Monday, 29 April 2013

Mamia Easy-Pants

My little boy will be three years old in couple of months. He is my only son -  a lovely little late in life miracle after five daughters. I have totally enjoyed the opportunity to buy 'boy' clothes - especially the tiny underpants. We have dinosaur underpants, super hero underpants, robot underpants.... None of them have had much use. He has not been a very co-operative potty trainee.

Finally, I feel I am making a little headway with the process. He still won't tell me when he needs the toilet but I can easily recognise the 'need a wee' dance and the look of concentration that precedes a poo. If I pop him on the toilet, he will perform and be very pleased with himself. However, he is far from being reliable. This is where the pull-up style of nappy is invaluable. It gives me peace of mind when I need it without feeling as though we are taking a backward step. The whole potty training thing can be a lot more relaxed.

Of course the trainer pants cost money and put an extra strain on an already tight household budget. For this reason I was delighted to be asked to try out some Easy-Pants and wipes from Aldi's Mamia range.

You cannot fail to be impressed by the awards the products have received from such institutions as Practical Parenting and Pregnancy and Mother and Baby. You also cannot fail to be impressed by the value. At an everyday price of £2.99 for a pack of 20 junior Easy-Pants and just 79p for a pack of 80 wipes, this represents a considerable saving on the branded alternative (unless you happen to be lucky enough to find them on special offer!)

But how do they actually compare in practice to the branded products?

I have been using the products for a few days now. The wipes are nice and thick and generously sized with an easy to use lid to prevent drying out. The Easy-Pants are a comfortable, neat, snug fit and thus far have not let me down in terms of their functionality. I really can't fault them.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

HABA 75th anniversary - Sleepy Princess

Sleepy Princess from HABA is a game based on the classic fairy tale The Princess and the Pea. The set consists of a double sided playing board, a pretty in pink wooden princess, a royal bed, a dice, a pile of mattresses, blankets and cushions and of course, a pea.

There are two versions of the game detailed in the instructions. In the simple version, players take it in turns to throw the dice (starting with the youngest) and work together to collect bedding items to pile into a stack on the bed in the correct order of mattress, blanket, cushion. If players land on a washing machine symbol on the game board, a bedding item has to be removed from the bed. The game is over if the stack topples (all lose) or you succeed in placing all the items in the pile (all win).

In a competitive version of the game, a maximum of four players each choses a bedding set of a particular colour. Taking it in turns to move around the board, the players pile their bedding onto the bed (or off!) according to the square they land on. The winner is the first to place all their pieces. If the pile topples, the player whose turn it is must take all the fallen items and begin again.

I love that in the second version, the instructions state that the player with the longest hair goes first - very princessy!

This is a game that encourages turn taking, correct use of a dice, a certain amount of hand-eye co-ordination and of course learning to be a gracious loser.

The bedding is gorgeous - bright and cheerful, well made and appeals to a love I have of all things miniature. The bed is made from four pieces of cardboard that slot together. I do worry slightly that it will be prone to damage (on standby with the sellotape!). As it is in my nature to worry, I will also worry about losing the pea which is small and rolls.

My children were just as happy (happier even) playing with the pieces and making a nice comfy bed for the princess as they were actually playing the game.

See also:

HABA 75th anniversary - Mini Memo

There is not a lot to say about this Mini Memo game from HABA apart from that I absolutely love it. Sixteen pairs of delightfully illustrated small chunky tiles for playing the classic matching memory game,  all fitting into a lovely little tin for storage. Great for travelling or keeping the kids (and adults!) entertained between courses when dining out. I shall definitely be popping it in my handbag for when a distraction technique is warranted.

Lightweight, compact, sturdy - perfect.

HABA 75th anniversary - Biofino play food

As a mum, it comes completely naturally to me to disregard my own wants and needs for the sake of my kids.  The last bag of crisps or the biggest piece of cake would always go to them, not me. That may be a very simplistic example but it illustrates the point.

My ex husband did not prioritise in the same way. He always put himself first.

To use the food example again, I distinctly remember an argument about the children eating all the cheese. He was furious that there was none for him. I was incensed that he was once again proving his own selfishness.

Horrified as I am with retrospect that we would have such arguments in front of the children, we did. My little Taylor was there. Taylor was timid and wide-eyed. She never really said much. It was so unexpected and hilariously funny when she interjected in a sing song play ground taunt sort of way (naa, na na, naa, na style) with theatrically wagging finger, you got no chee-eese!!

Taylor's 'you got no cheese ' comment has become the stuff of family legend with me and my girls. I don't recall my ex husband being particulalry amused by it.

Anyway, we DO got cheese. We got cheese courtesy of HABA's 75th anniversary blogging project.

We were sent a selection of HABA goodies to review, the first of which, from the Biofino play food range, is Sliced Cheese.

My children love preparing picnics and feasts with their pretend food and it is definitely something I like to encourage.

The Biofino Sliced Cheese Variety contains three different sliced cheeses (the identity of one I can hazard a guess at being something like Emmental because it  has holes) and a rather nice tomato slice as a contribution towards your five-a-day. It was a bit of a fiddle to separate the slices as they were firmly attached to each other to keep them looking neat and well displayed inside the packaging.

Once that mission was complete we had enough yellow and orange felt squares and circles (I mean cheese) to make sandwiches for all our hungry teddies!

Unfortunately, to re-use that phrase coined by my daughter many years ago - we got no bread!!

(The HABA Biofino play food range is suitable for children 3+)

See also:
 HABA Mini Memo
HABA Sleepy Princess

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Gloucester Old Spot Piglets.. and sausages

Some time ago, shortly after moving out of the family home and into a flat of her own, my daughter Ivy invited myself and my husband out for a meal with her and her boyfriend. Tension between Ivy and the rest of the family had been running high in the months leading up to her making the decision to move out. I hated feeling so at odds with my daughter and so powerless to do anything about it. The meal invitation was an ideal opportunity to rebuild relationships and move towards a more harmonious future.

She took us to a very nice country pub with a reputation for good food. She had dined there before with her boyfriend's family and sung high praise for the shallot and goats cheese tartlet - a shining light in an otherwise limited vegetarian menu. On her previous visit, she had been given a mystery sealed envelope containing a voucher for up to 100% off the bill, which she intended to use for our night out.

The pub was lovely. We were seated near to a log fire which was very cosy and shelves of old books added to the charm. I was hungry and ready for my tartlet.

I scanned the menu.

No tartlet.

Ivy's expression was one of confusion. They had changed the menu.

I didn't have my reading glasses but I was sure I could find an appetising alternative. With a combination of holding the menu at arm's length to accommodate my focus, trying different angles to get the best light for reading and asking my fellow diners "what does that say?" it became clear that there was actually NOTHING vegetarian that didn't involve pasta (boring), risotto (stodgy and bland) or beetroot (plain gross). I was struggling. I did not want to spoil Ivy's treat for us by suggesting we try a different restaurant (she did have her mystery voucher for this one).

My husband is easy. He eats a mostly vegetarian diet but will happily eat (and enjoy) meat occasionally. It is his firm opinion that this is the healthiest approach to nutrition. He chose traditional pub grub - fish and chips.

Ivy's boyfriend chose lamb and Ivy picked one of the vegetarian dishes. I was starting to feel a bit panicky that I still hadn't a clue what to choose. There was a quiche which I was leaning towards. It contained bacon but it wasn't like eating a rump steak. I convinced myself it was vegetarian with a hint of meat. The pint of ale I was drinking on an empty stomach helped with my delusion.

I announced (with justification) that this was what I wanted but almost as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I had doubts. If I was going to eat meat anyway, why make my selection based on the dish that seemed 'least meaty'. Why not go for it and chose something unashamedly meaty - something that for all my years as a vegetarian I have harboured cravings for - something that kept jumping out of the menu to tease me. I blurted - NO! I've changed my mind!!

With a deep breath for courage, I ordered the Gloucester Old Spot sausages with creamy mash, seasonal vegetables and onion gravy.

As soon as the words were out of my mouth (again)... I felt guilty.

Despite further fortification with my ale, I was plagued with indecision. It was probably getting pretty boring for the rest of the party by now, so a coin was tossed.

The head of our royal majesty declared that tonight, I would be dining on .... Gloucester Old Spot Sausages. Without the feeling of guilt to dry my saliva, I felt mouthwateringly excited.

I thoroughly enjoyed my meal (which was a far cry from our usual Quorn sausages) and Ivy's mystery voucher entitled her to a 50% reduction in the bill (happy Ivy!)

Last week, during a trip to our local organic farm, I had the pleasure of seeing some beautiful little piglets. Gloucester Old Spot piglets. My thoughts turned to my sausage dinner. I actually felt totally OK about it.


Although these piglets were bred for meat, to satisfy a human demand for pork, it did not feel wrong. The organic free range farming methods ensured that the animals had a good life with no more cruelty than one would expect from the simple fact that there are other animals higher up the food chain.

My daughter Liberty's boyfriend is a committed meat eater. I am proud that he choses to pay a little extra for his meat to buy it from the farm. When he purchased a couple of packets of Gloucester Old Spot sausages, I felt no compunction about cooking them in my kitchen and partaking of a plump banger (or two).

It is not something I will make a regular habit of but it certainly bestowed an air of occasion to our family meal. Perhaps my husband is right. A mostly vegetarian diet with the odd meaty indulgence is the way to go.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Easter Days

The kids don't go back to school until next week but my husband is back at work already which definitely gives the feeling that Easter is over.

The Easter weekend itself was odd for me because two of my girls were in Portugal staying with their father. Although my eldest daughter joined us for lunch, our morning Easter Egg hunt was just for the two little ones, which is much how it will be once Taylor goes back to university and Charis goes off to boarding school. I viewed it as a little rehearsal for when that time comes. Life is going to be very different.

I made a chocolate fudge cake which Addy enjoyed decorating with mini eggs and everyone enjoyed eating.

To round off our Easter holiday festivities, we attended a special spring event at our local community owned organic farm. With the weather having drastically improved from the snow and icy winds of late, it was very well attended with people, possibly like me, desperate for signs of spring. What better 'sign of spring' than gorgeous little lambs playfully leaping onto hay bales. We were all enchanted by them, especially Dylan who just kept reaching in to touch them.

There were lots of activities for the children to get involved with:

Meeting the rescued Owls

Not too impressed with the sticky seed mix used for Making Bird Feeders

Enjoying the reward for completing the Easter Egg Trail

Wondering whether to dare entering the Straw Bale Tunnel

Certainly it was a stark contrast from shopping for designer clothes in Portugal but my girls seemed content enough drinking dodgy hot chocolate from chipped mugs and were massively enthused by the stall selling freshly made fudge in a baffling array of flavours (mars bar fudge was my personal favourite with chocolate and peanut butter being a high ranking contender for the accolade). Taylor bought a magic wand carved from a birch twig and her boyfriend demonstrated his manliness with some welly wanging.

Addy did threaten to spoil the whole experience by getting herself into the foulest of moods and insisting that we only liked 'boring fun' but it really was a lovely family day out to make up for my girls' absence the previous weekend.

Best of all for me though was a warm sunshiny day just before my husband had to return to work. We got out into the garden for a good session of weeding, pruning and preparing for the growing season with Dylan and Addy as willing 'helpers'. I was really excited to see that the snow had not damaged my rhubarb which was bursting into life with the promise of rhubarb crumbles to come. I can't wait to get back out there and start planning and planting. Happy days.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

See Brighton and Hove Albion play at home - Fifty things..

Kicking off our Fifty things to do before we're Fifty is 'See Brighton Hove Albion Play at Home' in their £120 million shiny new Amex Stadium.

I am not going to pretend to be a big football fan. I once had a curious infatuation with a Bristol City goal keeper, John Shaw, which lead to me going to see a match between City and Bristol Rovers many, many years ago ... and I get carried along with the excitement of important England matches. But that is about it. The interest ends there.

Going to see Brighton play at home made it onto our list because of my husband who does love football and has always had a strong interest in the Brighton team being Brighton born and bred himself.

If you are to be taken to see a football match as a non-supporter, this was definitely the way to do it. We were guests of the Directors in the Boardroom enjoying full hospitality thanks to the generosity of a Charlton Athletic director my husband had been working with on a 'Sport in Education' research project. Martin Perry, the Executive Director of Brighton & Hove Albion, was a wonderful host - welcoming, amusing and clearly very proud of the stadium that he had built and the team that call it home.

White chocolate pyramid mousse dessert - my kind of hospitality.

Being guests of the directors meant that we had a dress code that I would not normally associate with football. Men were suited and ladies were expected to dress smartly too - strictly no jeans. I wore my standard, sophisticated little black dress and bought a gorgeous new grey flecked chunky knit wrap-around cardigan to wear over it to keep me warm when we ventured outside the Boardroom for the match itself. This was a naive mistake. Pale woolly flecks shed and deposited themselves all over my black dress. Total wardrobe malfunction. On top of this I felt rather self conscious about two items of underwear I had chosen with body sculpting technology. They seemed to be in competition with each other to push the flab in conflicting directions. One day I'll get it right but for now I feel I have a lot to learn about dressing to impress.

The match itself was a disappointing 0-0 draw but it didn't detract from the pleasure and the excitement of the near misses in the 90th minute as Brighton attacked Charlton Athletic's goal.

Although it was very cold watching the match (even with my problematic chunky knit and the loan of an Albion fleecy blanket) I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The roar of the crowd, the accuracy of passing, the bursts of speed when possession of the ball was won - these were all thrilling.  Less thrilling was when play was a bit messy and difficult to follow. During these times I found my attention wandering. The way the sky changed from summer blue to inky black, the warm ups and stretches of the subs waiting for their chance of action on the pitch, the rituals of goal keepers left alone in the empty half of the field - all these things kept me entertained.

I'm sure my experience of the occasion was quite different from my husband's who was like an excited child. We bought him a team hat with the seagull logo as a souvenir.

I was very grateful for the loan of the hat on the cold journey back to our hotel.


On the back of the exciting 90th minute, I put a pound each way bet on a horse called Ninetieth Minute in today's Grand National. With odds of 100-1, I stood to make a great return on my small investment. I had already decided how I would spend my winnings.

Ninetieth Minute was pulled up on Fence 11 :(

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