Mellow Mummy: November 2013 : Taking life as it comes...

Saturday, 30 November 2013

SnuffleBabe Vapour Rub Review

Over the past two or three days I have had plenty of need of my little pot of Snufflebabe Vapour Rub.  Poor old Holly has really been suffering with a stuffy nose and, having struggled myself earlier in the week I really know what she is going through.  It is nice to have a little trick like Snufflebabe up my sleeve when it comes to bedtimes to make it that little bit less stressful for her.
Snufflebabe Vapour Rub is a very gentle decongestant rub suitable for babies from 3 months old upwards.  A little tub of this gel-like rub costs around £2.50 and I would say, from the last three night's experience, that it is definitely worth every penny!  When I have put Holly to sleep with a little bit of Snufflebabe rubbed on her chest she has settled quickly, despite having had a yucky nose before bedtime. 
On the first night when I was woken up by her a couple of times in the night I didn't put any more on because I was too tired to go and find it but on the second night I was better prepared and had it ready so that when Holly woke up crying because she was struggling to breathe clearly I rubbed some more on and she settled easily.
Snufflebabe contains eucalyptus, menthol and thyme oils and when you place it onto your child's chest their body heat melts the ointment and releases the natural vapours which help to unblock the nose.  It is specifically designed for babies so that the level of the scent isn't too overwhelming but it is strong enough to work
The first few times I used it Holly gave me a look like "what on earth are you doing to me?" but she quickly learned that it was a good thing happening and tonight when I put her to bed she lifted up her pyjama top in anticipation with a big smile on her snot-covered face.
You can buy Snufflebabe in most supermarkets.

ASDA Wooden Dolls House Review

ASDA Direct know just how to get two little girls like mine excited - the day that they walked into the living room and found this special gift from ASDA Lara said "Wow" and Holly, led by her sister, managed a small "yay" (the house is as big as she is!)

This Traditional Wooden Dolls House is the thing of little girl's dreams.  I certainly would have loved one as a child.  It currently costs just £35 from ASDA Direct which is quite honestly a bargain as that is half the regular price and is certainly worth it.

The doll's house is about 62cm high when fully assembled.  It comes in a flat-packed box and did take a while to construct but it was very easy to follow the instructions and we didn't have any issues making it.  As a Christmas present, I would definitely recommend building it before the big day.

The house features three levels - the top one being in the attic which opens up on a hinge. The front of the house also opens up to reveal the full interior.  Bay windows and cute little wooden shutters really add to the appeal of the house.  It is such a simple, beautiful toy which will have many years of use in it.  I'm really happy with the quality of the construction (it is solid wood rather than woodchip) and I think it is up to the test of children manhandling it!

The house comes completely unfurnished which I actually think presents us with so many opportunities.  You can also buy a set of Wooden dolls house furniture and dolls from ASDA and I think a few different pieces of furniture will make nice stocking fillers for the girls.

For me, the dolls house is an opportunity to get creative.  I have great plans for decorating the house using carpet scraps and bits and pieces I can find around the house.  Project number one is going to be curtains and bed linen!  The probably onwards to clothes rails and a bath tub.  Lara has some good ideas too, she wants to make a table with cakes on.  Perfect!

Friday, 29 November 2013

Miffy Pink Farmer Backpack Review and a new Miffy iOS App

When we were doing our Treasure Trail at the weekend Lara wanted to make sure she was well prepared for our adventure - it was a great opportunity to try out this brand new Miffy pink farmer Backpack which is part of a colourful new range of Miffy toys and accessories this winter.

Lara packed her treasure map, pencils and camera as well as a scarf and gloves (which we needed almost instantly as it was freezing cold!).

This bag is a lovely compact backpack for any Miffy fan.  The straps were very easy to adjust so when Holly decided that she wanted to wear it, I quickly pulled the straps a little tighter for her.  There is a small pocket at the front for easy access to things and a very spacious larger pocket that forms the bulk of the bag.

For big Miffy fans there is a new Miffy app available on iOS which brings together all of the existing Miffy apps... and it is totally FREE!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Clued Up Treasure Trail Review

This weekend, to get out from Mr. B's very poorly feet, I took the girls out for a bit of an adventure... in Wokingham!  We were contacted by Clued Up who produce treasure hunts to try out one of their East Berkshire Treasure Trails so we spent a gorgeous wintery afternoon exploring our own town looking for clues.

Our Treasure Trail was really designed for slightly older children than Lara so she needed quite a lot of help to solve the clues but she was totally drawn in by the spy theme and really threw herself into the role play.  An evil spy has planted a device that threatens to destroy all of the trees in Wokingham and Lara was challenged to solve the clues to obtain a secret code that would de-activate it.  From the very first moment when Lara found out that the Oak tree was the symbol of Wokingham she was totally absorbed.

Our treasure trail came in a printed format (£6.99 to download or have a printed copy sent to you) which featured 4 pages of clues and directions to follow.  The trail was designed to take at least 2 hours but because I had a toddler in tow it took us quite some time to get started and we had to go back another day to finish off.  The trail included tips of where to park and other considerations such as road safety at specific parts of the walk.

After the first clue which I struggled to orient myself with, I found all of the directions and clues pretty easy to follow but not so easy that we lost interest. In fact, I REALLY enjoyed myself and can definitely picture us doing more of these trails as a family together as it was a great opportunity to get out in the fresh air with the girls.

Each clue required us to spot a landmark or a sign.  Some of the clues asked you to find the item from a picture, others asked for answers to a question based on the things you had seen.  Lara loved it. It was a brilliant opportunity for her to practice her new-found reading skills and some basic numbers skills.  Some of the clues required us to look up words in the handy morse code reference at the back of the booklet to obtain an answer and this was a bit beyond Lara but would be perfect for older children looking for a bit more of a challenge as it really fitted in well with the spy theme.

On our walk we discovered parts of our own town that we never knew existed.  Secret places, pretty places, historical places.  Wokingham town centre has an awful lot of history behind it and there are lots of blue plaques to be seen but when you live there and work there it is easy to drive or walk past every day and not even notice their significance.  Lara was overwhelmed when she found out that the school we were looking at was over 100 years old, "Wow, that's really really old mummy, older than me".

At the end of the trail your answers to the clues feed into a code-breaker which you need to use to gain the activation code.  If you enter your answer online you are entered into a draw to win £1000 in an annual draw.

Treasure Trails are available all over the country but Clued Up particularly focus on treasure hunts and murder mysteries in Buckinghamshire and East Berkshire and now I can't wait to try out some of the other trails in Windsor, Datchet or Cookham as they are great ways of exploring local places you thought you already knew.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Leapfrog Creativity Camera Review

This is a guest review of the Leapfrog Creativity Camera by a good friend and colleague of mine, Ignacio.

The Leap Frog Creativity Camera is composed of two parts: a protective case for an iPhone and an iOS app that allows children to take and edit photographs.

The case is visually striking. It immediately grabs children's attention and they immediately want to start playing with it. It fits an iPhone 5 perfectly, but it can also be used on iPhone 4 and 4S. To open the case an adult must pull 2 levers that open the camera's "screen." This allows an adult to correctly place the phone inside the case and have piece of mind that children who use it won't open the case and won't access any apps other than the one you intended (mainly the companion camera app), as once it's closed access to the home button is restricted.
I downloaded the app by searching for "Leap Frog Creativity Camera" in the App Store and found it instantly. Once the app was installed, it started in a restricted functionality mode, as some of the features require the camera case. To activate the features all that is needed is to press the large button at the bottom of the app that goes into a "registration mode." Registration couldn't be simpler, as all that is needed is to capture the camera's internal QR code. This is a guided process, and once the app detects the code it instantaneously enables all the features of the camera.

Once unlocked, the app has six main features: a simple point-and-shoot camera, a fun photo editor, a photo gallery, a "silly faces" camera, a photo book creator, and "peek-a-bugs". We'll talk about all of these shortly.
The point-and-shoot camera is accessed by pressing the centre camera image. It is a very simple camera that is perfect for kids to take photos. No clutter. No options. Simply press the case's shutter button or tap anywhere on the screen and it takes a photo and stores it in the app's memory. That's it!

The photo editor automatically loads the last photo and puts it in "edit mode." This photo editor is really tailored for small children. It allows them to add one of three frames: rainbow, bubbles, or theatre; add simple filters: rainbow, something I can only describe as "reddish," and pixellated. In this mode you can also add random images of things like dolphins, bunnies, flowers, cupcakes, or multi-coloured stars. Finally, the editor contains two more buttons: home and a shortcut to the photo gallery.

When the app is in "silly faces" mode it automatically uses the iPhone's front camera to take pictures. It has a guideline face that you can use to align your eyes and mouth. It then adds "silly parts" that you can tap to change, or pinch to make smaller or bigger. As with the main camera mode, using the case's shutter or tapping anywhere on the screen takes the picture.

From the main menu, you can access a feature called "photo books." These are three virtual books that contain a picture on the left-hand page, and a view finder on the right. They encourage children to find the drawing on the left and take a real picture on the right. Once they've taken a photo it becomes part of the book, although the photos can individually be deleted by tapping the delete button. To change a page of the book, you can simply swipe left or right. This feature contains 3 books: faces, letters, and shapes.

Both my children really loved using the camera and taking endless photos of each other and everything around the house, although they were not particularly interested in the other modes of the app (with the exception of the photo gallery). The case itself was something they wanted to use, however it sometimes had issues with the shutter not pressing the phone's volume buttons correctly. The best way to take photos was usually by just tapping the screen. I think that they felt it was easier to take pictures with the screen because their little hands can't really hold the camera and reach the shutter while trying to keep an image in focus. They did enjoy thoroughly playing with the camera and taking photos and selfies.

Is your Christmas powered by batteries?

Like it or not, this Christmas, many of the girl's presents will be powered by batteries and I have learned from my mother-in-law the art of being prepared when it comes to Christmas batteries... I always have a large number of batteries of different sizes ready for action on Christmas day.

We recently got the chance to try out the Innotab 3 before Christmas.  The Innotab is notoriously draining on batteries so I thought it would be the ideal chance to try out Duracell Ultra Power batteries.  I know from past experience that the batteries that are supplied for free with lots of children's toys don't offer a lot of power and can be used up before Christmas day is out and I've learned that cheap batteries can be a false economy.

Our Duracell Ultra Power batteries managed to cope well with the demands of the Innotab.  When we had finished our loan of the product I was able to take the batteries out and, this is the genius part, check to see how much power they had left in them.  Using the innovative power-check mechanism, I simply had to press the pressure-points to see that they were still really full of charge.  I can see this being a great way of saving money in the future as I often worry that I am throwing batteries away without managing to use up all the charge and now I know I can check before I throw them to see if they have any more life in them!

Monday, 25 November 2013

My Recipe for a Mellow Night In

The last couple of weeks have been anything but Mellow.  Mr. B fell ill suddenly and was diagnosed with viral meningitis which as left me looking after the girls who, quite honestly, have been on a whole new level of cheeky.  I'm exhausted and teetering on the edge of sanity.  Over the weekend I've really valued my nice, peaceful evenings.  My mellow time.

Figleaves asked me to put together a list of the top things I need to make the perfect mellow night in.  So here, it is, my recipe for mellowness.

1. Chocolates or Cakes

I know it is properly me-time when it is safe to bring out the chocolates or cakes.  If Lara and Holly  even so much as sniff a waft of chocolate they both go into meltdown.  I relish being able to enjoy sweet treats in peace and I love sharing a box of chocolates with Mr. B in front of the television.  This weekend we baked cakes (above) in the morning and the girls moaned and begged all day for them; I can't even put into words how relieved I felt to finally sit down in the evening and enjoy one of the cakes for myself.

2. Cuddles

All the best evenings involve cuddles.  Sofa cuddles with Mr. B and now, since our recent new arrival, sofa cuddles with Bella the cat.

3. Pyjamas

Once the girls are in bed I like to get changed and ready for bed myself.  At this time of year a pair of festive pyjamas are just the ticket for snuggling up with Mr. B.

4. Wine

My perfect night in definitely involves a bottle of wine.  Probably red.  Probably Argentine.  Me and a bottle of Malbec can settle down for a cosy night on the sofa... who needs Mr. B?

5. Strictly

Sad, but true.  At present a relaxing weekend evening is spent snuggled in front of Strictly Come Dancing and on a weekday it is Masterchef.

So those are the ingredients for my mellow night in - what makes your perfect night in?

Disclosure: This is a features post in association with Figleaves

Sunday, 24 November 2013

VTech Innotab 3 Review

ASDA Direct have been running some great value toy offers in the run-up to Christmas and they asked Lara to give her verdict on the VTech Innotab 3 children's learning tablet.

Thomas and Friends on the VTech Innotab 3

Having been there at the launch of the original Innotab from VTech several years ago, we were fascinated to find out how this children's tablet had evolved over the past few years.  The first thing that I noticed (even if Lara didn't) was the size.  The Innotab 3 is quite compact and the screen is tiny - about the same size as a smartphone at 4.3 inches.

Setting up the Innotab 3 was very easy.  It took 4 AA batteries and then when we first used it we had to create a login for Lara where she could set her name and a photo or image to use for her profile.  Within a minute she was ready to start exploring - no need to download any apps or plug in a cartridge at this point although many of the default apps do need you to connect the Innotab to your computer (which requires a software download/install) in order to activate them.

The Innotab 3 is recommended for children from age 3-9 and I think this is a good guideline although I suspect an older child would want more control and need access to a wider range of apps.  My daughter is 4.5 and she was instantly attracted to the colouring and drawing apps which are installed out-of-the-box on the Innotab 3.  The tablet comes with a stylus to help you draw on the screen and you can 'paint' or 'draw' until your heart's content using lots of different colours and brushes.  There is also a simple colour-in app.

For older children there are some interesting default apps such as a friends contact list where you can store names, birthdays and notes about your pals.

To download apps onto the Innotab you connect to the internet through your laptop or PC.  There are lots of apps to choose from ranging from free, to as much as £20.  You can also download video content and there are some great children's TV series to download such as Tree Fu Tom, Chugginton and Peppa Pig and the downloads for these are priced competitively compared to 'grown-up' tablets.  There are some music downloads but we haven't explored them yet.

The Innotab 3 has a built in camera which is a really great feature that my 1 year old also enjoys using.  The camera can point out or in (great for taking selfies!) and you can apply silly special effects which always make Lara laugh.  The camera can take still photos or even videos if you have enough storage to save them.  The Innotab 3 comes with 2GB storage but you can add storage by inserting a Micro SD memory card.

We haven't really made the most of the games on the Innotab 3 yet but I'm told that the little S-pad control at the base makes it easier to play some popular games compared to previous versions of the tablet.  We have however used the e-reader as we own some original VTech games cartridges (Dora the Explorer and Hello Kitty) so both girls enjoy listening to stories this way and now that Lara is starting to learn to read she can use the 'dictionary' functionality whereby she can touch onto new words and find out what they mean.

I was a little disappointed to find out that the Innotab 3 didn't have its own internet browser, unlike its nearest competitor.  I think I would be happy to pay the extra money for the Innotab 3S to get this functionality if I had an older child who wanted to explore the internet a little more.  I also found that the Innotab 3 literally ate batteries.  My super-duper expensive batteries were drained within 3 days but thankfully I have learned from experience that VTech toys tend to benefit from an A/C power adapter which can be picked up quite cheaply online.

Lara was also sent a VTech games cartridge to try out on the Innotab - Thomas and Friends Exploring Sodor for Innotab. I think that the cartridges from VTech offer the best quality of app but it is a shame that they are so expensive (even with ASDA's great value this game is £19.99).  The Thomas and Friends app includes creativity activities such as building your own story and making up your own song.  There are also learning apps such as a pattern matching game as well as a read-along story that uses the VTech Innotab e-reader style and allows you to either read-along or have the story read.

The VTech Innotab 3 children's learning tablet currently costs £52 from ASDA direct (though it is proving very popular!)

Choosing your child's first laptop

This content from this post was provided as part of a guest post arrangement.  If you have specific questions about choosing a laptop for a child, as a tech geek and author, I'd be happy to offer my ideas.

In the past, getting a laptop for a child may have been seen as an unnecessary extravagance. However, if you have young children, you’ll know that things have changed. Now, products like these are almost a must-have among kids. As well as using the devices for entertainment, youngsters often rely on them to complete their homework and to communicate with their friends.
 Buying your child’s first laptop can be a daunting task. After all, you’ll be spending your hard-earned money on the products and so it’s important that you make the right choice. One issue you’ll need to think about when perusing the variety of laptops now available is durability. Children can be rough with their possessions, and so it’s important that the device you choose is robust. Also, there’s little point in spending a fortune on the products because, even if you choose a tough model, there is always the risk that it will get broken.
 It’s also important to talk to your child. Although we may not like to admit it, youngsters are often more clued up on technical matters than their parents these days, and they can have clear ideas about what they want and need. By the same token, it can pay off to chat to your child’s school to find out what sort of technology is used there. Once you have this information, you can try to find a laptop that complements this technology rather than clashes with it. 
 As long as your child doesn’t need a laptop for highly technical purposes, don’t worry too much about its specifications. Even the cheaper versions can suit. Roughly speaking, as a minimum standard you should look for an Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of memory and 500GB of storage space. If you have to compromise in order to find items that fall within your budget, go for products with less hard disk space rather than reduced processors. After all, you can always add more storage at a later date.
 Portability is another major issue to consider. After all, your tot may struggle to lug a large, heavy laptop around. Unfortunately, cheaper laptops tend to be bulkier. Of course, if your child will mainly use the laptop at home, this may not be a problem. However, if he or she will be on the move with it a lot, it may be worth spending a little extra cash to make this a more comfortable experience.
 Battery life also tends to be correlated to cost. The cells provided with cheaper models may run out after three or four hours, whereas higher-end laptops can keep going without mains power for ten hours or more.
 Compromise is virtually inevitable when you’re buying a laptop for your child. The important thing is to focus on the right priorities.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Do-It-Yourself Personalised Christmas Plate

I saw this idea on Facebook the other day and knew I had to give it a try.  I already owned a set of Porcelain Pens from earlier in the year (we use them to let the girls decorate our coffee cups for work) so all I had to do was source a plain white dinner plate (£2 from Cargo today) and away I went.

I drew around a pastry cutter to get the size of the mince pie right and I drew around the base of a sherry glass to get the size of the drink circle right. I free-styled the carrot because I was feeling confident by then.

The beauty of porcelain markers is that you can wipe them off easily if you make a mistake so you can practice the writing.

Our porcelain markers need to be baked to make them permanent so the plate us currently in the oven!

Lara can't wait to use the plate on Christmas Eve.

Betty Bramble Luxury Footmuff Review

This weekend we are looking forward to the Wokingham Winter Carnival.  Traditionally the winter carnival takes place on the coldest day of the year - it is normally BITTERLY cold so I'm really happy to have been asked to review this gorgeous luxury buggy footmuff from Betty Bramble.

Betty Bramble pride themselves on the stylish retro, vintage and classic fabric designs.  Given the arrival of our new Union Jack Easywalker MINI stroller, I can't think of a more perfect fabric design for Holly's Betty Bramble footmuff than this patriotic London's Calling footmuff from Betty Bramble (£64.99).

The body and outside of the footmuff is made from a thick and chunky soft courduroy which keeps Holy really warm a the back and around her core and legs.  The inside is made from a very soft cotton and it is really well padded in between.  This footmuff is the longest and largest I have ever tried which is brilliant because I have a habit of producing girls with extremely long legs that don't always fit into highstreet brands of footmuffs or cosytoes.

I was pleased with how easy it was to fit the footmuff.  There are holes for you to pass through the straps of your buggy at the top, side and crotch and once fitted, you secure it to your buggy with four little ties.  I found this footmuff, because of the thick courduroy, to sit well on the buggy and it didn't ride up or slip off.

The Betty Bramble footmuff fastens at the side using a zip and then the flap at the front lifts up and down to provide extra snuggliness (or trendy patterns) and is fastened in place with a lovely toggle button.  I found the holes for the straps to be a little small and I couldn't use it on my older buggy because the crotch buckle wouldn't fit through but I think it would fit most 3 point and 5 point harness pushchairs including iCandy, Bugaboo, Mammas and Papas and Quinny.

Do go and check out some of Betty Bramble's other fabric colours and designs - there are some awesome ones such as dinosaurs or hot air balloons which would add a great splash of colour to any buggy.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Mothercare Christmas Pyjamas and ELC Toybox Stocking Fillers

Lara is getting really excited about Christmas already and her excitement is catching - even though Holly, at 18 months old, doesn't really understand what is just around the corner, she has been enjoying some of our festive crafts and cookery over the past couple of weeks.  The girls were sent these AWESOME Christmas pyjamas from Mothercare to make their anticipation that little more bearable.

Mothercare's new range of Christmas Pyjamas are all gorgeous - from penguins to robins, from reindeer to snowploughs, there are festive nightwear options for children from newborn right up to 10 years old.  These Skinny Christmas Reindeer Pyjamas (from £10) catch my eye in the window of my local Mothercare every time I walk past and they were an INSTANT hit with my girls who then started pestering me to ask when Father Christmas would be coming round!

Mothercare are going to be running a Christmas advent calendar on their Facebook page this year with prizes of upto £100 in Mothercare vouchers for each sleep before Christmas.  From this coming Monday they are going to be looking for sleepy babies and children to feature on the doors of their calendar where each child featured will win  £30 voucher and the one with the most likes will win £100.  You can enter by uploading a photo onto their Facebook page by the 27th November.

If you are looking for some stocking fillers or small present ideas for toddlers from 12 months upwards then you might like the new Early Learning Centre Toybox range.  This soldier is my favourite from the range of new brightly coloured plastic toys inspired by classic children's toys of the past.

The Toybox range of toys are designed to be a set of friends who come out to play from their toybox at night - there are animals such as cats and rabbit as well as Bobby the robot and Dotty Dolly.  The individual characters start at £4.  I think they make nice simple toys with lasting appeal - Holly particularly likes the fact that when she moves the arms, legs and head, they make a very rewarding clicking noise!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Photobox App - Personalised Christmas photo gifts at the touch of a button

As you know, I'm a massive fan of online photo service, PhotoBox.  Photobox asked me to try out their new iOS App to see just how simple and quick they have now made it to order personalised photo gifts.

I've used the pre-existing Photobox app since it first came into existence to browse my photos and, on occasion, to link through the main Photobox website but the new free Photobox app, available on the Apple app store, is a big step forward and allows you to order prints and gifts without having to exit the app.

If you have a Photobox account (which is free and easy to set up) then the Photobox app makes a great viewer for photos you have stored online.  You can now integrate the app with other accounts such as your Facebook or Instagram account and you can link it to your photo stream on your iPhone or iPad.  This all means that you can view all of your photos in one place and order prints directly without having to faff about with uploading them onto a specific photo website.

I tried out some of the photo gifts as stocking fillers for friends and family this Christmas.  I bought this set of three keyrings for £5.15 made from a photo I took on holiday this August of my girls looking very cheeky indeed.  I think these are fab and I may well order more of them!

Using the same photo, I also ordered Lara a jigsaw (£9.99).  It was so easy to choose a photo and within two clicks the product was there in my basket ready to go!  Now the jigsaw has arrived, it looks like the pieces may be a little thin for Lara who still gets angry when jigsaw pieces don't snap instantly together but I think the number of pieces looks good.

I took the opportunity to order a couple of 'gifts' for myself too - I love having pictures of my girls on my desk at work and frequently like to update them.  I ordered a mousemat (£7.20) using my current favourite photo of Holly staring out to sea.  Ordering was really easy even though, for a mousemat, you normally have to crop your photo to fit - the Photobox app clearly showed me where the image would sit and walked me through the options of moving or resizing the image as I ordered it.  I'm really impressed with the overall result (although it does smell a bit rubbery still!).

Finally,  I tried out one of their ready-framed prints.  I always struggle to find frames the right size or style once I've ordered prints and end up paying much more than I had planned.  Until now, I'd felt reluctant to order a print with the frame included because I'm very fussy when it comes to frames but I felt it would be quicker and easier to order the pre-framed version of the photo I wanted for my desk.  In fact, I'm extremely happy with the frame size, style and quality and will definitely be opting for this in the future when I'm ordering gifts.

I found the new Photobox app to be one of the easiest and most intuitive apps I have used to date on my iPad.  I loved the fact that I was able to view my account and my past order status (although it did freak me out when I saw quite how many orders I had placed with Photobox... ah well, I do love photos!)

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Easywalker Mini Stroller Review

I don't very often get excited about a pushchair but when I first laid eyes on the new Easywalker MINI stroller, I knew that it was going to be something special.  A head-turner, you might say.  Easywalker asked me and Holly to be some of the first to try out their new MINI branded Easywalker stroller and do you know what, it really is a head-turner.  Two weeks in and I would say that our Union Jack MINI stroller gets a smiley comment from a stranger every time we go out in it!

Easywalker MINI stroller from the side
The Easywalker MINI is branded with the MINI brand logo - your little one's very first Mini car!!!  It comes in a range of different fabric packs which ooze Mini styling and even has a leather handlebar that feels like a steering wheel.  Our fabric pack is a Union Jack design which is very striking and hard to miss as we whizz past you on the high street!  Other designs include chilli red with iconic white Mini stripes, laser blue with stripes or a couple of black striped designs.  I think they all look awesome and I think they bring a lot of appeal to Dads as well as Mums.
I will admit that the Easywalker MINI nearly brought me to tears when I first tried to construct it.  It comes in two pieces but I found it really hard to follow the instructions to get the seat fitted onto the base (you can use the seat either forward-facing or rear-facing).  The fabric set came separately and, once again, I found it challenging to get the hood, straps and crotch-pad fitted.  But, in the grand scheme of things, this isn't really much of a worry because, thankfully, you should only have to set the buggy up once!

The Easywalker MINI is suitable from 6 months old (or from birth with the Carrycot attachment) right up until your child reaches 30kg (somewhere around 7-9 years old!) which goes to show quite how robust this pushchair is.  I think you can tell this from the feel of the product, it definitely feels like a pushchair that is meant to withstand the trials of real life; it feels sturdy and chunky and there are no rattles or wobbly bits so it is perfect if you, like me, want to use it both in the town and out in the country when you want to go for a walk with your little one.
The pushchair itself is extremely compact.  There are no issues getting it through your front door because it is beautifully slim and, as such, it is a dream to manoeuvre.  I love using this pushchair because it is so responsive and so easy to get around corners and up curbs.  I've never driven a MINI but I would hope it offered as good a ride!

In terms of everyday practicalities, I found the carry basket under the stroller to be limited in size and quite tricky to reach but this is not unusual feedback on most pushchairs and it wouldn't put me off buying.  I found the handlebar to be easily adjustable to any height you choose and it offered a good level of height which is important for tall mums like me, and I guess, more important in a buggy which has such strong appeal for Dads.
Once I had mastered the collapse mechanism (which wasn't immediately intuitive) I really came to love it.  The buggy is naturally quite compact and in fact, collapsing it doesn't make it feel that much smaller than it is when it is fully unfolded! To fold, you simply press the buttons on either side and pull up a catch under the seat.  The Easywalker has a small clip on the basket to help keep the buggy closed when it is folded but I found it to be a bit small and tricky to get to - I'd appreciate a bigger and higher clasp of some sort.

The seat has four different levels of recline and can sit very upright if you want it to.  The hood can be easily lifted up or tucked away so that it is more or less invisible - I like this, it makes me feel that bit closer to Holly when she is travelling in her MINI!
Holly really likes the Easywalker because it is so easy for me to get her in and out.  I've been really impressed with the ease and security of the belts (once I had worked out how to install them!) and this really helps because Holly is always more relaxed when I don't have to struggle to get her in and out.


I think the Easywalker MINI has a price tag that represents both it's style and quality - it is not a budget pushchair by any stretch of the imagination and you could spend a small fortune on gorgeous accessories (I have my eye on the Union Jack footmuff).  But, unlike many other buggies I've tried, I am now pretty convinced that with the Easywalker MINI you wouldn't need to buy any other pushchair as I think it can cover all stages of your child's life well.  The Easywalker MINI is available for £609.99 from Peppermint in the UK.
My only negative comment about the Easywalker MINI, now that I have been using it for a while, is that, if I were a MINI motor enthusiast, I would struggle to get it into my boot.  Yes, this is a naturally compact stroller but when I tried to fit it into the boot of a friend's Mini Cooper S, I couldn't close the boot (I think a larger Mini would be fine though).  As you can see, it fits into our car boot with plenty of space to spare... ordinarily I place it facing front to back as then it takes up hardly any space.

Note: Easywalker have let me know that it does fit into the Boot of a Mini Cooper S and I will try out their top tips for how to make it fit in the next few days!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Cooking with Kids : Slow-Cooked Shredded Beef with Honey Mustard Bread Rolls

Unilever Kitchen challenged me and the girls to come up with an inspiring winter warmer recipe using some of their household names such as Knorr, Bovril, Hellmanns, Maille and Flora.  This weekend, the three of us got cooking to make this sumptuous dish of slow-cooked shredded sticky beef with honey mustard bread rolls.  Holly made the beef and Lara made the bread - it was definitely a team effort and the smell of the beef cooking filled the house with scrumptiousness all day!
Beef roasting joint (approximately 1kg)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons tomato puree
2 tablespoons Bovril
1 tablespoon Maille wholegrain mustard
2 heaped tablespoons brown sugar
A sprinkling of black pepper
1 Knorr Beef Stock Pot
2 tablespoons hot water
  • Place the beef joint whole into the slow-cooker pot.
  • Mix the remaining ingredients in a bowl and pour over the beef.
  • Cover and cook for 7-9 hours on a low setting.
  • When you are ready to serve, take the joint out and shred it using two forks.  Put the meat back into the slow-cooker pot and mix it up with all the lovely juices.
750g Strong white bread flour
60g Flora Buttery
7g fast action dried yeast
450ml tepid milk
1 tablespoon Maille Dijon mustard with Honey
1 teaspoon salt
For the glaze
2 teaspoons Maille Dijon mustard with Honey
1 egg, beaten
  • Rub the Flora Buttery into the flour with your fingertips.
  • Stir in the yeast and salt.
  • Make a large well in the middle and pour in the milk and mix in the mustard with a wooden spoon.
  • Using your hands, bring the mixture together to make a soft yellow dough.  Turn it out onto the worktop or board and knead hard for 10 minutes until the dough turns smooth and elastic.  Place it into a clean well-oiled bowl, cover tightly with cling-film and leave in a warm place for 1.5 hours to rise.
  • Once risen, split the dough into 16 to 18 small pieces and roll them into balls.  Place them onto greased baking trays and leave for another 30 minutes until they double in size.
  • Preheat the oven to 220 degrees centigrade while you are waiting.
  • Just before you put the rolls into the oven, mix the egg and the remaining mustard together to make a glaze.  Brush over the rolls and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
  • Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown.
  • Serve warm. 
To serve, spread the rolls with lashings of Hellmanns mayonnaise and fill with shredded lettuce and large handfuls of shredded beef.  We ate our lovely warm beef rolls with Colman's Season & Steam Garden Herb Potatoes.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Swing and Spin Tyre Swing Review

This time last year we bought the girls a big double swing for our back garden; an investment Christmas present which should last them many years.  I expect, as Lara grows older, she will look for more exciting things to play on which is why I was REALLY excited when I was contacted to see if we would try out a large tyre swing that is new to the UK market - the Swing and Spin.

Swing and Spin Tyre Swing

The Swing and Spin is a large round swing with a cobweb-style net of ropes which you can sit on.  You can swing forwards and backwards as you would a traditional swing, or you can twist the ropes and let it spin you round and around!

The Swing and Spin is a very smart equivalent of a tyre swing; it is the type of thing you would expect to see at a public playground and so Lara feels very privileged to have one in her own back garden and is desperate to invite her friends round to sit on it with her.  The Swing and Spin comes in two sizes. Lara's is a Large swing which is 36 inches in diameter and can fit upto 3 children on it but the Extra Large 48 inch version can sit upto 5 kids!

Swing and Spin Tyre Swing

The Swing and Spin comes with two metal rings so you need to find a way of fastening it securely to an existing swing frame, a tree or posts.  I scoured ebay and bought two metal fixing hooks to go onto the crossbar of our swing frame (although Lara prefers it when I fit the Swing and Spin on just one of the hooks because she can get more spinning this way).  Our swing hooks click quickly on and off so we can easily switch between our traditional swing and the tyre swing.

I like the fact that the Swing and Spin has been specifically designed for use as a swing - I'd always been a bit scared of fashioning my own swing for the girls out of a real tyre as I knew I'd never be able to make it safe enough or robust enough.  I'm also pleased that the Swing and Spin is made from materials which allow me to keep it outside all year long come rain or shine which won't fade, rust or degrade.

Lara is loving her Swing and Spin and it has brought new life to our swing set.  The only negative that I found with the Swing and Spin was that the swing sits very low - the ropes let it hang at 70 inches (about 170cm) which, on our swing set, is very low to the ground and it would be nice if the ropes were more easily adjustable.

The Swing and Spin is available online for $199.99 (about £125) for the large swing and $239.99 (about £150) for the extra large swing.  Currently you can get FREE delivery to the UK and they usually ship within 24 hours (ours was super-quick!).  I have an awesome 10% discount voucher for Mellow Mummy readers, just enter the code "mellowmummy" at the checkout on between now and the 25th of December.


Sunday, 17 November 2013

Little Learners Finger Puppets Book Review

Whenever I pick Holly up from nursery, she is always sitting on a comfy cushion with a big smile on her face, reading a book. Holly likes the independence of being able to be 'in charge' or her own book and so these Little Learners board books from Parragon are just right for her at present.

The Little Learners finger puppet books range features well-known songs and nursery rhymes turned into short board books, each with a funny finger puppet who pokes through a hole in the middle of the book.

Holly was sent Old MacDonald had a Farm and Five Little Monkeys to review. I think that these small board books would be great even from one or two months old as a way of interacting with a tiny baby and introducing books very early on.

At 18 months old, Holly particularly enjoyed Old Macdonald had a Farm because she recognised the words when I read/sang it to her and as soon as I opened up the book she started saying, "ee-ei, ee-ei, oh". The book only has 5 pages but they are nice and thick for tiny hands to grasp. The finger puppet cow pops his head up on each page and it is up to you as the reader how much fun you want to have... our cow likes to tickle Holly!

Holly didn't recognise the words of Five Little Monkeys but she recognised the monkeys and likes to say "ooh ooh" when I lift out this book. With this book, Holly tries to put her own fingers in and make the puppet come alive which is a great way of encouraging role play and imagination.

These little finger puppet books would make great stocking fillers for toddlers, they cost around £3.99 each.


Saturday, 16 November 2013

Disney on Ice - Dare to Dream

I had been on the lookout for a really magical Christmas show to take my girls to this year - last year we went to the theatre and this year we are going to watch our first ever Disney on Ice extravaganza at the O2 in London - I don't know about Lara and Holly, I'm certainly REALLY excited about the opportunity to be invited along to see the show.

This year's wintery Disney on Ice show is called Dare to Dream.  It combines classics such as Cinderella and Snow White along with the more modern Disney stories of Tangled and the Princess and the Frog, all brought together by Mickey Mouse and his friends.

I think Lara is going to absolutely LOVE bopping to the boogies of Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen in New Orleans. And I'm looking forward to seeing the Seven Dwarfs with Snow White.  Lara is totally obsessed with Disney princesses at present so seeing Rapunzel and Cinderella 'in person' dancing on the ice is going to be a truly magical experience for her.

Disney on Ice Dare to Dream has been touring the country in September and the tour will culminate with a series of shows between Christmas and the 5th January at the O2 in London.  Tickets are on sale via Ticketmaster.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Yellow Moon Christmas Crafts for Small People!

This weekend was an incredibly festive affair.  We prepared and froze chestnuts to eat on Christmas day, we tasted and then ordered a Christmas turkey, we made a Christmas cake together and then started making some fabulous Christmas decorations before settling down in the evening to watch some of the movies that we had recorded last Christmas.  The girls loved it.

Yellow Moon sent Lara some samples from their vast range of craft materials for children so that they could start creating their Christmas crafts.  A great starting point was a big pack of Winter Card & Paper which costs £5.99 for 100 sheets of different coloured A4 card an paper.  Having tried to find something equivalent on the high street yesterday with no luck, I think this is an awesome value set which includes gold and silver card as well as thinner card in lots of colours but a particular focus on red, green and black.

Holly and I had great fun sticking these Christmas feathers (£2.50) onto a piece of card to make a Christmas Tree.  I don't think Holly actually knows what a Christmas Tree is yet but she thought it was hilarious when the feathers stuck to her sticky fingers.  Holly finished off her tree with some Christmas Glitter Pom Poms (£2.99) which come in three different colours and sizes.  We stuck them on using mini glue dots which have become my new best friend, they may be a little trickier than glue sticks for a 1 year old but for Lara, who is 4, they are certainly a LOT less messy.

The absolute star of our Yellow Moon craft pack was a set of sparkle Deco Pens (£9.99 for 5).  These are definitely for Lara and myself to use (I wouldn't let Holly anywhere near them!) but these metallic sparkly pens make great markers for Christmas crafts.  Lara put together this nativity scene complete with baby Jesus, Mary and her belly button (this is very important), a horse, a goat, a sheep and Joseph doing a handstand.  I love these pens and think I will be using them a lot in the run up to Christmas.

I have lots of fun craft activities planned with the girls over the coming weeks - I just LOVE Christmas craft and I'm really impressed with the range of Yellow Moon craft accessories and their prices.  You can get free delivery if you spend over £50 and every purchase can earn cashback for your chosen school or charity.
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