Tuesday, 29 January 2013

My Read it Dad (2)

I've spent a few days thinking about what to blog about next. You see, after I posted last week, my dad phoned to tell me he has pancreatic cancer and has about a year left with us. I'm still trying to digest this news, but hoping we can make the best of the time we have left with him.
Here's to the man who took me out on endless bike rides, and who told me that they sent hairdressers to the moon. Love you dad.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

My Read It Dad

Readitdaddy has laid down a challenge to parents everywhere to make 2013 the year that we all read to our children more, because as mums and dads we are just not doing it enough. So with that in mind, I wanted to pay tribute to my own dad, and all the stories that he read to me when I was a wee tiny nipper.

Amongst all the ladybird books and Mr Men, when I was five he decided to read me the whole Chronicles of Narnia, out loud. Night after night he was there, finishing each night with his characteristic slamming of the book closed and wobbling his false tooth at me before lights out. As my choice of them all, I'm picking The Magician's Nephew as the one which really got me hooked on books. I was thrilled by the adventures of Digory and Polly as they were zapped through worlds by Uncle Andrew's magic rings, inadvertently taking the White Witch with them into Narnia.  I'm not sure why this book captivated me more than all the others in the Chronicles of Narnia. Perhaps because it was that last to be written and that made it more accomplished, but more likely because it was the first book my dad took time out from his full time job and part time OU Degree to read to me.

Sadly, I don't remember being read much to after this, but I think that's because I was reading independently by then. There was a LOT of Enid Blyton, followed by Laura Ingalls Wilder,  When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and the Diary of Anne Frank. Maple syrup has a special place in my memory, as does Darell from Mallory Towers, a scruffy rabbit, bilingualism  and coming of age in a secret annexe with a boy named Peter. That's all down to my dad, who took time out to read to me. Thanks dad. x

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Baby Brains

I popped into Eason's yesterday when I was out with the girls, thinking we might pick up an Oliver Jeffers book but the girls thought better of it. While Emily was busy covering the floor with Peppa Pig books and running around with a copy of Green Eggs and Ham shouting 'MINE!' at everyone, Abigail was quietly insisting that we bought Baby Brains by Simon James because it was her favourite book at school. This was the first time she'd mentioned a book from school so I left Mr Jeffers for another day. I'm really glad she did as we both enjoyed it a lot.
Before Baby Brains is born, he is played music and read to - his parents want him to be very, very clever. And it works. The morning after he gets home, his mum finds him sitting in the living room reading the newspaper. Next it's off to school, university and astronaut academy.. We both enjoyed the pictures of the baby in ridiculous situations, like hanging over the bonnet of a car or floating in space. Abigail's favourite moment in the book is when Baby Brains shouts 'I WANT MY MUMMY!' in the middle of a space walk and is flown back to earth as fast as they can get him. It's a great book for grown ups too as it's a real poke at pushy parents who just need to let their children be children. As an aside I'm always really windy about books with babies having to have bottles of formula in them, so I was pleased (and surprised) that this was all about Baby's brains, and not what he is fed. We were also both pleased that there are more books about Baby Brains, Baby Brains Superstar and Baby Brains and Robomum.
It was lovely to share a book that Abigail chose for herself, as she's never shown a real preference when we've been in the library or bookshop before. She has great taste, so I'm looking forward to the next one.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

u-Draw, I watch

When the u-Draw tablet was launched a couple of years back, I looked at it and thought 'no-one would pay £50 for that', and I was right. It was just too expensive and in the end it's developer, THQ, filed for bankruptcy just before Christmas. They must have sold all the remaining stock off at rock bottom prices as I managed to pick up a copy for less than £10 in HMV. Abigail's been playing with it for nearly two hours now (£10 really well spent in my book). I'm guessing that when I have to curb her screen time it'll make me very unpopular...
But before I do that, a quick review. Setting up involved a trip to Google because the instructions were rubbish. Once it was up and running, the four year old set about drawing and the 2 year old watched. A nice bit of peace on a Sunday morning is always a bonus. U-draw has a lot in common with apps we have for the ipod; different colours, tools and effects are all there, but as you use a stylus on a tv-sized screen it's much more fun to work with and easier to add detail. Once you've finished the drawing, it can be saved on your x-box or exported to the u-Draw gallery where it can be shared with the world or just saved to your desktop. Daddy also pointed out it would be great for homework projects as you can print the pictures out. This is a massive bonus in our house, where we  go through craft supplies at a faster rate than sweeties.
If you want to draw, there are tutorials, projects and free drawing. There are also colouring books, dot-to-dot and a few games if you want to do something a bit different. The game we tried first (Alien Splat) frustrated Abigail and the dot-to-dot was too detailed for her as yet, but she enjoyed doing the maze game where you use the tablet in the same way you would use a wii-mote to guide your way through. To get the most of the tablet I'd recommend doing a few of the drawing tutorials as I didn't find some of the functions particularly intuitive. Abigail really enjoyed the colour tutorials which introduced her to some new concepts, like contrast and shades. I was impressed that it turned drawing into a family activity that everyone could enjoy, but most of all loved the 'replay' feature where you can watch the drawing being done in fast motion.

u-Draw is also available for the PS3 and Wii. I avoided the Wii version as it came bundled with a Disney Princess Game *cringe*

Thursday, 3 January 2013

The River Cottage Baby & Toddler Cook Book

When it comes to cooking for babies, the masses will head for Annabel Karmel cook books because, let's face  it, they are well promoted and readily available. I quite like her baby cook book, but I really don't like her association with Clare Byam Cook, who makes her living promoting controversial advice about breastfeeding, so I was really glad when this number popped up in 2011.
While the book comes under the River cottage umbrella and foreworded by Hugh, the book is written by Nikki Duffy and is packed full of useful [non-biased] information about feeding babies as well as the recipes. It is a recipe book, after all.
It's split by season which is nice (I would not thank you for a winter strawberry myself), giving you a taste of what is available throughout the year. As with all cookbooks, there are gems of recipes, and those that you know the entire household would turn it's nose up at. Which is all fine, no-one from River Cottage is going to turn up and force feed you fish and fennel pizza. Even if you were to try no recipes from the book, the nutritional information Nikki packs the book with is really useful. On top of offering suggestions of how to adapt the recipes for babies, she also offers up the incorporation of purees into grown up meals, and a whole table of suggestions of what to do if you have a glut of something. Pea puree? Very Masterchef. It's not all 'posh nosh' though. I'm sure there are many out there who would struggle to roast a chicken or make a bolognese sauce from scratch. Basic recipes done well.
As for Evie's house? Our favourite recipes are for the sweet stuff. My favourite is the rice pudding made with coconut milk, served cold in the summer with raspberries or strawberries. A close second is the baked peaches, while or sheer cunningness is the apple and cheese on toast. There are lots of good, cheap wholesome meals in this book: pea risotto, carrot and lentil soup and frittata among them. It's not just a book for sitting on the shelf, it's practical and worth a look.