22 October 2012

Win a Tassimo Coffee Machine with Costa at Home and Baby Baby


***THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED***




I'll admit it now, I mostly drink decaf instant coffee.

There. I said it.

This doesn't mean I don't appreciate good coffee. For me a proper coffee is a treat, something to be savoured. My school-gate mates and I go to our local Costa once a week for lattes and laughs.

When I was asked if I would like to try Costa at Home I jumped at the chance. Since my shiny new Tassimo T40 coffee machine arrived Andy and I have been enjoying Lattes and Americanos every day. What a treat.




As far as we can tell they taste pretty similar to the coffees you get at Costa. The Latte (above) is soooo good, it's creamy and full of Costa Coffee flavour. The Americano (below) is rich and strong. I use the manual setting on the machine to add more water, and a splash of milk, to make my perfect drink.




The Costa at Home T-Discs are available at major supermarkets, RRP £4.29 for 16 Americano discs, £4.29 for 8 Cappucino discs and £4.99 for 8 Latte discs. You can also buy Costa at Home Roast and Ground coffee for filters and cafetieres.

If you would like to try Costa at Home, Costa have kindly offered to send a Tassimo coffee machine and some Costa at Home T-Discs to one lucky Baby Baby reader.

Entry is via the Rafflecopter widget below. Usual conditions apply. The prize will be sent out by the PR. No cash alternative is offered. Only valid entries will be eligible for the prize.

Good luck!



a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I was sent a Tassimo T40 coffee machine and three boxes of Costa at Home T-Discs to review.
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5 October 2012

Desperately Seeking...


I've never been particularly ambitious. In fact, I think I've demonstrated an almost total lack of drive throughout my life.

When I was a Trainee Accountant I said I'd take the exams until I failed. I didn't. Once I'd qualified I had an appraisal or performance review, or whatever it was called that week. I was asked the dreaded question 'Where do you see yourself in 5 years?'. I said what I thought my boss wanted to hear. I told him I wanted to be a Financial Director by the time I was 30. I got that job at 31. It was a rubbish job. The company asked me to falsify the accounts. I resigned.

See, ambitions are a waste of time. I hate setting goals. I'd rather just amble along in life and appreciate the good stuff, rather than constantly striving for something and being disappointed. All this 'Shoot for the Moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars' doesn't sit well with me. Besides, the moon is nearer than the stars. If you miss the moon you'll plummet back to earth and burn up on re-entry. Just saying.

As you can guess, I don't have a bucket list. There are things I'd like to do, like play the piano well or make a half-way decent Yorkshire pudding, but they can wait until I get round to it. I have a mental list of things to look out for, including orange ice cream or strawberry chocolate. One day I may see them in a shop and that's fine.

What I really love is live music, so I have email alerts set up for tour dates. One band I've loved for years is Turin Brakes. Their first album, The Optimist LP, is one of my top five albums of all time. This is my favourite Turin Brakes song, from that album, 'Feeling Oblivion':





I saw them in 2001 at Wembley, supporting James on their so-called 'farewell tour'. Turin Brakes were amazing live. A few months later they were supporting Travis in Brussels. My boyfriend and I got tickets, flights and a hotel. We turned up for the gig to find it had been cancelled. Travis couldn't be bothered to turn up. The gits. The box office was closed and would open for refunds the following morning, at the same time as the check-in desk for our flight home. We drowned our sorrows in strong lager in a dodgy bar, but that's another story. I can't listen to 'Why does it always rain on me?' without getting cross and shouting 'because you're gits' at Travis.

Fast forward ten years and I'm still on the lookout for Turin Brakes tickets. Finally I saw they were playing at Esquires in Bedford in July, that's not far from me. I bought tickets. Then I felt uneasy. What if I was holding onto an idea about something that turned out to be a bit rubbish?

I needn't have worried. Turin Brakes are still magnificent live. They played all the old stuff, new stuff and, er, stuff in between. Esquires is a small venue (I saw Evan Dando there last year with Rachael, we stood right at the front wishing we'd brought in a decent camera between us), with a great atmosphere. After a few songs I found myself smiling at Turin Brakes. I hope that didn't put them off. I was smiling because I was happy. Happy because I love their music, happy because they have the coolest looking bass player ever, happy because they've still got it, happy that I was out with my husband and happy because - just for once - having some ambition turned out to be a good thing.

If this super serendipity is not enough for you, I have another connection to Esquires. The Trainee Accountant I shared an office with twenty years ago is a face on the Bedford live music scene and I bumped into him at the Evan Dando gig. That's one for the fact fans out there, almost.

Turin Brakes are playing The Stables in Wavendon on 29th November. Do come. I'll be there, at the front, smiling at the band.

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Review: Keycamp - La Croix du Vieux Pont, Berny Riviere, France




On the first night of our Keycamp holiday we sat in the evening sunshine, on our decking, overlooking a lake, with a cold beer in hand. I said to Andy "This is the Life". It really is.



This was our first overseas family holiday. We had survived the drive to Dover, the ferry crossing and the 150 mile drive through the French countryside. All we had to do for a whole week was relax and have fun. Bliss.

About Keycamp
Keycamp Holidays are self-catering specialists in Europe and the USA. They have 99 hand-picked parcs across ten countries in Eurpoe. They have something for everyone, whether you're looking for an action-packed holiday, full-on rest - or a bit of both - you're bound to find what you're looking for. Accommodation ranges from Supertents to fully equipped mobile homes via chalets, lodges and tree houses.

We were looking for a parc that was fairly close to Calais with plenty to keep the children occupied. The Keycamp website isn't perfect, but we managed to get most of the information we needed. We couldn't decide which parc to try. In the end Keycamp suggested La Croix du Vieux Pont, mainly for the Kids' Clubs. Although it was a little further than we wanted to drive, we decided to go for it.  I'm glad we did. Driving in France is a whole other blog post, but I thoroughly recommend spending a few Euros on the (almost empty) toll roads.



La Croix du Vieux Pont, Berny Riviere
90 miles North East of Paris, close to the Compiegne forest and the pretty village of Vic-sur-Aisne is La Croix du Vieux Pont. This large parc is clean, well-maintained and covered in flowers and trees. In fact, my children collected 541 hazelnuts from just one tree on the parc. Yes, we counted them. Yes, we bought them home. Yes, we put them in the garden for the squirrels. Yes, the squirrels took them ALL. Yes, I'm expecting hazel saplings to appear in the garden next year.



On the parc there are three lakes; two for fishing and one for swimming. We paddled, dug holes, filled them with water, made streams for the water to return to the lake and built sandcastles at the man-made sandy beach by the swimming lake. The boys called this part of the holiday 'watery adventures'.



There is an enormous, spotlessly clean, swimming pool complex. The children loved the kids' pool and we were perfectly happy to splash about in there for a few hours. We said 'this is the life' to one another quite a few times in the pool.



There are many play areas with facilities for all ages. The boys loved the adventure playground. Presley learnt how to use a fireman's pole. This made him very happy.



There were electric cars, trampolines, a bouncy castle and canoes and pedalos that you had to pay for. We bought a pre-paid card and got 30 rides for the price of 20, otherwise it's 2 euros a pop.

The staff at the parc and the Keycamp couriers were great. I got to practice my French too. I was disappointed to see a few British holidaymakers not making any attempt to even say 'bonjour' or 'merci' to the local staff. Yes, they all speak English, but come on. Make. An. Effort.

There are two restaurants, both offering traditional French food. We went to the Farmhouse near the parc entrance. The food was perfectly fine, but nothing special. We also had a couple of meals from the on-site takeaway. The pizzas are excellent.

There are shops on the parc selling a range of groceries, alcohol and toys. The bakery was particularly fabulous. The prices are pretty reasonable, but the local Carrefour supermarket in Soissons is bigger and cheaper - especially if you're cooking for a family. I love mooching around supermakets on holiday. We found some brilliantly named beers. A Lord Darren, anyone?



Also at the parc, but not visited by us, was bike hire, a spa, a bar, a disco, tennis, table tennis, archery, mini-golf, football and a zip wire.

Accommodation
We stayed in a two-bedroom Villagrand mobile home. Our home from home was clean and had everything we needed, including a full size fridge-freezer, cooker, shower and bottle opener. There was plenty of storage space and the beds were comfortable.



We had our own decking with a table, parasol and chairs, and a garden with sun-loungers. We ate most of our meals al-fresco. There's nothing finer in life than baguettes and a cheese board (and butter and jam if you're five years old). Check me out with my designer Diet Coke and the beginnings of a tan. Ooh la la:



We were very lucky with the weather, but as August turned to September we needed the additional blankets that were provided as the temperature dropped at night.

Kids' Clubs
Our children (who turned five and four while we were on holiday) would not have been comfortable being left in a kids' club. We saw a few groups of children being led around the parc or taking part in activites and they all looked happy, but it's not our thing.



What we absolutely loved though was the Mini Fun Station. Becky and Tommie ran both morning and afternoon sessions suitable for children aged from six months to five years. Parents stay as the children paint and stick, play in the sand pit or the ball pond, try to hula hoop, throw, catch, do jigsaw puzzles or collect hazelnuts (see above).



The best part of our holiday, without a shadow of a doubt, was the free Learn to Ride classes at the Mini Fun Station.



In the first session of the day children are taught how to ride balance bikes. The next session is pedals...



There are several major milestones in a child's life. One of the biggest is learning to ride a bike, without stabilisers. Both my children managed this at Keycamp. Becky and Tommie were excellent teachers. We were proud of the way our boys joined in with the Learn to Ride classes. They ran across the parc to get to the Mini Fun Station each morning. And they leaned to ride bikes. Happy days.





Around Berny Riviere
You can get a coach from the parc to Paris and Disneyland Paris. Tickets are also available from Reception if you want to drive to Disney (these tickets are cheaper than buying from the UK before you go). The French Parc Asterix is also nearby. We decided not to take a day out from our holiday to visit one of these as there was so much to do at our parc that didn't revolve around queuing.





We did spend a wonderful afternoon at Chateau du Pierrefonds, a short drive from the parc. This magnificent fairytale castle has to be seen to be believed, it looks computer generated. The BBC's Merlin is filmed there.




We loved the windows, the gargoyles and the creepy crypt. Don't blink (Doctor Who reference).




After we'd explored the castle we ambled around the beautiful town of Pierrefonds and stopped for an ice cream. Pierrefonds is well worth a visit.

Our Verdict
We thoroughly enjoyed our Keycamp holiday. When all you have to do for a week is enjoy yourself, you quickly feel pretty chilled out. We were so relaxed that when, on our return journey, the ferry broke down and had to be towed into the port at Dover, we were happy to open a bag of crisps and watch the tugs at work.

Our holiday was excellent value for money and we would wholeheartedly recommend a Keycamp holiday. In fact, I've already been on their website looking at 2013 holidays.

Facts and Figures
Seven nights from 13 April 2013 for a family of two adults and up to four children staying in a two bedroom Villanova mobile home with decking at La Croix du Vieux Pont will cost from £301, including a return Dover to Calais ferry crossing – and a saving of £31. Fly-drive and alternative ferry packages can be arranged though Keycamp at a supplement.

For the latest deals, further information or to make a booking, visit www.keycamp.co.uk or call 0844 406 0319. Keycamp are also on Twitter and Facebook.


Disclosure: we were given a seven night break in a mobile home, including return ferry crossings, linen and towel hire. I write reviews based on my personal experience. I always think about the value of any activity as if I had paid for it myself, to determine whether I think it is good value for money.



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4 October 2012

Blame


Child abduction is, thankfully, extremely rare.

Unfortunately when it does happen the first people who seem to be blamed are the parents.

In real life and on-line you hear this:

I wouldn't let my five year old play out at 7pm, she should be in bed.
I wouldn't lose sight of my 3 year old in a shopping centre.
I wouldn't let my children be friends with the school caretaker.
I wouldn't go out for a meal and leave my children in an unlocked room.

Maybe that's the case, but we can all be smug after the event.

Perhaps what we should remember is that the parents of April Jones are suffering because someone took their child. If you want someone to blame, blame the bastard that took her.

What a shame that we can't give our children a little bit of freedom to play out with their friends. When I was young we all went off on our bikes, around the village and to the park, and came home for tea. We went to call for our friends from a very young age.

I don't let my children out of my sight, not even for a second. They are only 5 and 4, but I can't see my fears abating in the next couple of years.

Because of a few bastards, like the person took poor April, I've had to talk to my innocent boys about stranger danger. There are some great links in this post by Just Do It Mummy on this very difficult subject.

My heart goes out to April and her family. I am praying that she is returned safe, but I am fearful. Thinking about her is keeping me awake at night and tearful during the day.

Whatever happened to Madeleine McCann, her parents have lost their child. You wouldn't wish that kind of pain on your worst enemy.



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K K K Kays for Catalogues

This is a sponsored post. Don't let that put you off, it's still a good read and all my own work.

When I was a teenager my Mum was an agent for Kays Catalogue. There was no greater excitement than the arrival of the Autumn/Winter catalogue. Of course there was Christmas stuff to look at, but what I really loved was the fashion.

I adored the paisley-patterned jewel-coloured dresses over thick wool tights and tan leather boots. I loved the swirling long tweed skirts, teal blouses with long bows floating down from the neck and layered knits over the top.  I coveted the jumper dresses and lace-up ankle boots. I wanted it all.

I used to sit at the table with the new catalogue in front of me and dive in. I tore up multi-coloured tissues to use as page markers. The next stage would be whittling down my choices, bearing in mind my dream capsule wardrobe and always including new snuggly pyjamas.

Next I would painstakingly write out my order on a piece of paper. using these headings:
Page No.
Item No.
Item Ref.
Description
Size
Total Price
Price per Week

Finally I would add up the price per week column and hope that it came in under my weekly clothes allowance of £5 - a huge amount in the 1980's.

When the order arrived I would run up to Mum and Dad's bedroom (it had the best mirror) and try everything on. I was always careful to keep the packaging together for each item and fold it up neatly if it didn't fit. If I liked an outfit I would go downstairs and show my Mum, asking for her approval.

I was excited to hear that K&Co is the new online place to find the old Kays catalogue. Shopping online isn't quite the same a leafing through a doorstop sized catalogue, but's it's certainly greener. I've just had a mooch around and instead of marking pages with multi-coloured strips of tissue, I've added items to my basket.

What do you think of this?


Sadly it doesn't come in my size, but it's available from £2.85 per week! 

This, however, does come in my size...


It's £40, or £2 per month (interest free). If you bump into me at an event soon, don't be surprised if you see me in this.



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2 October 2012

The Crust Police


1st October

Dear diary,

The induction process is finally over, both my children are now full time schoolboys.

This is a Big Deal. I've been waiting for this day for AGES. Yes, of course I love spending time with my children, blah blah blah, but having almost six whole hours a day to myself - it's the stuff of dreams. I've been a stay at home mum for five years, my children are amazing, but by crikey they wind me up sometimes.

Presley and Cash are so ready for school, they're enjoying it too. They're socialising, making friends, playing and learning. It's all good.

But.

I feel a little odd, discombobulated. It's not just that I miss them or that they're growing up at an alarming rate, but I feel a complete loss of control.

Someone else is teaching them stuff all day. Four year old Cash told me last week that panda bears live in China and eat bamboo. I wanted to be the one to tell them all about pandas.

I know I have to let them go at some point, but I can no longer control what happens to them between 8.45 and 3pm and I don't like it. What if they're bullied? What if they get upset? What if another child teaches them to swear? What if another child tells them about Father Christmas?

It's not all bad. The teachers and lunch time supervisors have succeeded in encouraging them to eat their crusts - something we couldn't do. Not all the Other Mothers are happy about this. Following last week's Crustgate my friend now cuts her son's crusts off so he isn't forced to eat them. I asked my children whether they are made to eat their crusts. 'No', said Cash, 'I eat them before Mrs B_ asks me'. I'm fine with that.

What does concern me is that my boys will one day join the swaggering gangs from the upper school who hang out at the local parade of shops, intimidating other shoppers, smoking and dropping litter. How do I prevent that? Perhaps I should just take it one day at a time. Roll on 3pm.



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Review: Dot Com Gift Shop

I first heard from Dot Com Gift Shop a couple of years ago. They compiled a list of their favourite bloggers and sent us all a mug (that I still use for my first cup of tea of the day) - with no obligation or expectation to write about them.

I liked this approach and started shopping with them. They sell gifts and items for the home. Their sales are excellent. I've bought quality party bag items for pennies and stocked up my present box.

Earlier this year they asked me if I'd like to become a member of their blogger network. This would involve reviewing items (of my choice) and a very nice discount code. How could I refuse?

I was fed up of having to change my cotton tablecloths every day due to spills, so I'd been looking for a wipeable table cloth. Dot Com Gift Shop sent me this Vintage Leaf Wipeable Tablecloth.



It's brilliant, so easy to wipe and keep clean. It's perfect for family meals at our kitchen table. It's £24.95 and I think this is good value. It's been on my table now for a couple of months and still looks brand new.

Dotcomgiftshop.com is an easy website to navigate. It's also worth signing up for their email alerts. You will only get a monthly newsletter showing new products and what other people are buying. You can also find them on Twitter and Facebook.

***

I hate to mention the C word, but it really will soon be Christmas. I've just had a look at the Dot Com Gift Shop Christmas range and I WANT IT ALL.

LOOK!

It's a 50's Christmas house advent calendar and it's less than £20.

You can also find traditional, kitsch, vintage and Scandi Christmas decorations.

Look at these cute glass baubels for £5.95. I need these on my tree this year.




***

Finally, to save me receiving another man's towel*, here is my Christmas list:












* You know when a relationship is coming to an end? It's when your partner thinks you would like a practical present for Christmas. You receive a parcel containing something soft. Could it be that fawn cashmere pashmina you saw in John Lewis? No, it's not. It's a man's bath towel. My worst ever Christmas present and my worst ever Christmas. Reader, I dumped him.


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