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

Sunday 31 January 2016

My Nametags - A kids name label review

So that's it - Holly's school application form has been submitted.  Time has whizzed away and before I know it, Holly will move up from preschool into foundation at school.  Holly loves preschool and is frightfully independent when it comes to getting ready every morning.  She has shunned the nursery-issued clothing bag and replaced it with her own; and every morning Holly chooses a vast array of spare clothing to pack in her bag in case she gets wet/painty/bored of what she is wearing.  I can't quite keep up with all the outfits so it is important for me to make sure that all of her clothing is named and labelled so that we can identify it in the piles of discarded clothing by the pegs at nursery!

I'm not a big fan of sewing name labels, nor ironing them (I don't own an ironing board so it is tricky!) so I much prefer to use stick-on labels that are specially designed for clothing or school kit.  MyNameTags asked us to try out their clever name label designer tool which generates name labels you can order for use on school clothing and belongings you don't want to get lost.

My NameTags sell colour labels and black and white labels.  They make iron-on labels (with a 10 year guarantee!) as well as my preference, the stick on labels which may not last so long but definitely more convenient for me to keep on top of the massive pile of school and preschool clothing!

Holly and I used their nifty online tool to choose a label background, font, pattern and text for our labels - there were soooooooooo many to choose from but Holly wanted something pink and instantly fell in love with this cupcake!  The finished article is very true to our original design.

Within 48 hours our custom-made labels had arrived and I was ready to start sticking.  For me, the ultimate test of a name tag is how it responds to being washed.  I've used different brands in the past with varying levels of success so I wanted to know how MyNameTags would respond to going through the washing machine.  You stick the name tag to the main washing label and it bonds really well - I'm very happy that they've stayed well and truely stuck after washing.  These labels are washable upto 60 degrees.

You don't just have to use My NameTags sticky labels on clothing - they are dishwasher and microwave safe too so they will be perfect for later in the year when both girls get to make Christmas puddings at school and have to take in all their own equipment.

A set of 56 colour name tag stickers like these costs around £12.95 including postage costs from

Saturday 30 January 2016

Brewer's Fayre Half-Term Family Fun

This half term holiday, Brewers Fayre pub restaurants will be offering loads of family activities to keep the whole family entertained from themed arts and craft activities to mini discos - there's lots going on around the country.

We checked out our local Brewers Fayre resturant - The Weather Vane in Bracknell - to get a taste of what is to come over half term. At the table, Lara and Holly really enjoyed solving puzzles and colouring in their Beano-themed activity books. At some of the Play at Brewers Faure sites around the country, you'll find their recently refurbished Beano themed soft play areas where your children can work up an appetite before their meal while you chill out with a drink!


For extra entertainment during Half Term, Brewers Fayre will be featuring fun discos on both Friday 19th and Saturday 20th February at selected Brewers Fayres (check online to see if your local restaurant is taking part). The Toddlers disco will run from 9.30am – 3pm while the Kids disco will run from 3.30- 7.30pm at a cost of £3 per child.

When it comes to food, its easy to see why Brewers Fayre are a UK family favourite. We were all spoiled for choice from the kids Beano menu, the regular adult menu packed full of pub classics and of course the daily Chef's Counter which features a different themed food every day of the week including a Pizza Parlour, Burgers & Hot Dogs, Mexican favourites, Curry Night or a special Sunday Roast. The Brewer's Fayre daytime value offer runs from 12 - 6pm Monday to Friday and means guests can enjoy two starters for £2.50, two mains from just £10.99 and two desserts for £2.50, so eating out during the holidays is certainly affordable.

Lara and Holly both tucked into the roast dinner at the Chef's table and even had room for a dessert afterwards - Lara chose dipping doughnuts with chocolate sauce and popping candy, and Holly devoured a Cadbury chocolate ice cream Sunday. With full tummies, Lara and Holly were delighted to leave with a Beano balloon.

Look out for half term activities at your local Brewers Fayre restaurant.  I was really pleasantly surprised by our recent trip to Brewers Fayre in Bracknell - particularly with the staff who were friendly and attentive.

Thursday 28 January 2016

Leapfrog Epic - Kids Tablet Review

Last year, when I first found out that Leapfrog were producing their first tablet to run the Android operating system, I was over the moon.  This was ground-breaking news that could finally close the gap between kid tech and adult tech.  At Christmas we became the proud owners of a new Leapfrog Epic tablet so I thought I would share my experience so far...

For me, the exciting thing about Leapfrog issuing an Android tablet was the new levels of freedom we now have for choosing apps.  I think this will help increase competition and will eventually cause the price of specialist Leapfrog apps to have to drop to compete with the enormous app market.  Using parent mode on the Epic, I was able to install Amazon Underground which in turn allows me to side load onto the tablet almost any suitable app from the Amazon store.  For every app you install, the Epic allows you as a parent to restrict which users of the tablet can access it.  I had great plans for letting Lara use Netflix, but stopping Holly from using it.  Unfortunately, I've never managed to get the Netflix app to work (due, I think to network configuration issues on the tablet that I can't quite fathom).  

After the initial euphoria at having worked out how to install android apps, I've actually found it hard to find any good value kids apps that I genuinely want to install to the device!!! In fact, given the library of Leapfrog learning apps that we have built up, I'm very happy with the choice and options at Leapfrog, even though they are more expensive than many of the "public" kids apps.  At least with the Leapfrog apps I can clearly see the educational value and target age range for each game and the quality of graphics and game play is consistent! You can use any of your library of purchased leappad apps that you have stored in your leapfrog learning account but you can't use leappad cartridges.  You can also purchase new apps directly from the device when you are in parent mode.

The Leapfrog Epic is highly customisable.  You can choose which apps each child can use, and which they see on their home page.  They can customise their own home page by moving icons and characters and elements of the screen.  It is a 7 inch display on the screen (the same as other leappads) and the screen quality and ease of touch screen use is great.  I like the removable bump-protector around the outside; this is another demonstration of where kid-tech has seamlessly met adult-tech.  The tablet comes with a stylus which is joined by a small cord to prevent it from being lost.

Leapfrog Epic includes a full internet browser which, in parent mode is unrestricted.  You can set up a list of permitted websites (it comes with a small range of recommended kid-friendly sites) from which your child can choose to explore using the Leapsearch browser.

Lara seems most impressed with a few of the smaller apps on the tablet which simulate those she sees me use - the weather app is one of her favourite!!!

A couple of other small observations I have about the Epic may both also be down to the move to the Android operating system. The UI looks fab - I love the little bubble icons on the homepage and it makes it easy to find the apps the girls want to play. I have also noticed that it is fast! Even games we've been used to playing on previous Leappad incarnations seem noticeably faster on this tablet. Yay!

Lara and Holly have enjoyed using the camera on the Epic to play interactive games such as Leapfrog Imagicards.  I'm sure we will unlock more of the magic as the months unfold.

Wednesday 27 January 2016

Nursery and Toddler Room Essentials

We are putting the finishing touches to our brand new little girl's bedroom.  It has been a lot of fun designing a room suitable for a preschooler and a school age child but there is a little part of me that feels sad that we are finally saying goodbye to the nursery.  Having tidied away the changing unit and the cot, I've realised that there are actually a good few of our nursery essentials that I still can't live without.  So this week I've teamed up with Tesco to share some of our nursery essentials that we still use now - these are the things that have seen us through the first years of parenthood and are still going strong.

Blackout curtains:  The very first thing that we bought for the new kids bedroom was a pair of nice thick blackout blinds.  We've learned over the years that, without almost complete darkness, it is very hard to convince a toddler to go to bed...and even harder to convince them to go back to sleep if they wake up early in the morning!

Safety gate:  Even though Holly can make her way up and down the stairs unaided now, it will be some time before we remove the stair gate from the hallway. A safety gate at the top of the stairs is useful from the very first day that your baby crawls, right up until they are school-aged as a protection against accidents.  We also use a safety gate at the bottom of the stairs to put the girls off straying upstairs when we would really rather they didn't and we used to keep it on the kitchen door to prevent them straying into the kitchen while we were cooking.

Night light:  I first bought a dimmable night light when I was breast-feeding.  I would take Lara with me into the nursery so that we didn't disturb Daddy and I'd sit in the gentle light and simply tap the light off when I left the room.  As Lara grew older and moved into her own room, I found it useful to have a small light to leave on as we read her a story in her cot, or if we struggled to settle her to sleep.  These days our night light is used to bring light at reading time or to help set the gentle mood for bedtime and get the girls into the mood for sleep.  They don't really need to keep a night light on after bed time but sometimes it does offer them both a little bit of comfort.

Cotbed:  Gosh, our cotbed has done us proud; it is one we inherited from close family and now, after having slept three different children it is still going strong.  It has been brilliant to see both of our girls grow up in their cotbed while it is in cot mode and then, after a few difficult first nights of freedom, settle into the cotbed in bed mode.  

Within the next week we will finally dismantle our cotbed and store it away in the loft for another day.  My little baby will be moving into her first single bed!  I can't quite believe it.

Saturday 23 January 2016

Ravensburger Gruffalo Jigsaw Puzzle Review

There are very few things I enjoy more than a jigsaw puzzle afternoon with my girls. Lara and Holly have a wide selection of children's jigsaw puzzles and we ABSOLUTELY love puzzling together either in the living room or the playroom.  Holly is over the moon with this new set of four Gruffalo puzzles from Ravensburger.

Ravensburger puzzles are always of excellent quality.  Holly gets very easily frustrated when she is building jigsaws so it is really important that the pieces clip together easily and stay in place!  This set of 4 puzzles are made from card but they are very sturdy and suitable for small hands; the set is recommended for age 3 upwards.

The box contains four different Gruffalo-themed jigsaws.  One of the owl, one for the fox, one for the snake and of course one puzzle for the Gruffalo himself!  Each puzzle features a large, colourful Axel Scheffler illustration and a caption from the famous Julia Donaldson book - Holly finds the caption to be the best place for her to start each jigsaw puzzle.

The puzzles are perfectly suited to Holly who is nearly 4.  They are challenging enough to keep her interested but not so hard that she gets frustrated.  Because the images are ones that she knows and loves, she has a good picture in her head of what the puzzle should look like when complete.  The puzzles are shaped which adds a bit of interest as there are no corners to help you out!!!

The four puzzles each have a different number of pieces - 10, 12, 14 and 16.  We haven't noticed any significant difference in complexity between the four puzzles although Holly does find he snake and the owl a little harder due to the less distinct colours.

We LOVE the Gruffalo and Holly has absolutely loved this set of Ravensburger puzzles.  I'm certain this will become a family favourite for our afternoons of puzzling.  The only thing that could make this puzzle any better would be if the different puzzle pieces had an identifying pattern on the back (I know some Ravensburger puzzles do) to help Holly separate out the pieces for the different puzzles.

Sunday 17 January 2016

Leapfrog Imagicard - Blaze and the Monster Machines

Blaze and the Monster Machines is the brand new set of Leapfrog Imagicard games.  This is the first time that Lara and Holly have played with Imagicards from Leapfrog and we have all been very impressed - this clever bit of technology really brings the Leappad tablet to life and it is a fun and engaging way to elevate a card game into something really interactive.

Leapfrog Imagicard Blaze and the Monster Machines

Imagicards are a set of playing cards featuring your favourite characters.  Blaze and the Monster Machines is the latest theme of cards to appear on the scene featuring lots of the 4-wheeled favourites from Nickelodeon.

Both of my girls love traditional card games (I wake up to find them playing cards of some sort most mornings) such as happy families and uno.  In the past we haven't had a lot of success with card games that are intended to tie into apps or games - its the cards that usually interest the girls more than the tech.  Largely I'd say that Holly and Lara feel the same way about the Imagicards and I've already seen them playing the "offline" games recommended in the instructions - there are counting games and science games recommended.

Leapfrog Imagicard Blaze and the Monster Machines

But the real power of Imagicards is when you pair them with the a Leappad tablet (we've played successfully on the Leappad Ultra and the Leappad Epic).  Once you have downloaded the matching app for the cards, you use the camera on the Leappad tablet to "capture" images of the cards of your choice.  Different cards unlock different games and challenges.

Holly has most enjoyed playing racing games using her Imagicards.  In the racing game you need to answer simple maths questions to gain bonuses and extra speed - these are just about manageable for Holly now (she is 3 and a half).  There are also questions about forces, a foundation of science and maths principles.  For instance, you have to choose the right speed to approach a ramp in order to avoid an obstacle.  Holly hasn't quite grasped this yet but enjoys the challenge.

Inside the app you will also find cards which set you missions you need to complete.  And others which unlock the ability to create your own Blaze-themed selfie!  There is a Blaze and the Monster Machines quiz and some simple science questions designed to make you think about shapes, materials and forces.

I think the thing that Lara and Holly enjoy most though is simply seeing the cards come to life.  When you take a photo of a card, it really does make it look as if the card is coming to life with a bit of sparkle!

Leapfrog Imagicard Blaze and the Monster Machines

One of the little things I really appreciate about this game is that you don't NEED to have the cards available to play. I always worry about games which have a dependency on something that can easily be lost of damaged so it is nice to know that there is a digital card picker available for when the Imagicards aren't to hand!


Saturday 16 January 2016

My Winter Dresses Wish List

In the new year I nearly always take on a bit of clothes shopping for myself.  It is a chance for me to splash out and reset my wardrobe for the wintery couple of months ahead of us and it always feels like a new start when you're wearing a new outfit.

This winter I've got my eye on a couple of wintery dresses.  The new job does this to me!  When it is really chilly I like to wear a short dress or t-shirt dress over a pair of plain black or plain brown leggings and this winter there are lots of baggy dresses which work perfectly worn this way.  If you know me at all, you've probably got an inkling that I prefer to do most of my clothes shopping online - a full-time job and a general dislike of crowds means I'm not cut out for shopping in-store.  But, when you're entire experience of the fashion world is limited to mail order catalogues and shopping websites, it can be hard to get a good feel for the latest high-fashion trends and how to apply them to your own wardrobe...

...Which is why I've had an awful lot of fun browsing the fashion website, Lyst, and creating a wishlist of my favourite winter dresses to get my through the cold spell.  Lyst is a very clever website.  It isn't just one store, and it isn't just one fashion brand.  It is a place where fashion brands come together for your own personalised shopping experience.  From the very moment you register, Lyst starts asking you questions about the styles and products you do like, and those you don't so that it can tailor its recommendations and inspiration to you.

I put together this winter dresses wishlist (or should I say wish lyst?) as an ideas board so that I can look out for similar items on my travels but if you want to buy then Lyst can quite cleverly tell you who is selling the item, and what the best price is.

On my list of wintery dresses you'll find long sleeved floaty dresses and shirt dresses such as this ribbed long-sleeved shirt-style Kickin It Dress from Free People.  I like the dark navy and think it would pair well with sparkly jewellery.  For me, I'm far more likely to pair this dress with a pair of thick black tights or black leggings but I like the fact I can wear it with boots if I'm feeling brave.

I have a good few dresses on my wishlist which follow the same sort of theme - long, floaty and long-sleeved.  I love the look of the grey sweatshirt fleece dress from Momoni but I think this one really would look best with boots and a bag.

But winter dresses don't always have to be long-sleeved.  This French Connection black Nadine dress is short sleeved and a short style but with a formal collar which gives it a smart look that I could wear to work, or out to a restaurant.  At present, Lyst have found that it is on offer at John Lewis.

Take a look at my winter dresses wish list on Lyst and, if you find something that inspires you, why not make a lyst of your own.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post but that doesn't stop it being fun to read.

Tuesday 12 January 2016

My 2016 New Year's Resolutions

It has become a bit of a tradition for me to post my new year's resolutions here on the blog.  Even if no-one else reads them, I have them set in stone so I can refer back to them later in the year to make sure that I am on track.  Last year I did pretty well sticking to them and this year I've had to think really hard about whether there is anything I really want to promise myself in 2016.

1. Run
I have a marathon booked in April.  I'm promising myself to hold onto my running mojo as long as I can!

2. Relax
In 2016 I resolved to stay happy.  In order to do that, I had to find a new job.  New job is hard (but rewarding) so this year I'm promising myself that I won't take anything too seriously.  Won't allow myself to get stressed (about work, or running, or blogging, or mummying or money etc.) and I WILL relax.

3. Say "No" less
I've no idea how I'm going to achieve this but I need to find a way to get less grumpy at the girls.   The two of them, when they're together, are always at each other's throats.  I need to find better ways to engage the two of them which don't result in shouting from all sides. Clever ideas appreciated.

Come on 2016.  I'm ready for you.

Monday 11 January 2016

Teletubbies Toy Review

I was delighted when Teletubbies returned to TV late last year - I've been going on about them to Lara and Holly ever since they first started watching television and it is fabulous to be able to share the fun of the Teletubbies with my girls.  This year Character Options have revealed a fabulous range of Teletubbies toys that a whole new generation of little people can enjoy.  From collectible figurines to  cuddly toys, Holly has had a chance to try out the very best from the new range of Teletubbies toys.

First up, I have to give big big credit to Character Options for these signature Talking Soft Toys.  These toys have totally captured Holly's heart.  The gentle giggly voices of Laa Laa and Dipsy are the very last thing that I hear as she falls asleep at night, and the very first thing I hear drifting into my room from hers in the morning when she wakes.  Dipsy and Laa Laa are very much loved.

Each of the Teletubbies is realised in its own collectable 8-inch soft toy and, when their tele-tummy is pressed, they say one of a small selection of recognisable Teletubbie phrases.  Our favourite phrases from Dipsy and Laa Laa so far are "Big Hugs" and "Baddabing, Baddabing, Baddabing" (I'm sure Dipsy doesn't say this, but it sounds similar).  The toys are the perfect size for a toddler to cuddle and they totally embody everything cuddly, cute and fun about the Teletubbies.  The face on these talking soft toys is semi-hard but coated in soft fabric - they look and feel exactly as I'd expect a Teletubby to!  Each of these talking soft toys retails for around £9.99.

Also in the range you'll find smaller 6-inch collectible super-soft toys from £6.99.  Holly likes to bounce Po around the living room.

Beyond the soft toys, the new Teletubbies range also features lots of figurines and playsets so that your little people can use their imagination and recreate Teletubbies stories that they've seen.  Holly likes to try and get the cat involved in her Teletubbie games which almost always seem to involve Noo-noo the cleaning robot whizzing around the coffee table uncontrollably knocking Teletubbies over left, right and center.

These little plastic play figurines cost £3.99 each and there are several to collect.  In this first launch set you'll find each Teletubbiy with one of their favourite items - Tinky Winky has a bag, Dipsy a big top hat, Po has a scooter and Laa Laa has a ball.  These are standalone figures which would work well as toys to pop in your changing bag or handbag and take out with your for a distraction when travelling. Combine the figures with one of the larger playsets to really bring Teletubbyland to life.

I was worried that these little individual figures wouldn't hold much interest for Holly but, as she has made the link between the TV show and the toys she has enjoyed playing with the set of figures and making up stories for herself.  Yesterday, for instance, she started searching for leaves and pom poms that she could use to create her own Teletubbyland.

There are some amazing looking playsets in the new Teletubbies toy range.  Find out more at


Monday 4 January 2016

Casdon Morphy Richards Toy Microwave, Kettle and Toaster Review

This Christmas I was lucky enough to receive a new microwave as a gift.  Our previous microwave was approaching 18 years old but was still going well.  Holly and Lara are both intrigued by our shiny new microwave and have been getting to work in their own toy kitchen trying out their own toy Morphy Richards microwave from Casdon.

This set of Morphy Richards toy kitchen accessories is another role play hit from Casdon.  The girls have been cooking and defrosting until their heart's content!  Holly even made me breakfast in bed one morning - all be it plastic breakfast in bed.

The toy microwave is the biggest hit.  You can rotate the display to say you are cooking, defrosting or even using the "potato" setting which is probably our most used setting on our real microwave so the girls feel at home with this!  The buttons on the front feel like real buttons - they beep as well, just like the real thing!  The door opens and their is a tray inside which is very realistic, especially when it rotates. Press the start button and the light comes on and the tray rotates; it's quite a bit noisier than our new real microwave!  Holly enjoys putting her plastic and wooden toy food items in and out.

Also in the set is a Morphy Richards kettle which is a very modern shape and can be thought of as either an electric or traditional kettle (in a play kitchen, you can do anything you want to do!).  The lid comes off the kettle so that you can pretend to refill it.  With the Morphy Richards branding it looks just the part.

Finally comes the toaster which the girls enjoy because you can pop the toast up by twisting the dial  It comes with two slices of plastic toast.

This three-piece Morphy Richards play microwave, kettle and toaster set is recommended for children aged 3-5 years old and costs around £30.

Saturday 2 January 2016

Fire Station Activity Book and Play Set Review

I really like the sound of this Paragon Fire Station Activity Book and Playset as I knew that Holly would look forward to playing with a fire station but she is also very much into puzzles and colouring right now so the activity book is perfectly targeted to her (she is 3 and a half).

Holly was really eager to get going with the play set and discarded the book as she was rushing to get to the pop-out sheets of cardboard pieces to build the 3D fire station and fire engine.  She popped out all of the pieces and was able to get the people and cones up and running but she struggled with the rest of the pieces.  To tell you the truth, I struggled with the construction too!  There are brief pictorial references in the booklet to guide you and in general the construction seems to be common sense but it certainly isn't something for tiny fingers and some of the pieces really needed a precise shove to fit together.  I found the fire engine front and back to keep popping off!

But, once constructed, Holly enjoyed playing with the fire station.  She placed the people and animals around the station and enjoyed rotating the ladder on the fire engine (even though the front kept falling off the fire engine!).

After a couple of days, Holly's interest in the playset waned so we found a box to hold each of the pieces - at this point she rediscovered the activity book.  The book contains a couple of puzzles and pictures which are suitable for children of around 3-6 years old.  With a bit of guidance, Holly was able to complete most of it unaided and she enjoyed the fireman theme.

All in all, I was pleased with the Fire Station Activity Book and Playset, as long as you don't expect it to be a long-lasting toy then I think it's a fun, engaging activity that you can share with your child.  After the set is created, a little imagination leads to plenty of play and, if the pieces get worn out, you can always recycle them as they are simply made of card.

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