Review archive

My awesome t-shirt

Did you see my boobies on twitter recently?

No silly, not on show, in my awesome ‘Jem’ logo t-shirt.

I recently had a mail from a chappy called Martin at T Shirt Printing .net asking me if I wanted to review one of their printed tees and I said sure, because (as my oldies will remember) I have a bit of a thing about t-shirts.

I sent him my uber cool logo from Lilian, which will eventually also feature in a cool portfolio layout by the said same designer because she is my go-to chick for snazzy shit, and Martin printed it up on a personlised t-shirt (it might not have been HIM that printed it, obviously, but certainly he did the important talking-to-me stuff). And here it is… here I am in full colour glory:

wearing-new-tshirt

Shame about that flash though, eh? (And the very visible chicken curry I ate beforehand, mwahaha)

The t-shirt itself is good though. Nice, soft cotton and the print has been washed several times since it arrived in October with no visible damage to the lettering. I asked for an XL and it fits quite snug since washing, coming up a bit smaller than some of the other tees I own, but as you can see there’s plenty of room in there for chicken curries (and the boobies).

Now I just have to chat him up to get a hoodie, because I am getting a bit chilly in just my t-shirts at this time of year. ;)

The Bravado Embrace

The people at Bravado were so impressed by the description of my boobs in the review of their nursing tank top that they have been sending me lavish gifts ever since.

OK, that’s a big fat lie, nobody is that impressed by my boobs any more ;) I was offered the opportunity to test run a brand new bra though and given the state of some of my old ones I didn’t want to pass up on that!

I received the Bravado Essential Embrace nursing bra on quite a warm day so when I took it out the pack I was a little concerned that the material, which felt quite substantial between my fingers, was going to be too hot. I assumed the luxurious feel to the bra was at the expense of keeping cool, but I was totally wrong. I’ve been wearing the Embrace a lot over the past couple of weeks in temperatures 26-27 degrees with no complaints at all.

embrace-bra-side-supportOne of the features I like the most about the bra (which I’m surprised isn’t emphasised more on the website) is the side support ‘structuring’ — like underwiring but without the harshness of an actual wire — this prevents my boobs from making a break for it sideways which is a blessing when your boobs don’t exactly point forward and up any more (or in my case, ever)

The Embrace is truly a proper nursing t-shirt bra, completely smooth under t-shirts (which I live in) with a light padding to the straps. It stretches lightly so is ideal for those of us who start the day as one size and end it as another even after all these months of breastfeeding(!) What with the embrace, the nursing tank and my original Bravado that I bought when I was pregnant with Oliver I have a complete collection: something for pretty much every occasion.

The Essential Embrace is out today, so if the mental image of my beautifully restrained side boobs hasn’t put you off I would definitely recommend checking them out.

Shiny new Acer Aspire E1

I’ve been bending Karl’s ear recently about my laptop. After posting not so long ago on Snark about how it was just fine for a near-7-year-old laptop, I think I must have jinxed it. Suddenly it was creaking at the seams, not coping with what I was throwing at it. Of course, now I’m actually working instead of aimlessly browsing the Internet (although some of that too) the demands placed on it and my expectations have gone up. Despite an SSD upgrade last year and more RAM (advertised as supporting only 1GB but running happily with 6GB) it was chugging.

Cue the great laptop hunt 2013. My needs were thus:

  • Bigger resolution
  • Better graphics
  • Faster processor
  • Under £800

The last been my absolute highest can’t spend more than this budget (but, as it turns out, above and beyond what I needed to spend anyway!)

I had started searching through the Dell site, as my Vostro has been fantastic over the past 7 years; the Dell small business support being great on the ooh.. 2? occasions I needed it. But I was looking at around £500+ for a reasonable laptop and Karl thought he’d be able to better that.

Karl’s searching turned up a couple of contenders on Laptops Direct who seem to specialise in bargain laptop deals. Karl ummed and ahhed over the Acer brand laptops as it’s known for budget laptops (some of those linked are <£300!), until I pointed out that our netbooks are both acer and we’ve had no issues with those even though they’ve been dropped, beaten by the kids etc.

In the end I settled on the Acer E1 laptop because I thought it had the best balance of tech while still being the right side of cheap. Tech specs as follows*:

  • Intel Core i5-3210 2.5GHz with turbo boost up to 3.1GHz
  • Intel HD Graphics 4000
  • 15.6″ HD LED LCD
  • 4GB DD3 RAM
  • 500GB hard drive

* interestingly the site reports the processor as 2.3GHz, the sticker as 2.5GHz and control panel is reporting 2.6GHz – make of that what you will!

Thoughts so far

Considering Karl’s labelling of this Acer as a ‘budget’ laptop, I’ve been fairly impressed so far. It’s a plastic casing but with highlights in a glossy silver finish you wouldn’t spot this at a glance and visually, the little blue LED indicator lights are a lot more attractive than the great big orange things on my old Vostro.

I went to pick the laptop up to move it to my desk and was surprised by how light the machine is. I expected it to be heavy because of the size (it’s wide); I don’t know if it’s just a feature of modern tech (bearing in mind the age of mine) or this specific laptop but it’s surprisingly lightweight. I can easily hold it in one hand which I wouldn’t dare do with my old one for fear of snapping my wrist.

In terms of speed I’ve been blown away so far. Delays on my existing tech, like taking a second or two to display a folder full of images, are just non-existent on this. It sounds daft that the difference of a second or two could be that big a deal but I’ve really noticed it when ploughing through my huge todo list, trying to fit a million tasks into Oliver’s nap time for example. The 9 second boot time from hibernate to desktop is pretty damn tasty too.

Last but not least is the battery life. Although my laptops spend most of their life as desktop replacements so can be plugged in at the mains, if I’m moving around rooms to avoid sticky fingers and a drool trail, I like to know I can do so without dragging a cable behind me. When the laptop arrived I was transferring data, installing (and uninstalling) software etc for over 2hrs and still had more than 50% battery by the time I was finished.

I’m not blown away by the keyboard – I don’t like that the arrow keys are half the size of all the others – but I imagine that will be no more than a minor niggle once my fingers adjust to the slightly different layout. If that’s the only thing that I have to complain about by this time next week I’ll consider this a win.

Laptops Direct answered my email queries quickly and the laptop was despatched the day I confirmed my order. I’d be happy to recommend them for future hardware purchases.

Now all I need is for my clients to pay on time this month so I can pay for it ;)

I have a nursing tank top that makes my boobs look great

I couldn’t think of a better way to title this post because it’s such a huge occasion for my boobs to look anything other than … actually, it’s probably better for all of us if I don’t finish that sentence.

I recently got asked if I’d like to review a Bravado nursing bra or tank top. Now, I own a Bravado nursing bra already so it seemed like a no-brainer to accept something I knew I would probably like, especially as my existing bra has seen better days. However, I also have had my eye on nursing vest / tank tops to keep the chill off my jelly belly when I’m out and about (you’d think this wouldn’t matter in May – someone forgot to tell the weather fairies) or in bed and have the duvet pulled away from Oliver.

So anyway, I went for the Bravado “Essential nursing tank” which is basically just a vest / tank top (what’s the difference between a vest top and a tank top?) with nursing bra clippy things. They sent me the brown in huge-wobbly-norks size which I had to guess at because things have changed a bit on the chest front since Oliver was born. Damn kids.

At first I didn’t think it was going to fit because I was struggling to get into it, but once I’d got it over the twins (how many euphemisms for breasts can I fit into one post?) and I’d done the boob dance, everything was in place… and then I gave myself a black eye with the protruding cleavage!

Jokes, jokes.

Seriously though, it did something magical with my boobs. Instead of being somewhere in the vicinity of my knees, they were now UP and controlled and where they should be (in theory). And, because like that’s not good enough, I stuck a top on and the smooth cotton-spandex-y material smooshed my belly into something smooth and flat (ish) and I swear I looked like I’d dropped a dress size.

But I do have one complaint. Sorry, I’m trying to not be a miserable bugger here, but it’s got to get a mention: the supposed one-handed clips? Totally not intuitive at all. Most nursing bras, including my existing Bravado, work by lifting the clip up away from the bra. The tank top is the opposite, and you have to sort of tip the back of the clasp forwards instead. It’s hard to explain, and took me several attempts to get the hang of. I mean it’s not a deal breaker by any stretch of the imagination, but if you’re a new mum doing your first feed in public, you’ll want to have practised the unclipping part a few times so as not to look like a loon fiddling with your underwear (as I frequently do … look like a loon that is).

It really is a nice – lovely and warm – tank top though. I’m thinking of getting another one, possible the “Plum”, for when (if) the sun eventually arrives to pair with some jeans (get me, acting like I know how to match clothes up, haaaaaa).

We quite like Silly Slippeez

When I was approached about reviewing Silly Slippeez, the first thing that crossed my mind was “do these come in adult sizes?” I like to call it being in touch with my inner child. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on which way you look at it) they only do children’s sizes. My feet continue un-slippeezed :(

Anyway, intrigued, I requested a pair of the Dizzy Dinosaur slippers in Isabel’s size (Extra Small) and then waited, somewhat worried what Izz would make of them as she’s easily spooked at the minute (I’m assuming it’s normal preschooler behaviour to suddenly be afraid of ogres and monsters and thinks that don’t exist!)

I had to wait longer than usual to see if I was going to give my daughter nightmares because the mega snow last month caused them to get caught up at the post office. Boo!

silly-slippeez-in-the-box (more…)

Cleaning Scraggy Old Carpets

Is scraggy a word? Firefox isn’t flashing me the wiggly red line of doom…

When we moved into this house (the ‘omg mega debt’ house) there were carpets throughout. We made the decision to rip out the carpet in the front room and replace it with cheap vinyl; we did this for two reasons: 1) because the previous owners had a dog and the carpet was thick with dog fluff and 2) because with small children, the idea of scrubbing bodily fluids out of the carpet on a regular basis left me feeling a little nauseous.

Unfortunately we couldn’t afford to replace the carpets house-wide (see above: omg mega debt) so settled for cleaning those upstairs. Except that even borrowing Karl’s mum’s mega expensive Vax didn’t do much for the ancient, crusty carpet in Izzy’s room:

Mega stainage
Ominous stain of unidentified origin

(Clearly I have no shame, sharing these with you…)

So anyway, when I was asked if I wanted some Vanish spray for carpets & upholstery to review I figured I could give it a shot. Worst case scenario I have to do some cleaning (shudder) but best case I get rid of the dodgy stains for free (and free is my favourite price).

Back to the stains… I tried to use the stain removal advice that they’ve got on site (trying to do this properly, right?) but because I am not entirely sure of the origins of the stains I wasn’t sure what to pick (and for the record, I think they’re missing a trick not listing wee / poo / vomit on the guide as that’s what I spend most of my time cleaning up, I swear. ETA: they do! Under ‘body fluids’. Nice.) Enough brackets, where am I? Oh yes, stains.

So I don the rubber gloves and equip myself with the big squirty bottle & at this point I’m feeling all Kim and Aggie but I can’t find any feather boas to stick to my gloves :(

I applied the spray, waited about 1 minute (you’re supposed to wait 5 but I don’t have all day) and gave it a quick scrub:

No more carpet grot, no more ominous stain. Of course now the only problem is that the rest of the carpet is shown up by the clean patch. I’ll just have to make Karl finish it off, and then he can use the coffee stains guide to tackle the old sofa…

Rare Breed Meats and Cheeses

I’m currently snacking on a slice of roast Saddleback (the pig) from a meat box courtesy of Farmison.com; I’m not normally in the habit of chowing down on pork at all hours (no rude jokes, please) but I needed to cook the middle loin joint I received so roasted it alongside my meal this evening.

I don’t tend to buy pork (bacon being the exception to every rule) because I find it incredibly bland and dry. It doesn’t seem to matter how long you cook it — unlike cheaper cuts of lamb or beef which I can turn into delicious slow roasts — it seems to turn into a fibrous mulch in my mouth. Well, this Saddleback is certainly one exception… quick-roasted for juicy, tender meat and a nice layer of fat. Yum! I can only assume that this breed has certain properties that lend itself to a moister roast (the extra fat, I guess?)

The sausages in the box were equally delicious, and prompted no complaints from either Karl or Isabel who are both fussy about their saussies (usually preferring the cheap skinless fake sausages, as I’ve mentioned before); they also provided an easy swap for what should have been fish cakes in the week when I discovered my Dad (with us for a few days) didn’t like salmon.

I’ll swap out tomorrow’s planned ratatouille for the chicken and start October’s meal plan with a whole bunch of chicken-oriented leftovers (frugal food is the best sort). The other items in the box will finish the meal plan off nicely.

Farmison are a relatively new company supply award-winning organic and free range rare breed meats, cheeses and groceries from over 75 farms/producers to customers across the UK. See my meat box below:

Disclosure: although I received the Farmison box free, I was not asked to blog about it/review the contents – I offered.

Breastfeeding: Stories to Inspire and Inform

This week (24th-30th June) is National Breastfeeding Week. The aim of NBW is to raise awareness of the health benefits of breastfeeding, increase social acceptance and promote support for breastfeeding. This week also sees the publication of Breastfeeding: Stories to Inspire and Inform; a collection of stories from breastfeeding mums detailing their experiences nursing their babies, put together by Susan Last.

There’s something quite fascinating in reading how diverse breastfeeding relationships can be, even where mums have had multiple babies. This reinforces my own discovery that different babies are… well, different. Fascinating too that virtually every mum, no matter how ambivalent to breastfeeding they may appear to be at the start of each story, quickly becomes emotionally invested in this intimate act of primal bonding.

What is really reflected in each story is how important support is to the breastfeeding mum; it can’t be coincidence that mums who talk about pressure to bottle feed from family members are the same mums who talk about early cessation of breastfeeding. I can’t be more grateful that I have a family who sees breastfeeding, even “prolonged” feeding as one mum refers to it, as normal rather than something to be wrapped up as quickly as possible. One mum herself talks about this, reflecting on her own experience gathering support through Mumsnet which ultimately led to her becoming a breastfeeding peer supporter.

As an experienced breastfeeding mum (my own story could easily double the size of this book!) I found myself nodding away to various snippets, sharing out loud my own advice as if these mums could hear or indeed make use of my belated words of wisdom(!) Unfortunately I also found myself sighing and shaking my head at others… the obsession with ending feeding at 6 months, and myths about milk quality and quantity in particular. Thankfully (for my blood pressure) common myths are highlighted with an asterisk to advise readers that evidence-based knowledge disagrees and the issues are then covered in the “Exploding some common myths” section.

I definitely think this book is one to add to the library of texts I recommend to new mums, if nothing else than to offer reassurance that there is a huge range of what is ‘normal’ feeding. The honest sharing of real-life experiences does far more to encourage and support struggling mums than any clichéd “breast is best” slogan and that, to me, epitomises National Breastfeeding Week.

Well Hung Meat – 6 Months On

After a shaky start with The Well Hung Meat Company I didn’t think I’d be writing about them some 6 months on to tell you how much I’m enjoying having guilt-free meat (it’s organic, and the animals are grass fed) regularly delivered.

For starters, it goes to show that when a company makes an effort to reach out to customers to fix issues they raise that it can make the world of difference. Here I am, sat wearing my complimentary Well Hung Meat apron (what? it helps create a foody atmosphere. shut up.) whilst Googling for recipes for inspiration on what to do with the massive pork shoulder that arrived in my shiny silver meat box yesterday.

More importantly it has been a proof of concept for me: proof that I can afford to eat top quality meat without compromising on quality, simply by eating meat less often and making the most of what I get. I can’t remember the last time I only got one meal out of a piece of meat (and you should hear the ribbing I get from certain colleagues because of my left-over lunches, ha!)

I still find their website a little awkward to use — am in the midst of trying to edit my regular order to base it off their Household Staples box, but couldn’t seem to get everything off my old regular order first — but I think that’s the web developer in me being a grump. Plus, who knows, perhaps the sirloin steak I scoffed down last night with help my wonky iron levels… fingers crossed.

Going Back to Well Hung Meat

Some of you may remember that at the end of November I wrote an entry expressing disappointment with the organic meat box delivery company Well Hung Meat.

Within a couple of days of writing the post, Adam from The Well Hung Meat Company got in touch via the comments and passed on his apologies for the experience that I’d had and as a goodwill gesture, credited my account with points equivalent to the ‘missing’ roasting joint and the steaks that I’d not been happy with. He came across as both polite and genuine in his responses; a credit to the company. :)

Happy to give them a second chance, I placed a regular order with WHM and I received my second meat box in December. I must admit that my memory fails me in the exact contents (what can I say, December is a busy month) but the roasting joint, roughly 0.8kg of beef topside, was fab. It was the first time I’d done a roast beef (normally stick to chicken) and I spent a lot of time on all the trimmings (roast potatoes, proper gravy, yorkshire puds – from scratch! etc) but it was definitely worth it.

I wish I could say the same about the steaks, but again they were cut so uneven I found it hard to get them cooked ‘just right’. I can’t help but think I’m being COMPLETELY anal about this but as a steak (cooking) newbie I need a helping hand with these things.

My next Well Hung Meat box is due tomorrow, so you can probably extract from that I’m happy to continue with a regular order for now … I am planning on trying the Riverford boxes at some point (if nothing else but out of customer loyalty; I do love my Riverford veg) but I’m glad this little meaty experiment has proved positive after all :)

Not Impressed by The Well Hung Meat Company

This post has several follow-ups:

I am also now a regular customer of Well Hung Meat.


Minds out of the gutter, please. I’m referring to Well Hung Meat the organic meat box delivery company, nothing more sinister.

I don’t think I’ve talked much about my ‘food beliefs’ before but I generally try, as in most things in life, to be ethical. When it comes to meat, that means buying good quality cuts from animals that have been looked after; generally free-range and/or organic (although these two are not mutually inclusive). I would rather buy less often and support good farmers than eat meat every day. With that said, pregnancy has given me a huge appetite for meat and so I need to explore my options.

I did a little research and happened upon Meat in a Box, the blog of one Jenny Lau, who is on a mission to cook and eat meat sourced only from UK meat box delivery schemes. She had blogged about an offer on Well Hung Meat and, not one to resist the pull of a freebie, I set about ordering a small selection. See here, a screenshot of my order receipt including reference to the “free roasting joint with first order” promotion:

well hung meat order

You can imagine my disappointment, then, when my meat box arrived on Friday last week with no free roasting joint. The “seasonal cuts” (sounded mysterious) was little more than 300g or so of diced pork. Further, I was worried that my inexperience with cooking a good steak would get in the way with the rather expensive (even for organic) rump steaks, so I sought advice from an expert which made absolutely no difference whatsoever; because the steaks were badly cut/uneven they ended up overcooked and chewy on one end and virtually raw on the other.

I contacted Well Hung Meat on Friday about the lack of roasting joint and await their response. In the mean time, I’ll be placing my next meat box order with Riverford who’ve been providing my veg since I signed up in 2008.

Update (29th November, 2011)

I cooked my final steak last night and found the result much better (more tender, more taste). I don’t recall doing anything differently, but the meat itself was cut much more evenly than the first piece so I think I got a more consistent result. Unfortunately, this does little to improve my overall impression of the company having now received a reply regarding the missing roasting joint:

You do need to be set up as a regular customer to have received that promotion. If you would like to do this I will ensure the free joint is included in your next box.

As this was not made clear on either the website or the blog entry pushing the promotion, and indeed the cart accepted my code without problem (as seen in my receipt above) I feel somewhat misled. I am not impressed with my experience of ordering through the website, or indeed the meat I received. I somehow doubt I will be placing a regular order with Well Hung Meat any time soon.

Hungry?

At the end of last month I decided to try a meal-plan month. Plan your family meals for a set timespan, buy the necessary foods and don’t waste money on food that won’t get eaten because you’ve changed your mind when you get home from work. I’m surprised by how well it’s working; I expected to get fed up with the lack of spontaneity but in reality it’s been a blessing. If I know what I’m having ahead of time I can prep in advance and save time (and the leftovers make excellent work lunches). We’ve only cheated once (bought pizza instead) and that was because I was feeling naff.

By total coincidence I was approached about a week ago to see if I’d be interested in pushing a press release for “Hungry?“, the new innocent cookbook. I’m not (despite my age-old love for innocent), but the opportunity to get a freebie is something else entirely…

The book arrived at work, brightening up an otherwise crap afternoon (disclaimer: not indicative of usual feelings towards work). Couldn’t wait to get it home so I could figure out why it weighed so much! Turns out that as well as the 100 or so easy to cook recipes it also contains buckets of beautifully designed — and educational — spreads (that’s design speak, don’t you know):

5 reasons to eat in season

things to do in 15 minutes

And those are just the beginning… the book is absolutely ram-packed with the usual innocent one-liners and cute witticisms. The majority of recipes contain at least one portion of your “5 a day”. The pictures are fab and there’s even a binary caption under one (GEEK LOVE).

I was most fascinated to read about how the Chorleywood way has reduced bread to little more than a fatty bread-flavoured lump (paraphrasing) and how Howies “Doh Boy” campaign wants to change that. Having used the bread recipe that accompanies the text — which is just flour, yeast, salt and water .. oh, and time — I am now considering making my own bread by hand on a weekly basis. Domestic goddess? Damn right.

So next month the plan (pun!) is to carry on with the meal plans, and to integrate some of the innocent recipes. I had the book itself lined up for a give-away, but am selfishly thinking of keeping it to myself. Research purposes, you must understand. ;)

Photography by Creative Review. Borrowed because mine sucked ass.

PS. In case you’re wondering, tonight it’s toad in the hole :)