Friday, 24 October 2014

Betty Crocker Review.

Ah Betty Crocker. You are always there for me when I need to bake but am lacking in time/ingredients! I always have a tub of Chocolate Fudge Icing in my cupboards for those moments when only Betty Crocker will do!

But there are a few things in the Betty Crocker range that I am yet to try.

Last week I was sent a lovely bundle of Betty Crocker Baking items, meaning I could try a few of those things that I was yet to try!

We started off with the White Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix. The children wanted an after School treat, so I thought I would whip up a batch for us to try! The were so easy to make, we simply added water, mixed together, placed balls of the dough onto lined baking trays and popped them in the oven for 12 minutes! The hardest part was actually the waiting for them to cool down!

They were delicious, and certainly didn't last long here!

On Sunday, it was a cold, wet and windy day. So I decided only a traditional Chicken Roast would do!

But of course, we couldnt have a Roast Dinner and not finish it off with a pudding, could we?

I was all out of puddings, so I reached for the Betty Crocker Carrot Cake Mix! Again, it was super simple to make, the only ingredients I needed to add were eggs, oil and water. Store Cupboard ingredients to me. I lined 2 cake pans, mixed the ingredients together with the mix. Split the cake mix between the 2 tins and baked for just under 30 minutes.

Betty Crocker have just brought out a new icing product. Vanilla Icing with Rainbow Sprinkles! How cool is that?! I bet I will have lots of situations (especially with the Children) where this product will come in very handy! Starting with last Sunday!

I used the Vanilla Icing to fill and coat our Carrot Cake, then I used the sprinkles to decorate, I even had some sprinkles left over for next time as there were so many!

The Carrot Cake went down a treat, everyone asked for more, but I was mean and made them wait until tea time for seconds!

The Betty Crocker range is available in most Supermarkets. You can find out more about the range here.

Keep an eye on my blog over the next few days as I have got a recipe for Chocolate Caramel Cupcakes to share with you too!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Every Carpet needs a Rug Doctor clean!

Now lets be honest not many people enjoy housework, (although after watching the programme Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners, I think more people than I thought seem to enjoy it), but what people really do enjoy is seeing their house look clean. I won't say tidy, because lets face it, with Children in the house it is never really going to be tidy!

One thing I especially hate is the vacuuming, in fact, I hate it so much that Craig has to do it! Our carpets were new when we moved in 8 years ago. Stupidly, we thought it was a good idea to have cream carpets. We had brought a brand new house and wanted to keep that 'new' look. So we decided on cream carpets. Its one of my biggest regrets to be honest, almost up there with my regret that we only went for a 2 bed and not a 3 bed!

So as you can imagine, keeping Cream carpets looking cream when they are 8 years old and we have 2 young children in the house is a bit of a nightmare! But sometimes buying new ones is just not top of the priority list!

But then I heard about Rug Doctor. It is a carpet cleaner that you can hire! What a good idea! I would have no room to store a carpet cleaner, so the fact it can be hired is great.

The way Rug Doctor works is as follows....

It injects your carpets with a mix of Rug Doctor cleaning detergent and hot water, this is so that it can get in deep and loosen the dirt.

Rug Doctor's unique vibrating brush has an oscillating motion. The brush gets deep down - in between the fibres of the carpet pile - to really work at loosening tough ground-in dirt and grime. At the same time, it leaves the carpet pile fluffed up and raised.

Finally it powerfully extracts the the dirt and excessive moisture, meaning 80% of the cleaning fluid is extracted and the drying time of the carpet is less than 2 hours!

This all sounded great, but would it work on our old Cream carpets? Well we spent some time finding out, and I have to say I am AMAZED by the results.

We thought we would start with a small, well used room in our house. The cloakroom! Craig gets told of daily for not taking his shoes off when he gets home, being a Mechanic and MOT tester for years, you can imagine the dirt, grease and grime on his shoes!

We Craig vacuumed the carpet first, and then he followed the instructions that are printed on the Rug Doctor machine itself, they are fairly easy to follow. You only need to go over an area once, and in a straight line. This was the result whilst Craig pulled the rug doctor over the first line! I was amazed!

Our downstairs hallway is laminate and our front room is wooden flooring, so no need to use the rug doctor there. But next on the list was the stairs and landing, again, high footfall areas that really needed some care and attention!

The rug doctor machine is designed to go right up to the edges so for the most we only had to use the main machine. But for the stairs we did use the upholstery tool for each stair. The big plus for this was that the hose was very long, meaning we could leave the Rug Doctor machine at the bottom of the stairs and get on with the cleaning without having to lug it further up the stairs, like we Craig has to with the vacuum. Our tiny annoyance with the upholstery tool is that is just didn't have as much power as the actual machine itself (understandable) so it did take a few goings over and a bit more time than the rest of our carpets!

You could see the results immediately, although I must say, that once the carpets had fully dried  they looked even better!

So all in all we cleaned the cloakroom, stairs, landing, main bathroom, en suite and the childrens bedroom. The dirt that came out turned my stomach....

But made me realise that cleaning our carpets is a must, the results were fantastic, it felt like we were walking on brand new carpet!

The Rug Doctor is available to hire from a variety of hardware stores and supermarkets. In our area its Asda, Morrisons and Homebase. The cost of hiring starts from just over £30 for 24 hours. I would say that 24 hours would be enough to clean an average sized 2 bedroomed house like ours, but I think I would feel more happy hiring for 48 hours, as we wouldn't feel as rushed.

You can also buy the detergent in different size bottles depending on the size of the space you are intending to clean, and additional products, such as stain removers, are available too.

You can find out more about Rug Doctor on their website.

The Rug Doctor gets a big thumbs up from us, and is now on our yearly (if not 6 monthly) to do list. I thought that vacuuming was enough, but after using the Rug Doctor I know that it is not. I can not count how many people I have already recommended this to, we now feel happy to welcome people into our home, rather than embarrassed and apologetic about the state of our carpets!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Millie has some fun at a Princess and Pirate toddler group!

Last week Millie and I met up with some friends and went to a Princess and Pirate themed toddler group that had been organised by our local Sure Start Centre.

I have to admit that I do feel a bit guilty when it comes to Millie. When Chester was younger I used to take him to groups at least 2 times a week, most weeks it would be more than that. But nowadays I am finding it a bit of a struggle to fit it all in! So Millie is lucky if she gets to go to one a month!

So I really wanted to make sure we did attend this Princess and Pirate toddler group as I knew that Millie would absolutely love it!

The day before I told her we were going to be attended a special Princess group, and she was allowed to choose what Princess dress she wanted to wear. She chose to wear her Anna dress. What a surprise!

When we got there she was excited to see that her friends were all dressed up too! Two of her boy friends were dressed up as pirates and then her girl friends were dressed up as Princess Sophia and two Tinkerbells!

There were lots of activities laid out for the Children to choose from. They had a Pirate sand pit, Pirate mask making, musical instruments, Play doh,  Princess Mirror making and tiara making!

Millie of course headed straight for the Princess tiara making!

She then had a go at making a Princess Play doh face and decorating a Princess Mirror too!

In the background they had Jake and the Neverland Pirate music playing, which Millie happily sang along to. Then they had some Princess songs, but best of all they had the Frozen soundtrack playing. This was the highlight of the morning for Millie, she done her usual dramatic expressive dance moves, which was so funny cute to watch!

The fun morning was topped off with snack time. It was a really great, well organised themed toddler group, its lovely that we have such a great Sure Start Centre nearby, they always make such an effort into making sure the activities are relevant and that the Children are enjoying themselves.

Do you have a local Sure Start Centre nearby? Do you attend their sessions?

How important are toys to a child?

Me and my soft toy

If you think back to your childhood, there are bound to be a few playthings or possessions 
that stick out the most. I had a brown teddy which I called Hash Brown! But whether it was a teddy bear, toy car, colouring book or even a comfort blanket, these cherished belongings are thought of fondly. What’s more, you probably didn't leave the house without them. 

Take Millie for example. She has no end of dollies and soft toys, especially Pandas, that are never far from her grasp. These companions are there for her to talk to, play with and rely on. This all 
sounds fairly innocent, but it is amazing just how important cherished play toys and worldly 
goods are to a child’s upbringing. Although Millie doesn't know it yet, her dollies have the 
potential to shape who she becomes later on in life.

So while us adults have to deal with nonsensical or arbitrary tasks on a daily basis, such 
as dealing with telemarketers or doing the weekly food shop, our kids are going through a 
remarkable phase of growth and development.

The importance of toys

Despite our best efforts, it isn't always possible to devote every single second or hour of the 
day to our children. Although this makes us appreciate the times we do have together, it is 
reassuring to know that kids are being entertained and comforted in other ways.

As mentioned before, Millie has quite the imagination, so there is no need to worry about 
whether she'll get bored or restless easily, and if the recent trip to Center Parcs is anything to 
go by, Chester’s love of football and other outdoor pursuits will stand him in good stead too.

But it is easy to forget how often they turn to their favourite toys and possessions for 
enjoyment and amusement.

The role that toys play

After conducting a bit of research, it is quite unbelievable to discover the role that toys play 
in a child’s development. You'd think they would simply satisfy their imaginations or occupy 
a bit of time, but it is far more significant than that. From developing language and motor skills to encouraging cognitive thinking and developing a sense of safety, toys are on hand to educate and enlighten before schoolteachers have the chance! On top of that, they familiarise youngsters with being alone or working independently as well as alongside others.

Childhood memories of sharing secrets with a trusty teddy and having tea parties alongside 
dollies or figurines seemed fairly inconsequential and of little importance at the time, but it 
may well have influenced the person writing this today.

*This post was written in collaboration with Tesco

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Wonderous Ink Personalised books - with a little added extra!

Recently Chester and Millie received some surprise post, I absolutely love surprise post, so you can imagine how excitable they were about it! Especially when they opened their parcels to find these books inside!

We really do love books here, as you know. But these books were slightly different to most of the ones on our book shelves... they were personalised!

Chester instantly realised that the title had his name in it, and he could not wait to get reading!

The books are cleverly written so that the story ends up spelling your childs name. So for instance in when the book used the C (the first letter of Chester's name) when talking about him it said he was Clever. By the end of the book the story had used each letter of Chester's name to give him words that described him.

It was the same for Millie, but the story was different as she had different letters in her name. Each letter was different so Millie got two separate descriptions for the 2 sets of 'L' and 'I' in her name.

Both children were captivated by the stories, I think Chester 'got it' more than Millie but they equally enjoyed the illustrations and excitement of each journey!

The books had an added bonus to them, in that they had a unique key code at the end of the story. Meaning that they could carry on their storybook fun online! That included add on's to the stories and a quiz, which Chester thoroughly enjoyed.

You can personalise your own Wonderous book on their website where you can customise and view the full book before placing your order. The books are £19.99 each, I think this is a fair price, the quality of the book and the paper is fantastic and the stories, as we have found out are really captivating. The books are aimed at children aged 2-8 I think they would make great Christmas presents or keepsakes.

Do your Children love storytime and reading?

Travelodge - Get up and go!

I have to admit that Travelodge are always one of the first companies I think of when I think of hotel stays in this country, we have used them on many occasions over the years, be it for somewhere to crash after a friends wedding, or somewhere to stay before a family day out which happens to be a bit too far away from home.

But it has been almost 2 years since our last Travelodge stay and in that time there have been some big changes.

I am sure you have all seen the Travelodge adverts inspiring you to get up and go, to explore all that Britain has to offer. They say that "whether you are going to take the kids, leave the kids, or make more kids, there are now over 500 Travelodge hotels to base yourself in and thousands of new beds to get up and go from.”

What caught my eye about this was the new beds. As we already use Travelodge as our get up and go base. They have been investing a million pounds a week in modernising their hotels and they have installed more than 37,000 new Travelodge Dreamer beds! I wanted to find out just how comfy they were, as you know, I am a terrible sleeper so would the Travelodge Dreamer beds get a thumbs up from me?

Well, on October 10th 2014 we got to find out! Quite often when we visit Center Parcs we use Barton Mills Travelodge either before our holiday or after our holiday, or both. This is so that we can explore the local area and extend our holiday, plus is also means that we can avoid the dreaded rush our traffic on the M25! The Staff are always polite and friendly, and happy to help with local suggestions. But I have to admit, that on the last couple of visits, previous to this one, the decor and general state of the rooms left a lot to be desired, they were worn out and tired and it showed!

We arrived pretty late (for us) at around 8.30pm, we queued for a couple of minutes whilst people before us were checked in. Then when it was our turn, we were greeted with a smile and checked in pretty quickly. We were told that should we need extra towels or help getting out the extra bed then just let them know and they would be happy to help.

Our room was lovely and spacious, plenty of room for us, it had tea and coffee making facilities and even a bottle opener attached to the main 'desk' unit! The decor had certainly been updated since our last visit, it now had a refreshed look, which went very well with the Travelodge colours and included some lovely calming colours.

The bathroom has had a makeover too. Its simple but makes total sense. The walls in the bath/shower area are no longer tiled, they have got a waterproof white wall instead. A lovely touch was the body and hair wash dispenser attached to the wall, and also the hand soap dispenser near the sink.

The bed was indeed a new Travelodge Dreamer bed, and it was super comfy. The pillows still do not get a thumbs up from me though, as I had the age old problem of 1 pillow not enough and 2 pillows too much. This could easily be resolved by using a thinner pillow as the second pillow!

Another feature of the new bed was that 2 'childrens beds' came out from underneath it. The lovely receptionist helped put the extra one up for us (Chester's was already up when we arrived). It was a super quick process, She simply pulled out from under the bed, popped the legs up and then added the sheets, duvet and pillows. Millie loved her bed and the fact she had a 'big bed' next to Mummy and Daddy's certainly made it easier to get her to sleep. Chester couldn't decide if he liked the bed or not, he loved it at first, but I think after a while he realised that it was not a comfy as his bed at home, nether the less he did fall asleep in it and both Children slept really well!

Travelodge has also slashed prices for wifi to an initial free period of 30 minutes and £3 for up to 24hrs. This was advertised in our room and Craig seemed to be able to get onto his free 30 minutes no problem. I however, struggled. It was not really that much of a problem though, as we were only staying for one night and it was a family visit, so not really time to surf the net!

Did you spot Millie's makeshift Baby Panda bed in that last picture?! She was pretty appalled that they didn't provide beds for Pandas to be honest! Heehee!

Overall we were really impressed with the improvements made to Travelodge Hotels. We all agreed that it certainly made our stay more comfortable and we actually enjoyed having an evening just chilling out in the room! The best part was I did actually sleep better than I normally do, so the new Dreamer beds must be good!

Have you stayed in a Travelodge recently? What do you think of the changes?

Our week in pictures 12th-18th October 2014

Another week has gone by in a blur! Just where is this year going?!

Our week started with Chester excitedly collecting his Birthday present! No surprises that he asked for the new Skylanders Trap Team game! 4 years on and he is STILL obsessed with Skylanders!

We then spent a few hours in the local Country Park making the most of the Autumn sunshine!

Millie and I attended a Pirates and Princess themed party organised by SureStart. Watch out for my post about this.

The week ended with Chester attending a party to welcome the new Reception Children to his School, I think he looks very grown up here, and in desperate need of a hair cut!
So that was our week in Pictures! What have you been upto this week?