Sunday, 17 December 2017

Madhouse Diaries : Sterrenstoet, the Procession of the Christmas star (Bruges Christmas Parade)

Yesterday, we popped to Bruges in Belgium (about 45 minutes away) to see their Christmas market and soak up some of their Christmas spirit, which they always have in bucketloads. We'd just wandered out of a fantastically festive "Christmas World" shop when I heard drummers at the corner of the road and went to see what was going on. Talk about being in the right place at the right time ! It was the beginning of a Christmas parade and suddenly a crowd of people started lining the streets.

Straight after the marching band were a group of people who looked like they'd stepped straight out of a Dickens novel and were on their way to the workhouse ! They had collection boxes so we guessed that this was a charity event.

 After the poor people, it was the turn of the rich folk, in their finery, and this led on to Mary and Joseph riding past on a donkey.

 We'd worked out by now that it was a representation of the Christmas story, with the idea of solidarity and giving to the poor thrown in for good measure.

 I think (but I could be totally wrong !) that the rest of the scenes showed the different groups of people following the star to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus.

There were kings on giant horses and another black-faced character - it's funny, I was just talking about this last week when St Nicolas came to town.

I commented on the lack of shepherds but looking at videos online, they did have a herd of sheep in the procession last year !

More groups of worshippers - maybe these were the three wise men?

The manger scene closed the Christmas story part of the parade.

Closing the show, and providing the festive soundtrack, was a man playing carols on a carillon.

Most of the belfries and clock towers in the North of France and Flanders have carillons, so we're quite used to hearing songs being chimed out, but it was still quite impressive to watch him play.

It was a totally unexpected and magical way to start our festive jaunt to Bruges. When we got home, I looked up online what we'd seen and discovered it's the Sterrenstoet, or the Procession of the Christmas star : "The Star procession began in the 1930s. During the Second World War, the tradition was interrupted for several years. The Sterrenstoet depicts the Christmas story on the basis of various scenes. A choir brings Christmas songs and walks with animals. The organizers are all volunteers who want to raise money with the procession. It is the "box shakers" in the procession who encourage the spectators to make a financial contribution. The Star procession wants to point out the need for solidarity during the Christmas season. After all, the collected money always goes to a Bruges social project. Since 2002, the Sterrenstoet has been touring the Bruges city center twice during the Christmas period. In recent years, the procession is being renewed step by step."

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Num Noms Collector's Case review - Are you Num Noms #BiggestCollector?

If you've got a tweenaged daughter, the chances are, you'll have some of these lurking in stockings or hiding under the Christmas tree next week. In fact, over on the @NumNomsUK twitter feed, they had the fabulous idea of using some of the Num Noms Lights ON the Christmas tree as decorations, which is a very cute idea !

Juliette has loads of Num Noms and loves getting them out and sniffing them, stacking them up, choosing her favourites, using the lip balms and nail varnishes, ... Ultimately they always end up being stuffed back in a box though, which is a bit of a shame, so Juliette was delighted to receive a super-cute collector's case to show off her favourites, along with lots of stickers to personalise it.

Shaped like a giant Num Nom and made in sturdy plastic, it makes a great decorative item for any young girl's bedroom. We love the cheeky wink and the giant cupcake sprinkles !

Inside you have enough place to display about 24 Num Noms single stacked or 50+ double-stacked. The hardest thing is choosing which ones to put out on display !

The case comes with a sheet of stickers allowing you to arrange and label your collection by food theme, scent, colour or rarity.

Inside the case, you also get a special edition mystery num and nom to add to your collection - they are the two on the left of the picture : a cute Princess Gummy Bear Num and a  Razz-Blue Meringue Gloss-Up Nom. We also received two series 4 Mystery Packs, which bring not just cute new characters and tasty scents but also scented nail polish and glitter lip gloss. Exciting !

We also received a copy of the latest Num Noms magazine, which has been squirrelled away to give Juliette something to keep her occupied on the 8-hour drive down to the in-laws for Christmas !

Carousel PR and Num Noms are currently running a Biggest Collector Campaign, with fab prizes up for grabs. They explain: “We have just launched our Biggest Collector competition, a two-month search to find the biggest Num Noms fan in the country. We’re giving away the biggest prizes yet with a huge product bundle, branded goodies and even money – plus prizes for the runners up.

If you think that you have the best collection of Num Noms, we would love to see your pictures. All you have to do is simply share a picture on Facebook and tag Num Noms or email it to showing us why your little one is such a fan.”

Can you rise to the challenge ?!

For more news on all things Num Noms, including the Collector's Case and new series 4, head over to

Disclosure : We received the product in order to write an honest review.

Fab freebies of the week 16/12

Phewee, we're only a week and a bit away from Christmas ! No doubt you'll be heading into town for some last minute Christmas shopping, so I've added a few reminders of instore freebies that you can pick up. I doubt if there will be many freebies between now and the new year as most companies and PR people will be on Christmas break, but I'll be back in the new year with a new freebie roundup. In the meantime, have a lovely Christmas :)


Get a free carton of Almond Breeze at Waitrose

If you're a fan of Lush, take back five empty black pots (not sample pots) for recycling and you'll get a free face maskfor your trouble

We're offering you the chance to come along to one of our Krispy Kreme HOTLIGHT STORES and try for yourself, a FREE hot Gingerbread Glazed doughnut during our Gingerbread Hotlight Happy Hour from 12th-23rd Dec*.

The Insiders are holding a campaign that lets you really discover SPLENDA ZERO™ Liquid Sweetener. They’re looking for 2,000 of you to take part in this campaign and get to know SPLENDA ZERO™ Liquid Sweetener, as well as all of its great benefits. Are you interested? Apply Now!

Treat up to 5 of your friends, family and loved ones with a complimentary Aveda damage remedy™ intensive restructuring treatment travel size 25ml (worth £9†) and hair consultation.* Before Christmas, we will send them an invitation on your behalf to collect their gifts in store.

Get a month of free deliveries at ASDA (first time shopper, minimum spend £50)

Sign up for a scent-seal format sample of Dior Poison

Afresh sanitary pads are unique, and may not suit everybody. If you would like to try a sample, please follow the below steps.

3000 lucky people will score themselves a Paddy McGuinness commemorative spoon and oven glove set. (I got one of the plates last time so this will be a great match !!)

More free gifts (just pay postage) from Cougar this week - Free Snake Venom Facial Serum worth £22.99 with code FREESNAKES17 ; Free Charcoal Teeth Whitening Gel worth £19.99 with code FREEGEL17

Another lovely just-pay-postage offer : Rose Gold I Love You To The Moon & Back Necklace (worth £19.99)

To help you get ready for RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, enter your contact details below to request a FREE pack. Thanks for taking part!

In promotion for the website, for a limited time only (approx 1 month), we are giving away free nappies to our customers. Why are we giving away free nappies? As you are aware nappies in the long term can cost a fortune. So many different brands and sizes to choose from. Another reason to give nappies away, is so that you can (without the need of spending a penny) receive a number of different brands for free, from your chosen size of nappy, will allow you to make your own descision on which nappy is best suited to your baby.

Claire shared her eczema story with us. Do the same in reply to this tweet to get your hands on some free samples. At Frezyderm, we've been #inspiredbyyou and your real skincare stories for over 30 years.

You can see previous weeks' freebie roundups by clicking here but be warned, many of the offers are only valid for a short time. Let me know if any have expired and I'll remove them from the roundup.

You may also like to enter my current giveaways :

Friday, 15 December 2017

Great Gifts for Girls (and Boys) by Juliette (review roundup)

After having Pierre share his gift guide from a boy's perspective, it's time for Juliette to sit in the hot seat and share her top picks for things to put a smile on the girls' faces when they open their presents on Christmas morning. As with Pierre's ideas, most of these would appeal to children of both sexes though. In fact, forget demure and ladylike - we're on to the first thing on the list and I spy poo already ! Juliette was very excited to learn that The Emoji Movie was released on DVD and Blu-Ray on 27th November.

She was even more excited to receive an #EmojiMovieParty watchalong kit, which showcased some of the lovely associated merchandise - volume limiting headphones, socks, a sticker book, a plush toy and, of course, the DVD of the movie. We received some fun activity sheets to tie in with the film, including masks, colouring sheets and a watchalong game that you can print out yourself if you click on my photo to enlarge it. Even without all the extras, it's a great DVD that the whole family will love. Meet Gene, the only emoji in Textopolis who isn't restricted to one facial expression - but he wants to be just like everyone else. He ropes in Jailbreak (the plush toy in the photo) to help fix his rogue code but as he journeys through the magical phone world, he realises that embracing his multiple personalities is the way to go. As well as featuring the emojis and mobile phone apps that today's teens couldn't live without, it has some great positive life lessons about not trying to fit into a box, letting your personality shine through and girls being as good at technology as the boys. It gets a unanimous smiley emoji and a thumbs up from The Madhouse !

Playmags were also a great hit, with both Juliette and Pierre. They are sturdy plastic tiles in a variety of shapes and colours that can be easily connected together to form many different geometric shapes and structures, including houses, towers, cubes, pyramids, cars ... you name it, you can let your imagination run wild and see what you can come up with !

Unlike some construction kits that are difficult to fit together for little fingers, Playmags - as their name suggests - are magnetic. The strong magnets attract on all sides so putting them together (and pulling them apart) is a breeze - keep delicate little fingers out of the way to avoid them being pinched between the magnets when they "snap" together. This did happen to us a couple of times, but it doesn't really hurt that much ! Building with these magnetic tiles inspires creativity and brain development, teaches basic maths concepts like counting, addition and subtraction, as well as providing fun construction-based play for children aged 3+. The bonus ABC letters and numbers ‘clickins’ make the sets even more fun and educational. Playmags sets come in eleven sizes from a 20-piece set up to a 150-piece set plus optional accessories. Available from RRP £19.99 at Amazon or for details visit

Ahh another creative toy - Juliette's crafty streak is shining through ! When we first laid eyes on Simbrix, we thought they would be just like Hama Beads but they have one huge advantage - you don't need to use a pegboard or iron them to fuse them together. I can already hear that collective parental sigh of relief. I've lost count of the number of times I've had to apologise because I couldn't be bothered to get the iron out just for one Hama Beads creation and the board got jogged and the design destroyed before it got finished. Simbrix are a bit like a cross between Hama Beads and Lego - they slot together so your design is robust and needs no adult help. I could tell these were created by a frustrated parent who'd had enough of Hama Beads ... and I was right ! The Cute Kit (RRP £18) that we reviewed contains approximately 1000 brix in 10 different colours, as well as a pack of cards with oodles of designs to help get your creative juices flowing, and a handy storage box. For more information :

I remember having great fun with I-Spy books in my own childhood so I love the fact that Juliette has included these in her roundup. Covering everything from cars, urban landmarks, insects, flowers, dogs, London, aircraft, trees or everything on the road (that really exists, I didn't just make it up !), they are a great way of whiling away long trips (the ferry, motorway and airport ones are a godsend !) or making nature walks extra interesting. Even as a grown-up, it's interesting to be able to put a name to unknown species and it's great to find an activity that the whole family can engage in that is both educational and fun. They only cost a few pounds so they'd make a great stocking filler.

Juliette is a huge fan of the Project Mc2 experiment kits, that tie in with the dolls and Netflix series of the same name. The whole ethos of the show is promoting STEAM subjects (science, technology, engineering, art and maths) for girls, so coming up with a cute fashion/beauty project and explaining the science behind it to make it educational is a really smart move. If you search "project mc2" on my sidebar, you'll see several reviews of the other kits and dolls with kits from the range that we've already tried out.

Juliette had great fun with the H2O Nail Science Kit (RRP £24.99) which provides a funky LED light/nail dryer unit that allows you to create marbled effect stick-on nails using nail varnish (not provided, which is a shame) and water. It's a bit hit and miss but the more you practise, the better you get at seeing what works and what doesn't. The nails themselves aren't great - the sizes seem either too big or too small and they don't stick on properly - but I'd say it's more about having fun making them and being creative than actually wearing them. There are some great tutorials online (such as this one) which I would definitely suggest watching before you have a go yourself. 

If you have a reluctant reader in the family, of either sex, Juliette highly recommends the wild and wacky Ramion series of books by Frank Hinks. Ramion is a magical, mind-boggling place where anything can happen (and frequently does) and the most extraordinary characters suddenly emerge. In this collection of enchanting fantasy stories, three boys travel the realm of Ramion on incredible adventures with their cat Snuggle, escaping from insidious foes: the witch Griselda, who longs to eat them, and the Princess of the Night, a keen collector of real human sculptures. Rock of Ramion (RRP £16.99), the fifth collection, contains three stand-alone, fantastical stories. In Boris and the Dumb Skulls, Griselda’s pet skull and her guards the dim daft dwarves form a punk band and seek freedom from the witch. The three boys fight to recover their mother’s stolen dream in The Dream Thief, and rescue their rock loving father, who has become possessed by the spirit of Jimi Hendrix in Frankie and the Dancing Furies. It is all as crazy and unexpected as it sounds, and the wild and wacky illustrations add to the whole drug-free but totally psychedelic experience ! This edition got bonus points from Juliette because the gorgeous hardback book is bright pink and gold embossed no less.

Hopefully you've found some inspiration for last minute gifts if you're still struggling !

Disclosure : We received the products in order to write an honest review.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Madhouse recipe : Beef & pumpkin stew

I love it when you throw a bunch of pretty random things that you found in the kitchen into the slow cooker, leave it bubbling away while you get on with your day and lift off the lid to find an amazing dinner. It's a bit like magic - abracadabra, where did that come from ?! You may remember that I used up about 3/4 of our Halloween pumpkin earlier in the week in a twist on a Hairy Bikers' Caribbean Chicken & Pumpkin Curry. I used up the remaining pumpkin along with a pack of stewing beef from the freezer (straight from the freezer - it wasn't even defrosted when I tossed it in the slow cooker with gay abandon !) and some other odds and ends and it created a really hearty, warming, comforting autumnal stew. #KitchenClearout does it again !

Beef & pumpkin stew

ingredients :

a pack of stewing beef
2 onions
1/4 of a pumpkin
5 mushrooms 
3 potatoes
a bottle of passata
salt, pepper, garlic granules
2tbsp baharat, 2tsp Brazilian grilling spice (just use whatever you have - chilli powder, paprika, cumin, ...)

Chop the veggies and throw everything in the slow cooker. Cook on high for about 5 hours or low for about 7 hours. If you're around, give it a stir every now and then, but this isn't essential.

Taste and adjust the seasoning before serving with rice.

This was great for using up odds and ends that were cluttering up the cupboards and fridge - a bottle of passata from a Degustabox some time ago, the end of a tub of Brazilian spices and some more of my out of date baharat, plus the end of the pumpkin that was peeled and needed to be used up quickly - so it's definitely a contender for this month's #KitchenClearout linky.

Madhouse diaries : Festive Fun

We live in a smallish town just outside of Dunkirk called St Pol Sur Mer, but I've decided it should be renamed St Pol Sur Mer-ry Christmas  in the run up to the big day because they've just installed lots of illuminated figures in front of the town hall. We went along for a look today and they had a couple of mascots handing out sweets.

 As well as some very modernistic Christmas trees that reminded me of the giant pyramids of Ferrero Rochers at the ambassador's ball in the advert (!), there is a special post box to send your letters to Santa. Apparently, if you put your address on the envelope, he'll send you a reply.

 The kids wanted to sit on the giant chair but it was soaking wet as it was raining.

The reindeer was cute but looked a bit boss-eyed !

The giant teddy bear and penguin looked fantastic once the twilight started drawing in.

Even the town hall is lit up in the patriotic blue, white and red of the French flag.

There have been lots of other things going on locally lately, that we've been popping off to see but that didn't really merit a full blogpost. In some areas of France (including Flanders) and Europe, December 6th is St Nicolas's Day - some kids get their presents then rather than at Christmas, although most get just a small gift (if that) and open the rest on Christmas Eve. I always think it's a bit controversial because St Nicolas is accompanied by le Père Fouettard (the Father Whipper), who punishes naughty children or gives them coal while St Nicolas gives out satsumas and speculoos (cinnamon biscuits) and in Dunkirk, he is accompanied by Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), the Dutch version of Père Fouettard - there is a small protest about it being racist in the Netherlands (where he is more well known) but nobody seems to bat an eyelid here. Oh well, the kids enjoyed their biscuits, satsumas and hot chocolate, and Sophie posed with the much less controversial figure of Snow White ! 

We also went to a small Christmas crafts market a couple of weeks ago, which had a pets corner. We got to stroke some black Ouessant sheep from the Breton island close to Madhouse Daddy's hometown of Brest.

They also had this Lapin Géant des Flandres (a giant Flanders rabbit), which can grow up to 10kg in weight, but usually stops around 6.5-8kg. That's still a whopper hopper though !

Next were the donkeys ... you can decide if they're on the left or right hand side of the picture ! 

We'd never seen a white donkey before.

Or a chicken so white and fluffy that it looked like an abominable snowman !

I've already shown you the Christmas Parade and our wet and windy visit to the Christmas in Dunkirk decorations with the Madhouse grandparents. I wonder what else we'll get up to between now and the end of the year !

Country Kids
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