Thursday, 24 April 2014

Mia, and finally taking an interest in books

Mia has never taken much of an interest in books, something that has been bothering me for a while. I was showing books to Harry at two days old and reading him The Gruffalo at three months, but Mia has never been particularly interested. She has never had the patience to sit down for a longer picture book, and when we go to the library she still goes for the baby books with a simple illustration and couple of words on each page.

Because of this I've not pushed it with her. Until recently, she didn't really even have any books in her room at all, only ones that had migrated there from elsewhere. But at the weekend we redecorated Harry's room, and we bought him a large bookcase, moving his smaller one into Mia's room. At the same time we had a sort out, and moved all the baby and toddler books onto her shelves. She's always had access to them in Harry's room and around the house of course, but something about putting them into her room and calling them 'Mia's books' has had a massive influence. 

For the very first time at bedtime the other night she asked for a story, and then another one, and then another one. She will also sit there happily and read the books to herself. She's still going for the ones with the lift up flaps and the different textures, but she is actually paying attention to a story, repeating words, and talking about what she can see in the pictures. It's wonderful!

Child reading books

I've always longed for the day when I can sit down with the two of them and read them both a book at the same time. Unfortunately whenever I've sat down to read to Harry with Mia around she gets bored very quickly, and will usually just scream for attention which doesn't make for a pleasant reading experience. Perhaps that day will soon be here!

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Review - What If? Pet Parlour jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger

I've always loved jigsaws, although these days I don't have quite as many opportunities to complete larger, adult puzzles as I used to, both from lack of time and lack of space to leave them out undisturbed! I like to make the time for them when I can though, as I do find jigsaw puzzles relaxing and satisfying.

This week I was sent a puzzle from the What If? range by Ravensburger to review. The What If? range is a collection of puzzles which are a little bit different to a traditional jigsaw. As a twist, the picture that you see on the box is not the image found on the jigsaw inside. Instead, the concept behind the puzzle is that you need to imagine what might happen if things do not go to plan. The puzzle I was sent is called What If? Pet Parlour, and you are invited to imagine what might happen if Pamela's Pampered Pooch Parlour diversified. 

What If? jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger review

As with all Ravensburger puzzles, the quality of the jigsaw is excellent and the pieces are sturdy, fitting together evenly and solidly. It's not as easy as completing a normal puzzle where you can follow the picture on the box, but the clues are there to help you complete it and the extra thought that you need to put in provides a satisfying challenge.

Ravensburger jigsaw puzzle review

I received this Ravensburger puzzle to review.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Me and knitting socks

I knitted my first pair of socks several years ago. I'm not a fantastic knitter, and I do require a lot of support while I'm knitting. If I make a mistake I have to stop and take it up to my Mum to sort out for me. But a few years back I became quite successful at knitting socks, which is surprising because they aren't the easiest things to knit. You have to make three knitting needles into a sort of triangle and then knit around them all, keeping track of all the needles at once and trying not to stab yourself. Then you have to do some complicated manoeuvres to turn the heel, pick up stitches, increase and decrease and all sorts. I needed a lot of help the first few times, but a few socks later I got the hang of it and produced five or six pairs of socks that looked pretty good, if I say so myself.

I think I particularly liked knitting socks because of all the fantastic sock yarns that you can buy. You buy a ball that is all different colours, and then when you knit it up it turns into stripes and other patterns that you couldn't imagine before you start knitting.

Somewhere along the way though some children came along, and the sock knitting was put aside. Abandoned right in the middle of a sock in fact.

sock knitting

I was reminded of my neglected sock again while I was hunting out my blanket knitting bits. I can't believe that I abandoned this gorgeous, brightly coloured sock. I was knitting a different pattern to my standard one which is mainly worked in rib, and it looks as though it will be so stretchy and comfortable when it's finished. The yarn is Wendy Happy 4 ply 2504 Capricorn and I can't even remember where I bought it from or when.

So I took it up to my Mum and she helped me to identify whereabouts in the pattern I'd got to, and she encouraged me to get started with it again. I don't have much to do to finish the first sock, then hopefully I'll be able to knit another one that looks pretty much the same. Then maybe by next winter I'll have a new pair of socks!

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Breakfast with the Easter Bunny at Findon (Worthing) Garden Centre

This Easter weekend we were invited to have breakfast with the Easter Bunny at Findon (Worthing) Garden Centre, one of the centres in the Garden Centre Group.

We had a lovely time! The whole experience felt very individual and welcoming. We had a personalised Easter card waiting for us on the prettily decorated table, and the restaurant manager was very friendly, making sure that we had everything we needed and telling us what would be happening.

Breakfast with the Easter Bunny at The Garden Centre Group review

The garden centre restaurant has a good sized soft play area, and the children were able to play for a while before breakfast was served. It was lovely and empty because it was first thing in the morning, and the little ones were perfectly happy there while we waited at our table. We had a vegetarian full English breakfast which was very tasty, and we were able to request it without the bits that we're not so fond of. 

Breakfast with the Easter Bunny at The Garden Centre Group review

Our children are generally rather fussy when it comes to food, but they had lots to choose from and there was plenty of toast to go around. They were particularly delighted with the bunny shaped toast, which was a great touch! When they had finished eating they could go off and play again while we relaxed and enjoyed our own breakfast.

Breakfast with the Easter Bunny at The Garden Centre Group review

Then they both had the chance to decorate their own Easter nest cake with plenty of mini eggs and sprinkles. They both loved doing this, and all the children were surprisingly neat in their efforts!

Breakfast with the Easter Bunny at The Garden Centre Group review

When they had finished, it was time for the Easter Bunny to make an appearance. She hopped over to the children, and they had the chance to go up to her before being presented with a lovely little stuffed rabbit and some Easter Eggs. There was plenty of time to sit down, to have a chat and to take our photographs. Although fascinated, Harry wasn't keen to get too close, but we bribed Mia with a balloon and she sat still just long enough for a nice photo!

Breakfast with the Easter Bunny at The Garden Centre Group review

The whole experience took around an hour and a half which was perfect, not at all rushed, but no chance for the children to get bored. Breakfast with the Easter Bunny isn't something that I'd ever heard of, let alone thought of doing, but I'm really glad that we had this opportunity as it was a lot of fun!

You can find out more information about the experience and your nearest participating garden centre here - Breakfast with the Easter Bunny at the Garden Centre Group. It costs £9.95 per child, and £7.99 for an Adult (full English breakfast) or £4.95 for an Adult Mini Ticket (a pastry with tea or coffee).

Our visit was complimentary, in exchange for a review.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Review - Hans Sloane Drinking Chocolate

I've never been a tea or coffee drinker, but sometimes I still want to sit down and relax with a nice hot drink. On these occasions I always turn to a hot chocolate, and so I was delighted when I was asked if I'd like to try a sample of Hans Sloane Drinking Chocolate.

hans sloane drinking chocolate review

Sir Hans Sloane launched his first drinking chocolate in London over 325 years ago, and today the range includes three main variants - Smooth Milk Drinking Chocolate, Rich Dark Drinking Chocolate and Natural Honey Drinking Chocolate.

Hans Sloane Drinking Chocolate doesn't look anything like the powder that I'm used to adding to water. Instead it's a box of pure chocolate beads, which are melted together with hot milk or water to produce a hot chocolate drink which really is chocolate actually made for drinking.

I made my first mug using milk. The recommended quantity is three heaped tablespoons of the chocolate beads melted into 200ml of water or milk. I couldn't resist trying one of the beads on its own and it was delicious, you could easily just eat them by themself! The hot chocolate drink itself was equally yummy, it really was just like drinking actual chocolate. The texture was beautifully smooth, and the only slight remnants left in the bottom of the mug were pure chocolate, a pleasure to finish with!

My Dad happened to be visiting, so he tried a  mug of the Rich Dark Drinking Chocolate. He's a fan of dark chocolate anyway, and he pronounced it delicious!

Hans Sloane Drinking Chocolate Review

The recommended retail price for the packet is £4.99, and each packet will make approximately six servings. It's not cheap, although having said that that, my usual hot chocolate brand doesn't work out particularly cheap eitehr, and the quality is nowhere near as good as this. And of course it's nothing compared to what you would pay for a hot chocolate when you're out and about. But the fact that it's 351 calories per serving (when mixed with semi-skimmed milk) also means that it's a drink for indulging rather than every day drinking! A packet would make a lovely, luxurious gift for someone like me that doesn't drink tea or coffee.

I would imagine that the chocolate beads are pretty versatile too. As well as simply snacking on them, you could easily use them in baking - perhaps in cookies, or to flavour icing. You could even just sprinkle them across the top of a chocolate cake, or melt to make fridge cake or rice crispy cakes.

I'm certainly not going to have any problems getting through my boxes!

I received two boxes of Hans Sloane Drinking Chocolate for the purpose of this review. Hans Sloane Drinking Chocolate is available in Waitrose and Tesco stores nationwide with a RRP of £4.99 for a 270g packet.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Mamma Mia, here we go again...

Mia isn't named after the Abba song. Obviously we couldn't avoid thinking of it when we chose the name, and I do remember singing it to her occasionally when she was a baby (often while she was screaming, and the 'here I go again' line really resonated with me). But other than that I wasn't particularly familiar with the song at all.

Then a couple of months ago I had her in the car and she was making a bit of a fuss. This makes me stressed as I'm an anxious driver and I need to concentrate, so I asked her if she wanted to hear the 'Mia song'. Luckily my husband has some kind of USB set up in the car so we can access all our music through it. Of course she said 'yes', so I put it on for her and she was delighted. She kept repeating 'they're saying Mia!' in a kind of awed voice. It finished and she demanded 'again!' so I kept it going for the rest of the journey.

This made the journey very pleasant, so the next time she was in the car and asked for it I put it on. It kept her quiet when we arrived at school early to collect Harry on a rainy day and had to wait in the car. It motivated her to even get into the car in the first place if she knew that she could listen to it. Harry is fairly easy going and so he tolerated it too, and I'm always one for an easy life.

Of course, fast foward a few months and we are all totally sick of the song. Even good natured Harry has started to rebel and demand the Frozen soundtrack from time to time. If Mia is in a good mood then she'll let him listen to one song before making her demands. If she's not then she'll scream all through his song, then brighten up miraculously when Mamma Mia is turned on. I'm trying to teach her to take turns, but the lesson doesn't really seem to be going in.

Then the last few nights she has been asking to listen to it on the iPad before she goes to bed. Last night instead of the usual lullaby that I sing her she wanted Mamma Mia. When we are about to go out in the car, before we even leave the house she is checking that she can listen to it on the way. If I'm sitting at the computer she'll come up to me, force her way onto my lap and ask to watch it on YouTube.

I know it's not unusual for a toddler to become obsessed with something. And I also know that it won't last, which is why I've written this post as it's another little part of her childhood that I don't want to forget!

Share my pain!

Monday, 14 April 2014

Dyed eggshell Easter Egg mosaic craft

With term having broken up two weeks before Easter this year, we seem to have had plenty of time for Easter crafting. Harry has also developed a bit of an obsession with Easter Egg hunts after I made him a treasure hunt with clues, which is no bad thing as it's giving him lots of practice with his writing as he writes out clues for me to follow.

A little while ago I experimented with dyeing some eggshells, with no clear idea what to do with them when they were finished. Then it struck me that making them into Easter Egg mosaics would be the perfect craft for the dyed bits of eggshell, and it was a great craft that we could all do together.

Dyed eggshell Easter Egg mosaic craft

I used the egg shells saved from four eggs and I went for three colours - red, blue and yellow. I just used normal food colouring, with a generous amount added to water in three bowls. The red worked the best and the yellow the least, by the time we came to use the eggshells it had faded to white. I thoroughly washed and dried the eggshells, then left them in halves to soak in the dye for a couple of hours.

How to dye egg shells

Then I removed them from the dye and left them to drain and dry on kitchen paper before breaking them up into smaller pieces.

How to dye egg shells

I cut the egg shapes from pastel cardboard, drawing round a template which I found on-line. I kept them quite small so that they wouldn't be overwhelming. Then we used PVA glue to stick the pieces of shell to the egg. I encouraged the children to make patterns, but Mia was quite happy to just cover the egg with glue and sprinkle the pieces on. Harry also used a few bits of shell to decorate an Easter card that he had made. You could easily use the egg shells for more complex mosaics, as they can simply be broken up to fit the size of gap that you want to fill.

Dyed Easter Egg eggshell mosaic

I think they look really pretty, we'll be using them as Easter decorations of some sort, perhaps stringing them up to make bunting.
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