The Five O'Clock Apron by Claire Thomson - Tasty Meals for Hungry Families


The Five O'Clock Apron

Claire Thomson works as a chef in her busy Bristol restaurant, Flinty Red where she is co-owner. She is also the author of one of the loveliest recipe books I've had the pleasure to review, The Five O'Clock Apron: Proper Food for Modern Families, a book which tackles the never-ending dilemma facing many parents every evening - what to feed her own three hungry young children! 

This is something I completely relate to as I have four children each with very different tastes of their own and much as I enjoy trying to feed them healthy home-made meals, often it's easier just to reach for a bag of potatoes, a few carrots and a packet of fish-fingers or chicken nuggets.

Many evenings I lament the fact that I rarely get to experiment with food these days as more often than not someone will find fault and spend the entire meal picking out minute slices of onion or pushing the tenderly prepared chicken to one side. Not quite what I want to see when I've laboured for half an hour peeling, chopping, cooking and wishing I hadn't bothered when I see the resulting pickiness!

As you might imagine therefore, I was delighted to have a beautiful book full of wonderful fresh ideas for mealtimes and all put together by a professional and highly successful chef! 

Catch-All Lentil Soup

For my first meal I flicked through the book, which is teeming full of absolutely gorgeous photos of highly tempting meals, feeling spoilt for choice. Should I try the delightfully fresh Summery Fattoush, the temptingly colourful Piperade or perhaps go for an old favourite such as Egg Fried Brown Rice? In the end I settled on a rather lovely sounding Catch-All Lentil Soup, one of the recipes in the book which didn't have a photo but for which I knew I did have all the ingredients.

 I set to work following the well-written and cohesive instructions. As I chopped and measured and finally began cooking the soup, the smells in my kitchen were most definitely stomach-pleasing and the resulting soup was a great success with all the family, much to my delight. The children used words such as tasty, delicious, scrummy and yummy when describing it for me and hubby and I thought it tasted beautifully rich and very moreish. In fact it was thick, flavourful and filling, like a well-made stew and could definitely be served as such if you are careful not to add too much liquid.

Already I have marked out several pages for meals to try over the next few days and weeks and am planning to make Roasted Crisp Chickpeas this afternoon for the kids to snack on before our dinner which this evening is Green Pea Pesto served with Pasta!

Continue reading "The Five O'Clock Apron by Claire Thomson - Tasty Meals for Hungry Families" »

Keep Calm - The New Mum's Manual by Dr Ellie Cannon

Keep Calm The New Mum's ManualKeep Calm - The New Mum's Manual by GP and mother of two Dr Ellie Cannon  is a new parenting book which hails as "the perfect antidote to guilt-inducing parenting guides". Having four children of my own, I was keen to see what this book offers that is different from the multitude of parenting books I've already read over the years!

Upon opening the book I was immediately drawn to the fact that Dr Ellie stresses this book is about mums and about helping them to become happy and confident mothers. It's not a book that is going to tell us what to do, when to do it or how to do it! Refreshing, to say the least.

Dr Ellie is very keen to stress to mothers that they should enjoy their babies and that they should learn to trust their own instincts and trust their parenting skills. She believes most of us are simply lacking confidence in our own abilities and that we get worn down and stressed by all the things we think we are supposed to know and be doing. She's right. I've lost count of the many times I ran to others seeking answers only to realise that my first instincts were usually what I ended up following anyway!

Continue reading "Keep Calm - The New Mum's Manual by Dr Ellie Cannon" »

The Slightly Annoying Elephant - A Fun Interactive Ebook for Toddlers by David Walliams

Recently I had the good fortune to review a fun new ebook by David Walliams. With two of my older children aged 8 and 10 already huge David Walliams fans, I was interested to see how Sophia, my 2 year old, would take to the author's latest story, his first picture book.

Illustrated by the amazingly talented Tony Ross, this special edition ebook includes lots of fun animation, videos features and even an introductory video by the author himself!

The Slightly Annoying Elephant eBook

The Slightly Annoying Elephant (Special Edition) is a story about a young boy who goes to the zoo and ends up adopting an elephant. The elephant visits the boy's home and turns out to be a rather unwelcome house guest!

I'll not spoil the story, but needless to say, as with all of David Walliams' books, it's a wonderful tale, full of the quirky humour we associate with the author and my daughter absolutely loved it. In fact, it wasn't only Sophia who enjoyed the story, but her sister Sarah and her brother Jack also got almost as much enjoyment from it.

Unlike paperback books, this ebook is extremely interactive. In fact, it is crammed full of so many brilliant activities that it's hard for me to do them justice!

At the beginning you are presented with a choice of having David Walliams read the story to the child or your child can either read it themselves or have it read to them in the traditional way! But, in our house, every single time the choice was for the author to read the story. He has a great way of making even the most ordinary of sentences sound funny and this resulted in my children giggling together as they listened.

Each page of the story also offers children the ability to touch items or characters on the page to see silly things happen and this was perhaps my favourite aspect of the book. It quite literally brings the story to life and I can't even begin to imagine how much enjoyment this particular feature of the book would have brought to me when I was a child!

Aside from the story, the activity sections include:

Arty Elephant - a colouring in section which allows children to colour pictures of the elephant and to incorporate the finished piece into the story if they want to. My older children loved this as they could then see their own artwork hanging on the walls or appearing on the television in the story.

Jumbo Workout - a musical fun game which gets children to tap on coloured lights to make the rather funky elephant boogie. Sophia really loved this and nodded her head and danced along to the music. It's also a fun way of introducing or reinforcing the names of colours.

The Elephant in the Room - a jigsaw section with an easy, medium and hard jigsaw. I must admit to being slightly amazed at how quickly Sophia understood how to drag and drop the pieces into the right places! This is actually her favourite section and it would be lovely to see more jigsaws added to the ebook.

An Elephant Never Forgets -  a card matching game featuring characters and scenes from the story.

Trumpet Chorus - tapping on numerous elephants hats and trunks the reader creates their own own tune.

Sophia easily worked out how to navigate and use each of these features and found her way around the ebook with ease.

Overall, The Slightly Annoying Elephant has become a firm favourite in our house. In fact, Sophia enjoyed it so much that on the first day we got it she refused to allow any one else in the family to use the iPad. Since then she has worked out where it is stored (inside iBooks) and at every opportunity runs off with my tablet and starts the book up. On our first day of reviewing the book I managed to video her in action (see above!) refusing to let her sister Sarah have a go. You might even notice her kissing the elephant a few times throughout!

The Slightly Annoying Elephant ebook is published by Harper Collins and is available from iTunes, priced at a very reasonable £3.99.


Chimney Sheep vs Chimney Balloon - Choose How You Keep Your Home Draught Free this Winter!

Chimney Sheep vs Chimney Balloons : A Personal Comparison 

Living in the UK we are fortunate in that our climate is pretty mild most of the time. Summer-time tends to be warmish to hot on a really good day and winter is cool to pretty chilly most of the time. Of course, there are also unusual weather events that happen now and again and the last couple of winters have been more severe than normal. For this reason, plus the rising costs of home heating oil, I, like many others, have been trying to save on energy costs and looking at ways to avoid heat loss and control draughts in my house.

With four children and a husband who tend to leave doors lying open every time they leave a room, I've grown weary of shouting at them all to close doors behind them and although they ignore me most of the time my two year old has taken to getting up after anyone who leaves the room and closing the door for them whilst stating in her baby voice, "Keep heat in!" So at least my heat-saving efforts aren't totally in vain!

Last winter, after reading numerous online forums for information on retaining heat in the home, I started following through on some of the advice I came across. For instance, I'd known a lot of our double glazed windows were leaking heat so got a man in to fix them for me. Whilst this made quite a difference, we were still burning through quite a bit of oil. I fixed draught excluding tape on the door frames of some ill fitting doors and this too made a difference.

However, I couldn't help but notice that in the midst of all the heat-saving and draught excluding I was doing, there was one huge gap I couldn't do much about - the chimney. As with all chimneys, ours was sucking up all the heat in our living room and allowing draughty cold air to enter. I'd sit and gaze at it in the evening and wonder if there was any way I could seal it up temporarily. I like a blazing fire occasionally, particularly around Christmas time, and although it was an option I simply couldn't bring myself to get the chimney permanently sealed. But, whilst researching ways to prevent heat loss up chimneys I somehow stumbled across a product called a Chimney Balloon. Now, whilst Chimney Balloons have apparently been around for quite a few years, I'd never heard of them before and to be frank, it seemed an ingenious idea to me - simple, straightforward and relatively inexpensive compared to some of the other measures I'd taken to prevent heat loss in our house. According to their sales page a Chimney Balloon would stop heat loss and prevent cold draughts and it all looked and sounded very encouraging.

I'll admit right now that I almost bought one before wondering if I couldn't just make one myself. No harm in trying, I thought, so, I got an old pillow, wrapped it in a couple of black binliners and shoved it into the chimney. Next morning the living room was properly warm, perhaps for the first time ever. I thought I was a genius. Not only had I discovered a rather wonderful idea online that could be used, but I'd saved money by making my own.

Over the following months I couldn't help but feel happy with my warm room... but it wasn't long before I noted a few problems. For instance, I'd stuffed the pillow so far up the chimney that I knew it would be a difficult, not to mention probably very dirty, job to take it out. Ah well, we'd just not light the fire. (So much for lighting the fire occasionally then!)

Problem number two then reared its head - what if my husband or I forgot about the pillow and lit the fire? Would we be able to get the pillow out before being at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning? Yikes! The Chimney Balloon I had looked at had a little dangley device hanging from it to warn the householder to remove it before lighting the fire, so maybe I could somehow affix something to my pillow - if I could ever get around to it!

However, as the weeks turned into months something else much more immediately concerning happened. Our house got damp and not just a little bit damp but a lot damp. Mould was beginning to grow in the bedroom above the living room and windows in the living room and bedrooms became increasingly prone to condensation. It took me quite a while to put two and two together and to realise my pillow was the offending cause of this but thankfully I did realise that the chimney was so well sealed that ventilation was suffering in a big way. Our poor house couldn't breathe.

So, with much effort I removed my home-made chimney draught excluder and was horrified to discover the outer bag contained at least a full mug of water and the pillow inside the inner bag was mouldy. Yuck! No wonder our house had become so damp.

There and then I decided to bite the bullet and invest in a proper Chimney Balloon. Going online again to properly research Chimney Balloons however, I quickly realised that despite all the benefits they weren't entirely without their problems. Although many people commented on how wonderful and innovative they were, others lamented that they found their balloons deflated easily meaning they had to be re-inflated often - something that really wasn't very appealing to me.

Others alleged theirs had burst and again, I was worried. If I'm going to be spending money on a balloon that goes into my chimney, the last thing I want is it bursting on me! Some said their Chimney Balloons corroded due to the tar on the inside of the chimney or amplified rain noise whilst some simply found them difficult to put in and take out again. I even came across stories of balloons being sucked up chimneys on windy days! 

Chimney Sheep Draught Excluder
A Chimney Sheep Draught Excluder

Well, I was a little concerned as to whether or not a balloon would meet my needs and as often happens during online searching I began looking for alternatives to balloons.

Before long I somehow found myself on a website selling Chimney Sheep! Immediately I was intrigued. You see, last year I'd done a lot of research on wool quilts for beds. I had read about how wool is a great insulator but it also allows for ventilation. This was important for me as I wanted a quilt that wouldn't cause my husband and I to get too hot but which would also keep us cool in hotter summer months. I had been really fed up with the way our previous quilt bunched up and needed a good shake out every morning and wool keeps it shape so that was favourable to me too.

I decided maybe a Chimney Sheep would work for us and set about researching it. Straight away it appeared to be a very interesting concept indeed. Yes, Chimney Balloons came first and deserve much credit for developing such a fantastic new product, but the inventor of the Chimney Sheep, Sally Phillips, had taken on board a lot of the problems the balloons presented and came up with a whole new take on the product.

Basically, a Chimney Sheep is made from 100% Herdwick wool (thick coarse fleece that was traditionally prized in the carpet industry) and cut to shape depending upon the flue it will fit. Once you have measured the inside of  your chimney, something you also need to do for a Chimney Balloon, then you simply place the Chimney Sheep inside and apparently never have to worry about it further. Because it's made of wool it won't deflate or burst, it can be easily removed without the need to deflate it and it can even be  machine washed. It can then be safely stored for the times when you do need it and if, after years of use you find it is showing signs of wear and tear, you can simply replace the head. The old head is biodegradable making it an even better choice for the conservationists amongst us! Best of all, because it's made of real wool your room can breathe easily.

I was sold.

I ordered my Chimney Sheep and it arrived within a couple of days. Removing it from its packaging I was pleasantly surprised at just how lovely it looked and felt: soft, cosy and dense - almost too nice to be hiding in a chimney!

Now, normally I get my husband to do the messier jobs around the house, but I couldn't wait to try out my Chimney Sheep. I read the instructions, followed the directions and within a few minutes my Chimney Sheep was installed. I did have to put it up further than I'd anticipated and then pull it down a little to adjust it but this is all advised in the instructions. And that was it! I walked off and within just one day noticed our room was considerably warmer again. Not just as warm as when I had a pillow up the chimney, but I can't feel any drafts and although I can hear the slight sound of traffic outside, this is reassuring as I now know the chimney isn't completely blocked - there's still good ventilation so no risk of dampness but much less heat loss.

In fact, the only problems I encountered with the Chimney Sheep were measuring my chimney to get the right size Chimney Sheep and then some sneezing for a little while after I'd put it in the Chimney. I have allergies and the sneezing may have been due to the wool or the soot I'd dislodged. In any case, I stopped sneezing once the room had cleared of any allergens and I've had no problems at all since.

(By the way, I watched the very helpful video on the Chimney Sheep website to help me measure my chimney and to select the right size for our chimney.)

Chimney Balloon Draught Excluder
Chimney Balloon Draught Excluder

After installing my Chimney Sheep and being very pleased with its ease of use and more importantly its functionality, I thought it might be interesting to compare a Chimney Balloon with the Chimney Sheep directly rather than based on hearsay so I went ahead and ordered a Chimney Balloon.

Again, as with the Chimney Sheep, my Chimney Balloon arrived very quickly after the order was placed. It arrived well packaged and upon opening I was impressed at how small it appeared when rolled up. However, I must admit I found the tubing a little disconcerting. Attached to the Chimney Balloon was a rather odd looking contraption which I quickly realised was an attachment for inflating it. However, the instructions warn that you must only use this attachment with a hand or foot pump. Since I don't own either of those, I was instructed to remove the attachment and use the long plastic enclosed tubing and to blow into it to inflate it myself. I don't know why, but I'd assumed it would come with a small pump!

In my opinion, if you are intending on inserting and removing the Chimney Balloon regularly then a pump would be a good investment but it will inflate (if you'll excuse the pun!) the overall cost of the Chimney Balloon considerably. I'm also not sure I like the idea of having to blow into the same tube every time I want to re-inflate my Chimney Balloon not to mention there's also the added risk of losing the tubing which I imagine will be a bit of an inconvenience.

Anyhow, despite the inflating and tubing issues, the Chimney Balloon looks and feels surprisingly sturdy. I had envisaged a sort of glorified plastic bag but the plastic balloon is actually very strong and well made and like the Chimney Sheep, it promises to save on energy bills by preventing heat going up the chimney and cold air coming into the room in which it is placed whilst ventilation is not adversely affected.

Importantly, both products promise complete safety even if you accidentally light the fire as the Balloon will shrivel and melt and the Sheep will alight and disintegrate. Both also prevent soot and bird droppings from falling into the fireplace or onto the hearth - a particular problem on wetter days in our house!

Having unpacked and read all the instructions on my Chimney Balloon, I immediately worried it would be a little more difficult to place in the chimney than the Chimney Sheep considering that the Sheep is simply unwrapped, has an extension pole attached and is placed in the chimney.

With the Chimney Balloon you have to partially inflate it so it feels like a floppy pillow, then carefully place it inside the chimney before continuing to inflate with either a pump or via the mouth tube. The instructions warn not to inflate it to "drum tight" but that there should still be a little flexibility. I must admit I wasn't looking forward to removing my Chimney Sheep so soon after placing it in my chimney but I needn't have worried as it came out easily enough and although a little dirty, the mess was minimal. I placed it safely in my garage and then following the instructions on the Chimney Balloon got to trying it out.

I removed the short black rubber hose which is for use with a foot or hand pump and easily attached the mouth inflation tube as instructed. Then I opened the tap on the balloon and partially inflated it which again was a straight-forward enough task. I situated the balloon into the chimney and continued to inflate it. Whilst this is all very much what you would expect with a balloon type device, I did consider how anyone with breathing issues might manage and realised they'd most likely require a pump for use with the pump attachment, confirming my earlier consideration about the potential extra cost involved if a pump was necessary. Anyway, as I blew into the balloon I kept checking how inflated it was in case I over-inflated it. Once satisfied that the balloon was correctly inflated, firm to the touch but not taut, I checked its placement and was happy that all appeared as it should. 

The Chimney Balloon needs to fit snugly inside the chimney as the makers warn that any rubbing will damage it and possibly lead to potential problems, and this is probably why some people have found theirs to have burst or deflated.

Again, as with the Chimney Sheep, there is a little handgrip to which you attach a reminder tag to help prevent you or another family member lighting a fire in the hearth. It also makes it easy to remove when necessary. 

The Chimney Balloon has a curve at one end to help with ventilation thus preventing your chimney becoming damp and, going back to my own attempts at self-sealing my chimney, this is reassuring to know.

As with the Chimney Sheep, I could hear a little noise from outside with the Chimney Balloon in place but it didn't rain heavily during my testing period for me to tell if rain noise would be a problem. However, I can't imagine it would annoy me too much - I think I could cope with a little rain noise as long as the house is warm and draught free.

After leaving my Chimney Balloon in place overnight, my living room was still snug the next morning so the Chimney Balloon, just like the Chimney Sheep, certainly fulfils this need.

Regarding the online comments that balloons can sometimes be sucked up the chimney by the wind, the makers suggest in their instructions that you tie a piece of string from the balloon handgrip to the grate to help prevent this happening. Whilst this is good advice and shows that the manufacturer is listening to their customers, it would be nice if they'd included a small ball of string with which to do this - I, like many people, am not always able to find string when I need it and in fact didn't get around to attaching any string. Fortunately there was no strong updraught so my balloon stayed in place but it does seem like a bit of an after-thought to me and perhaps in the future the makers will address this aspect.

Upon removing my Chimney Balloon I was happy that it didn't cause any problems with deflating and although a little dirty, a quick wipe down with a damp cloth soon sorted that out.

In conclusion, whilst the Chimney Balloon was the original concept for temporarily blocking chimneys to exclude draughts and prevent heat loss, and has been purchased by many more people than the Chimney Sheep, I feel the Chimney Sheep is my personal preference. In fact, I've already replaced it in my chimney now that my comparison between the Chimney Sheep and Chimney Balloon is over!

Yes, the Chimney Sheep is a relative new-comer and in some ways is riding the waves of the Chimney Balloon's success, but I do feel it is simply an easier product to work with. Perhaps in time it will reveal flaws of its own, but for my money I'm happier with my Chimney Sheep. It's made from lovely natural wool, is easy to place inside and remove from your chimney, is washable, flexible and ventilation is not an issue. On the other hand, the Chimney Balloon is made from flexible laminated plastic, is also removable but is not just so flexible once inside the Chimney. It too is ventilating but in a different way so there's not a huge deal of difference between them.

As I've already said, I prefer my Chimney Sheep to the Chimney Balloon but someone else might feel a Chimney Balloon has advantages over a Chimney Sheep that I just haven't thought about or realised yet!

Pricewise, the Chimney Sheep that I ordered cost £30 plus £3.00 postage whilst the same size Chimney Balloon costs £22.20 with free postage but bear in mind that a hand or foot pump may be required if you are not able to breathe into the mouth ventilation tube for any reason.

If you are interested in finding out more or purchasing either a Chimney Sheep or a Chimney Balloon you can do so via their websites - and Both are also available from selected online retailers. 

Tesco to Sell Own Brand £99 Tablet - I Want One!

Woohoo, big news today that Tesco is rumoured to be about to release its own brand 7 inch tablet in the very near future.

Like many parents, with Christmas just around the corner, my family are currently in the market for a cheap tablet ourselves. Although we already have a couple of iPads, we also have four children, aged 13, 10, 8 and almost 2, who are constantly sneaking off with my husband's iPad. I keep mine all to myself so they know better than to ask for it but hubby is really fed up with getting in from work to find he has 3% power left! That's why this year we decided it might be time to buy one or maybe two cheaper tablets for the kids to share. We're not wanting to go too expensive but do want something reliable and so far have considered the Kindle Fire and Google's Nexus 7, the latter of which we've seen on special offer and which gets great reviews.

I'll be keen to find out what Tesco's tablet looks and feels like (although if it does have a 7 inch screen that will be perfect for smaller hands!) and to see how it operates compared to the iPad which I know is in a league of its own but all the same, it'll be interesting.

The children aren't looking for anything too high spec - as long as they can play Sims and similar games and do a little research for homework purposes they'll be more than happy, but for us as parents the more reputable tablets on the table the better for all of us. Particularly for my poor fed up husband!

Bébé Gourmet - My Baby Recipe Book

BeBe GourmetRecently I reviewed Annabel Karmel's latest recipe book and it's certainly become one of our family favourites. Full of tasty and easy to adapt recipes, there's something to suit everyone's tastes in the family. So, I was excited to receive another baby recipe book to review recently, namely Bébé Gourmet - My Baby Recipe Book, by mother of two Jenny Carenco of Les Menus Bébé.

A stunning book to look at, it is full of tempting and very beautiful photos of delicious meals which aim to help parents raise adventurous eaters from the age of 4 months upwards!

I'm proud of the fact that none of my children have ever been particularly picky eaters, something I firmly believe breastfeeding has helped with, although that's not to say they don't have certain preferences. For example, my eldest daughter prefers plainer foods and also eats raw rather than cooked carrots whilst my son absolutely adores spicy foods. My second daughter isn't keen on mushrooms but will take them if chopped up very small. And Sophia, the toddler, well she'll eat anything and everything. Consequently, Bébé Gourmet looks like a good bet for us.

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Homework is Exhausting... and Not Just for the Kids!

Is it just me or do all parents find helping the children with their homework an exhausting, not to mention daunting, task at times? Having spent yet another night of broken sleep feeding my baby girl and all day running around after her, I have come to dread when my other three return from school needing help with never-ending homework! As they sit around the kitchen table squabbling with one another over who has the most or who has the least to do, I find myself inevitably rolling my eyes and wondering who to start with and how to explain all the things they need help with in a way which doesn't completely contradict how their teachers' have taught them. Of course they are all are exhausted too after a full day of learning and that doesn't help things... At times like this I can only be thankful we have the internet to help us - especially with maths which most definitely isn't my forte. At the moment my middle daughter is struggling a little bit to get to grips with fractions but fortunately, after a quick search online, I've found some great teaching resources to help her and me to deal with this particular subject. However this in itself also got me thinking about just how precious my pc is to me these days and how I'd be lost if anything happened it. Thankfully our home insurance covers it in the event of accidental damage - and with a very inquisitive toddler grabbing at it at every opportunity I'm just relieved it is covered!

Back to the homework though. After almost seriously considering joining a running club yesterday to help me cope with the stresses and strains of parenting, I've made up my mind that I do need to do something just for myself. Running isn't it though as my poor old knees just aren't up to it!

A few years ago I took some photography evening classes which I enjoyed immensely but because my hubby doesn't get home in time for the classes in his current job, that's a bit of a no-no for me these days. I love my blogging too but it's not exactly stress-relieving especially when I'm trying to write with a baby tugging at my leg wanting to go to the park. So I'm considering brisk walking. Before Sophia was born I walked a very brisk half hour every morning after dropping my other children off to school and before starting on the housework. It was a wonderful way for me to start the day, plus the joy of losing some excess weight and listening to long-forgotten favourite albums undisturbed always left me feeling invigorated afterwards. Since having Sophia however, I've found the motivation to get up and walk somewhere has gone. But with stress creeping up on me and all that homework help required at the end of the school day I know I have to just grab that pram by its handles and drag myself out that door. I know I'll feel all the better for it and hopefully, just hopefully, homework time will soon become a less stressful event for us all.


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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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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