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.

FullSizeRender4

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.

FullSizeRender1

FullSizeRender

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.

FullSizeRender2

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

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:

skechers

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!

Untitled

Cooking with kids: Rusty’s Winter Warmer Granola

Enlist the help of your toddler to make a healthy, tasty and pure Granola that’ll give you something guilt-free to look forward to every morning.

rusty's granola

Ingredients:

I use about 100 grams each of the below nuts / seeds:-

Linseed – great plant source of omega 3 fats, adds a nice crunchy texture to the granola

Walnuts – omega 3 fats, can reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, source of antioxidants, good for your brain

Pecans – Great source of vitamin E which is important for healthy skin

Brazil nuts – rich in mono-unsaturated fats, vitamin E

Almonds – good source of magnesium which is good for a healthy heart, potassium, vitamin E

Sunflower seeds – lots of Magnesium, vitamin E, Selenium (may be good for preventing cancers)

Pumpkin seeds – contain Zinc which is great for your immune system, mood, sleep, skin (and more)

Dried, diced papaya and / or pineapple – taste great

One large cooking apple – for binding the granola

Honey – so good for you in so many ways I can’t list them all here and anyway you need it to bind the granola together

Oats – I use quick cook oats as they’re easier to buy in a supermarket but simple rolled oats are a longer lasting energy source

How to

Slice up the large cooking apple into chunks and put in a pan with three or four tablespoons cold water. Put a lid on and give it 5-10 minutes at a low – medium heat. Have a look and give it a mix. Once it’s the texture of apple sauce take it off the heat and put it to one side while you prepare the rest of the granola.

This is where your toddler will love helping. Show her all the nuts you’ve bought for your granola and tell her what they are, what’s good for her about them and encourage her to have a taste (being mindful about allergies and choking – you know your own kids). She won’t like all of them but will hopefully like some. Eating nuts is a great habit to get children into – they’re great for snacking and keep really well. Very healthy in moderation.

Now help your toddler to pour all of the nuts into a big, strong freezer bag. Seal up the bag (be sure to squeeze the air out first) and get a rolling pin. On a large chopping board or tough surface, help your toddler to smash the nuts up with the rolling pin. Keep her fingers out of the way and be sure to make some serious noise. I personally like to make monkey noises as loudly as possible with Joss. It’s a fun way to let off some steam and smile. If the noise is too much for you or someone else at home, you could provide some monkey ear muffs for the duration. I try not to worry about the size of the nut fragments, it’s nice to have a bit of a mixture for texture and crunch.

Get a big mixing bowl and pour in 500 grams oats, the smashed up nuts, seeds and dried papaya / pineapple. Ask your toddler to give it a quick mix to make sure the nuts and seeds are evenly distributed.

rusty's granola 3

Now take the pan of cooked apple from earlier which should still be warm. Help your toddler to add 2 – 4 tablespoons of honey and mix in. You can use whatever honey you like but I really like using an orange blossom honey for the citrus taste. I add a couple of teaspoons of ground cinnamon too and then ask Joss to mix it up really well, trying to make sure the cinnamon is well combined, get your toddler to have a smell, amazing!

rusty's granola 1

Ask your toddler to spoon about half of the apple / honey / cinnamon mixture into the bowl of oats, nuts, seeds and fruit and mix it in well with a big spoon. Once she has combined as much as possible, add the rest of the apple sauce mix too and ask her to give that a good stir in. You might need to help out to ensure that everything is well mixed in. The whole mixture should end up quite stodgy and moist. If it doesn’t fit this description you can always add another tablespoon or two of honey to help it stick together.

Preheat your oven to around 140 – 160 celsius and spread the mixture out thinly onto baking trays. The last time we made it, the mixture covered 6 baking trays so we had to cook it in three goes. Put each round of baking trays into the oven for around 10 – 15 minutes, checking regularly and redistributing on the tray if necessary. A little browned is ok, but take care not to burn it. Once done, leave out for a few minutes to cool down and fully dry out. Break up gently and store in an airtight container.

rusty's granola 2

I eat Rusty’s granola with either coconut milk or natural yogurt and a little honey. You could try adding fresh fruit to it as well. This granola lasts me a month; don’t overdo it – there are a lot of nuts and seeds in this granola so probably 3 or 4 tablespoons is enough for breakfast. What a great treat on those autumn / winter mornings!

Optional: I sometimes add finely chopped, crystallised ginger before baking. Use in moderation but it’s a brilliant winter warmer!

Five Newcastle Gems for Family Days Out

Last weekend I made like a tourist and took J on an open top bus tour of our own fair city. There’s a lot to be said for taking the time to remember what you love about your surroundings, and it was lovely for Joss to take a different view of the toon landmarks that she’s growing to know and love as much as I do. As we made our way, windswept and chilly she shouted out “I’ve been to that Park” and “we go there!”

For the reasonable price of £8 per adult, and with under fives going free, you can hop on and hop off the bus along the hour long route, I highly recommend dressing warmly if you’re going to sit on the top deck, but it’s such an adventure for public transport loving little ones!

IMG_2894

When Travelodge Newcastle asked me about Newcastle’s hidden gems for visitors I thought back to the bus route and the things J paid particular attention to on the way.

Five Newcastle Gems for Family Days Out

I think our favourite places in town are great for visitors and local alike. Whatever the season, whatever the weather Leazes Park is perfect for a walk, wrapping up and crunching through the autumn leaves, and gathering conkers and acorns is one of my favourite things to do in town. There are some fab little eateries up there, including Red Mezze and Bar Loco for great value grazing.

We often have a walk through the park before a visit to our favourite family museum The Hancock (or Great North Museum). If your kids love history, animals or dinosaurs they’ll love the Hancock’s longstanding exhibitions, younger ones will love playing in the Mouse House playroom and we keep going month in month out because their special exhibitions are superb. At the moment there’s a great exhibition, Spineless, about invertebrates featuring new specimens, games, activities and lots of opportunities for dressing up – ladybird selfie anyone?! One of our hidden gems is Mark Toney’s Ice Cream Parlour up by Haymarket Metro, the sundaes are great value and a real old fashioned treat for kids.

1

Down Northumberland Street you’ll find two of J’s favourite places to pop in and relax, The Laing Art Gallery and Newcastle City Library – both have little reading nooks and play areas for younger children and with plenty of events and heritage collections at the Library, and great value exhibitions at the Laing there’s always something to browse for all ages. As an aside, if you’re ever in town and stuck for a gift or a card both the Library and the Laing have fantastic local contributions, I’ve been known to do most of my Christmas shopping in the Laing!

Heading straight down to the Quayside (but if it’s lunchtime popping into our favourite cafe, Panis, for a quick pasta lunch!) there’s a lot to be said for taking some time out by the River Tyne.  As an aside if you’re planning on staying in Newcastle the Newcastle Central Travelodge is located at the riverside so a good place to pick up the Hop On Hop Off bus!  We’re usually pretty eager to head over the Gateshead Millenium Bridge to get to the Baltic. J likes to head straight for their children’s activity area where there’s usually a crafty activity set up, I like to browse the exhibitions and often pop back two or three times to see my favourites, this summer Fiona Tan was particularly enjoyed but there’s always something to pique my interest. Heading up onto the viewing platform gives a sublime view of the Tyne Bridge, one of my favourite landmarks, and on a nice day you get a great view of the river towards the Ouseburn.

Tan exhibition

Tan exhibition

This completed our bus tour of the toon, we headed back to Central Station and chatted about the things we’d seen on the way home.

Do you have any favourite family haunts in Newcastle? We’d love to hear about your hidden gems!

Disclosure: Post in collaboration with Travelodge

Karcher asks: How long does it take to clean your house?

When Karcher asked me this question I could answer it no problem at all as I have a pretty tight cleaning schedule. I’ve also halved the time it takes to clean our family home since April this year because I’ve followed Marie Kondo‘s advice and more than halved the ‘stuff’ that we own!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

How long is enough?

I spend 8 hours a week on all of our general cleaning and household chores, running a tight ship where various days are earmarked for washing, clothes sorting and bathroom cleaning.

Working from home I generally use 30 minutes of my hour long lunchbreak to tackle some household tasks, washing on, hoovering, cleaning the kitchen and bathroom, and prepping a meal for the slowcooker, then when J is in bed I do the quieter jobs, folding and putting away clothes, making lunches for the next day and washing the pots and clearing surfaces. I find weekends are a time I try to protect as family time so less happens on a weekend and on Monday lunchtime I tend to do a bit of catching up but generally I find we have a clean and tidy home that takes a lot less effort than it did when we had double the amount of stuff!

My least favourite task is cleaning the bathroom, but it’s probably the most satisfying to see sparkling white tiles, the task I least mind is washing the dishes as I like to use the time to think, and plan ahead for the rest of the week!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A monumental task?

Slightly harder to answer was the second question Karcher posed, how long, in hours did I think it would take to clean Mount Rushmore! What? Well my washing pile is fondly known as Mount Washmore so I guess longer than my usual hour spent washing and folding each week?!

The monumental heads of the American presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln were created from 1927 to 1941 by the sculptor Gutzon Borglum. They measure around 18 m (60 ft) from crown to chin – I’d guess it must have taken Karcher, who cleaned them first in 2005 200 hours?! I’ve used and loved a Karcher power cleaner but not on anything like this scale!

A spot of fun!

If you’d like to find out for yourself, watch videos of the Karcher team in action, and also challenge yourself about the other various worldwide monuments Karcher has cleaned you can check out their fun quiz and make yourself feel relieved that you have what will then seem like a rather manageable sized home to clean rather than a national treasure! Do let me know how you fared, my geography isn’t as great as I thought, so I won’t be shouting my score from the rooftops!

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post all views are my own

A jar of Seaham Seaglass

This summer Joss and I have visited the beach every week, exploring the Northumberland and Tyne and Wear coastlines and we’ve loved it!

When Think Money challenged us to fill a jam jar with our holiday memories for their Jam j-art project I had an idea that it would have a beachy theme, little did I know the treasure that would eventually come to fill our lovely kilner jar as we start to get ready for preschool!

jar

Our seaside visits took us to Seaham Beach, famed for its treasures – seaglass! Seaham seaglass is pretty special stuff. until almost a century ago there was a glassworks at Seaham and waste glass from the hand blown bottles was tipped into the sea, years on and polished by the sea these marine treasures can be found by keen eyed beachcombers. End of day glass is especially prized, tipped into the sea at the end of the day these pieces are multicoloured and so pretty!

sea glass

On our first trip we found a few small pieces which I blogged about at the time, and by the end of the summer we’d become a little bit addicted to the hunt and ended up with some beauties!

These are my favourites:

seaglass montage

Displayed in our kilner jar they’re a reminder of a summer of adventure, and as I’ve lightly oiled some of the more dense pieces to give a gorgeous glow keeping them under a lid keeps them dust free and vibrant!

seaglass 3

A ProjectLife tag with the date tied with some lovely ribbon from a dollypeg makes this a great memento!

kilner jar

Disclaimer: Think Money provided me with the Kilner jar and a contribution towards project materials, all words and photographs are my own

#LoveNorthEast

Tutorfair – helping kids succeed

When I was doing my GCSEs I had a really hard time with Maths, given I now work with statistics and adore data this probably seems crazy but I really found it hard to follow the GCSE syllabus and consequently spent many an unhappy hour crying over my textbook knowing I would face an overly strict teacher the next day. It was the pits, I dreaded the lessons, maths coursework had me a wreck and I felt very anxious about my grades.

My saving grace early in year 10 was a Maths tutor my parents found via an ex-teacher, Jo was brilliant, she came to my parents home once a week and spent an hour building my confidence, more than that I started to see a path through the haze of numbers and algebra slowly didn’t feel like Spanish to me. Jo encouraged me to lighten up a bit, she was someone I looked up to, and unlike my teacher who didn’t have the time to show me the basics that I had picked up wrongly she started afresh and it started to ‘click’. Some of this work took place in the summer holidays where I had the mental space from school to concentrate on key skills.

My parents and I would say that this tutoring was worth every penny, I couldn’t have continued on the same path without it and although my parents weren’t rich they saw how the tutoring increased my confidence and I think this made the expense worthwhile.

Tutorfair is a website that makes tutoring accessible for all. It’s easy to use, you search by putting in your postcode and subject, and voila, it picks the best tutor near you. Fifteen years ago we were lucky to find Jo, so I think anything that opens up the possibilities and makes tutoring more accessible has to be a good thing!

Tutorfair Website[1]

View everything from qualifications to videos of tutors, so you can get a better idea of what they are like and make the right choice for your child. Online payment makes booking easy, and if you’re not totally satisfied with your tutor after your first lesson, Tutorfair will give you your money back.

The big difference between Tutorfair and other traditional tutoring agencies is that Tutorfair gives something back – for every student who pays, Tutorfair gives free tutoring to a child can’t (the ‘fair’ bit).

Tutorfair’s Mark Maclaine really nicely illustrates the experience I had from tutoring and I would seek the same for J if she needed it. Mark talks about Comfort, Stretch and Panic Zones. In the ‘comfort’ zone, the learners are highly familiar with the situation. This includes everything they already know and tasks they can do almost without thinking. Students are comfortable here, feeling like they are in full control. But they are not learning. At the other end of the scale, in the ‘panic’ zone the situation is highly stressful or can seem dangerous to the learner. In this zone there is often a perception that the skill required for success is so far out of reach that it’s not even worth trying. Students in this zone can be overwhelmed, feeling like they have no control, and may ‘shut down’ entirely.

This was where I was when I really needed some support with my Maths. The trick to growth is to be somewhere in the middle, where the student is slightly uncomfortable but still learning. Mark hits the nail on the head when he says “a child who feels shame may find it hard to approach the teacher, but if your students are comfortable approaching you with concerns you can solve problems early on. The same thing goes for a parent. Opening up this dialogue with children helps them feel comfortable about coming to you if they ever feel overwhelmed in the future.”

With some careful support I succeeded in reaching the ideal zone for me, I was stretched and learning, but the panic lessened and I went on to improve from a predicted D grade to a B grade in my GCSEs, and I now know that there are many strands to Math, I love stats and I haven’t looked at algebra since!

Disclaimer: post in collaboration with Tutorfair

Guest post: Gecko Clothing Kickstarter

A strong advocate of the ‘No to Gender Stereotypes in children’s clothes and toys’ movement, and pro-organic I was really interested to read about Gecko Clothing’s kickstarter, hopefully getting gender neutral clothing manufacturing off the ground in a BIG ON STYLE way!  With five days left to run I encourage you to get behind Gecko Clothing’s plans and offer your support; to give you some more background this guest post is brought to you by Gecko Clothing, check them out now!

1tEbgSAISu3F2KPy-2WDBnd61EF_iJvMOfqBfWYeyeA

We are Gecko Clothing

We: are a husband and wife team endlessly aided by our 15 year old daughter, all-be-it begrudgingly these days, 5 year old son who’s enthusiasm for EVERYTHING more than makes up for the teens lack thereof and our smallest member, a toddling almost 2 year old. Think Von Trappes, but a lot less singing and organisation.

Gecko Clothing is what we do. Gecko Clothing is based on 4 founding principles. We create clothes that are:

1. Of funky & colourful unisex design;
2. That are ethical and eco-friendly;
3. Practical and hardwearing;
4. That don’t cost the earth.

Because we believe that EVERYONE regardless of age and gender deserve clothes that are:

1. Bright and colourful, that allow them to express themselves and stand out.
2. Fit for their purpose, whether than be soft fabrics perfect for crawling, or robust attire for exploring.
3. We believe that no person, animal, or our planet should suffer to bring us fashion.
4. Lastly we hope to continually strive to bring our prices down through the economies of scale

No more pink is for girls, boys must be tough and girls can’t play with dinosaurs and trains!

Our clothes will always be unisex because we are very passionate about campaigning to remove the gender labels in children’s products as they just perpetuate outdated stereotypes. We simply think all kids things should be unisex then girls and boys will be free without the reproach of society to like what they will. No more pink is for girls, boys must be tough and girls can’t play with dinosaurs and trains!

Hzw5GAAJgiaoTqJjSjW1DYWh2InvlC59xgGw3mo5BDU

We use organic cotton grown within a 40km radius of the factory that makes the fabric and the garments so the CO2 footprint is low. They are GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) registered which means EVERYTHING they do, right down to the printing dyes, cleaning procedures and packaging, has to be eco-friendly. They also buy the cotton through Fairtrade cooperatives supporting farmers with a premium price for their product.

We are a profit driven business which has put people off sharing our campaign. Our actions have a positive effect on society. The 2 things don’t have to be at odds. We don’t require donations to do our good. By manufacturing sustainably and supporting Fairtrade cooperatives all people involved in our process get paid fairly and treated fairly. So in effect, the more successful we become, the more people we can help without ever asking for a donation.

Kickstarter Campaign

Right now we have a Kickstarter campaign live to raise £13,000 by the 24th of June so we can manufacture 500 units of our nature inspired dungarees and 500 of our trousers of space and science (250 of each design). We have 5 days to meet our goal. If we fail we don’t get the money and nothing will be deducted from backers for their support.  Please check us out and support in any way you can, we have some pretty awesome rewards you can grab from cool temporary tattoos and badges to our unique dungarees and trousers (which are run to ages 7-8, cut roomier for cloth bottoms up to age 2-3)

 

Good luck Gecko Clothing, love from Ang! x

Disclaimer: I read about Gecko Clothing via my personal networks and love the idea, this guest post is to raise awareness of something I’m interested in, it is not a sponsored post

Trespass Jada Ladies Waterproof Jacket Review

Why does it always rain on me?

I’m no stranger to the great outdoors; as you know we live in the rainy North in the land of the Fog on the Tyne and we don’t have a car so I’m reliant on decent outdoor gear to see us through the seasons.  There’s nothing like waiting for a bus in the pouring rain after a long day at work, or worse still first thing in the morning seeing me spend the day soggy and miserable!

Trespass Jada Ladies Waterproof Jacket Review – The practicalities

My trusty red rain jacket is bright and fun but it doesn’t really cut the mustard as a waterproof.  Being offered the chance to select a better jacket from the range on offer at Trespass was pretty much my ideal review opportunity!  The women’s Jada waterproof jacket is ideal for those who need a decent jacket that looks good but goes the extra mile in terms of waterproofing.  Coated with Trespass’ specially formulated Tres-Tex membrane it’s waterproof to an impressive 15000mm with taped seams, and that big number with all the zeros is the reason I chose it!  I’ve worn it out all this week in the inclement weather and stayed warm and dry in comfort.

trespass rain jacket 1

Style and substance

I like to run in the rain so was pleased to see that the Jada has underarm ventilation zips which allows fresh air to circulate; it has a high breathability rating to boot and I like the slim fit and fab decent sized hood (this probably sounds odd, why would it not have a good hood?! Maybe I’ve always just bought crap raincoats but the hoods are always really small in them!)

selfie

One of my favourite walks is down by the Farm and through the woods near us so the Jada rain jacket got a really good testing this week as we were out for a good couple of hours in the rain and the jacket really stood up to the weather, I was dry and happy which is more than I can say when I wear my usual jacket!

I have to say the best thing about the jacket after all the practicalities is that it fits a tall girl like me without me having to buy a bigger size (this is a medium and I am a size 12)  – I can never understand why a waterproof would have short arms and it’s long been a frustration of mine that my red raincoat sleeves are at half mast so I get wet cuffs!  Even better these have a handy pocket in the left sleeve to keep small essentials dry and close to hand.

sleve

The Jada is currently retailing at £46.99 which is more than half price and makes this a bargain super waterproof!

Disclaimer: I received this review product as a complementary product, all views and opinions are my own

Family Fever