Tuesday, 24 January 2017

A Series Of Unfortunate Events - A Netflix Series Review

I wrote recently how we'd been hotly awaiting the new Netflix TV series after devouring the Lemony Snicket books - the passion for all things ASOUE is sweeping through Ruby's school like wildfire!

Like all Netflix series, it's had us hooked for the start and we're veering from wanting to binge on it and watch episodes back to back, to delaying the pleasure and holding back, not wanting it to be over.  We've so far watched seven of the eight episodes, which are based on the first four books in the author's collection.  As the books in total number thirteen, we're hoping and praying for more great instalments to come.

It's been really interesting to watch it alongside Ruby who has read the books - personally I've only experienced snippets when she allows me to read a chapter or so as her bedtime story, the rest of the time she's engrossed in them by herself.  She's noticing differences from the written work to the screen adaptation - not major plot changes, just subtle nuances changed I'm sure for cinematographic reasons, and it's shown me just how much she's taken in from the books.  I often wonder if she just skips through stories to get to the end, she's a fast reader, but this has given me confidence she has full comprehension of what she reads.

The screen adaptation is a joy to watch and something the whole family can indulge in.  There's plenty of comedy material the adults can enjoy - who would have thought grammatical discussions could be so entertaining, and it's crammed with suspense and action to keep the kids enthralled.

Following the turbulent lives of the Baudelaire children, we're taken on a fantastical journey with siblings Violet, Klaus and baby Sunny after their parents are killed in a mysterious fire.  Inheriting a fortune when Violet comes of age, this makes them a target for the unscrupulous Count Olaf who attempts to gain guardianship to swindle the money.

The engaging child characters I'm sure are the main appeal to the younger audiences.  Violet, a teenage girl has an astute mechanical mind and is adept at thinking up and producing mind-boggling inventions to get them out of scrapes.  Younger brother Klaus is an intellectual, always engrossed in books and able to research their way out of trouble.  But by far our favourite character is baby Sunny, the sharp-toothed infant who's skills lie in her ability to gnaw their way out of danger.  Her baby gurgles are translated as subtitles, showing her to be a very astute judge of character - her dialogue is hilarious and I'm constantly marvelling at the acting talent of one so young.

The deadpan delivery of narrator Patrick Warburton is just genius, and the evil villainy and extensive, hideous disguises of Count Olaf played by Neil Patrick Harris will have you booing like you're at a pantomime.

Having already read beyond book four in the set, Ruby knows there are lots more weirdly dark adventures to come and we can't wait for more instalments on our screen from this team.

Have you been watching?  All episodes in this 8-part series are available to watch now on Netflix.  We can thoroughly recommend reading the books alongside it too, it's really enhanced the watching experience.

Disclosure: This is a featured post.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Vegan Butternut Squash and Sea Salt Seed Crackers

I was inspired by a recipe I saw in a gluten-free magazine from Eighty 20 Nutrition recently.  She makes her crackers with sweet potato but I'm not a fan, so I've been experimenting with alternatives and have come up with this.

These crackers are nut-free yet deliciously crunchy and still have that 'nutty' flavour.  They're gluten free and dairy free too and perfect for loading up with dips or with cheese (alternatives).

Kept in an airtight container they'll last for around a week - although not in this house!

I'm trying to eat healthier this year and stay away from too many refined and processed foods.  Many of the shop-bought crackers, breads and breadsticks - particularly the gluten-free versions - are loaded with added salt and sugars, so it's great to be able to add only the salt I want (or leave it off entirely) and know exactly what's going into our food.  My daughter loves these in her lunchbox with a little pot of hoummous and they are perfect for crumbling into homemade soups to add a bit of bite.


250g butternut squash - peeled and cut into chunks
450 ml water
400g of seeds - I use a mix of brown and golden linseed, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and chia seeds, but use whatever you have
2 tbsp psyllium husk - buy this online or from a whole food shop
2 tbsp coconut oil
Sprinkle of sea salt if desired


Preheat the oven to 160 degrees.  Line 2 or 3 large baking trays with greaseproof paper.

Place the prepared squash in a bowl with the water.  Cover and microwave on high for approximately 10 minutes until soft.

Meanwhile mix all the seeds together in a large bowl and stir to combine the psyllium husk.

Once the squash is cooked, drain the water into the seed mix and stir very thoroughly.  When the water is added, the husk powder has a tendency to form into jelly-like lumps, so make sure it's well combined.

Set aside for a few minutes, and add the coconut oil to the butternut.  Blend to a smooth, lump-free consistency.  Any lumps will result in soggy crackers - and nobody likes a soggy cracker!

Now combine the pureed squash with the seed mix and stir until thoroughly mixed through.

Spread your mix onto your paper-covered trays as thinly as possible, spreading out and pressing down with the back of a spoon.

Sprinkle with sea salt and cook in the oven for approximately 50 minutes until golden brown and crispy.  I find it helps to have the oven door slightly ajar for the last 5-10 minutes to allow any steam to escape and make sure the cracker gets nice and crisp.

Leave to cool then break into pieces.  Once they are absolutely, completely cooled, store in a airtight jar.

What would you eat with yours?

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

A Series of Unfortunate Events - Netflix launches new series

We're on countdown in our house, and have been ever since we heard about the launch of the new 8 part Netflix Series of Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events.

A few of the boys in Ruby's class at school have been reading the books, and even her teacher is reading them and this piqued her interest.  It's not easy to take her out of her comfort zone - although she adores reading, like a lot of children she tends to get stuck on one particular author and reads and re-reads their entire back catalogue.

I'm so glad she tried these books, she was literally hooked from the start.  We were sent the first four in the series to coincide with the release on Netflix, and I've since had to go out and buy books 4-8.  She just can't put them down.

There's something darker and a little dangerous about them.  For kids who are looking for something to stretch them and challenge their imagination, and for those tired of books about kittens and unicorns, ASOUE is a breath of fresh air.

Focussing on the three Baudelaire children, orphaned and soon to inherit their parent's fortune, the tales follow them and the various evil guardians along the way, such as Count Olaf, who try their hardest to get their hands on the riches.  

Both the books and the publicity for the new TV series capitalise on the forbidden, imploring audiences to look away and as most parents know, if there's one sure-fire way to get a kid to do something, it's to tell them that they shouldn't!

The Netflix series, adapting the first four books promises to be gripping. Allowing more time to do justice to the story-telling than the recent film which seemed to slip under the radar, it has a gloriously dark, humorously gothic feel - the director was also responsible for The Addams Family.

I know Ruby's friends are looking forward to the launch on Friday 13th January, and it will be wonderful for her to have that opportunity to share a series socially.  As adults, we pour over our Netflix binges with friends, discussing characters and plot twists, or enjoy the community of a book club to dissect stories as a group, so I'm really glad that kids will now have the chance to enjoy this as a group activity, and with a narrative that's very different from anything else out there for pre-teen kids.

There's still time to get your hands on the books and join the read-along so you can get involved in the chat.  You can find out what others think using the hashtags #ASOUEBooks and #ASOUE on social media.  Friday the Thirteenth was never so eagerly awaited!

Disclosure: This is a featured post.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Choosing the perfect Real Christmas Tree

We always have real Christmas trees at home, for me there's nothing better. You can't beat the smell of the pine and the natural look and shape of a real tree.  There's also environmental benefits to a real tree  and I have this argument time and time again, but they are grown as a crop, like any other crop.  I think people somehow think it's bad to go around chopping down trees, but the fact is they are grown specifically for this purpose - just like any other plant crop, and if everyone suddenly stopped buying real ones, there'd be considerably less trees grown on our planet!

We spotted the tree in the photo earlier in the year, in fact it way May!  Hidden deep in the forest, we were astounded that someone must have walked for miles carrying all those decorations to dress a tree that practically nobody would see.  It felt magical, and I still don't know the story behind it, I guess we'll never know!

There are of course pros and cons to having a real tree inside your home, and everyone's needs and desires are different so the Forestry Commission have come up with this handy guide to choosing the right one for your home.

All of the christmas trees sold at the Forestry Commission sites are 'Santa Approved' and with each purchase you get your own living mini sapling to take home, meaning you can grow your very own tree in your garden.  Many sites are also holding festive events too, from Golden Pine Cone hunts, to arts and craft sessions, and of course, Santa's Grotto.  Check out what's happening near you.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Deck out your home this Christmas for less with Poundland's cracking value

Christmas is such an expensive time of the year right?  All those presents, the food, the drink, the parties, the new frock and the Christmas jumpers...it all adds up.

So when it comes to dressing the house, I like to try and save costs where I can.  I have my old favourites in the loft which come out year after year, but I do try to keep them up-to-date with some on-trend accents and I also tend to use a lot of natural materials such as pine cones, holly and ivy which I gather from the garden or pick up on woodland walks.

To freshen my decorations up, I've been bargain-hunting in Poundland and I have to say, (not that I'm averse to shopping there, or could ever possibly be called a snob) you'd never guess that they came from a discount store.

To create a cosy hygge feel in my dining room, I've decorated the mantle in Scandi style red and white.  Candles for that feeling of warmth and soft lighting, pretty wooden star fairy lights, a sprinkling of candy canes and some real glass vintage style baubles all add to the look. I bought some scented tea lights too to add to the atmosphere and they smell lovely - just £1 for a pack of 16 orange and cranberry scented candles.

Large etched glass vintage style bauble £1, pack of 9 mini mercury glass baubles £1, set of 6 wooden star lights £1

I've kept the feeling if hygge going with my red and white theme. Cosy up with decadent glasses of hot chocolate topped with candy canes, or use them to decorate door wreaths such as this handmade rag wreath I've made. 

Ho ho ho glasses £1 for 2, metal sleigh bells £1 for 10, candy canes £1 for 12, chocolate coins £1 for 15

If you've been hooked by the metallic trend, then these copper fairy lights are just the job.  The Moroccan style, little lattice-work spheres are so stylish. Copper works really well against vibrant green foliage, so these would be perfect for a mini tree or to wrap around a spruce wreath, and being battery operated is a bonus as it makes them more portable.

Set of 10 battery operated copper LED lights £1

Silver metal star lights with blue LED bulbs £1 set of 10 battery operated fairy lights

Icy blues and silvers are a stylish combination, and you can make it grown-up without venturing into Disney's Frozen territory.

Create a cosy basket for guests to grab a snuggly blanket while they enjoy their mulled wine, decorate with frosted glass or these real glass baubles with feathers inside, and the delicate beauty of iridescent star confetti.  As well as all the items for £1, Poundland has started selling more and more larger items, so don't be surprised to pick up some bargains like this gorgeous blue soft fleece blanket for £3.

Blue fleece blanket £3, filament style LED fairy lights set of 6 £1

large glass feather bauble £1, confetti bauble £1 for 2

Stock up on traditional pillar candles too to create mantle decorations and table centrepieces.  Take a rummage through the artificial flower and foliage section, and add fresh greenery from the garden.

Church candle £1, mini glass silver baubles £1 set of 9, silver faux eucalyptus £1 stem of 3

And it's not just the decorations where I've been able to save a few quid, I've also got lots of gorgeous wrapping paper, trimmings, Christmas cards, stocking fillers, chocolates and even this delicious Huntley and Palmers Christmas pudding for just £1.

Huntley and Palmer large Christmas pudding £1, sleigh bells £1 for 10, mini glass baubles £1 for 9

So if you haven't ventured into Poundland for a while, take a look, I'm sure you'd be amazed at their cracking value!

Come and join in the #CrackingValue Twitter party on Friday 9th December from 12:30-2pm to win some prizes! We'll be giving away 5 £20 vouchers throughout the party and trust me, that will go a long way!

Take a look at some of the other amazing Christmas bargains other bloggers have found:

Rock N Roller Baby has a festive table display
Little Likely Lads looks at gifts and wrapping
Deep In Mummy Matters looks at living room decorations
What Hannah Did Next shows off her Christmas dining table
Modern Mummy shows off her colourful eclectic style
Blog By Baby has some gorgeous gifts and wrapping ideas
The Joy Of Five has a stunning fireplace decoration
Innocent Charms Chat shows off her choice of decorations
What the Redhead Said has a stunning Christmas Tree

Disclosure: I was sent £50 voucher to purchase Christmas items to showcase them.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Playbrush - The smart new way for kids to brush their teeth

Now I'll admit, when I was first asked to review a new bluetooth children's toothbrush, I thought it was a bit of a gimmick.  I mean, does anyone really need a smart toothbrush?

But I have to say, from my initial thoughts, I am pretty much won over.

The new Playbrush has been developed by a start-up company as a fun way to get over that perennial problem of getting children to brush their teeth properly. My daughter is 8 years old, so she's obviously past that stage where I brush her teeth for her or monitor her intently.  She's looking for more privacy in the bathroom and I need to be able to let her deal with her personal hygiene herself.  However, as a mum, I know she hasn't been brushing her teeth for the full two minutes as recommended, and I'm pretty sure she isn't doing all areas of her mouth thoroughly.  Luckily for us, her six-monthly dental visits are always issue free, but I'd like to keep them that way and prevent any future dental health problems.

At this festive time of the year, we also have the added problem of advent calendar chocolate for breakfast!

So how is Playbrush different?

Well, it's a silicone cap device which fits snugly to the base of any manual toothbrush (although there is also a new toothbrush included in the box).  It means, going forward, we can just replace worn brushes, but still use the device.  After a simple charge via a usb, the attachment transforms the brush into a games controller.  Using bluetooth technology to connect to your phone or iPad, it works with downloadable games to encourage better brushing.

There are currently four games available, free to download, which gives plenty of variety and your child won't get bored.  Each time the teeth are brushed, you can chose which game you want to play and collect points for good brushing.  The way the games are devised, it promotes good speed of brushing, different angling and directional movement of the brush to get into all the nooks and crannies of the mouth.  Little motivational messages pop up as you go, and there's a countdown timer to keep you going for the full 2 minutes.

I really like the leaderboard idea, it gives a competitive edge which I think kids love and will keep them motivated to try harder.  You also get a snapshot report at the end of the teeth brushing session to tell you which areas of the mouth you've cleaned properly, again, great for improving your dental hygiene.

I love that it takes away the twice daily battle of getting my daughter to do her teeth - she's super keen to get brushing now and improve her scores and I no longer have to nag her.

As a parent, you can sign up for a progress report, to keep track of how your child is getting on.

The Playbrush has been developed with leading experts in the dental field, and has been featured in the Guardian and FT.

Because the base is interchangeable, and because you can add multiple profile users to each game, it's really cost effective for larger families, meaning you only have to purchase one of the devices and change it around on different sibling's toothbrushes.

My biggest concern was around having my phone or tablet in the bathroom with all that running water - I've had far too many bowls of dried rice incidents!  However they've thought of that too - included in the box is a plastic holder with suction cups allowing you to safely store your phone away from the sink while playing.

All in all, I'm really impressed.  It's a very well thought-out product and helps tackle an issue which many parents face every morning and evening, so well done Playbrush!

The Playbrush is currently at sale price of £19.99 making it the ideal Christmas present.  It comes with a 2 year warranty and there's a 30 day money-back guarantee if you're not happy.  Chose from pink or blue.

Disclosure: I was sent a sample to review.  All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

David Walliams talks about The Midnight Gang

We've read every book he's written.  Then we've read them again. And again. Honestly, I don't think David Walliams could write a bad children's book. Each one is hilarious, crammed with fantastic characters and dreamed up by a rare and brilliant mind.  Cross between Roald Dahl and Kenneth Williams, he's guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

When news of his latest book The Midnight Gang came out, I was instructed asked to get it pre-ordered so it would arrive on release day.  It was devoured at every opportunity and declared an instant hit! A children's hospital is perhaps an unlikely backdrop for magical adventures, but Walliams delivers with his usual style. It's no surprise that it shot straight to the number one position.

We were lucky enough to attend one of his live shows at the weekend, and meet some of the characters from the story.  The event at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham was raising funds for the Birmingham Children's Hospital and we are all excited to see him.

Lots of people had come dressed in their pyjamas and dressing gowns and every child was presented with a goody bag of a 'midnight feast' before settling down in our seats.  The performance was introduced and hosted by CBBC's Kate Thistleton.  David Walliams came on stage dressed in his dapper silk pyjamas and gold monogrammed slippers.

He began by talking about his inspiration for some of the characters. The Porter for instance in the story is based on one of his favourite characters from childhood- the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Other inspiration came from Peter Pan.

You cannot beat hearing an author reading their work aloud - hearing the intonation and voices that they intended brings the whole story magically to life.  The entire audience were enthralled listening to excerpts of The Midnight Gang.

Of course, like most of his books, Raj the shopkeeper makes an appearance and he told us that this character was inspired by a real life shopkeeper near where he lived.  The shop was chaotic - biros kept in the ice cream freezer, balls of string with the magazines... yet he was always jovial and they used to have a lot of laughs together.  He wanted a character in his books who was an adult, yet not an authority figure like a teacher or parent.  It's funny to think that somewhere in London there's a retired shopkeeper who probably has no idea he's the inspiration for such a much-loved book character!

He talked about his relationship with Tony Ross who illustrates most of his books, how he always gifts him a crate of gin at the end of each project and how he has complete faith and trust in his interpretation of the stories.

In his last book, The World's Worst Children, a collection of short stories, he admitted that Blubbering Bertha was based in part on his sister and he himself was probably most like Windy Mindy - a girl with incredible wind who manages to play the tuba with her bottom burps!

He loves to write about things which are a bit naughty and not usually talked about in polite conversation, and said that's what first drew him to his hero Roald Dahl.

Williams described himself as a reluctant reader as a child and it was only when he discovered Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the magical world that opened up, did he develop a love of reading.  His other childhood favourites were Dr Suess books, Stig and The Dump and Day of the Triffids.

He admitted to feeling some pressure now he's in that position to influence young minds, he loves that he can now encourage reluctant readers, particularly boys, to take an interest in literature, but said it does come with a responsibility.

When compared to Roal Dahl, he felt he's a cheap imitation - a Poundland Dahl, but very much inspired by his style, the forbidden, the dark versus the funny, and his ability to capture the spirit of a character.

As a budding writer, Ruby found it riveting to hear his advice, to look for inspiration everywhere - even the most unlikely of places.  Gangsta Granny for example was based on his own grandmother - no, she didn't steal the crown jewels, but her home did always smell of cabbage and he was quite reluctant to go and visit.  That was until he started to really talk to her about her youth, her history and the exciting adventures she'd had.  He loved to hear her stories of the Blitz in London and it made him realise that everyone's got a fascinating story.

It really was a fascinating show.  We loved hearing some of the thought process and inspiration behind some of our favourite stories, and listening to him read in character's voices was such a magical treat.  If you get the chance to see him, do go along.

You can watch the show on the World of David Walliams Facebook page and he's also appearing in London with Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) at the O2 on1st December - now that will be brilliant!

Disclosure: We were gifted the tickets to see the show.
the Pigeon Pair and Me