Friday, 30 March 2012

The Kiddy Guardian Pro 2

I was really pleased to be asked to review one of the latest Kiddy car seats. I chose the Kiddy Guardian Pro 2 and it arrived a couple of days ago.


This couldn't have come at a better time because we have some long car journeys planned over the coming weeks and my son has taken to wriggling out of the harness of his current car seat. Obviously this presents a danger with him not being correctly restrained and with me leaning over the front seat to try and wrestle him back in. It doesn't seem to matter what adjustments I make to the straps, he persists until he breaks free. I am hopeful that the design of the Kiddy Guardian Pro 2 will make it very much harder for him to perform his Houdini tricks!


I will be posting about how we get on with the new Kiddy seat in terms of ease of use, suitability, comfort and safety but for now, no prizes for guessing what the children were most excited about!



Life Line Screening

When I was offered the chance to blog about Life Line Screening, I must admit that I was slightly apprehensive. By offering affordable, non-invasive procedures that test for serious health issues,  Life Line Screening aims to offer people choice in terms of taking a preventative stance towards managing their health. 


Why the apprehension?  I live a relatively healthy life style, I feel well. I didn't want to shatter the illusion that I'm going to live a long and active life by discovering that my body is in fact a ticking time bomb of disease. My sensible self realised that knowing about potential problems would give me the opportunity to take positive steps towards minimising the impact to my life expectancy and that these potential problems would still be there whether or not I was screened. My irrational self wanted to bury my head in the sand! Irrational self lost the argument and I booked an appointment.


Life Line Screening brings its service into the community. My screening was to take place in a prominent venue local to me with easy parking. A week before my appointment, I was sent a reminder email with information about what to expect and how to prepare. I was slightly alarmed by the instruction to fast for four hours (which included NO tea or coffee!)

My appointment was for 9.30am so the four hour fast only meant missing breakfast - but not having my morning cup of tea in bed was difficult!

I arrived in plenty of time and was greeted by a very friendly, helpful receptionist who gave me forms to fill in detailing my medical history and even leant me a pair of reading glasses when I groaned about the size of the font (Note to Self: Book appointment with the optician!).


I handed back my forms, feeling quietly smug that I had been able to check all the 'NO' circles next to the list of scary sounding disorders one may be suffering with.

Even at 9.30 in the morning there were already people being tested and a steady trickle of customers continued to arrive throughout the duration of my stay. The idea of The Power of Prevention is obviously catching on.

Before long I was called for my Carotid Artery Stroke Screening. The carotid arteries in your neck carry blood from the heart to the brain. Blockages in these arteries that prevent blood flow to the brain are a major cause of strokes. Using ultra sound techniques, blockages and blood flow can be assessed which would alert you to the likelihood of suffering a stroke. If further action was necessary, the results would be passed onto your GP.

Having had six pregnancies, I am no stranger to ultra sound examinations but the cold gel and sensor on my neck was an altogether different experience. It wasn't painful - just a weird, uncomfortable feeling. Maybe it is because I am a Taurean - the zodiac sign ruled by the neck. Whatever the reason, I didn't like it. I did like that no anomalies were detected. The results were to be sent off for the consultant to do a thorough diagnosis but it was reassuring that there was nothing glaringly obvious that I should have been worried about.

This examination, as well as those for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm, Peripheral Arterial Disease and Atrial Fibrillation (the accounts of which will follow), were carried out with me lying on an examination table. The practitioners made a point of disinfecting the tables prior to asking me to lie down each time.

My next screening was for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm. This involved exposing my abdominal area to give access for the ultra sound sensor, breathing in, holding it, breathing out. You trust that the 'trained medical professionals' carrying out the test know what they are looking for. All of the testers carried out the examinations with efficiency and explained exactly what they were doing.  I was given a rather blunt description of an aneurysm - your artery swells up with blood like a balloon, it bursts, you die. I was (not surprisingly) relieved that no thinning or abnormality of my abdominal aorta was detected! Again, the results would need to be checked by a consultant before the final report was delivered to me.

Privacy screens were used to divide off the different testing areas but they did not create a completely private environment which was a little disconcerting at times.


The screening that I was most worried about and therefore the most important in terms of managing my future health issues was for Osteoporosis. Despite having grown up at a time before Margaret Thatcher earned her "Milk Snatcher" name, I never drank my free school milk nor did  I drink milk at home. Any calcium deficiency in my diet during my growing years, coupled with the extra need for the mineral during pregnancy (six times over!) must have left some lasting impression. Quite how this might manifest I don't know but knowledge of my bone density now could prove extremely important.

The test involved putting my bare right foot into a device that looked like it could simply be measuring your shoe size or giving you a  foot massage. Your foot is held still with an inflatable dome either side of the ankle. Alcohol was sprayed onto the area being scanned to assist transmission of the ultrasound that measures the bone density in the weight bearing heel bone. Apart from the coldness of the alcohol spray, there was no discomfort or intrusion whatsoever with this test. I now wait for the results to see if  I should have cause for concern.

The final two tests, Atrial Fibrillation and Peripheral Arterial Disease were both conducted by the Team leader who reminded me in looks and chirpiness of actor David Tennant.

Atrial fibrillation is an irregularity in the heartbeat which is another cause of stroke. ECG electrodes were placed on my ankles and wrists to detect for this. I had a momentary flash of concern that my heartbeat would betray a slight excitement born from the fact that I find David Tennant a very attractive man!

The Peripheral Arterial Disease screening involved having pressure cuffs put on my wrists and ankles (the temptation to make inappropriate flirty comments about bondage games was strong but I resisted) to measure the ratio between the systolic blood pressures in the extremities. This is a good indicator of blood flow to the legs and hence arterial health. Both tests were completely painless. The David Tennant lookalike complimented me on my blood pressure and I was done.

The whole process was completed in just over an hour but at busier times, I imagine that  allowing up to two hours as I was initially advised, would be more realistic. I was very relieved to finally get my first cup of coffee of the day.



My Life Line Screening was complementary but for the four tests reviewing stroke, aneurysm and cardiovascular risks and the scan for osteoporosis risk, I would have been charged £149. There are prices available for individual tests and discounted packages to suit different needs.

I grew up hearing the old adage Prevention is Better than Cure and still firmly believe it. These screenings are not currently available on the NHS until symptoms appear, at which point it might be too late. 

There are, of course, a multitude of other life threatening conditions that are not screened for and it certainly isn't going to stop you getting hit by a bus on your way home (death by cliche). However, in terms of offering choice and enabling people to take that preventative stance towards managing their health, the Life Line Screening delivers on its promises.

I have been impressed with the service so far and will write a final post when I receive the full report of my results in 21 days.


Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Working back to fitness with Zumba

This time last year I was a regular at the gym: signing up for classes, running on the treadmill, working out with weights. However, when my annual membership expired, I couldn't quite justify the renewal expense.
Even with the best of intentions, the amount of exercise I was doing steadily declined.

The lack of exercise coupled with bad eating habits that have lingered from Christmas have left me feeling podgy and sluggish. It was definitely time to take action.

I joined a Zumba class.

Last night was my first experience of Zumba.

I had heard lots of good things about Zumba. I already learn latin dance on which it is inspired but I still wasn't sure what to expect. I can honestly say it was the most fun I'd ever had in a room full of sweaty women. There was a lot of hip action and shimmying and influences from all different styles of dance. I loved it.

I was suffering with a bit of an achey back on account of doing a lot of bending and lifting in the garden over the weekend and having rather too many nights of bed sharing with my chicken pox suffering  children. It did make some of the moves difficult for me so I didn't push myself too hard but I could feel it doing me good.

My back is feeling much better today and I can't wait for next week when everything is functioning more as it should and I can give the class 100% effort.

Another happy consequence is that I haven't been tempted to indulge in bad snacking at all today.

I am fully committed to Zumba my way back to fitness.

Monday, 26 March 2012

What I did this weekend

What an absolute treat the glorious weather has been this weekend.

My next door neighbour's Magnolia looking lovely against the cloudless blue sky

Unable to go out anywhere because my poor little lad is suffering with chicken pox, we had a day in the garden.

Both my little ones love to be outdoors. We have built a large, enclosed decked area for them to play safely with minimal supervision but they yearn for the grass beyond.

I have two ponds in my garden. Tragic news stories regularly remind me about the dangers of water in gardens. I have been giving much thought on how to make the ponds safe so that the children can have the freedom to explore the whole garden. I have plans for garden parties over the summer and I don't want to be constantly worrying about where the children are in between serving drinks and decorated cakes.

We have decided that the best option is to fence off both ponds.

Whilst the ponds were very much front of mind, I also realised how in need of some work they both were. Our fish population has been decimated by the recent cold winters, a cat with far too much interest in them and a visiting heron that, although stunning, is really not welcome to use my garden as a handy snack bar. There are also a couple of ducks that occasionally come for a swim and bob down under the water. I'm not even sure if they eat fish but they are certainly enjoying something in there.

Our filter systems needed a bit of a rethink to get them working efficiently and one pond was overrun with lilies and pondweed whilst the other had practically no plant life at all.

We decided that the good weather presented a window of opportunity, before the frogspawn turned into tadpoles, to empty one of our ponds and start from scratch. We transferred anything living that we could rescue across to the other pond then emptied it, cleared the leaves and slime and blanket weed, and finally refilled it.

It was not an easy job!

The pond was one that we inherited when we bought the house six years ago. It is a concrete construction which is quite unusual these days with the flexible liners being so reliable and easy to use. I am very fond of it.


Although it was a dirty, smelly job, it was a real pleasure to see it clean again, especially with the flower beds around it weeded and tidied up.

I thinned the plant life in the overcrowded pond (which was very much harder than it sounds) and transferred some into my new clean pond. Hopefully they will establish quickly and before long I can have the pleasant task of taking the kids to an aquatic centre to buy some new fish.

Lilies exploding out of their planting basket

Thinning the plant life in my second pond has given that one a bit of an instant makeover too.

The next job is to get the fences constructed and I am very much looking forward to making my garden a paradise for my children and having the peace of mind that they can play safely.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

TOTS 100 Film Club - The Never Ending Story

"A boy who needs a friend finds a world that needs a hero in a land beyond imagination"

When I saw the title Never Ending Story appear on the Tots 100 Film Club list, I jumped at the chance to review it. At first, I wasn't sure if it was a re-make or a re-release of the 1984 original. I was actually a little relieved to find out it was a re-release. Although I don't doubt that a remake could drastically improve the rather dated special effects, I seriously doubt if the performances from the child actors involved could be bettered. The film does have a special charm that makes the viewer more forgiving of the fact that the animatronic mouth movements of some creatures completely fail to match the dialogue they are delivering.

As soon as the music for the title sequence started playing (featuring the vocal talents of the unforgettable [!?!] Kajagoogoo's Limahl) I was instantly transported back to the first time I watched this movie. I was slightly embarrassed when I worked out that I would have been 20 years old when it came out - I imagined that I had been much younger. I loved this film and it inspired me to read the book by Michael Ende on which it was based.  For me, the magic of the adventure was very much alive but I wondered what a new generation, brought up with sophisticated CGI effects rather than the Ray Harryhausen stop animation of my childhood, would think of it.

The film does have a slow start as we are introduced to the nerdy, bookish Bastion, struggling to come to terms with the death of his mother and trying to live up to the expectations of a father who places no value on the fantasy world of books that means so much to his son.

We witness the bullying that Bastion suffers at the hands of his peers and watch as he 'borrows' an unusual and possibly valuable book from the slightly mysterious proprietor of the old bookshop in which Bastion hides to escape his tormentors.

Bastion takes refuge in a dusty attic at school when he realises that he has arrived late for a maths test. Here he opens the "The Never Ending Story" book with great reverence. As the story contained within its pages unfolds,  he becomes increasingly involved and has to make some important decisions that will change him forever.

The narrative switches between the story of a quest to save the land of Fantasia from the all consuming Nothing, and the reality of Bastion (and indeed the viewer)  becoming ever more entwined  in what we now understand is the never ending story. It is a device that works very well in keeping the plot moving at a fast pace.


Atreyu, the courageous boy warrior from the Plains People who is entrusted with the mission to save Fantasia from the Nothing is played by Noah Hathaway. His charismatic performance is key to the success of the film so I was intrigued to find out what he went on to do in the intervening years. He did have a few film appearances credited to him but is now tattooed and makes and sells customised motorcycles!

I was slightly concerned that 3 year old Addy would find Gmork, the evil wolf sent to make sure that Atreyu failed in his task, terrifying. She didn't! Her favourite character was Artax, Atreyu's horse and faithful friend. Have your hankies ready for the scene in the Swamp of Despair.

Seventeen year old Taylor commented on how good the soundtrack is and I agree with her.

For me, one of the great pleasures in this film is the rich cast of minor characters. There is a particularly wonderful scene in the Ivory Tower, home to the Childlike Empress of Fantasia. Representatives of many races have gathered to seek advice from the Empress about how to defeat the Nothing. It is a visual feast - look out for the giant fish people!

Charis joined us halfway through the movie, having just returned from seeing Hunger Games at the cinema. She couldn't help but compare this movie, somewhat unfavourably, to the current big budget box office hit. However, I think it is testament to the appeal of The Never Ending Story that she sat and watched it to the end with us.

Despite the special effects not living up to those that we have now become accustomed to,  through the power of great storytelling, I believe that The Never Ending Story will find an appreciative new audience. We thoroughly enjoyed it and my eldest daughter has already asked to borrow it!

Addy's comment when the closing credits rolled was a puzzled "Why has it ended? It's the Never Ending Story." That took a bit of explaining.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Fabric Flavours

Both my little ones love Julia Donaldson's storybook- The Gruffalo.

Fabric Flavours have brought out a T Shirt design that features Axel Scheffler's gorgeous illustrations embroidered and printed onto a very wearable item of clothing.

I ordered aged 5-6 years for my nearly four year old because I like the baggy T-shirt look over jeans (and find it hard to silence my mum's voice in my head reminding me about growing room). You will see from the photographs that it is generously sized.


My little Addy was very excited about her Gruffalo T-shirt.

Little brother recognises the Gruffalo!

From a mum's perspective, this is a quality garment -100% cotton and exceptionally well made.

Beautifully detailed on the back too.

The only down side for me is that the washing instructions advise not to tumble dry. However, it is definitely something that will make me smile to see hanging on my washing line!


For the whole stunning range from Fabric Flavours visit: http://www.fabricflavours.com/

T-Shirt price - £18

Ladybird Lovin'

There's an awful lot of this going on outside at the moment. It would seem that spring has definitely sprung.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Easter Gift Ideas

The daffodils blooming in my garden are reminding me that Easter is just around the corner.

I like the tradition of giving Easter Eggs but there are plenty of inspiring alternative gift ideas if one does not want to restrict themselves to chocolate.

These are a selection of Easter Gift Ideas I was sent to review.

Easter with Schleich

Anyone familiar with Schleich figurines will know that they are exquisitely detailed and highly collectible.

The Schleich range is enormous but these farm animals, puppy and rabbits could make a fantastic Easter themed gift.




I made a cute display of them on my writing bureau but my little ones keep climbing up to get them to play with. Dylan especially loves the pig because PIG is one of the few words he can say really well. He can also make a pretty convincing oinking sound!

Rabbit Parade

The thing I love about jigsaw puzzles is sitting down with my kids to solve them together. This panoramic cute bunny picture screams SPRINGTIME and would make a lovely, gentle activity over the Easter holidays.


With 200 pieces generously sized pieces, this puzzle should keep us busy and give the little ones the opportunity to get involved. 

The picture has clearly been subject to some photo manipulation which has led to much speculation from my older (more cynical) children with regards to the method used to encourage the bunnies to snuggle together so closely and neatly (velcro/superglue/kebab skewer - you get the idea!) 

Rabbit Parade is a quality puzzle as you would expect from the Ravensburger brand.


Chocolate Rotator

Ok, so this gift idea does involve chocolate. 

The Let's Cook Chocolate Rotator is one of a range of food preparation sets from Character. This particular set enables children to create hollow chocolate shapes in a variety of designs. One of the moulds is an egg shape making this ideally suited as an Easter gift.

We did have a lot of fun with it but I have to confess that the biggest attraction was licking the melted chocolate spills and excess.

The amount of coloured foil you are provided with is only enough to make a very limited number of wrapped chocolates. 

The chocolate is not included.

The following video shows our not entirely successful attempt to make foil wrapped hollow chocolates.


I think that with some experimentation in how much chocolate to use and which type of chocolate works best, some reasonably good results could be achieved. However, if I am honest, it was the chocolate itself that got my children most excited rather than the ability to create the hollow chocolate shapes. I would probably have been better off sticking to Easter Eggs!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Ravensburger 3D Puzzle

We love jigsaws at our house.

I was delighted to be sent one of Ravensburger's new 3D puzzles, featuring iconic landmarks, to see if it presented a new dimension of challenge.

The following video follows the progress from box opening to completion (edited of course!) of our Big Ben 3D puzzle.


The puzzle was certainly well made. The pieces slotted together securely to create a sturdy construction so there was never any danger of collapse and the inevitable frustration that would have caused. The numbered pieces did make the puzzle a lot easier than you might expect from a first glance.

The finished tower now stands on our sideboard.  In my opinion, it isn't quite attractive or substantial enough to display there long term but because of how well it all slotted together, deconstruction would be much more of a mission than with a traditional jigsaw.

We have had one idea about fashioning a Slytheen space craft and crashing into it Dr Who style.

Most likely scenario is that I'll get fed up of knocking it over when I dust and put it back in the box myself to enjoy building again another day!

The Gallery - Week 95 - Colour

At the start of the year, my mum and I both began a knitting project to make patchwork blankets for my two little ones.

Last week my mum presented my son with the finished piece. It is a glorious explosion of colour with plenty of child appeal thanks to little knitted mice and mini beasts that she has sewn onto it. It looks beautiful on his cot and makes a perfect subject for this week's Gallery.


My own blanket is still very much a work in progress!

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Wisdom of Jung

"Who looks outside, dreams;


Who looks inside, awakes"


Carl Jung (1875 - 1961)

Tadpoles in a Jar

With it being Spring Equinox today, it was lovely to see so many signs of the season, including glorious spring sunshine.

I was heartened to see that despite the difficulties endured by the frog population over recent winters, there was still plenty of frogspawn in my pond. I'm not usually one to interfere with nature but I have such fond childhood memories of expeditions to the Chalvey brook with my jam jar to collect frogspawn. I still find  the metamorphosis that begins with a tiny black dot in its protective jelly, completely fascinating.

It was my husband who suggested that our Addy was the perfect age to witness this magical transformation first hand and I didn't take much persuading.

My daughter Taylor does actually have an irrational fear of frogs so the jar of frogspawn that suddenly appeared in our porch did push her to the limit of where she is comfortable. I'm not sure how she will cope as things develop and the wiggly swimmers start to grow legs for jumping. We shall cross that particular bridge later!

I was really happy today to see a little fish bowl for sale at my local Sue Ryder charity shop. It had gravel in the bottom already and for £1.95 I thought it would make a much more suitable home for our amphibious house guests.


I don't know who is more excited about our nature project, me or Addy. (One thing I definitely do know, it isn't Taylor!)

Monday, 19 March 2012

Cake Decorating

Earlier this year I blogged about my love hate relationship with Part Works.

There is a new Part Work out now entitled Cake Decorating. I saw the advert for it on the telly and wanted it badly. The next day, I handed my 99p to the lady behind the counter at WH Smiths and became the proud owner of Part 1, complete with butterfly cutters, pink sparkle glitter (non toxic but not recommended for consumption!) and a cardboard, two tiered cupcake stand.

I have pored over the pages of the magazine so many times already that it is starting to look a little tatty. Recipes, clear instructions, advice, tips - it makes everything look so do-able ... stunning cakes within my grasp.

The lavishly illustrated pages are practically pornographic in their explicitness (that really is how carried away I get about cakes).

I love baking cakes and have always dabbled in cake decorating. Although I have made some memorable attempts, my skill never quite matches my enthusiasm or vision. I was starting to convince myself that subscribing to the new Part Work might be the equivalent of taking a course in cake decorating. I could hone my skills to a professional level and be in great demand whenever there was an occasion that warranted a centre piece of a sweet and edible nature. I imagined all the Birthdays, Anniversaries, Graduations, Weddings, Births, Christenings and more that would be in my near future and saw myself providing spectacular creations that would be greeted with the oohs and aahs of appreciation. I really shouldn't let my imagination wander off like that!

I was very close to subscribing there and then.

However, I have an invisible companion that sits on my shoulder. I am undecided whether it is more aligned with demon or angel but it does NOT like me to spend money on myself. I am getting much better at silencing it but it still whispers in my ear. Part Works add up to a ridiculous amount of money over the weeks and months. Could I really justify that expense? Would I even gain any benefit? Were my dreams of becoming a cake maker in demand simply fantasies that had no foundation in reality?

There was one way to put all of these doubts to rest and that was to have a go at making some of the treats featured.

I had a really good time making iced butterfly butter cookies and white choc chip cupcakes decorated with buttercream and carefully crafted, sparkly, flower paste butterflies. It didn't feel like cooking, it felt like making art. I was quite proud of the results for a first attempt and I did learn a lot from my mistakes - mostly in terms of the importance of getting the correct icing consistency for different applications and having the right food colourings. The kids were very happy with my efforts and enjoyed the taste testing.



My little ones wanted to get involved  so I did let them have a go too which was lovely.


My older girls are very supportive of me subscribing - I am guessing that the idea of a different baking project every week would influence them quite strongly! Even my mum gave me the words of encouragement "Go for it!"

I shall sleep on it but don't be surprised if the QWERTY Mum blog starts to feature a lot more in the way of decorated fancies.

Mothers Day

My first husband did not have a lot of time for Mothers Day. In fact he didn't have a lot of time for anything that wasn't his work.

It is so lovely to be with a man now who does appreciate the importance of the little things.

I had a wonderfully messy start to the day with seven of us in my bed enjoying breakfast brought up by my older girls who then surprised me with a thoughtful gift and serenaded me. Just thinking about how grown up and wonderful they all are had me in floods of tears.

My little Addy presented me with home made cards and notes in abundance and Dylan joined in by giving me cuddle after cuddle and slightly snotty kisses.

My eldest daughter came to see me later, just in time for a lunch of chips from the chip shop. I always love the rare moments when all six of my children are together.

Ivy volunteered to cook our evening meal, making it a very lazy day for me.

I asked the girls to give a repeat performance of their Mothers Day song to me so I could video it. Here they are singing an adapted version of a song from the cartoon Phineas and Ferb.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Reasons to be Cheerful

I have a very big  Reason  to be Cheerful today - a headache of epic proportions that has plagued me for nearly two weeks has finally released its brutal grip on my brain. Waking up this morning without the need to reach straight for the Paracetamol was an absolute joy. I feel like I can actually start living again rather than just struggling to get by.

Another positive is that my little Addy is back at nursery today having been off with chicken pox. It broke my heart to see her beautiful milky white skin ravaged with angry blemishes but she is on the mend and 'chicken spots' and 'calamotion' are now part of her life experience and vocabulary.

Despite the health issues that have dominated the past fortnight, there have been plenty of good things going on.

ONE

My daughter Ivy celebrated her 21st birthday. This had to involve cupcakes, decorated to her specifications. There were the 'worms in mud' variety that tested my conquered phobia of the wiggly dirt dwellers and vast quantities of brightly coloured butter icing.


I am so proud of the beautiful young woman my little girl has become.

TWO

More celebrations followed when daughter, Taylor, passed her driving test.

The ability to drive is such an important step towards independence. I do feel as a parent it is my responsibility to facilitate the acquisition of the skill. This has meant paying out a lot of money in lessons (although I do expect a fair contribution from the learner too) and making time for driving practise.

I let Taylor down badly back before Christmas when she took her first driving test and failed. The practise sessions had been neglected and she was simply unprepared. We were not going to make that mistake twice. Taylor learned from failure and I realised how easy it is to let important things slip when you are juggling the needs of six offspring and a husband... and with a home to manage.

Becoming a qualified driver has given a confidence boost to Taylor as well as allowing me to pass another important milestone on my parenting journey.


THREE

The Aldi hamper of treats that I won at the TOTS100 Christmas Party finally arrived. I had all but given up on it so it was a lovely surprise when it was delivered. Among other goodies were two bottles of wine that I will definitely be enjoying now the Headache from Hell has departed!


Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Jungle Junction

My little Addy has chicken pox which means 5 days away from nursery school. For this reason, I was especially grateful for the parcel of Jungle Junction toys from Flair that I was sent to review. It provided exactly the sort of distraction we needed.

Jungle Junction is Disney Junior's BAFTA nominated pre-school series which features a host of friendly animals on wheels sharing experiences as they zip around the elaborate network of roads in their jungle home. With catchy tunes, problems to solve, fun and adventure, Jungle Junction keeps my little ones thoroughly entertained. My daughter loves all the characters and my son loves anything with wheels!

Jungle Junction lends itself perfectly to great merchandising.

Our review parcel contained:
  • Ellyvan collectible bath toy
  • Zooter plush toy with working wheels
  • Ellyvan pull back toy with moveable trunk
  • Wheel Around Fun Set with playmat, signs and three characters
 

    The toys were instantly recognisable with lots of appeal.

    The video shows the toys in action with demonstrations of the features.



    The toys were a huge hit with my two little ones.

    My only critisism would be that the playmat in the Wheel Around Fun Set doesn't really serve any great purpose. Its folded cardboard construction doesn't sit flat on the ground and the road design doesn't really go anywhere to inspire a journey. This did not have an adverse effect on my children's enjoyment. Addy used her imagination to create play enviroments, including putting Ellyvan and Zooter to bed in my slippers!

    For more information on the Jungle Junction Range from Flair, visit:

    Sunday, 11 March 2012

    A Charming Mother's Day Gift

    Homemade gifts are always special. Knowing that someone has put in time and effort to create something unique, just for you, can be quite humbling.

     I was sent a MyStyle Deluxe Charm Bracelet craft set to review in the context of Mother's Day.


    My initial thought was that it would be a fun activity for my little Addy (aged nearly 4 years) to do with her older sisters and make a lovely 'surprise' gift to present me with next Sunday when they bring me my breakfast in bed. However, a quick look at the kit made me realise that this kit was about serious crafting and entirely unsuitable for the clumsy, inexperienced hand of a pre-schooler! Instead, I settled her down with a packet of modelling clay to make sausages and spent the time myself with my teenage daughter getting creative with Charm Bracelets.

    I can think of no better Mother's Day gift than quality time with my daughter spent doing something a little bit different, a lot of fun and with an end product that was well beyond my expectations.

    The kit contained polymer clay with enough eyelets to make 40 beads and  a storage box with glitter, craft foil and tools for creating them. The finished beads could then be combined with the charms and dice charms provided to make two bracelets, each with its own velvet effect gift pouch.


    The instruction booklet gave clear advice and ideas about how to make the beads. Once the basic technique (simple but a bit fiddly) was mastered, the possibilities were limitless.

    The seven different colours of polymer clay could be combined to create new colours or marbled together and the basic beads could be embellished with glitter, foil or clay designs.


    The video shows me making a basic, marbled bead (please excuse the black clay under my finger nails - several scrubs later and it is still not completely gone!)


    We really enjoyed trying out different ideas and attempting to make the perfect bead. Anyone wishing to get even more creative could model 3D charms using the clay. These could be attached to the bracelet using the split rings provided.

    The finished beads were baked in the oven (130ยบC, 15 mins). Once baked, they can be painted with clear nail varnish or craft glaze to give them a glassy sheen.


    I was impressed by how professional our beads looked and felt after they were baked. All that remained was to select the combination of beads and charms that would make the finished bracelet. I left this part of the creative process to Charis.

    Here is what she came up with.


    I think these would make a lovely Mother's Day gift provided that you are a slim wristed Mother! The bulk of the beads and charms does not leave a lot of room for your wrist.

    Despite the disappointment that I can't actually get the bracelet to do up on my wrist, I love them as a reminder of a perfect afternoon spent crafting and laughing with my daughter. And we have plenty of beads (and clay) left over for another day.

    Friday, 9 March 2012

    Want a bit of good clean fun?

    There must be a point in your life when bathtime stops being about splashing and fun and starts being about relaxation and pampering. Sometimes when I give my little ones their bath, I think I am missing a trick with my own routine. As much as I love just lying there in warm, scented water letting my troubles float away, how great would it be just sometimes to recapture a little bit of that wild, youthful abandon that often results in a somewhat wet floor.

    Crazy Soap from Kids Stuff very definitely aligns with the fun side of bathing.

    We were sent some products from the Crazy Soap range to try out.

    The video shows us trying out Bath Goo, Fun Soap and Body Paint.


    The Bath Goo was fantastic. It had a very unusual texture that seemed to invite you to plunge your fingers in. It smelled very fruity and bubbled up beautifully in the water to create long lasting bubbles.

    The Squirty Fun Soap was amazing. It did leave our water a little bit scummy but was worth putting up with that for the novelty of having soap that could be shaped and bounced!

    It was quite difficult to produce artworks with any precision using the Body Paint but for a more general colourful effect, it was great. It washed off very cleanly leaving the skin feeling soft.

    We did have a lot of fun with the Crazy Soaps. Will I be tempted to swap my pampering products for a bathtime of silliness and splashing? There is a very good possibility!


    For your chance to WIN one of five sets of Crazy Soaps, simply:
    • follow my blog and leave a comment below with contact details (eg twitter ID)
    for two additional entries,
    • follow @crazysoap_kids on twitter and tweet  #WIN Crazy Soap http://qwertymum.blogspot.com/2012/03/want-bit-of-good-clean-fun-win-crazy.html?spref=tw with @crazysoap_kids and @paulahaylock aka QWERTY Mum. Leave a comment below to say that you have done so.
    • like Crazy Soap on Facebook and leave a comment below to say that you have done so.
    Five winners will be drawn at random from all comments. Each will receive 1 x Bath Goo (RRP £2.99), 1 x Fun Soap (RRP £2.00) and 1x Body Paint (RRP £2.49).

    Competition closes midnight 31st March, 2012 (UK only)


    CLOSED

    Wednesday, 7 March 2012

    Be a Knight, Do it Right

    My little ones have been enchanted by CBeebies' CG animated series, Mike the Knight, since its first airing.

    Each episode is packed full of medieval adventure, comedy and magical mishaps with a strong moral code to Do It Right. 




    There are a host of fun characters from Mike's two dragon friends, Sparkie and Squirt, to his wizard in training younger sister Evie (complete with pet frog, Mr Cuddles!)

    Mike the Knight - Knight in Training (from HIT entertainment) will be available to own on DVD from 19th March. With five episodes and a musical bonus feature, there is plenty to keep the kids amused and would make a great Easter gift.

    Huzzah!!

    Friday, 2 March 2012

    Boomerein

    Now that the weather is improving, I have visions of going on lots of walks with my little ones. Dylan loves to get out of the pushchair and onto his own two feet but it can be a bit of nightmare trying to keep him under my control, especially with 4 year old Addy to contend with at the same time. I was intrigued by the hands-free toddler harness from KoolKangaroos.com -  the Boomerein - and thought it could be the perfect solution to keeping my toddler safe.

    This hard hitting video brought to you by Kool Kangaroos Boomerein highlights the risk to toddlers and the importance of toddler safety.


    I was sent a Boomerein to try out with my boy Dylan.

    I was impressed with the quality of the product and the elastic straps that made for a comfortable fit when correctly adjusted. The following video shows how we got on with the hands-free system when we took Dylan for a short walk to our local cardboard recycling bank.


    The system was very easy to use and very effective. Dylan loved the freedom to run along under his own steam and I was confident that he was completely safe at all times.

    As we were making the video, we attracted the attention of passers-by who expressed their approval of the Boomerein.

    My only criticism would be that the stripy design of the straps was a bit reminiscent of old man's pyjamas! I would love to see the Boomerein available in a range of funky designs to suit all tastes.

    The 'old man's pyjamas' look will NOT stop me from using this excellent product.

    (A percentage from sales of the Boomerein will be donated to the following charities: Cynthia Spencer Hospice, Cancer Research and Help for Heroes.)

    Zhu-Fari

    I was very happy to be asked to do a video review of the new Zhu-Zhu Pets range, Zhu-Fari, for UKMums.TV.  My children were even happier because it meant a brand new toy for them to have fun with.

    There was a short deadline to have the video finished. The Zhu-Fari products arrived on Wednesday and I had to get cracking pretty much immediately to make the deadline. Unluckily for me, despite the glorious sunshine, I have been feeling terrible with the worst cough/cold/sore throat I have ever experienced. Yesterday, I coughed till I was sick and thought my ears were going to explode.

    With a lot of help from my wonderful daughter, Ivy, who is home from Uni for her birthday this weekend, I somehow managed to get my video finished. Here it is, complete with a rather husky voiceover!


    To really get the most from the playsets, you would need to have some of the babies as well as the Zhu-Fari animals. These are sold separately.

    We did find that the Zhu-Fari animals were a little too big to travel easily down the playset tube but it seemed to cause amusement rather than disappointment and helping hands were readily available to offer a helpful shove!

    Visit http://www.zhuniverse.com/ - the official home of all things Zhu-Zhu!
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