Mellow Mummy: March 2015 : Taking life as it comes...

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Logitech Harmony Ultimate Hub Review

As you know, I like my tech.  In our house, I'm often a little embarrassed when a babysitter comes over, trying to explain the 5 remote controls needed simply to use the television; but after a few recent "Holly, where have you hidden the remote control this time?" episodes, I've fallen a bit out of love with my remote controls.  This week I have been trialing a solution to my remote control issues - the Harmony Ultimate Hub from Logitech which can turn your smart phone or tablet into a universal remote control.

The Harmony Hub operates using a combination of your home Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies.  If you have a device you want to control which is a little further away from your hub, it can also operate using an additional Infra-red booster (the mini blaster!).  Most of our tech resides in our living room within close proximity of our Harmony hub, and our Wi-Fi router so set-up was phenomenally easy.

Other than having to scrabble around behind my BT Vision box and television in order to find the model numbers, it was a stress-free experience setting up the Harmony Ultimate Hub.  You need to set up a harmony account first and then after that you can add upto 8 different devices - in our case the television, BT vision box, blu-ray player, surround sound, XBox and AppleTV.

In the past I've always been wary of traditional "universal" TV remote controls because I've found a physical remote to offer some iffy IR coverage and I've been regularly disappointed.  The beauty of the Harmony Ultimate is that your phone or your tablet becomes the physical remote control so you can use a tool that you are comfortable with (and proud of).  My tablet is always here with me in the evenings when I'm blogging so I always have it to hand... unlike the remote.

Losing remotes is a common problem in our house.  The AppleTV remote is a particularly annoying remote control because it is tiny, slips down the side of the sofa, is great as a kitchen utensil in Holly's toy kitchen, and because without it, the Apple TV is unworkable.  I've already had to replace it once already.  Apple do supply their own remote control app but I can't begin to tell you how much easier it is to use the Harmony control app in comparison!  As a big fan of Apple UIs, I find this weird, but true.  

It is incredibly convenient to have all of your devices configurable in one place.  If nothing else,  I'm achieving MASSIVE time savings by being able to click one button "Watch Apple TV" rather than having to switch on the AppleTV and then change the TV AV channel (an additional 5 menu clicks in total).  I think this ability to configure and switch quickly from one AV input to another is the most impressive part of the Logitech Harmony Ultimate Hub.

I've found the speed and responsiveness of the Harmony app to be great.  Mr. B. has the app on his Android tablet, and I have it on my iPad and we're both really happy.  Using the app you can change channel, select menu options, adjust volume, swipe up and down between channels and even fast forward (where appropriate).

Could this be the end of the remote control altogether???

The Logitech Harmony Ultimate Hub costs around £79.99 and is compatible with around 225,000 different home entertainment devices.

Monday, 30 March 2015

The E.ON #SwitchOffChallenge

Today sees the end of a one week challenge in which myself, Mr. B., Holly and Lara made a promise to switch off our phones, tablets, laptops and TV for two hours every day - choosing to spend the time together doing fun family stuff!  E.ON's Switch Off Challenge is designed to help highlight the reliance we have on technology and gadgets.  

As a working family, we are all out of the house for most of the day during the week.  When we get home, it has become a habit that we plonk Lara and Holly in front of the television or their tablets while we get the dinner ready and after dinner, as we wind down for bedtime, we normally watch TV together.  We chose this time of day for our challenge as we knew this would be time together that we would really notice and value.

Our week started well.  First off, games night which saw us all playing family games before dinner.

Next came colouring (yes, I did join in) and then card games; the girls aren't quite ready for a traditional pack of playing cards yet so My Little Pony cards and Gruffalo cards it was!

At the weekend we didn't really have to think hard about our switch-off time.  The girls joined us in the garden to plant seed potatoes and again in the kitchen to make Easter chocolate vol-au-vents.  Lara was a lot more keen to get involved than her little sister.  

E.ON conducted a survey of parents and found that 1 in 5 parents believed that their children couldn't go for more than 2 hours without technology.  This astonished me.  But, one week on I realise that it is very, very true!  Of all of the family members to get grumpy about the 2 hour daily switch-off, it was Holly (nearly 3 years old) who put up the biggest strop!  Holly threw a tantrum every time we refused to let her watch Netflix or play on the iPad.  Oh dear, what have we done??? 

On Sunday night we did a very brave thing and lifted out our collection of children's jigsaws to start sorting them out (trying to put all the pieces back in the right boxes).  Weirdly enough, this was the most calming activity for Holly who managed nearly the full two hours doing jigsaws with me.  For her to spend more than a few minutes doing anything at all is quite unheard of.

Tonight, Lara helped me make the dinner.  I think this shows how in one week we have come full circle... at the start of our E.ON Switch Off Challenge we were using tech as a way of distracting the girls while we cooked the dinner but by today, cooking the dinner together WAS our family time together.  And it was great.  Lara was so enthusiastic and helpful... I hope she feels the same way tomorrow.

If you are looking for more innovative ways of switching off to save energy then check out the Energy Saving Guide at the E.ON Facebook page.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Sweet Easter Vol Au Vents Recipe

I've never made a vol-au-vent before today but I happened to have a packet of puff-pastry that needed using up, and a roll of Bacofoil non-stick foil that had been posted to me to try out so I thought I would give them a try.  The girls asked if they could do some "Easter cooking" so I span an Eastery theme to what is ordinarily a savoury treat - these were so easy to make with the girls.

EASTER VOL AU VENTS (makes approx. 20)

1 sheet ready-rolled puff pastry
1 medium egg, beaten
50g butter (at room temperature)
100g icing sugar
15g cocoa powder
approx. 40 mini eggs

  • Using a crinkly cookie cutter, cut out 40 plain rounds.  Using a small plain round cutter, or a shaped cookie cutter, remove the centre piece from half of them.

  • Brush the plain rounds with a little beaten egg and then place the pieces with the holes in on top.  Put each pair onto a baking tray covered with non-stick Bacofoil and brush the tops carefully with egg - if you are too generous with the egg it will stop the pastry from rising.
  • Using a cocktail stick, prick holes in the exposed base of the vol-au-vents to try and discourage the middle from rising.

  • Place in a pre-heated oven (200 degrees in a fan oven) and cook for 15 minutes until golden brown all over.
  • Allow to cool fully on the baking tray.  The vol-au-vents are very delicate so don't try to remove them when hot.  Because the foil is non-stick, you shouldn't have any problems removing them from the foil.

  • Once totally cool, make the icing.
  • Mix the butter, cocoa powder and icing sugar in a bowl with a wooden spoon (or in an electric mixer), use a splash of milk to soften the icing if needed.
  • Pipe or spoon the mixture into each of the vol-au-vents and place one or two mini eggs on the top of each.
  • Devour

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Forever Bespoke Personalised Childrens Phonetic Name Frames

Lara and Holly love sharing a room together and later this year we plan to move them into bunk beds and redecorate so that the room can no longer be referred to as "Lara's old room".  In an attempt to try and make the room feel like it belongs to both of them, we have put up these two beautiful personalised illustrated framed names from Forever Bespoke.

I always love a personalised gift but these name frames are showstoppers.  Each letter is illustrated by hand and then laid out and printed especially for your child on white paper and then framed in a chunky white frame that will look good in any room, alongside any colour of decoration.  Each letter tells a story using sounds beginning with the letter such as H for Horse, wearing a Hat or O for Owl playing the Oboe.  Lara's name features an alien, and aardvark, a lemur and a rabbit in a rocket!  Holly's features a lion and a yeti playing a yoyo.

Holly has just started learning her letter sounds and shapes.  She instantly recognised the H for Holly and then ever since we put these personalised name pictures up on their bedroom wall, Holly has talked about the different sounds such as L for Lion.  This is the kind of gift that you can give to your child from birth and it will live with them through their first learning and reading experiences, right through until adulthood.

The framed names are  49 x 21 cm and both of them fit well alongside one another, even though the girls names are different lengths.  They have taken pride of place on the bedroom wall and I think that, even if nothing else in the room survives out redecoration attempts later in the year, these beautiful framed phonetic names are here to stay.

A personalised framed name print from Forever Bespoke costs £39.99 for upto 12 characters.  I think they make a beautiful gift and they are just the sort of gift that we would normally buy for the girls as a non-chocolate Easter present.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Little Hankies Children's Handkerchief Review

I can very clearly remember the day when I first "met" Charlotte from Little Hankies on twitter.  Discovering wonderful new products and small businesses on twitter is one of the things I most love about blogging and on this day in question I can remember the feeling of discovery.  That little sparkle of something special that I just "knew" was going to be brilliant.

The other thing I remember is embarrassment.  It felt very weird to admit that my two girls would have no idea what a hankie was.  Growing up, I always used handkerchiefs and tissues were a bit of a rarity.  But as someone who likes to make small changes that can make a green difference to the environment, it occurred to me that maybe I should rediscover the simple handkerchief!

Little Hankies make children's handkerchiefs.  These aren't plain old white things, they are beautifully patterned printed hankies with designs to appeal to lots of different children's tastes.  From dinosaurs to bears, from snowflakes to fairies.  Each hankie is 24cm square and beautifully finished at the edges.


Lara and Holly sat with me online to choose their own designs of Little Hankies children's handkerchief.  Lara chose a loom band design and Holly chose wild flowers.  Each Hankie costs £4.49 which feels like quite a lot but a hankie can be used time after time after time.  Just pop it in your next regular wash when it has been used too much and then use it all over again.

When our Little Hankies arrived in their gorgeous hand-wrapped packaging, I did have to explain to Lara and Holly all over again about how a Hankie worked.  It's like a tissue, but you don't throw it away after you've blown your nose!  Lara can just about comprehend this now and asks for hers when it has disappeared into the wash, but I don't think Holly has quite grasped the concept!  But for Holly a hankie is so much more practical than a tissue; she has such sensitive skin that is easily irritated by a tissue... a soft cotton fabric is much kinder to the skin.

I have definitely been re-converted to hankies (and in fact I'm on the lookout for some groovy grown-up ones now).  In the future, I'd love to see selection packs of 3 or more hankies from Little Hankies so that you always have one available!

You can find out more about these fun children's Handkerchiefs on twitter, facebook and pinterest.

Monday, 23 March 2015

#TeamChallenge10 My First Half Marathon!

"It has been an eventful month since I last updated you on my 10 mile challenge.  One in which I have, indeed, run the full 10 miles.  Last March it had still never crossed my mind to run anywhere.  I was the heaviest I have ever been and did almost zero exercise.  Yesterday, 9 months after I went for my first jog/walk experiment, I ran my first half marathon.  Bonkers.  I still can't quite get my head around it.

I ran the Vitality Reading Half Marathon yesterday in 2 hours, 27 minutes and 43 seconds.  It was well within my 2.5 hour goal but still a long way off my original plan.  The weather was gorgeous (I got a bit sun-burned!) and I loved every second of it.  I just wish my legs hadn't felt so tired as my head and my lungs wanted to go faster.

My training went well right up until Christmas when I experienced a groin injury.  It has been a slow recovery and I only just feel like I'm approaching the same level of fitness that I had back in December.

In the past month I have completed my long training runs, 10 miles, 11 miles and then 13 miles.  I had a two week taper (for taper read... eat lots of food and watch TV instead of going running).  I knew I could manage the distance but until I crossed the start line yesterday morning, I had no idea what my game plan was going to be.  I just went with the flow of things and waited to see how I felt.

The Reading route included two long, hard hills but it did also include some great town-centre areas where the crowds were excellent.  The shouts of support definitely helped and there were two occasions where I managed aeroplane arms down the hills.  It was great fun and I'd definitely do it again.

Today my knees and legs are a bit sore and I have one small blister but I think I got off lightly.

So is that it?  Have I completed my 10 mile challenge?  No way - there is so much more to come.  a team 10 mile challenge, another half marathon, a sub 60 minute 10k and my little girl's first 5k race are all to come this summer.  I can't wait.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Technology Will Save Us - a DIY Thirsty Plant Kit

Lara has really discovered the joys of science in the past few weeks.  As a family we have made volcanoes, simulated shadows and explained the solar eclipse.  This week has been British Science Week so we have been eager to encourage this new-found interest for Lara and what better way than with a hands-on science kit from Technology Will Save Us?

This week, during the evenings, Lara, Holly and Daddy have been building their own DIY Thirsty Plan Kit.  This is a hands-on electronics project for children to build themselves.  It is designed for children aged 10 upwards because it has some small fiddly pieces to construct but Lara and Daddy built it together (with a little assistance from Holly!).  

The kit provides everything you need to make a solar-powered moisture sensor which will alert you when your house plant needs watering.  Lara thought this was really clever and couldn't wait to get started.  The little kit contained all of the materials and electronic components and the instructions can be found online.  First up, the girls mixed a plaster of paris concoction which is used to create the sensor with a pair of nails.  Then you twist the wires and LEDs to build the circuit.  There isn't any soldering required (much to Mr. B's disappointment!)

Testing out her circuit!

I thought this DIY Thirsty Plant Kit was a good introduction to electronics, though perhaps not as a child's very first experience of circuits which I think probably requires something a bit more immediate like a switch or a buzzer to explain the concept of basic electrical circuits.  But, armed with the basic skills and experience for creating a sensor can be the beginning of a fascinating science journey for older, eager minds and its great to see that Technology Will Save Us provide little tempting snippets to try and encourage this thought process about what you might do next once you've built your first sensor... perhaps you might wire it up to a twitter account to tell the world when your plant needs watering?!

Our sensor is now taking care of my prize chilli seedling!

You can find out more about Technology Will Save Us (as a child, parent or teacher) over at

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Heston's Pear Tarte Tatin Challenge

I was challenged by Salter to create a pear tarte tatin to Heston Blumenthal's exacting standards.  Having never made a tarte tatin before, I was a little apprehensive.  Salter sent me all of the equipment I would need to very precisely follow Heston's own recipe; a precision kitchen scale, an adjustable rolling pin, adjustable measuring spoons, spatulas and a professional kitchen whisk, all part of the Heston Blumenthal Precision range.

Heston Blumenthal Precision Salter Scale

For a change, I cooked this recipe alone.  Hot caramel and delicate slicing don't mix well with preschoolers, and I'm not sure the word "precision" is one I'd use when I'm cooking with my girls!  And this was certainly an exercise in precision.

There were lots of individual ingredients to weigh out from tiny quantities right through to an enormous mound of sugar. I found the dual-plate precision scale invaluable.  Not only does the large plate measure upto 10kg, the smaller plate can measure in 0.1g increments for when you really must get things right.

Heston Blumenthal Precision Measuring Spoons

I used the clever adjustable rolling pin to roll out my (ready made... shock!) puff pastry into exactly the right thickness for the base of the tarte.  I think the rolling pin will be awesome for when I am rolling icing for the girl's birthday cakes (although it does have measurements printed on it which might scupper my chances of a smooth finish).

My favourite item from the Heston Precision range was this large professional whisk which is about three times as big as my old whisk - perfect for blending an almond and butter frangipane.

The pears were poached gently in a liquer made from caramel, honey, vanilla, star anise, peppercorns, lemon and cinnamon.  The most intricate part of the tarte tatin was slicing the poached pears finely to place at the bottom of the tins.  On the top I piped the frangipane and then tucked in my circles of puff pastry before putting in the oven.

And this is the finished article.  I'm rather proud of it.  A traditional tarte tatin is one of my most favourite desserts in the entire world but this, this really is something special.  Very fitting for a wedding anniversary treat, I think!


Friday, 20 March 2015

Frozen Elsa's Magic Snow Sleeve Review - This is great fun!

If you have a little one who wants be be Elsa when they grow up, then trust me, they are going to "need" this new Frozen Magic Snow Sleeve from Flair.  Just when you thought a beautiful Elsa snowflake-adorned outfit was going to turn your little one into their dream princess, along comes a little piece of genius which can make them feel even more like the real deal - with the Frozen Magic Snow Sleeve they can shoot snow and ice at all and sundry as they 'Let it Go'.

Lara's beautiful Frozen Elsa outfit is from Rubies; it comes with a detachable snowflake cape.  To really finish off the outfit, Lara is wearing the Frozen Magic Snow Sleeve which comes as a blue fabric sleeve and a plastic armband which, with one clever movement, can shoot out "snow" or water.  This two-in-one snow sleeve has brought plenty of giggles both indoors and outdoors for my two massive Frozen fans.

The Frozen Magic Snow Sleeve costs around £30.  It comes with one can of magic "snow" (aka silly string) and a refillable bottle into which you can put water.  You place the can or bottle into the plastic armband, strap it onto the sleeve and you're ready to go.

It took Lara a little while to get the hang of the hand motion required to trigger the snow/water and we found she had to position the armband quite precisely on her arm to make it a fluid movement.  It is designed for children aged 5 upwards.  The can of Frozen magic ice was quickly used up.  My girls had never experienced silly string before and so they were wowed by the magical ice.  It has been quite some time since I last played with silly string and I had forgotten quite how weird it is.  We now have a house full of bits of "ice" and some greasy stains on the walls.  Woops.

We actually found the water bottle attachment for the Frozen Magic Snow Sleeve offered the most entertainment for both girls and it was great fun for playing in the garden.  Initially I thought that the snow sleeve was a bit of a gimmick and that the entertainment factor would be short lived, but now that I have seen the girls playing in the garden, I can see that yes, they will return to this toy many times again.

If you are a Frozen fan, or if your little people are, then don't forget to look out for Frozen Fever, a new short movie which is released on the 27th March.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Globber My Free 2c Pre-School Scooter Review

Globber is a stunning new brand of pre-school scooters which is going to take the UK by storm.  Holly has been trying out the Globber My Free 2c scooter and is absolutely LOVING it.  Holly has been unleashed and there is no stopping her!

Globber is a brand of scooters designed specifically for pre school children but with all the style and funkiness you would associate with a teen or pro scooter brand.  Globber scooters can be found in the UK over at Greenover sports who specialise in "proper" scooters for all ages.

The My Free scooter is a three-wheel scooter with a really chunky t-bar handlebar.  The handlebar is height adjustable and has a good range of height; it is recommended for children of around 95cm tall which I think is pretty much the height Holly is and yes, the sizing is perfect for her.  It was very easy to adjust the height of the bar using the supplied allan key.

The deck is wider than an adult or teen scooter but other than that, it oozes the same sort of style that I'd expect from a stunt scooter.  The handlebar is built on a metal frame which makes the My Free a relatively heavy scooter but it doesn't suffer from this at all.

Holly instantly took to the My Free Globber scooter.  She found the steering intuitive (you shift your weight to the left or right of the handlebar) so I didn't need to worry about using the training mode.  With the training mode button at the base of the front of the scooter you can lock the steering in place so that your preschooler can practice scooting before they move on to learning about steering.  This is a great way of avoiding the need for a very basic four-wheel scooter when they are smaller.

I think Holly loves her Globber scooter for a number of reasons.  Firstly, it gives her a level of independence.  We went around the block together and Holly was able to scoot off into the distance on her own!  Secondly, it makes her feel grown up.  Holly compares her scooter to her big sister and can see that her own Globber My Free is just as smart and fashionable (if not more so!)

The Globber My Free 2c scooter has a small covered break at the back wheel which Holly has yet to master.  The deck is really nice and low so she doesn't have far to fall when she goes a little over the top!  It moves smoothly and, most importantly, it is GREAT FUN.

The Globber My Free 2c scooter costs around £55-60.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Leapfrog Alphapup Review

As members of the Leapfrog blogger panel, we love discovering their range of educational toys and Lara has spent quite some time exploring their rich content for reading and learning technology but Leapfrog are also known for their wonderfully simple learning toys for toddlers which encourage an interest in the basic fundamentals of all learning paths for the future.  The Alphapup is one such Leapfrog toy.

Holly has just started learning her alphabet with us, and at nursery and she has very much enjoyed meeting the Alphapup because he talks the same language as her - the ABC!

The Alphapup is a pull along toy suitable for early walkers up to preschoolers.  The keys along his back play the names of the letters of the alphabet when pressed, along with their basic phonic sounds.  At this age, little people learn through reptition and imitation of sounds that they hear.  

The Alphapup waddles along as you pull him (or her!) and he sings one of his three happy tunes.  Alphapup has one or two cheerful phrases to accompany the singing too.

We like the Alphapup because of his unending happiness and cheerful bright colours.  I think Holly is just about grown out of the Alphapup though because the lead is a bit too short for her to comfortably hold when she is walking upright.

The Leapfrog Alphapup costs around £16.99

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Little Tikes Attach n Play Basketball Review

Both Holly and Lara have a lot of energy left when we get home from work, school and nursery in the evenings and this new Little Tikes Attach n Play Basketball set from Online4Baby is a great way of them running off that extra energy before bedtime.

The Little Tikes Attach 'n' Play Basketball Set is suitable for both indoor and outdoor use; the net can be hooked over a door or fence and is designed so that it will stay in place, even if you hang off it (which is very tempting when you're attempting a slam dunk... even when you are two years old!)  We like to hang it off our living room door so that you can stand almost anywhere in the downstairs of the house and attempt to throw the ball in.  Mr. B. particularly enjoys this!  Both of the girls most enjoy simply throwing it in from immediately below the net, or sitting on the sofa opposite it!

The best thing about this basketball hoop is that you can easily adjust the height to one of three main settings.  This is perfect for us because Holly and Lara are both totally different heights and Lara gets easily bored playing with it at a height suitable for her little sister.  Once Holly has lost interest, I can quickly snap off one of the extending arms and move the net much higher for Lara.  It takes a matter of seconds.  It looks to me as if there should be a finer granularity of adjustment (due to the large number of holes on the extension arms) but I can't quite work out how to do this!

We have already had hours of fun from our indoor basketball hoop and ball and I forsee many more in the future!  I love the fact that this is a game suitable for all ages from tiny toddlers through to grown ups.

The only negative I have found on the Little Tikes Basketball set is that the net doesn't come fitted on the hoop and it was quite difficult to attach it (but now it's on, its never going to come off).

The Little Tikes Attach n Play Basketball set currently costs £11.95 at Online4Baby.  We were sent ours for the purposes of this review.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Childs Farm Hand Wash for Mucky Mitts

Holly is a total monkey when it comes to washing her hands.  Quite apart from the "incident" with the downstairs tap last April (which means I don't trust her to wash her hands unattended in our house), Holly has a tendency to rush things and always wants to be moving on.  We've been trying to teach Holly some good hand-washing skills using some tips, and some gorgeous-smelling hand wash from Childs Farm.

I am sure that this rushing of hand-washing contributes to her sore hands; in recent weeks Holly's dry skin has been really bad on her tummy, face and hands.  I put it down to the cold, yet sunny weather which tempts Holly outside.  Wet hands, other than being a tempting hiding place for germs, are also a recipe for sore hands if you are playing outside in the cold.

Childs Farm children's cosmetics and bath products are specially designed for children with sensitive skin, including eczema.  The Childs Farm Hand Wash for Mucky Mitts is a gentle, natural moisturising hand wash that cleans and cars for little hands.  The instructions recommend three pumps of soap when washing hands but we found the soap to offer great coverage and with much more than one pump on our hands, it took a very long time to wash off.

But perhaps time is exactly what we need to encourage Holly to wash her hands properly.

According to the World Health Organisation, washing your hands should take about 15 seconds: the time it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ or 'Humpty Dumpty'.

1. Wet hands with warm water

2. Apply a natural antibacterial hand wash, such as Childs Farm Hand Wash for Mucky Mitts to cover palms (3-4 pumps)

3. Rub hands palm to palm

4. Put one hand on top of another and interlace fingers, then reverse

5. Put hands palm to palm, wriggle fingers together and make bubbles

6. Rub the back of your fingers with the palm of the opposite hand & reverse

7. Grab hold of each thumb and rub up and down & reverse

8. Make a fist and rub into the opposite palm and reverse

9. Thoroughly rinse all the soap off your hands with warm water

10. Dry completely with a towel. FACT: damp hands spread more germs than dry!

Holly's hands seem a lot better this weekend now that we have given her skin a bit of TLC.  Now we just have the problem of nursery where the soap seems a bit more harsh (Lara used to suffer too).  The thing we love most about the Childs Farm Hand Wash for Mucky Mitts is the scent - it is a really refreshing grapefruit and tea tree scent made with natural oils.  Scrumptious.

Don't forget to look out for all the animals and characters from Childs Farm on Cartoonito. Follow Radar the dog and his dynamic bunch of farmyard animal friends: Truffles the pig, Bella the goat, Buster the pony, Peggy the duck, Mimi the mouse and Old Red the tractor.

You can also follow Childs Farm on facebook and twitter.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Clair De Lune Cot Bed Mattress Protector Review

Holly has now been potty trained during the day for nearly 5 months, so much earlier than we had bargained on!  At bedtime, she has been wearing a pull up nappy but a couple of weeks ago, we forgot to buy any and so had to risk a night nappy-free.  We lifted Holly when we went to bed and successfully managed an entire dry night.  Of course, since then, Holly has been keen to keep trying to go nappy free at night, even though I don't think we are really quite ready.  This means we are in need of very reliable mattress protectors to help keep Holly's cotbed dry even when accidents do happen.

Online4Baby sent us a cot bed mattress protector for Holly to try out.  It is a Clair De Lune fitted mattress protector sheet which is 140cm by 70cm so is suitable for both a cot mattress and a cotbed mattress.  The sheet is elasticated to stretch over the mattress and is designed for use underneath your normal fitted sheet to add a protective waterproof layer.

The Claire De Lune mattress protector isn't heavy or thick, it feels much like any other fitted sheet just with a slight sheen to the base of the fabric.  It isn't really shiny and it doesn't crinkle and make a noise when you lie on it (unlike other waterproof sheets we have used in the past for Lara).  This mattress protector is just as easy to fit as a regular cot sheet.

For me, a cotbed sheet needs to be capable of dealing with a baby's leaky nappy but should also be up to the greater challenge of a toddler or preschooler's middle-of-the-night accident which is a far greater challenge to deal with.  We've had one accident when using the sheet and this was first thing in the morning when Holly woke up so we knew about it and could act within minutes to take the bedding off the cot bed and get everything in the wash quickly - the bed was nice and dry underneath the sheet.  I don't know yet how it would cope if the accident were to happen late at night when the mattress protector would have to protect the bed for several hours.

I've successfully put this sheet through the wash but you have to be careful not to use fabric softener so that it retains its waterproof properties.

The Clair De Lune fitted mattress protector sheet currently costs £10.95 at Online4Baby.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Mellow Mummy's Chocolate Cadburys Mini Egg Easter Cake

This afternoon I have been baking.  Cadbury's Mini Eggs are about my favourite thing on the entire planet and I was in the mood for cake so I created this Easter chocolate mini egg cake.

Cadbury Mini Egg Chocolate Easter Cake

It was very simple to make.  I made a large batch of plan sponge mix:-

375g Caster Sugar
375g Soft Butter
375g Self-Raising Flour
3 tsp Vanilla extract

I heated the oven to about 160 degrees (most recipes say a bit higher than this for a large sponge, but I find that this temperature is most predictable for me).  I cooked the cake in two parts, one 20cm diameter and one 10cm diameter, both in spring-form tins.  The smaller cake took about 25 minutes and the larger cake took just over one hour at this low temperature.

After cooling, I sliced the cakes in half and trimmed them neatly.

I made a huuuuge batch of chocolate buttercream.

275g of Butter
600g of Icing Sugar
80g of Cocoa Powder
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
A Splash of Milk

Cadbury Mini Egg Easter Cake With Flowers

I sandwiched the sliced cakes together with a layer of the buttercream and then, using a pallette knife, I very carefully coated both cakes with a thick layer of buttercream and placed them offset on top of one another.

I decorated the cake with about 600g of Cadbury Mini eggs in a repeating coloured pattern and then finished the cake off with some Dr. Oetker wafer daisies.

Lara and Holly both enjoyed a piece of cake for pudding but Lara thinks it was too chocolatey!  Is there such a thing?

Friday, 13 March 2015

I'm Untouchable (contactless)

Three facts you probably didn't know about me, the Mellow Mummy.

1. As well as being one of the mellowest of mummies, I work a 35 hour week (with one early afternoon to take the girls swimming).
2. I design and build banking software for one of the biggest financial services technology companies on the planet.
3. I am increasingly becoming an expert in the technology behind the electronic transmission of payments from A to B.

I don't often talk work on my blog, especially not the details of real-time electronic payments (!!!) but increasingly, I'm finding that my work life is colliding with my "real" family life.  Every week that goes by, I find that the way that I pay for things for the family is changing.  I'm now questioning the need to teach Lara about the details of 5 pence coins, 10 pence coins and one pound coins when in fact I should really be teaching her about how to set up a standing order, or use a contactless debit card!

These days, more and more Current accounts offer a contactless card which can be used to pay in store or at payment points across the country without having to put your card into a reader, or enter a PIN.  You can pay for small value items with a contactless card and research from TSB shows that their customer's average contactless spend is between £6 and £7 for any one transaction.

By Tom Page from London, UK ( [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

For me, contactless features in two places in my daily life.  Travel, and food.  

It wasn't until very recently that I realised that you no longer need to have an Oyster card to travel single journeys in central London, but that you can use a registered contactless card instead.  This is really useful for me because I don't travel into London regularly so had never found it worth my while to get an Oyster card but now I don't need to faff around buying a ticket and know that I will only ever pay the most appropriate fee for my journey.

The other place where contactless saves me time is in the pub on a Friday lunch time (another secret revealed).  A beer and a burger is so easy and quick to order when you don't have to do anything more than tap your debit card on a reader - and time is important when you only have a 1 hour time slot for lunch.

What do you think, should we be teaching our kids the art of debit cards over the art of cash?

Disclosure: This post has been created in partnership with TSB

Thursday, 12 March 2015

How to help your child to read - 30 ways in 30 days

Both of my girls have grown up with Leapfrog learning toys.  For me, Leapfrog's unique blend of fun and education has, on many many occasions, been a trigger point for encouraging reading and interaction with books from a very young age.  This week Leapfrog have launched their "30 Ways in 30 Days" guide in which educational expert Janette Wallis gives 30 daily tips and ideas of activities to try at home to help instill a life long love of reading. 

Holly is just 2 and yet she loves to sit and explore a book, either with an adult or on her own.  She regularly uses her own Leapfrog Tag Junior Reader, or her sister's LeapReader to interact with the pages of a book, building her understanding of the relationship between the words on a page and the story it tells.  While it may be some time before Holly can actively read, these early interactions with books as stories, or as games, are her first steps on the road to reading.

The 30 Ways in 30 days guide is really designed for parents of slightly older children, like Lara.  The 30 tips range from ideas for how to whet your child's appetite for a story, to practical tips on the best way to target reading material to your child's reading abilities.  From ideas for writing letters to your child's favourite author, to completing themed wordsearches.  This guide contains sensible tips for parents, whatever level of confidence you have in your own ability to encourage a love of reading and writing.

One of the tips in the 30/30 guide from Leapfrog is to consider allowing your child to stay up a little later than normal, so long as it is reading time.  This has worked very effectively for us with Lara.  Yes, there are still nights when both girls will pester to watch another episode of their favourite TV programme but, more often than not, Lara will jump at the chance to have a special late night so that she can read a chapter of her latest book.

Lara enjoys reading her Leapreader books as a special treat.  Her reading has progressed so quickly that all of the LeapReader books are now well within her abilities to read unaided but she still enjoys the magic of having a story read to her, and certainly enjoys the interactive puzzles that feature in most of the LeapReader books.  This Doc McStuffins LeapReader book is designed for slightly older readers to read on their own and Lara has seemed as happy reading the story with and without her LeapReader.

For us, a story (or six) at bedtime has become part of our family routine.  However tired or stressed we all are at the end of a long working day, we all enjoy the wind-down of a story with the girls.  But for many people, last thing at night isn't the greatest time for a story; as parents we shouldn't feel that reading opportunities are restricted to the traditional bedtime routine; one of the great 30/30 tips is to find a different regular reading time that suits your own family.  Perhaps first thing in the morning, or immediately after a meal?

You can find out about the LeapReader, the 30 Ways in 30 days parental guide and other Leapfrog news on twitter and facebook.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Race for Life - My Story, Our Challenge #RFL #running

My running journey has brought me a long way already.  This time last year the idea of putting on a pair of trainers and going for a run simply hadn't crossed my mind.  And now, here I am 10 days away from my first ever half marathon.  Running has given me a new lease of life, a new level of health and a sense of purpose and achievement and I'm excited to share that with the other members of my family, especially when great, great things can come of it.

This summer, Lara and I will be running a Race for Life together.  Lara will have just turned 6 years old and yet already she is enthusiastic about running and inspired by me!  Lara and I will be running 5 kilometers ( or 3.1 miles in old money) which is a phenomenal distance for any one of us to run, let alone a small person!  But Lara wants to do it, because she wants to achieve great things.

And what greater thing to achieve than raising money for Cancer Research UK to fund research into ways that we can diagnose, treat and prevent cancer.  This year I am working with Cancer Research UK to help spread the word about Race For Life running events that take place up and down the country; Race for Life will be supporting me and Lara in our training for our event and we will be fundraising together to raise money for Cancer Research UK.

Race for Life is a series of women-only running events that take place across the UK.  You can run to set yourself a challenge, or simply run for fun.  Events include plenty of 5km races but also 10km, half marathon or even a sneaky marathon in October (I will admit, I have been tempted).  In addition to these races, Race For Life now also features Pretty Muddy events which are women-only muddy obstacle courses for those people who want even more of a challenge!  I am planning on running a Pretty Muddy event in September (the idea of mud freaks me out a bit so it really is a challenge).

For the 5km and 10km events children are allowed to run as well and if your child is under 6 years old, they can run for free.  The entry fees for Race For Life are very reasonable compared to other organised running events I've attended.  However, the cost of your entry is simply the cost of organising the event so Cancer Research UK encourage entrants to raise money through sponsorship that will contribute towards the cost of vital research into the fight against cancer.

I have set up a JustGiving charity donation website for myself and Lara which took a matter of minutes to do.  If you'd like to sponsor us to complete these challenge then head over there. But if you fancy joining in with the Race For Life challenge yourself then I have a £2 discount code off the cost of entry to any 2015 Race for Life.  Just quote RFLMel when entering the race online.  if you do join up, please leave me a comment below to let me know when and where you will be running - it'd be great to give each other support.

Lara has already started running with me once a week, starting at 1km and now working her way up to about 2.5km as a mixture of running and walking.  She is really hopeful that she will be able to run the whole 5km without stopping, come July although I have heard that the atmosphere at Race For Life is very relaxed and there is no pressure to run fast. I will be sharing some of our training experiences over the next few months in the run up to our big day.  

Monday, 9 March 2015

#RelaxMondays - My Guide To Beating the Monday Blues

For many people, Monday is the most stressful day of the week.  The return to work, the drudgery of the school run and the shock of routine after the mellowness of the weekend.  I always find Monday mornings to be the ones where it is hardest to herd the entire family out of the house before 8am.  Utopia Bathrooms are collating a series of #RelaxMondays blog posts and they asked me for some tips on how I remain mellow on a Monday.  So here are my 5 steps to a more mellow Monday.

Step 1. Make the most of the weekend
If you've squeezed lots of exciting activities into your weekend, you may well feel exhausted come Monday; but, on the flip side, you'll feel all warm and fuzzy knowing that you made the most of those two special days.  I always find that after a weekend where we just pootled around the house and watched television  that I'm more stressed on a Monday than when we've spent the weekend visiting people, or on days out, or busy in the garden.  Happy weekends = happy Mondays.

Step 2. Have a meal plan for the week
The full force of the week can hit on a Monday when you realise that you probably should have spent more of your weekend prepping for the week.  If you have the chance to make a plan for what the family will be eating, and when then there is one less thing to worry about on a Monday.  I always start my week with a meal plan (even if we rarely make it through on-plan to Friday!).

Step 3. Exercise
Since starting running last spring, I've found an enthusiasm and energy for the week ahead.  Planning some exercise time in your week gives you something to look forward to; exercise also releases happy chemicals from the brain which help you to de-stress.  I look forward to my evening runs alone because this gives me thinking time where I can empty my brain of the stresses of work, and preschoolers!

Skin Blossom Therapeutic Bath Soak
Bubble Baths and Running - Can't Get Better!

Step 4. Chill out in a hot, bubbly bath
Even if your Monday really has been stressful, you can unwind and let all the tension go in a warm, relaxing bubble bath.  Light a couple of scented candles, fill the bath with your favourite bubbles and close the door to the world.  Bliss.

Step 5. #EmbraceHappy
Find three happy things about your day, however stressful it may have felt.  Seeing the good in every day of the week helps me stay mellow.  Find out more about Karin's amazing mission for happiness at

Disclosure: I was sent a relaxing pamper hamper in return for my mellow tips.

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