Monday 31 December 2018

Goodbye 2018....

Well, that didn't quite go to plan. Usually at the end if the year I post something carefully crafted and added to over the previous couple of weeks. This year flu decided against that and if you follow my social media you'll know that we really got hit hard. 2 days before Christmas my 10 year old and my partner were so ill they were referred to hospital, and I was so ill that I was told not to go with them. Thankfully my 10 year old was allowed to come back after assessment and my partner was given oxygen and fluids for 24 hours and allowed home Christmas Eve afternoon.

Thank you to every single NHS and public sector employee who gave up part of their Christmas to look after people like me and my family. I honestly cannot thank you enough.

Every year I say just focus on what is really important at Christmas and don't fret about the rest. I was honestly too ill to care about the rest and was struggling with the important, but while I was unable to function, the sparkle and glitter came from everywhere.
Friends offered to cook, to help, to look after the smaller boys. They even offered to finish my Christmas shopping.
Our big kids descended on us, took stock and took over.
One of our Uni kids had to make tricky choices about who to see, without putting older relatives in danger. A very scary choice to make when your Dad has been hospitalised, but we found the perfect solution and there's so much joy in this photo, it brings a tear to my eye every time.

Thursday 20 December 2018

The Pyjama Factory Winter Nightwear Review (Sent For Review)

Pyjamas are probably the UK's most overlooked and yet most loved Winter wear. We have such varied weather we can even manage without in Summer, but once Winter arrives there's the whole cold and frosty vs warm and snuggly thing and pyjamas are a necessity.

Once everyone is home and has settled for the evening, there's little better than to get into your pyjamas and truly relax, so I'm very happy to say my boys and I have all been sent new pyjamas for Christmas by The Pyjama Factory.

My two boys both took very little time to choose pyjamas, the range is pretty broad, with Harry Potter, Gaming, TV, movies, sports, dinosaurs and all sorts of children's pyjamas. There will be something to please any child and my almost 9 year old went straight to the gaming section.

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Lavender & Lovage: A Culinary Notebook Of Memories And Recipes (sent for review)

It's been a little while since I reviewed a cookery book, but I've dusted off my apron for Karen Burns-Booth's debut cookbook, Lavender & Lovage: A Culinary Notebook Of Memories And Recipes From Home And Abroad. I think the title pretty much says it all really...

I read Karen's blog even before I had The Brick Castle and her food is good, unpretentious, tasty fare. Born in South Africa, she's lived in countries all over the world and has soaked up the food from every one. This is a gigantic recipe book with around 160 recipes. Alongside are snippets giving history, origins or a short tale about the recipe or it's ingredients. They're short and sweet, and really do add to the dish, often giving useful hints for home cooks too.

Tuesday 18 December 2018

Beasts Of Balance Family Game Review (Age 7+) Sent by Sensible Object for review.

Beasts Of Balance is a fantastic family game which we first came across over two years ago when it wasn't quite complete. It was so beautiful and had so much potential that I'm delighted to see the finished product hasn't had to make any concessions. Last week we were sent a copy to review and it's been well-used already!

Beasts of Balance is a 'digital tabletop hybrid stacking family game' for 1-5 players aged around 6-7+. Different animals, elements and special artefacts are balanced in a tower and using the free app. you see them as they interact with each other, your world grows and evolves - until the moment it tumbles....

The box is gorgeous, easy to open, very strong and perfect for storage afterwards. You'll need 3 x AA batteries and you have to download the free app. to play, but that's pretty much it. The rules are only online (I'd rather have a physical copy to refer to), but they are intuitive and easy and you can start to play straight away.

Monday 17 December 2018

Slapstick Family Theatre Review, HOME Manchester (Review Visit)

Last Friday we visited HOME Manchester for the very first time and we had an amazing night out! Slapstick is performing until this Saturday 22nd December and the group of 5 Dutchmen are true all-rounders. An amazing array of instruments played, perfect comic timing and complete commitment to character make it a unique show that really is a great night's entertainment for anyone.

We took the tram down and HOME Manchester is really easy to find, 5 minutes walk from Deansgate And Castlefield Station at Tony Wilson Place. It's gorgeous down there and the area was alive with people excited for Christmas. The HOME bar was really busy, but we were still served drinks quickly.

The show started before we even took our seats, as an 'elderly infirm man' wandered through the crowds with his walking frame, making the crowd laugh by getting in the way of everyone. Once we were in the auditorium the actors were all wandering around warming up the crowd and swapping the sweets and crisps of any willing participants.

Sunday 16 December 2018

Haynes Build Your Own Working Engine Model Kit Giveaway (age 10+)

I've got a really exciting toy giveaway today, and sadly it won't arrive in time for a Christmas, but it will make an excellent new year's gift for someone.

Now, you can relive the joy of lying under a van in a car park in the pouring rain at 10pm, but from the warmth and comfort of your own lounge and age 10+. Haynes are making model engines...

I haven't had the pleasure of playing with the Haynes kits yet, but at £36.99 for an Internal Combustion Engine and £54.99rrp for an over 250 piece, fully functional motorised Petrol V8 with its own mini Haynes Manual, it's got to be a fair price.

Saturday 15 December 2018

December.... 52 Months... #TBCSmiles

Christmas is almost here and 5 years in we are getting used to our new sort of Christmas. Some things change in more ways than others. I have a real problem looking ahead and I only started buying presents two days ago, but we're doing it. It'll happen. We're further ahead than this time last year.

We knew doing decorations would be hard and started at the beginning of December, so our living room now looks amazing and we have a huge LEGO Winter Village. When the tree is up it'll be perfect, and it's first time we've felt able to really go to town with the decorations since losing Elspeth.

She is constantly in our thoughts anyway, but now more than ever because she loved Christmas so much. She looked forward to it for months and every Christmas song on the radio or Christmas movie on the TV reminds us of her, and the fact she isn't here. Every gift idea seems it would have suited Elspeth best. In honesty we've kept ourselves busy to stay distracted...

December may be hard, but we've still managed to collect plenty of smiles and I've caught a few of them on camera. We've been to see Father Christmas, Black Beauty, Slapstick and The Forest Of Forgotten Disco's and we've definitely discovered the benefit of woolly hats....

Friday 14 December 2018

The Forest Of Forgotten Discos! Festive Manchester Family Theatre (Review Visit)

Earlier this week we were guests of Contact Theatre to watch this year's seasonal production, The Forest Of Forgotten Discos! Contact's premises is undergoing improvement so this family performance, which is suitable for anyone, is being hosted by Hope Mill Theatre.

The Forest Of Forgotten Discos! is written by Jackie Hagan, a multi-award winning playwright who is herself disabled. It features a deaf performer and has sign language throughout, which only adds to the experience and makes it ideal for families or groups of friends who have a deaf member.

Scholastic Book Parties - earning money for yourself and books for your school.

If your childhood was like mine then a highlight of every term was the Scholastic Book Club Catalogue of dreams. Full of colourful and exciting books at reduced prices, my parents always allowed me to choose a book and the day the delivery came was something very special.

I've worked with Scholastic now for over 3 years and all of the children's books in this post were sent to us by Scholastic for review over that time. There are some excellent books from some amazing authors...

Nowadays we don't have to wait until the new catalogue release, we can buy from Scholastic online all year round. All of the books are available at prices that are discounted from the recommended price by up to 70% and they've been specially selected by Scholastic, so you know they'll be good.

Thursday 13 December 2018

Slurpees Snot Suckers Review Age 4+ (Sent for review).

If your children like gooey, slimey, horrible toys then they'll no doubt be hoping for Slurpees Snot Suckers in their stocking this Christmas. At £5 each, they're sure to be very popular - however disgusting they are. We were sent a delightful green package which excited the boys...

Inside were some Slurpees, plus a bogey green Winter survival kit. Socks, lip balm, hand warmer, hat, blanket and mug. The Slurpees Snot Suckers come in 4 different colour varieties and each has it's own 30g of coloured slime in a resealable pot.

Wednesday 12 December 2018

10 Quirky Christmas Gifts for Teenagers and Grown Ups.

Here at The Brick Castle we have the 2 young boys, but we've also got 4 grown up children. They are all still studying and haven't got their own families yet, so Christmas gift buying for us is more about finding interesting gifts for big kids than it is visiting toy shops...

Here are a few of the things we've been sent to review over the past year or two which have really impressed us and make a great Christmas present, especially if you aren't quite ready to grow up just yet. Oh, and Amazon links are affiliate. It only earns me a few pence each time if you order through my link, but it helps keep the website running and doesn't cost you a penny....

Mary Poppins Parrot Umbrella from Paladone

Monday 10 December 2018

Owlet Press Children's Christmas Story Books (Sent for review)

We love books and Christmas is a great excuse to read together. Snuggling up under a blanket and reading is the perfect way to spend a Winter's evening and Owlet Press have sent us a couple of their Christmas storybooks to take a look at...

Both of our books have a very strong message about what is truly important:
Santa's Wish considers, what would Santa want for Christmas?
The Christmas Next Door is a book about a family coping with their first Christmas after losing a loved one and features a main character has Autism.

Sunday 9 December 2018

Maqio Toy Boxes And Storage Solutions Review (sent for review)

Maqio are based incredibly locally to me and have just launched a new low-cost toy e-commerce store specialising in Maqio Boxes. These are specially decorated storage boxes that will never peel because they use In-Mould Labelling (IML). During curing the labels are fused with the box, so your box can be washed and used for years, but the pictures and patterns won't ever wear away or look tatty.

Large selection of printed storage boxes on display

We've been sent a big selection from the Maqio Box range to review - and the prices are good. This whole lot is well under £50, and if you buy before 20th December, there's an extra 10% off throughout the whole site.

We were sorting our Christmas decorations anyway, so they couldn't be handier - although they will mainly end up storing toys upstairs in the bedrooms.

Maqio Toy Boxes And Storage showing sizes and themed sets

Friday 7 December 2018

Black Beauty At Z-Arts, Manchester Theatre Review (Review Visit)

Last night we were guests of Z-Arts to review Black Beauty - their Winter show presented by Red Bridge and Traverse Theatre Company. This is a modern and very imaginative retelling, but it'll satisfy true fans as well as newcomers and we all loved it.

Funny and honest but light-hearted, it's actually more of an homage as Black Beauty's life story is told in a different way than ever before...

I love Z-Arts because, as I said on social media last week, walking in is like going to the home of family you didn't know you had. The atmosphere is always happy and friendly, it's full of excited children and milkshake is 35p. You couldn't be in a more relaxed venue. It all changes once the lights go down though, audience behaviour has always been sensible and impeccable.

Gardensite £100 Of Christmas Decorations Giveaway (sent for review)

We've got a really exciting giveaway today - and it's about as festive as you can get! Gardensite sent us a bundle of Christmas Decorations worth over £100 and one of my readers can win the same! Apologies if you don't like what we chose, but we let the children write a big list of things they liked, honed it down to the options that didn't need a stepladder or a huge display area (sorry light up Moscow) and chose 5 items that can really add a bit of sparkle this Christmas...

Outdoor Acrylic Penguin Family (£33.99) was chosen by our 10 year old. In fact his wishlist had 6 items and 5 of them were penguin lights - I think he's trying to tell us something!

Suitable for indoors or outside and mains powered with the plug and transformer included. The cord is just over 1m long, which is long enough to be helpful for most jobs. There are 48 LED's in this set and the tallest penguin is 9 inches tall.

Thursday 6 December 2018

Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas Review, Waterside, Sale, Manchester.

Last year Waterside brought us Raymond Briggs’ The Bear and this year Lyric Hammersmith & Pins and Needles are back with another Raymond Briggs favourite: Father Christmas. We were offered the chance to review and I couldn't wait to say yes.

If you follow my blog you'll know what a huge fan I am of children's books and Raymond Briggs' is a true favourite. Father Christmas is in my top 3 books. I know every single word and frame of the book off by heart, so I was a bit worried it wouldn't be 'right'. I needn't have worried, it was spot on, right down to the sandwiches on the roof and the chattering false teeth.

Tuesday 4 December 2018

Nickelodeon Slime Station Review (age 5+) Sent by Sambro

Slime is incredibly popular this year and pretty much all children love playing with it. We were given the Nickelodeon Slime Station and a large pot of delicious orange slime to review for Sambro. Suitable for age 5+, this is like a little factory for making non-toxic slime, with a big choice of different textures and glittery bits to add to it.

No batteries, packaging is mainly a big handy cardboard box and very little inessential plastic. Opens in seconds, you only need to add plain tap water and you can start immediately. Christmas morning-friendly.

You have the Slime Station itself, plus lots of other items:

3 Storage Tubs With Secure Lids
10 Activator Packs
!0 Coloured Slime Powders
4 Beads / Confetti Packs
2 Packs Of Styrofoam Balls
4 Packets Of Glitter
Slime Shaker
3 x Lidded 'Test Tube' Storage Tubes