My name is Lily-Sue, but my mummy calls me Munchkin! I am 6 years old, and this is where my mummy will help me write all about all the fun things we do together. I hope you enjoy reading about the adventures of my mummy and me, Munchkin!

Friday, 16 September 2016

Getting Snap Happy!

When the lights are low ...

Anyone that follows us, especially on Instagram, will know that we love taking photos here in the Munchkin Patch. And lots of them! I will admit that it has only really been a love for me for the past few years, and growing up, I never appreciated the science behind a good photograph. My dad has been a photographer (and a damn amazing one!) since long before I was born, running his own photography business throughout much of my childhood. Until I was nine years old, we lived above his studio and shop, and he will today tell you stories of waves of inspiration that would consume him in the small hours which would find him downstairs in his studio, snapping away before the moment slipped away. And today, a year into his retirement, it would be extremely unusual to see him without his camera bag attached to him!

Today, here I am, thirty-something years old, living away from home with a beautiful family of my own, parenting three wonderful children with ... a photographer! Someone else who will grab his camera at any given moment, day or night, so as not to miss that magical moment. Because that is what photography is all about ... the moment. Miss that moment, and what could have been an amazing shot could quickly turn into a mediocre one. The right photograph tells a story, stirs an emotion - long after it is taken, and takes you back to that moment no matter how much time has passed.

Nowadays, so many people rely on the trusty, handy smartphone camera to take their everyday photos. This is still sometimes the case for The Man, even though he has a whole host of expensive equipment to use. The quality of smartphone cameras has improved so much in recent years, and many can achieve incredible results with them. However, they are still limited. We need to rely on a number of other natural factors around us, ones which are often out of our control, especially in the absence of good post editing knowledge.

One of these biggest factors is light.

We're now rapidly reaching the end of September which means shorter, duller days and much earlier loss of natural daylight. The evenings draw in suddenly, the curtains are closed, and very rapidly, those wonderful, vibrant photos we were taking just a few weeks ago are not so easy to capture. I own a bridge camera which has many fantastic features that can combat these often murky conditions, but artificial light can be a killer. It changes the temperature of a photograph, its shades, its overall quality. And the smartphone cannot always handle the conditions. Although I often have my camera nearby, my smartphone is still more handy, especially with our passionate use of Instagram, the phone is the trusty go to. In cases such as this, simply knowing how to use Instagram's range of filters and quick basic editing tools can help rescue a photo that lacks in quality, but even these can only enhance what is already there.

When I have photographs to take for a blog post, especially when I am taking product shots for a review that don't require the presence of the children, this is quite often what my front room will look like once they have gone to bed. However, by this time, I have usually lost the luxury of the light pouring through the windows which  would normally give the subject a much more pleasant appearance in the finished photo. This set up is ideal in this situation, as the flash and the light box overrides the unstable, artificial light and can create a more consistent glow exactly where I want it. However, I am aware that this is not an everyday arrangement of equipment and not everyone is lucky enough to have this kind of apparatus to hand. And with the darker evenings drawing in, many will be looking for ideas of how to achieve good quality photographs when natural positive elements are not on our side.

When you experience poor quality lighting, it is very important to keep the camera as still as possible in order to achieve sharp images. Travel tripods are inexpensive and can ensure a steady, stable camera, and when coupled with a remote shutter, there is not even any need to touch the camera to fire shots. I love using the remote, as it means I can be close to the subject, controlling its position and angle, whilst taking the shot without causing any extra camera shake.

In the absence of a tripod, there are a number of ways in which you can keep your camera still, and  when using a proper camera rather than a smartphone, facilitating a timer mode can also help to reduce the movement of the camera and to prevent the blurry effect in your photos.

This photo was taken in the evening time, with no daylight at all, but the natural highlights are achievable on any subject. Without the use of a light box or an off-camera flash, you can attempt to create your own light using a torch or a lamp, which allows you to direct the light at your desired angle, and using something as simple as a sheet of white card can help you to reflect the light onto the subject to really make it pop.

Essentially, getting to know the camera you are using and becoming familiar with  the settings available to you is very important. Whether you are using a DSLR, a bridge or a smartphone, explore the functions thoroughly so that, when that moment presents itself, you are ready to catch it in all its glory, without having to fiddle about too much either before or after the shot is fired. If you have a camera that is equipped with a selection of modes such as shutter priority, aperture priority or a manual mode, you can override the automatic settings to capture higher quality photographs.

If you are ever in doubt about the way your chosen camera works or about the different features it offers, YouTube can provide a wealth of information, and you may be pleasantly surprised about what you are able to do with the flick of a switch! It is such a valuable resource as many will upload reviews and 'How-To' guides relating to the equipment you have and the task you are trying to complete. These videos can often be more helpful and much easier to understand than the instruction booklet that is provided with your camera!

The biggest thing to remember is explore and experiment with the equipment you have. Many things can be possible in poor light conditions with just a little bit of knowledge and creativity!

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Dear Miss L ...

She's a Beast, but ...

Two years ago, almost to the day,
I wrote a letter here to Dear Mrs O.
Now I'm here again with a bit more to say,
With one or two things I think you should know.

First it was Munch, my baby Number One,
Who was cautiously leaving the nest.
Now we have Beastie, a bundle of fun,
But each day can be quite a test.

Me and my Beast, from the start of her life,
Have been through the good and the bad.
She's a whole lot of wonder and a huge lot of strife,
An emotional rollercoaster for her mum and her dad!

But Beastie is a joy to all that she knows,
Even when she is proving quite a task.
She's adorable in her highs and cute in her lows,
"Why Beastie" they will usually ask.

Beastie was born with a cute little growl,
As her teeth were already cutting a bit.
This cute little sound has evolved into a howl,
And the nickname has become a perfect fit.

Testing us daily with her tantrums and tears,
Melting us with her quirks and her smiles.
A joy to have round as the days turn to years,
And the little steps turn into miles.

But Beastie can fool you, as what you can see,
Is not always what's there inside.
Sometimes she'll go quiet, and between you & me,
This may be when she has something to hide.

She'll appear to be confident, trouble-free and bold,
She'll be everyone's very best friend.
But sometimes she just wants a caring hand to hold,
And a listening ear if you have one to lend.

She loves to be helpful, this gets her quite psyched,
She loves to be part of a team.
She loves to be challenged and wants to be liked,
And on her best days she can be quite a dream.

She likes to be a Superhero and a girly girl too,
Her loves can sometimes seem quite a muddle.
She'll dress like a princess then out of the blue,
She'll twirl into the muddiest puddle!

She loves to please everyone, she'll wear you all out,
She'll find hidden heartstrings and give them a tug.
But when you work out what she's really about,
You'll see what she loves most is a reassuring hug.

This tells her you're happy and she's doing ok,
This pushes her to do her very best.
She'll try hard when working and be kind through play,
And she'll make you appreciate your short times of rest!

Beastie is such a big character, you'll see,
A huge impact on every long day.
She'll leave a big hole where her antics would be,
A quiet space once filled with her noisy play!

I'll miss all her craziness in our daily routines
Endless demands for strange this and that.
Now she starts school, this big change means,
For a while things here may seem rather flat.

She's a whole host of feelings, in the most positive way,
She'll make every day interesting at the very least.
And through this letter what I'm trying to say,
Is enjoy our wonderful, beautiful Beast!

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

When a Superhero shares your lunch ...

Which side will you choose ...?

It's no secret ... Munch, Beastie and Plumlet are all big fans of superheroes. They each have their favourites, and they get all excited when they see any related merchandise in the shops, online or on the television. Being a little young at the moment to enjoy the films, The Man, being the good dad that he is, takes on the task on their behalf, and watches every film for them, in the hope that one day, they will each sit with popcorn on their laps to enjoy the movies with him!

Next week sees the release of the hugely successful and much awaited Captain America: Civil War. I have to say, after watching this particular Marvel offering at the cinema, The Man returned home buzzing. By his own personal admission, he is a bit of a film geek, but he is definitely a huge lover of superhero movies. This one shot straight to the top of his list of favourites!

As for the kids, all three of them like to see themselves as superheroes! Munch zips around the room, using whatever she can as a shield whilst claiming to be Captain America, Beastie crashes around, punching the furniture whilst shouting "HULK SMASH!" and Plumlet will chase them round in fits of giggles, mimicking their crazy movements, reminding everyone that he is Spiderman!

However, how Super can a Superhero truly be without a good, healthy diet?!

We quite often find ourselves using the method of reasoning

"If you don't eat your fruit, you'll never have the speed of a superhero ..."

"Do you think Hulk would be that green if he didn't eat all of his peas ...?"

"Spiderman can only climb those walls because he finishes his dinner ...!"

The kids love a themed lunch. Cut their sandwiches into fun shapes using simple food cutters, and all of a sudden, they taste better and are altogether a hundred times more appealing! We are more likely to be presented with empty plates when they have a themed meal! Munch is also a fussy eater, often avoiding vegetables whenever she can. However, create pictures on her plate with them or cut fruits into novelty shapes, and she will make more of an attempt to at least try them. Star shaped sandwiches are a favourite. Apparently, this is a superhero's sandwich of choice! Especially when they are filled with strawberry jam! Every superhero feasts on star shaped jam sandwiches before embarking on a mission to save the world (or destroy it, in Beastie's case!)

Recently, we had a Superhero themed 4th birthday for Beastie followed by a Superhero themed birthday party. Superhero food was requested, regularly, during the weeks of her birthday! Luckily, I could be quite varied with it for her as she is a wonderful eater. Hulk Smash would be proud of her colourful diet!

Watermelon slices cut into stars using a simple cookie cutter is a firm favourite. Throw in a few blueberries, and it's even better. In fact, if I throw blueberries into anything on a plate, it's a winner with the Smalls! Munch still needs some convincing, but we'll persevere! Beastie loved these in her lunch for nursery, and I am sure I will find myself popping them into her lunch as she starts school this month too.

Scotch pancakes are loved by all 3 kids. However, I don't always want to serve them with some sort of sweet, sticky drizzle. Place a non-complicated shape such as a lightening bolt made of cheese on the top, and it instantly becomes the food that is preferred by the Flash before an important mission!

Other ideas that are quite simple, include adding a superhero temporary tattoo to the skin of a banana, cutting or drawing on the wax casing of a Babybel cheese, adding little capes to drink bottles and using piped icing to add masks and faces to fruit items.

Unfortunately, with the return to school this week for Munch and the preparations needed to get Beastie ready to start Reception, the time and imagination needed to prepare themed lunches for my little superheroes has been limited and has not managed to stretch very far beyond what I have done in the past. However, as far as ideas are concerned, there are some genuine supermums (and dads) out there that do this on a daily basis. One that springs to mind the very moment I think of themed lunches and healthy foods is the incredible Grace over at Eats Amazing. The inspiration any parent can take from her is limitless!

Photo by Grace: Eats Amazing
To top the most awesome superhero themed lunch, you need a most awesome lunch bag to contain it all!

To celebrate the much awaited release of Captain America: Civil War on DVD and Blu-Ray, there is a wonderful selection of merchandise available to purchase, all of which has got my three (four, if you include The Man!) very excited!

So, one question you need to ask yourself ...

Which side will you choose?!

What would be in your Superhero lunch?

We were sent the above selection of Marvel merchandise to celebrate the upcoming  DVD/Blu-Ray release of Captain America: Civil War. No other payment was offered or received in return for the writing of this post.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Bella Italia, Bella Num Noms ... Bellissimo!

Last week, we were invited to the wonderful Bella Italia restaurant at Intu Lakeside, Thurrock, for a special event. The kids were very excited to be spending some of their day partying with the newest craze, Num Noms!

What do you mean you haven't heard of Num Noms ...?!
Munch and Beastie have shared hours of fun over the past few weeks, watching videos on YouTube and admiring the science behind these exciting new toys!

They're sweet ... they're scented ... they're stackable!

The flavours that are available are vast and varied, making the possibilities endlessly wacky and wonderful!

From ...

... to ...

Add a little bit of innocent, childhood imagination, and the combinations could get quite interesting!

Our day at Bella Italia packed full of Num Noms inspired fun activities has just fed the girls' appetites for these new collectibles and they are even more excited to get their hands on some sets of their own!

The day began with them being able to explore the world of Num Noms for themselves. With a huge floor mat completely covered in the little things, they were able to mix, match and combine to their heart's content. Munch, Beastie and Plumlet sat down for quite some time with B from Blog By Baby, chatting between them about which were their favourites!

Once they had played for a little while, Beastie and Plumlet found the drawing tables. They were covered in 'Design your own Num Nom' colouring pages, coloured pencils and sets of scented Num Nom stickers! The Smalls love a bit of colouring!

Next on their agenda was the Face Painting! Munch opted for an arm painting whilst Beastie decided she wanted a design on her cheek. The artist was ever so good, and gave the children a good selection of Num Nom characters to choose from.

Munch asked for a Cherry Cheesecake painting ...

... whilst Beastie, as always, likes to be different, and she chose to design her own Num Nom! She wanted a Rainbow Num Nom, and so that is what she got! She named it Rainbow Swirl!

From here, they went straight back to the pile of Num Noms for a bit more playing!

Plumlet's favourite to of the day was quite obviously the Lip Gloss Truck Playset. He barely put it down, and I'd like to make a public apology to anyone whose kids failed to get a chance to try out this toy as a result of him claiming it and declaring, very sternly, that it was his! 

Next up was our 'Pizza Making' session. Munch, Beastie and Plumlet all love pizza, and they love making pizzas at home. But this was different. This was making pizzas using Bella Italia's amazing dough and toppings! Each child was served with their pizza base which was sat inside it's individual pizza tin and covered in their classic tomato sauce. The tables were full of bowls of toppings, including cheese, ham, chicken, pepperoni and meatballs, and various vegetables including tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms and black olives.

The kids got stuck right in, making their dream pizzas!
Mind you, Beastie didn't know whether to cover her pizza in the mushrooms or just eat them!

She wasn't so sure about the olives though ...

One thing she was sure about though, was that she wanted to pack that pizza full of all her favourite toppings! Bowls of toppings were excitedly passed around the table from child to child as they were free to make their pizzas look exactly as they wanted. Munch, Beastie and even Plumlet just enjoyed taking control of their own food and I enjoyed standing back and watching them loving every second of it!

And just a few minutes later, their pizzas were being served to their table, freshly cooked and ready to eat!

The wonderful staff at Bella Italia were so friendly and helpful. Anything the children asked for, they delivered, and nothing was too much trouble! More toppings, napkins, and they even brought out a stack of little take-away boxes so any leftovers wouldn't go to waste! They treated the children like little individuals and weren't scared to speak to them directly rather than through the grown-ups! It made them all feel very special and like valued customers.

Last but not least ...


Bella Italia have a special ice cream station and the children are encouraged to visit themselves to choose their flavours. Munch, Beastie and Plumlet all stood at the cart for some time, fascinated by all the colours and flavours that were available. From your favourite classics like chocolate chip, vanilla and strawberry to the more adventurous bubblegum and fruity sorbets, the children were invited to combine whichever flavours they would like ...

"Just like Num Nom ice creams", said Munch!

So, a day spent in a fantastic, child friendly restaurant, playing with Num Noms and taking part in lots of Num Nom themed activities, the kids had the most wonderful time! And, in the coming weeks, we are hoping to continue our exploration of the Num Noms world with a variety of reviews and related posts, so watch this space!

We were VIP guests at the Num Noms inspired event at Bella Italia which has allowed us to write this post. No payment has been offered or received and all thoughts and opinions are 100% our own.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Getting creative for an #AquaBeadsParty!

Being approached recently and asked if we would like to be brand influencers for the widely known household name, Aquabeads, made the girls extremely excited. They see the adverts on the television and have always been amazed at the incredible creations that are possible to achieve with the sets that are available. More recently, Beastie has even taken to watching videos on YouTube of individuals showing their artistic talents using the tiny beads to make her favourite characters. It would be true for me to say that, they have both shown a great interest in Aquabeads and have often talked about the creations they would like to attempt to make.

The birth of Aquabeads came about within a Tokyo office one day over 10 years ago. A staff member of EPOCH was eating some boiled sweets, and as she reached into the bag, she pulled out a small bunch of sweets that had managed to stick together and form the shape of a rabbit's ear. In a moment of epiphany, she realised how cool it would be to turn this little mishap into a fun toy. Colourful beads, just like her little boiled sweets, that could fuse together in lovely little pictures.

And so, Aquabeads became real!

The beads bond together using no heat, no bottles of glue, no tricky chemicals ... just water. Simple, regular tap water! And how does this happen ...? One of the ingredients of the beads is PVOH. In Japan, PVOH is used in stamps and glue. When you spray water on the beads this ingredient dissolves and sticks together. How easy and clever is that?! And from that humble office in Tokyo, Aquabeads sets and accessories can now be bought in 35 different countries and regions across the globe!

So, this weekend, we are taking part in the fun and exciting #AquaBeadsParty. We will be exploring the box full of Aquabeads treats that we have been sent as a family and with friends and unleashing our creative sides to see what wonderful things we can make!

From our Beginners Studio to our Mini Play Sets, our magnetic photo frames to our little sample packs, the girls are really very excited about getting their hands on the little bead pen to try out the magic for themselves! Their beads have been sorted into colours and their spray bottles have been filled ... the girls are most certainly ready!

Watch this space for a full review of the Aquabeads products that we have received as well as many many, more photos of both the Aquabeads range and, of course, our little beaded inventions!

If you have some sets at home, why not get creative yourself this weekend and show us what you can make? Just search for #AquaBeadsParty on Instagram and Twitter and come join in the fun!

See our posts this weekend on Instagram and Twitter and let Munch and Beastie know what you think of their artwork! They love to read your comments!

We have been sent some Aquabeads products to allow us to participate in the #AquaBeadsParty to help raise brand awareness and to gather our own opinions on the items. No other form of payment has been offered or received, and all words and opinions will be 100% our own and are not influenced at all.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Bam Bam the bouncy hamster *Giveaway*

Win a Bam Bam from IMC Toys!

Earlier today, we posted our review of the wonderful Bam Bam, a product from the Club Petz range from IMC.

We shared with you how he was funny and bouncy and how he has brought nothing but smiles to the faces of the kids ...

... Especially Plumlet!

Now we have been given the opportunity to pass the joy on to one of our readers!

Bam Bam makes the perfect gift for any child from the age of 3 years and upwards, and will have your child bouncing and giggling in no time!

He's soft and cuddly, and just a little bit crazy as he bounces uncontrollably around the room with just a gentle squeeze of a button.

For more information, photos and videos, take a look at our review and see what you think.

Would you like the chance to win a Bam Bam of your own? He could be put away for Christmas (... sorry!! Slightly premature, I know!), given as a birthday present, or given to your child as a special little gift just to make them smile!

To be in with a chance of winning, complete the Rafflecopter steps below ...

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Terms and Conditions
This is a Rafflecopter Giveaway and all mandatory entries must be completed to make your entry valid and to unlock the bonus entry methods.
The Giveaway ends at 12am on the 6th September, 2016.
The competition is open to UK residents aged 18 and over only with no exception.
A winner will be randomly selected by 8th September and will be contacted by email and announced on the blog.
The winner must make contact with me by 11th September, 2016 to claim their prize. Failure to do so will result in a redraw.
We are not responsible for non-delivery of prizes.
The prize is 1 Bam Bam the Hamster from IMC Toys, and no cash alternative is available.

Bam Bam from IMC: Bonkers, Barmy and Bouncy fun!

Plumlet loves receiving new toys, and when he does, that toy will be clung to all day long, it will feature in every single daily activity and it will be the toy that his sisters are strictly forbidden from touching for quite some time!

And Bam Bam the Hamster was to be no exception to this rule!

Recently, Plumlet has started noticing toy adverts on the television, and I realised that, when Bam Bam (from the Club Petz range by IMC Toys) was advertised, he would start jumping around the room before falling down in fits of giggles!

"I really really want Bam Bam, mummy ... for my birthday!"
(He's been listening to his sisters way too much!)

So, when we were asked to review a Bam Bam, naturally I knew exactly who my little reviewer would be!

When he first arrived, Plumlet went through his usual ritual of talking to him and holding him tight to protect him from the girls! As you can see, the box that Bam Bam comes in is like a little house, so it was a while before he decided to let me cut the ties and release him from the packaging. in fact, even now, Bam Bam has to be placed onto his box every night before bed with a little blanket over him!

"Make him bounce, mummy!"
(At this point, the box was still attached!)

Bam Bam's bounce is quite fierce, and due to the style of box he sits in, he can easily be switched on whilst still fixed to his packaging. A simple squeeze on his side sends him jumping all over the place! When I say that his bounce is fierce, I mean that, when he was switched on, he didn't just shake a little on the spot, I mean regardless of him still being hooked up to his box, he still started to jump around the room ... box and all!

I think this shocked Plumlet a little ...

... But within seconds, I was dancing to the tune of "AGAIN, AGAIN, AGAIN, MUMMY!"

This was my cue to remove him from his box and to allow Plumlet to learn how to operate Bam Bam by himself.

As you can see, immediately he was a huge hit, having the intended effect of making Plumlet laugh and stare on in amazement and amusement as Bam Bam shook vigorously in his hands! 

When Plumlet finally let Bam Bam go, he was free to bounce around the room, causing the kids to chase him round and mimic his crazy bouncing whilst giggling and screaming loudly! My original thought was "Wow, this toy is a noisy one" ... but no! It was the joyous reactions of the children that was noisy!

We've reduced the speed of this video slightly so that you can appreciate just how bonkers Bam Bam really is!

Bam Bam's exterior is hand washable, as the mechanism that makes him bounce is a ball which is easily removed by opening the Velcro down his back. The only issue that Plumlet is experiencing at the moment is (and it really is only a small issue) as the toy bounces around in such a lively way, the ball inside shifts slightly with each operation, which means that he can sometimes struggle a little to locate the button to make him bounce again, but this will get easier as he becomes more familiar with it.

It's true, Bam Bam the Hamster does exactly what it says on the box ... he really will shake up your world! He will make your children laugh, he will make your children bounce around the room and best of all, he will make your children fall in love with him!

What more could you ask for?!

Bam Bam is available to buy from many major toy shops and online and retails at around £19.99. He operates on 4xAAA batteries (which are included) and is designed for children aged 3 and upwards. He makes the perfect gift for both boys and girls and is sure to bring a smile to the face of any little one!

Keep on bouncing, Bam Bam!!

We have a competition running for one of readers to win a Bam Bam of their own until 6th September 2016! Visit our Competition Post to find out how to enter.

We were sent a Bam Bam toy for the purpose of this review, but all words and opinions are 100% our own. No other payment was offered or received for the writing of this post.