Friday, 31 December 2010

My Top 5 Things About Having Children - Listography

In my blog post Comping Convert I wrote the following:

I love lists. Lists crystallise my thoughts and provide a conduit from idea into reality. They create an illusion of order from chaos and begin to instil a sense of pace and momentum as the 'ticking' off process commences. Sometimes a mental list will suffice but it does not match up to the satisfaction of putting pen to paper (or wipe board marker to wipe board!). 

Kate Takes 5's invitation to take part in her Weekly Top 5 Listography was bound to grab my attention.

Here is my contribution:

My Top 5 Things About Having Kids

  1. PREGNANCY. I have been fortunate enough to have fairly easy pregnancies and I absolutely love the changes that happen over the course of the nine months, especially the incredible feeling of your baby moving inside you. 
  2. LABOUR & BIRTH. I know there is a certain amount of pain involved here, but as I said to my two children who were present at the birth of my third child (a home birth), it's a good sort of pain. The variety and intensity of emotions experienced is like nothing else. 
  3. CARING FOR A NEWBORN. A newborn child is totally precious and changes your whole outlook on life so dramatically. 
  4. WATCHING YOUR CHILD DEVELOP THEIR OWN CHARACTERS. It continues to be the greatest joy watching each of my six children developing in their own special ways and becoming wonderful individuals. 
  5. BEING SURROUNDED BY PEOPLE YOU LOVE. My children range in age from 22 years to 6 months. They make me laugh, they make me cry, they fill me with pride, they constantly amaze me. I love spending time with them individually and all together. I am never happier than when I am surrounded by my most wondrous creations. 

Another great thing about writing lists is that it inspires a clarity of thought that can make you aware of things that are missing in your life. I have now realised that I do not have a single photograph of all my children together. This is something that I will be looking to rectify at the earliest opportunity and I have to thank Kate Take 5 for (unknowingly) bringing it to my attention!

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Mess Free Doodling (review)

The two year old loves to draw...

... but she can be a bit indiscriminate when it comes to with what and on what.

The last thing I want to do is discourage her creative exploration (even if it is with baked beans on my kitchen work surface) but if I can encourage an activity that she enjoys that also means I won't have to scrub colourful ink splodges out of my living room rug, then that is a wining solution.

The Tomy Aquadoodle Desk retails at £29.99.

It comes flat packed as seven thick foam board pieces that slot satisfyingly together without the need for tools or screws. The finish on the foam board is a wood grain effect that reminds me of the mad decorating and room makeovers I used to enjoy doing, inspired by such TV shows as 'Changing Rooms' with the flamboyant Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen.

The doodling surface is double sided giving two choices of colour and fits into a recess in the desk top. There is also a nice little recess to house the Aquadoodle pen when not in use.

The pen is simply filled with water and mess free doodling can commence.

I don't expect the Aquadoodle Desk to completely take the place of traditional drawing materials (or her more experimental choice of art working) but it is a very handy, instantly accessible, mess free outlet for her creative urges.

The doodles do not last for very long. They disappear leaving a clean surface ready for more mess free fun!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Reflections of 2010

As the year draws to a close, it is naturally a time for reflection.

For me, it has been an eventful year. My February wedding, the birth of a son in June, some great parties (one of which was featured in a gossip mag) and in September, the start of my blogging adventure and all the opportunities that the social media has presented.

My online comping has given me some amazing wins - a year's supply of chocolate, 100,000 Boots Advantage points and not forgetting my beautiful spotty DMs.

The purchase of a second-hand Apple Mac has opened up a world of video editing to me that I am loving. I am still immensely proud of my short film Psycho Potato which was a re-enactment of a scene from a movie using potatoes (for a Lamb Weston competition). Re-watching it now I can see so much  I would do differently with the benefit of all that I have learned over the months, but it represents the beginning of a journey to me, and who knows where it will end.

Joining the Gym with my eldest daughter has enabled me to get back into my size 10 clothes without too much unnecessary force and more importantly, given me the chance to spend time with Liberty who has now officially become a proper grown up with her first full time teaching job.

One of the highlights of my year has been helping my daughter, Taylor to win a guitar signed by her pop idol.

As yet, my 2011 diary is empty - blank pages onto which the story of my life can unfold. I have no idea what direction the New Year will take me in but I am ready to embrace it.

A February Wedding

**Happy New Year**

Monday, 27 December 2010

Collections and Collectibles (review)

As a child I had a collection of key rings. It was all a bit pointless because I had not a single key, but I suppose that pointlessness is actually a defining element of most collections.

As an adult, I had a yearning to collect novelty teapots. I imagined them displayed on a country style welsh dresser in a cosy kitchen and selecting different pots to brew for different occasions. In reality, my collection consisted of a grand total of one completely hideous, tacky teapot that was supposed to look like a table set for tea, but didn't. It also carried the warning 'not suitable for boiling liquids' which rendered it somewhat useless as a teapot. Apart from a cup of green tea first thing in the morning, my hot drink consumption consists entirely of coffee these days so my unfulfilled novelty teapot phase does now belong to another life.

I'm not sure what part of the human psyche lends us a pre-disposition to collect but it does appear to be an urge present in some form in us all. Toy manufacturers are certainly aware of this.

My children were big collectors of Pokemon figures (first time round). The marketing was brilliant from the "Gotta Catch 'em all" tag line to the giant posters displaying all 150 Pokemon with check boxes to monitor your progress towards completion. Years later, my girls can still name all 150 Pokemon and tell you that a Wartortle is an evolved form of a Squirtle. We do still have some of the original collectibles but the whole Pokemon franchise has developed beyond my comprehension with the new generations since added.

Other collections included Pogs and Tazos and Puppies and Kitties in my Pocket but none were ever quite as popular or as influential as Pokemon.

Collectibles never seem to go out of fashion.

From a manufacturers point of view they are a winner - why sell a child one toy when you can sell them a whole collection? From a parent's point of view, it makes it easy when Auntie Jane and Granny ask "What does Johnny want for Christmas this year?" From a child's point of view, clever advertising and packaging can create a huge desire and how nice it is to be able to fulfil your child's wants with a simple purchase.

For me personally, I would prefer my children to satisfy their need to collect with something more individual and possibly harder to come by but we are a society that enjoys instant gratification and peer acceptance so the mass produced, easily recognisable, instant collections fit the mood of the moment.

Ocean in my Pocket and Littlest Pet Shop are two Collectible ranges currently enjoying popularity. They are designed to be played with as well as collected, available with a range of play sets additional to the collectible figures.

Ocean in My Pocket Coral Playset - £19.99
Ocean in My Pocket Newborn Pack - £3.99

Littlest Petshop Vehicle - £14.99
Littlest Pet Shop Blythe Set - £12.99
I am already familiar with the Puppy and Kitty in my pocket from years ago and we did just touch on Ponies in my Pocket before my girls outgrew the whole idea. I was quite surprised to see that you can now get Jungle, Snow, Forest and Farm as well as Ocean in my Pocket. To me that is an overwhelming amount of choice and I hope for the sake of parental finances, little girls fixate on one category only or mix and match without the need to "collect them all" as the words on the packaging demand.

Thanks to the likes of Spongebob Square Pants, Finding Nemo and a Shark's Tale, undersea creatures are probably as familiar as pets and farm animals to our youngsters. The Ocean in my Pocket figures are adorable and the playset (although the sort of plastic monstrosity that normally makes me cringe) is intriguing, just inviting you to explore.

I didn't find much to redeem the Littlest Playshop. I  thought the pets themselves were trying too hard to be cute and were actually quite hideous. The packaging includes lots of cardboard cut outs of pets and accessories which just seemed a bit empty and sad and the Pet Vehicle did not look like it was built to withstand much in the way of play. The tag line "How big is your littlest pet shop?" somehow implies that however big it is, it will never really be big enough. The whole thing was just a bit uncomfortable by my set of values.

I gave both playsets to my 2 year old to road test.

She played with Littlest Pet Shop Blythe for a long time, mostly trying to put the sunglasses on her (without success) and saying "silly dolly" every time her shoes fell off (which was often). I know that my daughter is younger than the target market for Littlest Pet Shop but whatever age group is doing the playing, those tiny, ill fitting shoes are going to be lost before long.

Her play with the Ocean figures was much more imaginative, whizzing the baby sea creatures down the slide and animating them with a life beyond their static fuzzy coated plastic bodies. (While I think of it, the fuzzy coating was already starting to attract a lot of fluff and dust which made them look a bit grubby). The figures didn't actually sit too well on the seesaw or seats (in the same way that a real whale/shark/lobster/seahorse probably wouldn't), but it didn't seem to be a problem for the two year old nor an impairment to her enjoyment.

Of the two, I definitely favour the In My Pocket brand but it is ultimately for the parent to decide whether it represents value for money and constructive play opportunities. Perhaps our children would be better served being encouraged to collect key rings, retro Pokemon or even novelty teapots!

Christmas Sniffles

It is a shame that illness has become as synonymous with Christmas as Brussel Sprouts.  The grotty weather, the inevitable stress, the change in routine - they all seem to contribute to creating a big friendly welcome to all things bug-like and disease-ful.

I can't complain too much. Our family has been struck down by nothing more sinister than a cold but it does put a bit of a damper on your festive spirit when you have to keep pausing to cough/sneeze/blow and your nose would give Rudolph a run for his money.

There is a most unpleasant wet snowy thing happening with the weather right now but I am about to venture out to Boots to stock up on tissues for my husband (who is too posh for loo roll!). I am hoping that I might find some suitably lovely treat there in the pre-January sale to take my mind off congestion/headaches/disturbed nights and put a spring back into my Christmas step.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Warrior Girls (Review)

It is always good to see manufacturer's efforts to reduce the impact on the environment by minimising packaging and using recyclable materials whenever possible. This concept seems to be something that toy manufacturers are exempt from.

I have to agree that from a successful marketing point of view, it makes sense.

I would be more likely to part with my £3.99 for this..

 .. than this..

.. but this does seem like an extravagant waste.

One item that my children found in their stockings on Christmas morning cannot be accused of wastefulness. This was the Reeve's Painting by Numbers set.

Ordinarily, I dislike painting by numbers. It strikes me as a lot of hard work to produce a fundamentally bad picture. The dolphin set (above) served to remind me of this. The Manga sets, however,  were a different matter entirely.

My girls love the Japanese comic book art style and are big fans of Pokemon, Anime and Studio Ghibli films (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke etc). The Manga Painting by Numbers images were fresh, vibrant and exciting and a million miles away from this drab Van Gogh 'Sunflowers' that took Taylor many, many hours to complete some years ago. (Posting this old photo has brought back memories for her that were best forgotten!)

The girls couldn't wait to get started and what better time than a lazy Boxing day.

The cardboard packaging cunningly converted into an easel of sorts and a holder for the paint pots.

Ivy got in a bit of a pickle when she put her paints into the holder which meant she started painting the flesh tone on her picture a rather alarming shade of orange usually reserved for competitive ballroom dancers. Taylor pointed out the error and with a little bit of overpainting, it was as though it had never happened.

It was lovely to see the girls involved in such a simple pleasure as applying colour to a pre-drawn image and their happy chatter whilst they were doing it was a delight. Our attempt at time lapse photography charts their progress.

My girls were so engrossed in finishing their paintings that they nearly missed their boxing day leftovers tea (or perhaps the lure of cold brussel sprouts simply wasn't that enticing!)

Silent Sunday

Friday, 24 December 2010

Christmas Eve

It has been a crazy run up to Christmas with snow interfering with plans and Toyologist reviewing taking up a big chunk of time. For the first year ever I haven't written a single Christmas card, I haven't made my annual Xmas cake and I'm still not entirely sure of the menu for tomorrow's festive dinner.

Regardless of my lack of organisation, Christmas will happen.

Once the baby boy has finished feeding and this post is published, I'm going to make a batch of mince pies and some Xmas cupcakes whilst listening to the Xmas playlist on iTunes.

This evening, in front of a roaring fire and with a glass of red wine, I will hand out "not-so-Secret Santa" pyjamas to everybody then spend a snuggly evening with my new-nightwear-clad clan, waiting for the minutes to tick by until bedtime.

All that remains is for me to send my heartfelt wishes into the blogosphere to one and all:


Thursday, 23 December 2010

Zubber Bands - Review

Zubber Bands
"Create cool bracelet bands with this Zubber Band craft set, includes 100 letter, number and symbol blocks to choose from so you can customise your bracelet with anything you want"

I'd been quite excited about reviewing Zubber Bands. As my older girls were growing up, we tried out all sorts of craft sets but this seemed unlike anything I had ever used before. The idea of a material that moulds like clay and dries like rubber was quite intriguing and if the pictures on the box were anything to go by, the result of your crafty endeavours could be unique and really quite wearable.

The age recommendation on the box was 5+ so figuring this would be beyond the capability of my 2 year old, I took the set over to my 8 year old niece Kizzy' s house and gave her an early Xmas present. She was very eager to get started and the older girls were drawn into the proceedings to help.

The box contained a multitude of little letter/number/symbol blocks and a cute draw string bag to keep them all in, a bracelet mould and a small plastic tool to press the Zubber down, measuring scoops and of course, the Zubber which came in three bright colours in domed plastic containers with an additional component that needed to be added to the Zubber to activate it.

The girls quickly got to grips with the instructions, decided on a colour and a design and started work. 

Kizzy had the job of measuring out the Zubber and activator and kneading them together. This had to be done quickly before the Zubber set so she did get a little help. Ella (14) placed the letter blocks in the mould while everybody else searched through the pile trying to find the letters she needed. 

It was all a bit of a mission. The letters were hard to identify and it was a big jumble to sort through, the lid of the mould was difficult to snap on and the plastic tool seemed to scrape and tear at the Zubber rather than push it into place so they resorted to using fingers instead.

Despite our difficulties, we were all quite excited about the 'reveal' of the finished product. We had a watch to time the 10 minutes needed for the rubberising process to take place (only the deluxe Zubber craft set contains the special Zubber timer) and waited patiently. After half an hour (and several festive snacks) the Zubber did not appear to have changed at all. We poked it and decided to leave it a little longer.

Eventually, we made the decision to just go for it (we were running rapidly out of patience and snacks) and carefully slid our Zubber band from the bracelet mould. 

I have to admit it was quite thrilling as the band came away to reveal perfectly imprinted letters, but the thrill was short lived as the zubber stretched and ultimately fell apart. It clearly had begun to set to the rubbery consistency promised because we were unable to re-knead it and try again, but it was a long way from being properly ready.

Perhaps in her excitement to get started, Kizzy had not measured out the correct proportions of Zubber and activator or we had missed something vital in the instructions. Or maybe it does just take much longer than we allowed.

To summarise, it was a bit fiddly and the finished product, this time, was unuseable but we did have fun with it. Perhaps next time, with the benefit of experience, we will have a better result. I do have some concerns, however, about 'next time' as the plastic domed pots containing the modelling materials are insubstantial and would not prevent drying out were that to be an issue. 

One final word of caution - take care when positioning the blocks on the bracelet mould. It is very easy to end up with backward facing letters!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Cranium Game 2nd Edition - Review

Cranium Game 2nd Edition
"New second edition of the successful Cranium game. Includes 600 all new questions across 16 activities including sketching, sculpting, acting and humming that you loved last time. Guaranteed to entertain the whole family!"

Our family is already familiar with (and a fan of) Cranium, having in our games cupboard: the original Cranium, a Booster box and an old set of Cranium 2nd Edition.

The great thing about Cranium is the variety of tasks that need to be performed to progress round the board (and ultimately win) giving everybody a chance to find something they can excel at (or be embarrassingly bad at - Ivy, you know who I'm talking about!)

The only thing I haven't been too keen on is the board design which has a slightly confusing 'fast track' element and does make the game go on for rather a long time. This is something that has now been improved.

The new Cranium 2nd Edition has a three way playing board that allows you to choose the approximate length of play. It has the original design of board which it estimates should take 90 minutes to complete and 2 simplified versions giving approximately 60 and 30 minutes of play. In the spirit of not taking itself too seriously, Cranium states that these times are only a guess - "Actual game times may vary depending on luck, adequate and/or distracting snacks and the overall brilliance of the players."

The game is played in teams who take it in turns to draw cards from one of four different card boxes - Creative Cat, Word Worm, Star Performer and Data Head. The categories are the same as to the old version of 2nd edition but the questions are all new keeping it very current. There are also some new variations within the categories.

The Creative Cat category involves drawing clues or modelling out of Cranium Clay whilst your team members guess the answer on the card. Word Worm cards are (as the name suggests) wordy puzzles such as spelling, anagrams, definitions etc. Star Performer involves humming a tune or acting and Data Head is more of a general knowledge category. Some questions are directed specifically at individual teams and others are for everyone to try at once. It can all get a bit crazy in the second scenario!

The following video gives a taste of the sort of questions one can expect.

The game is recommended for ages 12+, but throwing the 10 sided dice, turning the timer over and poking the Cranium clay kept the 2 year old involved for a while. Baby Boy was happy to just chew on a sheet from one of the Doodle pads provided and observe!

This is definitely a game I would recommend. Our family has enjoyed playing Cranium on many occasions over the years and with the modification to the board of the new 2nd Edition, which allows for the less time consuming versions, I can imagine we will be likely to play even more often.

The Gallery - Week 40 - Love

When I was thinking about this week's Gallery subject of 'Love', I was planning to try and capture a moment during our festive preparations that illustrates how much we love Christmas. I had a few possible shots that I was planning to choose from but I discarded them all in favour of this one.

Baby Boy is very new to the idea of solid food but he does love to join us in his high chair at the dining table for family meals. The two year old is fascinated by the developments occuring with her little brother and wants to be involved with them all, especially with the feeding. Although sometimes she gets frustrated and impatient with him or even a little jealous and intolerant, her underlying love is clearly evident.

This kiss was to tell him how proud she was that he had managed to eat some potato all by himself!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Playskool Step Start Walk 'n' Ride - Review

Playskool Step Start Walk 'n' Ride
"Two great toys in one! As a sturdy, stable baby walker, the Step Start Walk 'n' Ride helps babies learn to stand and take their first steps. Once they are secure on their legs it then easily converts to a first ride- on toy!"

This walk 'n' ride came in a big box (perfect for easy wrapping into an impressive gift) and required some assembly (mostly clicking into place but a small amount of screwing in with a screwdriver).  The pieces were colourful and intriguing and were obviously of a high quality. 

The two year old was fascinated by the construction process and really wanted to help (which slowed everything down) but it was lovely to see her figuring out what things were and where they went and getting increasingly more excited.

The wheels were a bit of a mission to 'snap on'. I am always nervous about using too much force in case the toy breaks but with the requisite amount of pressure, the wheels did snap on with a satisfying 'snap' making me confident that they were not likely to fall off anytime in the future.

The fully constructed toy is lovely - bright, colourful, lightweight and sturdy with lots of interesting little features for exploring hands. The conversion from walker to ride-on is simple and easily reversible. 

It is a bit small for the two year old (please don't try to tell her that!) but will be perfect for the baby boy as he finds his feet. I'm sure that in the blink of an eye he will be racing around the living room, causing mayhem and perhaps giving his sister a run for her money!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Play that Tune - Review

Play that Tune

"Play the game that'll have everyone stepping and guessing as teams compete to name that song before time runs out. Pick a tune card, select a song and 'step it out' on the musical playmat"

Music features heavily in our family life and having spent a good deal of today helping my sister with a musical Xmas video as part of her Graco Symbio reviewing, we were in the mood for a musical game.

Inside the box was a Playmat, a pack of tune cards, scoring pad, timer and instructions. It required 2 AA batteries (Xmas battery stash is being seriously depleted!)

The game is quite simple. Players organise themselves into teams. One member of a team picks a tune card and selects one of the two tunes. Using a colour and number coded notation, the tune is played with the feet on the playmat, after reading the hint. 

The other member or members of the team have to guess the tune within the 45 seconds before the sand runs through the timer. If they fail to guess correctly, the opposing team (teams) can steal the point.

Points are counted on a scoring pad. The winners are first team to correctly guess ten tunes.

We organised ourselves into two teams of two and called ourselves "The Christmas Crackers" and "The Brussel Sprouts". As often happens with these games for all the family, the younger players are slightly disadvantaged by their lack of knowledge and life experience. Our youngest player was 13 years old and there were a few tunes she had ever heard of. 

Actually playing the tunes with your feet on the Playmat was a lot of fun and we all seemed to develop our own style. There were lots of songs that fell under the hint category "Christmas" which gave it a lovely festive feel.

The 45 second guessing time limit meant that the game had a good pace.

We enjoyed playing but  I do have some criticisms.
  • In the Nursery Rhyme hint category, the same tune can be used for different nursery rhymes eg Humpty Dumpty (the way I know it) is identical to Pop! Goes the Weasel.  I felt a bit cheated when I named the one that wasn't given as an answer.
  • The playmat was easy to use and loud enough to hear but after playing for a while, our Number 5 key sounded a bit like a load of cars all blowing their horns at once if you didn't press it absolutely perfectly in the middle!
  • We had a quick practise and played two complete games and already we feel that we have exhausted the set of cards. Maybe it is a game that needs to be put away now for a long enough time that we will forget the tunes.
The best bit of the game was definitely trying to play the tunes with your feet on the mat - and the baby loved being able to sit on it and make music!!

Silent Sunday

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Silverlit Radio Control Heli Mission - Review

Silverlit Radio Control Heli Mission

"Have loads of fun learning how to take off, hover and descend, spin left and right, fly backwards, forwards and even fly sideways with this Heli Mission set!"

The toy that had the boys in the family queueing up to road test was this remote control Helicopter and Duty Truck. 

It came in a very big box but a lot of that was just packaging. The duty truck is a reasonable size but the helicopter is really quite small. Common sense tells me that it would have to be small and light to get airborne but it didn't stop my initial reaction being "Is that it?"

It made a big dent in my Xmas battery stash, requiring 10 AA batteries to power the truck and transmitter. The helicopter needed to be charged for 30 minutes to give approximately 5 minutes of flying time.

Liberty's boyfriend (22 years old, sensible and hard working) executed the first 'Heli Mission'.  His mastery of the duty truck seemed almost instinctive and he was quickly whizzing it around the living room floor like a pro, performing impressive manoeuvres and only struggling when the truck was half on and half off my thick rug so that the driving wheels failed to make contact with solid ground. When he stopped the truck and opened the doors, we all waited with baited breathe. With flashing blue lights and mood enhancing noises, the platform raised and in an instant the helicopter lifted into the air to cheers and applause from us, the eager spectators. The helicopter hit the ceiling, spun around like a disorientated dragon fly then dropped out of the air onto the ground like a stone. It buzzed around like a dying wasp before needing to be retrieved. I hope that isn't 'simile overload' and you do get the picture!

When my girls were finally given a go with the Transmitter, they were surprisingly good at controlling both truck and helicopter. My girls have always been more interested in Playstation games than fashion and make up so it wasn't entirely unexpected. The biggest advantage they had over the boys was that they actually took the time to read the instructions! 

Not wanting to be outflown, Liberty's boyfriend took control again and with practice started to acquire the skills necessary to look like he knew what he was doing.

The helicopter required a gentle touch to stop it spiralling out of control but when it was flying well it was very impressive. My baby boy was transfixed and my 2 year old was whooping with delight.

In terms of short bursts of high octane fun, this was amazing and I'm sure with more practice, death defying aerial stunts will be played out from the comfort of our sofa.

Thinkfun Zingo Game - Review

Thinkfun Zingo Game

"Zingo is great for all the family where players have to fill their Zingo cards with matching tiles from the Zingo Zinger tile dispenser. The first player to fill their card wins!"

I have to confess that we only got the Zingo Game out to distract our 2 year old while we reviewed the Silverlit Radio Control Heli Mission, but it did almost steal the show and has certainly been played with a whole lot more already.

It is a very well made toy with a lovely feel to it from the friendly cartoon illustrations on the thick card, double-sided playing boards and matching plastic tiles and the bright primary colours. The Zingo Zinger tile dispenser is a fabulous design with its side mechanism to release the tiles and the posting slots to return unmatched tiles.

We have yet to play an actual game of Zingo as intended by the creators but we have played numerous variations from simple naming of the picture tiles, matching tiles to corresponding pictures on the boards, dispensing and posting, and a new favourite - hiding the tiles beneath the playing boards and saying in your cutest 2 year old voice "Where thing gone?"

The instruction manual doubles up  as a 'Parent's Guide' that includes tips on how to improve your child's thinking skills.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The Gallery - Week 39 - Sparkle

This year I hosted a Glittering Film Premiere at my house to screen "Deadline", a movie project completed by my talented teenage daughter in collaboration with her cousins and sisters.

We drank champagne (and non alcoholic alternatives!) and observed a black tie dress code. It was a fabulous occasion and as always, my daughter's talent impressed.

The two year old found an alternative use for the table confetti I had used to add a little extra sparkle. 

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Cuponk Game - Review

Cuponk Game

"Sink the ball into the cup and light it up! Challenge your friends with this Cuponk game - get it in and you'll hear the sweet sounds of victory"

I knew that this toy would be a hit the moment I saw it.

We described it as "a £12.99 upgrade of the old ping pong ball and polystyrene drinks cup game" and although the principle is the same, the art work and the cup that lights up and cheers when a ball is sunk, take it to a whole new level. It also comes with trick cards that show how household objects, parts of the body and a cardboard funnel (supplied) can be used to create challenges of varying difficulty.

It is quite frustrating when time after time the ball refuses to go where you intend for it to go but that is more than made up for by the elation you experience when your shot works.

 It certainly provides an outlet for one's competitive nature and I can imagine that with the family together over the Christmas period, there will be some lively contests.

On the base of the Cuponk box is the following warning:

"HIGHLY ADDICTIVE! If you witness the sunrise several times and find yourself surrounded by empty pizza boxes, it's time to go home. If you are home, resume play and avoid anchovies at all costs."

I have the deepest admiration for things that do not take themselves too seriously!

Wild Science Beauty Salon Set - Review

Wild Science Beauty Salon Set

"Experiment using this cool Beauty Salon and make lots of bath bombs, scented crystals, scented note paper and much more!"

The trouble with asking anyone brought up on old school Blue Peter (John Noakes, Valerie Singleton and Peter Purves) to review a toy on camera, is that they instantly adopt "TV presenter" persona and give you a full half hour program complete with "here's one I made earlier". Well my sister does, anyway!

I have had to edit her video to within an inch of its life to get it down to my target of under 2 minutes, but I had such a lot of fun doing it.

The toy we were reviewing, the Wild Science Beauty Salon Set, was quite surprisingly - REAL SCIENCE but with a girly twist.

I loved science at school and went on to do my University degree in Chemistry. This kit ticked the boxes for me in terms of the quality of the apparatus and chemicals. The safety goggles took me right back to my days in the lab!

The well illustrated instruction booklet gave clear, step by step instructions for a variety of projects along with the science behind them and information about safety.

The experiment that my sister demonstrates in the video didn't work quite as well  as it could have (I think her soap solution was too dilute and I would have used more of the red colouring) but it does (I hope) give a sense of what the kit is all about. Enjoy!

Sprayza Studio - Review

Sprayza Studio

"Create your own amazing airbrushed pictures with the Sprayza Studio! It's safe, clean, fun and easy. Choose a colour and stencil and blow away to create your masterpiece!"

I enjoy doing craft projects and I thought that the Sprayza Studio pens looked lovely - a stunning colour pallette and a neat little device for blowing the ink. The kit comes with some cardboard stencils but they were a bit of a fiddle to press out and didn't really excite me much. 

It is the sort of thing that my parents like to have at their house to keep the grandchildren amused when we visit. I thought it might be fun to set my parents loose with the kit and see how they got on with it. This is the result.

My Friend Next Door

My friend next door wouldn't come to my house and knock and ask if I would come out to  play - he would stand in his back garden and shout in his pre-pubescent high pitched voice PAAUU-LLAAA! This was such a regular occurrence that their parrot, who was often put out on the coal bunker in his big metal bird cage for some air, would imitate the sound.

Our back gardens were long and thin and separated by a waist high rickety fence. His side of the fence was formal fish pond set in neatly clipped lawn edged with flowerbeds and vegetables growing in rows in weed free soil. Our side of the fence was overgrown and neglected. Our side of the fence was paradise.

The bottom of our garden was a place where my dad would dump stuff - old beds, the decaying remains of what had once been a shed, tangled bits of rusting metal, some great lumps of concrete torn from I don't where and an old Belling cooker. This was where we made our camps.

We fought battles there (mostly in our heads) to protect our camp from the enemy (my big sister, who in reality would have been hanging out with her mates at the Rec and had not even the remotest interest in our world of rotten planks and plastic sheets). It was our world. A world we created for ourselves where the idea of having to grow up didn't even exist.

We were both escaping from reality. He was the offspring of a single parent in a time when that was  scandalous. He lived with his mum and his grandparents and for the life of me I couldn't work out why he had "two mums". He was fat.

The reality from which I fled was the violent exchanges between my father and his hormonal, larger than life, eldest daughter.

Physical punishment was still quite normal then but when my sister would answer back and fail to live up to the expectation of my father that "when you're  in these four walls you do as I say", he would lose control. You always knew when he lost control. His face would change. He would stick his curled tongue between bared teeth and bite down on it. It terrified me. I loved him and I hated him.

Later, when I would become the recipient of his angry, uncontrolled outbursts, my friend next door would be there for me. He would help me to see things from my dad's point of view. He would take away my anger at myself for not being good.

Both our houses have been demolished now and my friend next door is a grown man with a beautiful wife and two fabulous children.  I wonder if sometimes, like me, when the demands of life are pulling in different directions, he still feels that childhood memory urging him to 'make camp' and escape.

This post is a response to Sleep is for the Weak's writing prompt - Remembering

Monday, 13 December 2010

Tomy Aquadoodle Animal Magic Sounds - Review

Tomy Aquadoodle Animal Magic Sounds

"Simply fill your Aquadoodle pen with water, choose from you favourite farmyard friend from the images on the mat and doodle away to the sounds"

Opening this toy served as a reminder to have a cross head screwdriver and batteries at the ready on Christmas Day. 

The play mat was bigger than I expected and beautifully colourful, but in the time I spent fiddling around trying to find what I needed to make the Animal Magic pen work, my 2 1/2 year old lost interest and went back to watching CBeebies. 

I did eventually find a screwdriver (and a few other interesting items in my husband's drawers that I shall have to have words about!!) and after a quick dash to our local Morrisons for buy one get one free Duracell triple As (plenty of spares now) we were up and running. 

For this review, I think I will leave my daughter to show you in her own little way what she thinks of the Aquadoodle.

As you can probably see from the video, my daughter does love to doodle and she can be a bit indiscriminate as to where she doodles and with what (permanent markers, yoghurt...). If this doodle mat can satisfy her scribbling urges and stop her colouring in my kitchen cupboard doors, it would be worth every single penny of the retail price!

The Magic pen is very comfortable to hold and the process of refilling with water is not fiddly at all.

There are a couple of slightly disappointing things I should mention. 

Firstly the fact that you can only doodle in one colour because of the nature of the mat means that you do end up with one big green splodge (with an enthusiastic doodler) until the surface dries and returns to an inviting white blank canvas.

Secondly, in order to make the animal sounds, the wide end of the  Magic pen is pushed onto plastic discs located on the border of the mat near to the images of the 'farmyard friends'. The cunningly designed discs press the appropriate combination of three little buttons on the base of the pen to produce each of the farmyard sounds. If you don't place the pen accurately on the disc it is a bit hit and miss as to which sound you end up with. For some reason (maybe a simple manufacturer error) the disc that corresponds to the tractor image on our play mat cannot be made to produce the correct 'brmm' sound. This doesn't really impair my daughter's enjoyment (so what if the tractor quacks) but my son may  be less forgiving when he is old enough to have a turn.

The Logo Board Game - Review

The Logo Board Game

"Get ready for a fun board game featuring company and product Logos that you know and love"

Family Games Night is something that is often neglected in favour of watching TV or the teenagers disappearing to their rooms to immerse themselves in some PC related activity. Whenever we do make space for it, we all thoroughly enjoy ourselves and resolve to do it more often. Key to honouring this resolution is having some great games that everyone looks forward to playing. We have a few favourites in the games cupboard but even the best ones get stale if you overplay them. I am always on the lookout for a new boardgame to keep things fresh and exciting and was delighted to be given Logo to review.

Logo is a game for 2-6 players, ages 12 - adult. It consists of a box of 400 question cards and a simple board that is progressed around as questions are correctly answered. Once you have made you way into the central Winning Zone, you must answer two question consecutively to be declared the winner.

There are three different kinds of question card - picture cards, common theme cards and pot luck - and each card has four coloured coded questions relating to the coloured squares on the game board. The questions all test your knowledge of consumer brands.

There is no element of luck or strategy involved, simply the ability to answer questions correctly. This did seem to favour me (as the person in our household responsible for the shopping and thus probably most exposed to branding) and handicap the youngest player who has had fewer years as a consumer. We played two games and both times the outcome was identical with me winning by a mile. Whilst this is good for my ego, I could imagine it wearing thin with the rest of the family very quickly!!

The young ones did have the opportunity to feel superior as they watched my husband and I struggling to read the question cards by the dim light of our energy saving lightbulbs with our middle aged eyesight!

It was something of an eye-opener to realise just how many corporate and product logos are instantly recognisable and familiar and the children definitely enjoyed playing despite their relative lack of success.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

A Toyologist Christmas

Christmas shouldn't be all about the presents but there is no denying that a scene like this on Christmas morning provides enough visual impact and promise of wonders to get your festivities off to a very good start.

High on my list of ingredients for a perfect Christmas is "Spending time with the family". If that family time can be enhanced by a great new toy or game, then so much the better. This is definitely something I'll be looking out for in my reviews.

Christmas should also be a time for showing that you care. Choosing a gift for a child that you know they'll love and seeing their little face light up with pleasure is something very special.

Between now and the Big Day, I am going to be reviewing twelve potential Christmas gifts. I hope these reviews prove useful and perhaps offer a little bit of inspiration.

The Twelve Reviews of Christmas

First Review:  Thinkfun Rush Hour Game
Second Review: The Logo Board Game
Fifth Review: Wild Science Beauty Salon Set
Sixth Review: Cuponk
Seventh Review: Thinkfun Zingo
Eighth Review: Silverlit Radio Control Heli Mission
Ninth Review: Play that Tune
Tenth Review: Playskool Step Start Walk 'n' Ride
Eleventh Review: Cranium 2nd Edition
Twelfth Review: Zubber Bands


Thinkfun Rush hour Game - Review

Thinkfun Rush Hour Game 
"Can you manoeuvre your way through the gridlock to escape the traffic jam? This Rush Hour game features 40 different challenges that take you through the beginner levels through to expert."

Of all the wonderful and exciting toys in the Toyologist toy box, the one that got my eldest daughter most excited was the Thinkfun Rush Hour Game.

My daughter has a very mathematical and logical approach to life which probably accounts for the fact that games such as these appeal to her so much. She is familiar with playing games of this nature on the computer and showed me a phone app that is essentially the same but with blocks rather than cars.

It didn't take her long to get stuck into playing Rush Hour. The plastic board has a little tray underneath in which challenge cards are stored and a drawstring bag to store the different coloured vehicle playing pieces. It is all well designed and solidly constructed

We began with card one, placing it in the little slot on the board and using it as a guide to set up the pieces. Setting up was very easy and we were ready to try and solve the 'gridlock' to free the red car, as is the aim of the game.

Level one was fairly easy but the difficulty level quickly increased with subsequent cards.

When my husband saw the game he got very excited. It was a game that he had owned some years ago and couldn't wait to demonstrate it to us.

As I write this post, I can hear the now quite familiar "ca-clunk" sound as my teenage girls take it in turns to play.

What I like most about this game is the simplicity of it, how it packs away neatly, the fact that it can be played alone, that it becomes ever more challenging with levels of difficulty (you could also try to improve your solution time and number of moves taken) and how excited my husband gets when the little red car "ca-clunks" its way to freedom!
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