Friday, 6 March 2015

You have the Power To Switch

Energy suppliers. Yeah, I know, it's not exactly a scintillating topic is it? Or so I thought.

Like an awful lot of people, I didn't really give my gas and electricity suppliers much thought.  I groaned each quarter when the bill came through the door.  The groans began to get louder and louder in line with my bills getting larger and larger until eventually I decided I should do something about it.

Until then I was paralysed with apathy.  It just wasn't high on my agenda.  I thought that switching suppliers was going to be a nightmare task, taking hours and hours trawling through websites trying to make sense of a baffling array of tariffs.  I assumed the process of transferring would take ages and result in many frustrating on-hold calls to various telephone call centres. I thought that it would probably all go horribly wrong and I'd get some ridiculously incorrect bill through with lots of noughts on the end.

It turned out, I couldn't have been more wrong.

Since we moved into our home about 4 years ago, we'd been with one of the 'Big Six' on a duel fuel tariff.  Last year I was lucky enough to win a competition, the prize was a year's supply of green electricity (you can't get more money-saving than that!).  This was the impetus to change our gas supply since we obviously needed to leave our current company providing electricity to take up the prize, and since we no longer qualified for a duel fuel rate, I thought we may as well shop around.

Well, literally 10 minutes on a comparison website, and I'd found a brand new gas company who could offer me a saving of over £70 per quarter!  All I had to do was type in my postcode and some figures from my latest bill and the comparison site did the rest for me.


I was staggered at the saving, but still fairly reticent about changing.  The instructions were straightforward though so I continued.  It really was as easy as ABC.  We had to provide a couple of meter readings and that was pretty much it.  We got a letter from the old supplier to confirm our final reading, then a letter from the new supplier welcoming us and that was that.

The money we've saved over the year on our gas bills has paid for a family half-term holiday, and I know what I'd rather spend our cash on!

Simple.  Honestly.  Really simple.

I've been banging on about it ever since.

And in fact, since I moved company, it's become even faster with switching times down to just 17 days.  Which means in just that short space of time you could be saving money on your bills every month - many households could save around £200 by switching.

There's 27 companies now supplying energy.  This has really shaken up the market, with the main firms no longer holding a monopoly.  The savings are being passed on to you the consumer, so it's time to get out there and claim them.

My top tips for switching supplier

  • Visit www.BeAnEnergyShopper.com for links to Ofgem approved comparison sites.
  • Decide what's important to you - is it just about saving money, or do you want great customer service, do you want green energy?
  • Have your latest bills handy so you can input the figures.
  • Keep all email correspondence about the switch in a separate folder.
  • Keep a record of your final meter readings, or better still take a photo of it.
  • If customer service is important to you, many comparison sites have a review section where you can read how customers rate the service.
  • Use the opportunity to take up more money-saving incentives like paperless billing, free smart meters and direct debit payment if you don't already.
  • After your switch, remember to contact your old supplier and ask for a refund if you have any credit with them.
  • Even if you have termination clauses, it's still worth comparing your tariff - you may find the savings outweigh the fee you have to pay to exit.
  • Do you know anyone who's not as internet-savvy that you could offer to help with this process? Many older people are missing out on savings because they don't use the internet.
  • Finally, you've got nothing to lose by checking even if you decide not to switch.




Disclosure:

I'm working with BritMums and DECC alongside the #PowertoSwitch campaign. I have been compensated for my time. All editorial and opinions are my own. Visit www.BeAnEnergyShopper.com for more information about switching energy suppliers.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Mother's Day Giveaway


If you think you've left it late to buy your Mother's Day gift, panic not, there's still time to pick up a gorgeous present for mum, and better still if you're my lucky winner, you can win it all here!

I often pick up gift items in Tesco while doing the weekly shopping - as a busy mum sometimes it's the only way to fit it all in.  I was really pleased to be introduced to Kimm and Miller who, it turns out are a local company based just up the road from me.  They produce many of the branded gift ranges you see in store at Christmas and other seasonal times, and their Mother's Day range this year is delightful, offering something for everyone and to suit all budgets.


So, whether you're looking for a special treat for mum, the kids want something small to buy with their pocket money, or you're after a gift for a special gran, then take a look at the range below which will be available in your local Tesco store soon.


Heart Message Biscuit Set

This cute cookie set comes with two tubes of icing for kids to write their own personal message (the message shown is on the packaging and just for illustration purposes).  A sweet gift idea that I'm sure Daddy will have no trouble supervising!



Teddy Mug for 'Mummy' or Grandma'

A small plush brown teddy bear, with a pretty floral designed slimline mug. Comes in both 'Mummy' and 'Grandma' versions with the 'You're a star' motto. Gorgeously soft teddy and a practical mug make this a thoughtful gift for mum or gran.



Handbag with sweets

Mini handbag shaped keepsake tin filled with bonbons.  This is a lovely little pocket money gift to show mum you care.


Ceramic Ginger Jar with Sweets

An elegant floral lidded jar which could be proudly displayed on the dressing table or mantelpiece after you've polished off the delicious strawberry bonbons!



Iced Flower Biscuit and Vase

No worries about this flower wilting before the big day!  A yummy biscuit pop, displayed in a pretty bud vase that can be used time and again.  A clever gift for organised kids who want to buy their flowers in advance.


Tealight Lantern with Chocolates

Pretty little tin bucket with heart design, perfect for tea lights later on for mum's relaxing candle-lit bath!  She can indulge in the chocolate hearts while she soaks in the tub too.



Teacup and Saucer

A very generous sized pretty teacup for mum to enjoy her well deserved cuppa in.  Lovely butterfly embossed design in a pretty pastel pink colour this is sure to become a favourite.  The set comes with a small selection of English Breakfast tea.


Ceramic Toast Rack

A pretty pink ceramic toast rack to match the tea cup.  This would make an ideal breakfast in bed gift.  Comes with 2 mini pots of preserve for mum's toast.



Cupcake Stand with Mallow Cupcakes

Pink square shaped footed cake stand, perfect for any mum who loves baking and entertaining.  Except on this special occasion she won't need to bake a cake because the gift set comes with 4 squidgy sweet mallow cupcakes.



Hamper Basket

A pretty little card hamper box complete with 2 large heart shaped cookies and a selection of 4 each of both English Breakfast and Earl Grey teabags.



All of the range is delicate and feminine and just right for an indulgent treat for mum.  They are all brilliantly packaged, each component nice and secure so they'll withstand the rigours of little hands wrapping them up.  


Look out for these items in store at Tesco, and I'm pleased to say that one lucky winner can win the ENTIRE range here on my blog (one of each gift item mentioned above).

To enter, simply complete the rafflecopter to be in with a chance.

In order to ensure that the winner receives their prize in time for Mother's Day, they'll need to respond  by lunchtime on Wednesday 11th March with their postal address.

Open to UK entrants only.  Closing date is midnight on Monday 9th March 2015.  The prize will be supplied and dispatched by Kimm and Miller's PR agency.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

I was sent the above items for the purposes of this review. All thoughts and photos are my own.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Sausage making and a butchery day course

A few weeks back, while me and Ruby were spending time with the chickens down on Church Farm, the old man was taking up his Christmas present - a one-day butchery course with Farm 2 Table.

As a meat-eating family I think it's important to understand where our meat comes from and to try and buy it as responsibly as possible.

A bit of a closet foodie, he was really looking forward to this hands-on experience with father and son team Tony and Louis.

The day started with a tour of the farm explaining the importance placed on rearing the animals in a stress-free environment.  As we were staying too, we were allowed to join the group and although we've been round the farm many times it was interesting to hear about the animals from a meat-rearing perspective.

Louis talked about how they'd moved their business from Smithfields market and they now sell produce through the farm shop and growing online business.  He spoke enthusiastically about animal welfare and how their business ethics match the ethos of the farm.

After a bracing walk around the farm, the guys donned their whites and retired to the cold store area, with a variety of pigs and cows hung ready for butchering.


They learnt about how long each animal should be hung - they use 16 days minimum for beef, although pork can basically be butchered straight away.  

On the farm, the poultry are slaughtered on site but larger animals are sent to a nearby abattoir.  The team described the local abattoir and their methods for transporting and minimising distress to the livestock.  The animals are given an overnight stay to allow them to relax fully after their short journey.  

The course was very hands-on from the beginning and the staff spoke passionately about the art of butchery and articulated what a skilled profession it actually is.

On the day, the attendees were very lucky.  Bad weather and snow had put many of the others booked on the course off, so only 2 hardy would-be butchers arrived that Saturday and because of that they got extra special attention.

All the necessary health and safety briefings out of the way, they were given half a pig each and set to work under the guidance of butchers Tony and Will, cutting various joins and preparing meat for bacon and sausages.

"I was stuck by how technically skilled they both were with the knives and the speed in which they sharpened their knives constantly was both hypnotic and terrifying!  Every butcher has their own individual knives, sharpened to their personal preference."


The course teaches an overview of all the various cuts of meat and equips delegates with the knowledge of what to look for when buying meat, and also what cheap tricks some of the big companies use to fob unsuspecting customers off with the inferior quality cuts.

"I was amazed how meticulous and careful they were to avoid waste when boning the meat."

The pigs return to the farm butchery with the kidney attached, evoking childhood memories of pork chops with deep red kidneys - something you don't see anymore.


Both Tony and his assistant talked continuously about their motivation for putting the course on - they wanted people to understand what goes into butchery and that you don't have to buy over-processed supermarket meat.  There are companies who care about the life of the animal and maintain what, in many senses is a dying industry. They're passionate about passing skills on.

There was a discussion about changing fashions in cuts of meat. Time was the pig's head and feet were thrown away because nobody wanted them, but now with high-end restaurants serving trotters and cheeks they've become sought after again. 

There was a break for lunch when the trainee butchers popped into the cafe on the farm and enjoyed a hearty Red Poll beef burger with a new-found respect and reverence for the food they were eating.

After lunch, they observed Tony butchering one of their cows, showing how to cut the various well-known fillets of beef - sirloin, rump, fillet, chateau briand etc (at £700 worth of meat they were hardly going to let the amateurs loose on this!)


Next it was time to start preparing the pork for sausage making.  This is one of the most popular parts of the course, they even put on special hen night sausage making sessions.

Some of the cuts they'd prepared before were fed through a giant mincer before being mixed with rusk and a seasoning of salt and pepper. It's good to know that Church Farm butchers counter sell  only decent sausages with no ropey bits in!  The mixture is kneaded before the fun part commences.


Once the barrel is filled with the mixture, the tricky manoeuvre to attach the sausage skin over the nozzle and using your knee to start the machine you'd better be ready for when the sausage machine starts firing out the meat under high pressure!  It's very Generation Game, you need to keep a pace as though unravelling a garden hose at speed.  In a matter of a minute you've got 12 ft of sausage.  


The super-long sausage is then twisted into sections, and they were taught how to tie them into traditional strings.  

"Each butcher seems to have his own personal preferred technique for doing this, and watching them was mesmerising their hands working at 100 mph."



Finally, they returned to the butcher's counter in the shop laden with goods - armfuls of sausages, chops, pork belly, fillet of pork.  In the shop a customer had just asked for some burgers so they had the added bonus of learning how to make beef patties for too.


"I was struck by the high level of skill involved.  More importantly, I was left with a profound sense of a team of people with a genuine passion about what they're doing and a desire to bring great-tasting, happy meat to the public, and to help people understand that farming can be done in a sustainable and ethical way."



He came away after a long day with loads of packets of sausages and other meat to fill our freezer back home. As we were all staying the night on the farm in one of their lodges, we rustled up a hearty dinner on the camp stove of homemade sausages, fresh bread from the farm shop baked on site and fried eggs which myself and Ruby had collected.  Talk about eating locally!


Thanks to Tony and the team for a great day.  You can find out more about the courses on the Farm 2 Table website  or Facebook page.

The courses take place at Church Farm, Ardeley near Stevenage, Herts on various dates and run from approximately 10:30 - 4:30.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Get your Craft On March Challenge - Eggs!

Last month the lovely Kids Chaos hosted the #GetYourCraftOn challenge with loads of lovely fluffy sheep crafts linked up - just in time for lambing season, celebrating the year of the sheep, or those Shaun the Sheep fans!
This month we're looking ahead to Easter and it's all about eggs.

Crafts using eggs, egg shells, decorated eggs, plastic eggs, polystyrene eggs, pictures or models of eggs...interpret it as you will.
Share your Egg Crafts photos on Instagram, or over on Twitter, using the hashtag #GetYourCraftOn, add your link to the linky below, and we’ll pick the best ones to feature here on the host blog the following month. 
We love to see your crafts old and new and work in progress.
Just share a link or image on social media using the #GetYourCraftOn hashtag, and link up here.
Our team’s four Instagram accounts are: @missielizzie @redtedart @bluebearwood @domesticgoddesq  & @incredibusy.
We can't wait to see what you come up with and I'm looking forward to getting inspired for Easter.


Thursday, 26 February 2015

My Better Place - Flitwick Wood

I'm so lucky to have a beautiful woodland practically on my doorstep.  Truth be told it's one of the reasons we moved here - having a green and natural space nearby was up there with good schools and transport links.

As soon as I walk into a wood, the stresses and strains dissolve away, my heart-rate seems to slow and I can breathe deeply.  I can forget about my workload and deadlines waiting for me at home, or the pile of dishes on the drainer waiting to be cleaned.

There's scientific evidence that forests have a positive effect on mental and physical wellbeing, but I don't need medical research to tell me that.

Any forest will do for me, but my local one is a place I return to time and time again.  Whether it's walking the dog, an outing with the family or an escape on my own.

Walking on the cushiony soft floor, built up of layers of spongey moss and mulch of leaves is a million times more relaxing than pounding a pavement.  



It's an oasis of calm, you'd never know you were minutes away from a busy main road and a stones-throw from a sprawling housing estate.  The trees absorb the modern-day noise and commotion, leaving only a cacophony of birdsong and the sound of squirrels cawing from their leafy dreys way up high.

Without fail, every time I'm here I hear the illusive Woodpecker rat-a-tatting on a tree in the distance, his hammering sending confusing echoes around the forest.  Only once have I ever caught a glimpse of his red and black plumage, but one day I'll spot him.

If I'm alone, without the rumpus of my daughter cavorting through the leaves, or the scent of the dog wafting through the air, sometimes I'll catch sight of a solitary deer grazing from the forest floor. He'll spot me and turn on his heels his white tail bobbing away into the distance.

This is a deciduous woodland, but even in the depths of winter there's always so much to see.  The green luminescent moss and lichen clinging to trunks and branches bring year-round soul-gladdening colour.



I love the mix of old gnarly dead trees, blown over in long-forgotten storms, and whippy new saplings springing up with youth and vigour from the fertile ground.

There's not a season I don't adore in the forest, and this time of year it's all about spotting new life peeking through.  The shoots of bluebells are coming up, getting ready to carpet the floor in an azure display.  Then it will make way to the wild garlic, the air will fill with a pungent heady aroma and I'll come with my basket to collect leaves and flowers for pesto.  Later in the year we'll suck sweet nectar from honeysuckle flowers and pick plump blackberries from the bramble, and in the winter we're dazzled by the ruby red berries on the holly trees.



Once I'm through the gate, I'm enveloped by the ancient space. A feeling of calm and safety washes over me.  This place is timeless.  No cars; telephone poles, street lights or satellite dishes.  In my mind I'm an ancestor of myself from a bygone time.

This woodland has been here since pre-Norman times, and we're still enjoying it today.  If you value  the tranquility of our country's natural spaces, get out there and enjoy them and fight to protect them.

If you want to visit Flitwick wood for yourself, you'll find a map here.

This #BetterPlaces post is in support of the Syndol Find Your Better Place campaign with Britmums. Syndol is now formulated for headaches.  Visit www.syndol.co.uk for online resources with information about headaches and how to restore calm in your life.


Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Nutmeg at Morrisons Spring/Summer 2015 range

With range names like 'picnic', 'sugared almond', 'blueberry' and 'elderflower' you just know that this season's clothes at Nutmeg are going to evoke memories of traditional childhoods, long summer days at the beach, playing out til sunset and walks in the countryside.

We're fans of Nutmeg clothing, it offers great value for money, is produced in accordance with their ethical trading policy and yet is well made and hard wearing.

We love the extra design features and the thoughtful details making them comfortable to wear, such as super soft fabrics; printed itch-free labels; adjustable waistbands and items designed so children can dress themselves independently.

Here's some of our favourite items we put to the test from the clothes currently in store.

Nutmeg Morrisons Spot print rain mac

Nutmeg Morrisons Spot print rain mac coat

This stone coloured spot printed mac is one of our favourites.  Perfect for April showers and very chic.  We love the pocket and belt tie details. For ages 5-13 priced at £14-£16 depending on age.

Nutmeg Morrisons Flower jumper

Nutmeg Morrisons Flower jumper

Flower print jumper in navy and ecru, priced at £9-10 for ages 5-13 years. Great teamed with denim.

Nutmeg Morrisons Denim jacket and shorts

Nutmeg Morrisons Denim jacket

Nutmeg Morrisons Denim Shorts


The denim shorts are perfect for spring teamed with tights or leggings, seeing you through to the summer months when they can be worn on their own.  The cute embroidery and crochet detail makes these a bit more special.  Priced at £7. A denim jacket is a wardrobe staple, we love the printed heart detailing on the buttons, priced at just £12. Navy spot long sleeved top is from a pack of 3 priced at £8.

Nutmeg Morrisons Stripe Corsage Jumper

Navy and ecru stripe jumper with flower corsage £8.  This is a really pretty sweater, just the right amount of femininity but without the usual saccharine girliness.

So, which is your favourite garment?  We can't wait for the next phases of the collection to be launched and will be keeping our eye out in Morrisons.

Disclosure: We attended the SS15 press launch and were given a voucher to purchase some items to review.


Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Shopkins So Cool Fridge Series 2 Review

Shopkins are the new kid on the block in our house and Ruby's completely hooked on the new craze.  Mini products that you'd buy at the grocery store, these little characters are great for little collectors.

I love that you can buy the individual characters for just a small amount, meaning they are a great pocket money toy that she can treat herself too, and the complimentary play sets such as the So Cool Fridge are perfect gifts for Shopkins-mad fans.

Shopkins Series 2 So Cool Fridge


Each purchase comes with a collectors guide and there are coveted exclusive characters to hunt down and add to your collection.  With over 100 different cute characters in each series, this range is on to a winner!

The So Cool Fridge is a great addition as it makes a brilliant store for your characters - the fridge holds around 35 Shopkins characters so I'm sure we'll test that out as our collection grows.



The fridge itself is just like our real kitchen fridge in that it has opening fridge and freezer doors, working drawers and a cool 'drinks dispenser' where you can dispense Shopkins drinks characters into the glass which comes with the set.

Also included are 2 shopping bags, so you can unload your new characters into the fridge just like real shopping, and 2 sheets of stickers which you can decorate your fridge with like magnets.

Ruby has described it as 'totally awesome', 'epic' and 'so cool' - I think this new vocabulary is coming from too many hours of watching YouTube, but it's all great kudos for Shopkins!

It's a great toy, sturdy and well made.  There's no assembly making it perfect for kids who just want to get stuck right in and play without having to wait for something to be built and there's tonnes of play value in it.

Check out Ruby's video to see what she thinks to it.



Purchase the Shopkins So Cool Fridge now on Amazon (eligible for Amazon Prime free delivery)



(Affiliate link)

Reviewed in association with Flair. We received this toy set to review but all thoughts and opinions are our own.