Thursday, 31 May 2012

Help Dora Help with Nick Jr

It's that time of year again, Dora the Explorer needs your help to bring exploring to life in pre-schools and nurseries across the UK!  I've already seen the adverts on Nick Jr, and it looks such an exciting idea, I've got to have a word in the ear of Squeaky's nursery.  Do you know a nursery or pre-school that would like to get involved too?

Any nursery or pre-school in the UK can apply to take part, with the chance to win an amazing £20,000!  Each application receives a free pack with 6 activity session plans, following the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum, and fitting with this year's themes of cooking, sports day, fairy tales, animals, seaside and music, fitting in with Dora's adventures.  Nurseries can then work through the sessions, and have until the 22nd of July to put together their application for the main award.  This can be spent on anything to help children explore and learn within their nursery - a series of trips out, a wildlife garden, play equipment, as far as your (or their) imaginations can take you.

The judging panel includes Nick Jr's Wake Up World presenter Helena Dowling, along with representatives from The Prince’s Foundation for Children & the Arts, who are supporting the campaign, Dora Magazine, and Chad Valley, who are providing a range of equipment to the five projects chosen as finalists.  These five projects will also receive a visit from Dora herself!  One of the finalists last year was only about 10 miles from my house, but Squeaky & I sadly missed out on the chance to go & meet Dora.  I'm not sure who would have been the bigger fangirl, probably me to tell the truth!  The five finalists will have their entries shown on Nick Jr, for viewers to vote for their favourites later in the year.

If you know a nursery or pre-school that would like to get involved, or you'd like to encourage your own child's nursery to take part, you can get more information, and apply online, via the Nick Jr website http://www.nickjr.co.uk/shows/dora/helpdorahelp/.  

I wonder if I could persuade our bilingual English/Welsh Meithrin to go Trilingual? Hmmmm, even if I say por favor nicely?  (2 years of lessons & a GCSE in Spanish, and that's about as good as I can get!)

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Lifting the Lid on baby foods

Last Thursday, I was invited to That London to the launch of Fiona Wilcock's report into the nutritional content of Cow & Gate baby foods "Lifting The Lid".  Despite the best efforts of the Circle Line and an annoying man on the train from Cardiff, I made it to The Folly in time to meet Fiona, as well as Dr Pavel Hejzlar, one of Cow & Gate's quality experts, responsible for ensuring the quality standards of the apples that go into their jars, and one of the extended Cow & Gate family that Fiona spoke to in compiling her report.

Still a favourite!
There was plenty in the report that surprised me, for all sorts of reasons.  Apparently, more than two-thirds of mums (68%) feed their children manufactured baby foods, but less than one in ten (7%) feel confident that the food is good quality!  How strange! The smallest, most important little person in your life, you're feeding them something that you're not sure whether it's any good? Wow!  That honestly shocked me.  Squeaky's eaten a mixture of home made & manufactured baby foods from the time we first started weaning, at least in part because I'm not all that confident in my own cooking skills, but I chose products that I was confident I could trust, and that looked & sounded appealing to me as an adult.

And seemingly, we don't give ourselves enough credit.  Almost 4 in ten (39%) feel that we're being judged by other mums for not making their baby food from scratch, and 21% say it makes them feel like a bad mum.  Mums, please, you're brilliant, don't beat yourselves up!  I know where they're coming from, it's completely natural to compare yourself against others, and often against those who we aspire to be like, and we'll never come out favourably when we're looking at the people we want to be, it's a mountain to climb.


Some of the findings in the report were amazing.  Did you know that the quality controls for baby grade ingredients are actually more stringent than those for organic ingredients in the supermarket, for things such as nitrates & heavy metals.  You couldn't buy baby grade ingredients in the supermarket, they're the bananas that may be too bendy to meet EU regulations, or the apples that have skin marks where they've rested against the branches.  But they're grown far from main roads & heavy industry to keep them free from pollutants, in places where they grow best, to minimise the need for chemical treatments, and grown by farmers who have a long term relationship with Cow & Gate, ensuring Cow & Gate get the quality ingredients they need, and the farmers get a guaranteed sale for their crops as long as they maintain the standards asked of them.  Dr Pavel, and his counterparts, are there to support the farmers, to help make sure they meet these standards, and answer any problems they may have - any time!  I couldn't answer questions about apples at 6 in the morning, but I'm glad he can, because it means Squeaky can have apple puree in her porridge at 7!

Fiona also spoke to beef farmers, banana farmers, animal welfare experts and recipe developers in compiling her report, and here's a few of her other findings:

  • You can't control what a free range chicken eats, so it's not necessarily the best for baby food. A welfare-assured, but controlled environment, means that the meat is going to be safe for baby's needs.
  • The banana skins left over after bananas are peeled for Cow & Gate are taken back to the farms, where they are composted & used as fertiliser on the banana plantation. Recycling at its best.
  • Even if you grew the veg yourself, at home, organically, you couldn't guarantee the same standards, as contaminants can stay in the soil for 20+years.
  • No salt is added to any of Cow & Gate's baby foods, and the testers even find their own taste preferences change as a result of educating their palate to the additive free tastes of baby foods.
For me, I was interested in the international aspect of the foods.  Cow & Gate are a world-wide brand, and it was reassuring to find I could get foods I (and Squeaky) recognised on holiday last year.  But I wondered if they really were the same.  We've all encountered the "it doesn't taste the same as at home" argument, and I know that different countries have different regulations for food, so I wondered whether that would affect what went into a Cow & Gate jar in different countries.  And the answer?  While some recipes may vary for local preferences, the standards do not.  There's still no salt, minimal sugar (they are working on reducing & removing sugar in the small number of desserts that contain it), and the same high quality ingredients.  After all, who could say that one group of children deserve better quality food than another?

That was a big relief.  I remember last summer having some concerns over Squeaky's diet, and the things she would & wouldn't eat on holiday, and talking to other mums in the hotel having similar concerns.  I pointed them in the direction of the local supermarket, where I'd found the Cow & Gate fruit pouches that Squeaky loves.  I knew that way she was getting something good, and it was good to be able to share that discovery with the other mums.  To know that I'd got that right, and that the pouches were just the same as the ones she enjoys at home was a weight off my mind, even now.

If you want to read more, the full report is available on Cow & Gate's website - www.cowandgate.co.uk/liftingthelid

And if you ever wondered how to spot the Mummy Blogger in a room full of journalists, PRs and food experts, the Mummy Blogger is the one taking notes in red wax crayon because she hasn't got a biro in her (massively oversized) bag.

This is not a sponsored post. I was invited to attend the press launch of the report, and have chosen to share information that I found interesting.  I was not obliged to write on the subject, nor told what to include.  

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Juiced!

(c) FreeFoto.comBeing the cheeky blogger I am, when I got wind of Google's Juice Bar coming to Merthyr, I thought it sounded just the kind of event I'd like to try and muscle my way in to.  The Juice Bars are designed to help small businesses get online & make the most of digital media to grow and support their enterprise, but when has that stopped me?

A cheeky email to the nice lady from the council's Business Development unit (or words to that effect), and I was the proud owner of an invite to an 8 a.m. (yes! That early) Juice Bar session, just next door to the Welsh Assembly building.  Eyes on matchsticks, I turned up, raring to go, or at least raring to get at the coffee!

I didn't really know what to expect, to be honest. I was sort of thinking it would be a classroom type seminar, maybe a dozen or so people, a bit of a presentation & a chance to ask a few questions if you're the "stand up in front of a room" type (I'm not!)  So I was quite shocked to find that there were just 3 of us there, each with our own personal advisor, to ask questions as dumb or complicated as we liked.  Phew!  That said, for all I didn't know what to expect, my personal Google-dude certainly didn't expect little old blogging me first thing in the morning asking him questions about no-follow links & self-hosting!

I'll be fair, he did explain the no-follow link business to me in words I understand.  Pages appear higher in google searches the more times other pages link to them. As businesses figured this out, other people set up websites that were basically link farms, page after page of links & no content, and charged businesses for including their links, in order to increase their google ranking.  Google didn't like this much, and changed their super-secret logarithms to try and exclude these results.  In doing so, they also manage to pick up sites, such as blogs, where there are large numbers of links per page, often where the links have little or no connection to the site's main content.  They also try to identify "paid-for" links, i.e. paid content, one of the main ways is by identifying link text that appears across a number of blogs in a short space of time, as this is just another way of businesses buying page ranking.  Both the business "buying" their ranking, and the site where the links are found can have their ranking reduced.

For a blogger, the effect is twofold.  Firstly your blog appears lower on a search results page, if at all.  And secondly, to a PR company, your blog appears less influential due to your new reduced ranking.  Which means less PR approaches, less review opportunities, less prizes to give away, and in all essence, less readers.

However it's not all bad news.  He did say that if your link content is relevant to your blog content, it's less likely to set alarm bells ringing.  And blogger does now have that nice no-follow link button if you are hopelessly html-illiterate like me & need a widget to do everything for you.  If you're the kind of techie bod who uses the html editor instead, you're smart enough to know what you need to include in a link text to make it do no-follow anyway.  Or google can tell you.

I came away with my head full of no-follow links, a load of suggestions for monetizing my blog (which to me always sounds as though it's a way of making it into an impressionist painting of some waterlilies), the answers I really wanted to hear about self-hosting, and a goodies bag with a google stress-ball!

And if you're still wondering, yes, there actually was juice at the juice bar!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Magpie Monday - Overdue again

This could be a post about my library books, which were due back in mid-March but finally returned to their home last week. However, it's not (that was just a confession).  This is the Magpie Monday post I should have made 2 weeks ago, because then people would have recognised me at Cybher by my awesome butterfly top.

THIS awesome butterfly top.  Uttam London, probably for Topshop (they did a collection for them, apparently), via Age UK in Cannock.  It's unusual for me to be this level of flouncy & girly, but sometimes even I feel the need to be a bit pretty.  I actually had it in mind for holidays, but I think it's going to get quite a bit of wear at home too.  (I really have got to find a better way of photographing these, my carpet is horrible)

But as I said, my library books were well overdue, and I finally took them back last Thursday.  Fortunately for my thrifty (skinflint) soul, they were all Squeaky's books, and there's no fines on children's books at our library, so we got away with it.  I blame the mobile library. I rarely use it, and so keep missing it to give them the books back.  All's done now though.  But on our way back into town from the library, I popped into the cancer shop.  Not the Big Well Known cancer charity.  Not even the Slightly Smaller Well Known cancer charity.  Our local cancer charity shop.  I've noticed a real difference between the big name charity shops & the smaller local concerns.  The big names rotate stock fairly frequently, and talking to someone who works for one, I mean every couple of weeks.  So if you spot something you fancy, you have to grab it there & then, because it won't be there after payday.  The smaller charities don't have so many shops & can't do that.

Which leads me to this.  I'd been eyeing this top up a few weeks ago, but talked myself out of it for no obvious reason.  Left it there & moved on.  So when I popped in to the cancer shop on the way back from the library, I was really surprised to see it still there.  It was fate, destiny, or just a quirky red, white & blue top. As near to Jubilee & Olympic festivities as I'm likely to get. Bah Humbug & suchlike.

Come & share your second-hand treasures at Magpie Monday. Me and My Shadow

Friday, 18 May 2012

Monkey Music - The Day Is Here

Monkey Music, the baby & pre-school music classes, have been busy!  And you can join them even if, like us, you're too far away to attend a group.

To celebrate what should be an amazing summer of sport - Wimbledon, London 2012, Euro 2012, as well as the World Snooker Championships (yes, I do have to keep mentioning it for another few weeks!) - Monkey Music have recorded a charity single to raise money for Nordoff Robbins, which is available to buy online from today, as well as forming part of their classes.

Nordoff Robbins are an amazing charity, specialising in music therapy, and deliver sessions to children and adults with a range of physical and mental challenges, such as autism, dementia, learning difficulties, stroke, depression, brain injury, mental health problems, and terminal illness.

The song has been recorded by a group of children aged 7-9 years (two of whom are called Melody - how appropriate is that?), and tells the story of an exciting running race, just perfect for our sporty summer, and just the kind of song Squeaky enjoys at the moment.



Angie Coates, Founder of Monkey Music, said;
“Both Monkey Music and Nordoff Robbins offer children fresh opportunities and life changing experiences through music. We believe that by working together we can raise awareness of the benefits of music for everyone. It’s lovely to use 2012 and the summer of sport to engage the very youngest of children in the excitement of sport and the joy of music.”

Jo Carter, Director of Fundraising & Communications Nordoff Robbins said:
“We are delighted to be working with Monkey Music, to be sharing our mutual belief in the power of music and to help raise funds to continue transforming the lives of vulnerable children and adults across the UK. As a charity we rely entirely on voluntary donations, so the Monkey Music song released this summer is a great way to raise funds and awareness.”

For more information about the song, check out Monkey Music's News Page.

You can buy your copy online from Monkey Music's webshop for £2.99.  The single is on sale now, and all proceeds go to Nordoff Robbins.



Monday, 14 May 2012

Cybher - I went to a thing!

Cybher 2012

Yep, that's where I was at the weekend.  Cybher.  If you weren't, where on earth were you? And if you were, sorry if I didn't say hello!  I was the one with hair!fail, very very pink nails, and looking a bit confused.

Rather than either making you wish you'd gone, or if you did, telling you the things you already know, I thought I'd tell you about my weekend, and what I learned.

I am paranoid about missing trains
I've always been one for being early.  But wanting to leave home on an earlier train to spend an hour hanging around Cardiff Station? Silly.   And then actually DOING that on the return journey, spending 1 1/2 hours hanging around Paddington on a Sunday morning.  Daft.

I am broken
Well, yeah I knew that.  Due to my hearing problems, I have slept with one of my hearing aids in since Squeaky was born, as I almost certainly wouldn't hear the baby monitor without.  But she was at my parents' house.  And I should have had the opportunity to let some air get to my aural passages, except that I could not sleep at all due to an overwhelming sense of unease & anxiety until I put one back in. Then out like a light.

Not a naked dude
Close the curtains
If you live in a 3rd/4th floor apartment in a city centre, directly opposite a hotel, you may want to consider closing your curtains before spending your evenings watching tv/using your laptop with no shirt on. If you don't a gaggle of slightly tipsy women will take your photo, and check on you every few minutes. It wouldn't have been so bad if he'd been fit, but he reminded me of my old driving instructor, who in turn reminded me of a serial killer.

I am bad at taking notes, and take photos instead.
This. If there are links to speakers' content online (I've found a couple, but any you've got would be useful), that would really help. There's only so much I can actually remember from a picture of a slide of a "thumbs down" image.  This actually ties in to I am Broken, as I can't hear and write at the same time, lipreading is a P.I.T.A like that.

I have serious techno-envy
The number of iPads, iPhones and general gadgetry made me feel woefully inadequate. The fact I can't work the gadgetry I have, and had to pay someone to make my lappy work before Cybher is clearly not the point. I like shiny!

My boobs are not the size I thought they were
Though I think almost everyone at Cybher made the same discovery (about their own boobs, not mine!)  Not so massively different that I need to burn all my undies & buy a massive stash of new ones, but enough different that I'll be paying the nice bra lady in my local department store a visit after payday.

London is never as intimidating as I think
And I should go more often, I have friends I should visit, and I'm sure I could couple visiting them with attending events, which would make me so much more popular.

I'd like to say a massive thank you to Si├ón, and all the team at Cybher for organising such a fantastic event, and to Cow & Gate Growing Up Milk, and the PR team at Frank for being fabulous sponsors and enabling me to go.


It's been pointed out to me that putting Naked Dude's picture on my blog without his permission could be an invasion of his privacy.  Instead, I've replaced it with a view from a different hotel window, this time in Canada, and no less interesting. It's inspired what might become a new semi-regular featurette - Views from a Hotel Window... hold on to your seats!  Sorry to disappoint anyone looking for a semi-nude 50-something dude, but there are plenty of other websites that might be able to help you.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Baking for the bored. Cheese & Apple Scones

Ingredients


200g Self Raising Flour
50ml instant oatmeal/porridge (own brand or Ready Brek, that sort of stuff)
125g cheese, diced or grated (I used a grated mature cheddar, but whatever makes you happy)
50g soft butter, cubed
1 tsp baking powder
1 large eating apple (I used Braeburn) peeled, cored & diced or grated
4-6 tablespoons milk
pinch of salt

*Pre-heat the oven to 200c/gas mark 6 & grease a baking tray or line with baking parchment.
*Sift the flour, baking powder & salt into a bowl & add the oatmeal. Add the butter & rub together til you form fine breadcrumbs
*Add the apple & cheese & combine together
*Add most of the milk & mix into a soft dough. Keep a little milk bake to glaze the scones before baking.
*Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to about 2cm thick.
*Use a pastry cutter to cut scones, try not to over-work the dough combining the trimmings to make extras.
*Place scones on a baking tray, glaze with remaining milk & cook for around 15 minutes until golden brown.



If I can make them, you can!





Saturday, 12 May 2012

Marine Conservation Society Big Beach Clean-Up


What a busy, busy old day. (I'm writing this sat on a train, to publish when I find a wi-fi signal that lets me get into blogger & publish it). Squeaky, her Gran, and I spent the morning at Sand Bay, near Weston-super-Mare, taking part in the Marine Conservation Society'sBig Beach Clean Up.

We joined about 100 people, including some folk from the local radio station, and the Mayor, in cleaning up litter from the beach, while a group carried out a survey of the amount and types of litter found in a 100metre area as part of a scientific study. I was actually quite pleasantly surprised at how clean the beach was, more seaweed and driftwood than litter. This made the litter collecting quite difficult, there was a clear tide-line of natural debris, but once you moved the seaweed slightly, there was quite a bit of litter, mostly small pieces broken up by the sea.

No valuable treasures turned up on my patch, nor any particularly exciting any unusual items, but a lot of what I initially took for lollysticks, but looking closer, were actually cotton buds that had been flushed down the toilet, That's the reality of them, the cotton wool breaks down, but the plastic remains and washes up on our beaches. This is why I don't flush anything that's not meant for the toilet. I also found quite a few bottle tops, both plastic pop bottles and metal ones from wine bottles (the brand name was a giveaway), about 20 foot of fishing line, some bits of fabric, broken up polystyrene cups and sweet wrappers. We were cautioned to look out for dog poo (which we weren't obliged to pick up), but thankfully I didn't find any.

We were lucky enough to have a chat with the local mayor, who told us about the work that has already been done to restore the beach to its current state, removing invading grasses which threatened the beach, and placing restrictions on tourism development. He's a local born & bred, and his passion for the area and commitment to the local community was clear. Squeaky was very taken with his chains of office, I think she's making plans for a future career in local politics!

As well as the clean-up event, School of Fish were running a children's CSI WSM activity with items to look for & identify in 4 “crime scene” areas set out on the beach, and a couple of local schools came down for the children to learn more about the coastal environment, how they can make a difference, and why it's so important to protect our coastline. I did hope Squeaky would be able to join in with this, but she was a bit too young, and feeling clingy. The weather stayed dry, but the wind was cold, so she stayed close by and helped us by collecting shells. I now have about 2 dozen tiny shells in my coat pocket, and will have completely forgotten about them by the next time I put my hands in the pockets.

To be honest, Squeaky had a lot more fun before we got onto the beach.  The car park where we all met & were briefed was, shall we say, slightly waterlogged.  Add a Peppa Pig obsessed 2 year old in wellies, and what do you get?  Anyone who said "Jumping up and down in muddy puddles" gets a prize.  The prize being muddy jeans.

Unfortunately, due to a bit of bad scheduling between myself and HM Courts & Tribunals Service, we couldn't stick around for the whole event, and made our departures before the nice folk from Marks & Spencers (who were sponsoring the event) got their barbecue started, so we missed out on some great sounding burgers, which they were laying on for all the volunteers after the actual clean up.

We had a really good & interesting morning, I only wish we'd been able to stay a bit longer, though the wind was so cold that Squeaky had had enough when we had to leave anyway. A sunnier day, and some better diary management, and we'd've had a great day out.

It was a strange feeling.  I remember going to Sand Bay as a child, but haven't been back in probably 20 years, so seeing places I remember from childhood through an adult's eyes is a weird sensation.  It's like when you visit your old school and are amazed how small it all is.  It's important to me though, that Squeaky gets to see the places I grew up, even though I know that it's not going to be the same for her and she'll develop her own memories.

The Marine ConservationSociety's Big Beach Clean-Up is taking place on around 150 beaches across the UK over this weekend, with different activities going on in each (I can't promise you all an M&S BBQ, sorry)

I've entered this post to Coombe Mill's Country Kids linky Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall 

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Ben & Holly's Little Kingdom, The Elf Games DVD Review


Apparently there's an Olympics happening sometime soon.  Strange how no-one's mentioned it!  Joking aside, we've got tickets to see Team GB's mens team in the football in Cardiff and I'm really excited about it.  Not sure quite how that's going to work out with Squeaky, but we shall see.

Anyway, that's not the only games taking place.  Ben & Holly have got in on the act with their very own Elf Games, and being the lucky girl that she is, Squeaky received a copy of the Elf Games DVD to review.  The DVD is out on 14 May, but we got a sneak preview.

Ben & Holly's Little Kingdom is a firm favourite in our house at the moment.  Squeaky's favourite phrases include the legendary "More Men! More Holly!"  It took me a little while to realise that "Men" actually meant Ben.  And if you ask her what a ladybird says, she replies "woof woof", thanks to the adorable Gaston.  I'm more a Nanny Plum fan myself, she's hilarious.


 We settled down with our DVD on a soggy afternoon over the bank holiday, and whisked ourselves away to the Little Kingdom, for a whole set of adventures.  Squeaky insisted on clutching (and chewing) her "wand" while she watched, and we watched the whole DVD in one sitting.  This is a surefire sign that Squeaky loves it, as her attention span is normally pretty short.  There's so much to engage her in each episode, and plenty of comedy for the adults as well, that it really does keep her attention better than anything else.

My Wand!
The DVD has ten episodes:
Elf Games
Cows
The Toy Robot
Dinner Party
Big Bad Barry
King Thistle's Birthday
The Wand Factory
Daisy and Poppy's Pet
The Elf Rocket
Picnic On The Moon

In common with many of my favourite children's DVDs, there's a random setting, so that you don't have to watch the same episodes in the same order every time.  You'll know what I mean when I say that can get a little bit grating, so I was very glad to see the "magic shuffle" option.

Aside from the elf version of the Olympics (no magic and no flying allowed!), our favourite episode was definitely Picnic On The Moon.  I won't give the story away, but Magic Jelly played a vital role, which Squeaky found absolutely hilarious.  She's a jelly fan anyway, but Magic Jelly is even more exciting!  That said, with the snooker on for the last few weeks, I was half expecting Big Bad Barry to be about Barry Hearn, fortunately for people more sane than I, it's not.

This is definitely a DVD we'll come back and watch again & again, Squeaky's demands for "More Men! More Holly!" won't have to wait for the Milkshake & Nick Jr schedules to roll round.  Ben & Holly's Little Kingdom, The Elf Games is released on 14 May, and is available to pre-order from Amazon, the official Little Kingdom Store and other retailers.

Disclosure: I was provided with a preview copy of the DVD free of charge for the purposes of this review. I was not told what to write and all opinions are my own.  Links are provided for your convenience only, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme, and will not receive any payment or reward for their use.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

HABA Toys Review – Yui Doll



Oddly, one thing we don't seem to have many of in our house is simple dolls. We have ones that make a noise, sing a song, or are characters from assorted TV shows, but straightforward dolls seem to be in short supply. So I was really happy when our latest mystery parcel from HABA turned out to be the Yui Doll. Squeaky was also really eager to get her hands on Yui, so much so that by the time I'd got the camera, the box was already just a dozen pieces of torn-up cardboard.

Yui is a fabric doll, with soft stuffing and a beany bum. Yui is a Japanese doll, part of the Lotta & Friends range, and she comes with a traditional Japanese outfit of Kimono, obi, undergarment, shoes, a hairband and a fan, though Squeaky is quite adamanat that it's a drink, turning it upside down & placing the handle to Yui's mouth as a straw. I can see her logic, for once!


Squeaky took to Yui immediately, calling her “my doll”, and soon set to work taking off all Yui's clothes, and then instructing me to put them back on! Repeat that for hours, and you can see that Squeaky's had a lot of fun. I was surprised to notice that Yui has a belly button, stitched into her middle, so we had a little chat about belly buttons. Yui's clothes, with the exception of her shoes, and Yui herself are washable, washing instructions are shown on the items, which I thought was a very handy touch, as well as realism for children as they see the same tags on their own clothes. All the fastenings are velcro, and the stitching is firm, it's already been given a good tug or two in our house, with no problems.

The attention to detail that we've come to expect from HABA was present here again. Yui's hair is a soft chenille type black, which actually looks very authentic, and is lovely and soft to the touch. The patterns on the clothing are vibrant and attractive, and carried through to the print on the fan. All in all Yui is a very welcome addition to our household, as a friend and as an educational toy sharing a little learning about other cultures.

Yui is suitable for children from 18 months, and retails for around £33 from various retailers, including AmazonMy Small World, and Boxes and Bags of Fun. She'd make a beautiful gift, especially for a little girl who loves her clothes & shoes.

For more HABA toy reviews, why not pop over to the HABA Mums Club?

Disclosure: I am a HABA Brand Ambassador. I was provided with the Yui Doll free of charge for the purpose of this review. I was not told what to say, and all opinions are my own. I am not part of an affiliate scheme, links are provided for your convenience & I will not receive reward for their use.


Friday, 4 May 2012

CLOSED - Win a pair of running shoes with sportsshoes.com!

This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to the winner!

It's that time of year.  Believe it or not, summer is on its way.  And with it comes the sinking feeling you get when you try on your swimsuit for the first time since last year.

Fear not, for I have just the solution!  What would you say to a brand new pair of running shoes, worth up to £90, from sportsshoes.com?  Because that's what I've got for one of you lucky people!

I'm really, deeply, not a runner.  Swimming is more my thing, so I've sought SqueakyDaddy's opinion on this, as he's a regular runner, and this is what he has to say.  "Running is great.  Once you've got a decent pair of shoes, it's free, and you really do lose weight!  I find it's really good if I'm stressed out, I can think about things while I'm out, with nothing to distract me.  Oh, and it's also a good way to catch up with podcasts & that."

It's true though, a good pair of running shoes is vital, and can protect you from all sorts of injuries.  The range at sportsshoes.com is so varied you can look and feel fabulous, on your way to a new level of summer confidence, and there's a whole lot more than just shoes, with everything you could possibly need to become a real runner.  Take a look for yourself: http://www.sportsshoes.com/running/

Even as a non-runner (that makes me sound like a horse!), I've got my eye on these Nike Air Zoom Vomero shoes.  I'd probably do nothing more strenuous than the weekly shop in them, but when the supermarket car park has a 2 hour limit or a £70 fine, sometimes you've GOT to run!

The lucky winner will receive a pair of shoes of their choice, up to the value of £90.  All you've got to do is follow the easy rafflecopter instructions.  The competition is open internationally, please check the terms & conditions on the rafflecopter widget before entering.  (You may need to be on a desktop/laptop to use the rafflecopter widget. If no form appears, please refresh)
a Rafflecopter giveaway



Good luck!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Read Write Phonics App Review

I mentioned before that I am now somehow the owner of a phone that's considerably smarter than me.  So much so that I'm still having difficulty working out how to answer calls, and only discovered yesterday that it wasn't set up to receive picture messages.  This gives you some idea of my phone-related talents.

Typically of a 21st century child though, Squeaky has no such concerns.  My old, non-functioning dumb-phones (the opposite of a smart phone) hold no interest for her any more.  Mine is fascinating.  I don't really want to encourage her to see my phone as a toy, it's on a 2 year contract & I'd kind of like to get to the end of the 2 years without wrecking it.  But there are times, supervised, when a phone is a rather good distraction.  I'd like the distractions she gets involved with to have some sort of educational value, rather than just cartoons.

I was really pleased to be offered the chance to review Read Write Phonics, a new app developed for Android phones (an iPhone version is being developed to be released later in the year).  The app is designed for children aged 3-6 years, and aims to help teach them the 44 phonic sounds that make up the English language (and you thought the alphabet was just 26 letters!), write basic letter shapes, and how to blend the different sounds to make words.

B-A-T. Bat.
At 2, Squeaky is still a little bit young for the finer points of the app, but that didn't stop her trying.  She loved the sun logo at the start, and was fascinated by the voice reading the letters and words, and did start to copy the words after a few attempts.  While she is playing on her own in this photo, she can't actually operate the app herself yet, so we play together.  That makes it a great bonding activity, as we can talk about the words as well.

The app was developed by parents Simon & Seema, eager to encourage a love of reading in their son, and to help him on his way before starting school. They found there wasn't an app on the market that did this, and so they made their own!  They researched phonics programmes used in schools, and created an app that works alongside these, using the correct sounds, and encouraging children to do the same.

The app is voiced by a friendly sounding female voice, which is lovely and clear, without an accent.  Squeaky liked the voice, and enjoyed starting to copy her in the Read and Phonics sections of the app.  The Read section has beautiful, simple, illustrations of the words, and this is the section we've spent the most time with so far, as she's able to recognise the pictures, and to start to recognise that the written word means the same thing as the picture and spoken word.

The Write section is still far in advance of Squeaky's capabilities at this stage, but in the interests of a full review, I tried it out myself.  I liked the little green pencil that traces the letter shapes before you take your turn, it really reminded me of the "magic pencil" in Words and Pictures on tv when I was in school.  I found tracing the letters well enough to get a 3 star result quite difficult, though that might be because my sausage-fingers are too big and I couldn't see where I was going. As the app is designed for children, with smaller hands, I suspect they would find it much easier.  (Also, I have appalling handwriting, that might have contributed.  This is a blog and not a handwritten diary for a reason, you know!)

I really like the fact that the app does work on different levels, there are simple words and longer ones, and the three areas of phonic learning, meaning the app can grow with the child. I think that represents great value for money, rather than purchasing an app that concentrates on a single aspect, then having to look for another as your child progresses.

Take a look at this video, which shows the app in action.



Read Write Phonics is available from Google Play for £1.49.

I was provided with a free download of the Read Write Phonics app for the purposes of this review. I was not told what to write, and all opinions are my own.  I am not a member of any affiliate schemes or programmes, links are provided for your convenience, I will not receive any reward for their use.

Sudocrem Sunscreen Mousse Review

There's mousse loose aboot this hoose! (sorry, I couldn't resist that one! Be glad it's not the title.)

Do you remember sunshine?  I've got a dim & distant memory of a week back in March where the weather was glorious, Squeaky's nursery put signs up asking us all to bring in sunhats & sunscreen because the weather was changing.  And then it changed.  To rain, hailstones, gale force winds, and general greyness.  Bah!  It got us to thinking though, and we are off on our jollies in a while, so we needed to stock up on sunscreen anyway.

Sudocrem, the people better known for their nappy cream and skincare creams, have expanded their skincare range to include kids sun protection with a factor 50 Sunscreen Mousse, and we were lucky enough to be sent a can to try.  Unfortunately, they didn't send us any sunshine to test it with!

The can is nice and light, a big consideration when packing your suitcase (you should have seen us last month trying to avoid excess baggage charges by repacking at the airport!), being a pressurised can, and 150ml, it would have to go in the case.  The nozzle was easily pressed holding the can in one hand, leaving the other hand free to restrain a wriggling toddler, or to spray the mousse in to.

The mousse is perfume-free, which leaves it smelling a little bit meh, to tell the truth.  It's not nasty, it just smells a bit like nappy cream.  The fact it is perfume free, however, means it's better for sensitive skin like Squeaky's.  It's also free of colours, parabens & preservatives, meaning it's as gentle as possible.

As Squeaky's skin is sensitive, and she's in the middle of an eczema flair-up at present, I tried the mousse on me, rather than her.  The mousse is thicker/richer/heavier (I'm really not sure what the right word is) than I expected, denser than hair mousse & squirty cream, but much lighter than a "traditional" sunscreen, and rubbed into my skin easily.  The water resistance means it does leave a little bit of a physical barrier on the skin, but not so much that you'd notice, and no tell-tale white residue.  I think I'll try it on SqueakyDaddy on holiday too, he's got quite a hairy chest, and rubbing sunscreen in can be a real pain.

I'm glad I didn't take this one into the nursery, I'm keeping it for us!

Sudocrem Sunscreen Mousse is available from Boots, online and instore, RRP £15.00, but right now there's 1/3 off selected suncare products, making it a bargain £10.00.  For more information about Sudocrem Sunscreen Mousse, and the rest of the Sudocrem range, visit http://www.sudocremmousse.co.uk/

I was sent a can of Sudocrem Sunscreen Mousse free of charge for the purpose of this review. I was not told what to write, and all opinions are my own. I am not a member of any affiliate programmes, links are provided for your convenience and I will not receive reward for your using them.