Inspect A Gadget - The Kobo Mini eReader

23:06 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

The people at Money Supermarket have asked 200 bloggers to test out cheaper, travel versions of the most popular gadgets, and see how they live up to their more expensive alternatives. They have come up with a list of five different products from which I chose the Kobo Mini eReader.

When I was pregnant with Little Miss I was looking forward to catching up on reading books on my Kindle during the long breastfeeding sessions with a brand new baby. That didn't happen as Bud decided to stomp all over my bag (containing said Kindle) so I've been with out one. Actually, I did receive a Kindle Fire for Christmas to replace it but, brilliant piece of kit that it is, it's no eReader and I've missed being able to just pick up and put down an eReader and read far less as a result.

Brand new Kobo Mini eReader

The Kobo Mini is a smaller eReader than the standard 7" style, measuring at 5" instead. It fits nicely into the palm of my hand and I can comfortably sit and read it that way. Weighing only 134g means that it is incredibly light and comfortable to handle. It is operated by touch screen which makes it easy to set up and scroll through the various menus. On set up you can create your own account with Kobo which you can then use to purchase books in the store either through your reader or on the computer. Content is downloaded by wi-fi so you will need to set that up too. You can of course read without a wi-fi signal but you will need to connect to add a new book.

The eReader is available in black and white. I chose the white. I was quite surprised by how matte the finish on this is and, having placed it in my handbag a couple of times, the finish has become slightly scratched. It probably isn't a good idea to carry it around like that anyway as I would hate the touch screen to get damaged, so I have now purchased a cover for it.

Kobo Mini eReader in Green Case cover

The reading experience is great on the Kobo Mini. It's easy to just tap the screen on the right to move forwards through the book or left to go back a page. The text is visible in bright sunlight and low light and loads quickly and smoothly.

My main concern with the Kobo Mini has been the use of the online store to download books. Compared to the market leader's eBook store I have found it quite difficult to use. The free books aren't highlighted in the same way and it can be difficult to identify those. There also doesn't seem to be quite as much supporting content in the form of book descriptions and reviews to enable you to choose which one you would like to read. I have found that the more I use it the more accustomed to it I become but it is taking me a little longer than it did to get used to my old way of buying eBooks.

The Kobo Mini has enough storage for up to 1000 books which means it is perfect for loading up with a few holiday reads and packing into your hand luggage, it is so little that it will even fit into your pocket! It really isn't much bigger than the average smart phone and the thinness of the device (11mm) means it's really easy to fit into the smallest space. I'm really enjoying having the ability again to pick up and read at any time, without having to worry about forgetting which page I am on.

I think that the Kobo Mini represents excellent value for money, with an RRP of £59:99 I purchased it for just £49:99 at WHSmith Online. If you're looking for a simple eReader with decent storage, you really can't go far wrong. I would advise buying a case. Mine came from Amazon for just a few pounds. It is also possible to purchase snap on back covers for your Kobo Mini to brighten it up or add a pop of colour, although I'm quite happy with my cover adding colour for me. I'm pleased with the device and would recommend it, especially for people like me who have a tablet and a phone with an eReader app but are still looking for a dedicated eReader but don't want to spend lots of money on it.

Disclaimer: I was provided with £50 from Money Supermarket to choose and purchase from their list of five gadgets. All thoughts and opinions are honest and my own.

The Ultimate Summer Playlist

16:06 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

Last week I chose Waterfall by The Stone Roses as my ultimate driving song and it got me thinking about other songs that I like to listen to in the car. I was interested to see that have put together a great playlist ahead of the summer holidays to make the drive to one of their holiday properties a bit easier.

Whenever I blog about music I always end up waxing lyrical about my favourite, 90s Indie music. My musical tastes are still rooted there even though I add a few current bands into the mix of course. The Cumbrian Cottages playlist doesn't feature many of my favourite bands alas, but I was delighted to see the presence of 'Wouldn't It Be Nice?' by the Beach Boys, which is my one of my favourite summery songs.

If I was making my own playlist I'd probably include some Pulp, Ash and blur. There are certain songs that transport me to hot sunny days in my past so I'd have to include a few of those - like The Day We Caught the Train by Ocean Colour Scene and Let's Go Shopping by The Sultans of Ping. I'd have to include a few tracks by current favourites like The Vaccines and The Temper Trap.

Of course, having two children in the car means that we often get requests for the cBeebies album which we can stand for a while but Bud complains when we then try to change it for something we prefer and starts asking for 'his music'. He'd definitely approve of the inclusion of Wheels on the Bus on that playlist and would probably demand the theme tune to Postman Pat too.

You can subscribe to the Spotify playlist if you're looking for a Summer playlist. Which songs would you add to it? 

Published in association with Cumbrian Cottages.

Introducing HomeSense at Manchester Arndale

01:09 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

Today we took a trip to the Trafford Centre to have a look around the HomeSense store there. HomeSense are part of the TK Maxx family, but as their name suggests, they focus on home furnishings. I must have walked past this store dozens of times but had never actually ventured inside but, with ongoing decorating, this invitation couldn't have come at a better time. Manchester opens it's second HomeSense store tomorrow, May 30th at 10am, in the city centre Arndale Shopping Centre,  with Anthony Cotton from Coronation Street on ribbon cutting duties and a free £10 gift voucher for the first 200 customers through the door.

HomeSense Manchester Trafford Centre

As we were a day early for the grand opening we had a little shopping trip around HomeSense Trafford Centre with a £20 giftcard to spend on whatever took our fancy. I browsed the aisles for what seemed like ages, I'm useless at shopping under pressure! I was really impressed by the range instore and found it to be displayed attractively and in a well thought out manner. I was really spoiled for choice. 

Range at HomeSense Manchester Trafford Centre

We're about to paint our bathroom yellow so I thought I might find some accessories for that but yellow must be out of fashion as a bathroom colour because, despite a massive range of other colours, there was no yellow! My eyes were caught by a few Emma Bridgewater mugs but I think there would be war in my house if I brought home some more mugs so I reluctantly stepped away from them. I came across a great display of blue glass but this and small people is a bad combination, I'll have to wait until they are a bit bigger to risk those purchases. In the end I plumped for a tea infuser and a slate cheese board. Both are things that I've had my eye on for quite some time but would never ordinarily buy for myself, this was the perfect opportunity to indulge. I was really impressed that I could buy both items and still  have change from £20.

HomeSense Purchases Jamie Oliver Cheese Board Tea Infuser

I'd definitely recommend calling in to HomeSense Arndale tomorrow, if you have the opportunity. The free £10 voucher would buy you either one of these items and, with 50000 items in store at any one time, and 10000 items of new stock each week there really will be something for everyone. If you're not in Manchester you can use their website to find your nearest HomeSense store.

Disclaimer: I received a £20 giftcard and lunch from HomeSense, all thoughts and opinions are my own

A Sneak Peek at the SEA LIFE Centre Manchester

00:22 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

The SEA LIFE Centre Manchester opens it's doors to the public on 6th June 2013 but lovely Laura from Blogs Up North managed to get around thirty blogger families into the centre today for a special preview of the forthcoming attraction. The attraction isn't quite finished yet but the vast array of sealife is installed so we jumped at the opportunity to meet up and have a wander around.

Entrance to the SEA LIFE Centre Manchester

The Manchester SEA LIFE centre is the newest addition to the countrywide chain of aquariums and can be found in Barton Square at the Trafford Centre, beside the LEGOLAND Discovery Centre (another Merlin attraction). We entered the attraction through the foyer and, following this, were taken through to an interactive presentation about turtles laying their eggs on the beach, and the dangers that they face. The Manchester centre seems to focus on turtles quite a bit, not ideal for me as I'm a bit scared of them! From that point onwards we were free to explore the centre at our leisure. Bud loved meeting all the fish and other marine creatures (lots of turtles) and some of the tanks were incredibly innovative.

Inside the Sea Life Centre Manchester Trafford Centre

The vast array of different creatures was terrific. Highlights for me were the rays bombing around one pool and the beautiful sea horses (my favourites) serenely gliding around their tanks. Bud loved the huge turtle, Ernie and the touch pools which featured shore and hermit crabs, although he refused to actually touch any of them. For a toddler of Bud's size the attraction gets off to something of a slow start as, following the first two rooms, there is a series of tanks that he was too little to properly enjoy. I was a little anxious that this would continue and I would have to lift him up all the time but this wasn't the case as the rest of the tanks were at a much easier height for a toddler to investigate.

Main tank at the Sea Life Centre Manchester Trafford Centre

The Manchester SEA LIFE centre will become the home of a new Sea Trek experience which allows participants to walk along the sea bed in the main tank using a self-contained diving hood with no need for a tank and SCUBA mask. This is a European first for the centre and they are accepting bookings at £60 per session.

It was fantastic to get such an early look at what I can imagine will become a really popular addition to the Manchester tourist trail. We only got a glimpse of some of the attractions, like an interesting soft play tower, and the very well stocked gift shop so I think we'd definitely love to return when the centre is fully open to the public for the full SEA LIFE Manchester experience. 

If you'd like to keep up to date with all the news from SEA LIFE Manchester you can like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter

Disclaimer: We were invited to attend a special bloggers' preview of the centre.

Zoe and Beans - A Review

23:17 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

We love sharing books as a family and Bud has a great collection of books already. It can be difficult to find books to engage both children as Bud gets a little bored by the brightly coloured board books that Little Miss loves and she can't quite concentrate on a full-length picture book that Bud loves.

The Zoe and Beans series of books may have given us the answer though. Written by father and daughter team, Chloe and Mick Inkpen there are both picture books and board books available using the same characters.

Zoe & Beans by Chloe and Mick Inkpen

Zoe and Beans are a small girl (Zoe) and her friend Beans, a rather large dog. The books tell of their adventures with their friend Oscar and his rather large collection of animals. 

'Hello Oscar', the picture book details Zoe and Beans' first meeting with Oscar and is a large book with bright, distinctive illustrations. The characters are engaging and definitely up to date, Zoe rushes in to 'Google it' when she has a question about one of the animals she meets. Bud has taken to this book and it has been a popular bedtime choice over the last few weeks. He loves the repetition of 'Hello Oscar' throughout the story and enjoys saying it before I have the chance to read the words.

Zoe & Beans Hello Oscar Picture Book

He loves to 'read' the book on his own too, which mainly consists of him looking at the book, naming all the different animals and saying 'Hello Oscar' a lot but I love to see it.

Small Boy reading Hello Oscar by Chloe and Mick Inkpen

The other two books we were sent are board books, so perfect to add to Little Miss' increasing collection of 'her' books. It helps us to differentiate between the two as Bud tends to take over otherwise and regards them all as 'his'. We received 'Zoe & Beans: Look at Me' and 'Zoe & Beans: How Many Pets?' They are both lovely books with clear illustrations and snippets of text on each page, perfect for older babies and young toddlers. The board books are really excellent quality too so I have no concerns when my girl makes a grab for it.

Zoe & Beans Board Books

We're loving sharing books with our daughter, as well as Bud, of course. We try to ensure she has her own bedtime story and these books have slotted into the bedtime routine really well. She gets quite excited when we sit her on our laps to read to her now, I'm hoping that means we have another little bookworm on our hands.

Man and baby girl reading Zoe & Beans: How Many Pets

The Zoe and Beans books are published by Macmillan Kids UK and are available from all usual stockists.

Clinique Moisture Surge CC Cream - A Review

18:30 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

I'm a huge Clinique fan and many of their products have formed the backbone of my skincare regime for as long as I've been cleansing, toning and moisturising. When an offer to try out their new CC Cream came through from the Mumsnet Bloggers Network I knew I had to apply.

The Clinique Moisture Surge CC Cream features has SPF 30 and promises to act as a 'hydrating colour corrector'.

Clinique Moisture Surge CC Cream

The CC cream is presented in the traditional, elegant Clinique packaging and in a 40ml plastic tube with trademark silver lid.

It's so easy to squeeze the cream out from the tube and, when I did so I found a cream with a similar appearance and texture to foundation or tinted moisturiser. According to the Clinique website the cream offers moderate coverage and I could tell from the thick consistency that this would be the case.

Clinique Moisture Surge CC Cream Consistency and Texture

So it was time to test it out on my face. I squeezed out an amount about the size of a 50p coin and used this to apply the cream liberally over my face. This wasn't quite enough so I used about half as much again to finish off my chin and neck. It was really easy to apply and went on very smoothly. I was quite impressed at how moisturising the product felt after application. I frequently feel like foundation sits like a film over my face when I wear it and expected this to feel similar. It didn't, it blended into my skin. 

I took a before and after photo. This was a little tricky as they are self portraits but I hope it shows you the level of coverage the product achieves. Yes, I really am posting a photo of myself wearing no make up on my blog!

Clinique Moisture Surge CC Cream Before and After

I have a few small moles on the right above my mouth and the CC cream almost hid these without any additional concealer on top. I'm only wearing the Clinique cream in the 'after' photo and I would be happy to wear this without a layer of foundation on top, although it can be used as a base for that in addition to using it as a stand alone product. I was very pleased at how well it evened out my freckles too. Generally I felt like my skin appeared smoother and more even when using the CC cream so it definitely did the job it advertises and lives up to it's claims. I don't have a lot of time to apply make up as I'm busy with my children and I achieved this level of coverage in less than a minute using the CC cream, a quick glance in the mirror to check it was all evenly blended was all I needed for a 'day look'. If I was going out at night I would probably apply foundation over for an even smoother look.

I'm wearing the 'light' shade of the CC cream, I was pleased with how well it matched my skin as I'm often anxious about choosing products like this without trying them on, there is a lighter shade ('very light') but I think that would have looked too pale. I really like that the formula contains an SPF of 30 as this means I don't have to worry about whether other products I am using on my face contain one, again a time saver in the morning.

Clinique Moisture Surge CC Cream currently retails at £28 for 40ml and I would definitely buy it again.It is so easy to use and easily achieves a desirable level of coverage in a short amount of time for busy mums. As far as I'm concerned it is a great addition to the Clinique range.

I am a member of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network , a group of parent bloggers picked by Mumsnet to review products, services, events and brands. I have not paid for the product or to attend an event. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity.

#FoodforThought from Save the Children

01:08 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

Save the Children have published a new report 'Food for Thought' which reveals that chronically malnourished children are achieving twenty percent less than their better nourished peers. The report shows that no matter how well a child has been educated, if they do not have enough to eat then their performance will be inhibited. One quarter of the global population of children is malnourished so this represents a global literacy crisis.
Save the Children Global Literacy Crisis Infographic

Prior to the G8 conference in the UK in June, Save the Children are calling on world leaders to take action. Supported by some of the most high-profile children's authors, including Philip Pullman and Julia Donaldson, this report forms part of the 'IF' campaign which asks, if there is enough food produced in the world so no-one has to go hungry then why do some people not have enough food. Over 170 charities have combined to ask the G8 to take action on world hunger.

We love reading and, even though my children aren't of school age, I can't imagine either of my children being too hungry to enjoy a book with me or their Daddy. Sharing a story together or, in Bud's case, simply looking at a book on his own happens every day in our house. Books and the ability to read can transport a person and change their life. It is terrible that hunger impedes that for so many.

I'm going to take part in the Britmums Twitter Party today, Tuesday 28th May, from 1-2pm where the importance of nutrition in learning to read will be discussed using the hashtag #foodforthought, I hope you will try to join in. If you can't you can still help by signing the petittion supporting the IF campaign.

The Wreck My Dress Experience

00:29 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

Us bloggers get invited to some terrific events but every so often one comes along that is quite different to any other. Last Wednesday I was invited to the press launch for the Wreck My Dress Experience at a luxurious property in Worsley, near Manchester.

Wreck My Dress Experience

Wreck My Dress offers a unique personalised experience. Simply give the team your idea and they give it the unique Wreck My Dress treatment, they work together with their clients to put them in the centre of their own bespoke photo or video shoot. The team is made up of professionals with experience at the very height of their respective industries and the list of productions and celebrities they have worked with is stellar.

The home of the Wreck My Dress Experience is an amazing house which is entirely geared towards offering the perfect backdrop to any customised photoshoot. You name it they have it, from a hot tub to a stunning spiral staircase, from swimming pool to floor height trampoline. It was a real pleasure to be able to wander around the property at our leisure and observe a photoshoot as it happened. We were also shown a few examples of completed videos and a gallery of photos which have been taken during the various shoots. These were fantastic and made me wish I had the money to commission the team myself.

Wreck my dress experience location

As I'm still waiting for a proposal from my partner I was really taken by the Proposal video that we were shown and that I'm able to share with you via the Wreck My Dress Youtube channel. It's so romantic and cleverly put together, I might have to show it to Red Rose Daddy, just in case he's looking for inspiration you understand!

I really enjoyed my morning with the Wreck My Dress Experience and it was great to have an insight into this unique venture. The service they provide is completely comprehensive and expensive? Yes. Once in a Lifetime? Definitely. 

Monday 20/5/13 to Sunday 26/5/13 Days 201-207 of Project 365

22:27 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

Monday #201 ' Morning Fun' - We had something of a lie in this morning with both children snuggling in bed with me for a while before we got up. Bud was playing with Little Miss and making her laugh and I quickly grabbed this shot on my phone.

Tuesday #202 'Library' - Red Rose Daddy was planning a treasure hunt around our local area for his Explorer Scouts. We went for a walk when he finished work tonight to find some questions and answers for it. He decided he would have a photo round with close up shots of some of our local buidings. This is the library near our house. I loved looking at our surroundings with a different eye and picking out the different, distinctive details in the buildings.

Wednesday #203 'Photoshoot' - I attended the press launch for a new photo and video experience this morning and we got to watch a professional photoshoot taking place.It was a really interesting experience and made me wish I'd taken my proper camera instead of just my phone still, I did get some nice shots and I love this one. I think it looks like a painting.

Thursday #204 'Crossed Hands' - Everytime I go into check on Bud when he is asleep he seems to have his hands crossed like this, I think it looks so sweet and it reminds me of his baby days which sometimes feel a long time ago now!

Friday #205 'Tea' - Both children fell asleep in the afternoon today. This so rarely happens that I took the opportunity to do a bit of blogging and enjoy a hot cup of tea in the kitchen. It was a rare and unexpected half hour and I enjoyed it.

Saturday #206 'New Driver' - Little Miss had a go in her big brother's car today, with her Daddy holding on so she didn't fall over.She really loved it and got very excited holding on to the steering wheel. Bud is struggling with sharing at the moment so we are having to be firm with him, needless to say he was straight into the car when we took his sister out.

Sunday #207 'Sitting in the Sunshine' - We all headed into Manchester to watch Red Rose Daddy participate in the Great Manchester Run today. I grabbed this as we were waiting to meet up with the rest of the family. It really was a beautiful day and lots of fun too.

TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky

The Bupa Great Manchester Run 2013

18:21 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

We headed into Manchester today to watch Red Rose Daddy and his friend run the BUPA Great Manchester Run. It was his second time taking part this year although, at 10km, the distance is a little on the short side for him. He usually runs marathons.

This event is rapidly turning into an annual event for us and it was our third year supporting a family member on the run. Today was baking hot, not ideal conditions for many of the runners and a few of them looked to be struggling.

Red Rose Daddy finished in 44:54, a great time and six minutes quicker than last year. 

Finished the Bupa Great Manchester Run 2013

We took time to watch the final of the elite races this year and it was fantastic to see some true legends of athletics in the flesh. Sadly five time champion Heile Gebrselassie couldn't repeat his success of last year, finishing third behind Moses Kipsiro and Wilson Kipsang in a very close finish. I loved seeing Gebrselassie as he's a wonderful athlete and an amazing force for good in his home country of Ethiopia. Tirunesh Dibaba won the women's race and seeing the gold medallist from London 2012 winning on the streets of Manchester brought wonderful memories of last Summer flooding back. Clearly I'm a bad photographer as all I have is the backs of the race leaders to show you, either that or they were just running too fast!

Bupa Great Manchester Run 2013 Elite Race leaders

The best part of the Great Manchester Run for me is the massed race though, seeing 40000 people running through the city centre, supporting their charities and each with their own stories to tell and their personal reasons for running is, at times, deeply moving and always inspiring. We spotted a few celebrities out on the road today, including the musical legend Peter Hook from New Order, Chris Chittell (Eric Pollard from Emmerdale) and Shayne Ward but we cheered and shouted for everyone. Sadly I failed to spot my friend Laura who was running to raise money for Macmillan Nurses who have helped her family during her daughter's battle with leukemia but I know she finished well. 

The Great Manchester Run always shows Manchester, and the heart and detemination of her people, off to the world brilliantly. I keep saying I'm going to run, I might have to get in training for next year!

Road Trip Soundtrack

23:53 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

I can't drive. I mean, I reckon I probably could if I tried but I never have. I'm always the passenger. That means that I usually get to control the soundtrack to any car journeys and I always make sure we have a big stash of CDs in the car (yes, CDs, I'm old school) for long journeys. In fact when our car was written off earlier in the year I distinctly remember telling my partner to make sure he checked the CD player before the car was taken away!

Anyway, Carcraft have asked us bloggers to come up with our favourite driving song. It's a tough one, there are so many songs I could choose - from rock for those motorway journeys, to your favourite song from the current releases which you hear all the time on the radio, I could even choose a song that my son loves to sing along with in the car, but my choice is a song by a band I love. Whenever I hear this one I think of being in a car on a sunny, Sunday afternoon. Carefree, relaxed, enjoying the music washing over us as we head out for the afternoon, or a lazy meal out. It's the sort of song you should listen to with the top down, if you have a convertible.

What's your favourite song to listen to in the car?

Disclaimer: I received a voucher in exchange for this post but all views are my own.

Our Day at LEGOland Discovery Centre with Blogs Up North

23:29 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

Blogs Up North was set up by Laura from Tired Mummy of Two with the express aim of arranging a few more events for us Northern bloggers. There's loads of us so it's great to be able to meet up with our families, have a great chat and let the children play. We've had a few smaller meet ups now but, when it was announced that our April meet would be at LEGOland Discovery Centre at the Trafford Centre I knew it would be popular. We went along one rainy Sunday and met up with eleven other families, it was great to put names to faces for so many local bloggers, including a couple who I've talked to for ages but never met 'in real life'.

Blogs Up North bloggers at the Legoland Discovery Centre

It was Red Rose Daddy's first time in the centre and he loved exploring with Bud while Little Miss and I chatted. I'd been before when I took Bud and my niece and nephew to the premiere of the Legend of Chima 4D Movie Experience but this was my first time taking the factory tour and exploring Miniland properly.

Blogs Up North at the LEGOLand Discovery Centre Manchester

Bud and his Daddy enjoyed going on the various rides in the centre, and Little Miss loved exploring this large LEGO figure when she got close enough. No visit to the LDC is complete without taking in one of the terrific 4D movies and we saw the Legends of Chima film again. Bud was a bit less upset by it this time than he was first time around and actually fell asleep just before the end. The rest of the centre had obviously been too exciting for him!

Bud and Little Miss enjoying the LEGOLand Discovery Centre Manchester

After having lots of fun at the LDC we decamped next door to Cadwallader's to try their ice cream. They have a great range of ice cream flavours and toppings, with cones, pots or sundaes to suit every appetite. I tried a scoop of coffee and a scoop of honeycomb and it tasted great. I think we'll definitely return there after any future trips to the LDC or the new Sea Life Centre when it opens next door.

Cadwallader's Ice Cream and Coffee Bar, Trafford Centre

We had a lovely time with Blogs Up North and it's always great to spend time with all the great bloggers who live nearby. It's made me even more excited for Blog On, the Manchester conference that Laura is organising with Blogs Up North in July when we'll all be able to have a fantastic child-free day together!

Disclaimer: We received free entry into the LDC and a child's ice cream at Cadwallader's in exhange for an open and honest review.

The Matilda Mae Auction is Now Open!

23:37 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

Two weeks ago we met with a group of fellow North West bloggers and others to walk and remember Matilda Mae, the beautiful daughter of Jennie and David, who fell asleep as a result of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), three months ago. The day of the walk was grey and wet but we walked, we talked and we blew bubbles up to Matilda Mae in the sky.

Sarah from A Party of Seven took some amazing photos of the day and I wanted to share these stunning shots of my little family.

Walks took place all over the country to raise money for the Lullaby Trust which researches SIDS and aims to ensure that no families feel the agony that Jennie and David are. This was the first in a series of events to raise money and remember Matilda Mae. Some bloggers will taking part in a parachute jump soon but there is a great way to contribute to the fundraising going on right now.

The Tots 100 has come together with a huge amount of companies and individuals to organise an auction to raise money for the Lullaby Trust, a few items have already ended but more are still being added. All items are brand new and have been donated for the auction. Why not click through to the Matilda Mae Auction and see if you can grab a bargain and raise money for a fantastic cause.

For more information on the auction please read Ghostwriter Mummy's post - An Auction to Remember Matilda Mae or, of course, Matilda Mae's beautiful mummy Jennie's blog Edspire.

Fennel Gratin and the Pyrex Impressions Square Roaster

23:00 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

I received a veg box the other week and, contained with in it, were two bulbs of fennel. I'm a big fan of fennel so knew exactly what I would do with it. On the same day I received a Pyrex Impressions Square Roaster which I knew would be the perfect receptacle for this recipe.

First, the roasting dish. Pyrex' Impressions range is made of 100% stoneware, oven proof up to to 250 degrees.The dish we received has an attractive red glaze and vintage styling which, in addition to protecting the dish from heat, makes it look great. The Impressions range is designed to be used from oven to table and saves on washing up as you don't need to use separate dishes for serving. You can also cover leftovers in the dish, pop it in the fridge and then reheat in the microwave. Anything that saves on the washing up is a hit in this house! You can also freeze this dish, but personally I don't think I could stand to have it in the freezer for too long as I'm using it all the time. It is also safe to use in the dishwasher if you have one (we don't sadly). 

Pyrex Impressions Square Roaster Red

Anyway, back to the Fennel. I love gratins, as an occasional, indulgent side dish, and we quite often use potato or cauliflower to make them. I have used fennel in the past though.

Fennel Gratin

You will need:
1 bulb of fennel per person (unless they are really large in which case 1 for 2 people)
150ml fresh cream
2 cloves of crushed garlic
50g Pecorino Romano (or Parmesan if you can't get that)

Heat oven to 200°C

Thinly slice the fennel and place in a pan of boiling water, par boil for six minutes then drain thoroughly.

Place the sliced Fennel in a roasting dish (the Pyrex Impressions Square Roaster is perfect for this)

Grate nutmeg over the dish (or sprinkle if you are using ground nutmeg), I like quite a lot of nutmeg but feel free to use however much you like, or miss it out if you aren't keen on it.

Place par boiled fennel in a dish and grate nutmeg over it

Pour the cream over.

Sprinkle the garlic across the cream and fennel mix.

Sprinkle the garlic across the cream and fennel mix.

Top with the Pecorino Romano

Top with the Pecorino Romano

Bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and golden.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and golden.

Serve with fish, or I'm told it is great with Roast Lamb too. For vegetarians, or a lighter meal, serve in larger quantities with a mixed green salad.

The best part is that the Pyrex Impressions Square Roaster's glaze made it easy to wash off the baked on gratin when the dish was empty!

Pyrex is a trademark of Corning Inc, used by permission.

Disclaimer: We were sent the roasting dish for the purpose of an open and honest review.

Plum Baby Food Stage One Savoury Blends - A Review

15:43 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

I cook a lot of Little Miss' food myself and try to experiment with different textures and flavours as much as possible, however, if we're out and about or in a hurry, I do reach for pouches as a quick and easy meal. I have a small number of trusted baby food brands that I use regularly and Plum Baby is one of that number so when they offered to send me some of their new range of savoury blends for Little Miss to try we were pleased to do so.

Plum have launched their new range of savoury-led flavours to answer the concerns of parents that their children may be developing a sweet tooth at an early age. The new range is packed with interesting ingredients like quinoa and purple carrot and smoothly blended to create a first weaning food.

Plum Baby Food Stage One Savoury Blends

We were sent all three of the new flavours:
  • Sweet Potato, Corn and Apple
  • Broccoli and Apple
  • Pear, Blueberry and Purple Carrot
All three blends incorporate a mixture of fruit and vegetables.Some of them are a bit more unusual blends but Plum can always be relied upon to go for less obvious mixes that work really well. I was pleased to see the inclusion of broccoli in one of the recipes as Little Miss had spat this out the first time I tried her with it as a purée and I wanted her to try it again. Plum choose their ingredients to maximise the nutritional benefits of the meals (hence the inclusion of purple carrots rather than orange, which have a higher level of antioxidants) and all of their blends contain quinoa which is high in protein.

So what did Little Miss make of the meals?

Baby Girl tries the Plum Savoury Blends broccoli and apple

We've tried all of the flavours so far and all have been successful. Little Miss likes her food and she has enjoyed sampling these pouches. The photos show her trying the broccoli and apple flavour, the one I was most concerned about if she would like it, I needn't have been, she loved it. When she really enjoys a food she smacks her lips while she is eating, it's so funny, there was plenty of that going on with all three flavours. I think her favourite flavour was pear, blueberry and purple carrot as she actually cried when this pouch was finished! It's quite an alarming purple colour but, as I generally associate purple with being high in antioxidants this wasn't a concern. The sweet potato, corn and apple had a slightly thicker texture, perhaps due to the corn? As sweet potato is one of our weaning staples she enjoyed this too.

I am a firm believer in not feeding my child anything I wouldn't eat myself (except bananas which are the devil's food and make my partner feed them to her!) I've tried all three blends. They do have a sweetness offered by the fruit but the vegetables give an earthier, savoury undertone which is missing from many prepared baby foods.

The consistency of the pouches is very smooth and perfect for first weaning. Little Miss is just moving on to fork mashed food now but  I would definitely recommend these to the parents and babies who are just embarking on weaning. We've used up our samples now but I would buy this range again to mix with baby pasta, as a more substantial meal for an older baby. I did this regularly with Bud and, again, it offered a simple, quick meal or one that could easily be prepared away from home (we used to take cold pasta in a bowl and mix a pouch with it when needed).

Disclaimer: We received a range of Plum baby food for the purpose of an open and honest review.

Play Foam from Learning Resources - A Review

12:21 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

We all know that sensory and creative play is a great experience for our children but, usually, this kind of play means messy play and it can be tricky to find the necessary time and space to get stuck in with it.

Learning Resources have a product that really takes the mess out of both. Their Play Foam aims to offer creative, sensory play straight out of the box, with no mess and no waste as it doesn't dry out like other types of dough and foam.
Play foam from Learning Resources

We received a pack of Play Foam which contained eight different colours of foam. Four plain and four which  included glitter. The packaging is really bright and it's clear to see the colours included. I didn't actually like the packaging as, once it is opened it has to be thrown away, I would prefer it to provide somewhere to store the play foam for future use.

The foam itself is made up of tiny polystyrene balls which are stuck together. You can compress them and stretch them apart in order to mould them into different shapes.

Play Foam from Learning Resources Blue

The texture of the foam is quite unusual. It isn't sticky or wet and for me has the consistency of marshamllow rice krispie squares! 

Bud got stuck into it straight away and really enjoyed exploring the foam and making different shapes with it. 

Small boy playing with the Learning Resources Play Foam

Throughout the time he was playing with it he was talking about the different colours and the different ways in which he was separating the foam, for example he said he was tearing and ripping. He loved that some of the foam was sparkly and this added an interesting dimension to his creations as you could see the glitter twinkling.

Bud didn't manage to make anything really recognisable apart from this flower 

Small boy and his Play Foam Flower

This photo does show how easy it is to stick the colours together to create a multi-coloured design. This is great as it really enhances the design but, once you have mixed the colours it is virtually impossible to separate them out again. You end up with a great big multi-coloured ball of foam to play with. This isn't a bad thing as you can see the distinct colours in the mix rather than it going that horrible sludge brown colour that mixed playdough goes.

Of course I had to play too and I came up with a caterpillar, it seemed the perfect use of all the different colours of dough before Bud mixed them thoroughly together. The second photo here is what happened after Bud collected it all together.

Play Foam Caterpillar and mix

I think the Play Foam is good value for money and is comparable with play dough. Obviously it not drying out means that it is likely to last a little longer. I do wish the packaging offered a way to store the foam after opening as ours is now just up on the shelf and I'd like to be able to put it back in the box.

If you'd like to try Play Foam for yourself then pop over to the Learning Resources Facebook Page to enter their competition to win one of five packs which ends on 7th June.

Disclaimer: We were sent this Play Foam in exchange for an open and honest review

The Foodies Festival at Tatton Park

00:03 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

Last Sunday we were invited to attend the Foodies Festival at Tatton Park with Blogs Up North. Foodies Festivals are a series of events which take place in outdoor settings across the country during the Summer months. They combine a mixture of suppliers, chefs, exhibitions, masterclasses and pop up restaurant tents.

Tatton Park Foodies Festival

We took both sets of parents with us and had a wonderful day browsing the stalls and sampling all the delights on offer.From cheese to curry spices, to artisan ciders and kitchen ware. There was a huge programme of demonstrations and exhibitions available to book on to but, in the end, we decided to pass on them and just take our time wandering around the stalls, picking up a few interesting purchases here and there.

I had a VIP ticket which gave me fast track entry into the demonstrations, access to the VIP lounge, a goodie bag, a free glass of Champagne and a meal. This would ordinarily cost £38 which I felt was over priced for the value it represented although the opportunity to sit and chat to Jen from My Mummys Pennies and Jenny from The Brick Castle over a glass of Champagne was lovely.

Tatton Park Foodies Festival

There were lots of opportunities to sample some wonderful produce and it was great to see the wide range that was available. Many of the stall holders were really pleasant and happy to chat about the history and development of their products. We'd actually met a couple of the stall holders at previous events elsewhere and it was great to see them again and stock up!

I'd definitely return to the Foodies Festival at Tatton Park, I really loved the surroundings and the variety of stall holders was terrific, I think I would pass on the VIP ticket next time though. I was pleasantly surprised at how family friendly the festival is with lots of child-friendly food and workshops which got children cooking. I think if we were to visit again I'd definitely book Bud on to one of these sessions as he loves helping in the kitchen at the moment.

Foodies Festivals are taking place throughout the UK during the summer, check out their website for dates and times and the opportunity to win some VIP tickets of your own.

We finished our day by wandering down through Tatton Park where Bud had his first proper trip on a Carousel, he loved it!

Small boy and Grandma on the Victorian Carousel at Tatton Park

Disclaimer: We received free tickets in exchange for an open and honest review of the event.

HABA My First World Fire Station Large Playset - A Review for Izziwizzi Kids Play Fest

13:09 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

We are big fans of Haba toys in this house and, as a result, were delighted to be asked to review a toy from their new for 2013 range. Bud is really starting to play imaginatively and using role play at the moment so, when we were sent the My First World Fire Station Large Playset I was fairly sure it would be a hit.

Firstly, this is our video of Bud playing with the set with some information from me too. Read on for a few close ups of the toy and a few more of my observations on it.

We've been playing with the fire playset for quite a while now and it has been played with daily, for a good length of time. Bud doesn't actually have a lot of 'real world' small play toys so I wasn't sure if this would be interesting to him as it doesn't feature pirate, knights  or animals. He understood instantly what the set was and what to do with it. When you see him shouting 'it's a fire station' that was the first time he had seen this toy.

The set is excellent quality. I worry about the box being how you store the toy as Bud has good form for destroying toys. This box is made out of really toughened cardboard and it has been fine so far. I do hope that by encouraging him to be careful with it, it should stand the test of time and a heavy handed three year old. The pieces are really well crafted, measuring about a centimetre in thickness with clear, colourful decoration. They fit into the box for storage well and then the handle comes through to secure the lid which folds over. The detailed illustrations on the outside and inside of the box really enhance the play and my son has used them to tell stories when he is playing in addition and alongside the play pieces.

HABA My First World Fire Station Large Playset  Close up

As we have played with this toy I see more and more different ways to do so. The blue hose can be used as a threading game by feeding it into the fire engine, the fire fighters or the hydrant and the stories that Bud tells when playing are so funny to hear. I was surprised at how well he understands the processes that fire fighters use to tackle fires and rescue people and cats. I didn't even know that he knew about cats getting stuck up trees but he straight away put the cat in the tree and said that the fireman had to come and rescue it. Haba have thought of everything, I love that you can turn around the fire blocks when you have put the fire out to show just smoking sticks instead of a full blaze.

HABA My First World Fire Station Large Playset play pieces Close up

If I had any concerns about this toy it is for the box. It is perfectly fine now but I would hate it to get worn and, when you are using it as the background for play in this way this is likely to happen more quickly than if you were just getting it out and playing with the pieces. That said, the box is a crucial element in this set and I don't actually see how it would work as well if it was made from, say, wood.

I really feel that this toy is a great addition to our collection. I'm hoping that, once Bud is finished with it, Little Miss will love it too. Haba toys, generally, are built to last and be passed on and I am sure this is no exception. 

Update. September 2013: I'm delighted to announce that the HABA My First Play World Fire Brigade set has been nominated for a Slow Toy Award for 2013! I think this is a really deserving toy and one that I would love to see do well in the awards:

Disclaimer: We are Izziwizzi Kids Toy Testers and this is a review for Playfest. The toy was received for the purpose of this review but all our thoughts are honest and unbiased.