Wednesday, 23 October 2013

A Review of the Freesat+ box with free time

A couple of week's ago I was lucky enough to be sent a 500GB Humax Freesat+ box to review by the fab Mumsnet Bloggers Network. This couldn't have come at a better time for our family as we are in the process of a serious review of our household bills which seem to be spiralling out of control. With our money needed to cover the ever increasing fuel bills we just can't justify luxuries like the £50 per month we spend on Sky TV, so the appeal of the subscription free Freesat is HUGE, even with the initial outlay of the box within 6months we would be saving money when compared to our Sky subscription!

Unwrapping the box!
I am completely clueless when it comes to technology (I still call DVDs 'videos'  and CDs 'records' to the embarrassment of my children), so wasn't looking forward to the task of setting the box up!  A week and a bit ago a box arrived containing everything we needed to get going with Freesat. The actual Freesat box itself is about the size of a DVD player and actually pretty good looking (if you like that sort of thing that is!). Despite my technical ineptitude, the box was actually really easy to set up (though I did enlist the help of my other half to do the plugging in!). You literally just turn the box on and follow the on screen directions at each step. We were up an running within about 10 minutes maximum. Marvellous!

Setting the Freesat box up - testing signal strength

So, what do I think of it? It does everything it says in the blurb:

"Freesat believe you shouldn't have to pay a monthly subscription to watch and listen to 180 channels of the best comedy, drama, sport, lifestyle, music and news. We offer free HD services from ITV, the BBC and Channel 4; freesat+ to record pause and rewind, BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and Demand5; and all subscription free."

Freesat launched 'freetime' last Autumn which includes a Roll Back TV Guide that allows you to watch programmes you've missed from the previous seven days across 21 channels, a new showcase section providing top TV picks chosen daily by Freesat's reviewers, on-demand services and enhanced recordings."

So 'thank you' Freesat, we now have a fab array of *free* channels (195 to be precise - see below!) to watch with no costly monthly fees (hooray - we can turn the central heating on!). My kids are happy that they still get to watch their favourite programmes and my husband is getting stuck right into the 'on demand' section. It's mad to think we would pay £600 per year to Sky for a similar service!

195 free channels!

Happy smiles all round - thank you Freesat!

Freesat is a subscription free service and Freesat+ boxes are available to buy from a range of retailers - RRP from £226. Humax are offering, via GlutenFreeChild, an exclusive discount code to purchase a 500GB Humax Freesat+ box for £199, a saving of £30. Just enter the code: FT30 when ordering.

Note: I am a member of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network Research Panel, a group of parent bloggers who have volunteered to review products, services, events and brands for Mumsnet. I have not paid for the product or to attend an event. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Congham Hall Spa - A Very Special Offer Autumn Retreat for Frazzled Parents in Norfolk

Please Note - this is a sponsored post.

A glorious English summer has come to an end and the onset of Autumn ushers in a new season. At Congham Hall in the heart of beautiful Norfolk the leaves are falling, and turning from a crisp green to lush shades of copper, bronze and crimson.

If you are looking for an Autumn break, somewhere to get away from it all, to truly relax and unwind, then you'd be hard-pressed to find somewhere more peaceful than Congham Hall Spa Hotel
Winner of the Best UK Small Hotel at the International Hotel Awards this Georgian country house is home to a hotel, restaurant, bar, spa and renowned herb garden, and set in 30 acres of gardens, lawns, parkland and orchards.

The beautiful Congham Hall Spa Hotel

The 26 unique bedrooms are individually decorated, 15 are in the main house and 11 between the house and Spa each with its own private terrace overlooking the glorious gardens.
The gardens play an important role in the life of Congham Hall, providing homegrown produce for the restaurant tables. The hotel's restaurant aims to locally source the majority of its ingredients from within a 20-mile radius with the kitchen garden providing a variety vegetables as well as herbs.
Enjoy a drink in a relaxed, informal atmosphere at the hotel bar, library, lounge or outside on the terrace before or after sampling the new menu in the restaurant.

While staying at Congham Hall dip into the Secret Garden Spa and enjoy a swim in its stunning 12 metre swimming pool. The tranquil atmosphere is the ideal place for 1-2-1 swimming lessons. Lessons are available for complete beginners, stroke technique improvement or to improve fitness through swimming and water based exercise.

The Secret Garden Spa Pool at Congham Hall

The pool area is also home to two experience showers, a Finnish style sauna, a bio-sauna, and a steam room. There are also foot baths, an outdoor hot tub and, within the pool itself, various massaging jets.
Still need to relax? Then book one of the fabulous treatments from the Spa team who have incorporated some of the seasonal herbs and fresh blossoming flowers to create a unique treatment  menu. Congham Hall Signature treatments, include an elemental herbal facial and a rosemary muscle melt massage  to replenish and restore your body and mind.

A spa room at Congham Hall

Additional facilities at Congham include the newly refurbished tennis court (tennis rackets and balls are available to borrow and coaching can be organised in advance at £20 per hour) a trampoline, putting green and croquet lawn. The hotel will also provide you with DVDs, books and games, not to mention Dubarry boots should you wish to go on one of the many circular walks available from the grounds or explore further afield: the splendid sandy beaches of the North Norfolk coast, bustling market towns, nature reserves and the Queen’s beloved Sandringham Estate (open till the end of October), are all within easy reach.

Congham Hall is conveniently close to the Sandringham Estate.

The fabulous Houghton Revisited exhibition has been extended, by popular demand to the 24 November.

So what are you waiting for! Book now for a Congham Hall Autumn break. Their 'mid week TWO night Autumn Break available Sunday to Thursday till 19th December 2013 is a great deal!
Better and Best Main House Rooms including breakfast are available at £399 including dinner on both nights (with a £35 per person allowance for dinner).

All Garden Rooms including breakfast are available at £499 including dinner on both nights (with a £35 per person allowance for dinner).

Congham Hall still has a handful of rooms available over Christmas and New Year and plenty of special events planned including; mulled wine and mince pies in front of the log fire; carols round the Christmas tree; champagne cocktails and 7 course tasting menus. (include link)

Please Note - this is a sponsored post.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

A Coeliac in Spain - Gluten Free at Cambrils Park, Salou & PortAventura

We spent this August at the fantastic Cambrils Park resort. Before we left I spent hours on the internet researching gluten free food options and didn't find much. I asked Cambrils Park themselves via their Facebook site if we would be able to eat anything and whilst they replied "you will be able to find gluten free food here" I was more than a little concerned due to my lack of google findings.

After a disappointing experience flying with British Airways (BA) to Barcelona airport (where there were no gluten free food options available on board) and a long bus journey we finally arrived at Cambrils Park just before 8pm, exhausted and starving. After checking in we headed straight to the onsite supermarket, with 10 minutes left until closing time.

I can't tell you the relief we felt when we turned down the second aisle and came face to face with an impressive gluten free selection - everything from bread to cakes, pasta, biscuits, flour and even frozen gluten free pizzas and baguettes!

Coeliac Gluten Free Food From Cambrils Park On Site Supermarket

On the off-chance we wandered over to the poolside bar restaurant and asked if they had any gluten free items. At first the waiter was confused as his English was not so good (but far better than my Spanish!), then he had a lightbulb moment and said "ahhh menu celiaco, I bring menu celiaco", I could have cried when he returned with a whole menu just for coeliacs! It wasn't very huge, but had enough to keep us happy. We ordered a ham and cheese pizza and whilst it was very small it was delicious. We also ate the rotisserie chicken a couple of times which was gorgeous and gluten free (though the chips were not) So a big thumbs up to Cambrils Park for their gluten free offerings, my only complaint is that I was disappointed not to be able to eat their paella.

I hadn't read good things about Port Aventura's gluten free catering and having been to Universal in Florida (they are owned by the same company) and experiencing their shockingly awful gluten free catering (which is pretty much non-existant) I wasn't holding out much hope. When it came to lunch time we decided to try the Mexican restaurant (Restaurant La Hacienda) as we figured we may be able to eat the nachos if nothing else. I thought it was worth a short asking if they had a "menu coeliaco" - instantly the waitress said "Si, si" and appeared a minute later with a dedicated gluten free menu. We opted for a pizza (again! 11 year old boys aren't so adventurous!) with a side of gluten free fries from a dedicated fryer, though the menu did have a lot more choice.

Gluten free food Port Aventura

I had heard a rumour that McDonalds in Spain serves gluten free buns so whilst waiting for our flight home from Barcelona El Prat airport we popped into the airside McDonalds. Thankfully they had automated ordering machines with English translations so we didn't have to try to explain what we wanted and lo and behold - gluten free bun options! I have to confess they weren't the nicest buns, typically dry and powdery, but it really was a treat to be able to get a burger in a bun!

Gluten free burger bun from McDonalds Barcelona

So - in summary, if you're heading to Cambrils, Salou, Barcelona or Port Aventura as a Coeliac, don't panic, there will be plenty of options available.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Review - The Smurfs 2 and Jakks Pacific Toys

Summer holiday fatigue has just begun to set in, so it came as very welcome relief to be invited to a special Smurfs 2 screening with Jakks Pacific toys last weekend.

The children loved the first Smurfs film and had been badgering me to see the second one. On Sunday we set off early to the Covent Garden Odeon and were greeted by an array of Smurf characters who welcomed us into the cinema. After selecting drinks and a bag of toffee popcorn each we settled down to watch the film, which was actually pretty good! I'm really not a fan of kids' movies and have had to watch my fair share lately, but even my hardened adult heart softened at this one. I was also surprised at Katy Perry's Smurfette which was actually pretty convincingly good! 

The film centres around Smurfette who has been captured by the evil Gargomel in a devious plan to extract Smurf essence to enact world domination. As you would expect the day is saved, by a very old looking Dougie Howser MD (am I *really* that old too?!) and Emma from Glee, along with Papa Smurf and crew. Lots of laughs and even a few tears ensued and everyone left happy and uplifted. 

After the film it was time for some crazy entertainment Smurf style (that even my 'too cool' 11 year old enjoyed - though of course, he'd never actually tell you that!) and a look at the new Jakks Smurf toy range which are available from most large UK toy retailers now. The children were all given a little character to take away which they absolutely loved and have taken pride of place in their bedrooms.

My 6 year old daughter fell in love with the Smurfette fashion doll which is quite reasonably priced at £14.99. The official description for the toy reads: "Measuring 3 apples high, Smurfette has been transformed into a 7.5” Fashion Doll  complete with fabulous mix and match outfits to brighten any blue day! Simply snap on one of her Smurfy dress combinations, add a stylish accessory, pop on shoes and Smurfette is ready for anything! With flowing stylable hair and a unique Smurf Berry scent, this glamorous jet set Smurf has everything she needs to help her stay up to date with the latest Smurf trends!" 
All in all we had a great day, so a big thank you to Norton and Co. for inviting us! 

Disclaimer: I was not paid to write this post though we did receive free tickets for the movie.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Adventure Puzzle Party Box Review

So last week Seb turned 11! Gone are the days of him wanting traditional party games like pass the parcel, musical bumps and pin the tail on the donkey, but he's not quite old enough for more adult birthday celebrations, sitting in a bit of a tricky no-mans birthday land!

After inviting 5 friends for a sleepover we struggled to find some age appropriate entertainment. I was lucky enough to be sent a free puzzle box from, we opted for the detective puzzle box which is described as:

"Turn detective with one of our ever-popular detective adventure puzzle parties.Solve the puzzles and quests to unlock a clue that will allow you to clear one of the seven suspects. Choose who you think is the thief and discover whether you are right!"

We chose 'The Jewel Thief' Adventure which is all about a family heirloom that has been stolen from Puzzle Hall. The instructions suggest that the party guests should "get out your magnifying glass and find the clues with every puzzle you solve until you discover the identity of The Jewel Thief!". Along the way they will meet the Emerald family and their guests at a celebration dinner when the theft was uncovered. We had a box for 8 which retails at £39.99 and I think it was very good value.

Shortly after choosing a big box was delivered containing lots of secret envelopes and tasks, a full set of instructions, a detective notebook for each child with stickers and pens to decorate and personalise them, a party bag to put the notebook in (and perhaps some other goodies - we used the ever popular haribos!) and a badge to give each child upon completion.

The boys (and my three younger children, two boys aged 8 and 9 and a girl aged 6) all got stuck in solving the puzzles and really got into the spirit of the adventure. The box is aimed at age 7 years plus and I think this is a good estimate.

One of the boys at the party is almost 12 and he thought the activities were a little babyish but the rest of them were all very happy. My 6, 8 and 9 year olds really enjoyed the activities and I think this would be the best age range for them. The 6 and 8 year olds have already requested a box for their birthday parties, my daughter likes the look of the Mermaid puzzle party and my 8 yr old son wants another detective party, so it looks like Tall Tales Puzzle Parties has found a new repeat customer in our family!

Tall Tales Puzzle Parties have kindly given me a discount code BLOG13 to pass on to you all which gets you a 15% discount. Click HERE to order

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Half Term Entertainment on a Shoestring & Can Chewing Gum Make You More Clever? COMPETITION!

I'm writing this 2 days into half term with my gang of four. I love time off with my family, but must admit I'm always a little worried about the expense of entertaining them. When I was a child (gosh I sound about 80, still at least I didn't say "in the good old days"!) I was left to entertain myself, if I was really lucky we'd head off to a zoo or a theme park once over the whole 6 week long summer holiday but the rest of the time was spent playing with friends, mostly in our back garden.

How can it be that children today have so much 'stuff' to entertain them, yet they are always so bored? In fact I think that's the answer - they have too much 'stuff', I didn't have 'stuff' and I wasn't bored...I wonder what the next generation of children will do during school holidays? Will our children be telling their own "I didn't have half the amount of stuff you had as a child and I didn't complain?".

Our school holiday plans tend to revolve strongly around nature, the local national trust forest, the beach and the local botanical garden and the fantastic free museums in Cambridge (the zoology one gets a big thumbs up from us).

So, ever conscious of finances, when the chaps at Chewits asked me if we'd be interested in posting their half term graphic I thought it sounded interesting, I'm all up for new ideas, especially if they save money and the kids were convinced when the offer also came with some free chewie gum to review too.

Now, I may be old fashioned but I've really put off letting my kids have chewing gum, I don't know why, mostly paranoia over them swallowing it accidentally and concern that I would find it stuck all over the house, but they have been begging me to try some for ages. Oddly I found THIS article which claims that chewing gum is good for the brain (it is in the Daily Fail though!). Anyway, I relented and Chewits kindly sent the kids some of their new Chewie gum to review, the gum comes in 3 flavours - lemon, tropical and strawberry and banana. The kids loved the tropical, weren't at all keen on the lemon and were 50/50 split on the strawberry and banana, but all agreed that it would have been better if it were just strawberry flavoured. They seemed to have great fun and importantly nobody swallowed any! Another plus is that I have yet to find any stuck to the walls/under tables or headboard, I'm not quite sure where they have put it though, it's rare that they put anything in the bin so I'm still more than a little concerned........

Anyway, chewie gum gets a thumbs up in our house, but the kids would much prefer a plain strawberry flavour please chewits!


The lovely people at Chewits have given me a Hamper worth £30, bursting with Chewits goodies to give away to you! 

To enter please leave your name in reply and I'll randomly pick a winner on the 8th of June. Please note entry implies that you agree with the terms and conditions below:

  1. All entrants must be over 18 years of age
  2. Entry to the competition is restricted to one entry per person, multiple entries will be disqualified as will automated entries, bulk or third party entries.
  3. Competitions are open to UK and ROI residents only and the prize can only be sent to a valid UK or ROI address.
  4. Only entries received by the closing date of Sunday June 9th will be submitted to the competition.
  5. The winner will be chosen at random from all valid entries.
  6. The winner will be contacted via email and their name will be posted here on Monday 10th June.
  7. There is no cash alternative.
  8. In compliance with the data protection act. Gluten Free Child will not pass on your details to any third party without your prior consent.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Gluten Free Pizza - Big Thumbs Up to Dominos, Pizza Express and Pizza Hut!

Gluten free food is like buses it seems....

.....we wait for years for a tasty, readily available and well priced gluten free alternative to our favourite foods and then 3 turn up at once.

2013 has proven to be an amazing year for gluten free pizza. How how we missed our pizza, Seb particularly when his friends would hold birthday parties at their local pizza huts.

I am SO delighted then that the mainstream restaurants are listening to the needs of their customers.

I have yet to sample Pizza Express' new gluten free pizza (they have offered to top your own base for ages, but this wasn't practical if you were out for the day or wanted to dine spontaneously!) but I'm told they now offer not only a gluten free pizza but also a gluten free brownie - woohoo!

We have however tried Pizza Hut and Domino's gluten free offerings - here's a quick review of both:

Pizza Hut Gluten Free Pizza

I think you can see the delight in Seb's face in the picture above! We could eat most of the toppings and the base was pretty good, it is square and only available in thin crust. It was a bit dry towards the end when it cooled, but not bad - we've been back twice since for more!
Verdict? 3 out of 5 for Pizza Hut Gluten Free Pizza

Dominos Gluten Free Pizza

This is our favourite! It *almost* tastes like the pizza I remember before our gluten free days, soooo good, my only gripes are that it's only available in one size, which is pretty small and like the pizza hut alternative it got a bit dry and chewy when it cooled, but it's much nicer than the Pizza Hut version.

Verdict? 4 out of 5 for Dominos Gluten Free Pizza

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Preparing to Start 'Big School'....Part 1 - The Practicalities: Uniform & Finances

I can't believe I'm writing this, it seems like only yesterday that Seb was about to start 'big school', by 'big school' I of course mean infant school. My little curly haired toddler had reached the age of four in the blink of an eye and no sooner had he started preschool he was off to infant school. He settled into infant school well (certainly much easier than I settled into my new role of being a mother to a school aged child!) and quickly made lots of friends.

Surely it was only yesterday that I dropped him off for his first day of school? Wearing his too big jumper and shiny black shoes? How can it possible be that he is starting REAL 'big school' soon? How can my baby be ready for secondary school? How can my little toddler be ready for high school? I'm certainly not ready!

In my trauma of how quickly the last (almost) eleven years have gone I've been busying myself with the practicalities of preparing for 'big school'. I was truly horrified to learn how much it would cost to kit him out in the appropriate uniform and sports kit (and this is just a regular state school!), so as finances are tight I've planned to spend £50 per month every month until September and start putting bits away so that it doesn't dent out budget too much in August.

This month I have been shopping around for uniform basics. Although the school require him to wear a standard embroidered tie and blazer we can choose where we buy his (plain black) jumper, (long sleeved collared) white shirts and (plain black) trousers from - thank goodness! In the past I have bought most of my kids' (aged 10, 9, 8 and 5) school uniform in either Marks and Spencer, Tesco or Asda in the '3 for 2' weeks, lately though I've been noticing how it hasn't been lasting, our last lot of Tesco trousers are having to be replaced only 5 months into the current academic year as they have been ripping and hems coming down and our last lot of M&S polo shirts have shrunk significantly and are now a horrible grey colour (this may be my washing skills!), so I've been hunting down alternatives. Certainly I thought that my kids were hard on clothes when they were toddlers and expected their clothes to take less of a bashing when they were older, but I couldn't have been more wrong! We definitely need some seriously hard wearing uniform for secondary school!

I was very lucky to be offered the chance to test some school uniform from Trutex whose uniform is available online from their own site Trutex Direct and other online selected retailers (see HERE ) and from selected high street retailers (see HERE) and naturally jumped at the chance. I had already heard of Trutex, but after comparing their prices with the high street own brands considered them too expensive, now though I have begun to think it is worth paying a bit extra for better quality.

We road tested the following:

1. Twin pack non-iron (vitally important for a household of 6!!) white shirts HERE
2. Black flat front trousers HERE
3. Black cotton v-neck jumper HERE

Seb loved the way that they fitted and the difference in quality was obvious, I honestly can say I think that the Trutex school uniform will last us for the whole of the academic year and (hopefully) be in a good enough condition to pass down to my younger boys. I'm convinced, no more false economy high street uniforms for us, I'm going to be budgeting to buy the rest of Seb's uniform from Trutex. If you're fed up with your child's uniform falling to bits I'd really recommend Trutex school uniform.

Now, if I only I could get Seb to look as smart as the boy in the picture above!

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Perfect Family Holidays on a Budget

"Perfect family holiday" and "on a budget"......hmmm there are two sentences that really don't go together! The thing is they can do so I was only too happy to blog about it in response to the latest Grand Adventure competition from MoneySupermarket.

 Having four children and choosing to stay at home with them has certainly taken its toll on our budget, it's tighter than my waistband is after too much Christmas overindulgence. We have very little spare cash, especially given that eating gluten free takes its toll on our bank balance too, but you know what? We have cracking holidays every year!

I really couldn't survive without out holidays, we try to go away twice per year, usually at Easter and in the school summer holidays. Aside from our 'once in a lifetime' trip to Florida last year none of our holidays have cost more than £3000 for the 6 of us, with the average coming in at well under £1000 and we've been to some pretty cool places and had some amazing experiences. My top tips for a budget family holiday are:

  1. Arrange the holiday yourself, you can usually save a packet if you book all components of the holiday individually. I would never book a package holiday again for this reason. I hunt around for the cheapest travel options (whether that's flights, ferry, tunnel or car hire) and similarly for our accommodation, sometimes it's cheaper to book direct with the owner, sometimes it's cheaper to book through a money saving website of some sort.
  2. Consider camping and static caravans, things have moved on from the 'Hi De Hi' sites of yesteryear. I'm not a rustic camper, I like my mod cons, my electricity, running water and flushing toilets! It's amazing how much you can save this way and the children ADORE it, they make friends so easily and love the freedom of roaming the campsite.
  3. Research the local area well before you go, I often plan our meals at local restaurants by researching menus and pricing online, no last minute panic and ending up in the dearest restaurant! Of course being coeliacs it's vital we do this anyway for gluten free food. 
  4. Look for special deals on days out, whether it's using discount vouchers found in papers, loyalty points from supermarkets, cash back sites for booking online or websites such as MoneySupermarket's fab deals page it can save a packet if you plan your entertainment well before you go.
  5. Book well in advance, I know many say to 'get a last minute bargain' but I've found this often isn't the case, particularly with air fares, ferry tickets, car hire and airport parking. TravelSupermarket is a great site for researching these.
  6. Al fresco eating - BBQs and picnics are the stuff of dreams of young children, mine would certainly rather have either of these than a meal in a posh restaurang anyday! and the best bit is they are much cheaper than eating out!
  7. Find free local entertainment - Many museums and beautiful natural attractions are free and visiting with a picnic makes for a really cheap day out.
  8. Consider youth hostels - the very words may make you recoil, but they can be great, cheap accommodation. If ever we stay in London we always stay at the YHA at St. Pauls, they have family bedrooms to sleep 6 and fantastic cooked breakfasts, all for around £100 per night for all of us!

So with this in mind, my next dream budget family holiday has to be a week at the Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA. My kids and I are *desperate* to see the Canyon and I reckon a week's camping amongst the splendor and beauty of Arizonian nature would be amazing. Flights aside, I reckon I could do the whole holiday for 6 of us for under £1000. Here's how:

  • 7 nights at the amazing looking Mather Campground $126
  • Tent and airbed for the adults we can pick up from Wallmart en route $99 here
  • 6 sleeping bags from Wallmart $90 here
  • Plates/cups/disposable BBQs from Wallmart $50
  • 1 week's food shopping (self catering) $150
  • Entrance to the Canyon parks for 1 wk $25
  • 1 week's diesel £100
  • 1 week's people carrier car hire from Las Vegas aiport for August 2013 through TravelSupermarket £238.
So all converted to UK Sterling I make that a measly £675!! Which leaves us a whopping £325 to spend on other entertainment (a crazy day in Las Vegas perhaps?) and dining out.

Who says you can't have a cracking family holiday on a budget?! The world is literally your oyster, all that is limiting you is your imagination and some foreward planning!

Sarah xx