Thursday, 29 May 2014

Fight the Price - great deals on electricals with The Co-Operative

We all love a bargain and a great deal right?

The Co-operative Electrical store has a great promotion on at the moment called #FightThePrice.  Using the power of social media, they will be dropping the price this week on the cost of a Kenwood Premier Mixer worth £260.

The concept is very simple.  The more you tweet #FightThePrice, the more they'll reduce a selected item each week.  So, get your friends and family tweeting and on Friday they'll release the code and the final reduced price for you to make your purchase.

The price is already down to £220 (at time of posting), giving a saving of £40, but keep tweeting and checking to see what price it's locked at on Friday morning at 10am.

Full details can be found here.

Do check out the previous weeks deals too - if you're in the market for a new Hotpoint washing machine for example, you can use the code and pay only £197 instead of £279.99!

Disclosure: This post is brought to you in association with The co-operative electrical store.

If I were Prime Minister...

As my 6 year old daughter pointed out, sometimes children have the best ideas. She's not wrong.  Think of Suvir Mirchandani, the 14 year old boy who pointed out to the US government that they could save up to £400 million a year simply by changing the font they use on documents they print by way of savings on ink.

Sometime it needs fresh eyes to come up with solutions to long-term problems, and this is why Save the Children have launched their initiative 'If I were Prime Minister' in association with Debate Mate to coincide with the launch of the UK poverty report - 'A Fair Start For Every Child'. 

The report shows that, despite a cross party commitment to end child poverty in the UK by 2020, new projections show that five million children in the UK could be trapped in poverty by 2020 - the highest number on record.  Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children says:

"Millions of children in the UK are being left behind - sentenced to a lifetime of poverty. Far too many of our children are living in cold and damp homes, without healthy food, with parents who can see no end to their situation. If we ignore the rising toll of poverty we are blighting the future of a further 1.4million children.  In one of the world’s richest countries there is simply no excuse.”

The report sets out the damaging effects of poverty on childhood, but also how this affects a child’s longterm future increasing the chances of low attainment with only a third of the poorest children going on to achieve five good GCSE’s.  In 2011, there were more than double the amount of obese children in the poorest households, compared to the richest.

Save the Children have teamed up with Debate Mate, who work with children in deprived schools, and enabled groups of young people to make short films to be entered into a nation-wide competition pitching their ideas for what should be done to end child poverty.  Take a look on the Facebook page where you can see them all and vote for your favourite and to sign the UK Poverty petitionThe debate squads who have made the winning film entries will be invited to a finale event - a ‘Children’s Question Time’ – on 25th June at Central Hall Westminster.

Some of the ideas actually are brilliant, (you can see them all here) they make me wonder why we're paying government ministers, advisers and think tanks when some of our youth seem to have sussed the solutions right here.

My daughter is only 6 and may not have the vocabulary or thought processes that some of the older children do, but we had a great debate about how she thought we could address child poverty.  I was struck by the simplistic way she approached the issue.  She quite rightly said that healthy food is more expensive than healthier fresh food and fruit and vegetables.  Instead of going down the route that politicians are currently debating of taxing cheap processed food and sugar-laden products, she simply thinks that large supermarkets should be made to sell healthier foods cheaper - could that work?  They already have loss leaders in store.  They can sell alcohol cheaper than water in some instances so why not?

She grasped the link between lack of food and nutrition and lower achievement in school, and felt that the most important things for a child to have were a home and food. Well, the rise of child homelessness and the increasing uptake of food bank services makes it all the more vital that we support Save the Children's work and sign the petition to end child poverty.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Magpie Monday - sea salvage with Ecover

One of the reasons I like preloved so much is that I hate to think of items being binned just because someone has outgrown them or fallen out of love with them.

I worry a lot about the amount we are sending to landfill, but there's another huge dumping ground on our planet which doesn't get talked about quite so much. That dumping ground is our oceans.

It is estimated that 6.4 million tonnes of plastic finds it's way into our seas every year.  This can be through dumping, containers falling off ships or through damage to cargo ships.

More shocking statistics can be found at The Ocean Crusaders website, such as:





This is why I'm so pleased that Ecover are working with Waste Free Oceans to try and tackle this problem.

They have teamed up to collect sea plastic for use in their limited edition washing up liquid bottles which will be on sale exclusively through Tesco stores week commencing 15th June only.

The bottles are made from 100% recycled plastic, with 10% being ocean plastic which has been collected by fishing boats.

Kitted out with special technology, these European boats are fishing out between one and eight tonnes of plastic waste per catch.

This really is a re-use scheme I can get behind.  This new bottle follows Ecover's pledge in 2013 that they would use new types of recycled plastic in their packaging.  This year, they will be using one tonne of Ocean Plastic and aim to increase to three tonnes next year.

Have you managed to re-use something this week?  Found a pre-loved bargain or rescued something from landfill?

Grab the badge and link up.

Disclosure: We were sent a sample bottle of washing up liquid from Tesco.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Elderflower & Dandelion Scones with Elderflower Lemon Curd

I'm very honoured to be hosting the final tea and scones blog party on behalf of TSA.

Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC) is a rare genetic condition that can cause epilepsy, learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder and renal problems; those affected may also have tumours on vital organs. 

There is currently no cure for TSC, so the Tuberous Sclerosis Association (TSA) is inviting the nation to host Tea and Scones for TSC parties to raise funds and awareness. Money raised from the tea parties will help the TSA support affected families and fund much needed medical research.

So, I've thought long and hard to come up with a new take on the traditional British institution of scones and jam and me being me, I felt I should bring in some of my foraging passion to the proceedings.

I'd seen lots of elderflowers about while whizzing through the countryside in the car, admittedly it's very early for them but I didn't anticipate I'd have to hunt quite so high and low for them locally.  They are just starting to appear though, and in a couple of weeks it won't be too hard to spot them among the frothy white mass of cow parsley and hawthorn blossom.

Elder bushes and trees are often found in hedgerows; on the edges of woods and in parks; car parks; lay bys and waste ground, so it shouldn't be to hard for even urban foragers to find them.  My recipe plans were also blighted by the council mower who came round yesterday and chopped down all the dandelions, so I had to rely on only 5 that I had in the garden - next time I'll definitely add more because I love the golden yellow flecks the petals give to the scones.

The scones are lightly fragrant with flecks of petals and tiny flowers throughout.  The lightly floral but tangy lemon curd is the perfect accompaniment to them.

For the scones you'll need:

500g self-raising flour (plus extra for dusting)
2 tsp baking powder
325g butter
25g caster sugar (plus extra for sprinkling)
300ml milk
Approx 5 large heads of elderflowers
Approx 8-10 dandelion flowers

(Makes approx 12 large scones)

Take 3 of your elderflower heads and gently shake to remove any bugs - don't wash or you'll rinse away all the fragrance.  Pop them flowers first into a bowl or jug.  Heat up your milk in a pan then pour over the flowers and leave to cool and infuse - don't worry, the flowers will turn brown!

Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees F.  Line 2 baking trays with greaseproof paper.

In your largest mixing bowl, mix together the flour and baking powder.  Then rub in the butter with your fingers until the texture is crumbly.

Snip off the yellow petals of the dandelions with scissors or pull out with your fingers.  Pull off the flowers from the elderflower florets - take care not to get any green parts as these taste bitter.  I like to do this in a white bowl so you can see and rescue any bugs!

Add the sugar to your butter and flour mix, tip on the petals and stir.

Strain your elderflower flavoured milk through a sieve (it should now be cold) and stir into your mixture. Once it begins to come together, mix with your hands and turn out your spongy dough onto a floured worktop.

Roll out gently to about 3cm thick and using a round cutter, cut out your scones.

Place on your baking trays and bake for approximately 12-15 minutes until risen and golden brown.

Sprinkle with caster sugar and allow to cool a little before serving.

For the elderflower lemon curd you'll need:

50g unsalted butter
2 large free range eggs
100g caster sugar
grated zest and juice of 2 large unwaxed lemons
2 or 3 elderflower heads
3 or 4 tablespoons boiling water

(Makes 1 jar)

Grate the zest of your lemons and set aside.  Then squeeze the juice into a bowl.  To this add your flower heads, flowers down, then pour over the hot water - you don't want too much to dilute the juice, but enough to bring out the fragrance of the flowers and allow it to infuse.  Leave to cool.  Ideally you want to leave this for an hour or two.

Meanwhile melt your butter in a saucepan and leave to cool.

Beat the eggs and caster sugar together until pale and smooth.  Add the lemon zest and mix.  Strain your floral lemon juice and add this to the mixture and stir.  Add in the melted butter.

Place the bowl over a pan of water over a moderate heat and stir slowly but continuously with a wooden spoon.  It will take around 15-20 minutes, but as soon as you feel it start to thicken and coat the back of the spoon, remove it from the heat and pour into a sterilised jar.  

Chill before serving.

Why not host your own Tea and Scones for TSC party - visit for more information, and share your photos and recipes with @UKTSA #TeaandSCones

Other recipes you might like:

Dandelion Cookies
Elderflower and Rhubarb Cordial
Elderflower Granita
Elderflower and Rhubarb Custard Tart

Do check out the other bloggers taking part in #TeaandSCones week:

The Book Sniffer
Bake Good
The Garden Smallholder 

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

How to make a Gruffalo

Take one of these:

and one of these:

and you get one of these:

Simple hey?  Well, no, not simple at all.  You need the skill and expertise of someone like chainsaw carver extraordinaire Neil Bruce.  You need a lot of room, you create a lot of mess.  You need to be holed up in a draughty barn for 4 months to produce 15 of these fellas.

Neil has been tasked with producing the Gruffalo sculptures which will be heading out into selected forests in time for The Gruffalo's 15th birthday on 7th June this year.

They are part of the collaborative celebrations with the Forestry Commission who have introduced a number of self-led Gruffalo trails in their forests. They are also holding a special birthday party with lots of events going on around the country.  Sign up online for your free downloadable party pack bursting with ideas and inspiration for holding your own picnic party to celebrate the birthday.

Speaking to Neil and watching him create his masterpieces was incredible.  The skill and intricate detail he manages to produce was a joy to behold.  He takes hard wood which has come from several different Forestry Commission sites - either through storm damage or trees that were allocated for timber felling - and turns them into these magical beings.

Each carving is different, portraying the Gruffalo in a different pose.  Each one is hand painted, with all the details you'd expect - his orange eyes; his terrible tusks, his purple prickles all down his back...

We were among some special guest who were allowed a peak into this secret barn to see the work in progress.  We saw many of the statues which will be heading out soon to a forest near you.  We witnessed the artist at work and watched as a tree trunk suddenly developed two horns under the expert use of his chainsaw. We spluttered through the dust and rubbed it from our eyes.

The children; much to their delight, got to paint one of the statues.  This was the first time children had been let loose near the Sleeping Gruffalo and we witnessed the pride and joy in the creators eyes as the kids descended wildly on the slumbering statue; jumped on him; sat on him; and all at once, all together cupped their hands round their mouths and bellowed "WAKE UP GRUFFALO!!!" into his wooden ear!  Neil was thrilled with this reaction.

After a messy painting session, it was time to head indoors for some lunch and some cupcake decorating, then there was a quick play in the outdoor park area and some clambering on the Gruffalo off-cuts, before the heavens opened, and it was time to leave the secret location and say goodbye to the Gruffalos - until we see them again!

Disclosure: we are official bloggers for the Forestry commission and receive an annual Discovery Pass.  We were invited to this event and received a goody bag.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Monday, 12 May 2014

Magpie Monday - A Pallet Project

Something a little different for you this week.

I wanted to share this amazing table that a friend of mine made.

It's 100% recycled and I'm a little bit in love with it.

The wooden pallet is reclaimed, the glass too, even the caster wheels it sits on are from a second-hand shop so everything is getting another life.

I love the rustic-meets-urban design of this.  Pallets are really easy to come by for free and have lots of uses - check out my Pinterest board for some ideas.

Follow Liz Burton's board Pallet Love on Pinterest.

The table is currently for sale, so leave a message over on the Facebook page if you're interested, or if you want to commission a piece.

While you're here, I'm thrilled to say I've been nominated for a Blogging in Brilliance award for craft.  I'd really appreciate if you could spare a moment to vote for Me and My Shadow in the Craft category.

I hope you've had a thrifty week.  Please link up any preloved, salvaged or second-hand finds.


Thursday, 8 May 2014

Morning Stories


"Mum, I think I'm going to wear this dress to the party on Saturday.  OK?"

I groan an inaudible response.

"Mum.  Mum.  What do you think?  Is it ok?  Does it look pretty?"

I groan another, what I believe to be affirmative reply.

"MUM.  You're not looking.  OPEN YOUR EYES".  She tries to pry them open with her cold little fingers.  The morning sunlight pierces through and I scrunch them tighter.

"What time is it?" I ask.

She trundles off to the landing and hurtles back. "The little hand is on the 7 and the big hand is on the 9".

Urgh.  "It's not getting up time for another 45 minutes, go and play or read a book and let mummy sleep" I plead.  She potters back to her room for another 20 minutes, before returning.

"Is it time to get up now?" she wheedles.  She continues to chatter incessantly.  Sometimes I think sleep is just an interruption to her conversation, she often wakes and carries on with where we've left off the previous night.

I peel back a corner of the duvet and she hops in, her icy cold feet making me wince.  She knows the rules. I don't get up before we've had a snuggle.  It's the best 5 minutes of the day, her wispy little arms reaching around me, burying her head in my chest.  For a moment she's tiny again and there's no chores to do, nothing except cuddle and snooze just like we used to.  She lays still for a brief moment, telling me she loves me, that I give the best snuggles in all the world and I breathe in deeply the smell of her hair.

Just as I'm drifting off again, the spell is abruptly broken. She's tugging on my top, demanding I get up for breakfast.  Slowly and cautiously I finally open my eyes and haul myself out of bed.  I hobble across the landing creaking and cracking for Arthur Ritis has visited me again in the night.  I stumble down the step to the bathroom, my ankles giving way, and perch on the toilet while she bubbles on about Princess Elsa. Is there no privacy anymore?  Can't I empty my bladder without a blow-by-blow synopsis of the latest Disney movie?

I wash and shoo her out of the bathroom and she hurtles downstairs and opens the door so I'm greeted halfway by an overexcited and hungry hound bounding the other way.  They only want me to get up so I can feed them.

In the kitchen she starts her ritual contemplation of the breakfast selection. I flick the switch to make tea and grip hold of the counter for balance, staring at the distorted reflection of myself in the kettle.


I'm suddenly back in the real world and being presented with her breakfast choice - the same as almost every day, so really, is there any need for the 5 minute umming and ahhing over what to choose?

I fix her breakfast and pour restorative tea down my throat, scalding myself to life.  Of course, it's not really restorative, I gave up caffeine as a mis-guided New Year's resolution, but I kid myself that it's helping.

She takes her breakfast and wonders off to the living room, idly flicking through the TV channels until she stumbles on something that holds her interest.  I haul myself back up the stairs and shower and dress.

Then begins the daily hollering of orders - come and get dressed. We're going to be late. Wash your face. Find your socks.  Brush your teeth. Stop talking for 2 minutes and brush your teeth. We're going to be late.  Brush your hair. Put your shoes on...

I fly around the house scooping up the book bag; lunchbox; water bottle; coat. Is your reading book in your bag?  Have you put that party RSVP in?  Have I remembered random cereal box for junk modelling/jar of jam for the PTA collection/permission slip for the school trip?  Where are my keys?  Where is the dog?  Is my jumper on the right way round?

School is literally across the road, and even though we don't need to leave until 8:45 there's still the predictable scrabble every morning.  Finally, we have everything, we pile out of the door and I breathe.

Now I'm ready to engage.  To chat.  To talk about what's happening at school today, to share the funny story I read about her cousin on Facebook last night, to pass on a message from Daddy, to tell her about the text from Granny.  Now I'm ready.

But she has her scooter and she's off.  100 yards ahead of me, whipping up the pink blossom on the path and leaving a trail of petals and laughter in her wake.

In precisely 4 minutes she's in her classroom and immediately enveloped by a gaggle of excited friends. Chattering away about hair bands and One Direction. And she's gone.

I am alone now until 3.30.  I'll have to save my chat 'til then.

This post is an entry for #MorningStories Linky Challenge sponsored by belVita Breakfast. Learn more at 

As you can see I don't have time for breakfast before the school run, also I'm barely conscious, but I do enjoy a BelVita Cocoa and Yoghurt Crunch come about 11 o'clock when I'm finally with it.

BelVita breakfast is the only breakfast biscuit proven to slowly release carbohydrates over four hours* as part of a balanced breakfast for example, a serving of belVita breakfast biscuits, a portion of fruit, a serving of dairy and a drink! (*proven in several clinical studies).

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

European themed lunchboxes

Ok, so it's not quite Around the World in 80 Days - more like around a bit of Europe in a week's lunch boxes, but I had fun making them and more importantly Ruby enjoyed eating them.

I know I'm really lucky in that she's not really a fussy eater, but there's no harm in pushing her palate further and we've found this to be a great way to introduce new foods.

These lunches were inspired by a new cookie cutter I bought recently - the GB outline.  I admit, I have a problem with cookie cutters, I can't stop buying them.

Then things just progressed, and most of the others needed no special equipment.

I know some of this may seem extravagant for a child's lunchbox, but honestly, the basis for most of them was leftovers from our dinner the night before.

Great British Lunch:

  • Cucumber sandwich
  • English smoked cheese
  • Mini Yorkshire puddings and roast beef (leftover from Sunday dinner)
  • Scone with jam
  • Strawberries

The little toppers were leftover from a cake case set I bought from Poundland at Jubilee.

French Lunch:

  • Mini croissants
  • Brie
  • Cornichons (as Ruby likes to call them because she's well posh - to you and I they're gherkins)
  • Grapes
  • Lemon tart (leftover from pudding the night before)
  • Fromage Frais

The toppers are easy to make - Google the flag image, print and cut out and glue onto a cocktail stick

Spanish Lunch

  • Spanish omlette (leftover from my dinner the night before and made with assorted bits from the fridge)
  • Slices of chorizo
  • Olives
  • Churros (I made mini churros!! Never made them before, but so easy, recipe here)
  • Nutella chocolate spread to dip
  • Strawberries

Italian Lunch:

  • Slice of pizza (leftover from dinner - I added some extra veg in the form of frozen sweetcorn!)
  • Salami
  • Amaretti biscuit (she was honoured to get one of these from my stash!)
  • Grapes

Swedish Lunch:

  • Rye bread
  • Cheese
  • Hard boiled egg
  • Smoked salmon (leftover from dinner)
  • Cucumber
  • Homemade ginger biscuits
  • Orange slices

Happily she came home with an empty lunch box and a full tummy every day.  The only thing from the whole week that she didn't eat was the Spanish Omelette and that was totally my fault - I didn't hide the onions well enough!  But she took a bite and tried it and that's all I can ask.

Have you tried themed lunches?  Any of these you fancy?  I wished I'd made a Spanish one for myself too!

Check out Capture by Lucy's Bento Babies linky and Eats Amazing for loads of lunchbox inspiration.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Turn your journey into an adventure

This Bank Holiday, like many others in the UK we ended up on a road-trip, headed up to Manchester for a long weekend.  Travelling with kids in the car can sometimes be pretty hellish, and trips away can be very expensive - I've already written my top tips for saving money here.

One of my biggest money-saving tips is to avoid the motorway service stations at all costs.  Those places will suck your purse dry and suck the spirit from your soul.  Full of sweaty lorry drivers, stir-crazy kids and the unappetising offer of Burger King or an overpriced panini and a Costa coffee.  My family now know that service stations are for toilet stops only!

By packing an awesome picnic, and planning your stop you can transform yourself from miserly-mum to mega-mum.

I headed off to Morrisons to check out their already great value food and drink and their new price cuts to see what I could pack in our picnic.  I'll admit, you could do this even cheaper if you made your own sandwiches, salads and cakes etc, but to be honest I spend so much time anyway on school lunchboxes, I thought I deserved a break.  Also, we were staying in a hotel with no washing-up facilities, so pre-packed was the key to keeping it simple.  This really was a no-effort picnic.

There was so much to choose from, and the well-stocked self service salad bar looked so inviting.  There was also a wide range of pre-packed salads to select.  We chose a range of sandwiches, from the value priced ones right up to the more exotic 'signature range'.  We had our eye out for special Bank Holiday offers as well as some of their newly, permanently reduced 'I'm cheaper' products which can be identified by the bright yellow stickers.

Selecting the right place to stop is also key to turning your journey into an adventure and making it part of the holiday rather than just a means to an end. We consulted the Old Man's favourite book - Wild Swimming - because lets face it, after a 2 1/2 hour drive he deserved to cool off.

We found the most amazing spot called Mermaid's Pool just outside Leek in Staffordshire, and you know we love a mermaid!  It was idyllic and completely deserted save for a few hardy cyclists whizzing past on the road above.  There was space to stretch our legs, run around, explore, catch some rays of sun and enjoy a leisurely picnic in peace - a far cry from the busy motorway service stations.

Mermaid's Pool, near Leek, Staffordshire

Swimming in Mermaid's Pool, near Leek, Staffordshire

Mermaid bench poem at Mermaid's Pool, near Leek, Staffordshire

Legend has it that a mermaid lurks beneath the surface waiting to lure single male travellers to her dark, peat coloured bottomless waters, but it didn't stop someone going in for a dip!

After the swim, it was time to open our feast.  We all tucked into our sandwiches which had been kept nicely chilled by ice packs in the picnic basket.  Ruby really enjoyed her budget tuna and sweetcorn one, and my chicken salad mid-range sandwich was well filled and tasty.  Unfortunately, the more expensive 'signature' sandwich mature Cheddar ploughman's was declared ' a bit soggy' by the Old Man - but hey - so was he!

The salads went down a treat too and were a lovely healthy meal in themselves.  Ruby enjoyed the hard boiled eggs - for £1 seriously why bother boiling and peeling them yourself!

My biggest recommendation has to be the Cornish cream tea for two.  Only £1.55 there were 2 moist fruity scones, 2 portions of strawberry jam and a tub of real clotted cream.  Take yourself a flask of tea and you've saved yourself about a tenner I reckon.  We'll be buying this again when we go on trips out - why pay stately home tea room prices when you can bring your own so cheaply?

Here's a full breakdown of what we packed - in all honesty it was way too much food, but it certainly made a wonderful Bank Holiday feast:

3 x This Water bottles of drink - £3.87
2 Morrisons cupcakes - £1.25
1 salad bar portion - £1.89
1 pre-packed salad - £1.89
1 Morrisons Cornish cream Tea - £1.55
1 large bag Kettle chips - £0.99
2 mini pork pies - £0.65
2 hard boiled eggs £1.00
1 Morrisons tuna and sweetcorn sandwich - £1.49
1 Morrisons chicken salad sandwich £1.79
1 Morrisons Signature sandwich - £2.59
1 portion apple and grapes pack - £0.50

Grand total: £19.46 (cost per person £6.49)

I can't tell you how much nicer this made the journey, in fact this stop off was one of the highlights of the whole trip.

I purchased more from Morrisons including some gorgeous clothes for Ruby from the Nutmeg range, and I'll write about these separately.  Thank you Morrisons for letting me be a #MorrisonsMum - shopping there even gave us a 6p off a litre of petrol making our trip even more thrifty!

Disclosure: I received some vouchers to shop at Morrisons and report back on my findings. This post contains an affiliate link.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Introducing the new Cricut Explore - the crafter's cutting machine

There's big news amongst the crafting circle!  A revolutionary and affordable new gadget is set to rock your world.

Last week I got a sneak preview of the brand new Cricut Explore machine, and honestly, I can't remember the last time I was so excited about a new gadget. Ever since, I've been jotting down ideas in my notebook, browsing magazines and Pinterest for inspiration and waiting for my review model to arrive.

I already have a Cricut Mini and whilst that is great for general paper crafts and card making, precise cutting and even the odd bit of vinyl and iron-on vinyl cutting, as a general crafter I do find it a bit limiting.

New Cricut Explore

The main advantages of the new machine are:

  • It will cut a HUGE range of different mediums

- from fabric to felt to tin to faux leather - even plasterboard!  This opens up a massive range of possibilities to someone like me who loves to upcycle.  I have stashes of fabric off-cuts and I literally can't wait to start creating.

  • You can upload your own designs
- now I'm not particularly artistic, but I'm really excited about being released from the limitations of the image library gallery.  It means I can cut any shape or design I want and customise to my heart's content.
  • Writing option
- so many times I've made a lovely item like a card or a gift tag, only to be let down by my shoddy handwriting.  I've had to either ink stamp messages or try to run the item through the printer to get a decent message but the new Cricut Explore has a huge range of fonts and will print out messages on your finished item - use the handwriting fonts and pretend you've got the nicest, neatest writing in the world!
  • Smart dial technology
- with the Cricut mini you had to manually select the cut depth depending on the thickness of your paper/card etc.  This was very much trial and error and for me resulted in a lot of wastage.  The new Explore has an easy dial which you simply turn and select the material you're cutting - no more guesswork!
  • Pre-loaded projects
Cricut have been working with designers and bloggers to come up with a huge range of projects which you can replicate yourself.  Simply by browsing their image gallery, find a project you like and click on it and it will show you exactly what you need and how to make it for yourself.  Many you can also tweak and customise to make them more your own.  There's also an image library of tens of thousands of images you can buy as you go or by subscription if you want to make your own projects.

Speaking to the team at Cricut, their passion for the product was tangible.  They have spent such a long time conducting research, talking to their customers and making everything as simple but effective as possible. They really understand how their customers like to craft, how their homes work and have thought of every detail - like making it super quiet as most people craft in the evening when their kids are in bed or the family is watching TV. They've made the machine sleek and stylish so you'd be happy to have it permanently out in your home rather than have to pack it away after use each time.  They've added hidden storage compartments so you can keep all your bits and pieces handy.  They're included some materials in the box so you can get started straight away - honestly, I think they've thought of everything!

New Cricut Explore

Here's a few of the designs they had on show at their preview event to whet your appetite.  You can see the possibilities are endless - update wardrobe staples with iron-on designs; make wedding decorations and favours; cupcake toppers; embellish cushions; bags - even welly boots!

Cricut Explore Customised Dress

Cricut Explore Wedding project

Cricut Explore Flowers

Cricut Explore Summer Project

Cricut Explore Interior Design Cushions

Cricut Explore Cupcake Toppers

The new Cricut Explore will be available to buy in the UK from June 2014 priced at £249.99 from Hobbycraft and Amazon.

Please keep an eye on my blog and see what I create with mine, and if you've enjoyed my craft projects this year I'd be really grateful if you'd vote for Me and My Shadow in the Craft category for the Blogging in Brilliance Awards, which I've been shortlisted for.

Disclosure: I attended a preview event with Cricut and will be receiving an machine to review.  All opinions are my own.