Thursday, 31 May 2012

What to wear for the Jubilee

One realises that one really should be properly attired for the weekend's festivities but doesn't have anything appropriately 'royal'. The only thing that comes remotely close is a paper crown left over from the Christmas crackers and that's sure to disintegrate in the expected showers (how very British).

Thank goodness then for internet shopping with a strong cuppa and a chocolate digestive. Here are my favourite finds:

Girl's dress from notonthehighstreet

Nails Inc
Nails Inc polish from Asos

Guard's skirt from Cath Kidston

Boy's jubilee outfit from Marks & Spencer

Queen mask from

Off to hang up the bunting. Happy Jubilee celebrations everyone!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Barefoot Books

Little Bean’s library is growing at a rapid pace and last week three new books joined the party. The lovely people at Barefoot Books (see more about them in the video below) sent us Clare Beaton’s Nursery Rhymes, Action Rhymes as well as the wonderfully whimsical I Took the Moon for a Walk.

The beauty about the two Beaton books is that they’re the nursery rhymes you already know but had either forgotten about or can’t quite remember the words. If you think Mickey Mouse's Hot Diggity Dog song is catchy, you’ve clearly forgotten about ‘Head and Shoulders, knees and toes’, ‘Incy, Wincy Spider’ and ‘One Potato, Two Potato’ (not to be confused with ‘One Tequila, Two Tequila’ etc).

I want Little Bean to love reading as much as I do. You learn so much. And if I can’t bring her the moon on a stick, I’ll just have to read her I Took the Moon for a Walk instead. 

Child reading book
See her turning pages with her toes - genius child. Or maybe a monkey...

Although at first she tried to bite it (thank goodness it’s good solid board), she did eventually get the hang of turning the pages. She loved the bright illustrations in any case and the rhyme was really sweet and original:

'We raced for the swings where I kicked my feet high
and imagined the Moon had just asked me to fly
Hand holding hand through the starry night sky,
When I took the Moon for a walk'

I took the Moon for a Walk

And if you're interested in freebies (who isn't?) have a look at the free digital content available on Barefoot Books' website, including storytime podcasts and animated videos.

Now I just can't wait till Little Bean is old enough to use the World Atlas app. How cool does that look?!

Thanks to Barefoot Books for providing review copies of the above-mentioned titles.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Napoleon and etiquette

Sunday was spent mostly in the garden with friends, ringing in every hour as Pimm's o’clock. And then, brains melting in the sun, we started talking about etiquette. 


My friend, let’s call him Dave (sorry, no anonymity here buddy), remarked quite wistfully that he’d love to go back to the days of doffing hats and spreading jackets in puddles for ladies to step on. Personally, I suspect he probably wouldn’t follow through with the jacket scenario but his wife was looking suitably impressed so I decided to keep quiet.

Someone else said they always tried to walk on the roadside if accompanying their wife or another woman. I hope what they meant by ‘another woman’ was other family member and not what is normally inferred from ‘other woman’ but as I said, there was alcohol involved and tongues were loose (goodness, that sounds even worse, sorry!) 

Anyway, the good taste of etiquette, chivalry and feminism were all discussed and the world put to rights as can only be done by baked brains pickled in Pimm's.  

While most of the conversation is a bit hazy I do remember this interesting titbit about why in the UK we drive on the left-hand side of the road and not in mainland Europe. Basically it’s all got to do with jousting knights and Napoleon.

Jousting knights, for instance, would mostly carry their lances in their right hands (the majority being right-handed, sorry lefties). Similarly, sword bearers were sure to walk on the left so that the right-hand sword arm was between them and any potentially dangerous strangers they might be walking past. 

jousting knight

Then Napoleon came along and because he was left-handed, made his armies march on the right thereby keeping his sword arm between him and any opponent. This practice then spread throughout mainland Europe.

Any countries part of the British Empire remained left-hand side drivers while any French colonies were imposed upon to drive on the right. 

And that, ladies and gentleman, is why it’s such a blimmin faff to drive on the 'wrong' side of the road when you travel just a few miles across to the continent. Now you know.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Olympics: everyone got their lucky eggs?

I got an email recently from the Olympic committee with news about my ticket - yes, I managed to get one in the second draw. There was whooping and general giddiness. No, I do not have tickets for the women’s beach volleyball. (I really do hope that event will live up to the hype – for some reason it’s the event everyone's been talking about. Are people aware they won’t be participating in string bikinis? And that Horse Guards parade will not magically be transformed into a Brazilian beach).

If I remember rightly I get to watch women’s basketball and, even more intriguingly, Judo. I'm not a fan of either sport – my first choices were actually gymnastics, diving and ping pong – but I am over-the-moon delirious at being able to watch the Olympics!

I’m not even British but I feel some sort of national pride that it’s being held in London. I tell people that ‘we’ are hosting the Olympics this year. People raise their eyebrows at my decidedly un-British accent and nod slowly trying to figure out what exactly is going on.

But just in case my enthusiasm wanes as the days grow nearer I've made a list of Olympic resolutions:
  1. I will not mind the inevitable travel chaos in central London.
  2. I will put up with non-stop sport on every TV channel for a few weeks.
  3. I will not get annoyed with excessive screening of the women’s volleyball (poor men’s volleyball, I hope they get equal coverage).
  4. I will not make any jokes about curling*.
  5. I will not put on a Jamaican accent when watching the bobsledding*.
  6. I will refrain from taking up archery, weight-lifting or Taekwondo until a few months after the games are over and I have perspective once again.
And to help with explaining to little people why the Olympics are so important (and make out I know everything) I will be investing in this book:

olympics book

Promising to inform us about 'Records and reputations, cheats and champs, victors and venues' I think that sounds just the thing for me to page through during the volleyball. 

*I am reminded these are actually Winter Olympic sports - silly me.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Fairytale style from Denmark

Famous Danish exports:
  • Hans Christian Andersen, author of Thumbelina, The Little Match Girl, The Little Mermaid and other children's classics
  • Lego
  • Danish Kids Clothing

Danish Kids Clothing logo
It’s fair to say that Little Bean’s wardrobe would make Paris Hilton envious. Actually, I take that back. It’s probably a little lacking in leopard print for Ms Hilton’s tastes now I think about it so perhaps not. Anyway, suffice to say, my little girl has a bulging wardrobe of lovely things – some hand me downs, some gifts, and then some gorgeous outfits I just couldn’t resist. 

Quality, however, is an issue. You get what you pay for in my experience and baby’s clothes really do take a beating by the washing machine.

One outfit that has kept its beautiful colour though and gets envious comments every time she wears it, is a gift from one of my friends, bought from Danish Kids Clothing and I’m absolutely delighted to have been approached to do a review for them. They've recently been featured in Vogue so clearly I'm in good company.

I’ve never been to Denmark and at risk of stereotyping it completely, I picture beautiful children playing with traditional wooden toys and running around in fairytale woods. 

That and Lego. Did you know Lego is Danish? (As a complete aside but keeping with stereotyping see this very interesting article here about the new Lego for girls).

But back to Danish Kids Clothing and its lovely clothes (and shoes!). Here are a few of my favourites available now: 

pretty pink baby clothes
Name it Freja Knit Suit Fudge

Green stripe babygro
Katvig Organic Green Bodysuit

owl print baby clothes
Name it Owl bodysuit purple

They come beautifully wrapped and are an ideal gift for a baby shower or birthday. And as an extra special offer and for a limited time only, if you enter LITTLEMAGICBEANS at checkout you can get 30% off! Happy shopping.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Home office: a beautiful work space is a beautiful mind

I am currently experiencing studio envy.

Being able to occasionally work from home is a huge bonus and one I fully appreciate. For these reasons:
  1. No commute.
  2. Being able to listen to your preferred radio station.
  3. Not having to fork out around a fiver for a sandwich for lunch.
  4. Being able to make a cup of tea without feeling obliged to make one for everyone else within listening distance one too.
  5. No one’s there to raise their eyebrows if you eat three biscuits in one go.
  6. Slobbing around in pyjamas until whatever time you feel necessary to change.
  7. No commute.
My desk however, leaves something to be desired. In that it’s not really a desk and more a dining room table. If I worked from home more often perhaps it would warrant us allocating a dedicated space for my ‘office’ but for the moment a laptop suffices.

But in my browsing on Pinterest (soon to be renamed Procrastinationest) and elsewhere I keep on coming across beautifully stylish home work spaces. Of course, if your business is arty or crafty your tools lend themselves to looking beautiful so they have an unfair advantage. Still, maybe I can arrange my pens and paperclips a bit more creatively?

Here are some of my favourites but you can see more here: 

Office with a view
Perfect space to write my French novel

Fairylights make any space look beautiful

If there are two of you who work from home

 Does your work space look like these? If mine did, there'd be no slobbing around in pyjamas till lunchtime that's for sure.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Dolls' houses: it's the little things

I will admit to having a bit of a thing for Phil Spencer but that’s not the only reason I watch Location, Location, Location (even writing it is exhausting). The main reason is that I am incredibly nosy.

A few years ago we went househunting and I refused to make any decisions until we had had a look at every house in the area that was even a remote possibility. And just to make sure I didn’t get confused about what I’d seen I took my camera along with me – what the poor homeowners thought of me taking photos of their loos I don’t know.
dolls house
Come on in...
It’s fascinating snooping around people’s houses. For instance, one place we looked at had an entire menagerie living there – dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, snakes. It smelt like it too which I admit was the main reason we decided not to put an offer in on it. That and the fairly creepy tombstone in the garden…

Another house held other surprises. A charming elderly couple told us to be prepared for a 'shock' (raised eyebrows between me and hubby) before opening one of the bedroom doors with a flourish to incredibly intricate train set that took up the entire room. Talking over each other in excitement, they proceeded to explain exactly how they’d made some of the tiny accessories. For instance the ‘golf ball’ on the putting green next to the railway station was in fact a decorative pearl stolen from the wife’s jumper. The 'flower pots' on the platform were upside-down bottle caps. And the 'coal' loaded on one of the trains was cat litter painted black. Ingenius.

Of course, aside from Phil and Kirstie, I blame my parents (well, who else?) for my unhealthy obsession with other people’s houses. The reason being that they bought me my very first dolls’ house and that, I suspect, is where it all began.

I wish I had a photo of it now because it was just lovely. A proper traditional wooden house which my mum carpeted for me with offcuts from our own sitting room. As gorgeous as it was, it was also inevitable that the poor taste that affects all six-year-old girls enveloped me and I found myself lusting over my friend’s plastic Barbie mansion instead. Although it did have the all-important Jacuzzi.

Dolls' houses are a whole other obsession but one you are completely at liberty to indulge at any age. Some people nostalgically try and recreate old family homes, while others prefer to design and furnish their own future fantasy homes (complete with bondage rooms in some cases but each to their own). 

City of London Dollshouse Festival

This weekend, you too can go snooping around other people’s houses: checking out what books they’re reading, whether or not the carpet clashes with the wall colour, or admiring their choice of pot plants. Albeit in miniature. Because this weekend is the annual Kensington Dollshouse Festival, the ‘top international show for quality dolls' houses, miniatures & models.’ 

Collectors, designers, craftsmen and just plain old admirers like me will gather in London to ooh and ah over teeny tiny things and perhaps attend one of the demonstration classes. Imagine if I could add ‘Can carve a miniature 16th Century stool’ to my CV? 

There’s plenty to keep the kids amused too with a Scavenger Hunt and Gingerbread Craft Club planned for both Saturday and Sunday.You can buy tickets here.  

Until then I'm off to windowshop on Rightmove.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Today, May 8th, marks the opening of the stage adaptation of CS Lewis’s classic children’s novel so the perfect opportunity to take your kids to see the adventures of Lucy, Peter, Susan and Edmund as they tumble through a wardrobe into a fantastical kingdom of Narnia.

Set in a specially designed tent in London’s beautiful Kensington Garden, spectacular puppetry and hi-tech multimedia will transform the theatre into the fantastical world, ruled by the evil White Witch. With picnic options available too, it's sure to be brilliant entertainment for the summer (ahem) evenings. Luckily though, even if it rains, the tent is secure and temperature controlled so not to worry if it's not quite as balmy as we'd like.

Where: The Three Sixty Theatre, Kensington Gardens, London, W2 2UH
When: May 8th – September 9th
Tickets: £25-£60. Buy here.

Of course, as impressive as the show is sure to be, nothing beats the original book for bedtime reading.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Crazy Food

Snap Happy Britmums Photo Challenge Day 7 -Warmth

I think I may have mentioned before that food and I get on very well. I'm not stuck on just a few favourite dishes either. One of my favourite things about travelling is that you get to sample different cuisines and I'm all for sampling someone like Heston Blumenthal's wacky creations at least once. You don't know till you've tried it, right?

Warmth in the wrong place

But even I have to draw the line on some things. And wasabi-flavoured chocolate, quite frankly, is it. I endured chilli-flavoured chocolate and quite liked chocolate combined with sea salt but, in my opinion anyway, there is nothing quite as satisfying as a plain old quality bar of milk or dark. I like wasabi, I lurve chocolate, but together they taste like stale tobacco. Sorry, Lindt. Not a fan of this one.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Writing children's books

At 8 months old, Little Bean does not require too much creativity from her mama when it comes to bedtime reading. All I’m needed for is to lift the flaps of Hide and Seek Pig and she’s happy.

As she gets older though I’d really like to be able to make up and tell her my own stories for bedtime.

When I was little, a friend of our family always used to tell us kids the most wonderful made-up tales. Despite the age range between his three boys and my brother and I, he still managed to tell us tales that were mesmerising to all of us, no matter how old we were. He would do deep scary cackles for the villains, leave cliffhangers and finish most often with a satisfying ‘happily ever after’. His imagination was unbelievable and he could convince us of just about anything.

For instance, one Christmas Eve, even when we were at an age where we'd long figured out Santa Claus was merely an excuse for the dads to get an extra bit of whisky and mince pie, he took us outside and, pointing at the sky, showed us lights that could not have been mistaken for anything other than a sleigh pulled by reindeer. To this day, we (very much now grown-up kids) discuss this and wonder what that really was up ahead.

A few special people are just born with an incredible imagination and amazing gift for storytelling. I don’t think many people will beat this father’s storytelling abilities, but if you think you have it in you to come up with an unbeatable children’s tale, fabulous publisher Chicken House together with The Times is running a writing competition.

To get you started, here are some top tips from publisher Barry Cunningham. 

Friday, 4 May 2012

Mint mojitos

Snap Happy Britmums Photo Challenge - Tipple

There is so much mint in our garden, it's threatening the weeds. In an effort to put it to good use we invested in an ice crusher (I say 'we', I mean 'I'. Every single time I get it out my husband asks why I can't just wrap the ice up in a teatowel and whack it on the counter. I ask you.) And then the mint gets put to good use and we get merry and all mutters about the crusher vs teatowel are forgotten.  Long live the mint mojito.

For more info on the challenge, see here.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

School Mottos

What I love about challenges like the Snap Happy Britmums Photo Challenge is that you are prompted to think or do something you wouldn't normally be thinking or doing. Today, for example, to fit with the topic 'School Days' I dug out my high school year book.

My school year book

It was sobering. Firstly, I finally have to face the fact that I do indeed look a little wrinklier now, although thankfully my cheeks are less chubby than they were when I was 18.

I was very fortunate to go the school I did. It was small and in beautiful grounds and to succeed academically was encouraged as much among the pupils ourselves as the staff. 

Because there weren't too many of us, we all featured in the school year book: our art or a piece of writing, or a photo of us playing sport or in a play.

As I flipped through smiling at the pictures and thinking about where we all are now (many of us are still very much in touch - thank you, Facebook) our school anthem started playing in my head. '...and our motto, Free To Build.'

I love mottos. Ours wasn't in Latin which the pretentious side of me thinks is a pity - I quite like the loftiness and gravitas of a good bit of Latin.

And I do think a strong motto is an important part of most organisations - schools, clubs, teams, countries. Some are well known: Carpe Diem (Seize the day) - remember Dead Poets' Society, and Lux et Veritas (Light and Truth) are both used frequently. Then there are the more original phrases like the RAF's motto Per ardua ad astra (Through adversity to the stars) and Everton Football club's Nil satis nisi optimum (Only the best is good enough) which is really quite inspiring.

And then there are those who have taken it a little too far. Austria, for example, has set its sights rather high with Austriae est imperare orbi universo which I believe means 'It is Austria's destiny to rule the world'. An unlikely superpower but you never know...

Anybody else remember their school motto?


Only one day late I caught on to the Snap Happy Britmums photo challenge for May. This was my pic for yesterday for the topic 'Pampering'. (I know it should be today's but with little one sleeping this is the best I can do for now. Work with me.)

Don't you love instagram - makes even the most mundane look a bit arty?

Being the mother of a 7 1/2 month old doesn't really allow for much pampering time. Hair's taken a probably welcome break from the straighteners (when I saw the title of Miss Cisco's post I thought perhaps she was similarly afflicted as I in the fluffy hair stakes, but alas no). Blusher's crumbling in a corner at the back of my make-up drawer. Nail polish congealing in bathroom. These days pampering consists of brushing my teeth and remembering to put (both) my contact lenses in. But when I saw the photo challenge I thought this was the perfect opportunity for me to reassess. So, although yesterday my pampering consisted of a mug of milo (nothing like a taste of childhood to cheer you up on a grey day), today I will dig out the mascara. And perhaps the milo again too.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Mother-in-Law Horror Stories*

This morning, 7 a.m. 

Lesson 1: Do not underestimate the superglueing effect of mascara left on overnight. 
Lesson 2: Do not underestimate the superglueing effect of wine the night before for stapling your limbs to the mattress. 

It was all completely worth it though of course. Dinner, friends, wine. It was a ladies night and we're all new mums, so of course the conversation was dominated by poo – I’m afraid we lived entirely up to the cliché. But we also discussed, for some length – mother-in-laws. Most of us are either due back to work soon, or debating a night/weekend away from the little ones. Leaving the babies with someone else in charge is clearly an emotionally charged situation – and given the conversation we had it's no surprise why. It was lucky I had a fair amount of wine to drink otherwise I might not have slept so soundly. Here's why:

At some stage in your relationship your other half's parents bring out the baby photos and start reminiscing. Lovely. Cute to see baby photos and amusing to watch your macho partner squirm as you’re told how as a toddler he loved to stomp around in his mum’s high heels.

Then you have a baby yourself and some of the stories start niggling at the back of your mind. Like when he and his brothers used to 'fall off sofas and beds all the time' as babies. Or how the kids always used to sleep on the back shelf of the car 'until these ridiculous car seat rules came into force'. Or in a scene straight out of Home Alone how she piled into the car all the paraphernalia for a holiday, then realised half an hour in to the journey that the one thing she’d forgotten was the baby (Posh did this recently too apparently).  Or what about the time she gave his little sister the cat diarrhoea medicine when she was ill, reckoning it would work just as well on toddlers (chuckle, chuckle). I. Kid. You. Not.

Hope we haven't forgotten anything!

Alarmingly, the get-out clause all mother-in-laws (and mothers for that matter) use is the impossibly useless argument, 'Well, you turned out ok, didn't you?' At which point you just close your eyes, count to ten and go hide the cat medicine. 

*Luckily my own mother-in-law is the absolute best in the world and none of the above applies to her. This is entirely true and has nothing to do with the fact that she might read this post.

Anything similar happen to you?