A Reflection of 2011

Should we be reflective of what has happened on our blogs over the past twelve months or should we be look forward into the future?  I believe that whatever you have written is part of the building blocks of your blog and acts as the foundations.  If you hadn't written any of those posts, you wouldn't be where you are now.

Learning to use my camera

I'm not a great photographer by any means, but I am interested in the concept of scenic and unusual photography so when I received a Nikon L120 Coolpix camera as part of my Christmas present I was determined to get out and about with it.  Today was the first expedition.

DO NOT BE ALONE THIS CHRISTMAS

I'm one of the lucky ones.  I have my family with me over the Christmas period, the cupboards and fridge are heaving with food and treats and there are an abundance of presents under the tree.

But not everyone is lucky enough to be with their loved ones for whatever reason.  If you are one of these people please do not be alone this Christmas.  Here are some organisations that are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including Christmas.  Pick up the phone and talk to them.

And please, if you know of someone in need, pass on the information on this blog post.

Happy Christmas, Everyone!








For once in my life, everything seems to be done prior to tea time on Christmas Eve.  I braved going into town for the final present that I had forgotten the last three times I went into town some last minute bits and pieces, the sausages and bacon for 'pigs in blankets' and the Christmas booze from Asda.  Yes, even I thought this was a bit stupid but needs must.  I was lucky though, everywhere was quiet and even the Salvation Army brass band were playing.  I love a good brass band - so traditionally wonderful.

Anyway, shopping done, presents wrapped, all Santa-runs completed, wine chilling, take-away arranged for tea.  I think it's time to sit back and.... RELAX!




Wishing all my readers a very happy Christmas.

Google+ : How I Am Using It

I have been trying to find a way to get Google+ to work for me.  I have always been a great advocate of Google but I didn't want yet another social media platform to update constantly with another mixture of friends to entertain at regular intervals.  Getting my head round 'circles' and sharing was one task and the fact that it was so quiet on the G+ platform was another.  Beta testing mode meant that it was rolled out slowly, hence less 'noise' but I felt that users were feeling the need to be seen to be active as I was seeing updates in triplicate across G+, Facebook and Twitter.

Cancer - Your Story : I Am Superman

Editors Note:  You "meet" all sorts of people when you blog; some are fellow bloggers, some are readers and some are the lovely PR's who contact you for various reasons.  And of those PR's it's also nice to hear from them that they do actually read your blog.

Daniel - one of the afore-mentioned PR's - approached me a short while ago to ask if he could post his own cancer-related story and his style of writing is infectious and page turning (if blogs had physical pages).  And as this occasional series of personal stories is all abut breaking the taboo of cancer, I'm honoured that Daniel requested that he openly and honestly shares his experience of testicular cancer.  As he says at the end of his story, he is open to questions so please feel free to ask in the comments.  You may use the "Guest" option if you wish to remain anonymous.

Festive Cottages to see at Christmas

When it gets towards Christmas, everybody wants to get festive and cheer in this happy season. Finding the right presents to buy and places to go can be a difficult task. Don’t fret though because we’ve come up with some of the most festive cottages to see this Xmas.

·         Demelza Barn, Cornwall - When it comes to the best holiday cottages, many of them are found down in Cornwall where you can enjoy the many amenities, harbours and countryside walks that the region has to offer. At Christmas, the festivities begin and you are able to enjoy harbour lights at St Ives and Porthleven – both of which are within walking distance of this wonderful property.

·         Libby’s Place, Haworth – A trip to Bronte Country is always a romantic time, but seeing this charming village that was home to the famous sisters covered in snow and festive lights is something that makes for a unique holiday. Take in the famous countryside while walking your way through the cobbled streets of the old-fashioned destination.

·         House Martins, Carey – Set in the heart of England, the hamlet of Carey is found a stone’s throw from Hereford. This holiday cottage boasts an open fire and sleeps six, making it the perfect family getaway over Christmas. With numerous walking trails to enjoy, and the magnificent Brecon Beacons to admire, this is a great place to visit at Christmas.

·         Bramble Cottage, Robin Hood’s Bay – A quaint village with a magical name, this bay is found between Whitby and Scarborough on the North Yorkshire coastline and is full of charm for everybody – whether you’re a cliff top walker or a beach stroller.  Coastal cottages at Christmas can be magical, and from this base you can discover North Yorkshire or sit and watch the world go by with a sea view.

·         Weavers Cottage, Gatehouse of Fleet – A rundown of festive cottages just wouldn’t be complete without a look at Scotland. This cottage, found in the countryside of Galloway and Dumfries, was once a mill community but now it is a charming small country town that is in close proximity to Castle Douglas and sandy beaches. What’s more is that you can enjoy an open fire during your stay!

So why not make this Christmas extra special for the whole family and enjoy beautiful scenery at some of the most festive cottages in the UK.


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The Ultimate Christmas Song?

Claire has challenged me with finding the ULTIMATE Christmas song.  This seemingly impossible task has already been made difficult by most of the best one's being picked already, including Claire's own choice of Last Christmas and Sian's choice of All I Want For Christmas.

For me, there's only one choice.  I can name it from the first note in true "Name That Tune" style and can name every single person, in order, when not watching the video.  I received the single (yeah, kids, a 'single', remember those?) as one of my Christmas presents in 1984 and I had the 'behind the scenes' programme (Boy George turning up pissed, an atmosphere you could cut with a knife, Status Quo cutting something else with a knife or a credit card...) on video somewhere but it's long gone. *sad face*

And the lyrics... hastily written but very clever.  Maybe it's the nostalgia kicking in but there is no cover that has come close to the quality of the original (not even the version shown on Glee the other night with everyone all happy clappy and cheesy grins - wrong sentiment for the song, in my opinion).

So, what is your ultimate Christmas song?  


Typecast Christmas Music Quiz

I'm trying to get into the Christmas mood so here are ten well-known 
Christmas songs squished up into a 30 second clip. 


video

(if you're  having problems with the player you can also hear the mash-up on this YouTube link)

Fill in your answers on the form below and I'll send out a selection box to the winner in time for Christmas (not because I'm nice but because I bought one too many *ahem*).

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

... well, not really!  I don't feel Christmas-y at all!  I think the main problem is that I am geared up to the fact that my eldest granddaughter is the Queen Of Being Almost Three.  I've been wrapping presents for her ready for Saturday and bemoaning the fact that  I.  F.E.E.L.  O.L.D.!!

Anyway, I remembered that Ruth sent me a little dance video last week and I saved it to favourites to cheer me up whenever I was feeling a little down.  It is now time to share that with you, dear reader.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do...



And then I had a brilliant mental idea to run a little Christmas Music Quiz (stay tuned for that tomorrow).  When I opened YouTube I saw this on the main page.  I really REALLY wish I had thought of this.  I certainly separates the spoilt little brats from the cuties that really do appreciate everything that they are given...



I also wanted to stage a Twitter Pantomime this year but it looks like that was done last year and there is no way I'm going to top the #TwitPanto (seriously, take a look - that must have taken a lot of planning).  I may, however, have been talked into putting on a modern nativity so (a) stay tuned and (b) if you fancy a part and are free next Friday evening then give me a shout on twitter.

Recipe : Potato Cakes

[picture credit]
Yesterday we had some left over boiled potatoes and thought I'd make some potato cakes.  My memory of potato cakes is of mum buying them from a cafe in St Annes-on-sea, just off the Square, and frying them up in a little bit of butter for tea.  They looked a little something like this ~~~~~~~~~~~>

Now, I know mine wouldn't look like that but I googled "potato cake recipes" and was presented with a whole host of different methods.  I scrolled through a few and thought: how hard can it be?  I hate following recipes anyway - that's boring!  Plus I don't have a food processor or a potato ricer (Huh! A what?) and neither did either of my grandmothers.  What was good enough for them is good enough for me so here's my method with some do's and don't's and Top Tips.

 *Ingredients:
  • Some potatoes, cooled and mashed
  • Just over half a very large onion, grated
  • Some cheese, grated
  • One egg, lightly beaten
  • salt and pepper to own taste
  • plain flour for dusting
  • a bit of butter for frying

Method:
  • Mash up the cooled potatoes with a fork and not the potato masher that is neither use nor ornament but still resides in your kitchen drawer for some strange reason.
  • Vigorously grate the onion and spend the next 15 minutes dousing your eyes with cold water to try and stem the flow of onion tears.  Grate the cheese.  You may remember to rinse the grater at this point and prevent another bout of onion tears.
  • Add the onion, cheese, salt and pepper to the mashed potatoes and mix thoroughly.
  • Pour in the beaten egg.  This apparently binds the mixture together.  At this point I regress to my Catholic upbringing and sing "Bind Us Together, Lord" as I'm mixing.  
  • Remind yourself that the idea is to scoop a small amount of the dough in your hand and form into a ball shape, flatten, dust with plain flour and place on a plate ready for frying later.
  • Try to create your first potato cake and realise that you may need to use some flour on your hands to stop the dough from sticking.
  • Throw some plain flour over your hands and try again.  Make a couple more potato cakes and realise that the dough is still a little bit too sticky.
  • Remove all jewellery so that you don't get any more dough lodged in any part of your rings.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly, don't dry them completely and marvel that the next potato cake you try to make doesn't stick to slightly damp hands.
  • Wash hands, repeat the method to make one potato cake, wash hands, repeat the method to make another potato cake, wash hands, repeat the method to make another potato cake, and so on until all dough is used up.
  • To cook, melt a bit of butter in your frying pan, gently place the potato cakes into the pan and fry until golden brown, turning once so that both sides cook.  Here is where you discover that if your mixture has too much cheese in it the potato cakes will become a little bit sloppy when heated up, making it difficult to flip them over.  You can make a mental note to use less cheese next time.  Also, don't put too many in the pan at the same time as you'll find it nigh on impossible to scoop up the sloppy potato cakes to flip them over
  • When completely cooked through and golden brown on both sides, serve to your hungry family.
  • Rescue your jewellery from wherever you left it and scrub it clean with the spare toothbrush from under the sink.
Eat your heart out, Fanny Cradock.  My gâteaux de pomme de terre are just amazing!!





*"some", "just over" and "a bit" are proper measurements in this house.  Oh yes, they are!

The Coca-Cola "Designated Driver" Campaign

Coca-Cola Designated Driver blogger badge
Today, Coca-Cola launch their "Designated Driver" campaign for the festive period. They have joined forces with the Department for Transport to reward responsible drivers with a "buy one, get one free" offer on Coca-Cola and Diet Coke in participating bars and pubs.  The scheme is currently in it's fourth year and over 8000 pubs and bars across the UK have signed up to support responsible drivers.  This is also the first year that NUS bars will also take part in the campaign.  

You can find out which pubs in your local area are supporting this scheme by using the Coca-Cola Designated Driver interactive map and this scheme will run for three weeks, starting today, right up until New Years Eve.  

#tripofalifetime Twitter Party - Monday 5th December - 8pm (GMT)

I'm co-hosting the iExplore #tripofalifetime Twitter Party tonight at 8pm. We're going to be talking about adventure travel, active family holidays and 'thrillaxing'.  I'm joining @KidFriendly_UK and @iExploreUK to discuss travelling with kids and maybe even dreaming about adventures without the children.

If you join in the Twitter party there's chances to win some brilliant prizes!  Just respond to the tweets from @iExploreUK and join in all the discussions.  Here's a sneaky peek at the prizes:

What's In My Box?


After the mix-up the last time I had a delivery of toys I was very interested in the claims of 'discreet packaging' from Vibrators.co.uk.  So, to prove their point they sent me a surprise parcel.  Can you guess what is in it?  Lets have a look at the video...



Now, I'm supposed to post a product review here but *ahem* I'm not really sure how to approach that but you need to know how this product performs, don't you?  Then I remembered a Top Tip!  The best place to try out a vibrator in public is to test it on one of the softest parts of your body...

... THE TIP OF YOUR NOSE!!  

So I did just that and my nose started running.  
I guess that's the equivalent to a nasal orgasm and that's all that matters.  
*cough*

I Need A Kindle

Hit play and sing along with the lyrics below...


Ooo-ooo-ooo-ooooo
Ooo-ooo-ooo-ooooo
Ooo-ooo-ooo-ooooo
Aaahh  Aaahh

Where have all the hardbacks gone?  Are they in the library?
What's all this I hear about samples I can get for free?
Isn't there an e-reader all wrapped up for me?
Late at night I sit in bed with a book upon my knee...

I need a Kindle.  I'm holding out for a Kindle until Christmas Eve
It's gotta be sleek and it's gotta be light
And it's gotta have 3G
I need a Kindle.  I'm holding out for a Kindle until Christmas Eve
With a smooth touchscreen and a cute cover
And have a long battery life, a long battery life.

Ooo-ooo-ooo-ooooo
Ooo-ooo-ooo-ooooo
Ooo-ooo-ooo-ooooo
Aaahh  Aaahh

Somewhere to download books and newspapers just for me
Somewhere to play some games and a built in dictionary
The credit card and an Amazon account at the ready
And sharing integration for my Twitter friends to see

I need a Kindle.  I'm holding out for Kindle until Christmas Eve
It's gotta be sleek and it's gotta be light
And it's gotta have 3G
I need a Kindle.  I'm holding out for a Kindle until Christmas Eve
With a smooth touchscreen and a cute cover
And have a long battery life, a long battery life.

I NEED A KINDLE!

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UPDATE
(see below for further details)

I have set a challenge over on my Facebook page to anyone who can record themselves singing my version of "I Need A Kindle".  Can we make it the Christmas #1?

Using Audioboo or YouTube, record yourself singing the song (with or without rehearsal, interruptions from husbands, kids or pets) and post the link in the comments of my Facebook note.

The #ineedakindlesingalong challenge is live!

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FURTHER UPDATE

What's in my handbag - Part 2

I am currently changing handbags.  Again!  Simply because when a Kate Benjamin handbag arrives from the 'vintage glamour' section of Accessories Direct, in it's own dust bag, wafting that gorgeous smell of leather around, you just have to indulge!  I have an unnecessary obsession with handbags and shoes, but at least they are always guaranteed to fit!

Competitions on blogs : should we charge to host them?

Since I renamed and relaunched this blog a couple of years ago, I have had some fantastic opportunities with plenty of learning curves along the way.  I believe that I am accountable for the content I hold on my blog space and that is an enormous responsibility.  Apart from the occasional featured post (clearly marked, paid-for content), everything on my blog is my own work, my own ideas, my own experiences.  That is what makes it individual.

If you are a regular reader you will know that I occasionally host a giveaway or a competition.  Some of my readers have been the recipients of great prizes.  I enjoy the interaction between brand representatives (a.k.a. PR's) and myself and I wholly believe that PR's contact me because I work hard at my blog and I reach a wide and diverse audience.  Social media networking plays a large part too.  I also know that they find me through the number of ‘charts’ that use rankings – namely the Tots100, Wikio and the original Britmums Klout list.  I receive an enormous amount of offers and press releases each week and choose to work with the brands that I feel fit in well with me, my family and the readers on my blog.  I spend time filtering through the offers and I reply to almost every email I receive (but not the press releases) even if it is to say something on the lines of “thanks but no thanks, however please keep me on your mailing list”.

What is becoming a popular pitch is ‘an amazing opportunity to run a competition’.  I always request the product to review or offer my media pack which details any charges for featured posts.  The return email from the PR is almost always that they have no budget to pay for featuring their content and they only have the prizes available for the competition but believe my blog would benefit from increased traffic.  

It may be worth remembering that the PR contacting me is being paid for their time already.  These PR's appear to value my status but not my time and effort. 

What you decide to publish on your blog is most definitely your decision and you may want a traffic boost.  Sure, some competition entrants may stick around and become engaged in my content but let's look at it another way.  For the grand sum of £0.00 the PR would like me to write a couple of hundred words (sometimes more), organise and moderate a competition over a period of time, fairly and legally pick a winner, notify the winner, handle sensitive data such as personal email addresses and delivery addresses and be the buffer between winner and PR if the prize doesn’t arrive when promised.  All for the privilege of increased traffic which, if the competition proves to be popular, could actually cause my blog to crash as there is a limit to the bandwidth provided.  It would then be up to me to pay my webhost more money for more bandwidth.  

PR’s that do catch my attention are those that think outside of the box a little bit.  Maybe set me a challenge or know that I have teenage children and grandchildren (and don’t even get me started on the ones that haven’t bothered to read my “About Me” page where it details that I live in the North West of England and I work full time – no, I can’t attend a 1.5 hour event in London in four days time!).  The PR's that respect the time and energy that goes into the commercial side of blogging are the ones that I don't mind going the extra mile for.  I might promote something on my Facebook page or Twitter account for them - these places are an extension of me and my blog, after all.

Making my blog slightly commercial was a difficult decision for me to make and I am always reassessing the way in which I present review posts or featured content including creating a disclosure policy that is fair to myself, the brands and my readers.  I want people to read my blog because I provide interesting content with the occasional perk of winning a prize or finding a new product that I recommend (or not - not all reviews are positive).  I want them to return because they like my ‘voice” and I want them to recommend it to their friends. 

Who is providing the guidelines for this very new way in content promotion?  Do the PR’s think that we, as a collective of bloggers, have a general set of guidelines already agreed?  Have we been given the full legal information about running competitions on our blog?  What about promotion on social media platforms?  


Who is there to manage any problems should it all go wrong?

The Perfect Christmas Stocking

Trying to find Christmas presents for teenagers that are both affordable and will be a big hit can prove to be difficult.  Idealo - the price comparison website - have conducted some research and found that the average amount that parents spend on each child at Christmas has risen by 63% from £75 in 1995 to £168 in 2010.

So, Idealo set me a challenge.  They provided me with a kitty of £75 and I had to attempt to put together the perfect Christmas stocking for one of my boys.  I had to find the items on the internet and (preferably) use their price comparison website to try and get the best deal.  Here is what I bought:


The Inbetweeners Movie
£11.99

Fifa12 for the XBox 360
£37.19

Remote Control Spinster
£12.00

Drinking Glasses
£3.50

Two tins of Celebrations
£4.50 each

TOTAL:  £73.68
NB: online prices may change

Now I think that's a Christmas stocking that will suit any teenage boy.  I'm lucky because my boys are old enough to understand how much the items on their wishlist cost.  They don't want little bits and pieces of games any more (but they still get the traditional stocking on the end of their bed - sweets, a comic/magazine, some Christmas tat, socks and underpants (it's a family tradition) and the obligatory satsuma) but it's still a sign of them getting older wyhen you see their Christmas present pile looking a lot smaller.

Using the price comparison website allowed me to find the best deals on the day that I was ordering.  Plus it was really easy to use - you just type your product into the search bar at the top of the website and a list drops in with prices displayed and direct links to the online shop.  You can see how I filtered "Fifa12 XBox 360" to just get the best prices and just searching in the XBox 360 category.  It's a great way to save money or to make your budget stretch that little bit further.

So, what would you buy if you had £75?  Would you spend it on a treat for yourself?  Would you get one main present for your nearest and dearest or a few smaller items?  What are you hoping is in your Christmas stocking this year?






Idealo contacted me and asked to me help them with this feature.
For more details about featured posts please see my disclosure policy.

A Bit Of A Do

When I featured the new #FaceOfRegis and their Rock, Lock and Load competition a couple of weeks ago (which doesn't close until 3rd January 2012) Regis Salons invited me to have a cut and colour by way of a "thank you".

My hair hasn't been its natural colour since I started going grey at the age of 21 and I've probably been every colour you can think off (apart from green).  I've had bleaching disasters (think along the lines of the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland), had to go to work with a dye stain down the back of my neck after home colouring sloppiness and I've had every length of hair going from one extreme to the other when having it cut (from shoulder length hair to clippered at the back in one fell swoop).  I also don't mind experimenting with styles but it never looks the same after the day I step out of the salon.

Blognonymous : Love or Career - WWYD?


This post was submitted to me within the ethos of Blognonymous.  This contributor doesn't blog but heard about the Blognonymous team from a blogger in our community.  


This is an interesting quandary and one I'm sure you'll all have something to contribute; personal experience, friends who have been in a similar situation or even just your own opinion.

If you would like to offer any kind of support in the comments but prefer to remain anonymous yourself then there is a "guest comment" facility - sign out of Disqus (if you have used it before), write your comment, click "Post as..." and you will see "guest" appear as an option.

If you would like to contact the Blognonymous team please click on the image to the right for more details.

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Is it me or is it them?

Did I disappoint every one again?
You know when you feel you can't do right for doing wrong...
Is that why they have all but cut me out of their lives
Or do I have to try harder to make them
Communicate?

I have to question if they still love me or
If live just takes over, as I know it does.
Is it because the memory of the one person
That held us together is
Fading?

I said the wrong thing and apologised
But it didn't mend the gap
Only made it wider.
When that happens, do you leap or do you
Wave?

No-one to ask how I'm doing or
How I am coping with everything here.
Everyone expecting me to carry on being
The strong one.  Which, at the best of times is
Hard!

Two people, ignoring me and still
Expecting me to make an effort.
Talking shouldn't be this hard and
I just want someone to tell me I'm doing
OK!




Children In Need 2011

This time last year I was telling you about my inclusion in an anthology of creative writing of which all profits were being donated to Children In Need.  You can still buy the book, you know - Tiny Acorns is HALF PRICE on the Dotterel Press website now (and postage is free).

So what is going on this year?

The Build-A-Bear Workshop have teamed up once more with Children in Need to create a very special Pudsey and his BFF, Blush.  Last year Build-A-Bear sold over 11,500 Pudsey and Blush bears with £5.00 from the sale of each going directly to the charity - the total donation was £135,000 and they hope to top that this year.  This year, Pudsey has brand new pajamas and slippers and Blush has a new pinafore.  £1.00 from the sale of the outfits is also donated to Children in Need.

Note: The Pudsey Bear retails at £15; Pudsey Bear t-shirt at £5; Pudsey Bear Pyjamas at £10 and the Pudsey Bear slippers at £3.50.  Blush Bear retails at £15; Blush Bear t-shirt at £5 and the Blush Bear dress at £10

Movember and more...

If you've not already heard about Movember then where have you been hiding? Movember is a charity that raises the profile of prostate and other cancers that affect men.  They raise awareness by encouraging the testosterone enhanced among us to be sponsored to grow some face furniture during the month of November... Moustache + November = Movember.  Geddit?

So those of us aren't blessed with a furry top lip (f'nar), what can we do?  Stop bleaching, plucking or waxing for a month?  Oooohhh no... there's a much easier way to go and Mo'.  FACEBOOK!

Debate : Underage Video Gaming

The day Modern Warfare 3 was released there was a great online discussion sparked over on the Blogger.Ed forum regarding the reasons why games and films have classification, especially since the popularity of first-person shooting games grew.


The males in this family are all big gamers.  My husband has a PS3 and an Xbox 360 (both online) and the two boys have an Xbox 360 each (one online, one not).   My sons are 18 and 12 and have unlimited internet access on the computers in their bedrooms and I have always let them play on games that may be rated above their actual age.   


Ruth from Geekmummy has a husband who is also an enthusiastic gamer and they have two young children.  They have very clear views on what they will and will not allow their children to have access to when it comes to online content and it has sparked a very interesting debate.  



You can join the debate over at GEEKMUMMY today 
and we would be grateful for any comments, input and experiences.


To carry on with my point of view over here, if my children had been a similar age to Ruth's then I would (and I did) have a much more focused outlook on what my children would be able to access.  However, they have been part of the growth of the online gaming culture and, as you can see from my side of the debate, we have attempted to discuss various situations that could arise along with the fact that we believe we know our children best and we offer appropriate supervision.

What do you think?  Do you stick to legal classifications (even with films) or do you relax the rules because you know what your children are capable of handling and understanding?

You don't bring me flowers... anymore!

I've just been watching this week's episode of Young Apprentice and it brought back memories of my first Saturday job in our local village greengrocers and florist (small family business).  In any given week could be lugging sacks of potatoes about, bagging up carrots, serving customers on the till but my most favourite part was working in the florists section making up quick bouquets for passing customers.   

I became pretty adept at throwing a few flowers, a bit of foilage and some gypsophellia together into a presentable arrangement, wrapping it in plastic and adding some trimmings.  I had no idea which flowers were which but had a good eye for colour.  I was also fascinated the first time I saw ribbon scored with the edge of the scissors to create the decorative curls! 

One of the best parts of working in the florists though was putting together a gorgous arrangement for a special birthday gift or watching the men (it was always the men) run in either very, very early or very, very late to pick up a forgotten anniversary gift.  It sounds stereotypical but it's so true.  I sometimes wish we got tips for speed arrangements.

I moved away eventually but returned to the very same florists when we were planning mum's funeral.  We had said "no flowers" and wanted donations to go towards a much-needed machine at the hospital that treated mum but my sister and I also wanted our children (five in total) to find special gifts for her so we let them loose and asked them to pick their favourite flower.  The age range of the children was between 2 and 13 and each flower that they picked represented them perfectly; a great big sunflower, a perfect white lily, others that I still didn't know the name of... but each one was matched with plastic and ribbon and the children wrote their own cards.  Personal, pretty, perfect.

Flowers are such an intimate gift - so many ways to get it right, so easy to arrange and something that brightens up the room immediately.  And typically, I can count on one had the amount of times that my husband has bought me flowers... FIVE!!  When he first met me, after the birth of each child and then after a big operation.  So every time this song comes on the radio, I sing it at him.  Loud!




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X Factor - Week 5 - Live Blog

The Transatlantic Blonde asked me to live blog the X-Factor show this week whilst she's living it up in America.  Here's a snippet but click through to read the rest...
Kelly is back from her skive, Tulia is trying it on for the sympathy vote, Gary is moaning about what a tough job it’s turned out to be and Louis is playing the ‘bitch to the media’ card a couple of weeks early. It’s Club Classic Floor Fillers Dancefloor Classics week, people, and I’m all prepared for a little bit of chair dancing and a sing-a-long so let’s hope I’m not disappointed. PLUS it’s an X Factor DOUBLE ELIMINATION this week so everyone is at risk



Screw Fix?

I have become acquainted with people from all walks of life during my time online.  What I never expected was the revelation that one of those friends was the owner of a now-defunct online adult toy store.   He was clearing the attic out one day and discovered a couple of boxes of old stock.  I logged on to our mutual forum to find him offering free goodie boxes to his friends.  First come, first served.

Well, what's a girl to do?  Free is free, right?  And everything needs renewing from time to time, doesn't it?

So we conversed a little by email and he arranged to send the box by courier so that it would arrive, in plain packaging, on a Saturday.  The doorbell rang at about 2pm and I signed for the box.  It was heavy and I also noticed that it was sealed with 'Screwfix' branded tape.  "You sarcastic, sod, Andy!" I sniggered under my breath.  It was uncharacteristically quiet in our house so I prepared to peel off the tape and have a sneak preview.

I was greeted with a box full of nuts and bolts - varying shape and sizes. Cue: confused face

Five seconds later someone rattled the letterbox.  I went to answer the door and found a very flustered courier holding a slightly smaller box.  He explained that he had turned up at the next delivery address and noticed that he had mixed the packages up.  I quickly resealed the first box and made the swap, noting that my box hadn't been tampered with.  *Phew*

Can you imagine what the other person would have thought if they'd have been presented with a box full of appendages of varying colour, shape and size and an abundance of other kinky paraphernalia instead of their shiny silver bits and pieces?

Oh, and you know how Emily had problems finding a way to dispose of a vibrator?  We had the same dilemma with two full sized half-arm fists.  In their original packaging.  And, no, you can't list them on eBay, so I found out, but you can triple bag them and put them in the "non-recyclable" crusher at your local waste disposal centre.

Top Tip to make new boots last longer

I have a fantastic Top Tip straight from a cobbler that will make your boots last twice as long.

These boots were made for working...
I bought these boots from Tesco yesterday after searching high and low for a pair of flat heeled, black, knee-high boots that were actually in my price range (i.e. as cheap as cheap can be without actually being free), completely flat and truly knee-high.  I needed them for work.

Our local friendly cobbler told me that ALL new boots should be resoled and reheeled before wear as many boots and shoes are made with very thin soles which wear out quite easily.  There must be some truth in the theory because my last pair of boots lasted me four years after an initial resole.

Unless he's talking cobblers, of course, and I've just fallen for the oldest trick in the book: "How to make money out of gullible customers and keep a dying trade in business."


PS:  The boots are lovely; really comfortable and I'm probably going back to buy the same pair in brown when I have some spare cash.  Shame they're not leather.

Remembrance Day

Today I am guest posting over at Domestic Goddesque

In November of each year, all the local forces organisations, voluntary groups and beyond took part in the Remembrance Day parade.  My final parade as Lance Corporal in the Girls Venture Corps was to be marker in the squad and to lay the wreath on the Cenotaph.  The greatest honour ever, in my opinion.
  
To read my "Remembrance Day" memory in full 
head on over there.


There's also a photo of me in uniform for you to giggle at...





EXCLUSIVE: Who is the new Face of Regis?

Watch this exclusive video to find out who the new face of Regis Salons UK is and then keep reading for all the details of an amazing competition run by Regis Salons where you can win a year's worth of hair services and a Canon 550D digital camera.






Aaaahhhhh I have SERIOUS hair envy when it comes to Emma Willis.  She always looks gorgeous, doesn't she?  I am so excited to be working with Regis Salons over the next couple of months. I'm going to check out their Preston salon and I will also be having a delve into one of their Regis Designline gift baskets before Christmas so keep an eye out for those reviews.

Emma is also going to be writing a monthly update on the Regis blog.  Also on the blog, you can also find out how you can get £10 off your next visit to your local Regis salon.




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Highly Recommended : October 2011

Welcome to my occasional series of recommendations.  Here are my star items for October 2011 from the gifts and samples I have been sent this month.  I will be either recommending the product or the service.  This month I have some special offer codes for you and TWO giveaways for you to enter.

Conversations with my Grandchildren - Part 1

I had the BEST conversation  with my granddaughter.  She will be three years old in December.

Amie: Nana, I going big school in January coz I'm a big girl.
Me: Yes, you're a very big girl, love.  It'll be very exciting.
Amie:  Yes, I going big school and it might be raining.

And in other news, Megan (almost 20 months old) shouts "NANA" (pronounced "nan-er" at the top of her voice constantly whenever she's near me.  On Thursday, she was started shouting "GRANDAD" whenever he wasn't in the room.  RESULT!

Christmas Hampers

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For more information please see my disclosure policy


Often, parents find themselves looking for new levels of convenience during the holiday season. After all, this is obviously a busy time of year, and the added pressure of making it a special time for your children adds quite a bit of time, effort and work. Therefore, it is always a good idea to keep your eyes peeled for quicker and more effective ways to decorate, shop, etc. One thing to keep in mind specifically, if you have never done this before, is to take a look at Christmas hampers from Marks & Spencer. These gifts are available to order online, and you can have them sent directly to the gift recipient. Furthermore, they come with assortments, rather than individual items, meaning that they can appeal to entire families or groups. Here are some brief descriptions of a few of the nicest Christmas hampers available at this specific store.

Telly Addict

It was only last week when Alex pointed out to me that he had got hooked on X-Factor thanks to my tweets and then wanted tips on how to watch TV and tweet effectively (prime position in the lounge, laptop on knee, Tweetdeck on full screen, peer over the top of the laptop - just in case you're interested) I realised that I do actually watch a lot of telly - and tweet about it too.  But who doesn't these days?  Even those who don't use Twitter comment on Facebook about what they're watching.

But seriously - I started counting up and realised that I watch a LOT of crap.  Or is it just that a lot of crap is being made now and is spoon-fed to me during my prime TV watching hours?  The TV seems to be on all the time at our house, even as background noise.  We have access to god only knows how many channels thanks to our satellite subscription and there's always some schmaltzy Disney/Nickelodeon guff or music video blaring out when I'm not watching my reality/home improvement/cooking/singing/fashion shite.  I mean, I'm the sort of person who starts practicing her 'smize' the second the theme tune to America's Next Top Model starts, much in the same way most women clench their fanny muscles as soon as the hear the words 'pelvic floor'

The book review that isn't really a book review

I used to devour a fair few books a week and was a regular at the local library (by the way, does anyone remember the mobile library that used to call round?  I've just had a major flashback to the one that called to the end of my Nana's road in St Annes. Aaahh nostalgia.) but there are less and less books coming into the house now mainly because I spend far too much time online.  I've got a pile of books on my table that I keep meaning to read but if I could... just... put... down... the... laptop... BUT NO!! The pull of my internet life is too strong.  How sad is that?

Listography : Top 5 Keyword Searches

This week Listography is back over at KateTakes5's blog and she wants to know about the top 5 keyword searches on our blogs.  My top five are really boring.  Honestly, you don't want to know what they are.  You'll say, "Really, Nickie?  That's yawnsome!"

So here are some of the more interesting ones:

Live Blog : #princesbrekkie Radio Day




#PrincesBrekkie Radio Day

Today I am sat in a recording studio in Manchester with Amy from "And One More..." waiting to be patched in to a number of radio stations around the UK to talk about healthy breakfasts, trying to ease the stress at breakfast time and what it's like being a busy mum.  We are here on behalf of Princes, in conjuction with their campaign to get tinned fruit incorporated into breakfast as a quick and easy alternative along with it being one of that all important 5-a-day.  Stay tuned as you can follow the #princesbrekkie twitter stream here too.

Don't forget to enter my competition to 
which closes tonight at 23:59
(Monday 17th October)

Bump!

I am setting up for a launch meeting at work (it's OK, I don't work for NASA but we're very excited about some Big Lottery funding we have recently been awarded) and my phone rings.

"Hello, it's Jake's school.  He's had a bit of an accident..."

I squeak, "Oh god, no!  What's happened?" Everyone turns to look at me, their panic-stricken faces mirroring mine.  Every single scenario runs through my head in about two seconds flat.

The Breakfast Club

Back in January I was a guest at the Kellogg's factory in Manchester and I learnt about the Government initiative "Breakfast For Life" which centered around ALL school-aged children having access to a breakfast to give them the best start to the day.  Missing breakfast is directly proportionate to poor concentration in class and obesity and illness later in life.  In the information that Kellogg's gave me I found the most surprising and disturbing statistics were:



  • 1.7 million children age 0-5 will skip breakfast
  • 1.4 million children age 6-10 will skip breakfast
  • 2.3 million children age 11-16 will skip breakfast

added to that is this 

  • 97% of teachers said that better concentration was a key perceived benefit of eating breakfast
  • 84% of teachers said those students that eat breakfast are better behaved
  • 79% said there is a clear link between breakfast and academic achievement

Listography : Your 5 Worst Dates

I love random email conversations as they turn into you suggesting a theme for Listography which you then find yourself hosting.  Yes, ME... the one with the allergy to linkys *cough*  So HELLO to my fellow Listographers!!

Anyway, when Kate (from KateTakes5) dropped "... a bit like my Debs when I ended up going with an asshole, but that's another story" into an email conversation I pushed for her to tell all via a Listography then maybe the shame would be diluted.  Instead she offered me the hosting rights so you can head on over there and see if she's actually shared it when you've finished here.

So, considering I met my husband not long after my 18th birthday, my own "worst dates" are pretty thin on the ground but there were a few.  Now, before you read any of these remember I was young, innocent and impressionable...

Keith Chegwin blocked me on Twitter

WAH-HEY!

No, seriously.  *sad face*  He was one of my 1970's hero.  I yearned for the Multi-Coloured Swap Shop roadshow to rock up near to where I lived so that I could swap some of my old Mandy annuals for the board game Go For Broke.  I applied to go on Cheggers Plays Pop but never heard back.  I even bought the record "I Wanna Be A Winner" by Brown Sauce...

MAD Blog Awards : The Main Event

Where to start?  I think it's very obvious by now that I didn't win my category - "Most Innovative" - at the Mum and Dad Blog Awards 2011 (aka The MADs) but, you know what, it doesn't matter.  I would have been proud for any one of them to win and we all really did deserve it.  But MASSIVE congratulations to Ruth - Geekmummy - who won, played our video at the ceremony as part of the (pre-planned joint) acceptance speech and started an impromptu dance-off between us all from that category.