Sunday, 25 January 2015

Bathtime Buddies Alphabet Set review

I sometimes think there are more toys on the side of the bath than in the kids' toyboxes! They'll play with anything from proper bath toys and empty shampoo bottles to things that wouldn't usually go in the bath like Playmobil people and Bratz dolls. Oh yes, and that appears to be Mike the Knight's helmet there - that might be problematic when it comes to hair washing !

Needless to say, bathtime equals funtime at The Madhouse !

We were therefore very excited to learn that Tots 100/H&A are looking for a new panel of bloggers to join the Bathtime Fun Squad in 2015 and especially delighted to receive a Bathtime Buddies Alphabet Set to review. These colourful foam letters will stick to the side of the bath or the tiles when wet and the Madhouse kids were delighted to discover that they float too. The storage tub is cleverly designed with holes in the lid so when you've finished playing, you put them in the tub, turn it upside down and the water will drain off - genius !

Pierre was the first person to have a bath and he helped me spell out this little message.

Then Juliette came along and added - you've guessed it - One Direction !

If it's anything like the fridge magnets on the side of the washing machine, I'm sure it won't be long before it descends into "rude" words and messages like bum, fart and you smell ! They're a great way of revising spelling too - it's much more fun than reciting spellings while I'm cooking dinner and the teacher in me knows that by actively handling the letters and seeing the words, this will help them remember the words more easily too.

Disclosure : I received the product in order to write an honest review. 

Sunday weigh-in : Babysteps in the right direction

This week, I've had no time for any exercise at all except for running around like a blue-arsed fly ! The good thing about the FitBug is that it tells you when you're getting the steps in without even realising it. Yesterday, for example, I spent a few hours tidying Pierre's room and putting lots of the big toys that were on the floor up into the top cupboards. In the evening, my thighs and legs were aching and I realised that all that climbing up and down on the stool was the equivalent of a step aerobics class !

On to the scales - 86.8kg, that's 600g down from last week which'll do me nicely, thank you !

Positives of the week

- Everything in moderation - this week, I fancied some chocolate so I had some. At the restaurant on Friday, I had steak and chips. But I evened things out with Slimfast shakes, soups and salads.

- The badges are on the move - last week 6kg lost and 14lb lost/47lb to go. This week 7kg lost and 15lb lost/46lb to go.

Current targets 

Last week's target : Stick to the SlimFast plan and get in two Belly-Blasting Walk dvd sessions. Get losing again. (good enough)

This week's targets : Hit my second target - my pre-xmas weight of 85.9kg. Replace the school canteen by SlimFast bars and ready-to-drink shakes.

Short-term targets 21kg to lose sounds a lot but breaking it down, aiming for 1kg a week, that's only about 5 months - plenty of time for heading off to Turkey in August !

first target, get my "weight to lose" badge down into the 40's (it's currently on 51lb) (done),
 second goal - get back to 85.9kg, my pre-xmas weight
third goal : get my "kg lost" badge back into double figures 
fourth goal : get my "weight loss" badge higher than my "still to go" badge
fifth goal : get back into my (smallest) bright blue jeans comfortably
sixth goal : get back to 77kg - my lowest weight since my pregnancies

Longer-term targets :  Hit my target weight of 68kg. 

STILL TO GO : 18.7kg

Feel free to add your weightloss posts to my weekly linkie - it's great to see how everyone else has been getting on and give each other support and encouragement. You can even grab the linkie code and add it to your own blog if you like. :)

Created by MyFitnessPal - Free Calorie Counter

 MyFitnessPal - Nutrition Facts For Foods

We Will Do It! Support Linky on The Purple Pumpkin Blog

Saturday, 24 January 2015

An awesome Pawsomebox for the Madhouse pooches ! (review)

Did you buy a Christmas present for your dog? Maybe you hung up a stocking for him? Well, did you know that you can pamper your pooch every month if you sign up to Pawsomebox, a subscription scheme that delivers a parcel of doggy gifts every month by post. Each box contains 5-6 high quality products (treats, chews, biscuits, toys, health and hygiene products, grooming, training aids) and each month there is a new theme. Past boxes include the Summer Box, filled with travel goodies and the World Cup Box with sports & games. They've also had Christmas, horror movie and carnival themed boxes and the sneak peek on the website announces that February's box will be focusing on Valentine's Day. Tail-wagging excitement guaranteed!

We received the January Pawsomebox and here's what it had inside :

Mutt & Jeff Crunchy Chicken Bites - these got a very enthusiastic reception !

Trixie Bacon Strips - so did these !

Trixie Snack American Football - I don't know if Vicky and Didou are intellectually challenged or just bone idle but they really couldn't be bothered with trying to get the treats out of their last puzzle toy, however much we tried to spur them on. This will therefore be going to Dieser and Brodie, the Madhouse grandparents' dogs, who are a bit more savvy/enthusiastic !

Pet Cola Dog Toy - see above !

Pet Gear Collar Flashlight - this is a brilliant idea for keeping track of your dog as it disappears right down to the bottom of the garden barking madly in the dark and you don't know where it's gone ! It can also help light the way if it's still dark when you walk your dog in the morning and you need to see the path.

2 x baseball chews - the twin pack was ideal for Vicky and Didou. They've been munching on them all week and there's still plenty left.

So have you guessed what this month's theme is? Yeah, ya got it, it's the good ole US of A ! Pawsome ! There was a big clue on the front cover of the enclosed Paw Notes booklet, which is full of interesting information about your four-legged friends. Exact contents of the box will vary depending on the age, size, weight, breed, fur type and other preferences of your four-legged friend.

So what was the doggie verdict? Well, Vicky looks pretty happy to me ! (And while I was trying to get a photo, Didou was sneaking off with the treats when she wasn't looking - they're worse than kids, I tell you !)

I love the fact that there is a nice mix of edible treats, longer-lasting toys and also gadgets to help make the owner's life easier. The element of surprise and the special themed boxes make it exciting for the owner when the postman arrives too and the products seem good quality. There are items and brands that I'd never seen before so it's a great way to discover new products.

 You can choose from three plans: monthly, half-yearly, or yearly (to be paid in one go) and the price per box goes down depending on the length of your subscription. A monthly subscription is £19.90, six-monthly works out at £17.90 per month and yearly is the equivalent of £15.90 per month, including delivery. 

I must admit, I don't think I could justify the expense personally, but I have three kids so there's not much "treat money" left over for the dogs, who come further down the pecking order ! I do have friends, however, who think nothing of buying special food and treats, doggie coats, toys and accessories on a regular basis for their dogs so I'm sure they'd love it. (There is one mum at the school gates who makes us laugh because when it rains, she puts little wellies as well as a raincoat with a hood on her poodle !)

As well as Pawsome boxes for dogs, there are Purrfect boxes for cats - click through for all the details.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £15.90 to £19.90 per month, depending on length of subscription

Disclosure : We received a box in order to write an honest review.

Globe-cooking recipe : Deep fried ice cream (Turkey)

I thought it was a joke when I saw this on the menu at the Chinese-themed restaurant in our hotel in Kusadasi (so I'm not sure if it's supposed to be a Chinese or a Turkish dish - I'm guessing they just made it up themselves !)

I asked the waitress how they made it and she explained that they take cornflakes and crush them up, use that to coat a scoop of ice cream then deep fry it.

They served it drizzled with honey. It was OK and it certainly had novelty value (it's a bit like the Turkish version of a deep fried Mars Bar, I suppose !) but it's not something I'd choose again.

*** Don't miss my country-by-country globecooking recipe index ! ***
Other Turkish dishes that I've tried include BaklavaGözleme and Turkish Kofte Meatballs

Fab freebies of the week 24/1/2015

Welcome to the weekend ... and welcome to this week's round-up of the web's best freebies :)


To claim your limited edition L'Oreal Glam Bronze Eau De Soleil Liquid Bronzer, fill in the form

Send a free sample of Benefit Porefessional to a friend (and ask them to send you one !) with SoPost (Sorry, all gone - keep an eye on my Facebook page for any that I think will run out before the next freebie round-up)

Find out if you are entitled to free water-saving products here

If you haven't yet signed up for your Sugar Swaps pack from Change 4 Life (including stickers and money off vouchers), it's not too late.

Taylors of Harrogate have 2500 taster packs of their warming Spiced Apple infusion to give away

From 23rd to 29th January, take in any brand of full-size cleanser (it can be empty) to your nearest Clinique counter at Debenhams and you'll receive a free 10 day supply of their new Foaming Sonic Facial Soap. Details here

Sign up at The Tanning Shop (at the bottom of the page) and get a free gift (let me know if you try it and find out what it is !)

You can download vouchers for a free pack of Monster Munch and a free 500ml bottle of Highland Spring water at KeyStore

Activia have a "smile or your money back" promotion on at the moment - Buy a 4 or 8 pack (excluding Fusion & Intensely Creamy) of Activia, between 22/12/14 - 28/02/15 and tell them why you're not satisfied for a refund

Kinder also have a "happy tum or it's free" promotion running - get your money back if you're not completely satisfied

‏@EcospillLtd Have you tried the new Dirteeze wipes? Request your free sample today email with ref: SAMPTWI

Fill in the form for a free sample of Always Discreet pads or pants. Same thing but from Tena.

Love crafts with the kids? Get yourselves a free Toucan Box - code FB15CB - Subsequent boxes are £4.93 and delivered fortnightly. If it's really not for you, you can cancel online at any time.

Get your Free Go Cat Crunchy & Tender sample

FREE cholesterol lowering kit - Are you or someone you know trying to lower cholesterol? Click here to order a free starter kit now.

Ruddles County have a Try Me Free offer on their beer - details here

The Places Around app is free for 3 days starting today - it will help you find petrol stations, cash points, supermarkets, restaurants, etc wherever you need them. Could be handy if you like travelling.

You can see previous weeks' freebie roundups by clicking here but be warned, many of the offers are only valid for a short time. Let me know if any have expired and I'll remove them from the roundup.

You may also like to enter my giveaways :

Giveaway #453 : Win 3 x Wuwu and Co. interactive story apps - closing date 28/1

Friday, 23 January 2015

Kusadasi diaries : Jeep Safari

Earlier in the week, I told you about our trip to Ephesus when we were in Kusadasi, Turkey, last summer and I'm back to tell you about another one of our adventures - a jeep safari in the nearby national park.

The tone of the day was set early on. As the various groups/jeeps assembled in a little cafe, we grabbed some cold drinks. With his dark glasses on, Madhouse Daddy grabbed what looked like a bottle of coke and took a swig then pulled this face - it was fermented turnip juice ! One of the biggest laughs of the whole holiday !

Then, as we awaited the departure, the cheeky guide came out of nowhere with a supersoaker and delighted in drenching everyone. After a few direct hits, I whispered to the girls to go and pinch his bucket and throw it all over him which they were delighted to do and it evolved into a full on water fight. Luckily it was hot !

We jumped in the back  of the jeep (me and the kids with another couple, Mike was in the front) and headed up into the hills.

It was a distict change of scenery as we headed through pine glades and rocky outcrops. The dirt track threw up loads of dust though and we were at its mercy !

There were some fabulous views down to Kusadasi and the islands beyond.

Our first stop was as the Fire Pond. This may sound quite romantic and mysterious, straight out of Greek mythology but it's actually just a reservoir that the firemen use in case of forest fires. Juliette took advantage of the water to rinse off her dusty Crocs - that's me holding her hand to stop her falling in, not push her in, by the way !

We spotted an enormous grasshopper/cicada type thing - can you see it? It's really well camouflaged.

After posing for a few photos and making the most of the shade, we headed back to the jeeps.

The next stop was Echo Valley. The guide got all the women to line up and shout across the valley but nothing much happened. Then it was the men's turn but they didn't fare much better. The guide had a pretty impressive attempt but I bet he's been practising for years !

By this stage, we were getting very skilled at ducking to avoid the low branches and leaves but when we heard a shout of "ambush", we couldn't avoid the water pistols as we passed another jeep. Pierre was not impressed and hid under a beach towel ! So that was why we'd stopped off at the Fire Pond !

Our next stop was an abandoned monastery in the middle of nowhere.

It's called the  Kurşunlu Monastery and is believed to be a Byzantine orthodox monastery built in the 2nd century AD. It's very isolated so was ideal for Christian monks to hide away, escaping religious persecution and attacks.

We moved on to another shady wooded area for a picnic lunch, provided by the jeep company. We had cold spicy chicken, salad and watermelon.

The only problem was the swarms of wasps which had Sophie and Pierre freaking out, so they were allowed to sit in the front of the jeep. It had no windows but it seemed to keep them away !

Time to hit the road again !

We headed back down the mountain passes and dust tracks onto the tarmacked roads of civilisation again and went to the Cave of Zeus, where the king of the the gods supposedly liked to hang out with the naughty nymphs behind his wife Hera's back.

Despite the signs on the way in telling you not to swim, everybody does - Madhouse daddy dipped his toes in but some brave people went right in - and it is astonishingly cold, especially compared to the outside temperatures in the sun.

I was intrigued by this tree with bits of rag tied to it and wondered if it is supposed to be a healing talisman, requesting help from Zeus for a loved one, rather like the calvaire at Kruysbellaert that we discovered when geocaching.

Back in the jeeps for the last leg.

With the rubbish bags tied to the front of the jeeps !

We headed down to Long Beach for a welcome cold drink and a dip in the sea to get rid of all that dust.

I'm not kidding - this is what Sophie cleared out of her nose !

We'll be heading back to the Ephesia Beach Hotel in Kusadasi again this year so we'll have to look out for some more excursions to go on (even if the kids would be happy to spend all day every day in the pool !)

Chez Maximka

Globe-cooking recipe : Prawn & Salmon Massaman Curry (Thailand)

Another day, another country - I've been busy criss-crossing the world from my kitchen these past couple of weeks ! The original recipe for Seafood Massaman Curry from my Thai-themed Kitchen Trotter box included squid but as I'm not keen on that, I left it out and just increased the quantities of salmon and prawns.

Prawn & Salmon Massaman Curry 

ingredients :

6 king prawns per person
1 small salmon fillet per person
400ml coconut milk
3tbsp red curry paste
1 sachet tamarind paste
big handful of Kaffir lime leaves
1/2tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar

Peel the prawns. Skin the salmon and chop into cubes. Gently fry in a little olive oil until the salmon is cooked through.

Heat the red curry paste in a small saucepan with 1tbsp oil. Gradually add the coconut milk, stirring to combine, until it thickens and becomes a smooth, homogenous sauce. Add the Kaffir lime leaves (which add a citrussy twist) and simmer over a low heat for a few minutes.

The tamarind paste (for a sour note), salt and sugar should all be added at the last minute, with the sauce off the heat, to taste, to get the right balance of flavours.

Put some rice or pad thai (click through for the recipe) in a bowl or deep plate, pile on the salmon and prawns and pour over the lovely rich sauce.

This creates a mild curry dish that is packed with flavours - the combination of sweet/sour/salty flavours really takes the fish and prawns to a new level.

*** Don't miss my country-by-country globecooking recipe index ! ***

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? (menu plan 23/1/14)

I've never been so organised ! I sat down in the first week of January and wrote out a few weeks' worth of menu plans (including this one), one to use up odds and ends in my kitchen cupboard, one to go through all my bookmarked recipes and this one, to use up the globecooking recipes that I've yet to try from my past Kitchen Nomad and Kitchen Trotter boxes, which will clear out my kitchen cupboards even more. I'll actually be mixing things up, dipping into all three menu plans as suits, so some of these recipes may already be on my blog - the others will be on their way soon.


lunch - Breton crêpes complètes (with egg, ham and cheese, followed by sweet options)

dinner - Fungus the Bogeyman Soup (because it's green - it's a mix of veggies including spinach - and a silly name makes the kids eat it !)


lunch - traditional Sunday roast

dinner - leftovers, bagel or soup


dinner -  the quirkily-named Hoppin' John & Collards (or my variation anyway) - soul food made with black eyed beans and rice with bacon and greens of some sort (for #readcookeat)


dinner - Jamaican jerk chicken with mango salsa & rice (maybe leftovers from yesterday)


lunch - kibe de carne (Brazilian meatballs) with wedges and salad

dinner - rajas tacos


dinner - lemongrass chicken with noodles


dinner - big mixed salad

***Click on my Menu Plans tag to see all my other weekly menu plan blogposts.***

Meal Planning Monday

Want to see what everyone else is eating ? Head over to Meal Planning Monday at Mrs M's blog !

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Book review : The Hurricane Sisters - Dorothea Benton Frank

I love it when book publicists go the extra mile and I thought it was very clever to send out an umbrella along with my review copy of The Hurricane Sisters by Dorothea Benton Frank. The novel is set in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, a region frequently on hurricane alert, and I'm pleased to say I'll be taking part in the #readcookeat challenge this month because there were actually some mentions of food !

The book focuses on a quirky but totally charming family - I fell in love with the slightly eccentric matriarch Maisie as soon as she appeared in the book, berating the policemen who pulled her over for walking a llama along the highway because there is no law forbidding it ! Maisie, along with her daughter Liz and grand-daughter Ashley, have a pretty close relationship, even if past hurt has been left unspoken like a festering wound that periodically puts their bond in jeopardy. They all have fun sides to their personalities and there were many episodes and comments that made me smile, but there is also a deeper undercurrent of emotional trauma, cheating husbands and abusive relationships that they all have to work through.

The chapters switch from voice to voice, with different characters - both male and female - taking centre stage as narrator to move the story forward , each putting their own spin on things. All of the characters, however likeable, are flawed, but this makes it easier to relate to them and ultimately empathise with them. The pivotal story - Ashley's dream-come-true turning into a nightmare-come-true - is actually quite predictable and I felt that the ending was a bit rushed - but it is told with great insight and understanding so it is still a very engaging and poignant read.

It will make you laugh, it might make you cry but above all it will make you think - about the domestic abuse going on in the real world behind closed doors, about the warning signs and character traits that make women an easy target and about what it is to be a woman, as wife, daughter and mother.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £7.99

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd (12 Feb. 2015)
  • ISBN-10: 1471140156
  • ISBN-13: 978-1471140150
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2.7 x 19.6 cm

Disclosure : I received the book from the publisher in order to write an honest review.

Aldi Specialbuys Men’s Classic’s Range available from today

Aldi may not be the first place you think of when you want to buy new clothing but they actually have really good quality gear. They sent me through a parka from their Outdoor Range back in the autumn (that I reviewed here) and it's been an absolute godsend during the cold weather. It keeps me lovely and warm, whatever the weather, and several people have asked me where I bought it - they were all surprised when I said it came from ALDI !

Aldi Specialbuys Men’s Casual Classic’s Range has launched in stores today, promising comfortable, stylish and affordable clothing, so men about town can look high street chic on a budget. As always, stock is only available whilst stocks last so get in quick if you want to nab the man in your life a bargain ! 

Here's what they have on offer :

Layer up, keep warm and look good in the Pure Cotton V-Neck Tank (£6.99). It’s ideal over shirts or thin jumpers.
• Available in grey, anthracite or navy
• Sizes S-XL

Smart but cool, this Corduroy Shirt (£9.99) looks great with jeans or trousers, making it a versatile winter wardrobe must have. And at this price, you can have one in every colour.
• Available in blue or brown (Kent collar), or red or grey (Button Down Collar)
• Sizes M-XL

For the ultimate casual look, try these Thermal Lined Chinos (£14.99). Boasting a soft finish fabric and elastic waist for added comfort, they’re great for both winter and spring.
• Available in leg lengths 31" or 33"
• Available in waist size 32-40"

Don’t let the cold put you off getting in shape. Try this Active Base Layer (£9.99) – it’s designed with special functional zones to keep you warm during workouts.
• Men’s sizes M-XL
• Ladies’ sizes S-L

Even fashionistas wear slippers; simple and smart, keep feet snug in these Knitted Mules (£4.99).
• Available in blue, red or navy
• Sizes 7-12

They also have Six Nations hoodies, polo shirts, fleeces, caps, beanies and rugby shirts hitting the shelves today, which might also appeal to the men in your life.

They sent through a pair of chinos and a V-neck tank top for Madhouse Daddy and he said they are both very comfortable. He was worried the tank was a bit "old man" at first but has been wearing it under his suit jacket at work and said it's great for keeping warm. He was also a bit dubious about the chinos having an elasticated waist but has been won over by the comfort factor. The material is lovely and soft and they're ideal for when you need a semi-smart look, still casual but a bit smarter than jeans.

Aldi have also just launched the #aldichallenge to share a world of ways to save money and make January 2015 your best January ever. Find out more and take part at or use the hashtag #aldichallenge

Disclosure : We received some items in order to write an honest review.