Tuesday 31 October 2017

Carcassonne Family Tile Game Review (age7+)

Carcassonne is a modern classic. A beautifully illustrated tile game that feels as if it's always existed, based on the real walled French city of Carcassonne and with a storyline as old as history. Carcassonne is very easy to learn and suitable for 2-5 players aged around 7+. Using hexagonal tiles players build cities, cloisters, roads and farms, claiming points for completed builds and continuing until all the game tiles are exhausted.

We're reviewing the updated edition and as well as the inclusion of Abbots, it is different because the illustrations are brighter and more detailed. The box itself is gorgeous and a great smaller size for shelf storage. Open the box and the redesigned tiles don't disappoint.

Black Peas

Black peas are a local delicacy to us and really not to be missed. Around this time of year they're all over the shops and everyone is talking about them. If you haven't been to Lancashire or North Manchester though, you may never have even heard of them...

Just like green peas, black peas are a legume, and they're eaten boiled into a mushy pea. They've loads of names including Parched Peas, Mapple Peas, Chestnut Peas and Pidgeon Peas, but generally they're just Black Peas. They're actually Purple Podded Peas and they are slightly less sweet than green peas, with a hint of nuttiness and a firmer texture, so they maintain their shape better. Their skin is soft and thin and breaks down well when they're boiled, which is another benefit over mushy green peas.

Sunday 29 October 2017

NIKKO Air Race Vision 220 FPV Pro Drone with FPV Review (age 14+)

We're getting quite proficient at drones now and our latest review is the NIKKO Air Race Vision 220 FPV Pro Drone with FPV. This is a larger drone with camera and a first for us - the option of a first person view, via a specially designed 4.3" full colour LCD screen and the optional headset which are included in the pack.

The box claims it'll be an easy to use drone, with six different one touch stunts, variable flight modes and variable speeds, so it offers lots to the novice as well as the experienced pilot. NIKKO's partner the Drone Racing League is the global leader in professional drone racing.

Inside the really sturdy reusable storage box are your 30cm (12") drone itself plus rechargable 7.4v Li battery and USB charging cable. The LCD Screen and attachment for controller, Controller (plus option of joysticks or pads), FPV goggles, SD card, 4 x AA batteries for FPV screen and 4 x AA batteries for controller and of course, spare blades.

Friday 27 October 2017

Winter Wonderland Returns to Manchester Event City 9th Dec -1st Jan

We reviewed Winter Wonderland last year and my boys had an excellent time. This is an all-inclusive event, where your children are entertained and happy and everything is included in the price you pay on the door, so you don't end up spending far more than you intended.

You can read my full review of Winter Wonderland 2016 here and we've now been this year and my  Winter Wonderland 2017 Manchester Review is here...

Winter Wonderland is the UK's largest indoor fun park and features more than 50 family rides and attractions under one roof. The 22.000sq metre event hall at Event City is transformed into world of light, sound and magic.

Thursday 26 October 2017

Monopoly Gamer Edition Review (age 8+) for Hasbro

Monopoly is possibly the most famous (and infamous) family board game and has given rise to many editions, one of the latest being the Monopoly Gamer Edition. This is Monopoly mixed with Nintendo gaming and it works very well. No more £10 notes, you are collecting gold coins and Power Up boosts and you can even play as your favourite Nintendo characters.

The Monopoly Gamer Edition comes with a Nintendo Character Pack, so instead of Iron or Cruise Ship, you can be Mario, Donkey Kong, Yoshi or Princess Peach. They are very nicely made and definitely fun.

Wednesday 25 October 2017

Why The Whales Came Theatre Review at The Lowry (age 7+)

Why The Whales Came is a classic Michael Morpurgo children's book and today my 7 and 9 year olds and I were guests of The Lowry to review their first theatre performance by the amazing cast of one - storyteller Danyah Miller.

We were 15 minutes early and treated to a surprise game of giant Battleships. My boys were really into it, but sadly our purple/pink team lost by quite a margin. It was a great warm up to the show and I didn't realise it at the time, but as it ended and the lights went down, it became evident the Battleships compere was actually our Storyteller Danyah Miller herself.

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Labyrinth Family Game Review (age 7+) for Ravensburger

Labyrinth is a long-standing best-seller among family board games and it's easy to see why. The rules are easy to learn and although chance plays a large part for a novice, experience, tactics and skill can create an expert and a much more competitive match.

The game is comprised of a board with fixed maze parts, 34 movable maze parts, 24 Treasure Cards, 4 player pieces and instructions. The maze parts and Treasure Cards all need to be pressed from large card sheets, so allow 10 minutes before first play.

Cleaning Your Washing Machine Is Super Easy With Dr Beckmann

Our lives are so full these days that the idea of giving your washing machine a servicing clean sounds like one of the last things on the job list, but it's so easy and takes so little effort. Your machine and your clothes will really thank you for it!

Dr Beckmann are well-known for their fabric stain removers, but they'll also look after the appliance that cleans your clothes. Limescale, mud, soap residue and all kinds of nasties lurk in the crevices and pipes inside your washing machine, making it smell unpleasant and even marking clothes. They also clog up your washing machine and cause breakdowns.

My tap water is incredibly soft. Limescale isn't an issue, but peat is and I have to clean my washing machine regularly or I end up with dirt-stained clothes. Dr Beckmann Service -It Washing Machine Cleaner is my usual choice and they've just reformulated their ingredients to include Active Carbon. The active carbon has a huge surface area and clings to dirt like a magnet, removing more grime and making your machine even cleaner.

Monday 23 October 2017

Christmas Preparation You Can Start Now #GetChristmassy

I'm always notoriously unprepared for Christmas, but this year I've promised myself that I'll actually be organised and here are some of the things I'll be doing to get ready. It really does make sense to start thinking early, as it spreads out the cost and time you need to commit. It relieves stress and it can even save you money.

Create Your Own Food Hamper

Food shopping costs more at Christmas because we feel a need to buy one of everything and two if we already know we like it. Spread the cost by slowly buying things that'll keep over time and don't buy in excess. Get a big box, make a list before you start, stick it to the top of the box and KEEP TO IT. There are some great offers in supermarkets as they try to encourage you to buy early, then buy again nearer Christmas as you panic.

Saturday 21 October 2017

Starry 2in1 Day & Night SmartGlobe With 3D AR Review for Oregon Scientific

The Oregon Scientific SmartGlobes are traditional globes with a 3D AR twist and we've been sent the Starry 2in1 Day and Night Globe for review. The globe contains a light and when you turn it on, you can see 88 constellations superimposed in position over the Earth. There is also an accompanying free app. with thousands of facts about Earth and beyond.

There is quite a bit of plastic protective packaging in this box, but it's very quick to open. Inside you have your globe and it's base. You will need either 3 x AA batteries or a USB charging cable and power source to operate the light as they are not included.

Child Of The Divide - Big Imaginations Festival Launch At Z-Arts

Tonight we attended the VIP Family Launch of the Big Imaginations Festival. This is a huge Family Theatre Event which encompasses 9 Shows over 18 Days at 26 Venues in the North West. The Launch Event was followed by the first North West performance of Child Of The Divide.

The journey into Manchester was uneventful and all the traffic was going the opposite way, and as soon as we arrived we were offered a plate full of delicious Z-Arts CafeZ veggie and vegan curries with all the extras, so it really got off to a great start!

Thursday 19 October 2017

Nerf N-Strike Elite AccuStrike RaptorStrike Blaster Review for Hasbro (age 8+)

The Nerf N-Strike Elite AccuStrike RaptorStrike is one of the most powerful and accurate Nerf Blasters I've ever used. It's also the biggest, yet weighs very little! A manually operated bolt-action blaster which is incredibly simple to use, this is one of my new favourites. My 9 year old is a big fan too!

Nerf N-Strike Elite AccuStrike RaptorStrike review for Hasbro

This huge box is almost entirely cardboard and very eco-friendly as well as being super simple to open. The rubbery fastenings around the blaster do need cutting because if you pull them and they snap back, they really sting! Everything else goes straight in the recycling though.

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Ravensburger 3D Puzzle Review. Jigsaws for people who don't do jigsaws.

I'm not a person you'd usually associate with jigsaws, but when I saw the Ravensburger VW T1 Campervan Puzzle at BlogOn I was smitten. The model is a plastic 3D camper built using jigsaw pieces and they were kind enough to let me review it. I was also fascinated to see if it was the most fragile thing on the planet.

This is a 162 piece puzzle from Ravensburger's 3D range, recommended for age 10+ and measuring around 30cm (1ft) long when completed. And it's a Volkswagen Campervan. I've written about Volkswagens before - I've been travelling in them for the last 15 years.

Hot Wheels RC Drone Racerz Drone and Vehicle Set Review for Bladez (8+)

Hot Wheels RC Drone Racerz is a drone and a vehicle in one. You can fly the drone indoors or attach it to the included Hot Wheels car base and it will fly across those jumps and loop the loop with style.

The box is mainly cardboard and opening takes seconds to open. Inside are lots of printed cards - they fold into ramps, a ring (to jump through), a start/finish sign and a phone stand for filming your driving.

The box also includes the Drone Racer, Controller, Hot Wheels vehicle base, 2 interchangeable body shells, spare blades, instructions and a USB connector for charging. In a move of sheer genius they also include a small screwdriver to insert the 4 x AA batteries for the charger (not included).

Monday 16 October 2017

Dell'Ugo Complete Meals and Evexia Thrive Gluten Free Fresh Pasta Review

Dell'Ugo and Evexia Thrive are two brands hoping to bring delicious fresh pasta to everyone. Dell'Ugo create really delicious 3 minute complete meals that anyone with limited time can enjoy, and Evexia Thrive have a free-from range that makes life a lot more tasty for people on a gluten-free diet. Everything not vegan is made with cheese containing non-animal rennet and suitable for vegetarians.

As much as we'd love to have the time to create our own fresh filled pasta everyday, it's simply not possible and shop bought pasta can be disappointing. Dell'Ugo have been making fresh pasta since 1929, and they've learned a few things along the way.

We were sent two Dell'Ugo Raviolis. Both are a complete meal for 2 in a box and take only 3 minutes to cook.

Zomlings Children's Collectibles / Stockingfillers Review for Magic Box Toys

Zomlings are squishy rubbery characters and Series 6 alone has over 100 different designs. Some are themed and some are rarer than others, but prices start at a mere 50p, so they are a genuinely affordable collectible that my 7 year old especially loves.

We've amassed quite a collection of Zomlings and this was boosted by my visit to BlogOn Conference, as Magic Box Toys were there with the latest release Series 6 Zomlings Blind Bags, Collectors Guide Map and toy sets.

Sunday 15 October 2017

38 Months #TBCSmiles

Autumn has arrived with a bump. The lawn is a thick carpet of leaves and the heating is going on at both ends of the day. The children my boys play with all go home when the lights come on, and that's becoming increasingly early now. Pumpkins are everywhere and Christmas is coming. It's a natural time for contemplation.

The last month has been a steady one for us. It saw a return to College and Uni for 3 of our big kids and a much emptier house, which is taking a bit of getting used to. It's also my busiest period of the year in the run up to Christmas, so I've been working until the early hours most nights. It's a distraction I'm well aware of, and grateful for.

The past month has seemed to be full of births and losses. It never evens out, although in the grand scheme it should, the sadness from those who've gone is never cancelled out by the joy at those newly born. My heart melts at the sight of a precious infant safely delivered, but my thoughts linger with those who are in the fog of grief.
"You just go on. And then one day... you wake up and it's just the slightest bit better. That's the way it changes, little by little... small increments." The Believers, 1987

I won't include this photo in the smiles because there is no smile, but this photo is pure love, and hope. Never let go of hope. Sometimes it seems it's the only thing left, but it can help you find the greatest of wealth.

Saturday 14 October 2017

Explorer Dinosaurs! Children's Timeline Book Review and Giveaway

On Monday 16th October What On Earth? Publishing in association with the Natural History Museum release a fantastic new book in their Explorer Series. Explorer Dinosaurs! is more than simply a book, as it also contains a 1.8m long (6ft) Timeline Poster.

The Explorer Books are devised by Christopher Lloyd, with illustrations from Andy Forshaw. Readers can also join the Eagle-Eyed Explorer Club, completing special missions and challenges in order to win certificates and prizes. The first 100 successful agents to complete the Explorer Dinosaurs! mission will be presented with a fascinating Coprolite Fossil (petrified dinosaur poo!). Go to the Explorer Club Homepage to find out more.

Explorer Dinosaurs! has 36 pages of text and illustrations split into relating the history of Palaeontology and the discovery of dinosaur fossils, how dinosaurs lived and survived, and how they died. It also has a section on which dinosaurs are still with us - you may be surprised!

Towards the back of the book is a quiz (my boys loved this as much as I used to when I was their age) and right at the back is the Timeline itself. This is an 8 page spread pulling out to a 6ft long poster, which can be removed from the book and stuck to the wall.

What On Earth? books are full of information, but using the timeline format and clear illustrations allows anyone to immediately have a better understanding of the different periods of history and where they actually slot into place. Because the books are written in associated with the Natural History Museum, you can be assured that the information included is to the best of current knowledge correct and up-to-date - even if it is 100 million years old!

Explorer Dinosaurs! is a great book for children of all ages with an interest in dinosaurs, fossils or pre-history. Younger children can read with an adult and take information from the illustrations, older children and adults are still fascinated by the text and the clear way you can see the evolution of the dinosaurs and life on Earth over the past 230 million years or so.

The Explorer Dinosaurs Timeline Wallbook is full colour, with a 36 page hardbacked book and a removable 8 page (1.8m/6ft) fold out wallbook. Available now for pre-order or from Monday priced £9.99. An excellent gift for any dinosaur fan.

If dinosaurs aren't your thing, many other books are available containing posters and timelines. We have previously reviewed the What On Earth? Timeline Wallbook Of British History.

What On Earth? Publishing have offered a copy of the Explorer Dinosaurs Timeline Book for one of my readers. 

Entry to the giveaway is by Rafflecopter form below, open to UK entrants only and it will end at midnight Sunday 5th November.  Full T's and C's at the bottom of the Rafflecopter form. 

To see my other giveaways or for advice if you are new to Rafflecopter forms, please go to my Giveaways page...

What On Earth? would like to send all of my entrants a discount voucher - for this reason alone the first and only mandatory entry is to enter your email address. Your details will not be used for any other purpose and you will only get one email.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

We were sent our copy of Explorer Dinosaurs! for review.

Thursday 12 October 2017

Disney On Ice presents Passport To Adventure, Manchester Arena Review

We were lucky enough to be invited to see Feld Productions Disney On Ice presents Passport To Adventure at Manchester Arena on Wednesday night. This show kicked off the Manchester run, which ends on Sunday 15th October.

It's safe to say we were all in good spirits and really excited about the show - especially seeing Peter Pan and of course the characters from Zootropolis! My children weren't in the mood for press photos, so we obliged.

The children were impressed by the Fit To Dance team and their boomerangs though - throwing and catching on skates is very skillful. I didn't see a single skater fall all night, it looked to be a near perfect performance.

Wednesday 11 October 2017

Letts Study Guides for Key Stage 2 SATS (Updated for 2018) Review.

Letts have recently updated their Key Stage 2 study books for the 2018 SATs tests. They've made them more friendly and less formal, and the chunks of text are smaller and less intimidating. It's a new look that should appeal to more children, as the revision and workbooks seem less like a test or school work and more like a traditional 'rainy day' puzzle book.

It's well known that I never force my children do homework unless they're off school ill or fall behind. As long as they are on target, I let them spend their free time doing (within reason) what they choose. Sometimes they choose to play LEGO or computer games, and sometimes they want to draw, write or fill in puzzle books. By having a range of activities available, it's often clear to see that your children really just want to explore and learn.

My two boys are completely different characters and I doubt it's ever been move evident than in the  picture above. My 7 year old launched into the page and answered questions without hesitation. My 9 year old sat and read the entire 2 page spread before he did anything. The Letts books suited them both equally and they both felt that this wasn't really 'work', it was more like a quiz.

Tuesday 10 October 2017

Technology Will Save Us - Create Something Great Using Science!

Technology Will Save Us make really exciting kits for children that mix craft, science, technology and coding with play and fun. Each kit actually creates something useful and clever that your child can be proud of, while supporting their STEM learning in school and stretching their own understanding of the world and how it works. I'm a big fan.

We've been sent the Electro Dough Kit (4+) and the Thirsty Plant Kit (8+), and we also have the brand new Mover Kit (8+), so we'll take a look at that too. Each of the kits are housed in an attractive box and require no exotic extra ingredients, making them ideal gifts.

Monday 9 October 2017

The NorthWest UK On Location

Brookside was filmed on a housing estate in Liverpool, I visited as a 14 year old. You could get as far as the end of the road without being on a pre-booked tour and as he left I managed a close sighting of Barry Grant (or Paul Usher as his Mum calls him). That was enough to please my teenage self. A real-live TV person in the flesh. Brookside and Neighbours were really the only things I really watched regularly and I was unlikely to spot anyone from Neighbours any time soon.

I'm contacted to work on some unusual collaborations sometimes and aside from my encounter with Brookside Close, being asked to write about locations for TV and Films in the NW for a #SeenOnTheScreen post had me stumped at first. I don't really watch a lot of TV nowadays and although I watch a ton of movies, I've never paid much attention to where they're actually filmed.

Brainstorm Toys for Space Loving Kids!

Brainstorm make great toys for kids who like to think and they've a huge range of toys for children with an interest in space. Tonight 7pm-8.30pm they'll be hosting a Space Week Twitter Party and they've sent me an awesome selection to take a look at ahead of the party. It's only just arrived, so I haven't been able to review anything properly unfortunately - however on the plus side that means my boys haven't seen it, so I can repackage and hide some of it for Christmas!

The Rocket Projector & Room Guard (rrp £29.99) is suitable for children aged 6+. It's really easy to open and has barely any plastic packaging, great for Christmas morning. It does take 3 x AA batteries (not included), so you'll need to get those ready plus a small crosshead screwdriver to install them.

Sunday 8 October 2017

October Events for Families in the NW UK - Manchester, Merseyside, Cheshire

October half term looks to be another cold and wet one, but there is still plenty to do and there are loads of places to go with family of all ages. Here are some of the events and activities on offer this year...

The Big Imaginations Festival kicks off on 16th October and runs until 5th November with 9 shows over 18 days at 26 venues. Find out more by reading my Big Imaginations Festival post. Events in Merseyside, Manchester, Cheshire and Lancashire. We have reviewed one of the performances - Child Of The Divide

The LEGO Ninjago Movie (U) Review - At LEGOLAND Discovery Centre

No spoilers - I don't agree with spoilers...

We had thought we'd missed out on any previews of the new LEGO Ninjago Movie as we couldn't get down to London, but then we got an amazing invitation to go and see it at the LEGOLAND Discovery Centre!

We've been to the Discovery Centre at the Trafford Centre many times over the past 6 years, but rarely when it's closed to the general public, only once at night and definitely never to see a full length movie. When the boys realised where we were going, especially with it already being after tea, they were incredibly excited.

Friday 6 October 2017

Mayka Toy Block Tape Review (age 3+) for Rainbow Toy Awards

This year among the Rainbow Toy Awards entries is Mayka Tape - the original toy block tape. Made by a company called Zuru, Mayka Tape is available in 9 different colours, 2 stud wide or 4 stud wide rolls and 1 metre or 2 metre lengths. We've been sent a selection of different colours and sizes to review.

The first thing you notice about Mayka Tape is the packaging. Snap shut hard plastic cases protect the tape and make it look really attractive, so it's perfect for giving as a gift.

Actually the case serves another purpose, as the tape is spooled inside and held at both ends. That makes it easier for children to control and harder for them to 'accidentally' leave it somewhere it'll be ruined or trodden on.