Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Giveaway: Win a £20 voucher to spend at Wilkinson

Today I have got another fab giveaway for you - this time coming from the lovely people at Wilkinsons.   Wilkinson is the high street 'home of family value' retailer. Third generation family owned, the UK business is committed to offering its customers great prices all year round, without compromising on quality.  The Wilkinsons' kitchen range is perfect for revamping any kitchen for Spring, no matter what the budget - would you believe that glorious kettle pictured above is priced at just £15?  The range comprises brightly coloured accessories, classic white and bamboo tableware, dining sets, baking equipment and great value essentials - to name but a few.

The retailer has 372 stores across the UK and stocks around 22,000 products through its stores and website. There are four ways to shop at Wilkinsons; in store, from the catalogue, online at or over the phone by calling 08456 08 08 07. To locate the nearest store call 08444 77 88 77 or visit

What you can win:

You could win a £20 voucher to spend at Wilkinson, and believe me that can go a long way. The storage tins you see above (which are available in a range of colours) is just £20 for all five pieces!

What you need to know:

The giveaway is open to UK residents only.

How to enter:

To be in with a chance of getting your hands on the voucher just follow the Rafflecopter instructions below.  The competition closes, and the winner will be drawn on Friday 15th February 2013. Once the winner has been drawn, address details will be needed by the end of Sunday 17th February 2013 to arrange timely delivery. In the event that the winner cannot be contacted, another name may be drawn.

Good luck! 

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The one about shouting & guilt...

Last week I was having a bit of a moment and I tweeted something which rather unexpectedly seemed to provoke a response from other people - it was one of those moments when you realise that you are not alone.

I didn't really appreciate at the time how much my comment would resonate with other people but the response to the tweet overwhelmed me and led to an evening of conversation about how myself and others feel. I've shared some of the tweets below but have removed names and turned everyone into eggheads to protect the innocent - it still seems like quite a taboo subject and one that many people are a little bit ashamed to admit to so I don't want anyone to feel uncomfortable.

Small children are hard work. Fact. Being a mum to toddlers is no easy job.  When I had two children at home under the age of four, I don't think I was a very good mother to them at all. I mean, I tried to be and they were well-cared for, but toddlers are infuriating at the best of times and they really knew how to push my buttons. They could fill me with rage and it's only looking back now, that things are good and I'm more a calm person that I realise how irrational I was being. They weren't naughty children by any stretch of the imagination yet I used to frequently shout at them, and often bring them to tears for really trivial things like not tidying up their toys or refusing to eat their dinner. I didn't want to shout at them but it seemed like it was the only thing they responded to.  I realise now that I was probably expecting too much of them and that is especially true of my daughter who I've always treated with that "you're-the-oldest-so-you-should-know-better" attitude (I am trying SO hard to stop that) but it was clearly my expectations that were wrong, not their behaviour. The dinner thing? Well it can still drive me to distraction but these days their old enough to face the consequences of rumbling tummies if they don't eat what I've given them. 

Now I realise that when I was screaming at the children (and some days, I did really scream) they probably didn't even understand what the problem was. I mean, I look at my 7 year old after I've told her off sometimes and even now I can see that she's a bit confused as to what she's getting told off for. I imagine that they were frightened too at times and it's these emotions of being scared and confused that leave me with this guilt. When I think about it's like a knot in my stomach and I really need to find a way to try and forget it as I can't turn back time however I try to take those feelings and use them to make me a better mum now. After all, my children don't remember that I was a screaming screeching banshee of a mother when they were small BUT they will remember it from this point forward and I really don't want them to grow up remembering how much I yelled at them.

What made me feel better about the Twitter conversations I had was that I realised, hell, I am far from being the only shouty mother out there who struggled to keep calm when faced with a defiant little person but what made me sad was I also wasn't the only one who struggled with the guilt over it and there are lovely mums out there living through these rage-filled days right now, feeling as eaten up by it as I did.  One of the worst things about those shouty moments for me? The fact that after a few minutes my children would be fine yet I'd feel wretched for a long time after. It's true that yelling at your children hurts you way more than it does your children.

If you're reading this post and going through those days where you do end up shouting and screaming at your children, all I can say is try not to feel too bad about yourself because the majority of us mums have been there at some point - you're not alone and this too shall pass.   When you've got young children you can be exhausted and easily frustrated. I've definitely found as they get older the shouting gets lesser and lesser as they understand more and start to learn the consequences of their own actions. I'm not saying I never shout  (because that would be a bare-faced lie!) but those rage-filled days, where I literally couldn't control my own emotions, are far behind me and these days when I shout, it's for a reason and normally a last resort.  One thing that I found invaluable back then and I still do it now, is making sure I say sorry to my children. When they were little, it was a "sorry for shouting" and a cuddle, now they're older, I apologise and explain to them why mummy got so cross, explaining my frustration in a way that they can comprehend but also letting them know it was wrong of me to shout. 

There's no quick solution to being a shouty mum or an antidote to the guilt that you get left with but at the end of the day, the fact that we feel guilty and horrible about ourselves only has to be a good thing - surely it would be worse if we didn't worry about it at all?

Spicy Cheesy Quesadillas

Until recently, I had never realised just how easy it was to make quesadillas. I often have them as a starter when eating at Mexican restaurants however had never considered making them at home until I stumbled across the recipe in Jamie's Dinners. (I'm using this as part of my "52" challenge by the way...).  Sure beats a cheese sandwich any day.

What you see here is my adaptation of Jamie's recipe. I think this is the perfect weekend lunch but I am way too lazy to start making guacamole when all I want is a quick knock-up so I've skipped that part and also instead of using fresh chillies, I bought spicy cheese.

These are really satisfying to eat and very moreish - one is not enough.

Spicy Cheesy Quesadillas


pack of tortillas
a big handful of grated cheddar
a big handful of a spicy cheese like Mexicana cheese or Red Leicester with chillies
spring onions, finely sliced
1 red pepper, finely chopped


In a bowl mix up your handfuls of cheese, spring onions and red pepper.

Take a tortilla and sprinkle half a handful of the mixture over it and then pop another tortilla on top, to make a sandwich - your quesadilla!

Pop your quesadilla into a dry non-stick frying pan over a medium heat for about a minute and a half before carefully turning over to cook for a further minute and a half. You want the outside to be slightly crispy and your cheese to be all melted and gooey so you may need to make a judgement call on this.

When cooked, cut the quesadillas into quarters and serve with guacamole and soured cream.

Simple isn't it? If you don't have any spicy cheese then you can just finely chop two red chillies and add those to the cheese mix instead. The world is your oyster when it comes to quesadilla fillings so experiment - I'm going to share a few other fillings with you over the next few weeks.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Meal Planning Monday (28th January 2013)

Is it just me or is January going on forever? Longest month EVER.

Welcome to another #mealplanningmonday and hopefully this week is way less snowier than it was last week. It's just very wet here now - I'm unsure which is worse!  

Last week was a bumper one - the biggest and best #mealplanningmonday with 52 people joining in. FIFTY-TWO.  My flabber was well and truly gasted, not to mention that it took me ages to get through each and every blog but I managed it. I'm proud to say that my New Years resolution to comment on all #mealplanningmonday submissions is going well!

I really need to start back on the diet this week as I'm feeling like all the hard work I put it during Oct/Nov has been undone, I'm so podgy and bloated right now but I'm just not feeling it. I may ease myself into it slowly this week as I have a few non-diet friendly meals that are begging to be made this week.

Steak and the works (chips, mushrooms, peppercorn sauce...)
Pollo alla Pizzaiola
Lamb and spinach curry
Omelette and salad (maybe chips...)
Mixed vegetable tacos

I know, how unhealthy, but I'm crying out for a Brinner and I much prefer my breakfast foods at teatime. I made the curry last week and froze it as our plans changed and I didn't want the lamb to go to waste. Mr M will freak at the vegetable tacos but it will be a nice surprise for him, huh?

Now it's your turn! If you're new to my blog or #mealplanningmonday all you have to do is this - write a blog post about your meal plan for the week and submit the URL of your post using the Linkytools below. If you've not got a blog but want to join in, that's fine - just leave a comment below telling us what you're planning this week.  Any questions, just holler at me via email (in the contact page) or on Twitter @madamding.  

Over the past few weeks I've tried to drum up some interest on Twitter and lots of people have been talking about #mealplanningmonday so I'm so glad that we've got so many new joiners. I hope that you'll all stick with it, it's great having so much inspiration.   

Before I go, as I've mentioned before my monthly recipe Link Party for January is active and will close in a couple of days, so if you've make something in January that you want to share, add it to the Linky on that page which you can find HERE

Look forward to reading your blog posts!

Thursday, 24 January 2013

When customer services goes GOOD!

Now let me start by saying I am in no way affiliated to the company I am going to mention here and they have not paid or asked me to write this post, however we spend so much time moaning about everything that is wrong with customer service, I thought it would be nice to share a story of good customer service.

On Monday night I was sat at home shopping for swim caps. I know, how dull right, but Mr M has started taking the children swimming once a week (in addition to the two times they already do with school) and because I need their kits to be ready for school I thought it would be a good idea to buy them a separate kit that will be ready for him just to grab and go (anything other than this would be far too complicated...) so I set about purchasing the various bits and bobs and top of my list were swim caps. 

I ventured over to my usual swimwear supplier, Simply Swim and set about finding two similar hats (can't have squabbling children) but quickly got frustrated as the items I wanted to order were out of stock. Being the impertinent and gobby thing that I am I sent out the following tweet.

Now this being gone 8pm at night, I hadn't really expected a response, so when a very kind and helpful reply came through it was rather surprising! (And felt a bit embarrassed at being so gung-ho with the "send Tweet" button).

I explained my issues and I was promised that they would get someone to check tomorrow and get back to me.  As they were trying to help me I thought I'd do the decent thing and give them a chance, as it's only fair isn't it?  When someone is making an effort to assist you, you need to be reasonable.

I'll be honest, I wasn't really expecting them to get back in touch the next day - many companies before them have promised similar - but lo and behold they did!

Their stocks had been checked and whilst they didn't have any of the ones I originally wanted they had provided an alternative suggestion and they were just the ticket.  They even sent me a picture via Twitter so I could see the swim caps for myself.

They were perfect and just what I was looking for - they even said I could have free delivery for my troubles. I asked Simply Swim how much they were, I mean they could have been selling me the most expensive one in the shop for all I knew and after a short interlude...

Yes! They only went and sent them to me for free. They even arrived the very next day. 

Okay, so they're not incredibly high value items or anything but I was pretty amazed at this good customer service and I think it really highlights the value of Twitter and the importance of companies being aware of how to use it effectively.   I mean, if Simply Swim hadn't responded that night then I would probably have just bought my items from somewhere other supplier. The same goes for if they hadn't have taken the time to search and suggest for alternatives for me and when they had technical problems and couldn't answer my question? They took action to ensure I was a happy customer.

And that my friends, is why Simply Swim will get all my custom from now on!  Mrs M was left feeling a very valued and happy customer indeed!

Have you received any sterling customer service recently?

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

My own little mini-spa

Center Parcs and Tots 100 challenged us this month to create a mini home spa experience.  Now I am not a huge spa girl but every now and again I like a bit of pampering. Like many busy working mums taking time out to actually get to a spa can be tricky so I tend to have a few little rituals that I can carry out in the privacy of my own home.  My favourite spa treatments tend to be manicures and pedicures so this is what I concentrate on at home.

Thursday nights, historically, have always been boys night out so when Mr M disappears off to the pub this is the time for me to break out the SSB. You're familiar with the SSB concept aren't you? If you're a Sex and the City fan you'll know Carrie Bradshaw made reference to her SSB when she first moved in with Aiden (Season 4, Episode 13 fact fans!).  Your SSB (Secret Single Behaviour) is all that stuff you do that isn't for public consumption and should never be seen by anyone. My own SSB covers a whole host of sins but mini-spa treatments at home definitely comes under the title of "things-that-should-never-be-seen-by-your-husband".

I will normally start my mini-spa with a nice hot shower. I'm not a bath person, I don't like the wrinkly-prune effect you get so I rarely hit the tub. That's not to say I never do though and occasionally  like if I've got a bad cold, I'll have a soak in the tub and maybe light a nice smelly candle. I like to use nice shower gel and Mr M always buys me some Philosophy stuff for Christmas - they smell divine and if you've never had a sniff, then you ought to. They are good enough to eat and leave you smelling tasty too!

After the shower, whilst my pores are nice and open, I'll probably undertake a bit of obsessive plucking, do some blackhead scrutiny and more than likely extract the odd stray grey hair with a pair of tweezers - this definitely comes under the banner of "SSB".  What? Don't tell me you never removed a grey hair in-between hair dying sessions... If I'm really going for it I might apply a face mask.

The next important task is the feet. Oh the feet. WARNING. For those of a delicate disposition  there is a foot photo coming up. (You do realise I could get all sorts of visitors on my blog after this post don't you...).

That, dear friends, is what Mrs M's poor feet generally look like in the winter months - chipped nail polish, dry and hard skin, untidy nails. It's not pretty is it, that's why I've not enlarged this photo any more.

My wonder kit - it's called heel balm but really I slather it on all over my feet before I go to bed. I may have even put it on my arms and knees. I like to call it my pee cream based on the fact that's what it's mainly made of. I'll attack my feet with a foot file, working off all the hard skin areas before applying the cream. I actually really enjoy filing my feet. I know. That sounds rancid but it's true, so I'm putting it out there.  After that, there's some attention paid to the toenails before they are re-painted and hidden away again.

The manicure comes after this. I've accumulated a collection of cuticle creams, base coats, top coats, nail hardeners and strengtheners and whilst I'll admit to find this part a bit tedious, I do like my nice soft neat cuticles afterwards. It would be far more rewarding if someone would actually notice this though.  I'll select a nail colour, of which I have many and let them dry whilst catching up on a trashy magazine and trying not to smudge them. I rarely achieve these and normally have to go back and touch up and remove smudges on my fingers with my corrector pen.

I have a bit of a nail polish problem so selecting a colour can normally take a while. I tend to favour Barry M and OPI polishes, I always normally veer towards a glitter. Even when I'm not going anywhere that requires glitter.

Of course this whole ritual is set to music, however I am not a relaxing music kind of girl when having a pamper session, I'm not a fan of pan pipes and I like a tune I can belt out with a loofah. Perfect unwinding songs for me are something I can get my teeth into. My iPod has a playlist just brimming with such singalong, ready for those occasions when I am completely alone.  Little gems like Paradise by the Dashboard Lights, the Stock Aitken and Waterman back catalogue and a bit of Cher might pop up. I'm also partial to a bit of Connie Francis and my current favourite warbling tune is Who's Sorry Now. (If I'm being absolutely truthful I like the Rose Marie version as it reminds me of being little. It's Irish 80s-tastic and awesome).

On a final note, Amy from the Aqua Sana spa said that we should hydrate and I wholeheartedly agree so I always make sure I rehydrate myself whilst relaxing - with a lovely glass of wine. Oh c'mon. There's nothing relaxing about a bottle of Evian.

Do you have a home spa ritual?

This blogpost is my entry for the Center Parcs and Tots 100 January monthly challenge.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Meal Planning Monday (21st January 2013)

Let's just get it over and done with straightaway - is it a snow day where you are today? It is for us. We had a huge dump of snow arrive on Friday and then more today which has meant a blanket closure of schools in the borough. This doesn't bother me though, I love a snow day and it means I get to avoid a cold, snowy school run!

Hope you all had a good week. I managed to not only get through all the #mealplanningmonday submissions last week but also the previous week too. Go me! It took some doing but helped by chocolate and wine, I got there. The start of last week was a bit of a bust for me as I was full of a raging cold which gladly seemed to pass quite quickly. It did mean however that I didn't stick to meal planning quite as well as I had hoped and instead ate lots of soup and poached eggs. This week I plan to be a bit better.

That's what I said last week. In truth, meal planning has been a bit rushed today as when I was meant to be doing it last night, I wasted the evening looking at music videos of the early 90s on YouTube. I remembered some corkers like The Go-gos "Cool Jerk", Cher "Save Up All Your Tears" and The Divinyls "I Touch Myself". I can't be the only one that gets so easily distracted?

Anyhow, the plan this week looks a bit like this;

Roast dinner (no idea what meet though, I fancy beef)
Chinatown Chicken Salad
Fajitas (Jamie Oliver)
Toad in the hole
Lamb rogan josh

I blame all the meal planners last week - nearly everyone had toad in the hole or some other sausage based meal!

We had a record number of meal planners again last week - 43 entries. Wowsers! That's more than I ever could have hoped. Would still like to beat that this week - what do you reckon? I've added the linky below so getting add your meal plans immediately and I solemnly promise to visit each and every blog again this week.  If you haven't got the foggiest what is going on, just ask but I think it's pretty straightforward.

In the meantime, you can also check out my top tips for meal planning post that I published last week.

Happy planning!

My happy place

According to research today is the gloomiest day of the year, otherwise known as Blue Monday. It's a combination of Christmas being long gone and still waiting for pay day - January does seem like a long month doesn't it! It also seems pretty apt today on a day when move of the country is under the cover of the cold wet stuff.  

Apparently during the last week in January there is a big leap in holiday sales which doesn't surprise me - I've been on holiday search since Christmas finished however I'm not ready to book just yet - waiting for those flights to be released...

In the meantime, if you're having a miserable Monday, let me take you to my "happy place". Orlando, Florida. 

There's no where like it. I'd live there if I could, right there in Cinderella's Castle. It really is the happiest place on earth.  Regular visitors to my blog might know just how much I love it based on my previous posts about my last trip which you can find here and here.  I cannot wait to go back and this is what I will be booking very shortly. 

I'm excited to go back as things are always changing at Disneyworld - they were building a big expansion at the Magic Kingdom last time I was there - and now our children are a bit older we're going to venture out and see more of what Orlando has to offer like Universal Studios, Seaworld and I'm pretty sure my space loving son would love a trip to the Kennedy Space Center.

I'm going to spend Blue Monday - and our snow day - doing my favourite thing, planning our next trip to Orlando! (I'm firing up the spreadsheets...)

How about you? Where is your happy place? And are you more likely to book a holiday at this time of year?

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Film Review: Now is Good

When Warner Bros asked if I’d like to review Now is Good I jumped at the chance as it was a film I had hoped to see at the cinema but never got round to it.  The base of the story is that Dakota Fanning plays Tessa, a girl who is terminally ill with leukaemia. Tessa compiles a list of things she’d like to do before her life is over and at the top of this list is loosing her virginity.

Now is Good, which is based on the novel “Before I Die” is set and was filmed, beautifully and simply in England with a good musical score that sets the seen perfectly.  Okay, it’s a bit clich├ęd in places, you know, sunsets on the beach and obviously there’s a love interest but it’s still an enjoyable film.

The film raises thought-provoking questions.  What would you like to do before your time is up? How you would spend your remaining days?  A film like this could be seen as quite depressing and I don’t think the character Tessa is particularly likeable but I think that is intentional, after all, a lot of teenage girls aren’t that likeable. She’s quite a hard and abrasive character and somehow coupled with the sympathy you’re supposed to feel for a young girl that is dying, well it’s kind of hard to get your head around how you feel about her.

I don’t think it’s a secret that I cry at most films and whilst I wasn’t inconsolable as I have been at other films, it is a bit of a tearjerker, I mean it was always going to be wasn’t it?! There is one part were a nurse is talking to Tessa which gave me a real lump in the throat and on the whole it’s a heartbreaking story that you can’t help but be touched by.

I’ve read criticisms of Dakota Fanning’s acting however I really think she pulled it off, fake English accent and all. I was a bit concerned that I’d end up being irked by an American doing an English accent however that didn’t happen and Dakota gives a really good performance.

If you’re a fan of Nicholas Spark’s movies like The Notebook, Dear John and The Lucky one, chances are you’ll like this.

Now is Good is released on DVD on 21st January 2013 and is available from Amazon.

With thanks to Warner Bros for providing this DVD for review.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Giveaway: Abra-ca-Debora Pancake Day Hamper

Today I have got another fab giveaway for you - this time a Pancake Day treat.

Abra-ca-Debora is the home of ready-made Dutch pancakes which are not dissimilar to the pancakes that we Brits eat on Pancake Day. They're made from flour, fresh milk, eggs and vegetable oil and can be eaten with both sweet and savoury toppings. The yummy pancakes   are currently available in both Sainsbury's and Tesco.  

What you can win:

The Abra-ca-Debora Pancake Day Hamper is a luxury wicker hamper containing sweet and savoury ingredients for a pancake party for 2 people with a retail value of £50 each.  It will include a pack of Original and Sweet Abra-ca-Debora Dutch pancakes, a jar of chutney and a jar of Marmite, Green & Blacks chocolate, maple syrup, golden icing sugar and a lemon.

What you need to know:

The giveaway is open to UK residents only.

How to enter:

To be in with a chance of getting your hands on this lovely hamper, just follow the Rafflecopter instructions below.  The competition closes, and the winner will be drawn on Friday 1st February 2013. Once the winner has been drawn, address details will be needed by the end of Sunday 3rd February 2013 to arrange timely delivery. In the event that the winner cannot be contacted, another name may be drawn.

Good luck! 

Oh and in case you need a reminder...

Don't forget your squeezy lemon!

Friday Foody Round Up #9

Welcome to another Friday Foody Round Up and the first one of 2013.  I haven't been sent masses of foods to try recently, or rather as December was so busy I had to turn a few things down but I'm getting back on track and here's what we've tried recently.

Bahlsen Choco Leibniz Biscuits

I didn't really need an introduction to these Bahlsen biscuits, they've been a firm favourite in our office at work for years. Their slogan "more chocolate than a biscuit" completely sums them up! Apparently scientists have discovered that the perfect percentage of chocolate in a biscuit is 60% and at 63% the Choco Leibniz is the ultimate in biscuit bliss. If you've not tried them, you shouldn't just take my word for it - go get some! They are a delicious elevenses treat. The range includes dark chocolate, milk chocolate, orange milk chocolate and double choc. I normally plump for the milk chocolate but I was sent a packet of the orange milk chocolate to try and I'm a convert - they were more chocolate-orangey that a chocolate-orangey thing!  The biscuits are available at Asda, Ocado, Waitrose, Sainsburys and most other good retailers with a usual price of around £1.70.  You can thank me later.

Tropical Sun Foods

Tropical Sun are suppliers of authentic Caribbean creations and I was already acquainted with the brand before they contacted me a couple of weeks ago as I quite often use their Hot Pepper Sauce so when they asked if I'd like to try a couple of their products, how could I refuse?  One of the products they sent me were the Crunchy Coconut Peanuts. Now, I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about these, I love coconut and I love peanuts but together? Hmmm. When I tried them? WOW! I was blown away. These are crunchy, tasty little balls of heaven and so very addictive. The pot barely lasted 5 minutes, especially when I introduced Mr M to them too!  The peanuts come in large 330g tins and small 165g and you can buy them from Sainsburys and Amazon, as well as a few other online suppliers - check out their website for more info. In the meantime, you should watch the YouTube video below and then follow the link to try out their online vending machine - absolutely free and you could get your hands on a Tropical Sun treat for yourself.

That's all for this snowy Friday! Hope you're tucked up warm and home!