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DMC Stranded Cotton: I love to cross stitch, especially in the run up to Christmas. It's so relaxing for me to sit and stitch while watching TV and drinking hot chocolate! To cross stitch you need an embroidery thread (sometimes called floss) and the brand I use most often is DMC stranded cotton which will be the subject of this review. DMC stranded cotton comes in 8 metre skeins of 6-ply floss. To use it for cross stitch (and most other types of hand embroidery) you split the thread down, most commonly into 3 lots of 2 strands. DMC is one of the top three brands of hand embroidery thread and it is used a huge amount of the cross stitch kits that are available. There are a whopping 454 solid colours of DMC stranded cotton as well as 18 variegated colours and a bunch of metallic and "light effect" threads too. DMC stranded cotton is made from long staple cotton which is strong, I have never had DMC thread snap on me as I work like cheaper threads do. An important feature of DMC threads is that they are colour-fast. This is important as hand embroidery needs to washed after completion to remove oils from your hands and also allows you to embroider things that will need washing like clothes and cushion covers. The threads from DMC are also fade resistant which is really important too for any work that will be displayed. I love how DMC threads feel in my hand; they are smooth and very soft and they pull easily through the fabric without snagging. I do find DMC threads tangle a little easier than the other top two brands but the benefits out weigh this small flaw for me. Being 100% cotton and colour-fast allows DMC stranded cotton to be washed at up to 95 degrees, meaning you can embroider items like bibs and towels and know you can get them really clean if you need to. I haven't ever had a problem with these threads shrinking or pulling in the wash. Most craft stores that stock any cross stitch or embroidery supplies will stock DMC and there are literally hundreds of online retailers. I tend to buy mine on ebay or shop around online as you can get them from 35p a skein compared to the 90p - £1.10 you will pay in most high street craft shops. I love the range of colours DMC offer, there is a colour for everything from a wide range of skin tones, to neons and from neutrals to metallics. Anything you want to embroider you are sure to find colours to suit. For me DMC is always my first choice.
I used to live in a wonderfully multicultural part of Bristol and I loved shopping at all the ethnic food stores there and I really loved a soft drink I found there called "Ting". After we moved away I missed the stores and being able to get Ting. That was until recently when I saw it in my local Tesco! Ting comes in a green and yellow can with grapefruit on the front and all the information you would expect on the back. In my opinion the can isn't massively attractive but who cares when what is inside is so yummy! Ting is a fizzy grapefruit soda made with real Caribbean Grapefruit. It isn't as fizzy as say a lot of other carbonated drinks and contains 6% grapefruit juice. I like that is made with actual sugar and has no sweeteners in it as not only do I think sweeteners taste horrible I am worried about the damage they can do your health and your fertility. There are no artificial flavourings in this either, all the flavour comes from just grapefruit juice and grapefruit oil. Ting contains 50kcal per 100ml and 12.4g of carbs, (a can is 330ml). I find that the citrus flavour of the grapefruit and the gentle sparkle makes Ting really refreshing. It clears your mouth wonderfully after food too, especially after something spicy. It can be a little acidic but I don't know if that is just me as I get nasty acid reflux anyway. Ting is available at Caribbean/ethnic stores and Tesco. Tesco charges 38p a can and at the moment they are on offer at three cans for £1.00. You can also get a 1.5 litre bottle for £1.20.
Cross Stitcher Magazine: Although many people think of Cross Stitching as a bit old fashioned, I find it a very relaxing and rewarding hobby. It really isn't difficult and you get such a good result. I've been buying Cross Stitcher Magazine since 2006 and thought it was about time I reviewed it. Cross Stitcher Magazine is, (as you may well of guessed), a magazine dedicated to Cross Stitching. The main reason I buy it is for the cross stitch patterns but the magazine also contains news relating to crafting and embroidery, competitions, shopping guides, readers letters and pictures and interviews with designers and professional stitchers. The reason I choose Cross Stitcher over the other cross stitch magazines on the market is because the patterns on offer here are much more modern. You do get the odd cutesy Disney-esque character, floral pattern or quaint cottage scene but for the main part the designs are up to date and vibrant. I have to be honest and say that I prefer the October-December issues when it's full of Christmas patterns but I still stitch a fair few things throughout the rest of the year. Cross Stitcher magazine runs at about 100 pages per issue and there are normally around 15 patterns/groups of patterns. The selection is great and includes small designs suitable for cards, gift tags and embellishing items and larger designs for things like bags, cushions (my favourite thing to make) and of course, framed pictures. You get a couple of alphabets in every issue which I love, they are great for personalising designs and I personally love the look of an alphabet stitched and then framed or made into a cushion. Where the design has been made into an item like a cushion or bag the magazine prints instructions for how to make them which are clear and easy to follow. The physical magazine comes with a free gift every issue, normally this will be a kit containing fabric, threads, a needle and embellishments but occasionally you get a tin, a set of needles or a something like a diary. For the most part I find that the gifts are poor quality and often there are parts missing or damaged. To be fair the publisher is always willing to replace the gifts without quibbling but it's a faff. The exception to this is when you get a branded gift/sample. For a while now I've been getting the digital version of the magazine. It's a little cheaper at £2.99 per issue instead of £3.99 for the physical version. Digital purchases come with a cute free folksy woodland animal chart as a bonus. I purchase the magazine through Zinio and I find it easy to use and enjoy being able to enlarge the charts etc. before I print them or view them on my tablet. As well as everything I have already mentioned each magazine introduces a new crafting technique such as hardinger, appliqué or crewel work. I love this feature and I've tried a few things I've discovered this way. The magazine also covers the basics of cross stitching at the back of every issue so you can just grab a copy and get started. I should probably mention that Cross Stitcher has a page on Facebook where you can ask questions, interact with fellow stitchers, post your completed projects and see sneak previews of forthcoming issues. I visit it often to see what other people have made with the designs in the magazines and to give feedback when I think something is particularly good or bad. I find Cross Stitcher to be great value for money, cross stitch books tend to be expensive and very "themed" so £2.99/£3.99 is a great price for so many varied charts. If you like cross stitching I thoroughly recommend Cross Stitcher magazine.
Frolicat Bolt We have four cats that all love plenty of attention and while we love playing with them and giving them cuddles, sometimes they want a fuss at really inconvenient times or they just want to play for longer than us! Our youngest, Moogle, even likes to play fetch, which is very much an activity that requires our input. We decided for the sake of our sanity (or what's left of it) to look for something that would keep their attention without us. Searching on Amazon I came across the Frolicat Bolt which seemed perfect (or should that be purr-fect) for our needs. The reviews of this were very mixed but I decided to give it a go anyway. The Frolicat Bolt is a small white, plastic tower with a laser, a mirror and a motor. It takes 4 AA batteries which aren't included. The Frolicat Bolt flicks a little laser dot around the room for the cats to chase. You can alter the angle too, which is important as you don't want the cats scrabbling up the curtains or running across shelves to catch the light! You do a bit of clear floor space, furniture etc. interrupts the beam, but it doesn't need to be a huge amount of space for the kitties to still have fun. When you press the on button once it comes on, on a timer which lasts around 15 minutes. If you hold the button in you get "manual" mode which basically turns it in to a big laser pointer. You can make the cats go absolutely nuts with manual mode, but neither you or the kitty will want to keep up that pace for long! The unit is quite noisy when it's in use which I know would drive some people crazy and put some cats off of it. After a few goes I don't even notice it any more and my cats don't do much more than have the odd sniff at it. They are used to electric motors though as they have a water fountain with a pump which makes a similar, although much quieter, sound. I will happily put up with the noise to see the cats happily playing! My cats have mixed reactions to this; my eldest, Tifa, at 5 years old will have a little play and then wonder off to find somewhere cosy to nap. The other 3, Atari, Lulu and Moogle, at 3,2 and 1, all love this and will happily play for the full 15 minutes then sit by the unit meowing for more! I love sitting and watching them play with this (which kind of defeats it's purpose) as the cats charge around and have so much fun! It's great to know that, as house cats, they are getting extra exercise too. I was a bit worried when this first arrived that the cats would be forever knocking it over as it's not very heavy but they have only managed it once so far. When it is on they are too busy chasing the laser dot and when it's not on, it's quiet and so doesn't attract their attention. We paid just over £18.00 for our Bolt on Amazon with free postage and it was worth every penny. The cats don't seem to be losing interest in it and we use it several times a day (it's especially useful when we are eating to keep them distracted from our food). I'm really glad I gave this a go, it's the best money I've spent on the cats so far.
Converse All Star Ox: I have silly big feet for a girl, size 11 to be exact! I have always had trouble finding comfy shoes that didn't look too masculine, that was until I discovered Converse. Converse are an iconic brand that have been around since 1908. They originally made rubberised footwear before beginning to make athletic footwear in 1915. The real turning point for the company though was when Charles H. "Chuck" Taylor, (a basketball player) walked in off the street and ending up working for Converse. When people think of Converse now, they are thinking of the basketball boots designed by Chuck and made famous by the plethora of celebrities that wore them. The All Star Ox are very similar to the basketball boots, or High Tops which have changed very little since the 1920s. All Star Ox are a shoe based on the basketball boot design because of this they are often called "Low Tops". They are laced and made of canvas with rubber soles and bumpers. On most pairs of Converse the soles and bumpers are white, often sporting red and blue stripes. These days you get an almost endless choice of colours and designs and if you live in the US you can even design your own pair and have them made and sent to you! I personally have them in blue, red, black, purple, and white with stars on, I even have a pair of Converse flip-flops. Although I do think Converse look cool, (I wore a pair to my wedding reception), the main thing for me is how comfy they are. The shape of the inside of the shoe gives really good support to your feet and seems to gently hug your foot. The rubber toe caps protect your toes and the soles have a pattern to help with grip (although they do get a little slippery in rain on smooth surfaces). I find Converse to be pretty true to size, although in recent years they have got narrower, not so much that they don't fit right but enough for me to notice. I think they make my feet look smaller and more normal unlike a lot of trainers. My All Star Ox's have lasted me ages. The soles seem almost indestructible and when the canvas starts getting worn they just seem to look better and better. The price varies massively but expect to pay anything from £22.00 + for adult sizes and much more for rarer colour ways and limited edition designs. Overall, Converse are my favourite thing to wear on my feet, I have never even found slippers that are as comfy!
When we got our second kitten, Atari, she had been badly treated and was very nervous and she would get cold really easily. She would always curl up in a ball directly on the radiator and even though I was worried about her getting burnt it was also the only place she seemed comfortable and at peace so I went looking for something to cover the radiator with. I should mention that I had previously tried putting a blanket on the radiator and a towel but Atari used to pull them straight off and then curl up as usual! We found this radiator bed at Argos and for less than £10.00 we thought our problem was solved! We got one straight away and were quite happy with the quality and design. You get a metal frame which simply hooks over the radiator (similar to the radiator clothes dryers if you have even seen one) and a soft, cream fleecy fabric cover. It felt lovely and soft and we thought that it would be perfect for Atari as it would keep her snuggly and warm even when the radiator was not on. There is a kind of shelf/hammock thing going on which is where the cats are supposed to lie. It's a little wobbly and I don't think many full grown cats could use it. The problem with it for us is that Atari won't go near it. We tried placing her in it, coaxing her onto it with treats and just leaving it there and hoping for the best but she just wouldn't take it and was pacing a lot as her usual sleeping spot had been occupied by the radiator bed. I can't say for sure why she didn't like it; it could be that it reminded her of her previous home in some way, it could have been the wobble or it could have simply been that she didn't like the change. Our older (and bigger) cat, Tifa, tried it but at 3kgs it bent a bit and basically tipped her out. All in all I still think this is a good item, I know some people who have cats that love these beds and I gave ours to my Brother and his kitty loved it when they were a kitten. If you have a kitten or a sub 3kg cat then by all means give it a go, your cats might like it!
Tesco Value Sponge Pan Cleaners : I normally buy enormous packs of "scrubby sponges" from the pound shop which last me absolutely ages as most of dishes go through the dishwasher but this does lead to me occasionally running out without realising. Obviously this only happens when we are either expecting company or when we have a proper mess on our hands! When this happens we normally nip off to Tesco and grab a pack of these for the princely sum of 14p for a pack of 5. These sponges are smaller than most other scrubby sponges I have used which isn't a major gripe and they are also white so as soon as they come into contact with anything dirty they look really disgusting! The green scrubby bit on top is softer than a lot of brands, (even my pound shop ones) which means that for really terrible dirt you may need to use more than one but to be honest one normally does the trick for a really burnt pan or several sinkfuls of dishes. The sponge bit is quite absorbent and is useful for aiding rinsing and also for soaking up spills around the house. I use these sometimes if one of cats pees on the floor, (normally over the edge of the litter tray while sat inside it), as for the price I don't mind binning them afterwards but they are more durable for the job than kitchen roll. I wouldn't buy these as my normal brand of scrubby sponge but they are fine for a stop gap until I get into town or for specific tasks when I need a disposable option.
Febreze Mist & Refresh: Unfortunately the only place in my flat that I can put my cat litter tray is right by the front door. This means the occasional nasty niff when visitors arrive which is where Febreze Mist & Refresh comes in! Mist & Refresh is an aerosol air freshener sold in 300ml metal containers with an ergonomic trigger at the top. The trigger fits neatly into the hand and allows for accurate delivery of the contents. Unlike a lot of "standard" air freshener cans there is no chance of accidentally spraying stuff into your face because the nozzle has gotten turned around. To use you just give a short spray into the air; I find doing it as high up as possible is best as it kind of floats downwards after being sprayed. Mist & Refresh is one of those air fresheners that claim to not just spray perfume into the air but instead actually eliminates the odours. Obviously I can't really test that without a lab but after use the air does seem and smell fresher. I use the lavender scent and I find it covers the cat litter smell as well as tobacco smoke and cooking odours. The scent of the spray is quite strong so I definitely recommend using a small amount then spraying more after a minute or so if you need it. There are several different scents available and I think they also do seasonal fragrances but I have only used the lavender and fresh cotton ones; both of which smell exactly like I imagined they would and they are both very nice. On the packaging there are all the normal warnings about solvents and avoiding spraying directly onto your pets/children, avoiding your eyes etc. At £3.00 a can the Mist & Refresh works out as great value because they last ages, (and unlike traditional aerosol fresheners this can has not ever left rusty marks when stored), but you can often find them on offer.
Jif Lemon: Who hasn't heard of Jif Lemon? From the iconic green bottle or the even more iconic plastic lemon bottle to the adverts advising us to "not forget the pancakes on Jif Lemon Day" it's a brand I am sure most of us are aware of! I always used to go for the 55ml plastic lemon bottles as I found them kitsch and a bit fun but I noticed that sometimes the lids (quite flimsy flip lids) didn't provide an airtight seal and as a result the contents didn't last so well even to the point of mould! I now go for the green and yellow 250ml bottles and whilst they're not as cute as the lemons they do seal properly and last months. Currently the price for Jif lemon seems a bit strange with the 55ml plastic lemons on sale for 79p at Tesco or 20p at Asda; neither of their websites has prices for the 250ml bottles currently, I believe they are sub £1.00 though which makes the bottles much better value for money too. In my opinion nothing beats fresh juice but the quality of Jif is the next best thing as it's not always possible to have fresh lemons lying about. The juice is very pale and runny and has a bitter lemony flavour as you would expect. Fresh lemon juice varies not only in quantity but also in taste and quality whereas with Jif you are getting a consistent product which can be beneficial in baking. To achieve this consistency and the shelf life Jif lemon is made from concentrate and contains preservatives. Jif lemon is not something you are likely to have on it's own but instead something you will use as an ingredient. There are a great many uses for Jif lemon from cleaning grease and cleansing bites and nettle stings to lemon cakes and curries and the obvious stuff like pancakes and honey and lemon. It's something I would always want to have in my cupboard.
Bosch SMS40C02GB Dishwasher: About two years ago my dishwasher caught fire, for some reason it got stuck part way through a cycle and the pump broke resulting in it just heating up constantly for about an hour until I noticed it smoking! We hadn't managed to replace it but recently with planning my wedding and taking the necessary steps to get over PTSD I have really been longing for another dish washer to take some of the load of! My Dad suggested Freecycle and the day after posting a wanted ad I was offered a Bosch SMS40C02GB which was only two years old! I feel really lucky as it's an awesome Dishwasher. I would have been happy with an ugly, scratched machine but the Bosch SMS40C02GB (henceforth referred to as "Dobbie") is really stylish and sleek. It has a plain white door with a little panel above it containing the dials etc. It's very unobtrusive and in my opinion would fit in in most kitchens. Having had a look around online I have discovered to my utter delight that this dishwasher is A+ Energy rated, (A for washing, A for drying), and uses only 12 litres of water to do a full wash. It has an economy setting (same wash as the "normal" cycle but taking slightly longer with cooler water) and a half load option. The normal cycle takes 138 minutes, the eco wash a little longer and the "quick cycle" (suitable for lightly soiled dishes) takes just 35 minutes. There is also a pre-wash cycle but I have never felt the need to use it. One of the best features is a LCD screen that tells you exactly how long is left on the cycle. I love this and although I have no doubt that the novelty will wear off soon enough it's useful for planning your time which at the moment is an amazing bonus. You can also set Dobbie off on a timer telling it to start in a number of hours which means I can load it up any time have it do the dishes when I want. This may not seem useful to start with but it means if I load it up in the middle of the night (trust me it happens) I can have it start in the morning so the noise doesn't annoy the neighbour below us. It would be also be good for people who get cheaper "off-peak" electricity. It is widely advertised that this machine can take 12 place settings, not many of us will ever use it for 12 settings at once but it does take a couple of days worth of dishes for the two of us including all our mugs, glasses and pans. The racks inside are fairly standard with a removable cutlery holder and a handy "tray" for big knives at the top. It seems to be a sensible layout and is fairly similar to any other dishwasher I have used. The sprinkler arm is nice and high so you have plenty of clearance for larger plates. Having mentioned noise before I want to point out that Dobbie is by no means noisy, he's not silent but he is a lot quieter than my last model and on a normal day with music/TV on I cannot hear him working despite being across a narrow hallway. Choosing your cycle is easy-peasy using the dials on the top which are clearly labelled (brilliant news for us as we never got an instruction manual) and there is even a "reset" cycle which takes 3 seconds in case you set it off on the wrong cycle. I could not be happier with the Dishwasher, it's well made, looks good, efficient, quiet and does the job well. You can pick them up online for around the £300 mark and I would be happy if I had paid this price!
KOBO Touch: I want to start this review by explaining just how much me and my (soon-to-be) husband love and covet books. Our flat looks like a library with books from our childhoods, reference books, fiction and books purchased simply because they are beautiful. Once a book finds it's way into our home it is never let go, we cherish it forever. Which leads me to why we chose to get each other e-readers for last Christmas. We do not have any more space. We are getting married in April and after 12 years together we don't want to feel as though we are still living in student "digs" but instead that we want a home and that means less "stuff". Neither of us could bear to stop reading new "books" nor could we part with any of our collection so e-readers did seem the best option for us. We did a lot of research to chose the best e-readers for us personally and I wanted something tactile, beautiful and easy to use where-as he wanted something completely practical. He chose the Sony PRS 300 and I went for the more feminine KOBO Touch. Looks wise I think the KOBO Touch is the best model out there. It has a luxurious quilted effect to the back and the whole thing has an almost velvet like finish and it's soft and warm in your hands. Despite being made of plastic it doesn't feel or look "plasticky" and it doesn't make my hands sweat even after an hour or more of use. Mine is white with a lilac back but other colours such as a white and turquoise and an all black version are available. I was worried the white body would look grubby quickly especially with the soft finish but I have used it daily since Christmas day and it looks as good as new. At only 185g the KOBO Touch is one of the lightest e-readers on the market and it's thin too, much thinner than most books. It's dimensions are H165 x W114 x D10mm which makes it a great size for carrying around. It's so easy to hold for long periods, I have to admit that I am pretty impressed. The screen is probably the most impressive thing for me. The screen has that same, soft touch feel as the rest of the thing and it's a comfortable size at 6". It is not backlit nor should it be, nor is it colour and again this is how it should be. The KOBO Touch uses e-ink technology which doesn't strain the eyes like a "normal" screen and is visible in all kinds of lighting (obviously any lighting you could normally read a book in). I always remember the frustration with my Game Boy screen which you could only see if the light was hitting the screen just right. I still find the e-ink completely amazing! The KOBO Touch has 2Gb of storage built in which is apparently space for "up to" 30,000 books. I don't have many on there as I prefer add a couple and then read them instead of filling it up all in one go. You can use a micro SD too to increase the storage capacity should you need to. I think it would take me a really long time to add any where near 30,000 books! The battery life is amazing and a single charge, (which takes no more than a couple of hours), lasts a month easily for me. If you read more or less it will obviously effect the battery life but even if you read constantly it will last a couple of weeks! There are only two buttons on the KOBO Touch; one is the on/off button and is located at the top and the other is the main menu button. I like the fact it has so few buttons and it makes it so easy and natural to use. Obviously given the name, the KOBO touch is touch screen. I normally avoid touch screen gadgets as I find them difficult to use but the KOBO Touch is really responsive and simple to use. To turn page you simply tap the appropriate side of the screen. I do find that occasionally I double tap and end up turning two pages at once but this isn't really a problem for me. I did worry that the screen would get really dirty from finger prints but it has a matt finish and doesn't get dirty at all. I would recommend blowing off any pet hairs or anything that falls on the screen as brushing them off will turn pages! The library set up on the KOBO touch is a lovely addition and makes navigating your collection really easy. You can choose to view your library in three different ways; One cover per page, six covers per page or a list showing the cover to the right and then the title and author to the side. It will also show you your progress on that book or if you have finished reading it reguardless of the layout you choose. To pick a book you simply click it and it will open on the page you left it at or at the start if you have never opened it. As well as the library there is a "home" page that shows you your current book, a random selection of other books from your library and five recommended books that available from the book store. This is generally how I navigate as I only read one book at a time and it always right there. The KOBO also remembers where you are and by default it will load the page you were on when it went to sleep/you turned it off. I do wish it had a line marker feature so I could see exactly where I left off but to be honest that is just me being lazy. You can also access the store from the home page too but I haven't used that yet as I am still reading the books the other half got me for Christmas. The other menu options are settings, (exactly what you'd expect it to be), your reading life, (interesting statistics like how long you have spent reading, how long you read for at a time on average, how many books you have finished etc.), a help feature, (that I have never needed to use) and a sync option which resets your WIFI connection. The last feature I want to mention are the awards you get for completing certain tasks like reading 5 times between midnight and two am or reading your first book. I love this feature and get excited when a little message pops up, (very unobtrusively), at the bottom of the screen! You can instantly publish this to Facebook if you are using the WIFI connection if you like that sort of thing, (I do). If you aren't connected to the internet you can publish your achievement later on. You can either get books via the store or via your PC using a cable and the software that come with it or using a memory card. It's really easy to do and doesn't take long at all. The KOBO Touch can handle EPUB, PDF, Adobe DRM, RTF, HTML, TXT, Comic Book archive file, JPEG, PNG, BNP, GIF and Tiff files which makes it much more versatile than a lot of the other popular e-readers out there. You can also get apps for various phones and tablets if that is your thing. I really love my KOBO Touch and although I do miss handling a real book this e-reader has a lot of features which make up for it and to fair it has some advantages over books like being able to read one handed. The only negative thing I will say is that with a grey scale, 6" screen this e-reader isn't great for comics or graphic novels and it also makes reading Japanese books (that go from right to left) a little confusing. I do think that is the case with all e-ink readers though, not just this one. I am very happy I got this and I can definitely recommend it to anyone who wants an attractive, versatile e-reader and at only £89.00 from John Lewis it's great value for money too.
Black and White: I was recently browsing through my game collection searching for something to dull my boredom and I stumbled upon Black and White. In it's day it was one of my favourite games and so I wondered how much I would enjoy it now after all this time. Back in 2001 it was hard to avoid the praise and hype being lauded on Black and White and I have to admit I caved into the advertising and bought it. I spent a while playing it until I got bored and moved to something else. Black and White is a "God Game" where the player (you) plays the part of the deity of a small village of people in the early stages of civilisation. The game begins with you being to prayed to by a distraught mother who wants you to save her child from drowning. You save the child and are led to the village by the grateful woman and the game begins properly. You control a cursor in the shape of a hand which allows you to interact with the village and inhabitants in a range of ways such as moving things, throwing things around, (including people which is fun for at least a couple of minutes), waking people up, performing miracles, controlling your avatar etc. Throughout the game you are given objectives to complete (gold which advance the main story line and silver which are side quests), you get an avatar to train and you get to make moral choices which determine whether you are good/evil and if your believers worship you out of love or fear. The game was produced by Lionhead Studios (who also produced Fable and were a break away from Bull Frog who were famous for God Games such as Power Monger and Populous) and was published by EA and Feral Interactive. There was an expansion for Black and White called "Creature Isles" and a sequel called (you guessed it) Black and White 2. I enjoyed the game immensely but I do remember that it had it's faults. Some of the quests were overly difficult and the quest information was lacking which was frustrating at times. Thankfully you could always look things up online but it took some of the fun away. By today's standards the 3D graphics are fairly basic, (they were incredible at the time), and the same can be said for the sound effects and music but it was always about the game play and the unusual theme that made the game so enthralling and it has lost none of it's impact after all this time. You can buy Black and White for the PC for £1.71 on Amazon which is amazing value for a game that is still enjoyable.
~~*~~ Zuma Deluxe ~~*~~ Several years a go I used to play a lot of a game called Zuma Deluxe, it took up many hours of my time and I played it so much eventually I got bored with it. I hadn't played it in years and then recently I received an email offering me a free copy and I downloaded it right away for old time's sake. ~~*~~ Introduction ~~*~~ Zuma was released in 2003 by Popcap Games (www.popcap.com) and it was initially available on the PC. Since that time it has been released on several platforms including the Xbox 360 (via the Live Arcade) and there is even a version on Facebook. Popcap have released loads of games of this ilk (simple yet addictive) and they offer low prices, free trials and fast downloads. Popcap is a great site to visit if you need something to fill the hours! ~~*~~ Game-play ~~*~~ The game has an Aztec theme going on and you take control of a huge stone frog that sits in the centre of the screen. You have to destroy all the balls that roll around the screen (they follow a visible path) that are heading towards a creepy looking skull that greedily opens his mouth as the balls get closer and closer. If one of the balls reaches the mouth all of the other balls will whizz around the path really quickly down into the mouth; lost forever. At this point you loose a life, your lives are denoted at the top left of the screen by little green frogs. Obviously you want to avoid this so you have to eliminate all the balls first. "How" I hear you cry, why by shooting balls out of your mouth! How else? Your little frog holds 2 balls, one in his mouth ready to go and another in his back. You can see what colour the balls are and clicking the right mouse button allows you to switch between the 2. You have to aim the little coloured ball at the balls around the path to make groups of at least 3 at which point they will vanish. More balls just keep on rolling until you fill an orange meter shown at the top of the screen, once the meter is full you will hear "ZUMA" and no more balls will released. You fill the meter by destroying balls and you can earn bonuses by getting several matches in a row, hitting coins that randomly appear, shooting through gaps etc. Every time you earn 50,000 points you get a spare life and believe me, in later levels you will need them! Sometimes "power-ups" appear on random balls like an exploding ball which takes out all the balls around it, a slow-down ball and a ball that makes the balls travel backwards. You activate the power-ups by destroying the ball it is on. There are a 2 game modes in Zuma, the first mode is the adventure mode where you progress through the various levels and the other is a gauntlet mode where you go back to one of the levels you have reached in adventure mode and balls just keep coming until you run out of lives. ~~*~~ Graphics & Sound Effects ~~*~~ The graphics have aged well and although 2D and very basic they fit the feel of the game perfectly. The Aztec theme works well with the stylised effect and it all looks good together. The contrast between the earthy coloured backgrounds and the brightly coloured balls is good and makes it easier on the eye. The sound effects are good with a satisfy "ping" when you hit the balls and a "plock" when the balls are released from the frog. Again they are basic but fit with the game. I have no idea what the music is like because I always turn it off. ~~*~~ Where to Buy/Pricing ~~*~~ You can download Zuma to try for free for 1 hour from popcap.com and the full games costs £9.95 and is 7.17 mb. ~~*~~ In Conclusion ~~*~~ I love Zuma and think it is such a well thought out and designed game. Everything works together to make a very simple idea highly addictive and great fun!
Rice Mini Food Boxes: I love baking and had been looking for some time for something small to store cake decorations in. When I saw these mini food boxes made by Danish company, Rice I couldn't resist buying them there and then even though I knew that the shop I was in was expensive and I could probably get them cheaper elsewhere. The boxes come in a little plastic "net"which contains 12 boxes/tubs; I choose the heart-shaped selection and I have a mixture of purple, pink, red and orange heart-shaped tubs with matching lids. Obviously you can mix and match the bottoms with the lids if you feel so inclined. They also had a flower selection and a mixed bag that contained flowers, squares and round ones if I remember rightly. Both the flowers and the mixed bag have more subtle colouring than the heart shaped ones I choose. The capacity is around 70ml which is teeny so they are perfect for what I wanted them for and it makes a world of difference to have my cake toppings in tubs big enough for pick out individual decorations or to take a "pinch" of something to sprinkle. Being a crafty type I am always tempted to nab some of these for buttons, sequins etc. but I have managed to be good so far and have left them in the kitchen. The plastic that the bottoms are made out of is rigid and sturdy and the lids are sort of rubbery which makes them easy to take off and put on. Once the lid is on it seems both air and moisture tight. Because the set I chose are all one shape it allows them to be stacked easily but with the mixed bag it would be a little harder but these are so small that they barely take up any space anyway. I could go on to list about a million uses for these handy little tubs but I won't; I'm sure if see/buy some you will be able to think of many uses. I paid £5.95 for my set in a little boutique type place in Clifton, Bristol and after having a glance around online I realise I didn't pay that much over the odds; Amazon is stocking them (as well some super-cute car shaped ones) for £5.50 with free delivery and they seem to be on sale for anywhere between £5.50 and £9.99. If you are need of small, pretty, hard-wearing storage than you can't go far wrong with a set of these.
World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade (Expansion): Being and avid World of Warcraft (WoW) player I have all of the currently available expansions and I awaiting the next (Mists of Pandria) with bated breath. In the mean-time I decided to review the three expansions that have been released. The Burning Crusade (as mentioned above) is an expansion for the Massively-Multi-Player-Online-Role-playing-Game (MMORPG), World of Warcraft. I won't go into much detail about WoW here but there are plenty of reviews about it if you'd like to start off with one of those. I also want to avoid this becoming too much of game-guide and try to stick to reviewing as opposed to explaining the game! The Burning Crusade (henceforth referred to as TBC, acronyms will abound in this review) brings a whole new world for players to explore and raises the maximum level from 60 to 70. You get 2 new playable races, the cloven-hooved, blue skinned Draenai and the slightly emaciated Blood-Elves. No new classes were added in TBC but the expansion did allow Alliance (one of the factions in WoW) to play Shamans and Horde (the other faction) to play Paladins. If that wasn't enough you get new gear, new professions, new quests, a new battleground, new dungeons and new raids! One of the best additions to the game in my opinion was flying mounts (animals/machines that you can summon and ride to make getting around faster) although at the time these could only be used in Outland (the name given to the new world) and were shockingly expensive. Now you can fly anywhere and it's much much cheaper. The over-all plot of TBC revolves around "The Burning Legion". This faction consists mainly of demons and comes from one of the Warcraft games which are the forerunners of WoW. The main bad guys in TBC are this legion and it allies which you can defeat by completing the raids in Outland. For me TBC and Outland in general are very hit and miss, some things seem really well thought out but others seem umm ... maybe over-thought. The 2 races seem well designed and both feature "attractive" character models which is good as previously horde characters were well, ugly whereas the Alliance had good-looking races. Before you get you knickers in a bunch I know beauty is subjective but I really believe that is how they were viewed and not as many people want to play an ugly character. The dungeons are raids in TBC are perhaps my favourite in all the game so far. This is for a variety of reasons; They are quicker than the original game (vanilla) and they tend to follow a simple, linear path as opposed to the often meandering offerings in Vanilla that could go on and on till you lost the will to continue. I also like the way they tended to be in little groups which makes doing several in a row easier and much less time consuming than having to run all over the world! More choice is always better in my opinion so I like the fact they opened up Shamans and Paladins to the opposing factions and added new professions. The general scenery of TBC is not to my taste, there are a couple of areas I love (Nagrand for instance) but in the main the colours seem wrong and dreary to the point where I really don't like spending time there. The outdoor PvP (player versus player, where players fight each other instead of game-controlled characters/monsters, known as non-player characters or NPCs) didn't work for long as when the initial glut of players levelling through Outland had dissipated not enough people were around to make it viable so now they are very frustrating and should, in my opinion, be removed altogether. At the time TBC was refreshing and manage to make players re-engage with game but now I feel Outland gets over-looked as players strive to get to level 68 as fast as possible and move onto the content provided by Wrath of the Lich King (the next expansion). For me I think TBC was an important part of WoW's history but now there are other expansions I would rather be playing in so Outland for me is now merely a quick stop to get those all important 8 levels! If you want to move onto the next 2 expansions you will need to have TBC but I believe Blizzard now give it free when you purchase the original game.