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

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Free Dining at Walt Disney World, Florida

We are still on a Mickey-Mouse high after our Disney experience this summer in Paris.  We made amazing memories together as a family.  While we were staying at Disney we made the most of our dining plan and the girls loved being able to choose their favourite meals in the resort restaurants.  This autumn, if you book a 2016 Walt Disney World Resort holiday, you could make the most of their 2016 Free Dine offer and, to celebrate, Walt Disney World sent the girls the wherewithall to make their most favourite meal of all - spaghetti bolognaise!

It doesn't matter where in the world we are, or how fussy the girls are feeling, both Lara and Holly will always opt for spaghetti bolognaise if it is on the menu!  Across Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, there are over 450 places to dine across a phenomenally wide range of cuisines so there is bound to be something to suit everyone's tastes.  To bring the Disney dining experience into our own home we cooked the girl's their favourite meal and served in some exclusive Disney Store cookware!

We sprinkled our spaghetti bolognaise with grated cheddar cheese.  But did you know that more than 89 varieties of cheese are used by Disney theme park and resort chefs to help serve up some of the 55 million meals that are served annually in the parks?

Our home Disney dining experience was great fun.  If you'd like to experience Walt Disney World Florida's food offering first hand then you can currently dine for free if you book before the 3rd November.  As part of the Walt Disney World Resort Free Dine Offer, a family of four people could save upto £1000 on a 7 day holiday.  Full terms and conditions are available at

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Rainbow Bedroom - Getting started with our latest DIY project

Well, it has finally started.  Mr. B. and I have started work on our latest DIY project - a total change of style for the girl's bedroom.  Goodbye girly pinks and purples, hello Rainbow bedroom! I've been collecting ideas for a few months and finally we have taken our first steps to making it happen. We've sanded, filled and scrubbed the walls ready for painting.  I can't wait to share it with you when we are done (P.S. this could be some months away!)

It is going to be a massive change to Lara and Holly's bedroom but with really minimal effort.  Mr. B. and I have so little spare time at the weekends that we can only manage a few small tasks every weekend and it may take us some months to complete but we are planning on simply re-painting, fitting a new curtain pole and curtains, replacing the plug sockets, installing a smoke alarm and then adding in a bunkbed and a wardrobe to keep the room tidy and simple.

Because we don't have a lot of time or cash to spend on home improvements, we have opted for some simple DIY hacks.  We've chosen white walls which means we can buy plain white emulsion paint in bulk to save a few pennies.  We've also roped the girls into sanding and washing the walls! Rather than painting a rainbow mural, I'm planning a stick-on wall decal.  We've also collected a few

Mr. B. is desperate to get the girl's bedroom done and dusted so that we can move on to our grander plans.  I think he is struggling to get into the mindset of a quick bedroom re-paint when he knows that we have a lets-knock-all-the-walls-down-and-spend-our-life-savings type of project just ahead of us.

We are planning on opening up the whole of the downstairs of our house and adding a conservatory.  Obviously it is going to take some planning and a couple of years of heavy saving to make it a reality.  When you're planning a home improvement project on this scale, you need to think about the impact on your house insurance and your mortgage so it isn't a project that we undertake lightly.  I don't think that our grand plans for the downstairs of the house will be do-it-yourself though, it seems like a bit too much for us to take on.  For now, I'm just trying to concentrate on getting the girl's bedroom complete and saving those pennies for our future building project!

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post but that doesn't stop it being fun to read. DIY updates coming soon!

Monday, 28 September 2015

Wine - I Deserve It!

It has been an emotional few weeks.  After the chaos and exhaustion of the start of the new school term I decided to mix things up a bit with a series of job interviews, a very difficult decision and finally, my resignation from work.  Combined with the extra runs I'm having to fit in as preparation for my second ever half marathon race in a couple of weeks time, I'll admit I've been feeling the pressure.  When Aldi told me that I deserved to put my feet up on the sofa with a bottle of wine from their Exquisite Collection, I couldn't disagree!

Anyone who follows me on Facebook or Instagram will know that I like a glass or two of wine :-)  I like to spoil myself a little when it comes to wine and what better excuse to spoil myself than to celebrate a new job?  Aldi pride themselves on the quality of their wines at affordable prices - lots of their bottles have won awards even though they cost well, well under a tenner (and in some cases even under a fiver).

These two celebratory bottles shaped my weekend.  The Gavi, a crisp Italian white wine was very tangy and was perfectly suited to our warm, almost summery, weekend.  I paired it with a sausage buttie (!) but I think it would probably work better with a chicken salad or an Italian risotto - perhaps even a light pizza.  I enjoyed this wine, but I don't think its one I'd actively go looking for again (I generally feel this way about Italian wine!)

Saturday night was lasagne night and so I added a slosh of this New Zealand Pinot Noir during cooking.  Obviously, I saved most of it for drinking but if the wine isn't too pricey then it doesn't feel like such as shame to add a bit during cooking!  This Aldi Pinot Noir was a surprisingly light and zingy red wine packed with fruity flavours and it was more than able to stand up to my beefy homemade lasagne.  If I had blind tested this wine, I don't think I'd have spotted that it was a New Zealand wine, I would probably have said French! At £6.99 a bottle for a double medal-winning wine I think it is great value.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Autumn Inspired Craft Ideas from Yellow Moon

Autumn is well and truely here. Today was a gorgeous warm autumn day with yellow sun, falling leaves and just a hint of winter in the air as the sun set. I love this time of year and the autumn colours and shapes feature a lot in Lara's school work right now. But autumn days aren't always as warm and sunny as today so you can't always get out to play in the leaves or explore the hedgerows which is why these find craft ideas from Yellow Moon are so appreciated - you can bring the autumnal feel inside without the need for wellies and coats!

Lara and Holly enjoy craft activities and are just starting to work together as a team.  Today they have been making 3D family trees from soft foam pieces.  I provided them with lots of little head-shots of all of their family members and then the two of them worked together to build autumnal photo frames featuring all their closes family.  Lara helped Holly to peel back the stickers.  It was great to see them working together to make a construction that they could both be proud of.  I'm sure you could make something similar with real leaves but this seemed so easy to do and it didn't involve any glue!  Phew.  A set of 3 of these 3D photo frames costs just £3.95.

Another favourite from the Yellow Moon range of autumn craft activities is this stained-glass effect hedgehog kit.  The kit comes with lots of different colours of cellophane which you can cut out and stick over the holes in the hedgehog shapes.  Tie one of the different coloured ribbons to your finished creation and hang from a window to make the most of the autumn sunshine.

Holly was very proud of her creation, especially so when she saw it light up against the window.  This was a great exercise in glue-rationing for her!  Normally Holly goes crazy with the glue but she very soon discovered that too much glue doesn't work well for these delicate stained-glass cut-outs; I was impressed at how carefully she approached her second attempt.  This kit contained 6 hedgehog shapes so the girls got to make several different colours.

Don't forget that you can earn between 5% and 20% cashback for your school on most Yellow Moon purchases - if your school or PTA isn't already registered, why not drop them a hint?

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Baking Gingerbread Halloween Cookies with Bacofoil

The girls have really enjoyed watching this year's bake-off - for Lara, some of the skills she sees being shown off on GBBO are now just about within her reach.  I think Holly is still at the icing-chaos stage of her baking journey (see below) but it doesn't stop her trying.  At present, we spend pretty much every weekend baking something together as a team.  This weekend we were testing out a few new halloween bits and pieces that I have been stock-piling for the end of October; the girls always love halloween cakes and treats because of the bright colours.


80g Dark Brown Soft Sugar
180g Plain Flour
1/2 Teaspoon Bicarb Soda
65g Butter
2 Tablespoons Golden Syrup
1 Heaped Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Cinnamon
1 Medium Egg
Icing Sugar (I didn't measure mine!)
Orange and Green Food Colouring
Orange and Black Sugar Sprinkles

1. Sprinkle the bicarbonate of soda, ginger and cinnamon into the flour and then rub in the butter until it looks like breadcrumbs (Holly said it looked like crumble).

2. Stir in the sugar, making sure that there are no hard lumps of brown sugar.

3. Using a wooden spoon, mix in the golden syrup and egg until it comes together as a very soft and incredibly sticky dough.  You will have to use your hands to finally bring it all together (much to Lara's disgust - she hates sticky things!).

4. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill in the fridge for between 15 and 30 minutes.

5. Line 2 or 3 baking trays with non-stick baking parchment.  The key here is the non-stick bit. Traditionally my gingerbread biscuits stick like ANYTHING to parchment but we have been converted to Bacofoil Easy Bake Non-Stick Paper which is non-stick on both sides and had produced incredibly results.  Highly, highly recommend this stuff.

6. Roll the dough out on a floured surface until it is about 5mm thick.  The thinner the better but to be honest, this is such a sticky dough that you should just go with what you find manageable!

7. Cut lots of fun halloween shapes.  If you don't have any halloween themed cookie cutters, try a simple circle or star cutter.

8. Place the shapes carefully onto your lined trays, making sure to leave plenty of space between them as the biscuits will grow.  Cook in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees (a little less in a fan oven) for 8 minutes only.  If you have lots of trays of biscuits, don't try to squeeze them all into the oven; as it only takes 8 minutes you can cook one tray at a time.

9. When you take the biscuits out of the oven they will still be very soft.  Whoosh the entire sheet of baking parchment off onto a cooling tray and allow to cool and harden for at least 10 minutes before attempting to pick them up by hand.

10. Once the biscuits are totally cooled, ice by hand with a mixture made from icing sugar and water.  I made white, green and orange and then let the girls loose on it!  Lara chose to hand-pipe outlines around her biscuits and then either flooded them with more icing, or piped crazy ghoolish patterns on them.  Holly went for the teaspoon and metal spike approach to still looked great.  TOP TIP - put the biscuits onto a sheet of baking parchment (used is fine) when you ice them; this saves a lot of time when cleaning up after the icing chaos.

11. Sprinkle with sugar sprinkles.  All the big supermarkets have black, orange and green sprinkles available right now.

I always have a batch of crazy halloween biscuits available on the night to offer to trick or treaters.  I think this year they will be gingerbread as these worked brilliantly.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Disney Inspired Clothing Your Children Will Love

Children all over the world dream about being just like their favourite Disney characters, from little girls wishing to become Frozen’s Elsa to young boys who want to be Mr Incredible. Kids are fascinated by Disney’s heroes and princesses, and there are lots of different types of clothing available that will help them to transform into their favourite character.

Frozen Princess Clothing
Frozen is proving to be one of Disney’s most popular films with girls all over the world wanting to recreate scenes from the favourite princess movie. Children’s Frozen clothing is easy to find online and through companies such as Lamaloli and they are perfect for a wide range of occasions from playing dress-up with their friends through to attending a fancy dress party.

The Little Mermaid Outfits
The Little Mermaid is another popular Disney film and Ariel is a much-loved character little girls love to dress up as. Sebastian the lobster is another popular personality in the film and if you have a brother and sister of a similar age who enjoy playing together, you can buy Little Mermaid outfits that they can wear together, with the girl as Ariel and the boy as Sebastian – or even vice versa!

Toy Story Fancy Dress
Another immensely popular franchise is Toy Story and there are lots of popular characters to dress up as, from Woody and Buzz Lightyear to Slinky Dog and Bo Peep. All you need is a sheriff’s hat and Badge with a yellow chequered shirt to recreate Woody’s look or a bouffant pink and white dress with a hat for Bo Peep. Little girls and boys can have fun dressing up as different Toy Story characters and this can be just for fun playtimes with friends or to go to a birthday party.

The Incredibles Clothes
The Incredibles is all about an incredibly strong family with super powers and this is a great theme to go with if you have a themed party to go to and you have more than one child. You can dress up your son as Mr Incredible or The Dash and your daughter can go as Elastigirl or Violet. The outfits are easily recognisable, making them hugely popular at parties as the children all have fun working out who has come as what character.

Cinderella Getups
Everyone loves Cinderella’s storyline of the young girl who blossoms into a princess and this is why Cinderella themed clothes are always so popular. You can easily buy a wide range of Cinderella themed outfits, including accessories such as magic wands, tiaras and of course, plastic slippers.
All children love to dress up, whether it be for Halloween, a fancy dress party or just a regular playtime session with the neighbour’s children, so dressing them up like their favourite Disney princess or hero is a great way of treating them to something they will get endless use out of.

Disclosure: This post was written for Mellow Mummy by Sophie Hazan.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Casdon Little Learners Toy Post Office Review

Postmaster Holly is in the house!  Holly is absolutely loving this toy post office from Casdon Little Learners - it is a chance for her to boss us about and play the boss!

Role play and imaginative play is a very big part of Holly's day right now.  Every evening when I pick her up from nursery I see her playing 'mums and dads' or 'babies' or 'teachers' with her friends.  At three and a half, this is the stage in Holly's life when she will learn simple life skills through mimicking others and so we are more than happy to let her boss us about.  One of Holly's favourite activities at the weekend is to come with me to the post office at the end of our road and then run home again so she was super excited to own her own post office counter!

The Little Learners post office toy contains everything Holly needs to run her own post office including basics for sale from her own little shop.  The set comes with a set of postal consumables such as stamps, air mail stickers, envelopes and paper as well as a couple of small parcel boxes.  There are newspapers and postcards for sale too!  It is fair to say that Holly worked her way through the consumables very quickly - the envelopes were all "written" on and the stamps and stickers all used within a couple of days.  Even the postcards had been written and posted!  Thankfully the set includes spaces big enough for full-sized notepaper, postcards and envelopes so we have been able to top up with our own stationary from home and Holly has raided her stash of stickers to use as stamps!

The set includes a simple weighing scale onto which you can place parcels and look at the indicators on the scale.  Holly has great fun when I bring her all sorts of items from around the house that she can weigh and tell me how much she wants to charge me.  The toy post office comes with pretend money - both notes and coins that Holly likes to exchange with me and count out my change.

There is, of course, a miniature post box as part of the set, into which the postcards and mini envelopes can be posted.  I'm not sure Holly has yet worked out what is intended to happen once the letters are posted...magic, I think!

The part of the post office set that Holly most enjoys is the pretend stamp pad - every letter we take to her for posting needs her stamp of approval before it can be posted.

I'm really pleased with the way Holly has embraced this set - I always enjoy seeing Holly take things seriously (it doesn't often happen).  I find the set to be a bit small and fiddly but it is the perfect size for her little hands to practice fine motor skills and it also means that the whole set is compact enough to sit on a coffee table or workbench.

Holly and Lara love playing post offices together and they take it turns to play the customer or the postmaster.  The Casdon Little Learners Post Office costs around £12.


Monday, 21 September 2015

#VieraVIPClub - Why 4k?

This week, the sale of the world's first commercially-available 8k television made the BBC news headlines - 8k??? I've only just got my head around 4k!

Before I lose you all, let me explain.  4k television is Ultra-high-definition television content such as movies or photography which had been recorded in, and can be displayed in high definition with about 4 times as many pixels as Full-HD content.  Most television sets in households up and down the country can display Full HD content such as that broadcast by the BBC and Sky on their dedicated HD channels (and once you've started watching in HD, you find it very hard to go back).  

In the past year, 4k Ultra HD (which shows around 4 times as many pixels as Full HD) has really taken off and many new televisions in the Panasonic Viera range now feature their 4k pro technology as standard.  Broadcasters such as Netflix are now committing to a wave of new 4k content and even home 4k video and still cameras are becoming more affordable.  8k however seems like a very long way off!  Only a trickle of movie content is starting to be filmed in 8k.  I don't think I'll be saving for an 8k TV for some years to come!

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to be invited, as part of the Viera VIP Club, to explore the world of 4k televisions at IFA in Berlin.  We met the men behind the technology that makes Panasonic's 4k pro technology stand streets ahead of the other 4k televisions.  Trust me, I saw enough TVs that day and not one of them came close to the Panasonic Viera OLED CZ950 4k Pro television.

The secret, they say, is that the "pro" in their 4k pro technology explains how they spend many long hours working with film making professionals from Hollywood to make sure that their TVs represent the colours of the pictures exactly as the director originally intended.  Until the massive screens and huuuuge data storage requirements of 8k can be shrunk to fit into our front rooms, 4k pro is as close as you or I can get to the full cinematic experience.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

#StreamTeam Project Mc² - Science Skillz

Lara doesn't very often get her way when it comes to deciding what to watch on Netflix - she often gets overruled by her little sister.  But very occasionally, Lara does get a bit of quiet time all of her own to enjoy something a little more grown up.  Recently, Lara has been watching the first three episodes of the Netflix original series, Project Mc².

Project Mc² is a US high-school based series about four top-of-the-class girls who have awesome science skills.  The girls are recruited to join a secret spy organisation where they can each make the most of their specific areas of expertise.  Think Avengers for pre-teens!

The appeal for Lara of Project Mc² is in the fact that the girls McKeyla, Adrienne, Bryden and Camryn are all a bit older than her and the US classroom is something totally alien for her!  I'm not sure Lara notices the not-so-subtle messaging about girls in science.  As a female engineer myself, I don't need convincing to encourage science and maths skills in my daughters and, so far, Lara is oblivious to the fact that a career in science (or indeed espionage) is still considered unusual for young ladies.  Even though I find the all-female crew of spies in Project Mc² a little off-putting (and unrealistic) it is good to be able to share a story with Lara in which tech and action are strongly associated with females.

Lara very much enjoys her weekly computing lessons at school (with me and Mr. B. for parents, I'd be disappointed if she didn't!) but she also enjoys science lessons and at the weekend we like to conduct our own experiments such as volcano-creation or chemical food reactions.  We are working on Lara's science skillz! The four main characters in Project Mc² each have their own skillz too.  From culinary creations to motor enthusiasm, from digital media to mechanical pencils, the four girls have all bases covered.  Of course, there is your fair share of high-school cutsieness and "cool" to set the scene but there is a little bit of action too and this helps shape the story of each episode.  To be very honest, it makes me cringe but, when I watch it, it reminds me a lot of the types of programmes I enjoyed in my pre-teens so I'm going to leave Lara to it!

The first three episodes of this Netflix original series are now available in the UK.  There are spy activities and missions to complete on the Project Mc² website too.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Children's Book Review :: Walter's Wonderful Web

Holly, who is three, absolutely loved Walter's Wonderful Web, a board book that she has really taken as her own - she sits and "reads" it to herself and points out the different shapes as she goes!

Walter's Wonderful Web, by Tim Hopgood is a tale of a sad spider who is on a mission to make better cobwebs!  Walter's webs are a bit wibbly wobbly and they keep being wooshed away by the wind.  Walter experiments with lots of different designs which leads him to explore different shapes.  Eventually, just when you think he is about to give up, Walter discovers the secret to a truly wonderful web.

Walter's Wonderful Web is a gentle, touching tale but with a brilliant learning theme - shapes.  On each page that features a new web, the shape of the web is very clearly illustrated and the name of the shape is written in clear, bold lettering.

At the end of the book there is a colourful page of the plain shapes with a series of questions for you to ask and answer with your child.  This helps your child to identify and differentiate shapes - a basic mathematical reasoning challenge that your child will be far more receptive too once you've read the story together.

I loved this book and I can see why Holly is so taken with it; the illustrations are beautiful and fun with hints of autumn with all the falling leaves.  We're now going to search out more of Tim Hopgood's board books.

Walter's Wonderful Web was published last week by Macmillan Children's Books.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Back to School with Vosene Kids

So, the school term is back in full swing.  Beaver scouts term has started.  Swimming lessons have started.  It's all go in the life of a 6 year old.  This time last year I can clearly remember the added stress for the new school term of headlice.  Interestingly though, they came from Holly's nursery and I really wasn't prepared for my first experience of lice!  This year we are far better prepared with the Hair Heros from Vosene Kids.

The Vosene Kids advice centre has several tips for how to prevent and treat headlice.  I'll admit that, after last year's experience I have become a bit obsessed with checking the girls heads so that I can spot them early.  Number one on our list of defences this year is the Vosene Kids advanced conditioning defence spray which is packed full of tea tree essential oils.  Headlice hate tea tree oil but thankfully, I LOVE the smell of tea tree which is a strong, medicinal smell.  We use the spray after each wash instead of a traditional conditioner and it helps remove tangles as well as coating and scenting the hair.  It took me a few uses to get the right amount on (not enough = too many tangles, too much = heavy shiny hair).

Next up is the Vosene Kids Lice Repellant Conditioning Shampoo with citronella.  I know citronella more for its mozzie-repelling properties than headlice!  It is a nice light shampoo which seems to suit both girls well and leaves the hair clean.  I think I'd still want to use a conditioner or a spray afterwards as well.

Hopefully this autumn we can avoid the arrival of headlice but at least this term I am prepared.

For more advice on tackling the risk of back-to-school headlice and for your chance to winone of over 5000 Vosene Kids mini sets (perfect for use after swimming lessons!), visit the Vosene Kids Back to School hub.

Disclosure:  I was sent a bottle of each product for review.  So headlice!

Monday, 14 September 2015

Snugrugs Zara Children's Sheepskin Boots Review

Lara is increasingly more aware of fashion and these gorgeous purple Zara Kids Sheepskin Boots from SnugRugs are exactly the style that fashion-conscious little people are looking for this Autumn.  Lara couldn't conceal her enormous smile when they arrived.

SnugRugs are specialists in Sheepskin and leather home accessories, clothing and footwear for both adults and children.  These snuggly kids sheepskin boots are one of a couple of styles of winter boots for older children (they're available from infant size 6 through to adult size 2) but SnugRugs also sell sheepskin booties for much tinier feet too!

Lara has owned boots in in the past and I've learned that Sheepskin boots are surprisingly resilient to poor weather (even more so if you treat them with specialist boot protector product) so they really are appropriate as winter boots.  I wouldn't necessarily want Lara to be stomping through muddy puddles in these gorgeous purple boots, but I'm happy to let her wear them out and about without having to worry too much.

Inside, the boots are lined with a soft fleece, also in purple (the Zara boots are also available in black, chestnut brown, chocolate brown and grey).  Outside, the sheepskin is soft to touch and is decorated with a little bow on one side of each boot.  These Snugrugs boots are excellent quality - I'd say better than the big brands Lara wore when she was younger - and I think that comes, from the fact that these boots have a thick, sturdy sole and the stitching seems strong enough to withstand clumsy hands pulling the boots on and off.

Lara fell instantly in love with these boots (a relief, as she is incredibly fussy about shoes).  Now I just have the difficult decision about whether or not to let her wear them to school.  Lara goes to a non-uniform school and I've always said that I'd try and steer her away from high fashion while she was at primary school to avoid arguments and competition.  These boots may not provide a lot of support for the foot but they just look ideal for cold winter days... I'll have to see how that decision goes as the weather gets colder!

Disclosure: We were sent the boots from SnugRugs to review but all opinions our our own.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Persil - Learning for Tomorrow

This week Lara went back to school - she's now in year two and is absolutely loving school.  She's super-excited about the wide curriculum this year which will see her learning French, Computing, Music and Humanities as well as her everyday favourites.

Persil sent Lara her very own schoolbag (her first) and some back-to-school essentials to demonstrate their commitment to education. Persil believe that every child deserves the chance to get a quality education and the life opportunity it can bring. This back-to-school period Persil are launching Learning for Tomorrow, an initiative to help give children in some of the world’s toughest areas the opportunity of a quality education.

Over the past couple of weeks, my Facebook feed has been filled with photos from proud parents of their children, prepped for the start of the school term.  It fills us with pride to see them disappear off to school to learn the wonders of life.  But around the world there are around 58 million children who won't have access to a primary education this year and in countries where there is access to education, there are many schools in countries such as Brazil, Vietnam and India that simply don't have the right resources to offer a solid start to education.  Persil's Learning for Tomorrow initiative is about providing access to quality education.

Persil have partnered with UNICEF to ensure that their 1.4 million Euro donation is targeted where it is needed most. The first step could be training more teachers, kitting out classrooms or tackling the social issues that lead to pupils dropping out of school. You can find out more about the work that UNICEF do across the globe to help better education standards.

Persil are big fans of dirt and mess (as are we) and they know that the school day teaches all of our children so much more than just reading and writing – they also learn vital skills such as making decisions, choosing friends, getting messy, and learning from their mistakes. Our school experience sets us up for life.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Children's Book Review :: The Cow Who Climbed a Tree

My girls have an endless appetite for fun bedtime reading; our two or three pictures books that we share together before bed are some of my favourite moments with them.  New this week is The Cow Who Climbed a Tree which is a fun picture story book by Gemma Merino.

Tina is a cow who breaks the mould.  A cow who wants to discover and explore without living within the traditional grass-munching boundaries of most cows.  Tina is one of four sisters, the others of whom frown upon Tina's frivolous activities.  When Tina the cow tells her sisters that she has learned how to climb trees and discovered a new friend - a vegetarian dragon - they dismiss her story as nonsense.

One day, Tina doesn't appear for her meal (more grass) and so the sisters go in search of her.  When they reach the base of a mysterious-looking tree, their lives are changed for ever!

The Cow Who Climbed A Tree is a fun story that is great for reading to toddlers, preschoolers and younger children.  Lara, who is now 6, reads it alone.

The girls enjoyed the illustrations too - the cows and animals are all very stylised with brightly coloured watercolour-style trees and scenery.  Holly most enjoyed the picture of the vegetarian dragon who sits at the top of a tree - she recognised its tail instantly!  Lara most enjoyed seeing parachuting animals jumping out of the sky.

Gemma Merino also wrote and illustrated The Crocodile Who Didn't Like Water which has won a number of children's literature and illustration prizes.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

#VieraVIPClub - Experience OLED (and other shiny things) at IFA in Berlin

This weekend I was off gallivanting at IFA, the mahoosive technology trade show in Berlin, thanks to Panasonic UK who had lots of shiny things they wanted to show me.

If you've never heard of IFA (Internationale Funkausstellung) before then let me tell you that it is Europe's showcase for consumer tech - from washing machines to smart watches, from digital cameras to showstopping televisions.

And by show-stopping, I mean the sort of television whose picture literally takes your breath away. I was at IFA last year to see the current range of Panasonic Viera 4K televisions on show and was impressed but this year Panasonic are launching their first consumer OLED television and it is a beautiful, beautiful thing. Blacker blacks, brighter brights and stunning colours you can't see on any other TV screen on the planet.

Clearly the new 65 inch CZ950 is going to be a bit beyond many people's budget (and let's face it, we don't all need our TVs to be backed with suede-effect fabric) but the good news is that 2015 sees the inclusion of Panasonic's 4K Pro technology on the wider Viera range.  I'd predict that, within a couple of years, 4K content will be widely accessible and 4K TV's will be the norm, whatever your TV budget.

At IFA I got the chance to hear from the Japanese engineers whose role is to ensure that Panasonic's TVs represent your 4k Ultra-high definition movies and TV programmes in exactly the way that the director originally intended them to be.  Hearing the lengths that they go to in order to make sure that each pixel on the screen does exactly what it needs to was, quite simply, astonishing.

Elsewhere on the mind-bogglingly huge Panasonic booth I spied the Nubo compact 4G portable video camera (perfect as a portable baby monitor), pink-trimmed nose-hair clippers (one of life's essentials?), and the impressive new Panasonic IPL hair reduction device (now this really is a life-changer). Keep your eyes peeled for new, smarter bread makers and the dawn of the "slow" juicer.

You can read more about IFA at

Monday, 7 September 2015

Children's Book Review :: What the Ladybird Heard Next

It's hard not to love a Julia Donaldson book, isn't it?  What the Ladybird Heard Next is the latest collaboration between author Julia Donaldson and children's illustrator Lydia Monks and it is the sequel to What the Ladybird Heard (which I will admit, I have not yet read).

As always, Julia's ability to tell a story using rhyme is awe-inspiring.  I really enjoy reading her rhyming tales to my girls (not all children's authors can pull of a rhyme well).  The story centres around a farmyard full of animals who hatch a plan to divert two criminals determined to steal their hen.  Lara (who also hasn't read the prequel) was a bit surprised to find out quite how little the ladybird features in the story but we did have fun trying to spot her on every single page...however tiny she may be.

Every page in the hardback version of What the Ladybird Heard Next features glittery stand-out elements which adds to the interactivity of the book - it encourages you to touch and explore each page and helps you see things in the illustrations that you may not have noticed otherwise.

In this story Julia Donaldson cleverly mixes fantasy with reality - the girls loved the idea of a Snuggly Snerd on their farm and we talked about what type of creature it might be.  But perhaps the most popular part of the story in our house is, unsurprisingly, the part of the story where the criminals end up digging their way through an enormous pile of poo!  Much hilarity ensues at this point in the rhyming tale.

What the Ladybird Heard Next is a wonderful story book with appeal for children of all ages.  I think it would make a perfect story to read to a class of KS1 children.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Top Tips for Travelling to Disneyland Paris

A couple of weeks ago, we took the girls on a very special surprise trip to Disneyland Paris.  We all ABSOLUTELY loved it and I'm so glad we took them.  Lara, who is 6, had a brilliant time on all of the rides and was in awe of some of the more adventurous roller-coasters (though not brave enough to try) - she still felt the Disney magic.  Her little sister, Holly, is 3 years old - she coped brilliantly well with the amount of walking and queuing we had to do.  Holly's big eyes for the entire trip showed how much she loved the Disneyland atmosphere.

A trip to Disneyland doesn't come cheap and lots of people have asked me, in the past couple of weeks, for my thoughts on various elements of the trip so I thought I would share my top tips for making the most of your time at Disneyland Paris.

For reference, we stayed for 3 nights at the Sequoia Lodge hotel which is on-site (around a 15 minute walk away from the parks).  We traveled from Heathrow by plane and took the bus from the airport.  We booked a half-board plus meal plan.

1. Take Water Bottles
We saved ourselves a lot of money on drinks by taking drinking bottles with us on our journey.  There are free water fountains at lots of places throughout the two parks where you can top-up.  Drinks aren't extortionately expensive in the parks, but over a series of days, the price of buying water or soft drinks could add up so we drank water during the day and saved ourselves for dinner time!

2. Use your Magic Hours
If you choose to stay in a Disney hotel your park tickets entitle you to two additional hours in the Disneyland park each morning before it opens to the general public.  We forced ourselves up out of bed early to make sure we could eat breakfast in time to head over to the park for 8am when the crowds were at their smallest and the queues at their shortest.  Not all areas of the park are open, and only limited rides are open but each morning we managed to get on more rides during those two hours than we did for the whole of the rest of the day!  Disney characters are also available in the park at these times for Meet and Greet experiences (but the queues are still quite long).

3. Avoid the crowds
We travelled to Disneyland Paris in August which is the busiest time of year. Ride queues were still bareable but the volume of people in the park was unbelievable!  I'm not good with crowds and the girls aren't good with queues so, during the late afternoons when the parks were at their busiest we chose to return to our hotel for a nap.  Not only did this give the girls a chance to rest and recoup but it meant that by the time we were ready to go out again, the crowds were beginning to leave.  We also found that the hotel pool was deserted during the day.

4. Rainy Days can be Fun Days
If you've spent thousands of pounds on a holiday to Disneyland you can't let poor weather ruin your trip.  We knew that our holiday was going to have mixed weather with incredibly hot days, and incredibly wet days.  Our one wet day was one of our best!  We were well prepared with full waterproof outfits (waterproof trousers are a must on outdoor rides!) but we forgot to take waterproof shoes!  The crowds were MUCH smaller on our wet day and we managed to get onto so many rides during the morning and evening.  We did also try to visit the hotel swimming pool which was fun, but very busy!

5. Think carefully about Meal Plans
There is absolutely no doubt that a meal plan is the cheapest way to eat at Disneyland Paris IF you intend to eat in the restaurants.  There are LOTS of places to eat both inside the parks and in the Disney Village, as well as each of the Disney hotels.  We chose a half-board meal plan which gives you a voucher each day that can be used in a fixed set of restaurants for either lunch or dinner.  We chose to pay a little extra for the 'plus' option which meant that we had a much bigger range of restaurants to choose from.  The hotel buffet was great but we chose to eat out at other places each night.  The food standards were good but the Meal Plan vouchers limited us to a fixed menu with only a little choice.  If you've got fussy eaters in your family, you could struggle.  Likewise, if you want to try a more adventurous menu, or one of the more well-known or popular restaurants, a Meal Plan might limit you.

The best thing about our meal plan was our additional daily voucher for a 'pause gourmande' which was a small free sugary snack and a soft drink each afternoon (between 3-6pm) in the parks.  For us, the total value of the snack each day would have been over 21 euros so this was a nice little perk to get us through until dinner time.

6. Book your own travel
My biggest money saving tip is to take a look at other travel options when you book.  Even if you book your tickets and accommodation through the Disneyland Paris website, do quickly check on the train and plane websites before defaulting to the travel options that Disney provide.  I got quotes for British Airways and Air France through the Disney website and then checked directly on each of their own websites - the difference in price was significant.  I saved around £1000 on flights by booking directly with BA.

A trip to Disneyland Paris is wonderful fun - we all thought it was fun and has given us some brilliant family memories.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

#Streamteam :: The Post-Holiday Wind-Down

This has been the best summer school holiday yet.  This summer Lara has managed to cram in:-

* A week exploring in the Lake District
* Disney magic in Paris
* Tie-dying
* Swimming, Paddling
* Water-fights
* Ice skating
* Cinema
* Zoos and wildlife parks
* Bowling
* Visiting friends, hosting friends
* Birthday parties
* Grandparent days
* Baking

... and a whole host of movies.  To be honest, after last week's Disneyland exploits, we are all still mightily exhausted.  Upon our return from holiday, all any of us wanted to do was to curl up on the sofa with a bowl of popcorn and watch Disney classics on Netflix.  Pochahontas, Mulan, Cinderella and a bit of Mickey's Christmas thrown in for good measure!

Lara goes back to school this Thursday and I'm going to miss her (and Holly) a lot.  Mr. B. and I have taken off quite a lot of time from work this summer to spend with the girls and we've enjoyed (almost) every minute.  These last couple of days we want to be relaxing and stress-free to allow the girls (and us) to rest and recover before the return to school, nursery and work.  What better way than to explore some of the new films and series now streaming on Netflix?

Lara has just discovered the new Netflix show Project Mc2 which we will be blogging about soon; its about a group of girly teenagers showing off their maths and science skills with some exciting (yet practical) applications.  I think Lara now wants to be a spy too!

Holly is still very much into animations and is enjoying the luxury of being allowed to watch television during the day when she would normally be at nursery.  Her current favourite Netflix shows are The Hive (bumblees have always been a favourite of hers) and Strawberry Shortcake's Berry Bitty Adventures which are all sickeningly sweet and pink and girly (exactly the life-stage Holly is going through right now!!!)

Also new on Netflix right now are a few new episodes of and also Dinotrux which I think looks awesome, but which Holly won't let me play!

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