The Big Family School Year Diary - Helping Busy Families to Remember the Important Things Each Year!

The-big-family-school-year-diaryEvery year, around the end of December, I treat myself to a nice new diary. The kids all head back to school and at some point in June they all come home with a year's worth of special dates for me to remember. I start to write them all into my diary and of course, because it only reaches until December, I run out of pages. I usually stuff the important pages with all the dates into the back of my traditional diary and then typically forget all about them until I realise I've forgotten to note in my next diary something or other that I should have written down!

That's where The Big Family School Year Diary comes into its own. Unlike traditional diaries, it covers the school year, ie August to August and allows parents to mark all those important dates as soon as they arrive. Not only that, but rather than having to squash up everyone's dates together, the diary has individual space for every child via the MUM's Office signature GRID format. This is a great feature as it allows everyone in the family to know at a glance who is doing what on any given week. Genius! 

The diary doesn't stop there though. It also contains lots of useful sections allowing parents to note the following:

Essential Family Contact Details and Information
Pocket Money Records
Important Dates to Remember
Need to Know Information
Our Plans from July to the following August
Travel Plans,
Our Week
General Notes

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Blue Microphones Mikey Digital - A Must Have Plug and Play Microphone for Your iPhone and iPad

 

Mikey Digital
Mikey Digital

Like most parents, my husband and I enjoy keeping a record of special moments and fun times in the lives of our children, and as such, we are always on the lookout for gadgets that will make recording these moments a little easier.

In fact, that was one of the reasons I bought an iPad 3 last year - I knew it would make it so much less hassle to capture treasured moments without having to go the bother of setting up my digital camcorder and then transferring the videos onto my computer for viewing. An iPad meant I could just get on with recording instantly and then watch my footage back as and when I wanted to!

However, pleased as I am with my iPad, I've always been a little disappointed with the sound quality of my recordings. The sound is slightly tinny and, dare I say, cheap sounding, and compared with my old digital video recorder, well, there is no comparison really!

As well as wanting to record my children, I also make relaxation voice recordings and occasional Youtube videos and for these, in particular for the relaxation recordings, I require professional quality equipment. An iPad simply isn't good enough, or at least it wasn't until now...

I've been using Blue Microphones Mikey Digital this past week and from what I have seen so far it is no exaggeration to say I've been astounded at the recording quality. Seriously, from the moment I made my first test recording and compared it with the same poem spoken through my iPad's microphone, the difference was incredible. The Mikey Digital, which attaches to the power outlet of your iPad/iPhone, delivers crisp, clear, stereo cd quality recordings with a lovely soft tone that is very similar to what I refer to as BBC radio quality. You'd actually think you had made the recording in a proper studio setting.

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New Annabel Karmel Quick and Easy Toddler Recipes - Tasty Food for the Whole Family!

Annabel karmel quick and easy toddler recipesI've been testing out a lovely book this week, Annabel Karmel Quick and Easy Toddler Recipes, the first in her Quick and Easy series.

The book is a 144-page, 100 recipe full colour book teeming full of healthy, balanced meals aiming to make mealtimes easier for hard-working families.

With a great choice of breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner recipes, many focusing on key food groups such as fish, pasta, poultry, meat, vegetables and fruit, as well as time saving tips and tricks to encourage children to eat well and experiment with different sweet and savoury flavours, this book is definitely one for the kitchen book shelf!

Having bought another of her recipe books in the past when my other children were younger, I was keen to try this new one to see if my latest addition would enjoy the meals I'd be preparing. And I'm pleased to report, so far so good.

With a family of four children and two adults, it can be difficult to keep everyone happy at times. My husband and I like lots of spicy foods like curries and noodle dishes, but as any parent can understand, the children aren't always so keen. I'm almost always presented with the dilemma of who to please at mealtimes and preferring for everyone to eat the same meal, rather than having to prepare two completely different meals, I tend to cook meals which everyone will eat rather than meals that everyone loves!

However, this week, with Annabel's guidance, we've all been happily sampling many new and interesting meals and with those I've prepared I'm thrilled to report so far everyone has been pretty happy.

The book, like others Annabel Karmel has written, has a huge array of meals ranging from snacks to main meals and desserts and is certainly a lovely looking book with lots of very appetising photos of meals within. To be honest, my main problem was actually deciding what to prepare from it as there is just so much choice. However, below are photos and rundowns of how I got on with several meals I cooked.

Hummus, Tomato and Cucumber
Hummus, Tomato and Cucumber Sandwiches
Hummus, Tomato and Cucumber Sandwiches

The first snack I chose to prepare was for the children coming in from school and feeling peckish. Normally, I'd make a few ham or cheese sandwichs or toasties, perhaps a shop bought pancake or scone but on this occasion I chose Hummus, Tomato and Cucumber sandwiches. Usually, I'd only serve hummus as a dip at parties so it was a novel and unusual combination which the children weren't too sure about at first glance.

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Play Online Bingo with 888ladies - A Fun Way to Enjoy Social Gaming Whether You Have Experience or Not!

888ladiesAre you a social gamer? Have you ever played online bingo or are you keen to prove your Bingo skills? If you can answer yes to any or all of these questions, then you may be interested in trying out ladies online bingo at 888ladies.

To be honest I haven't played Bingo myself for quite a few years, but from what I recall, I always found it a lot of fun and an entertaining way to spend an evening with family or friends. However, these days with everyone busy getting on with their lives, it can be difficult to fit the time in for an evening playing games with family and friends and that's where online gaming comes into its own. You can play wherever and whenever you feel like it - and you might even win some nice cash prizes too!

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Curly Girl Method for Wavy Hair - UK and Ireland Products Please!

I'm enjoying my time becoming a Curly Girl advocate but as more of a wavy girl than a curly girl I'm noticing there isn't a lot of advice for fellow wavies online... Or maybe I just haven't found it yet!!

From what I have found I know that one of the things Curly Girls are encouraged to keep away from is the dreaded hairbrush. Now, as a wavy girl, I'm trying very hard to accept and apply this advice to my wavy head but it's very difficult. Maybe the difficulty stems from childhood when our hairbrush perched on the hall table and we had to brush vigorously every morning before heading out to school. Even today one of the questions I rountinely ask my own children every morning is "Have you brushed your hair?"

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Week 3 Curly Girl Method - Surprisingly Difficult

Well, I'm on day 19 of the Curly Girl method and I must admit I'm struggling big time. Yes, my hair feels much better and is enjoying the break from my ghd's, but I'm finding the unpredictability of the whole experiment rather tedious.

Before I continue, I'll own up that I haven't fully embraced the whole Curly Girl method as I'm still shampooing my hair although as mentioned previously I have made the switch to a sulfate free one, Organix Coconut Milk Shampoo . I've also changed the way in which I shampoo and no longer pile all my hair on top of my head and give it a good old scrub; instead I massage my shampoo into my roots and then coat my hands in more shampoo and gently run my fingers through the length as seen in a Youtube video.

It's definitely a much gentler way of washing and does get my hair lovely and clean. In fact, I've started thinking about my hair as a sort of special care fabric. Instead of sticking it in the hot wash and scrubbling the life out of it, I now use a cool wash for delicates! I wash it in warm water but drench it in almost cold at the end before applying a little bit of leave in conditioner.

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Introducing Baby Lit: Classical Counting and Colour Primer Board Books for Babies!

 Every once in a while I'm asked to review something rather special, something which I look at and think to myself, "Wow, that is a very good idea indeed!" This is exactly how I feel about Baby Lit books, a range of nine colour and counting primer board books based on famous works of classical literature but aimed at babies and young children.

As a literature graduate and English teacher maybe I'm biased, but if so I make absolutely no apology for it!

I truly think Baby Lit is a lovely and very original idea. Take a great piece of literature, one that has withstood the test of time, and turn it into something unique for little ones to enjoy. That has got to be a recipe for success. Not only is it a thoughtful way of introducing children to some of your own favourite works of literature, but it is also a very individual method of bringing colours and numbers into their lives too.

Having studied and throughly enjoyed Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre at university, I was more than thrilled to review the two Baby Lit books based on these original classics, namely Little Master Shakespeare: Romeo & Juliet and Little Miss Bronte: Jane Eyre!

My youngest daughter is just 17 months so I was excited to introduce her to these very beautiful and stylish books. In fact, I must confess, I don't think I'll be leaving her alone with them any time soon as I might just want to display them as pieces of art on my old dresser later on!

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Doing My Hair the Curly Girl Way - Well Sort Of!

Okay, here's how it is. My hair is driving me nuts. I've been straightening it with my GHD's every other day since the birth of my second daughter almost ten years ago. Up until then, I'd washed and blowdried my long straight hair every other day and brushed it every day, always grumbling about the frizz and the kinks in it. Never once did I acknowledge, or in fact even realise, that I actually have very wavy hair naturally.

Ironically, many years ago, when I was a young student living in Belfast, I was once asked by a hairdresser if I knew I had curly hair. I can still remember sitting in her chair thinking she must be a bit loopy if she thought my obviously poker straight hair was curly and in fact I sniggered about it to friends and family for many years afterwards! The tide only turned when, in looking at photos of me during my first pregnancy, did I realise that my hair was actually quite wavy! Oh the shame of all that tittering!

Anyway, besides the fact that I now know I have wavy hair, in recent years, with the dreaded onslaught of silvers (to make my changing colours sound more fetching than greys!) becoming ever more noticeable, I  am tiring of my crowning glory.  Every time I went to get it coloured I'd spend the next couple of days itching. When I realised after one particularly bad episode after which my scalp began to blister and weep, that I might be having a more severe reaction, I went into panic mode.

I mentioned it to my hairdresser at the time and she suggested trying oil-based, ammonia-free colours. Feeling happy that there was an alternative option, I went ahead and tried the oil based colours. (I even blogged about my experience with INOA on this blog). They worked well for a while but then the dreaded itch returned and I started some online research which, needless to say, alarmed the life out of me. It turns out that it probably wasn't the ammonia annoying my scalp but probably the ppd, ie the colour pigment, which is present in larger quantities in the darker colours I'd been using.

So, I went lighter. I didn't particularly want to as I always loved my natural colour but, given my reaction, I felt I had no choice. I decided to get some highlights. However, the last couple of times I've been for my highlights I noticed the base colour was also causing some itching. It seemed even the ppd in the lower concentrations was also upsetting my very sensitive scalp. Back to the internet and I've decided to highlight only and let the silvers blend in. Last month was my first try at this and so far so good and no itching at all since no colour is touching my scalp. Sigh.

On the downside though, highlights plus regular straightening are killing my once sleek and shiny mane!

Over the last few weeks I was again online trying to find out how to help my poor hair deal with this onslaught of bleach and extreme heat when somehow I stumbled on to the Curly Girl method.

For those of you who haven't yet heard of it, it basically urges us to go back to more natural methods of washing, conditioning, drying and styling. Take out most silicones, sulfates, alcohol and so on and replace with more natural/ organic compounds, allow hair to dry naturally or with as little heat as possible, only finger comb or use a wide comb when hair is covered in conditioner and replace terry towelling with microfibre and you get the drift, sort of! 

It's huge in the States but not so well known in the UK, but anyway I decided to give it a shot. Early on I decided I couldn't go down the no shampoo route (known as no poo in Curly Girl lingo), nor would I embark on condition only cleaning (CO as it's known) but instead I'd modify it to suit my personality and lifestyle. I want quick and easy and find all the rules a bit confusing and scientific to be honest.

Well, before doing anything else, I started by looking at all the cleaning, conditioning and defrizzing products I'd been using regularly. Practically every single one of them contained harsh sulfates, silicones and alcohol plus other stuff not recommended in Curly Girl circles. In fact, my teenage daughter had been having a lot of trouble with product residue in her hair and this had also not only encouraged but truly inspired me to try to go more natural.

Firstly, I went out and bought a clarifying shampoo whch you just use once before embarking on the method. I found a Toni and Guy deep cleaning shampoo which did the trick. The point of clarifying shampoos is that you use them very seldom but they remove all product build up meaning you can begin to get used to life without the extras! Because they are harsh on the hair, you can't use them often.

I then bought a sulfate free shampoo, one made by Organix. This actually was surprisingly difficult in the UK as there doesn't seem to be a lot of it about. However, a trip to Boots sorted that out for me. I also discovered Boots stock a range of shampoos, conditioners and so on under the brand name Naked. I bought one of their conditioners plus a leave in conditioner by the same brand and headed off home. Now, I must admit it took more than one trip to the shops before I got the all of above products. In between I ended up buying some stuff I though was "cone" (ie silicone") free only to later discover it wasn't. However, I'm finally using products which seem to be safe or at least much gentler on my hair.

After my first attempt, during which I washed and conditioned but didn't use the suggested type of towel, my hair looked pretty good after letting it dry without heat. In fact, when my husband came in from work he remarked that he "loved" it. Wow.

Here's some photos:

Curly girl method day 1 front
Curly Girl Day 1 Front
Curly girl Method Day 1
A first attempt at going all Curly Girl!

Now, for this result, I did comb after the shower which you aren't supposed to do but I hadn't realised that yet! I also had sprayed a so-called vitamin repair spray all over and finger combed it through but which I then realised had loads of cones in it so won't be using again. I didn't use a microfibre towel which is recommended as ordinary towels are too rough apparently. I also didn't plop but just left it to dry unplopped. (Plopping is a special way of dropping your hair into a microfibre towel or t-shirt and rolling it up leaving it until dry or until there is good curl formation.)

Anyway, as you can tell, there's a lot of stuff I did and didn't do. Life is just too short and busy for me to do everything as advised but what surprised me was the natural waves I ended up with despite little effort on my part... And this was just my very first attempt! I was honestly shocked. I knew I had a kink, but proper wavy hair was a revelation to me!

 

Conditioner Only Washing (CO Washing)
Conditioner Only Washing (CO Washing)
Conditioner Only Results (CO Washing)
Conditioner Only Results (CO Washing)
Well, encouraged by the success of my first attempt, the following day I tried just washing with conditioner (co-washing). I didn't feel entirely comfortable doing this but again, got good results.

 

By the third hairwash, given that I had sprayed the vitamin cone laden solution all over my head on day one, I decided to give a first wash with my clarifying shampoo again - even though it's very harsh - followed by a sulfate free shampoo (Organix brand). I then conditioned with Organix conditioner but was annoyed to see some baddies on the list so made a mental note to buy the Boots Naked stuff for my next wash.

Again, I got good results and the waves were beginning to ringlet slightly although my hair still felt very dry and brittle particularly at the front. The following day I just splashed some water on it and left it but didn't look much different.

Anyway, rather than go on and on about it too much, you can see that it took me a while to get the hang of things. However, despite this things are improving.

Curly girl day 5 front
Curly Girl Day 5 Front
Curly girl method day 5
Curly Girl Day 5 Back

This morning I washed with the Organix coconut shampoo, conditioned with Naked conditioner for dry/normal hair, rinsed under cool water and wrapped in a microfibre towel until less drippy. I then placed a good dollop of Naked leave in conditioner in my hand, rubbed it into my palms and finger-combed it through my hair concentrating on the ends and the dry bits at the front. I left it to dry naturally and tried not to touch it at all.

My hair is fairly long, as you can see, and it's also deceptively thick - hairdressers always get a surprise when they start to work on it - so it takes a long time to dry completely, roughly 3 to 4 hours. However, again today the waves are slightly more defined and my hair does not feel dried out at all. It feels soft and happy!

My head also feels like a weight has quite literally been lifted off it, ie my hair feels all clean and light!

Now, I know it takes about 6 weeks for the full effects to show when doing it the biblical way (in other words, if you follow the Curly Girl Method recommended by the hairdresser who wrote the book, Lorraine Massey), but, I'm more than happy already.

My children and hubby think it looks fantastic, though my mum thinks I've gone a bit mad. She prefers the sleek straightened look.

How about me? I love, love, love it. I'll follow up with my results over the next few weeks but to me at the moment, my hair feels like it's coming back to life. It's relaxing and curling up into a lovely comfortable position!

Last night, at a school event for my daughter, I looked around and saw lots of poor badly treated hair, hair exactly like mine had been until last week. I could identify silicone everywhere I looked and could instantly tell who was straightening, combing, brushing and generally torturing their locks. I felt like shouting out the good news. You can have tame, tumbling tresses without all the hard work if only you knew the secret.

Not strictly Curly Girl, but just gentle washing, conditioning, air-drying and finger combing when dry!

Why don't you give it a try and let me know how you find it? Or, if you're already a Curly Girl devotee, tell me your thoughts and how strictly you follow the regime...

Curly Girl the Handbook is available now in many bookshops and online.

Gumigem - Fashionable Baby Proof Teething Jewellery for Babies and their Mummys!

 

Gumigem teethers
Miller Heart Pendant, a piece of Gumigem teething jewellery

When I'm breastfeeding my 17 month old daughter she loves to play with my chain and cross. She twists and turns it between her fingers and rather remarkably, is very gentle with it, just as her three siblings were.

However, I often fret that one of these days it's going to just snap. She's also been teething a lot lately and now has almost all her front teeth plus four great big back teeth. As many mums know, teething equals chewing and for Sophia this means chewing on almost anything she can lay her little teeth on. She has even chewed lumps out of books that the other children had cherished from their baby days!

Oh yes, we have teethers galore in our house but the problem is I can never find one when needed so, for me, the chance to review a piece of award winning teething jewellery, namely the Gumigem teething necklace, made in Dundee, Scotland, couldn't have come at a better time. Imagine, a teether that looks like a trendy necklace so always on hand but which looks the part when out and about with baby! Perfect :)

Designed by a fellow mummy, Jenny McLaughlan, the Gumigem baby proof mummy jewellery teethers were her lightbulb moment. Trying to soothe her own son who struggled with teething and chewed everything in sight, Jenny decided it was time to design a teether which doubled as a stylish piece of jewellery. So successful has she been that she now has many celebrities including Coleen Rooney, Sienna Miller and Jenny Falconer, wearing and raving about her product.

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The Snugg iPad 4 Executive Case Cover and Flip Stand - Stylish and Functional Protection for Your iPad

The Snugg iPad 4 Case has arrived and I've been fortunate enough to test it out.

Now before I go on, I must admit, I've been having a bit of trouble choosing a cover for my iPad 3, the reason being there are so many on the market to choose from. Being very indecisive by nature I simply haven't been able to make up my mind which to go for.

One thing I was sure of though was that I certainly didn't want to purchase an Apple iPad Smart Cover.

Why ever not, you may ask?

Well, having bought the Apple Smart Cover for my husband's iPad 2 I was reluctant to fork out again for a product which we felt was overpriced for what it offers and not very successful at the half job it does - it is forever falling off and doesn't afford any protection whatsoever to the back of the iPad. Therefore, for me there was no indecision here - if I did ever get around to choosing a case for mine, it would be one of those that offer full front and back protection without losing any functionality.

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