Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Christmas decs go up this weekend...

Every year, there seems to be a bit of a national debate about when it's OK to put up your Christmas decorations when it's alright to start singing those classic songs, but each to their own I say.

I know there's the tradition of the '12 days of Christmas', but quite frankly, I love the season so much that I want it to last the whole of December. We always put our decorations up at the start of the month but this year, we have to do it a little early, today in fact, as we are out most of the day tomorrow. Ah well, nevermind!

Despite the fact we have quite a nice collection of decorations, every year I can' resist buying a few extras and this year, the beautiful range at Wilkinsons has truly captured my heart. My justification for my Christmas haul is we have Ethan this year and a third, mini, tree to decorate so I just HAD to get a few more bits and pieces.

Wilkinsons is great for homeware in my opinion because their prices are so reasonable and they're pretty up with the trends. This is so true at Christmas and this year, they're done themselves proud. From Scandinavian red and white, homespun style to glitzy black, teal and gold tones, Wilkinsons seems to have it covered. With our little man in mind, I became quite taken with the woodland range and bought a few cute hanging decorations plus the bell Christmas lights were a must.

Here are some of my top picks:


I absolutely love the Santa's magic key idea and I'm going to try and make this myself for Ethan. A few other bloggers have shared their ideas for putting together a Christmas Eve box, and I'd already planned to give ourselves all new PJ's, one gift early each and watch The Muppets Christmas Carol, so I think I'll bundle all this up with the key.

Most of the pieces I picked up were just £1-£3 each and there were some lovely gift ideas too - just a shame I've already bought all our presents, as I happily could have bought for my friends (and myself) all over again!

I'll share some snaps of our home once it's been transformed into a winter wonderland next week. I love buying a special decoration for the tree each year, and we have one that Ethan made with his own fair hands this year to add. I can't wait to enjoy the twinkly lights, warm throws, festive scents and sparkling garlands and of course, to open our family advent calendar for the first time.

Note: This isn't a sponsored or PR post in anyway - I just love Wilkos and wanted to share my fab festive finds in time for when people start putting their decorations up!
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Thursday, 28 November 2013

Creative play for children - big and small!

I have always loved arts and crafts, from an early age making potato prints to my college days painting mannequins and even making advent calendars, snow globes and card holders today. When Ethan was just eight days old, we painted his feet to get some prints as a reminder of how small he was once and I'm sure we'll have lots of creative play the older he gets.


Last week, we were kindly invited to go along to a paint-your-own-pottery shop in Erdington, just ten minutes away from where we live. Independently owned by Chris and set up in May 2012, Clay and Play is a pottery playroom open Tuesday to Sunday and seven days a week during school holidays, where you and your little ones can unleash your creative side. 


With more than 100 different blank pottery shapes to choose from, your child can paint them any way they wish with a huge range of paints, brushes and sponges available. Once their masterpiece is complete, Chris will glaze the pottery ready for your collection in a few days time.

No booking is required, unless you're in a big group - Clay and Play is a popular choice for birthday parties and school groups alike - and it's a great way for your child to have some creative fun without creating a mess at home that you would usually need to clear up after. Hurray - no more paint prints on your wallpaper!

It costs just £2.50 for the studio fee, which covers the paint and glazing, plus the price of whichever item or items your little Emma Bridgewater in the making chooses to decorate.


The really great thing about Clay and Play though is everything is thought of. Coveralls are supplied to protect clothing, there's highchairs for young ones and there's lots of space. There's so many different potterty pieces to choose from, I found myself mentally selecting gifts in the future from Ethan to his Nanna, aunts and even me - vases, mugs, clocks, plates, dishes, decorations, you name it, they have it! For girls, there's princesses, unicorns, cats and dogs, and the rockets, cars and robots are popular with the boys.



Ethan (or rather, Daddy) chose a cute tortoise to paint whilst I was keen to choose something from the Christmas range, deciding upon a bauble to commemorate his first Christmas.


Ethan didn't quite know what was going on and sadly he seemed to have a bit of a grump half way through (damn teething), but it quickly passed and he was genuinely intrigued by what we were doing. 



Chris painted Ethan's hand with green paint before pressing his fingers gently around the bauble then whilst this was drying, Stephen painted the base colour of the tortoise before Ethan was unleashed to add his own personal stamp to the shell. 





The studio was busy, with a regular customer already up to his elbows in paint when we arrived and another mum with her son on her way in as we were leaving. It's a really nice place to go and spend an hour or two, plus there's tea, coffee and a tuck shop should you or your little one feel peckish. 


Chris also creates personalised pottery pieces to order and I fell in love with the baby plates, the Christmas plates and the hand and feet casts. 



I'm sure that in the future, Ethan and I will be regulars at Clay and Play and I'd love to have one of his birthday parties there. Great to try at Christmas but an enjoyable way to keep them entertained all year round, Clay and Play is a lot if fun and it's great to see such an original, independent studio doing so well.

Here's what we created at Clay and Play - what do you think? Is Ethan an artist in the making?



Find out more about the wonderful world of Clay and Play here.



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Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Weaning Wednesday - week 4 update & top tips so far


We're now four weeks through weaning and a week away from Ethan turning seven months and he seems to be enjoying his three meals a day. 

Following the advice of Annabel Karmel to help give me guidance through the different stages of weaning, but also reacting to Ethan's responses, he now has three meals a day which often combine three different fruits or vegetables and one meal is followed by some baby yogurt or some mashed banana. He's never refused food unless he's full and new foods he's tried this week include leek, peas, courgette, spinach and mango, which he loved.


You can definitely see the difference in how much milk he drinks after each meal, with his two other feeds continuing as normal, and also in his nappies. You know when they've started eating food, that's all I'll say! 

As he's started to eat a bit more and has more combinations of food, I've taken more time to plan what to make him based on what I'm making for us during the week. I made a sausage and butternut squash bake so used the left over squash to make purée and I have swede in the fridge to do the same with. Next week, Annabel recommends we can start adding meat, fish and pasta to his diet, slowly but surely. This is where food shop planning will definitely come in handy so we can eat well and don't have any wastage when there's a meal to be made for our little guy.


As we're a month in, I feel there's a few tips that I can share which may help other mums starting the weaning journey: 

  • Try and make some purées yourself whenever possible and have these stocked up in the freezer, ready to defrost as and when needed. I have jarred food in the cupboard as a back up for when we're busy or out and about but having the little tubs in the freezer is a convenient way to feed your baby fresh food. I tend to make purées with one or two ingredients only so that I can combine them together or with fresh fruit or vegetables as each mealtime approaches to make sure he has a variety of foods each day.
  • Sweet potato, apple, pear, pumpkin and courgette all purée really smoothly after steaming so are great as bases for any meal.
  • Baby yoghurt and mashed banana are both great as a dessert or if your baby looks like they could eat a little more food.
  • Disposable bibs are so useful to have, catching any missed mouthfuls and keeping clothes clean without the need for any washing up afterwards.
  • Read up on expert weaning advice but then go with your baby. If they don't like something, leave it for now and try it again another day. 
  • Give them as much as they want to have, don't worry if it's not a lot at first.
  • Try each new food alone so you know if they have a reaction to anything.
  • Plan your shopping so you make the most of fresh ingredients.
  • Baby rice is great to mix with fruit for their breakfast or to thicken purées.


For us, this method has worked well. I liked the idea of baby led weaning but Ethan is still getting his hand-eye coordination together and it would really take forever to feed him the way he is at the moment. Instead, for four weeks, he's eaten fresh food every day, tried 13 different fruits and vegetables and now has a routine which works for him and I know what he wants and when. Having said that, we're going to a baby led weaning session at the local children's centre as it would be interesting to hear their ideas and suggestions first-hand.

I'm looking forward to making more meals for him - I wonder how he'll get on with fish and chicken?
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Tuesday, 26 November 2013

My new design crush

I love a good print. I have an obsession with stationary and just love the chance to wander around Paperchase, taking in all the fun designs and beautiful notebooks, photo albums and other nic naks. I'm infamous for buying new diaries mid-year 'just because' and I. Always looking for a pretty pattern to add colour into an area of my life.

So, the other day, I was doing a spot of online window shopping and came across the brilliant and bold prints of Irish designer Orla Kiely. I had seen some of her work before, at a friend's house who had various jars and tins in her kitchen with perhaps her most iconic print to date, the multi stem, on them. I loved her use of colour and the retro feel to the pattern repeat.

In particular, I was looking for a funky new cover for my iPhone 5 and my ipad mini and when I saw that Orla has just brought out some new designs, I knew I had to get a matching set of covers.



After much deliberation and research on Pinterest, I decided on the new multi stem pattern. I fell in love with the vibrant, slightly mustard yellow focal colour - which is one of my favourite shades of the season - and the design of the cases looked great.
They're even better in the flesh, as the lining is a soft fabric but outside it has a waxed, protective finish.  The print looks a little more muted than the photos online but in my opinion, it looks better. I love the matching cases, which will look great on my desk when I go back to work in January. They also look great with my Paperchase organiser, although they'd also look great with this amazing Filofax I saw over at Mum Wife Girl, which has been shot so beautifully that I was drooling over it when I first saw it. But no, I don't need another diary! 




I'm now a little bit hooked and have been stalking some of Orla's other designs, including previous seasons' designs. I now have my eye on a purse, although in reality I don't see myself every spending so much on a purse, but I do think her designs are lovely...



A much cheaper way to buy yourself a piece of Orla Kiely is to snap up one of these fab limited edition shoppers from Tesco - I already have these beauties in the bag (sorry for the pun!)... 




Be it bags, scarves or clothing, her multi stem pattern or geometric designs, Orla Kiely is a print lover's dream.
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Monday, 25 November 2013

Getting our skates on at Winter Skate Birmingham


This weekend, we kicked, or rather skated, off our festive celebrations with a visit to Winter Skate Birmingham. We'd kindly been offered tickets to go along and see what we thought of the 'real ice' rink so we took Stephen's sister, her fiance and his almost four year old son for a whizz on the ice.

We were running quite late - getting a baby ready in cold weather takes a lot longer than I ever thought and trying to find a car parking space was pretty tricky as everyone else seemed to want to be in the city centre at the same time as us. And who can blame them really? Birmingham comes alive at this time of year, with the delights of the Frankfurt Christmas Market, the wonder of the big wheel and, for the first time in five years, the Winter Skate ice rink.

When we did eventually arrive, the rink organisers kindly agreed to switch our skating session time to 4pm so we headed to the Ice Cafe for a drink. The rink was very popular, with the box office bustling and lots of people watching the ice skaters. We got a seat easily in the Ice Cafe despite how popular the rink was and settled down in the warm and cosy surroundings. Ethan got to see his first Christmas trees in there and it was a really nice place to sit and enjoy the view.


When the time came to get our skates on, I left Ethan with Stephen whilst my sister-in-law and I took her stepson Sebby out for a spin on the ice. I was a little nervous as I no longer possess any finesse on the ice (I'm not sure I ever did but I must have been ok as I used to go quite a lot when I was a teenager). Sebby had no such worries as one of the rink attendants helped fix skates to the soles of his boots. We were a little late for the start of the session so all the penguins were taken already - these are aids for small children on the ice which help keep them balanced. Luckily, half way through, a penguin became free and Sebby was able to use this to get around (I believe these are £3 to hire). To be honest though, he was great on the ice and led the way, much to my mortification. I made a couple of laps around the rink, always within arms reach of the edge, but he and my sister-in-law were confident out in the middle. Even when Sebby had a couple of slips, someone quickly came over to help and it was really good to see so many attendants, and first aid staff, close to hand should anyone need them.


It was really popular with participants and observers alike but the rink is well planned so there's plenty of space to get your skates on and off and to enjoy watching people skating.

If you're interested in going, be advised that booking in advance is best, especially if you want to go at a peak time, as there is a maximum number of tickets they'll sell per hour long session and you may need to wait until later on to get on the ice if it is busy. Also, if you require a penguin to help any little ones, make sure you're there on the button when your session starts so you can snatch one up.


Following the visit to Winter Skate, we headed towards the Town Hall to enjoy the market but sadly, it was so busy, it took ages to get through Paradise Forum and after half an hour trying to get through, we decided to head home. Being out and about with a baby in a buggy when the crowds are so big really isn't that much fun. It's great to see so many people in the festive spirit but it was hard to stay together as a group and with the buggy in tow, it was slow going. Hubs and I are keen to go to the market so we might ask for someone to babysit Ethan one night.


It was a lovely start to the season for us and we all enjoyed our time at Winter Skate, particularly Sebby. It's a lot of fun and there's nothing quite so magical as twinkling lights and sparkling ice to get you in the spirit of Christmas.

To find out more about Winter Skate Birmingham, see my preview post here or visit www.winterskate.co.uk to buy tickets.



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Sunday, 24 November 2013

Autumn, I heart you - my entry to the Center Parcs and Tots 100 November challenge

I've said it many times, but this is my favourite time of year and every day, as autumn slips by, I've done my best to take it all in. The colours, the fresh air and the beautiful changes in the season all around. I've even collected different leaves to dry and press and mount in scrapbooks to show Ethan one day - but even better, I can't wait to go on a nature trail with him, collecting conkers and pine cones and stomping through piles of leaves. As a young girl, I used to spend hours exploring the woods near my home, making up tales, building dens and watching badger sets and I hope to nurture the same curiosity in the great outdoors in Ethan.

Because autumn and nature both inspire me so much, when I saw the Center Parcs November bloggers challenge, I was keen to take part, putting pen to paper to capture all the things I love and the essence of autumn in a poem. So, this is my entry to the Center Parcs and Tots 100 November challenge:    


Nestled after the glow of summer sun
And before the snow, when winter's not yet begun 
Begins the very best time of year
Where promise lingers and fills the air

Of longer nights and crisp, bright days
Of crunchy walks and windy days 
Welly boots, umbrellas, hats and gloves
And colourful leaves falling from above

Whirling and spinning all around
Sprinkling red and gold all over the ground
Playing conkers in a game of luck
And collecting acorns still in their cups

All Hallows' Eve, full of shocks and scares
Sweets and pumpkins, tricks and dares
A great big bonfire piled up high
And fizzes and bangs that fill the sky

Snuggling up underneath warm throws
With rosy cheeks and chilly toes 
A mug of something warm to drink 
And a place by the fire to rest and think

Remembering the best of the year so far 
And wishing on a twinkling star
That what's to come will bring you joy
To your family and every girl and boy

But don't wish away the autumn days
Enjoy each moment, embrace the change
Because it's a very special time of year 
With plenty of reasons for joy and cheer


My favourite tip from Emma at Center Parcs was to be inspired by your surroundings. I still love to visit woods and areas of natural beauty but the wonder of autumn is that inspiration can be found on your doorstep too. Autumn is a season you only really realise is upon you by looking around and seeing how much nature changes around you. It goes by so quickly so you need to keep your eyes open and make the most of it before winter sets in. 

I hope my poem captured the feel of autumn as I wanted to appeal to the senses and paint a picture of my favorite things about the season through words.

If my entry was chosen, which truly would be amazing, I would like to visit Sherwood Forest with my baby boy and husband. I've heard wonderful things about this village and love the mystery and legend that surrounds the area. I'd also love to see the new village, Woburn, when it opens next Summer as it looks amazing.

Wish me luck! X
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Marmalade memories

I love Classic children's stories and collect treasuries and picture books of all kinds but I have a particular soft spot for a bear from Peru who likes marmalade sandwiches.

Paddington Bear is one of those best-loved children's characters that really stands the test of time in my opinion, up there with Peter Rabbit and Winnie the Pooh. I mean, what's not to love about a cuddly bear in a duffle coat?

The author, Michael Bond, based Paddington on a teddy bear he found alone on a shelf in a London store near Paddington Station on Christmas Eve in 1956, which he bought as a present for his wife. The bear inspired him to write a story, and in 10 days he had written the first book. The book was given to his agent, Harvey Unna and A Bear Called Paddington was first published on 13th October 1958.

Paddington has worn different colour combinations of clothes over the years. Originally, he arrived from Peru in a dirty coat and Mrs Brown then gave him a new blue duffle coat to wear. He also wore a black hat and when they came to make the first Paddington toy, he was given Wellington boots to help the toys stand up. The current picture books show him with a red hat and blue coat and sometimes his coat is red whilst his hat is blue. 



Ethan was given a special hardcover Paddington book called My Book of Marmalade for his christening and we read this to him other night when settling him down to sleep. It's a 'celebration of sticky paws and marmalade memories' and brings together all of Paddington's knowledge of the tangy orange stuff.

Did you know that the first marmalade was made from quince paste thousands of years ago? Or that Captain Scott took a tin of marmalade on his expedition to the North Pole? Or that the most expensive jar of marmalade was made in 2007 by F. Duerr & Son and contained 24 carat gold flakes? No, neither did we, but after reading this sweet tale, we learnt a great deal about this British breakfast favourite whilst Ethan enjoyed us reading and showing him the illustrations.



It's a lovely tale and a beautiful commemorative book for 50 years of Paddington and by the end, I too quite fancied a taste of this famous bear's favourite sandwich... 

If you'd like to know more about this polite little bear, visit www.paddingtonbear.com for lots of fun facts and next time I'm in London, I'm definitely going to the special Paddington Bear shop at Paddington Station.

Read more about my thoughts on the importance of reading here.
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Saturday, 23 November 2013

A stylish teething solution

When I first heard about teething jewellery, my first thought was 'genius!'. As an accessory addict, I never leave the house without my jewellery on but Ethan is now at the stage that he too thinks Mummy's necklace is oh so pretty.

He grabs my hair, he pulls on my necklaces and plays with anything on my wrists or fingers - he's like a little magpie, drawn to anything shiny or dangly. Add to that the fact he's been teething for two months now (no sign of any toothy pegs just yet), and you can see why I was over the moon to speak to Dominika from MikaB Teething Jewellery.

Made from non-toxic, food grade silicone, MikaB Teething Jewellery helps soothe your baby's sore gums when they're teething as the rubber is soft and gentle - perfect to be nibbled on!


Mum's can choose from two pendant necklace designs in a choice of six colours (12.50 Euros each) or a beaded necklace design in a range of 12 different colour options (16.50 Euros each). There's also a chunky bracelet in the range, available in five colours (9.50 Euros each).


The simple designs have a broad appeal and mean they work with most outfits and for me, the best thing is the convenience. I don't know about you, but Ethan's changing bag seems to collect more and more stuff as the day goes on but whenever you need something, try finding it! If you're having a busy day, it's all too easy to leave the house without a teething toy and if your little one gets a bit grumbly, there's not a lot you can do. With MikaB's jewellery, the solution is hanging around your neck or there on your wrist. Plus, you can keep your jewellery clean and germ free by washing in soapy warm water and for safety, there's a breakaway clasp on the necklaces just in case your little one tugs a little too hard.


I was very lucky to receive one of each of the designs and chose colours that would work with the clothes I wear on a daily basis. The grey beaded necklace goes well with black, grey and blue tops and the red pendant adds a nice pop of colour. I went for the gold toned bracelet as a more dressy option for any evenings out and about with my little man, so I have all bases covered.


I've worn the necklaces at my mum and baby groups and at a family event this past weekend and no-one knew they were specially designed for Ethan to play with and chew. When I told them, they were surprised and agreed what a great idea it was. But most importantly, Ethan agrees too. He's getting much more 'grabby' as his hand-eye coordination develops and it's great to know I have something that can help him get through any tricky teething spells.

MikaB can be found on Facebook and visit the website for further information or to buy their fab teething jewellery designs. *SPECIAL OFFER* If you purchase before 31st December 2013, enter this code to receive a fab 15% discount - BR2013.


*Note: I was sent these products for the purposes of this review but all my thoughts are genuine.
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Friday, 22 November 2013

Kelly's Christmas Crafts Project 3 - Christmas Card Holder Ideas

This week, I'm sharing two simple but attractive ways to display your Christmas cards - no blu tac stuck to doors required! (View my other #kellyschristmascrafts projects here - advent calendar and snow globe). I wanted to make the most of the cards we recive this year whilst also keeping clutter to a minimum so after a bit of Pinterest inspiration, I've made two different display options which are really easy to recreate at home.

IDEA 1 - Card Wreath



You will need:
A polystyrene/cardboard ring (florestry or craft websites will stock these or you could make your own from a cardboard box)
One sheet of felt, big enough to fit the ring
Pegs (I used 22 in total and they were pre-decorated but you could buy plain pegs and paint them yourself)
Superglue/glue gun
Ribbon

Method:

1. Mark out the size of your wreath ring template on your sheet of felt and cut this out. Allow a little extra all the way around.

2. Glue the felt onto the ring.


3. Lay out your pegs (make sure the paint is dry if you're decorating these yourself) until you are happy with the arrangement.

4. Glue the pegs in place.


5. Loop some ribbon around the top of the card wreath and tie a know so you can hang this up.

6. You're ready to attach your cards!


IDEA 2 - Sign and Ribbons


You will need:
A hanging Christmas sign (I couldn't find one I wanted in time but a simple festive hanging plaque would be perfect)
Ribbon
Mini pegs (you can buy these in the children's craft section of stationers or from Hobbycraft)
Superglue/glue gun/staple gun

Method:
1. Measure out your lengths of ribbon and cut at approx. one metre.

2. Cut three lengths of ribbon in total (depending on the size of your sign) and space out.

3. Fix to the back of your sign with glue or using a staple gun.

4. Use small pegs to clip your Christmas cards on the lengths of ribbon.

5. Hang up ready to display your festive mail.


Next week is my last Kelly's Christmas Crafts project - I'll be making a traditional wreath using some ingredients from your kitchen cupboard and pine cones from the garden. See you next week!


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