Friday 31 July 2015

LEGO TECHNIC Mercedes-Benz Arocs 3245 set 42043 Giveaway

Today I am absolutely delighted to announce a truly awesome LEGO giveaway. On sale tomorrow (1st August) the LEGO Technic Mercedes-Benz Arocs 3245 is a gorgeous vehicle collaboration between LEGO and Daimler AG and I have one to give away to one of my readers courtesy of LEGO.

Priced at £169.99, this is a giant 2,793 piece set, which creates a model 31cm high and 54cm long. It's humungous. It's not only the size that's impressive, this is a real working machine, powered by an electric motor and using the advanced new Pneumatics 2.0 system.

Littlest Pet Shop: Little Pets, Big Adventures DVD review

Littlest Pet Shop: Little Pets, Big Adventures is a brand new release from Hasbro and will be available to buy in the shops and on digital download from 3rd August. U rated and suitable for everyone, it contains 7 episodes where we meet the star Blythe, and her Dad, as well as all of the pets who hang out in the shop.

Littlest Pet Shop: Little Pets, Big Adventures DVD review and giveaway

The Littlest Pet Shop is a concept that my boys are aware of, but a show that's new to us. My boys hadn't seen it at all before our review DVD arrived. My first impression was that it's more 'girly' than I expected, but although the main character is a young teenage girl, the storyline is something all children can appreciate.

Thursday 30 July 2015

The LEGO Scooby Doo Mystery Machine set 75902 review

We had a really exciting delivery today - the brand new LEGO Scooby Doo The Mystery Machine set 75902.  I wasn't expecting it yet, so this is awesome timing because it can come away on holiday with us! This set is now released tomorrow - along with the other Scooby Doo sets, including the Mystery Mansion and bargain Mummy Museum Mystery.

The Mystery Machine is recommended for age 6+, and is a smaller model with around 298 pieces (the press release isn't ready, nor do UK boxes help with this, so I had to count!). In the set are 3 minifigures - Shaggy, Fred and a Zombie, and Scooby Doo himself....

Chromecast Giveaway in association with JNB Aerials.

If you haven't heard of Google's Chromecast then you could be missing a trick. It's a handy little gadget that allows you to watch what you can watch on your phone or tablet - on the big telly! I'm being given one myself, and I've got one to give away thanks to the lovely people at the Manchester based JNB Aerials.
 Google Chromecast giveaway
The Chromecast is a really small USB style device that plugs directly into the TV in a HDMI port. The Chromecast then talks to your phone or tablet when you tell it to, and it will stream your movie, music videos, TV shows etc directly to the TV.

Wednesday 29 July 2015

LEGO DC Comics SuperHeroes Jokerland Review set 76035

The LEGO DC Super Heroes Jokerland set is one of the most playable sets we've ever owned. Tons of fun to build, and as each part does so much the level of interest from my kids as we built was immense. It's the first ever time I've had to send them out of the room because they drove me bats! I couldn't build it quicker than they were taking it away to play with it....

Jokerland is a set recommended for age 8+ set with 1037 pieces which go together to form the Batmobile and all of the renamed fairground attractions. There are 8 fabulous minifigures in this set with lovely accessories.

For the SuperHeroes we have Robin, Beast Boy, Starfire and Batman...

For the bad guys we have The Joker, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn and The Penguin....

Tuesday 28 July 2015

PLAY it Manchester at the Museum of Science and Industry.

If you like games then this is for you. If you ever had an Atari, or played Street-fighter, or thought Sonic actually might be a hedghog, then this is for you. An event featuring over 120 games consoles from the last 30 years, all playable and with limited entry numbers to the hall so that everyone gets a turn...

Did we want to come and review ? Yes thanks!!

The Baby - The Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine
The first ever stored-program computer.

PLAY it Manchester takes place on the 2nd floor of the Museum of Science and Industry. Very apt that below us is The Baby - a replica of the first ever stored-program computer. PLAY it is in a huge space with loads of room, and the all important video games consoles and arcade machines. Tons of seating, a cafe area, and all of your favourite games from the last 30 years. It even has 2 player, 4 player and larger multiplayer games, and it's only £4 entry. Heaven.

My 5 and 6 year olds love their console games and have played and watched since they were tiny. Our  family don't watch a lot of regular TV, games are a living room event and we all join in. They've never played on arcade machines before though and the big joystick was a brand new thing to them!

Monday 27 July 2015

Smarter Picnic Options (for kids who don't want to eat seeds!)

My 2 young children are pretty good eaters and will try most things, but they draw the line at "seeds". If it looks too healthy they'll moan and tentatively lick one corner before declaring it poison. But even without trail mix, cereal bars or home-made pots of interesting yogurty stuff, picnics and snacky hand foods don't actually have to be all bad, and maybe the kids won't notice...

Before we get to food let's consider drinks. We all function better when we're properly hydrated. Exerting yourself, being out in the wind and the (rare glimpses of) sunshine all steal our fluids. Water is great. Available everywhere it has no fat, no sugar, no allergens.

If you like a bit of flavour in your water it can be hard to find something decent add to it. We are not fans of Aspartame here (the taste and what it does to you) so we avoid it. Unfortunately, in an effort to keep calories low, most juices and cordials contain it. Not so with Stur. Sugar free, and with no artificial sweeteners, flavours or colours, it is sweetened using Stevia.

Sunday 26 July 2015

Smart Eggs Labyrinth Puzzles Review

Smart Eggs are a brand new toy brought to us in the UK by Esvedium Games. A 3D puzzle in the shape of an egg, and all you have to do is guide a barbell-shaped wand through the maze inside the egg, from the top to the bottom.

Smart Eggs Labyrinth Puzzles Review

Smart Eggs come in a range of difficulties, and for the more advanced puzzle-solvers there are even 2-layer eggs. We were sent two single layer eggs - Techno (level 7) and Lava (level 8).

Friday 24 July 2015

Diary Doll - pants with a secret

Well, it isn't every day you get an email from Carol Smillie asking what size pants your daughter wears, and that alone was clearly enough for me to do this review. Carol wanted to know because she's one of the two figures behind Diary Doll Pants, a unique new pant with special features. It won't make you Wonder Woman, so blokes, you will probably have a better time if you go and read about Sprukits or Bacon Sandwiches or the Ventura Powerpack with Jump Start.

Diary Doll - pants with a secret

The packaging is really nicely thought out. When you order online they arrive in a little button fastening fabric pouch which is ideal to pop in your bag. These are expensive knickers, so these little touches make it more of a gift, and something you can see is different to normal.

Diary Doll pants have a hidden waterproof layer. They're super handy if you have heavy or irregular periods, or want to wear white trousers or an Elvis Presley style jumpsuit with confidence any day of the month.

Thursday 23 July 2015

Tiggly Educational Apps and Toys for children 2-8 Giveaway

Tiggly are a company making award winning educational apps with supporting tech toys for children aged around 2-8. Tiggly Shapes, Words and Maths are all designed to be fun to play with while your child learns, and will work on Kindle Fire HD, and most IOS or Android tablets.

The Tiggly apps and supporting toys work directly with the tablet touch screen - no batteries, bluetooth or anything else is required.
Tiggly Shapes is for younger children aged 2-5. Featuring 4 toys and 3 learning apps this set for younger children teaches shapes and strengthens fine motor skills and creativity.
Learning using shapes isn't just as simple as learning square, triangle etc. Tracing around (and inside) shapes helps with fine motor skills, and it teaches children that different shapes have a different name and different meaning, which is a tricky concept to grasp, but is essential if we want them to go on to learn letters and words.

Kids Don't Come With A Manual by Carole and Nadim Saad (book review)

I don't often review books for grown ups because it's incredibly hard to find the space in my day to read for myself, but I found a little extra time when the married co-writing team Carole and Nadim Saad asked me to make a look at their parenting book 'Kids Don't Come With A Manual'.

Kids indeed do not come with a manual, and I like the title, it implies this book is going to be a little chatty and less formal, and actually it is. The style is very friendly and understanding, with lots of personal anecdotes and examples of when the couple themselves didn't agree about how to handle a siutuation, and how they worked together to come to the best solution for all. 

Wednesday 22 July 2015

We're going to the Just So Festival!

We're keeping busy this Summer and one of our busiest weekends will be the Just So Festival on 21st-23rd August near Congleton in Cheshire. An invitation to come and camp and join in the fun really was the email that made my week.

The Just SoFEstival, Congleton, Near Leek,Cheshire

We'll be taking 3 of our children to Just So Festival - our 5 and 6 year old boys, and our 15 year old girl. None of us have been before, so we're really intrigued as to what will be there and how it will be laid out. The boys haven't had much experience of festivals, and probably none that they can really remember, but my daughter is a pro - she thoroughly tested the kid's fields at her first Glastonbury at 2 years old, and has been to a ton of other UK festivals too.

Children love child-friendly festivals and music
Hopefully my daughter won't want a shoulder ride this year!

Tuesday 21 July 2015

The Tale Of City Sue Children's Book review and giveaway (10 winners)

The Tale Of City Sue is a really quite cute and charming story which has been commissioned by the Irish dairy company Kerrygold. It's a story about a city cow, Sue, who goes to live with the free-range country cows and discovers a whole new way of life. At first she's a bit scared of some of the crazy things they do - like eat grass - but she soon realises it's actually a pretty good way to be.

The Tale Of City Sue is actually a little deeper and more intelligent than children might realise, and it points out all of the differences between free-range and indoor factory farmed animals. We're very lucky that the majority of our large UK livestock does live outdoors, and it's something we here at The Brick Castle feel very strongly about.

Monday 20 July 2015

Post 16 Education -Traditional A Levels, or something a bit more modern?

If you're a parent of a 16 year old about to decide which path they'll be taking next September, how would you react if they told you they wanted to go to college to study Games, Animation and VFX Skills?

This year our 4th teenager has completed their GCSE's and is moving on to further education, and next year our 5th teenager will reach this point. But what comes next? Traditionally for students who do well at GCSE A Levels were always the next step, but this is a completely different world to the world of 1951 when A Levels were introduced, and education is beginning to change in an effort to try and keep up.

Post 16 Education -Traditional A Levels, or something a bit more modern?

When I left school it had always been expected I'd do A Levels, and I didn't give it a second thought. University didn't seem to be an option to me when I left College as I had a house and mortgage, and I went straight into a full time job which actually required no qualifications. In the 27 years since, the vocational qualifications I have gained after I became an adult have all proven far more useful to me, and gained me more work, than my years at College studying A Levels.

Traditional learning often just isn't as relevant as it used to be. Which is a better life skill for a 16 year old in 2015 - memorising case studies and dates, or being able to separate fact from fiction when you do a Google search?

Let Me Google That For You

LEGO Creator Expert Ferrari F40 set 10248 review

On 15th July the LEGO Creator Ferrari F40 set 10248 became available to VIPs and my partner's order arrived on Saturday morning. He's been looking forward to this large scale expert level model since he first saw it, and really has not been disappointed at all with the build, the size, complexity or design.

LEGO Creator Expert Ferrari F40 set 10248 review

Recommended for builders aged 14+ the LEGO Ferrari F40 has an amazing 1158 elements, making a model 14cm x 27cm. This gives you an idea of just how dense this model is going to be, even with a higher percentage of smaller pieces. At £69.99 and with Ferrari branding and gorgeous design, this model (just like the 3 Speed Champions Hybrid Supercars) represents an excellent value LEGO set.

LEGO Ferrari F40 set 10248 review Creator Expert

Wednesday 15 July 2015

11 Months on....

This month has been hard. We are reaching all of the milestones and events that make up our last weeks with Elspeth. Summer, like Christmas and birthdays, presents us with a million snapshots and  memories.

The exams and the revision was hard. Prom was very hard. Thinking about arranging a holiday is incredibly hard. All I can think of is the lovely holidays we had when the children were small. 5 little people bobbing around excitedly and us constantly head-counting to make sure we hadn't mislaid one. Parking near the cheapest ice cream van to save ourselves a fiver, and always looking for the nearest toilet. Dreading them deciding to rockpool because someone always fell in, or skinned their knees and had to be carried back to the van, still clutching a bucket with 15ml of water and some poor 5 legged crab who was probably already dead when they picked it up, but we hadn't the heart to tell them.
The hardest bit is the never going back. Never undoing, never having a second chance. But never being sure of what we could have changed if we had.

Knowing that we are about to mark our first full year is hard. It doesn't seem possible. Even with all that my ridiculous hernia has put us through, there's no way it seems like 11 months. It seems like minutes. I still expect her to come running downstairs and slip on that last step, like she always did. I still have to work out how many people we have for tea. Her little brother still mentions her casually in conversation, then suddenly pauses, and I pause, and we look at each other, but now we smile at each other and we can carry on with what we were saying.

This month I went to Britmums, and I read Dear Elspeth (you can see my croaky attempt here), and I utterly exhausted myself. I knew it would be hard, and it really was emotionally much harder than I expected, but I was so well looked after. I couldn't have done it without all of the help from my friends - they made it possible - and I came back to Manchester no worse off physically than if I'd been at home.

Another event which was harder emotionally than we expected  was acting as support team for Sim while she ran the Race For Life. We had been so busy working out the best place to park for the least walking for me, and whether we should take scooters. Really we should just have been discussing tissues. Seeing all of those people with names of loved ones who have died, or been through hell and come through the other side, really was more than we were able to deal with unexpectedly. Should have thought that one through and been more ready for it.

It's been a hard and very emotional month and I know we have hard times ahead, but we've tried to fill the next month with things to keep us busy. I am beginning to get back into household tasks and well into recovery from my Hernia operation now - something that pleases my partner greatly! The fact I'm much more well than I have been for months has removed a lot of the stress and pressure on the entire household.

We are still finding the smiles, and this last month marked an important milestone. It is exactly 2 years since my partner became ill with Meningitis. He is still here, and aside from small memory problems, a limp and leg pain, he is now just who he used to be.

Here are the smiles I've collected this month....

Tuesday 14 July 2015

Bolts & Blip: Battle Of The Lunar League DVD Review and Giveaway

Bolts & Blip: Battle Of The Lunar League is released by Lionsgate Home Entertainment on 27th July - in perfect time for the Summer holidays. An animated children's adventure set in a future where the Moon is populated by robots. The robots are split into 2 types - cool and athletic BattleBots and the less cool and not at all athletic CiviBots, who really just take care of admin.
Until now no robot has ever managed to cross that line, but Bolts and Blip, two of the ordinary CiviBots are about to change that. 

Bolts and Blip have a burning desire to become BattleBots, and as luck would have it, they're drafted into the Thunderbolts team - who are placed last in the Lunar League Of Robotic Sports and in need of fresh team members. They have to prove their ability and beat all of the other teams - including evil Dr Blood and the Galaxy All-Stars - to become the champions.

Monday 13 July 2015

The Art Of Making Gelato: 50 Flavours To Make At Home by Morgan Morano

The Art Of Making Gelato: 50 Flavours To Make At Home is a hefty hardback book which really does have a huge range of gelato, and a few sorbets for you to make yourself. Proud of her Italian heritage, Morgan Morano shares her passion by teaching the tradition of 'True Italian Gelato'.

The Art Of Making Gelato: 50 Flavours To Make At Home by Morgan Morano

In the introduction we are told that Gelato (Italian Ice Cream) differs from American Ice Cream in 3 specific ways - Gelato is lower in butterfat, it is denser than American ice cream, and Gelato is served at a warmer temperature.

Promotion: Cancer Research UK Race For Life #TeamSim

Yesterday we all spent a gorgeous day at Heaton Park in Manchester, the sun shone (but not enough to burn us), we even had a lovely picnic, but it wasn't just your everyday visit, we were there to support my friend Sim who was running the 5k Cancer Research UK Race For Life.

Cancer Research UK Race For Life 2015  #TeamSim at Heaton Park, Manchester

All worries about where exactly to go for the start were immediately put to one side when we arrived. Apart from the fact there were signs everywhere, there were also hundreds of other people dressed in pink and all walking the same way. The organisers had set out a huge arena with a giant screen and a stage, and there were stalls for food, drinks and information. You couldn't have missed it!

Cancer Research UK Race For Life 2015

Sunday 12 July 2015

Graze 'Good To Go' Instore Snack Range

Fresh on the shelves from today is a brand new range of 12 'To Go' snack packs from the incredibly well-known healthier snack favourites Graze. We had a real treat a week ago because we were sent the whole range to review before the public release.

Graze 'Good To Go' instore Snack Range Review

There are 5 savoury snack packs and 7 sweeter snacks. Care and effort has gone into the recipes to make sure they have nutritional benefits as well as being really tasty.

Tuesday 7 July 2015

Meadow Kids Children's Mini Craft Series Review and Giveaway

Meadow Kids are a UK company based in Bath. They develop and produce 'Learn & Play' children's toys and books which are designed to encourage the family to play together while the children learn. We've been sent 3 of their Mini Craft Kits to review, and they have also offered a bundle for one of my readers.

Meadow Kids Children's Mini Craft Series Review and Giveaway

Included in the bundle are the Mini Dinosaurs Stamp Set, Mini Stencils For Girls and The Mini Secret Garden Fingerprint Friends. Each of the kits is suitable fror age 3+ and is presented in a really handy and attractive little 2 drawer box, which is a great way to keep everything together and in good condition, looks lovely on the shelf and makes a great gift.

childrens filled craft box with drawers from Meadow Kids

Monday 6 July 2015

Drumond Park's 'LOGO Best Of British' review and giveaway

I've got a great review and giveaway today courtesy of Drumond Park. LOGO: Best Of British is a real 'you know it or you don't' kind of board game. General knowledge rules and you'll find you are kicking yourself all night about answers that were on the tip of your tongue.

Family board game night teenagers and adults

Best Of British is from the LOGO family of games and can be played as individuals or teams. It has some very tricky general knowledge questions, so is recommended for young people and adults aged 12+. The regular LOGO board game and question card style is very familiar to us because we've played and reviewed several LOGO games over the past couple of years.

Sunday 5 July 2015


A year ago today, a lady I barely knew lost her little boy, and I cried for her and her family. Georgie wasn't even here for a full 6 months before he lost his fight with Leukaemia.

Today I post this Dragonfly for my friend Oana and for her family, who have never stopped keeping going. You can follow their story at Mama's Haven.

Keep finding the smiles and never waste a minute. #liveitforGeorgie


Saturday 4 July 2015

My Britmums Live Bloggers Keynote...

Here, for those of you who wish to see it, is the video of me reading Dear Elspeth at the Britmums Live Bloggers Keynote. I wrote about the experience in my Britmums Live post, so I won't repeat myself. If you haven't already read Dear Elspeth then I apologise in advance....

Huge thanks to Nigel Camp who filmed the Bloggers Keynote, and to Britmums for asking me to take part, but most of all to everyone who nominated my post to be read, those who supported me beforehand and on the day, and all of the hundreds of people who were in that room. It was a huge honour.

Apparently everyone with a Manchester accent sounds like a Scouser when they're crying....

Friday 3 July 2015

How to build a Rabitat - a simple, free, recycled Rabbit Play Centre.

A Rabitat is the name we've affectionately given to our home made rabbit habitat. Virtually 100% free and recycled, it gives your bunnies loads to do, private space to hang out, and they can even remodel until they're happy with it. And when you're finished, flatten it and recycle it.

How to build a Rabitat - a free, recycled rabbit play centre

We have 2 Dwarf Lop-Eared house rabbits. They live inside, but play out when it's sunny. I don't mention them often, but they regularly appear in the background of my photos. We never intended to have rabbits, but they found themselves homeless at around 12 months old, so we gave them a roof over their head on condition they always use the litter tray. They've complied, so we like to try and keep them happy without letting them eat all our cables, and that's why we first developed The Rabitat.

The Rabitat......

Rabitat - an easy and free, recycled rabbit play centre

Wednesday 1 July 2015

Cheeky Charlie review - an hilarious chapter book for children 6+ by Mat Waugh

If your children are incredibly good, and sweet, and soft, have never picked their nose or hidden their peas, and would never ever do anything cheeky ever, they might not like this book. If your children are really like that, then you might not like this book either. 

Cheeky Charlie is actually a quite cheeky book! It's not like most of the books we've read, it's more like a regular afternoon in our house. The author, Mat Waugh, is brilliant at description and scene-setting, so that even with no pictures at all, both my 5 and 6 year old boys are completely immersed into the story.
Cheeky Charlie Book Review - hilarious chapter book for 6+

The main characters in the book are the 6 year old Harry, and their younger sibling, Cheeky Charlie, and part of why my boys like this book so much is because they identify so much with the characters. My 6 year old is generally quite sensible, and my 5 year old can be incredibly cheeky and mischevious. By the time (on page 2) it was pointed out that Harry was in fact a girl, my 6 (very nearly 7) year old had already decided it was probably written about him...