Monday, 23 December 2013

The Shoe Cupboard

For a while now I have wanted a better way to store shoes in the hall. As the boys have got older the shoes have multiplied and the shoe storage benches that we put in the hall when we built the house were full to bursting. Mark's solution was not to buy any new shoes but that was not an option!

After a bit of thought I came up the idea of having a cupboard built next to the front door which would store all the shoes. Mark's Dad made it with help from Mark and now I have a nice new shoe cupboard (that is full already!!) 

All the shelves are different heights so that I can maximise storage space, tall boots and wellies are at the bottom and there are shelves for heels and flat shoes. It has solved all our shoe storage problems and made the hall look much tidier too.



Monday, 16 December 2013

Hotel Chocolat - Sleekster Classic Christmas Selection

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a real chocoholic. When Hotel Chocolat asked if I would like to review their Sleekster Classic Christmas Selection to say I was thrilled was an understatement! 


The Sleekster Classic Christmas Selection is beautifully packaged in a long box that is the perfect size to fit through the letterbox.  The lid is bright red and very Christmassy and the minute you remove the lid the wonderful smell of chocolate hits you. There is a good mix of dark, milk and white chocolates and with 13 different flavours there is something to suit everyone. 

Hotel Chocolat are very adventurous with their flavour combinations, I would never have thought of combining  pistachio, cherry, rose and praline to make a pistachio praline crunch but it all works surprisingly well together. As this is a Christmas selection unsurprisingly the flavours have a Christmas theme and there are chocolates made with cranberry, marzipan, and of course plenty of alcohol . The chocolates are all different shapes and sizes and the addition of stars, a bell, a bauble and the traditional Christmas tree all add to the Christmas experience.


The chocolate guide has a colour picture of each chocolate along with a short description of the taste along with a handy alcohol guide ranging from "no alcohol" to "could blow your socks off" so if you have children it may be worth reading this first.



These are the chocolates contained in the box.

Marzipan & Amaretto Truffle - Fine almond marzipan softened with a splash of mellow amaretto.
Christmas Mess - Fruity cranberry ganache and strawberry mousse with meringue sprinkles.
Cranberry Cup - Tangy cranberries blended in a more-cocoa white chocolate ganache.
Rum Punch -A creamy milk truffle with ginger and orange and premium Jamaican rum.
Nutmeg & Almond Praline - Almond praline flavoured with nutmeg.
White Chocolate & Vanilla Bell - Cast in  creamy white chocolate with vanilla essence and seeds.
Dark Christmas Tree - Cast in  smooth dark chocolate with deep aromas and punchy cocoa notes.
50% Milk Bauble - Deeply chocolaty but still milky – made with less sugar and more cocoa.
Pistachio Praline Crunch - Pistachio praline with cherry and a hint of rose and a whole pistachio nut.
Mulled Port - A warming truffle with  ruby port, spiced with Pimento leaf and bitter orange.
Chambord Royale -A real Champagne truffle blended with black raspberry liqueur.
Caramel Supernova - A star of oozingly soft caramel paired with 70% dark chocolate.

Praline Crisp Star - A contrast of smooth, mellow praline and masses of nibbly feuilletine.



Whilst I enjoyed all the chocolates my favourites were the dark Christmas tree as I love  good quality dark chocolate and the Christmas Mess as it was so tangy and delicious. 

These chocolates make a perfect Christmas gift that any chocolate lover would be overjoyed to receive. They cost £23 but if you buy 3 or more boxes the price drops to £21. If you don't have a Hotel Chocolat shop nearby they can be purchased online from the Hotel Chocolat website here.








We received a box of Sleekster Classic Christmas Selection for the purposes of this review but all words, opinions and pictures are our own.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Pottery Animals

A few weeks ago we made pottery animals at Cubs. The clay models were taken away to be fired and we got that back this week. The Cubs all made fantastic models and the Eryl (the pottery teacher) was thrilled with them. 



This  is Luke's pig which I think is a brilliant model, considering he is only 8 years old.


As well as the animals we also had a snowman which was very appropriate with Christmas fast approaching!


Friday, 6 December 2013

Christmas Cakes

At Cubs this week we made Christmas cakes. This is a tradition that goes back years, I was trying to think when we first made them and I know we made them when Fiona was a still a leader and she emigrated to Canada in 1999 so we must have made them for about the last 17 years. Back then we used to save tuna tins to cook the cakes in and for weeks before Christmas everyone was on tuna sandwiches so we had enough tins for all the cubs! Now we buy foil trays which is much easier.




The recipe we use is

5oz  Margarine
5oz  Soft brown sugar
6oz  Flour
1oz  Ground Almonds
3      Eggs
1lb   Mixed fruit
2oz  Cherries
 
Cream margarine and sugar
Fold in eggs and flour
Add fruit and almonds etc
 
Cook for one hour, foil covered, on 180C then for half an hour on 200C without foil.

The Cubs all really enjoy making the cakes and they decorate them the following week and take them home.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Battroborg Review



The boys were thrilled when we received Battroborg robots to review. If you haven't heard of Battroborg before they are the next innovation in robot gaming technology, Battroborgs are motion controlled battling robots built for combat and fuelled by your fists. You control the battle with a wireless controller that immediately transmits your quick jabs into your robot's swift hits. Battle one on one or against a drove of Borgs in three different competitive game modes. 

There are two robots included in the set along with 2 wireless controllers, 4 plastic drones (for practicing)  and the arena. 

The arena was easy to assemble although you did need to push quite hard to get the posts in and my 12 year old son couldn't manage it but once we got them clicked in we were raring to go.



The controllers need 4AA batteries each and these aren't included. Luckily we always have plenty of batteries in the house but it might be worth considering buying a pack if you are buying this as a present. There is nothing worse than getting a new toy and then discovering it needs batteries and you don't have any! The batteries do last a long time, we have had the toy for about a month now and we are still on the same set of batteries. To charge the robots you make sure the power switch on the robot and controller is off, you then insert the plug on the controller into the bottom of the backpack on the Battroborg. The controllers power switch is moved to charge and it takes about 20 minutes to charge and fully charged gives you about 20 minutes of playing time which is ample for plenty of fun.



To play the game you place the robots at the edge of the arena and move your Battroborg into the centre of the arena. The large controller is held in your right hand and the smaller one in your left. The robots are surprising easy to move and all you need to do is punch with your left hand to make the Battroborg throw a left punch and move clockwise or punch with your right hand to make the Battroborg throw a right punch and move anti clockwise. We all quickly got the hang of it and started playing.

There are three battle modes, Combat, Autodrone and Tag. Combat mode is the one we played the most and the objective is to gain five damage points on your opponent for a knock out. It is easy to tell when you have reached five as the light on the robot changes colour. The light starts out as green and then changes to blue, white, yellow, red and finally a flashing red light and a sound effect signifies that the Battroborg has been knocked out. The Battroborg also stops moving to be doubly sure that he has been knocked out. 



We have all really enjoyed playing with Battroborg, It really reminded me of Robot Wars, we used to watch it every week and having Battroborg was like having our own Robot Wars. Everyone has had a go and the boys haven't tired of it yet which shows it is a really good toy.

Battroborg has it's own website which is well worth a visit. 




We received Battroborg for the purposes of this review, all words, images and opinions are our own.

Menzies Hotel Cambridge



We recently visited the Menzies hotel at Cambridge with our two boys, aged 12 and 8. Menzies hotels have introduced M.I.K (Menzies Important Kids) to improve the travel experience of families with children and having stayed in a number of different hotels over the years I have to say without doubt that this is the best hotel group we have ever stayed in. All too often companies think a small bag with a colouring book and some crayons is all that is required to be family friendly. Menzies have upped the game with their M.I.K club and I know our boys will insist we stay in their hotels in future. 

So what makes their hotel so much better than others? Well the fact that they regard children so highly is probably the main factor. As soon as we arrived, knowing that we had had a long journey, the boys were offered cartons of fresh orange juice and the promise of ice cream once we had settled in. They were also told that they could go and get juice, water and ice cream whenever they wanted which they were thrilled with. Once we reached the room they found bags of popcorn, sachets of hot chocolate and tins with fresh chocolate chip cookies as well as the usual tea and coffee (with plenty of milk which made a pleasant change) and pre packed biscuits. There were also bottles of water too. As you would expect the popcorn and cookies didn't last long but these were replaced when the room was cleaned which the boys were very grateful for.



Our family room was very spacious; often family rooms are just ordinary rooms with a couple of camp-beds squeezed in but there was a king size double plus a full size single and then a pop up bed but still plenty of room to move around. The room was very quiet, it was on the first floor looking right out onto the A14 but we never heard a thing. Heating was provided by an air conditioning unit, easily controllable and very comfortable. 


The room was well equipped with complimentary bath robes and slippers, a desk and chair, a hair dryer, iron and ironing board, trouser press and a large TV. 


The one most useful thing in the room was something very simple which I don't think we have had in a hotel room before......... coat hooks by the door! Such a simple idea but very useful.



The bathroom was clean and spacious with a bath and shower and plenty of towels. There was a nice range of toiletries for everyone.



The food at the hotel was excellent, the breakfast was a self-service buffet style with everything from cereal, porridge, pastries, pancakes and a full English breakfast to meals cooked on request (kippers, haddock or omelettes).




The evening meal was a real treat, the food and service was worthy of an excellent restaurant, the staff were attentive but not intrusive and nothing seemed too much trouble. The childrens menu was perfectly suited to an eight year old without just falling back onto sausage, chips and beans! It all sounded delicious and I could quite easily have eaten from it myself (bigger portions obviously!!) Luke chose tomato soup as a starter with pasta in a cheese sauce as his main. He chose jelly as his pudding which came in a tall glass which he loved. It was very reasonable at £6.50 for two courses and £8.50 for three which also included a soft drink. The glass of coke Luke had was huge and I was just about to ask for a straw when the manager brought one across to us, he had obviously spotted the problem and was one step ahead of me which was fantastic.



The adult menu was great too with a wide range on offer. When staying away with the boys we often resort to cheap hotel chains and put up with mediocre food and service so this was a real treat. If we lived closer I would have no hesitation retuning for a meal out with friends. Surprisingly the meals were not expensive, starters and puddings were around £5 and main courses were around £12 to £15, certainly on a par with decent pubs and restaurants that we normally use.

The meals were so tasty that I didn't manage to get any photos before they were devoured however I did remember to take a photo of the puddings., which is the most important part of a meal and the standard that I always judge restaurants on!




The hotel is attached to a golf club and has its own gym and swimming pool. Whilst golf isn’t my thing and I’ve never used a gym in my life, I do enjoy a swim and it was nice to see a “proper” swimming pool i.e. one that you can actually swim in. The water was warm and in addition to the main pool there is a shallow children’s pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and steam room. Towels and lockers were provided and the changing rooms were clean and spacious. Again, when travelling with children a pool is a really welcome distraction and Luke would have stayed in it all day.



Whilst we were staying at the hotel we visited Cambridge and used the Park & Ride service that was nearby. Other family friendly attractions are the Imperial War Museum at Duxford that is well worth a visit.

The highlights for the boys were the free ice-cream 


and the wi-fi


Here is Luke's review of the hotel



Special mention must go to the staff. Everybody from the receptionist to the cleaning staff had a smile on their face and were happy to help. It was especially good to see the manager actually interested in the guests and leading from the front rather than being a shadowy figure in the background. He was especially noticeable when in the restaurant directing his staff and ensuring that we were all happy. He had an excellent rapport with children and joked with them when we were sat at the table for our evening meal. When we were talking to him you could tell he enjoyed his job and had lots of exciting ideas for children, we can't wait to go back and see how he has got on with them.



Disclaimer - we received one nights accommodation along with breakfast and a three course evening meal for the purposes of this review. All words, opinions and images are our own.




Monday, 25 November 2013

Pottery


I have a friend who teaches pottery and so we have been incorporating a pottery session into our programme over the last few years. We usually alternate between animals and tiles and this year we were making animals. To help the Cubs there were a selection of plastic animals for them to copy and to give them an idea of size. 


The Cubs all really enjoyed it and they made a wide variety of animals, there were sheep, snakes, dragons and Luke made a pig. One of our young helpers had made a cow when he was in Cubs and he brought this to show the Cubs. He decided that he would make another cow as he wanted to improve a couple of features.


Luke decided to make a pig and I think he has made a really good job of it. The animals have all been taken away to be fired in the kiln and I am looking forward to seeing the finished pots.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Origins Plantscription Youth Renewing Face Oil

Recently I was asked to try the new Origins Plantscription Youth Renewing Face Oil. Whilst I have heard of Origins before I have never tried any of their products before so I was quite excited to see what it would be like.

Initially I was a little worried about using oil on my face as I thought it would leave it very greasy. I have been pleasantly surprised that after only a couple of weeks it has left my skin feeling lovely and soft and smooth.

The Origins Plantscription Youth Renewing Face Oil comes in a plastic bottle with a dropper which is a really good type of packaging for this type of product however I did find that the oil didn’t stay in the dropper and was dripping out without even squeezing the dropper. As you only need 2 to 3 drops I found I had to be quick dropping it into my hands otherwise too much came out. 

The oil is used in the evening after you have removed all traces of make up and cleansed your face. It is really easy to use; you just warm a couple of drops in the palms of your hands and press on to your skin. Initially I didn’t think 2 to 3 drops would be enough but I was surprised at how far it went. The bottle will last a long time as you don’t need much and you only use it at night.


I have been really pleased with my first Origins product and I will be looking at their other products to complement the face oil.

The recommended retail price is £38 but as you only need a few drops a bottle will last you ages.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Blackpool Tower

During half term we visited Blackpool. I have never been up Blackpool Tower before so we decided that it would be fun to go up the tower.


Obviously this isn't the real Blackpool Tower, earlier this year William entered a competition and made a model Blackpool Tower out of cake. Unfortunately he didn't win but the organisers kindly sent a family ticket to visit Blackpool Tower which we used last week.

The first part that we visited was the 4d theatre where we followed a little boys experience of the seaside. Not only did we see his adventures the film was brought to life with real wind, rain and sunshine! The 4d theatre was great and the boys loved it.

After leaving the theatre we went in the lift up to the skywalk which is glass floor that you can walk on. We all stepped on it and looked at the fantastic views. From the skywalk you can climb up a couple of flights of steps and look out over the sea, it would have been nice to be at the top of the tower once the illuminations had  been switched on but we were a bit to early for this.




We had planned to visit the circus however the 4pm show was fully booked with it being half term. The tickets are valid until the end of the year so we will visit the circus another day.


We had promised William and Luke that we would have tea out so we found a Pizza Hut restaurant and ate tea whilst we were waiting for the illuminations to be switched on.


We walked a long way down the front looking at the illuminations and for once Luke didn't moan about the distance we walked as there was so much to look at. The decorated trams looked amazing and really added to the atmosphere. We had a lovely day out and can't wait to go back and visit the circus.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Shock Absorber Bounce-o-meter

I was recently contacted by the UK's No. 1 sports bra brand Shock Absorber with the results of a recent survey about why women may be avoiding exercising. 

As a keen walker and cyclist this made really interesting reading and I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

With challenging time constraints, tighter purse strings and the increasingly unpredictable British weather, it seems there are many reasons why women might avoid exercising. A new survey released today however shows that it is actually women’s breasts that are holding them back from doing the exercise they love so much.

The UK’s No. 1 sports bra brand Shock Absorber* spoke with 1,000 active women across the UK to uncover the barriers women face when exercising and participating in sport. The surprising results revealed more than one third (37%) find the battle with their breasts too much to bear, citing breast bounce and discomfort as the primary reason they avoid exercise.

Of the women surveyed, two thirds (65%) said they frequently experience breast bounce, and even the more determined gym-goers who persevere with exercise are still experiencing the knock on effects; with 35 per cent admitting they feel embarrassed, 22 per cent stating that it inhibits their enjoyment and a quarter admitting they don’t work out as hard as they potentially could. 

To address this challenging issue, Shock Absorber is on a quest to combat bounce and has created a unique tool called the Bounce-o-Meter. A 3D visual demonstration of breast movement informed by scientific research and lab videos, the tool allows women to adjust the breast size and level of activity for a clear representation of the impact their chosen exercise may have on their breasts. Women can then easily find the best Shock Absorber bra for them to ensure they are supported at all times.



Dr Joanna Scurr, an expert in breast health at the University of Portsmouth commented: “Our research has shown that independent breast movement can cause pain, embarrassment, changes in performance and ultimately can deter women from exercising.  It also shows that exercising without appropriate breast support may lead to stretching of the supporting structures of the breast. I hope that this initiative will help raise women’s awareness of the importance of wearing a sports bra when exercising.”  
With so many women battling with their breasts, it is perhaps surprising that a huge 35 per cent of active women surveyed admitted to never wearing a sports bra when exercising. 

This lack of awareness was further confirmed by other revealing statistics from the survey:

One third (33%) of women don’t think they ever need to wear a sports bra because they don’t have large breasts with 18 per cent believing you only need one to support breasts which are D+ cup size
70 per cent of the women that don’t wear a sports bra wear a normal bra when exercising
Half of the women surveyed (49%) said they don’t believe a sports bra is necessary when doing yoga or pilates, with a further 20 per cent not wearing one for an exercise class at their gym (see appendix for full details)

Martina Alexander, Marketing Manager at Shock Absorber, commented: “These survey results make it immediately apparent that there is a real lack of understanding amongst exercising women when it comes to getting the right breast support. The Bounce-o-Meter is a step in the right direction to help educate women and demonstrate that wearing a Shock Absorber sports bra can reduce breast bounce and discomfort, allowing them to get the most out of their workout.”

With 67 per cent of women admitting they frequently see fellow exercisers’ breasts bouncing and wish they could tell them they need a sports bra, the Bounce-o-Meter is the perfect way to spread the message about combatting bounce.

The Bounce-o-Meter can be found on the Shock Absorber website shows how breasts move with no bra, a normal (lingerie) bra and a Shock Absorber sports bra, which has been proven to reduce breast bounce by up to twice as much as a normal bra**.

To view the Bounce-o-Meter, visit http://www.shockabsorber.co.uk/bounce-o-meter 


The sports for which women don’t think you need to wear a sports bra 
Yoga / Pilates (48%)
Walking (44%)
Golf (35%)
Cycling (30%)
Skiing (21%)
Exercise class at the gym (20%)
Horse riding (20%)
Running (13%)
Tennis (13%)
Jogging (12%)
Netball (11%)
Hockey (10%)




Survey conducted by One Poll, September 2013 (1,000 active women respondents)

For further information about the range of Shock Absorber sports bras, visit www.shockabsorber.co.uk.

*Kantar World Panel data 2013
** University of Portsmouth (2005 and 2009) Scurr et al – research commissioned by Shock Absorber

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Halloween



Here are William and Luke carving their pumpkins ready for Halloween

 

We had a few new decorations this year, thank you Auntie Fiona. 





An extra guest! The witch decoration was very effective and fitted perfectly on the front door.



Here are the finished pumpkins.

Luke went Trick or Treating to Grandma's and when we arrived Grandma had made a pumpkin shaped cake which was all orange. There was a witch and bat at Grandma's who wanted to come Trick or Treating with us so we went to Auntie Angela's and then came home.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Naked Smooth Silky Shampoo and Silky Conditioner Review



Naked Bodycare recently sent me their Smooth Silky Shampoo and Smooth Silky Conditioner to try. The first thing I noticed when I opened the shampoo was the lovely fragrance, it really did smell good enough to eat (although I wouldn't recommend eating or drinking it!!!) The shampoo has a marshmallow and aloe fragrance, not two products that I would have combined but it really does work. The shampoo was just the right consistency, lathered well and rinsed out easily. The conditioner contains jojoba oil as it is a super rich, deeply conditioning liquid wax that coats the hair shaft to help reduce frizz and give hair the appearance of satin sheets. My hair is prone to frizz and I was pleasantly surprised at how well it tamed my normally frizzy locks. I'm not sure my hair ended up looking like satin sheets but it did look sleek and shiny after a couple of washes.

I tend to find that natural products generally are much more expensive however both products are 97% natural and are very reasonably priced at £3.99 for 250ml

Overall these are great products and I will certainly be buying them again.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Garden Wishlist


We are very lucky to have a huge garden and we enjoy spending time in it when the weather is good. We have done a huge amount of work over the last 9 years converting it from a field and it is finally starting to look like like we want it to. When I was a child, playing cricket in the field and climbing over the silo clamp I never imagined that one day it would become my garden! There have been times over the years when we didn't seem to be getting anywhere and I couldn't see us ever finishing but we have persevered and despite some dreadful summers have managed to complete a major project most years. 




Having a big garden and lots of space means we can have bigger outdoor toys and one of our best buys was the BERG go kart that we bought a few years ago. The seat is moveable and means everyone can use it, adults too. A project for the future is to build a go kart track in the field and all the boys, big and small, can use it for races.


When I saw the competition being run by Tots100 and Activity Toys Direct asking us to go fantasy shopping I asked the boys what they would spend £500 on for their dream garden and they both came up with completely different ideas. 

Luke decided his money would best be spent on additional parts for his go kart. Here is his list which adds up to £486.50.







When I asked William how he would spend £500 he came up with a list totalling £496.46. He spent ages studying the website and put a lot of thought into his list.



He fancied adding an adventure area to our garden with a zip wire and monkey swing attachment. I thought that was a great idea and Mark could use some of his pioneering skills to construct a frame to connect it to. I can see that we would perhaps need a couple of the zip wire kits as Mark will have lots of ideas for building an adventure playground and it would be a fantastic way of using the garden. William also thought a hammock would be fun and somewhere to relax after he had been bouncing around on the TP Toys Pogo stick. He also added a BERG toys Balance Bike which looked fun and would be a good way to keep fit too. His final item was a monkey swing that we could attach to one of the branches of a tree.