Monday, 31 March 2014

This March I’ve …

… seen the Lego Movie, which was essential as my son is absolutely mad about all things Lego. It was actually really quite fun, although I thought the appearance of ‘real people’ towards the end spoilt the atmosphere somewhat. And for days afterwards I went round singing, “Everything is awesome!” – an annoyingly catchy tune!

… been drinking Lemsip Max Wild Berry and Orange cold relief drink, having succumbed to a bout of the sniffles. I’ve always found the lemon version too acidic; this is more like drinking mulled wine – although of course without the wine.

… started the spring-cleaning. Like many people I’m not a fan of all the scrubbing and deep cleaning, but I love a good sort out. In fact any time of year I will happily dejunk cupboards and drawers and rearrange things into neat boxes – I find it very therapeutic. I’m definitely not a hoarder.

... been doing lots of present shopping. In addition to Mothers' Day and Easter, there are a lot of family birthdays to buy for this time of year, but I love trying to find novel gifts.

… discovered the books by Elly Griffiths, a series of crime mysteries set in Norfolk featuring DCI Harry Nelson and forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. There are some gripping story lines that take many twists and turns, making compelling reading.

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Friday, 28 March 2014

My March Best Buys

I’ve always found the Hungry Horse chain of pub restaurants very good value, but hadn’t visited one for some time. However, last week I finally got round to having a meal at my local branch, where I spotted a few new additions to the menu. I can now highly recommend the Smothered Chicken Diane – a chicken breast covered in a tasty sauce, served with a large flat mushroom, buttered new potatoes and peas. I thoroughly enjoyed the meal, a bargain at just £4.99.

I also like the idea that Hungry Horse are offering a tiny dessert (a few mouthfuls worth) for those times when you’re really quite full, but fancy a little taste of something anyway. For just 89p you can enjoy a mini chocolate mousse topped with cream – delicious!

One of my more budget-busting craft buys is ‘Enjoy Cross Stitch’ magazine. This comes in a handy zipper wallet containing a selection of aida fabric, embroidery threads, cards, envelopes, ribbons and felt frames, all for just £7.99. The spring issue is available in the shops now.

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Monday, 24 March 2014

Goody Bags

I love to get a goody bag! You know, the type you receive when you buy a couple of make-up products – a freebie promotion. It may literally be a bag, possibly more of a box, but either way I love to delve inside and discover the contents.

My love of goody bags dates back to my childhood, when I loved the treat of a ‘Jamboree Bag”. Unlike the ‘Lucky Bags’ of today (in-your-face shiny plastic), these were made of paper in plain colours (green, blue, pink) and cost just a few pennies. Inside there were usually a couple of toffees, some cashews, some form of moulded plastic curio (think false moustache) and maybe some transfers or a picture card. It wasn’t what was in them that really mattered – it was the thrill of what could be inside.

For my childhood birthday parties my older sister would make party bags that resembled small carrier bags, made from colourful wrapping paper. A few goodies were put in each. This was during the 60s before party bags became the norm, so I was quite proud to hand them out at the end of my party, as opposed to the usual piece of cake wrapped in a serviette.

Anyway, back to the present. Boots No7 is currently offering a free box of tricks (well, cosmetics obviously) when you buy two or more products from their make-up range. You can even combine this offer with the £3 off cosmetics voucher currently in circulation, making it an even better deal.

Of course, many make-up and skincare ranges, from budget to luxury brands, offer goody bag deals from time to time, so timing purchases to coincide with these deals is a useful plan.

But the ultimate in goody bags has to be those given to celebs when attending award ceremonies. Filled with luxury goods and surprises, they certainly give me ‘goody-bag-envy’! So if any of you lovely celebs have an odd goody bag knocking around that you really don’t want, I will gladly take it off your hands.

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Friday, 21 March 2014

March’s Random Thoughts

I hate it when I see someone wearing a garment identical to one that I own and love. If they look awful in it I think, “What? Do I look that bad?” Yet if they look great in it I think, “Damn! They look so much better in it than I do!” Either way I can’t win!

I don't need a grand tea, just some peace!
I’m amazed (and a bit irritated) that when I opt for a quite cup of coffee in a supermarket café, that at times my peace is shattered by some kind of staff meeting. Do they really not have the facilities in a large supermarket to hold their meetings behind closed doors, rather than take up a large area of the customer restaurant? It’s most annoying.

I sometimes wish that supermarket trolleys were fitted with little motors and footplates too, so that we could stand on the plate and ride them round the supermarket like little scooters. It may help to take the strain out a big weekly shop.

Further to my blog post earlier in the month reminiscing about the sweets that I used to enjoy, I realised that I totally forgot to mention floral gums. Do you remember them? Tiny little gums in a small packet with a squirrel on that tasted, well, flowery.

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Monday, 17 March 2014

My Life In Magazines

I’ve always been a great reader of magazines, right from when I was bought regular comics as a child.

I have vague memories of a comic called Playhour, which had a yellow cover and was filled with stories about teddies and such like. But the first comic that I really got excited about was Twinkle.

Between the ages of about four and seven, I looked forward to my copy of Twinkle landing on the mat every week. Each Christmas over that time I received the annual too, such was my love of stories such as Nurse Nancy, Sally Sweet Of Sunshine Street and Patsy Panda.

In time I outgrew Twinkle and tried a large number of different magazines. The early 70s seemed to see the arrival of a new comic every few weeks, with every new one launched bearing free gifts. I frequently changed my choice of comic to benefit from these gifts and try out as many comics as I could.

I worked my way through such gems as Whizzer and Chips, Shiver and Shake and Cor, before returning to the more girlie publications such as Jinty and Spellbound. At primary school I loved wet playtimes, when the teacher would produce boxes full of comics for us to read, allowing me to try yet more titles.

During this era, my sister who was six years older than me, was enjoying magazines full of song words, such as Disco 45. We used to sing the songs loudly together, which far from impressed my mother when we were heard to belt out the words to ‘My Ding-A-Ling.’

My sister also regularly read Jackie, which I used to eagerly wait for her to finish, so that I could cut out the fashion pages to make a kind of ‘dress the doll’ game.

By the time I was a teenager Mates and magazines full of photo stories were all the rage, although I also collected a craft partwork at this time.

From my twenties onwards I bought different magazines depending on my mood and what they featured at the time. Titles I tried included Annabel, Woman’s World, She and Family Circle.

Women’s magazines have changed with the times and there are actually fewer ‘general’ ones in the shops than in years gone by I would say. Many magazines today are geared towards specific hobbies and interests, In fact, apart from Women’s Weekly that I buy for the stories, I only tend to buy the odd knitting or cross stitch magazine myself.

But no matter what magazines I buy today, I don’t think I’ll ever get as excited as I did about my beloved Twinkle!

(I’m dedicating this post in memory of my much-loved sister who died of cancer back in 2010. Writing this has brought back some treasured memories.)

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Thursday, 13 March 2014

Free Coffee

There have been loyalty cards available from coffee shops, and indeed anywhere that you can purchase a cup of the brew, for many years.

I’ve spent a good many years myself peeling the little stickers off McDonald’s coffee cups, collecting the required six per card to claim my free cup of latte.

For some time I’d also had my Marks and Spencer loyalty card stamped, although this required ten stamps to qualify for a freebie, until the service at my local branch deteriorated somewhat, and I decided to seek refreshment elsewhere.

Last year I acquired a Tesco Family Café (Fonta Nella) card, which in the spirit of McDonald’s requires six stamps for a free coffee, and is handy for grabbing a latte to get me through the weekly shop.

But most recently, I’ve added a Greggs’ loyalty card to my collection – rather startling considering I’d had a bit of a falling out with them just over a year ago. I still haven’t returned to their cafés, but do sometimes grab a take-away coffee when on a shopping mission. In this case, you have to get the card stamped nine times (strange number) to be rewarded with a coffee, so it’s not as good as Tesco and McDonald’s but preferable to M&S.

Mind you, all of the aforementioned cards appear to offer better deals than a Costa card as far as I can see. I abandoned thoughts of getting this one, when it appeared that I’d have to spend the equivalent cost of a small family home (OK, bit of an exaggeration) to having any hope of having a coffee on the house.

But I have to say, free is always good, so I’ll keep collecting those stamps!

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Monday, 10 March 2014

The Cost Of Crafting

I enjoy working on a number of different craft projects, including knitting, crochet, cross stitch, tapestry and rug making. But I have to say that it can become quite an expensive pastime if you’re not careful. Ever the thrifty bargain-hunter, I endeavour to enjoy my hobbies on a budget.

In the past, it seemed that knitting garments was a cheap way to kit out the family. My mum knitted me many a cardigan when I was small, which I imagine she did quite cheaply as we operated on a tight budget. Many people used to unpick unwanted knitted garments and use the resulting wool to make new ones, which was a good way of recycling too.

Today wool can be very expensive. I recently spotted a pattern for a lovely jumper that I quite fancied knitting. However, I soon changed my mind when I realised that I needed 600g of the specified wool costing almost £7 per 100g. I could have bought several ready made jumpers at that price! OK, I wouldn’t have had the enjoyment of making them, but I need my hobbies to be cost-effective.

I often stock up on wool when I see a special offer or sale, and for some basic makes wool from Wilkinson or The Works is adequate, though not good enough for a supersoft jumper. I often make small items such as gloves and scarves from odd bits of wool that I have left over. But I really can’t get enthusiastic about some of the more twee knitting projects that I see – what would I do with a collection of knitted cupcakes anyway?

Knitting patterns too can prove a large expense, which is why I tend to buy the occasional knitting magazine. For around £5 I get a number of knitting patterns and often a knitting accessory or a couple of small balls of wool included in the price.

Many other crafts were traditionally used as a cheap way to make things for the home. Think rag rugs, hand embroidered table linen, colourful samplers and a host of sewing projects run up on the trusted ‘Singer’. Now many crafts have become big business, with shops such as Hobbycraft (too over-priced for my liking) cashing in on the trend.

I love cross stitch, but once again the kits can be very costly – even the price of separate aida fabric and threads can add up. I’ve discovered a good trick is to buy the cheap kits from the ‘bargain bins’ regardless of whether you like the design.  I recently bought a few kits at just a couple of pounds each, some from a local craft shop and some from The Works, resulting in enough materials to make plenty of cross stitch cards over the coming year and maybe a small picture too. To get inspiration for the designs I buy Cross Stitch Magazines from time to time, so that I always have a suitable project to work on.

To my mind, although I largely work on craft projects for the enjoyment, I also need them to be value for money, so that I can gain pleasure from them without breaking the bank.

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Friday, 7 March 2014

DS Game Review: Salem Secrets

One of the most recent DS games that I have played has been Salem Secrets, a hidden object game featuring additional puzzles and minigames, surrounding the suspicions of witchcraft in Salem in 1692.

I enjoyed this game from the start, the level of difficulty of the hidden objects scenes was just about right. Items could be realistically found, without it being too frustrating, or all of them being obvious. Some of the objects that you find are kept for future use, you just have to determine where and how to use the items, with some being more apparent than others.

There were some great puzzles throughout the game too, although a few instructions for some of these would have been nice. Although I mostly managed to work out what was required, in a couple of cases it was trial and error, before the penny finally dropped. One particular puzzle I never did quite get the hang of, but it is possible to skip puzzles that you can’t complete. Personally, however, I would have preferred some guidance or the chance to see a solution, rather than just pass a puzzle by.

I really enjoyed this game, which had enough of a story, without all the time being taken up telling it, but my main criticism of the game is that it was actually too short with a very abrupt ending. Having found all the missing girls in the story, its main aim, I thought I would then have to battle the witchcraft element a bit more. But no. One minute I thought I was entering a whole new part of the game, the next the credits were rolling.

Verdict: great game, shame about the length.

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Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Snacks To Savour

Following my post about the sweets I used to enjoy earlier in the week, it got me thinking about my other big weakness (one that I still confess to today), crisps. Well, savoury snacks of various kinds really.

In my younger days my favourite flavour of crisps was Savoury Vinegar. This flavour was made by Smiths and their Chipsticks were available in it too. The taste was quite strong and tangy without being salty. Sadly this flavour just doesn’t exist any more, but I really wish it would be revived.

If I was good, I'd swap the naughtier snacks for fruit!
Other favourite flavours included pickled onion, cheddar cheese and tomato ketchup, the latter recently making an appearance back in the shops courtesy of a Golden Wonder revival.

Although some of the other savoury snacks that I used to enjoy have also become obsolete, such as Wigwams (cheesy triangles) and Chipitos (rather like a Wotsit) others are still available today. I still enjoy Quavers, which only contain 88 calories (pack from a multipack) and I quite like the newer addition to our supermarket shelves – Walkers Hoops and Crosses. I don’t feel too naughty eating these either as they contain just 85 calories a bag.

I definitely prefer a nice bag of crisps or potato snacks to a bag of sweets these days. What is your guilty pleasure?

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Monday, 3 March 2014

Sweet Memories

As a child, like many of us, I loved my sweets. I was spoilt for choice when visiting the local sweet shop, keenly clutching a couple of pennies in my hand.

It’s true to say that my children grew up eating far fewer sweets than I ever did. A shift to healthier eating and more awareness of dental care means that we have tended to limit the amount of sweets eaten by our own children. Occasional sweets have always been a treat, but not to the extent that I can remember having them.

Saturdays in particular were always a big sweet day for me. I used to go to my local library to change my books (I was an avid reader even then) and then call in at the neighbouring Aladdin’s cave of a sweet shop. This trip in itself was a bit contradictory as I was always aware of the big sign in the library that read, “Sticky sweets are fun to eat, but please don’t eat them in the library!”

I always used to spend ages pondering my choice of sweets – there were just so many on offer. Jars of sherbet pips, Tom Thumb drops, aniseed twists, cola cubes, banana splits (which resembled lemon slices for some reason), apple tarts, rhubarb and custard – the list was endless. Then as if that wasn’t enough there were all the penny sweets, that you could mix and match into one big bag – flying saucers, chocolate tools, fruit salads, traffic light lollies, fizzy cubes and so on.

Finally, there were all the pre-wrapped bags and bars of goodies. One of the strangest of these was Spanish Gold, a ‘sweet tobacco’; goodness knows what the sugar content of that was alone. More commonly I opted for Spangles (particularly Old English or Fizzy Cola), Opal Mints, Treets or a Pink Panther strawberry candy bar.

Today I really don’t eat sweets, except for the odd TicTac or fruit sweet on a long journey, although I still adore chocolate, in all its forms. However, I still have fond memories of my visits to the local sweet shop.

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