Blooming Delicious by Sophie Wright - Book Review

Blooming deliciousDelicious, Beautifully Photographed Recipes for Glowing Health, From Pre-Conception to Post-Baby

When professional chef and highly successful catering business owner Sophie Wright discovered she was pregnant, like many-mums-to-be, she decided to take a closer look at her diet. However, instead of keeping all her wonderful recipes to herself, she made the decision to publish them to help others also improve their diets from pre-pregnancy right up until post-baby.

Blooming Delicious is just that - a beautiful book bursting full of tasty, nutritionally balanced recipes, which, with the help of top nutritional therapist Henrietta Norton, ensure that both mother and baby will be carefully nourished. Alongside each section of the book Sophie has included lots of interesting information about what is happening developmentally to both mother and baby, before introducing many relevant recipes for the stage at which the mother to be has reached.

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The Five O'Clock Apron by Claire Thomson - Tasty Meals for Hungry Families

 

IMG_3089[1]
The Five O'Clock Apron

Claire Thomson works as a chef in her busy Bristol restaurant, Flinty Red where she is co-owner. She is also the author of one of the loveliest recipe books I've had the pleasure to review, The Five O'Clock Apron: Proper Food for Modern Families, a book which tackles the never-ending dilemma facing many parents every evening - what to feed her own three hungry young children! 

This is something I completely relate to as I have four children each with very different tastes of their own and much as I enjoy trying to feed them healthy home-made meals, often it's easier just to reach for a bag of potatoes, a few carrots and a packet of fish-fingers or chicken nuggets.

Many evenings I lament the fact that I rarely get to experiment with food these days as more often than not someone will find fault and spend the entire meal picking out minute slices of onion or pushing the tenderly prepared chicken to one side. Not quite what I want to see when I've laboured for half an hour peeling, chopping, cooking and wishing I hadn't bothered when I see the resulting pickiness!

As you might imagine therefore, I was delighted to have a beautiful book full of wonderful fresh ideas for mealtimes and all put together by a professional and highly successful chef! 

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Catch-All Lentil Soup

For my first meal I flicked through the book, which is teeming full of absolutely gorgeous photos of highly tempting meals, feeling spoilt for choice. Should I try the delightfully fresh Summery Fattoush, the temptingly colourful Piperade or perhaps go for an old favourite such as Egg Fried Brown Rice? In the end I settled on a rather lovely sounding Catch-All Lentil Soup, one of the recipes in the book which didn't have a photo but for which I knew I did have all the ingredients.

 I set to work following the well-written and cohesive instructions. As I chopped and measured and finally began cooking the soup, the smells in my kitchen were most definitely stomach-pleasing and the resulting soup was a great success with all the family, much to my delight. The children used words such as tasty, delicious, scrummy and yummy when describing it for me and hubby and I thought it tasted beautifully rich and very moreish. In fact it was thick, flavourful and filling, like a well-made stew and could definitely be served as such if you are careful not to add too much liquid.

Already I have marked out several pages for meals to try over the next few days and weeks and am planning to make Roasted Crisp Chickpeas this afternoon for the kids to snack on before our dinner which this evening is Green Pea Pesto served with Pasta!

Continue reading "The Five O'Clock Apron by Claire Thomson - Tasty Meals for Hungry Families" »


A Little More... Vitamin-Enriched, Naturally Flavoured Fruit Drinks! Perfect for Little Top-Ups

 

A Little More... Vitamin C
Sophia enjoying A Little More... Vitamin C

It's that time of the year again when all the dreaded bugs and colds begin to re-surface... and with 4 children of my own, I always dread the inevitable spread from one child to the next!

Like many parents, I do my best to ensure they eat a good range of healthy food with a plentiful supply of fresh fruit and vegetables. However, I do often struggle to remember to get them to take a daily multi-vitamin as backup. Therefore, I was interested in the a new range of vitamin-enriched, naturally fruit flavoured, sugar-free drinks by A Little More which I came across recently.

Although I am fortunate in that my children love our tap water (and in Northern Ireland we are lucky that our tap water tastes good), I am very aware that this is not always the case and know lots of people buy bottled water instead.

I also know many parents who tell me how lucky I am that my kids drink tap water as theirs won't touch it! On a typical day, my children fill their water bottles and bring them to school to have with their lunches but I'll happily admit there are times when I feel a bit bad that whilst many of their friends are sipping on fruit juice, mine aren't. The reason - I worry about them rotting their teeth with all the excess sugar that is often added to so-called fruit drinks.

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The Engineer (An Ode to Samsung)

A short time ago I wrote about an ongoing problem I've been experiencing with my Samsung American Style Fridge Freezer. Following on from this, I was compelled to write this little poem in a somewhat futile attempt to vent my frustration at the passing of the proverbial buck! Enjoy!

The Engineer (An Ode to Samsung)

He arrived at the house
With His Bag of Tricks,
He umm'ed and He ahh'ed
And He jauntily whistled.

He opened the door
And gasped in surprise,
At the water inside
Puddled as at low tide.

He pulled and He heaved
But He kept up His tune,
Trying to look like He
Knew what He was doin'!

With a wink of His eye,
He announced He was done,
The problem was mended
Because He had attended!

Zooming off in His car,
His work now completed,
The fridge rumbled to life
And continued...
Undefeated.

Water, water everywhere,
The Engineer had not a care.
As He penned His report,
Blaming the Owner,
Samsung smiled...
And The Engineer?
Well, He called with another.

By Sinéad Hoben


Samsung American Style Fridge Freezer Model RSH1DBRS - Nothing But Trouble

Samsung American Style Fridge Freezer Model RSH1DBRS
Looks can be deceiving! Our Samsung American Style Fridge Freezer Model RSH1DBRS certainly looked the part, but performance wise has been a huge disappointment!

Around 6 years ago we decided to buy a new kitchen from B&Q. That was our first mistake, but since B&Q rectified some of the problems we experienced I'm not going to get into it here.

Our second mistake, a much more regrettable one in hindsight, was deciding to purchase a Samsung American Style Fridge Freezer (Model RSH1DBRS) from B&Q without doing any research on the product beforehand. Foolishly, since we had previously purchased two Samsung televisions as well as several mobile phones and never had any problems with any of them, we assumed the fridge freezer would be trouble-free. And anyway, how much trouble can a fridge cause?

It turns out this particular fridge freezer can and does cause a lot of people a lot of trouble. In our case it wasn't even just minor trouble as it has pretty much destroyed some of our kichen panelling and part of our solid oak floor!

So, let me begin at the beginning...

The Samsung American Style Fridge Freezer looked stunning on the shop floor. It had a lovely brushed stainless steel finish and promised all sorts of luxuries such as chilled water and crushed or cubed ice at the push of a button. The temperature for both fridge and freezer could be set digitally depending on the content and time of year. Best of all, it was frostfree so wouldn't need defrosting. As a mother, that was quite a big deal for me!

The Samsung American Style Fridge Freezer (Model RSH1DBRS) sounded like a real whizz of an appliance and consequently we decided we'd go ahead and buy it as fridge freezers are something which supposedly last a long time so we felt it would be worth investing in one a little more expensive than other ones on the shop floor. We also felt that as we were having our kitchen installed by B&Q installers it made sense to buy the appliance from them so they could build around it.

Our kitchen was due in February. Our new fridge freezer arrived in November and was carefully placed in our garage by the B&Q team who left it in its packaging for protection until the rest of the kitchen was ready to be installed. So far, so good.

Before long, the big day arrived and it was time for the kitchen to be installed. It took a few days, but in due time it was ready for its new fridge freezer which was slotted into position and which was our pride and joy. The whole family thought it was wonderful. For me, the fact the freezer was so roomy meant my garage freezer became almost reduntant overnight - although thankfully I held onto it and if you read on you'll find out why...

The children loved pouring themselves icy cold water and my husband and I loved how sleek our new appliance looked. It just set off our kitchen perfectly.

Until...

One morning I walked into the kitchen and was somewhat surprised to find a puddle of water pooled on the right hand side of the refrigerator. Mopping it up, I got on with my day without thinking too much more about it. That is, until the same thing happened the next morning and the following morning and many more mornings after that!

I had a look inside the fridge and saw a little trickle of water running down the back of it. It was gathering under the vegetable drawer and then gradually making its way along the base towards the door and dribbling out onto the floor. Investigating further, I noticed frost inside an area at the back of the fridge which has a screw right inside it. Needless to say I was a little alarmed, but thinking perhaps a little piece of food had blocked something, I thought perhaps I should defrost my supposedly frost-free appliance.

Defrosting was a major inconvenience as I had to remove all the food from the freezer and place it in my spare freezer in the garage although, as mentioned above, thankfully I had kept that freezer. With the day-to-day fresh food in the fridge I just had to hope it wouldn't spoil before the defrost was completed.

24 hours later I switched my Samsung back on and thankfully it appeared fine. I once again cleaned up the water all over the base of the fridge and off the floor and refilled my Samsung American style fridge freezer.

All appeared fine for a couple of weeks and then it started pooling water on the floor again.

This time I was very alarmed. My Samsung American Style Fridge Freezer (RSH1DBRS) was less than two years old and we had spent so much money on it that I couldn't afford to write it off. So, far too late I googled my appliance only to find out to my horror I wasn't the first to experience this problem with this appliance. And the more I read the more worried I became.

However, there was a glimmer of hope. BBC Watchdog had become involved after numerous problems were reported to them. They had negotiated a extension to the warranty which meant the refrigerator was now covered for 5 years for certain problems.

I phoned Samsung. They were very helpful. They agreed my problems were covered and sent an engineer out free of charge. He looked at it and told me he had to move a part, the thermostat I think, from the left side to the right side of the fridge. Apparently it was a design fault and was a known problem so Samsung was making modifications to the appliance. I didn't really care as long as it worked and it did... for a while.

After a year or so the old familiar puddle appeared once more. I phoned Samsung again and this time noticed the person I dealt with wasn't just so friendly, he was even a little abrupt with me, but somewhat reluctantly he told me they'd send an engineer. The same engineer arrived and expressed surprise it was playing up again but he got to work and again the refrigerator worked for a while.

However, it wasn't too long before it all started up again. For around the past year I've been mopping up more puddles. I have tried countless 48 hour defrostings which is no fun with a husband and 4 children needing fresh milk, cheese, ham, chicken, butter etc for lunches and breakfasts. Nothing has worked and as time has passed my kitchen floor and cupboards are being slowly destroyed.

Eventually, and somewhat hesitantly given the grumpy response I had previously experienced, I contacted Samsung via Twitter this time. I was subsequently directed to a web form but the response this time has been unhelpful in the extreme. 

After spending quite some time filling in a rather detailed and extensive form, I detailed my experiences in the further details box as below:

Since the above appliance was purchased, we have had several episodes of water leaking from the refrigerator. These issues were repaired under an agreement to extend the warranty due to known faults with the refrigerator as reported on by BBC Watchdog. However, once again the refrigerator is malfunctioning and for several months now we have had water leaking and pooling on the kitchen floor. Despite switching off the appliance for several 24 hour periods the problem persists.

In addition, since we purchased the refrigerator, the leaking water has caused damage to our oak floor and our new kitchen units at floor level. 

We are of the opinion that the refrigerator was never fit for purpose and as such we have consumer protection with the Sale of Goods Act 1979, The Consumer Protection Act 1987 and the Limitations Act 1980.

I have uploaded photos to illustrate the problems and resulting damages.  Please can you advise what to do next as otherwise I feel I will be left with no alternative but to contact Trading Standards, Watchdog and the Ombudsman. 

At this point I feel further repairs are not a satisfactory outcome and would like either a replacement or refund as this has been an ongoing problem. 

Thank you,

Sinead

As you can perhap tell from the above, I had done some research to find out what my legal rights in the UK are and I also felt strongly that given the problems we have encountered that it is pointless getting another engineer out as it had only led to inconvenience and more problems for us in regard to countless defrostings, our water-damaged cupboards and water-damaged floor.

Here are the uploaded photos:

Samsung Fridge Freezer RSH1DBRS
Water damage under my fridge.
Samsung Fridge Freezer RSH1DBRS
Water damage behind my fridge.
Samsung Fridge Freezer RSH1DBRS
Water damage to my kitchen.
Samsung Fridge Freezer RSH1DBRS
Water pooling at base of fridge.

 

Samsung Fridge Freezer RSH1DBRS
Rust streak and water inside fridge.

 

 

 

 

The following is the exchange of messages I received from Samsung. Note how every email is dealt with by a different person and how, to add insult to injury, I am constantly addressed as MR Hoben, this despite the fact I filled in a form ticking I was a MRS!

Response from Samsung Electronics UK

13 Jun 2014 

Hello Mr. Hoben,

Thank you for your email. Your customer reference number is **********

In regard to your recent email in order for us to assist you further please can you provide the following information:

Model Number
Serial Number

I look forward to your response.

Kind Regards,

Nikki
Customer Service Representative
Samsung Electronics UK

From: Sinead Hoben
Sent: Fri 13. Jun 2014 
To: SAMSUNG

Subject: Re: Faulty Side by Side Refrigerator

Hello Nicky,

I did already include both of these on the form I filled in on the website. However, here they are again:

MODEL NO: RSH1DBRS
SERIAL NO: 891442BQA00902R

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Warm Regards,

Sinéad Hoben (Mrs)

Response from Samsung Electronics UK
4 Jul 2014

Hello,

Thank you for your email. Your customer reference number is **********.

In regards to your query can you provide the following:
Contact number
Full address
Once the above have been provided I will be able to asses [sic] the query further.

Kind Regards

Amin
Customer Service Representative
Samsung Electronics UK

(Note - I also had already provided this information on the form I had filled out but by now couldn't be bothered pointing this out!)

From: Sinead Hoben
Sent: Fri 4. Jul 2014 
To: SAMSUNG

Subject: Re: Faulty Side by Side Refrigerator

Hello Amin,

My contact number is *********** and my address is **********

Warm Wishes,

Sinéad Hoben


Response from Samsung Electronics UK
8 Jul 2014

​Dear Mr. Hoben,

Thank you for your email. Your customer reference number is **********.

Sorry we were unable to get in contact with you. Please try these following troubleshooting steps,

1. Make sure that there is enough ventilation between the fridge freezer and the wall (05-10cm)
2. Ice might be building up at the back of the fridge, please unplug the fridge to defrost the ice. (RS21, RSH1 follow for a repair process directly without troubleshooting)
3. If it is a plumbed in fridge freezer, make sure that water hose is connected properly to the water supply.
4. Check water pipes at the bottom are connected properly.
5. Make sure there isn’t spillage in the unit.
If these troubleshooting steps don't work then the appliance will need an engineer's visit.

Kind Regards,

Paul **********
Customer Service Representative
Samsung Electronics UK
www.samsung.com/uk

(By now I was just about ready to scream given that I had already tried all of these suggestions as suggested before filling out the online form!)

From: Sinead Hoben
Sent: Tue 8. Jul 2014 
To: SAMSUNG

Subject: Re: Faulty Side by Side Refrigerator

Dear Paul,

I have been in my home all weekend and all day today awaiting your call. Did you even read my initial email in which I detailed the problems we have experienced with this appliance, the actions we have taken or look at any of the attached photos? If so, I find your email very unsatisfactory, even bordering on offensive. I am quite happy to blog about my experience on my website BreastfeedingMums.typepad.com and I will also be happy to use social media to publicise my experience. I will not purchase Samsung appliances again and will dissuade family and friends from doing the same!

Finally, I will be contacting Samsung's Managing Director (Andrew Griffiths), Trading Standards, Watchdog and the Ombudsman with a copy of my complaint and the subsequent responses I have received.

Yours sincerely,

MRS Sinéad Hoben

Response from Samsung Electronics UK

Silence...

Am I surprised? No.

All I can say now is this whole experience has been infuriating to say the least. I am angry that my wonderful Samsung American Style Fridge Freezer was and is basically a wolf in sheep's clothing and that I am not the only one who has had problems. To make things even more worrying it is now making occasional hissing noises and having removed the back cover to have a look I was shocked to see a pool of water sitting in a little tray alongside various rusty looking leads and pipes. I am now worrying it may be a fire hazard or general safety hazard as we all know what happens when you mix electricity and water!

Although in the past I was happy to spend money on Samsung products, given my experiences with this appliance I will never purchase another Samsung product again. I genuinely feel this product should have been recalled as soon as problems with it became apparent. I am also disgusted by the inadequate responses I have received in relation to my latest complaint. As a consumer, I don't think it's too much to ask a supposedly reputable company to replace a product that has been so problematic since shortly after purchase, particularly since they were already aware of the problems when I made my purchase!

Have you had any problems with your Samsung American Style Fridge Freezer? If so, I'd love to hear about it so feel free to comment below.

I'm not giving up and if Samsung won't take my complaint seriously then at least I can warn others to stay away from this particular model of fridge freezer! As I stated in a recent Twitter post, "Looks can be deceptive. Very deceptive..." Always, always take the time to do your homework before making any major purchase or you might just find you have a very long time to regret it! 


HardWall Takker - Every Home Needs One

Hardwall Takker
Hardwall Takker
Hardwall Takker Kit
Hardwall Takker Kit

I brandish my Hardwall Takker like I'm on a true mission. Pencil in one hand I mark my target, HardWall Takker in the other, I approach with confidence. Placing the HardWall Takker on my pencil mark I carefully turn the handle and just moments later the hole is drilled. Lifting the concealed flap on the handle I slip a little Takk from it, place it into the hole and affix it with the aid of the matching slot on the HardWall Takker. That's it. The tack is in place, I slip a picture hook onto it and I'm free to hang whatever I like, indoors or out. Easy to operate, silent in operation and holding up to 12kg it's a brilliant addition to any home or workplace.

Until a few days ago I hadn't heard of the HardWall Takker - a surprise in itself as I'm usually on the lookout for anything handy that will make my life a little easier. However, now that I have one, I'm wandering around my house lamenting the fact I haven't got enough things to hang up! Yesterday evening I hung a candelabra I bought 20 years ago and never got around to hanging up - it looks like it was made for my bathroom. I also hung up a little soft bird decoration on my kitchen door, a tiled picture on my hall wall and today I drilled into my son's wardrobe door so he has a hook on which to display his sporting medals!

Hardwall takker candelabra
Newly Hung Candelabra

I am truly loving it and even my children are fascinated as they watch me tackle jobs that until yesterday I'd never have attempted. Meanwhile, my husband looks on in awe as the realisation dawns I don't need to rely on him for putting holes in the walls anymore!

Soft Decoration
New Hung Soft Decoration

The HardWall Takker comes from the same people who developed the original Takker, a simple stapler style device that inserted a tiny but remarkably strong Takk into plasterboard, plaster, wooden surfaces and aerated concrete. However, HardWall Takker allows you to drill into many more, much harder surfaces such as brick, concrete, mortar and even ceramic tiles. As a result, it enables you to hang all mannner of things from mirrors to picture frames, plant pots, kitchen equipment, bathroom accessories and so on. No longer is there a need for various tools like hammers and drills, this versatile little device does everything you want it to when it comes to holes in walls!

The Hardwall takker is receiving many positive reviews from celebrity stylists, interior designers, DIY gurus and if you check out Amazon you'll see many more ordinary people also gushing about this wonderful invention.

Tiled Art
Newly Hung Tiled Art

Costing just £24.99 (inc p&p in the UK and Ireland) the Hardwall Takker kit includes:

1 x Hardwall Takker

1 x Multipurpose drill bit

24 x Hardwall takks

4 x picture hooks

4 x Canvas Hangers

2 x Medium Multipurpose Hooks

The Hardwall Takker is available from Decco Stores, Amazon and also directly from www.Takker.com.

I honestly am astonished by how effective this tool is and believe every house should come with one! Buy one now for yourself, a friend or just someone who deserves a little gift. I guarantee you won't be disappointed. I know I wasn't!


Alpaca Children's Socks by Perilla - Making Cold Feet a Thing of the Past!

Perilla- Alpaca-Kids-Boot-SocksUK company Perilla's Alpaca short ribbed socks are "the most comfortable, cosy warm socks in the world" - so says my daughter, Tara, who, believe me, loves her new socks! She's the sort of child who feels the cold much more than the rest of our family and when I asked her if she'd like to try these for me, her grin said it all.

Made from 75% baby alpaca and 25% nylon, these alpaca socks for older children are incredibly soft and with a cushioned sole and hand linked toes, they are very nice to walk on - I know because I tried them out before passing them on to Tara! They keep feet toasty warm outdoors and when wearing them indoors, although they are not slip resistant, I felt like I was walking on air and really couldn't feel any cold floor beneath my feet. 

Some people, me included, find natural wool too prickly for comfort, but with alpaca wool this is not a problem as alpaca wool has a naturally low prickle quality! The wool also has hollow fibres making it more insulating, and therefore warmer, than wool.

I'm size 5 in socks and although the children's socks are available in shoe size UK 12½ - 3½, they actually fit me very well. However, being made for children, they're perhaps a little on the short side for adults. Thankfully, Perilla also cater for both adults and younger children too and have the most gorgeous little alpaca baby booties and alpaca bed socks for mums. In fact, the baby booties and bed socks would make a fantastic and much appreciated gift for any new mum or mum to be.

Continue reading "Alpaca Children's Socks by Perilla - Making Cold Feet a Thing of the Past!" »


The Slightly Annoying Elephant - A Fun Interactive Ebook for Toddlers by David Walliams

Recently I had the good fortune to review a fun new ebook by David Walliams. With two of my older children aged 8 and 10 already huge David Walliams fans, I was interested to see how Sophia, my 2 year old, would take to the author's latest story, his first picture book.

Illustrated by the amazingly talented Tony Ross, this special edition ebook includes lots of fun animation, videos features and even an introductory video by the author himself!

The-slightly-annoying-elephant-ebook
The Slightly Annoying Elephant eBook

The Slightly Annoying Elephant (Special Edition) is a story about a young boy who goes to the zoo and ends up adopting an elephant. The elephant visits the boy's home and turns out to be a rather unwelcome house guest!

I'll not spoil the story, but needless to say, as with all of David Walliams' books, it's a wonderful tale, full of the quirky humour we associate with the author and my daughter absolutely loved it. In fact, it wasn't only Sophia who enjoyed the story, but her sister Sarah and her brother Jack also got almost as much enjoyment from it.

Unlike paperback books, this ebook is extremely interactive. In fact, it is crammed full of so many brilliant activities that it's hard for me to do them justice!

At the beginning you are presented with a choice of having David Walliams read the story to the child or your child can either read it themselves or have it read to them in the traditional way! But, in our house, every single time the choice was for the author to read the story. He has a great way of making even the most ordinary of sentences sound funny and this resulted in my children giggling together as they listened.

Each page of the story also offers children the ability to touch items or characters on the page to see silly things happen and this was perhaps my favourite aspect of the book. It quite literally brings the story to life and I can't even begin to imagine how much enjoyment this particular feature of the book would have brought to me when I was a child!

Aside from the story, the activity sections include:

Arty Elephant - a colouring in section which allows children to colour pictures of the elephant and to incorporate the finished piece into the story if they want to. My older children loved this as they could then see their own artwork hanging on the walls or appearing on the television in the story.

Jumbo Workout - a musical fun game which gets children to tap on coloured lights to make the rather funky elephant boogie. Sophia really loved this and nodded her head and danced along to the music. It's also a fun way of introducing or reinforcing the names of colours.

The Elephant in the Room - a jigsaw section with an easy, medium and hard jigsaw. I must admit to being slightly amazed at how quickly Sophia understood how to drag and drop the pieces into the right places! This is actually her favourite section and it would be lovely to see more jigsaws added to the ebook.

An Elephant Never Forgets -  a card matching game featuring characters and scenes from the story.

Trumpet Chorus - tapping on numerous elephants hats and trunks the reader creates their own own tune.

Sophia easily worked out how to navigate and use each of these features and found her way around the ebook with ease.

Overall, The Slightly Annoying Elephant has become a firm favourite in our house. In fact, Sophia enjoyed it so much that on the first day we got it she refused to allow any one else in the family to use the iPad. Since then she has worked out where it is stored (inside iBooks) and at every opportunity runs off with my tablet and starts the book up. On our first day of reviewing the book I managed to video her in action (see above!) refusing to let her sister Sarah have a go. You might even notice her kissing the elephant a few times throughout!

The Slightly Annoying Elephant ebook is published by Harper Collins and is available from iTunes, priced at a very reasonable £3.99.

 


Chimney Sheep vs Chimney Balloon - Choose How You Keep Your Home Draught Free this Winter!

Chimney Sheep vs Chimney Balloons : A Personal Comparison 

Living in the UK we are fortunate in that our climate is pretty mild most of the time. Summer-time tends to be warmish to hot on a really good day and winter is cool to pretty chilly most of the time. Of course, there are also unusual weather events that happen now and again and the last couple of winters have been more severe than normal. For this reason, plus the rising costs of home heating oil, I, like many others, have been trying to save on energy costs and looking at ways to avoid heat loss and control draughts in my house.

With four children and a husband who tend to leave doors lying open every time they leave a room, I've grown weary of shouting at them all to close doors behind them and although they ignore me most of the time my two year old has taken to getting up after anyone who leaves the room and closing the door for them whilst stating in her baby voice, "Keep heat in!" So at least my heat-saving efforts aren't totally in vain!

Last winter, after reading numerous online forums for information on retaining heat in the home, I started following through on some of the advice I came across. For instance, I'd known a lot of our double glazed windows were leaking heat so got a man in to fix them for me. Whilst this made quite a difference, we were still burning through quite a bit of oil. I fixed draught excluding tape on the door frames of some ill fitting doors and this too made a difference.

However, I couldn't help but notice that in the midst of all the heat-saving and draught excluding I was doing, there was one huge gap I couldn't do much about - the chimney. As with all chimneys, ours was sucking up all the heat in our living room and allowing draughty cold air to enter. I'd sit and gaze at it in the evening and wonder if there was any way I could seal it up temporarily. I like a blazing fire occasionally, particularly around Christmas time, and although it was an option I simply couldn't bring myself to get the chimney permanently sealed. But, whilst researching ways to prevent heat loss up chimneys I somehow stumbled across a product called a Chimney Balloon. Now, whilst Chimney Balloons have apparently been around for quite a few years, I'd never heard of them before and to be frank, it seemed an ingenious idea to me - simple, straightforward and relatively inexpensive compared to some of the other measures I'd taken to prevent heat loss in our house. According to their sales page a Chimney Balloon would stop heat loss and prevent cold draughts and it all looked and sounded very encouraging.

I'll admit right now that I almost bought one before wondering if I couldn't just make one myself. No harm in trying, I thought, so, I got an old pillow, wrapped it in a couple of black binliners and shoved it into the chimney. Next morning the living room was properly warm, perhaps for the first time ever. I thought I was a genius. Not only had I discovered a rather wonderful idea online that could be used, but I'd saved money by making my own.

Over the following months I couldn't help but feel happy with my warm room... but it wasn't long before I noted a few problems. For instance, I'd stuffed the pillow so far up the chimney that I knew it would be a difficult, not to mention probably very dirty, job to take it out. Ah well, we'd just not light the fire. (So much for lighting the fire occasionally then!)

Problem number two then reared its head - what if my husband or I forgot about the pillow and lit the fire? Would we be able to get the pillow out before being at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning? Yikes! The Chimney Balloon I had looked at had a little dangley device hanging from it to warn the householder to remove it before lighting the fire, so maybe I could somehow affix something to my pillow - if I could ever get around to it!

However, as the weeks turned into months something else much more immediately concerning happened. Our house got damp and not just a little bit damp but a lot damp. Mould was beginning to grow in the bedroom above the living room and windows in the living room and bedrooms became increasingly prone to condensation. It took me quite a while to put two and two together and to realise my pillow was the offending cause of this but thankfully I did realise that the chimney was so well sealed that ventilation was suffering in a big way. Our poor house couldn't breathe.

So, with much effort I removed my home-made chimney draught excluder and was horrified to discover the outer bag contained at least a full mug of water and the pillow inside the inner bag was mouldy. Yuck! No wonder our house had become so damp.

There and then I decided to bite the bullet and invest in a proper Chimney Balloon. Going online again to properly research Chimney Balloons however, I quickly realised that despite all the benefits they weren't entirely without their problems. Although many people commented on how wonderful and innovative they were, others lamented that they found their balloons deflated easily meaning they had to be re-inflated often - something that really wasn't very appealing to me.

Others alleged theirs had burst and again, I was worried. If I'm going to be spending money on a balloon that goes into my chimney, the last thing I want is it bursting on me! Some said their Chimney Balloons corroded due to the tar on the inside of the chimney or amplified rain noise whilst some simply found them difficult to put in and take out again. I even came across stories of balloons being sucked up chimneys on windy days! 

Chimney Sheep Draught Excluder
A Chimney Sheep Draught Excluder

Well, I was a little concerned as to whether or not a balloon would meet my needs and as often happens during online searching I began looking for alternatives to balloons.

Before long I somehow found myself on a website selling Chimney Sheep! Immediately I was intrigued. You see, last year I'd done a lot of research on wool quilts for beds. I had read about how wool is a great insulator but it also allows for ventilation. This was important for me as I wanted a quilt that wouldn't cause my husband and I to get too hot but which would also keep us cool in hotter summer months. I had been really fed up with the way our previous quilt bunched up and needed a good shake out every morning and wool keeps it shape so that was favourable to me too.

I decided maybe a Chimney Sheep would work for us and set about researching it. Straight away it appeared to be a very interesting concept indeed. Yes, Chimney Balloons came first and deserve much credit for developing such a fantastic new product, but the inventor of the Chimney Sheep, Sally Phillips, had taken on board a lot of the problems the balloons presented and came up with a whole new take on the product.

Basically, a Chimney Sheep is made from 100% Herdwick wool (thick coarse fleece that was traditionally prized in the carpet industry) and cut to shape depending upon the flue it will fit. Once you have measured the inside of  your chimney, something you also need to do for a Chimney Balloon, then you simply place the Chimney Sheep inside and apparently never have to worry about it further. Because it's made of wool it won't deflate or burst, it can be easily removed without the need to deflate it and it can even be  machine washed. It can then be safely stored for the times when you do need it and if, after years of use you find it is showing signs of wear and tear, you can simply replace the head. The old head is biodegradable making it an even better choice for the conservationists amongst us! Best of all, because it's made of real wool your room can breathe easily.

I was sold.

I ordered my Chimney Sheep and it arrived within a couple of days. Removing it from its packaging I was pleasantly surprised at just how lovely it looked and felt: soft, cosy and dense - almost too nice to be hiding in a chimney!

Now, normally I get my husband to do the messier jobs around the house, but I couldn't wait to try out my Chimney Sheep. I read the instructions, followed the directions and within a few minutes my Chimney Sheep was installed. I did have to put it up further than I'd anticipated and then pull it down a little to adjust it but this is all advised in the instructions. And that was it! I walked off and within just one day noticed our room was considerably warmer again. Not just as warm as when I had a pillow up the chimney, but I can't feel any drafts and although I can hear the slight sound of traffic outside, this is reassuring as I now know the chimney isn't completely blocked - there's still good ventilation so no risk of dampness but much less heat loss.

In fact, the only problems I encountered with the Chimney Sheep were measuring my chimney to get the right size Chimney Sheep and then some sneezing for a little while after I'd put it in the Chimney. I have allergies and the sneezing may have been due to the wool or the soot I'd dislodged. In any case, I stopped sneezing once the room had cleared of any allergens and I've had no problems at all since.

(By the way, I watched the very helpful video on the Chimney Sheep website to help me measure my chimney and to select the right size for our chimney.)

Chimney Balloon Draught Excluder
Chimney Balloon Draught Excluder

After installing my Chimney Sheep and being very pleased with its ease of use and more importantly its functionality, I thought it might be interesting to compare a Chimney Balloon with the Chimney Sheep directly rather than based on hearsay so I went ahead and ordered a Chimney Balloon.

Again, as with the Chimney Sheep, my Chimney Balloon arrived very quickly after the order was placed. It arrived well packaged and upon opening I was impressed at how small it appeared when rolled up. However, I must admit I found the tubing a little disconcerting. Attached to the Chimney Balloon was a rather odd looking contraption which I quickly realised was an attachment for inflating it. However, the instructions warn that you must only use this attachment with a hand or foot pump. Since I don't own either of those, I was instructed to remove the attachment and use the long plastic enclosed tubing and to blow into it to inflate it myself. I don't know why, but I'd assumed it would come with a small pump!

In my opinion, if you are intending on inserting and removing the Chimney Balloon regularly then a pump would be a good investment but it will inflate (if you'll excuse the pun!) the overall cost of the Chimney Balloon considerably. I'm also not sure I like the idea of having to blow into the same tube every time I want to re-inflate my Chimney Balloon not to mention there's also the added risk of losing the tubing which I imagine will be a bit of an inconvenience.

Anyhow, despite the inflating and tubing issues, the Chimney Balloon looks and feels surprisingly sturdy. I had envisaged a sort of glorified plastic bag but the plastic balloon is actually very strong and well made and like the Chimney Sheep, it promises to save on energy bills by preventing heat going up the chimney and cold air coming into the room in which it is placed whilst ventilation is not adversely affected.

Importantly, both products promise complete safety even if you accidentally light the fire as the Balloon will shrivel and melt and the Sheep will alight and disintegrate. Both also prevent soot and bird droppings from falling into the fireplace or onto the hearth - a particular problem on wetter days in our house!

Having unpacked and read all the instructions on my Chimney Balloon, I immediately worried it would be a little more difficult to place in the chimney than the Chimney Sheep considering that the Sheep is simply unwrapped, has an extension pole attached and is placed in the chimney.

With the Chimney Balloon you have to partially inflate it so it feels like a floppy pillow, then carefully place it inside the chimney before continuing to inflate with either a pump or via the mouth tube. The instructions warn not to inflate it to "drum tight" but that there should still be a little flexibility. I must admit I wasn't looking forward to removing my Chimney Sheep so soon after placing it in my chimney but I needn't have worried as it came out easily enough and although a little dirty, the mess was minimal. I placed it safely in my garage and then following the instructions on the Chimney Balloon got to trying it out.

I removed the short black rubber hose which is for use with a foot or hand pump and easily attached the mouth inflation tube as instructed. Then I opened the tap on the balloon and partially inflated it which again was a straight-forward enough task. I situated the balloon into the chimney and continued to inflate it. Whilst this is all very much what you would expect with a balloon type device, I did consider how anyone with breathing issues might manage and realised they'd most likely require a pump for use with the pump attachment, confirming my earlier consideration about the potential extra cost involved if a pump was necessary. Anyway, as I blew into the balloon I kept checking how inflated it was in case I over-inflated it. Once satisfied that the balloon was correctly inflated, firm to the touch but not taut, I checked its placement and was happy that all appeared as it should. 

The Chimney Balloon needs to fit snugly inside the chimney as the makers warn that any rubbing will damage it and possibly lead to potential problems, and this is probably why some people have found theirs to have burst or deflated.

Again, as with the Chimney Sheep, there is a little handgrip to which you attach a reminder tag to help prevent you or another family member lighting a fire in the hearth. It also makes it easy to remove when necessary. 

The Chimney Balloon has a curve at one end to help with ventilation thus preventing your chimney becoming damp and, going back to my own attempts at self-sealing my chimney, this is reassuring to know.

As with the Chimney Sheep, I could hear a little noise from outside with the Chimney Balloon in place but it didn't rain heavily during my testing period for me to tell if rain noise would be a problem. However, I can't imagine it would annoy me too much - I think I could cope with a little rain noise as long as the house is warm and draught free.

After leaving my Chimney Balloon in place overnight, my living room was still snug the next morning so the Chimney Balloon, just like the Chimney Sheep, certainly fulfils this need.

Regarding the online comments that balloons can sometimes be sucked up the chimney by the wind, the makers suggest in their instructions that you tie a piece of string from the balloon handgrip to the grate to help prevent this happening. Whilst this is good advice and shows that the manufacturer is listening to their customers, it would be nice if they'd included a small ball of string with which to do this - I, like many people, am not always able to find string when I need it and in fact didn't get around to attaching any string. Fortunately there was no strong updraught so my balloon stayed in place but it does seem like a bit of an after-thought to me and perhaps in the future the makers will address this aspect.

Upon removing my Chimney Balloon I was happy that it didn't cause any problems with deflating and although a little dirty, a quick wipe down with a damp cloth soon sorted that out.

In conclusion, whilst the Chimney Balloon was the original concept for temporarily blocking chimneys to exclude draughts and prevent heat loss, and has been purchased by many more people than the Chimney Sheep, I feel the Chimney Sheep is my personal preference. In fact, I've already replaced it in my chimney now that my comparison between the Chimney Sheep and Chimney Balloon is over!

Yes, the Chimney Sheep is a relative new-comer and in some ways is riding the waves of the Chimney Balloon's success, but I do feel it is simply an easier product to work with. Perhaps in time it will reveal flaws of its own, but for my money I'm happier with my Chimney Sheep. It's made from lovely natural wool, is easy to place inside and remove from your chimney, is washable, flexible and ventilation is not an issue. On the other hand, the Chimney Balloon is made from flexible laminated plastic, is also removable but is not just so flexible once inside the Chimney. It too is ventilating but in a different way so there's not a huge deal of difference between them.

As I've already said, I prefer my Chimney Sheep to the Chimney Balloon but someone else might feel a Chimney Balloon has advantages over a Chimney Sheep that I just haven't thought about or realised yet!

Pricewise, the Chimney Sheep that I ordered cost £30 plus £3.00 postage whilst the same size Chimney Balloon costs £22.20 with free postage but bear in mind that a hand or foot pump may be required if you are not able to breathe into the mouth ventilation tube for any reason.

If you are interested in finding out more or purchasing either a Chimney Sheep or a Chimney Balloon you can do so via their websites - http://www.chimneysheep.co.uk/ and http://www.chimneyballoon.com. Both are also available from selected online retailers. 


Fretting over Baby Names? Never Fear, Best Baby Names for 2014 is Here!

Best baby names 2014Choosing a baby name, you'd think it would be pretty easy really. Go through a few lists, check out family names, find one that you like and bingo, your baby has a name, right? Wrong. For many prospective parents there's a lot more thought and consideration goes into choosing a name for their precious newborn and in some cases it takes a lot longer than most would imagine.

Take me, for example. As a mother to four children, three girls and one boy, I spent a long time choosing each and every name, with my husband of course allowed an input too! In fact, so long did I spend deciding upon our first baby's name that my husband ended up making the final decision. It was more or less the same story with each of our children, but the worst of all was picking our last daughter's name just a couple of years ago. It took me a full two weeks to finally settle on Sophia and even after deciding on it, I almost went through with officially changing it as I just couldn't settle myself as to whether or not it suited her. Thankfully, it grew on her and she is a perfect little Sophia now, but I must admit, knowing we were not intending on adding to our family probably made it harder for me to choose as I knew this was my very last chance.

Recently I received a copy of Best Baby Names for 2014 by Siobhan Thomas and it would have been very welcome in 2011 when our daughter arrived. Containing A to Z directories of 8000 traditional and modern names and their meanings, the first section deals with choosing the right name for your baby and has lots of useful tips about considerations such as matching first names to surnames, personal associations with names, pronunciation and spelling variations, choosing middle names, how to deal with hurdles such as your family, friends or partner disliking your choice, nicknames, common associations with names and even checking initials to ensure there are no unintended bloopers.

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