Reading for Pre-schoolers; Top Ten Books

Regular readers will know I have tried to get the little ones interested in books from a very early age. Yes, we do all the usual things such as reading at bedtime and throughout the day as and when opportunities arise. One of the things that I have done, is to put some books in the toy box for them to play with. This seems to have worked, as Toddler boy happily sits and looks at books turning the pages carefully, which always surprises me as he does his best to destroy everything else which comes into his path.

Now Toddler Boy has a baby sister, he is doing his best to encourage her to look at books. First he places them just within reach, this encourages a bit of crawling. Then he lets her get to them, have a few nano-seconds of playing and then he takes them away with his battle cry ” MINE, SHARE!” I have done my best to explain the concept of sharing but it hasn’t sunk in yet.

The other day he went out and left her (us) in peace, hence she actually got to have a good look at some books. This got me thinking about the best books I have found for her age group. Here are the ones that seem to go down especially well in our house:

  1. That’s not my……. (Teddy, Penguin, Bunny) by Rachel Wells and Fiona Watt
  2. Tickle, Tickle by Helen Oxenbury
  3. The Busy Little Train by Anna Claybourne, Jo Moon
  4. Where are you Little Penguin? by Nicola Baxter
  5. Maisy’s Big Flap Book by Lucy Cousins (any Maisy book goes down well though)
  6. Yellow Digger by Benedict Blathwayt
  7. Pip The Puppy illustrated by Axel Schaffer
  8. Dinosaur by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells
  9. Elephant Wellyphant by Nick Sharratt
  10. Chimp and Zee’s Animals By Catherine and Lawrence Anholt

Cooking for Idiots: Masterclass 1; Crumble

Disclaimer: I’m a rubbish cook, but there are a few staples which I have found are very easy to make and can be used to impress the foolhardy.

Description; A nice hearty British dessert which kids seem to eat. Probably as it requires little or no effort on the part of chewing and delivers a lot of sugar in one go. Basically, a load of stewed fruit, with a topping of butter, flour and sugar.

Stewing Fruit
Chop the fruit up (peeling first if appropriate), put into a bowl add some water (usually about a cupful) put into microwave for a few minutes checking to see progress. Voila.
I used the above blackcurrants harvested when I noticed the weight on blackcurrants on our bush causing it to be virtually a creeping blackcurrant bush. Oh, and I wanted to occupy the Toddler for a while. DON’T ever chose blackcurrants, there is a reason why 98% of British Blackcurrants are made into Ribena; They take absolutely blimming HOURS to top and tail , making every teeny tiny mouthful something you are obliged to eat. Obviously, because of this, children love them.

The Crumble Topping
Put some butter into a bowl. Then add some flour or/ and a handful of oats. Mix together with your hands in a sort of mushing together motion. Children love doing this, make sure they have clean fingernails though or you’ll have crumble tinged with luminous pink play dough. This might look funky, but it tastes a bit funny. Dump a load of sugar in the mixture and mix it around a bit. I use brown sugar, as this makes me feel virtuous. If you are anti- sugar, just sprinkle some on top of the mixture once you have put it in the dish on top of your stewed fruit.

Put it in oven. Stop cooking when you start to smell burning, if the smoke alarm goes off you might be a bit late. But the provision of a steak knife should enable you to scrape off most of the burnt bits.

Serve with lashings of custard, cream or ice cream. If you put enough on it, people wont be able to taste any cooking disasters.

Happy cooking!

Ten Ways to Re-use Your Old Clothes

I have to admit I’m one of these annoying waste not, want not types. People who know me will agree, we have a fairly large house. You can’t actually get into many of the rooms though, for the stuff I have acquired and refuse to chuck out. Should you fancy doing a museum exhibition on toys from the late 1970’s to 1980’s, well, I can provide you with near enough my entire original toy box. Chock full of yellow lead paint Rubix cubes and other noxious things which I don’t want my kids to play with, its only use in the last few years has been for a museum exhibition and for something to get out and look at, discuss and put back again.

Should you require a baby walker, well I have at least 5 thanks to a Mother and Baby magazine product trial I did for them. I can’t get rid of even one, as I don’t know which one baby Fifi will prefer. Its the same with pushchairs (Ive discussed this before), highchairs, books, clothes, cookery items and so on.

There are reasons for this; For example, the Frost French season one cardigan that I took to the charity shop in an act of blatant clearing out, now worth a fair few squid due to their designer fame. For, me even more distressing is the loss of the series of concert tickets detailing the bands I saw in the early 1990s, this included Oasis, Pulp, Blur and Nirvana before they made it big (sob). However, I have Freecycled a lot of stuff, curtains, curtain poles, grill pans, rabbit hutches, carpet, bags, jars and so on. This would be good if I hadn’t actually looked at Freecycle and acquired a lot more stuff to replace it all. I’m banned from looking at it at the moment.

Anyway, back to my recycling week pledge, to recycle textiles. Now, if I don’t buy anything, there won’t be a net overall gain in stuff in the house, so this will be good. I have to admit, Ive not actually been actively doing the pledge long enough to show the results. Although I will try to over the next few weeks. However, I thought I would share with you some of my tips for recycling textiles when sewing (please remember though, if the item is really good, its worth Free-cycling, Ebay-ing or sending it to the charity shop);

1. Use your scraps to make applique letters for kids T-Shirts or an apron like Anjie did here.

2. Make a quilt or a rag rug from the scraps.

3. Use old bed linen as lining in dresses- the dress I made for my sister’s wedding for baby Fifi was lined with one of our old duvets!

4. When you get fed up of your old duvets, simply cut them down and make them into ones for the cot/ junior beds. I’ve done this really successfully for Toddler boy and it really requires no skill whatsoever. You could also make some sheets for the cots this way very easily.

5. I have re-used hubby’s PJ tops and old work shirts by using the fabric to make myself and Toddler boy tops and T-shirts depending on the fabric. I’m also intending to make baby Fifi some simple shift dresses.

6. You could use fabric to make little party bags, this way, the kids can even keep the bag. You can even make toy storage bags this way.

7. You could use some of the fabric to make little soft toys.

8. Shorten old fashioned long skirts or dresses, this is easy to do and can give something a new lease of life. You don’t even need a sewing machine, just a needle and thread would suffice.

9. Add ruffles and flowers made from your old scraps of material to plain T-shirts and dresses to create a bit of detail.

1o. Use old fabric to make t-towels or dish-cloths

For those of you who are using the old, ‘I can’t sew’ excuse. Here are a couple of helpful web-sites:
Burda Style
About Sewing

Don’t forget buttons on your old clothes, you could use these on all the new clothes you make, or you could give them to the kids (provided they don’t eat them) to stick to home-made birthday cards etc etc. Zips can be re-used again on bags, new clothes or even as applique style designs on things!

Happy sewing, don’t ask me if you get stuck though, im a relative beginner myself!

Silver Cross Halo Pushchair Review

Silver Cross Halo Pushchair Review

I have a dirty secret, I have 4 pushchairs. It seems perfectly reasonable to me, you see, over the last two years I have been struggling to find the perfect pushchair for every occasion. This has lead me to purchase :

* Silver Cross Linear Freeway Pram system- The first pushchair I had, great for shopping as it has a large basket and ideal for putting the baby in a range of different seating positions.

* Out and About Nipper 360- brilliant for the beach, easy to push, comfortable for baby, but does get the odd puncture. I did use this for jogging occasionally and its great for that.

* Maclaren Quest- for the car and general nipping about, quick to collapse, a classic buggy, everyone has one.

* Phil & Teds Sport Buggy- for transporting two screaming kids at the same time.

I was quite happy with this number. Although hubby feared for his life and the porch is straining under the tangled weight of metal. However, then I was given the opportunity to review another pushchair. So, we come to pushchair number 5! The Silver Cross Halo

Why I’m keen to give Silver Cross a chance!

Silver Cross are a long established British Company, having produced their first pushchair in 1877. Its this name and heritage that attracted me to purchase the Linear Freeway. However, I have to admit, its this pushchair/pram that lead me to buy the others, as it was a bit of a mistake purchase for me.

I bought it over the Internet and didn’t realise how big the frame was when the pram was folded. It just about fitted in the car boot. Lovely to push and with a big shopping basket, I used to walk all over St Albans proudly pushing my sturdy buggy. Until the handle snapped off miles from home. I was having a bad day, suffering from Post Natal Depression and I literally felt like sitting down on the kerb and giving up. I looked at (then) baby boy and that gave me the energy to move, but I vowed not to walk too far with the pram again.

I digress, I was really delighted to be given the chance to review another Silver Cross pushchair, as I really felt that the problems I had with the Linear Freeway (which was fixed and I still use) were down to me.

At Last! On to the Review
For me, there are several aspects of a pushchair which influence how favourably I consider them. So, I thought that rather than do a Pro’s and Con’s list which has been done very eloquently before, I thought I would take you through my thoughts on the various aspects of a pushchair which are important to me:

Ease of Construction
I’m not known for my ability to work technical things, this includes constructing potentially difficult items such as pushchairs. When the Halo arrived, with a very apologetic TNT man in tow- who had actually managed to lose it in the depot, toddler boy and I were extremely excited, so we tore the box open and tried to put it all together without instructions. It wasn’t all that easy, so I had to resort to using the instructions. There are two types of instruction, written and pictures. I used the pictures and within seconds I had constructed it. Then in a further few seconds, Toddler boy had installed himself and he remained there for the next hour or so, revelling in the most luxurious chair in our house.

Ease of fold
The pram collapses using a trigger system either side of the frame. From what I can tell this is a fairly standard feature of the Silver Cross prams. I found the mechanism to be a little bit fiddly, but once the pram was folded it was very small and there is a handy carry handle.

The wheels are really easily removed and as the pram folds flat, this means that it will fit into a very small space. I think this ability to fold flat is a major benefit, as it means that if you are short of space you really can cram it somewhere very small. Just think, no longer will you have a car boot rammed full of things wedged into tiny crevices when you take your next British Summer holiday. You could easily stash the buggy on the floor behind the drivers seat and still fit your baby seat behind there. (Well, you could in our Zafira anyhow!) For me, all things said, I would argue that for the comfort you get for the baby, its better than the Maclaren for the car boot.

Longevity of Use
The Halo is suitable from birth until toddler. The seat reclines to flat and the stage 1 car-seat attaches. This is a major bonus. However, my toddler did look a bit snug in it, as you can see from the image on the left. One of my major bug bears with it is the fact that you can’t attach a buggy board, which means its only suitable if you have one child. However, I guess it all depends on the age gap between your kids. For me at the moment, wandering about with two kids, I can’t really better the functionality of the Phil & Teds. That said Ive enjoyed pushing this so much that I’m prepared to take the baby sling with me and swap the kids around as need requires.

Use with a car seat?
I have to admit, that I haven’t really used the car-seat- puschair option with either of my kids very much. However, the fact that it converts into a travel system with the addition of the Ventura car seat, means that it offers a remarkable range of flexibility. I actually own a Ventura car seat as it goes with my other Silver Cross Linear Freeway pram. So, I can say with experience that fitting the car-seat is a bit of a doddle.
The Halo is a fabulously trendy looking pushchair. It comes in three different colours and I would be happy to have any of them. I received a couple of positive comments about it whilst out shopping which I was quite chuffed about.


Image; Halo storage system, with raincover and baby-sling in the bungee cords and Babymel change bag hanging from the frame!

I have to admit, I do walk about with almost the entire contents of our house, except the kitchen sink. I’ve been known to have 3 change bags on occasion. Its a sort of knee jerk reaction to being out in early streamlined days and having to deal with an exploding poo which lead me to have to sacrifice my t-shirt to baby ( I did have a jumper). That said, for me, this is one area where the Halo really falls down. There isn’t a proper storage basket, rather a system of stretchy cords in which, once you have wedged the rain cover you can’t fit a lot else. When I hung my change bag off the handle however I adjusted the bag it still seemed to push the seat sightly forward. I wasn’t very happy with this. For storage, the Silver Cross Linear Freeway is really excellent.

The Halo has the best rain cover I have ever seen, It simply drops over the top of the whole pushchair. Brilliant.

Ease of push
The Halo is incredibly easy to push over normal street surfaces, it glides. This really made it a pleasure to push, apart from the handle which after a while started to stick in my hand. I think this could be remedied by a bit of padding. For the sake of completeness I also took the buggy over grass, cobbles and gravel. These surfaces proved a bit harder to push on through and were also a bit juddery on the wrists. However, if you are not worried about yourself, the suspension was excellent and the little traveller within the pushchair was nicely cushioned from the bumps. If you live in a bumpy country place then I would recommend the Out and About Nipper 360.

The Canopy
One of the things I love about the Out and About Nipper 360 is the canopy, its long and provides a lot of sun shelter for the baby. This is a feature that I look for on pushchairs having endured a whiney baby and toddler for hours on end complaining about the sunlight. When I got the Phil & Teds, I actually purchased the additional UV canopy/ screen net thing, which I have found very handy. Phil who designed the Halo and who was talking about it at the British Mummy Bloggers meet has really come good on this feature. The canopy is generous and there is an additional UV screen which can be folded back. I approve of this feature very much! Some people have mentioned the lack of a window, personally I don’t I use that very much anyhow, so I’d rather not have one, than have the thing flapping about or providing an area which isn’t UV protected.

Comfort for the baby/ toddler
This is a crucial aspect for me and I would say that both baby and toddler look very comfortable. There is a lovely cushioned seat pad included and a really good foot muff system which clips on. The seat can be reclined to any position with a handy webbing strap at the back, which was very easy to operate. I personally like this sort of system which is why I really like the Out and About Nipper 360 pushchair. However, on the Halo its much easier to operate as you don’t need to fiddle about with strapping clips. There is an ingenious system which means you literally flick one lever and pull the straps.

The baby is also nicely cosseted away within the pushchair, protected by the Halo of metal which gives the pushchair its name. I really really like this feature as it really helps you to keep the baby away from the prying hands of strange old ladies who seemed to have a compulsion to poke Toddler boy and grab baby Fifi’s hand. In my opinion, for this feature alone, its worth buying this pushchair. But then, I can be a bit stand-offish and fussy with my kids. Message here for any old ladies reading this, look but dont touch!

The fabric used is clearly of really high quality, it feels nice to the touch and looks as if it will last. I really like the foot muff and seat padding. The silver paint (?) on the frame is a bit disappointing as it looks as if it will scratch off quite easily. Overall the Halo does feel like a good quality product, unlike some other pushchairs I have looked at.

At first glance, £275 it seems a bit pricey, but then I thought about it and I realised that for my first pushchair I spent £375! As a result, I actually think that for what you get its very reasonable. Think, you are effectively getting the stroller that you would inevitably buy after that first pram system, but one that has pretty much all the functionality of a pram system.

So would I buy it?
After testing it and using it over the last couple of weeks, I have to say YES. I really genuinely have grown to love it. In fact, Ive even been going about with a baby sling, so that I can swap the kids around if Toddler boy gets fed up walking. The main disadvantage is the lack of a shopping basket, but that said, for popping around the shops on a Saturday afternoon, it’s fine. I am also informed that I could purchase a special bag for it (if I wasn’t so mean I might be tempted). I just like the way it glides about the pavement whilst feeling solid and I really like the way the baby/ toddler sits inside it.

I’m lucky, I can chose to keep the Halo, so I think I can now give away my Maclaren and my Linear Freeway and streamline the household buggy collection down to three. My thanks go to Silver Cross, my faith in the quality of your brand has been restored and I’m really proud to own a British pushchair.

Book Review: Instructions not Included by Charlotte Moerman

I’m in awe of fellow mummy blogger Charlotte Moerman, not only does she juggle three little boys on a daily basis, but she has managed to write a charming book detailing their lives and her journey from office girl to mum to three in as many years. Charlotte’s husband is a businessman travelling the world, so no help there and although she has a cleaner once a week to maintain some sort of order, she does it all herself. She is a woman that any mum can identify with, in fact, this would be a good manual for any first-time mum to be. It tells the truth!

How I laughed at her opening the door to the gas-man whilst in a whirl of breast-feeding chaos. I un-thinkingly did the same when our next door neighbour called round. Red cheeks all-round. I have to cook several different variations on dinner at different times every-night. Poor Charlotte is cursed with children who all seem to like wildly different food-stuffs. I have a double buggy, she has to use the double buggy and the sling. Ha, ha, someone has it worse than me. It made me feel so much better!

I have to admit that the start of the book jumped around a bit and it took me a while to get my head around what was going on. Then, all of a sudden the book and writing style metaphorically speaking, finds its feet, or rather, I suspect, that Charlotte found her feet, in terms of the writing required from blog to book. It’s like motherhood as a whole, you jump around in a wild panic then, all of a sudden it all falls into place and you could look after 37 children whilst cooking a healthy organic meal, finding time to go to the loo and ironing hubby’s shirts. I haven’t got to that stage yet, but I can dream. I digress, by the end of the book, I really felt that the whole range of emotions involved in motherhood had been described beautifully and it was a real pleasure to read. It also has a particularly nice cover, important for anything that goes on my bookshelf.

I can’t wait for some more installments and the film of the book. I wonder who Charlotte would like to play her, in my minds eye I have Renee Zwellegger down, but perhaps she has some other ideas. You can read her blog at The Buggy Blog and if you get the chance have a read of the book, I’m sure that you will enjoy it and find a few bits you can identify with.