Mutterings of a Fool

Man, Dad, Runner, Chief dog walker

Category: Reviews (page 2 of 8)

Happy Birthday Snoopy – review and giveaway

I used to love reading the Snoopy cartoon strips as a kid, they used to have one in the weekend paper that my dad bought and there would always be a fight with my brothers to get to that section first. However you may remember that one of my rules when choosing books for my children (and myself for that matter) is to avoid any that have started their life as a film or TV program. They are generally poorly written, lacking in any real story and quite honestly a little boring. I therefore didn’t have high expectations for Snoopy even if I do have a soft spot for the little white dog and his follicly challenged owner Charlie Brown.

Reading Snoopy

But I’m pleasantly surprised, Happy Birthday Snoop is actually quite a sweet story about Charlie Brown’s attempts to give Snoopy a surprise birthday party and of course failing miserably. I like that it’s a positive story and quite amusing in places as Charlie Brown with the best intentions ends up managing to scare, disturb and launch Snoopy into the air.

I also like the style of the illustrations, keeping some of the cartoon style but the tones are a little different to the cartoon strip and of course the bigger size allows for much more colour and detail. The writing moves around the pages into different spots and shapes, it’s even inside a balloon on one page, I think helps add some interest and at least as a reader makes it more interesting.

Matilda and Henry seem to like this book, but I think they may be at the lower end of the ideal age range. More so for Henry of course who is 3, but a good book for a child like Matilda who is just about to start school.

Charlie Brown

That’s what I think about it, now if you’d like to get your hands on your own copy (UK residents only) all you need to do is a leave a comment below telling me what your favourite cartoon strip was when you were a child. I’ll then pick one at random to be the winner, competition will close on Wednesday 17th June 2015.

Disclosure – I was sent a copy of this book free of charge, all words and opinions are my own.

Repotting and rats

This is the point in the year when my enthusiasm for gardening normally wanes, the enthusiasm of Spring seems a long time ago and for the most part we have yet to reap what we have sown. However this year the enthusiasm for gardening was almost over much sooner; having spent a fun morning with the children planting loads of little pots with seeds we went away for a weeks holiday. Our neighbours kindly watered every day but unfortunately during the week a small army of mice or rats got into the greenhouse and have a veritable feast of crunchy seeds.

Some seeds did survive but quite honestly it was a massacre, I almost threw in the trowel there and then. But we regrouped and decided that it was only mid April so there was plenty of time for more seeds to grow. In they went with a few carefully positioned rat traps around the floor (which incidentally are proving quite effective).

Tomato plants

Fast forward 6 weeks and we’ve now got real signs of vegetables coming; the squashes and courgettes are planted out and have the first few flowers coming, the runner beans are rapidly running up the canes and the first green tomato has appeared. The smell of tomatoes growing in a greenhouse has to be in my top 5 smells of all time, I can’t be the only one to put my hands to my face after picking out side shoots from a tomato plant and take a big deep breath through my nose much you like you do to a babies head. Simply divine.

We’ve thankfully managed to end up with a few different varieties of tomato which I love, it makes summer salads and meals so much more interesting. There are a couple of big beef tomato plants, some cherry tomatoes, some plum shaped yellow ones and also the standard tomatoes that Heinz sent us which might even be doing the best.

All of them are now potted on to bigger pots on the ground in the greenhouse with the help of my trusty assistant and we’re trying to be diligent in picking out the side shoots and generally keeping the plants tidy and growing upwards. I swear the plants grow a couple of inches every day, the do certainly seem to shoot up at this stage don’t they?

Henry planting seeds

Now all we need to do is to remember to water them each day, plant out the beetroot, put the seedlings into bigger pots, plant some more lettuce seed and tie back the raspberries. Easy. I have loads of free time of course so shouldn’t be an issue.

How’s your growing going? What’s the biggest success so far?

Keeping the bugs at bay

It felt like this winter has been a constant stream of colds and bugs for the children, something quite hard to avoid when your children are at preschool or school unless you send them in wearing hazmat suits. Made even worse by having a small baby to catch the bugs that his siblings bring home, we didn’t really experience that with the other 2 because they were both spring babies so the worst of the bugs were gone.

Matilda and Henry have a fairly good diet, sure it can be hard getting veggies into them sometimes but they both love fruit and eat basically the same meals as us which means we can hide vegetables in pasta sauces etc. My normal philosophy is that this should be enough, no need to add any supplements to their diet if they’re eating a good balance range of food but when you face another night of broken sleep due to snotty children you start to consider what the alternatives are. Plus the UK Department for Health recommends that all children aged 6 months to 5 years are given a supplement containing vitamin A, C and D.

Which is where Haliborange come in, we’ve used their multivitamin liquid intermittently for a while but had got out of the habit recently, so I was interested to try out the multivitamin softies that they’ve recently launched. These are small chewy vitamins that look much like sweets, in fact my children now refer to them as ‘those strawberry sweets’ now. Unsurprisingly they really liked these vitamins, so much so that it was the first thing they asked for when we went up for bath time. Giving them at bath time is our routine to ensure we don’t forget to do it each day, for us at least it’s easier than trying to remember during the slightly chaotic scenes of meal times.

haliborange-kids-multivitamin-fruit-softies-strawberry

So the children like them and the government says that they are good for them, which surely makes them a good thing right? In my opinion yes and no, it’s of course great that I don’t have to fight them to take them but part of me doesn’t like them associating taking them with sweets. Yes it’s a healthy sweet but it’s still a sweet, personally I prefer them focusing on the fact that the vitamins help make them big and strong. I think we’ll carry on giving them vitamins each day but we’ll go back to using the liquid which they also took without any issue. It also means we can use the liquid for Rupert as well without needing to buy something separate.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the Haliborange range you can have a look at their website here. I’d also be interested to know whether you use any vitamins with your children?

This is a review post, I was sent the product for review but all words and opinions here are my own.

Jacamo and Voi Jeans goose down jacket review

I’m feeling a tiny bit smug about this review because I had the good sense to choose a very warm and cosy jacket for my review just before the cold weather hit in January. Since then I have been oh so toasty on my commute to work which is just close enough to home that the heater in my car has only just warmed up when I get there. It has also been extremely useful for a couple of trips to London, train platforms must be some of the coldest places in the country don’t you think?

Jacamo is a men’s clothing retailer which sells both its own brand clothing along with many well known brands. I shopped online but it also has a number of stores around the country. Jacamo were looking for some dad bloggers with a sense of style to do reviews and clearly my blog was the first one they thought of. I always keep up with the latest fashion and most definitely don’t still wear a jumper that I bought 14 years ago.

While I may not have a real sense of the latest fashion I am most definitely the ideal person to test an online store because quite honestly I hate shopping and will avoid it whenever possible. Unless it’s an outdoors store of course, then I could happily spend the whole day there, if you’re ever in the USA and spot an REI store do go take a look, such awesome places.

Now Jacamo may not have a large selection of cycling helmets or kayaks to peruse but what it does have is a very good online store for clothes shopping. The filters in the left hand tool bar are very effective at reducing down the selection to show just those things that are relevant and they do it quickly. What’s more delivery is next day as standard or you can choose a specific delivery day with no extra charge. Service as it should be.

The jacket itself is great, so very warm but not overly bulky. It definitely fits towards the large side, I ordered a medium which is reasonably long on me despite the fact I’m 6′ 1″. It has a couple of large pockets which are ideal for keeping your hands warm with 2 small pockets on top for putting your keys in that close with a popper. Ultimately I think I look awesome in it.

Voi Jeans goose down jacket

Baby wearing for dads

I’ve always found baby wearing a bit of an odd term, it makes your baby sound like an accessory rather than your child. You wear a t shirt or jumper, you carry a baby. But whatever name you want to give it I don’t think we would have survived the first 3 months of Rupert’s life without making good use of slings and baby carriers. Below is a sample from my Instagram feed to give you an idea, I think you’ll agree baby wearing for dads is an essential:

IMG_4407 IMG_4406 IMG_4404

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Rupert like many small babies didn’t like being put down (and why would he when he’s used to being in his mummies tummy) and if he did go down happily there was a high risk Matilda and Henry would say hello to him. Which would be fine if it didn’t involve poking, kissing and strangling cuddling. Nothing nasty of course just being enthusiastic 2 and 3 year olds.

So there’s a practical reason for embracing baby wearing but for me there’s also a very personal reason; it’s the best opportunity I get to bond and cuddle with my son. Clearly I can’t help feed him and with 2 other children my main role in the first weeks is to ensure the house is kept clean and that we all eat properly etc. In this crazy time it’s not always easy as a dad to get quality time with your baby which is where baby wearing comes in.

We’ve now been through a number of different carriers with the 3 children and I have a little idea of what works and what doesn’t work,  for me at least. Today I’d like to share a quick review of 2 of my favourites from a dad’s perspective. My one piece of advice though is to try a few different ones out for yourself. We’re all different shapes and sizes so what works for me may not work for you.

Babasling

I struggled with our Babasling a little when we had Matilda and that put me off using it with Henry, but the lady of the manor has always liked it so I decided to give it another go with Rupert. Now I absolutely love it, it’s perfect for wearing around the house and when you pop out to the shops and know you’ll be lifting him in and out a few times. Not sure I’d use it to go and do a long dog walk though as it goes over one shoulder only and personally I prefer to have the weight spread over two for those type of walks.

What I really like is how easy it is to just slip him into it as there are no straps to fiddle with or clasps that do up behind your back. Some carriers have felt more like a straight jacket than a baby carrier. As their are no straps we’ve been able to transfer him from sling to car seat and back again without waking him which is a god send when you have a small baby.

I use this sling all the time at home when I need to carry Rupert and get him to sleep but also need my hands free. He falls asleep really easily in it and I can then get on with getting Matilda and Henry fed and dressed with two hands free to help them. It may mean Rupert ends up with the occasional toast crumb on his head but I’m sure the butter is good for his skin.

Ergobaby Original

For longer walks I tend to use the Ergobaby for the reasons mentioned above, it’s great for spreading the weight across your shoulders making it more comfortable for extended use. There is a newborn insert for when the baby is really tiny and you can wear on your front, side and then back as your child grows. We still use this for Matilda and Henry when they’re being particularly lazy or you’d like to finish your walk not at toddler pace.Walking with an Ergobaby

It can be a little fiddly getting it done up, particularly when you have your child on the front, but gets easier with practise. I used this an awful lot when Matilda and Henry were 18 months – 2 years as they were walking but really not much distance. I’d put it on without any child in and then whenever they got tired they could just jump up on my back and have a rest. I can remember Matilda falling asleep on a number of occasions like this while out on dog walks. The carrier has a hood that clips up and supports their head if they fall asleep which is a great feature.

I also tested the travel version of this carrier a while ago if you’re interested, same design just more compact and can be folded into a small bag. Review is here.

What about you? Do you baby wear? What are you favourite carriers?

Review – Braun no touch thermometer

My children are so enthusiastic about helping me do reviews now that when they heard I was getting a thermometer to test out they made sure they were sick so it could be tested properly. How thoughtful of them? Currently I am the last man standing; Matilda and Henry both have flu like bugs with streaming noses and high temperatures, Rupert has a run of the mill cold and the lady of the manor has a chesty cough and sore throat. Not a whole lot of fun as you can imagine, but the perfect testing ground for a shiny new Braun thermometer.

What you may not know is that the lady of the manor is a nurse, a paediatric nurse no less, which has been very useful since we’ve had children I can tell you. She knows how to look after and monitor a sick child which takes an awful lot of stress out of the situation. It also means we’ve actually had a Braun ear thermometer since before Matilda was born, they’re the ones that are used on her ward in the hospital. If it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for us.

2 sick children, an NHS nurse and an enthusiastic dad blogger is basically the dream test team for a thermometer don’t you think. In I’ve just had to take a break from writing this post to go and check on Matilda and see if her temperature has come down. She went to bed at 5.30pm with a temperature of 38.5 degrees and looking thoroughly sorry for herself. The beauty of this thermometer is that it’s no touch, you simply hold it a couple of centimetres from the child’s forehead and it can read the temperature. Which avoids the risk of waking a sick child who is much better off not having their sleep disturbed so that hopefully they get better.

Braun no touch thermometer

Not having to insert it into your child’s ear is also very useful if, like Henry, you have an ear infection (something I was always prone to as a child, what a thing to inherit). He wouldn’t let us anywhere near his ear because it was hurting but with this thermometer that isn’t an issue. Although you do need to try and keep your child still which isn’t always the easiest thing in the world.

Finally when you get the reading of your child’s temperature the screen is handily colour coded green, amber or red so at a quick glance you can tell if you need to be worried or not. This is particularly useful in the middle of the night when you’re half asleep and trying to remember whether a temperature of 36.9 is normal or not.

Incidentally you can also use the thermometer when it is touching the head if you want to, you just aim at the same spot in the middle of the forehead but gently place on the skin rather than holding away from the head.

A big thumbs up all around for the Braun no touch thermometer, easy to use (just 2 buttons), we really like the colour coding and the no touch element has been extremely useful this week.

I am a member of the Netmums Blogging Network, a unique community of parent bloggers from around the UK who have been handpicked by the Netmums team to review products and brands on their behalf. I may have been paid expenses, and have been supplied with a product sample for this review, but retain all editorial control. All my Netmums Reviews will display the Netmums logo within the post.

This is a Netmum’s sponsored review.To find out more click the button:

Bluestone – the home of free range holidays?

I learnt 3 things during our stay at Bluestone:

1 – It is impossible to explain to a 2.5 year old the difference between Wales and whales. He was extremely disappointed not to see any whales in the water as we crossed the bridge into Whales. Then on the way home he said “but daddy, we can’t go home we didn’t see the whales”.

2 – I’d really like to live in a wooden lodge; the accommodation at Bluestone is in the form of the classic wooden lodges and I was quite amazed at the space we had given that it was a relatively small building. 4 very large bedrooms, 3 bathrooms and an open plan living area. Change the downstairs bedroom into a playroom and the bathroom into a utility room and you’d have a pretty perfect house to live in. I love the simplicity of it and the open plan feel. Plus with the double height sitting room you could have one massive Christmas tree!

3 – family holidays are all about making memories; it’s as much about the journey as the actual destination. Which may sound a bit corny but if you ask Matilda what her favourite thing on the holiday was she’ll tell you that it was driving around in the golf buggy rather than the activity at the end of the drive.

Bluestone lodges

During our stay at Bluestone we had gales, a small tornado, hail, snow, rain and some sunshine. Yet even with this crazy weather we had a great time, although it does of course help that we’re happy to throw on our waterproofs and head out in most types of weather. The park is set in beautiful countryside and centred around a lake and small village at the bottom of a valley that contains most of the restaurants along with a few shops. This being Wales it definitely isn’t flat and going anywhere involves a few hills, worth keeping in mind if you have little ones like us or aren’t as mobile. The site is car free so we hired a golf buggy for the week to get around when we needed to travel a little further or wanted to save the kids energy for the playground.

What I liked about Bluestone was that even in the depths of January there were loads of activities on offer, most of which you can prebook before your trip if you want. I imagine that would be essential in the busy summer months but was less of a big deal for us. The activities ranged from baby sensory and messy play through to kayaking, archery and bug hunting. In fact as you can probably guess it’s the outdoor ones and more adventure type ones that appealed the most to me. However I would say that a lot of the activities are geared to older children than ours, certainly the more active ones like rock climbing or watersports. I can’t wait until Matilda is old enough to do rock climbing and the high ropes courses, we’re going to have so much fun!

Jumping in puddles

On the really wet days we went swimming and used the indoor soft play area, although we almost didn’t make it swimming as we didn’t have enough adults to meet the pool’s rules on supervision. Thankfully Ella was staying at the same time and was our extra adult. Matilda absolutely loved the flowing river that took us outside while Henry and Rupert stayed in the little pool that was just a few inches deep. Unfortunately I couldn’t indulge my big kid desire to go on the chutes this time which curl around the outside of the building.

On the Thursday we finally had a good block of sunny weather so we headed out for a stomp through the forest near camp smokey with Matilda eyeing up the zip wires across the valley. We’d only planned a short walk but ended up walking all the way down the valley to the village jumping in muddy puddles and trying not to scare all the wildlife away. We then dived into the Knights tavern for lunch just before the hail started again and for some warmth next to the log fire. I was actually quite impressed with the food in the pub, I’m definitely a bit of a food snob but the food wasn’t the mass produced chain pub food I expected and was really quite good. There are lots of mentions around the site about the use of local food and that was clear in the deserts and the tasty local ice cream!

Walking down the boardwalk at Bluestone

We definitely enjoyed our time at Bluestone but there are a couple of changes that could take the park a little closer to perfection. First none of the restaurants in the village open before 12pm, you do have the option of the shop or bakery but if you want a cooked meal 12pm is the earliest. If you have children the age of mine you want to be eating before this, or at least ordering. Given the site is set up to be family friendly I was a bit surprised at the timings. The second thing is in the lodges, they already have stair gates fitted which is great, but I’d have loved to see it go a little further. There was no child cutlery or china in the kitchen and it would be great to have a step in the bathrooms for them to use with the toilet and at the sink. Little things (literally) but they do make a difference.

The big question of course is would I go again? Yes, but is my answer. For me 5 days there was long enough; while I enjoyed not getting in the car at all during the week part of the reason I like going on holiday is to explore and discover new places. By the end of the week I was ready for a change of scenery and to see more than the parks roads etc. But if we had older children I can certainly see the attraction of having so many things for them to do, you could easily send them off each day for half a day to do a high ropes course or kayaking and then have time to yourself.

A quick stop off at Tenby on the way home to enjoy the beautiful January sun

A quick stop off at Tenby on the way home to enjoy the beautiful January sun

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