Mellow Mummy: October 2014 : Taking life as it comes...

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Start-Rite - Our Shoe Summary

The first half term of the new school year has come to an end and Lara's new school shoes are still going strong.  At the start of term, Start-Rite asked us to put a pair of their school shoes to the Lara-test. As part of a group of Start-Rite mummy bloggers, I've been sharing my experiences with Start-Rite and their online community (you can view our shoe profile here), the results of which are in the video below.

Lara was hesitant to try a new pair of shoes at the start of term, partly because she had been suffering a bit with her old school shoes which were a similar style and she had got herself worked up that any shoe with a velcro-style band across them was going to be painful.  She did eventually pluck up courage to try the Start-Rite shoes and was obviously surprised to find that they were incredibly comfy!

Lara's school is a very outdoorsy school so her shoes have been through all sorts of tests from digging to climbing.  From skipping to fungus-hunting.  By the end of the half term, Lara has become so attached to her school shoes that she insists on wearing them when she isn't going to school, or on Friday's when we relax our own rules on what she has to wear to school.  I guess she finds them to be her most comfortable shoes now - casual or otherwise.

week one

week seven

Lara's Start-Rite school shoes are looking a bit grubby (I cleaned them once, it didn't seem like a good investment of my time!) and a bit scuffed at the end  but I'd expect them to last well into the new year and beyond.  You can find out more about fitted shoes and foot measuring from Start-rite on facebook and twitter.

If, like Lara, your daughter is in to all things Princess then she may also enjoy the Princess Serena Charm Quest app which accompanies these shoes - point your Android or iOS app at the shoe box to unlock the fun.

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Planning our Half-Term Activities with Journl

I can't believe that it is half-term already.  Life is just whizzing past at present.  Sadly, due to work, I won't be able to spend the whole of this week with my girls but we did manage to get away for a couple of days.  With such a short amount of time available, I needed to make sure every minute was planned and organised to make the most of it.  And that is where Journl comes in - a new productivity app for organising, sorting, listing, documenting and planning your life.  Journl asked me to put their new companion app to the test by planning and organising a family trip this half-term using their app - we chose Alton Towers!

We have been vaguely planning a family trip to Alton Towers for many many months and, with other family members joining us, there has been quite a lot of synching of diaries to do!  I used Journl on my iPad to capture the details of our multiple-room hotel booking including the original emails with booking references and post code (it is dead easy to simply forward an email with a file or attachment to the journl email address and it magically appears in your Journl inbox for you to file along with all of your other planning materials).  I stored and filed directions, restaurant ideas, days out ideas and satnav references.

Using the Journl planning app I put together a packing list for us and the girls so that, as we packed, I could simply tick off the items as we went.  I also placed events into my calendar for the few days including dates and times for each of our restaurant bookings.


I like the colours and simple graphics in the Journl app and I get the same magic feeling when using it as I do when I get a brand new paper diary.  I've found the app a little "iffy" over the past month (at which point I tend to default to the web-browser based version of Journl) but, as a software developer myself I guess I notice these things more (and I guess I'm a little more understanding than most!).

Apart from using Journl to plan our days out in Stoke and Alton Towers, I've found it most helpful for planning my own life!  I remain a little sceptical about the value that Journl can offer me over the existing (free) list and calendar apps on my iPad but for notes, I've found it to fill in lots of the gaps that I experience with the out-of-the box iOS offerings.  I've used the notes sections and their full filing and sorting capabilities to manage my list of ideas for blog posts in the coming months!  I quite like the fact that I can create as many levels of 'folder' as I want, and I can assign relevant icons so that my different notebooks are easy for me to spot.


I've also found it perfect for planning my running activities such as races; being able to email race registrations straight into my Journl inbox is really handy because I can sort them and store them with flexibility I can't get in my email inbox (although I'm struggling to find a way to tie these directly to their corresponding calendar events).

I think Journl has a lot of evolution ahead of it - I like the idea but there are a few gaps which I think would prevent it from becoming my life-planning tool of choice (at present, I live and list through my A5 paper diary!).  Making it easier to link items together, or share with others not on journl are both enhancements that could mean the difference between "planning app" and "life app".  A share or email button would make it easier to email lists and calendar items to friends or family.

CBeebies Land at Alton Towers

For me, having a little tool that I can take with me on my phone on holiday has been so much more convenient than having to bring my entire diary with me.  I've had Journl there with the answers to the questions when someone has asked me "What time is the table booked for dinner" or "What postcode should I put in the Satnav to get to Alton Towers".

Journl is a subscription-based offering with access online at or through the free companion app which is available for iPad, iphone or ipod touch.  Subscriptions start from £4.99 a month.

Monday 27 October 2014

Planet Bong!

Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom: Planet Bong is out now on DVD and is the latest series of adventures from the Little Kingdom.

Lara has been a big Ben and Holly fan for several years now and I will admit that I think I enjoy watching it even more than she does!  There is something slightly more grown-up about the humour in Ben and Holly's Little Kingdom than in Peppa Pig (which is made by the same people) and I always look forward to seeing how the relationship between Nanny Plum and the Wise Old Elf will develop.

I haven't watched any Ben and Holly episodes with my girls for quite some time for one reason or another so I snuggled down with them one afternoon to watch the Planet Bong DVD!  Planet Bong is one of the epic, two-episode stories that you occasionally find in the Little Kingdom.  Ben, Holly and Nanny Plum are called to aid the Not-so-wise Old Elf who is trying to save face when challenged by an alien species to save their planet.  Between them they must work out how to reduce the temperature and bring back plant life to a previously thriving alien planet where the inhabitants have been forced to live underground.  It is quite amusing to see the Wise Old Elf admit that maybe he needs a little help every once in a while!

The DVD also features a number of other episodes including the very silly "Chickens Ride West" and "The Mermaid" which, once again features Ben and Holly's human friend, Lucy, and she introduces them to her Dad who can' quite believe his eyes.  All in all, the DVD features 10 episodes of this family favourite animation (nearly 2 hours of entertainment).  My girls both loved it and I'd expect us to watch this DVD frequently over the coming months.

Inspired by this latest Ben and Holly's Little Kingdom DVD, we've also been reading this Christmas-themed board book, "Christmas at the North Pole" which tells the story of when the elves and fairies have to make a crash landing when trying to deliver clockwork toys to Santa for his Christmas deliveries.  The arctic elves come to help and they all look suspiciously like their Little Kingdom counterparts!  In  the end, Santa offers to drop them all back home in time for their fun festive feast.  There is even a little song to sing on the last page.  I don't remember having seen this episode of the TV programme so I can't remember the tune of the song so together Lara, Holly and I make up a different tune every time we read this fun, Christmassy book.


Friday 24 October 2014

Barbie Malibu House Review

As a child, the Barbie Malibu House would have been the thing of my dreams.  The ultimate Barbie playset.  My girls were very kindly offered the chance to test out the latest Barbie mansion - the Barbie Malibu House for it's family-friendliness and gift suitability this Christmas.

Barbie : Life in the Dreamhouse is the inspiration for the Barbie Malibu House - a relaxed, glamorous escape for Barbie and her friends.  Lara likes to bring along all of her dolls including Barbie of all shapes and sizes as well as princesses and mermaids.  Lara places them all on the semi-circle couch in front of the TV for their chill-out time!

The Barbie Malibu house comes with plenty of furniture - a dressing table with two chairs, a TV chair, toilet, bed, dining table and lots more.  There are also lots of tiny accessories including cute little details such as Barbie's own tablet (!), toothbrushes, cosmetics and plenty of cutlery, crockery and food for the kitchen.  Admittedly, this means lots and lots of tiny pieces so this toy isn't really suitable for a family with tiny members (I think Holly is just about old enough to be trusted with them) but the great thing is that all of the pieces of furniture in the house come with little push-in holes into which you place the accessories so that they stay in place and don't rattle around all over the place.

The Malibu house comes in four parts which either fold together to form a closed house, or open up to make a wide playset.  The house is over two floors with an open-plan space downstairs and more targeted rooms upstairs.  It really is a great way to let little imaginations run riot and both Holly and Lara enjoy playing alone, or together for quite some time, in their own little fantasy world.

At one end of the Malibu house there is a spiral staircase with a "lift" mechanism in which Barbie can stand while you winch her up or down the stairs.  Gosh, it's a hard life for Barbie!  Although this part of the house, with it's floor-to-ceiling aquarium looks very glam, actually I find that this is the one area of weakness in the toy - the clasp for the lift that holds Barbie in place has already broken and Lara finds it almost impossible to winch the thread up and down without help.

One of Lara's favourite parts of the Barbie Malibu house is the bedroom which comes with lots of space for Barbie's massive shoe collection and coat hangers for her to hang her dresses.  Next door is a shower cubicle and the whole piece of furniture flips down to form a bed with pillows and a sheet.

In the TV room next door there is space for a big-screen TV (aka your iphone).  I can't believe the luxuries that Barbie gets these days.

The Barbie Malibu house has been a big hit with both of my girls.  It seems to take up a large amount of space in my living room but at least we can fold it up to make it more compact during the evenings.

The Barbie Malibu mansion costs around £99.99 and would be the Christmas present of many little girl's dreams! If you do plan to buy it for Christmas, I recommend constructing it before the big day as it took Mr. B. quite some time to fit all the pieces together around two over-excited little girls. There are also several stickers which need to be applied throughout the house.

Monday 20 October 2014

Lovably Me Wooden Jigsaw Review

Earlier this month I was introduced to the beautiful online children's gift boutique, Lovably Me who asked for our Mellow Mummy feedback on their gift ideas for kids. Lovably Me stock some gorgeous kids wall stickers, room decor and nursery decorations but my girls were most taken with the range of toys and games for children from birth to 8 years and upwards.

One of the brands of toys that really stood out to me when browsing Lovably Me was Vilac.  Vilac make traditional wooden toys such as role play food, dominoes, musical instruments and games.  We tried out this traditional wooden Vilac Pirate Puzzle which is suitable for children from about 4-7 years old.

Lara and Holly are both jigsaw addicts.  I haven't counted recently but I suspect the number of puzzles we own is approaching the three-figure mark and they all get regular use.  This Pirate Puzzle is one of the most advanced we own and I'm glad we've found a jigsaw puzzle that can challenge Lara but which is still fun.  The pieces on this Vilac jigsaw are quite small and the picture features several subtly different ships which Lara had to put quite some thought into in order to get it right.

Despite the challenge of the puzzle, Lara has already been back to it again so at least I know she doesn't feel defeated.

The Vilac Pirate Puzzle costs £15 from Lovably Me and comes in a fun, pirate-shaped presentation box which can be used for storing the puzzle pieces.  I think it would make a perfect gift for any pirate-mad (or puzzle-mad) child.

Sunday 19 October 2014

Lara and Holly Test Out the New Little Chef Menu

If, like us, you are hitting the roads for a few days away over half-term then you're likely to spot a Little Chef restaurant on your travels.  We got a chance to try out the brand new Little Chef menu which features lots of dishes you might not have expected such as Bockwurst hot dogs and a very yummy-sounding sirloin steak and red onion sandwich.

Last weekend we visited Little Chef at Wisley South on the A3 near Guildford.  Inside, this Little Chef has a mixture of sit-down restaurant and cafe-style sofas and bars for if you simply want to pop in for a cake and a hot drink.  There is even a takeaway area.  But, when we're travelling as a family we usually like to take a long, leisurely break so we sat down in a booth and relaxed to enjoy out lunch.

The girls each ordered a main meal and a drink from the children's menu which was filled with classic children's favourites such as macaroni cheese, pizza, chicken goujons and of course, a Little Chef breakfast.  The children's menu offers a main course and a pudding for only £4.98.  Lara chose an awesome pancake option for pudding which included a classic Little Chef thick pancake with pots of chocolate sprinkles, chocolate drops and chocolate sauce for you to make your own pancake creation!

Mr. B. and I were both spoilt for choice on the new menu.  Mr. B. went for the all-time Little Chef classic, an Olympic Breakfast with all of the cooked breakfast trimmings you could ask for.  I chose a breakfast burger and oh my goodness, did it hit the spot.  I have clear memories of a bad burger experience at a Little Chef restaurant many many moons ago and this burger thankfully blew all those memories away - it was a thick, meaty burger made with crumbly real beef mince packed into a slightly sweet cob roll and topped with bacon and egg.  Healthy?  No - but perfect after a late night  with friends the day before!

The food quality at Little Chef Wisley South exceeded my expectations (although I did wish that my girls had got a little more adventurous than fish fingers and chips!).  I thought the customer service was a bit slow with staff struggling to meet the demand but, as I always find at Little Chef, the chef themselves really impressed.  The cooking area is open to view and I could see a single member of staff meeting the demands of the full lunch time rush.

To finish, Mr. B. and I shared one of the new pancake stacks piled high with fresh banana and toffee sauce.  Unfortunately, we noticed too late that ours didn't come with the expected ice-cream.  I think that chef maybe was a little too under pressure!

Our Little Chef adventure was never going to push any culinary boundaries but I think the food was good for a roadside experience and bettered my expectations. I felt the restaurant itself could have done with an extra member of staff to keep on top of the orders, and keeping tables and floors clean.

You can find out if there is a Little Chef on your half-term travels using their restaurant finder.

Disclosure: We were sent a contribution towards out meal.

Saturday 18 October 2014

ASDA George Home Wooden Toys - A Wooden Kitchen Review

There is nothing that my girls enjoy more than pretending to cook me dinner! Despite the fact that they join me in the kitchen most days to cook their own food, there is something magical about kitchen role play that ignites the imagination of almost all children. This beautiful ASDA wooden play kitchen from George Home is such a neat little role play area that my two girls can enjoy together away from the hustle and bustle of our main kitchen!

ASDA have a fairly impressive range of wooden toys now, our enormous doll's house has pride of place in the playroom and now this red and cream kitchen has become our number-one played toy with both Holly and Lara finding many hours of entertainment from cooking, washing up and storing their wooden food supplies in their own mini kitchen. Yes, there are sturdier wooden toy kitchens available, and yes, there are bigger, grander designs to be found but at just £40 this wooden kitchen really is fantastic value for money.

When Lara was two Lara was given a plastic kitchen which, soon after her baby sister was born, succumbed to the pressures of childhood - it wasn't built to last. In contrast, this ASDA wooden kitchen would take some serious effort to destroy and so I expect it to withstand the Holly test - this is where wooden toys really come into their own because they last so much longer.

Our toy kitchen came as flat pack and it took Mr. B. a good hour to build it but, towards the end he discovered that one of the pieces was incorrect and that meant we has to improvise - it means we have a screw-hole on display which we probably shouldn't and that we can't use the dinky little red and white gingham curtain over the "window". I would say that the incorrect piece and the ever so slightly wonky MDF doors are a reflection of the price of the ASDA George wooden play kitchen BUT I still think it presents great value for money. With a drawer, cupboard, microwave, hob, sink and oven as well as moving dials and hanging space for utensils, this play kitchen has all of the basics I'd look for in a play kitchen, plus more.

The kitchen comes with a set of wooden kitchen utensils for use in your role play games. My girls also happen to have a set of metal pots and pans which work perfectly with the kitchen and Holly loves putting on her chef's hat and apron to cook me up "carrot stew" or "omelette" for my dinner.

Disclosure: We were sent the wooden kitchen for the purposes of our review.

Friday 17 October 2014

Penpals at Home - First Handwriting Books

Penpals at Home is a range of write-on, wipe-off first handwriting books for preschoolers and infants school children from Cambridge University Press.

The Penpals at Home range of books are all designed to help children hone their handwriting skills in an intuitive manner.  Lara and Holly have been trying out Getting Ready for Handwriting and Forming Letters which are both really designed for children who are starting their journey into writing.

This is Getting Ready for Handwriting which is suitable for children of around 3-5 years old as a means of introducing careful hand control and the movements and disciplines needed to control a pen or pencil to form shapes.  The book features bright and colourful pages with patterns to trace that help to practice the patterns you would experience when writing different types of letters.

Each page of the book is laminated so that you can write on with a whiteboard pen and then wipe it off and try again.  This is perfect for us because, while Lara is honing the discipline of writing, Holly is just starting her journey and they can both gain experience from this book.

On each double page there is a section of notes for parents to explain what the patterns or letters are intended to practice, along with some tips of how to encourage your child and help them copy the lines in the right way.  There is also a little phone symbol that you can scan using your smartphone to show you how the patterns are intended to be traced through little animations.  The app is free and very easy to use in good light but Lara really struggles to get the image to scan when it is darker or shadier and will shout for me to help her.

Forming Letters is for slightly more advanced writers but still uses animals, dinosaurs, robots and other fun creatures to get your children writing.  The book allows you to trace letters using the instructions and the accompanying app to learn the correct order of the lines, and movement of the pen.  As you progress there is lots of free space to practice copying and repeating the letters.  In this book, the parental notes are really about ensuring that your child copies the letter shapes in the natural and traditional manner.

I think that both of these books are a great tool for preparation for school and I see myself using them a lot with Holly as she approaches school age.  I don't think I'd personally use the app much but I can see that Lara enjoys using the app and if it inspires her, then I'm happy to encourage it's use.

I'm glad to hear that future versions of these write-on / wipe-off handwriting books will include a pen because I struggled to find a whiteboard pen in the depths of my cupboards!

I'd also point out that Lara's school only teach cursive handwriting and so she found it counter-intuitive to practice writing in the Forming Letters book without leading and trailing tails.  I still think there is value in her practicing the tidy, round well-formed handwriting that these Cambridge University Press books encourage.


Thursday 16 October 2014

#StreamTeam - The Fear of Missing Out

#FoMo - the fear of missing out.  I can't say that I normally suffer from it but I had noticed that, over the years I was definitely missing out on something when it came to Breaking Bad.  When we first got our Netflix subscription this summer (after I had got the 'watch-every-movie-you've-ever-worshipped' thing out of my system) the first thing I looked up was Breaking Bad.  Surely 90% of my Facebook friends couldn't be wrong, could they?

After the first episode, I wondered what I had let myself in for.  Slow wasn't the half of it.  I stuck with it and both myself and Mr. B. dragged ourselves through the first series, determined to stick it out.  The concept seemed good - school teacher desperate for cash, diagnosed with cancer suddenly turns drug-chef.  But the episodes seemed to drag and, I found myself losing interest and looking elsewhere.

Thankfully, my friends badgered me to keep at it and some point towards the end of series two, things picked up.  Now I've totally lost track of what series we have got up to but most nights, an episode of Breaking Bad is what's on the Netflix menu for me and Mr. B. shortly after the girls have gone to sleep.  It is our together time!!!

I have probably been watching too much Breaking Bad.  Everywhere I look, I now see bad.  Car boot open?  I think "ooh, you could squeeze a body in there".  Large blue plastic canister under the stairs at work?  I think "ooh, you could fill that full of acid and dissolve the evidence".  Too much Breaking Bad perhaps???

In the slow periods of Breaking Bad, I've taken a bit of a browse through Netflix for other drama seriesesesses (I don't know how to pluralise series) and Orange is the New Black caught my eye mainly because of the MASSIVE Netflix hype about it.  OITNB (for those people in the know) is, in my own terms, a bit like Prison Break but with lesbians.

Now this I struggle to watch with Mr. B.  It's not really his thing and I think the lesbian theme and, sometimes graphic imagery leaves him feeling uncomfortable and this, in turn makes me feel uncomfortable that he's uncomfortable.  So I tend to watch OITNB on my iPad.  It's simpler that way!  OITNB is a Netflix original series and as such, is currently only available through Netflix.  Now on series 2, this prison series has pulled some seriously big names (both actresses and actors) and, unlike Breaking Bad, I found it fast-paced and gripping right from episode one.

I'd love to know what TV seriesesesses you have REALLY enjoyed and recommend.  Or which ones do you feel that everyone else is talking about but you're missing out on?  Leave me your ideas in the comments below.

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Cooking With Kids - Halloween Squeezy Cheesy Green Feet #backtoschoolsqueeze

After school and nursery, my girls are always ravenous and scour the kitchen for things they can snack on while I make the dinner.  So this weekend I plotted to get the girls cooking so that they could make their own after school snacks with a spooky halloween theme and, at the same time, exploring recipe ideas for using Primula Kids Cheese.

These Cheesy Green Feet are a variation on a simple cheese biscuit but with a slightly silly halloween theme - a little bit like Frankenstein's feet.  I added a tiny dab of natural green food colouring to make them stand out.  I'm quite tempted to make a batch of these to hand out to trick or treaters later this month.

To make them you will need some feet-shaped cookie cutters which you can find online and in specialist cookware or baking stores.

120g plain flour
120g softened unsalted butter or margarine
80g mature cheddar cheese, grated
green food colouring
Lashings of Primula Kids squeezy cheese

1. Heat the oven to around 180 degrees (a touch less in a fan oven) and line a couple of baking trays with baking parchment.

2. In a bowl, get your kids to squish together the flour, salt and grated cheese until it forms a lumpy dough.  We found this quite hard to do so in the end I let the girls squish until their heart's content and then gave it a final blitz in the food processor once they had lost interest.  This was also a good opportunity for me to add the green food colouring to the dough without the risk of Holly permanently turning green.

3. Roll out the dough onto a floured surface until it is about half a centimetre thick.  Cut as many cookie feet as you can and place them onto the baking trays.

4. Bake in the oven for about 10-12 minutes until they are just starting to colour on the edges.

5. Remove and allow to cook on a cooling rack.

6. Once cooled, serve the Cheesy Green Feet biscuits with a bowl of Primula Kids cheese for dipping or simply enjoy squeezing the cheese onto the feet like Holly does.


Tuesday 14 October 2014

Children's Book Review :: Prankenstein

Lara and I have been getting into the Halloween spirit with a bit of light hearted bedtime reading.  These days Lara and I share the bedtime reading and with a book like Prankenstein by Andy Seed, Lara and I take it in turns to read one page each - it is a book for slightly older readers than Lara but she is the perfect age to start enjoying the comedy in the story.

Prankenstein is a story about a young boy, Soapy whose life suddenly seems to be full of tricks and pranks being played.  It all starts when a massive hole appears in the ceiling of the house where Soapy's gran lives and he finds that his grandmother has been rocketed into the sky!

Soapy and his two Estonian friends (the Twince) start investigating the series of very silly tricks such as exploding breakfasts and ink in the shower gel.  Tricks even start happening at school.

Eventually Soapy discovers a fairy hairy source of all the pranks!  Prankenstein is fill full of silly tricks (hmmm, perhaps a few too many ideas in here!) and over-the-top illustrations that make them seem more hilarious to kids than they really are.  The black and white illustrations by Richard Morgan all have a slightly dark side which make them look gruesome when in fact they depict the most memorable and active parts of the story and help to bring it alive.

When we first started reading Prankenstein, Lara though from the cover image and illustrations that it was going to be scary but very quickly she realised that actually it is a very fun and silly book.  It is a slightly more mature level of humour than she is used to (it reminded me a bit of Horrid Henry in comedy style) and she very much enjoyed it.

Prankenstein is published by Fat Fox Books in paperback.  I would recommend it for reading to a 5 year old upwards or for self-reading from about 6-10 years old.

Monday 13 October 2014

Hot Chocolate Goodies for National Chocolate Week

This week is national chocolate week.  Woo hoo.  I shall use this news as an excuse to consume chocolate for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Lara and Holly don't normally need an excuse to consume chocolate but they've recently discovered the joys of hot chocolate (served from tiny little mugs, I believe I'm allowed to tell them I've made them a babyccino).

Whittard sent us an array of their very grown up selection of luxury hot chocolate to get our national chocolate week off on the right foot... I think Lara approves!

The Whittard hot chocolate range includes this amazing 55% Ecuadorian Cocoa drinking chocolate which is rich, smooth and always leaves me wanting more - the girls like to top it off with a spoonful of mini marshmallows which add a hint of sweetness and a touch of colour.  Holly has a rather annoying habit of fishing her hand into the mug to eat the marshmallows with her fingers!

My absolute favourite from the elegantly presented Whittard hot chocolate range is the Orange flavour which is a perfect way for me to end the day; the orange flavour isn't overpowering but it does add a little bit of something special to your mug.  The chilli flavour hot chocolate is equally fascinating; chilli and chocolate is a combo that I love, especially at this time of year when it is warming and comforting - I'd say this Whittard flavoured hot chocolate could get away with quite a bit more of a chilli kick!  Both of these flavoured hot chocolates are made with 39% cocoa solids so they are more luxurious and rich than most; they also both contain a pinch of salt and you can really notice this when you drink (that's not a bad thing... just an observation that makes it all the more intriguing to taste when you add sweet marshmallows on top).

I think my two girls were BORN for national chocolate week!

Sunday 12 October 2014

Mellow Mummy in the Kitchen - Pinny Girls

My girls, Holly and Lara, get a lot of treats for in the kitchen - their own cookery sets and personalised aprons.  So, it makes a wonderful change for me to get a little treat of my own for use in the kitchen - a glamourous pinny from a new brand, Pinny Girls.

Inside this trendy little gift box is not a luxury item of underwear... oh no... it is a beautiful apron for me to wear when I'm cooking with the girls, or pottering around the house (I would say cleaning... but I'm not that much of a fan of cleaning!).  From the very moment you open the box you simply know that this is going to be so much more than just an "apron".

The Pinny Girls brand is built around fashion and style.  The shapes of the 6 initial designs all have a vaguely retro look to them but some of the colours and designs are a very modern; there is a style to suit most tastes.

My Pinny Girls pinny and matching oven glove are part of the "Love is all you knead" design.  I love the flowy lines and frills but underneath the clever styling is actually a very practical pinny.  As a tall woman I'm really happy at the level of coverage (something that is very important when you cook with two just chaotic sous chefs as Holly and Lara) especially around my legs.  The pinny is a very luxurious, thick 100% cotton and so can withstand a pretty serious wash to get rid of any kitchen stains.

This weekend the girls and I cooked spooky cheesy green feet together; the bright lime green pinny and gloves matched perfectly!  I LOVE these oven gloves.  Why do good oven gloves have to be so dull?  They don't.  Thick, soft and yet groovy too - that little line of frill makes a big difference.

Pinny Girls london can be found in a number of UK retail stores but they are also available for UK and international delivery from their website -  Pinnys cost around £24.99 and oven gloves £17.99.

Friday 10 October 2014

Children's Book Review :: Spot a Lot Animal Escape

As a Parragon Book Buddy I am LOVING finding out about their new picture books for children and this month's book is a cracker - Spot a Lot, Animal Escape by Steve Smallman and Nicola Slater.

Spot a Lot is, on the face of it, a counting book.  Each page details a number of animals who have escaped, starting at one and building up to 10 - for instance, 5 flamingos or 7 bats.  In this sense it reminded me just a little of One Mole Digging a Hole!

But Spot a Lot is so much more than just a count-to-ten book... it is also a puzzle book.  A spotting book.  A hunting book.  You could spend hours with your children looking through this book trying to find all the tiny creatures that each page prompts you to find.

On every page there are a series of challenges of things you have to spot in among the chaos of all the different animals.  Lara and Holly both LOVE this kind of book even though Lara has a more or less photographic memory and will return to the book a week later and know EXACTLY where to find all of the creatures on all of the page.

I love the detail in each page and the fact that every time you go back to the book you find something new.  I'd recommend this book for children of about 4 years upwards (but Holly does enjoy it too and she is 2.5)

You can follow Parragon Books on twitter and as @parragonbooks on instagram and pinterest.

Thursday 9 October 2014

#TeamChallenge10 - My Running Milestones

My first ever race!

One full month into my 10-month, 10-mile challenge and I'm a bit in love with running.  It becomes an addiction.  Got to go further. Got to go faster.  Got to have more running kit!

Having only started running in the middle of June this year, September saw me reach a few of my running milestones.

  • 1st September 2014 - Joined Team Challenge 10
  • 10th September 2014 - Ran 10k for the first time (1 hour 18)
  • 14th September 2014 - Ran my first 5k race (clocked a 35:53 time on a VERY hilly trail race)
  • 21st September 2014 - Ran my first 3k race (18:33 cross-country fun-run)

September also saw me join a running group to try and improve my speed and technique.  I've started attending a weekly running course called Lady Bees which is run by an awesome lady named Karen who runs Elite Conditioning and really knows how to push you to use that spare 5% that you naturally hold back when you run.  The weekly, one-hour sessions teach drills and training routines for pushing your own boundaries and trying to up that speed.  As an example, this week we ran 10 one minute sprints with one minutes rest in between them.  It hurt.

Tonight I went for my regular Thursday evening tempo run and my legs and lungs still hurt, two days later!  But here's the thing.  Tonight I ran what felt like a hard, long, slow 5k and yet when I look at all my Garmin stats, its really obvious that my ploddy runs now are the equivalent of my speedy runs back in August.  When I really really pushed last week, I broke the 32 minute mark for a 5k run and I think, given the right conditions, I could get it below 31 minutes.

Forthcoming Milestones
My next big milestone may be the sub 30-minute 5k and I might even try for it during half-term at the end of October.

In November I have my first 10k race booked for Swindon.  With a couple more muddy off-road 10k races booked for December.  I must be crazy.  Who really wants to run on the 28th December???

Every week I add another 1k to my long run and I'm steadily moving up towards that 10 mile mark but I'd like to concentrate on improving my speed over a longer distance.  At present my long runs still feel like walking with a bounce!

I've also done a mildly bonkers thing.  I've booked myself onto the Reading Half Marathon in March next year.  By then, I'm hoping that I can meet the 10 mile #TeamChallenge10 goal so what's an extra few miles when you're surrounded by thousands of other people???

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Regatta Walk to School #itsmyadventure

How many of you walk to school with your children? For the Mellow family, until this past month, walking to school just didn't seem practical but Regatta challenged us to walk to school and try out their downloadable Walk to School Adventure Guide.  So we did!

As a working family, our school runs are somewhat rushed, especially because we also have a nursery run too.  On most days we park a short walk from the school and walk the last way to drop Lara off.  But this term Lara's school have incentivised the walk to school by using the Living Streets Walk to School reward chart, for which your child can earn pin-on badges if they walk to school at least once a week.  Lara was totally drawn in by the need for badge-bling and begged us to walk to school.

Lara now walks to school a couple of days a week with the school 'walking bus' which meets about half a mile from the school.  But we wanted to take the challenge from Regatta a little further; it has required a bit of shuffling of working arrangements to make a regular walk to school happen but now Lara and Daddy are taking the full 40 minute walk, whatever the weather, at least once a week.  Today was the first day of term that Lara and Daddy really needed to lift out all of their waterproof and windproof gear from Regatta.

Regatta, the outdoor clothing specialists, challenged us to make the walk to school into more of an adventure, something that Lara would want to get involved in more frequently.  We downloaded their PDF activity guide for some inspiration of ideas of how to get her to want to take the 40 minute walk to school.

Ideas in the activity guide include :-

  • Banning walking altogether!!! (and instead allowing hopping, skipping and jumping)
  • Trying not to step on cracks
  • Puddle jumping
  • Pet spotting
  • and counting... this is Lara's favourite.
On this morning's walk to school, Lara and Daddy were in a bit of a hurry but it didn't stop them counting animals.  On their trip they saw cats, horses, squirrels and dogs.

Our walk to school adventure takes us over a stream, along the side of a few fields and through woody areas, as well as along a busy road.  There are lots of things to look out for in terms of nature spotting, especially with the wet, autumnal leaves and seeds that are in abundance.

With waterproof trousers, fleece gloves and hat, a windproof jacket and a pair of proper walking boots from Regatta, Lara is prepared for anything on her morning travels with Daddy.  In fact, one day soon I think they will even be adventurous enough to take the cross-country woodland and fields route to school one morning.

If, like I used to, you think that the walk to school is too much of a challenge, take a look at the Regatta guide and see if there is anything you can work into your regular school run.  The time, the distance and the weather have all been ruled out as excuses for us now!!! Lara is really enjoying her walks and it definitely has brought a bit of excitement to our school runs.

Monday 6 October 2014

Fun Family Games - Bunny Jump and Don't Rock The Boat

In the Mellow household we absolutely love playing games together in the evenings and at the weekend - it always makes a welcome change from TV and Holly is now able to join in with some of the more simple-to-follow family games.  University Games are experts when it comes to fun family games and they asked us to put a couple of their new games to the test - Bunny Jump
and Don't Rock The Boat.

Don't Rock the Boat is recommended for children from age 5 upwards but Holly is 2 and, although it is chaos when she plays with us, it is still brilliant fun.  The aim of the game is to balance as many pirate penguins on the wibbly wobbly pirate ship as you can without tipping it over and throwing the penguins overboard.

Don't Rock the Boat is so simple and that's what keeps you coming back to it.  That simple challenge of not wanting to be defeated by a plastic boat!  Lara gets very competitive when she plays it and always wants to place her penguins in the most precarious of spots.  She is also awesomely good at it and has really grasped the idea of balance (a KS1 maths challenge!).  I would say that the boat could do with a few more nooks and crannies on which to balance things because most of the penguins end up clumped together on the deck.

For any pirate-mad kids like Holly and Lara, I think Don't Rock the Boat would make a brilliant Christmas gift that can bring the whole family together - it is suitable for between 2 and 4 players. The game costs around £14.99 and is available from at Toymaster, Argos, Toys R Us, Amazon, and Smyths.

Another new family pastime is Bunny Jump!  This is a fast game that usually results in lots of shouting, spin the wheel to find out how many carrots you can try and steal from the field... pull them out one by one and see if that cheeky rabbit catches you.

The mini carrots have to be pulled quite firmly from the field but if the bunny rabbit twangs into the air as you are pulling, everyone has to dash to try and catch him because you can earn extra carrots that way.  Sometimes the bunny jumps up after a matter of seconds, other times it can be a good few minutes before he jumps so he really keeps everyone in suspense.

Both Holly and Lara absolutely LOVE this game and they fall about in hysterical laughter every time the bunny jumps.  They like the feeling of ownership of having collected their own carrots.

Bunny Jump is suitable for 2 to 4 players and I can really imagine this is a perfect way to spend Christmas day together as a family.  My girls have played Bunny Jump pretty much every day for the past fortnight, so the novelty factor doesn't wear off! Bunny Jump costs around £19.99 and is available from Toys R Us, Hamleys, Argos, Smyths, Amazon and Toymaster.

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