Learning a new language with Snowflake Books

Snowflake Books’ stories are drawn from ancient Chinese fairytales, they are translations, carefully researched and traditionally illustrated with texts in English and Mandarin, with Pinyin to help pronounciation and selected books even have a CD to listen along.

I was drawn to their books because J’s aunt lives in Shanghai and J and I are both very interested in Chinese traditions and festivals. I thought it would be nice for us to read something together that we could both learn from.  Although the stories are recommended from 5 years plus, J is an adventurous girl and a lover of fantasy stories so we found the books were a good fit for where she is at with her learning, and as she grows she will pick up more of the Mandarin too.

We read The Dragon Princess and the Five Flower Horse. The Dragon Princess, written and illustrated by Jin Jie Ye is a story I am familiar with, but the illustrations really bring it to life! FullSizeRender3

It’s a magical fable, a love story about the dragon princess who lives a wretched life with her husband, she is saved by a kindly stranger who takes a message to her father the dragon king, and the kindly stranger is well rewarded for his bravery and kind act and is reunited with the princess at the end of the tale.

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The Five Flower Horse by Xue Lin and Jian Zhi Qiu is a story about following your heart and your dreams, it’s about a warhorse who loves to dance, if only life were that simple, he must practice and hone his skills to prove himself as a dancer in the face of his disapproving family; he is such a great dancer that the birds and the butterflies come to see him and he is chosen as the emperors best dancing horse.

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Both stories are a delight to read and are beautifully illustrated in vibrant watercolours and with great expression.  The text is just the right size to keep an early reader’s interest; I loved the colour coded words highlighted for practice on each page, with pinyin below, it makes for really easy reading and visualisation.

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J is delighted with these stories and even more delighted to know the word for ‘horse’ in Mandarin (mǎ)!  I wholeheartedly recommend Snowflake Books to inquisitive readers and parents who are interested to share their love of other cultures with their little ones.

Please note, these books were sent to us for review purposes, all views are my own

Migloo’s Day Review: a search and find story book

One of our ‘must haves’ in a reading book is the ‘can you spot’ factor – “can you find a ladybird on every page?” J absolutely loves anything like this, and she’s really good at spotting things too.

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Migloo’s Day is perfect for mini-spotters then, a search and find story book by William Bee with oodles of things to find.

The beauty of this book is that the story is delightful, much like the illustrations, as so many search and find books are just that, without the story. Migloo the dog’s day much like ours revolves around delicious foods, he has a great day out taking in lots of places, vehicles and hidden animals and objects, and enjoys lots of delicious treats along the way; when the school bus breaks down it’s Migloo to the rescue and I wont spoil the surprise but yes, his day ends with more food!

There are at least three ‘can you spots’ on each page, and then when you turn to the back of the book there are more clues and more puzzles making suggestions for things to look out for on each page. We started by looking for Migloo amongst the Sunnytown spreads, then did the activities on each page and we’re still looking for the last of the 27 footballs now!

This is the kind of book we’ll keep coming back to, as J will grow into it and get better acquainted with the characters (there must be over 50 of them, hard for her to keep track of at this stage but I love books that grow with her!) and I’m pleased to see that Migloo’s Adventure is also available, as we loved Migloo’s Day so much!

See you soon Migloo!

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Note: we were sent a copy of this book to give our opinion on the story, this Migloo’s Day Review is our honest view of the book in our own words

Mental health and addiction

Since January I’ve been working hard to improve my diet and have joined a healthy eating group. During group meetings I’ve been reflecting on the ease with which I seemed to have slipped into a sugar addiction, and the difficulty kicking it!

Just to be clear, my sugar addiction wasn’t just a love of sweets, though sometimes my instagram feed says otherwise, but rather made me somewhat subconsciously seek out any sugar laden foods. As with many problems we face, I didn’t realise until I started paying it attention how much sugar was in many of the foods I ate, and quite how low I’d feel when cutting it out! Mornings were hard, I felt as though I could barely face the day without a sugar rush. Lunches felt like a chore with nothing sweet to give me an afternoon kick. Night time comfort eating just isn’t the same when you’re kicking yourself for every teaspoon of sugar you go over your daily limit.

The lucky thing for me was that sugar addiction is such a widely discussed topic – look at the I quit sugar movement – people don’t feel so ashamed or guilty about it when it’s widely discussed and that means that there is plenty of available peer support around when I feel like giving in to a craving. When you feel like you’re sliding down towards frustration, anxiety or just feeling low, there’s usually someone around at home or work who can identify with you – and remind you that it’s all in your mind.

Addictions are defined as a continual act of doing something which becomes compulsive, like drinking, eating to excess or gambling. I really feel for people with addictions that are more taboo, who can often suffer in silence and without anyone ever noticing there’s a problem until it’s too late. Like sugar or alcohol addictions, gambling is all around us, everywhere we look. From high street bookmakers to sport on TV, often when there’s a big sporting event going on, it’s ramped up more and more to gambling fever pitch. Very, very difficult to avoid temptation when there are so many temptations out there, and with the ease of online gambling in all its forms, I really feel for any affected individuals and their families who have to deal with the fallout.

Spiralling debts, loss of income and home as well as the risks to mental health are all good reasons to ensure that you know where to get help if you or a loved one are caught up in this addictive cycle of behaviour. It’s worth checking out gambling addiction charities for more information about the tell tale signs of gambling addiction, as well as tips around how to keep gambling something you enjoy and control rather than something that begins to control you.

The same goes for other types of addiction, recognising that you have a problem is tremendously challenging, I think seeking support is a very brave thing to do and I hope we’ll see other addictions being more widely discussed.

This is a collaborative post

Talking about postnatal depression

For some people expecting a new baby or becoming a parent can feel like an isolating and lonely time. There are lots of reasons why this might be the case, and pre and postnatal depression is one of them.

For over 2 years now I’ve been involved with an organisation called PANDAS Foundation who aim to make sure that no individual, family or carer feels as if they are alone. Whether this is through support and advice through PANDAS services including email support, PANDAS Help Line, or at a PANDAS Support Group, or through wider campaigning, PANDAS is supporting families navigating mental health challenges, and as regular readers will know this is an issue close to my heart.

I run a local PANDAS affiliated support group, supported by Launchpad Ncl and working in close contact with local statutory services who offer signposting support and support to make sure our members can engage with local consultations and have a say about parental mental health more generally.

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In a recent blog post for Men Tell Health I talked about the benefits of peer support for parents facing pre and postnatal mental health conditions; but I haven’t really blogged about these benefits on my own site, so am taking the opportunity to do so now to raise further awareness.

What we’ve set up in Newcastle is a really informal, but strongly supportive peer support group that’s inclusive of children, dads and the wider family network, grandparents, sibilings etc and that tries to reach out to anyone who wants to support their peers through their ongoing recovery.

What to expect from peer support:

Every PANDAS group is different, but coming to a PANDAS group is a chance to meet as a small group of peers, to share experiences, gain emotional support and realise you’re not alone, helping make life’s challenges as a new parent a little bit easier. By reaching out and talking about parental mental health I hope we’ll start to see a different way of talking about new parenthood. Perhaps one where people feel they can be honesy about their experiences, where coping with sleep deprivation and low mood are discussed at baby groups and ‘it’s OK not to be OK’ becomes more openly accepted.

At our Newcastle group we meet the last Saturday of each month; new members are welcomed with a new members pack and are introduced to other members; if the group is busy I might try to buddy up a new member with someone who has been there a while.

We get a cuppa on the go and will either have a chat about an issue the group are interested in, have a speaker to talk about an aspect of parental mental health (we’ve had talks about nutrition, the early days with a new baby, birth reflections, a talk from a GP about medication) or we’ll have an informal stay and play type session with toys for the little ones, and just catch up about how the previous month has been.

There’s no pressure to share anything you’re not comfortable with, and members can feel free to syat for the whole session, or just drop in and out as they please. We recently moved to a new venue so are finding our feet with a new setup, but I’d really like to see us grow the group and so outreach is something I’m spending a bit more time on.

Parents who have accessed the group have said:

“I haven’t been to many support group sessions as I think just being with other mums helped me see that I wasn’t alone in feeling scared, lonely and struggling to come to terms with being a mum, missing my old carefree life; hearing someone else say “it’s all a bit boring some days” was a relief! I’m feeling much better but it is good to know you’re there if I need to come back again.”

“A safe space to talk, to let out my anxieties and find some hope that it would get easier, suggestions for talking to my GP, ideas for things to try, and a really nice group of people that I can be honest with, I wish I’d heard about you guys sooner!”

“Coming to the group and saying “I’m not OK with how I’m feeling” was terrifying, but the group is really supportive and helped me to see that I wasn’t a bad Mam or a terrible person, I was tired, burned out and struggling. I needed somewhere away from home to let all those worries and feelings out, and now I feel better I want to support others so I’m still in touch with the group, thinking about baby number two and I now know others who have taken that step are there to support me”

For more information visit the PANDAS website

Bring spring to your garden with Dobies

Spring is upon us, the nights are getting lighter, the sun has made a few joyous if fleeting appearances. There have even been a couple of warm days and it isn’t even the end of March!

I’m definately a winter hibernator and this combination has roused my mammalian instinct to move and stretch and leave the comfort of my burrow to go outside and see the flowers and foliage bursting into life! I love browsing seed catalogues at this time of year, it’s lovely to do a spot of yarden planning and think about what we could do with our little space.

I’m a keen yardener and JD is my budding apprentice. She’s a sucker for brightly coloured bedding plants and flowers, and I love how quickly pots can be populated on a budget. We’ve spent lots of time wandering through parks and countryside enjoying the daffodils, snowdrops and crocuses and have decided it’s time to get some new bedding plants for the yard to brighten things up.

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JD loves blue Forget-Me-Not’s with their array of delicate blue and white flowers which provide great cover for the bare earth waiting to be populated with foliage at the end of winter. I’ve decided to go for some Polyanthus too, I just love the bright variety of colours. We found both on the Dobies website (much easier to look there than dragging JD out to the shop!)

We’re also thinking of getting a little plant house (we don’t have room for a green house) and hope to grow some tomatoes from seed as JD loves to eat them straight from the plant when they’re ripe. We’ll be looking back to the main Dobies site again soon to get started with planting veggies for the summer!

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Happy planting fellow yardeners!

Collaborative post: all views are my own

National Stationery Week 2016 is Coming!

National Stationery Week 2016 will soon be upon us and I’ve been reviewing a bundle of great goodies from NSWs official sponsors lately.

NSW is all about promoting writing this year, with opportunities to get involved, and promotions and events to get us all thinking about why writing matters.

This is quite a personal theme for me, as a researcher I spend much of my time coding data, making sense of complex themes and theories and trying to manage large swathes of qualitative data. Coding for me means colour coding and mind mapping, so I prefer to work with paper and pen and put the laptop to one side; working with coloured pens, highlighters and pencils to help me map out ideas.

NSW is a great opportunity to get back into writing, whether at work or play, or in encouraging your children to get writing too. Perhaps you’ll spot something you like in this review post, there’s something for everyone!

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I am mad on grown up colouring books, they fit so well with my mindfulness practice that I always have a book on the go.  These Staedtler Noris colouring pencils are superb, I have to say I was very happy to receive two packs of these because I had my suspicions that little miss might have her eye on them and lo and behold I lost a pack to her pencil case!  Great for young and old they’re lovely quality, vibrant and very soft, I’m really pleased by how rich the colours come out.

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BIC pens are the ultimate convenience pen for me, quality ink, they dry fast and I see them as a ‘scribbler’ – great for when I’m writing up an interview or minuting meetings. At the moment I both chair and take notes for some quite long meetings so I like to colour code actions and my own actions particularly. Speed and convenience is key so the new BIC 4 colour pens are perfect for quickly switching colours. I think colour switchers still feel very 80s, so I like the retro colours too!

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A Sheaffer Sentinel is always gratefully received by me, I was given one when I left a job a few years ago, weighty but still great value at less than a tenner this is a brilliant everyday pen for in my work bag, that bit more special than a workhorse biro it’s a great value rollerball and would make a lovely gift especially with the colour choices now available; there’s something for everyone.

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Next up the Maped twin tip, source of much fun this week, I could not get the hang of this at all, but it was good fun and writes beautifully! Essentially the colour switches are at each end of the pen so it writes from both ends, I’m giving this the thumbs up because it does write really nicely, a lovely flow and great grip, I think I’ll grow to love it for coding research papers but it might take another week or two to understand which colour is connected to which end of the pen, it just didnt come intuitively to me!

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NuCo Notebooks are a staple of mine now, I like the tactile covers and perforated sheets, a great workhorse notebook, compact but chunky for lots of use and the elastic close handily keeps everything together. I have these in different colours for different projects, the paper is great quality 120gsm and at roughly a fiver these are great value too.

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Finally the Maped Kidy Board, truly one to help get kids writing, J absolutely loves this and I do too, it’s really innovative and fits so well with her current learning phase. At preschool she’s learning to write numbers and letters, the Kidy Board has a great grid for helping to keep writing straight and there are printables available for download to slip under the frame to practice writing and drawing. The soft non slip frame helps encourage a steady hand and it’s also come in handy for me to write up the odd shopping list too! Creative, fun, and educational, this is a brilliant addition to the home of any young budding writer!

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I’d love it if you’d consider voting for this blog in the NSW Blogger of the Year awards!

What are your plans for National Stationery Week? There are some great ideas to help you get involved here!
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Brantano Kids Shoes for Spring

Buying a new and ultra comfortable pair of running shoes recently reminded me how important it is for footwear to be durable and comfortable. The pain of an uncomfortable pair or the disappointment of shoes that wear out too quickly isn’t worth hanging on to a pair that no longer cut the mustard.

With this in mind, I’ve been thinking about getting JD some new kids shoes for spring / summer and having a good look around for a pair that will be super comfortable and durable for her needs.

JD isn’t a child who is afraid of running around like mad, getting dirty or running into the sea with a normal pair of shoes on knowing full well she’ll end up with soaking wet feet, as I learned on a recent trip to the Coast!

That said, she likes casual but pretty shoes – her last pair were covered in glittery sparkles but there were hard to get on and I’m not sure they were as comfortable as they might have been on longer walks / outings.

I checked out Brantano kids shoes for Spring online which I found useful because of the ratings and reviews. I found a couple of pairs to talk to Joss about (if she’ll even entertain the idea for more than two minutes!) The shortlist I’ve identified is:

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Skechers Twinkle Toes – Chit Chat Canvas Shoes from www.brantano.co.uk

I like the colours, sparkles, velcro fastening (anything for an easy life!) and the good reviews. I’m a bit biased towards Skechers at the moment anyway as I got such a great pair for running recently.

Skechers Shuffles Critter Buds  from www.brantano.co.uk

Skechers Shuffles Critter Buds from www.brantano.co.uk

Another colourful, sparkly, velcro fastening relaxed style, this time with a cute animal face on the front (very JD!). Good reviews again too and a reasonable price.

Both of the above shoes also light up when you walk. I’m just disappointed my running shoes didn’t come with the same feature!

Osaga Oasby Purple trainers from www.brantano.co.uk

Osaga Oasby Purple trainers from www.brantano.co.uk

As a more economical option that looks comfortable, durable, good for active kids and still looks great, the Osaga Oasby Purple trainers with velcro fastening have made the shortlist too.

Brantano are running a competition at the moment, you could win a family day out worth £500, be lucky!

Whatever you’re looking for there’s a great range of fashionable kids shoes available, what would your little one choose?

Disclosure: collaborative post, all views and choices are my own

 

Why I support #natstatweek #writingmatters each year

I have a confession to make, I have terrible handwriting, always have, and probably always will.

But writing still matters to me.  I think ideas flow more naturally on paper and I like to map out thoughts, linking ideas and colour coding, it’s something the researcher in me loves about working on a big blank sheet of paper!

This year National Stationery Week is running from 25th April to the 1st May, and it’s my third year supporting as a #natstatweek blogger.

I love to get involved as it takes me back to the beginning of every school year, the promise that came from a new pencil case, new colouring pens, and later even the boring stuff, the maths sets and protractors; I always have and always will love shopping for stationery, I know it doesn’t set everyone’s world on fire but I find it utterly joyful!

Over the coming weeks I’ll be reviewing a selection of products from Staedtler and Scheaffer to Maped and NuCo, here’s a sneak peak of what’s to come, and I’d love to hear about your must have products too!

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Winter gardens

I’ve been quiet of late and this is a post of few words, but that’s not to say I’ve not taken my camera out, so I thought I’d take ten minutes to share some snaps from my Instagram feed throughout winter, a little grainy from various insta filters but they spark joy nevertheless.

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As always some blooms have been picked up along the way and brought indoors, and others have been bought with the weekly shop to brighten the place up

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I’m looking forward to getting up to speed with blogging more regularly through spring and writing something a little more lengthy, but it’s been nice to muse over some snaps for now!

DIY Christmas Cones

I love a Christmas project, and this year I’ve been making a few new decorations for the tree for J to enjoy.  When Crafters Companion dropped me a line to ask if I’d like to try some of the Debbie Shore patterns from her Christmas Projects DVD my first thought was that I haven’t used my machine in ages, but my mind was put at rest when I saw that the patterns were simple, clear and had fewer than 5 steps!

These Christmas cones are just one of many great projects on the DVD and now that I have been bitten by the sewing bug again I’m going to start another project tonight!  The cones required me to cut two pieces of fabric that had been folded in half, sewing an inner and an outer cone together to form a lining for the cone, adding ribbons and buttons to finish off, the projects really are as simple as that and because the DVD comes with a sizeable piece of fabric it makes for a really great kit for a novice like me!

Debbie really nicely captured my imagination and I’m now industriously crafting more decs:

“I still remember the Christmas decorations from my childhood, that were brought out every year, bringing a smile to everyone’s face and making the festive season that little bit more special. I’m hoping the characters on this CD will do the same for your family, with the likes of Rodney Reindeer, Christmas Carole, Paul the Penguin and of course, Santa, making an appearance each year.” (Debbie Shore)

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Filled with a few stocking filler sized presents these make a lovely gift in themselves, here’s one I’ve put together for my Playmobil fan!

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Do you have any Christmas projects on the go? I’d love to hear about them!