Monday, 2 March 2015

A personalised gift for Mother's Day

Michela holding my personalised book
As soon as an occasion or celebration looms, I get emails from PRs asking me to review a variety of gift ideas. If I like what I read in the press release, I say yes. I don't get a fee for this, just the product, so I try to be as objective as possible. Truth is that I used to be a product reviewer for various publications and I kind of miss it.


This year, Mother's Day is on 15th March. As soon as Valentine's goods were taken off the shelves, shops have been promoting all sorts of 'motherly gifts'. I like the well-priced gift ideas from Aldi, which are perfect for children who are relying on their pocket money and are a bit classier than the plastic offerings from poundshops. I succumbed to the chocolate-covered cranberries, which I asked my partner to buy.

Introducing the Book of Everyone - Mum's version

http://thebookofeveryone.com/personalised-gifts/the-book-of-mum
But perhaps you want to give your Mum something a bit more personal and fun than a "I love you Mum" or "Best Mum" mug/oven glove/toiletry set, etc. Having tested a personalised book before - a Peppa Pig one when my daughter was younger - I decided to try out an adult version. 
You can create the book, save it and then purchase it later on. This is handy if you are short of time or want to consider the options carefully. It's a very simple process, some pages are editable, others are created according to your Mum's date of birth. There are interesting, weird and wonderful facts inside the book, from the bestselling record (vinyl, yes, I am that old) to discoveries and even Nobel Prizes. As I was born in 1966, I got some football glory as it was the only time England won the World Cup. I personalised the dedication page on behalf of my daughter and signed it with her first name and her current nickname, Penguina, no prizes for guessing she is collecting penguins at the moment.
I also chose to add a picture of us to a page, as you see in the photo above. Now for the feedback about the product. I would have liked to personalise it a bit more and perhaps add a few more photos. It would not be a huge change, maybe swap a page of facts for a page of photos? I can see a teenager might like to have different photos of their mum, maybe even sneak in a photo of her/his mum as a baby! Or perhaps you could have two price ranges, a higher one for those who want to do more personalisation.
The book looks trendy and arty. It is not twee and cutesy, which is not to my taste, it's more designer clever and witty. The photo I provided came up in really good resolution (don't go by the photo on this blog). Print and images in the book are very crisp.
You are probably wondering about prices now.... The digital version is £7.50, the softcover express is £19.50, hardcover is £29.50 and the deluxe edition is £49.50. Postal fees are included for mainland UK. There is also a giftwrapping service, which is optional. These are standard prices for quality personalised books. However the blog is something else... meet the pregnant dads here.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

A carnival of my blog posts and articles

If you are a reader of my blogs, you will find articles on all sort of topics: beauty and wellbeing, homeworking, nutrition, family health. I have decided to feature some of my articles from this blog and other sources so you can pick and choose what interests you most.


Winter wellness for the whole family

http://fromrattopositiveparent.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/winter-wellness-for-whole-family.html

Exclusive Q&A with Emma Ford

http://fromrattopositiveparent.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/exclusive-q-with-emma-forbes.html



How to make mint tea from fresh leaves





I have also written articles for websites, newsletters and other people's blogs. Here is a selection for you to enjoy:



Hope you enjoy them. Leave a comment if you have any questions...






Monday, 16 February 2015

Fail-proof pancake recipe using apples

Tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday, pancake central to all those living in the UK. Here's a twist on the original recipe I developed a few years ago, so it's tried and tested!  It is a family-friendly recipe too, suitable for older babies and toddlers alongside grownups. 


Apple pancakes with toffee sauce


Ingredients: 90g medium oats; 120g flour; 1 teaspoon baking powder; ¼ teaspoon cinnamon; 2 large eggs; 1 tablespoon sunflower oil; 200ml milk; 4 teaspoons honey; 25g apple puree; 1 small apple, grated; oil to fry.

Method: Place all the dry ingredients into a bowl. Beat the eggs in another bowl with the milk, honey and oil. Gradually add the egg mixture into the other bowl stirring with a whisk to prevent lumps. Stir in the puree and add the grated apple. Fry pancakes in batches until golden on both sides. Serve them with maple/corn syrup, toffee sauce, a dollop of fromage frais or Greek yogurt. 


Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Happy New Year!


Here is a wall I made for Facebook with the highlights of our Xmas holidays. As you see we dressed up, I finally made a 'real' Pandan chiffon cake (using the extract I bought from a local Chinese shop instead of just vanilla and green dye) and we had sushi as a starter for our Xmas meal (followed by roast lamb and fruit cake).

We visited the in-laws up north for New Year's Eve and I ate too much so I put on weight but lost some already as we are back eating normal meals and I am sure that packing up decorations and hoovering the rooms properly (ie moving furniture rather than skirting) burned some calories too. My motivations to eat less are simple, my stomach has not been too happy and I need to get back into my work trousers!

We are also back on having family dinners at weekends as my daughter comes back from the after-school club famished and can't wait till my partner is back. I admit I don't cook stuff from fresh all the time for her, but I am quite discerning using frozen food, luckily they now sell good-quality fish fingers and chicken bits that have no additives and my daughter likes the baby veg mixtures. She also loves pasta and pesto and we always reserve a portion if a suitable meal is cooked for our dinner (barring a too spicy curry). Usually if she has a freshly cooked meal it is a milder curry or a Chinese-style stir-fry.

A few years back I used to write recipes for madeformums (and photograph results too) and I remember having to make homemade fish fingers. I also shared my own childhood recipes, like the Italian-style rice pudding I linked to. I grew up in Italy and my grandparents had a restaurant, which makes it difficult for me to eat at any Italian restaurant in this country as I start comparing or correcting the wrong spellings in the menu.

Aside the Pandan cake (click here for YouTube video recipe), I also made Paul Hollywood's Lardy Cake and this banana cake to use some overripe bananas, my first ever microwave pudding. I haven't done as much baking (and that includes the fruit cake too!) in months.





Thursday, 11 December 2014

Testing tech with 7-year-old daughter & fun pressies

It's getting close to Xmas and frustration starts to build up when you go down your list and there are people you don't know what to give. They have everything and you can't buy novelty socks, beers from around the world or toiletries again! So among the PR offerings, here are some items I have chosen, and two products my daughter Michela put to the test.


Michela is apptastic + no annoying game sounds for me!
Zip Earphones, £9.99 from The Hut
A festive selfie with the Xmas tree!
Click Stick, £19.99 from The Hut



More gift ideas...




I didn't test this novelty glass, but isn't it clever? Half A Pint, £10 from Topman.













Now, isn't this great for chilling out? The Hoodie Pillow, £25.95 from Genie Gadgets


Saturday, 29 November 2014

10 things only women hitting 40+ will understand


Bring back old tech!


1. You rejoice when a cartoon you grow up with is revamped, but then don’t like the new animations, the new storylines... So you get a video off Freecycle/dust off old tech to show your child your videos and those you find in the only charity shop that still sells them.


Ban those pants!


2. You were secretly looking forward to early menopause to get rid of the monthly curse but then read an article that frightens you. You also worry that because you didn’t do those pelvic exercises after the birth, at least not regularly, you will be soon swapping sanitary protection with incontinence pants.


Tiger, not cougar


3. You can’t just stomach any violence, real or imaginary (aka films, TV, video games), but you are ready to pounce like a bloodthirsty tiger if somebody tries to harm/hurt your child in any way.


Thake That are still cool


4. You tap your foot and shake your hair to the music in Starbucks and feel quite hip. Until you realise the song was a hit many moons ago. Never mind, Take That are cool again!


Dancing queen having day off!


5. You give a Paddington's stare to the hip girl/boy who doesn’t hand you a nightclub flyer. Your life is not over and you still like a boogie thank-you-very-much! You organised all the school's discos for crying out loud.

Anybody for a poker face?


6. You  always feared injections but are considering dermal implants. You can’t believe that’s your face staring at you. You try a different hairstyle and then book a full facial.


Chocolate is not the enemy


7. You choose a low-fat snack but then get ambushed by a chocolate bar twinkling at you at the counter. Life is too short to count calories, dammit!


It's only a bag!



8. You feel compelled to purchase an expensive designer handbag just because you couldn’t afford it when younger and then feel guilty/worried when you read your child’s letter to Santa.


Secret office fantasies


9. You fancy a younger colleague but you’d die of embarrassment if he’d ever found out. You are married/cohabiting/have kids. But nobody can stop you from imagining all sort of things happening in your working hours. And you can give him a hug and friendly kiss at the Xmas party without nobody suspecting anything. You could probably get away giving that bottom a squeeze but you don't want to risk a summon from HR.


Where are those tweezers?


10. You suddenly notice that those two witch's hair growing just under your chin are darker and glossier. And your eyebrows are unruly and that moustache is thicker... You are not as brave as Frida so buy professional-grade tweezing tools.


Pictures from CC search. Credits: Eva Rinaldi from Sydney Australia via Wikimedia Commons, jeff_golden, David Gandy for GQ Japan by Arnaldo Anaya-Lucca, Sérgio (Savaman) Savarese, Saed de los Santos, Andrew Hurley, Dan Vidal, Wikimedia and Wikipedia

Friday, 28 November 2014

Xmas has arrived in November

Early Xmas present from me. I am keen cyclist too
This year I was feeling more upbeat so I decided to treat my daughter to a festive build-up to Xmas. I got everything out of the garage in mid November and we did our trees, one for me and one for Michela.

We also went through toys and decorations and donated big bags of stuff to the charity shop. We needed to make space for the big Xmas tree! As a special treat, the advent Santa was filled with jellies and chocolates to be started mid month and to finish on 25 November. It will now restart from 1st December.

Then we went out for the Christmas Switch-On celebrations, which were in mid November here in Cambridge. So here are our decorations so far... we still have some tinsel decorations and the lights to hang, plus a wreath to make using our garden's greenery.


Mantelpiece - Christmas decorations



Detail of fireplace mantel decoration


My Christmas tree in the dining room

Advent calendar - refillable (sorry it's blurry)


Decorations above my old telly




Michela's room

Cute bear with Polly
 Pocket Xmas scene


Window sill Christmas decorations


Michela's tree

Saturday, 15 November 2014

My daughter's first three words


Just had a little chat with my daughter, now 7, about her first words. Hers were in chronological order:

Dada (dadada, because it's easier syllable for babies apparently and I encouraged her to use it instead of daddy)

Booboo (as in breast, she was breastfed)

Mama (mamama, which I have encouraged her to use instead of mummy)

What are your child's first words?


Monday, 27 October 2014

Born in the wrong century - so to speak & a gorgeous vicar!

J. Howard Miller's poster from 1943 - Wikipedia
Since summer transitioned to autumn I have been waking up earlier, which doesn't make sense as at 4 or 5am it's pretty dark. I have this issue in summertime, when at 4am it is incredibly light and the birds are chirping away in the back garden.

Why now? Perhaps it is because I am juggling too many balls. I am not SAD - I was down in the dumps last year as autumn/winter are not my favourite seasons. I feel contented with my daily life. When stressed or depressed I also wake up early, my brain kicks into action and I cannot go back to sleep as I think about potential problems to be addressed, chores, etc. Not exactly fluffy, happy thoughts. 

But not this year! This autumn I am fighting negative thinking with positive thinking, if there is a cloud I quickly grab a silver lining. For instance, Yes, it would have been better to schedule those two appointments in town closer together but... POSITIVE THOUGHT... the big gap was not a waste of time as I managed to visit the library and borrow that book I was meaning to read in the weekend. So I saved a library trip, freeing more time for other activities.

There is so much I am trying to do: work part-time in an office, work at home as consultant, spend time with my daughter, do creative writing workshops (I went to a drama one yesterday), see friends, go to public lectures (the Festival of Ideas is on now), grab some time for training (I am doing a MOOC and have other courses lined up), update my blogs (five of my own and one for community project), read that book I borrowed, look after house and garden and last (always comes last since I became a mother) look after myself. And it might not be all as I have a list on my desk with a few little chores that need doing this week. This week... the half-term week. It is going to be a squeeze! My partner is taking three days off, which leaves two days to do it all and with my daughter in tow.




But no negative thoughts, please, "We can do it!" So to put a positive spin to my hectic life, let's say I am trying to be a Renaissance person. This is not a popular character to be in this specialised age, but lo and behold, there is an article online that explains how to be one!


Challenge 1: "Building your physical prowess". Right, I have this covered. I was lucky enough to win a month's membership to local sports centre. I did various classes and swam. Problem is that I can't sustain it at that pace. Yes, I want to continue but not right now I have to negotiate childcare with my partner to attend evening classes or find a daytime one I can do, which is tricky with my ever-changing schedule. But let's be positive and wait after the half term.

Challenge 2: "Developing your creativity""Understanding art". Yesterday I went to a drama workshop and had to perform at the end, in front of an audience. I also go to a writers' group now and then. I like to go to museums and art galleries, stress-free outings I can share with my daughter, no problem here.

Challenge 3: "Honing your intellectual skills". Easy peasy, I do this all the time because I get a kick out of learning. My various projects  involve learning about new processes and subjects. And I am going to teach next year! Also I read a lot. But let's keep this in check, there is nothing more irritating than a know-it-all.

Challenge 4: "Balancing your life" Ouch. My happy balloon burst there. My life-work balance needs some serious TLC. Still, it's not an epic fail, yes we can do it!

Challenge 5: "Developing your character and temperament". This includes "Be brave" and "Be thoughtful and generous". I think these two are OK. I can manage to make myself do things I don't want to do and find charity work satisfying. There is also "Be courteous", I do believe manners cost nothing and try hard not to be upset by morons. When I was living in London I kept getting this comment: Cheer up, it might never happen, but not now. Either people in Cambridge are more polite or I stopped looking grim. And last but not least, "Be a leader". How? "A real Renaissance person is a person who helps others and cares for their neighbors". Bingo, I joined a local exchange skills scheme recently and I hope it works out as it will make every-day life more interesting and fulfilling. 

I leave you with this last bit of advice/tip: " If anyone ever insults you about it or is ever hostile to you about being a Renaissance person, do not take it personally. They are jealous."

And here is a bonus gift, a screenshot of my current fave period drama actor. Who knew vicars can be this gorgeous? 

Screenshot from Grantchester, ITV drama

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Winter wellness for the whole family

Photo: Stephanie Lepoint

Today I am not feeling my best, I am coughing, feeling light headed and my stomach is not happy - paracetamol works well but always has that annoying side effect. It's a cold, grey day and luckily I can work from home. It could be worse, I could have that nasty flu that drains your brain while your body aches all over.  

I am a strong believer that prevention is better than cure, so as soon as the autumn started I did a stocktake of my medicine cabinet and bought a few items to see me through the winter. Here is my honest review of them all, including products that were sent to me by health and wellbeing PRs. New products are launched every season and I am always keen to try new things. Plus it is very convenient to be able to try before you buy.


What I bought


Nature's Answers Bio-Flavonoids & Rose Hip, around £12
I bought this a long while ago so it only has a few spoonfuls left. I originally collected rose hips and wanted to make my own syrup but the process put me off. I don't think I will buy this again as it tastes awful. I try to swallow it quickly but it lingers in the mouth. I am not sure if it does me any good and it is not cheap for 120ml. Maybe I should give the syrup a go so I can make it as sweet as I like. This is suitable not for children, the homemade syrup would be OK.


Ortis Vitality Ginseng, around £17
I bought this when I was feeling drained and needed a pick-me-me-up. This works very well and is reasonably priced for 250ml. The taste is fine, I would recommend this if you are feeling down and have not much appetite. This is not suitable for young children.









D Lux Vitamin D 3000, around £8
This was recommended to me by a SAD friend, who called it liquid sunshine. Pleasantly minty, it is a wonder for dark moods on grey days, whatever the season. Don't be greedy, though, stick to the dosage. It can last quite a while. It is not suitable for young children.




Fisherman's Friend, around 70p per packet
This is not a medicine or health product, it is an amazingly long-lasting lozenge. It kills my cough and even helps with throat pain. I bought a retail-size box of these from ebay. I don't care if the brand is not cool, I can't live without them. I have a sensitive throat that needs soothing whatever the season.



Forever Aloe Vera Bits & Peaches, around £22
This is the children version as I didn't fancy the taste of the adult one. I do enjoy aloe vera soft drinks but even this peach version is not to my liking. I took the adult dosage and had some unfortunate tummy effects then read about it online and found out it is used as laxative and as a slimming aid. I cut down the amount I take to child's dosage and it works fine. I won't be buying it again as I can't stomach the taste of it, even mixed to orange juice.



What I was sent by PRs

Dettol Anti-bacterial Cleansing Surface Wipes, £2 for 36
Wipes? You might ask. I am a fan of baby wipes for cleaning almost anything, such a pity I discovered their power only after having a child. These Dettol wipes, though, have a stronger germ-killing power. So whether you have a young baby of weaning age or a school-child with mucky lunchbox, they come in handy. The only thing I'd say to manufacturer, make them a bit smaller and a bit cheaper! That said, I managed to use them to clean the burned grease and food spills off my cooker - Mr Muscle, eat your heart out!



Proven Fit for School Probiotics with A-Z Multivitamins, around £13 for 30 chewable tablets
There is a tempting claim on the box: shown to reduce absenteeism from school by 30%, which could be very popular with working parents! The tablets taste nice and my daughter likes them. Suitable from 4 years of age, they are not cheap compared to standard multivitamins, but if they work! So far so good.



Proven Probiotics Adult Probiotic Plus Total Immune & Energy Support, around £11
This box contains 14 sachets of "delicious effervescent drink containing real orange". To me it tastes like an adult multi-vitamin drink, a tiny bit bitter, so not as nice as the children's tablets! I have a sweet tooth, sorry... Apparently you can take it directly into your mouth like a sherbet, which was nice and tingly! Not bad value for money since it is also an energy drink for those drained days.



Quest Vitamins' Forte 4000 Vitamin D, around £12 for 60 chewable tablets
With sun doing a disappearing act during the winter, your body could do with a vitamin D boost as only 10% comes from food we eat. This is particularly important for adults over 65, pregnant women and children. Vitamin D also helps fight SAD (seasonal affective disorder). As I mentioned above, Vitamin D is liquid sunshine and it does work!



I also got a few other items to try out from a very generous PR person, a real healthy treat! This 'health hamper' included Carnation socks in my child's size in a lovely pink shade; BrightStart Vitamin D3 Drops + DHA for children and SwimSeal drops, which deal with ear pain in little swimmers. 

My family is well set for winter indeed!