Mellow Mummy: October 2012 : Taking life as it comes...

Wednesday 31 October 2012

Britax B-Agile Double Buggy Review

Lara and Holly have been using the Britax B-Agile Double Stroller for a couple of months now after we were sent it to try out in late summer. Even though Lara has now more or less grown out of the pushchair after a mammoth growth spurt last month, the B-Agile Double has become my stroller of choice on most of our family trips and there are lots of reasons why...

B-Agile Double Buggy
Two monkeys at Beale Park, Theale in their Britax B-Agile Double Stroller

When we first received the Britax B-Agile Double, Holly had still been using our lay-flat pram so I was REALLY glad that the two seats on the B-Agile reclined separately so that I could fully recline Holly's side of the buggy to lay her completely flat. The hoods also expand and collapse seperately so if I want to shade Holly from the wind or sun I can do so without cramping Lara's style.  To be very honest, Lara has now outgrown the B-Agile (it is officially rated from birth to 15kg) but Lara quite regularly needs an afternoon nap when we are out and about and will request to sit in the buggy when she is tired.  When she isn't in the buggy, I use the spare seat as storage!!!

As a side-by-side double stroller I was expecting the B-Agile to be a bit of a beast but honestly, it is VERY compact for a double buggy. It is only 2cm wider than my existing Mothercare travel system and, if I am in the right frame of mind, I can just fit the B-Agile Double through my front door (I can't then fit it through any of the internal house doors though!).

I find the B-Agile double easier to manouvre than my pram. There are two wheels at the back and two sets at the front. The wheels are hard and someone had warned me that I would find this a bit of a shock after having used inflated tyres before but I much prefer the feeling of pushing the B-Agile and despite having put it through its paces on grass, farmland and pavements I have yet to experience any problems; I also like the peace of mind of knowing I'm not going to suffer a blow-out! The fact that the B-Agile is remarkably light for a double pushchair also contributes to its good manouvreability.

Saying that, the B-Agile double isn't a lightweight stroller - I do have to muster up some energy to lift it into the boot but thankfully it is incredibly easy to expand and collapse. The stroller expands with just one clip to undo and then whoosh it pops open. The first time my next-door neighbour saw me unfold a double buggy with just one hand he stood there speechless! To collapse it you have to press a button and pull a strap; its not as easy as opening it but it is still one of the least faffy strollers I have ever come across.

The Britax B-Agile oozes quality. The fabrics of the seats and hood are smart, black and very sturdy. The buckle of the belt is a bit plasticy and in order to adjust the straps you have to pull the straps out of the buckle which caused me two broken nails, then tears, then total collapse on the floor in an angry heap to wait for my husband to come home from work to help me!

In terms of size, I am sooooooo happy with the B-Agile double.  Because it folds in one piece the double buggy actually takes up considerably less space than my old two-piece travel system.  In fact, I am quite enjoying having space in my boot for more than just a buggy!

Important features for me were:-

  • An easy-grip handle that adjusts effortlessly (my husband and I like the handlebars to be at totally different heights).
  • A big storage space under the buggy for me to put parcels and coats and stuff into. the space on the B-Agile is very large but can be difficult to get to due to the low ride height of the seats above - parcels don't often fit but coats for the whole family definitely do.
  • Adaptors for an infant carrier included so that you can turn it into a travel system for Britax car seats.
  • Availability of a bumper bar (although I was a bit disappointed that one of these didn't come as standard with the B-Agile double).
  • Raincover included.

The Britax B-Agile Double Stroller is available exclusively at Mothercare for £349.99.

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Lara is a Petalina Doll Tester

In our house Lara is just as likely to be found bashing things with big sticks or getting muddy in the garden as she is to be found baking pretend cakes in her kitchen or tucking her toys into bed.  I don't consider her to be particularly girly but I'm sure that there is something in a little girl's genes that means, regardless of upbringing, they like to bake cakes, play princesses and cuddle dolls.  I've never bought Lara a doll.  It just never seemed the right time even though I know she is always playing "mummies and babies" at nursery with her friends.

But now is definitely the right time.  I have very fond memories of my own Tiny Tears dolls who came into my life at about the same age as Lara is now.

Lara and I have been invited to pass on that dolly gene by Petalina.  Petalina sell dolls of all shapes and sizes to suit all budgets and tastes.  They also sell dolls clothes, accessories, furniture and lots of generally lovely bits and pieces.

Lara and I are both pretty excited about her being an official Petalina little doll tester so stay tuned for reviews and competitions over the coming months.  Lara's doll arrived in the post this morning so I can't wait to show her when she gets home from preschool.

Sunday 28 October 2012

Fisher Price Disney Princess Songs Palace Review

The Disney Princess Songs Palace from Fisher Price is part of the ever-popular Fisher Price Little People range.  Little People in their various forms have been a firm favourite in this house ever since Lara was a toddler and the combination of Disney Princesses with Little People was one we couldn't miss when Fisher Price offered Lara the chance to review the Disney Princess Songs Palace!

Fisher Price Disney Princess Songs Palace

The palace is a very grand castle indeed and, as with many of the Little People play range, has a number of points throughout the castle which make noises when your child interacts with the toy.  I think the doorbell chime is pretty neat when the grand palace doors open and close!

On the reverse of the castle there are a few different rooms for your child to role-play with their little princesses.  A bedroom with a double bed, a dressing room and a tall tower.  There is also a moving balcony that slides up and down outside one of the towers.

Inside there is a ballroom floor which plays music when you rotate it.  And the most impressive part is that, when you place a princess on the dancefloor, the toy knows which princess it is and plays different voices and sounds depending on which princess you are playing with.  The Disney Princess Songs Palace comes with Snow White and Cinderella included but there are lots of others that you can buy in sets or pairs, perhaps as special treats in the future.

The palace comes in several parts that you have to construct yourself - trying to do so brought me to my wits end and even Lara, who had been eager to play with the toy from the minute we unwrapped it, told me to take a break and come back to it later when Holly had stopped crying!!! Armed with a screwdriver, Mr. B came to our rescue!

I was also frustrated that some (but not all) of the imagery on the castle came as stickers that you had to apply yourself.  Lara, being a 3-year-old girl, helped herself to the stickers and plastered them all over a piece of paper while I was building the castle - sigh.

Disney Princess Songs Palace

I would say that the entertainment value of the Little People Princess Songs Castle comes from the princess characters and the moving dancefloor.  The dining table and chairs are really a bit big for using inside the castle itself which reduces its effectiveness as a doll's house.  I also think that a little girl like Lara expects a few more pieces of furniture and accessories in a doll's house to keep her absorbed for very long.  I think that as a plastic doll's house it is very sturdy and could withstand usage from children as young as 18 months but very honestly, it isn't the best quality or most exciting doll's house I've ever laid eyes on.

The Fisher Price Disney Princess Songs Palace costs around £49.99.

VTech Innotab 2 Review

VTech Innotab 2
Innotab 2
At 3.5 years old, Lara is very comfortable with tablet technology such as the Innotab 2.  Last year Lara was asked to review the Innotab and, although she got a lot of pleasure out of it, our issues with battery life (or lack of it) meant that the Innotab didn't often get used in our house but this year VTech sought out our thoughts on the new and improved Innotab 2 and I can tell you know that the Innotab 2 is a LOT more regularly used than its predecessor ever was.

The Innotab 2 is more compact but has the same sized screen.  There is absolutely no doubt that the battery life has been improved.  I am using the same rechargeable batteries in the Innotab 2 and they last for weeks rather than hours.  Thank you VTech!  Saying that, we do own a VTech charger so we can always switch to mains power whenever we need to.

playing with the Innotab 2
Playing and watching the Innotab 2
Lara most enjoys playing with the Colour and Pop and Art Studio apps on her Innotab 2.  These days she is very independent and needs more or less no help from me.  Occasionally she needs me to help her save or delete a picture she has created or to explain some of the more complex apps like the Friends / Contacts app which I have no intention of her populating for some years to come!

The best improvement for the Innotab 2 is the inclusion of an on-board camera which your child can use to take still images or videos all of their own.  The lens rotates so they can even take a picture of themselves and see it appear on the screen as they take it.  Lara really likes using the camera to add special effects such as pirate outfits to me and Mr. B!  The pictures are surprisingly good quality (although we do miss having a flash) and I often transfer her pictures onto my own laptop to show her.

Transferring images and movies is quite easy to do, especially if you have an SD card in which case they seem to be immediately available on the Innotab (there is nothing in the VTech documentation that suggests this is so, but our pictures definitely appear on the Innotab without me having to transfer them using the Learning Lodge Navigator).  Officially, to transfer images and videos you have to use the LLN software to move files and apps over.  You can transfer movies that are in MPEG format (my home video recorder doesn't use this format and I'm too lazy/tight to buy conversion software so we do without).

The Innotab 2 doesn't feel as sturdy as the original but I can say from experience that it is still more than capable of coping with being dropped, scraped and sucked (by baby Holly).  It comes with a spare stylus in case you lose one.

I haven't quite grasped why all the default installed apps have to be held on a cartridge these days.  It is a bit frustrating because it means that you always need at least one cartridge with you (we take Dora the Explorer with us most places we go too).

Peppa Pig on Innotab 2
Peppa Pig on Innotab 2

The apps available through the Learning Lodge Navigator are largely disappointing and overpriced compared to the equivalent types of games and videos available for an iPad.  I was however pleased to see that you can now buy and download series of children's shows such as Peppa Pig which will come in useful for our forthcoming holiday.  The better quality stories and apps are all the most expensive ones or the ones that come on pre-loaded cartridges.

I still think that an IPad tablet would offer a better long term investment if you are looking specifically for a learning / play tablet for an older child but for a child of about 3 years to 5 years to have a tablet that they are responsible for and which only contains their games, stories, music and video, the Innotab is good value and is FAR better able to stand up to the wear and stress of belonging to a preschooler!


Saturday 27 October 2012

British Red Cross First Aid Challenge

Yesterday saw the launch of a brand new campaign by the British Red Cross to encourage as many parents as possible to challenge themselves to learn just enough first aid skills to equip them for dealing with some common emergencies for babies and young children.

Like many parents and parents-to-be, I have been promising myself that I would learn some basic first aid skills ever since I first gave birth to Lara. For many reasons, I just never got around to it - time never seemed to be on my side. At the weekend I was lucky enough to be invited to attend a one-day British Red Cross training course for baby and child first aid skills.

The British Red Cross are challenging parents to commit to learning a few basic first aid skills for their family, however little time you think you have to spare. You can sign up to the First Aid Challenge. By signing up and making the commitment to yourself you get free access to the British Red Cross first aid training videos, advice on what to do in an emergency, regular email updates on new first aid advice, news of free local training sessions and details of local hands-on first aid training courses. if you register now you also get a £5 voucher towards a first aid course and you are entered into a draw to win £500.

You can sign up to the First Aid Challenge for free at or, if you happen to be at the Baby Show this weekend, you can find them at Earl's Court where they will be offering snippets with handy first aid tips every hour.

My hands on first aid course was a full day from 9am until 3pm at my local British Red Cross centre. I was joined by lots of expectant mums and dads, new mums and some people training to work with children. The course covered essential life-saving skills in a hands-on manner such as how to act in the event that your baby or child chokes on something, or what to do if they lose consciousness or cannot breathe. I found the hands-on skills extremely useful as I was totally unaware of CPR techniques or the recovery position for a baby as young as Holly.

I was also very impressed by the range of other first-aid skills that were taught. What to do in the event of a head injury (hmmm, I could have done with this a few months ago when Holly ended up in A&E), what to do in the event of a very high temperature or seizure, how to spot the first signs of meningitis, steps you should take if your child swallows a toxic substance or is stung by a bee and first aid in the event of drowning. All of these are things you would never want to happen to your child but which are all too common in the home and it is wise to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to be able to react should you need to save a child's life.

I was really impressed with my First Aid for Baby & Child training course which, at £37.50 for a full day was remarkably good value; I feel like I greatly improved my confidence that I would be able to act in the event of an emergency. However, learning first aid skills doesn't have to take a whole day; the first aid challenge highlights the fact that you really can learn some essential skills just by watching a short video or reading a fact sheet. They may be little things but they could save a life.  Go on...Take the challenge...make that first step like you have been meaning to!

Friday 26 October 2012

A Holiday Inn Lie In to Look Forward To

This week I'm quite excited to be looking forward to a trip to Chester next month to visit family, visit Chester Zoo and spend a night at the Holiday Inn Chester South.

With the clocks going back this weekend, lots of mums like me are looking forward to a lie in.  I really enjoy my wintery lie ins when it gets darker... I'll just have to explain this to baby Holly won't I?!?

Holiday Inn recently surveyed a number of people about the things they most liked or hated to wake up to in the mornings.  Understandably, the alarm clock came pretty high up in the list of most-hated but I bet the sound of a crotchey baby was pretty high up there too.

If you are looking for good offers for Halloween or half term, including rooms starting at just £49 when you book 21 days in advance, try visiting

I'll update you on how we get on with our Holiday Inn Chester South stay at the end of November.

Thursday 25 October 2012

Reading Eggs Review

Lara is just starting to learn to read. I love seeing her try so hard to understand the words in her favourite books and it brings me great joy to hear her say a word she has recognised (Menu, Exit, Toilet are a few she has surprised me with!). I'm eager to help Lara on her reading journey but I don't want it to be too much like hard work at present given that she doesn't even start school for another 11 months and so I was really excited to try out Reading Eggs.

Reading Eggs is an online reading resource for children from 3 to 7 years old (there is also Reading Eggspress for 7-13 year olds). You register online and you can get a free trial for your children to see if the games, tools and activities work for you. After that, you have to pay for either a 6 or 12 month subscription (which works out to be as little as £3.33 a month).

I signed Lara up with Reading Eggs and started her right at the very beginning of the very first lesson. For interest, I also signed myself up and took their reading test with the intention of trying to see some of the slightly harder levels!

Each section of Reading Eggs is split into "maps" which have lots of different levels. For each activity that your child completes within a level, they earn eggs! Lara's very first lesson was all about the letter M. She started by having to spot the "mmmmmm" and then had to pick out the letter from among others. Then she had to spot things that started with "mmmmm" before completing the level by dragging and dropping the correct m-words (such as mud, men, mop, mouse, mother) to match their pictures.

I was really pleased that by the end of lesson 1, Lara, at 3.5 years old was able to pick out the word "moss" from the word "mop" without my help. Level 1 was certainly challenging for her but she really enjoyed it.

Level 2 was much the same, but for the letter S. This is where it became a bit of a problem... Lara lost interest. I think it was too repetitive for her. Lara had already become frustrated with the repetition of the activities on Level 1 (each exercise seemed to go on for quite some time and in some cases was repeated, just with the words in slightly different places). While I understand that repetition is paramount in early learning, the levels of repetition really put Lara off. So much so that despite frequent attempts to get her to give it another go, her interest lasts no longer than two minutes and so we haven't managed to progress any further than the second lesson of Reading Eggs. I think that for Lara at least, Reading Eggs was too much like hard learning for her right now, and not enough about play.

And so I took a delve into the world of Reading Eggs myself to see whether Lara would grow into it. I'm really impressed. I think that particularly once they get to primary school age, the balance of play vs reading is good. I enjoyed playing the arcade games all by myself!!! Repetition though really is the key here and I think that as a child who can move more quickly through the exercises without struggling, the repetition of the types of games and reading challenges wouldn't be so draining... in fact it would more likely feel rewarding.

I will definitely be coming back to Reading Eggswith Lara whether that is in a couple of weeks, months or years.

I do have two other observations though - (1) I get FAR too many emails from Reading Eggs trying to convince me to sign up for a subscription once my free trial has ended. It is a bit off-putting. And (2) due to the drag-and-drop and interactive mouse elements of nearly all of the games and activities, I would recommend that ReadingEggs is probably best used with a computer mouse - Lara finds it extremely tricky to move the laptop's touch pad quickly enough and drag-and-drop requires a lot of concentration on her part.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

The Paper Dolls Children's Book Review

The Paper Dolls is written by children's author Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Rebecca Cobb.

The Paper Dolls is largely, a rhyming story as is Julia Donaldson's style.  It tells the tale of a little girl whose mother helps her make a set of paper dolls and those dolls go on adventures dreamed up through the imagination of the little girl.  It may look like a toy dinosaur on a bed cover but in fact it is a towering, terrifying t-rex in the vast open rainforest.  It may look like a pair of fluffy slippers but in fact it is... well, that kind of thing anyway!

I like the gentle rhyme and find it easy to read to Lara in a way that lets me add my own emphasis on the exciting or dramatic parts.  The names of the paper dolls are repeated frequently and Lara already knows them all and says them along with me.  I think the book is beautifully illustrated in a scruffy, hand-drawn style that really goes well with the content of the story.  The Paper Dolls would probably (although not exclusively) be most appropriate read to a little girl and I would be happy to have read this to Lara from about 1 year upwards and I'm sure she will read it herself when she can.

At the end of the book we see the little girl all grown up and making paper dolls for her own daughter.  It goes full circle.  When I first read The Paper Dolls to Lara, this last bit bought a lump to my throat. I actually had to stop reading and compose myself. It isn't a scary, upsetting or particularly sad. It just really hit a note with me - it felt very close to home.  Maybe one day Lara will be sat on a beanbag next to her daughter reading The Paper Dolls?

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Organic Surge Gentle Meadow Body Lotion Review

Now that Holly is no longer a tiny newborn baby, I am increasingly finding that I have a little bit more time for myself to get back into my skincare and bodycare regimes again and it is nice to have some new smellies to make me feel like me again. I have been using Organic Surge's Gentle Meadow Body Lotion which is particularly recommended for expectant and new mums because it is great for nourishing stressed, stretched skin.

The Gentle Meadow body lotion smells just like .... err... a gentle meadow??? Well, yes! The lotion is made from natural ingredients and is scented with a blend of lavender and geranium which make it a truely heavenly smelling body lotion that chills me out as soon as I open the lid. Lavender is particularly good for relaxation and de-stressing and calming me down at the end of a busy day with two cheeky monkies.

Unlike some natural and organic body lotions that I have tried in recent months, the Organic Surge Gentle Meadow Body Lotion does seem to hydrate my skin - I notice this most on my lower legs and upper arms. It is quite a nice thick lotion but still easy to squeeze out of the bottle and apply. It is just oily enough to coat the skin but not so greasy that it sits there for hours.

Organic Surge Gentle Meadow body lotion is suitable for even the most sensitive skin during and after pregnancy (and whenever you feel like being pampered... you don't need to be a new mummy to enjoy it!). It is SLS and paraben free and doesn't have any man-made fragrance or colour in it.

I have really been enjoying using this body lotion and I think, given that I have noticed Organic Surge products popping up in my local Waitrose, it may well be a product that I continue using for some time to come.

Monday 22 October 2012

Holly's Own Bedroom

The day that Holly moved into her own bedroom was one of mixed emotions.  It felt like the end of an era.

Holly slept in a crib next to my side of the bed from the day she was born until she was nearly 5 months old. As we did when Lara reached about the same age, we moved Holly into her own cot at the point when her arms and legs were bashing against the sides of the crib.  Despite using Bumpsters to protect her little arms and legs, Holly seemed able to reach an arm out and poke me in the leg each morning!

I had been hoping to delay Holly's move into the cot until Lara was ready to move out of her cotbed.  There was no way that I was going to invest in a new bed and mattress for Lara until she was successfully sleeping through the night without accidents.  We are close (we only have to wake her up once now) but not close enough that we could offer Holly the cotbed to sleep in.  Thankfully the MIL and SIL came to the rescue with a hand-me-down cot which, quite spookily, matches the changing unit in Holly's nursery!  Then all I had to do was fork out for one of our biggest nursery expenses... a mattress.  I have been so impressed with Lara's Mothercare waterproof mattress with Spacetec and Coolmax (they sound scientific, don't they!) that I wanted to buy Holly exactly the same mattress but with a price tag of £140 this involved me selling my own soul on ebay (along with newborn baby products we bought and never used and a fine selection of baby clothes).

After a few weekends putting off the inevitable, we finally got around to preparing the nursery.  Mr. B. suddenly discovered an eagerness to construct the cot when it occurred to him that moving Holly out of our bedroom might re-ignite my interest in him at bedtimes rather than Holly! It is a bit cramped in the nursery now with barely any room to stand but it isn't a long term thing - I would like both girls to share a bedroom eventually and I won't need a comfy breastfeeding chair in the nursery for ever (I hope).

And so the day finally came.  Holly quite obediently fell asleep about an hour earlier than normal and we popped her into her cot.  It was the first time we had taken her up to bed before going to bed ourselves and when Mr. B came back downstairs we both felt at a bit of a loss as to what we should do next.  A strong drink and CSI Miami did the trick nicely!

It felt weird and quiet without Holly in our room that night but my, it felt good.  The big space in our room where the crib had been now felt huge and airy - I even did a little dance just to prove how spacious it was!  I've slept really soundly since Holly moved out of our room but I still wake the instant that Holly wakes up and I'm up like a flash into her room to feed her.  Holly sleeps brilliantly too and we haven't had any problems getting her to settle in her new room.

Sunday 21 October 2012

Little Ladies Children's Tights Review

Lara was recently given the opportunity to try out some of the little girl's tights from Tightsplease. Their new range of tights for little girls is called Little Ladies and they are suitable from 2 years to 10 years old.

The Little Ladies range includes some really high fashion styles and some very functional styles that would be perfect for school.

Lara can be very fussy when it comes to choosing her clothes in the morning and on the day we took this photo it took me out of the blue because she had previously refused to wear her white cotton diamond tights because they were "too warm". On this particular cold and autumny morning Lara insisted on wearing a summer dress (sigh) but justified this to me by saying she was going to keep warm by wearing her thick tights! The tights aren't enormously thick - just a nice every day knitted pair which go with pretty much anything. They are very good quality and the fit was brilliant - no hitching up throughout the day!!!

Lara absolutely LOVES these Union Jack Footless Tights and I think she looks gorgeous when she is wearing them. These tights are a nice pale pink with darker pink flowers and a Union Jack design made from the flowers just beneath the knees. These Little Ladies tights are very stretchy and clingy - I was worried that they might ride up around the ankles but they stay put very well. I was also very impressed at their lasting ability. Laras regularly wears these to nursery and they survive... ladder-free! Wow.

Lansinoh mOmma Warm Plate Review

When Lansinoh found out that we were about to start weaning Holly, they sent us the mOmma Warm Plate to test out.

The mOmma Warm Plate can be bought with one each of the mOmma rocking forks and rocking spoons and the complete set looks quite unlike anything else we have ever tried before. The colours are bright orange and bright green and the plate and cutlery are really big, bold and chunky. Ideal for tiny hands to grab as your littlies are learning to feed themselves.

For us, the warm bowl is ideal. I can place Holly's mashed food into the bowl as I am serving up the rest of our dinner, top the bowl up with hot water and let her food gently warm as the rest of us get ready to eat. The mOmma warm bowl has a chamber underneath the bowl which can hold warm water which keeps the food gently warm while you eat.

The mOmma warm bowl can go in the dishwasher and also in the microwave (as long as you remember to unplug the cork so that steam etc. can escape from the chamber!). It has one small compartment which we are currently using for Holly's mashed food and a larger compartment which will be good for finger foods as she grows up.

I really like the mOmma plate for using at home but I think it is a bit bulky for me to consider taking it out and about with us (which is a shame because the warming concept would work really well for a travel bowl). I also found the cork incredibly difficult to undo for the first three or four weeks that we used it (after that it seemed to loosen a bit and was far easier).

Our mOmma warm plate came with a rocking fork and spoon set. These are cutlery with big round heavy ends so that when you put them down they can rock and stand on their bases. This is a little piece of genius because it means I don't have to worry about putting a spoon down on the table while I am feeding Holly and it potentially getting dirty. I also worship these spoons because I can put them easily in my changing bag for taking out with me, safe in the knowledge that the integrated covers will protect them in my bag before us, and equally, they will protect my bag from ick after I have used them to feed Holly!

Holly is a touch young to be attempting to spoon feed herself but I will definitely let her have a try with the mOmma spoon soon as the big chunky handle may make things quite easy for her to grip.

All of the Lansinoh mOmma tableware is BPA free.

Thursday 18 October 2012

Zoe and Beans Hello Oscar Children's Book Review

Hello Oscar is the latest in the series of Zoe and Beans children's books by Chloe and Mick Inkpen published by Macmillan Children's Books.

Lara has loved the Zoe and Beans books we have read together so I couldn't wait to read her Hello Oscar. I read it to her by torchlight one bedtime when she was just about to drift off to sleep which was a little bit of a mistake because it actually made her laugh out loud. There was full on guffawing! I've never known Lara to laugh so much at a book before and it made me laugh at her laughing!

Zoe and her friend, Beans the dog start discovering animals in their garden. Then they hear the words "Hello Oscar" and things start getting very weird. The words of a very persistent parrot get Zoe quite frustrated. I had great fun saying "Hello Oscar" in my best parrot voice. Perhaps this is what triggered the hilarity?

Once again we love the simplicity of the images in the Zoe and Beans book and I find the story easy to read. It isn't formulaeic in any way. Lara loves the story and it is great to meet new animals and new characters.  I think Zoe has a bossy yet inquisitive attitude that reminds me quite a lot of Lara so we both identify with the story.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Littlewoods Baby and Nursery Review

I live for online shopping and mail order - I'm just not a high street shopping kinda mummy. I regularly buy fashion online and through catalogues but this week I am reviewing the baby and nursery department from Littlewoods.

I was really impressed by the range of items on sale for babies and toddlers by Littlewoods. I hadn't really thought of them before as specialists in baby products but now I would look at Littlewoods to see if they sold what I was looking for before resorting to the high street.

We tried out this very sturdy plastic changing mat which has raised edges to help stop your baby from rolling too far. The Ladybird My Little World Change Mat costs £12.99 and is available in pink or blue. I like it because it fills our whole changing unit and doesn't leave a gap at the edges for stuff to fall into (and dust to collect) and also because it is pink without being garish.

I also splashed out on this Nike tracksuit for Holly! Mr. B. cringes when he sees Holly wearing it but I think she looks funky and it really is one of the highest quality items of clothing Holly currently owns (which I would expect from the Nike name).

The Nike Baby Tri Colour Suit comes in a pink/grey combo or a green and blue combo. The tracksuit bottoms have a stretchy elasticated waist and the hooded top has a zip fastening. Despite what Mr. B. thinks, Holly looks very snuggly in it.

Finally, I was REALLY surprised to see that Littlewoods sold baby cosmetics. There are some gift boxes for new mums and babies available to buy but there are also individual bottles and packs of baby essentials. This Burts Bees Baby Bee Bubble Bath is one of our all time favourites.

At £12 the bubble bath is a little more expensive than I would expect to pay on the high street, as was the changing mat but for the convenience of home delivery and easy returns without the hassle of the high street then I am usually happy to pay a little more.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Halloween Sweet Treats

Lara and I have been practicing making our Halloween treats to get into the Autumnal spirit. We always like to have some hand-made goodies to offer friends and colleagues at Halloween and this year Lara wanted to be in charge!

Our Halloween sweet treats were a very simple affair that Lara was able to create more or less unaided - iced halloween biscuits.

I bought a packet of rich tea biscuits, made up three sets of icing using icing sugar and a tiny amount of milk and then added the tiniest amount of food colouring to make green and orange icing. Lara then iced each of the biscuits and decorated using the sweets and sprinkles of her choice.

Our sprinkles in this case were spooky Haribo sweets from the Haribo sharing bags. Haribo sent us some of their Halloween range to review to get into the party spirit. Our bloodshot eye biscuits were made with Haribo Eggstreme Eggs which come in three different mixed-up colours. Our ghoulish biscuits were decorated with Haribo spooky ghosts (my favourite because of the blackcurrant ghosts!).

To see us through Halloween itself we have a pick trick-or-treat bucket of mini-bags of spooky sweets which is fab because we can give the single-portion bags to trick-or-treaters who come to call and Lara can use the bright orange bucket to store her craft items afterwards!

Not one to miss out on the Halloween action, Holly has also been getting into the Autumnal spirit with Ella's Kitchen goodies.  Holly has been munching on Pumpkin already!  Ella's Kitchen's stage 1 pouch with Sweet Potatoes, Pumpkins, Apples and Blueberries helped to get Holly into the swing of things too.

Ella's Kitchen also sell a stage 1 100% apple pouch which, alongside their 100% pear pouch has been one of our staples when out and about recently with Holly.  Lara meanwhile has been munching on Ella's Kitchen wintery snacks - the cinnamon and oranges munchy biccies make great every day snacks alongside her special sweet treats!

Monday 15 October 2012

Mummy, Am I Beautiful?

Lara is growing again. At 104cm she had outgrown many of her age 4+ clothes and she isn't yet 3 and a half. Sigh. And it isn't just phsyically that Lara is changing, her behaviour is also maturing.

I am crossing everything as I type this but I really do think that the bad behaviour has peaked and that currently we have more good days than bad. Lara can be wonderfully behaved when she wants to be and is great fun to be around. I have really enjoyed my two full days a week with her during my maternity leave. They are exhausting, but worth it.

Unfortunately, every morning the dark side of Lara rears its ugly head. Why getting dressed each day has to be so much of a struggle, I really don't know. Lara on a good day will take 20 minutes to get dressed. Some days it can be more than an hour. It always involves a tea party of some sort (???), rummaging through the boxes of baby toys in the spare room, reading books, shouting, tears and tantrums. Very rarely does it involve her actually getting herself dressed.

This is one area where Lara has regressed since Holly came into our lives. I have heard that it is quite common for the older child to suddenly 'forget' how to do something that they were perfectly capable of doing before their younger sibling was born. Personally, I think that Lara just does it for fun. A refusal to put socks on because "I caaaaaaaaannnnnnt" seems to bring a barely-perceptible smirk to her face.

After the battle (in which she ALWAYS wins) is complete, I ask Lara to brush her hair - she hates me doing it (I don't blame her, I used to hate my Mum brushing my hair too). Lara will obediently take the hairbrush and brush that small strip of hair either side of her ears. Then stop.

With a matted tangle of hair poking out of the back of her head, and a wild spray of blond frizz across her forehead Lara will come running back to me with the sweetest smile she can muster and ask me, "Mummy, am I beautiful?". It isn't meant to be funny, or pleading. It is simply her checking to see if she has brushed her hair properly or not.

Every morning when she asks me this, I melt. That annoying and exhausting preschooler who, five minutes earlier was driving me to the edge of my mellowness suddenly transforms into the single most gorgeous being on the planet. I don't care how messy her hair is; at this point in time, Lara is my angel. Her blonde hair is her glowing aura, her blue eyes sparkle at me and I can say nothing else to her but "Yes". "Yes Lara, you are beautiful".

...Then I let her go to nursery looking like a scarecrow!

Sunday 14 October 2012

Moosicology Review

Moosicology is a music learning aid for children from birth to about 7 years old; we were asked to review it with both Lara and Holly and we have been using it now for approaching two months.

Mr. B. and I love to see Lara's reading, writing and hands-on creative skills improve with every day that passes and we love to hear about the new things she has learned about the world around her but we are both quite aware that we have little to offer the girls in terms of musical development (me especially). I used to take Lara to "Music with Mummy" classes and I currently take Holly to the "Jolly Babies" equivalent but while I can see that spark of delight in their eyes when they listen to nursery rhymes and songs, I understand now that these classes are a lot more to do with the social aspect (for mum, as much as for baby), rather than learning music. For these reasons, I was really happy to come across Moosicology as a home learning aid for real music theory suitable for little ones.

Moosicology comes as a CD and a picture book guide.  Each lesson features a new aspect of music theory but it isn't so much taught, as presented.  Lara, at 3.5 years old, is totally oblivious to the fact that what she is listening to is music theory and (for me at least) it is actually quite advanced theory too.  Lesson one introduces crotchets and quavers and by lesson 8 you are up to syncopation!!!

Saturday or Sunday afternoons tend to be our music time.  When Lara asks to watch something on TV we instead recommend listening to some music.  All four of us sit in the living room and listen to the Moosicology CD while Lara sits with the colourful picture book on the sofa.  Actually, she doesn't sit for long; she normally gets up and starts bopping.  Lara likes to bop.  It is fab that Moosicology is something that we can enjoy as a family.  Holly gets to listen to the music and even at 5 months old she is taking in the fact that we are all moving and clapping to different rhythms, even if she doesn't know it yet.

I am really impressed with Moosicology.  Perhaps because music is somewhere that I felt there was a gap in what I could offer Lara myself in terms of learning and development (I'm not awfully musically minded).  I was shocked at first with how quickly the theory moved but Lara seems to have been swept along with it so I'll go with her on this one!

Perhaps the ultimate proof that Moosicology is working was last week when we were visiting potential primary schools with Lara.  We watched a Year 2 music lesson in which they were banging drums and learning about rhythms and Lara told the teacher she already knew about crotchets and quavers.  I was so proud of her!!!  I can really see Moosicology being a good resource for us to help support her through her primary learning alongside her school activities.  And it isn't just in music lessons that it could help the girls - Moosicology strongly believe that with regular music learning a child's all round learning and intelligence can be improved (they have lots of interesting science stuff to back this claim up but you know, its quite easy to see that a child who 'gets' music and relaxes and enjoys it can open their mind up to a whole lot more than just music).

Moosicology costs £67 which I think is still good value given that I should get another 7 years use out of it!

Lansinoh Therapearl 3in1 Breast Therapy Review

I have been using the Lansinoh Therapearl 3-in-1 Breast Therapy pads for the last month to see if they help me when expressing breast milk.

Lansinoh therapearl 3in1 breast therapy
Lansinoh Therapearl 3in1 Breast Therapy

Lansinoh Therapearl packs can be used hot or cold for a number of uses when breastfeeding and they particularly appealed to me for use when warm. The two shaped packs can be heated in the microwave and, snug in their soft outer casings, can be wrapped around the cup of your breast pump to help gently warm the breast and encourage milk let-down and faster flow of milk.

As the evenings have grown cooler I have been quite thankful for the warm Therapearl pads. It hardly takes any time to heat them in the microwave and I can do this while I am sterilising the breast pump (they fit almost any breast pump). The warm feeling is very conmforting and I notice that when I use them, I am able to produce a good 20-40ml more milk than without. I am not sure that I have noticed any increase in the time it takes for let-down though.
Lansinoh therapearl
Therapearl pack

Each of the two Therapearl packs is filled with heat/cold retaining beads. The packs are well shaped and wrap neatly around the breast. The packs have a soft fabric casing which clips together to hold it in place in a circle and to protect your skin from the hot/cold packs.

Not since the first weeks of breastfeeding have I suffered from sore engorged breasts and I thankfully have not suffered from mastitis but the Lansinoh Therapearl 3in1 Breast Therapy can also be used to relieve the pain and swelling from these conditions by cooling the packs in the fridge or better, freezing them for around 2 hours before use.

In the new year when I return to work I will be stopping breast feeding. I expect this to be a gradual stop but these things may be out of my control! I remember last time that it became uncomfortable in those first days when I went to work because it was a bit of a shock to my system so I am hoping to take the Therapearl Breast Therapy packs with me to help out if my breasts become painful during the day. If there is a time when I am going to suffer from engorgement or be at risk of mastitis, that will be when.

The Lansinoh Therapearl packs are reusable and make a great addition to your set of breastfeeding essentials. During the early days after birth I think they would be indispensible.

Saturday 13 October 2012

Amazon Family - Baby Shopping Made Easy?

Earlier this month when Amazon launched their new Amazon Family service, I was there, banging on the door to sign up. In my capacity as an Emma's Diary blogger, I was given the chance to be one of the first people to trial the service.

Amazon Family is a new subscription service designed to make the process of buying all the bits and bobs that you need for baby just that little bit easier (and less stressful on the wallet too).

I signed up to Amazon Family using my existing Amazon account and at present you can get a free three-month membership to Amazon Prime which gives you free next day delivery on any item you order that qualifies for Prime. I had been considering joining Amazon Prime for some time as I regularly order through Amazon and the run-up to Christmas seemed like the perfect time to give it a try. At the end of my free trial, if I don't want to continue paying for Prime, then I can opt out with a single button click from inside my account details.

On my very first visit to the Amazon Family Hub I had a good look round all of the special offers. Amazon promise to offer Amazon Family members at least £50 in savings on baby items every month and things which immediately caught my eye were discounts on Plum Baby food of upto 40% right now as well as good offers on children's shoes and nappies.

Unfortunately most of the offers right now don't appeal to me. As a cloth mama, I don't need to put in regular orders of nappies or baby wipes and I only use ready-made baby food as a back-up when we are out and about so a regular subscription to a bulk order of baby food doesn't tick my boxes either. Mind you, I was tempted to subscribe to a regular Subscribe & Save order of Organix Cocoa and Raisin bars as Lara is loving these right now and I find them incredibly hard to source in the supermarkets. I opted instead to buy a bulk box of them (36 in total)... I don't think we will be running out for a while now!

Amazon Family offer you a £10 discount off your first order over £50 in their baby store. Although there are links and menus available to help you locate the baby store, I actually do most of my shopping through the search field - I search for what I want and then when I've found it I add it to my basket. This means that it is quite hard for me to tell when the thing I have bought is officially from their baby store or not and so I didn't seem to qualify for the promotion. I queried this and Amazon responded very quickly to give me my discount but despite re-asking, I have yet to receive an explanation of what I did wrong on my order to not qualify for the discount automatically. If you stay with the full paid-for Amazon Family service (including Prime) beyond the three month trial you also qualify for another hefty discount off your next £50+ order.

I really liked the way that as soon as I had signed up to Amazon Family, my amazon experience changed for the better. All of the products that qualify for free Prime delivery were really clearly marked and when I placed my order I was given a choice of delivery partner (I chose Royal Mail first class because I find it easier to pick up missed parcels at the post office rather than courier delivery offices). I also found the emails that notified me when my purchases had been dispatched to be more informative than normal.

On my first order from Amazon Family I bought a few essentials that we had been needing for a while - a bath mat, booster seat, snack bars, swim nappies (at an amazing price I might add), a food masher and that glamourous essential - 180 breast pads! All of these arrived the very next working day and so I'm looking forward to making the most of my Amazon Family membership over the coming months in the run up to Christmas.

Thursday 11 October 2012

The Froobles Fun Things To Make And Do Activity Book Review

Lara has inherited the crafty gene from her Grandmother. Lara's behaviour is always most calm when she is applying herself to a craft or art activity. Admittedly, things can get messy... but then that's what it's all about, isn't it?

Lara was kindly asked to give her thoughts on the brand new Froobles Activity Book - Fun Things to Make and Do by Ella Davies. Lara has recently become a big Froobles fan both through the books and the apps. When the book arrived, Lara wanted to get started immediately... this was unfortunate as it was about 10 minutes until tea time and the table was already set!

The first activity that Lara attempted was to make a set of musical instruments from things that she rescued from the weekly recycling box! She made a rattle type shaker by putting rice into a bottle and then decorating the bottle and followed this with a drum that she made with a decorated infant formula box. After sticking on some coloured paper, she used the Froobles stickers from the Fun Things to Make and Do book to finish them off.

Lara was also really eager to get finger doodling and to make a cressy character. Our next project from the Froobles activity book is going to be a flowery scene with rotating flowers... I just need to remember where I put my national collection of split pins first.

Fun Things To Make and Do has about 14 activities in it and would make a perfect gift as a half-term present to inspire children if they can't get out and play. None of the activities are pushing any boundaries craft-wise. Paper chains, leaf rubbings and chocolate cornflake cakes aren't new ideas but they are presented in a very clear manner and printed on the page in a way that gives direction to the adult present and which inspires Lara to get involved. Lara can see on each page what the end product should look like and see the steps involved and I can read the instructions to her and take note of the little tips on offer too.

The book offers a large collection of stickers at the back which are used to finish off each of the activities involved - there are smiley faces, stars and lots of Frooble characters and this is really where the book adds value.

Fun Things to Make and Do (Froobles Activity Books) costs £4.99 and is part of a range of Froobles activity books that also includes stickers!

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Weaning is Go!

Last week I blogged for Emma's Diary about how much I love the process of weaning.

I know that weaning can be a time of much anxiety and stress for many mum and dads but it should be (and most certainly can be) a process that both you and your baby enjoy together. To me, weaning a baby is one of the greatest joys of parenthood but then I am a self-professed foodie.

It is recommended that you wait until your baby is six months old before you start to wean them onto solids and not before 17 weeks as their digestive system is not yet ready. At 17 weeks Holly showed no sign at all of being even vaguely ready to wean but 7 days is a long time in the life of a baby and by 18 weeks she was unstoppable. In that one week Holly's first tooth appeared, she stopped sleeping through the night, started demanding TWO bedtime bottles as well as her normal breast feeds and started screeching every time any of the rest of the family sat down to eat. The day that Lara offered Holly a piece of nectarine and she happily took it and munched on it, I knew that Holly was ready for us to introduce solids.

Holly's first roast dinner

When it comes to introducing solids I've chosen to combine purees and baby led weaning (once she turns six months) and do it our own way. The Mellow way! My freezer is now full of scrumptious concoctions of fruit and vegetables so that I can lift one out whenever we need a quick meal. I top up the home made purees with a small selection of carefully chosen sachets of baby food and non-wheat cereals - I'm not super-mummy after all. I am well prepared with a house full of bibs, sippy cups, face wipes and soft-tipped spoons. Weaning is GO!

Tommee Tippee sent us a set of soft-tipped first weaning spoons for Holly's first tastes and these have proven to be a godsend - when you decide to wean early with purees, there is a lot of mopping up to be done by scraping the food from around their tiny mouths and a soft-tipped spoon means this is less uncomfortable for them. It also helps them to get used to having a spoon in their mouth as those first days are all about learning to wrap their tiny little lips around a spoon.

Nom, Nom, Nom
I love watching the excitement with which Holly looks up to see what food is coming next. Her eyes glow, her little mouth parts and as the spoon of food meets her tiny mouth her little lips pucker up and sometimes her face screws up as she tries a new flavour for the very first time. So far we have had successes (avocado was a favourite) and failures (peas and potatoes were refused). Sweet fruits certainly seem to bring bigger smiles than green vegetables.

I've noticed how different Holly is to Lara. Lara's appetite was immense (it still is) and she VERY quickly moved onto mashed food and finger foods but Holly is taking it a bit more slowly. I've also struggled a bit with Holly and drinks. Holly has always been a bit of trouble when it comes to taking a bottle and it is the same with a sippy cup - most of the cooled boiled water Holly is given ends up being spat out and dribbled down her front. I have now tried 5 different cups with Holly and the only one that has worked so far is the Tommee Tippee Tip It Up Cup which Holly always seems eager to grab and the soft silicone spout must feel quite like a teat so she has now started to get the hang of it and is slowly starting to be able to drink without my help.
I've got the hang of this cup now, Mummy!

Over the coming months I can't wait to introduce Holly to some of our favourite family foods (I'll admit she has already tried her first curry!)  The Tommee Tippee First Weaning Spoons and Tip It Up Cup are available from ASDA.

Monday 8 October 2012

Cooking with Children :: BBQ Chicken Drumsticks and Spicy Rice Recipe

There are one or two recipes I cook regularly which are family secrets that have been passed down to me by my own Mum. This recipe for barbecue sauce is one that my Mum taught me and I decided that now would be a good time to introduce it to Lara. If I'm honest then I'll say that usually I don't follow a recipe for BBQ sauce, I just sort of make it up as I go along but ensure that I have approximately the right amount of a few key ingredients and then top it up with whatever condiments I happen to have in the house. I'm sure that in its original form it came from a cookbook (and if she is reading this then I reckon that my Mum will probably tell me which).

The absolute key ingredient is a little secret of mine that I am now ready to share as part of the Heinz Secret Ingredient Challenge. Without tomato ketchup, this BBQ sauce would be nothing! Heinz Tomato Ketchup are sharing some of their favourite 'secret ingredient' recipes on their facebook page and their youtube channel.


For the chicken:
10-12 chicken drumsticks
2 tablespoons Heinz tomato ketchup
2 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
1 tablespoon soy sauce (we use a dark soy sauce)
2 teaspoons english mustard
1 tablespoon malt vinegar
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon plum jam (any sweet jam will do but strawberries and raspberries may taste a bit weird in a savoury dish!)

For the rice:
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
2 small cups of rice
1/2 an onion (we used a red onion for colour)
2 peppers chopped (we used several different colours)
1 small can red kidney beans
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1/2 a can of chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon Heinz tomato ketchup
3 cups of water

  • Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade.
  • Make the barbecue sauce by pouring the oil, vinegar, honey, soy sauce, ketchup and mustard into a bowl - this is great fun for littlies to do, especially with a big squeezy bottle of ketchup that goes EVERYWHERE!
  • Mix the ingredients well to combine them before transferring to a small saucepan
  • Heat the sauce over a low heat and stir until the vinegar smell has dispersed.
  • Now add the plum jam and increase the heat a little and stir until the jam breaks down and combines with the rest of the sauce. The sauce is ready once the jam has all melted and the sauce has started to bubble. Allow it to cool enough that little fingers won't be burned by it because the next stage is to get messy!

  • Lay the chicken drumsticks out in a large casserole dish and then pour over the BBQ sauce. Then sprinkle on the sesame seeds. Using your hands, make sure the sauce is rubbed in and covers all of the drumsticks really well. You could leave the drumsticks to marinate if you like... or you can just get cooking.
  • Cover the drumsticks gently with a sheet of aluminium foil to stop the sauce from burning too early in the cooking process and put into the oven for 20 minutes.
  • After the 20 minutes has passed, remove the foil, whack the temperature of the oven up to about 220 and cook the drumsticks for another 5-10 minutes to make the sauce turn black, sticky and yummy. Before removing from the oven, make sure that the chicken is cooked by piercing one of the drumsticks in its thickest part and making sure that the juices run clear.

  • We like to serve our barbecue chicken drumsticks with spicy vegetable rice which takes about 20 minutes to make.
  • Chop the onion and pepper and fry with the sunflower oil in a saucepan that has a lid until softened (you don't need the lid until later).
  • Add the rice and sprinkle over the chilli powder and fry for one minute before pouring in the chopped tomatoes, kidney beans and water.
  • Stir in a big dollop of ketchup and then put the lid of the pan and bring the rice up to a simmer. Once simmering, reduce the heat and leave the rice to cook, more or less undisturbed for about 10-15 minutes.
  • When the rice is nearly ready it will start to stick so give it a stir and at this point add any seasoning you might want.
  • Serve the chicken drumsticks on a bed of rice and hey presto, you're done!

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