Mellow Mummy: 2017 : Taking life as it comes...

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Children's Book Review :: The Impressionists

Lara is nearly 8. Just like me, she is a natural academic and yet her favourite subjects at school are all creative - Lara loves art and recently she has been learning about different artistic styles. Boolino sent her a copy of The Impressionists, a hardback spiral bound book that is part of the My First Discoveries range by Moonlight Publishing.



The Impressionists is a short introduction to the styles of the most famous impressionist painters. Lara found it interesting to think that before the 19th century, people painted for fact, not for feeling. The book explains how the impressionist movement focussed on capturing the artists own impressions of the world around them including use of light, movements and feelings.

The pages of the book are board but this little guide to impressionism cleverly uses transparent pages and cut-out pages to help highlight specific parts of some of the paintings. The last few pages of the book include images of some classic paintings from Monet, Pissarro, Seurat, Cezanne, Van Gogh and more.



I think Lara found this a handy little introduction to the impressionist movement. She and Holly both seemed to "get" it when they saw three different paintings of the same cathedral in different light conditions.  Lara has read through it a few times and I can see her taking it all in.

There isn't a lot of content in The Impressionists and I can't see either girl going back to it as reference, even if they are working on a school project, but I am pleased that it gave them some insight into some of the worlds most famous artists and perhaps a spark of artistic inspiration.


Monday, 22 May 2017

The Elephant of Frimley

Today marks the start of a blog tour by a very special elephant - The Elephant of Frimley.



The Elephant of Frimley is a rhyming illustrated book for children. The story is about two sisters and an elephant who is, to all intents and purposes, lost.  I was drawn to the book because Lara and Holly were both born in Frimley so we were all a bit curious to find out about whether or not there really was an elephant to be found there.

The book was originally written by Nicholas Rawls as a bedtime story for his own daughters and we've found it to work very well as a quiet, calming rhyming story before bed. Each page is illustrated and includes a verse of rhyming story.

The story features a sad elephant who the girls, Hannah and Emily, find has wandered into their own back garden. I think my two girls would squeal with delight if they found an elephant in our garden! I'm not sure my two would be so conscientious as the sisters in the story book though; they set themselves a challenge to find out why and where the elephant has come from.

At the end of the story the girls are thanked by a local zookeeper for returning the elephant. While I'm sitting here wondering quite where in Frimley you might find a zoo, the girls think that the very last line of the story is hilarious because of the attempts to rhyme and scan Frimley (that's what a love of phonics in school does for you).

We thought the rhyming was very clever and the illustrations were sensitive in this little children's tale.

You can find out what other children's book reviewers thought of The Elephant of Frimley by joining in the blog tour over the coming days.  You can find our friend the elephant in the following places from now until the 4th of June:


Saturday, 13 May 2017

New Kids Menu at Giggling Squid - Thai Tapas

Last weekend we took the girls for a really fun Sunday lunch - something a bit different that they definitely both enjoyed. Thai Tapas at Giggling Squid in Wokingham. There are around 20 Giggling Squid restaurants and we are lucky enough to have one in our local town but until recently we hadn't really considered taking the girls there but then last month Giggling Squid launched a new kids menu, Little Tapas for Little People so we went to give it a whirl.



The ‘Little Tapas for Little People’ menu, just like the adults tapas menu, offers a choice of flavoursome thai favourites for you to try just a little of each.  For just £5.95, kids get to choose two dishes from a selection of Giggling Squid favourites, from milder curries and noodles to rice dishes and nibbles such as dumplings and spring rolls.

Lara and Holly both chose pork dumplings with a dipping sauce and spring rolls with chilli sauce but they also joined us in trying chicken satay with peanut sauce, Thai curries and a Massaman curry. The girls got to choose a bowl of rice each to accompany their meal.  I'd have liked to have seen a few more vegetables on offer for the kids menu - our own meals were packed with beans, carrots, courgettes and oriental veg but the children's menu didn't seem to feature much (admittedly, our girls chose options that didn't even include a veggie garnish!).



For an extra £2 you can choose a pudding - our girls both chose ice cream which came beautifully presented but you can also choose a roti flatbread with sugar and condensed milk.  The grown-ups dessert menu features some amazing Thai inspired dessert ideas such as Thai basil and lemongrass sorbet.

The girls enjoyed the meal from start to finish. They devoured an entire bowl of Thai prawn crackers while colouring in their menus (there's a chance to win a family meal if you do) and playing the "match the picture" game on their menu.



Lara and Holly are both very adventurous when it comes to food, particularly oriental flavours and I think their first experience of a Thai restaurant went down really well. I can definitely see us coming back to Giggling Squid during the day time with them to enjoy lunch more frequently. The atmosphere was really relaxed and we felt we could have ordered any combination of dishes from the menu and enjoyed them all.



Disclosure: Our meal was provided for the purposes of this review but we absolutely LOVED it and the girls have already asked for us to go back and we definitely will.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Beauty and the Beast Belle dolls review

Holly is totally enchanted by Disney princesses at present. She spends a lot of time in imaginary play upstairs in our playroom re-enacting scenes from movies. These two Belle dolls by Hasbro inspired by the new Disney Beauty and the Beast movie have been a total hit and they allow her to play two different roles in her make-believe world - that of Belle the villager and Belle the princess.



The Beauty and the Beast Village Dress Belle is dressed in a traditional blue checked and silk-style dress to match Belle as she leads her life in the village before she meets the Beast. She has a simple hairstyle that Holly likes to try and keep tidy and she comes with a pair of brown boots. I have caught Holly singing while playing, just like daydreamer Belle!



Enchanting Ball Gown Belle is dressed in her finest golden dress and is ready to be swept off her feet. She comes with a tiara, a golden necklace and a pair of golden slippers fit for a princess. This dolls arms and elbows move so that you can pose her into dance positions.  Holly likes to play with both dolls at once and swaps their shoes and dresses over until her heart's content!



I think Enchanting Ball Gown Belle looks very grown up and her simple face features remind me of the live action movie much more than a cartoon style doll would. Somehow the dolls give off a mature feeling which means that Holly's games don't seem quite so childish. Belle's hair, of course, has not stayed anywhere near as neat as it was when the doll first arrived, and I've had to pick that necklace up off the floor at least a million times in the last month!

Village Dress Belle costs around £17.99 at Argos and Enchanting Ball Gown Belle costs around £38.99. The difference in process is mainly due to the magical-looking dress but I guess also to do with the arms and movement. Holly definitely plays with this doll more than any other in her collection.  Both Belle dolls are inspired by the live action version of Beauty and the Beast.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Children's Activity Book :: Doodle Dogs by Tim Hopgood

I don't think of Lara as particularly creative - like me, her artistic and creative side is very much driven by mimicking others, rather than developing her own innovative style; that's why she doesn't normally get along with drawing and doodling books normally because she likes to have instructions to follow and designs to copy!  Doodle Dogs has been a big hit with her because it encourages creativity... but within boundaries and with instructions. Perfect for helping Lara to explore her creative side on her own terms.


Doodle Dogs by Tim Hopgood is an activity book with a doggy theme; on the pages you'll find drawing, colouring and doodling activity prompts which introduce you to different artists and their styles. There's a page in the style of Matisse, Jackson Pollock and even Kandinsky!



Each page has a different activity which can take from seconds to hours to complete. Some simply require a pen or a pencil, others probably need a bit more colour, though Lara hasn't yet lifted out her paint set and tends to stick to pencils and crayons. The book is broadly themed around dogs preparing for a dog show and at the end of the book you get to award a prize for the dog you like the look of most.

I think this activity book is a great introduction to different styles of art - Lara doesn't even realise that she's learning about such significant art movements as pop art and modernism, she just knows that each page is different. I think Lara has most enjoyed the pages where she gets to follow patterns - maybe there's a little bit of Escher in her?

 

Lara has really enjoyed responding to many of the prompts in the Doodle Dogs book. You can find Doodle Dogs for around £8.99. I'd recommend it for children from about 6 -10.


Monday, 1 May 2017

Holly is FIVE

Holly is five today.



FIVE.

Fierce and fiery
Intelligent - more than she lets on
Vivacious
Excellent and unstoppable.



We celebrated Holly's birthday this weekend with a bowling party, a family roast and a walk in the country.

Holly's birthday cake followed the bowling theme with fondant ball and pins and lots of brightly coloured stars.  Inside it was pink and green sponge.



Sunday, 23 April 2017

Early Readers and Spring Fun with Pat-A-Cake

Children are never too young to start enjoying books - I've brought up two little bookworms with a love of story books and picture books that has set them off perfectly in life.  A Pat-A-Cake board book makes a perfect introduction to books for even the tiniest babies; with red, black and white contrast for helping to perfect early vision and robust interactive board pages that your baby and toddler can watch you use, and then learn to use themselves, Pat-A-Cake have mastered the art of baby's first books.



As with reading, there are several other life skills that you needn't be afraid to introduce your baby to from a very young age and build into your daily routine.  This spring my girls couldn't wait to get out into the garden with us to start planting fruit and vegetables - watching a seed grow into a plant is a great way of getting little people involved in gardening and it's a fun family activity in the spring sunshine.




Over the last few weekends we've also done a lot of baking; Lara and Holly both started helping me to cook as soon as they were able to sit up unaided in their highchair. We've baked Easter cupcakes, hot cross buns and marble cakes together over the last few weekends and last night Lara even helped me make satay chicken.


Pat a Cake's First Baby Days On the Move Book inspired this blog post looking back on the habits we started early with Lara and Holly and which I'm so glad we did.  You can find out more about Pat A Cake Books' range of books for  new babies, pre-school and early years on Facebook, twitter and Instagram.

 


Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Mystery Buns - Easter Hot Cross Buns from NOW TV #TotCrossBuns

Yesterday was a very lazy day for me, recovering from an epic, hot marathon, the girls promised me that it would be an honorary Mother's day. The day started well with toast and coffee made by the girls, then they did the washing and sorted out the ironing.  In the afternoon we did some Easter baking together inspired by some of the range of kids TV programmes available on Now TV with a NOW TV Kids Pass.



We discovered NOW TV at Christmas thanks to an offer on a pizza (!) and we've watched a movie or show on it almost every night since! The girls have just started to explore what's available in the kids content too; there are some big names to look out for because you can watch channels which aren't available on Freeview including Cartoonito, Nick Jr. Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.

NOW TV sent us some Easter recipe cards with instructions on how to get the girls cooking their own Tot Cross Buns, each one inspired by a different NOW TV show. The girls chose to make the Mystery Bun.  A fairly normal looking Hot Cross Bun but with a mystery on the inside, inspired by Be Cool Scooby Doo.



Hot Cross Buns are notoriously hard to bake well but Lara is always up for a challenge. We were following a recipe by Candice of Bake-Off fame so Lara took it very seriously (she is a BIG fan). Our basic dough recipe was supplemented with chocolate chips and fudge chips and then topped off with an almond chocolate biscuit in the shape of a Scooby Snack, all dipped in a butterscotch caramel.

Lara had great fun making the bone biscuits - anything with chocolate in gets her interested. We didn't have a bone-shaped biscuit cutter so she did these ones by hand. I thought the biscuits added an interesting touch to an Easter classic and especially yummy when drizzled in butterscotch sauce.



Also in the range of Tot Cross Buns kids Easter recipes was:
  • The Hot X Bun inspired by the Powerpuff Girls
  • Iced pink cinnamon buns topped with marshmallows, popping candy and strawberry laces for a cross
  • Bun-der the Sea inspired by Spongebob Squarepants
  • Pineapple and blueberry buns topped with starfish
  • Ninja Buns inspired by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Savoury, pizza-like buns with pepperoni, cheese and tomato



Monday, 10 April 2017

Pirate Pete and his Smelly Feet - Childrens Book Review

Holly loves rhyming stories at present - I think all her foundation work with phonics really helps her to recognise the art of rhyming words. Pirate Pete and his smelly feet is a fun and fast-paced rhyming picture book about a gang of pirates who've had enough of one of their shipmate's odorous feet and Holly thinks it is great fun.



First Pete has to walk the plank. Then he wanders all alone through the wilderness but finally, his old crew need him back to help out - Pete's cheesy feet are quite good at warding off shoals of sharks.  The story is written by Lucy Rowland and the illustrations are by Mark Chambers.

The paperback book comes with a sheet of stinky stickers for you to use throughout the book; scratch the stickers to release a very cheesy whiff indeed.  Holly and Lara both rushed to have a go before they'd even read the book!

I really loved the rhymes in this book - it always makes it so much easier to read out loud to the girls when the rhyme just works naturally. I found the story fun and fast and I particularly liked the way that the illustrations worked with the text to suggest passing of time as Pete sinks into the ocean and when he is wandering over the island.



The illustrations are bight and fun with lots of bright yellow whiffy, cheesiness and lots of piratey goodness to be found on ships, islands and oceans. Holly and I think it's a fabulous book that is lots and lots of fun.

Pirate Pete and his Smelly Feet is published by Pan Macmillan children's books and costs around £6.99.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Ravensburger My First Pet XXL 200 Piece Jigsaw Review

Lara and Holly tend to do a lot of jigsaws or play a lot of board games after school these days but I had been starting to feel that they are both out-growing our collection of jigsaw puzzles; thankfully, Ravensburger have reminded me that jigsaws don't just have to be for tiny people to learn problem-solving skills, but are also a great source of fun challenge for older children and this 200 piece My First Pet jigsaw has really got Lara back into puzzles.
Over the past week Lara has been working on this puzzle a little bit at a time. It is a large puzzle about 40cm by 36cm when fully made. With 200 pieces and a fairly complex design, it took Lara about three evenings to complete.



The design was very much admired by both my girls so I often found Holly helping out her sister. They both quickly grasped that the blue and white gingham design wasn't just around the edges, but also throughout the jigsaw between each animal. The design features lots of different cute pets from a chincilla to a terrapin and a hedgehog to a pony. We particularly like the sleepy kitten.

Given the size and the length of time to construct, we got the girls to move the puzzle onto a board so that we could move it out of the way when needed - this is the first time they'd used a puzzle board and it worked really well. The finished design looks really grand on the board.



This My First Pet XXL Jigsaw jigsaw costs less than £10 on amazon and is of the same great quality that I'd expect from any Ravensburger puzzle. I'm expecting the girls to be constructing this one many many times over the coming years. It is recommended for children from 8 years old but I think an adventurous 5 year old like Holly would also enjoy it if they have the staying power!

Monday, 3 April 2017

#TescoEaster - Egg hunts, Easter crafts and a hamper of special Easter treats

This weekend Lara and Holly invited a friend around to take part in an Easter egg hunt to celebrate the start of the Easter holidays. Tesco sent us everything we needed to host our own egg hunt from Easter signs to a bumper pack of chocolate eggs, from fluffy chicks to a set of treasure hunt clue cards - I had everything I needed to create a team-building trek around our house and garden in search of eggs, rabbits and chicks.


Tesco is holding FREE Easter egg hunts on Saturday 8th April and Sunday 9th April in stores up and down the country; there are lots of Easter prizes to be won. To find out which store near you is participating, take a look at their Events Page.

Alongside our Easter hunt we've been preparing lots of half-term activities on an Easter theme so that the girls can get into the mood. Inside our Tesco Easter hamper we had lots of Easter craft activities from their Go Create range including Easter cards, Rabbit masks, stickers, pom poms, pipe cleaners, markers and lots of spring animal characters perfect for creating your own Easter bonnet.


We're preparing for a nice family weekend for Easter with lots of treats but also a traditional lamb roast and, if the weather is kind to us, a barbecue. The girls' favourite treat from the Tesco range was a simple gingerbread decorating kit where you get to decorate your own gingerbread Easter egg cookie with icing and spinkles. Mr. B. and I were more taken with the traditional Italian Easter cake which tested extra special with a bottle of Italian Prosecco - what better way to start the Easter holidays?

If you're looking for Easter inspiration for holiday activities, or Easter food and drink, take a look at the Easter events going on in your local Tesco.



Disclosure: we were sent a hamper of Easter treats to create our Easter egg hunt and help us prepare a big Easter feast.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Chill Factor Pull Pops Review

Today has been a gloriously sunny day and as soon as the sun appears, Holly pesters me for her paddling pool, and an ice-pop.  Thankfully this time I was ready with some of her very own homemade popsicles that she put into the freezer a couple of weekends ago.  Holly has been making her own ice pops using the Chill Factor Pull Pops kit from Character.

Inside the Chill Factor Pull Pops gift set you'll find two pull pops for you to create frozen popsicles using fruit juice, yoghurt or even fresh fruit. The kit also contains a little bowl for holding sprinkles or hundreds and thousands that you can dip your ice lollies into as well as a bottle to hold your favourite ice cream sauce.

In theory, making your own pull pop is easy - you use the handle to pull up your favourite juice or yoghurt into the pull-pop; twist the handle off and then place in the freezer to harden.


However, we soon found out that this was easier said than done. Holly and Lara both lacked the strength needed to pull the liquid up into the tubes so I had to help them. I'm not sure if there is a knack to this but I just can't seem to get them to form a good seal so I end up sucking in 50% air and 50% liquid. For this reason, we reverted to filling the tubes up using a spoon... not as much fun, definitely more messy but in the end it had the same result.

After you've filled the tubes, you have to twist off the handle before it goes into the freezer. We found this to result in the seal breaking again and we did end up with pink juice all over everywhere. Lesson learned.


Anyway, now we've found our knack, the pull pops are very popular because Holly can choose whatever flavour she wants. Her favourite to date is this one which looks alarming but is harmless... it is a strawberry yoghurt ice popsicle dipped in chocolate sprinkles and covered in strawberry sauce.

Holly sill finds it very hard to even push the melting popsicle out of the tube as she eats. Moments after these photos were taken, the entire frozen yoghurt catapulted out of the tube and landing on the living room floor.

Despite the struggles, I think the Chill Factor pull pops will become very popular over the summer and we are likely to have to keep creating more to put in the freezer.


The Chill Factor Pull Pops Gift set costs £9.99 but you can also buy the individual pull pops for less than £5.  Find them at www.character-online.com.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Babe The Sheep-Pig Live on Stage - A review

This weekend we took the girls to the theatre in Newbury to see a brilliant stage show of Babe, The Sheep-Pig.


Babe, The Sheep Pig is a live stage retelling of the famous Dick King-Smith story of The Sheep Pig and we added it to a wonderful restaurant lunch to turn it into a perfect family day out.  The show was perfectly pitched for families - not so arty as to confuse the children, but definitely not dumbed-down for kids. From the lighting to the costumes, from the singing to the puppetry, this theatrical retelling of the Sheep Pig was everything you'd expect from a stage show and would make a perfect introduction to the theatre for children.




Babe, The Sheep-Pig is a story about a little pig who gets taken in by a farmer and his sheep-dog. The maternal sheep-dog Fly looks after Babe and helps pass on some of the skills it takes to become a prize-winning sheep-dog. But Babe soon learns that he has one more skill he can bring - politeness - and this means he cstands a chance of being a prize-winning sheep-pig.

Lara and Holly both spent the entire show wrapped up in its magic. They giggled at the silly sheep (whose costumes were perfect); they oohed and aaahed at the terrifying wolf; they joined in with the chants to help Babe be his best and they cheered when Babe found glory.  Both Lara and Holly did find the end of the first act a little disturbing; there is strobe lighting, a very dark part-human / part-puppet representation of a wolf, a death scene and a threat with a gun. Surprisingly, most of the children in the theatre coped pretty well with this scene and it definitely got people talking and thinking before the interval.


We enjoyed all the costume changes, dances and musical numbers and we felt that the puppets fitted into the show seamlessly.

To see where Babe, The Sheep-Pig will be performing, visit www.BabeThePigLive.com. There are venues all over the UK from now until mid-September so there are lots of chances to see the show.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Cluedo Junior Review

These days, Lara and Holly play a lot of board games after school. Now that Holly is able to understand the rules of a game such as Cluedo (and to some extent, follow them!), the girls can have a lot of fun together playing quiet games after school, or to play as a family with us at the weekends. Cluedo junior is a perfect family board game which we can play as pairs with the girls, or as individuals for a slightly more competitive edge!



We've been playing Cluedo Junior, the case of the missing cake; your challenge is to find out who took the last piece of cake, when they ate it, and what drink they had with it. It's very similar to the traditional grown-up game of Cluedo but with a little bit more guidance and structure (and not a murder in sight!). Inside the box you'll find everything you need for a traditional whodunnit challenge - a set of characters to move around the board and a pad of papers which allow you to tick off the rooms, drinks and times as you move around the board.  Throw the die to move around the board, trying to remember which rooms and pieces of furniture you've already checked.  The girls LOVE the challenge of trying to determine the result by powers of deduction.

 


The girls have played Junior Cluedo several times recently so it definitely has the return-factor for playing again. There are six different characters to play as - some you may recognise (such as miss Scarlet) and others who are new (such as Dr. Orchid the biologist).  It took Lara and Holly a little while to remember the rules about which spaces on the board meant you could check for clues under which things - furniture, or people. Lara has now totally grasped the concept and is very competitive about trying to be the first to guess who ate the last slice of cake!  I think the cake theme is particularly important for Lara who is, herself, a bit of a cake fiend.



I think the beauty of this game is that it isn't childish; it's suitable for everyone in the family and is a genuine challenge but not so hard that it puts people off. I think Cluedo Junior is going to become a family classic in our house.

You can find Cluedo Junior at Smyths Toys for under £15. It is recommended for children from age 5 and I think, given Holly is just about to turn 5, that the age recommendation is spot on.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Children's Book Review :: The Bee

Lara and Holly go to a school where bees are an important part of the school culture - from the very first term in reception, the children are taught about bee-keeping and get to see the school hives; bees and their lifecycle are a great prompt for writing, drawing, science and exploration which is why both Lara and Holly have absolutely loved reading and digesting this little book from the My First Discoveries range at Boolino books called The Bee.



The Bee is a captivating little hardback spiral-bound book with life-like illustrations that look so striking on their white backgrounds. Each page includes a series of facts or a question that prompts your child to think about what they see on the page. I love the fact that the illustrations are so detailed and that each page has a slightly different style; the mix of hard cardboard pages interlaced with clear cellophane pages to allow images to be overlayed is really very clever and makes this non-fiction book feel like something very special.

The Bee, by Moonlight Publishing, is suitable for infant school children from around 4-8 years old and would be the perfect inspiration for a school project. Lara enjoyed reading about the way in which bees make wax, and the different types of movement bees demonstrate under different circumstances.

Holly was most fascinated by the end of the book which looks at creatures similar to bees such as wasps and termites and how their homes differ. Holly can't quite read the text herself yet but it won't be long - the text is split into short paragraphs and bitesize facts which means they are easy to remember.

The Bee is part of a range of around 50 different non-fiction books which encourage detailed discovery of plants, animals, places, geographic phenomena and history; they are a great introduction to science and humanities.


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