Monday 27 August 2018

KODAK EP101WG Full HD Security Camera Review

The KODAK EP101WG Security Camera has full HD video with app. controlled remote pan and tilt that really does allow you to see entirely around your camera, even directly below. It is a waterproof, outdoor model which allows you to record to SD card or Google Drive and we've been reviewing it for the last 3 weeks.

We live in a suburban house in Greater Manchester. Our street and the people in it are lovely, but even so, we have had theft from our garden in the past and we've also had vandalism. A security camera is something we think is a wise idea.

In the box is all you need barring your own device for the app. The camera itself (with mount attached), aerial, instruction booklet, power cable and fixing kit, including a very handy allen key/screwdriver tool.

Sunday 26 August 2018

Totally Wild Fact-Packed, Fold-Out Animal Atlas Review for Carlton Books

The Totally Wild Fact-Packed, Fold-Out Animal Atlas by Jen Green is exactly what you'd hope. A big book with large scale colour pages full of all of the different animals you can encounter wherever you are on the globe.

Inside there are global maps and many larger scale maps for great chunks of the world, plus absolutely loads of information for each. Photographs and text support illustrations and although this is a fact book, the language used is modern and relaxed, so it doesn't feel like an educational book. Obviously it still has plenty to teach almost anyone...

Saturday 25 August 2018

The best adult party game ever! Clickbait The Game review for Big Potato (age 14+)

Clickbait is the description for an outlandish headline or title designed to make anything seem exciting, although in the case of this game it's probably a fair description... Suitable for 3 or more players aged 14+, it's your job to think up the snappiest and most enticing clickbait. It's fast. fun and the answers can be hilarious - and sometimes genius! Sometimes not....

My game arrived in ridiculously exciting packaging, and I was even forced to open it immediately and play a test game with my 8 and 9 year old boys. Clearly they couldn't resist the clickbait... and possibly the very cool, unusually-shaped box.

Inside the box is everything you'll need, including pencils and paper for 8, game cards, instructions and special letter dice.

Thursday 23 August 2018

Disney On Ice presents Dream Big! Manchester Arena 10th-14th October

Disney On Ice is back and it's latest tour, Disney On Ice presents Dream Big! will arrive at Manchester Arena on the 10th October and we will be going along to review. Presented once again by Feld Entertainment, it promises big things and is sure to have the incredible skill and quality of previous shows.

The tagline for this year's show is 'Every Story Begins With A Dream' and that couldn't really be a more perfect description for any great story, whether true or fiction. The show brings together a collection of inspiring tales featuring characters with a desire to explore the depths, heights and horizons of their dreams.

This will be the first UK show to feature Moana and the greatest demigod on 2 legs, Maui, as well as 8 other tales of courage and heroism, including Frozen, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Tangled. The awesome Maleficent, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid and Sleeping Beauty will all make an appearance, as well as lots of the classic Disney favourites, including the icons Donald Duck and Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

Wednesday 22 August 2018

Treads Shoes revisited - How have they performed so far?

Treads shoes are designed especially with longevity in mind. Sensible, water-resistant shoes which have special reinforcement and a moulded sole which is firmly fixed into the shoe.

My youngest is a livewire. He never stops moving and even when he's sitting down he's kicking his feet and rubbing them across the floor. After he destroyed 3 pairs of shoes between Christmas and April, I was delighted when I was asked to review Treads.

You can see my Treads school shoes review here, I was impressed from the start, but the important thing was always going to be "will they survive?". Just how realistic is that 1 year guarantee? I promised I'd return to them and now seems as good a point as any... and I'll be more than happy to come back again if they still fit in another 4 months time...

Tuesday 21 August 2018

5 Minute STEM Activity 18: Blind Spots - Make Yourself Disappear

To see as we do, our brain takes the information it receives from both eyes, puts it together and makes sense of it. Your eyes can't take in everything all at once non-stop, so our brain fills in any missing information. Sometimes it gets it a little bit wrong...

Make Yourself Disappear!
Find your blind spot

Paper - scrap paper is fine
A pen or something to draw with
Optional - A photograph

Gulliver's Travels - Bolton Octagon Theatre Review at Queen's Park (until 27th Aug)

Last night we were guests of Bolton Octagon to review their brand new show - Gulliver's Travels. They are unable to use their building while it's being refurbished and this performance was taking place outdoors at Queen's Park. We had no idea how this was going to work. My 8 and 9 year old boys were very excited to see how a giant Gulliver was going to be portrayed in the park. I have to say that so was I...

It was excellent. Probably the cleverest and most ambitious project we'll see this year, with a huge cast and amazing backdrop, and executed beautifully.

Gulliver's Travels is, of course, the fantastical story of Gulliver, a brilliant storyteller who is shipwrecked and finds himself visiting several strange lands on his quest for home. This is the second of Bolton Octagon's 'Out and About' productions that we've seen - we also reviewed Summer Holiday earlier this year.

Sunday 19 August 2018

5 Minute STEM Activity 17: Solids that pour. Liquids that can be piled up.

Normally we need to add or remove heat to change something from a solid, to a liquid, to a gas. Non-Newtonian Fluids are a liquid when left alone, but they behave more like a solid when we try to move them quickly or apply pressure... It can pour, but if you hit it, it can feel as hard as rock.

Solids That Are Liquids.
Non-Newtonian Fluids.

A Non-Newtonian Fluid is a fluid that breaks Newton's Law Of Viscosity. Viscosity is what we would call 'thickness' (for example, oil is 'thicker' than milk) and it usually affects how quickly something will move. Non-Newtonian fluids will pour, but they don't quite follow the rest of the standard rules for liquids.

New Release Matador Children's Books About Animals (Review)

Mainstream books can be great, but they can also simply be popular because they have a lot of money for advertising. It's easy to miss real gems amongst the mountains of titles available, and so whenever I have chance I like to review books from smaller publishers and self-published books. Here are 3 shorter books for children from Matador Press.

My boys and I snuggled up and looked at them, because even at 8 and 9, sometimes it's nice to read a book together...

Thursday 16 August 2018

5 Minute STEM Activity 16 - Scared of soap

This is a great little activity which takes seconds and, like the Gluten activity earlier, it helps children understand what it is that really makes up the foods they eat. We are going to scare colour into running away...

Scaring away the colour in milk - with soap

A breakfast bowl
About 2oz milk - enough to cover the bottom of the bowl. Any milk should work, although I've not tried them all!
A tiny amount of food colouring
2 drops of washing up liquid

48 Months #TBCSmiles

It is time for this month's smiles, and it has been a pretty hard month for us. The Summer holidays are full of memories and waiting for results is very difficult to stomach, even if you disregard anything about the stress of the actual outcome.

Our young people, no doubt like yours, worked so hard and all had to keep going when they already had more than enough stress. Our household was not a happy place yesterday and one of our teenager's future career depended on really tough entrance qualifications. Thankfully that wait is now over and it's with a huge amount of pride that I say we will have 3 young people at University next month.

Not getting what you hoped never makes you a failure, it just makes it more difficult to take that path. There are a million more routes and a billion other options. You are so much more than your exam results.

Yesterday marked 4 years since we lost our 16 year old, Elspeth, and it made this week especially hard. I wrote about that yesterday, and I have to thank everyone who sent messages, replied to posts, commented, changed their profile photo or shared a sunflower. You are always there for us, and we couldn't be more thankful. To have so many people who care makes us richer than any amount of money ever could. Thank you.

Wednesday 15 August 2018

48 Months, 208 Weeks, 1461 Days. 4 years.

It's been 4 years since we lost Elspeth.

If you have a 4 year old, all that time they've been alive, she's been gone. While they learned to walk and talk, make friends and use a crayon, she's not gone any further. It's such a long time and she should have done so much, but she didn't give any of it a chance.

Our kids have grown. Our big kids are all grown adults now. Work and thoughts of Uni are filling their heads and it's so hard not to be seeing Elspeth off for her 3rd year. She should be going. She should be getting wasted and staying up all night to finish assessments. Living on 17p noodles and bringing all of her washing home, and expecting me to do it (which I do, because I'm soft).

She should be playing board games with her little brothers, she loved to play and they're both old enough now to play proper games. She should be watching her favourite movies with them, and they should still be happy to belt out songs from Les Miserables.

What I really want to say is that it's all just a bit shit. It's really crappy and unfair. We should have her with us, but because at the moment she decided she'd had enough, no-one happened to ring or send her a message, or knock on her bedroom door, she's not here.

Tuesday 14 August 2018

5 Minute STEM Activity 15: The Spinner

Back in the old days, before plastic and huge toy companies filled our toy boxes, children had to make their own toys at home. Here's one we can all make which can also help us understand colours...

The Spinner
Can you make it hum? Hmmm? 

Large cardboard pieces - cereal box or pizza box is great. If you have no card then stiff paper works too.
A small plate - the cardboard must be at least as big as the plate.
Colouring pens or pencils
Ruler or a straight edge
A small book
A teaspoon with a plain handle
Sticky tack

Monday 13 August 2018

5 Minute STEM Activity 14 - The Diver

This project helps you to understand some really complicated Scientific principles, including pressure, volume and buoyancy - but it is really easy and it's fun... And you don't need anything special.

The Diver
Neutral Buoyancy

A water bottle with a screw top lid.
Small square interlocking construction bricks - 4 stud LEGO or similar.
Sticky Tack or Dough

Sunday 12 August 2018

5 Minute STEM Activity 13; Floaty Paper Boat Challenge

Playing with water is great fun, but always make sure you are safe. Never lean your body over water more than 5cm deep without a safety harness or a responsible grown up, in case you fall in. You actually only need a sink half full of water to test your boat, but safety first...

We Are Sailing
Make a floating boat

A4 Paper - it will not survive it's bath, so scrap paper is perfect.
Wax Crayons

Hopefully you've made a paper boat before, and if not then it's definitely time. Paper isn't generally a very floaty material, but our boat can float for 5 minutes or more...

Saturday 11 August 2018

5 MInute STEM Activity 12 - Cleaning With Acid

Every child has to make their coppers shiny at least once, it's a right of passage. This is a very effective experiment to make us all consider what we are really putting into our mouths and tummies...

Shiny Pennies. 
Cleaning the filth from money

Money - only coins. 1p and 2p 'copper' coins work best.
Small cups or jars - NOT metal. Glass is best.
Acids - for example, Cola, vinegar, lemon juice

Sgt. Stubby Movie Review, Activity Sheets and Plush Sgt. Stubby Giveaway (3 winners)!

Sgt Stubby was released in cinemas in the UK this weekend. An animated movie which is a more grown up film than you might at first expect, especially as the star is a very cute little stump-tailed Terrier dog. This is the story of the official mascot of the 102nd Infantry Regiment (United States) and America's most decorated dog.

The movie is set in wartime and features wartime events, including frontline battles and infantry in trenches. It's noisy and honest, and my boys at 8 and 9 understood the storyline with depth.

The film tells the story of the real four-legged American hero, Sgt. Stubby, and when it starts he is a stray, rescued by a young 'doughboy' just as America declare war they are joining World War 1 and havoc really begins. The young man takes Sgt. Stubby with him as his infantry mascot.

Friday 10 August 2018

5 Minute STEM Activity 11: Mind Control

Human beings think we have free-will to do whatever we want, but nature has other ideas. We are bound by instinct and our bodies' will in just the same way as fish returning to their spawning grounds and birds flying South for Winter. Most of it is necessary to keep us alive and protect us from harm, or at least used to be necessary, and we often take our cues from people around us...

Mind Control
Control your family

Another person
We react to what other people do and even copy their actions - it is built into us and has protected humans from potential danger and made us 'part of the pack' for thousands of years. There is safety in numbers, not only because our mates can help us fight off bears, but they can help us spot potential dangers too.

There are absolutely loads of things you can make other people do without discussing it. Not everyone will fall for every trick, and a few people won't be completely caught out by any - but you should get some degree of success with anyone. Here are a few to try. If you want to prove your powers, write down what you are going to make them do, and show them afterwards.

Nerf Laser Ops Pro Alphapoint Review (age 8+) for Hasbro

We love Nerf and their latest release is the Laser Ops Pro range. Brand new laser battling blasters which bring Nerf, Laser Tag and augmented reality together in a brand new and very different type of battle to any other Nerf we've ever played with... and it's really rather fun.

In the box are 2 x Nerf Laser Ops Pro blasters and 2 x rubbery armbands to hold smartphones - which are optional. You will need 8 x AA batteries - 4 for each blaster. The packaging is great. Plastic-free and you have storage for your set afterwards to keep it all safe.

Wednesday 8 August 2018

5 Minute STEM Activity 10: Blowing out a candle with gas

We can't see lots of things, including a lot of gasses, but we can prove that they are there. We can create Carbon Dioxide gas very easily, and because it is heavier than air, we can use it for a trick...

Blowing out a candle by magic...

1 candle - a tealight is perfect
1 bowl with about 1cm water in the bottom
A small jug, mug or beaker.
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 big glugs of vinegar (about 1oz)
Cling Film

CBBC Summer Social Review 2018 Croxteth Hall And Country Park, Liverpool

Lat weekend we were guests of CBBC and Croxteth Hall And Country Park for the CBBC Summer Social. The weather was on our side, dry and not super hot, and unusually gates opened at 9.30am, so we set off bright and early, in time to take a few photos before the crowds really descended.

The CBBC Summer Social is a festival for families with children aged around 0-11, and loads of children's TV favourites were there. It was lovely to find the whole site is really flat and relatively compact, especially when you consider what they managed to fit in!

Tuesday 7 August 2018

5 Minute STEM Activity 9: Spoon Catapults

Cavemen probably played with miniature catapults as children, the technology is incredibly old. They are very simple to make and this is one of the simplest. It is a great way to use energy and motion to create different types of energy and motion. Mechanics, powered by your finger...

Spoon Catapult
Fantastically Flingy

Small collectible toys, rubber are best*. The type that come in blind bags and don't cost more than 50p each - then your mum won't be mad you won't be sad if you do temporarily lose any (don't use your favourites).
Dessert or soup spoon
Plastic water bottle, half full of water with the lid on tightly or cardboard tubes (kitchen roll or crisp tubes).
Sticky tape
Plastic bowls or similar for targets

*Small objects to fling - if you don't have any small collectible toys or yours are too precious to risk losing, you can use tightly crunched up paper. There are other rules:
a. Your objects cannot be metal or glass, or feel heavy or hard like metal or glass - e.g. dice.
b. Your objects cannot have sharp edges, points or corners.
c. Never aim towards animals or people, and watch out for your cat/baby brother getting into the way.
d. Your objects must not be bigger than the spoon, if they overlap the edges, they're too big.

My Pet Story (Gary the Cat Update) - with Petplan

It's about time I updated you on what Gary is up to, although it is with a degree of disappointment that I inform you he still doesn't have a 3-storey cat hotel, but you never know, one may just be in his near future... Black Friday is only getting closer...

For anyone who has missed Gary's story, he arrived, he squealed (for an hour). We let him in, he repaid us in hugs and a terror of the outdoors, followed by a persistent inability to have a wee. The internet raised some of the money, the vet took a hatchet to Gary's credentials and he's been just fine since.

He's only 3 and he's had the most adventures of any animal I've ever had.

Gary is the only cat I have ever actually tolerated liked. I'm not a natural cat person, I like dogs - but don't tell Gary. He's very excited by passing dogs, but I don't think he intends to befriend them.

Monday 6 August 2018

5 Minute STEM Activity 8: The Banger

The Butterfly Effect suggests that when a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon jungle, the ripples around the world might cause a roof to blow off in China, an apple to fall from a tree in the UK, or a Russian woman's hat might blow away. We see the butterflies' wings flap, but we can't see the waves of pressure it causes. In this activity we can hear them though...

Bangers and Sound Waves 

A sheet of A4 paper

World Calligraphy Day 15th August #SaySomethingSpecial

World Calligraphy Day isn't just about showing off your calligraphy skills (thankfully because mine are very limited!), it's about getting everyone writing. Manuscript Pen Company have partnered with Birmingham Children’s Hospital and created the ‘Say Something Special’ campaign.

The campaign is encouraging as many people as possible to write a special letter to the children in  Birmingham Children's Hospital. These can be sent to: Say Something Special c/o Small Man Media, 2nd Floor, 6 Waterloo Road, Wolverhampton, WV1 4BL. All of the letters will be forwarded on to Birmingham Children’s Hospital alongside some Manuscript products for the hospital to use for their art classes and play sessions.

Sunday 5 August 2018

5 Minute STEM Activity 7: Is it warm, or is it cold?

Today's 5 minute activity is one of the very simplest, but most effective. Our bodies and brains are incredibly complicated and clever, and most of the time they work together really well, but it is possible to confuse our brains and make it appear that something isn't what it seems.

Is it warm, or is it cold?
Confusing Your Brain.

Your hands
1 bowl cold water - from the cold tap
1 bowl lukewarm water - 2/3 cold and 1/3 hot
1 bowl warm water - comfortably warm and toasty

Friday 3 August 2018

5 Minute STEM Activity 6 - Turn Black To White (well, almost...)

Science can't explain everything, but sometimes it has a very simple explanation for something that seems impossible. If you hit yeast extract (Marmite, Vegemite etc) it appears to change colour from very dark brown to very light tan colour, almost from black to white. But why?

Turn black to white.
Marmite Bashing. 

1 level teaspoon Yeast Extract - Marmite, Vegemite etc.
A spoon, fish slice or other utensil to hit the yeast extract with.
A plastic plate or shallow bowl - not a Melamine camping plate, it'll break. The softer sort of plastic.

Thursday 2 August 2018

5 Minute STEM Activity 5 - Step Through A Hole In A Postcard

Here's something for the engineers of the future to get their teeth into. You can make a hole in more than one way, and if you do it carefully, you can even walk through a hole in a postcard...

This activity is quite hard because it requires concentration and careful cutting. Younger scientists may need older assistance, and there is always sticky tape!

Step Through A Postcard

A postcard sized piece of thin cardboard. A postcard is perfect, cereal box is great.
A light coloured, thin felt tip or a pencil or wax crayon
A thick marker or felt tip in a dark colour.

Grandpa's Old Watch by Angela Poulain Personalised Adventure Book Review

Grandpa's Old Watch is one of two 'My Little Adventurer' personalised children's story books written and illustrated by Angela Poulain. Suitable for reading together or for independent readers, these are adventure story books, where the reader makes choices about what will happen next...

I've reviewed with my 8 year old. Ordering was incredibly easy, the personalisation is a bit limited, but my son opened his book and immediately shouted, "The kid in this book has the same name as me. Is that why you got it for me?". So that was a hit!

Wednesday 1 August 2018

5 Minute STEM Activity 4 - What is Gluten?

Lots of people are diagnosed Gluten-intolerant, but it's very hard to understand what that actually means. It's very easy to 'make' Gluten, and when you do then you will be able to understand why people with Coeliac Disease have trouble digesting it...

What Is Gluten? 
Separating flour.

1 cup of flour - strong bread making flour is best.
A bowl.

If you don't have bread flour then use plain flour. I've used plain flour here just to show that it can still be done, but bread flour gives a much better result. If your mix doesn't seem to be working, wait half an hour and come back. It's not failure, it's science!

Crate Creatures Surprise Review (age 4+)

Crate Creatures are a brand new toy and they're actually rather good. Furry animal monsters captured inside a crate, your job is to release them and befriend them. It's easier than it sounds - although these little critters will shout and growl and try to scare you off. It's as if they don't understand you're being kind...

This is packaging genius. The crate is the packaging for the toy, but also the storage and the actual toy. It's brilliant. It's common for my 8 year old to play with the box, he doesn't usually play with it more than the contents.