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Friday, 16 December 2011

Bump 35 weeks pregnant!

35 weeks pregnant... 5 to go! I can't believe how fast it's all gone.

The first trimester was a bit nauseating and tiring, but although delighted at the thought of another creation growing inside of me, I didn't give it as much thought and wonder as my first pregnancy. Leon kept me busy enough as it was and I felt like I already understood what was happening- what was developing inside of me. It felt more animalistic than the first time. On another note, there's a huge difference between finding out at 11 weeks that you're surprisingly pregnant, and planning on creating a child. It's hugely romantic.

I love the feeling of second trimester when all that energy kicks in and I found myself bouncing about, very happy- feeling strong and healthy... But then that all flew out the window as my dad had a stroke at the end of July- it was critical and well, he didn't make it. I thought he'd pull through but after a couple of days it didn't happen. I don't know how this affected my foetus but he must have felt an onslaught of emotions and wondered what was up. I talked to my bump a bit just to reassure it, while explaining how sad I was that he wouldn't meet his grandpa. I also spoke to my dad, comatose in hospital, hoping he could hear me, saying my thank yous, sorrys and hopes and fears for the future- anytime I'd think of the future I'd break down, sad that he wouldn't be part of it anymore. It's actually affecting me more recently than at the time.

This last, third tremester, has tired me out a bit- Leon (almost 2) has become more active and engaging, wanting to play on the floor a lot, but I've noticed his games have become more imaginative since I've been doing that and he's content to play by himself again, building cities with towers topped with animals, a huge transport mix, varying bus passengers from people to stones and coins and singing along all the way. I'm enjoying his naptime more whether its a chance to snooze or take a couple of hours for myself. I've certainly got that nesting feeling put together with the likelihood of moving abroad in March. My energetic second trimester is catching up with me now and I'm feeling some back pain, one braxton-hicks contraction that I didn't have last time, and very slow and emotional- missing out on a lot of fun and nights out because I'm preggers and getting that 'useless' feeling about my life purpose blah blah. I snap out of it and am most content when I've cleaned my flat or made a delicious meal... But this isn't how I'd planned my late twenties to be like!

Anyway, I'm due a checkup soon to see how the little brother is getting on, and last time he was still upside down so trying to work out exactly where he is by feeling his movements! It's very hard but this site on belly mapping has been helping clear that up and I intend to determine exactly what's what! It's a great way of understanding your body, bone structure and baby!

And the bump? My, it has grown and won't stop moving- he's a feisty one he is... but I'm not as big as I was with Leon. He was 9lbs 9oz at birth so I'm hoping a smaller bump means smaller baby... (Please excuse the mess and the washing!)

35 weeks Dec 2011
19 weeks Aug 2011

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Top 5 FREE Toddler iPad apps

Since letting Leon play on the iPad I went on a bit of a downloading frenzy choosing from the array of free apps out there for tiny tots. His favourites are as follows:

First Words : Animals
This is actually my favourite as it makes me believe Leon can spell. Letter tiles are scattered around an image and the tot has to drag them to the correct place to spell out a word. The iPad says letter, and tot often repeats after him which is exciting! Free version includes the words cat, bird, keys, cake all of which were some of his first words. Rather simple but cute graphics and has 5 languages (English, Spanish, French, German, Japanese) plus English phonics. Try Japanese characters for a laugh. Cat is pronounced "Ne-Ko". Like this one so much will probs upgrade.

Kids Can Match - Animals
Very noisy memory card game with animal sounds and photos. 2 levels on free version. Can get tedious if toddler is determined but rubbish (and animal sounds go on for ages...) but Leon soon got hang of it and played over and over. This is one of the first he goes to if we bring out the iPad. Not sure why really- it does my head in...

Toddler Shapes
Virtual shape sorter with plenty of encouraging "Woohoo!" and "yay!"s along the way to Bizet's Habanera as a backing track.

Talking Tom
Irritating cat that receives a good beating or drinks milk when prodded. Repeats what toddler says to screen resulting in much laughter.

Seek and Find
Refreshingly hand drawn farm scene with a mixture of exciting and rather mundane actions resulting when toddler touches part of the scene. Donkey kicking tree to make apples fall down, pig farting in lamb's face etc! Good for exploring and although it doesn't do much Leon liked it a lot and I suppose it's like an extended lift the flap book and I like it for its simplicity compared to a lot of other apps that are more in your face. Full version is £1.69 and gives 2 extra scenes and other features.

I must admit that I've been hiding the iPad from Leon and don't really use it when I'm wih him as he's now discovered YouTube which equates to endless Fireman Sam, Teletubbies and irritating nursery rhyme videos.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Sort it out! Recycling rant

Recycling is OH's responsibility but I sometimes go with Leon to empty out our big bags of sorted junk. Living in a commercial street we can't use the big blue and black boxes like most people do locally, and I have to nag hubby to actually empty the bags before they take over our kitchen.

Leon and I enjoy posting the numerous tins, bottles and paper through the bristles and hearing the resulting clunk or smash. However the last time I took him I noticed there were no glass bins so came home with a clinking bagful. I later realised when passing on the bus that actually, glass should be recycled with the metal and plastic: it's now completely mixed recycling.

This irked me slightly as I'd just re-organised my 'recycling station' in my kitchen, setting it out in labelled boxes- I take care to sort it at home only to be mixed up together again with broken glass, tins and plastics. But I also felt like I was losing power to contribute to the recycling process if it's all mixed up when we've become pros at sorting it all out.

The way co-mingled recycling works is damn impressive though. The basics are illustrated simply in the gripping last scene of Toy Story 3 but in reality single-stream recycling is much more high-tech.
Yes the magnets lift out cans and metals, but then optical scanners separate plastics and the Veolia Magpie machine for example, analyses the plastic materials' molecular structure with an infra-red beam to identify the different types, then separates these off with an air jet blowing them off onto another belt processing a massive 5 tonnes an hour! Glass is sorted by colour scanners. Kewl.

This innovation hugely increases volume processed- an overall winner, PLUS there are massive cost savings in collection and transportation of one type of bin AND more likelihood that more materials will be recycled as the machine can adapt to other materials depending on their make up. Increasing plastic types are now possible to sort which was a major problem leading to overflowing landfills.

So basically we don't really need to sort anymore if our borough offers mixed recycling. Hmm... I still need to post items one-by-one at the big bins though as they have individual holes in them making us trawl through mixed potentially broken glass, tins etc... so actually I should really still sort? [I then saw a guy simply lift the bin lid up and pour in his junk. Now I do the same but feel like a rebel as only one of the 3 bins is unlocked.]

Aside from reduced empowerment, I also feel like it shouldn't come to this massive waste processing system. WTF is happening to the reduction in packaging we've been promised by the retail industry? There should be more conscious efforts to make REUSABLE packaging than recyclable. A place to take your wine and beer bottles at least to be washed and reused rather than enter a long and expensive process of recycling. If supermarkets are playing such a big part in our lives as everyone tells us, they could become a helpful portal closing the loop between customer and producer the other way round- where we give them back their packaging to be used again...

Has my life really become this boring that I'm talking about waste management? Perhaps. I've always been concerned about the issue but reading back I realise it's not the most enthralling topic so apologies, but it riles me. Rant over.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

How to deal with blocked baby noses: Stérimar Baby nasal spray review

Leon's been on and off with blocked noses since October and although he's not a very snotty boy, there's a lot of gunk up those narines.

Happily, he's getting better at letting us blow his nose (and looking at it) or happily sniffing into an entire packet of tissues -one by one (with minimal output) and likes me applying eucalyptic Vics vaporub at night time. I confess I enjoy picking out really big dried bogeys from his nose and love his reaction when I show him the result- but man, I need to get with it and sort out his blocked nose once and for all! Cue, Stérimar!

A mild, natural seawater nasal spray used to unblock baby's snotty noses and strengthen its defences, Stérimar Baby has been a saviour. Suitable from birth, you hold baby on your lap with their head at an angle and spray the sea water into each nostril. There'll be a bit of water/snot coming trickling out afterwards so do keep a tissue to hand!

And well, I wish it were as easy as that. There's a "special shaped pump to be used from any angle especially useful for when baby is squirming"- I literally have to wrestle Leon down and find the right moment to squirt some into his nostrils. But hey, it works rather well and is worth the armlock. There is a marked improvement in the moistening of the mucus meaning it slides out of the nostril, easier to wipe away.

I even use it myself sometimes- is that gross?? It's safe for pregnant women and is allergy approved and with the dry weather and heating etc I've been getting a dry, sometimes bleeding nose and this definitely helps!

Dr. Catherine Hood, a physician with Stérimar also suggests placing a bowl of water by the radiator in baby's room to humidify their, thus easing congestion. Much cheaper than a humidifier and it really works. We've had the heating on in the evenings for a few hours recently and it gets very dry- and the water level is remarkably reduced the next morning. Leon is not coughing anymore at night and is a lot less snotty.

Another recommendation is using a bulb syringe to suck out the mucus once it's more runny. Leon liked this less than the spray but I felt very triumphant when seeing what I was pulling out.

Stérimar Baby is available at most pharmacies across the UK RRP £4.07. We tried the spray for 0-3 year olds but check out their entire range here.

I was sent the nasal spray and cute pull-along dolphin toy for this review

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Mexico lindo

There's something quite therapeutic about 10 days in the sun when back home it's cold and grey. No shit Sherlock. But trips to my half-homeland Mexico, always instill a happiness in me as I feel closer to the culture that I've never lived in for more than weeks at a time. One day I'd love to live there, but for now I shall relish in the gifts it offers all my senses.

Contrary to our previous trip, 3 years ago where not-yet-hubby and I travelled a month in central Mexico on the cheap- we recently spent 5 days in heavenly 32C Acapulco (I hardly moved from the hotel but hubby got to venture out) and then back to Mexico City to see my family and then some friends for a wedding. It was amazing and a much needed break for us both: definitely for my man who got to spend quality time with us, and marginally more time for me as I had some help with Leon!

There are plenty of flying with a toddler tips out there - but when almost 7 months pregnant it's an extra issue. I had Leon's invaluable tiny back-pack filled with goodies like raisins, cars, dinosaurs, colouring books, crayons, flash cards, books, a clementine and a little pot of plasticine. He enjoyed unzipping the bag himself and taking out what he wanted but he slept a lot of the flight. We hardly used the iPad as envisioned.

However, a 10 hour flight with toddler + 7 month pregnant mummy = husband kicked off his seat by toddler and sleeps on floor

Discovering the kids play zone at hotel is a farce and you need to supervise kids = never seeing the adult only area with white canopy beds, tranquility and an infinity pool... Shame.

Make sure someone happily takes tot down water slide "Again!" and "Again!"

Ignorance is bliss - dont question the police with massive guns stationed outside your hotel. Believe it's protection and don't look at them in the eye.

Don't read the news before going to Mexico. The mall in front of our hotel had headless corpses strung up with "Do not enter or the same will happen to you" marked above it only weeks before we arrived. Pray for the end of narco war through legalisation or better governing.

Jardines de la Casa Azul
Frida and Diego's Dia del Muertos Shrine

The different languages, people and experiences will improve language skills: Leon loved seeing the "turtles" and cookatoos, toucans, parrots he understood were "birds" and you could see he was excited at all the new sights. He adapted really well to this amazing culture and loved the food and attention.

Coyoacan Market
Coyoacan market

Carne asada con arroz

A long-haul flight with a Tequila hangover is not advisable (not me of course!) No image recommended
He digged the travelator

If you're planning on going to Mexico- I recommend visiting the following: amazing lakes- Las Lagunas de MonteBello, explore the Mayan ruins admist the monkeys in the Palenque jungle, swim the pacific in front of rustic beach cabins on the wonderfully simple, hippyish Zipolite (expect naked people), discover the indigenous villages near San Cristobal de las Casas, swim with pelicans in the fishing town of Zihuatenejo, eat crickets and see amazing folkoric dances in Oaxaca. Do take the time to visit Morelia and Puebla, not far from Mexico DF that has a lot going on in itself, and of course shopping in any of the markets. We're saving the Yucatan peninsula for another time and I'd love to visit Guadalajara one day too.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Language update 22 months and TELLY

Despite my debuts of One Parent, One Language I've been dipping in and out the other two languages and Leon's getting the hang of speaking- all be it in a medley of tongues...

Still using english for objects: Ball, book, bag, door, juice, tea, shoooes, teeth

And actions: down, uppa

French words for foodie words:
Pain, lait

And politesse: "Merci Mummy!" that he says a lot once I've handed him something. I've managed to get "peeease" out of him a few times though ;)

Transport is british: Car, bus, bi (bike)
Still using phonetic: "Choo choo" and "nyaow" for train and aeroplane

Animal noises are usually phonetic too: miaow, panting for dog (though he's calling the shop downstairs' dog her real name Poppy), baa, mooo, mmm followed by enthusiastic arm swinging for elephant and lots more if he sees them in books actually. It's exciting to see his progress and that he's repeating words when prompted.

He picked up "Dame!" (give me) very well from his abuela, and was also using it for 'here you go' but now he's saying "Toma!" Which is also the Spanish way.

He also loves singing Bob the Builder and often asks to watch Fireman Sam by shouting "Saaaam!" and sings along- or tries and manages a 'doooor' at the end. He also asks for Chuggington or Thomas the tank Engine by demanding "Choo Choo!" and loves "Papa Pat and miaow" (Postman Pat) and "Baa" (Timmy Time) as much as I do.

I've smartened up by recording several programme from each series to always have some on hand as we're often not around for scheduled times and that way I can skip the masses of ads! It also gives me more control. I prefer that he watches the old school stop-motion type programmes instead of the more computerised versions.

He often stops watching once the intro music has ended making it almost safe to switch off but then I get "Noooo!! Telly!! Saaaaaam/Choochoo/Paaat" Ayayay... I admit to letting him watch a bit more than I'd like but it's not for more than an hour in total and sometimes not at all. He enjoys
It and I do think he's learned a lot more from watching it: giving animals and machines personalities, and learning about emergency services and the building trade in detail!

How much telly does your tot watch?

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Polarn O. Pyret for peanuts

We love Polarn O. Pyret and everyone comments on Leon's cute sheep print top that has lasted him ages. Fabulous quality and the clothes are really made to last.

Which is why their Hand It Down campaign to raise money for Children in Need is so fabulous!

We came across it today while out shopping and I popped in to ogle at some new stock that I probably can't afford- but hey! I spied a "Hand it down" rail with beautiful pre-worn clothes for sale again at a snippet of the original price.

Two fab tops for £4 yes mate.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Halloween! y Dia de Los Muertos

Yes, Halloween was a while ago now but I'm finding it tough to keep up with posting!

For me, Halloween has always been fun and about dressing up and visiting neighbours, rather than the 'begging' aspect that a lot of people get annoyed with. I find it sad that there are fewer and fewer homes opening their pathways to trick or treaters. Living in a commercial road with no front door of my own, we couldn't join in and prepare a basket of goodies for the local ghouls. So I took Leon to my childhood home and paraded along the street, happily crossing other little monsters.

My little pumpkin enjoyed visitng the first few homes and proudly announced his presence with a loud but cute "RAAAARR!!" (they should make some effort to scare!) and delighted in seeing all the other young children in their getup. Of course, he demanded I open his sweets straight away, but I helped him understand that you need to wait until the end. I relented after the 2nd house and let him munch on a Milky Way.

Scary Pumpkins go RAAAARR!

By the fifth house; he'd become wary and didn't want to make his way up a very well decorated, spooky entrance with spiderwebs and candlesticks - but I sort of forced him... he glared questioningly at the lady and didn't like a grown-up opening the door... After that, he was reluctant to visit more houses, especially the one with a hand peeping through the door... so we called it a night. Content with the booty, we had a hot chocolate and went home.

The upside of taking a toddler trick or treating? I got to eat all his sweets ;)

Leon was lucky to have the opportunity to dress up twice! Once for his morning Halloween party then trick or treating in the evening, but we were also invited to Mindshape's launch of Casper's Scare School: Costume Closet, a new iPad and iPhone app (£1.99) mixing and matching different dress up outfits with the aim of increasing object recognition and memory recognition. He certainly picked up the craze of mixing up outfits with his pirate/copper costume!

Mixed Up Dressing Up

Fun times aside, I also celebrated the Mexican Day of the Dead. A time for remembering your loved ones who've died. In Mexico, people make shrines with offerings of their dead's favourite dish, or may cook their favourite meal in their honour with an empty seat for them at the table.

While we didn't do this as well as we should have, I visited a beautiful communal shrine at Hackney City Farm (better outlined here) where my sister and I could write a note to our dad and enjoy the beauty of the candles bouncing off the colourful decorations of mexican papel picado, autumnal harvest, flowers, personal photos, messages and offerings.

Dia de Los Muertos shrine at Hackney City Farm

I'm hoping to see more Day of the Dead exhibitions and shrines when we're in Mexico next week! It's so vivid and crazy I love it. Death is celebrated so differently there.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Boardwalk Empire sexy pregnant loungewear

Love her or Hate her, you can't deny Paz de la Huerta has an amazing body and man, was I envious of her beautiful sleek baby bump in the new series of Boardwalk Empire, where she often frolics about naked. Steve Buscemi's Nucky's Ex good time girl slash cabaret dancer Lucy Danziger has become a frustrated, pregnant recluse out of an arrangement (not yet known) with the accidental father - a puritanical, married, prohibition cop.

Turns out, the bump is a cleverly made prosthetic taking 3 hours to apply, airbrush and make up onto her hot bod which is probably a good thing as the actress parties hard and her on-screen character smokes and drinks whisky. Well it is 1920.

As she's shut in her flat all day she saunters about in her negligées and beautiful silky dressing gowns, and well, I'd love one! (Makes a change from lounge wear of leggings, big vests and ponchos.)

There is a shop near me that has the perfect offering it seems... But it's strangely always shut.

Carousel (135 Richmond Road, Twickenham TW1 3AT) one of Twickenham's last antiquey/vintage shops, looks well kept and has switched on fairy lights adorning the window- but is never open. Shame, as it would make a killing.

I'm on a mission to step inside and see what wonders it bestows...

And hope to find something like these Carine Gilson silk kimono gowns in Teal or Orange but for much less than my monthly rent!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Bilingual animal madness! Lingo zoo iPad App review

Lingo Zoo £1.49 from iTunes app store (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch)
Mindshapes bring us another Super kids' app- this one is an animal puzzle app with a twist. Once completed, each puzzle delights the tot in howling, screeching or yapping the animal sound followed by the spoken name in both English and Spanish. This is perfect for Leon as we're teaching him Spanish and I think that he will benefit in time for our move to Madrid next year.

Designed for 3-5 year olds to improve concentration, attention and spatial skills, I'm impressed that Leon is very able at completing the puzzles. He's ploughed through the 7 levels from the farm, via the woodland and all the way to the jungle. At times he got frustrated if the piece didn't fit into place straight away, and I'd help him a little bit to encourage him that he was correct in choosing where to put the piece- he just needed to drag it a bit slower or with a touch more precision.

Once the levels are completed, the animals react with more animals sounds if touched, and the puzzles can be reset to play again and again without losing access to further levels.

*I received an access code to review this app- but all opinions are mine. It's a fab app and I even bought a download to use at my mum's place!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Early morning wet wakeup call: hunt for the perfect nappy

Leon's been waking up at 6.30am recently with a big "mamaaaaaa!!" until I reach his bed-side and he points at the mattress which is, once agan drenched. He soaks through his nappies every morning resulting in more laundry and earlier wake-up calls. He's 22 months and familiarising himself with the potty, and can go for some dry periods during the day... But I still don't feel he's totally ready for the potty and, well I'm thinking of waiting until baby #2 is out and we move to Madrid (Feb/March) to begin the proper stuff.

Meanwhile I've been trying to find the ideal nappy for him.

Initially I was a Nature Babycare fan- chlorine-free and without the plasticky feel. I felt this was the next best thing to cloth nappies. I loved them and used them for over a year.

But then the price went up a quid (£6.49 for 28 Or 32p each), and my local Boots stopped stocking them, meaning an extra 5 minute walk to Waitrose... And more importantly, Leon had several morning episodes of waking up with the gel stuff all over the place and wet pyjamas, so I searched for an alternative.

I toyed with Boots own brand Super Dry (£4.39 for 28 or 16p each) and Pampers Active Fit & Baby Dry (£6.49 for 27 or 24p each). These were all fine during the day, but like the others, it was first thing in the morning that was the problem, and more than once, on the branded nappies, the gel would come out the top of his nappy and all over him and the bed, which wasn't a nice experience.

If Leon was potty-trained this would be, I suppose, the time for his first morning pee- but alas, he'd have to climb out of his cot, or call out to me in time to lift him out and do his business. So until then, nappies will have to do.

The solution? Friends suggested going one size up- so I've gone for size 6 nappies, even though size 5s go up to 25kg and Leon was 16kg last time I checked. And yes... It worked!

For my next baby I'd like to use washable nappies and have my eye on the birth to potty style available from several brands now, and will hopefully try them out on Leon first! Will save hundreds of pounds and quite frankly I'll feel less guilty about chucking away all those nappies.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Free Olympic Tickets for Nearest and Dearest

This morning I was fortunate to attend the launch of P&Gs Olympic Partnership called Nearest and Dearest, valuing the role of athletes' support networks prior to and during the London 2012 games.

Free tickets for families and friends
Previously I had assumed that athletes received automatic ticket allocation, but this is not the case at all! Fortunately, P&G, one of London 2012 main sponsors have plenty to go around and have generously allocated a large part for their Nearest and Dearest: 2 per Olympian and 4 per Paralympian (who tend to have bigger teams of support- and often more seats available).

Too much support?
Andy Hunt, Team GB's Chef de Mission and CEO of British Olympic Association, outlined how athletes' friends and family support is so important - but so is limiting the distractions to athletes that could obstruct the competing element.

Diffused in the form of roadshows and workshops up and down the country for the next 6 months, athletes' Nearest and Dearest will gain all information needed to prepare themselves for the event of their life-time: access information, how they can help best support the athletes, ticket information, and possible media training. With an emphasis on digital media, online forums, and building a network of these key supporters, Olympians and Paralympians should feel all grounds are covered and can focus on their event entirely, instead of explaining to friends how to find a parking spot moments before a race (as happened to Sophia Warner, GB Paralympic sprinter!).

Colin Jackson (former 110m hurdles champion) outlined how family asking how they could help was "always well intentioned, but because of my training I couldn't always give them enough time to explain or help. This will provide a real support for both the families and the athletes"

Valuing the Nearest and Dearest
Tim Hollingsworth, CEO of the British Paralympic Association, added that the emphasis was on the involvement and value of the people behind the athletes, recognising the key role they play in helping them achieve their goals. Reflecting this, will be the P&G branded Nearest and Dearest Lounge welcoming their friends and family during the Games in a comfortable setting and supposedly acting as an easy meeting point when athletes are available to meet up. P&G Olympics Project Director, Nathan Homer, also outlined the charitable foundation P&G have set up, helping mums across the country to receive bursaries specifically to reach their dreams, with athletes sitting on the judging panel.

In a nutshell, it was wonderful to hear how P&G, the BOA and BPA were together improving communications for the athletes' support network and guaranteeing tickets per athlete, but even more so, hearing from the athletes themselves how they prepare for the games and all this while leading seemingly normal lives.

Keri-Anne Payne (Team GB marathon swimmer) explained how she was getting married in September 2012 - amazing how she's planning her wedding parallel to the Games- and that she's looking forward to hearing her brothers' voice shouting out from the crowds. She assured us that she can still hear the cheers from the crowd despite her head being underwater! She's so delighted that her family can be there especially after panicking after such high demand for tickets. Now she doesn't have to think about it, and can concentrate on winning GB some medals!

Sophia Warner (GB Paralympic sprinter) is already a mother of 2 young children with a full-on marketing career and has been training for over 12 years! What a woman. She's taken a year out to concentrate on the Games and unsurprisingly expects a bit more of a helping hand from her man over the next few months ;)

Colin Jackson happily compered the conference though I rushed off before explaining to him personally how he was my hubby's finishing line dipping idol when younger.

I attended the launch following my involvement with the Life Before P&G challenge, but the Olympics/P&G partnership is considered to be the most far-reaching in Olympic history spanning the next 10 years which is pretty awesome.

Blocked : A tiny tale of towers

Once there was a tot who preferred knocking down towers to building them (Even after professional illustration)

He soon found the joy of building - followed by a swipe of the fist shortly afterwards.

And now stacks whatever he can get his hands on.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Mindshapes launch: Hickory Dickory Dock iPad app review

A few months ago, I disliked the idea of letting Leon play with my iPhone- dismissing it as bad for his little brain and worried that he'd call/text/email someone he shouldn't, or delete a precious app. And my recently-won iPad? I'd hide it from him worried he'd toddler-bash it like my long-gone MacBook Air. But now, at 21 months, he's grown up so much and I trust him to be careful and well, he's become a little master of the touch-screen gadgets. I also saw the array of toddler-friendly apps and decided this would be the ultimate distraction for an upcoming long-haul flight. Truth be told, there were so many to choose from, I was a bit lost. Leon is familiar with many of the silly (though entertaining) talking cats or animal noises apps but I wasn't sure which ones would actually help him learn something.
Thankfully I was recently invited to the Mindshapes launch event showcasing some top-notch educational apps making learning fun from a very young age. Held at the fantastic Maggie & Rose children's club in Kensington, Leon and I were shown the range of fabulous apps from the developers and it was clear that they were expertly put together with fantastic illustrations and engaging content.

Hickory Dickory Dock £1.99 from iTunes app store (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch)
Designed to help little ones learn to tell the time, this brilliantly illustrated app holds a different mini-game for every number on the clock that the player can explore. See what the big purple fluffy mouse gets up to at each number on the clock: from cleaning the dusty clock, lining up the correct weights to retrieve a chunk of cheese, get fed a load of fruit or sing and dance! The animation is really fabulous and it's not surprising when reading that Mindshapes' team members' hail from noted video game developers including EA, Atari, Sega and Eidos Interactive.

I'd recommend it for slightly older children as the objective is to learn numbers and the concept of the clock. However, as you can see, Leon certainly enjoyed discovering the different levels of the app with a concentration span of 10 mins on average.

It looked brilliant on the iPad, but I can imagine that the smaller screen of the iPhone or iPod touch would make it slightly fiddly.

The Mindshapes education expert explained to me how the apps were created with the national curriculum in mind so that they could potentially be used in classrooms across the country- wow! This may be more relevant to the apps aimed for older children such as the arcade-style game Meteor Math (6yrs+) but it's comforting to know there is a deep educational foundation to each app that Mindshare develops. Each one created using their 5 i's: Imaginative, Immersive, Intelligent, Interactive and Intuitive. And while I wasn't sure Leon would 'get' the app he was trying, I was reassured that at this young age, it's all about discovery. Since then, I've been downloading a lot more!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

A plea for decent Coffee shops

I imagined motherhood to open the doors to a warm community of chatting mums exchanging ideas, laughs and doing plenty of things together but alas this seemed a myth. In my outer London town which deceivingly appeals to baby-breeders- there seems a distinct lack of cohesion and warm mummy vibe. We're spoilt for choice with beautiful green areas by a river, playgroups, music classes, sure- but where are mums meant to go and hang out? Not as many home coffee mornings as I had imagined- I've not invited many people round to mine, true- but I suppose we prefer to get out of the house.

If meeting friends or doing Netmums meetups we prefer to go out in the park or somewhere where toddlers can play, playground, walking by river, playgroup, some great pubs with climbing frames, cafés and going further afield to museums, bigger parks, soft plays etc. But I'd rather spend my day actually doing, making and creating things. I miss papier mâché modelling, playing piano, other music and want to make clothes for myself and Leon but find it hard to do it in the flat with him around. With childcare costs high and cherishing the enjoyment of spending time with my son, I'd like the advantage of a big space to make, play and learn things while he's happy doing something else.

And I'm not talking community halls or spaces- unless they've got a good vibe- but more like a decent coffee shop or hub. Somewhere where you enjoy hanging out anyway, and if you want to, you can make a dress, or knit a bit, or dance, or make phone calls, blog, tweet etc.

Like a big living room, but not at home. A super coffee shop!

The problem with Cafés
Coffeeshops today are crappy. There aren't any that I love or feel drawn to, and I often moan that they should add kids play area to keep them occupied while you can have a conversation or get on with something else. Play areas are springing up more often in certain Cafés (East Twick) restaurants (Pizza Express, Richmond) pubs (Teddington Arms Yummy Mummy lunch and Twickenham's Bear kids club) but not enough for my liking!

I'm fortunate to live in the town centre and have over 15 coffeeshops that I can walk to in under 10 mins. But man- if they were good I'd spend a lot more time and money there. Twickenham has it's popular coffeeshops, Zizou, Nero... But others lie empty most the day- never a buzz with people, conversation, comfort or decent music. I find them cold, cramped, without atmosphere that I wonder why no one has made a better one or made more effort to get more customers in. Why can't any café entice me to spend 2 hours there, spend £10 on drinks, snacks and wifi while the child is happily occupied with a few toys and meeting other children? Krafty Kidz play café is a good concept and nearest to what is needed, but it lacks that lounge feel that I'm after. Something for the parents with facilities for kids, instead of the other way round.

I suppose it's done purposefully to encourage faster turnover and of course, who wants to be in a cafe full of yummy mummies and noisy children? Not many locals, and I agree- but why not give us at least one decent coffeeshop where we can all go with our tots (buggy park anyone?) Make it a goodun!

Yes- I'd love to open my own parent-friendly hub offering comfy sofas to gas, read, knit, blog, chill; big tables, snug corners, mini offices, open spaces, decent coffee, work-space, tots' entertainment, free or cheap tutorials (make toddler trousers, make a fab dress, mend your clothes, wrap your baby, sun salutation, music lessons, make play dough, piñatas and pitchers of cocktails). I'd even call it Hubba Bubba. It wouldn't have to be too expensive- plenty of empty shops and offices available to use for cheap- but creating a great, welcoming vibe that makes women feel happy to be mothers!

Basically I'm frustrated that plenty of brands are tapping into the Mummy Market but not those that we need the most! Even Starbucks are ignoring us. I'm sure anyone else would appreciate better coffeeshops, more than just seats and beverages but stimulus, areas for collaboration, and communal activity as well as more comfortable, relaxing seats and lighting.

(Maybe I'd feel differently if I had an enormous lounge)

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Paralympics, Pop and P&G Pampering at Sainsbury's Super Saturday!

Imagine your child being born with one leg, or hearing that after a car accident/shark attack/major fall, that child will never walk again (God forbid)- then 22 years later see them joining the British Paralympic team for wheelchair basketball! How proud would you be? To turn around a tough situation, overcoming the misfortune, fuelled by determination and strong support, I say hats off to these athletes and the people supporting them.

Distinct lack of photos taken but this emulates the sport perfectly

Sainsbury's Super Saturday, held last weekend at Clapham Common was a cross between a pop music festival and sports spectacle, show-casing Britain's talent in the warm-up to the 2012 Paralympics and celebrating the numerous Paralympic sports. Thanks to P&G, a sponsor of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games, and my earlier involvement in the 'Life before P&G: 1930s Housewife Challenge', my mum, Leon and I were given VIP treatment for the day and had a brilliant time.

The P&G Thank You Mum Zone was lavishing attention on the mothers of these athletes with entertainment, and mini-pampering sessions and kindly invited some bloggers too to enjoy the day. Starting with champagne and a mini photo shoot, my mum enjoyed a mini-makeover and I got my nails painted a delicious red, Leon loved the balloon lady who made him a fantastic tiger on a lead, and danced while Belinda Carlisle got her groove on (She did end up playing "Oooh Heaven is a place on Earth").

My mamita deservedly having a break

The main festival site had a main stage for the music, fun games (massive slide, bouncy castle, Zorbing, Bungee trampoline), the sports arena, and several 'Have a go at a Paralympic sport' zones where you could see the athletes in action and try it yourself.

My favourite sport of the day was wheelchair basketball. A fast and gripping game very similar to the able-bodied version, but sadly we didn't get to watch the arena match as had to leave before it started. Fortunately we witnessed the game in some action during the day and got chatting to a friendly athlete who explained the rules. Similar to normal basketball but each team can have 5 players on the court at a time totalling 14 points. Ie. each player is attributed points 1-4.5 based on their disability. E.g those with immense core strength or able to swivel hips, have an advantage over lower-body paralysis as they don't need their arms to turn the wheelchair, and thus are attributed more points. A maximum of 14 points is allowed on the court by each team at a time, so you can imagine how important the coach is in determining who to place when, and how valuable a classification 1 athlete is.

Queues and pregnancy dissuaded me from giving it a spin, but I regret not trying it. However it was interesting to watch others give it a go and witness the main struggles able-bodied participants found when attempting the sport. Most were very S.L.O.W.

Music-wise, the line-up was perfect for teeny-boppers or grown women who were happily swaying to Will Young tunes (my mum included...) but I didn't really know any of the acts - yes I've heard of Pixie Lott, Olly Murs, The Saturdays etc, but play their music and God help me identify who's who. Sugababes was at the top of my list, but they were on way later than I could stay. I felt a bit old- or young- depending on how you looked at it! As we came into the festival there were masses of teenagers screaming round a small stage at some teenage boys (No idea who they were but seemed happy with the attention *found out they were The Wanted) and later on while watching Table Tennis with The Wanted, the group of girls next to us were shrieking away Jaaaaaaaaay Jaaaaaaaaay I loooove Yooooou!! (much to Leon's amusement and he started shouting it too) followed by Oh. MY. God. He LOOKED AT ME! Shriek shriek shriek . It made me laugh but actually I've been there: 13 years old at Party In the Park with the giant Ricky Martin poster I'd made... Then I became a bit more cool and started idolising Matt Bellamy, trying to chat to him at every Muse concert or TV appearance (and often succeeding!) and then obviously it was all about the music.


We were there with VIP passes so we made the most of the VIP area- drinking multiple lemonades and eating lots of delicious chocolate and raspberry desserts.

The fabulous food court in the Super Dome

Clever design on tablecloth doubling up as a games board

I noticed Alex the cage-fighter guy- you know, Jordan/Katie Price's ex? (Mari and Lizzie got to know him better) and then a girl who used to be in Steps- but no- she was in Atomic Kitten. Thank goodness I read the other bloggers Sabina, Maria Jose and the snoggers above to work out who was who.

Really grateful for an insightful and fun day out that both my mum and toddler utterly enjoyed.