Monday, 10 December 2018

The Christmas Library 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger

best jigsaw puzzles as Christmas gifts, Christmas gift ideas

"I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library"
Jorge Luis Borges

"It was good to walk into a library again; it smelled like home."
Elizabeth Kostova, The Historian

I know that feeling, for me a library is also a Paradise and a home. I used to work in the University library as a library assistant, and I was also lucky to work (i.e. do research) in the best libraries and archives in the world in my "past" life, aka before children. I love the smell of books, the feel of them.
I remember my first library, where my Mum used to take me as a young child and where I picked volumes of fairy tales and picture books.
My school library with an old pre-revolutionary edition of the encyclopedia in many volumes which was out of reach for pupils, and oh, how I coveted to look at it...
Moscow, Oxford, Yale and other University libraries with countless treasures... I spent many hours, reading and writing, and daydreaming too.

When my love of books and puzzles is combined in one, it's a double pleasure.

The Christmas Library 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger is a beautiful festive riot of colours.

Christmas-themed jigsaw puzzles

The shelves of this imaginary library are stacked with winter and Christmas-themed books. You will find The night before Christmas, Merry Elves, The Gift of Magi, The Christmas Tree, The Snow Queen, The Nutcracker and many others.

Christmas jigsaw puzzles

Some of the books are not so obvious a contender for the Christmas display, like The case of the Blue Carbuncle, that is until you remember that the narrative takes place in London before Christmas.

Incidentally I love, love mystery books and also ghost stories set at Christmas time,and always treat myself to a couple (or more) seasonal books every year.

Christmas gift ideas

The puzzle is a pleasure to work on. The unique book covers allow you to find the matching pieces quite easily. The book covers have that nostalgic look about them.

best jigsaw puzzles for Christmas

The puzzle measures 70x50cm when completed. It's suitable for ages 12+.
Like all Ravensburger puzzles, it's made from strong premium grade cardboard, with linen finish print to minimise the glare on puzzle image.

Christmas-themed puzzles

The artwork for this puzzle was done by a talented American artist Aimee Stewart. She specialises in digital painting and photo manipulation. Her eclectic style is inspired by music and literature, and her love of music is reflected in this puzzle. 
The Nutcracker and the Plum Fairy book covers make me hum to myself Ta-da-da-da... (I love how Pentatonix perform The Dance of the Sugar Fairy, such wonderful vocal interpretation).

For me The Nutcracker is a big part of Christmas and the new year's eve. I loved it as a child. And even now, when I hear it on the radio, I am doing a few dance moves in the kitchen (when noone is watching).

So many beautiful memories, thanks to this splendid jigsaw puzzle.

The Christmas Library will make a great Christmas gift for any jigsaw puzzle fan or a book lover.

Christmas gift ideas

Disclosure: I received the puzzle for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are my own.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Photo diary: week 49, project 365

I don't know about you, but I'm quite behind with Christmas menu planning and presents-buying.
Now that my husband is not eating meat, all my foolproof main course recipe ideas for Christmas and New Year's eve are not going to work any longer. And though I subscribe to the Veggie magazine and have several vegetarian books, I can't find a recipe which would look like a festive showstopper and also could be enjoyed by the whole fussy family. I'm not keen on the nut roast, it just doesn't appeal to me. The time is ticking, and I need to decide soon.

When my Mum was here, we did a couple of trips round the local vintage and charity shops looking for the costume jewellery, as an old school friend of mine collects it. We found a few pieces that we though she might like, but I also bought myself this vintage 1950s brooch, which I'm now wearing on my black coat.

Monday morning was grey and miserable, with a nasty little drizzle.
It didn't even feel like a morning.

On Tuesday morning Eddie woke up with a headache, and when I checked his temperature, it was high. No school for him, and no playdate after school, which Eddie was rather upset about.
I baked some apples for our lunch. These are some of the boxes with apples I keep in the cold summerhouse.

Still no school for my kid on Wednesday. I had a big order from Ocado delivered including some of the future presents for friends and teachers. The big Black Forest panettone will be our Christmas dessert.

Having taken Eddie to school, I popped to the Polish deli to look for chocolate cottage cheese that Eddie loves. While waiting for the shop to be opened, I was looking at the bare trees.

It was the school fayre at Eddie's school yesterday. I promised to take him, and his friend tagged along. I'm not a fan of making money off children. To take part in the activities you have to buy a bag of tokens for a fiver. You cannot just buy one token or two, and then we didn't know what to do with all those tokens. You have to spend real money for the food stall.
The boys had fun, but I was in a bit of a grumpy mood.
We walked back home and looked at the Christmas lights in town.

The local shopping centre is running a competition - you need to take a selfie with the Xmas bauble decoration in the background and tell how many lights you think there might be.
Eddie and I have been taking some selfies, none particularly good, but then my child said it was too embarrassing.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

psychological thriller

I really should avoid charity shops with the most tempting book shelves. Just yesterday I couldn't resist buying a couple of paperbacks to add to my ever-expanding stash of books to read. On a plus side, all the paperbacks I read go back to the charity shops or first to a friend with whom we share a passion for thrillers and ghost stories, and then to the charity shops.

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell was one such impulse purchase. I had this book for a while, and finally got to reading it. And finished in two days, it was utterly addictive.

The plot is shifting between the narrative taking place now and ten years earlier, when a 15-year-old girl Ellie simply vanishes on the way to the library.
She is her Mum's golden girl, with all the dreams and plans a girl of her age might have. She seems to have it all, a loving family, a handsome boyfriend, she is a bright student.
The trace goes cold, none of the searches and appeals on Crimewatch bring any results. Ellie has disappeared, and her family has no closure.

Since Ellie's disappearance, her mother Laurel is existing in the twilight. She cannot function properly, and neglects her other two children. The chasm between her husband and her is growing, and finally he moves away and finds another woman.
Children grow up and move out. Laurel's life is a mere existence. The food becomes a plain fuel for her, she doesn't care what she eats, it's all a matter of calories. She has her routines and chores, but she in a limbo.

Then one day, as she is sitting in a cafe, she meets a charming stranger. Floyd is American, with an intriguing background. He offers Laurel a taste of his carrot cake, and just like that, she is smitten.

Starting a new relationship, she is amazed at herself, how it transforms her outlook on life.
Floyd makes Laurel feel alive again. All too quickly they become lovers, and Laurel meets Floyd's 9-year-old daughter Poppy.
Poppy is precocious and pretty, and alarmingly a spitting image of Ellie.
The relationship between father and daughter is creepily Oedipal.

The secrets and skeletons in the closet become exposed.
Will Laurel ever find out what has happened to Ellie?

This is a gripping, creepy and disturbing story. The main plotline might be a little far fetched, and there were some technical questions about reproduction that I had.
It reminded me of the book I read last year - The Visitors (<---see my review).
You guess where the plot is going pretty early on, but you want to know why and how. The writing is strong, especially when it comes to the poignancy of mother's grief.

The characters are believable and multi-faceted, apart from the main villain, whose credibility raises questions. She obviously has mental issues, and that doesn't sit well with me. Why is it always people with mental health problems who are portrayed as psycopaths in thrillers? There is always a childhood trauma or tragedy behind, and I'm not overly keen on this dose of ersatz psychology.

It's a suspenseful psychological thriller that will hold your interest to the last page.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Ravensburger Porsche 911 R 3D jigsaw puzzle

Christmas gift ideas

"The Porsche 911 design has remained unchanged since 1963. This is what I call true creativity."
Jean Michel Rene Souche, Knife Paintings: Lozengist Movement

"When I grow up, I will drive a Ferrari or a Porsche." (Eddie)

Do the sleek lines of a Porsche 911 R make your heart beat faster? If you love this elegant classic car, you will enjoy a splendid Porsche 911 R 3d jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger.

The Porsche 911 R puzzle is built on a scale of 1:18, and is a thorough and detailed miniature of the famous car.

Christmas gift ideas

Christmas gift ideas

In the last few years we have acquired quite a big collection of 3D puzzles from Ravensburger. Most of them are on display on book shelves, and they last well (if you don't knock them down).
The Porsche found home on the shelf next to the 3D American flag sneaker jigsaw puzzle.

Christmas gift ideas

The puzzle comes in a sturdy box and includes 108 puzzle pieces, plus the plastic car base and a set of wheels (which you also need to assemble).
All the puzzle pieces are numbered in the back and have a mini arrow, which shows where the next piece should be attached. The pieces slot into each other with ease and hold well.

Christmas gift ideas

It is aimed at children from 10 years onwards, but my 8-year-old did the job well without any help. (I guess he takes after me, a puzzle addict). While he worked on the puzzle, I watched him, whether he needed my help, but No, he managed perfectly well on his own.

There is an illustrated guide enclosed on how to assemble the car, with the instructions for the wheels and overall design.

As Christmas is approaching rapidly - blink, and it's here - and you're still looking for special gifts, consider this excellent jigsaw puzzle for any jigsaw puzzle fan, or someone who admires classic cars.

Christmas gift ideas

Disclosure: We received the puzzle for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Winter skin tips: #MyAquaphor Challenge

When I was a child, winter used to be my favourite season, with deep snow, skating rinks, Christmas tree and twinkling lights, lovely treats and gifts, TV all night until the early hours of the morning on the New Year's eve. Winter could be great fun.

On the other hand, cold weather with blustery winds could be hard on your skin, leaving it at dull, flaky and dry.
Last month has been relatively mild. My Mum stayed with us for a month, but a week ago she returned home to a proper cold and snow.
While we were lucky not to have any snow yet (though there was a small scattering of snowflakes once last week), the heating is on in the house, as it gets too damp and cold.
This combination of the damp air and harsh winds outside as well as the heating inside could do a lot of damage to a delicate skin.
A contrast between cold outdoors and warm indoors could leave your skin stressed.

One of the solutions is not to keep the heating maxed up to the hilt. I know many people swear by the humidifiers, but I haven't noticed any difference, having bought a digital humidifier a few years ago. We tried it for a while, and since then it just sits in the box in the attic.
My mother-in-law uses the ceramic humidifiers which are hanging on the radiators in all rooms. They look like long-ish narrow rectangular containers, which she tops up with water. They seem to work quite well, and they are more environmentally-friendly.

Another way of dealing with the problem of dry skin is to up your intake of liquids. You need to drink plenty of water. Alas, my favourite latte or hot chocolate is not considered to be a great contribution to hydrating. If you find it hard to drink plain water, add a bit of lemon juice, fresh mashed berries or grated ginger. Tea is also fine.

And finally: moisturise, moisturise, moisturise.
My personal tip is to keep a hand cream or any good moisturiser by the front door, so you don't forget to use it as you go out.
This way it reminds me to apply the cream to my sons' hands as well as my own.

My boys are 16 and 8, but both have a skin prone to dryness and eczema.
In the cold weather the skin on the cheeks and hands might get dry and rough. Gloves would help, but of course, the cool guys don't wear gloves. Every time I go to collect Eddie from school, most kids run out without any coats, hats or gloves (while parents are all fully-dressed in warm clothes).

We've been battling with eczema bouts for years with our elder son, we have tried many creams, lotions and ointments. Most of the prescribed medication in big tubs (like Diprobase, Aqueous cream and such like) didn't help at all, if anything, the skin was getting more and more irritated and inflamed.

Recently BritMums  asked bloggers if we'd like to try Eucerin Aquaphor Soothing Skin Balm.
The range is suitable for all ages including babies.
Eucerin is a well-known family skin care brand. It was first introduced in the States in 1925, and has since become popular around the world.

Formulated with only seven ingredients, Aquaphor is considered to be gentle enough for such skin issues as a highly irritated skin and sensitive baby skin including the nappy area.
I think that was the main reason we first came across Eucerin all those years ago, when my elder son was a baby and we lived in the States. A friend who had a baby a bit older than our Sash recommended it.

You can use it on dry, cracked skin, cracked heels and feet (my winter problem), dry hands and cuticles and baby sensitive skin. After several applications, the skin appears to be soothed and better protected.

It is fragrance, colouring and preservative free.

It could be applied in the morning and used during the day, as it is a lighter cream.
It can be used as a skin moisturiser and also as a skin balm for hands, nails, body, face and even lips. It is not greasy, and works well, leaving skin softer and smoother.

To sum it up, it's great to have a product that is multi-tasking, i.e. it treats so many skin irritations and is also suitable for grown-ups, babies and older children.

It is scent-free. It soothes rough patches. I tried a little bit on my lips. It is similar in consistency to some of the nipple creams that I used in the past, especially after Eddie was born and my breasts were really sore, it is less sticky than those creams, and is of a less dense consistency, making it easier to spread on the skin if you are using it as a barrier cream when going outdoors with your child.
It lasts quite a long time, as you only need a very small amount to apply.

Have you tried Eucerin Aquaphor Soothing Skin Balm?

This post is an entry for the BritMums #MyAquaphor Challenge, sponsored by Eucerin. Discover the benefits of Eucerin

Disclosure: I received an Aquaphor Soothing Skin Balm for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are my own.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Photo diary: week 48, project 365

With the busy festive season ahead, I'm already starting running in circles like a headless chicken. So much to do, and so little time left to buy and organise everything. Eeek...

Last Sunday was a Stir Up Sunday, and I've prepped up the dried fruit and nuts with lots and lots of apricot brandy.The smell in the kitchen was divine. I didn't actually bake the cake until a few days later, but it's done now, all wrapped in paper and foil.

Stir Up Sunday

Eddie's become addicted to Monopoly game. He keeps pestering his father to play with him, and would happily spend the evening doing just that.

A foggy morning and a brisk walk through the flood fields on the way to school.

Eddie's school has a great scheme for children who have parents and/or siblings with special needs and disabilities - The Carers' Club. Every term they have a special activity for children. This time it was a visit to the Eynsham nursery to meet Santa. They watched the film, had popcorn and snacks and got little gifts. Eddie was pleased with his festive hat and thrilled to miss the school day in favour of the trip.
I think it is such a fab idea. Children like our Eddie have to live in the circumstances where the needs of their siblings often come first, and they have to adapt. Eddie never begrudges his elder brother, when we need to change plans or are not able to participate in something that would not suit Sasha.
And it's great that the school takes it into consideration and supports children like my younger son.

A festive Hazelnut Praline latte in Costa - very nutty indeed. Had a lovely chat with my friend on Thursday morning.

There was a Twitter comp yesterday, where you had to upload a snap of yourself in specs with your favourite book. Here I am, channeling my inner Minerva McGonagall.

Today Eddie and I went to see Ralph Wrecks the Internet.Gosh, two hours later I felt like I was wrecked myself. It would have been better cut in half. And all the funniest bits were already shown in trailers.
We popped into Waterstones and admired The Diary of a Wimpy Kid bunting. I so need one in my life.

12 days of chocolate (ends 12 December 2018)

It has become almost a tradition that I host a chocolate stash giveaway during the beginning of advents.
Don't know about you, but I'm super excited about it. I choose all the different chocolate bars and little bits and bobs to add to the overall prize. In a way, this is the prize I'd be very happy to win myself, so hopefully you will enjoy my giveaway as much as I do.
I love reading all the comments.

First of all, let me wish all my blog readers a very merry Christmas, and a happy New Year!
December is the most anticipated month for many compers, as it brings an avalanche of daily prizes.

As a self-confessed chocoholic, I do love chocolate gifts, and my seasonal giveaway reflects my love of chocolate. I give you Twelve days of Chocmas.

Every day I will offer you a chocolate gift and a little something too, edible or decorative.
For 12 days I will be revealing a part of an overall prize, and each day there will be a new question.

As stipulated in the T&Cs below, the number of winners will depend on how many questions the first randomly selected winner will answer. If they answered all 12 questions, they get the whole lot. If they choose to answer less questions, they'll get less prizes, and the remaining part of the prize will go to the next randomly selected winner.

Day 1:
Today's chocolate bar is a festive treat from Divine - Smooth Dark with Cranberries & Hazelnuts + a cute jute tote from Seasalt.
Question for Day 1:
(I've been squirreling different little Harry Potter-themed gifts for my HP-mad son, and can't wait to see his face when he opens his presents.)
Which gift are you most anticipating giving someone this year?

Day 2 (2 December):
Another Divine chocolate bar - Smooth Milk with Gingerbread Crisp + a set of Christmas-themed erasers.
Question 2: What is your favourite Christmas dessert? (Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, trifle, Yule log, panettone or something completely different?)

Day 3 (December 3): for me Christmas is not Christmas without a taste of marzipan. So, today's chocolate bar is Ritter Sport Marzipan + a mini Yankee candle Christ,as Eve.

Question 3 : 
What are you going to watch over Christmas - Dr Who, Strictly, Poirot, Call the midwife or something else? 
(I can't wait to see The Midnight Gang, my son and I loved the book)


Day 4 (December 4):
I love smooth Godiva chocolate, so for day 4 I'm offering you a Godiva Masterpieces Ganache Heart with Belgian Dark Chocolate bar + a Grow Your Very Own Christmas tree kit which you can buy in Oxfam.

Question 4: 
Do you have any funny amusing memories related to Christmas?

(When our Eddie was in the nursery, he came home singing the song they learnt "Mary had a baby", and sang to me "the people came on the train to wash him in Bethlehem")

Day 5 (December 5):
A novelty hot Chilli Chocolate + a bauble filled with truffles.

I haven't tried this chilli chocolate, so not sure just how hot it is.

Question 5: Please tell me your favourite terrible Christmas cracker joke.

Here is mine: Why did nobody bid for Rudolph and Blitzen on eBay? They were two deer.


Day 6 (December 6):
Willie's Cacao Venezuelan Sea Flakes Milk Chocolate + Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse dry oil.
I use this oil and love, it leaves skin smooth and smells lovely.

Question 6: Christmas jumpers - do you love or loathe them? Will you be wearing one this Christmas?

(I got myself a Christmas jumper with a sparkly cat, sitting on a wrapped box. It even has a little bell. My Mum saw it and said it would be better if I removed the bell. I told her that was the best bit, and she completely missed the point.)

Day 7 (December 7):
Cadbury Chopped Nut chocolate + 12 days of Christmas gift tags.

Question 7:
There is a voting for nation's favourite carol open on Classic FM (vote and you could win a spa break). What carol will you vote for?

I'm torn between Gaudete and God rest ye, merry gentlemen (especially performed by Pentatonix).

Day 8 (December 8):
E.Wedel Milk chocolate with peach and cranberry + Yves Rocher red apple moisturising lipstick.

Question 8:
Do you ever watch the Queen's speech on Christmas day (is it a tradition in your family, or do you have other things to do)?


Day 9 (December 9):
Lindt Excellence a Touch of Vanilla white chocolate bar + Yves Rocher radiance mask.

Question 9:
If money was not an issue, and given an opportunity to travel anywhere in the world at Christmas time, would you still opt to spend it at home, or would you prefer to have an exotic location for your celebrations?

I sometimes think I'd love to rent a snug little cottage with all mod cons in a seaside village in Cornwall for a holiday week, with views over the sea, or travel to Sweden or Norway.

Day 10 (December 10):
Aero festive sharing bar + a Nivea Raspberry Rose lip butter

Question 10:
Do you have any family Christmas traditions?

Ours are pretty much the same as in most families - we leave a carrot, a glass of milk and a mince pie (or an Italian pastry when we're in Italy) for Santa and Rudolph on Christmas eve.
When Eddie was little, I once removed the pastry away with the little plate, "pretending" Santa has visited us. Eddie ran to the fireplace in the morning and accused Santa of taking the plate.


Day 11 (December 11):
Cadbury Dairy Milk Oreo + a festive no.7 nail polish

Question 11:
Who is your favourite celebrity chef? And what would you like them to cook for you for Christmas, given a chance?

My choice would be between Nigel Slater and Giorgio Locatelli. I don't mind whatever they would choose to cook for me, I'd most likely just sit and admire them.

And so we are on the last day of our chocmas, I hope you enjoyed all my questions.
Day 12 (December 12):
The last chocolate bar is Godiva Roasted Almond and Honey + sparkly M&S ear loops.

Question 12:
Not a question as such - just wish a merry Christmas to a poster above you.

You might not see comments beyond December 6, please scroll all the way down, and click on Load more, then all the comments will show, and you will see the latest comments. 

All the comments to this post are being published, please do not worry, and I read every single one of them.

The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.

Please leave your name or Twitter name in the comment if you login as Anon, or I will never know who commented.

There will be one or more winners, who will receive all the goodies appearing during the twelve days of the giveaway. If the first winner has replied to all twelve questions, they will receive the whole lot.
If the first winner answered less questions, they will receive the prizes from those days only.
The remaining prizes will be allocated to the next winner(s).
I hope I don't have to send twelve different packages though.

The more questions you answer, the bigger your prize will be.
Only one entry per person is allowed (per day).

If you missed a day, you will have a chance to catch up on any other day until the end of the giveaway, as long as it comes in a SEPARATE comment.

Please note, if you answer 12 questions in one comment, it will count as 1 entry.

Once the winner is selected randomly, I will count their replies.
I will contact the winner, who will have 7 days to reply with their address details. Due to the nature of the prize which I hope to dispatch in good time before Christmas, the time limit to get back to me is shorter than usual.
All the prizes are provided by me, and are in no way sponsored by any brand.
This is my way of saying Thank you to my blog readers.

I will be posting the package(s) at my own cost.
If the winner's away when the parcel arrives and is not able to rearrange the redelivery, and if by some chance it is returned to me, please do not expect me to cover the cost of the postage again.
If that happens, the prize will be taken to the local food bank (foods) and charity shops (non-perishables).

I will send the packet by Royal Mail, tracked and to be signed for.

The giveaway will end on the 12th of December at midnight.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Butternut, sweet potato, pepper and lentil traybake

vegetarian winter meals

Gosh, wasn't it a granite-grey and miserable day yesterday? The rain was relentless, and it was so dark, even in the early afternoon. Late autumn and winter make a perfect time for comfort food.
Hearty vegetables and pulses, cooked as casseroles or tray bakes, are great for damp and chilly days.

vegetarian comfort food

4tbsp mild olive oil
1 pack of butternut & sweet potato (350g)
1 pack of exotic mushrooms (200g)
1 red onion
1 carrot
1 sweet pepper
a handful of cherry tomatoes
a handful of fresh herbs (rosemary and thyme)
1 tin of Amy's Kitchen

In a small frying pan quickly fry a finely chopped red onion and carrot (about 3-4 minutes). Add the mushrooms, and cook for another couple of minutes. Set aside.
Place the cubed squash and sweet potato, as well as sliced sweet pepper and tomatoes in a deep ceramic dish/tray, drizzle 2tbsp of oil and mix well. Put the tray in the oven preheated to 180C.
Roast for about 20 minutes, then add the mushroom and onion mix, herbs and lentil soup.
Place the tray back in the oven for another 10 minutes.
Serve hot, with basmati rice.

easy vegetarian meals

easy vegetarian meals

In this recipe I used a tin of Amy's Kitchen Organic Lentil Vegetable soup, which was part of the latest Degustabox food box. If you don't have this particular brand of soup, any chunky lentil soup will work.