Friday, 28 September 2012

Wild Science Hyperlauncher Rocket Ball Factory

This is not the first Wild Science set I have reviewed on my blog. Previously, I have enjoyed having a 'Lava Laugh' (amongst other things!) with the Wild Science Beauty Salon and made lip balm with the Wild Science Lip Balm Laboratory. Both these sets had a decidedly 'girlie' flavour. Not so with the latest of the Wild Science sets I was sent to review. The Hyperlauncher Rocket Ball Factory has much more boy appeal and contains everything you need to make your own Mass Accelerating Launch Ball.

As with all the Wild Science sets, the instruction booklet gives very clear, step by step diagrammatic instructions with lots of science to support the school curriculum. The importance of safety is emphasised and the kit comes with a set of protective goggles - guaranteed to make you feel like a 'real' scientist!

The kit is aimed at boys (and girls with a preference for such things) in the 8+ years age category. I set my ever willing teenagers the challenge of trying out the kit, including videoing their efforts. This is how they got on.

I was impressed with how well the bouncy balls turned out, although they do need to be stored in a plastic bag to stop them drying out and becoming too hard. We had to limit the experimenting part to what we could do inside as the weather was not good enough to take the experiments outside. 

There are plenty of the 'hypergranules' left to make more bouncy balls with the potential for much more experimentation.

I really love the Wild Science range. I think they are great fun and if they can capture the interest of our children and inspire a passion for science - that can only be a good thing.

RRP £12.99

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Poppy Cat

Although my 4 year old daughter Addy has never seen the children's TV show 'Poppy Cat' which airs on Nick Jnr, it did not stop her from instantly relating to the cute little plush, talking Poppy Cat toy (suitable from 10+ months) from Golden Bear that we were sent to review.

We were also sent a set of Poppy and Friends Figurines (suitable from age 3+ years) which immediately caught her imagination and inspired some delightful make believe play.

The toys are very well made and lovely to handle. I always think that the best way to demonstrate a toy is in the hands of a child so here is a video of Addy getting to know her Poppy Cat characters.

Addy likes to take the talking Poppy Cat to bed with her. This did cause some confusion during the night when my husband and I could hear a little voice that we didn't recognise coming from one of the bedrooms! In our sleepy state, the confusion lasted much longer than it ought to have!

both retail at £9.99

Time to Turn the Central Heating On?

Sunday, 23 September 2012

A Uni Send Off

Maybe it's because my daughter Taylor is small and petite or maybe it's because she has big brown puppy dog eyes that make her look vulnerable - whatever it is, the idea of her going off to University next weekend is quite scary. My head tells me she will be absolutely fine and has an amazing time ahead of her - my heart makes me want to scoop her up in my arms, hold her tight and tell her to stay home! Of course my head is right but to pacify my heart, we are doing little things to help us both feel able to deal with the big day.

Yesterday we had a party for the family to wish Taylor and her boyfriend's twin sister (who is now safely ensconced in the student room that she will call home for the next year) the very best of luck.

I do love an excuse for a party and spent some happy hours baking cakes, taking inspiration (and instruction) from the Cake Decorating Partwork I subscribed to earlier this year.

I had a go at some icing techniques to create red, white and blue 'cupcake' cookies. It was messy and tricky and I wasn't entirely satisfied with how they turned out but it has left me wanting to try again. The potential is there to make spectacular looking biscuits. With a bit more practise I might just get the hang of it. In the meantime, my children have demonstrated their support of my cake decorating hobby by kindly volunteering to eat all my disasters.

I was happier with my ladybird cupcakes. I absolutely love my new icing nozzle that creates a grass effect. I modelled the ladybirds out of sugar paste but cheated and bought a pack of icing flowers from Asda to complete the look.

I made a chocolate fudge cake and covered it in white chocolate buttons. I had bought a packet of milky bar giant buttons on special offer for £1 and a packet of cheap Morrisons white chocolate buttons for 39p (or 3 for a £1) thinking it would look nice to have two different diameter circles in the design. Once both packets were emptied onto a plate, it was almost impossible to tell the difference between them. Next time I need white chocolate buttons for cake decorating, I know which ones I will be buying!

My cakes were willingly pushed to one side to make way for the incredibly ambitious Union Jack cake made by the younger sister of Taylor's boyfriend. In the absence of a relevant song to replace Happy Birthday to You during the ceremonial cake cutting, we sang a rousing rendition of the National Anthem.

We presented the two almost Uni students with boxes of chocolates (they will both be making lots of new friends and chocolate can be a good ice breaker!) and celebratory bottles of champagne. When I say champagne, I do actually mean bottles of sparkling perry - weekend offer in Lidl's for £1.29. However, with my genius of a daughter Liberty doing a five minute photoshop job, we transformed the bottles into personalised 'Really Classy Champagne'.

Had it been real champagne with a real champagne price tag, I could not have watched as they shook the bottles and popped the corks with frothy spurting and hilarity in equal measure.

It was lovely to have a little celebration and the opportunity to wish both girls luck and apart from my little ones getting tired and grumpy by the end of it, there were plenty of happy faces.

I very much hope that the good feeling generated sustains us through the next week as we pack and prepare to go.

We're all going to miss you Taylor!

Silent Sunday

Monday, 17 September 2012

Jungle Junction Race Launcher Play Set

This is the second of my Jungle Junction Play Set reviews (see also Taxicrab Boat Play Set).

The Race Launcher Play Set definitely made my daughter's eyes light up.

There was some adult assembly required which is always a little awkward with children desperate to get their hands on their new toy.

When everything was clicked into place and the last of the stickers applied, the children were let loose.

Initially there was some argument because one of he launcher ramps is higher than the other and they both wanted that one but after a reminder about taking turns and sharing nicely (and the accompanying threat to take the toy away completely if the arguments persisted) they played together. 

The set includes an Ellyvan and a Crocker racing figure (more fighting because they both wanted Crocker - *tears hair out*) A mechanical arm (attached to an image of Bobby the toucan Police Chief) dings the starting bell and with the pull of a lever that raises a section of ramp at the top of the launchers, the race is on! If I was being pedantic, I'd say it is difficult to get a completely fair start to the race but the fun is less about winning and more about  the crazy collisions at the bottom of the launcher.... and then racing all over again.

The children did have a lot of fun with this Play Set but unfortunately, an over enthusiastic start to one particular race saw the starting lever snapping off on one side. It does still work but it is a bit of a fiddle.  I would advise caution and restraint to prevent this occurrence.

RRP £24.99

Jungle Junction Taxicrab Boat Play Set

My two little ones are big fans of Jungle Junction.

We were very lucky to be sent two fantastic Jungle Junction Play Sets to review: Taxicrab Boat Play Set and Race Launcher Play Set. Both were impressively large boxes that would wrap up into very exciting presents (how many shopping days is it till Xmas now?!?) Both were aimed at children in the 3+ age category (although I challenge you to tell my two year old son that he is too young!)

The following video shows 2 year old Dylan and 4 year old Addy playing with the Taxicrab Play Set.

There was certainly plenty of play value with this toy and with the exception of the doors which seemed to detach rather easily, it withstood a lot of boisterous activity. Other Jungle Junction characters that we already owned were too big to travel down the ramp but it didn't seem to deter the children from trying.

My daughter's 18 year old boyfriend is always  keen (perhaps a tad too keen!) to get down with the little ones and play. It didn't take him long to realise that the 'plank' made a brilliant springboard to launch unsuspecting Jungle Junction figures skywards, much to the delight of the little ones. Complete chaos and much laughter ensued.

Thanks to Ivy for the photograph.

RRP £29.99

(see also Jungle Junction Race Launcher Play Set review)


On Sunday, my eldest daughter's boyfriend took part in The Great North Run, completing the 13 mile course in 1hour 57 minutes and raising money for three different charities close to his heart. As I was watching the television coverage of the event, I found myself wishing that I was there running rather than sitting on my sofa.

Recently, my daughter and I joined the Beginners group of our local Running Club. An eight week programme steers you gently from non runner status to being able to run continuously for 30 minutes, which with a push could equate to a 5K race. Last year I ran the 5K Race for Life in just under 40 minutes without any structured training programme so the target of 5K in 30 minutes seems very achievable.

I don't honestly imagine I would have the stamina and fitness to do a half marathon but I am now considering setting myself the goal of taking part in a 10K race. There is an annual race around my town, previously sponsored by Muller Dairies. The route actually goes right past my house. It would be amazing to be one of the runners rather than a spectator, sitting on my front wall cheering the runners on.

It is good to have big dreams but I am aware that I have a lot of work to do before I am close to being ready to turn the dream into reality. Tonight is Week 3 on the Running Club Beginners programme. We will be running 3 minutes then waking 1 minute and repeating this 6 times. I will do this again on Wednesday and a third time at the weekend before moving onto Week 4 - run 5 mins, walk 2 mins, repeat 4 times.

I never thought that I would actually enjoy running but I really am. I look forward to my runs. I even feel inspired enough to buy myself a fluorescent pink (or yellow!) running jacket (on my shopping list but I may opt for a reflective sash for less conspicuous high visibility!)

I also think that the running is starting to have an effect on my figure too. Wobbly bits seem less wobbly. It may not be such a noble motivator as running a half marathon for charity, but the thought of banishing my bulges will definitely help keep me going - hopefully, all the way to the finish line.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Chloe's Magical Dress Up Closet

It's been a tough week for my little Addy. As well as having the new routine of school to settle into, which has not been plain sailing as I'd hoped it might, she has come down with a cold.

I was so pleased to be able to reward her efforts and get the weekend off to a great start by giving her a new review toy to play with. The toy was Chloe's Magical Dress Up Closet from Golden Bear and although Addy has never seen the TV show from which this product was inspired, she declared that she loved it before it was even out of the box. It is pink and girlie - why am I not surprised that it would appeal to Addy!

The set required 3 AAA batteries so the hunt was on for a small phillips head screwdriver to install them. A frustrating few minutes later (note to self - sort myself out with a basic tool kit for my exclusive use) and we were fully operational.

Addy couldn't help but notice the similarity between herself and the Chloe doll - blonde hair, blue eyes, penchant for princess dresses. "Two Addys!!" she declared gleefully (not sure I'm ready for that!!)

The purpose of the batteries was to provide light and sound on the press of a heart shaped pink button above the door of the closet - a discovery quickly made and repeated with slightly annoying regularity.

The set comes with three different outfits (that come in two halves that clip together over the doll) and interchangeable play scenes that slot into the back of the closet to provide stimuli for imaginative play.

Outfits store neatly in compartments to either side of the closet

It certainly worked with Addy. She wasted no time inventing stories around her new little doppelganger.

Despite her brother's best attempt to sabotage the game with toy cars, the Magical World of princesses and castles grows in sophistication as I write this post, keeping Addy entertained and happy. I don't ask for more than that from a toy.

When I asked Addy what she liked about her new toy she said "Just all the clothes" ... as Chloe went back to her castle to get dressed...

RRP £29.99

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Much more exciting than a soggy sandwich

There was definitely some interest in the new contraption that appeared in my kitchen (courtesy of The New York Bakery Co).

Contrary to popular opinion, the circular plastic device was not an alien spacecraft but in fact, a Bagel Protector.

From the wide range of different bagels available, I chose a packet of Plain (safe choice) and Seeded (because they looked so wholesome and healthy).

Then I let my teenagers loose with a variety of fillings.

They came up with their own creations.

The next job was to put the Bagel Protector to the test.

I have to admit that our bagels were not as perfectly rounded as the Bagel Protector but with a small amount of encouragement, we managed to pop one in. The robust design protected the bagel perfectly and it looked a lot more exciting than a sandwich bag!

The bagels were consumed enthusiastically.

With the children back at school and college now, I am faced with the constant challenge of providing lunch box offerings that are slightly more exciting than a soggy sandwich. Filled bagels could definitely  be the answer and the Bagel Protector would ensure that lunch remains unsquashed and appetising . There is even a wipe clean surface on the lid to write down the filling used (although with the morning rush - this would most likely have to remain a surprise!)

(Filling creations included: marmite, soft cheese and tomato, cheddar and cucumber, jalapeno cheddar, tomato puree and soft cheese.)

For news and information on all things bagel, like New York Bakery Co. Bagel facebook page

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

O is for Oh Dear!

The whole idea of the Alphabet Dates was to encourage my husband and I to think outside the box and try new things together. Unfortunately, energy spent on coming up with exciting ideas lately, is energy we no longer have to spare on the implementation the plan. It is a sad truth that the all important energy factor is in very short supply at the moment!

Our dates may not have the creative flair that we imagined when we embarked on the project but we still value the time together and so we carry on regardless.

That is why for our  O date we opted for yet another curry - at Oruna, my favourite Indian restaurant. This is our default date - and should we ever get round to redoing our D date that was inDefinitely Delayed due to a Depressive Dark cloud Descending, we would probably do D is for our Default Date (honestly - any excuse for another Paneer Tikka Massala).

So the plan was to go out for a curry on Sunday night once the little ones were in bed but - Oh dear! When we made that plan I hadn't accounted for the hangover I would have after the party at my daughter's future mother-in-law's house on the Saturday.

The party was in honour of my daughter's boyfriend's sister's 17th birthday (long lists of possessive nouns feel a bit like a hangover!) and took the format that we are familiar with for parties at the future-in-laws - fantastic barbecue (loads of veggie options), fantastic atmosphere and freely flowing alcohol (which definitely contributes to the previous point). I was pacing myself well with my drink of choice, red wine, but then made the fatal mistake of drinking one of the house special cocktails.

This particular muddy blue concoction was called a WooWoo and within minutes I was dancing badly, touching my husband inappropriately to see if the new heart rate monitor he had bought to help with his triathlon training would register any increase and generally misbehaving.

The WooWoo and wine combo took pretty much the whole of Sunday to work its way out of my system. I was in no mood to dress up and go out for my O date curry but I did thoroughly enjoy the Oruna takeaway that my ever patient and forgiving husband brought home for us. I did not miss out on my Paneer Tikka Massala!

One of my highlights of the weekend was two of my girls singing a current favourite song for the birthday girl. Unfortunately, a guitar string malfunction and bad acoustics meant that the recording of the actual performance did not come out too well. This is a 'take two'  they did for me at home.

I wonder if I will ever be able to hear that song without thinking WooWoo!

Monday, 10 September 2012

Schleich Safari

I have talked before about how much I love the exquisitely detailed Schleich animal figures. My two little ones use them for a wide variety of imaginative games and they are great for learning the names of the more exotic animals that are not often encountered.

When I was sent a selection from the Wildlife range to review, I thought the best thing to do would be to let them speak for themselves and take you on a 'Schleich Safari' on location at my house!

Here goes...

Pelican - £4.99

Zebra Foal - £2.89

Camel -  £5.49

Polar Bear Cub - £2.89

Pogona Lizard - £2.89

Tiger Cub Standing - £2.89

Meerkat Sitting - £2.89

That was a surprisingly relaxing way to spend part of my Monday morning!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

N is for Nothing

Whenever I hear anyone say I'm bored or I've got nothing to do I can't help but feel a little envious. My life is so full of busy that there is little enough time to do the things I need to do let alone all the things I want to do.

For our N Alphabet Date, my husband and I decided to indulge ourselves by doing Nothing. I'm sure if this was a regular occurrence it would quickly become very dull but it was an absolute pleasure to have the excuse to forget all the things we could or should have been tackling and do Nothing.

It was all quite spontaneous. The kids were happily watching their favourite channel on the TV. We had plans to use the afternoon to finish sorting out our loft space but instead, we got comfortable on the sofa together. We barely spoke. I put my head in his lap and let myself relax. I dosed off a few times and luxuriated in the guilt free doing nothing. It felt so good.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Starting School

Today could have been a day to dread - the day my little girl starts infant school - but she was so excited about it and her excitement was infectious.

She posed for photos in her new school uniform - and when I say posed I do mean posed!

There were big hugs for siblings left behind...

... then we were buckled up and ready to go.

Once in her new classroom, the nerves began to show. She hugged me like she was  never going to let go and gave me kiss after kiss after kiss. Then with a quiet little 'goodbye mummy' and a tiny wave she stepped away from me and into her big adventure.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Summer Reflections

The Summer Holidays are all but over and tomorrow, my little girl has her first day at school. Brand new uniform waits on its hangers for the big day and shiny new shoes are ready to take little feet on some big steps. She is eager to learn and excited about the new adventure. For me it will take some adjusting - driving to school each day instead of  the pleasant walk we had for her Nursery and then the whole day without her instead of collecting her at lunchtime. I am looking forward to more one-on-one time with my two year old son and maybe even the opportunity to accomplish some of the things on the DIY to-do list that hasn't seen much crossed off it over the last six weeks.

When I finished University nearly three decades ago, I didn't have the slightest clue what I wanted to do next. My daughter Ivy found herself in the same situation after graduating this year. She came back home to take stock and make a plan. I thought I was fully aware of all the potential pitfalls of having a child used to independence returning to the family home. There were problems with her not having a space of her own and the inevitable depressing feeling that coming home is a backward step. Being aware of the problems did not make them any easier to deal with. Ivy has always been highly strung and emotional and we have had a really tough time trying to help her make sense of her life. It has been a huge drain on everyone's energy. We had a mammoth house change around so that Ivy could have her own room. One of the upshots of this was that my little boy has swapped his cot for a single bed. He loves it. The cot is packed away in my newly boarded loft (one of the DIY projects that I can cross off the list) just in case any of my older children should decide to make me a grandparent. Ivy now has a job in a lovely country pub (in the same village where my little girl's new school is) and she is saving up to go travelling.

This has been an important summer for my daughter Taylor as she anxiously awaited her A level results upon which her future hinged. She did exceptionally well, securing herself a place at her first choice University to study maths. Up until the firm offer of a place, the idea of University was simply that - an idea. Suddenly, it was a reality. Her worries about leaving home, leaving her boyfriend and taking on the huge challenge of University are plainly evident. I know that once she settles in she is going to have an amazing time but I also suspect that initially, there will be some tearful goodbyes. We are doing all we can to help prepare her, including setting her and her boyfriend the task of cooking a three course meal for the two sets of parents (and themselves). They planned it, shopped for it, prepared it and served it - working together with efficiency and good humour. Apart from a timing error with some basmati rice that turned into basmati blancmange, the food was fantastic and they were both relaxed enough to be charming hosts too. The starter of vegetable potato cakes was absolutely delicious.

We made the decision not to go abroad on holiday this summer but we did enjoy some unexpectedly fantastic weather during a short break on the south coast which made up for it. We visited some beautiful places, spent time with family and friends and I fulfilled an ambition to dance at the glorious Tower Ballroom in Blackpool - all things that make it feel like time well spent.

Wasdale - The Lake District

The Summer Holidays are all but over.  I can't help but feel a little sad.  As for tomorrow - well tomorrow is a whole new day.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

M is for Movie Night

My husband and I have good reason for wanting to crack on with our Alphabet Dates - not simply because we enjoy the excuse to make time for each other but because we have another project in the pipeline that is going to keep us busy.

We thought about climbing a mountain together for our M date but then settled on a less adventurous cosy night in with a Movie. In keeping with the M theme, we planned to make a Mushroom curry to get things started.

Our town has a thriving street market every Wednesday. I am not a great lover of markets but I do have one or two favourite stalls that I sometimes frequent. One stall sells fruit and veg and often has large boxes of mushrooms for a couple of pounds. My plan was to buy one of these for my curry.

Unfortunately, as is often the case on Wednesdays for some unfathomable reason, the God of Market Traders was not smiling. It poured with rain. Not just ordinary rain but great big hailstones. By the time I got into town to hunt down my primary dinner ingredient, the boxes of mushrooms were reduced to a soggy, slimy mess. Tragic.

I had a rich mushroom sauce in the freezer, leftover from the last box of mushrooms I'd purchased. My husband used it to knock up a never to be repeated, mushroom and chickpea spicy concoction which if we'd been blessed with imagination, we could have named something beginning with M!

Choosing a movie that we both wanted to watch wasn't that easy. I like horror films - he doesn't. He likes espionage and political thrillers. I don't. Then we had a brainwave.

I have an early childhood memory of staying up past my bedtime and seeing a snippet of a film that my parents were watching. I clearly remember a circus ring, a woman dressed in black leather riding a white horse and a ring master with a whip. The ring master whipped the woman, slicing into her leather    clothes until she was naked.

Although the imagery stayed with me into adulthood, I had no idea what film it was from until a chance facebook conversation some time ago. A friend of mine (also from my childhood) supplied me with the title of the film and the leading lady of the black leather fame.

My husband bought me a German import of the film but I was in no hurry to actually watch it in case it did not live up to my memory. It sat gathering dust on my DVD shelf. The film (from 1968) was Girl on a Motorcycle and the leading lady was Marianne Faithfull.

There would really be no better time to confront my childhood memory than on our M date!

We were late starting the film so we went to bed to watch it. We had a few false starts because we couldn't find the remote control and then we couldn't work out how to change the audio from German dubbing back to original English but we eventually got there. The iconic scene, etched in my memory was very early on in the film and I had no memory of anything that followed. (I am guessing that  at that point, my parents must have realised I was watching, deemed it unsuitable viewing for a child and sent me off to bed!)

I'm sure that it in its day, the film would have been spectacularly ground breaking and risque but I'm afraid it was just a bit too slow and dated to keep me awake all the way through. I did, however, love being snuggled under duvet and in my husband's arms, snoozing! As for the circus scene that made such a dramatic impact on me all those years ago before I could have had any comprehension of the significance of it all - it will remain one of my favourite film sequences of all time.

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