Mellow Mummy: 2016 : Taking life as it comes...

Friday 23 December 2016

Merry Christmas from Mellow Mummy

I just want to take this opportunity to say thank you to all of my Mellow Mummy readers. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous new year.

I've just got the finishing touches to do for our Christmas preparations.  Stocking fillers are sorted. Christmas Eve box is packed. Cranberry sauce made. Christmas Cake decorated. Sausage Rolls baked. Yule Log made...I think we just have mince pies to make and a Pantomime to go to.

Have a fab time everyone. See you in 2017!

Sunday 18 December 2016

Hug Time Poppy Trolls Review

As a child and into my teens I collected Trolls so I'm really excited to see them back on our shelves. Hug Time Poppy is an interactive troll toy featuring one of the star characters from the new Trolls Dreamworks movie; Hug Time Poppy is a fun, light-up interactive character with a strong positive message to pass on.

Holly and Lara haven't seen the Trolls movie yet but this doesn't stop Holly from really loving all the Trolls merchandise as the characters are hard not to love. Their cheeky faces, little legs and bright, soft hair are instantly recognisable.  Hug Time Poppy is a doll who speaks lots of different positive phrases (there's 25 different things to listen out for) she also plays music from the movie which I've heard is awesome - with a song in your heart you can do anything!

You can push Poppy's tummy to hear her talk or sing.  When Poppy sings her hair lights up. The lights are hidden behind a little tiara which can be removed so that you can brush her hair. Poppy comes with a brush and as I remember it, brushing a Troll's hair is very therapeutic.  When the dancing is done, Poppy often asks for a hug, and who can resist?

Perhaps the most interesting feature of Hug Time Poppy is not her hugs, but her bracelet.  When she sings, Poppy's bracelet lights up and your little Trolls fan will be super excited when they find out they can wear a matching bracelet that lights up as well. The bracelet is a good size for Holly who is 4.  When you wear the bracelet you can press the button and see it light up too - this prompts Poppy to say a phrase, sing a song or ask for a hug.  It's actually a pretty clever little piece of wireless wizardry.

Hug Time Poppy from Hasbro costs around £49.99 and is suitable for children from around age 4 upwards. She can be found in time for Christmas at Smyths or Amazon.

Monday 12 December 2016

Portable North Pole Collectibles from John Lewis

Portable North Pole has become part of our Christmas tradition. The girls both look forward to receiving their personalised video from Santa in the run up to Christmas because it is the first indication they have of whether they have made it onto his good list, or his naughty list.  This year you can find a limited edition set of PNP collectible Christmas gifts in store and online at John Lewis.

The John Lewis Portable North Pole range includes a festive elf, their box of tricks and ideas for what your elf can get up to. There are elf ear, elf slippers, Christmas activity sets and a kit to write your letter for Santa if you haven't already. For Christmas Eve, there is a golden magic key for Father Christmas to make it into your house.

Part of the PNP collectible range is this I Believe In Santa Portable North Pole Magic Bauble Surprise. It is a fun little gift for around a fiver (it is currently £4 at John Lewis) because it can be hung on the tree, it opens up to reveal a bag of North Pole chocolate coins, and because it includes a special code that a grown-up can redeem for a personalised Portable North Pole message from Santa. Lara and Holly were most wowed by the chocolate coins (we had to remove them from inside because the bauble was too heavy to hang on the tree otherwise) but they had no idea that the bauble unlocked their special Santa message.

If you have more than one child then a PNP Magic Pass is one of the most cost effective ways of getting your hands on a selection of personalised Santa messages this Christmas. You can, of course, choose the free PNP video message but we love the extra photos, names and personalisation and the longer videos that you get with a Premium Portable North Pole purchase and the Magic Pass gives you unlimited video creations. Last year I remember Lara wanting to go back into the PNP console in early spring to see if Santa had left a message for her - he hadn't but we did receive a personalised video from Santa for Lara's birthday in June that kept her interested.

I've used my PNP Magic Pass to create two personalised video messages for the girls (strictly speaking I made 3 but I changed my mind about whether Holly was worthy of the good list or not!).  Closer to the big day I'm going to try out the personalised telephone call as we have never tried this with the girls before.  I was really glad to see some new script and content for PNP this year and the videos are as magical as ever.  I've chosen two very different videos for Lara and Holly - both are set inside the elves' workshop and feature a great big book that Santa stores for every child.  I think the girls are going to LOVE the cheeky elf tricks that happen.

You can view your PNP personalised Father Christmas videos online on the website, through the  PNP console in the smartphone/tablet app or you can even download the video file to play through your method of choice. If you've never made one before then I highly highly recommend them because both Lara and Holly have been absolutely mesmerised and transported away when they watch their video. They are really well done and feel very magical.  The PNP Magic Pass in on offer at John Lewis now for £7.99

Sunday 11 December 2016

Winter Skincare SOS - Jojoba Hydrating Day Cream

Everyone in our house is suffering from dry skin at present; the cold weather always makes it worse and poor old Holly is suffering most. My face is crying out for hydration in a response to the dark nights and the freezing conditions but at this time of year I'm really bad about treating myself, even when it is a treat I really need. The Jojoba Company sent me a little pre-Christmas treat in the form of their awesome hydrating day cream to try and combat the winter blues.

The Jojoba Company are an Australian skincare brand who pride themselves on their natural skincare solutions. Their Hydrating Day Cream is a vegan-friendly moisturiser that is incredibly light and instantly absorbed.  It comes in a pump dispenser and is compact enough to fit into a handbag so that you can apply it throughout the day if your skin is crying out for a quick moisturising boost.

And that's exactly what it is...a boost. I love the way that my skin feels like it is bounding back in a refreshing zing every time I apply it. As the brand name suggests, the day cream features moisturising jojoba oil. Alongside this you'll find Siberian ginseng extract, green tea and olive leaf extract which all add to the boosting effect. Vitamins B and E are there to support the skin and chamomile helps your skin to feel soothed after a day out in the fresh air.

My skin is feeling quite genuinely fabulous at present (this may also be related to a change in face wash). The feeling might be explained by the fact that this Jojoba hydrating day cream has been clinically proven to help your skin increase its elastin levels by as much as 97% so it helps your skin to bounce back from stresses. I'm loving having this moisturiser with me and I can picture it being just as refreshing and rewarding in the warmer months as it is right now in the depths of winter.

You can find The Jojoba Company skincare products in Holland and Barrett.  The  hydrating day cream costs £22.99.

Thursday 8 December 2016

Foamë Children's Construction Play

Foamë is a new discovery for us -  a construction toy, a creative play toy and even a bath toy all rolled into one and Lara and Holly (and their new little friend who joins us for play three evenings a week) have taken to it instantly.  So has the cat, who likes to chew the pieces if we leave them lying around!

Foamë is effectively a set of building blocks. Shaped foam pieces that can be slotted together in all sorts of different ways. The pieces can be used in the house, on your travels or even in the bath because they have been designed to float in the bath and to dry quickly. They even come in their own special Foamë satchel which sticks to the walls of the bathroom and has holes in the bottom to allow the pieces to drain and dry naturally.

We received two different sets of Foamë construction kits to build - one themed around Creatures and the other themed around Boats.  Both sets contain all the pieces you need to make loads and loads of different designs and they come with a little booklet to give you inspiration. Some of the pieces are very clearly designed for one particular use, especially in the Creatures kit. However, in the Boats play set there are a lot more opportunities for innovation to create boats of all sizes.

I think Holly was most taken with the Creatures set. Lots of the creatures are water themed so that they enjoy being in the bath! You'll find everything from star fish to stingrays, from ducklings to polar bears! This kit contains easy-to-build projects that would be suitable for even the smallest hands. Foamë is recommended for children aged 3 upwards.

Lara enjoyed the slightly more complex projects in the Creatures kit and some of the boats too. Lara is someone who very much enjoys following the instructions whereas Holly is more into free-play. Either way, construction kits such as this are a great way of exploring the imagination and developing fine motor skills.

We were impressed by Foamë in the bath - I've been looking for a slightly more grown up bath toy for some time. I probably wouldn't recommend putting two whole sets of Foamë into the bath at the same time like Lara and Holly do because it takes up the entire bath! The pieces are enough of a distraction from hair washing for both girls and they (so far) seem happy to scoop them all up and put then in the bag at the end.

The girls have enjoyed building their own menagerie from the kits and despite the occasional gnawing from Bella the cat, they've so far proved resilient to small children and pets alike!

Foamë construction kits are available from £20 with more kits being added over time. You can find out more about Foame play sets on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Christmas Eve Box Inspiration from Poundstretcher

This year I've decided to make our first ever Christmas Eve box; it isn't something I've done before and I'm not sure if it will take off as a tradition in our house. We do very often buy the girls a new pair of pyjamas for Christmas Eve so this year we have taken it one step further and filled a big wicker basket with lots of goodies for all the family. I popped out during my lunch break over to Poundstretcher and picked up everything I needed for our family Christmas Eve box in one hit and I spent only £25.

I lined one of our old wicker baskets from the playroom with a festive blanket that we normally drape over the table at Christmas - this is the basis of our box. Then I packed it full of family treats.

The girls each get a pair of character pyjamas which only cost £4.99 each. I saw pyjamas with kids favourite characters from 12 months to 10 years. I chose a Trolls pair for Holly and a Secret Life of Pets pyjama set for Lara.

To match the pyjamas, I've included some fluffy festive snuggle socks - a pair for each of us. These were on special offer so I managed to get some animal ones for the girls and some festive coloured socks for us. They're a bit silly but they'll be nice to wear while we are opening presents on Christmas morning.

Also in our family Christmas Eve box I've put some boxes of treats - Trolls and Paw Patrol sweets for the girls and a box of Elizabeth Shaw mints for the grown ups. I've also popped in a sachet of ground coffee so that we can have a nice pick-me-up on Christmas day.

For bedtime on Christmas Eve I've included two little festive bath fizzers which only cost 79p each. The girls will enjoy this. They make a fab stocking filler idea as well.  I've added a "Santa Stop Here" sign to place in the garden and of course, I've made up a little bag of reindeer food from porridge oats and silver glitter. It should be a magical end to the evening.

Our Christmas Eve box also features a 2017 family organiser with a pen and a notepad so that we can plan our activities for the new year.  And last, but definitely not least, I've even included a little bag of treats for Bella, the cat because I wouldn't want her to miss out on the festive fun.

Monday 5 December 2016

Scholastic 12 Days of Christmas Gift Guides

Have you spotted the Scholastic 12 days of Christmas gift guides yet? 12 different themes of gift guides packed full of books from the Scholastic Books children's book range. Each day has a different theme and their gift guide contains 12 different book ideas to suit that theme or age range; the guides are packed full of Christmas gift and stocking filler ideas for your little bookworms.

So far, Scholastic have put together gift guides for:-

  • Stocking Fillers
  • Books for 0-3 years old
  • Boredem Busters
  • Books for 4-7 year olds
  • TV and Film
  • Books for 8-11 year olds.

Each gift guide contains 12 gift ideas and you'll get 20% off any of the books in the gift guide that day when you buy from Scholastic Books.  For instance, in the gift guide for 4-7 year olds you'll find a collection of Roald Dahl classics such as George's Marvellous Medicine and the Twits.  You'll also find a festive Enid Blyton Faraway Tree story and a David Walliams collection - all authors that Lara absolutely loves at present.

Every day that scholastic share one of their gift guides on their blog, you'll also find one of the books to be won on Facebook and Twitter - there are plenty of Scholastic prizes to be won.

But that's not all - don't forget that if you buy your festive books from Scholastic Books you'll also be giving back to your school or nursery with their #GiveABook festive campaign. Your nominated school get 20% of the cost of your order back in books. Additionally, Scholastic will be picking their favourite #GiveABook suggestions from Facebook, twitter and Instagram to choose a sack of £50 worth of books for your school or nursery so get sharing!

You can find the full Scholastic Children's Books gift guide here.

Sunday 4 December 2016

Casdon Christmas Gifts - Hetty Cleaning Trolley

Holly and Lara received a surprise Christmas present from Casdon, home of our favourite role-play toys. The girls were very excited to find out what was inside, so much so that I missed the opportunity to catch their faces on camera before they'd ripped off all the paper.  Who knew that my two girls could get so excited about cleaning products???

The Casdon Hetty Cleaning Trolley is a complete cleaning role play set for children of around 2-6 years old. The trolley has everything you need to pretend to be a professional cleaner! A modern style floor mop, a dustpan and brush, a broom, a pretend bottle of cleaning fluid and a bag to put all your rubbish in. The set is all branded with the Hetty imagery that we know from the Henry hoover cleaning range.  The girls just love it!

Lara who is now 7 is really too tall for using this play set but Holly who is 4 is just right for it. She can pull the trolley down the hallway complete with all its accessories. Given how rarely Holly sees me do any housework (!) I'm surprised at how well she manages this role play!!! I just wish she'd show a little more interest in genuinely cleaning up after herself!  The toy steam mop is a hit, it even comes with a replaceable cloth to place on the end of it, just like the real thing. In fact, there are so many little parts of this toy that it offers plenty of different ways to play; sweeping, mopping, brushing and scrubbing as well as tidying it all away.

For Holly, any toy that encourages her away from the TV is a good toy in my eyes! This little trolley encourages her to move around the house and explore different places that need a good clean; it's so realistic that she does actually manage to get the hard floors clean with the brush. It's good old fashioned role play and it is good to see both Lara and Holly happy to play together as part of their imaginary games.

Lara recognises the bright pink Hetty branding but I am not sure it resonates much for Holly other than a bright colour and a funny face. It's pink... and that's enough for her.

At just £14.99 in Toys R Us the Hetty cleaning trolley from Casdon is great value. It feels like a big toy and has lots of play options. I'd recommend it as a role play gift for a budding chores helper this Christmas!

Tuesday 29 November 2016

Winter Style The Mellow Mummy Way

It is a little under a week until my work's Christmas party - more or less the only occasion during the year when I really dress up.  This year I've chosen a floaty navy blue dress that is very under-stated and I've been struggling to find an appropriate jacket to wear over the top of it.  I've now found this smart lighweight textured coat from Simple Be which I think will work well and I'm expecting to get plenty more use out of it beyond the Christmas party.

Most of my jackets and coats for winter are heavy. chunky and very casual; I like this one because it is warm over the body and arms and yet it is phenomenally light weight. Perfect as a jacket over a dress when it's cold and chilly.  The pockets are false which is a bit of a shame as I'd love to be able to dig my hands in there to keep warm. There is one big button across the front if you need to hold it closed but to me it feels more like the sort of jacket that you fold over yourself and snuggle up inside.

The reason I chose this as a party jacket from Simply Be is that I knew it would work well on numerous other occasions, not just Christmas party night.  As a wintery wrap up over a pair of jeans it works perfectly and looks far less formal.

I've chosen to pair the jacket with a lace trim tunic which, worn with a pair of black leggings and heels could in itself be suitably smart for an office Christmas party. However, worn with a pair of jeans I think a long-sleeved top and jacket combo is a wonderful winter smart-casual look.

This lace-trimmed tunic top has lace-effect shoulders and arms but a solid block of fabric around the body. I've worn it with black jeggings or blue jeans. Now all I need to go with it is a pair of sparkly heels to complete the wintery look!

Disclosure: Simply Be sent me the jacket and coat so that I could share my own winter style.

Monday 28 November 2016

Spiralize Every Day - A Book Review

This summer I became the proud owner of a spiraliser. Like many spiraliser owners, I was phenomenally excited to start with and spiralised everything that came into my path but then the novelty wore off and I struggled with ideas more inspiring than carrot and courgette "pasta". That's why I was interested to read Denis Smart's new cookbook, Spiralize Every Day - 80 recipies to help replace your carbs.

Spiralize every day is packed full of recipe ideas that use the different blades you get with your spiraliser. There are lots of recipes based on the "noodle" theme such as butternut squash spaghetti with walnut, or sweet and sour pork with daikon noodles. But as well as this there are lots of ideas you might not have thought of such as using the blades to create think slivers of fruit and vegetables as toppings for cakes, pastries or pizzas.

I found lots of the recipes in this book to feel quite light and summery - salads and light bites. I guess that's the nature of carb-free meals though. There are one or two warming heavier dishes such as a cauliflower-base pizza, vegetable lasagne or a carrot-rice style jambalaya.  All of the photos of the food look amazing. Because of the distinct lack of carbs, you really notice that the food looks brighter and more colourful. In fact, there are very few things in this book that I don't want to try - they all look so inviting.

One section of the book that isn't carb-free is the baking and sweet treats chapter which has some really clever sweet ideas as well as some innovative bread ideas. The girls can't wait to try sweet potato and chocolate chip cookies made with shredded potato. Lara also seems quite tempted by beetroot cupcakes but I'm not so sure how she would feel sprializing beetroot as it can get very messy!

If you're looking for ideas of what to do with your spiraliser then I highly recommend this book for a bit of inspiration. It's only £9.99 and I promise there will be ideas in it that you'd never even have thought of.

Number one on my list for next weekend is...homemade carrot tortillas wraps with chipotle chicken.

Saturday 26 November 2016

#Win Masha and the Bear - Holiday on Ice! on DVD

Masha and the Bear, Holiday on Ice is a new festive DVD with lots of wintery fun.  It has been a while since Lara and Holly had watched any Masha and Bear and gosh, they were so excited to watch this new DVD. Masha and her friend Bear hold so much fascination because of Masha's cheeky tricks and the intriguing, almost-silent slapstick comedy throughout.

If you've never seen Masha and the Bear before, let me explain...Masha is a little girl who randomly appeared in the wood and made the gentle Bear (a retired circus act) her friend.  Masha is a little bit like Holly...very demanding and with absolutely no fear! Bear does his best to look after her even when she gets up to some naughty tricks and overly-adventurous antics.

In this new seasonal wintery DVD you'll find lots of wintery and festive episodes.

  • Holiday on Ice, 
  • One, Two, Three! Light the Christmas Tree, 
  • Picture Perfect, 
  • Tracks of Unknown Animals, Watch Out!,
  • First Day of School, 
  • No Tresspassing, 
  • The Snow Maiden 
  • and The Wolf and the Fox. 

We enjoyed the title episode most - in Holiday on Ice Masha is determined to master ice skating.  Having literally just got in through the door from trying to teach Holly how to roller-skate, I can tell you that Holly and Masha really are like two peas in a pod! Bear and his lady friend do their very best to try and keep Masha out of trouble down on the frozen lake and she picks it up in the end.

The new DVD features lots of snow (the girls enjoyed the episode which features creepy snow tracks from forest animals). Holly is starting to get into a Christmassy mood now so she also enjoyed the Christmas Tree episode in which bear gets really excited about Christmas but Masha seems to wreak havoc and the tree burns down! The end of the episode is lovely though; Masha and Bear put everything right and there is even a visit from Father Christmas. This episode is packed full of laugh-out-loud slapstick moments that the girls loved.

If you have a Masha and Bear fan then I'd highly recommend this as a festive DVD.

To be in with a chance of winning a copy of Masha and the Bear - Holiday on Ice, all you have to do is to leave me a comment below to tell me your favourite winter activity. The competition closes on the 10th December.

1. The promoter is: Mellow Mummy
2. Entry is via a blog comment and a valid email address must be supplied when logging into the commenting mechanism. Entries with only facebook or twitter account details will not be deemed valid.
3. There is no entry fee and no purchase necessary to enter this competition.
4. Route to entry for the competition and details of how to enter are via
5. Closing date for entry is 10th December 2016. After this date the no further entries to the competition will be permitted.
6. No responsibility can be accepted for entries not received for whatever reason.
7. The rules of the competition and the prize for each winner are as follows: one DVD copy of Masha and the Bear
8. The promoter reserves the right to cancel or amend the competition and these terms and conditions without notice in the event of a catastrophe, war, civil or military disturbance, act of God or any actual or anticipated breach of any applicable law or regulation or any other event outside of the promoter’s control. Any changes to the competition will be notified to entrants as soon as possible by the promoter.
9. The promoter is not responsible for inaccurate prize details supplied to any entrant by any third party connected with this competition.
10. No cash alternative to the prizes will be offered. The prizes are not transferable. Prizes are subject to availability and we reserve the right to substitute any prize with another of equivalent value without giving notice.
11. Winners will be drawn at random by Mellow Mummy.
12. The winner will be notified by email within 28 days of the closing date. If the winner cannot be contacted or does not claim the prize within 14 days of notification, we reserve the right to withdraw the prize from the winner and pick a replacement winner.
13. The winner will be asked by the promoter to provide their name, postal address and mobile contact number which will be passed on to the prize supplier.
14. The promoter’s decision in respect of all matters to do with the competition will be final and no correspondence will be entered into.
15. By entering this competition, an entrant is indicating his/her agreement to be bound by these terms and conditions.
16. The competition and these terms and conditions will be governed by English law and any disputes will be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England.
17. Any personal data relating to the winner or any other entrants will be used solely in accordance with current UK data protection legislation and will not be disclosed to a third party without the entrant’s prior consent.

Tuesday 22 November 2016

Dear Zoo Drawing and Colouring Book Review

If you are looking for a Christmas gift or stocking filler for a Dear Zoo fan this Christmas then I highly recommend the Dear Zoo Drawing and Colouring Book. Both of my girls are big fans of the Dear Zoo picture book by Rod Campbell, especially since the day that they met Rod who inspired them with ideas of what to draw. This drawing and colouring book captures some of the Rod Campbell magic and inspires small people to get creative.

The book features over thirty peel-off colouring pages each of which contains a prompt to get your started drawing or colouring using ideas from the Dear Zoo book. The paper rests on a hard cardboard backing so that you have a good place to rest while you draw. Ideas include drawing in the elephants trunks where they are missing, colouring in different coloured crates of animals, drawing a happy camel instead of a grumpy one, drawing lots of jumping frogs, drawing your ideal gift from the zoo. It is a good way of getting the imaginative juices flowing and because some of the pages are prompts which invite you to draw, and others are templates for you to colour, this book is suitable for a wide age range. Both Lara and Holly have enjoyed filling in the pictures which goes to show the breadth of the appeal.

At the start of the book Rod Campbell has a note which recommends drawing in black ink and then colouring in with bright colours - this is exactly what he does and it means your pictures can look just like his.

We think this is a fab colouring book with a bit of a difference. It currently costs around £5.99 at Amazon.

Sunday 20 November 2016

Play Doh Ice Cream Castle Review

Very rarely do Lara and Holly genuinely play together in harmony but the new Plah Doh Ice Cream Castle seems to bring out a rare quality in them - teamwork.

Lara and Holly have wanted to make Play Doh ice creams for a long time but we'd never owned anything that could make it happen. The Ice Cream Castle is a whole playset designed around making pretend ice creams but within the setting of a grand ice-cream castle. You can squeeze Play Doh out using the different shaped discs to give different patterns. You can wind the handle on the other side to create swirls or even to make teeny tiny sprinkles to top your ice cream - the girls LOVE this! They like choosing a contrasting colour of Play Doh to make the sprinkles for on top of their ice cream creations.

The set comes with little bowls and spoons so you can pretend to create edible creations; Holly and Lara like to come and ask us what flavour ice cream we would like and then they disappear and come back five minutes later with a new creation. The shaped discs are interchangeable (and easily stored in slots on the playset) and with the squeezer, squasher and winder there are loads and loads of different combinations you can create.

I'll warn you; if you've any level of parental OCD over the mixing of Play Doh colours, this is not the playset for your household! All the different colours were mixed up within minutes.  Partly due to enthusiasm to do EVERYTHING all at once but also due to the fact that the girls find it quite hard to squeeze all of the Play Doh out through the various parts of the castle and so there is always Play Doh left over inside when they come to use the next colour.

The Play Doh Ice Cream Castle comes with cones and bowls and also a little roller to make your own cones. It comes with a selection of colours of Play Doh. For us, it has renewed the girls interest in Play Doh, they're enjoying it enough that I've been out and bought lots of more colours so that they can make even more ice cream creations.

You can find the Play Doh Castle for around £15 including Tesco where it is currently only £12.65.

Friday 18 November 2016

DIY Personalised Hot Chocolate Mugs and Coffee Cups

Every year I like to choose a few personal gifts to put into our family stockings as personalised stocking fillers. This year I've made every one of us a personalised mug, either a Hot Chocolate mug or a Coffee cup. I created the mugs using our favourite photos from the year on and then filled them with hot chocolate or coffee cones to make them into fun stocking fillers with a personalised touch. Here's how you can make your own...

You will need:-

A mug of your choice!
Cellophane sweetie cones (I bought 50 for less than £2.50 on amazon)
Bag ties (my brightly coloured ones came free with the sweetie cones but regular bag ties will do just fine!)
Curling Ribbon
Sharp scissors (blunt ones just won't curl)

Hot Chocolate Mugs
A packet of drinking chocolate
A teaspoon
A bag of mini marshmallows

Coffee Mugs
A bag of whole coffee beans (or ground coffee if you prefer)
A tablespoon
Mini coffee biscuits - Amaretti biscuits or Caramelised Lotus Biscuits work best

I used the Photobox website to create individual photo mugs for each member of the family.  For Holly and Lara I chose pictures from our summer holiday in Portugal because they regularly talk about wanting to go back. Lara's mug is a Colour Bright Photo mug with a brightly coloured interior. Holly's has a sparkly silver interior which I just know she is going to love (mind you, it does mean I won't be able to heat milk in it for hot chocolate in the microwave!).  For Dave I chose a mug from the Mug Collection with his favourite colour and chose a design featuring just one large photo of the view from our most favourite place on the planet!  For me I chose a striking black and white design from the Letters range with my initial; it goes well with the photo I chose of Bella, our little black cat who was incredibly interested in the curling ribbon I used when creating these DIY stocking fillers.

Once you've chosen your mug, you need to choose a filling - Hot Chocolate for my girls, Coffee for the grown-ups! You know your friends and family best.

To make the Hot Chocolate cones, use a teaspoon to pack drinking chocolate powder down into the end of a sweetie cone wrapper. Fill it about half-full and then top it up to about two-thirds full using pink and white marshmallows. Tie it up tightly using a bag tie to ensure that the marshmallows don't dry out. Tie three pieces of curling ribbon around the bag tie to disguise it and then use a pair of open scissors with a sharp blade and pull the blade down over each piece of ribbon carefully to curl them.

To make the Coffee cones, follow a similar pattern. I used a big spoon to pack coffee beans into the very tip of the sweetie cone wrapper and then filled up to just under half way. I placed two little packets of coffee biscuits into the cone and tied up tightly to ensure the coffee doesn't lose its flavour (and to try and stop the entire house from smelling of coffee and giving away the surprise!). Curl ribbon around the top of the cone using the sharp scissor blades.

To complete the effect, place a cone inside the mug to make the perfect personalised stocking filler.  For other ideas, how about making a cone with the contents for a gingerbread latte? or loose tea leaves for someone who enjoys a brew?

Look out for more personalised gift ideas from Photobox this Christmas.

Monday 14 November 2016

Stir Up Sunday with Jane Asher and Poundland

This coming Sunday is Stir Up Sunday, the day when, traditionally, the nation mixes up the ingredients for their Christmas pudding. We have been a bit eager so we made our Christmas Puddings this Sunday instead.  For the first time, the girls are genuinely looking forward to eating them!  Last year's puddings lasted us several months and so the girls have come quite accustomed to eating a steamed fruit pudding after a roast dinner, even when it isn't Christmas time!

This year the girls very much joined in with Stir-Up Sunday with some new kitchen equipment from Poundland - a showcase of their Jane Asher's Kitchen cookery range.

Our Christmas Pudding Recipe is fairly traditional - packed full of dried fruits, Christmassy spices and a little bit of citrus running through it.  We used cold grated butter instead of suet to help add fat and bind it all together. Holly thought it was hilarious that we used grated carrot in our Christmas pudding!

The girls mixed up all of the festive ingredients in a medium mixing bowl from the Jane Asher range - I can't believe that bowl is just £1 (as are all the other pieces from the full Poundland Jane Asher kitchen range). We sieved, we chopped, we measured, we stirred and we squished and then cut circles of Jane Asher greaseproof paper to place on top.  We popped the puddings into a pan of water to steam for nearly six hours.  We even ate one of the puddings with homemade custard for dinner after a traditional Sunday roast - it was light and yummy and really made me feel ready for the festive preparations.

Of course, if you don't want to chop and steam and mature your own Christmas pud, you can always cheat a little bit and buy a ready made Jane Asher Christmas pudding for just £1 from Poundland!

After we had created our Christmas Puddings we set to work on our Christmas Cake which is going to be a light fruit cake. Armed with a Jane Asher cake board and carry case (both just £1 each!) we will complete the cake next weekend and leave to mature for a few weeks before I ice it...that gives me a few weeks to work out how we should decorate this year's cake.

Saturday 12 November 2016

Pogu Reflectors - Be Seen!

Last weekend we attended a fireworks display in a field, in the darkness. Among the crowds I found it really hard to spot Holly as she darted off with her friends and I'd wished I'd had a means of spotting her - then the very next day I discovered Pogu reflectors for children and babies.

I was really impressed by Pogu's range of reflective products for pushchairs and buggies - a black buggy on a dark night is often hard to spot but with a set of fabric stickers, or wheel stickers your buggy can be so much more noticeable.

I've finally disappeared the last of our buggies so we've been exploring the Pogu range of reflective products for small people. We love these little reflective zip pulls because they just pick out the edge of a jacket from the darkness. They are easy to fit and are so bright when the light shines on them; both the pull and the strap are reflective. The girls think they are a fun addition to their coats but probably don't realise how important something small like this could be for alerting a driver to their presence as we're walking on the pavement at night. The Pogu children's reflective zip pulls cost around £5.50 for a pair.

For something a little more noticeable, we've been using this reflective children's armband which simply straps on as tightly or as loosely as you need it to. The armband provides one big chunk of incredibly bright reflection which can be seen upto 200 metres away. It has a fun space design or ocean design printed onto it to try and make it a little more appealling (I remember as a child being very resistant to wearing anything similar). On the inside there is a label where you can write your child's name which is good because I can well imagine these falling off in the school cloakroom when its not being held onto the coat by your child's arm!

When we are out and about on winter evenings, or even when I'm picking the girls up from after school club in the evenings, its nice to know that we can be spotted early by motorists.  All of the products in the Pogu range have night time safety in mind; we like the look of reflective shoe laces which would come in incredibly handy for Lara on her way out of Beavers late on a Monday night and I think they add a bit of fun as well!

Pogu sell reflective stickers for both hard surfaces and fabric - I'm tempted to get a few fabric reflectors to place on my running jacket for when I'm marathon training after work this winter!

Wednesday 9 November 2016

Children's Book Review - The Great Ape Escape

During half term we took a trip to Longleat Safari Park and drove through the monkey enclosure. Thankfully our car survived intact but I had been slightly worried given that we had read The Great Ape Escape by Fiona Manlove the night before.  

In The Great Ape Escape, a family of apes who live in a safari park start to plot their own escape from the park by stealing items from the visitors to the park. It starts with small car parts - a wiper, a wing mirror. Lead by the gang leader, Banana Bill, the things that mysteriously disappear from people's cars seem to get bigger and bolder. Eventually the family have enough parts to create an escape vehicle of their own!

Lara and Holly both enjoyed the story and thought it was funny when the other animals in the zoo started to notice weird goings on.  Sadly though, I found the story really hard to read to them - it didn't flow nicely and seemed to immediately launch in with the names of monkey characters who hadn't been fully introduced.  The book works a lot better when it is you reading it to yourself and referring to the illustrations - Lara and Holly kept asking me questions about who was who. As I read it to them and showed them the pages, they missed some of the detail about what was being stolen from the cars as sometimes it wasn't explicitly mentioned in the text but referred to in context by one of the other characters.

The Great Ape Escape has been a memorable read.  It was quite a topical story for us but I can't picture the girls regularly going back to this book.

Sunday 6 November 2016

Autumn Sand Art #BRCraftClub #BRbloggers

Lara and Holly love creating sand art pictures. Set them loose with a jar of coloured sand and some sticky paper and they can create masterpieces.

These autum leaf sand art decorations were a fun craft activity for an autumn afternoon. The kits come with a set of pre-cut leaf shapes with sticky peel-off covering. Inside the kit you'll find some little sachets of brightly coloured sand in all sorts of autumnal colours. Gently pour the sand over the sticky leaves in fabulous colourful combinations.

Lara was surprised at how bright the colours were and told me they weren't realistic (!) until we then went for a walk down the lane outside school and saw bright reds, oranges and vibrant yellows among the fallen leaves on our way. Only then did she realise how stunning nature can be.

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