> The Beesley Buzz: January 2014

Things I discovered: January

Once again we are linking up with Everyone else isnormal's 'Things I discovered' linky. We are also linking this up with Ethan's Escapade's Small Steps Amazing Acheivements (See the 'People' heading below).

I'm putting this one under the 'eat' heading although technically the salt and pepper pots are objects but I just had to fit these in somewhere as I was so excited about them.

Granny found them at Covent Garden market and knowing what big Doctor Who fans we are, she bought them for The Brilliant Chef (and his mum) to use in the kitchen.

We also discovered home-made butter this month which is a great activity to do with the kids and it tastes super! The buttermilk by-product that results from making your own butter also tastes really good to drink.
This month we have really got stuck into playing with some of the amazing toys from The Toadstool that we received for Christmas.

The Plan Toys range is really high quality and the toys are so durable and sturdy that I have found myself telling friends all about them. We have written up reviews for the Frog puzzle, My first camera and Tie-upshoe because we loved them so much. I wonder just how much easier Christmasses and birthdays would have been if we had discovered 'Slow' toys sooner!
You can win one of these Science robot kits here

Another fabulous toy, also from The Toadstool, was the Brush Robot Kit which we found to be educational and fun! (The Toadstool have also given our blog readers the chance to WIN their own - see here to enter).


I was surprised to find that I enjoyed reading Clare Balding's autobiography as part of the Britmums book club in January.

Miss T has also really enjoyed reading lots this month as we have been taking part in Child Led Chaos' 300 book reading challenge. Although I am yet to write a blog post about how we are getting on, I did get as far as starting a Books Pinterest board to keep track of the picture books that we have read.

Children's picture books are my favourite type of book as I adore books by Oliver Jeffers, the Charlie and Lola books by Lauren Child, and the Julia Donaldson books (and many many more). So this has been such a fun challenge to take part in and given me and Miss T something special to focus on together since J returned to school.

Our wonderful meal at One Canada Square restaurant could have fitted under the 'Eat' heading as it was the inspiration behind us making our own homemade butter. But I wanted to list it under 'place' as we had not been to Canary Wharf for over 15 years and boy has that place changed in that time.

I remember the main retail outlet in 1999 being a single Tesco metro store (I don't think the other main towers had even been completed then?) - now the place is a hive of retail activity with food shops, clothing stores and of course restaurants and eateries too.

My boys have amazed me this month. It has been J's first time in a school for over 3 years and he settled in well and had done really well academically too.

He came home excitedly telling me that his spelling age was over 12 years and his reading age was 13 and a half (his actual age is 9). He has worked really hard and cooperated with all the assessments and tests he has had to do for the school to gauge his ability levels.

He has, in the first time for years, attempted cursive writing which has always proved too much of a challenge for him in the past because of his coordination difficulties.

D continues to do well. Even though he doesn't have the same difficulties as J does, he is not used to playground politics and as everyone had been so nice to him in the home-ed world he is finding it a bit baffling at times making sense of the playground when at school. His wonderful class teacher has been on hand to support him with his worries and guide him through.

They both have amazing teachers and for the first time in their schooling journey, I really do feel they are in good hands.

I would never have imagined being able to find a school that suits J. I am conscious that it is still early days and I know that with a condition like ASD life can be a bit of a roller coaster for him, but at the moment things at school are going well for him and I'm proud of him for that and extremely grateful to his school too.

Also under the 'People' heading I have to mention some lovely friends who I've been able to meet up with for coffee this week (again something that has been really tricky to do over the past three years as I would feel guilty if I didn't put the boys educational needs first whilst we were home-schooling). You know who you are - so thank you! 

Well last month I said that I wanted to rediscover some blogs I used to read and generally find time to read a few more blogs. Amazingly I got myself organised enough to even start to follow a few by email which I never had done before as I just used to have a haphazard way of popping along to my favourite blogs every once in a while. But the trouble is that now I just feel a bit too overwhelmed as my inbox keeps filling up day and night with blogposts to read. I'm going to have to find a happy compromise somehow because at the moment I'm not getting to bed before midnight (sometimes a lot later) and I feel like I am forever chasing my tail. If anyone has any tips on getting the balance right of how to keep up to date with reading your favourite blogs without it taking up every spare minute each evening do let me know!

I did come across a whole host of lovely blogs, some of which were new to me by joining in with the #SpreadALittleHappiness linky organised by The Reading Residence. Here's our post for it and there were lots of other happy posts to bring a smile to my face. 

Seven year old D's blog The Brilliant Chef got a mention in the Kids Blog Club kid foodie blogger round-up - so that was cool too! 

Don't forget to enter our CURRENT GIVEAWAY! Enter here to win a science robot kit.

Linking up with Things I discovered and Ethan's Escapades Small Steps Amazing Acheivements. (I WILL pop by to visit others on the linky over the course of the coming week - desperately need to get a few early nights to catch up on some sleep first!)

Ethans Escapades

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GIVEAWAY and Review : Brush Robot from The Toadstool

The Toadstool sent us this fantastic Brush Robot kit to test out as one of their Toadtesters. Daddy loves gadgets and building things, so it was no surprise to see him get stuck in with the kids! So I'm going to let him write up the review, too... Remember there is a giveaway at the end of this post, too, so read the review and don't forget to enter to win a kit of your own!

The Brush Robot is a battery-powered robot that you build yourself following the instructions provided in the kit. Everything you need, including the brushes, is included. The only thing you need to add is two AAA batteries. 
We love toys that have educational value, and learning about circuits and robots provided the children with fantastic science knowledge. Impressively, the instruction booklet had a section entitled 'Fun Facts' and it was truly fascinating to find out how the Brush Robot is an example of a 'vibrobot' and finding out more about the functional uses of this type of robot in real-life situations.

Building the robot was very straightforward, with just a small crosshead screwdriver needed. The kit is intended for children aged over 8, so both the boys were able to get involved although a little bit of help might be needed to hold parts still for little hands to fix together.

The finished robot is a quirky little character (now called Bobo in our household!) who vibrates and moves along when switched on. He looks great as he is, but if you wanted to personalise him you could add stickers or paint the wooden brush. 
The Brush Robot offers great value for money as it is a science kit as well as a toy when completed, so it provides both an activity for children to do as well as a final toy to play with. It is competitively priced and available from The Toadstool. This would make a fantastic birthday gift for school friends birthdays. 

If you would like to get your hands on one of these fantastic science kits for yourself, just complete the Rafflecopter form below. There are two winners to be drawn!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
This giveaway is being co-hosted by us as well as some other fabulous Toadtester bloggers. Although you only need to fill in the Rafflecopter on one of our blogs, do pop over to see how they got on with their science kits as various kits are available. The Toadstool are administering the Rafflecopter giveaway and are responsible for fulfillment of the prize. 

Do follow The Toadstool on facebook and on Twitter to find out more about their #Toadtest and hear all about competitions and giveaways. 

Please remember all comments are moderated and may take several days to appear. Please don't leave anonymous comments so that entries can be verified against rafflecopter. 

Disclosure: As Toadtesters, we were sent this product for the purposes of review from The Toadstool. All opinions are our own. Please see The Toadstool for current pricing information.

Win competitions at ThePrizeFinder.com
Also listed at Superlucky

Plan Toys Tie-Up shoe from The Toadstool: A review

We've had a flurry of Plan Toys reviews to do lately with these lovely toys from The Toadstool and I have to say just want an absolute pleasure it is when you find toys that your children love to play with and that, as a parent, you find to be educational and have real learning value.

This Plan Toys Tie-Up Shoe from The Toadstool is exactly that - both fun to play with AND educational. By educational I mean that it can help children learn a really valuable practical life skill by helping them to learn how to lace-up their own shoes. It also aids development by encouraging those fine motor skills as children practise threading and tying the laces.

Tying laces has got to be one of those trickier skills for children to learn and the age at which they are able to do so seems to vary greatly from child to child. I remember seeing a child aged 3 confidently tie their laces, whilst my eldest, now aged 9, is still unable to. He does have some coordination difficulties linked to his Aspergers but I still believe that like a lot of things, children learn to tie shoe laces at different ages depending on their stage of learning.

Since 7 year old D started school, he has been asking for lace-up trainers for P.E. and so we recently bought him a pair. But before he can take them into school for P.E. he needs to become confident with tying laces and that's where this Plan Toys tie-up shoe has really come into its own.

D has practised using the toy and then transferred those skills to his real shoes. He is not fully there yet, but I think with a little more practise, he will soon be wearing his new trainers for P.E.

And just like learning to ride a bike, we found that when D was ready to learn to ride, it helped give his big brother the motivation to learn too. So I have a feeling the same will happen with tying shoe laces.

The tie-up shoe is designed for children aged 3 and over. I hope you will see that it can actually be used to help children much older than this too.

Not wanting to be left out of all the shoe-tying excitement, I found Miss T doing this the other day.

She had clearly recognised this item as a shoe and was trying to put it on! It did make me giggle!

One of the things I loved about this toy is that even before children are ready to learn to tie laces, they could use this toy to practise threading to develop those all important fine motor skills. The lace is completely removable, and the fabric loops on the wooden shoe are big enough for a child to be able to thread the lace through.

Like the other plan toys we have been enjoying so much, this shoe is well made and sturdy. It is small enough for a child to hold and with three loops on either side it won't seem overwhelming to them. 

Disclosure: We won this product from The Toadstool and have chosen to write this review about it. All opinions are our own. Please see The Toadstool for current pricing information.


Plan Toys My First Camera from The Toadstool: A review

Miss T loves being in front of a camera. Whenever we get our camera out she does a huge grin and then wants to see ('eee' as she says) the picture displayed. She is always trying to get her hands on our camera and we're beginning to see those first signs of toddler tantrums when she doesn't get her own way.

So this Plan Toys 'My First Camera' from The Toadstool could not have come at a better time. She was delighted opening it at Christmas and has loved using it as a prop to copy mum and dad ever since.
'My First Camera' is made from preservative-free rubberwood and like the other toys from Plan Toys is sustainably produced. It also uses non-formaldehyde glue and water-based dyes. You can find out more about Plan Toys eco credentials here.

This toy is aimed at children 18 months and over and I would say this is an accurate guide as this is when Miss T started to really take an interest in copying us and showing signs of role play.

The camera is incredibly sturdy, so should withstand plenty of knocks, drops and bumps. It has two moving parts on it - the button which can be pushed down, and the lens which twists around. Inside the lens there is a kaleidoscope to look through which deliberately distorts anything you are looking at to make it look like a pattern, changing the pattern as you twist the lens. Brilliant!

When Miss T was playing with the camera we noticed how she loves to put her hand through the strap again and again, something she has seen mummy do with her camera.
A great value little camera which is perfect for toddlers!

Disclosure: We won this product from The Toadstool and have chosen to write this review about it. All opinions are our own. Please see The Toadstool for current pricing information. 


Plan Toys Frog Life puzzle from The Toadstool

This Plan Toys Frog life puzzle from The Toadstool has rapidly become one of my all time favourite toys.

It is one of those fabulous toys that can be used in more than one way - the puzzle element of it can be put together in two different ways (see photos below) and it is also educational as it helps children learn about the topic of lifecycles by focussing on a frog's life cycle. 

Two puzzles in one
The puzzle pieces are chunky 3-dimensional pieces that are perfect for little hands to hold. There is a simpler version puzzle that can help children learn what to do. The frog spawn, tadpole and frog fit into their corresponding shape gaps on the reserve side of the pond. 

This can be used to teach children about the frog's lifecycle and helps them understand the purpose of how to use the puzzle. I loved seeing Miss T put the pieces into place and then clap for herself with delight.

We also worked together on the bigger puzzle version which uses all the pieces including the lily pads.

Plan Toys boast some impressive Eco credentials including the use of sustainable materials, non-formaldehyde glue and water-based dyes. You can find out more about them here.

Excellent Quality
This toy 'feels' like it is excellent quality. Just by holding the wooden frog, or feeling the sturdiness of the 'pond' you can tell that it is well made, extremely durable and is going to last a long time. Unlike plastic toys which can become brittle and break after a few years, I can see this frog puzzle being handed down from generation to generation, the quality really is that good! 

Aimed at children aged 2 and over, Miss T is just under two and was able to understand what to do. Because of the clever two-in-one puzzle design, this toy will bring much joy to a child over several years. Once they have become confident with the simpler version, they can then move onto the second way of doing the puzzle. Then as pre-schooler and in their first years at school they will enjoy understanding more about the lifecycle of a frog. 

I can see this puzzle being used as a prompt for extension activities:

  • perhaps an outing to a nearby pond to find frog spawn or visiting at the time of year when the tadpoles emerge, or to see the tiny frogs leaving the pond. 
  • a craft activity to make your own craft version of the frog lifecycle using bubble wrap as frogspawn (with a black marker pen to put dots on it). 
  • a visit to the library to find out about other animal life cycles. 
Miss T loves this puzzle so much that she will get it out the box herself when she wants to play and has learnt the word 'frog' which she says when she wants to play with this toy (which is everyday!)

Disclosure: We won this product from The Toadstool and have chosen to write this review about it. All opinions are our own. 


Yellow! #spreadalittlehappiness

Yellow is the colour of happiness.

The sunshine. A rubber duck. Mum's favourite colour.

Yellow makes me smile. I remember her favourite car - a yellow mini.

Yellow is the first sign of spring as the daffodils appear - a sign of hope - summer is coming!

Sunshine makes me happy and in the words of Vincent Van Gogh:

"How wonderful Yellow is. It stands for the sun."


My M&S Magical Dining Room

A fantastic blogger challenge over at LoveChicLiving and TreasureHunterUK has got me inspired to think about something I don't often have the time to do - to think about how I would design my own Magical Dining room and how I'd add a little sparkle for a special occasion.

I would love to be able to say that I had a plan. That I had a theme I was trying to achieve. But, alas, no. I went with my heart and picked out items from the M&S home furnishings pages that I found inspiring and interesting. Things that had the 'wow' factor for me.

Because after all, what is magic and sparkle if it doesn't excite the inner child in us?

My M&S Magical Dining Room - Adding the Magic and Sparkle

My M&S Magical Dining Room - Mix-it-up tableware
I chose some of the key pieces of furniture first including the table. The Padstow Extending round dining table (£439.20) was the obvious choice. I love round and oval dining tables as they are perfect for eating together at a dinner party. Everyone can see and speak to everyone else so it helps people truly mix and mingle. Add in a Lazy Susan (£29.50) and you have the perfect dinner party dining table!

I would mix and match chairs rather than having the formality of matching chairs (think Monica's apartment in Friends - I always envied the quirkiness of those dining chairs all different and unique around the table). So I have chosen Conran Mitchell dining chairs (£319.20 for a pair) and Stockholm Dining chairs (£239.20 per pair).

To add a little curiosity and wonder, a few accessories for the dining room would bring the magic and sparkle to the party. The Golden Deer Head Wall Art (£45), The Heritage Sand timer (£10), and Heritage globe (£35) are all quirky additions reminding friends of how food and dining is inspired by history and across nations. Similarly the Fob Wall Clock with it's Roman Numerals (£35) and Love Compass wall art (£25) are pointers to something magical in time and place. The stylish Novara Electric Condiment Set (£39.50) brings the contemporary elements of cuisine into play reminding us how food and dining can be inspired by the past and yet entirely up-to-date and modern in their interpretation.

The colour palate for my magical dining room's decor would be inspired by nature (reflecting current trends towards foraging for food and nature inspiring food a la one of the world's leading restaurants - Noma). So there would be a pebble-inspired colour pallete, with accents of blue. On that note, I couldn't resist adding a dress from M&S. This Panelled Fit & Flare dress (£45) would really add some magic and sparkle to a special dining occasion. I guess the beautiful TARDIS-like blue colour may well have influenced me. After all 'The Doctor' certainly knows how to bring magic and sparkle to any occasion and reflects the ultimate in travelling through time and space (though I'm not sure I'd be serving his favourite food of fish fingers and custard at my dinner party!)

Other personal touches that I would creatively add are a homemade Cutlery chandelier (a fantastic upcycling idea I spotted on Pinterest) and the coffee bean candle holders (again another Pinterest idea that I've been planning to make myself for a dinner party).

As I couldn't decide on a specific theme for the actual tableware, I watched the M&S video showing three looks for dressing your table. Whilst I loved both the Rustic Country look and the Classic look, I was most inspired by the Mix-it Up idea as that can reflect your own creativity and quirkiness.

So I've made by own version of 'Mix-it Up' dining, opting for two different styles of dinner plates (The Spring Meadow dinner set at £95 and the Richmond Dinner Set at £75).

The glass butter dish (£12.50) and Drink dispenser (£12.50) are perfect for showing off your own home-made butter and any fabulous drinks you mix-up yourself.

Having seen more and more restaurants serving up food in unique ways, I thought this 3-tier stainless steel Tiffin storage (£19.50) would make a quirky way of presenting some of your dinner party food. Ditto for the Olive Wood Board (£29.50)

Remembering the links to nature, the following items complete the look:
Cast Iron Shallow Cassserole dish (£65)
Slate Heart Napkin tags (£7.50)
Slate Heart Coasters (£7.50)
Richmond creamer jug (£12.50)
Fine Ribbed Runner (£15)
4 Crustacean placemats (£15)
Trio lavender glass bottles (£25)
Conran Copper wire trim glass tealight holder (£12)

Last, but certainly not least, the cutlery. This Marcel Wanders set (£49.50) just jumped straight out the screen at me. I don't think I've ever come across cutlery quite so magical as that. I thought it was really innovative to have the design over the entire piece of cutlery whereas most would stop at the handle. I loved that it was truly unique and how, not stopping at traditional boundaries, it gives a nod to innovative food trends too, inspiring me to push the boundaries of my culinary abilities when cooking for my magical dinner party.

I hope that what I've created with my mood boards shows a warm welcoming atmosphere and one where everyone is free to be themselves however unique or different. I also hope that the feeling of magic and sparkle will inspire my dinner party guests to truly enjoy the evening being inspired by unique and beautiful objects and tableware. With such an amazing magical dining room as this, I can only wish for a little magic to help me with my cooking skills for my dinner party food to live up to the occasion too!

This is my entry into the M&S Magical Dining Room Competition, judged by Jen of Love Chic Living and Jenny of Treasure Hunter UK. Prices correct at time of writing. Please always check current prices yourself before purchase! 

Janod Tubix Mikado from The Toadstool: A Review

Janod Mikado from The Toadstool
Mikado, often better known as 'pick-up sticks', is one of those classic games that is fun for all the family, bridging across generations and simply has long-lasting appeal as a good old-fashioned family game. A true 'slow toy' needing no gimmicks. 

This Janod Tubix Mikado set from The Toadstool contains 41 good quality wooden pick-up sticks. My children have owned a set of pick-up sticks in the past and this set contains bigger and better quality sticks in a sturdy cardboard tube. 

Because it is such a great game for keeping the kids engaged and entertained, and because of the sturdy, yet compact packaging, we took the Janod Mikado set to granny's house over the Christmas holidays and it was a great game for our children to play with their cousins. It would also be great for taking on holiday with us too. 

It is a game that encourages cooperation and turn-taking between players, as well as coordination as it develops fine motor skills as children concentrate to pick-up a stick without moving the other sticks. 

Turn-taking is a skill that we are working on developing with J. Because of his Aspergers, this can be something he sometimes struggles with. The reason being twofold. Firstly, he doesn't always understand the social 'rules' of games and secondly, waiting and transition times can be hard for him. So playing Mikado is a fun way of helping him to develop those all important turn-taking skills.

It was truly refreshing to find a toy that needed no batteries, was simple to understand, and that the children could enjoy both on their own or with family members of all ages. Whilst this product is not recommended for under 5s, there is certainly no upper age limit as it appeals to parents and grandparents too. 

This is a great value product at a pocket money price point (please see The Toadstool for up-to-date price information). It would make a fantastic stocking filler too!

We have found this to be a great way to spend some really special family bonding time! Thank you The Toadstool! 

Disclosure: We won this product from The Toadstool and have chosen to write this review about it. All opinions are our own. 


Our Movember meal at One Canada Square Restaurant

Last November, we persuaded Daddy to enter Pan Macmillan's Mo Food Fight which raised awareness of this important cause whilst celebrating the launch of the Official Movember Cook Book "Cook Like a Man"

This ended up having the wonderful benefit of Daddy learning to cook something fabulous. He cooked the 'Wild Mushroom Cappuccino with Wild Mushroom Croustades' which is one of the recipes from the book (You can download the recipe here if you want to try it yourself). All his hard work paid off as he entered his funny 12 second video into the #MoFoodFight competition and it won us, not one, not two, not three but four - yes four - meals at top London restaurants. 

You can see his video here:
Last Friday, Granny very kindly took care of the kids whilst we headed up to London in the torrential rain and enjoyed an extremely wonderful meal at One Canada Square restaurant in Canary Wharf. 
Arriving windswept at One Canada Square
We had some amazing cocktails to start with
Then after an amouse-bouche, I had a starter of goat cheese and baby beetroot salad. The goat's cheese was made into a fabulous puree. We were also served some home-churned butter which inspired us to make our own at home afterwards! Daddy had a wild rabbit, mallard and blackberry starter. 
Followed by main course:
By this time we were feeling rather full but there's always room for dessert. Choosing dessert was tricky as there was a fantastic range including some tempting flavours of ice creams and sorbets. This is what we decided upon in the end.
Pineapple souffle and coconut sorbet
Espresso baked Alaska
A final treat of Petit-fours
And just enough time for a quick chat with Head Chef Jamie Dobbin (former Chef of The Club at The Ivy) and asking for an autograph to give to our own 7 year old Brilliant Chef.

After previously getting autographs from Rene Redzepi following our visit to Noma, Anjali Pathak when she came to our house, Manish Sharma who is the Patak's development chef when D went for a spice appreciation class, and Sylvana Franco when we went for our Waitrose Cookery day, D seems to love adding to his collection of 'cheffing' autographs.
Meeting Head Chef Jamie Dobbin
D was over the moon with the autograph and highly envious of mummy and daddy's special meal out. So we've promised to take him back there one Saturday for Weekend brunch. 
D with the autograph from Jamie Dobbin