Win a Christmas Eve hamper with The Portland Hospital!

For the last two years I have put a box of goodies together for the boys to open on Christmas Eve. Inside, they usually get snacks for themselves and for their impending visitors, a blanket to snuggle up in, some Christmas activities and a book. Last year I put pyjamas in but this year they really don’t need any.

It’s a lovely way to spend such an exciting evening and I have found that if they snuggle under their new blanket with a hot chocolate and a bit of Netflix, they’re nice and calm at bedtime and more than ready to drift off. It makes the evening far less stressful for me if they go to bed on time – if you’re a parent you’ll know exactly how busy Christmas Eve can be!

I love to spread Christmas cheer, which is why I’ve teamed up with The Portland Hospital to bring you an extra special competition! The Portland Hospital is the only private hospital in the UK offering services to Women and Children only.

You could win a Christmas Eve hamper for 2 children to enjoy this year, which will include:

  • Edible treats for the children
  • Two cuddly Christmas toys
  • Snacks for Rudolph & his friends
  • A little something for Santa
  • A Christmas craft activity each
  • A snuggly warm blanket
  • Two special baubles for the tree
  • plus surprises!

To be in with a chance of winning a hamper for two children in time for Christmas Eve in your house, simply complete the Gleam widget below. Be sure to enter today – this competition is only running for nine days!

Portland Hospital Hamper

Portland

Disclaimer: This post is brought to you by The Portland Hospital – the only private hospital in the UK dedicated exclusively to the care of women and children. For more information, please visit – www.theportlandhospital.com

Twinkl around the world

I really wanted to do some activities with the boys that introduced them in a fun way to discover the countries of the world. They’re in different key stages at school so my approach needed to be suitable for them both. As usual, twinkl.co.uk was my first port of call.

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I wasn’t sure what I needed exactly, but there were lots of excellent ideas within the resources thrown up by the twinkl website search and I opted for the Christmas Around the World board game. Perfect for this time of year and just right for introducing the boys to the big wide world. I like Twinkl games because they don’t take up very much room at all – we often print some out to take on camping trips.

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Without giving too much away, players must make their way around the world and answer one question correctly on the subject of each continent. They may travel by rail, sea or air depending on how they roll the dice and they must return to their starting country (determined by picking a country from a hat) in order to win.

Some of the questions are very easy, some a little trickier and some look for an answer of true or false.

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By the time the game is over, all players know at least one fact about each continent of the world. It’s great fun, educational, extremely good value for money and can either be recycled after use or – as we did – the question cards and board etc can be laminated and the game can be stored in the smallest space to be played over and over. This version of the game is seasonal but only the player pieces reflect that and so with different pieces (available on twinkl.co.uk) the game works well all year round.

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This game is the beginning of a very special project for us; a project that is going to take us quite a while to finish. We’ll be looking at different countries each week using Twinkl resources and we’re in the process of decorating our very own ‘World Box’ where the boys will collect a record of everything we’ve done.

Next week we’ll be looking at France. Pop back then to see what we got up to! 

Yellow Moon Christmas Craft

We are always pleased to receive a parcel full of craft supplies from Yellow Moon. This time, our mystery review box was filled with Christmas craft kits, so like any regular person would in the middle of November we had a Christmas craft afternoon and really got into the Christmas spirit.

Yellow moon christmas

 

We received:

Penguin sewing decorations

Christmas foam glasses

Santa beard whistles

Star glitter mosaic wand kit

Christmas printed paper

Reindeer Gift Bag Kits

Tumbling Snowmen

We set to work as soon as the delivery arrived and Rowan chose to start with the penguin decorations. This is a sewing activity which is something he really enjoys, so it didn’t take him long to make his first penguin. First though, is the small matter of threading the needle…

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Once that’s done it’s a case of following the really simple instructions and using everything provided to make a super cute penguin decoration.
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What I like best about craft packs from Yellow Moon is that you don’t need anything else apart from what’s provided, unless it requires PVA glue which most craft loving households will have anyway.

In just twenty minutes, the penguin was stuffed, sewn and hung! Rowan was super tired too but didn’t lose patience because there’s nothing too taxing about this kit.
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We set our box of goodies aside then until Louis’ friend came to stay. They particularly liked the Santa whistles!
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We also tried the Christmas glasses and Mosaic wands. The wands take a little extra time if you’re doing them properly but the children were very pleased with the outcome.

Again, you don’t need to add anything apart from glue to the mosaic wand kits, and nothing at all to the glasses kits.
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We used the Santa face stickers to decorate our letters to the big man himself and posted them off – I hope he likes them!

We’ve got a large pack of Christmas design paper in various patterns so tomorrow evening we’ll be doing something with that… I’ll know exactly what once I drag myself away from Pinterest this evening!

Christmas Gift Guide: for the grown ups

Last week I did my little guide to stocking fillers under £10 and today I bring you my top five picks for grown ups.
Some of these things are suitable for men and women but some are geared more towards one or the other.
There are so many gift guides around at the moment so I’m keeping mine brief yet (hopefully) useful!
Gift Guide: grown ups

Some of the things I love this year are:

Echo Falls Tisane: No word of a lie, this is the best, most satisfying non-alcoholic wine I’ve ever had. I’m driving on Christmas Day and this is definitely what I’ll be drinking. Available (as far as I can find) at Asda and Ocado for £5 or less.

Olverum Bath Oil: Until you’ve tried Olverum Bath Oil you really, really can’t knock it. At just over £36 for 200ml this is by far the most expensive bath oil I’ve ever tried but I promise you, it leaves your skin feeling amazing.

Magazine Subscription: I’ve bought magazine subscriptions from magazine.co.uk for both my husband and the boys this Christmas. They’ll be receiving National Geographic and Nat Geo Kids respectively, and I know they’re going to love reading them together.

Gillette Proglide Travel Set: For my husband who often works away from home, this is a perfect gift. He is required to be clean shaven at work so needs a very good, close shave and this razor achieves that.

Soap and Glory: I really love Soap and Glory and so do my sisters. I’ve bought the bauble from Boots this year (can’t say who for!) and wouldn’t mind receiving it myself actually (massive hint).

What gifts are you buying for your loved ones this year? Do you have anyone really tricky to buy for? Do you have any tips for choosing gifts?

Writing to Father Christmas plus free Pip Ahoy! downloads!

It was the most important letter you wrote each year. You might have written several different version of it, all with similar content but perhaps with an extra item or two.

I used to leaf through the Index (remember that?!) and Argos catalogues and list 30 or 40 things I needed in my life, then once I’d had a think about it I’d perhaps cross out the 13th Sindy doll on the list because 12 was probably going to be enough.

I sat with the boys this week while they wrote their own letters to Father Christmas. Louis’ list was simple, if not a bit lengthy:

Letters to Father Christmas - Louis 1

Letters to Father Christmas - Louis 2

I love how in part two he attempts to bribe Santa with food. He’s a boy after my own heart! (Also, guess who’s had a talking to about respecting their parents). Louis’ list consists mainly of football related items, which is no great surprise. He has also asked for an iPad so I was surprised to see that omitted from his list. Perhaps he just ran out of space!

Rowan was slightly more random with his list, which in fact started with a blatant fib:

Letters to Father Christmas - Rowan

Even I can’t make out exactly what’ on this list, so Father Christmas has got no chance, but I note that this boy who cannot yet tell the time has requested not one, but two watches.

He used the Argos wishlist app and so I eventually received no less than 13 emails detailing the things he would like this year, with 20 items in each message. Good luck with that, kiddo!

Since the boys were getting into the Christmas spirit, I thought I may as well write my own letter to the big man. You know how the saying goes… if you don’t ask, you don’t get!

Letters to Father Christmas - Karen

I think I’ll just put mine in my husband’s pocket though, and save a stamp.

What have your children asked for this year? I have some free Pip Ahoy! printables for you to download and use to help you get into the swing of Christmas. The downloads include the template we have used to write to Father Christmas, colouring sheets, a placemat, games, craft ideas and more! We’re going to decorate our placemats and laminate them ready for Christmas dinner.

Access the full set here: Pip Ahoy! printables

I’d love to know what’s on your child’s Christmas list this year – come and share your Pip Ahoy! letters to Santa on the Facebook page – you never know who’s reading… it could be Santa himself!

Review & Competition: Pip Ahoy!

Ahoy there, Mateys!

Pip is a a much loved little sea pup in our house. From Channel 5’s Milkshake!, Pip and his friend, a kitten named Alba, enjoy some wonderful adventures in their home town of Salty Cove in a beautifully animated show called Pip Ahoy!.

Aimed at children aged 3-6, viewers follow Pip and his friends through the trials and tribulations of life, promoting kindness and friendship throughout each episode. Characters are voiced by some great celebrities including David Jason and Stacey Solomon, (though don’t try explaining to your five year old that Skipper’s voice is the same as Del Boy’s – it will be a conversation resulting in the confusion of a small person).

We tried out one of the toys from the Pip Ahoy! range last week, the Pip Ahoy! Lighthouse Playset, which is available to buy from all good toy retailers including Amazon and Argos. The best price I found for the lighthouse we reviewed was from Smyths Toy Superstore at £21.99.

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The lighthouse is the largest piece in the current Pip Ahoy! toy collection and a great one to buy for any little fan. Rowan wasn’t happy playing on the carpet with his though because Pip lives by the sea, so naturally we had to play by the ‘sea’ too. Luckily he was willing to negotiate so we played by the kitchen sink!

Playing with lighthouseThe lighthouse is a great toy for encouraging imaginative play, and we spent a lot of time re-enacting the stories from the Pip Ahoy! cartoon as well as making up our own little stories too, including some extra characters, such as our bath shark, making cameo appearances.

The playset is sturdy and well made as you’d expect from John Adams, and has a little boat too, which can be launched from the side of the lighthouse. It doesn’t float independently all that well, but if you position Pip strategically enough you can get a little bit of buoyancy. The whole set is ergonomically designed for little hands, and the working lift is really easy for small children to operate independently. Rowan and I played for a good three quarters of an hour with this, then he played with the set by himself for longer still.

I would recommend buying this with the set of Pip Ahoy! characters which are available separately, so that little Pip does have someone to talk to and play with, though friends from your toy box would be welcome too I’m sure.

Would you like to WIN a Pip Ahoy! Lighthouse Playset? Of course you would – it’d make a great Christmas gift and will be delivered just in time for the big day – it’ll certainly save Santa one job!

Simply complete the gleam widget here – good luck!

Pip Ahoy! Lighthouse Playset

Did you know?

There’s a Pip Ahoy! Twitter party coming soon!

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Review & Competition: Bratz #SelfieSnaps Doll

Bratz are back and they’re better than ever. They’re sassy and cool, they’re travelling the world and they’re instagramming it all.

We received a Bratz #SelfieSnaps Jade doll and enlisted the help of our very own diva friend Ava for the purpose of this review.

Bratz SelfieSnaps

In addition to the actual figure, there are several accessories within the set. A few keys points are:

  • Each doll comes with glasses and a soft plush hat – perfect for taking a selfie!
  • Complete with tech inspired earrings, their own smart phone and two smart phone cases that can actually hold the phone
  • Comes with additional cool hats and glasses for photo-styling fun, extra jewellery and accessories , plus the lip gloss really opens!

Ava Doll 2

Ava tried out the #SelfieSnaps Jade doll for herself, and came up with this feedback:

  • The dolls are sturdy and durable
  • Having accessories to swap and change is a definite plus – Ava really enjoyed changing around the doll’s style and played longer than usual because of the added accessories
  • Ava particularly liked that she could brush Jade’s hair

Ava doll 1

I’d say the only two areas I would improve would be to provide somewhere to store all of the accessories since they’re so small and can easily get lost. Secondly, the packaging could be reduced  – there is quite a lot of it and it’s a bit difficult to get into. Two small points there though and only things that parents would be concerned with – Ava had nothing negative to say at all about her Bratz #SelfieSnaps Jade doll.

Bratz are definitely on the must-have list of children across the country this Christmas and even the X-Factor judges have been immortalised as Bratz dolls!

x factor Bratz

You don’t need to miss out on the Bratz action either, because I am fortuate enough to have one Bratz #SelfieSnaps doll to give away to one lucky reader. Just enter using the gleam widget below. Good luck!

Bratz #SelfieSnaps Doll

Christmas Gift Guide: Stocking fillers for under £10

It’s just six weeks to Christmas 2015 and so it’s time for the Grumpyishmum gift guides!

I’m easing you in gently with stocking fillers: everything within this post is under a tenner. After scouting around both online and off, these are my suggestions…

Tea

TeaPigs

My husband is a bit of a tea fanatic. Earl Grey, Lady Grey, Chai, Lapsang Souchong… you name it he’s tried it. Teapigs spiced winter red tea will be perfect for him. It’s like Christmas in a cup! It’s a caffeine-free rooibos tea with orange cloves and cinnamon. Think mulled wine, mistletoe, winter coats and rosy cheeks… You can drink it as a caffeine-free chai latte or add a drop of brandy to make a hot toddy. Perfect stocking filler.

From £4.49 at www.teapigs.co.uk Waitrose, Harvey Nichols, Selfridges and key retailers across the UK.

 Socks

Who doesn’t love cool socks? I have to have these superhero socks for the boys – I’m sure they will make running even more fun!

cape socks

These SockShop Batman Cape Socks are cotton rich, so they’re very wearable and comfortable, despite their novel looks. OK, they’re not exactly school wear, but he’ll love the jokey style and kitsch looks – if you’re lucky, you might even catch him bounding around the house with his twin capes flowing in the wind! A red, yellow and blue Superman design is also available as well as plenty of options for women.

Chocolate

Christmas morning wouldn’t be complete in our house without a lot of chocolate. I’m not the type to turn down any kind of chocolate, but the ‘Endless Wispa really caught my eye – a string of 4 Cadbury Wispa bars sticking out of the top of my stocking? Yes please.

endless wispa

Selection box

Not everyone loves chocolate as much as I do, but most selection boxes contain nothing but chocolate. If you’re looking for an alternative, try a Chewits selection box instead. It might even last a little bit longer (though I couldn’t guarantee it!).

Chewits

The Chewits Selection Box is one of the only sweet selection boxes available to buy. It’s a real treat with eight full-size chewy stickpacks, including favourites Strawberry, Fruit Salad and Xtreme Sour Apple. The Selection Box is the perfect stocking filler and is ideal for those who love a sweet treat.

Augmented reality book

You can’t really go wrong with a fun book when it comes to kids. Something I’ve never seen before is this interactive book from Zapper.

Interactive book

Available now at Amazon and priced at £4.99, The Adventure Suit is a rip-roaring adventure for girls and boys, brought to life with augmented reality technology and the free to download Zappar app.

So there are a few ideas here for something a little bit different to put into this year’s stockings. I don’t know about you, but our stockings seem to get better and better every year. One thing you should never forget though are the chocolate coins – a Christmas stocking institution!

*Disclosure: Cadbury sent me an Endless Wispa – and I ate it all.

Our adoption story

Betsy

I’ve written previously about our beautiful family dog, Betsy. We had Betsy come to live with us when she was just 10 weeks old and we celebrated her third birthday last month. She is as much a part of our family as one of the kids and she’s spoiled rotten. She has more haircuts and pedicures than I do and we plan each day around her. That’s just how a dog’s life should be.

Life wasn’t always that way for Betsy. She was kept in terrible conditions with hundreds of other dogs until she was rescued and her ‘breeder’ was prosecuted. She was lucky that she was still so young. Many of the older dogs wouldn’t have been as lucky as her, as will have been left scarred by their unhappy lives.

Having a dog (or any pet) in the family should never be a decision that is made quickly. You need to think deeply about how much time you can give to your new family member, how much having a dog will cost, what you will do with your dog when you go on holiday and how much exercise your dog will get.

You also need to consider which type of dog would be best suited to your family. There are so many breeds, all with different personality traits. Betsy is a border collie and so she requires a lot of exercise, so my working from home is perfect for us. She wouldn’t be happy if I took a 9-5!

betsy hi5

Once you’ve decided on the pet you’d like, what’s your next step? Pet shop? May I please, please recommend looking to rescue instead? I can understand your concerns. What have they been through? How has their bad experience affected their temperament? Whatever questions you have, go to a rescue centre and ask them. You’ll get sound advice from someone who just wants the best for the animals and not the sales pitch of a breeder trying to shift the runt of the litter.

Not all rescue dogs have been through a terrible ordeal. Some, like Betsy, are just babies themselves. Give them a chance.

Read up a little on the process of adoption, on how to choose the right pet and get some advice on rehomed animals. If you end up with a dog half as perfect as Betsy, it’ll be the best thing you ever did.

Thanks to RSPCA for providing links to some great advice.

Game Review: Don’t Rock the Boat

The boys have reviewed a few games from University Games in the past, and this time we’ve got Don’t Rock the Boat.

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It’s a game of balance, skill and a dash of luck, and is suitable for between 2 and 4 players aged 5 and over.

Game experts University Games say:

Ahoy, mateys! Arrrrr ye ready to set sail on a rockin’ adventure with a crew of 16 pirate penguins? Take turns balancing the pirate penguins on the ship without making it tip! Be ever so careful, if you rock the boat and send the penguins overboard, ye might have to walk the plank! A fun balancing game for all buccaneers!

We were really looking forward to trying this game out as I’d seen other reviewers raving about it and I had a great feeling that the boys, particularly my 5 year old, would love it.

I wasn’t wrong! Rowan really enjoyed playing this game, even though it actually took him quite a few games to get the hang of balancing the penguins on the ship.

Don't rock the boat 1

You can see the concentration here on his face, and I was surprised that he stuck with it after the first couple of failed attempts to add penguin to the boat. Once he’d grasped it though he returned to the game two or three times that first day, then took it to his friend’s house when he went for tea. A positive sign if ever there was one!

Don’t Rock the Boat is really simple to set up, which is typical of games by University Games. The rules are simple; balance your penguins on the boat but don’t make it tip!

The game is sturdy and well made, and the penguins are the perfect size for small hands. They’re not overly heavy, meaning the game isn’t over in a flash, but just weighty enough to mean that players need to really think about balance and the consequences of their next move.

Don’t Rock the Boat is available at Toymaster, Argos, Toys R Us, Amazon, and Smyths and has an SRP of £14.99 – the best price I found was £11.81 with free delivery on Amazon.co.uk (affiliate link).

To read our reviews of other University Games products, click here.