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In a house with two children, there is always a need for storage. Without an effective storage solution, we would be drowning under a sea of toys and risking treading on Lego bricks at every turn.
The IKEA Trofast system is ideal for toy storage as it comes in a range of different combinations with plastic storage drawers in a variety of sizes and colours. You can get the units themselves in either pine, white or black and the drawers are currently available in white, pink, green, black and red. In addition to the storage drawers, you can also purchase shelves to add open storage / display spaces. Prices range from £20 for a basic frame to £145 for the biggest storage combination including drawers.
We started out with just the one storage unit - the combination pictured above which is a staircase design. However, this didn't hold all the toys for very long and we now have four additional Trofast units in the house. The majority of these are the lower, bench-style units where the drawers are used for storage and the tops are used to provide a play surface - one holds my daughter's dolls house, another is for Playmobil and the third is for my son to display his Lego models. We also have a small, wall-mounted unit which is half the depth of the others and only fits the mini-drawers.
The Trofast system is very easy to construct - it is a simple wooden unit with ridges for the plastic drawers to slide into. Like all IKEA furniture, it comes flatpacked and needs to be screwed together, but it doesn't require any additional tools or take an excessive amount of time. The units can then be filled with any combination of plastic drawers to suit your needs - we tend to have a mixture of deep and shallow drawers in each unit. From then on, it is up to you to customise it how you want to - I've seen lots of photos on Pinterest with creative labelling to make it easier for the children to tidy up after themselves, although we haven't got as far as doing that ourselves yet.
Overall, IKEA Trofast is a product which I would recommend. It is sturdy and practical, and wears well. It isn't the prettiest or more stylish toy storage solution on the market but it does the job at an affordable price. And, as it isn't so expensive, it doesn't matter quite so much if the children 'accidentally' scribble on it when using it as a surface for their artistic endeavours!
I tend to switch between brands very regularly when it comes to facial cleansing wipes, buying whatever is on offer. My most recent purchase was the Boots Essentials Fragrance Free Cleansing Wipes.
The Boots Essentials Fragrance Free Cleansing Wipes come in a plain, powder blue plastic pack with darker blue lettering - very simple, very ordinary. Each packet contains 25 wipes. According to the blurb on the pack, they contain "soothing aloe vera and Vitamin E, remove make-up and excess oils to leave skin clean, soft and smooth'. This sounds like pretty much what I want from a facial cleansing wipe but, the question is, how do they perform?
My primary usage of facial cleansing wipes is to take off all my make-up at the end of the day, just before I crawl under my duvet. I find these fairly mixed at removing make-up - they do a decent enough job of removing my powder foundation, but they are not particuarly good at removing eye make-up. They do get 'most' of my eyeshadow off, although it takes more than the one swipe that some other brands take, but they really are ineffective at removing mascara. I will admit at this point that I am using a waterproof mascara which seems to be excessively difficult to remove but to get 'any' mascara off at all requires a lot of effort and a genuine risk of pulling my own lashes out.
For general facial cleansing, these aren't too bad. The wipes are a decent enough side and have a relatively good level of moisture. They are fragrance free, apart from a slightly 'medicinal clean' smell and do leave my face feeling clean and smooth. They have no long-term benefit in terms of moisturising but they are definitely ok for a quick-fix clean. However, I don't believe that they are anywhere near as effective as the Boots Essential Cucumber Wipes which are exactly the same price.
At full price, these cost £1.00 per pack, which is good value for a pack of facial wipes. They are often on offer for less than that, or as part of a 3 for 2 deal.
I don't feel like I can recommend these wipes as, for me, there are much better products out there. I don't have sensitive skin and none of the other brands that I've used have irritated my skin, so I don't feel qualified to comment on their suitability for people who do have skin sensitivity issues. For me, personally, they are a very ordinary products which do a decent enough job of everyday cleaning but really aren't good enough when it comes to make-up removal. I'm giving them three stars as they are just about ok for the money, but I can't say much more than that.
My almost five year old is very into the whole Sylvanian Family range and has a particular love for anything bunny-related. So, when she received this very cute little family for Christmas, she was delighted and wanted it opened straight away.
The 'Babblebrooks New Arrival' set consists of three grey rabbits - Mummy Harriet, Daddy George and their baby Freddie. Alongside the bunnies themselves are the usual teeny tiny Sylvanian accessories which, in this case, are an assortment of little toys for a trip to the beach. The bunnies are dressed in their 'holiday clothes' - a floral cotton dress for the Mummy rabbit, blue gingham dungarees for Daddy Rabbit and a pink playsuit for the little rabbit. Perhaps inevitably, as the baby rabbit is wearing pink, my daughter is adamant that it is a girl rabbit - and, to be honest, it really doesn't matter. The accessories include a bucket and spade, ball, watering can and a plastic sandcastle.
This is one of the smaller family sets in the Sylvanian Range. It is very cute as a standalone toy and would be a good introduction to the range for a child, without having to commit to any of the more expensive sets. With a bit of imagination, children don't really need anything other than the figures and the accessories provided to be able to play with toys like these. It is lovely to listen to my daughter and her friends playing with the figures and creating 'small world' scenarios for them, complete with extensive dialogue and, occasionally, dramatic voices. However, in my experience, Sylvanian Families can be an addictive (and expensive) thing to get into and this, obviously, would be compatible with many of the other sets in the range. My little girl has the camper van and the ice-cream van - both of which link well with the family holiday theme of this set. She also has the Windmill Nursery and baby bunny is now attending there on a regular basis with the other babies in her Sylvanian collection.
The RRP for this set is £13.99 which I feel is relatively expensive for just three figures and a few tiny accessories. However, the quality is excellent and these are very sweet characters.
Overall, I would recommend this as a good addition to the Sylvanian range. The accessories give it a little bit more playability than the sets which simply consist of a family (although the family sets usually have more than three figures) - or, at least, they add playability until they are swallowed up by the hoover along with multiple tiny pieces of Lego. And, for cuteness, it is definitely a winner!
I purchased a bottle of Sally Hansen's Instant Dry Anti-Chip Top Coat in early December, to try and speed up the nail drying process ahead of the Christmas party season. Previously, I have used the Essie equivalent of the product, which I love, but I was unable to get to a shop that sold it on this occasion so looked around for an alternative.
The product comes in a simple red, transparent bottle with white lid. Opening the lid reveals an applicator brush and a clear liquid. The product is designed to be applied on top of a normal nail varnish to make it dry more quickly and become chip-resistant.
I have now used the product on a number of occasions, over a variety of polishes and feel qualified to make a judgement. My first impressions, over a dark red Essie polish, were pretty good. The top coat dried quickly and left a lovely shine. My nails lasted a couple of days with no chips, without being particularly careful. However, after the initial two days, I got some sellotape stuck on a nail while wrapping presents, and this caused most of the polish on one nail to peel off. On future applications, I was less impressed with the performance of the product on my finger nails - the first time was over the same Essie polish, but with a sparkly layer applied on top, and this seemed to chip very easily . There was also an issue with the nail polish just peeling off in chunks. The next time I used it, it didn't seem to dry properly and I ended up having to remove all my nail polish ten minutes before going out on New Year's Eve. This was over a 'Insta-Dry' Sally Hansen polish.
However, although I have found the performance of this top coat disappointing on my fingernails, I do have to say that it is doing a good job on my toes - they have been painted in the same combination of red base and holographic sparkle since Christmas Eve with no sign of chipping at all.
Overall, I think that this is a very average product. It works well enough if you have plenty of time to let your nails dry but, the whole point of the product is that it is supposed to speed things up. It is not that much cheaper than the Essie version (Good to Go) and, in my experience, is nowhere near as effective.
At four, my daughter loves Sylvanian Families. One of the items on her 'most wanted' list at Christmas was this Sylvanian Families camper van and, on spotting it on sale in October, I decided to buy it for her. She was delighted when she unwrapped it on Christmas day and it has been played with frequently ever since.
* What do you get for your money? *
Basically, what you get is a campervan. The van itself is green, with a cream roof, silver ladder and bike rack and flowers on the side (you have to stick the flowers on when you assemble the van). The roof opens up to reveal two pull down bunk-style beds, complete with red and white gingham sleeping bags. Inside the van is a fold out table and a couple of bench-style seats, so that the Sylvanians can enjoy a meal in comfort. There is also a little kitchen with sink, hob and cupboard storage for all those teeny-tiny Sylvanian essentials. At the front of the van are two seats for a driver and passenger, and a steering wheel. In terms of accesssories, it comes with various tiny bits and pieces, ranging from cooking equipment and crockery, to food, board games and tourist information leaflets. Like many of the Sylvanian Families sets, what you don't get are any actual Sylvanians. Assembly of the van was very simple - the instructions were well-laid out and it took me about 15 minutes on Boxing Day morning to put it all together. Most of that time was spent putting on the very fiddly little stickers and folding up the tiny leaflets.
* Is it fun? *
My little girl seems to love this campervan. I think the beauty of it is that it is a set which works equally well on its own, or in conjuction with other Sylvanian families sets. Obviously, you do need to either own or buy some actual Sylvanians to go with the campervan - it doesn't matter which family though. Ours seems to be occupied predominantly by the Meerkat family, although the Badgers and Kangaroos often join them on their travels. For a little one, it is a easy thing to relate to and that encourages imaginative play. The act of driving along in a van, finding somewhere to park and setting up camp is a relatively simple concept. Once parked, my daughter loves getting the Meerkat Mummy to cook dinner while the rest of the family sit at the table. She also loves putting them all to bed at night - the only minor disadvantage is that there aren't enough sleeping bags for the whole family. The children sleep in the bunk beds but the parents are usually reduced to sleeping out under the stars (covered by the doll's house duvet). Obviously, this set would integrate well with other sets in the Sylvanian range - we also have the Fish and Chip van which works well with it, especially as my daughter likes to use the table and chairs from that as outside seating for the campervan. You can also fit the bikes and canoes from other sets on the campervan racks, so they would be a nice future addition.
* Any negatives? *
In terms of downsides, there aren't that many. The obvious one, which is true of virtually all Sylvanian sets, is that there are no figures included with the set. This isn't a big deal if you already have Sylvanians, but does mean you can't really buy it as a present without factoring in the cost of a family (or making sure that someone else is buying one). The other one is the size of the items included - they are absolutely tiny and this means that they are very likely to get lost / swallowed up by the hoover. For the younger end of the age range, it might be worth taking away things like the cutlery at the beginning and saving it until they get a bit older.
* Cost *
The RRP for this is around £40.00 but it is often available at a lower price than that. We paid £25.00 for ours. I think, based on the price of other sets in the range, this represents relatively good value for money - after all, everything Sylvanian is relatively expensive.
* Recommendation? *
I would definitely recommend this. I'm knocking off a star for the fact that it doesn't come with any figures and the fact that the accessories are so tiny, but I think my little girl would give it the full five star rating. She has three of the bigger Sylvanian sets now (this, the fish and chip van, and the Baby Windmill) and this is the one that gets played with most. It works well as a 'home' for the Sylvanians - her preference is definitely to play games that mirror real life - and that makes it a very popular toy in our house. And with that, I'm off.... to help the Sylvanians drive their way across Europe as apparently they are 'going to Turkey'.
I was given this Benefit Bad Gal Lash waterproof mascara as a Christmas present this year. In the past, I've used the 'normal' version of this product (reviewed back in my very early days on Dooyoo), although have more recently been using Benefit's "They're Real".
* Little Bit of Product Info *
Benefit BadGal Waterproof Mascara is visually fairly similar to the original, but with one significant difference. It is a much more streamlined shape - longer and slimmer than the chunky BadGal Lash tube. The packaging is simpler than Benefit's usual 'retro-style' with a plain black tube emblazoned with the product name in hot pink and silver, and a silver cap. It is stylish and visually appealing. The 'slimline' style is mirrored inside the tube as well with the chunky brush of the original version replaced by a thinner, more traditionally shaped mascara wand.
* So, do the design differences make a difference to the performance? *
Application is simple (assuming you are familiar with applying mascara in the first place) - you just apply it in exactly the same way as you'd apply any other mascara. The wand comes out of the tube with just the right amount of product, there is very little clumpiness and the consistency seems very good. It dries quickly and doesn't irritate my eyes, a important consideration as I wear contact lenses and some mascaras seem to flake and make my eyes sore. Visually, I don't feel that it creates quite as dramatic an effect as the original BadGal lash did - it's a bit more understated, a bit less 'sexy' - but then I'm a good few years older now and I'm actually looking for 'definition' as much as volume these days. It definitely does an effective job of defining my lashes and enhancing my eyes which is what I am looking for from my everyday make-up - if I need more drama and volume, then I'll use something else. According to the Benefit website, the quick drying nature of this product means that you can apply multiple coats to boost volume - yes, you can, but I find this makes my lashes feel a bit heavier/stickier and I am a bit too 'aware' of wearing a lot of mascara when I do this.
* Is it actually waterproof? *
Given the extremely wet weather we've had since Christmas, and the fact that the wind blew my umbrella inside out so many times that I gave up on it, I've had plenty of opportunities to test out whether this is a waterproof mascara as claimed. I can definitely say that it is - despite getting soaked and having water dripping off my fringe on multiple occasions - my mascara has stayed put. There are no rivers of mascara running down my face, or smudgy panda-eyes when wearing this.
Of course, the fact that waterproof mascara is designed to 'stay put', is also a bit of a downside when it comes to removing it. No matter how hard I try, I can't get all traces of this mascara off at bedtime - I've tried eye make-up remover and normal facial wipes, and nothing will shift it completely. It does come off in the shower in the morning but I can't get my lashes completely clean with make-up remover products and I often wake up with 'attractive' smudges under my eyes.
* How Much? *
The RRP for this is £17.50. To be honest, despite the fact I like it, I don't think I'd pay that much and buy it again for myself. I still prefer 'They're Real' and I'd probably spend the extra couple of pounds to buy that.
* Recommended? *
If you are specifically looking for a waterproof mascara, and are prepared to spend a reasonable amount of money on it, then I would recommend this one. It didn't quite live up to my expectations, but I think that those expectations were coloured by the fact that I had fond memories of the original, non-waterproof version. The positives, for me, are that it provides good definition, is definitely waterproof and doesn't irritate my eyes. On the reverse, it is extremely difficult to remove and I don't feel that it layers particularly well, meaning that it is difficult to create a more dramatic look. It lacks the fun and attitude of the original BadGal brand and seems like a more ordinary, grown-up mascara. Overall, it is a decent mascara but I just don't think it is 'special' enough to justify the relatively hefty price tag.
For the last couple of summers, our daughter (now four) has been very into the idea of the mini disco. Two years ago, in Menorca, we spent many evenings watching her trying to join in with all the dances and the first question she'd ask in the mornings was 'is it time for mini disco yet?'. Last summer, in Turkey, the children's entertainment seemed to be one of her big highlights and she trotted off happily to the Kid's Club disco in her sequin dress... She has a disco light in her room, an album of Mini Disco classics and a collection of sparkly 'dancing dresses'. So, when we spotted this Playmobil Children's Club with Disco on sale for £15.00 on Amazon, we decided it would be the perfect extra birthday present for her.
* What do you get for your money? *
Like all Playmobil products, this comes in a box and requires assembly. Usually, it is my husband that is given responsibility for assembling these things, but my daughter asked me to build this one and I was happy to oblige. The instruction manual was very simple to follow and, leaving aside the predictable hunt for batteries, the mini disco itself was quick and easy to build. I think it took me about 10 minutes to put it all together - no tools required, just a bit of slightly fiddly slotting pieces into place, all the time watched over by a very impatient birthday girl.
The main feature of the set is the Children's Club itself. This features a hexagonal stage type floor, walls with stickers depicting disco lights, bright green benches to the rear backing on to a colourful starry wall with two speakers, a bright red roof and a disco ball suspended from the ceiling by a green support arm. There is a removable hexagonal piece in the centre of the floor - this can be flipped over with ease to reveal a shimmering dance-floor on one side, and a simple board game on the other. The set comes with three Playmobil figures - one adult (a Kids Club 'games instructor' / holiday rep) and two children. There are also various accessories - a big palm tree on a green base with flowers (to make it all look that bit more tropical), a board showing timings for all the activities and various 'activity' accessories for the children - hula hoops, a dice and game pieces so you can actually play the board game, a ball and dressing up costumes (cloaks, tails and a pirate hat). There are various buttons on the top - one makes the disco ball flash, which looks amazing over the shimmering, holographic dancefloor and really gives the impression of a disco, one plays music (there are two different dance-style tunes built into the toy) and one controls the volume level. An added bonus is the presence of a cable to connect to the headphone socket of an MP3 player so that children can play their own music through the disco.
* The Playability Question *
My daughter absolutely loves this set. For the price we paid, I feel that it is a real bargain for the hours of fun that she has already got out of it. To be fair, for her it is definitely ALL about the disco element of the Children's Club. She does dress the children up in their outfits and occasionally make them hula-hoop / kick the ball around, but it is mostly about turning on the disco ball, plugging my iPod in, selecting 'her' music and making them all dance around. Or, turning her music on, playing it through the speakers and dancing around the living room herself... Sound quality isn't amazing but, to be fair, this is a toy, not a proper speaker dock and the fact that it does connect to the MP3 player is just an added bonus.
This set is part of the wider Hotel range and, ideally, should be paired with the Playmobil Summer Fun Hotel. However, in my opinion, it does work really well as a standalone set - we have a lot of Playmobil as my son has been into for a few years now and we also have other sets which kind of 'go with this one, such as the swimming pool. This, of course, means that we have plenty of other Playmobil children to go to the disco. Both my children have played with this a lot during the last few weeks - my seven year son likes it because he gets to play DJ (which means the Playmobil children spend a lot of time doing Gangnam Style) and my little girl loves it because it is a disco. They have actually now set it up as a school disco next to the Playmobil school that they got for Christmas, and I think that is a lovely idea.
I can't really think of any downsides in terms of playability. Yes, I have to listen to some slightly dubious music through the tinny speakers while they play with it, but there are plenty of toys / apps which make more irritating noises than this one does. It encourages imaginative small world play which is very important for social development. I love listening to my little girl chattering away as she plays, making up her own stories and conversations between her Playmobil people. Of course, like all her toys, it isn't just restricted to the figures who are supposed to be in it... I've spotted a few Sylvanians strutting their stuff on the dance-floor from time to time (according to my daughter, they are the 'Big Characters' on the stage - on holiday there were appearances from Alex the Lion and Shrek, so I think that is what she means).
* Price *
We paid £15.00 for this, but the RRP is actually £29.99. If your child is into the whole disco / music / dancing thing, or has the hotel already, then I'd say that this was still relatively good value for money. For what we paid, it feels like an absolute bargain.
* So, would I recommend it? *
Absolutely! When we ordered it, I wasn't quite sure what to expect - it looked like a lot of fun, but you never quite know what will capture your child's imagination and make them 'want' to play with it, however perfect something looks on an iPad screen. The quality, like all Playmobil, is excellent and I am now anticipating this being something that she will want to play with for a good few years. I feel that being able to play your own music through the speakers is a fabulous addition to what would already have been a good toy - and this, potentially, makes it appeal to children for longer as playing DJ adds an extra dimension to their play. This is my little girl's favourite birthday present and that, for me, is as good an endorsement as any.
When I was little, going to the corner shop and loading up on penny sweets was one of my favourite treats. My favourites were Cola Bottles (both the plain type and the fizzy ones) - in fact, I still have a soft spot for them now. So, when I spotted this Carex Cola Bottle handwash while browsing the aisles in my local supermarket, I just had to give it a try.
Carex Cola Bottles is marketed as a 'family favourite fragrance' handwash. It comes in a clear plastic bottle with a white pump dispenser. The front has the Carex logo, a couple of slightly random blue 'creatures' (apparently called 'The Squirts') and a swirl of fizzy cola. The hand wash claims to kill 99.9% of bacteria which seems to be fairly standard for this type of product. It is described as "a fun antibacterial handwash that the whole family will love to use, from the smallest to the biggest of hands". It is also said to have added moisturisers, support the skin's natural anti-bacterial defences and be "dermatologically tested for skin kindness". The product itself is a creamy beige colour, there is a 'hint' of Cola cola but only a very small hint.
Using the handwash is simple. The recommendations on the bottle suggest using two pumps of liquid, warm water and washing your hands for at least 15 seconds - this should be enough for the antibacterial properties of the handwash to work. To be honest, one pump produces a reasonable amount of slightly bubbly lather which is increased the longer you rub your hands together. The lather feels smooth and creamy, even slightly luxurious (which I wouldn't necessarily expect from an 'anti-bacterial' product' and my hands feel clean and soft after use. What I really love, however, is the fragrance. One squirt releases that delicious cola bottle smell, and I am instantly transported back to my five year old self, stood in that corner shop making the agonising decision over whether to choose cola bottles, flying saucers or foam bananas. Friends have also commented on the smell - they all seem to like it (well, we're all the same generation and getting a bit nostalgic as we approach the big 4-0 in the next couple of years) - and it does provide a little bit of a talking point! Although my hands do feel soft immediately after using the product, I don't feel that it has any long term moisturising effects. Even though it hasn't been a particularly cold winter, I've still suffered from the odd bit of cracked skin on my hands, and definitely need to use a proper hand cream to keep my hands in a reasonable condition. To be fair, I'm yet to find a handwash that is genuinely moisturising enough to avoid needing cream as well so that doesn't bother me too much.
This product is available in most locations where you would expect to find handwash. A quick google reveals it costs £1.00 in Wilkinsons, £1.20 on Ocado and £1.85 in Boots. Other fragrances in the 'Family Favourites' range include Chocolate Orange and Strawberry Laces... more childhood memories there!
I would recommend this product. I'm going with a four star rating because it doesn't moisturise as well as I would like, but it is probably closer to 4.5 stars. It is a product which does pretty much all you would expect it to do - cleans hands, kills bacteria (not that you can ever prove that) and smells delicious. And, the kids like it.... which means getting them to wash their hands is less of a battle!
Washing machines have never been an appliance which I've given a huge amount of thought to. In the 14 years that we've had our own home, we've only had two washing machines, both of which have been passed on to us by family members. Our current machine, the Indesit IWB5123, is the one that I am reviewing here. We have had this machine for four years and it is used on multiple occasions throughout the average week (I have very mucky kids!).
* Basic Information *
The Indesit IWB5123 is average sized and average-looking. It is the typical 'white box' style washing machine, with a transparent circular door on the front to put the washing in and get it out again. It is fully automatic and freestanding. The machine has a maximum loading of 5kg (an average-sized wash) and has the A+ Energy Efficiency Class rating. It spins at 1200 rpm. Plumbing in was relatively simple from what I can remember (the husband did that job), but we just slotted it into the space where our home's previous owners had had their washing machine and connected up the pipes accordingly. The machine itself it simple to use - there is a large display panel with a list of all the different types of wash available (see below for details) and dials to select your wash type / temperature. There is the usual drawer for laundry powder / stain remover / fabric conditioner.
* Functions *
All I really want from a washing machine is the ability to get my clothes (and my family's) clothes clean. We do most of our laundry on a standard 40 degree wash (or 30 degrees on the days where I'm feeling a bit more environmentally conscious than usual, and things don't look too grubby). However, there are always items that need a little bit more careful treatment, so I do find it important for my washing machine to be able to wash those too. After all, I don't want to end up spending a fortune in the local dry-cleaners - or, more realistically, leaving the clothes that need dry-cleaning/special washes languishing in the back of the wardrobe until I get in a panic about needing to wear them for a specific event.... For different washes/cycles, this machine definitely doesn't disappoint. There are a total of thirteen different cycles available on this washing machine - ranging from the everyday (white cotton, colour cotton, synthetics), to the more specialised (wool, silk, jeans) to the sporty (sport intensive, sport shoes). There are also a variety of temperature settings, an 'eco function', an 'intensive' button and a 'timer delay' button.
* Performance *
Of course, the most important element of a washing machine is how well it washes your clothes. This one does a pretty good job. There have been the occasional items that have ended up with stubborn stains which the washing machine can't get out (no matter how much Vanish I put in with the wash. However, I'm not convinced this is down to the washing machine, more to the general muckiness of my kids. On average though, our clothes come out clean and fresh-smelling, with no signs of any damage, and you can't ask for much more than that. The items which I have washed on more delicate washes - woolly Christmas jumpers, silk party dresses etc. - have all washed well and survived the experience. We've only had one issue with colour running in the machine - and, to be honest, when you put a brand new bright red sheet in with a white duvet cover, you've pretty much only got yourself to blame for that!
The only issue that I do have with the machine is how noisy it is. When it is spinning, it is extremely loud, to the extent that it is virtually impossible to have a conversation in the same room. We have a big kitchen / dining room where the family spends a lot of time, and it is annoying to have such a loud washing machine drowning out our conversation. Also, I bake a lot and enjoy listening to music while I bake, and the machine drowns out the music as well.
* Price *
This is a discontinued model, although there will obviously still be some second-hand versions around. A similar current model costs around £200.00.
* Final Thoughts *
I would recommend this washing machine if you are looking for something reliable and relatively affordable. Ours has survived four years of pretty intensive use (we had a newborn and a three year old boy when we got the machine which will probably give you some idea of how much it has been used!) and, apart from the noise issue, I've always been happy with it. We'll probably keep using it for as long as it lasts - there is definitely no reason to replace it at the moment. In the meantime, I will just turn the music up and try and ignore the kitchen vibrating every time it spins.
Facial wipes are something that I buy for convenience, mainly for the evenings where I can't be bothered to remove my make-up properly (i.e. virtually every evening being inherently lazy when it comes to my evening skin-care regime). I don't have a particular loyalty to any one brand of wipes, tending to buy whatever is on special offer when I am close to running out. However, these Simple Facial Cleansing Wipes are one of the brands that I seem to buy most often.
* A bit about the wipes *
Facial cleansing wipes are basically just like baby wipes, but designed for a more grown-up market. The 'Simple Facial Cleansing Wipes' come in a pale green, square plastic pack, with a white plastic label which peels back to reveal the hole where you pull the wipes through. There is nothing particularly exciting or innovative about their packaging - it gives the impression of a fresh, clean product (purely because that particular shade of green invokes a spring-like, fresh image in my mind) - but there isn't really much more to say about it. The wipes themselves are a slightly textured white cloth, with a good amount of moisture. They are not quite as 'wet' as some other brands of wipes that I have tried, but there is sufficient moisture to clean / refresh your face without using more than one wipe. Like most Simple products, they are designed to do their job without causing any irritation to the skin - they are alcohol and oil-free and do not contain any artificial perfume, colour or harsh chemicals.
* Performance Analysis *
To me, wipes are just wipes... these are relatively good ones, but they don't do that much more than a baby wipe would, or anything particularly different from other brands. They do make my face feel cleaner and refreshed after use, although I would dispute their claim that they are also moisturising. There is, perhaps, a temporary moisture boost after using these but that is only because they are full of moisture - there is certainly no long-term moisturising effect as my skin tends to feel dry again within a few minutes of using these wipes. It is the convenience of the wipes which is the major positive point for me - they are perfect when you are busy (or lazy) for cleansing your face and getting on with your life. As a Mum, I also like the fact that they are suitable for sensitive skins - my four year old has had a bit of an obsession with wipes for a couple of years now (thankfully we are past the stage where there were baby wipes everywhere) - and, if she does use these, I feel confident that they are not going to damage her skin. The more sensitive nature of these wipes is also good for cleaning the area around the eyes, as they don't cause stinging or irritation.
There are a few claims on the packaging which are worthy of examination. Firstly, they claim to contain multi-vitamins - closer inspection of the packaging reveals that there are just two vitamins (Pro-Vitamin B5 and Vitamin E) in these wipes. OK, so two is 'technically' a multi-vitamin, but it is a slightly extravagant claim in my opinion. However, if you are following up with a decent moisturiser, as I do, then you don't really need vitamins in your wipes anyway, so it is not a big issue. The second claim that I have a bit of an issue with is that they claim to remove waterproof mascara. I am currently wearing Benefit's Bag Gal lash in its waterproof incarnation and these wipes are not particularly effective at removing it. They do remove 'some' mascara (I can see the black smudges clearly on the wipes) but they don't come close to removing all of it. However, I am yet to find a wipe that does a brilliant job of removing mascara, even the specialised eye make-up remover wipes don't tend to get it all off, so this isn't something that would stop me buying them.
* How much? *
A pack of 25 wipes costs £3.25 in Boots and they are also available in all the other places where you might expect to find them - Superdrug, supermarkets etc. They are often available on promotion (usually 3 for 2) and, at a promotional price, they represent reasonably good value for money. Price-wise, they are somewhere in the mid-market - the 'cosmetic' brands tend to have their own, more expensive versions, and the supermarkets have cheaper versions.
* Would I recommend them? *
I buy these wipes repeatedly, so I think I'd have to say that I would recommend them. I'm going with a four star rating as it does annoy me that they won't remove mascara properly, and that they claim to be 'moisturising' when they are not really. However, they are as good as any other brand of wipes I've tried, even the more expensive ones, and I would definitely buy them again in the future. They are also perfect for travelling - I always keep a pack of wipes in my bag on any longish trips, to freshen myself up (and, inevitably, to clean chocolate off the children's faces) - and these are perfect as something the whole family can use in that situation.
At four years old, my little girl is beginning to develop a real passion for Sylvanian Families. As last Christmas approached, they were heading firmly towards the top of her (very long) Christmas list and she spent many happy hours browsing the Sylvanian aisles in our local toy shops. It seemed inevitable that she was going to ask Santa for some, so I was delighted to pick up the Corgi family for the bargain price of £4.00 on the sale shelf of our local Boots. To be honest, Corgis wouldn't have been my first choice - I was eyeing up some very cute little rabbits for her - but at that price I didn't feel that I could pass up the opportunity to get them as a stocking filler.
* Meet the Corgi Family *
If you're not familiar with the phenomenon that is Sylvanian Families, you probably won't be aware that all of the little animal families have their own individual names - unsurprisingly, the Corgi family names follow a royal theme. They are the DePembroke family - father Duke, mother Queenie, little boy Earl and little girl Duchess. I suspect that they were brought out to commemorate either the Royal Wedding or the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. They are visually very sweet to look at , with their white and orange faces and cute little individual outfits. Duke wears a smart royal blue waistcoat and trousers, over a shirt and tie. Queenie wears a red dress with a white flower pattern. Duchess wears a pretty white sundress with red polka dots and Earl wears a striped shirt and red trousers. They are more formally dressed than some Sylvanians, probably to reflect their 'royal' status - definitely no flowery aprons on this particular family. Quality-wise, they are exactly what you would expect from Sylvanian Families - well made, lovely to handle and surprisingly robust.
* Playability *
My four year old loves to play with her ever increasing Sylvanian collection, although I don't think that these are her favourites - she seems to favour the Kangaroos and Badgers at the moment. However, they are all interchangeable and fantastic for encouraging small world play. She makes them chatter away to each other as they set off on 'holiday' in their camper van, stopping off for fish and chips on the way. Needless to say, she doesn't see them as a 'Royal Family' - to be fair, she calls them foxes 99% of the time and has given them different names. I think they are a lovely toy in their own right - even if you don't have any other families / accessories as they can be used in all kinds of imaginative play and in different environments. Emma's have been spotted in the Playmobil school, strutting their stuff at the Playmobil disco and sharing the dollshouse with the doll's house family.
The only minor downside is that she keeps removing their clothes and then can't put them back on again (I blame my Mum for buying her a Sylvanian laundry set for Christmas where she can hang their clothes on a washing line!) and I spend a lot of time hunting for tiny clothes in her messy bedroom. Obviously, if children remove clothes which are so small, it is easy for them to get lost and, somehow, naked Sylvanians just don't have the same appeal.
* Price and Purchasing *
As previously mentioned, I got these for a real bargain price, but you should probably expect to pay between £10 and £15 for them. They don't seem like one of the most popular families and are often on sale. You can also buy the baby corgis seperately (they come in a pack of boy/girl twins) - we haven't got these yet but I can see that they will be 'needed' by my daughter at some point in the future. They are available on Amazon and various other online stores (and in 'real shops' too).
* Final Thoughts *
These are cute, like all Sylvanians, and my little girl enjoys playing with them. They help encourage imaginative / small world play which is very important in a child's development. I am impressed with the quality of the little figures and how well made their outfits are. They aren't my favourite of the families that she has (I have a soft spot for the Kangaroos) but I do think they are a lovely toy, which would be a good addition to all Sylvanian Family collections - especially if you can get them on sale! Just be warned, Sylvanian Families seem to be addictive and collecting them may become an expensive habit.
We have a vast collection of Julia Donaldson books in our house as they are big favourites with both of my children. Our favourites tend to be the ones which are illustrated by Axel Scheffler - after all, you can't go wrong with such childrens' classics as 'The Gruffalo' and 'Room on the Broom'. We've had 'The Snail and The Whale' for a good few years now - it was one of the earlier books in our collection. I would say that it has never been a true favourite with my children in the way that 'The Gruffalo' was (and still is) as I certainly can't recite the whole of this book out of my head in the way that I can with that one. However, it is definitely a book which I have read on numerous occasions, first to my son and, more recently, to my daughter.
* The Story *
The story of 'The Snail and the Whale' is exactly what it says in the title - there is a tiny snail with a sense of wanderlust, who wants to know more about the world out beyond the dock on which she lives. She uses her trail to write a message on the rock, asking for a lift around the world. One day, a humpback whale swims into the harbour and tells the snail about a wonderful world with 'shimmering ice and coral caves, and shooting stars and enormous waves'. The snail crawls on to the tail of the whale and together they set off on their journey around the world. They visit the poles and see the penguins, they see erupting volcanoes and monkeys in rainforests, they see the sharks swimming on the coral reefs and bears on the edge of snowy mountain ranges. It is an idyllic story until, one day, the whale runs into trouble and ends up stranded on the beach. It is the tiny snail who saves the whale - crawling up to a school in the bay and writing 'Save the Whale' on the blackboard with her trail...
* Words and Pictures *
This is a story which is told in rhyme and, as such, is fun and easy to read. However, unlike 'The Gruffalo', there are times where the words don't flow quite as easily and the rhymes feel just that little bit forced. It is still extremely well-written, with great use of descriptive language which brings the snail and the whales journey around the world to life, but it somehow jars just a little bit. It isn't something that would put me off reading it, but it maybe is why this isn't my favourite of the Julia Donaldson books.
Like all the Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler collaborations, this book is beautifully illustrated. There is so much to look at and talk about in the pictures - things to spot (like the now traditional hidden Gruffalo!), things to capture the childrens' imagination, elements of humour - and they add a huge amount to the story. I feel that this is a good book for introducing topics such as the differences between areas of the world - the icebergs, the mountains, the tropics etc - and the fact that not everywhere is 'the same' as where we live. My little girl; absolutely loves penguins, so she loves the page where they appear on their icebergs, watching the snail and whale swimming by. My son, on the other hand, loved the drama of the big waves crashing down around them and the 'scary' sharks swimming on the reef.
* My Thoughts *
I do really like this book and it is one that I enjoy reading to my children. However, there is something about it that doesn't appeal to me quite as much of the others - maybe it is a bit too 'grown-up' for very young children as the whole concept of the whale being stranded on the beach can be quite distressing (even though he is saved by his friend the snail in the end). Yes, it is a heartwarming story of a tiny snail saving a giant whale (the kind of tale which is prevalent in childrens' fiction with the little underdog emerging as the hero), but I'm not sure it is really a book for pre-school children.
It is probably a better story for the younger primary school age children - the language may be too tricky for them to read it to themselves (I know my seven year old wouldn't find it easy), but it would be a great book to provoke a variety of discussions and also to inspire some amazing artwork. It is good for raising awareness of issues such as how whales can end up stranded on beaches and the problems of humans and animals/fish sharing the same space as the whale is disorientated by the roar of jet-skis and people enjoying water-sports. It is also good, as I've mentioned previously, for introducing the concept of travel and the exploration of different countries and cultures.
So, overall, would I recommend it? Yes but I would suggest it isn't necessarily the logical follow on to books like 'The Gruffalo', 'Monkey Puzzle' or 'Room on The Broom', i.e. when you're browsing for a book for a two or three year old, maybe this isn't the one to choose. The concepts in the book need a slightly more grown-up perspective - my daughter probably just about 'gets' it at four, but only because we have read it multiple times and I've explained about the whale lots of times... six months ago, she was still asking me why it didn't just 'swim back into the sea'.
One of my favourite activities is cooking and I spend a lot of time in my kitchen - in fact, I'd probably say it was my favourite room in the house. I am an enthusiastic baker and, although I do have a beautiful shiny blue KitchenAid, there are still times where it is just easier to use a hand-mixer. I had been using an ancient electric whisk, inherited from my grandmother, so when I received my Kenwood K-Mix hand mixer as a birthday present back in October I was delighted. Not only is it much shinier, sleeker and more powerful than my old mixer, it is also a gorgeous shade of turquoise blue - perfect to fit in with my blue kitchen tiles!
* The Product *
Kenwood is one of the market-leading brands in kitchen appliances so you automatically expect quality from their products. In purely visual terms, this one definitely does not disappoint. The design of the mixer is simple, yet sleek and sophisticated. Mine is a deep turquoise blue, with silver detailing and a rubber handle for enhanced grip. The controls are located on the curve of the handle - a multi-speed adjustment slider with five different speeds and a pulse button. The mixer sits in its own stand - a simple grey plastic design, with storage slots for the whisks and the dough hooks that are included with the mixer. The only slight design flaw is that the cord cannot be wrapped fully round the base of the mixer when it is slotted into it's stand - you can wrap it part of the way round, but there is always a trailing end of cable as the stand is not quite wide enough to accommodate the whole of the cord. To be honest though, this is a very minor irritation in what is overall a great design.
* Performance *
So, we have established that this mixer looks good, but the most important aspect of any kitchen gadget is how well it performs. The KMix HM803 definitely lives up to my expectations. I tend to use it for the more simple kitchen tasks - whipping up batter for pancakes or Yorkshire puddings, mashing potatoes, zapping the lumps out of my cheese sauce (white sauce production not being one of my special talents), whipping smaller amounts of cream than the KitchenAid can cope with - although I also use it for making cakes with the children when I want to bake in a more 'traditional' style, rather than relying on the KitchenAid to do all the work. The multi-speed function is fantastic - the slow speed is genuinely slow and ideal for a gentle creaming pricess, whereas the fast speed is really fast and makes it much easier to whip cream etc. It is also useful to have a pulse function, something that my previous hand-mixer didn't have. I haven't actually used the dough hooks yet - I'm a little bit phobic about baking bread (and have only used the dough hooks in the KitchenAid twice, once for a disastrous batch of hot cross buns and once for a slightly more successful pizza dough) - but I'm sure I will get round to using them at some point. For people who are more into baking dough-based goodies than I am, I think they would be an extremely useful addition to an already excellent product.
The mixer is relatively quiet to use which is an added bonus when you have a kitchen full of people, or are trying to listen out for the children in another room. I would describe the noise as more of a gentle purr/hum than anything else - you are aware of the motors turning, but it is not an unpleasant or disruptive noise. The wright of the mixer could be considered a negative by some - as it is made of metal is definitely significantly heavier than my old plastic mixer - but I actually like the solid feel of it in my hands as it just makes it feel like a better quality product. The smoothness of the motor turning the whisks means that, although it 'is' heavy (at 1.5kg), it isn't difficult to use either - there is no jerkiness or vibration to contend with. However, if you had issues with your hands/wrists, or felt that it may be a struggle to operate a heavy mixer, it may be better to consider a more lightweight model.
* Cost *
The Kenwood KMix HM803 costs £64.95 from John Lewis and is also available from other retailers. It comes in a range of colours - others in the range are almond, red, magenta and peppercorn (black). There are other, slightly older KMix models around which are slightly cheaper and pretty much the same, but I would still recommend this one.
* Final Thoughts *
This mixer was awarded the Which Best Buy award for hand mixers back in 2012 and I can definitely see why. It is powerful at 350W, whisks extremely effectively in a quiet and smooth manner and looks stylish sitting on the worktop. For me, the positives vastly outweigh the negatives. I can see that the weight of it could potentially be an issue for some people (although it isn't for me so won't affect my five star waiting) and the fact that the cord doesn't coil neatly into the holder is a minor irritation. I would highly recommend this mixer for anyone who enjoys baking or just wants to upgrade an existing hand mixer - for me, it does everything that I need it to do, and it does it in style!
My little girl already takes after her Mummy in the shopping department and, at the tender age of nearly four, she loves smelling all the different products in Lush. So, for Christmas, Santa put one of these Lush Magic Wands into her stocking....
This product is basically a 'solid' version of Lush's famous 'Snow Fairy' shower gel (the usual bottle of which was in my very own Christmas stocking - it wouldn't be Christmas morning without a Snow Fairy shower!). It is a bright pink bubble bar star, on a stick with a ribbon and bell on it. The fragrance is reminiscent of candy floss and pink bubble-gum - very sweet and sugary smelling. For me, this is a plus due to my Snow Fairy addiction but if you don't want to step out of your bath smelling like an old-fashioned sweet shop, then it might not be the scent for you.
The bubble bar star works when you swish it gently through the water. Repeated swishing will create bubbles and turn the bath water pink. I would suggest that it is more effective if you swish it around under the running tap, as this seems to generate a lot more bubbles than swishing it through still bathwater. The smell permeates the bathroom air, and the pinkness lasts for the whole of bath time. It seems to me to be a relatively neutral product in terms of how it affects my little girl's skin - it doesn't dry it out like some products do, but it doesn't really moisturise it either. It is just there, creating bubbles and making her happy. We have used the star about five times since Christmas and there is still almost half of it left - this represents pretty good value for money in my opinion, as a lot of Lush products only last for one bath. You do need to be careful about where you leave it - it needs to be stored somewhere dry so that there is no risk of it disintegrating.
These wands cost around £5 and are a limited edition Christmas product, like the Snow Fair shower gel itself. I think that they are a lovely gift, or a little treat to yourself.
My little girl loves her pink candy-floss scented wand and is enjoying her bathtimes in her bright pink bath. My son (seven and adamant that he doesn't like pink) is slightly less impressed by having to go into the pink water once she's finished. In my opinion, the wand is a fun product, with a gorgeous smell, which I would definitely consider buying again in the future - in fact, Santa is very likely to pick up another one for next Christmas!
"A boat washes up on the shore of a remote lighthouse keeper's island. It holds a dead man and a crying baby. The only two islanders, Tom and his wife Izzy, are about to make a devastating decision...." (taken from the back of the book).
'The Light Between Oceans' by M.L. Stedman is a story set in a remote part of Australia, back in the 1920s. It is the story of Tom and Izzy, a young couple who meet, fall in love, marry and move to a remote lighthouse keeper's island off the West Australian coast, at the point where the Indian Ocean meets the Great Southern Ocean and the vast expanse of water stretches all the way to Africa. Out there on their island, there is nothing except Tom and Izzy, and the lighthouse itself. Their contact with the mainland and their families is sparse - there is a boat which comes out to bring supplies and post every three months - but that is the only contact with the wider world that they have. Therefore, when the aforementioned boat washes up on the island and they make their decision, there is nobody except their consciences to answer to... at least, not until they are back on the mainland and they begin to realise the consequences of what they have chosen to do. On the island, taking care of a baby which is even more alone in the world than they are seems like a logical decision (especially taking into account their back story), but is the baby really theirs to keep?
It is difficult to review this book effectively without giving too much of the plot away. The story of the boat, the dead man and the baby is actually the first chapter - a flash forward, if you like, of what will happen later on, as the story immediately jumps back 8 years to Tom's first posting as a lighthouse keeper. Before the incident appears in its rightful place in the thread of the story, the characters of Tom and Izzy, their backgrounds (Tom's experience fighting in Europe in the First World War, the loss of Izzy's beloved older brothers in the same war) and their lives on their remote island have all been expertly developed and the reader has built up a real empathy with the characters. Therefore, when they make their decision, although it is not necessarily the 'right decision' in moral terms, you sympathise with them and want things to work out in their favour. I feel that this is skilfully done by the author - Tom and Izzy's story pulls at your heartstrings, builds up a well of emotion and, ultimately, makes you really care about them as characters. As well as character development, the descriptive language in this novel is really evocative and you can easily imagine the remote island, the lighthouse and what their lives must have been like out there. The later part of the story set back on the mainland is also very well written and a bit more dramatic / fast-paced - this is partly because events unfold at a faster pace in this segment of the story but also, I think, to provide a contrast to the slower pace of the lighthouse island section.
Overall, this is a book that I loved. It is a story which challenged my perception of what is right and wrong especially, I think, reading it from a mother's perspective. Bits of the story made me smile, but overall, it was a heartbreaking read which made me cry on more than one occasion. There's a quote on the front cover which says "This is a story about right and wrong, and how sometimes they look the same" and I think this is completely true of this book. Deep down, you know what is 'right', but the book challenges that 'belief' and makes you feel something completely different... all through the book I just wanted there to be a happy ending, even though I knew that the nature of the book meant that tying it all up with a 'happily ever after' would just be wrong. In conclusion, I really recommend this book - just make sure you have stocked up on tissues first.