Thursday 30 November 2017

Paladone Harry Potter Quiz Night at Dive NQ, Manchester

A couple of weeks ago I got the most amazing invitation my boys have ever seen, my 9 year old was especially jealous. It was an invitation as a guest of Paladone to a very special Harry Potter Games Night at Dive NQ in Manchester. On offer were thousands of pounds of prizes and a fantastic evening playing every Harry Potter game you could ever think of....

I arrived early and was second person to be sorted into a house team - Team Ron, I may have coerced the Sorting Hat a bit - I always like to support #teamginger Apologies for the quality of the photos, we were in a bar. Imagine it's the 1920's and world of sepia.

Jet2holidays Advent Calendar - Win A Holiday Every Day Until Christmas!

When a company offers you a hamper and you've been blogging a while, you've already learned that all 'hampers' are not equal. When they promise it won't be anything like the bag of sweets and a card in a jiffy bag that someone sent once. Well... go on then...

It's the best hamper ever....

Jet2Holidays sent me this very fine and oh my crikey, lovely hamper in exchange for telling you all about their Advent Competition. Every day someone WILL WIN A HOLIDAY and there are other prizes including discount vouchers off your next Jet 2 holiday. But look...I'm so spoiled! It arrived a couple of days after my birthday too. Happy Birthday to me.

Wednesday 29 November 2017

December Events And Activities For Families In The Northwest UK

Here is my round up of loads of family-friendly activities in the Northwest UK this December and Christmas period. There is absolutely masses happening, so I'll keep adding to this post as I receive more - if you know of anything you think I should add, please send me the details and I'll add it in if appropriate!

I'm trying a different format this time and adding everything in start date order. I don't know whether this works better, apologies if not! The areas covered include:

Manchester / Bolton / Liverpool / Halifax / St Helens / Chester / Blackpool / Lancashire

A Christmas Carol

Bolton Octagon

Until 13th January.
Suitable for children aged 5+, but not too scary.  Find out more and book tickets (£12-£26) on The Octagon Theatre Bolton website or by calling in or ringing the Box Office 01204 520661.
We have already seen this and you can find my Bolton Octagon A Christmas Carol review here... 

Night Lights Festive Show and Meet Santa

Eureka, Halifax

25th November - 23rd December.
Father Christmas and a few of his Elven friends are coming to Eureka! The National Children’s Museum to get into the festive spirit by chatting to children and giving out a few early gifts in the snuggliest grotto in town - named one of the UK’s best by popular parenting site in 2016. Grotto days will include autism friendly sessions. Visitors to the children’s museum will be able to watch ‘Night Lights’, an original festive show. Visits to the grotto cost £3 plus standard admission, entry to Night Lights is free – book both on arrival. Standard admission £12.95, upgrade to Annual Membership during your visit for free. Visit the Eureka website to find out more.

Tuesday 28 November 2017

Dorling Kindersley Technology Fact Books Review (age 7+) for Boolino

Dorling Kindersley have a long-standing and well-earned reputation for making gorgeous children's books. We have many on our shelves that all 7 of our children have sat and poured over, and hopefully our grandchildren will do so too. Boolino Books have sent us 2 of Dorling Kindersley's science books to review - All About Virtual Reality and 3D Printing Projects.

Sunday 26 November 2017

The Grand Pile 'o' Stockingfillers Christmas Present Giveaway 2017

Over the year I end up with quite a collection of random goodies. I've given some away to local charities and school, and the rest I am putting into a big box to send to one of my readers. I've called it the Grand Pile 'o' Stockingfillers because it makes it sound fantastic, but with a little humility. No-one ever reads this bit above the photo... I can say anything...

This year the Grand Pile Of Stockingfillers includes:

2 pots of Nick Jr Ready Steady Dough (sorry about the carpet) / Bic Kids Plastidecor crayons (there's a note about these at the bottom) / The Lost Smile by Joseph Coelho - a lovely children's book. 

Science and Tech Toys Gift Guide (toys supporting STEM skills).

With Cyber Monday approaching it seems apt to do a round up of some of the most impressive tech and STEM toys out there this year. Science and technology for children has come a great distance in the last 5 years and it does reflect in the average price, with many more complex toys costing over £100, although there are still plenty of less expensive options out there.

I've included my favourite science, technology. engineering and mathematics toys that I've seen in the past year.

Saturday 25 November 2017

Bio-Oil Moisturiser Christmas Present Giveaway with 5 Winners

Bio-Oil is the Uk's No.1 multi-use skincare oil. It is a really popular skin moisturiser which reduces the appearance of scars, stretch marks and other skin blemishes. What everyone really needs for Christmas this year is to feel special, and that can start with pampering yourself.

I've used Bio-Oil for many years on stretch marks and scars and to moisturise my skin.  Bio-Oil have recently redesigned their boxes and bottles and it will look good on any bathroom potion shelf or dressing table top...

Aside from reducing redness, scarring and stretch marks, Bio-Oil is a brilliant skin moisturiser for anyone. It has a unique smell that isn't masculine nor feminine, floral or spicy, just very slightly sweet and warm. The oil is very light and soaks instantly into your skin, so you don't feel at all greasy or have to wait to get dressed.

18 Stockingfillers under £5 for age 4-11 - 2017 Christmas Gift Guide

Over the course of the last year we've looked at some great stockingfillers, here are a few that have been popular here, or that Santa is likely to put in my 7 and 9 year old's stockings this Christmas. Everything starts under £5 - or you can find it for £5 although that may not be the rrp....

Star Wars stationery from Bic. I love this and prices start at £2. Great for encouraging youngsters to write - and they can even start with thank you letters. Bic also have stationery that doesn't feature Star Wars. I've a huge bundle giveaway running until 10th December.

Gooey Stuff. Gooey sticky yucky stuff is the height of fashion at the moment and kids adore it. If you haven't experienced Liquid Lava Putty (£5 The Entertainer) you are missing out - it is amazing to watch and play with. If you are less brave, stick to dough. Nick Jr Ready Steady Dough is only £2 for 4 pots at The Entertainer.

Friday 24 November 2017

Big Bic Stationery Christmas Giveaway with added Star Wars!

Stationery is always popular at Christmas. Every stocking should contain a special pen or pencil from Father Christmas, for you to write a thank you. Bic have recently released an awesome range of Star Wars stationery and this Christmas they're giving one of my readers a big bundle. Not only that, but the giveaway winner will also receive a tin of their excellent Conte Drawing Pencils and a pack of 20 Intensity Fineliners.

The Star Wars range includes Bic Ball Pen, Bic 4 Colours Ball Pen (and Bic 4 Colours Shine Ball Pen), Bic Evolution Graphite Pencil, Bic Glue Stick and Tipp-Ex Mini Pocket Mouse Correction Tape. Each has great easy to spot Darth Vader packaging and the products inside are printed with characters from Star Wars.

Thursday 23 November 2017

Transformers: The Last Knight Mega 1-Step Changer Dragonstorm Review

The Transformers 1-Step Changers are designed to be the most easily transformed ever, with one smooth action taking you swiftly from robot to vehicle or creature. The Last Night Mega 1-Step Dragonstorm is one of the biggest models and he's definitely an impressive beast.

Transformers: The Last Knight Mega 1-Step Changer Dragonstorm Review

Packaging is mainly card and as long as you have scissors, opening is very swift. Demonstration batteries are included, so they may not be fully charged, but usually last very well. Christmas morning friendly. Replacement batteries are 2 x AAA

Your Dragonstorm arrives in 4 parts, but needs no actual assembly. The main body of the figure has 2 detachable wings and the dragon tail, which also serves as weapon for the robot.

Wednesday 22 November 2017

The Stink Before Christmas Book Review (age 3-6+) for Scholastic

The Stink Before Christmas is an especially festive book release from Scholastic. Written by Children's TV presenters Sam And Mark (Sam Nixon and Mark Rhodes) and illustrated by Tom Knight, it is of course a retelling of Twas The Night Before Christmas - with just a little tweaking of the storyline. In Sam and Mark style...

We were sent a bonus item - a whoopee cushion. I never thought I'd pretend 'I don't know what I'm about to sit on' so many times in my life. This is child no.7, I can spot a whoopee cushion from the next room.

HP Sprocket Photo Printer Limited Edition Gift Box Review

Photo printing has changed beyond recognition in my lifetime and one of the latest developments for the home market is portable photo printers. This Christmas the printing experts HP have released a special gift box edition of their gorgeous and almost pocket-sized Sprocket Photo Printer and they've sent me one to review.

There will also be a Twitter Frenzy from 6pm until 7pm Thursday 23rd November and HP will be giving away some incredible prizes - Shopping Vouchers and HP Printing products including 2 Sprocket Gift Boxes! Follow the hashtag #reinventmemories

Inside the box is the gift bundle.  The HP Sprocket itself in white with rose gold trim, Zipped Case/Wallet with wrist strap, HP Sprocket Photo Album and voucher for a free personalised skin from Wrappz.

Tuesday 21 November 2017

ROXI Music Streaming Hub from Electric Jukebox Review

The ROXI from Electric Jukebox is a small music streaming hub unit which connects to your TV and can be used for 5 different functions, including streaming music from Electric Jukebox. One year's premium pass is included, as is a remote control which doubles as a microphone and can be used for Smart Voice Search and karaoke.

Our house has always been full of music and my older kids have introduced us to a variety of apps and gadgets over the years, they all have subscriptions to various music streaming services too, so reviewing the ROXI is a very natural step for us.

In the box you have the ROXI hub, ROXI controller, USB charge lead, Power adapter, HDMI cable and 12 month Premium Music Pass. It's nicely presented and looks really neat. The hub itself is very small, wall mountable and in a choice of 3 colours - classic charcoal grey, bright blue or coral red.

The controller is USB rechargeable.  A charge takes around 2 hours and lasts 24 hours of constant use, so it'll not need recharging often. It really isn't too big or unwieldy. It's surprisingly light and comfortable in any size of hand and your children shouldn't drop it every 5 minutes.

Set up was ridiculously simple and took about 2 minutes. You don't have to register, add your card details or make an account, you just plug in the HDMI and the power, log into your wifi and use the controller to control the onscreen cursor to say 'yes' to starting your first Annual Premium Pass - which is included.

A Christmas Carol Theatre Review at Bolton Octagon

I love A Christmas Carol. It is easily in my top 5 favourite books and I've read it many times. I also love Bolton Octagon Theatre, so I had high hopes for last night's performance and I really wasn't disappointed.

Bolton Octagon is theatre in the round and this was a fairly traditional performance, with Charles Dickens' lines making me smile each time I knew they were coming and then heard them spoken aloud. The performance is family-friendly and nothing is too scary. My 7 and 9 year old boys were quite disappointed actually when Jacob Marley did not drop his jaw. The humour in the book is expanded and Scrooge especially was hilarious, making the whole audience laugh and giggle many times.

A Christmas Carol is of course the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge, originally written by Charles Dickens in 1843 and portrayed and retold in their own style thousands (if not millions) of times since by everyone from The Muppets and Bill Murray to.... in fact, just everyone.

Monday 20 November 2017

Paddington 2 Book Bundle Christmas Present Giveaway (2 Winners).

The new Paddington Bear movie, Paddington 2, was released on 10th November and to accompany the film Harper Collins have released a whole range of fabulous books. We love books and I'm delighted to have an awesome bundle of 5 to give away to two of my readers in my Christmas Present Giveaways...

Paddington Bear has been around for almost 60 years now. As a child I watched him on TV and read the books, I even had a well-used jigsaw puzzle. The lovable little lost bear from Peru has stood the test of time and I think most children have at some point wished they could be like the Brown family and bring their own bear home.

The bundle contains 5 different products from the Harper Collins Paddington Range, suitable for children from tiny tots to around 11.

Sunday 19 November 2017

Digital Kids Show Review, Event City, Manchester 2017

Yesterday was the first day of the two-day Digital Kids Show at Event City in Manchester, and we were hot-footed it over there as soon as we'd watched the Magical Christmas Parade next door at intu Trafford Centre.

First thing we spotted when we walked in was the Lightseekers stand. I'd heard from them and promised we'd take a look, so we stopped off. I was genuinely really impressed. Playfusion have built some great quirks into this multi-platform game title.

My 9 year old and partner sat down to learn the card game version, while I checked out the light and sound poseable action figures. There are also an app and a console game which play very well.

The intu Trafford Centre Magical Christmas Parade 2017

Yesterday we were over at Trafford Park for 2 different events - so we were up and out bright and early to the intu Trafford Centre Management Office for a very unusual breakfast meet and greet with some of the stars of the Magical Christmas Parade!

We were treated to a buffet breakfast supplied by Leon (both of my boys devouring the sausages and bacon), as well as visits from several of the children's TV favourites who would be taking part in the parade.

My boys yet again refused photos, so I stepped in. The Trolls were lovely - they're my new mates.

Friday 17 November 2017

Zing Games Bundle Christmas Present Giveaway For Kids 4+

Zing Games make active family games that will keep everyone awake this Christmas. They have given me two of their new games to give away to one lucky reader - Blast Box and Stik’em. Lively and fast-paced, these are party games everyone can play and if your children are anything like mine, they will love them!

Blast Box (£19.99rrp) is not one for the faint-hearted! Inside the box are a big plastic crate, spinner, hammer, 30 plastic nails (not sharp), a balloon pump and 100 small balloons - plus 20 cardboard fasteners (brilliant because my kids can never manage to tie off balloons themselves). You can see where this is going!

Thursday 16 November 2017

Pass The Pigs Family Game Bundle Christmas Present Giveaway

Pass The Pigs is a time-served dice game for anyone aged 3+ or older and more recently they've added 2 extra versions to their range. They have kindly offered me all 3 different Pass The Pigs games as a prize for one of my readers - Pass The Pigs (in a travel case),  Pass the Pigs Giant and Pass the Pigs Party.

Pass The Pigs is a dice game with a big difference - there are no dice. Instead you use small, cute little piggies to count and score, with different poses scoring different totals.

There are now 3 different variants of the Pass The Pigs game priced from £9.99 to £14.99, so there's something to suit everyone.

Zing Every Day Play Fidget Toy Range Christmas Present Giveaway (4+)

If your house is anything like mine then you'll be very familiar with fidget toys. Zing make a great range of Every Day Play fidget toys that are played with by children, but also used by professionals, and they have offered a bundle of 6 awesome and varied toys for one of my readers - Metal Chucks, Tumblstix, Spinbladez, Klixx, Thumb Chucks and Zing Dama.

The quality is great and 4 of the 6 light up - which was quite a surprise when I opened my box and everything inside was glowing! They are all packaged in card with a plastic front cover and open very easily and quickly, so you can play immediately - Christmas morning friendly.

Thumb Chucks (£7.99rrp) are the original light-up fidget balls which have been joined by several variants. I've seen Thumb Chucks demonstrated at events several times and there are loads of videos online - basic tricks are easy to learn, but trickier moves take hours of practice to master. This isn't just a fidget toy, it's a skill toy.

Wednesday 15 November 2017

39 Months.... #TBCSmiles

For those who don't know, there is a more serious side to The Brick Castle. 3 years ago we lost one of our teenagers. It's not a nice tale, but you can read it here if you are inclined. Every month we collect our smiles. We look at them to remind us that it's always worth carrying on, and they are the reason we do so. I don't just collect my smiles, anyone can share theirs with the #TBCSmiles community on Instagram.

Christmas is hard work for everyone, but really stressful for a lot of people and the fear of it going wrong can be crushing. Take the time now to list those things that make Christmas great for you, then put them into order and start to get them ready and ticked off. You'll find there are very few things which must be included, the rest is sparkle. Sparkle is nice, but it isn't what is ultimately important and you don't need to lose sleep over it. Remove some of the stress and everyone will have more time and energy to create their own sparkle - the type that makes smiles you can't predict or plan in advance. The type that makes the best memories.

November 16-22 is Children's Grief Awareness Week. Each classroom in the UK has, on average, one child who has lost a parent or sibling. This year the hashtag is #YoureNotAlone.

Often bereaved children don't want to talk to their family because, like you, they don't want to upset their loved ones. It can make the world a lonely place. Take the time to talk, but more importantly take the time to listen. Remind someone that they aren't alone, you are there when they need you.

Monday 13 November 2017

Meccano M.A.X. Robot Review (age 10+) for SpinMaster Toys

The Meccano M.A.X. (Meccano Advanced Xfactor) set 17401 is a really impressive robot who combines Artificial Intelligence with customisable programming, to create a unique character that is truly your own creation, and your mate, because he'll tell you jokes and facts and dance with you, and have seemingly intelligent conversation, among other things.

Your M.A.X. is housed in a really impressive and huge box - although I have to say it arrives taped because it isn't really sturdy enough for the job and you will find it's not ideal for storage afterwards. It is however incredibly exciting inside...

Inside the box you have 332 Meccano Parts plus AC/DC Wall Mount Charger (10.4W), 1 Rechargeable Ni-MH Battery 1800 mAh, 2 Tools, Sticker Sheet, M.A.X Brain Module, IR Sensor Module, 2 Smart Motor Modules, LED Module, 3 kgs Servo, 1.9 kgs Micro Servo, USB Cable and Instruction Booklet.

Saturday 11 November 2017

Xootz Retro Racer Go Kart Review for Halfords

If you've been to your local Halfords or looked at their website recently, you may have noticed they have a dedicated Kids Zone. The Halfords Kids Zone is where you'll find everything for the younger members of your family, from car seats and safety equipment to bikes and scooters. They currently have a sale, with selected ride ons and scooters discounted up to half price off, and we have been sent the Xootz Retro Racer Go Kart to review - in classic British Racing Green.

For my 7 year old this really couldn't have come at a better time, as he's recently discovered Go Karts and I think his face really says it all. There's love in those eyes...

Friday 10 November 2017

Who's The Dude? Age 16+ Adult Game Review

Who's The Dude? is a very different sort of game and it is designed especially for the more mature members of your family. Mature in age possibly, but certainly not in behaviour! This game revolves around a pack of cards and a full size blow up dude... yep - you read right!

Suitable for 3-8 players (or more in teams), this is a great game for after the younger children have gone to bed because you can't help but end up with some very suggestive actions. Hilarious and active, we all laughed non-stop, but funnily enough people were reluctant to have their photos added to this post (I've saved them for birthday embarrassment later on).

Mayka Toy Block Tape (age 3+) Christmas Present Giveaway

We reviewed Mayka Tape for the Rainbow Toy Awards and it's a great fun product that my 7 year old has used all over his furniture and walls to suspend his favourite minifigures. Super easy to use, it adds a whole new dimension to playing with bricks.

You can read my full Mayka Tape review here. Mayka Tape is a rubbery studded tape that is compatible with LEGO and other plastic bricks and has a sticky tape on the back. It is really beautifully presented in a really handy case that stops it unravelling and keeps it safe - it makes a great gift.

Thursday 9 November 2017

Megableu Family Games Bundle Christmas Present Giveaway (age 5+)

Megableu make great family games that everyone can enjoy and they have given me a bundle of 3 of their newest games to give away to one of my readers - Beat the Flush, Tumball and NAME THAT!

We've been sent all 3 games to take a look at and have quick play...