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

Monday, 31 October 2016

Tickle Fingers Cookbook: Hands-on fun in the kitchen for 1 to 4s

This coming week sees the launch of a brand new cook book for children aged 1-4 years old; Tickle Fingers Cookbook by Annabel Woolmer is a recipe book with lots of ideas for getting toddlers and pre-schoolers to join in with cookery - one of our very favourite pastimes.

Lara and Holly have joined me in the kitchen to help prepare food from the very first days that they could sit upright and grasp a spoon. Cookery with children is so rewarding - messy, occasionally stressful, but packed full of learning opportunities and chances to explore tastes and textures.  The start of Annabel Woolmer's book spends quite some time talking about all the good reasons why to encourage kids to take part in cooking their own dishes as well as explaining some of the skills and techniques needed to make it as stress-free and fun as possible. The first part of the book also talks a little about nutrition which is incredibly important to help set your kids on the right path in life.

But the best parts of the Tickle Fingers Cookbook are the recipes. There is nothing ground-breaking in here but plenty of simple yet tasty dishes suitable for first experiments in cookery for smaller people and then, later on in the book, more adventurous dishes for older children who have got the hang of some of the important skills such as measuring and mixing.

There are 60 recipes in the Tickle Fingers Cookbook and they've all been thought through to avoid complexity and to emphasise the fun.. what toddler doesn't enjoy sorting, mixing, pouring and measuring? None of the recipes require a sharp knife, or use of the hob and there is no raw meat that needs prepping so most of these recipes can be done by small hands with little adult intervention.

While Lara and Holly may be a little older than the target audience for this book, they both found recipes in it that they liked the look of.  Holly's two favourites so far are a chocolate cake recipe and a really simple naan bread recipe which was awesome!

The Tickle Fingers Cookbook by Annabel Woolmer is available from Penguin Random House in hardcover or Kindle edition from the 3rd November.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Cooking with Kids - The Ingreedies

Lara and Holly don't need an awful lot of encouragement to try new foods, or to get involved in cooking new and exciting meals in the kitchen with me but anything which encourages a love of food for children, or which helps educate about the origins of the food we eat, is a good thing in my eyes.  Around the World with the Ingreedies is a new book which makes learning about world food fun; its a mixture of food facts and recipes from all around the world.

The Ingreedies are a set of illustrated characters, each of whom has a particular interest in a different type of food - Lexi the veggie whizz, Larry the meat dude, Melvin the seafood freak and lots more, not forgetting Chef, the flavour genius. Packed in amongst the recipes you'll find the characters introducing the facts about different foods of the world as well as special facts about different ingredients in those parts of the world. For instance, you'll find a whole page about US agriculture including sweetcorn, pumpkins, apples and beef cattle.

Around the World with the Ingreedies is written by Zoe Bather and Joe Sharpe and illustrated by Chris Dickinson.  The book features some really lovely recipes that all of us wanted to get cooking - Lara chose to start with a north/south Indian curry with flatbreads as well as a Persian jewelled rice dish.  Throughout the book you can find a french classic, mexican street food and and a thai vegetable curry as well as recipes from Australia, china and Morocco. I'd expected the recipes to take second fiddle to the Ingreedies characters but we were all pleasantly surprised.

Lara has totally immersed herself in this book.  I asked her whether she would be as interested in the facts and figures if it wasn't illustrated, or if it didn't have the named characters...she said no, she probably wouldn't have bothered to read much of the book.  I've mixed feelings about this, I'm glad the authors and illustrators have found a way to engage with children but it makes me just a little bit sad that the exciting things about ingredients, cuisines, geography, and culture have to be dressed up with funny characters in order to make them "interesting".  However, I'm not seven, so I'm not the best person to judge!

The Ingreedies have captured Lara's imagination and its good to see her devouring the facts in this book like an encyclopedia, or an atlas. Lara has already lined up this Mexican beef dish (mainly because it includes chocolate) as her next creation from the book and I'll back her all the way.


Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Furby Connect Review

I shall let you into a little secret - I've wanted a Furby ever since I first knew about their existence. I am certain that I was the most excited person in my family when we found out that a new Furby Connect was going to be coming to live with us. The Furby Connect from Hasbro is billed as one of this year's must-have Christmas toys, an interactive pet with their own virtual world.  Our Furby Connect has been a fun addition to the family but I'm not sure I'd describe it as a must-have.

Let me start with the impressive bits:-
  • Furby is an interactive fluffy pet with all sorts of different phrases, movements and expressions that really encourage interactive play.  I think of our Furby as another pet in our family and quite often find myself chatting to it while I'm busy doing a job and reaching over to stroke it as I would the cat!
  • We looooove the fluff. Who can resist the brightly coloured fur?
  • Furby is funny. Lara particularly enjoys looking out for all the different faces that Furby makes with his animated LED eyes which are really expressive.  Holly is most won over by the sneaky fart noises that he makes when you pull his tale. Fart humour - you can't beat it.  Lots of Furby's phrases are funny but some of the sayings don't mean a lot to Lara and Holly. I can't help but think that some of the humour may be lost on small people (but they do make grown ups snigger).
  • I'm actually quite impressed with the number of phrases and the number of different movements that Furby makes. You can throw him, pat him, tickle him and he'll respond in different ways. When he wakes he talks you through his dreams and there are lots of different ways you can chat and sing with him.  Furby's language is fun to try and interpret - its closely modelled on patterns of English but with made-up Furbish words that feel familiar and make you giggle.
  • You can send Furby to sleep. Now, from what I've heard from owners of older Furby models, this is life-changing! Using the supplied sleep mask you can effectively turn Furby off by sending him to sleep so that you aren't woken up by him.
  • Furby knows the date and time. During night hours he tends to be hard to convince to do more than say hello (Furby, very much like our cat, likes to mostly eat and sleep). Furby knows when it is Christmas and Easter and will respond accordingly.
  • Furby is a surprisingly good singer and whistler! We've tried getting him to sing with us when Strictly is on!  Press his light-up antennae and he will become all musical!

On the whole, we've found the Furby Connect to be good fun but there are a few things that mean I don't think it is worth the price tag of around £99.99 (though you can find them from £59.99 on Amazon).

One of the unique selling points of the Furby Connect is the fact that you can unlock loads more functionality and personalisation using the Furby Connect World app which is available in the iTunes store and Google Play.  This sounds fantastic but actually we were largely disappointed. Firstly, the app works with Furby through bluetooth and apple have had Bluetooth problems since iOS 9 (not a Furby problem, a known iOS problem that prevents lots of things working over Bluetooth on iOS) - for this reason we were unable to synchronise our Furby with the app and so we've only been able to use the app in the standalone mode.  The game is playable without a Furby.

The app is quite big (around 250MB); I had to remove several apps from the iPad to find space for it.  The app also takes quite a while to load up; longer than Holly (4yo) is prepared to wait, and so she always closes it before it has even completed loading.  Lara and I both have more patience but honestly, Lara's interest in the app lasted no more than 2 minutes; I don't think we had even really finished the set up at this point.  I persevered, navigated around a bit and started our Furby viewing content in the virtual cinema (this is where your connected Furby can learn new songs to sing).  I know Lara and Holly are missing out on some rich content for their Furby Connect such as hatching Furbling babies, feeding your Furby different foods, or finding out what happens when they go to the toilet!! I can't quite put my finger on why Lara and Holly are so disinterested in the app but I am sure it has a lot to do with the fact that we haven't managed to connect it to the real Furby.  I'd like to see a web-based version of the game so that you can use it even if you haven't got access to a tablet or smart phone.

In terms of playability, I'm still struggling with the Furby Connect. I quite like having him there in the room pootling on about nothing much but Lara and Holly lost interest within a couple of days.  I've racked my brains to try and work out what would need to be different in order to keep them engaged and I'm sure that it is the gamification; there's no goal to aim for, no need to return to Furby other than for company.  He;s too big to take with you when you go out, but not big or shapely enough to be part of their pretend play (I can't picture Furby being invited into the Barbie house, or the dollies pram).  Unless I can get the app to connect via Bluetooth, I'm almost certain that Furby will stay with us, sitting on the dressing table being woken up about once a week for a few minutes of play before being abruptly sent back to sleep again.

And poor old Furby...every time he wakes up he is ravenously hungry and yet it isn't entirely clear how you satisfy him. You place your finger in its mouth and he slurps enthusiastically but then keeps on complaining about being hungry.  Maybe the app helps here?

Furby Connect is available in Pink, Blue, Purple and Teal. Its eyes are animated and its ears and body move as it interacts with you. If you have more than one, they even interact with each other. Don't get me wrong, Furby is fun, but it hasn't quite hit the mark with us.


Saturday, 22 October 2016

Obi Worldphone MV1 Review

I'd been putting off buying a new phone. My old one dies a sorry death in a plastic bag with an open bottle of water and so I'd been using a very old brick of a phone as a temporary measure. Of course, there's always my work phone but social media is somewhat frowned on, and personal texts are a bit of a risk. Anyway, Obi Worldphone thought that, as a working Mum, I was a good person to try out their brand new MV1 handset because it is a dual-sim phone at an a great value price. I think they might be right!

obi worldphone mv1 back

Obi Worldphone is a new name on the scene and the MV1 is their first phone in the UK market. It is designed to plug the gap between the functional smartphone and the top-of-the-range high fashion smartphones.  As a guide, the MV1 handset is currently available on Amazon for just £99 which makes it affordable as a sim-free option for anyone wanting to upgrade to something pretty smart without the big price tag, or the long contract. I've been using mine for a good few weeks now and yes, I would certainly be happy to pay that price for the MV1.

obi worldphone handset

The Obi MV1 has a Cyanogen operating system which is based on Android so you can access apps and music etc through Google Play store and the navigation feels familiar. I found the look and feel of the screen to be stylish, simple, modern and intuitive and I was totally settled with it, and the keyboard within minutes; it helps that all of your most used things such as browser, messaging, email and camera are all there on the front screen. The web browser didn't wow me much and I quickly replaced it with Chrome but other than that, I'm a happy bunny.

screen of the obi worldphone mv1

The Cyanogen OS offers a couple of things of top of your Android defaults that give it a nice touch - I'm particularly happy with the PIN scramble option which is a better way of securing your phone so that people can't guess your PIN from the finger prints on your screen! Obi Worldphone make a big thing about the material on the screen being particularly good at avoiding finger-print smudges. I'd say that it certainly feels like a slight improvement but doesn't totally rid the world of finger-marks, especially those from small prying hands!

Obi Worldphone were right, the dual sim capability should be great for me, as a working mum because it is immensely frustrating having to carry around two different phones during the day just in case school ring me at work! However, strict security settings at work mean I can't use my own device so the dual-sim thing hasn't worked out for me but I can see places such as the "how much data have I used?" screen that would work really well for monitoring usage of two different mobile accounts.

The MV1 comes with 16GB of storage but I've increased mine a bit with the addition of a microSD card so that I can store more photos and music. When it comes to photos, I've been really impressed with the quality of the 8 mega-pixel camera on board; I don't often use the more advanced photo capabilities of my smartphone but it does me just fine for when we are travelling and I used it to snap a few photos of Lara this week at her first ever cross-country race.

Taken on the Obi Worldphone MV1
Taken on the Obi Worldphone MV1
To me, the thing that makes the Obi MVI stand out is its styling. It looks smart. At work it has made people take notice. Smooth rounded corners at one end, brushed metal-style straight edges at the other.  The matt cover and the bright, modern screen themes have got my friends interested. It doesn't look like a £99 handset and it feels gooooood!

Disclosure: I was sent an Obi Worldphone MV1 to review but all opinions are my own.


Tuesday, 18 October 2016

A Spooky Visit to Tesco

For the past few year's we've attended the school "fright night" disco as a Halloween night out but Lara finds it a bit overwhelming and Holly runs riot so this year we are planning a quiet family Halloween party in our own home where the girls can choose to be as spooky or silly as they want to be.  As well as the Halloween arts and crafts that I shared last week, we've been stocking up on treats, decorations and costumes for our Halloween party with a spooky visit to our local Tesco.

In our local Tesco there is now a bright orange welcome - vast containers of pumpkins!  Holly nearly dived in!  We've bought a couple of pumpkins for carving, and a couple to practice on.  Large pumpkins like this probably aren't the tastiest but I'm hoping we can use the pieces that we've scraped out when carving to use in our party recipes - pumpkin cookies and an autumnal soup.

We visited the Halloween aisle in Tesco to stock up on trick or treat prizes and everything we need for a spooktacular Halloween party.  A tablecloth and paper plates as basics and then some sweets and treats including chocolate-coated apples!  We also bought a few decorations such as a projector torch and a pumpkin lantern to light our party and create a spooky atmosphere.

The aisle was packed with bumper packs of sweets. We tend to get a lot of trick-or-treat visitors on the night so we've bought a big bucket of Halloween sweets to offer and for the girls to hunt around the house as part of our spooky party games.

Of course, no Halloween event is complete without a scary outfit. We saw outfits for newborns right through to grown-ups! Holly couldn't resist a sparkly witches outfit and Lara opted for a ghoulish bride - she seems to have totally nailed the "living dead" look!  On the night we will finish it off with some white face-paint and a tube of fake blood. Terrifying.  We're very happy with the outfits; I don't expect them to last more than a few occasions but you never know (Holly is very talented at finding occasions for random fancy dress outfits all through the year!)

Look out for spooky Halloween craft ideas and recipes on the Tesco Halloween website.

Disclosure: Tesco sent us a voucher to contribute towards the cost of our Halloween party.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Greedy Granny Game Review

This week was games night at Lara's Beaver scout colony. All of the children had to bring their favourite game to share with others - Lara brought along Greedy Granny and it was a total hit with all of the Beavers. Everyone wanted to have a go, and there were lots of giggles as I could hear them playing with the game from the other side of the hall.

Greedy Granny from Tomy is a challenge to grab one of each biscuit from sleeping Granny's tray as she sleeps. If you happen to be the person who wakes Granny up then the game is over and the person with the most biscuits wins!  The game is suitable for three players from about age 4 upwards.

The game is controlled by a spinner which determines whether you can pick a biscuit, put one back on the tray, miss a turn, or steal someone else's biscuit.  The spinner also determines how many times you have to tap Granny's armchair and it it this tap that may cause Granny to wake up.

The absolute biggest pull of this game for 6-8 year olds is the fact that when Granny wakes up, her false teeth fall out. This seems to cause hilarity EVERY SINGLE TIME!!!  I think Lara also secretly enjoys putting all of the plastic biscuits back into the tray every requires some precision.  My only complaint about the game is that once Granny and her chair have been constructed, it is hard to get her back into the box to store away.

You can find Greedy Granny at Smyths Toys, Argos and Amazon for around £15. Find out more about the Greedy Granny game in this video.


Friday, 14 October 2016

Octonauts Remote Controlled Gup K Review

Holly rarely gets a chance to watch the TV shows that she really wants to see - her big sister normally over-rules her but one program that they do still agree on is Octonauts; they both like to sit in silence and watch the underwater tales of the Octonauts.  Holly is super-happy to have been asked to review the remote controlled Gup K which is a new vehicle that features in some of the most recent episodes.

The Octonauts use their Gup K for exploring swamps and boggy areas; its a chunky vehicle that looks a little bit like an alligator or a crocodile with big teeth for chomping through weeds and obstacles.  This Fisher Price remote controlled Gup-K comes with one figure - Barnacles - who can sit inside the main cab of the vehicle or sit on one of the two little hello swamp vehicles which are used for exploring.  The Gup K can hold upto 6 different Octonauts figures.

Holly had never come across a remote controlled vehicle before; she has found it really magical that she can use the little controller to make the Gup K whizz around the house.  The controller only had two buttons - forwards and backwards but the reverse movement also turns the vehicle so you can manoeuvre it around, not just go in straight lines. Holly mainly enjoys ramming it against my feet or trying to get it to go under the TV unit (it won't fit)!

We like the two little swamp speeders which work well on hard floors or on the carpet - they encourage imaginative play away from the main vehicle and both girls reference back to the TV show when they play.

Also in the set you will find a little baby alligator figurine who needs rescuing (very cute) and a water cannon which catapults a pretend jet of water out of the Gup-K at any suspecting passer-by. There are lots of different ways to play with the Gup K.

I'm most impressed by the quality of the Gup K - it's what I'd expect from Fisher Price. Chunky, thick plastic with no fiddly bits. It feels like a toy that will last.

The Remote Control Gup-K costs around £30-40 and is available from Argos and Amazon.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Halloween Art Activities for Kids

This October, we are planning a small Halloween party at our house for the girls with dressing up, lots autumnal foods and treats as well as lots of Halloween-themed decorations, many of them we will make ourselves.  Baker Ross sell lots of small craft kits for children to create their own Halloween decorations, you can find them in the Baker Ross Halloween arts, crafts and treats section on their website.

Holly enjoys sticker crafts so I set her to work on these A4-sized Halloween Dotty Art pictures. all you have to do is to choose the coloured dots you want to use and then fill in the patterns on the page. This pack contains 8 pictures featuring bats, skulls, cats, pumpkins and even Frankenstein! For Holly these dotty art sets are a good exercise in concentration because you have to follow the pattern - I don't think I've actually seen her complete one but, coloured or not, they make striking posters for the wall and will be perfect for our house party.

No Halloween party would be right without dangling creatures for you to walk into in the dark. Both girls are making jewelled owls to dangle in a line across the room, and furry Halloween pom pom creatures. The Pom Pom kit comes with enough  wool to create three different pom pom characters - a spider, a bat and a pumpkin.  Pom Poms are fairly easy to make (for slightly bigger hands like Lara's) and you can really bring them to life using the stickers and foam accessories provided in these craft kits. If we hang these from the ceiling they'll be sure to give someone a fright in the dark.  These individual kits would make great activities to take part in during a Halloween party.

We won't be going trick-or-treating this year but that doesn't mean we won't be having any treats!  These little colour-in skull bags are perfect for small treats or party bags to take home a couple of Halloween biscuits from a party. The intricate skull designs feature lots of floral patterns for colouring in - bright colours work best and when coloured in, they remind me of the mexican colours and patterns that characterise Day of the Dead festivities.  If your small people are into colouring then you can top up with supplies such as simple packs of fibre-tip pens or other craft essentials when you're ordering art and crafts supplies from Baker Ross.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Ravensburger Funky Owls 3D Puzzles Review

There are very few things we enjoy more on a rainy Sunday afternoon than a good old family jigsaw session.  Lara is at that funny age now where most of our kiddy jigsaws don't hold much entertainment value for her, but full-blown thousand-piece puzzles targeted at adults are too much like hard work.  The new range of 3D puzzles from Ravensburger are a great spot - they are designed for girls from around age 8 and when you've completed the puzzles you have a great ornament that you want to keep (or break down and build all over again..obviously!).

Lara has ABSOLUTELY LOVED building these puzzles. They've required hard work and concentration but she has completed them independently which gives her a sense of pride.  In the range you'll find a pencil holder, a jewellery tree, a vase and a vanity box.  Ravenburger make these 3D puzzles in both a unicorn design and this funky owls range which features bright bold colours, flowers and bumble bees.

The Funky Owls pencil holder is probably the simplest of the set of jigsaws to build. It has 54 pieces which are set into a purple plastic ring. The pieces are small but they are numbered to make it easier to identify them.  The jigsaw pieces are made from a hardened plastic with the design printed on one side and identifying marks on the back.  It took Lara about half an hour to build her first 3D jigsaw as she needed to get used to the way that the pieces fit together, stay upright and click into the purple ring that holds it all together.  Lara is really very proud of this one!

The 3D vanity box jigsaw was Lara's favourite because she has a real use for the thing she has built. As a rectangle, it was a relatively simple build even though it has 216 pieces but the end result is really impressive; it is a box designed for you to be able to store brushes, hair accessories and cosmetics - a place for you to store your own, grown-up "stuff".  The box itself comes with a shelf that sits on the top of the box in which you can place small pieces of jewellery or hair bands and clips. Its easy to see why young girls would love this puzzle!

Finally, the 3D vase puzzle ... gosh, this is a daunting one! We felt this was the most tricky 3D puzzle and made sure we read the instructions for this one. It is also 216 pieces but the shape means that it bulges out and then back in again.  The vase contains a plastic insert into which you place the water for the flowers (it really is a usable vase, not just for looking pretty); you build the jigsaw up and around this cylinder as you go.  This jigsaw is still work in progress and is a bit of a team effort but Lara is looking forward to placing it on her window ledge.

We thought that these 3D Ravensburger puzzles were targeted perfectly to girls aged 7-11 and would highly recommend them.


Sunday, 9 October 2016

Bright Horizons Recipes - Butternut Squash Risotto

Bright Horizons nurseries can be found up and down the country; they sent me a copy of their family cook book which features some of the recipes served at their nursery in Northwood and other nurseries in the Bright Horizons family. The recipe book is designed to encourage families to cook together and share some of the favourite meals from nursery and preschool with the whole of the family; the dishes are healthy, balanced meals packed full of adventurous flavours but in a format that most small people are happy to try.

This weekend Holly and I have been cooking a Butternut Squash Risotto from the Bright Horizons recipe book. Holly got all dressed up in her new apron which doubles up as a doodle-pad. Today Holly was in a #GBBO mood so she drew a bake-off table in pink; next weekend she may be in more of a curry mood so we will wash the apron and she can start with her doodles all over again...genius!

Holly and I baked some chunks of lovely butternut squash in the oven while I showed Holly how to gently soften onions and garlic in a bit of oil - Holly enjoys using the hob but I have to keep a VERY close eye on her still! We used an long grain rice (which meant ours came out more like a pilaf than a risotto) and a litre of homemade chicken stock (water works fine too) to cook the rice.

Towards the end of the cooking, we added a tin of haricot beans which add protein and thickness to the meal meaning it will be really filling and warming for an autumny family meal. At the last minute, the roasted butternut is added to the mix along with fresh spinach and parsley to add colour and vitamins.

Holly and I topped off our risotto with some chopped walnuts to add a little bit of texture. A risotto is such a simple recipe to cook with children because you can bung all of the ingredients into a pan and let them simmer together until the rice has cooked - a tasty risotto doesn't need to be topped up with liquid every few minutes like the pros do!

This butternut squash risotto was a lovely warming meal and Holly enjoyed helping me out. Other recipes in the Bright Horizons family cook book include Seaside Carbonara, Carrot and Apple Salad and Feta & Beetroot Muffins.

Disclosure: Bright Horizons supplied me with a copy of their recipe book and the ingredients for the recipe.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Disney Princess Ariel Bath Styling Head Review

Holly was delighted to be asked to review the Disney Princess Ariel Bath Styling Head from Just Play as she is very much into princesses, hair styling and anything Disney right now. My interest dwindled soon after the epic 10+ minute struggle to remove her from her packaging - her hair was literally sewn into the packaging and was shaped to look "pretty" using some form of rigid glue-like-substance.

The Disney Princess Ariel Bath Styling Head is intended for use as a bath toy which is handy because the first thing we had to do was to wash her hair! She comes with a hollow sea shell that you can use to gently pour water over her hair and eyes to make them change colour. Ariel can stick to the side of the bath using three suckers but Holly finds it hard to brush or style her hair when she is attached to the side of the bath so in fact we have had more use of Ariel when she has been on dry land.

Ariel comes with a set of styling accessories such as hair combs, a selection of hair clips, a hairbrush and a necklace, all with a seaside theme. Because she is intended as a bath toy, she is a little smaller than many toy styling heads but that doesn't seem to reduce the opportunities for plaits, pony tails and clips! Holy is quite taken with her deep red hair which is instantly recognisable. I've never quite managed to get Ariel's hair to look quite as good as it did when it was plastered into the packaging, in fact she looks a little bald on top unless you give her a serious comb-over.

We weren't awfully impressed by the colour changing features. You can use ice-cold water to turn a sliver of Ariel's hair from light blue to dark blue (the change is noticeable but the effect would be more magical if it were to change from one colour to a significantly different colour). Ariel's eyes and lips also change colour with icy water, intending to give the impression of make-up but once again, the difference in the colour of the lips is so small that its almost instantly forgettable. The eye lids change from brown to pink. When you apply warm water, the colours change back. Given that this is a bath-toy, the use of water to change the colours is a good idea but most people don't have ice water on hand in their bathroom to change the colours too and from.

The Disney Princess Ariel Bath Styling Head costs around £24.99. I think there is play value in it, but we've found it more appealing as a regular styling head, rather than a colour-changing bath styling head. Find her at Argos and Amazon.

Friday, 7 October 2016

The Darkest Dark by astronaut Chris Hadfield

The Darkest Dark is a children's story book about a little boy who is afraid of the dark...I think it is also probably very true to the childhood experiences of its author, the astronaut, Chris Hadfield.

Little Chris has an active imagination - he dreams about being an astronaut, exploring far off planets and hunting for aliens. But young Chris is terrified of the dark and won't settle in his own room at night for fear of aliens and the deep dark depths of the night.  On the night that he and his family watch the televised moon landings of Apollo 11, Chris realises that in space there is a type of darkness much darker than he is used to in his own bedroom. And that is when he decides he wants to be an astronaut, not just dream about them.

This book held particular fascination for Lara because she was interested to know that Commander Chris Hadfield is a genuine US astronaut. Lara enjoyed reading the material at the back of the book about Chris Hadfield's space career and looking at the photos of him as a boy, a young man, and in space. It really brought life to the story to know it was based on a real person.

This is a great story for any budding young astronauts or for children who are struggling to cope with the dark themselves. I think the moon landings needed a little bit of an explanation to Lara and Holly who didn't really grasp the weight of such an occasion and how it might impact someone's life.

I'm not sure that the text of the story itself has grasped either of my girls' imaginations - they remember the story but not necessarily the way in which it was told.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

We Are Christmas-Jumper Ready!

This year, national Christmas Jumper day falls on December 16th and for the first time ever, we will be Christmas-Jumper ready thanks to Matalan and their range of Christmas jumpers for the whole family.

National Christmas Jumper day is a day when schools and workplaces up and down the country raise money for Save the Children while dressing up in silly jumpers.  Last year I had recently started at a new job and wasn't at all prepped...I didn't own a Christmas jumper! Neither did the girls. Eeek.

Matalan have now got their festive jumpers in stock with a massive range for small people right up to adults.  Lara is wearing a kids Christmas Jumper which is available for children from 3-13 years old. The jumper has a little musical piece inside the snowman'd head which plays "jingle bells" although I think Lara very much likes this jumper for the visual design, more than the music. The fit is great, the shaping is simple but the design is very fitting for an older girl as it includes sparkly sequins and a 3-D pink scarf as well as delicate applique snowflakes and a pom pom for good measure. It's just the right mix of silly and sensible for a girl of Lara's age. This Matalan jumper costs from £13.

My jumper is a simple Xmas slogan jumper for women which costs £18. When it first arrived, I was worried that the textures lettering looked and felt like real wool (itchy) but despite the wool-like texture this acrylic, polyester and elastene jumper is super-soft AND stretchy so it is phenomenally comfortable.  I'll admit that after posing for the photos in our front garden, I chose to wear the jumper for the rest of the day because it was so comfy and snuggly!  It's kind of a shame that I may only get to wear it for a few days every year. I ordered a size larger than my normal size because I am quite tall and wanted to ensure that my jumper was spacious and slouchy but I think I probably could have got away without going up a size because the jumper is soft enough that I'd be happy to wear it with no vest or t-shirt underneath.

Holly is wearing a wonderful bright red musical xmas jumper featuring everyone's favourite reindeer. Press the shiny red nose and the jumper starts to play "jingle bells".  On the front of the jumper there is lots of fun texturing on the reindeer face and a fabulous knitted scarf which stands out from the main jumper (who can resist pulling it?).  On the back, the jumper says MERRY XMAS in white, knitted into the jumper itself. I really love this jumper.  It is available in ages 3 months to 5 years and costs from £9.

Disclosure: We were sent out Christmas jumpers to review but we do very much love them and our review reflects our own views.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

#Win - Win a family ticket to see Tall Stories' The Gruffalo Live!

A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood...

Join Mouse on a daring adventure through the deep, dark wood in Tall Stories’ magical, musical adaptation of the classic picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.

Searching for hazelnuts, Mouse meets the cunning Fox, the eccentric old Owl and the party mad Snake. Will the story of the terrifying Gruffalo save Mouse from ending up as dinner for these hungry woodland creatures? After all, there’s no such thing as a Gruffalo – is there?

Songs, laughs and scary fun for children aged 3 and up and their grown-ups, in the much-loved show that’s toured Britain and the world!

The Gruffalo is playing at the Lyric Theatre until 8 January 2017.  For more information and to book your tickets (from £14.50) call 0330 333 4812 or visit  Running time 55 minutes (no interval).

To be in with e chance of winning a family ticket (four tickets with a maximum of two adults) to see the Gruffalo that the Lyric Theatre, all you have to do is to leave me a comment below by the 17th October and let me know which your favourite Julia Donaldson character is. The tickets are valid for Saturday performances at 10am up until the 30 November.

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 17th October 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 winner will receive a family ticket (four tickets, maximum two adults) to see The Gruffalo at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London. Valid for Saturday performances at 10am until 30 November, subject to availability. No cash alternative available. Travel and Accommodation not included.
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 2 days of the closing date. If the winner cannot be contacted or does not claim the prize within 2 days of notification, we reserve the right to withdraw the prize from the winner and pick a replacement winner as the tickets are time sensitive.
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.

My Little Pony Explore Equestria Crystal Empire Castle Review

When we review toys on Mellow Mummy, I always like to leave it a few weeks after a toy has arrived to see if the toy still holds appeal after the initial excitement - The My Little Pony Explore Equestria Crystal Empire Castle has been played with EVERY SINGLE day over the past few weeks - its fair to say it has withstood the "lastability test".  Holly absolutely loves it. She loves showing it to others but mostly she loves to disappear into her own little world of imaginary play with her ponies - something I've never seen her big sister do. If you've ever met Holly and know her normal attention span, you'll know that anything she is happy to play with for more than 20 seconds at once is a big hit in our household.

The My Little Pony Crystal Empire Castle playset includes the castle, Princess Cadence and her baby Flurry Heart. It also includes a number of accessories such as a throne (and baby throne), a swing, a mirror and plenty of jewels to decorate your princess pony.

I found the playset really easy to remove from its box and assemble - Holly didn't have to wait long in order to start playing. When I discovered that the castle required batteries, I panicked a bit because I didn't really want another noisy toy but to my relief, we discovered that there is no noise - just a sparkly crystal pattern which spins under the castle to create a special place where Holly invites all of her My Little Pony friends to come for a ball! There are flashing, spinning coloured lights, perfect for a pony dance floor and this seems to be one of the main themes of imaginative play when Holly is playing with her castle.

Princess Cadence comes with a sparkly coat that matches the castle and which fits neatly over her wings. Holly find it quite hard to put this on her, so it tends to become my job. Holly (and her big sister) enjoy letting baby Flurry Heart play on her swing and Holly also enjoys placing all of her My Little Pony figures at different places around the castle.  I'm really pleased how the arrival of the playset has breathed new life into the girls' collection of My Little Pony characters.

The My Little Pony Explore Equestria Crystal Empire Castle Playset costs around £41.99 and is suitable for ages 3 upwards. It would make a stunning centre piece in a playroom and has really lit up Holly's evenings.  Find it at Smyths, Argos and Amazon.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Childrens Reading Book Review :: Little Legends

Lara first discovered the Little Legends books earlier this year - the series by Tom Percival is a set of fairy-tale inspired reading books for early readers and Lara absolutely loved the first two in the series - The Spell Thief and The Great Troll Rescue.  This autumn, the next two episodes from the Little Legends book series are now available; The Genies Curse and The Magic Looking Glass.

Little Legends books by Tom Percival

The Little Legends books are what Lara calls "chapter books" - longer reading books for confident early readers.  They are very easy reads for Lara now but I'd recommend them from about age 6 to 10, depending on reading ability. The stories have universal appeal because they are based on the real-life adventures of fairytale characters that we already know and love - Repaunzel, Hansel and Gretal, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack (as in beanstalk).  The books are adventure books where a group of characters have a quest they need to achieve such as lifting a magical curse or recapturing some stolen magic. It is just the sort of thing that whisks Lara off into her imagination.

Reading Little Legends books by Tom Percival

The Magic Looking Glass by Tom Percival tells the tale of twins, Hansel and Gretel who make an unlikely friend - a wolf! Together they discover an enchanted magical mirror in the woods which is the gateway to some pretty unpleasant magic that threatens them all. The story is so fast paced that Lara literally did not put the book down until she had read it from cover to cover and she finished with an enormous smile on her face.

The Genies curse features load of characters who have appeared throughout the Little Legends series but the primary characters are Rapunzel (who seems a little out of her depth), a green monkey (?) and a genie in a magic lamp. There are references to lots of different magical fairy stories throughout the book but it's not that which Lara enjoys most; its the drama and urgency of each story that draws her in.

Content of Little Legends books by Tom Percival

We are really hoping that there are more Little Legends books in the pipeline because they are really enjoyable reads.

Also look out for the Little Legends Race Day, a free app for Little Legends fans.
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