Friday, 30 August 2013

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka - Book Review

This month’s book from the Britmums book club is The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka and it was a very enjoyable read. I love it when I read a book and find out about little pockets of history that I had no idea about and this is one such book. The book follows the stories of a group of Japanese women who travel from Japan to America between the two World wars in search of a better life. They are promised handsome men with good prospects, and most find themselves in situations that are far from what they expected. On arrival in the States they meet men who are down on their luck and who work in the fields, or as servants or fishermen, not the glamourous looking men they saw in photos. The men come in all shapes and sizes, they are kind, unkind, indifferent to them. The women have to do back breaking work, they don’t understand the American ways, they get disowned by their families who when they hear of their new situation, are ashamed.

I liked the narrative as it was lots of voices combined, although I would love to read a novel on the same subject whereby you follow one or two women’s fortunes and really get to know the characters. By doing it this way a lot of ground is covered in a very short book (it’s only 129 pages in length). The stories are mostly sad as these women are never really American citizens, they are outsiders. And when war breaks out and Pearl Harbour is targeted their entire race is under suspicion, and they are eventually removed to the inner states of America. They are taken away from the towns they know, from the businesses they have grown and their children who were been born in the USA must have felt such confusion at never actually having been to Japan but not being accepted in their country of birth either.

I really enjoyed this book, it is beautifully written and harrowing at the same time. It prompted me to do a little bit of googling and read a bit more about the Japanese in America, and how eventually survivors and their heirs were given reparations from the US government and were given an apology. It really was a fascinating period in time, where America was a fairly paranoid and insular place.  

I’m going to look into the author’s previous novel on the back of reading this as I liked the writing style and definitely want to keep up the momentum of reading as it’s such a great way to spend my time commuting to work daily!

I was sent this book free of charge.


Friday, 23 August 2013

Compare the Market Launch #AgentMaiya

On Wednesday night I was very lucky to be invited to the launch of the new Compare the Market advertising campaign, unveiling female meerkat Maiya's secret spy past. Maiya is more than a schoolteacher, she is a kick ass Meerkat Intellligence Agency operative! The event was held in conjunction with Future Cinema, the experts in immersive cinema experiences at The Troxy in East London. What an amazing venue, with sweeping staircases and plush furnishings, it did feel like a step back in time to the 1930’s once inside. We were told to be ‘Dressed to Kill’ which made a change from a usual Wednesday night doing bath and bedtime routine!

Our ‘undercover spy’ experience started outside the venue when on arrival we were whisked away to the back doors of the Troxy and myself and my guest were split up and quizzed separately as to how we knew the Ambassador?! I thought on my feet and said I’d met him at a dinner party – I had no idea what I was getting myself into! We were fitted with our wristband for the night and told that it was a tracking device to keep us safe at all times, as there could be undesirables in attendance! This got us really in the mood for the evening, and made us feel part of the experience (to the point that we were suspicious of anyone that spoke to us!). We were taken through the dark corridors of the venue where there were spies all around us and then came through a curtain to see our beautiful venue for the evening:


We were entertained by a 3 piece band while we had drinks and a delicious Austrian meal of pork loin (amazing crackling!), dumplings and sauerkraut.  The ‘Ambassador’ came on stage and announced his wife would be up next singing for our entertainment. We took the opportunity to go and have a look at the new Agent Maiya toy and we came across a spy’s office where we *had* to have a photo opportunity!


Elizabeth Hurley was the celebrity host for the evening (a great choice given her spy background in Austin Powers!) and she came on stage and introduced Agent Maiya who addressed everyone by video link and told us all of her secret spy past. It was very engaging and the new advert was screened, followed by the screening of Mission Impossible. Throughout the film there were live re-enactments of key scenes, my guest managed to get herself right in the middle of the first one on her way for a cigarette, which made me laugh. “I’m just off for a cigarette while nothing is happening”, next she’s staring down the barrel of a gun and getting shoved out the way while the impostors were dealt with, hahahahahaha

Here is the advert just in case you haven't seen it aired yet - I really think these meerkats' deserve to hit the big screen soon!


We had such a great evening and I’m sure that Agent Maiya is going to be huge hit with audiences. And as far as immersive cinema goes I am desperate to go and experience another one very soon, Dirty Dancing is coming up next.....

I was given two VIP passes to this event, allowing us a fantastic evening of entertainment, free drinks and food. All view expressed are my own

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Warburtons Krazy Kitchen

You may have seen a fun campaign on Warburtons Facebook page in the last couple of weeks where two families have been challenged to create delicious tasting lunches, competing against each other whilst negotiating the crazy goings on in the kitchen with chickens creating havoc, Mexican musicians adding some spice and at one point feathers everywhere! It's Mum vs Mum, Dad vs Dad and in the final episode the kids compete using Warburtons Sandwich Thins to make a Chicken Supreme sandwich!




Lunchtime isn't so crazy in our house (my kids are 4 and 2, so they're not too varied in their sandwich filling choices!) but today using the ingredients that I was sent by Warburtons I created two of the recipes that appear in the Krazy Kitchen Gameshow; Chicken Supreme (featured in the video above) and Tex Mex Mayhem (this should have been done with wraps but I used Sandwich thins).

Check out these videos to see how to make them yourself. They were both so delicious and I will be making them again.

Supreme Chicken using Warburtons Sandwich Thins


 
Tex Mex Mayhem (these will work better using wraps I think
 
 

 
 
I favoured the Tex Mex Mayhem as it had some real heat, something I don't usually think about doing in a sandwich - the sandwich thins were really tasty and they also didn't feel like a 'bread overload'! The recipe is as follows:
 
Tex Mex Mayhem
 
Ingredients:
Tablespoon of refried beans
handful of salad leaves
Half and avocado (original recipe said a quarter but I love avocado!)
Quarter of a red chilli - deseeded and finely chopped
2 tablespoons of yoghurt (I didn't have this, so used mayo and not such a large quantity)
Drizzle of Olive Oil
Squeeze of fresh lime
Jalapenos from a jar
 
Method:
Mash up the avocado, lime, chilli and olive oil in a bowl
Lay out your wrap or in my case sandwich thin
Spread refried beans on one side
Top with salad leaves
And the Avocado mash up and the yogurt or mayo
then top it with a few jalapenos
Add the top part of your bread or wrap if you used wraps
 
Enjoy!!!
 
The final instalment of the Krazy Kitchen airs tomorrow so head over to the Warburtons facebook page to check it out: https://www.facebook.com/Warburtons
 
 
This is a sponsored post and I was sent the items to make two delicious sandwiches.
 
 

Bowling - a fun Summer holiday activity

Isla starts school in September and from that point onwards we will be tied to school holidays for day trips and vacations. I'm so excited about her starting school but I'm also sad that the time I will be able to spend with her will be limited and that Noah will see his sister less. I can also say that this summer I feel like I have had a real taste of how long the holidays can feel as we get closer towards term starting. For a lot of parents there is a real pressure to keep entertaining the kids and stave off the words "I'm bored". Having to do fun stuff with the kids in busy periods can also mean that activities are more expensive but VoucherCodes.co.uk have set out to show parents that they can make days out and activities more affordable.

Vouchercodes.co.uk gave us £80 to use as we wished to entertain the kids and then report back on how we did and if we saved money. I decided that it might be fun to take the kids bowling so I went to the Voucher Codes website and tapped in the name of our local bowling alley Tenpin and found that there was a deal advertised .It was an Eat and Play deal, from £6.99. In total 1 game of bowling and a meal for 6 (2 adults and 4 children) with ice cream added as an extra cost just short of £60 which I think is great value. We also bought drinks and that more or less finished off the £80.

who knew bowling shoes could look so cute!?
The kids had a really great time, if I was to do bowling with them again I would probably leave the adults out of the equation for the bowling as anyone who knows what bowling is like with small children, it takes a really long time to finish 1 game of bowling so for kids under 5 I would definitely advise one game IS enough. It took over an hour and a quarter to finish including all the trips to the toilet - the random disappearances and need for drinks etc. Also keep in mind that they may not have shoes for really small feet - Noah is an 8 and they had from that size upwards. Definitely make sure that you have the ramps up in the gutters so that the kids don't feel too deflated every time the ball ends up in the gutter and most alleys will have ramp that the little ones can use to roll the ball down when they're too young to bowl it themselves.



There were so many offers on the site, so do check it out before you decide on a day out with your family, there is anything from days out to Drayton Manor (home of Thomasland!), money off meals in your favourite family friendly restaurants and cinema offers.,
 
We had a great afternoon of fun thanks to VoucherCodes.co.uk - all views expressed here are my own.

Loads of Fun at Lollibop 2013

Sunday was Lollibop day for Isla and I and we had a blast. We went with my best friend and her son just like last year. We set off early and headed to the Olympic Park, the new venue this year. I'm going to be honest and say that I much prefered the Regents Park location as for obvious reasons it's leafier and feels more tranquil. That said there were little parts of Lollibop that did feel like this, the area where the disco shed was grassy and felt a little bit removed from the madness of the rest of the festival. 


Prior to going to Lollibop I hadn't bigged up any of the events or acts with Isla as I felt it was important for her to not feel disappointment if she didn't get to see something or if I saw that a queue was too long to wait in. By taking this approach we could easily just mooch around and do things as we came across them, which made for a much happier experience. There was only one exception to this rule and that was when we walked past the Shaun the Sheep area and Isla desparately wanted to meet him, but they were closing the field, so I promised we would go back. 


Last year we hardly watched anything on the main stage and stuck to the Lollipalladium. This year was the opposite, we caught a bit of Sid and Andy (really funny!) but then spent a long while in front of the main stage having a picnic whilst Dick and Dom (bogies!) were on, followed by Hello Kitty and the man of the moment, Justin Fletcher! He was great, really got the audience going, singing and making the kids laugh. We left JF a bit before he finished so that we could get back to Shaun the Sheep and get in the queue, we were near the front and 10 minutes early for his appearance, so in total Isla only had to wait 15 minutes for this photo opportunity:

 
After that we went in search of the face painting - also included in the ticket price, and although it looked a long queue there were so many face painters it was moving fast and we could only have been waiting 10 minutes for that - result! They had a list of different options to choose from, I persuaded Isla that they weren't doing Shaun the Sheep and so she went for the Dalamation Dog instead:

 
Next up a trip to the ice cream man and a bit of a boogie at the disco shed! After a good dance to 'Superman' - remember that one from the early 80's (?!) there was tug of war which all the kids really loved (they kept queuing up for it)! Isla had never done it before and looked liked she really enjoyed the experience especially as she was on the winning team. 

 
We stopped off at one of the Imagination Stations and Isla did some printing on a cloth square. We also bumped into Postman Pat while we were there - no sign of Jess though. 

 
There was a bar for the adults at Lollibop, which at the end we treated ourselves to a Pimms, we felt like we'd earnt it  after all the running around we'd been doing all day after two excitable monkeys! Finally we ended the day at Lollibop by getting the kids (and their siblings at home) a Walking Pet Balloon, which they absolutely loved and played with all the way home.

Thanks Lollibop for a really great day - we can't wait to come back next year!

We were given free tickets as Lollbop Ambassadors. All views expressed in this post are my own.


Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Peppa Pig Toys & Paultons Park & Peppa Pig World Ticket Giveaway!

Last Thursday we attended a bloggers' coffee morning at Peppa Pig World to take a look at the new Peppa Pig Merchandise available from the Peppa Pig World Online Toyshop. I took Isla along with me, and she really enjoyed having some time with Mummy alone, particularly as I was taking her to the coolest theme park ever in her eyes!

She got to have a play with a lot of the Peppa Pig toys while I had a natter with some mummy bloggers. She also got to meet Suzy Sheep which was brilliant as sheep are her favourite animal and she’d been carrying around the large size Suzy Sheep from the minute she clapped eyes on it in the room. 

Meeting Suzy Sheep!

Isla's favourite bits of merchandise were:

Jumpig Pigs game, peppa pig
Jumping Pigs Game - in fact we bought this one at the end of the day!

Large Floor Puzzle, great for little hands!

My favourite item was: 


Perfect for Daddy - "I'm not grumpy" Pyjamas - potential Christmas gift I think!
Once we’d finished looking at everything we were free to go and explore the park. Isla and I have been to Peppa Pig world before, but in term time, so this time it was very busy. So after a run around in the soft play area and a good soaking in the splash area (make sure you take swimming bits and towel!), we headed off to see the rest of Paultons Park, which we didn’t do the last time. I was so impressed – there is so much to do for her age group and I even persuaded her to go on the log flume and she loved it (even though it was quite high!). 


Photo by ChelseaMamma

Other highlights of Paultons were the bouncy castle and trampoline area, the dinosaur walk, more splash areas and the seal ride. We also spent some time with the lovely Chelsea Mamma and her children, and I got some cuddles with her baby boy.



We popped back into Peppa Pig World and we had a go on the balloon ride and Grandpa Pig's boat ride, scoffed an Ice cream and hit the shop! All in all we had a fantastic day, and do check out the online store for Peppa Pig goodies, I know it's a bit early to talk about the 'C' word but for any little Peppa fan there are a few good stocking fillers to be had....




And to make you and your little ones feel like Christmas has come early I have a one day ticket for a family of 4 (children must be under 12 years) for entry to Paultons Park and Peppa Pig World to give away. To enter please complete the Rafflecopter form below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Disclosure: We were given free entry to Paultons Park

Saturday, 17 August 2013

We're Going on a Bear Hunt - Review

Last Saturday I went with a load of girlfriends and their children to see 'We're Going on a Bear Hunt' at The Lyric Theatre and I have to say I was most impressed. I would even go so far as to say that it was the most fun childrens' production I have ever seen - we've seen a few - Peppa Pig, Ben and Holly, The Gruffalo amongst others and Isla and Noah would probably agree with you. And yes, Noah came too and he's only 2 years old and he was mesmerized by it!




I'm going to admit something now. I'd never read 'We're Going on a Bear Hunt' before. I only knew about it as it gets read at nursery according to Isla so I had a feeling that it was going to be a good one if she liked it enough to mention it. 

The idea of the day was to just take the older kids but then I had a babysitting issue and so Noah came too. All the older ones were the same age - 4 and mostly are my NCT friends. 

The show is lovely because of the audience involvement. The actors ask the audience at the start what a bear looks like so they will know how to recognise one and all the kids were shouting out. They come down into the aisles as well so that people further back get their answers relayed back to the stage. I loved that.



So as I now know the story is about a bear hunt and all the different weather they encounter, and the landscapes and a whole lot of fun they have on the way (and back). There is a Dad, his two children and a dog and they manage to convey the journey so simply - with a relatively small amount of props. Our favourite bit was when they were walking through the river - prepare to get wet is all I'll say and don't think you're safe if you're at the back of the stalls! Isla was actually laying flat down on the floor at this point to avoid the water! We also loved the snow falling down on the audience. It was so interactive and imaginative and good inspiration for making up our own bear hunt one day. There were sweet, catchy songs and the audience were encouraged to join in with those. There was lots of laughter and a little bit of scary stuff with the bear (although, he looked quite sweet to me!).

We had such a great time and I can categorically state that a 2 year old would love it as well - he was captivated, as were all the kids. Go and check it out - it's on for the remainder of the school holidays.

If you fancy going to see We're Going on a Bear Hunt it's on at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftsbury Avenue until 8th September. Check Out Bear Hunt Live for details and tickets.

Quick footnote: this wasn't a freebie for us, we paid for the tickets and I genuinely wanted to let everyone know how good the show is!

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Family Day Out Groombridge Place Gardens and Enchanted Forest


This weekend we paid a visit to Groombridge Place in Kent with some good friends of ours and their kids. We had such a great day hence why I had to blog it. It’s about a 45 minute drive from us, so really not that far and we paid for our entry using Little Bird vouchers, which gave us 50% off entry, making it even better value at about £4 a ticket.


Groombridge Place, Family Day Out Kent, Kent Gardens, Day out with Kids, Summer Holidays

There was so much to do, and this week it was ‘Water activity Week’ where there were water fights, water zorbing, puppet theatre, bungee run and party games, as well as all the attractions and fun that’s there regularly like the birds of prey display and the enchanted forest with all the kids activities to discover in there.



When we arrived the kids did a bit of tearing about and exploring of their own. 


Then we came across the water zorbing pool. I really didn’t expect Isla to be brave enough to get in the inflatable ball let alone roll around in the pool in it. But she did and she had fun until she wanted to get out but no one had heard her and there were a few tears. Whoops!



Then we sat and had a picnic on the many picnic benches provided for visitors really handily situated next to the Puppet Theatre that was set up in the garden with hay bales for seating and pretty bunting all the way round. Once the kids had finished their lunch they sat entranced by the puppet show and then met the sock puppets afterwards. They were fully participating and shouting out. Brilliant!


We moved on through the grounds and then came across the bungee run, which for a bit while there wasn’t anyone on it, they had a bounce around and then had a go doing the bungee run but they didn’t totally understand the aim!


Once you move on from there it’s onto the enchanted forest which is absolutely brilliant. It can be reached by foot or by boat, we walked – next time we’ll take the boat, to do something different and save little and adult legs!! The first area you come across is Crusoe’s World. There are props from the TV show Crusoe reconstructed in this area. There are two treehouses linked together with rope bridges and also a couple of boats to climb in and play on!



Next we found some swings and the kids had a good session on those and there were some rabbits and goats in that area too.


Along the river there was a bridge where you could buy some fish food from a little machine for 20p a handful and feed the very greedy fish – they had huge mouths – they seemed so greedy that if they could have grown legs and walked up the bank, they would have done!



We ended our walk through the Enchanted Forest there as we wanted to get back for the Birds of Prey display, however we missed a lot and we will go back another day to see everything we missed including Romany Caravans, Teepees and Totem Poles!

On the way to see the Birds of Prey we saw a group of deer. There is something magical about deer I think. They were there in the distance, but they never feel permanent, they always look like they could run off at any moment. Anyway on to the Birds of Prey. There isn’t a lot I can tell you about them as while I was watching them I had to keep getting up to ask Isla to stop trying to get in the display field and persuade Noah that he needed to hide his rabbit away in case the Bald Eagle though it was a rabbit corpse and flew off with it! We did get a good look at the birds though and by far my favourite was the Barn Owl. They are just so beautiful and graceful. There’s no doubt that the Bald Eagle is majestic but it’s not so pretty! Isla was pretty taken by this part of our day and took some of her own photos on my phone. They didn’t come out too badly, and one v short blink and you’ll miss it video!

birds of prey, Groombridge Place, Barn Owl, Bald eagle

Once we’d seen the bird display, we caught the end of the puppet show again (it was on twice during the day) and then went home, exhausted but really happy after a lovely day out with friends. 
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Monday, 12 August 2013

New Smurfs Toy Range!


When I was younger I was a big fan of The Smurfs, if I remember rightly it was on TV on a Sunday morning and I’d watch it while my Mum and Dad were still trying to squeeze the last few minutes out of lying in bed before I came and bothered them to wake up (now I know how that feels)! I loved all the characters, particularly Smurfette and loved feeling scared by Gargamel, I also had a soft spot for Azreal the cat.


Last Sunday while I was on a girlie weekend, OH took Isla to a special screening of Smurfs 2 and to take a look at the new Jakks’ Smurf Toy range. They had a really lovely time. Isla had decided to take her Shaun the Sheep rucksack with her and on entry to the cinema this was given intense scrutiny by the Smurfy people, they’re not keen on sheep apparently! We haven’t seen the first Smurfs movie and Isla has only seen the Smurfs cartoon a handful of times but I think that there is something about these little blue characters that is immediately appealing to kids. And I predicted that Isla would love Smurfette which of course she did. OH said that she was a little scared of Gargamel, but not to an extreme and I think she is like a lot of kids in that they like being a little bit scared – that is part of the fun afterall!

After they watched the film, they took a look at all the new toy range. 



I made a big error in not sending her in Smurf fancy dress as apparently there were prizes for the best turned out Smurfs. She was very happy with the little Smurfette figurine she was given though and they are available as part of the range as Grab ‘em Single Packs including some of the other characters from the film. 


I think she would also love this little Mushroom House Play Set (including Smurfette) and this Smurfette Fashion Doll which comes with a mix of outfits that you can snap on and off and add accessories. She also has style-able hair! 


These are just the kind of toys that Isla loves playing with, and that I find myself coming across all over the house :) This Smurf-tastic toy range is available from leading toy retailers nationwide this summer, find out more about Jakks’ Smurfs toy range at www.jakks.com

To experience the Smurfs 2 movie trailer and for further information on one of this summers’ hottest releases, visit www.smurfs2.co.uk

We were invited to this special screening which was free of charge and the kids got a goodie bag each.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Me and Mine - July 2013

Here's my 'Me and Mine' post for July - a bit late I know, but July is a really special month for us as we have two birthday's to celebrate - Isla turned 4 and Noah turned 2. I didn't want to miss recording such a special month on my blog so here we have the 'Princess and Pirate Birthday Party' shot!



For all other Me and Mine entries hope over to The Ar-Blog

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Naming Your Baby

I personally love the new Royal Prince's first name as it happens to be the first name of my Dad. He has a pretty Royaltastic name himself being George William Charles - all 3 names in line to the throne (my nan could have made a mint in the bookies if she'd made that prediction in 1951!).
Having a baby requires months of planning, from buying new clothes, choosing the nursery furniture and not least of all, choosing a name. Check out this infographic charting the most popular boys' and girls' names in England and Wales, compared to the most popular Windsor family names.

This is an advertorial post.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Bumper Book of Summer by Sainsbury's

It’s the LOOOOONG Summer holidays. This fact is something that up till now has rather passed me by as Isla isn’t at school yet, but in September school is going to become a reality for us, and the holidays are going to become part of our routine. In order to make sure the kids don’t utter the mantra “I’m bored” all summer long Sainsbury’s have released ‘The Bumper Book of Summer’ with over 60 boredom busting ideas for action-packed days. There are ideas and activities for children aged 3 – 12 years and they cover things from active days to crafting and also some great tasty recipes to help replenish some of the energy the kids have burnt off. They are also budget conscious which is key when there is a whole 6 weeks to fill.

We were lucky enough to be invited to the press day for the launch of the book and we went as a family to London to experience some of the activities. Here’s what we did:

Face Painting!

Making Photo Frames
Cardboard Car Races
Making a Monster
Becoming Pirates! Shiver Me Timbers!
A lot of the activities can be done using things that you have lying around the house, boxes, toilet rolls, silver foil, glue and paints. And for anything that you may not have, Sainsbury's also have a really great 'Get Creative' range including everything kids need to have fun with crafting, including pom poms, googly eyes, friendship bracelet kits. They are all reasonably priced and would really supplement the book.

I love the book for the reason that it's really clearly set out, the activities give guidance for the age they are best suited to, the time it should take to complete and lists all the required items for the activity. Isla and Noah had such fun at the event. Noah had his face painted for the first time and he loved it. They particularly liked being pirates, and the pirate ship made from a cardboard box was genius! They also did a nature hunt which is something I'd like to do more of to help them get over little fears of spiders and beasties. All in all it was a big hit and we can't wait to get going with some of the ideas.

Bumper Book of Summer is available from Sainsbury’s priced at a really reasonable £5. It comes with scrapbook to keep a record of all the fun you’ve had, over 100 stickers, a wall poster to plan activities and a DVD with step by step guides.

You can add your boredom busting successes to the Sainsbury’s Facebook page here: http://app.facebook.com/boredom-busters/

We were invited to this fun event to help publicise the book and we were given a goodie bag including the Bumper Book of Summer!