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Menstrual cups have been around since the 1930s, but only in the last few years has advertising started to pay off, as women have become annoyed at the costs of regular sanitary protection and concerned about the effect of it on their bodies and the environment. The Mooncup is one of these menstrual cups, about two inches long with a little stem for easy removal. (Some women find the stem awkward and annoying and cut it down or off. Don't do this until you have the hang of removing it.) I bought mine in November 2008 and was immediately gutted to get pregnant and not have the chance to use it for over a year. When eventually I did get to break it out of its box I was amazed. The thing is awesome. It's a bit tricky at first getting it in and needs a bit of practice, you need to run it under the tap so it's a bit damp, and then once you get the hang of it you can cut the stem to the length you need (NOT before, please trust me). I find that on the first two days I need a pantliner or something as well, but I'm sure if I had time to empty it more often that wouldn't be a concern. They recommend emptying it every 4-8 hours, although you can go longer overnight and you won't fall over in a bleeding heap if you don't; Toxic Shock Syndrome has never been associated with Mooncups (info available on their website, mooncup.co.uk). I totally recommend the things, they're a bit weird but there is something strangely satisfying about seeing *volume* (don't judge me, you don't know) and I have always begrudged paying loads of money for tampons. Potentially off-putting things - they're made of medical grade silicone or latex, and they discolour after a while. If you need to wash them in public toilets (you shouldn't have to, you can just empty it, wipe it off or rinse with bottled water and reinsert) it can be a bit alarming. Husbands who come across them may do ridiculous things like pretending they are trumpets. They come in two sizes - one for ladies under 30 with no children, one for ladies who have had a baby vaginally and/or who are over 30. It's to do with pelvic floor strength, so if you're some sort of Kegel expert then you might need the smaller size regardless of your age or number of children. Finally, I bought mine online for just under £18. I won't buy toilet paper; going into a shop for a menstrual cup was FAR outside my comfort zone. You can also buy them in Boots or ethical product shops.
I stole one of these from my husband (and a new blade cause I didn't want him to worry that I'd blunted his blade. I'm considerate like that). His came in a box set with the shaving gel and moisturiser, but only one razor head with the set. He must have liked it, because after it sat unused and unloved for a few months he was out of his regular blades so used this and before you could say, Oooh your face feels smooth, he was hotfooting it down to the shop looking for replacement blades! It was the closest shave ever on my fuzzy winter legs, really lovely and smooth without loads of going over and over the same area ... until I got to my knees, when for some reason the razor took exception to the presence of bone under my skin and sliced a little chunk of flesh right out. It then did the same on the other knee, but hell, the rest of my legs was in lovely condition. The moisturiser had a very manly smell so I didn't use it, but my husband did once and mumbled something about it being for girls (and yet I notice that half the thing is empty, so clearly he likes it more than he's admitting). The pack of 5 claims that you get a month per blade but I wouldn't use the blade for that long. It did my legs/underarms twice and was then pretty much at the end of its usable life. I would think that men shaving just their faces might get 3-4 uses out of it before risking red spots and sore chins. A shame considering how expensive the blades are.
I booked a £99 hotel, dinner, spa and breakfast package for my husband and myself with Formby Hall a few weeks ago. It also offered a complimentary upgrade to a nicer room, although when I called to book it turned out that you can only get the upgrade on weekends. I was slightly annoyed by that - it should be made clear on the advertising - but we were tied by location (gracious thanks to my parents, who minded my toddler so we could have a night away) so we booked anyway. We arrived at 2pm and the reception staff was nice, pleasant and helpful. Off we went to our room, which was comfortable enough - lovely big bathroom, comfortable bed, controllable heating, reasonably sized desk with enough power points (does anyone else get annoyed by the Total Lack of enough plugs for a laptop, a phone charger and a hairdryer in front of the desk/big mirror combination in most hotels?). The only problem was that the advertised cable TV had a signal so compressed that whenever lots of people had their TVs on, like getting ready for dinner time, late evening and early mornin, the picture kept scrambling, the sound would go and it was all a bit annoying. Anyway. Our spa appointment was booked for 3pm, so off we trotted. It was cold and raining, so we went through the hotel rather than across the carpark, but the ladies at the spa desk stared at us like we'd arrived naked and covered in warpaint ready to pillage their unprotected rear flank (we had not). The correct way to approach is to go through the main entrance at the car park (yes, even if you are a hotel guest), alert the lady at the downstairs desk that you are there to use the spa, then go up and inform the upstairs desk ladies of your presence. Full use of the spa facilities were included in our package, but you can just use the facilities at a cost of £25. After we went downstairs, said hello to the downstairs desk lady and returned the Appropriate Way, we were given a tour of the spa and a cup of fairly good coffee, then given a robe, towel and slippers and pointed in the general direction of the changing rooms. We got lost trying to find them, but upon regrouping and ignoring the instructions we were given in favour of following a smell of chlorine, we got there in the end. The spa facilities include: Gymnasium We didn't use it, but it seemed the kind of busy where you know people are actually working out properly, but you wouldn't have to wait for a machine. Swimming pool I used it. There's a single lane for swimming lengths, and despite signs up warning of kids' swimming lessons going on on Saturday mornings only, they were happening after school time and the kids weren't supervised well enough to stop them veering into the path of people swimming lengths. Hydrotherapy jets They were certainly present but weren't actually turned on. Jacuzzi My husband was insanely excited by this, but only because there were two ladies kissing in it. It was big enough for four but we felt a little rude hopping in alongside them. Steam room Lovely. Experience Showers Not only were they not working, but they were dismantled with a couple of repair men in there. I wish we'd been warned of that ahead of time. Thermal Heaven (sauna,steam room, experience showers, ice fountain, foot baths and loungers) The sauna was quite nice, as was the steam room. I love the heated loungers, you get a view of the golf course and flight training patterns flown from the RAF base next door. Experience showers in here were working only for "regular shower with some white lights" and I was sorely disappointed not to get my "atlantic mist" shower. Tranquility suite (adjustable loungers, water feature, relaxing music, magazines) Nice enough, but water features always make me want to pee. Treatments are carried out in one of several treatment rooms. We'd opted for a couples' Rasul mud treatment, billed as: A must for any globe trotter wanting to relax and restore the natural balance and rhythm of body and mind. This treatment can be shared with a friend and begins with applying the rare natural mineral-enriched clay with elixirs of Jasmine or Rose to soften and restore suppleness to the skin. Whilst you sit back and relax, covered in mud, the room fills with steam to infuse with the mud to release any toxins and tone the skin. Then the heavens open up and monsoon rain shower cleanses you from head to toe. Sounds lovely, right? We'd been told to come back to reception five minutes before our treatment was due to start, and so there we were, snug in our robes on a leather sofa and very conscious of the sofas' tendency to make rude noises whenever we moved. Nobody came for us. Twenty minutes after the scheduled start time, my husband wandered off to find someone, who admitted she'd forgotten us and turned up five minutes after that holding a bowl of white mud and a jug of water. She took us to a tiny treatment room containing two showers, one steam room and a little open area big enough for two people who know each other *very* well. The "treatment" involved us putting smears of mud on ourselves, then sitting in the steam room and smearing it more and more as it melted in the heat. The room was missing a lot of tiles, the showers were quite dirty, and the steam room was so small our knees were touching as we sat in the two little seats facing each other. It was definitely fun, and my skin maybe felt smoother afterwards (but it does after just a steam room session, so jury's still out on the mud), but if I'd paid for that treatment separately and been given DIY mud and a grotty little room I would have been quite annoyed. The steam in that room was much hotter than in other areas, I think it would be a bit much for someone suffering from asthma (my poor husband didn't stay in there the full half-hour, he was getting really wheezy). It cleared my runny nose right up though. Other stuff about the spa: complimentary drinks are available throughout the day, you just help yourself. A lunch menu is available, mostly sandwiches, salads and soup costing from £3 to £7. We didn't order from it, but as we were drinking our coffee there was 3/4 of an abandoned sandwich on a table next to soup so thoroughly enjoyed that the glaze off the bowl was almost scraped away. Opening hours for the spa are: Monday - Friday 10.00 - 20.00 Saturday - Sunday 10.00 - 18.30 After the spa we went back to the room and showered there. Lovely walk-in shower stall, nice big bathtub. And we went for dinner in the restaurant (there's also a bar with a standard bar-snacks menu). Dinner was amazingly good. The £99 package gives you a set menu, or if you prefer you can order up to £18.95 of food from the a la carte menu or order more and pay the difference. I had a lovely glass of Pinot Noir (about ten wines by the glass and a lot more by the bottle are available), and we ordered three starters and two mains to share. The chicken parfait was really good, the black pudding with poached egg came like a tarted-up eggs benedict and was delicious, but the Scotch egg with piccalilli was nothing short of amazing. Three quails' eggs with different stuff done to the sausagemeat bit, homemade piccalilli and a little salad. Absolutely delicious; I wish we'd just ordered loads of those. The mains were a cheese souffle and a venison burger. The burger was a little overdone but very tasty, and the souffle tasted wonderful, although they'd already sunk when they arrived at the table and mine still had a little paper disc underneath it. I looked at the dessert menu and it seemed fairly standard, nothing stood out to me so we left it and went upstairs again. It was nicely quiet all night and the bed was cosy enough that I fell asleep watching Masterchef. Downstairs for breakfast in the morning, we were fiendishly excited for the deliciousness coming out of the kitchen based on our experience the previous night but we were disappointed. The buffet was filled with cheap sausages and black pudding, scrambled eggs in a disturbing shade of beige, fried eggs gently marinating in oil and a very limited continental breakfast selection. My optimistic husband ordered scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, and it arrived as a small mountain of eggs (they looked like the sort you make up from powder but I couldn't swear to it) on top of half a flatpack of folded smoked salmon. Sadly inedible, and the waste was really upsetting. So, in short, nice enough. If I was booking that offer again, I would book well ahead of time and take both the spa treatments for myself - also available are a facial, a massage and some sort of exfoliating deal. And I'd send my husband onto the driving range or the golf course.
Our pushchair experimentation continues as we await the safe replacement of our old, sadly damaged Stokke XPlory, this time with the MacLaren Volo. The Maclaren Volo Stroller was designed for travel and for use in urban areas. It's extremely lightweight at only 8 pounds in weight, rides smoothly, folds easily and includes a carrying strap that lets you throw it over your shoulder, although you still end up with marks on your trousers from the dirt on the wheels. It also has an easy to clean, removable mesh seat that babies seem to find pretty comfortable and that also makes it a great option for the beach if you're off on your holidays, as most sand will simply fall through and your baby is less likely to sweat in the hot weather. With the way that airlines throw around your bags (like my beloved XPlory), you really need a durable stroller like the Maclaren Volo that can withstand the potential abuse. The Volo has a really nice locking system so is virtually immune to air travel damage and as mentioned is very light. Also nice is that it takes one unclick and a bit of a shake to open it up and one gentle tap with a toe and a click to fold it up again - excellent for when you're wrangling a toddler at a bus stop or in the airport. Mine came in a nice unisex red with light grey trim and included a sunshade and raincover (it seems that not all bundles come with these bits, but MacLaren do sell an accessory pack with the bits in). The raincover is very easy to put on and lives happily in the shopping basket underneath when it isn't in use. The basket isn't the biggest, but it's easily big enough for a toy, changing bag, sippy cup and related baby paraphernalia. It's lightweight and comfortable to push and very manoeuvrable, perfect for busy city streets - but the tiny wheels make it hard going over cobblestones and in the snow (we had to carry Wee Beastie in her chariot over a few drifts a few times this winter and we're not even halfway through yet!). The other downside is that it doesn't recline, so if your baby is a fussy sleeper it might be better to invest the extra in one that has the reclining option. It isn't height-adjustable, but I (5'2) and my husband (5'11) are both able to push it without any trouble, presumably because it's so lightweight. It's suitable for babies from six months up to 55lbs or 15kg, so can easily be the only one you need, but only if you have a good sleeper. Wee Beastie tends to find a way to sleep so her head isn't lolling around, but if your baby's not like that then reclining might be a better idea, like I said. The best offer currently is £72 at kiddicare.com which I think is money well spent for city types, frequent public transport users or frequent travellers. We highly recommend it.
Towards the end of my pregnancy, I started to get a bit panicky about making sure we had everything we needed. Then one day I was waddling down the road and met a mother with a baby in a pram. The baby was very cute, but looked like he'd been attacked by a wolverine with these massive deep scratches beside his eye. I asked the mother what had happened and she responded, Oh, he scratched himself. Those little nails are sharper than you'd think. Immediately, in a big panic, I lumbered as fast as my swollen ankles could carry me off to Mothercare, there to buy their entire stock of scratch mitts. Actually I just bought three packs of two - and I don't know why, it's not as though tiny babies get dirty, so allowing for losses and mismatched gloves if you wanted to buy them two packs would probably be plenty. Do you want to buy them? They're very cute, tiny little mittens for tiny little fists, the sets I got had a plain white pair and a pair with grey and white stripes. I like the striped ones better, but then my baby was wearing bright clothing from the beginning. Some people like newborns in all white clothes, I like patterns to disguise the stains a bit. After my baby was born with talons that would gouge out her eyes if she was coordinated enough to touch them, I started putting the scratch mitts on her. And astonishingly, this baby who couldn't even focus on my face was always able to remove the mitts. And this is their main downside - the wrists can't be narrow enough to prevent them coming off, because if they were tight enough they'd be hard to get onto the baby's hands. I tried other brands of mitts thinking that Mothercare might just have an unrealistic expectation of how chubby newborns' wrists actually are, but they were all the same. As scratchmitts go, the Mothercare ones washed nicely and were very cute. At £2.50 they're not massively expensive either, and they do make a very cute gift. You can also get 3-packs for £3 or £3.50 and Mothercare also sell them in sets for premature babies. On a practical level, though, they're one of those things that we buy for babies and by the time they're big enough to fit the mitts they're already past the point where they'd be useful. If you want to keep your baby's hands covered so he doesn't scratch his beautiful newborn skin, put socks over his hands. They don't come off. Or you can buy sleepsuits with foldover sleeves, which are good for when you don't want people thinking you're a weirdo who's so tired she's forgotten which limb does what.
This is the pram we started with, before I bought my beloved Stokke. I bought it while I was pregnant, as I'd tested it out in the shop (top tip: test prams early, even if you buy later, because your centre of balance is off in later pregnancy and affects your gait and how comfortable it is to walk/push) and it seemed ok. In retrospect, though, I wonder if I'd just tried a couple and this was the nicest of the three or four and I wanted to go off and eat something or sleep or cry. I'd also seen loads of them out and about and assumed all those people couldn't possibly be wrong. I ordered it in the Vertical fabric because at that time we weren't sure what was lurking in my belly (we were fairly sure it was a baby and not a puppy or a dodgy kebab but you can never be too careful) and this fabric seemed like it would be ideal for either sex. The pram was late arriving, was the first thing that annoyed me, although it's not the pram's fault. The other designs all seemed very nice, too, the neutral Balmain also caught my eye. I do like the whole idea of the travel system but this one didn't work for me at all. First, the carrycot seems like the baby's head is much lower than its feet, so I had to wedge an extra mattress in there to keep her head at a proper level. There also didn't seem to be a lot of space in there, and Wee Beastie looked cramped even from early on (she was exactly average for weight and height for the first few months before she started piling the weight on). When Wee Beastie outgrew the carrycot bit I started putting her in the pushchair in its most reclined setting - she was nowhere near big enough to sit unaided but too big for the carrycot. The harness always bothered me because it's not properly attached at the back and there's a section of hard plastic where the baby's back is. I imagine that's fine for an older beastie able to sit upright, but for one who's not figured that out yet it always seemed very uncomfortable and she never seemed terribly settled in it. I thought she was a weird baby who didn't like sleeping in pushchairs till I bought the replacement, which she snoozes in like a champ. It always felt a bit rickety and wobbly in spite of being very heavy - couldn't figure that out, but I just didn't use it very often and kept her in the Baby Bjorn wherever I could. My biggest problem with the pramette though was the brakes. They came undone a couple of times, once on the street while I was putting stuff in the car. Luckily Wee Beastie and the Runaway Pram only got as far as the parking meter, but that pushchair owes me a decade of life and several grey hairs. The other major problem I had was the design. The location of the clips for the car seat is worse than useless: they're right in the area where the baby will be sitting and are covered by a piece of barely-padding, which is not sufficient. Wee Beastie got a couple of bruises from them before I figured out it was that causing them, and that was the final nail in the Pramette's coffin. Off to ebay it went, where I was totally honest about what I hated about it and made £40 towards its replacement. It is lightweight and compact, it's easy to fold and the carseat attachment is convenient. There's a net shopping basket beneath which can hold a surprising amount of stuff, adjustable handles and a good quality rainhood. I'd still tell you not to buy one, though, unless you buy it as a starter thing and move to a chair for bigger babies once your baby's outgrown the carrycot. I also think £325's a bit much for a starter pram especially considering the resale value.
Third in our pushchair-a-thon was the iCandy cherry, because the Apple wasn't available and I was curious. It's very lightweight, which is fantastic, folds down very easily and *tiny* - it fit in the miniscule boot of a hired VW Polo with room to spare. The only little problem is that to fold it down you need to take the seat right off, which could make folding it for buses difficult when you're juggling frame/seat/baby. Taking it off involves pushing two buttons at the same time, which can also be a bit difficult if you have a baby under one arm or a wriggling toddler by the hand. Something I think is genius however is that when it's folded it stands by itself - so once you've navigated folding at the bus stop you can load chair and baby into the bus then turn around and pick up the frame, which you've not had to lie down on the wet/dirty ground. Fab for storage as well - stand it up in your hallway and Bob's your gender-confused aunt. Another bonus is that it faces both ways, although if you have the baby facing inwards to you then the shopping basket underneath becomes a little bit difficult to access. There's a zip pocket on the back of the chair part for smaller bits and pieces, which is brilliant. The handlebar is a single one, making steering quite easy, and although this model doesn't have the massive wheels that are on the back of the Apple they're still big enough for it not to get stuck on gravel or grass. The hood is very easy to attach, and it has viewing windows on the sides so you can peer in at your baby. The brakes are also very good, the included raincover is great and the straps are padded for baby comfort. Downsides: the height of the seat and the handle are both non-adjustable, so it's good only for people of average height. I'm 5'1 and found it a bit hard going at times despite its lightness. It's also not suitable for newborns unless you buy the carrycot attachment, although it does have Maxi Cosi car seat attachments available which I think is pretty cool. The frame is only 5.5kg, although this is a bit of a cheat on the manufacturers' part, since the seat brings it up to 8kg. Still, it's very sturdy, looks great and is very easy to steer and push. The footmuff is lovely, too. It's available in mulberry (lovely soft purple), blue, liquorice (black) and fudge (neutral brown). A rather fabulous black cherry colour is due out any minute, too. I recommend this for parents of average height, I found it a bit hard to push because the handles were a bit too high, but my husband at 5'11 was a bit hunched over it. Other than that it was lovely and I only wish I was a bit taller!
The second pushchair we've experienced on our litany of loaners was the Loola. I have a few friends who've loved their Loolas, so when looking at the list of available loaners I chose the Loola so I could see what they're raving about. I was underwhelmed. The first thing I noticed about it was the weight. I'm a small woman, and this with a 20lb baby in it is hard to even get up onto a pavement - on the way from the shop I was putting all my weight on the handles (which did not feel nice on my hands, incidentally) in an attempt to get it up onto the pavement before the lights changed and we were stranded in traffic. I can't imagine having a bigger child in there; I'd never make it out of the house! It was also very heavy to push, and even short trips were fairly hard going. I was making jokes about getting Popeye muscles when we were using it, but in reality all it gave me was backache. It was also hard to put up and hard to put down - there's a memory system which means it's supposed to spring into the mode you had it in the last time (has three modes, including lying all the way flat, which is nice), but it seems to make it harder to get it back up, and once you've got it apparently up it sometimes collapsed back down while my back was turned to put Wee Beastie in. It faces both in and outwards, which I like - I prefer parent facing pushchairs in general because I like to chat with the baby and see how and what she's doing. The harness is nice, and the sides come up fairly high, which is good for smaller babies. You can also remove the seat padding for cleaning, although I'm not certain about the rest of the seat because I didn't try. One thing about the harness though is that the straps are very short - we needed the extension straps and Wee Beastie was just over a year old. The raincover is one that zips onto the hood, which I'm used to with my Stokke but other users might find a bit fiddly - probably it would be easier to put it on and fold it back before you leave the house if it looks like rain. The shopping basket is a reasonable size, but it was blocked by the bar of the chassis so completely useless. Apparently the newer models have improved design so you can get to it easily, which is nice. I did like that the handles were very adjustable. There's about 10 inches in height between my husband and me, but we were both able to find handle heights that worked for us. The footmuff, available separately, is extremely cosy and warm, but makes the problem of the short straps even more significant. Again, though, the manufacturers have listened to customer feedback and will send extension straps free on request. It's very stylish looking and had a few compliments while out and about. We had the black one, but it's also available in red and a bright patchwork (I think the patchwork is astonishingly ugly, but to each his or her own). The older version is available in black, red, pink and grey. It also comes as a travel system with the Creatis-Fix car seat and so I think this is a great one for people with newborns - you could then sell it on ebay as your babe gets bigger and buy a Quinny Zapp! The cheapest price I've seen this for is £230 on Kiddiecare.com, it's normally around £300 (£342 with the car seat). The older model is £145 on Mothercare, but this one has the no-basket and short straps. Specifications: Weight: 7kg Suitable: 0-4 years (allegedly)
Following Easyjet's rough handling of my incomparable Stokke XPlory, I've been entertaining myself with a range of loaner pushchairs from my lovely local shop. The Quinny Zapp has been on my list of pushchairs to try for a while, and I was super excited when it was available for loan. It's lightweight and compact, folds down to almost nothing and is just lovely to push - onehanded steering is not a problem at all, which is great when you're juggling bag, keys, bus fare, sippy cup and all manner of other things. It looks good too, very futuristic and funky. Ours was the black one - it comes in Pink, Blue, Red and Black. It got some looks and comments from people, mostly positive. Someone did ask whether it was supportive enough for the baby - the seat is almost a hammock sort of deal slung between the frame with only a tiny amount of padding. Wee Beastie seemed very comfortable in it, though, and was able to sleep despite the minor niggle that it doesn't recline. Another minor niggle is that there is no storage space at all. No basket, no shopping bag, nothing. And if you put anything heavier than a litre of milk and a loaf of bread on the back it's likely to tip over backwards. In that respect the lightweight frame is a drawback: it's a bit tippy, and if you leave the brake off when it's windy you're liable to end up chasing after it (even with a 20lb child in it, although she thought it was hilarious). The wheels are hard plastic and LOUD. Clack clack clack on the pavement. I made a song about it to remind Wee Beastie that I was still there but I did feel a bit of a fool first with the clacking and then the singing. I also didn't like that it's only outward facing and the baby's quite low down. It might be better for slightly older kids, but I tend to want to interact with my child when we're out and about and it leaves her on the level of knees and thighs rather than higher up and chatting to me. The hood is pretty cool, it has a little window so you can see what the baby's up to. Also, you can sponge clean the fabric but it doesn't come off for washing in the machine. Not practical. Folding is very easy - push buttons 1 and 2, then give the frame a little push and step on button 3. Collapses very easily, but you do need two hands - not good with an escape artist and again possibly better suited to an older child who understands, "Stay there for a second and hold my leg." Wee Beastie, at 12 months and a bit, is all about the escapology and it was a bit difficult. When it's folded, it's fairly wide, and although it comes with a carry bag (we didn't get that bit with our loaner) I can't imagine it always being practical to pack it away, and our experience was that it was a bit annoying to have to pick up a folded pushchair complete with grubby wheels while holding a squirmy baby and trying to pay a bus driver and not lose track of my shopping bags. Accessory-wise, the raincover is very comprehensive and there doesn't seem to be any loss of peripheral vision, which is nice for nosy kids, and there's a carseat adaptor bit for a Maxi Cosi which is also a great idea. You can also buy a bicycle carrier and a footmuff - I've seen people with the black pushchair and a bright footmuff, which looks very striking. Specifications: Weight: 6kg Suitable: 6 months - 4 yearsish (44lbs) Harness: Adjustable, 5-point Reversible seat: no Carrycot: no On the whole, this would be a great pushchair if you were travelling with an older child - you can take it as a piece of hand luggage into a plane, so there's no messing about, it's lightweight and comfortable for a toddler and suitable for bigger kids. It's not as good as I was expecting/hoping for my littlie though - too much interaction with it required when putting up and down and not enough possible with my baby while I'm pushing. It's currently on offer for £149.99 at Amazon, so if you're looking for a travel pushchair or something for your bigger child then this is the one for you. If you're planning more kids and want one that'll suit the next one, maybe rethink it for now or plan to use a carrier for the tiny babies. Incidentally, a "quinny" in Early Modern English (Shakespeare-era and the like) was the area on a lady from which a baby emerges into the world. What on earth were they thinking?!
I was a little bit sceptical of John Connolly's foray into fairytale-type writing, since I've read his crime novels and wasn't sure if he'd be able to make such a significant switch of genre. I needn't have worried, though. The Book of Lost Things is set in 1939, in wartime England. David, the child protagonist, loses his mother to a terminal illness and while he is still learning to deal with her loss, his father remarries and the two go to live in his new stepmother, Rose's, large house outside of London. David's father believes they'll be safer there, away from the Blitz, but after David's new small stepbrother is born David begins experiencing strange things in the house, including seeing a crooked man in the shadows. One night, David goes outside to follow the man, and ends up throwing himself through a gap in the wall to escape ... well, a larger threat, I won't spoil it. The wall conceals not a hidden garden but another world, one where everything is not quite as it seems but the danger is real. In order to escape and return home, David must journey to the King and ask him what to do. On the way David meets various characters that we know - or at least we think we know - from our own fairytales, although these versions are twisted into something new and altogether darker. He finds an ally in a Woodsman, but has another, unexpected ally keeping him safe from the shadows... At the climax of the book, the reason for this secret ally's interest becomes clear, and David faces a choice: to give away something he does not value in order to receive everything he wants. But remember: in this world, nothing is exactly as it seems. This is a truly excellent book, beautifully written and spellbinding. I've bought and given away at least fifteen copies of it because it is the perfect gift for anyone who loves to read.
My 13 month old daughter and I have been going to the Play and Learn and Music classes at Gymboree since she was six months old, and she loves it. Our first class was a free trial, and we were very impressed with the friendly outgoing class leader. Wee Beastie was one of the smaller kids in the class, with some of the others already mobile, but the leader made sure she got musical instruments when the other kids were crawling over to take them out of the box and she now has a wonderful appreciation of music and will dance and "sing" along to whatever music she hears. Very useful when someone on a bus or a train has their headphones too loud! The play and learn class is more about developing mobility and learning through activity. Wee Beastie also enjoys this class and has gone from Class I (6-10 months) to Class II (10-16 months) during her time at Gymboree. I felt the early class was a bit of a waste of time, to be honest, except for the chance to interact with other mummies and see how other babies of a similar age are doing, but Class II for crawlers and walkers is wonderful, plenty of high-energy activity going on and lots of fun all round. They also have free play times where you can go and use their equipment for a few hours a week, which is free if you take a class and that Wee Beastie loves, and also Art, Dance and other cool stuff for babies right up to five years old. I think the cost of classes varies with location so I don't want to give numbers in case they're wrong, but the list of Gymboree locations is here: http://www.gymboree-uk.com/find.php Be warned about the homepage though - it plays a song and I've never yet been able to find the button to turn it off! Highly recommended for people who want their kids to enjoy themselves and learn at the same time.
Sony Vaio laptops have a great reputation for style, and this model is no exception. It's available in a range of colours and has a lovely LED status light - green for on, orange for standby - that is also the power button and merges into the side so even when the machine is closed you can see if it's still on or not. I liked the turquoise model best, the mousepad is also turquoise and the whole thing is a design dream. But my husband started muttering about how he should also be allowed to use it in public and so we have a basic black one *grumbles*. Underneath its beautiful exterior, it has an Intel Core i3-330M processor and 4GB of RAM, and while the processor's pretty good I think the RAM's a bit stingy. If you're only running one application at a time it's ok, but I like Word, Firefox and a music player to run at the same time and this sexy little laptop struggles. Screen quality is pretty good; you wouldn't want to do serious gaming on it but watching movies is great - you can watch them in HD too, and I think there's a similar model to this that also does Blu-ray for about £100 more. Having said that, if there are two of you watching you need to be snugglers: the screen can be hard to position so you're not getting those weird shadows. The speakers are fine too, not brilliant but good enough to watch a movie or listen to music. Where this model falls down depressingly low is battery life. Three hours is just not long enough any more, it won't even get you through the wait for a long haul flight, never mind the flight itself. And I've not been able to find spare batteries for sale. It comes pre-installed with SplashTop for people who just want the internet and not to boot up the whole machine. A nice idea, but unless you've stuffed your 4GB full it saves barely any time at all and is really heavy on the power. Which, as I said, is limited. At 2.4kg it's light enough to be ideal for travel - except that the battery means you really can't take it anywhere you won't be at a plug. And it's not good enough in my opinion to justify the pricetag, which is around £650. If you're looking for a pretty, basic machine and don't plan to make it work hard, this might be the one for you. If you need it to actually perform, keep looking.
I love Sophie. I really, really love Sophie. My daughter is now 13 months old and has had Sophie almost constantly clutched in her grubby little hand since she was about five months. It's an expensive toy at around £14, but I found ours brand new for £9 on ebay and decided to risk the £9 after hearing all my mummy friends rave about it. Sophie arrived in a nice little box (gorgeous packaging, would make a lovely - not to mention life-saving - gift) and I removed her, gave her a wipe down and handed her over to the baby. It's made of natural rubber so is quite safe to chew, has a squeak like your average dog toy and is designed so that babies teething their front teeth can gnaw on the foot or the nose, while older babies having trouble with the teeth further back can jam the leg as far in as they need and get comfort that way. This really is the best teether on the market. We've been through the disgusting Bickiepegs, plastic rings, the ones you keep in the fridge, and Sophie was the last-ditch desperate attempt to rescue myself from a baby who wouldn't stop comfort-breastfeeding. Ever. Sophie saved my sanity. I can't recommend buying one highly enough. In fact, if you know a lady who's just given birth or is about to, you should buy her one of these.
I got married last February, and it was all very lovely. But since we wanted to use our budget wisely we decided to go for inexpensive invitations and so went with Vistaprint. Their interface is very easy, and they had upwards of 100 invitation templates we could choose from, or we could have uploaded our own design. We went with a subdued little card and were able to customise it to a surprising degree: we removed the Vistaprint logo from the back of the cards, we upgraded the cardstock and the envelopes to nicer quality ones, we had a really nice deep gold ink and were able to choose the typeface we wanted on the inside. All this took us in total a little under an hour, and then we were able to add matching thank you cards and RSVP cards (both came with their own matching envelopes too) and got some free address labels as well! Total cost for invitations (daytime and evening), RSVP cards and thank you cards plus address labels and express shipping was £68. They arrived in four days and the cards were perfect. The address labels, however, had been smudged in printing and were not good at all, but because they were free we didn't mind. I recently ordered my business cards from them too, didn't bother with express shipping and they turned up in ten days. They're very nice, my only problem is that the non-upgraded cardstock could be much better quality. Still, though, my only problem with Vistaprint is their constant stream of emails. I get about 5-6 emails a week from them, and no matter how often I mark them as spam still they make their way into my inbox. I recommend setting up a free email account and using that for your Vistaprint order, really I do, but I can't fault the products.
Halfcost.co.uk is a subsidiary of Studio 24, the catalogue people, and it's an online retailer selling off the old Studio 24 stock at heavily reduced prices. The site is mostly very easy to navigate, tabs across the top of the screen take you to the different sections: clothing, toys, gifts, homeware, audio and visual and the ever-popular pound shop. There's also a seasonal Stocking Fillers section. Some sections have sub-sections so you can see just the specific things you're interested in, and all have a View All option. There's a counter for every item so you can see how many are left in stock, which is something I really like. Having said that, everything is "when it's gone it's gone", and sometimes I like to go away and think about my purchases but with this sort of setup you risk them going out of stock on you. The checkout is secure and powered by the Verified By system, which is great, and I've never had a problem with items not turning up - normally they come 4-6 days after I've ordered, and since I'm not normally in a rush that's fine. There's no express shipping option, though, which would be nice, and £3.99 delivery (flat rate no matter how heavy your order) seems ok although I sometimes wonder if £4 shouldn't get me a faster delivery. Customer service has always been good to me too, and I am subscribed to their emails and so get advance notice of things like discount codes, special events and free shipping. They have ongoing discounts for high spenders, 10% over £100 I believe. I can't get the site to work properly in Firefox, which seems to be a common problem, but in general I enjoy browsing around the fairly random selection of items on offer and it's a great resource for cheap-ish gifts.