Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Project Mc2 Camryn's Tie Dye Doll with Experiment review

If you're looking for a positive role model for a little girl, you would be hard pressed to find a better candidate than Camryn Coyle. She exudes natural grace and beauty, without the need for make up or raunchy clothes. She's not just a total babe with a flair for fashion though - she is one of the super-smart and seriously cool girls in secret organization, NOV8 (that's 'innovate'), who use their love of science and their spy skills on clever missions. 

Even as just a doll, she would be a great buy, especially for fans of the series who would probably recognise the clothes from the show. She is fully articulated so you can move her head, shoulders, knees and ... no, not toes, wrists, elbows and hips ! The head is on a ball socket so it can go up, down, left, right or round. This gives her a wide scope of realistic movements, but it does make her slightly more fragile than the more solid, less articulated dolls. The magic of the Mc2 dolls, however, is that they come with a cool experiment that you can try at home using items from the box and a few household materials - in Camryn's case, using rubbing alcohol for a tie dye effect.

Along with the doll, there are three marker pens, a pipette and a comb for brushing her hair.

You need to add something to decorate made of light-coloured canvas, such as a tote bag or a pair of white plimsolls, and some rubbing alcohol. I had a little play on google to check what the UK equivalent of American rubbing alcohol is - they kindly give the scientific formula on the back of the box, C3H8O -  and it's surgical spirit, which can be used as an antiseptic. It is definitely not white spirit, which is used to clean paint brushes, and can irritate skin - I've seen some confusion over this online and I do think they should add a sticker to the UK boxes to make it easier for sourcing the required materials. Lots of people have apparently been buying "rubbing alcohol" online when they could just pick up a bottle of "surgical spirit" from their local supermarket !

I love the way the blurb on the back of the box explains all of the science behind the experiment. "Permanent ink doesn't dissolve in water, which is why it's hard to get off your hands, but it does dissolve in rubbing alcohol (codename: C3H8O). Using this knowledge, we can colour any piece of fabric, then use alcohol to create a tie-dye effect. As you drip alcohol onto fabric, it is absorbed and starts to spread. As it spreads, it drags the colours with it. Then, the alcohol evaporates, and the colours are left in a new spot, creating a rad new design !"

The name of the experiment on the box is a bit misleading because it doesn't actually involve any tying or dying, but the effect is really pretty and we'll definitely be stocking up on cheap white plimsolls at the supermarket for the kids to have fun with over the summer.

The other dolls' experiments look very cool too, and I love the fact that they are both fun and educational. Juliette desperately wants to try Create your own Gummies with Adrienne Attoms and Create Glitter Tattoos with Ember Evergreen now !

star rating : 4.5/5

Disclosure : We received the product in order to write an honest review.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Madhouse diaries : Inflatable Fun & Gamers' Day

You may remember me telling you last year about an Inflatable Sports Day in the town centre. It looked right up the Madhouse kids' street and it was free so what more could we ask for ?! We went along and had lots of fun, and, when I saw that it was coming back, I turned to the local magazine to find out the times and dates. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that Pierre had become the poster-boy for this year's event ! Even funnier was that on the same page, just below, there was an article about the teacher exchange in Norway with a picture of me and the rest of the group !

Well, this year's event was a much smaller affair - there were just a few bouncy castles and bouncy assault courses - but Pierre had great fun all the same.

As did Juliette ! She may be about to head into her teens and is starting to get the attitude that goes with it, but there are still frequent glimpses of her childish streak (thank goodness !)

She bumped into a couple of her schoolfriends so they had a go on the bigger kids' attraction - a padded bar that goes round that you have to jump over without falling over.

They were all hopeless, which was very entertaining !

The week after was another free event - Gamers' Day. I wasn't sure how much this one would appeal but we decided to go along for a look. Before we even got inside, Pierre was very impressed (and slightly spooked) by the enormous Transformer-like robots - especially when they moved and looked straight at him. The one on the right even gave me the shivers - it reminds me of the machines in War of the Worlds !

Once we got inside, we chose to head to the retro tent and the kids were soon busy playing on the arcade games. Some of the games, such as Bubble Shooter, still exist on facebook and tablets, and the kids couldn't get their head around the idea of us in "the olden days" going to an amusement arcade and spending money just to play one round !

Apparently it's more fun playing on the video arcade version.

But I'm sure it was just the novelty value because people were waiting their turn just to play that really simple game whose name I have forgotten which is like ping pong with a moving square block. Certainly nowhere near as exciting as modern games !

Madhouse Daddy soon disappeared over in the pinball corner.

And was soon joined by the kids, who thought they were great fun and very exciting.

We went over to the hi-tech tent and watched people in the drone park for a while, but the queues for the sit-in aeroplane simulators (that I also remember from the amusement arcades of my youth) were phenomenal.

Quite a few people were watching the Street Fighter tournament on giant video screens ...

... but the kids wanted to go back to the retro tent.

We used to have (and probably still have in the garage somewhere) exactly this console - the original Playstation - and the Tomb Raider game to go with it !

Such simple graphics and gameplay but the kids still loved it, although the fuzzy TV screen images soon gave them a headache !

Our Heatwave Heroes - Scunci and Thera Pearl Pals (review)

I like the idea of a heatwave. Sitting in a shady spot in the garden with a glass of something chilled, ice cubes jauntily clinking against the side of the glass, quietly reading while the kids giggle in the paddling pool or squeal with delight having a water fight. This last couple of weeks has reminded me that it's actually a lot less idyllic than my rose-tinted spectacled version though. I suffer from hayfever in the summer so I usually get a double-whammy of heatwave hell : the stifling heat, sweat dribbling down the back of my neck because my long, thick hair traps the heat as efficiently as a knitted scarf and swollen, painful eyes that I can't stop rubbing even though I know that the few seconds of relief really aren't worth the extra stinging and redness when I stop rubbing them.

For the first time in about a decade, I gave in and headed to the doctor's for some allergy relief so my hayfever is much better now (hallelujah!) , but the medication takes a few days to kick in, so in the meantime, I fell in love with the Thera Pearl Pals that we had been sent to review. After chilling them in the fridge, they were absolutely perfect for soothing my itchy eyes and making me feel human again. Unlike other similar products that the kids have had in the past, they can also be popped in the freezer for even more effect. They are great for soothing bumps, bruises, minor burns, sunburn or insect bites, as well as just placing on your forehead when you can't take the heat any more. They can also be used in the microwave for providing heat relief, which may be more welcome in the winter months - I can see these being used as hand-warmers for outdoor play if it snows !

As a mum of two daughters with long hair, I seem to spend half of my life trying to locate scrunchies and hair bands, so we were delighted to discover some of the range of products from scünci - also great for keeping my hair off my neck and away from my face to alleviate hayfever symptoms and overheating during the heatwave. We all love the No Damage hairbands with no metal parts so they don't rip half of your hair out when you take down your ponytail at the end of the day, and the bobby pins are designed to be extra comfortable too. The Easy Plait is perfect if your daughters frequently request complicated hairstyles and you're a bit cack-handed (like me - I can do a basic plait but that's my lot !) because it helps you keep hold of the different sections of hair. Sophie giggled and said she could use it as a toe separator for painting her nails too, but I pointed out that she'd have to chop a toe off for it to work !

If you have thin or fine hair and want extra lift and volume, the scünci Perfect Pony gives you a plastic insert to hide inside your ponytail to give it some extra oomph. I was dubious but it does work, as this video shows.

If you're wondering where you may have heard of the scünci brand before, I have no doubt your daughters will have been lusting over their Insta Twist. Sophie and Juliette ooh and aah every time they see an advert for it !

Disclosure : We received the products in order to write an honest review.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Get ready to go go mango (shake your coconut) in the shower ! (review)

Vosene have recently added a fabulously tropical and summery new addition to their Vosene Kids Gentle To Skin children’s hair care range: Caring Hair & Body Wash with Coconut Oil & Mango Essence. 

Now, CBeebies have a lot to answer for. After bringing up three children, I have sat through many hours of preschool TV and there are certain words and phrases that have me singing and dancing around the room uncontrollably. Vosene have managed to hit on two of them - mango and coconut - in one fell swoop, and I guarantee that after watching the video below, you'll have it on the brain all week too !

I've just been annoying Sophie with it, which makes it even funnier !

I'm not the only (coco)nutcase though. Along with a sample of the new hair and body wash, Vosene sent us a crazy Aqua Coconut Shy bath game which Pierre thinks is hilarious ! He's been coming straight home from school and asking to have a bath, but I'm not sure whether that's down to the heatwave, the bath game or the lovely smell of the body wash ! It's a great multitasking product for hair and body, that can be used in the bath or shower, that cleans and nourishes, leaving behind a lovely scent. Not just on the kids but on me too because I've fallen in love with the fragrance and have been using it just as much as they have !

If you're quick, you can try your luck on the Vosene UK facebook page where they are giving away ten tubes (closing date 29/6)

star rating : 4.5/5

Disclosure : We received the product in order to write an honest review.

Globecooking recipe : Seadas (Sardinia) #readcookeat

I recently finished reading Under A Sardinian Sky by Sara Alexander, which is halfway between chicklit and historical fiction. (Click through to read my review.) It is set in post World War II Sardinia and is packed with evocative descriptions of the island's food, all of which I've bookmarked, so I'm sure I'll be trying some more of them in the not too distant future. The first one that I recreated was something that I knew would definitely appeal to the Madhouse family :

p33 The afternoon trickled through another bottle of each digestif, alongside plentiful servings of Maria's seadas, thin pastry-encased slices of cheese, pan-fried till crispy on the outside and oozing on the inside, topped with a drizzle of the neighbour's acacia honey.

These days, seadas are commonly eaten as a dessert, but originally they were served as a main meal. I couldn't convince the kids to dowse their cheesy parcels in honey, so I served them for lunch with mashed potatoes and cherry tomatoes. The gooey cheese filling was a unanimous hit and frying pastry actually works better than I expected, but I think I'd oven bake them next time, just to make them slightly healthier (or less unhealthy, at least !).


ingredients :

1 sheet of ready-made shortcrust pastry 
cheese - traditionally pecorino, made with sheep's milk
olive oil for frying

You can, of course, make your own pastry from scratch, but it was the middle of a heatwave and any shortcuts that got me out of the kitchen were more than welcome ! Use a large cookie cutter to cut out discs of pastry.

I couldn't find pecorino, which would be the authentic Sardinian option, so I went for a mixture of tomme, which is a French cheese made with sheep's milk, and asiago, which is an Italian cheese made with cow's milk. Looking online, I saw several websites saying that parmesan can be substituted for pecorino too.

Hold a disc of pastry in the palm of your hand, lay several chunks of cheese on one half, flip over the other side of the pastry and crimp the edges with your fingers or a fork to seal.

Heat some olive oil in a large pan and fry on both sides in batches until golden brown. 

Drain on kitchen paper and serve, as a savoury meal or drizzled in honey for dessert.

The gooey, salty cheese perfectly complements the crispy, flaky pastry and they only take minutes to prepare.

Linking up with the #readcookeat challenge over at Chez Maximka.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Summertime thirst-quenchers to survive the heatwave (review)

Baby, it's hot outside ! I like bright sunny days, especially at the weekend or when I'm on holiday, but it's been absolutely sweltering lately, so keeping everyone's liquid levels topped up has been of the utmost importance. Luckily, I've received several new drinks lately to help encourage everyone at the Madhouse to keep drinking, starting with English Tea Shop's new iced tea teabags.

The range is made with the finest organic teas, herbs, fruits and flowers, to create an array of tantalising flavours to be enjoyed chilled. From zingy blends to fabulously fruity concoctions, there is a cool brew to satisfy every taste. We received Cool Breeze (Peppermint & Strawberry with a hint of Hibiscus - RRP £9) and Indian Summer (Green Tea, Lemongrass & Citrus - RRP £8.43), but there are also Summer Haze (Lemon and Hibiscus with subtle notes of Rosehip, Orange and Lemongrass - RRP £9) and Berry Boost (Pomegranate and Blueberry, complemented by Hibiscus, Rosehip and Apple - RRP £8.79).

You need to be slightly organised and plan ahead because the iced tea starts like normal tea, with boiling water. After letting one of the large tea bags steep in boiling water to release the flavours, you can top up with cool water but it will need to be chilled for a few hours or even overnight to reach optimum temperature. You can add sugar to taste and garnish with ice cubes and slices of fruit or fresh mint leaves for a healthier alternative to most of the sugar-packed ready-made iced teas on the supermarket shelves. I wasn't sure what the kids would think as it has a more sophisticated, natural and less sweet flavour, but they loved it. It appeals to adults with a more discerning palate too. 

The next one surprised me because it was flavour that I wouldn't have associated with a drink - Cinnamora, with a cinnamon flavour. Cinnamon is bang on trend at the moment, but it also offers a number of possible health benefits - it is a strong antioxidant, can help with indigestion and potentially promotes better cholesterol and diabetic control, although this has yet to be proven. The drink contains Cinnamomum Zeylanicum (which is a type of cinnamon) Extract, Citric Acid, Sucralose and water. There is no sugar, artificial flavouring or colours.

Available in both sparkling and still varieties, it is a refreshing, natural-tasting drink that reminded me somewhat of coconut water. (In fact, I checked the ingredients, convinced it was made with coconut water but no, it's regular water !) The cinnamon flavour is there and it's recognisable but it's subtle so it won't overpower your tastebuds if you're not a huge cinnamon fan. Sophie didn't like it (but she doesn't like the taste of cinnamon), I thought it was slightly bland but would happily drink it because I love the fact that it contains almost zero calories and was created by two doctors who want to encourage healthy living, and Pierre absolutely loves it and would happily guzzle it all day long ! I checked on the website - Cinnamora uses only Cinnamon Zeylanicum which has insignificant quantities of coumarin and Cinnamon has been given Generally Recognized As Safe status by the FDA at dosages of up to 6 g/day, which is equivalent to 12 bottles of 330ml Cinnamora a day. It's available on amazon, in selected retailers and on their website with an RRP of £1 a can with £2.90 postage, or £7 for 7 cans with free postage.

Another healthy option is the Naked Pressed range of juices, made with fruit, vegetables and spices. To achieve a fresh taste that's bursting with flavour, Naked select only the best produce and then cold press the juice with chilled pressure, squashing the ingredients, whilst preserving the natural flavours. There are three varieties : Bright Greens is a mix of seven juices, including apple, cucumber, spinach and wheatgrass, masterfully blended to be slightly sweet and invigorating. Lively Carrot, a five juice blend, includes carrot, cucumber, orange, lemon and apple, combined with vanilla bean and turmeric for a sweet and spicy flavour. Bold Beet is a blend of five juices, as vivid in colour as it is in flavour, containing beetroot, cucumber, carrot and apple, with a hint of ginger. The Madhouse kids love fruit juices but I knew they would be put off by the colours and the mention of vegetables, so we had a blindfolded tasting game. (The girls were instantly on their guard but Pierre thought it was great fun !) They liked the green one (until they saw it !), but they weren't keen on the other two. As a healthy, refreshing choice for discerning adults, they are a great way to start the day though, especially as they count as one of your 5-a-day, and they contain less sugar than many fruit juices. RRP £3.79 for 600ml (Bold Beet, Bright Greens & Lively Carrot) or £2.29 for 250ml (Bright Greens & Lively Carrot)

And finally Rocks Drinks Sparkling Elderflower, which I cheekily told the Madhouse Kids they wouldn't like so that I didn't have to share it ! It's a refreshing, delicate, sophisticated flavour that is perfect for sipping over ice on a hot summer's day. It can be enjoyed on its own or mixed with prosecco or martini, enhanced with sprigs of fresh mint and slices of lemon, lime or cucumber or even used in summery desserts, such as granita or jelly. It's available in independent retailers, farm shop, delis, restaurants, pubs and online priced at £1.99 per 250ml bottle.

What about you? Have you discovered any exciting new drinks lately? What's your favourite summery tipple?

Disclosure : We received the products in order to write an honest review.

Book review : The Brazilian - Rosie Millard

If you're heading off to sunny climes this summer and are getting into holiday preparation mode, make sure you put "Don't Forget The Brazilian" on your to-do list. Don't head to the beauty salon though - get down to your local bookstore and grab a copy of Rosie Millard's perfect poolside read !

When I first saw the title, I idly wondered if it related to the bikini line or the nationality - it turns out that it's both, and if that sounds surprising, it will all make sense once you tune into the irreverent, light-hearted prose, peopled with characters who are so pompous, pretentious and narcissistic that you'll want to scream at them.

The plot centres around stuck-up yummy mummy Jane who decides to take herself, her family and - all importantly - her nanny, off for a relaxing break in Ibiza. When she finds out that a reality show is being filmed just up the road, she is determined to grab her five minutes of fame, particularly when she discovers that some of her neighbours are contestants.

Most of the characters are very one dimensional and pretty odious and the few who are a bit more balanced and realistic are very bland and fade into the background. The plot is flimsy but frequently made me smile, although I thought it ended not with a bang but a whimper (my apologies to TS Eliot). I couldn't really see the point of the final get-together because nothing actually happened - I was hoping for a final showdown or last minute attempt at grabbing the limelight.

For a frivolous summertime easy-read, it's perfect. Having endured some of the vacuous reality shows that my kids tend to love watching on TV, it's a pretty accurate representation of most of the candidates too !

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £8.99

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press (14 Jun. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1787199878
  • ISBN-13: 978-1787199873
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 2.4 x 13 cm

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Disclosure : I received a review copy, in order to write an honest review.