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

Wednesday 27 July 2016

Cool Cardz Scratcheez Review

We don't often struggle for ideas to fill our summer holidays because Lara and Holly are both incredibly crafty. Most days I could plonk them down in the front room with a new craft activity and they would while away hours making hand-made creations. This summer, Lara is very much into making trinkets and gifts for her friends and so the Cool Cardz Scratcheez kit is proving a hit.

The Cool Cardz Scratcheez kit from Flair helps your children make little laminated cards to fill any need that they can dream up - secret membership cards for their own little club, VIP passes for special events, party invites, thank you cards or simply a token of friendship to share with one another.  Lara has even used these Cool Cardz to make laminated gifts for her teachers for the end of term.

This Cool Cardz kit comes with a set of boho-chic themed cards on which you can draw and write whatever message you fancy and adorn it with stickers (there are a few included). Each card also has a laminate wallet. Use the special roller to cover the card with laminate and turn it into a professional looking card that you can share with others.  Lara enjoyed using the laminator once she had worked out how firmly she had to hold it, and how hard to had to pull to get the laminate to stay in place (it's actually very forgiving if you get it wrong you can just about get away with peeling it off and starting again).

But the Scratcheez kit for these Cooll Cardz includes another special touch that can turn your cards into a special message. Use the secret message stickers to cover over your design and allow its recipient to scratch it off to reveal the message - there is a scratching tool included but I think a coin would also work.

Our favourite part of the whole kit is the magical rainbow-coloured scratch-off stickers which appear black until you scratch them off to reveal a rainbow design. We all think they're a rather striking addition to a card.  You can also finish off your card with sparkly boho-chic stickers of sparkly gem stones.

The handy laminator gadget also doubles up as a storage bag - there is space for all the gards and accessories, including the ring-shaped stampers. I can't see Lara using it as a handbag, but its a handy place to keep all the cards whether they are waiting to be made, or ready for handing out to friends and family.  

The Cool Cardz Scratcheez kit costs around £19.99.  It is great to know that you can buy refill packs with more Cool Cardz, laminating pouches, stickers and gems - it means that the kit isn't finished when you finish the first pack of cards - refills cost around £7.99.

If, like me, you have small creative people who can't get enough of making things, then they can join the Cool Create Club for free for creative ideas for the summer holidays at  Other Cool Cardz themed sets include Shopkins, Chic Boutique and Frozen.

Monday 25 July 2016

BBC micro:bit - Lara's first steps in coding

As a software developer myself, it's fairly natural that I want to get my girls coding as soon as humanly possible - learning to write code opened up an exciting and rewarding career for me, but it also helps me learn about the world, keep up with technology and come up with innovative solutions to every day problems. If I can set my girls up to do the same, I'll be a happy Mummy.  Lara has been learning very basic coding concepts at school this year but I think it will be up to me and Mr. B. to really show her the ropes and that's where the BBC micro:bit comes in.

BBC micro:bit from element14 is a pocket-sized programmable device that can be coded in a matter of seconds - Lara had written her first program for it in less than 5 minutes using one of the selection of free coding suites available on the micro:bit website. The micro:bit can become anything you want it to - a die, a fitness tracker, a messaging application, a calculator, a music player.. you name it. It has been designed to be a fun and easy-to-use introduction to the world of technology and is packed with features that provide endless possibilities for creativity.

Before I let Lara loose on the micro:bit, I had a bit of a play around on each of the four script editors.  Each script editor comes with a tutorial and some example projects to get you started. As a developer, I found the python script editor to offer me the most freedom to write what I'd consider "traditional" code but I don't think I'd recommend it for an absolute beginner (plus, when you use python, you can't use bluetooth to sync your scripts with your tablet via bluetooth).  I liked the microsoft drag and drop editors but I just knew that as a beginner, Lara would find the Code Kingdom editor the most intuitive - I think she has used something similar before.  The Code Kingdom javascript editor is a drag and drop editor which has pre-programmed methods you can use to exercise all of the features of the micro:bit including sounds, buttons, lights and movement.

Lara and I sat down after school one evening and I showed her the micro:bit and the editor and we talked about all the amazing things she could do with it. I started her off on a very simple application in which she selected a message to display in scrolling letters across the screen. It took her 5 minutes while I showed her around the methods she needed to use. I showed her how to test her script before saving it... something I REALLY like about the Code Kingdoms editor because testing is just as important as writing code and its good to teach that lesson from day one. Once you've saved the script you copy it onto the device (which you connect to your PC using a USB cable, or to your tablet using Bluetooth) and then you're ready to go.

Lara thought it was fabulous that she could write a message for her friends and so we experimented with that for a while before moving on to explore some of the other capabilities of the micro:bit. I taught her how to hook into the button presses so that you can change what's on the screen depending on which button is pressed. Then we played around with the accelerometer inside the micro:bit using one of the tutorials to teach us how to display a random number when the micro:bit is shaken - a bit like a dice roll. You can even respond to actions on the linked device!

Lara is very inspired. She can see that it would be easy to create different things - she has asked me to buy some crocodile clips so that we can connect the micro:bit to headphones and we can program it to play music. There are 20 pins across the bottom that you can connect to (given the right equipment) to perform different interactions. I'm sure we will explore them in time.  And that's the thing - this is the beginning of a journey and the coding experiences we can have on the micro:bit are just limited by experience. There is so much for Lara to learn.

I'm excited about the micro:bit - I've found a real way of inspiring Lara to learn to code!  If you're not a developer like me, then fear not, the BBC micro:bit website is packed full of training and tutorials to help you support your child (or indeed yourself) in their learning.  I'm so keen to get both of my girls started with code and, judging by the responses I got on LinkedIn when I posted this picture of Lara with her first creation, lots of people are keen to see more young, female software developers learning from an early age - they are the future!

The BBC micro:bit is available to buy from a number of outlets but I've seen them at Maplin for about £14.99 including a USB cable and battery power pack from when it is not connected via USB.

Saturday 23 July 2016

Children's Book Review: Hedgehugs by Lucy Tapper and Steve Wilson

As part of the Boolino Friends scheme, we are reviewing some gorgeous children's books; if you subscribe to the Boolino emails at you can also receive free weekend and bedtime stories with audio and text online but this week Lara and Holly have been enjoying a new paperback book, Hedgehugs by Lucy Tapper and Steve Wilson.

I first read Hedgehugs tonight because the girls have been pestering me for the last few nights - they first heard it from Daddy at the weekend and they both really enjoyed it so have asked me to read it to them again.  Mr. B. had warned me that the story was very sad, and I had prepared myself for a little bedtime tear or two... but now I've read it, I think he was just being soft!

Hedgehugs is the tail of Horace and Hattie, two hedgehogs who are very good friends, perhaps even in love.  They love doing all sorts of things together but one thing that Horace and Hattie can't do is hug...they are just too spiky. This makes Mr. B. very sad indeed!

We loved the cute hedgehog illustrations throughout the book and Lara particularly noticed that the story tells the tale through each of the seasons of the year with lots of patterns and prints that look like different fabric offcuts.  The text is big and bold and not too complex so older children can enjoy reading the story themselves. You can get a taste of Lucy Tapper's cute illustrative style at

When the story ends, you find out how hedgehogs can hug each other and it brings a smile to everyone's face. I won't ruin the story for you but lets say, the ending really has got my girls thinking about where our mountain of odd socks has come from.

I'd recommend Hedgehugs as a picture story book for children from about 3 years to 8 years.

Thursday 21 July 2016

Bop It! Review

Bop It! is a new take on a classic family game and the whole of the mellow household has been bitten by the bug - it's addictive!

Bop It! by Hasbro is a hand-held game that can be played alone, or as a group. The Bop It! shouts instructions at you which you have to follow - miss an instruction and the game ends. It is a very simple challenge that gets you coming back time after time to try and beat your own high score. The classic game asks you to Twist-it, Pull-it and Bop It! but the brand new edition of Bop It! features even more fun instructions that have brought it bang up to date.

The new edition of Bop It! features all the classic instructions plus lots of new ones - in the "action" mode the Bop It! will now ask you to Hammer-It, Saw-It, Comb-It, Golf-It, Cradle-It, Whip-It, Drink-It, Golf-It, Answer-It and Selfie-It!  The Bop-It senses your movement of the device and will make sound effects to match your movement!  The better you get at the game, the faster the Bop It starts to issue you commands!  If you miss an instruction, the Bop It! will make a sarcastic statement about your ability to follow instruction, or perform a motion.

We have all found that it took a few hours of practice to master the movements that the Bop-It expects for each of the different actions.  This put Lara off for a while as she didn't like the feeling of failure but we showed her how Mummy and Daddy do each motion and she has now been tempted back to give the Bop-It another go - she LOVES the classic mode though!

If you're really up for a challenge you can play Bop-It without the verbal instructions. In beat-box mode you simply have to listen to the music and the sound effects and interpret which action to perform - it's phenomenally hard!!!

We've enjoyed playing Bop-It in the garden, in the living room, even just one quick game before bed (in an attempt to beat that high score) but I also think it would be a fun game to play with friends, either children, or adults. In pass-it mode the Bop It! will randomly instruct you to pass the game to the next person for them to follow the next set of instructions - nobody wants to be the person who breaks the chain and misses an action!

We've all enjoyed playing Bop It! - even Holly likes to give it a go.  Look out for the new look Bop-It! with 10 different actions coming to a store near you soon!

Tuesday 19 July 2016

Garnier Ambre Solaire Easy Peasy Kids Suncream Review

I am in full on holiday mode now. Packing lists and shopping lists coming out of my ears. I still need to buy a few things such as shower gel, shampoo and toothpaste that we can pack but other than that, I think we are nearly there. Top of our list this summer holiday was suncream and the new Garnier Ambre Solaire Easy Peasy Kids range sounds absolutely perfect for our trip - new Wet Skin Lotion and Anti-sand Spray both designed with beach and pool holidays in mind.

Mr. B. is particularly looking forward to trying out the anti-sand spray Easy Peasy Kids sun cream because he has a strong dislike (perhaps you'd even call it a mild phobia) of the feeling of rubbing sun lotion into sandy skin and the feeling of sand stuck on the skin after you've applied sun cream!  This handy can comes with a spray applicator which allows you to apply a really fine layer of sun cream without the need to rub it in because the spray helps you apply it all over.  The lotion itself contains ingredients that help to repel sand rather than attract it, and the texture is fine and not at all greasy or sticky. Holly has enjoyed having it applied before nursery over the last couple of weeks. We have found it to dry quickly so I think it will be perfect for taking with us to the beach for quick and easy sun protection. 

Also in the new Garnier Ambre Solaire Easy Peasy Kids range you'll find this Wet Skin Lotion which is specially designed for quick application after a dip in the sea or the pool.  We all know that we are supposed to apply sun lotion again after swimming but because it can be so hard to apply sun cream onto wet skin, it is tempting to wait until you or your child are totally dry before re-applying sun lotion.  With this new Wet Skin Lotion you can get a really nice even coverage even on wet skin and it doesn't smear all over the place - this we like the sound of, but we will REALLY put it to the test in Portugal.

I think that both of these ideas for sun lotion products from Garnier Ambre Solaire are very clever as they tackle common problems that put people off using sun lotion when on the beach or at the pool. Both products offer SPF 50+ protection levels and offer both UVA and UVB protection.

Sunday 17 July 2016

Finding the perfect summer dress for my beach getaway

I am, quite literally, counting down the days until I will be escaping work, school, swimming lessons, meal times, after school clubs, nursery runs, supermarket trips and more. Bring on the pools, the seaside, the restaurants and the cocktails. I NEED this holiday!

This summer we are taking the girls to the Algarve in Portugal - a first for all of us. We don't very often escape to the beach so we've had to do quite a bit of shopping to choose a summery beach wardrobe for me, for Mr. B. and for the girls.

To find the perfect summer dress for my beach getaway to Portugal, I browsed the holiday dresses and maxi dresses online at JD Williams who assured me that there was something to suit every taste - and they weren't wrong. I hadn't really considered a maxi-dress until I started browsing and then I decided that this blue tile print dress would suit the occasion perfectly, and I'll tell you why.

  • I want to pack light. I really don't like having to take a bazillion heavy suitcases on a family holiday so all of my holiday clothes are things I think I can wear equally well in the evening, as in the day. This layer-top maxi dress is smart-casual so I can wear it with a cardigan in the evenings to cover up, or with sandals during the day to keep cool. No need to pack two different dresses for two different occasions!
  • This blue maxi dress pairs perfectly with my brand new sunhat which has a streak of blue on it. When I've worn the two together in the sunshine this afternoon, I've almost felt as if I am on my hols already!
  • The layer top is naturally slimming. There is a thin line of elastic under the bust to hold the dress in and allow the layer to fall naturally over the chest and it makes what is an otherwise long, straight dress into something more noticeable.
  • A strappy dress with no zips or buttons is perfect for pulling on over the top of a swimsuit on your way between pool and apartment. I have a funny feeling I may just live in this dress on holiday!  The straps are adjustable too which means you can make it a perfect fit for you.

I'm sure I'll be sharing lots of holiday snaps over on Facebook and Instagram so watch out for how I style and wear this JD Williams dress this summer.

Disclosure: I was sent this dress in return for my thoughts on summer dresses.

Thursday 14 July 2016

Learning to Ride - The Bumps and Bruises

This Summer we are hoping to teach Holly to ride without stabilisers on her bike. With Lara it took a good couple of years before she could ride a bicycle unaided but I have a funny feeling that Holly is just going to go for it.

When you're learning to ride a bike, you have to be prepared for a fair few bumps and bruises along the way.  Holly is a little whirlwind and she tends to have plenty of bruises even on a normal day but we are kitting ourselves out with a tube of Germolene Antiseptic Cream ready for when the grazed knees and knuckles need a bit of love and attention during Holly's learning adventure this summer.

This summer Germolene have compiled a list of the top 10 injuries that people remember from their own childhood - their scar stories!  It sounds a bit scary but Germolene think that childhood adventures should be encouraged as when you look back on the bumps and bruises, we all have fond childhood memories of some of our little accidents from when we were playing.

How many of these do you remember from your childhood?

1. Mr Bump

Taking the top spot by a long way was falling over or bumping into something or someone. Whether it was flying towards the ice cream van, hitting our face against a brick wall or bashing heads with a friend or family member, this is how most of us clumsy lot seemed to acquire our bumps, bruises and scars.

2. Total Wipe Out

Many of us will remember riding round on our bikes for hours on end in the summertime without a care in the world, that is until we found ourselves plummeting over the handle bars after attempting a ‘wheelie’ that went wrong. This came a close second, so keep those helmets and knee pads handy next time your kids head out or they may end up coming back with more than they bargained for.

3. Kiss Chase

The name should already send warning signs, but childhood games like ‘kiss chase’ or ‘bulldog’ only ever ended up with tears before bedtime! One of our favourite lunchtime activities involved dashing around the playground, chasing school friends at high speed, which would inevitably end up with a trip to the school nurse and a bandage wrapped around our head like a badge of honour.

4. Puppy Love

When it comes to animal lovers, pets provide great playmates for children and for many households, cats and dogs become an extension of their own family. But from time to time, it seems many people remember falling out with their beloved pets and being playful led to a little nip or scratch when they both got a bit too overexcited.

5. Go Ape

One the best things about being a child was our lack of fear. Whether climbing the tallest tree or jumping from the highest step was all part of the fun and adventure. Maybe the fear we develop as adults comes from the scars caused by the branches and bricks we hit on the way down.

6. Sibling Rivalry

Those with a brother or sister will know that you will not always get on in life. One minute your sibling is on your side, the next they are blaming you when something gets smashed, scratched or torn - and they’re off quickly telling tales to mum or dad. It’s no wonder then that so many people recall sibling rivalry as one of the main culprits behind the odd bruise and scrape when they were younger.

7. Bounce Back

A bump to the head is another injury we remember when we were children, often acquired after bouncing off the walls, when we decided it was a good idea to bounce and jump on the bed after being sent to sleep by our parents.

8. Nailed it

This has to be one of the most painful memories that made the top ten list. It seems stepping on a nail or screw left lying around the house or garden was a fairly common hazard, and one that most of us would rather forget.

9. Looking Sharp

It’s clear to see why some people have more of a ‘glass half empty’ approach to life, as several unlucky ones remember suffering from bleeding fingers and thumbs after cutting themselves on broken glass as a child.

10. Sticks and Stones

Last but not least, this common saying seems to resonate with many people, as the number 10 childhood injury comes from falling onto or being hit by sticks or stones.

Wednesday 6 July 2016

Holly's First School Shoes - From Debenhams

Today I took Holly for her transition day to visit her new school where she will start in reception in September.  Holly was so excited all morning that I think she wore herself out so she was a bit quiet when we got to school but in general it seemed like a hit and now she is very eager to get going at school.

In readiness for the transition for school, this weekend we bought Holly her first ever pair of school shoes.  Our school is (at least for the time being) a non-uniform school (although it is looking increasingly likely that a uniform will soon be introduced); despite this, we like the girls to start with a simple uniform to try and make the distinction between school and play a little more distinct.  Holly absolutely loves smart shoes but she doesn't often find an opportunity to wear them so when I told her that she could choose a pair of smart shoes from the  Debenhams school shoes range, she was over the moon.

Just as her older sister did three years ago, Holly chose a very feminine Mary-Jane style of shoe which looks dainty, and which is very easy for small hands to take on and off.  These black patent rip-tape school shoes have a thin, simple velcro-style fastening. There is a little bow sewn on to the front of the shoe to add a little interest to the design. It's simple and stylish and EXACTLY what Holly wanted.

The shoes are, of course, patent.  What is it about little girls being attracted to shiny patent shoes??? Thankfully I am armed with a little bottle of patent restorer to touch up any scratches but I'm hoping that Holly will be less destructive with her shoes than her big sister is!

The difference between these mary jane shoes and many others I've tried is that these Debenhams own-brand shoes have got a nice padded patch around the back of the shoe where it would normally rub against the ankle. The shoes have a thick padded base. They really don't look or feel like a pair of shoes that cost less than £18.

Of course, Holly is so excited about her new school shoes that she wants to wear them every day!  I've had to disappear them for a little while but she can wear them to school on her taster days so that she really feels the part.  She will be wearing them proudly when she goes back to school in September.

Disclosure: Holly’s new shoes were bought using a gift card from Debenhams as part of their back to school campaign

Monday 4 July 2016

TomTom Spark + Cardio + Music - A Runner's Review

I'm running again - yay! I'll admit that I'm still struggling to rediscover my running mojo after injury earlier this year but I do at least get out for a run once a week as I lead a running club on a Tuesday night so I've no excuse.  For the past couple of week's I've been using the TomTom Spark as my running watch during these sprint and hills training sessions with my friends and neighbours - putting it's heart rate monitor and running features through their paces.

The TomTom spark is a GPS Fitness Watch for running, walking, swimming, cycling, gym and more. With the Cardio option, the TomTom Spark comes with a built in heart rate monitor so you can track your effort as you run, or you can choose to workout in your heart rate zones.  I've tried using a heart rate monitor in the past and I enjoy seeing the stats but I've previously only ever used a chest strap which is uncomfortable and easy to forget to put on when you go out for a run; having the HRM built into the back of the TomTom is a luxury that means I can see heart rate stats every time I run.  This is particularly useful to me when I'm running a club session with intervals as I can use my watch to see when my heart rate is recovering after an interval. I've been really pleased with how accurate the heart rate monitor is, and despite needing to make sure the strap is quite firmly done up around your wrist, the watch strap is very comfortable.

Perhaps the biggest selling point for me of the TomTom Spark + Cardio + Music is in fact the music!  I hate having to run with a phone for music so I gave that up some time ago.  Recently I'd been really missing my music (and wanted to listen to the Couch to 5k tracks again) but the Bluetooth on my phone had died.  Thankfully the TomTom Spark comes with the option to wirelessly connect to a pair of headphones.  I've chosen to connect mine to my Aftershokz wireless headphones but you can choose to buy TomTom in-ear bluetooth headphones included with your TomTom Spark.  The watch can hold upto 500 songs on it and you transfer them onto the device as playlists from iTunes or equivalent using the TomTom MySports app.  I've packed mine full of fast dance music to get my feet moving at 180 strides per minute!

I've found the Spark really easy to configure. Using the touch-sensitive button on the watch I can set up pretty much all of the running sessions I'd want to using either time or distance intervals.  It took me a while to get used to the fact that the watch didn't beep at me when I'd come to the end of each kilometer but I've now got used to the gentle buzz that it gives my wrist when I reach the end of an interval.  I find the screen modes simple and easy to move between when I run - as you go you can see heart rate as a graph, % of time spent in different heart rate zones, time, distance and if you're running intervals, the time left until the end of that interval.

I use my TomTom Spark for running sessions mostly - I've hooked it up to automatically post my runs to Strava so that I can monitor routes and segments when I run.  I also tried using the TomTom spark as a general purpose activity tracker to track my steps and sleep but as an active member of Bounts, I really want an activity tracker that will upload my steps to Bounts for me to earn rewards so I've defaulted back until TomTom can built an integration with Bounts (hint, hint).  It's a shame though because the little fuel-gauge to indicate steps progress towards your goal is pretty neat and it would be good to have everything in one place so that my watch did everything, especially if I buy a pretty, colourful replacement strap!  In it's default black it doesn't feel very sexy to me - not something I'd wear all day as my main watch (although, much sportier types might find it perfect).

The TomTom spark is perfect for running - I think that without music, the battery will get me through my 5-6 hour marathon I've got planned for next spring!  I'm genuinely impressed. From the speed of the GPS signal location (no hanging around waiting to find a satellite!) to the ease of connection to my headphones, there's nothing complicated about the TomTom Spark, and yet it does pretty much everything you need it to.

But aside from running, I've also tested it out in the pool. I was very impressed by the accuracy of the distance and laps that it measured in the pool without a GPS signal.  I don't often swim any more but it is nice to take a look at how my performance changes over time.  And if you like stats...

...the TomTom MySports website has all the stats you can need!  I think its a fabulously clean and simple user interface that allows me to understand my runs and my progress.  If you are using your Spark as an activity tracker you can set goals and see how you're progressing towards them.  With the heart rate monitor data I can see effort against the different points in my run as a coloured indicator. I'm really pleased with the functionality available in both the desktop app (for synching the watch) and the website (for viewing stats).

The TomTom Spark costs from £109.99 to £229.99 (with cardio, music and bluetooth headphones).

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