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.