Wednesday, 7 December 2011

I was a shepherd, Michela was Mary...

Merry Xmas to everybody!

This photo came about through Mill Road Winter Fair. The place: Mill Road's Baptist Church. You can find out more about this national initiative at I'd love to make something out of this picture. 

Michela got the star role and I made my debut!

I'm Taking Part in the Kodak Christmas Photo Craft Challenge

Friday, 2 December 2011

Christmas shopping - savings, promotions and perfect LBD for pregnant mums

Bumptastic: scroll down for info about this amazingly versatile maternity dress

Christmas bargains

My Xmas shopping is not much of a chore as I get asked for specific things by most of my dearest and nearest. This year we have decided not to splurge on the grownups but focus on the little ones. So, if like me you are hoping to save while you splurge, check out these promotions....

If you are Christmas shopping on the web, you might be interested in these offers... Splurge and save in time for Xmas! Offers are on now, but do check the expiry date.

I will be updating this every day, but do check the side links too (on your right) for more promotions and discounts. There are great sales at BHS, Clarks...

has just realised a fantastic new offer – 30% off with free delivery

Offer: Save 30% at with Free Delivery
Expires: 04/12/11

A festive black dress - with a difference (or six!)

From maternity and beyond: 1 dress, 6 ways!

My very own festive pick (this is not a sponsored post)
I'm not pregnant but I wished I was! This elegant dress is so cleverly designed it can be worn for all festive occasions - night and day! Wear it as a skirt or as a glam gown -  this black beauty will see you through maternity and beyond. Breastfeeding friendly, easy to wash and pack, it's a Christmas cracker! 
Available for just £99 from .

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Breastfeeding books for children and competition

I support breastfeeding and have been volunteering at various drop-ins for over three years now. So I was delighted to find out that breastfeeding books for children were being launched by Pinter and Martin, independent publishers of psychology, pregnancy, childbirth, parenting, fiction and yoga books. I read both books to my daughter who breastfed well into toddlerhood and she really enjoyed them.

The Mystery of the Breast (£6.99) is a beautifully illustrated book where a little girl comes to grip with breastfeeding as she sees her mother nurse her little brother. This book received an award for its illustration in Spain, but I think the narration deserves a special mention too as it presents breastfeeding in a natural, nurturing and loving light.

You, Me and the Breast (£6.99) won the first prize for illustrated children's books in Spain. It's a captivating book that relies on a quirky, very original and colourful drawings to show the intimate bond and benefits that breastfeeding brings to a family. And the best bit is that there is a baby with teeth still breastfeeding and transitioning to solid food.

To stay in theme, I am mentioning a competition run by a fellow BritMums blogger, where you can win £40 of breastfeeding clothing and products. If you want to enter it, visit Yellow Days (just click the name of the blog).

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Homeworking, juggling blues and bigger beds

Today I got an email in my inbox, which made me reconsider my latest posts and realise that I have overdosed on product reviews! This wasn't planned - products have been piling up for months and I dealt with them in a big push - a bit like tackling a big laundry mountain! Looking at the past month or so it seems like I'm reviewing for England, with just a few chatty posts in between. How did it happen?

School = more hours - not!
Before Michela started school a couple of months ago I marvelled at the amount of time I would gain, but have been finding out that it's still a struggle to fit work, household chores, volunteering and various other activities into school hours. My 'free' hours have gone up from 15 to around 30 but my list of things to do has not diminished. I suspect it has expanded and devoured the extra hours in a big gulp. I'm still lucky in that I work from home, if I had to factor in commuting to an office, it would be even harder.

Homeworking - is it the answer?
I have been mostly working from home for around three years now and although it's more flexible (if you don't mind working on weekends if required), it is not less demanding. In the past year or so I started to feel a bit lonely, so I relish volunteering at a breastfeeding drop-in for a few hours each week. 

When work is going on well, I'd like to be able to work throughout the afternoon - picture me typing away, glancing at the clock and jumping up because it's three o'clock and I need to go to pick Michela up. I did work in an office for a few weeks back in spring on a copywriting project, but could only take that gig on because my partner was around. If a similar job turned up now, I'd still need childcare for the rest of the afternoon. 

Perhaps a career change might be the answer for my homeworking blues. I will need to retrain next year, but I know I'd enjoy the challenge. By then Michela will be old enough to attend an afterschool club. She is quite keen on it, but most of the children are older so I'm not sure it's right for her.

I had to make quite a few adjustments to work from home as my previous occupation was inhouse, but it seems that many mums are ditching their pre-maternity job title/occupation to set up a business. Many are doing quite well by selling innovative products or even using their creative skills. I really admire their entrepreneurial spirit and I'm always glad to read about successful mumpreneurs (or dadpreneurs).

A funny press release? Read on, it makes sense
"The joy of extra space in bed – but this standard double gives each person just 2’3” of room"

Last but not least I want to comment on a press release I got in October from the Sleep Council. The headline screams: BUILDERS SCUPPER DREAMS OF BIGGER BEDS AND BETTER SLEEP. This is a dramatic statement, but it's sadly true. According to The Sleep Council, "Most couples would get a better night’s sleep if they shared a king-sized rather than standard double bed". 

However, most modern homes have tiny bedrooms with only enough space for  a double bed. Apparently the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) has conducted a study and dubbed many new builds "shameful shoe boxes".

So I finish this post with 10 reasons why a bigger bed leads to better sleep (kindly supplied by the Sleep Council):
  1. Because a standard double bed (135cm/4ft 6in) gives each person just 2ft 3in of space – less than a baby in a cot.  Now how squeezed is that?

  1. Ergonomic studies show that couples sleep better in a bigger bed. Before the trials only 15% said they would buy a larger than standard bed.  Afterwards 50% said they would. (Ergonomic pilot study by the National Bed Federation, 1995.)

  1. Because you spend a third of your life in bed – by the time we are 50 we’ll each have spent some 16 years in bed. So, if you are going to spend all that time there, why take the trip to dreamland in tourist class when you can go first class?

  1. Because it doesn’t necessarily cost a whole heap more to move up a size.  Over seven years, for every £100 spent on a new bed, it costs just 3.9p per night.

  1. Because 16 other countries can’t be wrong!  That’s how many boast bigger average bed sizes than Britain.  Top of the league are Belgium, Greece, Holland, Iceland, Finland and Switzerland where most people sleep in a roomy 160cm by 200cm bed.  By contrast we Brits still buy more 135cm by 190cm beds.

  1. Because you spend as much as you can afford on the best possible house, holiday, car, kitchen, TV and sound system.  So why so stingy when it comes to buying a bigger bed?

  1. Because you wouldn’t want to get left behind! Although two-thirds of us still opt for the standard size, larger beds are becoming ever more popular among those with the bedroom space to take one: 33% of double divan and bedstead sales are now 5ft (king-size) or larger.  (GfK NOP Consumer Scope Beds and Mattresses Market Monitor, December 2010).

  1. Because the average person wriggles and turns some 60 to 70 times a night – so you want to put as much space between you and your mate as possible to reduce the disturbance factor.

  1. Because you may not be as young as you were – or as slim!  A 2009  report from the NHS Information Centre said almost a quarter of adults in England were classified as obese in which case the ‘two in a 4 ft 6ins scenario’ could be putting a severe strain on your relationship.

  1. Because once you’ve slept in a king-size, you’ll never want to be a second class sleeper again!

As the Sleep Council is a body founded by bed manufacturers you might feel it's a bit biased, but  I'm a fan of the kingsize bed and I do dislike houses with tiny bedrooms - every time we have been househunting, it has been a right nightmare to find a decent-sized house to buy or rent.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Testing... testing Leapfrog Tag Junior - Scout

Moving house always creates some hassle with the post, even when you set up a redirection - letters and packages often slip through the net. 

I was assigned Tag Junior Scout to test  for the Rainbow Awards, but when I finally got the parcel from my previous address it was too late. Then the half term loomed and I thought it would be a good chance of testing it at our leisure and keep my little one occupied.

Recommended from 1 to 4, Michela was a bit on the old side at 4 and a half years, but as she can't read yet, she really got into it (as you can see from the video above). She even learnt the little jingle by heart. 
Getting it ready
When you get Tag Junior Scout out from its packaging, there is a bit of set up to do as you need to download an application and then the book's audio, plus you can customise this cute puppy (different book pals are available to buy) to say your child's name when it's switched on and switched off. You will need two AAA batteries too. So if you are planning to gift this for Xmas, you better do the 'homework' first to avoid disappointment.

Once switched on, Scout's base is rolled around the book page to discover sounds, hear what the characters have to say or read the story (no parental input needed and no funny reading voices!).

More books
You can buy more books, which retail at £9.99 each - however, click here if you want to take advantage of an offer of £2 off each book. The only niggle I'd have (and other parents have commented on this online) is that more memory would be nice - if you have more than five books you have to rotate them, which in practical terms means unscrewing the back of the pal and connect it to a computer.

What is Tag Junior for?
Tag Junior has been designed to encourage toddlers to acquire preschool skills through fun stories and playful activities revolving around a variety of books. Each Tag Junior book pal (there are other pals to be had, aside Scout) can store up to five books. Each book introduces a different preschool skill, such as the alphabet, counting or social play. 
And if you want to see how your child is doing, you can connect the Tag Junior's pal to the online LeapFrog Learning Path to see your child's progress and get printable activities for more educational fun.

Tag Junior's RRP is £29.99, click here for stockist info.


  • Tag Junior Violet Book Pal has won the following awards:
  • 2011 Top Toy Awards Pass Award
  • 2011 Toy Talk Awards Best Educational Toy
  • 2010 Mother and Baby Magazine Mother and Bay Silver Award
  • 2010 Right Start Best Toy Awards, Highly Commended
  • 2009 Right Start Awards Highly Commended
  • 2009 Practical Pre-School Gold Awards
If you want to try before you buy, click here.
Introducing the next stage....
Highly commended at the Rainbow Toy Awards, Leapfrog's Leapster is suitable from 4 to 9 years. Available from Amazon, Argos and Toys R Us, it retails at £49.99. Below is some information and the testing notes from the Rainbow Toy Awards.

More information 
The future of gaming is captured in the one-of-a-kind handheld that brings mobile learning and educational gaming to children.  Aimed at kids aged between four and nine, Leapster Explorer allows for a truly personalised learning experience with over 35 licensed titles to choose from and an innovative video camera accessory.
The testers said “Very robust, it’s been thrown and dropped on numerous occasions and we’ve had absolutely no problems” and “The play value of the games is endless! “ plus “The ability for parents to follow, track and even help their child’s progress is a fantastic move, overall a great toy”

Testing...Testing Arm and Hammer Spinbrush

My Way! Spinbrush for girls
Buying toothbrushes for a preschooler or school-age child is a tricky business. You might feel a bit out of your comfort zone as most children's toothbrushes that are clearly labelled with an age range are designed for babies or very young toddlers.

For a while I bought toothbrushes that were labelled as 2 years +, then I tried some generic children's toothbrushes, which proved a bit big headwise. 

Michela is now four but she hasn't a big mouth. So I was delighted to be offered the chance to try My Way! Spinbrush, an electric toothbrush that comes with 141 stickers! I was sent two samples, one for girls and one for boys (the head and base have blue details and the stickers are more boyish, but they are similar). As I have a small mouth we both had a go - I used the boy toothbrush, of course!

Michela loves brushing her teeth with me so she can copy what I do. At four, she is keen on learning to do it herself, so I'm teaching her to go up and down, right at the back, underneath... I wasn't sure if she was perhaps a bit too young for a vibrating toothbrush, but after introducing My Way! Spinbrush just before the half term, she has been requesting it every day, leaving her usual toothbrush parked in the mug. This is so reassuring... when I was growing up, dental hygiene was not as promoted as it is today, so I have a mouth full of fillings. 

The manufacturer claims that children brush up to 38% longer with the Arm and Hammer My Way! Spinbrush.  This makes sense to me, after all children love gizmos - a noisy toothbrush that moves around your mouth and can be customised with stickers is certainly more fun than a plain, no-frills toothbrush.

My Way! Spinbrush is suitable from three years. Children under three years can use it under supervision. It's priced £5.99 at Boots and Tesco.


Testing, testing.... OXO gravy/fat separator

OXO, which in the past year has launched products aimed at babies and tots, has brought out a range of kitchen tools to make Christmas a doddle for busy parents.
The new OXO range includes:
  • a stainless-steel flour sifter, around £12, which is perfect for a keen baker and is child friendly too if you want to involve your child in making some yummy cakes
  • a Y stainless-steel, soft-grip peeler, around £5, perfect for peeling not only potatoes but carrots and parsnips
  • a digital instant read thermometer, around £15 - a nifty gagdet you can insert into your turkey and easily read the digital display. The storage sleeve includes readings for recommended internal cooking temperatures - great for added peace of mind
  • a pro masher, around £15, which will make mashing potatoes easy peasy. It also features silicone side wipers - handy for mixing
  • a six-piece measuring spoon set, around £5 - essential for precision cooking and baking, it also features bright colour-coded numbers so your little ones can have a go!
  • silicone locking tongs, from around £10 for 9in size, a useful piece of kit to handle hot food, unless you have asbestos hands!
  • a medium spatula, around £7, Rudolph red and heat resistant up to 600F/315C, so it won't melt, warp or discolour
  • a gravy/fat separator, from £10 for 2-cup size - an ingenious piece of kit that can easily cut the fat for superior Christmas gravy!
 My partner and I tested the versatile gravy/fat separator to make two family favourites: curried chicken pieces, and lamb and spinach curry. While cooking the meat for these dishes you always get heaps of fat, which we previously tackled by using a needless syringe - a slow, greasy and offputting process!

The OXO separator, which comes with a strainer and a stopper, worked a treat - shaped like a jug, it makes it easier to pour in meat juices and dispose of unwanted fat. The fat rises and stays at the top, while the delicious gravy settles at the bottom. Easy to assemble and disassemble, it was much easier to clean too!

If you are impressed by this kitchen tool range, click here to check out the award-winning OXO Good Grips range, launched in 1990, which offers over 200 stylish and practical tools for the home. For stockist details visit or call 0114 290 1455.

Happy Halloween

Carved pumpkin and Halloween candle
We are not celebrating Halloween - perhaps my daughter is too young to be excited about it and in previous years she was scared of masks! That said we'll see what happens when I collect her from school, where they do celebrate all sort of festivals and traditions.

When we were living in Rugby, we did carve pumpkins and put them in the porch so children living in the street knew they were welcome to ring the bell and collect sweets, but Michela got really scared and she has just about stopped having issues with masks.

This has been tricky as many children's workshops or activities at children's centres revolve around making masks.... Now she really likes them and we make them very often, so if your little one shares her previous fears, don't worry... it's just a phase.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Testing, testing... Comfort fabric conditioner + colour fashion tips

As mentioned in a previous post, my daughter started school in September. Between uniform kits and after-school clothes, the washing pile has doubled up. So when I was sent two samples of Comfort fabric conditioner (one for brights and one for whites), I thought it was very timely indeed.

I have now used up the bottle for brights (most of my daughter's clothes are very colourful) and I can confirm it makes garments feel soft and leaves a lovely, lingering fragrance. Comfort Bright Colours is suitable for use on all colours, from pastels through to deeper shades, and even stripes and patterns. I washed a few sets of stripey sheets, duvet covers and pillowcases too and I couldn't stop sniffing my pillowcase - there is no greater pleasure than clean and soft bedlinen that smells fresh. I haven't noticed any fading so far, which is great news as repeated washes can take their toll on textiles. 

I haven't used up the Comfort Bright Whites fabric conditioner, but I must admit it has surpassed my expectations. After just one wash, my partner's t-shirts and my smalls came out dazzling white. Apparently, this is thanks to the Pro-White formula, which counteracts yellow or grey tones that can cause dulling and discolouration. The only thing that slightly surprised me is that the conditioner's colour is purple, like the Bright Colours version.

Pricewise, Comfort fabric conditioners are around £1 more than a supermarket's own conditioner but are more concentrated, have a longer-lasting fragrance and an eco-friendly bottle (redesigned to cut down packaging). Available nationwide, Comfort fabric conditioners (Whites and Brights) retail at £2.25 for 750ml (21 washes) and £3.88 for 1.5l (42 washes).

Colour Confidence tips from Colour Me Beautiful
Comfort has teamed up with colour image consultants Colour Me Beautiful to offer women fashion advice to suit all complexions and hair shades. I'm a DEEP, what type are you?

  • If you have light blonde hair, fair pale skin and very light coloured eyes, you are a LIGHT.  Your eyelashes and brows may need to be tinted to stand out. Your overall look is light and delicate.      Always wear white or a light colour near your face – darker colours will create shadows. Strong colours will overwhelm you, so keep these to the bottom half if you can. When wearing a medium to dark shade, always add a light contrasting colour, this can be in the form of jewellery or scarf
  • If you have dark hair, and dark eyes – and whether your skin is light or dark, you are a DEEP.  Your eyebrows will be dark and defined. You will look good in strong, richer colours (deep purples, damson, teal, emerald green for example). If you like pastel shades, wear them as a contrast with darker colours.   Wear white with dark shades – you look great in strong contrasts. In the summer, wear the brighter colours in your palette near your face and forget about taupes or beiges. Use accessories to lift a head-to-toe colour if this is a look you like.
  • If you have red-tones to your hair, from strawberry blonde to auburn, with green, brown or blue eyes, you are WARM. You will most likely have freckles! Your overall look is warm and golden so choose colours with a yellow undertone (e.g. daffodil shades, terracotta, khaki, lime green, turquoise and for neutrals warm greys, creams and browns). You can wear your colours either tone-on-tone, or contrasting. Wear white together with warm tones to keep you glowing. If you wear navies and greys, make sure you combine them with warm golden shades. Banish any blue-based pinks in your wardrobe and make-up bag. Make the most of your fabulous hair colour with good conditioning and a current hairstyle.
  • With rosy skin tone, grey, ash, salt and pepper, or platinum tones to your hair and blue or grey eyes, your colouring is COOL. Make the most of your striking elegant colouring – pinks and blues are your best friends. Ban anything with a yellow undertone from your wardrobe – and make-up bag too. Contrast your darker shades with brighter, lighter colours. Wear white with cool blues to stay looking fresh all summer long. Brown and beiges should not feature in your wardrobe.
  • Do you have dark hair, and piercing blue, green or topaz eyes?  If so, you are a CLEAR.  If you are dark-skinned, you will have a strong contrast between the white of your eye and the iris. Vibrant colours are perfect for you. Your striking appearance is best matched with clear, bright and jewel-like tones, in particular near your face. Avoid wearing pale colours by your face, unless you can contrast it with a stronger, brighter one. Wear White always with brights for super-flattering contrast. Mix your colours in a dramatic contrasting way for impactJust don’t wear dark colours on their own. Go for bold colours in your accessories.
  • If your eye colour is blended or muted, and if your hair is mousy or highlighted you are a SOFT.  You will have a medium skin tone. Blend colours together rather than wear clothes with high contrast. Choose colours from the same colour family for a blended look. Lift darker shades with colours one or two tones lighter. Wear white with medium tones to avoid unflattering contrasts. Go for tone-on-tone accessories. Add highlights to mousy hair to lift your look. Go for textured or matt fabrics – nothing shiny or light-reflecting.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Mid-life crisis or a touch of Shirley Valentine?

Brit Mums: parent bloggers united

After seeing the poster of SJP's new movie I Don't Know How She Does It, I posted a discussion called How do you do it? on Brit Mums's forum, looking for tongue-in-cheek and genuine time-saving tips.

My contribution was: "I work from home, do charity work and look after a four year old. I tend to be minimalist with housework and personal grooming. For instance, why shaving my legs when I’m not wearing a skirt or I can wear cover-up thights? Why wearing full makeup if not any? It only makes me look older. Housewise: clean laundry and dishes get precedence on dusting (I have a few old pieces of furniture – it’s amazing how dust improves patina)."

Here are the frank, funny and very useful time-saving tips I got:
Troubles Mum: "Housework in our house is seen as optional. As long as the basics are done and we don’t get food poisoning, then all good. And I haven't ironed a full garment for about five years at least. No-one has ever really noticed."

Jo: " Get a breadmaker (with a timer), a dishwasher, and a coffee maker (with timer) – that way you can have your breakfast ready for you when you wake up, and clean plates and cups to eat/drink from – oh and the house smells good too :-) Now if only we had a washing machine with a timer that hung itself out on the line too…"

Ellen Arnison: "Not sure if it’s totally relevant, but here’s how I got out of the house to work yesterday morning:" Read this and be glad if you have just one child, are working from home or are a full-time parent!
Me as Shirley Valentine

As I was collating my fellow bloggers' time-saving tips, my inbox was buzzing with emails from life coaches offering me to ditch my boring, surely unchallenging everyday life and live the dream. I suppose it's partly my fault for subscribing to inspirational newsletters, but they did hit a chord.

In the past weeks, I have been mulling on my professional and family life and wondered why I feel trapped. I work from home, I have a flexible work life, lovely daughter and partner, plus I'm out of renting and enjoying my new home. Where did this negativity come from?

I can blame Eat, Pray, Love and even escapism classic Shirley Valentine for putting ideas into my weary head, but perhaps it's also he realisation that I'm too old/busy/tired for certain things, like going to clubs (I still love dancing though), travelling around the world or simply having a night out without childcare complications.

One of the seductive life coaches' emails revealed that there are heaps of women in my shoes, even younger and with better career prospects (so obviously, they must be stuck in a well-paid job they loathe). So I ask myself: Am I going through an early middle-life crisis or is it a touch of Shirley Valentine?
Go on, be Shirley... download and paste your face in the blank spot!

Monday, 3 October 2011

Testing, testing... Green People's Children's Bath and Shower Citrus and Aloe Vera

I tried Green People's products before (see here), and was delighted to be able to test a gorgeously smelling wash called Children's Bath & Shower Citrus & Aloe Vera. The  200ml tube retails at £7.75, which is more expensive than your usual supermarket bath/shower wash, but again, as with other Green People products, a little will go a long way. 

The fragrance is irresistibly zesty, containing essences of ylang ylang and mandarin, and the composition is free from nasty chemicals that tend to irritate delicate children's skin (SLS/SLES, Parabens, phthalates, artificial fragrances...)

As your child transition from toddlerhood to preschool and then school, you might well think that they have outgrown baby products. However, I find that my daughter's skin is still sensitive and some 'grown-up' products do cause rashes. Of course, if a child is prone to eczema or psoriasis, you have to be careful when choosing any product that gets in contact with their skin - pure, organic products are then the best choice. Another thing to bear in mind is that the Children's Bath & Shower Citrus & Aloe Vera is suitable for vegans and vegetarians.

Personally I'm not a loyal brand buyer so I either buy a baby wash (a bit bland and my daughter is starting to dislike products aimed at babies), a really mild family bath/shower product or opt for an organic option. To be honest, I buy products according to promotions - cost for me is an issue, but it doesn't mean I'd buy a brand I don't trust qualitywise just because it's cheaper.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Book giveaway: The Eco-Friendly Home, worth £14.99

Win The EcoFriendly Home!
Win The Eco-Friendly Home, worth £14.99!
I have a copy of this insightful book to give away to a lucky reader (you might want it for yourself or to give as a present). All you need to do is leave a comment using your blog name or online profile on my 1930s house blog (click here) Competition closes on 30 October 2011 and is open to UK mainland only. Only one entry per household please.

PS. If you are into DIY and female, there's a Haynes manual for us ladies... Tips on those niggling jobs and a few 'man' jokes thrown in! Click here for more info.

Testing, testing.... tinyme school labels

tinyme school label offer - save over 50% on labels

I was one of the lucky bloggers invited to test tinyme labels. I was offered tinyme's basic mixed pack, which has three label options with a mind-boggling choice of 90 different design and colours. The pack contains 48 Standard Vinyl Name Labels (51.5mm x 24mm);  48 Iron-On Clothing Labels (51.5mm x 24mm) and 24 Large Vinyl Name Labels (104mm x 24mm). Basically you stick the vinyl labels and iron on the others. The result was pretty cute  (I won't upload a photo as it has my daughter's full name).

Michela chose the label's design and went for pink/purple with a butterfly and dragonfly motifs. The labels arrived pretty quickly, before the mentioned 10 working days. As I ordered them quite late, I thought they wouldn't arrive in time for the first day of school but they did! The labels are made to order, so this is pretty good service.

I ordered my sample before the massive promotion you can see in the photo above, but the value of my order was already discounted from £41.97 to £25.99. This didn't include postage and handling, which are charged per order value. So if the order value is up to £24.99 you pay £2.99, £5.99 for higher orders.

Sticking the labels
With my iron in my right hand and a piece of baking paper on the iron-on label, I pressed down for the indicated time and nearly melt the first label. The instructions specify hot iron, but I don't advise using the max setting. I reduced the heat and doubled up the baking paper, which meant it took a tiny bit longer but the label was OK and stuck to the fabric.

I used vinyl labels for shoes, book bag and Michela's rucksack. She is in reception so she doesn't have as much kit as older children.

One week on and one machine load for uniforms, I can say the iron-on labels washed well (I wash at 30 or 40 degrees). The label inside a pair of sock was slightly wrinkly but it could have the spin cycle, I use a powerful one to minimise drying time. The vinyl labels really stuck well to the inside of her shoes, sweat didn't dislodge them. I will update this post later in the school year to let you know what happens.

Value for money - you get what you pay for!
I am a school label virgin because I used my partner's old sewing-on labels at preschool (by some coincidence, they share the same initials and obviously the surname). This old-fashioned type is still on sale but made with more modern materials. The design is pretty basic, you have a white label with the name in a colour or you have a background colour with the name in white. The cheapest deal online was £11.99 for 30 regular vinyl labels, 30 small vinyl labels and 30 Navy iron-on labels. Iron-on labels only come in white with navy print. Shipping delivery for this order would be £1.99.

Aside the basic design, which won't be a hit for a little girl who loves colours and patterns, the limit of 19 characters and space means I would have had to chop her name. I suppose I could have used her initials, but then her dad's old labels could have done well for another year. Also you get less labels numberwise - this makes a difference for iron-on labels as you use more of those.

STOP PRESS There is a great promotion running at tinyme, which means that if you haven't got your school labels sorted yet, you get a great deal - 150 premium labels for £23.99. If you want to find out more, just click here! Browse this site for other cute kids products such as height charts, wall decor, personalised books... and much more.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Creativity, cupcakes and civic pride

Last Saturday I attended a women writer's day at the Creative Salon, part of the Cambridge Art Salon, a "public space for nurturing art". Click here for an article in the local press.  Amazingly I recognised two women who were there, Sue from Sookio, whom I briefly spotted at a TedxGranta event in February and local entrepreneur Sue Flay who runs The Secluded Tea Party events. Sue brought some mesmerising chocolate cherry cupcakes and a decadent chocolate cake, which we scoffed at the end of the day after a champagne toast.

Fire and Knives
There was plenty of time of pure writing but what really made my day were the two talks. The writer who was supposed to give us a talk about her new book wasn't well we had two surprise guest speakers, which really engaged our small group of nine women. The first speaker was Shelley Davies, who discussed self-publishing in the virtual age and how it worked miracles for writers who were fobbed off by traditional publishing firms but were subsequently offered book deals when their ebooks proved popular. The second speaker was Tim Hayward, a writer and photographer, and the new owner of Fitzbillies, a renown cafe/patisserie in central Cambridge. Fitzbillies closed down in February but Tim and his partner bought it, restored it and re-opened it in August. Tim also publishes a food quarterly magazine, called Fire & Knives. He gave us a thrilling account on how he became a food writer and how he recently managed to secure a book deal. He mentioned the word luck a few times, but it was obvious that he worked hard for years at building his own career. After the talks we had some quiet time for writing, then we closed with a champagne toast. I cycled back home full of cake, creative ideas and three revised chapters of my alchemical novel. As far as I know one other member blogged about the day (if anybody else wrote about it, I'm happy to display a link) - read poet Shaista's post on the Creative Salon's writing day by clicking here.

On Wednesday it was my birthday and Michela's first day at school. My treat was lunch at Seven Days, an authentic Chinese restaurant in Regent Street that was recommended to me by a Chinese researcher whom I met at the Grad Pad. I had their excellent pork and prawn dumpling, followed by stir-fried duck and jellyfish. I drank prune tea, which came in a pretty bottle. I took a photo of it and might upload it at some point.

On Thursday I went to the Love Cambridge's AGM, where I heard great things about Cambridge's retail scene and overall appeal as tourist destination (here is the civic pride bit). Most members come from the retail, entertainment and hospitality sectors so I was a fish out of water but somehow I was asked to leave a couple of business cards. I spoke to very interesting people, including the Mayoress, a cabinet maker, two women running a marketing company with a cute tree frog logo and various other members. The event was held at the Royal Cambridge Hotel and there was a buffet at the end. I cycled back through an eerily deserted central Cambridge.

The new-recipe Fitzbillies' bun

I conclude with a photo of a Fitzbillies' bun, which was a lovely treat but seemed to have inspired mixed opinions at Agenda magazine. Having read the review and found out that the recipe doesn't include nasty fats, I now wonder if they will ever make those lovely lardy cakes I used to buy before Fitzbillies shut down.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Social media and relationship marketing for dummies

 Here is a brief, off-the-top-of my-head reflection on social media and relationship marketing, which I found among my drafts. I welcome comments.
A selection of social media tools

This concept has been carried over to the online arena, where relationships with potential customers are even more sophisticated and go beyond old demographic approaches. Take a hit TV show, whatever the target audience was in terms of age, gender, education or income, the reality is that the show is successful because it has broad appeal - which proves that interests and hobbies do trascend class, age and gender.

Brands are now keen for bloggers to feature their products and services. They are busy launching websites where they offer information, support and tools to build virtual communities that will generate sales and new customers. Welcome to relationship marketing!

Brands are also invading Facebook and Twitter to create a buzz around their products. There is no virtual space where a brand fears to tread - although, apparently, LinkedIn doesn't generate sales, despite the large amount of fake discussions.

So whether you have a degree or basic education, you are sophisticated or down to earth, you are working class or middle class, you are a Sun or Guardian reader, you are bound to find a website through which you can interact with like-minded individuals while being targeted as a consumer.

The market for consumer goods is mind-boggingly complex... take crisps: you get the down to earth crisp, the fun crisp, the sophisticated hand cooked crisp, the oriental or unusual flavoured crisp, the retro crisp (salt and shake).

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

School blues - yes, literally

Michela getting some mouse practice in time for school

My daughter is starting school in September and I have been rushing around to buy clothes and shoes in the right colours - blue and white. Most supermarkets and children's stores sell clothing in black, white and grey, which doesn't help.

Apparently I left it a bit late for black shoes as I went two weeks ago and the choice was limited to say the least. All the good stuff had gone and I was lucky to find something in Primark that was the right size and colour. The pinafores, tees,  jeans and white socks were bought in Sainsbury's, while the leggings came from Primark. Having received a massive bag of clothes from my brother, I wasn't going to spend a lot of money on school clothes, especially since the colour is a bit boyish.

It's quite a challenge to find blue trousers for girls, I had to buy jeans and a pair of gym pants from the boy's area. Luckily I got a few bits with the school logo from the school fete earlier in the summer, the second-hand uniform stall was a fab idea!

I'm told Asda is very good and very reasonable, I didn't manage to get that way this time but I will check it out when I do.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Testing, testing... Carte D'Or and Kenco - plus affogato recipe

It's the summer holidays! I have received samples for two products that are a hit in our household: coffee and ice cream. My partner is the coffee drinker but I do love coffee poured over ice cream, so this PR homage was just the ticket! Affogato is easy peasy to make. I placed a few scoops of Carte D'Or Macadamia Night (a new flavour!), in a cold glass (pop in freezer for a little while) and poured over Kenco Smooth coffee (made into a small cup). If you are serving this to friends or family, you have to be quick, otherwise you will be offering sludge instead of a heavenly concoction.

 Affogato photo credit: Humphry Slocombe

Kenco Smooth

Kenco Smooth
The new-design, slender jar contains coffee that doesn't disappoint: not too bitter, easy to drink, not too strong, exactly what "Smooth" suggests! The new jar has less glass and an eco refill is also available. From £2.98 for a 100g jar.

Carte D'Or Macadamia Night

This new flavour really worked well in the affogato, but I found it not nutty enough for my taste. Perhaps I'm a bit biased as my great Carte D'Or favourites are the Mascarpone and Lavazza coffee flavours (and yes, you can pour coffee over the coffee ice cream if you fancy a double flavour hit). Each flavour retails at £3.49 RRP.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The 1930s house project

The 1930s house

I haven't updated my blog in a long while, not because of work or family commitments but because I have embarked on another home renovation. I bought a 1930s property (a long, hair-raising process) and am transforming it into a home. I have a tight budget, which means doing a lot of work myself, with the help of my partner. We are only having tradesmen for difficult (and dangerous) jobs, so it's all hands on deck!

I'm hoping to show the various stages of transformation, indoor and outdoors. The house came with a mature, very overgrown garden, plus I have plenty of potted plants (cuttings from my previous gardens that have been moved four times). At one point I had around 80 pots, then I started using big containers and crates! 

The blog will feature crafts, DIY and gardening topics. If you are intrigued and want to follow my journey, visit The 1930s home blog. See you there!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

National Breastfeeding Awareness Week 2011: how I'm celebrating

The deparment of Health has stopped funding National Breastfeeding Awareness Week (read Guardian's article here).... so it's again down to breastfeeding charities or the goodwill of health professionals to support this initiative that could save the NHS a lot of money. Breastfeeding comes with proven health benefits for mum and baby, and financial benefits for the whole family as it's free. It has also a low carbon footprint (you don't need products to breastfeed and you can hand express if you want to feed your baby from a cup).

With no stalls or other local initiatives, I'm celebrating by doing what I usually do most weeks, provide help and information at breastfeeding dropins. I find volunteering there very satisfying, especially when tearful mums smile at the end of the session.

If I have one tip to share with breastfeeding mums is this... learn to breastfeed lying down, it helps with latching (you don't have to worry about how to hold the baby), is kind to a C-section scar and gives you and your baby a well-deserved rest (you might well fall asleep and have a snooze).

Here are my favourite bf sites, with lots of information on breastfeeding and breastfeeding problems: (La Leche League International)

Happy NBAW!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Outsourcing... Italian TV gets in on the act

Click here for more info

In the past decade there has been a lot of talk about outsourcing editorial tasks in printed media (books, newspapers and magazines), but it's the first time I have heard of an Italian TV programme being made in Britain. I have heard of advertising campaigns being made in the UK, but not of a TV programme.

Italy is a big buyer of foreign TV programmes, which are dubbed to a high standard to suit Italian audiences. In Italy, there isn't such a thing as subtitled movies - except those old American films they used to show late at night for viewers who wanted to improve their language skills. Perhaps they still show them, but as far as I know, mainstream TV is strictly in Italian.

So I was quite amused to find out that a TV company is paying Italian speakers £20 each in travel expenses to attend the recordings of The Cube, a gameshow filmed in London but fully produced in Italian (presenter is Italian comedian and actor Teo Mammucari). I was quite tempted to get a ticket but then realised my train journey from Cambridge is over £20, especially since the location is not in zone one, meaning a long, expensive tube journey on top.

I'm sure they will find plenty of takers - being "rewarded" to watch a TV show is not to be sniffed at!

Testing, testing... Philadelphia soft cheese

Philadelphia's new flavour: Sun-dried tomatoes and basil
A few weeks ago a goodie bag arrived to announce the launch of Philadelphia's new Mediterranean flavour: Sun-dried tomato and basil. I grew up with Philadelphia as it's a popular brand in Italy and since I moved to the UK I have been using this soft cheese (the original, full-fat flavour) to make cheesecake or spread on toast.

Browsing Philly's website, I now see that this is not the only flavour available, some herby flavours are on sale too (click here to view the full range).  The goodie bag also included some yummy savoury recipes, but there are lots on the website too (click here to view them all). Among the online recipes, my favourite is the Tuscan stuffed pepper, as it's a perfect spring-to-summer dish. A few months ago I did develop a stuffed pepper recipe for a parenting website (click here), but the Philly recipe (below, just click link in the caption) promises to be lighter in calories... It's easy and delicious, and it was just the ticket when a friend who doesn't eat meat visited me a few days ago.

Stuffed pepper with Sun-dried Tomato and Basil Philadelphia, click here for the recipe

However I couldn't resist making a cheesecake with the Philadelphia Original sample - and I'm sharing my recipe below. I used three kiwi fruits and fresh berries to decorate it...

Non-bake fruit of the forest cheesecake
·      200g digestive biscuits, crushed
·      45g butter, melted
·      400g Philadelphia Original
·      100g sugar
·      1 tablespoon lemon juice
·      1 teaspoon vanilla extract
·      280ml whipping cream
·      2 tablespoons sugar
·      1 teaspoon vanilla extract
·      2 punnets mixed berries (you can use frozen berries)
·      2 tablespoons sugar
·      little water
 ·     kiwi fruits and a few fresh berries to garnish (optional)

1.  Crush the biscuits and place crumbs in a bowl. Pour melted butter and combine. Press the mixture into the tin to make the base of the cake. Refrigerate.

2.  Mix the cheese, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla extract. Beat the cream till it resembles thick custard. Combine whipped cream in the cheese mixture. Pour over the biscuit base and refrigerate.

3.  Boil the berries in a non-stick saucepan with sugar and a little water to make the coulis. Let it cool and refrigerate it. For best results, spoon the coulis on the top just before serving. Decorate with kiwi slices (optional).

I have another great recipe that was sent to me by Phildadelphia's PR company


Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

Scoops: 10
Prep time: 20 minutes
Freeze time: 24 hours
200g Philadelphia Original
300ml condensed milk
150ml crème fraiche
Grated rind of 1 lemon
125g fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
3 tbsp strawberry conserve
50g digestive biscuits, roughly chopped 
1. Mix together the Philly, condensed milk, crème fraiche and lemon rind. Spoon into a freezer proof container and freeze for about 4 hours or until semi frozen.
2. Meanwhile, put the strawberries and conserve into a blender or food process and puree together.
3. Remove the ice cream from the freezer and whisk to break up the ice crystals. Stir in the strawberry puree and the crumbled biscuits. Spoon back into the freezer proof container. Freeze until completely frozen, preferably overnight. Remove from the freezer about 20-30 minutes before serving to soften slightly. Serve in scoops decorated if likes with some fresh strawberries.

TIP: If liked, use raspberries and raspberry conserve in place of strawberries.