food Show star, Nadiya Hussain, has shared her favourite lunchbox hacks.

Nadiya says:

"In between waking and dressing my three, lively children, preparing breakfast for the family, finishing emails and doing laundry, making up pack lunches in the morning is often a rather rushed job. I’m not a fan of filling their boxes, or their stomachs with junk food. I will not lie, there have been times where I have just given the kids the easiest option, a packet of crisps, a small bar of chocolate, a biscuit (or two) and I still do every now and again but these treats are saved for the weekend.

The reason being, I noticed when at home that the kids were like yoyos. After school they would slumped, tired and exhausted from the day on the sofa. As I would rush around preparing the dinner they had a quick sweet treat and would instantly become high as kites and excitable. This excitement would last for 30 minutes or so, and be quickly followed by a huge sugar crash. It then dawned on me that the same would be happening to them whilst at school and of course I didn’t want my food choices for them to affect their concentration and behaviour at school.

To save me time, I always have a few snacks ready in the fridge that I can to pop in, ensuring that they eat well whilst away from home. I also have some great suggestions for quick and easy bites that can be made in the morning.

Here is a list of a few of our favourites:

1. Hummus Celery Sticks – cut slices of celery sticks about 2 inches long. Fill the inside with hummus and wrap with cling film.

2. Summer fruit spring rolls – take a circle of rice paper and soak for a few seconds till soft. Squeeze off any excess water and place down. Add any fruit, the more colourful the better and warp like a spring roll. Wrap in tin foil for the perfect lunch box surprise.

3. It might sounds obvious but I sometimes pop in a hardboiled egg – I like to keep boiled eggs in the fridge during the week. They are quick, simple and nutritious and very easy to eat. Wrap in kitchen roll to ensure the kids have something to peel the shell on to.

4. Turkey ham wrapped cheese sticks – take a small stick of cheese and wrap around a slice of turkey ham! Simple and delicious

5. Apple and Peanut Rings – core and horizontally slice a green apple, spread the tops with smooth peanut butter and pop into a mini Tupperware box.

Nadiya Hussein
6. Mini omelettes – whisk up some eggs and add onion, cheese, chives and chopped peppers. Grease and pour the mix into a 12 muffin cupcake tin and bake in the oven until cooked. Once cooled these be stored for a week and my kids love them!"

These are really simple and look much better alternatives than biscuits when the kids come home from school starving.  You can find more lunchbox tips here.

Nadiya will be cooking live at the BBC Good Food Show London – Olympia 11-13 November and Birmingham – NEC 24-27 November. Tickets on sale now: https://www.bbcgoodfoodshow.com

The Bad Mother's 21 Point Guide To Knowing When To Send The Kids Back To School

1.  It says term starts on a day in September somewhere on a piece of paper that has been in the bottom of your bag since July.  You will obviously have to check this rumour with all the other mums via Facebook.

2. Vast swathes of Valencia filtered holiday photos featuring happy children in water parks have started to appear in your Instagram feed.  Each photo is accompanied by a minimum of 20 hastags #OhPants.

3. You have watched every single episode of Horrid Henry and Mr Bean and now wince when you hear the opening music.

4. You cannot face another kids' meal containing battered cod or chicken.

5.  You have resorted to making rude faces with the sweets that come with the kids' ice cream - in the kids' ice cream.

6.  The kids have actually just read a book voluntarily

7.  You've put on 10 pounds from snacking with the kids - elevenses, three'ses and that strange half hour before tea where you know you shouldn't feed them but CAN'T TAKE THE MOANING ANY MORE.

8.  Having failed to deliver on 90% of the promises you made before the holiday started (yes we will canter through white capped waves at dawn before frying our own breakfast on a camping stove), you cave in and agree to take them to the local cinema for the latest kiddy flick and a £15 bag of pick 'n' mix.

9.  You are happily referring to red wine as "mummy's special squash".

10.  The bottom of your handbag is a sticky morass of spilt brown sugar from coffee shop packets which have combined to create a caramel so strong you could stick yourself to the ceiling with it.

This makes finding the bit of paper with the term dates on even more tricky [see point 1]

11.  Rather than Mary Poppins, you now resemble a woman on the edge after 6 weeks of terrible PMS and the only thing that is cheering you up is the fact that you'll soon be able to spend more time with adults somewhere that doesn't have a ball pit or carry the risk of deafness simply by entering the building.

12.  Reading weepy posts from mothers missing their children before 9 am on the first day back is making you question whether you accidentally took someone else's children home from the hospital.

13.  Your book "30 minutes to a cleaner home" is now buried under a pile of school shoe boxes, crisp packets and guarded by Shopkins.

14.  Shopkins are everywhere.

15.  They are starting to look at you with their little evil eyes, particularly Linda Layercake which was apparently named after you.

16.  You develop an unholy terror of Claire's Accessories.

17.  Along with your terrible case of "Lego Foot".

18. You start to feel uncharacteristically wistful and even tearful at the thought of sending the kids back to school.

19.  Combined with an unearthly sense of jubilation that you have survived!

20.  You unearth your Ugg-alikes just to see the horror on our husband's face and you practise the 'mum bun' for the right degree of dishevelment.

21.  Weirdly,  you feel compelled to work out how many days until half term because, if you're honest, you don't mind the kids really, plus having them home is an excuse to eat crisps.

Celebrate your maternal feelings I say!  Have a great new term.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Review: Wicked Uncle Toys - Devilishly Easy To Use

When I was young, shopping for toys involved perusing the shelves in your local department store throughout the year or, come Christmas, dragging your parents around the overheated, fake snow and glitter filled grottos for Santa.

It's the heat I remember mostly.  There was always a pensioner having a fit of the vapours parked precariously on a chair just outside whilst the staff fanned them with a towel.  Air conditioning was just a distant dream.

As my sister Sarah and I got older, our relatives just gave up trying to guess what we liked and gave us vouchers.  Now fond as I am of a voucher, it's just not the same as being given a present which tugs at the heart strings because it's just what you wanted and it's right for your age.

Today, more than ever, matching the toy to the child's age requires a mathematical equation not dissimilar to getting the Hadron Particle Collider to work which is probably easier sometimes than finding a child's gift what will keep them entertained for more than 2 minutes.

So I was intrigued when the devilishly named Wicked Uncle wrote to me and suggested a solution. They have a website filled with an amazing mix of gifts for children of all ages, sorted by age, category or gender.

This is not only useful for buying presents for your own and other kids in the family but a very useful solution to that bane of parents' term-time lives - deciding what gift to give at a children's party, what budget is right (without being considered mean) and whether that gift is suitable for their age.

I frequently ask Caitlin and Ieuan "but what does so-and-so like?" to be greeted either by a shrug of the shoulders or 'Shopkins' (the modern day equivalent of the Tribble from Star Trek).

Wicked Uncle kindly gave us a budget of £40 to road-test their site and so Caitlin and Ieuan were given £20 to choose their own gift.

There was, in fact, so much choice that Ieuan was quite overwhelmed with it all and I had to choose for him.

The website is really simple to use -

Simply select the relevant criteria for the child you're buying for to be taking to an appropriate selection of gifts.

Then choose the category of gift you think they might like.  I particularly liked that the girls' gifts included as many science / maths / experiment gifts as the boys'.  Whilst there are enough 'traditionally girly' gifts to delight your average pony / kitten/ pink loving girl, there are equally plenty of gifts to stimulate their minds and help with the school curriculum.

Caitlin chose Shadow, a Lavish Lanky Cat  (£12.95) which is a gorgeously soft, floppy toy cat with baleful green eyes.

She also chose the My Very Own Fairy & Unicorn Torch & Projector (£6.95).

The latter is a fun torch that projects images of fairies and unicorns around your room. It has 24 colour images to project on to your walls and ceilings including fairies, unicorns and their magical homes.

The images project up to one metre wide and come on three slide discs you simply slot in. You can also use it as a normal torch without the slides in place and is useful for keeping on bedside tables to give comfort to children during the night.

I chose for Ieuan and got him the Night Goggles Spy Gear (£19.95).  These have tinted blue lenses to enhance night vision and a switch on full mode which gives directional beams of bright LED light, leaving both hands free to explore.

You can also flip out the scope with it's 2x magnifying lens to spot targets from greater distances.

Needless to say we have had to promise to take him to the woods at dusk so he can scare the living daylights out of any dog walker out for a pleasant evening stroll.

Our gifts arrived really quickly (within 48 hours) of ordering and were securely packaged.  There is even a rather cute postcard included in the box addressed to the gift-giver.

And, as for the acid test, both kids are still playing with their toys 3 days later and Ieuan has not managed to break his Night Goggles yet.

I was impressed by Wicked Uncle and I think their site will be a godsend this Christmas for choosing presents for kids which will pique their imagination without emptying your purse.

You can find out more at www.wickeduncle.co.uk.

*We were given £40 to spend at Wicked Uncle for the purposes of this review.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Review: Necta Perfecta Beautifying Mask By Bee Good

When I was much younger, we used to holiday in Dolgellau, mid Wales and the gift shops used to be full of gorgeous smelling creams and lotions made from local honey.  I can still smell that wonderful warm and comforting honeyed scent now.

Fast forward a few (cough) years and I haven't managed to find anything that captured the same home-grown, organic, good for you, honey-scented luxury cosmetic feel until now.

In fact, I discovered Bee Good's Necta Perfecta via a review by one of my favourite bloggers, Rachel Montague-Ebbs (LadyM) and Bee Good were kind enough to send me a sample to try for myself.

Necta Perfecta is a 4-in-1 face and body enzyme mask which you can use

- as a weekly scalp treatment to promote overall hair and scalp hydration

- as a facial complexion booster to refine, hydrate and visibly improve skin suppleness whilst actively targeting the signs of ageing

- as a hand rescue remedy to moisturise and restore vitality to hands and cuticles

- as an SOS mask for sore, dry or challenged skin on areas such as elbows, knees and feet to soften and gently remove dead skin cells.

It's made by awarding winning company Bee Good who launched their range in 2013 inspired by Simon, their expert beekeeper.  They are encouraging everyone to plant a meadow, even if it's a few bee friendly flowers - and my package contained a bee-mix seedball containing seeeds of Birdsfoot Trefoil, Red Clover, Wild Marjoram and Echium.

There was also a little package of very cute bee chocolates which did indeed taste of honey.

Necta Perfecta contains:-

* natural alpha hydroxyl acids from 5 fruit enzymes
* wheatgerm oil, rich in Vitamin E
* a blend of British honey and beeswax with three natural waxes, jojoba, mimosa and sunflower
* British Propolis and the wonder ingredient Bisabolol which is naturally found in Chamomile

I tried the product as a facial mask and left it on for 20 minutes.  I was expecting it to smell divine (it does) and to soften my skin (certainly does), but I was surprised to find that it left my skin firmer, clearer and had removed the dry skin from the two annoying small patches that have been troubling me around my mouth.

This is one of those products which, though luxurious, is the kind of go-to you can rely on when all else fails. I am rubbish at sticking to a consistent skincare routine (I have two kids, did I mention that?) but it's good to know that there are products you can turn to that will work.

I also love that Bee Good has a great ethos without being preachy and it's British - the beeswax, propolis and honey used in all their products comes from British bees.

I'll certainly be trying Necta Perfecta on my feet and hands and I may even try it on my scalp.  Lots of the 'performance' shampoos seem to be incredibly drying.

Plus,  I'll be doing my bit for the bees. Bee Good actively supports our British bees with charitable donations and by a support programme which includes the education of young beekeepers, supporting apprentice bee farmers and the planting of wildflower meadows across the UK.

Find out more at www.beegood.co.uk

*A PR sample for received for the purpose of this post.


Sunday, 28 August 2016

Be Good To Yourself With Begu Teas & A Giveaway Worth £125

I don't know about you but having had the kids at home for the last six weeks has seen a corresponding increase in my weight.  It's so difficult to resist joining in with snacking and so easy to say yes to that restaurant dessert or the extra glass of wine (or two!).

I also find that my exercise decreases dramatically since we usually walk back and forth to school so, come September, I'm usually feeling in need of some sort of healthy eating and exercise plan.

You may have noticed that teas are gaining in popularity as a way of supplementing your weight loss / dietary programme and they are arguably better for you than the other popular option of juice diets since they don't contain loads of sugar and are kinder to your teeth.

I was recently sent a selection of teas from Begu Tea to try.  Begu Teas are a range of speciality teas designed to help you with your weight loss and healthy lifestyle goals.

There are currently six teas in the range, each formulated with carefully selected ingredients from around the World and blended by Begu's master blender.

The herbs contained in the individual teas have been used traditionally throughout centuries for their varied health and lifestyle promoting benefits and each of the 6 teas has a specific target to help you achieve your goals at specific times of the day in a completely natural way.

There is:-

Appetite - £24.99 for 28 bags

Appetite is full of herbal fillers and appetite suppressants to keep your portion size down. It contains Chinese Green Tea, Cinnamon, Fennel, Liquorice, Peppermint, Hawthorn Leaves, Psyllium seeds and apple pieces.

Crave - £24.99 for 28 bags
Crave is a blend designed to kill those pesky cravings that hit through the day (mine are usually for biscuits!).  It's a sweet blend and is strangely filling.  It contains Sri Lankan black tea, Cinnamon, Coconut, Fenugreek, Yerba Mate, Caraway, Gymnema, Stevia and Sunflower and Calendula petals.

Calm - £24.99 for 28 bags
Calm is designed to bring you inner calm and help you to resist those urges to binge.  This blend contains Rooibos, Peppermint, Chamomile, Gotu Kola, Lemon Balm, Lime Flowers, Passionflower and Calendula petals.

Morning Buzz - £19.99 for 28 bags
This blend is formulated to get your mind and body going in the morning so that you make the best choices to support your body and cut calories.  It contains Chinese Green Tea, Yerba Mate, Ginger, Siberian Ginseng, Lemongrass, Gingko Biloba and Lemon Peel.

nightea night - £19.99 for 28 bags
Nightea night is caffeine free and designed to help you get a restful night's sleep so that your body can repair itself.  This blend contains Cinnamon, Ginger, Hibiscus, Apple pieces, Rosehip, Hawthorn leaves, Orange peel, Cardamom, Valerian root and Hops.

System Cleanse - £10.99 for 14 bags
This is a naturally purifying blend which contains a natural laxative - ideal for those who have a low fibre diet. The blend contains Rooibos, Senna leaves, Dandelion leaves, Hawthorn leaves, Psyllium seeds, Lavender and Vanilla pieces.

Packaged in resealeable packs of 28 teabags, with the exception of the System Cleanse which has 14 bags, these are high quality, beautifully packaged teas which make tea-toxing a lot more glamorous than the days of those fruity herbal teas which could fill an entire office block floor with the smell of blackcurrant.

I am a big tea drinker and it was no hardship at all to substitute a Begu teabag for one of my normal tea bags (Yorkshire Tea or Glengettie, I love a strong brew).

Although the Begu teas aren't cheap, there are a variety of subscription offers available so that you can defray the cost if you buy more than one type at a time (up to 40%).  There is also 20% off your first order - details here.

You'll also find lots of helpful diet and nutrition tips.  My teas came with a selection of fact sheets which contained all sorts of useful advice - for example a structure for a healthy day's eating and exercise (there's also a fitness section on the website which contains a selection of basic exercise videos that show you exactly how they should be done.   I now know what a burpee is!)

There's a guide to identifying the triggers that make you eat (anger, boredom) and ways to manage your appetite (plan your dessert in advance, only serve what you intend to eat).

In fact, Begu teas are designed to be part of a more conscious approach to health, fitness and nutrition and on that basis I can see that their programme would be quite effective if followed diligently.

I personally enjoyed all the teas and will be continuing with the programme over the next few weeks to get my eating and exercise back on an even keel.

If you would like to give their system a try I have a giveaway of one pack of each type of the 6 Begu teabags worth over £125 in total for one lucky winner.

Entry is via the Rafflecopter widget and the giveaway is open to UK entrants only.  Full terms and conditions can be found on my Competitions Page.  The giveaway ends at 11:59 pm on Friday 16th September.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Working From Home During School Holidays

We're nearly at the end of the school holidays and it's been a bit of a moveable feast.  We had a great holiday, although we only went away for a week and the kids have been taken out and about most days, but it’s been tough juggling the needs of the blog with childcare.

Just the phrase 'childcare' makes it sound as if the kids are someone else's responsibility rather than my own little, um, treasures and there's the problem.

Men, to generalise, seem to be able to compartmentalise the various bits of their lives whilst we women find it a lot harder. This may be, of course, because we are juggling more of the housework, the shopping, the cleaning and the myriad of other chores that crop up and have to be dealt with on the spot, even though the Husband will declare them to be hardly a matter of life and death and things which could be dealt with later.

Mat often says that I spend far longer at my PC than he does and that I am rubbish at switching off.  I suspect most bloggers are the same.  I have had a couple of people ask me lately how to go about setting up a blog and it's only when you stop to think about how you do this that you realise how much work is involved and how many skills a blogger needs to develop - writing, social media promotion, coding, photography, design, marketing, budgeting.

But it is really hard to justify to yourself why you are writing a piece for your blog or scheduling some social media posts whilst the kids are kicking around bored or slumped on the sofa with their iPads.

I do explain to them that, for us, blogging defrays some of the household costs and gives us the odd treat but even so it's hard to escape the feeling that sometimes we bloggers are 'pimping our children out'.  Some kids have their lives more instagrammed than Kim Kardashian's.

These are my 5 biggest challenges when the kids are home:-

The Kids

Obviously.  With my two it's usually peace and love or all out war and it can change between the two in minutes.  If they're not fighting each other, they're ganging up on me and have got negotiation skills which, frankly, the Met should be making use of in hostage situations.  Currently, their favourite thing is to sit in separate rooms playing Minecraft in a shared world and bellowing at each other if one dares to destroy the other's building.

Bored of Coco Pops The Kids Took Matters Into Their Own Hands
They like to appear like spectres in the early morning demanding 'urgent software updates' and breakfast. Have they slept in at all this holiday?  Don't be silly.  Combine this with late bedtimes, shouting at each other across the corridor from their bedrooms about Minecraft designs and I predict a massive slump to coincide with the first week of school.


I am rubbish at meal planning at the best of times, whereas the Husband will happily knock up something tasty from whatever is festering in the fridge in about 20 minutes flat.  Not for nothing does he call me "The Queen of the Reheat".  I do mean to come up with exciting meals but frequently it's the usual fall-backs of fish fingers or pizza.  No excuse I know but despite having a wall of cookery books, cooking from most of them involves a supermarket trip and at least a small basket of ingredients I'll probably use once and then find them again 2 years later when I get round to tidying up the food cupboards. Asking myself "what would Mary Berry do?" doesn't help.


It doesn't matter how many times I vacuum, two minutes later it needs doing again.  Kids rarely put things in the bin unless reminded so I am always picking up yoghurt lids, plastic wrapping and wiping sticky fingers off bathroom mirrors and windows.  I can't concentrate on writing if the dishwasher's full or I have a batch of laundry to hang out.  I could happily spend hours picking fluff off carpets.

Social Media

If there is one thing that can suck you into a vortex where time ceases to exist, it's social media.  I've read all the advice about only answering email twice a day, turning your notifications off, writing your blog post first thing, getting up earlier to write before the family get up..... and so on .....  but I can't quite resist the lure of the instant message nor the suspicion that something exciting surely must have happened in Dinas Powys that I have to read about.


I say health, actually health anxiety is closer to the mark.  I'm usually obsessing about my teeth, my glasses, my hearing, my tinnitus - and on the back of that all the things I'm supposed not to be doing to keep my health on an even keel. The daily glass of wine is probably one of the things that should go but when the kids are off, the chances of that going are zero.

I keep reading about bloggers who dutifully say they don't switch on their PC until the kids are in bed and then blog from 9 pm until the small hours but I would be totally knackered if I did that.

If they do, then they have my heartfelt admiration but I suspect they are an urban myth and like many of us have got into the terrible habit of parenting with one eye on a smartphone and one hand on a keyboard.

Let's not talk about the mum guilt.  It never goes away does it? I am earning money for the family and using some of the skills I worked so hard and for so long to acquire.  Hopefully I'm also teaching them that there are always ways to contribute, even if you aren't in formal employment.

I know that working from home and looking after the kids is a privilege but I think I am going to have to come up with a better routine when the next holiday comes around or I'll be blogging about my kids childhood rather than participating in it.

And that's a price no blog is worth.

Friday, 26 August 2016

New Releases, Free & Bargain Books Link-up 26 August 2016

How are you all this week?  I can't believe our holiday has come and gone already and we're on the downward slope to "back to school".

It's been a great reminder that we all need to make more of an effort to switch off and put the iPads down occasionally!  We've even managed to get Ieuan to read some books for the local library's summer reading challenge.  Caitlin is already an avid reader.

I hope you've managed to carve out some 'me time' for a bit of R & R (relaxation and reading of course).

As ever, there are some great books to choose from on this week's linky.

Sharing the Love of Books
Enjoy our selection of New Releases / Free & Bargain Books this week

Authors please feel free to add your own books
Readers please free to add your own finds
(any genre except erotica welcome)

This weekly link up is hosted by Beck Valley Books & these awesome book loving blogs...
 Life as Leels | IrishdaisylovesRomance | Book Babble | All Romance Reader
It's My Side of Life | Celticlady's Reviews | First Time Mommy Adventures 
Beck Valley BooksCinnamon Hollow Reviews
Miki's Hope | Nicki's Nook
Ebook Addicts | I Love Romance | Mother Distracted | Colorimetry | The Ultimate Fan Blog
Totally Addicted to Reading | 3 Partners in Shopping | Angie's Angle I Create Purty Thangs | Wishful Endings
Lynchburg Mama | LibriAmoriMieiAli - The Dragon Slayer | Wondermom WannabeDeal Sharing Aunt | Rambling Reviews 

For Pre-orders post - PRE-ORDER / genre / title /author
For New Releases post - NEW / genre / title / author
For Free Books post - FREE / genre / title / author / end date 
For Bargain Books post - SALE / price / genre / title / author / end date
(Strictly no Erotica please.  Steamy romance is fine but watch those covers people, incase any underage child is viewing it!)

Click here for this weeks awesome selection!

Summer Bank Holiday Fun On A Budget With Ideal World

There's something equally poignant and special about the last bank holiday before autumn sets in.  

It's our last chance to pull out all the stops and ignore the fact that it has been raining for weeks, the Husband's locked himself in the shed and the kids have been rendered mute by iPads.

Many of us have blown our budget on days out around the UK, not to mention the fact that our offspring have eaten us out of house and home.  We are still trying to dig our way out of a crisp packet mountain having naively thought it was actually possible to win a holiday on that Walkers' Spell & Go promotion.

So, are there ways you can have fun cheaply without forking out another £100+ on a theme park family ticket for the privilege of inspecting the motorway tarmac as you roast in a traffic jam and then spend 2 hours queuing for a ride which lasts less than 5 minutes?

Well, possibly - but it might involve a bit of fibbing and a lot of "well that's what we used to do in the good old days".

Nothing like a good old fashioned game of  "hunt for the rusty bicycle"
If you're all out of bribery tactics and wine o'clock is now commencing when the sun is over the yard arm anywhere in the world,  here's some budget friendly suggestions for the last 'blow out' of summer.

*  plan ahead - you can save money by booking attraction tickets online in advance and there may be some last minute hotel bargains to be had from sites like lastminute.com.

* save on train fares by investing in a Family & Friends Rail Card which gives you 1/3 off fares and 60% off the kids' fares 

Thankfully the kids haven't noticed that the sea is approximately 5 miles away
* check for offers on your loyalty cards, such as Tesco Clubcard and dining cards like Tastecard which for a small annual fee gives you up to 50% off in over 7000 restaurants across the UK, plus a range of other attractions and cinemas.

*If the weather's fine, just pack a picnic and a football and head off to your local nature reserve or the beach (but be prepared for queues as usual).  Don't forget the suncream

*Of course there's the standby of the Great British Barbecue, even if it's raining!  

*Or what about a movie afternoon with popcorn for the kids and something made out of grapes for mum?  

* If it's raining, a family boardgame challenge will pass a couple of hours - the old favourites are best - Monopoly, Cluedo or how about Kerplunk or Mousetrap?  

If all else fails and the kids strop off to their bedrooms with their gadgets, you could always catch up with a bit on online shopping and snap up some of the bargains to be had.  

Why not join the fun with Ideal World (Sky 654, Freeview 22, Virgin 747, Freesat 812 and at www.idealworld.tv) who are giving free postage and packing on everything until 9 pm on Monday 29th August.  

They'll be running lots of fun competitions throughout the bank holiday weekend with some fabulous prizes on offer.

No queues, no public transport, no stroppy kids.  

Actually that sounds like quite a fun bank holiday to me......


Beck Valley Book Tour: The Goodbye Year by Kaira Rouda

Melanie, a perfectionist mom who views the approaching end of parenting as a type of death, can’t believe she has only one more year to live vicariously through her slacker senior son, Dane. Gorgeous mom Sarah has just begun to realize that her only daughter, Ashley, has been serving as a stand-in for her traveling husband, and the thought of her daughter leaving for college is cracking the carefully cultivated façade of her life. Will and his wife are fine—as long as he follows the instructions on the family calendar and is sure to keep secret his whole other life with Lauren, the woman he turns to for fun (and who also happens to have a daughter in the senior class).

Told from the points of view of both the parents and the kids, The Goodbye Year explores high school peer pressure, what it’s like for young people to face the unknown of life after high school, and how a transition that should be the beginning of a couple’s second act together—empty nesting—might possibly be the end.

Available to buy from....

“Rouda deftly examines the difficult transition parents and their children face as they prepare for the end of one life and the beginning of another. Her latest is a compelling story and a thoughtful examination of the nature of change and the importance of working to accept it.” ―Booklist 

 “The Goodbye Year is an often hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking, always engaging look at the last year before high school seniors leave their families for good. I devoured it!” -Meg Mitchell Moore, author of The Admissions, So Far Away, and The Arrivals 

 "The family dramas and dynamics are things that we can all relate to..." -Redbook magazine, "20 Best Books to Read Come Spring" 

 "Kaira Rouda channels Peyton Place meets The Real Housewives of Orange County with her newest book, The Goodbye Year.” ―Working Mother magazine

My Review

Many of us Brits don't really 'get' the US school culture - all that focus on sporting prowess and sophomore cliques but Rouda's tale of families embracing the challenges of the last school year before college is gripping for all that.  

The Goodbye Year is a story about 5 families and how the adults and kids deal with the pressures put on all of them to 'achieve' and to be a storybook family.  Everything, however, is far from picture perfect for, whilst the mums are falling apart trying to maintain the "real housewife" illusion in an affluent beach community, the fathers are behaving in ways which are far from perfect.  

Rouda addresses the very real "empty-nest syndrome" and how it can leave some parents struggling to find an identity beyond someone's mum or dad.  Despite the fact my kids are only 8 and 7, I found myself feeling rather wistful at the thought of them leaving home - although they have both informed me they aren't going anywhere until they're at least 30.

As always, secrets and lies are revealed with consequences that catch the reader unawares and shatter the whole 'happy family' illusion completely.

It's cleverly done and I really enjoyed "The Goodbye Year".  Highly recommended.

About the Author

Kaira Rouda is a USA Today bestselling, multiple award-winning author of contemporary women's fiction and sexy modern romance novels that sparkle with humor and heart.

Her women's fiction titles include THE GOODBYE YEAR, HERE, HOME, HOPE, ALL THE DIFFERENCE and IN THE MIRROR. Her bestselling short story is titled, A MOTHER'S DAY. Her sexy contemporary romance series include the LAGUNA BEACH Series, the INDIGO ISLAND Series with a new MALIBU Series launching in 2016.

Her nonfiction titles, REAL YOU INCORPORATED: 8 Essentials for Women Entrepreneurs, and REAL YOU FOR AUTHORS: 8 Essentials for Women Writers (available for free download on her website) continue to inspire.

Kaira's work has won numerous awards including the Indie Excellence Award, USA Book Awards, the Reader's Choice Awards and honorable mention in the Writer's Digest International Book Awards. She lives in Southern California with her husband and four almost-grown kids, and is at work on her next novel.

Find the author on the following sites...

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I received this book to review through Beck Valley Books Book Tours, all the opinions above are 100% my own.

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Thursday, 25 August 2016

A New Lower Cost Fertility Technique To Rival IVF?

A new fertility technique has been proven to improve pregnancy rates at a much lower cost than IVF and with fewer hormone drugs.

Researchers from the University of Adelaide in South Australia in collaboration with the University of New South Wales in Sydney and UZ Brussel at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium (UVB) have developed a new method of in-vitro maturation (IVM) that uses growth factors to increase success rates.

Co-developer Jeremy Thompson said the new IVM cycle would be cheaper and safer than other popular methods such as in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) with a stronger success rate than current IVM models.

He said the improved method posed fewer side effects and would reduce treatment timelines.

Professor Thompson said.“In a normal IVF cycle it is necessary to enable a number of mature eggs that are collected at one surgical operation. IVM is a technique where we still have to recover the eggs but we can do it faster and with a lot less hormones - only about 10 per cent of the hormones that are used in a normal IVF cycle.

“In a normal IVF cycle, dependent on where you are in the world, the drugs cost about a third to half of the cost of the IVF cycle.”

Follicle stimulating hormones used in standard IVF cycles have been known to cause significant discomfort and can be harmful to women with a high sensitivity to them. This is often the case for women with polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Professor Thompson said the ability to harvest the eggs at an earlier stage allowed for a shorter time period before a patient was involved.

“This (new technique) results in a 50 per cent improvement in embryo yield compared to the standard IVM,” Prof Thompson said.

“It’s a significant improvement and it is very hard to make more and better quality embryo’s under any scenario.”

Professor Thompson said the method would also be highly beneficial for fertility preservation in cancer patients.

“Because IVM treatment requires virtually no hormones and is a far less truncated treatment, it is ideal to use with young women and girls that require their eggs to be harvested prior to chemotherapy or radiation treatment,” he said.

Professor Thompson said clinical trials for the enhanced IVM treatment were still being planned and would begin within the next few years.

Source: The Lead, South Australia

How to save costs while running your business

Sometimes all businesses need to review their working practices with an accent on cutting expenditure. All companies are given to doing things the same way as they have been done before and this means that bad habits can be fallen into too easily.

When looking to increase your competitiveness and profitability, it is always advisable to look at your cost base before considering sales price rises.

The following useful tips are great for any SME owner, but are equally suited to larger organisations.

Don't Cut Budgets Equally

When you need to save a nominal figure from your outgoings, it can be tempting to make a corresponding cut from every budget you have in the business.

Let's say you identify the need to cut 10 per cent from all company expenditure. You may therefore lower your marketing budget by a tenth, your component expenditure by the same amount, your staffing costs by a further 10 per cent and so on.

This is not strategic cutting and can lead to problems with supplying customers down the line. Instead, look at the overall expenditure of each department under their nominal coding and work out where you can afford to make the cuts and where you cannot.

For example if your business has over 100 employees, Advance Systems Inc would advise looking at ways to maximise your workforce management using software.  Before you decide on your budget look to see if there are any other cost-effective solutions you could try, rather than making wholesale cuts.

Increase Your Warehouse Space Without Extra Overheads

When a company is expanding there seems to be a never ending demand on your cheque book. If you need to expand to meet demand, one of the most costly decisions you can make is to acquire – or rent – additional space.

Whether it is for storage, production lines or for additional administrative space, the additions of a mezzanine floor into a business unit can all but double the available space.

Different companies offer this service, you can find mezzanine floors in Leeds by WSSL. With little initial outlay they provide room for expansion, but do so without extra heating, lighting and rental costs.

Do Deals With Neighbours

In your business' vicinity there will be like-minded entrepreneurs who are also looking to cut costs.

Even if they operate in a completely different sector to you, such business may have outlay on things like marketing that can be shared.

For example, if you advertise in the local press or do the occasional leaflet distribution, why not produce adverts and flyers together so that the costs of them can be shared?

If you have a neighbour working in a similar way to you, then look into sharing equipment costs as a way of lowering expenditure.

Reduce License Costs

Software is essential for most businesses these days. However, the costs of buying it and having sufficient licenses for all of your team can be prohibitive, especially when you need to keep renewing it.

Many software suites have freeware that is just as good, so keep an eye out for versions of what you currently use that is free to download.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Five things to think about before getting a pet

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about what it would be like to have another pet. The kids have reached the age where all I hear about it how much they want a pet of their own, but it’s a life-altering decision. I thought I’d put together a quick blog post on the top five things to consider, in case you are in the same situation.

1. Your lifestyle

First and foremost, what kind of lifestyle do you have? Are you flying solo and prefer to spend most of your evenings out on a run, and you’d love the company of a large dog beside you? Or are you a loving family unit, currently searching for an exuberant kitten that’s just as happy to play with the kids as he is to sit on your lap of an evening? You need to make sure that you pick the right kind of animal to suit your lifestyle, otherwise you will both end up miserable.

2. Your environment

It’s all well and good choosing an animal you like the most, but take a look at your environment and be honest with yourself about how suitable it is. Cats love to climb, so you might want to think about modifying your space to include some platforms for it to jump to or scratching posts beside walls. If this isn’t something you’re prepared to do, then you shouldn’t be thinking about that animal – even rabbits need a run!

3. Your allergies

Purposely getting a pet you’re allergic to could land you on a hospital ward, so if you have your heart set on a cat for example but suffer with terrible allergies, the Siberian breed might be the one for you, as studies have shown them to have far less of the protein in their saliva that causes a reaction than any other cat. Always do your research and see if there’s a breed to suit you.

4. Your budget

Of course, there’s no point in picking the perfect pet for yourself if you can’t actually afford to keep it, so you should always look at exactly what the monthly costs involved will be. With animals like dogs and cats, you can expect food, toys, vet bills, insurance and so on to be at the top of the list, but what about more exotic pets like amphibians? They will probably require a special diet and habitat requirements. Be honest about what all of this is likely to cost you.

5. Where do you go?

Finally, you should do a search in your local area for where you can actually pick up an animal from. If you’re going for a specific breed, it’s vital that you select someone who is registered with the local authorities or you pick an establishment such as Douglas Hall Kennels who hand-pick breeders for you. Don’t dismiss charities either though, as they’re a great opportunity to give a loving animal a fresh start.

I hope this post has helped you – are you getting an animal soon?

Travel Easy, Not Queasy With Sea-Band

I've written before about the challenges of travelling with queasy kids and was interested to hear how many mums and dads recommended taking a drug free approach to motion sickness by using Sea-Band acupressure wrist bands for their children. I've heard good things about their effectiveness against morning sickness too.

There's nothing more miserable than being stuck in a car for hours feeling nauseous, apart from being stuck in a car with someone else who is feeling nauseous!

The last get-away weekend of the year is coming up and Sea-Band have come up with a great list of tips to help you and your kids feel less green.

First things first: take their queasy calculator quiz to detect your risk of feeling queasy on your next trip: http://queasycalculator.com/ and then take note of the following:-

Plan ahead - avoid excessive alcohol and spicy or fat-rich foods that leave you feeling over-full, as they can increase the chances of motion sickness in some people

Avoiding strong food odours may also help prevent nausea, and position yourself near a source of fresh air if possible

Try to choose a seat where you will experience the least motion. The middle of an airplane over the wing is the calmest area of an airplane. On a ship, those in lower level cabins near the centre of a ship generally experience less motion than passengers in higher or outer cabins

Try and sit in the front seat of a car and where possible avoid sitting away from your direction of travel whenever possible

Do not read or spend too much time on your phone or electronic devices while traveling if you are at all prone to motion sickness

Isolate yourself from others who may be suffering from motion sickness, listening to others talk about motion sickness or seeing others becoming ill is the last thing you need to see or hear!

Be prepared and take a pair of Sea-Bands with you - acupressure wrist bands clinically proven to relieve motion sickness and morning sickness, in addition to helping with post-operative and chemotherapy-induced nausea.

They come in both adult and child versions so that the whole family can be travel sickness-free 

They work by applying pressure on the Nei-Kuan acupressure point on each wrist by means of a plastic stud. Because the bands do not use drugs, they do not cause any of the side effects associated with anti-nausea drugs. ·

Sea-Bands are a great choice for drug free relief of all types of nausea and they have no side effects. You can also wash and reuse them. More information is available on the Sea-Band website: www.sea-band.com

You can buy Sea-Bands from all major retailers and online.  (Adult Sea-Band RRP: £8.59, Child Sea-Band RRP: £8.59).


I have 5 sets of Adult and Child Sea-Bands to give away (1 adult set and 1 child set per winner).

Entry is via the Rafflecopter widget below.  Terms and conditions apply (please see my competitions page).UK entrants only and the giveaway ends at 11:59 pm on Sunday 11th September.

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Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Tips For The Perfect Kids' Lunchbox With Hartley's

Now that the new school term is looming, many parents will be bracing themselves for the daily challenge of assembling a lunchbox for their kids that has the right balance of nutrition and excitement.

Kids are fussy eaters at the best of times and it can be too easy to stuff a lunchbox with packets of crisps and chocolate, particularly when you're short on time and haven't done the weekly shop yet.

So how do you come up with a lunchbox whose contents will be eaten with gusto whilst making the preparation as easy on yourself as possible?

Here are my top tips.

* Don't buy single loaves.  If you can, buy a spare loaf or some bread rolls for the freezer.

* Prepare the lunchbox the night before and place in the fridge to keep fresh.

* Buy lunchbox staples in bulk and portion them up as soon as you get home. You can pop individual portions of snacks like trail mix into separate sandwich bags ready to drop in to the lunchbox to save time.

* a healthy lunch will keep your child alert and able to focus at school so try to include a variety of food types, fruit and veg, starchy food (for example wholemeal or granary bread), protein (sliced ham) and dairy (cheese).  The best drink to pack is water.

Fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients essential for optimal health, whilst proteins are the building blocks of cellular growth which also help to balance blood sugar levels and keep us feeling fuller for longer.

* you can make things a little more interesting by packing each item separately so that the unwrapping creates a little fun, plus this helps keep food fresher.

* your freezer is your friend - there are plenty of places online to find lunchbox recipes you can freeze so that you could cook in bulk on a Sunday to be ready for the rest of the week.

For example:

Lunch box ideas you can freeze from Planningwithkids.com

25 Freezer Friendly Lunch Box Ideas from Childhood101

Freezer Friendly School Lunch Foods from Super Healthy Kids

* in hot weather you may need to include a ice pack to keep the food cool and in cold weather you could put a warming soup in a thermos.

* ring the changes by making sandwiches with different types of bread or substitute the sandwich for some pasta salad or a chopped vegetable salad with extra nuts and Chia seeds to add some extra Omega 3.

* Pots of Hartley's No Added Sugar Jelly are a great standby to pop in as a healthier sweet treat and at the moment if you collect 12 individual pots with the green promotional lids, you can exchange these for a fun bright yellow lunchbox and stickers for your child to create their own lunchbox with the Hartley's Lunchbox Collector Scheme.

* make sure that snack foods are as healthy as possible without relying on shop bought sugary treats. You could include a selection of things like hard boiled eggs, unsalted popcorn, a savoury scone, a granola bar, some yogurt, fruity jelly and some nuts and seeds.

Be careful with granola bars as some of these contain more sugar than a chocolate bar.  A Hartley's No Added Sugar Jelly Pot is a better alternative with a banana or a small bunch of grapes.

The Hartley's No Added Sugar Jelly Pots come in strawberry, raspberry, blackcurrant, orange, apple and tropical flavours and contain just 6 calories per pot (great for those of us watching our weight too).

You may need to check that your school allows nuts to be included in case of allergies.

The key to a perfect kids' lunchbox is planning.  Why not sit down with your child and draw up a list of their favourites.  You could then create a lunchbox menu plan where your child gets to choose one item on their list each day if they also include one fruit or veggie choice. Caitlin, for example, loves olives and Ieuan loves carrot batons.

If you find that lots of food is coming back uneaten then it may be that your portion sizes are too large or you need a more interesting mix of foods (whilst still keeping to healthier choices of course).

Sometimes kids get so involved in what they are doing they simply forget to eat but if you are finding that all the snack food goes whilst the sandwiches and more filling food doesn't then it's time to reduce the snack elements until the sandwiches start to disappear.

There's no guarantee the local birds aren't being well fed of course but at least you'll be nearer to getting the balance right.

You could also involve your kids in the making of their sandwiches or snacks and get them to do it under your supervision.

You don't want to still be making their lunchboxes when they get to secondary school now, do you!

This post is an entry from BritMums #HartleysYourLunchbox Linky Challenge sponsored by Hartley's Jelly.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Review: Nurture Fruity Water+ - A Healthier Children's Drink

There has been much publicity lately about the proposed sugar tax on kids' sugary drinks as a way of trying to halt the escalating levels of child obesity here in the UK.

You have probably heard chef Jamie Oliver talking about why this could make such a difference to our children's health.

My view?  It's really not as simple as that, however, anything we can do to reduce our kids' sugar intake is to be welcomed - by parents, doctors and dentists.

We are all guilty of turning a little too quickly sometimes to bottled fruit drinks and squashes and equally we know that it can be quite difficult to get children to consume plain old water - no matter how many themed cups, bottles and novelty straws you throw at the problem.

I was interested to read about a new children's drink which claims to be healthier because it contains lower naturally occuring sugars.

NURTURE Fruity Water+ which is targeted specifically at young children (from 1 year) also claims to support children's immunity through its added nutrients, being the "first functional drink of its kind".

These added nutrients are Vitamin B6, Folate (B9), B12, C, D and Zinc, as well as Calcium.  There is also 25mg of "Wellmune® Beta 1.3/1.6 Glucans 100% Natural Brewers Yeast".

The drinks are lactose and gluten free and are vegan friendly.

There are 2 flavours: Cherry & Strawberry and Orange & Pineapple and Nurture Fruity Water+ is made with 45% natural juice and 55% water.

Nurture Fruity Water+ contains no added sugar and less than 1 teaspoon of naturally occurring sugar per 100ml, making it exempt from the upcoming UK sugar tax relating to unhealthy sugary drinks.

It's also school approved, and comes in a mess-free pouch for on-the-go convenience.

Caitlin & Ieuan taking a break after running around our local woods
Nurture was developed by parents Lucie and Derek Sanders who, with three children of their own, wanted to find a way to reduce children's sugar consumption from an early age in order to halt the development of a sweet tooth and to encourage them to make healthier choices later on.

“Children’s immune systems are least developed and most at risk to germs and infection the younger their age”, says founder Derek Sanders.

“Nothing nurtures better than breast milk and all baby formula producers strive to replicate it. However, there is a gap in the market after children stop breast-feeding and formula, as there are currently no functional juice drinks with added nutrients available for children from 1 to 5 years. Nurture Fruity Water+ has been formulated to support children’s immunity and be part of a solution to help busy, on-the-go families stay healthy.”

We tried both flavours on a walk around our local woods and, whilst the quantity per pouch is a little small for older children (or at least children who have been running around a lot), both flavours are pleasant without having an obvious sugary taste.  I found Nurture Fruity Water+ to taste much more natural than some of its competitor products and there's no artificial after-taste.

I liked the mess-free spout which helps avoid those moments when no matter how many times you tell your kids not to squeeze the juice box because the drink will slop out, you can guarantee it will happen anyway. You have to squeeze the Nurture pouch with a bit more force than usual to get the drink to rise to the spout.

I think Nurture FruityWater+ is an interesting alternative to the usual juice and squash brands but it is not the cheapest option on the market.  For those parents who are concerned about developing their kids' immune systems and who are prepared to take a longer view in terms of developing good nutritional habits in their younger children, then the drinks are certainly worth a try.

NURTURE Fruity Water+ is available in 200ml pouches with a RRP of 99p to £1.49. Retailers include: Ocado, Whole Foods Market, and Holland & Barrett.

You can find more information at www.nurtureimmunity.com.

*PR samples were received for the purposes of this post

On Trend Menswear For Autumn & A Fab Giveaway From Mainline Menswear

The approach of autumn usually signals that it's time to update our wardrobes and whilst there are some stylish men who will already have worked out which of the upcoming trends they want to adopt, I suspect the average bloke is still muttering about how his range of Motorhead, Black Sabbath and tropical patterned tee-shirts will be quite enough to last throughout the winter.

The answer is some sensible negotiation and a spruce up of the Husband's wardrobe with some stylish shirts, tees and hoodies.

We recently discovered Mainline Menswear, a leading retailer specialising in men's designer clothing, footwear, and accessories.

Established in 2004 the Mainline Menswear website carries a huge range from top men's fashion brands such as Armani Jeans, Armani, Hugo Boss, Diesel Jeans, G-Star, Adidas Originals, Fila Vintage, Franklin and Marshall, Ralph Lauren, Original Penguin Clothing, Superdry, Lyle and Scott, Pretty Green, Levis Jeans, Replay Jeans, Stone Island, CP Company, Paul Smith, Henri Lloyd, Ted Baker, Belstaff Jackets, Lacoste Trainers, J Lindeberg, Fred Perry, Mens Timberland Boots, Luke 1977, Edwin Jeans, Cruyff Trainers, Nike and more!

You can find Designer Jeans, Designer Jackets, Designer T-Shirts, Designer Jumpers, Designer Long Sleeved Shirts, Designer Shirts, Designer Shoes, Footwear and Trainers, Designer Socks, Watches, Designer Flip Flops, Designer Boxers and Designer Swimwear.

All orders are dispatched using their premium UK next day delivery service.

We were offered a Hugo Boss Polo Tee Shirt to try and the husband chose the one pictured above. The quality is excellent and the sizing 'true', with no pulling under the arms and with a sensible length in the body.

And Mainline Menswear have kindly given me a £100 gift voucher for one lucky winner so that they can update their autumn wardrobe.

Entry is via the Rafflecopter widget below and the usual terms and conditions apply (on my competitions page). The giveaway is open to UK entrants only and ends at 11:59 pm on Sunday 18th September.

For more information visit Mainline Menswear online or you can find them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Good luck!

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