Saturday, 31 December 2011

My Top 11 Photos of 2011

Oh is that a bandwagon?? *jumps on it*  So here are my top 11 photos of 2011!

Fun on the Trampoline
Jurassic Park??
Fred's first trip to the beach.
A flower!
Tortoise porn!
London from a Duck!
My Camel Friends
My Beautiful Mum and Dad xxx
My Children's Smiles x
My Ring.  My Love.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Bakestone's Baker's Dozen

I have always been a fan of baked goods!  Bread, cake, buns and rolls hold a special space in my heart.  This is one of the reasons why I was very excited to become one of Bakestone's Baker's Dozen!  This means I am part of a team of bakery taste testers, who get to sample a monthly selection of delicious bready products that have been lovongly developed by the team at Bakestone.  It's a tough job but someon'es got to do it!

My first box of baked beauties arrived just before Christmas, so we had to scoff them quickly before we left to go on holiday.  But with my eager taste testers this was not a problem!  The box contained fruited teacakes, a brown and white sliced premium loaf and a selection of potato cakes.

The loaves were good medium sliced loaves that toasted well, made good sandwiches and lasted well. Each bag contained 24 slices plus crusts and were a good regular shape.  The bread didn't dry out over the 3 days that we used it.  That is pretty much what you want from sliced it ticked all the boxes required!  The premium loaves appear on shop shelves within 18 hours of baking, making it fresher with a taste that is second to none!

The fruited teacakes were Ian's favourite product.  The light doughy teacakes toasted up perfectly and were lovely served with butter.  Ample fruit ran through the teacake.  They were not spicy like a lot of teacakes are, which Ian really liked.  The taste of the dough and the dried fruit were the predominant flavours in these teacakes.  The quality of the ingredients shone through.

My favourite were the potato cakes.  In a twist of tradition, the potato cakes came in three flavours: Spring Onion, Leek and Bubble and Squeak.  They were amazing!  The addition of pieces of vegetable made them really tasty.  The Bubble and Squeak flavour were my top choice.  They tasted authentic and were an excellent accompaniment to my veggie fry up.  Sometimes potato cakes can have a tendency to being bland or heavy, not these ones!  They were light, tasty and perfect served toasted with butter, or topped with melted cheese or fried eggs.  The innovative addition to the potato cake market is definitely something that has excited me! Yum!!

I'm looking forward to next month's selection when we will have more time to savour the goodies and photograph serving suggestions etc!  Roll on my next delicious box of top-notch baked goods!

Thursday, 29 December 2011

I'm a Quinny Caster In Waiting!

I am very honoured to be taking part as a Quinny Caster this year and I am being sent a brand spanking new Quinny Yezz to test out with Freddy!  This ultra lightweight, smart and compact buggy has revolutionised urban transport for toddlers, with free-rolling skate style wheels,  IXEF composite glass fibre frame and parachute style fabric seat.  It can be thrown over your shoulder to carry making it perfect for making the city your playground.

I'll be testing the Yezz in a rural environment which will be pushing it to the limit!  I'll be able to see how it copes with Shropshire's streets, but will also be seeing how it gets on in Shopping Centres (a regular haunt of mine)!  You can be sure of a thorough testing!

I am just waiting for it to arrive now, as my holiday over Christmas has delayed my delivery.  The Road Grey Yezz will hopefully come any day now so I can get testing our newest addition to our pushchair family.  Shropshire won't know what has hit it when the Yezz comes to town!

Well that was 2011!

It has passed in a blink of an eye and a constant flurry of activities.  2011, has been a great year! My family have continued to make me proud and are my greatest joy and achievement. Freddy has grown into a bright and gorgeous toddler (with a Diva-ish penchant for dancing in his big sister's dresses!)  Kizzy is thriving at school and has enjoyed taking part in the Gifted and Talented programme.  Ella's musical talents continue to astound me with her beautiful guitar playing and vocals.  Megan is doing so well applying for Graduate schemes ready for September. Joe has been promoted at work with his new post starting in January.  But 2011 has been a great year for me personally too!  My blog has continued to present me with amazing opportunities and I have been amazed at how much it has evolved over the last 12 months. Here are some of my highlights of the year.

My success with my weightloss has seen me have photoshoots for The Sun and Top Sante and I have appeared in the Mail Online.  I was the runner-up in the Slimpod Slimmer of the Year competition which was a huge honour, after shedding 3 stone with the Lose 2 Jeans Sizes Slimpod!  This year I want to lose another stone and maintain a comfortable size 12.  That will be a huge achievement and will make me truly believe that I have completely kicked the yoyo diet habits forever.  I am forever indebted to the wonderful Sandra Roycroft-Davis who I have met on numerous occasions this year.

Top Sante shoot by Thomas Skovsende
In 2011 I have been a Craniac for John Crane, a Graco Ambassador and a Toys R Us Toyologist. I have worked with some great companies including UK Mums TV, Aldi, Regis, Pampers, Warner Bros, P&O, Quinny, Next and Ubisoft.  I love working closely with brands that I believe in.  It is an amazing opportunity to test out products and attend events, and share my thoughts on my blog.

In 2011 I enjoyed going to Cybermummy along with fellow ambassador Emma representing Graco.  With a hire car from Hyundai and Lou as my co-pilot we had a great time meeting fellow bloggers and learning a thing or two about the blogging world.  I even won the passport competition, winning a weekend at The Four Seasons Hotel.  Above all though, attending this event was a huge achievement for me.  Just a few months prior to this, I would never have dreamt that I would be able to drive all the way to London and stay in a hotel on my own without Ian by my side.  This was a real test for me and my self-confidence...and I've not looked back since!
Feeling like an official Blogger at Cybermummy
I took Kizzy to the Hexbugs Bedbugs Sleepover at London Zoo.  It was amazing sleeping on the floor of a bug house alongside ants and cockroaches after having a private tour of the zoo by torchlight.  We went with Helen and her daughter Hanna who were perfect company.

Meeting a Tarantula at London Zoo
The Next event to preview the SS12 range was a wonderful, child friendly affair where we were thoroughly spoiled!  I had some photos taken of Freddy which I absolutely love.  I'm proud to be part of the Next Blogger Network and would love to work with them again in 2012.

Fred modelling his Next jeans (Next jumper was removed prior to photoshoot!)
I guest edited Real People which was a real highlight of the year and got to produce a two page spread that appeared in the magazine.  It was an amazing experience that gave me the chance to recommend some of my favourite blogs and top toys.

My Real People pages!
Attending the Tots 100 Butlins Christmas Party was a wonderful opportunity to combine blogging with my family, as me, Ian and the kids descended on the Bognor Regis resort.  I had a really great time catching up with favourite online friends and spending some quality pre-Christmas fun with my family.  Thanks again to Sally!
Our Tree Decorating Team at Butlins
The Rachel's Organic event at Buxted Park Hand Picked Hotel was another wonderful opportunity.  We watched top chef Lucy Hyder prepare dishes using Rachel's products before being treated to a sumptuous four course meal in the 5* restaurant.  The hotel was exquisite, the company was superb and the food was out of this world.
Me and Lucy Hyder of Buxted Park.
I have enjoyed family outings to zoossafari parks, theme parks, Blackpool dungeons and events such as Bob's Big Build (where we enjoyed a marvellous breakfast on board a Clipper alongside Danielle, Helen and families before arriving at the O2 for lots of Bob related fun!).  Sharing the benefits of blogging with the children and Ian is a real bonus, making the hours spent tapping away on my laptop worthwhile.  The children have also relished the opportunity of being my Tiny Testers, helping me with my reviews.  I couldn't have done it without them!
Kizzy at Bob's Big Build
What a great year 2011 has been!  Here's hoping that 2012 is going to be as successful, eventful and fun for us all!  I hope to see many more of you in 2012...our community is a wonderful place and I am honoured to be a part of it!  Happy New Year! xxx

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Santa and Christmas Day

We are now home after a magical week away at Ribby Hall in Lancashire.  I can honestly say we have had one of the best Christmases ever.  From my magical belated Flash Mob proposal to our Blackpool day out to spending time together as a family, everything has been perfect.  Ribby Hall has been a perfect location for our Christmas.

Everyone loved the Poppy Cottage accommodation we had called home for the week.  The tree made us feel really festive and Freddy loved looking at the baubles (and occasionally throwing them across the room).  The cottage was well equipped, clean, comfy and spacious.  There was plenty of room for all six of us.  My parents, my eldest son Joe and his girlfriend Jade lived next door.  It worked really nicely, getting together for meals and entertainment, but having space for Grandad to watch the horse racing on Boxing Day in peace!

The kids visited Santa on Christmas Eve following a wonderful breakfast and story time session in the Bar and Grill.  It was my parents' 56th wedding anniversary and to see them have such a magical time was a joy for us all.  The staff could not have been more friendly and welcoming.  Nothing was too much trouble for them.  The veggie fry-up option was impressive.  Usually vegetarian alternatives feel like they are second class versions of their meaty counterparts...but this breakfast was just as good.

My Family feeling festive!
Kizzy had written a beautiful letter for Santa which she hand delivered when she visited the magical treehouse at Ribby Hall.

Writing to Santa

It was a chilly morning but our spirits kept us warm as we sang Christmas songs waiting for our turn to visit the main man himself.  Freddy was getting a bit grumpy but his tears stopped when he climbed the stairs to the treehouse.  Santa was just amazing.  He chatted to the girls and Freddy.  He was up on popular culture and engaged in some TOWIE banter with my older two.  It was so wonderful when he read Kizzy's letter.  She had written such a lovely letter offering to help Santa and thinking of those less fortunate, that Santa actually was reduced to tears.  Whereas many kids want iPads and DS's, Kizzy had thought of her family and children in need around the world.  It was so touching and the most magical Santa experience we've ever had.  When Kizzy received a personal reply from Santa on Boxing Day, she was over the moon.  It made her year!

Kizzy and Santa
Christmas Eve continued with an arts and crafts session which was completely free.  Kizzy and Freddy decorated gingerbread men, made calendars, cards, Christmas decorations and snowflakes.  It was lovely.

I have never had Christmas Dinner in a restaurant before.  We made the decision to eat at the Bar And Grill which had become a favourite eatery during the course of the week, with its friendly staff, beautiful food presentation and imaginative vegetarian options.  We were not disappointed.  The five course meal consisted of a creamy garlic mushroom with black truffle starter, followed by a tomato soup.  The main was a delicious goat's cheese and caramelised onion parcel wrapped in filo pastry served with  seasonal vegetables, roast potatoes and gravy.  Brian Turner's Butlin's restaurant could take a leaf out of Ribby Hall's book when it comes to feeding vegetarians a Christmas dinner!  Pudding was a homemade trifle which was light and a perfect choice to round off the meal, followed by coffee and chocolates.  The place was beautifully and tastefully decorated, the staff were efficient and remained friendly throughout.  The food was excellent and the service was slick.  I was worried beforehand that there may have been a 'school dinner' feel to the meal, but I was totally wrong.  It was worth every penny and the relaxing atmosphere with a singer crooning some nostalgic songs in the background made for a wonderful festive dinner.  It was lovely to have space for us all around a table together, something we can't do at home as we don't have the room for us all.

Me and My Five Babies
Ready for Dinner
A stroll back to our accommodation which included a quick play in the outdoor adventure playground really made for a wonderful Christmas Day.  There was entertainment in the evening at the resort, but we spent our evening in our cosy cottage playing family board games I had received from University Games.  Ella entertained us with sing along Christmas songs to round off an amazing day.

Nan and Grandad x
Christmas Fun for Freddy!

For details on the resort and booking information check out

*I have not received anything to post these reviews.  I am sharing my experience because I would highly recommend it to anyone!*

Merlin's Blackpool Attractions

Whilst we are staying at Ribby Hall we have taken advantage of the proximity to Blackpool to experience the Merlin attractions.  I had a family ticket to the Blackpool Dungeons so that I could do a review, but seeing how close the Sealife Centre, Madame Tussaud's and the other Tower Attractions were, we decided to do the 'full monty' and do them all!  When in Blackpool and all that!

It was a wet and windy day, but unperturbed we headed to the coast and made our way to Madame Tussaud's. As it was mid winter it was relatively quiet, giving us free run of all the attractions.  This was a real joy as the last time we went to Tussaud's in London we couldn't get near the models!

With areas dedicated to Pop Stars, TV shows, Coronation Street, Footballers and Sports Stars, we had a great time posing with celebrity waxworks including Ant and Dec, Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson and David Beckham. We experienced the Big Brother Diary Room, took part in a Bushtucker Trial, appeared on the Jeremy Kyle Show and pulled a pint in the Rovers Return.

Megan in the Diary Room
With Jamie Oliver
Little Drummer Boy!
Following takeaway chips in the rain, we went to the Sealife Centre where we loved the Pirate Themed tanks.

Pirates at Sea Life Centre!
A crab display was very impressive and we loved the seahorses.  We also had a Cleaner Shrimp manicure which was fun!  There were some great sharks in the walk through tunnel including a Guitar Shark which Ella took a shine to.  There was a soft play area to entertain Freddy on the way out, and a mini golf course which looked really good, and was in keeping with the piratey theme.
Huge Crab!
Next we went to the Dungeons!  It was our first time experiencing them and we were very excited!  Ian took Freddy to Jungle Jim's play area while I took Ella, Megan and Kizzy.  From the moment you arrive, the staff are in character and prepared to give you a terrifying experience!  Ten actor led shows tell the tale of 1000 years of Blackpool's horrible history from the Bubonic Plague to the Pendle Witch trials.

The attraction is suitable for children aged 8 and over.  Much of it is in the dark and quite creepy, but that just adds to the fun.  From torture chambers to a mirror maze to the caves of the Skippool smugglers, each location and era is brought to life by the cast of actors.  There is lots of audience participation and it is really fun to immerse yourself into dark side of history.  My eldest daughter Megan ended up locked in a Torturer's cage during the war between Lancaster and York, whilst Kizzy was accussed of being a government spy in the smugglers' cave.  All good fun.  their was some great acting performances which really gripped us as the stories were told.  Our favourites were the Torturer with his implements for ripping out tongues, chopping off appendages and hanging victims from various orifices, and the doctor's assistant who performed a gruesome autopsy during the plague.  We got ourselves lost in a scary mirror maze of horrors.  We had seriously, scary fun!

Kizzy is 9 and loved it!  My older girls also really enjoyed it, and I did too.  It was like a Horrible History book that lives and breathes around you.  I would definitely recommend it for families with older children.  Under 8s would be terrified of the dark and the intense acting performances.  It took 70 minutes to go around and the attraction culminated in a ride called Extremis: Drop of Doom.  After being sentenced to being a witch, we were 'hung' by being dropped  into the darkness below.  It was really quite awesome.  The feeling of weightlessness was incredible!  It is suitable for those above 1.2m.

While we were getting scared in the Dungeons, Ian took Freddy to Jungle Jim's Soft Play which he said was excellent.  It is huge and had lots of areas to explore and play in.  Adults can go in with their little ones, but Ian said it was hard to keep up with Fred.

Following our Dungeon experience we explored the rest of the Tower.  I had a peek in the Ballrooms but I wasn't too excited by them...I am more X Factor than Strictly!  But the decor and design of the tower was great.  It is heartwarming to see it all preserved and open for the public to explore. We ventured up to the Blackpool Tower Eye where we watched a great 4D film about the adventures of a little boy at Blackpool. The effects of the 3D was really impressive and the extra dimension of being squirted, blown and  shaken made it really entertaining for us all. From there we embarked on our own journey to the top of the Tower.  The new glass walkway gives views across Blackpool from the streets below to the horizon across the sea and beyond,  The 'skywalk' is a glass floor that gives you a feeling of walking on air.  From here you can view the Comedy Carpet, quotes from famous comedians  written on the pavement hundreds of metres below.  A spiral staircase took us up to the highest level onto an open air walkway.  The wind was so powerful and out of this world and so fierce you could lie into it.  What an experience!

The Sky-Walk
The View
We had an exhausting, but excellent time.  The Blackpool Attractions were really impressive and lived up to the high standards of Merlin!  The Big Ticket costs £39 when purchased for 3 or more people giving access to all of the seven attractions including everywhere that we visited plus the Ballroom, Jungle Jim's Play Area and Circus and is valid for 90 days from purchase.

Monday, 26 December 2011

It's Never Too Late

I have spent the last 15 years complaining that my husband has never proposed to me.  Our decision to get married came from me suggesting that we probably should do it as we had just added our daughter Ella to our family and I wanted us all to have the same surname.  Not a very romantic way to start married life!

Ian is a truly wonderful man, but no matter how many hints and nudges I gave him, he never really understood the disappointment that had seeded deep inside me and ate away at me over the years.  Anniversary after anniversary came and went and my desire to have my husband before me on bended knee presenting me with a ring got stronger and stronger.  My lack of proposal became a 'thing' between us!  The more I wanted it, the more scared Ian became of doing it.  The elephant in the room taunted me as my ring finger felt more and more naked with each passing year.

Before I was with Ian, I had been engaged three times.  I was a serial fiancee, but not with the man I really, truly loved.  My only memories of engagements were tainted by the fact they involved the wrong man.  I needed to put this right to complete my love story.  Everytime an engagement was portrayed on TV, I felt like I had missed out on the most magical moment of a girl's life.  Poor Ian really got numerous ear bashings as I'd say "Do you remember when you asked me to marry you?  Oh no, of course you don't, because you never even asked me!!!"  When the kids asked about the story of me and Ian getting together there was a big part missing...where was the romance???

Poor Ian.  If only he'd whipped out an H.Samuel's box 15 years ago our life would have been perfect.  Ian is my soul mate, the man I will spend every day of the rest of my life with.  He has completed me and given me everything I've ever wanted.  Except for this one thing.  And he has simply not been able to rectify it.  It made me so frustrated!!!!

Then, this year, Christmas Day 2011, my husband made it all right.

Ian started to play his guitar.  I recognised the opening bars of the song he had written for me some years ago when I complained that there wasn't any love songs ever written with my name in it.  "Hey Wendy!" totally fixed that and gave me my very own song.  Suddenly my three daughters jumped up in front of the Christmas tree.  As Ian played and sang my song, my girls did a brilliant synchronised dance routine that had me laughing and crying in equal amounts.  Suddenly, Ian leapt up and got down in front of me on one knee, doing the one thing I'd been waiting for since 1996!  Inside a gold ring box was a beautiful white gold engagement ring with a cluster of seven for each member of our family.  It looked great with my eternity ring and the sentiment was just perfect.  I couldn't have picked a nicer ring for myself...he knows me so well.

This was the best present ever!  The missing piece of the puzzle of our life together.  I am now Ian's Fiancee Wife!  Who says you have to do things in order...we throw convention to the wind!  It was a beautiful moment witnessed by all my family including my parents who loved every moment of it.  They knew how much it meant to me and were as overjoyed as if it had happened when we first got together all those years ago.

What an amazing Christmas I have had this year!  I hope everyone else have had their dreams come true too.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

How To Make Pizzas With Elves!

Today, Freddy and Kizzy had the pleasure of making pizzas with Santa's Elves at Ribby Hall!  Assisted by their big sisters Megan and Ella, they joined in the pizza making activity.  Josh the Christmas chef and DJ 'Chappers' along with two lovely elves demonstrated and helped as the kids shaped dough and topped their pizzas.  Freddy loved being covered in flour, eating handfuls of grated Mozzarella and smearing tomato sauce liberally over his pizza.
Ready for action at Ribby Hall Bar & Grill.
Flattening out the dough.
Getting Saucy!!
How much cheese can you get on a pizza?
Ready for the Pizza Oven!
I was really impressed that the chef on realising we were vegetarians, put the finished pizzas on their own tray.    While they were cooking, the children had the opportunity to have a quick boogie on the dancefloor, doing the YMCA and the Conga.  There was a real party atmosphere and Freddy, as ever, loved partying with his big sisters who dote on him.

Ribby Hall Conga
When the pizzas had been cooked, the kids were all invited back into the restaurant area to have a Pizza Feast.  The plated pizzas looked great and Freddy's verdict of "Mmmm Delicious Pizza!" was spot on.  We all shared the pizzas and they were seriously good.  Lovely doughy base, garlicky, tomato sauce and an abundance of Mozzarella!!

Kizzy's Pizza
Blowing his pizza as it was hot!
Yummying it up!
This was such a lovely activity for the children.  Freddy was the youngest child there but he loved every messy moment and was encouraged by the staff, even when he was making a mess!  Kizzy really enjoyed her pizza too!  Afterwards, Freddy fell asleep for 3 hours.  All the partying is tiring him out.

Tomorrow we are heading off to Blackpool which is just ten minutes up the road.  We have tickets to review the Dungeons with the older children which will be interesting!  So watch this space for some scarier stuff this Christmas.  Ribby Hall really is extremely well located, a tranquil, rural setting which is very close to the hustle and excitement of Blackpool and its attractions.

As Freddy was so exhausted, I took my girls out for a meal at the Bar & Grill, leaving Daddy and Freddy in the cottage to relax.  Nana and Grandad decided to join us for dinner.  The staff were extremely friendly and helpful and the food was lovely with a Vegetarian Specials Board which gave us lots of options.  We chose the Mushroom and Leek Carbonara which was really tasty and presented really nicely.  We'll be having our Christmas Lunch here so I'm looking forward to that.  The restaurant is very relaxed, definitely a benefit with kids!  Our waitress offered to split our bill and nothing was too much trouble.

The girls and the grandparents x
Another lovely day at Ribby Hall!  My eldest son and his girlfriend will be joining us tomorrow night and we have a Pantomime to watch in the evening.  So it'll be a fun and busy day.  We haven't even checked out the swimming pool or sports facilities yet.  There is just so much to do!


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