Monday, 25 January 2016

Bake Box: The New Baking Subscription Box & A Polka Dot Swiss Roll


Bake like a pro and collect an expert tool kit with Bake Box, the new subscription box for bakers. 

This month I was lucky enough to be sent the first ever Bake Box from the Bake Box subscription service. I was really excited to see what it was all about, and to be able to report back to you my lovely readers, giving you the low down on it. 

Basically, with a subscription to Bake Box you'll receive one box every two months - each box will have an over-arching theme (January's is 'Spots & Stripes') and will contain:

-At least 6 specially curated bakeware items - Each box contains a specialist piece of equipment that you'll need to create each of the 6 amazing new recipes - all based around a specific theme. Two of the pieces will be innovative bakeware pieces so you can stand out from the crowd. 

-Six full colour recipe cards - Each box contains 6 fully illustrated cards. The cards create a clear guide to baking the perfect cakes and desserts, and decorating them in a truly unique way. The recipes will include two 'hero recipes', one show-stopping cake recipe, one dessert recipe and two simpler recipes that are great to make with children. 

-Decorating  kits from Rainbow Dust - Bake Box have teamed up with Rainbow Dust to offer subscribers fantastic professional-grade cake decorating products that will add the ultimate finishing touch to your bakes. 

-Complimentary access to 'Bake Club' - With a subscription to the Bake Box you automatically receive complimentary access to the 'Bake Club' site. Here you can check out masterclass videos, enjoy fortnightly bonus recipes, expand your knowledge of ingredients and techniques and show off to your fellow bakers!

Bake Box won't break the bank either. At £14.99 per box, it's great value for money as each box contains at least £40 worth of equipment. 

I couldn't wait for my first box to arrive & to get stuck in...

My first ever Bake Box

Opening my first box - I was so excited to see what was inside...

Spots & Stripes! Could there be a more perfect theme for me - a stripe and polka dot obsessive! Ha!

Ooooh the exciting contents of my Bake Box...

Six fabulous all colour recipe cards...

I was genuinely chuffed to pieces with my first box. Not only is Bake Box beautifully presented, it genuinely contains recipes I want to bake, and equipment I'm excited to use. Each item in this months box is something I could genuinely see myself using in the future.  

The contents of the January box:

-Spotty deco silicone swiss roll mat 
-Stripy and spotty plastic stencil sheets
-Decorative swirly silicone bundt cake mould
-Sugarcraft wheel cutter (with inter-changeable wheels)
-Set of 3 round plunger cutters
-Dress shaped cookie cutter
-Piping bag with plain icing nozzle

The recipes in the January box:

-Blueberry Charlotte
-Fashionista Biscuits
-Pinwheel Lemon Cupcakes
-Chocolate Bundt Cake with White Chocolate Icing and Fresh Redcurrants 
-Striped Birthday Cake 
-Polka Dot Swiss Roll

In order to truly put this box through its paces I knew I needed to test a recipe and decided to go for the 'Star Recipe' in this box, which was the Polka Dot Swiss Roll. I choose this one because I've never made a Swiss roll before, nor have I coloured sponge or attempted to bake a pattern into a sponge, so I knew it would be a fun new challenge for me. I also wanted to bake something I could share with my family for my Father-in-Law's birthday celebrations, so I wanted something that would feed eight. The other bonus of this recipe is that it used mainly store-cupboard ingredients - and I only needed to buy fresh cream, fresh raspberries, white chocolate and freeze dried raspberries to complete the bake, so it didn't break the bank either - bonus! 

Getting all my ingredients and equipment together, ready to bake! 

I found the whole baking process really fun...the recipe was easy to follow, and I'm proud to say I didn't hit any major glitches - I just pootled around the kitchen with Adele's new album blaring and immersed myself in all things Swiss roll...

Step by step images of my Swiss roll process...

The way the polka dots are constructed is so clever - you create a meringue/sponge hybrid which you colour pink and then pipe that directly onto your silicone spotty mat that came in the box, you then set the polka dots in the fridge for a few minutes while you whip up the plain Swiss roll sponge, and gently spread the plain sponge over the pink spots before baking for 10-12 minutes. They came out as perfect pink spots and I might have even let out a little squeal when I saw them. 

It's important to roll your Swiss roll sponge while it's still warm from the oven with the silicone mat still inside it, so as to avoid the sponge breaking completely when you come to fill and roll it later when fully cool. It seems pretty much impossible to avoid small cracks, but the beauty of this recipe is that it is so heavily decorated across the top, that you can cover any small cracks and your tasters will be none the wiser! Genius! 

The really fun creative bit in this recipe was the decoration. As well as filling the cake with lightly whipped vanilla flavoured fresh cream (I used my uber scrummy homemade vanilla extract) and raspberry jam, the Swiss roll is then topped with piped on cream, fresh raspberries, fresh mint sprigs, white chocolate decorations and a dusting of icing sugar. 

I particularly enjoyed the process of making the white chocolate decorations, and for me it was totally worth the extra effort for how the cake looked and tasted once finished. The recipe calls for you to melt and then colour some white chocolate, then spread it over a tray lined with non stick parchment and sprinkle on edible glitter and freeze dried raspberries. You then leave the chocolate to firm up (but not set totally) before using little shape cutters to cut out cute decorations which you can then leave to set hard in the fridge before adding to the cake. 

Mmmm melted white chocolate coloured light pink using the Rainbow Dust pink gel that was included in this months box. 

I adorned my white chocolate with edible glitter and freeze dried fruit

My final shapes - ready to be placed in the fridge to set hard before adorning my finished Swiss roll. 

I couldn't wait to see my cake come together, and was excited to set about doing the final decoration. It took just a few minutes once everything was assembled, and it turned the cake from pretty to uber-impressive show-stopper (even if I do say so myself!)

 All ready to start decorating...

I was so truly proud of the final cake, and was so excited to show it off to our family on Sunday for a birthday lunch for my lovely Father-in-Law. What I loved especially is that it pushed my baking boundaries in a non-threatening way - Bake Box was there to hold my hand all the way through it, and undoubtedly made the whole process far easier that it could have been had I not had reliable equipment, instructions and recipe. 

T'ah D'ah! Now doesn't that look good enough to eat! 

My finished decoration - so pretty! 

My first ever polka dot Swiss roll in all it's glory! 

Now, as good as it looked, the most vital part for me when it comes to recipe testing is: does it taste good? And I can totally vouch for this recipe on the taste front, as it was totally delicious: a soft sponge with a hint of vanilla, billowing fresh cream spiked with homemade vanilla extract, the rich fruitiness of the raspberry jam with the super-sweet white chocolate and the tart fresh raspberries and vague hint of fresh mint to cut through all that richness. It tasted like a glorious summer day. In fact, crumble on some meringue pieces and you'd have yourself an Eton mess of sorts. 

The family polished off the whole cake in one sitting, and we even adorned it with some birthday candles so we could sing the obligatory song, mainly for Bert's enjoyment! 

Happy Birthday Grandad Paul! 

The money shot - just in case I didn't have you sold already - who wouldn't want to dive headfirst into a slice of this? 

In conclusion then my first Bake Box has been a huge hit: yes, it's gimmicky, but it also contains bakeware I'll actually use, recipes that excite me and are reliable - the whole thing is well packaged, beautiful and incredibly well thought out. Plus, I think it's really great value for money...it excites me hugely to think about the amazing collection of recipes and bakeware you'll have amassed by the end of your first year! 

It would make the most brilliant 'being kind to yourself' treat, a fab gift for any aspiring baker, or would even be a fun bi-monthly family challenge: pick one of the family-friendly recipes and create them together. 

To find out more and for all subscription options head to the Bake Box website. 

Happy Baking Lovelies!

Mrs B

xxx

Disclaimer: I was sent this Bake Box in exchange for a true and honest review of the Bake Box subscription service. 

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

20 Weeks & Our Gender Scan...

Wow! This pregnancy is really flying by - I can't believe that I'll be 21 weeks this Friday - over half way through! 

I don't write a huge amount of pregnancy-related posts here on the blog as it's not really a space for that - but I thought it might be fun to mark the half way mark with a little update, a few pictures and of course our gender reveal...


I've been genuinely shocked and was totally unprepared for how different this pregnancy feels to my last. I had such bad nausea from week 6 to 17 this time round: it was truly horrendous and really knocked me for six, as I had no sickness or nausea at all with Bert. In the end I was prescribed some medication, which did help ease the symptoms and rendered me a bit less useless, which was at least something. Finally, it began to ease just as Christmas approached, and now I've come out the other side feeling much more normal. 

During the extreme nausea I went off all my usual foods and drinks: I couldn't stomach tea, or any sort of vegetables and all I really fancied was salty/carb heavy foods and fresh orange juice (which I never drink!). It was pretty grim, and the lack of nutritious food/drink and balance really got me down. I was very aware that I needed to be kind to myself, to let myself eat and drink what I could stomach, rest when I got the chance (fairly rare with a toddler in tow!)...but mentally more than physically it was hard to be existing on the junkier foods I've spent the best part of 2.5 years cutting down on, it was infuriating to feel so ill that I couldn't exercise like I usually would, and I couldn't play with Bert with quite as much gusto as usual. I couldn't even indulge in cooking the evening meal (usually one of my favourite times of day) in fact, by the evening, after a day of juggling Bert, work and sickness I would often find myself heading straight to bed as soon as Hubby arrived home at 5pm. I found it really tough to fit in all my work hours around feeling so constantly sick, and as for trying to do the Christmas shopping, well thank goodness for the internet is all I can say! 

I was so disappointed when 12 weeks came and went and I was STILL feeling dreadful - "it'll go at 12 weeks" I'd heard from so many. But alas, it took another five weeks before I felt myself again. Thankfully, Christmas saw me almost back to normal, and now at almost 21 weeks all that awfulness is a distant memory. Obviously, the outcome (our new little bundle) will be totally worth a few weeks of illness and feeling crap - but it was tough while it lasted. 

As well as the nausea this time round, I have also noticed some other clear differences to my pregnancy with Bert. Despite being four stones lighter than I was at the start of my last pregnancy, this time round I've felt so much bigger, so much sooner! I seemed to have a rather sizeable bump from around 8/10 weeks and was into maternity wear well before my 12 week scan. I also began to feel flutters of movement so much sooner than with Bert. Now, at 21 weeks the kicks are stronger, more frequent and very reassuring, and I'm beginning to properly enjoy being pregnant. Minus the exhaustion and my ongoing back issues (three slipped discs & a growing bump!) I'm determined to make the most of feeling well, and soak up every bit of these last months as a family of three. 


6 weeks

12 weeks

13 weeks 

17 weeks (Christmas Day)

20 weeks

On Tuesday we had our 20 week scan - always a very nerve wracking time - I barely slept on Monday night, so concerned that they might find something wrong, so aware that it all hangs in the balance and that this joy can be stripped from underneath me in a heartbeat. We were eager to know if all was well, and excited to find out whether a little boy or girl would be joining our family in June. 



I'm so thankful to report that all was well, normal and healthy at the scan, and our little one wiggled around, waved and put on a right show for me. It felt brilliant and emotional and such a huge relief. 

The icing on the cake came in the form of the knowledge that our new arrival will be a...



How lucky we feel to be completing our family with a little princess. I feel so blessed and hugely excited for what lies ahead for The Bishop Family. Yesterday (scan day) was such a blissful family day - Liam took the whole day off work and after our early morning scan we headed into town with Bert for some baby-girl clothes shopping and a spot of lunch. I cooked us a huge Greek mezze dinner in celebration last night, and I *might* have consumed a very small glass of red wine. Gosh, it tasted good. 

I still feel a little bit in shock and today I just keep pinching myself!

A few baby girl purchases to celebrate the news! 

Now that I'm feeling mostly well once again I'm enjoying trying to eat as well as I can, get out and walk each day if I can manage it (I'm banned from anything over an hour due to my chronic back problems, boo!) and I'm trying hard to be kind to myself - indulging in rest when I can get it, 'me time' in the form of my hobbies, reading on my kindle and long, warm baths, and regular pilates/core exercises to help me cope with the back pain as bump gets bigger and heavier. 

This week I've been enjoying looking back at my bump photos from my pregnancy with Bert, and I put together this side by side comparison shot to see the differences/similarities between the two pregnancies. 

I was surprised by how similar I look...I feel so much bigger this time round, despite being literally smaller in terms of weight - the bumps are just slightly different shapes/heights.

Now to prepare myself for the third and final trimester...

Looking back at pictures like the one that follows fills me with a fair amount of dread...

Me at 40 weeks gestation with Bert. WOW. Now that's a baby bump! 

And don't even get me started on the birth!! *runs and hides, pretending that I don't have to do it all over again*

That being said, I'm so excited to introduce our new little bundle to you all come June - so watch this space...and keep an eye on my Instagram feed @lucybishop2012 for more regular updates and pictures between now and then...

Bye for now!

Mrs B 

xxx

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Learning to Create Free Motion Embroidery with Katie Essam

I'm a big lover of crafts. 

On the whole I'm a bit of an all-rounder; I love to turn my hand to all sorts of things from crochet and knitting, to sewing and paper cutting. Over the years I've tried a bit of everything - painting, needle felting, card making...even my baking spills over into the artistic and creative realms.

My favourite craft by far though is using my sewing machine and one of the skills I've been dying to learn for ages is free motion embroidery: the art of using your sewing machine needle as a 'pen' to create free art work - basically sketching with your machine. This skill creates the most beautiful artwork which I've admired from afar for quite a few years now, always wishing I knew how to do it too. 

Then, back in the summer, my friend Sarah and I headed to The Handmade Fair at Hampton Court Palace, and we stumbled upon Katie Essam's stand - she is a contemporary textile artist who uses a combination of free motion embroidery, needle felting, painting and even crochet to create the most incredible pieces of artwork. We got chatting to Katie as we admired her work, and we found out that she runs bespoke free motion embroidery courses, and that she's based not too far from us in Watford! What a result! 

Sarah and I didn't delay in booking up a full day's course with her, and on Friday we headed to Watford together to spend a whole day with Katie in her home studio learning how to create these beautiful bespoke pieces. 

Before the course I spent a few days gathering together some inspiration, sketching some ideas and looking at beautiful free motion embroidery work on Pinterest...

Follow Lucy Bishop's board Free Motion Embroidery Ideas on Pinterest.

A collection of inspiration for my first piece of free motion embroidery artwork.

Sketching some ideas...

More sketching ... bunting, cows, books  - working my way through all my little loves...

It was fun to get out my sketchbook and put pen to paper after so long, it got me thinking that as an adult I don't often indulge in my love of sketching...it was something I did a lot of at school/college, but as I've aged it's fallen further down my priorities list. It was wonderful to let my creative juices flow, and to challenge myself to sketch once again. 

On arrival at Katie's I firstly got to grips with her sewing machine, and the feeling of using a free motion foot instead of a standard sewing foot. The free motion foot allows you to move in all directions so you can use the thread as if it were a pen in your hand...it takes a little getting used to after only ever being able to move the fabric in a straight line. 

I started the day by having a good play on a scrap piece of calico - practising moving in all directions, making shapes, writing with my thread...

Messing around on my practice calico...a wobbly start! 

The next step involved collating all my sketches, ideas and designs to create a template for my final design. It was so hard to make a decision on what exactly I wanted to create. I had so many ideas buzzing around my head (hopefully some of which will become the inspiration for lots of future makes) but in the end I decided to use my wedding invites as my starting point, and combine images from the invite (cupcake, teacups, cake stand) with my love of biscuits, cakes, pastel colours and vintage floral fabrics to create my piece.

I put pen to paper once again and came up with my final design...

Finalising my design while munching on biscuits...naturally! 

It was only once my design was finalised that the proper fun began - selecting fabrics, cutting pieces and getting to work with an iron, bondaweb and then my sewing machine. 

I don't want to give away any of Katie's secrets - so I'm not going to go into detail when it comes to HOW she creates her pieces exactly, if you want to learn you'll have to attend one of her brilliant courses, naturally! But here's a few images of parts of the process I learnt to give you a sneak peek...

Learning a new skill...free motion embroidery. 

Katie was so patient with me and explained everything so well - she'd prepared examples and hand outs for us to take home with us, as well as a little kit with all the bits and bobs we might need to make further free motion pieces at home. We chatted non-stop throughout the full day's course, and got to know each other as we sewed: we even got a yummy lunch to fuel our crafting! 

My friend Sarah who attended the course with me had done a fair amount of free motion work before, but she was excited to extend her skills/knowledge and learn some new techniques to add to her repertoire. She worked on a gorgeous leaping hare design using neutral tones and tweeds, and even added a little needle felting into her final piece - I'll add a picture at the end so you can see the variety and contrast you can achieve with free motion. 

Katie kindly took some photos for us while we worked, and I thought it would be fun to share them on this post to inspire your own free motion work, as well as for me to look back on... 

Working away on my free motion piece - adding some hand finished detail at the end... (Photo by Katie Essam)


Adding some finishing touches! (Photo by Katie Essam)

Cakes, biscuits, tea, vintage florals...all of the inspiration behind my first free motion piece. (Photo by Katie Essam)

A close up of my first ever free motion embroidery piece - I'm so chuffed with it. (Photo by Katie Essam)

Sewing my final design with the free motion foot was by far the best and most rewarding part of the day - it was incredible to watch my ideas finally come together to create something I was truly proud of. 

I added some finishing touches by hand, and then stepped back to admire the finished piece...

My final piece: Time for Tea - now I just need to frame it! 

This was Sarah's beautiful final piece - head over to her wonderful crafty blog Sarah Kate Makes for more of her amazing work... 

Sarah added gorgeous texture to her piece by layering different fabrics and adding some needle felting... (Photo by Katie Essam)

I love how diverse free motion is and the wonderful variety you can create: the possibilities are endless! (Photo by Katie Essam)

I can't thank Katie enough for all her help, encouragement, advice and inspiration on Friday. If you're local and looking to expand your skills when it comes to your sewing machine then I couldn't recommend her enough. A relaxed and friendly environment with a course bespoke for your every free motion need - Katie really lets you lead in terms of what you want to create and learn, and you'll come away armed with loads of new skills and a beaiutful piece of artwork ready to be framed. 

For more information on Katie's courses head to her website here

Have you ever had a go at free motion embroidery? Or would you like to learn? 

Happy crafting lovely people... I'm off to start sketching some ideas for my second piece...watch this space...

Mrs B

xxx

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

How to Win Competitions & Giveaways: My Comping Hobby



Today I wanted to share with you a post that I've been meaning to write for months now. I hope that it'll be an interesting read for you, and might even inspire a new hobby for some of my lovely readers...

I want to talk to you about "comping" - taking part in free to enter competitions and giveaways. I've been actively comping now for two years, and it has been the most fruitful hobby I've ever started. I often get asked questions by readers, friends and family about my hobby, and so today I wanted to shed some light for you all, and answer some of the questions I get asked most frequently.

What's the difference between a competition and a giveaway?

Firstly - I wanted to define the difference between a competition and a giveaway. For me, a competition is something you have to make a special effort to enter, and the entries would be judged on merit (i.e the best/most inventive/prettiest entry wins), whereas a giveaway is a random draw that would usually only require a follow on social media, a blog comment, or a 'like' or a 'share' on Facebook in order to gain entry. A winner for a giveaway should be picked completely by random in order to make it totally fair. 

In order to do this most bloggers and brands who run giveaways use widgets like Gleam or Rafflecopter to host their giveaways - making them very fair and easy to participate in. I especially like Gleam giveaways as they have what is called 'one click entry', meaning that once you have connected up your social media profiles to Gleam, it remembers you and all you need to do to gain various entries is click once on the widget - the clever little Gleam box does all the work for you (liking a brand, re-tweeting a tweet etc) and you can quickly move on to entering more giveaways. 

How did you start comping?

For me, my comping hobby started with a run of flukey good-luck back in September 2013: I was at home with newborn Bert on maternity leave with more time on my hands than I was used to - and a sleeping baby in my arms most of the time, leaving me with little but my phone to occupy me during the day. One day I saw a Facebook post by a plus size clothing brand I followed (I was a size 18 at the time) which was giving away £100 store credit to one lucky liker: all you had to do was 'like' the picture and comment with your favourite item from their newest collection. "Too good to be true?" I thought, but a week or so later I had a Facebook message and email from the company saying I'd been drawn at random as the winner, and before I knew it I had £100 worth of clothes being delivered to my house for free! It was amazing - and totally gave me the comping bug. 

I started entering any competitions on Facebook that caught my eye, and before I knew it my winning streak continued - by Christmas 2013 I'd won:

- £100 Pink Clove clothing voucher
- A Kindle Fire HD
- Two weekend breaks worth over £700
- A £300 Hotel Chocolat hamper

A pretty impressive start to my comping days, and the reason I decided to stick at this new hobby! 

How can I find reliable competitions and giveaways?

In 2014 I decided to look into ways I could take my new hobby a bit more seriously - and that's when I found the brilliant SuperLucky Blog by Di Coke. Di is a professional comper, for want of a better phrase, and she runs her blog to help other people interested in comping to be more successful. Not only does she share loads of tips and advice on how to comp well, she also runs her own giveaways and hosts monthly competition 'linkys' which list the links to hundreds of current giveaways being hosted by UK bloggers. These lists suddenly made it super-easy for me to find reliable giveaways and competitions to enter, rather than spending hours trawling the net to find them. Thanks to Di, before I knew it I was regularly winning some great prizes. 

To find Di's monthly giveaway linky's head to this link. 

If that isn't enough of an incentive to start you on your comping journey then I don't know what is. 

So, where else do I find competitions/giveaways to enter? 

I also enter competitions and giveaways through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. I spend a lot of time on these social media platforms for work and the blog, so I tend to come across regular giveaways on brand and blog pages. Also the more brands you follow, the more likely you are to come across regular comps/giveaways to take part in. 

I also follow other 'compers' on their own social media channels, which means I often see what they're entering, and can go and enter myself afterwards. Di Coke runs a useful Facebook and Twitter group called 'Lucky Learners' which you can request to be added to - this group is full of fellow compers and is a great resource. 

I also use the iPhone/Android app called WAMO - which is a free to download app that is purely designed to connect you with the brands you love and give you the chance to win brilliant prizes supplied by them by sharing items from their website in a collection of 'lists' detailing items you love/hate/want. It is a simple and fun way to enter giveaways, and since I began using WAMO I have won twice! Hubby has also had a win from them recently - he won a £50 Topman voucher and bagged himself a lovely new winter coat in their sale! Fab! 

For more information/advice on using the WAMO app head to Di Coke's short YouTube video guide here

There are also competition listing websites such as The Prizefinder and online competition forums such as Money Saving Expert (MSE) which can be very good sources of current competitions and giveaways - I don't use these that often as I find them more time consuming than the lists on Super Lucky, also make sure you always read the small print/terms & conditions on some bigger competitions/giveaways (especially those that ask for personal details) as often there are boxes to uncheck/check to ensure you don't receive cold calls or a zillion emails from the competition hosts in the future. 

Do you have an email address specifically for comping?

No. I use my personal email address, and because of that I am super-selective about what competitions/giveaways I enter. I always read the terms, and only subscribe to email newsletters or catalogues if I'm genuinely a big fan of the brand. Some more serious compers create their own email addresses especially for their hobby, but I find using my personal account just fine. 

Does your husband 'comp' as well?

Yes, he does. He didn't start comping as early as me, and only got into it as a proper hobby in 2014 - but since then he's been finding spare time in his evenings to enter as many competitions and giveaways as he can manage - and in total he's now won £3600 worth of prizes! So between us in the past two years that's £7600 worth of prizes that's come our way. 

What have been your best wins?

Collectively, hubby and I have won some pretty awesome things thanks to our hobby. We both keep spreadsheets detailing our wins, what they're worth, when and how we won them, and who supplied the prize - not only is this a great way to chase up missing prizes and keep a check on what you've won, but it is also fab to look back on: a memory of all the brilliant things we've been lucky enough to win. Here is a list of some of our favourite/best wins. 

Lucy's Best Wins

  • £300 Hotel Chocolate Hamper
  • £100 Pink Clove clothing voucher
  • Thistle Hotel weekend breaks x 2
  • Kindle Fire HD
  • Kindle Paperwhite
  • £250 John Lewis voucher
  • A pair of Ked shoes worth £45
  • Sage Appliances Juicer worth £170
  • A Dakota dark wood side table worth £120
  • £100 to spend at Higgs and Higgs fabric store
  • A classic Navy Saddlebag worth £60
  • £100 to spend on Toadstool Toys website
  • £30 voucher for our favourite American diner 'Buddies'
  • A beautiful bespoke birthday cake for Liam's Nan's 93rd birthday
  • A photo canvas worth £50 
  • A beautiful copper fruit bowl worth £30
  • £50 to spend at my favourite shop Cornishware
Some of my favourite prizes!

Liam's Best Wins
  • 2 tickets to Jersey Boys and an overnight stay in a hotel
  • £60 worth of shower gel
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle's toys worth £120
  • A set of Le Creuset dishes worth £100
  • £80 worth of Hotel Chocolat Easter eggs
  • £200 worth of boots and shoes
  • Oakley sunglasses worth £137
  • £100 store credit for Wayfair
  • £50 Superdry voucher
  • £50 Topman voucher
  • A leather armchair worth £479
  • £120 worth of Riverford Organic recipe boxes
Comping has become not only an incredible source for lots of lovely treats for us as a family, but also regularly means we win things for other people too! Both hubby and I often enter competitions and giveaways that are offering prizes we know a loved one or friend would like - a lot of the birthday and Christmas gifts we give are prizes that we have won. Not only does this mean that we can often be more generous than we can actually afford when it comes to gift giving, but it also saves us money in the long run as we so often don't have to purchase gifts from our own bank account. Win, win! 

How many competitions do you enter a week?

I reckon that on average I enter around 100 competitions a week, and hubby a lot more than that - he has a little extra free time compared to me, and he is also super-organised when it comes to comping. He keeps lists and bookmarks on his laptop and phone, and is quite methodical about his comping ways. Whereas, I'm a bit more haphazard and whimsical with my entering - sometimes I can sit down for a good few hours and enter over 100, and then I might not get a chance to enter any at all for a couple of weeks. I tend to be more of an 'enter when I see it' comper (on social media) and then try to fit in some regular comping sessions as well. I reckon that between us we enter on average around 300-500 giveaways/competitions per month. It might seem like a lot - but actually, it doesn't take too much time at all - and we both enjoy it as a hobby. I love trawling through the prizes on offer and thinking "What would I love to win?' It's a bit like window shopping! 

...never a truer word spoken. 

I often encounter jealousy/negativity about my hobby: people jibing me for how "lucky" I am to have won such lovely things and how it isn't "fair". 

My standard response is:

 'Do you enter competitions/giveaways?' 

...by and large their answer is 'no' or certainly not very many - and I would then ask them how they would expect to win without entering. Yes, it's a labour of love and it takes time - but for us it is a hugely worthwhile hobby that we enjoy, so there's no harm in it. 

The best thing about comping is it doesn't discriminate - it is totally free to take part, meaning anyone with an internet connection and social media profiles can enter. I often encourage friends and family to start a comping habit of their own - in fact the first competition my twin sister ever entered (a Christmas instant win back in 2014) she won a beautiful pair of rose gold GHD hair straighteners - she couldn't believe her luck! 

Do you enter anything and everything you come across?

No. I'm very selective with the competitions and giveaways I enter (despite what my friends and family might think - they do love to rib me about the amount of competitions and giveaways they see me enter!) I only enter ones that are offering prizes I really want to win - whether that be for myself, my family or to gift to a friend. I also really like useful wins like food, hampers, shopping vouchers and competitions where you can win supplies of things such as a years supply of shower gel/loo roll/toothpaste etc. I keep an eye out for 'experience' prizes, as these are hubby and I's favourite types of prizes - weekends away, tickets to shows/cinema, meals out, experience days etc: the sorts of experiences that we cannot afford to fund for ourselves. It is such a lovely treat to be able to indulge in special experiences together. 

For me there's no fun in entering something that is offering a prize that you don't want - it would seem like a pointless task. 

Hubby is slightly less selective that I am, due to putting more time into his comping hobby - so he often wins lots of little prizes and sometimes pretty random things. Occasionally he wins very odd prizes - like a bathroom extractor fan that we didn't need/have room for (yes, really!) - luckily we sold this on eBay and made about £30 so it was still a worthy win! I have told him now to try and be fairly selective about what he enters - I really don't want a house full of random things that we don't need. 

Do you just seem to win giveaways or have you had success with creative competitions too?


I don't have as much time as I'd like to enter creative competitions - on the whole they take a bit more time/thought/energy - and have clear rules/guidelines that I don't always have the inclination to get my head around. Saying that, I have found time over the last few years to enter a few creative competitions: from designing dream rooms on my blog, to re-creating a child's book with the help of Alphabeti Spaghetti (really!) - I've had a go, and have throughly enjoyed the process, which is the main thing. 


One of the most fun competitions I have ever entered - I'm still sad that this brilliant photo didn't bag us a win! 

I actually did win a brilliant prize on a creative competition back in June 2014 where I won second place prize in the TOTS100 'Shelfie' competition for this post - which bagged me a brilliant £250 John Lewis voucher. 

Which just goes to prove that sometimes it really is worth the effort! 

I'd love to know if you've ever won any competitions or giveaways...leave me a comment below if you've got some brilliant prizes under your belt. 

I'm always happy to answer any questions and give any advice I can to those who wish to start a hobby in comping, so do chat to me if you'd like to know any more. 

HAPPY COMPING LOVELIES!!

Mrs B

xxx

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Looking back on my 'Reading Challenge' for 2015.

One of my personal challenges for 2015 was to read more.

As an English Literature graduate and a trained actress I have a deep love of literature - but since becoming a mum, my time to read just seemed to disappear completely! I found that I was no longer making any time for myself to sit down and read anything at all - not even a magazine. 

I missed it hugely. 

So, I decided to set myself a challenge for 2015: to read one book a month for the whole year. 

I wanted to the challenge to be do-able and realistic, but to still present me with quite a challenge. I knew I would need to MAKE time to sit and read, make the most of snatched moments here and there to be able to get through the books at a steady rate. 

I kept a list here on the blog of what I was reading each month as a way to chart my progress, as well as to share the titles I was choosing to read.

I re-read some favourites from my childhood, read some trashy chick-lit for a bit of escapism, some bestsellers, the newest book from my favourite author Peter James, as well as discovering a new detective book series that I love (Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad), I read books based on real life, and even managed to fit in a brilliant book from a blogger buddy (Ericka Waller) - what a busy year! 

So here is the final list of books I managed to get through in 2015...

Lucy's Reading List 2015

Jan: 

Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson - FINISHED 


Feb: 

Lord of the Flies by William Golding - FINISHED 


Mar: 

Sleepyhead by Mark Billingham - FINISHED


Apr:

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J K Rowling - FINISHED


Dark Places by Gillian Flynn - FINISHED



May:

'The C Word' by Lisa Lynch - FINISHED

June: 

You Are Dead (Roy Grace #11) by Peter James - FINISHED


Finding Emma by Steena Holmes - FINISHED 



July:

Sleep Tight by Rachel Abbott - FINISHED


Grey by E. L James - FINISHED


One Night Promised by Jodi Ellen Malpas - FINISHED 


Aug:

In The Woods by Tana French - FINISHED


Sept: 

Confessions of a Mother Inferior by Ericka Waller - FINISHED



Oct:

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins - FINISHED



Nov: 

The Likeness by Tana Woods - FINISHED


Dec:

What Might Have Been by Matt Dunn - FINISHED


I'm pleased to say that I've completely aced my target of one book per month over the course of 2015 - I have now completed 16 books in total and I have been so happy that I've been able to make the time to read regularly again. It doesn't feel as hard as it did in Bert's first year to snatch good periods of time to myself to indulge in something I love, and I no longer feel guilty about it when I do. I am a better mother, wife, professional, friend when I get to do the things I love regularly. I recognise that now, and embrace it whole-heartedly. 

With that in mind I definitely plan to continue this reading challenge into 2016. 

Hopefully I'll be able to read just as much, if not more over this next year and I look forward to sharing with you the choices that I make. 

I'd love any book recommendations....

Happy Reading! 

Mrs B

xxx