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'Once upon a time, in the heart of Africa, there was a lake of crimson fire'. This documentary is as much about the lake where flamingoes breed as it is about flamingoes, and as such, it's an extraordinary view into an otherwise inaccessible world.
The film follows the life cycle of the birds, as it takes place on Lake Natron in northern Tanzania. Lake Natron is a mineral rich shallow lake, with an active volcano on its bank.. For six months of the year, it is dry and barren, then the rains come, and so do the flamingoes. As the flamingoes mate, so the rains stop, and the lake starts to evaporate, leaving incredibly hot, hostile salt islands. It's on these islands that the eggs are lain and hatch, and on these islands that they take their first steps and their first steps towards independence.
The chemistry of the volcano and the lake, give the algae that the flamingoes eat the red colour, which leads to the characteristic pink flamingo colour. The lake itself, after an eruption, looks like a lake of fire, or something from Mars, and gave rise to the legend of the phoenix, as the flamingo flies away. The flamingo's latin name is Phoeniconaias.
The crew of three were the first people ever to film on Lake Natron. Living in an abandoned missionary hut, they became immersed into both the local society and the scenery, wild and beautiful. Their love, and their familiarity, with both are very evident.
Narrated by Mariella Frostrup, the film has plenty of pauses where the cinematography and the animals themselves tell their story, but the more scientific details are explained in a very user friendly way. This is a film that both I and my 4 year old learn from, and there's a lot to take in.
The cinematography is simply breathtaking. Almost every frame is a work of art, and the music is like a feature film score. It is clearly intended to reach out to everyone, both those who normally like nature films and those who would normally prefer fiction, and I think it works on that level.
On a parental note, there are a few moments which get quite scary. At one point, a maribou stork attacks a chick, and the palpable distress of the baby led to a few necessary cuddles in our house.
Similarly, the issue of death and life is dealt with in a typically Disney manner - all about the circle of life, animals returning to the earth and being reborn in a physical sense through fertilising the soil, and so on. If you haven't talked about life and death yet, it's worth being aware of!
With regard to bonuses on the DVD, they are about the making of the film. My 14 year old and I found them fascinating, and I imagine any teenager with an interest in cinematography or drama would, but my 4 year old found them boring.
The Eraina is a place I first ate in 15 years ago, and it's hardly changed at all in that time. It's a solid, comfortable presence in the centre of Cambridge that is as reliable as Gardenias or the van of life. The tables no longer have candles in wine bottles, they have candleholders instead, but there are still Greek friezes on the walls and a bar full of retsina and cheap lager (I don't drink lager anyway, so it all looks dodgy to me!)
From outside, and on first entering, it seems a poky place, with not more than one or two tables, but actually there are three rooms. This, combined with their practice of putting diners as far apart as possible, leads to a feeling that it's cosy and intimate but also rather private.
Today, we took my father in law and his ladyfriend there for the first time. We haven't eaten there for a long time, so I'm going to focus on that meal; it was just as I remembered though.
There were seven of us: me, my husband, our three children aged 1-13 and the parents. They didn't have a highchair available, but did have a booth like table so we could fit the baby between two adults and not have him try to wander off.
On being seated, we were brought water and glasses, a nice touch as we all like to drink water while we look at the menu, and if we didn't, well, it's no matter. The menu is densely packed with food, and actually a little hard to read at first, but it's separated into sections by food type so actually easy to use. There is no children's menu, but we usually order from the starters section for my 4 year old anyway, so that was no hardship for us and I actually rather like it.
We had yoghurt salad and hummous with pita bread to start. We could have done with more pita, and indeed ordered more. I think that's better than waste, but it would be nice to have a little more pita per starter. Then, between us we ate three of the specials of the day, two pork dishes from the menu, and my daughter had a Greek sausage starter. They brought us free salad as well, which was delicious.
All the main courses, except for my son's pizza (a daily special) came with peas, and all of them came with chips. I don't like peas, but the baby ate most of mine. Even the dishes that specify they come with rice come with chips as well! This is something I was used to, and had primed the in laws, but I can imagine it might come as a shock if you're expecting something a bit more upmarket. Everything was perfectly cooked. I had piquant pork, which was maybe a bit less spicy than I might have imagined, but still very tasty. My husband's steak was just the way he likes it. My son's pizza had so much cheese it's a surprise it held up; also just the way he likes it. The salad was crisp and slightly sweet, due to a large amount of carrots in it. The chips were light and crispy too. This is similar to my previous experiences.
We did have a disappointment at pudding; no rum babas! My husband and eldest had sorbet, though, and reported that they were the perfect mix of tart and sweet, while my middle child was happy with her ice cream. My own dessert, a kataifi, disappeared quite swiftly into the baby, but what I had of it was a nice balance of nuts, honey and pastry, without the slightly shredded wheat texture of some kataifis. We also had Greek coffee, which was maybe a little less strong than some I've had, but still satisfyingly oil like in consistency, and they tailored the sweetness to our requirements perfectly.
The wait staff were exactly attentive enough, appearing exactly when we needed them and disappearing in between, a fine balance. They've always been very friendly too.
The Aristocats was made in 1970 but is still good fun for children today. Set in the early twentieth century, with very new motorbikes, a horse and cart and a brand new phonograph, it nevertheless manages to feel current due to most of the action taking place amongst cats in the countryside.
The story follows a cat, Duchess, and her three kittens, who are made heirs to their owner's fortune. The butler overhears the making of this will, and decides that with the cats out of the way, he will inherit, and tries to get rid of the cats, leading to much adventure for all concerned
The music for the film is fantastic. There aren't many original songs, but they are each one a gem. Maurice Chevalier came out of retirement especially to sing the title song, which was written with him in mind, as the embodiment of Paris (the setting of the film). Every child who has learnt music will recognise the feelings displayed in 'Scales and Arpeggios', of having to learn exercises over and over, but then suddenly realising that actually, that is important. Then there's the O'Malley song, least memorable to my mind, but a nice introduction to the gentleman in question. Finally, 'Everybody wants to be a cat' which is what I always think of first when I think of this film. There is a wonderful jazz club sequence filled with cats and laughter all smoke and coloured lights, and this song. Just beautiful. If you enjoyed the music in the Princess and the Frog, I would definitely recommend the Aristocats for that scene alone.
Along the way there are funny moments and tender moments, and the balance is just right, with just the perfect twist at the end.
The DVD has several bonus features. Firstly, there is a talk about some of the musicand one deleted song (with storyboards). As the music is so important in Disney films, that's a nice touch.
There;s a talk from Walt Disney about the history of the domestic cat. I rather liked this, but remained unconvinced that the level of research done was sufficient to make this accurate, and would take it as hostorical fiction at best until I'd done my own research. I could be being overly cynical, though.
There are a couple of games, too - one for identifying musical instruments, which we couldn't get to work on my DVD players, and one for a virtual kitten. I didn't like the animation on the virtual kitten so much, but it's the sort of cute extra which really pleases my daughter.
All in all, my daughter's favourite film, one which I'm happy to watch repeatedly, and the extras add a little something
In the summer, my local Budgens often has mangoes on special offer. My whole family loves mangoes, but I was reluctant to buy them, or once bought would procrastinate over preparing them, because they are difficult to cut up. So, naturally, when the same shop had this little gadget for £1.50 each, I had to give it a go.
To use the gadget, you hold it at the end of your mango, so the oval is the same orientation as the mango. It sounds complicated - and I had never realised that mangoes weren't spherical! However, despite my misgivings, my first mango was perfectly stoned, and so has every mango I've bought since. The fruit really is shaped like the stoner, making it super easy to use.
Once you've lined up your cutter, you just gently push it down through the fruit, and are left with three bits - two outers, with the flesh and no stone, and one stone with a couple of small pieces of flesh on the ends. Those are cooks perks, at least in my house. The other parts can be removed from the skin by simply running a sharp knife between flesh and skin (I use a grapefruit knife) or by scoring into cubes and pushing upwards, which is very decorative for parties.
Then you pop it in the dishwasher and it's sparkling for the next time.
All in all, extremely easy to use, easy to clean, and we're eating a lot more mangoes.
My son was bought this ball as a present when he was about six months old. At that point, he didn't really have a lot of toys, and even fewer that were bought for him rather than hand me downs!
The ball itself is just the right size for little hands, and not too squishy. It's malleable enough to be interesting in texture, but if baby really wants to roll or throw it, it holds its form. There is a hard caterpillar around the centre, and this can make the roll not completely a straight line, but it also helps keep the ball spherical. Being a mesh, with large holes, the ball is very easy to pick up and hold, and equally easy to use for a beginner user.
The colours are bright and cheerful, and the caterpillar's smile always gets an answer, and there's no noise to detract from the play.
Five months later, my son finds it easier to roll where he wants it to go, and he can throw and catch it, which is great at eleven months old! This toy has been very educational for him, and he loves it.
My dinosaur-mad four year old was really excited when she saw this advertised. Since then, she's returned to the topic of 'the game where you have to stop the dinosaur being eaten' on a daily basis, whenever the subject turned to Christmas presents or just an opportunity presented itself. So, I duly bought it for her, and she was very excited to open it and get playing straight away.
First off, before we even played, our family (being of the pedantic nature) had an argument about whether T-Rex would even be interested in eggs. On balance, we decided not, but that he might pick up an egg if it were easy pickings. The makers have clearly thought of that, though, as the babies which need to be rescued are new hatchlings, not eggs. That also makes it easier for younger players to grip them, a lumpy surface rather than smooth.
In play, it was better than I expected, as you don't choose a colour and stick to it, you are told by a die roll which baby to take. This means one player isn't left with an impossible task as all the green ones are under the others, for example, a problem we've run up against playing other games of this type. It's a knock out game, meaning it's more interesting for a couple of players at the end, and would make an excellent two player game (we've played it with four. Also, if you had more players than four, it could expand to fit another player or two. So it's fairly flexible.
The dinosaur isn't too loud or shocking either, but, although we weren't sure we'd fit it right the first time, it worked really well.
And my daughter? She isn't as keen as she thought she would be, but she's still very glad she got it.
I bought this for my baby when I was helping at the NCT sale, and needed something to keep him busy. By the time I got to the end of the sale, I was a bit glazed over after looking at all the stuff, so I just grabbed something that looked vaguely appropriate and made a noise when I picked it up. I'm glad I did!
This toy is quite expensive new, but easy to pick up second hand, and as it's plastic, easy to clean and sterilise. Mine cost £1.50 second hand.
My son was seven months old when I bought it, and he was vaguely interested, but it mostly got interesting at about ten months. I think this would make an excellent first birthday present, because it's quite big, baby needs to be able to pick it up really.
Each end is an equilateral triangle, about 6 inches along the side, and the sides are squares. The framework is tubes with little beads, like a rainmaker, and that's what my son finds attractive about this toy. Each of the faces has a different activity, and that's what holds his attention. The variety is enough that lots of different children would find it interesting, whether they prefer beading (as my son) or sliding objects , along a track, spinning things or just looking at themselves in the mirror.
All the items do what they're meant to, move easily but don't slide around, so it's fun to play and doesn't get frustrating. All in all, a good toy which my son enjoys playing with.
My son has rather large feet and we find it very difficult to find shoes for him which will both stay on and are large enough. He's not walking yet, but he can still get cold feet in the snow!
I bought the 18-24 month size in grape, which I would say is closer to mulberry or aubergine. It's nice to be able to find slightly more unusual colours, but I think the naming could be clearer.
My son is 10 months, and about a shoe size 4, and he has high insteps. These are a pretty good fit on him, in particular they're not too tight, but he can still cruise in them, so they're not over long either.
Each shoe is the same except for a little tag on the outside. They aren't shaped differently for left and right. The inner part of the shoe is like a fleece lined sock, then there's an outer waterproof section. This has a fold down fleecelined cuff. The effect of this is that the child's trousers or snow suit can be tucked between the two parts of the shoe, for extra warmth. Ther'es a small loop at the back which you could use to attach a thread to keep them with the snow suit too. The sole is fabric with non slip dots, like a lot of baby booties.
The elastic and toggle closure is really sturdy too - metal eyelets for the elastic, so the shoe won't fray, and the toggle is sufficiently firm that my baby can't pull the shoes off no matter how hard he tries (and he does try!) Over all, all the seams seem very firm, and I'm impressed by the quality of manufacture.
My daughter loves Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and loves small world roleplaying, so for her fourth birthday, we bought her this clubhouse.
It took us only a few minutes to get everything out of the box and put together, although instructions were not included, and the level of detail really pleased us. There's the Mouskedoor with two disks showing tasks and tools, the sofa and coffee table complete with cup and letters, the oven and fridge doors open to show food inside, there's a telescope, a bed and, of course, the glove balloon. Even the ears open and close!
Another feature is that the clubhouse has a flat back, and all folds up for easy storage.
Straight away, Mickey and Minnie were launched into an improbable adventure involving lots of sliding and climbing and all the many features, and this has become a favourite toy very quickly.
Although only two figures are included, my daughter uses other figures in it, it would be good to be able to buy the Shoe Garage as well, which I can't find anywhere, and other figures can be bought but to get the 'super 6' of Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Donald and Daisy would involve having two Mickeys and two Minnies. It is nice to have a toy that can be added to, though.
As parents, we were impressed, and our daughter is very happy.
My daughter, now 4, was given this set for her first birthday. It's real percussion instruments, shaped perfectly for small hands, in a box a little like a fruit crate. The box is long gone, but the instruments are in regular use by both my daughter and her little brother.
The instruments in question are a triangle, tambourine, maracas, thumb cymbals, woodblock and castanets. In our set, the traingle lost it's holder quickly, and we've obviously had to replace that, but I think that's a common problem with triangles.
All the instruments are made of smooth wood, and all have a pleasant sound. The tambourine and cymbals aren't tinny at all, the triangle makes a nice clear 'ding', even the woodblock has a pleasant tone. The coloured instruments are stained, not painted, so they've kept their colour throughout a lot of use.
As for ease of use, apart from the finger cymbals and triangle, my 9 month old can get a sound out of everything, and enjoys trying. When my daughter recieved them at a year old, she had a great time making music. I find them pleasant to hold as an adult, too. They're really well made, and well shaped, to be appropriate for the job for the whole family.
This movie came out in 2003, and I've made it part of my advent traditions to watch it ever since. It's a feel good, lighthearted romp, complicated and clever enough to be well worth repeated watches.
The premise of the story, or rather, set of stories, is that love can be found in every place. The start of the film is Hugh Grant (who plays the new Prime Minister) saying that whenever he feels down, he likes to watch the arrivals gate at Heathrow - reminding that when disaster strikes, people call their loved ones, not for revenge - and saying that he feels that when push comes to shove, love actually is all around. Then we see a number of couples and how their lives intertwine, how love grows and changes but is fundamentally ever present.
The film is a 15 certificate, this is because there's a lot of swearing and nudity.
So, why do I love this film? Partly it's the acting - as you'd expect from an all star cast like this, the acting is superb. I recognise the characters and the range of emotions utterly. I adore Liam Neeson as stepdad, Emma Thompson is precisely the mother I want to be, and so on. Partly it's the fact that it's all so realistic. Small words and acts of love do happen all around us all the time, and this is a nice reminder.
Partly, it's that the ends aren't all tied up. Normally, I love an ending, and there are particular endings that I love. However, there is one pairing in the film that I just can't make up my mind what happens next, each time I watch I change my mind. The film ends, as it began, in the arrivals hall at Heathrow airport, which is a nice touch, too.
As for the extras. Bill Nighy's character has released a single in an attempt to get to number 1. The video for the single is included on the DVD and it is hilarious. If you've seen the film, and are pondering the DVD, get it for the single! There are outtakes too, and I can quite see why they're outtakes, although I love the completely deleted relationship between the headteacher and her partner, so I'm glad I saw that. Then there is a section on music, which is quite interesting, especially the bit about their 10 year old singer. The Bill Nighy single is the best by far though.
My daughter has really high insteps, finding shoes that fit right can be a bit of a nightmare, and slippers even more so. She has had a few pairs of Disney slippers, which come in two shapes, this one as pictured and a more traditional shape. I just buy the same ones over again as her feet grow, and they haven't failed me yet.
These particular slippers always come in a variety of colours/characters. My daughter usually chooses Mickey Mouse, but has had Special Agent Oso too. They're currently available in Mickey, Minnie or Jake & the Neverland Pirates. This makes them ideal for two siblings having the same shape, or even just personal preference.
The thing that I particular like about these is the shape. They fit perfectly on wide feet and high insteps. The elastic at the back makes them fit really nicely for a long time, as they hold the foot comfortably. Even when climbing up the furniture, they never seem to fall off, but bend with the feet.
Washing wise, they come up very clean in the washing machine. I tend not to put them in the tumble dryer, but they've gone through a couple of times by mistake, to no ill effects.
There are even pyjamas to match! I've had to buy a few pairs of those, too.
My daughter's had these puzzles for about eighteen months, and she's really passed beyond using them, so we've a lot of experience with them.
Being familiar with the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse programme as well as the characters from films and other cartoons was a big help. My daughter was very excited to make the pictures, and would talk a lot about the different pictures involved.
She's very much had a routine with these puzzles, starting with the easiest and working up to the hardest. When she first started, she'd need help with the 16 piece one, but of course now (and for a while) she can do it without help. She even does them one on top of the other in the box, something I remember doing with other puzzles.
So far, so good - they've been well recieved and played with a very long time.
Quality wise, these are excellent puzzles. They stand up to repeated playing without creasing, they fit together well, and they are just the right size for small hands. The pictures are clear while having enough variety to make them suitable for purpose, too.
The box is sturdy, and the puzzles fit in the box, but there's no bag for the puzzles. I found that less irritating with these puzzles than some, because they fit well in the box. Also, the backs are all the same, no patterns to help sort the pieces, but again, they're sufficiently different for that not to be a big problem.
I got one of these slings after trying out a friend;s for a while... they come up cheap on ebay often, and I figured it was worth a try. My son was six months old and 20lb when I bought it, not a tiny newborn, and likes to be upright, whether he's awake or asleep.
The sling itself is uncomfortable to wear when carrying, but can be made more comfortable by putting a hand under baby's bottom. It's not, for me, a hands free sling at all. However, for short amounts of standing it's quite convenient, and crucially, there are pockets easily available. I bought this sling for a long train journey, and that's exactly what it's good for, as it holds purse and ticket readily available for me but not for thieves!
Apart from being sure to keep baby safe by following the TICK list - a baby in a sling should be tight, in sight, close enough to kiss, and keep their chin up - a sling should not put baby in harm's way from passersby who haven't noticed them. As shown in the picture, a newborn baby can not be held in accordance with safe principles, but also their fragile head is held in just the right place for someone to swing a bag into it without ever even seeing baby.
An older child, however, can easily be held in a sitting position on the parent's hip, or an upright position against the parent's chest. This makes them more visible as well as giving more room for breathing.
Similarly, the sling is easy to use when those principles are remembered, and my son was quite happy in the sling.
It is very easy to wash - another reviewer mentioned it shrinking in the tumble dryer, but I didn't find that problem. A simple wash at 40degC and cool tumble worked fine for me.
Sophie is a soft teether from France. Made in the same way since 1961, she's stood the test of time for millions of babies worldwide. I'd never heard of her before my second child was born, and as I heard more and more about her, was determined to buy for my third child. I wish I'd bought earlier!
As I said, this is a soft rubber toy. She stands 7" tall, and despite having all legs in a line, she does stand quite easily. Each leg is at a slightly different angle, making them slightly different to chew on, and I notice my son chooses a different leg or sometimes the ears or horns, depending on which part of his mouth is bothering him. The legs also make a tiny handle, meaning this is an easy toy for small hands to hold.
My son had his first tooth at two months old, and Sophie was great for him then. As he got more interested in other toys, he goes back and forth how much he cares for Sophie, but she is always the #1 teether. He also enjoys chatting to her, the big eyes make the face really approachable.
There is a really loud squeaker, which I thought was inaccurate for a giraffe, until my sister found youtube video of baby giraffes - they really are that loud! Happily, though, it rarely goes off accidentally, so I can live with the noise, I just don't take it anywhere where we have to be quiet!