Sunday, December 21, 2014

IrishBbloggersSS14 - THE REVEAL!!

Hi!

I had so much fun taking part in the IrishBbloggersSS (Irish Beauty Bloggers Secret Santa) last year that when Aisling from Total Makeup Addict announced that she would once again be at the helm for 2014, I jumped to get my name down.

This year, I got to buy for Cindy from Girl With the Skew Earring, which I was delighted about. You can check out Cindy's blog here to see what I sent her!

My Secret Santa was lovely Danielle from Lilliwhite Rose - and she did an amazing job, I was so happy with the presents she chose for me.


When I opened the box, I found this fab basket - I thought that was such a great idea! I'm going to use the basket for my "good" makeup, so I was delighted to receive that. When I opened the big package I found all I needed for a treat night - chocolate, marshmallows, and my favourite Wispa hot chocolate. The Aero didn't last very long but I had a great time with my eldest toasting some of the marshmallows for one of our Advent activities!


There were lots of little wrapped presents in the basket too - I forgot to take a picture of them all wrapped because I was too excited, but here's what was inside!


I was over the moon with everything Danielle chose for me. Just look at that Barry M polish - it's Christmas in a bottle!


The Ciaté tree trinket is gorgeous too, it has a sparkly purple polish that will look amazing over the festive period.


There were some lovely bath products included as well, and some face masks that I'm really looking forward to trying.


I mentioned a while back that I was looking for some products to try with the Babyliss Big Hair - so this next product was a very welcome addition to the basket!


I've never tried any powdered hair products before so I'm looking forward to trying this out.

Danielle did a fantastic job and was so thoughtful and kind, I really love everything and I'm so thankful.

I'm looking forward to seeing all the other Secret Santa posts, if you'd like to have a read too,  check out the #IrishBbloggersSS14 tag on twitter throughout today.

Thanks so much again to Aisling for organising another great Secret Santa!





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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Book Review: Getting Over the X by Steve Brookstein

Hi!

I saw a couple of people talking about this on twitter one night during the Xfactor (namely Kellie) and it sounded like a good read, so I took advantage of a special Kindle offer and downloaded it there and then.


"'One of you will leave with a million-pound recording contract, and the other will leave with nothing,' Kate Thornton had said on the night. Eight months later, I had never envisaged that it was possible to leave with both."

I've watched every season of the Xfactor from the beginning. In later years, I've become a bit disillusioned with it due to the trend of publicly humiliating people who aren't very good, or by putting novelty acts through (Wagner, anyone?!). The first year, I watched mainly because I had seen Tabby Callaghan's band Petronella live a few times the previous year while in college. I don't really remember being too concerned about the other contestants. The only thing I remembered about Steve was that he had released a cover of Against All Odds.

When people enter TV shows like the Xfactor, they are labelled pretty much straight away. For Matt Cardle, it was "House Painter". For Leon Jackson, it was "Works in a shoe shop". For Rebecca Ferguson and Stacy Solomon, it was "Single Mum". For Steve Brookstein, it was "Pub Singer". Steve was in actual fact far from a pub singer - he had already supported Dionne Warwick the year he applied for the competition, and turned down a job supporting Lionel Richie to take part in the show. Hardly a bog standard pub singer. In Steve's own words, he had "better irons in the fire." Steve was labelled overconfident from the very beginning, yet at one point Simon Cowell said of him "He found self belief when we gave him a stage." At the final, Sharon Osbourne tore into him in a most unprofessional manner, saying she had enough of his "Mister Humble" act. So which is it?! Overconfident, lacking in self belief, or humble? As you learn to watch out for certain phrases that the judges dole out, you realise they just recycle the same labels over and over again - if they take a dislike to you for whatever reason, they have the power to turn the public against you (ask Christopher Maloney). If they love you, they will champion you to the end, regardless of how the public vote goes ("the real winner").

As I read about the way Steve was treated when he won the show, I was disgusted. I'm not a fan of Simon Cowell anyway - that level of ego is not endearing to me. He comes across as incredibly self-involved, surrounded by people who are willing to fall at his feet and lick his boots. Steve's story is a cautionary tale of what can happen when you dare to put forward your own ideas, or step outside the Cowell 'bubble'. The sheer power of the "Simon Cowell Collective" is shocking. The press manipulation, misdirected quotes, false accusations - they can, as Max Clifford (don't even get me started on him) stated, "bury you".

"What have I become? I'm 35. I'm sitting in a mansion trying to impress a guy who turned up late to his own microwave dinner party. Why wasn't I saying 'What the f*ck's this sh*t?!'"

This stuff about the Xfactor having "a real winner" was obviously there from the beginning, as G4 were given the moniker in 2004. G4 themselves would later tell the press that the Xfactor was a pantomime, with staged bickering between the judges. You can see that in every year since - especially this year. One incident in particular this year was just ridiculous - "real winner" Fleur East (who came second to Ben Haenow) - was given a track called Uptown Funk to sing. Fleur rocked the song, and shot straight to number one on iTunes. If a contestant can score a number one before the show has even ended, what's the point anymore? The winners' careers seem to be lukewarm, and the management appears to lose interest before the next series begins. So what's the point of the prize? Of the competition?

Back to Uptown Funk - singer Lily Allen accused Simon of "industry corruption" because the song hadn't actually been released when Fleur performed it. As a result of her reaching number one, Mark Ronson had to push the single release date forward before people lost interest in the original (yet unreleased) version. In a media press conference, Simon claimed "This corruption thing is ridiculous. To be honest, I didn't even know what label it was on." Simon's record label SYCO is 50% owned by Sony, who also own Mark Ronson's record label. Presumably they wouldn't even have needed clearance from Ronson to perform the song on the show - are we supposed to be so stupid that we would think that Simon knew none of this?! Oh, and Mark Ronson's version is now head-to-head with Ben Haenow's debut single for Christmas Number one - but that doesn't matter anyway, because the song already seems old after hearing a contestant cover it. Well played, Simon et al.

Poor Ben seems to be the latest addition to a long line of male winners, set to be overlooked in favour of the "real winner" - he's already being referred to as "Ben Whonow?" on twitter and he only won it four days ago - I would be shocked if he were to be invited back to perform on next year's show.

I think Steve's book is a great read, it really exposes the staging and pettiness of the whole show. It was never a singing competition - it's about the judges, their egos, and how much money they can squeeze from the general public. If you do what you're told, you're wrong. If you step outside your comfort zone, you're wrong. The corruption, manipulation, and sheer deceptiveness regarding the media is shocking - but sadly, after recent revelations including the whole Max Clifford debacle and the demise of the News of the World - unsurprising.

Referring to 2014 contestant Jake Quickenden's stint in the Jungle (that's a whole other ballgame - a contestant on a TV show going straight into the Jungle as a "celebrity" before the show had even ended?!) Simon had this to say at a press conference: "I think with any competition, if you don't want to win, that tells me you haven't got that killer instinct to do well in the real world. If you're happy to come fourth or tenth and end up in the jungle.... what we want on this show are people who want to be recording artists in the real world. I mean, that's just the way it is."

But...........that's NOT the way it is. Every single year, Louis Walsh sits like a Pantomime Dame defending whatever novelty act he has chosen to put through to the live shows, while genuinely talented people go home. Simon Cowell plays with people as if they were puppets - putting people through to spite other judges (Raign & Cheryl Cole?!). Take a show like The Voice - I haven't seen a single novelty act on that show. I'm sure it's not perfect, it's still TV, but it seems so much fairer than leading lambs to the slaughter after telling them they're perfect for the TV rounds before tearing them to pieces and laughing at them. We have had whole hour-long shows dedicated to "The Worst Auditionees", yet people who actually won the whole blimmin' show have been snubbed.

Steve has proven that he definitely has that killer instinct - and here's hoping he continues to do well in the real world. The Xfactor bubble may be the dream of many a young starlet, but it's definitely not something I'd want any of my loved ones involved in. I'm really glad Steve wrote this book (with the help of Tony Horne), because it just confirms opinions I've had about Simon Cowell for a long, long time - does he have any actual interest in the music at all?!

A must-read.

You can get the book here on Amazon.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Book Review by a 10 Year Old: Zachary Mackerel: Meanie in a Bottle by Kate Poels

Hi!

I had always hoped that my eldest son would be a reader - I didn't want to push him but I got so much pleasure from books as a child that I really wanted him to experience that too. Thankfully, he adores books as much as I do, and has been known to buy 10 at a time from a market or second hand stall.

His favourite authors are Jeff Kinney, David Walliams, Roald Dahl and R.L. Stine. I find it difficult sometimes to find new books for him, he isn't really into fantasy or sci-fi. When I heard about Zachary Mackerel: Meanie in a Bottle, I was delighted because it sounded like something he'd love. The author Kate Poels was kind enough to send us a hard copy for Shane, and he read it over a couple of nights.


Here is Shane's Review:


"It was the best book I've read, ever. It was exciting, funny, and heart warming, I would recommend this book to anyone who likes fiction. It is about a girl who finds a small bottle & there is a really mean genie inside, but when she uses the wishes bad things begin to happen. She must do something fast."

When I asked him if he wanted to elaborate any more he said:

"No, I can't give any more of the story away because the ending of any book is the best part and if I gave that away nobody would bother reading it because there wouldn't be any suspense".

So there you go.

Here's the official blurb from the book:

Maisie Gable is a fairly ordinary ten-year-old girl. 

Mr. Bumcheeks is the mosquito-like bully of a teacher who always picks on her.

Joe Hopkins is the teacher's pet who torments her at every opportunity.

And Zachary Mackerel is the foul-mouthed, cantankerous purple genie about to change their lives.

With filthy habits, gruesome personal hygiene issues and a fearsome potty mouth, Zachary Mackerel may not be the vision of a picture book genie. However, he does have his uses. through him Maisie finds that wishes are not always a blessing but, when they are used wisely, great things can happen.


I read the book too, I didn't think it would be fair to review unless both of us read it. I thought it was funny  - it's aimed at children so my 10 year old thought it was HILARIOUS, especially the fact that the teacher was called Mr. Bumcheeks. One scene in particular involving Mr. Bumcheeks and Kazoos had him howling so much that he cried laughing. It's 154 pages long so it's not intimidating for a child. There's no bad language in it really, the odd "poo" but nothing rude, nothing I'd be worried about a 10 year old reading. 

It's a great addition to our bookshelves and I'd recommend it as a book choice for 8-12 year olds this Christmas. 

You can buy it at Amazon.co.uk here 




Saturday, December 6, 2014

Baby-Friendly No Added Sugar Flapjacks

Hi!

I find it really hard sometimes to know what to give the babies as a snack. I saw this recipe on My Lovely Little Lunch Box and thought it would be a welcome change from yogurt and ham sandwiches as a daytime snack for the boys (14 months).


Ingredients:



* 150g stoneless dates, chopped.
* 5 tblsp apple juice.
* 150g unsalted butter.
* 100g sultanas.
* 225g porridge oats.
* 1 tsp cinnamon.

Method:

1. Preheat your oven to Gas 4/ 180c/350f. Spray a large rectangle baking dish or tin with frylight, and set aside.

2. Pour the apple juice over the dates and mash well. The original recipe called for a stick blender, but my babies are afraid of the noise of it and they were napping when I made these - rather than wake them, I used the Annabel Karmel food masher and it worked really, really well. You could use a normal potato masher either.



3. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan.



4. Add the date/apple juice mix and the sultanas to the butter. Heat until combined.


5. Add the oats and cinnamon. Stir well to combine, and take off heat.


6. Spoon the mix into the greased baking dish. Smooth it down so that it's all even (first pic). Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown (middle pic). When you remove it from the oven, cut into equal squares (mine made 15) and leave to cool in the dish.


They turned out really nice, and I'm not a huge fan of sultanas or dates. The natural sweetness was complimented beautifully by the cinnamon, and they were so chewy.


They keep really well when stored in an empty biscuit tin or in an airtight container. You don't have to put them in the fridge but I did, and they hardened up a good bit - if anything, it made them even more tasty.

My eldest loved them, and the babas were delighted with them!


I'll definitely be making them again.



Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas Crafts: Activity Advent Calendar + Links

Hi!

Over the past few years, I've bought our eldest a Lego Advent Calendar every December. This year his main present was quite expensive so I didn't want to shell out over €20 for something that's becoming repetitive and just going to be thrown in the box with all the other Lego when €20 could (and did) get him a couple of new books. I also didn't want to get him an Advent Calendar full of sweets or chocolate - he's not allowed sweets before school any other time of the year, so he's definitely not going to get a chocolate first thing in the morning every day for a month. I'm not a sugar Nazi (at this time of year my blood type usually changes to Celebrations) I just don't see the point.

So - I took to Pinterest to see what alternatives were out there. I found loads of really cool ideas for Advent Calendars, and most of them cost little or nothing to complete. They're also lots of fun, way more fun than shoving a sweet in your gob or getting a thrill from a new minifigure for all of two seconds. There are great ones for adults too!

The one I decided on this year was something I saw on a Christmas page on facebook - it's an idea from Cheeky Woman.

[Source: cheeky-woman.com]

The idea is that you print out some templates on card, and write a different Christmas-related activity on each one. It's so much more fun to do things with children, they'll enjoy it far more than a traditional calendar. They don't have to be big time-consuming things either, something as simple as "Put your Christmas Jumper on" can be fun. To download, just go to Cheeky Woman here and follow instructions. The template is in .jpeg form, so you can print out 3 of them and write your activities by hand. Or, if you don't have faith in your handwriting, you can do what I did and use Picmonkey or Ribbet to add text to the templates before printing. Here's how mine turned out:




I had the wrong printer settings on so I did chop the ends off a few, but I evened them out. Now - I know a lot of people have those felt Advent Calendars (like this one from Heatons) but I don't have anything like that to pop the cards in. Instead, I punched a hole in the top of the cards, and attached a piece of red ribbon to each one. Please excuse the light in these photos, I'm finding it a race lately to get photographs of anything before it gets dark.






I'll write a list below of all the activities I put on mine - I didn't put any "going out" ones because I wasn't sure if we would be able to do them on the designated day and didn't want to disappoint. You can write your own to suit the age groups in your house. My eldest is 10 and doesn't believe in Santa any more - but still wants to write a letter and leave cookies out! Here's what I put on mine, in no particular order:


  1. Decorate the Bathroom (yes, I've bought bathroom decorations...)
  2. Have a Snowman Breakfast (see how it's done here)
  3. Read about Baby Jesus (totally 100% individual if you include anything Jesus related or not)
  4. Make Christmas Cards
  5. Do a Christmas Jigsaw (loads of free printable jigsaws here)
  6. Make a Card for Teacher
  7. Make Paper Snowflakes (Step-by-Step instructions here)
  8. Make Hot Chocolate (with marshmallows and candy canes)
  9. Learn About Christmas in Other Countries (there's a fab website here)
  10. Colour some Christmas Pictures (free printables here or Dealz/Tesco have colouring books)
  11. Make Candy Cane Reindeer (instructions here)
  12. Read a Christmas Story
  13. Put your Christmas Jumper on
  14. Write about your favourite Christmas memory
  15. Toast marshmallows
  16. Listen to Christmas music
  17. Make Christmas cookies
  18. Blow up Christmas balloons (I got some in Euro Giant)
  19. Write to Santa (if Santa wanted to write back, get some beautiful free printable letters here)
  20. Watch a Christmas movie (my personal favourite for children is The Polar Express)
  21. Make gift tags
  22. Read The Night Before Christmas (I ordered the beautiful laser cut edition that was shown on this years' Late Late Toy Show, you can get it here from Dubray Books). 
  23. Make salt dough decorations (recipe here)
  24. Open your Christmas Eve box
I wrote the numbers 1-24 on the back of each one - use your head when doing this. Don't put a big activity on a school day, or on a day when you know you'll be busy. Things like making cards or salt dough decorations are great weekend activities, while schooldays are better suited to the simpler ones like learning about other cultures, or reading a Christmas story. Don't make things hard for yourself!

To display them, I cut a Christmas Tree shape out of a piece of green card. I punched a couple of holes down the sides, and attached some ribbon. Then I tied the activities on, numbered side out. If I had more time the pedantic side of me would probably have used number print-outs or stickers, but handwritten numbers do the job. 

Each morning, just turn your card around and arrange to do the activity after school. It's a great way to keep the Christmas spirit going and gives the kids something to look forward to when they get home!

Day One - done!

Boys Christmas Jumper - Littlewoods 






Books I Read in November

Hi!

November was a very light month for me on the book front. To be honest, the majority of my spare time was spent doing this:


When I had that finished, I started this: 


I want to get both stockings finished and made up as soon as possible, so the reading has been pushed to the sidelines a bit! Still, I did manage to read 5 books throughout November, and I'm making progress with 2 more.



Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner - Freakonomics
This was a Rick O'Shea Book Club pick for November. It reminded me a little of Ben Goldacre's Bad Science but with a lot less wit and a lot more filler. I didn't find it an enjoyable read at all, and found myself skimming it a fair bit. Much as Clarissa didn't actually explain it all, these guys do not "explore the hidden side of everything". I found this really boring.

Aimee Bender - The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Rose is almost 9. Without warning, she gets a hollow, overwhelming feeling of sadness after eating lemon cake made by her mother. The book follows Rose as she deals with her "gift" but the gift is not the subject of the book. Simply Irresistible this is not (that's probably a good thing) - it's a very strange quirky little tale that focuses more on family relationships than on Rose being able to taste emotions.There's a story arc involving Rose's brother that is just bizarre, but altogether it was a good book and wasn't a taxing read.

Amy Poehler - Yes Please
I enjoyed this. I thought that the idea to bring other people in to tell their opinions on some stories were genius - like her parents' anecdotes about Amy's birth. I didn't start this book as a fan of Amy Poehler, and I'm not sure I ended it as one, I just thought it was a funny, witty book that had a lot of heart without being too try-hard. I will take the quote "Good for her, not for me" to the grave with me, I have thought of it several times since reading the book. This isn't a behind-the-scenes of Saturday Night Live, nor is it Bossypants II. It's just Amy.

Neil Gaiman - The Ocean at the End of the Lane
I got a gorgeous hardback copy of this book last Christmas and to my shame never picked it up until I saw it one morning and it called out to me. I adored it - it's the story of a man returning to his homeplace for a funeral. He visits a spot he used to frequent in childhood, and reminisces about the summer that changed his life, when the family lodger took his own life and set in motion a series of horrible events. It's a beautiful book, I think fans of Coraline would enjoy it.

Andrew Kaufman - The Tiny Wife
Shortly after 3pm on Wednesday 21st February, a thief (dressed like Prince, it has to be said) walks into branch #117 of the British Bank of North America. He doesn't demand money from those inside - instead, he demands to have the item currently in their possession that holds the most sentimental value. As the customers and staff hand over their items, they are unaware of what will happen. What happens is a series of bizarre and unexplained events - the titular character begins to shrink, until she is the size of a car key. Another woman witnesses her lion tattoo jump off her ankle, grow to full size, and chase her. The husband of a third woman turns into a snowman. A fourth woman discovers she is now made of candy. A man's family history literally collapses on top of him. This was an odd book, and a quick read - but nothing was explained. It's filled with metaphors about facing fears, but we weren't told why the thief wanted the items or who he was. It was all a little disjointed and rushed for me, I would have liked a longer book with more explanation and more detail into the individual stories.

The two books I began in November that I'm currently reading are:


David Nicholls - Us
Written from the point of view of Douglas, who has just been told by his wife Connie that she wants to leave him. I'm finding this a hard slog, I don't like Douglas' voice as a narrator. He actually reminds me a lot of Don Tillman from The Rosie Project. I have heard that it picks up though, so I'll stick with it.

Lena Dunham - Not That Kind of Girl 
I'll be honest, I know nothing about Lena Dunham. I've never seen Girls and I don't think I've ever seen or heard an interview with the woman. I picked this book up after the recent controversy over supposed "confessions" made in the book, because I had some opinions on it but felt like it was unfair to speculate without reading the book. So far it's okay - pretty standard fare.



One pretty cool book-related thing happened in November - a while back, I reviewed Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng for Little Brown via Netgalley. They recently contacted me to get permission to incorporate some of my review into a graphic as part of a huge twitter drive on the day it was published - it was such a cool thing to be involved in!


If you haven't read the book, I really recommend it. You can see my full review on Goodreads here.

Bring on the Christmas reads! If I ever get the stockings finished........




Thursday, November 27, 2014

Christmas Shopping Guide Part Two: Hair Care

Hi!

I love getting hair-related gifts, and I think that hair can be overlooked sometimes when it comes to Christmas shopping. Here are a few of my hair picks.

For Your Girlfriend:
One of the things on my Christmas list this year was some kind of styler - I couldn't make my mind up between the Babyliss New Big Hair or the Instyler, but the price and my experience with Babyliss products (you can see my review of my favourite Pro Radiance straightener here) swung it for me and I went for the Big Hair.


I'm not familiar with the original Big Hair, but going by reviews the main difference between the two seems to be the barrel size. The New Big Hair has a 42mm barrel, as opposed to the original 50mm which means it could be great for shorter hair and give a better lift at the roots or fringe. If anyone can recommend a nice product to use with this, please do! The best price I could find for this was £36 on Amazon - using parcel motel for delivery, that's equivalent to just over €45, which is a great price for a styler.

If you're interested in the Instyler, strike while the iron's hot (sorry, SORRY) and pick it up at Cara Pharmacy before Sunday at the heavily discounted price of €79.96.

For Your Niece:


A definite must-have in any hair arsenal is The Wet Brush - I reviewed this in full here and I'm still every bit as much in love with it. It's by far the best brush I've tried, and would make a great stocking filler. The Wet Brush costs around €10, and is available at Independent chemists nationwide or from Sally Express.

For Your Sister:

One of my all-time favourite hair products is Orifluido beauty fluid. It smells divine, a bottle lasts forever, and it makes a real difference to the finish of my hair after using heated products. I bought my first bottle about 4 years ago and have been repurchasing it ever since. This gift pack contains 100ml Beauty Fluid, and 125ml Perfumed Body Cream. This set is available at Cloud 10 Beauty for €24.95, but you can get it now for €19.96 in their Black Friday sale. They also offer free UK & Irish shipping on orders over €15, so it's a real bargain. 

For Your Secret Santa:


Next up is this gorgeous L'Oréal Christmas Cracker - they come in a few variations. I was kindly sent the Serie Expert Absolut Repair Lipidium Replenishing Care Cracker (say that fast). It costs €8.99 and would make a gorgeous stocking filler or Kris Kindle gift (is it Kris Kindle or Kris Kringle?!). The cracker contains a 100ml bottle of Instant resurfacing shampoo and a 75ml pot of Instant resurfacing masque. The masque has a 5 out of 5 rating on pretty much every site I've looked it up on. I've used both products twice now and still have plenty left for at least one more application, so this really is a great way to discover a new product. You'll find this in Salons nationwide (find your nearest stockist here) or at Hairtrade.com.

For Your Best Friend:


Lastly, why not take advantage of all the special offers around at the minute and put together a selection of Aussie products for a friend or sister? Aussie have been favourites of mine for a long time, the smell alone leaves me in such good humour after washing my hair. I wanted to feature Aussie to draw attention to the fact that they're proudly supporting Movember this year as official partners. For every Aussie product bought in Tesco in November, a donation will be made to Movember. Right now, all Aussie products are 25% off at Tesco until December 15th, so you can pick something up for as little as €4.23. That's fantastic value, and a really worthy cause. Aussie products are also 3 for €13 in Boots at the moment.

What's on your hair wishlist at the moment?

.