Saturday, 16 November 2013

Book Review: Little Learners Finger Puppet Books

What's the story?
The Little Learners Finger Puppet Books take nursery rhymes and makes the character come alive with a wiggle of your finger. We received Five Little Monkeys and Old MacDonald had a farm.
The Front Covers
What my daughter thinks:
A lover of monkeys and cows, M enjoyed these books. She could wiggle her fingers and make the animals move enjoyed making the animals move and looking at the pictures.

What I think:
A handy size to take out with you and lovely illustrations of these well known nursery rhymes. Obviously there is only one verse, but they are cute and a great board book for little ones.
Our favourite pages

Other details
Type of book: Hardback picture book with finger puppet attached
Age range: Aimed at preschool
Words per page: less than 10 in a large font
Price (RRP): £3.99
Publisher: Parragon
ISBN Five Little Monkeys: 978-1472323668
ISBN Old MacDonald Had a Farm 978-1472323675

I am part of Parragon Book Buddies review club and I was sent these books to read with my daughter, but I was under no obligation to blog or write nice things. 

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Taking Responsibility

In the last week 2 people have posted in a local facebook group to say their children have been hurt after the security tags weren't properly removed from items bought at Tesco. One mum gave a vtech book still in the box to their 9 month old to play with in the car on the way home and looked some time later to see the metal pin in the baby's mouth, another's child was hurt when the pin was left in some clothing. Tesco's response to these incidents has been to offer a bunch of flowers to one and £11 to the other. 
The pin found in a 9 month old's mouth

The mum's on the group are saying the response isn't good enough and it needs to be taken more seriously. I think it's awful that the children were hurt and it is lucky that they only got minor scratches/ cuts, but as parents shouldn't we take more responsibility for what happens to our children when in our care? 

I think there is an important lesson that before giving any new item to a child it should be checked to make sure it isn't going to harm them. Yes not removing the tag properly was the fault of the checkout staff (and Tesco), but there could easily have been other damage to the items after being left on display in a busy supermarket. At 9 months old my daughter put everything in her mouth so I hope I would have removed the item from the packaging and given it a quick check and clean before handing it over. 

At times we are all a little careless and it's not just new items we need to be careful with. All toys should be checked regularly for wear and tear. 

We should also be careful when giving our children toys that they are too young for. My daughter has a lot of toys aged 3 year up. She enjoys playing with the toys and they seem safe enough, but do I make sure none of them are left in her room at night when she is going to be alone with them? No. They include the warning of 3 years and up mostly because they contain small parts which could be swallowed and the Facebook posts have reminded me I should be more careful.

Our children are precious and sometimes we take their safety for granted. Why not give the toys in your house a quick check over today?

Young children can choke on small items so avoid toys like marbles or anything with small detachable parts for children under three years old
Supervise young children when they play with older children’s toys
Avoid toys with long strings and straps for infants
Check that a child’s fingers won’t get caught in any moving parts
Discard any plastic wrapping immediately
Always follow instructions and warnings
Check toys frequently for breaks and hazards such as splinters
Report any safety problems to the manufacturer or retailer. You can also contact your local Trading Standards Officers, who can investigate unsafe products

Monday, 11 November 2013

A Trip to the Dentist

I hate the dentists. I have never enjoyed going as waiting around for ages, having someone study you closely, make judgements about you, cause you pain and then charge you for the experience is not my idea of fun. My current dentist is even worse; I swear he enjoys causing pain.

Admittedly an appointment is never going to start well when he comes to the waiting room and calls for “Katie?”. My name is not f**king Katie you pillock, and if you can’t read my notes accurately or pay attention to detail should I really be trusting you with something as irreplaceable as my teeth?

Anyway I sat down and he asked me if I had been having any problems or was in any pain. I said “no”. Big mistake. He proceeded to force my jaw open wide enough to fit in an orange then got a pointy metal stick and stabbed at my gums repeatedly. He tried to persuade me that the pain was because I hadn’t been flossing and that if I did so regularly then my gums wouldn’t be so sensitive and bleed when poked. I can see he might have a point if he was just referring to the gums between my teeth, but he was using me as a pin cushion and no amount of flossing is going to stop that hurting. In fact I consider it a good thing for flesh to hurt when assaulted with a sharp object, it shows the flesh is healthy and nerves working properly. I’m not talking about sensitivity to touch, but being jabbed at with a sharp needle like point.

Next the dentist told me “I’m just going to give your teeth a bit of a clean”. Note: he didn’t ask. There was no consent involved in the process. He just grabbed a whirring bit of kit and shoved it in my mouth, the nurse proceeded to stick a vacuum cleaner in my mouth and they fought a battle with my teeth, gums and tongue to leave me in pain. “It may be a bit sensitive”, feck off.

The chair was straightened, by apron removed and I was handed a note to take to the front desk. I left with tears streaming down my face to hand over £18 to the receptionist. “I’ll see you again in a few months” Mr sadistic dentist called after me. Not a chance.

My daughter is at an age where I should start taking her to the dentist to show her there is nothing to fear. I think I might need to find another dentist.

I now have toothache.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Fighting for our country: Then and Now

When I was younger I thought of Remembrance Sunday as a time to wear poppies and remember those who defended our country in the 2 World Wars. As I got older I realised British men and women continue to risk their lives to protect and defend the UK and it's allies and we need to remember and celebrate their bravery too.

Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal Poppies

I spoke to 2 people who have seen active duty over 60 years apart. How much has changed? 

My Grandad

Why did you join the army?
I was called up a week after I turned 18 because the war was on.
Have you seen active service? If yes where?
Italy and Austria during the war and Egypt and Palestine post war. Post war the fighting was between the Jews and Arabs and it was in many ways more dangerous as you didn't know what you were going into. 
How long for?
I was in the army for 4 1/2 years and away for all that time except for the first 9 months spent in training.
What did you miss most whilst serving?
It was so different to being at home that you put up with what you got. There were no comforts. Many nights you slept on the bonnet of the armoured truck. Post was received regularly so you had contact (my Nana wrote a lot of letters), but you couldn't telephone or anything like that.
What were the good things about it?
At that age (18 to 22) the variety was good, you were doing things you had never done before and you were suddenly thrown into it without any choice.
How does the work of the army differ today from World War 2?
There is still a risk of death etc if posted abroad. When in barracks there is more drill which we didn't really do even post war, you could always find an excuse to get out of it.
How important is the work of the Royal British Legion?
It is very good if you need it and you are prepared to ask for it and have a necessity for it. They do good work and have some wonderful homes for old soldiers.

My Friend

Why did you join the army?
I joined the Army, for several reasons. Right from the start I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself, where I could help make a real difference to people.   I valued the opportunity to be part of a highly-effective and organised team entity, with the chance to make close friends and develop as a team player and as a leader.  I also wanted the chance to learn new skills, and see new places that I wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to do in my life.
Have you seen active service?  If yes where?    
I served in the Iraq War in 2006-07, for nearly 6 months, spending time in Basra and Baghdad.
What did you miss most whilst serving?
Operational conditions meant that many things or routines I was used to in normal life, and considered to be every day necessities or perhaps hadn’t even thought until I didn’t have them, were simply not available.
What were the good things about it?
I went out to do my part and serve in an operational environment, and that is what I did.  I have pride in doing my part as well as I could, and being an integral part of the team was always the best part for me.
How does the work of the army differ today to World War 2?
I have met Old Comrades from my Squadron who served in WW2 and landed on the D-Day beaches, or fought in other places to free Europe.  The work then and now is primarily the same, in the sense that soldiers still do the same fundamental job.  The way this is done is different in some ways in a different age, and some threats cannot be best met in the same ways.  Peacekeeping and asymmetric warfare have their own challenges, and the Army operates closely with other services and allies and multinational entities.
How important is the work of the Royal British Legion?
The Royal British Legion is an excellent charity doing amazing direct work to support beneficiaries, but also operates in ways that not all charities can, such as with regards activities like comradeship and remembrance.  The Legion is not in itself the source of these good works, but is the custodian and facilitator of much of it, and helps ensure that the whole family of service and veteran charities can operate in a favourable environment. The Legion isn’t the only service charity, but all would be much weaker and find their jobs much harder to do without the Legion being around.

Silent Sunday 10th November 2013

Slow exposure sparkler

Friday, 8 November 2013

Frugal on Friday: A cheap cut and colour?

Many hairdressers offer discounted cuts and other treatments in exchange for your time, a bit of flexibility and your courage. I tried getting a makeover at the Sassoon Academy where a stylish haircut costs only £12.

Me and my hairdresser for the morning
Redundancy has meant more available time and less money. It has also made me want to start over. When I was younger and dating I used to go for a new cut or colour whenever I was dumped (not that I was dumped often, honest) so why not do the same with redundancy? I decided I should celebrate my new found unemployed status by chopping off my long luscious locks, complete with split ends. A good cut and colour can easily cost £100 which is a little more than I can justify right now so I did a quick Google for free haircuts.

A number of salons offer free or heavily discounted haircuts and colours. I decided to try the Sassoon Academy as they were a company I had heard of, are easy to get to (they are on Brook Street near Bond Street station). I booked their first available slot in and spent 7 days wondering weeks time and wondering if I had done the right thing.

On the day I turned up at 9.30 as instructed, paid £12 for a haircut and was given a slip of paper to take to the salon a couple of doors down. In that salon I was given a bit of card and told I was in the "red room" (they have 4 different classrooms). The room looked much like any busy salon with about 10 cutting stations.

There were 4 teachers in my room; 3 overseeing cuts and 1 teaching colour. We were asked who wanted colour and I asked if I could have some (even though I hadn't paid for it). They were happy to give more students the chance to learn some new techniques. The teacher asked me what sort of cut I wanted and when I said I was flexible they decided to go for a jaw length bob. The colourist decided to go for 3 different colours in blocks from light at my parting to caramel to biscuit. This made my tummy rumble but unfortunately I was over 3 1/2 hours away from leaving and getting a chance for some food. Other people were far more specific about what they wanted and the teachers seemed happy to do as asked.

The students were young, spoke no English and shared 2 interpreters between them. I believe they were from South Korea, but obviously there was a shortage of conversation. They were on a 2 day course in London and I have no idea how much previous experience they had, I was too scared to ask.

The teacher talks through each step of the haircut with the student, watches them take the first few cuts and then comes back to check on them. My teacher would frequently check on progress and finish each stage to his satisfaction. The same process was repeated with the colour.

The end result was a good quality haircut. I was a little unsure of the length and the colour of the top layer, but after getting used to them I am really happy with it.
Collage of 6 pictures of a haircut and colour at Sassoon Academy

Would I repeat the experience?
Yes definitely. It takes a little longer than a full price cut, but the great price and quality of cut/ colour was worth it. There is a risk as you wont know the experience of the student, but worst case scenario the teaching team will take over and finish it off slightly shorter than intended.

Tips to get the most of the experience
Be flexible, but say if there are things you don't want
Bring food and drink if you are likely to need a snack, they don't offer coffee and biscuits
Bring something to read as it will take a long time.

The Slightly Annoying Elephant Giveaway

If you read my review you will already know that M and I love David Walliams' new picture book "The Slightly Annoying Elephant" so to celebrate the release of the book I am giving away a copy. If you would like to read about what it's like when an elephant moves into your house enter the giveaway below (or if you can't wait you can buy it here).

To have a chance to win simply comment below on who your most annoying house guest would be or complete on of the other options.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Recipe: Spicy Autumn Soup

The leaves are falling, the temperature has dropped and it's raining everyday. Autumn is definitely here. This means it's time to start making dishes that warm you from the inside out. I made this tasty soup to use up some vegetables that were past it's best. It can be made with a variety of vegetables so use what you have available. Roasting concentrates the flavours and finishing off in the slow cooker means you are minutes away from a warming soup when you come home.

Ingredients I used:

1 medium squash
1 red pepper
2 small onions
3 small carrots
2 large tomatoes
A handful of cherry tomatoes
1 small chilli (to taste)
Water (If you only use a small amount you wont need stock, if you prefer your soup less thick use stock to prevent the flavour being diluted)

How I made it :
  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius
  2. Peel and remove the seeds from the squash.
  3. Wash and remove the seeds from the pepper
  4. Peel the carrots
  5. Chop the carrots, onions, pepper and squash and place on a baking tray.
  6. Place the vegetables in the oven for 1 hour.
  7. Place the roasted vegetables in a slow cooker (or casserole dish) with the tomatoes, chilli and enough boiling water to nearly cover the veg.
  8. Cook on a medium heat for 3 hours.
  9. Blend the soup and serve

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Posting everyday

I just discovered this didn't even post from my blogger app last night. So a complete fail for Day 1 of NaBloPoMo!

I thought it would be a good idea to sign up to NaBloPoMo with and post every day in November. Well today is the first and I have been without Internet for a week. I just got home and it's nearly 11pm so I'm going to bed.

Not my best start

Postcards from Bruges

Last weekend we went to Bruges (or Brugge in Flemish). It's the 3rd time I have been so it meant we focused on enjoying the best the Belgian town has to offer (beer, chocolate and food). Without the internet and the ability to Instagram everything I took a hundreds of pictures I have been unable to share, so here are just a few which illustrate our trip away.
4 flags blowing in the wind against a blue sky. 2 flags of Belgium, 2 of the Brugges
The flags of Bruges and Belgium
We had blue skies, wind, rain and drizzle. The stunning architecture looks great against both.

Tower on the edge of the Burg in Bruge against a blue sky with the moon in the background
Sunshine and the moon

A canal in bruge on autumn day with grey sky and autumnal leaves
Grey sky, grey canal, colourful houses and trees
A stone lion in The Markt Brugge with the Belfry in the background

Canals and Cobbles
Bruges has a lot of beautiful canals to walk along, but the cobbles mean flat shoes are essential. They also help if you have had a few too many of the beers which can be deceptively high in alcohol.

Some tourist places have open top tour buses, Bruges has horse and carriages for their guided tours. They beautifully blend in with the scenery.

A bottle of Prearis Blond with 2 glasses of blond beer taken at 't Brugs Beertje
Belgian Beer, taken at Café 't Brugs Beertje
Bruges is beautiful, but the number one reason we visited Belgian was for the beer. It's easy to drive from London (via Eurotunnel) and cheap to park at the station which meant we could go to the supermarket a buy plenty of beer to bring back too.
De Proeverie Tearoom, taking hot chocolate to a new level
Of course Belgium is also famous for it's chocolate and on an rainy Autumn day a great way to enjoy it is with a hot chocolate. We had hot chocolate from De Proeverie Tearoom which comes with a mug of warm milk, a bowl of melted chocolate (to stir into the milk), cream and a few chocolates. Delicious.
2 leaves from autumn floating in the water of a canal in Bruge
Bruges is a popular tourist destination and even at the end of October popular areas were uncomfortably busy. The tranquillity of the canals are a good place to escape to.

Goodnight Bruges

Friday, 25 October 2013

Oral-B Love Your Gums Challenge

When I was little I used to go to drama school on a Saturday morning. One week we working with a poem that stuck with me: "Oh, I wish I looked after my teeth, and spotted the peril beneath" by Pam Ayres. In the poem she looks back and regrets not listening to her mum and now it has become too late as false teeth are "beckonin' ".

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who has something stuck in their teeth? It is hugely distracting. You keep trying to look at their eyes, but your line of line of sight keeps dropping. Our mouths are important; they are how we communicate, not just with words, but with non verbal cues such as smiling, grimacing, frowning etc. The reason the poem stuck with me is it's a brutal reminder that if you leave it too late to look after your teeth and your gums you don't get another chance.

As a parent I worry about my daughter's teeth. She hates brushing them and I hate the tantrums that come with attempts to make her brush them. Yes they are her "baby" teeth, but her gums are for keeps. She loves to eat the toothpaste and chew the toothpaste, but brushing? That's a challenge. We normally manage it by getting her to "brush" my teeth while I do hers, but I can't help thinking there is another way.

9 smiles showing teeth from young to old

It is estimated that around half of adults have gum disease and it is the major cause of tooth loss. The risk of gum problems is even higher for pregnant women. Oral-B is running a Love Your Gums campaign to raise awareness of the importance of healthy gums.

This post is an entry for BritMums’ #ORALBLoveYourGums Challenge sponsored by Oral-B, promoting healthy gums – something especially important for pregnant women. Get tips and advice on

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Book review: The Slightly Annoying Elephant

 Front cover of The slightly annoying Elephant by David Walliams showing a big blue elephant and a small boy hiding behind his leg

Plot Summary: When Sam adopted an elephant at the zoo little did he realise the elephant would turn up on his doorstep. Sam soon realises that elephants don't make great house guests and that you should always read the small print.

Carefully what you sign up to
What my daughter thinks: This book has quickly become a favourite, M loves to say "Oh no" as she turns the page and sees all the trouble the elephant causes. I'm confident that she will continue to enjoy it and pick up more details as she gets older

M reading "The Slightly Annoying Elephant" with Grandma
What I think: This humorous story is David Walliam's first picture book, but he has previously written 6 children's novels (nope I didn't realise this before either, but you can find out more here). The clever humour and happy ending (for the elephant) are typical Walliams. The story is complemented beautifully by Tony Ross's illustrations.

Other details
Type of book: Hardback with dust cover
Age range: a great book for children of all ages, marketed at 3 years upwards
Words per page: Up to 50 medium print
Price: £12.99 RRP, but available to pre-order now from Amazon for £6.49
Author: David Walliams
Illustrations: Tony Ross
Publisher: HarperCollins Children's books
ISBN: 978-0-00-749399-9
Available from 7th November

Thank you to The Big Shot and HarperCollins for letting us have an advanced copy of this lovely book.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Plum Jam Recipe

Having fruit trees in my garden has given me an understanding of just how hard it must be to be a farmer. We have lived here for 3 summers now. The first year our plum tree had a good amount of fruit, we ate it all and enjoyed it. Last year a frost while the blossom was on the tree led to a very small harvest of about 1kg. This year the sun and rain have been at the perfect time for growing the fruit. My tree has grown more plums than it is possible for us to eat or give away.

I don't want to waste fruit so I have been looking at ways to preserve it and jam is a surprisingly easy way to do this.

  • 1.5kg Plums
  • Up to 1.5kg of Sugar
  • 15ml lemon juice
  • 100ml water
  • A dollop of butter (optional, but meant to help remove the foam)

Collage showing: plums in a bowl; plums being cut; cut plums; plums mixed with sugar; heated plums with jam; early boil; rolling boil; putting jam into jars; jam in jars
  • Most recipes suggest equal parts sugar and plums, but I found this too sweet (at least when based on the pre-stoned weight) so depending on your preference and the sweetness of the fruit add less sugar.
  • You can use preserving sugar or normal sugar. The larger crystals are meant to make the jam clearer with preserving sugar. Unless you are entering competitions I would recommend saving your money and using the ordinary stuff.
  • If you don't get the setting point quite right don't worry. It just means the jam will be more runny (and not keep as long) or more solid (and harder to spread if at room temperature).

  1. Place a plate in the fridge to cool.
  2. Ensure you have sterilised jars and lids ready (I place clean jars and lids in on a baking tray in the oven for about 15 minutes).
  3. Wash all the fruit, cut and remove stones.
  4. Place the fruit in a large pan with the sugar, water and lemon juice.
  5. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved and the fruit softens.
  6. Turn up the heat into a rolling boil (boiled quickly with lots of bubbles, see picture in collage).
  7. Stir the jam regularly and you will notice it start to thicken.
  8. Add the butter or skim the foam off.
  9. Test if the jam is ready by putting a small amount on the cooled plate. You can tell the jam is ready if you push at the cooling jam and it wrinkles.
  10. Pour or spoon the jam into the jars and add the lids.
  11. Put on some toast and enjoy.
A slice of white toast with plum jam on a white plate with a knife

Monday, 14 October 2013

Redundancy: 2 weeks in

I finished work 2 weeks ago today. In some ways the time has gone slowly; it feels a long time since I was around friends laughing at my leaving do. In other ways time is moving too quickly: my to do list hasn’t got any shorter; my blog remains neglected; my house is tidier, but not tidy; and I still don’t have a job.

Week 1
Week 1 started well. I was full of drive and energy, full of determination to use the opportunity of redundancy to enjoy life and progress my career. I gave my CV an overhaul, I browsed job sites, I thought about what I wanted to do, I applied for a couple of jobs, I went running. On Friday I received an invite to interview with a great company on the Monday.

I was excited and spent time preparing over the weekend, but we were up North visiting in laws so chances we limited. On Monday I went to the interview full of hope, but before the end I knew I had messed it up. A comment one of the interviewers said made me realise just how badly I sold myself.
The work I love to do is all about communicating with people, but I failed to communicate. I couldn’t recall the right examples, I kept repeating the same words, I went off topic. I wanted to kick myself.
I left the amazing building, the inspiring company, bought a cupcake from the Hummingbird Bakery next to the entrance and said goodbye to it all.

The next day I got the confirmation that I hadn’t gone through to the next round of interviews, but by then depression had kicked back in.

Week 2
Tuesday I spent the morning in bed before managing to drag myself out of bed and clear up downstairs. This was not a sign of motivation, more repulsion over the state of the house. The cats had shown their displeasure over abandonment for the weekend (and being shut inside) by using a sofa as their litter tray. This was impressive given the sofa was piled high with boxes, papers and all manner of other rubbish. We had cleared it up Sunday night, but a smell lingered. The cats also have fleas again.
I tidied, vacuumed (after spending an hour fixing my Dyson), flea treated and Febreezed until I was choking, but the downstairs of my house was once again habitable. This didn’t shift the depression.
Wednesday I had a haircut and colour booked for first thing which got me out of the house. I hate the end haircut, but that’s another story.
My husband was out in the evening and I had people coming over to stuff goody bags for a charity event I was running on Saturday. This got me through the evening, but I was just ticking boxes, going through the motions. The curtain of depression had shut out any positive emotion.
Thursday I spent much of the day in bed again. Sometimes when I am unhappy the only place I want to be is in bed trying to sleep. In bed I can dream and in my dreams I can be whatever I want. I leave my reality behind and become beautiful, funny, thin, successful. A better me. I become good enough for those that want to be with me and for the life I wish I had.
Black and white photo of sail boats at sea
All at sea
Friday and Saturday were spent in a whirlwind. Organising and running the charity event took over. A non-stop series of things to do that could not be delayed. On Saturday at the event people kept calling my name, asking my opinion, needing my help. I hadn’t realised just how much I had missed that since I finished work: leading people; having people respect my opinion; feeling I have value.
I felt alive again. I felt. That’s the big thing about depression, I spend a lot of the time numb. Yesterday and today I have felt free, happy, determined to succeed. I hope it continues.
I still have a deep sadness for what I have feel I have lost. All things end but when they do before you are ready, when there are still things you wanted to do, it hurts. I am grieving for what has ended and for what might have been. But the pain and the tears are good, because they are feelings and while I feel I am alive and I can use the pain to drive me on and succeed. I am scared for my future, but I wont get what I want by hiding in bed, by just dreaming.
What I fear most are the days when I don’t feel. Days when I have no strength. Depression and redundancy are a bad combination, but today I am fighting and one day I will win.

A blue sky with fluffy white clouds
Blue skies ahead

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Little ADVENTURES Challenge

Toddler wearing wellies splashing in a puddle with a doll in hat and gloves
View over a field at sunrise with trees without leaves
Toddler with wide eyes
Toddler sitting on grass touching a tree trunk

Toddler sitting on grass looking at daisies
Toddler asleep in a car seat with mouth open
A toddler peering out of the top of a hollowed out tree trunk
A toddler running being chased by mum
Toddler exploring a bucket full of clothes pegs

Barny sponge bar boxes and wrapper

This post is an entry for BritMums ‘Little Adventures Challenge’ in partnership with Barny, the bear-shaped snack providing a little discovery in every bite. Find out more about Barny here