Monday, 27 July 2015

What I have been up to...

The Empty Common Community Garden

I have neglected my blogs again, but in my defence I got a new job and it has been challenging to keep up. One blog that I have not neglected is the one I set up for a community garden. I posted a yummy recipe for blackcurrant muffins just now...

If you are into community gardening - or love to grow stuff in your garden or plot, visit the Empty Common Garden blog here.

Unfortunately I also had to shelve craft ideas while I cope with an issue with my arm, so it might be a while until you hear from me again. I will try my best to continue with the community gardening blog in the meantime.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Fun photoshoot with Child Morphsuit

In my previous post - the popular Bank Holiday Bonanza Competition - I gave away a Child Morphsuit - here is our fun review....

Michela and I pondered for ages on which look to go for and settled on the Tiger. There are many tempting costumes to choose from, so it was not easy.... If you visit this page you will understand our dilemma.

This review will be of the pictorial variety, I think these photos can show how great this suit is and the references you can make for that Book Day at school or any occasion when you need a fancy costume....

This tiger came for tea. "Is it you Tigger?" asked Pooh

"Tigger who? I will be mother," replied the tiger

"Don't mess with me, I am not in the mood"

"Do you think you have me cornered?"

"Look what I can do, eat your heart out, Tigger!"

PS: If you are into Disney princesses, you might want to take this quiz... 

Friday, 1 May 2015

Friday is a breeze... Bank Holiday Bonanza Competition


To celebrate the coming Bank Holiday weekend, I have gathered a bunch of great prizes to suit families with kids of all ages

To enter, just leave a comment... You can also leave a link to your blog, if you wish. The competition is only open to British residents, sorry to disappoint overseas readers. You need to enter by Wednesday, 6 May 2015.

UPDATE: Stats tell me that 273 people viewed since it came out, still high chances of winning as entries are low, there are a few more through Twitter.

If for any reason you are not comfortable leaving a comment, you can also tweet this with #bankholidaycompuk and I will collect winners there too. If you are wary, there is no catch and I am not building up any mailing list, only winners' addresses or emails will be forwarded so prizes can be delivered.

Win One year’s membership of Home, worth £100! is a global community of 65,000 house-swappers in 150 countries. Members' homes come in all shapes and sizes, from cosy apartments to sprawling estates and everything in between. Imagine what savings you can achieve, just paying for travel expenses.... Most homes are suitable for kids and many are specifically listed as offering a great family fun holiday. Visit to find out more.

Win a child Morphsuit

Why should the adults have all the fun? With these awesome designs, your little one can morph into their favourite superheroe, an amazing wild animal or scary monster. You will be able to choose a costume from this pageprovided it’s not out of stock.

Win a Boov Pop box of delights

One Boov Pop bountiful bundle of gobstoppers and bath bombs is up for grabs, but if you don’t win, you can still download the free game...

HOME: Boov Pop, the official puzzle game based on DreamWorks Animation’s 3D comedy adventure HOME, now playing in cinemas, is now available to play on all Android devices on Google Play and Amazon Appstore. This free-to-play game offers a new twist to the puzzle genre, by adding a gravity-based design combined with awesome 3D graphics. The Android version of Home: Boov Pop! Is available on the Google Play Store here. The iOS version of Home: Boov Pop! is available on the App Store here.  You can also visit the Facebook page

Win a copy of Teapot and the
Dragon + free code for Painting
Gallery with Niru Niru & Friends
(apple version only)

Teapot and the Dragon, written and illustrated by teacher Nick Jordan (Clink Street Publishing) is the story of spirited princess Rosehip, who is not delighted at the prospect of getting married to a handsome prince. Enter a hungry dragon and the adventure begins... This enchanting book was reviewed here and is available from bookshops and online at RRP £8.99 paperback, £4.99 ebook.  

Painting Gallery with Niru Niru & Friends, retailing at £2.29 at the Apple store, is a fun, family-friendly and safe environment for your children to play in. There is no invasive advertising and the Painting Gallery allows kids to let their imaginations run free and create wonderful images. Between free-draw, and the game's impressive library of pre-made stickers, they can create countless masterpieces and arrange them in their very own gallery. Parents can also get involved in teaching their kids various concepts like colours, by recording their own voice into the experience. See the trailer here.

STOP PRESS: PR confirmed that there might be more than one Boov Pop box of delights up for grabs, depending on number of entries.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Advance notice: Bank Holiday Bonanza Competition

MAY DAY, MAY DAY ! I couldn't resist posting an alert about Friday's blog post, which will feature a prize bonanza for all families to enjoy. It will be easy to enter, I will only ask to leave a comment, no tweeting, facebooking, taking a selfie while standing on your head or other weird request... Expect great prizes to keep little hands busy!

Friday, 17 April 2015

Meet Michela - future YouTube star???

Despite 10 years+ in journalism and 7 in marketing, My daughter Michela, 8, is more camera confident than I will ever be. Here is a video she shot with my tablet on her own while I was in the other room working on my computer, aged 7.  Needless to say she got a big part in the school play but I can't show that as other children are involved.

And below is her first ever 'complete' video, shot with ancient digital camera, where Michela talks about brands. Totally improvised and off the cuff.

Sorry, Tesco & Robinson, Michela's favourite is tap water!

Last day of Easter Holidays - for some - keeping kids entertained

While my daughter is back in school, many schools in the UK are still closed because of the long Easter break. If you have been away, you might have extra chores to do, including getting school kits ready. So why not treat your kids to a movie, a new book, or both? I have cherry-picked among the latest releases for a DVD and an illustrated book suitable for school children and younger siblings too.

Why not watch a DVD?

Shaun and Bitzer put their best paws forward
There is nothing more topical than a spring lamb! Picture Perfect is a collection of the best Shaun the Sheep's episodes and is available on DVD for the first time since their TV airing. This cute, mischievous lamb first appeared in Wallace & Gromit's film A Close Shave and has been seen by TV audience in over 170 countries. 

Shaun is a sheep who doesn’t follow the flock – in fact, he leads them into all sorts of scrapes, turning the peaceful Mossy Bottom Farm into mayhem! Shaun and his pals run rings around the hard-working sheepdog Bitzer, as he tries to stop the Farmer finding out what’s going on behind his back. 

This DVD also contains a special bonus from Aardman Animations – 5 brand new Morph episodes - a treat for parents who grew up with this iconic children's series. 
Michela has watched the TV series when she was younger, but still found it very funny at the grand age of 8. It's a gentle, humorous world, with a good dose of slapstick comedy and clever, realistic animation - you will be abandoning your chores and sit down with your children to watch! Besides who doesn't love to see cute animals gamboling in a farm?
The DVD has a running time of 70 minutes and retailes at RRP £9.99. It includes the following episodes: Duck • Bitzer for a Day • Bitzer’s Secret • The Stare • Ping Pong Poacher • Save the Dump • Picture Perfect • Hidden Talents • Fruit and Nuts • The Intruder.

Why not read a book?

Watch out, the dragon is hungry!

Teapot and the Dragon, written and illustrated by teacher Nick Jordan (Clink Street Publishing) is the story of spirited princess Rosehip, who is not delighted at the prospect of getting married to a handsome prince. Enter a hungry dragon and the adventure begins...

Teapot is an island ruled by King Fennel and Queen Camomile. Tradition states that their daughter, the beautiful Princess Rosehip, must choose a husband. Unfortunately, Rosehip has dreams of adventure and excitement, which don't include a wedding. 
Oblivious to Rosehip's wishes, Prince Spoon of Cup & Saucer and Lord Lid of Lid, arrive to ask for her hand in marriage. But a fearful dragon, who just loves scoffing a princess with a side of chips, is spotted by magician Murmur. The horrid beast makes its nest on the island and soon its stomach is rumbling... 
Michela is a tomboy so she readily identified with Rosehip. She was transported into the quirky world of Teapot and didn't come back to reality for a long while, giving me much more than the proverbial '5 minutes of peace'. She really liked the colourful illustrations, especially the page with the monster lizards and fearful dragons. 

Teapot and the Dragon is available to purchase from online retailers including and from bookstores, RRP £8.99 paperback, £4.99 ebook. For more adventures, please follow @Teapotions on Twitter. 

Watch this space for an exciting blog post featuring a competition bonanza... win prizes just by leaving a comment!

PS The book above will be one of the prizes among movie memorabilia and other goodies for families!

Sunday, 12 April 2015

My Easter Bunny is 8 & a Cake Competition!

8 years of birthday cakes

This post is inspired by a blog competition, based on a really tasty ideas: cakes! It made me think of birthday cakes as a few days ago was my daughter's 8th birthday. She was born between Easter Monday and Tuesday, so she is effectively an Easter bunny and literally a spring lamb too!

I decided to make a collage of all the birthday cakes, all homemade, some better looking than others depending on how much time I had to put them together and one made by her dad (guess which one). 

My lucky sample of Mr Kipling's cakes, handy for parties!
So for us it's not just Easter that is better with cakes! To keep the theme going, we are having a party with a few friends from school and it will be a case of pin the tail on the bunny! 

We might also enjoy a lot of cake, we have a bought one for the 'official party' and other treats as a few adults are staying.

This post is an entry for #betterwithcake Linky Challenge, sponsored by Mr Kipling. Click the link if you want to enter the competition!

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Easter basket... happy school holidays!

Our Easter basket

Muscari, dwarf daffodil, English native
 primroses, chicks and plastic sheep

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

I have finally taken my own advice

You know that saying about the shoemaker's children going barefoot? My professional website had very small updates since it was set up in 2008. It finally has a new look but there's more to do. I was bursting to share it, finished or not!

The template has some sort of responsive design, so you see more of Cambridge's King's College if the panel is shrunk. I did it old school, coding and all (I mean altering the coding/design of an existing template). Deep down I am 'digital masochist', I use CMS at work.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Blogging for fun, fundraising or profit

I gave this talk early this year and thought some of you would like to see the slides, especially since there is a link towards the end taking you to a free course on how to start a profitable blog. I blog for all these reasons.... I have six blogs to cater for all my interests. My fun blogs (this one, the home interest/DIY one, the crafting/recycling one and the pictorial one) don't make money but they generated paid opportunities in digital publications (such as family-friendly recipes for MadeforMums and product reviews). 

The only professional blog in my bunch is the SEO one, which generated some paid articles as guest blogger and still gives as I write SEO-friendly blogs for businesses. Then there's the non-profit one, which I update weekly for a community garden I have recently joined. The aims are to attract new volunteers and have a presence to fundraise more effectively.

The point of my talk was that you can blog for a variety of reasons (which could well be social and emotional ones) and still make some money indirectly and perhaps get a book deal or a new career out of your musings...

I hope you enjoy and it would be nice if you shared your own journey or offer any tips! Please leave a comment with your blog link. This blog reached over 4000 people last month, making it the more successful in terms of engagement of all my blogs.

If you can't be bothered with the presentation, here's the link to a free course from The Guardian on how to build a profitable blog.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Red Nose Day Story by Michela aged 7 3/4

The adventures of Snortel and Astrosnort: Astrosnort’s birthday party

By Michela, aged 7 3/4

Once upon a time, lived a world of red noses, but with only 9 noses. They were called Supernose, Nosebot, Stripey, Snotty Professor, Astrosnort, Snorbit, Snout Dracular, Snortel and Karate Konk!

When Astrosnort was on the moon, a day before  his birthday, the others on earth were planning a suprise birthday party. Snortel announced: “We shall decide what presents he will get!” Secretly that night, they made a moon cake, wrapped presents and decorated the house. It was very early so the noses made a yummy feast but Astrosnort was just stepping down the stairs! 

But it was super dark and the nose closest to the lights, Snortel, turned them on. Then 
everyone shouted, “Surprise!”

First Astrosnort opened his presents; he got a cape, an action figure, a robot, a spy notebook, an electric fan, a set of face fangs, a supecase and a ninja costume. Next they ate the feast and the moon cake! Lastly they had a disco and they had lots of fun!


Monday, 2 March 2015

A personalised gift for Mother's Day

Michela holding my personalised book
As soon as an occasion or celebration looms, I get emails from PRs asking me to review a variety of gift ideas. If I like what I read in the press release, I say yes. I don't get a fee for this, just the product, so I try to be as objective as possible. Truth is that I used to be a product reviewer for various publications and I kind of miss it.

This year, Mother's Day is on 15th March. As soon as Valentine's goods were taken off the shelves, shops have been promoting all sorts of 'motherly gifts'. I like the well-priced gift ideas from Aldi, which are perfect for children who are relying on their pocket money and are a bit classier than the plastic offerings from poundshops. I succumbed to the chocolate-covered cranberries, which I asked my partner to buy.

Introducing the Book of Everyone - Mum's version
But perhaps you want to give your Mum something a bit more personal and fun than a "I love you Mum" or "Best Mum" mug/oven glove/toiletry set, etc. Having tested a personalised book before - a Peppa Pig one when my daughter was younger - I decided to try out an adult version. 
You can create the book, save it and then purchase it later on. This is handy if you are short of time or want to consider the options carefully. It's a very simple process, some pages are editable, others are created according to your Mum's date of birth. There are interesting, weird and wonderful facts inside the book, from the bestselling record (vinyl, yes, I am that old) to discoveries and even Nobel Prizes. As I was born in 1966, I got some football glory as it was the only time England won the World Cup. I personalised the dedication page on behalf of my daughter and signed it with her first name and her current nickname, Penguina, no prizes for guessing she is collecting penguins at the moment.
I also chose to add a picture of us to a page, as you see in the photo above. Now for the feedback about the product. I would have liked to personalise it a bit more and perhaps add a few more photos. It would not be a huge change, maybe swap a page of facts for a page of photos? I can see a teenager might like to have different photos of their mum, maybe even sneak in a photo of her/his mum as a baby! Or perhaps you could have two price ranges, a higher one for those who want to do more personalisation.
The book looks trendy and arty. It is not twee and cutesy, which is not to my taste, it's more designer clever and witty. The photo I provided came up in really good resolution (don't go by the photo on this blog). Print and images in the book are very crisp.
You are probably wondering about prices now.... The digital version is £7.50, the softcover express is £19.50, hardcover is £29.50 and the deluxe edition is £49.50. Postal fees are included for mainland UK. There is also a giftwrapping service, which is optional. These are standard prices for quality personalised books. However the blog is something else... meet the pregnant dads here.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

A carnival of my blog posts and articles

If you are a reader of my blogs, you will find articles on all sort of topics: beauty and wellbeing, homeworking, nutrition, family health. I have decided to feature some of my articles from this blog and other sources so you can pick and choose what interests you most.

Winter wellness for the whole family

Exclusive Q&A with Emma Ford

How to make mint tea from fresh leaves

I have also written articles for websites, newsletters and other people's blogs. Here is a selection for you to enjoy:

Hope you enjoy them. Leave a comment if you have any questions...

Monday, 16 February 2015

Fail-proof pancake recipe using apples

Tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday, pancake central to all those living in the UK. Here's a twist on the original recipe I developed a few years ago, so it's tried and tested!  It is a family-friendly recipe too, suitable for older babies and toddlers alongside grownups. 

Apple pancakes with toffee sauce

Ingredients: 90g medium oats; 120g flour; 1 teaspoon baking powder; ¼ teaspoon cinnamon; 2 large eggs; 1 tablespoon sunflower oil; 200ml milk; 4 teaspoons honey; 25g apple puree; 1 small apple, grated; oil to fry.

Method: Place all the dry ingredients into a bowl. Beat the eggs in another bowl with the milk, honey and oil. Gradually add the egg mixture into the other bowl stirring with a whisk to prevent lumps. Stir in the puree and add the grated apple. Fry pancakes in batches until golden on both sides. Serve them with maple/corn syrup, toffee sauce, a dollop of fromage frais or Greek yogurt. 

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Happy New Year!

Here is a wall I made for Facebook with the highlights of our Xmas holidays. As you see we dressed up, I finally made a 'real' Pandan chiffon cake (using the extract I bought from a local Chinese shop instead of just vanilla and green dye) and we had sushi as a starter for our Xmas meal (followed by roast lamb and fruit cake).

We visited the in-laws up north for New Year's Eve and I ate too much so I put on weight but lost some already as we are back eating normal meals and I am sure that packing up decorations and hoovering the rooms properly (ie moving furniture rather than skirting) burned some calories too. My motivations to eat less are simple, my stomach has not been too happy and I need to get back into my work trousers!

We are also back on having family dinners at weekends as my daughter comes back from the after-school club famished and can't wait till my partner is back. I admit I don't cook stuff from fresh all the time for her, but I am quite discerning using frozen food, luckily they now sell good-quality fish fingers and chicken bits that have no additives and my daughter likes the baby veg mixtures. She also loves pasta and pesto and we always reserve a portion if a suitable meal is cooked for our dinner (barring a too spicy curry). Usually if she has a freshly cooked meal it is a milder curry or a Chinese-style stir-fry.

A few years back I used to write recipes for madeformums (and photograph results too) and I remember having to make homemade fish fingers. I also shared my own childhood recipes, like the Italian-style rice pudding I linked to. I grew up in Italy and my grandparents had a restaurant, which makes it difficult for me to eat at any Italian restaurant in this country as I start comparing or correcting the wrong spellings in the menu.

Aside the Pandan cake (click here for YouTube video recipe), I also made Paul Hollywood's Lardy Cake and this banana cake to use some overripe bananas, my first ever microwave pudding. I haven't done as much baking (and that includes the fruit cake too!) in months.