Friday 26 June 2015

Confessions of a first-time epilater

OK, I admit it.  When it comes to using an epilator I'm a virgin.  Well, I was until last night.

Don't worry, I'm not going to share photos - or even worse, videos - of my hairy man-legs, I wouldn't inflict that on anyone.  But let's just say I have hair issues.  My hair is dark and it grows ridiculously fast.  I mean ridiculously fast.  When I shave my legs, there's already stubble growing by the time I've got out of the bath and got dressed.  It gives me major problems in the summer because much as I'd love to run around free and wild and super-hairy, I'm just not one of those people.  The armpit hair revolution is to be applauded for helping women break the stigma, but until it becomes totally mainstream I'm not going to be the one that gets laughed at.  Sorry if I'm letting my feminist buddies down here, I'm just being honest.

Shaving my legs is a nightmare.  To keep them relatively smooth I'd have to do it every day, and I just don't have the time.  And anyway, when I do, like on holiday for example, they soon become sore and angry and I have that awful plucked chicken look and bright red dotty legs - especially if I go in the salt water of the sea - ouch.

I've tried hair removal creams and they are even more of a faff. Added to which you walk around smelling of that tell-tale hair-remover cream aroma. Either I get a reaction and end up red and chickeny again, or I spend ages doing it only for it to grow back in a couple of days.  For this reason I've never attempted waxing - I mean who wants to go through the pain and humiliation for just a couple of days of baby-smooth skin?  Not me.

Epilators have always scared the bejesus out of me.  I mean, rolling something over your skin which pulls your hairs out by the root - sounds like torture right?

But I've finally taken the plunge, and agreed to try out the new Braun Silk Epil 9 epilator.  I mean, how awful can it be?

It charged up very quickly using the mains cable into a shaver socket in the bathroom, and holds its charge for 40 minutes from just 1 hour of charging. It comes ready assembled to no fiddly pieces to put together.  There are lots of different heads for various parts of the face and body, but let's not get carried away, we'll start just with the legs shall we?

I read somewhere that you should down a couple of paracetamols before getting waxed, and this nugget of information bubbled into my mind when I was perched on the side of the bath about to go in for the first time.  Would I need them? Would they have been helpful?  Well maybe, but I took a deep breath and decided to go for it.

The Braun Silk Epil 9 can be either wet or dry, but I chose to use it dry for the first time.  I think a soak in a hot bath would have helped because it relaxes your skin and opens up the pores making the discomfort less, but I thought doing it dry would mean if I chose to wuss out I could just roll my trouser leg back down and nonchalantly carry on with my day like nothing had happened - no big deal.

So, the Silk Epil 9 is actually a lovely bit of kit to handle.  It fit comfortably into my hand, was very ergonomic, and let's face it who doesn't like a sexy new gadget.  I was momentarily distracted by the pretty sparkly glitter and the shiny light.

But back to reality.  I was going to do this.  I'd read the instructions, mentally prepared myself and I was ready - oooh glitter...

The booklet says that you should stretch your skin to avoid too much discomfort, and I have to admit, stretching my leg skin over my calf in the comfort and privacy of my own bathroom was much less humiliating and contortionist-like than stretching my face in the middle of a shopping centre to get my eyebrows threaded.

Following the instructions, I started at the bottom of my leg, moving the epilator in an upwards directing, gliding it over the skin.  Error.  As I later found out, the area around my ankles is probably the most sensitive part and by gods I nearly stopped right there and then.  It felt like a thousand sharp needles going into my skin.  By this point I was getting all hot, sweaty and a little panicky, so I took a little break, made a cuppa, momentarily reconsidered the paracetamols then recomposed myself before going in again.

The second time, I started further up my lower leg.  And do you know what?  It wasn't too bad.  The rollers on the epilator massage the skin and the little vibrations almost numb it.  It felt kind of like a nettle sting, but without the lingering sensation.  As soon as I stopped or moved to another area, the tingling stopped.

There are 2 speed settings, and as advised as a first-time user, I went for the slower one.

I was on a roll.  It wasn't long before I'd done the whole lower leg, and I was pretty impressed with my bravery.  You've just got to get over that initial wince and then honestly it's fine.  Apparently future sessions will be even easier as my skin gets used to it.

One leg done, much quicker than I expected, I moved on to the other leg.  By this time my daughter was in the bath, and I was able to stand there doing my de-fluffing while she had her nightly ablutions - see multi-tasking.  Doesn't every busy mum need to be able to deal with her maintenance while doing something else with the other hand?  This was actually a huge positive for me. It means I can fit it into my life without having to take an hour out to have a bath.

The Silk Epil 9 was actually incredibly easy to use.  The light was far from a gimmick, it was really helpful for seeing any hairs you'd missed.  The moveable head glides easily over your skin contours - so much better than a razor where you always have the danger of nicking yourself. Those little MicroGrip tweezer rollers that I've always thought of as instruments of torture actually became a thing of wonder - even beauty - as it skimmed over my legs whipping out the pesky hairs.  It was very satisfying.

Both legs done, time to stand back and assess the results.  First up, the smoothness test.  Well, they were't totally silky - I don't think I could have dropped a fine French silk stocking down them without it catching.  But I guess those must just be tiny newer hairs I can feel because I certainly couldn't see them.  Visually they looked totally hair free, and although they didn't feel 100% smooth, the feel hadn't changed by the next morning meaning I hadn't suddenly sprouted stubble overnight like I do with shaving or depilating.

My legs were a little red, but the instructions said this might be so and advised to do them in the evening, and they were right - by the next morning the redness had more or less gone.

Not using the epilator wet did mean my skin was left particularly dry afterwards, but nothing a good slather of moisturiser didn't fix.

I have to say, I'm hugely impressed.  Both with myself for braving it (it really wasn't that bad after all) and with the end results.

In contrast to shaving, the positives are that you can use it dry as well as wet. There's no danger of cutting or nicking yourself like with a blade.  The epilator doesn't pull the skin, just the hairs, so if you have any pimples, bumps or blemishes it will glide over them rather than shave the top off like a razor does.

I'm curious to see what the regrowth will be like both in terms of speed (the advertising suggests it lasts for 4 weeks, but nothing ever does with me) and the thickness of the hair, and also whether this does get easier and easier each time, but overall I'm very happy.  The biggest plus for me will be how long the results last for - I'll report back.

I'm just now left staring at all the other adapters wondering if I've got the guts to try it anywhere else...

Disclosure: I was kindly sent a Braun Silk Epil 9 epilator for the purposes of this trial.  All opinions are my own and are completely honest.

Thursday 25 June 2015

Camping deals with Aldi

As regular readers will know, we love to camp.  It can be a great budget way to take family holidays and last-minute weekend getaways but it can be expensive at the outset to get started and buy all the equipment.

If you're thinking of camping this year, or if you're a seasoned camper and need to upgrade or replace a few items, then you need to check out this weeks' special buys at Aldi which go on sale today.

The first thing you're going to need obviously is a tent.  Aldi have two great offers to choose from with their 5 person tent at amazing value at only £79.99 it comes with a 3 year warranty.  They also have a smaller pop up tent which sleeps 2 for £19.99 - perfect for festivals or trying out canvas in the garden.

Aldi 5 person tent £79.99 and pop-up 2 person tent £19.99

For seasoned campers, or those spending more than just an overnight away, you'll want to think about an electric fridge to keep your milk and BBQ food safe and chilled.  I know these can cost a fortune because we've looked into them, but this one from Aldi at £39.99 is great value.  The electric cool box works from either the mains if you have electric hook-up, or via your 12v car socket.  It's deep enough to hold 2 litre cartons or will hold up to 12 1 litre bottles.

Aldi electric cool box £39.99

Fancy lazing in a hammock but never know if there'll be trees to tie it to on site?  Or perhaps you fancy one for lounging in the garden?  This portable hammock with stand is ideal.  Complete with integrated pillow, drink holder and magazine/book holder, its available in either green or blue for £34.99.

Aldi portable hammock with stand £34.99
For a comfy night's sleep you need an air bed and this flocked mattress comes complete with its own carry bag and repair kit.  Guaranteed for 3 years, you'll get a great night sleep on here.  Choose from blue or grey.

Aldi Double Airbed £12.99

With loads more in the range from trolleys to folding airers, camp stoves to tables, walking shoes to head torches, sleeping bags to water bottles, Aldi has everything you need for a great summer of camping.

As with all special buys, when they're gone, they're gone so get down to your local store quick!

Disclosure: We were sent a hammock in exchange for this post.

Learn to Swim with Swim Shop - A Giveaway

Did you know that despite the national curriculum in England stating that all schools must teach children to swim a distance of 25 meters confidently, still 57% of UK 7-11 year olds cannot swim.  Sadly it's not a requirement in Scotland and the government have just ended the funding scheme for swimming lessons for primary school children there.

My daughter has been attending swimming lessons for several years now.  She's doing the AquaEd scheme and is currently at stage 5.  Going through the progression stages, she's really built up her skills and confidence in the water - right from when she was small and did activities such as blowing bubbles, designed to get children used to putting their heads in the water.  Now she's busy perfecting her butterfly stroke!

Now in Year 2 at school she also does weekly lessons with her class.  We're lucky that we have a leisure centre a short walk away and I know not everyone has access to these facilities.  It can also be expensive to attend lessons and for some families time constrains are an issue.  But still I find it interesting that some many children manage to attend extra-curricular activities such as football, ballet and gymnastics, yet they don't learn to swim.  Sure, all sports are good for fitness, and in some you learn various skills such as team work, but only swimming can save your life.  When was the last time anyone had to kick a ball into a net to save their life?

Swimming is not just a great exercise, it's a life-skill and a life-saving skill.  Of the 30 children in Ruby's class, I estimate that just over half are in the 'beginner' or 'non-swimmer' group at the pool which is in line with the above statistic.


It is estimated that children require at least 25 hours of lessons to swim confidently a distance of 25 metres. Primary schools are offered 18 hours of swimming lessons per child a year, way below the recommended hours. If hours were raised to 25 across all primary schools as standard the number of children who can swim would rise by 200,000.  The Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) suggest that swimming should come under the physical education budget and be taught as a requirement much like any other subject.

As a parent, what can you do to help?  Well, Swimshop have come up with some great activities and games aimed at raising confidence levels in the pool.  You can download them free here and they also have a range of floats and swimming aids to help young learners in the pool.

This year for the first time ever we're going on holiday to a villa with it's own pool.  I know that Ruby is going to have so much fun swimming in it, and I'm sure her strokes are going to come on quickly spending so much time in the water.  Conversely, if she hadn't learnt to swim I know I'd have been terrified and wouldn't have been able to relax for worrying about her falling into the pool or getting up early playing in the pool without us.  It's definitely one of the best things she's ever learnt.

Swimshop are offering 2 lucky readers the chance to win a pair of armbands and a fun design float as featured in the image at the top of this post.  You can choose from the shark design or the polly fish float, and the armbands are available in either ages 1-3 or 3-12.

For your chance to win simply complete the rafflecopter below.

The giveaway is open to UK residents only and will close at midnight on Sunday 5th July 2015.  Two winners will be chosen at random and will be sent a pair of armbands and a float of their choice.  In the event of any items being out of stock, Swimshop reserve the right to replace it with another alternative of similar value.  The prize will be supplied and dispatched by Swimshop who have kindly offered the prizes.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I was sent a float as a thank you for promoting this campaign.

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Carbon Monoxide - The Silent Killer: Win a free monitor & keep your family safe

Every year in the UK, more than 200 people go to hospital with suspected carbon monoxide poisoning, and around 40 people die. Small children and the elderly are most at risk, and CORGI HomePlan is campaigning for every home to get a carbon monoxide detector, so that they can keep their family safe.

In the last three years, an estimated one in six homes inspected by the Gas Safe Register was found to have an unsafe gas appliance and one in eleven has an unsafe boiler.

There are several warning signs in your home that could mean you have a carbon monoxide issue. Here are a few things to look out for:
  • The flame on your cooker should be crisp and blue. Yellow or orange flames mean you need to get your cooker checked
  • Dark staining around or on appliances
  • Sooty marks on the walls around boilers, stoves or the cover of gas fires
  • Pilot lights that frequently go out
  • Increased condensation inside windows
CORGI HomePlan are campaigning for every home to have their own CO detector and they’ve created a microsite to help families be aware of the dangers of gas appliances in their own home:

It's packed with easy to follow advice and warning signs to look out for, this site is an easy reference resource for homeowners unsure about how to protect themselves and their families and what to do when things go wrong at home.

It's not just homeowners though.  New laws require private landlords to install working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in high risk rooms such as those with solid fuel fires or gas boilers, but inevitably not all will comply. For around £30 you can have the peace of mind that you are protected.  If your child is off to university and staying in a rented room then a CO2 monitor is a great investment.

With the tragic news headlines recently, it's worth also remembering that some holiday properties aren't properly protected and I for one will certainly be taking a monitor to our rented villa this summer. 

CORGI HomePlan are offering readers the chance to win a CO-9X FireAngel Carbon Monoxide Detector by completing the rafflecopter below.  The monitor has an internal power pack which will last for 7 years meaning you don't need to worry about changing the battery.  It can be used as a portable monitor making it perfect for taking on holiday, or can be wall mounted.  These are excellent detectors and the ones we use at home.  We have one in our utility room where the boiler is housed, one in the kitchen where we have gas hobs and one in the living room as we have an open fire.

They are simple to use and have a one-button test feature.  If you'd like the chance to win your own CO alarm worth around £30, please complete the rafflecopter below.

The giveaway ends midnight 4th July 2015. One winner will be picked at random from all eligible entries.  UK entrants only.  The prize will be fulfilled and dispatched by CORGI HomePlan who are kindly supplying the prize. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday 22 June 2015

A Dip in Kings Cross Pond

Since reading about the new art installation that you can swim in, I knew that I'd have to book tickets for my wild swimming nut.  The Old Man has swam in rivers and reservoirs, in the sea, and in mountain lakes.  Being surrounded by open countryside is one of the biggest appeals of outdoor swimming, so I wondered how he'd feel about urban swimming.  Sure, he's been swimming in Hampstead Pond and in many of the London lidos but Kings Cross Pond is different.  Completely urban, right in the centre of the latest development phase of the area, and inspired by the popularity of the fountains at the nearby Granary Square.  Here you can swim with the BT Tower and the gothic St Pancras station in the background while East Coast trains trundle into the Kings Cross arches.

The pond is completely natural - no chlorine like you'd find in a municipal pool or lido, yet filtered and pure - so no creepy crawlies or fish like you'd find in a river or lake.  Perhaps this is the ideal balance for outdoor swimming.

Smaller than I expected, the pond is only 40 m long by 10m but it won't get overcrowded as it's pre-booked tickets only, limited to 163 people per day, the exact amount the reed filtration system can cope with.

Open from 6.30 am until dusk, you can book a ticket for a three and a half hour period throughout the week with prices starting at £3.50 off peak, rising to £6.50 at peak times including weekends.    Tickets are only released a week or two in advance though, so you'll have to take a punt on the great British weather. Spectators are welcome too, either for free at the elevated viewing platform, or poolside for £2 per person.  Children are welcome to swim but must be accompanied by an adult.  There are lifeguards on duty (I might add some of the friendliest lifeguards I've met), and you can change in the bright red and white poolside changing rooms and keep your valuables safe in the lockers.  You'll find sun loungers on the poolside and this is set to become one of the coolest places to be this summer.

Set on a raised mound, the kids will love rolling down the hill and parents will enjoy the tranquility of sitting amongst the wild flower planting, a true rarity to see such flowers growing in central London.

Twenty-odd years ago I worked at Kings Cross.  If you'd have told me then that the area would be completely regenerated with bars, galleries and amazing public spaces, I'd have laughed in your face. If you'd have told me people would flock to swim in a pond there I'd have thought you were crazy.  But here it is, and now I love this area so much.

The installation is only planned to be open to the public for 2 years, so take a dip now while you can.

Friday 19 June 2015

The Stratos 65 Litre Rucksack

Previously when we've been camping, we've struggled to pack our clothes in a useful way.  With limited room in the car because of the tent and camping equipment it's essential we pack clothing for the three of us in the most space effective way and taking a rucksack or bag each is not ideal.  It also results in having to find floor space in the bedroom pods for 3 separate bags.

We were sent the Stratos rucksack from Trespass to try out and it's solved our problem.  This thing is HUGE!  With it's whopping 65 litre capacity it can easily fit in clothing for a 3 night camp for the 3 of us, and it's handy pockets and compartments mean that things like toiletries are easy to locate - a huge bonus when you're fumbling around in the tent at dusk.

We've found at some camp sites you can't park right by your pitch, so having everything all in one bag makes transporting it from the car much easier and saves making lots of trips.

It's also going to be ideal this summer for day-long hikes, meaning we can take our waterproofs, first aid kit, a change of clothes, water, maps and lunch out with us all in one bag.  As a keen outdoor swimmer, the Old Man often takes towels, goggles and a hot flask out with us too and there's plenty of room for everything.  The pockets are really useful when out on hikes, the mesh external pockets hold our drinks keeping them easily accessible, and we can keep other essentials easy to reach in the numerous zipped sections.

Even when fully loaded, its comfortable to carry due to it's supportive and padded back system and padded shoulder straps.  The large padded sections in the small of the back prevent it rubbing and are a great feature - although Ruby thinks it makes it look a bit like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle!

The waist and chest straps help with the support and keep everything safe and secure.

The rucksack comes in a choice of colours - black like we chose, or a vibrant sunflower yellow with flint grey or pea pod green with flint grey which are much more stand-out colours and from a safety perspective much easier to spot if out hiking or in a crowd.

Although the rucksack isn't waterproof, it does come complete with it's own rain cover, tucked away in one of the pockets, and it can be popped on quickly and easily in the event of a sudden downpour - I think this is going to be very handy on our trips to the Welsh mountains!

The fabric is very strong and feels like it's going to be super durable - I hope this is going to be a rucksack that lasts us for years and sees many adventures with us.

My only negative is that although there's some adjustment in the straps, it does still sit up very high on the back, but I guess that's just because it's such a large capacity backpack.  Overall we're really impressed with it.


We were sent to Stratos 65 litre rucksack for the purposes of this review.  All opinions are my own.

Thursday 18 June 2015

A Sixties Vibe Shift Dress - Hillary's Craft Competition

I was recently invited to submit an entry to Hillary's annual craft competition.  I fancied a challenge and if I'm honest needed a bit of a kick to get the sewing machine out again and make something, so here goes.

The idea is simple.  Hillary's send you a 1 metre square sample of their blind fabric, you have a choice of gorgeous designs and you can make whatever your heart's desire with it.  I opted for the Daisy Pistachio pattern, it had a fairly small pattern repeat and I thought I'd be able to get the best use out of this fabric.

The fabric designs are from their new roman blind and curtain collections and as you'd expect, the material is a light upholstery weight.  It was perfect for finally finishing off a piano stool I'd been re-upholstering, or it would have made wonderful cushions. However, I don't like to be bound by conventions and am quite happy to break the rules as far as crafting is concerned - I've made bunting from old lace handkerchiefs, handbags from denim jeans, pjs from pillow cases, refurbished children's deck chairs with tea towels and made doorstops from tweed skirts and jackets in the past.

Once I got my hands on the fabric, the bold geometric floral print reminded me of Orla Kiely and Mary Quant, so I decided to make a sixties style shift dress for my 7 year old daughter.  It was going to be a squeeze with only a metre of fabric to play with though!

I used a dressmaking pattern (Simplicity 1457 AA) although I do think they need to change their name - simple it wasn't!  I've only ever made a dress from a pattern once before with an awful lot of help from my mum so this was indeed a challenge.

Firstly, the pattern suggested 1.5 metres of fabric, but I felt confident laying out one of Ruby's existing dresses over the fabric that there should be enough.  The great thing about the Daisy Pistachio fabric is that the design is symmetrical so I was able to use some jiggery-pokery and clever folding to get out the pieces I required as it didn't matter which way I cut it. Unfortunately I didn't have enough fabric to allow the luxury of pattern matching at the seams, but I don't think that takes away from the finished result at all.

The paper pattern suggested cutting the dress shape in two parts - a bodice and the skirt, joining up empire line style.  But given my restrictions I decided to tape these sections of the pattern together and cut it as one continuous piece and actually I think this makes for a more authentic vintage shift style.

After pinning and cutting my four pieces - a front and back dress and a front and back yolk, I tacked them together and checked for fit.

Finally it was time to start sewing for real.  I'll be honest, the yolk was a real challenge.  Getting the seams to lay flat and for it to fit snugly inside the dress was no easy feat, but I'm so pleased I managed to achieve it as it gives such a professional finish to the neckline.

The armholes were finished off with bias binding - again quite tricky because I was working with tiny armholes so getting it on the machine was a bit of a faff.  But finally it was complete and I'm thrilled with how it's turned out.

It's a little on the large side as the pattern is American and I think their sizes come up larger but that's ok - it means she can wear it for longer!

With the small remnant of material I had left I used a glue gun to cover an alice band to complete the look.

I'm really grateful to Hillary's for this challenge.  It stretched my sewing skills, motivated me to make something which I haven't been able to find time to do for ages, and I learned how to make a dress from scratch.  With a yolk.  A yolk folks!  I'm amazed.

I hope you like my finished creation.  Do take a look at some of the other entries and fingers crossed everyone.

Being Mrs C's Peg Bag
Life As Alice's Noticeboard
Tired Mummy of Two's Camera Bag

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Learning about mini beasts with Butterfly World from Interplay

This past term Ruby's class topic has been 'mini beasts' (I'm not sure when creepy crawlies got re-branded, but I suppose this term covers insects, spiders, worm et al).  When we were offered Nick Baker's Butterfly World from the 'My Living World' range from Interplay I thought it would be a great opportunity for the whole class to see first hand the life cycle of a butterfly.

The kit arrived, and its engaging and informative packaging sparked Ruby's imagination straight away.  Included is a pop-up butterfly 'house', some sticky tabs for attaching the chrysalis to the roof of the house and some mesh, pots and equipment in case you want to hunt for your own caterpillars to hatch.  We instead opted to send away for some caterpillars which arrived promptly in their own pot complete with a solid food substance, enough to provide for them throughout this stage.

All the details of where to get hold of your caterpillars are in the really thorough instruction guide which comes with the kit.  There's tonnes of information from Nick Baker about the life cycle process, as well as lots of tips on how to care for your creatures.

The caterpillars clearly liked the food in the pot and ate hungrily until they grew big and fat.  By this stage I'd taken them into class so all the children could watch them.  It wasn't long before the class started to notice the fine silk they started making.

Over a weekend they formed their chrysalis and we carefully transferred them from the lid of the pot to the roof of the pop-up house.  At this stage they are very delicate so they were moved up high away from little hands who might accidentally knock them.

Then we waited.  It took quite a while for anything to happen next, but over the bank holiday weekend 3 of the chrysalis hatched and there was huge excitement in the class room on the first day back to see 3 beautiful Painted Lady butterflies gently flitting around the net house.  Over the next day or so the final one hatched and it was really interesting for the children to see the broken chrysalis still hanging from the roof.

We kept the butterflies for a few days feeding them on a fine spray of sugared water onto a paper towel, so the children could observe them close up.

Finally, the big day arrived when we could release them into the wild.  The whole class filed outside into the school garden.  We thought they'd like the buddleia and the lavender so we chose to release them here.  Carefully the net house was carried out and we unzipped the lid.

With a little encouragement they flew out, stopping for a while in the garden to get used to their surroundings.  The children noticed how they made a bee-line for the yellow panels of the painted fence and talked about why they were attracted to that particular colour.  One by one, they fluttered away, off to begin thier new life as beautiful butterflies.

The Butterfly World kit was a really engaging way to teach these key stage 2 children about the life cycle of a butterfly and I'm grateful to Interplay for allowing me to share it with them.  They've learnt to respect wild animals and to treat them gently too.

The Butterfly World kit can be purchased from Interplay online for £12.99 and the approved caterpillar retailer sells caterpillers with food pot for around £8.